Friday, June 14, 2013

Magic Carpet Ride

If  you stand for any length of time in front of the Palace of the Winds, the massive pink facade in Jaipur that once provided women of the court a way to observe the goings-on of the busy markets of the city, you will see a camel cart roll down the busy street.  The camel, sour-faced and cranky, plods by on his lovely soft platter-like feet, indifferent to his load and often to his driver.  The cart is usually wood, with two gigantic wooden wheels.  The driver sits atop whatever is loaded in the wagon, tie-dye turban jauntily cocked over one eye, a long [mostly unused] whip in one hand.  Cows and pedestrians and old Ambassador cars and new Hyundai cars and wildly-painted lorries pass around the cart, but neither camel nor driver takes notice.

The cart might be filled with any number of items being brought from the outlying villages to the city, but often you will see a rolled carpet or two, looking like remnants of the 1960s with their long, shaggy fibers.  They are likely going into one of the city's rug merchants to be finished for final sale.

Camel cart, Rajasthan (Not one of the elegant wooden ones, I'm afraid!)

Most of the rug merchants in Jaipur are located in the Old City.  One that I particularly like is deep within the twisted lanes of the old city, up a set of stairs.  My first time in the shop was magical. The owner, a killingly handsome man in his thirties, wore cream colored trousers and a long cream kurta, a cream-on-cream embroidered Muslim cap, and lavishly embroidered shoes with curled toes.  He looked as exotic as someone from The Arabian Nights.

He had his staff, young boys in their teens wearing dark pants and neatly pressed shirts, bring out rug after rug, unfurling them with a flourish.  He bought me chai, cup after cup as I stared at the beautiful carpets.  

I hadn't planned on buying a carpet in India, and despite the stupor brought on by half a dozen cups of heavily-sugared chai, I said I would need to think about buying a rug. I handed him my card and took one of his (very important etiquette when you are shopping in India; if they haven't sold you something, they haven't lost hope, either).  He led me from the showroom and offered to show me the rug-making process.

Outside there was a loom, set up to show the weaving process.  It was just for show; the real carpet weaving is done in the villages outside Jaipur.  Small homes, open to the desert heat, can be seen with a loom set up in the main room, a large print of the pattern, computer-generated, hanging on the wall next to the loom.  Entire families produce each carpet, often taking months on a single piece.

Demonstration loom at a Jaipur rug factory
I had looked at several small rugs, and had been drawn especially to one that had a tiny, intricate, complex pattern that seemed to change color with each knot.  I wondered why that rug was not more expensive than simpler patterns.

"A knot is a knot," the merchant shrugged.

After the carpets are completed in the village, they are brought to the city for finishing.  Highly skilled artisans trim the rugs by hand with large iron shears that appear to be from another century.  A missed stroke would ruin the rug, but there are no missed strokes and the nap is perfectly even. These are well-paid, skilled workers and as they work they chatter happily to each other, never taking their eyes off their work.
Shearing the finished carpet.  The artisans in the back are repairing an old carpet.

I decided to go back to the rug merchant's shop and make a purchase the following day.  As my driver and I wound through the old city streets, a red motorcycle zoomed around us.  The driver looked like a Bollywood star, snazzy clothes and confident smile.

As we slowed at the rug factory, the motorcycle slowed as well, and the driver dismounted, doffing his high-fashion aviator sunglasses.  To my astonishment, it was the owner, still killingly handsome but belonging to the 21st century rather than the 17th.

"You look so different!"  I cried.

He stopped, thought.  "Oh," he shrugged.  "Yesterday was Friday.  I went to mosque." 

We went in the showroom to choose my rug.  I signed the back of the rug with a black magic marker, proof when it arrived at my door that it was not a lesser-quality rug substituted for the one of my choice.

Weeks later, the rug arrived at my door in California, wrapped in burlap and heavy twine, and smelling ever-so-faintly of camels.


spiritofdaring said...

In India the work on carpets etc. is generally done by the Muslims. Bangladesh which was earlier East Pakistan had cities such as Murshidabad famour for carpet making. Currently in India Bhadohi in Uttar Pradesh is very famous.This present carpet industry in India took birth because of the Mughal Dynasty. They introduced Persian and Turkish weavers in the country for the production of carpets for their palaces. On the downfall of this dynasty, the practice of carpet weaving shook badly. However, it picked up the momentum in the form of independent units during post-British period. Now the industry is glowing with its utmost glory from the states of Rajasthan, Kashmir, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh.
Today, carpet exports have continued to show a steep rise. According to an article by Indian Brand Equity Foundation, India accounts for 61 per cent of the global loom age, 22 per cent of the global spindle age, 12 per cent of the world's production of textile fibers & yarn and 25 per cent share in the total world trade of cotton yarn. Exports of carpets have increased from US$ 654.32 million in 2004-05 to US$ 930.69 million in 2006-07, showing a growth rate of 42.23 per cent. During April-October 2007, carpet exports totalled US$ 404.74 million. This makes India the world leader in carpet exports with 36 per cent of the global market share.
Indian carpets are famous and known worldwide for its magnificent designs and heart-winning workmanship. Hand-knotted woollen carpets, tufted woollen carpets, chain stitch rugs, pure silk carpets, staple/synthetic carpets, handmade woollen durries are some of the floor covering types for which there is a huge market demand in the European and American market.

The Indian carpet industry is very vibrant and has considerable potential for growth. However, lesser innovation techniques, outdated technology, labour law issues and lack of infrastructural facilities in some of the rural areas are major barriers that make this industry less competent as compared to other carpet supplying countries.

Owing to these factors, the Indian government has established Carpet Export Promotion Council of India (CEPC) to promote the exports of hand knotted carpets and other floor coverings. It provides the necessary assistance to the Indian exporters, identifies the markets, provides financial and marketing assistance, sponsors participation in fairs and exhibitions and also conducts publicity abroad.

Carol said...

Wow Alok! One of the things that I am working towards is being able to work with producers to provide custom-made rugs to folks through my shop. Although I have seen carpets from India for sale in many places, I have not seen many opportunities to buy rugs that the consumer can choose by color, style, and size, each to exactly his taste. I have done this several times, both for myself and for others, and it's been a great success. My mother has five rugs in her home that were custom-made for the house. They are all gorgeous!