Being an Indian, hand made crafts have always been part of my life, whether it is my mother wearing a cotton saree made in hand mills, those cane baskets I used to keep my toys, batik tops I wore when I wanted to be chic or small wall hanging show pieces brought from annual fairs of the small towns I have lived in. Indian crafts has always excelled in gaining niches just like Indian spices wherever they went. There are several pockets of India which boasts of its rare silks, pearls, embroideries, wooden furnitures and can compete superbly in world markets.
May be owing to these, handicrafts from various other parts of the world attracts me a lot. If the unique skylines, historical monuments, zoos and supermarkets describe the nature of big cities then I would say that hand made, local and yet delicate things in the form of crafts and other delicacies give character to an anonymous small town.
While living in Germany, I always noticed that the villages, towns and cities were so much intertwined by the chain of supermarkets and other retailers that it was very difficult to find those small shops, which were still run by shopkeepers and their families. Hand made German specialities like grand father clocks, cuckoo clocks, other wooden crafts and ceramics were mostly found in Black forest areas (Schwarz Wald) and Bayern (Bavaria) regions. They were also the tourist studded areas of Germany, so the artisans were impersonal and professional in their approach. Well, wine, beer, breads, chocolates and cheese were some other crafts or delicacies which were of course in abundance in all regions and were versatile according to the region, soil and culture.
Here in Scotland the very first thing I noticed was the dominance of local taste, in the forms of tartans, bagpipes, ceramic vessels, shortbreads and not to forget scotch whisky! Scotland boasts for gaelic and celtic designs and little shops still exists in small towns as well as in big cities (may be a bit hidden behind the shadows of multi stored supermarkets) selling these local items.
Today I and 'J' got an opportunity to visit a local craft fair, it was a wonderful experience to talk with local artisans about their crafts, patience and courage they need to keep going and keep maintaining their skills, which have been developed and produced in this region for generations but are facing a huge competition from global produces. A potpourri box made up of wood, a silver earring inspired by Mackintosh designs, a pendent made from colourful blown glass, felt covered personal diaries, T-shirts with celtic prints, hand dyed silk scarves, oil paints of local areas; choices were many and each of them were showing the care which has been taken to give them those tempting forms. But on looking at the price tags, I could feel the temptations withering away, and in spite of knowing the unfairness hidden in it, I could not stop myself from comparing the prices with other shops where things are sold in cheaper prices as they bring them from far east.
My holiday trip to India recently also put the same question in front of me. I noticed how the chains of big retailers are grasping the local markets and their products. A large crowds of computer savvy urban young Indians feel very comfortable to buy things from these big malls. A kind of uniformity is resulting from this, which is on one hand comfortable in terms of style, price and quality but is also very predictable, as sometimes it used to feel in Germany.
We enjoyed our time in the craft fair a lot and I and 'J' ended up buying two lovely handmade necklaces today but while coming out of the fair many questions kept hovering in my mind.
Is it necessary to have so many material flooded competitive priced supermarkets all over the world? Is it not unfair to flatten our diverse surrounding? Cannot we do something extra to patronise the local essence of our lives?