New, new culturatti: Membership now open


New, new culturatti: Membership now open

Khadi India recently launched Vichar Vastra, a line of designer khadi garments by Ritu Beri. An advertisement released by the Khadi and Village Industries Commission this week features a mix of culturally conscious people—NITI Aayog chief executive Amitabh Kant, television journalist Rajat Sharma, cricketer Virender Sehwag, lawmakers Meenakshi Lekhi, Shashi Tharoor and Jay Panda, designer Rina Dhaka, and heart surgeon Naresh Trehan and his wife, author and journalist Madhu Trehan. They wear kurtas with the same collar design but in different colours. The collarbone of this ad though is this sentence: “Every Indian must show solidarity and own a Vichar Vastra.” It trails a message from the Prime Minister who quotes Mahatma Gandhi in Hindi.

These influencers (all connected to Delhi, perhaps not coincidentally) must now convince “every Indian” to show solidarity with khadi, deconstructed as a vichar vastra, a philosophical garment. A Tollywood dancer, an organic farmer from Sikkim or a vada paav seller from Pune in khadi kurtas obviously don’t fit the bill. As the emerging wisdom behind such marketing suggests, cultural heft, even when it is about a grass-roots concept, must flow from the well-known to the ordinary, or from Delhi to Vizag. The real charkha-wadis may be spinners in their village verandas but those who sell what they make must be owner-managers of a culturally smart image. Who belong to India’s culturatti. That’s the point.

The culturatti is a swelling tide, a scattered posse but with effective soft weapons. It ignites cultural consciousness with the (renewed) crackle of being Indian. Some call it contemporary nationalism or loyalty to a promising economy. For others it is a makeover dusted with pro-government ideas. It is all of these; a club with culturally smart toolkits, wearables, variables, tag lines and people. Now only if it came together to fight for a kingdom.

Those were not the words used at a brainstorming session held last week at Delhi’s Asian Heritage Foundation (AHF), organized by design expert Rajeev Sethi. But much of what was discussed among some prominent stakeholders from creative and cultural industries in the presence of textiles minister Smriti Irani amounted to that.

There is an urgent, dire need to identify a working group of credible, committed movers and shakers, with political and social heft, some young, others experienced, some with digital savvy, others just happy partygoers. This is where you ask: which party?

It is a much-needed consortium to rewire and structure what the government, NITI Aayog, ministry of textiles and a dozen ministries need to work collectively on. Ministries that govern subjects as varied as forest rights of tribals conversant with indigenous arts to architects of cultural tourism; from MGNREGA to Rozgar Yojnas or—to borrow from the draft agenda of this above-mentioned session—“formulate the technical codes with cultural inputs for existing programs such as Skilling India, Make in India, Digital India, Smart cities program…”

One of the many points up for discussion at AHF put it like this: “Set up an Inter-ministerial Task Force or National Mission for CCI chaired by the Prime Minister synergizing overlapping agendas and setting precedents with cross-sectoral pilot programmes to streamline operations and resource allocation.” Sounds overwhelming?

It is. Food, foodgrain, tribal, urban and performance arts, textiles and handlooms, cultural management and design education, street entertainers, folk singers and creative vendors, sacred groves, museums, vigilance systems like Craftmark, Khadi Mark, Rugmark, Handloom Mark. These are just a few existing aspects of what AHF calls “self-organised industries”. They need everything from labour laws and fair trade practices to academic and innovation knowledge, e-commerce platforms and non-governmental interfaces to plough on and remain alive.

Membership is now open to the new, new culturatti but only willing trumpeters of India’s fraying cultural legacies should enlist. People who can do everything possible to ramp-up their cultural cause—explore, innovate, show, show off, resuscitate, fight for, and fend for. Wear your khadi kurta, eat satvik bhojan, call a tribal drummer for your daughter’s birthday party, study the creative dexterity of musical instruments like the bamboo flute or the veena (the plucked string instrument whose soundbox is a hollowed out pumpkin), make a film on a craft or find out more about the Street Vendors Act of 2014. Understand the interconnectedness of this cultural tapestry.

For starters, I intend to write to Baba Ramdev. A perseverant (if cleverly unlisted) member of the new culturatti, he must himself model for the swadeshi jeans his company Patanjali is in the process of manufacturing. For the sake of our cultural genes.