Emails from India and a Loooooooooooooooooong shanti letter

  • Mata Traders
  • 15 Jul, 2010

Michelle, Maureen, and I first went to India in December 2003 and spent 4 months backpacking the country as part of a longer round-the-world adventure.  We stayed in touch with our friends and family back home through a new communication technology known as the group email.  On that trip, Maureen fell in love…with shopping in India. She started Mata Traders, and has returned every year since.  We’ll be posting excerpts from past emails to share some of our first experiences and impressions of India.

This first one is from an email Maureen wrote me and Michelle on her 3rd visit to India as she started venturing into fair trade and traditional block-printed fabrics.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Dear Joni and Michelle,

I am finally getting around  to writing you guys a proper letter.  Maybe it’s the Pushkar air, but I am energized to correspond.  I arrived here yesterday.  The heat hasn’t crept in, as it is only early Feb., so it’s pretty nice.  I splurged and got the big room at Paramount Palace with a balcony overlooking the lake, and it is worth all 450 a day rupees I tell you.  I can sit in private, sip my chai and watch the peace of the mountains and the lake and hear all the sounds, clanking pujas and chirping birds.  I do love it here.  It’s not such a social place for me – I never actually seem to meet anyone here, but then it becomes something else, quiet in my mind, yoga, buying, reading.  Delhi can be nuts with people and fun and energy and city madness and I never seem to have enough time for anything.  If you take the social element out of the equation, as I seem to do in Pushkar, then I can truly have time to do all the things on my list, like correspondence.

Prakash holding a hand blockprinting block

There’s so much to tell.  It’s all pretty normal, just good, I think, very busy and productive and still in the moment lots of times, as India makes me get. I placed an order for clothing at a fair trade co-op which employs over 500 woman artisans in their home and gives them a fair wage.  They happen to have some great clothing, so I’m really excited.

From this co-op I got recommended to visit a man named Prakash who was consulting an NGO currently training unemployed women in the villages outside of Jodhpur to make clothing and handicrafts.  He took me to some villages and we met families who do traditional block printing.

About five years back, Prakash was exporting high end fashion clothing to London, even had 10 coats made for Harrods of his own design and sold them for 500 pounds each!  He was employing these families to make him hand-woven and block printed fabric, and then using his tailors in Jodhpur to make the clothing.  He told me a lot about what’s been happening for the traditional caste of weavers and block printers in India in the past 20-30 years.

For centuries upon centuries these castes have always had the market place come to them.  They were the suppliers for all clothing in India, and they never had to go out searching for work, the demand always went to them and they produced. Lately though, meaning the last 30 years, there has been a dramatic and devastating shift from hand woven fabric to synthetic factory-made stuff.  At first it was a demand of the middle class, and actually cost more than the hand-woven cotton.  Because it was in fashion, the lower classes also wanted the factory made, and preferred it over hand-woven.  These days factory made cotton is about 25-50% cheaper than hand-woven, so that it has truly won out.  The bi-product is that there are all kinds of people from the caste of weavers and block printers who no longer have any livelihood.  Many of them have resorted to contractual construction work and day laboring, or just plain begging.  This is the real travesty, that these people with incredible traditional skills are no longer able to continue their tradition.  For instance, a family that Prakash took me to in one village hadn’t been doing block printing since Prakash had been employing them for his export work.  The father now works in the local hardware store.  Still, though, in their homes they had all the carved blocks and means to produce.


On the way back, we stopped at a roadside fruit and veg vendor- mmm...delicious watermelon!

So this is what I am interested in and have been also investing my money in.  I am trying to buy mostly hand-woven fabric  to make all of my clothing. I think it would be really neat to support this industry by designing western style clothing but using the traditional fabrics in the process, which are so beautiful.  There are a few Indian companies like Fab India and Anokhi, which deal only in hand-woven cloth and make well-made clothes tailored to the Indian market who are extremely successful, so there is definitely a niche industry already functioning here, it is just a process of tapping into it for export.

Maureen with another debonair Rajasthani

I have been in Pushkar a few days and my earlier comment I made about not having a social life in Pushkar is proving untrue because I have been hanging out with some people, including another debonair Rajasthani man and some Norwegians, but I have to tell you this later.

I have a mobile in India you know, it is 0091 98771083878, if you ever want to call.  Time difference is around 12 hours.

I miss you guys!!!!

Love, Maureen

PS – I am getting the Hindi pretty good now…it’s connecting a lot more so I sometimes kinda know vaguely what a conversation is about and I am not sure why.

carved blocks

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