Occupation: ajrakh worker
Education: Class 11
Junaid is a proficient craftsman in the art of ajrakh block printing. Originally from Dhamadka, after the earthquake in Kachchh, Junaid’s family moved to a new village called Ajrakhpur in 2003. Initially, the Swami Vivekanand research institute had arranged some workshop space for them to continue their work. Eventually, Junaid and his family established their own block-printing workshop. This family-run enterprise is operated by Junaid, his father Abdul Rehman Buddha and Junaid’s three brothers Abdul Rajak, Ibrahim, and Rashid. Narrating his family history, Junaid told us that seven generations of his family have produced ajrakh-printed fabric. He himself learnt the printing skills from his father and grandfather.
They supply Ajrakh-printed fabric to cities such as Ahmadabad and the leading showrooms of Fab-India, Anokhi and Yamini. They are also visited by foreign clients: recently a lady from Canada placed an order for curtains printed using natural indigo dye. For making the natural dyes, they boil natural and herbal substances such as Jaggery and chuna. Dadam chodi (pomegranate skin) and haldar (turmeric) are also used. While printing with multiple colours, each dye must be added in a particular order. Colours are often applied not just with blocks but also a pothai (brush) and deriving certain colours requires complex combinations of different natural ingredients.
Junaid learnt all of the aspects of ajrakh printing from washing to dyeing from his father, who in turn was taught by his father Kasam Juma. Junaid started his learning process just after his studies and he spent around twelve months receiving training from his father and elder brother. In addition, for a year he followed a design course with Kalaraksha. There he understood the need of closely following the requirements of the customer, and following trend forecasts to track the movements of the market. Right from cutting the plain cloth, to washing and harde-dyeing, and finally printing, Junaid had put in a great deal of effort to learning all stages of ajrakh art. He personally watches all of stages followed by his workers, and often joins them in washing or even making the blocks. This involvement results from the belief that only the best quality products should reach the market. Such devotion to his work led him to win a UNESCO seal of excellence award in 2012. Before this valuable recognition he was ranked first in the sustainable project promoted by Carol Douglas from Australia. Junaid was able to make a piece of work by using merely twenty litres of water. Junaid believes that saving water for future generations is highly essential. He refers to the holy Quran where there is a clear mention that when Allah will end the world he will first cut off the supply of water, eventually leading to the destruction of the world. By following sustainable projects Junaid is publicising the message of the importance of saving water. He advises that by using one bucket instead of two a day thousands of litres can be saved for the future generation. These kinds of recognition encourage Junaid and inspire him to create quality products and put in best efforts in the expansion of the enterprise.
Junaid could be considered as a visionary craftsman, who by teaching the art of ajrakh printing to young people from Mumbai and Bangalore is intending to keep up the craft. He adds that by creating a group of individuals who can preserve ajrakh they intend to keep the presence of ajrakh in the market. In his village he has taught several others how to block print and acquainted them with the art.
In Junaid’s family workshop there are ten workers all together. A perfect division of labour is followed in distributing the work. Four workers are reserved to block print. The first step in the printing process is known as rekh (design) and the second print known as datla (block). In all, a piece of fabric is thrice washed and thrice printed with pothai before printing. Emphasising the importance of the division of labour, Junaid believes that following the process step by step makes production fast and ensures quality. The division also encourages specialisation as the workers become especially proficient at certain aspects of the work. The workers work from 7.30 in the morning to around 4 or 5 in the evening. In between, they take a lunch and a tea break. They are paid on a monthly basis. Sometimes their medical bills are looked after by Junaid’s family. They rarely hire daily-paid labourers and make spot payments for overtime. They get desired support from their team of workers and Junaid describes it as the fraternal bonding which promotes no discrimination. In case a worker makes mistakes with his printing, he is shown other examples of work in order to improve. In some case they re-do it for the worker to teach him how to rectify mistake.
*Additional information on design and pricing (refer to part 2 of the interview):
Regarding the innovative designing technique Junaid says that traditionally a piece of work called sirakh (a kind of a quilt) was given to a girl of the community as a marriage gift. Junaid introduced some changes to the colour scheme and used pigments (which are acid free and dermatologically safe) to orient the product more closely to the demands of the market. He has been experimenting with combining both the old and new designs to introduce different product ranges to the market. The family now sell ajrakh sarees, stoles, dupattas and curtains. The cost of the products largely depends on how many days were spent manufacturing it, and the cost of labour. An indigo-dyed piece also commands a higher price, while the texture of the fabric (whether silk or cotton for example) also plays role in deciding the price. Usually their most basic ranges are between 75 and 125 rupees per metre, while the higher-end ranges are between 450 to 950 rupees. The dupatta are 250 to 1,500, and sarees at 1,200 to 4,000 rupees.