The last blooms of Spring

Already a lot has been written about the climatic change in Calcutta in my previous posts. While spring was awaited, it came and left in a blur of just a few weeks. The temperature which was cool rose ten degrees as we move towards the sweltering summers. Already the fans are on and it won’t be long before air-conditioning would be a must to escape from the humid scorching sun.

While this transition was underway, a chance visit to the green room of a cultural program left me bedazzled. The dancers, though amateur, were bedecked with sholapith flowers as a wreath outlining the face. Gold jewellery adorned each part of the belles. Calcutta sari is also worn in a different way with the long ending is brought in front and swings a key. An oversized red bindi dots the forehead.

Kali ma la land

“Invoke the Goddess in you!” shouted a billboard lit by the strong halogen , next to the crowded flyover. Of all the places that I’ve stayed in , Calcutta has the most powerful design message in its traditional jewellery. Women all over India do love to play dress up and ironically its the age group above 30 that is more experimental and loud.

Come Poila Baisakh ( Bengali new year) and you would see “Goddesses” everywhere. Kolkata gets its name from the famous “Kali” temple at Kalighat, the fierce looking form of Durga, the feminine personification of “Shakti”.

The color blood red therefore is found almost everywhere. Whether the powdery sindoor, the reddened lips, that pallu of a shaada palla shari, the hibiscus offerings or simply the round red bindi on the forehead to signify the third eye.

Contrast it with pure white of jasmine flowers, coconut & pure crisp cotton.

Kohl eyes complete the look, eyes outlined aka the goddess removing any leftover vestige of mortality and transcending into the next dimension.

Welcome to Kali Ma land.


A North Indian Spectator.

About Precious Stones!

In primary school, I once brought back home a shiny flaky, plate like substance from the playing field. Our playground had been dug up that day to be leveled with grass and we kids were excited to see the shiny substance mixed in the dirt, sand and other materials, as the workers shoveled heaps of earth out of the playground. We were excited what this possibly could be and stood for hours waiting for “Gold” to reach the surface. It wasn’t until I took the piece home that day that I realized there are many materials in the heart of the earth and one such is “Mica”, which was promptly thrown out, and I was made to wash my hands along with a long lecture about the toxicity.

That incident only made me realize the magical wonders that could be hidden beneath the surface of the earth. It would be a ritual to explore playing fields, parks and other open spaces in the wonder what next could be found, or maybe that glint in the sunshine could be a diamond?! ( While learning diamond grading many years later, I got to know that diamonds don’t “peep” out to the surface but are shaped from a rough, almost resembling a glassy pebble and have to be dug from miles below the surface) My “rock collection” grew over the years benefiting from a lot of travel too! Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Nagaland were some of the places where pieces in my collection came from. I would probe with eyes to the ground, every mile I walked. My obsession grew and even visitors would be requested to carry along a “stone” for my “collection”. That was till high school.

One day, I was just back from a college trip from Bombay and had along the way collected some new pieces to add. On reaching home I was shocked to see my rock “garden” had disappeared and a patch of green instead in the corner I used to store my collection! The new gardener had “cleaned” the stones out from the area to plant some pansies. That is how the larger pieces of my collection were lost. Somehow after that incident, I lost the will to do this exercise again and the remaining pieces are a reminder of the joys of childhood and how I ended up being a Jewellery designer. I got some relief working with diamonds and other stones which were now of the “precious” and “semi precious” category. Though I am satiated with diamonds, after working extensively in storerooms full of thousands of carats of diamonds, the joy of collecting an unpolished stone is irreplaceable.

While I thought my childhood fascination with stones was a phase that was now over, recently an acquaintance of mine messaged me that he had brought me a stone during his trip from the first place that humans have ever walked! I didn’t realize that I must have somehow communicated my passion and felt a bit embarrassed and wondered…was he making fun of me?! People who collect stamps are called philatelists, so what could be the name for my unusual hobby?

Only a handful from my collection have survived till today, but to me, every one of them is more precious than a diamond.

$5 Shopping in a Multi Crore trading lane.

 A look into the gold and silver market in the old part of Mumbai, erstwhile Bombay presidency.

I started my journey from an axial junction locals call “Metro”.

Metro junction got its name from the Art Deco styled “Metro Goldwyn Meyer”(MGM) cinema and now called Metro Big cinema, acquired and branded “Big” by a corporate house of Mumbai.

No cabbie agreed to take me to Zaveri bazaar.

“Too congested” said one.

“No entry” said the second.

The third didn’t care to stop when he heard where I wanted to go. Neither did the fourth. He shook his head by rotating it indicating that he agreed with all the reasons stated above by his colleagues.

In the end a cabbie of a battered Fiat, with sympathetic eyes, offered to take me half way up to there. “Can’t go in” he said, “Too much traffic, once I go in, there is no turning back and I’m stuck.”

He left me at the next junction just a kilometer or less, along a straight road towards Crawford market and indicated the point from where I could walk towards my destination.

The minute I stepped out of the cab, I was accosted with the familiar experience each visitor is greeted with. Hawkers surrounded me arms filled with colorful wares and following me the next ten steps of their territorial area. A solitary policeman’s stern gaze sent them back towards their allocated spot, but not before they had convinced their customer of a deal. Was I not interested in the baskets, the table cloths? I agreed to pick a red lacy table cloth for Rs.100 ($1.50) and that is when I was allowed ahead to explore the rest of the lane.

