In 2011, when we met Suraiya Hasan Bose for an interview at her workshop beside the Safrana Memorial School, Hyderabad, Radhika Singh was promoting her book The Fabric of Our Lives: The Story of FabIndia and had mentioned that she would love to document Suraiya’s work. When we broached that topic with the soft-spoken Suraiya, the octogenarian took it with a smile and stated that she would be happy if her work was carried forward to the next generation. That’s a tall task. Before that, it’s important to acknowledge that Radhika Singh’s wasn’t a wishful, throwaway statement.
The Delhi-based writer had interviewed more than 90 people who were instrumental in reviving and promoting indigenous weaves and crafts. Suraiya was among them. The source material for the book on FabIndia emerged from letters written by its founder John Bissell, and Suraiya featured prominently in them.
Talking to us ahead of the launch of her new book Suraiya Hasan Bose: Weaving a Legacy, backed by Dr Reddy’s Foundation, Radhika says, “Through the letters I learnt that John Bissell and Suraiya were great friends. She was among the biggest suppliers from Andhra Pradesh for FabIndia. John and Suraiya also worked together for international orders. Warangal dhurries designed by Suraiya sold in thousands internationally.” Having read about Suraiya’s work, Radhika visited her premises in Hyderabad and was amazed at the work being done at her looms.
Suraiya Hasan Bose
- Suraiya Hasan Bose, or Suraiya apa as she’s fondly called, was born in 1928. Her father set up the first khadi unit in Karimnagar, which was later taken over by the government. She did a one-year course on textiles at the Oxford University. Suraiaya moved to Delhi after her marriage to Aurobindo, Subhash Chandra Bose’s nephew. In Delhi, she worked with the department of handicrafts and handlooms and later with the Cottage Industries Emporium. After her husband’s demise, years later, she returned to Hyderabad and set up the looms and workshop. With the help of master weaver Syed Umar, she revived himroo and mushroo weaves.
Suraiya was instrumental in reviving himroo and mushroo weaving techniques; she specialised in time-consuming paithani weaves and the telia rumals. She travelled extensively, working with weaver clusters and developed specialised Gadwal and Uppada saris, kalamkari and ikat.
Those in the know-how of textiles were aware of Suraiya’s work. She worked quietly, never seeking attention. Radhika felt the need to tell her story to a larger audience. Uzramma (the founder of Dastkar Andhra and now the director of Malkha Marketing Trust) and Laila Tyabji (founder member of Dastkar) agreed that Suraiya’s story has to be told. This was in 2011, when Suraiya’s looms were working full steam, for bespoke orders for clientele in the US and UK. Radhika began working on the book.
An illustrator from National Institute of Design came up with an illustration to explain the working on himroo on the loom. Suraiya Hasan Bose: Weaving a Legacy narrates Suraiya’s story interspersed with Radhika’s observations. The book has photographs of Suraiya at the loom and her school, of her master weaver Syed Umar and others at the workshop, and the yardage and garments at the store. There’s also an essay by textile exponent Mayank Mansingh Kaul.
Radhika had to put the book on hold for three years as she went through personal setbacks involving health issues of loved ones. “When I would tell Suraiya that I haven’t made progress on the book, she would brush it away saying it’s okay. She would feel that she isn’t able to help me in any way. She is such a warm, genuine person,” says the author.
As the book, priced at ₹899, is ready to be sold through FabIndia stores across the country, Radhika asserts that she wants to document and archive personal stories that are significant for Indian crafts and techniques. Her book on Suraiya is a step in that direction. Radhika is a photo editor and founder of Delhi-based agency Foto Media, which takes up photo editing for books and curates specialised exhibitions.
(‘Suraiya Hasan Bose: Weaving a Legacy’ will be launched in Hyderabad at an event held by Dr Reddy’s Foundation, at Marigold hotel, March 23; 5.30p.m.)