KUALA LUMPUR — August 6, 2019: Unlike most weavers, Velahitan Saravanan never bothered to tilt his head downwards to look at the crafts that he makes. His chin has always been held up high whenever he works.
Oftentimes, it looked as if he was vacantly staring into the horizon whilst his fingers deftly danced with plastic yarns that were woven into an intricate mesh of what would eventually become the seat of his signature wooden stool.
But in actuality, Saravanan does not need to look while making his crafts simply because he cannot. The 48-year-old is blind since 18 years ago as his inborn visual impairment worsened.
“Weaving is a lot like reading braille actually. You just have to feel the dents and notches of the mesh. Every pattern has a set number of dents. If you weave accordingly, you can’t go wrong,” said Saravanan.
When asked on how was he able to incorporate different colours into his works, Saravanan smiled and pulled out a sample of six different coloured plastic yarns that were taped together from his bag.
“See this, I tie a specific number of knots at each of the coloured yarn. White has none, red has one, blue has two, yellow has three, gold has four, orange has five and green has six,” he explained.
Although he was always passionate about weaving since he was 16, it was not until he completely lost his vision that the Shah Alam-based Saravanan decided to hone his skills by taking up classes at the Malaysian Association for the Blind.
“Sitting at home doing nothing just doesn’t feel right to me. My children were still schooling back then. I want to help ease my wife’s burden of raising our family. That’s why I do this,” he said.
Saravanan was among the hundreds of Malaysian artisans who were gathered at the launching of Tunku Azizah Handmade Market, held in conjunction with the start of Visit Malaysia 2020 campaign.
At a press conference during the event last week, Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry secretary-general Datuk Isham Ishak said the government needed the artisans’ help in bolstering the country’s craft industry.
“I do not have the exact figures with me at the moment but artisanal trinkets are the most popular goods that tourists buy whenever they visit Malaysia. The market is very lucrative.
“I know it’s a long-shot but we hope exhibitions such as this will help in our mission to have our local made trinkets and souvenirs outdo the imported ones,” said Isham.
While the country’s craft industry had, last year, recorded a profit of RM506.5 million Isham said that foreign trinkets were still widely imported and sold by local craft traders.
A case in point, he said, was that of Pasar Seni’s -Malaysia’s most prominent centre of culture, heritage, arts and crafts.
“The ratio of foreign-to-local souvenirs sold at Pasar Seni is at about 70:30. Why? Because foreign products are cheaper but I feel that if we do a concerted effort to promote our local trinkets, tourists will buy them,” said Isham.