Banarasi Brocade, Mirzapur Carpets, Fantastic Samosas and some Soul-searching (Part II)

Varanasi Building

Varanasi Building

I like Banaras. Busy streets that are impossible to cross with beautiful old architecture mixed with 1960s utilitarian buildings and bustling. This is an ancient trading and tourist driven city and so has the good and bad that comes with it. I visited the by-lanes of the town and several surrounding villages that have clusters of weavers of the beautiful brocade you get in Banaras. Conservative heartland so loose fitted churidar kurta with dupatta recommended. The by-lanes were incredibly interesting and I so wanted to pick up some of the ancient bricks lying in broken structures but had to behave myself! Unfortunately many of the families have moved away from traditional hand looms to running the more lucrative power looms and the whole area reverberates with the noise.

Saree Weaver and Loom

Saree Weaver and Loom

Revival of Old Saree Pattern

Revival of Old Saree Pattern

One national award winning family in particular who work on revival of old patterns with Taj Khazana had the most beautiful hand-woven saree in the making. Similar story here as far as wages to the weavers go, Rs.200/- a day for the very best. I am working with two national awardees on creating non-saree formats. It will take time as the patterns need to be graphed and then samples made but should be well worth the wait.

I took an evening off to see the Ganga aarti at the ghats and without doubt this has to be in the top 20 things to do in India. A spectacle whether you are religious or not. What I knew off(I am a huge fan of Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate and have watched every episode) but was not prepared for was seeing first hand the plight of the widows of Varanasi. I saw them again at Sarnath, this time under 2′ x 4′ blue tarpaulin shelters held up by branches. Heart-wrenching. Weathered faces with hopelessness in their eyes, tattered sarees and a bowl waiting for alms. To be left/sent here by your own family is bad enough but where is the Government and the Philanthropists? I can do my bit and have little expectation of the Government but where are the corporate social responsibility and charitable arms of the our industrial houses? Nobody deserves to be left to die.

Sarnath Lion Capital of Ashoka

Sarnath Lion Capital of Ashoka

I drove to the airport via Sarnath that has a tiny but excellent museum that houses the original Lion Capital of Ashoka erected in 250BC that has been adopted as the national emblem of India.

A successful but soul searching trip. We will lose centuries old skills and dignified employment for many if we don’t buy what is hand made. Buying is essential but not enough. The layers between the customer and the weavers have been reduced but more work is needed especially in the carpet industry that has contractors and sub-contractors. The person with the actual skill must be compensated fairly so they do not leave the profession and Rs.100 – Rs.200 a day is grossly insufficient. As the pool of workers shrinks, pay will have to rise but it seems not until then. That may be too late to save the craft as we know it.

Arastan has been a journey in every sense of the word and I need to work out for myself my role in all this and how I make a difference. Needless to say I am determined to make one.

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