Travels through Rajasthan refuels your appreciation for the traditional crafts and the variety and talent of the local artisans cannot cease to amaze. Although, all the tourist destinations in the country have rows of shops trying to catch the eye of the tourists, there is a sameness in the assortment of wares they display, be it Kanyakumari or Khajuraho, Taj Mahal or the beaches of Goa. There are the Kashmere paper mache stuff, antique looking metalware which could come from anywhere, chunky bead and metal jewellery, a strange mixture of pyjamas, kurtas, T-shirts and a lot of patch work bags. The people who sell these wares are either ignorant of the original source or reluctant to admit that the stuff is not local. For the ill informed visitor, it is Indian and who wants to go beyond that?
The remarks of the shopkeeper who was trying to sell us an exquisite hand made bedspread that “you may not find anything like this after a few years” got me thinking. In Jaisalmer, the shopkeepers do not have to go far to fill their stores. There is so much variety in the crafts that the men and women of the region can produce!! There is an unending variety of embroidery skills among the village women of these desert hamlets that produce an exquisite range of bedspreads. These include, embroidery, applique work and patchwork of different types.
Then there are the lovely puppets, a whole range of jewellery using the local semi-precious stone and the talent of the silver smiths, the woodwork and the metal objects from in and around Jaisalmer and other parts of Rajasthan. The craftmanship goes far beyond the handicrafts that we all admire. Being the home of all the marble, there are excellent people who work with this difficult stone. In fact, the deity in every temple in the country and even around the world is probably sourced from these craftsmen.
Around Jaisalmer, the stone is softer and golden in hue. All the buildings here are made with this stone and it is wonderful to see that there are still gifted workers making jaalis and jharokas to match the work of the artists of yore. And often it is difficult to differentiate and old and a new mansion!!
So on the travels around Rajasthan, you not only see the wonderful history and architecture but also the unlimited talent of our fellow Indians. As one appreciates all the talent and talk to the shop vendors, and try to strike bargains for this and that, you also wonder how much compensation the craftsmen and women get. And you know that it is no where near enough and they are only continuing with these traditions, because it is the only thing they know. That education is not reaching them and if it did their children may also want to become doctors and engineers and everything else we aspire for our children. And if and when education reaches them, as it should, will these crafts die? What are we doing and what can we do to ensure that they survive? Is there a solution that will ensure both?