Assam - Day Two

by - Wednesday, September 09, 2009

We are always a little worried as the second day begins. Will the artisans return? Working in different languages makes it difficult to know how much has been understood, and there are substantial pressures on these artisans for their time. When we planned the workshop we wanted to begin at nine and end at five. In discussions with Chandan, he thought that we could not ask this - they would not show up. At the end of the first day we decided to push a little. "Who can be here early tomorrow morning? We want to start at nine AM." Every hand went up. When we arrived at eight AM to set-up they were waiting for us.

On the second day we begin with what we call the singular dyes. For this workshop these will be lac, madder, pomegranate, marigold and myrobalan. These dyes will each give their own colour and additional colours will be made by overdyeing the first colour with a second dye. So for example, we start with madder on its own and to this we will add madder overdyed with pomegranate, madder overdyed only with lac, madder overdyed first with lac and then with pomegranate and so on. This simple idea is a bit tricky to oversee. The temptation to put all the yarn into the second dyepot, and not hold any back for the first colour, is very strong.

There are about forty students and they split into eight groups. Most are weavers and they all have a tremendous facility with handling the silks. It is really quite extraordinary to watch. A tangle that would take us several hours to negotiate seems to be resolved by them with a few deft flicks of the wrist.

The group is keen and they are "with" us. Still, there are several opportunities for the works to slide off the rails. Charllotte (who as a sign of respect is referred to simply as "Madam") moves from group to group helping and troubleshooting. The task falls mainly to Shirley then to make certain that no one wanders off. A simple thing (like small groups of people chatting) can spell disaster for a workshop. In any culture there is a hierarchy of who does the work and who does not do the work. If individuals stop working to talk it is divisive and almost instantly all the men will also stop. This is especially true if others from the village are watching. We have the advantage in these situations of being teachers, foreigners, and guests. We are from outside the culture and so we insist on a simple rule. You cannot be sitting if Madam is not sitting.

At the end of the second day we have bamboo poles hung with dyed silk. We have worked a long day and the sun has slipped away before the hanks are completely dry. These yarns are so valuable that the artisans will not leave while they are still outside. Only when the silks have been brought inside for the night do they feel comfortable in starting home.


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