I stood lost on a sunny rural street corner gawking at my maps app when a cow appeared and urinated next to me. A guy with a cart selling corn jangled by and women in all colors watched. It was actually very beautiful. I just stood there, the cow pissed, the people lived, it smelled like the manure mulch used for Pennsylvania farms. Like I-80 surrendered to greenery, even with the windows closed it seeps in and surrounds you.
I first thought, “I should walk away from this cow”. But, it wasn’t *that* close to me; a personal space difference appropriate for my American senses. I was just there, the cow’s natural but societally perceived “lewd” act kept me anchored just there, so I stayed just there in the sun with dirt in my sandals and also not knowing where “there” even was on a map.
Being “here/present” has been a struggle lately and always, for me (and presumably for most people). I’m obsessed with my work- like, *obsessed*. Always planning what to do and where to go next. I take my excitement for what I am doing here with the textiles and artisans as a beautiful thing- I mean, I came from unfulfilling office environments, constantly dreaming of creative expression in some other way. Now I live, eat, breathe, sleep what I am doing. I’ve wanted this always, so I don’t care to turn it off. It keeps me alive. But it’s causing *so much* residual anxiety which manifests itself socially and in my sleep cycle.
As passionate people, where do we draw the line? When do we shut that off, how do we shut that off? Should we? Should I just exercise a lot more and save up my endorphins? We live once, just one little time, and if we are in love with our reality- why not allow that to consume us, if we’re headed in (what we perceive to be) the right direction?
This feels like a “work-life” balance issue, although in my previous (office) experience this term referred to ensuring we were able to go home at a reasonable time. To have a life. But now my life is my work- and it seems, when addressing what one does, “work” and “MY work” are two entirely different ways of being.
Stayed in Pondicherry longer than planned. My only regrets are the million mosquito bites on my feet from sleeping so close to the water.
How do you explain something like that? missed/lost/created connections for a short and strange while that make no sense within the context of language barriers or reality overall. I don’t kid myself about anything but momentary mystery is too seductive. Lost physically away from real civilization but safe in separate awareness, mentally calm and the ever-present search for presence fulfilled specifically that time, the entire time. There was so very little information but I never care, my initial motives were selfish and seeking some kind of adventure that I wouldn’t find alone. The degree to which my constant need for movement and strange newness was precisely matched without any conversation was unnerving so I stayed. A life worlds and worlds away from my world entirely yet possessing such similarity to myself. A mirror almost. The dark denouement left answers, but different questions that I think are best remained unknown. For this, unlike the rest, I have no visual and only those words- I agree but I can’t respond now, I won't kid myself.
The rural town of Tindivanam outside of Pondicherry is full of fresh air and home to many gorgeous temples. I never would have found these if it weren't for the local I befriended, someone much like myself- professes disdain for organized religion yet seemingly feels drawn towards places of spiritual significance. I can't be completely sure however, our language barrier regularly created questions followed by reciprocated assumed answers. Exciting, intriguing, very confusing
The temples in southern India have a seismic energy- like they vibrate and come alive as you walk through them. People moan lost in their prayer as idols hum from their shrines. A 32-foot tall granite Hanuman (monkey god) sculpture engulfs Anjaneya- it is breathtaking. Really, I stopped breathing and stood still in amazement and confusion as to why I was so very affected by the energy accompanying this deity. I stared at it for a while, and felt some strange belonging in such a very foreign place.
Another location's mysterious and dimly lit basement chambers each give penance to multiple gods- connected by curving pathways, low ceilings and red walls. There are thousands of deities, each with thousands of origin stories. Their common thread: they all represent reincarnations and aspects of the One Divine. Still now, I'm not sure whether to classify Hinduism as mono or polytheistic, but it's powerful. It's old, wise, fantastical and powerful.
