Ghost lights or Chir Batti (as called in local language) in Banni Grasslands; Wild Ass Sanctuary, Narayan Sarovar, Chinkara Sanctuary, The Rann of Kutch I was excited! Sitting in the train, was calculating and recalculating how do we cover all this in 6 days! All of a sudden I visualized a typical Gurjari ,traditionally decorated, bright coloured bag. A discussion may have provoked my processor as I overheard Snehal and Anjali discussing about a bag, a bag that was completely different than the one that had flashed on the screen of my mind.
Anjali with her bag
Oh! the calculations and planning so far, started disappearing and something called as rogan art …bell metal…lacquer work… embroidery.. Nirona ..Hodko ..Dhordo …all that I had scribbled on the other side of the page without knowing what it was, started appearing. Reminding me that we were on our way to Kutch, Gujrat to explore the art from the Rann. As for Anjali she was keen to get some more similar bags as she believed it was from Kutch; she had brought it from an exhibition and could not get more bags else where. I had no clue whats so ever what was so special about the bag and why both of them were discussing it for so long. The fourth member from the troop, Hrishikesh was busy reading new book by Paulo Coelho.
Map courtesy: http://www.expeditiononwheels.com
How strange is human mind, in moment I was thinking about Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. The book was all about realizing your destiny and the famous philosophy – “when you really want something to happen, the whole universe conspires so that your wish comes true”. I did not know when I felt asleep and after a overnight train journey we were in Bhuj.
One of the towers in the Prag Mahal complex Bhuj, cracks developed during 2001 earthquake.
As we strolled across the city asking people about Hunnarshala to which most of the locals thought we were asking about the location where Amir Khan‘s famous movie Lagaan was shot. Little did we know that visit to Hunnarshala is going to completely change the course of our tour, our thinking and our outlook towards life as such.
Hunnarshala Foundation was formed after the massive earthquake of Kutch in 2001 with objectives to promote eco-friendly construction practices, low energy building designs & technologies which are scientifically validated through research initiatives. These technologies have glimpses of local culture and aesthetics. The knowledge of these technologies is transferred to the local artisans who further link it to the contemporary market.
Hunnarshala Foundation campus
This place resonated so much of energy.Every single detail had a story to share, every single tile was telling me something, every husk that made the roof was showing character. We could sense the enthusiasm of Neha and Hardika as they guided us through the campus. Interaction with Shri. Sandeep Virmani and Shri. Mahavir Acharya was intriguing. All four of us were awestruck, we were witnessing an unusual piece of work integrating architecture social and environmental aspects and creating incredible positive impact.
For a moment I thought my trip to Kutch has been fulfilled on day 1 but the region and people had stored lot more as Neelamben from Hunnarshala was guiding us in planning the tour further. We were asking a thousand questions to Neelamben and the best one was from Anjali – “Do you know where can I find the maker of this bag”?
“Khamir” Snehal exclaimed while Neelamben attended a phone call “that is the place where we might find your bag”. I was not sure where we were going and what all these names and places meant. But I was happy for what I had seen and learned so far.
Meantime visit to Khamir had to wait as we were off to the port city of Mandvi to witness the ship building activity.
Ship Building at Mandvi
No engineers, no drawings, no big machines and a 2000 ton cargo vessel was being constructed measuring 140 ft length, 60 ft width and around 30 ft in height. Mohammad bhai happily shared the details and how he learned the technique from his fore fathers. Mandvi is the only ship building yard in the sub continent where this traditional technique is still used to make these wooden vessels that would eventually stroll the oceans. Across the road lies Shivji’s shop where one can get to see hand made scaled down models of various ships.
The wind carried the sand of dry dockyard and brought the memories of The Alchemist back to me “The closer one gets to realizing his destiny, the more that destiny becomes his true reason for being.” Standing on the top of the ship; a thought crossed my mind has Mohammad bhai realized his destiny? Have Sandpeep bhai and Mahavirbhai of Hunnarshala realized their dreams? Far away on the shore I saw Anjali with her bag and for the very first time I thought will their be an interesting tale in making of this bag as well? Will we be able to find Who made Anjali’s bag?
