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Accessories, Fashion Clothes, Gender, Indian culture, Indian Fashion, Introduction, Lifestyle, Tradition

Try To Tie Me Down And Fail Forever

March 29, 2019
Moody Mo

The hand that rocks the cradle also rules the world. Women have balanced this multitasking job since time immemorial. I looked back at the muscular smiles that mocked my femininity. Telling me oh stop! It’s not easy for a girl like you to do what you are seeking out to do. I smiled like I did, remembering the cold blue night of my loneliness and knew that this fight will go a long way ahead in time. When we are allowed to express without our own also judging us or choking our voices with their opinions.

I found Ashwini Oza another soul just like me, expressing her creative energy with her jewellery brand Arnav. I loved the necklace she has created. Her inspiration was a tie. Which mostly men wear or tie down women in submission. I was hooked on to this style statement as I held the tie silver necklace with dye motifs and an owl pendant.

My mind was raging with the imagery of my mother praying every Thursday to Goddess Lakshmi whose carrier was the beautiful white owl.

Moody Mo

Moody Mo

I understood even religious texts uphold the fairer owl as auspicious, unlike the darker owl. Dark is demonic and dark isn’t considered attractive. So many years of subjugation. Women are guilty for being dark, infertile, free-spirited or not towing the line. It isn’t a pretty sight at all for the patriarchal rules of society, when women who dare to walk out of line, are condemned as crazy.

I wore my tie necklace over my bare shoulders and I knew the light from the coloured glass pane was reflecting on my collarbone. I was waiting to be admired. I realised how we seek validation of self from the eyes of another. Never delving within to seek the source of our strength.

I decided I won’t wear my tie necklace in front & as he came in. I pushed my tie necklace behind my back. I knew my spine felt the weight of the necklace fall carelessly behind me. I moved my hair to turn and look. He barely speaks much. He just sighed and said wow!

As I bend down to strap on my sandals. I saw him staring into my face and he looked straight towards me. I knew he was tied down forever. He won’t forget this evening. It was the falling of dusk and my conditioned patriarchal moral values. All created by human beings who are frightened, of the hand that rocks the cradle and also rules his world. He felt vulnerable and I was sure, I wasn’t getting tied down ever again with the weight of his expectations from me. 

Accessories, Gender, Indian culture, Indian Fashion, Lifestyle

Pug Marks on The Moist Kumaon Hills

March 27, 2019
Moody Mo

The Himalayan Writing Retreat is nestled between mist smeared mountains and the elusive Himalayas. Mountains covered in snow with the sunlight streaming through the magnanimity of the forces of nature. I found this post on Facebook by Chetan Mahajan. It had all the promise of the writing seclusion that I was searching for.

Tired having played roles for years. Never having ever done a solo trip ever. And with strangers stuck in a place called Sathkol. It wasn’t my regular idea of tripping. But fate has a way of propelling you to your destination. I gingerly dialled the phone number from the Facebook post. Was pleasantly greeted with a nice voice that had the warmth of a wooden log on a nippy night. I tried imagining the person on the other end of the line. He was polite and encouraging. It just seemed doable. I booked myself for the single room and told him I wasn’t exactly friendly in the mornings. My marriage has rules and rule one is, no one greets me in the morning. They know I don’t fancy enthusiastic roommates in the morning. It’s my angst hour. I am angry about female feoticide, rape, inequality and with my weighing scale too.

I decided that I will go to Sathkol and for Himalayan Writing Workshop. As luck would have it. All that could go wrong with my travel happened this time. The airlines cancelled the early morning flight at 5.00 pm. I wasn’t meant to go. I didn’t join the rest in the train because I wasn’t exactly excited to have conversations all the way. This motley group of writers were all exuberant and happy unlike me. I was a grouch. The one person that I looked most suspiciously at, was another participant called Rahul.

Also, truth be told. I have always had a thing for this name Raahuuul. He was the photographer in my favourite film of Aparna Sen’s Parama. Rahul the photographer in her film was the catalyst and also the one who bought delicious doom in the much-married Rakhi’s life. And typical me,  I liked the rebellious rake Rahul of Aparna Sen’s Parama.

