Monday, 16 October 2017

Finding the Magicians...


Wake up, more like blown up, from the action of the furious overhead fan, though perhaps a wiser cooling system than the aircon which tends to jam and spit fire when the geckos get stuck inside. I notice this morning that the toilet paper roll has a hand applied piece of sellotape to secure the loose end.
Morning yoghurt made with milk from the resident cow, and papaya from the fruit stall out the front of the Kriti Residency. 
Visited the Khadi shop selling cottons hand loomed in village India, a large portrait of Gandhi oversees all goings on, happy in the knowledge that there are still spinners and weavers in rural India. But for how much longer. Beetle juice stained teeth and raw cotton Kurta pyjamas, the three smiley elderly men removed endless folded cottons from the shelves for my approval. I bought three lengths, a browny colour, a greenish-blue colour and a finely striped orange and green length. They will be made into drawstring trousers, a practical design for swatting on the floors of embroiderers and blockmakers workshops.
Must get to work, there are serious distractions in Varanasi, but fortunately one is forced back into the retreat of the studio because of the demands of of this 2 million plus city - so what else to do but focus on the reason why I am here, no meals to make, no house to clean, no old friends, a big empty agenda. So I fill my pages with concepts that may work as embroideries and wood block carvings…inspiration from the street, the Times of India, books…it’s hard suddenly working a more abstract way, I keep slipping into the more literal, I want to evoke a story, feeling, without saying much at all, I know what I like, and what moves me, but to translate these feelings of a very foreign world (which is my plan, for now) is more difficult than imagined.
Translating feelings into words is hard too - sitting on my doorstep under an unfamiliar tree an empty seedpod fell at my feet, shaped like two hearts joined lightly - open yet empty, two parts separated from each other. Fallen. Not to get up again. That is another very very recent story.
Then an academic occasion, a lecture by the eminent ‘I Can’t Remember his Name’ a seventy something year old man speaking on ‘What is India’. An educated, elegant, elderly, Indian audience all nodding their heads in what appeared to be approval (one never knows with the nods)…but it’s so hot, his accent is so strong, my left ear is blocked and from what I could decipher he has very old fashioned ideas about women, and over samosas and chai afterwards an elderly gentleman held out his hand and cupped it and said - “he could have fitted all his words into here”. I agreed.
The next day - through the narrow lanes on a 150cc motorbike, helmetless and carefully driven by Ajay we arrive at Vinod Pandepors embroidery workplace, a small shuttered space right on the road front. We drink chai, and I show my designs while Away translates perceptively for me. I get Ajay to describe the stories behind the images as understanding what they are working on I feel is important. We talk thread colours, backing fabrics, size. I ask Ajay what they think of the stories…he says they would like to put them up on their wall so they can talk about them (or talk about the strange foreigner who paid them to make them). Anyhow I let myself be flattered and tell him there shall be more talking points to come if this first works out as I imagine?. I do not wish to elaborate too much on where I’m heading with this embroidery as I foresee my expectations that are swirling in my head, are very likely to morph into quite something else. But the journeys are full. So Mhmd Pandepors will have a part embroidered piece for me to check on in one (very flexible) week. Now off to Mhmd Subhas’s workplace where he and his son are two of the few hand carvers carving intricate woodblocks for printing designs on fabric. Mhmd Subhas’s father, grandfather and now son have learnt the craft. Mhmd Subhas goes to the local recycling yard and buys teak wood  from were once the flat beds of trucks. Not an electric tool in sight - over chai in tiny plastic cups we discuss my design, talk colours and size and once again I think it important to translate the story behind the image. I can’t help but ask to see more of his carved woodblocks lying about his workplace, such fine detail. They translate the image onto the white painted top of the wood piece by placing butter paper with the design on it, then poking tiny holes through the paper to transfer the design onto the wood. 
Some of the pedal rickshaws about have light green/grey ripped, dirty and worn canvas canopies atop, supported by a bamboo frame - I have an idea - to truly echo the street world of Varanasi I’d like to buy from the rickshaw drivers a piece of their canopies to use as backings for my embroideries. I don’t quite know what Ajay really thinks of this idea but I put it past him and he does not seem too bewildered. I spy a very tatty canopy, just perfect for my use and flag the weary driver down - Ajay puts the proposal to the driver and offers him a generous sum of money on my behalf - hopefully enough for him to buy a new canopy. The driver is keen, a razor blade is found, and the piece removed. The word gets out and I have many drivers offering me a slice of their canopies, two more are suitable ragged so out comes the razor again.
We head back - not before I stop to watch a young girl tightrope walker, five pots on her head, and a dish under one foot, walking in the air above the street.  I see the concentration in her eyes, I only wish she could be concentrating on an alphabet that would enable a bigger life. But who am I to judge? 

