The classic “charpai” recalled, explored in its past and present

Chairpai (Photo: Yeors)
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By Siddhi Jain

Panaji, Dec 16 (IANS) Of all pieces of furniture unique to India, perhaps the ‘charpai’ is the most evocative of individual memories. Compact, portable and extremely eco-friendly, this ‘Indian bed’ is explored at the Serendipity Arts Festival here through a historical-cultural project.

Curator of the Charpai Project, Ayush Kasliwal, who takes visitors on a journey of exploring a cultural artefact “truly Indian”, calls the charpai a work of “sheer genius”.

“The fact that it is light on environment, is done simply, is highly customised and relatable, holds a certain meaning in the society — as part of dowry, for instance. That meaning is what I’m pointing at,” Kasliwal, who has expertise in furniture design, told IANS.

It, he wrote in his curatorial note, is perhaps one of the most functional pieces of furniture ever created — “portable, economical, sustainable, compact, multi functional with utility, used not just personally but also in communities.”

Part of the main exhibition, a showcase familiarises viewers with academic and historical inquiries, including medieval scholar-explorer Ibn Batuta’s, on the ‘charpai’.

“The beds in India are very light. (It) consists of four conical legs on which four staves are laid between they plait a sort of ribbon of silk or cotton. When you lie on it you need nothing else to render the bed sufficiently elastic,” the Moroccan traveller is quoted as having said.

Nonetheless, the ‘charpai’, although intricately linked to the Indian way of living (especially in the relatively dry regions of the country’s middle belt), does remain fairly quotidian.

Though speaking of an ‘everyday, mundane object’ — something that this edition of Serendipity festival seems to be widely bringing forth — Kasliwal’s curation of the show holds interest, as visitors are transported to a typical charpai shop resembling a storeroom of any Indian home, replete with stacked rolls of charpai weaving material, jute ropes, dismantled wooden legs, and other objects that seem hard to come by in the contemporary lifestyle.

The curation then leads one to examples of fully-woven charpais, that remain evocative of different memories for each visitor. What’s also interesting to note is that despite the project having exhibited a number of them, each with different weaving techniques and material, the core design of the charpai transcends regions, time and the myriad ‘hands’ that create it.

“It cannot be attributed to a certain time or region, but is everywhere. There are customizations but as an object it is pretty generic. It’s not about the greatness of bygones times, but relates to what of our past relates to our present,” Kasliwal said.

Contemporary adaptations of the charpais, in the form of a stainless steel one, and a rosewood and cane one, find space in the exhibition, reminding us of the classic frame of the object which has retained its essence across time and space but has still percolated into the urban consciousness.

With a need for contemporary design to learn from the “brilliance” of charpai design, the discourse around this cultural-historical object is one that the Indian society must engage with.

Another special section of the charpai project can be seen at the Children’s Park here, where a massive installation of varied charpai weaves is put up. As children go up and down the various levels of charpai ‘floors’, we cannot help thinking of how elastic the ‘Indian bed’ is. (IANS)


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