Over the course of three years, we’ve partnered with some very interesting people. Though I plan to do justice to that list over a period of time, I am starting with someone like me, someone I’ve never met, but someone with whom I’ve worked so much.  Sonali Chand is a designer, craft lover and most importantly, a doting mother.

Co-founder, Turmeric Hands

Sonali Chand, Turmeric Hands

Our association started with an email from Sonali asking if she could collaborate in any sense. Our exchanges led to a collaboration on Pattachitra from Orissa. Being an architect and NID alumnus, Sonali wanted to put it to use in designing for artisans in her home state, Orissa. In a short span, our collaborations led to Sonali working with one our artisans in developing lovely products. Her organization Turmeric Hands is her explorations with Pattachitra, paper machier and paper.

Pattachitra notebook

Pattachitra notebook from Turmeric Hands

Her description for Turmeric Hands is also very interesting! In her words, “One late winter afternoon, the little chirp of the sparrows was occasionally broken by my angel’s little giggles. As I went through my chores of dividing the new pack of homemade turmeric powder that my mom had sent me, I could no longer hear pari’s giggles. My little pari had sneaked a turmeric bag , pulled down my sari,and  had made teeny weeny yellow hand-prints, thereby giving life to it. She looked at me and chuckled showing me the great work of art. The bright sunshine like yellow turmeric hands took me back to my childhood days – to the days of me spoiling my ma’s saree, to the days of much awaited mela filled with clay toys,masks, sugar moulded in animal shape-to the childhood days flavoured with the warmth of my mother. As I hugged Pari – that picture of my memories and the innocent smile on her face gave me my little pack of yellow sunshine – a sudden urge to re-ignite those lost joys. I decided to start my new endeavour and reconnect to my roots, to celebrate the tradition of storytelling, the culture of colors – the rich Indian ethnicity and the most valuable wealth –the Indian craft. Turmeric hands is my little way to celebrate our legacy of rich craft and connect to all those to convey this feeling.”

Pattachitra Coasters, Turmeric Hands

Pattachitra Coasters, Turmeric Hands

Sonali intersperses traditional motifs with very contemporary colours and backgrounds to bring out interesting products. Her range of stationery and table top accessories are on display and sale at our online store. Do check them out!

Lakhpart fort, Rann of Kutch

Lakhpat fort

Day 3 started off with another long journey. With all the craft work done, it was time to check out other sights. We traveled through huge stretches of barren landscape and crossed the Tropic of Cancer (yes, you can stop by and click a picture of yourself!) to reach Lakhpat. Once a prosperous port town, it is now a shadow of its former self. The seismically unstable Kutch region was home to rivers Hkra and Sindhu. During an earthquake, the rivers changed course, leaving the land barren. Add to it the high salinity of the soil, and all that is left of vegetation are just the hardy shrubs. According to Wikipedia, ‘the area was a vast shallow of the Arabian Sea until continuing geological uplift closed off the connection with the sea, creating a vast lake that was still navigable during the time of Alexander the Great. The Ghaggar River, which presently empties into the desert of northern Rajasthan, formerly emptied into the Rann of Kutch, but the lower reaches of the river dried up as its upstream tributaries were captured by the Indus and Ganges thousands of years ago.’

Gurudwara, Lakhpat, Rann of Kutch

Gurudwara at Lakhpat in Rann of Kutch

Nestled inside the village is a tiny Gurudwara. Guru Govind Singh had stayed here during one of the visits and the house eventually was converted into a gurudwara. We were greeted by the local caretaker and offered tea and refreshments. He told us some wonderful stories (including the one above) about the history of the place. From the Gurudwara, we walked up the Lakhpat. Owing to it’s proximity to Pakistan, the fort is guarded by military personnel. Living away from their families for long durations, these men serve in difficult conditions. From their vantage point, we could see an endless stretch of water almost merging with the sky. Some fishermen were going about their daily business.

Mandvi, ship building, Great rann of Kutch

Ship building at Mandvi, Great rann of Kutch

The trip to Mandvi from Lakhpat is a long one. But one that no-one should miss. Mandvi is a beach town and is home to the local ship building industry. A highly complex structure (architecturally speaking) is made without a single design on paper. The master-craftsman is an expert with decades of experience and his measurement using very crude tools is precise. These little ships traverse the sea all the way to Singapore, Dubai and even Africa. Over tea, the builders and the sailors were reminiscing about days spent at sea, Somalian pirates and sea-storms. I could have very well imagined to be on the sets of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. In Mandvi, do check out the palace if you find time.

Every trip has a trip photograph and we had ours! With all this done, we headed back to the hotel to pack up and leave. Another trip with loads of crafts, sights and memories!

P.S: Best time to travel to Kutch is October to February.  There are only a couple of stay options near the desert, so make your bookings in advance. Also these options are open only during season. We traveled off-season and hence used Bhuj as the base and traveled back every night. Though very exhausting, this is possible.

Also it is best to hire a cab from Bhuj as local transport is not well connected. Keep food and water handy as you will travel long stretches without scope for both. Also if driving on your own, make sure to have back-up fuel. As the Rann is close to the border, you need a permit to enter it. So make sure you stop before turning to Hodka to get your permit. 

As we woke up refreshed on day 2, we were all excited to hit the road. After all, we had crafts waiting for us at the other end. Our first stop was at Nirona, the village famous for its abundance of crafts. We stared off meeting Jabbarbhai, the youngest member of the last couple of families involved in Rogan art.

Rogan painting, Kutch tourism, Nirona, Bhuj

Jabbarbhai, Rogan artist

Rogan art (ironically) was a cheaper and faster alternative to embroidered fabrics. Embroidery is a time consuming process. Embroidered fabrics were given away as part of a girl’s dowry and hence the outcome had to be of superior quality. It is the mandatory skill that a mother passes on to her daughter as early as when she is 4 or 5 years old. The daughter-mother duo then embroider the clothes that the young bride would take with her to her marital home. So Rogan painters came up with a quick fix. Apply paint to one side of the fabric and then fold it to form a mirror impression on the other side. Lo and behold, you have a complete design and much quicker than it would taken to embroider it. Over years, this family has fine-tuned the process making this art too a highly precise one. Now some of their paintings sell for much more than their embroidered counterparts.

Copper bells, Nirona, Kutch, Bhuj, Rann of Kutch

Salimbhai, copper bells making

After a long chat over a cup of chai and haggling over a painting, we overshot our schedule by a good hour. We then proceeded to the copper bell makers. I am not dwelling on the process in this post, if interested you can read it here. The bell makers graciously show us the process of making a bell. A bell is known to be one of the most complex acoustical instruments to make. To see these artisans with minimal tools shaping out these wonders in multiple numbers is a wonder. You can buy bells in 13 sizes, bells made into interesting wind chimes and a lot more here.

Wood turning, lacquer, Kutch, Khamir, Rann of Kutch, Bhuj, Nirona

Wood turning and lacquer, Kutch

The bell makers accompanied us to the lacquer artisan Bhaiyyabhai’s home. Just while we were there, a bunch of foreign tourists walked in. As is the case always, we were asked to wait till the guests leave. We helped the artisan by explaining the process in english and at the end of it, we were family! We bought some little take-aways ourselves.