Creative reincarnation in a sense, finding new life for fabrics has been a passion of mine since sewing beanie baby clothes from my mother’s upholstery scraps as a child. After she taught me machine sewing, I mishmashed dresses from my brother’s old hockey jerseys in highschool. Flipped first avenue street rags into bodycon garments in college then convinced Kenneth Cole to donate their production scraps to A.Bernadette at my first (corporate) job. It’s always made sense. A fabric’s past life doesn’t detract from its usefulness, despite what fast fashion’s ever-mutating dialogues might have us believe.
A shared interest or just a lucky guess for the introduction? I’ll never know. Either way, the Sri Aurobindo handmade paper shop in Pondicherry mixes old textiles together (primarily cottons) and makes them into beautiful paper products. So, they keep fabrics from landfills and save trees- and I’m in love with them. Win win win.
I’m not sure why more people don’t do this. We have an abundance of unwanted fabric (#fastfashion) and a shortage of trees (paper products #FTW). True to form, The Mother and Sri Aurobindo were thinkers before their time- and still remain revolutionary despite the strong legacy they’ve left behind.
"People of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony in Auroville... The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity."
The Matrimandir- meditation and spiritual centre of the community
Auroville is fascinating. The spiritual energy and dedication to service amongst the citizens fulfils every aspirational dream it was founded on. The Mother and Sri Aurobindo began this self-sustaining social experiment outside of Pondicherry in 1966. It's about 5,000 acres now with a population of 2,100. There are seven schools and 20 health facilities. They grown their own food and the majority of Auroville is solar powered.
The Mother, on her Auroville: "There should be a place which no nation could claim as its own, where all human beings who have a sincere aspiration could live freely as citizens of the world.. a place of peace, concord and harmony, a place where the needs of the spirit and the concern for progress would take precedence."
"Children would be able to grow without losing contact with their souls; education would be given not for passing examinations but to enrich the faculties...intellectual, moral and spiritual superiority would be expressed in the general organisation by increased duties and responsibilities."
Their gardens grow a variety of foods to serve the community and visitors. They save their seeds to avoid importing from outside sources, and work with the monsoon season to eliminate pesticide use. The buddha garden specifically looks rickety but well loved- tended to by the citizens and entirely solar powered.
Farmed food served in one of their cafes (such creative plating!)
The ground was a dry wasteland before the Auroville residents arrived and brought it back to life. Some orange-tinted remnants of the past trauma can still be seen.
Many textile workers also serve the community with organic materials and natural dyes I had the pleasure of touring the Colors of Nature workshop where fermented Indigo dye is king, along with some various other colors and a variety of dying techniques.
After the rickety drive from Chennai, I felt like this cat (sans empty liquor bottle. all sober bewilderment):
But Pondicherry- its France meets India meets beach town vibe lured me out after bathing off the dust and emotional Chennai debris. A colourful Ganesha temple, Sri Arobindo ashram meditation and some people watching/street shopping later, I wanted to get some work done- and enjoy a bit of what the dry state of Gujarat doesn’t offer.
Establishments in Pondicherry aren’t like those in Mumbai which were either very loud clubs or desolate creepholes. A highly rated french bar with a relaxed-cool atmosphere was perfect for the purpose of a drink in the corner while working on my phone alone. Other than expected interactions with natural dyers and various people involved with textiles along the way, I had planned the majority of my Pondicherry experience to be spent in solitude. Three days full of meditation attempts and reflective thoughts while traveling through greenery. That’s not what happened though, life has a funny way of throwing places, experiences and people at us when least expect them.
As a result, finding textile-related work in a town that I had never been to was much more efficient. And the trip, expected to be just a nice getaway full of fresh air and learning, morphed into something completely different with the addition of a shared restless and therefore understood energy that I have only ever experienced alone before. The kind of aimless search you deem necessary although you're not quite sure what you’re looking for, so most people tell you to stop- and some encourage you. I was lucky to meet the latter.
I arrived in Chennai at 5am. I knew the historic San Thome basilica church would be open for mass service at 6, so I hid out there.
