A New Beginning…

The past two weeks have been hectic to say the least. A lot of positive changes have taken place in the meantime, one of which is that my recharging sabbatical has come to an end and I’m getting back to working full-time. The other being, Kam and myself have decided to celebrate our second year anniversary by going on a road trip through Maharashtra. The next few months are definitely full of excitement and I hope to share the fun of new experiences on my blog as well.

Here is an abstract sketch I did while waiting at an interview:

Excited Sketch

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Balinese Masks

Among the many popular activities in Bangkok, shopping is a favorite among most tourists and we were no exception! There are many stores and street shops selling clothes, art, crafts and curios. Women squealed in delight as they found their dream outfit for the night out, men were immersed in browsing through a variety of tech products. A colorful store where the products had made their way into the street’s exterior beckoned to us. The first few minutes were just a feast for the senses, there were beautiful abstract paintings, sculptures, figurines, dolls, masks, rugs and a  shop full of kitsch. The ornately carved wooden masks caught my eye, I imagined they would make a great addition to my home decor.

mask2

I initially presumed the masks were locally made in Thailand, it was only later that I came to understand they were made in Bali and popularly known as Balinese masks. The philosophy behind the mask is that every element has a soul, including the mask created. These masks represent various mythological characters, many of which are from the Hindu religious texts such as the Ramayan. There are also strong influences of Buddhism. These masks were used to narrate stories of life, of kings and the triumphs of good against evil.

Masks1

The masks are typically made from wood. Craftsmen in even the remotest parts of Bali are adept with the knife and sculpt staggering pieces of art. Intricate drawings and shading is also seen on the finished masks. The prominent colours used are Red (symbolising courage), Yellow (wisdom), White (purity), Green (peace) and Black (ambitious). These masks were used in dramas, dances and as protective charms, today they look great as elements of home decor.

Mask 4

The masks adorn a prominent space in our home and we are pleasantly reminded of our travels, every time we stop to admire them. What I would love is to visit Bali and sit through the actual making of some these expressive masks. 🙂

Small and Beautiful

DSC_0152Kathakali (classical dance form originating from Kerala) and traditional cow head fridge magnets done with such eye for detailing.

Sometimes while doing up our homes, we realise that it is the small things that capture a big place in our hearts. Like maybe our kid’s doodles / pets’ paw prints or our parent’s black and white photographs or even the simple fridge magnet picked up on travels!

Here are two beautiful fridge magnets we picked up on Jew Street, Cochin. It is true, small is beautiful.

And in my personal opinion, nothing quite like revisiting travel memories 🙂

Cochin’s Jew Town and Hidden Treasures

Driving away from the metro being constructed on MG road in Cochin to the small yet popular area of Fort Cochin known as Jew Town, I was surprised at how quickly the scene changed before us. As we drove closer, we could see the waters of the Vembanad lake behind a single row of buildings. In front of us lay neat little streets, with quaint old buildings on other side, built by the Jew settlement after whom the area came to be known as Jew Town. Most of these buildings are shops today, selling various curios. The buildings themselves were fascinating, some that have been built again over the years and boasting of a fresh coat of paint, while certain others showed their age in the frail creaking wooden steps that we were afraid might not hold our weight!

The buildings, the shops and their outdoor display were a treat for the senses. As a brightly painted sunshine yellow facade beckoned us to explore further, so did the aromatic smell of incense wafting from another, and yet another shop with their sacks of spices laid out making our taste buds conjure up exotic dishes! These shops boasted of a range of items from a variety of spices to hand crafted clothing, home decor, vintage finds and a street full of curios. While many items on display are not specific to the town of Cochin or even Kerala, they showcase the rich culture and heritage of India with products from Kashmir to Kanyakumari on display.

Here is a visual tour, I must warn you that it will be rather long, as there were just so many items that caught my eye and I had to showcase, however I do hope you enjoy it 😀

crafters shop

Bright sunny walls with tinges of enticing blue invited us to explore at the Crafters store. On entry they had a massive Uruli (traditional vessel used for cooking in Kerala, made from bell metal), this holds the Limca Book of Records for the largest Uruli in the world measuring a stunning 12ft in diameter and weighing 3184kgs. Well one thing is for sure you need more cooks and more weight lifters than imaginable to put this stunner to use for cooking! Now Urulis are used beautifully for home decor, popularly displaying flowers floating in water.

crafters uruli

uruli with lotus

As we walked on attractive arrangement of various spices outside the shops, led to our discovery of Jew Town’s spice box treasures. Beautifully made in teak wood (is what some shopkeepers say, but I think it might be made from the wood of jackfruit tree as well) and displaying intricately carved motifs, they were as beautiful as any treasure box 🙂 Some looked charmingly vintage and is a must buy for those interested in traditional utensils and cookware.

