Textile Day

Celebration of revival and innovation:

Textile Day, Lakme Fashion Week, Summer/ Resort’16

The crowning jewel of Lakme Fashion Week, which commenced in Mumbai tonight, has to be the Textile Day. In an otherwise homogeneous fashion weeks that have sprouted all over the country, textile day remains LFW’s crowning success with the team refining its voice with every passing season and thereby strengthening the presentations.

This Summer/ Resort 2016 week is all set to showcase amazing talents that encapsulate the new voice of young India in the ancient language of handloom textiles. The Textile day kick starts with three designers’ couture quality work. The work of the designers is seeped in the highest luxury that only hand-woven and handmade can deliver.


Swati and Sunanina

are presenting an ethereal work that has revived weaving techniques that were deemed extinct. They have also successfully broken the perception of hand-woven being heavy and cumbersome to wear as they have worked hard to offer saris that are ultra glamorous and luxurious while offering comfortable wearability. They throw light on real Zari, a technique that is shrouded in ambiguity. Their collection is inspired by our soul – Radha, the purest and the lightest part of a being, where each and every sari reminds us of the eternal beauty of luxurious, serene and dignified simplicity


Priyanka of P.E.L.L.A

is a young designer with huge gumption. She interprets hand-woven textiles to forward the deep ethos that such garments afford. Mastery over scissors ensures that the cuts and styling of her garments are simple yet avant-garde. Highly evolved in the ethical and environment friendly part of fashion, her collection always stuns and elevates.Sujani
an erstwhile ubiquitous embroidery technique that was used by most homemakers of U.P. and Bihar to up cycle worn out clothes, is the chosen stitch of artist+designer Swati Kalsi. This talent powerhouse has elevated the common craft to stunning pieces of couture garments where her vision is empowered by the hands of Bihar women who add their own unique take to the stitch. I have never seen such a phenomena where an artist’s intervention on commonplace local craft has turned it into a formidable form of art.


The label of thoroughly astounding designer duo – Amity and Richard – has been on my admired list for the longest time. Working with beautiful hand-woven yardage, Amrich: has been an elucidator of plethora of handloom into effortless frocks and fuss free dresses. Their impeccable eye for details and cleanest work makes each and every garment a delight to wear. Their present collection – Criss Cross – explores the myriad ways of sporting cherished age-old weaves in our ever-hectic quotidian life.

The fist time I happily chanced upon petite, adorable looking Debashri Samanta, I could have never guessed that I was in the presence of a creative spark. Every season, she charms me with her fun take on her hand woven dresses. If some times, her weavers are cajoled into weaving a metro skyline then the other time they weave hapless fish and hooks that add fun flash to her textile based designs. This season spring is in the air and Debashri’s collection titled – Love thy Nature that compels the wearer to love herself on the inside and her universe on the outside with these flirty and sustainable dresses.


New in my world is Indigene, a label run by Ruchi and Jaya that make garments that age well with the times, offering classic, non-conformist silhouettes that are gentle enough to offer an easy sanctuary to the wearer as a happy reminder of a humble artisan who made it and earth friendly ways of its journey. The aging garment becomes more luxurious as it “reveals itself in ingenious ways – like timeless pieces of poetry that begs to be read and re-read to find new meaning each time.” Their collection titled – Transience – offers unpretentious silhouettes with gorgeous embroidered detailing. I am simply looking forward to this label going places.




Mrinalini‘s evolved, unvarnished design hides in its fold a deep understanding of her craft that cuts off the frills to reveal the core, that main element which celebrates a pure design function and commands engagement. When I read that her collection is called – Banaras, I was surprised; having fallen in the trap of clichéd visuals and the over used imagery associated with the heritage city. To say that I blown away by this maverick’s interpretation is an understatement.

“Beyond the weaves, to the oldest streets of the world, where God’s walked with man”, the collection is devoid of embellishment, stripped of the luxury of color and explores the murk that mingles with the mystic.

“Homeless jackets, tea stained shirts, coffee soaked shirts casually layered with belts and shrugs” create a much-anticipated collection.