This Rahul was willing to send his car to drive me 10 hours into Sathkol for the writing workshop. I kept thinking what does he want in return. And suddenly in a flash, you lose logic. I agreed to take up his offer and his car with his driver. My parents were again heaving in fear. Saying, there she goes again! Now, this Rahul.

I was duly warned about North Indian men. But I had already strapped the seat belt into my ride to the unknown. I had already said, “Teri Aisi Ki Taisi” in my mind.

Rahul’s driver Mithilesh was an amiable chap and I tried bonding with him. It was midway into midnight, empty roads into the badlands of Uttar Pradesh I knew I was mocking luck and divinity. Between Mithilesh and I, we both can’t read maps and it didn’t help that he asked for directions to Google in his Bihari accent English. I was tired and realised I had an insane stubborn streak to myself that few would understand.

My parents told me that my Bengali upbringing was no good. When I should have studied I didn’t and now trusting a stranger called Rahul and it doesn’t help that he is from Delhi. They were stricken and said they shouldn’t live another day. The words fell off my ears like cacophony. They are dramatic quintessential Bengalis with a constant existential crisis. They aren’t the ones you seek when in trouble. Was most glad my phone connection was playing up. I lied saying I knew Rahul and Chetan from my advertising days. They bellowed when they heard Chetan was a Mahajan. Punjabi was always a big No, No!

We halted for the night in Rudrapur at 2.00 am. It was a cool night with stars above my head and nothingness ahead. An unknown destination with danger lurking at every bend we traversed. Mithilesh and I.

Moody Mo

Moody Mo

By now I had reached my sweet spot of leaving everyone behind without a care. It was Mithilesh and the unknown Rahul and the somewhat dependable voiced Chetan. My girlfriends were most excited with both the names. They kept saying, tell us more!

The morning I started again with Mithilesh towards my Himalayan Writing workshop. Few hours into the road and I found myself breathing the mountain air and little streams gushing out from nooks and corners. More mountain people with the easy step of familiarity and simplicity. I was in love with love again. It was 14th February, Valentine’s Day. As I passed curves and bends. Suddenly I was greeted with clearer skies and my path to destiny. I could tell my past had died a little death right there in the right now. What was ahead was the doom of finding me. Which is not easy for a troubled heart like mine. Losing the past was like a piece of your intestine cut away from you. You can’t digest it all without the sour dull feeling of being full from past pain. I was resisting this clarity and divinity. What would I hold on to, from here?

We reached The Himalayan Writing Workshop and strangers greeted me with a warmth that I was unaccustomed with. Over the years I had mastered my fake real smile. But each of them broke my resolve bit by bit. The fireplace in the corner and the floor seating was familiar from before. I did my writing with the wonderful group of 9. Realised I maybe did know how to write enough to be appreciated and read. I cried among them. The debris of the past they each took turns to heal me. The familiar word “Dumb” became a distant sound in my head. The same harsh sentence, “don’t worry your pretty head. Just enjoy life!” Those words had bruised me & broken me. Here I was again among strangers with love. I was being healed.

After a day of writing. Chetan and Vandita took us for a bit of retail therapy. We walked through the hilly road towards the store. I found wollen shawls, tea, honey and handmade soaps. I choose a beige wollen shawl. As I wrap the woven shawl by the Kumaoni women from Chirag, the NGO shop. The brand is called Kilmora and the profits from the sale of Kilmora helps run a school and a community hospital set up by Chirag. I understood again the simplicity of those meanderings of the mountains. The lights flickered ahead as dusk fell. I knew again I was face to face with divinity. I forgot my sense of self as I opened my heart at the altar of this godly abode.

As I finished my writing workshop. I recall Chetan’s words to me, “Don’t be afraid, get naked on paper”. I took his words very seriously and wrote those few days without control. It came gushing from corners that the sunlight hadn’t touched. The dark spots of my past. The numerous emotionally unavailable relationships, that I had nurtured and accepted over the years died a death there. I wasn’t accepting this second-hand love anymore. The bruised inner child came back slightly healed, slightly lost but massively hopeful.

