I’d Dye For You…

We walked endlessly into the tiny market lanes from the Clock Tower. The locals call it Ghanta Garh. Unfortunately, the clock is a modern type, nothing about it suggests history.

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There’s a frenzied air about this market. The narrow lane has clusters for various ware- bangles, jewellery, tobacco, dupattas, dyers, fabric, utensils, beaders, farsan, spices…
After Jaisalmer, Jodhpur is huge, crowded, urban, chaotic, colorful.
So colorful it stuns the eyes. In the best way possible.
It’s easy to see why these colors came into favour. When the landscape is dusty, brown, colorless, these bright colors infuse life.
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We have never seen hues as deep as those that Jodhpur drapes. Every pink is the deepest pink in the ‘rani pink’ palette, every red is the deepest ‘surkh laal’  that can be brought about on cotton. Yellows are more basant than basant itself.

The dyers are soaked in their skill. The colors they mix are with the measurement of mixing that their ancestors have done for seven hundred years or more.
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The Tie- Dye techniques- Bandhej, Leheriya etc- of dying cloth are said to go back five thousand years.
The discovery of dyes dates to ancient times, with the discovery that colours could be extracted from different parts of plants, leaves and flowers.
The art of tie and dye was a part of trade during the period of early trading. Historians suggest that the art was brought to India by Muslim Khatris from Sindh, who introduced it in Kutch.
Even today, the Muslim Khatris are the largest community involved in the tie and dye business.

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I meet Salma as she sits outside her home dying an odhni in a shade of  pink. She has a steel bowl in front of her she uses to mix the exact amount of chemical dye to get the exact shade she needs as a match for the accompanying lehenga.
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This is her story:
My grand father came from a family of famous dyers. The family only dyed turbans for noblemen and the royalty. They were so in demand around the Teej, Dusshera and Diwali festivals that they were often forced to go without sleep.
Hiring help from outside the family was not feasible because only natural dyes from plants, flowers, pulses and minerals were used. How to mix them to a particular hue had been secrets the family preserved for generations.
Even greater was the fear of theft of precious and semi-precious gems that patrons would give their dyers to grind and mix with the natural dyes for special effects.
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Salma looks pensive when she narrates how chemical dyes and the end of princely lifestyle also brought about an end to the real art of dyeing.
“It’s just mixes now, tezaab, chemicals, that do the work. The artistry and rare perfection in the hues that my ancestors were gifted with is obsolete now. Even my brothers and I use chemical dyes. And because every nook and corner has a dyer, we barely eke out a living.”
imageThe use of chemical colors is inevitable, but the ‘naap tol’ in pallette is handed down exactly as it was.
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Shop after bursting-at-the- seams shop beams back color- every shade is brighter than the one before.
One of the bangle-seller at the foot of the Mehrangarh fort tells me-
“I cannot imagine wearing anything but the brightest shades of red and pink. They are the colors I’ve seen my mother and every woman in my family wear. It is my identity. Just as a bright pink turban is the identity of the men in our clan.”
She looks at my sky blue kurti and odhni, holds up my hands and puts “Rani” colored bangles on my wrists saying:
“Wear these. These are the colors of our land, the colors our warriors wore in their turbans to battles, and the women wore through living out their lives. These colors sifted the  wives from the widows.
You city women are scared to wear bright colors because you are scared to stand apart, scared of the attention you will draw You know it, don’t you, that these colors make even the plainest of us look beautiful.”
Of course we know it.
I look at these beautiful women sitting there trying to sell trinkets, and can’t agree more.
These colors make everything look beautiful.
Even the dusty evening haze against the rocky brown facade of the seven hundred year old fort.
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