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Sunaina Suneja Class of 1975

posted on 7 August 2014

Sunaina Suneja, Class of 1975

As Independence Day 2014 draws near, my thoughts once again go towards the momentous events which led up to August 15 1947, both the joy and the pain, the exuberance as well as the anguish. It’s a moment in our history which I am familiar with through the poignant narratives of my parents and the extended family, displaced from their homesteads in Lyallpur and Lahore, and through newspaper archives and short stories such as Manto’s. Over the years, I used to wonder what canvas I would one day use and how, to express my own feelings, my deep emotions of elation, gratitude and despair as well, that spring from these historic events.

And it’s come to me in a flash, that I have been doing just that through my work as a designer working with the wondrous handmade textiles of my beloved country, and above all, my most cherished, khadi, which in my eyes, embodies the freedom movement, satyagraha, sacrifice, patience, peace and evokes the toil of the humble artisans who continue to handspin the yarn on charkhas or taklis before they weave it into the fabric that some of us love, others disdain and the third front, of those who are indifferent to it.

Independence Day is a day for reflection, so why not share some of my thoughts on khadi. It is my personal view, as a self-professed “khadi-an”, that khadi’s historic and socio-economic significance is immense even today and I would hope that it is nurtured by every caring Indian.

First and foremost, India is the only country which produces fabric which is not just handwoven but more importantly in my eyes, handspun as well, on this large cottage industry scale. The numbers of artisans who are involved in this activity is huge. They are not just the craftspeople, they are the true designers who remain anonymous and usually, grossly under-remunerated for the kind of labor they put into every inch of khadi.

A takli in the National Museum indicates spinning activity in Mohenjodaro, 5000 years ago. The spinning wheel is believed to have been invented in India between 500 and 1000 AD.

Before the Industrial Revolution, underlined by the invention of spinning jennies and mechanized looms which decimated India’s textile industry ( The Governor of Bengal, Lord Bentinck, is quoted as having said “the bones of Indian weavers were bleaching the plains of India."), all cloth was produced by handspinning the yarn and then weaving it. Cloth in India had multi-purpose use apart from garments: tents, wall paintings, bedspreads, floor covers, decoration for animals, canopies for bullock or camel-drawn carts, silks woven with gold threads for temple offerings to the gods. And all of it, astonishingly, spun by hand.

With the coming of the East India Company, the demand for Indian textiles increased so greatly in England that a ban was imposed in the 1700s on the use of calicoes and chintz as clothes and home furnishings thereby protecting British interests from foreign competition.

One man’s vision, Mahatma Gandhi’s, led to the revival of a practically extinct craft firstly for socio-economic reasons , and then to khadi becoming a mass movement and a non-violent weapon through the freedom struggle.

India is blessed with craftspeople who are still willing, in this Instant Age, to perpetuate this age old craft, a symbol of continuity with the past and our history.

The fact that the handspinning activity continues today is what makes my India Incredible and Shining to me.

Khadi has a very constructive role to play at the center stage of fashion today: it is environment friendly and a natural fiber. The fact that its production from beginning to end is entirely handmade, lends it a mystic appeal. We in India are so accustomed to handmade products that our eyes are sometimes jaded.

However, I don’t know of any country other than mine which can “boast of a national fabric” as I wrote in an article on the eve of our 50th anniversary of Independence, and I look forward to a day which we will dedicate to wearing and ruminating on the idea and message of Khadi.


December 30, 2008

I thought I’d oil my rusty writing skills (Jacquie Singh, please note) and try my hand at an end-of-the-year appraisal of 2008 that is soon going to be ‘was’ and share it with all my friends. 

Sunaina Suneja and Mary Williamson
Mary Flanagan Williamson, left, and Sunaina Suneja with the statue of author Phillis Wheatley in Boston MA, summer 2008.


It wasn’t a very eventful beginning but I’m not at all unhappy to live through boring times.  I’m beginning to enjoy the placidity that they bring with them.  I spent March preparing for another trip to the US, and it was only when I was aboard the flight on my way, that I realized that I was returning after  just 9 months, the first time that’s happened to me.  I set it into motion on the previous trip, as a plan to celebrate Rashida’s and Rajdeep’s Big Five O,  at the Grand Canyon, little believing that it would materialize.  And when it did, I wove into it a work angle which took me back to Santa Fe (what a beautiful place!) and to the home of Martha and Ray, fellow Indians in a previous incarnation, I’m positive.

