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A personal account of a visit to Pembarthy in Telangana, where the author learnt about bronze work from the local artisan, Narasimha Chari.
On the ‘Indian Crafts Map’ by Crafts Council, was a vessel shaped icon marking a tiny village as a significant craft center. After weeks of gathering information, it became clear to me that this tiny spot, along with a few others on the map of Telangana would be pivotal to my Architectural Thesis which was based on the arts, history and culture of the region.
An entailing 650Km journey from my home in Chennai, took me to that tiny yet significant spot: A village called Pembarthy.
Shrouded in layers of dust kindled by the speeding vehicles on the NH 636, Pembarthy watched the likes of me shuttle between the jubilant capital city of Hyderabad and the cultural marvel that is Warangal.
“Pembarthy Metal Handicrafts” announced a weary blue metal board in front of an antiquated building along the highway.
Holding on to my bag tightly, I stomped up the steps, hoping to announce my presence. Reaching the foyer, my ‘thuds’ drowned in an ubiquitous passivity and I noticed a wall filled by photographs. A little away, through the gap between two tall doors, a gleam of beautiful silverware escaped from a display room and I moved towards it.
I turned to see a stout man with a stern expression.
Meet Buchiah Chari: Master crafts man, Ithadi Nakshi Kala1.
The photographs on the wall, like Buchiah Chari and his artisans, were testament to the long-lost glory of the village and its craft: a meticulous brass work art that flourished and faded with the Kakatiyan dynasty2.
The room, about as plain and unyielding as the building, was domain to this historic metal craft. I noticed the somber billing counter, with an artifact picked by someone wrapped and placed. The display – on the other hand – was a medley of luster; with some pieces cased in glass boxes, some were cloaked in velvet while the others were free to show off all their glory.
I saw boxes, portraits, trophies…
“Hand made!…real sliver…”
As Buchiah Chari tried to explain, my attention was devoured by the distinct dents and dips etched, that spoke volumes of the brilliant artisan who created it.
“Gold also! For temple…my son also artichan… all dijain3, we will do!”
…vases, idols, lanterns, lamps…
“See! Nemali4…this mudra5…hundred percent quality…”
…potters, souvenirs and wall hangings.
“…finishing in two hours…this, three days…pasandh?…like it?”
As I regarded the artefacts, Buchiah Chari was brimming with emotions. In a fleeting moment I met the zealous teenager who was introduced to a craft, that now was his object of love and source of pride.
Back at the counter, after a tedious bargain, the packed artefact was finally taken by its new owners. But now I was aware that wrapped in paper and strings was more than just the artefact. Within the bundle was the product of an artisan’s pride, passion and love.
Outside, a serene blue sky wrapped a seemingly familiar village composition. My car was parked under a tree and the driver was fast asleep. I walked the narrow cement roads of the village, lined by compound walls that either guarded a house, or ruins, or just an empty land. The cool morning breeze was specked with whispers and voices.
I turned to see an elderly man with a Namam on his growing forehead.
“Artisans?… Where?…Ghar7…workshop?” I asked.
He waved at his house.
…I looked at his long white beard…
I was confused.
…then his crinkled eyes…
My chest tightened a little.
…and his big smile…
I waved my hand and turned away.
“Haha!…Dirgha Ayushman Bhavah8…”
He walked back into his house smiling and I walked away a little faster.
The rest of what I saw now seems like a hazy blend of long flowery braids, loose dhotis9, goats, giggles, big bindis10, bangles, colours, courtesy and curiosity, under the sapping sun. As fatigue slowly started to set in, my attention was drawn by a girl, standing on the threshold of her house, waving her hand at me.
“What are you looking for?”
I was relieved and surprised by the familiar language.
She was Shruthi, a software engineer working in Hyderabad.
“Artisans… house and workshop.”
“Please come in!”
Minding my head, I stepped into a humble artisan’s abode. In the courtyard, her mother who was engrossed in etching a brass sheet, looked up and smiled.
The mellifluous clink of the mallet momentarily paused.
“It is a strenuous task…my father has gone out; he is the artisan. My mother helps him…”
Slowly creeping into the village was the realist attribute of the work that co-existed with life, but also taught one enough to send off one’s children to seek an alternate future.
