fireflies in the dark…

Its been more than  a year but those fireflies still follow me…  last year when in Dhubri I saw a million of them…  as close to my hair and till as far as I could see… I knew… ‘that’ moment was special… I cried… like a child… out of happiness… sheer unadulterated happiness … that touches you very silently n takes control over you…

That day in Dhubri started as being one of my scariest experiences so far… when I felt absolutely unsafe, in secure n trapped…  one of the darkest of my days… until I saw those fireflies in the dark… and that day stays with me all the time as a memory, as a reminder for the all the bad, dark days that at the end I am going to see those fireflies and cry… out of happiness!!

And that’s exactly how’s it been ever since… all the dark gloomy days invariably brighten up, I see a ray of hope, I see “things will get better”, “this too shall pass” moments coming true…

They keep me happy… so happy… so sooo happy… so so sooooo happy…

My limited vocabulary and indianised grammar permits me no other way of expressing in appropriate words THAT kind of happiness!

Life came a full circle and I found myself in the north east after exactly a year from when I started last year… of course there were other trips in between… long ones… with a sprinkling of a few days/ months that I spent back home… but its special when you finish a year… that first year… in a place that you start realizing as your second home… I long to call this place “HOME”…

Some day I will find that firefly too!!

This year took to me some absolutely stunning remote places in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya and Assam… and very recently and finally MIZORAM…  for a person who grew up in a small village in Punjab far removed from a typical urban life and the usual romantic ideas of adventure travel… every and any part should be remote…  but the North East really did open those remote hinterlands… for the first time… when I said I travelled to remote parts, I really was in remote parts…

I had some cynical lot who sent me letters/ e mails saying what I call remote is not really remote… they grew up in majuli so for them its home… its not remote…  but a girl from a remote village in Punjab called Jalalabad which rarely finds a mention on the map… will definitely find it remote.

I urge such people to understand the difficulties, passion, motivation that goes behind exploring the subjective unexplored… cynicism is appreciated as long as it brings in positive results… they should again be like those fireflies in the dark… they should bring in new ideas… break old norms… then they are constructive… then that cynicism will bring in happiness… and that I WILL love!

Another thing I absolutely love is… serendipity!

I reached Mizoram, as always with no contacts and no research (because there is none anywhere)… I met up with this lovely family at electric veng(mizo for locality) and hit it off with them instantly… partly because they seemed to be the only ones you could talk in english. Mizoram has almost no English or hindi…all the television channels play Korean films and television series dubbed in mizo… which is also the reason why there is a strong Korean influence in the fashion sense here… the hairstyles, the shoes, the clothes, the walk, the smiles… everything aims to be a bit Korean… n if you happen to look a little cool that day… you are instantly labelled… KOREAN… 🙂

Thanks to my size and shape… I never qualified to be a KOREAN… no matter how much I tried! FAT is so WRONG in Mizoram!! And everyone looks so stylish…

my favourite flowers in aizawl

But yes communication or rather conversation is quite an amusing prospect there if you don’t know mizo which is why I had to pick quite a many mizo phrases and words in a very short period… asking for basic tea/chai is also an issue so I learnt to ask for THING PUI.. and I would instantly get my tea. I first realized that learning mizo will be very necessary when the very first day in Mizoram, to communicate to the maxicab or shared sumo driver that “please don’t keep any bag on top of my bag because there is a camera in it” I took about 20 odd minutes… with gestures… pushing… nudging… laughing… we finally could communicate… and it was sort of fun!

My first day in Mizoram opened up a whole dream like world of beautiful textiles… MIZOs are expert weavers…  I went to the market  to get an idea on the kind of textiles and weaves that are done by mizos… I was very impressed with the weaves but saddened by the fact that again like all the other regions, all these beautiful weaves are being done on acrylic or Thailand yarn…

I did meet a designer or two from aizawl, who seemed to be working with cotton but their designs had only a hint of the traditional mizo weaves. I was missing the bright colours, the stripes, the various motifs… they seemed to be basic plain cottons that are simpler and easier to weave on frame or fly shuttle looms with just basic mizo motif as borders… these were definitely those mass production pieces and lacked the traditional characteristic feel of mizo textiles.

The hunt for weavers who could weave these beautiful patterns on cotton and only on loin loom took me to various remote villages in Mizoram, but like always almost none agreed to work on cotton till I found this very humble and unassuming  person in the textile village of Mizoram. He was a friend in an instant.  I reached this village only to find that the contacts that I had collected for this place were going to be a difficult source because of the language barrier. They just didn’t know hindi or English. I figured from the village council that I could meet a guy who might be able to help me out, because his mother is handling a textile unit but on a very small scale.

I took my backpack n water bottle and purely out of impulse reached his small humble shop…  the moment we met, and exchanged general pleasantries, I was asked if I knew anyone else in the area or if I have a place to stay.  I didn’t have an answer and he figured. After a quick conversation with his mom, I was asked to stay at their place.

That absolute casual courtesy resulted into a pleasant friendship and now we are working together. We bonded on everything… the love for textiles, the adventure, the mizo food, the chutneys he and his mom made, the old musical instruments, the jewellery… he supported me in my quest and I was overwhelmed.  We spent days exploring  that region of Mizoram and even met this spiritual leader with around 70 wives and about 200 odd children who live in complete harmony in a small village of Mizoram. It was an exciting trip meeting this man who could manage well with so many wives. Note- age group of wives- 18 to 60 plus and still getting his wives pregnant at an age above 70. We went to see the beautiful waterfall around…  attended a funeral ceremony full of hymns and songs being sung to the sound of drums, saw young mizo association building home for an old lonely widow completely as a voluntary project, and in the midst of all of this, we discussed the possibilities of reviving the weaves on cotton.. silently!

I found a family in Mizoram just like that… silently!

When I left the house… the father called me his daughter and said he would love to have me over again because I am just like THEM… see that’s what makes all this special… I really WAS THEM!

I do miss that family fondly… but I know there is no way I won’t be going back there! We have struck a bond that will stay… through those many evening we spent laughing on the errors of our miscommunication because of broken hindi or English or mizo, or learning and exchanging recipes, or by aunty taking out those old pieces of her jewels and sharing her old world with me, or by uncle telling me those old folk tales, or the hours spent playing with the young kids teaching them “Charlie chaplin went to france” moves, we did sword fights, we ran around the house, we screamed, I taught them English, helped them with homework… just many of those beautiful memories I gathered in few days…

I found a family and at that point that’s all that mattered… when I spoke to mumma, she said the same… its not the work you do, the money you make, the challenges or difficulties that you come across, the accolades that you get for your work that you have really accomplished… the fact that I could find a family sitting so far away from home was what she thought made everything so special.

My mother just knows how to put my mind to the right perspective.

Yes, she is right! This is really all that matters!

So I bid a sad “so long” to this lovely family and moved further down south Mizoram…  which is where my hunt for traditional jewellery and musical instruments began. ..

