As you walk on the streets of Shinganalli, a nondescript village on Kumta-Tadasa highway, you can see women sitting in the sit-out of their houses, tying wood flowers to a nylon thread. Garland making has become one of the mainstays of this village over the years. Needless to say, almost all the houses in this village, located in Mundagod taluk of Uttara Kannada district, have one or more members engaged in this activity.
Shantavva Talavar, a resident of the village, is the one who initiated this silent employment revolution in the village. A humble woman, initially she seemed unwilling to share her experience with me. Later, she changed her mind and narrated the events that led her to this position. She was introduced to the activity of garland making three decades ago by one of her neighbours, who used to make sandalwood garlands.
Living in the Malnad region, she had easy access to forests and sandalwood trees. Unaware of the forest laws, she used to cut dry sandalwood branches to make garlands. Soon, someone brought it to the notice of forest officials and they questioned her. "That was when I came to know that it is an offence," says Shantavva.
Later, she started making flowers from the barks of hedde (Adina cordifolia) tree. Again, this was also a variety which was protected under the law. Then she stopped entering the forest for wood and started exploring alternatives. Innovative that she is, she saw the lush green gliricidia tree grown along the fence in front of her house.
She decided to try making garlands from the barks of this multipurpose forage tree, which is popular among farmers as manure tree for its nitrogen-fixing properties. And, she was successful in making flowers from this plant, supposedly the first person to do so. She skillfully makes octagonally shaped flowers from the thin bark of gliricidia, which is a common tree in the village.
Paddy husk is stuffed inside to give it a proper shape. Then these flowers are tied to a nylon thread. Once she was confident of making garlands from an easily-available source, she realised that it could be a livelihood activity for other women in the village as well. A team was formed and she trained them. Soon, the word spread and eventually, the number of garland-makers increased. Women from over 200 houses are engaged in garland making today. Some houses have three to four women engaged in this activity. They earn from Rs 100 to Rs 200 per day.
College-going students also join hands to make garlands. "It is not possible to go and work in the fields during college days. But we can assist in garland making in the evenings and thus support our parents," says Anitha Patil, a college student.
"These kids make five to 10 garlands. One dozen garlands fetch us Rs 40. The village has 12 self-help groups and garland making is the main source of income for all the groups," says Rekha Patil, a villager.
After paddy harvest, they store the husk with proper care. Some also use the husk of maize. The flower should be stuffed properly to get a proper shape. Dried gliricidia branches that fall from the tree are stored for the purpose. "Men peel the bark from these branches in the morning and make strips. We make flowers after finishing household chores. On an average, one can make 40 to 50 garlands in a day along with other household work," says Surati Melinamani. If one does it full time, a person can easily make over 100 garlands. Around 15 garlands can be made from a one-foot wood piece.
"Most of the families in the village have small holdings. Paddy cultivation is the mainstay of the village. Both women and men work in the fields during the season. Of late, paddy cultivation has become difficult due to unpredictable weather, particularly scanty rainfall. At a time when we were struggling to earn a living, this art came to our help," says Panduranga Patil, a village youth.
The garlands are smaller than the ones we see in the markets. Shantavva collects these garlands from the women and sells it to the middlemen. It is said that the garlands are sent to big cities like Bengaluru, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Delhi.
While these women make garlands throughout the year, the demand changes with the season. The demand is at its peak during the Ganesha festival. Apart from being a collection centre, Shantavva's house has also become a training centre, helping these farmers hone their skills as artisans.
Over 500 people have learnt the art from her in the last three decades. Shantavva and other women in the village have developed a working model that shows the way for many others in a similar situation. Thereby, creating a sustainable solution for the village folk. Local people have rightly named it as the skill development centre without walls.
(Translated by Anitha Pailoor)