Update from The Strengths Project, Kolkata, India – May 2012
Posted by: Avirupa Bhaduri & Alex Linley
In her May update, Avirupa shares with us the horrendous heat challenges in Kolkata during the month, but also a great opportunity that she was able to create for the Women’s Sewing Co-operative in Shiriti slum:
“This month has been by far the cruellest of summer in the last 25 years. Temperatures have soared to maximum of 40 degrees C (i.e. 104 degree F) and refuses to budge for weeks. This is 5 notches higher than normal. Everyday the newspapers are bearing stories of lives lost due to heat stroke. So far 25 deaths have been reported in the state of West Bengal alone, out of which 7 people dropped dead in the streets of Kolkata.
It hasn’t rained in months. Met office has not been able to give any hope for monsoon even in the 1st week of June. What is making lives unbearable is the humidity quotient which is about 70% on an average. This means sweat is draining out precious body fluid, thus everyone is suffering from dehydration.
Life at Shiriti is worse due to frequent power cuts, scarcity of water, as there are not enough public running water taps in the locality. Plus most of the roofs are made up of tin or asbestos, which gets heated up abnormally during the day. We could not conduct more than two meetings this month because of this unbearable weather condition. A heat wave warning is announced, and repeated announcements are made in media, asking residents to remain indoors between 10a.m. to 4p.m.
We had to put our plan to transfer materials on hold, as none of the boys can be found during day, and in the evenings the women are too busy to meet. However, a new opportunity has suddenly landed with us from unexpected quarters. I am involved in the costume department of an upcoming Bengali feature film, and for that I had, in my capacity to allot some of the costumes to be tailored and embroidered.
Instantly I thought this would be a fantastic chance to offer some work to the Shiriti women’s group. To this effect, on 17th May, I took 3 Kurtas to the women and explained what needs to be done as per the designer’s requirement. When they learnt it is for a film, naturally everyone was very excited. Mousumi junior, who happened to be present wanted to know the name of the actor who’ll wear the kurtas. We had a laugh over it.
Sharmila Mousumi got busy deciding on responsibility chart. Arpita wanted to buy the materials. The shooting is to start from June 11th. So deadline was fixed at 1st June. On May 24th when we assembled I found one kurta was ready. The second needed finishing touch and the group was yet to start on the third. By 1st June two kurtas were completed, the women complained of the heat and power cuts for the delay of the third. Finally on 6th I got the third.
The quality of the kurtas were very high. The film unit gave hearty compliments to the women, which I later conveyed to them. They were delighted to get a job which was fun and were hopeful to get other such works in future. This project lifted their spirit and gave them hope for the future through the sewing co-operative.”