spices

Doesn’t it simply make your mouth water to see all those delectable spices. Some very tasty Chettinad recipes comes to mind, I know whats cooking at home this weekend 🙂

spicebox

Attractive cushion covers on display outside a shop, some showcasing exquisite handwork embroidery and patchwork.

cushion covers

An old window frame and panel with painting in Mughal style.

vintage window

Elephants of all sizes and shades made both from paper mache and sculpted wood, which is then painted vibrantly.

elephants

As we stepped out to continue exploring, this signboard and the little scary sculpture on the wall caught our attention. Sculpted face of an old lady with some real crooked teeth, but those eyes are so expressive.

Jew cemetry

I’m in love with these wooden cow heads. Though they are made a little differently across various parts of southern India, primarily Tamil Nadu and Kerala, these cow heads or Nandi heads prove to be arresting display pieces.

cow head1

Antique sculptures of various Gods and Goddesses  in wood

gods on the walls

A staggering variety of curios, Thai masks in wood, Kerala style treasure box, traditional Indian utensils and lamps, old portraits of gods, brass door knobs and antiques.

street display

Antique clay dolls, I especially like the last one to the right of the South Indian Brahmin with his rather cute potbelly 🙂

clay dolls

Weathered black and white photos of unknown people. The charm of these photos lie in the grey grains that seem to tell stories of a different time.

bnw photos

Our next stop was the Police Museum

police museum

The building had beautiful passages with woodwork and stained glass.

police museum2

The below photo shows a traditional game played across South India, called as Palangulli in Tamil Nadu, as Allugulli Mane in Karnataka and Kerala. The game board consisting of a wooden board with multiple depressions are available in a range of creative shapes across rural parts of South India even now. They are played with seeds, coins or even dry fruits 🙂 Initially introduced as a game for the women folk to keep themselves occupied ( from the religious reference that Goddess Sita invented this game in captivity, awaiting rescue), it has come a long way with changes in rules resulting in a game that is challenging to play despite the simple looks.

traditional games of India

By this time we were quite tired walking around in the hot sun and needed a refreshing drink and walked into what seemed at first look ; an art cafe. After ordering lime ginger juice, we decided to walk around and explore.

heritage arts

The store Hertiage Arts dealt with paintings, sculptures, vintage and antiques, refurbishing antique doors and pillars and even take orders for furniture. Below they are putting together the gorgeous Ayurvedic massage table.

ayurvedic massage table

antique lord ganesh

Some interesting paintings

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Above a procession of traditional Indian women heading out for some festival or occasion, done in a decoupage style. And below are paintings of Kerala Murals and Kathakali (a popular classical dance form). We saw more Kerala murals in the Dutch Palace or the Mattancherry Palace at one end of Jew Street. The palace was originally gifted by the Portuguese to the Raja of Cochin in 1555. The Murals depicting Hindu religious scenes are elaborate and rich in colours. However many of the Murals are showing wear and tear with the passing time. Photography is banned due to the delicate state of the paintings.

paintings1

Antique wooden figurine that resembles a mermaid and brass lamps.

mermaid

Yali (in tamil) a creature of Hindu mythology, popularly seen guarding temple entrances and sanctum entryways. They are shown to have a catlike body with head of lion and tusks of an elephant and said to be more powerful as well.

Yali

Lastly, a parting photo of a typical shop at Jew Town. Are you not tempted now to explore this yourself !? And if you are wondering how much damage this caused my wallet, I did buy a few quaint items, though not nearly as many as I really wanted to! Will post some photos of them around my home soon.

a typical shop at jew town

Turning 26…

I could not have asked for a better birthday week. I simply had it all; family, travel, scenic locations, picnics, spa, games, cycling, yummy cakes and shopping for curios! After spending a few days at my parents house in Coimbatore, we started early morning on May 1st for our first stop of the vacation – Munnar. We were headed to this very scenic hill station for the first time and I must say the reviews for this place is underrated. It must be seen to be believed! Long winding roads in the ghat sections that seemed to go on forever, tossing us left to right and right to left as we desperately tried to soak in all that lush green beauty around us! The tall trees with massive trunks that might be a few 100 years old, sprawling tea estates that resemble a patchwork lawn you just want to lie down on and beautiful birds flitting about, Munnar indeed has plenty to share.

greenery1Sprawling Tea Estates

We stayed at Sterling Resort in Munnar, the rooms were cozy, but what interested us more were the outdoor activities. Playing games, cycling, taking long walks and having hot cups of ‘Kattan’ ( black tea in Malayalam) made us forget that back home summer was actually causing havoc!

