Crafts

Grass becomes a designer's medium

GIVING NEW SHAPE TO REED: Colourful array at the fair. Photo: R. Ragu  

Their crafts often have the fresh fragrance of grass and reed, cane and bamboo and the natural beauty of stone out of which they craft a whole range of lifestyle products unique to the North-East. The process looks deceptively simple but each craft tradition has years of hard learnt nuanced hand skills, innovation and a sensitive response to the rhythms of nature.

Watch Sapan Kumar Dey deftly demonstrate how to craft the beautiful ‘Sitalpatti' mats out of grass which grows abundantly on the banks of the Bramhaputra River. His amazingly dexterous hands are the loom and the various minimalistic designs are executed by counting the split grass, arranging them as per the requirement of the design and weaving them together.

Sitalpatti means mat which is ‘cool' both for searing summer days in the country side and as interior designer statements. Sapan learnt his craft from his parents and his whole family is involved in the craft. Today it is his passion. He says, “We cut the grass from the banks of the river for 10 months in a year barring the rainy season. Then we dry the grass and split it after which it is soaked for four hours to remove impurities. This is followed by another round of soaking, for 24 hours. Thereafter the grass is boiled for two hours and dried. Now it is ready to be woven. The grass that is not boiled is darker in colour and is used as a contrast to create designs.” Dey holds up a soft, textured and patterned five ft by seven ft. Sitalpatti mat which he has designed. It took him a month to create this.

Wall hangings, hand bags, shopping bags and footwear also form part of his collection on view at the North East Crafts Fair currently on at Valluvarkottam.

Also part of grass creativity on view is Suresh Bonjag's Birinda grass screens, runners and wall hangings. These are woven in strips of varying sizes and then stitched together with bright bands of cloth to make attractive folding mats, curtains, screens, etc. Says Suresh “I am a tribal and learnt the craft from an NGO. I love working with grass”.

Unique product

Another unique product on offer at the fair is Longpi stone pottery from Manipur. The grey black cooking pots, kettles, books, mugs, etc. are handcrafted by the Tangkhul Naga tribe by crushing and mixing the locally available weather rock and serpentine stones. Tribal potter Presley explains how. According to her the shaping of the pottery is done entirely by hand with the help of moulds. Once the pots are hard and dry they are heated in coal for up to five to seven hours to reach 900 degrees C. While still hot, the pottery is taken out and rubbed with the locally grown ‘machee' leaf. The pots and dishes have amazingly contemporary shapes. They are gas and microwave friendly. Says Presley “Our entire village of Longpi has been making these pots from ancient times to the present day. Every household designs its own pots in which the entire cooking is done.”

Naga shawls, handmade flowers, cane and bamboo basketry, vases and trays, cane furniture from Assam, kuana grass mats and cushions, and textiles from Assam and Manipur are other North Eastern crafts on offer at the exhibition. Sponsored by the Development Commissioner (Handicrafts), Ministry of Textiles, Govt. of India, the fair is on till January 29.

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Printable version | May 18, 2021 5:52:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/arts/crafts/Grass-becomes-a-designers-medium/article13372170.ece

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