‘Jhini jhini bini chadariya,
Kaahe ka tana, kaahe ki bharani,
Kaun taar se bini chadariya?‘ – – Kabir, 15th century weaver-poet
These words were so apt back then and ring true to Ramji bhai and a lot of other weavers even today. Kabir, the legendary poet came from a family of weavers’ too and often wrote about life using words such as the warp (tana) and weft (bana) actions of creating a weave, as weaving was so intrinsic to his life. Multiple conversations with Ramji have convinced me that weaving to him is a lot more than just carrying on the tradition of his ancestors. It’s deep-rooted into the lives of his family and it’s only appropriate that he christened his weaving enterprise as ‘TanaBana’. Though, he is often heard quoting that weavers and artisans don’t really have a business, but instead it’s the love of the craft itself; the gratitude towards the ancestors who had given their sweat (and perhaps blood!) for the craft that makes it a lot more meaningful than it being just about money.
Like most weavers, he takes great pride in his culture and craft and is determined to bring about significant changes to the weaving eco-system. He is trying his hardest to focus energies on putting the ‘respect’ back into the craft; and is doing everything in his power to stop the weaver from becoming a ‘labourer’ in his very own craft. An extract from my conversations with Ramji himself (translated into English for our readers).
Question: Ramji, we are very grateful to you for taking the time to talk to us. Please share with us a little background about your weaving enterprise.
Answer: I am a third-generation weaver from Kutch. Earlier my ancestors would weave fabric and exchange it for food as part of the barter system. Today, keeping the traditional designs, I continue to weave and also teach my children my craft, while also giving them a formal school education. I realise the importance of education and how it enables one to run an enterprise in today’s world efficiently. I was lucky enough to attend Judy Frater’s Kala Raksha Vidyalaya as a design student and then later on, went to study management there too; all to make what I do successful, not just financially but also for creating a successful brand; that is ‘TanaBana’ aka Ramji himself, should be known to the world. Currently he has ten looms and outsources the dyeing work to the specialists.
Over time the quality and design of the work changed. Somewhere along the decades television and social media happened; international buyers took a keen interest in the work the weavers and craftsmen of Kutch had to offer. The presence of NID and NIFT bought more work to the weaver community of this region. While all was beginning to look upbeat, a nasty earthquake in the year 2000 ruined Ramji’s work, in fact the work of most of this community suffered. Several weavers lost their trade and subsequently went to work as daily-wage labourers in construction companies.
Ramji’s advises us that his and his teams’ workdays are flexible, depending on the quantity of work and the time-plans that he creates for planning purposes. Some days could begin at the break of dawn and go on until late at night whilst other days could simply be dedicated to celebrations of weddings and festivals in the village.
Question: Your work has got you to work (and sometimes meet) people such as Laila Tayabji, Jaya Jaitley and some very respected names in the fashion world. Could you please share with our readers how did it all happen.
Ramji begins by telling us that the changing point in his weaving journey happened when he met Judy of Kala Raksha Vidyalaya. Prior to meeting her, he was using a lot of man-made fibres for weaving but he categorically mentions that Judy very firmly asked him to put an end to that. In the year 2008, Ramji joined a one-year course at the school and, apart from an insight into the design and the fashion world, it gave him the priceless gift of ‘Self-Respect’. He began to participate in exhibitions with Judy and through those met Laila Tayabji and Jaya Jaitley. Ramji says ‘I realised that my work is a lot bigger than me’! He insists that he is a student for life…learning every step of the way and incorporating the learnings into his work and life.
He still continues to work with Judy and her vast and conscientious network of buyers. Upon Judy’s insistence, in the year 2014, he signed up for a management course. The result today is that he runs this culture-rich, traditional weaving business as a successful enterprise. He plans out resources for funds, raw materials and weaving for a 5-year period and mentions that he even puts down the time he will take out for family activities and the time for work; even working towards achieving a work-life balance. Isn’t that truly amazing?
Ramji has created fabrics for leading designers and luxury brands in the country, but whilst being paid well, he didn’t get the satisfaction and respect he desired. He adds that he welcomes work but would not like to be a nameless maker in his own craft as he puts his soul and passion into each and every piece that he weaves. Ramji mentions again that he has a special relationship with his craft; even though he is creating it to be used in current times, but the traditional techniques he uses have been passed on to him by the last four generations of his ancestors and he will forever remain grateful to them for that.
Question: What advice would you give to the weavers of the new generation?
Ramji says that the only piece of wisdom he would like to share would be to respect their own work! ‘Don’t think that you are small or that your work is small. Your work is what will take you places as it is God’s gift to you, so please respect your own work. Please don’t think that you are a labourer, you are an artisan. Always remember, that ‘kaam is sadhana’. Ramji provides medicines and training to the weavers he employs and re-iterates to them time and again the importance of self-belief and self-respect.
He advises that all weavers should remember that excellent quality and sharpness comes with practice and therefore experience matters. Let lack of funds not be an obstacle, weave what you can and always look out for opportunities to improve on your learning and the buyers for your work will come.
Contact details for: Ramji Hirabhai Maheshwari
In my experience, whenever I talk to a weaver about their work, they share stories about their village, the festivities with great pride, and in the same instance as their work. I have learnt how entwined the weaving and embroideries are to their lives and hence, to their culture. Here is a glimpse into the life of Ramji:
There was a time when we put all our energies into shouting into the loudspeaker about everyone supporting the handmade sector and during these conversations, we came across people who think ‘powerloom’ is the way forward and we should embrace it and others who are working tirelessly to save our culture, our heritage and as part of it, the handmade sector. So, for now, all we say is, if you have even a little inclination towards buying handmade as opposed to the ‘machine-churned’ fabric, then please do so. If you are here, you have probably read the conversations with Ramji of Kutch and you would have glanced through the pictures of his life and hence of his weaves….Especially, in these times, we all need a lot more love and empathy, especially the handloom weavers. Do you think this craft and these lives are worth supporting?