Early life and schooling
Noorjahan was born in Hubli, 210 miles north of Bangalore and has lived there all her life.
She was ten when her father, a tailor and sole breadwinner, died. He had wanted his daughter to make something more of her life. “That’s why I want to do something, be somebody,” she says.
Life became hard for them after her father’s death. Her mother did not work outside, as she was not allowed. Noorjahan is the youngest of 6 siblings. Her oldest brother took over the responsibility of the family, working two shifts.
One of her brothers died a few years later. He was very passionate about cricket and all his trophies are still in their house. Her two brothers, both tailors, continued the family business.
Noorjahan studied till 6th grade, then lost interest and dropped out. Her brother encouraged her to study but she didn’t. She now regrets it.
She has always loved creative pursuits and started working at a bindi-making factory after that, up until her engagement 2 years later. She got married at the age of 15.
“When I see anything new, I want to learn it.. I want to do something, become somebody” she says.
Noorjahan never told her in-laws that she worked outside. If they knew, she wouldn’t have been able to get married. The attitude in her community was “Bhai hai phir bhi behen ko kaam pe bhej rahe hai, phir bhai ki kya ijjat hai?” (“She has a brother, still he sends her out to work. Where is his self respect?”). But she loved to earn, to give her brother the money and contribute to the family.
Noorjahan’s husband makes brass and copper vessels for a living, and also works as a cook during weddings. He is a very generous man and often helps people, working for free if they’re too poor to pay. Life is hard with what they earn, but he says it’s okay. Sometimes it’s hard for her to afford the bus to come pick up work.
Introduction to Ohrna
Her husband allows her to come to learn but not to work outside. He’s okay with her work for Ohrna since it is from home.
Noorjahan has three children aged 17, 12 and 9, all studying. After her own experience, Noorjahan always supported her oldest daughter’s schooling and ensured she finished 10th grade. She had wanted to study further, but they could no longer afford it. There was also a lot of societal pressure to settle, so she’s now engaged and will be married in two years.
Coming from a family of tailors, Ohrna work comes naturally to her. She sometimes asks her brother for help, and feels very happy when he praises her stitching and embroidery.
“I hope Ohrna grows, and I hope you can keep giving us work” she says.