As a note… this is a general post about the trip, albeit a long one. There may be more posts provoked by experiences or thoughts that occurred while in Saharanpur, such as clothing, child labour, working conditions, etc.

On the 18th,  Adam and I were part of a 25-person trip to Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh. One of the staff at Woodstock is from Saharanpur, and the Staff Welfare officer was kind enough to do some creative scheduling, and get us all organized so we could go from the school to Saharanpur for a day trip to see the woodwork done there, as well as (mostly for the ladies) do some cheap fabric shopping, and (for the men) see an Islamic university, as Saharanpur appears to be predominantly Muslim.

We got up and got on the bus (the school bus) and got out of town with no problem. Someone wanted to stop once, so there was a brief 10 minute pause past Dehra Dun for some sort of fresh hot fried snack, I’m not sure what it was (having possibly had food poisoning the night before, I wasn’t up for fried food experimentation). Just as with the drive up to Mussoorie from Delhi, there are very few stretches of space without some sort of civilization on it.

When we stopped for lunch (at a hotel restaurant), the food was good and fairly inexpensive, and I mostly had rice, naan, and some chicken that I could be sure had been well-cooked, plus masala chai. Adam discovered the Indian equivalent to barbecued chicken, getting a chicken dish which had a sauce of tomato, vinegar(?), sugar, and sliced onions. It tasted pretty much like BBQ sauce. We hopped back on the bus for a 10-minute ride, and then briefly browsed a small shop that had some things.

Adam and I had come seeking a bangle rack for me, some serving trays for us, and anything else that suited our fancy. We’d seen the elegantly carved boxes from Saharanpur in a couple of the Mussoorie shops; we’d seen the fancifully brass-inlaid art, and were hoping to find some nesting serving trays with such elegant works on them to use when we host things (since we’ll be having people over regularly, if all goes well). Instead… this one shop had some nicely carved things, but… nothing like what we were after. The one thing I would have wanted to buy was a carved table with matching chairs, for Rs 14,000. A lot of the things were pretty, but then turned out to be spraypainted in metallic colours, or coming apart at the seams/hinges. It was… disappointing.

From that shop (and discouraged from doing other browsing), we went to the cloth bazaar and the men went off to the Islamic school (as women couldn’t go). Adam, and a few other gents, elected to go to the cloth bazaar, so we shopped. I got some suit fabric for Rs250 (compared to the Rs400 or so usually in Mussoorie/Dehra Dun) and we got our curtain fabric: lengths of slubby silk, in bright yellow (tinging towards saffron), ruby red, and a brilliant blue. Adam also picked up some iridescent paisley (yes, you read that correctly!) and I got some purple-blue slubby material, from which to make a kameez. His paisley is to make French cuffs on, when he gets new dress shirts made. At Rs40/meter, this was a huge score – some material we liked for curtains was Rs220/meter!

We then went to the staff’s family home via rickshaws (which was an entertaining ride, and the house itself gorgeous), and found out that we would be receiving a visit from the press. I can’t confess surprise, because it’s great promotion for the town and the industry (and this gentleman can get personal marketing): people from Finland, Canada, America, Japan, Nepal, New Zealand, India, Sweden, Scotland, and England – coming to Saharanpur to look at the woodworking! Explaining the craft, the intricacies, to these pale-skinned foreigners from all walks of life and parts of the world.

We were posed as he began his lecture – we figured it’d be a photo, but instead, with the shortest of us up front, he began to elucidate the ways it was made, the way the brass is hammered in, the different steps; it was hard for some not to laugh at this oh-so-clearly presented photo op, being taken advantage of. I really can’t blame them – I simply applaud the ingenuity in taking advantage of the fat sheep that fell in their laps, ready to be shorn and then showed for benefit.

The one thing that took me aback was when we walked back to the factory, and I saw goats in coats on a roof.

Okay, well. That was the first thing, but not the one. That just surprised me. What made me a bit taken aback was the first actual instance I saw of child labour, a young kid hammering brass ribbon into the designs with a speed that shows he’s been doing it for at least two years or more. The boy was probably 10-12, Adam supposes. I’m terrible with ages so I won’t venture a guess. We didn’t speak to him, so we don’t know the circumstances of his employment: it could be apprenticeship, willing – it could be trying to earn some money on the weekends when he isn’t in school, to support his family – it could be a nephew or grandson who really wants to be in the business. Or it could be a child trying to pull his family out of poverty and this is his only option.

Based off of the number of schoolkids we saw in uniform (which is to say: not very many), I’m inclined to think that this wasn’t anything inappropriate, just startling. Apprenticeships in the West during the Renaissance and even up through the tail end of the 20th century started anywhere from 8-13, depending on the craft and family situation.

Speaking of kids… which makes me tangent to what they were wearing, and clothing in general..

Saharanpur is a Muslim town. Most of the women wore black salwar and long kameez, if not burqas, hair and face covered. A few deliberately uncovered their faces at points, as if to gawk at the foreigners better and let us see them; another few never quite appeared to be covering themselves up, instead having the front part of the burqa up so they could see clearly. We were all definitely remarked upon, and I am still shaking off the stares. Dressed in jeans (so I could wear my knee brace), a knee-length kameez, and a dupatta – I was still getting stares. The ladies who hadn’t bothered (and there were a couple) got more, but it was… curiosity mingled with feeling like I had a “USDA APPROVED” stamp on me, and my quality is being additionally evaluated for what grade. It was uncomfortable, to say the least. Adam’s protectiveness is nice… except in India, where physical contact with a woman means she’s easy… so it was this awkward “I want to hide behind him” mixed with “Can’t touch him, there might be Eve-teasing”.

Eventually… we all got on the bus and went home, and it was about 3 hours from door to door… including driving at night with multiple vehicles without lights on, and sheer general “I’m going to die, aren’t I?”

It was fun. I want to go again. 🙂

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