Culture be damned

Judge: What is the motive?

Jury: Culture

Us Indians (referring to all from Indian origin) are culturally inclined. Our food, our family life, our clothing, our mannerisms, our relationships…all tend to include our great heritage.

Or, with all things, we like to have it included in some areas of life, whilst not really caring for in other areas. We like to pick and choose. The problem this creates is a form of lost identity. You cannot pick and choose your identity. You can create a whole new identity. Or you could embrace the identity you have. Unfortunately, it’s not something that can be split.

Over the years, I’ve observed how we, the generation Y millennials, like to shun away from cultural associations and activities. Yet the very next day, we drag our offspring to some activity to impart some ‘culture’ on these innocent minds, because, god forbid, they grow up to be brats with no ounce of tradition or culture whatsoever, or identity of where their predecessors come from.

I’ll give examples (much to the distress of my readers) as it’s easier than beating around the bush. The last few weeks and coming weeks have been full of festivities and celebrations in the Indian calendar – Paryushan, Navratri, Diwali, etc.

Navratri – 9 days of celebrations, including garba

How many Gen Y millennials actually went for garba, or usually partake in these celebrations yearly? Answer is, usually the same individuals who like to celebrate this festival. So the regulars.

How many took their kids to the kids’ version of celebrations? Answer is – all the rest not included in the above. I cannot fathom why you wouldn’t make time to engage in cultural activities, but have the time to make sure your kids do not miss out.

Diwali – possibly the biggest celebration in all Indian religions

The usual decorum is to perhaps send your kids to learn how to do Rangoli. But when was the last time you did a Rangoli yourself at home, for the joy of just celebrating Diwali?

Dressing up for Diwali needs its own paragraph. This is the time to wear our finest jewellery and traditional attire as it’s a big family celebration. Yet, many choose to wear an ‘Indo-Western’ top over jeans. However, if you look closely at the family unit, the offspring will always be on show, wearing their very best traditional gear.

See the repetition I’m trying to address? It’s all to do with time. We don’t have time for tradition and culture. Yet we want our kids to be fully engaged in it. My point is if we, the Gen Y millennials, are not actively partaking and cherishing our culture, how can we expect the next generation to follow suit? Sure, they will be fine for a couple of years whilst you drag and parade them around. But what do you see happening when they can think for themselves? At the most, they will become like us. At the worst, they will be worse than us. So who suffers in the end?

Judge: What is the verdict?

Jury: Death by suffocation. (Actual death undetermined – culturally inflicted human death, or human-inflicted cultural death)

Monkey see, monkey do

Apart from the obvious physical similarities (hair and all), what’s the common denominator between humans and monkeys? We all love to do what the other is doing. We like to be a collective. We like to fit in with society. Shame on us if we have a different opinion to the other.

(That’s as far as my understanding of monkeys goes. I can imagine that they are less complex individuals. Or they may be just as complex as we are. Clearly, I’m still undecided. Needs more follow-up.)

During my hiatus from the blogosphere, which involved a lot of the writer’s block-type thing and a considerable amount of soul searching, I’ve realised that our biggest and most underused asset is CHOICE.

Choice. Choice to choose from left or right. Choice to decide for yourself. To think for yourself. To know for yourself. It applies to everything imaginable, and then some. We have a choice. So let’s stop following the rest and let’s start firing the neurons to power our own mind. We all want to control our own destiny. Yet, how many of us succumb to someone else’s version?

I’ll spill a little secret that I’ve come to realise. Do you know that destiny is not binding? Every action and choice you make can create a new future? You have the power within you to create a change. It’s all down to choice. The sooner we realise this, the better for everyone.

Resurrection

Of the blog. Not me.

Yearning for a slower pace. Of me. Not the blog.

New found FREEDOM. Of both the blog and me.

I’m back with (what I hope to be) a vengeance. Let’s get this party on.

