Guest Stories: A Working Holiday at Savista
When Ling Choo Tan wrote to us from China to say that she wished to be at Savista for ten days to do block printing, and that she would prefer to drive straight here from Delhi international airport and drive straight back for her flight back to China at the end of her stay, we were impressed.
We expected to see a hard-nosed businessperson totally obsessed about getting bales of fabric printed with a view to her next sales. Was Indian block printed fabric so big in China, we wondered? Or would it be for re-exporting stitched garments, given that China was famously flooding world markets with manufactured goods?
Soon, Ling was sending us sketches of her own designs and sounding anxious about whether she would be able to see those designs realised on fabric before the end of her mere ten day stay. So we offered to get her blocks hand-carved in advance of her arrival to help her meet her target. It was sounding more and more like a business trip.
The persons who arrived – Ling and her good friend Ellie – turned out to be two very young, very charming, and totally non-business travellers. Although suffering from sleep deficit – they had checked in in the wee hours of the morning after a long drive from Delhi through the winter fog – they were up for breakfast bright eyed and bushy tailed, exploring
the grounds, asking about the trees and shrubs, and exclaiming over the birds. Breaking into irrepressible laughter every few minutes, they told us that they were actually here to pilot a new resolve: to make every vacation a new cultural experience, with some practical learning and exploration as its core. In this case, it was to learn Jaipur block printing, while living in a rural environment. The aesthetic at Savista had attracted them, as also the prospect of being in a pure natural environment, eating Indian vegetarian food, and digging deep into their micro-Indian encounter.
Although this was their first trip to India, India itself was not new to them. As Malaysian citizens of Chinese origin they had grown up in an ethnically diverse environment, and were familiar with things Indian. Besides, both were widely travelled. But how essentially – and laudably – Chinese they were, became evident very quickly as, over the next ten days, we witnessed the famous Chinese work ethic at work.
Every morning, the two young women would be out like a shot, spend the whole day at the print workshop and return only by day’s end. By the end of their stay, they had not only printed out fabric to their hearts’ content, they had also participated in the dyeing and washing of their own fabric, helped in dyeing and drying other orders that the printer was working on, and got all their output stitched and ready for use.
At our urging, they graciously even put up an exhibition of their work at Savista on the morning before their departure! Ling’s post “Blockprinting on Holiday” is a wonderful account of their working holiday, along with some pictures of her work. They limited sightseeing and shopping in Jaipur to the two half days that the master printer had declared as free days (because he had other business to attend to). And even on those two days they could not resist returning to their “workplace” in the evenings, just to gaze at their unfinished work and say hello to their work colleagues!
Although Ellie had hopped on to the trip late in its planning stage and had not arrived with her own designs, she proved just as productive as Ling, using the readymade blocks available with the printer. When she left for home, it was with beautiful accessories for her bedroom (pictured here). As a skilled photographer, she created beautiful visuals of their work, the workshop environment, the printing and dyeing processes, and the interiors of Savista, making them up into exquisite collages, some of which she has contributed to
the Savista blog in her post “WinterSavista” (see previous two posts) .