A tale of toil and triumph behind Obama's Channapatna toys

A tale of toil and triumph behind Obama's Channapatna toys

A tale of toil and triumph behind Obama's Channapatna toys

Karnataka officials are gifting US President Barack Obama eight exquisite pieces of Channapatna toys.

Rahim Khan, the 36-year-old artist who carved the toys, told Deccan Herald that it was made possible only because he did not give up his profession, like he had contemplated a few years ago.

Making Channapatna toys, which involves cutting and slicing wood into various intricate shapes, could get risky, a fact borne witness to a dark, rupee-coin-sized injury mark on Khan's elbow. It is the remnant of an elbow injury from a wood-chopping incident some years ago.

The very next year, he almost sliced off two of his fingers while working with a sharp instrument.  Worried that he had chosen a hazardous line of work, he had almost discontinued with his family profession after these incidents.

However, the rare opportunity of having his toys displayed at the White House has changed his mind about his line of work, Khan told Deccan Herald.

“It is an honour for all Channapatna toy artists, and I have now decided to carve these toys till I die,” he said. Karnataka handicrafts officials asked him to short-list a few toys that could be presented to the US President. When he recommended two flower vases, two aeroplanes, a veena, a cannon and two statues inspired by the Oscar Award and International Indian Film Academy Award trophies, they readily agreed.

Khan went on to explain the intense craftsmanship behind the simple-looking toys, made with wood, lacquer and vegetable colours, which have maintained their market despite the advent of high-tech gadgets for children. The flower vase is made from three different pieces glued together. “From cutting wood in the factory to the final polish, it takes one full day to make a large item like this,” said Khan. The veena is an ensemble of four different parts.

The statues were the most difficult toys to create. “The different parts had to be put together so carefully that even a small mistake would make the entire effort go to waste,” he said. Interestingly, Khan did not know that these toys were meant to be given to the US President. He initially thought they were for some government officer.  It was only after he started carving that he was told that they would be handed over to Barack Obama.