Mirrors of Metal, Mats on cycles, Nature for free….
This has been the most difficult article to word till now. What could the two partners in business and wanderlust, in search of handicrafts visiting God’s own land, say about the place that has not already been told? That is what Kerala does to you. It leaves you gobsmacked, without a single word that could do it justice. Our journey to Kerala from Mysore took us through the serene forests of Bandipur. Spring was on the forest and wild flowers in bloom intercepted with the lush green foliage and the chequered sunlight on the forest road made it quite the experience.
And then Kerala was upon us. Our journey took us right across the entire state, to the deepest end. On the way in a single day’s journey we passed through misty hillsides, lush plains and mesmerizing backwaters and busy little towns all along the same highway. Kerala that way spoils you with excesses! When we reached our first destination, Aranmula , the quaint town immediately caught our attention for the stretches of backwater that surrounds it and makes it famous for the yearly snake-boat races.
Aranmula is known for a metal casted hand or wall mirror referred to as Aranmula Kanadi. While we had seen pictures of the same during our research we had no idea of the fascinating story behind. Mirrors made here are pure metal mirrors, casted and polished, in a secret process known only to 4 original artisan family lines. The mirrors throw a perfect reflection (no refraction unlike regular mirrors) and have a very regal look because of the heavy brass ring and cast within which it is held.
The designs are mostly traditional. We met the three daughters of the late K N Gopalakrishnan, who is considered a visionary artist for getting this guarded, nearly non-existent handicraft gem to the consumer market during his lifetime. Today Sindhu, Bindu and Indu, his three able and immensely talented daughters are taking the glory ahead and explained to us the history, mythology, casting, fitting and polishing process for these timeless mirrors. It was a pleasure to meet them and others in this area and know more about the mirror and it’s secrets.
Our next stop was the sleepy village of Thazhava. By far this was the most interior we had come. The village roads were unyielding and not a single person initially understood what we are looking for . But then, somewhere out of nowhere “Chetha” (Means “brother” in Malayalam the language spoken in Kerala) appeared and behind him on his rickety cycle he had a bunch of our reason to visit stacked up – the mats!! A difficult but extremely interesting sign language conversation later we figured the story. Mats made here out of screw pine have their own speciality. They are knitted only in a transverse twist and always have two separate pieces for the front and back stitched together. They are soft, pliable and last for generations. They also look extremely earthy, are eco friendly and have a very unique texture and feel. Chetha (we never figured out his actual name) also told about how the entire village knits mats in their free time and puts them together for trade. He also offered us some tender coconut, a mat made by himself and a big toothless smile of reassurance, before he vanished off again.
For now our Kerala stint came to an end, just like that! Kerala does not excite you or pump you up. It calms you down, soothes your soul, takes care of you like a gentle friend and asks you sit, open your eyes to nature’s abundance, fill in her fresh air in your lungs and experience the pure joy that life has to offer! For us and our craft discoveries Kerala was not just a pit-stop but also a place to sit in peace and wake up to possibilities. A place which, for a couple of days, took away our restlessness and gave us a strange sense of calm and a feeling of selfless simple joy!