New Paths

Op-Ed

New Paths

Jaitly, Jaya

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Seminar is an old and respected journal that focuses on a single subject every month and seeks a variety of perspectives on it from various persons known to have worked in the field. In 2003 it dedicated one issue to crafts. My contribution dwelled on the search and sometimes the successful discovery of new avenues of the development of crafts in India. This article was reprinted in A Podium on the Pavement, New Delhi: USBPD, 2004

The deeply entrenched caste system has been the one major factor responsible for the traditional skills of handicrafts and hand weaving. The history and the development or decline of various crafts is like a rich palimpsest in which the folk, the formal, the courtly and the tribal, each has its own unique paths. Yet, these may have met, woven together, separated, transformed and flourished, depending on the multitude of inputs that exist in a multilayered society. If we look at the craft scene in the rest of the world today, we see that in the former Soviet Union the pattern of state socialism practically decimated the common artisan. In the present milieu of Russia it is almost impossible to find the cobbler, the carpenter, the weaver, the potter of yore. In Japan there is still a strong conservative and cultural streak running through the veins of its people. Thus their best craftsmen are termed national treasures, and sections of their traditional crafts have protection for the sake of preservation. However, some, like the bamboo crafts sold in Japanese shops, are now more likely to have been made in factories in China. The craft manufacture of China is now carried out under fairly well organized work shed conditions run by private entrepreneurs. Mechanised processes often replace tedious replication of handwork and the various components are put together by workers who are not traditional craftspeople as we define them in India. China ...
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