Traveling to Jaipur with school friends for my birthday was a trip reminiscing the days of no money. Fights over some grace marks to make it through some exam, somewhere deep conversations about lost friendships, our first love and how life was slowly changing shape in our eyes. What seemed important earlier isn’t so any longer. What we craved for seemed so inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. We spoke about losing parents, divorce, children flying the nest. Most evenings we dressed up to drink in style and fight over which song to sing or hear. As the night progressed the voices got louder, we laughed at all our heartbreak and recalled the stupid men we loved and lost. We also promised friendship that would last as long as we could take a trip together and visit each other’s homes. As the night progressed the vodka was finally doing all the conversations. Crying, laughing and blown we planned the next day itinerary to visit Sanganer.
The promise was to start early but as always vodka decides when we can pull ourselves out of that haze of the night before. We all sauntered out at the nick of breakfast closing time. Again forgot time sat and eventually decided to take the dusty road to Sanganer village, the hub for block printing of Rajasthan. It was a fun road trip into the narrow lanes with traders selling wholesale fabrics. There were shops that sold bed linen with the typical dyes and motifs of Rajasthan.
Sanganer town is known world over for its colourful block printed textiles and hand made paper. Most tourists are taken on that route for an excursion to witness the micro, small and medium printing units running in that little town. The people there are dependent on the Sanganeri print industry for their livelihood. It’s an art form that has been passed on through the generations.
Rajasthan being a dry arid land, the dye from Sanganer has the Saraswati river water that flows through the colours of the print that is radiant of the naturally dyed fabric.
This art form is 500 years old, it gained popularity in the 16th and 17th centuries in all European countries with its calico prints. It was one of the major exports from the East India Company. The Chhipa caste engage in this block printing technique and is a coveted art form and the pride of so many homes outside Sanganer. The aesthetic styles just adds so much sophistication to a drab ambiance in any home or a garment with its traditional motifs and the colour scheme.
In Sanganer we see the perfect union of the two most volatile religions of India create art together. The Chhipas are Hindus and they are involved in the washing, dyeing, and the printing process. The block makers are the Muslims of Sanganer. A lesson which the rest of India could learn from this sleepy, dusty town forgotten by us city dwellers.
As I went mad seeing all the swathes of fabric around me. I picked up my bag with the loot of Sanganer. I realised I was carrying marigold, peacocks, jasmine and javakusum flowers in my memory of the holiday. And I know everytime I wear the fabric I bought from that dusty town, the fragrance of the river and the mud scent stays on my body. I know I can also remember the silence with which we drove back from that trip. Each of us prisoners in our thoughts, hoping next year would be different from this one.
We trudge on and Sanganer continues with its belief that no matter what. Art will live a life full, in its fabrics, music and the fading sun of Rajasthan.
Sanganer is a song that needs no tune, it’s hums on its own scales, reaching a crescendo, that beauty, art, and belief are immortal in this universe.