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As a child travelling with my father to Mysore, a journey I still look forward to..the scenery has changed over the years, the greenery has reduced with humans and concrete encroaching more of nature’s spaces but something that has pretty much stayed the same as we approach Channapatna, the land of toys, is the colourful ponies that thousands of Indians would fondly remember rocking on that are displayed in front of every craft store there. Over the years the number of people entering these stores has dwindled, as I see my own kids showing no interest in the horse that is gathering dust at home. One begins to wonder how long before the colourful stackable toys or the nesting ones that kept generations of kids engaged become passe’ and an emotion stirs wondering how can the craft be kept relevant in the ever-changing kaleidoscope.

Craft enthusiasts, designers are constantly trying to explore and revive these crafts and try bringing in a flavour to it in an effort to ensure these crafts and the hands that create them get their due and are not lost amongst the pages of history. The artisans are reinventing themselves too and have diversified from toys to other decor products trying other types of wood like the beechwood or rubberwood instead of the traditional aale mara. If curiosity ever drives one of us to visit the workshops in the bylanes of this town, one can meet many second-generation artisans sitting in front of the lathe machines and with a little bit of prodding listen to some engaging stories of how generations of their families have been a part of this colourful craft. A story substantiated by the fact that this craft of toy -making dates back to the 18th century, Tipu Sultan era when he brought back immensely skilled craftsmen from Persia. The hand turning craft flourished under his reign which now has developed due to the advent of technology. The craft which takes its name after the town sees entire families of artisans irrespective of their gender relentlessly pursuing it to make their ends meet and continue the legacy of their forefathers. Despite the government’s efforts to encourage and promote these kinds of indigenous crafts by giving the GI tags and creating craft hubs, a crisis like the Covid brings out the real question of how one can ensure minimal damage to this great craft and the craftsmen during such situations. On my way to Mysore, as I pass channapatna I wonder this time if I stop, what should I do…

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