The transition from a diamond cutter, in Bombay, to a thewa master craftsman and National Award winner, did not come easy for Ganpat Soni. For a person belonging to a family of minakari craftspersons, thewa was a new and untried craft, and the years in between full of trials and uncertainty.
Thewa is a craft practised by a few who specialise in the art of fusing filigreed gold sheets on to glass to make jewellery and other objects that are decorative, utilitarian, or both. Recalling the initial struggles Soni says: 'It was only after two years of intensive experimentation and many failures and financial losses that we could arrive at the thewa technique and now guarantee 98 per cent quality. As the work requires intricate detailing and skilful fusion of the gold onto the glass base, wastage is high - overheating can break the glass or melt the gold. Alternatively, if not treated properly the gold filigree does not fuse well and soon comes off.'
Narrating how he stumbled onto the secret of thewa, he says: 'Many times we were on the verge of giving up. Tired, one evening, I left my work to fly a kite, a passion with me. On returning, I discovered that the slow heating process had worked its own magic and the first perfectly fused thewa piece had been created.'
Recognition, in the form of a National Award, followed soon after. Receiving his award for thewa work before his father did, he proudly displays the thewa piece encased in velvet.
Uncertainty about the future, and indecision, are obvious as he acknowledges that his sons are choosing to move away from this craft. Soni says, however that he does not blame them: 'The problems are many - few selling outlets, lack of real appreciation for a thewa piece, with people often questioning the purity of gold rather than admiring the intricacy and skill of the designs. Also, Belgian glass, the base material for a thewa piece is becoming increasingly difficult to find, and new sources are not forthcoming.'
However, there is increased awareness about thewa both nationally and internationally. Soni has received enthusiastic responses to displays and demonstrations of his craft at international fairs and exhibitions in the past, but - regretfully - he adds: 'very few confirmed orders'. Philosophical about his failures and successes, he nevertheless looks to the future and mulls about patenting the thewa process.
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