‘Weaving is a living tradition that helps us stay connected’ - Meenakshi Shivram, Sahitya Akademi Awardee

"Weaving as an art form is a living tradition. It helps us stay connected to our past. Just as Egypt is proud of its ancient craft of paper-making, we in India too must showcase and amplify the work of our weavers ..."

Meenakshi Shivram, Sahitya Akademi Awardee 

 ‘Weaving is a living tradition that helps us stay connected’ 

Sahitya Akademi translation award winner Dr. Meenakshi Shivram was formerly on the faculty with the Department of English, Christ University, Bangalore. She is now Chief Mentor, Centre for Academic and Professional Support, Christ University, and Chairperson, Seniors for Change (NGO).

Meenakshi’s visit to Madhurya –

One, she as a writer had put out a wonderful review of Bhanumathy Narasimhan’s book ‘Sita – a tale of ancient love’ in The Hindu and she was also part of the ‘Ashram Book Launch’ at the Art of Living. And driven by her natural love for simple clothing, appreciative of handloom, she was magnetically pulled towards visiting Madhurya’s offline store at the Ashram. “I am aware that Madhurya looks beyond fashion to extend itself to the cause of handloom by supporting weavers and artisans throughout India even as they keep in circulation some exceptional weaves that are said to be fading away. That’s why my contribution towards some buys at Madhurya feels meaningful,” says Meenakshi whose shopping was not just restricted to saris or readymade dresses, but bedspreads and handicrafts too.

 Meenakshi is also the co-editor of ‘Locktales’ a book brainstormed by the Department of English and Cultural Studies, Christ University where 26 teachers contributed to the collective in response to the lockdown-saga imposed during the pandemic. The department brought in a range of personal narratives with poems, memoirs, short stories, musings and celebratory pieces, in the backdrop of the global adversity.


Meenakshi’s persona is multi-faceted. “For as long as I can remember, I have been a social worker,” she says. She has been associated with the National Association for the Blind; with Kaivalya Education Foundation; and is now the Chairperson of an NGO, Seniors for Change, Bangalore. “As part of this NGO, we focus on improving literacy levels of underprivileged school and college students, we offer merit scholarships, we provide infrastructural support to government schools and we also support a Home for the Destitute,” she says. 

Meenakshi’s pride, her Sahitya Akademi Award was for her translated fiction Topi Shukla from Hindi into English in 2008 - written by Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza - the writer known for his dialogues of the very popular television serial Mahabharata, produced by B R Chopra.

Meenakshi was born in Perumbavoor in Kerala and grew up mostly in Mumbai. She has an M.A., M.Phil, and Ph.D in English Literature. She taught literature to undergraduate and postgraduate students at Mumbai University, Madras University and at Christ University, Bangalore. “The only thing that I can do without ever getting tired is read books - especially fiction. Literature can be a starting point for a study of Psychology and Philosophy. I have been trained as an executive coach and I focus on communication skills.  While I am fascinated by stories from around the world, in the last three decades I have focussed on Indian writings and am a student now of the Philosophies of the world,” says Meenakshi. 

Meenakshi’s husband Shivram is a retired senior executive from the Pharma industry. “Both of us have supported each other in our individual likes - he loves cricket and follows the stock market; I love literature and social work. Both of us prioritise the family over everything else,” she says.

 Meenakshi Shivram speaks to Madhurya on the relevance of extending to social causes…

 Madhurya supported weavers to help cope with economic insufficiencies during Covid, and you as part of the Christ University - brought pandemic experiences on record in a book. Both seem to be newer expressions on record…


The COVID years were difficult for all of us - and one can only imagine how many times worse it must have been for the poor. All of us tried to cope in our own ways, both individually and collectively. I remember distinctly, the amount of goodness that was poured in by the common people. At Christ University, some of us from the English Department decided to relieve the stress of these unfamiliar times by documenting our experiences. What began as a stress-buster grew into a book – Locktales (https://amzn.eu/d/7HBC9wE)

 I remember how Madhurya went out of its way to help weavers from across the country sell their products, provided an online sale for them, and arranged de-stressing sessions online and supporting them in multiple other ways too. I also had the good fortune of speaking to children online with interesting stories - there was also a puppet show arranged for them. That was a commendable intervention by Madhurya. 

 You were also part of the Madhurya event during the launch of Bhanumathy Narasimhan's book on Sita – which you reviewed?   

I have been an empanelled reviewer with The Hindu and I was glad to have had the opportunity to review this book ‘Sita – a tale of ancient love.’ This is the story of Sita, as recalled by Rama’s consort - the novel brought out the simplicity and depth of the love between these two tragic lovers. They are portrayed as human beings caught in the turbulence of Time. Considering that we live in times of so much anger, this book was like a balm. It did not aim to justify any position; it did not try to push any agenda; it offered an easy pathway from the story of Rama and Sita to the philosophy of Dharma - the path of right action. Isn't this similar to what Madhurya does - pursuing the action of preserving a textile culture that is being forgotten?

How did you feel wearing a Madhurya weave?

The nature of my job – as a teacher - and my own temperamental preference for simplicity propels me to go for more authentic styles in clothing. More than the fast-changing style statements that dazzle on magazine covers, my choice is for the earthy, the style that seems to have the human touch. I absolutely love the ‘traditional’ – in clothes, food, behaviour, attitude, places, and response to life.I prefer clothes that are soft to the skin, and with colours I like both bright and muted, but nothing jam-packed. Madhurya’s collection of salwars and saris suit me perfectly. I am partial to turquoise – the opaque blue-green of the oceans - and white and on my first visit to the Madhurya showroom, I saw so many clothes from kurtis to jackets to pouches in that colour combination.

 Being a writer helps you get closer to social issues? Like your interests in knowing more about prints, weaving styles and motifs? 

 It was Abdul Bismillah’s Hindi novel ‘Jhini Jhini Bini Chadariya’ that introduced me to the life of weavers. The book was translated into English as ‘The Song of the Loom’ and since then I have looked at woven textiles with greater awareness. Later, I saw the weaving process and couldn’t help but admire these unassuming, totally unknown artists using their hands to create an art object almost like how the silkworm organically produces silk. There was a magnificence in what they were creating and there was also the simultaneous pathos of their lives – most of the weavers were poor and had no idea of how their products were received in the markets of the world.

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