Thadam tours are run by a talented group of people who organise tours in and around Pollachi.
Being a part of the 100 saree pact last year has influenced me to take notice of the traditional weaves that are still in practice close to my home town. The summer holidays seemed the perfect time to explore the village of Negamam that is known for it’s cotton sarees. My first visit with kids in tow to this quiet hamlet situated 30 minutes from Pollachi proved to be such an eye opener that I ended up doing another trip shortly thereafter.
The drive to Negamam takes you past lush coconut groves and large expanses of farm land. The fact that this land is still unspoiled by modernity is soon evident ! When we stopped to ask for directions ,instead of mentioning the street or a building as a landmark ,we were asked to look out for an old peepal tree ! That right there is where the enchantment began.
We did find the large tree soon enough. It stands tall , providing shade to the village folk who even in the middle of a blistering summer’s day seemed to prefer sitting outdoors than inside their homes.
I was accompanied by Pravin Shanmuganandham ,on my first trip. His tour company Thadam organizes a half day’s walk through this village. That’s how I got acquainted with the local cloth store, Lakshmi textiles. They have taken it upon themselves to support the handloom weavers by being the sole distributor for the sarees woven here at Negamam. They do stock sarees woven on the powerloom as well but they do insist in pointing out the differences to the discerning customer !
On our way to visiting the weavers, we passed by a wide road that housed the village temple on one end. The clean streets , devoid of any garbage did not escape our notice. The cow dung washed porches of Vasavan Chettiar veedhi are a far cry from the littered side walks of a bustling city ! A bunch of kids happily playing cricket, caught our attention and I was so tempted to join in. A few houses ahead ,an elderly grandmother was sitting on her porch watching us while she lulled a happy gurgling baby in a make shift swing.Our motley group comprising of mothers, grandmothers and kids of all ages attracted many amused glances. One gentleman even asked us , “Hello , where from?!” He seemed mighty disappointed when I answered him in our local dialect that I lived a scant hour and a half from his home in the city of Coimbatore !!!
The first home we entered was that of Arumugam’s. He and his wife work on the yarn wheel that is fitted in the middle of their home. At any given point of time the wheel is turned to stretch thread meant for 12 sarees. Though they enjoy their craft,they have sent their son away to study in the city. To find him a wife who will agree to do this work ,they say , is an impossible task. So, they’d rather he find another profession. It was nearing lunch time and the children were amazed when they invited so many of us to lunch with them….so much has been said in praise about the hospitality of the people living in small hamlets in India but to actually experience it just has the heart overflowing with an emotion so strong that renders one speechless ! when we politely excused ourselves from sharing a meal with them , we asked to help ourselves ‘at least to a banana’ . The children were addressed affectionately as “thangam” (gold) and “kannu” (darling) while they patiently explained the weaving process . What an experience for these city bred young ones. Priceless !
From Arumugam’s home the stretched yarn goes to the dyers. Sivasami , his brother and his wife Kanimozhi are the main dyers in this locality. Sivasami also likes to dabble in teaching yoga and meditation. The foyer of their home is covered from end to end with sarees that are dyed and left to dry. Their hands are sore from all the chemical dyes and they are not in favour of their daughters following suit. But they are more than happy to chat with us and the pride they take in their work is evident.
Next comes the starching,which is done in another village before it comes back to Negamam to be woven into fabric. The last step is the actual weaving process. The clickety-clackety sound of the hand loom which had been ringing in our ears throughout our walk is what we are most eager to witness. The hands and the feet work the loom with rhythmic dexterity without missing a beat. Weaver Krishnan points out the holes in the jacquard weaving technique which is now in practice. He says it takes him 2 to 3 days to weave a saree depending on the design. He gets paid anywhere from Rs.1800 to Rs.3000 per saree.
He introduces us to his wife Poongudi who is the only one in the village who has taught herself to design. She started off doing the whole process by hand but is now making use of modern technology to improve her craft. Most of the designs are determined by the store based on customer’s preferences and it’s left to her to translate it in a manner where it can be woven in the loom.
Krishnan points out the wooden stick that keeps the cloth taut while weaving. He enjoys his work immensely as he is assured of a market for his sarees. But he too is skeptical about what the future holds simply because it may not be lucrative enough for the generation after him.
We end our walk at the cloth merchant’s who is busy packing sarees in bulk to be shipped off to stores across the country. They are not keen to entertain retailers but seeing that we are a group of 12 , they allow us to pick one each after browsing for a few minutes. After this saree trail I have a whole new respect for the “Negamam cotton saree” ! They are beautiful in their simplicity and we are told ,the cloth gets better with each wash. The weave gets tighter and the fabric gets softer ,ideal to wrap oneself in lovingly,ten years later ! We come away deeply grateful for having had the opportunity to witness these talented craftsmen work their magic in an environment that resonates with contentment as well as serenity.
Yes,my Negamam saree now indeed holds pride of place in my wardrobe !