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Covid conversations with Rina Dhaka

She is the queen of chutzpah, the mistress of one-liners. And a maverick with her words. The Daily Guardian catches up with fashion designer Rina Dhaka to find out how she is dealing with the pandemic.

Anshu Khanna



Covid conversations with Rina Dhaka

Rina Dhaka not only creates very unpredictable fashion, even her thoughts and words are good spinners. She spends the lockdown rejigging her fashion act in her head while driving down 20 miles away from her home to get organic food on her vegan table. Or chanting three hours non-stop, a devout Buddhist, to heal the world and spread happiness to humanity. The following are the excerpts of the interview with the ace fashion designer:

Q. So what kept Rina Dhaka, the workaholic, busy at home?

A. Basically, reading books and some interesting industry insides like excerpts from business of fashion. Imagine my surprise when one day Imran Amed (founder and CEO of The Business of Fashion) caught me off guard for a live on BOF! I was at my worst best that day, hair up, reading glasses on. I felt really bad when people from all over the world, even Africa, saw it and got back. I have now mastered the art of getting dressed for a live, waist up, frontal hair done, ready for the next few lives! I am also learning tech, the monster millennial have mastered so well. And mind you now I know how to change the background of a picture on photo shop! I cooked, of course, initially but that is not one of my talents. I put all the recipe books gifted to me by friends to use. I particularly found Shagun Khanna and Maria Goretti’s recipes easy for beginners. What I looked forward to most was driving all the way to Defence Colony to shop for organic produce from Nature’s Soul. There was this one time I made my childhood friend Pia Fleming sit on the back seat as I drove there. Totally felt like a driver that day.

Q. How come we never saw any charity image on your insta? No charity photo ops?

A. I did my bit for charity. Listen, initially shit loads of money got made in the name of charity. Hence I decided to buy the rations myself, distribute masks, give rations to my entire staff, pay each one of my people their salary. And yes I did gloat a bit on my insta page.

Q. Were you tense about the economy?

A. Initially I admit the designer fraternity went into a frenzy discussing the “dismal” future. My take was that “there is no future, so why dismay”. This year the trick will be in staying alive and having food on the table. That to me is good enough to send up a silent prayer.

Q. As a cancer survivor, your fight against coronavirus becomes even more fragile. How did you deal with that?

A. I did all my tests and thank God, they went well. Initially my sons were hysterical. They made it sound like it was apocalypse. But I built my immune system and ate good food, gargled if my throat was soar and allowed the opioid of What’sApp jokes take over my life. I swear I was hooked on to it. It’s incredible how so many people kept the air light with their humour.

Q. As a spiritual Buddhist, did you feel chanting helped?

A. Our group Soka Gakai chanted and meditated for three hours each day. With places of worship shut and the mass hysteria that was engulfing each one of us, we felt we must chant for the world even more. Today we are back to one hour of chanting, but those three hours were a real saviour. That and avoiding the news and the stats! Boy, they can scare the shit out of you.

Q. Do you think slow fashion will make a comeback?

A. I have always been an advocate of slow fashion. What else is Indian fashion if not slow and made by hand? But it also has to be value for money. Zara costs plus 10%. To me, my future is in the hands of my driver. He is my real customer now.

Q. So what now?

A. It’s a long haul, no more like the two-month break it felt initially. A sabbatical sounds good but the cost of returning will be even more. So, I am back in my seat, dusting open the factory, a Barista in hand, and ready to face this new world.


Weaving a fabric of compassion

Covid-19 has hit Varanasi’s famous handwoven sector hard. But as Amrit Shah, owner of the wellknown label Shanti Banaras, says tough times demand tough measures laced with kindness.

Anshu Khanna



Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” —Author Mark Twain, on Varanasi

The Assi Ghats of Varanasi are lyrical, mystical and mythical. As you tide across them in a hand-rowed boat, all you see are magnificent havelis and ashrams built by erstwhile maharajas, rich merchants and the landed aristocracy for their old and ailing to live in and look for eternal peace. Many of the leading Indian families lived in these homes and, whilst there looked for the finer things of life to fill their home with.

The women of the household began working closely with the local silk weavers to create masterpieces for their own use and to gift to their loved ones. Voila were born the kin khwabs, the brocades, the tanchois and the gold weaves. In short, a legacy we all know today as a Banarasi weave which became part of the Indian heritage fable. No trousseau was complete without an addition of a tanchoi or a brocade from Varanasi.

