How did you get into reviving and preserving ancient weaving tradition from Varanasi? What led to the formation of TANTUVI?
For long, I wanted to do something that had the power to make a difference. It was my fortune that I was born into a family of art collectors and married into a family of freedom fighters. Being a student of history and political science, this provided an ideal environment for me.
My mother has spent the last couple of decades nurturing and building a National Institute for research in Indology, Religion and Cultural Studies in Varanasi. This brought me in close contact with the handloom sector in Kashi. While I was smitten with it, the handloom weavers looked at a future that appeared grim.
A dialogue with the weavers led me to realise that the challenge lay in reviving the weaving traditions and making the product affordable and marketable. But I was confident – I wanted to help the weavers and revive the art. I was hopeful that a demand for such items could be created if the people were introduced to these weaves and had an opportunity to explore well.
How has your journey been?
My journey has been a deeply satisfying one. The initial few years of hesitation on the part of the weavers to accept my suggestions to their existing design sensibilities has now given way to them welcoming it and enthusiastically translating it into work.
Now, it is particularly gratifying to see the families of these weavers leading better lives than what they did when we started off. The confidence that they regained in the process and their passion keeps me going.
Tell us more about TANTUVI.
My motivation is two-fold. Firstly, to make sure the weavers revive the dying traditional forms of weaving and, the other to see that the aesthetically oriented customer gets an opportunity to acquire what he desires. The fabrics made under the label of TANTUVI are made with natural yarns of cotton and silk, its derivatives or in the combination of both. To provide support to the local zari industry, we try to source zari from authentic local weavers.
The primary pitch of TANTUVI is saris produced with patience, skill and dedication. By making the saris in limited numbers, we do our bit to ensure its exclusivity. By not falling into the trap of mass production and commercialization, we commit to ensuring that the uniqueness of each of our designs is sustained.
How well do you think our traditional weaves perform on the global platform?
Indian products have always had a standing of their own. Competing on a world platform – efficiency and time management is challenging for our craftsmen, and they have struggled to get used to that. This is why innovation in our crafts have seemingly stagnated. To me, these Indian crafts are art. And just as you cannot compel an artist to complete their work of genius in a given time frame, these crafts too will thrive when allowed to work at their own pace and rhythm. Rather than compromising on standards of quality, design or intricacy in the name of efficiency – I feel that we should provide these crafts a secure environment to thrive – just as they were allowed to in the past. If these artists are able to tap into their potential entirely, it will not be long before we go back to ruling international markets with our product.
How can one identify a fake considering that imitation is prevalent in the textiles industry?
In the context of the Banarsi textile, the difference between the two is extremely subtle and sometimes difficult to put into words. It is the look, the touch, the feel, the drape and other inexplicable aspects that make the two extremely different. In a world where every rule can have an entire book with prescribed loopholes, if I were to call out some ways to tell a real fabric from a fake one, I am sure there would be a host of ways that would be engineered to cover these loops too. So it would be impossible and impractical, unfortunately, to give an exhaustive list. Just that way, awareness, experience, and exposure to genuine handloom Banarsi alone can help you tell them apart.
What future do you see for our Indian weavers?
I can speak with surety in the context of the weavers of Varanasi. The children of the weavers have, for too long, seen their family struggle with poverty, lead a life of obscurity and struggle to live with dignity, for them to naturally gravitate to this art. They are enamored with other vocations not because their hearts do not love this art, or because they don’t find it creatively satisfying, but because they realise that ultimately they do need money and food to light the kitchen fire and feed their families. If we want this to change we have to encourage them, indulge them, and give them the belief that they can pursue this vocation and still be financially secure. TANTUVI strives to be that change.
How do you make it interesting for the youngsters without making it lose its traditional touch?
With the coming of the British, the design sensibilities in the Varanasi textiles have seen a massive shift towards larger motifs, untidy handiwork and use of lower grade raw material, all in the name of catering to the tastes of western markets and a mass scale production of cheaper fabrics. The fabrics that are being made have lost its traditional softness, suppleness and delicateness of design.
My detailed readings and understanding of the Varanasi textile strengthened my conviction that our design sensibilities of the old, were timeless and if revived effectively, could continue to be relevant today and in the years to come. The modern Indian woman is one who prefers softer drape and we make a conscious effort to make fabric that is more bodyline centric and provides interesting silhouettes. That is what makes our fabrics stand apart.