Pysanky in Vellore, Part 1

March 4, 2006

From my India Diary:

I spent the morning today teaching the ancient Ukrainian art of pysanka making in Vellore. My students were a mixed group – 8 community volunteers who speak only Tamil, and 7 occupational therapy students who know English. Both groups work with the handicapped, and it is the hope of Sara and Guru that they might be able to teach the craft to their patients.

We worked in the conference room off the main office – lots of light, but also lots of road noise. Sadly, we couldn't put the fans on, because the breeze thus created would snuff out the candles (as I had discovered yesterday). So everyone worked comfortably away while I sweated madly in the stifling heat.

The OT students, brought by Guru, arrived first, a bit early. I described the technique to them, and had a pysanka that I had created yesterday (to test the dyes) to show them what they could make. I had left half of the wax on so understand the process better. On a sample egg I drew lines, made spirals and dots, and wrote my name. They caught on quickly, and got going.

The volunteers appeared, a few at a time; once I had a quorum, I gave them the same lesson, except with Guru translating for me.

The women looked a bit puzzled, probably because Guru wasn't entirely sure of the technique, so it was a bit difficult for him to explain. But they soon caught on, and explained to their friends who arrived a bit later.

Both groups were tentative at first, drawing designs on with pencil and carefully following the lines.

Once they had made their first pysanka (in the basic colors of white, yellow, orange, red and black), almost all made a second.

They did more of the work freehand, and experimented with colors. For a few I washed the eggs with soap to bleach them to white, so they could add blue; with others we did an orange rinse. The patterns were more fanciful, and designs more vivid.

The casualties, unusually, were few. Normally, there is a good deal of breakage (and, with the younger groups, tears) involved. These students took to heart my exhortation to keep their eggs on the table when working, and were careful when carrying them. But the pretty blue on blue egg broke during wax removal, as cracked eggs always do (the heat from the candle causes the contents of the egg to expand, and blow out through any weakness in the shell).

The session lasted much longer than I had expected, but we all had fun. Ingrid Friberg took lots of photos of the process, and I took photos of the eggs. If I hadn't run out of eggs, we would still probably be there......


India 2006

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