…Ship of the desert gets that sinking feeling

In Kutch,the indigenous camel is slowly dying in both use and numbers.

Written by Adam Halliday | Ahmedabad | Published:February 16, 2012 7:15 am

In Kutch,the indigenous camel is slowly dying in both use and numbers. Dying along with it are the crafts such as Kharad and the ply-split braiding technique of making camel belts.

A survey conducted last year pegs its population at 12,000,a steep fall from the provisional survey of 2007,which had estimated the population to be nearly 38,000. But now a distinct,smaller sized breed of the Kutchi camel has been discovered called ‘Kharai’ camel. There are 2,173 of them in Kutch,feeding on mangrove leaves and habitually swimming to feed.

While Sahjeevan,a conservation group commissioned by the Animal Husbandry Department (AHD) to help conserve the critically endangered species,is studying the Kharai’s physical characteristics,the veterinary college at Anand Agricultural University (AAU) is looking at its genetic tests.

“The camel is no longer a useful animal,” rues Subhash Chandra Wankar,the deputy director of the district’s AHD. The declining use of the camel is also leading to the near-death of the skill-sets used to craft products that once depended on the animal’s use.

A A Wazir,a well-established art and crafts collector from Bhuj,is concerned about the Kharad craft – multi-purpose mats that are spread on a camel’s back when travelling. Kharads are completely handwoven in black and brown colours.

The craftsmen belong to the Wankar caste,and the last family of Kharad crafts people live in Kukma village of Bhuj district,according to a documentation recently published by the District Rural Development Agency in Bhuj. Wazir believes that two or three more craftspeople live in Dobana village.

Kharads are available in the range of Rs 3,000 to Rs 10,000 and the designs usually have camel motifs and geographical patterns. “There is no demand for these Kharads due to which the Wankars have taken to leather polishing and other businesses,” said Wazir.

Last year,the release of a book titled “Textiles and Dress of Gujarat” by British scholar Eiluned Edwards documented the life,and death,of brothers Soma Sava and Kana Bhima — the last craftsmen from the district who knew the ply-split braiding technique used to make the girths that hold mats such as Kharads.

Just a week after the book’s release,Errol Peres Nelson,now a retired faculty from the National Institute of Design (NID),held an exhibition of various products – belts,dresses,containers – that he constructed using the ply-split braiding technique.

Nelson learned the technique way back in the 1980s from Ishwar Singh Bhatti ? a peon who lived in the Jaisalmer region of Rajasthan. Bhatti too has passed on from this world.

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