Raghunath Nama A spirit of innovation, a desire to combine all the traditional printing processes of India. To keep up with the hand printing and dyeing practices and along with small machine makers create equipment which would remove the dreary and harmful processes involved in printing and dyeing.
Raghunath did not want to remain just a job-worker for boutiques. He wanted to create his own brand and be visible as a designer-artisan-entrepreneur. He used to say that his desire and practice for innovation and experimentation would be like a free laboratory providing research and development to his community of Chippas. In the beginning, his own community laughed at the orders he took (of single saris and 18 meter fabric print runs) as they only took orders of hundreds or thousands of meters of cotton fabric in one print, one colour for exporters. Raghunath worked for the local Indian boutiques and small retailers doing very small orders. He knew that the diversity of his customers gave him protection from the boom and bust cycle of exports and huge rejections due to problems of infrastructure that artisans face in rural India and due to which they often could not deliver on time. In bucket dyeing, maintaining regular colour tone is very difficult and patchiness too results in rejection. There is also immense competition between Chippas to under quote each other and lower the workers’ wages. Raghunath refused to lower prices to self-exploitative levels. He always said that if a skilled artisan cannot make wages equivalent to an unskilled construction worker, practicing craft was of no use to him. Today his dabu saris and suits are copied by artisans in Bagru, Akola and Balotra, in fact the Surat textile industry is also making screen printed copies on their mass produced synthetic saris.
Raghunath visited us regularly in Delhi to experience the big city. He wanted to see movies, theatre, and big retail, explore and give his opinion on everything from the inedible-ness of a McDonald burger to interesting comments on “Full Monty”. He never let his rural background and inabilities to speak English create awe or make him lose confidence. He was gloriously himself – sharp witted, perceptive and having his own unique sociological and political perspective.
He bought his wife expensive saris from other weaving and printing traditions from Ikats to Ajrakh. He said that if he did not support other artisans who would? He freely shared his marketing and branding experience with other artisans and wanted them to be successful like him too.
Raghunath was a classic jugadu, a problem solver. He bought a 15 year old Maruti Gypsy jeep and tried first to run it on LPG and then installed an old submarine diesel engine which gave him great fuel average. He continuously spent money, time and energy on new experiments in dyeing, printing and appropriate machinery.
Raghunath started his morning in the village with a 5 am tea at the village chai wallah, the tea shop with all his village friends from all castes and said that that was the best newspaper he knew. Rarely did he refuse any of them monetary help. He created an immense network of weavers and fabric suppliers from Kashmir, to Champa in Madhya Pradesh to Vidarbha to Kota. I saw a whole India that is entrepreneurial, artisanal and continuously experimenting with him. All of them utilizing state and NGO resources where possible and doing hardcore mainstream wholesaling to thousands of businessmen from all over India, from Indore to Mumbai, from Bhubaneshwar to Surat.
On Raghunath’s death, so many of his artisan friends from all over India, suppliers of dyes and fabric came to his family to reassure them and promise support and cement relationships with his sons .
It clearly showed he had built relationships not business dealings.
From ultra rich ladies from the big cities where he exhibited and sold his saris, to a poor kabadiya (metal and waste recycler) all spoke fondly of him to his family and us.
It was not just an artisan, but a friend who had passed away.