CHENNAI: A cup of hot tea seemed to be the perfect solution to the hour-long drive to Mahabalipuram. Sitting outside Rvive Cafe at the site of Urban Haat, I sipped on my tea and eyed the tuna melt toastie on the menu. The cafe was a new addition to the spot. The zero-profit collaboration by Advantage Foods Pvt Ltd Trust, Chennai Mission, and Poompuhar, is only 15 days old. “All the profits from the cafe will be forwarded to the artisans working with Poompuhar,” reads a sign at the door.
The chairman of the Trust, Madhavan, adds, “The place had been locked for some time but we have transformed it within a few days. With the help of The Banyan, we have recruited a few servers with mental disabilities, and destitute women from the Society of Education and Action. This is not only a zero-profit community cafe but also a skill centre for them.” With pizzas, sandwiches, toasties, and lemonade, on the menu, the cafe seemed like the ideal spot to refresh, upon visiting the Urban Haat. After the final sip of our teas and coffees, we set out to explore the craft village.
Urban Haat, showcasing their first exhibition since the pandemic, is a `5-crore project, built under the association between Co-optex, Khadi Kraft, and Poompuhar, and aims to support artisans from Tamil Nadu and the rest of India. An official from the Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation Ltd shared, “Urban Haat provides a marketing opportunity to artisans, connecting them directly to consumers. We will be inviting people from all over the country. New artisans’ works will be displayed every 15 days.”
With exposed bricks and red clay roofs, 36 stalls (15 occupied at the moment; 14 more to be built) were showcasing several artisans’ handiwork. We began at the vibrant spread of stonework and clay work golu dolls at the nearest exhibit (just in time for Navratri), where an artisan was hard at work. While I wished to stand there and enjoy more of the artist’s work, there was so much more to see — Thanjavur paintings, live-sketching, bronze artefacts, and Khadi Kraft and Co-optex stalls. Award-winning sculptor Ravindran Sthapathi and painter B Loganathan were also occupying stalls, exhibiting their work.
We eventually made our way to the amphitheatre, where cultural events, including local music and dance, will be held every weekend. “The Urban Haat is a one-stop place for those seeking art, culture and food,” concluded the official, as we stepped back into the cafe for that tuna melt toast.
In addition to the Urban Haat, the official informs us that the state and union governments are also collaborating to establish craft village tourism by remodelling facades of homes and storefronts and bringing artisan communities closer to the city and tourists. Look out for a stupa that may soon be visible at the entrance of the town. It looks like there are big changes to be expected at Mahabalipuram.