Anakaputthur, once a land of elephants and warrior during the Pallava period, is now a suburb of Chennai buzzing with people and crowded temples. Narrow and clumsy streets with puddles all over, cows roaming around every corner, numerous small shops, and traditional houses and polite gesture of its owners added to the beauty of the town.
C. Sekar in his home with his weaving benches
This land was once a major hub of handloom business feeding thousands of families. Every house had four to five looms and weaving was their sole occupation. It was a worshipped legacy left behind by their ancestors. However, that is not the scenario anymore.
His sister, Janaki, working on the weaving bench
Anakaputthur, is the only town in India that makes sarees with natural fibres and that is the only reason for its constant demand till date. They include not just the usual jute, cotton and silk but different other combinations like banana trunk, coconut, aloevera, locally called (kathazha), bamboo, sisel and pineapple. Had it not been for these natural fibres, the business would have gone behind the curtains long back.
From extraction of fibres to colourful dyes, the amount of hard work involved in the process is enormous and challenging. The art of weaving has flourished massively not just in India but across South Asia, Nigeria, China, Japan and Germany.
Woven thread made of natural fibres
Sekar. C, Manager of handloom sector of the town was the designer of the shawl given to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Tamil Nadu on 7 august, 2014. The speciality of it was that it was made of twenty five different natural fibres.
Sekar has his own loom with five weaving machines and employees working under him. He has been doing this profession for thirty five years. His sister, Janaki also works with him. Gone are those days when materials used to be handmade. With technology and machines the art of weaving is dying. This has brought down the size of looms from thousands to merely three hundred and fifty. The third generation is shifting to other menial jobs due to lack of opportunities and insufficient wages. Now power loom has overtaken the handloom industry supply.
“If the state government is going to take us for granted and not provide any welfare measures then this occupation might become extinct for the future generations”, says Sekar. It is their duty to provide us with infrastructure to adapt better with the lifestyle changes but they totally ignore our side of the story, he added.
There is deep agony behind that disappointing smile of Sekar. His professionalism was obvious from the way he explained the entire business and its nuances. He knew the tactics of what worked and what did not through his experience. But all he wanted was the support and recognition from government.
It is easy to pick a saree from wardrobe and drape it along with matching jewellery for an occasion, but imagine the amount of creativity and innovation in the labour, elegantly chosen colours, beautifully woven and stitched. They have not only brought beauty to the saree but also to the person owning it.