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The Sensual Sheen Of Velvet

April 3, 2019
Moody Mo

It was one of those days when I recalled the lost nostalgia of Delhi’s Chandni Chowk lane at that twilight hour. The regal remnants of the Jama Masjid juxtaposed against the large ugly black wires hanging precariously over rooftops. In that chaos of rickshaws, human beings all rushing towards destination unknown. I sit back quietly and admire the untouched beauty of the place. Sitting at the Kashmiri Wazwan restaurant which overlooks the Jama Masjid, I order for my nun cha and watch the handsome Kashmiri men and beautiful women, unaware of their natural abundance of beauty. I know this makes them even more beautiful. The beauty that is unhurried and without any effort.

I love this trip into nostalgia. I soak in the ambience and watch the stores that are full of Islamic clothing. There are hijab stores and more. I am transported into mini Pakistan. The shops selling kebabs, men with kohl-smeared eyes and their Pathani suits. I spot a green sharara kameez. I am lost in the sheen of the green and the minimalist zardosi work on the pockets.

I walked up to Ajmal Khan’s store, which had a board written in Urdu calligraphy. He welcomed me in. Showed me many Pakistani sets that blew my mind. Told me names of serials that he loved watching and his customers too. So he dressed them up like the women of the serials. He found me staring at the green velvet set. He called it Noori.

He held Noori against himself and said it was the colour for me. I told him I was a Bengali. He didn’t believe me and said my zubaan was clear. I couldn’t tell him about my first crush who spoke chaste Urdu. I had learnt the difference between Zalim and Jalim; jalim as a Bengali would say.

He negotiated the price of the velvet kurta over a cup of tea and a samosa. I couldn’t say no to him. I went into the trial room and put on the kurta. It fit me like a dream. The sharara length needed to be altered because my height was of a petite Bengali woman, not the Pakistani serial heroines. He said, “Give me 15 minutes and I will get this done”.

Velvet because of its softness has a high cost of production. Velvet was introduced in Baghdad during the rule of Harun Al Rashid by Kashmiri merchants. We also have Ibn Battuta who mentioned that royalty of Mali wore that fabric as a caftan on Eid. Here, I was feeling like royalty wearing the abundance of this regal fabric.

I recalled the days of my life in those lanes. My ride into the known lanes of Delhi 6 was always with my friend from school Shimonti Sinha. We, two Bengali women were high on romance and hunger of the past. We didn’t speak at times, we would just look at each other and know that it caught our senses unaware.

I pack my green velvet kurta and walk past the lane of Ballimaran, home of the great poet Mirza Ghalib. That large door still has the Mughal architecture. I see Kashmiri men in Pathani suits standing against the door. They have large bags of walnuts and kesar. They look tired from the unrelenting reality of restarting life outside their home. I understand that he too searches every day for a release from this hard life in the capital of our country.

I did wear the Green velvet kurta without any jewellery. The kurta spoke aloud that evening against the sequined black western outfits of other women. What Indian clothing does to me is incomparable to any western outfit. I guess style is when it’s in your skin, when it is forced it kills the inherent nature of dressing up like you own the space.

Clothing

A Classic Called The Angarakha

March 18, 2019
Moody Mo

When you feel vulnerable and think that you may lose your soul to this crazy thing called life. You protect yourself by listening to music that heals, or you indulge yourself till the thoughts are dimmed and what stays is the feeling that the universe is protecting you with compassion. As I listened to music, I tightened my Angarakha strings over my breasts, protecting my heart from more pain. The pain which I wish to forget and not go down that road again.  I have always been fascinated with the clothing from the Mughal era. It has the Ishq of a bygone era of opulence and craft. One such clothing is the Angaraksha also called the Angarakha, the other name is Jama.

The word is derived from the Sanskrit word “Angarakhsaka” which means protection of the body. It has over the years seen many variations on the ramp. The long and short of this shirt dates back to the 16th century Emperor Akbar. The first King who had the vision of uniting India on religion and culture. His clothes were a reflection of both the rich cultures, in the fusion of Indian dressing.

I recall falling in love with this garment since my school days. Watching Merchant Ivory’s Heat And Dust, and the white cotton unisex Angarakhas. It falls over your body, hugging the contours. You may loosen or tighten it based on the mood of the moment.

I recall the time I wore my first Chikankari Angarakha for my first date. I remember how he stared at my first flush of youth. Covered from prying eyes, yet revealed exactly what promise lay inside. A girl child blooming into a woman. He too was young, unsure of his ability to love and be confident of self.

