As an art that requires immaculate handiwork, bamboo weaving, unfortunately, stands as one of the less-recognised professions. Teja Kovvali interacts with weavers in the busy lanes of Purna market in Visakhapatnam.
The Medara community in Visakhapatnam crafts bamboo weaves which are are eco-friendly, economical and beautiful products. Many families from this community, live here, weaving a range of products. It is fascinating to watch them at work, weaving effortlessly.
With chapped hands and worn out fingers, a wizened 70-year-old Domma Apiyamma is among many here. As she chugs away scrapping bamboo with great craftsmanship, she shares that she has been making bamboo handicrafts since the age of ten. Working for about eleven hours a day to eke out a living, she is humble to profess that she knows little else. “We probably don’t possess any other skill and working hard every day is the only option for our sustenance,” she shares.
When asked about the process, she shares that the bamboo is procured from Devarapalle. It takes about three days to convert a tall bamboo stick into a beautifully hand-crafted basket. Slicing off thin long layers, each slice is scrapped and smoothened. It is then woven into one of the many range of products. Baskets of different shapes and sizes are popular and they create a range of large laundry baskets called ‘maela butta’, to smaller ones for fruit and vegetable vendors. The ‘chaata’ for separating rice from husk is another popular product. Besides the standard products, they also take orders for customisation. Colours are also applied on the products depending on requirements.
Three generations seem to be involved in Apiyamma’s family, as she is assisted by her daughter-in-law, Ramanamma and her granddaughter, Mary. Dividing the various steps of the craft amongst themselves, Ramanamma weaves baskets of different sizes while Mary, in addition to weaving, does the colouring works and looks after creating the customised options. Apiyamma’s son, Nookaraju, has been making wire chairs for the last 30 years.
A monthly rent of Rs 5000 for the workplace, is a burden for them, given their paltry income of around Rs 15000 a month. While plastic has eaten into their markets share, things seem hopeful now, thanks to a growing interest in handicrafts. With wedding-seasons, bringing in better income, their work continues to be seasonal, and the family witnesses on and off days quite regularly. They believe that word of mouth is the only way of building awareness of this craft.
The number of bamboo weavers seem to be on a gradual decline despite the beautiful products they make. And the fact that the Apiyammas and Ramanammas of the community in Visakhapatnam aren’t willing to involve the next generation into this line of business stands as a sad testimony.