Thursday, January 23, 2014


We live in the era of the crossover. Every furniture designer also seems to have a clothing line, handbag designers branch out into jewellery or sunglasses, and hell, even writers can't just be writers any more, you need to understand production layout, web architecture, search engines, and a million other things. So it's refreshing to come across old-school craftspeople. Artists who make just one product in a carefully curated selection, but makes them so beautifully that it's impossible not to immediately covet every piece. 

Enter Block Shop. Artists and sisters Lily and Hopie Stockman, set up this Indian textile company that uses centuries-old techniques of using hand-carved wooden blocks and natural dyes to make simple, elegant scarves. Not bags, not cushion covers, just the most ridiculously beautiful scarves. As an added feel-good bonus, the company donates part of its profits to improving the healthcare of the Jaipur community that works for them.

What so freaking lovable about their work is that these aren't business people who have just flown over to India to co-opt a village to churn out the same old designs everyone else makes; they're artists who design one of a kind patterns that are inspired by their own life adventures in places as different as New York and the Mojave desert. The end result? A look that's totally contemporary and yet utterly Indian at the same time.

Once you see Lily's own artwork though, it all starts to make sense. She seems to have such an instinctive understanding of colour and form, plus she writes one of the funniest, most personality-laden, blogs I've ever read.  


Wednesday, January 22, 2014



Every now and then, the murky depths of the internet throws a gem of bizarreness my way. Most of the time, I instantly wipe it from my mind (I have a theory that if you retained every weird image of cats in clothes you saw, your overworked brain would probably forget important stuff like how to walk in a straight line). Today though, stumbling across an oddball video competition held by the Indian Government, in which they solicit videos that show what "India is", made me question what I really feel India is all about. The competition seems so wacky not only because I can't see what the point of it is, but also because the videos themselves are so utterly surreal that watching them feels like someone put a drop of LSD into my morning coffee when I wasn't looking.

For all the madness, heat, and clamour of India, the overriding feeling in my belly when I think about it is: peace. Perhaps serenity is heightened in the midst of chaos? My mission in starting this blog was to showcase the India that isn't captured by the usual cliches of ornate decor or jewelled saris, and in many ways, the blog mirrors how I feel about the country. Although most people associate India with the noise and dirt and poverty that can overwhelm your senses in a heartbeat, it's the stillness beneath it that beguiles me.

It can take a little time to see it, but if you look beneath the chaos, you'll see that Indians rarely rush anywhere. Even when they're late. They're happy to take train journeys that last for 48 hours, and rather than complain, will turn it into a foodie adventure of dosas and masala chai. And talking of food, every single day, everyone stops for lunch, and by this, I don't mean a Pret A Manger sandwich scarfed down in front of a computer, but a full-on feast of rice, dhal, meat and vegetables.

 Makes that tuna salad on your desk pale into comparison, right?

Most of my Indian friends will never say no to a party, and yet they're some of the hardest workers I know. Working on a weekend seems a totally accepted way of life, but I've yet to hear friends in Mumbai or Delhi grumble about a lack of a work-life balance. I don't know whether it's the karmic notion of reincarnation (if you don't get something done in this life, there's always another), but it's this total zen-like attitude that keeps the country going against the odds. 

Mumbai's legendary traffic jams (via Yanick Delafoge,

Kerala. Yes, this is why everyone wants to go there.

In grey, murky, wintry Britain, where London commuters swarm like angry bees who have had their hive disturbed, it can be hard to hold on to this stillness, but it's not impossible. Meditation and yoga are always winners (Headspace, a great app that my sister got me hooked on to, is a total lifesaver and makes meditation easy for even the most fidgety people), but increasingly I'm searching for mindfulness in my day to day life.

Every morning, I now make a massive pot of masala tea - spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and ginger - to keep me going through the day. It takes longer than dunking a teabag into hot water, but something about the ritual of it all, and the fact that the entire house smells amazing all morning, instantly puts me in a good mood.

I've started writing long-hand letters to a friend in another city. We don't text, we don't email, we just write on thick notepaper, and wait for the thud of a letter on the doormat. Slowing down to write actually changes how I think, and what I write. And, at the risk of sounding like a luddite freak, I've also switched myself off facebook for a while, choosing instead to spend precious free moments staring out of the window daydreaming about new ideas rather than gazing at pictures of what friends had to eat that day. Going cold turkey from social media clearly isn't for everyone, but if slowing down just a bit helps Indians from going all road-rage at yet another traffic jam, maybe there's something in it.