Desert Traditions
…where new journeys into life, tradition & culture begin

In the Zone

That’s where I was told I was while in my local bank last week when the computer system was down and pre Christmas nerves were frayed. Agitation all around so I told the waiting queue about my recent tour group’s experience at the GPO in New Delhi just a couple of weeks ago. ‘This wait is nothing’ I began ‘you should try sending a parcel from a certain post office in India”. And so I launched into the story about how one of Australia’s leading embroiderer’s stitching efforts were rejected by the only stitching man on the job that day. It took four hours for six women to send parcels home and after Jane’s immaculate attempt we were not allowed to stitch our own – even after said parcel man’s efforts were also rejected by the weighing man and that came before franking and stamping and final dispatch. ‘Wow’ said the young woman balanced on 10cm heels in the Manly branch of the ANZ ‘you must still be in the zone’. And I am – nothing much can phase me here in the easy haven of Sydney after a few weeks on the subcontinent where twelve women and I travelled from Kachchh to Kolkata by bus, train and plane with auto and cycle rickshaws and the odd camel cart journey thrown in for good measure.


Boarding the flight to Bhuj – luggage came next day!


The last leg of the tour – Khanpur station 80k from
Lucknow and a long night away from Kolkata.

This group of dedicated embroiderers (bar one) stitched their various ways across India – from bold Kambira stitch in a mud hut in the Banni (Kachchh) where the teachers were shrill voiced artisans hell bent on selling their wares which came out from under their skirts as soon as the momentum slowed – to the beautiful running stitch of Kantha  (Kolkata) in a small room surrounded by round, soft voiced Bengali women who plied us with sweet chai and biscuits and demanded nothing in return for their gift of sharing. Between those two delightful extremes came many occasions with other artisans keen to show and share – Rabari, Ahir, Mutwa, Megwhal, Samma, Jat, Sodha and the great skill of the chikankari artisans of Lucknow.


Banni Kambira workshop.


Graced by the presence of 87 year old Ahir artisan Parmaben Balasara one of the original artisan members of Shrujan, Bhuj


Alison Snepp, NSW, in her element with
Chikankari in Lucknow.


Margaret Light, NSW, follows her
Kantha muse in Kolkata.


Jane Nicolas, NSW, captures the lovely
running stitch in Kolkata.

Not that the journey was smooth all the way. A flight acquired flu arrived from Sydney with a group member and insidiously worked its way through most of us for the whole month. This made travel even more challenging for all of us at different times. Airlines should include health warnings in their safety demonstrations.

‘Please do not board this aircraft if you show any of the following symptoms (list). Should you experience the slightest tickle or tingle, wheeze or sneeze please contact your nearest flight attendant and ask to be placed in isolation. If the person sitting next to or behind you begins to cough a helmet will automatically drop down over his or her head until the plane lands and all other passengers are safely off the aircraft. Any person caught or reported coughing without an approved mouth cover will be shown the nearest exit. This plane is fully air conditioned and any germs are guaranteed to reach all passengers by touch down.’ And so it goes – the joys of flying in ever more cramped conditions with the attendant lack of fresh air, leg room and a headset that delivers.

Why do we do it? I know that I do it because I love the challenges, the contrasts, the creativity, the dignity and the differences and the sameness of humanity in all its forms.  Coming home for me is always a bit of a crash landing – culture shock in reverse but more of that next time. In the meantime let’s all come through the festive season relatively unscathed and still in pocket. Enjoy family and friends and do not forget strangers. We are off to Hobart on Christmas morning on the first flight to share seafood with son Simon and to rest for a few days – and heaven help anyone who even clears their throat on the plane!

In case I do not get to a computer beforehand I send you all New Years greetings. Let’s make 2012 a year of compassion, creativity and commitment to all people, other species and the planet that supports us. My only resolution? To stay in the zone!