Ajrakhpur: Keeping traditions alive

AbdulRehmaanIndia’s Kutch district of Gujarat is much more than a destination with sandy beaches and sunshine; it is an Aladdin’s cave of traditional handmade artisan crafts. Ajrakhpur, a tiny village in Kutch, is one such great place fighting to keep alive the dying art of Ajrakh, a form of block printing on cloth.

Ajrakhpur! A place that perpetuates time-honored traditions through its handiwork, a place that shuns the idea of automation, a place where people create things by hand, a place where they practice an art that has been passed down through generations.

If you admire and love Indian handicrafts, you will understand why I wanted to share this interview with Abdul Rehmaan Khatri on my blog. Rehmaan is an eight generation Ajrakh printer and one of the few left who is carrying on this tradition. His three sons have also been trained in the same craft. Read on…

  • What exactly is Ajrakh?

Ajrakh is a legacy of textile production in western India that goes back over four thousand years to the early civilizations of the Indus Valley. I can trace my roots back to a 16th century ancestor who came to India from Sindh, bringing with him the craft of Ajrakh printing. The art derives its name from the Hindi phrase ‘Aaj ke din rakh’ or keep it for the day as the process Ajrakh block printing is pretty long with each stage involving many days.

It is a laborious but intricately beautiful craft. Our (Khatri community) ancestors have been printing with Ajrakh blocks for centuries. They migrated to Dhamadka, Kutch from the Sindh region in Pakistan. Traditional Ajrakh printing continues in craft villages such as our’s (Ajrakhpur) and Dhamadka. Ajrakh block printing is a lengthy and demanding process consisting of several steps. Tradition teaches that the longer an artisan waits before beginning the next step, the more eye-catching the final print will be.  The two-week printing process results in stunning printed cloth in traditional form.

  • What is the process like?

It takes skill and patience to make Ajrakh. There are between 14-16 different stages of dyeing and printing, which takes 14-21 days to complete. The resulting cloth is pleasing to touch and jewel-like in appearance. Ajrakh prints are dominated by the use of intense patterning and jewel like colors: rich crimson and deep blue, black outlines and white accents are all obtained from natural dyes and fixed with an eco-friendly mordant, alum. The beauty of Ajrakh relies on expert manipulation of these materials for dyeing and printing. They are all bio-degradable and environment friendly.

Our main dye sources are varied: red is obtained from madder root, alizarin, sappan wood and lac; blue comes from indigo plant; yellow is from pomegranate rinds and turmeric; green is achieved by over-dyeing indigo with turmeric and pomegranate; and black is produced from scrap iron and jaggery. The use of henna, rhubarb root and tamarisk also adds to the variety of shades we produce.

For printing, we carve required design into hard wood to make the blocks, which are the essential tools for printing. These blocks are dipped sequentially into a dye bath and stamped onto the fabric with skilled precision. A seperate block is used for each colour; some fabrics may have as many as 500 block repeats in one metre of fabric.

  • Is the process completely manual?

The process of creating an Ajrakh involves no machinery; it is entirely manual. Besides it provides steady employment for local craftspeople.

  • What does the future hold for this craft?

We are now receiving recognition both nationally and internationally. The future looks promising. People are becoming more aware about the advantages of supporting sustainable fashion. Various renowned designers have already embraced eco-fashion & are working with sustainable & eco-friendly materials only.

Ajrakhpur

*Ajrakh block-printed stuff is easily available at stores like Fabindia, Good Earth, Anokhi, etc. I request y’all to please support the craftsmen and buy their stuff to preserve India’s traditional handicrafts in the process.

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A Snapshot of PV Subramanyam

PV_SubramanyamThe year was 2007… It was a usual day at IRIS, my workplace. I was at my desk completely engrossed in my work. BAM! He entered the cubicle where I was working distracting me with his half/one-sided conversation in Gujarati with someone on the phone. An incurable Gujju money man, I thought. Yes, those were the first words that came to my mind when I saw Subra Sir (PV Subramanyam) for the very first time. I was right… Atleast about the incurable-money-man part :P

Fast-forward to the year 2013… Now we are having those phone conversations (in English mostly :P)… We discuss money, work, family life, work-out routine, food, sugar-addiction, travel, society, attitudes, blah, blah… The list seems endless right now. For all those conversations and so many more to come, thank you Sir.

In this exclusive tête-à-tête, the man who makes smart people richer (http://www.subramoney.com) talks about his first crush, sinful sugar cravings, health vs. wealth and a lot lot more. WARNING! Brace yourselves for some real funny bites because he is the ‘King of Sarcasm’. Also, ignore the part where he mentions future-kids-Gandhidham :P Not happening anytime SOON!

  • If you had just one word to describe yourself, what would it be?

Relaxed…

  • When did your love affair with money start?

Must have been pretty early. My dad’s brother used to give me all his 50 paise coins (with Jawaharlal Nehru’s face on it). All that went into my piggy bank. By the time I was in Class 4, I had more than 1000 coins. I wish I’d known the magic of compounding back then!

  • Being a hard-core cyclist, what is it that you love the most about cycling?

