Embroidery remains a cherished Indian textile tradition. The precise detailing and fine stitches on Indian attires make it one of the most recognisable and sought-after textile-based craftwork today. The tools used are fairly simple—threads, needles and sequins. Instead, it is the coordinated skill and collaborative spirit of the karigars that bring the intricate designs to life.
Watching Mohammad Shahid and his fellow karigars at work is a captivating sight—their fingers moving deftly across the surface, pushing the needle into the cloth and pulling the thread out to secure the element in place. Each karigar has a specific skill set and signature style. However, when working on the same fabric, these differences dissolve into a synchronised rhythm. The final product is a seamless design that seems to have originated from a single hand.
The process begins by stretching out the fabric on an adda (4-legged wooden frame). Embroidery is always done on a horizontal surface, explained Mohammad Shahid. Drawing on his years of experience working in the field, he said, “If you weave designs on the vertical surface, the fabric gets stretched and ruins the design. And that is why one should always weave on the horizontal surface.”
The karigars sit cross-legged around the adda, with all their tools strewn across the floor. These include curved hooks, needles, sitaras, round-sequins, plastic and glass beads and dabka thread (french wire).
First, the design is traced onto the fabric. The karigars are adept at working with a range of different materials including satin, cotton, net and silk. The fabric is then stretched onto the adda and secured. The embroidery can now begin. Each element is sewn onto the material with absolute precision and accuracy.
Mohammad Shahid learnt the skill of embroidery in Mumbai but shifted to Delhi and has been collaborating with and producing outfits for several designers. Having worked in an export house for many years, he has also spent considerable time working with technological innovations in the field. However, he continues to believe that the smallest details and finest finishes can only be achieved through hand embroidery.
In case you are looking for fine karigari to add a special touch to your next wedding outfit, visit Mohammad Shahid in Delhi.
Over 3000 artists in Kolkata have been earning their livelihood working with bamboo and cane—said to be the most commonly used materials in West Bengal. One of these artists is Binod Pakray—a renowned, third-generation, bamboo craftsman—who works at Dom Para off Beadon Street. From decorating wedding venues and puja pandals to making the background structures of deities along with home decorations and gift items, his artisanry is deft and diverse.
We video chatted with Binod da as his daughter held up the phone for him. Patiently, he showed us his process of weaving together thin shafts of bamboo to make a decorative fish, using only a pair of scissors and a knife as tools. Praising the material, he said, “You see this material? It has huge potential as it is eco-friendly, presentable, relatively cheap, abundantly available and lightweight.”
We were intrigued by the occasional chimes of his daughter who acted as translator, interpreter and camera-person, all rolled into one. Would she be the fourth generation craftsperson in his house? Speaking about the transfer of knowledge, Binod da said, “I have to bribe her with books and toys so she spends time under my wings to learn the family craft. If you look on Youtube, you will find my hands weaving a basket. I don’t know how the video got there. It doesn’t have my name on it, but it's me. Customers come and take videos of me and they end up cropped, faceless on the internet to tell the story of the craft, never the craftsperson. Ironically, my daughter uses it to learn the process too.”
Binod da enjoys conducting workshops in schools and also works with contemporary artists across town to realise large scale exhibition venues. He is available to teach you throughout the year, except the months prior to Durga Puja, for that is the time Binod da dedicates to exploring his craft and its technical nuances, all while preparing for the arrival of Goddess Durga and her ensemble.
Under a hand-painted board that reads ‘N.C. Dutta and Co’, Rabindranath da—a third generation bookbinder—sits cross-legged, as he has done for the last 50 years, surrounded by stacks of books and a ladi of fevicol tubes. These books are blue bill books that are ubiquitous in kirana stores across the city. Rabindranath da is one of the last remaining bookbinders who still use needle, thread and aata (glue made out flour) to bind bill books, school projects and the red-coloured hardbound ledger or halkhata, which is ceremoniously opened during the Bengali New Year or Poila Baishakh.
I do all kinds of bookbinding. I have been binding books since 1968. Everything from registers to books—you show me the book and I will bind it for you. The book with the numbers, ‘halkhata’, that's a kind of binding I do as well,” Rabindranath da said, before continuing to outline the process of binding a book measuring 8.5 inches by 5 inches:
“Come to my shop, I'll show you.”
The talented hands behind a brick and cladding facade—a skill integral to the profession of architecture—usually belong to self-taught artists, such as Venkatesh.
After failing his 10th-grade examinations, Venkatesh was in search of a job when he came across the opportunity to work with a renowned architect in the city, 20 years ago. Having imbibed the required skills and knowledge from the city’s small community of brick cladding artists, Venkatesh joined their ranks and has been working as a brick artist ever since.
Without receiving any formal training, he has developed the expertise to read technical drawings provided by the architects, solely by learning on the job. “I get technical drawings of the brick layouts. These have details like the marking and stone cladding. I always do a trial on the field as there are different variables in the materials. But the structure has to be very accurate, to the measurement. I have to see if it fits in the given space and if the design is practical. I try the first layer and then show it to the engineer. Once I get the approval, I start the work. The time depends on the nature of the design.”
Venkatesh collaborates with a close-knit group of three-four peers, refusing to expand his team as he believes it would ruin the quality of his work. “One cannot achieve the quality of work by employing more artists at the task. More artists require more supervision, and quality gets compromised,” Venkatesh said.
Having been in the industry for many years, Venkatesh has also noticed a gradual shift in materials and technique. He made an interesting observation: “Few techniques like stone cladding were manual, but now are available as ready-made. You also get tiles now. The use of natural stones has reduced which impacts the building strength. The previous buildings lasted for at least 100 years. The newer methods wear out sooner, and you see this building coming down in a few decades.”
With all the rapid changes taking place in the industry, Venkatesh is keen on keeping brick art alive. He not only collaborates with distinguished architects but also takes on individual contracts. Recently, he completed a big residential project in Bengaluru which, despite the complexity of the design, turned out well and received an enthusiastic response from the clients. The project was even featured in the local newspaper, a cutting of which now hangs on Venkatesh’s wall, in celebration of his achievement.
With the introduction of technology and the shift to digital mediums, the art of writing by hand has gradually waned. Today, only a few artisans in the capital remain skilled in calligraphy, which was once used by kings and scholars as a traditional writing technique.
In the bylanes of East Delhi, there lives a talented calligraphy artist, Mohammad Zubair, who has been practising this skill for over 20 years. His passion for the written word, and especially the technique of calligraphy, has unknowingly made him a polyglot. Mohammad Zubair has mastered this skill in five different languages—English, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and Arabic.
His fascination with the art form began in childhood when he started making handmade greeting cards for his near and dear ones. “I feel proud of the fact that I learnt calligraphy in my life. If I write some quotes from holy books in calligraphy, and if God looks at my calligraphy work, he may like it. If he appreciates it, he may call me to heaven!”
Over the years, he has been experimenting with the skill and has shifted from the customary practice of forming letters on paper to calligraphy on wall clocks, nameplates, pens, wedding cards and myriad objects. Besides exploring different surfaces, he also likes to blend various colours in his work. His collection has been shown in exhibitions and is sold in local shops as well. Mohammad Zubair recently took an order to write in calligraphy on 100 wedding cards for a Delhi-based client. This particular order held a special significance for him, as he realised that modern-day clients are now willing to explore traditional mediums again.
