Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Panchachuli Women Weavers

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
Last week I heard a talk given by a representative of Panchachuli Women Weavers cooperative who have made a name for themselves by making pure pashmina products.

In 1997 funds were received to start a training program for about 150 women in the villages around Almora to teach them spinning and weaving wool and natural fibers available locally as a sustainable form of employment. In order to empower the women of this area, who were used to toiling in fields and raising cattle and being dominated by menfolk, it was necessary to chalk out a program encompassing basic and advanced training, along with infrastructure and facilities for common production centers where women could work.

Training was imparted by master weavers from the tribal communities on the Indo-Tibet border where weaving of fine wool was a tradiational occupation. Although the program was first opposed by the men of the area, eventually the women gained the support of their families and with substantial income gains brought home by the women, the whole socio-economic dynamics of families and the community turned around. The women are truly empowered. Panchaculi women and their families, moreover, have been able to swing th evotes in favor of particular elected candidates.

By the end of 2000 there were 400 women trained in various skills and the Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine Kaye Foundation provided the funds for importing sophisticated pashmina processing machines from Scotland, for building a complex comprising seven large weaving halls, rooms for spinnng and processing of wool, stores for raw materials and finished products, administrative offices and four buses to transport women from their villages to the production center and back.

Between 2000 and 2003 another 300 women were trained and Panchaculi became a brand name in the local market, domestically and abroad.

Panchachuli procures the bulk of its wool, namely pasmina and lambswool, from the highlands of Tibet where founder Ms. Mukti Dutta and women employees go trekking over in 22,000 ft. high passes to buy wool from Tibetan nomads around Lake Manasarovar and Mt. Kailash. They are officially recognized traders by both the Indian and Chinese governments, who have allowed them access to these restricted areas.

Women also work with nettle fiber and oak silk procured locally through traditional methods of growing and processing, and have plans to work with hemp fiber.

I was particularly impressed with the beauty of the natural colors, the soft texture and the delicately intricate weaves. This photo is a display at Sasha where the Panchchuli Women Weavers are currently exhibiting their products til Dec. 24.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Merry Christmustard!

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
Close your eyes and look inside yourself. There you will find the gift you can give to your friends and your community...and the world.

But in the meantime, it's time to play Secret Santa gift exchange at Mustard Seeds Library!! While sipping hot cocoa, kids exchanged small gifts with their friends and sang Christmas songs. In the evening we took it out on the streets, doing two rounds of carols in the parks of our apartment complex -- It certainly was not a silent night.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Time to focus

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
Around this time of year, one starts thinking about winding up the year that's finished and planning what to do next year. Recently I wrote up a short statement about Mustard Seeds that explains to a certain extent what we are trying to achieve here. I'd like to share it with all our fellow mustard seeds!

Mustard Seeds is a conceptual project for community-based action on a small scale started by Maura Hurley and Gautam Basu in a suburb of Kolkata, India. The name comes from the mustard seed spice which is an important ingredient in regional Bengali cooking. Although it is a very tiny seed, it gives a potent and delicious flavor to dishes that just wouldn't taste the same without it. Mustard Seeds aims to do small-scale, peopel-to-people projects that connect those living inside and outside Kolkata.

Mustard Seeds began in 1997 with the help of friends and family outside of India who donated books and financial contributions. The very first project was setting up a children's library and activity space in one room of their flat for young people in the neighborhood. With school and study pressure being so high in Kolkata, children feel happy to come to the library and browse through the book collection, go wild with paints, write a poem, do a craft project, or have a story read to them. The library has organized coloring contests, poster contests with environmental themes, visits to local social welfare projects, and always has a big Earth Day celebration in April. Children help maintain a small garden space, Malancha, that used to be a garbage heap and raise funds for a children's rehabilitation center in south Kolkata, RCFC.

Besides the library, Mustard Seeds self-published a children's book entitled To the Local Bazaar with a simple story that uses illustrations by a traditional story scroll artist from the village of Medinipur. Sales of this book and the postcard set that was also printed give a little more support to this artist and her family. More books that use traditional artwork are set to be published too. Mustard Seed also creates outlets for some of the budding fair-trade producer groups in Kolkata to sell their products while at the same time spreading the story of women's and rural development issues in this region.

