A country’s economic growth depends on, yes, government reforms, policies, incentives, budgets, laws etc. So if we were to browse online for that beautiful bag which had a waiting list in several countries, placed an order and thereafter stepped out for brunch to that place which has the best Norwegian salmon, does that also have any impact on the Indian economy?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always spoken about the ‘Make in India’ thought process. In his recent address to the nation he had highlighted the importance of supporting local businesses. As an Indian, supporting local businesses is not hard to emulate. We are surrounded by a plethora of talent across the length and breadth of our country. We as a people are creative, hardworking and possess exceptional hand skills.
If we look through the eyes of a foreign traveler to India, and pay attention to what they say, more often than not they talk of the incredible handicrafts our country has to offer. Statues of elephants made from stone ,marble,wood with intricate carving and jali work have been in demand for decades and continue to evince interest in visitors. The Crafts stores and high end boutiques in the 7 star hotels is where these objects d’art are found. These are being produced in bulk because guests coming into our country identify with these pieces the most.
Yet we rarely see them displayed in our own homes. What then about the craft that is indigenous to each State, district or village? We hear of revivals by NGOs and other volunteer organisations involved in the upliftment and preservation of craft. While such initiatives offer temporary visibility it is not enough to sustain the livelihood of these hard working karigars and their families throughout the year.
Supporting the lives of such people from less privileged walks of life goes a long way in shaping the future of our country. When we give gifts, it makes sense to source the kind of presents which aren’t just great value for money but which also carry on them a pride regarding from where we come. Recently the National Meet of the Crafts Council of India took place in Coimbatore, in January 2020. The members in Coimbatore showcased a unique exhibition called ‘Thaambaalam’ wherein they commissioned artisans from every State in India to showcase their talent on platters. So the exhibition consisted of platters and plates of all shapes and sizes - featuring wood, marble, bidri, straw, copper, brass, stone, lacquer, silver and bamboo. These were later put up for sale and people could also place orders for more.
Due to this idea many crafts-persons across the country have been gainfully employed for the past few months, churning out orders against advances which have been already paid to them. This has actively resulted in many families not going hungry.
Because of limited awareness for these exquisitely crafted items we are responsible for the languishing and extinction of small businesses. The next generation are then forced to leave their villages in search of work to feed their hungry stomachs. In the absence of employment, there is looting,murder,drug abuse,rape which is often the work of idle minds.
Picture Credits - Two Brothers Organic Farms
There are individuals trying to make that change in mindset. At the Kochi Biennale in 2019, we heard of an architect who spoke of offering his clients the option of filling one wall of their home with the beautiful 'phad' painting rather than fill it with things sourced abroad. That is such a fantastic idea which has so many positives. The space looks unique, represents the nationality of the people who own the home and keeps alive an ancient hand skill.This is the kind of commitment we all need to employ when it comes to supporting local, in our own way of course !
The situation is not altogether different when it comes to food. Thankfully the mangoes we eat still come from trees in and around our cities or the neighboring states. We still have not resorted to exporting mangoes from Mexico! The very thought sends a shudder !
Isn’t that where we seem to be heading though? How many people head away from the counter which displays guavas from the local farmer when there are blueberries from the Netherlands and kiwi fruit from New Zealand! The fact that we end up paying an arm and a leg for it is another matter entirely. What we are doing is generously contributing to a bunch of middlemen who make money fleecing people by merely transporting ingredients. Honestly economies abroad thrive because of us Indians and our love for the ‘imported’.
Produce from elsewhere does not contribute to our health or boost immunity or enhance metabolism in any way. Why you ask? Because all the produce from distant lands grow among a whole other biodiversity than what we live in here. Naturally those foods will have nothing to contribute to what our bodies require at that time of the year. By all means we must enjoy the odd kiwi salad or blueberry cheesecake but certainly not at the cost of forsaking all that’s native.
We must not preach, so that is not what this is about. It is about understanding why we must look after and support our own. If we think about it, really, it is a win win situation.
Those of us who grew up between the late 70s to the 90s know for a fact the rate at which Agricultural land has diminished in cultivation. When farmers are unable to find demand for their indigenous crop what can they possibly do ?... aside from committing suicide. They can’t alter the weather pattern nor learn about foreign foods AND be organic at the same time ! It’s a tall order.
Take for instance the belief that oats is healthier than any other Indian grain...or the latest carb substitute, quinoa! Most of us don’t have a clue what the plants look like, where they are grown or its origins. If we read about it being great for weight loss and a multitude of other things then we end up creating a demand of such magnitude that even the tiny neighborhood supermarket proudly boasts of tins of oats and packets of quinoa on their shelves. How does the Indian farmer survive this onslaught? It’s not the fault of the farmers that they do not have the finances to hire a posh health guru to advertise their produce. All he or she knows is their profession and what they picked up from the elders before them.
An oats idli is for some reason thought to be the healthier choice than an idli made with the 'Ambasamudram' rice. It isn’t and we need to realize that. This rice grows in India and not where these nutrition experts live. Obviously their role in the food industry is to help people form opinions based on what is grown in their own country,i n large quantities for which they need to find a market. Eating foods grown away from our geographical and cultural identities cannot aid the well-being of our body or that of the country’s economy. Michael Pollan, the environmentalist and crusader of living and eating local famously stated, “Don’t eat what your grandmother doesn’t recognize.”
The effort required to choose local is not mammoth. All it takes is to decide. Make an informed conscious decision. If we take a little time to look around us there are people doing wonders; by recycling candy wrappers and making chic accessories, breaking down river pebbles to fashion, oven baked stone pottery, managing dairy farms with native Indian breeds of cows, weaving fabric on looms operated by hand using organic cotton, making ready to eat chocolate from their own farm grown cacao trees...the list does go on.
The job of looking is also one which has been made startlingly easier nowadays thanks to social media. One hashtag or key word entered and you find exactly what you are looking for.
Wouldn’t we rather have the money we spend actually make a difference to the people who are deserving of it rather than line the pockets of someone who was good at locating the best swiss cheese which we shouldn’t be eating often anyway.
Someone once rightly said, if everything was available everywhere it takes away the joy of travel. Imagine if the Madurai 'malli' (jasmine) was being sold at a street corner in Rome? Quite an unsavory thought but entirely possible if we do not do what is necessary to support our own. Can we just eat our local fish and enjoy that salmon when we visit its place of origin? That’s how our ancestors lived anyway. We didn’t hear of them battling a host of allergies.
A country does not flourish on the well being of its large scale industries alone. Every cottage industry, home entrepreneurship, small scale business, local farmer, neighborhood pickle maker etc etc deserve the support of their community, their people and their own countrymen. Our mobile phones are all sourced from elsewhere anyway, why not keep the rest of the shopping list more local !?!