POWERED BY GLOBAL ADJUSTMENTS
Worth a 1000 Words The best of pre-Independence India, as seen through vintage postcards
August 2018 Volume 9, Issue 6
An Indian Maharaja's Polish Legacy An Indian maharaja showed the world that compassion and humanity are not restricted by borders or wars
Editor Ranjini Manian Managing Editor Yamini Vasudevan Creative Head Prem Kumar Circulation P. Devaraj Advertising
As the 71st year of independent India rolls around, I am reminded of the wise words, “You get more of what you tolerate.” This adage as a life principle for independence is the need of the hour nationally. When someone poked fun at me the other day, my first reaction was a hurt “How could they?” Then, I went down the path of feeling sorry for myself; “That’s how it is…”. And then on to toleration: “That’s how it’s always been.” But I stopped short before my mind took the next step of “And that’s how it will always be.” I spoke up. I cleared the air. And drew the line. Then dropped the hurt. Nothing unjust needs to be “like that only.” Be quietly assertive about injustice. Most people mean well. Once told how we feel, they will be willing to stop in their tracks, too. The learning curve from tolerance to non-tolerance of wrong is the journey from voicing emotions to taking just action. So if I say, “I will not tolerate a dirty India”, then I don’t blame the corporation or the government for the lack of cleanliness. It is up to me. We actually tried this out in a small Chennai neighbourhood. We formed a residents’ group targeted at cleanliness. We spoke kindly but clearly to unthinking offenders. We provided dog poop scoops along with a handshake while on neighbourhood walks. We added garbage collector Udaya to our
Chennai Shobana Sairaj Bengaluru Meera Roy Delhi/NCR Ruchika Srivastava Mumbai/Pune Ashish Chaulkar
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WhatsApp group. And lo and behold! There are daily proud posts of images of a swachch colony So what will be on your “not-goingto-tolerate-anymore” list as independent India turns 71? Will it be “injustice to women”? Or the “chalta hai, anything goes” attitude? Let us each pick something we won’t put up with any longer, for the good of our land. Before we know it, mindsets will change. In the spirit of Mera Bharat, I hope you enjoy this month’s tribute to an amazing India via the new book, Paper Jewels: Postcards from t he Raj. Jai Hind!
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Mumbai #1102, 11th floor, Peninsula Business Park, Tower B, SB Road, Lower Parel, Mumbai – 400013 Tel +91-22-66879366 E-mail email@example.com Hyderabad Suite-18, 3rd Floor, Rajapushpa Business Centre, Stone Ridge Centre, Opp. Google, Hitec City – Kondapur Main Road Hyderabad – 500 084 Tel +91 40 48687956 E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Printed by K Srinivasan and published and owned by Ranjini Manian. Printed at Srikals Graphics Pvt Ltd at #5, Balaji Nagar, 1st Street, Ekkattuthangal, Chennai – 600032 and published at Global Adjustments Services Pvt. Ltd., #5, 3rd Main Road, Raja Annamalai Puram, Chennai – 600028. Editor Ranjini Manian Disclaimer Views and opinions expressed by writers do not necessarily reflect the publisher’s or the magazine’s.
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Cover Image This picture titled "La Posta Nelle Inglesi" (K.F. Editeurs, Paris c.1900) was reproduced with permission from Paper Jewels: Postcards from the Raj by Omar Khan, published by Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad, in association with The Alkazi Collection of Photography, New Delhi
Advisory Board Members N. Ram is an award-winning journalist and former Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu. He is Director of Kasturi & Sons Limited, publishers of The Hindu. Suzanne McNeill lived in India for seven years before returning to Scotland. She is a freelance writer and graphic designer. Liz Neisloss is a veteran journalist and writer who has worked for CNN based from Singapore, Chennai and at the United Nations in New York. She is now based in Mumbai. G. Venket Ram is an acclaimed photographer and the creative mind behind many a Culturama issue. www.gvenketram.com Annelize Booysen is a business consultant and social entrepreneur. She lived in Asia for more than a decade, which included three years in India. She is currently based in the United States. Namita Jain, founder of Jaldi Fit, is a leading fitness guru and a businesswoman who helms Kishco, a world-class cutlery brand.
Contributors Susan Philip is a freelance writer based in Chennai, and the editorial coordinator of Culturama’s various coffee table books. Eknath Easwaran (1910–1999) was a spiritual teacher, author and interpreter of Indian literature. In 1961, he founded the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation and Nilgiri Press in California. Devdutt Pattanaik is the Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group and a writer and illustrator of several books on Indian mythology. www.devdutt.com Shailaja Khanna is an amateur musician and musicologist, and writes on matters of music. She is an adviser with the Department of Language, Art and Culture, Himachal Pradesh. She also advises the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts on theme concerts, and archives North Indian classical music at Prasar Bharti, Delhi (Doordarshan).
Letters to the Editor Dear Editor,
I work for the Consulate General of Argentina in Mumbai. We enjoy reading your magazine as it gives us an opportunity to show the diplomats in India what we have to offer to the world in terms of art and culture. Very impressed indeed.” - Tarana Puri, Mumbai
“I enjoyed the piece on monsoon raagas in the July issue. The fact that there is music for every season and every reason is one of the best aspects of Indian classical music.” - Vinay Shrivastav, Delhi
“I appreciate the series on feminine values and the need for both men and women to inculcate them. It is truly the need of the hour. The examples cited in each of the articles are inspiring.” - Gowri Chandrasekhar, Chennai
“The need for effective listening was conveyed well in the article ‘Listening Empowers’. The tips provided were also helpful.” - Srilatha Rao, Chennai
“The article on Indian festivals was colourful and interesting to read. Enjoyed it very much.” - Venkatesh S., Bengaluru
culturama – Subscribe Now! Get your copy of Culturama as a hard copy or as an e-magazine - visit www.culturama.in to subscribe For other enquiries, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on +91-44-2461 7902
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Myth & Mythology
The story of Mahabali’s annual visit, which is said to be the traditional origin of the Onam festival, reminds us that mythology is our refuge when ideology becomes too complex.
24 Special Feature We celebrate glimpses of life from the yesteryear through an exclusive set of artistic postcards featured in Paper Jewels: Postcards from the Raj.
When we make a decision for the betterment of another, especially against our own conditioning, we set in motion a wonderful cycle of change that will surely change the world for the better.
Indians are known to have strong ties to their families and communities. How does this affect their interactions in the workplace or in a cosmopolitan setting?
V.R. Ferose, Senior Vice President and Head of Globalization Services at SAP, is keen that we create an inclusive society – and he leads by example through the Indian Inclusion Summit.
Festivals of India
We look at the legends and practices associated with Onam.
Journeys Into India 18
At GA Foundation
In this day of ‘selfies’, it is more important to focus on building selfesteem – the Global Adjustments Foundation does just that through its workshops for college students.
Intelligence is not just the ability to grasp concepts – it is also the ability to deal with opportunities and setbacks. Women are blessed with innate intelligence, and society should help them maximise this potential.
Music is often used as a medium to evoke patriotism and nation building. We look back at some of the songs and melodies associated with Indian nationalism.
Who was Maharaja Jamsaheb Digvijay Singh? And why is a school in Poland named after him? We bring you a little-known but powerful story of compassion and love.
