Category Archives: Art & Culture

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Ancient connections to come alive through “Ghadai”, an initiative by the Kumbhars (potters) of Kutch

The arts and crafts from the Kutch region are well known today. There is a lot of interest in the fabrics, the weaves, the prints, silver jewellery, copper artifacts and these products are in demand not only in India, but all over the world. Yet, one craft which is not getting the focus and appreciation it deserves is pottery.

Reviving the ancient art of Kutch pottery

The history of pottery in the Kutch region dates back 5000 years at least. Pottery products have been excavated from the archaelogical site of Dholavira, an ancient city belonging to the Indus Valley civilisation.

Talking to Meera Goradia, the director of the Kutch-based NGO KHAMIR, I get to know a little more about the efforts being taken to bring alive the tradition of potters in the region. There are many who have stopped their craft, mainly due to a loss in livelihood. In some villages, the potter’s wheel now lies unturned. Yet in others, there is renewed interest as the craft has also started integrating aspects of newer and more contemporary designs that might appeal to a modern consumer. It is a tough challenge, no doubt, but a step in the right direction is an exhibition being planned to be held from January to March of next year.

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Pottery is as an art form that dates back to many centuries in the Kutch region

I spent a few days with KHAMIR and had some wonderful interactions with the team which is coordinating the efforts there, including project coordinator Niraj Dave, Shrishti Verma (who is meticulously documenting everything), Gayatri Kodikal (filming/photography), Mumbai based ceramic artist Rekha Goyal (curator for the project), local Bhuj potter Ramzubhai and Ganibhai and American India Foundation fellow Gini Morgan. Meera keeps an eye on the overall direction and progress.

Involving traditional potters from seven clusters

The aim is to get local potters involved in the exhibition, and give them a platform to showcase products for a craft that needs a fillip and encouragement. Secondly, involve different sections of society and gather enough interest in the project and expose it to a wide audience. Named after the age-old technique called “Ghadai” used by traditional potters of Kutch to create large objects, the exhibition has been conceptualised to showcase the handicrafts of the kumbhars.

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One of the potters shaping objects using the ghadai technique

In this technique, a basic form is first thrown on the wheel. After that, using different sized round stones and a “paddle”, a desired shape and size is beaten out of it. While it looks deceptively simple, it requires a lot of skill and hard work.

According to KHAMIR, “Ghadai will evoke the ancient connections of the human spirit and clay through archaeology, mythology, and traditions; explore the process of pottery from mud to final product; highlight the significance of the craft through traditional and modern uses; and provoke questions about the future of the craft, the artisans, and the societies we build.”

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Traditionally, men work on the wheel but women often do the hard work like wedging, kneading clay and the painting work

The NGO is working with seven traditional pottery clusters of the desert region and also attempting to trace the history of pottery in this area. Currently, the team is travelling through different villages, talking, interacting and filming the artisans in order to compile a comprehensive history of the craft. I accompanied the team on an excursion (more of which will come in a later post) and it was interesting to see potters talk about their challenges and witness their dedication to keep their craft alive.

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The team walking around Gundayali village on a visit

In the village of Gundayali (close to Mandvi town) Yusufbhai talks about how in every village, the most important member would traditionally be the potter; he was bestowed with the name prajapati, lord of the people. Sadly, with the products losing relevance, many of them replaced by metal, plastic and other artificial material, the “need” for such products has gone down drastically.

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Yusufbhai, who is one of the potters of Gundayali village talking about some of the issues they face today

Though Yusufbhai continues to create terracotta objects, he is aware that many are giving up this profession. His son, for many years lived in Mumbai, working in the retail industry and came back home a few years ago. Though he doesn’t work with clay, he has realised the potential and helps his father sell his wares. “I go off with a truckload of products and visit all the interior villages in this region for many months at a time, selling products,” says the son.

While potters are finding it difficult to sell their wares, there is also an issue of underpricing. The little diyas for example, are being bargained for Rs 2-3, which is a miserable amount if you look at the fact that the effort of the potter – finding and sourcing the clay, kneading/wedging, making, firing, painting – is hardly covered. The size of the object might be small, but no one want to give him what’s due for his effort. For a potter, at these prices, his business is not sustainable.

