I’d been at Manzil for a month, and almost every day I’d been noticing beautiful notebooks lying in the office, colorful cards on side tables, and unusual earrings in student’s ears. Each time I admired them and asked where they were from, the answer was always the same: Craftkari! I decided it was time to meet the 8 girls behind the creations: Himani, Manju, Mamta, Ruhi, Nagma, Babita, Pooja and Malti. I was welcomed into their class, and when I left I had new friends, a inspiring story to write, and a deep sense of respect.
The story of Craftkari is one of creativity, initiative and evolution. The group started out in 2008 as a small gathering of girls experimenting with different forms of Indian craft, supported by Sangeeta and Gayatri. After experimenting with stitching, abstract drawing, and many other artforms, they began focusing on quilling- an ancient practice which involves rolling, shaping and gluing strips of paper together to create decorative designs. The craft was introduced to Manzil by Auntyji (Indira Gulati) after she gained skills during a visit to Calcutta. The girls enjoy quilling because of the freedom it gives them through unlimited use of color and shape, and also because it is eco-friendly. In this way, Craftkari is perfectly in since with Manzil values of sustainability. Over the years the group has blossomed. Their numbers have increased, their products have developed a distinctive style, and they have touched the lives of many through teaching workshops, holding exhibitions and of course through selling their beautiful designs to the public.
Their manufacturing process begins with sourcing raw materials- paper is either handmade or jute. After deciding upon designs together, the girls then invest time and patience at home to make the products. I visited Nagma’s home, and felt captivated watching her fingers twist, roll and perfectly position the thin strips of paper. She’d been at it for hours, and yet she was able to make each card exactly the same as the one before. The books, cards, jewelry and other items are then sold through stalls in craft-fairs. The quality of their work is often appreciated at these events hey recently gained great appreciation from the founder of Dastkar Mela, and new and returning customers often comment the quality of their work. These independent and enterprising young women are using their resources thoughtfully and creatively in order to become completely self reliant. In a world where people are using resources with no concern for the future, and in a country where women are often financially reliant on men, what they are doing is remarkable.
The girls also have a desire to share their knowledge and talents, and have done so with a wide range of people- from corporate organisations in Delhi to children from nonprofits. Ever since the group started reaching out to people in this way, the once rare art of quilling has become noticeably more popular. In my opinion, this is no coincidence! What is equally admirable is that although they now have more competitors, the girls have not stopped passing on their skills to others. Instead, they are motivated to move forward and come up with more brave and original ideas.
While sitting with the girls in their last class, one of the notebooks caught my eye, and I bought it to write about my experiences in India. On it is a tree, and each time I use it I think of Craftkari. Not only because they made it, but because like a tree, they are strong and beautiful. They are constantly growing and branching out. They use the money they make to help their families and contribute a part of it to Manzil, thus enriching the soil from which they have grown. And even while facing challenges, they continue to focus upwards, towards the Sun.
Last of all, Craftkari would like to thank some of the wonderful people who have helped them along their enriching and empowering journey: Vartika didi and Auntyji for introducing the craft, and Swaati didi, Supriya didi and Nitin Bhaiya for generously sharing their time, valuable advice and skill with the group.