Title: Shadow puppetry workshop for children

Venue: Tharangini, Bangalore

Date: October 2012

Thulasi Rao and his brother spent the weekend with kids. Doing a workshop with children is the most challenging and of course, the most rewarding. While the traditional shadow puppetry artisans from Andhra Pradesh showed the little ones how to make a puppet of their favorite character, they loved every bit of it. The incentive was the wonderful puppet show at the end of the workshop. Set in a picturesque venue, the workshop provided the kids ample space to play and learn.

For more pictures, click here.

Title: Space surface craft workshop (Madhubani painting)

Date: July 2012

Venue: DICRC, Cept University

Working with interior designers, Madhubani got a new life. A usually 2D format got a 3D makeover, thereby creating another dimension to the already gorgeous art.  The students worked with the artisans for over a week. The end result was a 3D structure that was jointly made by both the artisans and the designers.

For more photographs, click here.

Title: Learning Warli basics

Date: April 2012

Venue: Options, Ahmedabad

Duration: 5 days (10 hours in total)

It is never easy to work with a craftsman, even so if the list of participants includes an artist! Crafts being an unorganised sector opens up a plethora of problems. The middlemen have always treated the craftsman badly and have cheated him on various occasions. This makes him very conscious of people working with him. He  takes ages to forge a bond (and when he does eventually, it is quite a strong one!) So when Dilipbhai stepped into the workshop on day 1, my nerves relaxed.

Day after day, little by little, participants learnt the various motifs and structures in a Warli painting. Every day, we looked at a new painting and understood the various elements. Everyday emails were circulated to look at more paintings. It is interesting to note that a seemingly ordinary Warli painting is held together by rules. It doesn’t look that way, right? So at the end of the workshop, our participants went back happy.

Some pictures from our workshop.

For more pictures, click here.

On a cold December afternoon in Bihar, Padmini and I were doing our best to keep ourselves warm. Our back-packs did not allow for elaborate winter clothing and we hoped to get by wearing multiple tee shirts under a thin sweater. It was about 4 pm when we reached the Sikki Sangh, a women’s co-operative in Ratwa. Working with incredible speed and weaving multi-coloured baskets, these women seemed oblivious to the biting chill. Their fingers flew in a kind of rhythm that seemed to warm them while the constant banter distracted their minds away from the cold.

Over a sip of piping hot tea, I addressed :)  the bunch of ‘didis’ (elder sister as we call them here). I gave them drawings of what I expect, the colour combinations that will work and the little details that could go in for the ‘wow’ effect. Using a battery operated emergency lamp, we pored over the designs. Working late on winter afternoon is not a great idea as the sun sets quite early in these parts. So coupled with the erratic power supply, the women prefer starting their day early to weave as many baskets as possible during the sunlit hours. Sometimes during the festival season, the orders are big and they weave at night in their homes. Since the weaving process is intricate, it causes a huge strain on their eyes.

Sikki basket weaving was previously a domestic activity. The women weave baskets from the locally availbale Sikki (golden grass) grass. Though most of the baskets are used to store knick-knacks at home, special ones are woven by the mother to be used as dowry boxes for the daughter.

Little toys are also made for children. The grass is available in abundance during the summer and winter months. Copious rains turn huge areas into swaps where this grass thrives.

Once the rainy season comes to a close, the slowly drying swamps yield piles of grass. This is then dyed with colours and then dried in the sun. Once dry, the grass is cleaned and cut into thin strips that are then woven into baskets, toys, trays, etc.

Some complex designs have been tried. This lamp here was designed by designers from the Jiyo project.

We left Rathwa just when the sun was about to set. It was the end of a long cold day and we were hoping the cheerful faces we left behind and some frantic texting would bring some warmth to our cold fingers.

When folklore and reality are blurred, there is a sense of fantasy that pervades the air. As the local folk point out the forest where Lord Ram met his love Sita for the first time, the smell of fresh flowers, the blushing young girl and the budding romance is clearly audible in their voice. Every corner you turn, there is a relic from an era that for us urban dwellers exists only in mythology. It is explained in a manner of reminiscence, as if the event happened before their eyes. One cannot blame them for it, cause it does happen in front of their their eyes almost everyday. They paint these wonderful scenes on their walls, on paper, on fabric almost everyday. Sometimes Sita’s floral motif skirt is a blue and sometimes a bright green. The change in color depicts the season when the artist painted- the blue flowers that lend their violet-blue shade bloom in the winter.

Madhubani paintings are believed to have originated as a wall adornment during Lord Ram and Sita’s wedding. Sita’s father, King Janak commissioned women from all over the kingdom to paint. The women painted to impress the ‘baraat’ (wedding procession). The area locally referred to as ‘Mithanlanchal’ comprises of the area north of the Ganges and south of the Himalayas. In present day, part of the area falls in Nepal. Janakpur in Nepal is a major centre for this art form.

