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Getting your hands indigoed

Process of Indigo dyeing

Ashwini Joglekar |

Rajashthan – The land of Kings and Palaces; The land with a glorious past and people famous for their craftsmanship and hospitality. I had a chance to mingle and work with some of these craftsmen through a craft tour organized by Treasured Holidays in December 2016.

Seeing the skilled craftsmen doing the Dabu and Bagru printing seemed quite simple and the whole rhythm was like a well-oiled machine – consistent and uniform. So was the output; to near perfection. However, while trying it first-hand I quite understood the laborious hours that must have gone into this near perfect job that appears to be so simple. The rhythmic sound of hitting the heavy wooden block twice to allow the dye penetrate into the fabric hit me real hard when I saw the edge of their right palm that has become hard and numb.

Bagru Hand Block Printing

A seasoned craftsman may exactly visualise how his creation is going to look like but each hand made product is unique; done never before and cannot be replicated ever after. Right from choosing the blocks and stamping the first block onto the cloth and taking it through various stages from dying to drying, at every step, I experienced the magic of creating something unique and anticipating the unexpected.

This trip will be memorable not only because of the creative stint in Dabu and Bagru printing, but also because of the colourful impressions Bagru made on me…

‘Chiponka -Bagicha’ i.e. the lane of printers is the place you should be at if you want to see Dabu and Bagru printing. Almost all households here are into this trade. On sunny mornings and afternoons, seeing several meters of indigo cloth hanging over the terrace walls is a common sight. From sunrise to the sunset, the community ground is abuzz with busy men and women drying lengths of fabrics in batches. Around Chipa Bagicha, there is an entire eco-system of washers, dyers and wooden block makers who are inevitable part of the whole process.

Making of Wooden Block Design

Carving of the wooden block

Fabric dyeing

Just couple of years back, around 40 families were involved in the trade, but in 2016, the number had gone up to 200, thanks to the demand from local and international markets. Along with organic dyes, one could see plenty of bright reds, yellows and blues which were obviously chemical based and cheap, but one can just say that if there is demand there is supply.

Sun drying of fabrics after block printing

A Conversation…

On my last day in Jaipur, visited the famous pink city. Look at it as an outsider, roads are full of people, animals and traffic; everything but order. But one can see people and businesses doing normal in fact thriving in this atmosphere. The moment you immerse yourself into it, it becomes the norm. The definition of normal is so relative…

While going back to my hotel, took a cycle rikshaw which is very unique to the northern parts of India. While talking to him about the traffic in the city and number of hours he worked for, he mentioned that he was riding a cycle rikshaw for last 10 years. He and his uncle were tapestry weavers and were doing good, but because of the downturn in the market, the trade was no more feasible. In this strife called life, everyone is struggling to find meaning and if you are at the bottom of the pyramid then being alive could be the only meaningful thing you could think of. The work that earns you the two meals of the day matter the most. But when an artisan gets out the trade, we are losing some tacit knowledge that was earned over generations’ hard work and may not be ever restored.

As an individual, my means are too small to control or restore the fate of a trade, but together if all of us decide to make a choice which favours a handmade product, we may be able to save it for little longer.