Heritage Architecture, In India, Indian heritage, People & lifestyle, Uncategorized

Echoes of the French reign

The striking feature of this charming town by the sea is the architecture, that dates from the time of the French reign. Most of it was built around the 19th or early 20th century.  The French called the town Pondicherry  from the Tamil name – Puducherri,  meaning new settlement . It was a trading post  and excavations have shown that the Romans came to trade here as early as the 1st century AD. The  Europeans came here to trade in dyed textiles, pottery and semi precious stones.  It was consolidated under the French, who made it an important port.

The British attacked and destroyed many of the buildings and structures in 1761 but a small domestic part of the original town remains till date. These days it is known as the White Town or the French quarter. It is separated from the  native Tamil habitat by a storm drain . It is rife with restaurants, cafes, quaint guesthouses and shops. The  impressive mansions hidden behind grand gateways  are a visual treat for anyone interested in architecture and style. I am always trying to peep in through the open windows which are, thankfully, large to get a look at the interiors.

On a recent visit, for the first time I stayed away from the White Town.  We stayed at a resort on the beach mid- way between Pondicherry and  Cuddalore. Hence spent a fair amount of time driving into town and I noticed quite a few houses and long commercial spaces with small local retail shops in them, that looked similar to the french  buildings but with variations. These structures seem to date from around the same time as the colonial houses. I was intrigued by this and decided to do a bit of research.

The first difference you notice is that these houses are not hidden behind gateways but open to the street and have  verandas with sloping roofs of Mangalore tiles  supported by wooden pillars. These open verandas are known as Talvaram and  they feature raised platforms and masonry benches called Tinnai. These are a hybrid of the European aesthetics and the traditional native style. Franco- Tamil architecture is quite unique and worth looking up the next time in Pondicherry. The Tamil Quarter now known as the heritage town is interesting to explore on foot and I highly recommend the INTACH heritage walk as one of the things to do in this town.

 

Maybe it was a way of keeping up with the Joneses or an architectural fad, which lead to the use of the French style in the facades of the buildings . Arched windows, plaster decorations, tall columns, European motifs on mouldings of the doors and windows and the exterior layout give these buildings the French touch. Interestingly the interior layout and style of these houses have no evidence of the French. The hybrid aesthetics is most apparent in the two storey structures, where the top floor is more evident from the streets.

The central open courtyard known as Mutram, is lined by an inner veranda that leads to various rooms – bedrooms, kitchen and pray room.  Most of these spaces are small in size. Accessible from the kitchen,  the rear end of the house are where the toilets and bathrooms are situated along with a well . It  is the combination of the open, semi open and covered spaces that provide these houses with cool spaces and good ventilation.

 

Image courtesy – http://www.google.in

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
Standard
In India, Indian heritage, Indigenous crafts of India, People & lifestyle, Uncategorized

Mask maker, mask maker, make me a mask

Hem Chandra Goswami with a mask that he has created

Situated in Assam, Majuli is the world’s largest river island . It is a fact, that the mighty river Brahmaputra every monsoon claims a part of it and in another ten years or so, the fragile island may not exist. The Mishing tribe that live here have a loom set up below the bamboo stilts of their homes filled with vivid colours which makes it one of my favourite places in the east of India. Lush green, ponds in various sizes, indigenous local materials used for most of the structures including bridges where vehicles ply, adds to the aura. There are no shows of opulence and people lead a very simple rural life. Everyone has time to chat about their families,  fishing , weaving and have their picture taken.

My ride, crossing over on the Bamboo bridge. Every year this bridge is reconstructed after the monsoons and the only bridge in Majuli that collected toll .

A sense of tranquility that is unique to island life the world over, helps visitors like myself slow down and unwind. Perhaps this is the reason the important Satras are located here. Satras are monastic institutions, that were initiated by the social religious reformer Sankardeva around the 16th century. One of these is the Samaguri Satra  and is known for its contribution to the arts. Here along with mask making, they teach dance and music too. The traditional form of mask making uses  thin strips of bamboo and cane to form  the basic  shape on which mud is plastered, layer upon layer. They use natural colours derived from plants and stones. Interestingly, the stones used for producing the required red and yellow colour, come from Rajasthan.

