Leaving the artisans was harder than I thought it would be. We were beginning to really bond and play, but like most of the sweetest things in life, my time with them ended at its highest point.
After sitting on the floor all day, conducting interviews with each of them, my body was screaming for a little bit of yoga. (By the way, they seem to sit on the floor for hours, but don’t seem to mind one bit; many of them are more than twenty years older than me.) I went up to the rooftop to see the progress that had been made on the baby quilts, and began lifting my hands over my head to do some basic stretches. This caught the attention of most if not all of them, who were amused. I turned to them and smiled “Yoga.” They giggled and repeated “Yoga.”
To my surprise, Basanti got up and stood beside me and started imitating my poses. This caused an immediate uproar of laughter and disbelief among the artisans. One of them, Anita, who became fond of taking photos with my iphone, grabbed my phone and started shooting us. We got through triangle, dancer pose, tree pose, upward dog, and poses we made up on the spot, even though Basanti was in a sari.
All of sudden, Kamala gets up and Basanti begins wrapping a scarf around her head like a turban. At this point, there is unanimous hysteria among the artisans. Though we were on a rooftop for all of Ajmer to see, Kamala did not shy away from grabbing between her legs to turn her skirt into a pair of pants. This was by far the highlight of my time in India so far.
After the shenanigans died down, Anita went around to each group of artisans to proudly show her documentation of the events that just unfolded. She would slide her finger against the iphone’s screen to flip through and when they got to the picture of Kamala, they all leaned back in a fit of laughter.
Mina, a veteran artisan who has been with the program since its inception, whipped out her array of toe rings and ankle bracelets. Next thing you know, I had fifteen artisans swarm around me, ripping my socks off and placing the sparkly jewelry on my feet. Nafisa and Shakuntela kept insisting on a diamond shaped ring with a green and pink stone in the middle, “good, good” they agreed. They sold me on it.
Finally, it was time to say goodbye. The ladies trailed off, waving, smiling, and placing their hands together in Namaste.
I can’t tell you the sparks they had in their eyes. During the interviews, I understood more about each of their lives, their greatest hardships: abuse, extreme poverty, health problems, attending to the home, often unfair expectations of their culture, family, and caste system.
One question I asked them was something my spiritual mentor had a knack for asking me, “Are you happy?”
And they all, with a big smile, nodded their head (the way Indians so, tilting on the vertical axis) “Yes.”
One of them told me about her devotion to Goddess Kali, and how would pray over and over again for happiness and health. She believed Kali was the reason for everything she received, including Anchal, she told me.
All the women, when I asked them what they wanted their lives to look like in five years, mentioned they wanted their families to be happy, their children to be educated. None of them mentioned themselves.