Minutes after Lakmé Fashion Week's (LFW) Gen Next retrospective show on February 11, Masaba Gupta—one of the 30 participating designers—ducked out of the staging area with her usual staff entourage. A few minutes into the quick exit, and the IT girl/judge on MTV Supermodel of the Year/designer was ambushed by an excited mob of fashion students hustling requests: "Ma'am, one selfie, please". This is normal for an A-list film star, but where do you see this mad fuss over an Indian designer?
"I think she is a media personality, who also happens to be a designer," says Sabina Chopra, fashion consultant and LFW Gen Next mentor. "She is never out of attention; in a way, she always manages to be in the news for hanging out with celebrity friends or announcing a new collaboration."
Like it's the case with her seniors Manish Malhotra and Sabyasachi Mukherjee, the attention can partly be written off as an upshot of Gupta's celebrity connections. The daughter of actor Neena Gupta and West Indies cricketing great Sir Viv Richards, Gupta grew up being famous. Rhea Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor Ahuja are her mates and collaborators. She is managed not by a solo public relations executive, but Bollywood's top talent agency.
Gupta is more interested in the delicious pleasure of not caring about others, or her own hyperprivileged image. From the time she launched her label, characterised by abstract native prints and bold colours in 2009, she used fashion to build herself a persona. It integrates her background, her intuition and daring beliefs, the worlds of her work and being a woman entrepreneur, and her Instagram life. "The combination is the winner. She understands the time she lives in and adapts. That's a fine art," says Chopra.
In Netflix's fresh drop, Masaba Masaba, Gupta also fulfills her childhood ambition of becoming an actor. Directed by Sonam Nair, Neena and Gupta, in their unforced and unaffected normality, play satirical versions of themselves in a scripted show that blends fact and fiction. They make it all so easy.
Gupta's world has never been what you might call one-note. At the heart of her easy is a broad despair of endless self-scrutiny, soul-searching even, that she shares on her very modern celebrity Instagram account. It's a filtered yet unfiltered hot mess, of sorts, unfolding via chapters on her dorky younger self in pursuit of grown-up wisdom; her wildly speculated divorce with film producer Madhu Mantena; her ongoing struggles to fit (in). In an earlier interview, Gupta had told this writer: "It [taking ownership of your body and self] takes a lot of talking to yourself, a lot of conditioning and blocking out the noise of what people say or think of you to be at a place I am right now."
Masaba Masaba is a story that only she could tell, albeit on an even bigger digital scale. "She stands for a certain fearlessness, which is ahead of its time," says Nandini Bhalla, editor, Cosmopolitan India, as she draws subtle parallels between Gupta's personal Instagram account and the series. The idea to calibrate images to create an inclusive, immersive experience was first explored by Gupta in March 2015 with her Instagram-only fashion show titled, Sugar Plum. "Masaba is possibly the first [Indian] designer to master the art of social and digital media. She perfected the ultimate Instagram goal: authenticity. Her decision to openly communicate the personal struggle with her genetic [Indian-Caribbean] makeup, or the pain of divorce, continues to resonate with many young women."
Cosmopolitan India's July digital issue featured her in a two-piece bikini, befitting the cover-line: The Self-Love issue. "Boldness pays off," asserts Bhalla. "Apart from minor tweaks, the images are raw and untouched. It confirms body positivity in spades, and she [Gupta] wouldn't have it any other way."
"I wouldn't be in fashion if it weren't for Wendell sir," Gupta had said of her mentor, the late Wendell Rodricks, in a mid-day article, adding: "When I was starting out, everyone told me that my ideas were terrible; his stamp of approval made all the difference." To make it in premier league, as Gupta has done, you need to create more than pretty clothes. You need to establish a brand that has value in the name itself, so the customer who spends R750 on a reusable face mask or R1,800 on a Burn Babe perfume feels like they are buying a drop of that spirit. "The Masaba label is millennial Indianwear more than modern kitsch. She has been smart about analysing the retail landscape, positioning her label as a bridge to luxury, selling at sensible price points while maintaining a playful, friendly vibe with colours and prints," says Bhalla.
She is all the capital she needs. But a million dollar investment does not hurt. In July, Flipkart's co-founder Binny Bansal along with Patni Group's Apoorva Patni, Abhishek Agarwal of Purple Style Labs, and Salarpuria group's Apurva Salarpuria reportedly invested a $1 million in her label. Gupta is only 31, and already is a trademark that goes beyond her signature printed lehenga set. She is a cosmetic brand (Nykaa beauty), a jewellery brand (Amrapali), an accessories brand, a celebrity brand, and an Instagram brand (1M followers). And it is these versatile roles, that women relate to, because a woman in 2020 is—above all, a multitasker. Chopra says, "She has been able to carve out a niche, and in doing so, brought the right kind of attention to the fashion design space that was once considered a mom-and-pop industry."
JEREMY SCOTT THE PEOPLE'S DESIGNER A$AP Rocky calls Jeremy Scott "a big kid with a wild imagination". For the uninitiated, Vlad Yudin's documentary is a good introduction to the controversial designer. That he is the creative director at Moschino, and often dresses and regularly socialises with Nicky Minaj, Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry is just a bonus. It's essentially a melt-your-heart rags to riches tale: Scott grew up on a livestock farm in Missouri with dreams of one day moving to a fashion capital and becoming a designer.
MCQUEEN Hailed as the most compelling, moving McQueen tribute, the film has Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui focus on the man behind the darkness, romance and beauty. Through exclusive interviews with the late British designer's closest friends and family, a dip into recovered archives, stunning visuals and soundtracks, McQueen is a thrilling portrait of an inspired yet tortured fashion visionary.
Pic courtesy/Benoit Peverelli for Chanel
7 DAYS OUT Director Andrew Rossi gives us an unprecedented, behind-the-scenes look into the making of Chanel's Spring/Summer 2018 Haute Couture show. From the studio to the brand's ateliers, and the ateliers of Chanel's Métiers d'art—the episode 5 of 7 Days Out follows the late Karl Lagerfeld and his team as they bring his dream-like haute couture creations to life.
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This year, in March, the Korean black comedy Parasite won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Everyone, everywhere wanted to watch it. The only other Korean movie that had made such a splash was Train to Busan in 2016. Many caught Parasite at the movie halls (box office collections stood at R2.34 crore in India) and on Amazon Prime before India moved into lockdown. If Korea was gaining attention before the lockdown, once people had nothing to do but binge watch web shows on OTT platforms, its popularity shot through the roof. Korean dramas, or K dramas, now seem to appear on every hot blooded Indian woman's list. While the Korean wave or "Hallyu" dates back to the 1990s, it seems to be seeing a second resurgence. Shows like Crash Landing on You, Extracurricular, It's Okay to Not be Okay, My Holo Love, Hospital Playlist, Something in the Rain and Kingdom are finding a place in the top 10 trending now lists in India.
My Holo Love is the story of a girl who suffers from face blindness and falls in love with an AI hologram
Last week, direct-to-home service provider Dish TV India Ltd. announced the launch of Korean Drama Active, to be available on DishTV and D2H platforms; it gives users access to premium Korean drama content dubbed in Hindi.
Crash Landing on You is about a South Korean heiress who accidentally glides into North Korea and falls in love with an army officer
As this writer watched select shows to "research" this piece, she found herself hooked too. The leads are usually good looking, the aesthetics and locations are stunning, the script is witty, and somehow, it feels like South Koreans aren't that different from Indians. "The family unit is at the core of many shows. They aren't like American shows, where the focus is on leaving the nest, and being ambitious. Here the focus is on carrying the family along as well. Their value system is similar to India's," says Evita Marie-Marques, 22, a fan of K Drama since she was in college. "I watch even the lesser known shows, which are thrillers, or deal with mental health. Right now, I am hooked to Hospital Playlist. It's a story about doctors, and is quite medically intricate and accurate. I have grown up on Sanjay Leela Bansali's Bollywood aesthetics, and Koreans seem to have a good eye too. So the locales are usually lovely, the cinematography is great, and all the leads are just so beautiful. The main lead in Crash Landing on You, Hyun Bin, is like the Shah Rukh Khan of Korea," says Marie-Marques, who works in the Mumbai office of an entertainment channel. Like Hyun Bin, his co-star Son Ye-Jin, who also stars in Something in the Rain, has become a recognisable face.
