Every morning around 7 am, the women of Narhet village in Rajasthan’s Alwar district meet at a community centre. It’s also a great opportunity for the little ones to play together as their mothers catch up on the latest happenings in the village, sing and sometimes dance and also earn their livelihood. Four looms dot the community centre and the women, dressed in colourful lehengas and odhnis, settle into place to tie knots faster than the eye can see. It takes two weavers more than two months to make an 8x10 foot carpet, 16-year-old Sita explains, her fingers flying across the warp. She adds that the carpets Narhet’s men and women make are then processed for finishing touches before being sent off to stores in the US and the UK. “I know so much because I go to school,” Sita says as her mother Ramta Devi pats her back proudly. Sita studies in the village school and helps her mother on the loom once she’s free.
Unlike most Indian villages, agriculture isn’t the mainstay at Narhet: weaving is, and almost every house in the village has a loom of its own. For Babulal and his wife Kalli Devi, for instance, the loom is everything. “I love the loom more than my sons — it is because of the loom that my three sons are educated,” he says. There are 10 men of the same name in this village of 2,500, but this Babulal stands apart because his eldest son is now a teacher at a government school in Delhi.
All this wouldn’t have been possible some years ago. Then, Narhet’s weavers sold their work to middlemen who paid them a pittance — the weavers had to spend on buying the raw material (mainly wool) and would be paid less than ₹50-60 for a day’s work. Now, things have changed, not just for Babulal and Ramta Devi, but the entire village. The raw material is delivered to their homes, each weaver is paid close to ₹150 a day, those who don’t own looms can work on the ones at the community centre and those who don’t know how to weave can be trained in the skill. Making the difference is the frail-looking, white-haired Nand Kishore Chaudhary whose company, J