Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Papermaking: Clouds at my fingertips

In 1999, I took part in a paper-making workshop at Visthar, outside Bangalore. Tired of the computer at Deccan Herald, afraid my fingertips would turn to plastic from the tic-toc-tic of my daily keyboard routine, I decided to revive my finger skills. 

I already loved baking. And pottery. And haiku. This time, I was super-happy to plunge head-first into paper-making. 

My companions at the paper-making workshop were names to reckon with on the Bangalore art scene: Yusuf Arakkal… Antonio E Costa… Raghavendra Rao…. Aziz T.M….. Ayisha Abraham… C.F. John… and Jenny Pinto.

I loved the Visthar experience so much that, for years afterwards, I looked at clouds, leaves, twigs, branches and everything around as potentially paper.   

A few months later, to my amazement, the output from the workshop was translated into an ‘art show’ at the local Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath, sponsored by Gallery Sumukha. And, despite my protests, my very amateur experiments went up on the walls, alongside works by more seasoned artists. That was my very first experience of being an ‘artist.’

Here are my thoughts from the brochure of the exhibition, titled ‘Paper Trails.’ 

Thank you for the unforgettable experience, C.F. John.

·                *        *        *

Fleecy clouds, liquid lines
A splash of ideas
A breeze of a fern
Pulp afloat in a vat…
A new-born sheet of paper.

Ideas and words. Words and paper. Lines and notions. Colour and material. Can they ever be visualized apart?

To a writer, paper is life. It is the Word at the very Beginning. It is the watermark of a true idea, born to breathe. It is the exquisite calligraphy in natural inks on gossamer paper, crafted by hand, revered by generations. Both for the veracity of the thought and the medium.

As one who has viewed paper as a medium for a message all my living days, the creation of my first sheet of paper by hand was an incommunicable joy. As joyous as the lapping of the surf at my toes. As refreshing as the tang of the breeze in my hair. As graceful as the glimmer of a haiku on the inner eye.

Hands dipped in the paper vat, elbow-deep, sifting for pulp and coming up patchy and damp at first draw. Clouds steep the mind, though the fuzz of failure. And then, a stirring of the pulp deep in the trough, a gentle rocking of the meshed frame in the swishing metal bin, a lifting to the surface with hope, and the nominal notion of paper comes true in life.

As the fresh drawn sheet is laid to dry, the verdant world around comes into focus afresh. The tall grasses. The pine cones. The swaying ferns. Peanut shells. Thin copper sheets in sunset tones. Chicken-coop wire mesh. The dried blossoms tossed by the wind….

How does each element relate to paper? Can we take of nature to make pieces that are natural?

Hands playing with pulp
Soft fingerprints
On the mindscape,
Enmeshing leaves and longing
Into paper lore…

Amidst recycling and redefinitions, paper is reborn to my mind as part-prose, part-poetry; always poetic, never prosaic.

All it takes is the intuition to tell the mundane from the magical.

At Visthar in 1999: (from left) Ayisha, Jenny, Aditi, Yusuf, John, Raghavendra, Antonio, Aziz


  1. my very first memory of you is that of a friendly smiling face with her elbows sunk into paper mash!!

    1. Hahahahaha! I recall that moment in reverse ~ a curly-haired, big-eyed pretty young thing being introduced to me, as I struggled with a deckle-and-mould and big dreams of incredible paper! So happy we got to meet, Krittika, no matter how odd that first encounter was.