Sept 25, 2010

Our 5 Year Plan books, jhola bags and Literary Companions arrived in late August, ending our wait. We surpassed our own expectations. The quality of love and care that everyone put into the 5YP book really comes through.

Gurpreet Sidhu and Orijit Sen of People Tree in Delhi are the heroes of the project.

They understood immediately the 5 Year Plan project and advised and guided us with great sincerity and insight.
They sheltered me in their workshop for months as a visiting artist, exposing me to wonderful people on a daily basis. Without their nurturing kindness the resulting 5 Year Plan book would have been very different.

Mr Vijay Kumar Handa is a man I came to love. He became my mentor and guide in Gandhi ashram worlds.
The Manav Seva Samiti Khanjarpur Ashram wove the 1400 meters of khadi for the pages, lush in texture and fragrantly evocative of it's village origins, you can feel the energy emanating from every fiber.

Just hold the book in your hands and close your eyes, it's a real thing.

Rudraksh Printers, under the direction of Nandita Devraj, did
a superlative job. The printing is professional and extremely sensitive. Nandita deserves credit as a co-collaborator in the printing decisions that we made, giving great advice and guiding the process to it's best result. She gave the book much of it's soul. The binding is faultless, squared edges and uniform, each spine getting a unique cloth cover cut from the block-printing tables.

From the very beginning of the 5 Year Plan project, one of our greatest allies has been Prof. Andy Rotman of Smith College. His vision for the project is truly astonishing, he sees far ahead of the curve and prepared me for challenges I could not have anticipated. He is the rare combination of formidable intelligence, visionary, and loving friend. Through him I met Janna Rose White, a very insightful writer and tremendously resourceful individual. We're the dream team. Check out Janna's blog.

Here in the US, the core of the 5 Year Plan Team is:


John Studer, who expertly keeps the books balanced, and speaks sense. His input has helped keep us on track from the beginning and even before!




Marshall Weber of Booklyn Artist Alliance,an artist, activist, and genius of artist book. He started Booklyn to introduce artist books to Institutional and University Library Special Collections. He's incredibly knowledgeable and has taught us a lot in this incredibly steep learning curve.







Marguerite Byrum is my wife, the world I live in, keeping me focused and grounded. She keeps it real.

She is currently working towards her graduate degree in Urban Planning at Columbia.

The unsigned books were sent out last week to our supporters. The response has been wonderful.(getting the books signed is well on it's way, just a couple more signatures to go. scheduling has been a challenge)

Sending out jhola bags and 5 Year Plan Literary Companions early this week.









Message 19, May 14

me learning to spin thread on the charka, strangely beautiful process. very meditative and calming to watch a bit of cotton leave your fingertips as thread.


May 8

Message 19, May 8
Bathed at the Kumba Mela, waves and waves, millions and millions of people, hard to describe, like a mamonth family reunion where you don't know anyones name, the Ganges was glowing, black new moon, sky full of stars, mind clear and blank but for the thrill of being, the shock of swift cold water strangely warm from all the prayers in it, enchanted and humbled.Immediately after my bath in the Ganges at 12:30am, among the first to bathe. Both guys are named Abhishek Tyagi. No joke. They have the same name.

(Bathing at the Mela was the perfect way to celebrate Greta and my wedding anniversary, love to you Greta, thank you honey! A little bit of Kali right here on planet Earth, i kiss you!)

(We 3 Bathe)+(Janna postBath)
We, Janna Rose White, Andy Rotman and I arrived in Ram Ghat, the epicenter of the Mela shortly after midnight, enormous crowds filling every space, much laghter and delight all around ,not much chatter, music and chanting and marigolds, our chance to bath, there would'nt be another, we were among the first wave, least crowded chance...

staying vertical in a river of people crossing currents in the winding streets full to bursting remember to breathe, stay off peoples feet and flow. From a mile off we were swept along across the Ganges on pontoon bridges, through paths closed with bamboo poles, nowhere to go but onward

(Mela Man)
a very nice man keeping it simple

(postMela crowds)
never seen so many people, filling the streets, thousands of lost sandals...

