The germ of this idea started four months ago for Shiva Kumar who had attended a hand-spinning workshop in Melkote (near Mysore) organised by Jana Pada Seva trust.
Based out of Bangalore, Shiva Kumar saw the Chennai Seed Festival that happened in June 2017 as a platform to gather people exploring alternatives, whom were more likely to apply to such a workshop. Gather he did. About 120 people expressed interest who were contacted and a good percentage of the participants were these.
Hosting a web portal ‘My Wellness Game’ exploring healthy eating habits for the past 18 months himself, Shiva thought it might be a good idea to integrate this with spinning. Also, his search for his question of ‘Where did my father go’? when he lost him in his early teens, led him to explore the science and influence of nakshatras, rasis, the concept of space and time as embodied in the Tamil literature- the patterns that have been discernible to him, verifying the theory.
So, all in all, it proved to be a dynamic package of spinning, exploring healthy eating habits combined with exploring the concepts of space and time through tree hugging, sun gazing and music with like-minded people- which was ensured by the elaborate registration process for this workshop.
Madhav Sahasrabuddhe, a former mechanical engineer based out of Pune, who has dedicated his life now to teaching hand-spinning to people across the country agreed to teach in this workshop. Shiva was aided by his good friend, Ganeshram - a naturalist - in his wellness sessions.
The registration process was a tough one where a minimum commitment to spin for 3 months post the workshop was insisted upon as a criterion for participation. Shiva felt that spinning enables emotional wellness and also possibly works through emotional entanglements. He also felt that it can be an activity of contentment coupled with the ability to create one’s own dress leading to sustainability. So was there an insistence on having fruits only for breakfast during the workshop. The believed principle being that our blood stream is predominantly alkaline in its natural state. And the ingestion of fruits maintains that balance leading to health and preserving of it. The ‘five whites’- namely white rice, wheat, processed oils, sugar and refined salt, milks and milk products were to be avoided. Those who agreed to these were taken to the next level of registration.
It became imperative to include as much as possible organically grown foods which included sourcing organically grown rice & cold pressed oils apart from the fruits from an organic store. In this case, a store called ‘ReStore’.
Now, choosing the venue was another winding process in itself - Dakshin Chitra, Kalakshetra foundation, Theosophical Society and Spaces were some options. Close to an hour of talk with the general secretary of The Theosophical Society convincing her that spinning can be a spiritual practice, the place was given.
The quiet, verdant atmosphere being well within the city, close to the beach seemed to be perfect for a contemplative work such as spinning while eating sattvic foods and forming emotional bonds.
"The idea began with me wanting to learn the art of making my own clothes in a way that supported farmers' and weavers' livelihoods," says Shiva. What began as a personal goal soon grew into a community of 20, all of whom spin regularly and continue to share their practice and learning with each other. "We have spun over 10,000 metres of yarn in the last 30 days as a group and we need to do 30,000 metres to be ready to make our own clothes," he adds.
The workshop started on the 4th of August 2017 at 4 pm where everyone gathered at the Youth Lodge inside the venue, right next to a huge baobab tree. It was a sufficiently large, rectangular hall with cement flooring and high Mangalore-tiled roofing with mats neatly laid out - a grand old building from the 1920s.
"We have spun over 10,000 metres of yarn in the last 30 days as a group and we need to do 30,000 metres to be ready to make our own clothes."
A brief round of introductions of each participant of their name and what they do was followed by Madhavji showing us the different ways of getting yarn from cotton- the various tools used- the best ones, the easy ones, the transition from the heavy charkha to the light, travel one. The various parts of the charkha were identified and the fixtures, demonstrated. The means of making puni or sliver (a cylindrical piece of cotton amicable to spinning) from a native variety of cotton called Akola 7 from Maharashtra was shown. Madhavji made it look like a song when he spun and off started a flurry of activities around the room. People diligently engaged with their little travel charkhas- getting the spindle in position, checking if the wheels spin smoothly etc.
