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Grassroots

Skilled hands turn waste bark into art

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Author(s): Amit Mitra
Apr 15, 1993 | From the print edition
The planting of commercially valuable chir trees has become embroiled in controversy in Ultar Pradesh's Almora district. But a local schoolteacher has found a novel use for its discarded bark.

-- A CONTROVERSY is raging over the chir (Pinus roxburghill trees that are being planted oin Himalayan slopes
because it grows quickly in virtually ravaged soils,
though local residents complain the chirs absorb groundwater and discourage undergrowth.

Chir trees are found in abundance from Pakistan to
Arunachal Pradesh and its logs are used in a variety of
commercial purposes. Its bark, however, is usually
thrown away as it is not even good fuel.

But Bhagwan Das Shah, a 40-year-old school- Creating
teacher of Dwarahat, in Almora district, has an excellent use for the unwanted bark. He carves
exquisite figurines from the bark, blending a rustic.
vigour with a personal passion that captures the
feeling of the hill people whose environment is
being devastated by outsiders.

Lacking formal training in carving, Shah relies
entirely on his experience as an amateur painter.
Initially, he carved driftwood and dried roots but
switched to chir two years ago, inspired by a friend
who was experimenting with bark jewellery.

Shah takes about five full working days to convert a piece of bark into a delicate statuette. The
shape and form that the dry bark piece takes
depends not only on its size and te3fturd, but also on
Shah's mood. He spends most Sundays collecting 3
bark,, explaining, "My job obligations do not permit
me to spend all the time I want on carving.

On the chir-planting controversy, Shah wants
local opinion to be given more consideration, which
means planting more oak trees instead of chir. He does
not worry that this would result in a dearth of chir bark
for carving, because the region abounds in the pine.
Good potential
Although Shah does not sell his products - he says carving is a hobby - he is confident that carving statuettes of
chir "can be a very good income-generating activity in
this area."
Shah suggests opening government centres to train
people, especially children, to make useful products out
of bark. "These could be exported," he explains, "and a lot of foreign exchange earned. But,of course, the money
should go to the craftsperson and the best way to do this
it would be to form cooperatives."

Shah has hopes of training children "to promote self-sufficiency." But his teaching responsibilities restrict
him to training children in only how to make trays and
table-lamps. Shah concedes that lacking training in marketipg and finance hinders him from setting up his own
outfit. "My knowledge about commercial matters is
almost negligible," he says. "I wouldn't even know
how to fix prices for these products. But, given some
incentives, I could even start a training centre," he
says. For now, Shah can only continue with his hobby
whose products are on display in his modest home in
Dwarahat. Shah remains a schoolteacher while continuing to dream.

"I wish the government had schemes to train people
like me so that people could earn a living beautifying a
waste product," he says.

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