It started out as a day trip from Chennai. Pulicat lake is a lesser known tourist spot in Chennai. It is the second largest brackish water lake in India and is also a bird sanctuary. Even after living in Chennai for two odd decades, I had never ventured out that far!So at a whim, the decision was made and my brother and I set out to visit Pulicat. Without a proper map in hand, we just assumed that if we followed the coast, we might just land there. What we hadn’t anticipated were the lack of roads and of course the signboards! But the grueling road trip did throw up its ‘picture perfect’ sights! The picturesque lake sparkled in the afternoon sun. There was hardly anyone in sight and I heard an 80′s Tamizh song playing somewhere far away. The driver was getting a little edgy and even I was almost willing to give up my search. But what I saw later on made the whole trip completely worth all the effort.
The Co-operative was started in 1958 and initially employed a few Muslim women who lived in the village. Pulicat was a Dutch settlement and this craft mainly catered to them.
Some of their designs.
There are predominantly 2 types of weaves- thadukumodachal (resembles small, diagonal checks) and thuppimodhachal (big checks).
More than 30 women work here. They sit together all afternoon and as they chit chat, their deft hands weave the most beautiful designs. This work earns them their livelihood and has impacted their lives in a big way. They have a sense of belonging and the money brings in the much needed financial security.
The palm leaves used for making these designs come from places around Pulicat. Surprisingly, Pulicat does not have palm trees! The leaves are then dried in the sun, their ribs are removed and sorted out, the leaves are cut into thin strips, dyed in boiling water and again dried. These dried strips are then woven into the desired design. To ensure pliability, the leaves are constantly moisturized during the weaving process. The ribs of the palm leaves are used to provide the framework for the designs.
After the tsunami ravaged Pulicat and destroyed their premises in 2004, these women approached the government to help them set up again. As the personal compensation awarded to victims’ families was being delayed, these women decided that the best way out of the struggle was to start again. They forced the government to provide funds, started all over again and have emerged successful.
Though the work is erratic, they are slowly making some regular clients. This year, they have started taking bulk orders to make boxes and trays for weddings. Do contact me if you wish to help. From my side, I will put up an online store with these products very soon..
Today, as we deal with women empowerment issues of all kinds, we predominantly tend to focus on more urban issues. Women everywhere have their battles to fight and this gritty bunch has proved that success is very much possible. They have empowered themselves with their craft, gained economical independence and thus command the respect of society.
A classic case of women empowerment, these colorful designs reflect their attitude towards life. Way to go, ladies!
For more photos, please click here..