Sunday, 29 October 2017

'I'm going into Publishing'

I’m going into publishing, as they say (well once said) - 

RAGPICKER & CRICHTON LTD: Purveyors of Fine Quality Indian Debris Books - 
books to treasure, books that tell of the mysteries of lives lived on the streets.

I’ve just returned from a meeting with an organisation that looks after the welfare of nine different colonies - groups of the very poor who live a tough subsistence life…..the basket weavers, the rag pickers, the sewer cleaners, the sweepers, the rickshaw pedallers….
I’m hoping a group of young women from the rag picking colony are going to help me stitch together pages made from found materials - old cardboard, plastic, paper, rags, old saris. I might be being fantastical with my visualisation of these books but I'll have a go, and I’m sure the rubbish collectors will appreciate the extra money. The expectation is that the pages will be hand sewn together and stamped with the woodblock images I’m having carved, as the woodblock imagery is inspired by the more challenged here in Varanasi. The unexpected will happen - one must embrace the many unexpected interpretations. So on Monday I have an appointment to go to the rag picking colony with Anu and Mazahir from the Shambu Nath Singh Foundation. Will keep you posted in the next blog….speaking of posting, I wish to post some postcards, but I’m told not to go to any old PO as they look at the postcards and think ‘Oh that’s pretty’ and the cards rarely arrive at their destination.

So nice to not concern myself with having controllable hair, stylish hair, the perfect complexion, make up, weight gain or loss (the gain does drip off). Am going slightly feral, and a touch hippy, but I’m still presentable enough in my newly tailored clothes to eat a sumptuous Indian dinner outside on the lawn at a flash hotel (built in 1918 and and originally housed Varanasi’s Ministry of Education) a grand white colonial building last night - whilst the Diwali bombs are exploding all around us.

I’ve invested in what would be a fortune of earnings for a rag picker - in buying lengths of beautiful hand-loomed Khadi cottons and silks, ‘KHADI IS THE SYMBOL OF PURITY EQUALITY & NATIONAL INTEGRITY’ is the ‘in caps’ slogan on the Khadi bag. 
The tailor visits and is a clever copyist, but my first from-scratch garment resembled a badly fitting Izzy Miyake accordion. The cottons and silks come in many earthy colours and are also proving perfect to use as the backcloth for the embroideries. 

Ramesh has made a most beautiful job of my first bead embroidery…he is now my go-to bead man. Now I know how skilled he is in interpreting my very detailed drawings of shapes, colour ways and bead direction it gives me confidence to think up more complex imagery. That I wish to position the completed bead embroideries on dirty, ragged, pieces of rickshaw canvas he does not question. When I sit and drink chai from tiny clay cups at Ramesh’s house I am confused as to who has actually done the beadwork, he has three sons - I’m sure it’s a collective effort. 

How is it that the motorbike riding husband wears a full head helmet, while the wives and baby pillions perch sideways and are bare headed? This is very common, I wonder where the husband’s head is at. I’ve seen fierce road rages - usually a ragged rickshaw driver beaten up for not being fast enough to pedal out of the way of a self-important man driving a large SUV. But they will have their salvation as there are people on the roadside (I think you might call them ‘special people’) who do puja to the universe, to the millions of gods whizzing about and tucked into every crevice, to the dog eat dog life of the dogs, and to win the lottery.

The closest thing to me having a personal trainer happened today - I started yoga classes around the corner, past the gaping hold in the road (Auckland council would be sued for such a death trap) past many ‘holy cows’ and into the front of the decrepit yoga building. Detailed measurements are taken of all portions of my flabby body, I’m weighed (won’t reveal until much later ) and after one hour of yoga and stiff contortions I am weighed again, and…I have lost 700 grams, must of course be the water loss. Personal trainer asks “you exercise?’ I say I walk the dog a lot, but that’s all, she says “but why?” I say “because”. She says “but why?” again. I’ve been twice now and am well on the way to becoming a Guru. I was also instructed by the Ayurvedic instructor to focus deeply on my food when eating, eat alone and slowly, smell the food first to give time for the taste buds to be seduced, and if I do have to talk over food it must only be about the preparation, ingredients, cooking method and flavour of the food being eaten. Take note DH. Also no digital device, radio, or TV should be on. 

I am beginning to understand the expression ‘order within chaos” - the perfect order being the one that the millions of Indian Gods determine every step, every day. The effigies speak and tell when to plant the millet, of when the longed for baby boy will be conceived, who is going to answer that Ad in The Times of India wanting an educated, pale, slim girl for matrimony, Brahmin caste only. The Gods keep their word, for there is always another day, another season. It’s so refreshing to not have each of my days planned to the half hour.

It seems that if one is born here in Varanasi (and probably all of India) into a world where to survive one must be canny, inventive, quick, and entrepreneurial - the Indian street eye is sharp - the rickshaw driver can spy my foreign body language from miles away, there is always an endearing smile accompanying a serious negotiation, and a blessing.

I had detailed Hindi instructions on paper to find certain beads I need for the next Ramesh job, I don’t know what was written on that paper, but I think it must have said ‘give this foreigner a jolly merry-go-round around the market’ - after three hours of searching for this bead shop, four lassi’s and one masala dosa I gave up. Tomorrow is another day.


Messing about with thoughts, inspired by the street, books, the local dailies, talk.

Mhmd Nasir's Zardosi embroidery workpshop, I'm making sure I look thoroughly professional when making a close inspection of my second embroidered fingerprint. Not sure quite who is who, but all come on board to look at this foreigner's strange but hopefully lucrative ideas. Google translate is a miracle.

Once the design and colourways for the bead embroideries are complete, I then place butter paper over the design and draw in the direction the beads should move.

This dog looks so healthy, he must be one of the survivors, he's learnt the trick of carefully burying a very dry sliver of a bone in a very dry road next to a a very toxic open drain. Here he is nosing the last of the dirt over the bone. Instinct rules.

Be bold and wander into the courtyards of these crumbling Mughal multi storied relics...the internal courtyards provide a welcome cool and an ornate feast for new country eyes.

Tabla makers, true fingersmiths. Butterfly hands.

This is one for my daughter Eva when she looks in the mirror and finds her reflection disagreeable. His name is Billy, and you will always be able to find him, phoof!

It's not often one gets the opportunity to photograph grown women, but with the pretence of photographing the four hundred year old city gate behind her I found her beautiful face in the frame too. And Billy's lover.

Lovely man, bought me chai, we smiled a lot, I fawned over his work, and he gave me a piece of beaten edible silver.
Mr Subhas again, with the second of four pieces he has already carved for me...inked prints from these woodblocks will be stamped onto the rag picker books. All of these woodblocks and embroiderers have stories behind them, but I shall go more into those stories when I have my exhibition in Auckland next year.

'The Sad Tailor' - that's what another resident called him, but he gave me a great smile when I got a little provocative with the modelling of his latest job for me. Delivery by bike.






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© Anna Crichton: Illustration and Exploration
Maira Gall