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.

My sari my companion


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.

My sari my companion


My sari my companion

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.


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


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.

My sari my companion


My sari my companion

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.


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

My sari my companion


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.

Conscious Bride Diaries


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…

— with Dayana Erappa, Purvi Doshi and Vinit Bhatt.

Tug on the thread of harmony


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

Tug on the thread of harmony


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.