Hello and Happy Holi.
I'm in China now right after Chinese New Year, (in Yiwu) but in another part of Asia it is a full blown colourful crazy holiday.. known as Holi.
Last week I was telling you about my Letters from Indonesia.. read them here..
Yes it's India's biggest festival and the most fun. A time when normally conservative Indians go a little bit wild, throwing buckets of colour at each other and painting the town red... and yellow and blue..
It is the festival of colours, the festival of love and heaven knows.. anything goes. I remember the first time I experienced the crazy full blown Holi festival. I was in in Kolkata, staying in the ITC hotel in Salt Lake, it is a peaceful hotel famous for minimalism and peace and calm.
But outside we could hear a tremendous roar of activity, a street market come party come mad-house. We ventured out, against the advice of the door-man and went to see what was happening. Before long Carlos (our man in Spain) and I were swamped by street kids and covered in paint. We were offered, and I remember drinking something from rather grubby looking clay pots from a dreadlocked holy man. Only later realised I had been drinking a cannabis smoothy. It's called Blang.. you can read about it here. About Blang.
Soon I'm off to Java for a short trip then to Kolkata and Bangalore.
So have things Indian on my mind..
Have you seen our new Yin Dragon Incense Gift packs? I think they actually make a nice Mother's Day gift, for any old Hippie Mums.
Someone asked me for the back-story to these and if they were from a reputable source. So I want to introduce you to Mr Holk.
Most incense in India comes from village people who hand roll the incense.. which is OK, working at home. Then it it is fragranced and packed at a furious pace in hell-hole factories - much worse than clothing factory sweatshops, because the dust and fumes. I can tell you I have cancelled orders more than once when when I have seen working conditions..
Mr Holkor who makes our bulk incense and now the Yin dragon.. is good guy. A smallish family business, very humble people, we are his first export customer.
I remember the first time we met, he picked me up from my hotel in my hotel in Delhi. I don't think he'd been inside a big hotel before, because I found him sitting in reception on the edge of a chair looking terrified. I don't think he'd been inside a big hotel before, because I found sitting in reception on the edge of a chair looking terrified at the all the comings and goings of a city hotel. Back then he had a ancient tiny car waiting in line behind the taxis and limos. I was sat in the back with my legs left to right bouncing along banging my head on the roof for what seemed like hours wending our way on little rural roads to the north of Delhi. On the way Mr Holkor explained to me that that they had only worked as a contractor for other bigger incense companies, producing cones and sticks that then got packaged and turned into various brands. He wanted to escape the contract production and export directly, but he frankly told me he had no idea how.
We finally arrived in his village, where his company operated from a series of farm buildings. Inside semi automatic machines stamped out incense cones and on the roofs the fragranced sticks were laid out to dry in the sun. It was a beehive of activity and people seemed surprisingly well dressed and jolly. His office was a bare table in basically a cow shed, mud floor, bench table and plastic chairs. But he'd arranged for a wholesale perfume guy from Delhi to be there, to sample fragrances that might be suitable for the European market. So I thought they are thinking about this... they also seem to understand that certain materials can't be used in exported incense and that quality was a big issue. At the end of the day they were so humble and open, that I agreed to help them get started exporting.
At a later meeting I introduced him to Mr Chatterjee our agent in India, who helped them obtain an export license and talked them through all the (massively) complex bureaucracy that is Indian exporting.
For the next six months, parcels of fragrant samples followed me around asia, waiting for my approval or rejection. Finally we whittled down a range of acceptable fragrances, tested burning times and ended up with a super range of incense that make up the bulk incense sticks and coneswe now stock.
Then last year, Mr Holkor brought me a range of boxed incense, using our fragrances and a bit of nifty packaging. We redesigned the labels and put together a range of gift boxed sets. Mr Chatterjee later told me that during negotiations, Mr Holkor had asked him how much to charge and given him all his product costing, saying I trust you to advise us fairly. See the Yin Dragon Incense here.
Mr Chatterjee has helped them a lot, last month (February 2015) at the grand Delhi trade show, next door but one to Chatterjee and his Jute company stand was Mr Holkor and his incense company stand on his very first trade show outing, proudly displaying his wares to the world. It's great to see people get on, don't you think?