TO NEEDLE THEIR MAGIC.
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?