Diwali gift ideas: Choose handmade to help a cause, spread the wealth
Choosing Diwali gifts has become a task these days. When I was growing up in Chennai, it was a simple process. On Diwali morning, my brother and I would take plates of home-made sweets and savouries to neighbours after the traditional oil bath. Our neighbourhood “maamis” would return the favour with home-made snacks that we devoured. That was it.
Today, I sit in my apartment in Bengaluru with a veritable pie-chart of gifts: what to give to neighbours, friends, relatives, business associates, et al. So it begins, this competitive gifting. Boxes arrive with macaroons and Marcona almonds. Gift hampers filled with olives, jams and other food items that have as little to do with Diwali as an Italian olive press or English marmalade-maker. We search for chic products that epitomize our aesthetics. In a way, gifting becomes branding.
A recent happy trend, though, is choosing gifts from organizations that work with and help less-privileged sections of society. Call it conscious consumption. Or being an evolved consumer. It is a way of spreading festive cheer that goes beyond individual needs or greed. To help you with this process, here is a list of such organizations. These products are handmade so if you want the consistency of a factory-produced object, look elsewhere. Some are recommendations and some are discoveries.
One year, I gave all the women who came home a bag from Smallsteps. This project run by the Auroville-based design studio Upasana makes reusable foldable bags, the kind that are available at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and other museums. This one is simpler but serves the same purpose. You fold it and throw it into your handbag to whip out when you need to buy some fruits or vegetables on the way home.
The Bengaluru-based Diya Foundation uses differently-abled youth to create paper lanterns, candles, lamps and chocolate boxes. Visit Diya Innovations for their Diwali and wedding catalogues online with prices.
A similar approach is taken by the Bengaluru-based Amogh Trust. Through their project Ananya, they have differently-abled youth creating stationery boxes, handmade notebooks and candles. I have used their leaf-plates for parties, and bags made with discarded silk saris as return gifts.
Eating millets is all the rage in Bengaluru and Chennai. I heard about Safe Harvest from Nivedita Banerji, founder of Kumbaya, the commercial arm of the Samaj Pragati Sahayog, a grassroots water and livelihoods security initiative. Her husband, Rangu Rao, is the chief executive officer of a Bengaluru-based firm that markets pesticide-free food from small and marginal, primarily women, farmer producer organizations.
Spirit Of The Earth
Sheela Balaji, a family member of the TVS group, chairperson and managing trustee of AIM for Seva, part of the Swami Dayananda Educational Trust, has launched an initiative called Spirit of the Earth. They have a 40-acre organic farm in Manjakkudi village, Kumbakonam, where they grow heritage, non-hybrid, organic rice varieties with singsong names such as Karuppu Kavani, Mappillai Samba, etc. They have a store in Chennai but you can order online too.
Under The Mango Tree
Vijaya Pastala is my classmate from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, US. Her organization, Under The Mango Tree, makes organic and wild honey, a bottle of which you can have sent to friends all over India: Desert Bloom, Himalayan Flora, Jamun, Sweet Clover, and Tribal Gold, among others.
Okay, so that is my partial list. We each have our list but what is the best way to increase your database? By asking, of course.
The first person I called is Mumbai-based Ramesh Kacholia, co-founder of Caring Friends, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that curates and does due diligence on 30 NGOs across India that work in a variety of fields. At 80, he is living the good life that any retired person would aspire to. If you want to donate money for healthcare in rural India, to orphanages, or for the care of the physically challenged, tribals, animals, farmers or, for that matter, government reforms, look no further. Email email@example.com. Kacholia makes the first substantial donation to NGOs they are scouting, tracks them over the years, and only then recommends them through Caring Friends. Best of all, he finds them; they cannot market to him.
Here are some recommendations:
Samaj Pragati Sahayog
Recommended by Ramesh Kacholia, co-founder, Caring Friends
“I would like to introduce Samaj Pragati Sahayog, which makes an exciting range of beautiful garments, especially women’s kurtas, dresses, tops and bottoms, made in Malkha and natural-dye fabrics from Desi Trust (that provides a livelihood for handloom workers), and also Kumbaya patchwork, accessories and bags. They hold exhibitions all over India from time to time. The chief person is Nivedita Banerji.”
Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact Nivedita Banerji at 09669848112; email@example.com. Visit Kumbaya.co.in
Recommended by Priya Paul, chairperson, Apeejay Surrendra Park hotels
“I would like to recommend an organization called Wama (Women Artisans Marketing Agency) whose proceeds go towards underprivileged tribal women embroidery artisans in Kutch district. They have beautiful embroidered (Kutch work) sling bags, stoles, cushion covers, mobile covers, etc. We sell them at The Box (their in-house gift store) in all our hotels. We have worked with them for many years.”
Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact Smita Bugar at 09825491419 or 09825422319. Visit www.facebook.com/Wama-craft-448616451846546
M.Rm.Rm Cultural Foundation and Kadam-Haat
Recommended by Gita Ram, chairperson, Crafts Council of India
“I would recommend two organizations. M.Rm.Rm Cultural Foundation, Chennai, which is a successful revival story of palm-leaf basketry, and Kadam-Haat, which makes bamboo products in Kolkata. We have worked with both over the years and seen them grow. Both are working at the grass roots and they are proud of the quality maintained.”
For M.Rm.Rm, email email@example.com, contact Visalakshi Ramaswamy at 9840049398, or visit www.facebook.com/mrmrmculturalfoundation. For Kadam-Haat, email firstname.lastname@example.org, contact Pooja Ratnakar at 9910000861, or visit, www.kadamindia.org/karya_kadam_haat.html
Himjoli Products and Last Forest Enterprises
Recommended by Shilpa Sharma, co-founder, Jaypore
“Here are some NGOs that I would recommend. Each one of these initiatives is about honest, conscious and mindful products. Theirs is a movement which needs all the support and endorsement it can get.”
