“Hum ghar bana rahain hain” (We are making a house), exclaimed Amna, Aisha and Hamza as their tiny fingers circled through the wet sand and shaped out a square structure they called home. These kids belong to jhuggis situated near Emporium Mall Lahore, while the term jhuggi can be loosely translated into “shanty clusters.
People adopt different migration patterns and carry various reasons for settlement. The jhuggis at the Emporium Mall site aptly showed this, as they comprised a mix of people and communities, one of whom was Mussarat. Mussarat had moved into the Emporium Mall site a mere two months ago and was previously living in a middle-class home as a caretaker. She was born and bred in south Punjab, and these jhuggis were not customary of her lifestyle. In her teenage, she had lived in someone’s home as a domestic worker, where she had learnt traces of verbal English and near-perfect verbal Urdu. While seeking domestic work was common in these setups, not everyone possessed Mussarat’s linguistic abilities and history of residence within employers’ homes. Amid the pandemic, Mussarat was finding it hard to find any full-time jobs, so she had to get creative to earn money for her day to day expenses. As a young girl, Mussarat was taught how to make Ralli quilts by her grandmother. These quilts are a visual feast of colour, pattern and energy. The quilts are called “rilli” (or ralli, rilly, rallee and rehli) derived from the local word ralanna, meaning to mix or connect. Rillis are usually made by women of rural villages, nomadic tribes and settled towns.
Ralli is made from scraps of cotton fabric hand dyed to the desired colour. According to Indus craft website a typical rilli is about seven by four or five feet. Much of the fabric comes from old, worn shalwar kameez (traditional loose shirt and pant outfits). The most common colours in rillis are white, black, red, yellow, orange, green, dark blue and purple. However, there are some unique regional and tribal color palettes. For the bottoms of the rillis, the women often use old pieces of tie-dye, ajrak (red and blue block printed material) or other shawl fabric.
As I stand outside the mall in parking, waiting for my friend to pick me up, I accidentally start a conversation with Mussarat, who was also waiting for the Rickshaw (tuk-tuk). Within 10 minutes of knowing each other, she invited me to her Jhuggi for chai (tea), and I agreed. After walking for a few minutes, we reach the jhuggi settlement where kids are playing and running around freely; she leads the way to her small jhuggi. As we enter everywhere, there are loose pieces of fabric on the ground. Quickly she starts gathering them up and apologizes to me for the mess; after a good 30-minute conversation, I ask her if she was making Ralli earlier. She nodes and offers me if I want to see how it’s made. I quickly agree to her offer and sit down on the ground with her as she starts stitching two pieces of fabric together. Eventually, both of us (mostly by Musarat) stitch a small piece (around 24 cm)of Ralli together. During this process, Musarat and I connected on a whole new level.
Our natural tendency is to resist painful thoughts or feelings. This means we suffer two pains-the painful heart-wrecking situations themselves and our resistance to it! For example, I felt stressed because of the condition I was in and second of all, I couldn’t describe how I felt to other people again and again. Then I thought, I hate feeling so stressed.
The primary pain is stress about the situation I am in, and the secondary pain is feeling, “I wish I weren’t so stressed. “The solution is acceptance. Let the unpleasant situation be as it is, without trying to change it or push it away.
By fighting the pain, we feel we intensify our suffering. However, if we accept our feelings, we don’t heap an extra layer of pain upon the one we are already feeling. It is normal to feel sad. It’s okay that I feel this way. Acceptance doesn’t mean you like what is happening; it just means you accept that certain things are beyond your control.No matter what the situation. Resisting the situation and feelings only magnify the pain.
How I wonder where has distance taken you ?
Or which land or soil is carrying you ?
It breaks my heart (when) I look at all
That has been created, but cannot see you,
Nor hear a whisper about your whereabouts..
For this action, I stepped away from my screen, bedroom and went out around the house looking for materials I could work with. I spent the entire day noticing little things around me and eventually came across a sack full of rice in my kitchen. I touch Woven polypropylene (PP) sack, made from recycled plastic and examine it closely. It’s beautiful! The plastic is stretched into threads, which are then woven together to create a fabric. This fabric is then used like any other fabric and sewn into reusable bags. At this point, the lexicon word I had in my mind was “Evolving Permanence.”
I transfer the rice out of the sack and lay it flat on the ground. I start to read what’s written on top of the sack. I read it again and again and again. Words like quality, new,50kg and automatic have been displayed in Urdu typeface, although alternative Urdu words are available and could have been easily used to convey the message.
Perhaps I had read too much about decolonization that week, and I was sensitive about everything. Pakistan was a British colony for more than two hundred years. Colonization completely swallowed the indigenous design, and the European systems entirely replaced our knowledge and language. Now, decolonization has come to represent a whole host of ideas. For some, decolonization is a project of decanting settlers’ perspectives to emphasize natives, the process of recovery, restoration of identity, and use to critique eurocentrism and modernism. These are all interconnected to decolonial design. Censoring those words with thread was my process of healing.