From the Awadhi Closet

A psychologist who hails from a native Awadh family and now lives in Milan, walks back into her own past and beyond that of the Awadhi era, through costumes and textiles. This could pretty much tight-wrap Sushama Swarup's recent book Costumes & Textiles of Awadh: From the Era of Nawabs to Modern Times (Roli Books, Price 995). Swarup, who admits to a fascination with Lucknow's magnificence during the time she spent there, calls her book "a homage...to the bygone era of Awadh". But the brief introduction fails to show the reader the Venn diagrams history makes with modernity and the collision of influences that may snake out of history but explain the modern. More importantly, there is little to help understand why a particular historical influence vanishes without any impact, while another dominates and survives the onslaught of change and time.

Swarup has documented what she calls "the ambience of the Nawabi Era (1772-1856) and of the British Raj (1856-1947)" and then goes on to talk about clothing pieces used in modern times. The best part of the book, perhaps the boon and bane of a coffee table tome, are the photographs. There are entire royal costumes as well as fluid textiles and drapes: delicate chikankari swatches, photos from wedding rituals, lavish ensembles of men drenched in courtly power, children's garments, chogas, jamdanis, brocades, accessories such as caps, hair ornaments, batuas (cloth clutches) and separates from traditional dressing that could help us deconstruct some shapes we see on the ramp now by designers also inspired by Awadh's awesome clothing legacy; even a French net and tulle embellished with mukaish. A small section on the evolution of motifs and colours is a good one. Even so, the pictures speak louder than words.

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