“A small step for man, a giant leap for mankind!”
Probably one of the most iconic statements made in the history of mankind, it is a moment signifying the colossal progress we have made as humans. We however urge you to take a proverbial step back and think, if we don’t preserve our connection with our roots , then where are we really going?
A small part of our very precious past lies in the very quaint village of Ponduru. A mere 30 km from Srikakulam district in Andhra Pradesh, this place is home to Ponduru Khadi, a variety favored by none other than the Mahatma himself. A cheery little community where the first sight to greet you is splashes of neon on walls, it is a township that boasts of its very own Geographical Handloom Identification Tag.
The uniqueness of Ponduru khadi lies in the fiber – produced mainly from short staple hill variety cotton that is so pest resistant, it allows for chemical free farming!
Another very exceptional feature of this khadi lies in the process of weaving. With looms in the houses of Sali, Padmasali, Pattusali and Devanga communities, weavers work magic with their hands to fashion cloth from cotton. The entire fascinating process involves ginning, which essentially separates the cotton fiber from the seeds and is done with the jawbone of the Valuga fish which is indigenous and exclusive to the area. After fluffing the cotton and waste removal, slivering and carding is done and the slivers are kept in dried banana stems. This is finally handheld and spun into the fine Khadi that we know. This entire process is as hypnotic as it is painstaking.
Captivating as it sounds; the real and current condition of these weavers is dire. The historic town of Ponduru has seen a steady decline in the number of people opting to weave. This is predominantly due to the low income this trade offers. This meticulous and long drawn out process is not being compensated with the recognition it deserves, which has a direct effect on the money it generates for the weavers. While they are paid less, the cost of khadi is increasing, further widening the chasm. Those still currently involved in this art are actively discouraging future generations from pursuing this as a career due to the meagre earnings and the day is not far when this magnificent art form will be lost forever.
There was a time when every house in Ponduru boasted of having a loom. Many locals wove their own clothes and proudly produced fabric that has been duly exported to countries like USA, Denmark, Japan and Sweden. This is still one of the only places where we can still find the single spindle charkha with 24 spokes. Sadly this is not enough to compete with the dazzle of new age mass produced man-made fabric. In the glitter and glamour we seem to have forgotten what it feels like to wear glorious breathable cloth of the earth fabric that is true to our soul.
Ponduru’s long unbroken tradition of fine khadi is in danger of becoming extinct. Spinning In the traditional way may soon be a lost art. Grim situations causing farmers to take extreme steps are slowly creeping into the lives of these artisans as well. Weavers are hit hard and have nowhere to go for redressal.
Gandhi elevated spinning and weaving, transcending it into an ideology for self -reliance and self- governance. It is a sad reality today that these very weavers are anything but independent. It is not uncommon to see young people preferring to turn to greener pastures forgoing the golden knowledge and priceless heirloom that tradition has handed them.
We urge you all; once again, to take a step back in your hearts and truly see what a fabulous and rich heritage we are losing to modernization. Is it so difficult for the two to coexist? Reach out and opt for local and traditional fabrics that will give a much deserved and needed boost to this dying art. One small step taken by you can be a leap in their favour.