Thursday, 20 February 2014

A Tale in Three Parts

A new Goni Miah gumchha is on the weave.

It’s a tale in three parts: one part warp, another part weft and the third part selvage. The first part is stationary, under tension, held tight by the frame. The warp yarn doesn’t change. The second part is the filling yarn which is movement, adding texture, closing gaps. As the shuttle slides from side to side, the twine unwinds to settle as the weft. Where they meet, the two – the structure and the movement – comes the final part. The selvage forms as firmer edge to bind, to hold it all together and prevent unwanted ravelling. Yes – it’s a woven story – a story of cloth.

Abdul Goni Miah has 60 years of experience working the loom.
It’s the tale of Abdul Goni Miah. White bearded and ninety by the calendar, he lives in a modest tin roof house in Basanda village of Jhalokati. He’s still gets about alright, relying on his one good eye. It’s solely at night when there’s a problem, when not only the sky but his whole world goes dark these days. Still, it’s only ever hours until by the light of morning he can see again.

It’s a tale of a grocer’s son whose father later had a clothing shop. It’s the story of a weaver with the experience of sixty years at the loom. He came to make his living from the old wooden pedal machine that resides on the side veranda of his home. It’s a machine with mother’s memory in it given by a brother-in-law after her death. It was a thoughtful act that set him on the course of a livelihood in three parts – through summer, winter and rain.

“You’ll not find any better gumchha in the country than mine,” Goni Miah says with pride.

There are stories in the weaving of each gumchha.
But look at it like this: the warp yarn is the farmer’s field, the plot passed down through generations. It’s the earth that holds the paddy. The warp yarn is those unnoticed rain tree branches, under which the van puller goes. He’s taking baskets of fish, his cargo, to the market. In the warp is the jamai’s paish, the son-in-law’s rice porridge – and just as much the dish in which it sits. The warp yarn is the pond, not less, where the village lads take their dip. Even in the winter sky of an evening you’ll find the warp. It’s above the roadside bench where that old man has stopped to rest. He’s waiting for his chest to settle, glad to catch his breath.

And the filling yarn meanwhile must be the aches in the farmer’s bones. It’s the glisten of the sweat beads that to attention have aligned themselves across his brow. The weft you’ll see is in the paddy as it grows ever so slowly. It’s in the song of the van puller when he and his fish baskets are on their way, and equally in his angry curses when he’s underpaid. There’s weft in the jamai’s burp of satisfaction and in his grin. It’s in the lads’ splashing action and in the chattering of the old man's remaining teeth as the fog closes in.

The gumchha: that most Bangladeshi of cloths.     
Of course the selvage is the gumchha: that most essential, humble cloth. It binds structure and movement, making each moment enmesh. Yes – Abdul Goni Miah’s is a woven story at the heart of Bangladesh.

It’s quite a contribution to be weaving stories like these; and the Goni Miah gumchha, local icon, is oft presented as a gift – to Jhalokati-visiting VVIPs.

Goni Miah worked on nilambari saris for his first forty years at the loom and was recognised as the best weaver in Bangladesh. His saris found new homes as far as the Middle East and the United States.

For the following two years at lungee he tried his hand – it’s for the past eighteen years that Goni Miah gumchha has been his brand.

He’s still active at the loom, helped by his wife and eldest son. There’s only so much that can be done with eyes reduced to one. Yet from each day from Goni’s house three new gumchhas emerge – with double thread and the finest finishing, 350 taka per piece.

“Other gumchha are just for business,” Goni says, “The threads are less. But I like to give to people a product that’s the best.”

Oldest son Motiur Nasiruddin Miah hopes to continue the family's gumchha weaving tradition.

It’s a tale of three sons born in the decades of the loom – with the click and clack veranda weaving going on, his family gradually grew. One son became a carpenter and another drives a CNG in Narayanganj. It’s his oldest son, Motiur Nasiruddin Miah, who’s set as his mission carrying on the family tradition.

“If I get capital I can spread this industry all over the world,” Nasiruddin says, “Dad has the name. All I need is two electric machines. Demand is there but NGO interest rates are high.” But from pride of his father’s achievements, he plans to continue, if you wonder why.

A story in three parts: warp, weft and selvage.
It’s a story of three gentlemen who’ve passed by at various times through the years – one district judge and one DC and one Faridpur ex-MP. They came to Goni Miah’s house and chatted, bought gumchhas without saying who they were. It was only when Nasiruddin saw them off, only when he saw the car – then he realised who they are. “Baba is that well known!” he says.

“Everything is from Allah,” Goni adds of his gumchha’s design, “and one type came from Narsingdi.”

“It’s instead of a towel. Enjoy it! Pure cotton dries you really well,” Nasiruddin explains. But there’s more to it than that...

Look at it this way: Goni Miah’s there when the farmer wipes his brow. He’s there when the lads dry off on the bank of the pond. He’s there as the spots of paish are dabbed away from the corners of jamai’s mouth – and when the old man wraps his head to keep the winter cold out. He’s the van puller’s belt, the drier of dishes at times; and he’s there to help when the lid of the water bottle simply won’t budge or to lift the kettle when it’s too hot to hold. These are the stories in the weaving of every gumchha sold.

The Goni Miah gumchha is renowned in Jhalokati.
Goni’s mother is in them too, and his wife and three sons. There’s the story of Goni Miah in the gumchha too, in each and every one.

It’s a story of three leaders, from the sari-weaving days. Goni Miah’s saris to Sheikh Hasina, Khaleda Zia and Ershad’s wife found their ways. And the interesting part is when Goni tells that two of those leaders paid generously for what they bought, while the third he quietly confesses paid a little short. But to say more than that – which one – I will not do, it would not be nice. In any case it surely would’ve been the party officials who negotiated the price.

Motiur Nasiruddin Miah dreams of expanding the gumchha business.

This article is published in Star Magazine, here: A Tale in Three Parts

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