Though not advanced in age but Paromita Banerjee’s continuous work with weaves of Bengal have created a strong body of work in the language of sustainable fashion that totally belies this beautiful woman’s gentle presence. In every collection she re invents the silhouettes to ensure easy-breezy wearability. This collection is another feather in her cap that unfolds amidst contradictions, called – The Salt of Life. “Walking in the park on pebbled pathway tottering in heels and realizing that you are all about comfort and not style…Sipping chai sitting with locals in old-world neighborhood, where the houses have not yet been shaped into boxy-apartments and the chai-waala knows your name and calls you didi…”. Paromita will push her boundaries. Again. I know.








Deepa & Jay Lakhani’s handmade line of unique and distinctive accessories under eponymous label – Deepa Gurnani – showcases the craftsmanship of hand-embroidery passed down through generations. Each piece is hand stitched, weaving the vibrant and exotic colors and beading of India. Their inspiration is based on the present time where humanity appears to operate at dissonant extremes. The world is in conflict yet many cast a blind eye. Millions of people live in abject poverty yet people still enjoy a life of lavish luxury. The earth is being depleted of her resources, yet we continue to consume. The designers explore these incongruous themes in their capsule collection, seeking beauty in our contrary world -The story of Oblivion.

Jay Lakhani


100% PURE LOVE is a collection built on the spirit of how the Nor Black Nor White duo is feeling these days about their creations. They continue to deeply commit to their favorite textile regions and the communities within it. What is charming about NBNW is that they focus on one technique per collection and this around they bring together clamp dyed silks from Kutch, cotton checks from Kerala and bold ikats from Andhra Pradesh.
NBNW is showing a line that is body friendly with fluid silhouettes. Celebrating their love for 90’s styling, the creations made of Kerala checks, Kerala gold and handloom check weaves layer together stylishly to invoke rich experience.


Jay Lakhani

AISH is showcasing “The Expedition” – black&white collection using craft techniques as varied as Jamdani from Bengal, Pashmina from Kashmir and Khamir Cotton from Gujarat. “We are not making craft contemporary – it has always been modern – we are just rediscovering it.”Born and raised in India, Nupur Goenka’s early years were spent in community style living in a large Indian family. This encouraged inclusive play, being creative with fewer resources and a quiet sense of content, independent of individual identity. Nupur has carried these intuitive lessons all through her life and business. “At AISH we work with the textile craft communities of where entire families work on the same meters of fabric, where no single person is struggling to take credit for the work, where the craft is bigger than the craftsman, and the end product is venerated as a piece of art, not just as a piece of cloth.” We all await our jaws getting dropped, AISH.


There are days when I am starved for beauty and that are when I head to this label for all around joy. Maku will debut its first ever fashion show at Lakme Fashion week 2016 titled BOBA, with a muted visual protest against the world of fast changing fashion. Through various montages of fabrics, Maku will exhibit a display of hand-woven developments in natural indigo. Indigo, unlike synthetic dyes, cannot be tamed to perform. Thus, with this narrow spectrum of products, Maku preaches universal tolerance towards infinite choices offered by industrialization. Maku hopes that by changing ‘our’ perception towards materials, we can probably save our planet.

There is a reason why I’m ending this piece with Chinar Farooqui’s label Injiri. I have followed her honest journey with weaves for the longest time and have always been amazed at the unflinching and sustained eye for detail and quality of workmanship.”Being a student oftextiles I love thehand-loom.Itismore about celebrating the entire process ofhand-weaving andthe clothes are actually little stories about the textiles they are made of. The “design” that one finds inmyclothes are mainly the textile designs that are incorporated while weaving a piece offabric onthe loom like selvedge, borders, cross borders and weaving patterns. I use the hand-woven fabric for clothes insuch a way that the textile design becomes apparent and italso becomes the most important design feature of that garment.”


Please catch the stunning and paradigm altering work of these geniuses all through the day today. Updates will be available on the various social media accounts of Lakme Fashion Week.


The face of sustainable fashion with Banaras weavers

The Face of Sustainable fashion.

It is our privilege to share the endeavor of Mrs. Ratna Krishnakumar and Tata Trust to uplift the weaver artists of Banaras from a destitute state to a thriving community of keepers and nurturers of our heritage.
This short film shares the perils of disengagement with weaving on our current culture and irreplaceable loss of our collective ethos.
Our conscious fashion choices can lead to this happy face of society where sustainability is revered and artists are empowered to strengthen the art that enriched our culture.
A case in point – Banaras – the oldest surviving city of the world, sustaining our oldest surviving craft – weaving.‪#‎sustainablefashion‬ ‪#‎Banaras‬ ‪#‎Varanasi‬ ‪#‎Banarasiweaves‬ ‪#‎tatatrust‬ ‪#‎weaving‬ ‪#‎weavers‬ ‪#‎madeinindia‬ ‪#‎handwovenluxury‬ ‪#‎luxury‬

The Face of Sustainable Fashion.