“These are my sisters” she said, pointing to a photograph of three young girls. “She is married…and the other one is here…preparing for IPS exams…Sushmaa!!”
The mallet was back in task…clink…clink…clink…it was the background tune to the daily lives of the three young girls who grew up learning to look beyond the village gates.
“My sister would take you to a bigger house and workshop…Sushma!”
I followed Sushma who quickly put on her slippers and lead me back to the streets.
Sushma effortlessly skimmed through the streets that had seemed so complex to me. Between the courteous glances she was giving my way, she exuded a sense of pride in the simple state of her village and confidence in its future.
“Our village school…shops …Did you see the railway station?”
In a few minutes, we were outside the ‘big house’ and the familiarity of it surprised me.
“This is my uncle’s house. It’s a hundred years old and the workshop is in the back side…. Mamayya11!”
I was back at the house of the man with a long white beard, crinkled eyes and big smile. His name was Narasimha Chari.
“Ahha-ha-ha!!…Namaskaram! Namaskaram12!” Exclaimed the cheerful man.
My face was starting to get warm.
“He is saying you came here before…please come in!”
She pulled out a chair for me.
“What would you like to drink? Fanta? Sprite?”
My inhibition was slowly disappearing against their altruistic hospitality.
“You can take measurements…feel free.”
I looked at Narasimha Chari who was enthusiastically gathering his works, while occasionally glancing my way.
“I am sorry…I didn’t know…” I gestured.
Narasimha Chari laughed and dismissed my apology like he completely understood my inhibition. He then swiftly moved to the backyard, signalling me to follow. I bumbled behind him and stopped at a partially open space, that was humbled by its mud walls, beautified by a pookolam13 and glorified by the presence of its owner, who now only rarely visited it.
In a moment, the artisan I failed to notice in Narasimha Chari was brimming all over the place, as he vigorously spun the wheel that kindled fire in a pit. His zeal reminded me of the spirited teenager I saw in Buchiah Chari, who shared a passion for this native craft as Narasimha Chari.
The calmness of the traditional building slowly sank into me. Listening to the chants from the pooja room14, I proceeded to schematize and record the beauty in the simplicity of things in front of me:
The deep courtyard drop that made for a perfect seater; missing roof tiles that trapped beams of sunlight; elegant wall patterns made of plaster; niches that were to house lamps for when the sun would set; a smaller courtyard drop in the kitchen to wash one’s hands and feet; sacks of rice stored; tiny mangoes left to dry on a ragged jute cloth; the intense expression on Narasimha Chari as he sat chanting under his breath; the curious smile on Sushma’s face as she watched me work; peacefulness; the prasadham15 in a small leaf cup; elaborate columns against the sun-shine-yellow walls; the completed bronze idols waiting to be taken to a place worthy of their brilliance.
The sky that slowly turned orange and the continuous calls from home I ignored, reminded me that it was time to leave.
Sushma and her uncle stepped out to see me off: “Sarva kale sukhino bhavanthu” he said with his palms over my head.
It meant: Be Happy Always
As I walked towards the highway, I noticed a dilapidated shed hosting a broken water pot, standing its spot stoically; possibly hoping for the day Pembarthy would be noticed on the highway by those speeding cars, to revive itself as the hospitable gesture by a village that is, in its own way, a historically significant crafts centre.
Meanwhile, the weary metal board continued to meekly advertise the craft against the reflection from the moving headlights:
“Pembarthy Metal Handicrafts”
Comes with pride, passion and love.
No conditions apply.
1Ithadi Nakshi Kala: Sheet metal craft
2Kakatiyan Dynasty: A South Indian dynasty that ruled between 1163 and 1323.
5Mudra: A symbolic hand gesture
8Dirgha Ayushman Bhavah: May you live long.
9Dhotis: An Indian garment, consisting of a piece of material tied around the waist and extending to cover most of the legs.
10Bindis: A decorative mark worn in the middle of the forehead by Indian women
13pookolam: A form of drawing that is drawn by using rice flour.
14Pooja room: Room for worshipping.
15Prasadham: Food that is a religious offering.
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Published here earlier.
Image source: Sushmitta Renganathan