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Sweetening palates with raw flower honey

Urvashi Singh Khimsar

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These incredible facts around the art of honey-making have continued to baffle me since I first learned of them from Mriganka Kumari of Pratapgarh. This talented entrepreneur — who also happens to be my distant cousin, from our common roots in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghabana — has recently launched a brand of artisanal honey, which is truly noteworthy. Curated under her signature brand, Pratapgarh Collective, Mriganka’s enterprise aims at collecting unpasteurised honey from all over Uttar Pradesh’s farms and bringing them to our tables.

 It all started with Mriganka’s fascination towards raw flower honey, alongside her determination to launch an eco-friendly cottage industry with fair trade values. She proceeded by collaborating with expert researcher Dr. Nitin, whose in-depth knowledge and experience in the trade led Mriganka’s venture with optimised machinery and technological know-how. Thereafter, she formed liaisons with several farmers in and around Pratapgarh and consolidated their efforts in tandem with the brand value of Pratapgarh Collective.

In Mriganka’s own words: “Our raw flower honey comes from a single source of nectar. The unique flavour of honey comes strictly from flower pollen. In order to retain the natural enzymes, vitamins and pollen in our honey, there is no over-heating, over-processing or addition of flavour involved in its manufacturing process. And since we harvest our honey in close accordance with when the flowers bloom, it is produced in small batches. For example, Kushinagar’s lychees flower during a narrow window of 14 to 20 days in the months of April and May. This batch is specialised due to a unique flavour, and can only be made during this particular time of the year.”

 The increasing range of Mriganka’s mono-floral honey packaged under the label of Pratapgarh Collective stands testimony to a contemporary effort being made towards the revival of age-old traditions and Ayurvedic elixirs. Moreover, it also revives Mriganka’s ancestral values of giving back to the community and ecosystem. She is further encouraged by the favourable conditions posed by the incumbent government, which is an outright supporter of honeymaking and provide subsidies to agriculturalists, specifically women farmers in horticultural avenues of entrepreneurship. Hence, the art of honey-making is no longer restricted to its earlier custodians and has flung its gates open to many others like Mriganka.

 Due to honey being listed as an essential good, Mriganka is grateful for having sustained the immense economic blow accorded by the ongoing pandemic. She is focusing her efforts on digital marketing of the product and aspires to go beyond its artisanal honey collection onto other curatorial efforts in the near future.

Summing up, Mriganka says, “We believe in simplicity, hence, Pratapgarh Collective’s way of functioning is as per a simple bee-to-bottle philosophy. Our bee farmers from all over Uttar Pradesh work very hard to fulfil our aim of serving the most unpasteurized honey to our tables. Since we don’t believe in exploiting nature through surplus productions, we manufacture small batches of artisanal honey with tremendous amounts of hard work, labour and love.”

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Royally Speaking

FASHION TRENDS: IT IS RAINING FAIR COMMERCE LABELS THIS DIWALI

This Diwali, the overdressed, glitzy glam look has been carefully replaced with artisanal, hand-made, hand-tucked and hand-embellished ensembles. Block printing tops this list. The free-flowing forms of the kaftan, the aabha kurtas, and the anarkalis worn with the chauda pyjamas take up every fashion diva’s mind space.

Anshu Khanna

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fashion trends: IT iS RAINING FAIR COMMERCE LABELS THIS DIWALI

As the fervour of dressing up for a festive occasion catches every woman’s imagination and metro denizens get inundated with party invitations, dressing up with a conscious and sustainable collection catches steam. Royal and palace ateliers are riding this wave. along with conscientious denizens who are looking keenly towards the world of the future and creating voices for local hand-made brands that are fair commerce at their core.

This Diwali, the overdressed, glitzy glam look has been carefully replaced with artisanal, hand-made, hand-tucked and hand-embellished ensembles. Block printing tops this list. The free-flowing forms of the kaftan, the aabha kurtas, and the anarkalis worn with the chauda pyjamas take up every fashion diva’s mind space.

At the royal ateliers, two brands ace this look. Rani Jaykirti Singh Baria’s studio tops this genre. Her block prints spell a cerebral beauty that few can match. Her blocks are a piece of art, what with the designs getting carved on teak wood using special equipment. For all the different hues we see in her designs, different blocks are used. The outline of the lead block is called the “rekh”. The block that fills the foreground is known as “datta”. For the background or blotches, we use a block called “gadh”. When something is created with such elaborate effort, the results can be nothing but exquisite.

