The Cane-Basket Makers of Mahim

We, as humans are turning into acutely selfish creatures. No, seriously! We are so busy trying to achieve things that we forget about the little things that matter. Maybe our insensitivity stems from the lack of interest in an issue; or maybe it’s just that ‘nobody’ really cares. For instance, who has ever given a thought about where cane baskets come from? I mean, what would your vendor stock his veggies in? What would make an adorable puppy even better if it didn’t come in a basket? What has all this got to do with being insensitive and uninterested, you ask?  Well, give it a thought. Have you ever wondered who makes them? Not really, right? We bring to you the significant story of the not-so-insignificant inhabitants of Mumbai.

Let us just say that the discovery of this story happened when I stepped on to it, literally! While on my way to a friend’s house which is a five-minute walk from Mahim station, I always noticed a group of men and women constantly weaving baskets of different shapes and sizes. On one such similar day, as I walked past them, watching them work quickly with their fingers in perfect co-ordination, as if weaving together a rhythmic pattern of tan bamboo strands, I accidentally stepped on one of the new baskets lying by the side of the road. “Watch your step!”, Lakshmi yelled from the footpath as I regained my posture quickly. She is all of 19 years old and started making baskets at the tender age of five. Her husband, Vikram, 39, stands by her protectively as I speak to her.

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Lakshmi, 19, is married to Vikram, 39

She came to the city when she was a child and learned to weave basket, the only thing that her community knows. “It’s passed down from one generation to another. My husband’s father made baskets for 40 years in Mumbai before he retired to the village for good”, she says. Another lady, Chandreka, 22, learned the art of weaving baskets when she married into her husband’s family at the age of 17. “Each basket takes about 4-5 hours to weave and I make about 10 of these big ones.” The bamboos for the baskets come from places like Vashi and Mulund and the ready baskets are sold off at markets in Borivali and Malad. They cost anywhere between Rs. 30-120 depending on the size.

Don’t the municipality officials cause them any trouble since they occupy a large part of the footpath? “They do tell us to leave this place and go away, but where do we go?” rues Bitoo, Chandreka’s husband. “We don’t have anything to depend for money back home. This life is hard but we do it because we have to. Nobody will like living on the road without a roof to cover your head from the sun”, he asserts. “Are you going to give us any monetary help?” he asks hopefully. “No, but I’m going to give you a voice”, I say. As I wave goodbye to them, a wave of realisation sweeps over me. Yet another story, yet another dimension of the city uncovered.

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