Among various projects, currently Mustard Seed members sell jams and pickles for Ankur Kala, a women's center in Kolkata that trains destitute women to become skilled and self-empowered. Greeting cards made by physically and mentally challenged individuals at Silence and Asha Niketan, two organizations that work to make people with disabilities lead more independent. lifestyles, are also available at the library as well as cards from SUCHANA, The Uttor Chandipur Early Learning Group located outside of Shantiniketan. Profits go right back to the groups that produce them to sustain their important work.

Through numerous small networkings, Mustard Seeds works to encourage others to get to know more about the many worthwhile NGO efforts going on in Kolkata through the sale of products, written commentaries, or visits to the actual sites. Mustard Seeds does not aim to become a huge organization with a central office, but instead to inspire other individuals and families to do something on a small-scale that makes a difference to another person. Why not become a Mustard Seed yourself? What blooms where you are planted is a creative and never-ending process!

Feel free to contact us.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Jane Webb

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
On this day, in the year 1998 we lost a dear friend of ours, Jane Webb. Though I only knew her for a short time here in Kolkata, her loving smile and true compassion for others inspired me beyond words. Jane, who became an Indian citizen just before she left to find her spirit, was the founder of RCFC (or Rehabilitation Centres for children). Mustard Seeds has been organizing small fundraising projects to help keep Jane's important work going strong. This is me with the statue of Jane that was put up on the RCFC grounds in Barasat, in south Kolkata.

Rehabilitation Centres for Children was registered as a society on 24th April, 1973 in Calcutta, India. The aim of RCFC is the treatment and rehabilitation of orthopaedically handicapped children from underprivileged families, so that these children will be able to live a fuller life and take a normal place in the society instead of being neglected, dependent, emotionally disturbed and frustrated.

Jane was the Founder Secretary and Director of the Centre. Her vision and continuous struggle for helping the disabled children to stand on their own feet is slowly but surely realised. The seed she planted with love, care and dedication more than 25 years ago, is now a grown up tree blossoming with flowers and evergrowing branches. RCFC has taken a solid root and is now a pioneer institution in the service of orthopaedically handicapped children from deprived homes.

Jane was quoted as saying, "We bought a house with a large garden in Barisha, on the outskirts of Calcutta with money donated by the German philantropic organization Christustrager Waisendienst (Aid to orphans); we repaired the house, cleaned up the garden, and started slowly. At first there was one child named Gopal from Siliguri who had lost a foot and it continued steadily after that.
Initially, we had very little idea as to how we would go about our mission or of the existing need; it was a new kind of venture for all those involved and in those very turbulent times. We found gradually that it was not always feasible to arrange for children's treatment outside the Centre; we faced too many problems as more and more children were brought to us. So, we set up an operation theatre in 1981 with attached X-ray unit. We had already been running the immunisation clinic for prevention of polio and other diseases. In 1993 our mobility aid and applicances manufacturing workshop was established. RCFC has a well-equipped 90 bedded hospital, an operation theater, X-ray unit, a physiotherapy department, a well laid out mobility aid workshop for making orthotic and prosthetic aids and a child development department which provides basic education and craft training during the treatment.
In addition to the above, there other extra-curricular activities like dance, music, drama and drawing. The craft classes include cane work and basketry, clay modelling, pottery, terracotta, mat-making, sewing, knitting, embroidery, tie-dye and batik. The overall aim of these classes is to make children develop their natural abilities and confidence. Talented children may also find a avenue for earning from the vocational trades learned at our Centre. Our involvement in various fields has increased manifold.
Simultaneously, we are expanding our activities and services to remote areas . On 23rd January, 1998, our new centre in Bolpur was inaugurated by Shri Somnath Chatterjee, MP. It was at his suggestion and insistence that the Government of West Bengal donated us land at Kalikapur where our centre stands. The Centre has been named "Miblou Jyoti Mahal" and the fund was donated by Miblou, a Swiss voluntary organization.

RCFC can be contacted at:
Rehabilitation Centres for Children
59, Motilal Gupta Road

Sunday, November 13, 2005

A special place...

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
I hold a very special place in my heart for an organization called Asha Niketan, introduced to me by Shyamali a long while back. This is the meditation room on Pottery Road in Tangra, one of two homes for learning disabled individuals that is run under L'Arche, an international federation of communities for people with learning disabilities and assistants.

