Heritage,  Sarees

My Saree Stories: Part 6

The saree obsession now takes greater heights. I had bought this black saree last year in November from a stall outside a conference in Nagpur. I wore it but for the life of me couldn’t remember what make this was. I had picked up three sarees there and was now confused. How could I post on this blog without knowing anything about the saree?

Strategy one. Call up Sucheta. My friend, philosopher and guide on sarees. After all she was at the conference too and wouldn’t have left without buying a few. Confusion prevails there too. We both agree that this man was selling Ilkals and other handloom sarees. But his shop was in Sitabuldi. Are you sure it wasn’t something else? Nagpur handloom?

Sucheta has a brain wave. Give saree group members a quiz. Ask them to guess. But the teacher in me is not convinced. How can you ask a question in the exam if you yourself don’t know the answer, Sucheta?

Strategy two. Ask Medha Ma’am. She’s from Karnataka. She might know a real Ilkal. This expert asks for multiple shots and then rules out an Ilkal. She then sends several photos of her stunning sarees, tempting us to add to our overflowing collection. By evening she plans a trip for us to Karnataka where we can buy all the Ilkal sarees we like. But still, what is the make of this saree?

Strategy three. Message the Organizing Secretary of the conference for details. And hope she responds. My phone pings in the middle of the postgraduate teaching session. This is the first time I have carried my phone with me during the seminar. But the mind is desperate to find out the answer. Such dedication in determining the truth! Twenty minutes later she has sent me details and phone contacts of both the saree stalls. God bless her!

Strategy four. Text an unknown shopkeeper your pictures and hope he responds. ‘I need more pictures’, beeps the first message. I’m suddenly conscious that I’m sending my photos to a stranger. ‘I need pictures of the body’, says the next message. Doesn’t that sound very shady, I think during the seminar. But as soon as it ends I click a deliberately hazy selfie and send. ‘Madam I cannot tell you till you send me a photo of the body’- he pings. What does this man want, I fume. “Do you want me to click the joint between the pallu and the body of the saree?” I write. I get a thumbs up emoticon as an answer. I quickly grab a passing resident and tell her to click the picture while I stretch out the pallu. A patient stares curiously at me. I send the photo and wait desperately. He responds ten minutes later.

Saree #51: A Maheshwari Cotton with a Ghicha Silk pallu

It is a Maheshwari cotton saree with typical borders. But the spectacular pallu is Ghicha silk.

There. Now you know. How much you people make me work!

Saree # 52: An Ajrakh on modal silk

Ajrakh is a double-sided block printing textile tradition with distinctive symmetrical geometric or floral motifs. The two predominant colours seen in Ajrakh prints are indigo blue and deep red, although with modernization, people are experimenting with newer colours. Ajrakh is an environmental-friendly textile where the cloth is resist-dyed using natural dyes.

The patterns and aesthetics of Ajrakh have always appealed to me. But I knew little about the origins of this craft and the hard work that went into producing one piece of block-printed fabric of Ajrakh. That was until I visited the newly resurrected village of Ajrakhpur, which is around 10 km from Bhuj in Gujarat.

The present popularity of Ajrakh is credited to one family: Ismail Khatri, his father (Mohammad Siddiq), brothers (Abdul Jabbar and Abdul Razzak), his sons (Sufiyan and Junaid) and grandsons. Eleven generations of this family have honed this craft and kept it alive. The man behind the revival of the art of Ajrakh is master craftsman, Dr Ismail Mohmed Khatri. The day I visited Ajrakh Studio and the workshop, he was away. But I did get a chance to talk to his son, Sufiyan Khatri and heard some interesting stories.

To know more about the making of Ajrakh, read about my visit to Ajrakhpur here.

Saree #53: An off-white Chikankari Saree

The healers need the healing touch too. The art of providing succour can make one weary. Acknowledgement and appreciation are essential soothing elements to motivate all health care providers who work under immense stress. 

There is something equally soothing about wearing an off white Chikankari outfit on a hot summer day. The rains come and go and we are still sweltering in the hot humid weather. In both cases it is hope which makes the suffering less. Keep hoping for showers of blessings.

Saree #54: A hand painted Bengal cotton saree

This is a hand painted Bengali cotton saree. The panels have buxom ladies with big eyes painted in Jamini Roy style and also horse riders. Cool pick for a hot sweaty day. 

Saree #55: A grey Pochampally Ikat Saree

Maybe fifteen years ago I was full of ambition and energy. Willing to spend sleepless nights to achieve my version of perfection. I was fuelled by a passion to excel. But age slows you down.