An Angarakha to me is one of the sexiest garment created since time immemorial. It covers yet it reveals, exactly how style should be. It is an amalgamation of our experiences, of finding our own divinity among all the beautiful and ugly experiences we have gathered over the years. We are gatherers of stories, of our own lives and others experiences who visit this space in our lifetime.

Sonam Dubal captures my imagination of the fluidity of this garment in its totality.  I am drawn to his aesthetic as a designer. Drawing my experiences from the past to the present me. The little mirror work on the edges catches the light of the sun and reflects in my heart and soul.

Clothing

Desires Cut Into The Fabric Of Love

March 14, 2019
Moody Mo

My love for good things began very early on. To the utter horror of my middle-class parents, they were worried I wouldn’t ever settle for the mediocre. A factory outfit never made me feel my best, it had to be a bespoke outfit. After much thought and pondering would my tailor add the Kutch mirror work patch or the lace to give my mundane outfit its edge, and make it my statement. The aim was always adding an Indian sensibility over my denim or the check-patterned Kilt.

With this undying need to be always surrounded by beautiful things, it surely was a constant struggle with my limited income. I had that discerning eye for all good things, including my male friends. I wasn’t exactly generous at that choice, but he needed to have more than just good looks to keep my interest going. Most times, I was disappointed so I decided to put my energy into clothing that saluted an art form of India. As usual, most things had to be a cut above the rest. Being raised as a Bengali in Delhi, you are forever struggling between the two identities that you can’t fathom when which one takes over. The constant struggle of being a quintessential Bengali with the cacophony of the Peacock Punjabi. It surely was a sure shot path to schizophrenia. But my love for Rajasthan and it’s arts and crafts is a constant. Till date, it remains a passion that needs regular acknowledgement. Every week four times at least, I wear a Bandhini or a Sanganer print over my jeans, that size hasn’t remained constant. I recall the small store in the early days of fashion-hungry Bangalore at Commercial Street which had RJP, Rohit Bal, Anita Dongre and few more well-known designers. RJP always stole my heart with his fine cotton and minimalist design sensibility.

RJP is famous for his pintuck kurtas and remarkable indigos. I had to attend an elite function at Bombay; a very important second wedding of a friend. I had to look the part, so I choose this black cutwork kurta over a white crinkled skirt to wear for one of the evenings. It was my first Rajesh Pratap Singh ensemble. Cutwork is typically a technique where you cut the fabric, resulting in holes, which is reinforced with embroidery or needle lace. It originates in Italy and is called Punto Tagliato. Renaissance was the period of new things and cutwork began in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. And even in the fashion world of today, cutwork is very much prevalent and is also called lace. The hand cutwork is one of the most traditional forms of this art.

As a child, I still recall the sari petticoats that were dried in the sun with cutwork on its edges. Our home linen had cutwork on them. So cutwork was a natural draw to my senses. Senses that were carved from nostalgia and memory. RJP cutwork kurta makes me feel sensual without baring much. The arms on one side have the cutwork that reaches up to my shoulder blades. It fits like a dream and black makes me feel sexy, desirable and shapely. In spite of the PMS bingeing, black is so forgiving. Just like how a gentleman should be. Most women over time stop listening to the voice of their bodies and the need to be cherished. Just as we are flawed or perfect. Because beauty is a factory idea, created by the advertising lobby. Real women have fat and bad moods.

Like great love stories where there is passion, romance and my favourite word called Ishq.RJP with his signature pintuck kurtas and this cutwork design makes me crave for the moonlight on my shoulder blades and my lover finding spaces to kiss away my loneliness between the neatly cut fabric. Exposing just that much and more.

 

 

 

Clothing, Lifestyle

Frida Kahlo And Her Refusal To Accept The Rules

February 20, 2019
”I hope the leaving is joyful; and I hope to never return” 

Frida Kahlo was an iconic artist from Mexico who painted portraits, of pain and passion. Women all over will remember her till time to come, for her unashamed rebellion against the norm. She had polio as a child and nearly died in a tram accident. During that time, with a broken rib and multiple fractures, she painted her anguish on to the canvas. She took Mexican folk art to a world platform with her attitude on her sleeves. Feminists world over lauded her for her unconventional choices.

