Swadeshi and My Ratnam Pen

“(Swadeshi) means production and distribution of articles manufactured in one’s own country.”

“Swadeshi is that spirit in us which restricts us to the use and service of our immediate surroundings to the exclusion of the more remote…  In the domain of politics, I should make use of the indigenous institutions and serve them by curing them of their proved defects. In that of economics, I should use only things that are produced by my immediate neighbours and serve those industries by making them efficient and complete where they might be found wanting.”

Mahatma Gandhi

For Gandhiji, swadeshi was the key to independence. To him, swadeshi had several dimensions including the political—revolving around revival of indigenous institutions and their strengthening; and the economic—as a powerful tool for local production and therefore decentralized livelihoods.

Which brings me to the story of my Ratnam/Guider pen. Inspired by Gandhiji’s call for swadeshi, K.V. Ratnam started manufacturing fountain pens in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh in 1932. Mr. Ratnam sent one of the pens to Gandhiji in 1935, and Gandhi wrote back to him (presumably with the gifted pen).  The shop(s) proudly display the quote: “I have used it and it seems to be a good substitute for the foreign pens one sees in the bazars.” Nehru is said to have made a trip to the shop during one of his visits to AP, to get himself a pen or two. One wonders which of his literary works were penned with a Ratnam! Ratnam pens were symbols of self-reliance and national pride!

My Rajahmundry Trip Helped Me With an Innoavtive Birthday Gift for My Husband

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Today, Rajahmundry boasts more than one shop which are offshoots of this legacy of hand-made pens—two Ratnam Pen shops run by Mr. K.V. Ratnam’s two sons, and the Guider pen shop which also claims its lineage to this.

I have had the fortune of visiting Rajahmundry and two of these shops. It was an experience to go to the back of the shop and see a workman turning the pen and shaping it by hand! I bought more pens in more sizes and colours than I know people who still write with fountain pens! But those to whom I have gifted them, cherish them.

Not only for the historical connection, but also these pens write beautifully and are beautifully hand-crafted. They are highly prized by pen collectors and orders come in from across the world.

I may not be written about in history, but I can write with a piece of history!

–Meena

P.S: Even as the nation gears up to mark Gandhi Jayanti, here is a sad piece of news:

97-year-old school founded by Bapu closes as funds dry up – https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/rajkot/97-year-old-school-founded-by-bapu-closes-as-funds-dry-up/articleshow/65987400.cms?utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=iPadapp&utm_source=email

 

Well Spun!

Ponduru, a village in Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh, arguably produces the best khadi in India. Well at least Gandhiji thought so. He was highly impressed with the fineness of the khadi produced here and preferred it to other khadis. The best dressed (khadi-mode) contemporary politicians even today get their saris, dhotis and shirt material from here.

Ponduru khadi is hand-carded, hand spun and hand woven—truly khadi in letter and spirit.

What makes it special? Well, more than one factor, it seems. For one, the raw material itself is of a special quality—it is made from special varieties of hill cotton and red cotton which are grown in Vizianagaram and Srikakulam districts. For another, Ponduru khadi is very smooth, especially the higher count variety. This is because the jawbone of the Valunga fish found in Srikalkulam is used to comb the cotton  fibers to separate them from the seeds, and the process lends a soft sheen  to the cotton.

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There was a time when every home in this village had a loom. But like in most of India, the number of khadi workers in Ponduru is falling. The low remuneration is of course a major reason. Those involved in the sector do not want their children to follow them—they would much rather they got a ‘professional’ degree and got a ‘secure’ job.

Fortunately, there are some efforts to improve the situation, including dedicated NGOs working in the sector. Chitrika is one such which has been working closely with the Ponduru khadi sector for over a decade now. They are helping the workers organize themselves into Producer Cooperatives, find newer markets, and improve their capacities. New and innovative designs are being brought in. All this is enhancing the incomes of the weavers, almost doubling them in the last decade.

But without a pull from the market, no government subsidies or NGO efforts are going to lead to sustainable results. An eminent Gandhian once mentioned that if every Indian bought one khadi garment a year, the sector would thrive and all our khadi workers would be able to earn decent incomes.

A small thing to ask! And this is in our hands.

So this piece today is a call to action. We are about a month away from Independence Day. Go out and buy some khadi! It is a practical and easy ‘good deed’ for 15 August!

Buy khadi, and specially buy Ponduru khadi, best of all khadis!

–Meena

 

 

 

 

Starry, Starry Village

Last week, I was in interior Andhra Pradesh. We were felicitating high-performing Std. 10 students from government schools of villages in our project area.

All was routine, till they announced one of the winners as Keerthi Chawla. I wasn’t sure I had heard right. It was too North-Indian a name for a village in AP. So I asked again what the child’s name was, and she reiterated that it was Keerthi Chawla. And she was speaking Telugu. I asked her if she belonged to those parts or her family had moved there. She told me she was very much from Dosari village. And also told me her full name, which was Vangapudi Keerthi Chawla.

I couldn’t wait for the function to finish to catch hold of my colleagues to ask what this was about. They told me that the trend in Dosari village was to name children after film stars. That is not an unusual trend—we all know that many a Rajesh or Dilip or Aishwarya were named about the eponymous stars. What was unusual of course was the adoption of the name—lock, stock and surname!

We thought we should get a little more into it. A very quick count in the primary school and Bala Badi in the village threw up 81 children who were named after stars: from Trishas to Tamannas to Anushas (these ladies don’t use surnames, I think). From among those who do use surnames, we found apart from Keerthi Chawla, also a Vidya Balan. Among the boys there were Nageswar Raos, Ram Charans and Prabhas.

(I have met many a Jhansi, Jhansi Rani and Jhansi Lakshmi from AP/Telangana. Not sure why these names are so popular here.)

I thought mine was my Keerthi Chawla was the most exciting find. But I was deflated when my colleague told me that in her previous job, where they used to provide education support for children from Tamilnadu slums, they had one child called David Beckham (Muthu David Beckham).

With what dreams do parents name their children?

How we look up to the stars!

Do they know?

–Meena