Soul, Wood & Lacquer

Channapatana is a city in the Ramanagara District, about 60km from Bangalore city in the state of Karnataka. This city is famous for its wooden toys and lacquerware and is commonly referred to as the Toy Town of or Town of toys (“Gombegala nagara”). These toys are manufactured by hand, using basic lathe machines and plant-based dyes in traditional small-scale industries, mostly based out of artisans’ homes. In the past decade, the number of artisans has fallen drastically from 15000 to 1500 forcing them to migrate to larger cities in search of jobs, generally as daily wage workers. The following poem is an elucidation of an erstwhile artisan’s plight.

The sun scorches above me whilst I
Carry bricks, stones, and gravel
Shovel for hovel or mansion
Hands open wide as I grovel
For every coin, every scrap morsel…
I left my town and profession
Living – felt like a transgression
Every meal became a struggle
Spirit dead, soul hollow, strength feeble
Force forgetting the learnings of each generation
Passed down father to son
The creation of a toy at every stage
Taught – through the ages
A liberalised economy shutting me in a plastic cage
I looked down my spidery veins
On hands tanned,
On hands bleeding and lost land
Hands that once…
Crafted colour and child’s laughter
From soul, wood, and lacquer.
– The Erstwhile Artisan, Chennapatna

Kriti Srivastava, Assistant Professor, School of Fashion Design, Unitedworld Institute of Design (UID)

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