Two months ago, home-grown bespoke artists of traditional Madhubani paintings were still producing the finest hand-painted sarees for women who had a taste for authentic Indian designs. With the upcoming wedding season just around the corner, they were planning for a brisk business season ahead.

Like most other artisans & craftsmen who witness increased sales in the said period, business was on their minds too. However, as part of what many economists describe as the ‘sunset industry’ of India the handloom and handicraft sectors come with added challenges. Enter coronavirus and the world for the Madhubani artists changed overnight for the worse.

Remant Kumar Mishra who hails from a family of the finest Madhubani painters had to confront the sudden disappearance of his family income along with an uncertain future. Many of his kin, including himself, have been awarded by the government for their prowess with the brush. However, all that meant nothing when PM Modi announced the lockdown. He saw the danger to his business as clearly as day.

This was not the time for business as usual. “There are things one can change. There are things one cannot change. The capability of understanding the difference is what we call wisdom.” explained Remant. After some research on the Internet and detailed discussions with his colleagues, Mishra knew for sure coronavirus was a menace worth attention. He was also convinced that anything less than a blanket lockdown would risk the lives of millions of Indians due to its high population density. He also knew the significance of a mask and also its shortage. Watching PM Modi veiling his face with a gamcha (a towel) gave him an idea of producing a creative alternative.

Helped by his tailor, Mishra devised a washable Khadi mask that could carry his distinctive Madhubani designs painted on them. A mix of art and necessity, these masks have proved to be a good alternative to the hard-to-source 3-ply masks. “We use pure cotton handloom material and 100% natural colours to paint them. These masks are extremely durable and washable masks and can last up to 6 months.” Remant Mishra explains the qualities of his masks.

Not willing to sell his innovative product during these difficult times, Mishra distributes these masks free of cost in the offices and hospitals filled with frontline workers fighting the COVID-19 crisis. He sees this as a small souvenir of goodwill from Bihar’s Madhubani artisans to India’s corona warriors.