I was told not to knit

I’m Prem Angom from Thoubal, and I’m 41 years old. My father had high hopes from me as I was the first son among his six children. I was a good student, but left school after Class XII because we were poor and my parents were not able to pay for my education.

I have always been skilled with my hands – picking up hand embroidery and knitting from my mother and aunts from a young age. From my early teenage days, I was already earning money by knitting sweaters for others.

But my father didn’t like it; he wanted me to be more man-like. He would scold or beat me, even rudely shouting at those who came to meet me. “Is there no woman in this whole locality who’s able to knit a sweater that you are asking him to knit?” he would tell them.

Due to the frequent tensions in the house, I left my house a long time back and since then have been living in rented rooms – making a living by going to Moreh and bringing back cosmetics and other such things for sale.

Around 1997-98, I borrowed a wig from a Shumang Leela artist to wear at a thabal chongba event. It had a small tear and while fixing it, I saw how the hair was knitted together. So I started making wigs of my own without any proper training.

Today I earn as much as Rs.2500/- from each wig I make and sometimes rent it out at Rs. 200-300/- a day during festivals. One of my happiest moments was the warm welcome and respect I was given when I went to deliver a wig ordered by a woman from an affluent family in Imphal. She had lost her hair because of medical treatment. They treated me as though a doctor was visiting. I realized that this was because of my profession, and in my heart I was so happy.

As told to Thingnam Anjulika Samom, freelance journalist and gender rights activist

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