The cold refreshing air hitting your face at 5 a.m. on a winter morning!

  • What is more important – health or wealth?

Ridiculous question. This is like asking a kid, “Who do you like more? Your mother or your father?” It’s a stupid question and should be banned forever.

  • Describe your Sundays.

My Sundays are typically reserved for a long run or a long ride. That’s 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. Then it is a lazy lunch…mostly at home, rarely trying to venture out.

  • What would be your dream holiday location and why?

Ideally a place with some mountains for climbing and a beach – simple Goa, Chiplun, Kovalam types.

I would also love to go tiger watching (preferably alone).

  • What is your favorite book? What was the last book you read?

No favorites. The last book I read was The Crisil Story; I did not like it at all.

  • What is your food heaven and hell?

Anything healthy is heaven. I am trying to go vegan and reduce white sugar usage. Unsuccessful battle so far.

  • Tell me about your first crush.

Orange crush! Mom must have made it for me… :P

  • If you were a biscuit, which would you be?

Bourbon. It’s poison. Eat 200 at a time and you will die. Guaranteed.

  • If I came to your home and looked inside the refrigerator, what would I find?

Vegetables, milk, water bottle for running, tons of daals, grains, etc.

  • Do you have a bucket list?

Naa. If I want something, I get it. Nowadays the things I love are illegal, immoral or fattening. So I refuse to think about those things. But yes looking for loads of grandchildren, including two at Gandhidham ;)

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A Snapshot of Neeraj Tiwari

PhotoFunia-b88ccc_oFood and business – these are the two words that come to my mind when I think about Neeraj; his two steady lovers. It isn’t an easy task to describe a man like him. I met him in 2007 at work. We were part of the same team. He had these hilarious code words like merger and acquisition for wedding/relationships, stock split for females who were expecting and god knows what. I was quite naive back then and it took lot of networking for me to understand what he actually meant. Another patent Neeraj Tiwari dialogue, “Maal laao.” That was his way of congratulating you for absolutely anything and everything :P His charming smile, his confidence, his sense of humour, that naughty streak makes him an instantly likeable personality. What I admire the most about him or the most striking quality in him is his fierce independence. He quit his job to tread into unknown waters of entrepreneurship. And he has succeeded big-time. He never gave up; the idea of giving up irks him the most.

In this exclusive interview, Neeraj Tiwari (http://dhirubhaism.com/) talks about his first crush, his love for food & business and a lot more.

  • Give me a brief description about yourself.

I like travelling, reading books, writing and most importantly I love my dream, my business. Most of the time you can find me working; and yes like a typical Aquarian, I am an absent-minded genius (self appreciation :P).

The idea of exploring new places gives me a kick. In fact, my New Year’s Resolution is to visit/explore at least 7 places in 2013. Seven probably is not practical but I already have plans in place for four destinations (starting April).

My mantra in life is to never give up, keep walking. I firmly believe it doesn’t matter how many times you fall, what counts is, you rise every time you fall. You give up in two conditions. One, when you are down and things are going against you and second when you find something better. But either way giving up is depressing. Once you decide to do something, just do it. Believe in yourself. Give your best.

Now, let’s talk about my love for food; I have a steady affair with it and our love is quite unconditional :P I can’t cook but I can eat a lot… And a lot more.

Call me crazy, but there are two things I just can’t live without – shoes and books. I have like 16 pairs of shoes and a collection of 190+ books. I feel one should read and walk all the time.

  • What was the last film you saw?

Robot and Frank and The Dictator.

  • What kind of music do you love the most?

The kind that expresses feelings and emotions, the kind that is engaging, bewitching and hypnotizing.

  • Describe your Sundays.

On Sundays, I get more sleep. When I say more I mean I wake up around 8 am. It is the only day I actually get to be with my entire family and I love that. A regular Sunday ends with a good movie or work.

  • What would be your dream holiday location and why?

Egypt and Rome… I like ancient monuments, structures and cities… An unexplored island is also on my list perfect holidays.

  • What is your favorite book? What was the last book you read?

I have two – The 48 Law of Power and The Art of Seduction. The last one I read was – Every street is paved with Gold, by Kim Woo Choong, Founder Chairman Daewoo. I am currently reading The Black Flag.

  • Tell me about your first crush.

This memory is very close to my heart and reminds me of someone. It is funny but I did not even know her name. I still don’t. I do have a vague memory of what she looked like. I wasted three years just looking at her in college. I had a big crush on her but I never said anything. She knew I liked her all those years but I was just too shy to talk to her. My bad.

  • What’s a food treat for you? What foods do you detest?

Food treat? Get me anything from the south – idli, medu vada, dosa, uttapam with authentic coconut coriander chutney and sambar. I don’t enjoy non-vegetarian food anymore.

  • Do you have a bucket list?

Yes, I do. One thing on the list is to own a Royal Enfield and get it modified from Rajputana Customs. I would love to share the rest but it is all a little crazy and scary. From the list, I have already accomplished four things. Hopefully, next four will be achieved in coming 5-7 years. Two will take time but if it happens I will be able to say I lived my life to the fullest.

http://poojachopragoel.com/snapshots-interviews-profiles/