Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home   |  Volume 7, Issue 17, Tuesday, April 24, 2012




Siranjganj's handloom treasures

Siranjganj upazilla's Shahjadpur's garments haat has been gaining much prominence in recent years. The numbers of buyers and sellers in these haats have also been steadily increasing. However, buyers from outside the area lament the lack of opportunities they get to display their wares. This is just one of many problems currently plaguing a thriving and resolute industry.

Around thirty years back, the journey of Shahjadpur's clothing industry started, not far away from the home of the legendary Rabindranath Tagore. Since the very beginning, the haats in the area began to make a name for themselves. The clothing industry could easily be said to have achieved its height of success in this very location. One of the main reasons behind this phenomenon could be the safe environment that Shahjadpur provides for the traders. Incidents of crime or vandalism remain almost nil from the start till today. Furthermore, the needs of the traders, from food to shelter have all been taken care of. They trade till late and night and even during the day, facing no difficulties whatsoever. The haat is famous for handloom goods.

After Shahjadpur's Municipality established itself, they immediately took over the responsibilities for the haat. This augmented the haat's success even more, spelling an even brighter future for the stakeholders. To the delight of the traders, the municipality quickly established three new and expansive markets for the clothes to be sold. At the same time, a multi-storey market was envisioned just for the purpose. However, the Department of Archaeology protested the decision to do so, claiming it would mar the unspoilt beauty of Rabindranath's abode.

Hence, the dream of a multi-storey market was extinguished as the powers that be decided against it. Shahjadpur's Mayor Nazrul Islam declared the markets open for 4 days compared to the previous 2 days, in order to help the traders to earn even more profits. He added that people from all over the country came to Shahjadpur to purchase the high quality materials being sold here and hence it would be convenient for them if they had an option of four days. He further asked the shops to remain open from morning till late at night. He also claimed that all sorts of help were provided to both traders and visitors. Sellers of handloom goods including saris, dhutis, lungis, gamchas, bed sheets and other items used to come from handloom oriented areas of Sirajganj and Pabna districts and buyers of the same goods come from all corners of the country to the famous Shahjadpur haat, he added.

The decisions may indeed work. The mayor stated the figures to support his decisions. In the current year Tk.51 lakh has already been given on loan. Inclusive of VAT, the earnings stand at Tk.65 lakh. Everyday, the haat sees trade of over crores of taka, a testament to its growing significance as an industry. The two Eids together promise trade worth Tk.300 crore. When these numbers are put into perspective, or even just glanced at, the fascination with Shahjadpur's clothing haat is understood better. The Mayor concluded by adding that more markets will be built and in the meantime the municipality and police will offer their best services for anyone remotely affiliated with the industry.

But as the industry grows, the problems also arise. Unfair trading has begun rearing its ugly head, threatening to undermine the name that the fabrics have built. Lack of space also compels traders to set up shops on the footpaths, edges of roads and even on unused government properties, creating quite a nuisance. The lack of parking spaces also makes it difficult when transporting the goods. Although the infrastructure supports the population present, for traders who come from other areas, a place to stay is hard to come by, coupled with the serious lack of proper sanitation facilities. The same problems apply to buyers, who may be put off by these things. Furthermore, the haats set up in the open fields have to be wrapped up due to rain and inundated fields make it impossible to start the haats for numerous days. However, the quality of the products continues to attract numerous people.

Despite all the problems, the successes are numerous and hence this sector should be developed further. The benefit from one industry is widespread, not only in terms of regional development and job opportunities but also highlighting the fact that Dhaka isn't the only city for a business to start a business in. The handloom traders emphasised on imposing ban on entrance of Indian clothes in the local markets through unauthorized channels to encourage the local production.

Reported by Abdul Kuddus, Siranjganj Correspondent
Translated by Osama Rahman


The letter “O”

By Iffat Nawaz

When I got on that rickshaw with two full hands and sat down like always, securing myself against all fall, I had no idea that the everyday movements can bring something new on a sudden given day. My orna remained wrapped around my neck hanging down to cover the upper part of me. Even ornas are trained not to blow with the wind too much here in Bangladesh, just in case they are given the bad name of not doing their job right.

But unlike everyday, my black orna with the faded gold blocks, roamed all the way to the wheel of the rickshaw, and a few cycles later, I felt the first pull around my neck and before I knew it, the strength of the pull grew stronger, strangling my neck harder when all I could tell the rickhshawala is “stop please!”

By the time the rickshaw stopped, my head was bent to my knees. It was hard to get the orna off from around my neck; when it finally came off, it left a black bruise with raw skin exposed.

I am sure I am not the first or the last to experience such a thing. This probably happens everyday somewhere in Bangladesh and women everywhere just go on with a bruised or sore throat, some more, some less. All a bit embarrassed like I felt, all trying to rush home, hide between four walls where they can go tell someone close what happened without the curious stares of the thousand eyes; the same thousand eyes who will stare in case an orna was not in its “right place,” the same faces who would probably pass a crude comment if you had too many bags in your hands or were rushing fast and your orna didn't fall where the new Bangladesh has set the standards for it to be.

I still remember my first orna. It came with a really cute shalwar kameez that my father had bought. I remember fixing it constantly to look just like the older girls. It was so exciting; it felt so beautiful and precious.

When we hit class 6, in school all girls had to change from wearing our little frocks to the school shalwar kameez uniform with the V-shaped orna that is common to all of Bangladesh. It didn't matter how tall you were or how grown, it was the rule, it was the standard of decency, to a point when that uniform without an orna looked naked. All the fabric that covered the body well was not enough to make one feel proper unless that V-shaped long cloth of an orna was placed on top.

My mother and her sisters grew up wearing saris. Their pictures from the 60s and 70s reflect that cotton simplicity that I try to copy everyday. They didn't wear shalwar kameez, Ma says, kameez were a fashion statement then. And somehow now in 2012, it is a necessity, it is the standard of “bhodrota” and soberness. No matter how tight your kameez might be and how high the cut is on the side or how fitting your shalwar is, somehow it shows that you are a decent woman and of course the orna; the orna must remain to make you feel you are not naked.

I wonder though, what happened in the last 40 years that made Bangladesh think that a yard of fabric, often transparent, often unnecessary, should set some mark of decency. When did fully clothed women start feeling bare due to the lack of an extra piece of fabric on top, carrying it like the letter “O” stitched in front, symbolizing the words “Object,” and “Obedient,” strangled, bruised or teased. And now rain or shine, winter or summer, the layer remains, between us and the world, a tear-able piece, a weak old orna, yet so…so…so much more.


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