Aniruddha and Swati Saha are in their 30s and look like any regular metro-marrieds. He’s a Bengali from Nabadwip (birthplace of the Vaishnava saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu) and her family came over during Partition from Multan (her father’s from Jhang in Pakistan, hometown of the sufi Sultan Bahu). They met as students in the Delhi College of Art & Commerce and dated for seven years before they got married (it’s been 15 years of togetherness now). Aniruddha worked in events management and Swati in textiles, in the manufacture of branded garments.
A year ago, the couple was overtaken by deep existential angst.
“Burnout or what?” they thought but didn’t quite know how to re-jig their lives.
Until Aniruddha went to his hometown Nabadwip and found himself looking at the local pottery, textiles and painting with a fresh eye…
That’s when he and Swati decided to set up ‘Maati’, their contemporary craft product label, linking their city lives with that of the urban and rural poor. Today they retail their cotton-knit tee shirts at eight urban outlets.
Their ‘guzara’ (getting-by) comes from Aniruddha’s commercial work as a graphic designer. This allows them to combine idealism and practicality by developing products that use traditional crafts for contemporary use. Call it second-gen Tilonia.
Basically a slice of India tries to make a viable connect with a slice of Bharat that does not pervert that Bharat but lets it choose how it wants to ‘develop’. Take, for instance, the tyrewala Chanchal Mitra. He lifted tyres all day and fixed punctures in a Nabadwip repair shop. The daily ‘prabhat pheris’ in Nabadwip made him restless with the longing to express his soul.
One day he told Aniruddha that he wanted to paint. And the first artwork that sprang out of him was a vivid portrait of a Baul on the carefully chosen ink-drinking fabric provided by Swati with her professional textile knowledge. Maati had a product. A product, moreover, that got softer the more it was worn, thanks to its special enzyme-wash.
Yet another Maati artist is Jagannath, a fabric painter who lives in Ganganagar village near Nabadwip Dham (town). He lives in a thatched hut and works by a kerosene lalteen (lantern). Or else, there’s Bahamoni, a Santhal tribal artist from Lohar Dangi village, Jalpaiguri district, West Bengal.
Two rivers, the aiti and the Jharna, flow close by Bahamoni’s house. And in the bamboo grove between them, Bahamoni tries to convey the beauty of her land on rice paper and Maati tee shirts. Another Aniruddha, also from Nabadwip, paints fabric too and teaches his techniques to other local artists. This Anirudda, says the urban Aniruddha, likes to sit by the great mother river, the Ganga, and listen to the boatmen’s songs, which he then tries to ‘recite’ in paint on the tee shirts.
Maati has also begun promoting the clay dolls of Krishnanagar, a 300-year-old craft that could do with a lift. Personally, I think they should go have a big sale in Madras before Navaratri, when people set up nine steps with clay dolls from everywhere, to celebrate the Creator’s creation. I bought two seriously cool tees. If you’d like to check out Maati’s stuff, mail firstname.lastname@example.org