Preserving a mother’s legacy
” Hey, I’m going to Naju Daver’s this evening, would you like to come?” I immediately said yes because this was literally an opportunity of a lifetime. Naju Davar is famous for reviving the hand embroidered sari or Gara as it is known among the Parsi community that wears them.
The Parsis are Zoroastrians who fled from Persia to escape persecution by the Muslims. They settled down in Gujerat where their boat landed and adopted the ways of the natives while promising to keep to themselves and not propagate their religion. Always willing to adapt and amalgamate, they were the few Indians who didn’t mind associating with the British and became willing partners in business and trade. The Parsis have been a progressive community and have produced luminaries in every field : art, literature, music, medicine, sports, industry and of course business.
Lace & Silk
The Gara is sheer magic – hand embroidered chamois or shantung silk saris introduced to the Parsi community by seafaring traders to China during the Opium trade in the heydays of the Raj ( early 1800s). Possibly brought home as a peace offering to his wife by a Parsi who got a length of 6 yards of silk especially embroidered, it soon became a status symbol and a MUST in the wardrobe of every Parsi woman worth her patra nu macchi and lagan nu custar. And what saris they were ! They were veritable works of art , finely embroidered with satin stitch or chain stitch or French knots, there were birds of paradise, peonies and figures with temples and bridges – each one a priceless piece to be handed down the generations. The work is so fine that you can wear it inside out and you won’t be able to tell the difference!
Luckily the Parsis still wear a sari to their traditional functions and you can still see some dowagers happily swishing their garas while jiving and rocking away at the Navjote and Wedding receptions. Sadly, garas are few and far between these days as the younger girls are not fond of saris and mothers have a hard time convincing their girls to even look at one leave alone wear one!
Naju Daver was fortunate to have her daughter Farzeen share her passion. Today, Farzeen comes down to Mumbai from Sydney to keep alive her mother’s legacy – the business her mother set up all those years ago.
With a renewed interest in all things old and glorious, the gara is available at several shops on/off Lamington Road or made to order by other designers. But these are machine embroidered and are not a patch on the exquisite, highly coveted and prized hand embroidered sari by Naju Davar.
Stepping into the past
“These saris can take all of 6 months to a year to make, depending on the density of the work and the complexity of the design”, explained Farzeen as she proudly showed me yard after yard of embroidered drape carefully worked by highly skilled and trained craftsmen. She showed me the entire range of work : sequined chiffon with cutwork borders, crepes and silks worked with zardozi and crystals . I simply couldn’t take my eyes off a gorgeous cream sari completely embroidered with flowers and leaves and birds of paradise worked in shades of pink and green, all done in millions of delicate French knots. Another masterpiece was a jet black china cheen with tiny Chinese figurines and some koras ( handworked borders) in ari work.
Ro had got along her old koras and garas handed down to her. Some of the silver had been oxidized over the years and needed to be re-polished before putting on a new fabric. Some saris had begun to crumble and Ro wanted to rescue the border and make another one. It was fascinating to see these old laces and borders, and discuss which colour and fabric and would best set it off .
As the fish in the tank stared at us, we were transported back to Victorian days when garas were at their prime. In today’s day and age when most girls repair hems with staple pins and replace a broken hook with an office pin, the Gara like the sari and traditional skills like embroidery and needle work are a fast dying craft left in the memory of old aunts and grandmas.
It will take more than just passion to keep alive this tradition – “You have to wear and enjoy the Gara” says Farzeen , ” and pass it on to your daughter or daughter in law! “
I can’t wait for December to see Ro jiving away in her garas during the festivities of her son’s wedding, under the fairly lights at the Jeejeebhoy Agiary.
Naju Daver Saris are available only on request and shown by prior appointment so ensure that you call in advance. And for those of you who don’t want to follow the link, you can call 9821338722 or 23862640 or email at email@example.com.