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Dream Fabrics Color The Town of India's Aurangabad

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Step into a town where dream fabrics have been woven for centuries. Whether it is the vibrant Paithanis in gold zari and silk, the rare Mashru or Himroo, originally known as 'kamkhwab' or 'little dream', the looms of Paithan taluka in Maharashtra have kept these heritage textiles going even today. Meet sixty-year-old Sainath, whose skilled hands create beautiful heirlooms saris day-in-and-day-out or walk into the home of elderly Mohammad, one of the last five people in the area who know how to make the Himroo, a 600-year-old craft, in this excerpt from 'Beautiful Country - Stories From Another India'.

Aurangabad has always been a silk and cotton textile production centre. In the old days, a fine blend of silk with locally grown cotton was developed here and became famous as Himroo. The other classic was Paithani silk from the nearby taluka town of Paithan where we were currently headed. Till 1960, Aurangabad languished as a city, remaining industrially backward. In 1960 the region of Marathwada merged with Maharashtra. This was when the industrial development of the Marathwada region began through designated backward area benefits. Today, Aurangabad has become home to well-known brands such as Videocon, Garware, Skoda Auto, Wockhardt, Ajanta Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Siemens, Lupin, Goodyear and Bajaj. The Indian government has approved a number of SEZs (Special Economic Zone) here, like Bajaj (automobiles), Wockhardt (pharmaceuticals), Hindalco (aluminium), Videocon and Siemens. The road was lined on both sides with signs of these industrial houses. This was the corridor through which we entered ancient Pratisthan (Paithan), the capital of the Satavahana dynasty from the second century BC to the third century AD. We thought of these industries as the 'temples of a new civilization' who were conveying us to the old civilization. ...

Once we reached Paithan, we went to the large retail store, which had been kept open for us despite the lateness of the hour. Splendid Paithani saris were on display. Made with heavy gold zari thread from Surat and silk thread from Bangalore, it takes anywhere between two months to two years to make a single sari. Next to the showroom was a weaving centre with 150 weavers. We met sixty-year-old Sainath and his son Chintamani. They told us that in addition to what we saw there another thirty-forty weavers worked in the village. They earn between Rs 3,000-3,500 per month. A weaver gets Rs 11,000 for a sari that sells for Rs 40,000 and may take over six months to complete. Most weavers were men; women helped with yarn work. 'Some of us have been weaving for 300 generations. The Paithani weave itself is over 2,000 years old,' said Sainath with a toothless smile.

By the time we returned to the city, it was late into the night. But it was our only chance to look at the 600-year-old Himroo craft. As children, we had heard of Mashru and Himroo fabrics made of cotton and silk but with the lustre of satin. We had never asked where they originated. It was that night that we learnt that the Himroo was originally known as kamkhwab. Syeda recollected the word from her childhood. In her grandmother's stories the princess of paristan (fairyland) used to dress in flowing garments of kamkhwab. The word literally translates to 'little dream'.

Mohammad Tughlaq introduced the craft to Aurangabad when he shifted his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad. At the time, it was the members of the royal family and the nobility who used the fabric. We found ourselves in a shop with a few looms. This was one of the last repositories of this dying craft. At one of the looms sat an ageing weaver with a white cap and a grey beard. His name was Mohammad. 'I learnt Himroo weaving as a child. I used to sit on a plank and manage the threads. That is how I picked up the skill. It takes twenty days to weave a shawl that sells for Rs 2,500. We earn Rs 100 per day. There are only five people left in Aurangabad who know the original Himroo.' Mohammad's sons are cycle mechanics. He told us that, 300 years after the art of Himroo came to the city, the jacquard weave was introduced. The shawl, which took twenty days earlier, could be woven in four days with this technique using a mechanical loom. Its product was more reasonably priced.

Abbas Khan, who learnt how to se the jacquard at a factory as a child, said he has no sons to pass on the knowledge. 'I had shifted to powerlooms in 1952. For thirty years I worked on the machines but this handloom weave, it has a charm of its own. In 1982 I came back to Aurangabad and went back to Himroo. My eyes are not as good as before, but I still weave.' Majid Pawar, an elderly man in white kurta-pyjama, has been weaving for forty years. He is one of the five people who know the original Himroo handweaving. 'In 1968 I started using the jacquard. We have been in this business for three generations but my son is a B.Com graduate. After me, there is no one.' ...

(Excerpted from Beautiful Country - Stories From Another India By Syeda Hameed and Gunjan Veda; Published by Harper Collins; Pp: 365; Price: Rs 399.)

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