The Car­pet­walla

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - DESIGN - By Nidhi Choksi

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).”

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