Laila Tyabji & Dastkar- A Relationship That Stood The Test Of Time!

Laila Tyabji, a Padma Shri holder, is an artist, writer & designer who continues to hold the baton of Indian heirloom and craftsmanship!

Laila Tyabji is a writer; she’s a craftswoman, a designer- but most importantly, she’s the chairperson of the Dastkar Society for Crafts & Craftspeople. 

Laila Tyabji was 34 when she, alongside six women, started Dastkar in Delhi in 1981. In the last 41 years, Tyabji has created a family out of a passion project. While she started working with 15 craft groups in 1980, today, Dastkar is associated with over 350 craft groups pan India. 

Laila Tyabji continues to weave the ladder of craftsmanship

It all started in the late 1970s when Tyabji went to Gujarat State Handloom and Handicrafts Development Corporation’s Gurjari outlet on a three-month assignment. She was a visiting designer.

In an interview with Mint, she mentioned: 

“Three months became six. I would sit with the women to do the embroideries and patchwork. The only way to teach is with personal invention- that’s how you can hone a skill.”

The previously mentioned assignment was just the beginning of the 41-year-old legacy that Laila Tyabji continues to hold on to and cherish.

Laila Tyabji and the way she weaves the ladder of Dastkar

About 41 years ago, six people came together with one purpose: ensuring India’s uniquely rich crafts heritage and living. 

Now that they had a goal, the only thing that had to be done was to work towards achieving it. And so, these amazing people started their journey towards ensuring India’s crafts heritage was safe and taken care of!

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However, Rome wasn’t built in a day- they faced a lot of problems because the Indian heirloom was gradually becoming a marginalised concept considering the urbanisation.

On top of that, there was an immense gap between a rural craftsperson and the urbanites. Dastkar was born to bridge the gap between the two. 

Dastkar, the non-government organisation, gives out the gift of awareness and interaction and mixes it by being the middleman- helping both sides in this bargain. 

Tyabji strives to bring together the alienated youth

When Tyabji was 50, she decided to wear only sarees. Her new-saree-look-a-day selfies were a source of admiration amongst people- and several people talked about it!

In an interview with The Hindu, referring to her switch to full-time sarees, Tyabji talks about how the younger generation is typically unaware of India’s rich heirlooms- so she strives for less ignorance in the youth. Talking about this issue, she said:

“Youngsters were dazed by the photos! It showed me how alienated and ignorant they are about what we have in this country. We have 24 hours of TV without a single craft on display. You can look ‘cool’ in jeans and T-shirts, but accessorise them with trendy Indian crafts. I am not saying dress like something out of a Mughal painting.”

Tyabji and her unusual arc for crafts and people

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Laila Tyabji has been an inspiration for several people. In 2012, she was honoured by the Government of India with a civilian award of Padma Shri. 

Today, at 74, Laila Tyabji continues to be an inspiration to people with her unusual arc for crafts and people. But the heart wants what it wants- these assignments and Tyabji’s heart for art and craftsmanship are the reason she’s here.

The driving force of this expedition has been fruitful to Tyabji. Apart from that, she has also actively advocated for the preservation and promotion of traditional crafts.

Moreover, she has also worked towards betterment and tolerance as a Muslim woman in India. Truly, Laila Tyabji is an inspiration to everyone and certainly a craft revivalist!

Image credit: Laila Taiyabji @ Instagram

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About the Author

Pranjali Hasotkar

I am a journalism student with a penchant for writing about women and social issues. I am an intersectional feminist and an aspiring journalist. I identify as she/her. read more...

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