A morning in Kutch, Gujarat

When we reached Ramji Maheshwari’s house he was nowhere to be found. In the courtyard of Ramji’s house a solitary woman was swiftly moving her wand or ‘kadani’ over a wooden frame called chaukta. Something I had seen in Vishram Valji’s House as well. She was preparing the warp thread and putting together a bundle. This activity happens mostly in the morning at a weaver’s home.

Whilst weaving for Vankars is strictly a ‘man’s job’, it always begins with the womenfolk. They are responsible for preparing the warp thread. Since the yarn that’s bought is too brittle, it is first starched in a combination of wheat flour and onions which is also an insect deterrent. The onions are usually boiled, left to sit overnight and mashed before being mixed with wheat flour to make a paste. After being starched and dried, the yarn is combed, then it is time to prepare the warp; a job women are masters at, though they usually manage to get work for just a couple of days.

“Where is Ramji?,” I asked “Oh! He just called. He will be here soon. He has gone to get Fafdas and Jalebis for us,” my Guide said. And soon Ramji arrived. With a smile and an apology for keeping us waiting he said, “it is piping hot. Let’s get down to eating first.”

Eating the Fafda Jalebi combo for breakfast is a serious business in Gujarat.


Jalebi - many clients know and have tasted during their travels in India. For the uninitiated, Jalebis are orange-coloured sweet & crisp round whirls that are dipped in sugar syrup and deep fried in Ghee (clarified butter). Think Jalebi and the very thought of calorie counting flies out of the window! And Fafdas are a crunchy snack made out of chick pea flour. While people in North India loves to eat Samosas (with its crispy outer layer made of white flour and rich filling of mashed potatoes, peas, chillies and spices) and Jalebis together, in Gujarat it is Fafdas and Jalebis.

This sweet-salty crunchy combination is also a part of a traditional custom in Gujarat which is followed to the T. After 9 days of fasting (it’s actually more about staying away from certain kinds of food) and all the music, dancing and revelry during Navratri – I spoke about this 9 day festival dedicated to the Mother Goddess earlier in my report – people of Gujarat, on Dusshera (the 10th day) they break their “fast” (it’s actually more about getting back to their regular diet) by eating Fafda and Jalebis.

Believe it or not in Ahmedabad alone people spend more than USD 6 million on Fafdas and Jalebis on Dusshera day every year. Mind boggling to say the least.

I loved the way Ramji gently led me into his story. After a leisurely breakfast, he pulled out several shawls from a not so neatly folded pile of clothes. Ramji started narrating how in the arid marshy salt flats of Kutch all the colours can be found in the clothes of the different communities. Ramji went on to explain the visual language of the colours, threads and stitches that conveys marital status, age and clan. He pointed out to finer details such as how the traditional pit looms were usually only wide enough for one half of the shawl, so two pieces were woven then sewn together using the distinctive and decorative ‘fish stitch’ which resembles a fishbone.

Then Ramji dressed me up like a Rabari man – turban, dhoti (piece of unstitched cloth wrapped around the waist and legs and knotted at the waist) stick and shawl. I was told about how the nomadic Rabaris once dressed not for identity but also efficiency. The traditional extra-large woollen shawl of the Rabaris, for example, is so thick that it provided shelter from the rain, was used to carry food or as a mat on the ground to sleep. Ramji also showed me how Rabaris who still continue to be semi-nomadic, raising cattle, camels and goats would hang around in the village square with their friends, how they would smoke a cigarette and the way they would lean on to their stick while doing so. My guide had lots of fun egging me on and clicking photos. Ramji doesn’t smoke, but he made sure he had one in between his fingers so that we get good photos!

“My father taught me how to weave and there was this big bank of traditional motifs passed down over 4 generations. But I wanted to know what the world really wants,” Ramji took the conversation somewhere else with this. He shared how weavers from Sumrasar gave up their craft because there were not enough buyers for these heavy shawls which took a lot of time to make. “It was not sustainable. People didn’t want them anymore.” Ramji took up a course in designing and later another in marketing – both sponsored by a local not for profit working with artisans. “The designing course opened my eyes to lighter fabric and shades, modern motifs, textures and minimalistic designs.” Today Ramji caters mostly to the foreign market and the colours of his stoles, shawls and dupatta (dupatta is larger than a stole, as big as but lighter than a shawl to keep it simple for the uninitiated) shades of greys, blues, pinks and achromatic colours. Yet, his themes are local and traditional. The blue and white stole which I bought for Rs 1800 (USD 28) was inspired by the salty marsh of the Great Rann of Kutch and the choice of the colours was based on the theme - where the Blue Sky meets the White Desert. Outstanding.

Ramji’s son Maan (meaning Beautiful Mind in its essence) is learning how to weave after school, while his daughter, a school topper, wants to make a career in the IT Industry. “She wants to build an online store for me where I can sell my products. You can still buy my products from many online stores; but when people come to my home, the way they feel and touch the fabric it feels good to see their love towards my work. It not only keeps me motivated but also inspires me to improve my work.”

A morning well spent.

A morning in Kutch, Gujarat