The Grand Canyon was magnificent and I am delighted I finally got there, a little over 40 years after my father did. Rajdeep was the perfect guide: she’s been there more times than she can count in the past five or six years and hoped she wouldn’t have to again for some time to come.  Raghu, how do I thank you for your willingness to drive us there and back??? Rashida for a trunkful of calories we could have well done without but savored nevertheless.  And last but not the least, Jihana, who kept us more entertained than she can imagine.

Santa Fe was as magical as it was when I left it last year, or perhaps, on second thoughts,  a little more so this time…. I stepped out of the museum premises and saw snow flakes falling gently to the ground in mid-April.  It was a special moment for me and Martha told me she wished she could have captured my physical reaction to it for me!The next morning all of Santa Fe was covered by a light blanket of snow and it was a beautiful sight. Ray took a lot of photographs with his new camera and me with mine (old one!). 

School alumni seem to be any and every place I visit and Scottsdale and Santa Fe were no exceptions: Aki Rahman, an old friend,  and Paige Grant, a very welcome new one.

The Grand Canyon was not the only new place I visited in the US this time, I finally finally finally made it to Boston as well.  Once again, school alum to thank for it: Ashok Nimgade who not only welcomed me into his home along with my 10th grade buddy, Mary Flanagan Williamson, but also hosted a reunion, cooked  a hearty breakfast for us the next day and organized our sightseeing of Boston-in-12 hours.  Mary converted it into a walking tour which we both enjoyed immensely, chatting, strolling, taking photographs, lunching on cold water lobster and clam chowder, finally visiting MIT and Harvard.  It was fabulous.

Washington DC was my final halt and it’s always great to visit with Maya, Alan and Devin. I was tired by then and enjoyed not doing very much before heading back home to the heat and grime of the summer.

Actually, my return was exceptionally well-timed: Sumana sent me an email asking me to check out the program at the India Habitat Center to verify if B K S Iyengar was truly giving a talk there.  Well, he truly was, and of course we went, with Swamiji who was here as well. For those of you who don’t know who BKS Iyengar is, big mistake, please check his website to learn why he is called the Michaelangelo of Yoga:

Looking at him that evening and listening to him, made me think back to the time 25 years ago when I had thought I would like to specialize in yoga and used to guide myself (incorrectly, I know now) through asanas with the help of his book when I was discouraged from doing so.  It was a lifetime opportunity to hear him and he invited the audience to come to the inauguration of the Yoga Center the next day.  Of course we went and Sumana and I entered the yoga hall and we got another lifetime opportunity to talk to The Master himself and I said to him, “Guruji, 25 years to late for me!” and he gave me exceptional  hope when he replied, “it’s never too late”.

Well, I’m happy to inform you all that I’m part of the Center now, started by Nivedita Joshi  who has trained under Guruji himself for a number of years. I’m in the beginners class and for those of you who know I’ve been doing yoga over the years, believe me when I say that I feel like I never did yoga before this. 

Then came the Monsoon and Mangoes! A self-explanatory time of year during which I had the occasion to go to the Northeast of India! I accompanied Savita Singh of Gandhi Smriti ( to Imphal and it was exciting to see that part of the country.  The monsoon is a great time to travel in India : it’s so beautiful and green all around.  Imphal was too and we took a long drive away from the city to just enjoy the countryside.  We flew to Kolkata and that gave me a chance to spend some time with my cousins, Sunny and Shashi , and then with Savita we drove to the Ichamati, our riverine border with Bangladesh. It was quite a trip!

This was followed by one more very special highlight of the year,  a talk and retreat by/with Thich Nhat Hanh…a blissful experience. We were blessed to have this renowned monk in our midst. Read his books! Beautiful thoughts put so simply.

Through the year, I worked on a phulkari embroidery project as income generation to help village women in an area of Punjab. Although it is currently on hold, it has been very gratifying to see the  progress the women made in their embroidery skills, and learning the traditional style of doing it. I’m slowly getting into the groove of my mother’s line of One of a Kind garments, but I don’t think I will ever be able to match her in patience! Indigo is now  a permanent part of my colorful life and I’m trying to revive the old style of chikan embroidery as well, the first samples are simply extraordinary.  As for my beloved khadi, I have begun work on the next collection and I can already see nice shapes developing for Summer 2009. “Responsible Fashion”: did I send you the article written by Meher Castelino? If not, let me know and I will forward it to you.

Now that I’m re-reading this, I realize this year has had quite a few wondrous moments so I can say farewell to it with a thumbs up in a parting shot.

