Michelle spends $25 on Channapatna toys

In hard times
Last Updated 08 November 2010, 19:34 IST

Some quaint wooden Channapatna dolls may adorn the shelves of the White House, as the toys were one of the several Indian handicrafts that charmed US first lady Michelle Obama at the National Handicrafts and Handloom Museum here on Monday.

Even as her husband and US President Barack Obama left for Hyderabad House to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday morning,  Michelle, clad in the black and green dress she wore for her visit to Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial at Rajghat, drove with an eight-vehicle convoy to the museum, where she emptied her wallet over bedspreads, beaded necklaces and numerous dolls. H Bibi Jan, who set up the stall here, said the first lady was excited by the sight of the colourful toys.

“Wow, this train looks awesome,” Michelle is believed to have exclaimed while picking up the toy train at the Channapatna stall. She is also said to have picked three “Ganesha” idols and ten key rings.

As Jan showed a spinning top to the special customer, the first lady dropped three of them in her shopping bag.  “She bought toys worth Rs 2,000 from our stall and said she wanted to give some to her children and gift a few to friends for Christmas,” Jan, a native of Kalanagar in Channapatna, who set up her stall here with husband Karimulla, told Deccan Herald.

“We’re quite thrilled by the thought that a few of the toys would adorn the White House,” said an elated Jan.

Accompanied by Sally, wife of US Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer, Michelle was too eager to buy several of the Indian crafts. She made special stop overs at Rajasthan Haveli, wooden statues of Andhra Pradesh and a Gujarati pigeon house. She was welcomed to the museum by the lilting music of Baul singers from West Bengal.

Also on display for the first lady were patachitra art from West Bengal, phulkari weaves from Punjab, phoosa art from Karnataka, dushala shawls from Jammu and Kashmir and handicrafts from Himachal Pradesh.

“So impressed was the first lady by the Indian crafts that she didn’t want to leave the stalls,” said Museum Chairman Ruchira Ghosh, who walked Michelle through the galleries displaying traditional textiles, rural handicraft and Indian art.

“She went about buying everything she came across and was on a shopping binge.” Those at the museum heard the first lady telling that she would have bought many more had she been left with more money. Bedspreads woven on kantha, wall hangings, Manipuri shawls, multi-coloured bangles, bead necklaces, elephant wood carvings and fans made of rice grains and stalks, were among the list of things Michelle shopped for at the museum, which broke away from its usual Monday closures and kept its doors open for the US first lady.

Set up over 30 years ago, the museum, adjacent to Delhi’s Pragati Maidan, was envisioned for preserving rare art forms from across the country. Over the years, it became an ideal place for craftsmen to work and display their products.

It has over 20,000 exhibits reflecting Indian crafts traditions and seven galleries for display. The building was designed by renowned architect Charles Correa as a metaphor for an Indian village street— affable, accommodative and active. 

Michelle straddled through the stalls in the company of 15 underprivileged girls brought by an NGO who make a living by doing craft work. Ghosh said the first lady sought details about the welfare of the craftsmen during her tour of the place and also chatted with the girls. When one of them wondered whether the first lady would make it up with the president when they had their fights, Michelle said to have replied: “I always wait for him to say sorry because I am a woman.”

The 46-year-old exceeded her scheduled time of one hour at the museum, spending two hours and 20 minutes instead and barely concealing her admiration for Indian arts.

(Published 08 November 2010, 19:34 IST)

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