'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fabrics and Peacocks

I report from Amdavad again - having reached here three weeks back. The weather was sultry to begin with and then has turned drizzly and windy. The many vacant plots in the newer neighborhoods look lush and richly carpeted. Little muddy patches abound and sometimes, one sees flocks of black ibises (these are biggish black birds with long, curved beaks) inspecting them with a studious, professorial air. The malls are, as usual, full of horribly expensive (to me) merchandise. And I notice that among the present young adult crowd, nearly a third of the males (and a sprinkling of the females) stand over six feet tall.

On the advice of a Calcutta-based anthropologist, I visited the Calico Museum.

The museum comprises two distinct galleries, one exclusively on textiles and one on textiles and religious paraphernalia; both wind thru a vast mansion which stands in a large compound in the Shahi Baug area of the old city. The overall layout of the building is hard to make out from any point in our conducted tour path - except that it is several floors high and has perhaps a hundred rooms (maybe well above that) but few large halls. Parts of the complex feature haveli-like decorative work (some actual 'pols' and haveli facades with densely delicate wood-carvings have been brought and reassembled here; the mansion also incorporates some superb specimens of intricate lacquer-work on ceilings and capitals of wooden pillars). The compound is very green with tall neem and other trees, several overgrown with epiphytes, a few small ponds and a large population of "kaeey-oh"-ing peacocks; and the management has wisely refrained from kitschy landscaping.

Almost everything I saw in the galleries was new to me. I had never heard of the Patola sarees of Patan (and of the only surviving Master-weaver there, Chhota Lal Salvi) although I had been to Patan; same was the case with the 'tie-dye' technique and its various manifestations across India. And for the first time, I saw the Pichwais of Rajasthan - cloth curtains several meters across, painted with Krishna either worshipped in his Srinathji form (quite similar to the idol of the Dwaraka temple) or engaged in various amorous adventures. Some Pichwais show a group of gopis worshipping a flowering tree as Krishna and one of these had the uncanny feel of Boticelli's 'Primavera!

Then, there were the Madhubani sarees and tribal art from Bihar, the Phulkari fabrics of Punjab, a Mughal Royal tent with lavish textile work, elaborately recreated, Tanjavur-painting style fabric designs from Tamil Nadu ...

Our guide had plenty to tell us and spoke with a lot of vigor. She showed us several indivdual printing blocks and the marvelous patterns they create on cloth on sequential application. She adds: "The famous paseley design, much favored as a fabric print by the British, was actually, a South Asian innovation." Then she describes a weaving technique: each single thread is colored according to the pattern already decided and then the fabric is woven, warp and weft and the picture gets automatically revealed. The sheer effort involved in all that must have been mind-numbing - no wonder such art-forms are gradually dying out.

And there apparently was a style of painting where a very large piece of cloth is decorated from the middle outwards by a group of faithful and highly skilled artisans guided by a single designer - each artisan just does his portion of the work and as for the designer, he never handles paint but guides them all in parallel, having conceived the full picture in his head!

I leave this remarkable place with a wistful feeling that I didn't see anything from Kerala. But for the name 'Calico' that is - probably concocted from 'Calicut' by the Portuguese as a generic name for all Indian cotton textiles (and was there somewhere in there a copy on cloth of an erotic mural painting in the Mattancheri palace - Krishna dallying with his girls?). And I don't remember seeing any Dacca Muslin - I heard while at primary school, sarees made of this weave of cotton were so sheer that one could see thru sixteen layers of them (a fabric for emperors that, not merely kings!).

Shahibaug ("Royal Garden") gets its name from a small Mughal palace, said to have been built by emperor Jahangir on the banks of the Sabarmati. Among the people who have stayed in it are Shah Jahan and a young Rabindranath Tagore, visiting his brother who was a Government official in these parts. The building now houses a very modest museum dedicated to Sardar Patel - the paucity of exhibits is very much in keeping with the Sardar who was not one for material possessions. A surprising item was a photo of Patel with the then Maharaja of Cochin (the latter, who appears sporting a Turkish-style cap, is famous in local legend for telling Patel: "I shall cede my state to Indian Union only on one condition: you must ensure that every new year, I get a copy of the astral almanac"). There was also a little porcelain statue of the popular Kerala deity Ayyappa.

Near the western edge of the city is the Sardar Patel Institute of Social Sciences. A kilometer-long and convoluted walkers' path runs thru its campus. The terrain is surprisingly uneven (most of Ahmedabad is utterly flat) and the vegetation is a mix of dense stands of (primarily) neem trees and grassy slopes. The resident fauna includes packs of dogs (they seem perpetually locked in some sort of turf war but don't mess with bipeds), and a few proud and pushy bulls; troops of dark-faced monkeys occasionally pass thru (when one-on-one with homo sapiens, they don't make way and instead bear their fangs in a dirty snarl). But the ones who really lord over the place are the very vocal peacocks. Numbering in dozens, they are usually unfazed by the walkers but step away away in a hurry if any photographic equipment is pointed at them. The males often dance and the females (who seem less in number) usually pretend to be totally unimpressed with the show.


  • At 9:34 AM, Blogger Anand said…

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  • At 9:36 AM, Blogger Anand said…

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  • At 9:36 AM, Blogger Anand said…

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