The Hussain Kagzis
Mohammad Hussain Kagzi is probably the last of India’s traditional papermakers. His family origins go back to Arabia and the Shaikh clan. The family arrived in India via Bokhara (in Central Asia) around 800 years ago. The family name Khagzi literally means paper maker, in Arabic.
In the 16th century, the ruler of Amber, Raza Man Singh brought the Kagzi families to Sanganer and settled them on the bank of river Saraswati. The town emerged as one of the biggest paper producing centers in North India. Today, the Hussain Kagzis are the only family to continue out of the four families that worked for the King’s court in Jaipur.
Impact of water
Earlier, the Kagzis made paper for official use, account books, calligraphy, the Holy Quran, and currency notes from jute plants that grew on the banks of the river Saraswati. Now, they are forced use jute (sunn hemp fiber) that is sourced from Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. Sunn hemp had abundant growth in Sanganer by the river. In 1997, a massive flood choked the river Saraswati with silt and the lakes shrunk to nearly nothing. As a result there is severe paucity of water in the region. The quality and chemistry of the water changed as well, making for inferior-quality sunn hemp fiber and, in turn, weaker and darker looking papers.
Handmade Paper Making Process
The process of making handmade paper is long and tedious. The fiber is first cleaned, cut to size and then washed thoroughly. For the washing, two men stand with a large piece of cloth tied around their waists. They add the fiber into this cloth reservoir and agitate it by hand while water runs from above. The fiber is then cooked in a lime solution, rinsed and beaten to make pulp. The pulp is put in a vat, and the papermaker uses a mould to make freshly formed sheets.
To dry the sheets, women pick up about 25 sheets at a time and pat them firmly onto a nearby wall. They peel off each sheet, one at a time, and adhere it expertly onto the wall using a grass brush. After the paper is peeled off the walls, the papermaker brushes each sheet with a peculiar tool—the chest bone of a camel.
The papermaker sizes the paper once more, brushing wheat starch on the sheet and burnishing the surface. The larger papers are sometimes machine calendared. Some of these are dyed in a pale yellow and off-white natural dye to make what is known locally as wasli paper.