‘The families of these migrating women are either landless or possess a small holding that can barely provide them with square meals. Employment and livelihood opportunities are very limited and that has pushed a sizeable number of the villagers to migrate’
Ratna Bharali Talukdar
Pronita Brahma (25) is one of over 25,000 migrant women, mostly from the Bodo tribe, who migrate seasonally to Sualkuchi, the largest silk village in Kamrup district, to work as a contractual weaver. Sualkuchi has a century old tradition of silk weaving.
An expert weaver, Pronita first migrated to this silk cloth producing pocket from Mohoripara village, around 65 kilometres away, about 10 years ago. Like most of her counterparts, Pronita is unmarried and lives in cramped rented dormitories in conditions that are far from congenial or healthy. Today, Pronita supports a family of five back home.
Villages like Mohoripara in Kamrup as well as others in Baksa and Barpeta districts, which are mostly inhabited by the Bodos, are very poor. The families of these migrating women are either landless or possess a small holding that can barely provide them with square meals. Employment and livelihood opportunities are very limited and that has pushed a sizeable number of the villagers to migrate. Those with weaving skills normally migrate to Sualkuchi only to return after eight to nine months in order to either work in their own fields or as contracted agricultural labour. Later, once the money is over it’s back to weaving.
A Sualkuchi weaver can only expect to earn anything between Rs 2,500 and Rs 4,000 a month by working on a traditional loom, and after paying for the rented accommodation as well as other living and transportation expenses, very little is left. Not covered by any organized union, they don’t even know how to raise their voices against the exploitation they experience.
Most women take loans in advance from their employers and end up working almost as bonded labour in order to pay them off. A weaver gets Rs 700 for a chador and Rs 300 for a mekhla – the two-piece mekhla-chador makes up the traditional attire of the Assamese women. It takes three to five days to weave a chador, depending on it design and the motifs used.
Generally, the women come to Sualkuchi for a few years and then with the bits of money they manage to save, they start life afresh in their own villages – sometimes in different occupations. But because of the stagnation of wages and the spiraling prices of essential commodities, they can hardly save very much any more.
Pronita’s employer, Manoj Kalita, while admitting that women weavers work under very tough conditions, argues that the status of loom owners is no better. An owner of 16 looms, he believes, people like him have been able to provide some social security to these migrant women, although they may have failed to give them economic security. Observes Kalita, “A sizeable number of them have settled here permanently, marrying local boys. Once they were proud of their status as expert weavers, now they prefer to work in urban areas as sales girls or in our low-paid sectors.”
Kalita understands why women weavers have drifted to other occupations. “When we used to pay the weavers Rs 500 for a piece of chador, the price for a kilo of dal was only Rs 18. Now we pay them Rs 700, but the price of dal has gone up to Rs 64,” he says.
The problem, according to him, lies in the fact that most consumers of silk products have a fixed budget. At the same time, the price of silk yarn has increased because of the lack of policy direction on the part of the government. Neither does the Assam government subsidize the yarn nor does it help in its procurement. Without such interventions, profit margins for loom owners are falling, which is why they cannot pay the women weavers a better rate.
Although it is one of most prolific centres for silk-weaving, Sualkuchi has to depend on its raw-materials on outside markets. Its weavers traditionally weave pat (mulberry) and muga silk. The pat silk-thread comes from Bangalore, and loom-owners are forced to pay whatever price the businessmen there quote. As for golden muga silk-thread – although it is procured locally, it remains expensive since the demand far outstrips supply. Mulberry silk costs over Rs 1,800 per kilogram while muga can range anywhere between Rs 12,000 and Rs 15,000 per kilogram.
But what could help to turn around this otherwise adverse situation is a device, known as the Chaneki, which has been introduced by the Central Silk Board (CSB) as part of its loom upgradation programme. The innovative device, which costs around Rs 5,000, has been designed by Dipak Bharali, a science graduate who comes from a silk village himself, with the aim of maximising the weaving skills of the women and increasing the productivity of looms. The Chaneki helps save on time almost by half in threading the weft thread bobbins for spot design or motif making. On traditional looms, weavers are required to insert the weft thread manually to make a particular design. This takes time and often the weft thread snaps and has to be replaced.
Says Bharali, who, incidentally, received the President’s State Award in 2009 for this innovation, “Being born into a weavers’ family, I was always thinking of ways to help them. But I knew this would be impossible to achieve on traditional looms, unless some upgradation was done. Chaneki is the result of the experimentation which took several years.” The device was further improved under the guidance of Professor AK Das of the design department of IIT, Guwahati, and with financial assistance from the National Innovation Foundation.
