The story starts as a fairytale. Once upon a time, a country produced enough cotton to clothe its large population, and much of the rest of the world. A tale in which emperors would go to any extent to acquire those refined, light and smooth clothes. And this fairy tale, is the story of cotton cloth in India. And a fairy tale it is, sadly, because the worldwide fame of the past has ironically turned into a leftover industry in its own land, overrun by the capital and energy demanding reign of the power looms. “The handloom is a low carbon production technology for the energy-stressed future,” textile activist Uzramma said, in the introduction of the eighth PRISM lecture of this year’s series… and yet, this industry, which employs nearly fifty million people in the country, is unrecognised, almost invisible, indebted and under-promoted today.
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.