This is India!

I sit amidst my fairly traded goods and recall stories of connecting with artisans…close at hand are the journals and fabric lanterns from the artisan named Dev.

I do not know Dev’s last name.  There was no name on his shop.   This is but one of the curious facts of working in India—formalities exist, but according to their own plan.   I purchased his embossed leather-bound journals, but also embroidered fabric journals and camel leather bracelets.  Additionally, a passer-by with fabric lanterns was hailed and 20 pieces were purchased from him.  While I am sure some part of this transaction aided Dev, I have no idea their arrangement!

Dev and his Dyed Embossed Leather Journal Covers..on the rooftop!
This is India, after all.

Up close and personal....

But , alas,the story!   Situated in the south of the Rajasthan, the City of Lakes belies its name.  Though there are several lakes within its boundaries, Udaipur’s temperature averages well over 80 degrees during the winter months.   Rajasthan is primarily desert, and thus has a population
of camels that rivals that of the human inhabitants.  Hence, there are as many camel leather shops as there are catholic churches in Milwaukee…everywhere, on every block, so it is easy to overlook them.

Somehow Dev caught our attention, though I am quite surprised.  His shop, if you can call it that, is a sliver of space, up 4 steep steps, and barely wide enough for this big-boned gal to slide in.  There is nothing that labels this a “legitimate retail store”:   no hours of operation, no means to weigh packages and, again since this is India, a fraction of the goods possible are visible.

Dev is a mostly savvy , but slightly anxious 19-year old, with a younger brother who is less than eager to obey his elder.  After looking at the meager shop, he trotted us off to his “factory workshop”, which was only slightly larger and cleaner than a cow stanchion, and there he demonstrated
the art of dyeing and stamping leather.   A simple process, yet performed sitting cross-legged on a cement floor hunched over a block of wood, the task would be unbearable for most stiff-hipped Americans.


This is India: On concrete floors, cross-legged, creating...

The leather pieces are dampened with a cloth saturated with dye, and then pounded with a wooden mallet against a metal stamp, in order to impress the image into the leather.  Dev has created stunning leather-bound journals embedded with a fine polished semi-precious stone.  These journal covers are left to dry in the dry desert sun on the fourth-story rooftop, accessible by uneven concrete steps, and with a rickety single rebar hand rail.

Dev & his Guruji - Udaipur, Rajasthan

Someone truly afraid of heights would have declined the invitation to trek up, but would have missed the view over Udaipur, arguably among the most romantic cities in India.

So, we haggled a bit over prices, and we chose a few of the leather journals, as I was not convinced of their salability.   I was unsure whether he could procure what I requested, whether he could or would create my journals, and whether the package would arrive on my doorstep in the United States.  I now know this was more about me than Dev and his journals.

After all,this is India.  And anything is possible:  no problem!  Another color you wish, Madame?   No problem!  50 pieces:  no problem!  Shipping to the United States?  For 2 rupees, a neighboring shop will weigh the package and Fed Ex is everywhere!

So indeed, without Dev’s last name or shop name, the package arrived exactly as requested.  I was quite surprised to get the package at all, but here it was!

So look for more camel leather goods during a SUTRA home sale this winter, as I will contact Dev by email, and it will be me needing the encouragement to enter the 21st century:  this will be my first attempt to wire transfer money anywhere!  And this young entrepreneur in a nameless shop will be giving me instructions.