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INDIA VOL 26 NO. 2 MAY 2012



COVER STORY India on a Platter


An Exercise in History



MAY 2012

May 6 May 1-13

VASANT UTSAV DANCE FESTIVAL Dancers showcase classical dance forms, including Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi and Xatriya with the Kapaleeswarar Temple as a backdrop. Where: Kapaleeswarar Temple, Chennai May 1

THRISSUR POORAM The grandest of all temple festivals, it features a procession of 30 lavishly decorated elephants carrying the town’s deities on their backs. Other attractions include drum concerts, ornamental parasol displays and fireworks. Where: Vadakkumnathan Temple, Thrissur

May 4-6

SUMMER FESTIVAL Sham-e-Qawwali, a musical show by renowned singers from across the country, is a major attraction. Other highlights include sporting events like a boat race on the Nakki Lake, a roller skating race and fireworks display. Where: Mount Abu

BANGANGA FAIR This annual event pays homage to Lord Krishna and his wife Radha. A holy dip in the Banganga river is the major attraction for thousands of devotees. Where: Radha-Krishnaji Temple, Jaipur

May 7 May 1-31

KHOTACHIWADI FESTIVAL The month-long event celebrates the heritage precinct of Khotachiwadi, a small street that has about 65 Portuguese houses. Food courts, stand-alone stalls, an art gallery, a souvenir shop, a herbal garden are the other attractions. Where: Khotachiwadi, Mumbai May 1-3

MOATSU MONG FESTIVAL A time for feasting, dancing, singing and merry-making as the sowing season comes to an end. The Ao tribe of Nagaland celebrates the festival to propitiate the gods for a good harvest. Where: Nagaland

May 6

BUDDHA JAYANTI Celebrates the birth of Lord Buddha. Activities include prayer meets, sermons and religious discourses, recitation of Buddhist scriptures, group meditation and processions. Where: Sarnath (Uttar Pradesh) and Bodhgaya (Bihar)

RABINDRANATH JAYANTI The birth anniversary of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore is popularly called Poncheeshe Boishakh. Besides paying tribute to Tagore, cultural shows, poetry recitations, music, skits, dramas, traditional songs are part of the celebrations. Where: West Bengal

editorial note ustralia to Canada and Argentina to Japan, Indian restaurants dot countries around the world. They are popular, but, unfortunately, diners often come away with the idea that Indian cuisine is nothing but North Indian cooking, that our food is typified by chicken tikka masala and naan (a bread cooked in a special clay oven and served fresh), that it tends to be overly rich and very spicy. Like most clichés, this is far from true. The cover story this month visits some of the country’s regional kitchens, where each dish and each ingredient has a story to tell. The chilli tells of sea voyages of the Portuguese. The Europeans came to India to trade in spices and settled in Goa. Even today their influence is visible in the architecture of the old town, and, of course, in the food — which is high on, what else but, chillies. They introduced to India the spice that they, in turn, had got from the Americas. The tomato too journeyed with the Portuguese and Spanish across continents and oceans into India. Rice and tea, saffron and dates conjure up images of caravans winding their way through the high passes of the Himalayas connecting Central Asia, India and China. Biryani, a popular rice dish, is testimony to these cross-cultural encounters. Rice is said to have originated in China but was first domesticated in India. Saffron for the biryani was brought to India by traders from Central Asia. It was the Arabs who cooked the rice, meats and spices to produce the mouth-watering delicacy. The dish was refined and embellished by the Mughal emperors and the Nawabs of Awadh and Hyderabad. Today, it is on the menu of most Indian restaurants around the world. While speaking about matters global, the fourth summit of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) was held in New Delhi. This grouping of the world’s top five emerging economies comprises nearly half the world’s population and quarter of its GDP, and reflects the emerging shift of power from the West to the rest. In a bold move, the five nations decided to explore the establishment of a BRICS-led Development Bank that can provide an alternate voice in the global financial system. We also carry a profile of S.D. Biju, who has discovered a legless amphibian that shared the land with dinosaurs, and has a frog named after him — Biju’s Tree Frog. And we approach the much-awaited season of the mango, the king of fruits. The Indian summer would be so much poorer without it. Please keep writing with your opinions and comments.


Navdeep Suri




PERSPECTIVES May 2012  VOL 26 No. 2/2012

Editor: Navdeep Suri Assistant Editor: Abhay Kumar MEDIA TRANSASIA TEAM Editor-in-Chief: Maneesha Dube Creative Director: Bipin Kumar Desk: Urmila Marak Editorial Coordinator: Kanchan Rana Design: Ajay Kumar (Sr. Designer), Sujit Singh Production: Sunil Dubey (DGM), Ritesh Roy (Sr. Manager) Brijesh K. Juyal (Pre-Press Operator) Chairman: J.S. Uberoi President: Xavier Collaco Financial Controller: Puneet Nanda Send editorial contributions and letters to Media Transasia India Ltd. 323, Udyog Vihar, Phase IV, Gurgaon 122016 Haryana, India E-mail: Telephone: 91-124-4759500 Fax: 91-124-4759550

India Perspectives is published every month in Arabic, Bahasa Indonesia, Bengali, English, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Pashto, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Sinhala, Spanish, Tamil, Turkish, Urdu and Vietnamese. Views expressed in the articles are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the Ministry of External Affairs. This edition is published for the Ministry of External Affairs by Navdeep Suri, Joint Secretary, Public Diplomacy Division, New Delhi, 140 ‘A’ Wing, Shastri Bhawan, New Delhi-110001. Telephones: 91-11-23389471, 91-11-23388873, Fax: 91-11-23385549 Website: Text may be reproduced with an acknowledgement to India Perspectives For a copy of India Perspectives contact the nearest Indian diplomatic mission.


