Wednesday, July 16, 2014

My home. My habitat.

I was never a home bird. I loved being outdoors, free and boundless. Being home was claustrophobic and my nomadic career never made it any better.

And then a miracle happened. After a series of life changing decisions (Finding my man, leaving my job and getting hitched), I moved into my all time favorite city - Chennai. In no time, I was setting up a home for the first time. My own space, my habitat, an ecosystem I created for myself. It was love at first sight.

Time was in plenty. And then I let go. Splashes of color everywhere, paintings and DIY arts filled every wall. The beautiful morning rays entered my living room leaving the lovely green patch on my balcony glistening in the sun. It looked divine. That very moment, I realized I had truly created my space called home.

 Clocks were born from cardboard (mechanism and design by the talented husband), DIY wall arts from tissue and plywood, a feng shui compliant table top water fountain, a center piece for the teapoy, re-used plastic bottles to create lampshades, re purposed fancy glass bottles to hold money plants, the list is endless. Soon my home transformed, from the dull grey 10 year old apartment to a colorful studio like home which held my signature on every wall.

And the guess what came as a reward? A full page write up on 'Vanitha Veedu', a popular lifestyle magazine published by Malayala Manorama. I really owe this journalist big time for all the show off!

The winning moment. One down my bucket list. Happiness galore!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Memories of a distant past

This post is dedicated to all goofy kids (like me) who spent a good deal of our teens in the Middle East. Growing up in an alien land did subject us to speculation by our native counterparts. Especially during the 30 - 60 day vacation when Kerala is at her exotic best. The ravishing monsoons.

15 years later, I am a few months away to hitting 30, and fat enough to roll down a spiral memory lane. The days where I counted my days to the much awaited vacation of the year,  my romance with the Kerala monsoons, my love for the bright orange sticky sweet and my distaste for tagging me Non-Resident Indian. Being an NRI was not a matter of choice and I never felt any less than being a true blue Indian.

A few bite sized memory portions to chew by
  • In contrast to the glossy poster campaigns by Kerala tourism that you see today, my memories of Kerala was filled with monsoons and the uninvited guests that came with it. The jumbo mosquito's, the power cuts and the Hartals. It was nothing like a holiday, but it still had a certain magic, an air of liberation.

  •  I used to memorize the answers to questions like 'Enna vanne' (When did you come?') almost instantly followed by 'Enna Pokke' (When will you leave) which was the only question my neighbors  would ask besides ogling at my bright striped pyjamas and shoes.
  •  Smearing myself with mosquito repellents and squashed Tulsi leaves was regular and in vain.  The mutant crazy mosquitoes grew resistant and more determined with each passing day. Nothing seemed to save me from the reddened rosy bite marks which used to transform to ugly scars and reminding me of an adventurous holiday.

  • I have hunted down the round orange sticky sweet and orange - lime flavored hard candies you only get in local tea stalls in India to bring home to my friends in Dubai. We used to barter Bounty, Twix, Toblerone, Mackintosh  and Kit-Kat in exchange for local candies found in roadside tea stalls. Talk about greener pastures!

  •  I still think Goldspot tasted much better than Mirinda. I loved the Frooty that came in a green tetra pack which was served in Air India Flights. I remember squishing my face on the aircraft window peering down the fluffy white cloud and wondering where the Maharaja (The mascot with the big mustache) stayed on the aircraft.

  • 'Packing' for the much awaited vacation was a ceremony. The rooms were a mess and I used to meticulously pack all the gifts, label them with names of the destined well wishers (Secretly hoping they would never come).
  •  I have traveled with suitcases stuffed with coconuts, dried fish and curry leaves. Only to stir an embarrassing conversation with some good looking customs officers.  (P.S The option of carrying goodies back after the vacation was non-negotiable).
  •  I was fascinated by the most natural occurrences around me. A cow chewing the cud, a gecko clucking on the wall, a spider weaving its web, an earthworm wiggling out of a mud heap, the perfect oval shaped goat droppings, the sap green - mehendi green shades of the cow dung, a jumbo hairy spider carrying an egg bigger than itself. Being home in Kerala was like living in a discovery channel.
  •  There was a surprise in every dewy morning. The water drop condensed on the tip of the grass blades (Known as kannithulli) refreshed the sleep out of a tired eye. These were nature's hidden treasures, which I fail to find these days.

  •  My first encounter with the cannibalism was feeding our hen with a piece of home cooked chicken. Believe me, they loved it.
  •  Contrary to public belief, I could read and write my mother tongue as good as my counterparts in India. (My English-ised Malayalam was only a figment of their imagination).
  •  I must admit, I have celebrated religious festivals in much pomp and grandeur in Dubai than I have in India. Festivals in Dubai was more than watching blockbuster movies, buying packet 'Payasam' (Rice kheer) and feasting on paper leaves. It was reuniting with family and friends who longed to be back home and recreate the festival just as it would be in India.
  •  I never understood how all sofa sets, mattresses and books and newspapers at home would be moist all the time. There was moisture everywhere unlike the dry almost crispy pale blue aerogramme that used to reach us from India.

