DC Travel Diaries – Exploring handmade marvels from Bijnour, Uttar Pradesh

The stillness of the early morning enabled us to begin our day with a quiet conscience, a cheerful mind and positive energy which motivated us to make the best out of our expedition to the villages in Bijnour. Bijnour is a district located in Uttar Pradesh, around 4 and a half hours drive from Delhi NCR.

We covered four villages in Bijnour- Khiwar, Nageena, Kajiwala and Sedha. The artisans here weave magic to form beautiful fabric and hand carved wooden products so utterly pure and perfect that it truly complements the intricate designs on it.

20th May was just like every other day but the sun was very liberal to us and thankfully we managed to escape ourselves from the oppression of summers. We were a team of 7 members from the DC family, including Sheela Lunkad – DC’s cheerful founder, Bittu Singh-  Marketing Manager, Rashmi- Vendor On-boarding , Nitesh-Android App Developer at DC, Navneet- our guide to every corner of the villages we went  and the artisans out there and myself, the DC content writer, headed for this wonderful journey – full of fun and learning. We had planned the execution of tasks for the field trip a day in advance, to utilize our time efficiently.

Reminiscing the rich cultural history of the country and keeping individuals connected with their roots are Indian Fabrics that hold a special place in our hearts and our wardrobes even today. Portraying many unique aspects of these legacies are thousands of specialized weavers across the country who by employing millions of looms are weaving magnificent fabrics in cotton, silk and other natural fibers.

Needless to say that these weavers and their ancestors have done a lot in taking the Indian hand-loom sector to new heights. This sector, which now provides direct and indirect employment to over 13 million weavers, is the largest economically active sector second to agriculture. The irony of the situation is that even after this massive number of economic activity by the weavers, we have numerous artisans who have hardly gained any recognition in something they have mastered. With rising technology and availability of network we now have ample number of sites selling the products made by niche artisans but those sites don’t speak of the fabulous journey of the product made by a maker with an interesting story behind each marvel that he produces. Direct Create is working to bring forward these hidden stories of our extremely talented pool of artisans in front of the masses. So here we were, taking the initiative of popularizing the works of our artisans.

The strategy we planned to execute our motto well followed like this: 

  1. Reach out to the maker’s place and eye witness the making of beautiful fabric and hand carving of wooden products
  2. Introduce makers with the futuristic concept of Direct Create and the technology that we are using
  3. Open their shops on our site with a small personal description about their story and work
  4. Make them use DC’s android application and find their comfort level with the technology DC is using
  5. Interview them to know the backstory of their craft

Our journey began from Kiwar village which is located at a distance of 202.5 km from Gurgaon, Haryana and 61.9 km from Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh.

1. Kiwar

It took us around 4 hours 30 minutes to reach Kiwar village. This place served us with fantastic lookouts shaded with scenic views which are now filled with memories. Indian villages are often stereotyped as poverty-stricken and devoid of basic facilities, but amidst of all this we forget to notice the warm hospitality of people out there.

Sheela Lunkad, Co-founder of Direct Create in conversation with Aftab Alam, Proprietor of Aftab Textiles.

As we reached our destination, we quickly got to our ninja list of tasks which included the on boarding of makers on our App, familiarizing them with Direct Create’s vision and knowing their story of makers. At Aftab Ji’ s workshop we eye-witnessed the Jacquard woven fabric being produced on a special weaving loom fitted with a jacquard patterning mechanism. This device enables the individual selection and lifting of any of the warp threads (which run vertically along all fabrics), allowing a wide variety of complex patterns and designs to be produced. Therefore, woven jacquard fabrics are typically multicolored, or figured with intricate and textural designs.

While we trying to figure out the making process of the fabrics made out of the loom , Mr. Aftaab served us with ice-cold water, to make it easier for us to beat the summer heat. We were even served with mouthwatering delicacies like cookies,chocolate cubes,pomegranate seeds,dry fruits and beverages.

Khatirdari by Aftab JI

Apart from fulfilling the orders by his customers, Aftab Handloom even makes cotton fabric sheets for Fabindia.

Following are some snapshots taken from few other workshops in Khiwar.

 

2. Nagina

Our next destination was Nagina, a small town located at a distance of 31.5 km from Bijnor, a district located in the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh. This town may seem nondescript at first glance, but look deeper and anyone would be able to see the rich cultural impact it has had on the art and craft traditions of India. Nagina being one of the important wood carving centers in Uttar Pradesh, is popular throughout the world as ‘Wood Crafts City’. The history of wood crafts industry of Nagina is about 500 years old. The town is mostly inhabited by Multani people who originally hailed from Pakistan. The curious wooden items manufactured by these people have been admired and encouraged from the Mughal period.

On our visit, we met two artisans who have been practicing this craft for generations. Those artisans are Asharam and Rifaqat Ali.

 

We met Asharam Ji in Kajiwala , a small village located at a distance of 48 km from Nageena. Asharam Ji, now 55, started practicing wooden carving at age 25. He learned this art from his master Abul Salam , who himself was awarded with a medal by the President of India then, for the wooden combs he made. After Abul Salam passed away, Asharam continued this legacy of making remarkable products out of wood. While interacting with him we saw some of the best samples of his wood works. As told by Asharam Ji, the wooden combs and frames he make features Mughal carving , which is highly appreciated across our nation. The wood type used is Sheesham. Other than combs and frames he makes geometric puzzles and many more products to name.

At Nagina, we visited the house of Mr. Rifaqat Ali, who with other experts in his team, makes carved wooden products. Out of all the products they make, we saw some of the best pieces of carved wooden jewelry, kitchen ware and games. In our conversation with Rifaqat Ji , he enriched our knowledge by briefing us with the making process of such remarkable wooden works.

 

As told by Rifaqat Ji , sheesham wood is used for making the products and their shine is retained by buffing. Buffing refers to the use of a tool or machine to correct and shine the surface of a metallic device or machine.

Rifaqat Ali ( center) with artisans from his family
Streets of Nagina
Nitesh, DC’s Android developer explaining the App to the makers

Sheela Lunkad in conversation with Rifaquat Ali and his family

3. Sedha

Our last destination was Sedha,a small town located at a distance of 31.5 km from Bijnor, a district located in the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh.

At Sedha, we went to meet Mr. Fareed Ahmad, the maker of cotton fabric sheets, cotton dupattas and home furnishing items like table mats, coasters,table runners and many more products. We eye witnessed the making process of wonderful fabrics, as those giant and beautiful looms covered with threads of various tones and colors were running and pounding hard, generating exquisite quality of fabric.

Beautiful yarn

 

Fareed Ji officially became a part of this business in 2001. Fareed hired this legacy from his father and past two generations in his family have been practicing this craft.

We met many such artisans like them. One common point which seemed particularly alarming to us was the fact that most of these artisans seemed to be amongst the last generation in their family who were inclined to be in this profession. All their sons and daughters were pursuing education and looking for a different set of employment opportunities.

After Sedha we headed back to Gurgaon. Though we suffered a few hardships and struggled hard in the scorching summer heat to execute our work well, but in the end hard work paid off . Thankfully, we were able to onboard the shops of most of the sellers we met, in a hope that this effort from our side can turn out to be a milestone for the artisans who are upholding the traditional reservoir of knowledge and skills.

We wish our urban sensibilities to make space for these languishing art forms and shower all the support and help our artisans need, in the form of monetary assistance or rewards, in order to flourish the glory of Indian art at a global level.

Our team will constantly look forward to more of such expeditions and wonderful experiences. We hope that one day India will move beyond endorsing mass machine made goods to actually appreciating and providing patronage to glorious Indian art forms.

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