While I was writing my Europe posts, I did some necessary research – which I should ideally have done before going but whatever. I was looking up a park in Montmarte that I had visited and liked and forgotten the name of, when I stumbled upon a lovely insider blog post which told me a bunch of stuff I wished I had known before. So that gave me to think a bit. Why should travel writing be about travels outside your hometown? Especially when the better writing would of necessity be about the place you know best. So I plan to start a new section about places in and around Bangalore to plug my city a bit. Here goes.
If you are visiting Bangalore at any time – welcome! There is some stuff to dislike about Bangalore of course – like our notorious traffic. But also much to love – our lovely weather, our fast disappearing but still present trees, our almost-disappeared but being restored lakes, our food, our festivals and oh everything! I love this city and hope you will too.
One of the nice things about Bangalore is the slew of exhibitions that keep popping up every now and then. At almost any time you visit, you’ll be sure to find some kind of fair or mela showcasing the arts and crafts of our country. But the best time would be mid August when Dastkar comes to town.
You can read all about the history of Dastkar here but simply put – about 30 years back, a bunch of folks concerned about how our traditional crafts were losing their market and on the way to dying out started it as a revival project. So when you buy from them, you buy directly from the artisans. You talk to the painter, potter, weaver, tailor or cobbler, decide what you want, commission something if needed and buy. By eliminating the middleman, Dastkar ensures a better return to the artisan. By opening up the line between consumer and producer, they keep the arts alive, vibrant, open to change and suggestions and therefore relevant.
It’s a lovely idea and the implementation is equally so.
There are craftworks of course and jewellery and pottery but also a whole lot more. Here are a few of the things I like most about Dastkar.
- The Performances. From folk dances to music to puppetry, there is always something going on. However, these are limited to weekends so be sure to plan your visit accordingly. For me though, my most memorable performance was during a visit to a crafts fair at Chitra Kala Parishat. We had visited late in the evening and night had fallen by the time I’d winded up my shopping and sat down next to my husband who’d given up on me long back and was listening to the Rajasthani Folk singers. Their peculiar high pitched voices, the cool sightly drizzly night and the old trees on the CKP grounds all conspired to create a memory so vivid, I am back there as I write. And when something is so perfect, there just has to be a little bit more. As we walked back to the bylane we had left our car in, I smelt woodsmoke from a security guard’s cottage – the cool night had started to turn a little cold, and just like that I was in Ooty! Bangalore is like that somedays.
- The Kites. Since Dastkar comes to Bangalore around Independence Day and kite flying is a very Independence Day thing, they usually have kite sellers on board. Not this year unfortunately and I sincerely hope they will repair the omission next time. My children were most disappointed! Kite flying is not a skill our urban children possess anymore but it is very nice to have one day in the year when you can take your pick of lovely handmade kites and have a reasonably vast expanse of ground for your children or you to try your hand at it.
- The Food. There is always a fair bit of variety lined up here so I always turn up on an empty stomach. My favourite stalls are the Maharashtrian and Rajasthani since I am partial to those snacks but there is something for everyone. Not to mention papads, pickles, jams, khakdas, churans and golis to buy and take home. And who can manage to shop without a tea break anyway?
- The Furnishings. Last year I was looking to buy a carpet but did not get one in the size I wanted. The stall I liked gave me their card so I could order one from them but I was undecided and eventually bought a Kalamkari dhurrie instead. More practical for me just now with two messy small boys. Maybe someday I will buy a lovely hand knotted kilim but for now the light and easy to clean dhurrie rules! For the lucky ones who have no such restrictions, you have an amazing variety of carpets and rugs in every material from cotton to wool. You can also find cushion covers, bedsheets and bedcovers in all manner of prints, weaves and designs.
A couple of years back, there was this man selling children’s comforters in patchwork. Each comforter came with a theme. I remember one based on vehicles, each patch being a car or a plane or an autorickshaw in a bright and cheerful pattern. My boys are growing and I did not know if I wanted something they would no longer be able to use in a year or so and I skipped it which is something I regret to this day for I have not seen anything remotely as nice since!
This year, I bought a bedcover for my children from Dastkar Ranthambore.
A quick aside about Dastkar Ranthambore. A number of villagers lost their homes and livelihoods when the Ranthambore national park was created but this particular man animal conflict was destined for a happy ending. With the support of Dastkar who worked very hard at identifying and providing skills to all the affected people, today, the Ranthambore tiger is a popular motif and an easily identifiable mascot.
This here is the bedcover I got. Got the pic off the website because ours at home is not quite that white any more and crayon streaks don’t make for the best pictures.
- Soaps! I never leave without buying handmade soaps. This year though, neither Neev nor Eco Jharkhand put up stalls which was a pity. Neev retails online on puremart so I can see why they would opt out but I missed eco jharkhand. They make the best soaps, price very reasonably and provide employment to village women in the bargain. They aren’t Lush so don’t run away with the wrong idea – but I rather like mildly or non-scented soaps and these are very very mild, gentle and creamy.
- Pottery.Because we are tea lovers and can never have enough teacups. We also picked up a couple of beer mugs last time which my husband enjoys very much.
- Sarees. My mother and mother in law are both very fond of sarees and are something of collectors so I never leave without making some saree vendor richer at my expense. Last year I got them both Maheshwari cottons. Maheshwari sarees date back to the eighteenth century but have seen a revival championed by the Rehwa society so they are as much about the heritage as about the drape. Of course you will also find ilkal, sambalpuri, kalamkari, bagru and dhonekhali, not to mention the latest fashions like linen. Except for the chiffon and georgette Bollywood variety there isn’t much they don’t do. But you knew it was about handlooms, right?
- Fabrics. While I would love to wear sarees daily and preen and pose with the ‘100 saree pact’ and ‘I wear handloom’ hashtags, let me be honest. Never going to happen. So I am happy to settle for handloom fabrics and dress materials. I always buy up a storm and then get them stitched slowly over the course of the year and have nice things to wear to work. I was wondering about Intellectual Property the other day though. Is it hypocritical of me to take the high road and not watch pirated movies or download from torrents but blithely copy kurta designs from the net and have them made by my tailor on the cheap? Hypocritical I guess, but practical. Oh well. What’s next on my list?
- Paintings. This used to be high up but I have so many paintings on my walls now, they are practically a sieve. So am focusing on other crafts these days and dragging my eyes away but this is the place to pick up everything from madhubani and patachitra to Tanjore.
- Craftworks. You need to see and touch and feel. No point my talking about these. I bought this brass palanquin bearers thing that I love.
And so much else! I should leave something out to be experienced on a surprise. So that’s it then. Dastkar Nature Bazaar. What do you think? Would you like to visit Bangalore for this?