Miss Meena

A lot of my free time for the past seven odd months has been taken up by Miss Meena – who seems to get into trouble requiring vet care now and then – as a result I haven’t been able to concentrate on the blog as much as I would like to. She has recovered well and is very playful and energetic (making her a bit of a handful when she is in our house) 🙂

She is still a quasi domestic/quasi street dog – the lure of the street is too strong with her! Partly this is because she has a family.  We got her mother sterilised and her brother, Mr Deeka, is doing well (the puppy trio was named Eena, Meena, Deeka – unfortunately Eena got killed by a car).

Hopefully now that she is all grown up things will go on more steadily once she is spayed:)

Where Miss Meena got treated. For general info on the INDog/desi dog, page here.

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There are plenty of examples of clothes from the West that make use of Indian textiles, at least from the Regency period onwards. Examples include muslin, paisley shawls, 1950s dresses and cotton gauze dresses of the 70s and 80s.

There are also in various periods clothes inspired by the sari – typically called a sari dress or sari gown.  More often than not they take an element of the sari -the flowing lower half, the one shoulder drape, the loose end over a shoulder – while adhering to the principles of dress construction (which is a defining shape as opposed to the sari where the wearer has a degree of latitude regarding the drape). The silhouettes are typical of a decade – be it a shift or a lower skirt.

A defining feature of sari wear rarely adopted in these clothes is the separation of the costume into a blouse and the main piece of cloth which usually leaves a portion of the waist uncovered.

Examples include 1) Regency gown 2) Regency overdress and 1880s dress, Paris – apart from the fabric the bottom mimics the skirt like pleats of the modern sari 3) Poiret’s version, one of many, the sari addition is usually a playful adjunct to the 1910s/20s silhouette 4 and 5) Schiaparelli’s version (she had a fair few versions – one looks a bit like a 40s sari) 6) Balenciaga gold sari 7) Oscar de la Renta’s 1980 version 8) Valentino’s 1989 gown (via europeanafashion.eu) and 9) Chanel’s 2010 gown. Click on the pics for a better view.

And more at a pretty comprehensive list @borderandfall-lens


A bit on Arnold Scassi’s gowns for Barbra Streisand in 1969 that used saris as the base material. This extract is a little rapturous about the saris he considered, eventually I think he went with the red with paisley design for a one shoulder sari gown.

Most educated women, and it is not an exaggeration to claim about 99 per cent, do not consider gowns as tasteful as saris. Jyotirmayee Gangopadhyay, Gown O sari, Bharati 1922, From the Seams of History: Essays on Indian Women.

If the Western incorporation of the sari involves an element of the drape, the Indian incorporation of a gown or dress is often by way of providing for a “frame” for the sari drape. The petticoat of the modern sari is an example – though lehengas et al were used in India they did not function as innerwear.  However, in some 19th century examples – like Lakshmi Bayi in pic 1 – the skirts below are showcased to give an appearance of a gown, a feature that also appears in a contemporary version (pic 2).

Not all “frames” are strictly Western, the khada dupatta uses pyjamas or churidars much like modern dhoti saris, though some examples of the latter veer towards tights territory for a sleeker contemporary look as in pic 5.

The easiest incorporation of foreign elements is of course via the blouse, be it 19th century Victorian influenced blouses or the jacket for a Satya Paul sari (pic 6).  To my mind the looser blouse silhouettes of today owe something to the East as does the obi for a sari (pic 7).

Coming to the drapes, Prajnasundari devi’s sari (pic 3) appears to be draped to look like a gown – though it veers more towards the draped gowns of classical antiquity that appear in Victorian paintings (of which Prinseps’ At the Golden Gate (pic 4) looks eastward and is quite similar to the Maharashtrian 9 yard). Note also the mantilla.

Modern variations of the drape as in the Nikhil Thampi “knot” sari (pic 8) which used an on trend sheer skirt still maintain the three part element – antariya, uttariya and choli.

Structuring the drape brings it as close to a gown as possible for a sari and indeed this version is simply called the sari gown (Indo Western sari seems to be the term of choice for the others).

