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.

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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.

FAQs on Athangudi tiles..

How to order Athangudi Tiles?

  1. There are various designs. You can choose a design and colour of your choice. Click here for a catalog of designs.
  2. You can also custom make designs. In this case, you need to pay the cost of the mould.
  3. Once the order is placed, the tiles are produced. The tiles cannot be stocked for a long time as the ends are porous and discolouration is bound to occur at the corners.
  4. Only about 75 sq ft can be produced each day.
  5. The tiles are about an inch in thickness. Three size options are available- 6 by 6 inches, 8 by 8 inches and 10 by 10 inches.

How are Athangudi tiles laid?

  1. The laying process is different from the regular tile laying process. Masons from Karaikudi should be employed as they understand the process better.
  2. For a minimum of 600 sq ft, the local masons are willing to travel anywhere in India for the laying process. Depending on the quantum of work, one or two helpers need to be provided for the masons. Please note that the mason speaks only Tamizh. A better idea would be to source low cost labour from Karaikudi itself.
  3. Rice husk is used for polishing, which is also sourced from Karaikudi.
  4. About 100 sq ft can be laid in a day.  Post laying, 2-3 days are required for polishing. The polished tile reflects light like a mirror.

How are Athangudi Tiles maintained?

  1. The tile responds well to use. The more you walk on it, the shinier it gets. Non usage may dull the tile. Hence, it is not advisable to use as wall tiles.
  2. Regular cleaning should do. You can even wash the floors. Once a week, mop the floor with a mixture of water and 10-15 drops of coconut oil. It keeps the sheen intact.

What areas are best suited to Athangudi tiles?

  1. It is best suited to porches, verandahs and living rooms where traffic is quite high.
  2. Not advisable for kitchens and open to sunlight areas.
  3. For smaller size rooms, use smaller and less intricate designs. The more intricate ones look dramatic in larger areas.

The DIY kitschy chair..

Of late I’ve been a little bullish on the recycling front. More so, because of all the DIY (Do-it-yourself) things I’ve been reading about. I remember my mom re-using almost everything. Plastic was hardly ever used. And we’ve had the same furniture for as long as I can remember!

Though my first impulse was to throw away this ugly blue chair at home, I decided to think it through. Maybe something could be done to salvage this.

Luckily I had an old (and cheap) dhurrie. I had picked it up for the bedroom and found that it was too big for the space. I had to fold it to use it. so I decided to cut it to the required size, give it a border and use it. Well, that’s another project.

So coming back to the chair, I decided to upholster it with left over fabric from the dhurrie.

First came the painting part. I read a few ‘how to paint’ articles online. It seemed an easy read, but when I finally got around to do it, it was quite a messy thing. If you live in India, the easier thing would be call in an expert.

But somehow, I finished the painting on my own. I had to sand the whole surface, remove the black paint, use a primer and finally finish off with three coats of paint (with a lot of sanding in between coats).

Using the measurements of the existing upholstery, it was easy to get the dhurrie stitched from a local tailor. There is a little bit of fabric left that I am planning to use as a table runner.

And there is my chair. A traditional twist to a functional piece.

 

I use it indoors too! 🙂 More ideas anyone?

Puppets and puppeteers

I got a leather puppet custom-made to fit my balcony window. It is a 6 ft tall structure of Radha in all her splendour. There was a Krishna too in beautiful blue, but I needed just one and I chose Radha over Krishna. I haven’t installed the structure yet. Once it is in its place, I will definitely put up a picture.

Once of my friends Nisha Subramaniam (I call her ‘Nishakka‘) had been here earlier. I’d asked her to get me a puppet. Once I saw my ‘Radha‘, I had to see the whole thing myself. So my recent trip to B’lore took me to Nimmalakunta, a 3 hour drive from Bangalore. Here I met Tulsi Rao (the one on the left) who was happily dozing under the cool shade of a banyan tree. I had spoken to him countless times over the telephone. Though we speak no common language, we have mastered the art of communication in such circumstances.

Almost everyone in the village is involved in either making puppets or hosting shows. Here is Tulsi Rao’s sister, who plays the female lead in the puppet shows.

Made with goat leather that is soaked in water and dried, the translucent sheets of leather are used as canvases for these puppets. The basic deign is sketched on the sheet, cut out to form a puppet and then coloured.

Holes are punched into these puppets with simple tools. These holes let light pass through when held against it. This contrast is used for the puppet show.

Nowadays, owing to the lack of interest in puppet shows, business has taken a downturn. So colourful lamps are made to cater to the current market trends.

