Beneath the Indian Ocean

Jun 05, 2014, 10:54 IST | Kanika Sharma

Author Martha Chaiklin shares how the trade of stingray skins, tortoise shells and ivory in this ocean affects our world

It is common news that trade built the modernist and globalised world we live in. What is highly unknown is that there was a time when “the mummy (which was used for medicine), dragons blood (a mineral also used for medicine) and unicorn which was actually the horn of the narwhal” travelled halfway around the world in Martha Chaiklin’s words. An American Institute of Indian Studies Fellow, Chaiklin will speak of incredible goods such as these at a city venue, tomorrow.

Kushi (Comb), by Utamaro Kitagawa, 1753-1806. Print, woodcut, colour. Library of Congress

Author of Cultural Commerce and Dutch Commercial Culture, Chaiklin shares, “My upcoming talk is on the impact of trade on the material culture of Asia, especially Japan. What I mean by this is that with the expanded networks and volume that the trading companies brought to Asian trade, the things people surrounded themselves changed considerably.”  Japan will be the prime focus of her talk as it had a tremendous shift from its traditional way of living to a modern one, as Chaiklin exemplifies, “For example, hair styles changed to the chignon that we are now familiar with and the ornaments were primarily made of imported materials. Things like tobacco also got spread.”

An intricately crafted ivory box that had multiple purposes in various cultures at that time
An intricately crafted ivory box that had multiple purposes in various cultures at that time

Piqued about what mysterious objects the Indian annals contain, Chaiklin fills us in, “Exotic goods from India included silk, pearls, spices, sandalwood, lac and benzoin. I will talk a bit about silk and sandalwood, and especially stingray skins and tortoiseshell, as well as ivory as this is what I am researching now.” Chaiklin says that there are still precious elements traded that go beyond oil and diamonds.  She spells it out, “Rare earth elements are rare metals used in making computers and phones that are sourced from China.” The East-West dynamics might have changed, but Chaiklin promises an illustrating talk on how miscellaneous objects determined cultures across the globe.

On: Today, 7 pm to 8.30 pm
At: ARTISANS’, 52-56, Dr VB Gandhi Marg, Kala Ghoda.
Call: 22673040

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