Slowly but surely the cotton transformed into thread' some as thick as wicks, some as thin as a spider web’s - the tango between drawing of the cotton and the spinning of the wheel was taking its time. Some learnt this balance quicker and their spindles filled up. Some took their time. Sighs of frustration when the thread kept breaking were alternated with beams of satisfaction of having finished a puni. Some simply stopped and watched others spin. Some diligently stuck to their charkhas even if it wasn’t being benign. Some roamed about.
Every day it was four hours of spinning. Two hours in the morning followed by a rice kanji break and the rest was post lunch.
Breakfast of fruits was served as early as seven in the morning and dinner was at seven in the evening with lunch at half past noon, in a large hall close to one of the surviving clusters of the Great Banyan.
The wellness habits session started with an orientation programme - orienting the human species within the larger context of the millions of others that we share earth space and time with. Once this insignificance was established as to how in the last few decades- which is almost nothing in comparison to the geological age – the health care system is blossoming and as to why- the stage was set for thinking about food habits being followed by one and all. The world that we live in today, is disconnected with our nature and almost everything we see around us has been designed by human beings, to the extent that most of us forget that we are only a tiny dot in relation to the remaining beings on the planet. The objective of this activity was only so that we start seeing ourselves as a tiny segment in the larger scheme of lifeforms on the planet. And only when this tone is set can we start to looking to nature to find answers to various puzzles.
The subsequent sessions of wellness led one through understanding and acknowledging different healthy and unhealthy habits in each. In a frequently asked question about the intake of proteins, carbohydrates and fats and their apparent absence in fruits, Ganesh took the group through cell biology and making known that every living cell contains all of the above and by that, every fruit does contain the essentials but in varying lesser degrees.
The final session aimed to provide a sort of framework upon which to build one’s healthy habits.
A walk to the beach on two mornings and two evenings through the moist jungle of Theosophical Society, while having interesting conversations among spinners, watching the sea, getting wet in the water by some, made for a memorable experience.
On the second day of the workshop, sensitising one’s hearing by listening to sounds of nature under the Banyan was followed by two friends playing on their guitar - Ganesh and Nikhil, impromptu - gauging each other’s tempo, matching it, challenging it, following it and flowing with it to a background of sounds created by the group sitting around them. The experience was moving.
This energetic session was soon followed by the ‘cosmic play’ one, to understand the construct of time in days, weeks and months and the qualities of each day according to the Tamil Calendar. Shiva ended this session with a flourishing ‘ thus there is neither space nor time and it is all a cycle’.
On the third day of the workshop, right after the afternoon session of spinning, where many hanks were already being knotted and kept, Sudha, a member of Safe Food Alliance spoke about the current GM mustard issue and BT cotton. In the middle of this talk, there was a sudden turn of events and about seven or more in the group agreed on growing a native variety of cotton called Karunganni. Two groups emerged- one that was simply ready to sow the seeds and experiment and another that wanted to tread the tried and tested scientific way and then sow.
By this time a good banter had developed between the participants.
The last day of the workshop started with a banana meal and lack of water for performing ablutions (for some time) which got rectified soon enough and the team visited ‘Kripa’ in Sriperumbudur, a home for the mentally challenged who have been weaving and creating small handicraft items for some years now.7th August happened to be ‘National Handloom day’ and it proved to be a good experience. The possibility of giving the completed hanks by the spinners to this centre was explored and it was an affirmation.
Under a peepal tree in the garden, Sivaraj from Wrukshatone, an organic dyeing unit based out of Erode gave a talk on the different types of natural dyes used by them and the various complex processes involved. It was a highly informative talk.
After an excellent lunch and a return to the venue to bring to completion the four day event or as someone mentioned ‘it is not a completion but only a continuation’- a written feedback of the whole event was underway. Following was the acknowledgements that well continued for over an hour. There was a sense of well-being by the end of it all, with a final group photo.
The telling of the workshop experience would be incomplete without the mention of Maansi , a five year old and Aninila, a six year old - both home schooled children who were a joy to watch and made their presence known by engaging all by themselves in and around the venue being in their own world, accessible to some fortunate adults.
Photographs by Alarmelu Valli.
Maya is an architect by profession but she now teaches pre-teens having undergone the Montessori course. She is based out of Chennai.