Namrata Kohli’s latest book ‘Culture During Crisis’
THERE WAS a book launch event of author Namrata Kohli’s latest book ‘Culture During Crisis’ at Marigold of the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi.
The occasion was graced by Chief Guest Dr Subramanian Swamy (Former Cabinet Minister, 6 time MP). The Guest of Honour was Jaya Jaitly, President and Founder at Dastkari Haat Samiti, Activist Author and Indian handicrafts curator.
The event began with lamp lighting by Dr Swamy and Ms Jaitly, even as Mannat and Naman Kohli (13 year old daughter and 17 yearr old son- children of Namrata Kohli) invoked the blessings of all three goddess Lakshmi, Saraswati, Durga with the “Sarva Mangala Mangalya” Mantra, as the giver of all fortunes who is the auspiciousness of all that is auspicious.
In her introduction to the book, Namrata Kohli first spoke about when she wrote this book. “Covid-19 pandemic was the tipping point when culture helped us during the crisis. This was the period when we got something we never had in so much abundance- time. That was a period when we were locked down and when you can’t go outside, we go inside...it was a time to deep dive into our ancient time-tested practices and traditional wisdom which stood us in good stead,” Author said.
She added, “Traditions are normally passed on from generation to generation. We were hardly following them, mainly challenging them, and rarely trying to understand the science or the logic behind them... whether it was chanting Aum, doing surya namaskar, rising up early as is part of Brahma Muhurta, having desi kadha, haldi doodh, pranayama or yoga ...the list is endless. in short, our time-tested practices and traditional wisdom helped us during the crisis. But while culture helped us during the crisis... there was enough evidence of the fact that culture itself was in crisis.”
The author said in her opening speech- “75 years ago India became independent. But are we really free... even today we are colonized in our minds... We are more western than the westerners themselves and have become indifferent to our own culture. There is nothing wrong in learning from other cultures, but not at the cost of denigrating your own. Today Indians have disinterest in everything Indian and have an obsession with everything western. 45 trillion dollars – is just the financial drain during the British Raj... but the draining away of culture, self-confidence, self-esteem has been immeasurable.” She said it’s high time that we did something about our cultural revival … as we become 75 years old, we are a mature democracy and we must work towards our culture revival.
Dr Swamy said – “I congratulate you on this book. I liked particularly some of the things you said such as how educated Indians like to talk about avocado but not amla, olive oil instead of desi ghee, guitar instead of sitar, Spanish instead of Sanskrit – you are absolutely right about capturing the attitude of the elite of India. I wouldn’t say all Indians though, because across the length and breadth of India, our ancient roots are still very very strong.”
He continued with his remarks saying – “Some of the core elements are mentioned here very clearly in the book and I would like all of us to read it. But there are a few things that I want to highlight about our culture. The first and the most important thing is the need to ascertain who we are. We are one people and the DNA of Indians has been found one from North to South, East to West. We are one race and we have no divisions such as Aryan and Dravidian. Next, we need to rewrite the correct history. Also, we should make Sanskrit a compulsory language to learn not only for the sake of past but also for the future. Forty percent of Tamil is Sanskrit, eighty percent of Bengali is Sanskrit – proportions may vary but the fact is that Sanskrit is the root language for most of our native Indian languages. Finally we have to get rid of this materialistic outlook of the west .. because ours is not a culture based on materialism as everything .. the brahmin was the poorest of all but he was in the society regarded as the highest. Even the king had to bow before him. Therefore in our society we have never placed wealth as the achievement – of course wealth is required and we were the most prosperous country for thousands of years but a synthesis of spiritual values and material prosperity is what I call the Modern Hindutva. These are some of the points on which I am working.”
Jaya Jaitly started her speech by sharing that everything that she learnt about Indian culture has actually been from my unlettered, very simple, culturally rooted karigars and the craftspeople, and that is how she says “I have learnt what the real India is..I am very strongly rooted in my Malayali culture because of my parents. I am still a proud Malayali and I think I can speak very fluent Hindi. One big thing that I learnt from the aesthetics of our craft work is that everything that we create, every ritual, every craft product, every textile has a meaning ... No art in India is meaningless, abstract or self-indulgent … It was never for yourself and nobody else- it has always been about giving your best to somebody and created more as an offering. That is why artisans never stamp their name. Branding is putting your stamp on it and saying it is mine and nobody else’s. What is copyright- it is the same thing. In our villages, craftspeople don’t talk about copyright. Whereas in our cities, its very annoying when every second corporate comes and talks to us about what about branding? “
Appreciating the book Jaya Jaitly said- “I am particularly happy to see a multi-faceted journalist like Namrata involve herself so deeply in celebrating the beautiful cultures within our country. Her book touches on crucial issues that we need to take heart. We need people with such passion!”
There are detailed conversations with torch bearers of Indian culture and tradition - the likes of Arvind Singh Mewar, 76th Custodian of the House of Mewar, Former Vice President of India M Venkaiah Naidu, designer Ritu Kumar to name just a few.
In conclusion, author Namrata Kohli said, “Exposure to other cultures is necessary. But when we become a mere imitation of Western culture, we subtract our own brand equity. Shouldn’t we strive to be the best version of ourselves. Mediocrity in imitation or excellence in original – that is the choice we have to make?”
With this epic of a book the author hopes to start the culture conversation, something which has been brushed under the carpet for a long time and reclaim the lost glory, and the uniqueness that makes India what it is.
December 13 2022