Bamboo and cane crafts are one of the most known crafts worldwide. The world’s tallest grass bamboo has found its way to our home through the creative hands of skilled artisans. India’s 8.2 lakh bamboo-cane and fibre workers are the country’s third largest group of artisans constituting 81.5 % in household sector and 85.5% in the rural areas.
One such artisan from Mumbai is “Krishna Kenwalla” who makes one of the best bamboo-cane home decors in the town. Krishna belongs to the family of renowned bamboo & cane craft makers and is following the steps of his ancestors. His family is following the traditional craft since 70years while Krishna himself is in the field since 15years. His struggle is real and he is trying his best to save the craft from the threat of machine made & cheap China decors.
Let me spill some beans, from the interview with this creative artist who did not only help us to learn what the art is about but also emphasized on the difficulties faced by the bamboo-cane artisans today!!
Crafting bamboo-cane products is a tedious task and needs a lot of attention while making. As the products are handmade by stitching each strip edge to edge, every minute detail needs to be taken care of.
We get bamboos from the local markets of Mumbai and then cut it into fine stripes as per the product requirement. Cutting stripes of bamboo is a risky task and only masters can do it, says Krishna. As the tool used is sharp there are chances of that one might cut its finger or the saw dust may hurt. Also, better quality of bamboo-cane is available only in summers and winters. As we stock up the raw materials it needs to be taken care of especially during rainy season.
While his mother “Shobha” cuts fine bamboo stripes, Krishna along with his father “Lakhan” hand weaves & varnishes the products making amazing bamboo-cane decor and artifacts.
He further adds it is very important for us to make products the way customers expect it to be, if they dislike it or are unhappy with the outcome, we have to remake it. Due to this the product which was already made needs to be kept with us until it matches the needs of another customer. Sometimes when such situations occur it is a no profit business as the raw material and man power is used twice for a single product and also the maintenance cost.
As the bamboo-cane decors are made without using any machine, it takes minimum 2days to make lamp shades or vases and 5 to 10 days to make chairs and table set or sofa set. Sometimes it also takes 15days if we have to make huge window shutters and sofa sets. Also, it is a seasonal business and maximum orders are placed during festivals like Diwali and Christmas. Otherwise we have some fixed customers who place an order once a year or once in two years or some window shoppers. So only crafting products is not sufficient to run a family. Along with my work as an artisan I do a back office job at CraftedIndia and I am also a vendor of this online handicraft decor selling company, said Krishna when asked if making and selling bamboo-cane decor was enough to run a family?
This is a high competition market; China decor products are available at a cheap price range. It is machine made and easily available in bulk quantity. While the products I make are handmade and it takes time to produce hence sometimes it becomes difficult to match with bulk quantity supply. China products are easily damaged but bamboo-cane products last lifelong and if incase there is any damage it can be repaired.
There are customers who come to us and try to bargain and buy products at the lowest cost possible. They really need to understand that it takes a lot of work and sweat to make these products; the artisans spend hours to make a single product and still the product is sold at the lowest profit margin. I feel, you never bargain when you buy from brands or malls, you pay whatever the tag price is. If we bargain and sell the product we make no profit no loss.
As there is not much monetary scope in being an artisan, the younger generation may only take it as a hobby. I fear if they would take it as a profession. I really wish that my children would continue our 70yrs legacy of making bamboo-cane decor but you never know what their ambitions would be!!