Updated: Mar 18, 2019
60 kms from Bhuj near a village called Hudko, Nilesh Bhai, has invited me for lunch. I am going to meet him in his village after a span of 4 years. I came to this village in 2014 and have known him since then.
Nilesh Bhai is a senior member of the Meghwal community . On our way to their house, he tells me about the drought that has currently engulfed the area . Water is scarce and while desert dwellers work around the scarcity, this is truly a tough time.
On my way, I see women carrying water in steel pots balanced on their heads walking miles to gather water for their families. And I begin to wonder about the name 'Meghwals' and how ironical its meaning in these times - ' people who pray for rains' !
Nilesh Bhai lives in a joint set up . His parents, brothers their wives and children stay together. As we approach his house, he tells me that much has changed in this region after the 2001 earthquake. They now have pucca houses and don’t live in the mud huts anymore; something I had read in books and articles. The 2001 earthquake has changed the way Meghwals live. Much was destroyed in that deadly earthquake.
Entering this house, everyone greets me warmly. Women of the Meghwal tribe strictly follow purdah system. They recognize me from 4 years ago and I can see that the children in the family have grown up considerably.
The women are in their traditional dress of colorful Ghagra , a long embroidered shirt and a shawl covering their heads. Adorned in their ears are jeweled earrings, a large metal neck piece, a very large stringed gold nose ring and plastic bangles on the upper arms. These ornaments are distinct to the Meghwal community.
Irrespective of age, the women from the community always cover their heads. Conventionally, the Meghwals are against their women being photographed since the purdah system is strictly followed and posing for pictures is a taboo.
The women are involved in many chores from bringing water from wells, to cooking, to embroidery and child care.
Girls are involved in the embroidery process and make up for their own dowry through embroidery from a very young age. Nilesh Bhai confirms this trend in the present day as well.
Young children are running around the house excited by the sight of a new visitor.
He tells me that the annual Kutch festival has been a blessing for them. Most people from Meghwal community are able to showcase their work , sell and make profits without the involvement of middlemen. This means better income and an increasingly better lifestyle prospects. The influx of tourist has also given impetus to their handiwork, which is sought after. The Meghwals have managed to put their craft at the forefront.
I enter the kitchen to understand the cooking process. 4 years back, when I was here last, all the cooking was done on firewood . But this time I also see the use of gas stoves . Utensils are arranged in a pattern and women are busy cooking . They wear the traditional dress which is heavy and ornate for such chores by common measure.
I am served a simple yet sumptuous vegetarian lunch that is cooked everyday in the Meghwal household. The men eat first and only when they are done women and children commence eating.
In the afternoon women are busy in embroidering some very detailed work shawls. Also making a bedcover, a saree, a stole and each of these piece requires days of hard work and concentration. Most of these pieces have Red as basic color with mirror work built in .
Nilesh Bhai discusses the current state of Meghwal tribe with me. Most of the younger generation has taken up to studying and joining workforce outside Bhuj. He is happy about the improving times and is delighted about the socio-economic change.
I spend the day walking around this village . I am permitted to capture photographs., converse with both men and women and enquire as much as would satisfy my hunger to know the community better.
I am consumed by the love and respect I get from this Meghwal family and resolve to see them again very soon.
Meanwhile I take with me a token of the community – An intricately embroidered Red bedcover ready to adorn my humble home in Delhi.
As told by Navtej Singh