I knew I was going to bleed money even before I stepped out of the car. After an hour of driving around aimlessly in New Delhi, in search of a craft fair, we finally found ourselves staring into the lion’s mouth.
An arts and craft fair did not sound very exciting to me at first. I expected a few trinkets and, in the wake of the Commonwealth Games, discounted souvenirs. Instead, my friends and I found ourselves at Dastkar, one of India’s largest open-air gatherings of arts and craft fairs.
An open-air market with tantalising smells of food from around the country was to our left. I am someone who likes to live on street food, but it was the fabrics that caught me off guard. Many people assume that, like Indian cuisine, Indian fabrics are cut from the same cloth. But each region, state, and even village has its special tastes in food and skills on display, whether it be pottery, painting, sculpting or working with fabrics. In fact, every state of India has a distinct fabric and pattern it calls its own.
My first stop, where I should have spent five minutes browsing, turned into a half-hour chat with a weaver from Kumaon, in the state of Uttaranchal. His mix of silk and wool was the kind of patterns that abstract artists dream of. Even as I browsed he happily chatted, not caring to sell rather than dispense knowledge to someone, who out of habit, asked questions.
The fabrics, mostly scarves, stoles and shawls were made with a blend of silk and wool. The dyes were organic, sourced from everyday products such as onion skins, marigold flowers, indigo and walnut.
When I started walking away with three scarves, he called me back and instructed me on how to care for them, handing me an organic powder that was a natural detergent for such fabrics.
After that I had to flee the fabrics section, only to find myself staring at miniature art, also known as phad paintings. The curly-haired young man proudly said that his younger brother, Prakash Joshi, was an artist from Bhilwara in Rajasthan, who had learnt the skills passed down from their father and grandfather.
There were some truly beautiful, multicoloured traditional miniature works that depicted the royals. I couldn’t stop salivating over his panels that were more contemporary and done with a sense of humour, simply using white paper and a black-ink brush that drew lines as fine as the ones on our skin.
Finally, the man himself came by and in a moment of complete hero worship, I asked him to sign my panels. Afterwards, I discovered that he had drawn little elephants and horses on the envelope as well.
I spent the rest of the five hours gawking at some of the finest craftsmanship that India had to offer, and only reluctantly left when they started dismantling the tents.