From Sound To Sight

(Mysore, India)

Mysore Silk FactoryWe move from outside to in. From beneath a clear blue sky and a tree of bright green, to the dank dark, tea-stained interior of The Mysore Silk Factory. Built in 1912 by His Highness Sri Krishnaraja Wadiyar Bahadur, the Maharaja of Mysore wanted quality silk saris for his family and ornamental fabrics for his armed forces that would set them apart. Already we can hear the sound of machinery hammering from within the depths. Already we are being handed balls of cotton wool to stuff into our ears to drown out the sound.

We are led first into the spinning room, huge rollers that turn around and around, reeling silk from the silk worms that are incubated on the property, the friction filling the air with a static tick. The heavy metal machinery rattles. The floor shakes. The sound hammers and jars. It soaks into the very depths of you, the vibration, an unending clatter that resonates inside your head, behind your ears, your chest, as if sound were filling up within you like something solid. We cannot hear each other talk. Can barely hear our own thoughts.

There are both men and women working alongside each other in this dark interior, barefooted and dressed in dark green shirts. Some of them wear earplugs. Some do not. They will most probably be deaf by the time they retire from working here. They will earn £500 a month for their time, but if there is the slightest defect in what they produce it is deducted from their salary. The women squeeze the boys’ arms, smile and go back to their work. The men tussle their hair.

We move on, into rooms where threads of silk hang like spider webs across the iron machinery, on into dying rooms where clouds of chemicals rise up from steaming giant vats of dark purple, green and red, stinging our eyes, burning the inside of our noses. On into warping rooms and winding rooms, stretching and ironing rooms, where great sheets of silk, strung up on wide bamboo poles, stretch from one end of the room to the other.

This is progress. One hundred and fifty nine looms that thunder out eight hundred thousand meters of the highest quality silk per annum. Crepe-de-chine, Georgette, Zari printed crepe silk saris, semi crepe saris. In over one hundred different synthetic colours. And all the while, as we move from one room to another, the noise follows us, hammering endlessly in our ears. The boys cannot bear it. They want it to end. But still the rooms keep coming. The noise spilling through one doorway into next.

Until finally a small door, at the very back of the darkest room opens. A rectangle of light falls across the floor. A small man in a cotton checked dhoti, tucked up to show his nobbled knees, beckons us to walk through it. And suddenly, in one step, we are lead back from in to out. Back beneath that clear blue sky, that green tree. Into a world that still rings with the hammer of machinery. I can no longer hear the thrumming of the Mysore traffic, or the birds that are flitting back and forth from the branches around us. I can hear only the beating of my own heart, the breath in my lungs. The world is not as we had left it. The sounds have dulled. We blink in the bright sunlight. Strain to look out across the lawn that surrounds the Mysore silk factory.

And there in front of us, lined up in rows and hanging from wooden bamboo racks, are the colours. Bright silk saris, threaded with gold, blues, fuchsias, flaming oranges and burning reds, vivid greens and shimmers of blinding magenta. All billowing in the hot wind like coloured sails. We have exchanged a world of sound for one of sight, darkness for light, dullness for colour.

So onward then – But onward in search of the silent colours. Travelling backwards in time, to a hand made loom in some corner of a dusty yard, a sheet of silk dyed with colours from the tree, the leaf, the flower, the stone you can crush and grind and knead in the palm of your hand. Those very first colours that meant we could paint what we saw in the bright world around us, lay it down across cave walls, across blank canvasses and vast sheets of empty white paper. And as we did so, still hear the birds singing and the wind rustling in the trees.

The Rainbow Hunters are raising money for War Child ( as they travel to seven countries on a quest to collect the seven colours of the rainbow.
If you would like to donate please go to or text RABO77 and the amount you would like to give to 70070.

Audley Travel (01883838200; offers tailor-made trips to India and specialised tours and home-stays to Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

About lindsayhawdon

Lindsay Hawdon is a writer of travel, adventure and fiction. She began travelling at the age of eighteen. After leaving school, she spent three years roaming around Europe, Africa and India, hitching rides and sleeping under canvass. Her travel column, An Englishwoman Abroad, began in The Sunday Telegraph in 2000 and ran for seven years. Throughout that time she travelled to every continent, ventured across every terrain, experienced every climate, writing stories about her experiences and the people she encountered along the way. She has since travelled to over sixty countries and writes regularly for The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Australian and The L.A Times. Her most recent column for The Sunday Times featured a fourteen month long trip around the Far East and Australia, accompanied by her two young children. Her debut novel, Jakob’s Colours, was published by Hodder and Stoughton in April 2015 and will be coming out in the US with Quercus in Jan 2016. She lives in Bath with her family. You can follow her on Twitter @lindsayhawdon
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2 Responses to From Sound To Sight

  1. Sheila says:

    Spellbinding, the sheer visuality of colour comes skimming off the page. Loved it. From sight to sound then sight again. The poor workers, how do they survive this. But fascinating. Sheila


  2. sarah says:

    Beautiful, so evocative.


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