She is one of those people who does not shy away from saying how rural exposure has influenced her urban lifestyle and transformed her into a better person. Drawing inspiration from ordinary pieces of stuff that lie around us and go unnoticed, she uses them as an inspiration to create something extraordinary. What’s more? She uses a quirky surname ‘Mastani’, which she has gifted herself.
51-year-old Meeta Mastani, co-founder of Bindaas Unlimited, in an exclusive conversation with Life Beyond Numbers, shares a glimpse of her creative world, which is loaded with love, care, lots of hard work, especially the rural artisans who are like one big family to her.
Meeta was born in Delhi’s Patel Nagar, an early refugee colony and her parents originally hail from Sindh (now in Pakistan). It was 1992 when she decided to give wings to her creative ideas and that’s how her initiative Bindaas Unlimited started.
Making ordinary, extraordinary
Sharing with LBN, the environment she grew up in, she says, “We the kids in the neighborhood used to run a lending library for books since all of us loved to read. Everybody used to look after everybody. Nowadays, children spend most of their time indoors, staring at screens, but my friends were my best toys with whom I used to spend most of my time,” says Meeta between smiles.
Communication which is the basis of all human relationships and wonderful childhood and a liberal upbringing helped her to develop a bond with the rural artisans as well. “The ’80s were a less liberal time than now. A more patriarchal society made it tough for women to stand for themselves and fight for their rights. But, I am glad that I had a very liberal upbringing and my parents never restricted my freedom just because I was a girl child. This had a huge impact on what I am today.”
We see, but we fail to observe and probably that’s why we never appreciate the beauty around us. “Personally, I am very fond of handmade products and having exposure to rural art has changed the way I look at things around me. There is so much simplicity and yet so much depth to everything around us. We can draw inspiration from very ordinary things around us and turn it into extraordinary,” says Meeta.
Showing the world the face of India’s heritage
When you are working in an industry that demands constant change, it is necessary to stay connected to your roots and culture and then blend it with contemporary ideas. “I am not skeptical about using branded items or following the style that is in fashion, but wearing hand-made outfits have a different beauty altogether. I like the raw and unfiltered look that it adds to the style statement of a person. So, I make attires for those who love to wear it with confidence. I believe that everyone should have something handmade in their wardrobe,” says Meeta.
The items produced by local communities or rural artisans, in particular, there is neither respect or money for these kinds of handmade works. But, the moment, it is packaged beautifully or gets bottled up into art, and put in a museum for display are made available for purchase, people are willing to buy these kinds of stuff at a very high price. “There is no harm in this, but the rural artisans spend so much time to craft it and make ordinary stuff look extraordinary. They are not faceless and nameless people and they deserve credit,” she says.
She continues, “We do not share a boss-employee relationship with rural artisans who work for us. We are like one big family. They are independent artisan entrepreneurs. When they work with us, we connect them with NGOs, fair organizers. We work in a transparent manner, give exposure to the artisans who work with us, and pay them ethical and fair wages which is well above the market practice.”
Bindaas Unlimited – Blending sustainability and fashion
This social entrepreneur is also a writer and a lecturer and all she wants is to preserve textile traditions. Meeta has been awarded fellowships as a visiting artist and artist in residence at UW Madison. Her work has individually or collectively been part of the art shows at the Fabric of India, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Madison Children’s Museum and others.
Juxtaposing traditional symbols and contemporary motifs to create something new is her style and is apparent across many items designed by Meeta. Not only adding beautiful and quirky designs to fabric is her forte, but she also works with wood, metal, and paper.
From Sarees to T-shirts to towels, you name it, they have it! If you browse through the website, not only you will find sarees on which beautiful verses are printed on them, but some also have quirky measurements on them. Meeta says, “When it comes to textile printing, there are about 40-70 rural artisans who work for her. But, depending on the size of the order, the number of people working with us increases to 200 people.”
She also runs Bindaas Unlimited Trust, which has teamed up with organizations like Panasonic and distributed 500 solar lanterns to rural artisans in 2016 and 2017. To name a few, the organization has worked with artisans in several rural areas such as Kaladera in Rajasthan, Gujarat’s Kutch, Rampur village in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi’s Seelampur and other areas.
Further, the Trust has organized events in villages where they work to honor and award senior artisans, arranged talks where artisans have spoken on policy and direction to textile enthusiasts.“We are part of an effort to design better tooling for different craft skills and have funded several organizations such as Karm Marg, Sanjivini, Rupayan Sansthan, Unmeed Child Development Centre, Pravah, Nalandaway Foundation, Yakshi Creativity Centre for Rural Children, Siddi Women Quilts Coop, Rastra Chenetha Jana Samakya, Weaver Organization.”
There is a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. She says, “If you are happy inside, you will find a way to enjoy me-time. I love to travel and bonding with people I work with makes my life more beautiful.”
On being asked what transformed her as a person over the years and dedicating herself in this field of work for more than 25 years, Meeta concluded by saying, “Accept people for who they are. Everyone has a different set of skills, so it is best not to underestimate or judge anyone. Value everyone as a human being and accept them with their flaws. Together we can always achieve something wonderful and have tons of fun!”