Response to the Talk on Kalaraksha Vidhyalaya

Kalia, Anjali is a design graduate from NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology), New Delhi. Her graduate collection in 1995 was awarded the CMAI (Clothing Manufacturers Association of India) Award for the Most Creative Collection; she is also a recipient of the Smirnoff Fashion Awards, 1994.

Subsequently Anjali worked for Walter Johnson India Pvt. Ltd, followed by a stint of 5 yrs with Rohit Bal. She was also the founder designer for Maya, a label catering to the contemporary Indian women - her fashion shows for this label received critical acclaim.

Currently Anjali is working for her own design label ‘Divine Design’ Besides being a consultant to various NGO’s she has conducted a series of Design Development Workshops for traditional artisans to make their products suitable for contemporary markets.

Anjali is actively involved with the Tuesday Collective to give voice to the weavers. She is also a trustee of the Pranam Foundation.

Design and Craft are considered to be two separate aspects of artistic expression when viewed from the current perspective. But traditionally in India, design was a function of craft and vice versa. They were interdependent and worked in unison to enhance each other. The current debate of designers' vs. crafts persons' seems entirely unnecessary - a result of too much mind being applied to make an activity conducted for 'swantsukhai' - personal happiness, into a hardcore income generating profession. This is maybe the need of the hour, but to my mind it kills the spontaneity of expression and essence of craft - a humble offering made by deft fingers for a simple cause - to create more beauty, to see more beauty and to inspire more beauty in all who view it. It is the outcome of constant meditation and awareness of the craftsperson nurtured in an environment conducive for manifesting ancient traditions. Whether it is saleable or not is not the objective. A true craftsperson is also the designer, with his or her unique individuality. The point that needs to be remembered is that crafts persons when used as mere labour - mazdoors, do not fit into this category. It is true that only a few out of a group have the desire for excellence and are so smitten by their craft to be willing to risk all to express what they want. It is akin to madness that is all encompassing and inspires the individual to offer his/her being solely to the act of creation. The remaining merely use it as a tool to earn a living. Their lives are bereft of the thrill of creativity, of being mediums of expressing and manifesting something that was non-existent in this realm. These are the ones that perhaps can be used as labour to feed the export/ retail markets where design is controlled many a times by parameters like cost, season etc.

True crafts persons cannot be created. They are, and cannot be framed or limited. And considering the laws of Nature, it is always the survival of the fittest. Those who face hardships are the ones who evolve into superior beings, unlike those who are spoon-fed and nurtured on a diet of mere mental manipulation. Where is the need to teach pure design with respect to western parameters to our Indian craftsmen? Hardcore techniques expressing a mechanical thought process are generally alien and detrimental to craft. But perhaps at a different level, as my faith in my countrymen elucidates, we have the capacity to convert and adapt any technique to suit our purpose. We did it to the Mughals, the British and now it is the turn of all technical western influences. As always, there might be some individuals who may get swept away with the methodology and change course but then there will be others who will absorb and assimilate it to evolve their own design vocabulary laced with their unique cultural ethos. Design institutes have already created designers, who at present are aspiring to 'make it' in the western markets. They swear by Indian aesthetics and craftsmanship but fail to contribute substantially to its cause. Let us not commit the same mistake with craft. The craftsmen with their seemingly limited worldviews but deep faith in our culture and connection with the 'Supreme Designer' residing within have been the ones who have sustained our beautiful traditions. What is perhaps needed is not only to teach them western perspective of design, but also to inculcate in them self-respect and reverence for their tradition which is being rapidly eroded in the younger generation. That is why children of craftsmen do not want to continue their family traditions.

Our crafts men are the real designers; they are the ones who produce such works of art that no machine can replicate. In fact, traditionally, left to our brilliant weavers, no two saris woven were identical. The creative hands of our craftsmen induced seemingly minor yet visually significant variations like interesting colour combinations or weaves. It was almost impossible to imagine two or more Indian women clad in identical saris in the same family function! It would be pure murder! But guided by the mass-market mentality and the concept of buying something 'new and latest' every time, the situation has rapidly changed, perhaps for the worse. We have seen this affecting a variety of weaving and craft areas.

As the name suggests, Kala Raksha Vidhyalay needs to be a centre of vidya and not only knowledge or technique. Vidya is not mere information but a deep wisdom that arises out of experience. It permeates our being and is a source of growth and evolution. Let us teach our craftsmen the spirituality of craft - expertise that is inspired by a profound understanding of nature and its Laws. It is only when the craftsmen attain new insights into familiar objects and themes, or a new perspective of seemingly mundane tasks that creativity surfaces.

Let us not digress from our core task of 'kala raksha.' For this, there is the need to broaden the minds of our crafts persons, enhance and strengthen their physical abilities by providing them with a suitable environment and circumstances conducive for growth, rather than tampering with their natural design and creative instincts, which are supported by an inherent tradition. Craft has and will always be a parameter of social change. Unless we can reinstate the glory of handi-crafts and hand woven products in the minds of the immediate consumers and local buyers, our crafts will not survive. The monster of technique and industrialisation is sure to devour all that is natural, spontaneous and culturally relevant. The dividing line is fine. Let us have faith in Nature's cycle of creation, perfection and destruction. What is detrimental to growth and progress of humanity is sure to wither away, whereas that which is progressive will survive to carry forth our Sanatan (eternal) traditions. Craft is a source of eternal bliss and bliss is priceless.

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