This week gave back unexpected perspective on what it's all about. First, I went to a photo exhibition by a well-travelled Thai gentleman with an Italian wife. He made me think of all the people we know at home who are 'international' and 'cosmopolitan', yet strongly rooted in their culture.
His exhibition, called 'Farewell to the Sarong', celebrated Asian traditional dress like the lehnga, sarong, and SE Asian tunic-pajamas, mourning that so many worthwhile concepts were vanishing. As invited to, many guests came dressed in sarongs, men and women, European and Asian.
I saw prints and weaves, a palette of pastels, earth colours and jewel tones, choice textiles from Thailand, India, Myanmar, Laos and Indonesia. I don't know when I've been to such a chic traditional-dress party outside Indian circles.
Asked by Thai PBS (their Doordarshan) which photo I liked best, I pointed to one of a girl in a purple sarong, cycling with elan as a big truck rushed past her. It suggested 'positively active tradition' to me.
On the way out, I listened to a famous Thai architect speak of the mandala-nature of Leonardo da Vinci's famous drawing of the man in the circle, embodying the grid of existence. He had applied the concept to building a hospital wing so that even if electricity went off, there would be ventilation.
I went on to an illustrated talk at the venerable Siam Society by Indian scholar Sanjay Dhar, on the conservation-restoration of Buddhist murals in Ladakh. What patient, exacting work and how satisfying it was to see brilliant Avalokiteswaras emerge anew from water-blurred walls.
The day's lucky dip had more in store. After the talk I found myself tucking into excellent pasta in a cosy side-street with American textile scholars, museum people with awesome credentials. Their passion and commitment, universal outlook, solid scholarship and deep appreciation of others' work and traditions were healing and restorative.
They talked about a big international conference they had just attended on the politics of textiles and I listened hard, given the strategy and ideals once invested in khadi. My take-home thought was that Project India goes on.
There are still sincere, hardworking people living through positive action, to inspire us in our individual and collective struggle. Our present agony seems like those time-defaced murals in Ladakh. With method and will, our ideals will emerge again, for neither outlines nor concepts have blurred in many Indian hearts and heads.
Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture