Few handmade quilts sell in Shillong, ‘dhunuris’ feel chill

By R.R. Kharmujai, IANS
Tuesday, November 23, 2010

SHILLONG - The twangs of the ‘dhanush’ fill the air as winter arrives. The tool is used by expert hands, called ‘dhunuris’, to fluff up cotton for quilts and pillows. But the cotton carders, mostly from Bihar, who have descended on the city, say business is poor this time.

Lighter, washable blankets and quilts from Punjab or even from China and South Korea are giving tough competition to the handmade quilts churned out by the dhunuris.

“I arrived here Oct 20 but am yet to get a customer to make or mend quilts and pillows. Our livelihood from this trade has become difficult,” said 47-year-old Ish Mohammad of Bihar’s Chapra district.

A good dhunuri can stitch a mattress or a quilt in intrinsic designs, an art handed down from generation to generation. Every dhunuri has his own style of stitching, with motifs like flowers and birds.

Mohammad Yakub, who owns a cotton bedding shop in Shillong, said: “Around 100 dhunuris from Bihar, mostly from Chapra district, have come to Shillong this year, but some are getting little work.”

A dhunuri takes about five to six hours to make a quilt. While some practise the profession throughout the year, others take to it in winter and are farmers or labourers at other times.

Ish, who has been a regular visitor to the hills for over two decades in the winter, lamented that he would not teach his two sons the art of handling the dhanush. “It is not like before, there is nothing in it as people prefer blankets, readymade pillows and mattresses,” Ish told IANS.

The broad surface of a dhanush is made of sal wood, while the neck is made of wood from the kharia tree. The dhanush is manufactured in Bihar - the string is made of camel or buffalo vein and manufactured in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. The total cost of a dhanush is around Rs.3,000.

Ish said after all the hard work he can’t even think of earning Rs.600 per quilt these days. “Earlier it wasn’t like this, but now, on many days, we don’t get any work,” Ish said.

Echoing him, Id Mohammad said, “I remember around 10 years ago we used to get orders for quilts from mid-October but gradually our business is going down.”

Most dhunuris attribute the downfall in their trade to the advent of readymade blankets from outside, some cheaper varieties from Ludhiana in Punjab and more expensive ones from China and South Korea.

They also say it is not cold enough for people to opt for the warmth of handmade quilts.

“Traditional quilts are no longer the first choice because of readymade blankets and mattresses. People are opting for these items because the weather is never cold enough for traditional cotton quilts. Moreover, woollen blankets and comforters are washable,” Id said.

Nana Mordrani, a customer, said he preferred readymade blankets as these were much more comfortable.

Climatologists say increasing population, mushrooming concrete buildings and too many vehicles are gradually warming up the city.

And, ironically, the dhunuris are feeling the chill.

The digits on Id’s feet have become crooked from the pressure endured over the years cleaning cotton. He said balancing the dhanush for hours and then meticulously stitching the mattresses and quilts is no easy work.

“I would not teach my children this profession. There is nothing in it, only dirt and hardship,” Id said.

(Raymond Raplang Kharmujai can be contacted at rrkharmujai@gmail.com)

Filed under: Economy

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