Exploring one of the many lovely stores on Divisadero, I stumbled across a pop-up within a pop-up; Nani Haveli earrings nestled among the beautiful hand-crafted Mohinders shoes in The Perish Trust. Also delicately hand-made in rural India by a team of nine incredibly gifted craftspeople, designers and metalsmiths, these earrings are like no others I’ve ever seen. With the delicate yet powerfully bold design and incredible craftsmanship and quality of each piece, I was intrigued about the story I knew must lie behind the making of these earrings. I had the opportunity to speak with the lovely woman behind the project, Aditi, about how and why these earrings are made.
“There is so much genius that flourishes among artists in rural India,” explains Aditi. “When I first started doing grassroots economic empowerment work ten years ago I worked for a women’s cooperative and that started my love affair with Indian textiles and Indian textile traditions. What my contribution has come to be is being so proud of preserving the two embroidery traditions that we use (we blend the Gujarati and Zardozi embroidery traditions together) along with a bunch of different metal smithing traditions that let each of our pieces be cut by hand.”
Aditi’s main creative medium is the embroidery; together with eight artisans, three of which are metal smiths, the Nani Haveli team combine fabric based embroidery traditions with metalsmithing traditions which gives the pieces a unique blend and form of their own.
Each pair of earrings comes in a beautiful handcrafted box made by a traditional clay and mud work technique; “it’s basically a mixture of water, clay, and paper – the clay jewellery boxes are an adaptation of traditional kutchi mud-work, usually used to adorn the inside walls of bhungas (or the circular earthen homes native to the villages in that region).” Aditi’s personal passion for what she does shines through not only in the craftsmanship of the pieces themselves, but in the way Aditi speaks about the work she does through Nani Haveli, which she incorporates into another devotion; “I love that it’s a business I can run from rural India and in that capacity it also allows me to work on my other passion which is bringing new models of emotional and mental health support to rural India.”
“The overlap of india, poverty, and emotional and mental health is one of the hardest overlaps that you could imagine,” explains Aditi. “My younger brother is on the autism spectrum and I feel like caregiving and noticing psychological struggle that is easy to overlook was just such a big part of my growing up and trying to think of how my brother can thrive and how other people around him can thrive. It’s an under-invested area anywhere, but in some of the really remote communities that I work in, where there is a lot of sadness, worry or sickness in one family, some families are poor and resilient, while other families are really poor and broken.”
Noticing this gap, the need to foster more accessible and flexible methods of dealing with psychological struggles within rural India, Aditi works on developing more nuanced methods of therapy; “I partner with a few community based organizations and try to surface methods that are more relational and less focused on very explicit checklist diagnostic criteria – I’m using videos and doing certain types of video based discussion as a big part of that work. The past year, when I decided that that was what I wanted to dedicate my next decade to, I concurrently realised that you really have to have a plan for the long run because emotional and mental health work will never be the sexy cause to fund.”
It is Nani Haveli earrings that allow Aditi to live a life that is routed in rural India, working on this very hard issue, while also raising money, and awareness, and bringing others along on the journey – “It’s really difficult work – somehow, organically, this combination of offering some of the most beautiful things that my culture has to offer while I invite people to join me in a journey that deals with the underbelly of what my culture also has to offer seems like it was a purposeful way to offer something really beautiful and celebrate India and the diversity and the genius that exists at a grassroots level – it brings people along on what is otherwise a really difficult journey, which is to care about emotional and mental despair – that work is always difficult and will never be so uplifting, but I hope that the combination is compelling to people and that overtime they want to keep learning about what I cover and supporting the artists that I work with also.”
At the moment, Aditi’s focus is more on volunteer work, but she hopes that later, when Nani Haveli develops further and begins to bring in more funding that she will then be able to push her work on this issue with more financial backing. “I think the biggest binding constraint in really good emotional and mental health work in rural India is just people that are willing to be there. I hope that five years from now it’s about raising money, but until then I think we just need more people there. Right now, the way I describe it is that I’m the link. This work lets me be in rural India; I split my time between doing the design work with my artisans and innovating on emotional and mental health methods and partnering with a few psychologists. I’ve been in India two years: the first year was really about carving this niche and developing the long term vision for the emotional and mental health work, and the secound year was really about getting Nani Haveli started. As Nani Haveli settles into something that has a really good permanent cadence, I hope that I can spend the majority of my time working on the emotional and mental health aspect.”