Khadi — Why it’s more than just a fabric

We all have at some point of time seen a picture of the father of our nation, Mahathma Gandhi with a Charakha. But what is it about Khadi that makes it special, to him and to India? That’s a question left unanswered in detail by the Indian education system. Specially history- overflowing with data and numbers, but lacking emotions and essence. When a group of students from New Zealand wanted us to do a tour about sustainable living and fabric, we had a reckoning experience into the history of Khadi and Gandhian philosophy. One of our team mates knew exactly where to head, and off we went to the rustic town of Melukote.

Mr. Santhosh Koulagi, dressed impeccably in a Khadi kurta welcomes us with a nod as if he could see through the knowledge yearning minds of the young students. He gives us a brief introduction about his Trust and it’s workings and leads us into the lovely maroon bricked structure from where a synchronous sound made it seem like the heartbeat of the building, very much like the lively trees that swayed around it.

The Weaving section.

Mr. Santhosh doesn’t prefer the term factory. He says there are no machines used in the entire process, just tools. “And how can a unit be called a factory if it’s devoid of machines?” he rightly questions. As we enter seeking the sound, we saw men and women sending shuttles and threads through a maze like pattern which only they could make sense of and we watched the cloth magically appearing on the other side of the “tool”. The sound seemed even beautiful, knowing it was created by the rhythm hands and feet, and not through the lifeless movement of machines. Their hands were pulling a rope, to left and to right and the shuttle moved across the hundreds of threads which combed around each other every passing moment.

But what caught my attention was they were pedalling too, and the dust from the yarn falling on the ground seemed just like magical orbs celebrating a creation. And then, I understood why it was just a tool and not a machine. Every part of the cloth, had a human touch to it.

After explaining us about the process, he took us out a couple of meters away to a small sheltered structure. This was where the Indigo was left to ferment.
The dye was in an earthen pot, buried inside the ground with just it’s neck visible from the layer of goat manure. And yes the smell was intolerable, but the intriguing thought of how something displeasing to our olfactory senses could produce such a vibrant visual treat made us forget the smell. Nature, I say to myself and smile.

All the colour dyes used on the cloth are natural like the indigo dye (and equally repulsive smelling). They are heated in large water tanks and the cloth dipped. A kid wearing bright yellow stood near one of the tanks where pungent smelling red dye was being prepared by a man. It reminded me, how easily we complain about lack of colour options at a store- unaware of the hardships faced behind getting one.

Now knowing why Khadi is not just another piece of fabric, we headed to Mr. Santhosh’s 80 year old house in the middle of the Melukote town to meet his father and founder of the Janapada Seva Trust- Mr. Surendra Koulagi.

Mr. Santhosh’s ancestral home in Melukote.

As we walked in, to the right was a big portrait of Gandhi and on the pillars supporting the roof hung pictures of various personalities. We walked until we reached the backyard, and there in the centre sat Mr. Surendra Koulagi- welcoming us all with a warm smile and a tinge of excitement at having a bunch of teens seeking wisdom from him. He had had chairs laid all across and asked us all to settle ourselves in what he called an “Indian auditorium”.

What a sight it was, seeing everyone surround him and looking at his joyful smile- waiting to address the group.
He talked about himself, and his inspiration behind starting the trust, how he met and worked under the staunch Gandhian Jayaprakash Narayan before he came back and decided to contribute to the society and chose Melukote for his set up. All the questions from the students were answered with such detail and emotion that we were transferred back to the era of freshly attained freedom, when India was struggling to get it’s economy right and how hand-loom weaving was the most sensible and morally right way of spear heading it’s success in bringing it up.

Mr. Surendra with one of the students.

As his daughter in-law and grand daughter served us tea in from a traditional teapot, he went on to speak about what how one can inculcate Gandhiji’s ideals and principles in our life. He ended with a slogan which he said is very dear to him, “Jai Jagath” he said with such enthusiasm that a few students went on to reiterate it, and while some penned down. “It means victory to the world” he said. “The world has become such a small place with the advent of technology and this slogan makes much sense than ever before, ultimately it is the victory of the world that is needed and that can be attained only with becoming less materialistic paving way to world peace” he said. For the first time, I had goosebumps not because of patriotism for my country, but for being a human, for being a part of humanity!

As I left, I looked around the simplicity of lives around the town and wondered how they adhere to an ideal of Gandhi without even being aware. No wonder simplicity is charming, I thought it’s time to make myself too by getting a good khadi kurta soon.


-Faizan Baksh
Royal Mysore Walks

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