BY Mirah Zamin
Tiruvanamalai Offering juice and tea to everyone who arrives her doorstep the 68 years old Saraswati Ramaswami has spent most of her life on the loom weaving silk sarees in her parental village Onnupurum, located in Arani, one of the towns of the Tiruvanamalai district in Tamil Nadu.
Saraswati ‘Amma’, a Devanga (weaving community) by caste, is the sole
breadwinner for the last 45 years now. “I am happy that I am making my own livelihood and not dependent on anyone, my work makes me most happy,” she says with her flawless smile. Married at 13 years of age to a man 10 years elder to her and deserted by him at 18, she found love and peace in weaving the colourful sarees.
“My world collapsed after I lost my three sons and my husband left me for
another woman, I had no income of my own and my in- laws threw me out of their house”, she recalls while fixing orange coloured threads on her loom.
Her husband who worked as a Hindi teacher in a government school often mentally and physically abused her. “On our first night he told me that had his mother not pressurised him he could have never married a weaver’s daughter,” she said with dried eyes.
When her first son was born at the age of 15 years, her husband for the first time in her married life hugged her but the happiness lasted no longer than 2 months with the infant dying of Chicken pox. She suffered the same fate again with her second baby who died of a viral infection and the third of jaundice.
“When my husband eloped, I tried to kill myself by jumping in the well but my father saved me and brought me to his house and gifted me the handloom which was used by generations in our family”, Saraswati mentions while watching the repeat telecast of her favourite daily soap Deivamagal. Saraswati takes a week to weave every six yard saree which provides her with a monthly income of Rs 2800 for four sarees and an additional income of Rs.1000 from Tamil Nadu deserted wife pension scheme. She gives most of her money to her younger brother who is the only surviving member of her family and lives few blocks away.
Saraswati no longer weaves the traditional south Indian Saree but multi coloured sarees keeping the north Indian taste into account. She has a five-year contract with a company named Indiramani and this is the last year of the contract. “I will not work anymore after this, I want to rest now,” she adds.
“I have worked for this company but not even once have they given any saree on festive occasion or any increment”, she mentions. Asked if she likes to wear the saree she weaves, she says “We are weavers, we are supposed to produce sarees not wear them ourselves.”
In the initial years when Saraswati started weaving she faced a lot of problems. She even once dislocated her shoulder because of the flying shuttle, her designs went wrong and payment was denied to her. She recalls how even after 2 years of weaving very often she would complain of body ache to her father. “Standing and pedalling to operate the handloom was the toughest to
learn,” she adds. Saraswati’s only friend Krishnakaveri died some four months ago and since then, she has not tried making new friends. She says friendship is a life time affair; bond cannot be created with everyone.
“I have not eaten Dosa ever since my friend Krishnakaveri died,” she paused and said during the television commercial. “She was the one who use to get me hot Dosa’s for Lunch”, she added.
She plans to send the loom to her brother’s house when she retires so that she can accommodate a queen size bed which she saw a few years ago at a furniture shop. “I have been saving money for the bed from past 7 years now, being old and fragile I no longer can sleep on the floor,” she chuckles.
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