Madhukanta Bhatt is on a mission to eliminate textile waste and the use of plastic. For the last eight years, she has been a crusader who is fighting with plastic waste on this planet. She has been sewing waste cloth bags every day since 2015 in an attempt to accomplish this.
“I don’t like sitting idle, and this is for the sake of the environment.” The 93-year-old observes that her days are busier than those of most people in their 90s. She gets up at 7:30 a.m., takes a bath, performs puja, and then goes straight to her sewing machine after breakfast.
She gives those bags away for free to folks all across Hyderabad. So far, she has created over 35,000 cloth bags from of rubbish that would otherwise end up in landfills.
“I enjoy stitching, and this way I can help save the planet,” she says.
Madhukanta claims she was born in 1930 in a small village in Gujarat’s Jamnagar district, in a region where girls were not sent to school. As a result, she did not acquire any formal education.
“My parents married me off when I was 18 years old.” I relocated to Hyderabad with my hubby after my marriage. “As a lifelong learner, I wanted my children to attend a good school and receive an education that I did not receive,” she adds.
She didn’t speak any language other than Gujarati when she moved to Hyderabad. Her primary concentration became her children because she had no way of communicating with others. “We are five siblings consisting of four sisters and one brother,” her son Naresh said. My mother was anxious that my sisters attend a specific convent school. She made certain that we all had excellent education. She also possessed a natural talent for sewing but had never had any official training.”
With her children in school and plenty of free time on her hands, Madhukanta decided to follow a long-held ambition.
“As a child, whenever I saw other women use a sewing machine, I wanted to do the same.” But I had no prospect of getting a machine because they were rather expensive at the time. “I wanted to give it a shot, so I started saving money,” she adds.
“I would save money by cutting expenses, and after some time, I was able to buy an Usha sewing machine, which cost Rs 200 in 1955,” she recalls.
While Madhukanta was able to obtain a machine, she was unable to afford training.
“Because formal training was not possible, I took a one-month course to learn how the machine works and how to repair it.” “I learned the sewing, cutting, and designing by observing,” she explains.
Madhukanta mastered the machine in a matter of months. “I became more skilled after that and began stitching my own clothes, my children’s clothes, and even blouses and petticoats for neighbours.”
When asked why she keeps stitching, she chuckles and adds, “I can’t sit still.” I stitch because it is my love, but I recently learnt how it may also benefit the environment. Plastic bags are an environmental hazard. I have often seen that it is the most commonly seen item with people, and I believe that I can provide an alternative.”
“We saw that she had a passion and she wanted to follow it, so I decided to help her in that,” her son, Naresh, adds. She sews nearly eight bags every day, which we then transport to be distributed.”
Her determination was unshaken by a hip injury a few years ago. “With an injured hip, using a manual machine was impossible, so I decided to install a motor to help her sew,” explains Naresh.
Naresh also points out that these bags are distributed to anybody and everyone. “Everyone has a bag stitched by my mother, from our vegetable seller to plumbers, family, friends, and friends of friends.” We also work with non-profit organisations that distribute these backpacks to others.”
She gets her leftovers from tailors in her neighbourhood and a family friend who produces furniture.
“A lot of fabric is wasted in these fields.” “We collect fabrics that would otherwise be thrown away and turn them into cloth bags,” explains Naresh.
“I have been supplying old clothes to her for five years,” says Devraj, a curtain tailor who lives near Madhukanta’s residence. It’s encouraging to see scrap cloth put to good use rather than being discarded. I utilised masks and bags made from scrap textiles that did not look like they were made from waste.”
When asked if she expects to retire, Madhukanta responds, “Not a chance.” She wants to keep sewing more and more bags. As a cricket lover, she spends some time watching matches while stitching bags these days. “People my age would like to retire and rest, but I want to keep going,” she explains.
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