The clackety clack as the wooden reed pushes the just-woven length of cloth into place, the zoom of the pen-like shuttle in between the sheets of thread, the clang of the weaver’s feet against the wooden paddle... these sounds were an integral part of 1010 Colony, a village in Erode district, two decades ago.
Today, most of the looms in the village, named after the 1010 families of weavers that inhabit it, have fallen silent. But, IT professional-turned-entrepreneur C Sivagurunathan is gradually rousing the looms from their sleep through his venture, Nurpu.
“Today is my last day at work,” says Sivagurunathan. He has submitted his resignation at a Chennai-based IT firm and is waiting to shift to 1010 Colony. “All arrangements have been made.” The shift from a high-paying career to an enterprise that borders on the revolutionary is a major one, but Sivaguru handles it with a cool head.
“My life has been defined by the people I met. Nammalvar ayya , Theodore Baskaran... Sivaraj of the Cuckoo Movement for Children... they have a lot to do with the way I think and work,” says Sivaguru. The 30-year-old hails from a family of weavers in Thudupathi in Erode. “I’ve grown up surrounded by the sights and sounds of the hand loom. Our family wove dhotis and towels. I remember seeing the paavu (hank) being wound and my grandfather prohibiting me from touching the naada (shuttle). It would be sharp, for the loom to function well.”
But as power looms took over the jobs of traditional handloom weavers, many took up jobs in the textile units that came up in the region. “They live like machines there,” says Sivaguru. “A weaver who worked in a factory told me how they were forced to leave their mobile phones outside when going in to work. Even if there was a death in the family, they would come to know of it only after the end of the shift,” he says.
Sivaguru wants to change this “failed system”. His initiative is focussed on 1010 Colony, where he has convinced a handful of weavers to take orders from him. “Today, only 10 families in the village weave,” he says. Nurpu connects weavers and customers in the bigger cities — Sivaguru markets his products through social media and in places such as Chennai to create demand. Once that’s set, his profit will be divided amongst the weavers and himself.
Nurpu was launched on October 2, 2016. But, Sivaguru spent months travelling around the villages in and around Erode to understand what he was getting into. “I visited Arachalur, Kangeyam, Chennimalai, Kallipatti... it was the same story everywhere. Those who once wove dhotis now employed their looms to weave doormats. And a majority of them were caught in the mechanical life of the spinning mills,” he says.
The travel only cemented Sivaguru’s desire to creating an initiative that would help weavers. “I visited the Janapada Seva Trust’s weaving centre and school for weavers in Melkote in Karnataka,” says Sivaguru. “It was an eye-opener.” He saw how the Trust worked with 10 women weavers. “Their curriculum consists of the kind of thread, the tools to be used...”
Sivaguru wants to follow their system of rewarding weavers. “I hope to establish a school for weavers as well,” he says. Right now, though, he is busy taking Nurpu’s products to cityfolk. “We weave khadi saris, dupattas, running fabric, dhotis and towels,” he says. Extracting an earthy-brown dupatta with a tie-and-dye pattern at the border, he explains how its colour came from the kadukkai seed. “For pink, we use pomegranate seeds and onions. We extract dyes from flowers and plants for various shades,” he explains.
Sivaguru knows he will have a tough time convincing each of the families in 1010 Colony to get back to weaving. “But, if we give them an idea of what they can earn in Nurpu’s system, I’m sure we can revive what was lost.”
Why handwoven khadi?
According to Sivaguru, it is a fabric that breathes and is ideal for our weather. By wearing the fabric, we not only support an eco-friendly lifestyle, but several families of weavers. For details, visit https://www.facebook.com/Nurpuhandlooms