She’s pregnant! (Screams headlines)

That must have got your attention, right? Such is the power of the word ‘pregnancy’. And no. No I am not pregnant.

Have you ever wondered how the term pregnancy and all its affiliations (e.g., bump, baby, etc.) are so loosely used to add importance to every situation, to make a complaint more profound, to bestow attention to an already inflated ego, to add weight to every stand? Let me elaborate.

Why is one, when making a complaint about a certain something to a certain customer services, compelled to list a whole set of events about how much unnecessary time, money, effort, annoyance they had to dispel all the while having their pregnant wife be witness and an accomplice to their troubles? For example, you are not happy with a certain manufacturer for supplying faulty goods. Do you think the manufacturer really cares that your pregnant wife had to come all the way with you to return the faulty goods? The fact that the wife is not pregnant (yes, I know these people!) is beside the point. Why do you need to make her pregnant to create more of a fuss?

Or, how about the scenario when you just drop the ‘bump’ so causally, in the hope that what you are trying to emphasise will suddenly make more of an impact?

This morning, I came across an advertisement on the radio informing listeners of the dangers of cycling and to watch out for cyclists. The sketch was really well written from the point of view of a woman, who was warning motorists to just keep a watch for her cyclist husband because, you know, accidents happen. That is all well and good and easily understood. Then why does it have to take an almost hysterical turn saying she would love for her cyclist husband to be able to come home to her and her bump? Really? Isn’t her life important enough to her husband and humanity, that only if we mention ‘bump’ would it seem more profound?

Since when did pregnancy, and all things related, become a benchmark for importance? Why is the world so fixated with these terms?

Don’t get me wrong. Pregnancy is a wonderful thing and you are very lucky to have ever been pregnant. I for one have been trying to get pregnant for years, but it will happen when it’s meant to happen. But let’s quit devaluing the sanctity of it by portraying it as feeble, weak and poorly. Heck, I’m told that when a woman is with child, she is ‘glowing’ and has this inner power and wisdom about her. Seems more apt a description of a warrior princess than a poorly, helpless woman who needs to be used as a pawn to gain sympathy.

Newsflash – not every family has offspring. Not every woman is with child. Then why should your importance and worth be judged on this?

Critical acclaim versus playing dress-up

The long-awaited Fabric of India exhibition at the prestigious Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London opened on the 3rd of October. It is the ‘first major exhibition to explore the rich and fascinating world of handmade textiles from India.’ Some of the finest and most fascinating textiles from the V&A and collections across the world have been used to ‘illustrate the processes, history and politics associated with these incredible objects’.

Following the developments of this thought-provoking exhibition on their blog, I had booked tickets online as soon as they were available. A week after the opening, we were eagerly waiting to enter the V&A, in anticipation of good things to come.

Rewind a few hours earlier and the mood was one of utter disbelief. I’ll explain. The first ever India Fashion Week was to be held in London the same weekend and excitedly we had also booked tickets to watch a catwalk show advertising three designers. Having experienced Lakme Fashion Weeks, we decided this was an event not to be missed. It is sufficed to say that this was the most disorganized event camouflaged as playing dress-up ever imagined.

As seen on the ramp - India Fashion Week, London
Poor styling, as seen on the ramp – India Fashion Week, London

The usual lack of seating arrangements, lack of informed personnel and a lack of certain expectations is not what I want to focus on. The focus should be on the garment; specifically, the sari. The drape, the way it flows, the way it is treated with respect bring out the full flourish of this symbolic 6 yards of joy. One would expect that whoever styles the models on the ramp knows how to drape a sari. Aye, you say, one would expect. Cue exposed shoes and ankles; cue models who look so uncomfortable that you could almost believe that this is the first time they are wearing a sari; cue ill-fitting blouses; cue disaster.

How not to drape a sari
How not to drape a sari

Last I checked, I am 100% sure you cannot pass Fashion School without knowing how to drape a sari. FACT.

