Thursday, August 26, 2010

October is going to be a busy month for malkha. Melange, Mumbai, is to hold a fashion show of garments made of malkha designed by Mayank Mansingh Kaul, Peter D'Ascoli and others of the Afterhours group. At the same time the Nature Bazar in Delhi will be on, first for the Commonwealth Games and later for the general public. In this there will be two malkha stalls, one for garments & fabric and the other for household goods designed and sold by the Crafts Council of Delhi.

At the malkha stall we will hesitantly introduce indigo prints on malkha, hesitantly because while we are confident of the fastness of indigo yarn dyeing, we don't know how fast printing with indigo will be. But the prints are certainly beautiful. We have also tried out Ajrakh prints on malkha, which are also lovely. Unfortunately the Kutch printers are still using synthetic indigo which doesn't have the brilliance of the real thing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Stories from Chinnur: 2

Kunasamudram steel.. the legendary material is said to have made chisels for stonemasons of the Great Pyramid. Damascene swords were made from it in the middle ages and the wootz technique copied in Europe. As we walk from village to village around Chinnur 20 years ago we see the blackened places that define slagheaps on the banks of the local cheruvu, where steel was smelted till the early years of the 20th century. Not only the steel itself was a technological marvel, it was smelted in small earthen crucibles that were able to withstand the temperatures that melted the iron ore out of the metal-bearing rock.

It was the Mannevarlu who had been steelmakers for centuries. The current generation had seen it in their childhoods, but had never practiced it themselves. It was done at night, they said, on moonless nights so that you could see the molten steel flow. Iron-bearing rock was scattered on the ground around the stream-beds. Small earthen furnaces were loaded with charcoal made from local hard woods. Hide bellows, foot-pumped, raised the furnace temperature. And there you had it, the highest quality steel ever made, no mining scars, no displacement, independent professionals, a highly skilled artisan technique.

The Mannevarlu now eke out a living as agricultural labour, their cynical employers giving them part wages in liquor they distill from raw sugar. Some are employed by the Silk Board to mate the tassar moths, something only the Mannevarlu seem to be able to accomplish.

Srinivas and I walk through the forest with Sarpanch of Kusnepally, on our way to try out, yet again, steel-smelting with the Mannevarlu. The Sarpanch is of the Devangula jati, a tassar weaver. He scans the trees as we walk, and darts off now and then to pick a wild tassar cocoon. The stronger ones among the wild tassar moths, he tells us, were able to force their way out of the cocoon without biting through the silk, so you got the thread all in one length. Today the cultivated insects have lost this ability. The cocoons have to be boiled to kill the grubs before they bite their way out, cutting the silk to bits.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Nature Bazar is still on in Bangalore till the 15th. This year there have been better arrangements, particularly for rain, with galleries protecting most of the stalls, and boards underfoot over most of the puddles. And a good thing too, as we've had some really heavy downpours, which Bangaloreans say are unusual. Then there have been some really charming performances by the girl acrobat-dancers of Orissa and the Lambada women of Sandur, Bellary. The Rajasthani puppeteers too not only sell puppets but do little shows now and then.

Most of the stalls, including ours, have done well this year. Our great satisfaction has been to have customers who have bought malkha before, loved wearing it and have come back for more. There are also people who like the cloth but bemoan the lack of good tailors in Bangalore. And one unfortunate experience: a customer who said he was given short length last year. This must have been cut by our helpers from the units, since the Malkha staff are trained to cut an inch or so extra. Of course we offered to take it back.

All Bazar pictures look alike, but I'm putting up a 28 second video anyway. Fellini its not, but you get a sense of what its like selling malkha at a bazar - showing the fabric, measuring, cutting, billing, packing, taking the money & returning change, all at top speeds and in a cramped space.

Sunday, August 1, 2010