Madhubani paintings are an essential part of women’s lives in the region. The women use colours from their own garden. They squeeze out the red from berries, grind leaves for green and burn rice in an earthen pot for the deep black. They make brushes using bamboo sticks and paint walls with beautiful motifs of Gods and nature.

The form starts with a border. Once the intricate border has been worked upon, the main motif takes centre stage. Featured above is the  ‘Kohabar’, a ritualistic painting drawn in the marital room. This is where the bride and the groom meet each other for the first time.  Symbols of happiness, fertility, good healthy and prosperity complete the painting. The auspicious symbols like fishes, ‘Kalash’ (a jar of holy water), betel leaves, coconuts and a bride in her wedding finery add finishing touches.

Life in these villages dispels most myths. Even the idea of a mandatory 24 hour power and water seem somewhat excessive. If you can attain happiness with a few hours of electricity, warm your hands on the freshly made oven fueled with cow dung, eat smoking hot ‘bajjiyas’ made from shrubs in the kitchen garden and watch the women paint their breathtaking designs, everything else seems irrelevant. The women here begin their day early. It isn’t easy to fire the stove on cold misty mornings. When all the housework is over and done, the neighborhood women gather together to paint. The colours come from each other’s garden. With advice aplenty from older ‘didis’ and ‘maajis’, the younger ones slowly venture out.

Vimla Devi has been painting as long as she can remember. Her little box contains colours and brushes laid out to suit her style. She labours over her painting for long hours, taking breaks only to offer advice when asked for. She lives in her own world where she witnesses Ram and Sita’s life everyday.

When all these women would paint individually, there weren’t many takers. As they happily receive me, they aren’t sure if I would have come into contact with them if they had still been on their own. Being in a group empowers them to face a world that they have rarely encountered. Married off young, they have never stepped out of the confines of their home. Even their dire circumstances failed to get them out all by themselves. In a group, they are all together. Happily weaving stories and participating in administrative tasks in the office, they have been able to break free from bonds that always relegated to take a place at the end of the system.

As I prepare to leave, the women take down my number. They make sure to call me and check if I reached my hotel safely. So I am a part of that group now. I am happy.

I’ve rarely interacted with children. Apart from the ‘so cute’ and ‘she is so adorable’, I haven’t said much to them. All this changed last week as I spent two awesome (and exhausting) days organizing the puppet making workshop. The tiny tots (aged 6-12 years) surprised me in every way possible. From correcting my facts on the Ramayana to getting the artisan make T-Rex dinosaur puppets, they gave me more than I gave them. If only we exposed our young generation to more such crafts. I am doubly sure that we will have designers, doctors and engineers who appreciate the innate wisdom in traditional Indian ways.

The workshop was held at Tharangini. A quaint little place at Sadashivnagar in Bangalore just on the banks of Sankey tank is home to a beautiful block printing workshop and a little hut-like place to conduct workshops for children. We started the workshop with a brief on the craft (click here to read more), introduced the artisans to the children and showed them a small presentation on where the craft originates, some pictures of the village, etc.

A lamp made by one of the participants

The children then set off drawing fishes, peacocks, etc that they decorated/filled in traditional Charmakari form. We gave them various forms and explained the process in each. Once they were confident of the shapes, we gave them each a piece of leather. The final design was etched on the leather and the kids were given an option of making puppets or a lamp. The most critical part of puppet making is punching. Holes are punched to let the light pass through. Here the punching was done by the kids with our help. The children painted beautifully, taking cues from the artisans and the various puppets hanging around.

We ended the workshop with a little puppet show depicting a scene from the Ramayana.

Working with kids is a lot different from working with adults. Though Nisha, my associate in Bangalore and a mother of two warned me about the exhaustion, I am grateful for all her help and wisdom. She knew the right answers to their questions!

So at the end of it all, the kind of ideas and questions that young minds throw up make me wonder if all our learning was worth it. They are far more intelligent than I can ever be now that I am so educated :)

 

I know I’ve been out of blogging for a long time now. So much was happening that I had to take a break to reign in the chaos. Now that I am in control, I think I should get back to this favorite activity. More so because I am turning 30 in 4 days. Considering that life has been one roller coaster ride all along, I think it is time to take stock, time to relish the happy moments and time to flip through this blog. This blog started my current life, the life that gave me an identity that I so love now.

The first post on Rajasthan was straight out of my trip. I remember having proof read that post a million times. I was learning image editing softwares then and it was a huge task to edit all of 5 photos for the blog post. The Dhurrie that I bought on that trip still rests under my feet as I am smiling away at the blog.

