Getting to Know the Elegant and Graceful – Vijayalaxmi Chhabra

Hello everyone! Its that time of the year again. Durga Puja/Navratri/Dussehra is upon us and the entire country is gearing up for the festive spirit. The ten days of a mad rush, a feeling of free-falling, of indulging in extra food, of bonding with families, of letting your hair down and becoming your best fashionable self. It’s time to welcome the Goddess, celebrate Shakti and unanimously unite together to celebrate the biggest festival season of India. And this time is again a reminder that even being of diverse cultures and traditions, we all unite under one big hood.

On the spirit of the occasion, WeekendTrivia brings for you a heart-to-heart talk with few ladies who are dynamic, beautiful, successful in their own ways and breaking norms and labels with their life-style and thoughts. They are the influencers of our times, who refuse to be labeled as such and yet are looked up by many. Gone are the days when the only style icons were the film/television celebrities and when we craved to look like them.

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These ladies have broken the barriers of ideas that fashion is only for celebrities, only meant to be done on certain occasions and definitely not at work! The rules are changing and these beautiful ladies bring a myriad of a fresh and positive outlook for you all. They are also explaining why we need to give up fast fashion, condone to handlooms and sustainable fashion more and become more thoughtful about our purchases. How we can look good with handmade. They are people like you and me, girls next door, bringing out their best self.

Today is the last day of this series of Interviews and we are extremely extremely honoured and humbled to have this dynamic, beautiful and graceful woman talking to us. She is none other than Vijayalaxmi Chhabra – Ex-Director General of Doordarshan.

The ever graceful and forever smiling lady – Vijayalaxmi Chhabra

It is hard to put into a few words that can give you all a brief introduction to her. If we were to choose one word for her, it would simply be – She is a Woman of Substance, a personality by herself. She is a bridge of the old and new, bringing to the fore long lost stories of weaves, of heritage, of the charm of the bygone days. She is a connoisseur of sarees collected, draped and loved over a span of 48 years! She doesn’t call herself an influencer or a collaborator, but simply a woman is trying in her happy space to urge younger generations to understand the value and importance of draping the six yards. She has her own sense of style, is graceful, elegant, with a smile to warm your hearts.

Her long and illustrious career as a Broadcaster as well as being a part of media and communications has endowed her with the experiences that are gems to be treasured. But enough said, please read on to know more about her

But first, follow her on Instagramvijayalaxmichhabra

P.S. All the pictures and videos are owned by ©Vijayalaxmi Chhabra and reproduction in any form, without prior permission, is prohibited

Q. Please introduce yourself.

I have been a professional Broadcaster & worked with All India Radio and Doordarshan for 35 years. I retired from the coveted post of Director General of Doordarshan, the world’s largest Public Service Broadcaster, in 2015.

 I grew up in a small & modern steel township called Bhilai. The city represented the aspirations of modern & growing India. I grew up with the dreams & aspirations of a girl born in a free Nation. I belonged to a generation which inherited the spirit of a new nation and witnessed the society go through many political, ideological and social changes. Women became aware of their rights and strived hard to fulfil their aspirations. It was important for me to be independent & self-reliant. Currently,  I am based in Mumbai but spend considerable time in Delhi.

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After retirement as a hobby, I wrote extensively on handloom and sarees on social media to inspire young girls to take up saree as their preferred drape. I have been wearing saree every day for the last 48 years through my college and professional life. My posts are primarily about the living textile heritage & traditions of India laced with interesting stories from my life and my times.

Q. Would you call yourself a Style Blogger or an Influencer? Please share what is your Instagram profile all about and how did your journey start?

I am definitely not a style blogger though I might have my own distinct style. 

I would call my self a storyteller and raconteur of my times. I feel it’s important for every generation to have a historical perspective. We don’t get everything in the history books. We need people around us to keep telling us stories about their times which is not from very distant past but might get lost if not told.  There was a time when our parents and grandparents told us stories and it made us richer and gave us a perspective.

I found FB & Instagram a perfect platform to share my experiences & my stories from real life. Only my followers can tell you whether they consider me as an influencer.

I represent one whole generation of women who dreamt big, worked hard, maintained a balance in work life & home life, contributed towards nation building and reached the top.