The reverse of the mask shows the cane frame work on which the mask is modeled

Hem Chandra Goswami, Guru of the Satra describes it as an educational Institute for art and craft. For over 35 years, he has taught a large number of students how to make the traditional masks used in Bhaona, a folk theatre form,  started by Sankardeva himself to spread his message through religious plays that he wrote for people to understand what he was preaching. Hence, the themes for these plays center around the Ramayana, Krishna Lilla and the Mahabharata.

In the compound of a Satra, looking inside a naam ghar, the chanting room which is the nexus of life in a monastery. The murals on top depict the main Hindu gods, Shiva, Krishna and Bhrama.

A skilled mask maker himself, Goswami has innovated on the craft that has been passed down generations in his family. He has created a series of masks that provide mobility to the jaws of the mask and in some cases to the eyes too. This makes the mask more realistic when the actor wearing it speaks . He had a senior student of his demonstrate this by putting on various masks and doing a few of the actions  that provided the best examples. It was for these innovations that  his masks were exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in August, 2016. It was part of a bigger event  that displayed fabrics that were woven in Assam with patterns portraying scenes from Lord Krishna’s childhood under the counsel of Sankardeva himself. He showed me a book that was published to mark this exhibition at the V& A museum. The publicity has generated an interest for this art that is part of our heritage, but it still needs a lot more patronage. He is rightfully very  proud of this achievement that has added to his impressive resume. He is also a skilled make up artist and has choreographed traditional plays to appeal to more modern taste.

The master and one of his senior apprentice working on a commissioned piece

Given that his training has been steeped in  very conventional traditions, his outlook is far-sighted and refreshing. He wants the art to move beyond the traditional theatre form and find a place in the larger more contemporary world so that his students are able to nurture and pass it on. He is open to collaborating with artists from other disciplines and giving demonstrations of the techniques he uses to create the mask. He is using the same techniques to create sculptures and believes that when you keep an open mind, new ideas and work come.

Goswami with a sculpture that he is working on inside his workshop

Hem Chandra Goswami has always kept the doors of his school open for anyone interested to come and learn. In the past he has had students from across the globe come and spend time at his Satra learning mask making and the theatrical movements required to perform in them. He used a term – Gurukul Vidya to describe this and explained that it meant that if  a student approached him who has earnest and willing to learn, he considered it his duty to teach. An unassuming man with a deep passion for the craft, he mentioned many times in our conversation that he wants this old art form to be preserved and practiced by generations to come. He was as enthusiastic to show me the works of his ten-year old students from a nearby school who come in a few times a month,  as that of his older students who have been learning and working with him for over a decade. The young ones he encourages to  do any type of mask they want, play with colour and shape. He feels that the exploration is vital in creating an interest.

On the way to the Jorhat ferry crossing point, a boat stranded after the monsoons.

The hour in his company flies by and I am left infused with his passion and make plans for my children and me to participate in his workshop next summer.

Men in the traditional Assamese attire waiting for the boat to arrive at the crossing in Majuli

I found some of his interviews online and the link below is to one of them, which provides a good in depth to the master and his world.

https://thewire.in/108897/masks-hem-chandra-goswami-majuli-theatre-assam

Image courtesy – Author and http://www.google.in

Standard
Uncategorized

Third Anniversary of my blog

Three years ago I asked a young friend, Diya to help me get started on wordpress as I wanted to create a blog. A way of life that I cherish, is rapidly fading away and I want to hold on to the memories of it.

The idea formed, when my three year old daughter came to me with a gift she received, a plastic old fashion telephone toy with a cord attached to the receiver, which you held with one hand near your ear and you have to dial the numbers with the other.
Jiya couldn’t figure out what it was, for her a telephone is a smartphone, where you swipe the screen press a few digits and connect immediately to another face that appears on the screen ( face time) and you chat, make funny faces.


A far away cry from my childhood where we had to book a call, wait for hours for it to get connected and when the telephone rang, wow the novelty of that sound.. the whole household charged for it , including the dogs, house help and visitors. We stood in a semi circle, while my father picked up the receiver and said hello. I think I must have been nine year’s old when I got to make my first call, on my own to a friend .

