Interviews: Kirti Goel
"Apart from reviving the lost craft of the Thatheras, Kirti's achievements include setting up twelve handicraft shops at Qila Gobindgarh. In this exclusive interview, she guides us through her journey with P-TAL."
P-TAL, Punjab Thathera Art Legacy aims at reviving the dying craft form of the indigenous Thatheras community of Jandiala Guru, Amritsar. The Thatheras of Jandiala Guru are a community of skilled craftsmen who specialize in the traditional technique of making handcrafted brass, copper and bell metal utensils by hammering metal sheets. This unique craft of the Thateras of Jandiala Guru in Amritsar is the first craft of India to be inscribed in the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2014.
Know more about P-TAL here.
For our readers, tell us a bit about yourself and your background. It’s amazing to see how far P-TAL has come and how you were inspired to bring about a change in the lives of the Thathera’s. Tell us what came after the inspiration and the initial struggles that you faced, especially when it comes to establishing the business side of things?
I studied fashion design from Pearl Academy of fashion, New Delhi, graduated in the year 2017, and like most newly graduates, I was curious and was on the look for what's next. Fashion Design as a career was quite saturated with very little creative jobs, and maximum people were looking for merchandisers. On the other hand, since my brother was a part of Enactus SRCC and it being a society which worked on community outreach projects, he told me about the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru. Since college I had a knack for handicrafts and so I decided that I will once visit the community and explore this craft.
After my first visit, I knew one thing, that it can sell and had great potential and hence began my research in the same direction. I still have my process book that has glimpses of my initial journey. I applied everything I learnt in college to come up with the first collection eg. inspiration, design development and market research. Designs came out really well provided that they are still selling in the market and only now, the market has become much more acceptable for these metals. I stayed in Amritsar for about 1.5 years and students from Enactus visited on a regular basis. If you survive the
initial days you can survive it all, this is what I realised.
What methods did you adopt to make this initiative a success and how have those evolved over the years?
To win the trust of artisans and to get the customer attention were two points we struggled with initially. I remember in beginning it was very demotivating when sometimes staying in Amritsar, I had nothing to do and felt like I was wasting my time and it might never turn around, but Enactus was a big support, and each time I thought of leaving, something made me stay eg. I ended up curating a museum in Amritsar and curating handicraft shops, I got a job offer at Quila Gobindgarh Amritsar which taught me a lot of management on the business side of things, under the mentorship of Deepa Sahi, a self made women entrepreneur. Slowly and gradually, one step at a time I started understanding everything from accounts to inventory management and data analysis. In February, when I felt that the artisan trust was at place the things at
community level had come to place and I was ready to look at the marketing end of things, Enactus always had a front end at marketing but since I was to carry it forward sustainably I had to learn it for myself. After strenuous efforts for 6 months, we settled down on a few selling sources like online, exhibitions and retail stores. The Craft Catapult session by Startup Oasis in November played a great role in giving me more business clarity and it was after that, I hired the first few full time people to build a team for the brand for sustainable operations.
How did the craft get recognized by UNESCO?
Every state has to nominate a craft in UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage every year. In 2014, Ms Yamini Mubayi under the guidance of Ms Geetika, did an intensive research on the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru and got it listed. In December 2017, after our strenuous work of 3 months, Punjab Government documented the efforts made in craft
revival and got it re-listed.
What role does designer Mrs. Dolly Singh play? How did she come into the picture?
When I was to leave for Amritsar without knowing anybody, I was going there and Enactus SRCC was continuously in contact with the Punjab Government to provide us with a local artist and designer so they referred Ms Dolly Singh to us, It would have never started without her as she knew the place and worked effortlessly for first 6 months to get it off the ground, she had her kids abroad so now is majorly abroad, but she shall always remain an integral part of P-TAL.
What would your advice be for the young generation of designers? How can they utilize their skills to revive the Indian Craft sector?
Perseverance, if you have decided to revive an art form, a lot of people will say it is not
possible and so many other things, but just be on it and enjoy the process. It is a slow
process but impacting somebody else’s life with yours will never again let you return to
any mainstream job.
Like the Thathera’s there are many such crafts in India that are facing hardship. In your opinion, what can be done to save them?
I think one craft 1 brand, the craft shall be good to go. There has to be a person with a mission and vision to revive a craft form and it definitely will happen.
What does the future hold for P-TAL?
P-TAL aims to be synonymous to Thathera products. Thatheras are not only in Punjab but all across India, we aim to be a platform selling a lot of healthy and traditional goods sourced from different Thathera belts and getting them to our customers.
A: Kirti Goel