Tug on the thread of harmony

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Once upon a time in India, there lived a young girl. Her land was a land of artists and saints, a land replete with fertile soil, rivers overflowing with silver, sparkling water and trees that were wise and comforting. Born to a place with sage Janak like fathers, kind Sita like mothers, righteous Draupadi like sisters and profound Nachiketa like brothers.

As a toddler, she ran bare feet with her silver anklets gently heralding her approach, past the silversmith who sat on the mud floor making jewellery with simple tools, running his fingers over and over the piece to ensure that it did not pinch and that the tiny bells made a tinkling sound.

The girl ran towards the weavers hut, her friend, Kabir who sang melodiously to the beat of the loom. ‘Dass Kabir jatan sand odhi, jas ki tas rukh dini chadariya…’The deep philosophy of those words she would understand later, much later but as of now she wants to see the birds that are to take shape on the loom today, parrots, mynah, peacocks… She will wear it on Diwali, she thought as she gazed lovingly on the fabric. Her favorite colour pink was made by the dyer with such precision that it matched the flush of her cheeks after a run around her village. The crushed roses that gave that colour also emanated a fragrance that pervaded her dreams transporting her to a magical grove and fairies. The dyer had laughingly sprinkled some colour to get her out of her reverie, so gentle on her skin…

On her way back home she remembered to stop at the potter, her doll had broken and he was going to make her better. Mother had also wanted some teacups. She sat on haunches as the potter kneaded singing ‘maati kahe kumhar se, tu kya rundhe mohe…ek din aisa aayega, mai rundhungi tohe …’ He packed her mother’s tea cups in dried leaves that mother would later dig into the soil to make it fertile. He gently handed her the doll, which was looking even more beautiful now and gently nudged another toy in her surprised hands…a tiny bed, a tiny sheet, with the doll’s name written on it for her to convalesce. Her eyes were shining with pride as she skipped back home…

Time passed, landscape changed, the girl grew up and found herself in a town full of noise, smoke, artificiality and pettiness. She was to marry soon and went on the lookout for her marriage robes. Shop after shop, she searched for her garment with birds and horses, her favorite colour that did not smell of chemicals and her jewellery that was pretty as it was singular. The shopkeeper showed her garment after garment, stifled with plastic sequins, stones, ugly, fat embroidery – cacophony – for those garments had nothing to say, no fable to relate and as if desperate to hide their cheapness in that busy noise.

As she absentmindedly ran her fingers through the cheap, mosquito net like fabric encrusted with thick stones, the shopkeeper mistook it as admiration for it and quickly took out a plastic bag as a definite gesture to close a sale.

Oh no no! Thought the girl as she stood up, rummaging through her intricately worked on ‘kantha’ bag for the ‘Wedding Trousseau Listings’ and the spectacle pouch made by the fashionable Rabari women. Where is she to look?

Where are those weavers whose garments would make her breathe, made with threads gently hand made and would give her a cherished possession? Where are those dyers who don’t pollute her land with toxins? Where are the jewelers who make pieces that boast of an intricate, honed craft? Where are those embroiderers who hand embroider beings and make a canvas of dreams?

She walked back home, dragging her feet with sadness of defeat lowering her lids…

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Tug on the thread of harmony

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The biggest strength of fast fashion, I thought, was its freshness. On a ridiculously tiny budget you could emulate a look straight off the runway. Just by quelling the questioning mind on the baffling low cost, a boggling array of garments are available to us to create a look that is unique and attention catching. One could be Kate Moss on a certain day and Kate Middleton the very next. The only thing required was imagination. Or so I thought.

We, in India are still figuring out how to wear fast fashion, untrained as we are in its wasteful ways, being brought up with our mothers and grandmothers who moonlight as the queens of recycling with their saris worn to smithereens, the blouses and petticoats recycled away to oblivion. I remember the saga of one handwoven organza sari that my mother had. It was bought for mom’s B.Ed exam and after a while, it started giving way along the border. Mother quickly added a contrasting piping to strengthen it and re -paired it with a new blouse. It seemed as if she had a new sari, until one day, a baby cousin hugged her with grubby, chocolate smeared hands and it seemed as if it’s life (the sari’s and not the cousin’s) was over. Without much ado, the sari was given for beautiful appliqué work with tulips as the motifs and suddenly the sari was very ‘now’ with ‘Silsila’ and it’s romantic tulip fields as the reigning hit movie. After a while, the appliqué was taken out and the sari was given for hand block printing and two beautiful ‘dupattas’ were made out of it. I suppose I remember this journey with fondness because in every avatar, the sari attracted many compliments, many a times admiration imparted grudgingly.

