“Pleasant surprise” is how Ritu Kumar described her Padma Shri award when t2 got in touch with her on Sunday afternoon. And then started a freewheeling chat...
Many congratulations. Have you got used to being addressed as Padma Shri Ritu Kumar?
Not really, actually! It came as such a surprise. I don’t know who suggested my name. It wasn’t something that I was expecting. In our industry, we don’t have a precedent in this, right? In the textile or the crafts world for that matter.... So, maybe we should initiate a series of things that recognises craftspeople or weavers or embroidery people...
What does this mean for Ritu Kumar the designer and also the Indian fashion scene?
Personally, it is just one more thing that has happened (smiles). I guess one more milestone. It also means that you’ve been in this long enough to hand over the baton to someone else (laughs)!
It’s definitely a field that needs to be looked at. It’s a welcome recognition of the fact that the industry has come up from scratch. All this revival of textiles that we have been doing has made a huge difference to the way India sees itself. More important than anything else is that we have managed to preserve a very old culture. Otherwise I think India would have gone the China way... with nothing indigenous left.
When you got the news, did your career whizz past you?
Well, 45 years… as I was going to sleep, I was thinking of the very hot journeys to Serampore. All of Calcutta came back to my mind. The work in the zardozi villages, in Phulia district… perhaps these are my fondest memories. It all came back. It’s been a very enriching life I think. It’s not just the personal achievement that is exciting… I would not have been able to do it without everybody else’s contribution… mainly the crafts people.
What have these 45 years been like?
Well, physically, emotionally and professionally, it was very tough because you did not know where you were going. There were no design schools or parallel disciplines that you could follow or anybody you could ask. You took the journey alone, opening your store, doing your designing. If I were to ask any of the new designers to do it, it really would be too much work. But one just did it! There was the excitement of discovering... and maybe at that time, one did not miss the air-conditioning… it was a passion…. I fondly look back at setting up something with the crafts people.
It (the Padma) is slowly dawning upon me. I have such a heavy workload.... I am, at the moment, in the middle of a fittings session for Bangalore Fashion Week. So, between the Jaipur Literature Festival and getting on a flight to Bangalore last night... it’s taking a little time to sink in.
You clearly haven’t had the time to celebrate!
No! Yesterday just before I left for the airport, people dropped in for lunch. There was family and friends. It was a very joyous occasion. We opened a bottle of wine. My friends are threatening to have a party!
What is the one thing that you would love to gift yourself?
More leisure to read and write another book (after Costumes and Textiles of Royal India). That’s definitely on the anvil. I am going back to the pen and perhaps back to the brush!