Since its 2011 opening in Upper Kirby, Pondicheri has been one of the top Indian food spots in Houston. Between a rich restaurant menu and its Bake Lab + Shop that specializes in baked goods and items to stock your kitchen, it seems there’s nothing it doesn’t do. But Pondicheri chef and owner Anita Jaisinghani has been hiding something up her sleeve that’s been in the works since 2018, and she’s more excited than ever to finally show Houstonians.
No, it’s not a new dish or even a new restaurant. Jaisinghani has just launched a line of gorgeous hand-crafted "Queen Scarves," available on Pondicheri’s online store and at the Bake Lab + Shop. Partnering with artisans and designers in India, Jaisinghani has hand-picked her favorite Indian textiles—ranging in size, texture, pattern, and design—from her home state of Gujarat on the country’s western coast, near Pakistan, to share with Americans who’ve been largely in the dark to one of India’s oldest, most beautiful practices. “This is just such an amazing art in India that has never really hit mainstream in America, so I'm so excited to bring it out,” she says.
Jaisinghani grew up admiring and collecting Indian textiles in Gujarat, but selling a line of fashion scarves was not originally in the cards. In fact, neither was cooking. She moved to Canada in 1982 to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Alberta after getting an undergraduate degree in microbiology. In 1990 Jaisinghani moved to Houston and started cooking more regularly. She made chutney in her home and sold it in Whole Foods. After studying hotel and restaurant management at the University of Houston and serving a two-year stint at Café Annie in the late '90s, Jaisinghani opened Indika in 2001 (the Montrose eatery shuttered earlier this year) and Pondicheri in 2011.
The idea for the scarves came in 2018 when Jaisinghani noticed certain patterns and designs becoming popular in American street fashion that were similar to the Indian textiles she loves and grew up collecting. After speaking with historian and author William Dalrymple; reading his renowned novel, The Anarchy, a story shedding light on how colonialism deeply damaged India’s cultural relationship with the world; and visiting the Calico Museum of Textiles in Ahmedabad, India, Jaisinghani knew she had to bring these treasures to America—not only for people to wear and display, but also to learn from.
“The amount of wealth of knowledge there is in India is mind-boggling,” says Jaisinghani. “I feel like when you are ignorant, you hate other things. If people knew that other cultures are harmless and want to just live and be happy like everybody here does, they would not hate other cultures as much.”
Though she’s been sharing the beauty of Indian culture with Americans for more than 20 years through cuisine, Jaisinghani thinks it’s important to go further with her queen scarves line. If India’s textiles—items shedding light on a crucial portion of the country’s history and culture that many Americans know nothing about—can cause one person to want to learn more, she’ll be accomplishing her biggest goal in life: bringing people together.
“I think that as we are living in this super-divided, pretentious world, anything I can do to make people embrace other cultures is a good thing,” says Jaisinghani. “It’s really a way to bring people together, that’s all I want to ever do.”
Pieces in her line vary in price; smaller cotton scarves are $12, and larger cotton and silk variations range $40–300. So if you’re looking for a new face covering to wear during the COVID-19 pandemic, a pop of color to add to your wardrobe, a statement piece for your home, or a birthday present (Jaisinghani promises using them as gift wrapping is a life-changer), that carries a rich history, head over to Pondishop.