At first glance, the journey of cotton and coffee — from seed to loom and seed to cup — may have little or nothing in common. However, Raaga, a sensory exhibition at Araku Café in Indiranagar, proves that there are many parallel paths. Conceived and executed by Yali, the commercial branch of textile entrepreneur Ally Matthan’s The Registry of Sarees, and Araku Coffee of the Naandi Foundation — both of which work in the areas of organic, handspun, handwoven and homegrown — it talks about the common synergies of the two: grown organically and used sensitively.
When I enter Araku Café, I first head to the ‘bar’. Matthan, also a perfumer trained at Grasse in France, has distilled the essences of Araku Coffee’s offerings — Signature, Selection, Micro-Climate, and Grand Reserve, and their latest micro-lot, the Gems of Araku — into fragrances. A few drops of the essential oils on cotton leaf cut-outs of paper and I get hints of orange, pepper, chocolate, and citrus notes combined with a masculine, earthy scent that stimulates the nose (and sometimes confuses it). Another batch, which is Matthan’s tribute to Yali’s drapes, has subtler scents. Gentle notes tickle my olfactory, of cotton, indigo, madder, and gold zari , reminding me of the looms and the people and processes behind the fabrics.
Engaging the senses
From the olfactory, I move to the auditory. Over my mobile phone’s earbuds I listen to primal sounds and murmurs overlaid with a meditative musical track; it reinforces the sound of roots pushing towards sources of energy. A large wall hanging explains that plant roots grow towards the sound of running water and create melodic vibrations in play with the moon’s electromagnetic fields — bioacoustics. These conversations “have been amplified into a soundscape that the human ear can perceive”. It’s a strange yet soothing harmony.
My next stop is a pavilion of multi-coloured buntings in creams, browns, reds and indigos. Each is printed with words that explore the journeys of the materials. (Herbaceum, I learn, is a short staple variety of cotton indigenous to Asia and Africa, and that The Registry of Sarees has licensed seeds of DDCC1, or naturally-coloured brown cotton, to cultivate in Salem, Dharwad and Mysuru.) Though situated indoors, one can imagine them, much like Tibetan flags, fluttering in the breeze, carrying the words like seeds in the wind, each embedded with memories.
Beside them, on long shelves, are the different materials to engage one’s sense of touch. Yarn, husk, chaff, seeds, coffee beans — the soft and pliant contrasted with shiny hardness. If we shut our eyes and feel these, touching things that we ultimately consume in different forms, it allows us to reimagine our relationship to them. This process of allowing ourselves to slow down, even momentarily at an exhibition in a café, allows us to reflect on the memory of touch, as we sip coffee or gently roll our fingers over yardage.
The weave story
Go up a level, and the exhibition revels in the visual. Sculptural presentations crafted with chocolate and marzipan showcase the growth cycles of coffee and cotton, and feature the different processes they undergo: ginning, spinning, dyeing, weaving (of the cloth) and pulping, drying, roasting and grinding (of the coffee). The final stages of these are encapsulated in the speciality coffees that Araku retails, and an installation of saris and clothing that highlight Yali’s three lines.
There’s Hosa Arambha, an initiative to engage the Padmashali weavers of Kodiyala, Karnataka, whose handloom revolves around mythological stories and motifs; Selvedge, which celebrates brown cotton and classic tailoring; and Sarees of Memory, inspired by nine memories of textile patron Malvika Singh, woven in fine cotton and zari to create gorgeous Venkatagiris.
My last stop helps me indulge my sense of taste. A seven-course meal put together by chef Rahul Sharma of Araku Café is a journey through texture and taste — from risottos to mousses. More interestingly, the whole experience made a convert of a coffee hater!
Do your bit
The final arc of the journey, for me, is discovering the brands’ sustainability initiatives. Fabric waste and yarns are reused in hand-stitched quilts and wall hangings; in the coffee estates, all the waste is processed into compost; and at the café, the bonbons served with the coffee use both the coffee fruit and seed. From soil to cup to soil, and so with fabric — the circle is complete.
As I sit, looking down at the exhibition and nursing a hot cup of coffee, I am filled with possibility. Of what we can do to consume more responsibly and leave a lighter footprint on the Earth.
Raaga runs till December 11. Free entry. There are also talks, workshops on botanical drawings, typography and dyeing. The meal is priced at ₹4,000 plus taxes (+₹2,500 for wine pairing);book 24 hours ahead.
Ranvir Shah is the founder of Prakriti Foundation.