Morning in Dhampus (Nepal), June 2018
Whatever happened with the Romanian hemp?
”The gods weave misfortunes for men, so that the generations to come will have something to sing about.” (Homer, Odyssey)
De IONESCU’s beginning – like most beginnings – was a romantic one.
It cropped somewhere at the foot of the Himalayas in a petty and secluded Nepalese village still untouched by the coffee klatch venom of the gossip mongers, when an anonymous traveler with just high hobo aspirations happened to encounter an eccentric Nippon (”the sun's origin”) who lived his youth in a mountain cave as a disciple of an Indian Sadhu, and who came to be educated and tuned into the art of harvesting Cannabis Sativa L., or industrial hemp.
Knowledge comes easily to the discerning, says one Proverbs, and so Shey Babaji – as everyone around respectfully named him – became habituated for the past 30+ years of his life with this oddball routine. He carried meticulously this know-how from India to his fatherland Japan, then to France, where he tied the knot with a Madame, until he finally came to rest in the land of the Buddha – Nepal. Lucky enough, he found there a small pot of land and dedicated himself fully to the virtuosity of cultivating hemp, both for fiber and for seeds.
Me and my partner ended up there by sheer coincidence. We were probing around miscellaneous hemp cloths in the local boutiques to find the best quality ones, while negotiating first-rate prices – for this is how the bazaar operates.
My partner, being mixed-race, does not stand as the best badge when it comes to price negotiations in South-East Asia, so one had to use a narrow, but nonetheless useful, Nepali vocabulary.
In this fashion – partners in crime – we bought dozens of fabrics, naturally dyed by locals using Indigofera or similar plants in kind. Things were good for a while – we even found the bhang lassi most assistful – until one day, when we heard a devotional Radhe Radhe Bhajan coming from a small outlet. By entering there we met the local store owner, who betrayed the law of the sacred silence.
Blandly and smiling, he pronounced himself: ”That’s not hemp, you fools! Only Jewish, Australian and Swedish ladies continue to buy that and think it’s hemp. Nobody is weaving hemp these days. All the grannies now have a nephew working in Qatar or Bahrain, sending them money, so they no longer need to spin or weave hemp for a living. Maybe you’ll find some in the villages of the far West.”
But there was no time for the far West villages. We were leaving in a couple of days with now dozens of meters of what we thought it was hemp, but instead it was just hand-loomed organic cotton – as later on a kind enough Master student from Sibiu discovered under the microscope.
So we wandered further down the road until we stumbled upon this small gallery, quite on the edge of the settlement. Nobody was there, and after scrutinizing the place for a while a kid ran yelling ”bhai-ji, bhai-ji...” (”brother, brother...”) and soon after the shop owner appeared, as joyful as a fly, either because of the delicious local Thali that was ”good enough for Jehovah”, or maybe just because he noticed the prospects.
Like the Indians, Nepali people are usually warm and welcoming when it comes to strangers that display even a modest inclination towards their culture, like wearing a Kurta pajama, demonstrating proper salutation towards the eldest and the gods, knowledge of the customs, familiarity to eat by hand, and even speaking, however badly, of the local language comes in hand, too. After almost a year among them, one learned about all these bare necessities of life.
From one word to another, El Patron – who was his own employee, as well as the only employee – heard our story and claimed in a flash that we knows someone, his associate, that can help us. He was ”a special case”, he said, not from around, but he had some knowledge of hemp.
As strong devotees of the gut feeling, we believed him and seconds later we were on his Royal Enfield – sign that he was a successful merchant – and so we ended up in a quiet neighborhood, free of tourists, in front of a small building, that served both as a house and as an atelier for a couple of souls.
That’s where we met Shey Babaji. Short in height and as thin as a rake, his eyes gleamed and his long gray hair was waving in the wind when he welcomed us, much in line with the famous Sanskrit proverb – Atithi Devo Bhava –, meaning that a ”Guest is God”. We introduced ourselves and he talked bits and bobs about his life, about the historical importance of hemp in his native Japan and how he started all this jazz 30+ years ago. Then we enjoyed together a hot chiya (”tea”) seasoned with hemp seeds and offered with fondness by didi (”big sister”), when the silence broke and the most peculiar thing was said.
"You know, hadjur,” Babaji started, ”you’re so far away from home, looking for hemp fabrics here, but actually the best hemp cloth I had handed was a piece of canvas from your country, from Romania, back in 1991, or something like that. I used to go back then to all these fairs and exhibitions and I’ve seen them all, but I remember that particular one that was brought to me in France, for being the finest. Whatever happened with the Romanian hemp?”
So synchronicity weaved with the hand of Destiny our story.
It took some time for the waters to clear up, for the threads to untangle themselves – a Vipassana meditation benefited along the way – and since then I continue to ask myself the same unpopular question, ”What ever happened with the Romanian hemp?”
By mastering the native flaw of being curious, the vagabond’s interest sprang up as freely as wild hemp grows along the Himalayan paths and through the orchards of the Himachal Pradesh villages.
I never found an answer to that question, but what came out was an echo of the heart. And this is how De IONESCU was born.
Since then, we work diligently, intelligently, patiently and persistently towards the revival of the Romanian hemp.
All in all, the purpose of these Meditations is not to convince or demonstrate anything at all, neither do we want to convert anyone to our odyssey, nor yet we advocate for Romanian hemp cloths as opposed to any other type of hemp cloths created elsewhere. This is simply a form of passion for us. We wholeheartedly champion a cause that we believe in with the faith of a child.
Moreover, through these Meditations, we plan to discuss the controversial history of this green plant, the various applicabilities of it and also its symbolism across different continents and cultures.
The question one must meditate on now is the following: should we raise our eyebrows over the objective observation of that Japanese gentleman or, on the contrary, was that a remark well grounded in a reality that for some is fading away, while for others – perhaps, even worse – is simply irrelevant?