MAY 2012


INDIA ON A PLATTER Indian cuisine is a diverse mixture of flavours and tastes reflecting a variety of cultures and regions. Be it dum pukht biryani from Lucknow, fish curry and rice from Bengal or fiery pork vindalho from Goa, our cooking uses a rich range of aromatic spices


India This Month


Global Perspectives: BRICS by Brick


Partnerships: The Indian Experience


Heritage: An Exercise in History


Profile: Froggy Saga


Travel: Puducherry





Film: Agents of Change


Verbatim: Gautam Sengupta










 MAY 2012








Even leftovers like spinach stalks and peels of vegetables are transformed into tasty preparations in the Bengali kitchen. (Clockwise from above) Fried hilsa; Bengali prawn curry; roshogulla; a man fishing


An Elaborate Repast From bitter gourds and batter fries to fish, meat and chutney, Bengal’s culinary repertoire contains an immense variety of dishes T EX T : U T TA R A G A NGO PA DHYAY

n most households, people leave for work in the morning after a hot meal comprising dal (lentils), bhaat (rice), bhaja (fry) and machher jhol (fish curry). This may appear surprising to many, but a Bengali meal is never a shortcut affair. Bengalis are known for their partiality to fish, all the same their culinary repertoire contains a range of vegetable dishes. Apart from the use of common vegetables like potato, gourd, cauliflower and cabbage, tubers and beans, they use mocha (banana flower) and thor (the pith of a banana plant), enchor (unripe jackfruit) and daanta (succulent drumsticks). Even leftovers such as spinach stalks and vegetable peels are transformed into tasty preparations. It is customary to serve a dish of tender neem leaves at the beginning of a main meal — a traditional Bengali meal starts off with something bitter and ends with a sweet dessert. The bitter taste is said to be good for cleansing the palate and also for letting the digestive juices flow. One of the commonest dishes on a menu is the jhol or thin stew in which vegetables or fish are cooked. Apart from fish, mutton, fowl (a late entrant to the Bengali kitchen) and eggs, Bengalis also delight in eating prawns, lobsters and crabs. The roe of hilsa fish is a delicacy. A fish head can be cooked in dal or with vegetables. A unique spice blend used in the Bengali kitchen is the pach phoron. It is made by mixing five spices — cumin seeds, fennel seeds, nigella seeds, fenugreek seeds and mustard seeds — in equal quantities. Traditionally, mustard oil is the cooking medium of choice in east India, especially Bengal. Mustard seeds are used for tempering dishes and shorse bata (paste of ground whole mustard) adds a sharp, fiery flavour to the food. Shorse ilish, steam-cooked hilsa fish in mustard occupies pride of place on a Bengali table. Sweets are an integral part of Bengali cuisine. Mishti doi (sweet curd), roshogulla (cottage cheese and semolina balls cooked in sugar syrup) and shondesh (sweetened cottage cheese) are some of the popular desserts. A Bengali meal is cooked with precision and served with refinement, it is marked by multiple courses and a formality regarding the serving sequence. 





Seafood Divine Mouth-watering fish curry and rice, spicy sausages, cashew nut feni and the 16-layered bebinca, Goan cuisine is a foodie’s delight T EX T : R U PA L I DE A N

oan cuisine is as zesty as its people. Seafood and rice hold the reins in the daily meal. Prawns, lobsters, crabs, and jumbo pomfrets are used for soups, salads, pickles, curries and fried food. It runs the gamut from fried fish to exotic concoctions like ambot-tik, a slightly sour curry dish which can be prepared with either fish or meat. ldeirada is a mildly flavoured offering in which fish or prawns are cooked into a kind of stew with vegetables, and often flavoured with wine. Racheiado is a delicious preparation in which a whole fish, usually a mackerel or pomfret, is slit down the centre and stuffed with a spicy red sauce, after which it is cooked. A must have for starters is the Pao com chourico — these spicy Goan sausages are sautéed with onions and served in a bread roll. A highlight of Goan cuisine is the pork vindalho, considered to be the king of Goan pork dishes. It is made of pork cubes spiced with the choicest spices grown in the Western Ghats, and cooked slowly over medium heat. It’s best enjoyed with rice. Balchao de Camaro is a delectable item of spicy prawns cooked in a tangy shrimp and feni sauce. For those who like their fish less spicy, fish caldine, a mildly-spiced coconut and turmeric fish curry makes a top choice. Goan vegetarian doesn’t have too many takers. Most of the vegetables are steamed or stirfried and mildly spiced. Grinding spices is an integral part of any recipe, and the tastier the dish the longer it takes to make the masala (spices). Every part of the coconut is used in Goan cooking, this includes oil, milk, and grated coconut flesh, while toddy, the sap from the coconut palm, is used to make vinegar and also acts as an yeast substitute. Sorpotel is perhaps the most popular dish of the Goans, and is prepared from pork, liver, heart and kidney, all of which are diced small and cooked in a thick and spicy sauce, it is best enjoyed with feni. The locally-brewed feni is made from the fruit of the cashew tree and is a great accompaniment to wash down all food. The most popular dessert is Bebinca, made of layers of coconut pancakes. The ingredients include plain flour, egg yolks, sugar, ghee (clarified butter) and coconut milk. The dish is a must at any celebration, be it a birthday, wedding, Christmas or Easter. 



 MAY 2012

Sorpotel is the most popular dish of the Goans, and is prepared from pork, liver, heart and kidney, cooked in a thick and spicy sauce. (Clockwise from above) Fried pomfret with rice and salad; Prawn racheiado; sorpotel; fish curry and rice

The ultimate formal banquet in Kashmir is the Wazwan. Of its thirty-six courses, as many as 15 to 30 can be preparations made of meat, especially mutton. (Clockwise from above) A platter laden with traditional delicacies; Kashmiri lamb korma, chicken fry and lamb curry with chapati; kahwa (green tea) is a favourite digestive after meals


