Little Big Things: The Entrepreneur Who Started Selling Handmade Bags at 89
In Little Big Things, we bring you stories of people who have rejected conformity and achieved success on their own terms.
All her life, Latika Chakravorty worked as a wife and a mother. Born in Assam in 1930, she was at the top of her class during school and college, but familial structures at the time prevented her from putting her education to good use. “I wanted to do things, but my husband didn’t like me [going] outside; he would say, ‘if I wanted a working girl, I would have married her. You were a student, that’s why I married you.’ If I wanted to do something, I had to do it at home,” she recalls. During one year of financial strife in the family, however, Chakravorty did a brief stint as a teacher, getting a taste of the working life. “I liked it so much, I never wanted to come back home.”
Go back she did, but Chakravorty regards this societal restriction as a minor inconvenience, insisting her married life was a peaceful one. “Our days were different, but I was always satisfied. To be happy, you don’t need many things. With the things you have, you can be happy.”
At 50, she lost her husband, moved in with her kids, and thus began her exploration of self, a feat she had been too busy with family to pursue earlier. Chakravorty dabbled in writing, self-published an anthology with the help of her family — she showed me the book, riddled with notes she had made next to words she says were printed wrong. “I don’t like it,” she adds, wrinkling her nose. That’s when she expanded her social circle as well. “I have lots of friends. They all like me a lot.”
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As life went on, her need to be active, occupied and disciplined strengthened. Currently, at 89, she has begun yet another chapter of her life, this time as an entrepreneur making and selling handmade potli bags out of her home. She enjoys stitching the drawstring purses, having distributed more than 200 freely, she proclaims. But when her grandson found out about her hobby, he sought to expand her reach with a website, an idea she never thought about herself. “I have made so many things in my life. I never thought I could show it to people.”
Chakravorty uses pre-owned clothes, either from her saree collection or from her daughter-in-law’s wardrobe, to make the drawstring bags. “Whatever I don’t reuse, I don’t want to waste. It’s in my blood; I don’t like to waste anything.” On an USHA sewing machine that her husband gifted to her 65 years ago, Chakravorty sews and stitches to meet her customer demands — sometimes coming from as far as New Zealand and Germany. From tassels to sequins to embroidery, she proudly claims that she does it all herself. “Isn’t it gorgeous,” she asks, holding up a potli bag with a picture of Buddha on it. “Simply gorgeous.”
“If the bags are not sold, I don’t care about that. I will make them because it is my passion. When I make bags, I forget my age. I forget everything. My full devotion is to my bags. It comes from my heart,” she says.
“I am happy youngsters like bags made by old ladies like me.” Chakravorty is slightly conscious of the way age has affected her appearance — she doesn’t have a mirror in her room — but she loves making friends, she says, telling me, “Though you are like my granddaughter, you are my friend. I’m at your age; whoever I meet, I am of that age.”