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`Craftsmen rarely reap profits'

CHENNAI JAN. 6. Chennai is the ninth venue of the National Handicrafts and Handloom Festival, which has been on the road since April last year. Tribal artisans from Chattisgarh, `ikkat' weavers from Cuttack and wood workers from Andhra Pradesh are among the 130 artisans who make up this diverse caravan.

"There is no dearth of handicrafts in our country but craftsmen rarely reap the profits. The idea behind the exhibition is to give rural artisans direct access to urban markets," says Jayesh Kumar Gupta of Gramin Hastakala Samiti, the association organising the festival.

Not only has the festival allowed artisans to make direct profit, but it has also enabled many artisans to export their wares directly.

"When customers buy handicrafts, they are helping eradicate unemployment. Besides, it is not often that customers have access to first-hand information on the making of handicrafts and the social and cultural traditions they are rooted in," he adds.

"This is an opportunity for weavers to meet wearers," says Srikant Kundu, a weaver from Cuttack, Orissa. Weaving fabric has been a way of life for generations in his family. Traditional motifs and `ikkat' patterns have remained much the same, except for the introduction of tribal themes into some fabrics.

While traditional designs are very fashionable with elite markets, many craftspeople recognise that innovation often makes good business sense as well.

Lalta Prasad Prajapati from Cheehan Bazaar, Lucknow, once considered the trade of his forefathers as mere `mud work'. But he changed his mind once he lost his job as a lorry driver. "I began to take an interest in this skill, indigenous to the Kumhar community. I realised that I could innovate on the traditional simple `matka' and create a saleable product."

"Design ideas come from customers. They tell us what they are interested in and we take the cue," he says. He identifies the lack of access to mud as the single biggest problem. "We have depended on the benevolence of farmers. To keep mud crafts alive, the government should allocate specific areas for us to quarry mud," he says.

The exhibition is open to the public between 11:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. on the YMCA Grounds, Royapettah until January 11.

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