  These are tales for my children and yours. Memories , nostalgia , blast from the past.

Also stories of  lifestyles, experiences, events that one can still witness and appreciate. The life line of these are very fragile but I hope my posts will interest you to get up and smell the flowers before they fade away.


Below is my paragraph from my first blog.. happy revisiting

I love natural fiber baskets all shapes, colors and sizes! In our home there is always a use for one, hence a greater excuse to buy them! One of my earliest memories  is…

Source: Basket case

Standard
Heritage Architecture, In India, Indian heritage, People & lifestyle

An encounter in the paddy fields of Ziro

Poles bearing the banners made of cane and bamboo, which are put up by the houses that have preformed the ritual sacrifices during Myoko festival in the Hong village. Also seen in the image is the white flag with the symbol of the red sun that followers of Donyi – Polo, an ancient religion erect outside their homes.

One of the things on my bucket list has been to do a  solo trip into the eastern Himalayas, to see how the indigenous tribes that inhabit these mountains, live. I first heard of Ziro from my parents, who had visited in the mid 1980’s and later through friends and social media about the Apatani tribe that live there permanently in 6 villages. I was told that a large part of the population still follow the  customs and faithfully practice the rituals of a very old religion called, Donyi-Polo,  the praise of the Sun (Ayo Donyi) and the Moon (Atoh Polo) . So a week ago I left my children with my aunt in Guwahati and set off with a driver and a four-wheel drive vehicle for Arunachal Pradesh .

Along the way, a small river speeding downhill over beds of smooth river stones and dense forests

The drive from Nameri to Ziro is 8 hours and in the rainy season not for the fainthearted . I was warned by my cousin about landslides and had stocked up on stuff like instant noodles, biscuits,  juices, mosquito repellent etc . The scenery makes up for the road quality and driving through the mountains filled with exotic vegetation and waterfalls half covered in misty clouds is quite heady. I had my first glimpse of a  huge mithu, a feral oxen that lives in the hill forests of the eastern Himalayas.  It is considered a sacred animal by the ethic tribes that occupy these hills. These animals are sacrificed during religious rituals and are given to the bride’s family, before a wedding, as a bride price by the groom.

Lush green tropical vegetation. These two fern trees were growing right by the side of the road and I thought provide a nice contrast to the woman in the red sari

My new friends busy planting paddy

We reached the hotel around three in the afternoon after stopping for lunch at Ziro town. I decided to go for a small walk nearby to stretch my legs and get a feel for the place. I had seen a small pine groove from my room and thought it might be a nice spot to walk to. As I came out of the hotel gates and started wandering down the road, I saw some women busy planting paddy in a nearby field. I took out my camera and clicked a few pictures and noticed that the women had stood up and were waving in my directions, all smiles. I too waved back and continued towards the pine groove.

a traditional farm house near the pine groove just above the paddy fields where my friends were working

After my little walk, I was heading back to the hotel and looked to see how the women were doing with their planting. They again looked up and started gesturing for me to come down and meet them. I looked around and spotted a small make shift ladder propped up connecting  the road to the fields below . I climbed down and meandered over to them. They were very excited to know I was Indian and could speak Hindi. When I mentioned that I now live in Mumbai, one of them burst into the popular Hindi cinema song – “Bombay se aaya mere dost…” which translate as – my friend has come from Bombay. It was a icebreaker and got all of us smiling and joining along.

The joker cum singer of the group

They were a group of eleven, the youngest must have been 11 and I judge that the eldest would be in her early 60’s but I could be way off the mark as hill people have such timeless faces. Most of them had government jobs, varying from a peon/sweeper ( my Bombay se aaya friend) to an officer in the Agricultural department, in whose field they were planting. The children were studying in private schools in town. Every year during planting time which is in May they all take a month off work and help each other plant paddy in their fields. Even during the harvest season which is at the end of October. They weren’t related, just neighbours and friends. Paddy, they said, was a very important crop for them and was cultivated only once a year as in the winter months it’s too cold and the fields are full of frost.