The blocks made in her studio in Jaipur are more intricate and have more depth. The result is clearer printing and cleaner surfaces. What makes her prints even more intricate and endearing are the number of air passages, or “pavansar,”the blocks have. These holes drilled through the blocks ensure the circulation of air. While using the blocks, the holes prevent the fabric from lifting when the block is raised. Simple techniques lead to stunning ensembles created painstakingly.

Meanwhile, in Delhi, a new brand, Yumi, is slowly making inroads into this world of commitment. Moved by the plight of the Indian artisanal community and committed to a sustainable way of life, two design professionals, Natasha Chaudhri and Shilpa Gupta, launched Yumi. A fashion label that represents a unique curation of design-led, conscious women’s wear that is hand block printed and woven by female artisans. Yumi also works with village artisans and women weavers to create special textiles and saris that are hand spun, hand woven, and dyed in natural dyes.

Inspired by the Japanese word “Yumi,” which means “abundant beauty,” the label attempts to take fashion seekers back to their roots. Inviting fashion seekers who are as committed to helping the planet heal, Yumi is uncompromisingly chic and high on its design and style quotient. Following a design-led, fair commerce philosophy, Yumi celebrates the abundant artisanal beauty of Indian handicrafts. It’s a collaborative initiative with artisans to revive and sustain the creative and traditional handicraft knowledge system of India.

Natasha Chaudhri and Shilpa Gupta share “We are committed to working with the artisans through special design interventions using natural fibres like fine linen, khadi, organic cotton, cotton silk, and muslin. “We are seeking to create contemporary markets for the products as an initiative to sustain the art form as a mark of deep respect for the artisans pursuing the handcraft despite the innumerable challenges,” adds Shilpa.

Shilpa and Natasha have been design entrepreneurs and restaurateurs for over 22 years and are now inspired to serve vulnerable communities with love.Besides their fair commerce label that works with artisans, they have also curated Yumi Farm and supported small women village farmers and entrepreneurs to create a bouquet of farm products to support them through the pandemic. As an ode to children in villages, Natasha & Shilpa work closely to bring equal and fair literacy to children. This year they worked to set up a mobile library for children in a village in Jammu.

Another favourite for me this year is Label Pratham, brought alive by two young craft protagonists who are reviving the splendid aura of Pichwai and Kalamkari. Popular as the Pichwai Couple, Shweta and Prashant Garg started designing outfits for each other in early 2004. Little did they know that they would take up design as their profession in the future. Coming from steel business families and with no formal training in fashion, ‘Label Pratham’ was born out of the couples’ inclination towards art and design intricacies in 2011.

Label Pratham is not just a brand but a true labour of love where each creation is motivated by the designers’ commitment to keep alive the unadulterated exuberance of the textile traditions of India in its designing process.

And this commitment has now led to graceful amalgamations of Pichwai with other traditional artforms and crafts like Kalamkari, Ajrakh, Jamdani, Paithani, and Aari & Ahir embroideries to suffuse the life of an Indian diva with aesthetic fashion.

Last on my list but never the least is the new born label Tinka Tinka, born from the ever exuberant brilliance of fashion protagonist Ishita Sudha Yashvi, who has emerged as such an icon of all things hand-made, local and unique. Her brand personifies her world. So what are you waiting for? Go get dressed for Diwali and also save the world.

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Royally Speaking

PALACE GARBA SET TO RETURN TO VADODARA

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PALACE GARBA set to RETURN TO VADODARA

Once again, it is time to dance for a cause as the enterprising Maharani Radhika Raje of Baroda and her team of Maratha women invite the denizens of Vadodara to Motibaug Cricket Club, which is all set to host the third edition of Palace Garba.
Founded to support the women’s empowerment initiatives of Maharani Chimnabai Stree Udyogalaya in Vadodara the Royal Garba is organised to raise the funding required for women’s social upliftment and entrepreneurship development.
Sold out already, it was flagged off with a performance by the LGBTQ community that Radhika supports.
Garba dancers can also look forward to dancing to the music created by iconic singers Ashita Limaye and Sachin Limaye in their soulful voices.
If Garba is the flavour of the season, dance on.

