18 minute read

WRAP & WEFT: Celebrating the women who maketh the saree


Ratna Krishnakumar

Ratna Krishnakumar


Crafting a journey of artistry

The beautiful salt and pepper-haired Ratna Krishnakumar is elegance and poise personified but get her talking about handloom, and she is all excitement. Her passion for handloom sarees is obvious in the way her eyes light up while talking about the saree she wears. “This is a ghas butti, an old design inspired by wildflowers,” she explains. “This ancient design was revived in collaboration with master weavers in Varanasi – we were delighted with the result and they were happy too, as they’d never imagined weaving these age-old designs again!”

Ratna has been working with craftspeople across the country as part of Paramparik Karigar, an association of craftsmen, reviving traditional handloom. “Being involved in the lives of the artisans is truly energising! Interaction with people at the ground level recharges me - it is where I draw my energy from.”

Ratna had also worked tirelessly to revive a community of out-of-work weavers in Varanasi. Today the weavers, who were once struggling to make ends meet, make saree uniforms for Taj hotels. “It wasn’t easy to earn their trust – we had to offer them ‘bribes’ to work for us!” laughs Ratna, as she recalls the days when she had to buy solar lights, water pumps… even spectacles for the weavers! Tata Trusts and the Krishnamurthy Foundation School were also involved in helping with the education of the weaver’s children in the village.

Ratna Krishnakumar

Ratna Krishnakumar

Says Ratna. “Seeing artisans working, talking to them about their daily lives so intertwined with the rhythm of the loom, as it were... it has also brought me closer to handloom itself,” she explains. “To see how much labour of love and creativity goes into making a handloom saree – it makes me appreciate the end product more. I have to thank the weavers for my increasing love for handloom.”

Ratna has been involved with Taneira from the outset; she helped mentor the team and provided valuable insights. She believes that the traditional handloom saree never goes out of fashion. “In the past, crafts thrived because of royal patronage. Now, it’s good to see corporates such as Taneira taking on the responsibility... 20 years down the line, my granddaughter should be able to wear the same saree with pride. This is not a heritage we can afford to lose!”

“3 things I always carry in my bag”

1. Money, of course!

2. A directory of weavers and craftsman so that I can contact them in any town I am travelling to.

3. And last, but not the least, my 5-year-old granddaughter’s photograph, with whom I wish I could spend more time. She has a more hectic social life than I do!


Mimi Partha Sarathy

Mimi Partha Sarathy

Nurturing an inheritance of heritage

She is bold and beautiful and wears her Kanjeevarams and Banarasis too in rich, luxurious colours - as she reaches out to embrace life in all its hues

Dynamic, with a capital ‘D’, is how she is best described. Founder of a topnotch investment advisory company and a well-known yoga school, the vivacious dancer, yoga exponent and mountain-climber is also passionately involved in the conservation of elephants! Says Mimi, “Everything that’s happened to me is by chance, not by design.” But what she does do consciously is integrate her work into her daily life. “One’s work gives one clarity and energy. The divide between work and other aspects of life causes problems.” Her diary of to-dos therefore blends in both her ‘work’ and ‘personal life’. Another life lesson she believes in is to live in the present. “My father told me something very important when he left me to do my Masters Degree in Geneva, Switzerland - nothing matters as much as it seems to at that moment. Yes, we make mistakes, but we must move on.” Mimi’s big driver in life is the “desire to be simple and do good”. She adds: “What may be right for you may be wrong for me, but there is a universal rightness and goodness of Dharma and that’s what we learn in the study of Yoga. I also believe that my study of the Shastras and

Bhagavat Gita has kept me grounded. I am not here to prove a point to anyone. If I am able to share positive energy through the work I do with everyone, this is great!”

Theirs is a home of three women – Mimi’s mother, Mimi and her daughter – Hamsini - who is currently abroad. Mimi feels women today are empowered and need to strike a balance between their basic nesting instinct and a demanding career. But the wise lady knows that life is not divided into watertight compartments. Mimi herself takes as much pleasure talking of her inheritance of heritage, as she does about her work. “My great-grandmother was a great designer. She would design everything from sarees to sandalwood dolls! We have a beautiful collection in our house!” Mimi lives in a bungalow surrounded by unique plants and trees in one of the older localities of Bangalore that showcases the aesthetic inclinations of the ladies living in it.

While sarees are part of her heritage, and she considers each saree to be a “very special ornament”, Mimi is particularly fond of Kanjeevaram and Banarasi drapes which she pairs with traditional jewellery - several pieces designed by her grandmother and mother.

