Sitting under a banyan tree on a clear summer afternoon, daydreaming lazily, a vine found its way into a pair of idle hands and was twisted and turned into a twine… No one knows how the rope was first made by man, but it has been used since prehistoric ages. From building of the colossal pyramids of Egypt, to the obelisk of Rome, and the ancient temples of magnificent scale, ropes played a very important role in the development of civilization. Without ropes, bridges across rivers wouldn’t have been made and neither would have mankind voyaged across continents in enormous ships.
Women in the villages use a rope and dasher to churn out butter from cream and this usage of the rope also appears in ancient mythology. It is mentioned in the Puranas that during Samudra Manthan, (ocean churning), the Devas (gods) and Asuras (demons) decided to churn the ocean in the quest for the nectar of immortality. For this cosmic task, the mountain “Mandaar” was used as the churning rod and the serpent king “Vasuki” became the rope for churning the oceans.
In ancient times, ropes were made from grass, reeds, roots, leather and animal hair. A finer form of rope; the yarn, was woven and made into fabric which is an invention that had a huge influence on the course of human history. It is fascinating how a tiny delicate fibre, when put together in amazing numbers and twisted, can carry massive weights and can sustain tension of violent forces of nature.
The fundamental of rope making is twisting of fibres together. The twisted ropes are made in a ropewalk, which is any long space where lengths of rope can be laid out side by side. Once, two or three strands are twisted, they are brought together and twisted in the opposite direction; the counter twist holding them together into a stable, strong rope.
On some roads of Ahmedabad, one can see rope makers busy rotating what looks like a giant “Charkha” (spinning wheel), spinning out shiny strands glittering in the sunlight. There are ropes being made out of scrap industrial plastic, and sometimes fabric, which would otherwise be sent to garbage dumps, polluting the soil and rivers. They purchase the plastic from nearby industries of the city and turn that waste into something useful. These ropes are sold in high demand at the city market as they are supposed to be stronger than nylon ropes, since they don’t wear much in the weather.
These craftsmen have been making ropes for 40 years now, recycling plastic since much before the buzz of sustainability and climate change even started. Making plastic plied ropes by hand with a largecharkha, walking up and down the roadside twisting the strands, in the city of in the city of Gandhi’s Ashram, they are carrying on his philosophies of hand work and self sustenance.
In weekly village haats, where common things of daily needs are sold, the rope is a ubiquitous object that finds many buyers. Rope is a necessity in the villages, where it is used to draw water from the wells and leash farm animals.
Even though ropes have been made for thousands of years, the technique of making ropes and even their usage remains unchanged. From the remnants of a past utility, spun together into cords bearing strength and resilience, discarded plastic and fabric are given a new lease of life by these ropemakers of Ahmedabad.