'Saree ki sari baatein' series -The art of Handloom Maintenance with Chinna ji

Inspired by Pirsig’s texts on the ‘metaphysics of quality’ in his famous book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, Apaapi dedicated the first episode of handloom awareness through its flagship initiative “Saree की सारी baatein” on the art of handloom maintenance, in a tete-a-tete with the phenomenal Dr. Padmavati Dua, also known by her very popular, nom-de-plume, ‘Chinna’.

Having been raised in Delhi, within a multicultural set-up, Dr. Dua or Chinna ji is an eminent radiologist by profession, a melodious singer well versed in at least Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil & Bengali, and wife of renowned journalist Padmashri Vinod Dua. Vinod chose to address her & introduce her to his family & friends ,by her nickname ‘Chinna’ instead of her official name Padmavati.

She was born in 1960 when women around her were by & large draped in sarees. She was exposed to handlooms thanks to her mother, 4 sisters elder to her and her Bengali neighbour “Mama”, a father to her.  Vinod ji bought her handcrafted sarees belonging to different parts of the country and ever since it has been a no-looking back journey, claims Chinna . Her posts on social media handles on Instagram & Facebook are immensely popular and her ardent followers & fans are all too keen to get a sneak peek at her saree collections.

Apaapi can never be grateful enough to Chinna ji for taking out time to provide her candid & knowledgeable insights on the art of saree and particularly, handwoven saree maintenance, through her narratives of the multifarious roles donned by her, all of these amidst her divine and infectious laughs in between, that lit up the evening, each time. Excerpts of the discussion, with specific quotes are provided here under -

“When it came to draping,I never  discriminated between handlooms, georgettes , crepes or chiffon. For me as long as the saree looked good, draping it  was fine by me. But as luck would have it, by & large, it would be handlooms that always appealed to me because there is no comparison between handlooms & other sarees. Handlooms obviously would appeal as somebody had woven it with their hands for you.” (on handwoven sarees)

Within the short excerpt of our conversation, which you can access it here on IGTV Live (https://www.instagram.com/tv/CIIuW6-gjXa/), we have interchangeably used sarees & handwoven sarees and the tips shared apply equally to both the categories.

The art of keeping sarees clean –

Chinna ji exclaimed forthrightly that sarees are a work of art and it is upon the wearer to be able to care for it so that the colours and the motifs continue to stay vibrant over the years and the saree continues to look beautiful and vibrant.

➢ Being vigilant

Chinna ji, while sharing her experiences, which we are sure, many of us would have encountered, observed, “ …though I try to take utmost care about my sarees, but if I have to go to a party and eat, no matter how much care I take, I have found that I end up dropping something (..). But I have this habit that even if I come back 2 at night (..), I would open my saree in good light and see kahan kahan pe kya kya daag hai, any oil stains or anything”.

➢ The power of talcum

Chinna ji candidly added that,“…throughout the years, I have learnt that if you see oil stains, immediately apply talcum powder, just press it, so that it soaks in all the oil and leave it like that. Next morning, either you iron it or scrape it off as the oil would have been absorbed by talcum powder.”

➢ Drinking-Soda dipped napkins

Also, whenever you find yourself staining a saree in any party or event, she shared a very useful and quick tip where she added, “Whenever in parties, I ask for wet napkin, but the napkins have to be wet with soda, the drinking soda (..) I would wipe it then and there (..)”. She emphasized that stains should be removed when they are fresh, since once it gets old, it gets stubborn and is very difficult to remove. Therefore, little bit of awareness can keep your saree always fresh and young forever.

➢ The mighty pen

Chinna ji, observed her use of portable stain removal pens that she usually follows, “…they have a pen which is a stain removal pen (..), you will find that in my purse, and I will clean it (..), or there are shout wipes (..). These are small sachets with tissues having detergent inside which removes the stain. You will find them in my purse, so whenever there is a stain, I will put them (..), and then with a wet cloth, just remove it (..).”

➢ Wash occasionally

On being asked by viewers of whether it is important to wash saree after ever wear, she said, "it is not required to wash your saree until it is worn for a long time or have got dirty. If one has draped for a short duration and in an AC environment where one has not sweated then it is not necessary to wash or dry clean. However, I invariably wash it if I have draped it to the market or I have been outdoors where I have sweated or my walked on grass or if I find the fall soiled."

➢ Cotton saree versus Silk saree is starching versus dry-washing

Chinna ji reiterated that handwoven sarees require wearing and maintenance thereof to retain its polish and lustre. While Chinna ji maintained the need for starching cotton sarees after every wash, a practice, she learnt from her mother and her elder sisters, she prefers her silk sarees to be dry cleaned.

The art of keeping sarees folded -

Chinna ji, then went on to provide her insights on folding sarees and averting wear and tear and damages such tearing off on the creases.

➢ The rolls (and the hangers)

Chinna ji generally rolls her sarees (rather than folding it) and keeps it in her wardrobe, just like we see in the shops. This ensures that any saree can be pulled out without disturbing the others. She further added, “I brought these (..) storage bags that are available in Amazon, I roll them there, so that there is not much pressure on my delicate sarees (..), and the very delicate one, (..) I have hangers in the doors of my wardrobe. I hang them there but other than that I keep them rolled in the storage bags. The shelf sizes are adjusted, so that it is smaller and not much weight of other sarees on any saree .”

➢ Reverse fold technique

Chinna ji observed that sarees could also be kept folded and the best way to avert tearing in the fold lines, it is important that one should “(..) reverse the fold of sarees (..) and the best way to maintain your sarees is to wear it”

Much like Pirsig and his love for motorcycles, the phenomenal Chinna ji has a romanticism in her expressions of her relationship with her handwoven sarees. Her rational approach in mastering the art of handloom maintenance truly creates a Zen-like "being in the moment" and this combination of rationality and romanticism towards sarees is truly divine and noteworthy. Chinna ji concludes the evening with a smile and a simple tip for every handloom enthusiast -  “Wear and re-wear your sarees”.

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