Despite the increasing cost of traditional home decoration items, people in rural areas love buying swinging cradles or hindolas made in jandi work (wooden lacquer work).
A jandi swinging cradle is aesthetically pleasing and house members love to sit on it throughout the day. During summer, its use increases because the swing helps keep one cool in rural homes.
The forest village Khanoth near Hala town, Matiari district, used to be considered a popular hub of jandi work. The artisans mainly manufactured swinging cradles, which attracted buyers from across Sindh, as well as other major cities of the country.
Khanoth artisans are also famous in producing a variety of other articles like rings for table napkins, work boxes, pens cases, rulers, vases, flower stands, boxes with flat or rounded tops in nests.
The village used to attract many people who were interested to see the artisans at work and to buy their beautifully-made handworks. Khanoth’s geographical location was advantageous; next to the riverine forest, with easy access to quality wood, lac and acacia gum – necessities for jandi work.
Elderly artisans, recalling the blissful days of the past, said there were 18 workshops in this village, where skilled workers used to produce high quality swinging cradles and other wooden products. These manufactured goods were supplied to traders and influential families of Sindh.
Now, hardly a few artisans are struggling on their own to keep their tradition alive. Their work is now dependent on orders from clients. Once an order is placed, they start working on the product.
Asghar Khanothi, whose family has been engaged in this industry for a long time, has a workshop in Khanoth. “This traditional industry is linked with the forest, which not only provides high quality wood, but also lac (disambiguation) and acacia gum, which is used for preparing natural dye for applying on the wooden work,” he explained.
Therefore, deforestation has had a negative impact on the industry. Not only this industry; he explained that the depletion of forests had a bad impact on all traditional crafts. People used to source cheap raw materials from the forest for their various crafts. Now, they were unable to do so on the same scale.
Owners of jandi workshops and artisans due to difficulties in sourcing wood and other necessary raw materials have started working as labourers in various shops in Hala New and Bhit Shah, he said.
In these cities, there was “huge investment by urban craft product assemblers, who paid advance to the artisans for this work”, he added.
Besides lacquered swinging cradles and legs of charpais (native bedsteads), many small and larger products, including furniture, were available at these local assemblers.
Ghulam Mustaf Vighio, a famous artisan of jhula, narrated the difficulties associated with his line of work these days. Continuing to lacquer the piece he was working on, he explained that they were all facing many challenges, and struggling to keep the traditional work alive.
“Lack of availability of raw material nearby was a major hurdle,” he said. Vighio too originally belongs to Khanoth. He moved to Bhit Shah after the destruction of the forest made it impossible for him to continue living in his ancestral town.
He now works at the Bhit Shah Artisans’ colony.
He said currently, the indigenous jandi work was so costly that a majority of the people were not able to afford the products. The cost has escalated because raw materials have to be sourced from distant markets.
“In the past, wood and other related products were available near the riverine forests, with artisans having an easier access to source the materials. It was also less time consuming to get those materials from the forest,” he said.
The easy access to raw materials also kept the prices low and more people found the products affordable.
“Now, only investors can afford to pay Rs200,000—300,000 for one truck load of wood, providing it to artisans in these workshops. As a result investors have control over this traditional industry,” the artisan explained.
About the current prices of jhula, Vighio said a normal sized jhula was available for Rs80,000 or above, depending on workmanship. Similarly, a sofa set ranged between Rs45,000 and Rs50,000. A two-seat jhulo was priced at Rs50,000.
He explained these were the prices of original craftsmanship. “Machine-made ones are cheaper,” he said.Vighio lamented the products made with machines. “These machine-made products have flooded the market, which also has a negative impact on the original craft,” he shared sadly, adding that the ones that were not original, neither had quality nor sustainability.
“Original jhula is guaranteed to sustain for 50-60 years. But the new products lose their colours within two- three years,” he said.
A number of women also used to be involved in colour-making for the jandi craft workshops in Khanoth. The closing of workshops destroyed the source of income of artisans, wood, lac and acacia gum providers and women workers. Skilled masters have become labourers.
There were different varieties of cradles which the people preferred to buy for families, decorate their homes or to gift to new-born babies.
Artisans shared various stories about the establishment of Khanoth next to the riverine forest and developing jandi workshops centuries back.
Shakeel Abro, Director Sindh Indigenous Traditional Crafts Company (SITCO) has established a Jandi Training Centre at Bhit Shah to impart training to new cadres from the artisan families for saving the traditional industry.
Ghulam Mustaf Vighio teaches at the centre to guide young artisans.
Bhit Shah is said to be the rural hub of the traditional crafts industry, where at initial stage 12 young trainees belonging to Khanot, Bhit Shah and Badin were enrolled in the centre, Abro said.
Realising the shortage of trained human resource in jandi craft, it might be a way out to engage master artisans to transfer the knowledge to the young artisans, he justified.
“Training centr is equipped with necessary tools, machines, equipment and raw material for learning purposes. This initiative may help revive the old craft industry, which provides a source of income to a larger workforce,” he said.
The writer is a staff member