Because I flew into Mumbai this time, I decided to spend a couple of days there to go to museums, galleries and meet people I had been e-mailing about my research. Unfortunately I hadn’t planned it that well, as arriving early on a Saturday morning meant lots of places were closed. One of these places was Paramparik Karigar which I was really disappointed about missing out on. However I was lucky enough to receive a lot of help and contacts from Neela who works with Paramparik. I only wish I could have met her in person.
Neela told me about a block printing family working in busy central Mumbai, an area called Damar Galli. Safaraz Khatri and his father Ahmed Khatri or ‘Pracheen’ have been hand block printing with natural dyes for over 100 years. They are one of only a few block printing families left in Mumbai, as most move to the suburbs or to rural villages where there is a better supply of water.
I had seen many block printers in the rural villages of Kachchh and those surrounding Jaipur – Sanganeer and Bagru, all places famed for their distinctive block prints. It was really interesting to see some inner city block printing to compare it. I was surprised at how they managed to have enough water for the use of natural dyes being on the top floor of a block on a cramped side alley near Crawford market. They do manage though, and produce some stunning fabrics. Safaraz had spent some time learning from the renowned master Ajrakh block printer Ismail Mohammed in Ajrakhpur, as well as from his father.
They combine the traditional designs seen in Ajrakh with other familiar Indian motifs and patterns. These are often printed on silk and wool, a newly introduced fabric to block printing. These fabrics transform the look and colour of the patterns, making them more contemporary and luxurious.
These intricately printed patterned silks and wools were accompanied by contrasting fabrics of very contemporary bold painterly designs. Still using the natural dyes of deep indigo, henna, pomegranate and more, they were either painting on the dyes or printing with textured blocks.
I was fascinated by Safaraz’s experimentation and innovation in creating daring completely new fabrics, but still making sure to hold true to his family’s traditions by continuing with the distinctive, timeless patterns that India is so well known for.