M Raghuram | Last Modified - Nov 23, 2010, 10:50 AM IST
Karnataka’s famous Channapatna toys are today quite possibly displayed at the most famous address in the world.
During their recent India visit, the Obamas discovered a liking for these traditional wooden toys, made in Chennapatna, 65 km from Bangalore, and picked up a large number from the Trade Fair at Delhi’s Pragati Maidan.
“Madam wanted to buy more toys but her foreign currency ran out, which she acknowledged with a charming giggle. We could not imagine we were in presence of the first lady of the United States of America,” says an official who acted as interpreter between Michelle Obama and Md Khaleeullah from Channapatna, whose stall at the Trade Fair attracted the first lady’s attention.
Khaleeullah, a producer of the lacquer toys who had been assigned by the Karnataka State Karakushala Abhivraddhi Nigama (corporation) to run a exhibition stall at the fair, told DNA:
“Mr Obama showed keen interest in the lacquer toys and bought a toy train. He asked me about the paint we use to colour the toys and when I told him we use vegetable dyes he was very impressed.”
However, all’s not well in Channapatna. About 246 artisans from the fabled toy industry live here and the producers live in abject poverty despite their toys being in demand. The fact remains that this small community of artisans is not good at marketing its products. The marketing network has now been taken over by middlemen and agents.
“The government has allowed middlemen to operate as agents of the corporation. There are a number of ‘chain producers’ who produce only parts of a toy and sell it to the middlemen. There is no artisan who produces a full range of toys under a single roof, like it was done in the past,” says Akbar Ali, one of the producers. “We do not know where our production goes as they undergo changes as they move up the assembly line. Somebody paints them, somebody garnishes them with lacquer and few others assemble them. Those who has the final product will sell it for a fabulous price getting a lion’s share of the trade, leaving the down the line artisans with paltry income” says Ali.
The artisans’ colony with nearly 250 houses is a sad sight today. A stream of drainage water flows on the small lanes infested with stray pigs. Most of the families of artisans do not send their children to school, nor have tap water connection to their homes. Some of the artisans who use simple power tools to produce toys have dumped the tools as they do not get quality power.
There is also widespread under-employment and disguised unemployment. According to an official at the headquarters of the corporation in Bangalore, “Poverty drives the artisans to take up agricultural labour work for khariff and rabi crops. Some of them even work as construction labourers for more than four-five months in a year. Many youngsters have also been taking up jobs at malls in Bangalore.”
“Most of us earn as little as Rs3000-Rs3500 per month for not more than six-seven months in a year. The lucky few get around that much every month through the year,” says senior artist Mehboob Ali.
“We just hope the corporation and the government sees the interest shown by people like the Obamas in our products and try to help us restructure our production and marketing.”
Image Courtesy: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/Toys_And_Games_g80-Russian_Dolls_p13331.html