The Vibrant Kushtagi Santhe

Day 5 of Padayatra
4th February, 2018

We set off from Dotihal in the morning, with our heads still reeling from the engaging weaving demonstrations we witnessed.

Pottery items for the kitchen

Around 10am, we reached Kushtagi, which is at the junction of National Highway-50 and State Highway-59, about 50KMs from Koppal. Today being Sunday, the entire town was caught up with the Santhe (fair). In what might have been a large fair, is now divided by the National Highway, and an unheeded flyover at the junction. One side of the Highway is the Cattles section of the fair, and on the other was all farm produce, Millets to Vegetables, Kitchen Stoves to Earthen pots, cleaning items like different kinds of brooms for different types of floors, Apparels, Footwear, everything you will need if you want to settle down in a village.

Since hybrid cattle breeds dominate southern Karnataka where we reside, made us curious to take our first turn at the cattle’s section, and we were pleased to see mostly native (Javari) breeds! Kilari and other native breeds were being decked with ‘Gejje’, an ornamental collar and bright colored ribbons on the horns. The gejje and the sound it made was enchanting – some of them were traditional, made exclusively by Dalits, as the collar is made with cowhide, and some of them more contemporary, with a strap from Kolhapur and bells from Bijapur.  The bells are made of copper.

The cattle section

The farmers selling the cattle were shouting out prices ranging from  Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 60,000 per bull, with their persuasive one-liners on how much land they could till, whether they would be co-operative with new owners etc. The fact that cattle are still being purchased for farming shows, people here for some reasons prefer, cattle or non-electric powered machines over tractors and other heavy farm machinery. We also saw some of the cattle being fitted with a nose-rope, to control the cattle. While some felt that this was a painful process, some others felt that this was certainly not as bad as the treatment cattle receive in an industrialized set-up.

Toils of the Hand-makers

If north Karnataka was as ‘developed’ as the south, would the native breeds still existed – With these thoughts lingering, we moved towards the street vendors on the sides of the street, further across  was the larger part of the Santhe. It was a mind-blowing sight in its variety of items being sold, vibrant, colorful and bustling with high-energy.

We first met Hanumanthappa, from the Dombar community who was selling kitchen items like ladles, butter-milk churner, combs etc., made by hand with Mango wood. This is his traditional occupation he said, something his father and grandfather would make. They also use wood from Madi and Hingaru trees, which they purchase from a timber yard.

Butter-milk churners

He said, in a day he can make 20 butter-milk churners, and  sells them in these santhes for 20 rupees each. His home is his manufacturing unit, he doesn’t have a shop. Even with his street vendors license, still faces police harassment. When discussing what might make things better for him, he said he would be happy to have machinery from the government at subsidized rates which will help him produce more. This, we realize is what is happening with the weavers as well, most of them moving to power-looms as the drudgery is less and they can produce items faster therefore, making more money however, with lack of capital for machines, not all of them is able afford.

Durgamma’s stall, specialist in stone mortars and pestles

We then met an elderly lady Durgamma, who made mortars and pestles from stone, variety of sizes, not perfectly shaped but looked efficient enough, kind of her own signature, the kind of possibilities the handmade can bring about. Though not her traditional occupation this is the only livelihood she now has  and it earns her a living.  She said, she varies the price, reducing the amount if the buyer seems really poor.

At the end of the lane was Pramod from Ilkalgada, who is a Iron-smith/blacksmith, his traditional occupation. We saw a variety of equipment, not all so familiar to some of us, as it’s used for farming – weed removers etc. We also spotted an ‘Eelige mane’ in his stall, a vegetable cutter, something some of us have used many years ago but now not in vogue in the city, given our kitchen platforms, cutting boards and knives. With not much enthusiasm for the hand-making and its drudgery, the fact that he is not able to make much money, He expressed, he would be happy if the government could provide him with the capital to buy machines, to make these tools.

Kitchen and farm equipment’s stall

Innovation in The Handmade

We walked further across the street  to an open place where the rest of the santhe was bustling with activity. First up, we saw a man selling bags, made out of the synthetic sacks (used to store grains etc)! It was really cool – reuse at its best, with the bag being just Rs. 10, making it affordable. While this is not an endorsement of synthetic sacks, we are just in admiration of how well this was re-used with just a handle stitched on top. We then met Devaraj, another iron-smith/blacksmith. He was also selling a variety of farm and kitchen equipment. He spoke with much pride about his equipment, about how they look, not as ‘beautiful’ as machine made, they last longer and are of much better quality. He said he is happy to be pursuing this livelihood, given that he didn’t study much. lets him be independent without a boss, earns as well as he works, and loads of satisfaction. How many of us city folks are craving for such a balance.

While much of the equipment he had was being made by his previous generations, he showed us a long metal tool with a wooden base, which is being made only from his generation, to cut fodder. The handmade thus is not just about the ‘old’ and ‘traditional’ can also adapt to modern needs and ‘Innovate’.

Brooms stall

As we were moving out, these circular rings made of rope and grass, caught our attention, and compelled us for some shopping now. One of us bought it, to use as a base for earthen drinking-water containers, another friend found it useful for  pots in the balcony! Just, Rs. 20 for this multipurpose use!

All this excitement and hot sun made those fresh cucumbers look all the more mouth-watering. Rs. 5 for 4 medium-size cucumbers, unbelievable! Not once did we feel like negotiating in this santhe, we got generous value for the money we happened to spend.

For today’s lunch, hosted by activist friends at Shri Adi Shakti temple on the Sindhanur road, we were joined by Anand Bhandari, a poet and activist, Murali from the Madiga community, an Activist  fighting for their fair share in reservation. Recently, they had  thousands congregating in Bengaluru, only to end their huge padayatra from Basava Kalyana, something the mainstream media seemed to have completely ignored. We exchanged notes about our campaigns and discussed the importance of the handmade and the need to support the people making by hand. Our discussion ended with the mention of Manteswamy’s spiritualism and his efforts in uniting people.

Later in the evening, we walked towards Gumgeri, passing by several fields, where farmers were busy harvesting Jola (Jowar). We reached Gumgeri by around 7pm, and set out with an adventurous quest to find the singer, well known for singing songs during Moharram (Ale Habba, as is known here), and failed. Thus ends our another day of adventures!

Written by ವಿನಯ, Abhilash

Edited by Salus Sage