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Laila Tyabji

By Harsha V. Dehejia
Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 154, Rs. 795.00


There is such a disconnect between the books and toys Indian children read and play with, and the realities of Indian life. Even the materials are alien. Instead of clay, cane, wood and papier-mache, everything is plastic or moulded polymer, and the virtual world of the ubiquitous laptop or tablet rules all. The world of Harry Potter or Superman is more familiar than an Indian village to an average urban kid.  My organization, Dastkar, had been trying to bridge this divide with craft demonstrations, learning workshops and games, where children visiting our bazaars can actually experience the feel of clay between their fingers, the fun of making and flying a kite, the little snips that make a Sanjhi papercut parrot…. The awed delight on a child’s face as he turns his very own pot on the wheel is its own reward. ‘Hey Mom, this is cool!’ exclaimed a previously reluctant 8 year-old, dragged to the bazaar by his mother will-nilly. K. Harsh Dehejia’s delightful book Megha Meets Vishwakarma:The Story of Indian Crafts fills an important gap. His protagonist is Megha, a young girl with insatiable curiosity about everything. Using a chance encounter with the God of Craftspeople, Vishwakarma and his celestial chariot as a clever device to transport Megha to crafts centres all over India, he seamlessly weaves a narrative which explains everything from the origin of the Mango motif and the Arunmul metal mirror to the romance of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jehan; how words like minakari, patola and kantha came about, and the meaning of different colours and motifs.  The author, in the guise of Viswakarma, even elucidates more grown-up things like the significance of the thread as a metaphor for the connecting sutra of life, the role of indigo in our freedom struggle, and the important interrelation of Hindu and Muslim in craft. The illustrations, a colourful mix of drawings, photographs and craft motifs, add life to an anyway lively account. Her journey takes Megha to so many familiar places dear to me—Raghurajpur, Majuli, Darbhanga, Patan, Srikalahasti, and Kutch, apart from the usual great craft centres of Jaipur, Banaras etc. There is a sadness reading about the beauties and crafts of Kashmir, with news coming in of craftspeople being swept away in the recent floods, and their homes, workplaces and goods all destroyed.  My only caveat is the occasional use of rather adult vocabulary ...

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