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  • Writer's pictureAnna Crichton

Under the Pipal tree

Updated: Jul 5, 2021

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.

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…

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.

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.

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.


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