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Lotika Vardarajan's vision

Lotika Vardarajans vision

Lotika Varadarajan, the historian, international textile authority, inspirational teacher and an intrepid traveller, passed away last year. The IIC commemorates her in an exhibition of 50 photographs that celebrate waterways and the role of humanity. She is remembered as an iconoclast who had a love for tradition, for textiles and stood apart for being a blend of tradition and modernity in a nation that blindly apes the West.

Indian Ocean studies

Dr Lotika Varadarajan has been instrumental in opening the Indian Ocean studies to anthropology and to the unwritten world of shipbuilding and sailing technology. Over the last four decades, Indian Ocean studies developed as a major field of study in social sciences as well as in the writing of global history. Yet, sailing and ship building in South Asia eluded a narrative relying mainly on the archives of the written world. Her sea-basin approach also restored the connection between Indian and the Pacific Ocean. This lifetime engagement of an exceptional scholar allows us today to consider a roadmap towards reconnecting India and its waterways.

Celebrating the seas

The fifty photographs of the exhibition from Gujrat to Bengal, and Andaman and Nicobar islands and Lakshwadweep were taken by Dr Lotika Varadarajan in the period 1979 to 2010. They provide a glimpse of the seagoing lives of Indian coastal communities from the pre-2004 tsunami era. The exhibition covers traditions, practices, and cultures of boatbuilding and navigation from littoral India and the islands that is yet to recover itself in a substantial manner.

One cannot forget in the year 2005. When she gave an illustrated lecture on "Embroideries - Portugal India'' to a jam-packed hall at the IIC in Delhi. Dressed in a graceful cotton Kantha sari she regaled audiences about the call of the sea and Portugal's rich heritage. Recreating the cultural context that shaped Portuguese sensibility in visual terms was "Embroideries – Portugal India: 16th Century Synthesis to Contemporary Globalisation'' that provided a peek into value added by the Portuguese to the Indian textile industry. With embroidered works being very popular with the Portuguese, they tried to tap the rich reservoir by developing items that could be used as gifts.

These photographs celebrate the seas, as they present to us the call to the sea and its many stories that unwind in quiet and serene splendour. These images stand as a remembrance of her love for travels and thirst for knowledge. With the Centre for Community Knowledge at the Ambedkar University, Delhi, she had planned two conferences for 2018: On 'Maritime Traditions of the Indian and Pacific Oceans — Inter-Connections in Pre-Colonial times' and on the 'interactions between Northeast India and Southeast Asia'. This suite of photographs is a tribute to her brilliance and an apt epitaph for a hard working persevering historian who believed in going down to roots. Her words wring through loud and clear: "To sacrifice craft traditions at the altar of modernity is tantamount to adding yet another dimension to the poverty of the mind."

The show runs till October 15, 2018.

Uma Nair

Uma Nair

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