Kondapalli toys - cultural icons of Andhra Pradesh - are one of the most sold handicrafts in India and abroad, across online, wholesale, and retail platforms.
“The toys attract great business to the showroom. Kondapalli toys account for an earning of ₹ 4-₹ 5 lakh per month,” said a store official at the Lepakshi Handicraft Emporium. Customer response vis-a-vis the quality of the toys, on the online platforms - a relatively new addition - has been very positive so far.
Toiling for sustenance
However, the artisans have a different story to tell. Though platforms such as Lepakshi, Amazon and MyStateBazaar endorse the products promoting the craft, the toy makers in Kondapalli claim such a promotion has barely helped them in their sustenance.
“Competition from Chinese machine made toys is our main obstacle. We spend 10-20 hours-a-day making a dozen miniature buffaloes that are sold for a mere ₹ 300. We toil our lives away making these toys but sustaining ourselves in this competing age is major challenge,” rues S. Nageswara Rao, a second generation Kondapalli toy maker.
Mr. Rao is one of the few artisans living in Kondapalli’s Bommala Colony that was set up by former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh NT Rama Rao in 1987 to provide these artisans a haven to promote their craft. “Earlier, we would easily earn ₹ 2,000 per day. Now earning even ₹ 500 per day seems to be a daunting task,” he adds, as he looks up at the sight of every passing vehicle passing. In the hope that it would stop, its occupants step into his store and purchase a few toys.
Adding to their troubles is the scarcity of the ‘Tella Poniki’ wood, which gives the toys its unique character. No other wood can be a replacement to make these toys as Tella Poniki is malleable and can be easily chiseled into the desired shape.
Keeping in mind the rapid scarcity of the trees, the Forest Department had set up a ‘Wood Bank’ with an aim to grow the soft trees that could be legally distributed among the toy-makers. The Forest Department said it spends ₹ 2.85 lakh every year for the purpose. The trees would provide raw material for toy-making for the next 20 years. However, the artisans complain that Tella Poniki takes a lot of time to grow and that is in its earlier stages.
“It is not as easy to grow Tella Poniki like other plants. It requires immense nurturing. Since the wood is sweet and relatively softer in its formative years, it falls prey to many pests,” says Pushpa Latha, another artisan. “The toys have a great demand both in abroad and India. If the government sanctions us funds in a timely manner and imparts training to the younger generation, coupled with an incentive, we can work towards making the craft regain its lost glory,” she suggests, as she resumes carving a miniature figurine with intricacy.