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Color Me Indian

Color Me Indian

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Published by: kapur64 on Oct 11, 2010
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Color Me Indian

by Hanya Yanagihara | Published October 2010 |

In Jaipur, India's capital of adornment, there are gems the size of eggs and silks in hues of unimaginable hotness. Hanya Yanagihara arrives packing basic browns and grays. Big mistake-and it's going to cost her...
Munnu Kasliwal thinks I should wear more diamonds. Diamonds are not just for special occasions, he says. They're for every day. Take this necklace. Although it's not so much a necklace as it is a funnel, heavy and stiff and maybe six inches high, with an adjustable silk cord at its back so that it can be cinched snugly about my throat, forcing me to elongate my neck. The front of the piece, facing the world, is an extravagant chain mail of rounded, rose-cut diamonds, hundreds of them, each as big as a child's fingernail, and each set in soft, nearly pure yellow gold. The other side, which rests against my skin, is enameled in a Mogul-inspired pattern of abstract crimson tulips against a pearlescent white, their petals edged in that same vivid gold. I have never seen²much less touched, much less worn²this many diamonds before, ever. "This is good for a casual look," says Munnu, approvingly, as I giddily skip around his second-floor atelier in Jaipur. Anyone who has been to India²specifically Rajasthan, the rich and kingly region in the country's northwest²knows that when it comes to adornment, Indians do not think like other people. Munnu is a ninth-generation Jaipur jeweler. For hundreds of years, his family, which includes his brothers²the roguish and charming Sanjay, who also designs fantastic, extravagant pieces, and the elegant Sudhir, who runs their store, the Gem Palace²has made the sort of jewelry that one usually sees only in paintings of seventeenth-century maharajas: astonishingly elaborate creations, dense with rubies and emeralds and diamonds cunningly cut to reflect and glint even in candlelight, and shockingly large gobs of South Sea pearls. This might be why Munnu's definition of casual is not anyone else's in the Western world. Another casual piece he shows me is a rope of quail egg-sized diamonds that you can reverse and wear so that it appears to be merely a length of dark-gold pebbles, each as smooth as a river stone. "You could wear this on the subway in New York and no one would know!" Munnu says. "I don't think so," I say, although for a delirious, senseless second or two, I wonder how much the necklace is worth: More than my mortgage? Could I move somewhere cheaper? I feel myself drifting into a fugue state of insanity. Munnu, who has no doubt seen this vacant expression²half lust, half stupidity² on dozens of women, just laughs. In New York, where I live, and in many other cities around the world as well, clothing is also about selfexpression²but, just as often, it is about anonymity. I packed three dresses for my Jaipur trip. One was brown. Two were gray. In New York, they would have looked appropriate, but in India, where even the camels that clop slowly along the narrow roadways wear saddles of silver-stitched lipstick-red cotton, they seemed wan and apologetic, as leeched of color as the desert that surrounded me. So much of what is singular and memorable about India is the colors. No religion makes more use of color than Hinduism, with its blue-skinned gods and peony-lipped goddesses, and even the spring festival of Holi is focused on color: Boys squirt arcs of dyed water on passersby, or dump powder, all violently hued, on their marks. In Rajasthan, though, the color comes not from the landscape, which for the most part

even the blues and greens. it is. rhinestones. the hues brighter. The women wear saris in shades that allude not to what's around them²sand. and metallic thread. polished. especially among young women? Jaipur seemed like the place to go. They too follow trends. and when I looked around. overlaid with a glittering crust of sequins. is British and who runs their small. or Hawaii²it's a way of echoing nature's splendor. but almost exclusively from the people. more extreme. The woman looked in the mirror and murmured her approval. a gorgeous trail of silk Georgette in a color Nidhi called watermelon pink. it is stocked with . and set²and among Indians. Here. a fashion destination as well. When we think of an Indian woman. and today the trend is for even richer ornamentation. and has been for centuries. I wondered. so that it floated away from the body in a cloud of tangerine chiffon. The shop was tiny. I saw not distinct pieces of clothing but instead a blur of shades and textures: It was like being in some sort of enchanted fairyland where every surface whispered across your skin and every color was meant to delight and seduce. In her second-floor boutique. showing us how she had altered the cut of a traditional salwar kameez dress. Victoria and I went to Hot Pink. where an outfit is assembled.2 million people. like all fashion. I was lucky enough to have two guides around the city's stores and bazaars: Bertie Dyer. But lately it has become an incubator of its own small group of independent designers. fitting it through the bodice but letting it trapeze below the waist. hot blue. with just 3. friendly travel agency from their home there. its edges thick with metallic-thread-embroidered peacocks. better than anything nature could have imagined.unfolds in a great unbroken sea of olive and khaki. Set in a small house on the grounds of a prettily ruined little palace. unspecific sweep of fabric that manages to both conceal and reveal. In Jaipur. Nidhi Tholia. water²but to jewels or candies or the sticky-sweet sherbets I drank to cool down on the hot afternoons: chartreuse. the flashes of color seem defiant. All the colors here are hot. to live in a place where ornamentation²in dress. What is it like. other artisan-rich cities to which it roughly compares. in jewels²is meant for every day. In other places where people embrace color to the same extent²Thailand. like Bertie. who spent much of his childhood in Rajasthan and seemed to know everyone in town. where jeans have never quite caught on. hot pink. sky. and for silk so fine that it snags on the fingertips. a hue that shaded into a brilliant sunset red. Saffron. Although it's a smallish city by Indian standards. the horizon is a long stretch of grit and dross. and somehow ceremonious. Why would an Indian woman ever want to wear jeans and a T-shirt? Of course. color seems to be humanity's way of asserting itself against a pitiless and unvaried backdrop. It was Victoria who introduced me to a young designer. the clothes are practical²anyone who has witnessed the creative permutations a woman can invent for her sari knows that²but they are also theatrical. cherry soda. But saris. appropriate for a country and culture that hums with rituals and festivals and holidays. just a shoebox with a length of gauzy cotton marking off a dressing room. In India. for even more delirious tones. Victoria. has always been known for its craftsmanship. It is one of the world's most important lapidary workshops²tons of stones pass through the city annually to be cut. we watched as she draped one of her saris around the shoulders of an elegant middle-aged woman. Later. it is a popular place to shop for a trousseau. especially the exquisite silk saris that brides wear on their wedding day. after she left. Jaipur. we see a sari²a vague. even ancient techniques and fabrications and using them to create something different and new. like Florence or Kyoto. evolve: They are not the same from one generation to the next. not tossed on. one of the city's best and most interesting boutiques. Nidhi pulled other pieces off the racks. and his wife. carved. for example. who. people who are taking traditional. After we left Nidhi's shop.

