Matter Of The Mat
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Pattamadai Mats were “discovered” in 1903 when a super-fine woven mat won a bronze medal at the Delhi Exhibition. These mats are made by the predominantly Muslim Labbai weavers in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli-Kattabomman region. Crafted out of Korai grass with cotton or silk in the weft, these mats are so fine that names, of a bridal couple, for example, can be woven into them as the mats can have 50-140 warp threads in every nine inches of the total mat width. These mats are unique in their flexibility and softness.
Soumhya Venkatesan researched the mats between 1997 and 2003. She made innumerable trips to Pattamadai. Even though she was willing to live among the weavers, Mohammed, the most prominent weaver in Pattamadai, preferred that she stayed either in the nearby Sivananda Ashram or with Lila, who was working with a local NGO. This gave Venkatesan a unique position vis-à-vis the artisans. She was accepted within the community, and was able to observe their work closely. But by staying elsewhere, she developed a perspective on the dynamics of the relationships of the weavers with the traders and development agencies.
Craft Matters’s (Orient BlackSwan) focus is restricted to Indian agencies that seek to preserve and promote craft. It is a good account of the relationship in an artisan community, and, hence, worth reading.
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(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 11-01-2010)