Indian viewers see their own environment and world view reflected in the personalities on the shows. Couples seek family approval when they fall in love, respect the elders, and are coy in their dealings of love—story lines that may seem regressive to millennials but attractive to the '90s kids. Mumbai-based Iman Roy, 36, who works in banking, brings up an important point. "How do most American romances start? Couples sleep together, and then fall in love. I'm not sure I'd do that. Korean shows are more my speed as they track the building up of emotions. They depict the sort of romance I want in real life." No wonder she is hooked to Crash Landing on You, where a celebrity paraglides her way into North Korea and falls in love with an Army officer.
For some though, it's just a way of watching light-hearted fare that handles depression, love, and other social issues in a less morose way. Luxury brand trainer Mihika Morris, 30, says they often take up issues that are less discussed, like the age difference in a relationship depicted in Something in the Rain. "And they add their brand of humour, so, you escape into a fantasy world. In the times we live in, that's most welcome!"
The psychiatric section at Wockhardt Hospital's OPD has seen a surge in patients visiting to address mental health concerns during the lockdown. Dr Sonal Anand, psychiatrist at the Mira Road branch of the hospital, says a majority of her patients include those who either fear contracting the virus or worry that they already have it, but haven't been diagnosed. She says, "While our [India's] economy has gone for a toss due to the pandemic, pushing many into unemployment, it is not the joblessness, but the disease that has disturbed people. There is a palpable negativity in the atmosphere. People have become angrier and some are suffering from insomnia. It almost feels like a psychological pandemic of anxiety and depression."
As recently explained by the World Health Organization (WHO, 2020), fear, anxiety, and uncertainty about the disease is co-occurring with requirements for social distancing and increasingly difficult economic realities. With the Coronavirus pandemic outside, and people locked in their homes with a large stockpile of food, what do they do? "Obviously, you find yourself struggling with emotional or what's called stress eating. The stress is overwhelming, and turning to food is a reasonable coping mechanism," Dr Sweedal Trinidade, nutritionist, PD Hinduja Hospital, explains.
Dr. Sonal Anand
Dr Anand attributes it to the gut-brain axis. "The gut-brain axis refers to the biochemical signalling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system."
Emotional eating describes the condition of eating in response to an emotional state, rather than a response to hunger. Aayushi Lakhapati, nutritionist and co-founder of healthcare venture 23BMI, says people display a varied response to crisis. "Some people seem to remain calm in the most dangerous situations while some freeze and succumb to fear. How people react depends on how their minds are wired based on their past experiences, learning, fears, exposure to stress, among other factors. For instance, an individual's reaction while experiencing turbulence in-flight versus a rollercoaster ride would differ."
Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and cashews are often considered to be a good food for better sleep. Though the exact amounts can vary, these nuts contain melatonin as well as essential minerals like magnesium and zinc that are extremely essential to a range of bodily processes
When indulging in emotional eating, individuals tend to be inclined to calorie dense, high fat, high sugar comfort food. "This is because it triggers the reward system in the human brain, and increases dopamine levels, giving a sense of distinctive pleasure and emotional relaxation," Lakhapati says. Stress eating, insomnia, anxiety and frustration are usually associated with increased consumption of sugar, salt, alcohol, high calorie-nutrient deprived food that can have damaging effect on health. "It can create nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalance and disturb the gut microbiome, leading to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, polycystic ovarian condition, etc. It leads to the eventual weakening of the immune system, making you more susceptible than the next person to contracting viruses and infections."
Dr. Sweedal Trinidade
Therefore, it is important to pay attention to what you eat, now more than ever. "A balanced and healthy diet can not only help you remain fit, but also improve immunity, increase energy levels and sleep better," Trinidade adds.
The good news is that a few mindful practices can ensure the relationship with food is fulfilling. "Ideally, you should be eating what you used to before the pandemic broke. But in case you need something to calm yourself down so that you get a good sleep, you should change certain eating habits. You can have foods that have a calming effect including milk, banana which is alkaline, and green leafy vegetables. A large bowl of palak soup is a good calming agent. Also, cutting down on caffeine in the evenings could help," Trinidade suggests. To which Lakhapati adds, "Almond, pistachio and walnut are rich sources of B vitamins, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids. They regulate the production of stress hormone cortisol, help keep your adrenal glands functioning well, eventually freeing you from chronic stress, anxiety and sleeplessness. Eating four to six nuts every day is a good idea."
Chamomile tea is known to reduce anxiety, induce calmness and relaxation. It contains an antioxidant called apigenin that binds to certain receptors in your brain helping you sleep better
She also points out that chamomile tea can help tackle insomnia. "It is known to reduce anxiety since it contains the antioxidant apigenin that binds to certain receptors in your brain, helping you sleep better. The tea also helps with digestion of food, preventing any gastrointestinal tract problems like bloating or heartburn, thereby soothing your system. Drink a cup before bed."
Dr Anand says chicken, eggs and turkey, which are rich tryptophan foods, are a key for brain function and healthy sleep
Dr Anand talks about serotonin in the brain that is thought to regulate anxiety. It plays a role in modulating sleep, appetite and mood. "But when you feel anxiety or experience depression, serotonin levels are said to drop. So, tryptophan foods are suggested for patients. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is important for the production of serotonin, and is key for brain function and healthy sleep," Dr Anand says, recommending chicken, eggs and turkey, which are rich tryptophan foods.
Dr Sheetal Bidkar
Dr Sheetal Bidkar, clinical psychologist at Suasth One Step Clinic and Suasth Hospital, says, "We are what we eat. But along with eating the right food, it is also necessary to have a quarantine routine, which is to sleep and eat on time and exercise regularly. These are the most basic good practices to employ during difficult times."
Dr Bidkar suggests staying hydrated and eating sweet potato, soy, whole grains, eggs, banana, berries, walnut, lentils and beans. "Consumption of ragi, oatmeal and brown rice enables us to improve our focus and cuts down irritability. To improve the brain-gut connect, a probiotic like yogurt is great," she adds.So, does this mean food can replace antidepressants? No, Dr Anand urges. "No matter what you eat, it needs to be absorbed by your gut properly. When you are administered medicine, there is a competition in your gut as to which molecule of the medicine is going to be absorbed. But compared to food items, medicines are always absorbed better. So for people with severe depression, medicine is non-negotiable."
Milk, too, works in calming people with anxiety
Lakhapati agrees that this depends on the severity of the situation. "But to a great extent, food can certainly replace medicine. I've always believed in 'farmacy' over pharmacy. If your gut is healthy and filled with good gut bacteria, it is going to keep your mood enhanced. This is because 90 per cent of serotonin is produced in the gut. The food that you eat makes or breaks you. Learn to make a wise choice."
As an asthmatic child, often confined to the bed, Member of Parliament from Kerala and writer Dr Shashi Tharoor often took to the comfort provided by books. This was in the era of fewer distractions. There was no television, mobile phone, PlayStation, or the Internet. "They [books] were my entertainment, my escape and my education. I would read copiously and indiscriminately," he shares. When he came across the same words in different books and in various contexts, he quickly learned "how they are used, their meanings and nuances". "As a result, my vocabulary naturally expanded," Tharoor adds, in an email interview.
His new book, Tharoorosaurus (Penguin Random House), where he shares 53 examples from his vocabulary and from every alphabet, is a tribute to Tharoor's everlasting preoccupation with unusual words. It's also a rare treat from the Sahitya Akademi-winning author, who, for a change, has steered away from his academic and historical pursuits to pen a book that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults. "I have been fascinated with words, but not for their own sake—rather for what they can convey or evoke. I have always maintained a strong reading habit, reading extensively and widely, and my vocabulary has certainly been a byproduct. Yes, it is true that I have sometimes playfully used a rather obscure or complicated word during some of my tweets, such as the one where I announced the arrival of my new book at the time, The Paradoxical Prime Minister, floccinaucinihilipilification. But that has mostly been just fun and not necessarily a reflection of the way I regularly speak or write," he says.
The idea for the book was born out of a column that Tharoor used to have in a Sunday newspaper, till recently, where he would discuss a new word, every week. "The plan when I started this project was to provide one word for each week in the year and therefore, 52 words in total—similar to the column. With an additional week included to account for a leap year, we ended up with 53 words in total."
There was no particular reason for the choice of words he included in the book. "They were either words I'd recently used in a tweet (like 'farrago' and 'kakistocracy'), or words that the country was suddenly using a lot more often than usual (like 'pandemic' and 'quarantine'), or words in the news (like'impeachment'), or sometimes just words that I could tell interesting stories about (like 'curfew' and 'defenestrate')."
