Marasandra

Dreams – they do come true! Not very long ago but nearly nine years, I used to fantasize about my life as a traveler. The kind of traveler I used to imagine myself as was not one of those wandering around spotting the tourist attractions and exploring luxurious hotels and towns but a traveler who is living with different communities, with various people, living with them, knowing their culture, learning their skills. While watching channels like Fox traveler and Discovery and others, I used to be awe struck about how each community in this world must be doing some or the other kind of artistic work to survive. As I was a child that time, I never even thought of India, that it could be one of those places where every region, nay every village, could have a specialty of its own, where the whole village strived towards working in one medium or one occupation. Nevertheless, I couldn’t think of a single huge group or community which could work in one profession. While daydreaming about such thoughts, I used to get filled with happiness and excitement and then eventually get my feet back on the ground.

It is blissful to fulfill your dream but it is phenomenal to realize that what you are doing right now was once your dream and you are actually living in your dream. A similar euphoria is flooded within me while visiting various villages to learn about their crafts and to also learn from them their own craft. 

Just yesterday (30th Jan, 2014), I visited a village called Marasandra which is a suburb of Bangalore and is some 25 kms heading north. I was not expecting anything  while heading towards the place in a bus with one of my friends, Aarushi. My intention of visiting this place was to learn about terracotta work so that I can use this work for developing my product range. I had heard that this village is a cluster of craft working in terracotta. The only doubt I had in mind was the communication barrier due to the regional language – Kannada, which I am unfamiliar with. At the same time, I was optimistic about finding at least one person in the whole village who would know Hindi or English – languages that I can understand well. That someone who is also willing to help us talk to the locals about their work. I was prepared to grant some currency in return of the role as a translator. 

While being occupied with these thoughts, I didn’t realise that twenty minutes had already passed by since we started from Yelahanka, and we hit the bus stop of Marasandra – a vilage which is on the Doddabalapur main road. I knew the landmark of the possible location of these workplaces which was the Suman School. After enquiring about the location of the school, we started walking on the main road moving further away from Yelahanka. While walking for 15 mins, we asked a person in a Bisleri shop about where the school was. The guy was generous enough to come along with us show us the school where he studied in and which we had crossed already and missed because of a tiny signange that was not visible. Fortunately the guy knew a little Hindi and in his language ‘shulp shulp’ Hindi. He took us to a potter’s house when we asked him the location for terracotta work. Although the conversation was difficult with Prasad, the Bisleri boy with his shulp knowledge of Hindi, still by using basic hindi words and understanding the basic Kannada words, we could communicate well with him to make him understand the thoughts and reasons for our visit. 

Even before we could ask him to help and accompany us to look around for some artisans who work in terracotta,  Prasad was with us, taking us to various craftsmen’s houses to show their works. It was intriguing to watch the film-like village and the small thatched workplaces and houses of the craftsmen. The first place that we went to was the house of a very old artisan aged 55 years, who was preparing his clay for work. He was taking out small pebbles from a huge lump of wet clay. The whole scene was very fascinating and the space was cool because of the wetness of mud and shade of the thatches. With a lot of effort, we tried to understand the whole process of procuring raw material. The basic material – mud was being transported from the Marasandra lake or kere to the artisans’ houses. The artisan was not going to work on the wheel or model that day. He asked us to come down the next day or the day after that.

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While watching his dedication towards work and the long ten hours of work a day, I felt that the amount he was earning by selling his pots at a meager price, was unfair. I observed that the range of products which were being produced was limited to plantation pots of a specific kind and God idols which were produced during festive seasons. On my next visit, I would learn more about the market of the products and the reason for limiting the product range.

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 As that artisan was not working on his wheel, Prasad took us to around 3-4 terracotta artisans who were working on idols and show pieces Unfortunately none were working on wheel. We came across one family which included the artisan, his wife and a son who must be in his late twenties who worked only for making God idols. The artisan said that there is no money in making pots. We get twenty times more money by selling these idols. The method of joining two moulds of clay to form a volumetric figure was fascinating. That artisan agreed to teach us the modeling of figures in clay and called us later for the same.

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The next house that I went to, was the workplace of a family who used to make Plaster of Paris moulds themselves for making the idols for the festivals. I observed then what a kiln looked like. A huge floor level well surrounded by bricks and on which pots were kept for heating. It took one full day for all the pots to be burnt and made strong. Due to the language barrier, there was less conversation but I believe that the next time I go there, the journey would be more fruitful.