Relocations and Property 62
Space and the City
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In Focus by Yamini Vasudevan
Include, Involve, Inspire The desire to help create a space that treats the specially abled just the same as everyone else led V.R. Ferose to institute the India Inclusion Summit (IIS). We look back at the IIS’s key legacies and the way forward
V.R. Ferose’s son, Vivaan, was 18 months old when he was diagnosed with autism. As Ferose and his wife worked on getting the child the special care and medical supplies needed, they became aware of the challenges that parents of specially abled children face. The issues ranged from lack of awareness and empathy, to inadequacies and inefficiencies in schools, medical systems, workplaces and so on. As the Senior Vice President and Head of Globalization Services at SAP, Ferose was not hard-pressed when it came to finding the right resources. However, rather than take it for granted, he took a step back and observed the larger picture on hand. “While I was fortunate in many ways, to have the access to take care of my son’s needs, most
V.R. Ferose, Senior Vice President and Head of Globalization Services â€“ SAP
people were not. I deeply felt the urge to change things,” he remembers. His urge to enable positive social change gave rise to the India Inclusion Summit (IIS) – a platform to celebrate the uniqueness of people with disabilities – in 2012. The idea started over an informal conversation with Dr. Arun Shourie (former Cabinet Minister and journalist), which touched on the latter’s experience of raising a son with cerebral palsy and his deep insights into the challenge. As Ferose recalls, “He asked me to get corporates and the community together under one roof – to debate the issues and drive the change.” Since its inception, the annual event has seen a steady rise in attendance, with its online presence reaching a few million people. The community-driven platform was designed to create awareness in mainstream society on the need for inclusion and to identify the role corporates could play to support people with disabilities and drive inclusivity. It also acted as a channel for unsung heroes to share their personal stories of victory, and to create awareness of innovations in the field of disability. In November 2016, the IIS session in Bengaluru saw the coming together of titans from around the world, such as Anshu Gupta (Founder of Goonj and a 2015 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee), Haben Girma (a White House ‘Champion of Change’), Felicia Shafiq (Canadian 2016
Olympic Paralympic women’s volleyball team member) and Mariappan Thangavelu (India’s third-ever gold medallist at the Paralympic Games). In a one-on-one with Culturama, Ferose looks back at the legacy IIS has created, and the much-needed pointers to ensure that the winds of change are kept strong and steady. From the time you started the IIS (in 2012), what are three notable changes/developments you have observed in the people who have been closely associated with the Summit, and the larger population? The IIS was started with the idea that awareness is the lowest common denominator to change. When people are aware, they become more sensitive; and when people are more sensitive, they act to make a change. Since 2012, we feel we have got the topic of disability and inclusion to the mainstream. What was seen as a taboo topic is now openly talked about and even celebrated. I would say that’s the biggest change we have seen. At the same time, there are many unintended consequences of the inclusion summit, which are more anecdotal. Almost every day, people tell me, what they took away from the summit and how it has changed their lives for the better. In many instances, the summit was a place where people found HOPE. Every year, we have to close the registration months before the event and have almost 1,000 people on waitlist! For many the IIS has become the annual pilgrimage they make. Individuals, corporates and governments – who among these three has the biggest responsibility in paving the way towards a more inclusive future? Each of them has a role to play. I have come to believe that corporates have to lead the way, because they have the financial means and the intellectual capacity to make a tangible difference. Governments, on the other hand, have the ability to scale and create large scale impact – by introducing the right policies. However, individuals and the society at large, have to drive these changes. As John F. Kennedy said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” People who are differently abled often feel that their differences are like the proverbial elephant in the room. From personal experience, how can we encourage open conversation around these related issues? From my personal experience of having a son on the autism spectrum, I realised that not treating them as different is the best thing we can do. We should have the same expectations and treat them
with dignity, while making some adjustments to accommodate their special needs. Even though my son is non-verbal, we talk to him like we would to a person who can speak. We treat him like we would treat a so-called ‘normal’ person. That, we found, gave him the most confidence. Change is said to begin at home – how can we ensure that this conversation is had in an effective manner on the domestic front? Are there examples of people you regard as inspirations in terms of leading the way for a more inclusive society? I have learnt a lot from many parents who have children with special needs. I am learning every day in my journey, and no one is perfect. When I visited my friend Thorkil Sonne in Denmark, I was amazed how he conducted and included his son on the autism spectrum. He has three children and two of them are neurotypical. The entire family had dinner together and they conducted themselves as a regular family. The child on the autism spectrum was treated the same way as everyone else. As a global leader who works with professionals across cultures, please share with us three crucial leadership lessons/tenets that will be useful across industries and countries. I have believed in the following three things that are relevant in all walks of life: Giving: True leaders give more than they take. They always ask a simple question: ‘What can I give?’ I learnt this from my interactions with Dr. Kalam (former Indian President, watch https:// tinyurl.com/culturamainfocus). My friend Adam Grant, author of GIVE and TAKE, has widely
documented that the most successful people are GIVERS. My next book is also titled GIVERS. Humanity and kindness: The role of human beings is to be human and that of mankind is to be kind. Most people forget this. Finally, everyone needs to make the most of what he/she has. Life is never perfect or fair; so focus on what you have rather than what you do not have. What could a good inclusivity organisation policy look like? How do we coach HR and co-workers? Inclusion should be a way of life and needs to be practised from the top. I have seen good policies not being practised; and great inclusive organisations which practise the true spirit of inclusion (without focusing on policies). Everyone needs to walk the talk and it needs to be embedded in the culture. A good HR policy should only be a re-enforcement of the spirit of the organisation. I think the most important aspect is to treat “specially abled” persons as anybody else. Any special treatment is an indicator that we consider them as less capable. This also works against their confidence.
August 2018 2018
A Winning Combination
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August August 2018 2018
At GA Foundation by Usha Ramakrishnan
SelfIE Moments! *
This is not your typical photograph we are talking about, but a programme with the potential to change the lives of thousands of young women. Read on to find out more about the Global Adjustments Foundation’s Self Image Enhancement programme SelfIE, or Self Image Enhancement, is a flagship programme of Global Adjustments Foundation for female students who have just joined college. The introductory onehour interactive motivational workshop for young women was conducted in four popular women’s colleges of Chennai – Shasun Jain College, Chellamal Women’s College, Queen Mary’s College and SIET Justice Basheer Ahmed Sayeed College. Around 4,000 young women were empowered to think differently through this session. The workshop, which was conducted during their induction fortnight, received an overwhelmingly positive response. The programme focused on what we called ‘ABCD’: Amazing Attitude, Brilliant Bachelor’s degree, Clear Career path and Distancing Distractions – essential for the students’ lives over the next three years. The objective was to emphasise the need for selfappreciation at an early age and build the courage and ability to face challenges and failures. As these young minds remain
in touch via our YouTube channel and follow-up sessions, they are well on the way to being champions of their lives as future leaders. Creating a million Champion Women is not far from sight for Global Adjustments Foundation!