Then came the Bangalore trip with it’s 100 year old workshops, travel to an obscure stone carver’s village, leather puppets and my brush with the spirits. One of my closest friends and a pillar of strength and support navigated me through roads that never showed up on Google. What an adventure that was! :)

Photo Courtesy: Sindhu Sarathy

Puri happened all of a sudden and I was suddenly gaping with eyes wide open at all the beautiful Pattachitra paintings.

The first product range was launched from that trip. With a few pieces of Uluka in hand from inside a tiger sanctuary in Dhenkananal, I decided that something had to be done. I had to do something to change the plight here, better their lives. I had to help them earn. Today we supply Dhokra products made by Dushashan Behera and his whole community to US and Dubai. The community now has a computer to see our emails and works with a logistics company to send us products every month.

Diwali 2011 is such a blur. I ran around promoting hand-crafted gift-sets, laboured at getting boxes done and packing all that dry-fruit in little pouches. All I remember is that I still get orders for my sets, even an year after Diwali.

Christmas bells in tow and I was replacing those plastic bells with little hand-crafted ones from Kutch.

A winter Kutch trip was long overdue and I discovered the Sufi singer cum Lippan artist who wove magic with just mud and mirrors. I was exhausted after a day in the Rann where our car sunk into the marshy land! I landed at Mehmoodbhai’s house and all that fatigue vanished as I gawked at his walls.

Sometime around this time, I was looking to gift a three-year old. All I could find were expensive imported toys. I wanted something that was fun and Indian. I remembered those ‘Young World’ days from my childhood and took a friend’s help on sketches. Soon the block-printing kit was in place!

Around this time I realised that we were doing very well outside of Ahmedabad, while I was hitting a wall everytime I tried something there. My friends reasoned that a little awareness drive  was required and we did the first craft workshop. The Warli workshop was covered by 2 newspapers and was such a smashing hit. I almost contemplated changing my business model and only conducting workshops! :)

The workshop and my blog paved the way for the rest of the journey and I landed at CEPT. The Madhubani workshop opened up new friendships and interesting avenues. I designed the tissue boxes and chocolate boxes during this time. The enthusiastic artist couple- Naveen and Pooja painted day and night to finish the first lot.

From tissue boxes, we graduated to walls and made beautiful Madhubani trees in two locations. Constant work has enabled our Madhubani artists to invest in a camera and take pictures of all their work which they can now send to me.

So the last year and a half has paved the way for a new life. I am happy and only counting my blessings. There have been trying times, doubtful times, angry times and even ‘this is the end’ times. But the good overrides the bad. Always.

I realised that all my ranting about Madhubani fell on deaf ears. It is not like I have a million readers everyday. But even the ones who diligently read the blog complained. I did not write what Madhubani was all about. I was so busy de-stressing after that hectic week that all I could think of what the baby-sitting, exhibition organizing and paint filling that I did. So please accept my apologies and do read on.

Madhubani is the form of Mithila painting that is done on paper. Mithila paintings originated from the Mithila region,  the ancient cultural region that lies between the lower range of the Himalayas and the Ganges river. Half of this region is in present day Nepal and Janakpur in Nepal is the major hub for the painting.  Madhubani district is the Indian counterpart of Janakpur.

Mythologically speaking, Sita (Lord Ram’s queen) was a Mithila girl. Her father Janak commissioned these artists to paint for the wedding celebrations. Hence these paintings are done for rituals, wedding being the most prominent. Kohabar is the chamber where the bride (usually a child) meets her groom for the first time after marriage. These paintings are part ritual and part suggestive. Their major theme revolves around love and fertility which references taken from Ramayana, Mahabharata and the local folklore.

Since the region is predominantly agricultural and flooding in the monsoons brings in a lot of snakes, snakes are worshipped for protection. This theme is also widely present in their paintings.

The caste system in Mithila determines your form of art. Originally done only by Maithil brahmin women, this art remained within the confines of the home. The women married early, lived in the ancestral home of their in-laws and did not step outside the courtyard. So this painting form done on the walls of their home is a form of expression for the women. They paint mostly religious characters, but add in them their own little identities. Painting was only done on the walls using colours that were extracted from local materials. Gandhiji’s khadi weaving set the trend for the painting on paper. His movement enabled women to work from home. This sort of empowerment was necessary in monetary terms as well. Repeated droughts and floods caused low agricultural yields. So money from selling paintings came to the rescue. The women from the Kayastha community followed suit and the Harijan women took it up only in the 60s.

The form of painting varies depending on the caste. The Brahmin women paint bright colored figures, the Kayastha used only outlines while the Harijan women specialize in tattoo(Godna) paintings.

For the interested ones, here are couple of other interesting links.