Paddy fields outside Ziro near the Hong village

Rice is a staple part of their diet, along with boiled meat and vegetables. Meat is mainly beef, chicken, pork, rats, caterpillars and small bugs. In the paddy fields, filled with water, most farm carp fish too. Wild ferns, bamboo shoot, a range of mushrooms, millet are part of their vegetable range.They offered me tea and were curious about the food served in the hotel. So I asked the hotel to make pakoras ( a savoury tea time snack) for 5.30pm , when they would wrap up for the day. While they worked in the fields, I took out my sketchbook and started sketching them and the landscape around us. I declined offers to help them with the planting though they  had an extra pair of rubber boots . I think the early morning start of 5am was beginning to kick in.  All of them were dressed in full sleeve t-shirts with shirts on top , long pants , knee-length galoshes, scarves or hats  covered their heads and offered some protection from the sun and drizzle that took turns that day. The older women even had a half sarong tied around their waist.

Another new friend from the paddy fields, the tattoo markings on her face are still very visible. She stopped wearing the Nose plugs many years ago.

The women told me over tea and snack, that  they  had moved out of their villages and into town as it was more convenient to get jobs and send kids to school.  They went back to the village sometimes during festival time to practise the rituals but a few of them had converted to Christianity. When asked why , they said they believed in the Donyi-Polo rituals and sacrifices. But once one started the sacrifices, it had to be offered every year  as per the custom. So opting for Christianity was more convenient. A lot of people were leaving the villages to find work in Itanagar too ( that’s the state capital) The government was the main employer here. Slowly a few people were beginning to abandon their fields.

Made of cane leaves, bamboo and chicken feathers, these symbols are put up outside the houses that have made a sacrifice for a specific reason, turn of fortune or a person has got better after an illness or birth of a child . In the background is the pigsty and in side of the house is a small vegetable patch. Spinach and mustard were quite commonly grown.

One of the girls, studies at a college in Shillong, the state capital of Meghalaya and had come home for holidays to help her mother. We exchanged our Facebook details and I promised to send all the photographs I had taken of them. Photos of my husband and children were passed around , admired along with comments of how I only have two kids while each of them had a minimum of 6 each.    After we all exchanged hugs and a promise to visit during the Myoko festival in March, they changed their outfits for cleaner drier ones, packed up their  huge lunch boxes and flasks into the back of two Maruti Suzuki cars , got in and drove off.

Grooves of Bamboo that are owned by the people of the village, mark the entrance to the Hong village

Next day I went with my guide for a walk through two of the larger villages, Hong and Hari . I noticed that a few concrete houses had come up along side the traditional wood and bamboo houses on stilts, the younger women didn’t have the  tattoo marking on their faces . Nor did they wear the large wooden nose plugs, called as yaping hurlo. The young generations were very fashion forward in contemporary clothing and stylish hair do’s. I am still in awe of a group of girls who passed me by , on the way down a muddy  mountainside in 6″ stilettos while I barely managed to trudge along in my walking shoes. Tattooing the faces of young women has stopped being practised since the 1980’s. In olden  days when the tribes hunted and fought other tribes,  the women of the Apatani tribe were considered to be the most beautiful in the eastern Himalayas and were often kidnapped by invaders. This led to a unique tradition where the Apatani men started to tattoo their women and made them wear large nose plugs. I saw a lot of old women walking around who had tattooed faces.

Interior of An Apatani family home. Life centers around the fireplace, firewood is dried on top and the grandmother got her little grandchild tie on her back and covered by a blue shawl. Both nodding off.

Observing the traditional houses and village life with the symbols of the rituals and everyday  customs that are still practised in the same way many generations have done over centuries is a thrill I can only describe as finding a treasure. A visit to the market at Ziro, clearly indicates the transition that has started , old women in traditional outfits with tattooed faces sell fat yellow caterpillars, baskets, knives along side  small shops filled with cheap China made fashionable clothing and vendors from the plains of India, selling assorted packet products like branded toiletries, savouries and  ration. There are no cinema halls but most houses have television. They are quite educated and knew about life outside their villages, some of them have been to the metros to study and work for a year or two. But they prefer to return to their villages, they aren’t envious of us city folks and are very contented with their lot in life.

An old Apatani woman making her way slowly around the village. While behind her, another woman has returned after collecting firewood.

