Cool Buddies

“Kaimagga” [by Sharada]

Posted in Social Work, Travel by Ratheesh & Sharada on September 22, 2014

Every kurta has a story behind it. I picked up one; off-white with blue stripes and ran my fingers over it. The coarse feel of raw cotton, the minor imperfections at places which comes with handloom and the brown buttons carved out of coconut shells got me thinking. Where did this one come from? How many people would have been involved in getting this beautiful piece of garment to the wearer? What was the motivation that got them to make it? I never knew that these seemingly random thoughts about a kurta would set me off on a trip to the place of its origin – Charaka.

When RangDe came up with a field trip to Charaka on Independence Day, my interest in understanding the weaving process was rekindled. The eagerness of spending time in a peaceful ashram coupled with the excitement of driving to a remote village – of which we knew very little – made the decision to visit, an easy one. With two of my friends, we set off on the Bangalore-Honnavar road towards Sagara; a diversion at Ulluru set us off on a village road. A few minutes later, we would be entering a lesser motorable mud road, which would take us to “Shramajeevi Ashram”. Mr. Ramesh was waiting at the entrance of the path that would lead us to the wooden barricade of the ashram. We dropped our voices a few decibels down when we noticed the peace and quiet of this place. Apart from a few far-away birdcalls, the air was still and we had to readjust our tired city-ears to pick up the faint sounds of nature. IMG_4660 Charaka is a weaving community setup in the village of Heggodu near Sagara taluk of Shimoga District, Karnataka. It was started as a dream, passion and ideology of Mr. Prasanna, an alumnus of National School of Drama, and a well-known Kannada playwright and theatre director, who started Charaka to start a positive activism and empower rural women in the village of Heggodu. Desi (meaning native or indigenous, stands for Developing Ecologically Sustainable Industry) is the marketing division of Charaka, which has over 9 outlets across Karnataka to sell Charaka products.IMG_4662 Charaka has improved the livelihood of multitude of womenfolk from in and around Heggodu and has given them confidence to stay independent. They talk about the ashram with a sense of pride that can come only from hard work, which befits the name given to the ashram “Shrama-Jeevi” meaning “Hard working Soul”.

A winding pathway lined by a natural fence created from Cassuarina poles separating the path from the rest of the vegetation, consisting mostly of shrubs and thin, tall trees. The use of earthy material for constructing the place ensured that the human settlements blend well with the natural beauty of the place. As we walked, to our right we saw the prayer hall, which we would visit the next morning. Beyond it was Mr. Prasanna’s living quarters, which he had made his home. The pathway led us to rows of huts constructed around a large courtyard which served as a flower / vegetable garden. The huts were simple mud walls and mud flooring, with roof lined with tiles. The walls were painted yellow with simple hand painted designs around the doors and windows. The whole place is powered by a handful of solar lamps and there is no electricity in the huts. The hut is modestly furnished with a charpoy and bed and a small kerosene lamp serving as the single light source during night.

IMG_4672“Raghupati Raghava Rajaram …” sang all of them in unison; their voices had a restraint and calmness to it. Assembled in the prayer hall around 9am, they sat around Gandhiji’s portrait, delivering soulful hymns, sometimes a main voice leading and the others repeating after her. They paused between lines; the momentary, purposeful pause and the sudden silence caused thus gave us time to register and contemplate. With noble thoughts filled in our minds, we walked out of the prayer hall, following Mr. Ramesh, who would show us the weaving process. The women proceeded to take their positions behind their charakas or handlooms or tailoring machines, depending on their core skills and their work. As we walked, looking curiously at each equipment, pausing to take photos (and in some cases, pose for photos), my eyes met some of the womenfolk in a fleeting moment; some smiled shy smiles, some giggled, some others just looked downwards, too reserved to smile at strangers. Of course, in most cases, we could hear them burst out into laughter and small talk about us as soon as we walked away; our strange ways and our curious looks offering them their share of entertainment for the day.

