(Written by Rupal Jhajhria)
Working on the ground with Indian craftsmen across the length and breadth of the country, Jaya Jaitly, founder, Dastkari Haat Samiti, has witnessed many a silent revolution. The love for crafts comes naturally to her. On the sidelines of an exhibition by the Samiti in the city, Jaya speaks about the subject she is passionate about — art and crafts. Excerpts from a conversation:
You come from the illustrious Chettur family of Sir C Sankaran Nair. Tell us something about your childhood. What interested you to work for something like Dastkari Haat?
My elders have always been involved in enlightened public service or social work, apart from a special love for all cultural aspects of life. I guess this was instinctively in me as well. I think artistic, creative endeavours that result in the upliftment of the very needy but highly talented sections of society found a perfect fit in my work of establishing the Dastkari Haat Samiti and providing a sound platform for them.
How is this different from the previous years? What are the additions? What should visitors expect from Dastkari this time?
We make sure we always find some new craftspeople each time and those who have come before always bring what Pune customers like since they have got to know them. Our music has a new input this year with a highly talented folk group from Kutch who have appeared on Coke Studio.
What goes into the sourcing process to put up a show like this?
Sourcing isn’t the correct word to use here because people aren’t merchandise. We have built an association, a community, from whom we select members according to region, craft form, equitable participation of at least two bazaars per year per member, apart from other project opportunities or exhibitions. It takes at least three months of careful contact and preparation.
How do you think the craft business has changed over the years?
It has visibly improved from the marketing viewpoint. Malls are an overload of expensive stuff, here there is a variety of innovative and unique items at all times, craftspeople create new things when they are encouraged by appreciative customers. Our sales and customers appreciation has grown. Our craftspeople are positive and responsive to any new ideas. I can’t speak for others.
What according to you are the most significant interventions you made for the craftspeople of this country?
I can’t speak of the significance but I can list some major interventions we have worked on in the past four decades. I began tentatively in Kashmir in the 60s. In the 80s, I helped build the image of the crafts of Gujarat at Gurari, which was very popular then. In the 90s, I conceived of and set up Dilli Haat by urging the government. Many more such efforts automatically followed without my intervention. I created artistic crafts maps of each state of India, documenting their location over 14 years. Then there came a major project called Akshara, linking literacy, craft skills and calligraphy. I have managed to get the Ministry of Textiles to establish the Hastkala Akademi for cultural research on the background of all crafts. We have regularly brought out books and publications on crafts, textiles and traditional arts. Of course, there are a million ideas I still have and I plan to struggle to accomplish them. Won’t give away secrets!
How economically viable is craftsmanship today?
Viability depends on the willingness to innovate, improve designs and quality, be confident, independent and entrepreneurial. Craftspeople who reach out will find appreciative customers and professionals like architects, interior designers, book illustrators, animators and others to join hands with them to give crafts a wider perspective and applicability that just being a product to sell.
For people from a middle-class background, buying traditional handloom and textiles is very unaffordable. It has almost become an elite practice because everything is super expensive.
I honestly don’t believe it is unaffordable. There is always something for every pocket. The middle class are not all elite. People buy a foreign brand lipstick for Rs 800 to Rs 1,000 in a mall, why do they find a handwoven woollen stole from Kashmir for Rs 800 expensive? A 5-metre handspun, handwoven natural dyed eco-friendly pure cotton handloom sari costs Rs 2,500. Don’t branded jeans, handbags and shoes cost more? It’s influences and cultural mindsets that matter.
How effective are social media campaigns and hashtags in helping artists flourish? Are there things that you still wish to accomplish in this field or in general?
Social media campaigns are excellent for promoting crafts if they are personal experiences and positive. Lots of personal posts on Instagram and Facebook are authentic and sincere. Hashtags are always temporary phenomena which don’t change things significantly.