  • Visiting a temple on barefoot was like learning a dance for the first time. The spiked stones pierced my soft soles which had set foot only on rugs and carpets. It was funny hopping around, with the 'prasad' in one hand and the other hand busy fumbling with my bright 'pattupavadai'. 
  • I have tested the waterproofing of the lily pads and had acquired the enviable skill to sip the honey out of a banana flower in the evenings. (Psst. Every banana flower was meticulously counted and kept watch by Mom who had her lunch plans for the week chalked out ahead)
  •  Every rubber forests in Kerala holds an enchanting mystery. The trees curving itself to catch the glimpse of the sun are like outstretched hands that welcome you to explore their mysterious depths. I was attacked by a swarm of red ants that lay concealed among the leaves minutes before crushing a leech with a upturned coconut shell. Natures has her ways to vengeance.
     Image courtesy -
  • My first philosophical tryst on existence and death was with the moths that died in the light. As I watched them fly and lay motionless, I was being the last living creature they see before they stopped their flutter. I realized the only difference between the moth and me, is the body we inhabit. The souls shall remain the same. RIP.

The scent of a new bright eraser, the crumble of a fancy candy wrapper, the musty smell of a locked up house, the yellowed pages of a favorite book. Moments of varied shades, recalled by a unique smell and taste which propels you to a land of the distant past. They are sweet and delectable, like hidden treasures, like the sweet honey hiding within the stalks of a secret wild flower. From all the childhood secrets, were born a thousand wishes. And the child within me, smiles again.

Signing off with sweet laden memories,

(A prototype, of my very first signature)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

'Don't eat that. It's clay!' - Interview featured On Dashing Journal

Don’t eat that! It’s clay!

Shilpa Mitha is a sound engineer by profession and a clay artist by passion. True to her name, Shilpa, meaning ‘perfectly created’ is a true embodiment of the art she embraces, to her heart’s content.
In short, Shilpa makes much more than just food miniatures, she creates clay food that makes you go hungry. Her works create an insatiable appetite for all food sinful, leaving you hungry for more.
In a candid conversation with SreejaRaveendran, Shilpa reveals what got her into this dream world of clay, food miniatures, online craft groups and more.
What got you pulled in to clay modelling? How did you realise you were good at it?
My very first attempt at clay modelling was a failure. I backed out of it in half an hour. And soon, I tried experimenting with quilling and used to make quilled 3 D miniatures of bikes, piano and make up kits. Friends did play a pivotal role in bringing me to this profession. Since I had quit my full time job of being a sound engineer, time was in plenty. Considering the versatility of clay, I took to rolling clay with an initial pay of Rs.500. Soon, creating food miniatures became my second name. I had broken the glass ceiling and never looked back since then.
Most of your miniatures are centred on food? What’s with this fixation? Are you bent on making people hungry?
(After a series of giggles)Well, I am not particularly a foodie. But, food as you know has a variety of textures and colours. There are endless possibilities and lot of detailing that goes in to creating a perfect food miniature which closely resembles the real dish. So I started off on Indian variants and realised in a jiffy that I had got into this a tad too late. Miniature crafts were very much in existence and I wish I started on with this earlier.
How was it getting into clay making full time while your counterparts pursued mainstream careers?
It really did not affect me. I am fortunate to have supportive parents. I strive to be different in everything I do from a very young age. It’s been three years now and I have never regretted this decision even once.
What do you think the one factor that connects you to thousands of crafters, followers and artists?
Well, art has a way of permeating across boundaries. I love talking, so it made me reach out, conduct workshops and make friends. It was with this intent ‘Chennai Crafters’, the online group for crafters was born. Chennai Crafters objective was to recognize artists and entrepreneurs and create a database of talent. It helps when you are thinking of an event and are scouting for people who are experts in a certain art and craft.
Entrepreneurship requires constant innovation and novel approaches. How do you keep yourself inspired all the time?
I see lot of plagiarism of the original works which were done by me. Every time I see a copy of my work, I am motivated to do better than the duplicate. I need to keep raising my bar, at several dimensions of detailing. I want to preserve the authenticity of my work and this keeps me on my toes.
What is the challenge you face being into the category of handmade products. Something you would like to note as a point of caution.
Stick to one medium and specialise in it. A lot of crafters hop from one medium to the other not focusing on mastering the art. Long term success is much better than short term achievements.
You have a basic degree in engg, a PG in sound engg and now clay modelling. Have you thought of integrating the three at any point and creating something which is absolutely out-of –the world?
Yes. That’s my sole strength and a dream project. It’s a secret for now. (Laughs)
What is your advice (tip) to youngsters who want to pursue an unconventional career?
I once met a man who asked what job was I into. I replied clay modelling and he is like, not that, I meant what do you do for a living?
Most people may not accept ‘rolling clay’ as a way of making money. But then, that is the challenge you have to overcome. You must go out of your way, move out from the comfort zone and make a living of what you love doing and not what you must to do for a living.
So, how do you plan on taking this forward? Any big ticket plans?
Yes, I plan to set my own studio in future – a cool place where people can just walk with pictures of which miniatures they would love to make. Rolling clay is a great stress buster and it’s fun too.

Quick snapshot

Best compliment:When I was asked if I made a giant coin and placed it near real food.
Worst criticism: I was asked if the figurine I made was pregnant. I had rolled the claytoo thick. It made me laugh.
Dream miniature:A Buddha figurine. Capture that inner peace is a challenge.
Favorite model:The girl with a violin. It’s very close to my heart.
Response to mimics:Always credit the original creator. Respect the ethics of art and prove your mettle by creating art with an original personal element.
Photography credits : (Shilpa’s Official blog)