I remember my grandmother, Amma as we called her, resisting the comfort of the salwar-kameez till quite late in her life and wearing cotton or shamoo-satin or Lady Milton ghararas that she would cut and stitch herself.
The cutting of a gharara was a chore in itself — involving laying out the cloth on a large chandni-covered takht — and becoming something of a social occasion. During school holidays when we visited Amma’s home in Aligarh, I remember witnessing the discussions that went into the assembling and hand-stitching of these colourful creations. Much thought and imagination went into measuring and re-measuring the length of fabric and while Amma’s will held sway over all others, visiting relatives or elderly family retainers were allowed to express opinions. After being cut, the parts — a bit like a giant jigsaw puzzle — would be assembled with long loose stitches; the process was called khara karna. Then, the seams would be stitched with a hand machine. Finally, hemming would be done by hand on the bias-cut hem and, lastly, the lace would be attached with fine, invisible hand stitching. The entire process could take days.
If it was an expensive material such as kamkhwaab or a pote, every scrap would be saved to be eventually used to make juzdaan (cover for the Quran sharif), little batuas to carry paa-tambaku, sometimes the tiniest pieces would be saved to make imaam-zamin (tiny arm bands with a little bit of money tucked into the fold meant to keep the wearer safe during travels). Now my mother stitches my ghararas with the same fervour but minus the fanfare. What is more, she is upscaling a lot of old cotton saris to make ghararas one can wear at home. Comfortable, roomy, no-fuss, modern-day interpretations of a beloved garment.
~Dr Rakshanda Jalil
Writer, Literary Historian
Ursala, Ayesha and Renu