Saturday, 16 May 2020

Dear Virus...A cartoonist chronicles love and life in the time of Covid (working title)

Here's how I spent my weeks in lockdown. Scratching away in my studio in the bush two peculiar characters started forming in my mind, two rather peculiar people who I would not normally imagine as my friends - a large buxom woman with turd-like hair and a Covid patterned shift dress, and a man half her size, maybe a conservative retired accountant. They quickly married in my mind and started to call each other 'dear' - they became Mr and Mrs Dear who accompanied me with their own experiences and longings throughout the seven weeks of lockdown. I'm in the process of finding the perfect title and subtitle for the book and have so far got -

1. Dear Virus... A cartoonist chronicles love and life in the time of Covid

2. Dear Virus...  A cartoonists chronicle of the strangest of times

3. Dear Virus...A cartoonist chronicles life in the time of Covid

I started posting the cartoons up on Facebook and Twitter and an inspiring response helped me to think that these drawings could form a small book.
So I'm in the process of self publishing this Covid collection of sixty cartoons, each cartoon will have a functional caption that highlights the event satirised in the cartoon. It will be an engaging quality souvenir of the times we all found out a little more about ourselves and our world.

Come back here in a couple of weeks and I hope I'm able to tell you that the book is at the printers!
And below are just a few of the cartoons......and I just can't figure out a way to stop them being blurry here.


ps - if you'd like to get in touch I'm at

Saturday, 4 January 2020


I'm in Bhuj, this desert town I mythologized about as being full of Turbaned Rabari village people and camels wandering the streets. They are there but not of course in the numbers one fantasises about, and they are specks faraway in the dusty landscape. A landscape that has been promoted heavily by the govt as being the next best place to build giant industrial parks, taking away valuable grazing land from the traditional nomadic herdsmen. That means one must explore further out for something to feel remote and authentic where I can indulge in the notion that I am the only one. But before romanticising any more I shall go back to Ahmedabad where my blog no 3 last left off.

After checking my diary I've just realised it's about time to write another blog, the days seem to not need a name or a date. I have such an admiration for good writers and wonder at the millions of words they have stored in their heads, besides knowing where to use them, and how to place them. My head churns images, selfishly twisted to form some oblique message that perhaps few can interpret. But I hope for some atmospheric metaphoric communication. Accompanied by words as in The New Zealand Herald there is a cue, but with a more 'fine art' approach one is not meant to spell stuff out. If these wood blocked stories do not reach people with their abstract approach I can always go gardening.
It's all possible.

My inspiring Jain nun.
...and yes like I said any thing is possible in India, even meeting a brown Picasso.

While feeding my addiction need of rambling with the intention of getting lost in Ahmedabad's old city, it's about time for a fluid english speaking conversation. All wishes are granted in India so a magic fairy appears before me, a Jain nun in the whitest white muslin robes,  being pushed by a younger version of herself on the way to the temple. She speaks perfect English, studied for 50 years under Indian Father John and Father David. She touches no money and depends completely on the generosity of others for food and coming from a middle class family she would have had personal belongings and assets which she gave up to follow her path. Her skin was clear and lineless, her voice articulate and passionate, her hands flexible and expressive. I hand her some almonds, she takes only a few, never more than 'one needs'. I asked her if she had a recipe for a good life, some wise instructive words. I recorded her words but can't figure a way to download onto this blog, they mainly were about not fighting for your rights as what will be will be. I happened to wonder whether this advice came from a secluded world where all is internally pure and catered for, and perhaps global warming really is in the hands of the Jain gods. I'll have to listen carefully to the recording again and make some interpretations.

It's been a celebratory day of spoken english communication, once back at my Heritage Haveli lodgings in the old city I meet five New Yorkers and one adopted 18 year old Cambodian girl.
Nick and Jim have lived in Mexico city for 25 years, another couple with their 18 yr old daughter are on their way back from Cambodia from visiting their daughter's grandmother in a remote village. Her mother died giving birth to twins, one died. Nick is a food blogger and journalist, Jim is a painter and is writing a 'love story to India' guide book. Both have been coming every year to India to compile observations, insights, thoughts on exploring in India. Both are tall white middle aged men who speak of the joy of children running up to them wanting to test their english skills, small children laughing with them, inviting them into their simple homes and the lovely spontaneity and inspiring trust that the Indian has for strange white men. 'Don't talk to strangers' happily does not happen here.

Indophiles from New York and Mexico City.

