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regular-article-logo Thursday, 13 June 2024

Odisha: Applique craft on road to oblivion as traders in Pipili battle for survival

For the likes of Firoz and his brother Rashid Khan, who know as much about the culture of Lord Jagannath, with which the applique craft is intrinsically linked, religion is a minor issue which some parties are deliberately trying to play up as it suits them

Subhashish Mohanty Pipili Published 27.05.24, 08:07 AM
Md. Abdul Firoz in his shop in Pipili.

Md. Abdul Firoz in his shop in Pipili. Picture by Subhashish Mohanty

Md. Abdul Firoz, whose family has been in the business of making applique items for generations, looks dejected. With demand plummeting drastically since the construction of the Pipili bypass road leading to the temple town of Puri, about 50km away, his income has been reduced to less than half of what it was 15 years ago when the road came into existence.

“Earlier the road to Puri passed through our town, which survives on the applique business. After the construction of the bypass, Puri-bound vehicles don’t enter Pipili. There are no tourists and no buyers. We survive at the mercy of the occasional applique lover who makes a detour and visits our shops. The business is as good as dead,” says Firoz, for whom survival and development, not religion, are the major issues in this election.

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For the likes of Firoz and his brother Rashid Khan, who know as much about the culture of Lord Jagannath, with which the applique craft is intrinsically linked, religion is a minor issue which some parties are deliberately trying to play up as it suits them.

“Religion becomes secondary when people don’t have enough to eat. For us who have been associated with this craft for generations, Lord Jagannath is a highly respected deity as the craft emerged from his 12th-century abode in Puri. Odias know that Bhakta Salabega despite being a Muslim was one of the most ardent devotees of Lord Jagannath. He is everyone’s Lord and we make applique items for his chariots every year,” says Firoz.

The angst of the likes of Firoz can be understood as orders for applique items have almost dried up with people hardly visiting the area though the craft which emerged from the temple of Lord Jagannath entered the drawing rooms of the privileged and the middle classes long back. Earlier the craftsmen used to make only traditional items like canopies and applique umbrellas which have been part of the temple rituals. But over the years, as applique gained popularity, they diversified their products coming up with a range of items, including purses, mobile cases and pillow covers.

Firoz's brother Rashid Khan shows applique canopies prepared by them for Rath Yatra.

Firoz's brother Rashid Khan shows applique canopies prepared by them for Rath Yatra. Picture by Subhashish Mohanty

“Demand had led to product diversification and subsequently to higher incomes for the craftsmen and their families. The women who do most of the stitching work also saw a growth in their incomes. But all that has now stopped. Even until 15 years ago, we were getting orders of nearly 80 lakh. Now it has practically been reduced to zero,” says Firoz as his brother Rashid nods in agreement.

Like Firoz and Rashid, most applique craftsmen in Pipili, which is about 28km from the state capital, are angry with the government for not addressing their problems. “They had said they would shift the entire market close to the national highway so that we continue to get the attention of tourists and people visiting Puri. But the assurance has remained just an assurance,” says Abhya Mohapatra, another applique trader in Pipili
who also points to the complete lack of development in the area.

“The condition of the road remains bad and there are no public amenities like toilets and drinking water points. We are increasingly getting disillusioned with our leaders,” adds Mohapatra.

Pipili market has around 300 big and small applique item shops lined up on both sides of the road and some even in the back lanes. Over 15 years ago, when the bypass road had not been constructed, the market used to be chock-a-block with tourist vehicles, so much so that there was a growing chorus of demand for the widening of the road. But now no one talks about it.

“Why should they when there are no visitors and buyers for our items? Time was when our annual turnover used to cross 10 crore regularly. Now our income is down by 80 per cent and no one seems to care. What the authorities fail to realise is that they are not only killing the craftsmen and their dependants, they are killing the craft itself,” says Ramesh Chandra Mohapatra, chairperson of the Pipili Applique Cluster.

That about sums up the crisis that the applique craft is confronted with today. But the voice of these craftsmen appears to have been drowned in the cacophony
of elections.

Pipili, part of the Puri Lok Sabha constituency, voted on May 25

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