The Face of Sustainable Fashion.

The lobby of Taj Land’s End was cool and fragrant with huge bouquet of lilies. After a sojourn in Singapore, husband insisted upon being back in India as he missed his land and I unfortunately was pining for my sparkling, picture-perfect erstwhile house. My sadness was momentarily broken when I heard,“Mr. and Mrs. Datta, your room is ready, please follow me” and I turned around only to be stunned by a elegant employee of Taj, with an affable smile wearing the most beautiful sari I had ever seen. Quickly breaking out of my wallowing-in-self-pity state, I realized that the stunning hand woven Banarasi sari was a uniform! Perhaps for the first time since the decision to move was made, I felt happy. To my utter delight, the staff member who came for turndown service, again, was wearing a hand woven sari. How amazing is this country, its crafts and its genius crafts people who can create luxurious masterpieces with such ease that it can be worn by the efficient employees of India’s largest hotels!

Many years later, came the delightful evening when I met amazing and really stunning Mrs. Ratna Krishnakumar who is the galvanizing factor for this happy choice of uniform. She shared that it was her time spent at the Paramparik Karigar and the deep interactions with the weavers there that made her resolve to act for the empowerment of these struggling artists. She lent impetus to the marginalized, physically challenged youth via Aranya Naturals that boosted her confidence to take on the mammoth task of setting foot in the ancient motherland of handwoven luxuries – Banaras.

To say that it was an uphill task is an understatement. Weavers in Banaras, pretty much like in the rest of the country, have had a rough ride since Princely states were abolished post independence. It is not to say that all of our Royalty nurtured them the way they deserved but what followed by way of blood sucking ‘Gaddidars’ and now, some designers, makes them seem like messiahs.

Most of ‘Gaddidars’, ‘kothiwaale’ or whole sellers’ practices were vicious and cruel. They would ensnare talented weavers by a myriad of ways most preferred of which was lending money at such ridiculous rates that the weavers and his future generations were trapped in a subservient existence in appalling living conditions. Confined in tiny, crowded basements infested with disease where these genius artists would work long hours, impoverished, hungry, helpless till they finally died, all too young. Their pathos filled existence comes alive in the book ‘Jhini Jhini biini chadaria’ by Abdul Bismillah who lived amongst the weavers of Banaras to relate this heartbreaking tale of desensitized exploitation perpetrated by the elite and the politicians. At this point, designers enter the scene. Some of them talk of a dream scenario of independent work, freedom from the clutches of the gaddidars and continuous work. Only, first they need some amazing samples that can fetch lucrative orders to start off the journey to independence, they argue and weavers agree. In the predictable future, designer tags are added to these samples and are sold at amazing prices and quick buck is made or the sample is given to be replicated by captive weavers of the designer or, in the worst situation, the sample is replicated on the power loom thereby robbing the weaver of his earnings and his cherished craft. Generations of illiteracy, exploitation, ill health and abject poverty has left our weavers jaded, pessimist and despondent. Many a times people complain that the weavers are so disloyal or they just don’t want to work. I can only request them to read the book to understand how damaging their past has been.

It was an uphill task indeed. Ratna ji approached Sarai Mohana village in U.P. where the weaver population had dwindled to a sad number. She was greeted, naturally, with suspicion and cynicism. Dumbledore said in the a Harry Potter book – “We are always confronted with the easy path or the right path” and much to our good fortune, she chose the right but tedious path. She knew that the first thing she had to do was to build the trust of the weavers. She, with immense support of Tata Trust, took on the nurturing challenge and undertook many confidence-building exercises.

Indian Hotels adopted Sarai Mohana village, supplied the weavers with solar lights to enable them to work in proper visibility conditions, water pumps were set up to improve the ease and hygiene of the community, medical camps were organized on a regular basis and medicines were distributed free of cost.

