The Ajrakh Artists

2006 - my first solo trip. To Bhuj and the surrounding villages in Kutch. Among the many splendours of the area is the village of Ajrakh - known for its unique block printing. Kutch shares a political border with Pakistan, but culture recognises no such boundaries...for historically they lived as one ethnic unit in the area. Until one day in the last century, they were separated by a line. The artisans live on both sides of this line. And practice the beautiful art of Ajrakh just as their ancestors did with as much truth and devotion. 'Devotion' seems like a strange word to use in this context...until you meet the artisans. I met Moosabhai to understand the craft behind their art and was struck by the purity of thought behind their work. A little history : Moosabhai was part of a Muslim settlement in that area. In the earthquake of 2001, the entire region was flattened and lives devastated. Being a well connected ethnic group, the Kutchis rebuilt their lives and by the time I saw it in 2007, there was not a single visible scar on the geography and the scars on the souls were well hidden from the public eye. So Moosabhai described the day of the earthquake, in complete detail and it was hard not to be choked as I sat his amidst brightly colored cotton fabric. Every single material possession was lost in that earthquake. Only possessions of the soul remained - the skills and the art remained. And with just that the entire community rebuilt their lives, and they enjoy a flourishing trade today. In this extremely remarkable story, lies a conversation we had that will stay with me for life...I haven't finished mulling over his philosophy in my head... We talked about his financials. He uses very basic raw materials such as cotton fabric and vegetable dyes and adds value through his art to produce very unique block printed material. The world can bear at least twice or thrice the price at which he sells his material. He is not a rich man, and lives a life that could easily use a few comforts...Kutch is a difficult land to live in - with temperatures rising to 44 for at least a whole month every single year. So Moosabhai could definitely use the many comforts that money can buy.  But he sells at a profit margin that is strictly managed. He adds a certain small percent to his cost and sells his product - even though he knows that he could sell it for more. His austerity is not accidental - nor is it n account of a lack of planning. It is the result of a philosophy - in which he believes that he should take just as much as he needs for his daily living. He believes that the pursuit of 'more' will not only harm his 'living' for wont of a better translation of the word 'jeevan' - or the act of living one's life. He has faith in his art and derives joy from creating it - but does not have any arrogance or ego arising from its appreciation. He works with devotion, as an offering of his life. He lives in humility and simplicity. He has seen adversity like few of us ever will. And meeting him has left me with one more memorable peep into a totally different life model. jm

1 Response

Sadaf Fatima
Sadaf Fatima

December 05, 2016

I’m a student of Flame University, Pune, India. We are required to conduct a research study on Ajrakh Block Prints under DIP – Discover India Program 2016. We would be extremely grateful if you could give us an interview via skype as soon as posible since we leave for our on-field study on 18th of this month. It would be an honour to hear from you as your immense knowledge about Ajrakh will help us in conducting an exhaustive research at an undergrad level.
Thank you and awaiting your reply.

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