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  • Writer's pictureKaren Selk

At Last - Pages and Pictures

After many trials and a reprint, it is official, my book In Search of Wild Silk: Exploring a Village Industry in the Jungles of India is due at Amazon and hopefully other bookstores on March 28. My east Indian friend, auntie, mentor and travel partner, Malathi, shook her finger numerous times and said, "It is your duty to write the story of wild silk." In 2019 I could not ignore that little voice in the back of my head any longer. The books are on a ship now, heading to Schiffer, the publisher. The little voice is released into the universe with a sigh of satisfaction.

I have been sporatic in sharing Journal Entries from the book. I am back on track and want to tell you about Raja today, a very special young entrepreneur from Assam. My friend, Linda LaBelle, from the Yarn Tree in Virginia and I have started a GoFundMe page to help him continue his amazing work. A link to his GoFundMe page will follow.

Excerpts from Journal Entry - November 2019 – Andherijuli village, Assam

Our first stop in Guwahati, the capital of Assam, is to meet a young entrepreneur, Raja Boro. I tell Sarat, (our friend and Central Silk Board guide) “I still can’t believe I met Raja on Facebook. I do not look at it very often, but when scrolling through in March 2019, I thought to myself, ‘Who is this person who calls himself Assam Silk?"

Sarat says, “We need to pull over here, Raja will meet us and guide us to his village.” All smiles, dimples, so young and fresh, Raja works his way into our hearts immediately. In the car, he is honest, open and enthusiastic. He is concerned we might be uncomfortable because they are poor. The road narrows. Soon it is barely wide enough to pull off in front of their compound. We are at ease with the familiar, tidy, open courtyard, pots of plants and the huge verandah on the bamboo and plaster building. Raja introduces us. “This is my mother, Soneswari Boro.” Soneswari has a table set on the verandah with a lacy tablecloth. Tea is served. She fills our plates with vegetable pakoras, biscuits, and sweet treats.

Meeting village people has been Sarat’s life for over thirty years with the Central Silk Board. “Are you Bodo tribe?” Raja nods yes. “What kind of products are you making?” While we finish our snack, Raja goes into the house and comes out with an armload of beautiful textiles. We clear the table. Raja explains, “I am now the head of the family. I want to make a better life for my mum. I watched weavers bring their work into a shop where I was employed. I saw how little the shop keeper gave them. He sold their work for eight times what he paid. I didn’t think this was right, so I started my business in June 2019, with one loom and my mother.

Sarat and I exchange glances, impressed with the fineness of the work. Sarat asks, “How much do you charge for the scarves and where do you sell them? They are excellent quality.” Raja beams. “Thank you, sir." Out comes Sarat’s calculator. He punches in Raja's raw material cost, his selling price, and how much he pays his weavers. “Raja, you are not an NGO! You must make more to grow your business. Then you can pay your weavers more." I say, “I think you are selling your product too cheaply. Customers need to know who is making your scarves, how pure it is, and how it is made by hand. Many of us are concerned about these things. Are these three for sale? I would like to pay twice the price.” Raja resists, but Sarat helps convince him the work is worth it.

Raja is excited to talk business with people who understand. “I have so much to learn. I got taken for a great deal of money by a politician. He ordered many scarves and did not pay for one month. He said he was traveling to exhibitions. The next month he could not pay because the road was bad. Finally he blocked me on his phone. I did not like to learn about trust like this.”

We chat about spinning, warping and weaving while Raja’s mother and auntie walk back and forth, winding a 44 yd (40 m) warp around posts pounded into the ground. It takes one day to wind the warp, one day to thread the yarns through the heddles and half a day to set the rest of the loom. Sarat says, “You must get a drum for winding longer warps. It will save time and you can weave through the rainy season.” Raja smiles, “When I make more profits. A warping drum costs about $670 US.”

It is getting late. Raja and his mother drape scarves around each of our necks. Sarat truly knows what the sale of these scarves could provide for the family. He wants to refuse, but Raja insists. Raja, his mother and auntie gratefully accept a gift of dried plums from our garden back home. The trade seems lopsided.

I hope you can help Raja! Any donation large or small is much appreciated. If you cannot donate please consider sharing this on social media!

Please note that the funds are not benefitting my friend, Linda LaBelle, (even though you will see this on the page). GoFundMe does not operate in India at this time. All funds will be transferred to Raja!


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