Pandemic: An opportunity to step ahead in the right direction and a time to reflect on the quality of our occupation!

Of the numerous tales that emerged out when the whole world was gripped with Covid-19 pandemic, DigiKargha presents the story of Chanderi’s weaving community that learned to cope well during this tumultuous time. Like any other profession, weavers have faced their share of consequences because of the pandemic. The repercussions were mainly observed in the huge dip in market demands that predominantly catered to weddings, parties and showrooms. Moreover, a radical change in the attitude of the general public in terms of ‘doing more with less’ posed an insecure question about the sales of the stock that was beginning to pile up post pandemic. Work from home has been the norm to most weavers since its inception which made it easier during this situation and the digital empowerment of artisans whose foundations were laid by DEF before the pandemic played a huge role in transitioning to E commerce mode of business. As a couple of Covid waves swept the lives of many followed by a lull, the celebratory culture of Indians has brought back the spotlight on Chanderi sarees. Yet again, the town has managed to revive its tradition, but only this time forged out of self reliance and carried with an awareness to include a diverse set of occupations, in addition to weaving, in a family to support each other at times of change.

Sitting in her beautiful garden, Zumamrudd Khousar narrates the plight of her own family during the pandemic, juicing it up with various expressions and tickling the funny bone at times like a true story-teller. Married to a master weaver, with two grown-up sons, she has inspired her children to grow better by mustering the courage to complete her education after bearing two children, that came with the realization of being incapable of helping them with their studies. Although slightly familiar with working around computers, she quotes “necessity is the mother of invention” as she recollects the struggles she had to go through to set up an E commerce website called ‘Fankar’ along with the help of her son during the pandemic. To support eighty other weaving families that are associated with their business, although she worked hard to create a digital platform, she did not expect the arduous effort a single sari demands to be sold. However, she has managed to smoothly run her virtual set up by collecting bits of lessons from her experiments, mistakes and youngsters who were quick in such a venture, but still getting used to the world of hashtags, getting the colours on the website to match the saris and the never ending discussions on call with some of her finicky customers.

Her take on the debate of occupation playing the role of means to an end or proving an end to the means of living is an intriguing one to mention. She is a strong advocate of sparing some time and energy to engage with the family in a meaningful and joyful way sharing the nuances of earning a livelihood. She disapprovingly nods at the lifestyle that allows one to slightly improve the living standards at the cost of being drained of emotional and mental faculties. She pleasantly invites to experience this in person at Chanderi during the rainy season when it is hard to spot a woman on the streets and instead finds merrymaking on the banks of a river or a nearby reservoir with their children on Sundays.

This said, the conscience of occupying oneself with a work instead of lazing around is quite strong among the residents. No matter which other professions the members of weaving families choose, they never fail to carve out some time in their daily routine to weave a sari as they take pride in their tradition upholding the uniqueness of the work to an extent that many personally choose to buy other saris instead of using a Chanderiyaan to enhance its value. While people of Chanderi seem to have gotten the definitions of the urban lingo of work from home, going virtual and work life balance, it is awaited to see in what further ways this living tradition of weaving is going to strengthen and flourish with some hopes pinned on encompassing the growth of tool makers and amplified recognition of the rich heritage echoed in the beautiful stone carved remains of history along the way.