Wednesday 12 August 2015

Journey of a Handwoven Piece of Fabric- Photo story

In the few days that I spent at Bhujodi, during my Kutch trip, painting a wall outside  the award-winning Master weaver Dayabhai Ala's home, I had the opportunity to observe how the shawls and saris that we adorn ourselves with, evolves from the thread to the beautiful fabrics ready for use. Here's the photo story....

At Bhujodi, in Ashok bhai's house, bundles of thread are bought by the kilo from Ludhiana..This one is merino wool thread..

The strands of thread are separated so that it doesn't get entangled.

                  A closer look..

Water being boiled for the starch..

The starch used is that from wheat..

The separated thread is then dipped into the starch..

The entire length of the thread..

 The drying process starts early in the morning to benefit maximum from the sun..

 The whole family gets busy with the drying process..

The threads are then combed to separate the strands again..

The special comb..:-)

The dried and starched thread is then spun onto a bobbin which is then used on the loom

 The master weaver at work.  The shawls/saris are either dyed after being woven or in some cases the thread is dyed and then woven.

And finally they are ready to fly to new homes and closets..:-)

Tuesday 4 August 2015

Wall Art at Just-Being Counselling Center.

Last week, I did a wall-art with a Mathematician friend, in a counselling center, Just Being, ( They expressed their desire to have some blue in the art for its calming effect, so we drew a mermaid, dolphins and other water elements.

Friday 24 July 2015

Monsoon Trek to Sudhagad

I had been postponing going for trekking for no particular reason, ever since coming to Pune. Then last Saturday morning, I thought to myself, "It's either now or never". I browsed through the Pune Hikers calender and zeroed in on 2 treks, one to the Torna Fort also called Prachandagad and the other to Sudhagad. I called up both the organizers and was told both treks are graded 'easy'. That was important because my muscles must have got atrophied due to lack of serious treks and trails in the last 7 years. I confirmed my presence with both organizers and luckily that day being Eid, it was a bank holiday so I was told I could make the payment in person. I woke up at 4 a.m the next morning with only around 4 hours of sleep after a late night dinner. I sat for the first 5 minutes swinging between trekking and sleeping more. Luckily I chose the former. The next dilemma at 4.05 in the morning was to choose between Torna and Sudhagad. I sat and browsed for 10 minutes reading up more about both and realized that no other trekking group had listed Sudhagad. So it was Sudhagad, I got ready and left home at 5.30 a.m. 

Sudhagad is located in Raigad district, and as we descended the ghats and approached Thakurwadi which is the base village for the trek, I could sense the air getting heavier with moisture, as Raigad is closer to the coastline. Shivaji Maharaj, the warrior king of Maharashtra and my childhood hero is said to have made Sudhagad as one of his main bases. It also happens to be a replica of the Raigad fort which was Shivaji's headquaters.

We reached Thakurvadi, a small village with a few houses scattered and malnourished men, women and children around. After a short brief, we started our climb at 10.30 am. The trek passes through amazing landscapes, dense foliage, giant trees, gnarled roots, twisted creepers, chirping birds and above all, right at the top, at 2030 feet above sea level, you get to swallow clouds..:-) We started trekking at 10.30 a.m and wound up by 6.45 p.m with a half hour lunch break. That's around 7.5 hours of continuous walking on rough terrain. Luckily I've been jogging since a few months and didn't find the trek difficult. Of course, once I sat in the bus, drenched to the bones (I had not carried a change of clothing and it had rained heavily on and off), my legs throbbed with pain due to the cold!! 

Sudhagad seen from the base village Thakurvadi

giant leaves...
The photo below was taken on a rusty and rickety ladder and short bridge connecting two cliffs of sorts, with the ground many meters below. The bridge was shaking as we walked on it, it was drizzling but so as to not give this excellent shot a pass,  I slowly pulled out the camera with my shaky hands and clicked this..:-) 

Can't see me shivering, can you? 

The various shades of green was so refreshing....

