Women of Kutch

Check out the pictures of the Ahir and Rabari women. Rabaris were typically nomadic camel herders and I think Ahirs were cow herders.  Many are no longer nomadic or doing their traditional occupations. One impact of this is that the younger generation is getting a better eduction, but have less time and interest in learning the beautiful embroidery that is their tradition.

A few other things to note:

– Many of these groups make several heavily embroidered tops as part of their dowry. It is an indication of their skills, too. However, these days many women pay others to make the tops that will become part of their dowry. Not sure how this impacts their selection of a groom for marriage.

– Rabari women have many tattoos on their legs, arms, neck, sometimes even face. They said it is all ornamentation, like henna, but permanent. They get it when they are young, like 10 years old. But they said this practice has mostly died out and children do not get tattooed these days.

– The Rabari women’s blouses are completely backless!! They typically wear the shawl over their head and back, so you would never know. But if you catch a glimpse, it is quite revealing for how conservative their cultures is!

Ahir women

Ahir women

Rabari women - traditionally nomadic camel herders

Rabari women – traditionally nomadic camel herders

Tattooed at the age of ten as ornamentation (like henna, but permanent!)

Tattooed at the age of ten as ornamentation (like henna, but permanent!)

Even the neck is tattooed

Even the neck is tattooed

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Inspiration from the runways of Kutch

Yes, you heard me right.  Last Saturday night attended the fashion show displaying the creations of the Kala Raksha Vidhalaya graduates from this year.  Kala Raksha Vidhalaya (KRV) is an organization founded by Judy Frater in Kutch to provide design training to artisans in the area. She found that while their work is admired and respected, designers from all over the world were coming to Kutch and handing over their own designs to the artisans, effectively turning the artisans into laborers.  She wanted to provide the artisans with design training so they could be innovative with developing their own designs and not risk losing their skills that have been in their families for generations.

The year-long program was developed with local customs in mind, so classes are separated by gender.  Many women would feel too timid being in class with men and would feel less confident in developing innovative designs.  There are six sessions, including Color, Basic Design, Market Orientation, Concept and Communication, Finishing and Collection Development, Presentation.  Students live on campus for two-week sessions and then go back to their villages to work on the assignments for several weeks.  They are paired with design students from prestigious schools around the world to help them think about their inspiration and skills and apply them in new ways.  The culmination of the program is a fashion show and convocation.

I was impressed with the professionalism of the fashion show. KRV was sure to respect every student’s work with a true runway and real models showing off their designs.  After modeling each designer’s clothes, the designer would go on stage and take a round.  I was inspired to see so many of them showing off their work and really taking risks that they would normally have been too timid to take.  After the weekend I visited one of the alums from a past year that specializes in block printing. He said that he had benefitted quite a bit from his time at KRV, as he now does block prints that include new and different designs from his traditional Ajrakh designs. He also has contracts with major buyers like Fabindia and Good Earth.

Pics from the fashion show below!

Color Wheel made by an artisan

Color Wheel made by an artisan

The same artisan's concept board

The same artisan’s concept board

Developing embroidery patterns based on the inspiration

Developing embroidery patterns based on the inspiration

Garment produced as part of a new line

Garment produced as part of a new line

Another cool concept board. This one based on Indian Railways!

Another cool concept board. This one based on Indian Railways!

Model showing off a top from the new collection

Model showing off a top from the new collection

An artisan taking a walk down the runway after his segment in the fashion show

An artisan taking a walk down the runway after his segment in the fashion show

Another artisan taking a walk down the runway after his segment in the fashion show

Another artisan taking a walk down the runway after his segment in the fashion show

Convocation of this year's batch of KRV graduates

Convocation of this year’s batch of KRV graduates

Pushkar Camel Fair

Since I was already in Rajasthan during the time of the Pushkar Camel Fair and I had heard so much about it, I figured it would be a shame to miss it.  It is basically a camel trading market that is held once a year in the desert. But due to the insane number of camels and the locals who come to take a dip in the holy Pushkar Lake, the event has also morphed into a major backpacker area where you can get “special lassis” and spend days hanging out with other backpackers observing the spectacle (though I wasn’t sure anymore if the spectacle was the high backpackers or the camel market or the locals coming to take a dip in the lake).  I am glad I went, but felt like I spent days afterwards getting the sand out of my clothes, shoes, hair, teeth.  I uploaded some pics, but don’t think the pics really do justice to the craziness of the place. Definitely an event you should go to if you are anywhere nearby.

You can pick up all the gear you need for your camel here

You can pick up all the gear you need for your camel here

Feeding time!

Feeding time!

Camels campgrounds

Camels campgrounds

Thirsty camels

Thirsty camels

Badass tattoos

Badass tattoos

Dressed to the nines for the fair..tattoos, piercings, everything

Dressed to the nines for the fair..tattoos, piercings, everything

Pushkar Lake

Pushkar Lake

Pretty temple in Pushkar

Pretty temple in Pushkar

Marwadi ladies buying stuff needed for the pilgrimage and dip in holy Pushkar Lake

Marwadi ladies buying stuff needed for the pilgrimage and dip in holy Pushkar Lake. Note that these women are very conservative and covering their faces with the colorful veils when in the presence of strangers. Yet, they were taking a dip in the lake topless with hundreds of people watching!!

