One of the (rather uncomfortable) oddities of travelling in India with a driver is the ability to walk into people’s working lives and ask them to explain their production process.
So on a whim north of Diu we set off to find out how seeds get removed from balls of raw cotton and wandered into a factory where ginning machines extracted the bolls from huge piles of cotton. The seeds were then fed to cattle.
On the way to Junagadh we visited a family factory producing jaggery (raw sugar). Sugar canes were being fed into a crushing machine and boiled down in a series of three iron basins. The girls of the family fed the dry cane husks into a furnace under the boiling pots.
The final pot was emptied into a mud container where the yellow sugar paste precipitated, and the barefoot boy scraped it off the mud and into tin containers for sale.
In Jetpur we walked into a fabric printing factory where they showed us their collection of screens – often resembling wood block patterns – and a vast room where the fabric was printed.
Hand weaving (Khadi)
At Gondal we visited a hand weaving factory. Quite Victorian; a deafening room full of treadle weaving looms operated by young women. Ear protection was available but no-one was using it. Shuttles shot and clattered, the women controlled the speed, peddling with their feet, mending broken threads as they went along. Each could produce 6-7 metres of simple woven cloth a day. Followed by a quieter room where they were preparing the warps.
An old guy sat on his own in a third room knitting socks on an extraordinary little machine. He enjoyed taking us through the process in great detail. He produced about 22 pairs a day.
We bought some of their output in the shop; a £2 shirt, some fabric for Kim at around £2 a metre and 8 napkins (35p each).
The khadi movement was set up by Gandhi in the 1920s. The spinning of home-made cloth was both practical (promoting rural self-employment) and political (boycotting the cloth manufactured industrially in Britain).
Also in Gondal we turned up at an Ayurvedic factory. (Their claim to fame is that Gandhi gave a speech here in 1915 praising ayurveda.) We feigned a sudden interest in the manufacture of pills and syrups while a man showed us around mixing, grinding, heating, and packaging of a range of products. He held up a bottle marked that it was derived from pure cow urine.
Best was the bottling line which consisted of an enormous metal container with a tap at the bottom where a man flowed contents into small bottles, one by one, while the man next to him fastened on the tops.