The Original Article published in the Hindu can be read here:
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North East craft being made in Saddi Delhi, It will not be wrong to say, if urban Delhi consumers do not go the North East to pick handicrafts, well then the handicrafts will come to Delhi. And by this I do not mean those crafts which are sent for selling in the capital but those which are actually made here by craftsmen from North East. The definition of North East is though slightly broad, to be precise several crafts of Manipur, the Thangkul Naga, Nagaland and Assam are made with fervour in Delhi just like they would back home, yes using the same raw materials and process of making. I chanced upon this trend quite accidentally, while watching and shooting WungShungmi, a Manipuri black pottery craftsman at the Craft Museum. Taking a break while the innumerable cups which were being baked in the open kiln filled with leaves etc., he casually asked where I lived in Delhi. Then of all the surprising things, he asked, “can such a kiln be fired in your area? Curious I dug deeper, only to realise that WungShungmi stayed near INA and was actually making the traditional black pottery products here in saddi Dilli for the last eight years. And like him there were several traditional craftsmen who had made Delhi their home but continue to ply their traditional crafts with elan. From pottery, loin loom weaving, beaded jewellery, baskets, quilts, bamboo work to kawna mats.
The number of craftsmen making Manipuri black pottery also called Longpi or coiled pottery is slightly more as compared to the other crafts. The pottery is made of powdered stone sans a potter’s wheel, entirely shaped by hand. In recent times, good design intervention has ensured eye catching products. There are plenty of potters making black pottery in Vasant Enclave and Mahipalpur area. Like WungShungmi, there is Ashim Pearl Shimray, pottery artist and jewellery maker who has her workshop in Mahipalpur where the black pottery is made. As she says, “the biggest advantage of making in Delhi is the transportation cost is avoided. In pottery the breakage is a lot. So we get the raw materials and make it here. Also Delhi being closer to the buyers, it is possible to make whatever designs buyers want. Greater experimentation is possible.” Pearl came to Delhi to study MA Sociology in 1998 and has been in Delhi since then. She is a studio potter and also makes traditional tribal jewellery of the Hill people of Manipur covering all the Naga tribe. Each tribe has its specific colours, motifs and jewellery, she makes them all here. The materials come from Bhutan to local sources.
Pearl also a runs a shop with Pamringla Vashum in Shahpurjat. Pamringla not only runs the shop but also makes product on the loin loom or back strap loom from her home. The normal drawing room simply doubles up as a weaving zone. When we enter, her aunt, is busy counting the threads to be affixed to the loom. The thread or yarn of fine count is procured locally from Sadar Bazaar. The frame which was doing the work for counting, is simply spread, the end of the loom which is usually affixed to the wall is expertly tied to the open window. She adjusts the length and voila sitting on the floor the work starts. I am impressed with the ease with which the loin loom sits in her drawing room. She has different sets of looms, all cleanly stacked at one end and no one will actually believe that it is actually a loom in working. She explains the concept of the loom, “once the design is set, the weaving is easy. As the loom is set anyone who knows weaving in the family simply picks it up and weaves.” The back strap loom is a rarity and specialty from the North East. The width of the fabric is smaller and to create larger fabrics, two exactly similar pieces are joined together.
The traditional shawls of the Thangkul Naga has today been innovated to make runners, table mats, cushion covers, bags and more. She makes these products with ease dealing with buyers. When there is more quantity the work is simply off loaded. She says, “there are many people who make it in Delhi. I give them the work. Tell them the pattern and give them the thread. They take it home and work.” Pamringla came to Delhi in 1999 for an exhibition, then worked for some time with Trifed before branching out on her own. She was one of the few from whom the First Lady Michelle Obama bought crafts from at the Crafts Museum. She though does not elaborate on who are the others who make similar products fearing loss of business. She adds, “Delhi is a very good market. Back home in the village it is very difficult to sell our products. Here there is a good market and there are places – melas, haats and exhibitions from where these can be sold.” Similar is the story of Annie from Nagaland who makes beaded jewellery. Seeing the response here, she has plans to stay in Delhi adding, “we actually get better and more raw material in Delhi than back home. Here it is easier to buy.”
Vivekananda Bagchi, a National Award winner for Bamboo jewellery in 2010, is a wizard with bamboo. Though traditionally from Bengal he has made Delhi his home and specialises in making bamboo work from Tripura as well. As he says, “it is easier to get the raw materials in Delhi than anywhere else. At home, we have to scour the villages for it. Here Paharganj and other markets stock good quality in plenty. The prices are nominal too.” There is Apam Ahum who runs Hao Craft and they make black pottery jewellery also, a new addition. There are plenty more, the entire area of Sangam Vihar, Mahipalpur, Vasant Kunj – Kishan Garh, Gandhi Nagar has a fair representation of craftspersons from North East. The underlying fact remains that in this market driven world, the craftsmen prefer to be nearer to the buyers where it is easier to deal. The question of raw material is easily taken care of with several trips home. What matters is the market and that is where they are. With Hindi speaking abilities, it is the market driven economy which dominates. Long live enterprise and entrepreneurship.