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Omkar: Crafting bones into piece of art

Apr 14, 2015

The handicraft industry provides employment opportunities to more than six million people in India.

Bone Inlay

New Delhi: India has been a key supplier of handicrafts to the global market. Decentralised and high labour intensive, cottage based, the Indian handicraft industry is spread across the country irrespective of urban and rural spaces.

The handicraft industry provides employment opportunities to more than six million people where women and people from the lower rungs of the society feature the most.

The fruits of the artisan’s hard work can be seen in the volume of handicraft exports. This is also because of the diversity that is reflected through the handicraft sector. With 28 states, multiple cultures and ways of expressing such cultures, more than 1500 dialects bring in a certain kind of vibrancy into the handicraft sector which is admired and respected by the whole world. As the figures show, for the period 1998-99, the Indian handicraft industry earned around US$1.2 billion through exports.

The story of Omkar Dhawan, a bone inlay craftsman from Delhi is rather an interesting one. Four generations of his family have been crafting bone inlay furniture and crafts. His grandfather used to craft bone inlay furniture for the British in erstwhile colonial India. Bone-Inlay art originated in the region of Udaipur, Rajasthan.

Omkar Dhawan explains that the process of bone inlay which includes carving pieces of camel bones into delicate shapes, then attaching the bone pieces in elaborate designs on a wooden furniture frame or piece of wood which can be new or old and filling in and around the bone with painted gum (resin) background. This process takes around 3-4 weeks and the end result is a beautiful and ostentatiously patterned piece of art.

Omkar Dhawan is the recipient of Shilp Guru Award in 2010 which is given to master craftsperson in revolutionising diverse styles and designs of the traditional artistry. He has visited multiple countries where his work has been valued and attracted reverence. As he recounts, smilingly, that he was taken aback when once, someone asked him for his autograph in one of his exhibitions in London. He says that his craftsmanship has got ample support from the government and he is very happy that the government is providing an opportunity for the conservation of indigenous handicraft items.

For fifty years, Dhawan is based in Delhi and has been crafting bone inlay crafts and furniture. His crafts are modestly priced between INR 200 to INR 50,000 which attracts a variety of customers. One of the life changing decisions, he made, was while he was travelling out of the country.

During his visit to multiple countries, he got a lot of offers to work based in countries out of India. But Dhawan, despite knowing the profits, chose India over other western countries. He says that he wanted to craft his work in a country where he learnt the art.

He says more support is required in the handicraft industry and also spoke about the challenges which have increased in the age of online shopping, reducing the number of customers at his retail shop. Though he barely knows about the cyber space but he is still optimistic that his art will attract customers irrespective of the technology gap.

Through Omkar Dhawan’s story, it is evident that Indian handicrafts are a valuable entity both nationally and internationally. In the contemporary times, when people are opting for customized sleek and branded furniture through online purchasing sites, the value of Indian handicrafts still remain high because of the hard work and diligence of the artisans.

The government of India should reflect on such success stories and provide more incentives and impetus so that artisans like Dhawan and other upcoming artists reap the fruits of their hard work and the tradition of such impeccable craftsmanship sustains through generations.

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