Her view on sexuality wasn’t restricted with what society deemed right and wrong. She loved deeply and was hurt deeply, in her multiple relationships with men and women. She grew as a person to become a better lover, artist and celebrated every moment of her failing and falling. When we say beauty is skin deep, which holds true for her because she is known for flaunting her facial hair, her uni-brow and carried her limp with style. She chooses to wear Mexican weaves and art on her clothing. She met the much married Riviera Diego, an artist par excellence, who taught her to paint. She later married Diego and became great friends with his wife. While in the relationship that was tumultuous and full of passion, she found her art. They were both artists who loved Mexico and while being married to each other were not scared to experience love and life with others. Diego was her anchor and she was his.

 Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo

Frida’s flowers on her head were like a crown that she wore. They were symbolic of her free nature, her free style. She truly embodies that style is not restricted to trends in fashion. It is what you make out of your choice in clothing that becomes your statement. A statement, which you eventually choose as your external identity. She wore Mexico all over the world with pride.

I recall one chilly nippy winter month on my visit to Paris; I read that there was a museum displaying Diego and Frida’s art. I wasted no time in booking the tickets for the show. Crossed over the river Sienna, the bridge which was filled with locks that lovers had put on the bridge and threw away the keys into the river with a promise to be forever together.

My little boy asked me if I too wanted a lock and I replied “no”. I held his grubby little hand in mine, feeling the wind on my face and in my heart I knew we all break promises. Relationships that do not celebrate the evolution of one another remain stunted like the stale odour of a dead horse being flogged to ride and move.

I picked my tickets, grabbed my black coffee and croissant and walked inside the gallery. Diego’s art was sublime, whereas Frida’s art had her anguish all over the canvas. Her aborted children, her bedridden state of wanting to break free yet confined. Her art was full of pain and also a celebration of that growth which comes out of that pain. I am drawn to anything that has Frida Kahlo on its cover. I feel her energy embody my rebellious mind.

Obedience to society and its conditioning. I know, it’s a long battle for women to be sexually free. But I have hope…

Clothing, Lifestyle

Unstructured Structure With Khushnuma

January 18, 2019
KHUSHNUMA KHAMBATTA

Yet, again and again, I am drawn into the colours that just beckons me. It’s a rack full of clothes and I find myself feeling the fabric and staring at this particular grey-blue layered shirt. I look into the label and the name is equally intriguing. It says Khushnuma Khambatta and I roll the name in my mouth with a deep nostalgia for Arabic names. Khushhhnuma!!

I know I am a hoarder and I have read so many stories on decluttering, emotional baggage and the rest of the Zen philosophy. I know I have no more space in my overcrowded cupboard. Clothes are like a blast from the past, some I put away. And every time I open that secret door, I question my growth. I still love clothes, fabrics, art and craft. I promise you that I try to control my excessive buying habits. But can you resist a colour that you love? Well, I just love the colour blue. It’s the colour of the sky and the ocean, both are calming and unfathomable. The conversation in my head is dimmed with the blue hue encompassing me. I felt the layering of the garment which gives fluidity to this structured shirt. This fluidity was like dance moves on the otherwise structured garment. The colour was bright without being loud and was perfect for my current conflicted brain. What should I say and what shouldn’t?

I realised that the more of “me” would always love a good garment, a good song, a poignant film and anything that sets my spirit free.

Despite my growth as a person, the gnawing doesn’t end. An internal conversation to no avail, to reduce the clutter. I have not been successful in this mission. Maybe, I just need to resign to my love for life where it is manifested best with music, good designs, beautiful clothing, honest conversations and a lot of sunshine. This ability to acknowledge that I do love the “more”. I am struck with vivid memories when I sit opposite my overstuffed cupboard, touch and feel the fabric. It reminds me of stories, invariably most of them have been rooted in my days of being unable to get out of bed with a debilitating autoimmune disorder. So I shall hoard, wear and buy all the material things that give me joy as it’s a celebration of life. I don’t feel vulnerable when I look nice. Maybe it’s not too deep but who cares!

Right now it’s the “Khushi” with Khushnuma Khambatta and I ain’t complaining. We want more & more of it. Keep the fluidity flowing, not just in the clothing, but also in your thoughts. Like you draw paintings on water, the fluidity cannot be reined and this makKhushnumaKhushnumaes it more desirable. Also, the truth is that no woman ever complained when she felt pretty or desired. I feel sensual in blue, sexy in black, pristine in white and passionate in red. And we haven’t even touched all the colours yet.

