Aathira Konikkara and Nasreen Sattar
The ‘Village Craft and Silk Haat’ exhibition and sale on the HMT grounds in one of Bengaluru’s quieter suburbs showcased a wide range of intricately designed products from icons to stoles and sarees woven from silk whose authenticity is obvious with a mere graze of the fingers.
The exhibits trace their origin to parts of northern India, predominantly Kashmir and Rajasthan. With the exception of sarees made in Hubli, Karnataka, there was hardly any southern presence at the sale.
Some large brass items intricately embedded with precious jewels and stones looked worth buying. A colourful array of Rajasthani shoes, skirts and colourful light fittings transport one to Rajasthan. Intricate Kundan jewellery from the north, some exclusive Phulkari and Kashmiri work on a variety of fabrics and in different hues, chikankari which is a class apart and a collection of bead work bags and gift items woven together in pearls from Fatehpur Sikri and the neighbouring areas were on display.
Riveting earthen pots and garden and outdoor decorative pieces were aplenty. One can also find some exotic pottery in blue and white, pickled jars and other rare artefacts. The multiple stalls selling various kinds of dry fruits, spices, chutneys, chips, suparis and mints from all over the country left one with a taste of India.
A sense of passivity that comes with an uneventful afternoon seemed to have afflicted the stall owners. All of them were unanimous in expressing their disappointment with the absence of buyers making a beeline for their wares. Handloom saree sales are commonplace in Bengaluru. Would the city dwellers make the trek to a far off locality on the outskirts when the same collection is easily accessible in the more upscale places?
Mohammed Hanan, a young Kashmiri dealer in sarees and stoles, smoothly switches between Hindi and English as he speaks to his potential customers. The coveted Pashmina shawl, composed primarily of the wool of sheep, is the most expensive item in his collection, priced at Rs 2 lakh. “The thinner the material, the warmer it is for the wearer,” he said. The shawl is entirely made using wooden sticks. Kani Jamawar is a high-end variety of the Pashmina shawl, distinguished by its elaborate patterns set on the finest material in Kashmir.
“Pashmina! The King of Wool”, announced Hanan in an attempt to pursue a couple who passed by as they glanced at the shawls hung atop his stall. “The response isn’t good enough. There are very few residential areas in this locality,” he said. Sure enough, a quick search of the event on Google does throw up a Facebook event page created by the organizer but besides a poster enlisting details of the event, not a single invite has been sent to anybody in the Facebook community which is an indication of the lack of an effort to garner public attention for the sale.
He also makes a mention of the negative effect on the Kashmiri handlooms industry as a result of the unrest in the Valley. A fellow saree dealer hailing from the Kashmir district of Pulwama concurs. “The consignment doesn’t reach us on time because of the disruption,” he said.
Finding its own space in this swadeshi milieu was a stall displaying kurtis of popular clothing retailers of the mall culture. The 30-something woman selling the kurtis was quite dismissive of her competitors at the exhibition. “Even we (women of her age group) don’t wear sarees,” she claimed as she vouched for kurtis as the more practical option.
At the entrance, enterprising individuals had set up ice-cream and golgappa stalls, evidently seeing the event as an opportunity to make a smart buck. Children pranced about on an inflated slide under the animatedly watchful eyes of Mickey Mouse. The venue saw a visible surge in the crowd as evening set in. However, that doesn’t seem to have quelled the dispirit among the sellers as more customers walked away after haggling for prices as low as Rs. 200.
Vasudev and Debjani, a couple from West Bengal, however, expressed their satisfaction with the varied collections at the sale and had no problem with the pricing either. “People don’t understand the quality of the products. It should be appreciated that clothing from different parts of India are being made available under one roof here,” said Vasudev.
Customers like Vasudev and Debjani are a rarity. The bargaining skills of the Indian buyer is brought forth in the setting of street-style shopping.
A store of wood carvings had statues of gods and goddesses. The owner said that he was from the holy city of Tirupathi and that his was the only stall that had these icons. One could buy a wooden idol at around Rs. 7500.
Stall owners such as Ashok exhibit their wares throughout India and are a regular presence in such exhibitions.
The organizer, Ashish Gupta, Secretary of the Village Art and Craft Foundation said, “There are over 2,85,000 weavers and artisans in India. This is a platform to facilitate a personal interaction between buyers and artisans. With the absence of middlemen, the artisans can make some good earnings. This exhibition also brings public recognition to handicrafts…the interest in indigenous art is on the wane at present.”
The space for buyers in the handloom industry needs to be democratized in the socio-economic perspective. Discount offered at the Jalahalli Haat was a praiseworthy attempt in this direction. Most importantly, the homespun thread needs to be woven into the public conscience.