Jostling through the afternoon shoppers, I walked towards my destination. Further on, all kinds of wares were displayed in colorful, vibrant piles for that impulsive buyer. How could you not resist flip-flops for 150 rupees ( $2.25) or a tealight for 30 rupees ( $0.50)? The tea light holder won and I picked a pair.

At the end of this lane, an ornamental mosque and a nearby stone plaque announced “Tribhovandas Zaveri Chowk”. A  police cop, who seemed to be on duty around the clock, guided me towards the right road from the fork.

Further on, art nouveau style cornices announced The Bank of India building. The air gave not a hint of ostentation. Everywhere there were gold and jewellery shops. Shops inside shops. Outside shops.In alleys; and on the street.The largest imposing structure in the middle of the street here was of Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri, TBZ, as it is called and perhaps from which the Zaveri bazaar got its name. The building has a bland geometric paneling covering the entire outer façade. I ventured in and the usual standard jewellery shop environment greeted me. Counters and sales persons who could have been in Bandra rather than here. Disappointed I came out and turned to the left.

Right in front of me was history. Or rather I was in middle of two historic places. The Bombay bullion association and the historic cloth market. The two historic greats, TBZ and the cloth market association, face each other. The Mulji Jetha cloth market where the business industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani is said to have first set up his shop and started business in Mumbai, is nearby.

Standing in this nondescript lane in the middle of an old forgotten part of Mumbai, I fell into nostalgia of an era, drawn by horse carriages and steam engines and the sweat and blood of the men who believed they could pioneer enterprise in India and give Bombay the character it has today, that of a financial district.

Government has been trying hard to accommodate the jewellery and diamond trade into a new snazzy building in the Bandra Kurla Complex in a suburban modernist part of Mumbai. But the takers have been few. Even today crores worth of trade is said to take place here in Zaveri bazaar each day.

I turned to return back to where I had come.

Honey Trap. Neckpiece inspired by the 70’s #movie DON.


That’s Helen. Belonging to an era where the vamp was separate from the heroine in the Indian Cinema. Indian cinema seems to be celebrating 100 years this year. I happened to go through a book by film Historian Feroze Rangoonwala, in an equally quaint library in colaba, chronicling the movie history upto the current,which was then 1978. It was surprising, he gave only a picture mention in the entire book to the movie Don, of Amitabh Bacchan who was later catapulted to became a superstar. He mentioned ” a crime thriller” “current star” “villager becomes a smuggler don”.

I took the essence of the movie as a study, the trademark scarf worn by Zeenat Aman, the leading lady and combined the two into the “Honey Trap”, using current 2014 trend in vogue of precious gems. Only the ring worn in the picture is from the original song, the rest of the pieces are a sketch of “what if”.. “had been now” variety. The motif on the collar is inspired by the pattern on the background wall.

My first design which is actually not my Design

There is no creation without originality. A strong statement and maybe it is true. But what if I work upon someone’s idea. Is that design? Is that creativity? Opinion could be divided on that subject. Take example of a person who retouches images and makes them into something beautiful and different from what they were. Doesn’t this person need lots of creativity? Or take example of a CAD artist who uses someone else’s creative thought (Read 2D sketch) to make it into a real life like example. I would call the second one”translators”. But they are all called “designers”. At least in this part of the world. Maybe they are part of a larger design process, cogs in the wheel to the process.Below is my cog-to wheel “design”. I call it design because it is a “drafted drawing”, #D produced. But it is not mine. It gets its identity from the eternity ring concept, perhaps developed by some ingenious marketing campaign to rake up diamond sales. Nor is the placement of the diamonds;the design, mine. I took it from a book. What I did was to translate the drawing into a 3D.

Its called an eternity ring.

Its called an eternity ring.

Starting a day!

Diamond looks like sugar. Especially when it is sprinkled down from its little packet onto paper. Only a trained eye can differentiate a diamond. Not only from sugar! But the many other substitutes. The diamonds above are in a shape called “Baguette”. It is possible that the origin could be from a bread of that shape. (In local parlance in India however, the french word is twisted and called by various names such as baggit, bugget and bracket! (sic).)

Left: Unassorted Diamonds and Gemstones Right: Assorting in process

How I used sequins to transform a Shell

Sometimes you just have to use what is available to come up with an innovative solution.

These are some designs from the metal sequin and shell collection that we had developed in Goa on our last visit. Its interesting how this came up. Mussel shells were the green shells that get generally thrown away as the locals found no use of them either in product craft or otherwise. The beautiful green color at the top had a tendency to chip. So most of the shells were lack luster at the top and green towards the bottom edge. We needed to give it a look that lasted. So after rummaging the local shops for locally available solutions, I developed this metal sequin look to cover the top area. The rest of the shell was given long lasting lacquer finish. We used some silken and cotton thread for the neck and voila, it was ready to use! The best part, half a dozen crafts women from Goa were trained to make a new kind of product which supports them in their livelihood.

I’m adding this post to Sue’s blog A word A week challenge: Metallic theme as it coincides with the topic.