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 lunch at Ismail’s which I was delighted to find was very tasty spicy fish. It felt like a luxury after having the same palak paneer, aloo and chana for the last two weeks. 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.
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.
I had arranged to meet Juned Abdul Raheman one of the graduates of KRV, but on arriving I met Sufiyan who’s father is Dr. Ismail Mohammed Khatri, a well known ajrakh artisan and business man. He received and honary doctorate from Leicester de Montfort and has collaborated with Eiluned Edwards on her ajrakh block printing research.
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 though and I was offered tea while they seemed to have a business meeting of some sorts. They looked so important and wise all sat there in their long beards, turbans and all white long kurtas, I felt quite odd out! I was later told that they are investing in some new land to share between all of their block printing businesses so wondered if that was what they were discussing.
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 and Maiwa in Canada.
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 and 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.