Gaatha, a venture based in Ahmedabad, tells the stories of craftsmen in order to bring social and commercial benefits to artisans
Often, all that remains of great events or deeds is a story and some relics,” says Sumiran Pandya of Gaatha. “For example, most of us weren't born when man went to the moon. It's a fantastic story we were once told and now we revel in its awe. Stories have much to give besides mere information. Some give hope, some are a warning, and some are just tragic. Five years ago, we were researching Indian handicrafts and quickly learnt that every five to seven years about 10 per cent of Indian rural artisans quit their work and move to the cities as slum-dwelling day-wage urban workers.”
Deeply moved by this, the founders of Gaatha saw in it the most colossal loss of craftsmanship. “Lost wealth can be regained, broken monuments conserved but when a thousand-year-old craft technique along with the myths, culture, and songs that envelope it dies, leaving a master craftsman or woman in an urban slum, there is no bringing it back,” explains Pandya.
Even more than the manifest craft objects, Gaatha's focus was to keep the craft household going. “We realised the object was not half as important as the things the crafts people said and remembered while making and handing over the pieces,” says Pandya. Gaatha was initially only a research project, focused on archiving the process and heritage behind crafts. “However, we soon realised that the artisans were tired of facing 'welfare' research groups and giving interviews into notepads. They needed stable business and revenue; to be heroes in the eyes of the next generation so that their craft technique is seen as an aspiration and not an inherited burden.”
How does Gaatha help? “Our focus is not the customer alone, our focus is a pairing of the craftsperson and the patron/customer. To begin with, we insist on visiting and meeting every single artisan that we list. We stay with them and understand their work and way of life,” Pandya explains. “We try to train them to use our platform to showcase as much as we can.” In future, as commerce grows, Gaatha has plans to complete the loop and take the buyers back into the artisans’ world to show what their purchase did for the artisan and how it helped them evolve.
When you log on to Gaatha’s website you don’t just get products but also a narration of the legend that caused its creation. “Gaatha is a small complacent bunch,” says Pandya and laughs, “We have a hunger to grow our network of artisans and make the family larger, not so much a hunger to knock down multi-crore sales targets, provided of course we recover our expenses. This leaves us room to do a few things with warmth rather than run a large, cold operation. This is not conscious. It’s just the way we are. It seems somehow our clients feel this too, we can tell by the love-letters we have been getting after our first few sales!”