Soon after the decision of CSB to make the Chaneki available for loom owners at a subsidised rate of 80 per cent in March 2012, it has brought about remarkable changes, not only for weavers and but also for owners. The device has reached around 400 weavers in Sualkuchi so far.
Pronita is upbeat about the new devise and hopes to increase her earnings not because of a wage rise but because of a rise in her productivity, “It is for the first time in my life as a weaver that such a transformation has happened. Not only does the device help me save time, it ensures greater productivity. I can now think of saving some money finally.”
Perhaps, in time, women like her can go back to their villages, practice their craft, go in for product diversification, and emerge as entrepreneurs in their own right. Meanwhile, Bharali hopes to carry on doing his bit to help women like Pronita to realise their dreams as a weaving professional. He is now looking to design computerised designs and motifs.
Says Bharali, “I want to urgently improve the economic conditions of weavers here so that weaving becomes a sustainable and profitable venture for them. They are the key persons who can make or break this entire industry. The survival of a tradition of weaving that goes back a century depends on them. This means we need to keep working at developing weaver friendly upgradation techniques.”
Pronita’s long-term career as a weaver depends crucially on precisely such a mission. Otherwise, it may just not make sense for women like her to leave their families for such long spells and sweat it out on the looms of Sualkuchi. (Women’s Feature Service)
Travel writing going beyond mere sight-seeing, beaches and cocktails
‘Writers are digging up human stories about destinations to lure the intrepid traveller to explore the same old world in new ways. Developing nations like India are seeing more individual or solo travel. And wellness and spiritual travel is the next big boom in India waiting to be harnessed’
Move over bare-boned travel listings couched in a flourish of words. Powerful transformation stories about people and places are the fashion of travel writings of the day.
Writers are digging up human stories about destinations to lure the intrepid traveller to explore the same old world in new ways, says leading travel analyst, editor and television presenter Keith Bellows.
Bellows, also the vice-president and editor-in-chief of the National Geographic Travel Media, explains the new trend in travel writing with an example from Africa, a country he is connected to by birth.
Bellows was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Africa is a hard place not to write about - compelling from our perspective. There are two kinds of stories from Africa: experiential stories or I am going on a quest and want to discover something stories like a concept with a beginning, middle and end featuring characters, dialogues and emotional connect,” Bellows said.
National Geographic Traveler, a couple of years ago, had commissioned a travel feature on a book, I Married Adventure: The Lives of Martin and Osa Johnson (1940). Written by American adventurer Osa Johnson in 1940, the book was a chronicle about her travels around the world and the discovery of a lake atop Mt Marsabit in a rugged stretch of northern Kenya during her African Safari in the 1920s with wildlife photographer husband Martin. Osa named the lake Paradise.
She later followed I Married Adventure with another book, Four Years in Paradise and a documentary, Osa's Four Years in Paradise from footage shot during the trip. “The seminal book (I Married Adventure...) had a love triangle and human travel. We took the book and went back in the footsteps of the person to see how the world has changed in Africa,” Bellows said.
Bellows said travel guides books were no longer in demand.
“It is boring stuff - the five best stuff to see. The new travel journalism is about experiential travel. They are not interested in having a vacation - there has been a transformation in travel with more focus on relationships so that people can get a feel of the human conditions yet also amplify the place in 3,000 words,” Bellows said.
In a concept story about Paris, Bellows commissioned eight small essays on how Paris had changed. Travel readers and travellers look beyond cocktail and beaches. They want to know about people doing incredible things in extraordinary places.
The baby boomers want something deeper when they are travelling than doing their basket list. The younger generation looks at values dimensions, Bellows said.
The National Geographic Traveler, which launched its India edition this month, has tried to go beyond the mundane to probe the deeper essence of popular tourist destinations like the Himalayas and probe new terrain.
“If we take India, the golden triangle, Mumbai, Kerala and Goa have always been the annual hardlist. But the world does not want to know of the places the way you know them. They want to know how the places have changed,” he said.
Bellows has commissioned a Beatles trail in India for his publication’s October issue.
“It is essentially where the Beatles went in search of Ayurvedic therapy and yoga on a Royal Enfield. You have a story of discovery in a place of extreme interest,” he explained.
A cultural lens in travel stories from countries like India adds value to the articles.
In our feature, Big Fat Indian Wedding, we sent a writer to spend two weeks with the Indian family that was in an eleborate process of preparation for a wedding. You will never be replicate such stories, Bellows said.
The travel trends are changing too.
The younger generation has returned to the 1960s backpacking holidays with more luxury and in US, extended families of mothers, fathers and grandparents are travelling in groups, Bellows said.