Eyes are the first casualty of a weaver who works long hours in insufficient lighting, without any medical intervention during dilapidating vision condition. Regular eye checks were conducted and over 85 pairs of glasses were distributed in the first camp itself. The local school refused education to the children of this impoverished community where Tata Trust intervened and started supporting the local school to ensure education to the weavers’ children. Nutritious mid-day meals, books, school bags etc. are provided to encourage education. The only request made by the Trust was to introduce the subject of weaving as a part of the curriculum so as to inculcate a sense of pride and relevance for this craft in the hearts of the younger generation.

The weavers responded with immense love and a relationship of mutual synergy and respect was created. Soon, finest and most intricate saris were made by them that became the pride-filled uniforms of the Taj Luxury Hotel’s employees.

Ratna ji fondly remembers one incident when she took the pictures of the Taj ladies wearing the saris to give a face to the wearer of these creations, to the weavers. The weavers were thrilled but what moved her was when she returned to the village, she found that picture on the mantle with the God and Deity’s images! “It has been one of the most satisfying aspect of my life to see the lives of weavers turn for the better and to see the pride and self respect come back into their lives,” Ratna ji shares.

An added bonus to her close association with Master Weavers was the revival of vintage, out-of-circulation Banarasi saris. The weavers were overjoyed to work on the weaves that challenged their craft and were a cherished part of their history. Many saris were brought back to life from mere scraps and images and reached eager cognoscenti through the Taj Khazana stores.

Presently Ratna ji is working on creating a space where these revival projects can be undertaken and where the entire community that is needed to weave a sari, can come together, be it dyers, thread spinners, loom setters, graph makers, card cutters, weavers et all.

When I asked her how we, the regular people can strengthen our craft, she was clear in her advice, ”Please try and buy from the weavers directly but don’t haggle on the prices as that yardage is his true labour of love. Whenever such opportunity arises, please support weaver organisations. Above all, be aware consumers and ask questions on the source of the sari and do remember that power loom kills creative and artistic weaving endeavor.”

The video that follows showcases the paradigm altering change that a fashion choice can bring about.

‪#‎sustainablefashion‬ ‪#‎consciousfashion‬ ‪#‎Banaras‬ ‪#‎weavers‬‪#‎heritageweaves‬
 ‪#‎whomademyclothes‬ ‪#‎empowermentbyfashion‬‪#‎fairtrade‬ ‪#‎madeinindia‬ ‪#‎increadibleindia‬ ‪#‎slowfashion‬

The Marriage cacophony

The Marriage cacophony

The Marriage cacophony.

It was at my young cousin’s wedding that the ludicrous farce of the modern Indian wedding hit me. Upon entering the residence of my relative, many days ahead of the wedding to ask if I could be of any assistance, the watchman indicated 4th floor without even looking up from his Candy Crush Saga. I could only imagine that the footfall to the ‘marriage waala ghar’ had increased.

I found the door ajar with a million shoes mounted outside that were enough to put any decent ‘maata kaa jagraata’ to shame. As a person who is not fully versed with the concept of date, time etc., I panicked thinking that I may not be aware of some ceremony and a quick check on the blessed What’sapp allayed my fears. “It’s not even remotely close to the wedding date yet…” I thought as I practiced a smile reserved for relatives.

The dog of the house that was hiding under the sofa clutched my leg for his dear life. I saw my uncle deeply immersed in a conversation with an alien looking person in a fedora hat…”so the platform on which the bride and groom would stand is a hydraulically rotating one so that everyone can get a clear view,” he said with a smile that put Arnab Goswami’s smirk to mind, “ also there will be drones to photograph and shower rose petals on the guests…” I giggled at the thought of my cousin and her fresh husband going “wheeeeeeee…” on the rotating platform and some drunken relatives falling off it… While exasperated father of the bride and the older uncle (who seemed to have been given some commission by this guy going by Uncle’s enthusiastic agreement on everything) were busy working out the math on the crazy stunts, the sofa was occupied by a caterer (busy exciting himself by tickling the innards of his ear with a toothpick), a flower person (again trying to break the ever menacing candy in the Candy Crush saga), a wedding planner was busy talking to another client on the phone and discussing how the horse reserved for the day was suffering from a bad bout of loosies as the ladies in the previous event had overfed it and that he was trying to find a replacement in the required colour… I quickly gave up the idea of saying hello to my uncle and moved on looking for my aunt.

