At the Crafts Expo

Tuesday. Last night we ventured, in the company of Jennie’s host, Magdalene, to a large public venue where we spent a couple of bewitched hours looking at traditional arts and crafts from throughout South India. The event is a week long crafts expo and lasts through this coming Sunday.

Outside the hall we encountered several booths selling traditional food treats, as well as prepackaged ingredients for preparing traditional South Indian specialties. Many of the booths represented employment for previously poor women, a theme that would be continued inside the exhibition hall. Magdalene carefully selected treats for us, those she deemed safe to eat, and they were delicious!

Inside the hall were many rows of booths selling exquisitely wrought crafts, including hand-made and printed or painted cloth and clothing. For a while it seemed, as we wandered through the exhibition, that each booth outdid the last. We regretting having not thought ahead; we needed an ATM! Before long, the diversity and sheer exuberance of the displays and goods overwhelmed us, and I eventually left without buying a thing!

At one booth stood a well dressed and spoken man. Being of a similar age ,we saw some kinship in one another and immediately hit it off. He identified himself as a writer and educator, and a disciple of Gandhi. He had started a craft school to teach young women how to make traditional hand painted clothing, and written textbooks for the school. He happily showed me the texts, and proudly shared stories of the many thousands of women his school had aided to escape poverty and abuse. He also spoke about the challenges of creating humane institutions in a society governed by graft. I was pleased to spend twenty minutes with this diminutive gentleman with a powerful and well articulated voice long used in service to freedom and justice.

This morning I briefly turned on the television, just to see what Indians might be watching. Everywhere I turned were examples of the traditional arts and crafts we viewed last night. Shadow puppets and plays, beautifully hand painted clothing, and the sweet singing of hand crafted bells seem to be deeply loved, even essential, aspects of the Indian culture and identity.

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