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Designs of hope: Kalpana's pattachitra

As one takes a right turn at the Nakhra junction on the busy Bhubaneshwar-Cuttack highway, and travels further two kms, one comes across Phulanakhra. It is a non-descript town about 20 kms from Bhubaneshwar. It is in towns like these around the country that India's traditional and world-renowned art and handicrafts were born centuries ago like pattachitra – a traditional painting style of Odisha, based on Hindu mythology. All colours used in the paintings are natural and are made fully in the old traditional way. In Odisha, these artists are known as Chitrakaras and their title remains mostly Mohapatra or Moharana.

With changing times and taste there has been a dip in demand for handicrafts and most craft persons are giving up their traditional craft to pursue more lucrative professions. So it comes as a surprise when we come across 24 year old Kalpana Moharana who wants to develop her skills further and expand her pattachitra business.

Household conditions

Kalpana belongs to a very poor family. Her father and brother undertake furniture work while her mother and sister-in-law run the household. Despite depressing financial conditions, Kalpana completed her matriculation in 2002 and then had to drop out of school. Their monthly household income was around `6,000. As she was the youngest girl in the household, Kalpana's freedom was largely restricted by her family.

After a few years of helping out in the household and doing odd jobs, Kalpana was allowed to learn the art of pattachitra from traditional expert artisans at Kendupitha, a village about 2 kms away. Gradually, she got more interested in the work and picked up the skills quickly. At last, she felt that she found a purpose to her life.

Within a year of her training, Kalpana started working on her own pattachitra designs from home.

Pattachitra artistry and economics

It takes around 12 hours to make one pattachitra sized 23" x 11". Prices are decided on the type of design and rates per square inch. Kalpana earns about `250-300 per piece of pattachitra this size. Her expenses are in procuring the canvas bundles and the natural colours. Typically, for a pattachitra of this size, her expenses are around Rs 100. Kalpana earns around `3,000 per month from the sales of her pattachitras.

Major retail outlets in tourist intensive cities such as Bhubaneshwar place their orders for pattachitras and Kalpana produces these accordingly.

She was one of Ujjivan's first customers when it began operations in Phulanakhra. She took a loan in order to purchase the canvas in bulk at better rates. Today, she has a loan of `12000 in her third year of association with Ujjivan.

Cultural challenges

Kalpana is confident of her skills and talents in making pattachitras and feels she can do even better if she undergoes further training and allowed to display her exquisite work at exhibitions or fairs in bigger towns and cities. Kalpana's main dejection is due the restrictions placed by her family regarding her travel. She knows that her household financial conditions would improve much more if she can produce more pattachitras with complex designs.

Demand for uniquely designed pattachitras is now growing, and she wants to make best use of the opportunity. A few of her bigger and intricate pattachitras have already been sold for a few thousand rupees. The conservative mindset of her family continues to hold her back from achieving her dreams and improving her family's economic conditions.