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:

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

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.