on the fashion trail
The fashion scene in the North-East is booming with models and fashion shows of the region crossing borders. Saswati Kaushik reports
Wraparound skirts, accessorised with an off-shoulder top and bead jewellery, may still be a ‘fashion statement’ and a ‘sign of the rebel’ in many parts of India but for the people of the North-East, these items have formed a part of their traditional wardrobe since ages. The modern day wraparound skirt draws its inspiration from, among other sources, the traditional costumes of women of various tribal regions. Beads and other funky jewellery were traditionally used by people living in the remote hills of the region.
And today, even in the modern fashion scenario, the North-East is making news. Dipankar Dutta, founder president of an educational institute in Assam, says: "Shillong was adjudged the second most fashionable city in the country 15 years ago by a leading news magazine survey. International bands like ‘Michael Learns to Rock’ and ‘Air Supply’ give many metros a miss to perform in Shillong. It’s just that the region is more visible in the conventional sense now."
He should know. For he was behind the successful Assam Bangkok Fashion Week, Parampara, held last year in the Thai capital to showcase fabrics and designs of the region. His group has been organising the ‘Assam Fashion Week’ annually. The enthusiastic response the event has been generating speaks volumes for the popularity of fashion-related shows in Assam. As Dutta points out, "We can now watch a fashion show in Paris or Milan live sitting in our homes. Similarly, activities in the fashion industry in the region are also getting reported more widely."
On the experience of the fashion show in Bangkok, Dutta recalls, "The show was a major success as the designers of the region mixed home-grown fabrics and patterns with westernised cuts and designs." Though the show was on a non-commercial basis and no sale was undertaken, it fetched a few orders for the Assamese fabrics from the Thai audience. "The commercial aspect has to be dealt at the official level; our aim was to showcase the fabric, pattern and design of the region in accordance with global demand," he says.
Accommodating the new-age look in exclusive fabrics of the region, with its indigenous patterns and designs, seems to be the new formula for hitting the bullseye in the fashion market of the designers of the region. Be it the gamocha (traditional towel) featured as a skirt on a leading magazine’s cover or the models flaunting western dresses with North-eastern fabrics in Bangkok, the North East is in the news.
Young designer Julie Sharma adds, "We are getting more openings now. The people in other parts of the country used to associate the North-East with jungles, rhinos and looks with Mongoloid features. But perceptions are changing fast for the better."
Dutta’s wife Arunima, a ‘Mrs India World’ runners-up, affirms that the fashion industry in the metros had wrong notions about the North-East till a few years back.
"However, things have undergone a tremendous change and the ‘Look East’ policy has also added to an interest in all aspects of the region " Dutta hastens to add.
To add to the success story is the growing popularity of models of the region, not only within the country but internationally too. From Monikangkana Dutta walking the international ramp to other beauties winning top honours in model hunts, the region features in the fashion map of the country. Old favourites like Dipannita Sharma and Tora Khasgir continue to inspire new generations. While Dipannita became a popular name with her stint on the small as well as silver screen, a former Gladrags mega model, Tora, went on to win the Best Asian-Model of the World, 2002, title at an international beauty pageant in Beirut.`A0She also played striking cameo roles in movies like Pyar Mein Kabhi Kabhi and Dillagi.
Parental attitude is changing too. Unlike in the past when parents associated modelling with ‘loss of reputation’, today they are seen encouraging their wards to take up modelling as a career. Photographer Manoj Deka, associated with the field for more than a decade, observes a sea change in the confidence of local girls facing the camera. "Earlier, girls preferred traditional attires and a subdued look. Today they are at ease posing in bold western outfits. Even the traditional dresses are worn in a newer way."
Not just the youth, the region now has a number of popular annual contests for married couples and women. Even the make-up and hair dressing competitions are tremendously popular and bring easy recognition to the new entrants. Says aspiring model Anita, "We see the latest outfits on the television regularly. It not only teaches us to dress more elegantly but also makes us carry ourselves with more confidence." Her friend Dhruba, another youngster waiting in the wings to make it big in the fashion scene, adds, "Boys are also looking towards modelling, a good career choice what with the current unemployment scenario. If I can earn a respectable living by modelling, why not?"
The element of ‘respect’ perhaps explains the latest boom in the fashion scene here. As Dutta says, "People used to view people in the fashion industry rather askance but now they have realised that the world of fashion is not ‘flesh show’. The success of local girls has also enlightened them on how the industry works."
As the region basks in the ‘fashion boom’, the mantra for the people of the region could well be the tag line of a popular celluloid style show, ‘Keep it stylish’. — TWF
January 2007 has been a joyful month in the life of Hirbaiben Lobi, the winner of the Jankidevi Bajaj Puraskar for promoting rural entrepreneurship among women. Hirbaiben was thrilled to go to Mumbai recently to receive the award from the hands of actor and MP Jaya Bachchan, because she has been an admirer of the Bachchan family for a long time. Jaya, giving the award, said she was amazed at the work an illiterate woman could do in the remote rural areas of Gujarat, by sheer dint of courage and fearlessness. "Hirbaiben is a rural role model," she said.
What is the nature of work that Hirbaiben has accomplished?
Deep in the jungles near Junagadh in Gujarat lies the Gir Asiatic Lion Sanctuary. In and around this deep jungle, lives a unique community called Siddis. Their ancestors came to India from Africa when the ruler of Murud Janjira on coastal Maharashtra in the 17th century was a Moor or Siddi. The fort of Murud Janjira still stands sentinel to the advent of Moors in India. But only a small number of people of this community have survived and they live in villages around the Gir forest. Poor farmers, with a low standard of education and progress, Siddis, like the other Adivasi communities of this area, have been languishing without adequate means of livelihood.
