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  • Writer's pictureKaren Selk

In Search of Wild Silk - 2

Oh my, it seems like yesterday I wrote the last blog. That was four months ago! I introduced the title and subject matter of the book I am writing - In Search of Wild Silk - Revitalizing a Sustainable Cottage Industry. You hear writers say, "the book is taking on a life of its own". I never really knew what they meant. How could they not know exactly where they were going? Now I get it. I am writing non-fiction and still the book veered down a different path - a more interesting path. I have kept journals over the 30 plus years I have been traveling to India researching wild silk. Not only do they help me get all the facts straight, but I have stories from the people raising wild silkworms, the spinners and weavers. I kept accounts of adventures I encountered traveling in such an exotic land. I call these sections of the book - Journal Entries. I promised to tantalize you by posting some of the Journal Entries along the way.

Malathi and Our Travel Arrangements

Our first bright-yellow-bottomed, black-canvas-covered three-wheel taxi transported us through Delhi to meet Malathi, our travel agent. We were country girls raised in orderly small towns and were therefore naïve, as Malathi would later enjoy informing us. We shared the road with horn-honking cars, scooters and goods carriers, decorated as if for a parade. Cows, elephants, dogs and people seemed to float through the chaos. Sidewalks burst with people performing things we certainly don’t do on the streets in North America. Men wearing only underpants washed themselves and brushed their teeth at pipe stands; snake charmers held baskets of cobras waving their heads in the air; ear cleaners displayed their tools of trade neatly lined up on tarps. Many sizes of new and used dentures rested on dirty blankets with a mirror set up for scrutiny. There were bursts of colour from racks where shopkeepers displayed saris, shoes and other goods. Barbers were cutting hair; chai wallas (merchants) with steaming pots served sweet, spicy tea; pakora vendors dropped battered veggies into splattering oil. A kaleidoscope of colour, mixed with a plethora of smells, good and bad, made our heads swim.

Journal Entry - October 1988

Tasar Forest, Odisha

It’s a hot October mid-afternoon. Our open jeep bumps deeper into the forest, red dust filling our nostrils and thickening our hair. Finally, we halt at a dome shaped hut made of date palm leaves. Brown cocoons, the size of plums, hang on a tree outside the hut, decorated with kum kum, the red powder used to make the mark of the third eye in between the eyebrows. Tribal rearers spend their nights here when out in the forest attending to the tasar caterpillars.

One by one, men appear out of the trees wearing only short cloths wrapped around their waists. There are seven of them - dark and lean with knotted muscles in their caIves and arms. These are bushmen who spend their days in the jungle. We stand momentarily, unabashedly taking in the oddity of each other. The rearers lead the way into the open timberland until we come to a tree filled with huge lime coloured silkworms. The youngest man picks up his sling shot and fires mud balls at predatory crows. Someone else begins to pick caterpillars off denuded branches and moves them to a tree with leaves. A necklace of large green caterpillars adorns the proud head man’s pink scarf. This is nothing like raising white, domestic silkworms - this is primal. It is a whole new perspective of the world of silk.

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