Strangers surrounded her too. A young enthusiastic girl was teaching her some weird dance steps, ”Now aunty, gyrate your hips again at the count of four then move your chest so…” she demonstrated and my poor aunt who has gently packed on some pounds due to her academician’s life, struggled to follow her lead. The senior aunt gave me a hug while I scrabbled at not looking confounded at the goings on, “Preparations, beta, ”she said and I thought, “for what? India got talent?”

By the window was the hair stylist, busy eating ‘faafda’ and looking into the make up person’s phone as she updated her Facebook status. The cook was standing at the door peeping, gazing at my sweating, dancing aunt with such happiness that my suspicion of his infatuation for my aunt was confirmed. The tailor was waiting for trial of the blouses, his bag over stuffed with glittering, shining stuff.

The house that has always held a certain peace and tranquillity thanks to intellectual parents and studious children, was transformed to the set of a cacophonous Hindi soap opera. Shopping bags covered the floor, chocolates and mithai boxes were littered everywhere. I meandered my way to the cousin’s room, with the shivering dog still clutching on to my ankles. She was busy listening to a PYT who was making a strong case for pre-wedding skin care, message, warm pebbles, oils, exfoliation, detoxification etc. while brochures and menus were being waved in her face. “Let me look through it and respond,” my cousin said after which we were subjected to an apocalyptic style warning that if she does not make up her mind soon she will lose a once in a lifetime opportunity, a manna from heaven, a sure shot lottery, a way out of her oily..parched…spotted…patchy skin to morph into a glowing, baby like one only and only if she signs on the services on an urgent basis…

The chafed bride-to-be turned around and shared, ”All I want is to spend these days with family, reading my books, playing with my dog in my room…” I could see a far away look in her eyes. These precious moments of her single life could have been spent in a serene manner while I see her sadly drowning in a quagmire of a crazy circus like mayhem. 
Talent: Dayana Erappa
Photography: Vinit Bhatt
Photo edit: Jatin Lulla
Hair and make-up: Megha Kothari

Conscious Bride’s Diaries


In the loud Indian modern wedding, the bride seems to be competing with herself to wear the most garish, flouncy outfits on all occasions leading upto marriage.

Upon enquiry on this crazy phenomenon, I have been told that brides wear eye blinding garments to out do the attendees who are deluded enough to think that perhaps it is their wedding and that they have to outdo the current bride! The bride’s relatives keep cajoling her to dress up for every event mindful of the fact that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime occasion and that no ornamentation should be spared! However, I argue that attendees of the wedding belie this thought by their over the top dressing and also, I ask, would the bride not stand out by being dressed in true, one-of- a-kind luxury while surrounded in repetitive bling? I cannot imagine this hilarious pressure on the bride to outdo the others in the flashy factor.

Here, fortunately, Dayana wears a sari painstakingly woven in a combination of techniques like jamdani+ikkat+Paithani and is replicated from a 19th century sari.
Handwoven in pure zari, we can admire interlocking of Paithani and ikkat of Hyderabad with Benares brocade. It is teemed with antique heirloom traditional Jewellery like the sun and moon as hair ornaments with a handcrafted Kada – and the look spells subtle opulence at every level. On an occasion like a ‘mehandi’, to come across this purity is refreshing.

Saree: Vedaa Contemporary Weaves
Talent: Dayana Erappa
Photography: Vinit Bhatt
Hair and Makeup: Megha Kothari

The Face of Sustainable fashion.

The Face of Sustainable fashion.

We are humbled to share this small film on the Aranya Natural’s initiative to run a profitable business while maintaining a deep commitment to improve the state of, hither to, marginalised stratum of society and the well being of Mother Earth.
The film shows the power of fashion to change the life and destiny of artists hidden under such obtuse tags as handicapped, dependent, burdensome etc. Bhanumati, Muthupetchi, Kalavati, Kalidas, Poongani, Vijaylaxmi and many more are creating fashion that I would be proud to port.
How utterly beautiful and soulful would a garment be when made in such an enriching workplace by these happy souls.

‪#‎Handloom‬ ‪#‎handwoven‬ ‪#‎sustainablefashion‬ ‪#‎consciousfashion‬ ‪#‎handweaves‬ ‪#‎weavers‬ ‪#‎ecofriendlyfashion‬ ‪#‎naturaldyes‬ ‪#‎Aranyanatural‬ ‪#‎empowementbyfashion‬ ‪#‎fairtrade‬ ‪#‎ethicalfashion‬

The face of Sustainable Fashion

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The Humbling Faces.

