Of Quilters and Karachites

Article by SARID's director Salma Shakir, originally published in DAWN magazine


There are some Karachites who treat honesty, dedication and hard work with a lot of respect and admiration. They are the concerned citizens who know that Karachi’s impoverished population need all the help they can get to eke out a living, they help out, they care and then there are Karachites who live in total oblivion. They could not care less for those that are less fortunate than themselves…. This is not a class distinction but a distinction of mindsets, of attitudes and thinking. Being a part of the Piecemakers I came across both these kinds of citizens when we had our first exhibition at Park Towers, this summer.

For those of you who do not know who the Piecemaker are let me explain before I continue with my story. It is a program run by the South Asia Research Institute for Development, to teach impoverished women the art of American Patchwork Quilting. It is by no means limited only to impoverished women, they will teach anyone who wants to learn. Piecemakers work very hard and hope to make their future a little better by selling the quilts and various quilted items that they make.

After almost a year of the program starting the P.M’s wanted to have a sale of the handiwork. The option for a suitable venue was limited, due to lack of funds (they run entirely on donations). The administration at Park Towers came to the rescue. They were most accommodating and encouraging.

Organizing an exhibition can be stressful. Making sure everything to go on sale is finished on time, advertising the event, working out how best to display and set-up. Surviving all these without hurting anyone physically required patience and a sense of humor. I have to admit, I did lose both, and the eve of opening night I became quite cantankerous and offensive.

“Sleep on it!” I did, and did it help, NO!

Tahira, my sister-in-law, and I got up early the next morning to set up. We had a good time putting up the quilts, laying out the cushions. We were ready for our customers. We sat behind our tables flashing huge smiles to passer-buyers hoping they would approach us. The smiles worked, but not in the way we had hoped. Soon enough we had people walking up to us asking,

“Why is Maria B closed?”

Maria B! We are trying to sell quilts made my women of Katchi Abadi. Do we look like we know why Maria B. is closed?

I tell you it was disappointing. If I had researched our location, I would really have been able to help out the shoppers at the mall . We knew nothing, had no clue about where the Internet cafe was located, or where various boutiques were.

Luckily by early evening we were being noticed. People came to talk to us about our mission and our work. A few cushion covers were sold and tee shirts, which were small sales, but a start. All sorts of people were approaching us; some looking for cheap bargains, while others inquired about our organization.

What could I possibly say to the lady, who picked up a bunch of safety pins off our table and asked, “Is say choti size ki pins nahin hai?”

Women’s empowerment was a great conservational piece for us. Most men cringed at the thought of wearing a tee shirt which said “Empowering women for a better future.” One man said, “empowering women? They already have more than they need! What do women need with power anyway, all they do during the day is cook one ‘salan’ and clean,” he so calmly explained. The male population was not the only one to be skeptical of our vision, some women came up and looked at our slogan and laughed, they thought we were promoting lesbianism, which they would have no part of.

As I lay out the negative of our journey, I must mention the positive, which seemed to balance it out. We had very optimistic approaches. A girl from Tyler, Texas bought one of our quilts to take back to the United States to show Americans what a wonderful job the girls in the Katchi Abadi were doing. Another lady praised us and questioned why we did not publicize more, because after all, this was a worthy cause. A couple of lady doctors asked if they could help us out with women’s health issues. Men as well as women offered advice on how we could go forward. These are the people that boost our spirits.

We managed to sell a fair amount of cushion covers and a few quilts, we made friends who offered excellent advice, and we closed shop with a feeling of having achieved something. Thank you Karachites for caring.

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