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Handicrafts with a touch of history

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Tapestry of culture Maisie Korula and John Korula with a customer at Indian Industries
Tapestry of culture Maisie Korula and John Korula with a customer at Indian Industries

CITYSCAPE Handicrafts store Indian Industries in Fort Kochi has been a source of joy to travellers and locals with its beautiful collection of artefacts

From being a quiet residential area Princess Street in Fort Kochi is now a hot spot for tourists where antique stores, home stays, kiosks, art galleries jostle for space with restaurants, curiosity shops and cafes. Every inch of this charming boulevard has something to woo the tourist.

Popular as ever

Rewind the clock sixty years back and Indian Industries was the only handicraft store here. While many other shops that sprang up later packed their bags and wound up, Indian Industries remained undaunted by the tourism boom and spurt in handicraft outlets.

Today it remains a popular store for the locals and for the tourist who plans to take home a memento of his travels. A peep into the visitor’s book bears testimony to this. “I have seen wooden elephants everywhere but none bears the character and emotion of the elephants in this shop”- was one of the many striking entries of a globe trotter.

Indian Industries was set up in 1945 by Late Korula George, who passed away less than two years ago. It was the only one of its kind then in Mattancherry and Fort Cochin. Son of a doctor, Korula, a connoisseur of arts he had other things in mind than medicine. An eye for anything beautiful and with aesthetic value he followed his dream, opened shop in a 400-year-old Dutch house on Princess Street and surrounded himself with beautiful things.

A brief stint at a cousin’s handicrafts store on Mount Road, Madras gave him the confidence and foresight on timeless charm of handicrafts. More than just a collector the imaginatively arranged artefacts depicts the finesse of a true curator in him.

The shop today is run by late Korula’s wife Maisie Korula and their son John Korula, better known in the locality as Dondu, his pet name. Maisie walked into the scene as a bride in 1947 two years after the inception of Indian Industries.

She recalls, “though I missed my home at Bangalore the unique charm of this area overpowered me almost immediately. Princess Street and the neighbouring streets was a melting pot of many cultures. Jews, Catholics, Hindus, Gujaraties, Kutchis, Konkanis coexisted as a warm single unit participating in each other’s festivities. Then there were the British folks who used to live in the Dutch Bungalows.

“Bridge sessions were then a passion among the English wives. All that is history now. Earlier ships like the President Lines berthed here for days and the tourists used to leisurely scan here for souvenirs, gifts etc. Those were the days when eminent personalities like Richard Attenborough, John F. Kennedy Jr, Mrs Heinz, Ambassadors, Lords and Ladies of the British Empire breezed into our shop and leafed around. Today the ships berth for just a day and the voyagers are whisked from shop to shop.”

But though times have changed, yet shopping here remains the same as it was when it opened . It’s direct, open and transparent. There are no commission agents. Even the minutest piece has a price tag.

From trinkets to awe-inspiring figures, objects that suit all pockets are here. Mahogany laughing Buddhas and tiny brass inlaid chests the collection is vast.

But has the recent mushrooming of handicrafts and antique stores affected sales of Indian Industries?

“Not at all”, says John, “our shop that commenced many years ago has witnessed lot of changes. Besides acquiring new clients we have our own customers who come back regularly to us with warm memories during their next jaunt . We interact a lot with our customers from around the globe and forge strong bonds with them.”

Indian Industries stores a rich tapestry of handicrafts. More than showpieces they unfold the rich fabric of our diverse culture. Wall hangings, wooden figures, chess sets, jewellery, utility items statues of Gods and Goddesses are there to choose from.

Lord Ganesha remains the all-time favourite especially among tourists, says John. Household items like mortar are a blend of utility and artistic beauty. The magnificent skill and workmanship of artisans from Aligarh, Mysore, Orissa and other parts of India on display here are traditional yet glamorous.

Today at 64, Indian Industries holds on fast to its time honoured values and practices, remaining a landmark in Fort Kochi.

HEMJIT BHARATHAN

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