The story of well spun yarn
After resurrecting forgotten weaves, Suraiya Hasan Bose hopes to teach children to spin khadi. Sangeetha Devi Dundoo reports
Photos: K. Ramesh Babu
Woven wonders Suraiya Hassan Bose at her studio, accompanied by Syed Umar
Octogenarian Suraiya Hasan Bose leads by example. In the few hours that we spend with her at her weavers' workshop besides Safrani Memorial School, Raidurgam, on a warm summer morning, she not once complains of the heat or the tasks at hand.
At the modest workshop she set up decades ago, which specialises in the nearly-extinct techniques of himroo, mushroo and paithani weaves alongside ikat and kalamkari, Suraiya checks the progress made by weavers at each loom.
Pointing to an intricate design being woven with blue, silver and golden threads, she says, “This is a sherwani for a London-based groom. They wanted pure silver and gold threads.” A paisley motif is being woven in the adjacent loom. “This will dress a groom in New York. Two weavers operating a loom can make only two inches of fabric per day. If the weaver takes one wrong thread, the design can go wrong. Orders need to be placed months in advance. Once a loom is occupied, I cannot dismantle the process and take up another order.”
The trust people have in her is thanks to painstaking efforts that she took decades ago. “Soon after Partition, many weavers left India. It was difficult for me to find someone who knew these techniques. I sought the help of Syed Umar, whom I knew during my work at the Cottage Industries Emporium in Delhi. He has stayed with us for 54 years,” she says, as master weaver Umar instructs youngsters working on a double paisley motif.
Author Radhika Singh, who penned a book on 50 years of Fabindia, expressed her intention to document Suraiya's works during her recent visit to the city. Suraiya smiles, “Documenting all this will be a lot of work. My challenge is to find someone genuinely interested in handlooms to run this place in the coming generations. Or maybe the government should take it over. There is no scope for someone who looks at it as a business proposition.”
The interest in handlooms runs in her family. She recalls how her father and grandfather were Gandhians and Sarojini Naidu was a family friend. Suraiya's father set up the first khadi unit in Karimnagar, which was later taken over by the government. It was in front of her home that Gandhiji lead the Swadeshi movement in Hyderabad and a bonfire was lit with imported fabrics. “I must have been four or five then. Some of my family members accompanied Gandhiji for the Dandi salt march. Two of my uncles were also jailed,” she says. Though Suraiya lost her father when she was young, the interest in handlooms grew when she saw her uncle and other family members involved in it. She equipped herself by doing a one-year course on textiles at the Oxford University. “Don't ask me for the year and month. I don't remember the dates. Age is catching up with me. I was interested in studying medicine but I was not good enough to get the required marks,” she says with a smile.
After her marriage to Subhash Chandra Bose's nephew Aurobindo, Suraiya moved to Delhi where she worked with the department of handicrafts and handlooms and then with the Cottage Industries Emporium. “I returned to Hyderabad at the behest of my uncle (Abid Hasan Safrani) after my husband passed away. I started the weavers' workshop and this school with his help,” she says.
Suraiya Hasan steps out of the studio into the ground adjacent to the school and expresses her intention of starting a khadi-spinning class for students from IX standard. “In my family, each one of us knows to spin khadi. I want children to learn the technique..
She is proud of the school and its 600 students. “English is the medium of education and many students, who have come here from lower and middle class families, have gone on to study and work abroad. I believe in co-education. Girls and boys should know to interact with each other,” she says.
In her office, adjacent to the school, buyers are taking a look at handloom saris, fabrics and furnishings. Among them is a group of young foreigners, studying at the University of Hyderabad, eager to take a piece of handloom culture back to their countries. A student picks up an ikat fabric, shows a sketch of a dress and asks for two metres. Suraiya dissuades her, “You won't need two metres for that dress. Don't waste fabric,” she says.
“Our work is recognised and people from all over the country, and Indians settled abroad, buy fabric from us,” she tells us. Suraiya's business included Safrani Exports until a few years ago. “Nowadays there is not much export,” she adds.
She brightens up at the mention of John Bissel, the founder of Fabindia. “I met him when I was working in Delhi. Both of us were interested in handlooms and after he set up Fabindia, I supplied furnishing fabrics from my looms,” she says.
Suraiya rarely sits still and her energy is infectious. She brushes away compliments and says, “I cannot sit idle. There are so many things to do. I want to revive the khadi unit in Karimnagar. When I can, I visit villages, dig out old designs and place orders for weaves. You will not find such kalamkari blocks anywhere else,” she says and goes on to add, “There has to be genuineness in the craft. I insist on getting the real gold zari threads from Madras. Saris should be worn for generations. The Gadwal saris of today, unlike in those years, are made of fake zari and don't last for more than a few years,” she laments.
Her day begins at 4 a.m. and ends at 11 p.m. She takes a break from looms and the school on Sundays. “I use that time to tidy up my house,” she says.
She isn't ready to take a lunch break, not yet. Pointing to a pile of answer sheets, she says, “I look at the corrected answer sheets of each class to know how the students have performed, who has failed, who has shown improvement… it helps to know each student's progress,” she smiles. We couldn't disagree.
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