Paper cutter

April 8, 2010

In a card shop (selling wedding invitations etc) in the old market area of Manek Chook, I met an old woman who was delighted to hear I was a ‘paper artist’. She told me about her friend, a retired banker, who made beautiful paper cuts and wondered if I’d like to see them. Dubious at first (imagining some of the many small ‘crafty items’ produced for cards) I asked more about it. Communication was tricky but it was eventually decided that the paper-cutter would come to the shop from his home town in Patan, and would run a ‘workshop’ for me and other local artists for a 10 rupee fee each.

I had seen some examples of incredibly intricate paper cutting in the city museum and bought a sample from the calico museum but other than had, had found no ‘living’ examples of the craft, so was intrigued.

Paper cutter at work

Was delighted when Mr Pernamchand K. Jadar turned up with his tools and samples of his highly skilled work! It was great to see him actually doing the cutting (Steven made some films of it), right from the initial drawing. Have no idea how he works out the positive and negative spaces in such intricate designs; have tried myself and it’s really difficult to get it right.

Cutting away the drawn design

The goddess Laxmi

He cuts several sheets at once, using a strong knife he has made specially for the job. He seems to dig rather than cut, and then pulls the pieces out with tweezers.

The paper cutter's tools

For designs, he seems to draw on whatever images he finds, mostly Indian religion and mythology, but was intrigued to find large cut outs of London Bridge and the Statue of Liberty as well!

London Bridge in paper

The light in the shop was not really good enough to photograph well but the detail really was impressive, especially for a craftsman who has been pursuing his passion only in his leisure hours all his life. Some of his pieces are more than a metre square and must take months to complete (in the hour or so he worked for us he cut about 4cm square)!

Detail from a large organic design

Anyway, I bought a piece from him and we are both pleased. Will be intrigued to see if any of Mr Jadar’s influence comes out in my own work?

Mr Jadar with the start of a small paper cutting

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John came to stay and we took the chance to go on a road trip. Main aim was to head for the hills, anywhere it might be a bit cooler than the desert plains of Gujarat (temperatures having hovered around 43 degrees for more than a week!). It was such a relief to escape the city for a few days and breathe some cooler, clean air. Mount Abu is very touristy (think Margate in the hills), once used by the British as a sanatorium, now filled with honeymooners and wealthy Gujaratis crossing the border in search a permitted alcohol, but for us it was curious to experience a typical Indian resort town, see Indians at leisure and experience the countryside.

Pleasure boats and a temple on Lake Naki

View across the mountains

There were little temples dotted all through the hills, flags fluttering in the wind, and the flame trees were in bloom, creating some dramatic scenery. The view from up high, down onto the plains below was spectacular.

Flame tree

John at Sunset point

Oh and we had great fun playing with some very cheeky monkeys!

Hill top monkeys

Posing

Went for a ‘safari walk’ with a guide, up through the hills. Actually the walk was not more than an hour and we had to coax the guide to go further (get the impression walking is not an Indian past-time, there were even carts to pull you up short hills); however the quiet of the ancient bush was beautiful, especially after so long in the central city.

Mount Abu landscape

Really loved the old Banyan trees, often made into shrines.

Wild flowers

Rare, irrigated land around a small village

It was lovely to come across a small village. Very sleepy. Wandered around undisturbed and the people we did come across were friendly. They lead such hard lives! Did see a farming family; two brothers and their families all living in one small stone room surrounded by a few fields, some cows and a glorious mango tree.

Beautiful village women

Washing

Dried cow dung store

Village temple

Shy boy

Village kitchen and cook

Makes me realise how little is needed to live. Such a cliché, but hey, tis true. Big throw out coming up!

Snippets from Ahmedabad

April 8, 2010

I have left it too late to even attempt to describe Ahmedabad properly. And it is still such a jumble in my head of searing heat, pattern, colour, noise and dust, smiling faces, wandering cows, over-powering smells and kindness.

View from King Ahmed's tomb

Beautiful stone grills

Traditional after dinner 'digestives'

Busy street with Elephant (camels, donkeys, oxen also common means of transport)

Pot seller at the market

Lovely mother and her baby

Mosque calligraphy

Feel sad in a way that I am not better built to withstand the heat. My time exploring has been limited to early morning and late evening, and even then it is hard going. Still: the sights, sounds and smells of the city are now firmly in my head, and who know how it will come out!