The buffalo with blue horns said' Hi'
 Once we reached the top, I noticed these white lines criss-crossing everywhere. On looking closer I noticed that these white lines were translucent and were sandwiched between the black rocks. At many points they intersected  and formed triangles like the picture below. The triangle appeared like a vortex into another realm to my hyperactive imagination..:-) I decided to stand in the centre of each triangle hoping for something extra ordinary! Well nothing remarkable happened but I was anyways immensely happy walking in the clouds. The first few triangles I stood on, I released a fervent wish into ether. For the subsequent triangles, I just decided to focus on my inner silence and be in sync with whatever I was experiencing- sheer beauty and happiness..:-)  

Just as there were these translucent crystalline lines, there were also while clumps of crystal scattered everywhere..:-)

A 'wada' or housing colony from Shivaji's era. The current owner of this house is a priest in a nearby anciant Shiva temple and offers food to trekkers and travellers.

The surreal landscape....

Our eyes can never tire of such beauty...

The 'nandi' outside the Shiva temple..

all the rocks, stones and pebbles were covered with bright green moss..:-)

The trees stood adorned with bright, beautiful creepers...:-)

A water reservoir which used to provide drinking water to the troops and residents of the fort..

walking alongside the rampart of the fort..

The secret escape route which piqued my interest..:-) The steps were very steep, slippery leading to a short dark tunnel...

 .....and then to a small exit. One had to crouch to come out...

We walked for long in the clouds. Words cannot to justice to that experience..:-) It also rained heavily for some time and the rains at the top with the strong wind literally and figuratively blew me away..:-) 

In the picture below are tombstones for the soldiers.

This 3.5 yr old kid was the star attraction in the group. He is only 3.5 yrs old and has already completed 6 treks. He was accompanied by his father. He walked all the way up and down and his father only carried him where the steps were steep or when there was too much water anywhere. He kept us entertained with his innocent and curious questions. 

This is the main entrance to the fort, viewed from top. Like all other entrances of Shivaji's forts, this one too is concealed and not entirely visible from the front, unless you go closer. It was constructed so as to make it difficult for enemies to get to the fort and buy the soldiers more time to prepare.

The main gate up close...

On the corners of the entrance is the carving of this mythical animal crushing 2 elephants under it's feet. It symbolized that no matter how strong the enemy was, Shivaji's troops were ready to crush and defeat them.

This is called the Takmak- Tok, a cliff from where prisoners were pushed to death. I wondered why they chose such a beautiful place to mete out such a harsh punishment. But anyways, the view was lovely and we could see clouds rising from below and engulfing us.

Right at the edge..!!

I saw this cute little calf on the way back and one of the other members in the group who has a farm in Chennai said the calf is just 2 days old. I wanted to go and hug the calf but decided against it because it's mother was nearby..! 

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Dealing with Fear

If there’s any movie which has influenced me a lot, it would be Star Wars. While there are any things I learnt from the movie, one important lesson was to ‘not give it to Fear’. There are 2 offshoots of The Force. One is love based and the other is fear based. And all emotions, feelings and actions can be traced back to either of these. So, whenever I am angry, hateful, or experiencing emotions that are not aligned with love, I ask myself, “What am I fearful of?”. Look around us and you will see that all the wars and violence stems from fear; fear of losing control, fear that others may have more than we do, etc. For a last few years, I’ve been contemplating a lot on Fear and am beginning to realize that there is nothing to fear other than fear itself! I can’t say I’m completely fearless, but I’m understanding how to overcome it and keep it at bay.

I recently met an environmentalist on one of my trips, who volunteers at the animal rescue and shelter. One thing he said impacted me a lot. Whenever he goes to clean the area/huge cage of the leopard, he said he has to keep his eyes fixed on the animal. The leopard too has its eyes fixed on him at all times. Even if for a moment he averts his gaze or turns his back on the animal, it will pounce on him and make him its next meal. I’ve seen some programs on Nat Geo and Animal Planet also talk about the same thing. Most casualties with wild animals happens when the victim has turned his/her back to the animal in a bid to run/escape.

I have a feeling that animals smell fear. Even stray dogs on the street, they will bark and look ferociously at people who exude fear. Just experiment with this, if you are scared of stray dogs. Once you hold back your fear they will leave you alone. That is also true of all other animals. I guess animals and reptiles like snakes, sense with their heightened perception that if a human has fear, he is also more likely to attack them. So in a bid to protect themselves, they go on the offensive. Recently while having a conversation with someone, we concluded that that’s how even human predators, who are even more dangerous than the beautiful animals, operate. They do not go on the offensive, but they too smell fear and prey on women who exude fear. So it’s high time that we, women and also men, understand fear and tame it.

