November in Delhi is one of my favorite times of the year.
The days are sunny and bright and the nights are beautifully cool. In the morning crows and mynahs and red vented bul buls along with the occasional tailor bird come to my balcony. Between my potted plants and the bread I leave out for them, they find something to eat.
Below my second floor apartment I see the newspaper man riding by on his bicycle, he tosses the Hindustan Times into my driveway and pedals on; New Delhiites are eager for the morning news.
Just breathing the air on a November morning feels me with happiness. The charcoal fires in braziers have started up, they will fend off the morning cold, and this stirs memories, my more than thirty years of travelling in India is full of many falls and the evocative smells of the season. I look down the road and see a steady trail of people walking to the nearby park, getting their exercise and enjoying the cool weather. Seeing everybody wrapped in shawls and caps reminds me how much Delhiites enjoy the change of weather.
In a short while I will have my breakfast and go to my office and factory in nearby Okhla.
Okhla is where my factory is. Since 1991 I have been a manufacturer in India. I have a wonderful factory and a wonderful team of dedicated and talented individuals. Bougainvillea great me at the door and a lobby with big comfy couches sets an embracing and welcoming tone. Currently I have about 250 employees in India. This is down from a high of 750 several years ago, but it is still a significant number of people, and the work that the factory creates and controls extends to more than 5000 families. To say I am proud to have a factory in India, and that I feel personal pride in the product it turns out would be an understatement. Delhi and Cornell Overseas are the heart and soul of my company. They produce the prints, the table and bed linens, the childrens dresses and a huge collection of clothing for women that I have worked on for years. And in so many ways the culture and traditions of India have influenced my design. The textile history here is so strong, the tailoring skills so sophisticated that I have had the opportunity to expand and push my own personal style to so many different and interesting directions.
One of the best parts of my day is the first hour or so, spent walking the factory floors and visiting all the departments and seeing what production is going on. I usually start with the sampling room, which is always exciting; any number of things might be under way. A small team of women do hand embroidery, and I will stop by their table to see what new designs they are working on. They may be trying a new stitch or a new pattern. They work out all of the kinks in a design before the first sample is made. They are skilled in embroidery, beading, appliqué, and any handwork that make our product special.
I then check to see what is on the machines with the sample tailors, looking at the sketch and checking it against their item. I will likely see a style that Deepak has put on a mannequin, waiting for fit approval by the masters. I will pop my head in the embroidery room, to see the embroidery tracings under way, and watch the hand guided machine embroidery samples being made.
A quick hello to the pattern Masters who are working on new patterns, and figuring out the new styles.
These guys have been with me for years, and all of them ran with me last year in the Delhi Half Marathon for Concern India.
A head poke into the spec room lets me know if there are any pending issues there. If there are we discuss them and sort them out. I walk over to the linen sampling area where we are working on some patchwork pieces for my quilt book. I see what is on the sample cutting table, inquire as to who it is for and move on to our production tailoring unit. The place is humming as tailors use their juki sewing machines to good effect. I speak with the head of production and learn about the day’s targets and goals. And then move up the back stair case passing the button holing and button room. And an important room it is - it represents just one of the many steps a garment needs before it is completed.
What is a blouse without its buttons? What is a button without its buttonhole?
A stroll through a second production floor, a talk with the head of quality control, a trip to the roof to see the washing area, and the bolts of fabric hung on lines drying in the cool air. The wash tubs are filled with soaking items – we wash everything at least once and sometimes two or three times before the fabric meets the soft hand feel that we need for our garments. I can’t help swishing my hands through the water and feeling pleased with the amount of care that goes into each piece produced in my factory.
By the time I make my way back downstairs to the basement and into the cutting room, I am feeling a deep satisfaction with my life in India, the creativity it has allowed to bloom, the product that it has produced and the proud fact that I have been able to offer good jobs for many years.
Manufacturing is magic. The long stretch of printed fabric layered on the cutting table, the familiar face of the cutting master, the stacks of fabrics, neatly piled in my fabric stores, the transformation of an idea into an item of beauty, to a thing of desire, repleat with quality and style, the commitment of many hands behind it all, these are the riches of a career in textiles.
