Foreign Affairs

“What time is it?”

“hmm..”, taking out the phone from the pocket, “7.50”, I tell him.

“At this time of the day, nobody would be out. If a young boy goes out, the soldiers will just take a stick and start beating. I miss Kashmir. But I don’t miss that fear. You know I come from a village. It is blacklisted. Nobody cares about us. No roads. No hospitals. No schools. And beatings if you are found by the soldiers after dark. It is only because of the cement factories near our village that people still live. These factories give some facility to the people, clinic, school etc.”

“how far is Pakistan from your place?”

“There is a short hike, and from top of a mountain you can actually see Pakistan. There is another point were you can see Afghanistan as well.”

“oh! Afghanistan? We share a border with Afghanistan? I don’t remember the map.”

” Yeah we do. Anyway the actual LOC you cannot see in most maps. One side taken  by Pakistan. Another by China. China takes a few kilometers everyday. You don’t believe me?”

“Why wouldn’t I? I know India is far less aggressive. But few kilometers everyday?”

“Yeah because India does not know where the actual LOC is. So China takes advantage. You know kashmiri people don’t need visa to visit China. Chinese consider Kashmir as theirs. You just need a passport. If the address in your passport is in Kashmir, you can just walk in. Infact whenever chinese tourists come, most of them take me out for Pizza :).”


This is the second part of the series of conversations I have had with a Kashmiri friend of mine. You can read the first part here called Sales.




“I have always wanted to see this place from inside. Finally”, I said smiling.

“This is a much smaller shop. If you see my MG Road showroom it is 5 times bigger.”

“Oh… what is in that small room?”, I asked moving towards it.

“Sit. First what will you have, coke, tea…Indian tea haan!”

“Tea will be nice”, I said settling into the chair.

He went outside to a nearby cafe, while I waited for him in the chair, looking around. He was back in 5 minutes.

Between us was a glass showcase in which scores of jewellery gleamed. Rings, lockets, semi precious stones, crystals.

“This looks beautiful,” I said pointing to a oxidized silver locket.

“This is unique. You see this ring, I can get it made from my jeweller. I just have to call him, and tell him the model  number. He will make an exact replica. But not this. This is from a collection. If I sell it. It is gone. I don’t know how to get another one.”

“Who buys these then?,” I asked.

“There are people who are specialists. They travel around buying things and adding to the collections. They come to shops like us and then sell us there entire collection. For example, one guy brought me these tibetan jewellery 3 years ago. I have sold almost 80% of it. Only these 6 pieces remain. I have tried finding them again. But impossible. ”

There was a a red coral oblong like a tablet, with silver inscription of some tibetan text.

“It says Om Mani Pad Mani Om,” he said. “This hear is lapis lazuli. It comes from Afghan.” He pointed to another oval stone with just a tibetan Om in silver.

“How much is this?” I asked pointing to one of them.

“This here is 3350. This smaller one is 1850.”

“I love this one. I might come some day to get it. Not today though. Sorry I am wasting your time.”

“No no. You are my friend,” he said, sounding 100% genuine.

“Are most indian customers like me?”

“It depends. People from Coimbatore have lots of money. Once a lady came and bought 6 pashmina shawls. She was a professor. Very old. Didn’t even bargain. If I say the real price for harem pants, 350, then they will say, “Bhaiyya, kam keejiye na. Real price batayiye.” I don’t entertain. They can go to other shops where they will first say 500, and then finally give for 350. You know sometimes real good people come. Once a german guy came. As soon as he entered, he put his finger to his lips. “Shhh…” he said. Don’t say anything. Then he started picking up things from here. There. Shawl. Meditation bowl. The bill came out 60k. He paid with card. And forgot his card when he left. Good thing he had mentioned the guest house he was staying. I took it back. He hugged me when I gave him the card back.  He came back the next year he was here. ”

“Don’t you go to your other shop, the MG Road one?, I asked.

“That is run by my uncle. You know. He has a different style. He is a very good salesman. I have a different style. I don’t try to sell. I make friends. Once a guy came and asked to see chess sets. I asked him whether he would like to play. We played. You know make friends. Offer tea. Thats how I sell.”


This is the first part of a series of posts I will be writing based on my conversations with a Kashmiri friend who has a handicrafts showroom. I can vouch for this guy, if anyone coming to Auroville wants to do some handicraft shopping. Hot indian chai guaranteed :).

