Hundred Hands: The Bazaars of Bangalore

Michael David is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sri Jayawardenepura
By Michael David

I slowly move towards an organizer dressed in a colourful hand loom sari as she explains they believe that working with our hands is an inherent instinct that stems from an ancient urge to express our individuality and create beauty and hundred hands is a movement that gives expression to this belief.

My travels across Asia had begun in a busy bazaar tucked behind a hotel in suburb of Bangalore. Hundreds of artisans who had traveled from all over India were displaying their products and middle class Bangolarians; known for their IT savviness, were busy going through the handmade jewellery, bags, ornaments, textiles, soap and cakes.

As I moved around, I tried to find out what motivated the producers and the buyers to be here on a Sunday evening. The collection of producers was unique as their products; it was not just finding a market. The producers, as well as the buyers shared a common passion. The producers would speak for hours on their passion to create a handmade comb or a cake of Aloe Vera soap.

I am sure as a few coins dropped in to the money box; the sellers would have felt happy. However, I was quite convinced that this was not their only motivation. Mass production and profit oriented mass market selling were clearly out of the window. The sellers and their buyers were both engaged in the colours, aroma, texture and tastes of the products.

I slowly move towards an organizer dressed in a colourful hand loom sari as she explains they believe that working with our hands is an inherent instinct that stems from an ancient urge to express our individuality and create beauty and hundred hands is a movement that gives expression to this belief.

The movement was founded by two sisters who believed that our ancestors decorated their caves solely for the joy of it. This was a very different reality from where a wall decoration could be a mere a status symbol – “for the joy of it”.

The two sisters Mala Dhawan and Sonia Dhawan believe that the world full of mass-produced toys, automated responses and instant gratification is a stressful place to live. Thus, they view hand crafting as a means to slow down, de-stress, find satisfaction in the simple pleasures and lead more creative, contented and fulfilling lives.

Mala Dhawan began the movement with a simple vision; “I thought of a bazaar in my garden”. With the support of her sister, they began to create a hub for small artists and merchants. That was the beginning of a movement involved hundreds of artisans who created handy-crafts that fitted in to contemporary living. Handy crafts were not seen as something alienated from day to day life, but rather it was located within day to day livening.

As I speak to the sellers I sense their thinking; Suba is banker with a young child who is fussy about morning meals. She wanted to see her son have a healthy breakfast in the morning before he went to school. Hence, she remembered the cakes her grandmother baked with sesame. Suba improvised a little bit and came up with cereal bar which her son enjoyed. Now she is scanning the markets to find out if other mothers will be interested.

The collective is drawing upon the power of networking. Hundreds of community based groups and artisans have explored all sorts of mediums to display handy-crafts to sell (or present) to customers (or appreciators) who come to the exhibitions all across India.

Paper, glass, banana fibre, vegetable dyes, bamboo, ahimsa silk, lacquer, macramé, terracotta and many other mediums have been explored .

The more I talk to these sellers, I sense the passion within them and I am convinced that I need to probe beneath the surface to truly understand them.  I am sure that everything beneath may not be colourful as the colourful handy-crafts that surround me. I am sure that such upstream swimming in a culture of mass markets- mass production and profits is encountered with many challenges.

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