A  girl in her mid 20’s told me that the young generation still do what generations before had done, to let their hair down, go into the forest with friends, barbecue pork, make the local alcohol , spend a day or so and return. They are quite happy that there is now a music festival, an annual event, hosted in Ziro, something that the older generations don’t quite approve of.

A boy from the plains, sells vegetables next to an old woman selling yellow worms. He said he would negotiate on my behalf for a discount in price if I was willing to buy a kilo of the worms. He requested that I take this picture of his and put it on Facebook. The Pepsi bottles behind him contain fermented bamboo shoots are grated and mixed with salt water.

I am going to Ziro in March next year to connect with my new acquaintances, witness the rituals of the Myoko festival which rings in their new year that is in turn hosted by the different villages.  In olden days it was a reason for the male members of the tribe from other villages to make the trek to visit the host village, stay two nights and make merry . Next year three smaller villages Banin Michi, Mudang Tage and Hiza are hosting it together. As my uncle describes it, smell the flowers while they are still around. Any one interested in coming along, please write to me.

Standard
In India, People & lifestyle, Uncategorized

In the playground of the snow leopard

The Deban forest guest house

There is a small patch of land with a house on it, I visit so often in my mind. A crystal clear river flows below in front  and behind lies a mountain covered with tropical trees . Tucked away in the land of ethereal beauty, the Deban forest guest house situated within the Namdapha National Park, in Arunachal Pradesh is one of the most beautiful and serene spots I have ever been to.

view of the Namdapha National Park

Namdapha National Park is the third largest park in India and covers a varied range of altitudes. Hence offers a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. It also prides itself for being home to the clouded leopard, the snow leopard, the leopard and the tiger. Lot of birds inhabit this sanctuary that aren’t seen elsewhere.

A map of the park

As children growing up in Digboi, Reema and I always waited impatiently for our parents friends or relatives to visit from out-of-town. Usually , as part of showing the guests around the local spots , a trip to Deban guest house was planned. One had to apply for an inner line permit to enter Arunchal Pradesh as it is a protected area and enter is restricted. We have all hung around the family telephone, waiting for it to ring and confirm the permits .
Much excitement was in the air as 4 wheel drive Willy’s MB (Jeep) were borrowed from friends living in the tea estates. A whole inventory was done of food, beverages, alcohol and clothes etc that would be required for the 2-3 day trip. Meals planned, outdoor gear cleaned and at least four times a day we kids were threatened to be left behind if  we didn’t behave ourselves.

A typical thatch and bamboo hut on stilts that you will pass by

View of the park

We would start of early in the morning, stop at Margherita club or at a friend’s tea estate bungalow for breakfast, then continue. The drive from Margherita to the park is picturesque and at any given time , you are surrounded by 50 shades of green. A friend once counted 12 different types of ferns that we had crossed growing along the side of the road. We would stop on the way at the Miao Carpet factory, an undertaking to increase the income of the Tibetan settlement relocated there since 1974. A tour of the factory always included a small demonstration and selection of a carpet or two, which would be packed and kept ready to be picked up on our return journey. This stop, sorely tested us kids who just wanted to get to the riverside.

Miao carpet factory

My father would again stop at the check post to sign the required paper work, have a cup of tea and catch up on the animal sighting stories with the forest officer on duty. He always sent a car ahead that carried all the ration, the cook and his man Friday to get lunch started, with standing instructions to chill the beer in the icy cold waters of the Neo Dehing river that rapidly flows a little ahead of the guest house. Those days the guest house had four bedrooms, a dining room and a living room of sorts. A basic kitchen use to be there which our cook took over during our stay. There was no electricity and at night hurricane lamps were used. It had a wrap around veranda which was covered in mesh and about a hundred pigeons lived in the roof space below the tin sheets. Every morning one woke up to them cooing to each other in love and hate.

The Neo Dehing river, near the guest house

Once lunch was over , the grown ups would retire for a siesta. We kids would race to the beach, which consist of rocks smoothed by the river, large boulders to tiny  pebbles that felt like glass. I read once an article about an Englishman, who on retiring from an administrative post from the North east of India, took back home a truck load of these riverbed stones. He was so enamored by their shapes, textures, feel and colour. I too have a few small ones around the house and time to time, I love to rub the palm of my hand on these stones. Rubbing stones to start a fire was a favourite activity back then. Running up and down those warm rocks, we would collect anything that caught our imagination  to build whatever shape took our fancy.

