Well I’m back home in Evanston but there are some things I never managed to post, so I will continue for a bit. It’s chilly and rainy and a bit too quiet for me here. I am missing my second home – Bangalore. Ashwin said to me, ‘ Aren’t we lucky Mummy? We have two homes.’ and indeed we do – and we are.
This guy presented himself to us one morning and just look what he can do!
He flattens himself out and draws his front legs together in front to look like a leaf and stem. We found him in the living room and it looked like a leaf had just stuck to the wall. I spent my morning taking some pictures of the ground floor apartment where my in-laws live. I want to capture some of these vignettes of home before they change. When I think back to my first visit to India in 2002, so much has changed and is now lost.
Plant shelf opposite the side door
Turned wooden container with lid
A shelf in Saras Auntie’s room
Canes and brooms in the corner
Plates and vessels drying outside
Just when I think I’m over jetlag and I have been sleeping through the night, I’m up at 1:30 in the morning and unable to go back to sleep. Time to write a blog. Today is Venkatesh’s birthday and will probably be busy, but yesterday the day began quietly with coffee. We didn’t have to go anywhere and I wandered through the house taking some pictures.
Some things for a pooja in the kitchen.
Red oxide floors in the front hall.
Vegetables waiting to be cooked by Shivama.
Venkatesh and I took a small walk to the stationery shop around the corner. He wanted to buy an inexpensive Hero fountain pen. They are made in China but were used by school children when they started fifth standard in India. We bought the last one with the old body design and were told they won’t be getting any more. No one asks for them.
We walked past shops and stopped for a coffee at a small breakfast place. Coffee is piping hot and served in a 2 ounce glass with milk and sugar. You stand and drink it on the sidewalk then put the dirty glass in a tub. The price is 10 rupees or approximately one and one half cents. That’s the first time I’ve calculated the cost in dollars and the price is crazy! Goodbye Starbucks! Strangely enough, Starbucks does exist in India and the coffee is just as expensive as it is in the U.S. How can these two options exist in the same market, on the same block?
One of my favorite shop signs on 8th Main, Malleswaram.
Local snack shop on 8th Main.
While traveling to India this time, we flew Emirates through Dubai Airport. The first leg of the journey was over 13 hours but it worked out well. Once the dinner was over and the lights dimmed, we still had plenty of time left to sleep for the night, and it didn’t feel like we were jolted awake at 3 in the morning. I was very excited to see Dubai from the plane and although we didn’t have window seats, our plane had cameras that we could access on our movie screens. One view pointed directly down to the ground and one showed the pilots view. We watched as our plane went over the downtown area with all the skyscrapers, and we watched the buildings dwindle in height as we flew toward the airport. Eventually random squares were dispersed in the desert, some filling with wind driven sand. Most areas were sandy with scrubby brush, then a bright green rectangle would appear, or one filled with trees and plants in a line. The highways from above looked very orderly and geometric, with many roundabouts.
As we entered Dubai Airport, the first thing we noticed was the quiet – this is a no announcement airport. It is a very sleek , modern airport and we had to take several elevators and a tram to get to our terminal. As we went up an escalator suddenly we heard a soft Namaz, call to prayer, it was soothing and ethereal. I still feel this is one of the most beautiful sounds in the world. This airport was a dream – not crowded or noisy, no lines, and we didn’t have to go through yet another security check. We could go from terminal to terminal freely. I feel that this is the way to travel in future.
One easy four hour flight and we were in Bangalore. Gopal, my 84 year old father in law, was there to meet us as usual at 3 a.m. Bangalore time. He is truly amazing. So we are now SOD in Bangalore and battling jetlag.
Dyes on the studio wall remind me of a Cy Twombly painting.
Yesterday I took a fabric printing workshop at Tharangini in Bengaluru (the city has officially changed it’s name since the last post). It was so much fun to spend time in the studio, touching the beautiful wood blocks and printing with them. We began by practicing on a sheet of wrapping paper and a gift bag. We were then given two cushion covers to design and we could choose from the hundreds of blocks lining the walls. The printing process is quite different from block printing with a brayer and printing ink. The textile color is not as tacky. It is spread onto a flexible support and overlaid with a rough jute fabric for blocks with larger print areas. For finer blocks a fine smooth muslin is put on top of the jute and the ink is encouraged to seep up through the layers.
The owner, Padmini, told us about the history of Tharangini, then introduced us to some of the materials and the steaming process. Everything used in the dying and printing process is Eco friendly and often organic.
Gum Arabic on the upper right and pomegranate rinds on the bottom. The pomegranate makes a dull lime green color.
The steaming area for fixing silk dyes.
The container on top of the red oven in the foreground is where the water is heated, it is then piped into the tall metal cylinder behind, where the fabric is first top loaded and then steamed. The cone in the foreground goes on top.
For me one of the greatest highlights was seeing the teak wood blocks being carved. The artisan had his small chisels custom made in Calcutta. I love how he lightly outlines the pattern first, then carves with chisels and mallet to get a deep relief carving. Teak is a very hard and durable wood. I’m in awe of this craft.
