I must confess I wanted to completely bypass the sad and heart wrenching story of cotton farming in our country that ironically, provides us with widely used and most comfortable fabric of all.
A little backstory to cotton farming is that 85% of the cotton produced worldwide comes from China, India, Brazil, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and the USA. While USA maintains its lead because of huge subsidies doled out by the government to its cotton farmers which entitles them to almost 3 times higher price than what is paid to other farmers for the same amount of cotton. These indulged growers contribute in satiating the massive appetite of cotton by fashion brands in the US.
Uzbekistan has a cruel trick up its sleeve for keeping the prices of cotton competitive; it has done away with machines for cotton picking and forces youth to toil under inhuman conditions, during harvesting season of almost two months, to pick up sixty kgs of cotton bolls with bare hands everyday, a deficit in which leads to harsh punishment.*
The cotton farmers of our country are going through a bizarre and painful journey, so full of pathos that it is just unbearable. There were good times, when the cotton farmers of India created wealth but that dream run turned sour at the start of the new millennium. Indian land, as it is, yields much lesser cotton in comparison to other countries and the vicious cycle of genetically modified seeds and tons of pesticides has taken a deep toll on the vulnerable farmer.
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“You would not believe the price of the t-shirt! Rs.399! I bought all the shades! I just can’t imagine how these can be so cheap!” Upon hearing a victorious boast like this one, I just have to bite my tongue not to give an unpleasant reaction.
I would not like to inundate a reader with the facts and figures, since I am almost always completely and utterly at a loss with it, but please bear with me on only these two pieces of data:
1. An average single cotton t-shirt requires 500 liters of water (though in some places it can be as huge as 20,000 liters), 40 grams of pesticides and carcinogenic chemicals for finishing process. Add to thatthe regular doses of water, which adds salt to upper soil of the irrigated land, causing large-scale salinization that renders the patch of earth pretty useless to grow anything else. *
2. To get 80 million tonnes of fabric (worldwide consumption in 2007) into shape, it takes 1074 billion kilowatt hours of electricity generated by 132 million tonnes of coal and 6 – 9 trillion liters of water. Add to that the land and water pollution caused due to pesticides, dyeing and finishing fabrics. *
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There is a story to how fashion became fast and furiously out of control. It is pretty much like the extinct dodo bird’s journey of evolution that got excessively dumb by the day.
In the good old days there were two seasons and all of us aligned with that. There were summer clothes and winter ones or summer and rain ones until buying garments became a past time, a therapy and the joy of dressing up like our cultural icons and not really like ourselves became an obsession.
Soon, sharp and ruthless businessmen entered the fray to satiate our longing for more and more. We saw the meteoric rise of labels like as Zara, H&M, Uniqlo, and Forever 21. Thanks to their quick reaction to trends, impeccable precision in anticipating future demand and speedy turnaround, they ensure less wasted inventory and a huge profit. The trend conscious stylista thrives on the instant gratification that these garments offer at ridiculously low prices and is encouraged to renew her wardrobe every few weeks. A six-month cycle shrunk to three weeks and four seasons became one hundred and four (as in the case of Zara, restocking happens every Tuesday and Thursday).The fast fashion labels fuel our impulsive buying mentality by getting in a small stock and what does not catch our fancyin the first round, is quickly disposed off at ridiculously low prices during the frequent sales that we lap up with the joy of having won a lottery.
How can the garments cost so low, with the ever-escalatingrentals, staff costs, international transportation, manufacturing costs etc.?
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Fast fashion collision happened much later in my life but when it did, I never understood the deep sadness it would bring in its wake. It does not seem surprising now though, as my growing up years in royal city of Patiala, Punjab with its wealth of artisticcraftsmen and the joy of a mom who could stitch fabulous garments helped me develop a discerning eye and fondness towards clothes and the people who made them.
From the time I was considered bright enough to have a say in what I will wear, I remember going to these family owned shops to choose fabric, then to a locality where many women who did hand embroidery lived, then to an adorable dyer who could hand dye ten shades of red and finally to a tailor who would stich the garment.
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When I heard of the Rana Plaza catastrophe, I followed my standard reaction to any heart wrenching news that comes my way – I went into the ostrich mode. I cut myself off of all news channels and websites. Knowing the media’s disposition to cover the absolute current, sensational news, I was sure that in a while the furore would die down and I would, somehow, stay untouched by what was to be, in days to come, a cathartic journey questioning my deep love for fashion.
