National Handloom Day: Threads of culture that bind these ambassadors to India

On National Handloom Day, German ambassador to India, Walter J Lindner, and the Polish ambassador Adam Burakowski along with his wife Agnieszka, tell us how they fell in love with Indian clothing. Giving us a peak into their closets, they share many lesser known tales!
German ambassador to India Walter J Lindner, and Polish ambassador Adam Burakowski with his wife Agnieszka, share how they fell in love with India and its handloom. (Photo: Shivam Saxena/Raajessh Kashyap/HT)
German ambassador to India Walter J Lindner, and Polish ambassador Adam Burakowski with his wife Agnieszka, share how they fell in love with India and its handloom. (Photo: Shivam Saxena/Raajessh Kashyap/HT)
Published on Aug 07, 2021 04:36 PM IST
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ByAnjuri Nayar Singh and Henna Rakheja, New Delhi

It’s no secret that Indian handlooms have piqued the interest of the world since time immemorial. And on National Handloom Day (August 7), the German ambassador to India Walter J Lindner, and his Polish counterpart Adam Burakowski and wife Agnieszka, tell us how they got attracted to the simplicity and vibrancy of Indian handlooms long back. Be it intricately woven shawls or comfy cotton kurtas, Indian handlooms have found a cosy place in their closets, and are there to stay for a lifetime. Excerpts from two candid tête-à-têtes...

Garman ambassador Walter J Lindner: In a suit and tie, all men look the same

German ambassador Walter J Lindner says he loves adding a dash of colour to his attire with a vibrant shawl or stole to this otherwise blue-black dominant wardrobe. (Photo: Shivam Saxena/HT)
German ambassador Walter J Lindner says he loves adding a dash of colour to his attire with a vibrant shawl or stole to this otherwise blue-black dominant wardrobe. (Photo: Shivam Saxena/HT)

Walter J Lindner is an artistic soul trapped in a diplomat’s body, which is often adorned by Indian clothes. And he reveals that his affair with Indian handloom began much before he came to India. “In 1971, there was a famous concert when Bangladesh had parted from India, faced a flood and a lot of pain. So that solidarity concert in New York’s Madison Square Garden was organised to bring together western and Indian musicians like Ravi Shankar and The Beatles. So here there were Eric Clapton on The Beatles’ side and George Harrison; they were usual hippie type, long hair, jeans, don’t care about what they are wearing. And on the other side, Indian musicians were in kurtas. This was the first time I saw kurtas. The whole appearance was outwardly. I saw this as a young boy of 15 years and I was like: I have to come to this country!”

Coming from a place of greys and blacks, Lindner says that for him it’s all about adding that “one piece of colour” to his otherwise simple dressing style. “I usually wear one colour, black or white or blue. And if you don’t add a piece of colour, it’s a bit boring to the eye. If I was in northern Germany where it’s raining and grey, (it’s still okay...but) here where there are colours, I always add an element of colour. You could wear a tie but I don’t wear a tie, so I take a shawl,” he says revealing that he has about 20 shawls in his wardrobe at present. “When I am travelling, I try to find a shawl of any other place (than Delhi). I have a few shawls, but I’m running out of them, I will have to buy some more,” he says making a mental note for shopping!

In fact, he admits sporting Nehru suits much before he took up posting in India. “When I was in Germany, and was the foreign secretary, I was known for not wearing ties but Nehru shirts with Nehru collar and Nehru suits. I have two colours, simple black and blue. I don’t wear pink and yellow. I just like the classic, no-nonsense style, which is classy and cool. It has to have something that reminds me of India and ethnic fabrics like cotton. In a suit and a tie, everyone looks the same from China to Africa; men look all the same. In India it’s different. You go to Rajasthan, you have these fantasy suits. I don’t go overboard with it, but I like this menswear over western,” says he, whose love for elephants is immense. “I bought this stole from my recent trip to Mathura, where I walked with the elephants to the Yamuna” he says pointing to the off white piece of cloth around his neck that has black elephant motifs.

Lindner has even tried to incorporate the Nehru suit in his official dressing style. “In my profession as a diplomat, the uniform dress is a suit and tie. It took some time to break out of it. I started a few years ago. Okay, you cannot wear jeans! You can wear Indian suit which is a Nehru suit which is elegant and formal,” he says, adding, “In the beginning people were asking what is that for, but then people knew. I did interviews and told people. Now when I wear a tie, they would be astonished, and say: What’s wrong with you!” he laughs.

Polish ambassador Adam Burakowski: We visit local markets and artisans to buy from them

Ambassador of Poland to India, Adam Burakowski and his wife Agnieszka say they have now realised that nothing is too much at Indian weddings! (Photo: Raajessh Kashyap/HT)
Ambassador of Poland to India, Adam Burakowski and his wife Agnieszka say they have now realised that nothing is too much at Indian weddings! (Photo: Raajessh Kashyap/HT)

Adam Burakowski’s dedication to Hindi language is as intense as his wife Agnieszka’s admiration for Hindi cinema’s superstar Amitabh Bachchan. Agnieszka recalls how her welcome to a country drenched in colours as “a shock, in a positive way”, and emphasises that “It’s so colourful in India that now when I go back to Poland, it shocks me how different these two countries are... In the beginning, I was a bit hesitant to wear so much colour. For the official part of our lives, we of course stick to European standards,” she says.

But talk of Indian weddings and her face lights up. “I was once wearing a kurta that was too much bling for me. Soon, we realised that nothing is too much at Indian weddings,” she says.

The ambassador’s memory goes back in time at the mention of Indian handloom. “In 1997, it was the first time I came to India as a 20-year-old tourist, and bought a blue kurta from somewhere in northern India,” says Burakowski. Next year, he took back a bright Kashmiri jacket for his wife. And till date, he collects local handloom as souvenirs. “When we go to a new place, we visit the local markets, artisans and designers, and buy from them. I was recently in Raipur, Chattisgarh and bought a nice kurta. We often go to Kerala with our family and buy a few things like Kerala style shirts,” says Burakowski, and his wife adds how she picks Indian fabrics to get European style attires stitched: “It’s hot in India so I prefer cotton and linen; they are my favourites. I’ve even got European coats stitched from Indian fabrics, which I use when I go back to Poland. I designed them myself, and my friends also ask me to get it for them. Because the quality of the fabric is different, and they really appreciate it.”

And even the young ones in the house are fans of Indian clothing. “We have three daughters and one son. One of our daughters who is 9 years old, loves Indian clothes and has readymade saris. She likes bright colours and even European colours in Indian style,” shares Agnieszka. The ambassador adds, “Yellow is the colour we like. There was this film Rang De Basanti, which was translated as Colour Me Yellow, in Poland. We saw that film and liked it. We watch many Indian movies especially during the lockdown... and for my wife’s birthday, I got a poster of the film Don.” Hearing this, Agnieszka’s face lights up again, as she confesses: “I’m eager to meet Amitabh Bachchan!”

Authors tweet @HennaRakheja and @anjuri

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Monday, January 17, 2022