“I regretted joining the course that I took, but that feeling is no longer there. I know making it big from where I am is in my hands!” – Bhanu Beevi “I understood the difference between falling in love and rising in love. I will definitely rise in love and in life.” – Shanti Venkatram “When I am stressed I have the powerful tool of alternate nostril breathing, through which I exhale negativity and inhale positive thought. It was refreshing doing it collectively during the programme.” – Maria Thomas
If you are a manager in a corporate organisation, college or high school, please invite us to hold a sample seminar to empower women at your institution. The seminars will be free of cost for the institution and trainees. Content can be tailor-made on request. Call Usha Ramakrishnan, Director, Global Adjustments Foundation at +91-9840520394 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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* Self Image Enhancement
Champion Women by Ranjini Manian
Building Self-Esteem Self-esteem builds your best self and makes you most productive – it could magically change you into a champion woman! What does it take to build up self-esteem? Self-esteem is the opinion a person has about herself. If you don’t think much about yourself, there are chances that you will not be able to perform up to your potential. Although some people may have too high an opinion about themselves, which makes it hard for them to learn from mistakes, low self-esteem is a more common problem, especially among women.
• Do you indulge in self-talk, saying things like “It’s all my fault,” “It’s their fault”, “I will never be able to…”? Now, ask yourself: If your answer is ‘Yes’ to one or more of these questions, you could be suffering from low selfesteem. The good news is that it is possible to overcome the problem. You should also be aware that no one else will build our esteem – that is why it’s called ‘self’ esteem!
When we conduct workshops at corporate houses, colleges and schools, we are often asked for advice on issues relating to self-esteem.
Three ways to increase self-esteem:
First, what are the signs of low self-esteem? I have listed some pointers. Do read the questions below.
Keep saying positive things and stop saying belittling things about yourself to yourself. I had to learn to say “My speech went well, I thought; what a relief!” instead of “Not sure if I spoke well; How did I do?”
• Do you often know the answers to questions, but don’t want to speak up? • Do you usually feel uncomfortable on social occasions? • Are there many situations and people who send you into ‘freeze mode’? • Do you have uncontrollable behaviour such as a nervous laugh, repetitive movements like clicking a pen, or rounding your shoulders to ‘disappear’ into the background? • Does your productivity depend on the praise you receive? • When you are criticised do you become overly sad or defensive?
Catch yourself doing things right:
• I didn’t put my alarm on snooze today. Wow! • I made it on time for my meeting. Good job! • The dal I made was delicious. Tick mark! That way, you do more of what you keep patting myself for. Treat yourself: Do things you really enjoy doing – exercising,
cooking, singing, dancing…whatever makes you feel good. When you feel good, endorphins are released. When you feel happy, your sense of self also goes up.
Ranjini Manian is the Founder–Chairperson of Global Adjustments Foundation, and aims to use life coaching for mindful living to encourage women's empowerment. She can be contacted for further questions on gender at email@example.com
Value Vignettes by Susan Philip
A Woman of
Intelligence… …Is an asset forever – to her family, her country and her place of work. More importantly, it is the duty of both men and women to appreciate and nurture this intelligence, so that it may serve its fullest potential
Although intelligence is traditionally not readily associated with femininity, the Bhagavad Gita extols the advantages of Medha – intelligence – in a woman. In the late 19th century, a girl from an ordinary family made history by becoming the first woman graduate in India. Although the system threw up repeated roadblocks, she found support from people as eminent as Florence Nightingale and renowned philosopher Benjamin Jowett in furthering her studies in England, and later battled odds to work in India. We begin this segment with her story.
Cornelia Sorabji’s life was full of ups and downs. More downs than ups. She could never take anything for granted, not even her achievements. Born in 1866 to Reverend Sorabji Karsedji and Francina, she was one of several children. Her parents started a number of schools for girls at a time when education for girls, especially underprivileged ones, was almost unheard of in India. The Sorabji girls excelled academically, and their father believed they could go far. Yet, Rev. Karsedji could not get his two eldest daughters admitted to the Bombay University because at that time girls were not given admission for higher studies. He succeeded with Cornelia, and she became the first woman to pass out of an Indian University. She achieved the feat despite her fellow male students shutting her out of lecture rooms many a time, simply because they could not accept women entering their ‘territory’. It was a situation she had to face time and again in her life. Because of her gender she was denied a scholarship to study at Oxford, for which her marks made her eligible. A group of women, including Florence Nightingale, pooled in personal money to pay for her education.
Cornelia became the first woman to study law at Oxford and the first Indian woman to study in a British university. But she could not collect her degree, because Oxford did not at that time issue degrees to women! She had to wait 30 years for the rule to change. Cornelia came back to India hoping to work for the uplift of women, only to face a government directive that women should not be allowed to practice law. But she did not let the many setbacks keep her down. She used her considerable intelligence to find a way to outwit the skewed system, and put her education to good use. She took up the cause of the Purdahnashins, women who were married off at a very young age and subjected to all kinds of inequity and cheated out of their wealth merely because they were uneducated, deliberately kept unaware and were prevented by custom from having contact with the outside world. Finally, Cornelia was given permission to represent the Purdahnashins as a legal advisor. And in 1924, the legal profession was thrown open to women in India. To Cornelia also belongs the credit of being India’s first woman civil servant. She helped reform laws on child marriage and the treatment given to widows. She was awarded the Kaiser-i-Hind Gold Medal for public service in 1909. She did not come from a rich, influential or royal family, and many controversies dogged her. Her successes were bittersweet as they were so hard won. Yet, she did succeed – because of her intelligence and persistence. And because of these qualities in her, India today has a galaxy of women lawyers, judges and legal activists who have made the country proud.
At the Core Intelligence is not just the ability to grasp and learn concepts and come up with new ideas and thoughts. It is also the ability to understand how best to deal with a given situation, and make the most of opportunities, and setbacks as well. Traditionally, women have had to fight for their corners in most parts of the world, down the ages. Although not many may have succeeded as dramatically as Cornelia, in their own small, often unacknowledged ways, ordinary women constantly make adjustments in their everyday lives to cope with challenges, be it from an unfair social system, a tough work scenario, or a combination of both. The collective intelligence bred into women helps them soothe ruffled feathers and facilitate winning deals in boardrooms and at political negotiating tables, as much as it helps them balance a physically and emotionally demanding job, say, as a nurse or policewoman, with the responsibilities of looking after growing children and dependent elders on an everyday basis.
Cornelia Sorabji, first Indian woman to study in a British University and the first woman to study law at Oxford University
In today’s artificial intelligence–driven environment, the intelligence that a woman can bring to the table is special indeed. And when it combines with intuition, which is innate in women, it becomes a formidable force. Law is just one of the many fields in which women can bring their intelligence to bear. When opportunities for women at all levels of the workforce are opened up to achieve a 50–50 gender balance in employment, the world will benefit.
Echoes at Home and Elsewhere Gargi was a woman sage in the ancient Indian court of King Janaka. She had enough confidence in her own intellectual capacity to challenge the renowned Sage Yajnavalkya to a debate, and when he answered all her questions, she also had the humility to acknowledge him as the wisest person. Perhaps a combination of superior intellect
Artemisia Halicarnassus and Xerxes the Great Persian Emperor Maria Montessori, Educationist
Nobel laureate Marie Curie
(Late) Golda Meir, Former Prime Minister of Israel
History is peppered with examples of women of extraordinary intelligence – women who have used their intellects to scale fabulous heights in diverse fields. From Artemesia, the warrior queen who helped Xerxes, king of Persia, to defeat the Greeks, and then persuaded him to give up his plan of invading that country, through Nobel laureate Marie Curie, the late Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, the first woman in the world to pass out of medical school, Elizabeth Blackwell, award-winning journalist Barbara Walters and educationist Maria Montessori, to the woman-in-the-street who manages the meagre household kitty to ensure that her family has at least one square meal a day and a chance at education, the intelligence of women has always made a difference to the world around them.
and humility is a form of intelligence that women cultivate instinctively. (Incidentally, King Janaka invited sages to hold discourses in his court so that his daughters could be exposed to their wisdom. Sita, who went on to marry Lord Ram, was one of Janaka’s daughters, and studied under Gargi.)
