They are very skilled in making lathe turned products from wood. Their true craftsmanship is revealed in the techniques they use in coloring these products. The products are coloured using lacquer mixed with bright pigments. The most fascinating technique of applying lacquer is the jhaver kaam several layers of colour is applied one over the other without allowing them to mix and then the surface is distressed with sand which creates a worn out layered effect.
Because of their nomadic lifestyle they have not been able to merge with the existing social fabric. Historically they used to run into hiding when any dignitary visited the area. Unfortunately they carry with them a stigma of unreliability which has been ingrained into their psyche. They have their own customs and beliefs and do not follow any practiced religion.
My friend Kanchana and I had gone to work with them last year. It was a challenging experience. It was very frustrating in the beginning because there was a huge difference in our perceptions, expectations and those of the Vadas. They measured wood with their fingers or arms. They work on approximations. Colours are used randomly there is no conscious attempt at combining them, anything goes!
The best part of the trip was that we stayed with a local gujarati family (since no one has even heard of hotels in the area) and they fed us crazy. There was no entry for men in the kitchen, so there we were with some 15 women all part of one joint family, spanning four generations having the most amazing home cooked gujrati food.
We produced many protoypes at the workshop but the ones that showed most promise was the multi-use vase that worked as a t-light holder when turned upside down with a simple clean colour application designed by me and the cylindrical t -light holder with jhaver kaam, the patina like surface finish by Kanchana.
As part of the project the vadas were given a lathe machine and some hand tools. We received a a favourable response for the new prototypes but somehow because of lack of communication we could never put the new designs into production. I don’t know what the vadas got (apart from the lathe machine!) from the project, as for me I visited a world where life was far more difficult than where I came from, a reality very different from my own.