We were in need of a bamboo cage for our Provoke/Protect installation at Kala Ghoda Fest 2014. We headed to the basket weavers on Tulsi Pipe Road near Mahim Station who are well known for their cheap bamboo artefacts.
We met Deepak, a thin dark man in his late twenties, and discussed our idea with him. While Deepak cautiously murmured the costs and the strength of the structure, his beautiful wife Sunita started chatting with us. Sunita is a twenty five year old (or so she says) and is the mother of two. The children attend a mobile school run by an NGO. Sunita shoos them away but asks us if we have chocolates for them.
Sunita and her husband live on the pavement with her mother, Kamla Chauvan, and her sisters Pushpa and Sunita (who does not know her age). Kamla says they originally hail from Mount Abu, Rajasthan and they speak a dialect known as Wagri. The area to the southeast of Mount Abu is well known for its density of bamboo. Kamla says they had to migrate from Rajasthan owing to poverty. Their tribe’s main source of income is through bamboo crafts, which was affected when private ownership of property made bamboo forests out of their reach. Police officials cracked down upon them when they started thieving the bamboo.
Kamla and her girls are here in search of better prospects. A number of such families line the road parallel to Mahim Station West and you really suspect if this is what is meant by better prospects. They sell their small baskets at about 30 Rs. and source raw bamboo at Rs. 100 a stick from Parel. Then it’s Rs. 20 for transportation every day. They visit their hometown for special occasions like Holi and Raksha Bandhan.
As this conversation comes to an end, we realise that while the bamboo weavers are great craftspersons, imbibing new designs is a challenge for them. They need careful guidance to adopt a new design for a new structure.