My Kantha story
As a child I was never fascinated with draping saaris. In fact I used to find it messy when my mom had to wear it the whole day. It’s not a comfortable outfit for me, and people who know me would have an idea that I generally prefer to wear comfortable clothes. But there was this one saari in particular that I always used to covet. My granny had gifted this beautiful bright yellow saari with black/brown embroidery on it to my eldest sister. My granny got it especially stitched for her as a wedding gift. And apparently, it took more than a month for it to be stitched. I had no understanding then, of the effort that goes into the making of saaris in general and that one in particular. It was only later that I got to know that it was called a Kantha saari!
Kantha is one of the oldest forms of embroidery that originated in India. Its origins can be supposedly traced back to the ancient pre-Vedic ages. ‘Kantha’ means ‘rags’ in Sanskrit, which reflects the fact that Kantha embroidery is made up of discarded or worn-out garments or clothes. A unique traditional art, Kantha work is a particular kind of embroidery done on old sarees, dhotis and other apparel. Women often use old saaris and other clothes, layering them with the Kantha stitch to make small blankets and bedspreads, for children. My mom made some kanthas for my newborn too. It is a popular art form practiced in Bengal, especially in Bolpur, and in Bihar. While it was developed mostly to make use of old and worn-out clothes, it began to be used as an embroidery pattern on saaris and other fabrics as well. It generally consists of a simple running stitch in the form of motifs such as animals, birds, flowers, simple geometrical shapes and scenes from everyday life. What caught my attention while I was reading about the art form is that it is a craft widely practiced by women in rural Bengal, and it knows no boundaries of class or status. Be it a woman in a small village or a rich landlady, both devote their skills and talents to use Kantha for their clothing, either out of need or just out of interest.
Ever since I was ok with the idea of draping a saari I wanted to get hold of my sister’s Kantha saari. I requested my sister if I could borrow it for a while and she happily obliged. Finally, one day I got a chance to wear it. It was an office Diwali celebration day where people had to wear ethnic wear. It was maybe not the right occasion to wear that saari but I couldn’t help myself. I definitely shone that day and won the best dressed female at office (Miss Phooljhari).
My love for Kantha did not end there. It has only grown with time. I had explicitly requested my mom to gift me a Kanthasaari whenever she wanted to gift me something. That occasion and the perfect kantha for me came in quite late! My mother had gifted me this saari on the occasion of my baby shower, which among Bengalis is popularly known as ‘shaad’. I had planned to wear it for my shaad which was scheduled for 15th August, 2019. However, my baby had other plans and decided to say hello to the world on that particular day. So I did not have a shaad and neither did I get to wear the saari. I waited for occasions after that to flaunt my Kantha saari but couldn’t manage one.
It was my bestie’s wedding last month and I decided to wear a bright pink silk saari for the occasion but then on that particular day something went wrong with the decided saari and I chose to wear the kantha instead. Incidentally, on the same day in a phone call with my mother, she reminded me to drape the Kantha saari. I was not sure if that was the right choice because it’s not the usual choice for people in North India to wear a Kantha during weddings. But I did, and I think I shone in my own way. The saari brought out the best in me because it’s a colorful kantha and an abstract one making it stand out. I felt beautiful wearing it finally!
That’s my Kantha story and I hope the story continues!
I found joy in little things!
2020 has been quite a year for all of us! We have struggled in our own ways to keep things going. Tried hard not to become insane (most of us failed). But 2020 has also given us time to sit back and introspect. Introspection helped me get a fresh perspective about things I thought were very important. But I realised that actually it’s the little things that give you joy that are most important. This year, I tried to focus on doing things I have wanted to do for the longest time. Here are a few things I did (not intended to show off but maybe inspire or share some ideas for you to take up in case you are interested).
