How would you define an 89-year-old?- Tired, forgetful, and unable to muster the energy or passion to start or learn anything new, right? But that’s so not the definition that applies to 89-year-old Latika Chakravorty, who started an online business venture to sell the most beautiful potli bags, decorated drawstring pouches, all by herself. And to top that, she is getting orders for her bags from countries like Germany, New Zealand, and Oman!
Born in Dhubri, Assam, she lived in different parts of India because of her husband’s transferable job as he was an Officer Surveyor in Survey of India. With a hobby to collect unique pieces of cloths, she ended up collecting beautiful sarees and fabrics from all across the country.
Believing in the concept of ‘reuse’ and not just throwing things away, she first used her collections to sew dresses and sweaters for her children, then dolls, and after that potli bags, reserved for and admired by just family and friends. It was much later that she was struck with the idea to turn her natural talent into a business venture called Latika’s Bags and let the world appreciate her skills. Wanna know how she did all this? Read our candid chat with the super granny!
Did you always have a passion for sewing or is it a skill you later developed?
My hobbies are to collect old things which can be put to use later. I don’t like to throw things. Recycling is fashionable now but, for me, it came naturally. I guess what you call ‘unique’ was pretty common in our times.
In my younger days, I used to do a lot of knitting, stitching, and sewing. Our generation was thrifty, having seen the hard days of partition and wars. Housewives of our times took pride in our ability to clothe our children with home-made dresses and woolens. Later when my three children grew up I started making dolls. About 4-5 years back one day my daughter-in-law Sumita asked me to make a potli bag to match with her suit. I realized then that I had a natural talent for making bags. That is how my bag-making started.
Ladies of my generation were expected to have basic household skills such as sewing, knitting, stitching clothes to cater to the family. My husband was in a transferable job so I had to move along with him. Mostly we socialized with other ladies in similar situations. We all had kids and nobody was rich. My love for sewing and stitching turned into my passion years later only after the kids were grown up and gone.
So, how did Latika’s Bags come into being?
As I started making potlis and bags, my friends and family saw them and appreciated my products. I started gifting them for birthdays and other occasions. My business venture was totally due to my grandson Joy. On a visit from Germany, he saw me working and he felt I should have an online presence. He created the website. Later, my grandchildren, Priyanka, Srijit and Joy spread the word through Twitter, FB, and Instagram.
My daughter-in-law Sumita helped me create the bags, my son handles the business part and my family supports and encourages me in every way. So you can say it is a family venture.
So, you started your business with the help of your grandson, tell me more about your relationship with him.
What to say! He is part of my family and has been staying with me throughout. I could not have wished for a better grandson, a constant support system and my best friend.
Aw! That’s so cute. If I am not wrong, the dedication and passion with which you collect the cloth for your bags and then make them, these bags must have fascinating stories behind their creations?
When I look at an old dress I imagine the glory it once had. Maybe it was worn for a wedding or at a festival. The creation that I make ultimately reflects the stories of its past. Each bag has a unique story. When I create a potli from a dress I like to think I have given it a new life and now it will have its own stories in its new avatar.
So, is there any particular saree in your collection that is precious to you?
Yep, there are some and frankly, I would never turn them into potlis. They are too close to my heart not because they are beautiful, but because of the memories they bring to me.
Latika, your potli bags are ultimate symbols of creativity, how do you go about designing them?
Thank you for appreciating my creations. Look, you have to understand what I am doing is for my own pleasure. It is not about business or making money. I look at a piece of cloth and see the possibilities.
I take my time – where is the hurry? I don’t have to meet any deadlines. When the picture has been formed of the end product, I procure the accessories and other material and set about completing the bag.
We learned that your sewing machine is defying age stereotypes as well. So, any forever memories you have of your 64-year-old companion?
This machine was presented to me by my husband Shri Krishna Lal Chakravorty. I see the love and affection he had for me when I look at my machine.
Latika’s 64-year-old sewing machine
It is 64 yet runs perfectly because I have maintained it with all my heart. I lost my husband 38 years ago. Every single day that I look at my machine I am reminded of him.
Your dedication to your work is evident from your words, Latika. Being a successful businesswoman yourself, what would you say is the recipe for becoming one?
I am just an ordinary woman who believes in a disciplined life. Every day I get up at 5 and follow a routine. I devote 2 to 3 hours in a day to stitching and writing. For me, it is doing what I love.
Mine is an old-fashioned story. I don’t want to dwell upon my ‘success’. Most of my creations have been gifted to my friends and family. Sometimes I am surprised when people want to buy my potlis but I am happy they love my work. So, I define success as loving what you do, otherwise, you would be just carrying the dead weight of a job you consider a burden.