Growing up in Bengal, I have always seen the women in my life drape cotton sarees – the ‘Chappa’ (block print) sarees, ‘Suti’ (soft mul cotton) sarees and the popular Bengal Tant. My native district, Hooghly, has been home to the popular Dhonekhali sarees, and this, I was always aware of. What I didn’t know, till about a few years back, until my research on and draping of handloom sarees started, is that, the lesser-known cousin of Dhonekhali, the Begumpuri weaves, are also native to my district. Obviously, I immediately owned one and took pride in the pattern, motifs and most importantly the origin of these weaves.
Last year, while I was making up my mind to start Bunavat, after my Ajrakhpur visit, I had taken a few days off from work the following month to travel to a few clusters in Bengal. Begumpur was obviously on my mind. After some Google search and a couple of calls, I was off to Begumpur on a pleasant February morning. It is about an hour and a half from Kolkata, an easy drive till about a point, after which you witness the turns of the narrow lanes and by-lanes, roads flanked by trees on either side, ponds, blue skies, and everything that makes the heart happy. I have been born and raised in a similar small-town set-up and this already felt like home. Also, you cannot miss the simplicity of life when you travel a little further away from the city life. Children running across the streets (without the fear of traffic lights and crossings) knowing very well that the bicycles and rickshaws will pave their way carefully, women chatting away while filling water at nearby tube wells, and older men providing solutions to the country’s most grave issues (this runs in our genes probably!).
I found my way into the Begumpur cluster, to not only see the splendor of the weaves but to also meet some wonderful people; people who are family today. I still had a job then, and everyone at the cluster advised me not to let go of it. They mentioned how they aspire for jobs and want that stability in life and how foolish it would be of me to risk it all. My heart already knew that I had to do this, because there are so many people who don’t get their due respect and wages for the work they do, and it is about time to change that.
Begumpur has always been weaving these simple cotton sarees with plain borders called, ‘Mathapar’ and saw a decline in demand over the years, with many looms shutting down. Only after the intervention of the Weavers Service Centre, this weaving cluster saw a change in the design and patterns and made products more relevant and fashionable in today’s context (although I love the original form too!!). Witnessing all those graph papers on which the designs are drawn, a room full of colorful yarns, the weaving, and the dyeing sections, it just made me appreciate even more, the hard work behind the scenes. I immediately sourced a few sarees that day for my Bunavat pilot, only half knowing that I was to start a relationship of a lifetime.
After starting Bunavat, I went back to Begumpur several times, every time only returning with more love and respect for the people in the cluster. This year we even conducted our very first social project in Begumpur, with the support of our patrons and that experience is indeed special. Saving that for another blog.
For now, just know that the Begumpur connect is strong, because it’s a connection of the heart with my roots!
P.S. I visited Begumpur for the first time on 24th February, 2018 and exactly a year later, I write this piece.