The best way to handle fear is to look it in the eye. What that means is being aware of it without panicking. In my various experiences where there have been opportunities for fear to overwhelm me, from meeting with an accident in a bus in Manali, to being stranded in the mountains with no other woman in sight for a long time, to being alone in the forest at night with footfalls outside my room, to being fearful of people and strangers, I’ve seen I’ve been least affected when I’ve been aware of it. I guess being aware of fear itself makes it submissive.

Recently during one of my exhibitions in a restaurant, I received around 4 emails and FB messages (in the ‘other’ folder) saying how much this person (a man) liked my work and asking for my phone number, which is not mentioned in the visiting card. The FB profile showed the picture of a waiter in the restaurant. The next day, before leaving for the venue, I sensed some fear in myself. Should I be angry and just look away when this waiter shows up? Or should I pull him up and put him in his place or complain to the owner about him. The messages were not lewd or offensive but just asking for my number. When I sensed fear rising through me, I decided to be aware of it and focus on my breathing. (yes, I can be chicken hearted!!) I decided to go with the flow and react as the situation demands. The waiter did show up asking “How are you Ma’am? “. I smiled and said “Yes, I’m good. BTW, are you the one sending mails and messages?”.  I asked that with the expression of “Why would anyone do that?”.  I instantly saw his face shrivel with guilt. He said “Yes Ma’am”, and simply walked away. And in a way I was glad, I did not have to insult him but at the same time convey the message to him. Well, this incident is a very small one and nothing to compare against what some women have experienced, but it was an experiment of mine, nevertheless, on dealing with fear.

Before this incident too, while painting a wall on a street, I experienced fear when a homeless shabby looking man, walked up to see my work. I was on my guard. But when I let go off my fear and spoke to him, he turned out to be a good person.

On my trip, last year, to South Karnataka, I stayed almost in the middle of a forest, alone, with nobody to come, even if I shouted for help. There were no lights outside my room too and the only light was a dim solar lamp inside my room. One night, at around 3, in the middle of the night, I heard footfalls outside my room. I was instantly wide awake and completely alert. There was also a wind outside, blowing up dry leaves which carpeted the ground outside. This would have been a very apt scene for a horror movie. Then I heard a knock on the door. You can imagine how tense I was. That night for some reason I had left the solar lamp on, and I knew there were some gaps in the wall as it was a rustic accommodation. If there was a human predator outside, he would be able to see me, which means I shouldn’t be looking fearful. For a few moments, I tried not to move, still thinking about what to do, in case there is an attack.  I reminded myself to focus on my breath. And what I’m going to narrate now is going to sound hilarious, and yes, I too laugh hard at what I did, in hindsight. But it wasn’t so funny then! I thought of what possible object I can arm myself with. There was nothing else but the humble nail cutter with the filing knife. I got up from the bed, went to the closet and took the knife, opened the filing knife and brandished it a few times in the air, to convey the message to any person who might be outside that I can deal with what’s coming! Well, after the initial 3 intermittent knocks, there were none, although the wind was howling outside. I stayed awake the whole night, completely alert and wide awake ad extremely tired. During breakfast I told the owner about my experience. She said it may have been a wild boar scratching its head against the door!!

That was my greatest test, so far, in being aware of fear, looking it in the eye, and overcoming it. I remember, once as a child, I had dealt with fear, in a way which amazes me now. I used to have recurring nightmares, when I was about 5 or 6 years old. In the dream, a ghost/demon kind of figure would be standing at the top of the stairs and as I climbed the steps, it would engulf me. I would wake up completely terrified. When I narrated this to my mother, she taught me the Gayatri mantra. So after learning the mantra, I told the ghost, in my mind, “I’m ready to tackle you now’. And even before sleeping, it was as if I knew the ghost/demon would come and I would confront it. And yes, the following night, the same ghost/demon was standing at the top of the stairs waiting for me. I climbed up, but this time rapidly, at the same time, chanting the Gayatri mantra and I lunged at the ghost/demon in a confrontational move. After some initial discomfort/struggle, the ghost/demon just vanished into thin air. And I never had that nightmare again.

But all this is not to say that fear is bad. The feeling of fear is there to warn us, many times, against possible dangers. But the trick is to differentiate between when the body feels fear, which is an actual warning, against that which is created by the mind, which is almost always imaginary. But it always helps to be aware of fear, for in awareness lies the solution to dealing with it too.

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