Shy Hoorbai answered all our questions in a quiet and polite fashion. She described the different types of Muttwa embroidery - katri, chopad, pakko andkharek gotau. At the age of ten or twelve, she started to learn needlework from her mother. According to Hoorbai, not only her mother and grandmother but several generations of her community, for around 250 years, have followed needlework. The main purpose of the intricate craft was originally for personal use or for making the wedding trousseau, but Hoorbai has done needlework on kanjaris (tops), dhadki (quilts) and kothari (bags) among several other articles. She was honoured with the Merit award in 1998 by the Ministry of Textiles.
Talking of mud work, Hoorbai states that in the past, women only dabbled in the work. They equal parts of clay and cow dung are mixed to make a dough, and a design is stretched out of it on either a wall or a frame. Her husband, Mehmud, who is 50 years old and educated to class 7, is a master mud worker.
Hoorbai has four children, three daughters and one son. Her eldest daughter is sixteen and knows embroidery work. She believes that if the children are interested, they will pursue embroidery, but the computer and mobile age has distracted them; especially the boys who show more interest in gadgets than the work! Many girls will keep doing embroidery, under compulsion, but boys are not compelled to learn the craft.
Hoorbai possesses about sixty quilts which she brought as a part of her wedding trousseau. In their community, as per one prominent social custom, it is compulsory for a girl to bring at least twenty-one quilts.
One of her daughters Gulnaz has been extremely successful in her studies and stood first in the sixth standard. Yet, she is still expected to follow needlework during her vacations, and she is already familiar with chopad and sankdi embroidery.
Hoorbai works for the NGOs call Shrujan and gets many orders to complete at home. For her achievements in the craft, Hoorbai has been honoured by both the Shrujan foundation and the Rashtriya Sindhi Women’s programme. Her husband went and collected the award as the women of the Muttwa community are forbidden to attend such functions or even leave their villages. Her community people congratulated her (mubaraki) but did not formally honour her. Instead, an informal dawat, or party, was organised.
Hoorbai’s day starts at four in the morning when she wakes up to collect buffalo milk and supply it to the Mother dairy. Thereafter, she looks after the household work. After that is done, she sits with her needlework from 9 to 11 and in the evening from 5 to 7. She also works later if she is not too tired. In between, she looks after the children and the cattle. During Ramzan the needlework stops; Hoorbai feels that since this pious month comes only once a year, it is important to devote time to reading the Quran and fasting.
Both husband and wife work as a team; accordingly Hoorbai helps her husband in his mud work craft, and Mehmud draws some of the embroidery designs for her. When Hoorbai is working for Shrujan, her husband draws all the designs. They generally sell mud work frames costing 300 rupees or more, and Mehmud also goes to Mumbai, Banglore or other cities to complete the mud work interiors of wealthy households. Her husband has also attended exhibitions held in Ahmadabad, Baroda and Delhi. The dung for the mud work is collected from the cow pen, and the clay is locally bought. Financially, they are generally self-sufficient and have not taken out any loans. They are satisfied with their work as they have various means of earning for their family. Their way of life illustrates the difficulties of surviving on handicrafts alone.
Education: Class 5
Place of residence: Dhordo (Banni)
Date of interview: 29/5/2012