Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Craft of North East, being made in Delhi

The Original Article published in the Hindu can be read here:

A capital market - The Hindu

Read the Unedited version here...

North East craft being made in Saddi Delhi, It will not be wrong to say, if urban Delhi consumers do not go the North East to pick handicrafts, well then the handicrafts will come to Delhi. And by this I do not mean those crafts which are sent for selling in the capital but those which are actually made here by craftsmen from North East. The definition of North East is though slightly broad, to be precise several crafts of Manipur, the Thangkul Naga, Nagaland and Assam are made with fervour in Delhi just like they would back home, yes using the same raw materials and process of making. I chanced upon this trend quite accidentally, while watching and shooting WungShungmi, a Manipuri black pottery craftsman at the Craft Museum. Taking a break while the innumerable cups which were being baked in the open kiln filled with leaves etc., he casually asked where I lived in Delhi. Then of all the surprising things, he asked, “can such a kiln be fired in your area? Curious I dug deeper, only to realise that WungShungmi stayed near INA and was actually making the traditional black pottery products here in saddi Dilli for the last eight years. And like him there were several traditional craftsmen who had made Delhi their home but continue to ply their traditional crafts with elan.  From pottery, loin loom weaving, beaded jewellery, baskets, quilts, bamboo work to kawna mats.

The number of craftsmen making Manipuri black pottery also called Longpi or coiled pottery is slightly more as compared to the other crafts. The pottery is made of powdered stone sans a potter’s wheel, entirely shaped by hand. In recent times, good design intervention has ensured eye catching products. There are plenty of potters making black pottery in Vasant Enclave and Mahipalpur area. Like WungShungmi, there is Ashim Pearl Shimray, pottery artist and jewellery maker who has her workshop in Mahipalpur where the black pottery is made. As she says, “the biggest advantage of making in Delhi is the transportation cost is avoided. In pottery the breakage is a lot. So we get the raw materials and make it here. Also Delhi being closer to the buyers, it is possible to make whatever designs buyers want. Greater experimentation is possible.” Pearl came to Delhi to study MA Sociology in 1998 and has been in Delhi since then. She is a studio potter and also makes traditional tribal jewellery of the Hill people of Manipur covering all the Naga tribe. Each tribe has its specific colours, motifs and jewellery, she makes them all here. The materials come from Bhutan to local sources.

Pearl also a runs a shop with Pamringla Vashum in Shahpurjat. Pamringla not only runs the shop but also makes product on the loin loom or back strap loom from her home. The normal drawing room simply doubles up as a weaving zone. When we enter, her aunt, is busy counting the threads to be affixed to the loom. The thread or yarn of fine count is procured locally from Sadar Bazaar. The frame which was doing the work for counting, is simply spread, the end of the loom which is usually affixed to the wall is expertly tied to the open window. She adjusts the length and voila sitting on the floor the work starts. I am impressed with the ease with which the loin loom sits in her drawing room. She has different sets of looms, all cleanly stacked at one end and no one will actually believe that it is actually a loom in working. She explains the concept of the loom, “once the design is set, the weaving is easy. As the loom is set anyone who knows weaving in the family simply picks it up and weaves.” The back strap loom is a rarity and specialty from the North East. The width of the fabric is smaller and to create larger fabrics, two exactly similar pieces are joined together.

The traditional shawls of the Thangkul Naga has today been innovated to make runners, table mats, cushion covers, bags and more. She makes these products with ease dealing with buyers. When there is more quantity the work is simply off loaded. She says, “there are many people who make it in Delhi. I give them the work. Tell them the pattern and give them the thread. They take it home and work.” Pamringla came to Delhi in 1999 for an exhibition, then worked for some time with Trifed before branching out on her own. She was one of the few from whom the First Lady Michelle Obama bought crafts from at the Crafts Museum. She though does not elaborate on who are the others who make similar products fearing loss of business. She adds, “Delhi is a very good market. Back home in the village it is very difficult to sell our products. Here there is a good market and there are places – melas, haats and exhibitions from where these can be sold.” Similar is the story of Annie from Nagaland who makes beaded jewellery. Seeing the response here, she has plans to stay in Delhi adding, “we actually get better and more raw material in Delhi than back home. Here it is easier to buy.”