Clothing, Lifestyle

Sit Up With The Fluidity Of The Soumodeep Dutta Label…Bengal Muslin Magic

January 11, 2019
Muslin Cloth

The great stories of the Indian Railways and the people you meet along that journey who became a distant memory and some crazy stories that remain indelibly marked in your head forever. One such story is of a Good Samaritan we met on one such journey. He was from Konnagar West Bengal. The years have rolled but I won’t forget that name ever. I turn it around in my mouth, head and it lingers like an unresolved story. Over the years forgotten, after so many incidents where I experienced the magic of human connections. And I hear Ma tell me this story of gratitude and blessings.

It was  1974 when I was just 4 years old and not yet fully cynical and jaded like now. Konnagar again resurfaced with Soumodeep Dutta –  a shy, gentle designer without a shred of the arrogance of his art, with his beautiful Bengal Muslin and Bengal silk creations. He stood almost unnoticeable among the cacophony of the arrogant aware. Konnagar is a story that needs closure and I am always drawn towards the reticent. I knew with his eyes that he was a Bengali.  He smiled at me and said yes, a Bengali from Konnagar. It was a flash of images, I couldn’t tell him my story.

I was on a train with my late Dadu and Ma. Dadu always wore the woollen Dhariwal brand fabric Nehru jacket over his white crisp Bengali Dhuti. All his money and tickets tucked in the pocket of the jacket near his chest. As the ticket collector came to check the ticket, Dadu realised that he had been pickpocketed. Not a penny on him, he started sweating profusely. Ma clutched my little hand and started sobbing. The train was furiously running on track with my Grandfather and Ma losing all semblance. I learnt over the years, middle-class Indians and especially Bengalis have lived all their life with that adage “bhodrolok”- meaning “the gentlefolk”. And now,  pride and honesty was in question, in that train amongst people unknown.

There in the corner, sat a  young Bengali boy, who had an argument with Ma earlier as we boarded the train, for wanting to pull down the window glass. She promptly forbade me from talking to him. He noticed Dadu almost breaking down, walked up to us and asked “Are you Bengalis? Dadu couldn’t reply but shook his head in affirmative. He went on to say, “I am also one from Konnagar and don’t worry I have some money. You can pay the ticket checker and when you reach your destination, you can send it back”. Ma agreed because there was no other choice. He took out all the money he had, paid our fare and even gave us some extra cash. At every train junction, without asking, he would get us tea and food. And as we reached Howrah, he told Ma, “Don’t worry, reach safely with your little one and your father”. I saw my Dadu and Ma thank him profusely and exchange the address. He was Probir Chakroborty from Konnagar, West Bengal.

Muslin Kurta

Muslin Kurta

Over the years, Probir became more like a family member than the train saviour and we too visited his home in Konnagar. I recall the moss-covered small ponds and the quintessential Bengal where the evenings were filled with the conch sound echoing from every home and Dhunuchi infused pujo rooms. And the mosquito nets tied up on the four-poster beds. Over the years we lost touch, but Konnagar stays. I couldn’t share this story with Soumodeep when I met him. But as I touched the Bengal Muslin kurtas, dresses and held it against my cheek, the fabric felt as magical as the Bengal winter mist and it breathes like the wind. Muslin is kindness towards your body like a Sufi chant draped around. It is there on you yet blowing away with the first gust of wind.

Production of the magical Muslin cloth in Bengal started in Dhaka. Leading to Muslin being called “Daka”. Bengal in its heydays  produced more than 50% of textiles and around 80% of silks imported by the Dutch from Asia. Bengal Muslin was one of the most traded commodity throughout China, the Muslim world and the Middle East to SouthEast Asia. By 1850, Portuguese traders settled in Dhaka and Sripur from where they started exporting Muslin. Unfortunately, the British colonisation implemented protectionist policies and high tariffs that restricted Bengali import. British economic policies forced de-industrialization. The Great Bengal  Famine Of 1970 killed one-third of the Bengal population. Natural calamities from 1787 to 1788 added to the disaster of the cotton industry. People stopped weaving because agriculture was given more wages. Amongst it all, the Muslin industry declined in Bengal.

But there is hope all over again. Like the old dried leaves turn into dust, fresh new hope blossoms in the mind’s and heart’s of the young designers. An artists like Soumodeep Dutta is one among the many trying to revive the handloom Muslin fabrics from Phulia. The finesse of the fabric could pass through a hollow bamboo stem.