It was only in recent times that many brands emerged from this ancient town, making Banarasi silk a member of the haute couture club. The Daily Guardian catches up with one such brand, Shanti Banaras, which is two-generation old and has crafted masterpieces for many renowned brands before it flagged off its own well-orchestrated label, Shanti Banaras.

Led by Amrit Shah, Shanti Banaras adopts entire villages of weavers and employs them to work on designs that they create. And it is in these Covid times that both Amrit and his studio have shown exemplary patronage by nurturing their weavers, feeding their families and not cancelling a single order.

While talking about the plight of hand-made luxury post-Covid, Shah fears it will take a severe beating and be last on the priority of spends, especially in the scenario when festivities of all kind stand postponed. Excerpts:

Q. What is the impact of Covid-19 on the domestic market of handwoven textiles?

A. Handwoven textiles are a luxury product and when the times are tough, the consumer may restrict themselves completely or partially in indulging in acquiring such highvalue items. The postponement of weddings and the mentality to spend less on luxury products will take a toll at the handwoven sector. 

Q. In the list of luxury items, will the hand-made score at the lowest?

A. Well, there is another school of thought on this topic which says that the consumer that is aware of handlooms shall still continue to invest in it. And based on the historical consumer demographics, handloom customers are usually in the rich strata of the society and may continue to have the spending power. Although there may be certain postponement, but the industry will get back on its feet. 

Q. How will it impact the looms of Varanasi?

A. The impact on the looms is drastic due to an immediate slack after the lockdown is over so there may not be any immediate work as the production in hand will have to move first. This may be a hard time to sustain the looms and their artisans. It may also lead to production of lower value and commercial products.

Q. How should the textile Industry move forward post the lockdown?

A. It’s a very icy road post the lockdown and we need to step very carefully. We need to sustain the people working with us and improvise and give something new to the market. The process of business is going to change, there’ll be more planning to consumer tastes with precise production for the precise customer. There’ll have to be greater efforts made to woo the customer back into the right mindset. If at all the levels everyone pushes then only the engine will kick start again.

Q. Will the depression lead to precedence of power looms over hand looms?

A. The weaver might make that shift for making easier money. The buyer might be tempted. But the real connoisseur will still look the pleasure of wearing something woven by hand. That happiness in unparalleled.

Q. How do you think the policymakers/ government can help at this time?

A. There are great efforts that have been put by the government to maintain positivity and help the weavers during the lockdown, but once it opens they rely solely on the companies they have been associated with. I feel that a relief on such companies with taxes and incentives to promote and produce textiles shall help the industry overall. Although thinking practically, this may not be possible for the government as this is a hard time for everyone. So just the positive spirit and to ensure a healthy environment for us to work, rest we shall fight this and get back on our own.

Q. The wedding markets will be at an all-time low post-Covid. How will that affect the textile industry?

A. The weddings have been postponed and those that may continue will have less spending and fewer guests. Since the handloom saree sector majorly depends on events and marriages for the majority of its sale, this may have a scarring effect on the industry. Yet, most of them are postponed till late November, December so in turn the market may lift itself during those times. We have to wait and see if the postponement leads to better results that time.

Q. What is Shanti Banaras doing to support its master weavers?

A. Our organisation is involved with over 1,500 master weavers and process leaders who in turn employ a total of 10,000 people. We have made small payments even during the time of lockdown to our weavers and others who have been calling us for help. We have paid our salaries in full and given positive assurance to all that even in the future we shall work together and overcome, “whatever may come in the future”. Apart from that, we have been distributing rations via our weavers to the poor living in their locality. And to auto-wallas and other people who have been associated with us. Tough times call for tough measures laced with kindness and at the end of the day all that the weaver wants is work and money for raw material and we have ensured both.

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5 ways to avoid conflicts at home during lockdown

Noor Anand Chawla



When China reopened after months of lockdown, the media reported a monumental spike in divorce cases, fuelled by endless bickering at home. Such reports have also come from other parts of the world, including India. As people continue to work from home, it is becoming increasingly clear that fighting during lockdown is not limited to married couples. It affects most people living together, including members of joint families, flat-mates and co-workers, siblings, and unwed partners.

Any student of human psychology is aware that forced sharing of space inevitably leads to disagreements and fights. There are many reasons for discord, such as a mismatch in priorities, the stress of dwindling financial and other resources, lack of experience in dealing with these situations, problems of anger management, among others. This negativity can be avoided by adopting five simple methods to maintain peace at home, during this unprecedented crisis:


Staying calm in a pressure situation is easier said than done, but it is essential to stop fights from escalating. A sound policy is to count to five before reacting aggressively, which allows time for the anger to dissipate, leaving the mind clear to take note of the other person’s perspective. Calmly putting forward one’s view, while respecting that of others’, allows a mutually favourable solution to emerge, without resorting to emotional brickbats and bruises.


