Naav Rang – Cherishing colours of hope

By Aastha Jain and Sakshi Mundada

A common Gujarati saying goes “pade Patole bath fate pan fite nahin”. It means someone who is unwavering and dependable just like a Patola, that might tear but will never lose its color.

In a constantly changing world, it feels impossible to find something as steadfast and resolute as the craft of Patola and the artisans who spend months of their lives weaving one single piece of fabric.  In a time of dwindling attention spans and instantaneous results, how do these communities continue such exhaustive practices tirelessly through all the adversities? What makes their belief unfaltering and gives them hope?  

We approached Prakash Bhai Makwana who is a third generation Patola weaver from Rajkot, India to know more about these craftsmen and their story. As he narrates his journey, we feel a deeper connection which he holds with the craft that makes him resilient, proud and hopeful all at the same time. It is this intangible, invisible connection that drives him and his family to continue working with this craft and keep it alive.

Beginning of Rajkot Patola

My tryst with the craft of Patola began decades ago, even before I was born. Back in the day my forefathers used to weave khadi in Khadi Sanstha formed by Mahatma Gandhi and Ratilal Gondhia. It was my grandfather who first shifted to a newer type of fabric, a fabric that now runs in our blood. His shift to Patola marked the start of a new journey for my family. He not only learned the process of weaving traditional Patola, but also went on and decided to adapt the age-old craft to the shifting market dynamics. He started creating single-ikat Patola, also known as Rajkot Patola. With this decision, he opened up the craft to newer markets, it became much more accessible and with it our livelihoods much more secure. It was this decision that marked the beginning of a 60 year old legacy that I strive to keep alive even today.

The art of ikat weaving

Weaving a family

At the age of eight, I started helping my father in his business. Growing up in a craftsman’s household does not come with an ordinary childhood. We grow amidst creation, learning the beauty of the process. We are a part of every movement and even before we know it, the craft becomes a part of us. I left my education in the ninth standard to start weaving full time. Hailing from a joint family, each member makes sure to help and support one another in their tasks. Everyone is passionately involved in the work and every textile we create is a culmination of everyone’s efforts. 

As my offspring were growing up, I always let them make their own choices. My lack of education made me realise its importance. I advised both my boys to be brave; brave enough to choose. An ambiguous journey would neither do justice to the family practice nor their studies. Independence and identity isn’t an easy trade off. But now that they are involved, I have made sure they understand and appreciate the craft for not just it’s beauty but also its legacy. 

Masterweaver Prakashbhai showing his Rajkot Patola sari

The trade

We sell our products through showrooms, government agencies, schemes and exhibitions. While most of the time the products are sold at fair prices, sometimes the market is unpredictable as well. A patola on a certain day might get sold five times more its worth with another time we might have to give away at not even half its cost. It is during the festive times that our business peaks. It gives me immense pleasure to know that a few of my creations have added happiness to someone’s special day. 

Market changes drive businesses. We Gujrati’s are known for a great business acumen and that is what helps us ride the difficult roads. The creation of Rajkot Patola itself is an example of that. We continue to respond to the needs and demands of the audiences, through them we get all our inspiration. It is because we stay sensitive to the requirements of the customers, Patola remains relevant. To keep a centuries old craft alive and resonating in the current times is not an easy task, but we are up for it.

Patola sari’s designed by Ayush Kejriwal

Many people have started printing patterns inspired from Patola on consumer based articles. From lifestyle accessories to apparel industry, designs of Patola have been tested out on all products. While it does affect the sales of our handwoven creation, I realise that it also helps the designs and with it the story of Patola reach wider audiences. In whatever way possible, I rejoice in the fact that Patola and its age-old legacy remains a part of our lives. And I do believe that consumers with an exquisite taste always find their way to us. Heritage of Patola has been appreciated across the country. From schools to fashion shows and gala events, patola has reached everyone. 

The government has been instrumental in supporting our community. Weavers service centres facilitated by the central government provide training and a variety of aids to the new weavers. Through the schemes run by the Ministry of Textiles, trade and promotion of the practice has been a lot easier. 

Light at the end of the tunnel

Pandemic has been harsh on everyone, and the artisanal community has been no exception. For a fabric that is a luxurious buy and used during the time of festivities, it was particularly difficult to find consumers. We haven’t been selling much and the work has been irregular. But it is my true belief that there is a better time just around the corner. With patience and resilience we just have to wait this storm out. We have been producing in anticipation of a better future, of a time when happiness can be celebrated and the glorious moments of our lives are lived to the fullest .

We have also taken this time to connect and build a community. I have reconnected with all my clients and colleagues. Just asking them about their well being, reassures hope and positivity. Constantly being in touch, sharing catalogues, surveying about their choices have helped me build a strong connection with the customers. Through small and big acts I try to make sure my family and everyone I talk to keeps safe and mentally sound.

The craft that gives

Humility, positivity and pride is what I have gained from the legacy my ancestors handed over to me. Money is one variable and happiness another. Some days it’s a trade off, other days we have both. Craft has given me a lot and it makes me very hopeful for the future as well. Digital intelligence is the new currency. I have not been able to catch up with this wave of technology, but coming generations have a very good hang of it. A technology driven business and hand crafted culture of products is how I envision the future of Patola.

Material cultures have always been an important aspect of human societies. But it remains to be just one of many elements. Centring lives just around commodities is not something a craftsperson seeks for. It’s about the joy and collaboration that makes it worth the effort. A ray of hope in the wildest of times is the power of this practice.

The creators

We started with a curiosity to understand the driving force that keeps the heritage alive and were left questioning whether mechanisation can truly match up to the magic artisans bring to life. Any textile created by an artisan brings the stories of their lives, their successes and failures, hopes and dreams, pasts and futures with it. These stories are what makes our crafts and craftsmen an indispensable part of our societies, without them who do we look at for showing us hope and helping us through the hardest of times. Without them, who do we count on to keep our traditions alive?