A (highly probable) future fiction about art and craft and “what are we doing?!!”

The nothingness of the silence consumed her. She sat on the porch steps and allowed it to; chin tilted to the skies she inhaled the crisp sunrise into her skin. Through closed eyes she heard the trees chirp and the lawn shiver, and hugged herself tight, “I love you Ammu!”

A door rustled open behind her bringing a familiar warm scent to her senses. Mum joined Tulsi on the cold local stone smoothened with decades of wear, and gently clasped her daughter’s palm in hers. Both women had much to feel and nothing to say.

“The heavens’ve gained a diva, no?” Tulsi grinned to herself. “They must idolize her … ,'' she let her words trail into a whisper. Mum smiled and looked at her daughter. Twilight revealed a face of many emotions - they were blurry, and the eyes were wet. “She left this for you, honey,” Mum spoke to Tulsi’s damp dark eyes and released her hold on her daughter’s hands. She left Tulsi to her thoughts of her Ammu.

As light seeped into the village of Guledagudda, the 38 year old business analyst from Sydney pulled away from her nowhereness and looked at what lay nestled in her palm: a three inch long hexagonal cylinder of bright stainless steel. Every facet was perfectly perforated with cryptographic pockmarks. A sharp ‘V’ was engraved on its base; Tulsi’s eyes widened as she recognized the avant-garde mark of The Vault.


The Vault, or The Museum of Cultural History (MoCH), is a “custodian of hand-made works that are the last of their kind - never again would or could these art pieces ever be made.” (The Art Digest). The museum is an imposing hyperboloid structure of raw concrete, steel plates, and glass, erected in the fashionable art district of Vienna. Artists and artisans get immortalized within its impressive grey and steel walls in protective metallic glass cases. The Vault prides itself on its collection: art skills that are verified “extinct”. Curation is a stringent process: a work is funneled through seven stages before it is approved to be tagged with its unique non-fungible “treasure code”. Although the museum gates willingly welcome visitors (with a decent entry fee, but free for students), there is a silent air of aristocracy that intimidates casual walk-ins.

Tulsi had never visited The Vault, but she was in absolute awe of what it was and what it represented. Her first wonder was at the audacity of a futuristic structure to safeguard traditional cultures. New-born critics who had little or nothing to do with design aesthetics had pooh-poohed the blatant irony when the establishment first opened its heavy duty steel doors in 1980. But Tulsi intuitively identified with the creative core in both.

Her other connection with the art and craft memorial was a Khana weave sari in their collection. It would’ve been her wedding sari; Ammu had spent months of love, and weak eyes weaving those yards for her granddaughter. There never was one like it, and there never would be. Which is how it came to be one of the museum’s treasures.

Tulsi rolled the stub of steel in her palm. A ‘K1211’ was inscribed on it: the identification code on Ammu's sari. The stub was the key to its glass case.

A pink envelope embossed with a flower motif in gold foil, lay on the stone beside Tulsi. It was of the kind used to gift money at weddings and birthdays and carried a Hindu symbol Aum. It looked locally made. The envelope was addressed to “Darling Tuli” in Kannada (local dialect of Karnataka) in Ammu’s beautiful handwritten script.

The letter was written on school notebook paper and carried a square piece of parrot green Khana folded into a triangle. Her smile warmed as she read what Ammu had to say -

(Translated into English.)

My darling child,

I return your sari to you my love, you are its rightful owner. Let this letter be my testament to the sari's rightful ownership should you encounter any difficulties. I don’t think you would, the museum people are good people.

Don’t be upset.

You know that Khana will die with me, don't you? Don’t let this sari die too. You wished to immortalize the weave, immortalize me, when you asked me to preserve your sari in a gilded cage and have attendants fuss over it. Understand my child, the sari never did need life support when it could breathe. It is not a lifeless object of display, you make it so when you shut it up, and it has been shut up for ten years. Your sari has soul. It is alive. It is Khana. It is me. Make it live. It wants to, through you Tuli, it was always yours and always will be. Wear it.

If you understand what I am saying here, you will be able to do more than just wear it. Much more.

Always remember my child, Save the art first, Sustain it, teach it how to, so it Survives, and it flourishes on its own.

Don’t take my words as a dying desire I wish to see come true. It is an old woman’s emotion, so don’t let it manipulate you. This will be an uphill trudge if you see Khana the way I do. The key is already with you.

My blessings are always with you my child, I love you.

Your Ammu


Tulsi scrunched the letter and kissed the skies.


The village was awake now. Cow bells clanked, cartwheels rolled and footsteps walked the street beyond Ammu’s gate. How beautiful are these rustic sounds!

Tulsi recalled the time when The Vault had approached Ammu for a sari she had woven for her granddaughter’s sometime-in-the-future wedding day.

Ammu had refused.

Tulsi had flown down to convince the matriarch of the naivety of her decision: “Imagine, Ammu! The entire world will see your beautiful work! You are putting Guledagudda and its Khana on the global map!” Ammu’s eyes had sparkled. The business analyst had almost persuaded her reluctant grandmother. “You can always weave another one for me!” That sparkle had instantly faded. “The museum will keep it for you. Really well. Trust me Ammu, they know how, this is what they do,” Tulsi wouldn't give up.

