At the fair that has since concluded, some of the 33 stalls were manned by KVIC units from small villages and towns in Maharashtra, while others were hired out to individuals to whom KVIC routinely lends marketing support. For instance, there was a stall advocating the use of biogas and solar cookers, while two stalls sold products made exclusively of amla. Another had all sorts of supari and a gentleman kept handing out little spoonfuls to any visitor who cared to stop by, in the likelihood that he would make a purchase.
But one could see that stall-owners were not too happy with the income they generated. We realised business prospects were dim within two days of the utsav, because the exhibition is being held in a middle-class, residential neighbour- hood like Versova, shrugged an attendant at a handicraft stall. But most of us look forward to the next exhibition that Khadi Gramodyog will put together in the up-market and mainstream Bandra suburb next month. Officials of KVIC say that the venue for the forthcoming show is Bandra Reclamation, already familiar to most citizens as it is a favourite with trade fair organisers and travelling circuses!
S K Sinha, marketing director, KVIC, and his deputy, Sanjay Hedaoo, are overseeing the arrangements. Our forthcoming exhibition will include both khadi and village industries, says Mr Hedaoo. There is a difference. Village industries produce ayurvedic products and food items like honey, whereas khadi is the term assigned to fabrics made by these small-scale units, like muslin and cotton.
One asks why the Versova exhibition had so little khadi on display, especially because the students of SNDT University had organised a grand fashion show to inaugurate the event. At the utsav, there seemed to be just a single stall manned by a team from Osmanabad that had any fabric at all. Well, 33 major institutions that come under KVIC were present. But they were largely about speciality consumer products, organic health food, oils and herbal products, water paintings and eco-friendly, handmade paper, says Mr Hedaoo. Not many khadi manufacturing units operate in Maharashtra.
Even if sales need time to pick up, to its credit, KVIC creates much awareness about village industries through such displays. Each visitor is familiar with the organisation when he leaves the fair. One learns that KVIC not only manufactures products but also supports allied village industries through training courses and funding programmes. Little anecdotes, like the fact that all students must wear khadi when they undergo training at a particular Mumbai institute, and also that this institute does not support units that produce or process meat or intoxicants, provide insight into the organisation.
In turn, most retailers take a keen interest in explaining the ingredients and manufacturing process of their products, and offer samples to lure buyers. Leaflets and brochures are handed out at nearly every stall, and KVICs in-house magazine, Jagriti, is also available for the asking.
This time, KVIC also found a willing partner in the enthusiastic teachers of Childrens Welfare School who were bringing in batches of children to visit the exhibition. Not that they fathom the spirit behind the exhibition, but we hope they will go and tell their parents they enjoyed it. Maybe some of them will be encouraged to visit, and that would be good for our village industries, said a teacher of the lower school.
And yet, most stall-owners were aware of the elitist tag their back-to-nature products carry. An attendant selling torans proudly justified the exorbitant prices of his wares, and then haughtily turned his back on a group of visitors that was left looking askance at him. And in case you believe that only city businessmen are apt to short-change you or deny you a bill of purchase, then please be warned. Vigilance is definitely called for at the Khadi Utsav.