Meet Biren Kumar Basak, from selling sarees to winning Padma Shri
Some of his clients are chief minister Mamata Banerjee, Sourav Ganguly, noted classical musician Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Asha Bhosle, Lata Mangeshkar, among others.
Septuagenarian Biren Kumar Basak, who used to sell sarees going door-to-door in the 1970s with his brother in Kolkata, is one among the 102 Padma Shri awardees this year. The Padma awards are announced on the occasion of Republic Day every year and conferred by the President at ceremonial functions held at Rashtrapati Bhawan usually around March-April.
He remembers how the two brothers would take a train to Kolkata every day and sell sarees.
Basak started his career with Re 1, weaving and selling handloom sarees, and today his annual turnover is ₹25 crore. His main objective is rural development and at least 5,000 weavers work for him now.
“We used to take a train to Kolkata early morning every day. In the city, I and my brother used to walk down the streets carrying bundles of sarees, knocking on door to door to sell them. Gradually we developed a huge clientele,” he said, adding that each saree would cost around ₹15-35.
Some of his clients are chief minister Mamata Banerjee, Sourav Ganguly, noted classical musician Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Asha Bhosle, Lata Mangeshkar, among several others. Satyajit Ray and Hemanta Mukhopadhyay were also his clients.
“I am very happy and I would like to thank the government for this award. This is an acknowledgement of the hard work that I and my artisans have been doing over the past 48 years,” said Basak.
Earlier he was conferred the National Award in 2013 for his skill and exquisite craftsmanship. Among other feats, he was conferred honorary doctorate by UK-based World Record University for depicting the Ramayana on handloom woven saree and entered the Guinness Book for weaving the longest saree.
“At present I am working with around 5,000 artisans, out of which around 2,000 are women. They have found a way to earn their living and have become self-reliant. The actual recipients of this award are these artisans and I would thank them too,” he said.
“Ours is a weaver family for the last 89 years. Now that I have received the award I would like to work more and engage more artisans and make them self-reliant,” he added.
His family was forced to migrate to India from Tangail in Bangladesh in the late 1960s. Basak had to leave school at an early age. He started working as a weaver at the age of 13 in Phulia earning ₹2.5 per day.