At the Open House for Asha Niketan last night we got a tour of the second house which I had never seen before. When I asked if there is a meditation room in this home too, we were brought here. The batik hanging on the wall was done by members of Asha Niketan and symbolizes the inter-faith beliefs of this organization and all those involved. No matter who or what your God is, you're sure to be able to communicate here. Meditation is held two times a day and all attend. The beautifully decorated pages in the book on the stand has prayers from various holy books to inspire love, harmony and courage.

"Whatever their gifts or limitations, people are all bound together in a common humanity. Everyone is of unique and sacred value and everyone has the same dignity and the same rights. The fundamental rights of each person include the rights to life, to care, to a home, to education and to work. Since the deepest need of a human being is to love and to be loved, each person has a right to friendship, to communion and to a spiritual life".

Asha Niketan strives to make this all possible for some very wonderfully creative individuals.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

KARMYOG is what they do...

Medium Gift Bags_Karmyog
Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
I recently found this wonderful little shop that puts your rupees to work in a most meaningful way . If you are in the market for very special greeting cards (Xmas card designs have just been put on the shelves...), wrapping papers, gift bags or boxes or any other paper products, then there is a shop at 12B Russell Street that you must stop in at.

"Karmyog" is a boutique of intricately hand-crafted paper products made by girls who have spent their childhood in welfare homes but who now have to step out in to the world to fend for themselves. The word Karmyog has two parts: "work" and "yoga" so in other words "work as a form of yoga, or path for living." The Karmyog trust offers these young women the means for becoming self-sufficient through vocational training that allows them to earn a living and lead independent and meaningful lives.

Why buy mass-produced and impersonal greetings from Archies (the Hallmark shops of India) when you can both give a gift to a friend and to a girl in need with a purchase from Karmyog?

It certainly feels like good karma to me!

Karmyog Showroom
12B Russell Street
Kolkata 700 071

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

ALCHA in Shyambati

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
This is the bright-eyed breakfast duo at Alcha, a newish open-air cafe in Shyambati, Shantiniketan. They whip up a beautifully served plate of eggs, toast and hash browns with brewed coffee in the mornings. But things turn Tamilian on the menu in the evenings. A unique little spot to hang out at.

There is also a chic little "lifestyle shop" attached to the cafe that showcases local but all-new weaves, potteries, and natural fruit drinks!

For people who come to visit Shantiniketan from the big city the mud and bamboo decor at Alcha is sure to be a soothing contrast to the developments happening in Kolkata.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
Right now in celebration of Diwali, the festival of lights, SASHA shop is holding an exhibition/sale of exquisitely crafted dokra and terracotta diyas (oil lamps), hand painted candles, diyas, etc. If you happen to stop in when some of the candles are lit and flickering, you'll catch the spirit of this warming celebration.

There are two producer organizations in particular that stand out for me. SILENCE is a certified fair trade self-help movement for those who can neither speak nor hear, only visualize, and others who cannot go anywhere, except in their imaginations -- and yet who aspire towards self-sufficiency and acceptance as contributing members of society.

ASHA NIKETAN runs a workshop which creates a variety of candles in porcelain or terracotta containers, tie and dye articles, greeting cards and other items. In the open spaces around the Asha Niketan buildings, community members are also involved in horticulture. The workshop earns some revenue from the sale of these products which supplements donations for the L'Arche International community established in 1973 to create a home atmosphere for mentally challenged people.

The good work being done by so many here in Kolkata constantly inspires and amazes me.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Face Painting at Mustard Seeds Library

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
Going along with the Halloween theme at the library this past Sunday, our guest, artist and teacher Atreyee Dey, helped paint up Mustard Seeds' faces after a morning spent putting in seedlings into the Malancha garden space. We are celebrating Kali Puja and the Festival of Light, Diwali, in Kolkata this week.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

puja vacation

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
ahhhhh. we are on vacation as the festival for Ma Durga takes place in the city all around us. we visited pandals, ate street food, and met friends outside in our housing complex last night. mostly we are enjoying having nothing to do at all really.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Puja Exhibition

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
Puja is the shopping season in Kolkata and many NGOs organize events. Last weekend, Sept 16-17-18, the women at Ankur Kala opened up their training center for an Open House-cum-Exhibition. They invited other organizations to exhibit and sell their work too. Groups that particpated included Asha Niketan, Mass Welfare Society, Paripurnata Half-Way Home, and Indian Council of Rehabilitation & Sports for the Disabled.