They were making a different kind of style statement. 

Q. Is being an influencer/style-blogger your full-time profession or are do you work elsewhere?

I have had a full-fledged career of 40 years in media. I retired as the Director-General of Doordarshan. I am not looking at Instagram or any platform of social media as a profession. This has become an endearing hobby just the way I cook, paint, read or binge watch Netflix. It’s time to share & Instagram can go beyond only styling & fashion.

Q. What would you consider your biggest achievement so far?

My biggest achievement has been striking a balance between my family and my profession. I managed to hold on to my family and did my best as a mother and wife while I got wholehearted support from my husband and my children.

Today I can sit back and enjoy the fruits of this endeavour.

 Q. Your thoughts on the indigenous handloom industry of India and what can we do to protect it?

I grew up seeing my mother and grandmother wear only handloom. I have often written that there used to be a charkha in our home as a symbol of Gandhiji’s call for Swadeshi. My parents are Gandhians and they influenced me a great deal. I followed the principle of practising Swadeshi from an early age. I have been wearing handloom sarees since I was sixteen. Those days almost every one draped handloom sarees in Delhi without talking much about it but slowly saree wearing disappeared and western clothes took over. Synthetics also made their way. The demand for sarees shrunk.

Even though it is the second largest industry in India the awareness among youngsters is

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negligible.  Young girls and boys need to be made aware of the rich handloom & handicraft that we have in our country. More & more brands need to use handloom material for their dresses. As far as sarees are concerned. College going girls need to be inspired to adopt it as their daily drape. Then only saree as a drape will survive. Few of us on instagram can create a campaign but can’t create a demand to sustain the industry.

I am an advocate of affordable sarees for young saree wearers. Luxury handloom can’t keep saree as a drape alive.

Q. How do you manage your family life along with other commitments and running an Instagram page?

Managing my family life was actually a challenge when I had a high pressure job.

I am currently writing a series on the same subject for young professionals who are also young mothers.

Now my children are grown up, I have time at my hand. In fact, this is the best time to chronicle my sarees and share my knowledge about the weaves that I learnt over the years. I have a huge collection of sarees spanning more than 55 years( I also have some of my mother’s sarees). It is fascinating to chronicle them. I am actually Chronicling my life on IG through my love for six yards.

Q. Do you need to travel far and wide for shoots or work related? What are the places that you have visited so far and What cultural, fashion or social differences have you experienced with in different places? 

I am widely travelled. My job in All India Radio & Doordarshan involved extensive travelling within the country and out side the country for various meetings, seminars & conferences. I have represented India in prestigious global media conferences.

After retirement, my husband & I travel often to countries that are still to be covered.

I wear sarees even during my travel. I made all my international presentations wearing a handloom saree. Mostly sarees from Odisha which is my home state and I am quite proud of them.

I realised during my Commonwealth Fellowship in England that cultural differences are immense  but if you are knowledgeable about your own country & culture and a proud Indian which I am then you create a unique place for yourself. 

Whenever I attended a conference on the very first day I would realise that I represented a huge and diverse country and the biggest media set up. My experience was far superior than even BBC & Australian Broadcasting Corporation. I loved observing and assimilating the different cultural dynamics and learnt a lot from my overseas fellow broadcasters.

I dressed up according to the needs of my professional environment. Hence I adopted a particular way of draping my saree. I chose my blouses to be elbow sleeved and high neck which gave it a smart and elegant look. My pallu was not flowing all the time. I preferred handloom cotton in summer & tussar in winter which gave me a sharp appearance. On Instagram, if people appreciate that as my style then I am happy.

But I am not just the clothes I wear. I am a reflection of my experiences and dressing myself every morning was an integral part of those experiences.

Q. What other activities are you a part of apart from your job and as an Influencer? What are your hobbies?

Well I am still part of various media committees as an expert. Interestingly I have started delivering lectures on handloom.

I also deliver lectures on changing media scene in India. Besides my academic interest in media, I have some simple interests which keep me busy. I love cooking, I am deeply interested in art and I love visiting museums. I love updating myself on whatever art I can consume. I like to paint in my spare time. I read a lot and these days enjoy binge-watching shows on Netflix. It makes me feel young and keeps me in touch with my children. When I finished watching Game of Thrones and wrote about it my young followers were thrilled.