Meaty Affair Kashmiris are extremely fond of mutton and their cuisine boasts of some delectable and mouth-watering dishes T EX T : U M E S H M AT TO O

ashmiri food is the result of an intermingling of cultures from Persia and Afghanistan. Both Kashmiri Hindus as well as Muslims are passionately fond of meat, although there is a distinct difference in the cooking styles adopted by them. Kashmiri Muslim cuisine boasts of some delectable and mouth-watering dishes like gushtaba (meatball in white yogurt gravy), rista (meatballs in a fiery red gravy), rogan josh (tender lamb cooked with Kashmiri spices) and mirchwagan korma (a spicy lamb preparation). The generous use of saunf (fennel powder), adrak (ginger), the ubiquitous Kashmiri mirch (chilli) and saffron is common to both cuisines. Where Kashmiri Hindu cuisine is concerned, there is a distinct parity vis-à -vis other culinary arts of the state. The entire cuisine, including the meats, is cooked without onions, garlic or tomatoes. Curd is used liberally in almost everything, except certain kebabs, giving the food a creamy consistency. Festivals celebrated around the year are inextricably linked to the customs and traditions associated with each one of them. There are variations in the way celebrations are held in each house. While some cook typical vegetarian dishes like dum aloo (boiled potatoes cooked in gravy) and palak nadru (a preparation of spinach and lotus stem), others prepare meats just to uphold traditions. Cooking is done over a low flame in earthenware pots. It is this form of slow cooking that makes these dishes so delicious. A personal favourite from the vast range of dishes is gogji maaz, a combination of shalgam (turnips) and mutton. Other dishes include kaalia, a mutton curry cooked with mild spices. Gaad or fish is also an important part of the diet. The ultimate formal banquet in Kashmir is the Wazwan. Of its thirty-six courses, between 15 and 30 can be preparations made of meat, especially mutton. Guests are seated in groups of four and share the meal out of a large metal plate called the tarami, which is heaped with rice and the first few courses. Seven dishes are a must— rista, rogan josh, tabak maaz (fried lamb ribs), daniwal korma (lamb cooked with lots of coriander), aab gosht (lamb cooked in milk), mirchwagan korma and the meal ends with the gushtaba. 





A Heady Concoction Tamil cuisine is spicy, and makes use of some common ingredients like turmeric, dry red chillies, mustard, cumin, fenugreek and tamarind T EX T : PA DM I N I NATA R A JA N

ost cooking methods in South India are rooted in family traditions. The ingredients place as much emphasis on nutrition as in the choice of flavour, texture and variety. Very little oil is used, and steaming is an important cooking technique. Tamil cuisine is spicy, and makes use of turmeric, dry red chillies, mustard, urad dal (black lentils), coriander seeds, cumin, fenugreek and tamarind. Chettinad cuisine, food of the Chettiar community, is perhaps, one of the most aromatic and spiciest in the entire country. The most popular breakfast items in South India are idli (steamed cakes made of fermented black lentils and rice) and dosa (fermented pancake made from rice and black lentil batter) usually served with chutney and sambhar (vegetable stew made with tamarind and yellow lentils). The most important dishes for a feast in South India are the vadai (lentil dumplings), payasam (milk-based dessert) and fried appalam or puffy poppadoms. Poli, a sweet flat bread with fillings of grated coconut cooked in finely ground jaggery or tuvar dal (split yellow lentils), sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and saffron is a favourite. There are standard menus for a feast. A banana leaf with one end intact and cut at the other is placed before guests. First, a spoonful of payasam is served. Then, comes the other dishes beginning with a pachadi (chutney), raita (cucumber and tomatoes in yoghurt and seasoned with mustard and curry leaves). Next, there’s the sweet pachadi made with raw mango and jaggery. This is followed by a dry vegetable like beans, cabbage or broad beans seasoned with mustard, urad dal and curry leaves. Avial, a melange of vegetables cooked in yoghurt, grated coconut, cumin and green chilli and tempered with coconut oil, mustard and curry leaves is served next. Tamarind rice or lemon rice is usually served before the main course. A spoonful of cooked, salted tuvar dal is mixed with rice before the sambhar is served. Rasam, the second course is mixed with steamed rice. It is a thin mash of tuvar dal or the stock from cooked dal. Hot payasam is served next. The meal is wound up with rice and yoghurt and a pickle made of baby mangoes or tangy lemons. The final item on the menu is a fat, yellow banana. 



 MAY 2012

The most important dishes for a feast in South India are the vadai (lentil dumplings), payasam (milk-based dessert) and fried appalam or puffy poppadoms. (Clockwise from left) Payasam with nuts; idlis with chutney; paper dosa; Tamil cuisine is usually served on a banana leaf

Awadhi cuisine is famous for the galawati and kakori kebabs. Also, popular are skewered tangri (chicken drumsticks) and cigar-shaped seekh kebabs (Clockwise from left) Dum pukht biryani, mutton seekh kebab; a selection of Awadhi delicacies; tunde kebabs


A Royal Treat From dum pukht biryani to the sizzling hot kebabs, the charm of an Awadhi feast is eternal T EX T : R ACHA NA R A NA B HAT TAC HA R YA

he tale of Lucknow’s famed cuisine goes back hundreds of years. Lucknow came into prominence with the appointment of Burhan-ul-Mulk as the Nawab of Awadh by the Mughal Emperor in 1722. Under the patronage of the Nawabs, Lucknow rose to become the unrivalled leader of Indian style, music, dance, theatre and cuisine. Awadh’s cuisine is now part of the country’s culinary legend. In 1780, a famine ravaged the kingdom of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah. To provide employment to the thousands who came knocking on his door, the distraught Nawab ordered the construction of an imambara (shrine) which would be razed to the ground each night and raised again next morning. He directed his head cook Murad Ali Qureshi to provide everyone a nutritious meal. With so many people to feed daily, Qureshi came up with an idea of putting everything into a large degh (pot), sealing its lid with dough and letting the flavours inside mingle over a slow fire overnight. When he opened the degh, one of the greatest cuisines of the world, dum pukht (cooked under pressure) was born. The cook built a huge bukhari (mud oven) and experimented with the technique leading to dum pukht one-dish meals like biryani (a dish of rice, meats and spices), khichda (a concoction of lentils, meat and vegetables) and haleem (a stew made of meat, pounded wheat, spices and clarified butter). One day, the Nawab passed by when the biryani pot was opened. Bewitched by the tantalising whiff, he asked for some of it to be served at his table. Since then, neither nawab nor commoner has been able to resist the magic. Awadhi Cuisine is also famous for its breads and kebabs. The galawati kebabs and kakori kebabs take pride of place on the Lucknowi table, followed by tangri (drumsticks) and seekh (cigar-shaped spiced minced meat grilled on skewers) kebabs. Different kinds of pulaos (rice dishes) are also popular. Exotic desserts like sewai (vermicelli pudding), phirni (rice pudding), shahi tukra (bread pudding garnished with pistachios) are relished at the end of a meal. For those who enjoy meats, there is no place quite like Lucknow and the real place to taste the flavours of Awadhi cuisine is the lanes and bylanes of the older part of the city. 





