Monday 5 May 2008

Underneath the skin

TBY launch in Jaipur. Pic courtesy John Dean
We have been interacting with an American Travel operator to explore the option of working with The Blue Yonder in Rajasthan. On a visit to see our work with the communities in Jaipur, they were keen on knowing how much money was going to the communities, to the local organisations we work with, to The Blue Yonder and how we maintain the transparency in financial dealings etc. Positioning their company as a Responsible Travel company means that they were also accountable for the 'claims' of potential partners like us. Their clients will be keen on knowing how their contribution would make a difference.

Providing dignity is key while working with communities. Pic courtesey John Dean
Since most of our destination management experiences came from what we learnt from River Nila in Kerala, we take our activity partners in other destinations to understand where we come from. It's amazing to see how people from different culture ( within India) look at these initiatives in different way. Local dynamics are so different with the communities we work with in different parts of India. In some places, people continue to work with art and crafts, because they have the passion and drive to do it, but in some other places, they do it because that's all they know as a livelihood and without art they are in utter poverty.

In our journey through Rajasthan, this was something that stood up most of the time. Any tourist hotel in Rajasthan would have an evening performance. There will be artists dancing and singing and there will be tourists sitting and sipping their beers without knowing anything about the background of the artists or why they are there! For most international tourists, this is in any case something quite exotic.

Most of these artists are hired by contractors who 'outsource' them to different hotels in the cities and are paid pittance once in a month. There is absolutely no element of dignity in their work and they perform for the sake of bread-winning. They mostly just dance around, sans any energy, any passion and I don't think any one can blame them if you don't even see a sincere smile on their face. How do you smile when you are not happy? When your constant worry is about next days meal, where will that genuine smile come from?
One of our artist friend from Rajasthan after his tour of Kerala mentioned the other day, "You guys can talk about reviving art forms and tradition. That's nice. But many of the guys you work with in Kerala are grounded properly and have their livelihood. They have a basic comfort zone to explore further. In our case, we are struggling to earn our living and still want to pursue our traditional arts. We wonder how we can strike a balance between these two worlds".

Pic courtesey John Dean
When I shared our Rajasthani friends observation on Kerala artists being well off to one of our artists in Kerala, he said, "Yeah, we are good in faking. Good that our friend didnt see what is really happening behind the fancy clothes we wear and the decent looking houses we have"! There is not single day that I go to bed wondering how we will get through this month with mounting expenses in my day to day life!"
Bangalore © GP 2008

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