“Delhi once had over 35 va­ri­eties of cot­ton woven lo­cally,” says Laila Tyabji

India Today - - INSIDE - Cover pho­to­graph by Vi­jay Tonk

Iwas born in Delhi, on a hot May af­ter­noon in 1947—one of Mid­nights Chil­dren. Delhi is the place I’ve mostly lived in since, in be­tween board­ing school, so­journs abroad with my diplo­mat par­ents, art schools in Bar­oda and Ja­pan, Dastkar field trips, etc. Fun­nily, I never think of it as my home! Partly this is be­cause Delhi con­tin­ues to be a city of tran­sients, ex­pats, and mi­grants, here be­cause of Gov­ern­ment berths and diplo­matic or cor­po­rate jobs, rather than choice. The Jama Masjid and Civil Lines res­i­dents who re­ally de­serve the ti­tle of Dil­li­wal­lahs nos­tal­gi­cally re­mem­ber the days when they were the REAL Delhi, rather than us up­starts in colonies with strange alien names—Friends Colony, De­fence Colony, May­fair Gar­dens, West End, South Ex­ten­sion… Nev­er­the­less, I am nos­tal­gic too – of the Delhi of the 50s and 60s; so much more demo­cratic, in­clu­sive, laid-back, and peace­ful.

A Delhi where my brothers and I went horse­back rid­ing ev­ery morn­ing with Prime Min­is­ter Nehru on streets with­out sirens, road blocks, or po­lice. When the elec­tric­ity went off, we all sweated it out in the dark —crorepatis, po­lit­i­cans and aam admi. Ev­ery­one drove ei­ther an Am­bas­sador or Fiat. We slept out on our lawns or roof tops. Gated com­mu­ni­ties, road rage, and that hor­ren­dous VVIP cul­ture were un-thought of. So were Malls full of branded im­ported goods! We had tai­lors sit­ting cross-legged on our ve­ran­dahs mak­ing our clothes stitch­ing cloth that was still be­ing woven, dyed, block-printed, and em­broi­dered in our neigh­bour­hood—Delhi once had over 35 dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of cot­ton woven lo­cally. How sad not one sur­vives in our pol­luted in­dus­trial jun­gle to­day!

For cen­turies Delhi was the cen­tre not just of po­lit­i­cal power, but also poetry, mu­sic and the arts. Known too for its won­der­ful jew­ellery, metal-ware, minia­ture paint­ing, ivory and san­dal wood carv­ing, book bind­ing and cal­lig­ra­phy, its at­tar and soaps— with crafts­peo­ple given ex­tra­or­di­nary re­spect and stature, an hon­oured part of the Mughal court.

How dif­fer­ent things are now – where hardly any lo­cal crafts re­main ex­cept the oc­ca­sional chik­wala and pot­ter, and the only spa­ces for craft peo­ple are on the pave­ment or in tem­po­rary haats. Pre-cast and moulded Chi­nese Ganeshes and tawdry plas­tic toys are sold at ev­ery street cor­ner.

It breaks my heart when I see well-off Del­hi­ites brow­beat­ing a kari­gar from Kutch or Jhark­hand into giv­ing them a dis­count – be­hav­ior they would never at­tempt in a Benet­ton store. We don’t re­alise how for­tu­nate we are that In­dia still has crafts­peo­ple—some­thing the rest of the world has lost. The unique per­son­alised cre­ativ­ity of hand­craft has a qual­ity no mass-pro­duced brand can com­pete with. Ru­ral crafts­peo­ple vis­it­ing the city for the first time used to en­quire why we all greeted each other say­ing “Hai! Hai!” They were amused that “Hi” was a greet­ing not a lament. Now, of course, their chil­dren say ‘Hi’ them­selves!

The writer is the Chair­per­son, Das­takar So­ci­ety for Crafts and Crafts­peo­ple


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