This is perhaps where NGOs like KHAMIR are playing a part in terms of defining better market rates for the potter, ensuring he gets his due and of course, even suggesting more contemporary designs that might appeal to a consumer. KHAMIR is already doing this and their store contains quite a few pottery products, much of it produced in their in-house studio.

Re-creating pottery objects lost to time

Ghadai will showcase pieces that are re-creations of traditional pottery objects that were used in the region but have been lost to time. As a result of a largely oral tradition of continuing know-how, and the lack of formalized curation and documentation of traditional crafts, some of these pieces are not even found in museums. It was through dedicated efforts of the team that potters were identified who were familiar with the techniques of making these forms. Some of them know the object, and the techniques involved, but have probably not made that particular object for many years.

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Husainbhai working on one of the pieces for the exhibition at the Khamir in-house studio

This is a big challenge. Niraj, who is one of the leads in the project says that working with potters has been a interesting experience despite all these roadblocks. He enjoys the interactions with the artisans and going out to different villages to identify the right people, talk to them and try to get them excited about the larger picture. Undoubtedly not an easy task. Many of them are not convinced much will come out of a “concept”. Others like Ramzubhai are getting actively involved, travelling with the team to help them facilitate the process.

DSC_0062Bhuj based traditional potter Ganibhai has been working very closely with the team

For Rekha too, who is based in Mumbai and makes a trip every month, it has been an enriching experience so far. She says, “There are layers of craft, culture, tradition, modernity, history and society that constantly push and tug at each other. Understanding the craft and the craftsmen in a local context and making it relevant to modern changes without losing sight of the integrity of the craft and its people has been a challenge and a learning. But the richness and serenity of pottery, the region, its culture and people drives me to keep pushing the boundaries in an effort to help get the art form of the region to its rightful place.”

It all culminates in an exhibition and an auction

The Ghadai show opens at the KHAMIR campus in Bhuj, Kutch on January 17, 2015 and will be on till the March 31, 2015. During this time it will also travel to Mumbai for a special display at Hermès, 15 A Horniman Circle, Mumbai from February 12 to March 1, 2015.

IMG_0893The beautiful KHAMIR campus will play host to the exhibition: Mark your calendars if you plan to visit Kutch and Gujarat during this time

The pieces will be auctioned online on the KHAMIR website from February 12, 2015 to March 1, 2015. Proceeds of the auction will go towards continuing the work of KHAMIR within the handicraft space.

About KHAMIR
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It was set-up in the aftermath of the 2001 earthquake in Bhuj with the primary focus of reviving the livelihood of the craft artisans, especially those that were completely destroyed in the earthquake. KHAMIR is committed to the preservation of the crafts, culture and cultural ecosystems of the craft communities of the region. KHAMIR does this by providing these communities of craftsmen with a framework within which they can refine and develop their craft. There are dedicated studios and teams focused on R&D which strengthen local value chains, design & product development and providing market access.

Watch the video: Ghadai by the Kumbh Kumbhars

Follow KHAMIR and the project on Facebook

For any enquries, reach out to:
Meera Goradia, Director KHAMIR, khamir.craft@gmail.com, +91 9825321082
Rekha Goyal, Curator, contact@rekhagoyal.com, +91 9833058151
This project was selected for support by the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès as part of the H3 programme: Head – Heart – Hand.

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Jane Jacobs themed photo walk in Bangalore on May 4

Came across this interesting concept called Jane’s Walk, named after Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), an urbanist and activist, whose writings championed a fresh, community-based approach to city building.

More about the walk: Jane’s Walks are free, locally organized walking tours, in which people get together to explore, talk about and celebrate their neighbourhoods. Where more traditional tours are a bit like walking lectures, a Jane’s Walk is more of a walking conversation. Leaders share their knowledge, but also encourage discussion and participation among the walkers.

