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We are like this only
Text by Parmesh Shahani
Published: Volume 18, Issue 4, April, 2010

Electrocuted mosquitoes and fort-view sunsets... Parmesh Shahani wanders into different worlds

Everyone is tweeting at the Lakmé Fashion week this year. Fashion editors. Models. PR people. Random audience members. The security guard. (Ok, maybe that’s an SMS he’s sending, but who can tell these days?) Was it only just two seasons ago that we thought it was such a cool thing for Verve to be the first at this? How quickly fashion folks adapt to technological innovations. If only the pace of change was as rapid in other aspects of the fashion world.

Oh, I’m not complaining. There’s no place like a fashion week at home and the warm fuzzy feeling of predictability that surrounds it, season after season. Do most designers continue to have uninspired Bollywood showstoppers that are painfully pointless and give us all headaches, earaches and smoke-machine induced coughing fits? Yes. Will an average show still have spring, summer and resort collections shown by the three different participating designers, irrespective of the actual fashion week theme? Yes. Are the bouncers at the different sponsor lounges still as anal as ever? Yes. Is Ash Chandler still funny? Yes. Can Malini Ramani still bling on the magic, both on and off the ramp? Yes. Does the China House finale party still rock? Yes. Does the smoking area still serve the best gossip? Of course!

In between frequent bouts of passive smoking while flicking through the daily on-site Style Kandy for juicy tidbits, some surprises. The shows start on time, which is refreshing and commendable for organisers IMG. Sabyasachi rediscovers his mojo with a fabulous rose-tinted ode to the ’70s. Rimzim Dadu’s leap from light to dark in less than a year has me mesmerised. I find her new death-obsessed direction (textures, zippers, shredded fabric and woven leather) to be terribly sexy, and can’t wait for her to start doing menswear. What else catches my attention on the ramp? Shrivan Naresh’s international edgy 3D swimsuits, Little Shilpa’s manic technicolor acrylic shoulder pads, Asmita Marwah’s breezy checked resort wear and the distinctive jewellery of Eina Ahluwalia and Suhanie Pittie.

All my favourite LFW moments are off-ramp, though. Singer Monica Dogra emerging from the insane Suneet Varma show giggling wildly and rolling her eyes. Designer Anand Bhushan steaming clothes frantically for his contemporaries backstage, even though his show is over and he should really be kicking up his heels in the audience. A bouncer gravely informing Fern Mallis that she can’t come in to the Gitanjali Lounge without her invite. Inside, a Lebanese buyer telling me about the beauty of Beirut transvestites as we share a plate of plump paneer tikkas. Witnessing the Grey Goose lounge bartender expertly calming some frazzled nerves with a magical coffee martini. Overhearing Kallol Datta telling Tannishtha Chatterjee how bad he thought Road, Movie was, without realizing she was the lead actress in it. (Then putting his foot in his mouth further by telling her that actually, she kind of resembled the banjaran from the movie.)

All those who are not tweeting away are blogging. On Day 3, while trying to avoid direct smoke gushes from pouting fashionistas outside the hotel, I am asked by Manu Tyagi, if he can take my picture for his new street fashion blog – Wearabout. This is the third Sartorialist-style fashion blog I have heard of during this week, but there is something very poised about 26 year-old Manu and his photographs. Inspired by the Japanese fashion magazine Fruits (started by photographer Shoichi Aoki), that captures the fashion vibe of Tokyo’s Harajuku area, Manu began shooting Tibetan street fashion in Dharamsala, before returning to Mumbai to capture the city’s street scene. Let’s see how his blog does. I am also delighted to bump into the High Heel Confidential girls. They are still evasive about telling me their last names, or where they’re really from. As if I’m going to tell anyone! (And by the way, girls, I already know.)

I love seeing the beaming smiles on the faces of fashion moms like those of Nachiket Barve, or fashion spouses like Suhanie’s Stouvant, who (wo)man the designers’ stalls, and help with prices and enquiries. (At the Grand Hyatt, the stalls are housed in a temporary structure outside the hotel, called The Source, which also has a small café, and a buyer’s lounge.) In all the catwalk razzmatazz, sometimes people forget that fashion weeks are essentially trade events, where buyers like Ensemble’s Tina Tahiliani-Parikh or White’s Shaan Thadani come to gauge the pulse of what they can sell in their stores and then place orders. As I walk through The Source each morning, sipping my first cup of coffee, I observe the Hyatt peons waving tennis racquet-shaped electric fly swatters wildly all over the clothes, trying to catch the mosquitoes swarming all over, before the crowds get in. The crackling noise of insects being fried blends in the background as the caffeine kicks in.

