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It’s party time

I love winters. It is the only time of the year when we can sit down and read a newspaper in our living room. I live in Ahmedabad and the temperature is an average 38+ degrees Celsius.  So during winters, I use this space to the maximum.  Apartment therapy’s series on ‘how to entertain’ got me write out my ideas for this favourite winter activity. I drooled over the inexpensive, yet awesome options that IKEA provides and decided that we need to have our version of the same.  Since I am obsessed about handcrafted options for almost everything, I’ve made my ideas as handcrafted and personal as I can!

Over years, I’ve hosted parties with as much as 30 guests in a 2 bedroom, hall, kitchen apartment with my ever limited crockery and on really tight budgets. I love having people over, I love the laughter and the conversation and am sure that budget and time will never constrain me ever. Inspite of such constraints,  I refuse to use that plastic glass or order pizza. So here is my list of things to do to host that perfect party.

Dress up your home..

  1. Clean up. You are not aiming for a sparkling new home here, just make sure your bathrooms (and the adjacent bedrooms) are turned out right.
  2. A small arrangement of the following in the bathroom will work great.   A couple of hand towels, handwash, a small tea light candle. I’ve used my old jam bottle for the effect. You can add flowers of your choice to this arrangement. Marigold, anyone?
  3. Tackle your living room. I don’t have a couch at home. I use floor mattresses, so I get out my pillows to add to that comfort. Do not use light coloured sheets.  Light a lamp in your living room. Get out all your old stack of bottles and light candles in them. A typical tea light (non-scented) burns for about 6 hours.
  4. Pull out those Diwali diyas and string lights. Decorate your TV or your potted plants with the string lights!

Be a smart Cook!

  1. Though ordering in sounds the easiest thing to do, trust me cooking at home works out a lot cheaper and definitely way healthier. Go heavy on simple starters and have a simple main course.
  2. I make a lot of dips all this time. My favourites are hummus, satay sauce and a simple boondi raita.  Super simple to make, I store them all the time in my fridge (except the boondi raita!) Pour this into tea cups, bunch them together and leave it at a few vantage points. Keep tooth picks handy.  Buy plenty of crackers(I like the Parle variety), Monaco biscuits, inexpensive plain chips. Roast roast plain papads.
  3. Popcorn!
  4. Pani Puri is another simple, yet interesting snack for an evening.. Boil potatoes, mix it up with some dry spices, buy a huge pack of puris and make the paani (follow the instructions on the pack, add some boondi to it and you are done.  For a twist, you can spike the water with alcohol (rum or vodka would be just fine). A piece of advice, make sure you spread loads of paper below this container and discard it as soon as the pani puri is over. You don’t want people walking over that mess all evening!
  5. Serve bite size cheese cubes and if you have the time, string them with pineapple cubes and black grapes on a tooth pick.
  6. Chop mushrooms into four, add a little salt, chilli powder, lemon juice and sauté for a few minutes. A quick tasty starter is ready.
  7. Salad! Sliced cucumber, tomatoes and onions. Avoid the salt.
  8. After gorging on all this, your guests may not be hungry for dinner. So if you are making dinner, plan to make a wholesome single dish- a biryani or a pasta. You have that boondi raita for  the accompaniment.
  9. If you are serving alcohol, serve pitcher drinks. You can make a drink of vodka, Rooh Afza (a rose sherbet) and mint leaves. Not only does it look beautiful with it’s pink shade, it tastes awesome. Top up with soda. I recently had a Khus drink, with white rum, soda and lemon. Sliced lemons in the pitcher looked so beautiful!  So go on, be creative!
  10. Keep loads of ice and bottles filled with water. A few extra bottles of soda, a range of soft drinks and loads of tissues.
  11. Keep a shoe box or carton in each corner. You’ll have less to clean up the next day.

During the party

  1. Plastic glasses make it look like a children’s party. If you are not sure of getting out those expensive glasses, buy Kullads. The in-expensive terracotta glasses, add that dash of innovativeness to your party and offers the local potter some business.  (Photo Courtesy: Tripadvisor.com)
  2. You can use Phirni bowls (again terracotta) for the Pani Puri. Once the party is over, Wash them, dry them and stock them up for the next party.
  3. Arrange your food on the table or the counter, along with a few diyas. Lemon wedges and mint leaves look ravishing on the table. Your guests will be impressed even before they start!

So put that music on and get going! Have a great party and please share your suggestions, comments and experiences 🙂

My handcrafted Diwali!

I really wanted to post my Diwali pictures. True to what I believe in, I decided to have a completely handcrafted Diwali. I toiled over Kesar Phirni (thanks to Sanjeev Kapoor), poured them into terracotta bowls and decorated them. Then I baked some Mattris (yes, I didn’t fry them!) in different shapes. Dressed in a traditional ‘Kandhangi‘ handloom saree, I decorated the whole balcony with diyas (terracotta lamps with oil), lit up the Vilakku ( brass lamp) and was all set to take pictures for the blog. That was when the catastrophe struck! 😦 My camera refused to detect the memory card and I didn’t have a spare!