Well Said! “Girls should never be afraid to be smart.” – Emma Watson (English actress and activist. One of her earliest and best known roles was as Hermione in the Harry Potter series of movies.)
King Janaka and Saint Gargi
Special Feature by Yamini Vasudevan
Worth a Words Or maybe even more. Vintage postcards tell us volumes about art, history, culture and society, provided we have a way of coaxing them to reveal their secrets. Paper Jewels: Postcards from the Raj, a book that brings together some of the rarest and most valuable illustrated postcards, helps us relive history through these works of practical art
The Bombay Policeman. M.V. Dhurandhar, Unknown Publisher, c. 1903. Chromo-halftone, Undivided back, 12.1 x 8.7 cm, 4.76 x 3.43 in.
When was the last time you wrote out a note to someone? Not a Post-it or memo, but a bona fide letter that conveyed a wish or greeting in full sentences, sans the convenient acronyms and multi-coloured emoticons that pepper our messages and e-mails. Tod+ay, our written communication is largely dependent on, and restricted to, e-mails, text messages and social media interactions. Through these means, we have managed to shrink the time lapsed between sending and receiving messages to a few seconds (minutes if the WiFi or network are faulty).
It may sound ironic but we have actually come full circle – once, illustrated postcards fulfilled the need to communicate through images, to add richness to a narrative, as do our emoticons and pictures. However, postcards were much more than rectangle pieces of coloured thick paper; they were works of art, and were some of the finest mediums for capturing history, culture and human emotion. In fact, one may even say that postcards were in the 20th century what the Internet has become to us today. “As modern forms of communication become even Omar Khan, author of Paper Jewels: Postcards from the Raj more visual, they may resonate with audiences who see things through pictures more than through words. At the same time, while handwriting is vanishing, they do remind us of the unique personal visual form of hand-written messages accompanying images,” says historian and author Omar Khan.
La Poste Au Cachemire [The Kashmir Post]. Kunzli Freres Editeurs, Zurich/Paris, c. 1900. Lithograph, Undivided back, 14 x 8.9 cm, 5.51 x 3.50 in.
Omar Khan, a graduate of Dartmouth College, Columbia and Stanford Universities, has been personally interested in early photography of the subcontinent. The author of From Kashmir to Kabul: The Photographs of John Burke and William Baker 1860-1900 (2002), he has acquired a large collection of vintage postcards over 30 years. The desire to bring to the fore the rich legacy of postcards, in specific, Indian postcards, and his own longstanding interest in the works of prominent artists whose works have been featured in many of them, were some of the key factors that spurred Omar’s work in this area, which has come together as Paper Jewels: Postcards from the Raj. “As I got into collecting postcards, and began to learn more about their production, the artists and publishers behind them, the forces that made them such important means of communication for a brief period around the turn of the century, I saw that they had been largely neglected by scholars and historians,” Omar says. “Their beauty and significance had largely been missed. There were few books on them, certainly none on
A Bombay Parbhu. M.V. Dhurandhar [signed], Unknown Publisher, c. 1903. Chromo-halftone, Undivided back, 12.1 x 8.98 cm, 4.76 x 3.54 in.
Pounding Grain in Kashmir. Child Life Series – “India.” E.H. Hardy [signed], A.B Shaw & Co., London, c. 1910. Coloured halftone, Divided back, 13.9 x 8.8 cm, 5.47 x 3.46 in.
Indian postcards. No one had attempted to use postcards in a rigorous way to explore the history they contained visually. I wanted to find a way to bring what I found so interesting about this media to a wider audience…to explain what interested me and what they told about the larger world. Postcards were and are popular and meant for mass consumption, so they should be able to provide an avenue to the past.” Paper Jewels showcases postcards printed and exchanged between 1892 and 1947, during the British Raj, and covers India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Burma. There are several gems; but to appreciate their true value, one needs to look beyond the fact that they seem to merely showcase glimpses of day-to-day life One such is of a woman sewing a white tunic while her daughter watches on. Interestingly, that card was printed by The Singer Manufacturing Co. in 1892; and while the purpose was to communicate, in a pictorial manner, the culture of Indians, it also seems to have been a blatant, and ingenious, attempt at branding and marketing. There are postcards of a man sweeping the streets, carrying water in a leather bag, or riding a bullock cart – scenes from regular life that are close to the present day but distinguished by
India. The Singer Manufacturing Co., 1892(?). Lithograph, Undivided back, 13.5 x 9 cm, 5.31 x 3.54 in.
Gardner (Mali). M.V. Dhurandhar [signed], Unknown Publisher, c. 1903. Chromo-halftone, Undivided back, 11.95 x 8.75 cm, 4.70 x 3.44 in.
A great way to learn is by teaching. As a part of service learning project, Grade 3 students teach students from a local orphanage about an ecosystem in the Chennai area. Students toured the Pallikaranai Marshland to research about birds, animals, and their ecosystems. They were all quite excited after they spotted the painted stork, egret and ibis!
w w w. a i s c h e n n a i . o r g #servicelearningstartshere
Telegraph Peon. M.V. Dhurandhar [signed], Unknown Publisher, c. 1903. Chromo-halftone, Undivided back, 12.1 x 8.7 cm, 4.76 x 3.43 in. Copyright Michael Stokes Collection, Royal Society for Asian Affairs, London.
Road Sweeper. Clifton & Co., c. 1903. Chromo-collotype, Undivided back, 13.75 x 8.9 cm, 5.41 x 3.50 in.
the detailing of their clothing, gait and surrounds. There is a stunning painting of two women dressed in finery, titled â€˜Bombay Beautiesâ€™, from 1905, which is said to depict famous nautch girls of the day, an enduring link to a unique aspect of yesteryear India.
Damayanti. The Ravi Varma Press Karla Series No. #830, c. 1905. Coloured halftone, Divided back, 13.6 x 8.6 cm, 5.35 x 3.39 in.
These postcards were probably one of the most powerful tools in creating impressions of lands heard of but never seen. They stand as testimony to the importance of art and words when attempting to communicate the essence of entire cultures within the space of a few inches.
A Parsee Lady. Clifton & Co., c. 1903. Chromo-collotype, Undivided back, 13.8 x 8.8 cm, 5.43 x 3.462 in.
Up-to-date-Parsee. Unknown Publisher, c. 1903. Lithograph, Divided back, 13.6 x 8.4 cm, 5.35 x 3.31 in.
Speaking of the rich legacy these postcards leave us, Omar comments, “They are often the only images and visual access to people and places from long ago, frequently in colour when the range of colour media was very limited before colour photography. They remind us of the tremendous change many parts of the subcontinent have gone through, but also how other things have remained much the same.”