- I participated in a Dance movement therapy session. I have been a dancer all my life but had lost connection with the art form for two years now because of work pressures and life pressures. So I pushed myself to participate in this one and what a wonderful experience it was! It was a two-hour session with strangers and all of us were totally immersed in it. I got to move my body, feel my body and I got to remember that I am beautiful! Not a bad start at all.
- I went out for a walk. After the longest time I drove to Lodhi Garden with my son(!), walked around, enjoyed the sun, and clicked some beautiful pictures. Realized yet again that I have an eye for the right frame and I have not forgotten to drive! Being locked at home can make you forget the skills you have and what you enjoy doing.
- I painted a trunk. This trunk has a history. When I first came to Delhi in 2002 for my undergraduate studies, I had to stay in a PG (read pigeon hole) accommodation with absolutely no furniture. This trunk was my first buy in Delhi as a student. It has been with me ever since. Sometimes I used it as a cupboard, sometimes a book shelf, many a times as TV stand. Lately, it has been lying in our balcony. So, the other day, I was sipping some tea in the balcony and this idea of painting it popped up. Got some bright yellow colour and paint brush from the market and the next day I was on the job. What a satisfying experience it was! It just made me realise that there are so many things one can do while being at home.
- I painted bottles. I have always been fascinated with these beautiful wine bottles. I have always thought of picking one up and painting it. Please note, I have not learnt painting ever. Anyway, painting these bottles was more wishful thinking and was never a priority. But the whole trunk painting activity made me feel good and I thought of finally giving this a try. Painting these bottles gave me a lot of pleasure and made me feel that if I try, I can do anything!
- I cooked and enjoyed the process. During the lockdown I tried cooking a new dish every other day. The process was quite rejuvenating and the end results were mostly good. I realised that I have an intuitive skill when it comes to cooking. Many a times I surprised myself! Though I don’t get enough time these days, I still try and immerse myself in the process ones in a while.
- Made a dance video with my friends. Finally, followed my friend’s choreography and participated in a fun video. My son kept looking at me while I practiced the moves and it was such a delight seeing him making some sudden moves (he is just 15 months old).
These were the little things that helped me stay afloat. And, I continue to keep looking for these little joys and find my happy space! What about you?
Exploring street art in the by-lanes of Lodhi Colony
We were heading towards Lodhi Garden, but then I suddenly remembered about the street art video I came across on YouTube recently (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYhPCRDgnzE). I have always liked the idea of street art. Had chanced upon a couple of them in Mumbai during one of my visits. Hence we took a detour and drove towards Lodhi Colony instead.
We drove through Meherchand market but couldn’t find any murals initially. We kept driving, got into lanes and finally found two pieces of wall art, one was being worked upon. Now that we had tasted blood we drove further, parked our car and then started exploring the neighborhood on foot.
Slowly the beautiful art work unfurled before us as we walked between Khanna and Meherchand markets in the lanes and by-lanes of Lodhi colony. To me, it seemed like we were in a wonderland where fictitious characters came to life!
I had seen the wall art showcasing a hawker selling balloons in the YouTube video so I kept insisting on walking until we find this particular artwork. And finally, we found it!
The Lodhi Art District, as the Lodhi Colony area called, is a project undertaken by St+art India (https://st-artindia.org/), an NGO established in 2014 by several artists. The first edition of the art festival took place in 2016 when more than 20 artists from India and from all over the world displayed their art on the walls of Lodhi Colony. This year the festival was called ‘Lodhi Art Festival’ and was scheduled between mid- January to mid- March.
The Lodhi Art District is an open exhibition of beautiful art work, a visual treat for all onlookers, passersby, photographers, tourists and the residents. Termed as India’s first open air art district, the best part of this place is its accessibility.
The Lodhi Art District has a mix of colorful and subtle art work, all of them a part of a narrative. There was a piece for every individual, something each one could relate to. I wished the artists were around so that I could talk to them and get to know more about their art. But it was also fun putting my imagination to work.
By the end of the tour I was reminded about Delhi’s beauty and charm!