The coloured strip at the top of this page is Ajrak.
Some years ago, a Pakistani couple, Tehseen and Ashraf Agha, came on a visit to Pune and stayed with us for a week. It was the first time I had ever met anyone from Pakistan and it was an experience to learn how very similar we were – as a people, we looked alike and we had not one but two languages in common: Hindu/Urdu as well as English spoken the Indian(or Pakistani!) way. We enjoyed their company very much and became friends. One of the gifts they brought for us was an ajrak bedspread.
It was pretty and I really liked it, but had no idea what it signified. They told me to ask my mother, who was Sindhi and had lived the first thirteen years of her life in what then became Pakistan. But my mother had no idea either and this surprised them because, they said, ajrak was something very special to Sindhi people.
I took great care of my ajrak (which means that I’ve never used it and keep it in a safe place, and take it out to look at it and feel happy every now and again).
When I started writing this book I came across ajrak again. I learnt that Sindh in days gone by was a large producer of indigo and cotton, and exported them to the Arabian nations. The word ajrak means ‘blue’ in Arabic and the cloth was traditionally used as a turban or waist band by men and a shawl by women.
The geometric patterns of the ajrak reflect the symmetry of cosmic processes, a Sufi concept. Ajrak patterns are usually a rich crimson and blue, with dots of white and black used to create jewel-like patterns.
Although ajrak is now made in Gujarat and Rajasthan too, Sindh is where it originated. It is said that the colours become more brilliant and luminous with wear.
Sindhis have a special feeling for the ajrak and wear it at home and on festive occasions alike – through birth, marriage, and death. And ajrak is a fabric without class barriers – it is used by rich and poor alike.