Since I won’t be able to give you a glimpse of my balcony (btw, my little lily pond is finally showing signs of revival), the least I can do is write about ‘Kandhangi’ sarees. I harbour a secret love for sarees. Though you may hardly ever find me in a saree, I am definitely a pro at wearing them and hope to have a collection someday.

Photo Courtesy: Girish

During the recent Karaikudi trip, my friend Roxana was very particular about visiting the saree looms. Widely worn in the hot climes of Chettinadu, these sarees are woven in bright colours. A typical sight in this region is of ‘aachis‘ (the Chettiar womenfolk) wearing a Kandhangi saree, complete with oodles of jewelery and well oiled hair adorned with jasmine flowers. Both of us went berserk, fought over the loot and went broke buying sarees for almost everyone we could think of. Most of the ‘gifts’ never reached their recipients and ended in our wardrobes! 🙂

Characterised by huge borders (sometimes two-thirds of the saree is covered with the border), these sarees are woven using high quality cotton from Tirupur. These sarees take about a week to be hand woven on the loom. Over time, the enterprising community anticipated the decline in demand for hand woven cotton sarees. They have slowly diversified into making silk blended cottons sarees and  stoles. Nowadays low quality yarn is also used to reduce the cost of raw material used.

This cotton yarn is used to make those simple, yet stunning sarees. The hot weather throughout the year call for the use of light fabric, one that breathes.

The looms were in an old house, whose courtyard and verandahs were used to showcase the products for sale. We sat down on the verandahs, enjoying the cool evening breeze and discussed the declining demand for such hand spun beauty. The lady of the house, dressed perfectly in true Chettinadu style was happy to share her knowledge and love for these sarees.

I came back with this and Roxana with lots more. The plan is to couple them with Ikat blouses and loads of bead jewellery 🙂

A Persian touch..

Here is the tour to my friend Kabir’s apartment. A lawyer by profession, with a passion for collecting art from the ‘silk road’, Kabir’s home is one of a kind.

I’ve hardly known Kabir for a month now. But with some people, we hit off like we’ve known each other for years. He lives alone in an apartment on the 9th floor of an old building complex, just near one of the most crowded junctions (char-rasta, meaning four roads as we call them here) in Ahmedabad. But the minute you enter his home, the change is drastic. Impeccably maintained and tastefully decorated (he doesn’t agree to this), this home is surely unique in its approach.

Kabir’s travels have taken him to Iran, a place he seems to have fallen in love with. He has taken to studying the language as well.

Who doesn’t like lanterns?! Imagine an evening full of conversation, sitting on cushions, warmly lit by these glass lanterns, smoking an ‘Hookah’ (Kabir is strict about it being tobacco-free), surrounded by soulful Persian music. Not a difficult setting to pull off, isn’t it?

He is yet to put in nails on his apartment walls. But that doesn’t prevent him from using floor space to display his treasures. Of course, you can see the beautiful rugs a little bit here..

The centre table is decorated with a colourful cover, used on camel backs. Stacked with lanterns, a Persian Calendar, a book on poetry gifted by his friend back in Iran, this table is full of personal memories.

Kabir has added a few pieces of Indian Crafts, that actually go well with his original theme. One of these pieces is a replica of one found in the Baroda museum.

This clock is one of the priced possessions from his travels. Engraved with the ‘traditional blue’ of the region. it is prominently placed in the living area.

A painting from his friend is kept next to an old lamp from UP, gifted to his grandfather.

The stone carvings from Persepolis is one of his favorites. They depict an era gone by.

A fitting end to this house tour would be this Persian quote that talks about ‘love’.

Thanks Kabir for letting me take these pictures.

Diwali Gifts are here!

It’s Diwali again. The time of the year when everything is so happy and festive. The time when winters are here and so are the hot chocolate and coffee sessions with friends. I am particularly fond of candles, little diyas and I cannot have enough candle holders at home. On one my trips to Udaipur in Rajasthan, I found this beautiful hand-carved marble piece. I got one for myself and the many compliments I’ve received over the months has inspired me to make this a part of the Diwali Gift Hamper.

Here is how the lit one looks. It casts a beautiful shadow all around it.

Gift Hamper from CraftCanvas (GS001). Combined with dry fruits and scented candles, the marble tea light holder is packed in an attractive box. Priced at Rs. 699/-

Another one with a little ‘Dhokra‘ Ganesha from Dhenkanal, Orissa- one of the Ganesha’s from the band. Priced at Rs.599/-.

