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Silk River – Final Day – Final Thoughts

Silk River – Final Day – Final Thoughts

On December 16, 2017, Posted by , With Comments Off on Silk River – Final Day – Final Thoughts

Silk River – Final Day – Final Thoughts

After four weeks of travel and years of planning, the Silk River has reached the end of its journey with the closing ceremony today at Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial. It is hard to believe that two years have passed since I first met Ali in a sandwich shop on London’s Kings Cross station and she attempted to sketch out an idea she had had: to link, through the act of walking and the medium of art, the historic rivers of Hooghly and Thames. What drew my attention immediately, as a traveller and a writer, was the instantly recognisable fact that she was on to something with this riverine pairing. Both rivers are famous waterways, the Hooghly being the name for a section of the Ganges, both being conduits in their time for fabulous wealth that flowed from one to the other, and both in some ways forgotten.

I realised with a bit of shock that I had never gone down the Thames further than Greenwich and knew less about its geography than Outer Mongolia. Likewise I had visited Calcutta (then still it’s official name) but never even traced the course of the Hooghly on a map.

Ali was looking at the final parts of old rivers, both in the last stages of their journey to the sea, heavily laden with silt, their banks worked and reworked, their communities often neglected. She spoke particularly about silk and its shared heritage, the weavers of Spitalfields and Murshidabad. She wanted to take silk from the latter and have all those forgotten communities work together to decorate it, and then she would walk that silk, in the form of giant flags, down both rivers. They would learn about each other, they would learn about their own heritage, and in doing so would revive artistic traditions, perhaps even start some new ones.

I left that sandwich shop intrigued, but fairly certain I would hear no more. But I had not reckoned on Ali’s quiet determination, nor how seductive the idea would be to others. Two years later I was catching the Tube to Kew Gardens, a rucksack on my back, wondering what to expect.

It was the flags that instantly grabbed me. The colour and detail, and the way they sprang into life with a breeze and some sunshine behind them. Then, when we started walking, I was immediately called upon to explain them. The question from Londoners – “What’s it all about then?” – required an answer. At that time I didn’t really have one, but what soon became apparent was that bearing a seven-metre pole with a dazzlingly colourful silk banner attached had something of a religious pilgrimage about it. We were the early converts, soon to be joined by others, a river of people that has swelled and grown throughout the four weeks of travelling. Silk River’s great achievement, for me, has been to bring people together and weave friendships and relationships that will endure long after it is finished. I feel happy, and honoured, to have been a part of it. I’ve spoken to hundreds of people, interviewed them, eaten with them, laughed with them, and also untangled delicate Murshidabad silk from blackberry bushes and overhead cables with them. It has been an epic voyage that has thrown a deserved spotlight on two fascinating parts of the world and drawn them a little closer.

Kevin Rushby

Silk River Interactive Scolls

Explore the Silk River Scrolls through the art, images and reflections of the people that made it possible

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All the Silk River photos can be found in the galleries:
India photo gallery
UK photo gallery

Silk River in Murshidabad

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