How did people many, many, many years ago have clothes that were red, orange, purple, pink...? Where did colour come from?
If you, like Muriel Kakani, are fascinated by the world of colours, Tulika's latest offering - The Mystery of Blue is for you! Muriel is a Belgian settled in India for the last 17 years. During this time, she has travelled to almost every corner of the country, imbibing information about India's culture and ecological traditions. Read on and discover what makes this travel-happy writer tick!
The Mystery of Blue combines fact and fiction and has the quality of myth to it. What inspired you to write such a tale?
A few years back, I happened to read an article by Jasleen Dhamija in Amruth magazine. The article described some of India's amazing skills and expertise in producing vegetable dyes. Unfortunately, most of these dyeing traditions are on the verge of extinction as chemical dyes are cheaper and less time consuming. I felt very sorry about that not only because India's rivers are getting polluted due to chemical dyes but also because one of India's most fascinating and brilliant examples of traditional knowledge is disappearing.
In the last few years, there has been lots of talk about India shining… India is proud of its 5000 years of civilization… But very few kids know what India really contributed to the world in those 5000 years. One has to see the amazing collection of textiles presented in the Calico Museum in Ahmedabad to understand why in the mind of Europeans India was seen as a fabled land!! As early as 200 BC, Roman ships set sail every year from Egypt to dock at ports on the Southwest coast of India to acquire cotton and indigo. So much gold was spent in this trade that Roman senators complained about the drain of wealth from Roman treasuries to India.
That is how I decided to make a story about indigo, India's most famous dye… The dye that made India so rich and so fabulous!! I thought that, may be, more than BPOs and IT industries, reviving (preserving) such ecological traditions would make India shine once again. I felt like doing my bit towards that through a story.
Which is your favourite colour and why?
I have no favourite colours. I like all colours. I have always liked India for her vivid and brilliant colours especially since I come from a country where there are rules about colours and where people have a preference for dark and dull tones.
How did you do the research for the story? Was it difficult to balance the facts with the fiction?
I did all my research for the story online. I didn't have a chance to visit Ilkal though some 10-12 yeas back, while on a tour around India, I had visited the Chalukya temples of Badami, Pattatkal and Aihole. So I had a fair idea about the region.
Balancing facts with fiction is a continuous effort especially that my goal wasn't just to tell a fascinating tale but to share with kids all I had learnt on the subject. There is a definite temptation to always add one more piece of fascinating information!!
You've lived in India for the last 17 years. What brought you here and what made you stay on?
From a very small age, I have been fascinated by faraway lands. My friends from nursery school onwards were always children with brown skin. My favourite doll was a little brown doll I had named Tumai after the hero of a TV serial for kids based on Rudyard Kipling's Elephant Boy.
Then when I was 14 years old, I saw that Oscar winning movie of Richard Attenborough's- Gandhi- and that is when I decided that one day I would settle in India.
I made my first trip to India in 1989 as a student. I had come to do field work in a NGO, Maharashtra Prabodhan Seva Mandal (Centre of Holistic Studies) founded by the late Winin Pereira, eminent Indian ecologist. That was when I had an introduction to India's ecological traditions.
Why do you believe that Indians were the world's first environmentalists?
India's religions and cultures have always emphasized environmental protection and harmonious living with nature. The Vedas, several millennia old, are composed of hymns that show the great respect and reverence for nature that Vedic people had. The Rig Veda represents the greatest homage ever rendered to the environment.
How do you think children can be encouraged to think green?
If we want future generations to preserve nature, we need to give them the chance to appreciate it first. True caring for the environment will come when people love the world as their own-self. Love and empathic feelings are the greatest stimulant to the will, not knowledge. Feelings are more important than facts when talking about saving the Earth, preserving the environment and ecology.
If we want children to develop love and concern for the environment, we need to invigorate ecology with emotions because only emotions that affect the heart can bring a change of attitudes.
One of the best ways to create these attachments and instill ecological values and ethics is to tell stories that impart pro-environmental emotions.
Here's a grinning Muriel with her friend and neighbour, Sona Bai.