Defenestrate is also a word that he is "overly fond of" and goes back to his college days at St Stephen's in Delhi. "The word literally means 'to throw out of a window', and while opportunities for its literal usage are limited in our civilized times, its metaphorical possibilities are limitless! Especially for an Opposition MP trying to defenestrate the ruling party," he quips. A word, he feels, Indians should be using more often is "agathokakological," which means something or someone made up of both good and evil. "We see so many examples of agathokakological people, situations, and stories in our daily lives in India."
What Tharoor finds most amusing is when people ask him, which dictionary or thesaurus he refers to, to improve his vocabulary. "People think I am some sort of nutcase who studies dictionaries all day long, but the reality is that I have barely opened a dictionary in my life."
His mantra is simple—read. "But don't just do so for the sake of memorising words [a habit that I would strongly discourage] but read for the sake of expanding your horizons and interests. In today's world, two clicks of the mouse or a fraction of the time on your smartphone can get you the meaning of a word, but read for its own sake, and the usage [which is what matters] will follow."
'I found it fun, knowledgeable'
Vivaan CrastoStd 7, Campion School, Fort
"Tharoorosaurus is packed with interesting words. The words are big and tough to pronounce, but I enjoyed it because of the descriptions that accompany every word. I found the book to be very knowledgeable. It has also been written in a fun way. Though slightly tricky to understand at first, Mr Tharoor's explanations on how to use these words, help you get a hang of them quickly. My favourite word is authorism—it means a 'word, phrase or name created by an author, which passes into common usage.' For instance, the works of Shakespeare include hundreds of authorisms. Words like 'critical' and 'hurry' were unheard of before his time. This story was interesting and made it easy for me to understand. I am also very proud that Mr Tharoor has written this book, because like him, I am a Campionite, too."
Swirl and sniff with wine geek Gargi Kothari as she takes you on virtual tours of vineyards and wineries around the world, sharing her expertise on the subject. Known in the business for curating great wine experiences, during the lockdown, Kothari has been conducting online workshops that cover the basic and beyond of wine and, sometimes, other spirits too.Price: Rs 499 onwardsInstagram: @magiccellars
Since the lockdown began, The Tulleho Wines and Spirits Academy has been conducting various online courses and workshops for connoisseurs and professionals alike. They are the first ones to conduct a Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) course and exams here. It covers basic product knowledge and skills required in the service and sale of wine. Tasting the basic styles and types of wines, food and wine matching and storage and serving of wines form an integral part of the course. In the workshops, you can learn some great tricks of the bartending trade and relevant booze basics.Price: Most sessions are free. Course fee begins at Rs 9,000Instagram: @tulleeho
At the helm of this professionally designed, intensive Learn From Home programme is sommelier Magandeep Singh. So, you can expect a-lot-of-wine-gyan customised for the Indian audience. "The course is aimed at both the F&B stalwarts and curious imbibers, but what's the point if it isn't tailored for people who would be drinking, hosting or serving it here in the country," says Singh. The syllabus ranges from reading labels and tasting wines to storage, pairing and pronunciations—the multiple video modules course has a 90-day validity for you to learn at your own pace. To evaluate progress, participants can take a quiz after the completion of each chapter. Singh adds, "These courses are more important now as most F&B outlets would prefer to hire local talent and it's good to skill yourself during this period. More courses on other spirits will be added shortly."Register: www.iwbs.inPrice: Rs 1,500 onwardsInstagram: @iwbsindia
Beverage consulting company The Happy High has been conducting short online beverage courses on wine and spirits for consumers. "The Know your Wine and Know your Drinks are two-hour weekend programmes for beginners looking to drink knowledgeably, be a better party host or set up their home bar better than before," says founder Ajit Balgi. For bartenders and beverage professionals, there is the 8 Spirited Days programme.Price: Rs 499 onwardsInstagram: @thehappyhigh
In November last year, the sprawling gardens of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) Museum saw an unusual public art display. A 35 metre-long BookWorm Pavilion had children and adults leisurely sauntering under its shade and picking up books to read. An escape from the libraries, schools and museums, this book-scape was rather inviting. The modular structure built from around 3,600 wooden components to make ladders, housed both shelves, which could store 12,000 books, and seating areas for reading and storytelling sessions. This piece of art was meant to travel around the country—in rural and urban areas—to encourage reading. Except now, it rests dismantled in the workshop of its designer, architect Nuru Karim.
Nuru Karim says the AR/VR version of the pavilion, will double as a book-scape. He hopes to create a space, where you can bump into friends and acquaintances, and pick an actual book to read
To beat the movement restrictions that the pandemic poses, he plans to build an Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) version of the pavilion calling it the Virtual BookWorm. "Imagine what it would be like to have your avatar walk around looking at public art that doubles as a book-scape. A place where you can bump into friends and acquaintances, and pick an actual book to read—one day at a park, another time at a beach. The idea is to access books in the virtual realm from anywhere in the world without physically accessing the pavilion. The books could be on various subjects and can be accessed via Kindle or a similar knowledge platform," he explains.
Karim is currently exploring potential collaborations with online resources such as Amazon Kindle, bookshops, and online libraries to allow equitable or affordable access to participants across the world, who want to experience the pavilion and browse and read books in the virtual domain. Age-appropriate content can be accessed online on various subjects and languages.
However, since the project is a real-time experience, it has its own set of challenges. "In the past, we've seen some stellar examples in public art being available on AR/VR, but this project is more interactive and requires support in the form of resources [books]. For free books, there is no hurdle, but for the paid ones, every online platform has individual contracts with authors, and ours is a not-for-profit project. Hopefully, we'll find a suitable solution. Our aim is to address the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal that all youths and a substantial proportion of adults achieve literacy by 2030," says Karim, adding that access to smartphone technologies in India is estimated to cross 442 million by 2022, so we hope that the virtual pavilion will be accessible to India's vast demography across the rich and diverse rural-urban landscape.
The Netflix show Indian Matchmaking has got everybody talking. Set between the US and Mumbai, it follows the career of influential city matchmaker Sima Taparia as she helps her clients, mostly upper caste, rich Indians and Indian-Americans trying to find someone worthy to marry. "The show really hit a nerve with the woke audience of the Internet," says Rebecca Daniels, creative group head of VMLY&R India, a global full service marketing agency. "I've been sharing memes and jokes about it as well, and realised a lot of people relate to my sarcasm." She decided to take it a step further by creating an AR (augmented reality) filter on Instagram called Sima Roast. "I have always been interested in augmented reality, and once Instagram launched its own AR platform that allowed anyone to develop and upload filters, I knew I had to get my hands on it. All I needed was one night of focus and my encouraging group of cheerleaders."
This is how it works: It recognises your face and throws random answers once you hit the record button. Daniels has meticulously chosen Taparia's signature lines, including "Not tall, slim, trim. How will you get matches?", "I think you need to change your talking pattern,", "For your height, I don't think you'll get matches", "You are too picky. You should try to adjust a little." Her posts have garnered over 16M impressions, 1.8M captures, and more than 522.1K shares.
While some dialogues have been kept as is, others have been slightly tweaked by Daniels. "I knew words like 'flexible', 'adjust' and 'compromise', had to be included. One of her quotes, 'I think she should change her talking pattern' was the only one I used as is. The rest were changed. For instance, in one episode, she says, 'Indians are scared of bahus who are lawyers', which I tweaked to 'Indian men will be scared of your success'. Although, I'm pretty sure, she was hinting at something completely different."
Daniels says she has been tagging Taparia in her Instagram stories, challenging her to use the filter on herself. "But she seems new to Instagram, and sadly, I haven't received a response yet. It would be nice though, to see what Sima Taparia thinks of Sima Taparia."
On: @SimaRoast, Instagram
Ann Shah's lithe and toned physique belies her age. "I can only reveal that I'm 65 plus," she chuckles. Before the lockdown was announced, Shah would regularly hit the gym, go on long walks and not miss a day of exercise. The enthusiasm took a beating under isolation when days stretched into weeks and months. Being hunkered down takes a toll, she admits. "Initially, I began to feel sick and looked haggard. I knew I had to push myself out of this misery." With no access to the gym, Shah motivated herself to look up online workout routines, pre-recorded videos or livestreams aimed at replicating the experience of being in a fitness class with a trainer. "When I found out that fitness instructor Avinash Mansukhani, who runs an Instagram account called Fight the Sunrise, has introduced workouts aimed at senior citizens, I followed him. Now, I also follow the virtual workouts by yoga instructor Anshuka Parwani and trainer Yasmin Karachiwala." This has helped her get into a rhythm, she thinks. Shah's at-home sweat set is now complete with milk cartons, water bottles and heavy books that double up as dumbbells. Every morning, she heads up to the terrace with her phone and does her sets.