“3 things I do before ending my day”

1. I have a pure vegetarian dinner - I have been a satvik for 8 years now… I feel lesser the choice you have, lighter you eat! (laughs)

2. I catch up on the news - financial and political.

3. Finally, I have to relax before I turn in and so I just watch my breath with a few minutes of pranayama. I try to count my breath for 20-30 times and just let go of the day’s happenings.


Kausalya Satyakumar

Kausalya Satyakumar

Rooted in tradition & forging ahead

Growing up with a grandmother who was an antique collector, Kausalya has always had an inclination for traditional aesthetics from as far back as she can remember. “I would put myself in a ‘box’ of tradition, culture, heritage - it is what my roots are all about. So, if you look at art, I would possibly still go with the Tanjore painting, something which I can relate to, rather than something which is impressionistic or new age.”

Warm and elegant, Kausalya Satyakumar, cuts a striking figure and carries the saree with fluid grace. Her choice for the shoot is Ayyampet silk, one of the lost weaves of Tanjore. “It’s got a satin weave border. It’s a ‘revival’ saree,” explains the textile expert. She is passionate about traditional Indian textiles - the forms, designs, why it’s going extinct - but also about anything that is rooted in culture and heritage.

Kausalya graduated in Home Science but that was a mere chance – her heart was always in textiles. Ever since those days, she has been involved in one way or other in textiles, and associating with Taneira especially, has made her feel that “she has finally come home to work!” Naturally, she wears sarees on most days, and for occasion-wear too, it’s strictly sarees and handloom. “I am not one for synthetics,” she smiles, pushing back her stylish salt and pepper hair.

Kausalya Satyakumar

Kausalya Satyakumar

A busy lady, with grown-up children working away from home, Kausalya starts her day with a walk in Bangalore’s historic Lalbagh. Post breakfast, which she cooks herself – it’s all work. No, it doesn’t make her dull at all. On the contrary, she loves it, since it’s all to do with her passion, Indian textiles. Such is her inclination for heritage that even when she travels, which she enjoys, she generally likes to visit places rooted in tradition and culture.

"3 must-dos in my day"

1. I do not miss a 10-minute pranayama session, wherever I am. When I am travelling, it may be the evening when I do this, but I never miss this.

2. I also never miss my walk. Even when I travel, I try my best to go for a short walk wherever I am, depending on the surroundings. Being with Taneira, I travel a lot to many places, so wherever it is amenable to walk, I walk. That’s my only fitness regimen!

3. At the end of the day, I watch TV and I fall asleep (laughs).


Priya Alex

Priya Alex

Grace on and off the putting green

"I can wear a saree in minutes!" declares this vivacious golfer who says the saree is a winner, anywhere, any time

Warm and eloquent, Bangalore’s well-known golfer, Priya Alex, 47, is passionate about her sport and is out daily on the course. Every inch the stylish sportswoman, she stands tall and elegant. Growing up, she played basketball - golf happened to her much later when her husband gifted her with a golf kit. She discovered she simply loved the game and excelled in it too! Many tournaments and wins later, she is still in love with the game.

Priya’s life though is not just about golf. She is also the proud mother to charming twin girls, who recently graduated from colleges in the US. She is a genuine people’s person. “I look up to anyone with guts to fight the odds and make it.” Not surprising, this lady picks her life lessons too from her muses. “I like to think of myself as a work of art which is in transition, and can constantly improve.”

Priya Alex

Priya Alex

A fervent advocate of women empowerment and an engineering grad herself, Priya says with characteristic panache, “We all walk a tight rope between many roles. My time gets divided between golf, workouts, a bit of social work, keeping up with my love for classical art forms while also trying to squeeze in time with family and friends... I just play it by the ear!”

Her motto is to live in the moment and she is all enthused when at Taneira, reveling in the saree she chooses to wear for the shoot. Typical of her lively personality, Priya opts for a bright pink Narikunj Patola silk, contrasted with a mustard blouse, and is all game to try out different drapes. She is as comfortable in a saree as her golfing gear (“I can drape a saree in minutes”) and loves wearing natural textiles. Growing up in hot and humid Kerala, her inclination for handloom was a natural transition.

“Handwork is handwork! I love the complexity of the weaves!” says Priya who believes that handloom is intrinsically linked to Indian culture and community structure. So how does she buy her sarees? “The colour, texture and the element of uniqueness in a saree are what attract me.”

