In the first few months with Dastkar in Andhra one of the places I visited was Etikoppaka, a small and remote village in Visakhapatnam district.
Chitti Raju, the head of the local landowning family was extremely hospitable. He took a keen interest in the local craft of lathe-turned and lacquered wood, and had often paid from his pocket the fines imposed on the artisans by the forest department because they ‘illegally’ helped themselves to the ‘ponniki’ [Wrightia tinctoria
] wood for their craft. The Etikoppaka artisans were at the time of my first visit somewhat shaken by the following incident: An English designer had come to the village some months before and offered to give them some new designs free of cost. The artisans had demanded that she pay for their time and materials to make the samples, to which she did not agree. Instead, she had gone to a neighbouring village and worked with an NGO that according to Chitti Babu had lured away artisans from Etikoppaka. Not only had she got the new designs made, but had got an order for them worth one lakh rupees!
Whoever she was, that woman made things easy for me because the Etikoppaka artisans immediately agreed to make the designs I suggested. I was at that time a consultant to Lepakshi, the State craft shop, and could place orders on their behalf. After that first visit I went to Etikoppaka regularly to place orders, to work out new designs with the craftspeople, and to try and get the artisans to work together as a group. Fortunately all the new des...