15 June, 2021

We Are Cut From This Fabric

The trading economy of Indian cotton and its colonial destruction are described well in this journey. It’s in its recent miles that there are gaps.

We Are Cut From This Fabric

Meena Menon and Uzramma’s book, A Frayed History: The Journey of Cotton in India is important, if for no other reason than for it being a welcome departure from the almost religious belief that Indian agriculture is basically rice and wheat, both monsoon related crops. Also the belief that agriculture is a function of river-fed alluvial soils of the Indus, the Ganga-Jamuna and Padma basins. That there is an agricultural world in the coastal regions of India, on the other side of the Ghats in the black cotton soils of Madhya Bharat, and then the Deccan, is simply not there in popular consciousness. But I have to say at the outset that the history the authors go on to portray is frayed in more senses than the authors intend.

The cotton they talk about goes back to Marco Polo, who discovered a tree crop in Gujarat, and from then on India is the largest producer of the fibre in the world. The authors are great storytellers and one is never quite clear when they move over effortlessly from documented facts into documented fable. They are at their best when...

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