Wood carving, Gandhi nu Gaam, Khavda, Shaam-e-Sarhad, Kutch, Rann of Kutch

Wood carving, Gandhi nu gaam

With a whole lot left to do for the day, we quickly wrapped up our conversations and headed to Gandhi nu gam. Here we met Aacharbhai, the village head and wood carver. His beautiful geometric designs were converted into furniture. Personally I wish he’s not ‘varnished’ the wood. It was too glossy for my liking, but I did make a mental note on the designs for future use. At the end of this, we realized that we did not have any lunch options. We decided to check out Khavda, where we found the hidden gem-Qasab. The centre there is similar to Shrujan, though the focus in embroidery was much more local. They also had some interesting info on different musical instruments. On lunch, we saw some tourists (who had made prior arrangements for lunch) have their delectable Gujarati thali here. They wasn’t any left for us, so we had to scout for another place. Of course, not before hoarding beautifully hand-crafted bags and pouches. Word of advice- When in Kutch (and traveling without a local guide), carry your own food. Though the hospitable locals may offer food in their homes, it is better to have an option in your bag.

Shaam-e-Sarhad, Hunnarshala, Rann of Kutch, Hodka, Kutch, Bhuj

Shaam-e-Sarhad eco-resort, Hodka

Hodka is the best of all Kutch villages. Shaam-e-Sarhad is in season is the place to stay. If by any chance you happen to visit Kutch during winter and miss out on this experience, I would count it as life’s biggest regret. The food here is par excellence and the hospitality addictive. Designed by Hunnarshala, built and run by the locals, this place is a perfect example of the outcome of the marriage between design capabilities and local skills.

Dhordo, Rann of Kutch, Lippan Kaam, mud and mirror relief work

Lippan Kaam-mud and mirror work artisan

From here  we rushed to see the Rann before the sunset. Though the local folk strongly suggested that we’d be wasting our time as the Rann is still inundated, we decided to take a chance. And we are glad we did! We reached dhordo, the last village near the border. Here we met the local sarpanch (village head) Mia Hussain who introduced to a famous artisan and Sufi singer- Mutva Mehmood Iliyas. We found the artisan working in a tiny room with his television tuned into Sindhi channels aired from the neighbouring country! Though partition was a difficult time for people living in the border, they still have relatives on either side making the geographical demarcation almost meaningless. With me were friends whose families had crossed over to India during the partition in 1947. It was almost a re-union of sorts for them. Mehmoodbhai rendered a Sufi song for all of us.

With our hearts filled with love for our new found friends, we decided to culminate the day with a visit to the Rann. The border personnel were kind enough to let us in considering there were no other tourists. The Rann was filled with water on all sides, as far as the eye could see. The salt was crystallizing in the dried up areas creating a white sheet on the surface. We were spellbound. Nothing could have prepared us for this wonderful sight.  Like little children, we trampled all over the gooey sand, tasted salt fresh off the water and let our minds focus on our irrelevance in the larger scheme of things. We were but a tiny speck in this universe. Word of advice-Please remember that you need to take a permit at the military checkpost (at the turn to Hodka) to visit the Rann.

On the way back on this long day, one thing that stood out was the strong familial bonds. Be it the Rogan painters, the bell makers or the lacquer artisans and even Mehmoodbhai who looked forward to meeting his relatives on the other side, every person in the family was part of life and work. So family matters, the most.

For more pictures of my Kutch trip, please click here and here.

 

Rann of Kutch, White desert, Kutch handicrafts

Rann of Kutch

When you step into the Rann, the first thing that strikes you is the expanse. The white desert that extends in each direction as far as the eye can see. Mirages, white sand, crystal salt and a little water on the surface is all that’s visible. No human, no animal, no life at all. It is a sort of catharsis, purging all the crowded thoughts. Suddenly, the mind’s lens refocuses into the most important thing in your life. In a short span of time, your mind is all cleared out and formatted.

Kutch, Rann of Kutch

Clothes worn by Kutch people

This land of whiteness is a backdrop to a million colours. The brightly dressed women gleam with their little mirrors all over. Kutch is a melting pot of various cultures. The blend of the local Gujarati culture with the adjacent land of Sindh is vivid in every aspect- food, language, cultural practices. I had a whirlwind tour of Kutch a couple of months ago. In an effort to cover the whole of the region in 4 days, we relentlessly travelled across the largest district in the country. Bhuj has a local airport with flights from Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Or you could take a night train/bus to Bhuj from Ahmedabad (about 7 hours away)

 Day 1: We landed in Bhuj at 7 am. Bhuj is a quiet little town that shoulders it’s responsibility of being the gateway to one of the best tourist attractions very well. A motley of new budget friendly hotels have sprung up all over the place to accommodate tourists with all kinds of pockets.

