I am high as a kite, floating on the euphoria of savouring a wonderful experience.
I've just flown home from India, where I have been visiting a young friend. My friend Intekhab is a rafoogar, a darner of Kashmiri shawls. He comes from a long line and large extended family of rafoogars, who for generations have devoted themselves to restoring these old and precious textiles.
Our friendship was formed early in 2006 when we undertook a joint residency in Ballarat Victoria, along with Intekhab's fellow rafoogar Zakir, as part of the Common Goods project. You can learn about this project and discover what we did during our residency by following the links at the right to the website and blog respectively.
I speak no Hindi. Intekhab speaks a little English. He is of the Muslim faith, a young man the same age as my daughter. We would seem to have very little in common except our shared interest in mending old cloth. Even there, our attitude differs. Intekhab is trained to mend invisibly, to remove from the cloth any trace of the passing of time. My interest in mended cloth lies in exposing the effects of aging, allowing the marks to tell the story of the life the cloth has led. I am very happy for the mends to remain visible.
Yet this young man and I, as we collaborated on a work for Common Goods, formed a bond which has stood the test of time and distance. Intekhab has phoned me from India every few months, to ask about my family and my health, and even to offer me Christmas greetings on Christmas Day, each time urging me to visit him and his home town of Najibabad, 200 kilometres north east of Delhi.
How could I refuse such an enticing offer? So of we went, my husband and I, to Delhi, and to Rajasthan, and then finally north to Najibabad. We met Intekhab's family and friends, who made us very welcome. We visited Intekhab's workshop, and those of his extended family and colleagues, where we saw the results of the rafoogars' very special skills and creativity.
We were taken touring to visit local landmarks which spoke of the history of the town. Intekhab's family welcomed us into their home, where we experienced great hospitality and generosity. We shared a special meal cooked by Intekhab's mother. Intekhab's father kindly showed us some of his treasured old Kashmiri shawl fragments.
I was given a precious gift of two embroidered strips of centuries-old shawl. I am charged with honouring that generosity by incorporating these precious fragments into a worthy piece of work.
All too soon our special visit was over, but our memories will last a lifetime. Intekhab, how can we ever thank you enough?