Niyati Hirani studied MA Fashion Curation at London College of Fashion from September 2019 to January 2021. She currently works with The Museum of Art and Photography, Bangalore in India where she writes and researches for the South Asian textiles collection.
In this blog, Niyati reflects on her experience in London pursuing an MA during the pandemic and now back at her home in India, working through her new job during lockdown. In the form of journal entries, this writing forms a personal archive alluding to her interest in and practice of material culture studies.
1:59 am. 30th May 2021. Jaipur, India.
On yet another day of work from home, a doorbell rang in the middle of the afternoon. Mail with a Royal Mail stamp and a Please Do not Bend. It was a letter from London, my degree. There it was - a smile, finally. It was subtle. I knew I would receive this degree one day - then why was I strangely excited and joyous? Mum shed a few happy tears and Papa proudly hugged me. The physical quality of this document did make it more real, the emotions didn't just float inside but were now visible. I frowned a little and cursed the mailman in my head - can't they read, it says Do Not Bend? Such a shame, a slightly crooked degree. My mother quickly put the degree between two sheets and placed it under the mattress.
Mitti, the cat
It was December of 2019 when I was on my way from London to Bangalore on winter breaks. I was most excited to see Mitti, my cat. But before I could reach Heathrow, let alone take my flight, I got a call saying that we lost her. That was the most devastating journey for me, my first-ever loss. Perhaps Mitti orchestrated this trip for me to make it to her funeral just in time, I thought.
On my way back to London the following month, I carried a picture of her, gifted by my mum, which remained framed on my bedside throughout the year. I haven’t lost her.
I remember feeling bittersweet. I was leaving London for good, on the 24th of March. Having spent almost my whole degree in lockdown… As much as I was homesick, after 14 months of not seeing my parents, I wasn't ready to give up my student life and begin from scratch yet. While packing, I had all these things, mundane, right in front of me. Dearest. A signed copy of Paris: the Fashion Capital by Valerie Steele. A catalogue of the Land Girls: Cinderella of the Soil which my professor Amy De la Haye kindly posted to my London address. A blue porcelain mug gifted by a friend. A few other books, a kimono, and a few catalogues. An oyster card and my college ID, an expired ICOM membership and an Art Fund card. A little London archive of mine.
The new job at a Museum
The Museum of Art & Photography, Bangalore offered me to join them as a Cataloguer for their South Asian textiles collection. The Museum has a reputation for being visionary - it is working on digitising the collection for a larger project, an AI-based archival tool. On April 5th, I started the classic WFH job as a textile researcher writing artefact descriptions within a team of four other cataloguers. I felt lonely at work and crowded, surrounded by family at home. It was hard to be positive, I still hadn’t recovered and settled back after London. To my delight, I found my favourite place outside of the home to work from, a library in the neighbourhood. The Nila House opened just before the pandemic took place. Apart from its beautiful architecture, curated rooms for indigo dye workshops and a retail store with artisan connect, there is also an exclusive library focusing on South Asian textiles. It was perfect. Until an indefinite lockdown was announced amidst the crisis of the second wave in India and I was put back into my (home) corner.
Each day I browse through E-books and hi-resolution images of brilliant textile artefacts. A lot of the senses have been lost, the touch of each textile, or the smell of an archive. But I wouldn’t complain; my daily engagement with the textile archive, although digital, remains an escape from the awful everyday news of the country. Grateful.
The RT-PCR test
I am on one of the Corticosteroids tonight (by mistake!). I have been sick with a mild fever for about nine days now. Following the seventh day, I received my blood test result and my medicines were changed. My corticosteroids dose (which are usually prescribed to a Covid positive patient) started on the 8th day as a precautionary, while I wait for my Covid test results to come in. A constant anxiety has shadowed us all as we track our temperature and oxygen levels five times a day. In between, I also managed to mess up my daytime dose for nighttime, the reason for my insomnia and bedtime reflections. An archive of daily essentials, marking what seems to me a dystopian time in history.