BRICS by Brick Leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa pitched for a bigger voice for emerging countries in global governance institutions TEXT: MANISH CHAND


he air was thick with scepticism when the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS), the world’s top five emerging economies, began their fourth summit in Delhi on March 29. But when the summit ended with an ambitious 50-point Delhi Declaration, the message was loud and clear. This was no glorified photo-op or a mutual admiration club. On the contrary, BRICS, which comprises nearly half the world’s population and a quarter of global GDP, was seeking to create a new world order to reflect the seismic shift of power from the West to the rest. BRICS leaders pitched for a bigger voice for emerging countries in global governance institutions, including the United Nations (UN), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Despite their varying backgrounds and profiles, the leaders also made it clear to the West that force

and sanctions won’t do and underlined that only dialogue and diplomacy could resolve the Iranian nuclear standoff and the Syria crisis. In their speeches, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Presidents Hu Jintao (China), Dmitry Medvedev (Russia), Dilma Rousseff (Brazil) and Jacob Zuma (South Africa) underlined the need for restructuring the world order to accommodate emerging economies and developing countries and closer coordination on global issues. “While some progress has been made in international financial institutions, there is lack of movement on the political side. BRICS should speak with one voice on important issues such as the reform of the UN Security Council,” said Manmohan Singh, the summit host. He spoke about the need for addressing deficit in global governance. “We are committed to stepping up exchanges with other


Leaders of BRICS countries (from left) President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Chinese President Hu Jintao and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa in New Delhi


BRICS leaders made it clear to the West that force and sanctions won’t do and underlined that only dialogue and diplomacy could resolve the Iranian nuclear standoff and the Syria crisis.


 MAY 2012

countries on global economic governance reforms and increasing representation of developing countries,” said Hu. The Delhi Declaration encapsulated these concerns and saw BRICS leaders voicing disappointment with the slow pace of the IMF quota reforms and asking the West to implement the 2010 governance and quota reform before the 2012 IMF/World Bank annual meeting. It was an amplification of master themes that dominated the first three summits at Yekaterinburg (2009), Brasilia (2010) and China (2011) but the Delhi summit sought to break fresh ground. In a pioneering step that could prove to be a gamechanger, BRICS decided to create its first institution in the form of a BRICS-led Development Bank that will mobilise “resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging economies and developing countries.”

Trade and Industry ministers from BRICS countries (from left) Fernando Pimentel of Brazil, Elvira Nabiullina of Russia, Anand Sharma of India, Chen Deming of China, and Rob Davies of South Africa during the Business Forum

The leaders directed their finance ministers “to examine the feasibility and viability of such an initiative, set up a joint working group for further study and report back by the next summit. The joint BRICS bank may emerge as the supplement to the West-dominated World Bank or the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and could hasten the reordering of the global financial management system. South African President Jacob Zuma has voiced hope that such a bank will give an impetus to developmental aspirations of Africa by bringing the much-needed capital for financing infrastructure projects in the continent. Besides the BRICS bank, the four-year-old grouping set up an ambitious target to scale intra-BRICS trade from ` 11,881 billion to ` 25,829 billion by 2015 and sought to promote greater economic integration. The development banks of the five countries signed two pacts on promoting

trade transactions in local currencies of BRICS countries. These included enabling the master agreement for extending credit facilities in local currencies and BRICS multilateral letter of credit confirmation facility agreement. The mechanism envisages grant of credit lines in local currencies and cooperation in capital markets and other financial services, treasury transactions and issuing local currency bonds in BRICS markets subject to national laws and regulations. Other key economic decisions included setting up a BRICS exchange, which has already become operational. The BRICS report, which maps out synergies and complementarities among economies of BRICS countries to spur mutual trade and investment, was also released. The report was prepared by experts from all BRICS countries under the leadership of Kaushik Basu, India’s chief economic advisor.




The joint BRICS bank may emerge as an alternative to the World Bank or the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and could hasten the reordering of the global financial management system.


 MAY 2012

Contesting the West’s narrative, the five countries warned the West against allowing the Iran situation to escalate into a conflict and said dialogue was the only way to resolve the Iranian and Syria issues. “The situation concerning Iran cannot be allowed to escalate into conflict, the disastrous consequences of which will be in no one’s interest,” said the declaration. The declaration saw the leaders voicing “deep concern” over Syria as they called for “an immediate end to all violence and violations of human rights in that country”, backing a Syrian-led inclusive political process. Amid differing perceptions, India played a crucial role in shaping the collective stance of the BRICS countries on the need for dialogue to resolve the festering crisis in West Asia, home to over six million Indians, and to push continued regional and international cooperation in stabilising Afghanistan. BRICS leaders took a long-range view and affirmed

Russian President Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev (left) receives a memento from India’s Minister of Human Resources and Development Kapil Sibal; (left) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with President of the People’s Republic of China Hu Jintao

their commitment to support Afghanistan’s emergence as “a peaceful, stable and democratic state, free of terrorism and extremism” and underscored “the need for more effective regional and international cooperation for the stabilisation of Afghanistan”. The summit adopted an ambitious multi-layered action plan that includes meetings of foreign ministers on sidelines of the UN General Assembly and meetings of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors on sidelines of G20 meetings. They also identified new areas of cooperation that includes multilateral energy cooperation within BRICS framework, and future long-term strategy for BRICS; BRICS Youth Policy Dialogue; and cooperation in populationrelated issues. This all-encompassing agenda that ranges from opposing protectionism in trade and promoting multilateralism in

world politics to the UN reforms and collaborating in global climate change negotiations does not detract from differences of perception and divergences on certain issues among the Emerging-5. The BRICS, after all, comprise two permanent members of the UN Security Council (Russia and China) and three aspiring members of the UNSC (India, Brazil and South Africa). But the fact that the E-5 has found substantial common ground to band together on a broad common agenda is no mean feat and accounts for increasing global spotlight on this nascent grouping which is often described as the first non-Western effort at re-engineering the world order. But if the BRICS have to succeed, they have to move from the declaratory phase to action and its success will be judged by how it goes around fructifying some of the signature initiatives like the BRICS bank that emerged from the New Delhi summit. 




