Supporting traditional artists/craftspersons: what the common person can do

One Sunday afternoon, after a leisurely lunch hosted by a friend to celebrate his grandson’s graduation in America, a few of us visited a Traditional Arts & Crafts exhibition.

At one of the stalls, our host expressed interest in some small wooden toys, priced at Rs. 50 each, and asked the artisan whether he would offer 5 toys for Rs. 200. I was stunned! Earlier that afternoon, the same gentleman had paid almost Rs. 1,000 per person at lunch without batting an eyelid. I immediately told him that a man who ‘lives life king size’ (he always flies First Class or Business Class, stays at the most expensive hotels, etc.) should not bargain like this. Without another word, he paid Rs. 250 for the 5 toys.

At the next stall, he picked up a painting, turned to me, smiled and asked me in a low voice, “I’m interested in this painting, but only if the price is reduced from Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 1,200. I’m sure there will be a negotiation margin included in this price. Do I have your permission to negotiate?” I smiled back and asked if I could negotiate on his behalf. He immediately agreed.

I told the artist, “My friend is interested in this painting. The price is reasonable, but my friend would feel bad if he finds that somebody else has bought a similar painting from you at a lower price. Hence, if at all there is any room for negotiation, please offer your lowest price.”

The artist smiled and replied, “Sir, we are simple people. We do not quote higher prices and then offer a discount. We reduce our prices only when we are desperate to make a sale. But, since you have asked me so kindly, I will offer this painting for Rs. 1,800.” My host was touched by the artist’s words and offered to buy the painting for Rs. 2,000. However, the artist insisted on charging only Rs, 1,800.

Just then, I walked away to answer a call on my mobile phone. When the others joined me a few minutes later, my host gave me two bookmarks, each costing Rs. 30, explaining that they were a gift to me from the artist. He said, “I’ve always known you to be a tough and demanding customer. How is it that you deal so differently with these artists?”

I told him that, a few years earlier, during a visit to a Traditional Art exhibition in our city, I had witnessed a thought-provoking incident. At one of the stalls, after the artist quoted the price of an intricate painting about 1 meter high and 2 meters long as Rs. 10,000, the visitor said that she would buy it immediately if he agreed to sell it at Rs. 5,000. The artist got upset and, in a voice choked with emotion, said, “Madam, if, for any reason, you do not want to buy my painting, please do not buy it. But please do not insult me by asking for a 50 % reduction. I have worked 15 full days on this painting. After paying for the materials and other expenses, a maximum of Rs. 5,000 remains. Then, I also have to bear the expenses of travelling to your city to participate in this exhibition. People like you willingly pay lakhs of rupees for modern paintings by famous artists, but you think Rs. 10,000 is too much for a traditional painting. You may not have heard of me, but please see this photograph of me receiving the National Award from the President of India 3 years back.” The visitor apologized and beat a hasty retreat!

This incident opened my eyes to the fact that we grossly undervalue our traditional artists and craftspersons, perhaps because they are down-to-earth people. We give them neither money nor respect.

From that day:

1. Whenever I buy, or attempt to buy, any traditional art or craft items from an artist/craftsperson, I never negotiate the price. If the price is within my budget, I buy the item at the quoted price. If the price is higher than my budget, I simply tell the artist/craftsperson that. Sometimes, (s)he voluntarily offers a reduction. If the reduced price is acceptable to me, I buy the item. If not, I look for something else within my budget.
I also discourage known people from bargaining aggressively with artists/craftspersons. If they insist on bargaining, I try to ensure that they do so in a pleasant and respectful manner.

2. Whenever I have to buy any gift items or mementoes, I try to buy traditional art or craft items directly from an artist/craftsperson or from one of the State Handicrafts Emporia.
Whenever anybody asks me for suggestions for buying gift items or mementoes, I suggest they buy traditional art or craft items from one of the State Handicrafts Emporia or at any exhibition if it’s going on at that time.

These things are very simple to do and can be done by anybody. It’s the least we can do to support our artists/craftspersons. Just one person doing this may not make a difference. But if many people start doing this, it will make a difference. Let us remember:
Little drops of water,
little grains of sand,
make the mighty ocean
and the beauteous land.

I am sharing this Do Right story at Indiblogger in association with Tata Capital


A brighter festival of lights!

“How much will we be spending on fireworks this Diwali?” my 12 years old son asked me one evening. “Last year, we got all that you wanted for about Rs. 1000. I suppose we’ll spend about Rs. 1,500 this year since prices would have increased, plus there will be some new fancy stuff that you guys will want. Anyway, why are you asking this now? Diwali’s over a month away,” I replied.

He explained that there had been a lot of discussion in school about the exploitation of child labour in the fireworks industry, as a result of which many students had decided to boycott fireworks as a mark of protest. He and his 9 years old brother had both decided to join the boycott. No, they did not want to buy anything for themselves instead of fireworks. They felt that would not be a genuine boycott. Instead, they wanted the ‘fireworks money’ to be donated to an orphanage near our house.

Both my spouse and I were delighted! At the same time, we wanted to be sure that our sons were not committing themselves to something that they would regret later when their high spirits had cooled down. After all, they were just 12 and 9 years old! We asked them a few questions to find out if they were fully aware of the implications of their decision.

Both brothers had discussed the matter threadbare before speaking with us. They had decided that, not only would they not buy fireworks, they would not join any Diwali celebrations involving fireworks. They planned to continue this boycott for subsequent years until they were completely convinced that exploitation of children in the fireworks industry had totally and genuinely stopped. They were not sure whether their friends were equally firm in their resolve to boycott fireworks, but for them there was no going back.

That year, we celebrated Diwali without any fireworks. We donated the ‘fireworks money’ to the orphanage. It was clear from the reduced sound levels that many other children had joined the boycott.

The next year, most children withdrew the boycott of fireworks, stating that they were buying fireworks manufactured by companies that did not use child labour. However, our sons continued their boycott because it was reported that, while some manufacturers had stopped employing children directly, their sub-contractors continued to exploit child labour. Our donation to the orphanage was suitably increased to match the expected increase in fireworks prices.

Our sons were aware that their continued boycott of fireworks invited disparaging comments from some of their peers, but they never went back on their decision. We continue to make a donation to the orphanage every Diwali, with the amount suitably increased every year.

Our sons’ Compassion (towards the child labourers and the orphans) and Integrity (in refusing to use the ‘fireworks money’ for themselves) enhanced the brightness of our Diwali, the ‘festival of lights’!

I am sharing my Do Right Stories at in association with Tata Capital.