Sunday, November 08, 2009


I am in India again. All around us the rhythms of the country lilt and rock, in a gentle swinging rhythm that is soft and sweet, like rolling in honey.

There is an amazing sense of contrasts - hot and spicy, rich and earthy foods and smooth and delicate sugary and densely milky desserts. The dryness and earth colours of Rajasthan with the odd butterfly brightness of the women in fantastic saris – raspberry and fuchsia and cyclamen and saffron and chartreuse and ochre and orange – all wrapped and edged with gold. Desert and thorn trees, and a moving dusty cloud which shifts to reveal herds of creamy horned cattle, tall lean men in white dhotis and tunics and deep crimson turbans as herds are moved south in a desperate attempt to dodge the drought.

We visited a tiny village near Udaipur where people who used to be called untouchables have built their houses in found stone and thatching. Their lives are probably poor and bleak, dependent on what they can grow but we were greeted with glee and a sense of welcome. I had taken photographs in May and delivered them to those who recognized themselves. The contrast between that tiny village in the beautiful hilly area where they nestled with the rich and extraordinarily beautiful lake city of Udaipur with its three white palaces and three man made lakes was humbling.

We have watched block printing with long padded tables lined with cotton which goes through three processes before it is even put on the table. We watched block printing, resist printing with mud and straw, dye dipping in natural colours and indigo vats with their oily green slick on the surface. Some fabrics went through eight processes and still sold for less per metre than a cappuccino in Canberra.

We visited a home where the family was tying tiny rhythmic points into silks to dye it – and we tried popping those tiny knots off the dyed fabric to reveal little white squares with colour in the centres. The fabrics made this way were beautiful and incredibly time-enriched, and they held the rippling shapes of the tying so they hug shoulders and curve over bodies.

We visited the tiny walled town of Patan to see Patong weaving – double ikat, mind-bogglingly complicated. On the way we went across a bridge over a long and dry river bed – to see a river of people pouring downstream, climbing over the edges of the bridge and down the banks to join a huge and brightly coloured crowd in the far distance. It was a cattle market and explained the large herds of lean and bony cattle we had been seeing all morning, steadily plodding towards the same destination.

We are now in Chennai and have arrived with the second monsoon – which is devastating for me as we have booked beautiful resorts for the next four days. I had imagined quiet relaxing hours on beaches after sightseeing. I had planned to visit dyeing workshops –which will not be dyeing in the torrential rain. I had hoped that they would see the French colony of Pondicherry in sunshine with the sea washing against the city walls, and the ashram full of flowers and their sun-warm scent.

Instead every road is a river, brown and fast flowing- to somewhere else. People are staying home, and those on the streets look dark and somber in heavy wet-weather plastics. Men move around with trousers rolled to their knees, or just give up and wade calf-deep in the water. Cars move slowly with a wake like a battle ship which rocks the water heavily against the tiny shops that edge Pondicherry Market – which – oddly enough – is in Chennai.

I looked to BBC weather for reassurance and hope – but it predicts heavy rain for the next five days. Our plans may have to change - but it looks as if we might have time to go to tailors to have fabrics turned to clothes, and to post offices to relieve impossibly heavy suitcases. It is a country used to resilience and change, and we can take our cues from the Indians.

All will be well as India is never ever boring.


Blogger Angie in AZ said...

Jenny, I can't tell you how much I love reading your blog. I am fascinated with your adventures in a far away land I will probably never see in my lifetime. Your quilts never fail to elicit the same response... a gaping mouth and bulging eyes!! LOL!

I would love to know about the formations in the white desert photos. Are those sand formations? How are they created like that and why don't they blow over in sand storms! Inquiring minds want to know.

2:09 am  
Blogger Margeeth said...

I think the people that used to be called untouchables are now called Dalits.

5:36 am  
Blogger marjay said...

Ahh Jenny,

I envy you, even in the monsoons. I am in South Africa now, watching the wales play 50 meters off the coast and enjoying the new grandson. Soon we will be in Australia and New Zealand again. Hopefully, before returning to France we will again visit India. Glad to hear that you are again there and it is weaving its magic around you.

5:55 am  
Anonymous Bren Boardman said...

I visited India early last year and went to Pondacherry - purchased beautiful handmade papers made by a fairtrade paper making factory in a village nearby called Auroville
They were on strike so I couldnt visit!
Love to read about your travels. England is grey and dull this morning but the Autumn leaves this year are splendid.

6:57 pm  
Blogger Banaghaisge said...

Thank you for more wonderful vicarious travels!!!
Yep - hit the tailors cos tempting as it would be (for me) nudie rain dancing would not go down too well.
Send rain.

11:34 am  
Blogger Lyn (in Kinglake) said...

Consider a visit to Chennai Silks to purchase sari lengths - gorgeous silks (from hugely expensive lavish beaded and embroidered creations to much more economic - a great source of 6yds of silk at a reasonable price), embroidered chiffons, madras cottons. And if you're around for a few days the tailor will make up the underskirt and little top to go underneath if you actually want to use the sari length as a sari.

10:33 pm  
Blogger Stephanie Newman said...

Ooooh Jenny, I can almost taste and smell those spices, feel the fabrics and I imagine the buzz of too many insects, perhaps? Your blog is so evocative and its great to experience another place at a time when I'm less able to travel myself.
I'm sure you will find wonderful things to do despite the downpour and not let it dampen your spirit.

7:55 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What absolute joy to read another posting on your blog! I'm pea-green with envy at your experiences! :-) Ah well! Someone has to stay home to keep the home fires burning, don't they? Enjoy yourself and post some pictures of at least one wonderful piece of quilting artwork to come out of your latest adventure!
Rosemary K

12:14 am  
Blogger Jenny said...

Your blogs are always a joy to read, you have such a way with words. Thank you so much for sharing with us. I too would like to see some pictures of the fabrics you describe, perhaps you will get a chance to add some top your blog.

4:55 pm  
Anonymous vishav bhraman said...

Nice article..

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10:27 pm  

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