I met a chieftain’s grand son who had about ten odd darbu(s) with him in all sizes. darbu is a collective name for MIZO music instruments. i heard the sound of this massive pongmong darbu… a disc like instrument made of metal which is either beaten with hands or sticks… and makes a gong like sound. different sizes obviously make a symphony of sounds. I was in awe. I loved the sound so much so I spent many hours sitting there. The chieftain gave me 3 of his darbu because he felt I will not sell them further. And THAT is true… I love that sound, how can I attach anything commercial to it. I came out extremely overwhelmed and happy carrying my 3 darbu pongmongs that were aged atleast a 100 years or more.

WILL CONTINUE THIS SOON… mizoram is going to be one long story 🙂

Posted in MORA TRAVELS | 7 Comments

ERI SILK

Eri Silk

ERI SILK (north east india) Date: 07.09.2010 I had been reading and hearing the same things from everyone about this silk called “Eri” “who is she?”, I wondered. According to Wikipedia and other sources, The name Eri is derived from the Assamese word ‘era’, which means castor as the silkworm feeds on castor plants. Eri silk is also known as endi or errandi in India. Eri is known as the most eco-friendly amongst silk. “where does she come from?” The wooly white silk is often … Read More

via a thousand fireflies…

| 2 Comments

Seeking lost tradition… seeking COTTON!

“Weavers weavers everywhere… not a bundle of cotton to weave…”

I agree and I whole-heartedly accept your grimace on what disgusting “sounding” sing song manipulation of words I just subjected you all to!

But it came more out of habit than anything to do with creative inclination or motivation!

I AM JUST TIRED OF SEEKING COTTON… and I AM JUST TOO IMPATIENT SEEKING OUR LOST TRADITION!

while the north east india absolutely stumped me with its beautiful weaves and the skilled weavers who worked on their traditional loin looms in most hill regions and the frame loom in the plains, what I missed the most in the north east India while I was travelling there was COTTON… “sooti dhaga”

at some level, though I completely protest the idea of killing the traditional looms by introducing more commercially viable looms like fly shuttle loom and Jacquard ones, the biggest threat to textile industry that I could sense is actually gradual disappearance of COTTON from the face of north east Indian textiles.

Where did it all go?

What happened to the cotton plantation in the north east India which was in abundance at some point of time, a decade or a little longer back?

Why have weavers suddenly lost complete trust in COTTON and swear by synthetic yarns?

Why is the tradition of weaving with cotton almost dying in the north east india?

These are some of the questions that haunted me during my trip to the north east India when I travelled to many remote parts seeking traditional weaves… On the face of it, you see looms in almost every household, women dedicated to weaving those age-old traditional designs, women and men still draped in their meticulously joint loin loom wonders… but what hides beneath those lovely weaves is a tragic tale of poverty, manipulation and at some level even misfortune!

My repeated trips to the textile ministry and numerous calls and e mails to the textile experts have given me no solid answers to these queries instead they have baffled me more with their collective silence…

The questions I ask, do not have a simple answer but the mystery behind missing cotton needs to be given a serious thought… I NEED THOSE ANSWERS TO FIND THEIR SOLUTIONS… if I am rebuked a thousand times to get even one of my questions answered or my observations critiqued, I will be successful in writing this piece…

Somehow I prefer the question- answer format. my journalist friend Swastika, made me realize this.

After reading the Majuli blog, she sent me the following questions and wanted me to write like it is, no edits, no censure! So, here it is… like the mind and thoughts flowed…

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

S:  Hey some thoughts after reading your Majuli Blog –

News Point of your travel into the northeast – The tradition of weaving with cotton almost dying in Majuli and other places in the northeast India.

– No one knows about this as this has not been advertised here in the cities at all.

R:   tradition of weaving is gradually becoming a dying art form because people in the northeast India have been introduced to “easier and more economical ways” of living … and at some level even more “commercial”.

But at the same time there are still many places in the north east India where the tradition of weaving still exists and people still wear what they weave. It’s still considered one of the most important attributes or qualities/ skills that women should master to get married.

What has changed in a big way is the YARN and the LOOM. The age-old cotton of weaving cotton on loin loom has almost disappeared. What has replaced it is synthetic yarns like Thailand, “dulia”, acrylic etc.

About 15 years back, cotton was grown, hand spun and even woven by women…

Now there is almost no cotton plantation… and thus no cotton-weaving and obviously championing of synthetics.

What are reasons behind discouraging and disappearance of cotton from the northeast? THEY who are behind it only know…

Questions –

S: Thailand synthetic yarn – the cost of this versus the cotton yarn – how much of it has been circulated and at what all outposts – which department of the govt deals with this segment of trading.-

R: because the cotton plantation has almost disappeared from north-east India, the cotton needs to be imported from other region, which makes it expensive. Then to bring down the cost, cheap quality dyes are used which run colour. Some NGOs and organizations like NHDC- National Handloom Corporation Ltd. do have good quality cotton with good dyes but they are so exorbitantly expensive that even people like us leave alone an average weaver can hardly afford it. They have started some schemes whereby privileged groups get cotton at discounted rate but what about people like me or a weaver… how do we have access to that good cotton available at an affordable rate… do the government-run organizations or the organizations backed by govt. Are the only ones that can get access to it??

Also, the wages for weavers are comparable to a pittance and cotton-weaving is much more tedious than synthetic because of the elasticity and strength, therefore the amount of work churned out in a day with synthetic yarn is relatively more than cotton, which is another reason why the use of cotton is automatically discouraged. Summing down 4 most important reasons:

  • Almost no cotton plantation
  • lack of good quality imported cotton available at an affordable rate
  • less wages for weavers
  • because of bad quality dyes, weavers and wearers are automatically inclined towards using bright (evergreen) synthetic yarns

therefore, North Eastern market has slowly been inducted into using, weaving and wearing only synthetic. it’s almost “the most difficult” thing to find quality cotton yarn or weaves in the north east. to the point that I have gone door to door looking for old pieces… they were sometimes as old as 200 yrs to as new as 20-25 yrs… which clearly states that cotton-weaving has long been a dying affair.

I have seen that during the expos, exhibitions, handloom centres and state bhavans within north east and outside that weavers and organizations bring synthetic weaves with them. while I am saying that they do sell because of the intricate designs but they don’t usually land up doing serious business in a market outside the north east. That is because the city’s high paying crowd is generally more aware of the hazards of wearing synthetic and chooses to wear only organic handlooms. At the same time, according to the export laws, only organic handloom should/can be exported out of India. Export Council does take liberties on that but has not been able to do serious trading owing to limited good quality products from the northeast. Because of all these reasons, weavers are generally the hopeless, poor lot slowing moving towards more paying off job/ occupation options.

So, in a nut shell, What is available is either the ugly but affordable synthetics… or very cheap quality cotton or decent quality cotton dyed with cheap quality dyes, or good quality cotton with good dyes that are so expensive that it’s almost impossible to an average weaver to afford them.

And if I was asked which department deals into this… can I just take this huge risk of saying certain things- if the government is against the use of synthetic why are they promoting it in their expos… why is this synthetic yarn being imported from the neighbouring porous/ almost porous borders? Why was the cotton plantation discouraged?

I will not blame the government- state or central hardly makes a difference if I get convincing answers to these…

S: okay – when was synthetic introduced?/

R: there is no definite time or date to when it was introduced. it was a very slow process of discouraging cotton plantation, and because weaving is the way of living in north east, to recover from that synthetic yarns was introduced. From the face of it, it looks like it’s been about 15 years. But it’s really been a very slow death of tradition and quality. Weavers (the old timers) still sometimes go back to the glorious days of weaving cotton and yearn for availability of good quality cotton and buyers who would be able to afford them.

