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Kutch village threads tales on its wares

Saubhadra Chatterji  |  Bhuj 

As the sunlight melts at the door steps of her turquoise blue hut, Raniben recalls her journey as a refugee from Pakistan to India way back in 1972. The 40 year-old, however, doesn't narrate the story in words or speech. She speaks through embroidery on a bag.

The colourful threads, the beads, her delicate stitches, not only enliven the lost homeland in Sindh, but for Raniben, who is the main bread-earner for this family of three members, this is also the main source of income in her shelter at Sumrasar Sheikh village in Gujarat.

"I had learnt this traditional art of embroidery in my native village in Sindh area. Then the women in my family used to make bags, curtains mainly for fun and to use in their own homes. Now this is my business. I earn Rs 150 per day." Her eyes glitter through the thick-glassed spectacles.

Raniben is not alone. There are about one thousand women in this village, 25 kilometres away from Bhuj. They all work in an NGO ""Kala Raksha Trust "" aimed to preserve the old-world heritage of traditional art and at the same time, generates revenue for these workers to sustain their livelihood.

After the 1971 war, the Sodha Rajput community people in large numbers had to migrate to India. They migrated from Sindh and were settled in Zura migration camp in Kutch area.

Earlier these migrants used to work in a highly unorganised way. It all changed when Judie Frater, a curator in the Textiles Museum of Washington, came down to this desert area to do a research on the life of the migrants.

The marketing head of Kala Raksha, Nilesh Priyadarshi says, "She was posed with questions by the migrant families that 'you have come to do a study on us. After you finish your work you'll go back but what will happen to us'?"

Frater resigned from her job is US and came back to the parched land of Bhuj to work amongst the migrant families.

In 1993, Kala Raksha was formed with just 20 people and now it is one of the favourite destinations for tourists who come to this area in search of traditional art.

"Fourty per cent of our products are sold in the foreign markets. We participate in almost all the major trade and textiles exhibitions in the country", says Priyadarshi.

The village shows visible changes. There is a Bank of Baroda branch with an ATM, and there are only a few mud huts, while the majority of the homes have tin covers and brick walls. One even gets to see a few two-storied houses all pointing out to the story of financial uplift of a group of people who had to to come to this distant land in the middle of their life to start afresh.

With the sales increasing at the rate of 20 per cent every year, the Trust takes care to ensure the talent and a resource bank is there to cater to the market. There is a museum in the Kala Raksha centre displaying different forms of Kutch handloom art and crafts.

The trust has also diligently built a 'resource centre' "" best of samples preserved along with the name, age and the address of the artisan. The new generation can take a cue from this centre to reproduce the art-form. If needed, the original artist can also be contacted to create products.

The movement, which started with the migrants, soon roped in locals too. It is fascinating to see how different communities recreate their ancestral heritage but stick to their own customs. Basically, six types of traditional crafts are practiced. Suf, Kharek and Paako are the regional embroideries of Thar Parkar and Kutch region along ethnic embroideries of Rabari, Jat and Mutava communities.

Suf and Khareek artists create geometric motifs; Paako artists create gardens of stylized flowers in tight square chain and double buttonhole stitch.

"We provide raw materials, fabrics, designs and most importantly marketing platforms. We also run health and education programmes," says Priyadarshi.

Artisan design committees study these collections to create contemporary work while the pricing committee, involving artisans, work on the wage structure. On an average, 30 per cent of the price of a commodity goes as the labour charge.

The vibrant colours, motifs and designs in Kala Raksha are proof that there is a fascinating life in this desert region.

Its small office rooms, in the shape of traditional Kutch huts are shelters not only to a large number of families but also for old-world arts which still find its place even in this twenty-first century.

First Published: Tue, December 25 2007. 00:00 IST