By A M Radhika:
Odisha has always been the land of handicrafts and handloom, while parallel the nation has its second biggest contribution from handloom in manpower requirements, the first being agriculture of course. Most of the commercial crafting happens in Cuttack’s distributed villages separated by some 2-3 km. Tens of thousands of weavers, artisans and craftsmen are well into their day’s work when rest of the nation has not even seen the dawn break. Ikat, Khandua Pata, Bomkai, Bandha, Pasapalli in handlooms and Pata chitra kala, Nilgiri utensils and Sambalpuri textiles are the main attractions of Odisha handloom and handicrafts.
There have been major discussions on why these weavers aren’t being given their due. Suicidal reports are on an all time rise. The wages of weavers do not change for decades but price rise keeps hitting them, trapping into the vicious cycle of raw material crunch due to lack of money for not having sold the previous work. Again, the supply of these raw materials is a different chain of sad events altogether. Silk yarns have to be imported from other states, supply does not satisfy the demand, shortage yields to black marketing increasing yet again, the prices. The Cooperative Society means, as opposed to the private traders is believed not to be beneficial, while some hold the opinion that private traders are worse. The raw material and design briefing is usually given to the weavers beforehand.
Most work on daily wages. Two days to finish a saree fetches the whole family on an average, Rs. 1300 a month. Imagine if you had to be creative on that kind of salary. Film stars are you listening? Moneylenders control even the cooperative society indirectly, thereby creating an acute financial shortage, especially in Kalahandi and Sundargarh. Starting capital on the other hand is Rs. 10,000 for say, 10 sarees including the raw material procurement, transportation, efforts and trading costs which then cycles in a credit basis.
Moving to the Pata-chitra-kala scenario, the deftness, discipline and control that these artists display while at work with their appreciation for detail is amazing and can be realized only once witnessed. Preparation of the canvas itself takes 5 days, involving tamarind seed paste preparation (Niryas Kalpa), attaching two pieces of cloth with this paste, adding clay mixed coating of the pastes, drying and polishing, cutting into required sizes and the smaller but extremely regular series of steps in between. Once prepared, a Pata Chitra painting is finished in a week for standard designs. Special work may take as much as 3-4 weeks. And with the given wages, their investment in the form of time and effort is undoubtedly not returned.
There is a dire need to commercialize more, these age old crafts, not only from Odisha but from all the states, transparency in trading consists too many indirect influences. The artisans, craftsmen and weavers are heavily unaware except for the cooperative operations. And in this grind, either the man of the family or one of the many ‘daughters’ shall end his/her life. A routine grind this is.