There was a time when during the wee hours of the morning, around 4am to be precise, you could wake up to the sounds of the ‘tick-tack’ of the shuttle on the loom. This time there were hardly any sounds of the shuttles flying across the width of a loom. In fact I had to really look around hard for weavers & also looms. The ones who were available were under huge pressure to meet local demand so it became a challenge to find free looms!
My abok(grandmother) laments on how the craft of weaving is now dying out and erstwhile weavers are trading their craft for other quicker and less tedious forms of earning a livelihood. Many have randomly opened up shops selling sweets, snacks and bottled drinks. Some have opted to sell bora(vegetable fritters) and singju(Manipuri salad) on the roadside & outside temples which requires less capital to start up and the returns are quickly achieved. The lack of jobs and decent earning opportunities have put more strains on women who in the midst of juggling cooking, collecting water(tap water is virtually non-existent here), growing vegetables(or shopping for them), looking after children & the house in general, have hardly any time left to weave. And the little time they get, they’d rather be selling bora than weaving sadly.
Looms sitting silent as the poultry cackle around it
Its worrisome no doubt that weavers are hard to come by & good weavers especially so. Perhaps seeing the appreciation for their work by people outside Manipur might help them realise they are sitting on a treasure! I realised that because Abok was so shocked when I informed her that the towels she wove were much appreciated by my friends. She couldn’t believe that her work was special. It took some convincing and towards the end she smiled and said that well..her towels were the most sought after at the renowned Ima Keithel or Ima Market. She wasn’t wrong for when we visited the market, the lady selling the towels much to my delight told me exactly that without knowing that I was related to the weaver.
The dwindling number of weavers also means that the other related services for them like dyeing of yarn and setting up of warp have suffered and they too will be eventually forced to look for alternative modes of livelihood.
Every piece I came across in the markets, every yardage bore with it the struggles, the triumphs, the hard work of each woman who toiled over it under the light of a solar lamp or oil lamp. I shudder to think that we may lose weaving as a craft specially handwoven home linens. I hope to lend a voice to the weavers and expose their craft to as many people possible so that they too may see how truly wonderful their craft and textiles really are.