The East India Company committed the excesses, but it was indigo that earned a bad name. One and a half centuries later, indigo has got a second chance to clear its name. Moumita Chaudhuri reports  .

The colour of indigo, to a lot of Indians, will always be red. Not scarlet or rose or even ruby, but red like the blood oozing from a ruptured vessel and dripping with the sting of several lost generations. Less crop, more a byword for colonial excesses.

Which is why, talk of an indigo resurgence across the subcontinent – Bengal, Uttarakhand, Assam, South India, Bangladesh – elicits a reflex cringe. The reaction that follows is really a question. Why do we need a crop that has been known to decimate son and soil?

That was also the response Amrita Mukerji got from the farmers she employed when she decided to grow indigo in her smallish plot in Santiniketan. “Don’t grow these. They will harm the land,” is how they warned her. “When I asked them who had told them as much, they said they just knew,” says Mukerji, founder of the NGO, Sutra.

Around the turn of the century, after years of globe-trotting with her husband, Mukerji settled down to a retired life in Calcutta. She says, “I had visited production centres in Nigeria. And over the years, attended indigo exhibitions, met scholars studying the history of the plant, bought prints… I started to fall in love with the blue of the indigo.”

And then in 2003, textile researcher Charlotte Kwon met her in Calcutta and handed her a packet of indigo seeds.

The indigo project was apparently a whim. That year, after harvest, Mukerji noticed that the land had yielded a rush of mustard. The farmers were surprised.

They needn’t have been. Indigo is a leguminous plant, fixes nitrogen to the soil, enhances soil quality and soil productivity and has been popular in India from time immemorial as a virtuous rotational crop. From 2016, Mukerji turned to indigo cultivation in all seriousness.

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