A survey conducted by Enormous Brands, an independent advertising agency, revealed an increase in adoption of digital technology by the aged during the lockdown. The web-based survey took feedback from 3,737 respondents in cities, including Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Pune and Ahmedabad. According to the United Nations, the share of older persons (aged 60 or above) in India is projected to increase to nearly 20 per cent of the population by 2050. Sensing the opportunity, HealthifyMe, a health and fitness app, recently launched HealthifyStudio to offer live workout sessions catering to seniors. Similarly, Cure.fit has also created fitness content for the elderly.
Manan Chandan, associate director of new initiatives at HealthifyMe, says there is a section in the 60-plus age group that wants to take charge of their fitness needs, even if it means embracing technology, downloading a mobile app or using a device. He realised this when his team conducted a market survey to understand the health needs of people during the pandemic. "Our platform has never had a physical presence. It was always digital. And, so, when we spoke with users, we saw a new demand for home workouts." After curating the exercises with their in-house fitness experts, the team launched the pilot venture. Currently, they are conducting eight to 10 sessions per week. "We decided to take a group approach as opposed to one-on-one since a sense of community always proves encouraging." The workouts have been scaled down, and the coach is trained to be sensitive to their needs. "We have abstained from weights and focus more on breathing, stretching and light exercises."
Mansur Rasiwala and wife Sara follow the virtual bootcamp by Akshay Kamble and Siddharth Naik, and yoga sessions by Eoin Finn on YouTube
Not everybody is taking it easy, though. Three days a week, Mansur Rasiwala, 70, turns his Cuffe Parade home into a boot camp. "I follow the virtual bootcamp by Akshay Kamble and Siddharth Naik, and yoga sessions by Eoin Finn on YouTube. Because I've been into fitness since the age of 12, it's now a lifestyle." He wakes up at 5.45 am every day and exercises from 7 am to 8.30 am. He also does 50 push ups and 50 sit ups and some amount of weight training.
Given the plethora of age-appropriate, online options, there's no dearth of resources for seniors if they know what they are looking for.
Harinder Ahluwalia, a 72-year-old from Bengaluru, knew that she needed a replacement for her yoga sessions when her neighbourhoood health centre shut down in March. At her daughter-in-law's insistence, she downloaded a fitness app. Until then, her exposure to mobile applications was restricted to listening to Gurbani or Sikh hymns. "I used to go for a yoga class because I don't enjoy exercising alone at home. It's no fun. But the lockdown left me with no choice," she says. While starting an exercise routine can feel intimidating at first, it needn't get complicated with the right guidance, she thinks. Ahluwalia now devotes an hour every morning to cardio exercises and yoga asanas. She is slowly warming up to the new routine. "What I have begun to like about these virtual workouts is the detailing they entail. The trainers keep a log of my diet needs and water intake, so it feels holistic."
Geeta Notani has invested in a fitness tracker which is synced to an app and keeps track of health parameters
Like Ahluwalia, it did not take long for Khar resident Geeta Notani, who runs a chocolate brand, to switch over to a smart fitness device. "I love walking and wanted to keep track of how much distance I was covering, so I invested in a fitness tracker, which is synced to a mobile app." The 61-year-old says she now has a goal to look forward to. "I started with 6,000 steps a day, moved to 9,000 and even went up to 13,000. But that was too much and everybody told me to cool down because you can't overdo exercising at this stage."
Bhavna Harchandrai conducts a one-on-one virtual fitness workout session with a client
Fitness instructor Bhavna Harchandrai believes it's a bad idea for seniors to follow fitness apps or YouTube videos unmonitored. She has consciously refrained from group video sessions given the age group she's involved with. "Just before the pandemic broke, I had conducted a talk for the IMC as part of their Fitness for Senior Citizens programme. During the lockdown, many of them approached me for a group session, but I declined. You have to customise the regimen because many have specific concerns such as joint pain, vertigo, blood pressure and the trainer has to monitor their form, technique, cater the workout to their needs as well as pause when required." A couple of years ago, Harchandrai signed up for a course in Australia that focused on fitness for seniors. One of the things she learnt was chair exercises that work different muscle groups in the body. The workout has now come handy. "They can't do zumba and pilates, so I've tried to introduce simple dance exercises to make it engaging. In fact, for many, I see that it's proving exciting to shake a leg!"
A day when luxury hotels would deliver food to our homes—who'd have thought of that? A coping mechanism to tide over the slowdown, most big names of hospitality, which started with takeaways are now home-delivering meals, either through their in-house fleet or via food aggregators. To ensure a seamless experience from their kitchen to your table, a bevy of chefs are busy at work—curating a floating menu, researching food grade packaging, running trials and delivering in a safe, hygienic environment. What's clockwork now, took a few weeks to master because this isn't just about standard restaurant food delivery—the brand name, built over the years, is at stake.
Executive chef at Taj Lands End, Rohit Sangwan believes that the food delivered needs to be at least 85-90 per cent close to what you eat in their restaurant and till you take that first bite, the responsibility is on them. "Every crisis teaches you something, and the lockdown has offered many lessons, including not taking anything for granted. For instance, this morning, we put salli boti on the menu, but the salli vendor couldn't deliver it in time, so we had to make it from scratch in our own kitchen. It taught us two things; first, not to put anything on the menu unless all ingredients are ready at hand and, second, new ways to make the salli from scratch. Our online menus aren't a copy-paste of the restaurant menu—enormous research and trials have gone into how the food looks and tastes after travelling a certain distance."
Chef Rakesh Kamble, Chef Anshuman Bali and Chef Paul Kinny
Chef Anshuman Bali, executive chef at JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar, is disappointed that the restaurant's decor and service, and even plating techniques that were their playground, got taken away due to the lockdown. "What we are left with is the creativity with food and packaging, and that's what we are focusing on, albeit with limited resources," he says. Bali believes that the pandemic has pushed them to think out of the box and give a twist to dishes. "But, we are loving the process."
It goes without saying that hotels are expected to follow all the safety protocols put forth by the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP). All associates will be expected to wear masks and gloves and follow social distancing norms to ensure a safe home delivery experience. Another plus is the use of biodegradable materials for packaging, thus ensuring we aren't piling the sea with our dump of takeaway containers.
St Regis, Lower ParelOne of the best DIY som tam salads with assembly instructions arrived along with a specially-curated menu by the chef. What's special is that the butler got the food home and shared detailed instructions with this writer. A signature feature of the St Regis Mumbai, the butler service elevated the dining experience. The appetisers were a selection of Oriental chicken wings, Sichuan chicken dim sums and truffle edamame dim sums—something we were wary of because of the distance they had travelled. But, they were inviting and full of flavour. Indian mains comprising nalli nihari, laccha paratha, murgh lazeez handi and murgh dum biryani ranked high on the flavour metre. By the Mekong chicken, vegetable green Thai curry and ginger smoked jasmine rice were a hit and so were the desserts—a flourless chocolate cake and Basque burnt cheesecake. Director of culinary, chef Paul Kinny says, "Food travels for about 30-45 minutes from our kitchen to your home, so, there are several factors, including textures and temperatures that need to be taken into account while drafting a menu. That's also the reason why we keep the options limited."
Price: Rs 1,100 onwardsOrder: 8657522956, Swiggy and Zomato
Grand Hyatt, Santa CruzWhen we asked chef de cuisine Rakesh Kamble to rustle up a mood-lifting meal, he drafted a three-course menu with carefully selected ingredients. Appetisers included beetroot ravioli with edamame and goat cheese served with salsa verde for beating the blues. "Edamame is a good source of magnesium, which boosts serotonin or the happy hormone in the body," he tells us. For the main course, he has made an 'anger-fighting' grilled salmon with orange beurre blanc and wilted baby spinach, because salmon is high in omega-3 acids that helps you calm down. The summery berry parfait with granola bar were included as guilt-free desserts. "With so much stress around, we are all craving something that can make us feel better. Food has a deep connection with mood," says Kamble.
Price: Rs 800 onwardsOrder: 66761234, Swiggy and Zomato
JW Marriott, SaharIf your Sundays have been incomplete without leisurely brunches, Brunch in a box is aimed at you. The culinary team, spearheaded by chef Anshuman Bali, has done a splendid job of curation. "The idea was to fit the brunch favourites in a box and keep it light. Every week, a selection from Indian delicacies, Italian specialties, quick comfort food and artisanal desserts are packed in a box for guests to relive the brunch experience. We've learnt a lot about packaging, such as keeping hot and cold food separate." On the Sunday we ordered, the meal comprised passion fruit iced tea, quinoa and avocado salad with citrus dressing, Malaysian satay with sambal peanut sauce, lagan ki boti and chicken empanadas. The opera and mango cremeaux tart and anjeer halwa as dessert made a delightful conclusion to a great meal.