Boxes made in subtle, yet rich Diwali colours. Perfect for Diwali gifting.

You can click here for more photos and email craftcanvas@gmail.com in case you are interested.

This item is available at our eBay Store.

Kutch on a spa wall..

All this while, I’ve refrained from writing about Gujarat. I’ve read (and of course I see them everyday) so much about Kutchi embroidery, mirror work and the beautiful ladies wearing traditional wear that it seemed nothing out of the ordinary for me. Till the point that my husband pointed out that I haven’t blogged about my first project. Its been a year now since its been completed, it is in perfect condition and writing about it seemed the right way to celebrate the anniversary. (Please note that all photos were taken using a mobile camera, regret the quality)

Yes, that was my first craft interiors project. It is a spa and I was offered a project to do something ‘Indian’ for one of the rooms. Since it was my first project, I decided to do something from Gujarat.

Of course, I did the usual stuff- I traveled with an approximate address to find the craftsman. I knew it was somewhere ‘near Bhuj’. I reached there to find a group of migrant workers who belonged to a border village near the Rann of Kutch. The extended family lived in a small house and visited their village once or twice a year to celebrate weddings and other festivals.

The brightly dressed women are the most creative bunch of people I’ve ever met. They have no formal education, in fact they cannot even draw a design on a piece of paper. They sketch (only for my reference, they don’t seem to need any at all. It’s all in their head.) the design with their fingers on the soft earth. These fingers that have created some exquisite embroidery have more in store.

The embroidered clothes that the women wear come as part of the dowry. To make this dowry, a girl starts when is just about 5 years old. The best embroidered clothes fetch the best husbands. So the girl learns and perfects the intricate embroidery techniques very early in life. The girl’s mother makes the bridal bag- an even more intricate piece of fabric that is used to pack her daughter’s clothes. The photo is of Kanta and Isha, Ramilaben’s daughter and sister respectively.

Ugabhai and Ramilaben are fabulous as a couple. While she works at the creative aspects of the wall, it is her husband who gets the raw material ready.First of all, wild ass dung has to be collected from the forest. Kutch is the only habitat for these creatures. Next the local earth (which is rock dry) is beaten up to a powder, mixed with the dung and made into a paste.

The walls are plastered with this. This is called ‘Lippan Kaam’. This is commonplace in most houses in that region and acts as an insulator bringing down temperatures drastically inside their homes. The women are the ones who are involved in making the creative designs.

The design is made on the plastered walls. It starts at a midpoint and slowly grows around that reference point. The designs are usualy not made on paper and is the whole process is improvised as the women work together, singing Kutchi songs and teasing one another. The picture above shows how the finished design looks before completing the final painting process.

The walls are then plastered with white cement. This process is done by hand and the final finish is done with fingers creating waves. Finally, each mirror is carefully cleaned by hand. The final wall looks like the one in the picture.

If you thought the whole process was interesting and adventurous, it is definitely far from it. On day one, Ramilaben wanted to go back home. Her lehenga was so huge that she couldn’t manage washing it in the tiny bathroom at the spa premises. The commode was another story altogether.  Another issue was that these people do this on their own walls at home, so it can be done at their convenience. With a launch deadline, it was difficult to get them to finish.

But when the wall was finally done, it surpassed all our expectations. The final texture that was done using Ramilaben’s fingers is a remarkable example of hand crafted beauty. I travel to this spa quite often. I run my fingers on that wall, and there is definitely a sense of pride.

Crafting Ganesha..

Though I no longer live in Bombay, I still look forward to Ganesh Chaturthi every year. Part of the reason is that it signals the beginning of the festive season and the other is of course, the creativity in all of us that comes to the forefront. Every street has it own Ganapathi and the whole works around it is almost like a competition. It works the same way in most of our crafts. Check out some renditions of the elephant God in various crafts across the country.

Made in Dhenkanal, Orissa, this Dhokra sculpture was handcrafted by Dushasan Behera.

Found in a small alley in Oklipura, Bangalore, this metal sculpture is used in homes for Puja (prayer)

The auspicious silver sculptures are part of the Puja (prayer) room. A new bride is gifted these as a symbol of luck and prosperity.

The stone sculptures of Shivarapatna in Kolar.

A modern style Ganesha made in Udaipur.

A Pattachitra of a  five headed Ganesha from Orissa.

Ganesha masks on Papier-mâché.

That is me holding a Ganesha made with goat leather. The puppet craft Charmakari has Ganeshas on just about everything- lamps, puppets and even wall screens.

Sadly, every year after Visarjan (the day when the elephant god sculptures are cast into the water bodies), I hate to think of the pollution levels that our fun and festivals have caused the environment. A bio-degradable Ganapathi is a great option, but if you wish to retain your Ganapathi or even gift your friends, you can pick one of these options.

This item is available at our eBay Store.