In Kerala, South India, individual pursuits of nature cure (prakr̥ti cikitsa) invoke ethical narratives about an idealized purer past, contrasting a dangerous present saturated with social and environmental toxins. While first popularized in India by M. K. Gandhi, nature cure has gained contemporary fame as a low-cost intervention for Kerala’s purported health crisis: chronic lifestyle diseases. Nonprofessionalized natural healers identify as public health activists, teaching predominantly urban, middle-class patients how to revive local lifeways of self-doctorhood. This article narrates how two aging patients internalize their naturopathic doctors’ advice to detoxify and “do nothing” rather than strive for biomedical cure. By naturally revitalizing their bodies, they cultivate feelings of intense independence and ecological attachment that reconfigure experiences of migrated-kin isolation. In counterpoint to literature that frames biopolitical and medical discourses as causally producing moral subjectivities, this article demonstrates how persons agentively craft counternormative, vitalistic models of aging and health, contributing to broader localist imaginaries of reviving pre-toxic lifeways.
This opening piece introduces the eight articles in this special issue of Asian Medicine, all of which emerged out of the daylong Science, Technology, and Medicine in South Asia Symposium: Medicine and Memory, at the 2018 Annual Conference on South Asia in Madison, Wisconsin. These articles are concerned with the ways in which time and healing entangle across regions and healing traditions in South Asia, including Unani, Ayurveda, Naturopathy, and biomedicine. Linking the findings from these articles with recent scholarship, our conversation in the symposium moved beyond the notion of medical pluralisms to a notion of dynamic plurals, through historicizing regional and local diversities in practices and philosophies, often grouped under a single name by communities and practitioners. In an increasingly communalist and politically fractured modern South Asia, we suggest that the discussions in this special issue make a critical contribution to understanding how cultural institutions of knowledge function in society.