Who will marry a weaver?


Who will marry a weaver?

New Delhi : He is one of the last few weavers of the rare Patan Patola sari — and short of a bride.

Rahul Salvi, a 32-year-old, English-speaking architect, can’t find a bride. He’s now a weaver, you see, and no educated, upwardly mobile Gujarati family will marry off their daughter to him. It hardly seems to matter that he is among the handful of descendants of a weaver community that makes the rare Patan patola sari, a legacy that goes back to the 11th century.

Two years ago, Rahul, son of master weaver Vinayak Salvi, gave up his well-paying architect’s job to sustain the family tradition, only to realise that in the matrimonial market, small-town weavers are ineligible bachelors. “Educated girls seem to find it below their dignity to marry a weaver. They want me to settle in a city and find a ‘decent’ job,” he says.

Patan, a town in north Gujarat, is a four-hour drive from Ahmedabad. Rahul’s cousin Savan, a cheerful young man, escorts me to their residence in Patolawala street. Its spacious weaving quarters are flooded with light. The centrepiece is a huge loom holding in its jaws a partly woven, turmeric-yellow patola sari with a fuchsia and brown border. Framed pictures of master weavers receiving awards, old chests of drawers and a well-worn wooden sofa make it look like a scene from an Eastmancolor film.

Rahul is faultlessly courteous, but there is the awkwardness of a new acquaintance between us. That gets broken when his uncle Bharatbhai begins to explain the weave. In the 11th century, he says, Raja Kumarpal of the Solanki dynasty brought 700 weavers from Jhalna in Maharashtra to Patan. They wove the silken Patan patola, an intricate, double-ikat weave with both warp and weft resist-dyed (the dye is prevented from reaching the entire cloth by tying knots). Each sari takes five months to make if four people work on it for six hours a day, and costs Rs 3-8 lakh, depending on the intricacy of the design. Ninety per cent of the orders are from rich Gujarati and Maharashtrian families who revere these saris as heirlooms. The rest are from textile collectors and museums. Orders are placed at the Salvi residence or at patanpatola.com where you can choose the colours and patterns. You’ll have to wait for about three years for the sari to reach you.

Among the finest artisanal products of the world, Patan patola’s dyeing and design precision make it distinct from the easily available and affordable Saurashtra Patola, Orissa Ikat and Andhra Pochampalli. The National Institute of Design has recommended that it be added to Unesco’s global list of intangible cultural heritage.

The Patan-based Salvis guard the weave, refusing associations with designers, retailers or textile conservationists who have been visiting them from all over the world. They have also stopped trading with government handloom houses for many years and claim that the Patan patolas at the state emporiums in Ahmedabad and the Central Cottage Industries Emporium in Delhi are not made by them. The few saris in the market are supplied by their feuding relative Kanubhai Salvi who runs a patola loom in Vadodara, where hired weavers make the saris.

By noon, it is obvious that the Salvis are not the usual gregarious Gujarati family. There are no chuckling women, no nashta breaks of ghatiya phaphda. Cutting chai, yes, but tea time is spent in silence. With the exception of Rahul and Savan, all the young men have flown the nest. Rahul admits he returned to weaving because of a gnawing guilt. “If nobody from our generation weaves full time, it won’t be long before the craft becomes extinct,” he says. Now he and Savan are busy setting up a Patan patola museum where vintage pieces, designs and looms will be displayed.

The initial wariness that was palpable in Rahul and his uncle is soon explained. In 2008, a sarkari missive informed Bharatbhai, a senior weaver, that he had been chosen for the national award for master craftsmen. But two days before the ceremony in Delhi, another letter curtly conveyed that his award had been cancelled. No explanation was offered.

The family’s growing cynicism is like a fence of barbed wire. They are least enamoured with the fashion industry and refused Gujarat government’s invitation to dress up actor Rekha for the Vibrant Fashion Week this year. “Patan patola may be good for fashion but fashion is not good for its image,” says Rahul.

A Gujarati song goes: “The patola may come apart, but will never lose its pattern.” Maybe Rahul should use it as his matrimonial advertisement.