The face of Sustainable Fashion.

It was an event that would happily alter the lives of over hundred physically challenged young adults. It was also an event that would offer tender nurturing to mother earth for many years to come.

Ms. Ratna Krishnakumar had been invited to inaugurate a Vocational Training Centre, a Tata Tea initiative in Munnar, where the craft of making office files and letter pads was to be taught to this youth. The idea was to give a source of livelihood and an avenue to spend some time to this disadvantageous stratum of the local community. But Ratna ji was not overtly pleased about it. She knew this work to be repetitive and therefore monotonous and keenly felt the need to offer these young people a skill set that would be creatively nourishing. There was a reason for a loving embrace of colours, imagination, fabric and these kids that subsequently happened.

Like many of us, Ratna ji grew up in a household where hand-woven ‘pavadai’ and then saris were lovingly worn. Kanchipuram saris were highly sought after even though blouse pieces were not included and finding matching fabric could tax any genteel lady’s patience. In fact she remembers the time when synthetic saris made a foray into the day-to-day life. At a young age she got married and moved to Calcutta. Her expedition with hand-woven saris got deeper with her joining in with Paramparik Karigar and connecting with the skillful, talented weavers. It was here that she realised the importance of a small step in the strengthening of handlooms when she worked for the facility of payments to be made by credit cards. The sales figures for the saris soared thereby generating more work and greater confidence in the weavers.

There were bigger challenges awaiting her dedication for the empowerment of crafts and craftsmen when, after a few years she found herself in a fresh location and with time to spare as her only child was now in a boarding school. It is at this junction that these marginalised humans found Ratna ji at the said inauguration. Just on a whim, Ratna ji had attended a course on natural dying at Dhaka, Bangladesh and was convinced on the ecological and health benefits of natural colours in our lives.

Though chemical dyes were brought into production in 1856, we in India, stayed safe with our beautifully executed natural dyes up until after Independence when all things foreign became our de rigueur. Since these toxic dyes can only be processed in water, the factories are dumping millions of tons of dye effluent in rivers, which is severely affecting humans and animals alike. The workers in such factories are under constant health hazard and studies have shown the penetration of such dyes in the body of the wearer. Such is the severity of this poison that entire rivers have died and epidemic like spread of tumour, cancer, cerebrovascular and lung diseases has affected thousands of people in the proximity of the factories.

The youth, whom we conveniently label physically challenged, are surely challenged by our perceptions and apathetic attitude to lower them to the level of subsistence of an animal. They are side lined to that extent that we do not empathise with their basal want of a purpose in life, of something to do, something to excite their anticipation for a new day, of love, companionship or something to substantiate their existence on earth.

Aranya Naturals, initiated by Ratna ji, was introduced under the umbrella of the Vocational Training Centre and gave these youth a space where they have shattered the label of physically challenged to creating an appropriate one – Differently Abled. With the learning of natural dyes in Dhaka and with persistent experimentation in the kitchen with the abundant natural bounties of Munnar, Ratna ji started teaching basic dying process. The focussed dedication of these budding artists inspired her to challenge their skills with ‘Shibori’ technique.

Today, 18 years down this journey, one hundred and thirty two humans of Aranya are confidant, happy and empowered members of our country. Aranya has taken care of their health, provided homes and emboldened them to live their life to the fullest. Ratna ji adds,” The flair and creativity of our young people has found expression in our products and has earned the appreciation of discerning clientele around the world. Collecting the discards of nature and extracting the vibrant colours has in turn added colour, joy and prosperity in their lives.”

For many, romance bloomed in the beauteous locales of Munnar leading a happy matrimonial life and regular children. Many honed their craft and visited US, Japan and Europe to proudly showcase their creative genius. Many are fully supporting their parents and families. Many of these artists are being tutored by the best in the craft to further their proficiency. One similitude merrily exists among all– the eager enthusiasm for a sunrise replete with imaginativeness and endless possibilities for fulfillment of their dreamy aspirations.

P.S. To quell the cynical voice that may rise on the money generating capability of Aranya Naturals from this idyllic picture of an organisation running with highest ethical standards, I would like to share that it is a profit generating, sustainable label calmly growing with perhaps a negative carbon foot print.

P.P.S What bloomed due to the interaction with the weavers during Ratna ji’s days at Paramparik Karigar? I will be thrilled to share next.

