It’s Thursday, November 17, almost noon, and I’m half way around the world from where I started from in San Jose, California, recovering from a 22-hour flight across the time zones.
I arrive in India to discover that while in-flight, the government had secretly decided to de-monetize, eliminating 86% of the available cash. Little did I know, and only exchanged the minimum of dollars to rupees at the airport. There is no money in banks or ATMs. We are tethered to our credit cards and those who take them. This is called adventure travel.
Fortunately, my dear friend, textile artist Nidhi Khurana, who I met in Oaxaca early in 2016, is taking me under her wing along with her friend, textile designer Aditi Prakash, who is the mastermind behind Pure Ghee Designs. We spent my first day in Delhi immersed in textiles.
First, on in Nidhi’s flat, where I got an introduction to the sari and a portion of Nidhi’s collection that was laid out on the bed before me, mostly silks, some woven with gold threads, representing all regions of the country.
Aditi is an encyclopedia of India’s cloth. She can instantly tell which state or region a textile comes from based on the story woven into the border of each sari. It was all dizzying but the textures and colors sent me to the moon. She explains that that are over 160 different ways to wear the sari. She tells me this as she pleats the ends of the fabric and begins to drape it around me.
I am reminded of how Oaxaca women wear their faldas, their skirts, which are pleated around the waist and then held to their bodies by the woven cinch waistband. Indian women tuck the ends of their sari’s into the skirt or pants waistband. The intricately woven border, only a portion of the cloth length, is draped over the shoulder so it hangs down the back in full display.
The cloth body and this border are two separately woven pieces that are then woven together to form one length of cloth. It’s important to examine the joinery, since the best saris will combine the two with invisible stitches.
After Nidhi prepared a vegetarian lunch of steamed rice, cauliflower, peas, fresh salad greens from her rooftop garden, and delicious homemade Indian Gooseberry Pickle (now declared to be my favorite), we set out for Hauz Khas Village to find noted textile collector/gallery owner Sunaina Suneja, also known as Dimple. She is the aunt of Saket B&B owner Anand, a wonderful host.
This is much more than a boutique, gallery shopping destination. It is a 13th century mosque and school in the Indo-Islamic architecture, reminiscent of what I saw in Morocco and at the Alhambra in southern Spain.
It is from the Mogul invasion of India and offers a park-like oasis in the middle of a city filled with honking cars, dust and a sea of people.
Yellow parakeets fly through the keyhole openings of the building. Young couples, groups of friends, families picnic on the grounds. Small gangs of young men huddle in corners to take a smoke. Friends stroll hand-in-hand. There are plenty of places for children to climb, too.
I’m grateful that we had this day together and we ended it with a tea respite at one of the local eateries.
The caste system is legally banned but exists as it does in all countries, based on birth, economic and social status, inability for upward movement. Often it is based on skin color and religion. We are not impervious to it in the United States of America, either.