History & Culture

Crafted with tradition

From Thursday, a lively, dancing, singing, leaping caravan of people will make its way to Mumbai. There will be artisans and weavers, singers and dancers, farmers and shepherds, all gathered by the Mann Deshi Foundation from the State’s Mann region.

The Foundation has long harnessed the latent entrepreneurial spirit of rural women. It was founded by Chetna Gala Sinha in Mhaswad, Maharashtra, in 1996 to encourage and support poor rural women to set up and expand businesses. Today, it has burgeoned to include a plethora of programmes, including the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank, business school, and chamber of commerce, all of which are tailored to fit the contours of village women’s lives.

Crafted with tradition
 

Devika Mahadevan, head of Strategy and Communication at the foundation, says, “Mann Deshi aims to empower one million women entrepreneurs with the knowledge, skills, courage, access and capital to become successful entrepreneurs with more control over their lives, within the next three to five years.” All these years of dogged determination have yielded extraordinary women. For instance, says Ms. Mahadevan, “Vanita Pise, an entrepreneur trained and supported by us, was given a Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) Women Exemplar Award 2006. Laxmi Lokhande won an award for Grassroots Women’s Entrepreneurship 2014 by the FICCI Ladies Association.”

Among the women making their way to Mumbai is Chandatai Tiwari, who has been awarded the President’s Medal for her expertise in Bharud, a musical activist tradition of Mann. “Each artist addresses something different, like water issues (Mann is a drought-prone area) or women’s issues, especially women’s empowerment and financial literacy, which are Chandatai’s forte,” says Ms. Mahadevan, adding, “And all this is done through song and dance and narration, and draws on local stories and experiences.”

Crafted with tradition
 

The rich music, dance and activism of the region is one of the threads that will hold together the exhibition. Mann has mainly two activist traditions: Bharud and Abhangs, “which are the songs sung by saints, especially Tukaram and Dnyaneshwar, that are a social commentary on caste and hierarchy. These are common to other parts of Maharashtra too,” Ms. Mahadevan says. “And while it’s not activism, we are also presenting a dance that is performed by children from the shepherd community. It’s very traditional; nomadic shepherds visit farms to graze their sheep and goats and in return, the manure from these animals fertilises the land. Farmers give them foodgrains in return. And in the evening, the children sing and dance. It’s called Dhangari nritya, and there will be a performance on January 5.” Other performances will include the lezim and ghajani dances, Mallakhamba and women’s wrestling, ghondhadi as well as kirtans.

The exhibition will also share more tangible riches from the taluka, many that are exclusive to the region. For instance, the Foundation is bringing the local artisans, the bara balutedars, whose craftsmanship has been uniquely shaped by geography and circumstance. “For example, the potters make these particular cooking pots out of black clay from this area, and these pots are used traditionally to cook non-vegetarian food and to set dahi,” says Ms. Mahadevan.

Crafted with tradition
 

A clutch of carpet weavers will brandish their Jen carpets — a live demonstration of the weaving process has also been planned — while sari weavers will sell their Irkal saris (a style born in Karnataka, but one which the Mann locals have adopted).

The exhibition will also unearth the culinary traditions of the taluka, bringing to Mumbai various unusual foodstuffs that are unique to the region. Ms. Mahadevan says, “For one, the handmade papads are particular to this region and are made from jowar, wheat and bajra. It’s the same for the spices. It’s all about the ingredients, how they are combined and the way they are ground on a special stone mortar, which adds its own unique flavour. It’s the same for the chutneys, like the one they give diabetics. There is also a special broken red rice which is unique to this region.”

And while the spotlight will be on the women entrepreneurs of Mann, there will also be a smattering of men, and a few women from sister organisations from around the country. Ms. Mahadevan says, “Since we also work in Hubbali in Karnataka, we have invited a couple of women from there to the exhibition. They do beautiful kasuti embroidery. We also have invited three women from our partner organisation, Vandana Foundation, which is from Vidarbha and does khadi work. There will also be someone from Kwaish in Kolkata, which makes bags using natural dyes and dupattas, plus two men from Majestic Voluntary Organisation from Kashmir.” The prices at the exhibition will range from Rs. 20 (for the pots) to Rs. 3,000 (for the handmade bedspreads).

The exhibition will open up the vastly profitable urban markets to rural entrepreneurs, allowing them to hone their business acumen. But it will also act as a wormhole for harried urbanites who will be transported to the rural universe; it will be a small way to foster a shoe-level connection at the grassroots, among lovers of Indian culture everywhere.

The author is a freelance writer

The Mann Deshi Exhibition will be held from January 5 to 8 at Ravindra Natya Mandir, Prabhadevi. Details on www.facebook.com/manndeshi.org


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