I’ve concentrated on my activities and experiences and deliberately stayed away from the big events which have touched us all.  Having said that, I will end with a prayer for peace
(“Peace in Oneself, Peace in the World” Thich Nhat Hanh) and  a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: Let’s “Be the Change We Want to See in the World”.

To all of you, good health and much happiness in the New Year,


February 8 & 9, 2008

New Delhi dinner
l-r (standing) - Aloka Dalal ('74); Alka Bajaj (AES Receptionist); VJ Chandok ('76); Deepak Sen ('74); Bandana Sen (recently retired school Librarian); Uwe Bagnato (current AES High School Principal) l-r (seated) Dolly Suneja Narang ('71); Mrs Chaudhry (former AIS 3rd-grade teacher); Sunaina Suneja ('75).

February 21, 2008

This has been a very eventful fortnight!

The official reunion dates in Delhi saw more cancellations than expected so there were five of us (Dipak Sen, Aloka Dalal, Stefan Halens all '74 and VJ Chandok '76 and myself) plus Alka Bajaj on Friday February 8, and six of us (Dipak, Aloka, Dolly Suneja Narang '71, VJ, Sham Nijhawan, me and Bandana Sen, Alka Bajaj and Susheela Chaudhary) on Saturday February 9 at Dipak Sen's home. We spoke to Jacquelin Singh on the phone and Dr. Estabrook sent her album of photographs which was great.

It was a low turnout but there aren't so many alumni here in any case. We do hope that this will set the ball rolling for more regular mini reunions in delhi!

Sid and Ghafoor Wahid could not make it from Srinagar as they were snowed in but I did speak to Ghafoor a few days ago.

After this, Ted Beck, Ann Briggs and I met for lunch. Bob Bushnell, a classmate of mine, followed a few days later and we met at Brian and Loree Campbell's for dinner. Bob remains the nice guy he was back then and it was a delight to meet him again. Many thanks to Brian and Loree for making that happen.

Lisa Hubbard, '69, is currently in Delhi and I met her with my sister Dolly today and I have just come back from hearing a talk presented by our very own, Siddiq Wahid.

Doug Haney and Becky Everett are also in India right now!

We took photographs at Dipak's but we can't remember with whose camera!! We have to get used to reunions first I think!

Stay in touch!


Photograph by Sunaina Suneja Ganesha's New Vehicle
Photograph by Sunaina Suneja.
See her photo galleries.

June 29, 2006

At last I am finally putting myself to the task of writing in for our website. I continue to live in Delhi, so any alumni visiting or passing by please email and let's meet! If you need help or questions answered, get in touch.

After graduating in 1975, I went on to do my Bachelors and Masters in French (thanks to French teacher, Mr. Paul Haines) at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. I worked as a translator for a few years at the French Embassy and also did a fair amount of free lance translation work simultaneously. Left my job in December 1985 and started working with my mother who had opened a boutique in 1967 (Raj Creations, some of you may remember the fashion shows, the cheerleader uniforms, the yearbook covers…).

In brief, that has led me to work with crafts people in the villages, something I have enjoyed immensely. I have been promoting khadi fairly aggressively with presentations/exhibitions/fashion shows and in my write up, give first credit to my schoolmates at AIS/AES who patronized khadi kurtas and the "beedi pocket" shirts.

My family and I have a retail outlet in Hauz Khas Village and these particular premises since 1996, 10 years exactly this year. A great location, frequented by Delhi-wallahs, vistors from different parts of Hindustan and lots of "firangis" from all over the world . HKV is on the tourist map and why not! We even have a 14-15th century monument .

My extra-work activities have included social work, working with some associations and non-government organizations.

Incidentally, my French is better than when I graduated from University! And I am very pleased about that. I used it again in the past couple of years, working with French journalists who were doing features for known glossies in France. It was a great experience.

I loved being at the 2005 Reunion last year, my very first big reunion. I had no idea they could be so much fun; and of course, displaying my collecton there was a great incentive to travel all the way from India. When's the next one????!!!

Spending time with Mary Flanagan Williamson (Class of 1974) and connecting with classmate, Jane Baird, over the phone were my big events of the weekend.

Now that I've done my bit for the website, I am hoping I will be more successful this time in convincing my classmate to write in as well. We were always the different ones, weren't we…half the graduating class in caps and gowns, the other half in kurta pajamas (khadi??) and me in pants under my cap and gown which sent Mr. Pepperling into a raging fit…

Cheers to everyone,





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