Cane is transformed into elegant furniture and other artefacts under the watchful eyes of Janardon Das and his family.
Driving around upper Assam, one often comes across groups of artisans sitting outside their huts, splitting, drying and slicing cane or bending, coiling and knitting it into furniture items and other artefacts. Cane grows in abundance in this area, coiling itself around trees. Once the cane has 'matured', artisans cut it above the roots, un-spool the gigantic whorls and begin their process of creativity. Cane is an eco-friendly option since the root stars regenerating immediately after it is cut, becoming fully, grown in 2-3 years time.
Its easy availability and beauty has made cane synonymous with the craft culture of Assam.
Outside the patch in Janardon Das’ house in Assam too, a few trees are covered with cane stem, which once cut and unspooled could measure up to 200m in length.
Says Janardon, who is in Chennai with many creations crafted by him and his family, “We first cut the cane or buy it from the market. After drying it, we treat it with pesticide. Making the frame of the furniture item by bending the cane is the next stage. This is hard work as cane is tough. Along side, we also cut the cane into thin 'slips' which are used for plaiting, knitting, etc. These techniques require great expertise and concentration. We then fit the plaited or jaali work panels into the fitted frame with nails or tie with bamboo or cane strips as per the design.”
Pointing to a smart box-shaped settee which he has crafted, Das says, “This product may look smooth now but cane is not smooth by nature. A lot of sand papering is required to get this smooth effect. The last process consists of varnishing.”
Do they do design the products on their own? “No, designers chosen by the Government or private contractors help us contemporise the other products, Design intervention helps us do our work faster.....”
Das is not from a paramparik woodcraft family but his father and grandfather, and now he and his brothers have taken this up as a family profession. They work at home and units set up by contractors and entrepreneurs.
Sofa sets and settees in colonial and contemporary formats are available at the North East Crafts Fair currently on at Corporation Community Centre, C.P. Ramaswamy Road, Alwarpet. Other products include coffee and corner tables, laundry baskets, moorhas, vases, trays and screens.
The North East’s rich textiles traditions are reflected in the cotton, Endi and Muga silk saris, yardage and shawls. Also on view are carpets, woodcraft, basketry and clay craft from Arunachal Pradesh.
The North East Crafts Fair has been organised by the North Eastern Handicraft Handloom Development Corporation with financial assistance from the Office of the Development Handicrafts, Ministry of Textiles, Government of India. It is on till April 4.