Chai with Lakshman and Savitri

On one of our trips to locate health signboards in Dharavi, we were invited to visit the home of Lakshman Mane, the elderly participant in the workshop. He takes us through a narrow gully with no house numbers and then ushers us in through a narrow door. It is a modest house, typical of Mumbai flats, with an upper loft that converts into a bedroom. There are several things not belonging to this century in his house. An old cupboard, wall hangings made of intricately woven wire and monochrome photographs.

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His wife Savitri makes sizzling cups of chai for us. As we inhale the gingery aroma of the chai, she shows off her latest creation – a toran adorned with pompoms made from old cloth. It is a serpentine and grand toran and she says that it was recently around the neck of a Ganesha idol in a nearby mandal. She has also made a smaller one for the entrance of their house. Torans are traditionally entrance decorations in Hindu homes and this one looks pretty unique with its pompoms. While Savitri learnt pompom making at our Sewing Club by Susie Vickery, she has her own skill set of making woven table mats and rugs.

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Lakshman used to be a mill worker a few decades ago and he lost his job when the mills closed down in the 1980s. His expertise was in the huge industrial looms and saw heaps of cotton converted into the softest cloth for men’s trousers. He is a skilled artist as well, as was evident during this workshop when he took discarded pieces of cane and transformed them into brushes. This technique, he says, is how he and his friends painted in their childhood. “We lived in times when you could shop for a day’s grocery with one rupee. Today’s generation does not know what a sweet feeling that was!” says Lakshman.

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