I met such a case in sagolpara, Garo hills, meghalaya where I met the only man weaver I saw in the whole of the northeast. He shared his woes on not being able to weave cotton anymore. When I asked him if he would be ready to weave cotton for us, he was more than happy. I really tried to get someone to help me supervise this in garo hills… but it’s as if the Garos along with others have want to wipe the tradition of those beautiful diamond designs… it saddens me to see that happening… and how I wish to find someone there to help me…

There I met Daisy, a designer who uses indigenous Garo weaves and in her own way tries to revive Garo tradition, but she too is finding it difficult to find Garo loin loom weavers…

I sense a slow and terrible death of this tradition… I FEEL THIS TERRIBLE URGE to sometimes go shake up the associated authorities to take notice of this… I scream out to them to hear me out asking them to HELP me or just LEAVE ME ALONE and let me do what needs to be done!!

CAN WE DO SOMETHING TO BRING BACK COTTON TO THESE WEAVERS WHO REALLY WEAVE DREAMS ON LOOMS AND ARE WASTING ALL OF THESE ON GHASTLY SYNTHETICS?

S: which year and how cotton was phased out – how did the govt target the tribal population to get them converted into synthetic yarn….

Tribal population, all over is anyways the most vulnerable lot. They depend and sustain through their skills whether it’s to do with weaving or basketry or woodwork.  a lot of what they weave is what they wear. They were an easy poor helpless target not only because at some level they still follow their traditional ways of living (I highly respect this innocent allegiance they offer to their tradition)  but also there is an absolute lack of opportunities for people in the north east… they are forced to make do with whatever is available to them amidst the confusions created by the over ground Indian army vis-a-vis central government, or the underground army vis-a- vis the rebel groups and the martyr of all armies- the Christian missionary groups. While they all have their valid reasons for doing whatever they do but all of their head strong visions clearly leave an average north east Indian confused about who to trust, that obviously leaves them as a vulnerable target.

Now on my repeated queries on why the tribal population of simple weavers was targeted for this commercial trade of synthetic, no one seemed to have an answer. Met such a handloom officer in Kohima, Nagaland who wanted me to get cotton in Nagaland but wanted commissions on that!

And why in the world would I give commissions to a Greedy govt. officer to bring back the right of his own people. I was very disappointed in him. JUST LEAVE YOUR OWN PEOPLE ALONE. They deserve better not only from you but everyone, in fact especially from you!

Govt. obviously denies any participation in discouraging cotton plantation. They actually have no answer.

S: how is the raw material made available to the tribal population – the synthetic stuff I mean.

R:that’s the only thing available in markets. an average village weaver will weave what is available to them. they neither have the resources or urge to go looking for anything better.

S:Why is the synthetic yarn bad?

R: synthetic yarn does not let skin breathe which means the sweat in that humid weather never dries up. And is thus extremely harmful for your skin- most people suffer from mild or extreme skin allergies. Prolonged use is even cancerous.

S: What is the good thing about using the cotton yarn?

R:its organic. good for skin. has this age-old grace that is incomparable to any other fabric. Cotton weaving/ products will also encourage more trade and commerce not only in india but also abroad because their weaves are way too precious to be wasted on synthetics.

S:Why not buy synthetic make more money and get better lifestyles?

R:That is a short-sighted vision villagers have been inducted into believing. What they don’t realize is that there is a much bigger market outside their villages or guwahati for that matter where people will pay them their due wages (hopefully!). where they sell is where almost everyone weaves. why will they pay a good price to another weaver??? to encourage real trade and commerce- quality products are a key.

And above everything else, it is for their own health and betterment.

When I went to the small villages to tell people how important it is to weave/ wear cotton, there was indifference first, then ridicule, then reluctance and finally “almost acceptance” when I offered decent wages/ advance money to work on cotton.

What I realize is it is all about surviving and sustaining. If cotton gets them enough to survive… then cotton it will be…

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Listing down things I want to do (like now, right now!):

– I must understand the economics behind phasing out the cotton yarn and bringing in the synthetic yarn

  • Find an agriculturist who can help me phase out the reasons for disappearance of cotton plantation in the north east and help me figure out ways to revive it.
  • Find enthusiastic entrepreneurs from the villages who wish to take initiative with us to revive their traditional weaves on cotton.
  • Find a market here for a sustainable project of cotton promotion in the north east which means we need to find stores/ organizations that would help us ensure a certain order every month to be given to these weavers
  • Find enthusiastic individuals within the north east and outside to help us discourage people from using the synthetic yarns… for this we need to reach out to the weaving clusters.
  • To bring those beautiful weaves revived on cotton to the mainland and let people know there is more to the north east than just what they read and see.

I feel extremely strongly about the issue of cotton-weaving in the north east and any help/ advice/ suggestions/ contacts/ volunteer service will only help us work better.

Waiting to hear from you all…

Posted in MORA | 20 Comments

learning Naga dialects

Nagaland is one of the most diverse states in India with 16 main tribes and many further sub-tribes. The most interesting thing is that within the same tribe or sub tribe, the different villages too have different dialects.

so, for example: if there is someone from Ungma village in Mokukchung district (Ao Naga inhabited district) of Nagaland, the dialect he’ll follow is Ungma Ao Naga dialect.

Therefore, it is extremely important for Nagas to have one common dialect that can be followed by all tribes. Since, Nagaland touches Assam on the North, and Assam is noticeably the BIG BROTHER of North East India, a lot of references were taken from Assamese dialect and thus NAGAMESE was born, as an intelligible language and preferred form of communication among all Nagas or Nagas and others in North East India. It is more a Creole than a dialect/ language itself. It is now (since 1936) also officially used by the Nagaland Legislature and even taught as part of academics though English stays the official language.

Nagamese has two cases, two tenses, three aspectual distinctions and no gender. (ref. Wikipedia)

While i was travelling in Nagaland, i realized it was most essential for me to understand and learn basic Nagamese.

I have put together these phrases of Nagamese for everyone who wishes to travel into Nagaland.

