Blue-blooded Indians have a truly tough mantle to wear. Heirs to a rich legacy, born to the arts and living in a fort or palace full of craft, they still position themselves as citizens of a democratic India. Go to the same schools, seek jobs or run businesses like any one of us. Yet once in their state, their region, its incredible how they get back to their original role of a patron. How they adopt the crafts and culture of their forefathers and its masters. And how with their evolved, contemporary design sense take it forward to adapt to the new world.
It was nearly a decade ago that I stumbled into their world, starting a revivalist project called Royal Fables. The scribe in me, the design addict felt like a child let loose in a candy store. I was swept off my feet with the way the royals patronised their local cultures bringing folk musicians, artists, weavers, cooks, and jewellers under their wing, allocating for them a space they called a Karkhana within their sprawling premises. A designated space where each of these masters could work in peace. Made for the Maharaja was a fable that turned real here in these studios. It was while in the residency of Emperor Akbar that Mian Tansen discovered the Tarana. It was in the fort of Kishangarh that Nihal Chand created his miniatures of Lord Shrinath. It was in Rampur and then Ayodhya that Begum Akhtar immortalised the thumri and Jaipur where Lalitabai recorded her first song on a gramophone.
Starting today, this column will rediscover the royal footprints in culture and look beyond their indulgences in Europe: The Cartier neckpieces they bought, or the Rolls Royce they converted into dustbins to real stories of valour and patronage.
A cordon bleu Indian first I want to offer a little window to their ‘real world’ which is nationalistic, committed and socially-driven.
So let’s start our journey in these covid times with profiles of Royal Covid heroes. The first in this four part series being Meenal Kumari Singhdeo, daughter-inlaw of the decorated officer and politician K.P. Singh Deo, and daughter of the much celebrated wildlife warrior Ranjit Sinh, retired bureaucrat and the one to write the wildlife act of India.
A craft protagonist she has spent the whole of June and half of May, either reaching out through social media to philanthropists or driving out of her palace in Dhenkanal down dusty roads to far-flung villages where she offers medicine, food and clothes to the Ikat weavers, the Pattachitra artists, the potters, the Dokra crafts people who are sitting totally idle, impoverished and lost ever since the pandemic struck and reached the farthest reserves of Odisha.
A large princely state of Odisha, Dhenkanal is a treasure trove of craft and Meenal, a natural textile revivalist and craft protagonist, has been working with a large community of artisans since 1990.
Once the lockdown eased a bit in May, she reached out to this community and what she encountered was heart-wrenching: “I was horrified to hear their stories of despair and hardship. My daughter, Yashasvini, and I decided to reach out to them with whatever little we could muster. She gave a part of her salary and we started going around distributing dry rations and aid to the artisans and weavers I worked closely with.”
There were many challenges. Maintaining social distance being the biggest. “We would walk into the village and all the 100-odd artisans would rush up to us, overjoyed to receive aid. They would want to come up close. None of them had masks on, so we would have to request them to cover their nose and mouth with their gamuchas and sarees as well as maintain a distance.”
More than that Meenal was disturbed at their state. “The situation was worse than I had anticipated; some of them had reached a state where they were alternating meals with their children. No raw material for the craft was available to work with, no new orders and no sales whatsoever. They were locked up and could not sell even at the local haats, fairs and market places. They had very little stock with them or the stocks were piled up with money blocked as in the case of some weavers. The basket weavers raw material had gathered fungus.”
She reached out to the world and the response was overwhelming. “We bought what little stock they had to encourage them to continue working. Each evening when we would get back we would place images of their craft online and by God’s grace someone or the other would want to buy it.”
Now waiting for the plight of the pandemic to end, Meenal says, “I resonate with the call to buy hand-made Indian. The artisan in the village is capable of making everything the villagers need, their clothes, utensils, art, and home ware. Then why should we not look inwards?” Even city slickers like us she feels can enjoy “a nice Pattachitra much more than a cheap painting from China! Or wear an easy breath Ikat pant rather than the one you get in nylon from the supermarket. Be Indian, buy Indian is my mantra for life.”
It’s been a month and a half and Meenal has reached out to over 500 families of Dokra artisans, weavers, bell metal workers, potters, blacksmiths, basket weavers, brass jewellery makers, straw craft artisans, pattachitra artists, drum makers, wood carvers, honey gatherers and fishermen not only in Dhenkanal but outside too. “A small act of reaching out to a few snowballed into a mission but one close to my heart.”
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WHEN A WADEYAR QUEEN POSED FOR A VACCINE
Vaccines are making headlines today as the nation grapples with the tsunami of Covid-19 infections. The media is full of images of serpentine queues of people seeking protection from the killer disease with vaccination.
It is in this light that we share a very rare image of a painting from the royal Indian archives, now in possession of Sotheby’s. It depicts Devajammani, a Wadeyar queen, posing to popularise the small pox vaccine, a disease that had devastated British India. The young bride of the newly crowned Krishnaraja Wadiyar III of Mysore (they were both 12 years of age). It was a portrait commissioned to Irish artist Thomas Hickey by the East India Company, for publicising the need to get vaccinated.
It was just six years since Edward Jenner, an English doctor, had discovered the cure for small pox and the vaccine was met by great suspicion and resistance in India. Hence, Devajammani was shown with the utmost grace exposing her left arm as a symbol of having taken the vaccine. The pallu pulled away to show an embellished blouse, rare for a royal of that era.
The portrait, an arresting rendition in oil on canvas, was last offered for sale via the Sotheby’s auction house in 2007. Dr Chancellor, a historian from Cambridge, who established the vintage quality of this piece of art for Sotheby’s, shared that the sari would have typically covered her left arm, but it was left exposed so she could point to where she had been vaccinated “with a minimum loss of dignity”.
The woman on the left, he believes, is the king›s first wife, also named Devajammani. The marked discoloration under her nose and around her mouth is consistent with controlled exposure to the smallpox virus, Dr Chancellor said.
WHY RAMZAN IS FOR EVERYONE
This year, the holy month of Ramzan culminated on May 12, which the Islamic world celebrates as Eid ul Fitr. Unlike its customary grandeur of communitarian feasting, divine communion and felicity, this year’s Eid celebrations remain hindered by Covid-19 protocols around the world. That said, the spirit of Ramzan and Eid spreads itself even wider and further, given that each one of us is confined to our respective dwellings with much existential reflection to do, and gratitude to hold on to. More than the Eids that have passed, this one, in particular, leaves us to ponder the outnumbering reasons why Ramzan and Eid are not just for Muslims, but for everyone, irrespective of their creed.
The ninth and holiest month in the Islamic calendar, Ramzan is said to have been the defining time when the holy Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad by Gabriel the angel. Stemming out from the Arabic word ar-ramad, meaning scorching heat, Ramzan signifies the annual commemoration of the Islamic holy text being revealed by means of ritualistic fasting, praying and recitals of the Quran.
Similar to the Christian period of Lent, Ramzan is an intensely meditative and reflective time, wherein the individual seeks religiosity through abstinence from temptations. However, unlike the former, which is bypassed by Baptist sects of Christianity, Ramzan makes fasting obligatory for all Muslims, barring those who are ill, pregnant, menstruating, travelling or elderly. As per Sawm, one of the five pillars of Islam, Muslims fasting during this auspicious month do so between sunrise and sunset. This means they consume a pre-dawn breakfast before fajr, the first prayer of the day. Upon the completion of the sunset prayer or Maghreb, the day’s fast is broken with iftar, the evening meal. Islamic belief often states Prophet Mohammad having broken his fast with dates and a glass of water. This might explain why it is commonplace for one to break their fast with the nutrient-dense, easily digested and glucose-rich fruit.
The practice of fasting or Sawm is driven by multidimensional meanings. Not only does Islam preach it as a means of worship that brings one closer to God, but also as a powerful way of gaining compassion towards those in need. The nutritional benefits of abstaining from food for such prolonged hours are debatable, but a more radicalisation of theories such as intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating place it on a similar scale. Similar schools of thought place their belief in the body’s extraordinary capacity to heal itself when allowed sufficient windows sans food and water. The much-needed break from digesting food helps the body concentrate its energies on detoxifying itself and reviving both physical and mental health. Similar variants of religiously prescribed fasting, such as the Hindu Navratras, Jaini Paryushan and the Jewish Yom Kippur concur to the benefits of fasting in their own relative terms.
Amongst the manifold benefits of being Indian lies the boundless plethora of cultural exposure that one is sure to experience. Be it the rich aromas wafting out of the local bakery at Easter, the Ram Leela and dance nights during Navratri, the burning of holy bonfires at Holi and Lohri, or the indulgence in bowls of seviyan kheer at Eid, India’s diverse cultures extend themselves to any passerby on the street. Fasting and feasting is a constant duality that permeates through the Indian cultural fabric, and the potency of religious salvation through greater and lesser turmoil is easily fathomable to anyone who is willing to look.
That said, 2020 and 2021 thus far have been fraught with difficulties as far as religio-cultural festivities are concerned. With the world adapting to a new format of being, perhaps the present ticking of the clock suggests we harness Ramzan wisdom in the way it presently proffers: to spend our lockdown and curfew reflecting, praying, being hopeful and compassionate towards the lesser fortunate, to restrain our impulse and material desires and direct our means to fulfil the dire want of the needy, to remain grateful for all that we are blessed with, and to channelise our belief and faith into prayer for healing.
In order to battle a viral outspread that knows no manmade discrimination, there is a dire need for us to rise up in a unity that is equally oblivious to divisions. If like me, you tend to believe in fasting being religiously prescribed to largely gain sanctioning force amongst uneducated masses, another concept is similarly imaginable. That educated masses seize those religious prescriptions in their true essence and spirit, for their fundamental purpose of collective healing. Indeed, this Ramzan belongs to everyone, and if in recent times there was a time for us to pray our hardest, now would be it.
DARBARGARH IN POSHINA: REGAL RESIDENCE & CULINARY DESTINATION
Darbargarh is home to one of the most elegant royal families in Gujarat and a quaint homestay for travellers from around the world who wish to get a taste of the regal and tribal cultures of the region.
Possibly one of the most elegant of the Gujarat royals, the family from the Poshina jaagirdaari exudes a sense of old world grace that reverberates through. The grand patriarch, Thakur Harendrapal Sinh, with his lovely wife, Thakurani Kailash Kumari, and his very good-looking son, Mrigvendra Sinh, first met me when we took Royal Fables to Gujarat and they drove all the way to Ahmedabad to encourage their kith and kin with their presence.
On the shepherd trailThe propertyThe royals of Poshina
Poshina, an independent jaagir which is part of the Vaghela dynasty in Patan, shares a border with Rajasthan. Eight generations of the family have ruled Poshina which is a vast jaagir of 84 villages. With strong Rajput roots and grandmothers coming from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, Kunwar Harendrapal Sinh ji belongs to the tenth generation and lives on the property with his family, which runs its elegant residence Darbargarh in Poshina as a homestay, which is frequented by 99% of the global travellers that make their way into Gujarat every winter.
Darbargarh is surrounded by tribal villages inhabited by the Garasia tribals. This garh or fort has a unique façade, resplendent with arches that seem to touch the clouds and lattice work that is typical of Rajasthan, with a white and red limestone finish adding to its airs.
Divided into the jenana and mardana sections, the fort has a gracious garden flanking its façade. Vintage furniture, original doors and abundant trees fill this homestay. In the jenana courtyard resides a very old tree called the ‘Trinity’ because this marvel of nature is the result of the entwining of a neem tree, a peepal tree and a banyan tree, which have fused together over the years to form one consolidated trunk. Bards singing at the gate, a generous interlude with the tribals of the region, great food and a laid-back village life experience marks this quaint destination that is three hours away by road both from Udaipur and Ahmedabad.
Located in the Khedbrahma taluka of Sabarkantha district of Gujarat, the fort is pat in the midst of a non-touristy route. Yet it enjoys great acclaim amongst many global travellers who keep coming back in groups to stay at this quaint fort. They have quite a few American groups who return every other year and have even hosted an Indian wedding for an American couple.
A home to the family for many years, it was only recently converted, first into a culinary destination restaurant and then finally into a 25-keys heritage homestay where the family itself plays a gracious host. Food still remains at the heart of their offerings, with the family rustling up a mixture of local and royal cuisines. Kailash Kumari also holds personalized cooking classes for foreign guests who “love learning how to cook our smoked aubergine, chicken curry, cabbage dipped in sunflower oil and the local recipe for potatoes”.
Other recreational activities include going on a shepherd trail to meet the many goat and buffalo keepers abound in this region which flourished with the White Revolution, get a peep into the pastoral life of the colourfully dressed tribals, visit the wish tree where you can leave behind a wish in the form of a Poshina horse, or visiting the famed Ambaji temple. “The Poshina horse is made from mud, much like its cousin in Bankura. It is placed under two wish-giving trees that at any time have thousands of these horses parked under their shade,” she explains.
HANDCRAFTED JEWELLERY FOR THE MODERN WOMAN
Both affordable and wearable, Zariin’s line offers the luxury of gold jewellery in a new and exciting format. Hence, it intrinsically appeals to modern women.
India is known the world over for its rich legacy of handcrafted and bespoke jewellery. In modern times, creative young entrepreneurs are taking this legacy forward by crafting beautiful adornments with a contemporary twist. A great example of this is the brand Zariin, founded by talented sister-duo Vidhi and Mamta Gupta, which offers handcrafted gold dipped jewellery playing on the natural textures of semi-precious stones.
Established in 2010, Zariin prides itself on its signature look—raw, uncut gemstones dipped in 22kt gold. Back then, their approach looked in the face of prevailing industry standards of working only with polished, smooth and perfectly defined crystals and stones. By using uncut and unpolished gemstones instead, the brand appealed to modern sensibilities, quickly gathering a fan-following amongst independent women who embraced their flaws and imperfections.
Without a formal education in this field, the founder sisters rely on their creative energies and personal expressions to create eclectic, sophisticated jewellery that appeals across the board. Their Business degrees— Vidhi is an alumnus of Kelley School of Business and Mamta of Delhi University’s Shriram College of Commerce—coupled with their entrepreneurial spirit and passion for their chosen medium, have allowed them to make a successful venture of their dream.
Since jewellery is a form of expression for women, the sisters create their pieces taking inspiration from their travels, latest fashion trends and other experiences. “We create pieces that are deeply rooted in Indian craft techniques and jewellery-making traditions, yet resonate with the global women of today. Jewellery is after all, the most used fashion accessory in people’s daily dressing,” they say with a smile.
Both affordable and wearable, Zariin’s line offers the luxury of gold jewellery in a new and exciting format. Hence, it intrinsically appeals to modern women— those who are empowered, ambitious, and handle numerous responsibilities of home and work, while looking uber-stylish, using their outfits and accessories as mediums of personal expression.
The dedicated team behind Zariin attempts to consistently innovate and create, so they can cater to the needs of women of all ages and stages in life—in India and abroad. The founders claim, “staying relevant in an oversaturated market can prove challenging at times, but if your product is unique, it makes its own place in the market.” Zariin’s success story, since its inception, proves this claim well. The label was quick to gain international acclaim, being picked by popular retail boutiques like Anthropologie and Calypso St. Barth in the United States, and Babylone and Hankyu department stores in Japan. Quite early in its journey, Zariin received the GRAZIA Young Fashion Award for Excellence in Accessory Design in 2013, along with being awarded the prestigious ELLE Graduate recognition in Jewellery. Apart from retail success and awards, the real reward is always reflected best through loyal patrons. Zariin has been adorned by celebrities like Sonam Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Nargis Fakri, Soha Ali Khan, Kalki Koechlin, and the international stars of hit TV series All My Children and Gossip Girl.
Vidhi and Mamta Gupta credit the international success of their brand to its being launched originally in the US. “Before shifting base to India, the label first established itself in the US, while staying true to its Indian roots. Today, Zariin is available in 21 countries and retails in over 200 stores worldwide. The major international markets for our brand are Japan, China, Korea, United States, UAE, Bahrain, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Australia, Mexico, among others, with a number of reputed stores stocking our wares including the ones in USA and Japan mentioned above and Saks 5th Avenue in UAE and Bahrain and Husk Chain Stores in Australia,” explain the founders.
By staying true to their brand value and catering to the ever-changing tastes of a wide customer base, they have consistently provided unique and high quality artisanal products at accessible prices. These qualities have kept Zariin at the forefront of the jewellery creation business. The brand has pioneered the usage of uncut stones that can be integrated seamlessly into a woman’s daily wardrobe, and is occasion-neutral.
Zariin’s artisanal accessories are innately Indian, with a contemporary twist. Their selection consists of chunky statement pieces, dramatic layers, minimal and delicate designs, and stacking basics. Ranging in price from Rs 2,000 to Rs 20,000, there is something for everyone in this line.
Kampai is recreating sakura season in Delhi
It’s that time of the year again—cherry blossoms are blooming across the globe and social media is flooded with photos. Since catching a quick flight to Tokyo to see the sight for ourselves is out of the question this year, Kampai is here to help us usher in spring (or rejoice in what is left of it in Delhi) with its new hanami menu.
Avantika Sinha Bahl
Hanami, or the Japanese custom of ‘flower viewing’, is an annual celebration of the sakura blossoms which cover cities with a delicate veil of pink this time of the year. Keeping that aesthetic intact, Kampai’s special springtime menu is predominantly pink—from all five of its rose-tinted cocktails to the blush pink mijinko-crusted ebi tempura and agedashi tofu and the raspberry and mulberry cheesecake. The interiors of the restaurant are also in tune with the theme, decked up in hues of the cherry blossom.
“Hanami is a special time in Japan and a symbol of new beginnings,” says founder Avantika Sinha Bahl, explaining that the menu has been curated in a way which can translate the qualities of the sakura season into food and drinks. With summery salads, light sushi rolls and rice bowls, and fruity cocktails, the menu is a welcome escape from the temperature outside, which is already crossing 35 degrees Celsius on most days.
A good start is the cured tomato and seaweed salad, which is a refreshing balance of flavours and textures—the salty seaweed offset by the sweetness of grapes and mulberry, rounded by the cured tomatoes and ume plum dressing, with the green apple and cucumber adding a crunch. The tangy salmon tataki with capers is also a great option for a hot day. The salmon futomaki and grilled eel and avocado sushi roll are delicious. Pescetarians would also enjoy the special selection of donburi bowls with fresh fish and pickled ginger. If the heat is too much of a bother, the chilled soba with a tsuyu dipping sauce can be quite satisfying too. All of the food is very easy on the palate, but some of it does require a certain familiarity with the smell of seafood—but you would already know that before stepping into a Japanese restaurant.
The sakura-inspired cocktail menu complements the food well. The Hanami G&T is light and floral and the citrusy Leisure Sheet is perfect for a summer afternoon. “The cocktails are all made with in-house infusions and liqueurs using different ingredients,” shares Avantika. Her picks are the special Sakura Martini and Geisha prepared with the special Kampai hanami liqueur which taste bold, fresh and sweet.
For dessert, the menu offers a slice of raspberry and mulberry cheesecake, whose creamy texture and rich buttery taste is slightly at odds with everything which comes before it, but would be a treat for those who like to end their meals on a syrupy sweet note.
