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Hugs For Free

I remember vividly, half a cup of tea kept next to the computer screen, almost ignored. Fellow colleagues laughing and planning to take a break. I on the other hand, shaking my left leg relentlessly, anxious and restless. Working at a job that I was qualified for but never felt connected to. I continued working for a corporate giant for five years, just trying to fit in and make sense of my contributions. In the end though, it all made sense.

Three years later, as I walk in every week to Chhoti Si Asha’s workshop, it surrounds me with an energy that’s hard to explain but I’ll give it a try.

Located in the beautiful city of Chandigarh, the workshop is tucked away at the edge of the city, around the busy streets of a village. As you walk into the narrow lane occupied with big rural houses, you arrive at a grey walled building with Chhoti Si Asha painted in a shade of green and brown. As you enter, you pass a room on the left bustling with activity, women working on their sewing machines, sharing conversations and sounds of laughter. On your right, there’s a wall decorated with portraits of the team.

 You’re now entering the big aangan/verandah taking you to the sewing room, a storage room and the stairs which takes you to the first floor. As I stand there in middle of the aangan, I could hear Manju didi singing, Poonam coordinating with Jyoti and Pinki in the storage room, Usha didi calling everyone for chai that she just made. In the sewing room, I get a massive bear hug from Bina didi followed by Manju didi. Both laughing and making me feel like home, as if I always belonged here in their presence. 

I had planned to shoot a sequence about independence day, making the women talk about their idea of freedom. And oh, what incredibly inspiring statements our women artisans were giving. I could see how liberating it is for these women to leave their households and go out to work. It gives them a sense of accomplishment using their skills & techniques in creating some wonderfully crafted handicrafts at Chhoti Si Asha. I wouldn’t lie when I say-I had a tear or more when I heard their passionate minds speak.

Every-time as I visit the workshop and I’am welcomed with these hugs filled with love and compassion, I remember the overwhelming day I had in my cubical in the fancy building of my office. I belonged here, in between these inspiring stories and letting the world know about their immense strength.

Here I am, amidst these hugs for free!