Turbans for sale

Turbans for sale

Competitors in the mustache event

Competitors in the mustache event. Since so many tourists go now, they have these crazy competitions – longest mustache competition, turban tying contest, etc.

“Back in time”

I found this organic farm only 12 km outside of Jaipur that was offering lodging for a reasonable price and seemed like a cool experience.  After I arrived I got a tour of the farm and was impressed with all the organic practices. They are almost completely sustainable with all the vegetables they grow.  Even the drinking water comes from the bore well nearby.  The farm is owned by a business man in Jaipur who hired a local couple to manage the farm.  They are from a small village nearby and spoke mostly Marwadi, so there was a little difficulty in communication. But all food was prepared on the farm and I got my own mud hut to sleep in.  I liked the experience, but started to wonder about the “back in time” description that was given to me. It occurred to me that the majority of Indians live like this and possibly even a majority of the world population.  My grandparents also lived in rural settings like this, without electricity and using the chula cook stove.

I even started to wonder how much “development” is enough..?  This couple running the farm seemed to have everything they need and live pretty well in contrast to their neighbors. Will trading up from a environmentally friendly chula cook stove to our modern appliances really improve their lives??  The only thing they really could use was a regular supply of electricity, but they otherwise seemed to be living a pretty good life. I wondered this in Mexico, too, last year. I learned that in the local markets, many of the farmer stalls were no longer occupied, as people had started to shop in the American-style supermarkets.  But us Americans are interested in local food from farmers markets!!

Pictures from my farm stay are below.

My luxury mud hut

Artwork on the walls

Artwork on the walls

The kitchen where all my meals were made

Cooking roti on the chula

Composting bin on the farm

Local farmer herding sheep back home

My host family

I ♥ Jaipur

It’s been about two months since I arrived in India and I have hardly posted.  I know all two of my readers have been waiting with baited breath to see what I have been up to.  In the last two months I traveled to Ahmedabad and to several places in the northeast, but didn’t feel compelled to write.  This trip to India has been a struggle for so many reasons that mainly boil down to:

  1. India being India
  2. The trip being different than any other kind of travel I have done

So I decided to travel solo for a bit since I enjoyed doing that last year.  I made my way to Jaipur in Rajasthan this past week. I will probably travel all of Rajasthan solo. So far it has been great.  I am sure this is partly because I decided it’s totally worth shelling out a few more bucks for lodging to keep me happy (this is a lesson learned from #1 above).

So here is a quick update.  I am really enamored by Jaipur for so many reasons:

  1. The city is full of tourists, so hotel managers know how to run hotels!! (yes, the hotel snob in me is alive and well)
  2. You can’t help but stumble upon beautiful and majestic Rajasthani and Moghul architecture everywhere in the old city

3. The city is SOO much more manageable than Delhi. There are even sidewalks! (it’s the little things..)

4. The weather is incredible this time of year. Think Spring in NYC..

5. I tasted the best lassi ever and proceeded to have it daily while I was in Jaipur (don’t be surprised if I return with the extra 15 pounds that I worked so hard to lose last year)

6. I am totally enamored with the pagris (turbans) and dhotis the old school men wear and the outfits the women wear (a daily wear version of a lehenga). The sari is admittedly much more elegant, but this daily lehenga thing looks SO much more comfy.  Check out the pagri montage below.

    

    

7. Camels seem to be a totally normal and acceptable mode of transporting goods everywhere. I see random camels lugging stuff all the time here

8. Rajasthani mustaches are AWESOME

9. I saw a snake charmer!

Terrified of touching the snake who was constantly hissing at me, though the snake charmer assured me his poisonous teeth had been removed.

Reluctantly agreeing to touch the tail end of the snake..

Yes, I fell for this tourist stuff hook, line and sinker, but I am loving this place and happy.

I finally left Jaipur to hang out in a mud hut on a farm for two nights.  I was unsure about this whole mud hut thing, having grown up coming to my extended family’s homes in Delhi and once in a while somewhere more rural and I didn’t love it.  The good thing about this particular mud hut situation is that it’s meant for tourists! Comfy bed, western style toilet and all. I am the only one staying here, but the couple who run this place are awesome. It’s on an organic farm, too!  Next post will be the organic farm/mud hut recap.  Pics to come later. Internet connection is too slow on the organic farm to post anything.

“I had to go see about a girl”

After three weeks here, I am still struggling with being back in India.  It’s been exactly ten years since I started the AIF Clinton Fellowship in India and I fell in love with the place then.  It was an intense, but incredible, life-changing experience.  Now I am trying to remember what I loved so much about it.  Being here doesn’t feel easy in the same way that other Asian countries do.  While Delhi may be organized and have a better infrastructure than the other big cities in India, it is still dusty and overwhelming.  I feel rather disconnected from India, which is surprising to me, because I felt SO connected to it by the time I finished up my fellowship, though I was in India for nine months at that point.

I have to keep remembering that my journey has only just begun and I have to give this whole thing a chance.  I have been stuck in Delhi for the past three weeks. We are hopefully heading to Ahmedabad on Friday for a couple days.  The phrase that keeps coming back to me is the line from Good Will Hunting, “I had to go see about a girl…” In this case, “the girl” is India and starting a business.  Matt Damon leaving behind all those lucrative job offers for the girl of his dreams….me leaving behind lucrative job offers for the life of my dreams…ok, so maybe the analogy is a little tenuous.  But it works for me 🙂