Suraiya Hasan Bose is a name inscribed into the craft map of Andhra Pradesh. It speaks of a lifetime of passion and commitment to the cause of handloom from pre-Independence India to the present day. Suraiya apa, as she is lovingly called, talks about her journey easily, her memory sharp on details that were obviously significant in shaping her destiny. She talks softly and smiles easily as the years slip away. There are discrepancies in dates and facts that
will not be corroborated. But history is interpretation and this is hers as she narrated it.
Radhika Singh studied English literature and then completed her Masters in Social Work from Delhi University. In 1979 she submitted her M.Phil thesis to Jawaharlal Nehru University on 'The Dialectics of Industrial Growth in India: The Case of the Cotton Textile Industry'.
Between 1973 - 1983 Radhika worked as a fashion model and theatre actor on the Delhi stage. She is credited with starting Delhi's first photo agency, Fotomedia, which professionalised the use of images in the Indian market. Since 1987 she has produced audio visuals, worked as a consultant photo editor and curated photo exhibitions in India and abroad. Between 1998 and 2000 she initiated a series of installations at the India Habitat Centre promoting photography as an art form. She co-curated her latest exhibition 'Where Three Dreams Cross: A History of Photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh' with Sunil Gupta for the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 2010.
Her first book 'The Fabric of our Lives'. The Story of Fabindia. was published by Penguin in 2010.
The unique culture of Hyderabad seems part of its geographical location, just as the Golconda fort seems to grow out of the fantastical rock formations of its setting. The city of Hyderabad spreads around the fort like a cloak, dotted about with temples and mosques which bear witness to its composite ganga-jamni culture. The Qutb Shahi architecture of the Charminar, the Golconda fort and tombs of the kings of that dynasty are prominent landmarks dating mostly from the sixteenth century. Many of the Qutb Shahi rulers were familiar with the Telugu language and culture and during their suzerainty the arts, particularly the Deccan school of miniature painting, flourished. The tombs with their circular domes are built in a style that is a combination of Hindu, Persian and Afghan. The most imposing of these is the tomb of Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah, the fifth of the line. This ruler was familiar enough with Telugu to write poetry in the language.
As the prime civic centre of the region, Hyderabad until the present day has supported and fostered the crafts of the surrounding villages. The village of Pembarthy is known for its metal casting, and Karimnagar for its silver filigree work. Crafts by and for the tribal people thrived-the story panels painted in natural colours by the painters of Cheriyal, the brass votive figures and lamps made in the lost-wax process by the Ojha artisans for the Gond forest dwellers of Adilabad, and of course the widespread bamboo ware and earthenware for daily use by the specialists in the fields, the Medhri and Kumhar artisans. Hyderabad adopted bidri, the silver inlay work of neighbouring Bidar and its finest examples are found in the world's museums.
Suraiya Hasan Bose fits perfectly the template of the quintessential Hyderabadi. Her family has lived here for three generations and many of its members have been involved in movements connected with the history of India. Suraiya's childhood was spent among the Deccan rocks and the ruins of the Qutb Shahi monuments. Radhika Singh in this book sketches briefly Suraiya's family background and the early influences that shaped her commitment to the artisanal world of the Deccan. It was her father who kindled this interest, setting an example by his own dedication to the revival of traditional crafts. Once her feet were set on this path Suraiya followed it with enthusiasm.
The quarter century after Independence was a heady time in the craft world. Rising like a phoenix from the suppression of colonial rule, Indian crafts took wing under the patronage of Kamladevi, Pupul Jayakar and other visionaries. Forgotten techniques were revived as these formidable women travelled the villages of India. Marketing was not neglected, and Cottage Industries Emporia were opened to bring rural treasures to the urban marketplace.
Of all the craft work of the Deccan region, its artisanal textiles are the largest both in terms of the numbers involved in their making, and the value of the product. The best known of Andhra's craft textiles are the tie-dyed ikat, the block-printed kalamkari and the bordered Mangalgiri saris. It is in the field of Andhra textiles that Suraiya played an important role.
Suraiya began her official career as a young assistant at Hyderabad's Cottage Industries Emporium. She then moved to the national stage with a position in the newly constituted Handloom and Handicrafts Export Corporation. With her background, training and experience she fitted perfectly into the wider craft world, and she spent several years working closely with luminaries such as Laxmi Jain and Martand Singh.
Returning to Hyderabad in her middle years Suraiya also returned to Deccan textiles, and threw herself with her characteristic passion into local hand-weaving. She built close relations with master weavers, visiting their homes and inviting them into hers. Handloomed ikat was adapted for home textiles and introduced to the world market through John Bissell's Fabindia and through Fabindia to Terence Conran's Habitat. The complex silk and cotton Himru weave was revived, as was the elaborate paithani.
At its height, Suraiya's workshop near the Golconda fort housed six Himru looms besides paithani and the rare Mashru weaves. The shelves of her little store held kalamkari printed and ikat tie-dyed bedspreads, tablecloths and durries, brass castings from Adilabad, lathe-turned and lacquered wooden Etikoppaka ware and heaps of silk and cotton saris, all locally woven. Many of these are the subjects of the gorgeous coloured illustrations in this book.
Suraiya's close association with international textile specialists put Hyderabad on the textile map of the world. Her biography is not just about an individual. Her life and experiences open a window onto the immediate post-Independence years: a time full of hope, of a shared commitment to village craft as an important part of the new polity of a young India's ancient artisanal traditions. Radhika Singh's earlier book The Fabric of Our Lives -The Story of Fabindia, commissioned by the Bissell family, foregrounded Fabindia's founder, John Bissell. He and Suraiya worked together for many years, and it is appropriate that Radhika has now added Suraiya's story to his. Together the two books are important additions to the library of Indian textile scholarship.
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