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Laila Tyabji

Laila Tyabji once wrote that there is a perception of Dastkar as an organisation of “arty-farty ladies obsessed with design… revealing our inherent superficiality and inability to think in truly ‘developmental’ ‘issue based’ terms”.

Tyabji, it turns out, couldn’t be further from the stereotype of the “arty-farty” lady. Over the course of three decades, as the chairperson of Dastkar, a society for crafts and craftsmen, Tyabji has revolutionised the crafts industry in India, touching the lives of craftspeople across the country by growing a market for their skills, and influencing the lives of consumers by giving them the ability to choose and participate in our unique heritage. She has carried her mission through with a two-pronged approach, an equal emphasis on design and development.

The daughter of a diplomat, Tyabji studied art in Baroda and Japan. In Japan she learnt to break down the divide between fine art and commercial art, a skill which she applied in her later work as a designer. Before founding Dastkar in 1981, she worked closely with all kinds of artisans. Tyabji’s tireless work over the years has made Dastkar a behemoth, but one that remains true to its roots. The Dastkar Bazaar is a must do in the cultural calendar of the Capital, but as she points out, the Bazaar is the public face of a process which involves working closely with craftspeople in enhancing their skills and constantly contemporising. Her work has taken her to Kashmir where Dastkar has helped victims of terrorist insurgency, giving them back their livelihood and also spurring their social recovery, in Ranthombore where she has worked with the communities displaced by the Tiger Reserve, and in Bellary where she has helped resurrect Lambani embroidery which was dying a slow death.

The 65-year-old is known for her bohemian outlook, outspokenness and most of all for her inimitable style, which has made her the most famous of all proponents of the sari.

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