2017 Coimbatore Chronicles
CCTNCBE 1.1 The Craft Exhibition
The Craft Council Tamil Nadu Coimbatore organised its annual exhibition starting from July 27th up until 2nd August. I was reluctantly upbeat about Coimbatore, compatriots at Dastkar Delhi had told me that I should make my way there. They really buy - some had counselled. I had a condescending Bengali attitude before I reached there. Tamil satellite town. They will buy Kanjeevarams and gold. Lets see, how bad can it get! Having struggled with a textile store in Kolkata for a year any sale would have been good, very welcome to boost the recurring expenses. So I caught an early morning flight via Chennai. A long haul with a delayed connecting flight. I reached Suguna Kalyan Mandapam in the afternoon and was pleasantly surprised to see a very spacious well appointed area. The big main hall had textile persons including Qissaa. The ancillary hall had jewellery (silver, beads, cloth etc ) and home accessories (mats, table wooden sets, cushion covers, cane) and the outside courtyard had artisans, ceramic, chooris, wood, metal. The amount paid by us was not very high and the stall owners outside had either paid none or a very negligible amount. Incredible initiative!
I was feeling much at home, having participated in a couple of craft centred exhibitions, I knew quite a few of the weavers and artisans. Aap kaise hain. Bahut din baad etc etc. There was a festive air. A tiring job unpacking and setting up the wares to get ready for the next day. Not having completely recovered from a bout of flu, I was queasy and heavily drugged on paracetamol. Having spent a not very mean sum on travel, cargo and the hotel it was imperative I put my best foot forward.
The organisers were very warm, welcoming and ready to help. Lakshmi, Sajni di, Saranya a few among the many. Throughout the five days they went round at regular intervals asking if everything was well, if we needed something else. The personal homely touch!
The first day saw quite a few people, and later one realised that they were the connoiseurs. The other days lots came in but the first few days had the discerning buyers. The women were from a vast cross section of the Indian diaspora. Feisty Ammas with tikas and juhi flowers, chic women in authentic handlooms, fashionable accessories, smartly turned out, well spoken. Casual conversations revealed a wide gamut of professionals, businesspersons, doctors, engineers, college students, housewives all well read, well spoken and well turned out in general.
I am sure the city has it share of the “Shoppers STOP / MTV” wannabes, the ones I encountered were very cosmopolitan yet traditional. Mostly!
The weekend saw a lot of men accompanying their wives mothers. In general polite, knowledgable, and sure of their choices. Some did bargain but mostly they looked around returned and bought. A pleasant surprise. This city was genteel, and I loved the young girls in ghagras and flowers following smart professional parents, on a Sunday afternoon. I felt a twinge of regret that Kolkata an established culture hub had become far disconnected from its roots. Pujas and events nowadays have girls and boys in tights, jeans. It is perhaps not cool to wear traditional outfits. Alas!
In my narrow minded purview of the North South divide in India I had foolishly equated the satellite towns of this region with the ones in Bengal. Asansol, Siliguri, Durgapur are mediocre not very well equipped towns where educted professionals and the so called smarter set went only when compelled to. On the contrary this place was throbbing with larger than life showrooms selling cars, clothes, jewellery. Smart eating places, and an interesting cross section of people. The kids seemed disciplined sincere honest. I left the city on the 2nd with a strong wish to revisit and know this welcoming city better.
CCTNCBE 1.2 Jody and her sisters
Right opposite my stall were two stalls manned by Jody and her sisters from Kanyakumari. I was told that they had insisted on paying the full amount in the Main Hall. They very graciously sat around their wares. Beautiful grass, wicker baskets, boxes in a riot of colours. They had linen, baby dresses in exotic hand embroidered versions. They sat very regally in their chairs and a young boy, Jody’s grandson, ran around showing everyone, packing the purchases, collecting money. I later learnt that he was an engineer and was waiting to join his job. Jody’s son Leeban was a chef in a prominent hotel and was en route to the USA on a cruise liner. He visited his ma and aunts everyday and they sat in quiet bon homie. They were a very peaceful family. I was left wondering if it was the religion or just personal dynamics of a connected relationship unlike most families today. Was it bacause of their simpler existence without the brouhaha of civilisation? I wonder?
CCTNCBE 1.3 Swachh Bharat
The place was meticulously clean and at regular intervals two very tall stately women in sarees went round holding a large bag as in economy airlines. What was noticeable was the specks of gold on their ears and nose. Quiet and efficient.
The women in this region I think are taller than the rest of the country. Lots of them are really tall which adds to a kinda formidable personality.
CCTNCBE 1.4 Anandi and Sundar and Dhanyasree
What struck me was the determination of the people at all levels to wear handlooms and no synthetics. They would have nothing to do with mixed fabrics, they wanted matching blouses and were concerned about starching possibilities of saris. Anandi was one such young girl with a budget of Rs 1000/= . I tried to show her some of my disastrous non-authentic purchases which fit within her budget. She very haughtily pushed it aside. Her husband Sundar worked in the textile corporation, and he was very expertly identifying fabrics. Her daughter Dhanyashree was a scruffy kid wearing frayed clothes, my heart went out to them and I readily negotiated a good price for a slightly expensive saree she liked. She happily tucked it under her arm and walked off with “her” bargain. I was left with a niggling suspicion that I had been perhaps conned. But what the heck it was my good deed for the trip.
CCTNCBE 1.5 A lesson to be learnt
Monday morning saw lines of kids in school uniforms visiting the place with their teachers in tow. They had been given an allowance to buy small knick knacks. The teachers supervised their purchases and encouraged them to calculate the change. The children rushed around in groups, boys and girls asking questions about fabrics , textures, from where and how and wrote them down. Proably a class project. I was floored. What an absolutely wonderful initiative. They were learning and were also being encouraged to buy handicrafts at a very young age. They would probably imbibe a love for our handicrafts by the time they were grown up. Educators in Kolkata – pay heed!
CCTNCBE 1.6 Uber drivers
Having read about the misdeeds of Uber drivers I had my apprehensions. The first day I decided to try one simply because it was far cheaper than a hired taxi. I was sure that I would have to spend the extra amount to travel for the next five days. I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did the drivers arrive on time, they were courteous on the phone, could read the GPS and I did not have to struggle with directions in an alien tongue. In Kolkata I dont think I have had many happy experiencees where the drivers have reached me without a hitch. Moreover I find the Uber taxis in Kolkata very expensive in comparison to here.
I took about a dozen rides there. Four of them were young kids, engineers driving taxis to pay off education loans. They were honest, sincere, polite, opened the door, carried bags. I got back loose change unlike in Kolkata. Re1/=, Re 2/= even 60 paise extra cos the driver did not have 40 p change. Nagraj, Murlidhar, Jaishankar. On the 2nd night I landed in Kolkata, the plane four hours late. Expectantly I called an Uber. A sullen Toton was waiting for me at Termiinal 1A when my app said 2B. I obviously had to walk down to him and drag my bags into the luggage boot.
Back to ground zero!
Is it me or my imagination. It appears that the Amma down South has done something righter than this Amma in the East. I dont care about who has made how much money, eventually it is what has been done to provide a better quality of life and an easier existence.
I drove down VIP road the garish white trident lights lit up the road, there were pot holes, disrepair, shabbiness. I came from a crisp, clean, smart city. To this? Home?! Heart?! Platitudes!
I seriously wonder if we have just fallen into this sludge of complacency and denied ourselves a better existence. A choice!