"In my heart I'm a millionaire"
Updated: Jul 9
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.