I stumbled across Kala Ashram in Adilabad looking for a weekend ride to a less adventurous place. I could not get much information on the net but terms like “traditional arts”, “wide range of books”, “philosophy”, etc. mentioned about their description caught my attention. With not many expectations, and a list of some more potential places worth visiting, I decided to go for it. I started the ride at 5 am on a Saturday. The roads were boringly amazing and the weather was great including heavy rains on the way. After having faced many hurdles regarding the directions and calling up the Ashram half a dozen times, I reached the destination.
I, carrying my urban gait and biking gears was greeted by a rather old man, roughly in his seventies, wearing a traditional dhoti and a stitched half sleeves vest. The place appeared to be an old house with some traditional art work visible on the gate, walls and elsewhere. Domesticated cows were doing their things inside the building premises. You can almost imagine a happy music in the higher octaves dying down to a flat bass one in the background. I changed into dry clothes upon arrival and was having no clue where I had landed. Handling priorities first, I paid my respects and inquired if there was a facility to stay in the Ashram for the night. The old man replied, “Yes, there is. We don’t have luxuries to offer though.” I was delighted for I had put up in crazy places, at least this place had a solid roof to offer! (Read: Camping solo on a beach, little did I know)
I realized that I was too loud and gay for the Ashram, in the sense that life flowed slowly and smoothly around here but didn’t rush. I was coming from an entirely different world. Time also took it’s sweet time there to tick and made all the moments counted. I sat there silently and observed some more. The Ashram was found in 1979 by Shri Ravindra Sharma, I stated as well as asked. “Yes, I started it.”, he replied. Woah, the founder himself! Upon introducing myself, he was shocked to learn that I rode over 300 kms to visit the Ashram. Over tea, I met a young boy staying in the Ashram doing his high school from correspondence and learning stone sculpturing. I wandered about the Ashram and saw art pieces of all types in different materials lying around. Guruji (I learnt this address from the boy) was very carefully coloring some self carved Ganesh idols. Ganesh Chaturthi was round the corner then. I observed a pot of freshly prepared and treated clay. Some new project was coming up, I concluded. That student was working on a clay model of Abhimanyu, the warrior. Discussions were going on about the kind of dhoti and foot wear that would go with the model. I started to like the place already!
Later, guruji explained that he traveled a lot in his youth and realized his love for arts on the way. He started the Ashram aiming to revive traditional arts and science, which made the villages self sustainable at one time. The only medium of publicity was word of mouth until recently, when a student of his developed a site dedicated to the Ashram which he had never seen (he was excitedly looking at his and the ashram pictures that I showed him later from the site). Today, students studying fashion, sociology, architecture etc. from NIFT, IITs and other colleges go there to learn and discuss.
“Now, what would an Ashram preaching traditional arts and culture teach about modern fashion designs to the today’s students?”, I asked. The reply I got made me revere the old man. His definition of Design was solution to a problem while most people relate it with creation of newer constructs (maybe out of vacuum).
“You understand the problem, in this case, your target audience and it’s needs and you will find the solution. Clothes earlier were designed according to utility and age, differently for kids, ladies and gents. Today, you find them all wearing jeans. Fashion was better evolved earlier.” I couldn’t help but laugh.
Wow! We engaged in many thought provoking discussions revolving around varied topics over some more tea, over a walk in the garden in the evening, and again, post dinner. I willed to learn all that I could from him, it was like revisiting my school where he was speaking and I was taking notes except that this school was interesting and the teaching method was discussion rather than dictation.
Travel Tips – Kala Ashram
You can visit their site here. I spent the night there but was charged no amount despite my offerings. Preferably call the Ashram before going as guruji himself travels at times.
Some more learnings from guruji which I noted down:
¶¶ He gave an interesting example about today’s lifestyle. Earlier, the people who used to extract oil would tie patches of black cloth on the eyes of Oxes which would then walk in circles and run the setup. The objective was to not let see the Ox it’s circular motion lest it fell or realized it’s too boring a task. Today, we tie that black cloth willingly, blinding ourselves of the imminent realities of life and just letting it be.
¶¶ He mentioned about the missing aesthetic sense from our lives today which is unarguably true.
¶¶ Graam, Dehaat, Pind and Urru – Words which mean Village in different languages stand for almost same meanings – a place our body could live and enjoy. We would travel the world to learn but come back to our village to live. Today’s lifestyle hardly involves learning and yet we travel forever, for making a living, which is still never satisfactory. One interesting observation was that earlier industries were setup to cater to local needs. Today, industries define the whole course of our societies.
¶¶ He admitted that of course changes were inevitable but the changes could have been for better as well. The devotion to our culture could still have survived had we thought about it.
¶¶ Yet another interesting observation was clay pots, which were used at a time to fill water. There was a way and an air of caution to use it and wash it or it might break. We use plastic utensils now allowing us to be more careless, a concluding remark over faster lifestyle and lesser consciousness levels.
I couldn’t agree to some of his points for which I laid my own views, which were positively taken. Indeed, he is a man who couldn’t study much but definitely learnt a lot. It was sad though that hardly 500 m from the Ashram, people didn’t know about the place, everyone knew about Collector’s bungalow though. The discussions did leave me with some questions to mull over.
The change is inevitable but can’t it be good? What is good anyway? A perception and collective agreement over it or an absolute? Can the course of change be decided or we hardly get a say in the bigger scheme of things?
It was going a rather interesting and adventure-less travel when guruji introduced me to the principal correspondent of The Hindu from Adilabad! He arranged a wildlife safari for me in the Kawal Tiger Reserve for the next day early morning through his contacts. That meant I had 90 kms to cover before sunrise! That episode – coming up in the next post.
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