When the sun appeared as my safety cue to leave, I began walking towards the beach as I had planned. It was creepy, but also 7am and I had no idea where I was in the town or on a map in general. I tried to hide in a schoolyard but the guard said "permission no" and waved his hand out towards the desolate street. So, I walked and saw a man in what appeared to be a kilt a la 90s grunge plaid with the typical 'middle-aged-Indian-guy' laissez-faire regarding garments. A man in a plaid skirt.
But- then I saw another, and another, and a third, convincing evidence enough to support a solid "men here wear plaids with stripes and skirts and it is badass"
This "skirt" is in fact known as the lungi. It's popular in south Asian cultures as it's pretty uncomfortable to wear pants in the heat and humidity down here. I became obsessed with it- the silhouette is great! I love the functional effortless ease of the garment, a climate created necessity that defies a ludicrous ideal of masculinity. I hadn't considered plaid for the collection initially, but now it's on the radar.
Other than the surprisingly fantastic menswear, Chennai wasn't my favorite. They speak the Tamil language, no Hindi, no English. I had mistakenly assumed that- like Gujarati speakers -people in Chennai would know some Hindi and maybe a bit of English. I couldn't communicate with anyone, and I didn't know anything about the city, and it was 7:30 in the morning. Normally I'm not a trip adviser sort of lady, but desperate times call for lame measures so I took advice from the Internet (always the best idea!) and headed to the Kapaleeswarar temple. Which was severely under construction and surrounded by a clearly developing area that wasn't interested in foreigners.
I found a hostel, hid in the lobby (thanks guy who I couldn't communicate with, but knew I was lost and took me in!), then planned my escape to Pondicherry.
Taking a trip to the state of Tamil Nadu this week for the artisanal work and temples of the south (ALL Indian states are known for some sort of brilliant work). Specifically Pondicherry for natural dyes- a former French settlement and spiritual haven. I have a million questions about natural dyes that I hope to find some answers. To get there, I must fly into Chennai then travel three hours farther south by bus.
At one of my previous fashion tech jobs my boss visited the Hong Kong factories and saw a guy fall into a vat of chemicals. His pants were burned off but he was alright, laughing about it like “just another day in the office!”. I mean, that’s terrifying, The VoW x Craftroots collection will only be created with non-toxic dyes.
I like airports a lot. I always have since childhood. They feel like potential and adventure. and I love Ahmedabad- it’s so beautiful, and safe, and constantly revealing itself to me in a shrek-esque onion comparison way. But the airport, in Ahmedabad? Not my favorite really. It’s the beginning or end for everyone. No layovers there, as far as I know- like the last train stop in Brooklyn, no one is transferring. They’re just going home or getting out. So there is one doodly little duty free shop with like, random chocolates, and a tea stand (I do like that tea stand though).
And with that, I board a plane to Mumbai then it's off to Chennai. Mumbai: a lovely place for a layover.
I have two main focuses here. Sourcing all the way down the supply chain for a veg block printed clothing collection representative of Gramshree's ethos and story combined with my values and aesthetics- and exploring spirituality. All the while surrounded by warm, loving and inspiring people. It's basically a best case scenario.
Tonight's talk was about "Presence: The Quality of Consciously Being Here"
http://www.awakin.org/read/ "Presence ...is the activation of a higher level of awareness that allows all our other human functions – such as thought, feeling, and action – to be known, developed, and harmonised .. Presence shapes our self-image and emotional tone. Presence determines the degree of our alertness, openness, and warmth. Presence decides whether we leak and scatter our energy or embody and direct it."
The responses varied but all were wise inspired. Even if our minds are elsewhere, our bodies are *here* so in essence we are present regardless? Or can only self awareness in the moment promote the state of being present? Everyone has their personal version of being present, some seemed so enlightened. I hope with practice I can achieve that feeling some day as well.