It isn't everyday that I get a chance to see unexplored parts of my country and so when the opportunity arose, I jumped to grab it. My internship was taking me to a tiny village just on the outskirts of Dhaka in Narayangonj where I would get to see weavers at work. These weavers were working their magic to create our very own traditional Jamdani and thus it was no surprise when I later came to know that the area was nicknamed "Jamdani Parah".
The drive from my Motijheel office wouldn't have been long had it not been for the gruesome traffic jams of Gulistan and the bumpy roads that winded their way through to our destination. By the time we reached the actual village we were one block's walk away from our destination. But I was glad that we had stopped. The walk allowed me to see things better.
The first thing I noticed on the left side of the dusty gravel road was a river that reflected the exact colour of the blue sky above. And the only thing that dotted its pristine glassy surface was a boat with a white sail, huge enough to fish for clouds. Upon asking I was told that this was the Shitalokkha River and the air from the river provided a certain texture and humidity necessary to create jamdani.
The weaving of Jamdani dates back as far as the 13th century. But at that time, the weavers were only men and only Muslim. Now jamdani is woven by women as well as men due to economic reasons. Weaving Jamdani is a family craftsmanship that is passed down from generation to generation. All these things were explained to me as we made our way to the actual weaving site. I was also told that it wasn't only this particular village that specialised in weaving Jamdani but that all the surrounding villages specialised in the craft as well. But these days, quite disturbingly power looms were forcing their way amongst handlooms in this area but in no way could they replicate the intricacy of hand woven fabric.
A short while later arriving at our destination, Anwar Jamdani Weaving Factory, I saw narrow walkway next to what looked like a house made out of slivers of dry bamboo. As I walked down the path, I peeked in through the crisscross frames of the house and discovered two and a half rows of jamdani handlooms neatly arranged while a pair worked at each loom, silently and meticulously.
As I came to the end of the walkway I realized that even though all the surrounding outhouses were either made of mud or bamboo, the main house, if it could be at all called that, was a multi-storey concrete structure. Too amazed to be blasé about the whole affair, I looked around in awe just like a fresh-of-the-boat. The people who owned the whole establishment obviously saw the inquiry in my eyes and they shyly explained with a smile that the Anwar Jamdani Weaving Factory had made it's transition from a bamboo hut to a tin house and then finally to this concrete structure that I now bore witness to.
After having a look around the ground floor of the house we sat down in the sitting room and were given green coconuts filled with cool coconut milk to ward of the sweltering heat. Too restless to sit in one place I got up and went outside. I was given a stool and I sat down. I sat facing the open doorway of what I had nicknamed the "loom house" and sipped my drink. Now with a better view to study it in detail I looked in at what everyone was doing. As is the case with all villages, I too was attracting stares from people who were going about there business. One girl in particular caught my eye and so I called her to come and sit next to me.
From the looks of it she was older than me. Her name was Kohinoor and she had grown up in this very establishment. She too knew how to weave Jamdani and she explained that she had learned it from her "ustad". It seemed that all the people who now wove had learned the craftsmanship while growing up from veteran craftsman.
After speaking with Kohinoor I decided to let my curiosity lead the way and so I began exploring the other outhouses. I soon discovered that the other outhouses were either homes to some of the weavers or they were more loom houses.
Once my snooping session was over I was called inside the main house to eat. After a splendid lunch that left no doubt that people in this area definitely knew how to cook, I decided to talk to Mr. Anis own of the owner's of the factory. I knew he could answer all my questions and so I had a little tete-a-tete with him.
He explained that he and his siblings owned two factories. One was named after his brother Anwar and the other after his sister Borsha. The factories were born seventeen years ago and had expanded to house 70 to 80 handlooms and hired a staggering one hundred and forty two weavers. He explained that a Jamdani sari could take anywhere between seven days and seven months to weave depending on the richness of the motifs and intricacies of the weave. The motifs were archived over the decades and all they had to do was mix and match from heaps of motifs to come up with new and more motifs. Hence things never got old.
Mr. Anis' is now sending his brother and sister to school and college and making sure his brother takes computer lessons so that they too can further expand the business with what they are learning. Speaking to the weavers I realized that their lives too have improved quite successfully. Having seen only the misery that prevails in our villages because of poverty for once I let my jaded mind set aside my cynicism and revel in the fact that at least one village that made an effort to lift their heads above water and were now actually sailing in it.
That afternoon as our car pulled out from beside the Shitalokkha I saw the huge white sail of boat I had seen earlier. I realized that that sail had indeed caught something. Not a cloud though. It had caught something far better. It had caught the winds of success.
By Shamma M. Raghib
I could not see anyone's face properly in the darkness. I walked in, skeptical …and made a place for myself in the corner of the room, where the moonlight fell.
A girl's voice spoke up, a quivering voice, about to burst into tears, " I was only 15 back then. My brother wanted to marry me off to the village chief, an old man around 50. I refused. I was in love with Jasim. My brother said that is the best for me…but I hesitated and quarreled with my family. They locked me up in a room for three days. I could not eat or sleep and only thought about Jasim. Shocked and weak, I had to give in. On the night of marriage, Jasim came to the scene. Just when my brother was about to force him out, he tore apart, came near me and threw acid on my face…saying, " If I do not get her…no one will!!!" This wasn't the end of my misery. The chief left me that day, saying he won't marry an ugly girl like me. My family was ashamed of me. They could not afford to feed me and I took the shelter of the streets. I begged, until ASF found me. I came here in hope I can get back my integrity, and be with women my own kind. I had been betrayed and looked upon by my own blood. Never thought strangers can be closer than your own!"
I could not bear it any longer. As soon as the electricity came back, I looked up at the victim. I twitched… never before have I seen a more alienating face. Such brutal truth in front of my eyes! Only a beast in human form could have done this horrific thing. My eyes welled up… I …a perfectly brought up modern girl, had just entered the field of reality! Rubbing my eyes and looked around the room. More than 20 mutilated faces surrounded me, each with their own story of pain and anguish in their eyes. Some looking at the speaker, some indulged in their deep cold thoughts. A few of them turned blind, due to some corrosive chemical, melting their futures…their hopes. A feeling of disgust and hate filled me. A hate for the chemical factories, which sell these draining liquid to anyone who pays…a disgust for those who have the piece of mind to even think about such brutality. Hate for our so-called protectors, who would not do anything until you bribe them! NO! WAIT! The police regiments are bound to be corrupted! How can a person run an entire family of four with only Tk. 800 per month? Even the government was not entirely at fault! It was like a chain reaction…it all comes back to us, the common well-off people…if only we paid our taxes in time! All these thoughts were enough to make any sane person go crazy! I shivered at the thought of these poor helpless women, some my age, some with newborn children. I shivered at the thought of them looking at a poster of Aishwaria Rai, and then turning their faces to the mirror, just to find a melted face staring back at them!
Dear readers… you won't truly realize the pain and sorrow of these Acid victims, unless YOU (God forbid) were the victims. Let us help these women in perusing their dreams of a better future. Let us help them live and work on their own. Please come forward and make your donations and contributions to the Acid Survivor's Foundation: House 49, Road 27; Block K, Banani, Dhaka 1213.