Life & Style

A conversation with Arup and Rubi Rakshit on the need for a handloom movement

A conversation about weavers Arup and Rubi Rakshit (left)

A conversation about weavers Arup and Rubi Rakshit (left)   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

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Hanging by a thread: Arup and Rubi Rakshit, who are spreading awareness about the muslin weavers of West Bengal, say that the weaving ecology is dangerously fragile

It is not just a workshop on charkha weaving. It is a lesson on sustainability and ethics. Of which the well being of weavers is crucial. Arup and Rubi Rakshit are travelling from city to village to town holding conversations with young people about farmers, weavers and handlooms. They encourage their audience to try their hand at spinning on a box charkha that they carry around with them.

“The heart of a loom is a woman,” says Rubi quietly. Sitting ramrod straight on the floor, she is a picture of concentration as she holds aloft the thread in one hand while her other turns the wheel. The repetitive and slow movement is meditative. One forgets other outside irritations, says Rubi. There is a feeling of harmony and oneness with it, she adds.

Spin the wheel Rubi Rakshit shows how to spin on the charkha

Spin the wheel Rubi Rakshit shows how to spin on the charkha   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The audience sitting around her lean forward trying to watch her hand, the spindle and the moving charkha. Hanks of natural-dyed yarn lie next to her. “One hank has 1,000 meters of thread and it takes 12 hanks to make a kurta,” she says. Arup adds that just the pre-loom process takes up to four hours. The spinning can take up to eight hours and the actual weaving of the fabric about two hours. “That is nearly15 to 16 hours of work to make just one kurta,” he points out. And this does not include the time spent in growing the cotton! “Every time we wear a kurta or a sari, we should spare a thought for the weaver who has spent so much of time and effort on it.”

Rubi says she heard stories about the weavers and the farmers from her Gandhian father. “I did not pay too much attention then. It was only years later, those conversations came back to me.” Rubi began visiting weaving villages in West Bengal, attended crafts bazaars. “I was not happy with the work in some of the places I visited. Then again, there were villages where the beautifully textured cloth spoke to me with its imperfections and all. These were the real deal.”

Arup and Rubi acknowledge that buying and wearing handlooms is expensive business. Everyone admires them but do not want to pay so much. Arup also points out that the synthetic polyesters we wear as clothes are as big a cause of pollution as plastic bags. “We only obsess about plastic bags, but not about this,” he rues. He hates it that powerloom products are being passed off as handlooms. “Why don’t they declare if something is powerloom. We are okay with that. Passing off powerloom cloth as handloom is a kick to the gut of the weaver.”

Arup has a lot to say about the chain of events that has led to the pathetic condition of weavers in Bengal who are among the poorest in the country. He believes that awareness and education in schools about farmers, weavers and spinners is the only hope left to change that. Through the Mahatma Gandhi Gramudyog Seva Sanstha (MGGSS) based in Burdwan, he and his team are working on this. At present there are 42 weavers, 132 spinners (mostly women) and 95 farmers from Akola who are members of MGGSS. The farmers have been persuaded to stop growing BT Cotton and instead cultivate indigenous cotton called AK7. “We need to think of the environment, education and the economy that impacts handlooms. Not just about the designs, patterns and colours that designers are obsessing over,” he says scathingly, adding uncomplimentary things about some unscrupulous big players who have now entered the business of Khadi.

No one really knows what is happening in handlooms. The government is pumping in money, but rarely does any significant amount trickle down to the weavers. Facts and statistics are misrepresented. The farmers and weavers need to feel they are part of the whole, they need to be invested. For that they should be able to eat well. They should benefit from infrastructural development. “Ensure safe and uncontaminated food for the thousands of craftspeople in our country. To start with, clean the wells and ponds in the villages,” says Arup.

The Khadi and handloom sector is in shreds, say Arup and Rubi. It needs to be nurtured and tackled sensitively. We need a handloom movement, they say. Otherwise, every time we pick fast fashion over the painstakingly handwoven product, some weaver somewhere becomes irrelevant and disappears.

The evening was jointly organised by Mango Education Centre and Bio Basics

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 2:32:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/a-conversation-with-arup-and-rubi-rakshit-on-the-need-for-a-handloom-movement/article30149088.ece

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