People Chiselled out of ‘tella poniki’ some of the traditional Kondapalli toys just got bigger in size and reach, finds P. Sujatha Varma

“We did not grow much over the years but the toys we make just got bigger,” says Banala Naga Babu, a toy-maker from the famous Kondapalli ‘toy village’ near Vijayawada.

Known to produce collections of tiny toys using tella poniki (white sander), found in the forests and hills adjoining Kondapalli village, located about 20 km from Vijayawada in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh, the toy-makers bring into play magnificent colours to provide glimpses of a disappearing world of rural life.

In this era where iPods and video games capture the attention of kids at an increasingly younger age, the humble toy-makers of Kondapalli have amazingly managed to stay afloat.

“We have survived harder times when my father made these toys. He had been making them from 1965 but there were not many takers then. It was difficult to make both ends meet. But things got better after we were sanctioned houses by the then Chief Minister N.T. Rama Rao. The State Government’s Lepakshi emporiums have come to our rescue in a big way,” says Naga Babu.

It is amazing to watch the toy-makers process the wood and carve it into the desired shapes and sizes. Bahudara is an important tool used in carving and interesting themes from rural life, besides mythological figures and birds and animals are chosen; vegetable and synthetic colours are used to being them to life. Dasavatara, dancing dolls, elephant ambari , toddy-tappers, marriage party and palanquin are some of the famous toys they produce.

“Kondapalli toy is the first hand-made toy from Andhra Pradesh to be granted a GI (Geographical Indication). We extend full support to the artisans of Kondapalli village. Look at these glass cupboards placed prominently at the entrance of the showroom,” says D. Pardha Saradhi, manager of the Lepakshi Handicrafts Emporium at Gandhinagar.

A large impressive collection of toys beckons visitors. The new entrant in the collection – a large size bullock cart enclosed in a glass casing, is an instant attraction. Vasavi, an IT professional working for a software firm in Washington DC in the US, grabs the case for a closer look. “My friends in the US keep talking about the charm of Kondapalli toys. I am here to pick a few as gift articles,” she says.

A training centre opened at the toy-makers’ village equips the artisans with the latest designs. “ Nagara Rakshakudu, gangireddulu, burrakatha , a village set-up with a canopy of palm trees and a white elephant with ambari are some of the new additions,” says Pardha Saradhi.

The toys exude the quiet enchantment of rustic life. That the maker of the toys is intimately familiar with the world he creates is evident. The magic lies not in the startling vividness but the manner in which the toy-maker uplifts an ordinary setting into something so extraordinary, so redolent.

The honesty and simplicity of rural life comes alive strikingly through these tiny creations.

“We have been offering to the world an intimate account of the rural lifestyle, which is being overtaken by frenetic forces of development and urbanisation. We only hope that our toys keep growing bigger in size and our lives get better,” says Naga Babu, looking at his wife Sujatha, busy painting a tiny set of a marriage band party.

Each toy created with great care and affection has an intimate quality. Radiating cosiness and warmth, the enduring beauty of the toys beckon visitors to step in and linger as long as they like.

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