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“Once upon a time, there was a king … a princess … a fairy!” These have remained the introductory lines of the Old Wives’ Tales for children for centuries. But, here is the story of our village – Kanodar, in light of its decades past and centuries old handloom cloth weaving industry. At present also, whenever and wherever our village is introduced, the starting lines, generally, are used as “Once upon a time, Kanodar was Manchester of District of Banaskantha (Gujarat), India.”
While surfing on I-net, I chanced to find an English poem “Indian weavers” written by Sarojini Naidu who was a well-known figure of her times as the great poetess and was honored also with the title of “The Nightingale of India”. Subsequently while reading the poem, I recalled the memories of those days of Kanodar which I had witnessed since my childhood. Sarojini Naidu had remained the President of Indian National Congress and perhaps she might have visited Kanodar or heard of it while paying her visits to Gujarat, a chief H.Q. of Congress. This is my hypothesis with the instable base that her narration in that poem resembles to the routine lives of the weavers of Kanodar. At the same time, I may be wrong also as the poets create their works by observing living lives of humans and there might have some co-incident in this regard.
First of all, let me give you a quick extract of the above poem just to enter my today’s subject. In the beginning, the poetess asks weavers what they were weaving so gaily at break of day. The reply was as “The robes of a new born child.” Secondly, she asks them, while they were working at fall of night, the same question and their reply was that they were weaving the marriage veils of a queen. Thirdly and lastly, when they were weaving solemnly and quietly something white like a feather or a cloud in the moonlight, she asks what they were weaving. And, there we hear a heart touching reply as “We weave a dead man’s funeral shroud (કફન)!”
Above poem has inspired me to write this Article with a prime motive that the present generation of the natives of Kanodar should know how our forefathers had survived themselves with this industry for about four centuries. Now, let me go further to my aim of this Article very briefly.
Handloom cloth weaving, being a cottage industry, had no any fixed working hours. As in above poem, these poor fellows had to work on their looms from early morning to late at night. My Readers and specially those who have settled abroad will mark the underlined words above and understand that their drudgery of hard labor was not as a part of their greed of earning more, but as a compulsion for their needs to survive against a very poor margin of profit or insufficient wages in this industry they earned.
I have some figures in my mind that during the years of the 1960’s, there were 1200 Handlooms and 100 Power looms in the village. Irrespective of communities, all were engaged with this profession. Some were the Master weavers, but most of them were self employed weavers. They manufactured mainly Malmal/Muslin (Plain gray cloth) and Saris (garments worn by women). The Saris were so cheap that a very poor woman also could afford to purchase it. My Readers won’t believe, but it is the fact that its cost per Sari (Length 5 Yards and width 48”) was INR 2.50 only at that time. The dyeing of yarn for Saris was being done with direct colors and having woven in checkered designs with double boarders (કિનાર) and ends (પાલવ), their landing costs were very low.
Malmal (Muslin) was mainly sold as gray (raw) material to the neighboring State of Rajasthan for dyeing of colorful headdresses (turbans) and print Saris. Before 1947, the present Pakistan was the part of India and there were no enough Textile Mills in the areas of Sindh and other provinces. Kanodari Malmal was in prime demand there and our local Handloom Cloth merchants sometimes occupied small Cargo Flights to forward their goods for quick delivery.
Now, let us have some primary knowledge of this inherited technology of weaving. In simple words it can be said that this process was consisted of interweaving one set of threads of yarn, the warp (તાણો) with another, the weft (વાણો). The warp threads were stretched lengthwise (vertical) on the loom. The weft, the cross threads, were woven into the warp to make the cloth. Out of total four centuries, the first three centuries had passed under very poor technology which was laborious and having very little capacity of production also. During those days, the weaving process was being carried out by knocking the shuttle (નળો) very slowly from one hand to another. Lately, the new system of flying shuttle came into practice which magically increased the weaving speed. There were two shuttle boxes (નળાનીપેટીઓ) on both the sides of the loom and weaver could knock the shuttle back and forth with connected cords using one hand easily. With this new system, a weaver could weave 20 yards of Malmal within 7 to 8 hours. Through my net surfing, I have found out that the shuttle box and flying shuttle system was invented in 1733 by John Kay of Lancashire in North West of England.
Before summing up my Article, I want to take all my Readers to millenniums past to know how the human kind had learnt the art of weaving. Soon after my graduation while facing an interview for the post of a Gujarati News Reader on Radio at Rajkot, I was asked to give an extempore Radio Talk of 5 minutes on Textile Industry. It was my innocent style to bring the interviewer to my favorite subject. When that officer asked me first where I was coming from and there was my reply as ‘from Kanodar, Manchester of Banaskantha district’. It is obvious that the officer had to come to that topic to interview me further.
Now, enjoy some points of the said Radio Talk for having benefit of acquiring some general knowledge in this regard. I exactly remember those points even today and they were as (1) Our primitive man remained naked in jungles like animals and birds. (2) Like other inventions, the human kind had learnt the art of weaving from nature. (3) They might have observed the nests of weaver-birds (સુગરી) knitted with straws of hay or interwoven creepers of climbing plants and branches of trees, etcetera.
Lastly to say, I am proud of being a weaver’s son with the fact that my father had manufactured some specialty Saris which had been sold to the merchants of Ahmedabad for 40 years and we also had continued the same for further more 20 years. This industry has been proved as a boon to our family like other weaver-fellows of our village. In my first page ‘About me’ on this blog, I have already mentioned that our Four Century Old Handloom Cloth Weaving business is like a dream now a days. What it may be, but I expect from my Kanodari Readers that they should also be proud of saying as “We are the sons and daughters of those weavers who have provided a very cheap clothing to the poor for centuries remaining poor themselves. Today what we are is nothing else, but the harvest of their honest, toilsome and poor lives.”
With very sincere and warm regards,
– Valibhai Musa
Dtd.: April 12, 2008
April 14, 2008 at 4:30 pm
I am pleased to comment on this topic as I remained part of the story narrated by you and I am proud of that I have seen people working hard day and night for their livelyhood. Most important part of the industry is the whole family remained engaged in the process which was bread and butter for the family. From dawn to dusk everybody remained as part of the process as family wives remained engaged in house hold work. Though the process was primitive it was able to give work to maximum hands and I was in confirmation with MAHATMA GANDHI who worked to protect the GRUHUDYOG as it used to give bread and butter to all those who wants to work. I am proud of to state that I also wove my imagination with the shuttle cocks I used to see day and night during my childhood and it has framed so many positive postures of my life.
I still feel proud of it. but I must state one thing that machines deprived jobs from so many hands I still can not forget about our great heritage of art work which has given fame to hundreds of Indians like malmal of dhaka. I still remember those days when my mother used to spin bobbins to help my father in his income in spare time. My family was well to do and still we adopted this process as nobody was ashamed of work in that village, rich and poor enjoyed work with the same fervour.
it was a great era and it grips my memory and make me to halt at one place to remember those sweet days.