Giving revival an everyday connect, a new crop of enthusiasts are standing up for payasam, pottery, paintings and more By Surya Praphulla Kumar
In the midst of looking west for everything—from leather tooled in Italy to ceramics fired in Korea—our traditional arts and crafts often take a back-seat. However, a small (and ever-growing) tribe has been working towards preserving our culture. Like Rohan Murty, the scion of Infosys who has teamed up with the Harvard University Press to bring out English translations of classical, and oft forgotten, works across languages including Sanskrit, Bangla, Persian and Tamil. The 31-year-old, who took the stage at the recent Jaipur Literature Festival as a keynote speaker, says reading up on philosophy and civilisations during his PhD days had inspired him to start the project. Here we showcase others who are making revivalism inclusive, a part of our daily life, by reintroducing heritage games to children obsessed with Xboxes and reinventing art as jewellery.
When Perzen Patel got married in 2013, she realised she knew little about her Parsi Bhonu cuisine. Though secret midnight calls to her mother in New Zealand helped her impress her mother-in-law, she recalls how there was barely any trusted resources online to help her out. “And given the rate at which Irani cafes are dying out in Mumbai, I worried that the history behind Parsi food would soon be lost,” begins the 28-year-old, explaining how she started her blog Bawi Bride—an attempt to document the recipes. “A month later my husband and my readers convinced me to start selling my food, and Bawi Bride Kitchen evolved,” says Patel, whose best-selling dish is her grandmother’s red prawn curry. It soon grew into a catering service in 2014, and she also hosted a pop up at The Hive restaurant. This year, Patel quit her marketing job to take up cooking full time. She curates family recipes from across her community (think sali boti and seekh kebab focaccia), and also undertook a project called Best Kept Secrets, where she asked Parsis from across the world to submit their recipes. Details: bawibride.com —Mayuri J Ravi
Coding might be what they do during the week, but for software engineers and sisters, Shishu and Chetna Suman, the weekends are reserved for their passion, Madhubani. The art form has been a part of their lives since childhood. “In our village, Jitwarpur (in Bihar), no festival is complete without a Madhubani painting being created. I learnt the art from my grandmother, Shashikala Devi, a state award winner,” reminisces 29-year-old Shishu. While the duo practices the form on paper, with traditional motifs like animals or the sun, they are keener to try out newer mediums (like mixed media), and experiment with themes—like breaking away from convention to find a grammar to represent Islam on canvas. “This is a rich art form, which gives you the freedom to experiment. Through our work, we want to expand the tradition,” she says, adding that they’re now taking their brushes to boxes, bags, terracotta and more. Hoping this will inspire other artists, she says up next is a range of jewellery. Rs.400 onwards. Details: facebook.com/madhubanimotifs
Revival for Puneet Brar is not about bringing back something of historical import; it’s about traditions that tap into a current need. “I realised people are looking for handmade, but without the connotations of ritual. They want to drink water from terracotta, but don’t want an unwieldy matka,” says the artist behind Windglaze Pottery in Pondicherry. This defines the 44-year-old’s design philosophy. Working here since 2000, the NID graduate has roped in local potters and women. “I take inspiration from simple things, like the kolam or the nature I see around me,” says Brar, who has also gone back to old techniques, like rolling clay (like a chappati) to make her salad bowls or firing with sugarcane leaves (the carbon produces a rich black finish). “We are also bringing back traditional uses of terracotta, like making yoghurt pots that are just right for the fridge,” she says. Retailing with shops like Fabindia and Good Earth (“I like how they are giving handmade a context of luxury”), she uses organic glazes to reflect the colours around her—mostly blues, greens and reds. “I use a lot of calligraphy in local languages in my work. I also incorporate textures—paper, jute or leaves like drumstick and jackfruit—and use block printing,” says Brar, who is working on a line of jewellery now and plans to start workshops, too. Rs.350 onwards. Details: windglaze.com
A corporate slave, tired of 18-hour shifts, who fell in love with arts and temple architecture. That sums up the evolution of the year-old jewellery brand, Zola. A journey that began with an art management programme at DakshinaChitra has since taken city-based designer Gina Joseph across the country, to find inspiration in local culture and expression in limited-edition jewellery. “Once I identify a craft (she works closely with the Crafts Council of India), I read up a lot—like the materials used, its colour and texture—and I go live with the artisans for a week and design my collection with them,” explains the 32-year-old, who has tried dhokra work to leather puppetry. But pretty bits and bobs aren’t her only goal. “I want awareness of our arts to spread across the country. I remember a young girl who saw my pattachitra earrings and told her mother she wants to learn more about the ‘pretty’ art,” says Joseph. In fact, artists are reaching out to her now. “A restoration artist from Goa recently asked me to revive Kavi Arts, which is a dead art, and drum up awareness,” she says, adding that she will soon launch a collection inspired by the jewellery worn by devadasis. Rs.500 onwards. Details: zolaindia.com
revisiting Mizoram handlooms
A few decades ago, textiles in Mizoram had succumbed to the numbers game. Power looms were replacing loin looms because the former could make 60 puans (the traditional wrap-arounds) in the time it took the latter to create one. But Charlee Mathlena, who had grown up helping his grandmother weave, was not ready to turn a blind eye. Armed with a course in art history from Delhi’s National Museum Institute, he began reviving traditional textiles in 2007. “I don’t have a design background, but I do have a lot of natural talent,” laughs the 37-year-old, who works with 27 weavers. “People were using acrylic yarn, so I worked with cotton and silk, making home and fashion accessories (table runners to scarves) under the label Heritage Mizoram. I recently launched my clothing line, too, to help give Mizo fabrics a bigger platform,” says Mathlena, adding that an emphasis on trending colours and an interplay of their vast repertoire of geometrical motifs has paid off. “Now people are looking for loin loom-woven puans and more weavers are taking this up,” he says. His autumn/winter line—with a minimalist, structured silhouette—will be showcased next week at the Shillong Fashion Week. “It has crop tops, skirts, jackets and trousers in eri silk,” he signs off. Rs.1,500 onwards. Details: facebook.com/Heritage-Mizoram
bottling temple payasam
For Chennaiite Anusha Daram, a vivid childhood memory is sitting on the steps of the Balamuruga Temple, in Ayikudy village near Tenkasi, and eating hot padi payasam. “In fact, for my birthday, my mother would only make payasam,” smiles the 37-year-old. But today she sees this traditional dessert getting lost among the doughnuts and cakes. So she decided, why not bottle it and give children a taste of the past? “I recently quit my job with an investment bank, delved into family recipes, and began doing this in July,” she says, adding that the rice-based payasam is slow cooked with natural fruit extracts to give its special flavour. Rs.100 onwards.
redefining the mridangam
Hailing from Michigan, Rohan Krishnamurthy never thought he’d redefine the mridangam. Having studied music under Damodaran Srinivasan (at age eight) and percussionist Guruvayur Dorai, he now has a PhD in musicology from Eastman’s Institute for Music Leadership and a patent for a new drum tuning system. “With my design, inspired by years of research on the mridangam, you can use traditional leather drum heads and still tune easily,” says the 27-year-old. The design combines traditional strapping with a modern nut-and-bolt system and can be applied to any drum—from the tabla to the djembe. With his own studio, RohanRhythm, he is currently working with Mid East, an instrument company in Florida, to manufacture a deluxe series of mridangams. Details: rohanrhythm.com