Rickety ‘kaccha’ roads lined with very few colourful ‘aangans’ on either side sped past our window. Bells for lunch sounded loud from within. Yes, it was past lunchtime as we pulled in to one of the smaller textile villages in Orissa, Olasingha (Olasingh village).
With the sun beating right above our heads, we stepped out to see not many people around. No sounds of looms ticking, work had come to a standstill for lunch I guessed. A man, perhaps in his early 30’s rushed up to us, happily agreeing to show us around. “How long have you been handling the looms?”, numbers being a fascination of a newbie research person, I asked. His lips curled up to a faint grin, lost in some long-lost thought, “since childhood”, he replied. Being the third or fourth generation who still continued the weaving tradition alongside their profession for livelihood, it is to his house we went first.
Dimly lit, with a loom lining the wall and an SRK movie running in the background; a small tiled house just enough for his family of three. Amidst these sat an older lady, his mom, spinning thread from the cocoon. A scene I’ve got to witness only in documentary movies welcomed us.
Soft they were, but this ‘reel-with-your-thighs’ spinning technique just popped one question on my mind, “Does it not hurt?”. Looking up, smiling into my camera, she replied, “The thread won’t cut us, they’re soft. But, sitting for long stretches on the floor gives us backaches!”.
With mom being the interviewer and me behind the lens, time just flew past.
Explanations and demos continued as we slowly moved from the first house to their village co-operative society. It is here that we got to see a few fairer equipment’s, coloured silk, half weaved saree’s, and of course our first weaving demo. Two to three looms were installed in most households I was told, with both men and women equally equipped in weaving.
Bidding adieu to the hospitality and love we walked over to the next house. More members, more loom, and not to mention more demos (this time of their completed works) awaited us. Oh yes, they were informed about our arrival. While my parents were busy understanding the textures, I decided to take a look around.
Talent and hard work weaved together, the people at Olasingh village were quite thrilled to showcase their artwork to us. And not to mention, the price was way lower than one can imagine (we did end up buying a fair few 😉 items).
My thoughts ran wild as I saw them. Dallying, trying to gain our attention, they were such cuties, playing and poking hands around while the elders worked. Memories washed ashore as I stood recollecting the yesteryear tales my dad used to narrate. Those places which he pointed out to as ‘once a weaver’s village’ don’t have the faintest resemblance of one today. Indeed, most of our quaint villages along with their traditions have bowed down to concrete jungles. In an era where invisible communities get to snatch most of our ‘urban’ childhood days, these kids at Olasingh village are still fortunate to observe and learn tradition from their parents.
It was around 2 pm as we wrapped up the demo sessions and interviews. A day with the weavers was much more than any money’s worth. There was happiness, there was sorrow, and more so, anxiety in their eyes. “What’s in store for tomorrow”, was written all over.
India is one of those places where handlooms still strive but at the brim. Unfortunately, this tradition is slowly fading as the current generation is forced to go outside of the circle in search of secured jobs and a better lifestyle. Having come with the intention of delving more into an unknown tradition, I can sure say I’m leaving with a basket full of thoughts to nibble upon. I ponder…