Sixth-generation textile conservationist Sailesh Singhania from Hyderabad brings the treasures of a rich collection of heritage handlooms, textiles and antique sarees to Delhi. Sailesh’s forefathers joined the Nizam’s legacy in 1881. His great grandfather, Seth Nandlal, took over as the textile minister in the Nizam’s Cabinet in 1926. The Singhanias work with 700 handloom weavers belonging to 22 different clusters from such areas as Pochampally, Gadwal, Uppada, Kota, Pranpur and others. Team Optimist spoke to Sailesh Singhania on his heritage handlooms featuring an exquisite collection of handwoven sarees.
Team Optimist: As a sixth-generation textile conservationist what is your understanding of heritage handlooms, textiles and antique sarees in India?
Sailesh Singhania: The craft of handloom fabrics and textile are age-old Indian techniques.
If one looks back in history, the saree dates back 5,000 years. Despite various kinds of dresses being available in Indian history, the saree has acquired a special significance and a traditional Indian handloom saree remains supreme among all dresses in textile history.
Team Optimist: As you work with more than 700 handloom weavers belonging to 22 different clusters, how do you work with the whole system? Do you experiment, or continue with a set pattern?
Sailesh Singhania: Managing weavers across 22 different clusters and 700 handlooms is a challenging task. To explain the colours, motifs and exactly how the design has to come out is a tedious and challenging job. But, over the years, I’ve learnt to manage them. I have a complete set-up and an entire team constantly working with the weavers and guiding them on the colours, yarns and execution of designs that help in the outcome of the six yards of elegance.
Team Optimist: Your family has a rich legacy in textiles right from the Nizam’s era. What changes have you witnessed in all these years looking at the antique collection that you have?
Sailesh Singhania: I feel blessed that I could witness the look, touch and feel of various textiles since the Nizam’s era. The textiles from those times are more like an art form — the weaving and detailing are mesmerizing. I’m amazed with the intricacy and detailing that the weavers and craftsmen achieved, which is extremely difficult to achieve nowadays.
My favourite among textiles is the real zari tissue saree, which weighs just 200 gm. It’s one of the finest pieces of craft that I’ve seen made from real gold and silver zari and it’s astonishing to see how they created this master craft in such light weight with the technique of jacquard and jala.
Team Optimist: What steps do you suggest for reviving India’s textile industry?
Sailesh Singhania: Textiles should be treated as ornaments and not just pieces of fabric and buyers should consider the painstaking and laborious process undertaken by the weavers. Awareness must be created about this unique craftsmanship and how it took a craftsman several months to get a unique piece of textile off the loom.
Team Optimist: What’s the future of handloom weavers in India? Is sustainability an issue?
Sailesh Singhania: The master weavers who are skilled and work beautifully on the loom and deliver the best will definitely sustain for a long period. Handloom textiles are an art form just like handicrafts and the craft form will certainly sustain, but the number of weavers will diminish. Only skilled weavers with knowledge and passion will survive.
Team Optimist: What are your views on fashion and craftsmanship and their role in the ‘Make in India’ initiative?
Sailesh Singhania: Make in India is an excellent initiative started by the government through which the handloom brands and weavers have received recognition nationally, as well as internationally. At the national level, it has grabbed the attention and interest of buyers and made them aware of textiles and handloom, so increasing the sales of the handloom products, which, till some time ago, was a forgotten craft form.