Nandini Singh, Alkarani Singh and Kamini Singh—of three different royal families—are not just helping and protecting the poor but also providing them with a livelihood by promoting their crafts.
The pandemic has left each one of us vulnerable and gripped with fear of the unknown. We all live locked up in our homes, protecting ourselves from a microscopic, invisible enemy that attacks everybody differently. Some it leaves mildly scathed. Others it can drag to extinction.
Here are a few stories of strength featuring women of blue blood who could have simply retreated behind the gilded gates of their homes and havelis. Instead they decided to do their two bits for humanity. Profiled are three Covid warriors who are not just helping and protecting the poor but also providing them livelihood by promoting their crafts.
We begin this story in Jhabua, a sleepy state in the tribal belt of Madhya Pradesh. Young and dynamic Princess Nandini Singh, who otherwise helps the local tribal artists to sell their Gond art to museums overseas, has joined hands with Marina Shiekh to found a non-profit organisation called the Rising World Foundation. She shares, “Marina and I grew up together in Indore, this foundation run by her has done tremendous and noteworthy work in delivering essential supplies to those that need it the most. Marina has personally gone to deep interiors of the most crowded suburbs of Mumbai to supply food packets and masks.” Nandini is replicating that endeavour in Mahua, a backward region of Jhabua. Where each week, “We go down the dusty lanes giving away 500 food packets to the tribal families living there. Also, teaching them the importance of sanitation and wearing masks, something that is toughest to imbibe.” Besides which she is busy meeting all her master artists like Jangram Shyam, Jaggu, etc, to, “create an art show under my foundation Nandini Singh Jhabua for a gallery in Belgium. Besides what I pay these artists I will donate the rest to help these families feed and clothe themselves.
From Gond to Avadh, the region of refinement, let’s applaud the Princess of Pratapgarh, Alkarani Singh whose work towards Covid relief is very unique. An avid patron of folk music and a custodian to a group of Mirasins who traditionally sang at important occasions for the ruling elite, she is training these women to create exquisite masks made in tukri work of Avadh. She shares, “I was appalled to find out that they were begging for food. These Mirasins traditionally came to our kothis and the manzils of the nawabs (That is how our homes were referred to in Avadh) and sang in praise of the lord. I told them don’t beg, work with us and make these masks.”
Tukri work in a form of craft is seen in Avadh. Used to embellish the farshis, it was originally “used to create small potlis to hold the ingredients of our paans!” Turning them into masks then was not tough. She laughs, “I was so humoured to see the movie Gulabo-Sitabo. This puppetry act was born in our state. Craft is in the blood of every Avadhi and I thought why not turn a disaster into a discovery of a forgotten world.”
From Avadh to the copper town of Muradabad where one of the Thakuranis has proverbially created a storm with her organic cotton poshaks, farshis, anarkalis, skirts et al. Kanwarani Kamini Singh from the Seohara noble family, a designer whose brand Rose Tree is known for its organic cotton ensembles, now shifts gear, creating outerwear in SITRA-certified fabric. Manufactured keeping all safety standards in mind in her workshop in Delhi, these protective gears are washable and highly affordable. “They are perfect to give to your frontline workers: Your driver, dispatch boy, gardener, cook to be worn when they step out. It will keep them safe and in turn keep you protected,” says Kamini.
She has reached out to the many heritage enterprises run by royals and nobles to come forward and invest in these protective gears that will ensure their staff and guests are safe. Above all the project helps generate employment in Seohara, Uttar Pradesh. “I even went and gifted 300 of them to the local police and healthcare workers.”
“I see it as a donation campaign where hoteliers, museum owners, people who have large personal staff can buy the gloves, masks, outerwear for their staff. I feel we, as citizens also, have to do our bit and not expect the government to do everything. This project also generates employment for my people. Which is very crucial for me,” informs Kamini.
The initiative empowers citizens to take charge of protecting themselves, their families, and communities. The designer has also created a line of non-surgical reusable masks, for frontline warriors in appreciation for them working tirelessly for the well being of citizens during the pandemic. Her daughter Chandni Kumari and she are in the process of designing very stylish outerwear in khadi that can be worn by city slickers to work. “Best part being that they are Covid protective.”
The writer is the founder of Royal Fables, a heritage platform that helps in the conservation of craft, culture and cuisine of princely India.