To Ratna Rao Shekar, editor of Hyderabad-based lifestyle magazine Wow! Hyderabad and author of The Purple Lotus, sustainability was not a conscious choice. Somebody who has worn handwoven fabric all her life, Ratna saw sustainability as a way of life around her. She speaks of her love for handwoven clothes and the ease of living in a house that is built of mud blocks
Ratna, you are known to wear only handwoven natural fabric. What inspired you to do so?
There wasn’t any inspiration. When I was growing up, there was only natural handloom fabric around me. I saw my mother and grandmother wear venkatagiri, gadwal, cotton, and I wore frocks and skirts of cotton and silk. “Sustainable”, “eco-friendly” are buzz words now. Back in the day, there wasn’t any distinction of handloom. Many previous generations anyway lived naturally, wearing locally woven clothes and eating locally grown staples. It was not even something we had to consciously adopt or declare to the world.
Naturally, the idea of wearing organic, handwoven clothes appealed to me. If you ask me to wear polyester, I would squirm.
You really never wear anything that is not handloom?
I don’t, except of course when I travel abroad. I am, then, forced to buy sweaters and jackets which are not handwoven. Lately, I have become aware and I carry out the investigation if the fabric is natural or not. Even when abroad, I like to wear silk jackets and woollen shawls from Kutch or Kulu.
Does it not pose difficulty in buying only handwoven, considering the fact that we live in a society that is surrounded by machine-made synthetic fabric?
No, I don’t find it tough at all. In fact, in recent times I find more choices. Besides sarees, there are dresses as well in cotton, silk, linen. I do have a choice to visit the H&M store down the road which is convenient and cheaper, but, like I said, it doesn’t appeal to me. I like the handwoven piece of cloth for several reasons — one being the fact that it is imperfect and beauty lies in imperfection.
Any special story you would like to share revolving around handloom?
Most of my experiences are with the weavers. Their craft humbles me. All my life I wore handwoven, without being mindful of my choice. It was much later in life, when I saw the process of weaving and met the weavers, I learnt to appreciate their craft and my choice. Say for example, ikat — it follows a complicated mathematical process that easily takes two months for a saree to be ready. I hope more people appreciate the beauty of natural, handcrafted apparel before the art dies and the weavers succumb to the pressures of modern living.
You also live in a house that is sustainable. Tell us about it.
My house is a mud home that Chitra Vishwanath from Bengaluru built. It is made of local materials and follows the principle of sustainability. When we were building the house, people around laughed saying that in the age of technology why brick and mud! But I wanted it because I knew the house would reflect my personality.
It has sustainable facilities such as recycling of water, a courtyard with rainwater pouring in it, hot water in the bathroom from solar panels, mud blocks as walls, and more. And well-planned ventilation with plenty of sunlight flooding in as the fundamentals to sustainable , healthy, and happy living.
How about the maintenance of the house? Is it difficult?
It is easier to maintain my sustainable house than it was to maintain my non-sustainable house. It is all mud block, and no paint. So no peeling and cracking issues. Yes, there, at times, arise problems here and there for which I turn to the architect herself because local people do not have a clear understanding of sustainable homes.
Was building this special sustainable house cost-effective, when compared to a house made of modern technology?
Building a sustainable house is cheaper. However, when I built my house, the cost shot up because the architect came from a different city and the materials were also sourced from a different location. If we had a local set up, the house would be highly cost-effective.