2017 The Romance of the Kanjivarams and handwovens
Venkatesh Narasimhan the MD of Cooptex and his team, came to Kolkata with a trunk full of sarees. “Vintage kanjivarams and handwovens”! Silks, cottons. South sarees in general. We worked hard in conjunction. I became a facilitator. A very dear friend Rachna Ashok had spoken of Venkatesh sir and how her repository of sarees and knowledge had grown with him guiding her. New to the field, having started a fledgling store Qissaa. With a resolve to learn and stock the best, I started avidly following his posts on facebook. Peppered with history and trivia they were interesting. I was hooked and more hooked when he agreed to come to Kolkata.
The Royal Gallery at ICCR when I walked in on the day of the event (today) was a riot of colour, every shade and hue, Rani pink, Parrot green, Cobalt blue, Brick red, Vermillion, A brinjal purple. Jewel colours. Gold. There were checks stripes paisleys, peacocks. A medley of fabric and designs. Confusion and chaos. A thousand sarees to choose from.
Kasturi Gupta Menon of Crafts Council had agreed to grace the occasion and the audience was a medley of friends, enthusiasts, well wishers, buyers. A curious bunch. Cooptex had unfortunately over time fallen by the way side as most Govt concerns do. There was scepticism in general even though there was grudging admiration for the jewels on display.
Venkatesh Narasimhan took the stage after a brief round of introductions and the audience was spell bound. As South sarees took a life and form. Kanchipuram, Arni, Salem, Air India sarees, kattams (checks), ayiram buttis (thousand butties, no more no less), puttinam (raindrops), maahil (peacock), Chakram, Yazhi (horse), rudraksham, dindigul, korvai, petni. We learnt of different regions, the special weaves, techniques. We learnt of revival stories. The temple girls and the three borders. The M S Subbalakshmi Blue, and how this colour has become associated with her. The legend of Rukmini devi Arundale and Kalakshetra. The sarees have been taken from the archives and replicated. We learnt the why and how and where. The information was compelling and interesting. The time simply flew by.
From a dismal no of weavers in Tamil Nadu the number stands today at 1.5 lakhs including the women who are always ignored in the head count. Much due to the efforts of this one man who, despite his stature, mingled with us explained hands on and enthralled one and all with his simplicity and storehouse of knowledge.
The Romance of the Kanjeevarams and cottons. The swish of silk, weddings and occasions and opulence. It reflects glory, expertise, unmatched excellence but it hides a dark foreboding truth. The weavers, their penury, desperation, suicides, migration. These grandiose sarees are few and may become extinct in the future. The story of these coveted weaves and the weaver!
We can only contribute to the cause and keep trying as has Cooptex under the versatile stewardship of a committed individual. If he can why cant we all?
Let us resolve to wear a hand woven handloom with pride. Let us support a weaver!
Thank you Venkatesh Narasimhan for an invaluable lesson!
A connect with the past and a way ahead for the future!