And while it is hard to dislodge the ubiquitous 6 yard saree drape, the past few years have been very experimental and there seem to be plenty of sites around showcasing variations in drape and with more contemporary elements, be it leather belts or steampunk or just a ruffled underskirt (X, X, X, X, X). And there are plenty of blouse variations around too – though that of course is not uncommon and has a pretty long history.

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This evening dress ending in dhoti, or harem, slits for the feet was an example of the many experiments with trouser-legged fashions around 1910. New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style, Caroline Milbank. 

The Edwardian era borrowed a lot of fashion elements from the East. Still I need to know much more about Edwardian styles before I can say this definitively, but some of the styles are reminiscent of dhoti/salwar , particularly in the folds of the lower half of the gown .E.g. the Duff Gordon dress of 1914 (pic 2) and the fashion illustration of 1912 (pic 3).

Poiret of course freely plundered a lot of Eastern styles and many terms specifically evoked this for his clientele e.g. the “harem trousers” of 1911. The 1913 copy of the Sorbet dress in pic 4 also evokes a dhoti or salwar worn with a short tunic.

Pic 1 is made for a period drama and may owe something to the pannier but the soft drapery and fabric evokes a sari.

Posted in 19th century, 20th century, 21st century, Colonial, Contemporary, contemporary fashion, Costume, Early 20th Century, fashion, India, Indian Aesthetics, Indian Costume, Indian Dress, Indian fashion, Indian Women, Late 19th century, late 20th century, salwar, Sari, Sari Blouse, sari drape, Sari Dress, sari history, Vintage, Vintage Dress, vintage fashion, vintage sari, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sankranti Wishes

The wintry season that abounds with sweet rice
and sugarcane
and mounds of dark palm-sugar dainties;
When Love waxes proud
and love’s sport is at fever-pitch;
when the anguish is intense of parted lovers;
May this season be to you ever auspicious
The Loom of Time-Kalidasa.

Makar Sankranti – literally the transition to the Capricorn constellation – is around Uttarayana (northward course). Around the time of Makar Sankranti there are a clutch of festivals which celebrate harvests and the end of winter and the arrival of a pre-spring period  There are a number of common elements in terms of agricultural produce – rice/puffed rice, sesame seeds (til)*, jaggery and sugarcane. Coming as it does in the late winter, bonfires are lit in some parts of the country (e.g. Lohri and Magh Bihu). And of course there is the kite flying.

Pics: Sankrant greeting card, Radha, Krishna and kites, celebrating Lohri, Bihu dance (Pooja Yadav), Pongal greeting card.

*tilgul = sesame seeds + jaggery balls.


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Internet Sleuthing – Mary Bhor


Mary Bhor (1865?-1913)

Daughter of Rao Saheb Ramji Gangaji Bhor and a second generation Christian, she took advantage of her English education and fairly liberal background provided by her parents. She had obtained a teacher’s training certificate from London and in her capacity as headmistress she had travelled widely in the Bombay presidency, In the 1890s, she held a highly paid appointment as the governess to the princesses of Baroda. She became the Lady Superintendent of the Poona Female High School around 1905. She wrote a travelogue in English called My Impressions of England (Poona, 1900) and a Marathi novel, Pushpakarandak [Basket of Flowers: A Homily] in 1890. The novel is relatively free from a commentary on the relative merits or demerits of Hinduism and Christianity, yet a juxtaposition of one- dimensional characters such as the ‘good and virtuous Shanta’ and the ‘bad prostitute Sundrabai’ places it firmly in the canon of nineteenth-century Marathi literature when the novel as a genre was still in its formative phase.The Emergence of Feminism in India, 1850-1920.

One example of this strategy in practice is Rukmini Sanzgiri, whose works on knitting and crocheting were publicized by Mary Bhor and Pandita Ramabai in the journals and adopted in their schools. The birth and development of the unique women’s press in Maharashtra as shown earlier in this chapter allowed women to develop passionate friendships and express unabashed admiration for the work done by their favourite female leaders. They reviewed each other”s books, wrote biographies of famous contemporary women in the belief that ‘a biography of a woman should be written by women’, housed each other in times of need, and thus developed interpersonal bonds comparable to those developed between British and American feminists during the early nineteenth-century feminist movements. In Maharashtra, women were often encouraged to find inspiration and courage by reading about the women’s movements taking place in far-flung countries, as remote sometimes as China and Mongolia, let alone Britain and America, or through the example of local women who had been heroic and faced society’s opprobrium. The Emergence of Feminism in India, 1850-1920.

