Jaipur is irresistible in the winter months. I was there last week in my usual hunter gatherer avatar, of crafts that is! It’s a well known fact that Rajasthan is a treasure trove of crafts. Every trip makes me go deeper into the nuances of crafts of the area.
I worked with Khurshida, an old friend and Khadi printer to create some samples of saris and duppattas. Her story is nothing short of a bollywood potboiler. She was married at a young age to a cousin in Pakistan. She landed there only to find out that he was disabled and twice her age if not more not to mention the domestic violence she had to put up with. She escaped from the defunct marriage and literally fled back. She lives now with her parents in Sanganer. Traditionally women don’t print but she learnt khadi printing from her father and has taken over his business now. Khari printing evolved as a process of embellishing textiles by creating the gold brocade effect at a lower cost. The khadi paste which is a mixture of rogan and chalk powder is applied on cloth using a reverse block, a kind of stencil punched out from a brass plate. This adhesive paste is then dusted with gold or silver powder. Making the khadi paste is quite a tedious process, that is why in Delhi one comes across flat khadi which involves printing gold or siver paste directly, but the embossed effect of rogan khadi is more appealing.
The joy of watching craftspeople work is unparalled. I would like to help khurshida organize her workshop a bit though. He brass blocks were stored in a old water tank and the wooden dies were lying in mounds under the printing tables. As I watched her print I imagined a storage system where she could store all her equipment more systematically. These and other thoughts on design enveloped me as the fine gold dust settled on everything in site.
The next day was spent Kailashchand Patua’s house in Kaladera, 40km from Jaipur. Built in traditional style with a central court yard and rooms around it, Kailashji has acquired this old house a few years ago. He belongs to the community of patuas, people who string separate pieces of jewellery together and add the beads and tassels. His work is an example of how you can take a traditional craft and use it to make contemporary products. A person who has come up by sheer hard work, his enthusiasm, reliability and quality consciousness are the traits that set him apart from other craftspeople and make working with him an experience I always look forward to. His daughter Meena and son have learnt the skill from him, together we created new designs stringing together semi-precious stones and silver. I was treated to home cooked Rajasthani lunch by his wife, who wears and approves all the designs before they are sent out!
The final day, I went to meet a lehariya craftsperson. Lehariya is a craft unique to Rajathan, it is a process of creating colourful diagnol or zig-zag lines across fabric that has been rolled, tied and dyed. The taxi drove through the narrow lanes towards his house, I could see the landscape change with lots of meat shops and children running around. I was taken to the first floor studio of Badshah Mian by his elder son Alam. When I entered the room it looked more like a clinic of an ayurvedic physician. One the walls was lined with shelves of ingredients of Natural dyes. Apart from practicing the craft of leheriya, Bashah Mian is an expert of natural dyes. He informed me about the nuances of natural dyes and the complex craft of dying in lines. The more he told me the more I wanted to know.
On my way back in the comfortable seat of the Volvo bus I was thinking about why I enjoy working with traditional crafts. Every experience like every hand made product is one of a kind.
Some "not-to-miss" spots in Jaipur
- AFKD a design store that houses crafts with a contemporary twist. They have a stunning range of objects, furniture and textiles. Best place to get some unusual gifts
- Chameli bazaar, a wholesale market for silver and stones. You will need a lot of time to go through loads of silver and semi precious stone, but the prices are great.
- Anokhi Museum, an example of how to put old languishing buildings to good use
- A great place to stay if you are on a budget, Arya Nivas . I can’t believe I discovered it after so many trips to jaipur. It’s was a pleasant place to stay (No carpets, thank god for that!) and the food was mild and fresh.