The two-in-one shop: Stitching her own story in small-town Rajasthan

Sharada Makwana runs a tailoring shop and beauty parlour in Kushalgarh, in the Banswara district

Sharada Makwana's saree blouse shop cum beauty parlour (photo: Priti David/PARI)
Sharada Makwana's saree blouse shop cum beauty parlour (photo: Priti David/PARI)

Priti David

"I’ll put a gold border and give it some pleats. We can also add a few cut-outs on the sleeve, but that will be another 30 rupees.”

These are routine conversations Sharada Makwana has with her clients — some of whom, she says, can be quite particular about the length of the sleeve, the kind of lace and the weight of tassels attached to the strings that tie up the daring low-back saree blouses.

“I can also make flowers with the cloth and add them on as embellishments,” she says, proud of her skills, and then she goes on to show us just how she does it.

Sharada and other local saree blouse tailors like her are the women’s favourite fashion advisors in Kushalgarh. After all, almost all young girls and women of all ages who wear sarees need that 80 cm piece of cloth to be tailored just so.

In an otherwise deeply patriarchal society, where women don’t get a voice in public meetings and where the sex ratio at birth is an alarming 879 females per 1,000 men (National Family Health Survey, NFHS-5), women’s freedom to choose their own clothing is something to cheer about.

This small town in Rajasthan’s Banswara district is dotted with tailoring shops.

The men’s tailors are split between those stitching shirts and pants and those who make wedding attire, like kurtas and coats for bridegrooms. Both are rather sedate affairs, the colour palette not venturing beyond an occasional light pink or red.

The shops of saree blouse tailors, on the other hand, are a riot of colours, with twirling tassels, glinting gota (gold and silver edging) and scraps of colourful cloth strewn all over.

“You should come a few weeks later when the wedding season will start,” says 36-year-old Sharada, her face lighting up. “That’s when I get very busy.”

She dreads rainy days, as then no one ventures out and her business drops.

Sharada estimates that there are at least 400–500 blouse tailors in the small town with a population of 10,666 (Census 2011). Kushalgarh tehsil, however, is among the largest in Banswara district, with over 3 lakh people. Yet, some of her customers come from as far as 25 kilometres away.

“I get customers from Ukala, Baolipada, Sarva, Ramgarh and other villages,” she says. “Once they come to me, they don’t go anywhere else again,” she adds, smiling.

She says her customers talk about clothes, life in general, their health and their children’s future.

She bought a Singer machine for Rs 7,000 when she started, and two years later, picked up a second-hand Usha sewing machine for smaller jobs like saree 'peeko' (picot edging), which brings in Rs 10 per saree. She also stitches petticoats and Patiala suits (salwar kameez), charging from Rs 60 to Rs 250.

Sharada and her Singer sewing machine (photo: Priti David/PARI)
Sharada and her Singer sewing machine (photo: Priti David/PARI)
Priti David/PARI

Sharada also doubles up as a beautician.

At the back of the shop is a barber’s chair, a large mirror and an array of make-up products.

Her arsenal of beauty tricks extends from threading eyebrows to removing body hair, bleaching and haircuts for small children, especially fussy babies, all priced at Rs 30 to Rs 90.

“Women go to bigger parlours for facials,” she points out.

To find her, you have to get to the main market in Kushalgarh.

Roughly 40 buses leave every day with migrants going to Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Banswara district has a lot of distress migration as there are few sources of livelihood besides rain-fed agriculture.

Down a narrow street in the Panchal mohalla of the town, past the bustling market of small sweet shops selling morning snacks like poha and jalebi, is Sharada’s one-room tailoring shop cum beauty parlour.

The 'shopping street' of Kushalgarh (photo: Priti David/PARI)
The 'shopping street' of Kushalgarh (photo: Priti David/PARI)
Priti David/PARI

The 36-year-old lost her husband eight years ago; he was a taxi driver and struggled with a liver problem that finally took his life. Sharada and her children live with her in-laws and her late husband’s brother’s family.

The young widow says a chance meeting changed her life.

“I met a madam at the anganwadi who said, 'Try out the Sakhi centre and learn whatever you want.'” The centre, a not-for-profit initiative, was a place where young women could learn marketable skills.

Timings were flexible and Sharada would land up when her household chores were over. Some days, she spent an hour, somtimes up to half a day. The centre charged a monthly fee of Rs 250 for every student.

“I liked the sewing work, and we were taught very thoroughly,” adds a grateful Sharada, who asked to learn more than just blouses. “I told them, ‘Teach me whatever you can’, and in 15 days I mastered it!”

Armed with new skills, the entrepreneur decided to set up her own shop four years ago.

Kuch aur hi mazaa hai khud ki kamayi ka (It’s a different level of satisfaction to earn your own money),” says the mother of three, who did not want to depend on her in-laws for everyday expenses.

Her older daughter, 20-year-old Shivani, is studying to be a nurse in a college in Banswara, while 17-year-old Harshita and 12-year-old Yuvraj are both in school here in Kushalgarh.

Her children, she says, preferred the government school for higher secondary and so have shifted out of private school when they got to class 11: “They change teachers too often in private schools.”

Sharada was married at 16, and when her eldest daughter got to that age, the mother wanted to wait, but no one listened to the young widow.

Today, she and her daughter are trying their best to get the marriage—which is only on paper so far—annulled so that the young girl can be free.

When the shop next to Sharada fell vacant, she persuaded her friend, also a single parent, to set up her tailoring shop there.

“Even though each month the earnings are different, I feel good that I can stand on my own feet,” she says.

This is an edited excerpt from an article first published by People's Archive of Rural India (PARI).

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