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Royally Speaking

THE CHEETAH MAN’s DREAM comes true

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THE CHEETAH MAN’s DREAM comes true

It took 74 years of dreaming, lobbying, fighting, and pleading by M. K. Ranjit Sinh Wankaner to finally see the Cheetah return to India. As a child, he dreamt of seeing the nimble-footed sprinter back on Indian soils. Cheetahs became extinct in India after Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Koriya shot the last three surviving big cats in 1947. Yet this IAS officer of the 1961 batch of Madhya Pradesh cadre and one of the masterminds of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, listed them as endangered. Ever since, he has been lobbying for their return.
It was a very pleased 84-year old activist, ex-IAS officer, and scion of the Wankaner family who stood in the aisles as our Prime Minister released eight cheetahs into the Kuno National Park. He had also worked in a sanctuary during his stint as a bureaucrat.
While drafting the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the former director of Wildlife Preservation included the cheetah as a protected species, even though it was extinct.
India’s first attempt to bring back the carnivore was in the early 70s. It was Ranjitsingh who spoke to Iran even then, but the negotiations stalled after the declaration of emergency in ‘75 and the deposition of the Shah of Iran in 1979.
Since then, Ranjitsinh and wildlife conservationist Divyabhanusinh Chavda have worked on the guidelines and policy to reintroduce cheetahs. And today, when their dream has come true, they cannot stop their smile.

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Royally Speaking

A REGAL CELEBRATION FOR THE BIG FAT INDIAN WEDDING CEREMONY

Anshu Khanna

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A REGAL CELEBRATION FOR THE BIG FAT INDIAN WEDDING ceremony

It was like a meeting of like-minded people. A coming together of an industry that remains invisible yet leads to a multi-million dollar industry of big fat Indian weddings. The WeddingSutra Influencer Awards 2022, brain child of industry evangilist Parthip Thyagarajan, saw the who’s who of the wedding industry enjoy a laid-back evening as leading luminaries gave away awards.
This uber-glam event, hosted jointly by Taj Mahal Palace and WeddingSutra, saw every element of a wedding come to life. Indulgently beautiful flowers, an uber-chic bar, photo op walls that bedazzled and cuisine that was exotic to say the least. The chefs at the Taj curated a delicious world cuisine that included Georgian delights, Lebanese, Mexican, Japanese, and other specials, not to mention the best of Indian food. The high point of the evening, however, was the understated Sima Aunty of India Matchmaking fame, taking to the stage and announcing, “Hi, I am Sima Taparia from Mumbai!” In a jiffy, the hall was in splits.
As a jury and a witness to this affair, I was simply taken aback with the sheer volume of creative outpourings that goes into making this such a spectacular industry. Weddings are a major business in India. According to a report by KPMG in 2017, the Indian wedding industry is estimated to be around $40–50 billion in size. Though the Covid scare put a stop to the large format wedding, Indians discovered the pleasure of celebrating the moment with their near and dear ones. “The scale of operations remained the same, only the guest list got trimmed, shares Parthip. It is estimated that the cost of an Indian wedding ranges between 500,000 and 50 million. An Indian is likely to spend one fifth of his total lifetime wealth on a wedding.

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Royally Speaking

THE FRENCH MONARCHY’S SWEET TOOTH

Desserts have always been patronised by the French monarchy, which nurtured many legendary chefs.

Anshu Khanna

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Last Saturday when famed French cafe Laduree launched in Gurugram, I got totally floored by their light as air macarons. A version of which is said to have been introduced in France during the decorative Renaissance era It was the French queen Catherine de’ Medici who brought her Italian pastry chef to her palace after marrying Henry II of France. A maestro at patisserie art, he introduced this meringue-based cookie to France in 1533. A sweet meringue-based confection, French macarons are made with egg white, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond meal, and food colouring.

Sitting at the stunning Laduree Cafe Du The and biting into a splendid macaron, I was intrigued to trace the origin of macarons in France and how the French monarchy as well as the monastery played such an important role in making them an iconic dish. Another history nugget traces the macaron to two Carmelite nuns who sought asylum in Nancy during the French Revolution. They baked and sold the macaron cookies to pay for their housing. These nuns became known as the “Macaron Sisters”.

The art of French pastries started with the desire to have a sweet treat following a meal. Fruits and cheese were originally served after dinner, but to quench people’s lingering sweet cravings after a meal, the doors to the art of French pastries and confectioneries were opened. Thus the delectable, delicious, and dreamy world of cakes, pastries, candies, and classic French desserts was born. It was in the 1830s that macarons as we know them today came alive as two crisply whipped macarons sandwiched by jams, liqueurs, ganache, and spices. Originally called the “Gerbet” or the “Paris macaron,” this exotic version of the macaron was created by the legendary chef Pierre Desfontaines of the French patisserie Laduree.

