THE BEST PEOPLE ARE MET BY CHANCE
Work on the second collection was coming to a close when a chance opportunity presented itself to meet a Khadi maker in India in late 2019. It was too good to take a pass on.
Or, was it?
Andy and I caught the 5am train to Moradabad so we’d arrive for 9am.
We didn’t go to bed until 11 the night before. We thought we had enough time to accomplish our objectives and be back in Delhi in time to travel on to Jaipur. We got up at four and were at the station with time to spare.
“Hi, It’s Alice - we’re here”
“Hello? Who is this?”
“It’s Alice. We’re here. Where are you?”
“What do you mean?”
“We arranged to meet. Remember?
Our train just arrived. Wondering where you are, or if you’re running late?”
There was a long pause
“Oh No! No-no-no-no! Oh God… I’m out of town”.
“ Erm, what?!”
“Yeah-I’m out of town”.
“But, we arranged to meet. Our train back to Delhi isn’t-”
“-Are you Indian?”.
“No. We’re from the UK”.
“Oh no! Terrible mistake. I’m so sorry Ma’am. One mom-”.
The line goes dead.
Fantastic. I’d never been to Moradabad. This was all new. By now a small, but not insignificant, crowd of onlookers had begun to form as enthralled as the visitors that stood before them.
The next train back was in three hours. Such short notice is not always quite so straightforward, as those who’ve travelled on India’s beautiful rail network will, no doubt, be aware.
The phone rings.
The man explains that the maker is going to meet us in his stead - he would meet us at a road junction an hour and a half away.
This was clearly not the ‘minor’ detour either of us were envisioning.
This was starting to look a little risky at this point.
A second-wind of enthusiasm carried us to a nearby ATM.
Great. The ATM is KO’d. Out of action.
At this point we honestly considered turning back. You know, maybe this isn’t supposed to be. Should we just cut our losses and turn back?
Stubbornness compelled me to phone the man again.
We’re going to get in this taxi, the driver knows where to drop us if you explain it to him. We have no cash - the ATM is broken here and we don’t know how we’re going to get back.
The man hesitated.
“…Ok. Don’t worry - I’ll pay the weaver back and he will drop you off later.”
“Ok. I mean, are you sure?
“Yes. Don’t worry Ma’am - all will be taken care of”.
I put the the phone down and turned to Andy.
We’re here now. Fuck it. Let’s go.
After this was confirmed we hopped in the taxi and proceeded to meander down a long road straddled with luscious green jungle on either side. An occasional community farmer could be seen tending to their land.
We drove until the ride came to halt shortly after turning off a main road on to a dirt track. Here was an intersection, a shop or two and a patch of earth housing a handful of stray dogs whose intrigue had just been piqued.
After 20 minutes or so a car pulls up. A man emerges and introduces himself as Ali.
Ali ushers the pair to his car after paying for the taxi. Pleasantries are exchanged with the help of a little Google Translate.
At a brief pit stop cool fizzy drinks are acquired. Ali decided to make some calls.
Did he just read my mind? Did I just use telekinesis? Is this Uber?-If it was, it’s getting five stars. Personalised review. The works.
We arrived in Kiwar and were greeted by Ali’s whole family. The men greeted us and showed us through to find an array of snacks and drinks laid out. I rummaged through an array of ornate Khadi fabrics woven in varying thicknesses - A rug hewn with indigo and ruby red catches my eye displaying the raw qualities of the fibres.
We asked to see where everything was made.
It’s always a pleasure to marvel at the weaving itself. An uncle of Ali’s was weaving that day. But, we were not there solely to inspect the quality of the work. The processes are not unfamiliar to me. I understand what I’m looking for, from a technical point of view. We want to see the community, the lifestyle people enjoy, the conditions in which work is being undertaken and ensure people are being treated fairly.
As part of the impromptu tour we met several aunties of Ali’s. We showed them some of the pictures of our recent work. We sort of swapped and they showed us some of the things they had been working on recently.
Ali’s English seemed to be getting better as the environment became more relaxed as if some dormant knowledge had been reawakened. We agreed to work together and after saying our goodbyes to everyone, the three of us drove back to Moradabad.
By this point I was starving - we ordered Thali and Chana Masala with a side of giant Bhatoori for the table and broke bread.
The train chugged slowly from evening into night as we drifted back to Delhi, the tribulations of the day almost at a close.
I found an article in a newspaper. I have it to this day. It describes the life of the railway and the people whose lives are intimately connected to its life.
“…There is this damned tiger that turns up every two or three days after the last night train departs at 11pm…he will hang out below that lamp at the far end of the platform.”
I suppose the tiger was at least one tribulation we managed to avoid that day.
- Written by Howard Ghaus