Monday, September 3, 2012

The Kalaraksha experience

Couple of days back, I was having a very interesting discussion with Sakthi (the Dyeing Studio Guru and Indigo enthusiast at NID and a dear friend) regarding the art of appreciation. We concluded that:
1. People in general are too busy to be grateful nowadays, and
2. Both of us have lovely memories of our association with craftspeople.

Dyers, printers, embroiderers or weavers - they tend to remember the smallest thing we have done for them, often unconsciously in our eyes. This is in sharp contrast to the treatment which many design professionals like me receive as independent consultants. The pedestal at which the artisan designers and craftspeople place us on (as teachers) is truthfully speaking, an honour, since there is so much for us to learn from them.

This sense of being appreciated is the biggest reward that a professional can receive and the one place which has made me believe this more than ever is Kalaraksha. Founded by Judy Frater and Prakash bhai (, Kalaraksha is working towards the preservation of traditional art forms in Kutch and also has an online museum of traditional textile articles. My association with Kalaraksha began in 2008, when I went for the first time to teach at the Kalaraksha Vidyalaya at Vand, a small coastal town in Mandvi taluka of Gujarat. It was the first time I would be teaching rural craftspeople and I was scared of not doing justice to it. However, in my report for the 'Market Orientation' module of 2008 for the women students, I wrote," It was a remarkable experience to interchange knowledge and skills with my 7 students in these 13 days...the fact that someone as old as Kunwarba had zeal to learn something new is inspiring. It truly leads one to believe there is no right age to pursue education." It was challenging to explain concepts like market, client and USP to them in a traditional context so that they could understand its relevance to their craft.

Trying to explain economic stratification of a client

In my report for Year 2009, I described my learning with the students, "...yet another opportunity to teach as well as learn from these master embroiderers. I use the term ‘master’ for all of them, as one needs to practice the skills themselves to realize how difficult the task is, and how easy they make it seem." These experiences at Kalaraksha were teaching me life lessons! And I was grateful for the chance.
Class of 2009
In 2010, I taught Market Orientation to the men's group. This experience was markedly different from my earlier 2 modules, since it was the first time I had taken a men’s class. Most of the students were focused and did not hesitate to ask questions and voice their confusions. While the women’s class is warmer, this class was definitely more challenging.

In the last 2 years, I also taught Collection Development and Finishing (the 5th module of the year long syllabus). My now I had overcome my earlier skepticism of positively contributing to the student's learning. Their confidence in me was also a moral booster. Last year, for the first time I had a combined student group from rural and urban design schools. Students of Apparel Design from National Institute of Design worked along with the students of Kalaraksha Vidyalaya in a co-creation experiment. It was challenging to manage the heterogeneous group, where each participant had different skill sets and thinking pattern. We had many smiling moments, largely due to the communication hiccups; the unforgetable one being about an 8-legged elephant. 

Working on actual scale of the product
Working together in shaping the product patterns

From Left to right: Bottom Row- My students Tulsi, Lakshmi, Mira ben and Jiva ben on the dais. Middle Row - The jury members Priya Kishore, Krishna Patel, Subrata Bhowmick, Judy Frater, Geetha Narayan (Convocation speaker) Radhi Parekh and Alison Welsh
This year in December, I will once again be a part of the Kalarakash Mela - when my students will receive their certificates, marking yet another successful year of imparting education by Kalaraksha at the grassroot level. I have been intending to write about my expereince at Kalaraksha for years now, and it seems apt that my chat with Sakthi triggered this post.  

Kalaraksha has given opportunities to many like me for engaging in meaningful application of design and for that I am thankful. The biggest learning has been from the artisans themselves - I wish to pause, retrospect and appreciate all these people from whom I have learnt so much.