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India has been known for its textile since a long time now. Even before the British came to our lands and started exploiting our resources, India’s textiles were exported to various countries and were considered to be of very good quality. After the British left, Indian weavers have been facing difficult times trying to compete with foreign imports and machine-made clothes.

Chintakindi Malleshwam grew up in a house that earned their bread by weaving. From his childhood, he had seen the plight of the weavers in our country. So he decided to do something for them and it made a huge difference in how weavers now do their job. He invented the Laxmi Asu Machine; a machine that could reduce the time of needed to weave a sari from 6 hours to a mere 90 mins.

Starting off as the son of a weaver

Chintakindi, who is 43 now, was born into a poor family of weavers in Telangana’s Aler village in Yadadri district. He dropped out of school in STD 6 and got into the family businesses of weaving. Their family used to make Pochampally sarees and the process involved the task of winding metres of silk onto a large frame, which they call ‘asu’. The task was so toiling, the weavers would often get back pain and Chintakindi saw his mother suffer so much because of this.

When he started working with his family, he decided to make a machine that would do the winding automatically. He could watch his mother suffer no more.

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"The asu process is essential to the Pochampally way of weaving. No matter what the final design on the saree is, it can only be decided after this process. The design itself is determined by this process as well. To do it manually, one has to move a 12km thread almost 9,000 times. When my mother would complain, I would think that it would be nice to automate this entire process. That's where it all started,” says Chintakindi as he describes the whole process of asu.

A difficult road ahead

The road to the invention was not an easy one for Chintakindi. From 1992 to 1999, Chintakindi dedicated 7 years of his life towards his invention.

“I figured that the Asu machine would need five components. I made three but then I hit a road block. I was taunted by my neighbours for wasting my time and my family’s resources,” says Chintakindi to the Hindu. He had used up most of his family’s money and even started spending his wife’s. Knowing that soon he would run out of money for the project, he shifted to Hyderabad and started working as an electrician.

He then brought his under-work machine to Hyderabad and continued to work on it for years before it was ready in 1999. He then took it back to his village and showed it to his parents. Soon the local media and the neighbours were all around him. But as luck would have it, it was not the end of his struggles. In 2005, the price of steel shot up, which resulted in the machines, that were selling for Rs 13,000, were now priced for around Rs 26,000.

The next phase

Due to the cost of his machines, not many weavers could still afford it. Even though with the help of some gracious donors, they have supplied machines at very low rates, still there exist many who cannot afford them.

So in 2009, Chintakindi set out on another journey. This time he would explore the world of microcontrollers and electronic devices. But because of the very little education that he had received as a child, it proved to be a very difficult task for him to study books on microcontrollers that he bought in Hyderabad. So he would sit with a dictionary and try to make sense of the books and try to gather enough knowledge that could help him.

Soon, he started using microcontroller chips and software codes in his machines and his machines are capable of not only winding yarns but can also create various designs on the cloth.

Recognition for his efforts

Apart from the applauses from family and friends, Chintakindi has been awarded various accolades by the Indian Government.

He won the Rashtrapati Award in 2009, and introduced the machine to APJ Abdul Kalam, the former President of India. In 2016, he was given the ‘Amazing Indian’ award by PM Narendra Modi and in January 2017, he was awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India.

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Chintakindi was also featured on the Forbes India’s list of ‘seven most powerful rural Indians’.

(By Debo Dutta)