Surprising who you meet in unexpected places. Today I went shopping for fabric – of the kind worn by the shepherding communities of Kachchh – in particular the northern Banni/Pacham area. You may well wonder why I shop for such an unusual item here on the Northern Beaches of Sydney – a world or three away from the land of sheep, goats, camels, cows and buffalo. Indeed, all I saw today of animals on the busy roads leading to Belrose were recent road-kills – several possums and a wallaby. Not a loping camel in sight – but here’s the real story.
I am making a Toran (at least my interpretation) to welcome visitors into my exhibition space at Manly Art Gallery next month. Each ‘leaf’ is a tribute to certain people, communities and events that have ‘marked’ my own journey. Of great personal significance are the shepherds, the wanderers who criss-cross the rugged landscape with their herds. I spent one of my most memorable moments drinking chai with camel herders in 1995 during an early foray into remote areas. The camel milk brew was rich and satisfying and my hosts curious and hospitable. I have not since lost my fascination for this land and those who are so deeply connected to its essence.
So when it came to the ‘leaf’ representing the various herding groups – Sumara, Raysepotra, Halepotra, Jat and others – I needed colours. Kuldip, bless him, sent me the six I requested and when I finally resolved the design, I knew I needed to complete the palette! By some quirk of fate, the self same poly-cotton from India is carried locally and it was not hard to source the various shades of red, purple, green, blue, grey and brown. I had a bag of scraps collected a few years back from a tailor’s floor in Khavda (the last service town before the Great Rann of Kachchh and the Pakistan border) and I carefully matched each colour. I apologised to the salesgirl for the effort required to carry and cut from several rolls of fabric when I only required a sliver of each. The young woman who so patiently served me had observed me matching the small remnants and asked what I was making.
She, it turns out, is from Punjab and had done her masters in textiles and her thesis on Jute. We began a deep discussion on textiles until it was abruptly cut by the sharp look of an older salesperson. We exchanged email ids and I will contact Shuki. She believes there is no application for her knowledge; I believe there is. India, Spotlight and shepherds. It’s a small world.
Then I went to Bunnings Warehouse to choose the paint sample for the words that will spell out on the gallery wall, the names of many herders and their wives and children met along the way. In the dimly lit cavernous space and with my glasses in the car, I picked out a couple of paint chips that seemed to be the right shades and drove home. The names revealed on the chips? Camel Cord and Buffalo Brown. I could not have chosen better with my specs on! Small world interconnected at the very core!