Price: Rs 2,250 + taxes (non-vegetarian) and R1,950 + taxes (vegetarian)Order: 68828888, Swiggy and Zomato
ITC Maratha, Airport and Grand Central, ParelCorporate and personal virtual dining events executed on a pan-India level seem to be the new industry trend under lockdown. Think of an office video conference over lunch or a virtual birthday treat for friends and family. With Gourmet Couch, you can order ITC's signature preparations like the dal bukhara, dudiya kebab and shahed-e-jam. "Based on special requests received by our guests, we help curate an exclusive gourmet experience," says Atul Bhalla, area manager (west), ITC Hotels and general manager-ITC Maratha. What we liked is that the food box comes with a heating manual with instructions on how to best enjoy the type of cuisine ordered because flavours can be lost in the process. "The food is packed in corn starched clamshell boxes and corrugated paper boxes and parcelled in a biodegradable bag with an aqueous coating."
Price: Rs 3,000 onwardsOrder: 28303030, Swiggy and Zomato
JW Marriott, JuhuFor Dinesh Sathiyanathan, director (food and beverage), JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu, it's all about curating good food experiences. On special request, he personalised our eighth wedding anniversary meal by going the extra mile and printing our wedding photos as an edible topping on muffins. Add to that, a specially curated his-and-her drink made with eight unique ingredients, one for each year of marriage. "When we sit down to ideate, we take inputs from the team, regardless of the hierarchy and that helps us deliver unique concepts to our guests. We ask ourselves, what is it that we would have done differently to make them remember this day and make it special? Since they cannot come down here personally, we make sure to do the simple things that elevate the experience," says Sathiyanathan. The food was a simple and flavourful spread of prawn hargao, celery chicken dumplings, avocado and cream cheese uramaki, chicken tikka with pesto chilli and oregano, gosht nalli nihari and warqi paratha, burnt garlic and egg fried rice and pizza with artichoke, bell pepper, mushroom, basil and feta. Ending on a sweet note were desserts of exotic fruits and almond berry frangipani and a delicious honey chocolate berry croquant parfait.
Price: Minimum order Rs 1,250Order: 9004616506 or via Swiggy and Zomato
Now that the hospitality industry has added home delivery to their repertoire, would patrons want to come back to the hotel when things go back to normal? "Certainly," says an optimistic Paul Kinny. "Luxe restaurants are experiential and often, the service is the star. For instance, watching a salmon on fire or a sizzling kebab on the grill is a sight you want to soak in while being physically present. We can't do the sushi and sashimi buffet at home since the temperatures are not the same and dealing with raw fish can be risky. There's a lot you'd want to come back to the hotel for."
The Westin Mumbai Garden City, GoregaonBento boxes are a curation of the Westin Mumbai Garden City's bestsellers. From silky mutton galouti kebab and creamy butter chicken to the delectable Awadhi gosht biryani, and delicate saffron phirni, the non-vegetarian fare is stellar. In the veg selection, there is the rich dudiya paneer tikka, spicy vegetable Kolhapuri and pudina laccha paratha along with a sugar-free keto almond cake. If you've got pan-Asian on your mind, the bento box has chicken and peppers with fermented black beans, umami udon noodles, braised chicken with teriyaki sauce and a litchi mascarpone gateau to balance the sweet and tangy flavours. Executive chef Rahul Dhavale says, "While you can mix and match different dishes, I personally recommend ordering one cuisine per meal to allow your palate to savour the flavours. We keep engineering the menu every few weeks and it primarily runs on the concept of 'go local'."
Price: Minimum order of Rs 2,000To order: 9004496577, Swiggy and Zomato
Taj Qmin, Colaba, Cuffe Parade and BandraHow far will the galouti travel without getting mushed was a question the team at the Taj worked on before rolling out the deliveries via their app, Qmin. "Even though the risotto is everyone's favourite, it didn't make it to the menu, because the consistency after reheating is not the same as what it would be if you eat it at the restaurant. From which sponge and ganache to be used in a cake so that it stays soft even the next day to keeping parchment paper under dim sums was all a result of the real-time test runs we've been doing since March. When you are catering to orders from Pedder Road to Kharghar, you have to keep logistics in mind," says executive chef Rohit Sangwan. From steamed chicken dumplings, shrimp har gao, steamed sea bass Cantonese style and stir fried oriental vegetables to aatish-e-chaap, Sunday mutton curry and dal makhni, the spread was an enticing blend of flavours and textures. The Parsi egg pudding, however, deserves a separate ode.
Price: Minimum order Rs 1,500 + taxesOrder: Download the Qmin App
Four Season, WorliVirtual high teas have been a hit among the swish set during the lockdown, and these newly introduced dips, sauces and condiments serve as an ideal accompaniment for teacakes and sandwiches. What's interesting is that these come in a mini suitcase that adds to the charm of the setting. Executive chef Anupam Gulati says, "We wanted to offer guests an element of unpredictability in the offerings. While the pineapple preserve has turmeric and basil, the chocolate spread includes smoked chilli. And, the ketchup is made with smoked tomatoes." Their 'streets of Mumbai' menu with kheema bhaji, kathi roll, and thupka are filled with robust flavours, making you reminisce the joys of street food.
Price: Minimum order Rs 2,000 plus taxes onwardsOrder: 7710033143 or via Swiggy and Zomato.
The Ministry of Textile's Twitter handle has seen a flurry of activity, all through August. #Vocal4Handmade, a hashtag championed by Smriti Irani, Union Minister for Textiles and Women and Child Development, to spread awareness about the handicraft tradition, has also become a cri de coeur to support the average Indian weaver. Every day, a string of posts shared by the ministry, lists names of award-winning weavers, their body of work, credentials and direct contact numbers for interested buyers. This is supplemented with photographs of their designs. Mini videos made by organisations, including the Fashion Design Council of India—retweeted by the ministry—showcase everything from the Lepcha weave of Sikkim to the Telia Rumal from Telangana.
The official handle, for all good reasons, has now transformed into an encyclopaedia on handloom, of sorts. The more you scroll, the more there is to learn and find.
What it has also done is given a voice and face to thousands of artisans and weavers, otherwise considered only as good as their craft or weave. In a recent interview to Indic Academy, Irani said that people had responded positively to the social media buzz. The cumulative impressions of the handmade and handloom hashtags, she claimed, had reached 20 billion on a single day, increasing sales on ecommerce sites for these products by five times.
But, there is disenchantment too. And much less publicised.
On August 7, a day observed as the National Handlooms Day, weavers staged a demonstration at the Devangapuri handloom cluster, near Chirala in Andhra Pradesh, to protest the scrapping of the All India Handlooms and Handicrafts Boards by the Centre. The decision, taken on July 27 and August 5 respectively, was said to be in consonance with the Government of India's vision of "minimum government and maximum governance" and a "leaner government machinery".
Macherla Mohan Rao, president, National Federation of Handlooms and Handicrafts (NFHH)
The Centre's argument was that abolishing the moribund boards, would help "break the nexus" and ensure that the benefit of government programmes reach the poorest. But Macherla Mohan Rao, president of the National Federation of Handlooms and Handicrafts (NFHH), who led the protest, challenges the view. "Both sectors are in deep crisis. Welfare schemes are reaching only 10 per cent of the weaver community. With artisans earnings below R5,000 per month, many are now searching for alternative employment. Lakhs of artisans have already migrated to other villages or the nearest town to search for work," he says, over email.
The COVID-affected economy, has only hastened the rot in this traditional industry, which is a source of livelihood for around 32 million people, and is the second largest employment generating sector in the country, after agriculture.
"The abolition of the boards are not sudden moves, but intensification of the ministry's policies [over the last six years]. The budget allocation for handloom sector has reduced from R721.55 crore (17.64 per cent) to R485 crore (13.8 per cent) between 2015-16 and 2020-21. During the same period, budget allocation for handicrafts has increased from R315.24 crore to (7.37 per cent) to R388.21 (11.05 per cent)," says Rao. He feels that if there was any time, when the industry needed a platform that represented them and their issues most, it is now. "I feel like the government is hanging artisans, not with a rope, but with its policy decisions."
