Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi, 19.11.1917-31.10.1984.

When I was a schoolgirl in Delhi, our school was called upon to be part of the welcome for the visiting Soviet leader – we are probably part of some long lost Films Division footage of bright schoolchildren waving flags:) Then and now Indira Gandhi is a polarising figure and her legacy much debated.  But to a small me back then, the waving smiling Prime Minister instilled a dim awareness that when I grew up much was possible in this world. Even for girls.

When you grow up you realise that things are far more complicated and not every female role model is perfect. Still even today that feeling of a young child looking at a powerful leader and thinking, “ like me she was once a little girl” is not all that common. On this day here is to that feeling and the hope that some day it will be commonplace.

Turning to her sartorial style, while Indian royalty and cinema are usually cited as influences on Indian fashion, Indira Gandhi’s style was equally influential and in many ways still provides a template for serious dressing akin to the business suit.  The style owes much to the freedom movement and as can be seen in today’s photographs. Mrs. Gandhi stuck to this template throughout her life with small shifts with each decade.  The saris draw on India’s handlooms and are usually natural fibre and in neutral or earth colours. The blouse is simple and matched and the jewellery minimal. It is a no-fuss, elegant look that can be further dressed up or down as required and is at home everywhere.

The pics are from the 1940s through to the 1980s. Pic 1 from photodivision, the rest from Getty Images.

Posted in 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 20th century, fashion, Indian Dress, Indian fashion, Indian Women, Politicians, Politics, Sari, Sari Blouse, sari drape, sari history, Vintage, Vintage Dress, vintage fashion, Women Rulers, Working Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deepavali Special

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Manoranjan*, in its Diwali Special issue, published a separate section ‘Striyance Lekh’ (Articles of women writers). The enthusiastic editor Kashinath Raghunath Mitra, is responsible for the creation of a whole generation of women short-story writers [X].

Almost everyone must be familiar with the Diwali/Deepavali special issue that were produced in regional languages for much of the 20th century in India (and are still around today).  In the East this was the Pujo special (pic 4). The special magazine was a compendium of features (which were typically on religion, history and travel), short stories, poems, cartoons and artwork. Often a children’s section was included, as an example Deepavali Malars in Tamil included a section called Papa Malar (A Child’s Garland). The magazine provided enough reading material over the holidays for a family and one could return to it through the year until the next one came along.

Their history appears to date back to the early 20th century and they also appear to have provided many women with their first taste of literary success, as with Manoranjan.

*Manoranjan was a Marathi magazine first published 1909.  The Diwali issue appears to be 1911/1912. For more on the magazine here.

Happy Deepavali! .

The magazines, Loksatta (Marathi), Dharmyug (Hindi), Ananda Vikatan (Tamil) and Arunachal (Bengali).

Pic sources: X (1997), X (1961), X (1964) and X. (via Abhijit Gupta).


Posted in 1910s, 1960s, 1990s, 20th century, ananda vikatan, Bengali, Culture, Early 20th Century, Hindi, Hinduism, Illustration, Indian Aesthetics, indian art, indian festivals, Indian Women, late 20th century, Magazine, Maharashtra, retro, Tamil, Vintage Magazine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


दन्या चीनाखान की दक्ष महिताओं के नृत्यगीत अल्पना की तो ख्याति सुनी ही थी, उस दिन देख भी लिया. केवल अँगुली  के नैपुन्य से चित्रांकित हर रेखा का ये गजब का संतुलन था और कैसी अचूक सीध! शांतिनिकेतन में नंदलाल बोस की पुत्री गौरीभंज की जादुई अँगुलियों का चमत्कार तो देखा ही था जिसके पीछे कलागुरु पिता की शिक्षा, निष्ठा,अनुभव का दीर्घ इतिहास था। किन्तु कुमाऊँ की सरल, दस-बारह वर्ष की वयस में ही बहू बनकर आयी इन बड़ी-बूढ़ियों का कलागुरु था स्वयं विधाता। दो सखियाँ –  शिवानी

I had heard of the famous Nrityageet* alpanas of the talented women of Danya and Chinakhan, that day I saw it too.  Painted simply with dexterous fingers, each line was wonderfully balanced and how precisely straight! In Shantiniketan I had seen the wonder that was the magical fingers of Gauribhanj, behind which lay the long history of the education, determination and experience of her teacher and father, Nandalal Bose.  But Kumaon’s simple women, who came here as brides aged 10-12 years and are now old, their artist-teacher is God himself. Two Friends – Shivani.

Shivani was a  Hindi writer, born 17 October 1923.


Pic from here.

Posted in 1920s, 20th century, Decorative Arts, hindi literature, Indian Literature, Indian Women, Literature, My Translations, Vintage Books, vintage photography, vintage style, Women, women writers | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mantilla Post

In the pics: The late 19th/early 20 century practice of wearing a mantilla with the sari. Often made of lace. Probably a result of the popularity of the mantilla in nineteenth century Europe and more or less confined to Bengal.