In recent years, 46-year-old Hirbaiben has brought a new ray of hope in the lives of these communities. Living in Jambur village near Junagadh, she has made untiring efforts to develop and enhance the social and economic status of rural women, especially of the Siddi community. She has motivated the Adivasi communities of the area to improve farming methods, build social service institutions, improve water supply sources, save the environment around and build school and health centres to improve the life of Adivasi and Siddi communities considerably.
Thanks to her efforts, Jambur now has a day-care centre for children so that their mothers can go to work in the farms or other work centres. Having persuaded the local people to donate their land, she has helped villagers build a primary school where children receive basic education from trained teachers. She has started many saving schemes for women. In fact, so successful are these saving schemes that local banks have agreed to give loans to women to start small enterprises, and further improve their standard of living. Herself illiterate, Hirbaiben encourages farmers to listen to radio broadcasts about improved farming methods, fertilisers and seeds.
"Adivasis and Siddis — especially women — are not aware of their social rights," says this energetic woman, "They have a right to experience the fruit of economic development. I have built a pressure group among the people so that the district and state officials now listen to the needs of the people and react positively." Speaking in a quaint dialect of Gujarati, Hirbaiben addresses national and international audiences with confidence whenever she wins awards or when she is invited to make a presentation on her rural development experiment.
"I have three children," she laughs, "So treating the people of my area like my own is no problem. I don’t do much for them – I am the motivator. They do the work themselves. I believe that giving someone a meal is just one deed of kindness. Teaching him or her to grow more food for the community is true help. This is what we do in Jambur and the surrounding villages. I teach my people that only when we work for our own development do we earn the respect of others. The Siddi and Adivasi communities were thought to be quarrelsome troublemakers earlier. Today, they are welcomed everywhere as proud members of our society."
Jaya Bachchan, giving the award, said, "I am an actor and I know body language perfectly. In Hirbaiben, I see total fearlessness. When she is working so selflessly for others, this quality shines in her eyes and makes her look beautiful."
The Jankidevi Bajaj Puraskar for rural entrepreneurship was instituted by the Indian Merchants’ Chamber (Ladies’ Wing) 14 years ago in memory of eminent Gandhian Jankidevi Bajaj.
THE fifth Pravasi Bhartiya Divas conference, held recently at Vigyan Bhavan, highlighted that NRIs were the Bhagiraths of our times. They could mitigate the sufferings of Indians not only by improving water supply but could also assist in the development of other areas like agriculture, infrastructure, education and, above all, healthcare. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called upon the 25 million-strong Indian diaspora to invest in the country of their origin, not just financially, but intellectually, socially, culturally and emotionally as well.
Investment in healthcare infrastructure will yield rich dividends, maintained most of the speakers. Since the remittances from abroad are to the tune of $25 billion annually, the investment requirements in infrastructure in general and health sector in particular can be met from our extended family — the NRIs settled all over the globe.
The single largest challenge to India’s developmental aspirations is with regard to healthcare. India has the dubious distinction of being the leader in a number life threatening infections and diseases, including HIV/ AIDS. These pose special challenges to the Indian policy-makers, as well as to the global community. We should explore ways in which NRIs can connect with India and participate in making India healthier. In turn, India can contribute towards the surgical and wellness needs of the global community.
Healthcare is an investment for the future of mankind. However, the resource constraint is a stark reality. Our investment in public health remains dismal at 0.9 per cent. Tertiary healthcare is an area that can do with a lot of investment from the Indian diaspora. The CII can collaborate with NRIs for establishing modern medical care facilities not only in metros but also in tier-II cities like Chandigarh. The backward states like Bihar can also take the route of development through medical tourism. Hospitals providing tertiary facilities will also have the potential of attracting high-end clients from abroad for treatment.
As a policy measure, India adopts an encouraging attitude towards the setting up centres of excellence that provide health services to overseas patients. It extends fiscal incentives to their earnings in foreign exchange, and offers the status of ‘deemed exports’ to such healthcare services. No doubt the potential of ‘medical tourism’ becoming an engine of all-round growth, besides improving healthcare, is high.
The other areas where NRIs can contribute are:
Quality medical research; financial as well as intellectual inputs.
Pharmaceutical industry; research and development of new drugs in India
Medical equipment; supply of life-saving equipment to public hospitals free of cost
Medical education and manpower training; setting up NRI-sponsored centres of excellence, medical colleges, institutes as well as arranging skill transfer to our doctors from abroad.
Setting up of modern convention centres; bidding for international conferences for India
Providing consultancy services in area such as clinical waste management, telemedicine and medical transcription centres.
NRIs have been playing a significant role by remitting billions of dollars per annum to India. Apparently this money is improving the living conditions of millions of Indians at home, but the same is also finding way to improve the infrastructure for the nation and health of the people, as well. In fact, this contribution is more than the combined investment of USA, UK and Singapore. Indian American physicians have committed to build an emergency medical system in the Capital to help patients reach hospitals within 10 minutes in an emergency and thus reduce fatalities.
Many NRIs have offered to adopt our villages for providing healthcare and others want to participate in providing trained manpower. The government has allowed foreign doctors to practice in India from this year. The synergy of the NRIs and natives can go a long way in providing healthcare and development.