Do you realise how activities, arts and crafts that had been part of our daily lives have today slipped into the category of ‘culture’ and have begun to get ‘protected’ as if they were some endangered species? Daily chores and even climbing stairs have been reincarnated as part of fitness regimens and the food that was cooked for a daily meal have assumed the status of gourmet dishes that have to be ‘shared’. Even games of yore like gilli-danda and kancha are now to be only found in rural areas and small towns if at all. Soon we will have them in the form of ‘vintage sports’ with kids being taught how to play them. In short, folk arts and even mundane tasks are turning designer!
Recently I read Anu’s post where she has mentioned the street performers she saw in Sringeri, in Karnataka. Her son apparently was disinterested with the proceedings even while his parents were excited about seeing something from their own childhoods. Nothing unusual, considering that the children these days are exposed to much more exciting things on the TV, as she rightly observed. But not too long ago, these street performers could be seen on city streets displaying their skills and making some money from the crowds which collected to watch them.
Snake charmers, men with performing monkeys and bears, jugglers, singers and dancers – you name them they would be found on the streets. Performers with animals have been banned by the bodies working to prevent cruelty to animals since. But even today stray street performers, including magicians with their ‘jamboore’ can be found on the outskirts of big cities, though they are not allowed to perform in busy streets within the city. However, those living in apartment buildings are either not interested or are not able to watch them, which is why our children are growing with scant idea about these street arts.
I had written once about the tiger dance performed during Dushera when I was growing up in Nagpur. When I mentioned it to my group of classmates, I got to know that it is not there in the city anymore but could be seen in the smaller towns and villages around the city. The affluent didn’t have time for these things even in those days, as was evident from the fact that they performed only in middle and lower middle class areas of the city. And today with apartment buildings and busy streets, they have completely vanished from the city.
Last month when we had gone to Rishikesh, we happened to visit a hostel for rural girls, in Dehradun. They put up an impromptu show for us – dancing to Chikni Chameliand other hot numbers from Bollywood. When I asked them do some folk dance, they looked blankly at me. Finally one of the older girls came forward and moved to a song that sounded and looked suspiciously like something from one of Salman Khan’s films. I wonder if their parents know the folk dances and songs or not. Perhaps it is already dead or in the process of dying. It is a pity that the villagers who sang and danced to the folk songs handed down through the ages have started dancing to hot Bollywood numbers. The graceful, swaying movements have given way to the jhatkas and matkas that accompany these songs.
Why talk about traditional arts? What about our sartorial preferences? The glorious sari worn in hundreds of different traditional styles is almost forgotten now, except in the deep recesses of the rural populace, or among the older generation or tradition bound communities and by others during weddings and festivals. Girls and young women express their horror of the garment vowing never to wear it if they could help it. The dhoti fares only slightly better, probably because the politicians have adopted it as their trademark attire. But how long before we have to view them as part of some cultural event?
The attempt to keep alive traditional folk art forms got a boost during the 80s when regional cultural zones were set up all over the country to identify and promote them. The Festivals of India showcased them and so Pandavani and Chhau and other such performing arts found a national and later international audience. These are now found less in the villages and more in the air-conditioned auditoriums and even children in the villages are growing without knowing about them. It is a pity that many such arts practised by the villagers today need the patronage of the cultural czars and czarinas of high society to survive.
Why just the arts? Even items that were part of daily life of the villagers and even in middle class families – the reed mat, the baskets, the winnows can now be found in some swanky handicraft emporium and we pay a fortune to buy the ‘cute’ baskets and mats to hang on the walls or show off in the well-appointed ethnic living room.
Craft bazaars and exhibitions sell handmade cloth bags, embroidered doilies and more – which any girl or woman made at home not too long back in the past. The humble jute bag has become a fashion statement these days. It is funny how traditional arts and crafts have changed hands with an accompanying elevation in their status – the poor now use plastic, polyester and synthetic items which are much cheaper, while the rich root for jute, cloth and handloom, paying ridiculously large amounts for them.
Looking at the way our traditional arts, crafts and dresses are vanishing from our daily lives, the day is not far when our children and grandchildren might look at an exhibit in a museum and exclaim, ‘Wow! So that is a sari! How cute!’ or watch a little girl walk the high rope in a reality show and applaud her.
The traditional lifestyle of the villagers that incorporated arts and crafts as part of their daily lives today needs the patronage of the cultural czars and czarinas of high society to survive. Do we accept it all as part of progress and change and feel happy that they are surviving somehow, instead of going into oblivion? Maybe we should just thank God for small mercies.
Images courtesy:This page: exoticindiaart.com
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