Craftsmen are important to every country as they preserve the long tradition of heritage and culture that has built many nations. The quality of such skilled craftsmen is unquestioned but it is sad to see that such impressive craftsmanship tradition is being taken over by modern architects, methods and technology. One of the main motives of our blog/magazine is to give recognition to such talented people who are being ignored in the path to modernization.
I conducted interview with Mr. AshaRam from Uttar Pradesh,India.He is a craftsman specialized in woodwork who has been creating some uniquely crafted wooden artifacts for Dakshinachitra in Chennai and many other places. The interview ran for an hour as I was trying to understand his back ground, the skills he has and how exactly do craftsmen operate in India.
How long have you been in Chennai?
It has been almost 7 years since i came to Chennai.
How long have you been working on this craft?
I have been working on this craft for 30 years now.
How did you learn this craft?
I learnt this craft from my master Ustad Abdul Salem. I was earlier working in farm but later i got interest in this craft under my master and honed my skills under him.
Why did you leave farming?
I did not leave farming. I still have the land and my family members take care of the farm.
What are the raw materials you use?
Wood, Brass and fevicol are the common materials i use.
How did you approach Dakshinchitra?
I was introduced to Dakshinchitra through Mrs. Gita Ram in an award function that was organized in Dakshinchitra and both Gita madam and Vishalam madam helped me. Then I thought that craft goods are sold at a good rate here and decided to work here.
Do you think that all craftsmen throughout India get opportunity to showcase their talent or a platform to sell their crafts?
I think yes they all do. All good people who do good things should get an opportunity.
Do you think craftsmanship is dying in India slowly?
No, I do not think so. Dakar, the place where I come from there we have good sales of all kinds of crafts. We even have Kissan Ghat which promotes all these crafts. Also there is a good sale of all kinds of crafts in Delhi which is one of the main markets for all these craft items. We make all these items and send it to Delhi where there is high demand for all these craft items. Dilli Haat is also another place in Delhi which promotes such traditional crafts.
Children of the craftsmen are settling in cities and finding jobs in cities and do not want to continue the family tradition of craftsmanship. Parents also support them and want their children to have a better life. What do you have to say?
Yes it is true that they don’t want to continue in the family footsteps but it is important to pass on the tradition to the young and I am also teaching my children. I would want them to work on the craft just like I do.
Do you think local people know about the traditional crafts and do they support you?
Yes, they do know. That is why so many people buy them.
But don’t you think people outside India value such products more than in India?
Yes, that is true. All these items are export quality and American companies support us and buy many products from us. There is a huge demand of such product there. In India too people buy but it is usually the high end people here who buy my products.
Why do you think people will be interested in buying your products when there are such products available at cheaper rates everywhere and cheaper products from china and other places coming in, do you think you stand a chance?
This cannot be compared to Chinese products because those kind of products do not have the quality which my product has.(eagerly takes out a colorful wooden necklace )Touch this and see for yourself. You would not get such work and finishing in other cheap products.
(Again takes out a wooden cube which can be expanded into different shapes) see this now. You cannot get such creative and quality products anywhere at a cheaper rate. Lot of work and creativity goes into this and it is rated according to that.
(i decided not to ask him more questions regarding the quality of his product yet I was so amazed to see how proud and confident he felt in showcasing his work )
Is there any difference in the traditional crafts market if you compare 10 years before and now?
No there is no difference as such except that the finish in the products was not so good and the material too was not that good but now the products are good with much better quality.
What else can be done according to you to revive the traditional crafts?
I think the young craftsmen should be motivated to take up and practice of such crafts. The government should encourage the crafts. The government should introduce schemes for craftsmen to support their skills. Earlier they had three year schemes in which the master Craftsman was paid Rs6000 to teach the children and the children were paid Rs200 monthly. But now we do not have such schemes. Such schemes would be helpful.