The cotton is spun into raw thread in the mills. So, the first step in the cloth manufacturing process, which is processing of the cotton and spinning them into yarn, is not done at Charaka. This is the only part, which happens outside and hence, their raw material for starting the process is the cotton yarn procured from mills situated in and around Shimoga. We also understood the difference between cotton fabric and “Khadi”; khadi is hand spun yarn, which is spun from raw cotton using Charaka; it is a manual process. Cotton garments, which are non-khadi start from the yarn spun at cotton mills. A batch of ladies was working on large wooden wheels that would spin the yarn on a bobbin. These bobbins would later be used for the weaving. IMG_4693The next step in the process requires special skill and a keen eye for design. This is the step where several bobbins are arranged on a huge wooden rack in a particular order, then a thread from each of these are carefully drawn by hand and fed into a device having fine teeth like a comb. The order in which the threads are drawn and fed into this comb determines the overall design of the fabric. If the cloth requires thin blue lines interspersed with white and yellow, then the designer has to carefully arrange it in such a way. This requires utmost concentration and they had their best person on the job for this. IMG_4728Once the threads are arranged in the feeder, they will then be routed to the huge wooden rolls in the same order to form the entire length of the fabric. During this process, it is important to ensure number of turns of the barrel is accurate and there are no cut threads in the process. If there were an error, it would have to be corrected and in some cases retraced till the point of error and then corrected. It takes almost 1-2 days to lay out the thread, in this manner, which forms the length of the cloth.These rolls have to be firm and tight to avoid any knots, breakage during the weaving process.

These huge rolls are then placed on the loom to start weaving the breadth of the fabric. The hand loom, so called due to the human effort involved in moving the “bullet” from left to right by pulling a string by one hand and stepping on a wooden stepper at the same time in a rhythmic way. The bullet carries the thread that will run through the breadth of the fabric, with the length being supplied by the huge rolls previously arranged. The weaving also requires the thread from the rolls to be arranged in a way that the bullet moves through in between two layers of thread (the number of layers determine the thickness) to ensure it is “weaved” in tightly. The rhythmic movement is essential to avoid crimps in the fabric. Although this seems easy, trying a hand at it for a couple of minutes, we were successfully able to create several crimps, which would then pass off as imperfections of hand woven fabric. We also got a compliment from the supervisor, amidst giggles and guffaws from onlookers “This kind of weaving is suitable for coarse rugs”, subtly indicating that the imperfections caused disqualifies it for a kurta!IMG_4719

What comes out of the loom is ready to be stitched into garments. It will then be sent to the tailors to cut and stitch into desired designs. The other post processing like block printing, ironing happens in the next room. They use dyes to create designs using wooden block stencils. The final finishing like stitching in buttons happen after the prints are dry. We also visited the creative team that uses mostly waste material (pieces of discarded cloth from stitching clothes) to make quilts. These beautiful designs are discussed in a room, then each person in the room takes up a part of the quilt, one just cutting waste cloth into square pieces, another stitching them together into patterns, another stitching them together into quilt with a foam layer in between. The end result is a vibrant, multi-color quilt with beautiful patterns and designs.

We were ushered into the kitchen for a tea break, where we again met all of them. Just behind the kitchen area is a large soot-covered cauldron, which boils a concoction of various vegetable matter to prepare dyes. The bubbling liquid gave out a pungent smell, which we were unable to place, and later learnt was mostly of pomegranate peel. The thread obtained from the mills are dyed here and kept for drying in a IMG_4741large room filled with racks of thread. They need to be turned over periodically to ensure uniform drying. The duration of dipping of the thread into the cauldron determines the shade of the color. There is an in-house lab, which constantly experiments with various combinations of dyes to produce different, new colors. The successful ones that pass the experiment are determined mainly by which holds well and whether the color would run when rinsed. All the successful ones are documented for reference. Since no chemicals colors are used in this process, some colors are not obtained. The raw material required for preparing the dyes (like indigo, pomegranate peels, areca) are sourced from other places.

After going through the entire process, we were eager to see (and shop for) some finished goods! Bidding farewell to our kind hosts at Shramajeevi ashram, we set off towards the Charaka outlet that is on the way to Sagara. It is an old house, artistically constructed; we later came to know it was Mr. Prasanna’s house before he moved into his dwelling at the ashram. We were soon engrossed in appreciating the fabrics, spoilt for choices. This time when we picked up a kurta, or even a pillowcase, we did so with certain respect; respect that comes out of knowing the toil and care behind each of these finished pieces. And of course, with a certain satisfaction that we were encouraging this dying art of handloom, which provided a window of opportunities to women from this village of Heggodu.

RangDe has funded part of this initiative by lending a collective loan to this community. By doing this, they promote handloom and provide recognition to this beautiful community of weavers.

(Moo)ving account of an animal lover’s life [by Ratheesh]

Posted in Animals, Environment, Humour, Life, Sarcasm, Social Work by Ratheesh & Sharada on March 20, 2008

Disclaimer:
(When you see a disclaimer on an article rest assured there is something fishy about it.)
Although with its polite manner and professional etiquette this article might impress you, please beware. This is a cheap marketing gimmick by an animal lover to bring you into his circle. (Sort of like Amway, but we don’t promise to make you rich).

“You both are mad, MAD”, aunty said, stressing on the second “MAD” to make sure we heard it clear. The aunty in question is my wife’s mom, an old lady with chubby cheeks, dimpled chin and a lot of good old features you would love to see in your mom. She loves us a lot, a LOT (this time I am stressing), as any mom would.

So why would she get so articulate about our perceived mental problem today? Truth is, she was not alone. There are many people around us who think we are mad, out of our mind. Reasons? You ask. We are ardent animal lovers. (Ooooooh, I see some of you throwing this article away).

Animal lover, Animal activist; call us anything. We are a special breed. All ten of us in Bangalore (just kidding); there are about 100 of us the last time I counted (Ha Ha). We were born-guilty; guilty for whatever our pathetic forefathers have done to this planet. We constantly try to make corrections. We demand justice (we receive none, but who cares; it is easy to get permission to sit in front of Gandhi’s statue on M.G Road). We spend our money on Animal NGOs who in turn spend it spaying and neutering dogs on the streets so that they don’t bite “your” sorry arses. (“Your” as in someone who is not an animal lover. An animal lover feeds the dogs on his street, so it does not feed on “your” sorry arses).

It is not an awfully big list, but we do try to do our bit to save endangered species from extinction.(Yes! the dodo is extinct, but that is not the only one that has become extinct, you non animal lover! From this point onwards, I choose to call you Non-Animal-Lover. Now, don’t try to get all ‘politically correct’ with man-is-an-animal theory. You should’ve thought of that when you were killing so many animals just for pleasure and for food, you non-animal-lover-cum-non-vegetarian!)

Recently someone asked us what we do on weekends. “We teach English at a school and we work for animals the rest of the time”. The “teach English at school” part evoked lot of interest and appreciation. “Working for animals” evoked reactions similar to the expressions you’d have when you heard Narendra Modi won the Gujarat election a second term (something like “How??”). Animals are after all some sort of side-effect in God’s creation plan.

This is true, but people actually think we animal lovers are wasting our time; some of them think we are not really enthusiastic about it, but do it because somebody asked us to. Some others sympathize with us. (You should see the looks we get when we sit on M.G Road footpath, beside paan stains and dog poop). To summarize, they (you non-animal-lovers) think we are fighting a lost cause. (With so many animals on the brink of extinction, I am tempted to agree). But we will not give up.

“So you guys work for PETA?” our colleague at office asked us. (The kind of guy who does not know nothing about animals). “No”. We do not work for PETA, or any other organization for that matter. But thanks to their great work, PETA seems to have become synonymous with animal activism. No complaints. “Do you love children?” it was our chance to ask. “Yes”, he said. “Do you work for CRY?” We have not spoken to this guy since.

Being an animal lover is a tough job (I should be careful what I call it, some of you cunning fellows might be waiting to prove that we are being paid by Maneka Gandhi). As I said, it is not easy; first we need to convince our family that we are not mentally retarded, then we need to convince the auto driver that we are not criminals (because we are mostly loading his auto with animals, birds or snakes depending on what we do). Then there are various men and women who work at NGOs (for some folks animal loving is a job) who look at us and wonder why we turn up on weekends, all smiling and happy and ready to help them with menial jobs.

Most of us love all animals alike. We all picture ourselves hugging a grizzly bear in a perfect world (a perfect world is one where all non-animal-lover-cum-non-vegetarians have learnt their lessons). But some of us like my wife shriek at the sight of cockroaches (I am guessing many of the fairer sex animal lovers do). Then again, I do not picture myself hugging a cockroach too.

“So you say you are an animal lover?” this guy asked me once. He had the look on his face that reminded me of some lawyer in an movie. “How can you be sure that you do not hurt small insects, like you might crush ants and cockroaches while driving?” he continued. I do not remember my response (I must have smiled or something), but I do remember visualizing crushing him under my tyres some day. If all you losers out there did not (and do not) work towards a perfect world, where all loopholes are closed and all clauses are satisfied, then how can you ask us to strive for that (let me make this clear; we would like to, if you co-operate). Think about it, atleast we try. Not sit in front of the TV and watch some sixteen year olds play cricket or sixty year olds build six packs.

“So when will you be back? Will you come home for lunch?” aunty was at it again. She realized that her taunts were not going to make us give up a juicy protest march (This time some Swamiji was also supporting it for his own publicity). “We heard they are giving us biscuits (Parle-G to be precise, which both dogs and animal lovers love alike)” I replied, as we rode away on our bike, leaving aunty fuming at the gate.

Brother (or Sister) (or Others), we animal lovers are not your enemies, nor are we in need of your sympathy. We represent that part of your soul that is still humane. Accept us and be with us. Let us make this world a wonderful place to live in … for animals.

Feedback on English Classes at Govt. School

Posted in Education, Social Work by Ratheesh & Sharada on July 19, 2007

Please comment on this post to provide your feedback on
English Classes at Govt. School

Blame Them Hang Them [ by Sharada ]

Posted in Animals, Environment, Social Work by Ratheesh & Sharada on March 13, 2007

There have been so many cases of dogs killing children in recent times. I have my deepest sympathy for the parents who lost their young kids. It is definitely heartening to understand what they are going through. There is absolutely no doubt that it has been a very shocking incident.

The sad part is the people who are demanding all dogs be killed are neither concerned about the children who died or the dogs. They are selfish souls who only think about their own safety. What surprised me was, in this whole incident, the general emotion was that of anger, not sorrow. This is a very important observation since it reflects the mentality of the people. People have becoming less tolerant, more violent, extremely restless and insensitive.

What we are failing to understand is, animals are a part of nature. They have their own way of living. It is best we leave them to live that way, and not interfere. But humans have exploited them so much that the animals feel insecure. If we observe the behavioral pattern of dogs and humans, we find that in lesser-populated areas, they live in complete harmony. Dog bites, if any are treated as natural disasters and left to nature to take its course.

But as the population increases, the urbanization increased. The struggle for food and space also increased. We have added problems of overcrowded roads, unmanageable traffic, polluted environment and unclean surroundings. With respect to behavior, we have become more aggressive, less tolerant, less loving; and all these have influenced the human-animal relationship too.

People have become less tolerant towards animals and less loving towards their one-time-best-friend, the dogs. This has a direct influence on the animal behavior. Animals, sensitive as they are also start developing similar qualities towards human beings. Added to this, the food and space constraint have forced the dogs to encroach each other’s territories, often leading to bitter fights among themselves.

People are only noticing the direct results of these changes. They fail to see the root cause of the problem and hence the complete picture. On further analysis we find that it is not just the dogs that have turned aggressive, it is humans too. This is clearly seen in road rages, frequent scuffles, and insensitiveness towards others. So, these dog bites are only a small portion of a much larger, more complex problem

Assume for a minute that all dogs are successfully caught and killed. Would that solve all our problems? Would that result in a clean Bangalore with no threat to kids? I feel, infact this would worsen the problem. It would make the kids grow up lesser loving, lesser sensitive. It will increase crime, it will increase people’s temper; make them more aggressive. People who are protesting and demanding the killing of dogs are only thinking short-term. They are only looking at the tiny ripple when an entire Tsunami is out there waiting to happen.

That comes to the question, what is it that can solve this problem now? Of course it is wishful to think. We snap our fingers and all problems get solved. And the easiest way is to get into the blame game. Blame the Govt, blame the authorities, but we are sure that this will not lead us anywhere. We need a full-fledged combined effort from the Govt and the people to find a solution. Let me put down a few points for each category.

