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Fabric flashback

You can’t wear it but as you flip through the catalogues of Indian fabric in vogue during British era...

Written by Mohd Arshi Rafique |
March 2, 2009 12:51:34 am

Catalogue at Amir-ud-Duala Library give you a glimpse of Swadeshi fabric in vogue during British era

You can’t wear it but as you flip through the catalogues of Indian fabric in vogue during British era,you will end up envying your forefathers. Rarest of rare albums of textiles compiled by John Forbes Watson,a British reporter on the products of India,on display at Amir-ud-Duala Library,Qaiserbagh,Lucknow gives you a real glimpse of fabric of India that was used in 1850s — long before machine made fabric was introduced.

Collected from different parts like Benaras,Pondicherry,Madras,Aurangabad,Dakka,Boorhampure,the fabric on display indicates clearly that separate versions were used by men and women.

Gauze,velvets,silks,cobwebby wools,ethereal jhamdanis and cosy cottons — all kinds were used during different occasions and seasons.

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Interestingly,fabric has also been classified in the order of dressing. Turbans,dhotis,sarees,cholis,ghagras,chunris,angarkhas,kurtas,you name it and it’s there finding a patterned place in the classical catalogue.

Twenty sets of volumes that were exhibited in London in 1882 have been described as twenty industrial museums in Watson’s book.

“We are the proud owner of one volume,the only available in India,” says Librarian,Nusrat Naheed.


Compiled in a form of books,the remarkable feature of the collection is that though pages have turned pale,the colour and texture of fabric appears new. “That’s the quality of it. The sheen of the textile still appears fresh,tempting enough for anybody to grab it,” says Naheed elaborating on reasons that could have led Watson compile them.

“Though Watson was the director a Museum in London set up to permanently exhibit the products of India,the real aim of the East India Company was to steal’ the intricacies of Indian fabric,imitate it and reproduce the British version for the Indian market,” says Naheed,also assistant secretary,national mission for manuscripts,department of Culture,government of India.

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First published on: 02-03-2009 at 12:51:34 am

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