(Rishikesh man)
gentleman met on the banks of Ganga Ma

(world threatened)
life-size dioramas of the plight (and salvation) of the world

(back to top)

1 May

Message 18, 1 May, 2010

Hi All,

Our 5 Year Plan Artist Book project is almost done!
It's a huge project, involving hundreds of people, and it's beautiful.

We've created 4000+ days of work for people of the Manav Seva Samiti Ashram,
weaving 1.4 km of hand spun, hand woven khadi cloth.
Every thread has passed through a persons fingertips (80% are women) This is real value in a lot of people's lives.
Khadi Being Woven for the 5 Year Plan Book Project!

The people at the Gandhi Ashram Collectives really dig the project, it touches a chord here, the response has be overwhelmingly positive from all perspectives.

The 5 Year Plan Book is being printed in Jaipur at Rudraksha printers. The second video is the page "Gandhi's Watch" by Donald Baechler being printed.
Blockprinting Baechler Page in Rajasthan

It's a huge project but we'll be done by June.
Total edition will be 180 copies only.
(copies are still available!)

Thanks to all of you who helped make this possible!
Updates + Pictures:
See You in June
Much Love,
Aaron Sinift

(back to top)

April 8

Message 17, April 8

This is the new work by Pushpa Kumari, done especially for our project. Her work is usually MUCH finer, and VERY reasonably priced. The image she did for us is simplified for the screen-printing process.

Pushpa shows at Cavin-Morris Gallery in NYC, stop in and see her larger works which are absolutely phenomenal.  (Cavin-Morris also shows Tim Wehrle)

Her contact in Delhi is Minhazz Majumdar (on the right), she is an authority traditional artists and those who take those artforms to new levels and make them their own.

Pushpa digs Tim's work in particular. Tim is a big fan of her work as well. I wonder what a collaboration would look like....

(back to top)


April 8, Message 16

Mr Handa in discussion with one of the weavers.


another wonderful example of the road being built around a tree, this one in Jaipur on the way back from Rudraksha Printers

a lady spinning thread probably to be used for our book.
most of the women are quite shy and cover their faces when i approach, i try to respect their modesty with regards to photography.

(back to top)



April 8, 2010 Message 15

the man in image is named Jeswant Singh. I am told that between them all they can weave 32-40 m of khadi a day.
According to a recent book by the Khadi and Village Industries Board, a hand-loom weaver on average can weave 5 meters per day.

Mr Handa and I visited the Manav Seva Samiti Khanjarpur Ashram recently. Due to the heat the weaving is slower, 300 meters are to be shipped to Rudraksha Printers in Jaipur on the 9th. (Nandita Devraj of Rudraksha is a dream to work with)

We are printing some of the pages for the book as block-prints, this is exiting for us because not only are the blocks as large as 25cm each (Francesco Clemente's image requires 6 different blocks) but the complexity of the image will be a challenge for our printers.

These are being carved now in Jaipur. I hope to get back there in time to take a few pictures of their making.
Currently it's a daily 100 degrees in Jaipur, going up to as much as 120 within the coming 8 weeks.

I have a little down time so I am going to the MahaKumba Mela, a rare gathering of saints, sadhus and pilgrims from around the world. This will be the final day, on the New Moon April 14, when I am told, 20 million people will bathe in the Ganges. It is also the day before Greta and my 4th wedding anniversary and so I have much to be thankful for.
I'll bring my camera and see what happens...

returning on the 15/16th to Delhi, sort out the details of our next shipment and head for Jaipur.

(in the pictures: our khadi being woven, a rack for spools of hand-spun thread, baskets of thread at different stages of preparation.)