The shawl covered my bruises and revealed the blood-soaked sides of my heart that dripped near this motley crew of Krish, Ravi, Viral, Vandita, Shabnam, Souniya, Ashwini, Karan, Rahul and Chetan. I was delirious without me knowing, that they could smell the stale blood mixed with tears on the little corners of me. They saw me like no one had in a long time.

Accessories, Indian Fashion, Lifestyle

Sacrifice Of Self

March 25, 2019

She made the mistake of not shutting the door fully. That languid summer noon, the cherry blossoms and the weeping willow were resting. Everyone in slumber and half woken siesta, Molina was awake. It was her time to her herself. She stood next to her overused bed sheets that had patches and were losing colour, to furtively open the cupboard. Those large wooden shelves had huge stained white potlis. All tied tight and no chance of ever any knot loosening its grip. Her security lied in all that her late husband had left for her. He never loved her – she was ugly, infertile and had a disgusting habit of never wearing any finery.

Molina came to terms with his mistress and her beauty. The more he travelled to spend time in Mumbai, the more unkempt she became. Her hair had an oily sheen, her sari was patchy that had not seen any detergent. Only washed with water and dried under the soft sun. Her large unproportionate breasts fell over her tummy. Her eyes were like an eagle that even a soft-hearted person wouldn’t notice. Teeth yellow from regular consumption of pan and tea.

I saw Molina Pishi and her soft-eyes moist, just that one summer noon. She opened one large potli with much more smaller cloth packing of jewellery inside, filled with Rubies, Emeralds, Diamonds and Gold. She held one necklace against the sunlight. This was her favourite, I could tell. She stared at it long and lovingly. It was an old Rajasthani piece, meant for the bride that she never could be, in spite of being a married woman.  It was exquisite with round crystals that would clasp your vanity with pride and joy. I still just couldn’t feel sorry for her. She was too ugly to love. I was just 10.

Molina had this large house bequeathed to her by a handsome late husband. It was years back, she recalled, that he returned back from Bombay with a baby girl who looked exactly like him. Fair, petite, with a visage that you could compare to a Goddess from one of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings. Molina was silent. He told her, “Let her be your companion. Bring her up like your own”. He said she was like his daughter and needed a home. Molina knew it was his daughter. She kept quiet. Again, those eagle eyes had sadness.

Who would feel sad for ugly Molina? It didn’t help her crooked nose with a growing mole. God was unforgiving with her. No one ever felt sad for her. She was a miser like Scrooge and nasty to everyone around. Khasi women always gave her leftover vegetables. She barely spent a rupee. Everyone disliked her. She was used to people catcalling her. Unperturbed, she continued her miserly ways.

Meera was her only love. As Meera grew, Molina knew she would lose her to a man. The insecurity kept her distressed like a raging mad woman. She matched Meera with a gambling addict and an extremely ugly man who couldn’t ever keep a job. His name was Rathin.

Rathin married Meera and sat at the jewellery shop that Molina had. Meera never loved Molina. Meera never called Molina “Ma”. Molina called Meera her daughter, knowing fully well, it was his mistresses umbilical cord remains. Rathin devoured Meera and she had 10 children. Motherhood didn’t tarnish Meera’s beauty. She continued looking every bit the beautiful wife, complexion like honey and hair falling to her hip. A small oval face, with doe eyes.

As the years passed, their hatred grew evident to all. Molina was neglected and treated shabbily by the children and Meera alike. Meera said, “Don’t see Molina’s face in the morning”, as infertile women were considered inauspicious.

My 10-year-old mind knew Molina had never been loved. She held the choker against the sunlight and as it caught her beady eyeball, I saw unrequited love and grief.

She turned around and saw me looking. She let out a scream and I ran as quick as I could. People told me Molina was evil. As the years have passed I wonder who was more evil, Meera or Molina. Maybe none. Both trying to find their own.

I know we all live in our little desolate spaces of loneliness and that dark space is covered with moss and non-flowering plants that are like creepers. They hold on tight to your throat many times. The muffled choke quietened by the perfect people around. The ugly will remain forever unforgivable and the beautiful will always be forgiven.

