Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Exquisite Embroidery of Fazilka

Gauri Sharma 'threads her way through the bazaars of Fazilka and comes across karigars who are keeping traditional crafts alive while getting market savvy in the process.Last week, I went to attend a marriage where I met an old friend of mine. “Hey! You're looking great in this embroidered suit! Which designer created it ? It seems to be very, very costly. Surely, you have spent a bomb on it,” I said.She went into peals of laughter. “It's not some hi-fi designer's creation!” She exclaimed! “And nor is it as costly as you probably think.” She told me that her native place, Fazilka, in district Ferozepur, near the Indo-Pak border, is famous for hand embroidery and hand painted suits. I couldn't believe it and planned to visit the place at the earliest.Indian fashion has come a long way. Not only has it grown rapidly, but there has also been a revival of traditional Indian fabric and embroidery.Embroidered suits have always been popular with women, especially in Punjab. Fazilka is famous for its embroidery, because of its high- quality work, sold at reasonable rates. Hand embroidery is done by Muslim karigars, who came from Barelli and settled down here. The handiwork is so delicately done that it takes your breath away. I was amazed to see the range and variety of work on different types of fabrics.The suits, saris, and kurtis that you can purchase in the Fazilka market, are much cheaper than similar ones available in the bigger cities. This creative art has given self-employment to the ladies and karigars of Fazilka. All Fazilka women, rich or not so- rich, certainly wear embroidered suits.The business of the embroidery has risen over 20 percent per year on account of the growing demand for hand embroidery. Most of the big exporters, who supply to fashion houses keep the identities and addresses of the Karigars, a closely guarded secret, for obvious reasons. Traditional Karigars are employed exclusively by them. A lot of crystal work is used in floral and contemporary patterns. Meenu Nagpal, 38-year-old, who is running Mehrab boutique in Fazilka, has been in this business for the last ten years. She started learning it as a hobby but later adopted it as a profession, which with her spirit of enterprise started growing day by day. “We are famous for hand painted suits and thread embroidery and most of my customers are from Punjab— Chandigarh, Panchkula, Sirsa, Malout, Muktsar, Amritsar, and even Delhi. We also supply embroidered suits to different dealers in Punjab. Almost all the patterns are designed by me, and I always decide on the colour scheme and then hand the work over to the karigars. Our rates are comparatively lower than those of the designer clothes in the city but the quality of the work is the same.”Meenu's inspiration is Razia Gandhi, the embroidery doyen, who has dressed the likes of Hillary Clinton, Catherine Zeta Jones, Princess of Wales, and Sharon Stone. She is the woman behind some of the biggest labels in the world with her embroidery skills and her talented team of handpicked karigars. “It just depends on how efficient you are”, says Meenu.24-year-old Mushtaq Ahmed, from Barelli, who is doing embroidery since fifteen years says, “It's a tough job. Flawlessness and perfection in this art can be achieved only through constant practice. I am better at thread embroidery than in moti-sippy work. I charge according to the pattern and material used on the fabric. Thread work and tilla embroidery is costlier than moti-sippy work. Jitna paisa utna kaam. The rate starts from one hundred and fifty rupees and goes beyond two thousand. My customers are from all the surrounding areas and I also get work from the boutiques. Many Punjabi women who come from abroad get their suits done by me.” There are different types of embroidery like thread work, tille ki khadai, moti-sippy work. Nowadays, moti-sippy work is more in fashion than others, but tilla is evergreen and mostly done on formal suits. The intensity of labour, which is required for such delicate embroidery, definitely strains the eyes but still these Muslim karigars are undeterred and try their best to outdo one another. The new generation is also keen to take up this profession because it generates self-employment and embroidery will always be 'in'.29-year-old Manju Verma from Fazilka, who started working three years ago says, “I have learnt this art from Muslim karigars and today, I am earning my own living. The better work you do, the more you earn.”Indian embroidery has made its mark internationally also. Worldwide designers are impressed with the detailed craftsmanship of the Indians when it comes to embroidery, weaving of fabric or unique block print styles. From beading to sequin work, the richness of traditional fabrics, designs and colours, with a modern techno feel gives it a whole new interpretation that is appreciated the world over.The visit to this small town was an eye-opener. I couldn't stop myself from purchasing wonderful embroidered suits and kurtis. Thank goodness, I was staying with a friend who could sponsor my bus ticket for back home because I had emptied my purse in the Fazilka market.

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