The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, November 24, 2002
Lead Article

Magical Ďthread gardení of Ooty
Amar Chandel

Antony Joseph with his flowers
Antony Joseph with his flowers

WHEN Rock Garden was being set up, who would have thought that some day it would become the most famous landmark of Chandigarh known not only in India but all over the world? A similar miracle has taken place in the hill station of Ooty and, most probably, the southern queen of the hills will become even more famous for its "thread garden".

Today, there are not many even within the town who know about it. But it is such a unique concept that it deserves to rank among the most amazing sites anywhere in the world. The problem is that its intrinsic worth has not been fully appreciated by the government without whose help the poor artisans who have made it can hardly promote it. Even we visited it purely by chance while paying a visit to the famed Ooty lake.

From the outside, it was no more than a tarpaulin tent of the sort which small-time magicians put up at popular resorts. "Pay Rs 10 and see a thread garden", a gaudy poster proclaimed. Since we had an hour on our hands which we did not want to devote to boating in the none-too-clean water of the lake, we decided to try our luck at the "thread garden".

The feeling of disappointment multiplied once we were inside. The tent had nothing except about 150 potted plants, of the kind one sees at every nursery. Some of them had flowers while the others were yet to blossom. We were on the verge of walking out disgusted with a strong feeling of having been cheated in broad daylight when a colleague exclaimed: "Wait a minute! Oh my God, these are not real!" And only then did the sheer grandeur of those unbelievable works of art struck us. We were surrounded by unbelievably real-looking models of plants and flowers, creepers, climbers, lawns and lotus ponds. The ambience was natural enough for even the sharpest eye to be mistaken.


A few plants in bloom
A few plants in bloom

But again, the typical journalistic cynicism took charge. So what if these are not real? One can pick up any number of artificial potted plants which look as good as real. It was again by chance that the creator, Antony Joseph, walked in just at that time. He explained patiently that none of the plants was machine made. In fact, not even a needle had been used while creating them. That is why the aesthetic masterpiece had taken 50 specially trained artistes more than 12 years to complete. The skillful effects were so elaborate indeed that no computerised machine could ever hope to duplicate them.

They were all before our eyes and yet it was hard to believe that these were not Godís creations, because there was difference even in shade of the colour of the leaves depending on whether they were freshly grown or a few days old. Not only that, every single vein of the leaves was clearly visible. By now Joseph had noticed that we had appreciated the artistry involved and was ready to explain the intricacies in detail with the enthusiasm of a father whose children had done something worthwhile.

He told us that all flower petals and stems were fully wound with thread using shaped stiff canvas base inside for flowers and leaves and steel or copper wires for stem under hand winding. Tiny little pieces of bukram were tailored into the right size on which threads of various colours were hand-wound to give them the shape of leaves or flowers. The artistes rotate the fingers holding the thread in a certain position and speed it around the canvas base, to bring out the machine-like perfection. Thread filaments are used as buds.

But how come there is a life-like difference in the colour of the inner and outer edges of these leaves? For doing that threads were wound on different pieces and all of them were carefully stitched together. Every leaf had about 30 parts according to natural patterns. In all, more than 60 million metres of thread in 400 different shades had been used to get the whole spectrum of natural colour combinations. Printing or painting had not been utilised at all.

One could only marvel at the concentration, patience and craftsmanship of these unlettered artisans when one noticed the perfection that helped them avoid any overlapping of knots or gaps.

Joseph explained that his father used to work for a thread factory, which gave awards to anyone coming up with an innovative use of threads. He won many awards in childhood and this encouraged him to expand his hobby to the current scale. Through many scientific and artistic observations and experiments, this four-dimensional hand-wound embroidery, unknown hitherto without needles or machinery, was invented.

He set up the first thread garden in his village of Malampuzhu in Kerala. Since government support was not forthcoming he decided to make even better plants and open the second garden in Ooty, which attracts tourists from all over the country. The move paid off, with several thousand visitors seeing the exhibition ever since it was set up in December last.

We told him about Nek Chand and his Rock Garden and were pleasantly surprised to know that he knew all about the favourite son of Chandigarh. He said although his inspiration did not come from the creator of the famed Rock Garden, he felt a close affinity with the artiste because he knew first hand the trials and tribulations of a man who took it upon himself to create something unique without enough money or encouragement.