A FINE BALANCE
WORDS FABIOLA MONTEIRO
PHOTOGRAPHS SAMEER MANGTANI
GREAT FROM Mumbai, Pune
GREAT FOR An artistic break
“It needs to be centred,” Ganga Kakadia says repeatedly. Centring, in this moment, refers to keeping the clay in the middle of the potter’s wheel, without wobbling. It’s a touch-and-go technique: if you try to mould the clay too hard, it collapses, and, if you don’t put any pressure at all, nothing happens. “Don’t think about the end, because things could go wrong at any point, and you need to be okay with that,” says Ganga. It’s easy to apply everything she’s saying about pottery to life as well. And just like in life, when you get it right, an almost overwhelming sense of liberation takes over.
Painter, illustrator and writer Ganga, along with her husband Kunal and a motley group of theatre folk, filmmakers, sculptors, architects and other artistes, has set up the Art Village in Karjat on family-owned property. It’s meant to be a space for artistes and art enthusiasts, but the Earth Stay programme allows non-artists to live here and reap the benefits of this place too.
You know you’ve reached the right place as you roll up on the gravelled driveway and see a cluster of well-designed thatched mud homes, which have a low carbon footprint. It’s a lesson in sustainable architecture, ideal for the sense of slow living that permeates the property. The living area of this “village” comprises three cottages, with walls made from sun-dried bricks, and roofs thatched by a team of female artisans from Bhuj. But the room’s true beauty lies in the outdoor bathroom quadrangle. A vertical garden with overflowing spider plants is the first thing you’ll see. The loos have their own art installations – colourful recycled Corona bottles hang from the ceiling in one, while cut-outs of graphic art advocating feminist ideas adorn another.
Don’t spend all your time in the room though, as the outdoors is just as lovely. There’s a bed full of giant, happy-making sunflowers, with a ceramic mushroom totem pole erupting from between them. Stroll to the on-site nursery that brims with 40-year-old bonsai trees, orchids and ferns of every shape and size. It’s a horticulturist’s dream one that has been tended to by Ganga’s mother over decades.
There’s also lots of scope for cosying up with a book in a corner of the recreation area. If you don’t have your own, choose one from the property’s beautifully-illustrated books, or delve into its stock of art supplies to create your own masterpiece. Or, if any of the artistes are around, ask for a lowdown on their art – you could find yourself with pottery abilities you’d never known of before.
In the evenings, the staff at the village sets up a campfire. Plan in advance to barbecue chicken (they’ll help), and download a stargazing app to make the most of the clear night skies away from the city.
The property is close to trekking trails, so, if you don’t want to be lethargic, ask for a guide. Stomp on giant dried-up leaves, stay away from the thorny barks of young silk cotton trees that would fit right into a horror film, and spot orange leopard butterflies.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you’ll realise Art Village is a work in progress. “That’s one of the cons of being an artist,” says Ganga, “Work is never quite finished.” Still, with a steady stream of ideas and a go-with-the-flow approach, there’s a lot that Art Village gets right.