I was working on design when I was in Delhi, putting together a collection for fall 2009, sourcing fabrics, developing prints, working out the intricacies of new styles, coordinating pieces and colors in the hope of making women happy in the future. I work with a team of merchandisers and my head of Indian operations, Harpreet Sindhu when I do this – the days are long and interesting. Work spills into Saturdays and Sundays as we race the perpetual deadline for sample completion.
Harpreet and I spend many hours talking about business, about our customer, about design, about the economy, about employees, about fabric supplies, and production issues, orders and how to deliver them. Every Hour is full of thoughts and strategies to keep this amazing business vibrant.
At lunch we sit and talk about our lives, about our children, about movies, about politics and about shopping. Sometime during the trip we will shop together and dine together.
It has been such an honor and such a rich life to have worked in India and had the exposure to such a tremendous culture.
Trip to Sai Kripa
Another amazing day.
On November 25, on a sunny morning I piled into our company truck with Nidhi Singh from Concern India and Anita Sharma from my office and headed off to one of my favorite Giving World Projects – Sai Kripa.
Sai Kripa is a school for first generation learners outside of New Delhi.
It has 350 students from pre kindergarten to grade 10. These children are receiving an excellent education, challenging and stimulating in a respectful and loving environment. The woman who started this extraordinary school is herself the extraordinary Anjina Rajgopal. Anjina has adopted or fostered more than 80 children, currently she has 33 at home with her, the youngest being five. The woman’s face glows in a way that seems saint like. But she is as down to earth and practical as only a mother of 80 has to be!
Her love for these children and her highly educated background led her to starting this school. Together with the collaboration of villagers she has successfully changed a mainly illiterate town into a literate one where young people now have opportunities beyond farming or menial labor. Where graduates have come back to teach at the school!
When we were visiting the classrooms, Anjina got an amazing phone call. A vagrant boy, lost, incoherent, beaten and ill had arrived on her doorstep several months earlier. His early prognosis was not good, it was even suggested that he be institutionalized. Anjina decided to nurture him first, tend his wounds and his spirit and see how he did. Within a couple of months he regained his health and was able to remember the name of the town he was from and that his mother sold vegetables under a tree.
The town was in another state. With a lot of networking and sleuthing, the mom was found. And Anjina received the call in our presence. A truly miraculous day. To say nothing of the many children all around us, adding and subtracting, reading and writing, questioning and playing. Thirty of these children also participated in the Delhi Half Marathon this year. Anjina makes sure her kids are involved and take advantage of every opportunity.
When I think of India and my life working with the Giving World and Sai Kripa is such a rewarding part of it. How lucky to be able to give. How lucky to see positive change, and be an agent of change.
The night of November 26th was a bad day for India. At 940pm the city of Mumbai was attacked.
I went to bed unawares, as did most of us.
A call from my son at 430 in the morning alerted me to the horror that was going on in Mumbai, with attacks in the city’s most famous hotels, at the train station ,in a Jewish Center, at a hospital, we sat glued to the television, tied to the telephone, our computers open and our minds darting, anxious and afraid. I immediately called my friends in Mumbai. Living in the Colaba district surrounding the besieged Taj Hotel, they were also locked in their apartments listening to gunshots and sirens, watching billowing smoking clouds and praying. Everything felt minute to minute, tense and unreal. It dawned on Thanksgiving Day. We all still went to work, we all still worked we all still worried and kept The Times of India on the Internet all day long.
At noon we shared a Thanksgiving lunch of butter chicken and daal and two chocolate cakes in heart shaped pans. We were thankful to be together. Thankful to be working, thankful we had not been in Mumbai and anxious for those still trapped at the Taj and Oberoi Hotels.
India has been a home for me, albeit one of several, for more than thirty years. I never felt more at home in India, than on November 26 when my Indian friends and their proud city were under siege. I felt anxious, and scared, as did they, but I also felt solidarity and a pride in the strength of the average Indian to care for one another, to combat fear and to root out ignorance and violence. To discuss intellectually and passionately the challenges of the country, and of the world.
We breathed a sigh of relief when the very long occupation in Mumbai ended. We got back to our work with gusto. India is an important place for me, and for the planet.