Developing nations like India are seeing more individual or solo travel. And wellness and spiritual travel is the next big boom in India waiting to be harnessed, Bellows predicted. (IANS)
Book: Turning Points, Author: APJ Abdul Kalam, Publisher: Harper Collins, Price: Rs199
Indian National Congress supported A P J Abdul Kalam for presidency in 2002, but it chose not to in 2007 for his reelection and again in 2012 when Mamatha Bannerjee and Mulayam Singh surreptitiously announced his name for the same post in a surprising move.
Abdul Kalam showed interest in becoming the President of India again, but later withdrew from the race when it became clear that he did not have numbers. His image remained intact thanks to quick realization of politics behind announcing his name from nowhere by opportunistic political parties.
In his latest book, Turning Points – A Journey Through Challenges, Kalam gives us insight about why he chose to become the President of India in 2002, and the same motivation might have crept in his mind in 2012 for his initial inclination for running for the post again.
The reason he chose to say yes when Vajpayee asked him to become President was to realize his India 2020? dream by putting forward his vision before the nation and the Parliament. Vision 2020 – that grand vision for India to make it a developed nation by 2020 – is what Kalam breathes, and tries to inspire youth to strive towards achieving this goal.
Unfortunately, in this sequel to his earlier book Wings Of Fire which covered his life till 1992, there is a heavy dose of India 2020 vision but less of personal anecdotes. Because it is said to be his autobiography one would certainly have high expectations about life of this great personality who had the opportunity to participate and witness some of the momentous events in India in recent times.
From 1992 to 2012 Kalam served nation in various capacities – he was adviser to defence minister, head of some of defence research institutes, national scientific adviser to the Prime Minister, and then the President of India – during which he witnessed India grow from strength to strength from 1992 ignominy of begging IMF to becoming the one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
Surely, he had more interesting stories to share from his personal point of view, but he consciously chooses to avoid sharing such events in this book. He also reveals that he declined to be a cabinet minister in Vajpayee’s government in 1998 – which makes it clear that he had unparalleled access to important government functionaries at the time.
He was still a scientist at that time, and it is rare for Prime Ministers to ask someone outside from politics to become part of government.
Instead Turning Points is a more of a blueprint for making India a developed country by suggesting measures to make Judiciary, Parliament, and Executive more efficient in their functioning, and quite annoyingly all suggestions are in points like in textbooks.
Kalam is basically a teacher, a patriot and a humble human being. This is reflected copiously in his book. The book reads like a lecture and avoids use of ‘I’ wherever it is possible.
This is its handicap. We miss out autobiography of Kalam, and instead read about his vision for India and what measures he took during his presidency to realize some of them which is already in public domain in the form of numerous lectures and also there is a dedicated website for it.
When the news was out that Kalam had written his second autobiography, the media, both print and electronic mainly focused on two revelations: one, about Rashtrapati Bhavan inviting Sonia Gandhi to form government in 2004 in spite of opposition from many quarters; and second, about his offer of resignation when Supreme court held dissolution of Bihar assembly unconstitutional which he had signed from Moscow.
Also some media covered his withholding of his assent to office of profit bill which was controversial. It is interesting to note that these events took place during UPA-I rule.
Kalam hopes that his book would be inspirational to its readers. But, the book would have been inspirational if it had revealed more about his life rather than his vision which is already known to those who have read his earlier books. To illustrate how he tries to make his point about use of technology(one of pillars of development) in speeding up decisions, he talks about dissolution of Bihar assembly in 2005 which he did from Moscow at the insistence of PM Dr Singh, through an e-mail!
Though the decision was controversial and which led him to offer his resignation after Supreme Court’s ruling, and which ensued an emotional pleading by Dr Singh to save his government by taking back his decision to offer resignation.
He calls Indira Gandhi great stateswoman, Dr Singh, architect of economic reforms with an impeccable image and in this way tries to be nice to every political leader he has met in his life. His humility is evident throughout the book and he has made every effort to avoid any controversy that might arise from any revelations.
It is strange coincidence that the book was timed at the time of 2012 presidential elections for which his name was also dragged. For those who expect interesting anecdotes on Indian polity or even from Kalam’s own life, the book is a disappointment.
There are few occasions where he narrates stories about his father and brother, but in the end he shares moral lessons he learnt from those incidents – like in Panchtantra. But all the stories are incomplete.
Turning Points dwells less on turning points, but more on other points. Nonetheless, book is simple and inspirational for those who have not read his earlier works.
Games : Dead Island: Game of the Year Edition
Last year, Dead Island landed on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC to a mixed reaction. There were certainly some folks who loved it, while there were others who didn't. Others still were accepting of its strong points , but didn't ignore its flaws . Now, Deep Silver and Techland have released Dead Island: Game of the Year Edition, and while its game of the year status may be questionable, ultimately, this version of the game, which features the main campaign as well as post-launch DLC, is still a hell of a lot of fun and worth the $30 price tag.