The Indian Experience The Saudi students’ visit to India will help promote bilateral ties and foster enduring friendships between the two countries TEXT: MEENAKSHI KUMAR


hey love actors Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai. Bollywood and Indian food rule their hearts. Monuments, culture and India’s new success story, the IT industry, fascinate them. The group of 26 students from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who were on a 10-day visit to India, cherished each and every moment of their maiden India trip, organised by the Saudi-Indian Youth Forum. Alanoud K. Bin Khuthaila, a graduate from medical school, was in for a surprise when she landed in India. Advised by friends and family to take vaccines and medicines to save herself from dreadful diseases in India, and told about the poor sanitation facilities, Alanoud was worried about her trip. But her fears were put to rest the moment she landed. India was nothing like what she had been made to believe by people who had visited decades ago. “I was impressed by how developed India is. Both Bangalore and Hyderabad and now Delhi are so green. The buildings, both new and old, are amazing. But more importantly, the people are so warm and nice,” she gushes. Waad Saud Al Dossary, a first-year student of law, agrees and says, “It’s a new world. I was told that we will see only poor people everywhere but that has not been the case.” The Saudi-Indian Youth Forum was formed in 2011 to foster friendly relations between Saudi and the Indian youth. The idea of the Forum is to promote better understanding, fostering enduring friendships and exchanging experiences and information between youths in the two countries. “The idea was mooted during similar trips of Saudi youth to China, Brazil and Germany. We want to promote the growing relations between Saudi Arabia and India and


 MAY 2012

(Above) The 26 delegates from Saudi Arabia; at an interactive session

(Above) Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed with Saudi Youth Forum led by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Economic and Cultural Affairs Dr Yousef Terad Al Saadon in New Delhi; (below) Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology Sachin Pilot gifts a memento to a Saudi student

benefit from the Indian experience in information and communication technology,” says D. Thulsiaraj, deputy director and national head, Young Indians. After an informative trip to IT hubs Bangalore and Hyderabad, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and telemedicine centre at Dr Devi Shetty’s Narayana Hrudayalaya hospital, Bangalore, Delhi was their last stop. At the concluding session of the forum, they interacted with India’s Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed. The youth delegation from Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and India presented their visions and proposals aimed at bolstering bilateral relations with a special focus on encouraging cooperation in the communications and IT sectors. Both the sides proposed joint solutions in science, medicine and technology fields, especially making available medical services to remote regions with the help of advanced technology and e-health services. In a letter to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki

Moon, one of the representatives of the Saudi youth delegation said, “Our language is the future. We want to utilise today’s technology to improve lives.” That’s something Mohamed Awad Al-Qahtani, an information systems student, would like to do. “If we can use the technology available and improve the poor people’s lives, we can do our bit to make this world a better place,” he says. Kholoud K. Ben Bakr, an information systems student, was “amazed by the harmony which exists in India despite so many religions here”. Albara Mohammed Al Ohali, a software engineering graduate, who now works with Google in Dubai, summed up their experience as “Incredible India!” Young Indians, an integral part of the Confederation of Indian Industry, facilitated the visit of the Saudi delegation. Its objective is to become the voice of young Indians globally. The Saudi delegation was led by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Economic and Cultural Affairs of the Government of Saudi Arabia Dr Yousef Terad Al Saadon. 



The Asian Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York


 MAY 2012


An Exercise in

History Museums in the US have built up strong collections of Indian art spanning centuries TEXT: LAVINA MELWANI


t may come as a surprise that Indian art and antiques have been finding their way to the US as far back as the 1800s — long before Indian immigrants left their homeland. Back in 1800, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, acquired its first work of art from India. Today, its holdings include thousands of works from the 18th century through the 21st century. These consist of paintings and drawings; works in clay, wood and metal; embroideries; furniture; and a large collection of 19th century photographs. The collection also contains logs, journals, and letters recounting 18th-and 19th-century voyages to India. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York also has an old Indian connection — a Pala sculpture was donated to it in1891. It has a treasure trove of antiquities in the South Asian Galleries donated by Herbert and Florence Irving, well-known collectors of South Asian art. The collection here includes a seated Gandhara Buddha, which may be the earliest Gandhara metal image of the Buddha known, and a bronze sculpture of goddess Parvati, one of the finest Chola sculptures outside India. There is also a Gupta period terracotta of Krishna killing Keshi, the horse demon. Another masterpiece is a 14th century sculpture from South India showing Yashoda nursing infant Krishna. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, regarded as the birthplace of Indian art scholarship in the US, is another institution with a rich collection of Mughal paintings, Indian drawings, paintings from



