We first heard about Begampur sarees in a saree enthusiast group. We had no idea about Begampur and its unique saree. So we too ordered one saree to see how it feels like. We came across the name Sailendra Kundu. We called on the number given on the parcel. We spoke to somebody called Madhujee.
We contacted Madhujee several times to arrange a visit to Begampur. It was just before Durga Puja that we called him the first time. Madhujee told us that due to Puja people would be busy and it would be better to visit Begampur only after Puja. So we called after Puja. But it seems people take too long to come out of festive mood in this part of India.
Anyway, our 1st visit was quite uneventful. Plain simple visit with introductions and stories of successes. I was so proud that we are working with a team that empowers its people. The sarees clicked on our store. So we wanted to order more. Kundujee not being tech-savvy and business running alright, did not show much interest in clicking pictures and sharing it with us. So only when we made another visit we could get some more Begampuri sarees. During this visit, the situation improved. The relationship became warmer. There was more trust than before. We exchanged ideas and also discussed what improvements could be made to make Begampur a better handloom cluster.
We left and in matters of months visited the place again. This time though it was very different.
Kundujee had so many complaints about Govt. policies and how it was impacting them. The sales had dropped. The designs that were running successfully for last 4-5 years needed change. As all their sarees are completely handmade, design change means changing the way of working slightly. But he was not sure how his weavers would adjust to new ways of weaving. He was complaining that change takes a long time and many might leave. Nobody wanted to change. Now that is for sure like east.. hehehe
We talked about govt. policies that exist only on papers. Like better quality yarns could be obtained from Govt. at half the market rate but the quality in actual is inferior. We discussed how somebody sitting at the top though has right intent will not help till the machinery has right people at the touch points.
During all this discussion my eyes were on the wall clock. I had planned too many things for that day but nothing would be possible if I reach Kolkata after 3. I checked the clock it was 12:30. The next train to Howrah was at 1:15. No worries. I can still catch the train. We talked and talked and now it's 1:45. I asked them to WhatsApp me the bill but they calmly insisted that billing would take just a few minutes, not that I was paying them there. I was to do bank transfer anyway. Yet, they requested me to wait. I asked them to call the toto so that we need not wait for it.
I went out where the billing was happening. There was one more wall clock which showed 1:15. WHAT??!! I immediately enquire and Kundujee very calmly told me that the clock inside may be delayed by half an hour. So I was sure I won’t be able to do things planned for that day but I had to catch a train for Bhubaneswar from Howrah at 4:15. They assured that I should make it in time if I take a train at 2:33. I had no intention of missing 2:33 train so I insisted that toto should be called. Unfortunately, toto did not come and Sourav, an employee of the society, gave me a ride to the railway station. I reached my platform and was making notes and listening to music. After about 5 minutes the mike cracked. Announcements of a canceled train were being made. Out of curiosity, I checked the train no. I would be taking. And guess what?? It's the same train.
I panicked.. how will I reach Howrah in time. Oh god. I quickly called Sourav and told him that I can’t miss Bhubaneswar train. He first suggested that I take a toto to nearby town which is around 25 km from where I can get a bus to Howrah. It was not a great option though. especially when you have a train in 2 hrs. from Howrah. I immediately rejected the suggestion and asked him if there is a taxi service from his town to Howrah. He asked me to wait till he gets some connect. I waited. Pretending to be patient, writing notes and listening to music but inside I was planning and replanning. What if I miss the Bhubaneswar train? What is the next train to Bhubaneswar? are tickets available? By when should I book the ticket as the booking is not allowed 4 hrs prior to the actual timing of the train? I was going nuts. 10 mins and no call from Sourav. I called him and he assured me that he is arranging something. I took his words and wait for another 10 mins. it's now 2:35. I could not wait anymore. I called him again. He says he has finalized a taxi till half way for Rs. 500. I was ready to pay anything. He asked me to reach a location. I quickly did that. No sign of him for next 10 mins. I waited. I had no other choice.
And then came Sourav, sitting in cleaners seat of a van. They drove me till half way. The moment I reached the station platform, a train arrived. I ran and caught the train at 3:10. Reaching Howrah at 3:30, I walked to the platform 23 tired and smiling, thinking about the beautiful pieces that were worth the struggle.