Jyotindra Jain, former director, National Crafts Museum
Until the creation of a separate Ministry for Textiles in November 15, 1985, the handicrafts and handloom components rested under the Ministries of Industries and Commerce, says Jyotindra Jain, former director of the National Crafts Museum and retired professor of arts and aesthetics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
"The Second Five-Year Plan [1956-1961] had conceived the programmes of development of handicrafts as a mammoth industrial and marketing exercise, largely based on the pre-existing British colonial model. Accordingly, in addition to setting up of regional design centres, art schools were to have separate design development centres [apropos, all the British colonial art schools in India were established with the primary objective of improving Indian artisanry] and special technical institutes for research in handicraft techniques. The Plan suggested setting up emporia, crafts museums and airport shops. Besides tourism, handicrafts were the sole means of earning foreign exchange. There was also a question of providing livelihood to millions of skilled artisans," says the veteran art and cultural historian.
India became the first post-colonial country to incorporate the 'handicraft and handloom industries' into its economic agenda, says Radhi Parekh, founder, ARTISANS' gallery in Kala Ghoda. "Beyond nationalism, the ideologies that shaped the craft and design movement in India, were inspired by larger concerns for social justice and human well-being," she adds.
The All India Handloom Board (AIHB), established in 1952, by cultural activist Pupul Jayakar, and another one exclusively dedicated to handicrafts was set up to create a specialised forum, which could bring together all the stakeholders—crafts persons and weavers, designers, craft developers, marketing agencies as well as exporters—to advise the government on a highly specialised and sensitive area.
Laila Tyabji, chairperson of Dastkar, a non-profit, that works to support traditional Indian craftspeople, explains how "the Cottage Industries Emporia, the Handloom and Handicrafts Export Corporation, SONA shops abroad, the State Handicrafts and Handloom Corporations, the [National] Crafts Museum, the Design Centres and Weavers Service Centres (WSC), the Vishwakarma and ADITI exhibitions, the National Master Craftsperson Awards, were all institutions and initiatives that emerged from those early AIHB discussions". "We might not have had much of a handicraft heritage without them," Tyabji believes.
Yet, by the turn of the century, bureaucracy started taking a toll on these once celebrated institutions. A former member of the board, anonymously shared how over the last few years, the boards had been reduced to paying mere lip service. "Craftsmen would be invited to participate in the meetings, and asked to voice their issues. Invariably, they'd talk about how poor they were. And while it was true, because of the format in which the boards functioned, nothing constructive ever emerged," the former member said. "The boards were just lying there, doing nothing. I think we allowed the institutions to become defunct. And while it is easy to blame the government, what also added to their decline is the bureaucratic neglect. Of course, nobody is doing this intentionally. What is lacking is the understanding of what can be done [to keep these institutions alive] and who can do it."
If the meetings happened, they were few and far between. Only six in the last 15 years, says Mohan Rao. "It is the fault of the development commissioner (Handlooms). He should have convened a meeting every three months. As far as I know, many of the non-official members requested him to convene the meeting orally and in writing. Who will punish him for not doing so? Disciplinary action should have been taken against the DC (Handlooms)." When contacted, Sanjay Rastogi, DC (Handlooms), in an email response said, "Consultation with different stakeholders, industry, e-commerce portals, eminent designers, handloom entrepreneurs and organisations and state bodies take place at various points of time through structured meetings held by the Ministry of Textiles." He added that "the focus is now on field officers who have done some exemplary job in reaching out to weavers and create links with district, state and the Central administration."
Weavers attend a meeting at a Dastkar Andhra store in Hyderabad. In the absence of an effective board, artisans wonder who will take their voices to the government
Syama Sundari works with the policy and advocacy programme of Dastkar Andhra. Dastkar Andhra provides support and invests in research and training to promote handloom weaving as a viable rural livelihood. It initiated its activities in 1989 as an off shoot of Dastkar Delhi, and registered as an NGO in 1995. Sundari admits that the handloom board had little impact on the policies made for the sector in the recent past. "I can say this with more firmness as I was made a member of the board four years ago. There was only one meeting conducted and people were given such short notice that we could not even attend. Then, there was another meeting held a couple of years ago, for which I had not been sent a notice at all. Post the meeting, Dastkar Andhra received a mail saying the meeting was over. Worse, I was marked present at the meeting," she says.
A weaver couple who works with Dastkar Andhra, a non-profit that offers advocacy support, research and training since 1995. Dastkar Andhra's Syama Sundari says she is worried by the abrupt manner in which the boards were dissolved with no consultation
Despite its obsolescence, Sundari says the board held symbolic significance. "Scrapping of a board with no consultation, and to put it down to lean administration is such a feeble reason; it fools nobody. It's a warning to the artisans and the social organisations that they can expect nothing from the state. More bills and policies harmful to the interests of the sector may be in the offing. It is a clear signal that the state no longer will hold itself responsible for the welfare of the artisans."
Ashoke Chatterjee, former director, National Institute of Design
What upset many was the abrupt manner in which the boards were dissolved. Ashoke Chatterjee, former director, National Institute of Design, describes the government's decision as "alarming" and "unfathomable". "I have not had any illusions [about the government] over the past 20 years and more, having been part of partnerships, which have had to engage with this crisis [in the handloom industry] for many years. In this latest situation, I am, however, shocked at the lack of concern for or consultation with those most affected," he says, in an email. The NID has been an institutional member of the All India Handicrafts Board.
Chatterjee feels that there was always potential to revive the existing boards. "But to take advantage of that scope would require the ability to engage and to listen." The weavers of the Devangapuri handloom cluster behind the August protest, had only one demand—reconstitution of the AIHB. Umang Shridhar, founder of KhaDigi, a business-to-business fabric supplier platform that works with nearly 1,000 artisans and weavers in rural India, asks why the weavers have been denied their right to representation. "It's an essential part of democracy. The weavers need a platform to reach out to the government. If the current board wasn't functional, another new, efficient system should have replaced it."
Umang Shridhar, founder of KhaDigi
Rao says the "real stakeholders of the handloom and handicrafts community" were never invited to the boards anyway. "Whenever they [boards] wanted to take decisions on issues, they mostly called NGOs [cluster implementing agencies] and cluster development entrepreneurs and exporters. This was the practice for 20 years, with meagre participation of real stakeholders of the community, who are truly involved and doing dedicated work for more than three decades." He adds that "reconstitution of the boards with eminent and experienced persons to review all relevant matters" is the need of the hour. "They need to visit the [weaver] clusters with the state and central-level authorities to know about the condition of the communities and take our problems to the ministry," he adds.
The pandemic has paralysed many artisans, in much the way it has small businesses, burdening them with debts. "Master weavers and cooperative societies have stopped giving raw materials and wages to weavers in AP and Telangana. Twelve weavers committed suicide in Telangana and two in AP during the lockdown, because they had no work and feared for their future," says Rao.
In some instances, the lockdown also highlighted the unique nature of the sector. A case in point is the weaving community of Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh that Dastkar Andhra works with. "They continued to work from their homes all through lockdown. The loom to operate requires yarn in a suitable form of warp and weft. The dyed yarn is given to weavers by the local co-operatives and preparing the yarn through pre-loom processes [bobbin winding, warping and sizing] were all possible right in the village. We run a dye house and sizing unit in a village in Guntur close to our weavers. We believe the weavers did not suffer from anxiety, as they continued to weave during the worst months of the pandemic," says Sundari.
However, sitting in Hyderabad, with their offices shut, the Dastkar Andhra team had more reasons to worry. They had to sell what was being produced. "I started conversations with the cooperatives, encouraging them to talk to the respective state representatives for help. The state government should have enabled the district co-operative banks to provide working capital loans and also instructed the apex marketing bodies to buy stocks from the co-operative societies. I helped them draft petitions explaining that given the scale of the problem, only a state body could address it. After repeated appeals, the society representatives started talking to the local leaders and others joined," adds Sundari. Unfortunately, by June, the cooperative societies, had run out of money to buy yarn. "Our sales are going at snail's pace due to the pandemic. The only succour came from the state government in Andhra, which started buying stock from the cooperatives and giving them fresh orders for production. In comparison, the response from the Telangana Government has been poor."
Prasanna, theatre director, social activist and founder of Charaka, a women's co-operative society, which runs out of the village of Heggodu in Karnataka, reveals how the pandemic has nearly destroyed this once, self-sustained unit. "Charaka is the largest producer of naturally-dyed handloom fabric in the country. It has a capacity of 30,000 metres per month. We also have our own distribution network called Desi Trust, which has shops across Bengaluru and the state. Through this network, and research and developmental work, we had emerged as a very strong cooperative society in the country. And yet, we are on the verge of collapse. Nearly 90,000 metres of fabric is lying in our godowns. We gave our weavers work to keep them busy all through the lockdown, but the sales have been zero." Once again, there was no help from the government.
