Friday, December 12, 2014

Down Memory Lane


My mother found it very difficult to wrap her mind around my later day dressing sense, especially cotton clothes.
In the Ahmedabad where I have lived for over four decades, cotton is the norm, summer and winter – just thinner or thicker.  And Ma lived her life in silks, satins, chiffons, crepe d’chines and velvets.   As a pampered daughter of an importer/exporter of fine fabrics and accessories from all over the Far East and Europe, I too had grown up in the finest of clothes.     

Until Ahmedabad taught me the value of cottons to cope with hot weather.   The varieties seemingly endless and the comfort so endearing.  Besides I ran an outfit that tailored everything for a handloom and handicraft  organization, Gurjari ….. 
How could I possibly wear anything but cottons? 
The wonder of block prints, with vegetable dyes taking on so many different hues, different for each village with its own soil and water chemistries, coming together to an incredible, amazing variety………..

On her first visit to Ahmedabad, long years after I left home – my children grown by then, she was shocked to see women going for a morning wedding in elegant cotton saris --- gold embellished chandheris and maheswaris.  When I told her that the height of Ahmedabad old world elegance  was a slim string of pearls with an organdy or  starched cotton sari, she was aghast.  Couldn’t quite get it.
The height was the day I was going to Gandhinagar to interview the then chief minster, Mr. Solanki.  After telling her a bit about the political background of the day, I went off to get dressed and emerged wearing a crisp maroon sari with a floral block printed border and pallu.
“You’re wearing that to meet a chief minster?  Are you mad? The guard will not let you enter…” she exclaimed worriedly.  In her dictionary, cottons was for the common people who had no place in a neta’s circle!!

My mother was not alone.  I remember one summer holiday for the kids in their nanka. After days in synthetics to appease family, I pulled on a handloom salwar kurta for a trip to Hutchings High School – only to have my old science teacher taunt me ….
”So, do you usually wear handloom or is this only your fancy dress for your old school?”

In college, I went the way of the teens of those days, with churidars and bell bottoms, with my own special touches, a hand-made crochet cap, long tulsi mala with cute pendants and tent-dresses that had the boys teasing me "bars bacon ki ma" when the film Brhmachari was released.

Today I happily switch from georgettes and chiffons to cottons and ocassional silks, depending on the season; obviously mainly cottons in Ahmedabad, saris, kurtas, kaftans, pants and even a bright cotton ghagra for maximum comfort.  Variety, after all, is The Spice of Life.




Thursday, December 04, 2014

BJN Civic Fest, December 2, 2014


Holding a new book in your hands is a visceral experience, akin to holding a new baby.  One that is a celebration of women determined to lead life to the full is more exuberant.
That is what my book NIRBHAYA & OTHERS WHO DARED is all about --- a pean of hope to combat the trauma of December 2012’s Nirbhaya.   Add to that tadka of helping young students to achieve new goals and life suddenly become exciting.

When Nirbhaya started malingering with the publishers, I devoted myself an NGO, Balajanaagraha devoted to inculcating citizenship into young minds bored with the mind numbing civics textbooks. After days of rounds of school, four schools agreed to take the leap forward and I was getting up unusually early to trot forth to a different school every day of the week with my bag of tricks.
High point: two days after the launch of my new Nirbhaya book, on December 2, 2014 my students presented their civic projects, written and oral before a jury of three.  They had surveyed a 200 m section of road and users of that road to arrive at the problems, their causes and offer suggestions for making the road more people friendly and efficient. 

Amazing task for 13 year olds who put their best feet forward to offer amazing options from the virtual redesign of a slum on both sides of a road section, to enhancing aesthetics on a commercial street, to multi level parking to ease traffic congestion on a major city artery.
The results were equally amazing.  One of the laggards made  an impressive presentation with their slum redesign that saw their marks jump by 10%.  Another made an excellent oral presentation but could not close the lead taken by the team that led with its impeccable and detailed presentation, complete with meetings with the municipal and police commissioners.
Very big deal for thirteen years olds who learnt so much from one of the jurors, Ms. Gauri Waagenar, a founder member of the Ahmedabad Traffic Consultative Committee who examined every aspect of their presentations and gave them invaluable tips for rectification.

All in all, an amazing learning graph for all, students, teachers and me as Balajanaagraha Facilitator.  

Next stop: Mumbai for the Zonal finals!!