banno, dhanno and teja in bumm-bumm-bhole-land

hands down or up?

A colleague brought me this mug from the UK during Christmas last year.

He said apologetically, “I know you will laugh, what with the wonderful handicrafts you have here in India.”

This mug comes from the largest pottery factory in the UK, run by his sister-in-law, Emma Bridgewater. Apparently, this is one of the few handicraft factories still existing in the UK, where the manufacturing is done entirely in the UK. He said that even their famous Wedgewood chinaware is now primarily made in Asian countries, and only a small portion is hand-painted in the UK, to give it the UK thappa.

As for us Indians, what do I say? We still do so much with our hands, including cleaning our bottoms.

Everywhere you travel, including in the smallest gullies of Bumm-Bumm-Bhole-Land, there are people doing all kinds of intricate things with their hands. Like recycling the smallest bits of plastic and metal.

I only wish we would respect that work a little more. Assure a teeny tiny bit more health and safety measures for our workers.

What always gets my goat are the fancy boutiques with their fancy prices. And when you reach the workshops, oh yes, the biggest and the best of them, the kaarigars are squeezed into the smallest spaces, their combined body heat much higher than the pathetic fans whirring there.

Usually, most workers in most environments will be ready to chat once your face is familiar, or at least laugh amongst themselves at you, if you are a stranger.

But the embroidery workers keep on and on at their work, the younger ones especially are glum. Many workshops employ children, who don’t exactly like being cooped up in the tiny place all day, especially since a lot of them live there, away from their homes, with distant relatives or people from the same village.

They spend at least 12 hours a day squatting like that on the floor, doing this little, little work.

I think it’s good employment, and they earn a lot more than they would on the streets, doing something else, perhaps. But would it cut too much into the designer’s profits to give them a little more space, air-conditioning, perhaps?…. bah, who ever heard of workers getting air-conditioning.

So as with most other things in life, I am confused, about whether handicrafts are a good thing or a bad thing.

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9 comments on “hands down or up?

  1. Space Bar
    February 20, 2011

    Yes, I keep thinking about that as well. If the craftspeople were paid what their work was worth, we couldn’t afford any kind of handicraft. (So we’d either outsource to a sweatshop elsewhere in the world where their labour laws needn’t lose us any sleep, or wear factory-made).

    • Banno
      February 21, 2011

      Space Bar, it is a tough balance to achieve. But the scales pretty much tilt only one way, as of now. But like Kuntal says, there are some good organizations working to achieve fair trade practices. More power to them.

  2. Kuntal
    February 20, 2011

    India is supposed to be this wonderful country which embraces all sorts of influences, which is known for the warmth of its people etc. etc. And yet, as a culture, we can easily treat our own people with unfeeling callousness, to put it mildly.

    Happily there are also examples of people who are doing wonderful work to help enpower people against whom the deck is stacked so to speak.

    Thanks for the post – it’s good to be reminded that it’s worthwhile to align and contribute, in whatever small way, with the people who are doing good work.

    I truly hope that one day, as a country, we will respect each other more. It’s a vision to look forward to – if and when it happens.

    • Banno
      February 21, 2011

      I am sure it will happen, as we are becoming more and more self-aware as a country. If nothing else, probably globalization will bring in more political correctness as well, in our dealings with each other. :)

  3. memsaab
    February 21, 2011

    Handicrafts are a very good thing, but so are labor laws! Government regulations are so sadly underrated any more :( (everywhere)…

    • Banno
      February 22, 2011

      I know, Memsaab. We do have some decent regulations on paper, but of course, rarely practiced. :(

  4. dipali
    February 24, 2011

    I guess we do need to buy handicrafts, and yes, the laws need to be implemented properly and amended where they need to be.

    • Banno
      February 24, 2011

      Dipali, the work of our artisans leaves one dumbfounded. Every single corner of the country is capable of producing so much beauty. And yet, the creators usually live and work amidst so much squalor. But things are improving, ‘labour trouble’ is a sign of that. :)

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This entry was posted on February 20, 2011 by in real world and tagged , , , .
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