VARANASI: Sweating it out inside a dingy room at Ashfaq Nagar, Abu Bakr has carefully tried to blend resham and zari as he starts working on a brand new saree using his hand-weaving loom.
“No more resham and zari for me. Within a month, I am opening a tea stall nearby,” he says. For the last 20 years, Abu Bakr has been weaving sarees, an art passed on to him by his father. But now, the 42-year-old has decided to wind up his business. “Twenty years ago when I started, we used to make good money and there was a lot of demand for hand-woven sarees. But now, power looms are here and the demand has come down drastically. Now, there is hardly any work and lakhs of weavers have taken up other jobs or started small businesses to eke out a living,” says Bakr.
Notwithstanding the tall promises made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and also by the Akhilesh Yadav-led SP government in UP, weaving is now a dying art in Varanasi, famous for its handwoven silk sarees.
“Modi ji visits Varanasi and makes several promises. Akhilesh Yadav limits himself to Lucknow. Both the Centre and State government know our plight, but except assurances, there is nothing else for us,’’ says Abu Bakr.
“Dekhtey hain chai bech kar hamari bhi kismat badal ti hai kya ?’’ (Let’s see, if selling tea changes our fortunes too) he remarks, in a dig at Modi who claims to have been a chai wala once. “Hand-weaved saree sells for Rs 10,000 and above and the finer the creation, more the price. In fact, there are times when good creations sell for thousands of dollars. Some times, foreign tourists pick up our stuff. But many of my friends and relatives have switched over to other jobs,’’ says Shoaib Akhtar, another weaver.
Explaining the nuances of the art, he says it takes 12 to 15 days to complete one saree. “We earn Rs 200 to Rs 250 per day and it’s pure hard work where as working on a power loom fetches between Rs 500 to Rs 600 a day,’’ he says.
According to locals, there were over a lakh handlooms in Varanasi about 10 to 12 years ago. There are over 25,000 to 30,000 handlooms now.
Saree trader Abhishek Anand says that handloom takes a lot of time and customers or buyers do not wait. “It’s more about quantity than quality,’’ he said.
As per rough estimates, there are nearly 70,000 power looms in and around Varanasi today.
Ask the weavers about the promises made by Narendra Modi including opening a skill development centre to ensure that the art is carried on to the next generation, the weavers just dismiss it as a political gimmick. According to government officials, the Varanasi handwoven silk industry was once worth around $80 million, of which $20 million was in exports alone. While craftsmen say there are no exports, a UP government official says exports are increasing. (Concluded)