Dead Island takes place on the island of Banoi, which is suddenly struck with a zombie outbreak. You play as one of four characters who are stranded on the tropical deathtrap. Your character is immune to the virus, so because of that, the other survivors on the island think it's best to just send you out to do their dirty work, run their errands, and scavenge for supplies. Hey, makes sense, right? Unfortunately, the story is largely uninteresting, and the characters aren't very likable. There are a few interesting moments, but overall, you shouldn't go into Dead Island expecting some gripping tale.
The bulk of what you'll be doing on the island of Banoi is looting and, obviously, killing hordes of zombies. Weapons are an integral part of survival in Dead Island, and throughout the course of your quest for survival you come across everything from flimsy wooden paddles to powerful machetes. Along your journey you come across different weapon mods, and by combining seemingly useless items you've looted with some of the sturdier weapons you come across, you can create something as impressive as a nail bat or an electric crowbar.
Speaking of durability, that's one of the elements that shines in Dead Island. You can't just create a weapon of mass destruction and breeze through the game. The more you use a weapon, the more of its durability you expend. You can fix up your items at workbenches, but you need to be mindful of their condition as you go on quests, which is absolutely brilliant because it keeps combat interesting.
Collecting weaker weapons and having to dish out punishment to take out zombies was a lot more satisfying than simply severing their heads off with the modified ripper weapon, which features spinning blades and looks really cool. Aside from that, encountering human antagonists was also remarkable, as these bouts featured some heavy gunplay that required patience and a steady trigger finger. Additionally, the RPG elements that allow you to level up and enhance different skill trees add a nice touch to the experience. And for gamers who want to play alongside others, Dead Island's co-op is still intact here.
The Game of the Year Edition features all of the cool gameplay that was released last year in the main game, warts and all, but it also fixes the glaring bugs and features some neat DLC extras. The aforementioned ripper mod, for example, was originally released as an add-on, and now it comes bundled with this edition of Dead Island. There's also the Bloodbath Arena, which is a new area that allows you to take on hordes of zombies and hack your way up a few levels. It's not the most amazing distraction, but it can be fun when played with others.
The most notable inclusion in the Game of the Year Edition is the Ryder White Campaign. This DLC will take you roughly three hours to get through and offers a different perspective on the tale of Dead Island. That said, because the story in the base game was never that enthralling to begin with, it's hard to care about the plot here. Still, the Ryder White Campaign does feature a lot of awesome shootouts. There were also a few cheap moments where gangs of running zombies ambushed me, and as you can probably guess, those sequences weren't very fun.
Dead Island: Game of the Year Edition is a nice package for gamers who want to destroy legions of undead monsters. Is it worthy of the title Game of the Year? That's debatable. But at $30, it's tough to pass this game up. You get a 20-hour main campaign rife with side quests and fun albeit flawed gameplay, a powerful weapon mod, an arena where you can level up and kill even more zombies, and a brief add-on campaign. At the end of the day, Dead Island is a really fun time, and you should definitely check it out if you've got that zombie huntin' itch.
GAME RATING: 7.5
Beauty Tips : Tips to remove scars naturally
1. Apply lemon juice on the scarred area twice a day, by means of a cotton pad. Alternatively, you can cut a fresh lemon and rub this on your skin, twice a day.
2. Cocoa butter is a natural skin healer. Apply the butter on your scars twice a day and massage it into the skin, until the skin completely absorbs it.
3. Honey is one of the oldest remedies to heal wounds and burns, due to its healing properties. Since it has anti-bacterial properties, it can also help you remove stubborn scars in a few months, if applied twice daily.
4. Mix sandalwood and powdered black gram with rose water and make a smooth paste of it. Apply the paste on the scarred skin and leave it on overnight. Wash off the next morning with cool water. This helps in improving skin tone and reducing scars.
5. Aloe Vera is one of the best remedies to get rid of scars naturally. Application of this, twice a day, will give you noticeable results within a few days.
6. Make a paste of raw garlic and rub this into your skin. It is a healer and also a skin toner.
7. Massaging vitamin E oil onto the scars will help them vanish within a few weeks. In the absence of vitamin E oils, capsules can also be used. The oil in them can be squeezed out and applied on the scars.
8. Mix a little baking soda with water and massage the scarred skin with this, for at least a minute. Rinse the skin with lukewarm water and apply a very light coat of olive oil. Wash off with warm water after five minutes. Doing this once daily will help remove scars sooner than you can imagine.