Internet sleuthing which reveals obscure details about not so well known people can be a bit addictive and rewarding. And often th search is set off because I am intrigued by a costume. See for e.g. this post on the first women students of the University of Tehran.

Miss Marie Bhor – then studying at Somerville College – is listed as a Parsi who attended the International Council of Women meetings in 1899. Being 1899 Flora Annie Steele ended up speaking on behalf of Indian women even though Bhor had delivered a lecture at one of the sessions and was no doubt perfectly capable of speaking at the meeting.

Miss Bhor’s attire is of course Maharashtrian in origin and not Parsi.  This picture dates from 1905. A little bit more digging and a change in spelling and you can see that this is so in the excerpts posted today. Which also touches on her literary work and early feminism in Maharashtra and makes her more than a woman who wasn’t allowed to speak at a meeting on behalf of Indian women.

Pic from here.

Posted in 1900s, Christianity, Colonial, Costume, Early 20th Century, Feminism, Indian Costume, Indian Women, Maharashtra, regional styles, Sari, Sari Blouse, Victorian, vintage costume, vintage sari, women writers, Working Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parasakthi style in brief

Besides, love between siblings, particularly between the elder brother and younger sister, has become a specific marker of Tamil culture, mainly due to the impact of canonical Tamil films like En Thangai (My Sister, dir. M.K.R. Nambiar and Ch. Narayanamurthy, 1952) and Paasamalar (the Flower of Love, dir. A. Bhimsingh, 1961). [X]

Add to that the landmark 1952 film, Parasakthi which examines post-independence Tamil society through the story of a brother’s search for his younger sister.

The whole look on the actress Sriranjani is classic 1950s, specifically South Indian, but also seen elsewhere. This is a half-saree and the skirt in this decade was quite gathered and full. See also this costume from the same movie.

The female lead played by Pandari Bai is a sort of idealistic pudhumai pen (new woman).

Very 50s in that stripey blouse. And like many 50s davanis, the upper part is a diaphonous piece of cloth. I also kind of like the low bun with flowers which persisted into the early 60s.

Sivaji is in a “jibba” (kurta) and chudidar.  As for that first pic, that is our heroine’s first sighting of the hero:)

Now that I come to think of, this movie has a lot of davanis (half-saree). Most of them feature the very fitted blouses of the 50s with gold thread detail or checks, diaphanous upper part and a gathered skirt. There are minor variations as in these two dance numbers – Kumari Kamala’s skirt has details which seem made for the skirt (as does the blouse) and is akin to a ghaghra versus the striped zari pavadai (skirt) and blouse on Subbulakshmi in the classical performance in the film. I quite like the difference in the zari pattern of the body and the sleeve in Subbulakshmi’s blouse. Also Kamala’s plaits are a youthful stylish look for this period.

Posted in 1950s, Actor, Cinema, costume design, film costumes, Film Costuming, Girls, Indian Cinema, Indian fashion, Indian Women, mid century, Movies, Regional cinema, regional styles, retro cinema, retro fashion, South Indian Cinema, Tamil, Tamil Cinema, vintage cinema, vintage costume | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mohan Rakesh


Taking the support of history or historical personalities does not make literature history. History compiles and catalogues facts in a time bound manner. This has never been the purpose of literature. To compensate for the vacant chambers of history is also not the domain of literature. Literature is not bound by the rigid time of history, it expands historical time; it does not separate one age from the other, it brings together many ages.  In this manner the ‘present’ and ‘past’ of history do not remain ‘present’ and ‘past’, they become moments in a absolute time that come together in an integral and undivided manner when seen as a symbol of the course of life. So history in literature does not present itself as true incidents, instead it presents itself as the imagination that brings together these incidents that in turn creates a new and different history. This construction is not history as conventionally understood. Searching for that history you need to go to the right history books and not literature.

