I first met Mansa Ram ji when he spoke at a meeting of NGO workers, researchers, and students gathered to examine challenges and opportunities facing the handloom industry in India. I visited him a few times when I was in the region again for research into wool production, and the first woven items available for sale through aana jaana were created by Mansa Ram and members of his family. Here is a little about Mansa Ram in his own words*:
“I learned weaving in 1975 when I was about 25 years old. My teacher’s name was Sali Ram. Sali Ram knew how to make the handloom from scratch. I was unemployed at that time and there was demand for the woolen products coming out of handlooms. The demand came from shepherds themselves who were plentiful at that point of time and used these woolen garadus, dauds, shawls, and coats when they used to migrate with their sheep and goats up into the higher mountains during the summers and to the forests below during the winters. There was also demand from those people from the village who were working in the defense services since they used to work in harsh conditions and these handloom products are very hardy and warm. I then taught almost everybody in my village the art and the skill of working on handlooms. And Sali Ram made the handlooms for almost everybody in the village and used to repair them also and he taught his skill of making and repairing handlooms to other people in the village.”
Mansa Ram’s daughters-in-law Rekha Devi and Shrehtha Devi at the charkha and loom
“Initially when we started working we used to make hundreds of these woolen products in our homes along with other people in the village and entire rooms would be stacked with them since the demand was so high. The wool used to come in hundreds of kgs also from the shepherds.
“When I started work the price of honey, ghee, chillies, and wool were the same per kilo but as time has gone by…the price of wool compared to the rest of the three has fallen due to the lack of demand. Now the effort is not commensurate to the reward even for shepherds for the wool of the sheep.
“The demand for our handloom woven products started to drop in the last 15 years when cheap synthetic and machine made garments started to flood the markets. We had kind of lost hope that this enterprise could ever be revived till this year when suddenly there has again been a spurt in demand. We hope that our handloom woven products are liked. This is what we have done for the last 35 years. This is what we know how to do well.”