And who is this walk targeted at? According to the website, “Everyone knows something about where they live. Every perspective is important to building vibrant and healthy cities.”
This walk is intended for:
— Anyone who enjoys getting to know their city and neighbours.
— People who want to participate in meaningful conversations about the social and built future of their neighbourhoods.
— People engaged in the work of building cohesive communities and improving the walking environment.
— People who want to change their cities and neighbourhoods, for example to narrow the gap between the haves and have-nots in our cities and towns.
— Youth and children who experience the impact of current transportation choices disproportionately, but who are rarely consulted on their aspirations for walking or cycling.

You can also get involved as a volunteer, add your city or create a walk.

Sounds interesting? “Framing Shivaji Nagar through the eyes of Jane Jacobs“, led by Nithya Ramesh is the theme of the walk in Bangalore on May 4.

“On this photo walk, we’re not only going to look closely at our city, but also capture some of its scenes on camera.Since the walk is themed on Jane Jacobs’ ideologies, we’ll be paying attention to key concepts such as the ‘sidewalk ballet’, ‘eyes upon the street’ and many others from her book. Participants will be given a brief at the start point of the walk and will spend the next one and a half hours along the route for the walk taking pictures in line with the given brief. While on the walk, participants are welcome to  step into St. Mary’s church and observe the tamil mass and compare it to the musical service at St. Andrews church, peek into the parade grounds and the police canteen and join the walk leader for a discussion on community engagement in the city building process at Koshy’s.”

Jane's Walk, Bangalore
Reference: — Urban Design Collective

Happy in Kerala!

Finding happiness in Kerala!

Pharrell Williams set off a really large happy virus when he released his “Happy” song. Now there thousands of versions around the world now with everyone hooked into making their own videos and if you haven’t starred in one yet, make sure you do it quickly. It’s catchy, fun and good for your soul!

We made one during the Kerala trip, thanks to the camera work of Anthony, who’s captured some amazing shots of us dancing (and trying to dance) to the tune in scenic locations during our 15 day journey. Well, it’s difficult not to be happy in Kerala!

And go make your own happy video now!

Yoga

And this is how we bend it!

After 15 days on the road, the Kerala Blog Express chugged into Cochin and came to a halt. It’s been fun. It’s been tiring. It’s been exciting. Yes, it’s been quite a trip.

And instead of writing about more sights or sounds, here’s a fun post. Introducing some of my fellow passengers on board the Kerala Blog Express (KBE) 2014. It’s been fun getting to know them and though it’s impossible to cover everyone, but here’s an attempt to present a few. And with a twist. Yes – I’ve convinced, sweet talked and arm twisted them to do various yoga poses with me.

A disclaimer – these might not be “real” yoga poses, but we should at least get brownie points for trying.

Daniel Nunes Gonsalves
Daniel is from Brazil and is a very well-known journalist and writes for several high profile publications in his home country. He’s in India for the second time and is excited to be Kerala. From here, he goes onto Ethiopia for an assignment (I’m jealous!), before flying home. And I have a new friend in Brazil now. Besides the scuba diving, we’re going to do in New Zealand! Right?

Gaia Calheiros

Gaia, is also from Brazil and has been a very popular DJ in the country. She’s also a journalist and blogs here. She also knows more about Hindu gods than I do. And looks rather Indian when she’s dressed in a salwar kameez, which she grew pretty fond of of wearing! I definitely want to grow my twitter following to hers, even if it takes another decade!

Nelson Carvalheiro
Nelson Carvalheiro is from Portugal and an extremely prolific food and travel photographer, now based in Berlin. He’s got years of experience in the food/hotel industry. This is where he blogs and he has about a gazillion followers on twitter too.

Emanuele Siracusa
Emanuele is from Italy, but an avid traveller having lived in Thailand recently for a few months. He’s now on the way to Portugal to be reunited with the other half of the Siracusas. And then start planning his next trip! He loves travelling and discovering new places – don’t we all?