"3 things I absolutely must do before calling it a day"

1. I have to watch TV, either a game or a show.

2. I read up on what’s happening around me, catch up on news.

3. And finally, I go to sleep to the sound of music…


Vrunda Bhaskar

Vrunda Bhaskar

All things quiet and quintessential

Soft-spoken and gentle, the gracious Vrunda Bhaskar chooses a bright orange saree which she contrasts with a leaf-patterned rich silk blouse for the shoot. Declares the lady: “These colours, they excite me, in the sense that I feel happy from within. It’s a Kanjeevaram silk, my favourite because it feels comfortable and yet it’s so rich. And the zari is so subdued, it’s almost as if it’s not there….”

As the wife of a senior corporate, she was called to be in the limelight often but all along, her passion has been to give back; that’s what led to her involvement in the NGO she continues to be a part of. “This goes beyond my city or country… It’s about caring for people at every level, anywhere, any time of life, to be able to be empathetic and compassionate, that’s what is important for me.”

Vrunda Bhaskar

Vrunda Bhaskar

But, currently this new grandmother – her daughter’s baby just turned one – finds herself delving within herself. “Activism was very important to me but now I find myself wondering about our journey here, why are we here. I am trying to understand the mystery… Oh, this is all too clichéd!” she laughs lightly. Nothing pompous about this graceful lady, who lists trekking as her favourite past time. She and her husband still get away for a spot of trekking, when they can.

Being totally honest about herself is important to Vrunda. So when we get talking about sarees, she says that she likes handloom but that her understanding of handloom has come about only in recent years. “I like natural textiles, silk and cotton, they just feel more comfortable.” She is equally candid about her choice of books. “I am currently reading a thriller called ‘Gray Mountain’ by John Grisham but I am quite capable of reading an Enid Blyton too – yes even now!” she smiles.

“3 things guaranteed to up my mood”

1. Being in the mountains, any mountain actually, just to be outdoors in the breeze…

2. Being by myself! I love my family but it does get a bit much sometimes!

3. Reading a book, of course! I am okay with anything but prefer fiction. I don’t like the Kindle, I love to feel the books, turn the pages. There is this book called Gut. It’s not fiction, but it’s almost like one. I enjoy it and keep reading, I carry it with me like The Bible. (The book is about the journey of food within our bodies, literally.)


Vandana Marol

Vandana Marol

Always handloom and in enduring styles!

An architect by profession, and a dancer by passion, Vandana’s days are packed. Says the lady, “I learn and teach Kathak; I’ve been practising for more than 10 years now and I enjoy it immensely. Weekdays are for work but my weekends are devoted to dance, and in the middle, there is family and home!” she laughs, adding that she has a great supportive family and is grateful that she is able to do what she enjoys.

The slight, cheerful person in a neat, no-fuss black dress transforms as if by magic into a graceful sophisticated lady in the golden glow of the munga silk she chooses to wear for the shoot. Says Vandana: “I love these ‘wild silks’; I like their lustre and the subtlety. This saree has so much work on it - I fell in love with it right away!” The 50 plus landscape architect and mother of a grown-up son – a graphic artist – is naturally inclined to all things aesthetic, Vandana says architecture allows her to find a space where the arts and sciences meet. As it is in her aesthetic preferences, in her choice of ensemble too, Vandana is inclined to the classic.

“I enjoy wearing a saree because I think it’s such an eternal garment, imbued with innate grace and elegance. I know there are trends in sarees but I generally prefer the classic styles – they are appropriate at all points in time.” A self-confessed “lazy person”, Vandana reserves the saree for special occasions, because she likes to do it well – making sure the blouse, the accessories are all in place. When she does wear a saree, it is only handloom.

Vandana Marol

Vandana Marol

I enjoy wearing a saree - I think it’s an ‘eternal’ attire. And I like to wear it well, with the right blouse and accessories always

“Handloom suits my design sensibility. I have my preferences. Tussar is my favourite because I think it’s very versatile, you can dress it up, you can wear it casually, it drapes well, it’s comfortable, it’s hardwearing, it suits any weather and it feels wonderful.” An artiste herself, Vandana feels keenly for the weavers. “They are labelled as craftsmen and artisans but I think they are all artists. I don’t understand the distinction that’s made!”