Molina’s memory is available with Arnav. Ashwini Oza recreated this piece with a salute to the transience of beauty and her passion for the arts. She too found love in her craft. In each and every piece of Arnav, you find yourself looking like the bride that needs nurturing with loads of generosity. Arnav just got me hooked with the finesse of craftsmanship and beauty.  

Molina’s Qurbat will remain unspoken forever. She never found love ever.

Accessories, Fashion Clothes, Gender, Indian culture, Indian Fashion, Introduction, Lifestyle, Own Life Story, Tradition, Travel

The Lost Land Of Afghanistan That I Found in Rome

March 22, 2019
Moody Mo

Flea markets world over has been my never-to-miss spot. As usual once in Rome I tried to follow the adage – be a Roman in Rome. I got my gladiator sandals out and decided to look for Al Capone on the streets. I found many with noses that could hold a hanger with my freshly ironed robes. And was amused at the confidence levels with which they charm the panties of a celibate. The Romans are loud, emotional, proud people with a daunting history that takes you back into time. The architecture lying in ruins throughout Rome reminds you of the history books you have read as a child. The paintings and the sculptures breathing life into their stone eyes and structure keep me spellbound for more.

Opposite the river bank on a Sunday noon, are tired and hopeful shopkeepers selling art, jewellery and pasta stalls. In the midst of all this, I find the city filled with migrant labourers from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and many more places. Selling their wares with the hope of earning a good future for their families. I always find myself drawn to people whose eyes have stories. As I navigate my path into the Flea market below a long winding staircase, I am reminded of the absolute genius of this country and it’s Neo-Realism films that have inspired so many artists. I am reminded of the genius of Vittoria Di Sica’s Bicycle Thieves and the many more films that have made me weep for the protagonists.

In this flush of weeping and awe of the city and its history, in a corner, I found an open stall with the most exquisite Afghani jewellery. The shop owner was a tall, burly man with a complexion that has traces of his Afghani Roots. His eyes are proud and he is selling not because he likes to sell but has to feed himself and his family. I find myself lost in his beautiful, intricate, stone inlay traditional jewellery. It is made up of German Silver and glass with enamel inlay floral designs.

He tells me his name is Ahmed and he is a Kuchi nomad. They are the nomads from the Ghilji tribal confederacy, the largest tribe called the Pashtuns from Afghanistan. He said the poorer families wear these silver pieces because the more exorbitant things are used for the Nikkah (marriage) and those are also made with floral and crescent moon designs.

Ahmed sold me his choice of jewellery and I couldn’t say no to his gaze of hope. He said it looked beautiful on me. Rome had taught Ahmed to be a Roman in Rome. Effortlessly flirting with women who thronged his space in the flea market.

I wear my Afghan tribal jewellery with much pride. It speaks of the resilience of the nomads who are not bound by chains of settling down. I can’t help but smile at the irony of life, we the settlers who are always unsettled in our hearts. Searching for the elusive spot of sunshine and security. Unlike the nomads, they live one day at a time.

The crescent moon on my necklace is one step away from its fullness. The tiny silver on its edge is illuminated by the glass pieces reflecting the sun rays. I imagine a bride in the finery of her Afghani resplendence saying “Kubool hai, Kubool hai” even if her heart says no. I had to have Ahmed’s story on my neck.

Accessories, Fashion Clothes, Indian Fashion, Lifestyle, Own Life Story, Tradition

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.

Indian culture, Indian Fashion, Introduction, Lifestyle, Own Life Story, Tradition

Firdaus Is Omnipresent

February 26, 2019
Firdaus

The sound of the marching boots and the incessant screams of the tribals fighting for their land reverberated into the stillness of the chilly evenings. Evening fell early on those eerie mountains and the morning sun broke through the dark clouds very early. It was the night of 25th December 1982 that I recall clearly. A bunch of Khasi men trying to enter the compound of my home and attempting to light up the meter box. I stood stricken as Ma held on to the boti that she used to cut her fish, instructing me to be brave.
“They are cowards, we have no fear”, said Ma to console me.

