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The Tribune: A Hands Up to Reviving Crafts

The Tribune, Chandigarh
by Mriganka Dadwal

Medhavi set up the Happy Hands foundation to market lesser-known arts and crafts such as sujini, dhokra, cheriyal, bidri, jadu patua and sikki grass

At 22, Medhavi Gandhi dreamt of reviving India’s dying arts and crafts. Armed with an MBA degree, practically no capital and a blazing ambition to market and represent Indian artisans around the globe she started Happy Hands foundation. “At first, I did not even know how many types of arts or crafts our country had. As an intern for Unesco, when I interacted with the artisans to document their works, I could not resist the beauty and the legends attached with these crafts,” says the young entrepreneur. Three years later, her foundation is working with 800 artisan families and covers 25 clusters and villages across 12 states in India.

What motivated her to work on behalf of uneducated artists from various parts of rural India? “I could see simplicity and grace in a handmade product, a story waiting to be told, an art dying to be appreciated … I knew there was a large audience waiting to hear these stories.” Interestingly, for Medhavi, her first volunteers and customers were her friends and acquaintances who, unaware of our rich cultural heritage, were “too busy graduating or getting jobs”.

She travelled to villages to gather artisans. With no capital in hand, she had to convince them to lend her their artifacts, which she would later sell at a good price and soon enough they started trusting her. “People who could be of help were dismissive of the idea, of how 22-year olds could change a tradition; and education wasn’t even considered an issue. But for every one non-supportive person we met five supportive ones and that way I think I was lucky,” she says.

Today, Happy Hands foundation markets, arts and crafts as unique and unheard of as sujini, dhokra, cheriyal, bidri, jadu patua and sikki grass. They have reached out to youngsters and made them aware of India’s vast heritage. Medhavi explored and successfully introduced artisan products for corporate gifting. “Traditional art works speak of stories, customs and rituals but sadly year in and year out they spoke of the same episode from the Ramayana or the Mahabharata. Our cultural heritage, though vast, hardly saw representation in art,” she says.

She drew inspiration from artists abroad. Her foundation is helping Indian artists imbibe more through international exchange programmes. “I see artists coming up with better designs and more so, I see the public accepting those designs,” says Gandhi. Many artisans have been inspired to set-up their own enterprises and sell their products online to international connoisseurs. Was it scary to start on her own at the tender age of 22? Pat comes the reply “The very age of 22 was the best thing about starting on my own. I had nothing to lose and at worst, my venture stood the risk of not working out. Then I had the Plan B of taking up a job but so as I never have to look at Plan B, I worked harder and harder and my to-do list grew longer,” she concludes.

Read the original article here.

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