Vivekananda Bagchi, a National Award winner for Bamboo jewellery in 2010, is a wizard with bamboo. Though traditionally from Bengal he has made Delhi his home and specialises in making bamboo work from Tripura as well. As he says, “it is easier to get the raw materials in Delhi than anywhere else. At home, we have to scour the villages for it. Here Paharganj and other markets stock good quality in plenty. The prices are nominal too.” There is Apam Ahum who runs Hao Craft and they make black pottery jewellery also, a new addition. There are plenty more, the entire area of Sangam Vihar, Mahipalpur, Vasant Kunj – Kishan Garh, Gandhi Nagar has a fair representation of craftspersons from North East. The underlying fact remains that in this market driven world, the craftsmen prefer to be nearer to the buyers where it is easier to deal. The question of raw material is easily taken care of with several trips home. What matters is the market and that is where they are. With Hindi speaking abilities, it is the market driven economy which dominates. Long live enterprise and entrepreneurship.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Chidambaram's New Madras Hotel

Yes, authentic South Indian mouthwatering fare dished out by Chidamabaram’s for over 60 years. This old establishment has it all serving from the usual Idli, Dosa, Uttappam, vada to thali, butter milk, kesari and more. Despite Delhi being flooded with Idli Dosa joints or those serving South Indian food, there are very few which maintain the authenticity and taste. This one does, the coconut chutney is actually made using coconuts and not simply bhuna hua chana dal. The food is not spicy, loaded with chillies variety and tastes quite good. It is a wonderful mix of affordability and more importantly nostalgia for my father. It is ideal for a good dose of near home cooked food at affordable prices when one’s cooking fails. Usually the best South Indian meal for a Tambrahm is invariably at home. But this one does win our hearts for a near substitute when our cooking takes a back seat.

Old Recollections – Chidambaram’s Mess (it was run by the owner - Chidamabaram) as it was known was frequented by my father, a bachelor then in the 1950s. The entire Lodhi Colony was barracks built for the American soldiers during the World War. A set of four rooms had a kitchen and two separate bathrooms and loos. After the war the barracks were vacated by them. Following Indianisation, it was allotted to Government employees. Of course, the number living in each such quarter far exceeded that permissible. It was known as Chamaris. It is in one of these kitchens sublet that Chidamabaram’s mess operated. With plenty of youth and bachelors living in the area, region wise messes were common. So for South Indians there were Chidamabaram’s, Rao’s mess, Mannadiyars and Nair’s Mess. 

Of these as per my father, “Chidambaram existed because the food was good and he maintained the quality and standard.” From the others, one ran away, Mannadiyar moved to Sarojini Nagar and vanished. It was difficult running out of rented space. Having eaten for over five or more years Chidambaram was well known to my father and the last time he met him was when they travelled together to Madras (it was known that way then, most regulars do call it that!) by GT (Grand Trunk) Express. My father proceeding to Kerala via Chennai, that’s how travel was then. Daddy moved on, married and settled in Delhi but nay a nostalgia to revisit that place. Mom was such a fabulous cook. With my longing for South Indian food outside home being limited, there was never an opportunity to revisit.

This nostalgic visit to Chidamabaram was thanks to my father’s recollection of his food. A casual trip to Meher Chand Market was backed with an impulsive, lets go to Chidambarams. After much search, we found it in the Khanna Market street, small reminding one of coffee shops tucked away in a typical South India. It had long moved out of the Chamaris and was a part of the huge market. The establishment was there and in the words of my father, “the food is still good and tastes good like those of yore”. Chidambaram though is no more. The restaurant is now called Chidamabaram’s New Madras Hotel. It is now being run by his son. The Menu now is no longer just lunch and dinner as in a mess but includes a host of dosas and idlis. The range of dosas, uttappams and adai is a decent 28 variety. Apart from South Indian food, there is a variety including Chinese.

Location – Khanna Market – Turn into the bylanes of Lodhi Road flats from Meher Chand Market and simply move down the road of the market. This is a small shop located near the end of the market. Shop No. 7.

Timings – 8 am to 10:45 pm (ideal for a typical South Indian breakfast!)

Highlight – The entire South Indian fare is good. Coconut chutney is made the authentic way, my father vouches for it. It is easy on the tongue and not loaded with spice. Sambar is like home made with a good taste to it. Dosas, idli, uttappam…take your pick. I am told the thali with typical Tamilian vegetables – kootu, curry – is excellent. My father is a finicky perfectionist for food and he vouches for it. We are yet to taste it, I will give a full blown account then!!

Insider Tip – Forget the routine dosa, vada, idli routine, instead go for the snacks. My father narrowed in on the Masala Vada (of course it will be good, Chidambaram was a good cook my father’s verdict). It is served with sambhar and chutney. There is Raw Plaintain bhajji – called vazhakay or kachha kela bhajjis, bonda, onion pakora and onion bhajji. These are typical items made at home and not so easily available in restaurants here in Delhi. Try them and enjoy it. The South Indian filter coffee is par excellent, (my dad’s verdict second to mine – sweet of him!). There is masala mor (firang bikers sip it before zooming away)… The tiny shop outside offers batter and namkeens – the mixture is good.

Go fill up on traditional south Indian food, the ambience, Tamil music does transport one to a typical hotel in Tamil Nadu.  

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