As I wear the backless muslin pink kurta with Soumodeep Dutta’s label, I walk away from the distorted version of so many voices inside my head that shames my bare skin. As the Muslin breathes, I can feel it brushing against my skin, breathing, breaking norms of lightness and depth of what lay ahead for me. The pink hue is soft and mixed with white, like a fresh blossom.

Muslin is picking up and we need more designers to revolutionise the lost glory of Bengal and take pride in our heritage.

Soumodeep take a bow, I know Konnagar has inspired you like it saved my Ma’s humiliation years back.

I hope you find inspiration forever in those ponds and fish markets with the fresh catch, capturing the first rays of sunlight. We want more of your talent, for an industry fraught with the fear of decline at an alarming pace.

 

Art & Culture, Clothing

Thrifty Yet Beautifully Artsy-The Kantha Art

December 28, 2018
Kantha Saree

The Kantha is the passing of emotion and art, combining the love, fear, and hope of the homes in rural West Bengal. It is a distinct style of the Bengali embroidery of running stitches. Often used for a newborn, to wrap the child in a Kantha blanket and cover. The fragrance of an old sari of your grandmother or mother is reused with layers of soft cloth in between. It’s is a recycled form of embroidery as the thread used is pulled out of the old sari. All the women in Bengal villages learn this meticulous artwork of turning worn-out rags into beautiful blankets. This combination of frugal with the fabulous aesthetic is a sign that art resides in those nooks and corners of a poor home, where a child’s squall is treated with a lullaby because the jute or terracotta coin cache is empty. They wrap the child in a Kantha, praying to the spirit of the sun, moon and the skies above to keep her safe and healthy.

When the evening sets its crimson over the pond with the lotus and the moss. You find mothers wrapping their newborn in those covers and lighting the kerosene lantern signing the Laxmi hymn. Lest bad times fall on her baby and her home.

Often mothers start making a Kantha when the daughters have reached puberty to gift her during her marriage. It’s a ritual practised in rural Bengal. The dead are also wrapped in a Kantha before the cremation. I marvel, as I see this play of life and death with a form of embroidery that has been passed on through generations.

Today there are beautiful exquisite Kantha saris that one would wear with elan. The base is Tussar or cotton with the play of running stitches over it. Those running stitches have a story of flowers, peacocks, parrots, other birds and motifs over the fabric.

Kantha Saree

Kantha Saree

I spoke to Shabnam who hails from Murshidabad and she runs the Street Survivors endeavour in bringing women together who are creating different styles of Kantha embroidery to earn a livelihood.

She spoke passionately about the women who are returning what they learnt from their grandmothers and mothers.

The Kantha teaches us that old torn & worn out fabric has the softness and comforting feeling of a mother’s lap. As she shields you from the raging sun and the drenching rain. You know the cover that you create is one from your past. Of watching your grandmother stitch and sing even after losing her husband and watching her children abandon her. She sings into the needle with her old worn saris. Because those saris have a story and the scent of her transition from the matriarch to the woman shorn of colour, sexual longing, and any indulgence called living and life.

As she looks with her broken glasses into the spit softened thread to put into the needle eye. I see her surrender to her fading femininity and what remains is her acceptance that she is no longer needed, as much anymore.

 

 

Art & Culture, Clothing, Travel

Song Of Sanganer

December 13, 2018
Sanganer

Traveling to Jaipur with school friends for my birthday was a trip reminiscing the days of no money. Fights over some grace marks to make it through some exam, somewhere deep conversations about lost friendships, our first love and how life was slowly changing shape in our eyes. What seemed important earlier isn’t so any longer. What we craved for seemed so inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. We spoke about losing parents, divorce, children flying the nest. Most evenings we dressed up to drink in style and fight over which song to sing or hear. As the night progressed the voices got louder, we laughed at all our heartbreak and recalled the stupid men we loved and lost. We also promised friendship that would last as long as we could take a trip together and visit each other’s homes. As the night progressed the vodka was finally doing all the conversations. Crying, laughing and blown we planned the next day itinerary to visit Sanganer.

The promise was to start early but as always vodka decides when we can pull ourselves out of that haze of the night before. We all sauntered out at the nick of breakfast closing time. Again forgot time sat and eventually decided to take the dusty road to Sanganer village, the hub for block printing of Rajasthan. It was a fun road trip into the narrow lanes with traders selling wholesale fabrics. There were shops that sold bed linen with the typical dyes and motifs of Rajasthan.