It was not only in the 1930s that macarons began to be served two-by-two with the addition of jams, liqueurs, and spices. The macaron as it is known today, composed of two almond meringue discs filled with a layer of buttercream, jam, or ganache filling, was originally called the “Gerbet” or the “Paris macaron.” Pierre Desfontaines, of the French patisserie Laduree, has sometimes been credited with its creation in the early part of the 20th century, but another baker, Claude Gerbet, also claims to have invented it.

World-famous 159-year-old French confectionary brand Laduree, which was created in 1862, is synonymous with macarons globally, being one of the world’s best-known sellers of the double-decker macaron, of which 15,000 are said to be sold every day. Laduree was brought to India by the young, dynamic luxury entrepreneur Chandni Nath Israni. She says, “Indian food connoisseurs just can’t get enough of our macarons that are made from 100% natural ingredients.” Hence at every fancy party hosted by the Jindals, Ambanis, etc. a tower of macarons by Laduree is a must. Desserts have always been patronised by the French monarchy, which nurtured many legendary chefs like Marie-Antoine Careme, born in 1784, five years before the Revolution. He spent his younger years working at a patisserie until he was discovered by Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord and cooked for Napoleon Bonaparte.

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Royally Speaking

DIGVIJAY SINGH ART WEAR, BBG ROYALS MARK STORE OPENING WITH FASHION SHOW

Anshu Khanna

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An event organised by Digvijay Singh Artwear and BBG Royals at the Royal Fables Ahmedabad edition.

His mother was the beautiful princess of Awagarh in Uttar Pradesh. A family is known for their stunning fort in Agra and the iconic Belvedare Hotel in Nainital that the family runs even today. She is a true Blue Hill person, born and bred in Nainital. Interestingly, these two school buddies studied together in distant Baroda at the School of Art years back, falling hopelessly in love with each other.

Digvijay Singh, whose mother hailed from the princely state of Awagarh and whose father belonged to a landed farming family from Kiccha, Uttar Pradesh, is a fine artist, chef, designer, and hotelier. His wife, the petite and pretty Nidhi Sah, from a hotelier background, is a book designer who has worked with both Indian and globally acclaimed publishers.

Great design enthusiasts from Uttarakhand who grew up as schoolmates, travelled to distant Gujarat to study art and design, and then vowed to live a life together, The one thing that binds them together is art and its various forms of expression. While following their own paths in life, they have created a unique brand—BBG Royals, which has a sense of vintage iconography given the generous use of wildlife, flora, and fauna, as well as architectural motifs as its main design bastion. A BBG Royal is sure to be found in every royal’s wardrobe. BBG Royals creates limited-edition printed chiffon saris, featuring floral and animal prints with true royal splendor. The artworks are meticulously hand-painted and then reproduced on sarees, making each piece unique and heirloom-worthy. Animal print designs (tigers, lions, leopards, and horses) have always been popular.

Taking their quest for design to a permanent address, they recently launched their flagship store under the label Digvijay Singh Artwear at the Royal Fables Ahmedabad edition, held at the Hyatt Vastrapur. Digvijay, meanwhile, also holds forth with his men’s wear label under his own signature. A Lakme Gen Next Designer in 2007 and a finalist for the “young entrepreneur of the year” by the British Council and Elle magazine, he was nominated for the best costume designer for the movie “Sahib Biwi Aur Gangster” at the Producer’s Guild Apsara Awards. He dresses various A-list and Bollywood celebrities like Anil Kapoor, Jimmy Shergill, etc.

Calling their show Buransh, the Hindi name for the sumptuously beautiful flower Rhododendron that grows in abundance in the Uttrakhand hills, the show had royals like Rani Jaykirti Singh, Princess Nandini Singh of Jhabua, Aditi Singh, and Namrata Singh walk the ramp in hand-picked printed saris from BBG. Digvijay, meanwhile, dressed in royals, including Kunwar Yaduveer Singh Bera in his signature achkans. while Deeksha Mishra, a celebrated mommy blogger from Delhi, did full justice to their bridal wear. A show divided into four distinct sequences, it went from a striking collection of bridal wear to splendidly printed saris to an interesting array of dresses with floral prints and minimalist embroidery. The who’s who of the city walked the runway for the fashion walk with the royals.with 7th Avenue and Sujhal adding to the jewellery story.

A show divided into four distinct sequences, it went from a striking collection of bridal wear to splendidly printed saris to an interesting array of dresses with floral prints and minimalist embroidery.

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