As the journey continued there were more feelings in our heart than the the analysis and facts in our brain. We had traveled almost 200 kilometers to reach a school in Nilpar and then in Ratanpar on our way to the ancient metropolis of Dholavira. Both the schools were based on Gandiji’s Philosophy of Nai Talim.
Classrooms of Gram Swaraj Sangh School Ratanpar
Have I seen a school that has classrooms in different shapes? The school is situated few kilometers from the Rann and the region has extreme temperatures and marginal rainfall. The school along with Hunnarshala has experimented in the forms of the class room to manage the weather conditions. They have their building decorated with the local art and paintings done by the students. Most importantly after meeting Muktaben Bhausar and Nakulbhai we realized the school was making the next generation able and strong in true sense. We were on a study tour to Kutch to study its art and here we were learning humanism at its best from the people from this wonderful land.
The earth suddenly turned white as we crossed the Rann from Dholavira on our way back to Bhuj.
The Great Rann of Kutch near Dholavira
On the way back we could see a few more art forms like the ahir emriodery and aari work in Ratanpar, however possibility to meet the maker of Anjali’s bag eluded once again as we crossed Khamir late in the evening and reached Dhordo.
By now the travel plan for sanctuaries was washed out from my memory along with the fact that I had made a neat plan on paper. A signboard on the road read Nirona reminding me of the words scribbled on the other side of the paper. The paper read Rogan Art – Nirona. A few turns right and left and another signage read ‘Free Hand Rogan Art Centre’ and I read free – hand Rogan art …thinking must be something like tattoo! And that was really really silly to think.
Khatribhai demonstrating Rogan Art
The Khatri family of Nirona is the only family in the whole world to practice Rogan Art and keep the art alive. They are also trying to teach this art to school students. The Rogan Art at first glance looked like brush painting however as Khatribhai demonstrated it was mind blowing. The tree of life painting was simply out of this world. I don’t know why but my mind was going again and again on Anjali’s bag thinking may be this bag that looks so simple can have a fascinating process just like Rogan Art.
We covered Bell Metal and Laqure works in Nirona, block printing in Ajrakhpur, new Shrujan Museum, the beautiful weaving work in Bhujodi at Shamjibhai Vankar’s place. and finally Khamir on the very last day of our tour!
Khamir : an artisan at work
Khamir works to strengthen and promote the rich artisanal traditions of Kutch district. The name stands for Kachchh Heritage, Art, Music, Information and Resources. It serves as a platform for the promotion of traditional handicrafts and allied cultural practices, the processes involved in their creation, and the preservation of culture, community and local environments. Shabri guided us through the Khamir campus. This time we were spell bound with the rich art and culture of the region and more importantly the efforts taken by the Khamir team to preserve, protect, promote and pass it on the next gen artisans. Shopping for some nice stuff at Khamir was fantastic if only we could get the bag or meet the bag maker! We were running out of time and Shabri said the bag rarely came these days to Khamir. She said we might get it at Tesjsi Vankar bhai in Kukma!
Anjali wanted to give it a try and check it in Kukma about 10km from Khamir and we all joined in along with our auto rickshaw driver Sunil bhai. In kukma we asked people about Tejsi Vankar and no one knew. Some said behind a temple some said further crossing the railway line some said no Vankar lived here?45minutes searching for Tejsi Vankar bhai, we crossed the railway line, went in to an area Sanjotnagar to find Tejsi Vankar…the only question remained now was did he make Anjali’s bag?
Tejsibhai Vankar (R) with his sons and weaving set up. Photo by Snehal Joshi.
Out of the 10 families practicing Kharad Weaving until the 1990s, there are only two left. All others have shifted to other livelihood options. These 2 artisan families are also finding it hard to get regular orders.Tejsibhai belongs to one of the two families that practice Kharad Weaving.
Looking at the beautiful carpets and the belts for camel, Anjali asked did you made this bag? We all waited for a yes…
The bag and its maker. Photo by Snehal Joshi
…but before Tejsibhai said a word the happiness in his eyes revealed the maker.
P.S. : “Whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It’s your mission on earth”.. The Alchemist. Well it is hard to find someone who has realized their dream but in Kutch we were lucky to meet so many artists and people from Hunnarshala and Khamir who definitely have a mission on the earth and their passion for their work is in turn nourishing the soul of the Universe.