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Hub of shuttlecock production
In the world of sports, badminton is one of India's brightest spots. Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Ajay Jayaram, Kidambi Srikkanth, Sai Praneeth and others have brought laurels galore to the country .
But not many know that Baniban, a spacious village about 40 kilometres from Kolkata, has been the hub of shuttlecock production in India for generations.At least 65 units, small and large, produce over 800 barrels of shuttlecocks every day during peak season.
Baniban is poised on the outskirts of Uluberia town in West Bengal's Howrah district. The village's association with the `bird' dates back to pre-independence days when one J Bose came to teach the villagers the craft of making shuttlecocks. Bose had learnt the technique from the shuttlecock suppliers to British officials who played the game.
Not many were interest ed. Dhananjoy Pandit, though illiterate, was an exception. Now he is regarded as the founder of the cottage industry in these parts. His daughter, Heera Pandit, runs the famous D B Pandit & Company . Other leading firms in the village include S Niyogi & Company .
A shuttlecock is made of 16 overlapping feathers manually glued and bound together with string and pressed into a cork base. Not long ago, corks were imported from Portugal and feathers from Bangladesh. Now, China is the main exporter of corks.
It takes several hours to make a single `bird'. Each feather is washed several times in detergent powder and sun-dried for hours before being trimmed at both ends and manually tucked into the cork's round base.
In several homes, producing shuttlecocks is a family enterprise. Many kids help out their parents after school. The birds are sold to outlets in Kerala, Maharashtra and Karnataka in India and Sri Lanka and Dubai abroad.
But hard times loom ahead. Japanese major Yonex has set up a manufacturing base in China that is now eating into Baniban's traditional market.
According to manufacturer Sankar Pandit, the Yonex shuttlecocks are made of superior feathers and last longer. China's plastic shuttlecocks, often used for practice, are also fast gaining acceptance.
“Our hands are no match for China's mass manufactured products.We can't even buy the machines due to heavy customs duty,“ says Heera Pandit. “We are fighting against the odds. Why can't the government make us a part of its Make in India project?“ asks Sameer Jana, a worker.
Suprabhat Niyogi, 76, has seen the highs and lows of the trade. His outlook, too, is bleak. “Baniban is a village blessed with a rare skill. We love making shuttlecocks. But no one helps us. Tell me, how do we inspire the next generation?“