At 89-years-old, Latika Chakrabarty has become an internet celebrity in India thanks to the range of beautiful bags she creates by hand from second-hand fabrics.
Seated in her quiet flat in a gated community in the Kharghar area of Navi Mumbai in the Western Indian state Maharashtra, she looks relaxed in a simple white cotton tant saree patterned with purple and green stripes.
Her handmade bags and her website Latika’s Bags have become very popular on the internet. Made from old Indian attire like sarees, kurtas and cushion covers, she has been trying to give the fabrics a new life by converting them into potlis, or small purses.
“I don’t like wasting anything and I don’t like to sit idle,” says the grandmother of five.
What started as a hobby for her three years ago has now turned into a business. A disciplined woman, Chakrabarty works only two hours every day, in the afternoons.
“She stands and works, she can’t sit and sew. We have told her a number of times that we’ll fix the sewing machine into a sitting one, but she finds this more comfortable,” her daughter-in-law Sumita said.
In the evenings, Chakrabarty goes for walks with her friends, many of whom have modeled for her bags and been featured on Latika’s Bags’ Instagram page.
Every bag is named after a woman, such as Vimla, Aliza, Sudha, Soha, Manju and Rekha. The fabrics are either from her own wardrobe or from some other women’s.
“Because it’s a woman’s potli and each one is unique, we thought what better than giving it a woman’s name? They are named after people who have somewhere somehow been acquainted with the bag. Some have been named after the women from whom we have sourced those materials,” explained Sumita.
The bag Kiran, for example, was made from a kurta that a woman named Kiran wore to kirtans, or spiritual music assemblies. Two bags were made – one for her and the other to sell.
“All bags are named after women because I’m a woman,” Chakrabarty says.
Her story started when she made a bag for Sumita with fabric from a black linen saree and a kalamkari blouse. Her neighbors, friends and family saw her talent. She then started making bags as gifts to people. Her granddaughters had many as they went with their dresses and they flaunted them to their friends.
Her grandson, Joy, who was visiting from Germany, was dazzled by his grandmother’s talent and started the website for her. “Joy wanted to tell the whole world through me that even at this age I am working. If you want to do something, you can do it even at this age,” she said.
Chakrabarty’s son, Captain Raj Chakravorty, said she asks him every day how many bags were sold. If he says five or six, then she responds: “Oh, then I must get back to work.”
It takes her two days to create one bag. When she’s working, her bags get all her attention and any disturbances upset her. She draws her motivation from the appreciation she gets from everyone around her and says creating the bags was now like clockwork.
“I get so much pleasure when I complete one bag – I admire it and become happy. I am very slow but I am steady,” she said. Born in Dhubri, Assam, Chakrabarty graduated in arts from Bhola Nath College and went on to teach elementary science at Sophia High School in Mount Abu, Rajasthan.
Passionate about writing, she published a book in 2010: a collection of short stories in Bangla, which touched on topics of women, society, relationships and marriage.
Chakrabarty has always had a creative mind. In her youth, she would deftly stitch up Rajasthani and Bengali dolls.
She calls herself “ordinary,” explaining that her life was full of simple things: exercise in the morning, read the newspaper for an hour every day and a boiled egg for favorite food. Her family, on the other hand, think of her as a celebrity who bloomed late in life but deserves all the attention.
The bag project is more of a legacy than a moneymaking business because it keeps her occupied and money isn’t important for her at this age, she adds.
“People think old people don’t want to do anything and just want to lie down. I have no time to think about death,” Chakrabarty said.