OhThePeopleYouMeet in India!
Story & photos by: Michaela Guzy
In keeping with the name of this site, OhThePeopleYouMeet.com, it should be no surprise that I love meeting new people. In February, I had the pleasure of traveling with the Michaela’s Map video team, across the Southern states of Kerala, Karnataka and into the vibrant and bustling cities of Mumbai and Delhi.
Playing cricket with kids in Mumbai.
There was no shortage of fascinating people, from the banker turned hand-crafted furniture designer,Vikram Goyal, to the enthusiastic fashion designer, Rohit Bal, who added a restaurant/bar to his portfolio (Veda), jewelry designer, Alpana Gujral who puts a modern twist to traditional Indian designs (I couldn’t help it, I left with a ring and a pair of earrings) and Vikram Oberoi, Chairman of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.
Vikram Goyal, not only designs some of the top custom pieces of furniture and sculpture through his brand Viya Home, but also has his own line of Ayruvedic products called Kama.
Designer, Rohit Bal, choose his favorite piece for me.
Some of Rohit Bal’s colorful creations.
Jewelry designer, Alpana Gujral. She’s coming to NYC at The Carlyle Hotel in late April ladies!
The Michaela’s Map team spent a quiet, close to tearful dinner with Pramod Ranjan, the owner and architect of the new Vivanta Madikeri by Taj in Coorg who survived the terrorist bombings back in 2008 at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel in Mumbai. Just days later, we found ourselves sitting in the Rajput Suite at the historic hotel, speaking to Mrs. Ratna Krishna Kumar, who has made it her personal mission to help revive the ancient Indian tradition of hand loom weaving and employ an entire village in the process. Seven years ago, she enlisted the assistance of the TATA Foundation, owners of Taj Hotels & Resorts to fund the Varanasi Project.
The backside of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai.
Speaking with Mrs. Ratna Krishna Kumar about her work with the Varanasi Project.
The project employs 75 weavers and provides medical care, housing, education, books, computer lessons and a mid-day meal for their families. The weavers are exclusively hired to create the uniforms for the front office and housekeeping staffs for nine of Taj Hotels luxury properties in India. To give you an idea how intricate the designs are, each sari takes three to six weeks to complete and the number of saris created for the hotel staff average 2,000 per year. By paying the weavers directly, TATA have effectively cut out the middle men, offering 100% of profits to those doing the work. Half of the the pay is given to the husband, and the other half to the wife. TATA provide yarn and modern weaving pattern, set up bank accounts and ID cards for each of the weavers and their wives. In order to further preserve the tradition, at six years, students in the schools begin to learn the ancient art form as a part of their curriculum. If travelers are visiting the River Ganges in Varansi they are also welcome to go visit the project.
Muzzafar Ali shows me some of his men’s tie designs featuring his watercolor images.
In Delhi, I had the pleasure of meeting Muzaffar and his dynamic wife and business partner, Meera. Muzzafar’s ancestral state is Kotwara (Kotdwara), known for it’s fine embroidery. He is so dedicated to preserving the tradition that he has set up training for 300 women and 150 men, and funded the local school to support the children of the workers. The embroidery work is frequently used in his luxury clothing brand Kotwara Studios, sold throughout major cities in India. Muzaffar happens to paint in his free time, and some of his watercolor work is even featured on his tie, scarf and sari designs. But many actually know him for his five feature films and 20+ documentaries. I was most familiar with, “Umrao Jaan“, which he co-wrote, produced and directed. The touching story sheds light on why the poor, voluntarily or involuntarily, leave their village homes and families to live in improverished urban conditions. By exposing the trend of craftsmen and women leaving their homes to live in slums, supporting themselves by peddling or driving rickshaws, he hopes to inspire support of villagers having the choice to stay with their families and preserve their local traditions.
A local rickshaw driver, Old Delhi.
The Sufi Music Festival, Delhi. Photo compliments of Muzzafar & Meera Ali.
The new House of Kotwara tented restaurant, Delhi. Photo compliments of Muzzafar & Meera Ali.
The couple is not only dedicated to preserving craft, tradition and helping support their community, but also promoting the philosophy of Sufism. They publish books on the subject and produce a Sufi Music Festival in Delhi, the City of Saints (the first weekend of every March). In March 2013, the couple converted their backyard into an invitation only tented restaurant serving Lucknow Cuisine of the Kotwara region. Each meal is five courses, there is one seating per evening and reservations can only be made online at: www.HouseofKotwara.com. The menu will change seasonally. And if you aren’t feeling like an underachiever yet, they are set to open their first resort, called Kotwara this fall. Kotwara is 100 miles (or approximately a three hour drive) from Lucknow- there are also 27 flights per day. The main building will be a restored palace and they are adding luxury tents in the surrounding rose gardens. The resort is set within the largest wildlife corridor in India, said to have 100 tigers, 65 rhinos, leopards and fresh water dolphins.
I left India touched by the entrepreneurship and energy each person I met possessed. They all work to preserve a historic craft, tradition or art form native to India. They utilize their creativity and personal resources to support local communities and provide exposure to socio-economic challenges facing their countrymen who have less.
Jama Masjid, in Old Delhi.