Exterior of Zenana, Agra. #7237 Agra. Raphael Tuck & Sons, London, c. 1905. Coloured halftone, Divided back, 13.7 x 8.8 cm, 5.39 x 3.46 in.
Due credit must be given to artists such as Raja Ravi Varma and Mahadev Vishwanath Dhurandhar, whose works graced the back of many postcards printed in that era. While Ravi Varma’s works are centred on Indian mythology and epics, with his focus seemingly on conveying the voluptuous beauty of Indian women as it is on capturing the theme of his work, Dhurandhar’s work is more concerned with the daily and mundane, whose eccentricities and uniqueness are hidden in plain sight. Omar, who has spoken in the book of Dhurandhar as one of the “most inventive of postcards
A Group of School Girls. Spencer & Co., Madras, c. 1902. Coloured collotype, Undivided back, 13.75 x 8.75 cm, 5.49 x 3.52 in.
artists”, adds, “I was first struck by how much personality is contained in Dhurandhar's images of people, how effortlessly he seems to convey character and someone’s existence in a drawing. His Bombay characters draw you into their worlds…individuals come alive in a small space. They can be funny, satirical, human. I don’t think any other postcard artist had this much empathy or appreciation of his subjects. He combined Western drawing styles, acute observation of people doing earning their living, and a deep rootedness in Indian culture and religion to fuel his art.” The importance of conserving the legacy of these postcards for posterity cannot be undermined. However, it is unfortunate that interest in collecting and preserving postcards has rested largely with individuals, who may not often have sufficient resources to source, organise and store postcards. It is there that Omar points out the need for corporates and museums to step in. “I wish companies and institutions invested more in preserving postcards and the history that they contain. Because postcards have had limited value as
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Shakuntala Patra-lekhana. The Ravi-Varma-Press Karla Series No. 834, c. 1898-99. Coloured halftone, Divided back, 13.65 x 8.75 cm, 5.37 x 3.44 in.
mass-produced goods, museums don't typically collect them (this is changing, slowly). However, as postcards get older, and we move even more to an image-based culture that values more documentary and artistic images from the past, I think institutions and organisations will see greater value in these cards and start collecting and publishing them because they offer a unique historical channel.” The value of these historic treasures cannot be emphasised enough, and one only hopes that the millennial generation will see it, too. “I would like to be optimistic, but I am really not sure…. The fact that the scholarly art book market has not grown in India despite the country’s tremendous growth in population and wealth over the past decades suggest that interest in the past and history is not necessarily growing. On the other hand, historical films seem to be on the rise, so maybe it is a question of media form and access. One of the problems might be making history accessible, and I hope that books like Paper Jewels help stimulate an interest in better acknowledging and understanding the past.” One does hope that Omar’s optimism has reason to stay strong. As he says, “Postcards allow us to see what people a hundred or more years ago considered important, how they represented themselves to each other and others around the world. As an early form of mass communication, they are a priceless window into history.” If we close off this window, we would be that much poorer indeed.
Paper Jewels: Postcards from the Raj will be launched on August 18 at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai. Exhibitions will be held in Mumbai (August 18 to October 1), Delhi (October 10 to November 10) and Goa (at the Serendipity Arts Festival in December). An exhibition will be held at The Folly at Amethyst, Chennai, on August 30. The book, which includes 519 colour illustration across 364 pages, will be available exclusively online in India from August 15, and in bookstores from September 5 onwards. The book is priced at Rs. 3,500. For more information about the collection, events and videos, please visit www.paperjewels.org
All postcard images used in this article were reproduced with permission from Paper Jewels: Postcards from the Raj by Omar Khan, published by Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad, in association with The Alkazi Collection of Photography, New Delhi.
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India Insights by Shailaja Khanna
A Note for the Music is often used to convey and reinforce the sentiments of patriotism and nationhood â€“ we explore examples of how the medium was used in India over the ages
Sound can uplift and empower, as it can evoke strong emotions. Combined with words, it becomes a huge force. Thus, music has, and continues to play, a part in nation building or reinforcing the idea of patriotism. In India, we have a history of music linked to patriotism and a united nation. Perhaps the first manifestation of patriotic sentiment was the creation of Raag Desh*, some 300 or 400 years ago, somewhere in the Punjab, by an unknown senia ustad (maestro belonging to the musical tradition of Tansen, the father of North Indian classical music). North India was wracked more by constant Afghan invasions and looting, and perhaps this resulted in the creation of Raag Desh (desh means ‘nation’ in Hindi). One assumes the main note structure was in the form of a folk tune, which was added to, to take the shape of a concrete raaga.
After the Indian Mutiny of 1857, there was pent up anti-colonial feeling that manifested itself in the formulation of political parties, nationalist literature, and songs. Vande Mataram, whose first two stanzas have been adopted as India’s national song, was first penned as a poem by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay in 1892. The poem glorified India in the form of a mother, and was sung in Raag Desh by Rabindranath Tagore at a session of the Indian National Congress in 1896. (Listen to a rendition of Vande Mataram: https://tinyurl.com/culturamavande-mataram-desh.) National sentiment was also expressed in the ideal of a united India, one that was able to bring together and benefit from its diverse strengths. One such poem, which expresses this idea beautifully, is Sindunadhiyin Isai, which was written by Tamil poet Subramania Bharati. In it, he urges the people from the different states to work in harmony and barter the best of their regions with others – in line with the currently popular idea of sustainable growth and development. While the exact date of writing the poem is unclear, it may have been written in the early 1900s (as Bharati himself died in 1921). The poem was set to music for the film Kai Kodutha Deivam (1964). (Watch the original movie song: https://tinyurl.com/culturama-sindhu-nadi.) Composer Mohammed Iqbal, who worked as a lecturer in the Government College Lahore, composed Saare Jahan Se Acha (‘the best nation amongst nations’) in 1905–1906, which is today one of the most popular and
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay
best-known national songs. The original tune, to which it was sung in the 1930s, was slower and sombre. Pandit Ravi Shankar composed the currently known, more upbeat, tune around 1946. (Listen to Pandit Ravi Shankar’s composition: https://tinyurl.com/ culturama-saarejahan.) At around the same time, Rabindranath Tagore composed the inspirational Jana Gana Mana, whose words united all of India through song. A shortened version of it was adopted as India’s national anthem in 1950. In1972, after the formation of Bangladesh, part of another song written by Rabindranath Tagore in 1905, titled Amaar Sonar Bangla, was adopted as Bangladesh’s national anthem (Listen to a beautiful rendition of India’s national anthem: https://tinyurl.com/culturama-jana-gana-mana.)
After independence, Indian composers, mainly from the three forces, composed several Indian military marches and martial tunes to reinforce the idea of the Indian nation, and to provide a distinct alternative to the military marches of the British. Scottish reels gave way to Indian tunes, which not only sounded more ‘Indian’, but whose rhythms were based on Eastern music as well. Patriotic film songs were also popular, especially before the 1962 and 1965 wars. These were mainly martial in style. The sound of airplanes overhead, the silent movement of troops, blackout at night, a feeling of anxiety – all this can be recalled by listening to one of the many songs that were composed during that era. After the 1963 war, the much-loved Ai Mere Watan Ke Logon (‘Oh, people of my country’), famously sung by Lata Mangeshkar, is one such popular song. Apart from the moving words, the melody was structured to build up to a moving crescendo. (Listen to Lata Mangeshkar singing this song: https://tinyurl.com/culturama-ae-mere-watan.)
