Growing up, I was surrounded by strong women from the maternal side of my family: my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. All had an unique perspective on life that translated into their daily rituals, and thus into my daily rituals. From my childhood, my earliest and most vivid memories are that of art, food, what those meant in our household, and how they connected to me. Even though I come from a modest household, I never felt weary of anything. Everything was perfectly set up in our home, and everything moved like clockwork.
My maternal side of the family belongs to a caste of Shepherds, known as “Dhangar”. The style of our possessions in our house was very ethnic and true to our roots. My family valued unique things that were handmade. For instance, my grandmother possessed handmade utensils from our village that we still use today. Even though I was always fascinated by these handmade items, I never really knew where they came from or who made them. My passion for handmade crafts was also fueled by my mother, a teacher and artist herself. Though she was a house maker, my mother never shied away from expressing herself beyond that one identity. Aware of the brevity of life, she always pushed me towards freeing myself. She is my influencer and friend. I owe so much of my creativity to her.
At home, the smell of my grandmother’s cooking would always engulf me, and that sheer joy which possessed me seemed unnatural. Food can be so simple yet so inspiring, inducing the most complex of emotions from the way it is made to the way it is eaten. I would walk downstairs from my room to the sound of the grandmother’s bangles clanging away against each other as she would mash potatoes on the traditional grinding stone. That aggressive sound comforted me and my world. It was the closest to what I could call home.
Though comfortable with familiarity, I always wanted to undergo new experiences. For instance, I have tried many cuisines, but nothing could compare to grandmother’s thecha (chutney). When I first left my house to attend film school in Mumbai, I did not know what to expect, but I knew my life was never going to be the same again. Understanding the art form of film making allowed me to acknowledge the importance of films and the impact they could make. By the end of my three years in film school, I knew how to make people experience and feel something through my art.
During my time in film school, world cinema played a big role in my life, but I always felt the urge to know the stories in India, the stories that this big and beautiful country contained within its depths. This urge of mine is why I am here at the American India Foundation. Through AIF, I knew I could explore and show people the stories that lie within the vast culture of art that so often go ignored. When I researched in the list of potential host organisations, Fair Trade Forum resonated with me the most. It was the perfect balance between what I wanted to do and explore the art form that I grew up with.
During our second night at our home stay in Uttarakhand as part of the Fellowship Orientation, I prepared myself to interact with our home stay family the next day, still very new to me. After a lot of over thinking, I planned out how I was going to do this entire interaction. But, to my surprise, I was not prepared for what happened early morning. As I walked downstairs from our room, the similar sound of bangles began to ring in my ears. There was our home stay mother and another fellow peeling hot boiled potatoes in the courtyard. Even though the image was different, it filled me with nostalgia and transported me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. As soon as I saw the image of those two peeling potatoes, I knew that I had to capture it. I felt the same essence as I did as a child, and it was overwhelming to say the least.
Fair Trade Forum-India (FTF-I) is the National Network for Fair Trade in India. As a not-for-profit organization, FTF-I is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), which is the global face of Fair Trade. FTF-I works with more than 250,000 producers – artisans and farmers – through over 100 member organizations, to ensure a dignified income and overall development of artisans, farmers, workers in the unorganized sector. One of the initiatives of FTF-I that I will be curating is the Indian Artisan Movement (I AM).
I AM is the Indian Artisan movement of the artisans, by the artisans, and for the artisans. Envisioned as an artisan’s advocacy platform for building New India, it will bring together our artisans on a common platform with citizens, policy makers, bureaucrats, and academicians.
When I saw that I had the chance to tell the stories of artisans through my films, I immediately knew that this was my calling. For the next few months, I will be visiting several Fair Trade organizations and artisan communities across India to give them a voice and convey their untold stories.