To those of you, who might have missed it in the plethora of news that we are bombarded with at every moment, Rana Plaza tragedy occurred in a sweatshop in Bangladesh on 24th of April’13. The 8 floor building was evacuated a day before as huge cracks had appeared on the foundation walls. On the day the tragedy occurred, only the garment factory workers were made to work in the facility and rest of the offices were shut down. Sadly, half of these workers were women who have zero bargaining power and their infants, who were left in a ‘nursery’ in the same building, accompanied many. The last straw for this tragedy was the need to use huge generators in a cracked up building that had been declared ‘unsafe’. But, strangely, the work could not be stopped. When the building collapsed, almost 1,138 people died and over 2500 were seriously injured, 140 bodies have,till date, notbeen accounted for. This facility manufactured garments for labels like Primark, Benetton, Mango, Wal-Mart etc.
My journey was arduous indeed as I find great joy in the creative stimulation that fashion offers and many a times, going through my own silly longing for those Céline sandals or that Stella McCartney bag or a cropped top that would look so cool. Suddenly, fashion presented a face that was ugly and scary, something I simply could not relate with.
This series is a result of the journey that Rana Plaza tragedy propelled me into, that of introspection, a purgation of the irrelevant and choosing consciousness over mindlessness.
Sari by Anavila
Jewllery by En Inde
Hair and makeup by Megha Kothari
Photography by Vinit Bhatt
It was the desire to give an identity to the nameless heroine of Munshi Premchand’s short story ‘Kafan’ that was the inspiration for this series but as the story started taking shape, inside my head naturally, the challenge it presented was daunting. Thankfully, a lucky moment arrivedand I got talking about it to my dear friend Shaikh Ayaz(he is a very busy writer!) only to be positively encouraged,”Pallu, it a good direction to take,” and then we reminisced about our lack of knowledge on local literature, the joys of used books etc. Emboldened by Ayaz’s response, I decided to present it to Bhavna Talwar as she sat discussing something important which, even now, I can’t recall. “Bee, what do you say to a story on Munshi Premchand’s heroines,” I interrupted. Now Bhavna does not take kindly to having her train of thought interrupted, I can assure you, for I have been a recipient of her fury on multiple occasions; be it while playing with the dog as she read/ narrated something brilliant or suddenly asking her to make tea or steering the conversation way off course to a point of no return. I could see a determined resolve to not lose-her-calm-over-this taking over her features, as she adjusted her voice and said that it was a great idea and then we discussed Munshi Premchand’s works for many happy hours. The final say had to come, obviously from my most favourite lens man Vinit Bhatt. Upon hearing the idea, he solemnly declared,”Maa, it would be maar-phaad” and with that assurance of a kick-ass shoot, I started looking out for the heroines.
In the meanwhile, Munshi ji’ spirit embarked upon the audition process, I’m sure, for such amazing women came forward to essay these roles that I simply cannot take any credit for that. Sanea Sheikh turned out to be as fearless and independent as Miss Malati;Marriette Valsan is as loyal and supportive friend as Munni was; Suman’s ability to rise above the petty insecurities and boundaries resonated with that of Julia Datt; DayanaErappa’s innocent face captured the reflection of Jalpa’s angst; only Elena Kazan could have emoted the vacant, sad eyes of Nirmala reliving her misery and Geetu Hinduja, a dedicated mother and doting grandmother who is also pursuing her passion for singing, could have infused such life intoDhaniya and make her stand so real amongst us.
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DHANIYA, ESSAYED BY GEETU HINDUJA
There is a reason why I saved Dhaniya, wife of Hori – the protagonist of Godaan – for the very last post of the Munshi Premchand series. She is to me that quiet resolve, that sanity and that bold epitome of humanity the lack of which, in the warp and weft of our society, plagues us today. A committed mother and dutiful wife who undertakes deep compromises to keep her family together, be it being subjected to domestic violence or living in the harsh life of abject poverty or stoically bearing up with her husband’s superstitious actions. Her husband and three children – Gobar (who was ambitiously named “Gobardhan” mountain), Sona and Rupa are her responsibility that she renders with utmost honesty.
Her husband’s obsession with owning a cow as a status symbol and as a tool to achieve salvation upon gifting it to the priest at the time of hisdeath, gets them into deep debt and trouble. Dhaniya is bold with a sharp tongue and possesses courage and resolve beyond belief for an uneducated woman living in a village of UP.