This photo shows the patua folkartist Karuna Chitrakar entertaining both the hosts and guests with her beautiful songs and pictures. Ankur Kala hopes to learn about this traditional art and adopt some of the designs for their own products.

I hope this sort of networking expands and grows even stronger in the NGO sector here.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Balia Bio-Agro Mission

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
The man on the right is Tarun Bhaduri, who is supporting farmers in Balia (located about 2 hours north of Kolkata) to make the changeover to organic farming. His organization is called Balia Bio-Agro Mission. The man on the left is currently working on developing herbal insecticides. At the Farm Weekends at SASHA, this group is supplying city consumers with healthy organic rice varieties, dal varieties, mushrooms, and spices.

Mr. Bhaduri became interested in bio-farming through a very personal experience. When he was hospitalized for by-pass surgery many of the farmers donated blood to keep him going. Two years later when flooding created havoc in this area the farmers turned to him for advice. He told them to work from their own stocks of seeds and fertilizers and don't go into debt. This is when they began to practice natural methods -- and once things had gone back to normal, the farmers themselves pressed for his support in bio-farming. This exercise brough out of necessity made them understand that bio-farming could bring high yields and did not damage the environment like chemicals did.

Balia Bio-Agro Mission products will be on sale on a regular basis at SASHA. It is up to consumers to decide what sort of farming they want their money to support.

( An organization for Organic & Sustainable farming and Social Welfare)
Regd. under Society Registration Act 1961 of Govt. of West Bengal
PH.NO - 03473-248631 / E mail Id - tarun_bhaduri@sify.com

Monday, August 29, 2005


Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
To the Local Bazaar

The market place in India is full of color and fascination for children and adults alike. To the Local Bazaar uses a village art form to illustrate a shopping trip to the bazaar by a young girl and her mother. In this book, the pata style, which traditionally uses framed pictures in a scroll that is unrolled to tell a story, has been put into a contemporary children's book format. A lyrical Bengali subtext has also been included along with the English ryhme story. Just like the market place, this book is sure to appeal to both the young and old!
(For ages 3-6; 10 pages)

Pictures by Karuna Chitrakar (patua of Medinipur, West Bengal)
Words by Maura Hurley Basu (runs Mustard Seeds Community Library/ Activity Room in Salt Lake, Kolkata)
Published by Mustard Seeds, an independent family project that supports traditional artists, and a variety of social and charitable programs in Kolkata.

If you would like more information or to purchase a book, contact: mustard@vsnl.com

In Kolkata, the book is available at SASHA fair trade for contemporary living at 27 Free School Street

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Letter to the Editor

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
Something in the air

Dear Editor, The irresponsible attitude of the state government towards air pollution in Calcutta is just incredible (Govt dumps clean-air date, again, Aug 9). For how long will the government drag its feet? Until some foreign investor with deep pockets finds it uncomfortable to breathe in Calcutta? I guess not, because they don’t take the bus or auto-rickshaw. They drive into their AC rooms directly from the airport, in their AC cars over the new flyovers. How about a court ruling making it mandatory for the transport minister and the chief minister to breathe the foul air in the city by pulling the shutters of their cars down when they travel in the city? Or even better, make it mandatory for the duo to take auto-rickshaws to office every day, sitting directly across the exhaust pipe of a bus. I can guarantee that this alone will make sure that the deadline is met before the pujas.

Yours faithfully,
Gautam Basu, Calcutta
15 August 2005 / The Statesman

Friday, August 12, 2005


Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
When friends visited recently we took them out to Kewpie's which was started by Minakshie DasGupta, the author of Bangla Ranna: The Bengal Cookbook. Kewpie's serves an authentic Bengali meal in the traditional style using terra cotta plates and cups with banana leaves under the food. We tried an array of Bengali favorites, like dal with coconut, eggplant with yogurt sauce and fish baked in banana leaves.


Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
This is a project we are trying to start at SASHA to get small producers a better market in the city. The first one is on Sept. 2-3-4. So far, some nice groups have been lined up to sell jams,pickles, peanut butter, fruit juices, etc.

