KOCHI: India has always been a country where arts and crafts have contributed to the cultural heritage. However, the handloom sector is dwindling. As a result, there are very few workers, who follow traditional-weaving techniques. One such person is Mani, who has been into weaving for the past 30 years.
Based in Kanjiramattom, Mani works in a handloom co-operative society. He is a master thorthu weaver. It is an art which he imbibed from his ancestors. “I come from a weaver’s family,” he says. “I saw my brothers and mother weaving and learnt the techniques from them. I have travelled to places like Hyderabad and Mumbai to buy yarn and other materials.”
The thorthu is the traditional Kerala fabric woven of pure cotton and is known for its soft, light-weight, quick-drying, and highly-absorbent qualities. It has been historically indispensable in Kerala households. But despite its importance, Mani has watched the cooperative shrink due to the dwindling demand and an influx of cheap power-loom products. As a result, hand-weaving is no longer financially viable and has no aspirational value.
“The weaver gets only Rs 200 for his work,” he says. “If one weaves more than six metres a day, it is then that they can get double wages as an incentive. Now changes have come in the scheme of income support for farmers where the farmers get Rs 150 from the government.”
However, for Mani, the situation is different. He is very much appreciated for his designs on towels and has also been doing the buttas, silk saris embellished with Kanchipuram pattu. He also does all the works related to the pre-looming process including weaving, bleaching, and warping. So, he gets orders from different places in Kerala.
Besides weaving thorthu, Mani also makes school uniforms which are distributed by the government for free. Presently, in the co-operative where he works, there are about seven people who are involved in handloom production. Even as India’s hand-woven fabrics are being celebrated on runways and exclusive shops around the world, compensation among weavers remains unreasonably low, as compared to other skilled labourers.
As for Mani, he has received numerous awards including an award from the state as well as the Kerala handloom cooperative society for his fine craftsmanship. “I have been taking orders from many clothing stores including Kara weaves and I wish to continue my work,” he says. His day starts at 8.30 am in the handloom co-operative and at 4.30 pm he finishes his work and heads home.