West Bengal is famous for its traditional micro-economic activities though very few have recognised the potential strength of the Indian productive system and its impact on social systems. Self-employment and not wage employment is the dominating trend in the traditional sector. Similarly in rural areas one'shome is the production centre where the entire family is engaged in work. We have to observe these activities in a rural setting to appreciate its impact on the social life and opposed to urban-based industry-centred activities which render the social life more complex. Communication is direct and transparent. The fury of ?hire and fire? theory though not totally absent in its severity is not so much felt here. This aspect of Indian work culture needs further study. Work done with leisure gives more pleasure.
Bengal has had a long history of the finest textile products produced in India. Though textile manufacturing was already a flourishing industry, it got a real boost during Mughal rule. The silk textiles, especially the saris, produced in and around Dhaka, have earned international fame. Known as ?Dhaka ki mulmul?, it was exported to South-east Asia, Middle East, Persia and Mesopotamia. Similarly the chikan embroidery work, which is related to Lucknow, originated in Murshidabad in West Bengal under the patronage of the nawabs. Later some of the weavers migrated to Lucknow on invitation from the Nawab of Oudh and settled there to produce some of the finest needle handicrafts.
The book then goes on to describe the clay craft of Krishnagar in Nadia district of West Bengal which creates sharply chiselled and finely-shaped dolls of the traditional type. Next is the Kantha practiced by craftswomen of West Bengal where discarded pieces of cloth are used one on top of another and stitched together in tiny running stitches to form beautiful floral and figurative patterns on the surface. The sholapith craft, where the pith of shola, a herbaceous plant growing wild in West Bengal, is used to make decorations for the deities, particularly Durga. Garlands, floral banquets and mobiles as well as beautiful mukuts or headgear worn by Bengali grooms and brides on their wedding day are prepared from shola. Terracotta craft of Murshidabad, Birbhum, Jessore, Bansberia and Digha in the form of plaques, medallions and wall panels is quite famous. Stone-craft of Midnapur district uses potstone to make articles for daily household needs. Scroll paintings on cloth, chikankari showing delicate shadow stitch of Murshidabad and Dhaka, durries depicting local folk designs from the old Kantha embroidery, conch-shell craft to produce cutlery, such as spoons, forks, knives, small plates and jewellery, leather craft in which handmade handbags, suitcases, wallets, cushions and moorahs, and other items that are prepared are described with pictures.
The book discusses the decline of the once flourishing textile industry of Bengal with the advent of European textiles into the Indian market and the present scenario of handicraft products with more than a lakh people working as artisans, master craftspersons, middlemen, traders and big players like the wholesalers and exporters. The book highlights the fact that the artisans are a highly exploited community with no organised effort made for their uplift.
(Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, Kolkata, West Bengal.)