SR. NO. ENGLISH NAGAMESE
1 What are you doing? Ki kori ase?
2 How are you? Kinika ase?
3 I am coming to <place’s name> Moe ( place’s name ) aahebo
4 When are you coming to <place’s name>? (place’s name) te ketiya ahibo?
5 What are you saying? Aponi ki koi ase?
6 Where is <place/ person name>? (place/ person name) kuthe ase?
7 How do I get there? Moe tatte kinika jabo?
8 Where are we going? Kuthe jabole ase?
9 YES Hoi.
10 NO. No hoi.
11 What do you do? (more interms of profession etc.) Apone ki kore?
12 How is your work going? Aponar kom kinika jaye ease?
13 I don’t eat meat. Moe manso na khae
12 I eat meat. Moe manso khae
13 What do you feel like eating? Apone ki khabole mon ase?
14 I will see you soon. Moe apone ke joldi luk papo.
15 Is it raining in <place name> or no? (place name) te paani ah e ase no nai? / Pani giri ase neki?
16 I am not feeling well. I need to see a doctor. Moe gao theek no hoi. Moe doctor ke dikhabole jabo.
17 I will give you one (tight) slap. Apone ke aekta thapor debo.
18 You do it Kori be
19 I will do it Kori bo
20 How much is it? Kiman ase?
21 I would like to buy that? Moe ittu kinibole mon ase.
22 <It, she/he> is very beautiful <Ittu,Tar> Beshi sunder ase.
23 I don’t like <it, her/him, them> Moe <ittu,tar, tar khan> ke bhaal na lage
24 I am very happy Khushi pai she
25 You are a nice person Apone mano bhaal ase
26 girl mayeki
27 boy motta
28 We are friends now Itiye to moe khan sathi ase.
29 I am in love with <you/place/ person> Moe <aponar/place/person> ke morom peshi kore
30 I am missing/ think of you all. Moe aponar sabke bhabi ase

Numbers:

1 aekta
2 Duita
3 Teenta
4 Charta
5 Paanchta
6 Choita
7 Saatta
8 Aathta
9 Nota
10 dosta

when you refer to these numbers as money, replace “ta” with takka”.

Apart from Nagamese, i picked few other languages. since i spent quite a long time in Mokukchung, here are few Ao Naga phrases that i learn. Akok, my Naga friend is from Ungma village so i am assuming it is Ungma Ao Naga dialect.

SR. NO. ENGLISH Ungma Ao Naga dialect
1 What are you doing? Na kichi aser?
2 How are you? Na ku ma lier?
3 I am fine. Ni chunga lier
4 I am coming to <place’s name>? Ni  (place’s name) ee arora.
5 What are you saying? Naya kichi jimpierba?
6 Where is <place/ person thing>? Ner (place/ person thing) kolen lier
7 YES ai
8 NO ma
9 Nice to meet you Ni na aa churuba kanga pilar
10 Please don’t worry. its alright. Kicha ma ser aa sizatobalu
11 Thanks a lot Kanga pilar
12 What would you like to eat? Na kichi cheenar.
13 I don’t want to eat anything. Ni Kicha mi cheener.
12 I would like to have some <food- which is always taken as rice> Ni chi tilaga chiongner.
13 See you tomorrow Asung yana a churuti
14 See you soon Asung yana yakta a churuti
15 Where are you from? Na kulen a lier?
16 I am from <place name> Ni (place name) nu a lier
17 Your son drinks a lot. (which was probably my most used sentence in mokukchung) Ner chiri yi kanga a chimer
18 You are very beautiful Na kanga tebur tajung
19 You are very good/ nice. Na kanga chunger a
20 king chuba
21 queen chubatz(u)
22 Are you the king of Nagaland?- mostly used as a sarcastic statement. Nagaland indang chuba ana?
23 I am going to town (hill people usually go DOWN to the market) Ni townee ken (aoera or uti- down/ atur- up)
24 friend metermer
25 i ni
26 you na
27 they parnok
28 he ba
29 she la
30 your ner
31 forehead tingichi
32 head tukulak
33 Hair ku
34 cat Taann/ munn
35 today tann
36 dog aazz
37 blood Aaz (shorter than dog’s aazz)
38 House ki
39 Sun Ann
40 Moon Itta
41 Month Ita
42 year kem
43 I hate you Ni na ma chiner
44 I love you <a lot>. Ni na (kanga) meimer.
45 I am missing/ think of you. Ni na pilamer.

i might be very wrong with this… i wrote it as i heard it.

Now learning… Ao Naga Number Chart:

1 Ka
2 Anna
3 Assem
4 Pizz<u>
5 Pungo
6 Terok
7 Tinit
8 Tee
9 Toku
10 Ter
10 Ter
20 Mizz (u)
30 Simmer
40 Lier
50 Tinam
60 Rocker
70 Nutter
80 Tier
90 Tokur
100 Noklanka

Now its easy…

Take multiples of ten and add the first 9 numbers to it. in cases starting from 20 onwards… multiple of ten will be followed by “er” and then the first 9 numbers.

Eg.

11- terka

12- teranna

13- terassem

58- tinam(er)tee

87- tier(er)tinit

Etc…

Now,

100 Noklan(ka)
200 Noklan(anna)
300 Noklan(assem)
400 Noklan(pizz)
500 Noklan(pungo)
600 Noklan(terok)
700 Noklan(tinit)
800 Noklan(tee)
900 Noklan(toku)
1000 Merjangka

now the magic begins…

just add “ser <and>” after multiples of 100 and then using the multiples of 10 and first 9 numbers… you are a master at AO NAGA numbers!!!

Eg…

104- noklanka ser pizz(u)

508- noklanpungo ser tee

750- noklantinit ser tinam

999-noklantoku ser tokurtoku!!!

Have fun!!

Now, if you are wondering, why would i want to bombard your screen with these strange words that have absolute nothing in relevance to you…

there’s a reason to it.

when i went to North East India, i went there with almost no information. only once i got there, and especially Nagaland, i knew, for me to communicate better, i will need to pick basics of their language because where few Nagas do talk in English (because Nagaland is now a christian state) but most of them know only their local dialect.

I asked my Naga friends to help me with this. And i learnt it by writing it against its english translations. initially i was terrible but with practice, i learnt quite a few phrases and started saying them fluently (like a Naga would.. :P)

what i loved about learning a new language(even though it was just basics) was that now i could partially understand when people would talk in a group. they found it strange and absurd when they saw me nodding my head to their conversation. but the look on their face when i responded in their dialect was PRICELESS!

then, i was immediately taken in… i was their “metermer” instantly!

with a language you can bridge that huge barrier… i wish one day i can communicate with my naga friends in their mother tongue… then i know i will be really communicating with them!

it also helped me a lot in finding my way around… within Nagaland.

I feel its almost necessary for me, to share this little knowledge that i gained there especially for the ones who someday wish to travel there.

it will be just amazing, if next time someone plans their trip to Nagaland , they would invariably take along with them photo copies/ prints of these. Thats when i will send a bit of myself with each and everyone of them.

These little things i can’t stop dreaming of or wishing for…

Posted in MORA TRAVELS | 69 Comments

the road less traveled…

MARCH 2010:

Plan: To see all 8 North EASTERN STATES- explore fabrics: understand the weaves of North East India- collect weaves for the next MORA collection.

Plan that turned out to be: a lifetime of experiences in these 3 months… could hardly cover 4 states… faced flood politics… fought against biggest textile threat – synthetic which has replaced cotton completely… no cotton plantation… extreme poverty… life in a village as a villager… govt. Goons… and a whole journey of emotions all alone in North East India.

A few days back, I was asked- “WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A SINGLE FEMALE TRAVELER IN NORTH EAST INDIA”

I said, “Surrender”… “a complete acceptance of unadulterated affection and attention”… “A will power to ignore the read and heard”…”a rebellion to the usual takes your map, find your own way travelling”… “A strong sense to see whoever you meet, as your friend”… “TRUST”… “A challenging belief that nothing after this trip will remain the same for you”…

This led to a series of curious almost voyeuristic queries to bring out what goes into “an adventure” like this:

What about North East India?

