In the hot and dusty plains of North India, chiks have traditionally been used to keep out the dust and blinding heat of the hot summer months keeping the interiors of homes and workplaces cool. This simultaneously utilitarian and decorative product was used widely during Mughal times as screens and partitions in the zenana/women’s quarters. The use of chiks was also wide spread during British times but they were mainly of the rougher variety to be used in verandahs and outer public areas. This traditional craft has its roots in the districts and towns of Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. In Delhi the chik makers can be found in Kichripur, Govindpuri and Ashram Chowk.
Chiks are made from bamboo splits or rigid stems of sarkanda grass, held in place by a warp of cotton threads that are finely spaced to create a blinds and screens which can easily be rolled up but not folded or gathered.
Using either Bamboo splits, locally known as tilli or the lower parts of the wild sarkanda grass stems that are sourced from riversides and swampy regions near Delhi and from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh; doubled cotton yarn are individually wrapped around the rigid sarkanda or bamboo splits. To add strength and give a finish the chiks are edged on all sides with a nivar/woven tape. Most are additionally lined with cotton fabric to make them opaque and reduce the sunlight that filters through. Outdoor bamboo chiks that are usually heavier and more sturdy are usually lined with waterproof backing.
The large rough chiks used for screening the outer facades of building are made of strong parallel sliced bamboo sticks while the finer chiks are made of munj stalks, saccharum munja, sarkhanda and sikri which are woven together with cotton cord.The grass, saccharum munja grows to a height of 12-15 feet in the monsoon months. It is seen growing all over the plains of North India in tall masses of narrow green leaves from the center of which feathery flower stalks rise. Growing by roadsides, riversides and surrounding agricultural plots. In fact in some areas it covers whole tracts. Almost all parts of the grass are made use of including the leaves that are used for thatching of dwellings. The flower stalk sheath is shredded finely to form ban- munj that is used for string making. The higher part of the flower stalk that grows in uniform thickness is cut to make chiks. While the tapering top of the stalk is cut to form sirki that is also used for fine chik making. The thin fine upper end stalk is tilli that is used to make products like baskets, winnows, trays, paper baskets etc. that are decorative and finely embroidered with coloured cords.There are several grasses that resemble the saccharum munja though they grow to a shorter height these are saccharum sara and saccharum ontaneum.The bamboo also popularly used is not indigenous to the areas where chik making is practiced and is bought by the artisans from traders who import it from Assam, while sarkhanda and sirki is obtained mainly from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
Broadly there are two varieties of chiks that are crafted, the fine close meshed variety that is used within homes and offices for doors and windows and the other hardier variety using bamboo that is stronger, rougher and more suitable for enclosing outer areas like verandahs, balconies and public areas.To make the chiks the craftsperson use either bamboo or sarkhanda or sirki grass as their base material. When making bamboo chiks the artisan first splits the bamboo into fine sticks, these sticks are vigorously rubbed on to a hard surface, usually the ground, to achieve a smooth finish and to reduce the protuberances at the joints. The bamboo sticks are then dried in the sun for a few days as this makes them more manageable. The bamboo is then ready for weaving on the chik-making loom. Coloured or white cotton warp is used with the bamboo weft. The weaving is done in a fret like design so that a fine chik when hung at the window looks extremely delicate. Some chiks are sold straight after their edges are trimmed and the hanging mechanism is in place. Wooden pulleys with cords passing through them are used us a convenient system to roll up chiks. Most other chiks are edged with cotton tape (newar) and a backing of fabric is often provided to strengthen them and allow for greater protection from the sun. When used in verandahs or out of doors the chik is backed by rain proof plastic sheeting that provides protection against the monsoon rain.The practitioners of this craft create their products on the basis of individual requirements and specifications. Each size is measured and custom made according to the customers needs, their design preference and the amount that they wish to spend.
The rate for chiks varies according to the raw material used, with the sirki chiks being the most expensive followed by sarkhanda and then bamboo. The rate is also determined by the design to be implemented and the quality of the backing used. Another criteria for price is that the narrower the gap between the slats of a chik the more its price.
The design are named according to their shape, the repertoire includes the barfi (rectangle) jaal, choori (bangle) jaal, makdi (spider) jaal, and glass jaal. Of late, chiks are becoming popular substitute for fabric curtains in urban homes. The craftspersons are building upon the standard repertoire and introducing innovations such as cutouts, dyed bamboo sticks, printed cloth backings, and decorative tassels.
Chiks are sold in many different ways. Some chik artisans and traders retail from pukka shops or their homes, other string up their samples on trees along high frequency traveled roads and often even do the finishing of their products under the shady trees on the road side. Many others can be seen carrying their samples on cycles along the streets of the city as they hawk their products to house owners and offices.Chik makers are now facing stiff competition from the cheaper machine made chiks that are readily available in rolls and only require to be cut up and finished with cotton edging and are therefore made up and completed in a far shorter time and at a lower cost. However enterprising chik artisans are now offering these chiks along with their own creations to the customers.As opposed to curtains drapes, chiks are light, easy to maintain, long lasting and economical. Due to the light that filters through the chiks slats the enclosed space given a feeling of space and air.
Bamboo, Blind, Chik, Delhi, Haryana, India, Natural Fibre, Sarkhanda, Uttar Pradesh