En route collection no 100: Calico and NID

Iram Ahmed Collection no 100 exploring crafts GI no 174 Gujarat Kachchh Shawls

This is the story of how TAIC's first collection, numbered 100, came to be.

Ahmedabad figured as a short but pivotal stop in my larger travel plans across North India to explore Indian crafts in the summer of 2017.

On the list of everyone who has anything to do with textiles, crafts and design, a visit to this city - even a short one - is imperative. With big guns like the famed Calico Museum of Textiles and the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad was going to be the elusive silver bullet that would tell me everything there is to learn about crafts of India.

It was going to be the pivot of my crafts exploration journey. 

Murmuring to myself in a revered tone,"Ahmedabad - the cryptic textile codes of Calico! Ahmedabad - the mother city of design geniuses! Ahmedabad - the paradise of textiles! Oh, AHMEDABAD!" I dozed off en route to Ahmedabad. If the plane crashed, I'd ask for nothing more than being buried in fine mul block printed all over by skilled hands in ancient motifs and dyed every hue of indigo. 

The first stop in this holy city was the even holier Calico Museum of Textiles.

Tuh. Duh.

The All India Co visit to Calico Museum of textiles 2017

Yes. Really.

Ok it's my fault but not in my wildest dreams did I think that a museum (a museum!) would require people to take an appointment to visit it. Did you?

Devastated and heartbroken for a full five minutes, I showed a proud finger to the Calico Museum of Textiles for not letting in an enthusiast (read part-time worshipper) despite the haunting chirp of crickets, buzzing flies and bored guards and I trotted off to my next stop - NID.

TAIC visit to National Institute of Design Ahmedabad

Stranded once again, this time at the gates of NID, with what looked like yet another devastating heartbreak looming ahead, I made frantic calls to friends, determined to find a way in. 

Suddenly, the clouds parted, the earth jiggled, a light shone down and flashed open the gates of NID, because, wasn't it Rumi who said, "What you seek, seeks you?"

Except, this was neither Eat, Pray, Love nor a Jim Carrie time killer.

My photojournalist friend with envy-worthy street cred is the center of all human connections in the universe. No joke, this! Little surprise then that he got me in with one phone call. Phew!

Inside NID? This:

The All India Co visits National Institute of Design Ahmedabad

  As I wandered through the campus of NID many questions played squash in my head. 

The All India Co visits National Institute of Design Ahmedabad

Seeing power and hand looms sitting next to one another in one of the classrooms, I wondered what role does technology play in the survival of crafts. 

The All India Co visits National Institute of Design Ahmedabad

How far should be the inroads that technology makes into the crafts sector before it isn't called crafts anymore?

The All India Co visits National Institute of Design Ahmedabad

It seems that design (motifs, colours, placement, etc.) and the skills to execute it by hand passed on from one generation to the next over decades, if not centuries, are the two sides of the crafts coin.

The All India Co visits National Institute of Design Ahmedabad

If we attain ancient designs with modern techniques to achieve scale, is that still craft? If we do the flip, keep the technique but intervene in artisans' design aesthetic to reduce the time spent per piece, "improve the quality" and/or appeal to a wider audience, doesn't that kill the folklore, stories and experiences of generations of artisans told through their design? Must one of these be sacrificed for the evolution and, therefore, survival of crafts?

The All India Co visits National Institute of Design Ahmedabad

Hours of deeply engrossing conversations and umpteen cups of chai later, I realized that the pivot lay beyond Calico's revered halls, NID's classrooms and Ahmedabad's streets. 

I must travel to the interiors of India and experience the lives of craftspeople first-hand rather than win the squash battle of questions in my empty head.

Gratefully I bid NID adieu and boarded the early morning train to Bhuj, Gujarat, with more questions than answers in my mind and fire in my belly. Some of the answers must lie there.


The All India Co at Ahmedabad train station

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