Some decades ago, Anakaputhur was a flourishing handloom settlement with several thousand people, including children engaged in the process of weft and warp, weaving beautiful handkerchiefs, lungis, sarees and fabric. Now, this once respected craft is restricted to a few families here. The current generation's declining interest in weaving coupled with the poor income it generates, has led to the number of active weaving families drop from around 2,000, five decades ago, to a little more than 100 at present.
“Nobody wants to be involved in weaving. There was a time when weaving was the most important vocation, next only to agriculture. All that has now changed,” says P.S. Boopathy, a weaver.
He recalls that there was a time when practically every household was engaged in weaving with each house owning more than one pit loom. As a child, he used to help his parents get the thread ready, before running off to school. “I used to get Re.1 every day,” Boopathy recalls.
D. Dakshinamurthy (53) says he knows only weaving and no other job. “It has been my only source of income,” he says. According to the weavers at Anakaputhur Handloom Weavers' Cooperative Production and Sales Society on Adainja Amman Koil Street, the handloom sector in Anakaputhur received a body blow after power looms entered the fray.
With the market flooded with products far cheaper than handloom ones, patronage for their goods dipped. There are 30 weavers registered with the Society and it arranges raw materials from Kancheepuram and their processing at Kunrathur before the threads come back to the Society's premises. Handloom lungis last longer, have a better finish and the reed count per square inch is higher than that of power loom lungis. But they are priced higher owing to their overall quality and the skill involved.
The Society pays Rs. 900 for every 16 metres of lungis woven by the weavers. Each lungi is 2 metres long and so on an average, the weavers get Rs. 112 for every lungi. These finished lungis measuring 2 metres by 1.27 metres are then sold through outlets of Cooptex. Based on the density (number of threads per square inch), the lungis are priced between Rs. 200 and Rs. 300, after discount.
The weaving centre of the Society, incidentally, is a private factory, established by Narain Das in 1961. It was inaugurated by former president R. Venkatraman, when he was Minister for Industries and Labour in Tamil Nadu.
Society officials say the payment for eight lungis was hiked from Rs. 664 to Rs. 900 recently. They said this was meagre compared to what construction workers and other daily wage earners get.
“We do not expect people to be engaged in handloom after five or 10 years. The new generation is able to earn much more in other occupations. I have been weaving handloom lungis for as long as I can remember, but I cannot afford a handloom lungi,” says Boopathy, echoing the mood of the weavers of Anakaputhur.