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Updated: August 14, 2009 23:26 IST

Shaping the resurgence of Indian craft

Madhur Tankha
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Empowering lives: Jaya Jaitly in New Delhi. Photo: Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar
Empowering lives: Jaya Jaitly in New Delhi. Photo: Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Having lived and interacted with crafts-persons for most part of her life, Ms. Jaitly says it is indeed an irony that while weavers and artisans always produced exquisite craft products they themselves live in miserable surroundings

The success of Dilli Haat, a place where craftsmen directly benefit from their produce, is known to all. Its creator Jaya Jaitly talks to Madhur Tankha as she pursues yet another such revolutionary venture – the Dastakaari Haat - in the Capital’s Khan Market.

She is on a mission to resuscitate the country’s age-old handicrafts.

Jaya Jaitly, who conceptualised the ever popular Dilli Haat, has now embarked on a new venture. Her “Dastakari Haat” store in Khan Market boasts a wide assortment of traditional products that have been amalgamated with contemporary designs . “As the founder of Dastkari Haat Samiti, I have been working for the development of crafts for the past 23 years. The idea of starting the Samiti germinated in my mind after realising that crafts-persons badly needed a platform to market their products. The Samiti became a catalyst for craftspersons from across the country to become equal partners.”

Having lived and interacted with crafts-persons for most part of her life, Ms. Jaitly says it is indeed an irony that while weavers and artisans always produced exquisite craft products they themselves live in miserable surroundings. “We extol their skills but don’t do anything concrete to uplift their social and economic status. Due to financial hurdles our karigars are unable to buy certain raw materials. So I want to provide a market for them so that they can afford better quality raw materials. Over the years, I have been encouraging crafts-persons to innovate their designs to market their works intelligently.”

Stating that she wants indigenous craftsmen to retain their Indian identity, Ms. Jaitly says: “In Agra, karigars specialise in stone inlay work as they are descendants of craftspersons who created the Taj Mahal. Then there are Buddhist paintings made by Kashmiri artists. When I lived in the Valley, I noticed that Kashmiri craft-persons could not sell their products properly. They were stagnating. I asked them to come out with new ideas and designs.”

Stating that she was just a catalyst in starting the Capital’s favourite landmark destination, the Dilli Haat in 1994, Ms. Jaitly says she had to run from pillar to post, meet the Prime Minister and various ministers to push the idea. “I am happy that Dill Haat is being replicated in different parts of the country so that more and more craftsperson can earn their livelihood.”

Pointing out that Dastkari Haat reuses its colourful bazaar banners responsively and innovatively, Ms. Jaitly says: “This ensures that with your armful of purchases you get an artistic cloth bag that looks as if it is straight from a graphic designer’s studio. At the Samiti the artisans hone their skills under our guidance and then exhibit their wares at the winter exhibition in Dilli Haat in December. The idea is to provide them with sustainable livelihood opportunities. Last year, our karigars generated Rs.3 crore in revenue at the fortnight-long craft bazaar in Dilli Haat. I decided to have rotational policy of changing craftspersons after every two weeks so that visitors are encouraged to buy products that will not be there when they visit the next time.”

Stating that she has devoted her life to the field of crafts in a voluntary capacity, Ms. Jaitly says the objective behind the whole exercise was to ensure that crafts people find true empowerment and sustainable livelihood. “I want to ensure they move with the times and keep a firm hand on the contemporary pulse,” adds the woman who also champions the cause of women’s empowerment and human rights issue.

Asserting that a combination of head, heart and creativity can bring about a whole new shopping experience, Ms. Jaitly says karigars from Kashmir, Gujarat and other States, besides work inspired by Vietnamese craft, are exhibiting their creativity at the new store.

“There are stoles, bags, cushion covers, throws, costume jewellery, palm-leaf baskets, papier mache art of Kashmir. The Samiti and Mauve and Pink have decided to pool their commitment and passion for colours, design and the crafts and textiles of India.”

Hailing from Kerala, Ms. Jaitley lived in Japan as her father K. K. Chettur was the Indian Ambassador to Japan between 1950 and 52. “While staying in Japan, I observed the highly developed aesthetic sense of the local people there. Even as a child I had an artistic temperament. I graduated in English Literature from Smith College in the US in 1963. Subsequently, I lived in Kashmir for 12 years where I worked with local craftspeople to enhance their skills and earning capacity. Later, I worked as the design and marketing consultant for Gujarat in the handicrafts and handloom sector.”

Ms. Jaitly has also published five books on handicrafts.