In my travels to the land of Primark, Forever21 and Joe Fresh, what saddens me is the clone like look of the pretty young things who generally are the ones pushing the boundaries on fashion. If during a stay there, I find them all, more or less, in printed tights, the other time I find them in horizontally striped t shirts and maxis. If it’s the season of cutaways, well, you know that any sweet looking girl would have it somewhere on her ensemble. It is strange then, that fast fashion labels are thriving on the promise of fresh look while profiting from the mass production of insipid, uniform like dresses with dangerous environmental and human consequences. For us in India, choosing to dress in fast fashion labels also is at the irresponsible cost of losing our handwoven heritage and indeed our identifying sartorial style. Are we choosing to break away from the ethereal and defining style of our land to emote the faceless style of Bronx/ Queens/ Janpath/ Piccadilly Circus populace? I am truly flummoxed as to why fast fashion is getting this universal embrace unless, of course, we have resigned to an existence of monotonous, drab dressers.

Beautiful dress by Ka_Sha
On Reha Sukheja.
Photography by Vinit Bhatt
Hair and makeup: Megha Kothari

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Tug on the thread of harmony

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The process of evolution is never easy. For creating a path through thorny wilderness, when a gleaming road is easy to take, all that is required is shushing the whispers of consciousness and quelling of empathy. If one has chosen self for such enhancement plan, well, I can just deeply sympathise, fully aware of the brutal toughness of the same.

A while back, a certain consciousness creeped in on me with the matter of food, after which all proverbial hell broke loose. It seemed as the universe was conspiring against my well meaning diet plans by throwing in my path a bowl of Daal Makhni (my favourite!) with a swirling vortex of cream to suck me in and I’m sad to report that sucked in, I did.

My journey with conscious fashion has been pretty much the same. Up until the time fashion consciousness dawned on me, I never realised how desirable a certain fast fashion label t-shirt with ‘I❤Blogging’ or pyjama set that anointed the wearer ‘Blog Queen’, can be. The more I tried to rise above it, reminding myself of the pitfalls of such cheap clothes, well, the more I wanted these. I could get no rest till one day I bought it, on-line, much to my later chagrin.

But in situations such as these, I always look towards my friends for inspiration and one of them, certainly, is Purvi Doshi. This talented designer makes beautiful hand embroidery adorned garments and upon a personal impetus for betterment of her line, has decided to go full scale into sustainable garments. Her adoring customers and industry contemporaries are happily surprised at the stunning beauty of her every subsequent line and lap it up with gusto. I am one of the blessed ones who was in the loop on the details of her journey and I could appreciate the hardships involved with her decision. With deciding to find more sustainable options of silk, Purvi braved the Indian sensibility of equating luxurious fabric with silk and her choice to work with natural dyes made it tough for her to recreate her beloved jewel tones. But forging ahead she is, one gentle choice followed by the limiting fashion scope of that decision followed by another improved choice.

The recognition of her journey has come at a national and international level including one from the very hub of fast fashion producing countries – Bangladesh, where she was appreciated and applauded for her contribution to slow, kind fashion.

She reminds me that consciousness of any kind, garments included, is a perpetual process deeply embedded in the human spirit, open to the possibility of being unearthed by prodding of any kind. As she moves from finding a ‘gentler option’ to her recently discovered ‘gentle option’, she re-works the ropes, realigns and adjusts, mindful of the fact that every being has a right to live and thrive on this planet and we surely can try a bit to participate in that kindness of spirit.

I’m excessively proud, Purvi, of your optimism under the worst excesses of human consumerism – the fashion industry and your admirable determination to face your future, your label’s future and the planet’s future with curious eye for loving, considerate betterment.