I was moved by her courage to give shelter to the pregnant low cast widow – Jhunia with whom her son was having an affair. The son absconds to the city, too timid to bear the consequences of his actions yet Dhaniya stands by the young woman. Hori and she face a fine, which deepens their already crippling debt; they are ostracised by their village community. She stands resolute in supporting Jhunia and her baby even though she has no moral obligation to do so, the girl is not married to her son, is from a lower cast and Jhunia’s own father is not only quick to disown her but is also pressurizing them to throw his daughter out. There is no mention of a marriage ceremony ever taking place but Dhaniya stands by Jhunia till the very end. If the reader thought the reason for Dhaniya’s action was the love for her grandson, that notion is quickly broken when she stands up Siliya, a low cast woman who is defiled by the village chief’s son and is banished by her community. Without bothering for the consequences, she gives this woman shelter and support.
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NIRMALA, ESSAYED BY ELENA KAZAN
Sari by Mira Sagar for Vaya Weaving Heritage
Beaded jacket VERB by Pallavi Singhee
Hair and make up Megha Kothari
Much of Munshi Premchand’s works deals with despondent situations and wretched protagonists, but even going by that expectation, Nirmala, is absolutely heartbreaking.
This is the story of a fifteen-year-old girl who, for the lack of dowry, is married off to a man old enough to be her father. As hard as she tries to look at her husband with the eyes of a lover, she fails and thereby leads the strange life of a girl deprived of her husband and yet called upon to fulfill her many wifely responsibilities. The husband, curiously, simply cannot fathom this outlook towards himself, for he is trying to woo her with clothes and spicy savories! He is oblivious of the fact that he has exploited the poverty of a family to attain a submissive, young girl in a sordid trade that, sadly, enjoys the sanctions of the society.
Nirmala’s husband starts suspecting his wife of having an affair with his son who is a year younger to Nirmala. The son, a fragile boy, takes this situation to heart, gets unwell and dies and soon the whole family is disintegrated and plummets to poverty.
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JALPA, ESSAYED BY DAYANA ERAPPA
‘Chandrahaar’ isan antique embroidery piece from royal family of Ahmedabad, saved from a men’s ‘mulmul’ ‘angrakha’, apersonal piece of my fashion forward, connoisseur of beautiful things friend-Jyoti Gwalani. FB page coming soon.
‘Tree of life’ beautiful sari is by DeepikaGovind
Forehead and hand jewellery, handcrafted by Breathing Space
Handwoven belts worn as jewellery are by Olivia Dar
Silver Rings, cuff and wooden bangles with gold plating are also from JyotiGwalani
Chain neckpiece and rings are from Zariin
Jalpa, surely, epitomizes the potential that we, insignificant kernels, have to grow into majestic oaks. As a girl, Jalpa’s obsession with baubles is given a positive stroke by her parents who indulge her every whim. In fact when she wants silver ‘Chandrahaar’, she is quickly admonished and firmly guided to accept only a gold one. No such strict parameter is set, naturally, for her education or any other intellectual progression.
There is this certain resilience, a certain quality to evolve beyond belief, when confronted with a formidable situation that Munshi Premchand celebrates about his heroines. I reckon he was always making a case for women to be encouraged by society, through higher education or by their exposure to a bigger picture, to take a position of strength as an informed and influential member. The progression of Jalpa is an exemplification of Premchand’s belief.
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GABAN – EMBEZZELMENT
This book, published in 1931 is an absolute page-turner with events happening at a pace that keeps the reader riveted with the canvas encompassing the humble homes of lower middle class and the freedom movement happening at a national level. It’s only later that the ominous scenario for a future nation that is populated with the parvenus middle class is comprehended.
Jalpa is a young girl who is obsessed with jewellery, pretty much like any girl today who is obsessed with a LV rucksack. She dreams, imagines, deeply wishes for a ‘Chandrahaar’, an expensive and opulent necklace among other pieces of jewellery. She is married off to a good for nothing Ramaakant, son of a poor government clerk. To impress his beautiful new bride, Ramaa, grossly exaggerates their financial standing. To satiate Jalpa’s demand for ‘Chandrahaar’, Ramaa, commits a small fraud and uses government money to buy Jalpa’ s jewellery, only to get so scared that he runs away from home and reaches Calcutta. He is kindly given shelter by an old couple, Devideen and his wife, who lost their young, handsome boys during a non-cooperation movement demonstration. Here Ramaa gets embroiled in the workings of corrupt police force and is lured into being a false witness to indict innocent people for a bomb blast. In the meanwhile, Jalpaa there pays off the government amount to clear Ramaa’s name. She comes to Calcutta looking for Ramaa and gets deeply involved in the struggle for saving fifteen innocent young people from tyrannical British government. She implores with Ramaa not to give false statement and save the lives of the innocent. Eventually, the court releases Ramaa and the other accused. They end up happily leading their life with honesty and hard work.
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