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Struggle is an inevitable part of life. While a lot of people succumb to pressure and give up their dreams midway, there are some who come out stronger than before – dignified, with a larger than life personality. Suman Sonthalia, the founder of AakritiArt Creations, is one such person. Born in a conservative Marwari family, where girls do not have the freedom to make education or career choices, life was harsh right from the beginning. There was nothing extraordinary about how life started for her. It was just as bitter as it was for other girls and women belonging to the community. – shackled in societal constraints, bounded by limitations. This is what the society had to offer. Destiny, however, had a different proposition for her.
Her journey began in 1994-95, when Suman happened to visit Art and Craft store based on Warli Art, near Pragati Maidan, in New Delhi. So mesmerized she got with the art form that she began to etch figures there itself. She had the talent but not a degree. As luck would have it, someone from the gallery identified the talent but did not extend a helping hand when she informed she did not have a relevant degree to back up her flair for art. Though it was an opportunity she had lost, her zeal did not fade, and she made a start. She started working on handmade paper, making beautiful paintings and drawing figures. It was not long after that a neighbor with a degree in Fine Arts spotted her talent again. She proposed they both join hands and make a fresh start. But what should have been a doorway to brighter avenues, tried to break Suman’s soul further. Her neighbor would sell off her products by changing article names. So, Suman never really could make a start.
Over the next few years there were bigger visions to come in purview. A lot of things were to change. Suman took her life as a blessing. She was invigorated with a bigger purpose. They say, unwavering commitment and strong will does not break easily. In 1998, Suman took to working from home, without support. She involved her maid’s daughter, who was eight to ten-year old then, into simple color filling and outline works. Her mother, the maid, was not pleased. She knew her daughter could earn a lot more by assisting her in household works. This got Suman thinking on more serious issues – poverty and lack of education, owing to which children are forced to perform domestic chores for others. How would they study if they had no money and no food to eat, she questioned to herself. Clearly there were no opportunities for them.
Where there is a will, there is a way. Suman offered to educate the maid’s daughter and paid some money that the little child would have otherwise earned performing household duties. This culminated into a massive contribution to the society as more and more children joined her. What started as a small effort to help a poor child became a mission to make life better for the underprivileged. She knew it was a vicious cycle. Hunger overtakes the will to study. She made life easier for children by offering them money to sustain life. Thereafter, she educated them, taught them basics of life and honed their artistic skills so they could support themselves. As she started spending more time with them, her affection for them only grew. Suman went as far as helping them get married and redefine their lives.
Aakriti Creations did not start as a typical business venture. It started as a move to break the chains of tradition and developed into a social cause of uplifting the status of individuals who had the talent but could not afford education or professional training. That is how most noble causes begin: humbly. But the road is endless and God always by the side when the determination is strong. Aakriti Creations received their first order of Rs. 17,000 from Central Cottage Emporium. The adventure had begun. All the hard work they had put in up till now was now to pay off. Aakriti successfully fulfilled the order. The quality was appreciated. In 2007, Aakriri was registered as a proprietorship firm.
They are one of the most sought after handicrafts manufacturer today. Housing over 750 types of products from different skilled vendors, Aakriti has given a platform to skilled labor and got the oppressed lower sections of the society the exposure they deserved. With such a diverse range of beautifully crafted products, buyers who appreciate such art forms have found a place of must-haves – exquisite home décor articles made of terracotta and wood, furniture, and gift items.
When asked who she credits her success to, years of struggle and hard work reflected in eyes as tears trickled down her wet eyes. “Mazboot iraday safalta ka raaz”, she said. When the world was against her, Suman fought them to make her own way out. She got lost down the memory lane for a while and involuntarily mumbled, “Hum chhote se kab bade bangaye, pata hi nahi chala.” The pain was visible. But it was eventually subdued with the feeling of accomplishment.
Aakriti Creations is now accessible to everyone who wants to hone his skills and develop a flair for the art. One can joinAakriti’s special training sessions, where the trainees are paid Rs. 150 for one day and can actively contribute to the organization by working with them once the training completes.