Thursday, July 28, 2005


Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
Finally i had the chance to visit Sudeshna's school and her wonderful students at the newly named Shikshamitra, which translates into "friends of learning." We begun the day with songs and I taught two English classes using techniques I picked up in Japan. They really would enjoy any materials for the school if you can contribute. They especially need a full time English teacher!!

Sudeshna Sinha
c/o Shikshamitra
Ananda Flat 7H & 5G
116 Southern Avenue, Kolkata 700 029 INDIA
Email: sujit568@cal3.vsnl.net.in

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Weekend at Ushagram

Originally uploaded by laura35blue.
USHA means dawn and GRAM means village. Ushagram was developed as a model for rural development in india and besides beng a spiritual center based on the ideals of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo, has incorporated a variety of programs to bring self-confidence and training in alternative technologies to the youth and women of surrounding villages.

This photo shows a water filtering system which is used in conjunction with the batik and dyeing center. We also saw the jute production center, handlooms, pickle production site, vermi-composting, bee keeping, rain water harvesting and an organic herb garden.

Ushagram has asked us for help in testing the soil and water for arsenic, a common problem in rural West Bengal. They also hope that they can find new and diversified markets for their jute and batik handicrafts. They always welcome visitors and are looking forward to learning more about sustainable farming practices.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Tibetan Volunteers for Animals

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
Friends who recently visited Dharmsala for an extended period of time brought me back this t-shirt dedicated to animal's rights and the 70th birth celebration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

It is by a group called Tibetan VOlunteers for Animals (semchen@hotmail.com) and the saying on the shirt in Tibetan was translated like this,

"While we torture animals by eating meat still we are praying with our prayer wheels. This is not real Dharma, this is the style of artificial Buddha." Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok

We always need to keep striving for our ideals and values -- to be more truthful to ourselves.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Santiniketan Development

The following appeared in the Editorial section of The Statesman, June 22, 2005
It was written by a dear friend of mine, Shyamali, who is also an active resident of beautiful Santiniketan.

Lumpen Development
Sir, The peripheral areas of Santiniketan are now dotted with housing complexes constructed either by a cement company or big-time realtors. They are owned by NRIs and Kolkata's affluent, who come here to enjoy the weekend. The housing boom has denuded the town of its water supply. And the urbanite's way of life is having an adverse impact on the simple students and rural folk.

Prostitution and theft are two major problems in Santiniketan today. If realtors have their way, Lahabandh will soon be converted into an amustemnt park for the new rich. Santiniketaan needs clean air and open space all around. And that is my appeal as an ex-student.

Yours, etc.,
Shyamali Khastigir
Santiniketan, June 12

Saturday, May 14, 2005

World Fair Trade Day in Kolkata

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
MAY 14, 2005
Fair Trade Forum-India hosted a wonderful event at St. Paul's Cathedral in celebration of World Fair Trade Day. The theme for this year was "Fair Trade is PEACE." The main event and finale was a highly professional fashion show where artisan-producers themselves modeled their fashions!

Fair Trade Forum - India is a national network of Voluntary Organizations, Producer Cooperatives, Producer / artisan groups and development organizations involved in income generation activities, facilitators of fair trade, Alternative Trading Organizations, Intermediary and support services organizations and promoters of fair trade concepts etc. It is a registered national organization, a nonprofit society with its constitution and by-laws governed and managed by an elected Executive Committee; and is also a member of the Asian Fair Trade Forum sharing concerns with International Federation for Alternative Trade (IFAT).

-- Producers are able to get fair-price for their produce/products.
-- Ethical standards are followed in processing, producing, marketing of produces/products.
--The producers or the buyers exploit neither the people nor the environment irreparably.
-- Dignity of the producers is upheld and the meaning and values of producer/products are shared from among the purchasers and consumers.
-- Fair Trade is promoted as an effective alternative to both aid and conventional Trade.
-- Through trading partnership, facilitate sus tainable development for the marginalized, disadvantaged, excluded producers.
-- Trading conditions are constantly watched to avoid and/or overcome the discriminatory processes and practices in the process of production and marketing.
-- Fair Trade to bring closer the (Southern) Producers and (Northern) Consumers by the extent possible by reducing the gap.
-- Fair Trade is promoted to be a mutually responsive trading relationship.
-- Fair Trade process to instill self-confidence, dignity and fair returns to the producers and reasonable price line for good quality products to the consumers.
-- Fair trade envelops social audit, a socially just and a transparent accountable trading system.
-- Fair trade to ensure economic development and social empowerment of the marginalized.