Sanganer town is known world over for its colourful block printed textiles and hand made paper. Most tourists are taken on that route for an excursion to witness the micro, small and medium printing units running in that little town. The people there are dependent on the Sanganeri print industry for their livelihood. It’s an art form that has been passed on through the generations.

Rajasthan being a dry arid land, the dye from Sanganer has the Saraswati river water that flows through the colours of the print that is radiant of the naturally dyed fabric.

This art form is 500 years old, it gained popularity in the 16th and 17th centuries in all European countries with its calico prints. It was one of the major exports from the East India Company. The Chhipa caste engage in this block printing technique and is a coveted art form and the pride of so many homes outside Sanganer.  The aesthetic styles just adds so much sophistication to a drab ambiance in any home or a garment with its traditional motifs and the colour scheme.

In Sanganer we see the perfect union of the two most volatile religions of India create art together. The Chhipas are Hindus and they are involved in the washing,  dyeing, and the printing process. The block makers are the Muslims of Sanganer. A lesson which the rest of India could learn from this sleepy, dusty town forgotten by us city dwellers.

As I went mad seeing all the swathes of fabric around me. I picked up my bag with the loot of  Sanganer. I realised I was carrying marigold, peacocks, jasmine and javakusum flowers in my memory of the holiday. And I know everytime I wear the fabric I bought from that dusty town, the fragrance of the river and the mud scent stays on my body. I know I can also remember the silence with which we drove back from that trip. Each of us prisoners in our thoughts, hoping next year would be different from this one.

We trudge on and Sanganer continues with its belief that no matter what. Art will live a life full, in its fabrics, music and the fading sun of Rajasthan.

Sanganer is a song that needs no tune, it’s hums on its own scales, reaching a crescendo, that beauty, art, and belief are immortal in this universe.

 

 

Clothing

Between The Rustle Of Starched Cotton Lies A Song Of Atr’e

December 5, 2018
MoodyMo

As I navigated into the lanes and bylanes. I found this quaint little store among the tree laden streets and sleepy taxi drivers of Calcutta. I feel an instantaneous connection with the city of my mother tongue. The languid noon eventually drives you to do nothing without nostalgia. The city unfolds in every nook and corner and I treat Calcutta with the reverence of a beautiful Bengali woman. It has the resilience of a warrior, tired yet compassionate and gently sexual in its spirit.

The women in this city have large eyes that speak to you even before you have heard their voice. I met the glorious Attreya Basu in her beautiful store Atr’e. She embodied everything Calcutta. An easy charm of an artist and the hospitality of the people and the city of joy.

Suddenly I found myself among racks of beautiful Bengali Taant fabric. The gorgeousness of the fabric was breathing into her designs. All reminiscent of a weave I love. It reminded me of my mother’s sari. They were soft, subtle and full of stories. Her store had the fragrance of Dhunuchi and a red door with small stools made of jute ropes. It’s called the Mora in Bengali. The scent got me hooked into a space of solace. A space I knew so well, so familiar and like a homecoming, I was already in love.

As always I am talkative and exuberant. And in my enthusiasm, I mentioned to her how I have been searching for Shiuli flowers all my life and the Dhunuchi smell on lonely evenings. I told her about my search of certain scents that never leave the senses, ever. You can’t capture scent but hold on to it and feel its all-pervading presence within you. Many times it brings a tear to my eyes. I miss my Ma’s home suddenly in crowds. She used to wake me up and tell me. Can you see the Shiuli bloom, pujo is round the corner. The goddess is coming in a chariot bedecked with flowers.

Attreya’s choice of yarn was cotton. One of my favourite fabric. She told me about the magic of cotton and how she wishes to establish cotton as the choice among designer wear. Attreya and Simonti, her partner, offered me tea and I had to stop in between my tea and “biskoot”, exactly as  Bengalis pronounce biscuits, to be enamoured with her designs sensibility. Attreya chooses a jacket and said it would look good on me. I trusted her choice instantly because I saw a passionate creative soul and refreshingly disinterest in pushing sales to her customers. She had the languid beauty of the city. Not forced yet mildly goading me with her art.

It was a silk jacket with forest flowers embroidered all over it. The yarn is cotton with an all over texture. The white flowers on my jacket remind me of the alpona my Ma does during Pujo. It’s always white like the Shiuli bloom.

