A Glory Fading Out
Ragged, faded and torn in the folds are the fragments of Jamdanee saris that hang In Islampur shops, which a few decades ago housed the Muslin of international farm. From the folds of grubby covering doll, the shopkeepers bring out bits and pieces of plain imitation Muslin, sold as curios to foreigners for Tk. 250 at tourist centres. Just as the spirits are dampened the Islampur sales centres due to many told and untold reasons, the Jamdunee workers at Demra are far from being enthusiastic about their work. Struggling 14 hours a day, proceeding at the rate of six inches of stitches in two hours. They earn only Tk 250 per week. They complain that their saris which used to sell at Tk 210 now go for Tk 160 only. The price barely covers the cost of production it is reported, and with the lack of patronage of co-operatives and go-betweens that sell the sari in Dhaka, the number of looms in a village like Shiddhirganj has dwindled from 500 to 250. Out of the 950 workers in the village, most of them belong to the older generation the younger ones not being inclined to join their parents due to poor remuneration. Despite working from early hours till late at night the Jamdanee workers are discouraged and hampered in their work. They
have even the problem of cotton yarn which they once obtained at Tk. 20 and which they now get. at Tk. 80. Yet Muslin is a fabric known even in Europe in the first century of Christian era. It was highly prized by the ladies of the court of Imperial Home In the days of luxury and refinement in the form of "saario vestes."
Empress Noor Jehan greatly encouraged the manufacture of Muslin in the country, and under her patronage, the fabric from Dhaka acquired great celebrity. This became at times. the fashionable dress of the Om-rah at the Imperial and Vice -regal courts of India. The fine fabrics exquisitely delicate were styled in the figurative language of the east. They were known as the webs of woven wind "Aberoan", running water, and "Shabnam" or morning dew. Jamdani remained the chef-d'oeuvre of the celebrated Bengal weave. There was the "Dorea" or the one with the double thread. and the "Charkonna" with the chequered design. Seen under the microscope the Muslin thread is one part of fifteen thousand parts of an inch. It is flat and ribbon-shaped and looks like a roughly made hair bristle. The transparent effect goes opaque when many threads are collected together. With the decline of the Moghul rule came the decline of Muslin. This was although in 1836 it was acknowledged to be superior to productions of the textile mills in any country by the British themselves who described it as . "the finest thread that is used at Dhaka for weaving is spun here and woven into Muslin which is in proportion to 7200 yards to one tola of 180 grains of the weight of cotton." Despite the dedicated workmanship and favourable patronage of the well-to-do, at a time, as early as 1844 the Muslin industry was predicted as a dying one i,n the report on the "Decline of Dacca Muslin Industry" by then Dhaka Commissioner, Mr Dunbar. The fall of foreign trade in Dhaka was attributed to modern inventions in steam and machinery, introduced in the manufactures in England, whereby the spinning of thread and weaving of cloth was obtained at a cheaper rate than could be done by the Dhakahandloom. This was notwithstanding the extreme cheapness of manual labour Qf this kind in this part of Bengal; Spinning which afforded employment to a large section of the population was now almost entirely superseded at Dhaka at a cheaper rate than the local thread of the same quality. Weaving had been less affected than spinning but it had nevertheless been "much affected by the comparative cheapness of the English clothes and the ready markets they met all over India at that time." It was estimated that one and a half lakh rupees value of English cotton clothes were annually imported to Dhaka in the mid-nineteenth century. Imposition of heavy-duty on on important of Indian Muslin into Britain whilst English cotton manufacturing was yet in its infancy, had an unfavourable effect on export. After 1947, Muslim Bengal remained under the domination of then West Pakistan where Dhaka and its sister towns were. regarded as dumping grounds of manufacture of goods of the then West Pakistan. It was natural that there would be little sympathetic patronage of the Jarridanee and other imitation Muslin material. Women preferred and still go in for less expensive and more washable and synthetic saris. The quality of the sari in Diemra and Tangail have not improved over the years and there is little dope of their movement with lime, as they are bound to be superseded by wash and wear fabrics that last longer and are both casters to wear and keep clean. The total number of implements used in converting the raw material into thread and weaving the latter into exquisite Jamdanee is said to be 126. They are principally composed of bamboo and reed and are very simple. The thread is dressed with starch made of parched rice, and after exposure to the sun for some time is wound off upon two small wheels which are held by the weaver, one in each hand, as he forms the warp. The latter operation is done between four bamboo sticks. An instrument like a comb is used to separate the of of the warp, every alternate thread of which passes through the corresponding loop or ring of thread chain which is connected with the gear above the threads below. The most favourable time for weaving the fine Muslins is during the .rains, at which season the moisture in the atmosphere prevents the thread from breaking.