On November 25, Brian and I ventured together on our first journey outside of Delhi. We were headed to the states of Gujarat, renowned for its rich textile heritage, and Madhya Pradesh, the site of my research and bursting with ancient history.
We boarded a train at the Old Delhi Railway Station and settled in to watch the crowded city melt into cotton fields and camels replace cars. Twenty-six hours later (yes, the train has sleeping berths) we arrived in Bhuj, a city of 150,000 people about 125 miles from the border of Pakistan.
With the Delhi winter comes “smoke”, a somewhat pleasant euphemism for lung-clogging pollution, so both Brian and I welcomed the visit to Bhuj. The air was cleaner, and the entire experience was a breath of fresh air. Children and adults piped up with “Hello! What is name? Your country from is?” as we walked through the narrow streets, where cows roamed freely. Rickshaw drivers quoted us fair prices. A family making the Indian equivalent of Flav-a-Ice in their living room invited us inside from the street when I expressed curiosity in their operation. We were definitely not in Delhi any longer.
We had made the long journey to Bhuj in order to attend the Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya Mela. I will translate. Kala Raksha is an organization, started by an American woman (and former Fulbrighter), whose mission is to preserve traditional arts in the Kutch Desert region of Gujarat. Six years ago, Kala Raksha launched the Vidhyalaya, a design school for artisans, and the Mela we attended celebrated the graduation of some of these students. A crowd of a hundred or so tribal people turned out to support the graduates from their communities, and Brian and I jumped right into the mix.
More to come…