The Face of Beauty.

humbling faces

The Humbling Faces.

The Face of Beauty.
Her blood curdled as Ria stood outside the Women’s Ward of Burns Department.The tortured, heart piercing screams and the stench of burning human skin overpowered her senses. All the beds of the ward were full as was the floor. The moans of torturous pain showed no respite. Many of the girls were unconscious for their brain could not process that intensity of acute ache. The burnt out eyes that did not see the minute by minute degeneration of their once delicate face. Ria’s guide was another victim, blind, badly burnt, dexterous, kind and able. She gently held Ria’s shivering hands. Together they entered the ward and her heart sank when the ward door was locked ominously behind her. There was no going back. She was all of 21.

Reshma’s tiny house in the poor parts of a monstrous metro was the ground of her sister’s tormenting by her husband. One such night, the husband bought potent acid for Rs.30 from the next door shop and hurled it at the sister content in the knowledge that life in every form – smile, friends, love, bravery, pride – would burn away from her life along with butcherly burning her delicate face. Only that was not to be. A fiercely protective Reshma stepped in between. When acid comes in contact with the skin, the skin fumes and melts – ever so excruciatingly that death seems like a relief – minute by minute, hour by hour scarring the face to that point where nothing remains – no face, no identity, no joy, time stands still at an aching point. Forever. Reshma was all of 17.

In that burns ward Ria, who belongs to an affluent family and was meandering through life with irrelevant insecurities and petty self obsessions – which have become a hallmark of our collective ethos really – found her calling. In a paradigm altering moment for India, Ria decided to extend her loving hand towards these wronged souls. Today she runs an organization ‘Make love not scars’ to intervene at every level of these barbaric acts.

The challenges are many. Acid is sold unchecked and openly at pittance in spite of the alarming fact that India has an official statistic of one acid attack per day. The real picture is even more somber than that. The girls who are the casualty of these barbaric attacks often lack money to sustain their surgeries and treatments. The wounds penetrate the very core, shake the very foundation of their being and relegate them to dungeon inmate like desolate existence, fearing revulsion in looks and actions of their community. They have to be gently and empathetically brought out to face the reality. They have to encouraged to rise like a Phoenix from the ashes.

In a blessed synergy, Ria is finding constant respite from her own anxiety and inconsequential coming of age issues in the company of these 45 girls and the girls are finding in her a sister, a friend, an advocate, a nurse and a face in the society who gives them courage. That courage is so needed to face pity in onlooker’s eyes in place of envy, to sense quick averting eyes of cute boys who in the past sighed at their beauty, to always be invisible in celebrations or family reunions lest someone gets offended, to face the camera instead of hiding in someone’s shadow, unshackle the face from tightly worn mask-like scarf and feel the breeze, to find fleeting beauty in their cruelly altered universe.

On this auspicious occasion of Dussehra, we share with you these faces of beauty that shine with courage and compassion, with empathy and love, generosity and forgiveness. We share with you our very own Laxmis – Ria and Reshma, who give face to many of their creed, who confer encouragement on us to be a teeny bit more aware and a tiny bit more humane.
My most heartfelt thanks go to Ria and Reshma for finding time and to Vinit for introductions and photography, to lovely and kind Piyu for the makeup and sweet Jyothi for the hair.
Many thanks to Rina Singh for these beautiful Eka saris in which the girls were preening like fairies.
On the day of the shoot, within 2 minutes of introductions, we were all reduced to giggling girls, eating pizza, gossiping, drinking chai and taking selfies. In the end, nothing like the enduring joys and firm strength of sisterhood. And yes, gender is no bar to be a part of it.

My sari my companion

It was a sweltering day in Mumbai. A dear friend was showcasing at an exhibition in Colaba where I was to volunteer for a couple of hours in helping her set up her stall. We had just about cut open the boxes when a deluge of determined shoppers streamed in, eyes glinting in excitement and body language that of a hustler. Soon my friend and I were huddled in a corner, as the women dug into the boxes, pulling out garment after garment, jostling, bravely stepping over cartons to access every possible cloth. Within an hour, my friend had sold all the small and medium sizes. As we sat in a stall that looked ransacked, my friend – a pioneer of sustainable fashion – was trying to recover from the shock of it all “Maybe my pricing is too low…” I smiled and bade her goodbye. Though I had a flight to catch four hours later but I just wanted to leave the venue which was now stifling like Church Gate station during office hours.