Pandit Ravi Shankar
Patriotic songs in recent films have had similar, exulting lyrics, and celebrate a nation that is growing to adulthood and achieving its potential – Chak de India (from the movie of the same name), and Jai Ho (from Slumdog Millionaire) are a couple of examples. In the classical genre too, patriotism has infiltrated music compositions. Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, the renowned sarod musician, famously named a raaga he had composed as Bapu Kaus, after Mahatma Gandhi (who was called ‘Bapu’ or ‘father’). Instrumentalists such as Pandit Vishwamohan Bhatt and Pandit Ronu Majumdar play patriotic songs as part of their classical music concerts. Songs that incorporate words such as the Bengali Ekla Chalo Re (‘Together, we walk on’) are a regular part of many artistes’ repertoire.
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan
* A raag or raaga refers to a melodic framework in Indian classical music. Each raaga is an array of melodic structures with musical motifs, and is said to have the ability to affect the listener’s emotions. Each raga provides the musician with a musical framework within which he/ she can improvise.
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Co-branding with Culturama has helped us connect with prospective families. Culturama and AISC also both appeal to the expatriate community, which helps to solidify AISC's position as the best school for expat families living in Chennai. Kirsten Welbes, Director of Advancement American International School Chennai
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India Diaries by Susan Philip
An Indian Maharaja'’s Polish Legacy Maharaja Jam Saheb Sri Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja
What is the story behind a school in Poland bearing the name of a former Indian king? Who was Maharaja Digvijay Singh, and why do many Poles remember him with fondness even years after his demise? Read on to uncover a little-known but powerful story of compassion and love
The board says ‘Jamsaheb Digvijay Singh Jadeja School’. Although that is rather a long name for a school, there is nothing particularly unusual about it. Except that it is not in India, as the name would imply, it is located in Warsaw, Poland! What is a school dotted with pictures of Indian gods and goddesses, paintings and murals of classical Indian dance forms, indigenous art of India, and even rangoli – traditional designs drawn on thresholds – doing in a country more than 6,000 km away? That is a long story.
Seeking Sanctuary The story began in the 1940s. Hitler invaded Poland, triggering World War II. The Red Army of the erstwhile USSR marched in too, and took many men, women and children to camps in Siberia. But when Hitler invaded
Present-day Jamnagar district in Gujarat
Russia, that country joined the Allies. Polish men in the camps were drafted into the army. The women and children, many of them orphans, were permitted to leave. But where were they to go? Their own country was still under enemy occupation. Country after country shut its doors to the traumatised Poles. Until their plight reached the ears of one man – HH Maharaja Jam Saheb Sri Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja, GCSI GCIE. The ruler of the princely State of Nawanagar in present-day Gujarat, he was serving on Britain’s Imperial War Cabinet when he heard of the problems facing the refuge seekers. He immediately offered to host them in his state. As the heir and nephew of the famed cricketer Ranjitsinhji, Digvijaysinhji knew something about Poland and its people. Through his uncle, who was India’s delegate to the League of Nations from 1920 to 1923, he had met the
famous Polish musician-statesman Ignacy Paderewski. Later, in London, he met other Polish leaders.
I am Your Bapu! There are differing reports of how these refugees came to India. Some accounts talk of an arduous, overland journey in trucks, others of evacuation by sea. Unfortunately, most of the records in India about their arrival have been lost. But the stories pieced together from documents in Britain and elsewhere, and the accounts of the evacuees themselves, show that there were multiple batches of refugees, and that explains the varying accounts. But the common factor in all these reports is the large-heartedness of Maharaja Jam Saheb Sri Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji. Despite India being a British colony, and, as such, part of the Allies, the British rulers in India were not keen to
Polish refugees during World War II were welcomed in Nawanagar, and the Maharaja of the princely state even went so far as to "adopt" them to ensure their stay in India. The camps were comfortable and secure, and schooling was provided to make them feel at home. (The photo on the right shows the Maharaja with a group of Polish children, who had put up a performance.)
receive the Poles. But Maharaja Digvijaysinhji stood firm. He overcame quite a bit of resistance and red-tape from the British Colonial Government. He found ways to get around all the hurdles the system threw up, even going so far as to produce certificates saying he had ‘adopted’ the Polish children. Maharaja Digvijaysinhji welcomed the refugees to Nawanagar, telling them that they were orphans no longer; he was bapu, father, to the people of Nawanagar, and by extension, to them too! And thus, “India, though not sovereign at the time and not at all prosperous, became the first country in the world to accept and offer war-duration [domicile] at her own cost to the hapless Polish population rendered homeless and subsequently stateless,” says Prof. Anuradha Bhattacharjee, author of The Second Homeland, the extraordinary story of the Polish refugees.
Open Hearts It has to be remembered that during this period, India, like countries all over the world, was feeling the pinch of the War. It was also preoccupied with its own independence struggle, and the Princely States were gripped by indecision and uncertainty. Yet, Maharaja Digvijaysinhji was able to persuade rulers of other states to open their purses and their lands for the refugees from Poland. Corporate houses like the Tatas also pitched in, collecting what was then a huge amount of money for the upkeep of the Poles. The common people of India too showed no resentment towards the strangers who were given shelter and succour in their land. Between 1942 and 1948, about 20,000 refugees stayed or passed through the subcontinent of India. About 6,000 of them were granted war-duration domicile.
Transit camps were set up in various places, including some in present-day Pakistan, till permanent settlements could be built. The first came up at Balachadi in Nawanagar. Another was subsequently established at Valivade near Kohlapur.
Polish Pockets The locations for the permanent camps were chosen keeping in mind the type of climate that the children and the few adults who accompanied them were used to. The barracks at Balachadi were spacious, nothing like the overcrowded, cramped and often unhygienic sites in which 21st century refugees are herded. At the peak of the refugee crisis, the Balachadi camp was home to about 600 inmates between the ages of 2 years and 17. The Maharaja coordinated with the Polish Government in Exile, and made sure that the ambience at the camp was as close as possible to their native land. He arranged for the children to be schooled, and there were even Catholic priests to take care of religious education and needs. The children were emaciated and suffering from malnutrition when they arrived. They were also traumatised. Gradually, in the healthy environment of the permanent settlement, they regained their health, both physical and mental. Life in the camp was fun, remembers one inmate. The children climbed trees, swam in the sea, chased peacocks, and generally enjoyed their childhood. They even put up shows of Polish national dances. The Maharaja attended many of these performances, and gave the participants gifts of Rs. 501 or Rs. 1001. When the War ended, Britain recognised the Polish Government, and the refugees in India were asked to return home. But many of them opted to go to the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States and other countries where they made new lives for themselves. The Maharaja himself came to send off many of the returning batches at the railway station. The repatriation process took a while, and, when India won independence, the Poles who were still in the country celebrated with their hosts.
