In the era of the mass-produced and synthetic, the hand-knotted carpet struggles to stay afloat
Hand-knotted carpets once held pride of the place in homes and hearts equally, but no longer do they evoke the same sentiments among the seekers. Brought to India by the Moghuls, the hand-knotted carpets soon found favour with the nobility, the nouveau-riche and the common man. And today, even as the tyranny of the synthetic has entered the realm of carpet making, the exquisite craft item is fighting for survival. The carpet stores near Ambedkar Stadium, all but bereft of hand-knotted carpets, bear testimony to the fact. Matia Mahal in the Walled City, another erstwhile haunt of carpet weavers, too, has shifted its allegiance to the ‘Made in China' variety.
Anil Agarwal of D.S Carpets laments, “There is hardly any demand for hand-knotted carpets; most people prefer the synthetic ones as they are significantly cheaper.” His opinion finds an echo in Rahat Ali, owner of one of the only two stores selling hand-knotted carpets in Matia Mahal, “One square foot of a hand-knotted carpet costs a few hundred rupees as opposed to Rs.40 to 60 per square feet for their synthetic counterparts.” The steep disparity in the price is because of the sheer effort and manpower that making a hand-knotted carpet involves. “Three to four people make one carpet and the process goes on for weeks or months, depending on the size,” says Ali.
Suresh Garg of Raja Carpets adds, “These synthetic carpets offer more variety in terms of design as they are designed on computers. Both these factors make them an instant hit with customers.”
Delhi's sultry weather also acts as a spoke in the wheel as most people use carpets only during the winters and find the hand-knotted variety an unnecessary extravagance. Gulroz of Royal India in Ballimaran claims, “Business is down by 75 per cent during the summer months.”
Corporate India also plays a role in this mania for the machine-made by placing bulk orders. Salim, a store owner in Ballimaran who stocks only synthetic carpets, gives his nod to this phenomenon. “Hotels, in particular, prefer synthetic carpets and place huge orders for them,” he says.
The surge in demand for the synthetic carpets, which reached a crescendo a few years ago, has had a debilitating impact on the weavers. Amit Sehgal of Golden Carpets says, “Carpet weaving in Delhi was always confined to the rural areas, but of late the situation has become so bad that there are just a handful of weavers left in Delhi, most of whom live in Kondli.”
All that glitters is not gold and these mass-produced carpets barely last a year or two even in the best of circumstances. Thankfully, not all are prey to their charms, as many still opt for the superior quality that the hand-knotted ones offer. “We still get a few customers who insist on hand-knotted carpets,” adds Sehgal.