The months between July and September bring rains to Nirona village of the Kutch region in Gujarat. Along with the monsoon come hordes of college students wanting to experience, through craft workshops, a slice of the ancient Rogan art of fabric printing. The pandemic has made the village go silent, with no students or researchers. When a centuries-old tradition of hand painting on cloth, Rogan art — practised by the Khatris — affected, members struggled to stay motivated., managing to stay connected digitally. The Khatris are the surviving custodians of the art form. During the first phase of lockdown, the Khatris collaborated with India Craft Week, Delhi and Paramparik Karigaar Mumbai showcasing their collection in online exhibitions.
Jabbar Arab Khatri, nephew of Padma Shri awardee Abdul Gafoor Khatri, and one of the young torchbearers of the art says, “The dyes take time to dry during the monsoon, so we are indoors working with designs.” He is happy with the online initiative. “Although there were no sales, we had many enquiries for our products and workshops; some of them have promised to get back once normalcy returns,” he says.
A word of Persian origin, Rogan means oil. Jabbar explains the cloth printing process: “Castor oil is heated and cast into cold water and the thick residue is then mixed with natural colours. Then, using a stylus or blocks, this resultant paint is meticulously transferred on to a cloth to make floral, animal (peacock) and geometric patterns. The weather and density of the mix play an important role. Colours and freehand motifs look attractive.”
In the last few weeks, Jabbar has made a few Rogan art wall pieces on the masks for COVID-19. One of the sketches was given by Mubarka Nandarbarwala, an National Institute of Fashion and Interior Designing, Mumbai (NIIFD) student after his Instagram session. He shares, “Since students couldn’t come here for workshops, it was a nice opportunity to present our historic art to them,” NIIFD teacher Rosie Bose calls it an effort to introduce different art practices to the students. “Executing Rogan art by learning online is tough but once they are exposed to the crafts component, maybe later, we can take these students to Nirona for a workshop. Since they have already been introduced to the art, learning directly from these artisans will be a fascinating experience. Budding fashion designers could bring fresh ideas and help in sustaining the art and make it relevant in the fashion industry.”
Masks with Rogan art
Delhi-based designer Vanshika Gupta is currently working on incorporating Rogan art and also Soof embroidery in her designs. Her masks with Rogan art were launched two months ago. With a love for Rogan that began in her college days, she visited Nirona two years ago and created her graduation collection based on these crafts.“It is the most unique hand-painted style. I learnt the craft from Abdul Gafoor bhai (Abdul Gafoor Khatri) and Jabbar bhai (Jabbar Khatri). The crafting process of this textile art looks complex but is amazing. The handmade freestyle drawings have imperfections but the beauty lies in those abstract lines. Its quirky prints can only be done on cotton or silk.” Currently, Vanshika has 10 women from Nirona working on her new collection.
Nirona’s tourist season begins mid-September, the period preceding Dasara and Deepavali, the major festivals before winter sees tourists flock to the village. As cities slowly relax restrictions, artisans look ahead with hope. Adds Jabbar, “I heard that the Rann Utsav might happen in the first week of November. If the pandemic ends by then, we can hope to slowly regain our lives.”