Bhujodi, durrie, woolen kutch shawls

Bhujodi durrie weaving

After breakfast, we headed out to the local Bhujodi, a local market with a host of shawl weavers. Make sure you pick up a warm shawl for the cold winter nights here. On the way to this place, make sure you check out Shrujan. This beautifully done up craft centre is the place of work for women embroiders from various communities of Kutch. These women interact with designers here creating masterpieces. Prices are certainly on the higher side, but owning such an impeccably crafted piece is definitely worth it. The plan was to head to Ajrakhpur next. But we had spent too much oogling at the beauty of these fabrics.

Hunnarshala, Vernacular architecture, craft based architecture

Hunnarshala, vernacular architecture

We headed to Hunnarshala, the mecca of eco-friendly and vernacular architecture research. Hunnarshala is a heavily guarded secret. One look at the place and you will desist coming back to your steel and glass home. You will crave for the practicality and earthiness of the vernacular architecture in your home. They are now training the local craftspeople/youth in carpentry and masonry techniques. So next time, you are looking to redo/built your home, please look them up.

The evening was spent strolling along the local market. We tasted some roadside samosas (hot pockets filled with potato/lentils and deep-fried), khakra and various pedas (milk-sweets). The market is also home to a variety of silver jewellers. But we were too exhausted to explore any further.

Stay tuned for more and do check out my co-traveller’s blog for an indepth exploration on Gujarati food all over the state.

 

 

Kolkatta (previously known as Calcutta) is a traveler’s delight. It is the last stop of India’s most sacred river Ganges as it blends into the Bay of Bengal through the mangroves of Sunderbans. Sunderbans is a natural habitat for the royal Bengal Tiger, the vehicle of the ferocious Goddess Durga. The story of the Goddess’ triumph over evil is celebrated in a week-long festival known as Durga Pooja. The Goddess is believed to be visiting her parents’ home in the plains during this time. Celebrated with much pomp and grandeur, it brings life regular life in the city to a complete halt. During the festival, people visit the Pandals along with their friends and family. The women are dressed in traditional finery and exchange vermillion with each other. They pray for the well-being of their husbands. Initially celebrated only by rich families across Bengal, the festival turned into a community event during the Independence movement.

Situated in the northern part of city, Kumortoli, the potters’ quarters is the seat of activity for days leading up to the festival. Their artistry is so well known that they export as many idols as they supply locally. The potters, both men and women work on sculpting these figures. The base is made of straw which is then covered with clay. Upon drying, the idols are painted in bright colours. Adding the third eye is a crucial process. It is a work done by the senior artistes and some of them are known to meditate for long hours before drawing it. The third eye is believed to be the one that breathes life into the idol.

The tiny settlement is home to some illustrious artists whose work is sought after by Bengalis across the world. Most of the famous artists’ works are booked a year in advance, with some of the lesser known ones selling idols off the shelf. It was estimated that Kumortuli sold more than 12, 300 clay idols in 2006. This settlement was allotted to the potters during the British colonization of India in the eighteenth century.  Calcutta was the power centre for the British East India Company. The British wanted to allocate quarters for each working group and thus this colony housing the potters came up. Over time, this place became home to various artists with some major roads in this neighbourhood named after them.

Today the entire city is home to multiple community Pandals, which are temporary structures erected to showcase the Goddess on a stage. Most of the Pandals are elaborate structures (that require more than a year of planning) with magnificent architectural features pertaining to a theme. These themes range from mythology to period based architecture and sometimes even current issues that plague the nation at large. During the Cricket World Cup series that India won, there were Pandals that showcased idols of famous players. Each neighbourhood vies with the other in showcasing the festival, with some having idols as tall as 20 feet. In the midst of all this ostentatiousness, the central figure in every Pandal is still the idol of the Goddess. She is depicted with her ten hands holding different weapons and standing on a lion mount.

