Friday, July 22, 2016

Getting into someone's Kolhapuri

Here's an interview of author and former journalist Anjali Joseph

Walking down the streets of Paris, Anjali Joseph, came across a pair of Kolhapuri chappals in a fancy store. They were stamped with 'Genuine Kolhapuri Chappals' tag. In the middle of the road, Joseph stared as if she had met a family member, after long time, in a strange land,.
“I felt like asking the footwear, 'what are you doing here?' My brother and I wear Kolhapuris, most people in my family do and there's deep attachment and comfort associated with the footwear,” says Joseph.
No wonder than that the Kolhapuris and their makers find themselves in Joseph's third book – The Living. “There are two main characters in the book. Claire is a a single parent to a teenaged boy. She is working in one of the last surviving shoe factories, in Norwich, United Kingdom. And, then there is a man called Arun in Kolhapur, who makes the Kolhapuri chappals. The protagonists don't meet, but their stories are loosely linked. It is a book about craft and how we look at work, how it shapes the person and the experiences that they have,” explains Joseph.
Craft and heritage is something that has always appealed to the writer. A former journalist in Mumbai, she did new features, meeting people who might have something interesting to share.
“Everyone has a story. I am interested in writing about people, who don't see themselves as subject of art or think they are interesting - I think that's interesting. I don't think I will be able to write about an famous actor. I don't think that's interesting for me,” adds Joseph.
Is that why she has chosen to focus on working class in The Living?
“Yes, that's one reason. Another reason is that chappal or shoe making is an art - just like a sculptor sculpts an idol. But the shoemakers can't write their names on the chappals or footwear. They are a part of tradition, but not named ever. Their working in oblivion also interested me,” says she.
And, also the fact that they are crafting a product amidst worries about their future.
“Claire, as I said, earlier is working in one of the last shoe factories in UK. Earlier, the shoemakers were paid per piece. They didn't have a margin, they worked hard because their livelihood depends on it. It's now that the shoemakers in UK are paid. Arun in
Kolhapur is worried about who will carry forward his legacy. I spent a week in England and then couple of weeks in Kolhapur, watching them at work,” says Joseph.
The flipside, adds she, is that despite the constraints Claire and Arun face because of their skill, their work is very absorbing; they are working with their hands and that helps them to concentrate.
Having spent several years in UK and working in Mumbai, Joseph has always yearned for experiences, trying to learn about people and about herself everytime.
“I spent quite a few years studying in UK. Then, working as a trainee accountant, teaching at the university. I took up journalism in Mumbai because for an introvert person like me this was one way of chatting up people and looking for stories. And, then I took up writing fiction, because I always wanted to tell stories,” says Joseph, who now shuttles between Guwahati and Pune, where her parents lived.
When asked if this penchant for experiences helps in becoming a writer?
“ I have the freedom to make certain choices, so this is how I lived. But look at R K Narayan. He lived all his life in one place, but wrote some wonderful stories. Ultimately, it's about a craft. Writing is a craft for me, and not winning awards. I love day dreaming, dreaming of the ordinariness. We don't often appreciate our lives. But if through my writing, I can make people appreciate their lives, routine of getting into a bus/train, commuting to work, then that's my success. After all, a good piece of literature is about longevity. So if you want to wear a skilled chappal like Kolhapuri or another footwear for Rs 300 with stitched soles...then the choice is yours. I would opt for the crafted Kolhapuri any day,” concludes Joseph.

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