The local english newspapers are like reading a make believe tragic comedy on cheap paper. Besides the horrible stories of rapes, ears being cut off, women forced by greedy relatives to throw themselves on their husbands burning pyres, dalit grooms being stone pelted while riding through upper caste neighbourhoods, bulls climbing onto the roof of a supermarket... it's a place where the panorama is so huge that one cannot comprehend where to start contributing. Being in India, I won't say 'visiting' is like taking a course on changing your whole perception on how the world should be.

Why not commemorate a small thing. A reminder of our fragile world.

Otherwise India is a country where I feel perfectly safe, safer than a dark street in Auckland. You'll get a youth following you with what you might imagine to be dark intentions, but break the stare and the silence and you will have an engaging harmless conversation.
I find myself moving my head from side to side (though not too many times) - it's infectious this head wobble - I think it communicates 'yes, I hear you', though we europeans initially interpret the wobble as being a 'no' - which does end up in some confusing situations.

Back to the Mata ni Pachedi workroom to print position where the block print images will land. The cotton and silk lengths are pinned tight, I compose the image shapes on the long table before Chitaran presses the block into the natural dye, them thumps hard on the block with his palm side to make a strong even impression. 25 varying compositions later we make our way to running river water to remove any excess dye in the fabric. The river is a shallow, slimy, sludgy, dark metallic grey toxin laden tributary of the vast Sabarmati that runs through Ahmedabad. So my organic hand woven, naturally dyed pieces of arty cloth are now to be washed here. There is no choice - the cloth needs running water and there is very little of this in Ahmedabad as the monsoon season is well over. Mounds of what appear to be piles of rags lining the river house the poor who earn a few rupees washing others clothes in this 'river'. Flashes of brilliant colour swoop and flit all around, one of the treats of travelling is observing the very different bird and animal life.

Some of the final pieces drying. Created just like the Mata ni Pachedi tribe used to make 600 years ago.

Now the pieces are boiled (well) with tamarisk flowers to fix the colour, then hung out to dry, and for the first time I'm able to see the production as a whole. Not quite a whole though, I have a trip out to see how my muslim embroiderers are progressing with four embroideries that will enhance the hangings in the exhibition. Our auto takes us to dusty outskirts of Ahmedabad to a poor muslim area, dirt roads, huts, sooo much piled up rubbish, surprised stares from shy muslim women and children. Creations being beaten from recycled metal...maybe eggbeaters? Scrap brought to life in inventive ways.
I video our walk along the roads to the third floor of a concrete block building, a typical compound housing goats and partial faces behind curtains. All the world is a village.

The finest embroidery, only muslim men do this work.

Flashbacks of my time in Varanasi two years ago...visiting my embroiderers there. But here the embroidered stories are not Indian, they are global. I can not make a purely decorative piece, I feel like I'm short changing the viewer, and after years of drawing for newspapers and magazines to communicate an issue I find it impossible to be just pretty.  I'm pleased I came at this point as my instructions were starting to be creatively interpreted by the embroiderers so with drawings, hand gestures and google translate I'm hoping all is now clear as I will not be visiting again until all the work is done.

I buy three small copper pots from a temple shop, they are wrapped in sacking and contain holy water from the Yamuna river near Agra, the water keeps one's household free of negative energy. I'll give one to each of my children, and my partner Debbie - she will believe me! We can place powers wherever we wish no matter how peculiar a placement, if an object, icon, landmark speaks quietly to you that is how it is. I'll be able to lay blame on that small sacked covered vessel if the bench is covered in dirty dishes.

My do the vaccuming or else ' holy water harmony pots' 

I'm in Bhuj now - this desert town I mythologized about as being full of Turbaned Rabari village people and camels wandering the streets. They are here but not in the numbers one fantasises about, they are specks with their herds far off in the dusty landscape mostly. A landscape that has been promoted heavily by the government as being the next best place to build giant industrial parks and in turn taking away valuable grazing land away from the nomadic herdsmen. That just means one has to explore farther away for somewhere remote and authentic where I can indulge in the notion that I am the one and only on this planet.

I'll be in Lakhpat tomorrow, a ghost town a not far from the Pakistan border, look it up on the map, it's in the middle of nowhere, the roads are supposed to be dodgy, but one has to find out for oneself. It was once a rich town and is now a city of ruins surrounded by a 7 km fortress wall. In 1819 a massive earthquake shifted the course of the Indus river that ran alongside the town and thus Lakhpat lost it's importance as a port. A permit is needed to enter this area as it's a strategic India/Pakistan outpost and who knows what a silly tourist might do. Many forms goes with out saying.

