Rta Kapur Chishti is a known name in India when it comes to saris. Backed with twenty years of research on this garment unique to India, she has published ‘Saris – Tradition and Beyond’. The founder of The Sari School will be showcasing India’s best in saris and other apparel through her label Taanbaan. NT BUZZ speaks to her
Danuska Da Gama I NT BUZZ
For Rta Kapur Chishti saris are only one means of exploring the cultural landscape of the country. The textile scholar whose label Taanbaan offers an exclusive variety of indigenous rain-fed organic cottons and low twist silks, believes that saris provide a pathway of finding the small shifts in motif, materials and textures that create regional character and also relate to saris from other areas. “For instance, the four petal ‘rui phool’ or cotton flower becomes the ‘auli’ in Goa and as it moves southwards, it turns into a complex ‘rudraksh’ which is a floral seed. Saris are the epitome of patterned fabrics designed for a particular drape and therefore have different densities and weights in their various parts, body, borders and ‘pallus’, all of which fulfil a functional need for the draped garment,” Chishti explains.
For the first time saris and other apparel from her label will be on exhibit in Goa. The scholar started an education initiative ‘The Sari School’ in 2009 to promote the usage, understanding, survival and recreation of the unstitched garment. “It was started as the last volume of ‘Saris – Tradition and Beyond’ published in 2010 and we thought that this was a good way to share and create interest in sari drapes, 108 of which were featured in this book,” she says. Many students of design and young working people came to these workshops and now the sari has become widely popular. Chishti says that this positive development needs greater back up in the basic fabric quality of saris which has not adequately risen with the growing interest. “Saris must be made in a wide range forming a kind of pyramid with a wide base that builds up to the finest,” she explains.
Speaking about the significance of saris across the sub-continent, she tells us that as saris were so much a part of the regional character, one of the reasons that they came to be worn in the common urban wearing style is because women who came away from their regional vocations or rural habitats did not want to retain their original identities and wanted to merge with the larger urban uniformity.
“People tend to think of saris today only as formal wear whereas saris are perhaps the only garment that can be recreated from informal to the most formal wear. They can be worn as a pair of unstitched shorts to pants and pantaloons or a short or long dress or even a gown. Once one knows the basic principle of tying and tucking, one can continue to enlarge the scope and number of draping styles and this is what makes the sari unique,” she says.
Today, India is witnessing several sari movements that are innovative, and focus not just on the drape but also play their part in uplifting hand weavers and support artisans. Speaking about the same Chishti tells us that though a few artisans have risen with their skills to become entrepreneurs themselves, many have not succeeded in this aspect. “They need a limited period hand holding both on design, skill and quality as well as marketing in order to become self- supporting and independent.”
While she believes that movements such as the 100 Sari Pact have helped create interest, that has not necessarily helped at the spinner-weaver end of producers. “This needs concerted effort in every state where there is still a possibility of bringing in fresh ideas and talent from the producing community.”
She further explains that refined skills such as three shuttle weaving which can allow pure colours in borders and body or inlay patterning such as jamdani or even multiple shuttle weaving are excellent ways to keep the upper edge of hand skills alive and ahead of what machines can churn out in vast quantities. “Also, the supple textures of hand spun yarns can create an unmatched texture, far superior when compared to mill spun yarns with their highly twisted and taut and even texture,” she adds.
The sari is synonymous with adjectives like elegant, traditional, feminine. But, Chishti believes it is an ideal garment for every kind of body form as it allows showing one’s assets rather than one’s limitations. “It can be adapted in accordance with age, occasion and size,” she says.
Throwing some light on her label Taanbaan, she says it is different from others in the league of the sari business, she says that it is perhaps the only brand that works from cultivating raw materials through hand processing and hand weaving, especially in cotton, also in Karnataka and Bengal silks, while avoiding the Chinese varieties.
The ultimate for Chishti lies in making the organic sustainable and marketable despite present difficulties with small scale production,
(‘Taanbaan Show’ will be open on Sunday and Monday, December 9 and 10 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Sacha’s Shop, Panaji)