For tourists from across the globe, the hilly terrain of Manali-Shimla is a shoppersâ€™ paradise for woollens. The heart of the weaving industry is in the small town of Kullu, 40Kms away from Manali. As one enters this scenic valley, colourful traditional Kullu shawls dot the sideways of every market street and one can see huge signboards atop tiny shops flashing â€˜Traditional Kullu Shawlsâ€™. This is bait to the blind crocodile. Many of these shawls are not handcrafted, sometimes not even made in Kullu. They are mostly machine made shawls sourced from other towns in the country.
Is it that one doesnâ€™t care enough to make an informed decision while buying or is it that one fails to see the value in a handcrafted product?
I am afraid itâ€™s both. On one hand, tourists have little or no time on their itinerary to go searching for an authentic store and are more often than not directed by their local travel guides or the rickshaw drivers and cabbies to one of the numerous bogus shops that sell machine made shawls at hefty discounts (sometimes as high as 50%). A setup of a few handlooms in the periphery of the store serve as a perfect backdrop to disguise the machine made shawls as handmade shawls. While the tourist walks out of the store with discounted shawls, the local guide walks away with his share of commission, thus making this whole money making act a farce in the name of tourism.
On the other hand, as consumers, we fail to recognize the value of a handcrafted product. The value of art does not reside in the price we pay for it, but in the efforts that have gone into making that masterpiece; that masterpiece which is born out of the dexterity of the weaver, his eye for weaving an intricate design from his own palette of colours, the long hours of adeptly crossing the warp and woof to create kaleidoscopic patterns on the fabric, creating designs which by no means can be replicated on a programmed machine that churns out batch after batch of immaculate shawls at the press of a button. The power looms can produce a shawl in a couple of minutes while the weaver spends an average of four days to weave an elaborate design on his handloom. We must learn to appreciate the beauty of inherent imperfections in a handcrafted product that renders it itâ€™s exclusivity. No price is too high to pay for unadulterated art, be it for the purity of the wool, the sanctity of the natural organic dyes or the simplicity and genuineness of the heart of the person who is making it.