It's another sort of journey this one where I'm just swanning here and there for two weeks look look looking. It reminds me just a little of my first OE in India - backpack, bidis, sarong and haggling far too much. Now I don't mind paying more every time, I can afford it and they need it.

Until Lakphat

Red upside down tear drop is Lakhpat.

Friday, 27 December 2019


I wish I was a writer and the need to write a real need. I think this blog is more a diary that I am unlikely to otherwise write in knowing that one has an audience. 'Sharing the journey" sounds a bit hammy but I guess that is what this is. So do follow me without getting poo laden sandals, without having to be congenial and smiling all day long, without wine and blue cheese.

It was Christmas yesterday and the deformed silicon santa masks were still for sale on the bridge, it was a day I decided to wander without a plan which is the best thing in the world to do, no guide books, no maps, no agenda or timing. Of course I find myself wandering into Jain temples, marble, stone, freaky statues with too much eye make up on. The Indian child grows up with an audience of elaborately attired and bejewelled gods watching over them, everyone knows the complex ancient stories that keep their lives intact, at every chai stop I am to be impressed by the elderly men, and the young boys when I'm asked to come and appreciate a certain temple or shrine.  I do envy the devotion that ones sees everywhere, the muttering of prayers of the auto rickshaw drivers the appreciation of everything that lives including sparrows. What a perfect day - not the sound of a jingly bell anywhere. But I did miss having barbecued meat, and an inventive salad.

Nuns quarters

I've trespassed many times, sometimes it works sometimes not, and I do know that privacy boundaries exist but I cannot help myself sometimes. It helps that I am a woman, and a fairly unthreatening looking one with my roundish face and chirpy demeanour so I can be bold and bold enough to climb the stairs of a decrepit carved Haveli, did think it was uninhabited. I reach the second floor to see ragged clothes and a brown mattress on the floor, 'Hello, welcome' is the voice from a back room. Oops. A small bald man watching one of those spy cameras sits behind a low desk counting pearls. He's a pearl trader with good old english english and is happy for company. He's on his mobile, then he's telling me this was his grandfather's house, then he's on his mobile, then he's telling me he sources his pearls from Iranian traders off the west coast of Gujurat. He orders chai from the top window...

The pearl trader

It's a small world, even here in India. Before heading to once again visit Corbusiers City Gallery full of dusty relics I thought I'd sit and have a chai at a corner chai shop. I sat down on a stone under a large gnarly Pipal tree next to a man quietly sipping away. Chatty me says - 'do you come here often?' - he does and has every day for the last 25 years, he comes to lay his hand on the sacred Pipal tree, to nurture his heart and soul he says. He seems delicate and enquires as to where I come from in good english, 'New Zealand'. He's quiet for a while and looks at me in a knowing way and says his first ever trip out of India was to New Zealand. He was a product design student and saw a notice on the wall where he studied asking for those interested to enter the Wearable Art Awards in New Zealand. He drew a quick sketch that got him through to the long list - an eight foot tall lotus flower that walked onto the catwalk and opened up to reveal a stamen of a woman. He was one of two Indian designers chosen to walk their visions.

Every day he sits here, quiet and reflective after years of depression in gratitude to the Pipal tree that has freed him of his anxiety. We met once more on Christmas eve for a simple south Indian meal and he presented me with a beautiful white origami swan he made, a pen from the Ghandi Ashram and a white greasy pencil that you can use on metal and plastic, that will be useful. He told me that the Japanese believe that the swan can distil water from milk. Crown Lynn ought to know that, though it would be more sustainable to distil milk from water. It was a brief meal, and I must learn to immerse myself in the art of eating, and if speaking I must only speak of food related matters.

Under the sacred Pipal tree

Over to Corbusiers giant red brick museum and who greets you before ascending the long concrete ramp but a marble statue of Queen Victoria, who once graced a column in a public park when the British reigned and plundered over ALL. Her nose, eyes and hand have been disfigured, she sits in the dark in a urine smelling corner and perhaps waits for the resurrection of the British.

The streets below are quiet at this major intersection with Doshi's giant building hovering above, this is always a chaotic intersection but now the shutters are down, there are no hawkers, there is no traffic and I'm puzzled, though it is liberating to be able to walk freely. Keep moving. Into another district and business comes alive, everything is open. It is not until I come back to the Hotel Haveli where I stay that I find out the reason for the shut down. Modi has closed all wide open urban spaces and shut down the internet for fear of more riots protesting about the new Trump-like rules whereby citizenship will not be given to muslims who may even have lived in India for four generations.