Game art

Chess set from Delhi region, c. 1850, with ivory pieces and wood board inlaid with ivory; a gift from industrialist Norton Simon

the Punjab Hills, early Buddhist art and medieval stone sculptures. The museum has over 5,000 objects of South Asian origin; the first Indian pieces came into the museum around 1900. Denman Waldo Ross, an important collector, donated several pieces to the museum, including a Yakshi figure from Sanchi, which may be the only one outside India. He also purchased the private collection of philosopher Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy and donated it to the museum. He was instrumental in appointing Coomaraswamy, who was of British and Sri Lankan descent, as the museum’s first curator for Indian art. Although British archaeologists and art experts had begun to piece together a basic chronology of Indian art, Coomaraswamy was responsible for placing art objects in a social, religious, and political context, and for explaining the art so that a Western audience could appreciate it. He wrote a definitive book on Indian painting and is regarded as the father of Indian art history in the US. On the west coast, the Los Angeles County Museum displays a diverse range of 11th century Pala dynasty manuscripts, Mughal dynasty paintings from the 16th to the 19th century, and modern South Asian graphic arts. The earliest material on exhibit is from the Harappan civilisation, which flourished around 5,000 years ago. San Francisco is the home of the Asian Art Museum, which has one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of its kind. It has temple sculptures, bronze images, miniature paintings and wood carvings, reflecting trends in religions of India over 2,000 years. The museum also has a strong collection of Sikh art. Narinder Singh Kapany of California, who coined the term Sikh art, is one of the prominent donors for this section. The Janam Sakhi manuscripts, which form the nucleus of Kapany’s collection, belonged to his ancestors two centuries ago. The large collection includes paintings as well as arms and armour. To see the best of Indian art a visit to Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California is a must. Industrialist Norton Simon, who was married to actress Jennifer Jones, travelled to India on his


 MAY 2012

Fine show

Krishna battling Keshi, the horse demon, a 5th century Gupta period terracotta sculpture from Uttar Pradesh



Deity in stone

An 8th century sandstone Ganesha from Uttar Pradesh at the Asia Society, New York

Piece of history

A sculpture in beige sandstone from Madhya Pradesh; from the Norton Simon Foundation collection


 MAY 2012

A VIRTUAL TOUR OF INDIA IN AMERICA A click of the mouse can transport you to a world of Indian art and artefacts: Asian Arts Museum: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: Brooklyn Museum: Philadelphia Museum: The Cleveland Museum of Arts: Freer Sackler Gallery: The Honolulu Academy of the Arts: Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Newark Museum: Norton Simon Museum: Peabody Essex Museum: San Diego Museum of Art: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Diagonal, (1974), oil on canvas by Tyeb Mehta, a gift from the Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection to the Peabody Essex Museum

honeymoon in 1971. Simon’s trip to India sparked his interest in collecting Indian art, and this remained a lifelong passion. While still in India, he made his first acquisition, which included a 19th-century Mughal ivory chess set. This was the beginning of many acquisitions from galleries in New York over the years. Washington is also a place to see great Indian art, a stone’s throw from the White House. The Freer and Sackler galleries of the Smithsonian have a rich collection of South Asian art with over 1,200 objects from the 1st century BC to the present. The highlights include a Gandhara frieze illustrating the life of Buddha, the Freer Ramayana — an illustrated manuscript of the Hindu epic painted for a Mughal nobleman, as well as a small but superb collection of Chola bronzes and paintings from the Mughal and Rajput courts and Company school works by Indian artists for British patrons. Newark Museum of Art has many Indian artworks. It received a major gift in 1941. The holdings are particularly strong in textiles and folk art, but many fine examples of Buddhist and Hindu sculpture have entered the collection in the last 40 years. This is by no means a comprehensive map of the museums that house Indian art but encompasses some of the most noteworthy. The greatest Indian art is in India and will always remain in India. Says Steven Kossak, an expert on South Asian art, “What we have is first class, but the best of what exists in India is beyond first class.” The Indian-American community has also supported several galleries and sponsored and funded exhibitions. A generous gift by two philanthropic organisations from the community in Massachusetts enabled the Peabody to almost triple its gallery space for traditional art of India. The expanded galleries, named the Prashant H. Fadia Foundation and Deshpande Foundation Gallery, are one of the first South Asian galleries in an American art museum named after members of the Indian-American community. 




Froggy Saga Biju, an amphibian researcher, has discovered the earthworm-like legless amphibian of the chikilidae family, one of the few living species that shared the earth with dinosaurs TEXT: BINOO K. JOHN


athyabhama Das Biju, an amphibian researcher, has given us new stories of evolution, growth and extinction after scouring the forests of India. Over the last three decades, he has lived his life in search of many unknown and extinct species of frogs from the deep jungles in south India to the Northeast. “I go to see the forests. I watch the rains. I wait. I listen. If the frogs don’t croak that is also a question to be asked. It is not necessary that you will see or find something new. Nature will come to you. For me spending a night in a forest, listening to the call of the frogs is eternally fascinating,” says Biju, sitting in the Systematics Lab of the Centre for Environment Studies in Delhi University, surrounded by formaldehyde bottles of creepies and crawlies that can unlock for us the story of the universe. When two years ago he dug out the earthworm-like legless amphibian of the chikilidae family in the deep forests of Meghalaya, he was holding in his hands one of the few living species that shared the earth with dinosaurs. The discovery published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, after strenuous scientific scrutiny and recognised protocols, has proved that India’s deep forests hide many secrets of evolution. In 2003, Biju and his team had given science a wonderful story of survival from the Jurassic age. The purple frog which he discovered in the Western Ghats near Idukki in Kerala, also shared life with the dinosaurs and survived four mass extinctions that wiped out huge numbers of species. Over the last two decades Biju has discovered and documented over 150 species of amphibians one of which, Biju’s Tree Frog or the Polypedates Bijui is named after him. Of the 150 species he has published 70 species, eight genera and two families.

Over the last two decades Biju has discovered and documented over 150 species of amphibians one of which, Biju’s Tree Frog or the Polypedates Bijui is named after him.

Sathyabhama Das Biju



(Clockwise fro m above) Biju ’s discoveries Bijui; Nyctiba Polypedates trachus Poocha ; and Chikilid ae


 MAY 2012

The night time is the most fascinating for Biju when he can hear frogs playing out their mating game. It was one such catcall that made him discover the meowing night frog in the Western Ghats

Says Vivek Menon , director of Wildlife Trust of India, “Biju is a brilliant amphibian researcher,” a view echoed by his colleague Aniruddha Mookherjee, who says that the web of life has a billion unseen bits that keep the top going and it is people like Biju who can make the government see how significant their point of view is. A double doctorate, one in plant taxonomy from Calicut University and the other on Indian frogs from the University of Brussels, he has scaled the big stories of the universe and made the Jurassic age so much more real to us. “People ask me why I shifted from plants to amphibians. It is all the same. I don’t see much difference between zoology, biology or history,” he says. It was Biju’s childhood pastoral fascination that led him to dig out the many secrets that the forests hid. “I have no memory of school life at all. For me school was secondary. Helping my parents milk the cow and taking the cattle to graze is what I recollect. There I sat in the forests wondering at the might and the wonders it hid.” For him the night time is the most fascinating and he can hear frogs playing out their mating game. It was one such catcall that made him discover the meowing night frog in the Western Ghats which he named the Nyctibatrachus poocha (poocha meaning cat in Malayalam). The purple frog and the chikilidae (a caecilian variety) may have survived over millions of years because they are burrowing amphibians and live underground, cushioned by the soil. The chikilidae of the Garo Hills, whose ancestors would have been trampled underfoot by dinosaurs, can burrow through the toughest soil using its hard skull and can vanish quickly at the slightest vibration, a great survival skill. As Biju says, “It’s like a rocket. If you miss it during the first try, you’ll never catch it again.” The purple frog, the first new frog family to be discovered since 1926, also burrows with its snout nose and lives underground and sucks up food. The male only comes over ground to mate. This purple frog and the chikilidae lived in the southern super continent Gondwana of which India formed the eastern part. When tectonic shifts forced the continents to split and drift apart about 120 million years ago, such species also drifted away. For millions of years they survived without science discovering them and the locals in the Garo Hills thought the chikilidae to be small snakes. Thirty two per cent of all amphibians are facing extinction today. Biju and the Lost Amphibians of India Society are working on conserving them. Here’s wishing them success. 



Streets Tell Stories Puducherry, a charming little town tucked away in a quiet corner of Tamil Nadu, has a fascinating French flavour and makes for leisurely strolls TEXT: PRIYA SUNDARAVALLI


teeped in European influence since the 16th century, there is clearly a Mediterranean feel about this little seaside town in Tamil Nadu. Puducherry, as Pondicherry has been renamed, is small compared to other Indian cities, it is a miniature jewel. With its quaint streetscapes and unique building façades, Pondy, as it is popularly called, is a quintessential salad bowl of architectural expression; a picturesque reminder of its vibrant and chequered colonial past which included the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Danes, the French, the British, and then the French again. Not only its architecture, but also the plan of the old town is unique to India. Though the Dutch made the town plan, they did not stay long enough to put it into operation. The French, soon after they established their settlement in 1674, effectively built it. A French influence pervades the entire town. It finds expression in the restaurants with their French and fusion cuisine. The town abounds with 19th century mansions and monuments, private villas, stately government offices, French institutions, and many properties of the church and the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, all in their characteristic styles. The street façades of the French quarter are characterised by continuous wall-to-wall construction, with high garden walls and ornate gateways. The use of vertical pilasters and horizontal cornices is a distinct French detail, along with arched windows with louvered wooden shutters. Wooden balconies over iron brackets are also a defining feature. The centre of the French Quarter is the Government Square built around the largest green public space, the Bharathi park. Recently restored, it is modelled on the French urban gardens. Surrounded by a cast-iron fence with four grand gateways, it is a vehicle-free zone open


 MAY 2012

The town abounds with 19th century mansions, monuments, private villas, stately government offices and French institutions, all in their typical styles. (Clockwise from above) Mahatma Gandhi’s statue on the beachfront is surrounded by eight exquisitely carved pillars; tourists enjoying an evening at a restaurant; and the unique Auroville building

NAVIGATOR By Air: The nearest airport is Chennai (160 km). By Rail: A passenger train runs once a day from Puducherry to Chennai passing via Villupuram Junction (32 km away). By Road: The best way to reach Puducherry is to drive down the lovely East Coast Road from Chennai (150 km). Buses also ply from Chennai.

Puducherry, as Pondicherry has been renamed, is small compared to other Indian cities, but is a miniature jewel.

(Clockwise from left) A view from Le Café, the first French port in Puducherry, now a coffee shop; bicycles, a common mode of conveyance, are a perfect way to tour the city; and Our Lady of the Angels church

until ten at night. At its centre is nestled the Aayi Mandapam, a monument to a courtesan built by a French king. When the sun goes down and the park is softly lit, the work of French light designer Noel Le Riche, and an air of magic and romance takes over. The Rue Dumas, parallel to the beachfront, is a treasure trove of visual delights. The imposing white structure of the Mairie or Hôtel de Ville, is the first building that meets the eye. Once the town hall during the French administration, it is now Puducherry’s Municipal Office. Further down the road, is the Église Notre Dame des Anges or Our Lady of the Angels church, a delightful pinkand-cream structure. Built in 1855, it is both a sanctuary for peace and prayer with Sunday mass in French. Opposite the Église lies a forlorn garden that is easy to miss. There, dramatically silhouetted against the backdrop of the steel grey sea, is the statue of the young French warrior girl, Joan d’ Arc. With will and idealism writ upon her stucco face, she holds one fist to her heart as the other plants down a flag. Turning into the Rue Bazar Saint Laurent street towards the Romain Rolland junction is the famed Hotel Lagrenee de Meziere (1774). Once a private house, this place has now become a workshop of the religious order of Saint Joseph De Cluny that turns out exquisite embroidery and table linen. A little north (some 10 km) is the eye-soothingly green Auroville with it majestic architecture of the Matri Mandir. In the shape of a huge globe made up of golden discs, it has a white, marble-clad inner chamber meant for meditation. The area also includes the amphitheatre and a lake. The beach remains populated throughout the day. As the sun sets, a cool wind begins to blow, perfect features for a beautiful evening. 





