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A good head and a steady hand
- Nature-inspired designs put on fabric to generate self-employment

Art and creativity shares the same space with money matters. While seven young boys of Aashirvad Vidyalaya, in St Joseph’s School, Bowbazar, enthusiastically express their opinions on the designs, they listen attentively to the explanations on how to sell the stuff. That is the subject of a workshop being conducted at the school, by India Inside, a design house.

The under-privileged teenagers, aged between 14 and 16, are all agog at the concept of producing something with nothing more than paints, brushes and cloth, and then being able to market it. The creative process provides no obstacles, with ideas flying back and forth, within the first hour of the first day of the workshop. Balance and colour-coordination is not something they need to be taught, but they are infused with excitement at the thought of being able to take it to shops, be it as bags, T-shirts, tablecloths or curtains. While 14-year-old Ravi Khela is a consummate artist, poet, composer and sculptor, Mickey Mullick knows sewing and Md Ali loves to paint. “You only need a good head and a steady hand,” chimes in one boy.

Aashirvad Vidyalaya was set up in 1994 by some Jesuit fathers of St Joseph’s, with students comprising primarily teenagers from the nearby slums, mainly migrants from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. Along with formal education, Aashirvad provides the students with special-skills-based training that helps them to be independent and pursue a means of livelihood. The first four days of the seven-day printing and design development workshop, from July 23, are being held at the school itself, and the last three days will be spent in gaining first-hand experience in the direct printing workshop at the India Inside block-printing unit at Haridevpur. The handicrafts will then be exhibited at Identity Gallery on August 18 and 19.

It’s all aimed at teaching the students to use nature as an inspiration to develop designs and implement them on fabric. The point, says Kaushik Banerjee of India Inside, is to provide a platform for the kids’ creative talents, to enable them to sell their creations under their names. The focus of the company, involved in developing design concepts in fabrics and home furnishing, is indigenous Indian designs and rural art forms existing in remote villages in the country. Having held workshops in India and Europe, “we are now working with under-privileged youngsters, to provide them a means of self-employment”.

While the students are looking forward to the opportunity of making their own designs, which will then be displayed to the public, some are nervous, while others are sure that they can’t go wrong. “Each of these kids is good at something, even if it’s just cutting out shapes. We wanted them to not only learn a new skill, but to also have fun while doing it,” sums up Sudeshna Sinha, principal of Aashirvad Vidyalaya.

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