What a unbelievably productive day its been. Phew! Our first stop today was one of Varanasi’s biggest toy shops – Agrawal Toy Shop. Our city guide, Mr. Ajay Pandey (or Pinkoo Bhaiya as I like to call him) had already spoken to the owner of the shop about us and our project. We met him at one of his four shops. These guys make everything from tiny gods the size of my finger pad to cats with spring penises! Mr. Gopal Agrawal is a veteran in the handicrafts industry and also exports. We discussed about possible vendors, wood types and additional mechanisms like springs and magnets that might have to be added in the toy. He guided us to one of his main artisans from the Prajapati community (the painting community) to get some samples made.
Next stop was the workshop of Ratan and Munna Prajapati. They live in a small house the front room of which acts as their workshop. The entrance was a vision of brilliant white as scores of Jesus figurines were left out to dry in the sun after being coated with a layer of primer. Christmas preparations start in Banaras months before any other part of the world! We spent some time at their workshop, observing the process and tools. Our brief to them as we left was to make two copies each of the two characters we have left behind – the brown Jatayu and the blue Vasuki. On of these has to be an exact copy, while the other one is left to their imagination where they can add details, patterns and textures typical of the Banaras style. This way we get to see their replicating skills as well as creative use of colour and line.
Next we went to Vishwanath Gali (Lane), named after the famous Vishwanath Temple of Varanasi. This long, serpentine gali is dotted with toy shops which we thought would be a good idea to check out. There we met Rakesh Giri, a class fellow of Pinku Bhaiya who has recently started his own business in wooden toys. Its a much smaller setup than Agrawal Toy Shop, but he’s eager to expand. We have left the black Jatayu and the other Vasuki with him as samples and exactly the same brief (business insecurity – he doesnt want us to meet his artisans at all at this stage). Now we have two artisan camps to compare!
Last stop for the day was a turned wood toys workshop. Ram Khelawan Singh is a National Awardee and he owns a large workshop with six power lathes and his own in-house painters. Work was closing down when we arrived but we hope to come back soon as we see immense potential here for the quality and quantity we want.
I must admit that our first day went off much better than I expected! (The only unscheduled stops we had on our way around the city today was whenever Chris spotted a wall covered with layers and layers of posters and paint) We got to see three different artisan camps, our samples are already in process and if all goes well we should have lots to take back to Delhi. I’ve always felt a certain belonging to this city (its my mom’s city!) and this might become a beautiful opportunity to work with its heritage.
As a little bonus, here is a video of the spring-loaded cats. They weren’t moveable (aside from the penises), so they weren’t accidentally turned around, which was our first thought. This was intentional.