Smriti Rekha Chakma would spend her childhood watching her grandmother weave on the loin loom. At the recent exhibition “Sarees of India 2018” in the Capital, organised by Delhi Crafts Council (DCC), she was recognised with the Sutrakar Samman, an award given for excellence in weaving. For nearly five decades, she’s been pursuing the fine craft, and training other women to take on the arduous yet rewarding road to weaving.
“It’s not easy to work on the loin loom. It’s laborious and time consuming,” she declares, when we meet her at the Aga Khan Hall. Dressed in a vibrant phanek and chodar, with silver neckpieces complementing her traditional look, Smriti is animated when she talks about her work. Her hands fly this way and that in the air, as she explains the way the loom moves. Made primarily from bamboo, these looms are portable, and are one of the oldest devices
It was grit and determination alone that made Smriti take up weaving, she says. “My mother would often shout at me when I was a young girl and say that I would be no good at weaving. I took it on as a challenge. By the time I finished high school, I had completed all the designs that were in my grandmother’s catalogue. And then there was no
turning back,” she adds.
Agartala-based Smriti, who belongs to the Chakma tribe, one of the 19 in Tripura, is the only weaver in her state to win the Master Weaver Award from the President in 2000. Her patterns — primarily featuring horizontal and vertical lines and geometric motifs — adorn stoles, shawls and saris. Stoles take anywhere from 15 days to a month,
“I work only with natural dyes. I have to go into the forests to get the roots, seeds, herbs or leaves for it. Then the whole process of drying, crushing and getting the colour is also long-drawn,” she says.
Through her organisation Ujeia Jadha, she trains rural women in the art of weaving. “Not everyone likes to learn this technique. But I will teach anyone who comes to me and wants to learn,” she says. The Rs 15,000 she got as prize money from the National Award was used by her to help her students and find better ways to improve the loom technology. “I’ve done patterns of the Buddha and of a woman working in the fields even as she nurses her baby. I wasn’t commissioned these, I just wanted to do them,” she says.
Kamayani Jalan, Vice President, DCC, and member-in-charge of “Sarees of India”, says, “When we award weavers the Sutrakar Samman, we are looking for lesser-known masters. Our purpose is to identify hidden people who have excellent skills.”
Purnima Rai, former president, DCC, adds, “Smriti is a highly skilled weaver, she works with natural dyes and also passes on her knowledge to others, which was equally important for us. The showcase is a platform to recognise such craftspeople, and the award is our way of giving back,” says
For Smriti, the pride in her work is evident when she shows her designs to visitors at this 18-year-old annual fair. Her husband Satya Bikash Chakma, a government official, shares their larger plans of a herbal plantation that will not only promise jobs to families but also make natural dyes accessible.