Another FACT – you do not need to have attended Fashion School to be a designer. Hence, why the world is full of designers wishing to time pass and those that bury us under their piles of imitated and unoriginal sheets of cloth. A complete and utter waste of resources.

So you can imagine how eager we were to get away and head straight for the anticipated Fabric of India. The day could only get better.

The exhibition is divided into six themes: Nature & Making, How Textiles are Used, Splendid, Global Trade, Textiles in a Changing World and Textiles Cutting Edge. Having a new-found love and respect for the artisans and craftsmanship through my interactions and experiences as Co-Founder of S9 Muses, it was wonderful to discover the techniques not only involved in the dyeing, weaving and embroidering of garments, but also how the textiles are actually made. Cottons, Silks, Chintz…all painstakingly produced to form the finished products that we see and wear to this day.  Using the weft and warp to form the hand-woven textiles, using natural materials such as turmeric to produce dyes, hand-blocking to form exquisite prints, quilting to form textures, using assorted embroidery techniques such as gota work to add embellishments and fine thread work…the many stages and techniques involved in producing finished product can only be credited to the vast experience, skill and knowledge of the artisans. Something that the mass-produced, machine-credited garments threatened to destroy for good. Until that is, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s movement on Kadhi came to force in the 1920s. Gandhi promoted the spinning of Kadhi for rural self-employment and self-reliance. ‘The Khadi movement promoted an ideology, an idea that Indians could be self-reliant on cotton and be free from the high-priced goods and clothes that the British were selling to them. The British would buy cotton from India at cheap prices and export them to Britain where they were woven to make clothes. These clothes were then brought back to India to be sold at hefty prices. The Khadi movement aimed at boycotting foreign goods including cotton and promoting Indian goods, thereby improving India’s economy.’

Today, even though we are surrounded by cheap, mass-produced quick-fashion, there is a whole new movement emerging with many designers reviving old techniques, using and, more importantly, crediting local craftsmen whereby particular skills have been passed down from generations. The livelihood of these artisans depends on the appreciation of their talent and appreciating the quality of their work. The future of heirlooms depends on us, as consumers, changing the way we perceive fast fashion and quick knock-offs, and willing to pay the right price for these labour-intensive jewels.

Pallavi Datta, an advocate for reviving the age-old sari, specifically writes and highlights the issues surrounding this garment on her blog, Pallavi’s Style Diaries. I love her style of writing and detail; worth a read when you have a chance.

The Fabric of India exhibition runs until the 10th of January 2016. Do go and have a look; it certainly is worth spending several hours over.

*Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed to be taken of the exhibition at the V&A, and being the obedient being that I am, I complied.

One-track mind

Mornings are usually jovial in our house. Whilst devouring my red berry muesli and masala tea, the Stud of the House and I engage in silly antics such as deciphering the relevance and meanings of our previous night’s dreams, and basically pepping up for the day’s tasks ahead, which includes what we should take as packed lunch and what we should have for dinner.

I know that I have basically gone AWOL over the past few weeks. So many unexpected turn of events have taken place since mid April and I am just beginning to come to grips with these. One of these being the sad demise of my dazzling grandmother. (I will write a post in ode to her soon.)

I find that I am in a constant self-battle to keep myself occupied and busy. The age-old saying on everyone’s lips goes ‘there is always so much to do but so little time to do it’. Well, in my case, there is always so much I want to do and find so little time to do it. I’ve been like this as far as I can remember. It is probably inborn. There is some inert force that keeps me pushing myself to new limits and, whilst this is great and a good characteristic to have as an ego booster, it leaves me beyond exhausted by the end of the day. Heck, who am I kidding? I wake up exhausted the next day. Hence, the jovial mornings we share to try and boost some energy in to the day.

