The next day I'm flying around Sanganer in a tuk-tuk, trying to
make any sense of the hand painted map of what Sanganer looked
like 300 years ago. Good thing not much has changed... I began walking
through the narrow winding streets, some barely wide enough for two
motorcycles to pass each other.
“I’ve just got to find this gate,” I thought. It was the nearest landmark
to the block market, and after following many very subtle gestures from
the locals vaguely directing me past temples, and kachori-walas, and
barbershops, and chai-walas, I finally passed through the Tripoliya Gate.
Then I heard it. It was the faint tapping sound of wood hitting metal.
I turned the corner, and there they were. I felt like I had just spotted a
Bengal Tiger. I approached cautiously, curiously glancing over at the
crew of about 5 men, two carvers and their three friends, when they called
me over into the little garage style shop under a big banyan tree to sit and
talk with them.
“I’ve come to learn,” I informed them after they had asked what it was
that had brought me there.
“Well this is one of the greatest carvers of Sanganer!” stated one of the men as he directed my gaze to the certificates and awards hanging on the wall with a wave of his hand.
“People don’t learn. They just come, and see, and buy, and leave! But no one learns,” chuckled Mr. Danish, the man with whom I now print all of my fabric. “It takes months, and years!”
“I want to learn,” I told them again, looking at one of the carvers who had just caught my eye.
“Ok, I will teach you, come back tomorrow,” said Vikas, who is now one of my best friends in all of India, and with whom I now carve all of my blocks.
Needless to say as I left the shop I was absolutely elated. Every atom of my body was vibrating and I could not keep down the tips of my mouth that were extending towards my ears in a huge smile.
Next day comes, I go out for the usual morning chai before taking the 45 minute ride on the local bus down to Sanganer from my hostel in Jaipur. By the time I arrive, locals I have never even met are playfully scolding me, “Oh you're late! Your guru has been waiting for you!”
I show up and sit down at the beautiful little shop (that has now almost tripled in size to occupy the garages next to and in front of his original shop, which Vikas assures me is all due to my “blessing,” but I believe it's because of his great energy) that lies under the big banyan tree in the cosmos of Sanganer, surrounded by temples and print shops in an area known as Nam de Chowk.
“When will you begin?” Vikas asked me, looking up from a new design he was tracing on a block.
“Right now,” I assured him.
“Ok, you can stay as long as your mind can take.”
While living in Australia, a couple I was staying with showed me pictures of their recent travels to India, which included shots of their encounters of block printing in the state of Rajasthan. That was it. My plans of traveling around the world after Auz just dissolved, and what was left in its place was a hard determination to find these craftsmen and learn this amazing art. "You'll find them around Jaipur," they told me.
Five months later I'm flying from Bangkok direct to Jaipur on the
search for the block makers, my only lead being the name of a
museum in the Old City.
A visit to the Anohki Museum of Hand Printing stoked me out of
my mind because I was surrounded by authentic block printed
fabrics, and a plethora of information about the craft. I also stumbled
upon an artists rendering of old town Sanganer, with numbers
correlating to areas on the map. Number 14: Block Makers Market.
The rest is history. I spent everyday of the next 6 weeks with Vikas and Kahlil, another master craver, at the quaint little shop, meeting all the other carvers and printers around, going to weddings, exploring Sanganer and its printing shops, and sharing meals at the homes of my new local friends. Almost a year later I returned with my own designs and concepts for the block printed edition of a killer clothing brand. After many more experiences, new friends, lessons learned on the fly, epic travels, and great stories, that is what we’ve got today. I hope you enjoy.