You learn to listen to your body. You know running after goals set by others is not giving you happiness. The transition is difficult. You initially feel guilty for not being able to keep up with the rat race. Until one morning when you realise that you don’t want to be a rat anyway.

I see it happening to myself. Suddenly I find myself dancing to a slower pace. I hear the rhythm of a different drummer. He tells me to pause and look at the birds and the colours. He propels me to be in the moment and enjoy every minute of what I’m doing. I do not appreciate those who gobble up their lunch standing up, without pausing to sit and enjoy the meal. I simply want to slow down and breathe in what the universe has to offer.

Suddenly the whirlwind world surrounding me doesn’t matter. I have found peace with my pace.

Pensive thoughts such as these automatically make me reach out for this black and grey Pochampally ikat saree. This is a favourite for its calming colours and its symmetry. Your attire is often a reflection of your mood.

Saree #56: A Kovai Cotton Saree

I was at the airport when one of the billboards flashed this Bob Marley quote: “The good times of today are the sad thoughts of tomorrow.” How true.

The last few days have been spent with my husband and his four siblings sitting together and talking about their growing up years. When things were not comfortable financially then. Yet there was happiness in doing little things together. Now there is financial security but people have moved apart. Life is never constant. We have to keep adapting to changing times. Sharing gives comfort. When you are waiting for the inevitable.

This saree is a Kovai cotton with a handwoven pallu which I really liked.

Saree #57: A white saree made of eucalyptus modal yarn and mul yarn

Greetings on India’s 73rd Independence Day!

White is the colour of my saree which symbolizes peace and truth. I believe these are values which this country and the world needs most in these turbulent times. The blouse has the other colours from the tricolour- saffron, green and the blue of the Ashok Chakra, as well as other shades from the rainbow. The intricately embroidered designs show that all these colours together with their diversity make up the beauty of India. It is a place which embraces everyone and its beauty surfaces when no one colour dominates the others. The mirrors reflect the glimmers of hope and aspirations of the billion citizens of this country. But mirrors also teach us to introspect on our actions.

The plain white saree I am wearing is hand woven and yet unique. It is woven from two yarns: eucalyptus modal yarn and mul yarn. Eucalyptus wood is used as a raw material to derive the yarn and it is considered to be a revolutionary fabric for ecological and economical reasons. It uses a fraction of resources that other conventional fabrics use and the solvents used are also almost 100% recovered. The fabric is extremely soft and comfortable.

Saree #58: A cool Kota cotton saree

Dressed today in an indigo and white cotton Kota saree. These sarees from Rajasthan have square patterns called khats. This saree is extremely lightweight and airy, and such a pleasure to wrap around. There was a time when I avoided Kota sarees as I felt they stood stiff and awkward making me look shapeless. No longer. Once you get the knack of draping a cotton saree well, the sheer comfort of wearing a Kota makes you reach out for it more often.

Saree #59: A silk saree floral prints

Today’s saree is an official looking earthy silk with floral prints. I usually steer clear of floral prints, but sometimes experimentation works. Lecture time!

Saree #60: A Handloom Saree with Gujarati mirror work

I’m wearing a handloom saree which is adorned with mirror work embroidery from Gujarat. Accessorized with an old but favourite crystal set from Swarovski.

The Rabaaris are a nomadic community in the state of Gujarat. Embroidery is a way of life and the clothes that men, women and children wear, as well as covers for camels, are usually full of embroidery. Girls were expected to embroider and make their wedding trousseau (called aanu).

In the early 1990s, the elders in the Rabaari community ruled that women would no longer practise embroidery for personal use. They could however perform embroidery to earn an income. The reason was this: Unless the aanu was ready, girls couldn’t be sent to their marital homes. Making this was not only time consuming but also expensive. Women were forced to stay at their parental homes, sometimes until the ages of 35. The women believe that this rule equalizes things for all kind of families. But this rule means that the skilled artisans in this craft are dwindling.

While there are several subgroups in this community, the Dhebariya Rabaaris use a lot of medium and large sized mirrors of different shapes in their embroidery. On the contrary, the Mutwa embroidery and Neran embroidery uses tiny sized mirrors. Their styles of stitching the mirrors also differs.

Follow my blog for more saree stories!

My saree stories: Part 1

My saree stories: Part 2

My saree stories: Part 3

My saree stories: Part 4

My saree stories: Part 5

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