A week later, a museum representative had arrived in Guledagudda with two assistants. Ammu had brought out the six yards of sacred red and marigold yellow wrapped in gauzy muslin. The shimmer of orange in the intersecting colors and the sari’s intricate motifs had stunned the team from Vienna. Tulsi too. “This is the Tulsi,” Ammu had pointed to the tiny yellow motifs in silk. “Tulsi is our holy plant ... Tulsi is also my granddaughter.”

That memory had imprinted itself deep within Tulsi, emotions spilt forth undiluted: Tulsi had stood rooted, every cell in her body had poured love and humility into her eyes. How they had flowed down her face and she had let them! How she had held her Ammu tight for long, very long ...

The team had painstakingly studied the Khana sari for a few hours, delicately turning it over with pristine white gloved hands. Ammu was fascinated by the respect they examined her work with and aloud she voiced her trust in them. The weave artist was in her proudest element, effusively sharing her weave world with her guests. This was a new Ammu! Why wouldn't she be? Nobody had ever talked Khana or Guledagudda with her before. Mum and Tulsi never did. Over three days of Ammu’s famous dosais (Indian pancakes), and sambhar (curry), and the traditional filter coffee of southern India, Sophie, Benedict, and Varun had gained much from the last surviving custodian of the Khana weave.

Ammu took that art with her yesterday. Guledagudda Khana will never be woven …


Guledagudda was Khana. Khana was Guledagudda, its people, its culture.

The south Indian village was a cluster of weavers; their craft had first flourished under the patronage of the Chalukya dynasty of 8th century A.D.

20th century industrialization had crippled this weaving culture, it had squeezed the Khana artisan dry. Power looms had brought mediocrity and cheaper prices, shamelessly swallowing the handloom market share. Perceiving a hopeless future for their children, most grown-ups did not encourage the inheritance of their weaving skills. They pushed the next generation to the Big City for education and vocations in other industries, themselves remaining in the village to sustain the weave till it was impossible to. That time came soon. The children brought their parents to those big cities.

Ammu and Ajja had sent Mum to Mumbai where she received a Bachelors of Education degree. Mum met Dada at an arranged meet when he was a Software Engineering intern. They moved to Bangalore as a married couple, and when they both had secured jobs, they tried coaxing Ammu and Ajja to move in with them.

A few hundred elders, like Tulsi’s grandparents, stayed behind in their Guledagudda.

Enterprising youngsters from big cities sustained the village by endorsing Guledagudda Khana on their websites. These were inconsistent orders and exhibitions, just enough to get by. The village was content.

Over decades, the weaving community lost their only wooden lattice maker, lost all their dyers (Nagesh Ajja survives at 82 years of age), and lost many eyesights. Tulsi’s Ajja had died twenty years ago.


Tulsi looked at the six inch square piece of Khana and smoothed the crumpled letter. It smelled of Ammu’s jasmine oil, something she missed on her first read. The sun was up, and she had work to do. Mum and Dada were in the sitting room drinking kaapi (coffee).

“Coffee, darling?”

Tulsi fetched her Mac Air, its silver hood plastered with stickers of her doodles, skated over some keys, and registered for a new blog site. “Name of Website,” the caption prompted plainly. The girl took a long pause and a sip of Ammu’s filter coffee. She held the stainless steel stub in a fist and typed …


* * *


The purpose of this fiction is to question, will we “adjust” ourselves to recognize the mastery in human-made works? Do we want to?

Disclaimer: The people, places and incidents narrated here are imagined by me. They bear no resemblance to anyone, anyplace or occurrence. If they do, it is unintended and coincidental.

This is not a promotional write. There has been no exchange: monetary or in kind.

Note to the Reader: While the disclaimer above announces the story as fictional, the Khana weave, its culture, and the village of Guledagudda are very real. Guledagudda is a small village of Khana weavers in the Bagalkot district of north Karnataka, a state in southern India. Hand crafted Khana was, and still is, threatened into obscurity by cheap and fast production processes of power loom Khana. It is infuriating to see the handloom sector adopt industrial Khana as its own. Even more infuriating is the fact that I can see why: the hand loom industry cannot sustain itself with smaller, and costlier outputs. What is the way out? A weaver should be compensated for basic life necessities in the least which go beyond two square meals a day for them and their family: water, electricity, cooking gas, education funds and medical funds. I do not suggest fundings here, I am looking for a solution Khana itself can sustain its weaver.

Credits: I make a special mention here of Ramesh and his wife, who are working towards achieving that status for the weaver community through their initiative Khana Weaves. Honestly, their determination and struggle makes me question my excuses of "not-possible".

I want to thank Mallika Patki for taking me inside the homes of Khana weavers, sharing their culture, and the weave with me through conversations of her experiences at Guledagudda. Mallika is a design student at NID (National Institute of Design) and guides, and helps Ramesh take Khana beyond familiar markets - physical and digital.

Save Sustain Survive is my search for authentic Art and Artisans.


Skills, they are a human thing.

Take care!

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