Just tonight I've collected the last of the carved, teak oil soaked woodblocks and they are beautiful, precious artefacts in themselves and ready to tell a printed cloth story this weekend. The handloom silk and cotton cloth are ready to receive the natural red and black dye. I'm dyeing a few smaller pieces red to carry some embroidery, first the cloth is soaked in water to remove the starch, then in a Myrobalan fixer, and then boiled with Tamarisk flowers and through a range of yellow/orange/dark orange the cloth turns a stunning monkish deep red. Much pondering here in this 3rd floor attic like Haveli room has been going on....visualising thread colours for an embroidered piece that will sit between the two wood block hangings.

The next few days I will spend in the Mata ni Pachedi painting and wood blocking room above their one room living space. Mattresses are pulled out at night onto the floor and all five hunker down for the night. I wish I could find a benefactor for this family who are the only natural dye painters and block printers of the Mother Goddess murals in Ahmedabad - the children are keen to carry on this tradition. Now I must work out how to compose all the block prints on the cloth, it takes some mind gymnastics as the images will be in reverse when printed... I'm looking forward to staring onto a vacant horizon, and riding a camel.

And the process here whether you want to read technical things or not, I feel obliged to be informative and not frivolous sometimes, I guess people don't want to see loads of touristy pix either, we are too saturated. Anyhow here below is the view from where I shall be working with The Mata ni Pachedi family for the next three days, and some magic cloth colour changes - all natural colour of course -  the subject matter of the artwork demands it.

The view from the painting and wood block printing room.
Chitaran soaking my hand loomed cotton in Myabalan.

Hanging the cloth out to dry.

The Tamarisk flowers for red colour.

On it's way to red.

A monk would be happy.

Red string buying for the final works.
It's a mad city this one, a demanding one and now I'm heading horizontal but not before introducing my husband no 6 and husband no 7 - both wood block hanger onners. Haha. And goodnight until next time - I'll be in desert lands then.

Goodnight darling D.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019


I must sit down and discipline myself to write before I don't. The calling street vendor selling edible pods of dahl and tamarind water that explode in ones mouth beckons....
I'm inclined to wander the lanes and alleyways of this Dhal Ni Pol old city area and have inspiring chance encounters with ancient monuments and architecture, which is how I had a magic moment imagining myself as a muslim woman spending all day kneeling on the cool marble of the Jamatkhana mosque. A truly monumental 14th century achievement, 264 intricately carved columns. Before passing through the small entrance off the street I remove my new spongy Indian Bata sandals and leave them with a smiling shoe minder. After 40 mins of relishing that cold marble on the soles I return to find the smiling man still on guard - I thanked him and offered some rupees, he smiled, namastaid me and walked off into the street. He was not a shoe minder - he was a visitor to the mosque but stayed on shoe duty just for me.

A bird flew into a column while I was here, and fell on the marble, twitched, was reborn, then flew off.

Visiting one group of block carvers seeing my illustrations being carved for the first time, it will take one carver about three solid days to carve one block. See their blocks soaking in teak oil in the foreground. Maniram on the right is a master artisan. I ask my translator, clever 20 year old Niral from the Mata Ni Pachedi family to tell the block carvers the stories behind what they are carving.

This wood blocking and printing project is quite strategic, I have a very clear picture in my mind of the final wall hangings and the embroidery piece sitting between and just have to keep this vision intact. Drawing the original ideas to be wood blocked, presenting and monitoring the blocks to the three sets of carvers, finding the perfect thread count hand loomed silk and cotton, colour coding the embroidery pieces, spending bonding constructive time with the wood block printers, recording the many stages of cloth and natural dye preparation and finally collecting all the 22 blocks together to start the wood block printing is a process where I need to be present and can not head off into the wilderness at this point. But am ready already to head off to the desert lands of Kutch, maybe even ride a camel and hang out with herders.

My paper image has been transferred by tiny pin pricks onto the white chalked surface of the wood.

Starting the intricate process of carving out the parts that are not to be inked.

Once the blocks have had the fine lines of the image transferred by pin pricks onto the wood surface, the carver uses a hand drill powered by twirling rope around a vertical piece of wood with a sharp point, this removes the larger unwanted areas of wood. He then uses a variety of tiny sharp chisels, some made from umbrella and bicycle wheel spokes, and with a wooden mallet the tapping begins to remove minute portions of this fine grained wood to a depth of 4/5 millimetres. It is an endangered craft that very few young men wish to carry on.