Though we think of Gayatri Devi – and perhaps Indira Devi – as epitomising Indian elegance, the original style queen is without doubt Suniti Devi  The mantilla was popularised by her (pic 1 via Getty), it was part of a simplification of the brahmika style introduced by Jnanadanandini Devi

Judging by pic 3, the style was around even in 1911 though you can see it as early as 1883 on Mrinalini Devi (Tagore’s wife).

Though not akin to lace mantillas, the practice of wearing an extra piece of cloth draped over the sari on the upper part of the body is common in weddings in some parts of India (e.g. the Marathi shela, also in this Telugu wedding and in Bengal) – pic 3 is fairly similar though I believe it is intended as an adjunct to the sari that falls right down to the lower leg.

pic 2: via Geraldine Forbes. pic 4: Alkazi collection

A modern version here.

Posted in 1880s, 1910s, 19th century, 20th century, Accessories, Bengal, Colonial, Dress Reform, Early 19th century, fashion, Indian Aesthetics, Indian Costume, Indian Women, Photography, Royalty, Sari, sari history, Studio Portraits, Vintage, vintage costume, vintage photography, vintage sari, vintage style | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Brooch Post

I had an anon query on tumblr awhile back on how sari pins were worn so I thought I would do a quick post on how brooches were worn in the 1930s and 1940s.

Pins and brooches were around earlier (e.g. 1900s/1910s) earlier and were like the Edwardian bar pin or a round, jewelled brooch. Generally they held the pleats at the shoulder together, around this time the pleats were often bunched and then fastened, the loose end could then be readily draped over the head if required as in the portrait of Sarojini Naidu.

But the prolific use of pins and brooches for sarees is in the 1930s and 1940s. In part this may be due to the fact that the 6 yard saree became very common and probably required some pinning for women unused to the style. The style also made it possible to display this kind of jewellery.

Apart from pinning the saree at the shoulder either by way of the elongated bar pin or an elaborate jewelled brooch (pics 1-4), the brooch was also used to pin the saree at the waist as in pics 5 and 6.  While pinning on the left side seems an elegant way of anchoring the cross drape, you sometimes see brooches on the right side (pic 7) as well as anchored way up as in the artful drape of pic 8 (a similar drape in pic 5).

The brooches of pics 9 and 10 appear to be merely decorative given they are pinned to the blouse and the sari then draped so that they are displayed.

A modern version of the bar pin here.

Posted in 1910s, 1930s, 1940s, 20th century, Accessories, Early 20th Century, fashion, Indian fashion, Indian Women, Jewellery, retro fashion, vintage fashion, vintage jewellery, vintage style | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Autumn Festival

Thanks to RL long time since I did any significant update except for a few pieces now and then on tumblr. Before I start again just a few pics for autumn/Dusshera.


It was autumn, not a doubt of it. Ere long a forest of Kash flowers would whiten the river bank. Padma Nadir Majhi.

If I meet her again twenty years from now!
Again in twenty years –
Beside a sheaf of grain, perhaps,
In the month of Kartik-
When the evening crow goes home – the yellow river
Flows softened through reeds, kash-grass into the fields! Jibanananda Das.

I always like seasonal posts, so here is one of autumn. The painting is by Prankrishna Pal.

On the streets of Mumbai, apta and marigold being sold in early October (photographs mine).

And paintings of the goddess, in one a glimpse of Kali/Durga, the other of Saraswati.

The first painting is by KH Ara, the second is attributed to Manisha.

Posted in 1940s, 1950s, 20th century, Art, costumes in art, Culture, Dancer, Early 20th Century, Flowers, Flowers in Literature, Goddess, Hinduism, Indian Aesthetics, indian art, Indian Costume, indian festivals, Indian Flora, Indian Women, Paintings, Sari, Sari Blouse, Vintage, vintage art | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

प्रेमचंद के फटे जूते/Premchand’s Torn Shoes


Source: Flickr.

Most folk would have seen the Google Doodle of 31 July 2016 in honour of Premchand’s birth anniversary.

My translation of Harishankar Parsai‘s essay Premchand ke Fate Joote (Premchand’s torn shoes) below. Original Hindi version from which I translated  here. Its fairly rough so excuse the translation but you can get the gist of it.


Before me is a picture of Premchand, a photograph taken with his wife.  On his head is a cap of some kind of thick cloth, he also wears a kurta and dhoti. His forehead is taut, his cheekbones protrude, but his luxuriant moustache fills out his face.

On his feet are canvas shoes, its laces are tied untidily. Due to the carelessness in tying, the metal tips of the laces seem to be falling off and it is difficult to insert the laces in the eyelets on the shoe. The laces are then tied any which way.

The right shoe is fine but the left shoe has a big hole and the digits stick out.

My attention is fixed on that shoe. I think – if this is the attire for taking a photograph, what is worn informally? No, this man does not possess different kinds of attire – he doesn’t possess the virtues of changing his attire according to the occasion. What he is is what you see in the posed photograph.