Besides the ingredients used and the flavours of the food and drinks, the hanami menu evokes the essence of the season through its colours and plating too, soothing the eye and the hearts of those who cannot experience spring in Japan. The special menu is available throughout the month of April at Kampai which is located in the national capital’s Aerocity.
ADVICE FOR CHILDREN DEALING WITH THE PANDEMIC’S NEGATIVE EFFECTS
The last couple of weeks have tested everyone’s resilience, especially that of children, adolescents and young adults. With a tremendous surge in Covid-19 related cases, we are back to last year’s lockdown situation, in addition to experiencing a full-blown healthcare crisis. Young people have been dealing with the negative effects of studying from home and being locked away without recourse to physical activity or friends, for over a year. As many of their loved ones suffer from grave illness or worse, their anxiety continues to mount. Needless to say, many have suffered academically as a result.
Realising the gravity of the situation, Dr Rashmi Mantri, founder and chairperson of BYITC International, decided to make her exclusive platform available to Indian children as well. British Youth International College (BYITC), originated in the UK and is an online web-based software learning platform for students, parents, teachers and schools that conducts courses in Abacus, English and Coding.
Having made a name for themselves internationally, they are planning to associate with government schools, corporate bodies, private educational institutes, individuals, and franchise models in India, to offer their services to children across age groups and backgrounds. “With the next-gen technological development in the education industry, we truly believe that our online web based e-learning platform, known as the world’s only software for Abacus and English learning, will be greatly beneficial to Indian kids. Our goal aligns with the government’s Digital India vision and plans to advance e-learning post-pandemic learning. We aim to provide quality education to children and employment opportunities to teachers through our Teacher Training Program,” claims Dr Mantri.
An emphasis on the explanation of concepts through tailor-made programmes for every child, is certainly the need of the hour. In particular, their Abacus course content has been created by a team of Abacus experts under the guidance of Dr Mantri, based on real-life situations and observations. Abacus learning has proved to be beneficial for the specially-abled, dyslexic students and academically weaker children. Their English course content has been created by Cambridge-board certified teachers and experts.
Speaking about the harmful effects of the pandemic on the youth of today, Dr Mantri candidly shares that many of her students have been deeply anxious, had panic attacks, or lost motivation and hope for the future. The loneliness and isolation, coupled with concerns about college or university/school work and a breakdown in regular life, has wreaked havoc on many. She says digitisation is a new way of life that we must all learn to adapt to, since people are online for almost everything these days.
Her advice for anxious children around the world is, “keep your courage up and look for the positive in every negative. You will come out stronger with willpower, dedication and determination.” Additionally, she advises them to maintain a routine, exercise regularly—both for the body and the mind, practice mindfulness and meditation, develop new hobbies, build leadership skills, and learn STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Dr Mantri stresses that this time spent at home can be utilised to upskill and prepare for an uncertain future. This can be done by participating in knowledge transfer partnerships across the globe through online meetups. Children can also connect with inspiring people and be an inspiration for others by setting examples. Papers and articles can be researched and written, author skills and creative writing can be pursued, to come up with mini stories or books. Spelling and vocabulary workshops can be attended to further enhance writing skills.
“A focus on early age entrepreneurship is desirable at this point,” emphasises Dr Mantri. For this, she recommends using logical reasoning quizzes and puzzles and math techniques, attending basic coding clubs, and learning the basics of cyber security for online safety. Further, exploring new hobbies like dancing, singing and playing instruments will keep children motivated. Music helps to calm the mind too. Most importantly, children and adolescents must learn to set a routine, be patient, maintain a healthy diet and participate in friendly competitions and challenges to keep busy.
BYITC courses are available for multiple age groups starting from 4 years to 17 years of age, via e-learning through its web based software learning platform, which can be explored on their website.
The writer is a lawyer who pens lifestyle articles for various publications and her website www.nooranandchawla.com. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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