Actually there are very few people of my age on social media interacting with young Instagrammers the way I do. I am over 60 but I feel much younger in the company of my young followers.

Q. Please share your experience with different brands you have worked with?

I am not a collaborator. It’s my concious decision. Every day I get request from brands to collaborate which I politely turn down. It’s not befitting for me to use this space commercially because of my past senior govt position. I am not looking to build a new career. I am chronicling my own collection which has been collected over 48 years.

I have a distinct style. My sarees represent four decades of the evolution of handloom and weave in this country. So I can’t drape something that I have not bought consciously. Gifted sarees by sellers are not my cup of tea.

Q. As Durga Puja and other festivities are knocking round the corner, could you please suggest certain looks which will go well with the occasion and brands where to get them?

I won’t be able to name any brands as I do not use my space on IG for commercial purpose. I am not a collaborator.

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The traditional sada saree laal pad look of Bengali woman during Durga Puja is eternally beautiful. What better than that with a long-sleeved frilly blouse to look like Satyajit Ray’s heroine.

I would love to recommend a good kanjivaram but every one may not opt for an exorbitant weave. In that case a Chanderi tissue or tissue Sambalpuri can look stunningly festive.

Q. There are a lot of shoddy people on social media who either try to discredit others or stalk them. How do you deal with such people or negativity in general? Does it bog you down or affect your mental peace?

 There are very few people of my age and experience in this circle of saree enthusiasts and collectors. My experience has been very positive. I have received a lot of love and affection from my young followers. 

Being on Instagram is an important part of my life at this stage but it’s not everything in my life. I have my husband my children and a life around me which is away from Instagram. So there is no question of it affecting my mental space .

Q. “Social media and Influencers create a fake world and it is affecting the youth in a wrong way” – is this a myth or is theretruth behind it? Your thoughts?

Social media has its own dynamics. It’s a great space for people to express themselves. It is a space where people consciously design their page. They decide how they wish to project themselves. So it can tend to be fake. The youngsters have to be aware of it. Take from it what is real and what enriches their life. They need not be influenced by it negatively. 

There were always external factors like these. At one point we talked about Bollywood and it’s negative impact. Prior to that it was literature. So there would always be something. People should consciously take the positives and ignore the negatives.

For me it’s a great space. I have found something to keep me busy constructively, I write every day, it’s therapeutic. I never went into post retirement blues because I was already into social media. It helped me create new friendships and new relationships which have enriched my life. There is nothing better than sharing. The world has shrunk for me.

Q. Can becoming an Influencer be taken up as a profession for future generations? How to not get lost amongst the masses? Any tips?

As an influencer you have to have a holistic personality. In the category of fashion & style influencers it cannot be just about clothes and accessories. In order to take it up as a profession the young have to make it more meaningful. They have to be capable of using this as a tool to drive change.

Instagram can survive only if it becomes an instrument of change as a new media.

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As an experienced media person I take serious interest in social media as it can impact the society and bring in change.

Q. What are your future plans for your page and profile? Are you happy with the way it has shaped up?

I am extremely happy about my page. If you see my bio I describe myself as a raconteur nudging people to take to six yards. 

I was very clear that I wanted to chronicle my sarees through my real life stories and I have stuck to that format. My posts were very long and those days the saree wearing community was not writing long posts so I was sceptical about how my posts would be received. I was pleasantly surprised to see the responses to my post. As you can see there is very serious and engaging interaction on my page. It keeps me inspired. 

I have been a committed Public Broadcaster.

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Social communication is my forte. My page reflects the spirit of social communication even though I talk about revival of six yards as a drape.

I intend keeping it this way as long as I have something to say which makes people think and reflect.

Q. Lastly, any word for our blog? Thank you for your time!

Keep up the good work. You have a chance to bring in change so put your best foot forward.

Thank you, Vijaya Didi, for taking out time to talk to us, and having such a wonderful and heart-to-heart conversation. We are in awe of your grace and style. We look forward to your continuously bringing more knowledge, stories, grace and sunshine to our feed! Happy Durga Puja and Navratri! 

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