The fading charm of carpet weaving

The fading charm of carpet weaving

Forty-eight year old Sayed Sabiq feels a full-size carpet woven in deep shades of maroon and golden yellow and says, “This is the Gumbad design. It is 9x12 ft and is worth Rs 6,50,000. We have been making such Kashmiri carpets since three generations. But my son isn’t interested in this business.”

Sabiq’s hand soon reaches out for his smartphone wherein he logs into his Facebook account and turning the screen towards Metrolife points out, “This is my son. He is about to complete his mechanical engineering in Bangalore. When I called him the other day to inquire about his career plans, he said ‘Papa ye to sochna bhi mat ki mai is carpet business mein aaunga’.”

Sabiq’s eyes fall short of turning moist as he confronts his love for his son and his love for his precious carpets.

At the recently concluded 29th India Carpet Expo at Pragati Maidan, Sabiq representing his company, Hannan’s Oriental Rugs, was not the only one narrating this tale. From the 275 manufacturers and exporters who participated in the event, organised by Carpet Export Promotion Council of India, most looked tense as the impending future cast a gloomy shadow on their present.

“Aajkal ke bachchon mein patience nahi hai (New generation doesn’t have the required patience),” remarks Sabiq in his Kashmiri accent. He also informs about the need for huge investments and paucity of weavers which makes the business difficult.   

A widely known fact is the decrease in demand for carpets, which leads to the increase in worry of the carpet exporters. This is compounded by the low turnout of visitors on the last day vis a vis the fashion week organised in the same vicinity.

“Till about 25 years ago, the business was pretty good,” recollects Abhineet Khandelwal who associates his childhood with carpets. Third in the generation of Galaxy International, Khandelwal explains that since people didn’t have much to do earlier, “It was easy to find weavers.
Plus, the wages they got were enough to sustain their family. But as time progressed, the carpet industry became stagnant.” Hailing from the famous family of carpet makers in Gwalior, Khandelwal says it is a challenge to survive in the market. “Until a few years back, we designed only Persian carpets but then had to introduce Afghani designs too.

Over the course of time, carpet makers from Bhadohi and Mirzapur (both in Uttar Pradesh) began adapting modern designs and shifted their focus to machine-made,” he says stating with a sense of regret the reason why he had to introduce Afghani designs, which are simpler.        
In contrast to the dark shades used in Persian and Kashmiri carpets, light hues find dominance in carpets from Bhadohi. “People want more perfection. Today’s generation wants to use and throw the product. We therefore have to make something that is handmade yet affordable,” says Arvind Gupta from Arvind Exports hinting that buying Persian/Kashmiri carpets is a “luxury”.

He added the names ‘Indo-Tibetan’ and ‘Nepalese’ to the list of carpets that he makes. Acknowledging that these carpets can never match the elegance and charm of Persian or Kashmiri carpets, Gupta is happy to cater to the urban population. However, the recent increase in import tax announced by the Turkish government gives him grief. “About 40 per cent of carpets in Turkey are imported from Bhadohi. So, it is going to affect not just me but the entire market,” he adds.

As foreigners streamed by, observing each stall carefully, PK Baranwal’s company UN Carpet Company caught their attention. “I visited Bhadohi when young and fell in love with the intricate designs that the weavers created on Persian carpets. There and then I decided to enter this business,” says Baranwal who was not discouraged by the huge investments required.

“From 1975, when I started, till 1990, the business was good. But after that the financial aspect has been a back-breaker,” says the man who considers Germany as his biggest export market. Ask if he would want his future generations to continue in this business and the middle-aged man looks first at the beautiful carpets hanging in his stall and then at his son. After a long pause he admits, “I would not want my grandchildren to face trouble.”    

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