A new look for Ankur Kala

new labels
Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
A while back I posted a note about going with women from Ankur Kala to choose new bottles for the improved packaginf of their jams and jellies. Yesterday, May 14th, was World Fair Trade Day and they launched the new labels (shown here). All of the women involved worked very hard to have the sampler sets ready for this event and I know they will be hot sellers from now on. A set of 3 sells for Rs. 105

Sunday, May 01, 2005


Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
MALANCHA is the name of our "green guerilla-style gardening" project. Several years ago this space below our flat was a huge heap of rocky rubble. With the help of some visitors and the kids at the Library, the rocks got sorted, stacked and lined. Things got a bit shabby while we were away in Japan but the garden was kept in tact and recently with the help of more visitors and new Library kids it's been resurrected! Note the nice stone stairs friends from Ireland built in the front!! After the monsoons, I am hoping things will really take off. We have a small eggplant patch doing very well in there too at the moment!

Friday, April 29, 2005



I've been into mailart for as long as I can remember - and a lot of my friends are too. But with the internet, it aint like it used to be and postal communication is becoming a thing of the past. Mailart is a process and it takes time, it's not immediate. I especially like doing collage because it is so much like my own life, mixing up things that may not go together at first then finding patterns and balance within the final piece. Mail art happens, and it makes people think & smile. Why not try some yourself and send it our way?

I would like to introduce MAILART to the kids at Mustard Seeds Library so for the gallery show at the library, I'm asking for postcards to be mailed directly to us. Get a board about postcard size and let yourself go (as simple or as complicated, as wild or serene, as funny or serious as you like) and then put this address on it (that goes anywhere you like too) . You may need a bit more postage than normal.
MusTard sEEds Mail Art
A5 ViDYasAgar NiKETan
BlOCK EA / sEcTor oNe
SAlt lAkE, KolkAta 700 064 iNDiA

ABSOLUTELY anyone is welcome to send in their artwork!
You may get back a response from MSeed library members

What is Mail Art?
One definition: Correspondence art (Mail art)

This term applies to art sent through the post rather than displayed or sold through conventional commercial channels, encompassing a variety of media including postcards, books, images made on photocopying machines or with rubber stamps, postage stamps designed by artists, concrete poetry and other art forms generally considered marginal.
John Held Jr. The Dictionary of Art, edited by Jane Turner, Macmillan Publishers Limited 1996
Another definition goes:
It is not precious art. It can disappear in the post, get ripped, and have stickers placed on it in the process. This is all part of the allure. The artist collaborates with the post office. They add their mark to your work. I have a very purist definition of Mail Art. It is a piece of art that passes through the mail system. By piece of art- I do not mean a piece that is simply mailed in an envelope. That is "mailed art". Mail Art, to me, means the piece itself must be mailed as the art. All contents in an unembellished envelope don't count. The stamp you place on that piece, the cancellation of that stamp ... that is what makes the piece Mail Art. Mail Art is normally postcards and envelopes, but can not be confined to just that. It can also be sculptural.
How can I become a mail artist?
Easy! You can become a mail artist by sending a piece of your own creativity through the snail mail to names and addresses of your friends or people asking for mail art Start by sending your art work to the Mustard Seeds Mail Art Gallery!!.

"You don't make a living out of mail art, you make an art out of living."

the credo at EMMA (Electronic Mail Museum of Art)

Thursday, April 28, 2005

ANKUR KALA: sowing seeds of hope for women

New bottles for ankur kala
Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
I have recently also had the priviledge of working with the women's centre, ANKUR KALA, to create a new and unique gift set of jams and jellies for launch on World Fair Trade Day in May.

We went to a huge wholesale market area in the city to find smaller jars to begin the project. Next we talked about labeling with a professional designer and soon we hope to have a finished product that will be marketed at SASHA for Contemporary Living, an elegant fair trade boutique on Free School Street.

