“Jiyo” described as a “street smart word used to express faith in life” is an empowering programme under the Asian Heritage Foundation supported by JSDF (Japan Social Development Fund) to create new livelihoods in Cultural Industries, involving the skilled but economically highly vulnerable communities of India. To build up social capital by organising the rural groups into revenue generating enterprises, with linkages facilitated between self-managed cluster level institutions and contemporary market forces, to set up artisan investment fund as economic capital and to build creative capital through “design-led skill development and training in management, are the aims of this project, the brainchild of designer Rajeev Sethi, whose entire life has been devoted to the welfare of Indian crafts. To be ecologically sustainable, traditional knowledge needs the crucial interface with design to reposition itself and enter the global market, and in the absence of this facility, time honoured traditional skills in India are dwindling or are lost.

When all is lost

Who does not know about the spate of suicides amongst handloom weavers in Chirala in Andhra Pradesh? To see the graveyard of looms in a place like Chinalampatti, once a thriving handloom centre, is distressing. Displacement of skilled communities has made them join the 54-60 per cent workforce clubbed under ‘ de-skilled labour'. Skilled performers of Nautanki, Pandwani, street performers, wrestlers and acrobats are struggling without performance spaces. Jiyo's ambitious designing conceived to manifest in nine lines of products (‘Navaratna') comes under Jiyo Homes, Jiyo Live, Jiyo Motion Jiyo architecture, Jiyo Style (Sarees, Apparel, Accerssories, Footwear, Travel accessories), Jiyo Joy (Toys, Games, Educational Kits), Jiyo well being (Sacred arts, cosmetics, Herbal remedies, Incense and oils), Jiyo Foods (including street foods and snacks) – covering all potential legacy industries across the length and breath of the country. At present Jiyo's on-going cluster interventions in Andhra Pradesh constitute Nimmjalakuntha leather puppetry, Etikoppaka and Kondapalli toys, Guntur Foods, and textile clusters of Venkatagiri, Mangalgiri, Nalgonda ikat, Kalamkari in Srikalahasti and Masulipatnam, Banjara embroidery). Clusters in Bihar cover Mithila painting, (the traditional designs being used for designing high quality wall paper) Muzaffarpur Sujni embroidery, Baavanbuti weaving and hand spinning at Nalanda. Also Sitamarhi's Sikki craft and therein hangs a tale! Sikki grass growing wild near ponds and puddles has for centuries been woven into ritual objects for marriages and figures of deities for festivals. With land made over for industrialisation, ponds have disappeared and so has the grass, considered auspicious. Collaborating with science labs specialising in synthesising fibres, Jiyo is developing with synthetic material, using the same skills, an exclusive range of furniture and the most exotic Sikki screens, encompassing traditional form in a new structure

In Delhi's Shadipur depot, traditional itinerant performers, huddled like sardines in match box-like rooms (a long standing promise of a better sight with more spacious accommodation has not yet materialised) have been pleading for better living conditions. The itinerant street performer's problem is that the police stop these roadside activities as illegal.

Live journeys

Jiyo's “incubation phase” funded by the Japan Development Social Fund, should hopefully evolve into a self- generating movement with expanding operations making inroads into different markets. In Delhi, the pilot project of Jiyo Live, “Sasian Journey”, conceived and conducted ably by Dr.Navina Jafa, was launched at the World Bank premises – the fortress-like, intimidating premises on Lodi road, opened to some lively performances. Structured as an intimate dialogue with performances and discussions, the object was to move towards a Theatrical exhibit showcasing dwindling performance traditions. Along this was a Craft Bazaar titled Lotus Bazaar, which would transform into a travelling exhibit to France and the Nordic countries in 2011 as part of the Smithsonian Folklife festival in Washington D.C. in 2012. With delegates from Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh and members of organisations like the Royal Shakespeare Company, Centre for Linguistic Studies Maldives, film script writers participating, all expressing similar problems in the respective countries of industrialisation uprooting skilled communities, the attempt was to aim at an Asian caucus, which would transcend nationalistic boundaries by coming together to retrieve fast disappearing skills of the Asian countries. And as Dr.Kapila Vatsyayan's opening lecture amplified, bio-diversity and cultural diversity flowing from inter-connectivity of peoples need to look beyond the conflict-ridden culture of Nation States.

All crafts go with a life-style and interwoven performances, anecdotes, information made each session a delight. The accent on cuisine saw talented Delhi gharana vocalist Imran Khan sing a composition of Khusrau “Sakhala bane phoolarahe Sarsu” on Mustard Seeds with Professor Pushpesh Pant currently at the Centre for International Politics, JNU, talking about the DNA, if one may put it that way, of patented Indian food, which uses condiments, spices, ingredients, vegetables coming from different parts of the world. Poetic references nostalgically captured the early morning aroma of a village with the music of urns filling with the milk being drawn from the cow's udder. “Vantaloo vantalu ineeya loyi Aandhra vantalu ineeyalo” sang the Jiyo food specialists. One session was devoted to ‘Navadanya' with Imran Khan singing Nazir Akbarabadi's poem “Aabroo aur tandrusti”. Dr.Pushpesh Pant also spoke of the traditions of aphrodisiacs.

Craftsmen presented a performance based on the sound and rhythm of chisel and hammer. Madan Gopal Singh who wears many hats as composer, actor, screen writer, film theorist, lyricist and editor sang a lyric based on the 16th century poetry on the journey of the Cloth in South Asia. While the Rajasthan Manganiyars sang about the spinning wheel – charkha, there was a musical rendition on the magic of the hand. Talking on the phenomenal weaving skills in India specialising in the unstitched saree, (threatened today by garment designs), was Rta Kapur Chisti, whose extensive travel covering handloom centres all over the country, encompassing weaving and dyeing and draping has resulted in the book Saris: Tradition and Beyond demonstrating 108 ways of draping the sari. Begum Zarina Nanpara of Avadh brought back the days of landlords and the musical tradition, with vocalist Rita Ganguly a disciple of Begum Akhtar adding her observations.

It was wonderful to watch the Sri Lankan expert on oriental ballets and stage dramas, Rathnayake Kaluarachchige Ariyarathne demonstrate lively gaits accompanied with vocalisations, used in theatre traditions.

Transcending national boundaries is not easy in a general world climate of suspicion. But could our rich legacy of skilled workers from all over Asia show the way where politicians have failed?

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