ALMOST EVERY INDIAN HOUSEHOLD has its collection of heirloom saris. No family closet is complete without them. And no family closet is complete without a little visit from Tineola bisselliella, aka the Common Clothes Moth, and meddlesome time.
At the Ratan Tata Institute (RTI) near Tardeo in South Mumbai, they don’t claim to bend time or be experts in the feeding habits of Tineola, but they do know better than most that a stitch in time can save a sari—or some saris anyway. In the RTI’s embroidery department, a group of affable women and men is dedicatedly restoring heirlooms and creating new ones. Despite the department’s commitment to saris of every temper—they take on a variety of distress calls, including cutwork restoration—it isn’t long before you realise that the gara sari is the preferred child.
A crash course in the history of the gara: 19th century Parsi traders who travelled to China on account of work introduced gara embroidery in India. Originally a Chinese craft, the gara has long since been appropriated and popularised by Indian sari aficionados. As a result, although the country’s Parsi population is threatened by its fast-depleting numbers, the gara sari—another sterling contribution by the mild-mannered community to the nation’s cultural fabric—is readily available at several stores across the country.
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