Be it the Mansooris from Moradabad or shops in various parts of Delhi, quilt makers come to the aid of people to keep the plunging mercury at bay

Some winter mornings, we hear the man passing by on his bicycle playing a wooden instrument with a strange sound and we are just not able to decide whether we actually like its music or not! For the uninitiated, it is an instrument used to make razais (quilts) and commonly referred to as the taat or dhunki.

Mohd Lahiq and his son Nafeez, who quit studying while in Class VII, sit on the pavement of RK Puram Sector 9 market and make quilts round the year to meet the winter time demand. Lahiq, a Mansoori by caste, is originally from Sambhal in Uttar Pradesh’s Moradabad; he has been in this business for the past 40 years. “We all have our own quilt-making business. Some might do it for three to four months in a year apart from their usual business but we all have to do it,” he said while sipping on tea.

Mansoori’swere earlier known as Dhuna, Dhunia or Behna; quilt-making has been their traditional professional for generations. Women in the community, however, are not allowed to enter the profession and are restricted to household chores.

Other shop owners in Sarojini Nagar and Munirka also belong to the same caste. However, quilt makers in Bhogal near Nizamuddin Dargah and Lajpat Nagar are mostly Punjabis and baniyas who came to India from Pakistan after Partition. “This is a Mansoori dominated profession, but at that time my grandfather had no choice but to start this business and it did well, so we continued,” said Anil Kumar, owner of Poonam Export House.

The materials used to make pillows, mattresses and quilts are malai (white and good quality), ojndi (light spotted – lower quality), desi (directly from the farms), black cotton (made of hosiery),fibreandimported polyfill. Haneef Ahmed, owner of Shifaan Handloom in Munirka, said, “Market trend is changing; people want readymade products and are ready to pay the price. Business is greatly affected. Reliance makes pillows of imported polyfill and fibre which we buy from them and sell in the open market. We make the other products according to the customers’ demands as now people want light and most durable quilts.”

The raw materials are bought from Kamla Market or Sadar Bazaar. A few years back, white cotton cost just Rs. 50 per kg but now the prices have shot up to Rs. 120-150 per kg. “Fibre lasts for at least 10 years. Cotton lasts for 20 years but you have to keep getting it washed and carded every third or fourth years,” said K.L. Anand, owner of Handloom Cloth House in Bhogal since 1967.

As it is a seasonal profession, the earning fluctuates depending on the season and the location of the shop. Unlike Lahiq who earns just Rs. 10,000 per month in winters and hardly anything in summers, Mohd. Usman who owns a shop in Sarojini Nagar earns up to Rs. 8,000 a day in winters and around Rs. 2,500 per day in summer months.

There are various other kinds of quilts available in different markets of India. Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Rajasthan have a different kind of quilt known as ‘godadi’ made up of torn and old pieces of sarees, dhotis and sheets. Ralli quilts are commonly used in Northern India and Pakistan and are becoming famous around the world for their famous colourful block prints. Assam and Manipur use extremely soft and warm quilts known as Lasingphee quilts. These quilts are made of cotton, weft cloth and thin bamboo shavings on fly shuttle loom. But, the most popular is the Jaipuri Razai (quilt) which is amazingly soft, light and warm.