It’s a strange world out there… nothing like someone like me, a North Indian turned Mumbaite would have seen… life itself is a hard reality… the pages on corruption, poverty, politics that you read suddenly become you and the people around you.

And amidst this lives an even bigger reality- the necessity to sustain, has cultivated a beautiful streak of talent (- art and culture) in almost every North East Indian I met.

For the first time, I could differentiate between the different “Chinkis- a rather ignorant and derogatory term it sounds like now” – 16 different main tribes of Nagas and many other sub tribes living not only in NAGALAND( yes, for the 100th time NAGALAND IS PART OF INDIA- at least politically!) but also Manipur, Assam And Arunachal; mizos, assamese, arunachalis, manipuris, tripuri, enterprising khasis, humble garos, best cooks- bodos, dimasas resident of the land of (strange- lacking direction) bomb blasts and 1000 cr scams, almost cinema like rivalry between 2 villages within NC hills who happen to be most skilful but lost weavers , majuli’s misings washed away by annual floods and many (many many) more!

Why did you take up a solo journey: When I was growing up, I was always encouraged to EXPLORE… whether it was something to do with a new hobby, or new book, film… or a new destination/ journey… so travel was something that I grew up with… only after I did vipassana I found myself comfortable with myself and feeling secure in my own company… and started travelling alone…

– I always made short trips on my own to places near Mumbai/ Delhi or the areas I was somewhat aware of… but the journey into North East India came as a surprise to me… I had always wanted to explore textiles and culture in there so this time I just took off right after I finished exhibiting MORA collection at KALA GHODA ARTS FESTIVAL… somewhere in my heart I knew it had to be north-east Indian textiles for Mora’s next collection. A random message on facebook got me 2 co- travellers who cud only stay with me on the trip for about 10 days of this life- changing journey I made…

And the journey started on 17th April 2010.

It was time to put together some serious research of this “UNKNOWN land”.

Mumbai had almost no information on North East India so I was pretty hopeful that Delhi, being the capital will surely give me some trivia on the region- but what followed was very different- NORTH EAST REGION in its diverse art and culture was almost missing from every data or information bank. It is as if it’s being kept at one arm distance- like a group of 7 stepsisters and 1 brother had to be kept away purposely from the rest of “mainland” happy joint family.

The visit to district officer in textile department ended up being an opportunity for the officer to “SEE” one more girl as a bride for his “most eligible” son and hundreds of photo copies on Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal… but NOTHING on North East India except occasional mention of the “MOST LOVED AND WANTED MUGA silk” and a sprinkle of features on the insurgencies…

I WAS SUDDENLY DOUBTFUL ABOUT WHAT I WAS GETTING INTO!

Where are those rich textiles, basketry, woodcraft, tribal dances, cuisines, flora, fauna, rich topography, etc that my friends who visited northeast India kept talking about. There has to be a missing link.

Daily trips to craft councils, offices, more people, and libraries left me more confused.

Vishal, my colleague and a dear friend from my media days flooded my contact book with some really wonderful people… he made my circle of friends even before I started the journey… he created my support system sitting in Mumbai… he was like a master magician writing the course of my trip with a few clicks on his phone book.

Through him, I met a few designers from North East India who had migrated to New Delhi in search of greener pastures, and got some handy information on the weaving communities there but nothing really solid except few pages filled with numbers of absolute strangers who at that point were just names/ numbers but became my lifeline and now friends.

The places I visited in NORTH EAST INDIA: NAGALAND(districts: Kohima, Phek, Mon, Mokukchung, Dimapur, Wokha), Manipur (Ukhrul), Assam (Majuli, Kokrajhar, Haflong, Dhubri, Jorhat, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Tejpur, Dhemaji, Sualkuchi, Sibsagar, Diphu), Meghalaya (Garo, Khasi and Jaintia hills)

I had never decided to travel into northeast India all alone but now m glad I got an opportunity to… Because it is one of those places where you cannot be in a group meeting another group of “north eastern people”… you have to be ONE with them… among them… by travelling alone… I became them… and I was naga, mizo, bodo, kachari, dimasa, mising, ahom at the same time… I lived in their houses, ate their food, wore the things that were given as presents to me out of love by them… I WAS THEM!

Almost everyone right from Mumbai to the end of my 3 month-long trip at every level… tried to tell me to come back from this “unsafe territory”… “Why ritika? why would you choose an unearthly place like that?” “are you mad?” ” is nagaland in india?” “do you need visas?”“those chinkis” “insurgency” “terrorism” “bomb blasts” “head hunters” “rat/ dog eaters” “jungli log” “adivasi” “primitive” “wild” “unsafe” “NO WAY!”“Please make her understand… what is wrong with her” seemed to be the only words I would hear from everywhere! It was almost like a rebuke! But something told me… “what could be so bad? is it really that bad?” I didn’t know at that time when I started the journey that the people who were strangers to me then could be/ will be my friends now…

They opened their life to me and I was taken in… completely… I would have felt none of this if I was in a group… and now northeast India for me is a region where I really LIVED and TRAVELED ALL BY MYSELF.

– What was behind the choice of destination/s: the sole objective of this journey when I started was to explore art, culture and specifically textiles from the north-east but I don’t really know when it became a fight to bring back cotton in north-east India, reviving some of the most unusual but lost traditions, going door to door to the villagers to make them more aware about cotton, begging in front of bank managers to give loans to the small but enthusiastic entrepreneurs from the villages who aim to make their world bigger (wider) than it is… learning 4 different languages which started as a necessity and then became fun activity when people would always be pleasantly surprised to hear me talking in their language… and picking words and understanding their conversations…, turning non vegetarian when I found myself living on boiled daal and rice for 2 months…, from a kadak chai person I became a “laal cha” person… coming face to face with corruption and politics was another very important thing I faced… there were a few govt. officials who wanted commissions out of everything.. I had just one thing to say to them… “I m working for your people… and you make money out of your people… and exploit them… and that divides us in a big way.. I cannot for the life of me work with anyone like you”…

So I did not have to really make a choice of destination… they just happened to me… whenever there was somebody willing to take me into their lives!

– Was this your first time/ what were the inhibitions if any.- it wasn’t the first time that I was travelling alone like this but yes it turned out be the longest I travelled alone… and into a territory completely unknown to many within north-east India as well.. I travelled to some really remote places and even had an exciting meeting with a guy who has been in the naga rebel group (NAME WITHHELD) for the last 32 years, came across a fake encounter and a “good for nothing bomb blast”… there were no inhibitions as such but the fear among people around me about north-east India being a “terrorist region” was beginning to shake me… but I met some really amazing people on the way who only told me… “There is nothing wrong with north-east India… you be nice to people and see how people are going to love you” and that is exactly how it happened…

I WALKED INTO THE WILD KNOWING NOTHING AND NO ONE!

People who know me call me “rani jhansi” because its funny but m scared of nothing… absolutely nothing… and its my wish to die in the mountains… which I admit quite proudly 😛 So I wasn’t scared at al… was just very excited if not anxious about this “unknown” and the more people said… “don’t do it”… the more I wanted to do it!!

