Student, Still

Three years of doing Sociology in Hindu College, and I’ve decided the thing that I want to continue doing is actually painting. I don’t know if it’s just painting, maybe I’ll dabble in other mediums, or maybe some film, maybe even installation art? I thought maybe I’d apply to art school after DU, maybe in India – or abroad, or I could maybe apprentice – or work. Then I thought about it, if there are still so many maybes in my head, then jumping into something will probably not be the best option for me. It’s what I did with Sociology too. It’s such an interesting subject, but I jumped into it so early because well, let’s face it, I didn’t think I’d do well enough to get into college so when I did, it was all so perfect and basically my life seemed just about made… After three years of looking at fat readers and wanting to throw up, I was sure academics was not my thing.

My first project in my ‘Gap Year’ was in Ladakh. A friend and I went to document Ladakhi woollen textiles with two young designers who use these textiles to create contemporary pieces in Delhi. They use Yak, Sheep and Camel wool from the regions of Chhangtang and Nubra, bring them to Leh to spin and weave into shawls, and then take them to Delhi to make into garments. The commercial textile of Ladakh is mainly Pashmina, but the everyday Ladakhi ‘Abi-le’ wears a ‘Kos’, made of Yak or Sheep wool. These textiles, though extremely practical and really very stylish, are losing popularity due to the influx of western trends and industry.

We spent about four weeks in Ladakh, travelling to where the wool was sourced as well as being grounded in Leh and seeing the actually processes of spinning, dying and weaving. For me this experience was more than I could have expected in every way, I learnt so much both about my surrounding and myself. I met an all-black wearing Swiss photographer and his Italian best friend, and we sat behind them on their bikes and rode over Khardung-La Pass into Nubra Valley. They taught me things about travelling and experiencing a place like no one else, and so despite trudging though ten metres of wet mud, I was able to to keep a smile on my face. After spending the last 12 years in India, the two of them probably knew more about the place than anyone. They knew the geography of Ladakh as if they were born there, and could tell you about their encounters with the African-origin Siddi tribes who live in Karnataka, as well as about the bike route they planned on taking through Meghalaya.

For me, my rejection of the study of Sociology took a full-circle and I realised why I even took it in the first place. Understanding people and communities and their evolution is so exciting. Going to a place like Ladakh, I could see what I studied. The migration of Nomadic groups to the city of Leh due to climate change and industrialisation, the industrial boom in Leh and the emergence of classes, the decline of the status of women due to the influx of ‘modern’ ideas. These concepts for me were never so interesting in class as they were when I was able to actually experience them.

We met these two British teenage boys who just finished school and decided to take a year off in India. They went to little ‘hippie’ spots all over and were awkwardly finding themselves through people and debauchery. Neither wanted to go back, and you could still see that irreplaceable feeling of liberation in their faces which we’ve all experienced when school finally gets over. This other travelling girl from Australia, who always wants to be out of what she calls a ‘small-town’, spoke to me about her sudden and intense romantic fling with a Himachali waiter and the different definitions of love they both had. Watching people have experiences and ‘finding themselves’ just by taking time off made my decision more solid and clear, there is so much to learn from what life gives you outside a formal structure. Experiences can never be re-lived, but courses can wait.

Definitely the two people who inspired me the most, though, were the two designers we went with. Two girls in their 20s, independent and doing what they love. They both had rebelled to some extent to follow their passion and live by their terms. One from Haryana and the other from Ladakh, they both had such different takes on life which combined in the most unexpected beautiful way. They were driven enough to get work done, but principled so strongly, knowing to what extent commerce exceeds humanity. It’s not often you find young people so certain of their stance and yet so content with their work. Other than teaching us the ‘African dance’ and chatting about boys, they definitely gave me a certain confidence in taking life on and having a good time while I do it.

So even though I’m still uncertain about how I’m going to incorporate by Sociological bent into my art, I’m really excited for what life has to offer me next and I’m still learning.

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Pakhi Sen

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