Saturday, June 6, 2009


The one thing I like about these Haridwar visits is the chance to gawk. The bathing ghats at Har-ki-Pauri are the Gazette of India come alive. People flock there from all corners of India, though mainly from the Ganga River Basin. And either because this is a family occasion, or because most of these people are rural, they wear traditional dress. I was fascinated last time by the sadhu family, and I wrote about them.

But I also saw a group of villagers from the mountains. M identified them as Nepalese, and it was interesting to see that even in the afternoon heat, they were wearing multiple woolen layers. I commented on this, as I expected these to feel extremely hot in the plains. It was then explained to me that multiple woolens are the usual dress, and they would no more think of dispensing with their sweaters than I would go topless because of the heat.

This time around, I was captivated by a family group from Kutch. more than the family, it was the women's clothes that fascinated me. Most desirable were the lovely hand-embroidered dupattas. Red, yellow, rani-pink, maroon. And embroidered with silk and zari in fine chain-stitch. The designs were interesting with all manner of flora and fauna and more besides. I lusted after the dupattas so much that I did not notice the rest of their clothes. It is only when they packed up and began to walk away, that I noticed the skirts. Each skirt ended in a precisely pleated 6-9" band. These pleats swung as the women walked so that this swinging, combined with the fecundity on their dupattas had a rather sexy effect. By the way, the photo is taken by M.

There were a lot of groups that I did not recognize. And this, more than anything else, made me hunger to travel a lot more in India.

It was not just the people that were interesting. The groups were interesting too. I enjoyed trying to decipher the type of group- family, village, SHG, paid tour. I was struck that many people seemed to have little identity tags pinned to their shirts. This made me realise what a huge trip a visit to the Ganga must be for some. If any of you are bristling at my looking at people as objects of curiosity, you will be glad to know that we were at the receiving end too. The funniest episode came about when M and I saw a strange group of men.

They were strangely dressed- even by Har-ki-Pauri standards. But good-looking, too. They were tall and lean, with dark chiseled faces and hair that just touched their shoulders. To set off the hard cragginess of their features, they were enveloped in yards of white. Each man was dressed in a voluminous long gown, cinched at the waist with an equally large cummerbund. Sadly, this rather splendid effect was spoiled by their headgear. The elaborate white turban looked well enough, but this was further capped by a little brass dome with peacock feathers sticking out of it. They were not wearing the entire feather, but a bunch of the little tendrils found at the base of each tail feather. I am not sure if they were wearing salwars, because we were trying not to look at them too openly in fear of being thought rude. They however, did not have such inhibitions, and stopped to stare at us. What made me burst out laughing was M's plaintive protest," why are they staring at us? They are the ones wearing fountains on their heads!"

In all fairness, we were wearing pens in our that counts as odd headgear.


Anonymous said...

...because they probably could See the invisible fountain you wear on yours.

where did you think the poems came from?


ana @ i made it so said...

that little photo conveys so much, the movement, the texture, the striking colours! i'm fascinated by textiles from around the world, my heart quickened a bit as i read about the multiple wool layers. i would've loved to have seen that... what kind of wool? what kind of knitting or weaving? (just questions that popped in my mind, not that i'm expecting you to answer :))... thanks so much for sharing this little slice of your experience.

chicu said...

I remember one woman's wool clothing, and largely because with a few tweaks, that's something i could have worn (if i was much younger)..a v-neck sleeveless pullover in cream with a bobbl-y pattern, over which was a pink cable knit with plastic flower shaped buttons. the wool was commercially made (most likely a wool-acrylic mix), but the sweaters looked knitted at home. underneath these two were assorted thinner layers that peeked out from between her saree and the sweater.
Terribly non-technical, i know. (bobbly?) but hope you can 'see' it!