– what is the first thing that struck you being a single woman traveler- people perceptions/ making your way through strange places/ fear, excitement

First thing that struck me as an INDIAN woman travelling alone was that people are just not used to seeing Indians travelling with their backpacks… moving around with a map… asking for directions… enquiring about places… so if your hindi is not superbly good you are invariably taken as a foreigner! But this could go for any guy as well… but for girls it IS very strange!

Second reaction that you get from people is: why would you want to risk your life like this? Or doesn’t your family mind you travelling like this? What about your husband?? How can he let you travel all alone?? Are you here for business? Are you from an organization?? “Very brave of you… we have never travelled like this and look at this girl from Mumbai… travelling in our region… telling us facts about our place”

Northeast was an amazing exploration made better and easier by the people who love to share their lives and stories… I made the most number of friends during the time I travelled from one place to another… either behind a bike, or in a rickshaw, or walking, or during (a 19hr) long journey in the bus, or trains, wingers, sumos… it would start with a simple question like “where you from” and would end with exchanging numbers to joining each on the journey ahead… the latter being more common in my case… my favourite word being “chalo”… they would say so and so place is nice and I must go there and they live close by and can take me there and I would say… “chaalo”!! and that is how I saw most of what I saw…

I am officially my Naga friends’ “FIRST HINDU INDIAN FRIEND”… they were surprised to see this non- conservative version of a Hindu girl! and refused to believe I was a married woman! 🙂

Akok Jamir, my Ao Naga friend from Mokukchung, Nagaland, who hates to call himself either Naga or Indian! he’s just himself!

Kilang and Archi, my first FRIENDS in North East India!

Aiytree, my Dimasa madness. we laughed all day, almost hysterically. people always wondered if we knew each other for ages, but we got to spend only 5 days together, and many more thinking about each other or laughing even more hysterically on the phone… Aiytree, you know how much i love you. she is one person who is helping me revive Dimasa weaves on cotton purely because of our friendship!

I was in a strange state where I trusted everyone… and noone cheated me…!

– What is your advice to women who want to travel alone? YOU DO NOT ALWAYS NEED TO LOOK YOUR BEST BUT FEEL YOUR BEST. Carry basic stuff like a knife, torch, pepper spray etc to ensure you have something to figure your way out of a situation, though women are really very safe and at times much respected in North East India. Remember if you don’t get a good vibe from someone… possibility is that IT IS NOT RIGHT… don’t knowingly put yourself in trouble. Avoid night journeys. DON”T EVER HITCH HIKE WHEN YOU ARE TRAVELING ALONE… army trucks are a strict NO NO… always look for local women for support and while travelling try to get along with a group/ family… it feels safe when you go out for food/ breaks during travel especially at night…

Always keep extra cash hidden somewhere for a rainy day…

It’s safer to stay with a family than in hotels/ guest houses etc. and it’s nice to help the people in those houses because in most cases they don’t take money from you…

– Travelling alone – What is good about it, what is bad about it…

Bad: sometimes you crave to share what you are experiencing… you feel overwhelmed with the things around you and all you have is you… those days when you come back to a hut by Brahmaputra after hugging and crying for a stranger… you feel something’s changing… and that’s when you want to hug someone you love and just cry… all over again!!

Sometimes when you see those thousands of fireflies in the dark… from as close to your hair to as far as you can see… and you are transported to another reality… a fairy tale kind of moment… where for 45 minutes you hear nothing but the wheels of a rickshaw and see nothing but the fireflies peeping through the foliage of trees that’s escorting your way…You suddenly feel like a princess… and in that proud moment you want to cry out to someone you love and say… I saw the most beautiful thing!!!

When after shaking your hand with a strange bank manager, you are told something even more strange—“don’t worry she (weaving entrepreneur in majuli) will get her desired loan… your responsibility is now my responsibility” and she actually gets that loan… you want to jump up high and give a high five to someone you love… and say “we have done it”…

My majuli family

When I was sick of having boiled daal and rice and could have it no more and decided to give my meals a miss… this old assamese lady from dhubri… woke up in the middle of the night to prepare meal for me- milk, paneer, chapatti, sugar and biscuits… when she made food “just for me- because she didn’t much care for roti”… I missed my mom…

neelima didi who acted my mother in a strange place…

good: you observe and absorb more when you are on your own and there is no one to talk to… you learn more because you are completely at the mercy of the locals… you pick languages out of necessity… you understand the politics and general living conditions of people much better… but most importantly … YOU MAKE FRIENDS… the kind of friends you never find in cities… in no time… you seem to SHARE a lot and in the simplest way possible…

and that’s what makes this whole journey so meaningful… a few numbers on your contact book come back with you as friends… and you suddenly feel richer… happier… more content with life… because you SURVIVED!!! And you LIVED… really LIVED those days of your life!


her tickling laughter still rings in my head…

P.S. did I just forget to even mention about the “rich textiles, basketry, woodcraft, tribal dances, cuisines, flora, fauna, rich topography, etc”… well… those are more stories… and i wish to tell them all…

Posted in MORA TRAVELS | 67 Comments

MAJULI

Before i started my journey into North East India, I was told by many to visit the land of SANJOY GHOSH- Majuli! sanjoy ghosh was a man who lived, worked and died in Majuli for his outstanding work with the talented MISING tribe (The Misings or Mishings are an Indo-Mongoloid group of people who migrated from the eastern Himalayan regions in Tibet). his  goodwill among the MISINGS couldn’t go well with the ULFA goons and he was shot dead by them.

Then I read about Majuli being the biggest river (Brahmaputra) island in the world

N then I heard about the annual floods that wash away this beautiful island every single year vis a viz flood politics.

I knew one day by some stroke of chance I will be there…

I was in Mokukchung, Nagaland when I finally managed to get a right contact to get into majuli- kumarbari. For that I had to take a shared sumo from mokukchung to jorhat (assam) and join Iva (who later will turn out be my majuli hero) in jorhat. Spend the night at her small one room, (a single bed in one corner with kitchen on another room).she insisted on sleeping on the floor while she made sure I stay comfortable throughout the night sleeping on the bamboo “chatai” which incidentally helped me not feel hot at all through that very hot and humid jorhat night.

We were to leave next morning by 10 to go the ferry station to kamlabari and then get into a bus to get to kumarbari where I was going to spend my next 13 days…

the journey took much longer than expected- after changing 2 auto rickshaws (a luxury IVA thought), 1 man pulled rickshaw… 3 km of walk… n then 1.5 hour long journey on the ferry…

Ferry Ticket to kamlabari

IVA, my majuli hero n her aunt

my co passengers… very intrigued by this FOREIGNER

by the time we reached Kumarbari, it was pouring and we knew we had quite a bit of walking to do with our huge bags before we get to the bus station…

it was harder than I thought… the kachcha roads were slippery and I had never seen that kind of rain…

it was fierce!

Somehow we managed with a help of few people n got to the bus station.

Felt like a journey home!


my first impression of majuli… n its was more… much more beautiful than I thought… didn’t know at that point of time that it’s actually so tragic.

