It may seem like every child’s dream come true, surrounded with their elaborate hair-dos, dressed in designer outfits and adorned with beautiful jewellery highlighting their petite figures. No, we’re not talking about princesses or movie stars, but the delicately crafted show dolls by Jayant Sathe. In a culture which regards dolls as toys, ‘Sathe kaka, the doll maker’, as he is fondly called makes us see these figurines in a different light. Don’t let his simplistic and humble ways fool you of the enigmatic and passionate personality that he is, a rare combination to find these days. The octogenarian who believes in “You’re never too old to follow your dream,” started off as mechanical engineer, which was a “preferred profession” as compared to being an artist, this facade was done with after 22 years when Sathe decided to retire and pursue his passion for Japanese doll-making, an art form he learnt from a lady in Mumbai in 1985. He goes on to elaborate as to when it all began, “In the market I saw some Chinese dolls which unlike Japanese ones looked identical piece to piece. Somewhere I felt that the art was lost. That’s when I regained my knowledge of doll-making and began manufacturing them.” Sathe began with creating Japanese dolls, but slowly introduced Indian show dolls after seeing the absence of them in India; without doubt these became a favourite with his loyal customers, whom he considers his inspirations for innovation.
“I listen to each of my customer’s suggestions and desires and present a piece which will surpass their own expectations” he adds raising his voice by an octave to be heard over the crowd that has gathered to witness the sixth edition of his annual exhibition of handmade dolls. Now one would wonder about the kind of efforts that go into creating this handicraft, made to accentuate the aesthetics of wherever it is showcased, a large team of skilled workers one might guess. Well, Sathe doesn’t cease to amaze us with his capabilities, even at the age of 80 with a glint in his eyes he says, “I do everything from collecting the raw materials, designing and assembling the dolls to marketing it.” He proudly elaborates on how he is up-to-date with technology and considers it a necessity, “I am an engineer, I have developed toys that are balance-based, and so I do a sort of marriage of modern techniques with the traditional methods. Unless you do this traditions will not survive.”
The matted silver grey hair is just an appearance that conceals the child-like excitement within; as he goes on to describe his latest contraption, “I’ll be introducing Indian dolls with inserted eyes, which are not in existence as of now anywhere in the world.” Dolls are seen as inanimate objects used to pacify children, Sathe has managed to change this and fascinate children with the art and make elders reminiscent of their lost culture with his unique masterpieces dressed in traditional uniforms such as Kathak to Lavani or the portrayal of mundane household chores. Despite the insensate nature of dolls, Sathe leaves no stone unturned to make them as realistic as possible, “I pay great detail in crafting out their expressions and even designing their footwear” as he points out to his creation that represents a Maratha warrior and one can see the intricately crafted Kolhapuri chappals on it, he goes to great lengths to research about the personality of the doll before designing it, “I believe in complete authenticity and try to give each doll a distinct identification.”
The costumes worn by the figures are as colourful and multi-dimensional as Sathe’s disposition. The amount of patience and perseverance seen in creating these handicrafts proves the deep respect he has for his art. His age sets no barriers as he is now ready to convert his workshop into a showroom, from where one can purchase the dolls. For a man who treads on paths not taken, the love for handicrafts does not stop at just creating them but he wishes that it continues even after him, “I’ve spent seven years to reach this stage. I am ready to guide anyone with this passion,” he signs off.
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