In their book, A Frayed History – The Journey of Cotton in India, Meena Menon and Uzramma insightfully throw light on history of cotton cultivation in India, scrutinising its illustrious origins, its troubled colonial heritage and the series of happenings that led to its current crisis. In the middle of this bleak scenario, the authors mange to point out a silver lining describing how reviving indigenous cotton and the handloom industry has led to its boom.
Meena Menon has been a journalist since 1984 and was formerly associated with The Hindu. She has written extensively on socio-political issues including environment, development, and politics.This log carries the history of cotton, its cultivation practices, the increased rate of hybridisation and their consequences on the increasing distress of cotton growing farmers and weavers in India. It entails the developing trends of how cotton has been perceived and used simultaneously exploring the loss of local varieties of cotton and cotton-weaving traditions. The authors explain in depth to prove how cotton growing, and weaving is in no way isolated from the forces of rapid economic globalization, and underline the negligence faced by the agricultural sector from the governmental authorities in the last few decades. Moreover, they argue how post economic liberalization of the 1990s, Indian cotton farmers became part of an unequal global economy, and how the past and present look like for people engaged in economic activities hinged on this ancient fabric in India.
Conclusively, the book leaves its readers with some pertinent questions on the future of the fabric and its ever-changing use. With the advent of the 20th century, India became one of the largest markets for English cottons with the East India Company flooding the market with its cheap, machine-made imitations of Indian fabrics.India being the largest producer of cotton, it is disheartening to learn that Indian farmers are trapped in debt, and thousands resort to committing suicide. Handloom weavers, once proud standard-bearers of the country’s artisanal heritage, are barely able to scrape together a living. This is an important book not just for lovers of cotton, but anyone concerned with the struggles of Indian agriculture in a brutal, fast-changing globally dominant market. The authors have commendably highlighted the existent yet ignored conditions of the cotton peasants putting up an effort everyday to put together a living.