Monday, June 12, 2017

Weaving Dhurrie

I have been in the market for a Dhurrie rug for quite some time and since I know that its predominantly made in northern India I decided to source mine direct from an artist/weaver...
So, during my India trip I asked my dad to use his connections and set up a meeting with dhurrie weavers so I can make a purchase and photograph them in action.

One hot summer evening while the air was so heavy and stagnant that I questioned its ability to carry sound waves, we stepped into the narrow lanes of the old city. The streets were so narrow that a small car wouldn't fit through even on a one way street and so we parked the car, abandoned the comfort of air conditioner and set out on foot. We were guided by my Dad's car mechanic, he lives in the weavers community and a lot of his extended family is still in the business of weaving canvas and rugs.

We first stopped at the powered loom machines that makes cotton canvases for all sorts of purposes. I was told a list of contractors that buy canvas from them and the plethora of products that are made from them and all that was very intriguing but my heart was seeking the handloom weavers. Luckily for me our guide consulted his watch and cut short the factory tour saying, 'namaaz ka waqt ho raha hai, jaldi keejiye' (Its almost time for evening namaaz (Muslim prayers) service so we should hurry up). We took longer steps, crossed streets amidst dizzying traffic and barely made it in time to meet the weavers before they all left for their evening prayers.

The shack where the huge looms were being operated was nothing like I had imagined. It was a dimly lit, high ceiling room with all sorts of huge beams, posts and treadle put together. The most striking thing was that there were no windows in this room, just doors and a few small ventilator windows up top. I hesitated a moment before entering not sure if there is enough air for breathing for the already working men about a dozen and its three new entrants.
The smell of the room was a unique mixture of dust, old wood, sweat and cotton lint; and it just hung there unperturbed by the smell of traffic and smoke right outside its doors. There must have been a battle over territory several decades ago as they must have invaded each others space, traffic smells sneaking in through the crevasses of the wooden door and loom smell hitching a ride on the shoulder of one of the workers. But looking at it now there is no evidence of the battle, they must have made peace and resigned to their existence within the cramped boundaries. It wasn't a bad smell or even good for that matter but it was very different from what I was used to and it took me a while to find the rhythm of my own breath.
I took a series of photographs to soak in the details and find my bearing before I sat down next to a weaver. He was totally absorbed in his work unlike other men who were distracted by the presence of a long camera lens and the sounds of its clicks; he continued working and answering my questions without taking his eyes off his project. He was weaving a narrow 4ft wide and about 60ft long roll of flat weave dhurrie for a mosque somewhere in the middle east. Their owner usually gets the order and these weavers are laborers who fulfill the order.
I asked them about taking orders or designing a rug for me but there was no enthusiasm for any of it, they just asked me to get in touch with the owner of the loom. A bit later the master weaver that sets the patterns at the start of the weave volunteered information. The weavers were basically day laborers working 10-12 hours seven days a week with most of their family in the villages depending on them to provide for. If someday they fall sick they won't get paid that day let alone any assistance for visiting the doctor. There is no weekend visits and quality family time, it is just work and work till they can't work anymore. Most people end up taking huge high interest loans to take care of elderly, to marry off their daughters or help sons with starting businesses.

The master weaver had once created an award winning design that won national accolades but as the entry moved from local to State level recognition, his name was replaced by that of the owner's son and although the monetary reward that he was robbed off wasn't huge but he paid with his crushed spirit and a resolve to not create anything worth stealing ever again...
The old man who I was sitting next to had creases on the forehead that formed as he concentrated and it made me realize the precarious balance that he is trying to maintain, working as hard and as long as he can knowing fully well that there is no security net if he ever fails, no cushion if he wants to lean back. There is no joy, no pride in creating a beautiful rug, just a mad rush to get through this one and on to the next...


  1. That is amazing!
    You are a gifted story teller of your experiences!

    1. Thanks Mary Jo. So happy that you liked it :-)

  2. What a beautiful, sad story. Would you consider guest posting it on my blog?

    1. Cindy, it would be an honor to post my story on your blog. Please let me know if you'd like me to edit anything to tailor it to your site.