Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  First Person | Grunge ‘begum’

A yearning to turn some “has been" into “happening" makes me exclaim “wait" as strips of old brocade are about to be cast away. Just wrap these around the legs of my studio table, I say. I realize that I am a willing and grateful prisoner of heritage. A miniature grandfather clock, 1.5 inches in size, proudly hangs from differently sized chains around my neck as I write this. My life is a constant exploration of two disparate yet delightful parallels.

Nine years back, when I became the 23-year-old bride of Stouvant Pittie, an only child, little did I know that every atom of my existence would be grateful for what has been and what has been passed on to me. So at times I wear my Zara shirts with 100-year-old lehngas, along with an ancestral paan pouch as a sling purse. The adorable fronts on my juttis are brocade fabrics from the deconstructed angis (blouses) of my great-grandmother, which would have fallen apart or would have been discarded by the family any moment. At times I do the ritualistic puja, albeit in fast-forward mode, complete with a red dupatta that mom-in-law quickly slips on my shoulders, all this over my office clothes. It takes little to please mom!

It is about living and loving the polarities—from Irani samosas to street idlis—as they whet my appetite for the unusual combos that surround me. Just the other day, I followed a tribal woman home so that she could get me her amazing anklets. I use them as stands for bowls in which I serve nuts and dips.

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An old skullcap turned into a purse. Photo courtesy: Suhani Pittie

Hasn’t it always happened that with time a modern, individualistic attitude eventually submits itself to the century-old preferences? To me this life is a constant, conscious reminder that I am who I am because of this heritage.

Everything around me has a story to tell. The neon green “gogo" watch with its 2-inch dial, gifted 70 years back by our great-grandfather to his really shy “ghunghat-clad" wife, which got passed down generations. Or, the antique nose-pins that are now my hair clips. There are the heavily embroidered pearl caps and hand-fans that were given to me by granny. The fans hang on the walls of my office and the caps have been juxtaposed against metal and used as beautiful purses. Many times I wonder if this is what genetic modification means—taking the best of two or more yesterdays and creating a unique tomorrow? Every “conversion" has a history attached to it and now a future. I smile to myself. The chrysalis of time will go on, carefully weaving various passages of time in its warp and weft. How can I not be grateful?

I constantly remind myself that I should also always be obliged to my own foundation, without which I could not have built this lattice of intermingling elements. I was born and raised in Kolkata, went to the Mahadevi Birla Girls’ High School and studied gemology in the US. My upbringing was “Calcuttan", complete with playing football on the street. Always leaning towards sports, I was the goalkeeper. Our school was tough. Though we complained then, I now realize that it was that period which prepared us for the times to come. Being decent at studies and at extra-curricular activities, I was the school head girl and headed the school interact club.

A miniature grandfather clock that Pittie wears as a pendant. Photo courtesy: Suhani Pittie
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A miniature grandfather clock that Pittie wears as a pendant. Photo courtesy: Suhani Pittie

After returning from the US at the age of 19, I started teaching at a gemology school. My saved salary helped me begin my own school to teach gemology and I conducted courses for individuals as well as jewellery firms. Then, with the earnings from this school, I started my current design firm. Some day I hope to indulge my mad passion for gemology and go back to teaching.

Today, my 9-9 “industrial" work life mixes the influences of my early years—the discipline and focus with the heritage values of my husband Stouvant’s family. Like torch-bearers, walking from the past to the present, at work too we employ the parallels. There is constant developing of new ranges of exotic accessories and gifts using silver, brass, copper, wood and stones in a symphony of design. Did it not take five elements to begin life too?

For practical reasons, we have a little apartment accessible from our factory and on most days, stay there. But we try to eat at least one meal every day at home in Begum Bazar with mom, dad and granny.

The house in Begum Bazar stands as a strong symbol of strength, unity, foresight, culture and endurance. Winding steps, room leading to rooms, one courtyard to another—it shows us how to be organized as well as how to converge into one big whole. This haveli was built by our ancestors, and His Highness Mehboob Ali Pasha, the sixth nizam of Hyderabad, also referred to as the “beloved". The then prime minister of Hyderabad—Salar Jung Bahadur—was a close friend of the family and intervened with many artistic inputs for what’s now become a heritage home. The Ganga-Jamuna culture of communal harmony is an undying tradition the family has nurtured and stored. It is reflected even today in our lifestyle.

The term shocking pink was coined in the late 1920s by the wacky 20th century designer Elsa Schiaparelli after she saw her friend’s 17.27-carat Cartier diamond. Shocking pink became Schiaparelli’s signature colour, while Shocking, her iconic 1937 perfume, was bottled in the shape of a woman’s torso.

This meeting of cultures is also visible in our daily lives: the factory, our office and the Suhani Pittie store. We may be modern but we follow the same values our ancestors lived by. This is what makes our existence exciting.

To me, my life feels like a vivid process of assimilation, exchange, originality—sometimes challenging, at other times smooth. I am constantly trying to map my world, from where I am to where I want to be, down the ages to today and the unpredictable tomorrow. This is the result of coupling a precious heritage with the synergy of that which is yet to be discovered.

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