My young mind knew she was lying because her frail body was shivering. I understood that to face fear you need to lose fear. The Khasis were opening the meter box and screaming Dokhar, Dokhar! And just like the Gods above were deciding we needed to live longer, the CRPF marched close above our heads and the insurgents ran as fast as lighting into the bamboo forests opposite our home. We just kissed death and stood holding on to each other like a boulder withstanding the raging seas.

Truth be told, the mountain people were a peaceful lot. Till the Bangladeshi refugees starting infiltrating into the crevices of the hill. They were insecure about this new phenomenon and one day they decided to take the law into their hands and finish the evil from its roots. They caught every Bengali on the dark streets and punched them till they bled uncontrollably.

The Centre was cut off from this part of India. They didn’t understand the differences between the various tribes and their culture. The Centre intervened by sending the CRPF force with a shoot at sight order.

My school was suddenly shut and the grey-white building looked like a forlorn ghost waiting to be lit again. I didn’t miss school much as I disliked the discrimination against the Bengali students which the nuns too practised those days. The Khasis hated the Bengalis like plague. And I was their easiest target because Baba didn’t stay and I was just suddenly made aware of this reality. In spite of the matrilineal society structure, I felt aware of being a girl in the Khasi land.

The men made lewd gestures but didn’t ever touch. They said mean things about Ma but they never physically harmed any woman. The men were targeted to be butchered.

Just as the CRPF walked past, I saw Ma call a jawan & in her impeccable Delhi Hindi, she told him, that she lived alone with her little girl. She wanted to give them water to drink every time they were tired of marching. They agreed readily because water in the hills is difficult to get and arduous to carry. I saw her carry a bucket with a glass on the side and keeping it outside our gate. I knew she was smarter than the Khasis and the CRPF forces. She gave them deluge in her demure way and protected her daughter and herself from being burnt alive in that wooden home. I learnt the word jugad that day at a tender age of 10.

The CRPF became first name acquaintances. I knew she was putting her best foot forward to keep them happy. They were gullible to affection. She didn’t voice her truth to me, but I I could see her, much more than others did. Her shared sorrow of loneliness, survival and cunning was all visible to me. As she negotiated life, insurgents, army and her patriarchal surroundings of judgement. She still wore her hair in a neat bun and her crisp cotton sari. I realised she was not the one who would ever give up on life and living.

As I take out my red sari, I remember how in that environment of hate, Ma gave me this red sari and said every time you feel lesser, wear your sari and your courage like an embellishment from the Universe above. Once the sheen of courage reaches your eyes, the wrinkles fade, the grey ceases to matter and what remains is your grace and gratitude of your life experiences.

I call this Firdaus which means paradise.

May each of us finds “Firdaus” in the mundane and the marvellous.

Fashion Clothes, Gender, Lifestyle, Own Life Story

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…

Fashion Clothes, Indian culture, Indian Fashion, Lifestyle, Tradition

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.

 

Indian culture, Indian Fashion, Lifestyle, Tradition

My Jasmine Jewellery

January 9, 2019

I have a phobia of dressing up for weddings because as much fun it is to look every part the celebratory you and all the congratulations that you need to say to the bride and groom and the proud parents, I know I can’t muster myself with enough enthusiasm to look and sound excited. I often find myself advising the young starry-eyed couple that a marriage two people together with an understanding that you would not see each other in your beautiful form forever. There would be intense hatred, anger, intense love & compassion. It’s a gamut of emotions.

And to add to my chaotic mind and indecisiveness of what jewellery to pair with my silk sari. I am at a loss. I sat at my garden table with my cup of coffee and staring at the jasmine flower buds growing unhindered in my garden. The fragrance of the fresh jasmine fills up the empty space around me. I thought that do I need to do what’s been done to death. Dressing up in gold and all shiny like the Christmas tree. I was trying to calm my overthinking brain. I knew it wouldn’t be approved by the in-laws that I don’t wear the diamonds and have no interest in owning them too. Because I find elegance in the minimal. I often stare at the many ladies dressed head to heel in all forms of shine yet they look lost and with underfed minds. A mind that probably needs more shine than the diamonds donned.