Along with vocational training in various crafts like batik, tie and dye, stitching, embroidery, catering, etc. women at ANKUR KALA are trained in production, research and business skills. They are also given regular educational, social and spiritual inputs which help them to become self-confident and positive.

All the women are given a monthly stipend and are encouraged to open bank accounts and make regular savings. This is an important step in their lives and in most cases this is their first step towards achieving self-reliance.

Once the women have completed their training, they are given the option to start their own production units or to work from home and earn an income fromt he sale of their handicrafts. Some of the owmen are also offered further leadership trinaing as supervisors to teach and guide trainees. Many women have grown into strong leaders who not only teach and train but also regularly network with other women's groups on different issues.

I have gained a lot of knowledge and inspiration working on this project with women at ANKUR KALA and I highly recommend their products: lemon squash fruit concentrate and jams are favorites. For people living abroad, you can find ANKUR KALA products at Ten Thousand Villages shops.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Suchana: The Khanjanpur Early Learning Group

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
Over the weekend our family visited friends who live outside of Shantiniketan, in a village called Khanjanpur. Since we were there on a Sunday morning we got to view firsthand the school that Kirsty and Rahul set up on their verandahs for local children who need primary education. They started this in November 2004 and through the donations of friends and family, and the sale of greeting cards have been able to keep it going! They currently have about 47 children coming on Sundays and Wednesdays for four hour sessions. We really enjoyed the community feeling they have created, and were inspired by the work they are achieving! Some basic information about the school is below and if you would like more info or want to help by selling/buying their cards or doing any kind of fundraising, contact them at: milwardbose@rediffmail.com

Suchana is a culturally very mixed group, which emphasises equality - between boys and girls as well as between cultures - and cultural exchange. Our teaching takes place in three languages, according to need. We believe in education to support creativity, and hence emphasise art, craft, music and self-expression in our curriculum. We also emphasise local knowledge, and take care to focus on situations and information relevant and useful to rural children in India. We have been developing our activity-based learning methods, and do not use text books except as reference resources.

We divide our sessions into two parts, the first part in classes according to literacy level, and the second part all together.
To our pre and neo-literates, we teach: Literacy through Santali; Literacy through Bengali; Basic numeracy; Songs, Dances, Rhymes. To our literates, we teach: Environmental and natural science; Village-based social science; English language; English literacy. All together we enjoy: Singing (in three languages) and music-making with rhythm work; Crafts -- with an emphasis on local crafts and materials; Art -- with lots of variety; Stories -- from books, from memory, or even from the internet; Sports and games -- including mixed cricket.

Contact them at:
SUCHANA: The Khanjanpur Early Learning Group
Uttor Phalguni
P.O and Village: Khanjanpur,
Via Sriniketan, Birbhum,
West Bengal, 731 236, India

Sunderbans Khadi & Village Industrial Society (SKVIS)

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
A small group of young rural women had an idea to uplift their community. They met an illustrious man named Mr. P.K. Roy who advised them to create a self-employment organization for themselves and other women in need of such a service. Each of them raised 800 rupees to get the project started. They began training, first for themselves, and then starting training other women coming for below the poverty line within the nearby villages. By the year 1991, Mr. Roy was able to withdraw himself and move onto other projects, seeing that these extremely enthusiastic women had themselves formed a sustainable and firm infrastructure with professional leadership and a global outlook. Now this highly-functional project, Sunderbans Village Khadi and Industrial Society (SKVIS), works as an umbrella group for no less than 12,000 families and is proud to provide such an important network for the education and livelihood of women of the Sunderbans, which is the mangrove region home to the dwindling Bengal Tiger population, located about 52 miles south of Kolkata along the delta border of India and Bangladesh.
At the end of February 2005, quite by chance through a job I am doing, I had the opportunity to visit SKVIS in Canning and was shown around by several of the founding 9 members. The moment I stepped into the training center I could feel something different altogether at work here. The first room I stepped into, I saw women painting wax designs directly onto fabrics for batik, three artists at home in their studio. They hadn't even needed to put down lines to follow, simply following their heart's own lines and designs and their hand's confident experience. Although I have always tried to support fair trade, seeing this art being done in front of my eyes made a much deeper impression on me than ever before. I felt as though the women should all be signing their pieces as they are each a small masterpiece. In the next room, I met Sushama who was very keen to show me all the variations on plant colors she had been researching in her spare time. She was dying bio-cotton fabrics and handmade paper and the colors, textures and smells in the room were invigorating. In the same room, some women were doing block print patterning on silk sashes, which I later found out was an order for Global Village, a group in Japan that I am very familiar with. After lunch I saw the tailoring section, handloom weaving, and dying areas and talked to many of the women working there. When I asked how they learned these skills, they told me "here at SKIVS!" In the tailoring room, women were sewing beautiful cotton sarongs...these also heading to Japan for Global Village! I felt so at home and so proud to be a part of this special socio-economic loop, knowing exactly where these products were headed. I didn't have time to go out into the villages and see the agricultural projects also being conducted through SKVIS but will be sure to visit there again.
From this visit, I also came to understand the importance of the Azo-free dyes that Safia Minney at Global Village insists upon. Because the women come in close contact with the dyes and can be exposed to dangerous carcinogens if they are azo type dyes, the azo-free are the best choice for the producers, the consumers, and the planet. I felt truly lucky to meet such powerfully empowered women working so close to me. Fair Trade customers can really be proud to buy such artful products and support this good work. Each and every woman I met was an artisan in her own right.

