Profiling India's most style-conscious leader, Burma's capital rethink and the Indonesians keeping the rain away.
Naypyidaw may be the official capital of Burma but the majority of foreign embassies are still 320km away in former capital Yangon. If Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party wins next year, the capital may switch back.
In a tropical climate characterised by heavy downpours, the pawang hujan – Indonesia’s shamanic rain stoppers – are the individuals who can supposedly keep the wet weather at bay.
In Bali, most hotels – including numerous Starwood and Accor properties – have their own on-call rain stoppers. Luxury hotels pay the shamans around €150 for a day’s work, creating a tangible intersection between Indonesian mysticism and corporate brands. Indonesia’s religious make-up is also accounted for: Muslim clients request analogous mystics, who use Islamic prayer beads for the task, while Balinese rain stoppers use Hindu invocations.
Thanks to Bipin Chauhan, his loquacious tailor of more than two decades, we know all about the sartorial preferences of India’s style-conscious prime minister Narendra Modi. The leader of the world’s largest democracy generally favours a sober and inclusive palette in crisp linens and cottons. “Modi takes [a] keen interest in his clothes, right from selecting the fabric, the cut and the stitch to the overall look,” says Chauhan, who has been canny enough to trademark Modi’s signature garment: a half-sleeved tunic that is now known as the Modi kurta.
As the leader of the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party, Modi’s fashion choices are never incidental. His love of a kurta – a garment made in India and worn by rich and poor alike – references nationalism and his humble beginnings as a tea seller. The cotton khadi (hand-woven) fabrics he often wears are rich with symbolism that stretches back to Mahatma Gandhi. Even the colours he chooses speak of his values, avoiding (Muslim) green but frequently wearing (Hindu) orange.
Modi – a divisive leader who incites extreme reactions – makes no apology for his appearance. “Yes, I like to dress up well and stay clean,” he said on television before the election in May. “God has gifted me the sense of mixing and matching colours.” At times, however, his interest in fashion has infuriated opponents. Samajwadi party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav grumbled that Modi “changes 500 kurtas a day and wears a new kurta to every meeting”. Still, Modi led the bjp and its allies to form India’s largest majority government for 30 years.
The affluent suburb of Bandra in Mumbai is one of the most liveable neighbourhoods in urban India but rapid change is transforming the historic cluster of Catholic fishing villages into a congested extension of the city. Brothers Ayaz and Zameer Basrai of architecture firm The Busride are spearheading The Bandra Project, that includes a local style guide, to help preserve the area.
What is it about Bandra that is so special?
Bandra has always had this inclusive, secular, active street culture, so we’re trying to figure out what’s worked for it in the past. It’s important not to look at heritage conservation as only architectural conservation. The project cannot have this misguided, nostalgic outlook aimed at just preserving what’s left of the old villages.
What’s the point of the Bandra style guide?
We want to preserve the bazaars, the food and drink, the soundscape, colour, form, the music and street art, the broad promenades and a bunch of other softer, intangible features of the suburb. The point is helping homeowners become more conscious of what it is they’re building and their rights. Hopefully the style guide is a reminder of the fragility of social interactions that will show newer users and builders Bandra’s active street culture.
What are your future hopes?
Sweeping changes are happening behind closed doors. That process is not participatory. We want The Bandra Project to be as open as possible; a development kit that says, “If you want to redevelop, this is how you redevelop.” But the point of the whole project is optimism. We don’t need more pessimism.