The nadas (delicate rope which is threaded into the skirt and holds it in place) of ghaghras, the colorful parandis (rope like hair adornment pleated into the plait which ends in a colorful tassel), the pirona (tie) of necklaces, the “payals“, the rakhis and hundreds of thread decorations of their beloved camel. Patwas of Rajasthan used to go village to village selling all of the above, repairing old jewelry when a thousand beads fell apart, threading them together again. Those delicate kardhinis or belts for children, for women to highlight their waistline, for men to tie on their dhoti as a fashion accessory. Mela (fair) to mela, mandir to mazaar, small or big, they went in groups setting up small stalls, laying out a small store of decorative treasures.
Later as machine made threads took over, cars took over camels, saris over ghaghras, they shifted to being the five rupee supermarket in the Jaipur district and probably all over Rajasthan (our experience is directly in Jaipur district). Patwas travel to Delhi in droves early morning, collecting at Sadar Bazaar where every morning a huge wholesale market takes place on the street- buying plastic toys, latest color of cheap nailpolish, tacky costume jewelry and kids clothes from Gandhi Market at Trans-Yamuna and by evening catch trucks on the Delhi Ahmedabad route to be back home by night.
An animation designer visiting us in the village while we worked with printers discovered a Patwa using a “charkhi”, an ingenious tool to wrap thread around a central spine with great speed, made of a stick with a wood thread spool cut in the middle stuck at the end to provide balance. This Patwa called Kailash had learnt well the old skills from his father. Our designer friend sat down and created friendship bands with him using an interesting colour palette.
We took over where our friend left and developed with Kailash a range of anklets using ghungroos, to bring the tinkling of tiny bells back to mainstream urban markets. We used beads and lockets from Moradabad, Ferozabad, Bastar, Benares, Odisha Dhokra, even Thailand! Anything to reinvent this skill of thread work, to create a new language in contemporary colors of costume jewelry. From fashion accessory specialists our dream was to create an entrepreneur of costume jewelry, not dependent on traditional jewelers or clothing.
This was 1994. It took us many years to convince Kailash to come for a mela in Delhi. We promised to buy his entire unsold stock if this experiment did not work. A whole range of necklaces, earrings, bracelets, anklets, parandis was created, Kailash himself finding many white metal and glass beads, collectibles in the old markets of Jaipur and Sadar. I t was a Dastkar Nature Bazaar. He was a runaway success. He sourced beads from other craft groups in the Nature Bazaar. Kailash Patwa being a traditional Rajasthani male would not touch a strange woman’s hair in public. We got him to do hair braiding for a female friend at home and took a photo, and threatened to tell his wife if he did not do it commercially! He experimented with it in a Dastkar mela on one of the assistants from Dastkar and from then on it was a roaring business. He got his father and mother to do the hair braiding. There were long queues of college girls, Punjabi madams and little kids. Slowly other artisan women from Delhi also learnt and braiding of lower quality became a trend outside Dilli Haat for some time. Also many of his designs began to be copied in the very Sadar Bazaar he was once dependant on. He realized the ruthlessness of copying and that he had to innovate all the time.
Kailash and his eldest daughter Meena attended design workshops by Dastkar and Craft Councils. He went on melas all over India fine tuning city specific demands. He began to get old pieces of jewelry to recreate again. Satya Paul also visiting his village created a range of jewelry for ramp shows including a thread bangle, which has become a hot selling item in melas. Shades of India created belts with him. Once an artisan is visible as skilled and innovative the market designs products with his skills and his range keeps expanding.
Kailash shifted from one room in his paternal home to a ten room haveli he bought from the banias. His eldest daughter manages the work, gives orders and trains many women in the village. She is also doing graduation in commerce. The whole family is involved in the craft and sees a great future in it.
We have always felt that besides skill, a desire to be continuously on the learning curve, to experiment, to innovate attracts people to an artisan. The next step is to teach entrepreneurial and management skills, how to train a new workforce as demands expand. Now brands of thread jewelry from Karnataka and other parts of Rajasthan are also selling in stores. We feel that intervention in craft is not a one off activity, it’s a continuous process and there need to be institutions like CII, FICCI for artisans too.The same rules of design, packaging, presentation and marketing hold for artisans as they do for other sectors.