Today is Mohan Rakesh‘s 92nd birth anniversary  (8 January 1925-3 December 1972).

Translation by me from the preface to Lehron ke Rajhans (Waves of the Royal Swans*).

*Per the preface the royal swans are the protagonists of the story, Nand and Sundari. The waves the circumstances they find themselves in.

Post on the costumes of Ashadh Ka Ek Din here.

Posted in 1920s, Ancient India, Authors, Buddhism, hindi literature, History, Indian Authors, Indian Literature, Indian men, Literature, My Translations | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 80s cinema post

Trikon ka Chautha Kon aka The Fourth Angle of a Triangle (1986) is kind of quasi arthouse 80s cinema and more than a little regressive when it comes to it’s women protagonists who dominate much of the film. The film wardrobe is splendid though and showcases a number of 80s middle class India trends for women. Without providing a specific nomenclature, the styles are of a subset of the educated Indian middle class, alongside the kind featured today saris and sets of the polyester revolution of the late 70s and 80s also existed.

The 1980s was the decade of widespread use of chudidar-kurta and salwar-kurta ensembles by young middle class women. Both the styles in the above pic were popular, the kurta with an embroidered yoke and the mixed print pattern with the dupatta and the bottom garment also picking up the print. The kurta of pic 2 is an angrakha (tunic with ties to the left) -also popular.

Printed matching dupattas were a hallmark of this decade.

For older women and young working women of the middle classes, you often saw a mix of handlooms and synthetics (the latter from brands liks Khatau and Vimal).  Swaroop Sampat’s working woman’s wardrobe includes broad border cotton saris from Bengal, printed silks as well as some chiffon/faux chiffons.  I really like the fresh green sari, these simple prints are hard to come by these days.

In pic 6 you can see a Nalini Sarees store, a popular brand of the decade.

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Similarly a lot of broad border cotton saris from the South and Bengal for Priyadarshinee who plays the stay at home wife of an executive sort. And the odd synthetic saree. With some more conventional accessories like the mangalsutra or co-ordinated glass bangles.The style still persists in a somewhat mutated form – a lot of my older cousins often dress like this.

Re the blouse it is close fitting with sleeves just above the elbow. Usually a V or U neckline which may have a bit of a high neck detail. The hair is loose or a low coiled bun. And of course the round maroon bindi is ubiquitous in the decade.

Rekha and Shabana were probably the most influential stars of  the 80s when it came to Indian wear. The decorative, very Indian style that was Rekha’s trademark can be seen on Priyadarshinee and the slightly more casual style that Shabana made popular on Swaroop Sampat.

A little bit on sleepwear.  The long gown with a decorative yolk that Swaroop Sampat wears was quite common. Often it departed from the printed maxi (seen on her friend) in adhering more to the “ethnic chic” wear of the decade and essentially resembling a long kurta or kaftan. The cross collar (wrapping the right lapel over the left) maxi worn by Priyadarshinee was also common.

For the male lead (Vijayendra Ghatge) there is office wear (wide ties!) with the pyjama-kurta for sleepwear. And the little girl is a charmer in a simple green frock.

In the film Trikon Ka Chautha Kon a woman smokes, reads Sartre and talks constantly with her lips curled up. At the denotative level this signifies only someone who is given to smoking and reading Sartre with a predilection to curl up her lips…EPW, Vol 21, 1986.

Last but not the least, the “women’s libber” bestie who is a caricature. But as with many things viewed through a 2016 lens she looks pretty cool – I totally want to put a book on my face and use it as a profile pic:). Though not shown full length that is a pretty neat and simple 80s dress.


Posted in 1980s, 20th century, Actor, bindi, Bollywood, Children, churidar kameez, churidar kurta, Cinema, Costumes in Cinema, dupatta, fashion, Feminism, film costumes, Film Costuming, Hair, Hairstyles, Indian Aesthetics, Indian Cinema, Indian Costume, Indian Dress, Indian fashion, Indian men, Indian Textiles, Indian Women, late 20th century, Movies, retro cinema, retro fashion, Salwar Kameez, Sari, Sari Blouse, sari history, Vintage Blouse, vintage cinema, vintage fashion, vintage sari | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment