When I went to visit Judy at Kala Raksha, I told her about my study into block printing and she gave me some contact details for some of the block printers in Ajrakhpur and Dhamadka. I set out to Ajrakhpur on the bus 10 km outside Bhuj. As usual I had to ask people to tell me when I arrived at the village, because there was only a tiny sign on the side of the road when we arrived and no early ones saying how far it was.
On reaching the village at the end of the dusty track, I met Sufiyan who’s father is Dr. Ismail Mohammed Khatri, a well known master artisan and business man. He received an honary doctorate from Leicester de Montfort and has collaborated with scholar Eiluned Edwards on her ajrakh block printing research.
Ajrakh quilts hanging on the wall outside Ismail’s house. Photo: Ruth Clifford
I’m not sure I had arrived at the best time, as just after I turned up so did Ismail’s two brothers – Abdul Razzak and Abdul Jabbar. I recognised all of them immediately from my visit two years ago when on tour with Carole Douglas, and to my surprise they recognised me to. They didn’t seem to mind me being there while they all had what seemed to be an important meeting, later wondering whether it was the land they were investing in to build a new shared water facility that I was told about.
After they had finished Ismail seemed to have plenty of time to answer my questions. He informed me that the market for ajrakh is currently very strong, mainly for the international and urban Indian market. They always use natural dyes now because these are more popular in the high end international market. This has meant the local market which was once very strong and their main market, has completely disappeared due to the high prices and the availability of cheaper synthetic cloths. Traditional Ajrakh is selling well, but new designs are also coming in with the help of companies like Fab India
The main worry for the printers currently is the ever decreasing water levels. Water is vital for the printing process. Twenty years ago they relied on a nearby river, but it has since dried up. A well was dug but this has gotten deeper and deeper as the water levels go down. This is partly due to dams being built in Pakistan on the river Indus to benefit the Punjab but doing the opposite for Sindh, north of Kachchh, meaning very little is reaching Sindh and Kachchh. They are trying to find money to work on new irrigation systems but there are all sorts of complex political problems and government red tape that are delaying any action.
Sufiyan’s brother and Ismail’s second son Junaid is also a KRV graduate. As I am looking at how ajrakh is being interpreted in a contemporary way, it was interesting to see how they have achieved this. Junaid has been experimenting with using traditional blocks but in new block combinations and colour combinations.
Sufiyan and Junaid showed me what was being printed and talked me through their work. I took photos and videos. I was then invited to stay for a tasty fish lunch, in the usual Kutchi welcoming way. I then bought a sample process off Ismail which I had been hoping to take home and exhibit in an exhibition that will be held in Macclesfield in July. – Fold. It will feature quilts from different ages and countries. There will be a section on Ajrakh because the cloth has been used for centuries for traditional Ralli quilts in Gujarat, Sindh and Rajasthan.