What new skill have you acquired during the lockdown? Thirty-six-year-old Vikram, a banjara who has made Gurugram his home over the years, learnt the art of survival. With the imposition of the lockdown, he lost his only source of income almost overnight and spent the entire lockdown period turning to a life of despair and scavenging.
“From earning about Rs 500 a day, which would be more than sufficient to feed my family of six, I went to earning nothing for weeks together,” he says.
While those in positions of privilege used the lockdown period to learn something new; some learnt to bake, others took to reading, and a handful became fairly successful and popular stand-up comics and social commentators, Vikram and his community went from a bleak existence to a non-visible existence.
Vikram, and others like him, originally from Rajasthan, reside in a place they call the Banjara Market, in Sector 56 of Gurugram. They source ceramic ware from Khurja in Uttar Pradesh and sell it in Gurugram. If during the pre-COVID time one were to drive past this area, the colours and the vibrancy of everything they stock would catch one’s eye.
Today, the market is totally bereft of shoppers and wears a desolate look.
On 10 July this year, Srishti visited the Banjara Market in the hope of finding a mirror for her home. Little did she realise that she would return wanting to become a bridge between those at the market and the many shoppers online.
From shopper to curator
Speaking to The Better India, Srishti Tehri, a 25-year-old graduate of fashion media communication from Pearl Academy, Delhi, says, “At 6.30 p.m. on a weekday, one of the vendors at the market caught hold of my sleeve and said, ‘Didi, boni kara do (Sister, please buy something and open our account for the day). Srishti bought what she wanted and left, but those words stayed with her.
“That night I decided I would do something to help them. I put out some of the product pictures on my Instagram page, and before I knew it, I had people asking me how they could buy them and what they cost,” says Srishti. That was all the push she needed. Srishti was back at the market the next day trying to figure out how best she could help them out.
Getting the offline market online
On 11 July, Srishti put together a logo, procured some products from a few vendors at the Banjara Market, and voila, she was ready to launch, @artisansofbanjara, on Instagram. “That is truly the best part about functioning online, isn’t it? It’s the sheer ease with which we can do business,” she says. Being a graphic designer helped Srishti a great deal as well.
To start this venture, Srishti borrowed a sum of Rs 2000 from her mother, which was spent on procuring the products, stickers, and buying packing material. “I was not working and had no source of income to tap into. I knew there was potential in this and hence took that chance,” she says.
On scheduled Sundays at 7.00 p.m. the Artisans of Banjara website is opened to the public; it’s almost like one is playing ‘fastest finger first’, given the speed at which people buy the products. Through the rest of the week, the website carries a notification that says they’ll be back soon.
The first sale of Artisans of Banjara
On 19 July, Srishti opened up the website for the first sale. She says, “Before I could say ‘open’, we were sold out. It was like being in a whirlwind.” There were a total of 791 products sold to 131 orders. Srishti says she didn’t know what hit her and from where.
“I honestly did not anticipate such a large response and I am terribly underprepared to deal with it. I had orders coming in from Telangana, Arunachal Pradesh, Pondicherry, Maharashtra,” she says.
The first sale was a huge learning for Srishti. It took her almost a month and a half to process, pack, and dispatch the orders. “The first few orders reached in terrible condition, plates broken, mugs without handles. It was a very stressful time,” recollects Srishti.
Learning with every new sale
What worked for Srishti is how understanding the customers were. “The most beautiful part of it all has been how understanding customers have been. Despite the broken products, delay in shipping etc. I haven’t had to encounter even one irate customer so far,” she says.
The last sale held in September was the biggest in terms of orders, and Srishti says more than 325 orders were placed in a record 20 minutes.
“So far, Artisans of Banjara would have easily catered to more than 850 orders,” she tells me with pride.
How much of this goes back to the craftspeople?
A glimpse of what the market has.
Srishti works closely with three vendors at the Banjara Market and since the first sale in July, she has been able to give each of these vendors a sum of Rs 75,000 for the products that she has procured from them. Vikram, one of the vendors who has benefited from this initiative says, “We only know how to display our products on the footpath and sell them. All these online things we cannot do. Because this Didi [Srishti] said she’d help us, we agreed. We are happy we did. Otherwise, in these times we would not have survived.”
Srishti has now hired help to pack and dispatch the products. All the packing takes place in the parking lot at Srishti’s home in Gurugram. Speaking about the hires, she says, “Rajkumar and Anuj are the two bhaiyas who help me and I have been able to pay them Rs 10,000 for their work so far.”
“After paying the vendors, buying packing material, and couriering the packages, I make between 10 to 15 per cent as profit,” says Sristhee.
What can you expect from these sales?
There is a huge demand for the plates, mugs, and bowls. The price for these products begins from Rs 50 and goes up to Rs 500. “We now have started stocking up on curio pieces, small plates to keep trinkets, and even beautifully painted bohemian kettles,” says Srishti. For Srishti, the work she does with the Banjara people does not just end with the products she procures from them. She is currently working on organising a health camp and even a talk by a doctor to educate the women in the area on menstrual hygiene.
“I am doing all I can to help, but ultimately I am just one girl working in the area,” she says.
Through this article, she also urges people who can help to come forward and help her organise these betterment camps for them.
As we conclude, Srishti talks about a call she had with her CA, “I never in my wildest dreams anticipated this to take off as it has. I was telling my CA that maybe we should register a company and make this all a formal venture.” That is always a good problem to have, isn’t it?
If you would like to support these vendors and buy some beautifully-crafted ceramic pieces, click here to access their Instagram page. As a parting note, Srishti adds, “If you happen to visit the market and buy directly from the vendors, I request you to refrain from bargaining. The products are already at a discounted price, and each rupee they make goes a long way in helping them survive.”
(Edited by Sandhya Menon)