(back to top)

Message #14

Message #14

Picture shows Janendra (man standing), Sujan, Jitin, Aman, i'm not sure the lady's name, and some wildman working on a book...the Ashram serves as a school and community center to help people that come for help. the issues are incredibly diverse. The people are wonderfully warm.

Sujan Rocks Out!

I asked Mr Handa what goes into making a kilometer of khadi cloth. This is what he told me:

Spinning Only:
one meter khadi = 3000 m of yarn
one woman in one day can spin = 2000 m of yarn

one kilometer khadi (1000m)= 3,000,000 m of yarn

one kilometer khadi = 1500 days of work spinning yarn.
(for many families this is the sole means of income)


(back to top)

Message #13

Message #13

This is a khadi came from Manav Seva Samiti Khanjarpur.
We will know soon how much we can order.

Varanasi has some wonderful khadi too.
Prof. Dipak Malik of Benares Hindu University kindly introduced me to Khakashah Khan, activist/coordinator for various women's organizations and khadi collectives around Varanasi.

We begin printing soon, it will take 6-8 weeks to complete binding 150-200 books.

This is our prototype. about 35 cm sq.
Our printer/ collaborator, Nandita is outstanding.

(back to top)





Message #12

Message #12

On the way to Modinaghar we stopped for a train. These cones are called "oopla" in hindi, "pati" in punjabi, and "gose'" in Hariyana (Delhi Area). They are built of layers of individual dried cow-dung patties. These are being stored for future use as fuel for fires. The heat they give off in intense and efficient with a mild pleasant fragrance.
The weather is sealed out by an outer wall, like a fully self-contained grain silo.

Note the solar designs incised onto the side, much variety and individual style.

for scale, check out the lady in pink perched on the oopla to the far left.

Hundreds of millions of people in India live close to the soil, using what is naturally available to them and raising their families, living their traditions. These may be some of the women weaving the khadi used for our book.

Economic development has created multiple pressures on villages as land is expropriated from them for building projects. Factories, mining companies, real-estate speculation, routinely decimate the lives of villagers who are rarely compensated in any way. Villages so old they often pre-date any documentation, literally having the land sold out from under them. (Click here for link to Democracy Now)

(back to top)

Message #11

Message #11

30 years ago Mr Handa gave up a successful law practice to live in service to the poor according to Gandhian ideals.
He and his wife Bina live and work at the Gandhi Sannidhi Ashram in Delhi. They serve the local community, teach spinning to the children, generally make things happen. They seem very loved by all around them. Gurpreet is a friend to him. I've noticed that my heart rate slows down in his presence.

He is a great driver, a careful, pThis is Gautam, he is working with Orijit to complete an animated short called "Carnama" (roughly translated as "the story of a car" also suggesting "nefarious deed by a cheat". It's very funny and spot on satire of how politics work here. It'll be screened on the 26th so they are working hard. The puppy is named Do Sau, which means "200" , for the # of times he'd peed in the workshop. He was adopted off the street roughly about the same time I was. I am sleeping in the People Tree workshop in Hauz Khas Village. The area was called "Siri" in 1303 and a lake was built and citadels and mosques and palaces dot the surrounding parks. It's a great place to go for a walk in the early morning, watch the sunsets from the studio roof over this fully alive city.... assive-aggressive Mario Andretti.

Through him we've found the perfect khadi, it is produced near Modinagarh. We are now attempting to arrange for about 1200 meters. These women are processing spun yarn for the weavers.The looms are quite loud and multiple looms rhythmically complex...

(back to top)

Message #10

Message #10

This is Gautam, he is working with Orijit to complete an animated short called "Carnama" (roughly translated as "the story of a car" also suggesting "nefarious deed by a cheat".
It's very funny and spot on satire of how politics work here.
It'll be screened on the 26th so they are working hard.

The puppy is named Do Sau, which means "200" , for the # of times he'd peed in the workshop. He was adopted off the street roughly about the same time I was.

