Fergana Valley: Ceramic, Ikat and Shavla

Rustam Usmanov and his wife

Rustam Usmanov and his wife

I travelled to Rishtan to see the ceramists who did the platters for me last year. It was bitterly cold and Rustam and his wife were very gracious, kept us warm (don’t miss their gorgeous home slippers!) and well fed while we worked on my order. The shavla – porridge version of plov – we had for lunch was delicious and Zahid and I tucked in. We couldn’t say no when Alisher invited us to lunch later so had to eat again! Tough job this!! I am amazed by how much time and effort Rustam and Alisher make for me. They are world renowned ceramists who earn very well doing exhibitions in the US, Europe and Japan and my orders pale in comparison.

Alisher Nazarov and his brother

Alisher Nazarov and his brother

The discussion at lunch moved to the size of the Indian market and the buying power of the middle class, all quite surprising to them and Alisher in particular seemed fascinated. Having heard what I would be paid doing what I used to do, Zahid went into parent mode and told me quite firmly that I should go back to senior management! To him the idea of starting your own business with all the associated risks when you can earn a very good income leaving the risks to others seemed absurd. I guess it does but although I have been very lucky with the bosses I have had, to be your own boss is very different and addictive once you get a taste of it.

After meeting several ikat masters in Margilan, I decided to head back to Tashkent hoping that the mountain pass would stay open long enough to get through. A five hour journey took eight hours due to the sleet and snow. No sign of snow chains and no salting so all a bit precarious, although not as bad as it would have been 10 years ago on the higher, narrower road. I am fascinated by how trade was done and wars fought in this terrain: summer must have been a busy time! A few hours of sleep, packing, six vendor meetings (Grand Orzu staff were not impressed by the bazaar I had opened in the restaurant) and off to the airport for a flight back to Delhi. A night at Delhi airport (absolutely fascinating) and the first flight to Bangalore so I could make it in time for my daughter’s performance at school. Call it working mother’s guilt but so worth the effort.

Anaheeta had left two days before me and had the most harrowing experience when exiting. Her mistake, she packed the duplicate customs declaration form we completed when we arrived into her suitcase and checked it in. She also forgot about the emergency money she had hidden away in her handbag while filling a new form. They hassled her until an Indian Doctor helped her and she managed to make the flight. When I went through, I mentally cursed every customs official I could see. It made no difference to anyone but made me feel better. Be warned, the police and custom officials are extremely corrupt and do all you can to avoid them. Unlike in Kazakhstan, they will not take the US Dollars from your wallet but will make you so miserable, you wish they would just take the money.

I had a lovely Uzbek couple sitting next to me on the plane and managed with actions and them repeating sentences slowly in Uzbek and me in English to understand the following. He is an orthopedic surgeon and she a paediatrician from Bukhara. They met while at medical college. They have three grown up children (ages duly noted) and were on their way to Apollo Hospital in Delhi as she needs a stent (she pointed to her neck). She asked about my age and told me she would have put me at 35. I said thank you and then showed her my recently acquired reading glasses! I told them about my unhappy experience trying to buy suzanis in Bukhara because the artisans had not returned yet and traders had no interest in the handicraft (just selling as much of it as possible to Turkey and swearing at the villagers who do the work for stealing their threads). They wrote down names and numbers of artisans I must meet in Bukhara and invited me to stay with them. She even promised to teach me how to make my favourite Uzbek dish, chuchvara. (I couldn’t bear to tell her that all I cook is tea and toast!) I managed to complete their forms with what they indicated to me. Not bad what an open mind and lots of gesticulating can do!

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