The biggest fallout of frequent friction at home is the closure of communication lines between cohabitants. It is crucial to express one’s feelings and to hear the other person’s point of view, if fights are to be avoided. Every party involved should be allowed to have their say and express their feelings. Things that are out in the open are far easier to resolve than when they are constantly bottled up.


At times, it may seem impossible to meet someone half-way in their demands. Even if things seem to be out of hand, the situation can be salvaged by enforcing a time-out. Instead of yelling and making things worse, take a break by engaging in another activity. Time apart from each other puts things in correct perspective, so the problem can be addressed in a calm and practical manner.


Spaces seem smaller when shared with others. In many cases, people are used to sharing spaces only for specific hours in the morning and night, as they work during the day. Lockdown has changed this scenario; so, one must create or claim individual space. It could be physical space, such as a corner of the house overlooking a window, or one side of the bed. Ideally, however, it should be space found within oneself. Meditate, follow therapeutic podcasts, read or listen to music — each of these will enable the creation of personal space without actively seeking it.


If these tips do not work, turn to the age-old practice of writing one’s feelings down and letting go of them. Pen down each grievance, and encourage the other person to do the same. This will allow a glimpse into their mind, without dealing with the raised voices, ego battles and negative atmosphere that fighting often entails. Writing enables one to assess the situation more clearly, and more willing to compromise.

Do not be afraid to compromise, as it is an essential ingredient for overall happiness in life. Conflicts in relationships are inevitable, but one can control the way one responds to them. Timely intervention, patience and open-mindedness will certainly minimise the effects of conflicts at home. If none of the above measures seem to work, be open to seeking professional help online, or appoint another family member or cohabitant to mediate the conversations.

It is important to mitigate the damage now, in order for relationships to have a fighting chance when things go back to normal. The coronavirus has brought many hardships on everyone, but the breakdown of close and personal relations does not have to be one of them. The writer is a lawyer who pens lifestyle articles on her successful blog She can be found on Instagram @nooranandchawla.

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How Sailana became the citadel of culinary experiments in India



It’s said that my grandfather Maharaja Digvijay Singhji of Sailana’s book was found even in Saddam Hussein’s palace, when the US army raided it. Every Indian royal palace treats it as its kitchen copy, trusting the recipe to the last dot. I have had the privilege to be born in this family where food has always been a passion and a way of life: Sailana Sailana is a town near Ratlam and Indore on the great Indian plateau.

I don’t know whether it is the water or the people of that town just cook well, because even the street food is amazing. The namkeens, mithai or the kachori and samosas are unbeatable. Every evening the kids of the house used to go for picnics with kachoris and spicy chips and yummy gulab jamuns. Whether it was a trip to Gaduliya, our lake property, Kedarishwar, the rock temple with a waterfall, or Shikarbadi the hunting house, the picnic basket was the most delightful part of the journey.

We had our own cinema hall and in the evening we would go for a movie and sit in our private balcony. Of course, with a lot of food packed for us! I have some great memories of this tiny town. There were no good schools in Sailana; hence we were all packed off to boarding schools at the age of 4. I loved it there. The nuns were amazing and I had a lot of cousins and aunts to look after me. Vacation time was in Sailana playing in the famous rose-and-cactus gardens and being pampered by the delicious food cooked as per my list which my grandfather asked me to make.

Every day my favourite dish for lunch was cooked. My grandfather cooked himself with 4-5 servants assisting him surrounded by our huge family. We lived in a palace, which was full of family and a battery of friends who would visit us. There was a lot of fun, chatter and picnics. At the end of every meal we decided the menu for the next meal. My grandfather sitting at the head of the huge dining table kept an eye on who was taking a second helping as it meant the dish was enjoyed. He did not like different dishes to be mixed as one could not make out the taste.

My grandfather was a perfectionist, whether it was the food, the cactus garden or the rose garden! My great grandfather compiled the recipes but my grandfather thought of publishing a book. He was not interested in the commercials but only to make the Sailana name and food famous. He managed it. Quoting my grandfather from his book: “The dishes given here should delight the palates of the severest critics and gourmets. Before bringing out this book I felt that if such a step is not taken, in a decade or so the fine art of Indian cooking would vanish beyond revival.” I totally agree with him.

