province of Pakistan which is worth romancing for its exquisite beauty and aesthetics is none other than, Sindh. Amongst the dusty and narrow lanes of a quaint town, Hala, are vibrant and vivid looms weaving ‘Susi’. Weaving is the oldest and most popular method of producing a fabric in many cultures. In rural Sindh, weaving has been practiced for over thousands of years.
Susi is a cotton and silk woven fabric carrying signature stripes in myriad colours. When I was seven, I fondly remember my mom stitching a bright susi dress for me, and since then I have always had a special association and admiration for this fabric. I remember how I amazed I was when she explained that these were all made by hand-operated looms.
So when planning a day trip to Hala, my excitement was rightly unmatchable. Soon my ideas were on a spin – how I would visit, talk and photograph the artisans working on the looms.
It was an exhilarating experience spending a day at a couple of these small cottage industries weaving the fabric in Hala.
I left Karachi at dawn, stopping for chai paratha at a dhaba on Super Highway. After a drive of almost four hours I arrived at the dusty roads leading to Hala, which is some 30 kilometers from Hyderabad. The town is small with narrow lanes, but it is of great historical and cultural significance. It is considered as the centre of Sindhi culture, being home to many cottage industries which are producing traditional handicrafts.
The history of Susi can be traced back 5,000 years ago when the Indus Valley civilisation was evolving. The Ain-i-Akbari maintains it was in the 11th century that Susi came to Hyderabad Deccan from Shush, a town in Persia and reappeared as a cotton fabric in 1620s.
The primary production centres of Susi are Hala and Thatta. There was a time when clans of weavers occupied the neighbourhood and all they did was to work on their looms weaving fabrics.
However, after machines were introduced, many of the handlooms have been replaced by them. Now, there are very few houses and families who still hold on to their family trade.
Sipping a steaming cup of chai, I talked to one of the lead weavers on a loom. He mentioned that weaving susi is his family business. His forefathers have been in this business for hundreds of years.
However, over the past several decades most of the weavers have moved out, or switched from handlooms to semi-automatic power looms. The looms are a very basic type and run on electricity, and require a lot of handling manually; yet these talented workmen are still weaving good quality fabrics from them. They get all the raw materials from Karachi, and then dye and weave by hand.
Even though the looms are old yet the workmen were proud of the heritage and the space was aesthetically stimulating with bursts of colours with baskets and stacks of vibrant spools ready to be interlaced on the wooden frames of the looms.
When I enquired about their income, well, the lot was not happy with the return for their labour. Along with the involvement of many middle-men, there is also a fading interest amongst the public in the folk art and crafts.
Traditionally, susi fabric is used by women to make shalwars (loose pants) and kameez (tunics), which are still very much in vogue. I wore one of mine recently at an international conference and was bombarded with compliments and everyone wanted to take a picture with me. Many artists get creative and make different household objects, decorative items mixing and matching the vibrant colours and patterns out of this fabric. I visited a few close-by stores that stock up these fabrics and are a wonderful souvenir shopping spot.
Nevertheless, it is sad to note that very few people from cities visit places like Hala. We spend thousands of rupees to travel outside Pakistan or shop at urban malls yet rarely explore places a few hours outside the metropolis.
A day trip over a weekend from Karachi is all that is required to get a memorable cultural experience of Sindh, meet the artisans and shop their products.
Whenever tired, I rest my head on the cushions, covered with brilliant colours of susi, or wear a susi jora, I fondly think of all the creative artisans I have met at Hala and feel proud of our heritage and the creative minds behind it. •