The conditioning is so strong that weddings mean all your jewellery is all out there. Even if it’s a mismatch I need to prove I have more. And that is the norm of the big fat Indian wedding woes. But to me less is more. I spoke to Zarina my househelp of years now. She often chooses my jewellery and I find her keen eye in tune with my need to wear less and feel more. I asked Zarina would you be able to make me a Gajra with jasmine flowers.? I want to wear a flower garland around my hair bun.

She is quick to pluck the fresh flowers and starts to frantically look for the needle and strong thread to make that gajra. I see her meticulously string the flowers one by one, putting one on top of the other like it was in a symphony of sorts. In a mathematical fashion, she adds the flowers. There were buds that had not opened that she picked. I saw her filling up a bell metal bowl with water and filling the bowl with the unopened bud. My room had been transformed with a certain vibe. The unopened buds reminded me of a young beautiful girl.

As I took out my plain Tusar silk sari. My white conch bangles that matched my white fresh jasmine flowers on my gajra. I cleaned my face, applied my moisturizer, Kajal and my lipstick and tied my hair in a neat bun. Swept the hair off my face. Tied my hair and started circling my bun with the flowers.

My flowers were pinned by braid pins in place and I could feel the fragrance surround me and my inner being of being the woman who knew that dressing up doesn’t always require riches & gold. You can look beautiful with all the jewellery that nature has bestowed us with.

My jasmine flowers did get its due attention and I remember the lady at the corner of the street who sits under an umbrella with a big basket of flowers and she sprinkles them with water to maintain the freshness. I see the working women and so many people buy flowers to either take it as a gift to the deity they worship or wear around their braids or bun. Women in South India wear jasmine on all occasions. It is an inexpensive accessory from nature for so many women.

My jasmine jewellery is my answer to the moments when I didn’t fit in with the set rules of society. The jasmine flower blooms all day, all year. It may wilt and wither but the fragrance never dies. My jasmine is my unsung heroine. She is not seen but felt by many. When we throw away the dried yellow withered petals. It reminds me of life that I look forward to like the fresh new bloom. Promising me of a new tomorrow with stories unfolding and teaching.

The Jasmine is on the branches, hiding behind the leaves. It is shy, pristine and full of fragrance. Like life itself.

Accessories, Indian culture, Indian Fashion, Lifestyle, Tradition, Travel

Story On A Scroll

January 4, 2019
Pattachitra

As you travel to West Bengal, the art form can be distinguished by the identity of each district. You have the Bankura Horses, the Phulia taant, the Kantha embroidery, the Baluchari and so on, the list is endless. What stays entrenched is the kitschy art form called the Pattachitra. This is a cloth based scroll painting that is known for its intricate details as well as the mythological narratives and folk tales inscribed on it.

Today, Pattachitra artists have found recognition internationally. Apart from painting in scrolls they have, in a very minuscule way, started creating clothing with the same art form in stoles and dupattas.

The excellent play of colour is part of rural Bengal and there is a controversy regarding the dates of the ancient patuas. This art form dates back to the Pre Pala period and is still tucked away in small villages of Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia and other parts of 24 Parganas.

The colours are dense and natural. They represent the cultural traditions of creating Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Every Pattachitra has a song attached to it and the Patuas sing to you songs of folklore.

I felt the songs of Pradip Patua sear into my being. The innocence of his eyes. His folded jeans over his ankle and his rubber Bata chappal were telling me a story. His story of having walked miles in search of lost souls who could drown in his village tunes. He said, “don’t buy anything, just hear me sing”. How could I deny him his occupied space in my heart. I knew I would drown into his story of struggle about making his songs live through his art. He was simple to the point of it being a fault.

That evening, I returned to my urban space of artists, city slickers who all know how to negotiate a price for their art. I found myself feeling suffocated among the arrogant aware.

Pradip Patua stays with his innocence and I pray he finds a person who will open up his art and world. And he never needs to request anyone to listen to his songs ever.

I told him the world is round and the universe has a strength that we can’t comprehend. In that sphere he will find his space under the sunshine and his Pattachitra colours will burn bright into an endless prism.

As he folded his canvas I saw him smile at me. Unsure yet with a stoic gaze of an artist. I knew that look from deep inside of my being. It was of hope and wanting freedom from the clutches of poverty.