Gujarat and its craftspeople have been an integral part of my life since I chugged into Bhuj station 35 years ago on the metre gauge train from Kandla and—excitedly, nervously—took a tonga to my new assignment as the Gurjari designer in Kutch.
A barren, dust brown landscape burnt by the blazing, cloudless sun—duned and rippled with the restless movement of the wind. Against the horizon, dwarfed by its scale, a line of men and women led camels, swaying, pouting and sullen, padding deliberate hooves in the shifting sands. The women shrouded in faded black wool; the men in pleated and gathered peacock ruffles of crumpled, once white homespun cotton. Beneath the dusty layers, the glint of colourful mirrored embroidery, and heavy silver and ivory ornaments. The arrogant, straight backed stride sent out a message that the poverty and rootlessness of a nomadic people did not destroy their sense of self.I was a young designer who had only lived and worked in the metro cities—Delhi, Mumbai, Tokyo. For me, Kutch was an extraordinary, eye opening experience.
I had never known that beautiful craft and creativity could spring from such austere beginnings; that women who toiled from morning to night in the fields could still labour for months embroidering an exquisite mirror work blouse for their daughter. It was moving to see how important aesthetic was for even the poorest villager—every utensil, textile and surface covered with motif and colour in every medium—from mud and mirrored glass to the carved wooden spokes of their camel cart wheels. Amazing hand skills transforming utilitarian usages into art forms. Waste materials casually twisted and shaped into magical treasures. Coarse goat’s hair woven into a shawl with a tiedyed sunburst motif; rags patch worked into a pattern of tiny, quilted stars and lozenges; torn chindis transformed into stunning patchwork quilts; mud, cow dung, and broken mirrors transformed into murals of fabulous birds and beasts and flowers. How beautifully the men and women dressed and coiffured their hair, even though they had to walk miles for a bucket of water!
Kutch is a truly incredible experience. It is not surprising that it has inspired and motivated so many. Eiluned Edwards, the author of Textiles & Dress of Gujarat, is only one of a band of intrepid foreign women who has been travelling, researching and ...
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