Spinning the yarn

Perveez Aggarwal tells story behind her creation: the traditional Parsi gara embroidery

MUMBAI: She wears her years as gracefully as she does her saris. Parveez Aggarwal became a model by chance, at a time when “there were not too many young women willing to be photographed”.

She had just come to Bombay (as it was then) and had shown off her collection of garas, the traditionally embroidered Parsi saris, rich with colour and beautiful motifs.

“I agreed to be photographed,” she says with some pride, “as long it was only seen abroad. So, after that I modelled in Singapore, East Africa and Russia, all to promote Indian textiles abroad.”

Married into an orthodox family, she started organising shows of her textiles, especially the embroidered saris, for charity. Her models were now-familiar faces: Shobha Rajadhyaksha (now De), Meher Mistry (now Castelino), Geeta Khanna, Persis Khambatta and others.

“I was associated with the fringes of fashion right through,” Perveez remembers. But there was a small problem – the traditional embroiderers were not always available and many had moved away from the craft to more steady and lucrative work.

And then serendipity played its part. The Babri Masjid riots happened in Mumbai. “We were in our house on top of the hill,” Perveez tells the story, “and below us we could see people running away from the small shantytown there, carrying whatever baggage they could. They were fleeing from the rioters. We all helped them with money and transport and told them to go back to their home towns until the situation had settled down.”

One of the men took her at her word. After life had returned to normal a few months later, he came back to Mumbai, to Perveez, and asked for work. He was persistent about it, coming everyday until she was persuaded to take a look at what he could do. He was an embroiderer and was soon trained to produce gara-style embroidery to her specifications.

She showed off stoles, saris and garments on every trip abroad. “We had gara parties, like Tupperware parties,” she laughs. And the story behind the work became almost as popular as the stoles she carried.