I was visiting my favourite store Kashmir Loom in Nizammuddin East, New Delhi, when I came across Malvika Singh’s first collection of Maheshwari sarees in tussar and regular silk, cotton and tissue. Their checks and horizontal stripes with varied thickness and size looked resplendent when highlighted with silver, gold and copper judiciously on the body, border or patli pleat. The metallics seemed to have passionately held together the original Indian palette e.g. neem (bright green), baigani (purple), pyaazi (onion pink), aasmaani (sky blue), sindoori (vermilion red), haldi (yellow ochre), zafraani (bright orange-red), kantha, neel (indigo), chandani (milky white) and amavasya (black).
For me who’s always on a look out for something traditional and tasteful, her nine yards instantly caught my eye. To me her Seminar office (being the editor of the magazine) felt like a treasure box with an interesting book collection and unique handloom pieces framed, thus giving the high-ceiling walls a character. We began with sipping coffee, the Indian handloom revolution and her mentors – Pupul Jayakar and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya. Under the tutelage of these pioneers (cultural and social activists during and after the Indian partition) Malvika became aware of the largest living resource pool of the world – India.
She recalled the first time, both she and her husband dabbled with weaving at Richard and his ex-wife Sally Holker’s residence, the Ahilyabai’s fort near Indore in Maharashtra, along with Suhasini and Muzzafar Ali. And they formed the Rehwa Society, with some financial help from Leela Mulgaonkar – an industrialist’s wife and a social worker, to revitalize the Maheshwar weaves. Only one man in the area knew of the traditional pit loom process, which were made in the courtyard of the palace. But an authentic Maheshwari saree was woven not without scouring the old trunks of Maheshwar village and incorporating the old motifs and colours, found. And yet in need of funds, Malvika suggested ‘adopt a loom’. Shabana Azmi and other celebrities who enjoyed handloom, volunteered to spread the word by draping Rehwa’s sarees during important events. People who donated money, in kind, had their name engraved on a stone plate next to the pit. This gesture was extended by also gifting them a saree from their loom, each year.
This feisty lady seems like a crusader of Indian culture through her books and sarees; seen upgrading handicraft into patronage art. She pointed out her use of traditional half gold and half silver- Ganga Jamuna in the sarees, a tradition in India which represents its syncretic culture that absorbed and respected diversity. Therefore she thought it was important to reintroduce this ethos now when the free flow is being compartmentalized in our country, since textile represents a narration of the time.
Twice a year, with the next collection coming up in March, she is hoping to anchor the disconnected with her unusual yet strictly original style of Kanjeevaram, Bengal cotton, Manglapuri, Venkatgiri or a Kerala saree. All of which could be heirlooms as they are limited editions.
With all this in the pipeline, she gleamingly ended our conversation by mentioning how happy she was now, to be leaving behind this rich legacy for her children!!
Retailed at Kashmir Loom +91.11.2431.8947, 4650.2902