Agents of Change The Pathbreakers (Part 1, 2 and 3) showcases the work of ordinary people with extraordinary courage who show the way forward to people in need


THE PATHBREAKERS PART 1, 2 AND 3 Genre: Documentary Directors: Part I: Anu Radha Part II: Naazish Husain and Sanjay Barnela Part III: Srenik and Sujata Sett Producer: Public Diplomacy Division, Ministry of External Affairs


 MAY 2012

n a vast, diverse and populous nation where swathes of rural poor face social, economic and environmental challenges, the interventions of intrepid men and women determined to make a difference to their communities are of enormous significance. Fighting deeply ingrained prejudices and confronting seemingly insurmountable problems in the backwoods can never be easy. But ordinary people with extraordinary courage baulk at nothing. These grassroots activists know that no battle is a cakewalk. Yet, in different parts of India, they step up when it counts and show the way forward to people in need. The Pathbreakers (Part 1, 2 and 3) showcases the work of nine unsung change leaders who have achieved success in their chosen missions. Part 1, directed by Anu Radha, travels from Leh in the nation’s northern extremity to Mirzapur and Hardoi in the heart of India to record the incredible deeds of three remarkable individuals who surmounted huge obstacles to trigger far-reaching solutions for those in dire need of real-life miracles. Among these three stories is that of septuagenarian Chewang Norphel, a retired government employee who transformed the lives of Leh’s farmers by trapping excess water and building stone dams to store it, thereby creating artificial glaciers. The peasants now have access to flowing streams of water during the summer months in what is a difficult and dry terrain. But Norphel is more than just the “glacier man” of Leh. He also encourages the people of the area to look for other sources of income to tide over the economic hardships. No less laudable are the efforts of anti-child labour activist Shamshad Khan, who has rescued many young people from the clutches of the exploitative carpet industry of Mirzapur, and Hardoi’s Chandralekha, a battered and abused woman who has gone on to empower many like her in Natpurwa village to revolt against the flesh trade that enslaves them. Both Shamshad and Chandralekha were up against heavy odds, but they championed their causes without backing off in the face of threats and setbacks. The two subsequent parts of The Pathbreakers are devoted to six courageous women who have risen way above their limitations to emerge as role models for an entire nation. The second documentary, directed by Naazish Husain and Sanjay Barnela, opens literally in the heart of darkness – in a Rajasthan village that does not have electricity. But it has Kamla, a barefoot solar engineer who steps out of her conservative Jat marital home to acquire the skill to dispel the darkness around her. There is also the tale of


Chewang Norphel, the glacier man of Leh; (below) Congress Kunwar

The films are about leaders and their stories of hope and courage that need to be emulated.

Congress Kunwar, a Rajput girl who defied her orthodox family and resisted child marriage. No wonder she is UNICEF’s poster girl in Rajasthan. While formal education was an uphill task for Congress Kunwar, it was an integral part of Vidya Devi’s life. As sarpanch of Shanag village in Himachal Pradesh’s Kullu district, she took on the timber mafia. Even after her term ended, the mother of two continued her crusade against deforestation and, in addition, mooted the idea of responsible tourism. Part 3, directed by Srenik and Sujata Sett, tracks the work of Patna-born activist Indrani Sinha who founded the Kolkata NGO, Sanlaap, in 1987 and set up a series of shelters for sexually abused victims of human trafficking. Sinha has taken her mission beyond the boundaries of India, networking with organisations in Bangladesh, Nepal and other parts of the subcontinent. At the other end of the spectrum is the self-made entrepreneur Moslema Bibi, who set up a doormat business in the orthodox rural community of Baikunthapur in Bengal’s West Midnapore district. She balances her domestic responsibilities with the demands of her trade with striking equanimity. As does Martha Badraita, sarpanch of a village in Orissa’s Gajpati district. She has brought down distress migration from her area by tapping the provisions of the National Rural Employments Guarantee Scheme for the betterment of the people she represents. These stories of hope and courage deserve to be celebrated. They are about real achievers in a land that needs many more of their ilk. —Saibal Chatterjee is a film and media critic




“We are helping to conserve many monuments in South East Asia”


reaching out to schools, colleges and universities and it is our endeavour to reach out as much as possible to children, college-going youngsters, senior citizens, professionals and people from all walks of life. But we have to refine our tools of communications.

What is the vision for the ASI as it completes 150 years? We are focusing on restructuring the organisation and working on an ambitious programme of publishing pending reports, research and exploration to reach out to the people and the professional community. Upgrading and developing our 44 site museums are on the agenda.

What is planned for the 150-year celebrations? The year-long celebrations for ASI's 150th year anniversary will kick-off with an exhibition, Rediscovering India, which will highlight the achievements of the ASI. The ASI plans to showcase its achievements, including excavations, popular monuments and successful conservation projects carried out from 1961 till 2011. The organisation had held a similar exhibition in Delhi in 1961, when it completed 100 years. The celebrations will feature three international seminars in Delhi and five regional-level seminars across India. Besides this, various circle offices across the country will also hold exhibitions during the year-long celebrations. The international seminar will be held on the Archaeology of Buddhism in Asia, Agro-Pastoral Communities and IndoIslamic Architecture.

he Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), India’s premier organisation for archaeological research and protection of cultural heritage, is celebrating 150 years of its existence. The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, has launched a year-long programme to commemorate the sesquicentennial anniversary. The ASI is responsible for the conservation of 3,677 monuments across the country. Dr Gautam Sengupta, Director General, ASI, spoke to Smita Singh on the organisation’s role.

What do you think are the biggest challenges for ASI? It is true that there is some enthusiasm, some emotional bonding with monuments, but it is also true that we are not sufficiently concerned about our monuments and are inactive in protecting them. Problems like urban expansion and environmental hazards are a threat. How do you plan to bring heritage and conservation to the forefront? We are already mobilising assistance from interested individuals, institutions and commercial houses. We are


 MAY 2012

How is ASI helping other countries with conservation? At the government’s request and support from the Ministry of External Affairs, we are helping in the conservation work of many monuments in South East Asian countries, like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Vat Phou or Wat Phu temple in Laos, My Son temple in Vietnam and Ananda temple, Bagan in Myanmar. 


The Buland Darwaza in Fatehpur Sikri is the world’s biggest gateway



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India Perspectives May 2012  

May 2012 issue of India Perspectives brings to you Indian culinary delights and much more

India Perspectives May 2012  

May 2012 issue of India Perspectives brings to you Indian culinary delights and much more