Unless it’s glitzy brands or a swish venue, chances are that most of us tend to gloss over ads for handloom and handicrafts that appear in our dailies. Yours truly included.
Cut to a few years ago. One was marvelling at the exquisite traditional Indian finds that graces a family friend’s home. Each time, we’d visit, an addition in the form of an intricately carved wooden panel from Tanjore or a glazed ceramic bowl with Mughal designs would invite envy (!) closely, followed by appreciation and realisation of the fact that we are spoilt for choice amid such craftsmanship in our culturally rich land.
What dropped our jaw to the floor would be the prices that these treasures were bought for. Somehow, the cynical mind hadn’t fully come to terms that such tented, mobile venues could offer a fine display of traditional, genuine Indian arts and crafts, and that they might actually score over products on sale in (overpriced, naturally) uber-luxe handicraft showrooms that dot our city.
To put these doubts to rest, when talk veered about doing a visit for an exhibition that had just hit the city, we jumped at the chance. Already, crowds were trickling into the space; so far so good. Slowly, but surely, we negotiated our way past most of the stalls. From Rajasthan’s stunning mirror work to Punjab’s phulkari designs, the vibrant Chanderi and Maheshwari prints, kantha work at its intricate best…the fabrics had wowed us. Other wares, like the ceramics and wood work to delicate wrought iron furniture had us wishing we’d arrived at the venue with a goods carrier. It was a bargainer’s paradise, and the quality and finish exuded a certain rustic, earthy appeal that one would find only with a vase or a mirror that’s been created from scratch, by hand.
We spotted artisans from far-off towns and villages across the length and breadth of India, and wished for representation from the East and North East, as well as products from India’s adivasi belts keepers of rarely-seen artworks and unknown sculptor geniuses of traditional techniques.
After a two-hour treasure trail, we were pleased with our purchases; and this, without burning a hole in our pockets. But, the larger take home for us, and perhaps for the rest of urban India, is to support these artisans and craftspeople in every way possible so they can continue to keep India’s diverse, artistic legacy alive for coming generations to marvel at, and appreciate. It would be a shame if this India faded away.
The writer is Features Editor of mid-day