flower thumbprintedColorful Flora

greenery2

On visiting the spa at the resort, I was pleasantly surprised to see Kerala wall murals adorning the reception area. I love this vibrant and ethnic form of painting that one can see across many parts of Kerala. We saw more of this in Cochin as well, but more on that in my next post.

mural1Kerala Wall Mural Depicting Lord Vishnu 

mural2

Another element of decor caught my eye in the spa, something I had not seen before. Coconut shell lamps; the intricate patterns drilled into these shells threw sparkling light all around. And since they were small with low wattage lamps, more of them were used to adorn the ceiling here to make the room appear brighter, providing a spectacular arrangement.

coconut shell lampsLovely Coconut Shell Lamps

And lastly before we left for our second part of the journey to Cochin, we did some yummy shopping at the Tata store in Munnar. The well laid out shop offered plenty of choice in tea, flavored tea, strawberry preserve (one can get this only here in Munnar, I think the rest is exported). The highlight for me is the wholesome strawberries soaked and preserved in lemon syrup and my favorite lemon tea! We have stocked up enough to last us a few months 🙂

preserveStrawberry Preserve Manufactured By Tata

Kattan ChaiLemon Flavored Black Tea

As we prepared to head out again, the only thing that made leaving behind this beautiful  hill station for the hot and humid city of Cochin bearable was the prospect of visiting a tiny area called Jew Town, which I first visited in 2009 and loved at the very first sight. More on Jew Town and its precious curios in my next post.

The Art of Creating Silk Products

I have always been a fan of this gorgeous fabric. The crisp texture, the sheen, the vibrant colours and the variety of  motifs and designs. I have incorporated silk be it in the form of curtain panels or cushion covers at home, even silk sarees get me thinking on how they can alternatively be used in home decor. Stores such as FabIndia have some lovely home furnishing products in silk, and the expensive rates are the only reason I’m not buying more of them. But after my trip to Narayanavanam in Andhra Pradesh, I have come to realise the immense effort behind silk weaving especially in handwoven products and the rate we pay for it is more than justified for the hours of labor invested to produce this lovely material.

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On the outside the village looks like any other, simple looking traditional homes, simple people and their chores of cooking, visiting the nearby temple and kids playing on the streets. But if you peer into one of the low laying windows of these homes, you can be transported into a world of grandeur, colour, texture and pattern; the world of silk. This village has been producing silk sarees for many generations dating back to decades before India got its independence. The art has been passed down several generations and they swear by handwoven silk. While there seems to be no comparison to handwoven silk products, the sad truth is that this is a disappearing craft. Machine weave is picking in popularity because of its ease and need for less time and human resource. Also the current generation among the weaver community are interested in better paying city jobs and are unwilling to carry on tradition.

villageThis made seeing every step in the process of creation even more special and mesmerising for me. Here is my day at learning the art of creating silk sarees, my patient guides were CMRC silks, popular vendors of silk sarees in the region and my father-in-law who hails from the weaving community:

Q : Where does the raw silk come from?

A : We do not produce silk in this region. Silk farming happens in regions of Karnataka around Bangalore and we receive silk thread from there. The process in Narayanavanam begins at the dyeing stage.

pre-dye 1

dye cols

Q : What is the first stage of creating a silk saree, here in Narayanavanam?

A : As you must have seen, silk sarees are produced in a range of colours. Sarees can be of a single hue, double hue or even multiple hues. The raw silk comes in an off-white or creamy colour and we dye these in different colours depending on the saree.

We have specially built stoves in the open to boil the different dyes in water, we wash the raw silk and then dip them in these dyes, ensuring all parts are completely dyed, by repeatedly turning and dipping. Then we again wash it multiple times in water and allow it to sit for a while in a fixing agent to ensure permanency of the stain. The entire process may take between 2 -4 hours. The silk is then set to dry and kept aside for the warping process.

pre dye rods

red dye

Q : What about the Jari thread?

A : We get the Jari thread from Surat. The genuine Jari have silk thread coated with real silver and then coated in gold thread. Jari that is cheaper may not have silk core and silver coating. They are also available in different colours, most standard being silver and gold.

jari1

Q : What process do you do with the Jari?

A : They come in small spools, we first transfer it to cut plastic pipes with the help of a simple device. This process is done first to make it smoother and reduce the possibility of breakage. This Jari on the pipes is then again transfered based on the saree design, for the border or bhuttas, by another rotational device. This final spool with a particular quantity of Jari is sent for the weaving process.

jari2

Q : Do you follow a similar process with the silk thread as well?

