Art with Seltos: Westward sojourn
In the automotive sphere, there is no other name that is as synonymous with design as Kia Motors. Its cars have for the past decade or so, been frontrunners for every major design award and the Kia Seltos, with its striking form is already ruling hearts.
We had a simple plan. Take one of the most stylish new cars and set out to find uniquely Indian art forms that like the Seltos are truly beautiful. We call it ‘Art with Seltos’. Starting with west of India, we set out on an adventure to rediscover some little known art forms in Maharashtra.
Our drive began in Mumbai and at our disposal was the Seltos in HTX+ trim. Equipped with all the creature comforts that we could possibly ask for, this was going to be a pleasant drive.
Heading out of Mumbai, we were met with choc-a-bloc streets that Mumbai is known for. Thankfully, the auto box that we had on the Seltos, made our progress rather smooth. Aiding us was the front and rear proximity sensors that alerted us whenever an errant motorist cut in too close. With the Mumbai traffic firmly in our rearview mirrors, it was time to push the Seltos on the spectacular Mumbai-Gujarat highway. Triple digit speeds were easily attained and retained, the flat-bottomed steering wheel staying well weighted and giving us immense confidence.
An hour or so later, we turned off the highway and found ourselves on a narrow road that lead to Jawahar, a tiny hamlet deep in Palghar district. The snaking road that led to Jawahar gave us the opportunity to have some fun behind the wheel of the Seltos. Even with several rather bumpy corners, the Seltos remained composed and the handling extremely predictable.
An NGO working for the upliftment of the tribals in the region introduced us to some local artists. Traditionally painted using rice paste on mud-plastered walls, Warli painting incorporates simple geometric shapes and pictorially depicts day to day activities of the tribals. Decades ago, the tribals earned their livelihood by farming and rice was the prominent crop. But, a steep fall in groundwater reserves over the years has made agriculture difficult. The Warlis have moved to neighbouring districts for their livelihood and subsequently deviated from practicing their indigenous art form. Today, only a handful of tribals create Warli paintings. A few NGOs are trying to revive the dying art form and the artists are now painting specimens on daily-use items like bags, clothes, stationery et al. Every piece tells a story and the stick figure-like paintings have evolved to tell rather nuanced stories about their lives. Yours truly came across a painting that depicted the transformation from their farming days to now.
As day turned to dusk, we left the leafy country roads to find ourselves back on the highway. The evening light and the stunning details in the headlights and taillights conspired to produce some magic and our shutterbug, Sachin couldn’t resist, practically ordering us to take an exit and photographed the Seltos till the sun went down.
That meant that we had to drive through the night for a considerable distance. Thankfully, the bright LED headlamps came to our rescue. Stray animals wandering on to the road was a regular occurrence but sharp brakes and excellent maneuverability of the Seltos made it easy to avoid them.
Even after a long day behind the wheel we were relatively fresh and that was no small feat. The Kia’s tech laden cabin (the superlative Bose speakers deserve special mention) made our drive rather easy and with the host of quality materials on the inside, it was an extremely comfortable place to be. The ventilated seats and the windowblinds were particularly useful in the extreme heat of the interiors of Maharashtra. The dusty sections that we encountered were easily dealt with too and the Seltos’ air purifier came in handy.
Next stop on our list was Kolhapur. Now, a big city is hardly the place to find an indigenous art form. But, the Kolhapuri chappal has long been a design icon the world over. To truly capture the essence of the Kolhapuri Chappal, we decided to meet Rohit Gawli, among the bigger Chappal makers of Kolhapur. The humble Kolhapuri chappal is handcrafted from leather and is said to last a lifetime. With its roots in the 13th century, the first specimens weighed more than two kilograms. Lighter, more comfortable materials are now used and Kolhapuri chappals are now enjoying a second wave as Toe Ring sandals as far away as the US.
The Gawlis have been Kolhapuri Chappal artisans for generations and even today, artisans live in a cluster of houses where every house takes up one role in the process. Everything from cutting the leather, to tanning it and imprinting patterns is done in house at the hands of artisans doing it for decades. No wonder then, that even among the tens of thousands of chappals that were ready for selling to retailers, we couldn’t tell two of a kind apart. With rich detailing, top-shelf materials and supreme craftsmanship, it was hard for us to not draw parallels with the Seltos.
We moved further to the east and reached the small town of Miraj. Now, not too many people would know about it, but this was where the Sitar, a mainstay in Indian Classical music, was born. Even today, hundreds of years later, the Sitar is made entirely by hand and Sitar artists are in hot demand all over the world right now. We met Naeem Sitarmaker (notice the last name), a sixth generation craftsman who ran us through the art of making a Sitar from Pumpkin shells. Intricate drawings on the Sitars mean that it often takes him months to create a Sitar. The end product, clearly is a work of art that you can find nowhere else.
Much of the same can be said about the Seltos too. The sharp styling elements on the body combine beautifully with the front (adorned with the Tiger nose grille and those sexy headlamps) and the back (with a unique horizontal bar connecting the intricate taillamps) to create an SUV that is simply gorgeous.
In our adventure, to discover some of the country’s most unique art forms, the Seltos comes across as the perfect ice-breaker with any artist. They relate, rather easily, to the beautiful form right in front of them and are often curious to know how much it costs. Naeem, we are sure, is on the verge of being a customer.