Don’t Call Me A ‘Mathari’: A Story Of A Woman In Words & Pictures

Don’t Call Me A ‘Mathari’: A Story Of A Woman In Words & Pictures
Heidi Loren

Very rarely do we come across captivating stories of women of substance, who struggled through odds, and marched on to carve a niche for themselves.

For some reason or the other, it does so happen that women’s achievements get masked behind the acts that the society deems them fit to perform. Credit also doesn’t come easy to a society that inadvertently views women and their abilities with a rather skewed gaze.

Feminists are born of feminists and whenever we see women create waves today, it must always be remembered that we are here because our mothers and grandmothers were at the forefront of fighting for our rights.

It is important, therefore, to tell stories of struggle, achievements, and success of women, who through their actions normalised the rights and rituals we are able to take for granted today.

Make-up artist and photographer Heidi Loren, intrigued by the world of photography, fashion, and writing, plunges at every chance where she could photograph and style her subjects. In 2014, she started working as a professional hair and makeup artist, and now she continues to juggle between her profession and her passion. She doesn’t want to be an observer or documenter of the subject that is beyond her lens. Instead, she wanted to find meaning in their stories.

Hailing from the lush city of Mangalore, Heidi has always been enamoured by her friend’s great aunt, Dr Jesse Tellis-Nayak. Quite a lot of times, a woman needs to open about her trials and tribulations to another woman, and Jesse was the kind of woman that one could go to for any kind of advice. She would often be heard telling them, “It’s quite important to have a purpose in life, a goal, big or small. Don’t get distracted

As women continue to fight for a better life, Heidi’s story of this wonderful woman, a living legend, who has devoted her life to the empowerment and betterment of people around her, comes as a beautiful reminder of what lies ahead of the struggle.

The photo-series titled,Don’t call me a Mathari’, (Mathari in Konkani means an Old Woman), tells the story of a woman who continues to live a life of dignity and purpose. The series contains portraits of Jesse in her true element, exuding calm, composure, and grace.

Don’t call me a Mathari
Don’t call me a MathariHeidi Loren

Heidi, in her introduction to the life of this great woman, says, “She was born on the first day of spring, in 1925. Josephine Benedict Tellis was always a verve of ambition and a fearless warrior, who realised quite early on in life that it was incumbent to have goals, be it big or small.”

She was one of the first few women in the city to have gone abroad for further studies. After returning with a PhD in Social Work, she put her practice to work for the betterment of society.

As time passed, she gained recognition for her work and was invited to participate in international conferences all across the globe. On 28 August 1963, Jesse found herself at the Lincoln Memorial Hall, where she heard Martin Luther King Jr’s iconic speech. Inspired and moved by his work, she furthered her work on women empowerment and social work. She was bestowed upon with the Life Time Achievement Award by the St. Agnes Alumni Association, Mangaluru in 2018.

Amongst the many feathers in her hat, she also published innumerable books on many pertinent social issues intending to reach out to the ordinary people.

Don’t call me a Mathari
Don’t call me a MathariHeidi Loren

Heidi beautifully explains how Jesse lived her life, “She took on the world and let no obstacle break her iron front and yet, the lissomeness with which she moved, on the path, she paved for herself, was most impressive. When approached with a dilemma, she always focused on the bigger picture. During her retirement, she started a non-profitable organisation called WINA, Women’s Institute for New Awakenings.”

On a personal front also, in the ‘70s, Jesse took it on herself to voluntarily become a local guardian to her niece and nephew, looking out for them through their teenage years. So indebted they are to her that the niece, a nurse by profession, has put her career on hold to look after her grand-aunt who has now developed age-related dementia.

Don’t call me a Mathari
Don’t call me a MathariHeidi Loren

This series is indeed a homage paid to this wonderful woman who taught her the fundamentals of life.

The portraits Heidi made of Jesse, will surely make one look through those wrinkles, and see the grit and determination that she holds.

The series is also a gentle push to women to keep striving towards making their dreams a reality, take inspiration from the life of Jesse, who fought against all odds, took charge, and lived life by her own rulebook. We also hope Heidi’s work encourages us to pick up the phone and talk to our grandmothers, understand their sacrifices, and how they were feminists in their own right.

Follow Heidi Loren on Instagram here.

Find Dr. Jessie Tellis-Nayak on Instagram here.

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