Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
CRAFT: March 21, 1999
A cultural oasis
Such has been the success of Dilli Haat ever since it opened in the spring of 1994 that the regular Delhi'ite has practically forgotten the stinking nullah which was filled up to construct this cultural oasis. And an "oasis" Dilli Haat sure has become; particularly for the hundreds of artisans crying for a market in remote corners of the country.
Starved of consumers, these artisans see the Haat as that evasive opportunity that has finally knocked on their doors. So what if they have to travel to Delhi with their wares to find a market. Something is better than nothing; even if it is a short-lived opportunity. With the Haat attracting an average of 6,000 visitors on a daily basis, setting up shop here for even a fortnight once every three months is good enough.
Because, invariably, every artisan who sells his handicrafts at Dilli Haat returns home with more than a bagful of money. Equally, if not more, important are the bulk orders that most of them manage to bag at the Haat. For it is these orders that keep the cash registers ringing right through the year.
But, in the words of Ukil, a potter who comes to the Haat from Chinhat near Lucknow: "More gratifying is the appreciation we get here for our designs. Having people come up to me and say they like something particular in my stuff warms my heart and works as a creative catalyst. This is something an artisan can never hope to get by selling his artefacts to a shop. "Yahan hamare kaam ki kadar hoti hai (Here there is value for our work)."
Little wonder then that Ukil comes to the Haat at least thrice a year with his lead-free signature ovenware. He would like to come more often; but the rules governing the Haat do not permit him. The rules mandate that any artisan - registered with the Deputy Commissioner (Handicrafts) in the Union Ministry of Textiles - can set up shop in the Haat for 15 days every quarter of a year. As a result, no artisan can hope to be at the Haat for more than 60 days in a year.
Working as he does with his hands at the potter's wheel, Ukil also finds it easier selling his pottery at the Haat. "No two mugs - even of one line of design - are the same. And, invariably, a shop-keeper will bargain with me over this; saying that customers are reluctant to pick up a set of mugs if one is different from the rest. Here, if a customer raises such a point, I can explain to him that every piece of handicraft is bound to vary and the variation is not necessarily a flaw."
For Razzaq, a 60-year-old craftsman dealing in papier-mâché products in strife-torn Srinagar, the Dilli Haat has practically stopped the family from leaving the craft. With trouble in Srinagar spelling doom to tourism in the Valley, small craftsmen like Razzaq had to almost close shop for want of customers.
Today, the Haat has brought a smile to his wrinkled face for his papier-mâché Christmas decorations and other decorative items are a big hit with the shoppers. And, why wouldn't they be? He sells a papier-mâché bell for Rs. 20. At the Central Cottage Industries Emporium, a similar bell costs Rs. 43.
"Because we are selling directly to the customer, he does not have to bear the burden of the middle-man's earnings," explains Razzaq in broken Hindi as an associate mans the makeshift counter. Lest language pose a problem to the artisans - many of whom have seldom travelled beyond their village - most employ persons or bring along relatives well-versed in Hindi to help with the sales talk.
Though pleased with the way things have turned out for him ever since he began coming to Dilli Haat, S. Arshad, a carpenter from Saharanpur, insists that things would have been easier if there was some arrangement for night accommodation. "The Haat management does help us by giving us a list of reasonably-priced hotels in the city, but staying in Delhi is expensive; particularly for people like me who bring along a couple of helpers. This adds to the bill we run up setting up shop here as daily I have to pay Rs. 50 for this place and Rs. 20 as store charges for keeping the furniture here at night."
Even then, the Haat is cheap by Delhi standards. Each of the 62 covered stalls cost Rs. 75 a day and the daily rent for open space is Rs. 50. Add to this the storage charges. Since the Haat does not take a cut of the profits that the craftsperson earns, not many artisans complain about the rent.
"The Haat is any day better than shops which squeeze us dry. They extract everything out of us. Besides, here I get paid across the counter. If I go through a shop, payments are invariably delayed," says Seema Mukherjee, a National Institute of Fashion Technology graduate who makes stuffed toys and used to sell them out of leading stores in the city including Hopp and Rajco. Now, after two rounds of sales from the Dilli Haat, she has decided not to sell her toys to shops.
"Without spending an extra paisa, the Haat - besides facilitating direct sales - has advertised my stuffed toys. Distributors have contacted me after seeing the stuffed toys and I've even got some export enquiries; courtesy the Haat which while making things easier for us has brought prices down for the customer." Here's how. A baby set - complete with quilt, pillows and bolsters - designed by Seema costs Rs. 950 at the Haat and the same thing is priced at Rs. 1,295 at Rajco. This, potter Ukil says, should be reason enough for more Haats; not just in Delhi, but elsewhere in the country.
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