Brahmaputra just across the place I was staying…

Village bowaris after their bath at Brahmaputra

I saw Brahmaputra and right in front of that was a small bamboo hut… that was where I was asked to get down… IVA’s place… where I stayed for the next 13 days and evolved n changed everyday… kumarbari has no electricity, only bamboo houses on stilts, what I didn’t know was that I will be bathing and washing my clothes at Brahmaputra as well…

It was a big family I stayed with 5 bowaris (sister in-laws), 6 brothers, ma, baba, their kids, 6 unmarried sisters and a lot of neighbours living in the same compound…

Misings live in thatched houses raised on bamboo stilts , called Chaang ghar which means house on stilts . Under the raised structure they keep their domestic animals .This chaang ghar helps protect themselves from flood as they are forced to live at the fertile banks of rivers, agriculture being their main occupation.

Majuli house where I spent 13 days.

Day 1: I thought the bamboo would crack and I will fall n die.. day 5: I was walking without holding things for support. Day 12: I did bihu. Day 13: I went down those 2 steps crying… knowing I m going to miss this family.

My bowaris.. who loved me so much… buhari on the extreme right, wanted me to teach her English. We didn’t know each others language but we connected.

the hard-working house maker… she was never seen without doing something important… inspiring in a way!

apun bowari is my super favourite. We could laugh all day.

And as they say to everything nice… I say “I dun” too!

The kitchen of the household and the food I ate… there was always so much food for me.. whether family ate or no…

My first attempt at washing clothes at Brahmaputra n the smart Iva practises  her newly learnt camera tricks on me who taught her.  Washing is easy but what got really complicated was bathing wearing a mekhola and changing in and out of your clothes in broad day light in front of the whole village n the mighty Brahmaputra… I was a serious disaster with the whole family n the neighbours and the neighbour’s neighbours all collecting there to look at me bathing… wasn’t a very exciting experience but I learnt my lesson.. DON”T ACT CUTE WHEN U R FEELING STUPID!! Every one thought I was liking the attention!

Iva immediately took me for a village tour introducing me to almost everyone we saw…

Iva showing me the famous, 5-rung ladder of mising houses.

these houses and the flight of 5-7 stairs leading to these houses have religious and social beliefs and practices attached to it. A guest is accepted or a new bride only becomes a part of the family when led up the flight of stairs.

procession on the streets of Kumarbari…

many years went into deciding a script for Misings- roman or assamese or at some level devnagari… still many a books/ papers are published using both scripts… though amended roman script was announced as the official Mising script in 1978… debate still continues

Kumarbari’s most reputed school and cultural training centre. the day i reached there, about 20-25 girls were practising a Mising Folk song for a celebration in the village

making her morning doze of tamul (betel nut, generally raw) n paan. Mising or rather a typical north eastern meal is concluded with Tamul

first thing that you notice on majuli streets is that its the women who run the show. they seem to be doing all the work, while most men either while away time playing cards or doing mundane jobs at home!


almost pea- size potatoes at Majuli

**********************************************************************

This is the family that eat what they grow (mustard, pulses, maize, vegetables, tobacco, bamboo, rice, tamul (supari)), wear what they weave, n live in the house that they made themselves. because that is all they can manage. So if the crop goes bad the family is left with nothing but to cut their pigs/ poultry at a much lesser cost. (poultry/pigs  live right below their bamboo platform you see in the photos. You can actually see pigs/ poultry running n making noises right below you. Quite a turn off for the appetite of a vegetarian like me)

I saw one of those days… when the patriarch ordered to cut off Rani- their oldest pig. That’s because the annual floods were acting up and had ruined almost all their crop.

It must have been a gory sight for I was asked to stay indoors… later I saw blood n remains n lots of sullen faces trying to forget what happened.

That’s how the first day went.

Day 2 started with a plan of action… I woke up to the sound of the whole family doing their household chores… making local rice beer apong, cleaning the house, weaving, making eri yarns, doing repair jobs, making food…

Mother making hand spun eri yarn while taking care of the grand kid

Didi cutting bananas grown at home to take for sale.

master weaver, didi

Iva washing the eri shawl with reetha soaked overnight

bhaiya doing minor repair work in the house

what was most interesting was that everyone seemed to be looking forward to some big occasion…

Today the patriarch’s brother who lives in the same compound finished making his house… so there was to be a feast!!

With
PORK, RICE n APONG.

The new house…

APONG- rice beer, Fully fermented over a week now ready for feast

And Father waiting for his share of apong and the feast to begin

traditional Mising pork curry being cooked

What followed was a silent festivity eating n drinking apong and people going back to their houses after that.

That day the daughter of the house looked very pretty dressed up for the festivities… suddenly she fell sick n started screaming and throwing things…

A pooja was performed later to appease the Goddess “devi” who had possessed her. She had done something wrong by looking pretty and getting a lot of male attention.

this was also taken care of by going to the traditional religious schools in ASSAM, called SATRA ( Majuli satras, being the abode of the ahomiya  neo-Vaisnavite culture are the most worshipped and respected)

SATRA

The daughters of the family accompanied me while the daughter in-laws stayed behind to take care of household chores…  i thought it was unfair and raised my disapproval for the same.. apun bowari silently told me not to react to it  because this is what is followed here… daughter-in-laws have little to be rewarded for all that they do for their husbands’ families…

me with my majuli family dressed up to go to SATRA

Guess Majuli wasn’t very different from other places in india in their treatment to women even though women are the ones handling not only the household chores but also the economics/ finances of the family.

*************************************************************************************************

I was getting more and more intrigued by the mekhola chadors everyone was wearing… I had heard Misings are master weavers but now I could see it..

Women walking on the road with umbrellas in their hands, doing household chores, with looms in every house… suddenly I was face to face with the rich textiles that everyone keeps raving about… the beautiful weaves by  the misings…

mising design on eri, shawl more than 50 yrs old. this tradition of weaving with cotton on eri is almost dying in Majuli

traditional ghai design

mising weaves are so complicated that it is impossible to weave without a meticulously marked graph

but what I didn’t realize while admiring these gorgeous weaves is that an ugly synthetic yarn had completely taken over cotton yarn. Cotton has disappeared from the face of north-east india.

Could it be because cotton plantation was discouraged in massive way by the state govt.s to bring in synthetic/ Thailand/ dulia yarn?

Now the condition is so bad that I had to go door to door looking for cotton n there was none…

They don’t like cotton anymore coz bad quality cotton with bad dyes was introduced to shut up people asking for cotton to be brought back.

One wash of these cottons and the colour comes off. Plus they are more delicate to weave so no one wants to work on cotton anymore.

That’s when I realized the seriousness of the situation… and that’s when I traveled from one village to another sensitizing villagers about the hazards of using synthetic and how cancerous it can be and encouraging not only good health but trade and commerce by producing cotton… villagers were initially very reluctant but talking to them with examples and advance money for orders to be woven on cotton helped and finally we found a team that was ready to help me bring back cotton in majuli to start with…

Kamini, a master at natural dyes and me (in bowari’s mekhla chador)

handloom shop run by Kamini, the pink dupatta made it to the collection not only because its beautiful but also because that was the only ready cotton piece she had then, thank you Kamini for promising me to make more!.


Our team…

Iva on our mission to bring back cotton supervising the new weaves with cotton

In these 13 days that I spent alone with this Majuli family, I was loved, taken care of and at some level completely pampered. They were my family suddenly.

