30.3.16

Origami Meditation


Among the many things you resign to your utopian bucket list, to pick up a hobby and to meditate often feature in our I-don't-have-time-to-smell-the-flowers-or-my-sucky-cappuccino life. Images of either clich├ęd dance & music classes or dorky philately are conjured in both, the writer as well as the reader's mind. Sorry to break it to you, love, hobbies don't work that way, meditation doesn't come that easy.

I've lately discovered that people in pain, or suffering some kind of catharsis often turn to work, or some kind of physical activity outside of work to keep them distracted. I was in doldrums too, about three years ago, when socialising or any kind of recreation seemed like too much work. So I signed up for a play-reading group that met once in three weeks to a month on a Sunday afternoon. Not enough to keep me from plunging deeper into the murky abyss of negativity and pessimism and a general lack of productivity.

I took to watching tv series on my laptop for a while, but that would only lead to more late nights, a wandering mind, and restlessness. On one such evening when my binge watching session was preceded by Facebook prowling, I stumbled upon Aziz's profile picture on Facebook back then (below).



Of course, what you see in the picture is a highly complex and skilled piece of tessellation that I might hope to achieve in perhaps the next decade. However, it inspired me to pick up a square piece of paper and start folding. In less than a week, I had a whole shelf dedicated folded paper animals, since those most fascinated me - a yellow elephant shared the corner with a centaur and a pegasus and a cat and a bird and even a turtle...

I later discovered a hole in the wall stationery shop on one of my jaunts out from Bandra station. This was the big break, for now I found paper specifically made for the purpose with vivid prints and textures so the folds would hold and not disintegrate.




The peacock that Mr Gandhi taught me
Soon I felt the need to inject some method into the madness that origami had become for me. since I was already on Meetup, I looked up the forum for contact groups that met regularly nearby, to learn certain folds better and explore the possibility of getting better paper, but alas, in vain. Then I remembered Aziz mentioning Origami Mitra, the group that met in Dadar.

At the end of that wonderful afternoon learning what paper to fold, and being presented with a peacock that Kamlesh Gandhi folded for me, he asked - "how did you know about us?"

A year before that afternoon, I had organized my first storytelling session for Pratham Books in September 2012. To make things more interesting for the kids, I asked Aziz if he'd be willing to conduct a basic origami session. Unfortunately, he was on the road, but recommended Himanshu Agarwal from Origami Mitra, and that really is where my tryst with the craft began. The wonders of turning any monochromatic piece of square (sometimes not even!) paper into (almost) any shape you desire!

The classic swan by Mr Kamlesh Gandhi
In my conversation with Mr. Gandhi, he told me about the origins of Origami Mitra. The entity was founded by the grand daughter of Lokmanya Tilak and a few friends in the late 1980s. Members range retirees, homemakers, and young students alike. A math teacher, regular at the fortnightly OM meetings, gives tangible form to math through origami. A couple of kids and young mothers and craft teachers were part of the motley that day too. Gandhi himself also deals in paper for origami folding among other things.

Apart from these meetings, Origami Mitra conducts marathon day-long sessions and annual exhibitions as well.


Most dismiss the art as a kids thing, but if the scale of international championships and convention events are anything to go by, both, the process as well as resultant models are nothing short of serious business!

My first real attempt was the Yoshizawa Butterfly and then a Fumiaki Kawahata Elephant and a frog. Easy it isn't, but if you're up for a challenge - John Montroll's giraffe that Himanshu and his 12 IIT-B student mates accomplished in 103 moves and 70 creases would be the standard to surpass. There are as many layers of study to the paper-sculpting hobby as to any other that one might take up. The world, largely divided into designers and folders.

My first folds

But how do I classify it as meditation?

Having trained in Hindustani Classical music, the level of precision involved in achieving the perfect final product is high. Not only does it require one to concentrate, but also be nimble handed and patient. I remember a dry throat and aching thumb when I attempted my first bat. Obviously I was jumping the guns, and eventually gave up in absolute frustration. But the multiple fold-imprinted paper occupies centrespace in my closet as a constant reminder that I must keep trying, and strive to get there someday, soon. The list of personality traits necessary to dive deep into the mesmerising realm of origami don't end there. You need at least a basic aptitude for symmetry, if not geometry, and the ability to judge the right kinds of paper - much like an editor's obsession with grammar - the instructor at my Origami Mitra session, Geeta ben threw a fit when she saw my marble paper!

 Origami frog tutorial

Kirigami cards at Temple Street, Hong Kong
The gathering at the Origami Mitra meet up felt more like a disorganised tuition class, chaotic and distracted. And that first visit was already the death knell to any subsequent visits. YouTube has proved a useful platform for learning, exploring the same methods in better detail, and of course discovering new designs and tutors in the comfort and confines of one's own room or office or even a commute. Finding funky craft paper was not a challenge, but I grew ambitious. Now I wanted various kinds of paper that would lend itself to more fluid designs.

Bestie, Twara's demand, a little sunny snail
So I asked a friend in Kuala Lumpur if he was to return any time soon. Not only was he confused trying to look for the right paper, he was also boggled by the sheer variety. He simply gave up. On my recent visit to Hong Kong however, it didn't occur to me to look for some myself, though I did stumble upon a roadside Kirigami card seller at Temple Street.


A photo posted by pu (@bombaychuddies) on


I have since experimented with with quite a few designs and even been to a few exhibitions. But as old Prof. Salat at MSU as well as Prof. Ashok at EFL said, you have to internalise to remember for posterity, to pass on these precious pieces. And so I decided to parse the folds. I practised and practised till I could remember the butterfly, the classic crane and some varieties of boats. however, I leave you here with my little zoo!

A photo posted by pu (@bombaychuddies) on




A photo posted by pu (@bombaychuddies) on


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