I am sleeping in the People Tree workshop in Hauz Khas Village. The area was called "Siri" in 1303 and a lake was built and citadels and mosques and palaces dot the surrounding parks. It's a great place to go for a walk in the early morning, watch the sunsets from the studio roof over this fully alive city....

This is the Pao Collective, clockwise from Orijit is Vishwa, Paro, Amitav, and Sarnath.They are a comics collective that are doing some of the best new work I've seen in years.
Currently they are editing an anthology with about 15 cartoonists. (Click here to see their work)

(back to top)

Message #9

Message #9

New Delhi  2/20/10

I arrive in New Delhi on the 20th.
At the airport I had a descending sensation like a bucket with a hole in it, energy pouring out onto the was'nt unpleasant but experience signaled that I had about 2 hours to prepare for a vertiginous retching hell on a bathroom floor.

Fortunately for me, my cousin Tim Dickson and Denise Cochran teach at the American Embassy School and they kindly nursed me back to verticality over the next 2 days.
I did'nt have the presence of mind to take their picture but I will soon.

They handed me off safely to Gurpreet Sidhu and Orijit Sen, two people whose work I have been admiring for 17 years.
They are artists and designers who form the nucleus of People Tree, an artist/design collective that works with all kinds of village collectives from all over India. The People Tree shop is in Caunnaught Circle in the heart of New Delhi. (link)

Visiting their shop is a highlight for me in Delhi, it is a hub of creative energy, always changing and revealing the unexpected, both in the clothing designs and in the bookstore which is small but brilliantly informed.
You get a sense of the pulse and potential all around India artistically and politically.(back to top)

Message #8

Message #8

Udai+ Krishna's mom Anita-ji.

Chitranjan-ji and Gopal-ji packing up my head for transport back to the US.
Though they make a decent living, the sons are encouraged to find work that is not so physically demanding.
These men are probably the last generation in this family to make murtis, this is true of many families that see the future in technology.

in the gullies of Bengali Tola a scooter is best.

a tiny houseboat on Assi Ghat, someone is sleeping. note the sign under it...

(back to top)

Message #7

Message #7

Rudra and Udai took a real interest in my laptop and downloaded a lot of my music. They seemed to like Betty Davis and the Meat Puppets, but the look on their fathers face made me round it out with a bunch of Stevie Wonder. They turned me on to a bunch of current Bengali pop, taking to the computer like fish in water.

Kaveri came in to do evening puja...

(back to top)


Udai and me

Message #6

Message #6

I went to see the family of BC Paul, great murti-wallas and wonderful friends, also in Bengali Tola. They make pratima murtis, temporary clay and straw sculptures used in all the great puja festivals. Murtis are made over months from clays from the Ganges smoothed in progressively layers over a bound straw and bamboo armature. Each layer must dry, then finer layers are added until the surface is as fine as silk. I've seen many murtis over 12' tall. The murtis are then painted, clothed, and ornamented and taken to a pandal (a temporary public shrine), where they are blessed by a Brahman Pundit or priest. A sacred lucus of the divine is created and centered within the murti for people to focus their devotions and to receive darshan (to be seen).

I am closest to Prashant, we spent many many hours together, he taught me everything I know about pratima murti. This brother Gopal-ji is a master of the art, he works closely with Chitranjan-ji, also a master, to make the place so successful.

I painted 3 portraits of BC Pauls family over the course of a couple of weeks, Gopal-ji saw me working from life and decided to do my portrait as a murti head.
It was his first portrait from life. The likeness is a blend of rigorous observation from nature and classical Bengali sculpture proportions. It was made of Ganga clay, I could not take it with me so he made a mold and cast two light-weight plaster plaster versions...they have been sitting on a shelf waiting to surprise me! a very surreal experience.

Gopal and Chitranjan married two sisters and raise their families with 2 sons each together. Rudra and Shiv are Chiranjan+Kaveri's; Udai and Krishna are Gopal+Anita's.

