Friday, 20 March 2009

Bye, Bye Tanchoi

I saw the most gorgeous saree a quarter of a century ago in a plush New Delhi silk house. Finely woven silver grey threads spread themselves
effortlessly in a delicate floral, mind-capturing jaal design over rich maroon. I reached out to feel its rich texture, truly mesmerised. It was my introduction to the royal Tanchoi, the special woven silk from Uttar Pradesh. Soon a mother-daughter duo was by my side. I knew they coveted the saree from the look in their eyes. The mother announced "We will take it." "I was looking at it first," I announced. "Sisterji", said the salesman, "I have so many other sarees... See this one, this one..." I dug into my purse to pay him and said, "But I want this one." It cost about a thousand rupees. I found, to my horror, that I was falling short. "Here, you keep this money. I will be back tomorrow with the rest and take the saree," I told him. "We will pay you all the amount right now," said the duo thrusting the money into his hands. I wasn't letting go of it that easily. We soon marched to the owner and he agreed to keep the saree for me.

I still love the way it falls and feels 25 years down the line, with its sheer elegance and style. I marvel at the craftsman or woman who would have woven the magic, his or her heightened sense of design and colour, whenever i catch a glimpse of it in my cupboard. I found fakes in Sarojini Nagar market two years ago and knew then that the wonder saree fabric was in trouble. The shopkeeper informed me that the mechanised form was from China. I found a reputed saree house from South India, whose name is synonymous with the best of silk, stacking the fakes in its new upmarket South Delhi showroom and realised just how serious the trouble was. Oh what a fall! Were there no takers for the original? Something a friend said made me weep. She had recently returned from Varanasi, having met people who once worked the magic in gossamer silk threads, the master weavers. The mechanised fakes have spelt doom. Who will spend thousands now, when the machine-made variety is available for a mere fraction? The weavers have turned rickshaw-pullers. It has taken just a couple of years to reduce a centuries-old flourishing, artistic industry into nothingness. Will it be bye, bye, Tanchoi forever? Will no fiscal or other packages come to its rescue? Those hands that steer the rickshaw must get back to the loom.

The article first appeared in the March 20,2009 edition of the TImes of India.

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