Meeting Kaku Ben, from Bhuj, Gujarat was an experience in itself. An appliqué artisan for the last 25 years, her mother was a national award winner. Dressed proudly in traditional attire which she made with her own hands, she said that ever since she remembers, she has been working in this sector.
Appliqué is a traditional art form of India which typically involves the recycling of old pieces of cloth through patchwork. Squares called chitkis, triangular pieces and rectangular strips are sewn together to construct fabrics for use such as quilts, canopies, and hangings. The quilts constituted an important dowry item among the Meghwal, Mutwa, Sodha Rajput, Mahajan, Jat and Rabari communities; every bride was expected to have a minimum of three appliqué pieces as part of her trousseau as a display of her ability to be a good homemaker.
Kaku Ben gave a very interesting insight which can be a major premise for geographical evolution of indigenous art forms in India. She said that her village and surrounding areas never had much agricultural opportunities or potential which is so many people took up to handicrafts as a source of livelihood.
She recalled a time when their work used to get sold for paltry sums but nowadays due to growing awareness, she says her work draws much more attention and is of considerably greater financial value.
Another challenge which she used to face was getting timely access to markets. But ever since she became a part of Hansiba, A SEWA initiative of more than 15000 women artisans, she says she is much better off.
Her daughters have also joined her in this profession. This was a positive sign given that many handicraft traditions in our country are languishing because not enough people are there to continue it forward.
Our conversation with her ended as she got busy in dealing with customers but we walked away with an affirmation that we need to be grateful to many of these invisible artisans for our rich cultural heritage.