"My 3 must-dos before I call it a day"

1. Organise things for the next day.

2. Cuddle with my pet cats.

3. Read a book before I sleep.


Linet Shoby

Linet Shoby

Her first choice, always the saree

Linet Shoby is the quintessential corporate professional - warm and approachable yet firm when it comes to getting the job done. The Executive Assistant to the Chief Strategy Officer, Titan Company Limited, believes in being hands-on - so she seldom sends anyone across to a colleague’s desk when she wants something done. She simply walks across herself. And it’s her ready laughter and charm that gets the work done - not an ‘official’ demeanour. The effervescent Linet is quite the energy of the office, always up for a celebration, getting involved in every detail.

This bright-eyed professional in her 30s, makes light of her packed day, with characteristic enthusiasm for the many hats she wears. A mother of two, Linet’s day begins with packing off the children to school. But however strapped for time, she would not miss cooking for her family. “I love to cook. And enjoy the compliments too!” she declares, dimpling. Lunch-time sees much camaraderie as Linet shares her delicious home-cooked food with her colleagues. “I eat everything, no dieting and no work-outs. I just walk 10 minutes to my office cab in the morning, that’s all!” adds the dynamic and vivacious young professional.

Linet Shoby

Linet Shoby

One thing that makes Linet stand out is that she is most often dressed in a saree - even if she has to be on her feet through a long working day. “Out of five days, I would be wearing a saree to office three days in the week. I do my own ‘value addition’ and design them. I’ve been wearing sarees since I was 18-19. My friends ask me how I manage to drape my saree so gracefully, and carry it so easily and modestly. They say that whatever be the saree, it looks good when I drape it. I tell them that because I love the saree, the saree loves me back!”

Linet loves to collect sarees from across the country but her all-time favourite is the cotton saree. “No, cotton sarees are not difficult. Once you start wearing them, get practice, it’s easy,” says Linet. For the shoot, she wears a Rajkot Ikat in blue that offsets her lovely colouring and kohl-lined eyes. A touch of kundan completes the look.

“3 things that make my day”

1. Getting to spend more time with my kids makes me the happiest.

2. I love to cook and when people enjoy the food I cook – I am delighted.

3. I love to talk, and it makes my day to be able to share a good laugh with friends.


Sudeepthi VJ

Sudeepthi VJ

Food, travel, sarees & more...

She follows her passions, even though they may take her off the beaten track. An adventurer, her go-to ensembles is athleisure but what fascinates her is the 6 yards of grace - worn with a bindi

This adventure-seeker’s life choices are indeed singular. Which young professional have you come across giving up a coveted job in one of the most respectable firms to pick up a bag pack and head to the ‘wilds’ of Australia? That’s what this brand professional did after 11 years in a full-time job. “Now I just wish I had done it earlier!” says Sudeepthi, smiling, “It did take me some time and a lot of contemplation. I couldn’t do it just like that but I love it!”

Eyes sparkling, she explains: “When you travel as a backpacker, you get the local feel; it’s different from being on a package tour. You stay in hostels, meet people from all walks of life from across the world and you exchange so many stories. It gives you a new perspective. When one goes out and sees the world, the little things which troubles one, seem so trivial. In my case at least, for the first time, I was talking so much about my country.”

Sudeepthi VJ

Sudeepthi VJ

Having stepped off the rat race, she prefers to stay out and freelance as a brand consultant. Sudeepthi also spends time focusing on her other passion: food. She is particularly excited about checking out new eating places. Being a vegetarian in no way restricts her from enjoying her favourite cuisines - Indian, Thai and Italian. “I like going all over the city to try out new things. It’s the traveller in me.” In fact food often overlaps with travel for her. She has travelled across Mumbai, Amritsar and Delhi “only to eat”, she declares, laughing. Now she has the north-east in mind. “The fun of it all starts when you are planning the trip!” she says.

Yes, sporty travel gear is her go-to for practical reasons, but what fascinates this affable and attractive young person is the saree. “I used to drape my mom’s dupatta like a saree. I have a picture of me as a girl wearing a custom-made saree made up of smaller fabric - that my mother got especially for me.” The check saree she chooses for the shoot offsets her glowing dusky complexion and generous curves to perfection. Says Sudeepthi: “I like to keep it simple, without too much zari or bling. It’s my love for checks & fuchsia that drew me to this piece. It’s so light and soft that I could stay in it all day!”

"3 style tips I believe in"

1. I like to mix and match - so I usually wear a blouse that is not a set with the saree.

2. Whatever I wear, it must be comfortable!

3. I love statement jewellery - mostly earrings.