UPDATE- You can read the second part of the series here called – Foreign Affairs.


The warm rug

I was sitting there feeling the warmth of the wollen rug beneath me, and the lukewarm terracota tumbler with milk in my hand.
“Bhai, ye chatai kis cheez ki bani hai?”, I asked Jatan Bhai.

“kaun sa ye..? ye jungli gyag ke baal ka bana hai. meri miseej ne banaya hai.”, he said, smiling proudly.

“Gyag? kaun sa janwar hai.”

“arey vo hota hai na gaay jaisa, bade sije vala. jiske lambe lambe baal hota hai”

“Yak..?”, I asked

“haan haan vahi. paltoo yak ke bhi baal milta hai. par ye jungli gyag ka hai.”

I was amazed. How did they find wool from a wild yak. I asked him.

“ye toh secret hai :D…”

“pleeeze bataiye na bhaaai….mein kisi ko nahi bataaunga.” puppy eyes and all ..

“Achha suno. Faalgun ke maheene mein hi hota hai. Us maheene mein hi ye gyag kafi thande hote hain. Inka saal ka poora chakkar chalta hai na. Ashwin ke maheene mein ye garm hote hain. Pichli baar toh mera ek dost hai Dhhuni. Uske shareer pe bahut baak hain. Ek baar davaai lene hum log oopar gaye they..toh ek gyag kahin se aake Dhhuni pe savaar ho gaya. HAA hAA hAa hAa.
aur fir 6 maheene baad phalgun mein bahut hi shant. Mein jab bacha thha tab toh jaake gyagni ke dood bhi pee leta thha.”

“Ye gyagni ka doodh hai?” I asked wondering at the sweet milk I was having.

“arey na na…ye toh vo sardaar apne bhains lekar aaye hain ludhiana se. Yahin milti hai na hari ghaans garmi mein.”

“Achha. haan toh vo phalgun mein…..?”

“Haan. Pehle toh hum log aisa gyag dhoondte hain jiska baal humey chahiye. Ye alag alag rang ke hote hain . kale , bhoore , laal, safed. Uske baad humse se jiska bhi gala sabse achha rehta hai..vo ye gana gate hain. aap ye youtube pe dekh sakte hain.”

“koi aisee sundar bandee nahi rehti vahan. bus hum teen char dost aur vo gyag.”

“aapke gane se kya hota hai? ” I asked wondering.

“Arey ye gana shayad gyag ko lori jaisa lagta hai. Humare purkon ne pata nahi ye kaise khoja. Kai peedhiyon se hum log yahi gana gate hain, gyag ko sulane ke liye.”

“Toh gyag so jaati hai?”

“Haan so jaati hai. khurrate maark ke. aur bus hum chakoo se uske baal kaat lete hain. Har 2 baal lene pe hum ke baal chhod dete hain. Usey nanga karna bhi sharafat nahi na.”

Jatan bhai is planning to soon start selling a couple of these rugs every year. Please keep an eye out for link to that rug selling on a site, that I might soon share.


Nobody Knows

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any living or dead people is entirely coincidental.


I had arrived a day before, but felt like a veteran, riding the official ride of aurovillians, the TVS moped. It wouldn’t go any faster, and I was dangerously close to missing my lunch. My guest house served all three meals, strictly at 7 am, 1 pm and 7pm. Avoiding the potholes and swerving to avoid the goats, I saw her waving, apparently at me. The wave changed into a thumb pointing to the direction I was going. She was dressed in loose cottons and manali pants, and you could mistake her for a spanish tourist. A pretty spanish girl who looks indian. I braked my moped to a halt and then noticed a baby near her, playing on the ground. He was covered all over his body in blue stripes.

“Ink?”, I asked her pointing towards the boy.

“Yeah must be..he was playing with another kid, and I had taken my eyes off them just for a minute….and when I noticed, both of them were covered like this.”

“Let me take my bag in front”, said I, letting them onto my moped.

“Are you living in the village?”, she asked.

“Village? I don’t know, I am staying at the Cheruze guest house. You know near the Mother’s market.”

“How much do they charge?”

“750 per day, but they include three meals and a wifi connection.”

“ohh..that is too expensive for me. I won’t be able to afford that.”

“Where are you put up now?”, I asked.

“I am looking for a cheap place, you know I don’t have much money.”

“Are you sharing it with someone?”, she asked.

“No, staying alone. It is expensive for me as well. I have booked only for 10 days. Will search for some other place, meanwhile.”

