Basket-makers in Chennai ride the wave of trend revival

Updated - June 12, 2024 07:10 am IST

Published - June 11, 2024 10:28 pm IST

Enduring charm: Indrani weaves baskets on Five Furlong Road at Guindy. Earlier, she was a flower-vendor. She dreams of selling her baskets all over the world.

Enduring charm: Indrani weaves baskets on Five Furlong Road at Guindy. Earlier, she was a flower-vendor. She dreams of selling her baskets all over the world.

Wire baskets, once the staple school lunch bags, have made a comeback in style, as a fashion statement in recent years. They are even spotted as work bags. This trend revival has been a great boon to roadside basket-makers, giving them a reliable source of income.

Indrani, affectionately known as Indrani Paati, on Five Furlong Road at Guindy, dreams of selling her baskets all over the world, especially her signature lush pink bougainvillea-hued basket. For decades, she was a flower-vendor and she switched to basket-weaving. “I have been doing this for six years now. Earlier, I used to go to markets at dawn to buy and sell flowers, which I could no longer do. So, I learnt how to knot baskets to support myself. I sell them for ₹120 to ₹600.”

‘A struggle’

There’s Ramya U., a differently abled vendor, who has been making and selling wire baskets at the Agaram junction for five years now. “I have made more than a thousand baskets, such as biscuit baskets and Sivan Kann, but my favourite is Nellikai koodai (Amala-knot baskets). It is a struggle to weave, but I feel satisfied once I finish.”

Ramya’s cart has aquamarine blue baskets to golden poppy, and she has always been wiring something new — currently creating customised temple visit baskets for a neighbourhood family. “I learnt this on my own, and I’m happy my sales are up recently. When I first took up this craft, I never thought there’s going to be heavy competition among basket-sellers. So, I am always thinking about new colour combinations and patterns,” she says.

The knotted baskets that look easy aren’t really a stroll in the sunshine. They take up most part of the day for both. “I get my child ready for school, and then I start knotting the baskets. It takes the whole day to finish one basket, which goes for ₹200. A larger basket takes me two days, with other household chores. But this is making me feel empowered, even if I earn only a little,” says Ramya.

Two a day

Indrani makes 2 small baskets a day but eagerly awaits larger orders. “If there is a function at someone’s house, I can make about 100 baskets for return-gifts in a month, because I am behind it all, from getting the wires to creating the designs and the finished baskets.”

Both Ramya and Indrani offer baskets in different colours, face their own joys and challenges, but both have the same belief that the time they invest in their craft is all to do with their determination to support their families. Indrani says these trends will come and go, the baskets will be called ‘old fashioned’ again, but the timeless charm of making any craft by hand will always endure.

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