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The visit was great to get acquainted to the region and its people. Indeed these people are welcoming and are more than happy to share their work and craft. While walking inside the village, I was held back with the thought of my daydream, when I realized that I was living in it – walking through the interiors of a village, talking to various people, knowing about their culture and learning  from them. I had never ever thought that this research and study will lead me to the least expected thing that could happen to me.

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Prasad was a great help and I felt that he was a physical form of my optimism. His non-selfish motive of not expecting anything moved me and let me believe that there are still people who are ready to help when needed without thinking of any benefit.

Looking forward to visit Marasandra yet again to know the people more and learn their craft their way.

A Road Trip! First official visit to Channapatna

I was all prepared and set to have my first official visit to Channapatna – a town nearly 80 kms from Bangalore which is famous for its toys crafted by lac-turnery. I was heading towards the bus stop for venturing into my new project of development of products by the use of the Lac-turnery craft of Channapatna when I received a call from a friend who with her family (husband and kid) wanted to join me for my excursion. Soon enough, the four of us including me, my friend her husnband and her 5 year old child left for the ‘toy town’ or ‘Gombegala Ooru’.

 Heading towards the south-west of Bangalore we reached the destination in an hour and a half while enjoying the beautiful Bangalore-Mysore highway.

 We landed at the Lacquerware Craft Complex which is looked after by the Karnataka Government. This is a factory which produces the traditional lac-turnery crafted objects and toys for the Cauvery Emporium.

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Although this was my first official visit, I had visited Channapatna very recently for getting acquainted to the area and the place. The artisans working there recognized me easily and were very welcoming. I thought that this was a good start to intervene and know more about the artisans, their craft, their tools, their life, their problems their way. I started taking photographs of the factory where the process of toy-making was happening. I recorded all the tools and the process of their work for my documentation.

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It was an interesting observation to see how these artisans had a competition among themselves to sell their products. I saw the way everyone opened their ‘pitaris‘ (boxes) and surged towards my friends to sell their products. The same thing happened with me the last time I visited them. My excited was short lived when on talking to them I discovered that they get their money based on the sale of their one product and not collectively by completing their order.

After various visual recordings of the processes we moved further into the village to map more people working on the craft. While I walked, I felt refreshed to be in a typical village and watch the streets filled with huts and mud houses. Although the sun was radiating scotching heat, but this could not let my enthusiasm down. It was the peak hour of the afternoon and thus the streets were barren. Somewhere here or there we could see some Muslim ladies walking and reaching their places. The whole place seemed like being dominated by the Muslim community.

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While walking through one of the streets, I spotted a person through a small door who was working on his power lathe. I wished to enquire more about his practice and then I knocked and entered. To my amazement, the man was working on the power lathe in about a volume of 336 cubic feet (8ft. X 6ft. X 7ft.). As I entered, I was choked with the dust and other small particles of wood which were entering my nose and mouth as I spoke. I came out for a breath and felt pity. On my enquiry, the artisan informed me that he worked there for 10 to 11 hours a day. I could only think of the health hazards that were being faced by these craftsmen. In a larger space, these are not evident, but in a smaller space, the hazards seemed deadly.

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(The two extreme ends of the photo are the extreme walls of the room)

I was made to acknowledge the presence of zinc compounds in the lacquer sticks for use in the turnery craft. Recently, the use of zinc in lacquer has started due to less prices of the zinc mixed lac over the vegetable dyes lacquer. This information about the lacquer sticks, made me worry about the toys for the children. I was further told that in the toys the vegetable dye sticks were used. The zinc lacquer was used only in the utility items which were used by adults for home decorations.

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After listening to all this, I could only think about the words by Jaya Jaitly where she mentioned that the crafts of India have a greater importance – that of being environmental friendly. I thought to myself, if I really succeed in providing a better market for this craft, I might just be able to improve the economic conditions of these artisans. This may lead to solving their problems related to the availability and prices of raw materials. This still solely depends on the ethics of the craftsmen.

Further, as the day was passing by, I with my small group that day kept walking towards the interior of the village to discover something that I had read about in text books, which was being used by only the women – a hand lathe for producing lac-turned products. I read in a case study based on the Lac-turnery craft of Channapatna that women’s position in this craft was deteriorating because of lack of technological inputs and training. I had read that women were not given a platform to keep themselves involved in the lac-turnery craft as much as the male counterparts.

Before going for this field visit, I had a perception that there is a need of women upliftment in this craft and if I impart knowledge to these women in terms of the market requirement and design, they could probably establish themselves better. To my horror, when I visited Channapatna officially, to observe various things, I became aware of the current fact that women no longer work in this craft. They have stopped their work in it completely. I couldn’t see a single woman working in this sector. On my enquiry to people about whether women work in this craft all I could be answered was, “Madam, aurat isme kaam nahi karta, sirf aadmi karta hai. Wo aurta sab bidi banata hai.” (Madam, women don’t work in this field, only men do. All those women make cigarettes). This was indeed sad but true.

The women in the town of Channapatna have shifted their profession from being a craftswoman to being a cigarette filler. Despite having infinite adverse effects due to inhaling tobacco which is filled in the cigarettes, these women have chosen to work there because of better incomes. On being questioned about the reason for not working as an artisan, all they had to answer was, “Paisa nahi milta madam, bachha paalna hota hai, ghar sambhalna hota hai, ghar rehke bhi bidiyan bhar sakte hain. Isme paisa achha milta hai.” (Don’t get money madam, have to grow kids, have to take care of the house hold, can make cigarettes from home. Get good money from this.)

Indeed, the cigarette factory pays Rs. 150-Rs. 250 to their workers per day for making 1000 bidis daily.

I learnt about this scenario when I went inside the village with the help of a local 12 year old kid named Zishan, who showed me a house where a man with his wife worked on a hand lathe machine to prepared lac-turned items. I could not see any woman working in the whole village. The range of items produced by the hand lathe is limited to three products due to the use of the hand machine. They only produced 10mm diameter beads, 10-12mm disameter flat buttons and some keyrings. On being questioned about the non usage of the power lathes, they simply answered cannot afford it and they get a lot of orders for the these items. I could only gaze at their way of working and limitation due to which they could not grow much.

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I took some photographs with Zishan, his sister and a few more kids who had gathered around getting attracted by the camera and may be the language and attire. But they all were smiling and yet welcoming. There was a conversation problem due to the language which could not be solved even by my Telugu friends. Thus, I could not question them more and just thought that next time I will get a Kannada speaking friend with me.

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My next step was to interview the artisans to know how they felt working, if there were any problems that they were coming across in any context of the craft or due to it. On speaking to a about three-five people, it came to my knowledge that the main problem is the raw material procurement. The artisans had a huge problem getting the material from the forests as they had to pay taxes to government which they said they couldn’t afford. Their other problem was they had no growth in the field. They were producing goods as per the demand but did not get any profit. By the time money was transferred to the bottom of the supply chain, it was over. The last layer of the chain – the artisans had to convince themselves with the wages that they earn generally.

I was thinking throughout, that will increasing the market solve any purpose for them? I thought that I have to find a way to eliminate intruders from the supply chain so that profit can be made for the artisans. The other aspect for development that came to my mind was the enhancement of the product range itself. A range that has immense demand for its aesthetics. But the hurdle for my thought was that only developing a new range won’t solve the purpose. I simply thought about the things that will happen once I leave this place. I don’t think that the artisans will continue producing new products.

I believe that I now have to train these men. For developing on their own. Educate them to an extent that they think anew, afresh.

While I was on these thoughts while listening to the artisans who were speaking to me, my thought process was interrupted by an artisan who was very eager to show around the various factories that his nephew was working in – stone and lac-turnery craft. I and my friend initially started with that person thinking that we will be back in 10 mins but that small visit slowly converted into a voyage. A voyage to the village on foot – exploring various kinds of factories of lac-turnery craft and wood craft which produced different varieties of products – some were small scale like key rings, small toys etc.and some were a little bigger utility items like jars, flower vases etc. Some were artists who were painting with poster colors and then turning them with lac and some were carpenters who developed school trophies and other items on their own.

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Throughout the expedition, I was filled with energy and happiness to look around so many people. My friend, Ankita, was there to continuously instill in me with the do’s and don’t’s that could possibly be in terms of work and surrounding.

This visit to Channapatna was a very informative, fruitful and thoughtful journey. Suggestions and comments from my friends who were with me were worth seeking answer to and also to keep in mind further.

Will be continuously going ahead to seek and develop something that comes my way from my research.

Being a friend of the Environment

While researching for my diploma project which is about developing interior elements from the handicraft industry and aims at developing the industry and the markets for the Lac-turnery craft of Channapatna, Karnataka, I came across a research paper by Sharmila Wood.

 In the paper, Sharmila wood, who is currently a consultant at New Delhi, who has worked with the creative and cultural industries in India and has also written and edited the Designers meet Artisans for UNESCO and Craft Revival Trust, examines the current state of craft sector in India, exploring how a growing interests of consumers in ethical and sustainable materials, processes and objects, is impacting Indian artisans and craft workers.

 The paper brings out various aspects of the craft industry like the resources use and availability, the growing fondness towards handcrafted products among the urban consumers, the feeling of the artisans in terms of backwardness, importance of training women in the craft for their wise use of the livelihood and also the importance of the aesthetics or beauty of the handicrafts as compared to the technological copy of the same. All these aspects have been brought out by the arguments and quotes of various people associated with the craft industry like Jatin Bhatt, Jaya Jaitly, Maggie Baxter, Lucy Donkin, Ashoke Chatterjee, Mayank Kaul Singh, etc.

 Ever since I started involving in the craft industry which is not long but a couple of months ago, I kept coming across all the aspects mentioned above but one, which took me aback. I never thought about the crafts that way.

 In the paper, Jaya Jaitly has been quoted extensively and one such quote acquired my attention. As Jaya Jaitly has observed; ‘In the area of handmade goods, both crafts and textiles, even as countries like India are learning to convert their weaknesses into strengths, in China mechanization is efficiently organising itself to imitate the hand work of India to encroach upon the market for India’s special skills.’ In contrast to industrial production, the handmade qualities of craft, suggest a deeper engagement between, the maker and his or her product, a relationship in which the artisan has a personal history, and is materially aware of the processes, and techniques of production.

 Jaitly argues that this aspect of craft should be emphasised in marketing discourse. She says: ‘Handicraft and handloom bazaars should not be popular just because we get ‘arty’ things at a fairly inexpensive rate but because health, environment, education, self value, exposition of cultural diversity and other such vitally important areas are linked to the need for sustaining crafts.’

Jaitly uses the example of how, if the government adopted a policy where the kulladh – the earthen cup made by potters all over India, was to be used in all government institutions, and services, has both employment and environmental benefits. She writes: ‘The mud of the kulladh goes back into the earth without harming it. Hygiene is maintained by ensuring that it cannot be reused. Paper is saved and non-­‐degradable plastic is avoided.’

 Proponents of the Indian craft industry,  such as Jatin Bhatt argue: ‘Handicraft is a  production process and a wonderful, indigenous technology, not an outmoded tradition. The raw materials (cane, cotton, clay, wood, wool, silk, minerals) are not only indigenously available but also environmentally friendly.’ 

The sense of being environmental-friendly and entering the craft industry not only for developing markets and creating livelihoods for artisans but for sustaining the craft and nature and using natural material for crafts was inculcated in me. The reason for using naturally available products in the various products of the craft industry is now known to me. I had never looked at the craft that way – was only engrossed in the beauty of it. 

This thought and learning will never let me fall towards solutions which involve toxic material use or non-environmental friendly technologies.

 I am happy I cam across this paper when I have just started with my craft association.

A chest of Resources!

Well the resources that have been catered to us are indeed incredible and a great encyclopedia from which I can draw a lot of inspirations and ideas.

 Some of the resources that were very inspiring and have proven to be  of great use are:

 1. Mythology of Indian Plants by Maneka Gandhi and Yasmin Singh:

 As I am personally interested in knowing the stories of mythology and history, it was a treasure for me to get this book as a resource which talks about the mythological stories about twenty nine native Indian trees. I have been enchanted and lost in these stories. The interesting part about the book is that it reasons the basic characters of the trees mentioned in the book by forming a story around it. For example, it says that the Coral Jasmine tree (Parijata) blooms only in the night because the princess Parijatha married the Sun God, Surya, who ditched her later and went back to the sky. Princess Parijatha died due to this apocalypse in her life and a tree grew out of her ashes. This tree bloomed only when the sun set and before the sun rise in the morning, all the flowers fell off the tree. The book also describes the basic scientific characters of each tree in brief.

 I always get attracted towards these stories and ancient realities. The moment I came across this book, it instantly occurred to my mind that I have to produce narratives and illustrations around these stories. Thus I thought of having story illustrations of the trees in my journal which brings about the story as well as the fact of the tree.

 2. Green Humor by Rohan Chakravarthy:

 While going through Rohan’s website, www.greenhumour.com, I was immensely impressed and set aback by looking at his works. Beside the enthralling illustrations and the humorous comic style, what more I liked about his work was that, each illustration had a fact and subsequent research behind it. Nothing in his illustrations was present just for comic sake. I really liked his interpretation of the various things happening around the world and their effects on the nature. The way in which the real life incidents were brought out comically was enjoyable and inspiring.

 The works of Rohan Chakravarthy have inspired me to think beyond just looking at the trees for their botanical properties but has urged me to find things which are unsaid. I aim to narrate the stories of these trees in a different way so that the audiences of our journal blog get more and more interested.

3. M H Marigowda The Library at Lal Bagh:

 As I have already described my interest in bringing out the mythological and historical stories of the trees of Bangalore, I would be visiting the library at Lal Bagh with an intention of finding material revolving around the stories of these trees. In addition to this, it would be great to look at the artworks of the plants and trees of Lal Bagh and get inspired from to form my journal.

4. Such Treasure and Merchandize by Annamma Spudich:

This book seems to be a great book and feels like it can help me trace back the stories associated with the trees’ history and their existence in India.

5. Varna Mythri The Art of Rumale Chennabasaviah:

 The artworks of Rumale Chennabasaviah are truly inspirational and have incorporated ideas to generate the views of complete areas which the trees have covered in Bangalore. In addition to this, the style of painting is truly encapsulating. What I like about his style is the simple use of brush strokes and mix of colors to portray the actual piece of landscape.

6. Sangeetha Kadur:

I personally have been inspired to keep an artistic journal altogether by looking at the works of Sangeetha Kadur on her blog. I have fallen in love with this idea of hand sketching, drawing and painting to maintain a book of ideas and observations around us. I am sure that now that I have started on with this act of journal keeping, I will definitely get habitual to it and my journal will remain with me throughout to come up with ideas and tools for designing anything in life ahead.

The Green Heritage Walk

It was a Sunday morning, 7:00 a.m. What better could I have asked for than being in the Lal Bagh – the enchanting place between the trees in the mist of rain drops and a cool surrounding. The magical day was sparkled with the more alluring stories of Vijay Thiruvady about the trees that existed in the park.

 It was not at all a botanical exploratory talk but was an enchanting world of stories that was built by this old man. His passion for the trees and endless energy despite of him being on steroids enticed me more. I realised that day that the surrounding trees have a lot more to them than just being a source of food and ecology.

 The stories that were narrated by Mr. Thiruvady revolved around the historical significances of the trees . How each tree or each specie growing in India and specifically in Lal Bagh at that moment, was brought to the country and what all history went behind it – the rule of the Britishers, the exchange of tree seeds, the stealing of tea plantations for cultivating it on Indian land and a lot more.

 The walk through the woods left me with awe and I could just think of making these stories reach out to the people for awakening their interests in the trees from a different perspective. This feeling of amazement was also brought in by the way of story telling.

 I now gotto know the trees in this factual yet hidden way. Also, I am thinking of how can I bring these stories to a platform where they can be easily reachable by people.

 Well, the day was not yet over! There was a surprise for all of us present there – the lavish and elaborate breakfast at one of the oldest restaurants of Bangalore – MTR with grape juice, rava idli, masala and plain dosa, gulab jamun and coffee.

 Being in Bangalore for nearly an year and a half, I had never looked at the garden city and the trees the way I was looking at now. I feel more curious to know about their history and being a part of the narrative!

Katte Mapping

‘Katte’ is a Kannada slang word which typically means a stone bench where in a set of friends team up often. In Hindi, it is a synonym for ‘Adda’.

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One of our missions for the day, while we have been talking about the trees and the way they are being used, was to map kattes around these trees, to see how the social lives of people revolve around these kattes.

 In olden times, when there were less sources for entertainment, people used to gather around these kattes around sunset and used to play cards. Kids used to play hide and seek and other games under the shade of the tree. Even today, the kattes are treated as the meeting points for panchaayats in villages.

 When I was in a group of seven, mapping kattes at the outskirts of Bangalore, in the now turned city areas, I was kind of feeling lowly about the extinction of kattes for social purposes. It is so unfortunate that people have forgotten being in their natural surroundings and prefer socializing in luxurious and artificial places.

 The kattes are now commodities for only the religious spots as we saw them. One observation that came across after pointing at 8-10 kattes was that, these stone benches were built around only those trees which had great expanse and gave shade to a huge area. The trees mainly included only two types – Peepal tree and Banyan tree.

 It was quite evident that due to the sacred and supernatural myths attached to these trees, they were not knocked down. But surely enough, with the advancing development, I am sure that the myths would be realised as truly just being myths and these trees will finally be rendered as plain concrete roads or buildings!