Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Kutch Rocks (excuse the pun)

Well life here is certainly so interesting and very different. Throughout the Kutch region at times you pinch yourself as you feel like you are on another planet or in some costume period piece - with all the funky tribal outfits and different lifestyles (and not alternative ones either). But what strikes you most is the overwhelming spirit, generosity, hospitality and openness of the people, even in spite of their sometimes dire economic situation. What I can say are they are rich in many ways we will never know or get.

Enough philosophising - and now a summary of the past few days - and no yoga to speak of except a brief demonstration for my embroidery teacher and her family.

Sunday I took a local bus to Mandvi - and same same everyone says hello, asks where you are from (if they speak English - and it's not that common here), looks, smiles, really it's exhausting, but give some insight into the lives of the rich and famous. Mandvi is on the coast - Arabian Sea/Bay of Kutch, and is primarily a ship building port - huge ships made of timber. Interesting but am glad I only made a day trip there - and being on my own I was hesitant to swim - stripping off even mildly is likely to cause more commotion.

Monday I was met bright and early by my driver Bharat - he took Deb and I around last trip and is a fabulous man. We first visited a Rabari family in Bhujodi, a village near Bhuj, where unfortunately the mother/woman of the house had been called away to a meeting so we spent time with her husband Vanka and various daughters-in-law who came by - all dressed in very funky Rabari outfits (and not just for me - this is there garb). Much chai was consumed and Rupees spent on some lovely Rabari embroidery - I couldn't refuse - it's my favorite. It was unfortunate that I couldn't have any lessons there, but embroidery lessons were in the afternoon, and organised near-by. Suffice to say they were really nice and it was great hanging out in their home - again like being in a film or something. Before Vanka's wife left she dressed me up in traditional Rabari dress - I must say I looked rather weird, but as they wear all black it was kind of cool. The woman have these very funky tattoos - primarily on their arms, neck and face, not to mention jewellery. They were very impressed with mine too, particularly given the colour we have, something you never see here in tattoos.

Second stop was to a family of weavers - who were really nice and great to chat to. More rupees gone but top stuff, they even use Australian merino wool. Also scored an invite to lunch, which I attended today - a home cooked Gujarati Thali - these are the famous Indian Thalis, and the feast lived up to its hype. Again really nice family, new friendships formed.

The afternoon was filled with embroidery and mirror work, from a Harijan girl and her family. Ganga is 13 and was primarily my teacher, with her mum, 2 sisters, and sister-in-law. The women spend a vast majority of the day, week in week out doing mirror work and embroidery, and I can tell you practice makes perfect - they are good, and I suck big time. When they do it it looks so easy - when I try, it is so difficult, but after round 2 today I am getting the hang. They are a fantastic family, and I felt like a real weirdo after a while in my boring clothes (I have lots of pics - you'll see why). Nevertheless Ganga is a modern girl, preferring a salwar or some funkier indo-western style clothes to that of the rest of the family, the woman all decked out in cholis, skirts, shawls, and amazing jewellery, all which have probably not changed much for 100s of years. Anyway it was great and a fantastic way to hang out with women, and particularly tribal women. Highly recommended and I really loved it.

I capped of today with a visit to the Jat community, a Muslim community about 25km north of Bhuj. They are a very poor but vibrant community, and despite the overwhelming evidence of poverty and disadvantage, all the families were very welcoming and hospitable, and not one person asked for money. In fact they were offering chai, but I declined saying I had just had one, anyway how many can I down in a day. To them it meant they would give up some of their milk, sugar, etc. so I figured they could do with it more. I did buy a couple of small pieces of embroidery, though only one family emerged with any, but many women were busy with their crafts for a co-op that supports their craftsmanship. Gorgeous people.

On the ride back to town we picked up a couple of Rabari women and a child who were walking towards the bus - some 6 kms away. They looked at me, me at them - again I pinched myself.

Returning to Bhuj today and yesterday evenings I have spent time in the bazaars purchasing mirrors and embroidery thread, and a few other bits and pieces. Next time I return I will show them my skills! Also spent a bit of time with some nice people I met in the bazaar - again much chai and laughter later. The boys in the hotel I am staying in want me to come to their village next time and stay with their families. Buddha - one of the staff here has even been asking me my opinion on what he should call his newly born son (I think Sachin - but have yet to tell him).

All in all this is a magical place (except for this keyboard which is shit and accounts for any errors there may be). Everyone should put it on their map if visiting India, though the magic might be lost if too many people come. This is by far my favorite place in India, I will be sorry to leave, as I will be my beautiful India. I know this time I will shed a tear - I will miss the people and their spirit most.

Tomorrow Ahmedabad by train - another 7 hours - then a few in Ahmedabad, then off to Dubai. Home Saturday - how will I cope - except for seeing Rob, Pixie, Chief and a few other significant others - I could just stay here in my own costume drama.


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