It's an exotic feeling to wander like a sadhu (stretching it a bit here) through these streets and not see one single European for days - it sure is a lesson in self containment and self reliance and sometimes the fragmented exchanges with eager old men just are not enough. Ahmedabad is not a hugely popular tourist destination - people do come here to salivate over the heritage architecture and the old city and it's monuments - there are no hippy type pancake houses or mind altering lassies.

Professor Dhivendra E. Dave, Sanskrit scholar and jolly bachelor, introduced himself elegantly on the street and invited me to join him for chai. "I have enjoyed the pleasure of a women for two years in my life" he tells me, I wondered where this was going especially as he complimented himself on his 'self cooking'. A charming gentleman he is and not impressed with the chai we drank - "inferior quality" - he plans to take me on his scooter to the best chai wallah in Ahmedabad. We part with his words "in my heart I'm a millionaire". Beautiful.

I say, or mime 'hello' to everyone - it's a frozen look buster, everyone is willing with smiles and handshakes and "country?" Even the coolest of dudes.

I wonder if I have a bird dropping in my hair sometimes.

I'm listening to JJ Cale over and over again - he's sings about living in an artificial paradise - right now the world is India and my leafy quiet hideaway in Titirangi, New Zealand is an artificial paradise, a stage set, and a seeming unreality from this very pin in this very room in this very continent.

The termite mound of Ahmedabad has a billion cogs, the kite string dyers, the roving knife sharpeners, the gold merchants who perch their gold bars on their shoulders under a white cloth to transport, the metal merchants selling old vessels collected in sacks from the villages (I want to buy them all, they melt down the copper and bronze pots if not sold - such a shame - they sell by weight, not aesthetics) There are no unemployment benefits, no nets as we know them and if one is not part of the glue that holds the family fabric together you are scrabbling on the street.

I feel temporarily rich here and rich enough to employ a a ladies tailor to copy my sleeveless shirt. I think the tailor must be partially blind, or have a temperamental measuring tape because the armholes would fit around my waist and it was twice as long and wide as the original and unwearable. And he put the stiffest stiffening in the collar so it appears there are wings sprouting from my neck.

Hidden away in obscure streets there are cloth merchants - sellers of fine hand loomed silk and cotton lengths of Khadi cloth woven on wooden looms in the villages of India - Gandhi's wonderful legacy.
This is where I buy my fabric....pieces of beauty in themselves. I bought 11 metres of fine silk and 11 metres of unbleached cotton, the cotton is to be dyed a dirty stained irregular colour for the sake of the story it is to carry.

The hand loom merchant, see the naturally dyed indigo cotton piece on the left...tempting...

...and the bought cloth.
I have a collection of old tarnished bronze and copper vessels collected from various asian countries and when nightwalking I pass a mountain of dull patinated cooking and water vessels I become extremely covetous... and spend time in friendly negotiation over chai and walk away to explore more with a small hand beaten water vessel. With my vessel and the low night lights shining on the 400 year old havelis Aladdin just might appear and swirl around me in a coppery haze.

'Still Life with vessel, ink and calligraphy pen' photographed in bad night light.

The community who will be preparing, dyeing with natural dyes and block printing my pieces of cloth is the only Ahmedabad Mata ni Pachedi community - originally from the nomadic Vaghari tribes of Gujurat - they were barred from entering temples so they made their own portable shrine tents with the Mother Goddess depicted on the tent cloth. The community is small, the dwellings humble and the hospitality wonderful, my business negotiations easy and fair, and the homemade stuffed naan nothing like down in New Lynn.

The Mata ni Pachedi urban village and a painter at work on a large Mother Goddess piece - madder creates the rich dark red colour, and rusty iron and jaggery (sugar) fermented over one week makes the black.

Niral on the left - my articulate lifeline to make this part of the project work. Her and her cousin are using liquid alum painted on the parts to fix the final red made from chopped madder roots.
Well the children of the streets seem to have gone to bed now, they do stay up late as school does not start until the civilised hour of 12 pm. And before I go just imagine turning a corner and being transported by the visage of this 14th century city gate, raptors circling in the air .....and imagine forgetting it's that time of year to gorge and spend..until a bunch of malformed silicon santa faces pop up on the bridge. 

The only sign of Christmas - there must be a Christian somewhere.
You may have gathered that trees and their selves are part of my project so what better image
to say goodnight on, a Jain priest tipping holy water over a temple tree.

© Anna Crichton and the small book 'Dear Virus...'
Maira Gall