While there are people like Abduljabbar Khatri who are using their education and better exposure to make the traditional art a better means of livelihood,there are others who in lack of the same are abandoning their traditional crafts and are getting lured by other options such as jobs overseas which can fetch better money for them.
Sanchari Mahapatras first hand experience of a Gujarat village Jamthada which is currently caught in such a dilemma,follows:
As designers,we are constantly trying to adapt to changes and moulding the existing crafts of India to make them commercially viable. I am involved in one such initiative of the Government of India in Jamthada,a tiny hamlet,40 km from the main town of Bhuj closer to Mandvi. Majority of the 40 families of this hamlet are below poverty line. Residents of this village are engaged in weaving traditional shawls and as a designer,I am responsible to motivate and train a group of these weavers.
In this entire scheme of things,there are few individuals who became an inspiration for communities practicing traditional and nontraditional craft. In this case,the inspiration is 30-year-old,Abduljabbar Khatri. He belongs to the Khatri community (a community that has been practicing dyeing for more than four centuries,catering to requirements of different communities,customs and times).
However,his family has not been involved in the art of tie-dye for the last three generations – his great grandfather was commissioned by Royal family for firework; his grand father was in bicycle business and his father a banker. It was Jabbar’s own inquisitiveness about his community’s craft that triggered him to re-look at the age old tradition.
He adopted the craft out of sheer curiosity and to his delight later found that it also helped him earn sufficient pocket money. Gradually he and his brother got involved in the craft and took it seriously as a profession shortly after finishing graduation. Jabbar’s observations of daily life got an immediate canvass for expression through Bandhani. A major breakthrough happened when he was invited to the National Institute of Design,Ahmedabad (2001) to participate in a Bandhani workshop. This provided him with a platform for trying new possibilities through experimentation. It inspired him to learn about vegetable dyes and to use it in more dynamic way,in contemporary garments as he was interested in fashion and textile designing. This workshop beckoned a right direction for his future.
Providing a right and timely platform to people practicing art and design is imperative for a cluster’s growth,while some groups argue that education can lead to brain drain. It still remains to be seen whether educated craftsmen remain in the same sector or move out to try a new profession.
At one hand,we have the case of Abdul Jabbar,who decided and chose to stay and work in Bhuj and make it his USP. Today,some 17 years later,he counts Christina of DOSA and Neeru Kumar of TULSI as some of his celebrated clients. Working along many young talented designers like Samar Firdos and Rahul who created their unique collection for Lakme Fashion Week with the help of Abdul Jabbar’s tie & dye and had resounding success.
However,the situation is not as bright as it may seem to be. While on one hand there is Abdul Jabbar,on the other are weavers from Jamthada who are increasingly opting for jobs of drivers/technicians in Muscat and Dubai to earn money. It is more important for them to support and create a secured future for their families instead of preserving the traditional craft that their ancestors have been practicing. Take the case of Rauji Bhai and 40 such weavers of Jamathada and nearby villages like Sarli and Nakhtrana,who have opted for a better paying job abroad. The nature of work,they say,doesn’t matter when it comes to feeding hungry mouths back home.
Can this creative drain or the drain of the skilled people of Indian craftsmen be controlled? Or is there a need to control it at all?
These unanswered issues haunt me during conducting any development programs for a community. When I look into their faces during informal meetings and open interaction I am not sure whether I am addressing a bunch of hopeful future weavers or a group of laborers reconciled to work in foreign lands.
I am told that Abdul Jabbar is the recipient of the second prize from World Craft Council in 2008 for excellent tie & dye work used in contemporary design. Such answers clean the cynical mind,ushering in fresh breeze of hope and renewed strength to excel.
The writer is a freelance textile designer and is an alumna of National Institute of Design.