Fiona FernandezA couple of months back, while on a visit to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, the new Textile Gallery left us speechless. And made us smile. Finally, a space to celebrate the countries rich and diverse weaving traditions. The research, the artful mounting of exhibits, the lighting and aesthetics — the entire exercise was a tribute to India. Among the crowds that thronged the gallery, it warmed our hearts immensely to note that there were many young visitors, curious to learn about the origins of our weaves and fabrics.

Cut to a few weeks back. We’re pretty sure that the weavers of Varanasi would have rejoiced on hearing the news. The Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum’s initiative to promote the weaves of this ancient city was another much-needed shot in the arm for the country’s weavers in general. Along the way, both ideas also broke the stereotype of the idea of a museum for Mumbaikars. This should usher in larger things to come.

At another, standalone level, cultural centres like Artisans’ keep the flag flying high. With round-the-year initiatives, including a recent one where a film was made on the Kalamkari weavers of Andhra Pradesh, their efforts are commendable. Textile exhibitions and sessions to celebrate India’s weavers and craftsmen find regular mention on their itinerary. Rarely has the city been treated to such a continuous display of fine craftsmanship from the inner sanctums of India’s handloom industry. It’s also pleasing to note that many designers are doing their bit. But more needs to be done.

Blood, sweat and tears, long hours, low wages…we’re pretty sure that each warp and weft will have a story to tell. But what we, as urban, civil society need to do is to support it to the fullest. Increasingly, our public spaces need to showcase these fine works that will otherwise get lost in the dust and grime of workshops tucked in rural India. While the odd Gond art display or the Chikankari exhibition will garner temporary interest, we feel that initiatives need to be more sustained, and throughout the year. The Union Ministry of Textiles, along with state arms needs to work in sync and start from the grassroots level.
Imagine hosting a big exhibition every month, of a weave from every district within Maharashtra? It will be a win-win situation, really.

The average citizen and the school-going child in particular, needs to be acquainted with this side of India as well, so the legacy of its rich works is passed down for generations to come.
The handloom cannot afford to become obsolete. India will lose a part of its identity, one thread at a time, if that happens.

The writer is Features Editor of mid-day