The Chennai of my heart: the Marina, the tiny lanes, the sweeping beam of the lighthouse, thali meals in Mylapore, delicate pulli kolams, temple, church and mosque on the same road, strings of jasmine, big, green buses, brightly coloured kodams… in the midst of all these memories of a lifetime spent in Chennai, the Napier’s bridge stands out sharply.
The Napier’s Bridge or the Iron Bridge is one of the best-known civil architectural structures in Chennai, and its graceful arches have always appealed to me. It reminds me of innumerable visits to the trade fair in my childhood and the sight of the bridge as we approached seemed a symbol of the pleasures to follow! Its location ensured I passed it to and from every train journey I ever made, and the sight of the arches always told me I was home in the city I love. Its presence in every other Tamil movie told me that the Iron Bridge is recognized as an integral part of Chennai, almost iconic in its status. While fulfilling to perfection my aim to create a fabric inspired by something typically Chennai, the Napier’s Bridge also gives me a chance to explore the forms and curves created by the structure of the bridge.
Atara is a collection of apparel yardage for women in natural fabrics, hand block printed with vegetable dyes, the designs being geometrics inspired by the bridge. The designs are graphic and bold, an abstraction of the bridge as personal as a work of art in its interpretation. The bridge, here, is both an inspiration and a metaphor; it stands as a link between the organic, embodied in the technique I am using and the geometric, visualized in the design elements.
I have executed my project at Kalakshetra’s Craft Education and Research Centre, in their natural dye and block-printing unit. Having been expressly started to ensure that the craft of natural dyeing and printing and hand painting is properly documented and preserved, it also teaches the craft to a new audience. In my collection, I have used earthy shades: black, browns and reds, the creamy off-white base setting off the darker colours.
Exploring a variety of silks, linen and cotton, my fabrics emphasize on the comfort factor as well. Natural dyed fabrics are UV sensitive and cause no allergies. They also age very well, the colours fading softly with pleasing effect.
My collection is aimed at creating a bridge between the craft and the market, and providing for contemporary tastes from the traditional craft base. Mine is a feel-good fabric, making people feel happy that they are making a difference in the environment, and supporting a worthy cause – the sustaining of their heritage.