Manchaha Mela: A Deadline for a Difference

Back in January, I had the distinct pleasure of helping plan an event for 80+ artisans alongside members of the Jaipur Rugs’ marketing team as well as on-the-field colleagues at Jaipur Rugs Foundation. We were tasked with launching this event with less than ten days notice and while it wasn’t the massive international trade show that the marketing team journeyed to only three days after, the mela was, in a lot of ways, a key to Jaipur Rugs’ success as both a brand and a support system for the thousands of artisans it employs.

The event started out like any other project-within-a-project I’ve worked on in the past ten months: a call-to-action by management for a need that is both equal parts development work and corporate marketing. We needed to create an appreciation experience for the artisans who worked hard and with the utmost passion on the rugs, they knotted throughout the past year. This collection, known as Artisan Originals to us, is referred to as Manchaha by the weavers, which loosely translates to “made from the heart.” And for months, that is precisely what these artisans did; they created beautiful rugs of all colors, shapes, and sizes by putting their heart, soul, and stories into them. Crafting using leftover wool and silk yarn from the company’s more prominent rug collections, the one-of-a-kind rugs were a testament to the artisans’ skills and creativity, a token of ambition and often, perseverance.

Me handing an award to Bunkar Sakhi, Prem Devi.

It’s exactly for this reason, why the Manchaha Mela came into existence. It was an event that was deserved by the artisans and needed by the company to better connect with the rural community. So, how does an event for more than a hundred attendees get planned and set up in such a short time? With a lot of “jugaad” (improvisation) and this vision of the joy, we would give and all of the wonderful reactions we would get from the artisans, my colleagues and I met a few times to finalize logistics, delegate responsibilities, and budget out the gifting and bonus money to be received by weavers. A few hours and a few hundred doubts later, the plan was finalized, but of course, like most things throughout the year, the unexpected happened. The event was canceled for unknown reasons. But then, four days before the proposed date, the event was uncancelled and pressure was put on us to make sure it happened.Two colleagues and I scrambled for the next four days to reconfirm all of the planning we had done the week before. The night before the mela, the entire marketing team printed, categorized, and signed certificates and envelopes for each of the artisans who were going to show up. That night ended at 3 AM. The morning of the event started with a brisk 5 AM drive to a huge temple and community center in the village where the festivities would take place. After pinning up hand-painted posters and signs highlighting the artisans and the mela, we were told that due to it being a holy period of the year that time, that other villagers started complaining about potential disturbance of the daily hymn readings. We were forced to take down our decorations, vacate the premises, and search for a replacement location. Luckily, we had one of the branch managers guide us through and find us another location, the home and the weaving center in Aaspura, the village where the majority of Artisan Originals rugs are made.

Again scrambling to get everything together before the Tempo auto rickshaws and Force Tufaans filled with excited weavers arrived in a mere two hours, my colleague, the branch manager, and I redecorated, set up video and sound, and frantically called the food caterer to make sure 200 samosas, 200 kachoris, and some soft drinks would be delivered on time. At the peak of the event, we had more attendees than anticipated and a total time of four hours was spent on handing out awards, entertaining the crowd, and speeches by members of the Jaipur Rugs corporate team.

Each AO Weaver Received Personalized Postcards.

The development lesson I took away from this is:

At the beginning of the Fellowship, we were told that how we manage the inevitable chaos of development work in India is the best predictor of professional and personal self-growth. After going through the motions of planning the Manchaha Mela, this level of chaos was unexpected but much welcomed because it led me to another predictor of growth. How much we keep the big picture in mind regardless of ensuing pandemonium and matters outside of our control seems like the biggest indicator of success.

For me, my big picture during the mela was to make sure that the artisans were proud to be part of the Artisan Originals initiative and were happy with the event after making the relatively taxing journey. If I did not have that picture fixated in my mind and did not have a supporting team behind me, I wouldn’t have even woken up on time to reach the village or pushed through the many setbacks of the day. It was only then that I realized the success of this event wasn’t about the number of articles the press wrote or the good corporate karma it brought in, but about the amount of smiles the artisans shared with us and the amount of confidence it gave them to continue this amazing work.

Vipin was born in India but hasn't spent time there since his move to the U.S. at age 6. He understands the magnitude of change the country has gone through in the last 21 years but is now thrilled to experience it first-hand. He hopes to use his skills in digital marketing and technology to help bridge the gap between untapped artisans, skills building, and leadership training at Jaipur Rugs Foundation. Before becoming an AIF Clinton Fellow, he's had the unique experience of working directly with AIF as a volunteer with the New York Young Professionals Chapter for the past four years to raise funds and awareness about AIF's programs among young South Asian professionals. One of his goals is to see if what he's learned as a physically distant volunteer, effectively translates to the work required on the ground. Another goal? He wants to try as many regional varieties of biryani as his ten months will allow him to stomach and see if his current favorite, the hometown Hyderabadi variant, can be topped.

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2 thoughts on “Manchaha Mela: A Deadline for a Difference

  1. I remember this story quite vividly from our Fellowship Endpoint Workshop in June 2018. Thanks so much for sharing this here as well! It shows how much working with the artisans mattered to you.

  2. Thanks Katja, actually this event was different from the experience I spoke of during the leadership story activity (if that’s what you’re referred to?) but still had just as much of an impact on my time with the artisans!

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