Wood blocks drying in the sun.
Two women mixing inks in front of the drying room.
I went to visit Tharangini, (tharangini studio.com), a place on the edge of Sankey Tank in Bangalore that makes block printed fabrics using all natural materials. I had visited before around ten years ago and had forgotten how great this place is. First it is in a beautiful spot on a quiet tree lined street. It’s an enclave in Bangalore, away from the sound and air pollution. They were in the middle of a print run of furnishing fabric designed by Seema Krish. After printing the fabric design, it gets sent to a unit for underprivileged women to have hand stitching. Ten women will work on it at the same time for five hours to complete five meters of cloth.
One of these printers has worked here for decades. He worked for the mother of the current owner, Padmini Govind. Here he is in action, lining up the block for a continuous design. The numbered wood blocks line the walls of the workshop.
Sunitha, my mother in law is having two saris printed. Below, she and my sister-in-law Vinuta are discussing with Padmini to decide which block patterns will work best. I went to see if they could print my truck blocks on fabric. Padmini and her printers ran a test to see how it might work and will continue to try a few different techniques to see how well they can get them to work. My linoleum block prints are shallower than the wood blocks that they use. They also contain large print areas and detailed areas, making it difficult to get a good print using their usual technique. They proposed thickening up their printing ink to make it stickier and using a brayer instead of dipping the block in a tray of ink. I am excited to see their results! I am also going for a workshop on November 5th to learn their fabric printing technique. I’ll let you know how it goes!
Anyone looking for a god?
Sunitha, (my mother in law), says ‘you can get anything in Malleshwaram’. This is our neighborhood in Bangalore and there are definitely many beautiful and interesting things. 8th Cross is the shopping street where the streets and alleys are full of sidewalk vendors. One alley is full of fruits and vegetables, another has silks and a third has temple and puja items.
Below is a shop where you buy kum kum. This is offered in small bowls or containers when visiting someone’s home. It took me such a long time to know what to do with this, but it’s so simple. Take a pinch of red and dot between your eyes and a pinch of yellow to smear on the hollow of your neck, the jugular notch (once called the Bosphorus in the English Patient). I’m sure there are lots of ways to do it, but the first time I was presented with red and yellow powder in bowls, I was completely clueless. Luckily I have family that can show me what to do.
Kum kum shop
Something I love in India are the painted signs. The following are some nice ones I’ve seen in the area.
Indian match boxes have great graphics (a future post) and this is a hand stenciled ad in the train station. It’s quite large and takes up most of a wall on the platform.
Malleshwaram rail station
This one is on the road leading to Ashwin’s school.
Hmmm, please don’t pee in school zone?
This appears to be hand painted on top of another sign.
The Nandini milk stalls always seem to be hand painted. They are all a bit different from each other, but usually include the Nandini cow symbol. This one has pictures of the milk and lassi packets also.
Gopal buying milk
Our house with diyas lit in front
India has been celebrating Diwali, the festival of light and good fortune for the past three days. According to the calendar, Wednesday was Naraka Chaturdasa and Friday was Ballipadyami. How this translates into the Diwali holiday I don’t know, but many people were shopping for new clothes on Wednesday and most businesses were closed on Thursday for Diwali. We have had fireworks, crackers and bombs going off for three nights. It rained on Wednesday and Thursday, so the blasting was light. We took a walk to see the lights and fireworks in the neighborhood when the rain let up. Families were lighting strings of crackers, M80’s, rockets and flowerpots in front of their homes. Despite a big campaign to curb the use of fireworks due to danger and air pollution, people are still not very careful when lighting. Cars, motorcycles and pedestrians have to be very careful, as the fireworks are set off in the middle of the road despite traffic. If you see a burning ember in the road, swerve around it or run! As in all things Indian, it is a noisy, chaotic experience.
Friday night was was the first clear night and there were many large firework displays. We were able to watch from our terrace as they went off in four different directions. It’s hard to believe these are amateur displays. The video shows one that went off right over our terrace, lit by a neighbor two houses away. We had a beautiful view on a soft warm night. We sat and watched while Ashwin slept through it peacefully.
The wood room is a place on the terrace where Ashwin’s Tata (grandfather) keeps his building materials and some treasures. It seems he is always pulling some beautiful old piece out of a corner or cabinet. The following shows a part of the world within the woodshed walls. I am channeling my friend and colleague, Chris Conniff O’Shea, who always has such a sophisticated eye for grouping beautiful and interesting things. The monochromatic selection is quite the opposite of the previous posting of my brightly colored book. I also felt if I didn’t record these photos, they would soon go away. They are in a moldy and decaying stack on a shelf. Venkatesh wants to save them and have them restored, but they may be beyond that already. Enjoy!
Gopal’s family, he is the boy in the back row, far right.
I believe this one is Gopal’s brother.
This one is a mystery.
The beloved India Institute of Science.