Ekamra Haat: A Dream Unrealised

By Ankita Rath

Living in a country known for its rich and beautiful cultural heritage has always given me a sense of pride. A key component of the Indian heritage is the wide variety of handicrafts produced across the country. Every state has its own, distinctive set of handicrafts. Kashmiri woollen carpets and shawls, zari embroidered fabrics, jewellery made of beads, terracotta, ceramic products and silk fabrics – each with its exquisite craftsmanship – have all gone into the making of the wonderful kaleidoscope that is Indian handicrafts.

Famous for its unique artistic excellence, Odisha has always managed to grab tourists’ attention through its brass and silver work, terracotta art objects and appliqué work. While each of these items has a specific geographical location that excels in it, there is one place in the Capital City where all of them are laid out in neatly arranged rows – as in a grand, multiple course buffet: Ekamra Haat.

Conceived on the lines of Delhi Haat, the one-stop showcase of ethnic chic in the national capital, Ekamra Haat exhibits the skills and creativity of the artisans. The ambitious project set up by the Govt. of Odisha is popular among the masses for its products like rosewood and sandalwood carvings, embellished camel hide footwear, sophisticated fabric and drapery,gems, beads,brassware, metal craft and silk & wool fabrics. The twin objectives behind the idea was to provide a gateway to craft and textiles for tourists visiting the Bhubaneswar-Puri-Konark triangle and provide an opportunity to rural as well as urban artisans/weavers to promote and market their handloom and handicraft products.

This well-planned infrastructure was expected to draw public attention and turn out to be even more successful than the Dillihaat. But has it really happened?

A desire to find an answer to the question took me to Ekamra Haat recently. After talking to a cross-section of vendors displaying their ethnic ware and the people associated with the venture, I came to the conclusion that while a handful of vendors may have done well for themselves, business in the haat has fallen way short of the expectations.

Even though it’s a huge and tastefully created place with approximately 50 stalls of handicraft and handloom products, it has not quite caught the imagination of the connoisseurs the way it was expected. People are not thronging the venue in numbers that one sees routinely in Delhi Haat. Even when they do, few of them end up buying stuff from the fare on display. Sales peak between October and April, when the footfall is comparatively higher. During the rest of the year, business is nothing to write home about

What has kept the artisans and vendors going is the heavily subsidized stall rentals. “We pay just Rs.50 a day, which is pretty affordable,” says Abhiram Jena, a handloom stall owner who makes good money from the sale of apparels designed by his daughter.

The indifference of the aficionados is hard to fathom given the breathtaking variety and the exquisite craftsmanship of the fare on sale. With stuff from all over the state up for grabs, it is a mini Odisha on display out there. Stone carving, wood carving, appliqué, pattachitra, cane & bamboo products, dhokra, bell metal, terracotta, palm leaf engraving, paper machie, art textiles … you name it. But the one item that has a truly year-round demand is bandha sarees from Sambalpur and Nuapatana.

The prospect of good business has drawn people even from other states to Ekamra Haat. “Though we are from Hyderabad, we have settled here for the past four years. The sale is unpredictable but generally peaks during weekends. Pearls, beads and the latest flower-shaped earrings are generally in demand,” says a Hyderabadi couple, busy crafting lovely funky necklaces embellished with beads even as they speak.

While some are happy about the response and profit they make, things are difficult for most artisans, who are distressed by the lack of sale of their products. “When there is no sale, what profit can we expect?” asks a dejected Chhayakant Sahoo, owner of the Dokra stall Anwesha Tribal Arts & Crafts.

Though most vendors were happy posing for the camera and flaunting their stuff, there were some who shied away from the camera. “Please don’t take photos of those paintings. Owner doesn’t approve of it,” says Pavitra Nayak of JINKU Folk Tribe, one of them.

The officials in charge were, however, remarkably affable and patiently responded to the bunch of queries regarding the Haat and provided facts and figures without any hesitation. Apparently all the three haats (Konark-Puri-Bhubaneswar) are proving to be duds because of the lack of promotion and exposure. “Puri and Konark stalls are all vacant. There is no business over there,” informs RK Nayak, the divisional head of the Haat. When asked about the total amount of revenue generated from Ekamra Haat, Bhubaneswar, Nayak says, after scrutinizing the figures, “Rs.1500 is collected every month from each of the 50 stalls here, which adds up to approximately Rs 75000/- overall. But just the electricity bill of the area amounts to Rs. 1, 07, 000. Now you decide what kind of profit can we make out of this? This is not a profitable haat.”

What this sprawling five-acre property situated at a prime location of the city lacks is adequate promotional activities to popularize it. The need for renovation of the Haat, which certainly is affecting business, also needs to be addressed urgently.

If attention is not paid to these aspects, this Delhi Haat clone will remain just that – a mere clone.