Pammi Bacha (20) undertook a 24-hour journey using three modes of transport — rickshaw, bus and train — from her home in Daldi village in Gujarat’s Patan district to arrive at the south Mumbai venue where she is scheduled to have a rendezvous with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday.
But Bacha, who is unlettered, had no idea whom she was going to meet.
“Ek moti ben chhe. Mane kai khabar nathi (She is a bigshot. I don’t know anything more),” she said, looking down shyly, when HT asked her if she knew about Clinton. She was more excited about getting the opportunity to visit Mumbai.
Bacha is one of the eight women embroidery workers from Gujarat-based Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), who have come from their villages in Patan to meet Clinton. The others were also clueless about the identity of the VIP guest, but all of them had informed everyone in their village to stay tuned to the TV to catch them on news channels.
They were sitting on the floor of SEWA’s retail outlet at Malabar Hill on Friday afternoon, putting finishing touches to a coat that would be put on the back of a cloth-camel to showcase the traditional Soi Bharat embroidery (a style from Gujarat) to the former first lady.
Clinton is expected to arrive at the outlet at 11.30 am and will spend an hour interacting with them and viewing the collection. She has been associated with the NGO ever since she visited its headquarters in Ahmedabad in 1995 as US First Lady. She often refers to SEWA founder Ela Bhatt as her role model.
One of the senior artisans, Gauri Ramabha, was busy rehearsing a greeting. “Namaste, Hillary ben,” she said, folding her hands.
The 44-year-old artisan had met Clinton in 1995 but got tongue-tied. “I was too shy then. But I have learnt a lot over the past 14 years. I have lots to tell her now,” she said. Ramabha plans to give Clinton a traditional toran (door festoon). SEWA will also present her two exclusive kurtis designed for her daughter Chelsea.
Some of the women were all set to share their life stories with Clinton. “I want to tell Hillary ben about my struggles and how embroidery changed my life,” said Rani Sentaati.
A resident of Baveda village, she was married to a handicapped man who can’t work. She embroiders cushions to fund the education of her two sons. Sentaati said felt a great sense of achievement as she was meeting an “important person”.
“It is very inspiring to meet an educated woman, who is so powerful,” she said.
So, what look would the ladies recommend for Clinton? “She is fair-skinned. She will look good in a heavily embroidered maroon or ash-coloured sari. But she can wear it in her western style,” said Ramabha.