“Every local knows their city in a unique way. Learning from them is the best way to connect to a new place,” says Lucrenzia Senesi, a Business Administration student at Northwestern University, and founder of the website EXPLORAC.
My ongoing undergraduate studies in Textile Designing usually takes me to local remote pockets to study various traditional handicrafts and indigenous art styles. Born in a segment of the society that is somewhat economically privileged and being pampered by the virtue of being the only child to my parents, the idea of visiting villages and locations that aren’t often frequented and catered to by the tourism department is usually greeted with a tinge of initial hesitation and disapproval.
So when one day, my professor walked in the class and announced that this semester we’d be visiting craft clusters in various villages near Bhuj, Gujarat, as required by the curriculum, I admit I wasn’t as excited as the rest of the class. In my defence, we were to reach the decided venue exactly three days after the conclusion of the famous Rann Mahotsav. However, the amount of fun and inspiration I were to be hit by over the four-day trip, was not something I could have ever thought of.
I interacted with the artisans who’ve mastered their respective crafts as per traditions passed down from generation to generation. I played hopscotch with the boys, braided the girls’ hair, sat with the women while they cooked local delicacies for us, and heard folk tales and nostalgic stories from the elders of the family. I laughed and learned. And suddenly, there was no difference between them and me. My Hilfiger jacket appeared to fade before their soiled clothes, and their warm smiles and courteous hospitality melted the initial discontent away.
In the arid lands of Kuttch, I witnessed a mosaic of exquisiteness- a myriad combination of colours and culture, dancing elegantly on the faces and textile alike. And with that I realised that the fabrics they weave don’t just consist of threads – they’re woven with legacies, traditions, and various stories shared amongst the artisans at its various stages of inception.
What I also realised is that no tour package booked online could have provided me with the same cultural impact as interacting with the locals did. Anyone can rote-memorise the cultural backgrounds and back alleys of a settlement for a commercial end-user. However, having someone to interact with whose sole motive is aimed at the cultural exchange is the real experience.