"It is not only the magic of blocks and their transformation into softness fabrics that inspires me, but the strong sense of pride that this is a traditional Indian craft."
"I was born and brought up in Bagh, in the district of Dhar in Madhya Pradesh. My father, Ismail Suleman Khatri was a master craftsman and one of the pioneers in introducing this craft into our town. He received the Shilpguru Award, the highest honor for a craftsperson in India, as well as the Lifetime Achievement Award for his craft.
"I owe all that I have learned to my dad. He has been my inspiration and motivation. He is no longer with us, but he will always continue to inspire me.
"My family is originally from Manawar in Dhar district and my father moved to Bagh in the early 60s. Here he started practicing and giving new dimensions to the block printing. This art was already being practiced by 80 per cent of the Adivasi (tribal) population. In the 1960s, due to the lure of synthetics, many artisans left the craft but my father stuck to his vocation and began to redefine its concept, process and look. He got 200 and 300-year-old blocks based on traditional motifs inspired by the 1,500-year-old paintings found in caves in the region. These motifs include chameli or jasmine, maithir or mushroom, leheriya and jurvaria or small dots on the field.
"My father also got blocks made which were based on the jaali work found in the Taj Mahal and local forts. He streamlined the processing of the two important colors, red from alzarin and black from iron filings. He also discovered new vegetable dyes such as yellow and green. But his single biggest contribution was transferring Bagh prints on bed sheets, saris and fabrics. In 1982 he won the National Award for a bed cover in which he used 1,400 different blocks, many of them depicting his own reinvented designs. Also, his saris were being appreciated all over India.
"Bagh textiles are extremely soft which is attributed to the repeated washes they get in the Bhagini River. Once the Begum of Bhopal asked my father to make his craft in Bhopal, but the colors did not have the same charm and the fabric was not as soft.
"This craft was practiced by almost everyone at home baring the children. When I first fell in love with this craft was when I was about 8 years old. The beautiful motifs transformed from a block to the fabric were so mesmerizing, I think that day I decided what I wanted to do when I grew up. I continued studying and finished my bachelor degree in Commerce, but whenever I was free I’d be helping my father.
"Once I completed my studies, I joined full time with my dad and continued this beautiful family tradition. It is not only the magic of blocks and their transformation into softness fabrics that inspires me, but the strong sense of pride that this is a traditional Indian craft. We must take it forward so that it does not die out, like other crafts have done.
"Today, I have my own workshop in which approximately 50 artisans work with me. I have also exhibited in various government sponsored international exhibitions and demonstrations, namely in England, Greece, Bahrain and Columbia, as well as many exhibitions throughout India.
"I received the National Award in 2007, and the State Award in 2006."
The process of Bagh printing starts by soaking the fabrics overnight, then they're left to dry. In a cement tub, a paste is made with raw salt or sanchiri, castor oil and water. The fabric is soaked in this paste by stamping on it and then they're left to dry in layers on a sloped surface to allow the water to drain. Then it is once again washed, bleached and dried. It is now ready for printing.
A small plastic tray is prepared with a bamboo jali fitted in, on which a black or red paste is applied. Over this, layers of thick wet cloth are placed which soak in the colors. The block is then dipped into it and placed with a light touch on the fabric which is stretched on a table with a stone slab covered with seven layers of jute. Once the printing is done, the sari or shawl is dried and kept aside for eight days. The final stage is to hold it under the running water of the Bhagini River. Thereafter, it is dried again and put in the bhatti mixed with dhawadi flowers and alizarin (madder). Bleaching and drying follow. And finally, a beautiful Bagh textile is ready.