It wasn’t a group against a group… it was me with a new family! And that is what makes my trip to this beautiful place so amazing…

My farewell with this family was bihu by my lovely angels… the one in front is Apun’s bowari’s daughter and is going to an english medium school. i taught her how to say “I am a very smart girl” and go tell that to her English teacher. she came back home jumping from her school that her teacher quite liked what s he told her! She’s apun bowari’s everything… and all she wants from her life is to be able to educate her daughter properly and be able to make her independent. SHE DOESN’T WANT ANOTHER CHILD.

These 2 girls would stick to me the whole day and cried when I was leaving… I was touched… I was leaving a new-found family behind…

The reward the girls got for their lovely performance was cup- a noodles… their first taste of noodles ever!! N they ate it so adorably with their hands… my camera battery died while clicking their photos when they were dancing… n there was no electricity to charge it and chronicle this absolute cuteness!!

Another beautiful thing that happened just before i left… all the bowaris got together and searched for everything cotton that they had ever woven… they wanted me to choose from those and take with me as their token of love… i was TOUCHED! what touched me the most was what apun bowari said.. “thailand yarn ka to bahut mekhola chador hai… par tum to cotton hi lega… agli baar aur cotton weave karke rakhega”- ” there are many mekhola chadors woven with thailand synthetic yarn that we have at the moment but you will only wear cotton… so next time you come we will make sure there are options of cotton weaves to choose from”

somewhere… i had achieved little of what i wanted… they were interested in weaving/ wearing cotton! this little step taken by them… came as a big relief!

Iva told me 20 days after I left that house that kumarbari is washed away by the annual floods and the people are in the process of rebuilding their broken houses n spirits to make them strong enough to survive year by year…

travel back to jorhat… a 5-6 hour journey to jorhat through Dhemaji district took about 19 hours and many different modes of trasportation: bus, naav- small make shift boats to cross flooded areas… behind bikes… autos… open gypsies… sometimes walking quite a distance… this picture was taken at a place 2 km away the  ferry station. just 2 days back it got flooded… some the houses disappeared with the water. the transportation came to a halt… our sumo in the picture could not go any further.
Majuli, just before i left… showing signs of flooding already

temporary measures taken by villagers with the help of some NGOs

the last Majuli road i walked on… Iva taking the lead…

this almost relaxed afternoon for these women that soon turned into a tragic tale of putting together their broken lives and houses.

The things that we read in papers and books of poverty, callousness of government, corruption, I suddenly came face to face with them in majuli- with flood politics, corruption on behalf of govt. officials who think they own the place, bank managers’ favouritism to the families and friends, extreme poverty and helplessness.

I will keep going back to Majuli, ALONE so I can be with my people again and work with them, for them and fight against the govt. officials who think its their birth right to exploit their own people. I am not going to let this happen to Majuli, the place I love, n the place I wish to protect!

Posted in MORA | 41 Comments

ERI SILK (north east india)

Date: 07.09.2010

I had been reading and hearing the same things from everyone about this silk called “Eri”

“who is she?”, I wondered.

According to Wikipedia and other sources, The name Eri is derived from the Assamese word ‘era’, which means castor as the silkworm feeds on castor plants. Eri silk is also known as endi or errandi in India. Eri is known as the most eco-friendly amongst silk.

“where does she come from?”

The wooly white silk is often referred to as the Ahimsa silk or the fabric of peace as the process does not involve the killing of the silk worm. Moths leave the cocoon as soon as it is ready to be spun. The heavy rainfall and humid atmosphere of the region suits the Eri culture. It is grown primarily in Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, and also in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Orissa, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and some small villages in India

“how does she look?”

it could be white, creamy white or reddish. It can be spun evenly or unevenly in coarse or very fine counts which amplifies the elegance of silk, comfort of cotton and warmth of wool. Fineness, density, strength, cross-sectional shape and surface properties are unique to Eri.

whew… all of this made sense theoretically… just theoretically… how were we going to gel… I had no idea!!!

days passed before…

my naga friends Kilang and Archi suggested we go to Imui village, nagaland because a certain old lady there makes some Eri shawls…

how is she going to be? when I say “she”.. its her…the Eri… somehow she’s playing with my mind… ummmph!

the lady said she has a few left from her recent trip to guwahati.

I said bring it on… I was nervous!!

my first meeting with Eri and it was love at first sight! I froze… I was in love with HER… right there! numb… speechless… I wanted to touch her… feel her… smell her… I was hopeless at my first impression and she was gorgeous… perfect in her imperfection… just the way I like it! I was intimidated… she could read my mind and was giggling behind that half-open, half closed bag…

I had gone with a certain image of her in my mind.. all of that was NOTHING… here I was shaking nervously not being able to contain myself…

And suddenly, just like that… I saw her, touched her, smelt her… there was an instant connect… this was just what I was looking for al these years…

she has that ability to transform into so many colours so easily, almost chameleon like… she  takes to those natural dyes like no one else… oh and then her extremely flexible and delicate nature lends to her a body and texture that is almost unseen or unimaginable with any other… she could be coarse or soft depending on how you want her to be…

there’s a certain playfulness in her character… it’s as if she’s looking at you with those big bright eyes and asking you to take up the challenge… “lets see what you have to show me now” “what else are you going to try on me” “what colour am I today” “how do you want me to be… gentle or hard”…

a sudden impulse told me… this is it! make or break! lets see what I can do with you, you Eri!

  • Khasi natural dyed checks on Eri teamed up with muga geecha weave on Eri bodo aronai (stole).. Kokrajhar of assam merges with khasi hills of meghalaya.. Where else do you see this combination!
  • what next… fiery red natural dyed Eri combines with kalamkari of andhra pradesh.. haan… like it!
  • well… how about those bright konyak naga weaves on a dull olive natural dyed (with tea) Eri… niiice… elegant!

haan? haan?

well this is what I can do with you… are you ready to come along?

what she said is carefully wrapped up and being sent all the way from punjab (our workshop) to Mumbai…
can’t wait to share it with you…

meanwhile…

sharing some photos of my love affair with Eri…

Date: 13.03.2011

its time i do a follow up on this blog that i wrote months back… last few months have been quite crazy… with the second trip to the north east and meeting some of the most fabulous weavers in arunachal pradesh and of course meeting all my newly formed seem-like-forever friends in the north east.

those carefully wrapped parcels reached bombay and were received with much enthusiasm at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival…

you wanna see how they look like…

Khasi natural dyed checks on Eri teamed up with muga geecha weave on Eri bodo aronai (stole).. Kokrajhar of assam merges with khasi hills of meghalaya.. Where else do you see this combination!

what next… fiery red natural dyed Eri combines with kalamkari of andhra pradesh.. haan… like it!


well… how about those bright konyak naga weaves on a dull olive natural dyed (with tea) Eri… niiice… elegant!


i took up the challenge… and eri, you humbled me… you are much more beautiful and crafty… i underestimated…

what would i do working on you…

you worked your magic on me…

and look at what you created!

continue to charm me the same… you… you eri! 🙂

more in eri silk…

natural dyed eri silk with raw silk borders

Natural dyed eri silk with maharashtran khand and Naga weaves

eri silk fibre woven into a shawl with raw silk borders

eri silk shawl with woven floral motif

Posted in MORA | 40 Comments