But now I have my rings. Sophia laid the collection out on a low table that had been set with a rainbow of silk scarves. I watched as two young." which includes the verse " 'Tis the gift to be simple. her sour-lemon sari the brightest thing for miles. I marvel still at recollections like these. the little van jouncing along India's famously busy. Why hadn't I noticed that before? I had saved the Gem Palace for the end of my visit. I still marveled at the girl sitting sidesaddle on the back of a motorbike. by Muslim men. or rings fashioned from imperfect. Five years ago. a bright violet-tinged fuchsia): pochettes and hair bands and necklaces and belts plushly embroidered with butterflies. stars. Sophia was from Sweden. After the stitchwork was done. its eyes winking diamond chips. stitching a row of flame-orange butterflies onto black cotton. pale emerald. the chain of butterflies would be cut from the cloth and mounted onto a strip of velvet. a shade of pink not found in nature. as I watched. all tourmalines. I saw. a jeweler and one of the owners. After a week here. the sort of beautiful woman who has an easy. and long tassels would be added so that it could be tied around the waist. or fragile strands of gold loops. And what better expression of that glorious imperfection than the self we present to the world." Sanjay said. 'tis the gift to be free. glittering cuts of multihued tourmalines. and explained that the threadwork method she used was an old one called zerdogi. and the sight of a lone woman walking the long. Back in New York. and the shawl I bought there. mostly practiced. Sophia watched as I tied on belt after belt." At seven I was back. she moved from Paris to Jaipur. enviable. one topped with a clear. and peonies. I wished I had some lipstick. I eventually went downstairs. I have never been one to wear a great deal of color. crowded roads. more everything. When I was in grade school. of Hot Pink. in the airy second-floor room she uses as a factory. mesmerized. Color. hearts. and had worked with Marie-Hélène de Taillac. to be set into rings. Outside. after trying on those millions of dollars' worth of jewels upstairs. the other with a crouching frog carved from a stormy-blue hunk of labradorite. and it was a good thing. And so. "Come by at seven. where anyone is allowed to open the many glass-topped cabinets and slip on stacks of gold bangles set with sapphires. The night watchman handed me a manila envelope with my rings inside. with Munnu Kasliwal." She was right: It did. more jewelry. but it was beginning to seem ridiculous not to. Inside was Sophia Edstrand. and I am trying to wear more color. each packed in its own burgundy-silk pouch. "They'll be ready by then. for had I started there. made everyone look better. and therefore glorious." Jaipur. "Color suits you. for some reason. kindly. It is what the Indians do so ." Sophia said. They flashed and sparkled in the dim light. each bigger than the last. color implied that one was vibrant and alert even if it wasn't true. the ends of her lime-green sari sailing behind her like pennants. even against the mouse gray of my dress. Later. her lips were scarlet. and on each hand she wore a large gold ring. They looked dazzling. lonely stretch between two desolate villages. as the butterflies bloomed against the black. and horribly complicated. The next day I headed back toward Delhi. though. the air smelled of sugar and loam. we were taught the Shaker song "Simple Gifts. I put them all on at once." said Sophia. offhanded chic that proves impossible to duplicate: Her hair was a bright blond. reminded me that everyday life is not simple but messy. "Lovely. I might never have left. like dying flowers.housewares and clothes from some of India's leading designers. and imperfect. "It's important to continue these traditional crafts or they'll slowly die out. Sophia 203 (the number refers to her favorite Pantone swatch. and last year she started her own line of accessories. good-looking guys sat cross-legged on rugs. I finally picked out four loose stones.

Just read my clothes and see. 'Tis a gift to be complicated and colorful and free. they seem to say. and it has bewitched the rest of the world for centuries.well. .

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