Trip to Udaipur
In the 1st week of May, when half of the country had turned to “bhatti”, I decided to visit some of the hottest areas of India (as per our textbook) Rajasthan and Kutchh. My family was very skeptical. They tried to convince me that there will be better time soon and I should delay my trip. But I was adamant. I booked my tickets and left for Udaipur. I wanted to visit Akola a small village near Udaipur. I had booked my train from Surat and it totally slipped my mind that my booking status was waitlist. Just an hour before the train lightening struck and I remembered that my booking status was waitlist and no confirmation message was yet received. I checked my status and it was not confirmed. I called up bus services to check if a seat was available as it was a holiday season. The bus was at 10 pm. I took a sleeper bus. I slept well. Surprisingly the bus reached Udaipur by 6. And it was cool. I went to my hotel. Rested and relaxed and got ready for the journey.
I called the artisan whom I was to meet at Akola, to check on the distance between Udaipur and Akola. He casually mentioned that its 20-30 minutes. So I thought of hiring a 2 wheeler. It was quite early, around 8-8:30 am when I reached the shop that rented 2 wheelers. A dog was sleeping outside and one was sleeping with the owner/manager. I immediately judged the guy to be useless as I had to call him few times to wake him up. The guy came out. He asked me where I wish to take the vehicle. I was trying to outsmart him by back answering and being rude but he calmly asked that it is important as I might not know the way to my destination and he can help. So I called the artisan and he gave me a landmark called “Kir Ki Chowki".
The manager mentioned that its too far to reach on a 2 wheeler. I checked on google maps and realised that its 70 km, from where I was, one way. I gladly thanked the manager for guiding me and realised that judging someone so quickly is unfair. I left the space with a guilt. I took a bus to “Kir Ki Chowki”. From there I took another bus to Akola. I finally reached the location.
It was the youngest son, Vikas, of the master artisan, who took me around and was handling all my queries. Just like any dyeing place this too had few dyeing units, some bhattis, few indigo stained bhatti areas, etc. He explained to me that Akola is known for its deep indigo color. Even when they use German Indigo which has just 30% natural indigo, no other place can develop that kind of a color. It was the water that they believe was the secret ingredient. Just like the gheru/ alizarine/ red color from Kutchh has no match, indigo from Akola has no match. And then they showed me several fabrics. I surely fell in love with the color. After our selection, we took rounds of the production units. I came across a fabric called Phetiya. This was a traditional block printed fabric. It is a blue fabric with red prints on it with white red border on selvages of the fabric. People make ghagras from this fabric.
It was traditionally worn during weddings. Akola had several printers printing the same fabric. With the onset of the synthetic era and cheap fabrics, the tradition slowly diluted and several printers stopped printing altogether. A lot of them opened chai and snack stalls. During the last few years though, the elders of the village realized that slowly the fabric would disappear if the tradition was not preserved. They made wearing Phetiya fabric a must during the weddings. Several printers started printing again and all they print is Phetiya fabric. It is majorly worn by Jat and Chaudhary communities.
Akola popularly does dabu printing/ resist printing. They block the patterns on the fabric with mud and gum paste and they give the fabric dye (mostly indigo) bath. Mud paste can stay maximum 2 dye baths after which it starts to come off and the blocked areas too get dyed. But there is a magic resist that they use. It can stay up to 20 dye baths, allowing a very deep indigo color. So what is this magic resist? Nobody knows. It looks like tar. and solidifies on cooling. It is mixed with any edible oil like groundnut, sunflower, etc. and boiled. It melts and the block is dipped in the boiling liquid and printed on the fabric. As the printer is sitting right next to the boiling tar, the process becomes dangerous. The artisans also experience burn from the droplets of the liquid. They never use “sarson ka tel” as it gets too hot.
The resist keeps increasing in its quantity each time the oil is mixed. If someone wants to start printing he would borrow a small quantity from any other dyer and then the quantity keeps increasing :) Nobody has ever got the substance tested as there was no need to buy this product. A lot of mythological stories are attached to the source of this substance.
It was 2 pm when we left for lunch from their workshop. It was hot but not unbearable. After lunch it was 2:30 and that was something I had never experience before. The heat pierced my skin. It was an experience from another world. I had to take a bus to Fatehnagar, wait for a bus to Udaipur in this heat. Unimaginable but I managed. And I made the same trip the next day. Got some beautiful fabrics. After this, I went to Bhuj. The climate was not as bad as it was in Udaipur. Overall it was a very successful trip.