The neighbours....a crumbling reminder of an exotic past, but now of an independent now. Might just have to borrow a cup of sugar one day.

It fell from above, not unexpected, must accept.

The mighty river Ganga, and the afterlife shore.

A riverfront creation designed by a disciple of Corbusier, very nice internal Miroesque windows. Tiny bricks in haphazard patterns. The place where 'Mr I don't remember his name' gave his highly intellectual talk on 'What is India'.

Mr Vinod Pandeypur, 4 children, earns R250/300 per day ($NZ6) and has to pay the owner of the rickshaw R50 per day.

Mr Vijay Kumar, not married, no dreams - 'God will look after me'.

A wide angle me explaining in gesticulation language my embroidery instructions to Mhmd Nasir.

The second embroidery workshop - a dark grubby hole in the wall from where beauty emerges.

A workshop photo taken just purely because I liked the light bulb, found on the way to finding the wood block carver.

Mhmd Nasir's son working on a fabric design woodblock, no electrics at all. Carved from teak ex-truck flat bed wood.

And the bistro wood block carver Mhmd Nasir, who has rung me five times today, even though I can't understand a word of what he is saying I am interpreting that he is telling me he has finished my first wood block.  

A Mhmd Nasir wood block ready to deliver to a fabric printing workshop.

A much tougher life than being at school, take note my dear children.

The International Yoga Centre where I shall start classes soon, they are very very strict about monitoring weight control, yikes. Must do something.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017



Delhi was a trip inside a washing machine full of debris, precious lives living precariously, stuff I wouldn’t want to see again and stuff I wouldn’t want to describe - but my eye must be drawn to such things for they are not what I know, I am in wonder as to how humanity can continue on to the next day. But amongst all the rag pickers, the sewer cleaners, rickshaw pedderlers, the ones who sleep everywhere, on ledges, roundabouts, berms in the middle of the road, planks of wood struck across precarious objects…there are spontaneous ready smiles- everywhere - think I have picked up more smiles here in India than the last 10 years in NZ. They are free - the best deal in town, get one with your yoghurt skimming the top of the small clay pot, get one with that strange fruit you must try, and get one after a healthy negotiation. 

There is a perverse romance in the medieval nightlight of the streets , white dhoti’s, sweaty backed cheap striped rickshaw pullers shirts hung over their decrepit leased contraptions. All the food trolleys appear at 5 pm - fried stuff, dosa, sugar cane juice and pomegranate juice extractors. Imagery overload… to begin to figure how the machine works, but it does for 1.25 billion people. That’s well over one million million!. But back to the first day in Varanasi in my spacious studio with attached bedroom, bathroom and a very very welcome air conditioner. Petra and Navneet, the couple who have made this residency facility possible tell me the weather will turn in two weeks - we’ll see but hell I hope so, but I also know that one adjusts and learns tricks to keep cool, regularly wet a hand loomed Gandhian cotton scarf and drape it around ones shoulders or wrap it around the head. 

Two days I’ve been here, really one, as the first was a mental scramble. I have plans this week to meet up with a translator who will help me communicate with various people on the streets, under the bridges, in the shanties, behind the walls - to talk about their stories. With their stories and possibly with the shirts off their backs or that ragged piece of rickshaw tarpaulin  I wish to embroider their story. I’ll leave it there, things may morph and change, their speed of happenings is not our speed of happenings, my creative plans just might land upside down. But there will be something, that’s what I’m here for and it is exciting, especially as I can easily afford to pay the craftspeople I wish to employ. Found my self celebrating a famous Tibetan monk’s birthday who only comes out of seclusion two days each year from his hideaway in the hills above San Francisco. We drove to Sarnath, a city located 13 kilometres north-east of Varanasi near the confluence of the Ganges and the Varuna rivers in Uttar Pradesh, India. The deer park in Sarnath is where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma. The monastery here has been built with the money earned from the famous monks publishing empire - the biggest publisher of Buddhist scriptures. It’s where Tibetan monks come to learn English so they can go out and spread the word. 

Got to just sit (with the aircon on) and scribble away tomorrow, make some meaningful abstract marks on paper, if there is such a thing, to show these craft magicians. Actually I feel a calm cool beginning to happen this morning, best to welcome the warmth. Fighting just makes for ‘heatiness’ so the Soloman Island pidgin English speakers say.
Just landed, here's my suitcase looking bewildered in the middle of the studio.

There is a bathroom, and until I learn how to turn on the shower, a bucket for dousing. Should have visited the Toilet Museum (for real) in Delhi, could have added a few more scintillating photographs to this one 
...and a bed, and an extra for the visiting geckos.

The studio entrance photo, which should be at the top but I don't know how to get it there. This shall be my home and workplace base for the next three months, I feel already they will fly by.
© Anna Crichton: Illustration and Exploration
Maira Gall