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Family Heirlooms: Preserve and Pass On

Preeti Varma | September 10, 2020
Family Heirlooms: Preserve and Pass On

In the picture above, Dr.Urmila Johri, my mother, wears an antique Kashmiri, aari work, pure wool jacket (crafted in the 1920s) that she inherited from my grandmother. This jacket was specially made for my grandmother by the court craftsmen of H.R.H Pratap Singh, uncle to Maharaja Hari Singh, the last ruler of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.

As for the rouge pink saree that she has paired the jacket with, it has an antique border in tilla, katori, salma and gota. The intricately embroidered border has been appliqued onto numerous fabrics time and again!

A childhood spent in royalty

My great grandfather was the royal physician to H.R.H Pratap Singh, and this extended a royal-like upbringing for my grandmother, Vidya. She was a woman brimming with talent, accomplished as she was as a ghazal singer with a flair for languages; she spoke several European tongues. As if this wasn’t already extraordinary, she was an adept dancer too and comfortable with several styles — be it the waltz, the landler, fox trot, tango or even traditional court dances. A connoisseur of rare treasures with keen interest in literature and the arts, Vidya was the cynosure of all eyes.

I love hearing of her adventures and escapades as a child from old family retainers, my mother, my aunts and sometimes even my exasperated grandfather who could not help but love her in spite of always trying to do the math on royalty-like household bills.

The love for old traditions

A garment is not just ‘a garment’, when even the third generation in the family appreciates and treasures it. The desire to redo old garments or recreate a new look is something I have imbibed from my mother and she, from hers. In fact, not just my mother and me, even my daughters share a similar passion — to preserve and pass on.

The green angrakha pictured above has been fashioned out of a farshi that  belonged to my mother. It has ancient embroidery work from Lucknow, and is complimented by the traditional lote, pitta and zardozi. However, this is not the first time I have created something out of it.

During my college years, I had reinvented it into a short kurta, a style that was in vogue in the late 70s. I am so glad I treasured it all these years. I now wear it as an angrakha which I pair with a traditional gharara in brocade and a machli jaal dupatta to match.

Needless to mention, this fish scale embroidery, which was very popular in Awadhi tradition, is yet another heirloom piece that finds pride of place in my wardrobe. It is wonderful indeed to be part of a family that treasures its heirlooms!


Preeti Varma

Preeti is a full-fledged painter and artist and is currently working with art furniture. Her company Enviroscapes, works on project concept coordination, design, landscaping, interiors, murals and paintings. She has held numerous exhibitions for her paintings. Her installations are part of private and corporate collections.

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Suku Chowdhury
Suku Chowdhury
3 years ago

Very interesting read !

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