Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Part 2 of Requiem for a Master

In those early days of our natural dyeing, we travelled to Penukonda & Hindupur in Anantapur district with Sir to teach cotton yarn dyeing to a group of girls and young women through a local organization, and to work with professional dye-houses dyeing silk for our silk saree project through the same organization. We used to carry bags of dye material with us on the train from Hyderabad, which had to be unloaded quickly at Penukonda during the one-minute halt there. Once we had 11 packages and the train came in to the station on a track away from the platform, which meant that we had to climb down to ground level, cross one set of tracks and then climb onto the platform, quite a feat of agility. Sir on such occasions would behave more like an eager schoolboy than a famous 60 year old consultant with a serious heart condition.

Teaching the girls was a pleasure. Though they were illiterate and natural dyeing was new to them, its basic vocabulary was familiar since it was like household cooking, and it was just a matter of learning the recipes. We worked out non-literate ways of weighing and measuring and they were on their way. The dye-houses were another matter. They were cynical about making the dyes fast and the Hindupur dyehouse made Annapurna & me tear out our hair; for the first time we encountered obstinate non-cooperation. The dyers there would not keep the yarn in the dye-bath on the fire for the 45 minutes required to get deep, fast colour. They would whisk it off in 10 minutes, so the colours were light and dye material wasted. Sir would not be upset. 'Never mind' was one of his favourite phrases. He excused others' faults though he was rigorous himself.

Chinnur was another of our early collaborations with Sir. In this former market town in Adilabad district we worked with a small group of 6 cotton weavers and a tassar weaver from Kusnapally, a nearby village. Sir initiated Dastkar Andhra's natural dyeing here, travelling uncomplainingly by second class on the train from Hyderabad to Mancherial, and from there only 35 kilometres but an hour by rattling country bus to Chinnur. The dyeing was done in a lean-to behind one of the weavers' houses using hand-pumped water from tube wells. The water here never gave us the reds we got in coastal Andhra. And in the beginning we had problems with fastness, but we and the weavers persisted, and slowly natural dyeing took root. Now, eight years later, this group of six makes a good living from natural dyed fabrics. And what we learnt here with Sir and the weavers is the basis of Dastkar Andhra's natural dyeing teaching programme today: How to share knowledge without falling into the trap of self-importance, how to pass on the respect the knowledge deserves without making it seem difficult or obscure.

more follows...

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