Suraiya Hasan Bose—Weaving a Legacy: Radhika Singh

Published by Tarapress

“Suraiya Hasan Bose is a name inscribed into the craft map of Andhra Pradesh. It speaks of a lifetime of passion and commitment to the cause of handloom from pre-Independence India to the present day.”

This book pays tribute to Suraiya Hasan Bose and her lifelong association with Indian handlooms, especially those from Andhra Pradesh.[1] (Disclosure: Suraiya Hasan Bose was a relative of mine.)

Radhika Singh met Suraiya Hasan Bose while working on a book on Fabindia—the retailer that sells Indian handlooms and handicrafts—with which Suraiya worked closely. Singh, surprised that someone so important to Indian textiles was so little known, decided to write a book about her.

Suraiya was born to a family that was ahead of its time. During the struggle for India’s independence, her father, Badrul Hasan, made his family weave their own khadi (hand-woven cloth).[2] The British had suppressed India’s handloom industry to create a market for cotton textiles from Britain. Fighters for Indian independence boycotted these textiles and wove their own in protest.

Because of the suppression of Indian handlooms, weavers became impoverished. Following India’s independence, the new government put in place a system that would help weavers and artisans to recover. Suraiya was involved in this process and worked for the Handicrafts and Handloom Export Corporation in New Delhi.

She moved back to her hometown of Hyderabad in the 1970s to live with her uncle Abid Hasan Safrani, who had bought 10 acres of barren land outside Hyderabad to build his house. Suraiya taught herself farming and was soon growing rice, wheat, fruit and vegetables on that land.

This is also where she set up her weavers’ unit. She understood the art of weaving and worked closely with the weavers. Their work was sold in an onsite shop, as well as throughout India and abroad. 

Suraiya revived two Persian weaves that had almost disappeared: Himru and Mashru. She managed to locate Abdul Qadir, the sole Himru master weaver in India, who was then making glass cloth. “The greatest Himru weaver in the country…had sores all over his legs due to the fact that he had been handling glass in a factory”, she said.

Thanks to her, both weaves have taken off. Himru has become essential for wedding sherwanis, the long coats worn by men.

In 1986, Suraiya set up a school, funded by the Safrani Trust, for the weavers’ children and children from nearby villages. The school started with 20 students and now has over 500.

Singh has achieved her objective of making Suraiya and her work better known to a wider audience. She has done a comprehensive job not only of summing up Suraiya’s life and work, but also introducing the handloom fabrics she worked with. The book has beautiful photographs of the fabrics, accompanied by short write-ups explaining their characteristics.

Sadly, Suraiya Hasan Bose (Suraiya Apa to those of us who knew her well) passed away in September 2021 after a lifetime of dedication to her work. I hope her legacy continues to inspire future generations.

[1] Now divided into the states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

[2] Under British rule, cotton from India was sent to cloth mills in Britain, made into fabric, and then sold back to the Indians.

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