The driving force behind Shrujan – Chandaben Shroff – passed away on August 23 at the age of 83. Fondly known as Kaki to everyone who had met her, Chandaben was a pioneer in the field of crafts conservation as she began working with artisans much before anyone else. As someone who has lived in Kutch for ten years, it has been my privilege to have known her closely and interacted with her on many occasions. In fact, my first introduction to Kutch was because of Shrujan, when as a teenager I discovered their treasure trove of embroidered garments that Kaki used to market from her home in Mumbai.
Being a Kutchi herself and married into a well known Kutchi family, she began her journey with artisans in 1969 when she had gone to Kutch as part of the Ramakrishna Mission Trust’s relief operations during one of the many droughts that affected the region. She realized the Kutchi pride and self-respect made accepting charity difficult for the local communities. However, she saw that their strength lay in the beautiful embroideries the women from the region made. After commissioning the first batch of sarees, Shrujan was born. Today Shrujan has grown from the first 30 women to 4,000 women artisans who are sustained by the trust. In 2006, Chandaben received the Rolex award for Conservation, Education and Enterprise, a prestigious recognition of her contribution to livelihoods and revival of the unique embroideries of Kutch.
Not content with this, Chandaben’s next and last project, the Living and Learning Design Center was inaugurated in January 2016 in Kutch. A first of its kind, it has been visualised as a repository of cultural knowledge and skills along with a state-of-the-art museum and craft studios for design, skill training and innovation.
While Chandaben leaves behind a formidable legacy, she exemplified the best of Indian values – simplicity, compassion and inclusiveness. Everyone was welcome to her beautiful home in Kutch and she encouraged the young and old in a myriad ways to express creativity, enterprise and social responsibility. She considered and treated her staff, her artisans, her associates and her family as one, and therein lay the answer for her success. RIP Kaki, it was a life well spent.
The author Meera Goradia is the Head of Cluster Development at Jaypore. She is the former director of Kutch-based organization Khamir.
Images via Shrujan.