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Friday, March 29, 2013

Sewing Machine Mela

The scene, as we gather for the late afternoon distribution of sewing machines, is like a small mela (the pan-Indian word for a fair,  or exhibition.)  Rows of shiny black, treadle sewing machines, with old fashioned gold trademarks, stand ready in laminated cabinets, in front of several dozen women and family or friends just nowgathering and/or seated on the ground under a scraggly though somehow shady tree.  Thirty-some saree-clad women, the most important attendees today, are to get (for most of them, their first) new sewing machines today. Many have brought along a family member for the occasion.

Some of the women have taken a government sponsored sewing course in the same district, and have applied for bank loans for their machines. Graduates of our PUSHPA sponsored short course in sewing have been guided through the process of opening their own bank accounts and applying for low interest loans to pay for machines subsidized by our organization.  All of their faces reflect the seriousness and the joy of having taken the first steps to develop their own, sustainable income-generating home tailoring businesses.

Our facilitator welcomes the group and gives an overview of his development group and how our nonprofit organization partners with them in PUSHPA projects.  The bank manager speaks of the bank loan process, extending an open door to those who care to avail of small loans like this for further improvement or ventures.  Invited to say a few words, I consider demurring, but realize that would be a faux pas.  So I manage to utter a few congratulatory words along advice to keep the machine in good condition, and to examine and practice sewing to the level of quality of garments and other sewn items available in the local markets.   I hope the fact that the facilitator does not re-translate my Telugu is an indication of how well I may have been understood by the non-English speaking crowd..

Pride, or joy, -- coupled with the sobering reality of the work and earning necessary to repay her sewing machine loan within a year -- is evident on each woman's face as her name is called to receive a small repair kit and scissors, along with her machine.  While others' family members hover in the background, one very young couple stay close to one another, beaming, stroking the new machine, and, I imagine, earnestly discussing their future as first-time entrepreneurs.

The women's names have been called, but all the machines are not ready (The black classic treadle machines have been brought, unassembled, from the dealer in Guntur; a workman, busy assembling machines in the sewing school room nearby for the last two days, is still at work).  Several women will have to wait, but they are nonplussed, hopefully confident that their turn will come.  They have seen the evidence.

The 'function,' as events are called here, is drawing to a close.  Tea is served in tiny plastic cups, along with a packet of the traditional 'sweets (which we'd call 'bars' here) and hots (spicy snack mixture.)  The women are now up on their feet, conversation crescendoes.  A few of us take a turn holding and admiring the baby of a young mother whose own mother hovers nearby.  A little boy wanders through the display of machines, testing treadles, turning wheels, batting loose wheel cords (what IS thatpart called?) back and forth.  Another woman notices him, shoos him back to his mother, gently admonishes them both on the danger of muddling up the works of their new technology.

One or two women approach me with friendly chit chat; each gradually segues to a suggestion that a word from me to the ayya-garu (sir, i.e. my ngo entrepreneur husband) might help in securing a grant (this, by a widow with young children) or additional loan for another, more specialized machine (by a woman who is already developing a thriving sewing business.)  Wanting neither to encourage nor discourage, I tell them it's not for me to say. I'm not part of that decision making process.

Day light begins to fade as people begin to take the machines away on the back of auto-rickshaws, which putter away into the night.  For awhile, on our way back to Guntur, we follow one of these rickshaws loaded with two machines and crammed with several adults, happily engaged in lively conversation, oblivious to our cheerful, congratulatory waves as we pass.

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