If someone tried to make folk music out of wooden sounds, it would probably sound like the soft clickety-clack that resonates through the village of Pranpur. Men and women are bent over their looms, squinting their eyes on their intricate sari designs, their hands automatically trailing a motion they learnt decades ago.
I peak into a little hut where an elderly man is surrounded on all sides by colorful threads, and as I try to decipher his weaving technique, he invites me in to try my hand at his loom. Excited, I seat myself on his backless bench and make a miserable attempt at an art he mastered in his teens.
A deep green forest on one side of Pranpur and a smoothly paved metal road on the other conceal the craftsmen and women in the heart of India, Madhya Pradesh. The craft however, has reached every corner of the country; Chanderi Silk Saris are known to be the finest and among the most expensive range of silk saris in India.
The weaving households of Pranpur feel to me like a life-sized collage. I’m no expert at saris, but the colors, patterns and designs I observe are gorgeous: Light pink with golden leaves, orange with dark green borders, a heady mix of yellow and blue, white with silver patterns, purple with off white borders. From the many weavers I speak to, I gather that a sari can take from 3 days to a month to be market ready, depending on the complexity of its design and the number of family members working on it. What I don’t gather, or what is humbly hidden in the welcoming smiles of the village community, is that all a family earns on average is a meager Rupees 100 a day, an insult to their labor and talent. For the record, urban India buys these Chanderi Silk Saris for thousands of rupees from big sari stores in the cities.
Upon sensing my dismay at this revelation, my local friend introduces me to the master weaver of the village, who proudly relates the story of how the 3 Idiots (yes, the Bollywood flick) changed his life. On his India tour just before its release, Aamir Khan made a surprise visit to the overlooked borders of Pranpur, and bought a sari from the master weaver. It was his most beautiful, intricate and expensive creation – an off-white Chanderi Silk Sari with an ornamental lead-silver design. The direct purchase gave him the capital to register himself in the Silk Fab, an all India fair for Indian weavers, and earned him the master title! His destination next is Calcutta, he eagerly announces; he has since been alternating between weaving in Pranpur and selling his saris directly to buyers all over India.
I congratulate him on his entrepreneurial thinking, and like every other village hut I’ve been to, he invites me to join his family for lunch. I find it hard to resist these invitations, not just for how heartfelt they are, but also for the delight that is the local Bundelkhandi food, a tasteful spread of spicy-sweet dishes.
I leave the colors and wooden sounds of Pranpur, convinced that it should be on every Indian’s list of a travel getaway that gives you a sneak peak into the heart of India, literally.
This post was originally written for & published on Clay.