Govt:
– Assure the people that it is in complete control.
– Educate people on the rights and wrongs and the probably solutions.
– Use the media to reach out to the masses and educate them about various policies.
– Have a group of knowledgeable people to study the problem in depth without any bias
– Make a plan to dispose garbage effectively and avoid illegal dumping of garbage. This has to be monitored and have strict laws and punishment on violation
– Close down illegal meat shops in residential areas. Provide a proper, regulated monitoring system for this.
– Intensify vaccination of dogs.
– Encourage people to adopt dogs, own them and provide incentives and maybe tax benefits to people who adopt dogs.
– Study the ABC program, its pros and cons. Sterilization is not the ultimate solution for stray dog problem.
– Have a definite plan, and achieve it. Adopt a more proactive approach.

People:
– Stop blaming the Govt for each and every issue
– Understand our responsibilities towards society and follow rules laid down by the Govt.
– Keep surroundings clean, stop throwing waste on the road, open areas; use the waste disposal vans Govt. provides.
– Develop compassion towards animals. Respect live. Be sensitive to animals and educate children.
– Come forward and extend your love towards animals. Adopt a few stray dogs in your area. There will be only plus points in doing so.
– Understand the problem, learn to think logically and work with the authorities to solve it together.
– Spread awareness and take responsibility of things
– Be humane towards all creatures. This is the most important of all. Develop compassion and love.
– Slow down your life.

Stop to smile at a dog on the street. It will smile back. Show them your love and they will give it back to you.

Stray Dogs – Menace or Mute Victims [ by Sharada ]

Posted in Animals, Environment, Social Work by Ratheesh & Sharada on May 3, 2006

The trend these days seems to be “Hate Dogs!! Kill Dogs!!”. Well, everyone seems to be very happy to critisize these poor animals, which were once “Man’s best Friend”. Thats why we decided to react. Sharada took up the responsibility of writing an article which we have sent to a leading newspaper. Lets wait and watch if they publish it. Meanwhile, here it is…

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Stray Dogs – Menace or Mute Victims
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I was pained and angry to read about the attitude of people towards the stray dogs in our city. What do they expect? That the city should be swept clean of dogs and all of them taken off to some concentration camp and killed mercilessly? That animal welfare organizations are some kind of pied pipers who at the press of a button just appear out of nowhere and clear the place of dogs? I fail to understand why are they targeting their frustration towards these mute creatures? Why can’t they learn to live with them and accept these animals as a part of the community? It was even more distressing to learn that all this hue and cry was about some dogs outside their houses, which appeared to them as “ferocious”. It was not that they were bitten; it was just that they “thought” the dogs were a menace.

Consider the number of road accidents and crime committed by human beings, are these people doing anything to stop this? Or are they asking the Govt. to ban all the vehicles that caused accidents or clear up the road of all vehicles? What about the crime committed against the common man, are we killing all the criminals without giving them a chance to plead innocent? What about our own kith and kin that have cheated us, do we give them the death sentence? If not, then why the dogs? What right do we have over them that we get to decide their life, how they live to suit our whims, and when they should cease living? Is it just because they cannot speak for themselves? Or is it just our ego that we consider them lesser to us?

I am no animal activist, I am just a normal person who loves life and all creatures, irrespective of whether they are dogs, cats, buffaloes or humans and believe that we all have equal rights to live. All the animals on this earth have co-existed since ages, it is we who have entered their territory and occupied pieces of land, which we claim as ours. The animals have been kind enough to let us be. Instead of getting rid of them, why cant the people teach their kids to love animals, to make friends with the dogs, instead of building up hatred towards them?

The stray dogs are the most gentle and friendly creatures, they adapt very well to our lifestyle. Instead of complaining, why don’t these people come forward to adopt them and take care of them? They don’t have to keep them inside their marble floored houses, but at least feed them two square meals a day. Once the dogs understand that they will not be harmed, they will be extremely friendly and protect us. The children by themselves won’t hate animals; it is the parents who try to build a fear in their minds. Instead if they take initiative to be friendly and also teach the children to treat animals with love, they will not only save the helpless animals and themselves, but also build a very good value system for their children.

Just imagine, all it takes is a few kind families to come forward to adopt these animals, and there would be no “stray” dogs at all. It could be easier said than done, but it is the most simple and sensible solution that I can think of to solve this problem.

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