Ola Wysocka
Ola is from Poland but loves travelling to different parts of the world. Doesn’t like the cold (and she lives in Warsaw!) and is enjoying the Kerala sunshine. She usually travels with her husband and her two kids, all of them true travel enthusiasts. They travelled across the US in a trailer for six months last year. She also runs a coffee place in Poland and I have been promised a good cup of coffee when I visit! (Ola – I’m packing a bit of the sunshine that you can take along).

Desi Traveler Prasad
The man who doesn’t want to be identified, the Desi Traveler, Prasad is from Hyderabad. We tried this in the side of the road, while trying not to get run over, so I’m not sure this is a certified pose. But, it was fun trying!

Elsie Mendez
After which, Elsie joined in the fun on the crowded road. This was enroute from Kappad to Kochi, where we stopped for “tea and toilet” as our guide called it. Elsie Mendez is from Mexico, loves wine and the good life and is now planning a wine tour in Spain. (Take me with you, Elsie!). Before that, she also stops in Mumbai.

Vijay Nambiar
With Vijay Nambiar, who is a travel enthusiast who is getting ready for an out of the country assignment and is enjoying his last dose of India before he departs for foreign shores. Being 6 foot something, he does a great job of the backward bend (ardha chandrasana). Vijay – you need to do more yoga!

Taufan
Taufan is from Indonesia and we tried this on the beautiful private beach of the Kadappuram resort in Thrissur. What we were trying was the “trikanasana”, but what we did in reality looks nothing like it.

Dina Rosita
Dina Rosita, also from Indonesia with a penchant for running into trouble. She’s already hurt herself and is carrying a huge scar from a fall – a memento from the trip. Dina is an ex-ballerina and can do things with her legs that I can’t do in this lifetime. So we settled for a nice stretch over the bridge instead!

Edin Chavez
And lastly, the highly talented Edin Chavez – a hot shot photographer based in Miami, Florida (now that’s what I call living life!) who was game to try this with me on the same pristine beach. Here’s him doing out the “standing stick” (tuladanasana) pose – he’s a natural!

Edin has a jaw dropping portfolio of work (mine dropped!) and you must check out his aerial photography, while you’re at it. I am hoping he takes me on a helicopter ride with him while he’s doing his aerial photography, if and when I visit the reach the American shores again. Though I’m half scared, he’ll be surrounded by beautiful women on a beach sipping beer and say, “Anita who?”

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Fun, curious and interesting facts about Kerala

Just some notes from the road as we meander through Kerala on a 15 day trip with Kerala Tourism on the Kerala Blog Express taking in lots of sights, sounds, history, monuments, beaches and backwaters. So while the rest of the troop are in the thick of action sightseeing somewhere in Wayanad, I am enjoying a “do nothing” day at the pictureque and peaceful Vythiri Resort. And while I’m trying to make friends with the monkey who keeps dropping by, these are some thoughts that cross my mind on a particularly lazy day.

Density and number of moustaches
More often than not, Malayali men will sport moustaches. Most heroes and famous people/ politicians (seen on hoardings – haven’t seen that many in real life) all sport large, abundant moustaches. “Why” is a question that befuddles me and I haven’t gotten an answer from anyone yet. It’s also a fact that it’s not in vogue in the North.

Coconut here, coconut there, coconut everywhere
Has anyone taken a census of how many coconut trees there are in Kerala? Because I would be curious to know if anyone ever counted. It might possibly be the highest density of these trees on earth. And how many people have died from coconut related injuries. Surely, someone walking down the village path would have a coconut fall on his head. At least once, I would imagine. There are actually no reported numbers on coconut related deaths, not just in Kerala, but in the world. Isn’t that strange?

But I am rather alarmed when I read this article about the decline of the coconut. And then I realise, it’s a dated article. A more recent one indicates the price is rising. Yay! “A steady increase in coconut prices has given a new twist to the coconut sector which had been marked by low profitability for long. The retail price of coconuts has gone up to Rs.17-20 per nut.” The widespread availability of coconut also means that you get to experience it in your food, your drink and your hair.

