Spotted in Bhavnagar

Mahatma Gandhi studied for a few months at Samaldas College in Bhavnagar. The Gandhi Smruti in that city contains a first class collection of photographs recording the life of the Mahatma. This echibition is on the first floor of a building. Its ground floor is occupied by the exhibits in the city’s Barton Museum.

The Barton contains some fine artefacts made in different eras. Amongst these, there are some lovely Jain stone carvings.

One area of the museum oncludes a case showing the evolution of the flag of what was to become post-colonial India. Near to this, there is a vitrine containing ageing historic postage stamps in various states of decay.

While looking at the stamps, I spotted several bearing the name “Ifni”. Never heard of it? Well, I had. I used to spot Ifni on the pages of atlases published before the 1960s. However, I had never seen stamps bearing this name.

Ifni was a tiny Spanish colonial enclave on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. The Spanish ruled Ifni from 1860 until 1969, when it was returned to Morocco. The Sultanate of Morocco had ceded the tiny piece of land to Spain in 1960.

According to an article in Wikipedia, Ifni issued several new postage stamps each year. More of them remained unused than used.

I do not know who donated the sheets of postage stamps to the Barton Museum in Bhavnagar, but those from Ifni were certainly isdued orior to 1969.

The museum in Bhavnagar is, like many other museums in provincial towns in Gujarat, filled with a variety of artefacts. You never know what you will find when you enter one of them. The stamps from Ifni were certainly unexpected.

Coin and note

Currently in India, there is both a coin and a banknote worth ten Indian rupees. The banknote exists in two different designs, old and new, both legal tender at the moment.

In Gujarat, we found that no one objected to using both the coin and the banknote. In Bangalore, in the south of India, we hardly ever see the 10 rupee coin.

Drivers of autorickshaws in Bangalore refuse to accept the 10 Rupee coins, but shops will take them.

We were told that the autorickshaw drivers will not take the 10 coins because they are too heavy! Yet, they happily accept 1, 2, and 5 rupee coins.

Curious, isn’t it?

An art bookshop in Ahmedabad: Art Book Center

This small gem of bookshop in Ahmedabad is a wonderful discovery. It was recommended to us by Mr Shukla who is the General Secretary of the Ahmedabad Textile Mill Owners Association, which is housed in a masterpiece by the architectural genius Le Corbusier.

The bookshop, a true life Aladdin’s cave, is on the first floor of a residential building. It is reached by a steep ladder like staircase typical of those found in houses all over Gujarat. The steps lead to a balcony which is festooned with colourful folkloric items. A doorway leads from there into the shop itself.

The walls of the small, cosy shop are lined with neatly stacked book cases. Piles of books rise from the floor. On the walls and in between the book cases, there are numerous folkloric artworks and practical items including beautifully embroidered and printed textiles. We were welcomed by Manarbhai and Ketan, one of his two sons. They invited us to sit down.

Manarbhai worked for many years as a typist in the Mathematics Department of the University of Gujarat. He was no ordinary typist. He was able to type mathematical equations, which was no easy feat in the era before computerised word processors became available.

Manarbhai began his book business as a part time enterprise. In 1970, he converted part of his home into what is now his shop. At first, he only opened his shop on weekends. Now, it is open every day between 10 am and 6 pm.

The shop specialises mainly in books on art and architecture. It contains many books about textiles. Many of the volumes available are rare editions. If what you wish is not stocked, Manarbhai and his sons will do their best to source it, and then send it to you anywhere in the world.

It soon became apparent to us that Manarbhai and Ketan are extremely knowledgeable about books in the fields on which they specialise. They are also sensitively intelligent salesmen. Very quickly, they assessed our particular interests and began showing us books that were in harmony with them. We came away with a valuable selection of books that will help satisfy our curiosity about the fascinating history of the city of Ahmedabad.

This is a bookshop for true book lovers and collectors. It should be on every bibliophile’s itinerary. What Manarbhai cannot find for your bookshelf is probably not worth having.

Address: near Jain Temple, Madalpur, Ellis Bridge, Ahmedabad 380006

Weaving in Patan

Many people visit Patan in Gujarat to see the spectacular pre 14th century Rani ki Vav, one of the largest stepwells in the state. It was built by the Solanki dynasty.

Patan is also the home of a very special form of weaving called ‘Double Ikat Patola’. The fabrics produced are extremely durable, very colourfast, and display the pattern equally on the front and reverse.

When finished, even the experienced weaver cannot tell which surface of the material is front, and which is back. The textiles are woven to form saris. These are very costly and take many months to manufacture. The method of fabricating this kind of cloth is so complicated that, despite much research, no one has been able to produce a machine to replicate the process that has been done by hand for many centuries in the workshops in Patan.

We were very fortunate to have been shown around one of Patan’s three Patola factories by a member of the Salvi caste, who specialise in Patola making. Although we were given lengthy explanations and demonstrations, I cannot say that I fully understand the complicated process of making a piece of Patola material. However, I will try to explain what I understood of it.

Patola fabrics are woven using the best quality silk thread. That from Japan is preferred, but silk from China, Korea, and Brazil is also considered of sufficiently high quality.

The design for the fabric is chosen and transferred onto graph paper. This coloured diagram will guide the workers towards the desired end product.

Sari length arrays of silk threads are stretched onto frames. These parallel lengths of white or slightly yellow undyed silk are marked with a fine washable black marker to create a grid pattern like graph paper. This will allow the workers to transfer the colour scheme from the coloured diagram to the silk threads.

Next, using the master plan, sections of each thread are wrapped tightly with another thread, which will prevent dye from reaching the covered section. When this laborious task is complete, the whole lattice of parallel threads is dipped into a dye of one colour, say for example red.

After the first dyeing, the lattice is restretched, and all of the dye restricting threads are removed, resulting in a lattice work of threads coloured with stretches of red and white. Let us assume that the next colour on the master pattern is to be green. The stretched silk fibres are then tied with dye restricting threads in all places except where the master pattern dictates there should be green. After dyeing in green dye, the restricters are removed and the process repeated to add yet another colour to the silk. The end result is a set of silk threads with sequences of different colours, a bit like a single strand of DNA or the amino acids in a strand of protein.

A single thread of silk displaying areas dyed in different colours

The weaving takes place on looms that hang at an angle. Both the warp and the weft fibres have been tie dyed as described already. When stretched on the loom the as yet unwoven warp threads, when viewed together, display part of the final pattern.

The weft threads pass between the warp threads in a sequence that is dictated by the master pattern. As the weavers press the woven weft fibres together, the sequences of different colours on each thread begin to reveal the required design of the fabric. The prescribed pattern develops gradually, thread by thread.

How the correct sequence of the dyed threads is maintained during the many stages prior to weaving must involve miraculous organization.

Because of the fastness of the dyes used, the Patola fabric does not fade. The method of weaving results in a fully reversible fabric, which is very durable . The other advantages of such a labour intensive and complicated fabrication process elude my comprehension.Nevertheless, Double Ikat Patola saris are greatly prized and highly priced.