Post the festivities, the idols are taken out in a procession with the entire city coming out on to the streets. The idols are then immersed in the river. Earlier the materials for idol making were purely eco-friendly causing no damage to the river. However, with the advent of bright coloured paints, these have replaced the older options causing heavy ecological damage to the river. The government is taking measures to stop the usage of such toxic material.

The week long reverie comes to an end as the Goddess departs from her parents’ home to her marital abode in the Himalayas. Kumortoli gears up for another busy year of planning and idol making.  For more pictures of Kolkata, please click here.

Workshop at Eklavya

Title: Making Diwali gift cards and diyas

Date: October 2013

Venue: Eklavya Sports Academy, Ahmedabad

With over 300 participants, the evening was full of life and energy. GIIS and Eklavya Sports Academy organised a fun evening for the kids. From our end, we managed the crafts section where the artisans taught the little kids how to make clay diyas and paint them. For the older ones, Warli painting on cards and ready made diyas were what were on offer.

<I wrote this in 2011 and never bothered publishing it. CraftCanvas has come a long way and I was just happy to look back>

It is my birthday week and the time of the year when I usually want to take stock of life. The rest of the year just goes by with the million things that I do and plan to do that the real things really get mixed up.The big things need to be planned and written down somewhere.

2010 was all about exploring life. I’ve always wanted to travel. But apart from places where work took me, it was just too difficult to get away anywhere. This year, I’ve traveled every month (even twice in some months) to places that are sometimes hard to find, even on a map!

 

Bangalore as a destination was all about friends. But this year, I visited an 100 year old workshop in Ulsoor and discovered the place where the demon gods are made.

Enjoyed some simple pleasures in life by watching a puppet show with handmade leather puppets.

Drove to no man’s land to hear the chisels at work.

Was enchanted by the massive forts in Rajasthan and the intricate weaves of Salawas’ dhurries.

Stepped into the breaktakingly beautiful Thanjuvur temple and stepped onto the simple beauty of handmade Athangudi tiles.

Witnessed devotion at its peak in the Rath yatra at Puri and marvelled at the wonder called Pattachitra.

Was humbled by the living conditions of one of the award winning artisans in our country. Dushasan Behera lives a difficult life in Dhenkanal, Orissa, yet manages to create stunning pieces of art.

Was inspired by a bunch of enterprising women who conquered the tsunami.

A year of exploration, one of learning, one that grounded me and the one that I would live many times over. But it is time to move on, to act on what is learnt, to create a platform to learn more and to prepare for the next year.

A big year is coming my way and I am already looking forward to it!

Title: Learning to host a shadow puppetry show

Date: April 2013

Venue: Shreyas, Ahmedabad

 

What do you do on a scorching summer day in Ahmedabad? If you are anywhere between 7 and 12 years of age, you head to the cool environs of Shreyas to host your own puppet show. Artisans Thulasi Rao and Gangi Shetty came over for a week to train kids on  how to host their own show. The children made leather puppets of the characters, rehearsed the dialogues and gave some interesting background scores to enact their stories. The venue came alive with stories of Chota Bheem, pokemon and dinosaurs!

For more pictures, click here. 

Title: Understanding traditional art, Madhubani and Gond

Date: January 2013

Venue: Craftroots exhibition, Vastrapur Haat, Ahmedabad

The year began wonderfully. Hundreds of kids moved in and out of our workshop every day. It was a great experience to see the tiny tots learning the difference between 2 art forms, interacting with the artisan and pinning up their fish as a matter of pride. Ten days of workshop and about 800 kids attended it in all. The biggest ever for us and we were quite happy with the outcome.