A : Yes after the silk has been dyed, we send it for the warping process, where the silk thread is stretched and set according to the saree pattern. Breakages are repaired, loose threads removed, it is set in a taut manner between two end devices as the entire thread material for either eight or twelve sarees is sorted through. This is entirely a manual process and what makes handwoven sarees special. The sorted silk thread is then rotated on wooden beams, with cardboard sheets inserted in regular intervals for protection. The time taken for this process ranges between 4-6hours. This is then sent to the weaver.

silk warping

Q : How old are these devices and machines?

A : These instruments or at least parts of it can be as old as 100 odd years, some even more than that. Certain parts are replaced as and when required due to wear and tear.

devices

Q : Please describe the weaving process.

A : The weaving machine is simple and complex at the same time. In handloom weaves, the weaver has to use both hands and feet in a continuous process. The main saree body material that has been through the warping process as in the above step is horizontal threads of the saree. The vertical threads are loaded on something called the weft, the weft is a block of wood with both sides pointed and a hollow in the centre where the vertical thread spool is loaded. There is a rather simple machine that sets the thread on this spool. The weaver sets the horizontal silk threads through the weaving machine, as there will be threads that get pushed up and those that get pushed down during the weaving process. The weft moves like a bullet from end to end as the vertical threads are weaved in with the horizontal. A separate line introduces the Jari thread for border, body designs or bhuttas. Small bhuttas are done with the hand, while larger designs are done either with the weft by hand or with the Jacquard method. The up and down movement of the weaves is controlled by the foot pedals and the weft is controlled by hand. Throughout the process, glue is applied across the saree in small parts as the weave progresses. The weaving process differs based on the complexity of the saree design and takes anywhere between 1-3 days.

weaving

golden threads

Q : What is Jacquard?

A : Doing large Jari designs and patterns by hand can be extremely time consuming, so there are cards punched for a particular design when fed into the weaving machine and thread sorted accordingly, weaves the corresponding pattern much quicker.

A single pattern is made up a lot of cards, and can be as many as 100 or more.

jacquard 1

cards

Q : If done manually, how long does a single Jari pattern take versus the Jacquard method?

A : When done manually a single line of big Jari pattern can take between 2-4 hours, using the Jacquard the time can be reduced by more than half.

jacquard2

Q : After the weaving is complete, is the saree ready to be sold?

A : Yes the saree is ready to be sold. However in case of minor stains or crumpling of the fabric, we send it for a process called Polishing. This is a simple process where the saree is stretched across both ends and natural glue is mixed with water and applied and set to dry. This removes any variation in colour and makes the saree look better than ironed! You can even get your old sarees polished to restore that fresh out of the store look.

polish

Q : And the final step?

A : The next is a final quality check and re-folding the saree to showcase the parts such as border, body and pallu better. Then it is ready to be viewed and bought by customers.

 Q : Do you sell only sarees?

A : Business sees a spike during the wedding season, but sometimes these sarees get bought for other purposes, such as recently tourists bought a good deal of silk sarees to be used as home furnishing. We do produce certain other products such as home furnishing on custom orders.

 Hope you enjoyed the walk through of the silk weaving process as much as I did. So do you have ideas on how we can creatively use silk sarees in home furnishing?

 

Summertime Travel!

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When I told my friends, I was off on a vacation over the weekend they wanted to know my destination. And when I mentioned the name of the town in Andhra Pradesh, they were amused that instead of taking a break from the heat, I was in fact  jumping from the frying pan and right into the fire!

The past three days that we spent in Chittoor & Puttur in Andhra Pradesh were HOT! HOT! HOT! and DRY!

But also loads of fun as it always is when family gets together, rest assured there is plenty of good food, stories that need to be told and some re-told (a 100 times over!), fun games and activities planned and new findings and experiences. I ate more than I normally do, since every family member was on a ‘lets-fatten-poor-anusha’ mode! I did rather enjoy it 😛

We had picnic by a waterfall, the water refreshingly cold, so cold that it was initially a shock and my husband was worried I was having trouble breathing! But slowly all I wanted was to stand under the pelting fall. Some great food and a small nap under the mango trees. A walk through the mango orchard, and the unforgettable experience of  getting tender coconuts from the tree and enjoying the refreshing drink.  Indeed this trip was was quite a break from city life.

coconut-water-health-benefits1

More on how I struggled to learn everything about how silk sarees are made in Narayanavanam, in just a single day and staying in a very much lived in village home that is more than 150 years old in the next few posts.

So tell me now, what is your most memorable vacation ?