Yes, we are like this only, Rama Bijapurkar would say, and Santosh Desai would concur. At his book release at the Marriott in Mumbai, he thinks aloud in fully formed and well-punctuated sentences, even seeming to pause for commas, semi colons and full stops. There are no exclamation marks for Santosh, whose Monday morning column ‘City City Bang Bang’ in a city daily, is pretty much the first newspaper article I read to begin my week. His book is a gentle, loving look at the habits, practices and beliefs that make us so special as Indians. With a title like Mother Pious Lady (taken from a matrimonial classified ad) and chapter names like ‘The Dhania Factor’, ‘The Western Toilet as Sign’ and How Many Times Have You Seen Chupke Chupke?’, it has me hooked first line onward, and I start reading it even before the on-stage function ends. Why is Good Knight sponsoring its release, I wonder. Mother pious lady, and house, mosquito free? But there are no mosquitoes at the Marriott. This Good Knight giveaways would have been way more useful at Fashion Week.

My search for peace and quiet drives me to Jodhpur. I desperately want some alone time. Fat chance. Ten minutes after I arrive, I find myself trekking up the breathtakingly beautiful 500-year-old Mehrangarh Fort, expertly guided by Sunil Sethi, who’s passing through, on his way to Rohet. Compared to the abysmal state of many of our monuments, Meherangarh’s infrastructure is outstanding. The cleanliness, multi-lingual headphones, clear signs and pathways are world class, and the historical objects in the museum (weapons, palanquins, art) are beautifully preserved. In the evening, I find myself sharing a plate of banana fritters on a rooftop terrace on Old Residency Road with new friends Tara, Andrew and Marissa who work with the city-based Foundation for Sustainable Development. This is followed by the tastiest chicken curry I have ever eaten, with Kavita Rathore at Ajit Bhavan. As if that’s not enough, I then proceed to pig out on pyaaz kachoris from Janata Sweet Home, with masala-cheese omelet sandwiches from the world famous clock tower omelette man as my nightcap. Like every other man, perhaps the way to my heart is also through my stomach? I must surely be getting closer to self-realisation. No shopping, I have decided firmly on the plane here; this purely is a self-discovery trip, but how could I know in advance that I would be tempted by the amazing blue and yellow mojris and candy striped leheriyas in Tripoliya bazaar? Some rules are meant to be broken.

I have chosen to stay at a delightful little secret gem in the old city – the Raas Haveli. (Sadly this won’t remain so for long; Nicholas Coleridge visited the week before and we all know what that means!) While I first approach it – through the crazy, colourful, cow and dog-filled narrow cobbled streets of the old city – I really don’t know what to expect. I alight in front of a huge, nondescript gate. This is a haveli? Then an old wizened guard slowly opens the portal into a completely different world.

Architect Ambrish Arora has restored the four 150-year old haveli buildings and built a new contemporary wing so cleverly that almost all of the 39 hotel rooms overlook the Meherangarh Fort. It’s the best hotel window view I’ve ever seen, and I spend my remaining two evenings sipping nimbupani on my private balcony, watching the candle lights flicker on the Raas lawns, as the skies over the fort slowly darken. A boutique hotel is all about the small touches, and the Raas pleases me on this front. Right from the rose petals showered from the overbridge after I check in, to the hotel’s private Jodhpur blue-painted rickshaw that takes me all over the old city, or the handmade chocolates that the pastry chef sends to my room each night with a little handwritten poem accompanying it – my stay here is a warm and intimate experience.

More than the creature comforts, what I enjoy most are the interactions with the hotel’s knowledgeable staff members, like Chakresh, who used to be a Bollywood event organiser before joining Raas. Akhil, the nattily dressed Raas rickshaw driver takes us up to the fort one morning for a walk back down to the city. Chakresh follows a trail that he and his colleagues have perfected several times during their training, but there’s no fixed script for the guests. Our interaction is spontaneous and he chats with me informally about the world at large, while at the same time pointing out interesting elements like Fateh Pol, built in 1707 by Maharaja Ajit Singh to commemorate his victory over Mughal forces, Rani Sagar, the stepwell made by king Rao Jodha for his queen, Jasmade, the colourful houses on Jaiselmer Street, and the fertility statues of the Rajasthani village god Iluji.

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