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Besides the Aravalli range, Idar, a semi-urban area of tribal-dominated Sabarkantha district, is also famous for its 200-year-old wooden toys market-Kharadi Bazar-which is staring at a slow death. Thanks to the dearth of raw material like soft wood and arrival of alternative cheaper toys in the market, just three to four families are left to carry forward the fast-dwindling wooden craft. There were times when the number used to be around 250-300.
M.K Jadeja, a former Gujarat government officer, who now heads a voluntary organisation in Idar, said there were about 25 artisan houses in Idar, each having at least two members involved in the wood turning craft till 2008-2010. “But, the downfall began about 15-12 years ago.”
About the history of the craft, Raju, a toy maker, said they had come to know from their forefathers that it originated more than 200 years ago under the erstwhile rulers of the then princely states of Rajasthan. “Fascinated by Idar and its resources, one of the kings helped some artisans relocate here and Khilona Bazar or Kharadi Bazar was set up.”
The knowledge of this wood turning craft was passed on from one generation to another. But, the artisans fear that there will be no one left to carry this craft forward in the next two years as the young generation is not inclined towards it. An artisan, Ishwar, said, “Aisi majdoori kaun kare, mera beta bolta hai (My son says, who will take up this laborious task).” To make these special toys, apart from other items like flower pots, bangle holders, walkers, carom boards, educational equipment and dandiya sticks, special wood called dudhi is used as it is soft and easy to coat with lacquer due to its light colour. The wood is of Wrightia tinctoria, a deciduous tree. The forests of Vijaynagar taluka had such trees in plenty, but over the years, its availability has become very rare.
Jadeja said that dudhi is also available in Dang district, but its high transportation cost keeps it out of reach of the local toy makers. “This, coupled with the influx of cheaper Chinese toys and plastic products, have led to the downfall of this craft,” rued Jadeja. Hiren Prajapati, an artisan questioned, “Why will people buy a Rs 20 wooden toy, if they can get the same thing in plastic for Rs 5?” According to Jadeja, this led to an eventual migration of artisans in search of better jobs. “What remains is about 10 to 12 artisans, with only two main craftsmen who still get a few contracts. But, they struggle to finish the orders on time due to lack of workforce,” said Jadeja.
They now use Nilgiri wood, which is not as soft and easy to paint as dudhi. Virendra Doshi, who runs one of the two shops in Kharadi Bazar for the last 20 years, has to sell colorful toys, made in Udaipur and Moradabad. “I have to tell my customers that they are made in Idar itself. What should I do? Production of local toys have come down,” rued Doshi.
Jadeja suggested that initiatives like tax exemption, loans at reasonable interest rates and subsidies on wood, colour and electricity would help save the dying craft. ”A depot should be set up here to store dudhi wood from Ahwa and free training should be imparted to women and children. My NGO will be the first one to take this up, if there is help from the government. We had made a presentation on the issue before Chief Minister Vijay Rupani during his recent visit to Idar and offered him suggestions as well.”
Admitting that the local toy-making art was languishing, Sabarkantha Collector P Swaroop said they would work out a concrete plan in that direction. ”We have visited the area (Kharadi Bazar) twice or thrice. Some cottage industry schemes are available. We are thinking of involving Ahmedabad-based National Institute of Design and take their help in making modern designs for these artisans. We are already in touch with the local leaders to take this forward,” hoped Swaroop.