Thatta Kedona

Culture is a Basic Need

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag Super Senta Siller!

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A tribute by Amjad Ali to Dr Senta Siller on the eve of her birthday

There are some people you encounter in life who do not wait for things to happen. They just make things happen.

Dr. Senta Siller is one such person in my life.

My first recollection of Dr. Siller is from the days I spent at the Lette Verein in the German capital, Berlin, some 33 years ago. I had secured admission at Lette Verein in 1984 and it was there that I first met her.

Thankfully, it was not the last time.

Needless to say that Lette Verein is one of prestigious German organisations for Applied Arts. It was founded by Dr. Wilhelm Adolf Lette way back in 1866.

My three-year diploma course in Graphic Design was completed by 1987 but my formal association, which subsequently transformed into cherished friendship, with my teachers and mentors Dr. Siller and her spouse Dr. Norbert Pintsch remains intact till date. I do hope and believe that our friendship will survive until we are present in this world in a physical form.

Yes, as long as we are alive and kicking.

Dr. Pintsch, who taught us History of Arts and Geometry, was the one who for the first time introduced Computers to students.

With a perennial smile on her face, the very kind Dr. Siller taught us Roman Calligraphy and Screen Printing and perhaps many a lesson about life and society. During long hours in the classroom she always wanted to know more and more about Pakistan, my country of birth.

Her interest in Pakistan was not surprising for the reason that she had spent several years there in the 1960s. And, one of her daughters Dr. Leila Masson was born in a hospital in the city of Lahore. There was already a connection and bond which only got cemented with time.

As I was missing Pakistan and feeling homesick I would often divulge a lot to Dr. Siller about Pakistan, my parents and also about my village Thatta Ghulamka Dhiroka.

When in 1987 I joined Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s public international broadcaster, and moved to the colourful city of Cologne, my communication with my teacher Dr. Siller remained unbroken. It was impossible not to be in touch with her for my insightful conversations with her were a source of inspiration.

Three years hence, in 1990, Dr. Siller and Dr. Pintsch gave me a pleasant surprise by dropping at my home in Lahore.

Dr. Siller fancied seeing my hamlet, a place I had so passionately talked about in my perceptive conversations with her at Lette Verein and elsewhere too.

Almost everyone at my village warmly greeted both Siller and Pintsch. Being herself a creative designer, Senta was really moved by embroidery skills of many village craftswomen and artisans. Norbert was thoroughly impressed by architectural marvel of the hamlet, its mud houses and other structures.

The duo’s maiden visit to my village paved the way for an innovative developmental project that was to transform the whole hamlet.

Few months later in April 1991, the trio comprising Senta, Norbert and I along with Joachim Polzer, a young German filmmaker, returned to the village. The outcome of this visit was a 40-minute documentary titled “Amjad’s Village”, which was later screened in a movie hall Babylon in Berlin.

This marked a fruitful relationship between Senta and my village. A relationship that was to last for many decades to come!

Between 1993 and 1998 she spent almost 10 month per year in my village TGD (in the coming years this period decreased gradually because of the daughter projects in Cameron and Colombia).

There was no electricity, no access to clean drinking water, no sanitation facilities and no macadamised road leading up to the village. All of this did not deter Senta.

Braving all odds, she turned all these challenges in a developing country into opportunities with her sheer courage, grit and determination. She spent many a month in my village, without a break. With the passage of time she obviously became a familiar face there. She was adored by the village girls and women, revered by the men, and also admired by the children.

During her stay at the hamlet she developed the idea of establishing a Women Art Center there. Her idea was to have a place for women and girls in the village where they would have an opportunity to produce high-quality handicrafts, which would then be sold in the big cities across Pakistan. She wanted to transform peoples’ lives. And she did.

Sometimes I do reflect and think of Dr. Senta as a magician. It seemed as if she had a magic wand with which she would often make things happen. She literally started from the scratch and made her project so profitable for the village girls that they began earning their livelihood while sitting in their homes. The skilled girls with their hard earned money were able to buy new clothes and jewellery for themselves. She inspired women and girls to dream big and then helped them practically to realise their dreams. In some cases, the village girls made more money than their male counterparts in the family. Some males who had migrated to towns and cities for work would feel envy at Dr. Senta’s cost-effective project. Her efforts did not add days to the lives of the village girls but they did add life and colour to their days!

Her long stays in Pakistan enabled her to travel to different parts of the country, as far as Kafiristan, where she closely studied and documented the costumes and ornaments of the Kalashi tribe. She then developed a new brand “Thatta Kedona”, which is now producing not only the best ethnic dolls of Pakistan but also many colourful handicraft products including finger puppets, greeting cards and bracelets. It will not be an exaggeration to state that Senta became the Mother of Dolls.

She was a darling of the village girls, who were not only earning additional income for their families, but also respect of the male members. Their life changed. They were no longer economically dependent upon men or subservient to them by any stretch of the imagination. Besides, Senta also taught different skills to the village girls and helped them achieve self-esteem and self-confidence.

During my stay in Berlin Thatta Ghulamka Dhiroka always remained the central point of discussions between me and Senta. Due to her personal sacrifices and professional dedication as a designer, she changed destiny of my village and made it one the most famous villages not only in Pakistan but also around the globe. In 2008-2014, more wisdom was the reason to reduce the coming back (as the projects are independent).

On their part, the villagers also remember her fondly. To pay their rich tributes to Dr. Siller the villagers have renamed the Women Art Center (WAC) as Senta Siller Art Center (SSAC). That is their mark of respect and a way of saying Vielen Dank!

Senta, my friend, I am so proud of you. And also grateful to you for making me and my fellow villagers realise the value of indigenous cultural heritage. You opened up a new world to us and your wider perspective offered enormous opportunities to us that we would have perhaps never discovered without your ideas and support.  As you are turning 82 on 17 November 2017, it is my great pleasure to wish you a Happy Birthday. On this day of celebration, please do accept wishes from my family and all the villagers as well. All of us are praying for your long life, good health, happiness and prosperity. Stay blessed. You are our Hero. You will remain our Hero. Immer! Always!

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 12:00 AM,


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