Toy town transforms with the trend
Toy town shows the way to adopt current trends in handicrafts
By Azmathulla Shariff
Bangalore: Channapatna, the toy town of Karnataka famous for its wooden toys for ages, was reeling under severe financial crunch for more than a decade and the craftsmen mostly from the minority community engaged in the manufacturing of the same reached near starvation stage a few years back. Even today it is the main source of livelihood for the majority of the people of this town. For the setbacks in the past it is not just the lack of marketing skills that were responsible, but the core issue was that the entire industry did not keep pace with the rapid changing scenario was demanding in the world. Today the craftsmen involved in the manufacture have braced themselves by opening new vistas into the current trend with drastic changes in their thinking and attitude by producing the products that are in demand in the market. This has brought back the smile on the faces of hardworking craftsmen and the traders. This change in attitude has not just given a stimulus and good dividend to craftsmen community but this new outlook has changed the face of the entire toy town of Channapatna. The entire industry with nearly six thousand people directly or indirectly engaged in manufacturing and trade in this unique industry will make its presence felt once again in domestic and international market through innovations in current trends and techniques. Today the way the industry has adapted itself to changed circumstances, is a sure testimony to the vision of 'Tipu Sultan' who during his reign invited master craftsmen from Persia (Iran) and introduced its manufacture and trade at
A Channapatna artist busy in his craft
For nearly two centuries this industry was mainly dependent on 'Doodi Ki Lakdi' (ivory wood) and in rare cases rosewood and sandalwood was used. Today this art and the craftsmen have broadened the horizon and use several varieties of wood which includes rubber wood, silver wood, fine wood, nepal wood, psychamora, red seedar, pinewood and teakwood. The availability of intricate work on variety of wood as per client’s demand has given new impetus to the entire industry of the toy town. The entire art and craft demands dedicated craftsmanship and labour right from stage one, that of procuring of the wood, subsequently seasoning the same and then cutting these pieces into desired sizes, pruning and carving into desired shape and finally colouring with artistic designs by the artists, polishing and presenting the same with attractive finish as finished product into the market. "Despite availability of a large variety of wood for the art and craft, the charm of working on 'Doodi Ki Lakdi' is entirely different, and every craftsman loves working on this wood for the very basic reason that this wood is very soft by nature" says Kenniah a craftsman and a trader.
"Earlier there was no competition for the industry, today the industry faces stiff competition from Chinese products and this has prompted the Design Center of Development Commissioner Handicrafts, Bangalore to come out with prototype designs designed by its master craftsmen and make the same available to industry and the craftsmen are willing to adopt and produce the same" says Neiman Shariff a Junior Assistant at Lacquerware Craft Complex a subsidiary unit of KSHDCL at Channapatna.
In the month of March a fifteen-day prototype design workshop was held at Channapatna and the master craftsmen under the cluster scheme trained the local craftsmen by the Government. 'Ummeya Women Handicrafts Association', a purely women based organisation is empowering the women in manufacturing and trade of this art and craft. 'Maya Track' yet another Bangalore based NGO is actively involved in promoting the industry with two of its active working units training and employing nearly fifty people from Channapatna and surrounding villages. "Just a few years back procuring the basic raw material-wood was difficult due to bureaucratic hurdles involved and frequent harassment by the forest range officers but today the wood is available in abundance with minimal hindrances" says Griappa an artisan.
Though in the past, several efforts were made to develop this industry by the Government by building quarters cum working sheds with financial assistance from the Dutch Government and again under State Government's 'Vishwa Scheme'. The Lacquerware Craft Complex established by Karnataka State Handicraft Development Corporation Limited has a manufacturing centre in the town with 32 turning lathe meachines rented out to individual craftsmen on a monthly rent of rupees seventy five. Much of the produce from these craftsmen is bought back by KSHDC itself and marketed by it through its retail outlets spread in different parts, though the individual craftsmen have the liberty to procure orders on their own but these were minor steps without guidelines to take the craft to new heights. In a competitive market, cooperative approach and aggressive marketing with a clearly defined campaign both by the traders and promoters will definitely enhance the value of their produce. Neiman Shariff says "today on an average a craftsman makes rupees hundred a day, this was not the case two years back". The entire industry is facing cut-throat competition; the customers demand the very best at a competitive price. The economic boom and entry of domestic and international brands making their presence felt in Indian market with various promotional schemes such as gifts and mementos to cater to the ever growing dealer and corporate clientele, has given new hope to this art and craftsmen. Mujahid Pasha of T.P Arts & Crafts who employees seventeen laborers in his unit already has corporate clientele such as 'Touchtel' and 'OyzeterBay' and has enough work at hand for his unit for another two months. He says "we don’t deal with these companies directly, agents are involved in procuring orders and they are the ones who get hefty margins and not the craftsmen or the owners of these small units". In any case a little promotional effort through effective marketing will change the way this industry is functioning. Syed Jalal handicapped by birth, is a master artist known for creating beautiful designs in colours on the carved out wooden work by craftsmen, has displayed his skills through his unique creations by representing Karnataka at Singapore Handicraft Show in the year 1989 was a disappointed person a few years back. He is happy at the present developments and optimistic about the future of the entire craft industry of Channapatna. The product range has spread its tentacles from traditional toys to producing articles meant for interior decoration, house hold utility articles, spice box, salt and pepper box, coaster sets, coat hangers, key chains, mobile holders and an extended range of corporate gift items just to name a few. The traditional trend such as rings, bangles, hair clips, range of toys have become things of the past. The only traditional item that is popularly being manufactured on a regular basis is the napkin rings largely meant for exports. The toy town of Channapatna and the will of the craftsmen have shown the way to the dwindling handicraft industry that is threatened due to cheap substitutes that are easily available every where. A mere change in attitude and will and determination to modernize with respect to the current trend will not only give a new lease of life to the entire handicraft industry, but this will help to economically uplift the entire craftsmen community engaged in handicrafts.«
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