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Handicrafts, the shopping pleasure Friday, November 23, 2001
BY RANJONA BANERJI, TIMES NEWS NETWORK
AHMEDABAD: Shopping for handicrafts here is more than a pleasure. Ahmedabad, say the people who live here, is all about making money. Maybe that's true. But it's not the whole truth. It's also a great place to spend money. Here the locals laugh, as they make plans to rush to Mumbai to buy bags and shoes or even to a particular department store in Rajkot to buy cheese and then off to Surat for biscuits (did someone say ponk as well?).
But if you take a walk that starts at the Calico Museum at Shahibaug, then you're filled with an intense desire to a) live in the museum or b) live somewhere that looks like it. Knowing that you have to give the grounds, the wandering peacocks and the intensive gardening a go-by, you sail off to discover that part of Ahmedabad that will help fill the hole in your soul.
As the sun sets, as every local knows, Law Garden comes alive. But outside the hectic Navratri buying and the bhaji pao next door (when in Ahmedabad, reverse the Mumbai patois of pao bhaji), it's left to tourists and the hysteria of wandering puppet-sellers ("You want it? It costs Rs 300. But I'll give it to you for Rs 100... 50? 30?"). Without forgetting those quite ugly faces carved out of tree trunks with leaves sprouting out of them.
The bargaining at the stalls is a delight for those who live by their wits or just like to keep their skills sharp. Each salesman and woman (who usually come from somewhere in Saurashtra like Bhavnagar or Jamnagar) has a special Kutch sob story and an excellent sales pitch. Prices will rise and fall like the sensex on speed and it's a good game till you see that perfect wall hanging... Not quite like what you saw in the museum, but petromax light adds romance and it's time for the kill.
But there are times when the road doesn't quite cut it. Then a little social conscience and some intermittent air-conditioning works. At Banascraft on C G Road, the outlet of the Ahmedabad's most famous NGO SEWA, each price tag says 65 per cent of the proceeds go directly to the woman who made the item. Heartening indeed, especially since the wickedness of middlemen is well known to us all. The quality of the embroidery, the variety of the prints and even the price tags themselves make the experience more than satisfying. Plus, C G Road has more to offer, hidden behind the glitz.
If your wallet is a little larger, you could always try the top-of-the-line work from brand name NGOs, with carefully crafted and designed work straight out of Kutch. Or wander through the old city for the craftspeople who live there or come visiting and supply to the rest of the city. That's where the serious international buyers head for, straight out of the airport.
There is always, of course, something safe like Gurjari on Ashram Road, after its recent facelift. Printed cotton at incredibly cheap rates, shawls, rope and wood furniture, bells, terra cotta, mirrorwork, bandhni, patola saris... government emporia have their annoyances but if you look closely, the rewards are many.
Which is what makes handicrafts shopping in Ahmedabad such a pleasure. This doesn't even cover a tenth of it and the more you look, the more you find. The icing on the cake comes from fairs like the one recently organised by the CII at Sanskar Kendra, where the seller is also the maker and your heart gets fulfilled just by looking.
At the end of it all, you know you need just one more cloth parrot hanging on a string of shells with a bell on the end to get a little closer to the museum look. A Kutchi horseman, anyone?
News Source : The Times of India [India's best Newspaper]