(back to top)

Message #5

Message #5

My friend Mithu runs the Shanti Restaurant in Bengali-Tola, the neighborhood that runs along the Ganges. Since we last met he has lived and cooked in France, learned french,made good money, met and fell in love with a young woman from Japan and moved there with her. Love got rocky in Japan, societal pressures did'nt help, and Mithu is bruised but not bitter.

He re-invented the family restaurant and is doing alright.
He's gotten into Didgery-doo's, and pulls some wild vibrations out of it, circular breathing, the whole trip. He's a total fusion man, poly-cultural, hip, traditionally grounded, interesting dreams and generous ambitions. Look him up near Chowsatti Ghat.

This is his 32nd birthday party on the Ghats, 5 Didgery-doo players, 3 drummers, it was a very cool freak transient vibe honoring a good friend.

Here is Bob (named for Bob Marley), he is Mithu's 10 yr old nephew and Gullu a family friend who works at Shanti Restaurant. Bob's a good drummer and a sharp kid.

This is Kedar Ghat where Johnny Coyne used to live at the top of the stairs. This is the ghat were buffalo get their baths. We'd go swimming here too. To the left is the home of a tantrika, note the black Kali yantra painted over the door.

(back to top)


Bob and Gullu
Message 4

Message 4

Spent Shivaratri in Bengali Tola with Meagan, Janna and Andy as guide. First we visited Chawki Ghat and the Hanuman Mandir so beautiful under the tree, then Kedarnath Mandir , thronged with people, hard to describe... everything happening on the inside as much as the out... light rain, earnest prayer, cobblestones slick and cowdung, tons of marigold malas, bells and incense...concluded at the Chintamani Temple (Ganesha), so much luscious orange.

Sonarpura.  I lived just of the main road in the gullies

(back to top)


Janna and Andy
Message 2 & 3

Message 2 and 3

February 12

Varanasi Feb 12 or so

One of the first stops is a Masala Dosa at one of my favorite restaurants: Ayyer's Cafe, down by Dasashwamed Ghat, tucked back from the busy street. The atmosphere is wonderful, particularly in the mornings when the old men of the neighborhood gather for coffee. His coffee really is the best.

About this time I met Nitin who stayed in the same hotel as me (Anami Lodge, Assi Ghat), and we went for some very interesting walks together. I recently found out that he takes brilliant photos. We've met back up here in Delhi.

one of Nitin's photos.

A view of Ganga Ma from Amina Lodge...

I love these guys.

(back to top)

Ayyer's Cafe

Mr. Ayyer

NItn and Seju

Message #1

Feb 10, 2010   Varanasi UP, India.

Alexandra and Jilian, two very nice people I met in transit to Varanasi. Varanasi is Shiva's City, it is said to exist on the tip of Shiva's Trident, that when you are there, you are not on the material Earth.

When we arrived, all the hotels were booked for the Drupad Mela, 3 days of all night classical music concerts, in honor of Shiva on Shivaratri, overlooking the Ganges in starlight. Fortunately, Pandit Shivanath Mishra kindly permitted us to stay at the Academy of Indian Classical Music. ( We had a nice comunal meal with students and went to the Mela for the opening of the festival.

Instantly I spot Andy Rotman after 17 years and 8000 miles. 
Ramu Pundit is there, exactly the people I'm looking for.
Ramu-ji has been a brilliant mentor and teacher to a great many people, myself included. I also meet Meaghan Haberman, and am amazingly re-united with Adam Grotsky. All first rate scholars and wonderfully kind.

The next day I met Rakesh Singh whose Harmony Books on Assi Ghat seems to have everything I could want to read. Near the very top of my favorite bookstores.

(back to top)

Alexandra and Jillian
Alexandra and Jillian

Me, Andy and Meghan


Rakesh Singh


5 Year Plan:  Home