Sunil Sethi, President of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), with Union Textiles Minister Smriti Irani and Textiles Secretary Raghvendra Singh at the Artisan Speak event organised by the Ministry of Textiles to highlight the achievements of the textiles sector, on January 5, 2018 in New Delhi. Irani along with the FDCI have been heavily promoting the #Vocal4Handmade hashtag on Twitter, to draw attention to the work of Indian weavers. PIC/GETTY IMAGES Long before the pandemic, the ghosts of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and demonetisation threatened to jeopardise the handlooms and handicrafts industry. "I think this government can take credit for imposing tax on handlooms for the first time after the British left," Sundari states. Markets, she says, continue to suffer untold miseries over three years after GST was imposed. "Producers in the villages organised under the handloom cooperatives or working with master weavers saw a reduction in work. The burden of tax and the paperwork involved, the requirement of experts to fill all the required forms online every month forced many small producers to quit the business altogether."
Prasanna, who is also the founder of Gram Seva Sangh, staged a hunger strike in October 2017, to revoke the GST on hand-made products. He was later assured that the government would review the decision. Three years have passed since. "The British had introduced the Handloom Reservation Act, to reserve certain products for production only in handloom. That Act has been diluted by every government right, left and centre, and today, it exists only on paper." In December last year, a delegation of the Gram Seva Sangh, led by Prasanna, held a meeting with the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), where they raised concerns. Some of their demands included zero tax, requesting that hand-making which is being called Informal Economy (IE) be made a "sacred economy," and restructuring of all the sacred sectors on a war-footing. That the boards, associated with the sector, were dissolved eight months later, hasn't come as a surprise to Prasanna. It was in the offing, he says, especially with the government's move towards privatisation.
Privatisation, however, is not the big monster that the handloom sector is currently fighting. It could be a good move, says Prasanna. Chatterjee agrees. He says that the handloom sector has always been dominated by private initiative. "Every artisan is a private operator. Millions are private entrepreneurs taking their products to the market and grappling with the challenges of rapid changes in the market environment. Indian artisans have been dealing with the market for centuries, so entrepreneurship is not new to them. There are model private enterprises in the sector, such as Anokhi, Fabindia, Bandhej, Contemporary Arts & Crafts, Baaya, Shyam Ahuja, Industree among others."
Now, even big corporate houses are being wooed by the government to drive their "vocal for local" initiative. "To play that role, they will need to first understand that this is not only an industry. It is also a culture, a value system, an area infused with beliefs and values that are not confined to traditional bottom-line calculations, important as those are to deliver sustainable livelihoods. Sensitivity is critical, as well as an openness to listen and learn. Some corporates have already entered the sector. Titan is a brilliant example. Tata Trusts has entered the craft sector through Antaran. So, whether private entry is good or bad depends on the player. It is not a choice. The government needs to be the facilitator, not the implementer. Both [Mahatma] Gandhi and [Rabindranath] Tagore understood that," Chatterjee says.
What is missing is "communication" between the government and the weaver organisations. And that's why Prasanna says the handloom board should exist. "This board [AIHB] is actually so important that the Prime Minister of the country should be its chairperson, because at the core of Ram Rajya lies hand-made production." Despite the despondency, the Ministry of Textile's attempts to revive handloom have begun in full earnest. On August 7, Irani also launched the "My Handloom" portal, which she described as a "one-stop platform for information on everything related to handloom". "This portal will allow weavers' and other stakeholders to track applications in real-time, thereby enhancing transparency and increasing efficiency," she shared on social media. Two days later, she also shared photographs of the newly-renovated Weavers' Service Centre in Delhi, upgraded by NIFT.
Discussing the importance of the WSCs, which come under the DC (Handlooms), Jain shared, "They have developed a matchless calibre for the all-round development of handlooms. These are spread all over India and had once harnessed the services of India's finest contemporary artists as designers, and technologists in the fields of dyes, yarn, weaving as well as establishing close collaboration with local weavers. When these were energised by mega development projects such as the Master Weavers and Vishwakarma exhibition series, the WSCs produced such masterful examples of sarees and other textiles interpreting the best of regional traditions in contemporary aesthetic terms, that for decades after that the weavers continued to earn huge profits from these designs as well as by developing new designs based on that design aesthetic. We need to recognise their importance and re-energise them by engaging them with other such design development and production projects. Once defunct and shut down, it will not be possible to put such an infrastructure in place one again."
This writer reached out to Irani's office, via mail and call. She remained unavailable for comment.
Anuradha Kuli Pegu, National-award winning weaver, who found buyers due to the ministry’s social media mentions When this writer reached out to Anuradha Kuli Pegu, a National-award winning weaver, who specialises in vegetable-dyed muga and eri silk sarees and stoles, and whose number was shared on the ministry's Twitter handle, she said she had received many enquiries from interested buyers and retailers over the last few weeks. Pegu belongs to the Miri tribe of Assam, and is affiliated with Paramparik Karigar, an association of craftsmen founded in 1996. Since 2006, she has been travelling across India, especially Mumbai, to display her creations at exhibitions. There was a lull due to the pandemic, but she says, she is grateful to the ministry for acknowledging her work. "I have been communicating with buyers on WhatsApp, and have already started delivering orders via courier," she says.
Shridhar of KhaDigi says the promotion of khadi and handloom on social media has helped with marketing. "Awareness is increasing, and that's good for the industry. But the ground reality is very different. The government still needs to intervene on many levels. Work is far from complete." Sundari adds, "There is a good collection of symbolic gestures that this government has offered the hand-made sector. They sound hollow in the absence of support exactly where it is needed."
The idea was to keep a medium pace for the first four kilometres of the 8-km run. That would have been around 8.25 minutes per km for me. But, this Thursday evening, the body had a different plan. Ever so often it would slip into the late 7.00s and I had to consciously lower the pace. For someone who clocked a 60-minute 5k run in May—an anomaly we'll blame on the heat and a heavy lunch—memories of trying, with great futility, to increase the pace, were still vivid. While that slow run was clocked on the ASICS Gel Nimbus 21, this one was on the ASICS Metaracer, said to be the sporting firm's most advanced distance racing shoe. Besides of course its shiny exterior, the Metaracer is much lighter than the Gel Nimbus. Getting into the shoe, I worried that I was trying to wear a supermodel's clothes.
The point of course, is not the size, but if one size fits all. Earlier this month, Olympic marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge announced that he would use the Nike Vaporfly Next % to defend his London Marathon title on October 4. It's these shoes that he had worn in October 2019 when he broke the two-hour mark for a marathon distance for the Ineos 1:59 Challenge. While there was talk that the Vaporfly range gave undue advantage to other runners, owing to its sole technology, World Athletics—the global athletics governing body—decided against a ban on the shoes, saying any new shoe technology developed after April 30, 2020, would have to be available on the open market for four months before an athlete could use it in competition. It also introduced an immediate indefinite ban on any shoes that have a sole thicker than 40 millimetres.
Dr Tom Allen
Dr Thomas Allen, senior lecturer at the Department of Engineering at UK's Manchester Metropolitan University, has a background in research in the field of sports engineering, and collaborates with a number of sports brands. He says that running shoes started to become more technologically advanced around the 1970s, with the introduction of the new materials like EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) foam for the midsole.
"That's about the time that the footwear brands really started to apply advanced engineering to the design of their shoes. Running was also becoming more popular, so it was a combination of these two factors which drove developments in the shoes," he adds.
He breaks down the main components of a running shoe into the outsole, the midsole and the upper. The outsole, typically made of rubber, has the tread pattern that gives the shoe the grip. The midsole, which sits underneath the foot, is often made of foam and absorbs the shock from foot strike, while the upper is the top part of the shoe which surrounds the foot, and it also has a fastening system, normally laces. "The midsole is an important part of the shoe, and changes in its thickness and mass can impact the running economy of the wearer, allowing them to run faster for longer. A recent trend in high-end running shoes is thick midsoles." This recent development, he adds, is largely because of technological developments in foam materials, which allow for the midsole to be thick, yet lightweight.
Initially, switching from the Gel Nimbus to the Metaracer felt strange for the feet. Where the Gel Nimbus feels like being fitted into protective armour, the Metaracer is light on the feet. It may have been purely in the mind, but I felt more nimble with the Metaracer and the kilometres kept passing by, with less effort than usual.