I too, will try to be a real, honest blogger who does not need fast fashion proclamation on a t-shirt, of the same. I will try.

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Tug on the thread of harmony

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For more than a thousand years, a handwoven sari and an Indian woman have kept up their relationship, a deep committed bond to stand by each other through backbreaking toil or leisurely reverie, in death or in celebration, in childhood’s imaginary plays or in insightful revelation of old age.

 

The struggle for survival of the sari through these ages has been a long and a bitter one but it lived and flourished due to unstinted patronage and ingenious improvisation of the woman of this land. If she could coyly cover herself, head to toe, in the rich splendour of gold threads as a bride, she could also mount a horse with her infant son on her back, to be a fearless warrior of her land. She could cook a lavish meal for a large family in an old open kitchen or swim delicately in a river, all with utmost ease, draped in her sari. In days to come, she took on demanding professions while gently holding on to the ‘pallu’ of her sari.

 

A Paithini sari, an instance, one of the ancient, intricate, ornate weaves of India, originated in Maharashtra and then travelled and took root in other parts of our country. It improvised for survival, starting from being a garment of every day wear woven in cotton to an occasional wear woven in silk and gold threads. Women wore it in a traditional manner, then with the influx of British sensibility, updated it by paring it with white socks and closed formal shoes, to preferring it for auspicious occasions and now some of us sometimes wear it during one of the events in ones marriage. Though it survives in a recognisable form, the high level of intricacy and craftsmanship that it used to boast of, is now a rarity.

 

Can the passage of style heritage from mother to daughter or synergy of design evolution of the weaver and the discerning patron be revived to its most prolific state? Are luxuriously woven saris destined to live perhaps in the faint memory of an aged weaver or locked forgotten in someone’s musky trunk while sorely missing its keen patron’s mediation to render it relevant in her life?

 

Is this veritable, sumptuous yardage to be relegated in the past like the cave drawings remanence of the women who gifted us our sharp visual identity in an increasingly dreary, homogenised looking world?

 

Will the relentless sartorial journey of our gorgeous, sari draping ancestors who were the symbols of luxe style worldwide, chronicled by innumerable awed travellers and authors who came in their contact, become lifeless, has-been, caricatures in our lives?

 

Thanks ever so much, gorgeous patroness of the sari, Vidya Balan

- Many thanks Gaurang Shah and Mira Sagar for reintroducing us to such beautiful creations

- Vinit Bhatt, so grateful for your photography and bravery, for these pictures

-Jatin Lulla for your amazing work.

-Hi Blitz and Shalini Sharma for this opportunity.

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Tug on the thread of harmony

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This thespian endured her cruel defeats in the pursuit of her dream of acting with such optimism that her young journey is already inspirational. To persuade an academically oriented family to consider the capricious cinema industry as their daughter’s professional arena was just a start. Then came the fun one-year-stint in the televised series on the lives of five sisters called ‘Hum Paanch’ which did not last long as it interfered with her studies. But the persistent beckoning of Vidya Balan’s dream was such that she acted in ninety advertisement films while she finished college. A much awaited Malyalam film offer came along and within a few days of the movie coming into production, our actor was offered lead role in many films only to be nervously dropped from all of them when this film hit a wall. Three years passed, facing rejection after rejection till one day, an audition gave her a role of a lifetime. Our ‘jinxed’ actor became the country’s sweetheart in ‘Parineeta’.

How fascinating is the endurance of human spirit in pursuit of its dream. This perpetual capacity to stand after falling. That voice which goads one to shake off the dust and stand tall again and again. How far will one go and how many many times will one try? Then eventually, does the dream relent and become reality or does reality relent and imbibe the dream?

So what does it take to realise our dream, our cherished destiny? The answer perhaps comes forth in these lines by the great poet – Harivansh Rai Bachchan -

“…रात सा दिन हो गया फिर

रात आई और काली

लग रहा था अब न होगा

इस निशा का फिर सवेरा…

किन्तु प्राची से उषा की

मोहिनी मुस्कान फिर फिर

नीड़ का निर्माण फिर फिर

नेह का आह्वान फिर फिर।”

Perhaps, then, it is just our persistence to wipe the tears of disappointment and look expectantly in the shining face of hope. Just one more time.

