Small Talk With Ratnaboli Bose

CHANGE leaders do great things, and often that is all we know about them. Here we want to get a different glimpse of the personalities that constitute the development space. Every month we get one leader to answer four questions, not necessarily about their work, but about themselves. This week we catch up with Ratnaboli Bose of Daricha Foundation.

When the internet couldn’t give Ratnaboli much information about folk and tribal arts and crafts, she decided to create a website that would be a one-stop access point for everything related to traditional rural art forms and thus, Daricha Foundation was started in 2013 in Kolkata.

The influence of the world wide web is such that our knowledge is often limited to what is easily available online – and one of the reasons why numerous traditional folk art forms are dying is because people don’t know about it. “Unless there is awareness about it, there won’t be demand. You won’t buy something you know nothing about,” Ratnaboli says.

Today, Daricha Foundation is passionately trying to fill this void. Starting with West Bengal where the organisation is based, they are giving exposure to its lesser known folk and tribal arts and the artists and creating dignified means of livelihood for them.

Small Change: What attracted you to this cause?

Ratnaboli Bose: I have always been interested in folk and tribal arts. I have been visiting melas (carnivals) from a young age. But the idea of starting something like Daricha came to me when I was working at ITC Sangeet Research Academy. There was a mela that was scheduled to happen but I didn’t know where and when. I thought there was nothing you can’t find on the internet so I checked but there was no information about the mela at allI also realised that actually there wasn’t any readily accessible information about folk arts either.

Even though ample research has been done and you will find references in books available in dusty libraries and small bookshops for the keen student but there was no easily available online information for the layman.

That’s when I thought I needed to do something about it. It took me a lot of research, many all-nighters, meetings with experts and practitioners and innumerable visits to villages in search of knowledge to finally start our website.

While working on the site, it occurred to me that I would need to form an organisation first, and thus, with the help of like-minded friends who came on board, Daricha Foundation was born. The website was launched a year later.

SC:  What is your least favourite thing about humanity?

RB: My least favourite is people’s inclination to exploit. I remember that when still at ITC SRA, I had discussed my idea with the renowned musician, Shubha Mudgal, who had warned me that my biggest challenge would be that everything would be freely available on our website. She spoke of how Bollywood had the habit of liberally borrowing from the folk music of Rajasthan, with no credit given to the stakeholders of the tradition.  

Whether it’s at a mela in a city, or elsewhere, there seems to be a preconceived bias towards certain communities and I have often come across a general tendency to keep the marginalised communities in the margins.

That’s something that bothers me.

SC:  What do you love about what you do?

RB: It’s really heartwarming to see the exposure the artisans have got through our website. It’s a great feeling when they get invited to perform or when some of their crafts get sold. Though these may be only small steps, it means a lot to us. That a global public is now being made aware of these talented artists living in remote villages is a source of great pride to us. Most of these artists had never dreamt that their art would reach so many people all around the world and to see that happening, in reality, is a different feeling altogether.

Even though I always loved their crafts, engaging with the practitioners has taught me a lot about their lives. It has sensitised me towards rural life and culture and I completely empathise with the artists. My learning curve has been huge in these past five years. Not to sound like a cliche but what makes me happy is that I can now die happy.

SC: You have been forced to eat only four things for the rest of your life. Which four items would you choose?

RB: Dal, rice, aloo bhaja (deep-friend pieces of potato) and eggs! I’ll tell you why. During the monsoons in Kolkata in the ’70s and ’80s, the heavy rainfall would quite often flood the roads and sometimes our houses too – till the first floor! Marooned on two specific occassions, the only food we had in the house was dal, rice, and some potato – so for about three or four days, we would survive on it. So, those three would definitely be my survival food. And also eggs because I love eggs!

Daricha Foundation is currently running a fundraiser to raise funds to train tribal women in handicraft livelihood skills using natural materials from their habitat. To support them, click here.

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