For retired ex-financier collecting tribal carpets is more than a hobby. It’s an insight into the world of rich art from central and west Asia
by the women of the nomadic tribes (the borders of the carpets give away which tribe they come from) for utilitarian purposes. Mehra gets his pieces from collectors and auctions; if necessary, they undergo a process of dusting, washing and conservation. He works with a conservationist –and his driver. “He keeps saying ‘saab, kya raddi utha ke late ho’, but he’s become an expert as well,” laughs Mehra.
A dekko at some carpets from his collection.
“Woven in the kilim technique, this piece comes from Tajikistan. This is a two-dimensional flat weave containing only a ‘warp’ yarn (vertical) and a ‘weft’ yarn (horizontal), woven in various styles and generally reversible – that is, while the design composition can be read from both sides. From one angle, the design looks like a repetition of masks or faces of a monkey. I think it’s one of the largest pieces I have. The composition is minimal – it’s just a grid.
“I bought this in the late ’90s from a dealer in the US. He used to live in Afghanistan and during the Soviet invasion between 1979 to 1989, he saw this thrown outside a mosque, caked with dirt. He rescued it and took it with him to the US. I had to restore it after I got it from him.” “I call this the Dazzler as it has a striking pattern. A flat weave from Anatolia, the pattern has concentric diamonds. I bought it from a dealer in Canada in the late ’90s, who in turn had bought it from a museum in Toronto, Canada, which was selling some of its inventory. The carpet has holes in it, which is called the slit weave. You can see through them when you put it against light.”
“This comes from the Ghendje region in Karabagh (Black Garden), which lies between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Around 120 years old, it has around 15 colours, all produced from natural dyes. It includes a purple which they called aubergine, and it is difficult to make. They’d take brown wool and over dye it with blue.
“I call it the happy carpet because of the riot of colours. It has florets and the border is called the barber pole, named after the rotating cylinder of red, white and blue that used to be seen outside barber shops in the US. There are stars that indicate happiness. Red shows power, yellow means warmth, white is for purity, gold for wealth and green is the holy colour.” “Drawing parallels to the design seen in Kashmiri shawls, this shawl showcases vertical weaving and has the paisley or boteh motifs (Persian for bush), the symbol for the universe. I got it from a dealer in California. Woven by a Kurdish weaver, it has rolling vines in the border interspersed with butterflies.”
“The diamond in the middle indicates the central courtyard of Persian homes. Woven by south west Iran’s Luri tribe, the carpet has geometric paisleys and birds, two-headed peacocks, dogs, birds and goats with horns. Sometimes, you see fivelegged mythical animals. Most of the designs are done instinctively, spontaneously.”
“The bottom of the carpet has a fat border, but then suddenly the width changes. The weaver must have realised there wasn’t enough space to incorporate her designs. And there has been no effort to rectify it; that is the beauty of this imperfection. Coming from Armenia, the carpet shows human figures playing drums, and there are camels signifying wealth. There’s the tree of life, which signifies growth. The pattern that appears like a ram’s horn symbolises fertility, the comb stands for cleanliness and the crosses show the four elements of life (air, water, fire, earth).”