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February 06, 2015

Q&A With Geeta Khandelwal

Text by Huzan Tata

Discover the indigenous art of making colourful quilts through her book Godharis of Maharashtra

Godharis of Maharashtra
Geeta Khandelwal
Quilt Mania Editions  
India is known as a country of colours — whether it be our festivals, clothes or cinema, everything involves a riot of colour. Godharis of Maharashtra, Western India talks about godhari quilts made by village women in the Western state, each bedspread being more colourful and vibrant than the last. Geeta Khandelwal’s French and English coffee-table book is written like a travelogue, where she talks about her journey through Maharashtra’s interiors, discovering various kinds of godharis on the way. This one’s a great pick for those who love textiles, and one will keep going back to browsing through the pictures long after finishing the volume.

Why did you feel like the story of godharis needed to be told?  
Being a needlewoman myself, I have the experience and knowhow of the past 40 years of quilt-making in Mumbai. To understand it better, I set out to research quilt-making in India and, to my surprise, I found that the simplest quilts were made in Maharashtra, in comparison to the fine needlework decorative in Bengal (Kantha) or the vibrant embroidered Punjabi Phulkari. Godharis are made out of recycled fabrics like saris and lungis which are readily available at home.  It’s a free style of art — they use whatever material is available and intuitively a unique design appears. Each godhari tells an interesting story.

Did any experience or interaction stay with you long after you met the people?
The people were simple folk who would generally welcome us into their homes once they understood our good intentions. One tradition did stand out for me. On completion of a godhari, they fill the centre (called the stomach of the godhari) with kum-kum, raw rice seeds, haldi and jaggery, and say a prayer to the Goddess Annapurna to give them a full stomach around the year. I think this is a very humble and impressive ritual.

What difficulties did you face while on your journeys?
Our journey took us through highways as well as dirt roads, causing bumpy rides.  There was a language problem, as most people only spoke the local language — Marathi — so I would have an interpreter accompanying me. We had to build up their confidence and earn their trust to co-operate. Much depended on the seasons, weather conditions and local festivals and holidays. We sometimes had to find our way through dense forests, not knowing where we would eventually land up.

What is the most significant thing you discovered through your travels that found a place in your book?
As we travelled along, we realised that the Konkan people were Muslim; they were fisher people and had a different way of looking at things. Then in another area there were Buddhist converts, working with lotus flowers, and elsewhere we found completely different sort of quilts. They were all made out of old recycled clothes. The amazing thing is that we, who are educated and exposed, find art in that. We discover it, give them the honour and dignity, and try and understand why and how they make it. What is it that helps them make it with such detailed perfection, with no tools, no scissors, no measure tapes? It’s something we don’t understand. Yet they come out with such perfection and such beautiful colours out of simplicity, out of nothing, almost. It’s the eye — we convert it to art.

 

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