Tale of art and livelihood
A column on people who chucked the easy life to make a difference
Director, Happy Hands Foundation
WHEN I was leaving school, my principal wrote in my diary, “You will take the road less travelled, and that will make all the difference.” Today, I realise the importance of those words.
When I started Happy Hands, it was the sheer determination of trying out a new approach to the existing processes that were being followed in the crafts sector. A lot of eyebrows were raised — but there was equal number of pats on the back. More than anything, I knew it was going to work when artisans themselves started encouraging our way of working.
During my post-graduation, I believe I was very fortunate to have interned at places where I worked on cause-related communication campaigns and activity-planning. That’s when I think I definitely knew the road I was headed towards. My next internship at UNESCO made it all very clear. While documenting certain crafts, and interacting with craftsmen, I realised the sad truth that most artists face -- their work was hardly valued in the market. A little more research, and I realised that ‘market’ meant Indian consumers.
I tried to find out where we were going amiss, and realised that the biggest problem was the lack of education and training. There were programmes to help artisans develop new products or patterns, but none to push them to innovate, and definitely nothing that allowed them to understand consumers. The other challenge was to change the perception that revolved around crafts amidst the younger generation — crafts our mothers or aunts preferred.
I travelled to villages, met artists, and stayed and worked with them. The first breakthrough was our fundraiser: Purple Street. It gave us the boost we needed, and obviously, the starting funds. Our second achievement, in that very year, was a spectacular film festival we organised in association with the American Centre. The US Embassy helped us forge many relations, which helped us greatly in the following years.
I became an IVLP Fellow in the subsequent year, and Happy Hands toured the US.
At the beginning of our second year, we had also set up a store in Hauz Khas Village, gaining popularity over the workshops and projects we organised. This had a direct impact on our artisans; their faith in us grew stronger, and they started to experiment with their works, and put in their best towards our collaborative projects.
The firm helps artisans innovate & get better value for their work
Honestly, at the beginning, I didn’t think I was taking an unconventional route. I am glad that I have been able to increase livelihood opportunities for thousands of artisans and make a difference to their future generations.
For the upcoming year, our focus would be on the artists-residency. Hopefully we would be able to impact artists significantly through this programme, and in the process, give our audience a wonderful dose of art and stories.
Reach Medhavi at
As told to Samreen Ahmad.