Tulsi Rao was all enthusiastic as he took out his harmonium and played ‘Bahut Pyaar Karte Hain Tumko Sanam‘. He also showed us a minute long puppet show. But what took my breath away was this Vishnu’s Dasavatar (10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu) piece that he had made.

Ramayana is a very common theme for their puppet show. Here is Hanuman and Sita.

And here is the deer that lured Sita away! 🙂

So many beautiful pictures, an amazing bunch of people. Here is my favorite picture.

And if your glass door is asking for something like this, any design, any size can be custom made. How about a back-lit panel of Lord Krishna for the Pooja room door? 🙂

Please click here for more pictures.

Wall murals from Molela

After the overwhelming response on my wall project, I had to write about the craftsman who made those wonderful plaques.

Local myth claims that a blind ancestor was granted vision by the local deity ‘Dharmaraja’. The blind man sculpted the god’s shadow on a two dimensional plaque. Thus evolved this practice of making plaques, instead of three dimensional figures.

Molela is a quaint village, the one that you will normally miss on your way to Nathdwara. The only signboard is usually hidden under layers of movie posters. Once you get there, the rows of houses with their terracotta wares is the first sight to greet you. I wanted to visit each one of them. I started with the first one, spent around four hours and reluctantly left the place without any time for the rest.

I visited master craftsman Jamnalal Kumbhar’s home. I entered a workshop where his entire family was involved in making these plaques. Here is the picture of his wife putting in the final finishes on the plaque.

The entire household revolves around his work. Stacks of these plaques are found everywhere. While I was there, Jamnalal was working on an order for a thousand plaques for a home in Delhi!

The clay is collected from the local river bed, dried and beaten to a fine powder. This is then mixed with donkey dung (binding agent)! and water. The mixture is used to make the plaques. For the details, balls and strings of this mixture are used. The basic idea is in the craftsman’s mind, which is further improvised on the go.

The local deity is ‘Dharmaraja’ and during the months of March-April,  tribal communities from as far as Madhya Pradesh come to Molela to buy these brightly coloured plaques. These are then carrried on their heads back home as a ritual. The winter sun is just right for making these plaques that are sold during the summer. The summer sun is quite harsh and can lead to cracking.

 A plaque with ‘five sisters’ is used as a symbol of welcome in homes. These sisters are believed to welcome the good and ward off evil.

A series of scenes from village life are made using these plaques. When the demand for Dharmaraja idols dwindled, these smart craftsmen started introducing new designs.

This mural has all the major designs used in this craft. Jumnalal made this thirty years ago. Though replicas of this piece can be commissioned, this one is definitely not for sale! 🙂

Please click here for more pictures.

Terracotta on my wall..

It’s been three months since I’d picked up a few terracotta plaques from Molela, Udaipur. I knew the wall where I wanted it, but I was contemplating a design. Initially the plan was to intersperse this with a few black and white pictures taken during my travel. Then it was a mix of paintings and finally I decided to give it a go. Without the paintings, of course and I am very happy with the result.

The wall where I wanted to do this installation. The plain white walls weren’t just right. I wanted something that was warm, Indian and would contrast the red terracotta brilliantly.

However much I was impatient to have my yellow walls, I had to wait for the process. And it takes time!

Yellow is definitely a difficult color. Too bright is tacky and too light is dull. I bought the brightest yellow possible and manually mixed white colour and applied patches till I was sure (almost!).

All that effort was definitely worth it. The wall turned out beautifully.

Since they were going to be riveted directly to the wall, I had to get the placement right. I tried a lot of combinations and decided to take my friend Shivani’s advice. She said the more intricate ones neeed to go at the end. That would be visually more appealing.

Terracotta is tricky. One crack and the whole thing falls apart. I hadn’t really planned it in my head when I bought it. So I had exactly 9 pieces! So it was such a relief once all of them had holes drilled in. One of the plaques chipped a bit, but I cleared this round without much incident.

I’d rather be safe than sorry. So I decided to use two screws diagonally on each plaque to fix it to the wall. One piece of advice for hanging art- ideally the mid point should be 57-60 inches from the floor. Mine is about 64 inches, but then there is a lesson to be learnt in almost everything in life! 🙂

The beauty of handicrafts is in the imperfections. The similarly (almost) sized tiles look fabulous when put together. I used some red color and cement mixture to camouflage the rivets.

I cannot even explain how happy I feel, everytime I pass by. The colour is perfect, the setting is right and brings a lot of character to my home.

If you like this and want something like this for your home, just message me!