Free Press Journal

Reviving Maharashtra: Here is what needs to be done

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It is time Maharashtra’s unique offerings – vada pav, Solapuri chaddar, Kolhapuri chappal,  Warli painting, Paithani sari and strawberries  — establish an identity outside Indian shores.  Only then will Make in Maharashtra be truly  successful, writes Jaahnavi P Paal

The humble vada pav, the durable Solapuri chaddar, the hand crafted Kolhapuri chappal, the artistic Warli painting, the delicious Mahabaleshwar strawberries or the rich Paithani sari, all have a common origin – the state of Maharashtra.  Make in Maharashtra, an initiative of the government of Maharashtra on the sidelines of the Make in India initiative, still needs to find its feet, though local produce is at par with any other in the world. The main objective of the initiative was to generate foreign direct investment and local investment but can we begin to thump our chests? Not yet! Taking a bird’s eye view at some of our local origins we chart out some success stories, some struggle sagas and the remedies that need to be taken to help give these industries a fillip. Seeped in a deep rooted culture and tradition, Maharashtra boasts of a rich heritage but that, which hasn’t got its due. Yet.3


“There is a crying need to revive and bring all these art forms or cuisines at a national and international level”, laments Sachin Bachchu Satvi, the President of Adivasi Yuva Shakti, who has been laboring extensively for the welfare of Warli artists. The Warlis are aborigines who originally had their dwellings in the northern part of Thane district extending up to Southern Gujarat.  The recent changes in the socio – cultural life of the tribals has resulted in irreparable loss of their cultural identity. And Warli paintings face a huge challenge of getting extinct.

“In addition to the lack of efforts to preserve this art form by the government is the low awareness. To protect and preserve intellectual property rights of the Warli paintings, we applied for Geographical Indication (GI) in 2011. We didn’t receive any positive response”, Satvi bemoans. The only international recognition Warli art receives is through its internationally acclaimed artist, Jivya Soma Mashi, who has tried his best to popularize it.

Despite the Ministries of Textile, Tribal Affairs and Culture coming out with good schemes, tribals are still to benefit from them.  The lack of infrastructure and investment for enhancing manufacturing capabilities is another stumbling block. A Warli painting costs Rs 100 upwards and a greeting card costs Rs 10!

But the entire scenario is not all bleak and one of the biggest success stories is that of the humble vada pav, the Indian food icon that is said to have been invented in the 70s. Almost similar to a burger, vada pav started as the frugal meal of Mumbai’s working class but when VCs invested crores in this business, it soon became a big player in the Indian fast food chain. The two current big players in this market are Goli vada pav, which was launched in 2004 from a modest store in  Kalyan and Jumbo King, which was launched in 2001.

Goli offered the first machine made vada pav that comes from a central manufacturing unit and claims to have a shelf life of nine months when stored in the frozen form. Today it boasts of over 350 stores in India across 21 states and 90 cities. The founders, Venkatesh Iyer and Shivdas Menon, plan to open 5000 stores by 2020. This is said to be the largest expansion ever for a food chain in the country. When MBA Dheeraj Gupta started Jumbo King, he had decided to build a business along the lines of McDonald’s. On the first day — August 23, 2001 — Gupta made Rs 5,000 and closed the first year with a revenue of Rs 40 lakh.

His target is to have 1,000 Jumbo King outlets by 2020 and is  claimed to have said that he wants to build vada pav stalls like ATMs across the country.  The franchise model has worked for both, Goli and Jumbo King. After Dominos, Subway and Mc Donald’s, Goli is at no 4 in terms of number of stores in India. Today, the vada pav is the most affordable street food relished by all.

After Puneri Pagadi, Sholapur’s chaddar, Yeola’s Paithani, and Nasik’s grapes and wine, Mahabaleshwar’s strawberries joined the illustrious league of Geographical Indication (GI) status in 2010. Earlier, these were exported only to Brazil but after the GI registration, Mahabaleshwar’s strawberries are exported to over 153 countries in the world. However, the world famous lavani dance of Maharashtra seems to be dying an unnatural death for want of government concern.

The handwoven Paithani sari holds a place of pride in many a Maharashtrian bride’s trousseau. Known for its handwoven patterns characterized by the peacock and parrot design made from fine silk, it originates from the Paithan town in Aurangabad district. With duplicate Paithanis entering the market, weavers who weave these exquisite saris using traditional looms find it difficult to sell. For generations of traditional weavers laboring over this 2000-year-old art, it is a battle for survival as machine-made fake saris are sold cheaper than the original Paithani saris.

A passionate Paithani lover, who has not just been promoting this art but also taking positive steps in preserving it, is documentary filmmaker Anagha Ghaisas of Saudamini handlooms. She witnessed the plight of the Pathani weavers while working on a documentary. In order to better their lives, she not only launched her handloom store where she sells handwoven saris but soon began to conduct training programmes too to nurture the second generation weavers. Inaugurating her Paithani weaving festival in April this year, Amruta Phadnavis, the Chief Minister’s wife, had opined that the rich art of Maharashtra should be revived and given a contemporary touch. Ghaisas says, “Why do we always look at the Government to solve our problems? I think a lot can be achieved at the individual level”.

If the beautiful Paithani has found a voice, the humble Solapuri chaddar is still neglected and if much is not done to revive this traditional form of weaving, it will soon die. It was the first product in Maharashtra to obtain Geographical Indication (GI) status and is known for its design and durability. The development of handloom weaving industry in Solapur commenced in the regime of the Peshwas but the advent of modern factories in the 70s altered the organisation of the local handloom weaving industry. In spite of financial and other assistance provided to the handloom industry, the present state of the industry is distressing. One of the great defects of handloom products is the total want of standardisation of either the quality or the prices.

And it’s much the same with the dipping business of Kolhapuri chappals. “Business has never been so bad”, cries a chappal maker. “And the Government isn’t helping in improving our plight.” Handcrafted leather footwear which are tanned by using vegetable dyes, a Kolhapuri chappal was earliest worn in the 13th century. But unable to meet the rigours of the current market, families making Kolhapuri chappals from generations are moving to new business options. Though the chappal has the making of a fashion accessory if recreated and reinvented, the original makers of this historical footwear are finding it tough to survive.  In fact, a few Lok Sabha MPs had recently demanded the patenting of Kolhapuri chappals at the earliest in order to protect the region’s cottage industry. Patenting and GI are also expected to curb the influx of duplicate Kolhapuri chappals that have been flooding the market.

A systematic approach with structured activities of documenting and digitalization of art, skill development of artisans, e-marketing, e-commerce, R & D, product development, enhancement of manufacturing capabilities, quality control and standardization may be a few remedies to take these unique Maharashtra offerings beyond the shores of the state. Corporate investors and social entrepreneurs can be the missing links to charting this success story. Basic infrastructure needs to be improved for all these industries so as to bring them at par with internationally accepted norms.

If McDonald’s and Dominos can move out of their country why cannot vada pav move out of India? If China silk made its way to Indian shores, why cannot a Paithani make its way out of the country? And why cannot Kolhapuri chappals be flaunted on roads outside this country?