My guru in Sailana food was my grandaunt from Nepal. She patiently taught me everything that I know. My husband is a real foodie and wants a Sailana dish for all his meals. My father Maharaja Vikram Singhji and my brother Yuvraj Saheb Digvijay Singhji along with my mother Maharani Saheba Chandra Kumari are taking the legacy forward. Sailana food is a collection of recipes collected by my great grandfather during his various travels to the 500 plus royal families of India. His main cooks travelled with him with a masala dani and they went into the host’s kitchen to see how their special dishes were cooked.

They asked for the masalas to be taken from their masala dani. As no chef will let out the secret of how much each ingredient is being put in the dish, the Sailana chefs measured the masalas after the dish was cooked so that they knew after measuring the masala used from the total masala originally was there in the Sailana masala dani. After coming back to Sailana the dish was perfected in the kitchen. My great grandfather asked friends, family and food connoisseurs to taste the dish and give their comments for improvisation.

Thousands of dishes were improvised in the same manner. Mutton, chicken, fish, rabbits, vegetables, dals, pickles, sweets and even liquors and continental dishes! There are a wide variety of kebabs also. Do Pyaza Narangi, Hari Mirch ka Keema, Murgh Mumtaz Mahal, Macchi Biryani, Kashmiri Kadhi, Makki key Dane, Sailana Dal and Hare Chand ka Halwa are a few favourite dishes of mine.

Cooking slowly and passionately and putting the exact measured ingredients at the right time is the essence of heritage Indian food. Each dish should have its own distinct flavour, which makes a meal memorable. The writer is the granddaughter of Maharaja Digvijay Singh ji of Sailana, who had authored ‘Cooking Delights of the Maharajas’, which generations of royal food enthusiasts swear by as the Bible of royal cuisine.

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Not just the Window dressing



Known to craft luxury windows and soft furnishing, Window Passions, in these trying times of lockdown present a very innovative series of craft yourself embroidered accents that can transform existing drapes, curtains and soft furnishings in a jiffy. They present a range of very dramatic embroidered, embellished, beaded and gold foiled borders that you can add to your existing furnishings and transform it in an instant.

Says Rajeev Kanwar, who started Window Passions with his wife Amita: “Our homes are under lockdown. We have been seeing the same furniture for 24 hours for more than 65 days. With these borders and tassels, you can simply liven up the same old pieces. It’s like new wine in old bottle.” Adds Amita Kanwar, “It was while embroidering them on large textiles that I realised that even as borders the luxe appeal of the embroidery will remain, making the shining of your home such an easy task.”

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The man who knew infinite arts

Call him a filmmaker, fashion designer, craft crusader or a Sufi music composer, Muzaffar Ali is infinite arts all this and still much more.

Anshu Khanna



Aashiq to kisi ka naam nahin Kuch ishq kisi ki jaat nahin Gar jeet gaye to kya kehana Haare to baazi maat nahin An excerpt from Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s verse adapted in Muzaffar Ali’s film ‘Anjuman’. Sung by Khaiyyam and his wife Jagjit Kaur.

To know him, to absorb his world, to internalise his thoughts or to appreciate the sheer purity with which he portrays existential angst, you have to first unlearn everything you have parroted so far. For in Muzaffar Ali’s world, music echoes to a mystical note all day, a need to connect becomes life and a desire to express its need. And life’s paradoxes are brushed aside in a Sufiana kalam.

His life’s trajectory defies all boundaries that compartmentalise creativity. An ad guru, filmmaker, a noble who never let go his roots, a writer, artist, product designer, couturier and music aficionado. To best define the man one would have to refer back to Meer Taqi Meer’s couplet that Muzaffar used in his much celebrated film Umrao Jaan: Nazuki uske lab ki kya kahiye Pankhuri ik Gulab si hai He walked into the world of advertising in the 1960s working with Air India and other domestic brands of that era.

Hailing from the historic jaagir of Kotwara in Awadh, he had that world always tucked away in his head. A realm he went back to every time he made a film. Be it Gaman where he portrays the plight of the migrant, way back in the 1970s. A thought that was way before its time. The picture of a petrified Farooq Sheikh in the song: Seene mein Jalan, ankhon mein toofan sa kyon hai, penned by Shariyar, reflects still in the myriad images one sees in the news today of poor migrants walking their way back home.

Sadly, this angst still remains, this divide even deeper. He bemoans, “The fabric of rural India is severely exploited. The farmers are not given the due for their land or their labour. Working on one acre of land he simply earns 30 to 40 thousand annually. How is he to run his family in that? Small traders sell them everything, toothpaste, talcum powder.

