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BEYOND FASHION Muzaffar and Meera Ali relate to the lives of craftsmen and their aspirations
BEYOND FASHION Muzaffar and Meera Ali relate to the lives of craftsmen and their aspirations
Here is a couple that covers all artistic fields possible designing, architecture, poetry, filmmaking, music and painting. Quite a mouthful, but that really is Meera and Muzaffar Ali's combined artistic talents. Muzaffar's magnum opus, "Umrao Jaan" is still revered today, as are the paintings and music he creates. Meera's design sensibilities come into play as a fashion designer and together, they design clothes under the label `Meera and Muzaffar Ali'. Muzaffar, the Raja of Kotwara and his stunning wife Meera are also passionately involved in the empowerment and education of the women of Kotwara through craft and embroidery.They discuss with RENUKA VIJAY KUMAR the importance of giving back to society, their love for Sufi music and its expression through Jahan-e-Khusrau their annual music festival and much more.Muzaffar Ali: The fashion industry as such is not of great significance to us. It is more the environment and the culture we are living in. Also since we relate to people in the field of craft, to the lives of craftsmen, to their aspirations, to their children's education and also their outlook. Today, the outlook of a person has become very important. Even if we can do a little bit in changing outlooks, we are doing a lot.Meera Ali: Let's talk about Kotwara and Lucknow... how it's going to impact the people.Muzaffar: Ok. So it's really the outlook that becomes important. How people can empower themselves. You can't impose a business on them but you can inculcate a spirit. A spirit of looking at themselves looking at each other and the environment and it has to be sustained. If you can't sustain that, you can't empower them. People get carried away with small issues and problems.Meera: Exactly... Muzaffar: I think first you've got to be concerned about those issues and then realising that if you were involved in their livelihood, you can change their outlook. For instance, Lucknow is a city where there is a lot of communal harmony. A lot of integration between faiths, but somewhere a conflict emerges (between Shias and Sunni) and then you have to look at factors that unite and not divide. If they feel that that you are concerned about the larger world around them, you can make an impact.Meera: But I think it's also if you are part of their culture. If you understand their culture, what they want to do. They feel that we're with them, understanding them, their background and where they come from and at the same time we are empowering them. That gives us the extra edge to help guide them when they (the craftsmen and people) don't understand something.Muzaffar: Human beings can create a lot of ugliness around them. Knowingly, unknowingly and being led into it. So remotely, I think we are responsible for making the person realise how he can create beauty through his outlook and through whatever he does. Meera: Yes, like the people who have too many children and would rather send the boys to school than the girls. (The couple runs a school in Kotwara under the name Dwar Pe Rozi)Muzaffar: But once the girls are in, the problems are still there, but of a different kind. Like attendance and making them realise the importance of education. The fee of Rs. 20 is just so that they feel they are paying for what they receive. The people we are bringing in are those who can give something to the school.Meera: I feel The Kotwara Palace (which is now a home stay), and its atmosphere will help guests relax and give them a sense of the place. Hopefully, it will encourage them to give as well, in terms of ideas and other things.Muzaffar: Yeah, it's not an upbeat economy, but it will work.Meera: You know, the first time I went to Kotwara after we met, I found that people still look up to you and expect something (as Raja of Kotwara).But I see a lot of changes in the women of Kotwara. The children automatically are picking up what their mothers do. The girls are better dressed, wear jewellery and buy it with their own money and also learn a craft.

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