Genealogy- http://www.csuchico.edu/anth/mithila/genealogist1.htm

Madhubani on the Nepal side- http://www.asianart.com/exhibitions/jwdc/index.html#Row12 

It has been a rather hectic month. I spent the first part trying to figure out train tickets, accommodation and making boxes. Making boxes is not an easy task. All those tutorials on ehow and wikihow never expose you to the reality of explaining the same to the local carpenter. I had a tough time getting a hundred boxes done and ready with a nice smooth finish on the top.

The Madhubani artists(Naveen and Pooja) were going to be here and I had to ensure that everything went off smoothly. I am a stickler for detail and I constantly stress myself about little things. Add to it the proscrastinator in me, you have the perfect recipe for last minute rush, mouth ulcers (6 of them!!) and sleepless nights. Blogging was almost at the end of the list of things-to-do. Well almost, cause after that came a list of house-work. So after a debacle of train tickets, I  managed to get them to Ahmedabad 3 days late!  I heaved a big sigh of relief as I got that 6 am call that they have reached Ahmedabad.

We started off with the workshop at CEPT. DICRC is the Design Innovation and Craft Resource Centre at the university and they do some kick-ass work. A perfect platform that facilitates the marriage between traditional crafts and new ideas. And what better than Interior Architecture to use these splendid craft forms! :) So the first 4 days zipped past with coverage in 3 newspapers :), loads of new and interesting design work and of course a lot of fun. It is amazing how a designer can influence a different thought process to an already existing idea. The designers worked on using the artisans knowledge of the 2D form into a 3D form. The results were stunning.

After the workshop, we got down to the rest of the task. Painting boxes! Since I am always looking at introducing crafts in everyday life, I decided to tackle that ugly looking pack of tissues lying in every home. So I decided to make tissue box holders that will cover that ugly of a home and bring it centre stage. And I used it for a party at home. I sold a few right there! :)

So while I was babysitting the artisans’ 4 year old daughter, cooking up games every half hour, boiling the milk to the right temperature for her, putting her to sleep and keeping an hawk eye on things in my home, the couple painted away. They talk in hushed tones to each other (not necessary considering I don’t understand their language anyways!), sing little songs and have a great time together. It is interesting to see that camaderie, one that comes only out of knowing each other well and doing something that they so love together. It is like their work cements their love even better, as she blushes at a compliment from him about the fish she painted.

Together (I pitched in after day 2 as I realised that it is not an easy task), we filled every box with something interesting. A box where the couple hold hands was Pooja’s favourite as she relates every character to her life! Phew! :) I had to fight to keep some monotones as Naveen disapprovingly looks at the lack of colour.

So as 41 boxes were painted, we decided to call it a day. The couple took their 4 year old out to have ice-cream and finally boarded the train with a whole lot of memories. I switched on the AC, cleared the paint mess all over my floor and collapsed on the bed happy and content. I know selling it is another story. But for now I am happy to see so much color in my life. One thing at a time.

For ones who want to order, please check this link.

 

I called up a friend to chat up after a day’s work. She was getting back from work in a taxi and she had a lot of time. Traffic in Bombay can be a blessing at times :)  She was generally updating me about work and life and she concluded that nothing had changed. When she told me that I sounded tired, I gave her an update of my day. I had driven 80 odd kilometers on pretty tree-lined roads to reach Dholka, a quaint town near Ahmedabad. And I played with colors and shapes! :)

I met Anilbhai at the 15 day wood workshop that I attended at CEPT university. The same workshop that irked my friends and family as I was totally out of touch for 15 days. I would drag my tired self home around 9 pm everyday and reach the workshop before 9 am the next day. So writing a blog was out of question. In the 15 days, designers and craftsmen tirelessly worked on discussions, scaled down models and designs. At the end of the workshop, each team came up with some interesting output. One of the craftsmen, Anilbhai ,  always has this no-nonsense air around him. He was at work well before the designers reached and finishedmore work than one can imagine before the sun sets. With a million ideas in my head that cropped up during the workshop, I landed at his doorstep in Dholka a week later. Niyati (my new colleague who deserves a blog post!) accompanied me. She brings along the energy that only happy 20 year olds can have and makes sure that she rubs it on everyone around her.

So my brief to Anilbhai was that I wanted to make lamp bases and tea light holders. His workshop mainly produces cradles and it is a heartening sight to see that such old world things still have a market. A market enough to sustain a comfortable livelihood for his family. His home is full of his work. Turned and lacquered red railings and a swing make his home very personal.

 

I’ve already covered the turning process once (lacquer in Kutch), so I am putting up the process photographs.

Unlike the Channapatna and Kutch lacquers, the colors are limited. With 7 colors only, we had to decide on combinations. Luckily, most of the colors that I had in mind for the next season’s palette was available.


So here is the result at the end of a hard day’s work! My friend has every reason to be jealous :)