I left straight for my flight, happy in the knowledge that tucked in my bag was an amazing book that I would read at the airport’s coffee shop. But that was not to be. An exhibition at NSCI had caused a massive traffic jam with women, impatient with the situation of time being wasted in taking a U turn, were jumping out of their cars, vaulting over the dividers and were crossing the road with an abandonment towards safety for life or limb. Another jam and the knowledge of another exhibition at Four seasons Hotel made me wonder if at all I will reach the airport.

It was a special day. Vidya Balan, the supremely talented thespian and the resolute wearer of saris, had wanted to visit the weavers and experience the process of handwoven textiles. Mira Sagar of Vaya Weaving Heritage, Gaurang of his eponymous label, photographer Vinit Bhatt and I were happy accompanists. As we drove down to the villages that are home to these genteel weavers, the pace changed. Soon windows were rolled down and a relaxing quietness engulfed us.

The winding road led us to this house where a couple was sitting in a pit loom and weaving. The threads comprising the warp and weft were tied with a mathematical precision with plastic bottles full of sand and water tied along the edges to provide the precise tension. There are specialists who can accomplish this thread by thread tying of the entire expanse of textile to be woven. The threads are hand made in most cases. The dyer colours the thread in myriad ways and many a times with such mastery that when required, the colour changes in the border of the sari without weaver having to shift anything.

The weaver then sits on the bench like edge of the pit and centimetre by centimetre creates a yardage so rich with precision craft, so intricate in execution and so vibrant in colour and pattern that one is left gaping in wonder. It can take months and sometimes years for the saris to finally get off the loom. The weaving happens in silence. Some time during the day, the children come back from the school and after a meal together, the parents are back at their loom.

Vidya was completely immersed in the beauty of the textile creation, understanding every aspect of weaving technique and connecting with these artists at a humane level. The weavers mostly work with their wives to marginally speed up the process. When invited, Vidya sat at the loom with the weaver and gently wove the threads, working the pins, gingerly looking for the nod of assurance from the indulgent weaver while a deep silence ensued. Weaver after weaver was met, each a master of a certain weave, until the day came to an end. “Having experienced the patient artistry and hard work that goes into weaving a sari, I cherish the handwoven garment more than ever,” Vidya shared.

As we left behind those weavers, empowered with the regular quality work Gaurang is giving them, there was a satisfaction in the knowledge that this cluster of weavers was prospering – creatively and monetarily.

I wondered, though, how we have become so disconnected with the narrative of garments which ordinarily are such a personal tool of self expression. How is it that we have come to be such passive bystanders that we have lost all sense of discerning choice. Rather than buying one such garment that is made by these weavers over days and months and which is guaranteed to make us look stunning, why are we spending on these sacks full of more and more clothes that are making us look boringly homogenised?

One word, often spoken by the weavers, kept coming to me – koncham – which means slowly…softly…Maybe somewhere in the metro living, the emotional connect with our surroundings, our soil, our garment is broken. Maybe it can be woven back, one garment, one weave and one thread at a time …koncham…koncham…

Gaurang @Vayaweavingheritage Vinit Bhatt Photography

The sari raj



The first real threat to the sari, as a preferred garment of Indian women, came perhaps in the 1880s when the Vicereines visiting India were compelled to participate in the constant subjugation process of the Indian populace by the British Raj. In an endeavour to outshine the native swish set of women – who could instigate a nervous tick in any royalty anywhere in the world with their nonchalant manner of wearing humongous gems, precious stones set with finest craftsmanship and gold threaded handwoven garments – the newly appointed Viceroy’s wife spent her retirement fund in acquiring morning gowns, tea gowns and ceremonial splendours tailored in exclusive Paris ateliers. Jewels, lace, pearls etc. available among the family and friends, were borrowed in an attempt to survive and with the (dismal) hope for a little one-upmanship in the fashion face-off with the Indian women.

Indian women, in the meanwhile, were undeterred by the much touted ‘superior’ European fashion. They took to the concept of lace, pearls, tea, hairdos with great aplomb. What they did not give up, however, was the sari. Various draping styles were quickly experimented with to emulate the structure of the gown and accessorized with British touches to create a look so stunning that it raised a great demand among the Vicereines for luxurious Indian textiles.

This story is an ode to the enduring relationship of an Indian woman and her sari.