When all they need is a neem ka datun. They are made to believe that is life and they rush to the city in search of a dream.” The craftsperson is as misused. A pattern Muzaffar and his wife Meera tried to break by starting their NGO Dwar Pe Rozi (Livelihood at your doorstep). A craftbased NGO it gives out work to chikankari kaarigars to create fine embroideries in the comfort of their home. It literally is bringing alive his movie Anjuman that captured the rot of craft and the exploitation of women craftsmen.

Today he dreams of once again reviving the idiom of working from home and remaining in the village in a big way. “I feel these days spent at home have taught us the real value of life. Most of us will feel the need to go towards hand-made, support our craft and its creators.” Which is where he sees the label Kotwara going. Driven by MeeraMuzaffar and their incredibly talented daughter Sama, Kotwara amplifies the craft of Awadh in a lyrical, classic style.

And in these tough times Muzaffar foresees, “More and more people will find an innovative way to go online, curb costs and give great value for money to customers.” As he puts it, “Things simply said, designs that have roots could never go wrong.” While going online for couture works, his artistic mind is not convinced that online is the way to go for festivals.

“How do you create that inspiration when people are so distracted and easily hit upon too many mindless things?” He goes back into time to reminisce how it was an inner calling that drove him to create India’s most respected platform for Sufi music: Jahan-e-Khusrau. A festival that integrates “many different tones and tenors that still say the same thing”. It was while shooting for Zooni in Kashmir that he was moved by the depth of Sufiana kalam. “It was a voice that was suppressed. Yet it quietly thrived in the Khanqah and shrines across the world. Sufi poets and their words were vibrating in different parts of the world. Some spoken in the love of the God and some as an opposition to existing ways of the world. But they all found their way back to the same source.”

He met then Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit and she asked him to create something that celebrates Delhi which was now the city of his residence. “I expressed the need to create a platform that could celebrate the world of Amir Khusrau, the Sufi saint of Delhi in all its glory.” She gave him the carta blanche and hence was born a festival that the world awaits with abated breath. “This festival was only possible in the city of Delhi. Jahan e Khusrau gave him a new realm: That of a music composer. No matter who the performer, he/she would be moulded like clay to Muzaffar’s sensibility.

For weeks he would work with Abida Parveen, “choosing a new poetry, integrating instruments in it, composing the song and in the end what emerged was totally unique”. An artist who became the synonym of the festival, her absence was felt as a hurt, a tug at the heart. But the creator that Muzaffar is, he turned inwards and found great talent within India: Many in Punjab. “That state is known for its Sufi saints: Waris Shah, Bulleh Shah, Heer-Ranjha.

There is an inborn sense of rhythm in the voices of its people.” Except he laughs, “they either run to Bollywood. Or break into a rap!” But at his festival they slow down, imbibe, unlearn and sing something they never sung before. As he admits, “As a director, I worked with the best composer, with Asha ji but the need for this festival is to go beyond Bollywoodisation of Sufism.”

With Covid-19 continuing to devastate us for at least a few years and large festivals a thing of the past, how does he see the new path? He admits that at this point his mind is in deep thought to find a path that remains pure, unhindered and not distracted. “And if that path is online festivals, so be it.”

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Insta Coffee: Honey I shrunk the world into your palm



The highs, the lows and the very lows of the social media this week. Lockdown has unlocked a new world online. In the absence of real gratification, the world is sharing, caring and emoting online. And often making an absolute fool of themselves.

TikTok no more:

Founded in China, killed in Punjab. There should be a mandatory distancing between the app and people of Punjab. Known for their slapstick humour, which is often quiet amazing, it does go into overdrive on TikTok when pot-bellied people try and act coy. Of special bane are the “wife tormenting husband” videos with home regimens!

It a Johar to see Karan:

He’s cute, chic and all there, but his Insta stories with his adorable kids get much, much sometime. No, they are gorgeous kids, but to have them throw the spotlight on his T-shirt, his movies or old songs is stuff for tough palettes.

Goretti’s kitchen:

Love her simple recipes, her graphics, her no makeup, beautiful persona and the way she shares guilty, indulgent recipes of lasagna, coffee cakes with yummy elan. What was not yummy was to see Katrina Kaif telling us, toiling denizens, how to wash bartans. Don’t mock us, ma’am.

What’sApp wildfires:

Correct me if I am wrong but a video you have will also be on the what’s app of your husband, kids and in-house maid! Fake or real, these videos and static messages are so prompt that they are even giving online media a run for its money. Soon we will need What’sApp de-addiction centres.

Facebook fiascos:

Please stop posting happy album pictures of you as a gorgeous young one. Even a mule is pretty in his youth.

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