I am what you can call, a jack of all trades, but really a master of none. I love to explore all opportunities and this can be my downfall in such that when several opportunities arise together, I will explore them all at once. I used to get burdened with thoughts of not being able to fully commit to any one cause and of always being on a jittery edge. Lately, I’ve realised that since we have no control of how life turns out to be, perhaps it is not such a bad thing trying to make the most of every opportunity. Life is not about succeeding at all times. It is also about having the courage to try and to broaden experiences. It is about seeing the potential in you and trying to realise it as much as possible. I prefer this ‘style’ of living to the monochrome version.

In the end, it is all about leaving a legacy behind.

This particular morning whilst having a lightbulb moment, I eloquently summarised my situation. (Indulge me, will you?)

I have a one-track mind…and this can aptly be described as ‘always sidetracked’.

Identity crisis

Our TV viewing at home consists of flicking between Sky Sports channels, Food Network channels, Music channels and Indian channels. This is pretty much it. Oh and for the ad hoc comedy moments of the ever endearing ‘Friends’ episodes. Other than these, we don’t use our Sky package to its maximum capacity. Oh, just to point out to clear misconceptions, I watch Indian channels not for the slow and overly dramatised serials that creepily make you want to dig a hole and bury yourself. For they are that mundane and suck the life out of you. I watch for some good Bollywood movies and educational series such as the Mahabharat and Ramayan.

I’m a die hard fan of Food channels and follow the latest chefs on the scene. I have been an avid supporter of MasterChef Uk, and watched a few various other versions in Australia. A couple of months ago, we got hooked to MasterChef India, Season 4. Purely because this was the very first fully vegetarian competition of its kind.

Several episodes in and we soon realised how melodramatic this was, akin to all other Indian soaps and series. The participants were as eager as all the usual ones you watch across the continents. However, the whole MasterChef India show has a different kind of excitement associated with it. The first episode of each week was seldom about food and cooking, and more about the silly antics by both judges and participants. The standard of cooking also did not appear to be as expected when compared with the UK counterpart. This could purely be because I am a vegetarian and since I have no ounce of knowledge on how to cook non-veg food, roasting a whole chicken would seem more complicated than making ‘kheer’. Or, it simply could be that it was not up to par. I am more inclined to believe the latter as one of the finalists, Ashish, plated a dish equivalent to the standards of the first round as his finale dish of the show. Thankfully he was suitably eliminated.

Looking past the dramatics of the show, we followed the contestants on their journey to be crowned the 4th MasterChef in India. Some of the dishes produced were inspiring and also looked pleasing to the eye. Others faltered. However, since we were not there to taste, who are we to judge really.

The weeks sped by and fast forward to Saturday just gone, the penultimate episode aired. This is where it all started to crumble. The episode was about the 4 remaining contestants and they had to cook their deciding dish to see which 3 will be the final 3. The bizarre fact was that the public were going to vote as to who they wanted to be crowned the next Indian MasterChef. This may seem norm to some, but to me, without having tasted any of the food, how are we supposed to vote as to who is deemed perfect for the position? Last I checked, this was not a popularity contest.

Voting began and the winner was to be announced on Sunday. However, in true Indian style, the winner will not be announced by a simple statement from the judges. There was a whole evening planned of what I can only describe as tasteless entertainment. It began with the 3 finalists prancing on stage with their version of Bollywood dancing. Because this is a cooking competition finale, and dance is a main part of the popularity show. Or so she says, whilst trying to make sense of this turn of events. This was followed by various plugs for other reality Tv shows such as Nach Baliye (a dance show!) and promoting a soon-to-be-released Bollywood film. Why? Why you may ask.

Have you ever noticed in India how they love their sponsorships and advertising? For example, whilst the recent Cricket World Cup was taking place in Australia, we were in India at that time. You can of course imagine the Indian team being sponsored, as well as the ads you watch/listen to in between breaks on television or radio. However, sponsorship goes beyond that. When the second team is batting, you swiftly get to hear every so often ‘This run chase is sponsored by Suzuki Maruti’. When a batsman hits a 4 or the ultimate 6, ‘This 4 (or 6) was sponsored by BSNL (or something like that!)’ – a broadband company. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G is sponsored. Even the cement used to form buildings. It will have an ad of its own with an A list celebrity endorsing it.

