I want to debunk urban concept of the idea of India: Jaya Jaitly
Pune She is responsible for bringing India’s arts and handicrafts out of the forgotten corners of our lives on to the centre stage. Her strong understanding of how things work and a deep passion for our country’s art and culture helped her weave the success story of Dastkari Haat Samiti crafted over the past decades.
Jaya Jaitly, the motivating and inspiring force behind the initiative, attended the inauguration of Dastkari Haat organised at Monalisa Kalagram in the city recently. At least 100 artisans from across India are exhibiting their products. The artisans know her personally and walk in and out of the office chatting with her like she is a family member.
“There is so much skill, talent in our country. I first saw this when I was in Jammu and Kashmir in the mid-sixties. In the Mughal era, art was for courtly use and not for ‘aam aadmi’ and the Brits came and destroyed that. But our culture is such that every piece of art has a meaning and context. Nothing is done just for art
“So a Kanjeevaram sari will be woven for the goddess, and the walls of the temple will need to be adorned with paintings or murals and so on. Everything in our culture has a deep meaning. Urbanisation has led people to perhaps feel that it’s not secular to show your religious identity, so they no longer visited places of worship. They do not follow the traditions like they do in the villages. A Muslim artisan will make products for a temple and a Hindu will do the same for a mosque. True secularism exists there. I want to debunk this urban concept of the idea of India. They really have no clue, only a voice, sadly. Add to that was industrialisation that brought cheaper, synthetic mass produced goods to the markets. And the arts and crafts saw a slow but sure decline,” she said.
In the spotlight
To infuse life into our dying arts, Jaya understood early on that they needed a market. That they had to compete with mass produced goods. “I had to work on both the demand and supply side. The carpenter who would make goods for the weaver who would give him fabric was now not possible. So I asked the artisans to make their goods contemporary. Why not design the cycle rickshaw in ways where the person could find it easy to keep his bags? And put double chains so the ‘driver’ would find it easy to cycle? Or why not use a Madhubani painting on aluminium kettles? We had to bring the village to the cities.
“The artisans who would eat their meals sitting on the floor could not even understand the concept of a table mat. So I encouraged them to make items that the city dwellers would use,” she said.
At the same time she sensitised the city folk about how the artisans worked. And how their purchase would help their lives. “We told them that their purchase would help them get their daughter married off or get a roof over their house. That they could not produce goods like factories do, when the summers are brutal the Odissa artist work from 5 am to 10 am and then sleep in the afternoons because it’s too hot to venture out. Then at 5 pm they again take up the painting or weaving,” she said.
The Dastkari Haat Samiti organises four haats (markets) every year for artisans. “Whatever they sell is theirs. The last Dilli Haat saw participation of 200 artisans and a turnover of ₹ 6.5 crore. Our samiti charges them a membership fee with which we run our expenses. We have 500 members of whom some are individuals or represent an organisation,” she said.
Time was when the children of these artisans would refuse to take up their parents’ profession. Jaya said, “Now we have cases of young men who go to the cities to work in factories and return home to take up their father’s profession. Most of our members are fourth generation artisans.”
The sign proves that all is well in the art industry. So what does the future hold?
Jaya said, “Making products and selling from a store is fine, but I feel that their art should find different uses. How about builders using handmade bricks and tiles in their projects? Or bamboo lattice for the outer verandah walls? People use glass which is so damaging to the environment since it then needs air-conditioning. Making decorative jewellery boxes is fine, but how about using say Warli or Madhubani painting in designing the Metro, schools, commercial interiors? Craftspeople need the revenues, but they also need respect, a livelihood, not 9-5 jobs. Other professionals should collaborate with craftspeople to find different uses for their work.”
Kotpad – crafting grains
Harekrishna Naik from Korapat, Orissa, is a farmer who grows rice on his 1.5 acre farm. “My forefathers used to make these Kotpad figurines, but we had stopped this since there was no demand. It was only made for our home temple.” In 2014, Harekrishna on a whim started making Kotpad Laxmi made with grains and used thread instead of wool as was the custom. “I made about 3-inch Laxmi and Ganesh idols and took them to the Korapat market held every Monday,” he said.
His idols generated a lot of interest. Soon he was making hundreds of them daily. He took them out of his village market to Jagdalpur, Raipur and later met Jaitly, who took his products to the Dilli Haat. “My fields give us rice to eat and these Kotpad idols look after our other needs.” He wants to teach people to make these items which sell like hot cakes. “I sell about 400-500 a day. I want to teach people to make these ‘sticks ‘ where we tie the grains to a bamboo shoot but not many want to. I want to outsource the making of these ‘sticks’ so that I can then quickly make idols or anything else. I can even buy it from people wh0 will make it.”
Madhubani – painting stories of life
Raymant Kumar Mishra is the fifth generation Madhubani painter in his family. “As a five-year-old, I would fill colours in the painting that my grandmother made. At 10, I learnt the details and also got a scholarship from the Central Cultural Training Research Centre, Government of India. They paid me ₹200 to learn and my grandmother ₹300 to teach. I did go to school, but this was far more interesting.”
In 2017, he was invited to paint the walls of the Madhubani railway station. “225 of us were invited and we collectively painted 16,000 sq ft,” he said. Later, we started receiving orders. “The district magistrate asked me to paint the Ramayan at the Circuit House and so on,” he said. His colours soon found their way onto tea pots, bags, file folders, matkas and dupattas.
With the exposure he got from Datskari Haat, word spread and he was invited to do a workshop in Italy and Mauritius. “My whole family, parents, wife, children uncles, cousins are all into Madhubani paintings. My wife also teaches Madhubani paintings to children for free. We want to spread our paintings far and wide.”