Wednesday, October 31, 2012

India 28: Fabrics and the Feminine

Fabric-making in India goes back a very long time, varies by region and its beautiful products are of such ubiquity and stunning variety as to be, in a way, self-canceling:  you come to expect what would be exceptional somewhere else.   The poorest woman in the slum is clad in a saree which is rarely mono-chromatic but combines patterns and colors that belong together.   

These women are from an earlier post, “Saree Circle,” about women in a low-income rural area.   If they are poor, look how richly they are attired and the beautiful expressions on their faces.  Does one contribute to the other?

Here again is the woman asleep on the streets of Mumbai with her child that struck me so hard.  Her clothing does not suggest her condition, nor does that of her child. 


When the British took it over, India textile industry had been flourishing for a long time, reached into tens of thousands of villages and  its products widely traded.  The British undercut not only an industry but a way of live, suppressing local fabrics, displacing mills in India with mills in England and--together with other policies--throwing untold numbers of Indians into a poverty from which they have never recovered.  Indian mills were actually dismantled and English textiles then sold into previously self-sufficient villages.  There is no small irony behind the NGO’s and others from developed countries that are resurrecting, promoting and making markets for the looms of rural India.  Fabrindia is one Indian company that is taking hand-loomed fabric to an international market.  Their stores in India are resplendent compared to their web site. 

So important has fabric been in India’s history that Gandhi chose the spinning wheel as the symbol of his movement to revive village life.  He wanted it on the nation’s flag.

Here’s a picture of young women who work at Vindhya for modest pay, completely typical of everyday dress, although this is not ordinary food. 

The woman who brings me tea twice a day and cleans up after lunch looks as put together as the queenof Siam.  

I asked the woman who runs Vindhya if it was just my poor memory or had she not worn the same saree once in the last two months?   Indeed, that was true. Here's a picture of today’s gold along with me in a Kurta, just received from Sudhindra Kundapura as a going away present. 


Still, the variety and richness of the fabric everywhere makes it easy to take for granted, as I’ve observed in myself.   And then there is another consequence from the omnipresence of the saree or a similar garment, the salwa faweez: the sexual energy which serves as background noise in America mellows out to nothing in India.  We males don’t have to worry about being caught peaking at cleavage because there is none.   I was on alert and I can report:  Zero in a city of 8 million over two months.  That includes the yoga class on Richmond Road.  And as for the report whichspread last week that cleavage appeared at the Ebony Club on the 13th floor of the UB Center?  Mere rumor, a squad sent for the purpose reported back.

Do you know how much male energy that conserves?  This alone might account for India’s leadership in IT.  

While this is not the least bit related, I can report that I have not heard a single swear word while here, or any expression the least bit blue.  Swearing and obscenity  goes on in what I have read but not in English in my refined circles. 

Slightly more closely related is this fact just in:  11 percent of all the gold in the world is worn by Indian women.  Women may not have equality but they carry around the family wealth.

Fabrics have not escaped the attention of every rickshaw taxi driver who never fails to suggest just a quick stop, “No buy, just look!”  I had taken a no-fabric pledge when I got here, and I love fabric.  That’s when someone like Bhaskerans, pictured above, starts unfurling one fabric prettier than the previous one and I decided not resist the shimmering swaths of raw silk, woven near Bangalore in bright ,solid colors, or the chance to have dresses tailor made.  I thought we got every measurement and style just right but I had failed to pick up was that every dress would be full length, as if I were clothing a family of bridesmaids.  There will be a whole lot of trimmin' going on. 



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