In the absence of a full-scale training institute and a falling interest in toy making among youngsters, the future of the wooden toys of Channapatna worries veteran toy makers.
From the former US president Barack Obama to the prince of Bhutan, the geographical indication (GI) tagged toys from Channapatna are in homes around the world. But for the world famous and age-old toy art to survive, many toy makers in Channapatna seek a training institute.
“My family has been in the business of toy making for many years, and now I run it,” said Mayur, owner of the Sri Manjunatha Toy Factory. “A major problem we are facing is a shortage of skilled workers in our factory. Currently, we have 20 workers in our factory but only a few of them are skilled. We have to spend more time teaching toy making to our workers and that is affecting our business,” he added.
“I have been in this business for the last 25 years and I have never seen such a shortage of skilled workers. This has affected many toy makers in the town,” said Krishna Singh, owner of Jaganathakrishna Handicrafts. “My business is good but I cannot deliver bulk orders as my factory lacks skilled workers,” he added.
“Covid-19 was a tough time but we survived,” said Mayur. After the Prime Minister (PM) drew attention to Channapatna toys recently, Mayur said that they saw a rise in the demand from big companies and got a few bulk orders.
Anil Kumar, the production head at Maya Organic in Channapatna, explained that during Covid-19, many unskilled workers had to resort to businesses like vegetable and furniture selling to meet their ends in Channapatna. “Since there were no training programs during Covid-19 in the town, many unskilled workers either worked at a slow pace compared to skilled workers and earned less, or moved to their native places,” he said.
Youngsters turn away
Youngsters and students from France on their trip to Channapatna were curious to learn the art of traditional toy making. But the tale is different for the youngsters of the town.
“My father has been running this business for the last 30 years. He told me to join him in the business but I do not feel like working with toys,” said Krishnappa, a student of Sarvajanika College, Channapatna. “I do not like to work around dust and toy making constantly involves working around wood,” he added.
“My hobby is drawing and in my free time I help my father in painting toys,” said Kripalaxmi, daughter of Singh. “A career in toy making is something I don’t want to pursue. I want to become a Warli art painter,” she added.
“I have neighbors and relatives who are in the toy making business from decades. I like these toys but I have a cyber cafe in Bidadi which runs well. So, I am happy working there,” said Rohan, owner of Rohan Cyber Café, Bidadi.
Special training programs
Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other organizations provide monthly training programs to youngsters, especially women who want to learn toy making.
“We started our training programs in early 2000 primarily focusing on training house working women and young girls,” said B Subarao, Sales Manager at Fair Kraft, a sister company of Maya Organics.
“We had planned to design a crafts park in Channapatna to teach toy making. But due to the pandemic, the construction was delayed,” said Sreekala Kadidal, Independent Director of Channapatna Crafts Park.
She explained that the crafts park is ready to offer different training programs and workers who are willing to learn and work in these programs would be paid Rs 300 a day as stipend.
“By March 2022, we plan to train around 100 young artisans, most of them women, under our crafts park program,” she added.
Training program problems
M Bhupathi, manager of Self Help Initiative Linking Progressive Artisans (SHILPA) trust explained that many NGOs provide six months or one year of training and this is not enough. “Many artisans learn little about toy making in these months and hence they could not match the standard required by many toy makers in the town,” he added.
Kumar explained that many parents are unwilling to send their children to monthly training programs fearing these would disturb their academic performance.
According to the website the primary objective of the Karnataka State Handicraft Development Corporation Limited (KSHDCL) is to train craftsmen in creating new designs in mediums such as sandalwood, rosewood, lacquer, and bronze. The website also states that the department keeps the craftsmen updated on the changing market trends by exposing them to the latest technology as their primary initiatives.
“We have handicrafts training programs and institutes in the town of Sagara, Shivamogga district where one can learn various handicrafts including toy making,” said Parshuram S, an official from KSHDCL.
“A class in an institute only comprises 15 to 20 students who can opt for a two-year certification course or six or three months course at various institutes,” he said.
Future of toy making
In recent years, the toy market which was once flooded with the original Channapatna toys has now been captured by Chinese copies of those toys.
“The main thing about Channapatna toys is their quality,” said Singh. He explained that in the early 1990s, toys from Channapatna were exported to New Zealand, Australia, several European countries, and the West Indies. But many makers became greedy and started using cheap wood instead of ivory wood. This led to a downfall in the export of Channapatna toys.
Survival and revival
“It would be very helpful for the long term survival of the toy making art of Channapatna if academic institutes introduce courses around toy making,” said Giriappa, a veteran artisan.
“One thing to understand here is that the art of toy making cannot be forced on anyone. If youngsters are willing to learn about toy making, elders and toy makers must show them the traditional value of the art that can attract them,” said Royalkriss Thangjam, Guest Faculty at the Bangalore School of Visual Arts.
He explained that it is important to understand why youngsters are not interested in toy making. “Also, toy makers should organize small events where they show the traditional as well as the commercial benefits of toy making,” he added.