In May of 2014, AMHP was saddened to learn of the death of Abdul Rahman, the renowned razai quilt maker. Anokhi had worked with this talented artisan for 34 years and many of our customers have enjoyed wrapping themselves in his soft, downy quilts. Not long before his passing several of us were fortunate to meet with him and his family to tour his ’factory’.
Arriving at Abdul’s home just off Amber Road on the outskirts of the old city was an experience itself. His comfortable, rambling farm-like house was a lively scene – cows mooing, pigs oinking and the extended family assembled during the school holidays, each seemingly with a special task to do along with the young ones playing. His elderly mother, now retired, proudly oversaw a sewing circle of mothers and daughters, gossiping and giggling together as they stitched the lovely quilts. Abdul’s warm and welcoming personality seemed to illuminate the household.
Born in Jaipur in 1952, Abdul grew up in a city where children played in the streets and people travelled by bicycles or tongas. Perhaps a touch of this cosy environment now graced his own home. By age 12 his grandmother began teaching the young boy his trade, a generational craft harking back to their local village about 75 kilometres from Jaipur. Abdul recalled making these popular quilts in rough, thick inexpensive khadi cotton that protected the locals and villagers against the plummeting night time temperatures of a Rajasthan winter. The finer materials of satin and silk appealed to wealthier patrons.
In the workshop a simple type of cotton gin whirred, spitting out the fluffed cotton. The invention of carding machines 75 years ago displaced old-style pinnins, the original hand tools, and revolutionised the craft with increased speed and efficiency. As Abdul commented: The cotton is good desi Indian stuff but nothing exceptional…The trick lies in the carding. We card all the dross to get the finest fibres.
Abdul noted that there were still 12 to 15 families making razais in Jaipur, most catering to volume production, with predominantly block printed blankets destined for local bazaars and upscale boutiques. We have been doing this for years now. We earn enough to keep the home fires burning. It’s a hereditary skill. Our Mother still plies a deft needle!
His family will continue this tradition, but sadly, Abdul will no longer supervise their activities. However, there is no doubt that his gentle spirit will be a guiding presence.
Text & Photographs: Suki Skidmore