Upholding the tradition of Charkha

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Standing in the age of extreme eletronification, WiFi technology, office-automation and fast mechanism in a globalised space, one finds this constant fight to safeguard interests of the cottage industries as well as the crafts communities in little villages of India a Herculean task.

Notwithstanding the jeopardy, many culturally inclined people and non-profit organisations have voluntarily pledged to remain rooted to the rich heritage of India and its fine ethnicity. They embark upon various projects to produce a priceless wealth of desi weaves and fabrics, which spell out an earthy smell of the Indian soil from its far, deep cores of rustic heartlands. Committed to the cause of serving the artisans and their adroit craftsmanship, Ayan Bhattacharya, creative director, Weaves of India comes forward to promote one of the traditional gems of India — the handloomed weaves.
Charkha — the spinning wheel, spindles around this small sweet meaningful dream of a pastoral Bharat, which resides in the muddy, bushy hinterlands of a rural region significantly reflecting a simple hut and a plot of green vegetation flowering around it. This eye-soothing picture is effortlessly embroidered with the handspun threads, wools or flax by Indian village belles and maids with their nimble fingers at their courtyards. The machine looks humble but hoards a high philosophy. It is a symbol of freedom from synthetic fibres and a strong protest against the infiltration of foreign goods. It provides a platform of self-reliance with pride and dignity, thus discarding the curse of poverty and unemployment. Only nine decades ago in the 1920s, our Father of The Nation — Mahatma Gandhi had initiated this endeavour to patronise the pure Indian Khadi material, which is eco-friendly, saves electricity and is harmless to the skin in absence of any chemicals, artificial substances or petroleum products. This cool, comfy and airy fabric not only represented the political ideals and inspiration for our independence movement, but was also the potent symbol of our national flag to our spirited freedom strugglers in the then tempestuous times under the British rule.
Teaching the artisans the technique of spinning the wheel of charkha and informing the masses about its importance and utility, the young entrepreneur Ayan chooses the ongoing 66th year of India’s Independence as a steady stepping stone towards spreading awareness on the precious Indian weaves. To mark this special occasion, a five day-long exhibition was hosted this monsoon by the Weaves of India in association with the
Avani Riverside Mall at Howrah district in West Bengal. Rightly captioned as Charkha, a treasure-trove of woven wonders was put up for display at the three stalls in a row. Whereas, one extra counter was kept booked for a live demo by two commissioned artisans. From bags, shirts, neck-ties, tunics to kurtis, greeting cards and stitched potli bags, an array of such uniquely crafted eye-catching fare was assorted in the entire product line-up. The price-band of over 25 items and accessories was pegged at `300-`1000. “The showcase was organised with a view to revive the gradually fading charm of handloom and handicrafts,” concedes Ayan, who had floated the Weaves of India as a private company in just 2009. “Hand-woven saris and hand-crafted lifestyle products mirror the essence and true identity of Bengal’s creative cauldron, which we aim to protect and preserve forever. And Charkha was a project to fish out the very best of Bengal from its oyster bed. We always want to integrate our mall with a social cause. We were too happy to bring Bengal at your doorstep,” said Vimal Goel, vice-president, Avani Riverside Mall.
Talking about the financial status of the artisans, Ayan, who is also a handloom sector employee, quickly reveals: “From, my own experience I can confirm that the craftsmen would be exploited by the middlemen in trade. They would buy raw materials from the money-lenders at a high rate of interest and then sell the finished goods to the market through a chain of wholesalers and retailers, thereby incurring losses in the process. Since I still work as a designer in a government cluster located at Bankura (district in West Bengal), so I’m amply acquainted with the scenario.”
Training a bunch of kaarigars in the weaving and spinning art, his four-year-old foundation reaches out to the places where this vocational education is necessary. Thus launching a large-scale drive, the Weaves of India has traveled into the inside pockets of Shantipur (West Bengal) as well as Parana, a small hamlet comprising a settlement of 50 to 60 houses in the province of Madhya Pradesh. “They may not possess a sound knowledge about the technical know-how of the craft and therein lies our role to turn their raw talent into skilled labour. We upgrade the methods and modernise the art of processing, as many men and women would otherwise adopt the indigenous way of weaving the threads by tying ropes around their waists,” shares Ayan. Granting a better allowance to the battery of workers in return to their creative proficiency as compared to what they earn locally, the ingenious enterpriser asserts that for what they get an amount like `120 in their own area, for the same, we near-double the money by paying them `225. Shantipur, located in the Nadia district of West Bengal state is the major hub from where Ayan draws 99 per cent of his labour. “This place is particularly famous for its age-old handloom saris — be it the trademark Shantipur silk or the Tangail saris. History traces out that there’s been a mass exodus of native weavers from across the neighbouring Dhaka (capital city of Bangladesh), who’ve migrated in droves to inhabit on this side of the border and kick-start their trade in exclusive drapes and weaves with colourful designs and motifs in West Bengal,” apprises Ayan. Apart from providing the basic paraphernalia of yarns, designs and raw materials, the Weaves of India invests in a lot of ideas and energy for accomplishing this community service beyond the obvious asset of that liquid capital. “We try and empower each family comprising a married couple and their children to run and support their household on the basis of this conventional desi craft. While men are taught weaving, women with a little more patience are coached in finer works like detailed embellishments, intricate embroideries, traditional needlework like kantha-stitches, dyeing and the expertise of cutting and spinning variegated threads,” he shares.
With plans to open up a chain of flagship retail stores in Pune, Bangalore and Chennai, Ayan adds that besides the Kolkata outlet at Golpark, one other centre of the Weaves of India is already situated in Delhi. “But we’d definitely intend to expand further,” he inputs. Currently, getting work on a contractual basis, Ayan rues that despite being a government employee, he finds it really hard to pool in huge funds to nourish his personal unit.
On the export-horizon though, the Weaves of India caters its stuff to countries like Sweden, Germany and Norway.
Knowing very well that the beautiful Bengal’s taant (weaves) is an integral part of the state’s tourism, Ayan feels that there should be a concerted effort on the part of all such institutions and avenues which show eagerness to relentlessly foster and revitalise this handicraft legacy. “Also along with government incentives, this home-grown art can be given a much-needed boost so that it doesn’t evaporate from the face of the earth. The onus lies upon us to properly nestle and nurture this kala,” he emphasises. Acclaimed brands like Gallery Kanishka’s, Crafts Council of India, Kamala at ICCR, Uttarapan shopping complex, Dakshinapan market emporiums, Khadi Udyog, Fab India, et al should therefore join hands and form a unified guild to channelise all resources into the right direction and set up a state-of-the-art handicraft infrastructure. “I’m even open to the idea of forging ties with all the states in the eastern zone like Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Orissa, Bihar including the seven-sisters up in the north-east to further grow, strengthen and innovate this aesthetic craft,” he divulges.
Gearing up for its annual exhibition in the two-tier cities of India such as Indore, Gwalior, Bhubneshwar, Patna, Jabalpur, Lucknow and Kanpur from October till January, Ayan remarks that “though these cities have enormous purchasing powers, yet there is no adequacy of stocks for woven materials either at the street shops or in big open-air bazaars.”

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