A G-too moment


A G-too moment

To celebrate her 25-year-old quest in Indian fashion,textile and craft,revivalist Madhu Jain had a celebration in Delhi last week.

To celebrate her 25-year-old quest in Indian fashion,textile and craft,revivalist Madhu Jain had a celebration in Delhi last week. The most unexpected guest was Maneka Gandhi who came with her daughter-in-law Yamini. Mrs Gandhi,who is seldom seen at a fashion gathering,came dressed in an indigo cotton khadi kurta with a kalamkari dupatta and salwar – clearly a Madhu Jain creation. She smiled widely,posed for photographs and spoke generously about Jain’s work.

A few days before this party,I had visited Jain at her Noida studio to see ikat weaves from Uzbekistan. With reference to her forthcoming book Journey Into The Living Arts and Crafts of Jammu and Kashmir,(which will include photographs from the personal collection of Dr Karan Singh,MP and member of J and K’s royal family) Jain showed me some old weaves and dense,forgotten embroideries. It was like a craft and textile lesson dipped in nostalgia. She chatted about her debut in the Eighties,when “the fashion of the late designer Rohit Khosla was the style bible of the day,when designers shared a warm camaraderie,when fashion week politics had still not reared its ugly head…” My eyes darted towards some long,loose kurtas paired with dupattas,hung as ready orders. Peculiarly,all had deep pockets and all were in block colours. “Who are these for?” I asked inquisitively. “Maneka Gandhi,” responded Jain,tentatively at first,as a “we-can’t-talk about the Gandhis,” reluctance momentarily clouded her face. Jain’s hesitation melted away soon,giving way to a compelling story of the younger Mrs G’s quiet style.

A former beauty queen,remembered by many as one of the most stunning-looking women of Delhi in her younger days,Maneka Gandhi has lived by four style keywords: swadeshi,simple,textile and craft. “She doesn’t wear a trace of makeup,not even perfume; on a very special day she may dab some mogra ittar,” says the designer who’s been making garments for Mrs G for years now. Jain is known for three revival trajectories in her career: ikat,kalamkari and kantha. However,Mrs G doesn’t wear figurative kalamkari (only preferring the one made in Machilipatnam which doesn’t have faces),nor does she like embroidery,sequins or zari work. According to Jain,she likes an odd ajrakh dupatta and loves ensembles in ikat,bagru and bagh prints. Over the years,Mrs Gandhi has gone from simple to simpler. However,she loves colour,preferring cheerful hues to white and beige. Turquoise blue is her favourite,says Jain. “Contrary to what people may believe,Maneka Gandhi also lives very simply,even her room is spartan. When I was a college girl and she used to edit her magazine Surya,I remember seeing her in a plain shirt and blue jeans with no other accessory. She looked gorgeous. That minimalism has evolved as her dressing instinct,” says Jain,obviously smitten.

Mrs G,who only wears Madhu Jain ensembles now,prefers churidar kurtas which she pairs with kolhapuri chappals and an ordinary watch. No jewellery,no IT-bags. She carries a basic mobile phone. Kurtas intended for Parliament or her daily work are given pockets so that she can stuff spectacles,the phone and a couple of sundry items in them. She keeps saris only for formal occasions; they are not her every day garb. Not being a shopping addict,she seldom adds new saris to the handloom collection she inherited. “The only time I saw her buy some handwoven saris was in Benares,for Varun’s wedding,” says Jain,adding that all the other saris Maneka owns are the ones she got from her mother-in-law,Indira Gandhi,or those handpicked by her own mother. A rose pink cotton khadi woven by Jawaharlal Nehru was given to Maneka by the senior Mrs Gandhi which became her bridal garment. Three decades later,it would become the bridal sari for Varun’s bride Yamini but only after it was restored by Jain. “The sari needed restoration only because it had been packed and kept away,otherwise it was in excellent condition. It didn’t even need ironing,” says Jain.

Since most attention usually gets diverted to the natural elegance and fine taste in handlooms of the other Mrs G and her daughter Priyanka Vadra,this peek into Maneka’s Gandhi consistent quiet style,was a G-Too moment for me. The question is will Mrs G (two) sit in the front row when Jain overcomes her ambivalence towards fashion week politics and sends a collection down the ramp? We will be watching.