The winter buy yourself a genuine Jaipuri Razai (quilt) and know
what it is to roll up in a chunk of cloud. Incredibly soft and light
thats a Jaipuri razai for you. And warm too. Craftsmen of
old used to boast that wrapped overnight in several folds of Jaipuri
razai, a raw egg would come close to setting!
Nobody quite knows when and how this mini marvel
came into being. Why did Rajasthan alone become the home of this
unique from of winter covering when quilts were common enough all
over? Certain factors seem to have played a part: The inhospitable
desert terrain, the bitter winter and the age-old Rajasthani penchant
for being constantly on the move. Sundown in winter always sent the
temperatures plummeting among the dunes. For those who stayed home
there was warmth enough but to many a Rajasthani male, home was none
other than the dunes themselves with only the sky for cover. Princes
and chieftains on the warpath, soldiers in the saddle, banjaras
(gypsies), bhopas (itinerant bards), shepherds, traders,
camel caravans rolling along the featureless sands on private
business- they all needed something to keep the chill out without
adding significantly to their saddle bags. And some genius who
remains unsung to this day found the perfect answer in the Jaipuri
Down Jaipurs Hawa Mahal bazaar, we came upon
one of the oldest establishment turning out Jaipuri razais. We
climbed a dozen pink stone steps to reach a long narrow shop run by
three generations of men in the trade.
Just what goes to make a Jaipuri razai
superior to the others? we asked the owner of the shop. Do
you put in a special variety of cotton? Abdul Latif Smiled.
Its the same quality of cotton all over, he said.
Good desi stuff but nothing exceptional. In our case we
get in from Sri Ganganagar just when the fresh crop comes in. The
trick lies in the carding. We card away all the dross to get at the
dross to get at the finest fibres.
We went further down the length of Hawa Mahal
bazaar, into a narrow side street where camels looked down their
noses on cars and scooters scurrying past. And we arrived at the
other half of Abdul Latifs establishment. His star craftsman,
Pir Mohammad, hard at work, smiled at us through a haze of cotton
fibre. Our families have been carders for generations,
he said with pride. We excel at the job. And we quite
believed him, for one the uneven floor, atop a faded sheet of cloth
lay what looked less like fluffed up cotton than a layer of silky,
bubbly foam from some luxury soap.
Abdul Latif took up the story. What you see
there is all thats left of a kilo of cotton after a whole week
of carding. The net weight now would be no more than a hundred
grammes and this quilt will fetch Rs. 250/- We make even lighter
quilts, weighing as little as fifty grammes, by carding the cotton
over and over again. But a fifty grammes quilt is done strictly to
order. It takes at least three months to make and costs a thousand
rupees. We make heavier quilts too, weighing two hundred and fifty
or five hundred grammes. But the lighter a quilt, the more evenly
filled, the warmer and more comfortable it will be.
He went on, Time was when these quilts were
made only from the gossamer light, world famous Dhake ki
malmal. To this day, old, fine textured cotton and georgette
saris are used. But the cloth the Jaipuri razais, a soft quality
voile, mainly razais, a soft quality voile, mainly comes from Bombay
at Rs. 12/- per metre. A single quilt takes six metre and a double
quilt eleven metres of cloth. We get the material printed at
Sanganer at Rs. 30/- per metre. The cotton costs Rs. 25/- per kilo.
The rest is hard work.
Across the street, in a marginally brighter, not
quite so tumbledown set of rooms, two sisters Kamala and Lalita sit
quilting a freshly filled razai. Playing their fine needles with
superb ease, they laughed when we mentioned marking the pattern in
chalk. Only novices need that kind of help, said Kamala
with a toss of her head. Weve been doing this for years
now. In fact, at Rs. 25/- per razai, were earning enough to
keep the home fires burning. Its a hereditary skill. Our
mother still plies a deft needle. Quilting is the sole purview
of women and three or four standard patterns have been in vogue for
as long as anyone can remember. Gol (concentric circles),
phool (flowers), paan (the betel leaf) and lahariya
(vertical stripes zigzagging down the face of the quilt). Tow women
work together on one quilt and between them manage roughly two quilts
a day, give or take a little depending on the complexity of the
you can wash a Jaipuri razai, said Abdul
Latif in parting. Use cold water. Dont scrub hard and
never ever squeeze your razai when it is wet. Frankly I
wouldnt risk it but youre welcome to try!