Attreya said that cotton and silk share a unique bond. The richness of silk with the matte cotton yarns is like the city itself. The rich and poor hand in hand. Just like a promise for the day ahead with hope and happiness juxtaposed against the hardships and poverty around you. It is a reminder that beauty and ugly live hand in hand in this old city of joy.  The jacket, just like the city, is chic with the old world charm of floral embroidery, embedded and textured all over with the fitted style.

She told me cotton is the most classic fabric ever born. Her endeavour is to tell the world, the magic of cotton and what it can create.

I was transported into her space and even today I can smell the Dhunuchi on the jacket everytime I wear it. It is my roots and my love for a city that I call my soul home.

 

Clothing

Flowers On My Frock

November 23, 2018
Moody Mo blog

Winter breaks meant going from the chilly nip of the frosting window sills of Shillong to warmer Calcutta winters. Ma loved her uncle’s home in Phulia, West Bengal. The hub of the weavers of Bengal. It was the lull of the sleepy little village which had electricity, village vibe, and the famous Baul singers.

They were the singing minstrels of West Bengal. They roamed the villages with their organic one string instrument called the ektara and the traditional tulsi bead necklace around their necks and the sandalwood motif on their foreheads. There was an uniformity in dressing in those nondescript little villages those days. Most village folks wore cotton saris & the little girls wore frocks. The men I barely noticed.

The frocks were different in colour and fabric from each other but the pattern remained the same. It was closed high neck with buttons at the back and gathers in the waist and till your knees. Some had a belt to tighten at the waist.

I was Ma’s pride and joy. So my frocks had the lace trimmings at the end. The others didn’t seem to have lace in their frocks in that sleepy little town. The other girls were fascinated with my matching clips and crisp Loreto Convent English accent. I was the chosen one among them. Evenings meant getting together near the yard and running in search of the fallen fruit or picking flowers. It was something that I couldn’t imagine in my sanitized English school.

Sometimes memory plays such an amazing hide and seek in the days when you catch the fading sunlight and a memory just strikes you. I recall the Batik prints, the floral prints and the ivory or jasmine coloured dress to the matching hair clips. Ma was aesthetic in her choice of prints and patterns. That stays even today.

Clothing has been part of our civilization since 5th millennium BC. It began in the Indus Civilisation where cotton was spun, woven and dyed. Bone needles and wooden spindles have been excavated. So we know that vanity is age-old and undying. Our Indian clothing has been adapted with the hot weather in mind and muslin was created. Over time many forms of weaving technique have been discovered and employed. But frocks remain an integral style of dressing up little girls.

Mothers take pride in dressing up little girls with frocks and matching ribbons. I think lessons on matching and putting yourself begins early at age. I recall Ma choosing the right colours for the frocks she stitched for me or outsourced to a tailor. She insisted that the Phulia tailors would make me fine cotton dresses. So the ritual was to go to the village market with her hand in mine. We were city folk and the immediate respect among the humble frugal village shopkeepers was palpable even to my little mind. They offered me sweets and water from the earthenware. Ma looked at me & according to her nod I agreed or disagreed to accept the food offered.

Phulia is rural Bengal. Children play with masks over paddy fields and empty grasslands, where the only sound is of the passing train en route to a larger town ahead.

I made many friends there. And I generally followed their games of hopscotch and hide and seek and waving at passing trains. And just as the street lights were switched on and the homes started blowing their conch. We knew it was time to return to our homes. God forbid if I entered post-dusk. So I didn’t ever take that chance.

I don’t recall the time and point in my life where I gave up the frocks and the ribbons. When and where and over which time I started feeling the need to cover myself more than required. I have lost track. And this journey was rife with shame and unshackling of so many prejudices of becoming the woman I am today.

I learned frocks were for little girls. You stop wearing as you grow older.  The memories of the little girl unaware of her button clasped or unclasped changed over time. I was taught that you need to be aware of how much of your body is showing. It was hindering in the beginning but over time I learned this is growing up.

Caged or uncaged the bird sings it’s lullaby and Phulia today is a bigger town but little girls are still seen wearing cotton frocks and running after the butterfly or picking the flowers fallen on the ground. And I smile because I know even for them this will become a memory.

The little girl in each of us still lives. Some masked and some unmasked but all searing through the fields, holding one another in the journey that lies ahead, not knowing where and how we will graduate from the frocks to the saris and the salwar kameez.

Change is inevitable but memories don’t fade and don’t change. They just change your vision of self and your surroundings.