THE BLOCK PRINTER OF SANGANER- A wise woman (and I do mean very wise, as in Indira Gandhi) once said, ““If you wish to know something about India, You must empty your mind of all pre-conceived notions. Why be imprisoned by the limited vision? Don’t try to compare. India is different. And as exasperating as it may seem, they would like to remain so…This is the secret of India, the acceptance of life in all its fullness...”
Every time one visits India, it is a completely different story, another extreme adventure for the senses each complete with its own unique set of personalities and experiences. A few weeks ago, I added another person to my long list of “most memorable travel characters”, and if you ever find yourself in Sanganer, you’ve got to go see this guy.
Sanganer is located in Rajasthan, just a short jaunt from the Pink City we know as Jaipur where you’ll pass majestic temples, ancient forts and palaces en route in a gentle haze that makes the city appear to be dusted in a shimmery gold. Set within the majestic Dausa Gate, amid the camel-filled alleys, lie the homes of thousands of craftsmen whose ancestors made Sanganer the “metropolis of calico painting.” The delicate flower, bird, tree and animal prints for the gathered Rajasthani skirts were created here and it’s fascinating to sit and watch the older artisans in their orchestral movements through the block printing process. One separates the colors, another cuts the finely crafted woodblocks and a third prints each color down the fabric.
It was here that I shook hands, exchanged words, and fist-pounded blocks with the self-proclaimed “master of block printing” – a very senior guy donned in traditional dress, proudly showcasing with his outstretched arm and hand tremendously intricately printed cloths that he did by that same bruised, calloused hand over decades. He proudly shouted his name several times, along with his tagline- “ONE FIST, ONE DESIGN!” The prints were incredible, the designs so intricate and if it wasn’t fascinating enough to watch him, he gently placed a piece of cloth, a worn palette of ink stains, and a series of carefully crafted wooden blocks and with his eyes and hands alone, gestured for me to take a try which was exciting yet nervewracking. How do you perform with a master looking on at your work? The distorted elephant I somehow managed to create after banging blocks until my hands were red and numb seemed to amuse him and make him beam with pride. Not bad for a first-timer I suppose, or perhaps he was just thrilled someone was taking such an interest. It’s easy to lose sight of how much time these ancient, authentic crafts take to make when we live in a world of reproductions and cheap knock-offs.
India is a world unto itself, with thousands of possibilities so take time to savor moments like this- of which there will no doubt be many along your travels...
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