Looking Back with Gratitude Many years have passed since the last of the refugees left India’s shores. But the memory of the welcome they received from a country they probably had not even heard of till then remains in the collective heart of Poland. The Government of Poland conferred the ‘Commanders Cross of the Order of the Merit of the Polish Republic’ on
(Top) The Jamsaheb Digvijay Singh Jadeja School in Poland. (Above) A street named after Maharaja Jam Saheb Digvijay Singh
Maharaja Jam Saheb Sri Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja posthumously. The award has been instituted in recognition of the contribution of civilians and foreigners to good relations between Poland and other countries. And Maria Krzyszt, who was Poland’s Ambassador to India from 1993 to 1996, felt that naming a school after the Maharaja would make “students of such a school … the custodians of the valuable history”. It does not stop with the name either. The Indian tradition of warm-hearted generosity is carried forward at the school. Children of refugees from various strife-torn countries across the world are provided free education at the Jamsaheb Digvijay Singh Jadeja School. What better tribute to the spirit of Indian generosity and hospitality? Vasudhaiva kutumbakam – the whole world is one family!
One of the driving forces of India is the connectedness to the actual town or village Indians come from and the community they belong to – we take a closer look at how these bonds play out in society at large
The sense of belonging is deeply ingrained in Indians. They may feel that they belong to a certain caste, community or religion. They may also have a geographic sense of belonging, from living in the same village, city or state. Then there’s the clanship of extended families, responsible for powerful social and business ties, and, above all, the kinship of simply being Indian. All these different levels of connection mean that if you put any two Indians in a room together, chances are they will discover some commonality.
Taking a Closer Look “So which town are you from?” or “What is your native place?” are questions Indians often ask new acquaintances. In this vast country with its heterogeneous society made up of a huge variety of ethnic peoples, languages, geography
Kith Kin Driving Forces by Suzanne McNeill
& All That
and religions, the bonds of community and family are fundamental to how Indians relate to each other, and the sense of collectivism and interdependence that pervades Indian life. Family ties are the ones that bind in India, and you may see that as soon as you land in the country with the crowds gathered at airports to greet relatives returning from abroad. Family is not restricted to just a father, mother and their children. It embraces a widespread group of patriarchs, uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, an extended unit known as the joint family. Family, and by extension community, provides an interdependent support system that an individual can rely on, and it is important to go back to the home town
– “the native place” – on a regular basis to participate in celebrations, contribute money to the temple and hold rituals such as weddings. There may be a common thread to the way all communities across the country conduct rituals, and mark milestones in life and rites of passage, but there will also be a distinctiveness and individuality to a community’s celebrations that means people tend to get on better or connect better within their own communities. This is, of course, a natural phenomenon across many countries – Germans will connect better with Germans, and within German society people from Bavaria will connect better with each other. However, in India, it is unique as it is not by region or geography but by heritage that Indians connect with each other.
Photo: Yoojin LEE, South Korea
Photo: Melissa FREITAS, Brazil
Indiaâ€™s communities have evolved from the countryâ€™s regions, religions and the lines of work in which people laboured and acquired skills. Many are defined by their acumen in business, such as the entrepreneurial Marwaris of the old princely states of Rajasthan, now present in every region of the country and known for their tightknit solidarity, and the Chettiars, traders who trace their roots to the 96 villages that originally made up Chettinad in Tamil Nadu. Farming defined many communities, including the Jats from Punjab, pastoralists who have become prominent agriculturalists in the region. Whole districts and neighbourhoods across the land are home to communities of artisans known for their centuries-old skills working with traditional materials such as textiles, metals and wood, and who have passed down their skills from generation to generation. Community is also defined by religion, such as the Jains who trace their lineage back to the 7th century BCE, and the Christian communities of Kerala, said to have been founded by Thomas the Apostle.
The Here and Now Social hierarchy shapes family, kinship and business communities. Family harmony is maintained by ideals of conduct where older family members have authority over younger members, and their approval is vital when making important decisions. They also have responsibility for meeting the needs of their wider kinship. In turn, Indian culture expects the adult son to take care of elderly parents in their sunset years.
Photo: Connie Johnson
Of Legend and Myth
(Above) Indians display strong commitment to community ties in social and business circles. (Below) Clay dolls depict the Chettiars, a community whose members engaged primarily in trade.
Family ties are the ones that bind in India, and you may see that as soon as you land in the country with the crowds gathered at airports to greet relatives returning from abroad
Learn from the Bhagavad Gita by Team Culturama
Chapter 13 Capturing the essence of the Bhagavad Gita in a single sentence, one chapter at a time; accompanied by an inspirational photograph from our Annual Photo Competition.
Detach and attach Photo: Allison Joy Jacobson, USA
Chinese New Year sees the largest movement of people every year, as people travel to their home towns to spend the holiday with their families.
Cultural Expressions The desire for a community match for brides and grooms drives the matrimonial advertisements that are to be found in newspapers across India as families seek to strengthen kin ties. For Indians living overseas, matrimonial websites help link them to other NRIs from the same community. Visitors to India may be unaware that many of the most prominent commercial brand names on the goods they see around them are in fact family names, such as Godrej, Bajaj and Mahindra. More than half of India’s listed companies are run by families, “blue-chip dynasties” as they are sometimes called, that hail from traditional and historic business communities.
World Echoes Chinese New Year precipitates the world’s largest mass human migration each year as hundreds of millions of Chinese return to their home towns to reunite with their families. Greek families will add floors to their existing homes to house their adult children and extended family members so they can all stay close. A celebration of St. Patrick's Day in Ireland.
Community also plays out in business roles. For example, an HR person hired by a company will tend to hire more people from his or her own community. Most times this is not conscious nepotism, but an indication of the trust in own community above others, so who better to bring into the organisation? So it is up to multinational companies who are looking at diversity and inclusion to understand this nuance that drives the Indian mindset so they can chart out a methodology about how to build a team and work on it.
St Patrick’s Day, in celebration of Ireland’s patron saint, is celebrated by the Irish diaspora around the world.
In Conclusion… Collectivism is so deeply ingrained in India that decisionmaking, from the trivial to the corporate, is a combined effort. Indians rely on their families for everything from arranged marriages, to buying a house, to what to name a child. Even something as when, how, and with whom to business with.
Festivals of India by Team Culturama
When Mahabali Pays a Visit Onam is an annual Hindu festival that has its origins in the state of Kerala. The harvest festivals falls in the month of Chingam as per the Malayalam calendar, which coincides with August/ September of the Gregorian calendar One of the most important and popular festivals of Kerala, the festival is said to mark the annual visit of Mahabali, an emperor who ruled over the region in ancient times. Mahabali was a just and kind ruler, and was much loved by his subjects. His devotion was tested by Lord Vishnu, who appeared before him as a short Brahmin lad (known as the ‘Vamana’ avatar or form of Vishnu), and claimed a boon that Mahabali would give him anything that he covered within three steps. Then, the boy grew bigger to a towering
height, and covered the earth and sky in two steps. Mahabali understood that he was being tested, and bowed his head for Vamana to place his foot on for the third step – which meant he would have to go to the netherworld. Pleased with his humility, Lord Vishnu granted him a boon that he could come back every year to meet his beloved subjects. The state declares public holidays over four days for Onam, but festivities may last longer. Celebrations include the vallam kali (boat races) and puli kali (tiger dances), dances and displays of prowess in martial arts. Houses are decorated with grand floral arrangements called pookkalam. The sadya or feast is looked forward to, as it consists of around 13 dishes prepared specially for this occasion. A notable feature of this festival is that it is celebrated by people of all religions and communities in Kerala – a reminder that joy is to be shared without distinctions.
