India Part 2: Craft, food, and other things I really appreciated

Call me old fashioned, but I think there's something very important and even slightly magical about hand-made items. Perhaps its my educational roots tied to the Bauhaus and their focus on craft. Perhaps I'm on Etsy a little too much. Perhaps my background in architecture still ties me to the "maker" culture where we learn by doing instead of just thinking or theorizing.

That said, I was strongly drawn to the craftsmen culture and the beauty of imperfection and uniqueness within many of the items I saw in India. So, even though I ended with craft in my last post, I felt I needed to give it a bit more credit.

Craft...again!

Leather crafting: One area of Mumbai our group visited was called Dharavi Market, and it was quite different from much of the metropolitan downtown areas I had seen in previous days. This place was a mix of nicer leather stores and slums. We had the opportunity to enter the poorest areas and see people working on putting together leather bags. While many of them were knock offs of famous brands like Prada, Coach, and Tory Burch, it was still fascinating to see them building with such precision and speed. I believe one of the men mentioned they can work at the speed of completing about one bag per day.

Fabric alterations: I was also impressed with the variety of colors, styles, textures, and materials of the fabric available in India. Within the larger malls, you could go in and have something altered just for you, often for free. I remember one particular time I walked into a store and loved a kurta, but it was size medium and was too big. In the US, you would either go to another store within their chain to see if they carried more sizes or you would cut your losses and find something else instead. Here however, attendants were quick to suggest a free alteration for my size since they didn't have a small in stock. They would run out of the store with the kurta and kindly ask me to come back within 20-45 minutes (depending on the store). I have no idea where they would go, but when I returned it was always beautifully altered and ready to go. God, wouldn't that be nice in the US??

Also, the types of treatments to fabrics differed based on the region- from different types of block printing to stitching and colors. There's way too many to show of the ones I took photos of, but I'll include a few here.

Textiles: Rugs were no exception to craft I found in India. I don't have words to describe the time and patients that goes into these rugs, and although I wasn't able to afford one (although, they were understandably much cheaper in India than here in the US), I certainly did appreciate the time and effort that went into each one.

 So many rugs!

So many rugs!

Stone (Micro): There's a lot of different types of crafts I could talk about within the practice of designing and crafting stone... from masons to those who ornament the stones themselves. I took so many photos of stones it's kind of ridiculous. That said, I'd love to share some process photos of the style used to ornament the Taj Mahal I was fortunate to find. Families pass down the practice from generation to generation, so each style of ornamentation is slightly different. Here, you can see the process of grinding down tiny slivers of expensive rock (with a grinder lined with diamonds sharp enough to evenly sand the stone.. imagine your fingers!). Those stones have markings to show size and shape of the desired stone. Simultaneously, white marble is covered in a henna temporary dye (so guides can be drawn on top of the henna) and the patterns that the stones are to lay within are etched out, so when the stones are added, there will be a smooth finish to the combined piece. Once the stones are laid in and glued in place, the henna is washed off to reveal the beautiful white marble.

 

Stone (Macro): There's no way I'm going to be able to accurately or timely discuss each of these, so I'm just going to put them all here with captions and you can read about why I found each of these large stone modifications amazing.

At the Agra Fort, near the Taj Mahal. I think you can understand why I was impressed with the amount of detail and carving for the roof structure within the main plaza area.

Stone carving throughout the interior of one of the rooms at the Agra Fort (and me if you click into the picture!)

An interesting stone pattern on a column on the back side of the Taj Mahal that has a flat face, but creates a cool 3D effect that makes it look like the stone actually bends inwards at the center of the column.

The massive scale of the Taj Mahal. The stone appears yellow because the morning sun had just risen and was shining directly on this side of the building.

Art: I ran into an artist exchange warehouse full of different art and was introduced to a painter. His work was really ornamented, and I ended up purchasing one of his paintings for someone back home. I learned that elephants with their trunks up meant good luck :)

The artist surrounded by his work in the local co-op in Delhi

Hand-painted fabric board game similar to chutes and ladders found at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 

Food

I unfortunately have to eat gluten free for health reasons, so I was understandably a bit nervous about eating in another country. While my biggest hurdle was overcoming spicy foods, I was able to find a ton of naturally gluten free items. Soups were often thickened with corn flour (instead of wheat as they do in the US), I never found a curry that had wheat, and I even found a few bread-like foods like Papadum and Dosa. I could drink the famous chai, but I don't think I actually have any pictures of that. However, let's show a few food pictures for kicks:

One of many naturally gluten free meals.. while food was spicy, most of it consisted of vegetables, rice, and usually some sort of dairy.

Below: Dosa! They came in many shapes and sizes, but I always asked for them plain (no masala... which means no spice) and filled with cheese! Yum!) It was kind of like an Indian quesadilla. One of our colleagues was laughing his butt off when I went to pick up the dosa and eat it as shown in the picture furthest to the right. Apparently you just tear them off in bits and eat them... future dosa eaters, don't eat it like a burrito. 

 Occasionally, I got lucky and found westernized food that had gluten free food on the menu. This was one of my FAVORITE places in Mumai called " The Pantry ". They even had flourless chocolate cake! If you're a celiac and in Mumbai, check this place out!

Occasionally, I got lucky and found westernized food that had gluten free food on the menu. This was one of my FAVORITE places in Mumai called "The Pantry". They even had flourless chocolate cake! If you're a celiac and in Mumbai, check this place out!

 Speaking of "Indian quesadillas"... if you were ever curious about what an enchilada looked like in India, check out what I was served in a cafe in Delhi!

Speaking of "Indian quesadillas"... if you were ever curious about what an enchilada looked like in India, check out what I was served in a cafe in Delhi!

Geez... all those pictures of food are making me hungry now. I know there's much more to explain and share about India, but that said, I'm a bit exhausted of typing. I'll share more updates as I remember them and as people express interest in different topics! 

Of topics I didn't really discuss, henna was absolutely beautiful and I got it twice while I was in India. 
Until next time, readers!

Cheers!

Christie