Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Anant and I attended an event called Bal Sangam held during mid-November at the Crafts Museum in Delhi. Although it was fairly lack-lustre compared to some other events, we still tried to use the opportunity to do wander around looking at things.   

First he learnt how to make a puppet – a fairly large one out of newspaper and string – this was an eye-opener for us, because normally we just use papier mache and that does take some time.   After a session of origami, we landed up at a stall where a lady had displayed terracotta items. She also had a rustic table with a big mound of clay and kids were having a gala time making objects out of this clay. An assortment of instruments like a rolling pin, knives and scalpels were set out. For some reason, even with the November chill in the air, all of us, adults and children just wanted to feel the wet clay and make something out of it. So you had adults trying to get some space on the table, kids showing their creations, people just asking her questions about where they could get clay like this to use at home.  We all became kids again, and she patiently answered our questions, while we made whatever we felt like.

Tiny clay bust of a monster-man. Air dried terracotta clay made by Anant (November 2011)
 The first photograph shows what  Anant made - a man’s head.  When we talk about people shrinking as they age, this is exactly what happened to this clay bust. It had so many little attachments – he was trying to make something like a monster with large ears, horns and a pipe in its mouth, and all kinds of things. But while bringing it back home, some stuff fell off. And as it sat on the cabinet, aging and drying up, bits and pieces fell off almost day by day…and this is all that remains.  Hmm. We could get all philosophical and say, what remains is the essence of that man, and what remains would probably last for ages. But I’d rather just say….  we  need to learn how to work better with wet clay.   

As a medium it is not as easy to use as we expect. It’s  just a whole lot of sandy clay, like the mud found on the banks of a river. How difficult can it be to work with? Look at the photograph to understand this.

Four beads and a rose. Air dried terracotta clay. Made by Namitha (November 2011)

The rose was much easier to make. Just rolling the clay to make the beads and passing a toothpick through the centre should really have been child’s play – but each bead ended up different even though I was actually aiming at some uniformity. 

Over the past few months when I’ve tried to blog about some of the craft I’ve made, I’ve realized that there are some things that I just am not every good at – cutting paper is one of them – I’m atrocious at it; and the other is rolling clay to make beads. Yet, I’m drawn to these things, especially working with paper.  

Anyway, so there I was with four air-dried terracotta beads, however they are, all quirky and unique. Astonishing how hard they are, despite not being fired. What do I make with them? 

I tried to meld some of the things that have been in my mind for a while, especially what I’ve learnt from my online group explorations on Chakras. Although we are on to the second chakra, I felt that I would like to commemorate the session with the root chakra in some way. The root chakra is related to origins and family, and  tribes and the ancient bonds that link people together. This is the very first exposure to the world outside that a child receives. Working with clay was a trigger – it may have been no different from a girl in the ancient times, making a toy for herself, shaping the wet clay from the river bank into some piece of jewellery even.  So I went with the root chakra colour – which is red, and painted them with acrylic paint  – a bright red colour, vermilion actually. 

Then it was just a matter of picking up material  and fashioning a necklace out of it. I knew I was on the right track when Anant came and saw what I was doing, and held the necklace against himself and said “Jinga la la hoo Hoo”. Sometimes we don’t need intelligible words to communicate, my boy and I.  (Note to others: This is the chorus of a film song in Hindi which is picturised with a tribal dance. It is rather cliched and may be seen as a bit strange in modern times, but just that phrase has become a bit popular to convey "tribal dance"!)

Anyway, so here is what I came up with - people who know me well would feel that this is not me. I look good in red, I've been told that, but it is not a colour I wear often.  It's  not a colour I would instinctively pick – that is actually the energy of red – it has something we fear and admire and aspire to, but we know that it would be actually walking on a tightrope  when we do have that energy. 

Tribal Roots neckpiece. Terracotta clay beads, camel-dung paper beads and flower. Acrylic paints. All strung on undyed camel wool yarn. Made by Namitha (December 2011)

I could only handle this colour in bits – so that’s why I’ve used the camel-dung paper to tone it down a bit.  I’ve gifted all the paper flowers away, so I made a small one for myself, and used acrylic paint to match the colours. The paper beads are made by just rolling up a small length of camel-dung paper and using PVA glue to secure it. Finally, everything was strung up on a length of camel wool yarn on which I applied some more glue to make it stiff  to be able to pass it through the tiny holes on the terracotta beads. 

So here is my Tribal Roots neckpiece –  the roots are not visible - they don't need to be visible really. But every single thing about this piece is to do with touching and feeling and respecting the earth. It has everything to do with  roots and the ancient roots and my ancient past.