Jaipur has long been the jewellery capital of India. In this city of jewellers, Munnu Kasliwal, who passed away on August 23 reigned supreme. He was a designer who elevated jewellery-making to a new level of artistic imagination. Kasliwal gave a twist to traditional Indian design, fusing Indian and western sensibilities into a new alluring aesthetic. His repertoire was vast, ranging from ceremonial regalia for Arab monarchs to exquisite diamond earrings, flower-shaped, whose petals would quiver like fragile blooms in the wind. His clientele included royalty and billionaires from across the world. In a unique honour, his works were exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Kennedy Centre in Washington, and Somerset House in London, to rave reviews.
Kasliwal’s style was as unique as his talent. His trademark attire was Aligarh pyjamas, full-sleeved white short kurta and a black jacket. At his understated farmhouse outside Jaipur, Kasliwal delighted in entertaining his guests in a setting of rustic simplicity. He wore his fame lightly and was always courteous, charming and hospitable.
The Kasliwal family’s Gem Palace in Jaipur, a compulsory stopover for the well-heeled and famous, became an even hotter destination. Its sanctum sanctorum was a room on the second floor of the haveli. Here, Kasliwal would sit in traditional Gandhi style, behind a low table covered with white linen with a few chairs in front for his clients. From an iron almirah nearby, treasure after treasure would be pulled out and placed on the table, each eliciting a gasp: a broad diamond belt to be worn with jeans, a necklace of spinel rubies and strings of free-floating diamonds tied to almost invisible chains etc. He loved old cut gemstones, revelling in their rounded luminosity, colour and imperfections which, in his eyes, gave each a distinctive personality. He cherished each individual creation, knowing he could not replicate it, and would only sell to those whom he felt shared its romance. He was an artist, not a salesman. Often he would ask a female visitor to wear a particular piece. There were no mirrors in the room, so the guest could only assess the effect of the piece though the expressions of her fellow visitors and the look on Munnu’s face. On one occasion, two English girls of no particular means were trying on piece after piece, squealing with delight and feeling utterly awed by the experience. “Now we know what it feels like to be a queen,” they exclaimed.
Kasliwal’s imagination was never at rest. In his last months, when he could no longer speak, his face was lit by a smile as his hands continued to draw fresh designs in the air for pieces that will never be made. In his passing, the world has lost a rare talent and a gem of a human being.
Suresh Neotia is chairman, Ambuja Cements Ltd
The views expressed by the author are personal