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Myth & Mythology by Devdutt Pattanaik
The story of Mahabali is very complex, containing layers and layers of thought, spread over 3,000 years â€“ and reminds us that when ideology blinds us, we turn to mythology
paces of land. Mahabali gave it. At that moment, Vaman took the form of a giant, and with two paces covered the earth and the sky, and in a booming voice told Mahabali that there was no place for him to place his foot after the third pace. Mahabali, overwhelmed by this magnificent sight, bowed down and asked Vaman to place his foot on his head. Vaman did so and shoved Mahabali under the earth. Impressed by Mahabali’s nature, Vishnu asked him for a boon, and Mahabali asked Vishnu to serve as his doorkeeper in Patala. Vishnu agreed and declared that once a year, Mahabali would return to earth, and with him would come great harvest and prosperity.
A few months ago*, there was a war going on in Kerala about whether Onam has to be celebrated as the annual return during harvest of Mahabali, the asura king, from Patala, his subterranean realm or as Vaman Jayanti, the triumph of Vishnu’s dwarf avatar, Vaman over Bali. But, very few commented on the fact that unlike Kerala, in the rest of India, Bali’s return is celebrated on the first day of the waxing moon, known as Bali Pratipada, the fourth day of Diwali, following the new moon night when Lakshmi is venerated. According to Vishnu Purana, there was a great asura king called Mahabali during whose rule everyone was so happy that they felt no need to invoke the devas during yagnas. In fact, no one died, and so Yama, the God of Death, was worried. So, the devas went to their father Brahma who took them to Vishnu; and he promised to find a way to get rid of the wonderful Mahabali. Since Mahabali could not be defeated in war, Vishnu decided to defeat him taking advantage of his generosity, for Mahabali had declared he would give whosoever approached him, whatsoever they asked for. Vishnu, in the form of a dwarf or Vaman, asked for three
From a mythological point of view, the story is very complex, containing layers and layers of thought, spread over 3,000 years, from the Vedic Vishnu, who takes three paces to measure space and time, to the Puranic conflict between devas and asuras, Lakshmi’s primeval association with subterranean creatures – including nagas, asuras and yakshas – to the Brahminical need to turn every avatar of Vishnu into a privileged Brahmin, who brings good luck to all those who respect and take care of him, to the historical spread of Brahminism from North India to South India, and the role Brahmins played in legitimising kingship in exchange for land-grants, to the rise of caste hierarchy in India, to the discomfort with charity in some Hindu philosophies (charitable characters are demons or anti-heroes who invariably suffer). However, in the 19th century, the British transformed this complex myth into self-serving historical narrative, an approach that greatly appeals ironically to ‘rational’, ‘secular’ and even ‘atheist’ Right- and Left-leaning politicians. Rightleaning politicians see the story as indicating the historical spread of dharma across India, and the defeat of immoral and unethical ‘demons’. Left-leaning politicians see the story as a story of Aryan invasion of white Brahmins who overpowered and enslaved black people and made them Dalit. When ideology blinds us, we turn to mythology, subjective truth of communities about the human condition, into history, which is more often than not a political truth.
*The reference was made last year, when the article was written. Published on 15th October, 2017, in Mid-day. Reprinted with permission from www.devdutt.com
Holistic Living by Eknath Easwaran
Photo: Valade Christine
Big changes are made up of many individual choices. Whenever someone changing herself to be kinder or more selfless, that person is changing the world a little, leaving it a little better than before
It All Adds Up
Today we often hear that the best way to help the world is for each of us to change ourselves. But I wonder how many really understand what this means. It implies much more than changing lifestyle. We need to go on changing and improving our thought-style. It is true that when we drive less, for example, we are contributing to cleaner air. And it is true that such examples spread, and that big changes consist of many individual choices. But that is only the surface. Every decision you make for others, against your own conditioning, sets in motion changes deep in personality. Deeper resources that
will find new opportunities for selfless service are released. That is why, whenever I see somebody changing herself to be kinder or more selfless, my heart leaps in delight. That person is changing the world a little, leaving it a little better than before. This is where meditation shines. In meditation we have the mightiest tool for changing our personality completely. And the marvel of it is that every way of thinking that you’ve been conditioned to, every way of speaking, acting, and living, can be changed into the perfect image of your highest ideals. In this sense, meditation can be presented as armour that can protect anyone from the siren call of social pressure and the mass media to ignore their ideals and throw their lives away in living for themselves.
Come home to your ideals That is why I teach meditation. I am all ears when somebody says, “I don’t know how to be kind. I don’t know how to release deeper resources to make my life count.” I say, “I can teach you!” That is what meditation is for. Memorise a passage on kindness, memorise a passage on goodness, and then drive it inwards. You will become kind; you will become good. In practice, the spiritual life means remaking personality to reach the highest ideals that have been bequeathed to humanity by great teachers in all the world’s major religions. When you meditate on passages from the world’s great scriptures and mystics, you are filling your mind with the highest ideals a human being can aspire to. Everyone can learn to do this. If you are one of the great majority of human beings who have allowed their ideals to get vague around the edges, meditation can sharpen and strengthen them. Simply refreshing these ideals in meditation can bring an immediate sense of relief, as if coming home again after a long absence or finding something precious you had lost and forgotten.
A deep desire to serve Many people have come to me to ask my opinion of what career they should pursue. I always told them, “Don’t ask what you want to do. Don’t ask what will pay the best salary or what promises the most prestige. Ask what the world needs that you can offer.” For those who are just setting out in life, I would appeal to you to choose a career that gives your ideals the fullest room for expression. At the beginning, it need not matter what your occupation is so long as it is not at the expense of life. Whether you are a concert pianist or an athlete, a teacher or a clerk, it is possible to embody the highest ideals in your character and conduct.
As meditation takes root in your life, however, greater opportunities will come. A great many people who have come to me in the course of this work have found, as their meditation deepened, that unsuspected faculties for service began to flow into their hands. Some found ways to channel these resources into existing jobs; others found new opportunities opening for them, such as a volunteer position in community service. One way or another, such opportunities will come the way of everyone with the deep desire to serve. Many of these people responded by finding work in health care or education, where high ideals are precious. But a few chose to help me with their careers, not only basing their lives on meditation but sharing the work of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation. This lofty calling is rare, but in every generation, I feel sure, a few will arise who want to help carry the precious gift of meditation to millions of others around the world. Article courtesy Blue Mountain Journal (https://www.bmcm.org/ inspiration/journals/) Extracted from"Turning Ideals into Action: The Spiritual Challenge", Spring/Summer 2017.
Join Us Every Saturday Global Adjustments Office, Chennai, facilitates a free weekly spiritual fellowship group following Easwaran’s Eight–Point Programme of Meditation. E-mail us for more information at globalindian@globaladjustments. com. If you are in other cities, visit www.bmcm.org for e-satsangs.
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The August edition of Culturama celebrates India's 71st Independence Day with a specially curated set of articles. We turn back time and loo...
Published on Jul 31, 2018
The August edition of Culturama celebrates India's 71st Independence Day with a specially curated set of articles. We turn back time and loo...