“Do you have any friends there?”

“Not yet, I know a few people, but not friends yet. I came only yesterday, you know”, I said.

“Oh”, she said, the tone of which I took as ‘oh you don’t know how to go about living in this place. Staying alone! Imagine!!’

I sensed that she wanted me to ask her if she wants to share a room with me. And suddenly I started imagining things, dirty nappies, standing in line for vaccine shots, waiting for the baby to sleep in the small single room I had, every night, and on and on. She wasn’t asking me to marry her, fuck she hadn’t even asked aloud if I wanted to share a room. Couldn’t she get a job, with her fluent english and sauve ways, if she needed money.

“What do you do in Auroville?”, I finally asked.

“I am a teacher. I was working as a teacher with the Tamil Nadu government. And then he got born, and I lost my job.”

“Oh wow..same pinch, I haven’t earned anything in the last few years. Living on my savings”, said I, hoping to establish that I was no rich corporate honcho, the modern landlord’s son.

Meanwhile the boy got excited and started jumping between us.

“He seems to be having fun”, I said.

“Yeah he does this everytime we are on a bike. He is calm in a car, but on a two wheeler, he feels like he is the one riding it. Soon he will go to prep school, or kg school or no school, since I have no money.”

Meanwhile my guest house neared. And it was with a mix of guilt and shame that I stopped my moped at the turn which takes me to my guest house. I felt the hot summer sun pouring down on us, mainly on them. What made it even worse was something she had said when she sensed that I was about to stop and say ‘bye bye’.

“I don’t know where we are headed”, she muttered anxiously.

“Does anybody”, I thought, as I raced my moped, without looking back.


Leather Chappal

Tried my hands at sewing a chappal with my hands. The leather was again from a scrap leather dealer in Ghee Kanta,  Ahmedabad. The sole is reclaimed tyre rubber. The best thing about custom made footwear is that it fits like a glove :D.


The cheap awl I was using had a plastic handle which came off very soon. Used MSeal  for making the awl handle. Embedded it with seed from the manjadi, the bead tree, and some other baubles I had lying around. This also gives it added grip.


Skull totem

totem Skull


Fascinated by mexican skulls, carved this out of coconut shell, using hand tools.


Star of mars

Cut and polished using hand tools, off a coconut shell,  this can be worn as a pendant. The seed was picked up in Ko Chang, Thailand.

coconut shell jewellery


Sketch supply holder

leather pencil holder


I like to sketch while travelling. Most often one of my compartments of my bag has all the pencils, pens etc. But I tended to misplace it within my bag. Sewed this holder with scrap leather, with place for each individual piece of pen, pencil, blade etc.


Reggae inspired headphone


I had an old headphone lying around with a busted mike. The audio was pretty good though. I used some scrap leather I had around and sheathed the speakers with it to give it some renewed oomph. The soft suede leather feels good to my ears. The future version will have detachable covers for washing.



Dastangoi – Kabirnama

One of my friends, watsapped me. A friend of hers was doing a recitation of Kabir in Mumbai. I was headed towards Mumbai from Ahmedabad, after completing a 10 day workshop in mud house building. That post is still waiting to be written and posted. I am twisting my arms right now, just for delaying that. But this post should not wait.

From SMSing how to get into the concert, and asking my friend whether “I was ankit ka dost evam do saathi”, or “Hum ankit ke dost hain”, would work at the gate. We were slightly late. The show had started. And there sitting on the stage was Beerbal telling a story about two girls named Satya and Kahani. For a moment I felt like King Akbar collectively with the rest of the audience, listening to Beerbal solve a cause. So fine a salesmanship it was, that it was very easy to forget, that you were being sold. Sold the philosophy of prem. But how would you sell ‘prem’ without seduction. And it was an act of seduction. The audience moaned collectively with vaah vaah. The symmetry between the philosophy of kabir, with the bhava on his face, was yang and yin.

Picture courtesy Ankit

I had read Kabeer earlier, here and there…once or thrice. I found them profoundly common sensical learnings. I was seeing him today in a new light. One of softly yellow lightings, and smartly dressed, tasteful crowd. There was no hint of NCPA snobbery at the Yashwant Chawan Auditorium.  The stewards were old, gentle, government employees, who pulled open doors and showed you the way.

Unfortunately couldn’t meet Ankit because his was phone was on silent. Will keep an eye out for him.