The refurbished Khadi Gramudyog Bhavan in Delhi’s Connaught Place that was scheduled to open in May last year finally opened its new doors this week. Male mannequins in coloured kurta sets stood content in the façade window while female ones wore demure saris that could have been from the 1980s. A contemplative statue of Mahatma Gandhi greets you at the entrance even as his observations on Khadi’s exceptionality as metaphor and means have been mounted on walls.

This version of Khadi Bhandar, as we colloquially call the flagship store of Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), one of New Delhi’s enduring landmarks, is architecturally welcoming, well-lit with modern lifts, white walls, wide staircases, multiple cash counters and four spacious floors. Khadi Mark labels, the symbol of authentication and brand identity launched by the government last year, hang on every product. Interestingly, the shopping bags list the store’s address as Connaught Circus, not Indira Chowk.

The good stuff

There is a big section of “designer wear" for men and women, including Western dresses, but what works in entirety is the strong embrace of nostalgia. A reminder of the lapsing Indian way of life that white muslin Khadi, a packet of Multani mitti, “100% pure honey", a chequered cotton dhoti or a coarse towel can give you doesn’t compare with the red and green enamelled dress forms styled with stoles and cropped jackets for the sake of modernity. Khadi Gramudyog works because it has reimagined its old self in a new shopping environment.

The inventory is vast: from bath items to cosmetics, spices, papads and pickles to home furnishings, jewellery and printed and plain Khadi saris, handspun, handwoven Khadi fabric, including organic varieties and dozens of ready-to-wear options in cotton, silk and woollen for men, women and children. There are old-style dhurries, handmade paper products, Madhubani paintings, even the Indian tricolour. Everything is geared for middle-class likeability and affordability, and those fascinated by the Khadi story.

The not-so-good

The designer-wear section is hardly “designer" in silhouette, form, cut, finish, styling or impact. Despite designer labels (we couldn’t find any recognizable names), everything looks like what you would find in any ordinary garment store. And despite the space, this store doesn’t compare in any way with the Central Cottage Industries Emporium—not in the distinction of its products, nor in mounting the idea of India.

Talk plastic

Cotton Khadi shirts for men start from 465 or 610 (if it is pure white muslin), with ensembles in raw silk starting from 1,500-2,500. Designer kurtas for women are priced from 1,000-3,000 and kurta sets from 1,500-5,500. We found an ankle-length Khadi dress for 3,020 and an embroidered handloom sari for 8,460. Fabrics range from 400 a metre or so for cotton Khadi to 800-1,400 for silk. All home-friendly items, especially kitchen goods, are rather well priced and start from as little as around 100.

Khadi Gramudyog Bhavan, 24, Regal Building, Connaught Circus, New Delhi (23360902).

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