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Keeping khadi alive, organically

Radhika Dixit
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A Gandhian ideal continues in the temple town of Melkote

From bags to boutiques:All the material and clothes here are organic khadi.— PHOTO: RADHIKA DIXIT
From bags to boutiques:All the material and clothes here are organic khadi.— PHOTO: RADHIKA DIXIT

In the midst of the temples and hills of Melkote is the Khadi Gramodyog unit of the Janapada Seva Trust, which is striving to keep the weaving community of Melkote alive. The unit doesn’t confine itself to providing work for the weavers of the town; it has also adopted a way to make the whole process ecofriendly by using organic dyes.

The trust, which has been nurturing khadi weaving since it was started in 1960, recently shifted to use of only organic dyes. The dyes are produced from roots, leaves, extracts of areca nut, betel nut, pomegranate, indigo and rust, forming four main colours of grey, yellow, brown and blue.

Vegetable dyes

“The extracts from the raw materials are boiled separately to obtain the colours. These produce the dye which forms the colours on the yarn,” says Santhosh Koulagi, son of Gandhian Surendra Koulagi. The elder Koulagi was secretary to Jayaprakash Narayan.

Although the trust first started the khadi unit by spinning the yarn itself, it now sources it from Uttara Kannada district and Badanavalu in Nanjangud taluk.

“We first started by making just khadi handbags. But now there is a lot more work and creativity involved in making shirts, kurta, quilts and so on,” said Mr. Surendra Koulagi.

Hard work

The trust at present has 10 weaving units. “We can weave a maximum of five metres of khadi cloth every day, working from 10.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.,” said Chikkanarasimha Shetty, a weaver associated with the trust for the past one year.

The families earlier used to weave silk for the Khadi Rural Employment Cooperative Society in Melkote. “We used to have huge houses and high roofs which could easily accommodate the [looms]. Now the roofs are much lower and hence it is easier for us to work [in this place] here. Also there is no added work of rolling the thread ourselves before weaving,” he added.

The weaving unit, at present, produces about 1500 metres of cloth a month.

Migration to cities

With younger generations of the families in Melkote migrating to cities to pursue other occupations, it has become tough for the trust to find experienced artisans for weaving. “We are planning to install looms in the houses of whoever is willing to work for us in this town. By the end of 2013, we hope to increase the production to a minimum 2,000 metres a month,” says Mr. Santhosh Koulagi.

In a hugely competitive market full of cheap textiles and garments, it is an uphill struggle for khadi which has a niche clientele. However, the trust is optimistic, counting on discerning buyers and the rise in middle-class spending capacity. “People look for quality. The cost difference of a few hundred bucks does not count much anymore,” said Mr. Santhosh Koulagi. “We have been supplying our cloth to Desi as well as Nature Alley also for a few years.”

Fabindia is a recent project where the trust has got orders for stitched clothes too. There are some 10 women working as tailors here.

“Families in Melkote have been in the weaving business for years. Even though the younger generation wishes to move to other business ideas, we want to keep this fine art of weaving alive,” he said.

The Janapada Seva Trust also has a small shop selling both khadi cloth and clothes in Melkote. Contact 9900537434 or janapada@yahoo.com

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