Entangled: Story Of Ramawati And Her Braids
Delhi is a cauldron of colours, stories, dreams and journeys. Millions of blank pages are inked in this city and many float the streets waiting for the breeze of opulence to lift them and change their fate. Delhi charms and awes many. Many leave smaller towns, alleys and expectations behind and seek a warm and uplifting welcome from this city. The city that never sleeps, never fades and never disappoints, seeks many labourers and wage workers who have there before often slept on concrete floors with eyes panning the star filled sky hoping for a miracle to happen. They often belong to remote and ignored small towns. Delhi for many is that ticket, that miracle just waiting to happen.
This story is about a similar community of dreamers having found a market and comfort at Dilli Haat. The story is about a group of middle-aged women who make a living off braiding hairs with colourful threads and beads. These women are courageous, undeterred and hardcore. Many support their families on their meager earnings.
Dilli Haat, as vibrant and diverse it is in its depiction of mini India and representation of art, craft and fabrics from every corner of the country, I believe harbors an equally diverse palette of aspirations that every trader or merchant brings along their produce.
As you exit INA metro station and are drawn towards the harmonious symphony of music and innocent conversations escaping from Dilli Haat, you are unfailingly drawn to the fluttering threads and the adept fingers effortlessly weaving the braid at the entrance. Just like a painter spreading strokes across a black canvas or northern lights dancing atop a silent, black ocean.
Ramawati, a fifty-year-old lady has been braiding hair and adding a little colour to many lives since the past fifteen years. Being a regular customer of hers, I often indulged in conversations with her; it is strange how some strangers can suddenly seem so familiar.
Ramawati has been at Dilli Haat from the beginning. She saw the foundation being laid and has spent her youth at the place.
Today, a total of around five to six women commit themselves to this activity. A companionship has been established amongst them, with each braider encouraging and introducing each other as the best at the job. Ramawati, in one of our candid discussions told me that they all belong to one community and see it their duty to look out for each other. It doesn’t matter if one or the other braids a fewer customers some day, the aim is to make every member more practiced. Many women now have joined her; it gives them a sense of security and usefulness. They are glad to be able to contribute towards their household needs and are so proud of being successful at it.
Ramawati belongs to an era bygone, when artificial colouring hadn’t taken over as the trend. She still believes that hair braiding is better than getting one’s hair colored because the thread can be taken out whenever one wants but the color if once dyed then takes time to fade away. She agrees that the competition is stiff but vouches that her art is much more personal and creative. Every girl or even man who comes to Dilli Haat surely enquires and that is enough to draw their interest.
She is able to earn between a hundred on regular days and even a thousand depending literally on a good hair day. Depending on the customers, there are days when she earns a thousand and sometime a hundred or a fifty.
Her family members unfortunately discourage Ramawati to continue the pursuit. Her sons are now employed in Lajpat Nagar and hence dissuade her to pursue this further. Surprisingly, Ramawati thinks quite contradictorily and independently. It gives her a lot of satisfaction to indulge in this task. She was a married girl who suddenly had to start her life all over again when she came to Delhi from Khadar, Uttar Pradesh. With the necessity to feed and take care of three young kids, she had no choice but to step out of her narrow lanes and start working. It wasn’t easy; more so for she was a girl who lived in a restricting and restraining society that confined its women to the narrow walls of domestic life. It was challenging and daunting to go ahead and she prides over her faith and strength. Today she hopes she can inspires another girl to follow her footsteps. As she emphatically told me, “women like us suffer a lot memsahib and this place, people like you make us forget that pain”. Why can’t her son and she earn together was her blunt question to me. She stated that all it takes is a will to do something productive and beyond what is expected of them. She isn’t only a rebel in her own right but also one that is a strong advocate of gender equality.
As I said Delhi- the city of unfurling dreams, attracts many aspirants every day. It lures them, sometimes satisfies yet sometimes disappoints them. It gives them a reason to aspire and gives them many reasons to be inspired. It is riddled with hardships and many get lost in the luster of the city.
Ramawati came to this city with a blank canvas and this city gave her a purpose to dream. Many more followed her and many continue today. This city welcomes many with open arms, yet sadly women are often left behind. Ramawati not only breaks stereotypes but also barriers doing what she does. She came to a city where very few like her could even own a voice, hopefully she will leave a city behind that will give wings to many more. And she is yet so desperate to see many more take flight.