Opening the second edition of the LILA PRISM lecture series, Malaysian puppetry conservationist Eddin Khoo had reaffirmed cultures, history and memory as the subversive forces to political shortsightedness. In this second event, ecology activist Vandana Shiva forwarded the confirmation of cultures as the main force of continuity. In fact, Vandana Shiva’s response was but inevitable: it is only in the last four centuries that the word ‘culture’ shied away from its initial meaning – cultivation, growing soils – to the establishment of a cardinal metaphor: human culture as the cultivation of the mind, of manners, of practices. Not only could humanity sprout through agricultural innovations, but the very elaboration of cultures, traditions, customs also followed the paradigm of nature. And at the heart of culture, of cultivation, is food. Food is life. In Sanskrit, Pran means rice, and life.
Dr. Kanika Batra’s lecture on ‘Theatre and Right to Food Staples in India’ gave our series a definitive cultural turn. It lucidly merged the question of cultural representation into the sociological, mediational and economic concerns raised by the previous PRISM lectures about the inclusivity of our growth processes. Evoking the plays of Premchand, the productions of Jana Natya Manch in the 80’s, and the works of Arjun Appadurai and Jayati Ghosh, Dr Batra asked why theatre and other cultural sites no longer consider ‘hunger’ a relevant theme of our times. Have we surpassed our hunger pangs? Where has hunger disappeared? Or has there been a systematic attempt to expel the hungry from our nation? Dr. Purabi Panwar chaired the lecture, and the Q&A hour raisedt very important questions and observations.