For almost 700 years, Badshah Miyan and his family from Jaipur have been creating wondrous linen decorated with natural dyes and gold. In days past their clientele included royals like Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and Gayatri Devi Holkar.
Today, Badshah Miyan is a national award-winning artist in leheriya (tie and dye) who is keeping alive this traditional art using natural dyes extracted from flowers, leaves, and fruits to create fabrics and clothes for domestic and international customers.
But the Covid-19 pandemic has made him think differently and compelled him to switch to the local market and understand its needs.
“The lockdown made everything shut down, and there was no business for months. I continued to get orders and inquiries, but business was not normal,” Badshah Miyan says.
The artist said a few months ago, when the economy and borders started opening up slowly, he visited the National Institute of Fashion Design (NIFD, Kangra in Himachal Pradesh.
“I keep delivering lectures to fashion institutes and colleges across the country and the world. That is how I am spreading knowledge and keeping the art alive,” he adds.
But, a viable idea struck to him during this particular visit. “Pine needles are common in the area, and the students were making some jewellery and other artworks with them,” he says.
Badshah Miyan wondered if the material could get used for multiple items, could it be used to make paper?
“People set many forest fires to make way for animals to graze in the forest. The fires get set to burn these pine needles fallen from pine trees. They prick the cattle and hence are usually burnt to clear the path,” he explained.
Badshah Miyan felt if he could make something with them, he could have a new business and save the environment a little at the same time.
Pure natural product
“We worked for six long months to create a perfect mixture of pine needles, banana fibre, jute and hemp to create a pulp that could get rolled into paper,” Badshah Miyan says.
The artist says there was a lot of struggle with the lockdown and restrictions to work smoothly. “There was a limited set of people who could work at a time. There were a lot of trials and tests to make it successful,” he said.
The paper had to undergo tests and certifications from various national bodies as well. “The environmentally friendly aspects need to match the strict norms laid by the National Green Tribunal (NGT).”
Badshah Miyan said he was determined to make the paper entirely environment friendly.
“I wanted the paper not to absorb the ink, allowing ink to wash away. The paper needed not to blot the ink at the same time. Also, the paper pulp should be handmade by the workforce,” he narrates.
After weeks of research, the final product was achieved.
“The paper is made in such a way that even insects and termites can eat it without harming their health. The ink washes off, leaving the paper to dissolve into a pulp or degrade naturally in the environment,” Badshah Miyan exclaims.
There is no electricity involved in making the paper other than the pulp, which is not a daily process. The paper, thus made has a low carbon footprint, the innovator says.
Badshah Miyan says there were so many processes that he implemented from his dye-making skills. “You need to handle and know the product to bring the best out of it,” he adds.
“We have also put lemon in it to level the ph levels. The toxic ink in newspapers is highly damaging to the environment,” he adds.
“The colour of the paper is not white but cream or off white. No bleach gets used to whiten it. Moreover, the handmade paper can get dyed with any colour making it usable for wedding invitation cards, visitor cards or just stationery items like diaries,” Badshah Miyan. He adds, “So many invitation cards just go to waste and the paper if used, it will not harm the environment.”
The artist said the paper could also be used as a packaging material and as raw material for industries.
Vocal for local
Shahnawaz, his son, says the papermaking project is aimed to promote the use of local material and not depend on other countries. “The paper does not even need to be recycled. The manufacturing will be done by the locals to generate employment,” he adds.
Shahnawaz adds the paper is tested and certified by the Kumarappa National Handmade Paper Institute, a department of scientific and industrial research, the government of India, Jaipur. It is also certified by the Khadi board department, thus allowing the paper to be prompted among tourists.
Badshah Miyan strongly feels that such innovations are strongly needed. “You have to change with time. You cannot just make another iPhone 11 Pro that already exists. You have to bring something better,” he adds.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)