A Material Education

November 18, 2008

What struck me when I first moved here is that what I found cool was usually considered cheap. Take these blouses we all bought by dozens on our first trip to India. Or these printed silk tops, and the little plaster earrings we all went crazy about. Well, that’s a big non non now. India has taught me, among many other (and deeper ) things, to value good craftsmanship.

This country loves its craftsmen. Each part of India has its craft of choice and I won’t surprise you if I tell you that Jaipur is known for its fabulous embroideries, especially gota, a magical applique technique that turns any piece of fabric into a fairytale delight. Indian women know their chikan from their mukesh, and their georgette from their chiffon. Textile and embroidery are treated at par with sculpture and miniature painting: as a full-fledged part of Indian culture. Saris and lehengas are handed down generations of women. I have friends who wore their grandmother’s outfits at their own wedding and they looked absolutely striking and not a bit outdated.

Oh I know, it’s not rocket science to tell malmal from poplin but it’s part of an heritage and a knowledge that we in the West lost in the hurricane of mass-consumerism.

Strangely enough, in a country known for the cheapness of its products, I have learnt to detest cheap stuff.