Using a variety of materials, members of Project Beeja create a plethora of home accessories.

The materials used are simple and eco friendly, and the products fashioned with a sense of aesthetics -- furniture crafted from bamboo, papier mache bowls patterned with mehendi, lamps with appliqué-worked shades, terracotta artefacts, among others. They are made by Project Beeja, an initiative of UCMA (Utkarsh Chandola Meghna Ajit set up by Meghna and her husband Ajit) design studio in Pilkhua, Ghaziabad.

“With this initiative we strive to bring about ecological sustainability in the rural community and bring urban people closer to Nature. To encourage the use of natural materials available locally, we have been making artefacts out of bamboo in the last couple of years,” says Meghna of Beeja. The products were on display and sale at the Dastkari Haat craft exhibition held recently at the Kalakshetra Foundation.

The region where Beeja functions was once known for the beauty of its handlooms. “The project was initially set up for handloom weaving but the activity had declined. Many of the former weavers became daily wage earners with a monthly income of Rs.1,500. Now they earn at least Rs. 3,000 a month apart from putting their artistic skills to use,” says Meghna, a graduate of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. “The community used huge containers made from a crude form of papier mache to feed their cattle. The skill has been polished anew,” she adds. “We cook the henna with natural gum and sometimes chemical adhesive so that the pattern stays.”

Diversification plans

Both Hindus and Muslims form part of Beeja. Thirty persons are employed on job basis and about 50 off and on. “We want to diversify into bamboo furniture and khadi block printing, for this was an area once known for block printing. After a planned survey we identified the skills in the community. We have quite a range. We brought whatever we could get into the train.” she smiles. “In Chennai, papier mache does well but not bamboo. Here, people seem to like ‘one-time buys,' items that have permanency unlike in Delhi. Our lamps with appliqué drapes move well.” But she seems fazed by the remarks of visitors who look at the lamps with papier mache bases and come out with the idea of their making the same lamps in their homes with plastic bases! Project Beeja comprising 96 members is divided into different groups -- block printing, block carving, papier mache, bamboo craft, designer, natural dyes, appliqué work, handloom and rope making. The project is now registered with the DC(H) Ministry of Textiles.

“Sixty per cent of the work is done by women. The papier mache and the appliqué work are both done by them and the block carving and the bamboo furniture by the men. I push the women to make small pieces of jewellery and papier mache coasters,” says Meghna. “There is a growing demand for our products; we are able to sustain ourselves. I was working with Dastkari Haat Samiti as a designer for an Indo-Thai project and that is how I have come here to participate in the fair.”

She hopes Beeja, the seed will grow. “One feels happy that the project has taken off but there is so much more to be done.”

The designer is happy that it has succeeded in sweeping away the woes of the workers and brought them dignity and acceptance.

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