Mohammad Zubair considers calligraphy to be therapeutic—a calming force in times of chaos and trouble. Keen on keeping this writing practice alive so it may offer solace to others as well, he wants it included in the education curriculum. He has also been attempting to impart the skill to the younger generation by taking classes. By an odd twist of fate, Mohammad Zubair has been leveraging social media in order to reach out to a wider audience—the very technology that led to the art form’s decline in the first place!
Cane furniture makes me nostalgic for the days when city streets would be lined with weavers displaying their wares outside their shops. A common sight in Delhi, these weavers could be found sitting by the roadside, their hands busy at work while their eyes searched the streets for customers. They would often travel to workshops and clients’ homes to make furniture pieces as well. With time, this skill has disappeared from the public space and is now kept alive by only a handful of artisans. One such craftsperson is Akhbar Ali, who has spent the last 45 years producing furnishings, baskets and even customised orders for special clients—all woven with cane.
Akhbar has developed a flexible process and works directly with the raw material, following his intuition and developing the design along the way. “I don’t use pen and paper to sketch the designs. I directly work on the product. When I start to make the product, the steps automatically come to mind as to how to do it, and that’s how we keep exploring new designs,” he said, while seated in a small room, lit only by a single tube light, in a corner of Delhi.
Over the years, Akhbar has noticed a transition in the cane industry and a gradual decline in the quality of cane as well. He said that earlier, cane material from Singapore was the best—durable and long-lasting. However, today, cane quality has gone down along with the demand for such products. Akhbar has had to adapt to changing times and has taken to exploring alternate materials such as plastic and jute. Customers prefer to buy plastic furniture as it is weather-resistant, relatively indestructible and tends to outlast pieces woven with natural materials. While cane may be the more sustainable option, plastic has emerged as a cheaper and easily-available alternative.
Despite the transition, Akhbar has not ruled out cane altogether. ‘Vintage’ is becoming a new design trend, he said. With a rise in customers who seek to embrace the past while simultaneously keeping with their contemporary design sensibilities, the age-old style of cane furniture is making a comeback, albeit in a modern avatar.
Kolkata’s rapidly-shrinking Parsi community includes a grandmother named Viloo, the only person in the city from whom you can buy Topli na Paneer or Parsi cheese. These semi-soft balls of cheese, made with full-cream, unpasteurised buffalo milk are very similar to mozzarella in taste and texture and get their name from the small wicker baskets (topli) in which they are set. Each snow-white rounded surface comes lightly embossed with the impression of the Topli.
Viloo learnt the art of cheesemaking from her mother-in-law, imbibing certain critical skills along the way: to know whether the milk is warm enough to introduce the rennet just by dipping in a finger; the art of carefully moving the curd to one side of the pan before it is scooped into the baskets; being able to intuitively judge that the cheese is ready to be unmoulded. Soon after she began cheesemaking, orders came flooding in, mostly from within the community.
Viloo has been making and selling cheese in Kolkata for over 30 years, all the while witnessing the rapid decline in numbers of the once large and vibrant Parsi community. Their count is down to 500, but this close-knit, resilient group is far from moribund.
The milk for Viloo’s cheese is sourced from the neighbouring Pure Milk Emporium, one of Kolkata’s long-standing outlets for fresh milk. The little handmade cane baskets come from the cane shops in nearby New Market. Topli na Paneer remains a hit at the Parsi Food Festival held in January every year and forms an integral part of traditional wedding meals.
Cobblers that once lined busy streets, can now only be found in specific nooks and corners of the city. To mend and repair a broken item was a customary practice in the olden days. However, with the emergence of the ‘use and throw’ culture, the art of preservation has been forgotten. This shift can be observed to a greater extent in urban areas of India, where we no longer mend but throw.
Gopal, a cobbler in Bengaluru, said his business has undergone several changes in a bid to survive. From shoes, he first expanded his practice to include repair work for bags. After a few years in the business, Gopal began manufacturing shoes and flip flops too. “I make shoes if the customer demands or orders with the repair works. I have a standard catalogue of shoes that customers can choose from. Usually, the customer will spend Rs. 2000-3000 on one shoe, and I will make the same shoe for Rs. 500-700. Materials and the quality of shoes will also be very similar to the shop.”
Gopal learnt the skill of repairing from his neighbour and made it his profession, 16 years ago. Initially, he and his family were working at a clay brick factory on the outskirts of Bengaluru. However, an unfortunate incident forced him to not only change his occupation but also take on the responsibility of his young nephew, training him in repair work to ensure that he can earn his living. Gopal narrated his story:
“My brother’s wife had a baby when she was working at the clay brick factory. One day, a snake bit my sister-in-law, and the owners of the company did not even bother to take her to the hospital for treatment. We took her to the hospital ourselves, and after five hours, she died there. Seeing my community and background, the owner did not support us financially. Instead, he said we killed my sister-in-law and not a snake bite. After her death, I have adopted the kid, and he now runs a cobbler shop around the corner.”
From that incident, I decided that I will not work for someone and do my own business instead.”
“Mixing colours to make dye is like cooking a dish in the kitchen,” said Bhanu. Her intriguing words made me listen more attentively to what she had to say about the craft of making natural dyes. Bhanu works for a block printing studio in Bengaluru, where her duties involve extracting rich colours and preparing dyes from natural herbs, fruits and vegetable peels—a process that can take up to three days at times. She has been working in this profession for 35 years, and is a “well-qualified PhD holder, if there is a degree like this for natural dyeing,” said her manager.
During the conversation, Bhanu highlighted various benefits of natural dyes, including their non-toxic and anti-microbial properties. Synthetic dyes, on the other hand, can be harmful to the skin but are still regularly used in the textile industry. Once studios and manufacturing units began slowly inching back to normalcy post the COVID-19 lockdown, Bhanu and her team collaborated with a nearby Ayurvedic hospital, working with a medicinal plant expert to make masks using natural dyes.
“I still wear the masks I made with the medical expert,” she said. “In ancient times, dyes were not only judged by the colour but also for their medicinal and healing properties.”
Each time Bhanu mixes natural dyes, she has to check the colour by dipping in a piece of fabric and testing it with the block to be used for final printing. The only other tool she uses is a D65 light box which is utilised as a daylight source to help match colours, paints and inks. “When you put both the samples (old and new) in the lightbox, and if it matches, then your job is a success. This lightbox is the global standard for colour matching in block printing works,” Bhanu explained.
The employees’ work at the studio is segmented—each being responsible for a specific part of the process and for ensuring the overall quality meets set standards. Customers usually do not pay much heed to the entire procedure but are only invested in the final product. With the lack of automation in the process, Bhanu’s goal has been to standardise the result to the maximum extent possible, by streamlining the methods and through regular quality checks. “Most people come for quality,” she said. “Not only the quality of blocks and prints are important, but the quality of the colour we use is equally important.”
“90% of the Marwaris of Calcutta—the crème de la crème—know Ganga babu the florist. They will all know me. I have a brand name. I say no to no job—whether it is worth Rs. 500 or Rs. 50 lakhs, whether a birthday party or a week-long destination wedding—because I’m afraid it’ll upset the other person. You see, everyone loves to work with me.”
The well-renowned Ganga babu works with fresh and artificial flowers alike. Beginning as a humble florist, primarily involved in arranging flowers on decorative columns in weddings, Ganga babu is now the proud owner of a factory producing artificial flowers. His establishment employs 400 labourers during the business’s peak season. Ganga babu has travelled to many destinations—from Ranchi and Dhaka to Dubai—to decorate venues for festive occasions, using a combination of fresh and fabricated flowers.
“The way we decorate is in a thrifty manner. People want the most value for their buck, so we use fresh leaves and intersperse them with artificial flowers. Only by touching will you be able to know that they are artificial.”
The most famous of these carefully-crafted flowers are those made using sholapith—a soft, milky-white plant matter drawn from the core of the Shola plant (also known as Indian Cork). Considered to be pure and auspicious, sholapith has long been used for religious purposes, finding its application in the decoration of Hindu idols and creation of the traditional headgear worn by Bengali brides and grooms in weddings.
However, in recent times, the demand for sholapith handicrafts has shifted. They are now mostly sought out as home decorative pieces or in the form of Ganga babu’s artificial flowers. From dahlias and roses to tulips, lilies and other self-designed variations, his fabricated shola flowers mimic a range of types and species, each handcrafted in excruciating detail.
Ganga babu does not seem too worried about the future of his craft as he believes large, extravagant weddings are here to stay, and so are artificial flowers.
Floral jewellery has become a new trend. From the haldi to the mehendi ceremony, brides are moving away from gold and silver, instead preferring to don jewellery made of flowers to enhance their wedding look. This concept may seem unique today, but it has always existed in South India where women wear gajras as hair accessories and other forms of floral jewellery as part of their daily getup. Curious to learn more about this niche yet growing industry, I met with a passionate floral jewellery maker in Bengaluru, Pallavi Pramod.
Pallavi started her career as a makeup artist in Pune and moved to Bengaluru after marriage, where she began making floral jewellery as an experiment to keep her engaged. The experiment soon grew into a personal project and then a full-time occupation. Today, Pallavi is devoted to her business, attempting to create adornments that are original and innovative.
Like many others, Pallavi also seeks inspiration for designs on Pinterest and other forms of social media, always adding her personal touch and signature style to the final piece. “My main motivation was after seeing Pakistani brides on Pinterest. From then on, I started to pursue this floral jewellery full time and have gotten a good response from my clients in the city and beyond.” Pallavi uses both real and artificial flowers to make her pieces. Materials such as beads and paper flowers are sourced from a local store in Bengaluru, whereas for real flowers, she heads to the phool mandi in the city to make her purchases based on the client’s requirements.
How did her relationship with floral jewellery begin? Since her childhood days, Pallavi has been fascinated with flowers and would always attempt to make something out of the blossoms she would collect. However, over time, this connection with nature was lost as the rigmarole of daily life took her on different paths. Her move to Bengaluru gave her the time to think about her old friends from the garden again. “When I create floral jewellery, it is a happy moment for me. But when my clients appreciate it, that is my real achievement.”
In case you are looking to purchase floral jewellery, you can reach out to Pallavi. She ships her designs across India and is soon planning to open a store in Bengaluru as well.
Indian streets have the ability to fascinate anyone willing to take a moment to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. From flower markets to local bazaars, our vibrant streets keep surprising us with a captivating array of colours, shapes and sights. As Pradeep, a craftsman said, “Our country never fails to inspire us.”
It is this very outlook that has led him to develop a unique skill—creating furniture inspired by daily life. Pradeep makes furniture pieces that look like everyday objects. Now, thanks to him, it is possible for one to sit on a saffa or a tokri of phool (flowers).
Pradeep began his career 14 years ago, making ordinary sofas and engaging in other upholstery-related work. A turning point came along when he began working with a design studio based in Delhi and met a like-minded designer. The two connected in their shared admiration for ordinary objects and soon began a lifelong exploration of designing distinctive furniture pieces. Today, Pradeep has countless unique pieces to his name, such as the ghoomar stool, tokri pouffe and kulluvi stool.
Pradeep proudly claimed that the work he is doing is quite unusual and exclusive in the market. Having been in the industry for many years, he has only come across a few other craftsmen who dare to experiment with their work. Of course, upholstering furniture to look like genda phool comes with its fair share of uncertainty regarding the result. “When I was first challenged to make something like this, I was excited but did not know about the outcome,” he said. However, he has overcome all obstacles in his path with his faith firm in the belief that learning while doing is the only way to move forward and acquire new skills.
His bond with his designer remains strong. When stuck for ideas on how to move forward with a piece, Pradeep said he would often approach the designer and both would find a solution together. “After making every furniture piece, I feel extremely proud and happy about my skills.”
His furniture pieces have often been shown in various exhibitions, both local and global. A great response at such events helps fuel Pradeep further. He believes that learning about any craft does not end with the completion of a crafts course. Instead, it evolves and develops through daily practice with new materials, techniques and constant iteration.
Handloom products have been an integral part of our culture and have developed a host of patrons, from political figures to public personalities. However, the demand for such goods has been gradually ebbing with time. “If I keep thinking that I can survive in the market by selling one kind of product, I have seen that it does not work like that. I need to keep upgrading my products with time and only then survive in the market,” Shamu ji, a traditional weaver, explained.
Hailing from a community of handloom weavers who have been practising the craft for nearly 90 years, Shamu ji took to the loom like the rest of his family, developing skills and in-depth knowledge of the trade. It was while he was marketing handloom products in his hometown, in Sahaspur district, Uttar Pradesh, that Shamu ji realised he would have to sell his goods in urban areas to make a profit. He then moved to Delhi in search of better opportunities and established his practice here, 12 years ago.
“After selling my products in Delhi, I realised that I was making good profits for my business,” he said.
Then came the power looms. Demand trickled to a minimum and his sales began to fall drastically. Except for a handful of intergenerational consumers, most new customers began turning to cheaper, machine-made commodities. Shamu ji said it was because the quality of machine-made goods is better than handloom ones, especially in terms of standardisation.
However, Shamu ji was not one to accept the situation without making any effort. He began thinking of novel ways to keep the craft alive in the city. Through interactions with the new generation of consumers, he quickly gauged the need to reinvent and produce customised products. In the process, he developed a catalogue, tailored to meet the contemporary tastes of his customers, as well as a collection of handloom products to cater to modern needs. Always keen to explore new patterns in handloom weaving, Shamu ji did not hesitate to try designs brought to him by his customers either. Very soon, he saw a renewed interest in handloom developing among his audience.
“The key to success is not just the skill but also the relations you build with your customers”, he said. By utilising his traditional skill sets but tweaking his products to adapt to current times, Shamu ji has managed to establish his craft and name in the city.
The goldsmiths and silversmiths of Garanhata street can nowadays be found working on costume and artificial jewellery, which have slowly made inroads to take their place alongside gold and silver. From the furnaces that line this street, there has also emerged a rare craft of jewellery mould making, which deserves a special mention.
We interviewed Santan da, a brass smith who has inherited his grandfather’s legacy in the form of his jewellery shop. His grandfather first made these moulds 70 years ago. Santan da offers exclusive designs as well as more popular ones that are taken from magazines in the form of ripped sheets, neatly bound into catalogues for the client to choose from. Jewellers from all across West Bengal come to Santan da’s shop to procure these brass moulds, which are sold by weight.
He works with specific suppliers of raw metal, which come in different sizes depending on the nature of the jewellery to be created: nose ring, pendant, necklace, mangalsutra and so on. “If you bring us a necklace design, we first get the master mould outsourced—a mould for the moulds which is made by chipping the stone, just like stone idols are carved out of a block of stone. Then we go on to making our own moulds,” Santan da explained.
“Everything in this process is completely handmade. I use the ‘hathuri’, the ‘chimta’. When the fire blazes red, we use the ‘hathuri’ to shape and size the mould into circles, squares or triangles. When cold, we treat it and it's ready. For a small mould—the entire process takes 15-20 days. The big moulds have to be outsourced, they can go up to 1-1.5 kg. The small ones can be done inside the shop,” he said.
Santan da added that the demand for these moulds has fallen drastically, especially in his generation.“Today, these moulds are very rare.”
What if thieves were able to procure spare keys to your home? Can they simply walk up to a keysmith and have them duplicate a set of keys, to leave no trace of their presence?
In the tricky profession of a keysmith, the maker always keeps a full record of paperwork for the keys he has made. “I will always verify the documentation from my clients, and only then make keys for them,” said Sashi Kumar, a keysmith in Bengaluru. Having learnt this skill from his father, Sashi has been making keys for the last 18 years. He currently has a small shop in the city with three assistants working for him. The walls of the shop are lined with his wares, each of a different make and shape. From large, old and rusted ones to smaller, newly-made keys that shine when they catch the light—the shop decor serves as a catalogue that a client can choose from, if they desire a simple design.
The job of a keysmith requires a lot of hard work and dedication to achieve excellence, said Sashi. A single wrong dent in the key can lay hours of work to waste, forcing the smiths to begin from scratch. “This profession is really made for someone who is very focused and interested in this kind of work. Some people master the skill in one year and for some, it takes more time,” he explained.
Sashi said that he usually makes keys based on two situations—when a client requires a spare copy or when they have lost their key altogether.
In the first case, he begins by making a detailed study of the key that his client brings to him. He then duplicates the key using his machine. Sashi added that with the introduction of machines in the market, the accuracy of key-making has improved drastically—which is also a promising way to attract new customers.
In case a client has lost their key, they must take their lock to Sashi, who will find or make a key that fits it. The process is similar to the first situation, except, in this case, a detailed study of the lock is required.
Having been in the key-making business for some time now, there have been many instances when Sashi has been approached by the police during their investigation of a new robbery in the area. In that case, Sashi usually shows his paperwork to the police officials, maintaining complete transparency in his work. “This is the most I can do, to be honest. Till now, there has not been a formal way to authenticate the paperwork given by the clients. But there is only so much I can do from my side.”
The distinct art form of kolam, which has been practised by countless generations of women, symbolises an “open heart, prosperity and an auspicious welcome,” Radha explained, as she sat tracing loops and lines with white rice powder outside her home. It is the women of the household who have historically been responsible for the ritualistic making of the kolam—a tradition passed down from mother to daughter. Radha, too, has stepped into her mother’s shoes, continuing the age-old custom by creating elaborate patterns on the floor each morning, using colours, flowers or simply rice flour.
Radha begins the process at the crack of dawn, before offering her daily prayers, by consulting the design catalogue which was given to her by her ancestors when she first began learning the art. When Radha creates a new design of her own, she archives it in the same book, updating it for the next generation to come. Certain pages of this unique catalogue are covered with dots, which act as a framework for the pattern. Once you connect the dots, the design begins to emerge—a useful practice for beginners.
“Kolam also provides food for the ants,” exclaimed Radha. “In ancient times, there was an edible kolam powder which was used. It helped in feeding small insects and ants. But now in modern times, the powder is full of chemicals and is inedible,” she explained.
Kolam, once made, is supposed to remain throughout the day. “In the early days, we didn’t have cement roads for kolam, so the surface was made from a paste of cow dung and water. It was believed that the smooth surface from cow dung paste prevented small and harmful bacteria from entering the house. It also acts as a cooling agent in the house and helps to maintain a healthy body,” Radha said.
The practice tends to evoke a sense of communal harmony, imbuing the neighbourhood with a lively spirit. Women have spent hours in conversation, laughter and healthy competition, all facilitated by the act of making kolam in close proximity to their neighbours. Radha, too, has often competed with others for the title of ‘Best Kolam of the Day’.
With time, many variations have been worked into the art form. From simple yet intricate kolam made with white powder, colours have also begun being used. However, Radha prefers the pure, untampered kolam practice of bygone days. “Now, you can find kolam stickers in the market, and some ladies will use them and not make kolam by themselves. I feel that by doing so it is taking away the essence of the ritual and how it brought the community together in the early times.”
In 2014, Ehsaan bhai, a factory unit’s sample maker with five years of experience, was called upon to realise the prototype for an Italian company’s Spring-Summer collection of women’s leather handbags. All he was given were reference pictures. A team from Italy was also sent to guide him on how to deconstruct patterns and cut neatly for each bag.
The first lesson lasted half a day, where Ehsaan bhai patiently observed the construction of a hobo bag with myriad tools used by the Italians. Then, it was Ehsaan bhai’s turn. The Italian team was awed by his skill, for he finished constructing the bag in one-third the time, with one-third the tools.
Ehsaan bhai’s story is quintessentially one of frugality and a clever application of skill, honed by many years of practice. Beginning work at a very young age, Ehsaan bhai laboured in varying capacities. He has experienced what it's like to be a ‘typical factory worker’, engaged in repeatedly performing the same task—whether glueing elements together or stitching one piece of a handle—day in and day out. Eager to learn further, Ehsaan bhai went on to apprentice, without pay, as a pattern cutter at an export house where he slowly developed an in-depth knowledge of the technicalities involved.
Today, he proudly claims to be able to deconstruct the patterns of any stitched item by merely looking at its photograph. While others require a compass to make perfect circles, Ehsaan bhai uses his well-trained eyes and a free hand. Despite an early onset of Parkinson's that now makes his hands shake, his years of experience and love for the craft never seem to fail him. With China pulling most leather production jobs from Western Europe, Ehsaan bhai worries about the future of Kolkata’s leather industry—its tanneries and factories. His hope remains for his children to go on and become engineers or accountants. Inshallah!
Indian occasions—from festivals to weddings—are large and lively affairs where one can usually find henna artists armed with their mehendi cones, busy catering to customers. “One of the prominent features of any happy occasion is the henna applied on hands,” said Nilofer, a henna artist based in Bengaluru.
Nilofer first learnt the skill in Mumbai and is trained in different styles including Marwari, Gujarati and Arabic. She moved to Bengaluru after her marriage and opened her own parlour, where she also teaches the art to other women.
What is the secret behind Nilofer’s henna practice? Apart from the artist’s skill, it is the quality of henna that is a defining factor. “I don’t like to compromise on the quality of henna because if I am not honest with my work, I cannot make good money,” she said.
Homemade henna powder is mixed with brewed tea, lemon juice, eucalyptus oil and coconut oil. The mixture is made at least a day before it is to be applied and is left to rest overnight in a bowl. The next day, Nilofer starts by first applying eucalyptus oil on the palms of customers, and later begins tracing patterns with henna. The designs are intricate and symbolic, typically including mandalas, floral patterns, animals and geometric shapes—all traditionally originating from a central point.
Having worked as a henna artist for many years, Nilofer has developed a strong relationship with her customers. Beaming, she proclaimed that she has travelled to places like Dubai in a professional capacity, applying henna at weddings and other occasions. For new leads, she does not hesitate to enrol on online portals such as Just Dial and Sulekha. However, relationship building is a long and arduous process. “For me, it takes about 15 days to a month to build a relationship with my clients. Once that is developed, it will only take a few hours to earn money from them,” she explained
There are various challenges that Nilofer has had to face in her business, primarily among them being the proclivity of customers to bargain endlessly for cheaper rates. Customers are never ready to pay the quoted price for all the hard work. Exasperated, Nilofer said, “People enjoy the most in henna but bargain the most for it.”
“I made a piece in collaboration with my designers, and it got featured in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (UK). It was a challenging piece, but when it got featured, I was very proud.”
Javed ji is one of the few metal craftsmen who has been in the industry for over 45 years. He began by making silver utensils for royal families across India but has gradually expanded his work to include brass lighting and accessories. “This skill was passed down by my ancestors not to do ‘majduri’, but in the hope that I would become a ‘sunar’ in the future,” Javed ji said. Some of his family members continue to work as sunars in the city, selling gold and silver handicrafts, whereas Javed ji has established a workshop exclusively for brass works.
The process of making brass lighting is similar to other forms of metalwork, he explained. “We buy the standard metal sheets available in the market whose thickness varies between 8 to 40 gauge. Once the material reaches our workshop, I make circles on the sheet based on the designs. I then cut the design using an ‘aari’. Now that the 2D shape has been achieved, I will punch the metal sheet in the lathe machine (hydraulic machine) and that gives the object its 3D shape. Finer details are then carved by hand and the piece is ready for finishing. For example, one can do etching to get the rough texture or even polish to achieve smoothness.”
Javed ji has worked with various designers to produce collections that have been shown in exhibitions across the country, and even abroad. Not one to shy away from a challenge, he has always attempted to take up tasks that seem impossible to the rest, continuously experimenting and redefining his craft. When the chance to collaborate for a piece for V&A Museum came up, Javed ji jumped at the opportunity with renewed vigour.
The piece was featured in London and Javed ji was elated with the outstanding response he received for this international exhibit. However, it also led to a bitter revelation—designers, not the craftsmen, usually receive the credit for the final piece. Thus, the seeds were sown for plans of a future brass lighting and accessory studio, where he, along with his son, can sell his creations under his very own label.
The Jorasanko area of Kolkata, where Tagore’s home can be found, has been known for making Indian classical instruments for over a century and was earlier referred to as ‘Tabla Patti’. Sukdeb da recalls a time when around 17 shops along the street were making their best-selling instruments: the tabla, dhol and harmonium. As the popularity of classical music dwindled, so did the craft of making percussion instruments—so much so that out of a proud stretch of 17 shops, only three survive today.
One of these is Star Harmonium—co-owned by brothers Sukdeb and Basudeb Saha and founded by their grandfather, Binod Bihari, 117 years ago. Sukdeb da reminisces about the time their father, Piyari Mohan, made a fortune out of this very business. Many of the courtesans, their accompanists and tabla players were the Sahas’ customers. Eminent tabla player Pandit Jnan Prakash Ghosh would also frequently visit their shop. “At the shop owned by Kanaibabu, Vilayat Khan and Pandit Ravi Shankar would get their sitars crafted,” said Sukdeb da.
Today, the most sought-after instruments however usually serve a religious purpose. Sukdeb da points to the rising sale of nagadas—an instrument played in Hindu temples. Similarly, Bengalis ask for the dhaak to be used on Dussehra, Saraswati and Kali puja. Bengalis and Odiyas often purchase srikhol, an instrument typically made out of mud which is used primarily during kirtan.
Over the past three years, however, an evolution in design has occurred. With the same design blueprint, the duo has switched materials—mud to brass and copper. “While the sound of the mud ‘srikhol’ is sweeter and more harmonious, travelling foreigners pay a premium for brass and copper, for mud is prone to breakage,” Sukdeb da explained, suggesting a clientele so global that innovation in design became inevitable.
The pakhawaj—a percussion instrument that can be traced back to the 14th century—is another speciality of his. However, the instrument has few buyers today. Made of mango wood, with sides of animal skin (mostly goat skin), the pakhawaj produces deeper bass sounds when played.
If you visit Sukdeb da in his shop, he will keenly demonstrate.
The most ubiquitous of all superstitions in India is the Nazar battu, an icon or charm which takes many forms such as the Mahakal face mask or chilly lemon that can be found hanging outside homes and shops across the country. The idea of using Nazar battus to ward off buri nazar (the evil eye) piqued my curiosity and more than belief, it was a growing interest in the person behind the charms that led me to Puttapa—a third-generation Nazar battu maker in Bengaluru.
Puttapa learnt the skill of making clay Nazar battus from his father and has since been involved in his 100-year-old family business. However, Nazar battus alone are not enough to run his household. He has also begun making murtis and diyas to earn a living. Using standard designs that have been in his family for generations, Puttapa first creates the moulds out of clay before making the final products. He only uses pure clay sourced from nearby areas to make both the moulds and subsequent products and is very keen on preserving the design moulds that have been passed down by his ancestors. Apart from his regular clients, he also sells his Nazar battus and murtis to small shops in the city.
Recently, Puttappa has noticed a stagnancy in his business as the people willing to buy Nazar battus today, are few and far between. Even if a few clients are willing to use these products to ward off the evil eye, they are more inclined towards metal Nazar battus as opposed to the original clay versions.
Puttapa believes the craft has no future. “In the early days, making Nazar battu was a big thing in the city and with time, this craft is moving more towards the outskirts. Even my children will not continue my job after their studies. I am the only one doing this job, and this craft will die with me.”
A timeless living craft tradition, pottery’s functional use began in the form of clay utensils that were used to store food and water. Growing up in rural Rajasthan, Bhuvnesh recalled that he would eat food in clay utensils as those made of steel were not available at the time. Clay cookware, and in turn, pottery, were a dominant part of his daily life. They were also the first objects he made as a potter.
Born into a family of master potters and national awardees, Bhuvnesh began learning the techniques associated with the craft from a young age. From preparing the clay and centring it on the wheel to moulding the shape, trimming the edges and firing the finished product in kilns—Bhuvnesh soon became deft at the process. Although he completed his graduation and opted for a business management course, he kept his love for pottery alive by spending enough time at the wheel. After working with small-scale businesses in Delhi, he finally realised his true passion lay in the craft of his forefathers and decided to return to his roots.
Today, Bhuvnesh works at the pottery retreat in Delhi with his father. Over many years, he has developed his retreat studios in Delhi and Kerala, where he not only practises the craft but also trains students and young professionals, in an attempt to keep the art form alive in the city.
As a strong supporter of locally-sourced materials, Bhuvnesh said he prefers working with clay obtained from nearby villages. He spends hours researching techniques and materials, all the while pushing the boundaries of form and structure. Unusual designs are his forte. “My intention has always been to make something that no one has tried before,” he said. Recently, he made a 15 feet wide clay vase which was displayed in a pottery competition in China. The piece also won him an award for his work.
What keeps him motivated to continue his experimentations with clay is the singular view with which he approaches his craft. Bhuvnesh believes pottery to be his heritage. Even today, while training students or operating the wheel, he attempts to remain cognizant of pottery’s association with the country’s history—working tirelessly to keep a remnant of India’s ancient tradition alive with each new piece.
In the Pathuriaghata area of Chitpur, one comes across several craftsmen carving wooden blocks to make Sandesh moulds, each typically engraved with an intricate design and message.
We interviewed a third-generation woodcarver, Narayan da, who sits under his late father’s photograph, chipping away at blocks of Segun that he procures primarily from Assam. With heritage sweet shops in West Bengal continuing to prefer wooden Sandesh moulds to silicone and plastic ones, the present demand is enough to sustain the salaries of Narayan da’s four apprentices. However, these apprentices weigh the value of this craft only in terms of earnings. Ruminating on the future, he said, “This craft will die with me. One has to love the craft to be able to do this. One can’t run after money. There is more sweat than rewards here. We sell 10 sanchas a day at Rs. 60 and make a meagre Rs. 5 profit on each.”
Narayan da’s ancestors were master craftsmen who were often solicited by zamindars and Bengal royalty to make furniture. They were also the first to arrive at the culinary craft scene as pioneers of ‘Sandesh sanchas’. Never having got the chance to learn the craft from his father, who passed away when Narayan da was just a child, he keeps his father’s memory alive today by using his well-preserved tools—15 different batalis—to produce his very own ‘bestseller’ designs.
“I will see any photo, and make the designs. I can make anything you bring to me. You know the ‘buddha buddhi’ you see in ‘shaadi badis’, the bride and groom—that was my invention. No craftsperson used to make those, not even my father.” His most popular designs are the peacock and fish moulds. Orders are often placed via WhatsApp on his son’s smartphone and his moulds are delivered all across the world: KC Das in Kolkata, Mullick Ratan in Mumbai, Bengali households in the US and shops and restaurants in Bangladesh.
Narayan da offered his details for anybody wishing to order moulds: “The Sandesh moulds are handcrafted with love, made out of pure Segun/Teak wood. They are waterproof but have to be dipped in oil 2-3 hours before use. Make your Sandesh offerings in these exquisite designs. They come in assorted shapes and sizes from 2-15 inches. Custom orders, I can do."
Screen printing is the process of transferring ink onto paper or fabric using stencils, a skill that Laxmi has mastered during her years working with a printing unit in Bengaluru. Beginning her career as a trainee, she now heads the unit’s screen printing vertical, using the technique to make a variety of products including wedding cards, business cards, personalised T-shirts and bags.
The unit’s managers taught Laxmi everything there is to know about screen printing. “My training at the printing unit has been very satisfactory and my managers are always supportive if I get stuck,” she said.
Laxmi outlined her process:
“The key to perfect printing is to give the table a rough framework for the placement of the stencil and to make sure the paper or screen does not move while printing,” Laxmi added.
She has also explored screen printing on different materials such as wood and recycled paper. While attempting to print on wood, Laxmi noticed that the ink would keep escaping from the sides. By trial and error, she realised that a different type of ink would have to be used for wood. It is through such experiences that Laxmi has developed an in-depth understanding of the various nuances of screen printing. Today, she allows her curiosity to lead her on, exploring different mediums and building a repository of personal knowledge in the process.
Advertisements for products, announcements by local brands and cultural paintings adorned the walls of many Delhi streets during my childhood. Street art is therefore not a new concept, but the art form has achieved greater popularity today, due to the emergence of young artists who have made public walls their canvases for self-expression. Mukesh, who has been a street artist for over 30 years in Delhi, explained that the key to finding inspiration for such work lies in communication.
During the early days of his career, Mukesh used to paint street walls as per the design brief given by his customers. “My canvas is not a standard art canvas but goes beyond that to encompass walls of temples, schools and shutters of shops,” he said. Based on a conversation with the client, Mukesh usually draws what he visualises in his mind. “I would always try to tell the story of the area where I am painting and bring out its local nuances.” He explained that in the early days, people would communicate with artists and designers to flesh out ideas which would then be rendered on walls of public schools, busy roads or local fairs in the signature style of the artist. Instead of a fresh perspective, what you see today are often regurgitated references from Pinterest or Instagram, which mark the end of collaboration and innovative design.
“Earlier, clients used to look at our previous works to understand our style and give us work. But in modern times, clients are more interested in making things based on the references they find on the internet.”
With the introduction of flex printing in the market, Mukesh’s business has been gradually disrupted due to falling demand. “Before flex printing, I was very occupied with orders and clients but now it is very difficult to even find work,” he said. With people moving towards print-based posters, handmade banners barely generate any interest today and seem to have been relegated to the past. This shift has forced him to move and look for alternate employment in the city.
Mukesh now paints very occasionally, instead relying on his online business selling groceries to make ends meet. With a deep sigh of resignation, he said, “Painters, who were once highly valued for their craft, have become minors in the city.”
Along with the Pochampally and Maheshwari sarees already part of your wardrobe, how about adding a saree made from ‘waste’ to your collection? While this may sound fantastical, Bimlesh ji does exactly this—create a range of unique products, including wearable goods, from leftover fabric.
Growing up in the 1960s, upcycling was deeply rooted in Bimlesh ji's family and neighbourhood. With little spending money available, she would use each leftover textile piece in her tailoring business, disposing of only the unsalvageable. “During those times, every textile was cherished and lasted more than anyone hoped,” she said.
In her early days working with an NGO for women empowerment, Bimlesh ji realised the immense potential of women and the innate tailoring skills they possess, which only need to be coaxed out of their shell with a little training. A turning point in her career emerged later when she began working with a fashion designer in Delhi, primarily engaged in upcycling textiles
Bimlesh ji makes one-of-a-kind goods with the bare minimum, working with what is discarded by the textile industry as ‘waste’—known as katran in tailoring parlance. The process begins by segregating usable material from the pile of waste fabric and deciding how best to put it to use. Employing her traditional tailoring techniques, Bimlesh Ji creates the final product—whether a bag, jewellery or even a saree. Her tools are those commonly used in any tailoring business—crochet hooks, seam ripper, scissors, sewing needle and of course, the sewing machine.
The journey from segregating to finally piecing together the end result is rife with uncertainty. However, the outcome never ceases to astonish Bimlesh ji. “I get surprised after every product is finished, as one side there is a pile of fabric, and another side is the finished product, and that makes me happy.” Working full time, she realised that the more you practice a particular craft as a profession, the more ideas come to mind. Comparing upcycled products to their regular counterparts in the market, Bimlesh Ji explained that people are still inclined to purchase mass-produced goods over upcycled products. “People who value the concept of upcycling only tend to buy these products and use them in their routine.” With sustainability becoming a hot topic of conversation today, a certain shift can be detected in people’s perspective towards upcycled goods. However, even this shift is limited and fairly minuscule, Bimlesh ji explained.
It has taken years for Nayantara Biswas’s husband to allow her to venture into the city and participate in craft melas to sell her wares, ranging from jute baskets and coasters to doormats, table mats and even children’s toys. I watched Nayantara, as she sat, coyly weaving. Her deft fingers seemed to move of their own accord, plaiting the threads in the blink of an eye, before swiftly turning them into circles and spirals using a needle. A jute carry bag featuring several fish motifs was ready in an hour.
With her years of experience, weaving requires little effort today. The tedious part of her job is the preparatory stage—sifting through the fibre of the plant, plaiting and dyeing it. Also known as ‘the golden fibre’, jute is the cheapest natural fibre available and has long been used by artisans to create both functional and recreational products.
“Designing products is the easy bit,” Nayantara said. Many women in her village have also taken to this art form, with the aid of centres that have begun teaching craft-making to help women gain financial independence and supplement their household income.
Nayantara’s designs are inspired by daily life, her chats with other women and nuanced observations of how her children play and interact. For instance, watching her daughter’s mischievous nature and the joy she receives from playing pranks on others inspired Nayantara to weave a fake lizard out of jute.
Her daughter too seems to be slowly picking up the art. Using her smartphone, Nayantara typed a few words in Bengali into Youtube and pulled up a video that details how to make a jute doll. “My daughter showed me. My daughter and I craft these together sometimes,” she said.
“There are a lot of factors that go behind the ticking of the watch,” Nagaraja stated, as he sat in his small watch repair shop, measuring 5 ft. X 10 ft., in Bengaluru. His job requires a lot more than just changing the batteries or cleaning the watch’s internal mechanism. “Often, I have to work with micro parts to repair the watch, and I do it all with hands and some tools that I work with. There is a small microscope-type instrument that acts as my third eye and lets me look at the smaller details with more precision,” he explained.
Having learnt to repair Quartz and mechanical watches from a neighbouring watch repair centre, Nagaraja began working part-time as a repairer, while continuing his job at a kebab shop in the city. He is the only one in his family who has taken to repairing watches. As a result, he had to face many challenges during the early stages—from difficulties in figuring out the ‘why’ behind a stalled watch to a constant pressure to upgrade skills. Through it all, Nagaraja has relied on his community of watch repairers. “We share a good bond where we learn together and work on challenging repair works and that is how we all have been surviving till now in the repair business,” he said.
“Often, my clients will bring watches like Swiss or TAG, and the biggest factor is trust when it comes to repairing such watches. I will always be honest and keep the process transparent with my clients—one of the reasons why my customers keep coming back to me.”
To not miss a single client, Nagaraja has never taken a holiday apart from the forced closure during the COVID-19 lockdown. He is very particular when it comes to his work: “I cannot relax until I finish the watch repair I have in my hand.”
Despite his dedication and uncompromising focus on building trust, the shift in consumer culture has severely impacted Nagaraja’s business. As he said, “People have become lazier to repair their watches. They will mostly throw the watches away and are less likely to get them repaired today.”
Over the years, Bow Barracks in Kolkata has built a reputation for its gala Christmas eve celebrations. The area houses 132 Anglo-Indian families, some of which have been residing here for generations. A visit to this locality during Christmas will reveal households engaged in chaotic preparation for the holidays—all doors flung wide open while the women inside, bent over big tubs of home-brewed wine, are busy transferring the liquid into recycled and sterilised Johnnie Walker and Antiquity Blue bottles. These recipes for homemade wine have been passed down from mother to daughter for generations and each family has added their own unique touch.
Surprisingly, grapes are not the only ingredient you can brew wine with. Apple, beetroot, raisins and even ginger can be used. Beginners can start with this simple recipe that combines the best of Bow Barracks ~
It takes around three months to prepare the wine. At the end of this duration, all the sugar would have fermented into alcohol. The longer you keep it after that, the better it will taste. Keep straining the wine from time to time, for no matter how well you have strained the mixture while brewing it, sediments will keep forming. Home-made wine usually tastes sweeter than its branded counterparts, so our instructor in Bow Barracks suggested adding a little alcohol of your choice to make it stronger.
Traces of the intricate skill of wood carving have been brought to Delhi by artisans who specialise in producing hand-carved wooden furniture. We interviewed a master craftsman, Nayim ji, who has been working in the industry for 40 years. Since the time he learnt the skill from his father, Nayim ji has been involved in the family business, constantly exploring new designs to suit the ever-changing needs of customers.
Has the introduction of technology interfered with the demand for his craft? Nayim ji thinks not. What makes hand-carved furniture unique is not only its complex design but also the smallest of details, which can only be achieved by hand. Machines, with their limited outputs and lack of ornate detailing, are unable to imitate such fine craftsmanship and have not been able to displace the craft’s market to a great extent, he said. As such, he continues to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors, carving each piece by hand, and gaining confidence with every new product.
Nayim ji begins by first drawing the design on paper before making the farma by tracing the finalised drawing onto plywood. His team then calculates the approximate quantity of wood required and makes the purchase. Once the raw material arrives in the workshop, Nayim ji cuts and sands the wood to get the desired shape and texture, finishing by polishing the furniture piece. The polishing needs to be carried out carefully and must match the grain of the wood, else it can ruin the texture of the carved piece, explained Nayim ji.
With time, he has come to regard the community of woodcarvers that he works closely with as his family. This community has grown together, through trust, collaboration and an exchange of ideas. As Nayim ji said, “Sometimes when things don’t go as planned, in those times I discuss with my peers and we support each other to solve the issue. I strongly believe that real joy is solving difficult things together!” The craftsmen have also been quick to adapt to changing times and have taken to browsing the internet for inspiration.
Over the years, Nayim ji has developed a strong clientele. He no longer needs to market his products, as new clients come through referrals and, once satisfied with the outcome, continue to return to him with new orders. Nayim ji makes unique pieces based on a client’s requirements. You can visit his workshop the next time you are in Delhi to witness his detailed process and fine work for yourself.
“When I was younger my father would bribe me to sit at the shop after school. I used to be so restless, it was a task I have to tell you. I just wanted to go around and play. But what I remember very clearly is the craftsmanship of all the collaborators. Papa and his friends would painstakingly carve the smallest part of a mould or a cupboard or whatever job they had at hand. They sat for hours meditating on the wood. It was always fascinating for me mostly because I could not do it myself back then. *Laughing*
Now the times have changed, it’s almost impossible to find anyone with those skills. I seem to be one of the very few people. It is considered time consuming and not worth it.
But after my father’s death, I miss the craftsmanship. Everybody wants to get done with what they started before they started it. That is why I started the Livestream. To keep my skills intact, so that I do not forget the teachings of my father. He had been my teacher just as now I am to other people through the stream.
When I started it was just me sitting on the table with a camera and chiseling away small artefacts, but now the community has grown. I spend some days only answering questions from the chat. I feel that this is my way of giving back. To bring back the nuances of carving and save the craft from vanishing in our new world. And also in turn inspire someone along the way.”
Radio Interview with Pavan Mitroo, Creator of #CarveWithMe, a YouTube channel with 108 million followers
How did the Substance Glove come to be?
I like to keep learning new things, and about three years ago I got heavily into digital learning. Basically I wanted to get into a new skill, something other than leather work, and for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to get into pottery. It sounded tactile enough for me to not get bored, but the more I got into it, it became a challenge to practice digitally. And that is where the idea of the DIY gloves came from.
I just wanted to make something to help with lo-fi practice before I got myself a pottery wheel, but everything online was either expensive or made from products that needed to be parcelled from different parts of the world and had a larger carbon footprint than I was happy with.
I was discussing this with a friend of mine who teaches at the institute nearby and he suggested that maybe he could help, but on the condition that it be open source if we did come up with something. And that is exactly what we did once we had the product mapped, published the making process online so that anyone could make it move forward with their learning journey. The gloves are basically made from material found locally anywhere, and the system software can be downloaded from our website.
More Than a Glove. Excerpt from an interview with Saroj for Source Magazine Issue 89: A New Beginning.
Our mission is to create a community of learners, and creators that make our world sustainable. In this, our school adopts a collaborative approach to craft, recognising the traditional knowledge aspect of crafts, in addition to skills.
To provide locally relevant yet globally impactful education, we think it is necessary to - Put crafts and making at the heart of education, Build more routes into crafts careers, Bring craft enterprise into education, Invest in collaborative and co-design skills in education, Promote the traditional knowledge aspect of crafts, Promote higher education and research in crafts.
Suncraft Public School, Ahmedabad, Gujarat
LendingCraft offers customised credit scoring and management services for urban crafts persons and enterprises. We offer flexible and accessible models of credit and finance and special schemes to assist artisans in acquiring fixed and working capital to shift productivity and growth into small and medium enterprises.
Our services and schemes cater to the different requirements, production cycles, seasonality factors, rate and pace of returns that are particular to different crafts.
Our process enables commercial banks to develop relationships with artisans and provide them loans. We also enable credit guarantees to promote lending by banks to crafts enterprises and producer organisations.
Our services are free from red tape and often accompany bank loans and have a very straightforward application, approval and disbursal process. We have designed a fast and efficient digital interface that minimises human interaction and thus helps in speeding up the process.
Financial Services for Urban Craftspersons
Hunched over a glass table, Dayanand Ji is checking the AI-generated cutting patterns for hand bags when the first of his student-collaborators appears behind him. The table is connected to a motion sensor and recorder that maps his hand movements of the cutting process, and the cameras around him visually capture the process in coordination with the trackers on the scissors.
Unbelievingly Dayanand Ji says, “This machine is learning so fast. But I see that some things it does not understand might be because it lacks intuition.”
A year ago, Dayanand Ji, had been approached by the students of Jagannath Shastri Vocational Training Institute to share his experience and insights. One thing led to another and soon enough he was collaborating with a group of computer science students on developing an open source AI that would be able to cut and stitch designs by referencing small sets of images.
Mastering the Scissors
Notes from a meeting with Dayanand, Master Maker, Procedural Pattern AI Research Program, JSVTI
I teach repair at the National Skill Training Institute in Kolkata. What that really means is that I help students come up with simple solutions for complicated problems using research and local knowledge through what we call Solve My Problem sessions. We believe that most problems can be solved locally, and in that, our motto is that knowledge should travel and tangible things should stay local.
One of the most fascinating changes that I have seen in the last 7-8 years is the introduction of lo-fi hi-tech in our education models. Take for example, virtual reality, where before our students would never have thought of opening up a jet engine to understand how it could be repaired, it has now become a norm. It has completely changed the way diverse yet localised education works. You can endlessly keep breaking objects inside a simulator until you get it right. It’s magical.
Thanks to these advancements many of my students have gone on to successfully create their own repair or crafts businesses.
VR Repair Kunji
Afsar Mallik, Crafts Instructor, National Skill Training Institute (W) Kolkat
We have been here in New Market for three generations now. My grandfather came and settled here after the partition. This was a place a little outside the city then. Earlier bamboo didn’t grow in these parts, we had to import it from Assam, Guwahati, Tripura, the Andamans. The cost to bring it is quite high when you account for the shipping, labour cost and other overheads. But my father had the idea of creating a bamboo nursery and so now we live here, and grow and sell bamboo products made from our own nursery.
Since my son came back we had been talking about making new products. And then one day our filter broke and it just clicked. We started making these filters out of things that were around us, and with testing, we found that it really worked.
First we make a two tier frame. The top part is the filter and is shaped like a funnel and the bottom one is a container in which the water comes and settles. The upper section has alternating layers of charcoal, grass, sand and gravel.
Local All The Way
Faizan & Zahir, Hyperlocal Makers from Mehrauli. Keynote Speakers at Innov8rs: Making Waves, Jakarta, Indonesi
Welcome to India’s leading summit on the Craft of Repair - RE:FAIR 2036. Join us for our 10th anniversary event from Friday, December 19 to Wednesday, December 21, 2036.
Every year, we bring together crafts people, business leaders, policy makers, advocates, technologists, academics, government representatives, and journalists from around the country to tackle the most pressing issues at the intersection of repair, education, crafts, culture and technology.
The Re:Fair program is built by, and for, the community. Sessions are sourced from an open call for proposals, reviewed and voted on by the experts on our program committee, and curated based on urgent and emerging priorities.
This year we present a deep dive into Repair as a Movement, with sessions on repair activism and education; environmental monitoring tools; green governance; benchmarking the footprint of the living crafts sector; and more.
With the community continuing to grow every year, we were thrilled to welcome 4,954 first-time participants for a total of 15,625 participants tuning in from across the world.
Platform.coop, is a cooperatively owned, democratically governed platform built on the trust and clarity of purpose among its members. We are an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common needs through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.
Along with our customers we have created a kind of ecosystem of appropriate forms of finance, services, policy, and trade rules to support the development of democratic online enterprises where any person or business associated with the development of this ecosystem can be considered a proponent of platform.coop. and are a part of the cooperativism movement insofar as they attempt to encourage, develop, and sustain its development.
It’s not by fluke that we have been heralded as the infrastructure on which new alliances between cities, citizens and public utilities working together on localised resources, water supply, waste disposal, and energy provision.
Our Principles -
Broad-based ownership of the platform, in which workers control the technological features, production processes, algorithms, data, and job structures of the online platform.
Democratic governance, in which all stakeholders who own the platform collectively govern the platform through decision-making tools that enable democratic governance among a large number of users.
Co-design of the platform, in which all stakeholders are included in the design and creation of the platform ensuring that software grows out of their needs, capacities, and aspirations
An aspiration to open source development and open data, in which new platform co-ops can lay the algorithmic foundations for other co-ops.
Marketplace of the Future