After sunset a bonfire was lit, guitars came out and we kids were allowed to roast potatoes on a stick.  The sounds from the jungle  which travel far in the night, kept everyone guessing which animal it might be and how far away . There were no set bedtime on these trips, though I doubt we were awake much longer post dinner. Mornings we use to wake up early , crawl into our outdoor clothes and creep outside to go play on the machan, a platform erected on the trees. We would pretend that we had spotted a tiger or seen a herd of elephants passing by. In reality we made so much noise that no animal ever crossed our vision.

The vegetation

I am not sure what animals the grown ups saw , when they went on a ride or on elephant back into the jungle. Kids were never taken and this suited us fine. We had too many games to make up and play around the guest house and by the broad beach, which must surely be a playground belonging to some god. The sheer beauty of that spot is worth witnessing in one’s life time. During my last visit , which was seventeen years ago, I remember my father pointing out a form on a tree not too far from where we were standing. Soon the form lifted itself up and flew over us. It was a Great Indian Hornbill and the shadow cast by it covered us three adults standing beneath . I have never seen such a large bird before or after.

I should make a special mention of Nitai, our cook of those days. He loved cooking and gatherings bought out the best in him. Apart from the four big meals ( breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner)  he always had a snack to offer every hour or so.  Probably because Nitai  grew up on a tea estate, tea was the most important meal for him . He use to carry crisp starched tablecloths, napkins and even my mom’s silver tea set to these outings. It didn’t matter which location was choose, the riverside or the lawns, it had to be served just right with a cake and a freshly prepared savoury.

the Great Indian Hornbill

Maybe  it was those trips to Deban, were as a child I never had any anticipation of seeing a tiger or a leopard , just the thrill of the sight and sound of the forest , frolicking  in that picturesque setting that now whenever I feel the stress of urban living in my mind I visit my sanctuary, climb up to the machan or just wander by the river. One day I hope to go back , to spot the snow leopard while my children frolic in it’s playground.

During the Monsoons the sanctuary is closed and the river in spate, is like an angry monster tearing the hillside apart. Best time to visit would be between end October to Early March. Now you can book a room in the Guest house via trip advisor and lots of travel companies arrange the tour.

An overview of the river

In this post I haven’t attempted to describe the flora or the landscape. I have downloaded via google, images that tell a far more dramatic story .

Image courtesy – www. google.in

Standard
In India, People & lifestyle, Uncategorized

The illustrious Irani cafes and restaurants of Mumbai – current and bygone

My first exposure to the Irani cafes in the city was in 1992 , when I joined Sophia (junior) college. Limited budgets and the need to get out of the confined space of college saw my fellow students and me, daily in various cafes that were spread from Colaba to Worli. These eateries were started by Zorastrian Irani Immigrants and were very popular. Some still are.

Those days there were no fancy coffee shops like Coffee day or Starbucks. It wasn’t unusual to see 5 or 6 students share two plates of bun maska and three cups of tea or fresh lime soda (depending o the weather) over two hours in one of these cafes. Very rarely were we asked to leave or order more. With all our chatter, we probably livened up the place in the dull hours of business or may be the owners just took pity on us, perched behind the cash register, with big glass jars in front of them displaying the buns, biscuits etc,  is hard to tell looking back now.

Akuri, a spiced Parsi style of scrambled eggs, Mawa cake, Kheema pau , Ice cream soda, Khari biscuit, Parsi style mutton cutlet, Sali boti were added to my culinary palate. Later on when both my taste buds and wallet grew a bit, Mutton Dhansak, Chicken Farcha, Berry pulao and Patrani Macchi added to the list.

My favourite was Cafe Naaz opposite the hanging gardens on Malabar hill. It had a great view of the marine drive and the lush trees of Malabar hill. My friend Gupi and I were regulars. We spend many happy hours discussing the affairs of the world and our own from this fabulous spot. The cafe was on three levels and the top space was our preferred spot. The food was great and all sorts of people use to come there. Quite popular with both the hoi polloi and the celebrities of Bygone Mumbai. You never really knew who would be seated nearby. It was shut down around 1990’s by the BMC when the restaurant’s lease expired. I am sure many people join me in mourning the loss of this precious cafe.

