Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Greetings from: DHAMADKA

If yesterday was the earthquake tour, then today was the textiles tour. As part of the rehabilitation effort, NGOs invested their resources into providing the Kutchi people a livelihood and not simply a hand-out. To this end, they made an effort to revive Kutchi handicrafts -- primarily in the textile industry. There’s a dizzying array of traditions at work in Gujarat; each tribe has its own specialty, its own designs. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t try my best to support them -- primarily by shopping.

The earthquake reconstruction period split communities in an odd way; some villages chose to rebuild where they were, while others simply picked up and moved a few meters down the way. In some cases, half the village would leave for a brand-new development, brand-new town, while the old village had its own, separate revitalization. And in both places, the villagers were able to restart their craft-making.

Ajrakhpur, for instance, split off from Dhamadka, but both towns continue their specialty: block-printing. The initial design is stamped onto a length of cloth and then stretched out in the sun, weighted with rocks, to dry. From there, the Muslim craftsmen (with firm and steady hands) continue to dye the cloth, expanding or filling in the colors of the first print. The natural dyes used in the process (derived from turmeric, pomegranate, iron) don’t appear too striking when first applied, but after a washing and boiling process, the vibrancy emerges.

Meanwhile, in Dhaneti, the women practice Ahir embroidery, an intricate and, frankly, stunning art. Traditionally, their finest work is reserved for their dowry, but the handiwork is unmistakable nonetheless -- tight stitching, bright silk thread, embedded mirrors. One craftswoman explained that the embroidery for a pillow cover would take about 10 days to complete. From their needles, animals emerge: horses, elephants, peacocks.

From what I’ve been told, in Bhujodi, every household has a loom for weaving -- and there are approximately 200 households there. From the shop, I could hear the clacking of the looms; each house can make one shawl a day, ranging in materials from a soft, imported Australian wool to a more rough, textured Kutchi wool. Shawls were stacked waist-high on the floor of the shop. As I stood deciding, he examined a recently-made one, a quick quality-control check.

It’s somewhat of a given that the highest-quality items are usually sold through high-end retail shops, like Shrujan or Qatab (both have, I might add, a strong development focus and conscience). The shops in the small villages themselves tend to have lower-quality items, but with the cheaper price tag.

You get what you pay for, and that counts for both fabrics and NGOs.

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