Temple carving

April 8, 2010

Also had the privilege of seeing some stone carvers at work. Have seen so much of the intricate stone carving on temples here but had no idea it is still a current art form, particularly amongst the Jain’s.

Carving marble for a new temple at Mount Abu

Saw the carvers at work at Mount Abu, a hill station in Rajasthan (will explain), famous for its Jain temples. Was fascinating to see their simple working process, marking out points with a ruler, then drawing out the designs in pencil, then the slow process of chiseling away the layers.

Eyes yet to be cut

Some of the simpler designs actually seemed to go quite quickly. I really liked the circular shapes they made.

Circles in marble

Countless ancient variations on the circle theme

The repeated gentle chiseling sound echoing through the hot afternoon up there in the hills, is what will stay with me. It has been going on for centuries and little has changed.

Timeless profession

Bead Lady

April 8, 2010

Forgot to mention my visit to Sita Ben, the bead lady. Spent a very happy morning at Sita’s home, sitting cross-legged on the floor looking at her amazing bead work and then learning to do some basic threading.

Sita Ben laying out her beads

It was incredible to see how quickly she worked, picking up the tiny beads with the finest needle I have seen (just threading it was epic for me!).

Working the beads

Sita was an a very patient teacher, especially as we didn’t have much common language to draw on. We did a lot of mime and laughed a lot. Her grand-daughter was there too, learning as well, and her brother arrived as well, with a vast breakfast for us. Everywhere I go here, people are so generous and proud to invite guests into their homes.

Sita's family

In about 15 minutes Sita showed me how to make a simple bead loop. It took me 2 hours to copy her but I was very pleased with the result. She gave me a beading tray, needles, thread and some bead to try some of my own. Lovely! Oh and she also gave me a lovely bead necklace which I am wearing now. Her brother gave me a lift home on his tiny scooter afterwards. Hair-raising! But such an inspiring morning.

Detail from the little bead sample I made

Am not sure how I will end up using beads in my own work, but I see them everywhere here, not just on clothing, there is something worth pursuing. Would be fun to try to make some paper/text beads. I went to a bead store in the old town and bought lots of interesting shaped and coloured beads to play with when I get home. The shop itself was amazing; three floors of tightly packed floor to ceiling bottles and bags of exquisite coloured beads. It was a privilege to be allowed in; normally customers (only trade) have to stand at the counter while the workers fetch what they want, but after going back and dithering a few times, the manager gave in and let me go in and fossick. Talk about Aladdin’s cave!

Bead shopping

One wall of many in the bead shop

Inspired by India

March 19, 2010

Thought it time to be brave and show a few of the experiments I have been doing while here in Ahmedabad. As usual, I have used text as a starting point, mostly found in the sunday flea market under Ellis Bridge. They are by no means completed works but I have been happily experimenting with different shapes and combinations, and once I get back will try bring all thes samples together somehow.

Unfinished circle, made from a Gurarati-Hindi dictionary

Have been using beads and bindis quite a bit, especially in drawings. they are everywhere here, as is the circle shape.

Detail

I like the way the little gold beads seem to hold the text down. Sadly, many of the books I bought are so old and heat-baked that the paper breaks easily. Has been quite a laborious process. The newer books all seem to be printed on fairly standard greyish paper and are not nearly so interesting.

Playing with bindis and an old storybook

Detail

Have found it more frustrating than I thought it would be not being able to read the text around me. Have to just go with a sense of it. It has been fun to copy the twirly whirly writing. I feel like a pre-school child pretending the write. The children in the pol have been very sweet trying to teach me the order of the strokes. It comes out in my drawings as squiggles, dashes and dots.

Drawing games

The central part religion plays in everyday life here is also unavoidable. I tried weaving together some sandskrit and gujarati sacred text. Not sure what I will do with it yet. Makes a kind of cloth. Amazing how strong it is, though takes hours to make.

Text weaving

Text weave sample

The patterns and the way the light shines through the weave reminds me very much of the woven mats and houses of Bangladesh. Also in Bangladesh, I spent many hours looking at the Kantha fabrics, made up of hundreds of simple, tiny, running stitches; almost like drawing or writing in a dotted line. Some of the patterns they make are incredibly complex but I am drawn to the simple ones. Have been trying, clumsily, to try replicating the kantha effect in paper ‘stitches’.

Detail from 'stitching' in various languages

Also attempting other types of stitches, like the counted stitches of the Rabari women, or the satin stitches on silk emboidered shawls I saw in the calico museum. There is a long way to go to get them smooth, and I am still not sure about using colour. There is so much colour here it is almost too much for me, and in my mind the colour comes from the words. Will see what happens when I get home and have more space to play.

