Nani and her hand knit Sindhi Nada

Nani and her Hand-Knit Sindhi Nada

An unusual encounter with a village artisan who uses a pre-knitting technique, a wooden frame and sticks to weave a crochet-like drawstring 

Nobody in Pacham-Mota Bandha village in the Banni region of Kutch can explain why Fatima Bai is called “Nani” by everyone in the tiny hamlet. She is Nani to her children, her siblings, her cousins and in-laws and her grandchildren of course. Except for Haroon, her widely smiling and happy looking husband, with rough hands and an unkempt beard, she is the uncontested village “Nani”.

Nani, that means maternal grandmother in many Indian languages, including those spoken in this region—Gujarati, Kutchi, Sindhi—is one of the most endearing and warm relationship words in Indian cultural life. It is an apt title for Fatima Bai, just by the unexplained science of how nicknames sync with personalities or how personalities provoke nicknames. Nani exudes a maternal vibe. Her eyes sparkle with curiosity and concern, they connect, read and decipher. Her lean, taut frame hugs you tight in its embrace.

Fatima Bai’s Many Skills

In her own way Nani is a master craftswoman. The original and only skilled maker of the Sindhi nada, a hand knitted drawstring worn in Sindh with women’s salwars or ghaghras and is adorned with tassels at both ends. It looks like crocheted lace but this technique of weaving actually pre-dates knitting and is done with sticks on a wooden frame. “The warping of the yarn is done on a wooden frame,” says Shabri Wable, a cloth maker and crafts consultant from Kutch who was featured in The Search for Sindhu series, explains. Wable is our sutradhar (our advisor and guide) on this visit to Pacham.


Photo: Saumya Sinha

The Sindhi nada with a beaded tassel.

A few years back, Wable stumbled upon Fatima Bai’s unique skill of weaving this stand out product, the drawstring. Nani had learnt this as a young teenager in Sindh in Pakistan before she got married to Haroon of Mota Bandha village in Kutch. To her marital home, she didn’t just bring with her this skill but also the determination to use it and teach it to other women in the village. As a young girl in her maternal home, Fatima Bai had also learnt to cut and tailor clothes on a sewing machine.

Many decades later (Nani doesn’t know her actual age but says she may be around 50 years old), Wable would persuade her to try knitting the Sindhi nada with cotton threads instead of the shiny, acrylic ones used in the village. They are cheap, they don’t break easily and have a sheen to them. These multi-coloured threads are also used to create machine embroidery embellishments on clothes—mostly tunics of long and short lengths in floral printed synthetic materials bought from Khavda village and on ezars (salwars worn by rural women that are almost 128 inches at the waist).


Photo: Saumya Sinha

Acrylic threads used to knit the drawstring and embellish clothes with machine embroidery.

In 2016, Nani’s Sindhi nadas knitted in colourful cotton threads with pretty, hand-made beaded tassles as mentored by Wable were displayed and sold at a beautiful crafts bazaar in Delhi. The bazaar put together by Meera Goradia a crafts practitioner and consultant was a shopping feature alongside Living Lightly: Journeys with Pastoralists, an exhibition curated by the Kutch-based Sushma Iyengar, that narrated the “lightly lived lives” of nomads in India.


The Sindhi nada knitted by Fatima Bai in cotton displayed and sold at the Living Lightly exhibition in Delhi, 2016.

“Lightly lived” is a heavy term. You realise that only when you enter a pastoralist’s home. Inside Nani’s one room home that she shares with perhaps six others of the family are steel utensils displayed like decorative pieces, a radio, an Usha sewing machine (her favourite possession, friend and provider) and a stack of dhadkis (colourful quilts made from leftover fabrics that have been patched together in geometric patterns with saddle stitch embroidery). Nani, we are told is also a “dhadki specialist”. She swiftly cuts and patterns quilts in arresting geometric layouts without ever having being trained to do. Using leftover or old fabric is something all villagers do, especially women, she tells me in chaste Sindhi, reminding me with sentimental nostalgia about the language in which I was raised by my parents, also in a small town in Kutch.

Tailoring Language and Life

Sindhi helps me locate myself as a person with roots in the vast and sometimes confusing terrains and turns of life. Nani’s manner and accent in Sindhi is exactly like the one I heard in my family home and her idioms leave me perplexed and delighted. Nani has never been to school. But not only can she quote from the Koran as well as from Sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif, but she can also stitch entire ensembles—tunics, long dresses and salwars without taking any measurements. All she has to do is look at the woman she is sewing for. “My fits are perfect, there has never ever been a need to alter what I make,” she claims as the women around her, including her own daughters and daughter-in-law nod in smiling agreement.


Photo: Saumya Sinha

Nani’s daughter wearing a tunic tailored and designed by her.

If Nani is a tailor-embroiderer-applique artist and “nada maker” par excellence, her son Bachaya Haroon, a young man in his late twenties, already a father of two young kids is the only gents’ tailor in the village. He makes Pathani kurtas and salwars for the men, even shirts if they need to step out of their traditional pastoral garb as Sindhi speaking Muslim herdsmen.

Important Yes, but Relevant?

Pacham has less than 20 homes. When we visited first in September, the strong stench of burnt firewood lit for cooking, the parched texture of Kutch’s arid earth and the languid mood of cattle grazing outside every hut was unmissable. Women cooked in partially covered sheds and barefoot children with oiled hair ran around.

Soon, a rikebi (saucer) of tea was offered, that would then be rinsed in a little bucket of dirty water and handed around to others. When the Haroon family learnt that I had been born and raised in Kutch, lemon water with sugar and salt was served as we sat on hand knit charpoys in the verandah.

“You have to take me with you. I will make Sindhi nadas and dhadkis to sell in Delhi and earn a better livelihood,” insisted Nani, tearful as we readied to leave. “I want to go to a city,” she said earnestly.

This is not the first time that this question has struck me but it is one I want to ask again. A patchwork quilt from recycled fabrics is one thing and perhaps it has a demand and a utility in city life and thus some relevance in stores selling artisanal wares. But what about the Sindhi nada?

It is a product without an identified buyer.

Banner: Fatima Bai aka “Nani” skilled in knitting the Sindhi nada and making patchwork quilts. Photo courtesy Saumya Sinha