A few years back there was a surge in the sales of hair dyes in the rural India. The manufacturers welcomed this phenomenon with great enthusiasm. A study was conducted that concluded with the findings that the hair dyes were being used to colour the tails of cattle before the village fair as it, akin to the product function for us humans, shrouds the age of a buffalo in ambiguity and therefore can fetch a better price.
While growing up with academician parents in a university campus, there was a time when students made mid-night dispensary visits specifically for headache balms and cough syrups. The deans were baffled with this and camps were organised to check the eyesight, haemoglobin and stress levels. This went on till some amused student let out the secret that headache balm on bread with a glass of cough syrup gave a major high and enhanced the joys of student life. Naturally, the ‘drugs’ were severely rationed after that which led to our provision store Baniya buying a red Maruti Suzuki car within a month or so after that.
Eventually, I did understand that the reason why a product connects with its consumer could be due to multitude and sometimes, strange reasons. Again, remember the time when top loading washing machines were being briskly patronised by highway Dhaba owners to make lassi? The craft of luxurious hand-woven textile is also going through its convoluted journey where it is being retailed and bought for some cross eyed, mismatched reasons.
In the good old days, the problems connected with hand weaving were relatively easier to fathom. The end of Royal patronage and the rise of the whole-sellers rang the bell of doom. The whole sellers or ‘Gaddi-dars’ would suck a talented weaver’s blood lifetime long by million ingenious ways. The advent of designers gave us hope that there would a synergy in creativity and commerce. There was optimism that traditional and heritage craft of hand weaving will get a new lease of life. In most cases, a lease of life did come only not to the craft or to the weaver but to a few designers.
One such designer, whose saris are sold for ridiculous amounts, is known to foul mouth the weavers and haggle for every penny of their payment. His argument is that if the weavers are paid more than the market rate, they may get spoilt like a petulant teenager. Thank you, Mr Designer, as the nation owes you great debt. We would not want to lose our genius weavers to the debauched lifestyle of Las Vegas due to the Rs.80.50p more that you are asked to pay per sari. In all fairness, this designer has brought hand-woven sari back in fashion to that level that women going to kitty parties wear his label for their ‘classy-type’ luncheons. This is a great leap in the aspirational status of handloom.
But then the hand-weaving scenario is rife with designer tales. Most Indian designers realise that hand-woven is their passport to any semblance of recognition, as they cannot stand up to the impeccable craft of international designers. They severely lack on almost every other benchmark – be it cut, drape, clean stitching, finish etc. Designers lure a weaver to make ‘samples’ which cost a weaver an arm and a leg and give it to them at regular prices while dangling the carrot of a big order that would come their way soon. Invariably that order never happens as either the designer is not able to conceptualise the design well enough to sell it or may get it replicated on power-loom/ with their own set of weavers. Our complete lack of understanding of the weaves works in the favour of the designers who can sell the lowest quality weave at the price of a one of a kind sari. Not that the ladies who buy these saris care. They are buying it to not show the craft but designer label that is prominently stitched on the pallu of the sari.
By some stroke of genius, just like the geeks, handloom seems to be coming back in the reckoning. But in all this mayhem that is so far removed from the deep consciousness inducing hand woven clothing, its vocabulary is getting equally garbled and makes as much sense as a Sarah Palin speech. Should the designers, retailers and consumers not speak the sustainable language of empowerment of art and artist, of preservation of craft and enrichment of the fabric of our heritage?
Mercifully there are a few who have mastered this speech. It is my honour to introduce them in the upcoming posts.
***This picture of a Patan Patola sari includes hand spun thread, painstakingly dyed in five natural, pure colours, hand woven over 4 to 5 months to deliver this timeless beauty in a form that has existed in this exact form for the past 800 years.
The weavers who still makes it: Only one family.
Bharat Bhai, Rohit bhai, Rahul Salvi and Savan Salvi who reside at Salviwaddo, Patola Street, Patan, Gujarat.