This explains the sponsored entertainment for a finale cooking show. It just makes the whole thing tacky. As explained, in our house, we are very opinionated and subjective with our choice of television. I do not want to tune in to a cookery show only to see a finale that involves everything else other than food. I am all for culture and types of expectations each country has. But there is a fine line between tasteful and keeping in theme with the subject versus drowning in cultural expectations.

It is safe to say that this was our first and last experience of MasterChef India.

Ilk

Noida (short for the New Okhla Industrial Development Authority), is located in Uttar Pradesh at the fringes of Delhi. Compared with Mumbai, Delhi has a vibe and energy of its own. Everything appears to be more methodical, cleaner, less populated and more urban. Mumbai has an unmatched energy that wraps around you like a hurricane. You get sucked in to it and after a while, it can be exhausting. Delhi’s energy is different. It can be compared to London, whereby even though life is on a constant move and rush, the pace can be altered to suit your needs.

Noida is where the brand ‘Ilk’ resides. Design duo Shikha and Vinita formed Ilk in 2011. Ilk, meaning clan, is rooted to the culture and tradition of its belonging. The label’s forte in handmade textures adds a novel, youthful and detailed aesthetic to the garments.

Vinita & Shikha - Designer duo of Ilk
Vinita & Shikha – Designer duo of Ilk

The Ilk studio was a delight to visit. Known for their unique ability to mix textures and drapes, it was wonderful to explore their latest collection on the racks, fresh off the ramp. Filled with an array of western apparels – as well as saris and kalidars – in pastels, aquas, corals and some pops of colour, the racks provided us with an insight into the labour of work that goes in to each garment.

Texture and fun silhouettes are the label’s forte, making each piece sit firmly on your wish list.
Texture and fun silhouettes are the label’s forte, making each piece sit firmly on your wish list

Their workshop is also located on the same floor as their office and studio. Here, we were lucky to see their new collection ‘Love me not’ in the making. Floral embellishments and appliqués, beads and quirky cuts formed the basis of this collection. Various garments were taking shape before us, with embroidery, stitching and cutting all happening at different stages of the process.

Texture and fun silhouettes are the label’s forte, making each piece sit firmly on your wish list.

IMG_7413 (1)A studio and workshop visit always heightens my excitement of working with that label. It gives you an access into the design world, how garments are actually produced and the different stages each goes through before the finished product that we usually get to see in a shop. It also gives an insight to the incredible talent of the designer as well as the craftsmen executing their designs. It is with gratitude to the designer and the craftsman that we can drape and adorn ourselves with such pieces.

Celebrity conundrums

Over the years, I have affectionately stared at my favourite celebrities, bumped in to some on prominent streets in London and hotels, smiled awkwardly at others only to receive disgruntled stares and observed others during Fashion Week. These celebrities live a privileged life, mainly a result of hard work or family ties. Either way, life looks good.

Here, I’ve come up with pros and cons to what I believe surrounds a celebrity and their lifestyle.

Let me first define celebrity status using the following ‘Status Class Chart’ (for the record – these are strictly my own views and my own opinions; feel free to share if you agree):

Class A – Superstar;

Class B – Mediocre;

Class C – Only known because of their next-of-kin relationship to some Class A celebrity;

Class D – Those who are self-proclaimed, most likely through reality TV.

I’m not just talking about the monetary value that a celebrity has because that is all relative. Obviously if you are a celebrity, you are generally more well off than the rest of us. But it’s all relative.