I then look at his face. Do you know, my literary predecessor that your shoe is torn and your toes show through it? Do you have no realisation of this? No shame, no sense of abashment or hesitance?  Do you not even know that if you pulled the dhoti down a little the toes could have been hidden? And yet on your face there is a great indifference, a great confidence! When the photographer said “Ready, Please”, then according to tradition you would have attempted to smile and just when you tried to slowly draw out the smile lying somewhere in the oil of a deep well of hurt the photographer would have clicked and said “Thank You”. Strange is this incomplete smile.  This is not a smile, there is derision, satire in it!

What kind of a man is this who takes a photograph of himself in torn shoes and is also laughing at someone!

If you have to take a photograph, you wear proper shoes or do not take one at all. You don’t lose anything by not taking one. Perhaps it was on your wife’s insistence and you thought all right and sat down to have your photograph taken. But this is such a great “tragedy” that a man did not have the shoes to take a photograph. Looking often at  your photograph I want to cry as I feel within myself your anguish but I am stopped by the sharp, sorrow filled satire of your eyes.

You do not understand the importance of a photograph. If you did, you would have borrowed shoes before getting photographed.  People borrow a coat to display prospective bridegrooms.  People take out a baraat in a borrowed car. To take a photograph, even a wife may be borrowed, and you could not even ask for a pair of shoes! You do not understand the importance of a photograph.People daub themselves with attar so their photograph is fragrant! Even the worst of men have perfumed photographs!

A cap can be bought for 8 annas and shoes even at that time would have cost no less than 5 rupees. A shoe is always more expensive than a cap. Now the price of shoes has increased even more and for one shoe you can sacrifice 25 caps. You too were affected by this proportional value of shoes and caps. This anomaly has never struck me with such sharpness before as today when I see your torn shoes. So many epithets –  a great writer, the king of novels, an era changing author and many more – and yet the torn shoes in a photograph!

My shoes are never very good either. Though they look good externally. My toes do not protrude, but beneath the big toe the base is torn. The sole rubs against the ground and sometimes it is abraded and bloodied by the rough ground. The whole base may fall, the whole sole may peel, yet the toe will not protrude. Your toes are seen but your feet are protected. My toes are covered but the sole is being worn away.  You do not understand the importance of a curtain and here I am sacrificing myself for the curtain!

You wear your torn shoes with such pride and style! I cannot wear them so. Never will I take such a photograph in my entire life, even for a biography.

This satirical smile of yours depresses my morale. What does it mean? What kind of a smile is it?

—Did Hori  gift a cow?

—On a winter night did the nilgai graze and destroy the entire field of Halku?

—Did the son of Sujan Bhagat die because the doctor did not want to leave the Club?

No, I think Madho drank away the money given for his wife’s coffin. It seems like that kind of smile.

I again look at your shoes. How did it tear, my people’s writer?

Did you keep wandering?

To escape your dues to the grocer did you take a 2 mile detour to get home?

Wandering your shoes do not tear, they are worn away. Kumbhandas’ shoes were worn away in his travels to Fatehpur Sikri. He regretted a good deal. He said – “Coming and going my soles are worn, I forgot the name of Hari”.

And to those who called to gift he said – “Looking on them causes pain, yet I have to salute them.”

When we walk our shoes wear away, they do not tear.

I think that you have been hitting something hard and immovable. Some thing that has hardened layer by layer over many years, perhaps you hit that repeatedly and your shoes tore. Some raised mound in the middle of the road, perhaps you tested your shoes on it.

You could have taken a diversion and walked around that raised mound. You can after all compromise with the obstacles in your way. All rivers do not break mountains, some simply change course and go another way.

You cannot compromise. Do you also have the same weakness that drowned Hori, the very same weakness of custom and “dharma”? That dharma was his chains. But the way you smile, perhaps this dharma is not your chains but your liberation!

Your toes seem to be signalling something to  me, that which you think is hateful, perhaps towards it you do not point a finger but your toes?

Are you now making a gesture to that thing against which you collided repeatedly thus tearing your shoes?

I understand. I understand the gesture of your pointing toes and your sardonic smile.

You must laugh at me and all of us, at those who walk covering their toes and wearing out their soles, at those who bypass obstacles and walk on. You say – encountering obstacles I have torn my shoes, my toes protrude but my feet were saved and I walked on. But you were so worried about covering your toes you destroyed your sole. How will you walk?

I understand.  I understand the matter of your torn shoes, I understand the gesture of your toes, I understand your satirical smile.


Even though Parsai in this piece suggests that the photograph might have been taken at the insistence of his wife (Shivarani Devi) it doesn’t appear that she has “dressed up” for the photograph either. The sari she wears is a kind that was quite simple and worn by many  women in the 30s-50s, she also retains the full sleeved older kind of blouse (if we assume this as taken in the 30s). As for her shoes, those are fairly straightforward khadaun/sandals with all her toes shown:)


An earlier post on Miss Malti in Godaan – styling by Pallavi Datta.

Posted in 1930s, 20th century, Authors, Early 20th Century, hindi literature, India, Indian Authors, Indian Dress, Indian Literature, Indian men, Literature, My Translations, Photography, Vintage Men | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments