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.

Thursday, 12 December 2019


I knew I was in India when I saw a young girl of about eight (probably 15) at a chaotic major intersection performing circus like gymnastics - pulling herself along the ground through a tiny loop of rope while her young brother collected rupees from the waiting cars, when a white robed Jain man carefully carries three dead rats in a lime green kitchen pan to place them somewhere respectful. Everything is sacred to the Jains including mosquitoes.
I land in a refined, restored heritage villa in Delhi owned by Ashok and Ein Lall, both who studied architecture at Cambridge University, the house was bought by Ashok's grandfather after it was auctioned off to the locals after the British left India. Giant mango and Pipal trees hang from every autocratic word spoken from those British times of decadence. Three streets away from this oasis the Delhi machine is in action, rusty as hell in parts and smooth as oil in others. Desperate as hell in parts, yet woven of the finest silk in others, and exhausting - if one does not recognise that the battering is taking effect. I must learn to retire from the streets and recharge at times.
I can't help but tred onto and into structures of crumbling beauty which led to enjoying a fine cup of tea in a victorian floral teacup with Biresh Kishore - a bachelor living with his spinster sister in a nearly empty mansion once owned by the british and inherited from his high court judge father. Biresh's aristocratic father could never find suitors good enough for them to marry so here they are sharing this space with neglected carved teak furniture, and mattress stuffing all over the floor.
After tea, and after some time, it is the Ahmedabad Express train (haha) that I board to reach Ahmedabad in 17 hours time. With the next train booking I shall not inadvertently choose upper cattle class...cramped up high in a three tier bunk bed made it pretty tricky to climb the ladder down to the asphyxiating squat hole in the floor. On the opposite bunk an exquisite young muslim women lay, or rather hid behind her black burka - looking stunned and maudlin she is the newly married third harem wife of the elderly man on the lower bunk.
It's good to back with a mission once again - this time travelling to Gujurat - the Manchester of the East, where I shall commission the wood block carvers of Pethapur to carve my illustrations and cartoons onto recycled teak wood, The wood used comes from the demolished 200/300 year old havelis of Ahmedabad - still flecked with the pale green and blue paint used to decorate these intricately carved houses.
"tell me what you think" Gurmeet asks (how do you make ideas in your head?) - it's a tough question and one that is always difficult to verbally answer. I met Gurmeet online - through my research into wood block carvers, he's a graduate of the Kerala State Institute of Design, an enthusiastic educator and entrepreneur and has written a book on the woodblock carvers of Pethapur - he is the perfect creative companion and guide.
We spent the day in Pethapur - a dusty noisy small town on the outskirts Ahmedabad, if you can have an 'outskirts' in India. Concrete construction in all directions, dense, overwhelming chaos, a churning machine of humanity is India. I've now commissioned three sets of carvers to carve my blocks and must now discipline myself to sit and draw more images to make the final story work. The street beckons you see.
On the way to find hand spun, hand loomed cotton and silk on which to print the blocks I am held up and asked on five occasions 'where is your husband? what is his name? Peter, Richard, John, David and Stuart were my husbands - all very 50's names that popped up. Indians feel very sad for you if you don't have a husband (well the men do!)
On my way to visit the Mata ni Pachedi traditional painters and cloth printers my auto rickshaw flew by a huge brick building of curious shape - aha I thought, this Le Corbusiers City Gallery building, and then right next door was Doshi's huge cultural centre building - both I recognised from photos that my architecture student children have shown me. 'I'll stop by there on the way back I thought.
I'm shown rusted iron and jaggery (sugar) left to age in a ceramic pot for weeks to create a dense black printing ink which I will need to print the block images then the printed cloth is boiled with tamarisk to fix the colour.
I plan to cart all my blocks to the desert region of Dhamadkar, Kutch - where within a small muslim town of 25,000 inhabitants I shall employ natural dye printers. I'm looking forward to being in a small village with goats, sparkly stars and sweet buffalo milk.

Biresh Kishore - an echo of a gentile past.

View from my haveli, Ahmedabad right now.
Me in my pretty respectable dress (good for doing business) at Prakash and Bharat's wood block carving studio.
Talking serious rupee negotiations with Prakash.
Niral showing me how they make the black ink for printing cloth. Niral is crucial here, with her great english she will help me with relaying my unusual composition requests to her block printing family.
Old iron and jaggery ink making in process
Nirals father boiling printed cloth with added Tamarisk seeds to fix the colour.
Prakash at work on the beginning of a wood block - to be sent to Kutch for printing
Azam mouzzam roza vasna - just one of many monuments/tombs one stumbles upon while wandering this city.
This man is the guardian of the tomb - his great great grandfather is deep inside
Le Corbusiers City Gallery - full of dusty wonderful Gujurati artifacts, and the actual scale models
made of Corbusiers buildings.
Doshi's monumental cultural centre right next door.

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