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The real thing

No frills, no arresting colours, and no designer wear. This is first-generation khadi on bumper discount at a back-to-basics exhibition



This year, the exhibition is under a large shamiana, sparing shoppers of dust and the broiling sun. — Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

IT MAY be the great Indian fabric, but khadi has been constantly pulled and pushed to acquire new avatars. It's been treated and overhauled till it became ready to hit fashion ramps and merit couture labels. But some people at least, leave khadi alone. The khadi and village industries exhibition, Khadi 2005, at Fort High School grounds presents classic khadi, relying on its traditional image, rather than its modern one, to make the heavy sales.

Initial stalls focus on khadi — plain khadi fabric, khadi shirts for Rs. 200, khadi silk and the classic khadi kurta. Only later come handmade paper products, coir mats, natural soaps, organic food, herbal products, leather bags and wallets, bedspreads, woollens; each region of India represented by its traditional handicrafts. The largest crowds centre around the budget khadi buys, but the kantha silk saris ranging from Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 4,000, the shoes stalls, the bamboo products from the many North Eastern stalls — all these draw a fair crowd for the 20-25 per cent, often more, discount they offer.

Sometimes of course, as in the Andhra Pradesh pickles stall offering free tasting, swelling crowds don't translate into heavy sales.

Back to basics

This year, the exhibition is placed under a large shamiana, making it less dusty and taxing. This is khadi minus the make-up, so don't expect some of the arresting colours we have come to associate with the fabric; most khadi here is in pale colours, and the shopper on the hunt for trendy khadi would be sadly out of place.

It's a haven for the budget shopper though. Rs. 160 for double bedspreads, pure silks at Rs. 158 per metre, bags at Rs. 140, cushion covers at Rs. 35, tie-and-dye shawls for Rs. 397, leather wallets for Rs. 40, wooden carvings for Rs. 250. And, if you're an astute shopper, you can pick up decent kurtas for Rs. 100 and pyjamas for Rs. 95.

The centre of the exhibition is reserved for a display detailing Mahatma Gandhi's life; his letters to friends in jail; early photographs where as a seven-year-old, he gazes wonderingly slightly left of the camera lens; excerpts from the Harijan, and even a gauche Indira Gandhi as a child, perched awkwardly on Gandhi's bed.

With its sizeable discounts, the exhibition is largely a no-frills one. The Mahatma is everywhere; devotional songs have their own stall and a craftsperson spinning khadi at the entrance sets the tone. Back to basics, as symbolised by the fabric.

Khadi 2005 is on till February 27.

HEMANGINI GUPTA

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