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Thanks Vidya Balan for being a beautiful reminder of the triumph of endurance.

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This gorgeous handwoven Khadi Jamdani sari and natural dye blouse is by Gaurang Shah (available at Vaya Weaving Heritage)

Handcrafted glasses are by Sayon

Photography is by Vinit Bhatt.

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Tug on the thread of harmony

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The late afternoon sun was playing with me as I hid in Amma’s* saris that stretched drying on the wires across our calm courtyard, making temporary colourful corridors. I could faintly hear Amma’s bangles and ‘payals’ as she walked around in her room, changing into a fresh sari, adorning her perfumed hair with fresh flowers. Appa** will be home soon.

I continued playing; running my fingers across the length of the saris, stopping to stroke a woven elephant or quicken my step to avoid the God motif with big eyes and tongue sticking out. The weavers had woven into Amma’s saris my whimsical playmates. A tiny flurry in the house alerted me to Appa’s return. I stood statue like, hidden between the saris.

I saw Amma greeting Appa and him gently slip something wrapped in a newspaper in her hands. Amma smilingly unstrung the packet while mouthing some half hearted protest over Appa’s frivolous purchase, to reveal a beautiful sari with pigeons on it. I slipped out from my hiding place and quietly hugged Appa’s knees. Appa picked me up in his arms,”So who are you today?” he asked.

Everyday I took it upon myself to entertain him, while he had his coffee, with impersonations of beings in my life – sparrows, our cow, the lazy cat that hid in our store…”Can I be you today, Amma?” I asked. Amma tickled my tummy and said yes; why she would even drape her brand new pink Kanjivaram on me to authenticate my role-play. Attya**** joined in and decided to be my partner for this act, furnishing me with a ‘bindi’ and bangles.

Everybody took their places in the Veranda that looked into the courtyard. I took my place behind the saris that were now stage curtains. I saw Amma hide her wide smile in the pallu of her sari, Appa’s eyes swimming with unshed tears of mirth, Ajji*** straining her now failing eyes to catch the action, Attya brimming with pride. Even the sparrows, mindful of the theatre etiquette, took their seats on the ledge.

My cheeks were tingling, ears buzzing, my mouth dry and it seemed as if cotton wool was lodged in my throat. In that moment, in that eternity, everything disappeared – my audience, the birds, the flutter of the saris and the ‘puk-puk’ sound of the distant tube well.

Attya, with appropriate dramatic flair, pulled the sari curtain aside to reveal me. I took a step forward.

As I stood there, on that stage, in that moment, in that lifetime, stillness enveloped me. Everything came together, everything was comprehendible and everything was how it had to be. I knew it to be the world of a performer. I recognised this space to be mine.

I knew I was home.

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Thanks gorgeous Vidya Balan for lighting up the frame.

Thanks Gaurang Shah for this adorable handwoven Kanjivaram sari (available at Vaya Weaving Heritage), Vinit Bhatt for photography, Jatin Lulla for fairy like touch, Shalini Sharma for this opportunity.

*Amma: mother, **Appa: father, ***Ajji: grandmother, ****Attya: father’s sister

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Tug on the thread of harmony

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The hues of my giving land, my people elements of my being – mud and copper, gold and silver – woven in my drape absorbed in my garment, my son’s sweat, my husband’s smile, my shy laugh or the ruby droplet that erupted of my daughter’s pearly tooth.
Through the tunnel of time…through the clack-clack of the loom…my sari saw my dreams, my sari beamed in my glory,
my sari blushed when it felt my heart in love And my drape remained fiercely faithful through the peregrination from my land
that lay impoverished – intellectually, emotionally …riding Ganges waters.

Through time, my drape, my sari, tattered in the battles when I am a warrior, singed in my fearless trials with fire,
soiled in the grime, filth that I wade through.
Today we lie wounded. Contemplating fate.
My compeer, my chaperone. I collect you in my arms.I will heal you, mead you with threads that join us, wash you with my tears,through eternity.

Like I embolden my feminine spirit, to resurrect, to reinvent, to turn my face towards my battle again and again and again.
My sari, the junction of my spirit and body, we revive, reawaken together to abide by promises, in a new form, with healing wounds, triumphant as we were then as we are now.

