Five women from Bihar sit weaving with sikki grass at the Delhi-based Asian Heritage Foundation (AHF) even as a Baul singer from West Bengal breaks out into a song surrounded by over 10,000 pieces of handicrafts, many of them centuries old. Here, storyteller, designer and founder of AHF, Rajeev Sethi, talks about the new kid on the block, the Sasian Journey. Excerpts:
The genesis of the Sasian (South Asian) Journey
After Jiyo!, an initiative towards a design-led cultural industry, the Sasian Journey is a attempt at repositioning what South Asia has to offer the world. Diversity, connectivity and empowerment is the slogan.
I recently met a young bunch of about 30 volunteers from the Northeast. I asked them how many of them had met Americans, Italians or other foreign tourists. All of them raised their hands. I asked them how many had met someone from Pakistan, and only one did and that’s because he has family there. It took me back 50 years. I was walking by the Arlington Cemetery near Washington, when I spotted people eating parathas and achaar. They were speaking my language and cracking the same jokes, so I enquired which part of Punjab they came from, and they said Rawalpindi. I was in my late teens then, and I had met my first Pakistanis. But how disorienting can that be, that 50 years later, the same story continues and we don’t know our neighbours. I seriously believe that what you can achieve culturally, you cannot achieve politically.
The need for such an initiative
About 12 million finish their education and step out on the streets as the ‘educated unemployed’. And these are only figures from India. Add another six-seven million from the neighbouring countries. You have to create a certain amount of decentralised employment. Creative and cultural entrepreneurship is the answer. We haven’t been able to understand the market for the skills that we have, and we haven’t been able to map the skills we need for that market, though there is a very good market for that — for herbs, cosmetics, in music or dance or the food we can offer, for instance.
The concept of the Sasian Journey
The idea is to have series of cross-cultural collaborations to position the traditional industries of South Asia as potential resource for revenue generation. This is the beginning of a long chain of talks, seminars, and workshops that will be held across nine countries — Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Maldives and India. All of these lead up to the 2018 edition of The Smithsonian Folklife Festival. We have our flagship Lotus Bazaar with over 50 stalls. It also has the first-ever exhibition-cum-food festival which showcases cuisine from these countries. Called “Sanjha Chulha,” the festival is curated by food critic and scholar Pushpesh Pant.
The festival is at The Ashok till March 31, 12 noon to 10 pm. Entry is free.