Before I meet Anuradha, I first met her father, the legendary Brij Bhasin who has amassed an extraordinary private collection of textiles, gathered over fifty years. His work in the Indian Public service took him to remote areas across India and he developed a passion for hand-made textiles. Before the birth of his daughter, he had already begun collecting them for her and the first time I saw the collection it was named “My daughter’s dowry”. At the time I remember thinking, what a lucky daughter! Today, part of his collection comprises the ‘Legacy of Textiles’ exhibition on show at Nila House in Jaipur.
Over the years, I have been fortunate to get to know Anuradha who has built an impressive career working with some of Jaipur’s leading cultural institutions and pioneering new and innovative programmes. I was thrilled and also not surprised to learn she had joined the wonderful Nila House, a cultural centre for excellence in Jaipur dedicated to honouring and preserving the natural dye and handloom traditions of India. Nila is part of the Lady Bamford Foundation that supports artisan communities across India either directly or partnering with other likeminded NGO’s. Nila House is located centrally in Jaipur and since opening in October 2019 has become a must visit destination for anyone travelling to Jaipur and is one of the great textile centres globally. An American designer friend messaged me after her visit to Nila House and described it as being, “hardly like real life, more like some sort of textile/architecture dreamscape.”
Our conversation took place leading up to Diwali, in late October during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
What were you just thinking of?
I just arrived at work and was thinking about our online programming as our program manager is at home in quarantine. Luckily, she and her family are feeling fine. They were planning a trip to Mussoorie, a hill station in Uttarakhand, and the hotel required a Covid test. They were completely asymptomatic but tested positive.
What are you doing for the rest of today?
I am working all day at Nila House in Jaipur and have a day packed with meetings. Pre-pandemic I travelled a lot and was in Delhi for meeting two or three times a week. Now, we have pretty much pivoted to zoom, google meet and WhatsApp meetings. Today is also the Karwa Chauth festival, where married women observe a fast for the longevity and well-being of their husbands. My mother has observed this festival for over fifty years, and I have for over twenty years. It is rather surprising that even ardent feminists still observe this fast, it is deeply engrained in our family tradition and also fits with my dabbling with contemporary enthusiasm for intermittent fasting.
How "real" does the threat of the virus feel? Do you know any one personally who has contracted the virus?
It is scary. In Jaipur it feels like the whole of the city is out and about, so it is up to each individual to be careful. About a month ago, I showed signs of some of the symptoms and felt quite poorly, however, I had two tests that both showed me as negative. I completely isolated anyway and wanted to protect my two sons, husband and extended family and colleagues. Covid appears quite widespread now and people are being responsible heading into self-quarantine and working from home.
If your own health and that of your family/friends is ok; then what is the greatest impact on your life (and on your work) of the pandemic?
As a family we are really missing socialising and interacting with other people. We are missing seeing our family and friends and also missing celebrating holidays and travelling. My sons, aged 12 and 16, have not been able to attend school since March, so they are missing their pals and sport. My father turned eighty this month, and my parents are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary at the end of this month, so normally we would have had a large gathering, which we will now substitute with zoom.
Since opening in October 2019, Nila House had become a buzzy public space with people visiting us to attend workshops, see exhibitions and visit the shop. Then once lockdown was declared in March, Nila House became completely silent until we were allowed to reopen in June. However, we now see just a few people a week here. I think post pandemic we will regain the buzz and we are using the time to develop a digital programme and other artisan support initiatives.
What are you looking forward to post pandemic?
I am really looking forward to new experiences, to travel, to interact and to no longer be scared of entering a room with five people in it.
Has there been anything positive from the pandemic?
I think we have all slowed down and have had the chance to go inward which is a good thing both personally and also professionally. It has given us a chance to step back from the running about being busy, and to think about what really needs to be done and what really matters. At Nila House it means even more focus on creating positive impacts. For example, we expanded our community outreach and created education and game kits for children, who during the lockdown could not go to school.
Is there an innovation (service, product, science, media) that you have been impressed with? Have you made any changes or thought of any that you will implement going forward?
We have embraced all things digital. We had been so busy with the physical space and events that we had not focused on creating digital experiences, however the pandemic has given us time to do this. In September we launched our online shop with a selection of products from our in-house Nila Collection including textiles and ceramics. We have also been very active with online programming and have offered a wide range of workshops and learning at home tutorials including hand spinning, creating your own indigo vat, hand weaving and hand stitching masks. We have multiple online exhibitions , one of which is the results of our nationwide competition, The Navrang Challenge, which invited artists, designers and craftspeople to create health and safety communications.
What does your personal future of travel look like? When and where will you go first? What are you dreaming of?
The first trip will be to visit my parents who are staying with my brother just an hour outside of Jaipur. Then I imagine we will travel close by; trips we can make by car. Some friends recently went to Bikaner, so, like them, I think we may take some more journeys through Rajasthan. Last year, my husband and I took our sons to Italy and they loved the architecture and became interested in photography. We had hoped to go back to Spain, so now instead I am going to encourage my sons to fall in love with the architecture here in Rajasthan.
What are you finding inspiring now?
The work we are doing here at Nila House. I really think we search for ways to connect with people and help them move forward. As well as developing the children’s kits we have also offered training to a range of women in stitching and also in eco printing so they can have on-going revenue.
What has made you laugh out loud most recently?
Given we are about to celebrate the festival of lights, what has brought light into your life in the last 12 months?
Personally, I have started a daily meditation practice, which brings calm and lightness. Professionally, the light has come from the people we have interacted with; the five hundred children who received out kits and the smiles of their mothers and the women we work with. We have also stared a project where we have asked older women, in their 80s and 90s, to teach spinning to younger women in their village. This has been very special and has brought so much light to everyone involved.
If a reader would like to make a contribution, can you recommend a specific organization/initiative that could do with the support?
As Nila House is a CSR project, we are unable to accept donations directly. I would recommend the platform Give India that supports a wide range of causes and also the Charaka Weaver’s Cooperative Society that supports over 800 weavers, dyers and tailors. You can contact them via email email@example.com or on their facebook page.
Nila House is located at C-86 Prithviraj Road, C-Scheme in Jaipur and is open Monday to Friday 11am to 6pm. Online shopping via the website is also possible, and Nila House ships both within India, and internationally.