HAPPY EARTH DAY from Mustard Seeds Library!

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
In Kolkata, India Mustard Seeds Library members and I celebrated Earth Day with a poetry contest & reading one day early. The kids wrote really great poems and did leaf rubbings. We also read a story about trees, and we sang Happy Earth Day to you -- topping it all off with a nice Earthday cake and a flea market (with proceeds going to RCFC children's rehab center).

The world is yours!

April 22, 2005


My friend, Atreyee, found yet another passage that gives reference to the almighty mustard seed. This one is from the Upanishads, ancient accounts of mystical revelations and the inspiration behind all systems of Hindu religion.

"Smaller than a grain of rice is the Self; smaller than a grain of barley, smaller than a mustard seed, smaller than a canary (millet) seed, yea, smaller even than the kernel of a canary seed. Yet again is that Self, within the lotus of my heart, greater than the earth, greater than the heavens, yea, greater than all the worlds."

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


SWANIRVAR SCHOOL: A new model for total education

This is a brand-new urban initiative in Kolkata, an alternative to the current educational system that does not allow for creativity and innovation for either the students or teachers. The idea came from a special educator, Sudeshna Sinha, who had been running Aashirvaaad, an afternoon school run by a group of Irish missionaries for children from the pavement and slums. Three hours proved to be inadequate to do the kind of experimentation she had in mind so she started working toward a total school system that could incorporate new techniques, exciting for both students and teachers. The result is Swanirvar School, which is currently being funded by an organization called Indien Hilfe, a German-based philanthropic organization. Various training programs are going on for alternative education methods in all areas, including science, math, language, and social studies, etc. This is a model school project which they hope will one day be copied throughout India for all ages and classes. There is a growing resource center so that others interested in alternatives to present day education systems can also link up with Swanirvar. English will be one of the languages taught at the school.

The English teacher at Swanirvar is in desperate need of English teaching materials for children from the ages of 8-16 but who are at a very low level of English training, since they have mostly come from underprivileged backgrounds with no exposure to English at all. We are happy to have used materials (if not too tattered). They are especially looking for flash cards, textbooks, worksheets, games, classroom decorations, cassettes, CDs, craft materials, basically any type of teaching material at all. If someone would like to visit and share their teaching experiences with teachers and students, we are also happy to have your visit!

Please send donations of any educational resource materials to:

Sudeshna Sinha
c/o Swarnirvar School
Ananda Flat 7H & 5G
116 Southern Avenue, Kolkata 700 029 INDIA
Email: sujit568@cal3.vsnl.net.in

starting up dal bhat

dal bhat is basic food, just some flavorful beans and rice.
let the blogging begin. the concept of quick-publishing blogspace has been on my mind for quite a while so i finally got it going. i look forward to introducing what gautam, malini, bapu, me and friends and family are up to in our city, kolkata and what is happening with our small community library and family project, mustard seeds. this blog is for family and friends whereas the tik-tiki blog is more general about life in kolkata. this may be the answer to the fact that i have been writing less and less letters by post, but mailart will never die for me!! it just comes in spurts. i look forward to hearing from people too.