Traditional forms of knowledge are not given due respect: Rustom Bharucha4 min read
Manipal: Rustom Bharucha is one of India’s foremost writers, directors and culture critics. He is the author of highly valued books like the Politics of Cultural Practice and Rajasthan: An Oral History, where he interviews Indian folklorist Komal Kothari, among others. He founded Arna-Jharna, a unique desert museum of brooms in Rajasthan.
Bharucha was in Manipal on March 20 at Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities (MCPH) where a documentary called ‘Broom Stories’, directed by Navroze Contractor, was screened. The documentary intertwines the making and usage of seemingly inoccuous everyday brooms with their unexpected place in the Rajasthani social heirarchy.
This was followed by a dialogue with Bharucha, who worked on the concept and script of the film. The film looks at both rural and urban Rajasthani society from the eyes of the humble broom.
TMJ had a chance to speak with him right after the screening. Here are the excerpts from the interview:
As a critic of culture, do you think culture and development are looked at with two different lenses in India?
I think they are looked at with multiple lenses. On the one hand, development is seen in a very metropolitan priority with corporate interests, etc. But there are other kinds of development which are more related to sustainability, grassroots community and to traditional knowledge. I am not saying we don’t need modern technology which could supplement these traditions but these traditional systems have their own sustainability. Sometimes I think in the name of development, all these traditional forms of knowledge are not given due respect and that is a very narrow way of development.
The idea of making a film on the broom appears to be abstract. Why did you decide to pick up such an inanimate thing?
I don’t think the idea was abstract. The broom is probably one of the most concrete things you can possibly imagine. A broom is very ordinary and basic and there is nothing abstract about a jhaadu. It has the potential to keep the world clean, order your space and we all need this kind of a cleaning device. So it’s not abstract to me. But it can be read in very abstract ways and that’s what makes it fascinating. Because in certain parts of Rajasthan, the broom can also be worshipped as goddess Lakshmi. So, it takes on an abstraction at that level. But it never loses its concreteness, everydayness and its materiality. This film has come out from the museum work for Arna-Jharna – The Desert Museum of Rajasthan. So, it is very grounded in the Rajasthani context and there is a lot of research that went in to this.
In the film, it seemed like the broom was just an excuse, using which you have tried to take a swipe at the social and political problems of the country, particularly the way caste-identitites are dominant in Rajasthan…
The Broom is not divisive alone. The broom is a bundle of contradictions. If it divides, it also brings people together. If people consider it dirty, it’s also capable of cleaning dirt. If it is associated with the lowest of the low, it is also associated with Goddess Lakshmi. If you see the larger span of contradictions, then the broom really takes on to be of a great significance. It is neither this nor that. It’s both. And that’s what makes it a complex phenomenon.
Do brooms find a mention in the folklore of Rajasthan?
Brooms very much find mention in these folklores but in very different ways. It appears in the epics, songs and in many other diverse ways. But more important is the fact that the broom is integrated into our everyday lives and that’s why it is very important. We are in Twenty-first century and we still use a broom. This is one of the biggest industries in India. Even though it’s such a humble object, there are millions of brooms that are produced for national consumption and people can’t imagine a life without broom. And it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor. Broom provides a certain kind of order.
Sub-edited by: Garima Goel