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Observations on Craft: Craft Journeys - Time Travel

Sunny and Meeta are a couple working towards providing rural communities with the means of a sustained livelihood. Sunny has worked with NGO's and projects involved in afforestation, drought relief, craft development and community participation in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. He worked for a year in Haryana coordinating a rural centre for organic farming, informal learning, raising women awareness while editing and writing booklets and magazines which tried to evolve practical programmes stemming from ecological indigenous visions.

Before striking out with her partner Sunny, Meeta worked with Dastkar for 4 years organising crafts groups and establishing Crafts Bazaars in different cities. For the past 12 years Sunny and Meeta have been developing ranges of natural dyes and block prints on tussar, cotton, silk, jute with an artisan family in Rajasthan. Simultaneously they have been working with artisan families making artificial jewelry out of threads and with lacquer workers. They consult for craft agencies and groups and develop craft merchandising avenues.

Craft Journeys -Time Travel
Sunny Introduces the Series

The circle begins at the centre. Or does it? Do we already have the circle and find the centre and by then the circle has expanded, shifted and there is a new centre. Craft. Handmade. Tradition. Culture. Weavers. Printers. Potters. Jewelers. Millions of artisans, thousands of skills. Where does one begin? Since it's a personal journey our beginning could be anywhere. We may begin a thousand years ago at the dawn of civilization, at the birth of the nation in 1947, renewed interest through hippie led dharma fashion 1970's, the promotional and potpourri Festivals of India in the 1980's or economic and social liberalisation in the 1990's.

I, an IIT drop-out, Hindu Eco.(Hons) DU, came to craft through my college sweetheart who joined Dastkar in 1989.It was before the time NGO's were well funded, she started with a salary early four figures, nowadays a normal lunch for two at a decent nightclub. There was Moradabad brass. There were decrepit Khadi stores. There was Anokhi and Fabindia.

I want to tell a story like the tree. Its many roots, many branches, but we share the trunk. The employment generation angle, less energy intensive, low capital outlay is common to most, a certain aesthetic vision of the universe, natural work rhythms and cooperative capitalism common to some, a glamorous high fashion to few. Craft spans more systems of production than any other, from tribal artisans to village specialization castes to semi industrial craft pockets, to designer and export led factories and workshops. I want to and will over the coming months take you through the whole tropical forest of this amazing sector.

As someone coming from an energetic Punjabi business background the entrepreneurial energy of this sector has amazed me. The production processes since millennia, the complex skill sets, the resource chains, the marketing networks are "jugaadu" (makeshift, innovative) and always transforming taking account of larger economic and social trends.

I will attempt a politics, a sociology, a mini history, a fiction, from notes, letters, e-mails, pamphlets collected through years from dozens of participants including activists, NGO's, boutique stores, designers and interest groups. As I write this I write to friends to send in incidents, inspirations, thoughts-to share so we can all begin to learn the common story we have woven together. It's amorphous, with no clear trends, many openings, hopeless dead ends, new beginnings. There is no large theory for it; the Marxists considered craft feudal - in Ukraine weavers hid their looms and wove secretly for weddings; the modernists consider them quaint, to be patronized, and at best organized into factory sheds that like China can manufacture any craft, rootless, without flavor. Unlike here where the pani (mineral composition of water and its overall quality ) decides the tonal colour of the natural dye, the bright red of the Narmada in Bagh, the indigo blue of Balotra, the ajrakh of Barmer lake.

So this story will meander and be funny at times, sad at times, highly intellectual or highly folksy at times. For it's a story of people trying to live lives in interesting ways in interesting times. People trying to combine hand, heart and mind with imagination, a sense of justice and pizzaz. Many unknown some known, but all trying ..... "hazaaron khwaishen aisi, ki har khwaish pe dum nikle"

In August: The Story of the Vanishing Ghaghra



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