I remember accompanying a friend’s mom for Christmas shopping and it was a ritual for her to visit Yazdani bakery for the Christmas cake and ginger biscuits. It is located near Horniman circle, in Fort. It advertises  itself as a Persian baked goods shop.

Kayani bakery and co , is said to be the oldest surviving  Irani bakery in the city . It is situated on marine lines and I had my first Bun maska here. It was my introduction to Irani cafe chairs that are made with bent wood and I have coveted them ever since. Thanks to my friend Jackie, I am now a proud owner of four of these chairs!

 

For a proper meal  Jimmy Boy in Fort or Britannia and Co in Ballard Estate are the top pickings. On a recent visit after a gap of many years, it was heartening to see that nothing had changed at Britannia. Including the decor and the owner, Boman Kohinoor, who still did the rounds of greeting each table and showing us a picture of him taken with Prince William and Kate Middleton during their visit to Mumbai. Apart from the food, the interiors of these cafes offer a lot of eye candy for anyone interested in vintage decor and furniture.  A sure treat and a must during a visit to Mumbai.

 

Image courtesy –  author’s own and http://www.google.in

Standard
Indian Textiles, Indigenous crafts of India, People & lifestyle, Uncategorized

Back strap looms of the seven sister states

I have a soft spot for back strap looms, as these were the first  looms I ever saw and the brilliant colours that were laid out and woven together  to form a third colour or pattern still fascinate me even after spending 20 odd years as a weaver and designing for the textile market. Sometimes at night when I am sleepless, I recall those colours and my grandmother softly spinning her yarns. It calms me.

There are over three lakh weavers, in Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland, the seven north-eastern states of India . These weavers are women and practice their craft on a very primitive loom, which are simple in construction and easy of operation. This is in sharp contrast to traditional weaving in other parts of India where weaving is done by the men generally.

Low in cost, these looms have no permanent fixtures and are easily portable. Leather or cloth band is used to fix the loom around the woman’s back to provide stability while weaving , hence the name back strap loom. In certain parts of the world these are also known as lion looms.


In the these states, weaving is more of a traditional custom, than an occupation. Most women get together in a courtyard outside their houses and set up loom once done with the daily house work and the atmosphere is quite relaxed and informal. During the monsoons these women set up loom inside their homes. During planting and harvest season, one rarely sees any weaving happening as everyone is out in the fields pitching in, agriculture is the primary occupation.


The advantage that lies with these looms is the unlimited scope that they offer for designing as replicating abstract geometric patterns are limitless. Also the weaver is not limited by how many colours she can use in the weft, thus creating very striking designs that are timeless. Narrow strips of cloth are woven and then joined to form unstitched garments which they drape themselves in. Also shawls, bags with long straps and broad fabric belts were traditionally woven.

Nowadays most weavers don’t find it practical to weave these long strips of fabric for garments. They are adapting to changing times with the help of a few non government organizations and designers . A lot of them are creating products primarily for the urban markets, where people are waking up to appreciating hand-made products.  Scarves, cushion covers, runners, table mats, napkins are common products that they create, using their old traditional patterns and vibrant colours schemes.

The Bodos, a Mongoloid stock who at some point in history migrated from the Bod, a province of central Tibet to Assam and parts of Eastern Bengal, are divided into many sub tribes , such as Dimasa Kachari, Bodo Kachari, Rabha, Deori and Garo and over time have spread to many parts of this region.  They are the finest weavers of the north-east .

The decorative shawls of the Ao tribe of Nagaland is probably the most striking in terms of its bold colour scheme and is known as Tsungkotepsu and traditionally exclusively worn by warriors who had killed in battle  or offered a sacrifice of mithun , an animal that is held sacred in many parts of this region.

weaves1

One of my favourite design is from Manipur , known as Kudam Manbi and is based on a pattern of beads and cowrie shells made by the Kukis, a tribe that inhabits regions of Manipur and Mizoram.

Textiles of Manipur

 

image courtesy – http://www.google.in

Refrence – ignca.nic.in; http://www.craftmark.org;

Standard