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The Last Trustee Of Indigo Essay

1035 words - 5 pages

I often work as a historian of science, an ethnographer of social battles, seeking to capture the story of an age. I sometimes play storyteller, but often I am a mere munshi, a recorder of movements, who keeps their archives, their memories, alive. The other day, a friend of mine told me in the middle of a lecture on weaving, “Yellappa died.” The announcement was so matter-of-fact that it took my breath away. In the world of indigo dyes, Yellappa was a master craftsman, the last of the great dyers. It was as if a Picasso or Mozart had died. A genius dies in India and the news is met with silence. For me, as an anthropologist who is perpetually writing on the history of loss and erasure, it ...view middle of the document...

The dyer had invited Yellappa to come to NID and set up a vat, paying him a professor’s salary. Yet Yellappa was unhappy. He felt no one really wanted to learn and that his colours were being insulted. He left NID and worked as a paid labourer in a chemical dye house. Yellappa was secretive about his skill and suspicious of outsiders. He was a scrupulous trustee, contemptuous of dabblers. He cropped up again literally when Uzramma, head of Dastakar Andhra, persuaded Guruppa Chetty, a kalamkari artisan, to bring him back. Uzramma could be persuasive in a way NID could never be. She knew that her group of weavers were different. Uzramma realised that for indigo to be authentic, one had to have the right soul, the right soil, the right climate, but also the right people to listen, hear, and tune in. As Yellappa complained, “his indigo, was a delicate child: treat her harshly and she withdraws and swoons.” A colour has to be enticed to be redeemed.

Colour, any colour, contains the hues of dedication and sacrifice. Craft in that sense is a ritual of understanding. Yellappa was the last trustee of indigo as an indigenous form of knowledge.

Uzramma enticed Yellappa to teach the weavers of Chinnur. Chinnur was more to Yellappa’s liking. It was a community of weavers, friends, and collaboration was not in an antiseptic professional institution. The weavers invited him to set up his vats, his large pots, in the village.

But things were not easy. Nothing suited Yellappa in the beginning. He grumbled about food, the water, the charpoy that wouldn’t fit him. Yet the villagers played to his every whim. Yellappa’s very intransigence was a part of the initiation rituals of indigo. Redeeming a colour was redeeming its rituals of memory, its practices, its craft and toil.

There were technical problems as the vats were set up. The local...

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