'Jiyo!' Rajiv Sethi corporatizes crafts and heritage
- Shanta Serbjeet Singh, New Delhi  
e-mail: shanta.serbjeetsingh@gmail.com

August 15, 2009

Back in 1982, when Rajiv Sethi first raised his striking, Grecian head on the cultural horizon, I remember describing him, in a full page article in The Hindustan Times, on the occasion of the first Festival of India in Britain, as an Adonis come to earth!Indeed.  Rajiv's dark curly mop framed a very fair, perfectly proportioned profile and a well-built, tall statuesque body that could have stepped out of a Gandhara sculpture.  Physical features apart, here was an original, creative mind in every sense of the word.

As the blue-eyed boy of both Rajiv Gandhi and Pupul Jayakar, as a creative maverick who conceptualised grand, path-breaking projects such as ADITI at London's Barbican Centre,'The Golden Eye' and 'The Silk Route' at the Smithsonian, 'Apna Utsav' in Delhi, Rajiv catalysed the cultural field and changed it forever.  Of course, along the way, he ran into huge media controversies and attracted attention for perhaps all the wrong reasons.  But whether in the 80s or the 90s or in the first Manmohan Singh Government where he headed a task force in the Planning Commission on the Creative and Cultural Industries or just very recently, when he designed the Mumbai airport interiors and created a living facsimile of Habib Tanvir's 'Agra Bazaar' around the Taj Mahal, Rajiv has been steadfast in his commitment to building an enduring blueprint for the revival of the fast vanishing crafts and artisan traditions of the land.  To house the baazigar, the puppeteer, the acrobat and the natni, the myriad performers of our folk traditions and our weavers and potters, to give them a living which is sustainable, a decent environment to live in, he set up the Bhule Bisre Kalakar Cooperative and even got land for their model housing, called Anand Gram.  Alas!  Rajiv the dreamer did not factor in the brutal power of the corrupt politician and met his Waterloo at the hands of the very power elite that he had sworn by. The allotted land was hijacked and the Bhule Bisre Kalakar remained where they took shelter thirty years ago – under a bridge in Shadipur near the bus depot! 

But one thing was changed for ever.Now puppeteers like the Puran Bhatts and performers like Gazi Ismail Khans of Shadipur travelled the world over and were feted in the most important exhibitions and fairs of the world.  As Puran Bhatt said to me: "We are treated like kings and forget where we come from when we travel all over the world. But the moment we reach Delhi, the looks we get from everyone around us leave us in no doubt that in truth little has changed in our homeland."

But the point of this story is to tell you that Rajiv, the Lionheart, has yet another axe up his sleeve.This is 'Jiyo!' To mark August 15th 2009 Rajiv has set up 'Jiyo' a new corporate body with 70% shareholders drawn up from the marginalised crafts and heritage sector. 'Jiyo' has come into existence with the help of The World Bank and the Development Fund of Japan. It will have both brand equity and an identity of its own.  Among the projects which are already up and working is Jiyo's inputs into the big talent search program on 'Colours' channel which has already turned many humble artistes and performers into big-buck earners. 

Then there is one in Bihar's Muzaffarpur district where young girls are taught the art of Sujani embroidery and made stakeholders in Jiyo.  Those who want to continue their education are enabled to do so by means of Jiyo's 'College Fees Collection' project. This ensures that their formal education is not disturbed while they learn a traditional craft and while the global marketing division of the company finds new sale outlets for the products emerging from this revival.

Jiyo has plans to embrace the entire traditional knowledge bank of the country.  Thus, from Chattisgarh's tribal belt, the lost art of using herbs to create incense to chase away mosquitoes is being researched and marketed in Jiyo's herbal department.Yet another lost and forgotten art, that of the 'Basvan Biga' sari, handloom woven saris with 52 'bootis' and the entire range of Dharmavaram, Mangalagiri, Upada, Gadwal and other traditional saris is being revived and projected in new, corporatized, global initiatives.

Keeping the changing needs of the global market in mind, a division of 'Animation and Digitisation' has been set up to introduce traditional folk artistes to new technology and train them to use it for their own creative pursuits.

An old woman Rajiv met the other day in the countryside said to him, "Sahib, I am told artisans are getting a new company of their own.  I am alone. I carry loads of mud from the canal and live by this hard work. Where do I fit?"  Rajiv got into a chat with her, only to discover that she knew how to spin fine yarn from cotton, an art that has almost vanished.  Jiyo will certainly have place for her.

Sahir Ludhianavi's words come to mind:

"Na Munh Chuppa Ke Jiyo
Na Sar Jhuka Ke Jiyo
Gamon ka daur bhi aaye
To muskara ke Jiyo"
(Don't hide your face and live
Nor bend your head to live
Even if there are waves of sorrow
Live only by smiling through them!)

Move over Benneton, Provogue!
JIYO is here!

Shanta Serbjeet Singh, for twenty-five years, columnist, critic and media analyst for The Hindustan Times, The Economic Times and The Times of India, India's most important mainstream English dailies, is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the premier Government cultural institution of India in 2000 and the same from Delhi Govt.'s Sahitya Kala Parishad in 2003 for her contribution to the field of culture.

She is on the Central Audition Board of Doordarshan, India's national television, as well as the selection committees of several prestigious government bodies involved in culture such as The Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the Department of Culture. She was a member of the Tenth Five Year Plan Committee for Cultural Policy and of the First National Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

Singh has authored several best selling books on Indian arts such as 'Indian Dance: The Ultimate Metaphor,' 'The 50th Milestone: A Feminine Critique,' 'Nanak, The Guru' and 'America and You' (22 editions).

As elected Chairperson of APPAN (The Asia-Pacific Performing Arts Network) for the past nine years, she has individually organized and helped her team of eminent artistes to organize eight international symposiums and festivals in several Asian countries and in the United States. APPAN, set up in 1999 by UNESCO, has, with the collaboration of UNESCO, pioneered the concept of delivering stress therapy, in particular in disaster-prone situations such as the tsunami and earthquake victims. The pilot project of this series was done under her leadership in four Asian countries after the tsunami of 2005 and another for the cyclone affected of Myanmar in 2008. Singh is the founder-Secretary of The World Culture Forum –India and Director of WCF-India's first Global WCF to be held in New Delhi in 2011.