60 Minutes,105 Stalls – Bengaluru Hastakalaa Fair

“Bhaiya No Photos, only buying products”. Walking past 100 odd stalls at the Hastakalaa Fair, one only heard this over and over again. The path opened out like a zig-zag maze while stalls on either side roared with color & noise. In spite of the gloomy weather, there was solid crowd. There were young and old women in salwar kameez and cotton saris, as also foreigners in kurtas who walked around with loud cameras.

An incomplete Tanjore Painting of Lord Ganesha stood by the entrance. Most of the paintings here were of Hindu deities’ decorated with glittering gold foils and vibrant colours. The salesman explained the history behind each of the paintings and concluded by declaring how affordable the paintings were. ‘Much cheaper than any e-commerce website, madam’

Two young boys sat huddled in a corner, working on polishing wooden carvings, while the owner stood guard. His stern expression dropped only after I put my phone down.

The most popular stall was the one selling Traditional Indian Board Games. This didn’t matter to the owner of the stall – a bespectacled middle-aged man. He was giving mechanical answers that sounded like grunts. To compensate, two over-enthusiastic women badgered him on and on demanding to know about the ‘history of these games.’

After they marched off, a young helper immediately asked “Are you OK? They seemed interested.” Still looking bored, the salesman said— “This is not my first fair. Sometimes you know whether they are going to buy it or not. I am a customer as well. I know it.”

Walking ahead it was clear that Instagram wasn’t the only place where Sonam Kapoor’s wedding was trending.

Some stalls were already selling what they claimed was the same – to same – design of Sonam Kapoor’s wedding dress. One stall owner was convincing a woman that their royal shade of white is similar to the collection of dresses that Sonam Kapoor wore at her Sangeet.

The lady was convinced and probably ended up buying more than what she wanted. He also guided the woman to a stall to get matching earrings and other accessories — to achieve the perfect Sonam Kapoor look.

A few stalls down the line, a kid sat right in the middle of the path, shouting at the top of his voice. His grandmother was visibly more upset than him and looked like she was bracing herself to throw a bigger tantrum.  Eventually his mother bought him a toy and he stopped screaming.

Among the stall owners, only those selling earrings were stressed because there were many other stalls selling earrings and other accessories of the same variety.

Mary, a resident of Nagaland beamed when people asked about her cane furniture. She said the Naga furniture is part of a rich heritage and one among the many hidden gems of her home state.

She added that the business had been going on for a long time in her family. “We have had our struggles but the art of making furniture isn’t going to die” She looked delighted to be able to talk about her work. Even if, as she concluded — she hated Bangalore’s unpredictable weather.

Despite the fact that there were many paintings from across the country, the Saura paintings from Odisha were the highlight. As the gloom lifted, sunlight poured onto the faces of those squinting at the Odisha paintings. They didn’t mind the blinding light, they all stood there gazing at the techniques used and the attention given to minute details.

The owner said that the popularity of such paintings has picked up and is now even seen on items of clothing and stationery items. He believes that the sudden awareness has helped in bringing more attention to his home state and will encourage other works of art from Odisha.

Another owner selling idols and furniture observed that the older generation has been pushing the younger generation towards buying brass idols and authentic Indian wooden furniture. He believes that this is the only way help youngsters to be in touch with their roots and home.

One stall owner had a hard time convincing his customer that the sarees he was selling were original. The sarees were Kannur Cotton. The customer, an old woman in her 60s blushed and said that she didn’t know Kannur was also famous for cotton. A few minutes later, both the owner and the woman became long-lost cousins. They chatted and joked even as the woman bought a lot of curtains for her house back in Kerala.

An old man running a toy stall looked curious because I was wandering. He stopped me and asked if I was going to buy anything. When I said that I’d be writing about the stalls, he looked forlorn.

“It doesn’t matter what anyone writes.” he said. Indian Handicrafts has its hold only on a certain kind of audience. It never expands beyond it. “While all of us talk about promoting it, no one actually buys it. We expect others to buy and then it’s just a loop,” he laughed.

Pointing out to the decorative set of birds hanging by a nearby stall, he said that the local products are able to fly a certain distance but can never break free due to things holding them down.

In a while, his enthusiasm made a sudden U turn because a foreigner was now looking at the items displayed in his stall.

From rich Rajasthani mirror works to a dash of Goan culture from the 60’s. From Kashmiri rose wood furniture to Himachal Handicrafts. Within a small space, the Hastakalaa Fair has brought together India’s most talented craftsmen and weavers.

They remind us of all the things we accumulate in our lives in the name of brand and how much this is costing home-grown artisans.

Hastakalaa Fair is organised by the Manya-Art and Kraft Association in collaboration with ‘Chittara’ Karnataka Chitrakala Parishad. The fair is open from 04th May to 13th May from 10:30AM- 7:30AM at the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishad.

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Rohit Nair

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