Himjoli Products Pvt. Ltd sells Himalayan products: organic foods, cosmetics, handwoven items and handicrafts. Sales proceeds are invested back into the communities and producer groups. Email Pankaj Wadhwa at email@example.com, or visit Himjoli.org.
Last Forest Enterprises, the marketing initiative of Keystone Foundation, which has been working in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve with indigenous communities on eco-development initiatives. Email
Nandan at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Lastforest.in.
Art for Akanksha
Recommended by Parmesh Shahani, head of the Godrej India Culture Lab
“I recently discovered Art for Akanksha, which does beautiful personalized cards with children’s drawings for you—and prints your name on it. You can order a set of 10. They have a lovely spot at the furniture store Baro in Mumbai from where you can order these cards. The reason I love their work is that they work with less-privileged children in existing municipal school set-ups and try to increase the quality of education that is imparted to them and, thereby, the quality of children’s lives. They aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel—just making sure that it runs better.”
Email email@example.com or call 09821325661. Visit, www.artforakanksha.org
Recommended by Saraswathy Ganapathy, founder, Belaku Trust
“I’m jumping at the chance to recommend the women’s groups of Hosa Belaku. The groups make lovely recycled paper products as well as block-printed and embroidered textiles. They’re based in the villages of the Kanakapura taluk (in Bengaluru) and women are the main financial support of households. The recycle-paper aspect makes the group environmentally friendly, I guess. Full disclosure—the NGO I’m part of, Belaku, first set up these groups some years ago, and though we no longer assist with the production and sales, I hold a strong attachment!”
Indian Institute Of Cerebral Palsy
Recommended by Debashis Ghoshal, managing director and chief executive officer, Daiwik Hotels
“The IICP (Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy) has been doing some wonderful work over many years now, working closely with differently-abled and challenged children. The IICP was set up and mentored by the legendary Dr Sudha Kaul, who is both dedication and passion epitomized in person. The IICP trains children for different vocations and services and some of the products may be found on Iicpindia.org/products.php. Their cards and different gifting items are very artistic in nature and buying their products will immensely encourage students and the institute.”
Email Anshu Choudhury at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 09433561916, or contact N.K. Mahapatra at email@example.com 08981037194.
Child Rights And You
Recommended by Sabyasachi Mukherjee, fashion designer
“I would like to recommend Child Rights and You (CRY) to buy festive greetings cards and products by them. I feel children are the most vulnerable and it is the most vulnerable who need the maximum support.”
Khushboo Welfare Society
Recommended by Arundhati Ghosh, executive director, India Foundation for the Arts
“I would like to suggest the Khushboo Welfare Society in Gurugram (a centre for children with multiple disabilities). I am amazed by the work they do and the dedication with which they manage to run this initiative.”
For a catalogue of their products, email Sonali Savakoor at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 09632815493.
I Was A Sari
Recommended by Sudarshan Shetty, artist
“Stefano Funari works with underprivileged women, upcycling old saris into fabulous products. His selfless commitment to helping women in need also comes with a consolidated plan for the future of the brand I was a Sari.”
Email at email@example.com, or contact 09167723589. Visit Iwasasari.com or Facebook.com/iwasasari
Women’s Friendly Society and The Good Companions
Recommended by Gaurav Bhatia, managing director, Sotheby’s India
“I personally support the Women’s Friendly Society and The Good Companions in Kolkata. We buy all their crisp, hand-embroidered old-world linen for our home and they make for the chic-est gifts. They are the most elegant treasures. It’s a third-generation shop there so it’s very personal and we truly use them for festive gifting. They are also our best-kept secret. High-quality gorgeous linen this side of Belgium. They don’t have a website though.”
For the Women’s Friendly Society, call 033-22295285; and for The Good Companions, call 033-32929612.
Mesh, My Choices Foundation and Kriti
Recommended by Jayanti Rajagopalan, owner, Detours India, Hyderabad
“I know of three of them (all based in Hyderabad). MESH (Maximising Employment to Serve the Handicapped) sells bed linen, bags, stuffed toys, handmade paper items and other local handicrafts made by physically challenged persons (disabled/leprosy-affected craft artisans). Their market is in Germany, Sweden, the UK and the US, and in India via their online store www.mesh.org.in
My Choices Foundation has lovely scarves, stoles and bags, made by women dealing with domestic violence and human trafficking. They too market globally through their online store (see
the section ‘Shop’ on their website Mychoicesfoundation.org).
The third is an NGO called Kriti, which provides employment options for women from urban slums. Through their livelihoods programme, they sell handmade bedspreads, jute and newspaper bags, ethnic wear and Kalamkari purses.”
For Kriti, email Himani Gupta at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 09963577727. Visit www.kriti.org.in
How do you find your NGOs? How do you find worthwhile organizations? Most people say that they post on their WhatsApp group or find them through social media. No matter what the route, the end result is beneficial—for the organizations that you patronize certainly, but also, in the long run, for you—the giver and the receiver.
In addition to our list, you could also consider long-running NGOs like Dastkar, The Malkha Marketing Trust or Dastkari Haat Samiti, run by iconic women who have worked in the field of crafts and textiles for decades. As Jaya Jaitly, president and founder Dastkari Haat Samiti, says, “We have lovely gifts designed by our karigar members which are on display in our little store at Mehar Chand Market in Delhi.”
Conscious consumerism takes the edge off the festive overload that we all subject ourselves to. Buying gifts for a cause spreads the wealth.
Good karma begets good vibes. So let the wheels turn and let the gifting begin.
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