Clatter and chatter. On a warm afternoon in the village of Manpura, the noise broke the quiet calm. As we made our way through the narrow bylanes of the village to reach our destination, the women of the houses we crossed glanced at our contingent; some smiled, some stayed hid behind a curtain of threads, dangling from wooden frames.
Manpura, a small village some kilometres away from Jaipur (embed Unesco story), is home to 150 women artisans whose deft hand movements tie about 15 knots a minute--knots that form the basis of intricate rugs, and their livelihood and independence.
This business of creating beautiful carpers was started by Nand Kishore Chaudhary in the late 1970s with just two looms and a loan of Rs 5,000 from his father. His thought process behind the journey was his understanding of the imbalance in the supply-and-demand chain of rugs, to give artisans their due which was being cut out by middlemen. He formed contacts and bonds with artisans and in 1999, formally established Jaipur Rugs.
Their carpets today are legendary around the world but their manufacturing process and people behind them are the real showstoppers. For instance, Jaipur Rugs has given the women of this small Rajasthani village independence with an income. As many of them say proudly when asked how they like making the gorgeous rugs, “We earn and run the family.”
Weaving, a particularly laborious art form, involves interlacing threads with one another over the loom. Intricately woven together, these threads pave the way for a rug that goes through a series of other processes—180 hands and 80 processes (all taken care off in the vicinity) to be precise— to look like the way it does. Before it reaches its final glory, a rug is corrected multiple times right from the size it should be to the removing the extra fibre, cleaning it and then fitting it to the right size again. These rugs can vary in size, from 9x9 inches to large ones that can take up a whole wall!
“The idea behind Jaipur Rugs is to run it like a family,” is how Chaudhary puts it. Most of the women in Manpura who form the weaving community are in their 20s. There are 46 looms in all with 150 artisans working on them. The oldest among them is Shanti Devi. “I started working when my youngest daughter was two months old, about a decade ago,” she says. She had two looms installed in her house and eight other weavers who could help. Married off at a young age, like many women in a similar plight, she and her family were stuck in a vicious circle of taking loans after not making enough off the land. Being financially independent today has helped her and her family, without the clout of loan sharks hanging overhead. All of Shanti Devi’s expenses come out of her salary and her work makes her happy. “I work for the art form, not just money,” she says, her hands deftly tying knots on an unfinished carpet.
In a further attempt to empower the community, Jaipur Rugs’ Manchaha initiative has added to the company’s portfolio. The weavers are left to create designs that bring out their uniqueness on rugs with leftover yarn to avoid wastage. The idea has proved to be so popular that carpets from that line have gone on to win several awards, including the German Design Award in recent years.
Jaipur Rugs today impacts over 40,000 artisans across 600 villages in rural and remote areas. 80 per cent of the artisans are women and about 7,000 tribal people. Chaudhury sees this venture as a long term project. With his family behind and helping out with different ventures and markets, his goal is for the artisan to connect with the customer. “Dying arts should be brought to life, and artisans who made them should be appreciated,” says Chaudhury.