Maharashtra’s wooden toy hub gasps for survival

Radheshyam Jadhav | Updated on August 31, 2020 Published on August 31, 2020

Appeals to PM to save the craft preserved since 1750

Pune, August 31

For the past four generations, the Kanekar family that resides in the picturesque Sawantwadi town of the Konkan region of Maharashtra, has been active in the business of wooden toy-making. Notwithstanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address in his Mann Ki Baat on Sunday where he said now’s the time to get vocal for local toys, Vinay Kanekar says that the next generation of these toy-makers would not continue in the traditional toy-making business.

“The new generation is already moving out of the traditional toy-making. We hardly have any skilled labour to continue making wooden toys. We are still trying to preserve our tradition, but now it seems that ours will be the last generation in this craft,” says Kanekar.

Thanks to the patronage of the erstwhile rulers Khem Sawant, wooden toy-making flourished in Sawantwadi for centuries. It became famous for its hand-made ganjifa cards used in an ancient game that dates back to the Mahabharata times. Toy-makers acquired the name Chitari — one who draws chitra (pictures).

Wooden toys were very much in demand till recent times, says Pramod Chitari, adding that plastic toys, especially those made in China, flooded the market in the last few years, reducing the demand for wooden toys.

“Now, hardly anyone is interested in manufacturing wooden toys. There are five or six families trying to preserve the craft. But sales are depleting; there is no skilled labour, and we are facing problems in sourcing wood,” says Chitari.

Toy manufacturers of Sawantwadi say the government should make provision to train the youth in making wooden toys. As of now, there is no proper system to train people in this craft, leaving families in the business to train the next generation.

“But now the new generation dislikes this (trade),” says Chitari, adding that unless the entire toy-making sector is revamped there is no possibility of its survival in the face of competition from plastic toys, which are cheap compared to wooden toys.

Not just Chitari, but almost all wooden toy-makers of Sawantwadi feel that the craft of wooden toy-making that their families have preserved since 1750 is on the verge of extinction.

“You will be surprised to know that the global toy industry is of more than ₹7-lakh crore. Such a big business, but India’s share is very little in this. Now, just spare a thought for a nation that has so much of heritage, tradition, variety, (and a) young population. Will it feel good to have such (a) little share in the toy market?” PM Modi posed in his address, appealing to start-ups and new entrepreneurs to team up for toys. “For everybody, it is the time to get vocal for local toys,” he said.

But Sawantwadi’s toy-makers, whose wooden bullock carts, dolls, rocking horses, kitchen utensils, and fruits, have made childhood memorable for thousands say that the government must take concrete steps to save the craft. They want the PM to hear their Mann ki Baat.

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Published on August 31, 2020
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