The idea of Maaeri was born in an Artisan Village in Rajasthan and forgotten rural artisans will probably be the primary focus of our business. But while we are doing that, we wanted to bring some attention to the urban artisan.
This is the story of one of our artisans who lives and works in Mumbai, the economic capital of India. Naim is an immigrant from West Bengal in North East India. He left his home, his wife and his children back in his small village to find work in Mumbai, the city where dreams come true.
Today, he lives in a small one room home with 6 other artisans like him. They are always hustling for small jobs to be able to make enough to send some money back home to their families. When business is good, he is able to see his family 2 or 3 times a year. He is incredibly talented and such a hard worker! He says he is used to being treated like a vegetable vendor, everyone is trying to get a bargain. The same people who can spend thousands on a single meal at a restaurant will haggle for 100-200 rupees or not pay him the promised price. Isn't it ironic that we walk into a store and pay tag price on a ‘branded’ item but when we see someone working so hard with his hands making something beautiful, we will find ways to devalue what he is offering to get away with paying much lesser than what he deserves. We do this everyday and get away with it by saying that haggling is a part of our 'culture'. We are his exploiters. I’m not surprised that his ambition for his kids is for them to have an education that can give them a stable job so they never have to struggle to make a living. He is very sure that he will not be passing on his incredible embroidery skills to his children, it will die with him.
This is happening all over our country. In India’s journey towards modernization we have left the dreams and needs of these people behind. As consumers, we have disconnected from our rich heritage and seek out international trends and brands. We are failing our artisans and the generations that have worked hard to keep their art forms alive.
Those of us who understand this and buy Indian Traditional arts are also misled into believing that we are supporting the people who made them. The truth is that whatever little trickles down to the actual artisan is not a fair compensation for the skill and effort that they put in. This is why many art forms in India are in the danger of extinction. It is no longer economically viable to pass on these skills to the next generation. We need to do more to save and preserve our cultural identity through these skilled hands. We need to stand up and value our people and bring the change within ourselves.
The day before we launched Maaeri, we asked ourselves a question - When will you consider Maaeri to be a success? The answer was simple. We will consider Maaeri a success when we are able to help undervalued artisans like Naim earn an actual livable wage, when he can live with his family and take real pride in his work. That is what Maaeri is about. Can we make it happen? We don’t know but like Dr.Seuss says “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It's not.” It's about time we started caring...
- January 06, 2017
- Vidya Martis