Despite urbanisation in most rural areas craft is a powerful catalyst for social and economic empowerment and often the sole livelihood for women.The legendary Laila Tyabji described as designer, writer, and craft activist is one of the founders of Dastkar a Delhi-based non governmental organization, working for the revival of traditional crafts in India.
Qissaa was my dream to curate handlooms / textiles and showcase the Indian craft diaspora. an ambitious reverie for contributing to the space where the likes of Uzramma, Kamala devi Chattopadhyay, Pupul Jayakar have unsurpassed contributions.
This chapter of the Qissaa started with registering with Dastkar to be able to share space, expertise and the dream of collaborating to enhance efforts to further our heritage and traditional skills.
Barely a year since Qissaa was born, I was excited when I was invited to participate in one of the exhibitions. After a rigorous product and technique evaluation of niche areas and the recognition that they were of the essence – craft, artisan, local. Batik both hand and block were the chosen medium for this pre – summer bonanza.
New to this genre of exhibitions, suitcases were packed and transported by train. The idea was to participate, have a Qissaa presence and not make oodles of money as a consequence of which the mark-ups were not very high. The stuff was very competitively priced.
The weather was nippy despite it being the middle of February. Cheerful lime green, lemon yellow and saffron buntings and posters were strung across the fair ground. The ambience was truly Indian with a hundred stalls from across the country. Having set up my stall I was delighted to be ambling around savouring the sights, sounds, colours I have always loved. Banjara, Chikan, Kasuti, weaves, Shibori, Bhujodi, Ikkat, Kantha, it was a treasure trove, with many award winning artisans the sheer variety of textures was incredible. It was a humbling experience to be in the midst of greatness and resurrection.
A twelve day sojourn seemed too long. The days however flew by in happy camaraderie of associations, mutual appreciation and wonderment.
Delhi is ostensibly a cultural melting pot. Initially the customers came looking for suit pieces. I was despondent as I had been assured that saris would sell. I had hundred in all. Muted hues of hartaki, indigo, supari, iron. I had assembled some “chatak” reds, blues, greens, yellows keeping in mind the Delhi Punjabi lively communities. Gradually I found that there were takers for “my other stuff “ too. Surprisingly I sold quite a few of my subdued designs. There were women who just picked them up, despite the price tag. Others appreciated it and I was ready to explain the hand woven test, use of colours in warp and weft which enhanced effort and price, the techniques of organic colours as per our Shastras.
I had Kodak moments too... Laila Tyabji, Manju Sood, Crafts Council persons who all stopped by to touch feel enquire and appreciate.
Qissaa is a little more than a year old and some naysayers have voiced concern over the subdued palette and unusual Nakshi kantha, organic dyes and block batik textiles. I had traversed to Delhi apprehensive, questioning whether the Qissaa ethos was inappropriate. Never to say die ever, I was determined to alter the product profile to appeal to the buyers. Dastkar was the lithmus test.
I returned from Delhi with positive reinforcement. The stuff was widely appreciated so it was “good” – not average. Maybe just maybe Qissaa had not been able to get the right people to come.
As spring and holi fills the air I plod on with renewed resolve to make this episode of my life’s journey successful.