Gold’s own country?
How much gold is “really” there in Kerala is anybody’s guess. Combined with the Padmanabhaswamy temple and every Kerala household, I am thinking it might possibly be the richest state in the country, if not the world. And a NYT feature reports: “Kerala gobbles up 20 percent of the country’s gold every year, and the World Gold Council estimates that India, the largest consumer of gold in the world, consumes 30 percent of the global supply.”

Kerala brides apparently wear so much gold that on their wedding day, that they could potentially wipe off the debt of a small 3rd world country.

Land of heaviest drinkers?
Somewhere enroute, as a few of us were talking outside the bus, in the morning about to board, we noticed a seemingly inebriated guy who was just barely able to stand, hanging around our bus. Now, I’m not about to disapprove of drinking, and early in the day. But at 8 am? Fully drunk? What time would he have started? And seriously why do men in Kerala drink so much? (I have no idea about the women, since I never see them in those long serpentine queues outside wine shops).

Someone else has pondered on this heavy issue and this BBC article has facts and personal accounts that might give an insight. “Kerala is India’s tippler country. It has the highest per capita consumption – over eight litres (1.76 gallons) per person a year – in the nation, overtaking traditionally hard-drinking states like Punjab and Haryana. The curiously-named Kerala State Beverages Corporation (KSBC) runs 337 liquor shops, open seven days a week. Each shop caters on average to an astonishing 80,000 clients.”

And the heaviest readers too!
In case you thought drinking and reading don’t go together, you’re mistaken. Kerala also reportedly has the highest literacy rate among the states of India, followed by the state of Mizoram. It’s a common sight to see people read local language newspapers. People are generally very informed. Ernakulam became the first district to attain 100% literacy. And programs like Literacy Mission, Kerala and the state government’s education efforts help reach this figure.

However, I also read that recently the state from my part of the world, Tripura has actually beaten Kerala in 2013, but this is what I’d call healthy competition.

More interesting facts

Heralding the monsoons in Suryagarh

Heralding the rains in the desert

After experiencing the abundance of the monsoons in Kerala and Goa this year, it was a welcome invite when I got an offer to experience the magic of the monsoons in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.

And I know exactly what you might be thinking. Monsoons in the desert? But then stranger things have been known to happen. So filled with anticipation and lots of hope, I hopped onto a plane to Jodhpur, which is the closest connection to Jaisalmer from Bangalore. It was a long journey but the thought of the destination was enough to keep the spirits high. Besides air travel has become quite pleasant these days, thanks to all our swanky airports (well, okay not all of them!).

At Mumbai airport, I met with Neelima and then with Anuradha (who I hadn’t met for years) and we killed some time chatting and catching up. After a short wait, it was time to board the flight to Jodhpur. A couple of hours later, we finally touched down in Jodhpur and our welcome party was there outside the small airport with a sign with the “Suryagarh” emblem. We were escorted to our waiting vehicles and then we got our welcome drinks (non-alcoholic, let me clarify!) to prepare us for the long road trip.

And then we set off on the last leg of our adventure – the long and straight road from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer spanning around 300 kms. The driver estimated it would take around 5 hours so we sat back and enjoyed the scenery whizzing by.

After a much needed lunch break at a place called Manvar, we were on the road again. As the vegetation got more and more sparse, we suddenly noticed rather dark clouds.

Could it be? Were we going to get some rain just as we landed in Rajasthan? The driver told us that a 25 km radius around Jaisalmer hadn’t gotten any rain at all so far. Maybe we had carried the rain with us from the South.

Well, apparently we had. As the rain drops started falling onto the windshield, much to our delight, we even heard a few claps of thunder. What a way it was to welcome the monsoons in the desert.

Not only did we welcome the rains, we also got to experience the magic of Suryagarh – a beautiful resort in Jaisalmer, where we ate meals fit for royalty under the star studded skies, in the middle of the desert; listened to haunting melodies of Mehboob Khan and his troupe, went on a nightly safari called the “Chudail trail” and walked around Jaisalmer fort and even got a peek into a government certified bhang shop! All that and more, coming up in Part 2.