Bespoke, she spoke
Were I to pick a single indelible impression from my visit to Hyderabad last year, the genteel mien of an indomitable Suraiya Hassan Bose jumps promptly to attention. A spry eighty-something who has devoted the past three decades of her life to reviving Persian textiles. For the most part, unaided.
Alongside a number of other Central Asian influences that suffused Indian ethos back in the day, the silky weft of himroo (similar to brocade), mushroo (woven with satin), and paithani (typified by identical patterns on both sides) too determinedly wove its way into the efflorescent wardrobes of a sartorially-vain nobility. Artisans loomed large under the patronage of the Nizams, but when all things ‘Nizamiyat’ began fading and fraying from this once gobsmackingly opulent domain, so did the craft. By the 1940s, paithani and himroo had all but threaded their way into oblivion.
Possibly the only one of its kind, Suraiya Hassan’s weaving unit located in Darga Hussain Shah Wali on the fringes of Hyderabad, employs over 25 widows at the (mostly) Jacquard looms that himroo requires for its manifestation. In turn one loom needs two people to work it in order for the complex weaves to take shape. The expansive premises also house an English-medium school, named after her uncle, for educating gratis their children as well as those from the village that hosts Safrani Exports, her company. At last count the students numbered five hundred.
Intricate designs are both replicated from vintage versions as well as created anew by the doughty lady and her master weaver, Syed Umar. The complicated drafts, employing anywhere between 15 to 5000 threads each are then painstakingly ‘traced’ onto the looms. A time consuming process that could take upto many weeks before the ladies commence with the other time-intensive task of resurrecting an erstwhile tradition. Typically, a day’s labour produces three, maximum four, inches of yardage. Any wonder it costs upwards of Rs 3000 per metre? Still, it gets snapped up hot off the looms for wedding wear – particularly sherwanis for men.
Other textiles and techniques that owe their revival and survival to Suraiya Hassan’s passion are teliya rumaals, ikkat and kalamkari dhurries. In the year 2000, she started the House of Kalamkari and Dhurries. A faded sign on the outer wall of the leafy compound announces as much; the front portion of which is taken up by stacks and shelves of material, home linen, and women’s accessories. Dominating the bustle of whirring fans and shoppers’ confusion is a calm and collected diminutive figure offering insight and suggestions to catalyse decisions. Address: 1-86, Darga Hussain Shah Wali, Raidurg, Behind Traffic Police Station, Mehdipatnam To Gachibowli Road, Hyderabad.
Born in 1930 into a family with Gandhian leanings that contributed immensely towards bonfires fueled by imported goods during the Swadeshi Movement, Suraiya Hassan interestingly studied hand-looms in Britain before beginning work with the Delhi State Trade Corporation. She returned to Hyderabad in 1980 following the passing of her husband Aurobindo, Subhash Chandra Bose’s nephew, to breathe life back not just into dying weaves but resuscitate impoverished and disillusioned artisans as well. Towards which end, she has achieved much success and acclaim even though it is getting progressively difficult. Remarkable individual that she is, she strives on, regardless. Clearly, they broke the mould after that one.
That there are equally driven individuals engaged in promoting textile heritage is borne out by Breakaway, a travel outfit that offers well-tailored and curated textile tours across the country. “We want you to get into the heart of India,” ardently articulates Shilpa Sharma, co-founder Jaypore and the force behind Breakaway. “To experience much appreciated traditions, meet the finest craftsmen, connect with stories that keep the craft alive. And to taste the exquisite cultures of rural India as you travel through her textile-rich states.”