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Exquisite merchandise all the way...

The just-concluded Indian Handicrafts and Gifts Fair at Delhi's Pragati Maidan saw participants scampering about to grab the attention of foreign buyers. But, the eye-catching display of exquisite merchandise nullified all nitpicks, says MADHUR TANKHA... .

Bright and enticing goods at the Indian Handicrafts and Gifts Fair at Pragati Maidan . Photo: S Subramanium.

THE REAL value of handicrafts is understood best by Westerners, specially importers, who not only have an eye for artisan's creative impression but also keep into account their rapport with the exporters.

This observation could easily be made while talking to participants at the four-day long Indian Handicrafts and Gifts Fair in Delhi's Pragati Maidan, which concluded this past week. It seems before deciding on the pricing, many exporters focus on these two points. Interaction with the participating exporters revealed that they believe in developing good rapport with their foreign clients. Their business acumen comes next. Of course, product specification and eco-friendliness are essential prerequisites.

Like many of his fellow participants, Anil Poddar of Poddar Associates of Jaipur, whose father changed his business from textile to woodwork in 1984, has succeeded in building an excellent rapport with Europeans. He makes kitchen and television cabinets, bar cabinets, wine racks, book cabinet, shoe racks and bottle holders.

Owner of Supra International, an exporter of brassware from Moradabad, concurs: With so many competitors in the field now, it is very important to have a good personal rapport with importers. Rest comes later."

Though, there are some new comers into the export business who were complaining against the organisers for not providing enough tips to vibe well with foreign buyers. Sunil Hritik of Crester Crafts, says, "EPC should provide us more assistance. As first-timers we need to know what are the trends abroad. Many rules and regulations go against us. We have paid more than one lakh rupees for such a small stall. It seems we are being discriminated as special preference is being given to old timers. Naturally, most of foreigners are flocking to China and Hong Kong as the raw material and labour comes awfully cheap there."

However, with teeming number of unemployed youths in the country, it seems handicraft is apt for employment generation. R.K.Singhal, of Rajasthan Art Emporium, says, "Handicrafts employs 500 people per crore of exports per year. We can create jobs for 3.5 crore of people. We are exporting 7,000 crores of rupees worth of exports". The exporters want that the vast untapped manpower - which is reeling below poverty line - can be productively utilised and then they can have more exports than neighbouring China.

"But, not even one per cent of global trade is coming our way. Our biggest assets are our hands," says Singhal, who was showing skills of Rajasthani artisans with Western touch. "It is an amalgamation as our clientele come from European and American cities," he adds. But according to Poddar, "China's superiority is on machine made goods but on goods made by hand we definitely have an edge. Our wood quality is of shisham".

Many a participant opine that if handicrafts is given the same status as agriculture by exemption of income tax, then it will do a world of good.

Apart from these speculations, what came on for display was a pure visual delight to the eyes. On display were exquisitely curved brass tigers, primates, hippopotamus and pachyderm in different finish, art-metal ware, beautiful handprinted textiles, zari goods with intricate work, imitation jewellery and misc handicrafts, shawls emblazoned with kaleidoscopic colour and finish besides home furnishing items, Christmas gift items, decorative flowers, bags and anachronistic watches.

But, one complain which often wafted through the fair was from the local visitors, who found the exhibitors running after foreign clients and not catering to domestic buyers.

Says Rakesh Kumar, Executive Director of EPC, "Exhibitors aren't interested in showing to local people as they fear their original designs, which they have made after relative hard work, might get stolen by dubious sellers". But exporters like Poddar have more than other reason: "if an Indian buyer buys one object, the same product would be purchased in droves by a foreigner, who is particular about quality and price".

Speaking about the benefits of participating in the fair, Rakesh Kumar sums up, " Here, exporters not only from the urban areas but also from inaccessible parts of the country get a platform to exhibit their creativity. So, at the end, despite many a complain, the effort is worth it".

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