Now, we all know and have always read about the perks of being a celebrity. I’ll list a few below:

  • Worldwide recognition – everyone knows you (well at least a handful do, depending on which celebrity class you belong to).
  • Endorsements – you get to promote worthy causes, and some not-so-worthy causes, but does the cause really matter when you get a fat cheque at the end of it?
  • Freebies, such as fancy clothes, handbags or perhaps a ride on a chartered plane.
  • Large social media following (this is regardless of what celebrity class you fall into, so a huge bonus in the celebrity world).
  • Access to the hottest tickets in town.
  • Reservations at top restaurants that normal individuals can only obtain once waiting patiently for 3 months on the advance booking list (although, I have heard that this is not always the case, and some A class celebrity’s wife rocked up at a top Mumbai restaurant expecting a table only to be turned away).
  • You get to name your child after your favourite fruit, or city, or something that sounds remotely posh but borders on non-existent in the dictionary, without any other family member battling an eyelid.
  • It always seems obvious to the rest of the world how in control you are and the power you possess.

Now for the cons:

  • You can never really slurp your spaghetti for fear of your face being splattered across the next morning’s papers.
  • You could never wear your most comfy track bottoms and hoodie when flying long haul. Or carry your hot water bottle on to the flight.
  • The fear of being relegated down the Status Class Chart can result in mental disorder at some stage. Very few celebrities live in no fear and I applaud those; however, all the ones I have seen always weirdly have an entourage of security that rivals Presidents.
  • God help anyone who does not recognise a celebrity when they are not trying to be inconspicuous. This could become a very embarrassing situation – cause uproar or silently turn away?
  • Once your status is established, if you try to do something out of your realm and it fails, there is no forgiveness or no turning back. The world is cruel. And just like that, you are off the Status Class Chart.

The deal breaker for me – you never get to sit in the front driver’s seat (of YOUR own car, might I add) and you never get to drive yourself, or your partner or your kids. This is a major bummer in my view as I cherish the moments I am driving myself. This is what REAL CONTROL is about.

Ka/Sha – aiming to create heirlooms

We made a day trip to Pune. The 3 hour journey flew by quickly. Mostly because our driver drove like a maniac, and having sat at the back of the Innova (a brand by Toyota popular in India), I had this disturbing feeling that some of my internal organs felt slightly displaced.

Anyway, the journey was worth it to meet the über quirky and peppy designer, Karishma Shahani Khan, whose personality completely reflects in her label Ka/Sha. As S9 Muses, we have been curating this label ever since we launched and had our first pop-up shop in January 2014.

To give you an insight into her label, aiming to create heirlooms, Karishma’s ethos matches our own, focusing on giving each garment its own uniqueness, either through storytelling, upcycling, adding a wondrous weave or an atypical stitch, and as multi-coloured and diverse in its material and techniques. There is evidence of love in details; love for choice. With the use of different exquisite Indian crafts, she transforms an unsuspecting everyday textile into a modern, experimental garment that is a delight to wear. Completely out of the box, yet totally accessible. For those who dare to dream.

IMG_7352 (1)
Every bit of garment counts. Once scraps, now upcycled.

As soon as we reached Pune, we met with Karishma and her team and devoured a perfect lunch of chaats and pani puris all downed with ‘chaas’ (or buttermilk). We then headed to her studio where we saw her beautiful collection in the making. Known for her layering, each look in her lookbook consists of numerous items of clothing, displaying a seemingly complicated yet purposely compiled collection.

Embroidery
Embroidery
IMG_7363 (1)
Karishma caught off-guard 🙂

Being a part of the audience at her Lakmé Spring/Summer 2014 catwalk as well as her recent 2015 catwalk collection (titled ‘Neel’), I can safely say that her catwalks deliver an experience in itself. Layers upon layers of colour, prints, separates and spot-on foot-tapping music accompanying the models down the ramp make for a very excited stare. I was awestruck, almost childlike, with her collection ‘Neel’ and have voiced my opinion already here. I cannot wait to receive my new sari ordered from her latest collection.

(PS – If you wish to come have a look or purchase a sari from Ka/Sha, please get in touch and we can send you details of our next pop-up shop!)