Counting stitch experiment

Bangla leaves

Pattern is everywhere. It connects so well with ideas I work with anyway; patterns and structures in language/the way we think, process, formulate ideas. It is all so tied up with the everyday here; really rich resource.

From a Jain book on religious teachings, with gold beads

Detail, still very rough

Hindi and Gujarati grill patterns

The only advantage of the extreme heat here (43 degree predicted all week!) is that I have taken cover in a quiet cool room and sit like some mad woman cutting paper and drawing. The early mornings are cool enough to explore and the local book sellers know me; in fact the sunday market book traders now see me coming and pile in front books they think I may like. Took awhile to convince them I did not need copies of Dickens or Shakespeare. Last week I was delighted to find a massive ancient  volume in old Hindi on passing judgement within Hindu law. The crackling old pages just ooze history and tales of hardship and glory. Shame to cut it up, but hey, hasn’t been looked at in years out in the baking sun and dust of the market. Will try give it a new life.

Dhal Ni Pol

March 15, 2010

Dhal ni Pol is the name of the collection of narrow streets and ancient houses where the Arts Reverie house is. There are over 600 pols in Ahmedabad, each with its own gate (often shut at 11pm) and infrastructure of shops, laundry, tailors, barber, library, temple etc. Living here at the house, I have started to get to know the people of the pol well. It is lovely being so much a part of things, from the chanting at the temple to the school run and arguments over rubbish disposal! It is a typical micro- neighbourhood.   

The pol community notice-board

 From the roof of the house in the evenings it is possible to see into the houses around and I have been amazed at how many people live in some of the spaces. It is a tightly packed community; sometimes five or more people sleeping in the same small room. Everybody seems to know eachother, and the nice thing is they now know me (red- faced English lady with umbrella!). Would have thought they would be jaded by tourists at the house, but they are very welcoming and friendly.   

The vegetable seller pulls her cart through the streets every morning and afternoon.

The fruit seller makes the rounds with seasonal produce

 The community feel is especially evident in the early evenings when people sit out on the steps of their homes and in front of the shops chatting. It is lovely to see, and very relaxed.   

Pol gossip

Outside the barber's shop

 It’s a shame in a way, that in western city cultures, we tend to go straight inside and shut the door. Here, there seems to be an extraordinary number of children forever playing in the pol; the younger ones roam around in gangs tormenting the cows and making up very involved games with no ‘props’. The teenagers play cricket (again the cows suffer) or lounge about on their scooters. Grandparents sit and watch the goings on and occasionally intervene to help the cows/sort disputes etc.   

Grandfather

This lady is often sitting in the same spot by her stairs

Hard to photograph the kids in action as they love to pose

  Had wondered where the cows go at night, and then the other day I discovered the ‘dairy’. It appears like a normal house but the cows go in and out after milking. It looks like there is a courtyard in the middle of the house but I’m not sure. A family owns all the cows.   

Lovely Granny washing the dairy floor

Cows sitting in the way of the 'cricket pitch'

 Like in Old Dhaka, a lot of the pols are disintegrating as people choose to move out to more modern neighbourhoods where there is more space. Sadly not many of the buildings are being maintained.  Plans are afoot to try save them. It is easy though to have a romantic view, especially from the privileged view within the modernised Arts Reverie house. Just opposite, I watch the upstairs family painstakingly pull their water up by bucket every day (the water is turned on for a set period in the mornings at public taps, when people wash and collect water). 

Water bucket, pulley and 'guard'

 I do love the way each pol has its own character and seems so self-contained. To lead a simple life there is little need to venture far (and there is a vast market just around the corner).  

Catching up on news in the library

The flour shop: bring your own container

This lady will wash and press your clothes in a few hours

If you need anything new, there is a cloth merchant and a tailor or two

And there's always the corner shop; open all hours

  It will be such a shame if the communities that keep these pols alive are driven away. A lot of the biggest  houses are already unoccupied (either owned by wealthy families  who choose not to live in them or by families who can no longer afford their upkeep).  

Blue haveli and cow

Beautiful old doorway

Keeping the path clean

  Have seen some blazing rows, but this is life, and for the most part Dhal ni Pol seems like such a gentle, safe place to live, filled with colour and character. I feel very welcome here and very privileged to be a part of it for this month; long may it survive!