It is believed that Noor Jehan introduced chikankari in India. It’s a form of embroidery predominantly practiced in Lucknow. The artisans create extremely delicate floral embroidery on thin muslin and silk and georgette. Effortlessly elegant is the clothing that embodies this fine craftsmanship.
As a teenager, I stared and was embarrassed if I got caught staring at beautiful women who looked more beautiful in the summer chikankari sarees or Salwar Kameez in the dry Delhi summer. I recall one noon at a hotel porch with young girls in black fitted dresses whose cacophony made me look at them and notice their toe to foot branded look and suddenly there appeared Nafisa Ali, all Grey with a shiny nose pin and hair tied back in a bun wearing a lavender chikankari salwar Kameez. Everything looked boring & factory like near her effortless grace & beauty. She is definitely beautiful but what caught my eye and so many more there was her natural grace and sophistication with her choice of clothing.
Those days money was a constraint to buy the more expensive chikankari embroideries so I settled for the cheaper more affordable Taipchi work that I brought from Aurobindo Complex and Sarojini Nagar shops.
But I knew that I had to save money to buy the SEWA exhibition chikankari kurta that happened in summers in Delhi’s Aga Khan Hall. I touched the absolute delights of white on white delicate jali work & felt in total communion with the artist and the creation. The Muslim women from Lucknow were there with Surma in their eyes & looking hopeful, showed me the best that was there.
I picked up a kurta from SEWA because that was my high, unlike other friends who craved for an international brand. My love was the SEWA chikankari because of its finesse & it’s absolute esthetic ability to look cool & stylish in summer months.
Years have passed and today I can pick up a slightly more expensive chikankari and my recent possession is the white on beige kurta from Ahalia, cinnamon store, Bangalore. There is no summer that goes by where I don’t add a chikankari to my repertoire of summer dressing.
To me summer is the terracotta water jug with the scent of the earth mixing in your water, the long evenings & the lone crow calling out to the rain gods and it’s also my ode to the arts of our country where many are giving up their art forms because it’s a languishing industry.
Chikankari is royalty and royalty is loyalty to our country and its arts!