Through its ongoing lecture series, Lila Foundation for Translocal Initiatives attempts to problematise ‘development’ in contemporary India

This Wednesday, Jayati Ghosh, Professor of Economics at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, JNU, delivered a lecture titled “Incorporation and Exclusion in the Indian Economy”, arguing that the growth process in India has manipulated the existing social and cultural divisions in Indian society. Taking the discussion forward, on Tuesday, Kanika Batra, Associate Professor at the Department of English, Texas Tech University, will look at the cultural representations of food production and distribution.

Both these lectures are a part of the ongoing interdisciplinary Lila Prism lecture series, featuring 16 speakers, who look at ‘development’ in contemporary India through the prism of their disciplines. “We believe such rigorously objective coming together of various perspectives alone can bring forth a holistic understanding of development in the complex cultural context of India,” says Rizio Yohannan Raj, a writer, academic, teacher and executive director of Lila Foundation for Translocal Initiatives, which is organising these lectures.

The seeds of the initiative lie in Rizio’s realisation of the limitations of academic practice. “I think it is becoming more and more isolated because there is a rigidity about it. And it gets very intimidating…It is disallowing people to engage with a particular subject and its day-to-day implications in a lively manner. Once I identified the problem, I thought there has to be a lighter way of dealing with it. There has to be a way of appreciating it lightly, without the baggage. That is why ‘lila’, which means creative play in Indian languages, is an important concept. Play in Indian thought is not mere play, it is light on the surface but profound in its meaning and implications,” Rizio adds. The name of the organisation also has an element of creative play. Lila stands for ‘luminous idea of life appreciation’, while Prism stands for performativity, relevance, innovation, sustainability, multiplicity.

The work of Lila Foundation is three-pronged — as a cultural think-tank, an action platform and a conservation space. The lectures are the first phase of a three-phrase programme. “I am connecting these different lectures because I want to create an awareness programme with inclusiveness as a theme. All these lectures talk about the same thing in a different manner…We’ll develop programmes for various sections of society, like schoolchildren, rural youth. We are developing those kind of participatory programmes where you don’t give solutions to people but people themselves find out their solutions. You need different modifications for the same idea. I would want to take it across the country,” she says.

Allied to the thinking and action modules is Lila’s process of “dynamic archiving”. Distinguishing between conservation, which is an organic process, and preservation, a man-made one, Rizio observes, “archiving in our country is in the pits, there is no methodology for it. We are trying to come up with a conservation-oriented methodology. There are some things that will become extinct. We are not worried about it. We have to understand why something is extinct. How do we use the history of ideas for our day-to-day purposes? There has to be some kind of dynamic process of archiving.”

There are the limitations of a small team and a tight budget but for the time being its creative play is bearing Lila along. Rizio is particularly elated that the lecture series has come about without any payments towards venues or guests. “We are only paying for our fliers and tea,” she says.