My first visit outside Delhi as my AIF Clinton Fellowship began, was to Pushpanjali Fair Trade in Agra. I remember being extremely nervous yet very excited at the same time. Pushpanjali Fair Trade was founded in 1982 by Mr. S.C. Mittal.
Mr. Mittal born and brought up in Agra, was surrounded by families of artisans during his entire childhood. The majority of his friend circle were kids of stone craftsmen and other art forms. He knew these families personally and had an early realization of their hardships. He always knew that his interest was inclined towards doing something for the artisan community.
Soon after his education, along with like-minded people, he decided to start something of his own. Through Pushpanjali, he aimed to provide good working conditions, create job opportunities, and provide financial support to the artisan community.
I was welcomed by the team of Pushapanjali on Monday afternoon on 5th January 2019. Their broad smiles and warm nature made me feel comfortable immediately. I was quite surprised by the scale of their work.
The campus was huge and the artisans were all working on different forms of art at the same time. I was introduced to all the artisans and the team members. Pushpanjali has ventured in various products of home decor, kitchen wear, and fashion accessories.
Post lunch I got the opportunity to meet Kusum, one of the artisans working with Pushpanjali for the past three years. She stays an hour away from Pushpanjali in a joint family along with her two kids and husband. Her husband is her biggest support. He has always encouraged her to do whatever she wants to. Kusum does all kinds of small tasks as an artisan in Pushpanjali.
From making tassels to cutting extra threads and ironing cloth material. Her contribution in the chain of the product making is integral. She is an inspiration to many women in her community and for myself. She has encouraged women of her community and formed a small group that works on weekends from home. I was lucky enough to visit them at her home in Agra. The architecture of her home was old and was aesthetically so beautiful. It was built by her father-in-law.
I was happy to finally meet her husband. He specially waited back to help her welcome us at their home. Once all her friends gathered, they started with their work of making bead garlands and tassels. It felt great to see their enthusiasm and team work. They worked with utmost concentration but also had fun. They had conversations about their kids, their own lives, Prime Minister Modi’s visit in that week, and what were they planning to cook for dinner.
In that moment, while I was capturing them through my lens, I could see the sheer passion that Kusum had for her work. She definitely was a strong multi-tasker. In the middle of all this, she also made ginger tea for all of us. Shortly after, her kids arrived home. I could see her eyes light up; she immediately left all her work and addressed them. She was switching her personality so easily. She showed me her home premises proudly. My favorite part of her home was the rooftop. We both sat there and chatted for more than an hour. She spoke to me like her own daughter and narrated me her story of life. Her vulnerability in that moment astonished me but at the same time comforted me. Women like Kusum are today’s role models.
Pushapanjali has given platform to many artisans like Kusum. When she had joined Pushpanjali, she came in with the drive to work. Pushpanjali after seeing the spark in her decided to give her a chance and took the responsibility to give her skills training according to the projects that flowed in. Kusum’s positive attitude and wish to keep learning really helped her. She says her earnings give her a sense of pride. Today she is capable of contributing financially for the family.
That day I saw a different part of fair trade and artisans’ community. An artisan like Kusum doesn’t posses one particular skill of art form but is an integral part of making a product. At night while returning I wondered there might be so many like Kusum who are capable of doing wonders only if they get that chance and platform like Kusum did through Fair Trade.