Rajat Khurana, managing director, ASICS India and South Asia, says that the Metaracer is ideal for fast marathon-distance runners who want to compete, and so, improve their timings. That is, elite athletes. Would a shoe like this, help the average marathon runner? "It helps everyone improve their timing by reducing fatigue as it is an energy-efficient shoe." Breaking it down, he adds, that the shoe has a trademarked GUIDESOLE technology, where the sole is curved near the toe and the forefoot is a bit stiff. Much like how a rocking chair operates, he says. This ensures a little pressure at the back of the foot helps the leg go faster, without expending much energy when you go front. The slightly stiff forefoot ensures that the foot is stabilised, reducing ankle flex, meaning that muscles have to work less, thus causing less fatigue. It's ideal for marathons and half-marathons. The upper of the shoe is also lightweight. It throws off any sweat or water, thus ensuring that the weight of the shoe remains optimum for the runner. The Flytefoam midsole makes the shoe light. One concern I had while running with the Metaracer was the cushioning it gave the heel, given my history of plantar fasciitis. And though, it is a race-day shoe, the foot didn't feel overtly exposed.
Where the Metaracer is meant to make you faster, the Gel Nimbus, says Khurana, is meant to protect you. "It's a full marathon shoe, and is meant for people who compete in the normal category. A normal runner's foot is not as strong as an elite athlete's. They have more training. And so, the heel drop—difference in height between the heel and the forefoot in the midsole—is greater for the Gel Nimbus than in the Metaracer, which has been designed for energy efficiency."
Like the Metaracer, the Vaporfly Next% too is said to be Nike's fastest shoe ever. It's said to have merged traction patterns of marathoners Geoffrey Kirui, Kipchoge and Mo Farah. It boasts of Vaporweave, an upper material that is lighter than the Nike Flyknit, breathable and, as in the Metaracer, absorbs far less water from sweat or rain, so it stays dry over the course of a marathon. It also has a thin foam pod inside the heel to ease the pressure off the Achilles and also the Nike ZoomX foam in the midsole, which has been scientifically proven in Nike's Sport Research Lab to further increase energy return.
But, ASICS and Nike aren't the only ones. In a competitive running shoe market, where new tech is being tested every day to improve the running experience, there's also the Under Armour HOVR Machina. Named after its patented HOVR foam, the Machina hopes to be the answer to those who choose between cushioning and lightweight shoes. Explaining this, Siddharth Pal, marketing head for Under Armour India, says the shoe aims to give a zero-gravity feel to the runner. "It also provides stability for those who carry more weight and thus often, have ankle or heel issues." While the Machina has similar features as the Metaracer and the Next%, where it may have an added advantage is that it's a shoe that speaks to the runner.
Built in with a chip, the shoe connects with UA's MapMyRun app, which will record the make, the colour, giving the shoe a unique identity. While you run, the shoe will record your pace, cadence. It will even coach you and give real-time guidance through the app, says Pal. The shoe, he says, is also suited for amateur runners, who will get training through.
Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge celebrates after completing a full marathon with an unofficial time of 1hr 59min 40.2sec, becoming the first ever to run a marathon in under two hours, at a specially prepared course in Prater park, Vienna. PIC/getty images
As someone who isn't a lightweight runner, one wonders if weight should be a consideration while picking up a shoe. The Metaracer, amazing as it is, provides less protection than the Gel Nimbus 21, and so each time post run when the heels hurt a bit more, one wonders if it's the shoe or the body. Dr Allen says, "The vertical force which is transferred to the runner during the foot strike increases with both their body weight and speed. For a lightweight, fast elite runner this force will be about three times their body weight. Heavier runners tend to be slower, with vertical ground reaction forces around twice their body weight."
While my last 8k was in February this year (with a 76-minute timing), the nearest 7k was on August 6, clocking 64.03 minutes. The 8k run with the Metaracer was clocked at 70.35 minutes. Could a shoe have made all the difference? Speaking about the promise of a faster run with the latest shoes, Dr Allen says, "It depends on the athlete. Some people may not see much difference in their running economy, while others may see an improvement of around five per cent." Coach Giles Drego, attributes the pace to regular training, saying a shoe doesn't help.
Shayamal Vallabhjee, sports scientist and psychologist
Shayamal Vallabhjee, sports scientist and psychologist, says multiple factors decide a runner's pace. And they start with how much lean muscle, body mass the runner has, their cadence (total number of steps taken in a minute), fast twitch muscle fibre ratio (the ratio in the body of the kind of skeletal muscle fibres that support powerful movements), body type, leg length, fuelling source, injuries, training patterns, the mileage a runner puts in through the week, psychological factors such as the runners pain threshold. "Can a shoe increase a runner's performance? Yes. But Kipchoge for example, is a runner who is training at his optimal. When the Next% was designed it was done so, keeping in mind that he needed a four per cent improvement to make the sub-2 mark. During a conversation, Kipchoge told me that even with a normal running shoe, say something you'd pick off the streets, he's run a 2:08 marathon. So, for elite athletes such as him, a shoe will make a difference."
A novice runner, Vallabhjee adds, will not benefit from a faster shoe. They need to get other things correct first—three days of strength training; better fuelling; maximise training (run thrice the distance of the race-day event every week). "Telling someone that they can wear a shoe and become faster without taking into account the other factors is like telling a student that by using a magic pen they can ace an exam without studying," says Vallabhjee.
The FLYTEFOAM™ technology in the midsole is lightweight and gives both a softer run and improved responsiveness.
WET GRIP RUBBER™ outsole technology provides traction in wet conditions to help runners maintain a consistent stride.
GUIDESOLE™ technology with a rocker sole helps propel you forward, which gives you the ability to move through your running motion more smoothly and efficiently.
A lightweight carbon plate runs from the midfoot forward to add structure and rigidity to the shoe.
AHAR™ rubber is a highly durable material that’s placed in key areas where the load is applied at the landing phase of the stride.
Vaporweave, a material construction debuting on the upper, is lighter than Nike Flyknit, breathable and—critically—absorbs far less water from sweat or rain, so it stays airy and dry over the course of a marathon.
The laces are slightly offset to alleviate pressure along the sensitive part of the foot.
Nike ZoomX foam in the midsole, which has been scientifically proven in Nike’s Sport Research Lab to further increase energy return, has been redistributed to decrease the offset from 11mm to 8mm to provide a more stable feeling and help maximize energy return at the critical toe-off.
A thin foam pod inside the heel keeps the Achilles happy.
It's been four months since the whitecollar workplace moved from the cubicle into the living room. While WFH has its pros, the rapid and unexpected switch can get overwhelming when you're juggling deadlines and domestic tasks. And one perennial question that takes both time and planning is deciding what to cook.
It was on one such day when this writer was weary that Hema's Veg Rasoi came to the rescue. The venture was started in July by Hema Nakwe and her photojournalist husband Prashant from their Matunga East home. The couple sets a weekly menu; orders need to be given one day before delivery. "I've always found joy in cooking, and this might sound amusing but I enjoy feeding large groups versus, let's say, two people," says Nakwe. While she was lauded for her generous hospitality and culinary skills by friends and family, Nakwe says she lacked the confidence to turn entrepreneur. But circumstances can be compelling and effective motivators. "My husband felt it's time I let go of the diffidence and take the plunge." Being vegetarians, they decided to stick to what they know best. The items on the menu are based on seasonality and availability of ingredients. "A lot of the dishes are Maharashtrian, but to shake things up a bit, I often throw in a Punjabi or a South Indian sabzi. The other day, I prepared Kerala-style bean stir fry with grated coconut."
Hema and Prashant Nakwe prep the day's meal at their Matunga home
We happened to order in on a Thursday when the menu featured matki usal (gravy), batata bhaji (dry), steamed rice, three large phulkas, grated cucumber raita and two types of pickles. It was supposed to be a meal for one, but the portions were large enough for two. The dishes arrived in a meal box, with no spillage and the taste of "ghar ka khana". Although it was a Maharashtrian meal and the popular perception is that it's a hot and spicy cuisine, this one ranked low on the spice metre (we aren't complaining). The pricing is reasonable. A single meal box cost Rs 175.
A special mention for the two sweet and spicy pickles, prepared by Nakwe's mother and sister. Together, they run a homemade pickle and masala service called Shaku's Homemade Products. All said, if you're looking for something a little more on the indulgent side, this service is probably not for you.
Over the past few months, we've seen a slew of cloud kitchens and home-meal delivery services aspiring to replace home-cooking. It's not an easy feat to achieve. But Hema's Veg Rasoi has potential.
To order 8976764660, Whatsapp; @HemasVegRasoi, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook