The pride of Telangana: Mallesham

"Belonging to a small Weaver's family in Telangana, my childhood wasn't any special. My parents worked hard, making sarees, for us to have three meals a day. I remember watching my mom spend a lot of time on the Asu process, which is an important part of making Pochampally ikat sarees. Sometimes, it'd take so many hours and would still not be done by the end of the day. In the Asu process, my mother would stretch her arms continuously to wind yarn around two sets of pegs on either end of a four-foot structure before the saree is woven. Her shoulders and elbows would ache from the repetitive work and all that she would do is apply balm and go to sleep. Just watching this happen almost every other day would upset me. That's when I thought I should relieve my mom from this pain. But I was a school dropout, who passed class 10 after three attempts. I had no knowledge about machines and the technicalities. However, I took this up as a challenge and started observing every hand movement that my mother made, during the Asu process. I broke down the whole procedure into five parts and planned to create a machine, one part after the other. I don't even remember the number of trial methods I did, but in a few months, 3 parts of the machine were ready. Throughout this time, my parents didn't want me to work on it. They thought it was a waste of time. They wanted me to look for another job and not be involved in weaving. I wouldn't listen to them, so they decided to get me married. Like they'd planned, marriage did stop me from going back to the machine, but only for a year. 

I soon moved to Hyderabad to earn a better living for my family, and that's where I took it up more seriously. I would work hard to earn about 70 rupees a day and sometimes, do overtime to be able to bear the machine and tool costs. In a city as big as Hyderabad, my exposure to machines and factories was much better. I would observe how these industries, companies and workshops worked. I would take small parts of  machines that were thrown away and try using them for my process. In two years, by 2000, it was ready! My Asu machine was functional and it could mechanically complete the whole process for any weaver. It automated the process of spreading 10.5 km of silk thread around 41 steel pins to make a Pochampally saree. The manual process required women to move their hands 9,000 times to make one saree, which was extremely tedious. It could make a saree in about one-and-a-half hours as opposed to five hours by the manual process. The mechanised process, besides increasing productivity (eight sarees a day) reduced drudgery and allowed variety in style and design.
The moment I watched the machine work, I had tears. I could only think of my mother and so many other people from my community who wouldn't have to do it by themselves anymore. I even named the machine after my mother, Lakshmi. I couldn't sleep that night because I was so excited to show it to my people in the village. 

I took it home, but my parents were only upset that I spent my time doing this, instead of finding myself a better living. They believed it only when they saw the machine work. I started getting orders from everybody in the village and I made about 250 machines. I was also awarded the Padma Shri in the year 2017, and I must say it's a great feeling. I'm very grateful to the government for recognising my efforts. But there's nothing that can beat the pride that I see in the eyes of my parents and all the weavers back in my village. That's all I need, their support and happiness because they're the ones keeping this traditional weaving methods alive for generations to come."

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