The trip to Gypsies

Amidst dusty hillocks, in Rangareddy District of Telangana, lies a seemingly quiet village.Before we started, we drew out a route map on the backside of a visiting card and started our journey. We were told Google maps aren’t going to be a great help. We packed a box of needles, threads, beads we thought we might need, some sketches of the products we imagined we’ll make etc. We packed lunch too and a water bottle. Loaded these into the car and set forth.
Arched tree branches over the road offered shade and cool breeze. Abruptly, we come to a junction after which we had no clue where to go. We ask the locals and they ask us to take the next left. That left seemed never ending! Winding kaccha road around the hillocks offering us a teasing view of the village from afar. It was both fun and exhausting.
Finally we got there and asked for the lady we sought to meet. she is a local leader of sorts, with a better grasp on the business aspect. Within minutes, Lakshmi gathered a bunch of women from the village under a huge banyan tree amidst mud houses of thatched roofs. The women tell us Lakshmi is like a teacher to them, as they start telling us their stories.

The Banjaras are the direct decedents of the royal Rajputana scouts from Rajasthan. Traditionally they traded in grains, they were expert businessmen, they led a nomadic way of life. They were later given posts of informers, spies and explorers in the courts of the kings in northern India. They were adept at travelling over any kind of terrain and spoke many languages. They were quick, smooth and agile in their movement and they had a sharp intellect to aid them in their adventures.
With the advent of Mughal empire and later the British Raj casting their living style as illegal, they were forced to flee down south and settled down as farmers and started trading their hand sewn cloth products like pouches, blouses, silver, spices and millets that they grew on their farms.
Now, these wonderful women brought out the best of their works to display. A few minutes into conversation with them we learnt some interesting facets of their lives.
We expected to see them all in their colourful traditional Banjara attire but it was only old ladies that were dressed so. The middle aged and young women said that since they now travelled for work to the city, they have started to wear the dress of the city folk. Slowly they reveal that they have started to make their ornaments in gold which were originally made in silver because they learnt that gold is more valuable and more suitable to the kind of clothes they wore now. They also say that they’ve taken a liking towards the fine detailing on the gold ornaments from the city. They feel that their ancestral jewellery is chunky.

So when we voiced our thought about their uniqueness and their aesthetics being lost, they gave us an agreeing nod but also told us that, there is wedding jewelry that is mandatory for every bride to wear during her wedding. The bride and groom are decked up in their traditional hand sewn garments with cowrie shells, mirrors, colorful thread, small bells, beads, 25 naya paisa coins and one rupee coins that are very very old and no longer in circulation. They say that bone and ivory bangles that covered the entire length of their hands are now made in plastic. Therefore not 100% of it is lost but is definitely on the path of vanishing if not for the marriage customs.
So, steering the conversation back to their employment we find out that they work in nearby factories manufacturing pipes, biscuits, sheets and what not. Some times they work as field hands in cotton fields.
They confess that the financial security a job gives and the planning that it facilitates is what tempts them to move away from the craft and take up various jobs. They say that the erratic nature of orders and their lack of understanding of what sells in the market are a big disadvantage.
This was the inspiration that led to us using their traditional skill set to make accessories to try and ensure regular orders to them and infuse a touch of relevance through design.
Jyothi and her family now make for Ishma, hand embroidered thread and mirror accessories, as well as handcrafted coin jewellery.

-Rekha & Vandyaa