India Journal: Textiles and My Family in Delhi

This is a tribute to family, dispersal and reconnection.

It was a remarkable afternoon at my cousin Sharon Lowen‘s apartment in New Delhi, India. The city has been her home for the last 43 years. My 99-1/2 year-old Aunt Ethel lives with her youngest daughter Sharon who is her primary caregiver. It was a remarkable feeling of reconnection, as if I was seeing my mother alive once more. In my cousin’s face I recognize my mother, sister, uncles.

Sharon Lowen shows incredible brocade sari with gold threads

Sharon went to India 43 years ago on a Fulbright scholarship to do post-graduate study. She fell in love with the culture and the people, settled in, became a renowned performer of Odissi classical dance, and teacher at the American Embassy School.

Cousin Sharon with her mom and my aunt Ethel, with photo of my mom Dorothy

I’ve only seen Sharon a few times over the years. She came to a Smithsonian Institution program while I was living in Washington, D.C., and later we visited in North Carolina when she participated in the American Dance Festival.

Our mom, Dorothy Schafitz Beerstein, 2/14/16-11/15/15

One key reason I spent a week in Delhi was to reconnect with them and I intended to make at least two visits during this time. But extreme jet lag and the onset of a head cold (perhaps a reaction to dust and pollution), altered the plan.

Family portrait on Sharon’s wall: our mothers, uncle and grandparents

I didn’t want to infect my aunt, who is becoming more frail as she approaches a century of life, so I cancelled our second visit.

My mom was the oldest of four children and my aunt was born fourteen months later. Their Eastern European immigrant parents worked hard to raise their family in a small Pennsylvania town not far from the Ohio border. My tailor grandfather sewed suits, dresses and fur coats. Our family has a love of cloth, fine stitches and those who create them.

Sharon shows fine Rabari Toran.

Spending the afternoon with family was emotionally satisfying on many levels. Our experiences are different, yet we share genetic code. Life is a mystery and disperses us, brings us together for a moment, sends us on our way again.

Sharon treated me to a preview of her Indian textile collection, many vintage pieces amassed over the last forty years: embroideries, double ikat, weaving, gold brocades and tribal mirror work. Most were gifts presented at dance performances she gave traveling throughout India and the world.







12 responses to “India Journal: Textiles and My Family in Delhi

  1. Hello Norma,
    Thanks for your reply and for Sharon’s email. I might contact her and you never know where it might lead. The kangaroo piece is quite intruiging. I live in Adelaide, Soith Australia but I travel to India and elsewhere buying textiles. I am passionate about domestic, handmade cultural textiles and research and then travel to experience them and the artisans who make them. Thanks for your latest article too. So much great observation and information. Oaxaca is on my bucket list. What and amazing place that is and the textiles…wow

  2. Dear Norma,

    Thanks for sharing you meeting with your cousin and Aunt.What a wonderful time for all of you. What a very special part of your journey.

    Jo Ann and Tom

  3. Hi Norma – Glad you are back. Sounds like you had a wonderful time.
    Yes, I see the resemblance with your aunt and your mother. Sharon’s textile
    are beautiful!!!!!!!

    I got your invoice and will pay you tonight when I get home.

    Hope your cold goes away quickly. Understand if one doesn’t keep the inside of their nose moist (vasoline) the hairs dry out and one is more
    susceptible to catch a cold from the plane ride passengers.

    See you soon.


  4. Wow, Norma, what an adventure your trip to India has been -beautiful! I particularly loved this entry about your family in India. I look forward to an afternoon on one of our terrazas hearing all about this most recent adventure. I am currently in the US to spend Christmas with my family. Excited for that, but freezing! Be well and safe travels! Peace, hugs, MTV

    • Happy Holidays, Michelle. I landed in California two days ago and am at my son’s home, also freezing! But, it’s a wonderful respite from India’s heat and dust. I will be in Teotitlan for the month of January. I hope we can do some catch up then! Un abrazo, Norma

  5. What a beautiful and tender story. It never ceases to amaze me, the power of DNA. I am sure that although they have mapped the entire human genome, there are secrets within it that will never be understood…like the emotional connection of family. Sharon’s textile collection is a joy. I recognised so many of the different styles. Do you know the provenance of the piece with the kangaroos??? Wonderful. Does she ever exhibit the collection? I would love to see it if she does.,thank you again for a story that has brightened my day.

    • Hi, Keryn, I know so little about Indian textiles, only that I can just now begin to tell some of the differences between the nomadic tribal groups of Gujarat state. So, I can offer no information about the piece with the kangaroos. You could write to Sharon directly to ask her about it and whether she exhibits her collection. Perhaps the Crafts Museum or the Sanskriti Museum would mount such an exhibition. I don’t know.
      The threads of connection are strong, even though we haven’t seen each other or had much of a “relationship” over the years. So much in common stemming from the cloth, the fabric, the intertwining of life’s threads. It was a special time for me in India. Where do you live?

  6. Norma, it’s thrilling to reconnect with family, isn’t it. All those varied life experiences and genes and histories and destinies flying around the room at once. I imagine you’ll be processing the encounter for a long time to come. Hope you’re feeling well soon.

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