- Pallavi Datta

Thank you ever so much, kind, generous and gorgeous Vidya Balan for essaying the dynamic kinship of a woman and her eternal confidante – her sari.

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Tug on the thread of harmony

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Garment courtesy: Debashri Samanta
Model: Reha Sukheja
Photography: Vinit Bhatt
Hair&makeup: Megha Kothari
 
It all started when I read about the power of ‘shopping hauls’ conducted by Pretty Young Bloggers which can jump start the sales of a sluggishly moving ‘play – suit’ for a fun fashion label. Upon viewing one such, on a blog’s YouTube connect, I was completely hooked. The Pretty Young Blogger would talk with breathless enthusiasm about her huge bagful of super cheap, super trendy garments that I, lounging on my bed and devouring a bowlful of ‘bhujia’, would get excited about her amazing purchases. As if on cue, the links for all her garment pieces were enumerated, so with a quick click, I was connected to those garments and really, within five minutes, I could order on-line, pay pittance for them with zero delivery charges and within 3 to 4 days, the garments were delivered. Soon this became a regular pastime as, for the price that was cheaper than movie tickets, popcorn and coffee, I had a bagful of cool clothes! The additional excitement of opening the bags and laying my eyes on the garment for the very first time was nothing short of Santa given gifts. If anything was awry, well no problem, I could exchange it or get a refund, no questions asked.
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Tug on the thread of harmony

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Upcycled garments by brilliant designers of Doodlage.
Lovingly made stole with discarded fabric is by amazing Karishma Shahani Khan for her label [Ka] [Sha]
Model: Beautiful Reha Sukheja
Photography: Vinit Bhatt
Hair and makeup: Megha Kothari
 
I suppose,akin to comic book character ‘The Flash’, alacrity is the biggest strength of Fast Fashion. The ridiculously reduced production cycle of fast fashion labels has ensured that a teenager (in many cases a grown woman, sadly) will not wait for three months for the slouchy, cutoff t – shirt that Rihanna wore yesterday. The designers/ copiers of the labelkeep an eye out for these sightings with more severe alertness than that of a stock analyst in a bull market and inform the production team. The production team, profoundly missing a ‘life-line’ to provide any clue on this matter, takes a shot in the dark. If the customer wants that t-shirt at all, she wants it now. Production team has to be ready with the logistics on both possible scenarios – that the garment is a success and becomes a staple for pretty mall rats or is a dismal flop and remains unseen on the racks, taking up expensive square footage of the store. The possibility of a dress worn by Taylor Swift the very next day, becoming the afore mentioned staple and the Riri T-shirt turning out to be a dud is scary and not to be left to chance at any cost.
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Tug on the thread of harmony

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Garments: Padmaja

MODEL

PHOTOGRAPHY

Gracious and gorgeous Reha Sukheja

Madly talented Vinit Bhatt

Hair and make-up

Fairy like Megha Kothari

A face off between the hulk like polyester thread and the fairy like natural thread is inevitable. Synthetic threads are exposing their menace with harmful emissions during manufacture, toxic water waste with scary monomers and solvents, non-biodegradable afterlife and perhaps the carcinogenic kick to the wearer. The natural threads, on the other hand are receiving a helping hand by many talented and bright designers who are finding unique ways to bring back the natural threads into our wardrobes with garments that are fashionably fetching.
 
Here, for example, the bolero jacket has been made with tiny scraps of pin tucked hand woven cotton fabric by Padmaja Krishnan under her project called ‘slow.useless.’ Deeply appreciative of its value, at the end of a working day, even the tiniest scraps are collected at her studio. These scraps are patched, stitched, re-stitched to magically create new textures and surfaces.The process is slow, the raw material is useless –but the end product is simply priceless.
 
The tunic is made of wild silk with ‘Kaantha’ handwork. As the thread wanders over the silk canvas, in the hands of a whimsical embroiderer, it leaves behind steps that are sometimes wide and sometimes close, creating an organic pattern and universal appeal.
 
In one frame, the two threads are juxtaposed, one in this polyester thread making factory and the other on the garment, so harmonious in appearance and yet so treacherously disparate in their aftereffect.

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