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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 January 2008, 00:00 GMT
New twist in India's old toy story
By Supriya Menon
Business reporter, BBC News, Channapatna

Neelsandra Prasad, 35, is busy carving out a future for himself and his family in his hometown, Channapatna, nearly 60km (38 miles) from Bangalore in southern India.

Neelsandra Prasad
Neelsandra Prasad is continuing a local tradition

A toymaker by tradition, Mr Prasad learnt the fine art of making wooden toys when he was a child from his father.

In fact, generations of the Prasad family have survived by selling nothing but toys of this kind.

A few years ago, Mr Prasad moved to Bangalore in search of a better life.

However, after slogging away from dawn to dusk in a silk factory there for more than nine years, he is back in his hometown.

He says he moved to the city hoping for a better life. But things were hard there as well.

It was becoming difficult for him to support his family. So when the toy business started picking up again, he decided to move back to his village.

The move seems to have paid off. Now he has regular orders and a steady source of income.

Booming demand

Mr Prasad is not the only one, though. There are many others like him in his village who had moved to the city in search of greener pastures - and who are now back home at Channapatna as the toy town gets rediscovered.

In fact, business has never looked better for these toymakers.

In order to meet the growing demand, most of them are now setting up self-help groups and working together to increase their production.

Girl playing with traditional Indian wooden toys
Parents need not fear about Indian toys' safety

And thanks to new technology, they are now making more toys than ever before.

Traditionally sold only within India, their hand-made items are now finding their way into the international market because of newer designs, improved quality and better marketing facilities.

And after the recent scares over the safety of toys from China, demand for these Indian products is picking up.

One of the main reasons for the growing popularity of these toys is that they are seen as safe for children to play with.

Made of wood and coloured with vegetable dyes, they contain no harmful components. That's why they are now gaining ground in foreign markets such as Europe and the US.

Scraping by

J P Solomon of Maya Organic, an NGO which introduced new designs to these artisans and which now exports their toys, says there are big opportunities big right now for a successful revival.

Maya Organic buys from several toymakers and exports their handiwork to Europe and other parts of the world. If the current trend continues, Mr Solomon expects demand to double by the end of 2008.

Abdul Suban Noori and his son Nooruddin
Toymaking may not survive into the next generation

But surprisingly, not everyone is interested in this booming market.

Take 60-year-old Abdul Suban Noori, who has been making toys for the last 45 years.

His son Nooruddin, 35, assists him in the business.

Between the two of them, they make more than $400 a month.

But even that's not enough for this family of 10 to get by, which is why Nooruddin sees no future in toymaking and wants his children to move away from the family enterprise.

He says that in the age of the computer where everyone is educated, he sees no reason to teach his children his family craft.

According to him, as time passes by, the income from the business will dwindle and his descendents will have far more problems than he does now.

But while Nooruddin's children may never learn to shape the wooden blocks, kids from around the world are now waking up to the joys of these simple Indian toys, now giving new hope to an old generation.



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