A Sartorial script
The children of Independence inherited a vast heritage of culture and history that had mesmerised the British. But inheritance must first be experienced and then interpreted, a lesson Salman Rushdie has often said he learnt while writing his stories. It is also something that Ritu Kumar, born in 1944, three years before Rushdie, experienced through her early work in Bengal.
In the early Seventies, Kumar, the barefoot doctor of craft revival, had begun work on a project in Serampore, West Bengal. Colonised by Denmark till 1845, Serampore became the centre of missionary activity in India under the British rule, known for the work of William Carey, Joshua Marshman and William Ward. One of the by-products of this work was the introduction of fine, hand embroidery. A student of Lady Irwin College in Delhi, Kumar had won a scholarship to study art history in the US. Upon her return, she settled in Calcutta following her marriage. “There was no art history course, so I studied museology,” she says, adding that it exposed her to the Bengal countryside, firing her curiosity to visit handloom centres. One such visit led Kumar to the embroiderers of Ranihati. It was with them that she contemporarised the craft of zardozi, which had formerly flourished during Mughal rule.
The Seventies was the decade when Rushdie winds up the plot of Midnight’s Children, one of last century’s
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