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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Vol. 3 No. 5

LOUNGE BAPU & us THE WEEKEND MAGAZINE

IN THE BYLANES OF PORBANDAR >Page 6

Ramachandra Guha on the relevance of Gandhi in modern-day India >Page 10

YOU CAN DO IT TOO

On 1 January, the copyright on Gandhi’s books ended. We revisit his autobiography >Page 8

LOST LESSONS

How the floundering discipline of Gandhian studies might be set for a revival overdue for decades >Page 12

A mixed media installation by Anandajit Ray plays out the tension between industrial and village economies. At Saffronart Gallery, Mumbai, till 15 February.

THE GOOD LIFE

SHOBA NARAYAN

WHAT WOULD GANDHI DO?

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received an interesting Internet petition from a gentleman I have never met. To mark the Mahatma’s 61st death anniversary, he wanted us to switch off our cellphones and BlackBerrys for one whole day to send a message to Messrs Anil Ambani and Sunil Mittal that we Indians would not tolerate “fascists as future prime ministers”. The politician in question is, of course, Narendra Modi, who has recently been proposed and endorsed (by the two corporate chieftains) for the post. >Page 4

FATHER TO SON

READING ROOM

FEROZ ABBAS KHAN

HOW TO BRING THE MAHATMA HOME

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ahatma Gandhi’s ideas were not new. He carried forward concepts such as honesty, non-violence and living an austere life, which had been a part of Indian philosophy (such as Jainism) and thought for a long time. But what Gandhi really did well was reiterate them and live by them to his last breath. He followed what he believed in much more intensely than other people. There was no difference between his words and his deeds and that is what makes Gandhi admirable. >Page 4

TABISH KHAIR

THE BOOKERNOBEL CUT

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ast year was not a bad one for South Asian fiction. Four authors of South Asian origin were on the Booker longlist and the prize was bagged by one of them. But then the Sahitya Akademi struck back: No Indian English book was “found eligible for the honour” of an Akademi award in 2008. 1:0 in favour of bhasha literature (literature in Indian languages)? An ungracious controversy has been raging between some writers of bhasha literature and Indian English authors for decades now. >Page 16

JUST ONE MORE THING With Steve Jobs’ health a concern, what will happen to the iconic ‘stevenote’? We look at 25 years of classic presentations >Page 14

DON’T MISS WSJ

For today’s business news > Question of Answers— the quiz with a difference > Markets Watch


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First published in February 2007 to serve as an unbiased and clear-minded chronicler of the Indian Dream.

GURINDER OSAN/AP

FIRST CUT

PRIYA RAMANI

LOUNGE EDITOR

PRIYA RAMANI DEPUTY EDITORS

AN INDIA WE MEET ONCE A YEAR

MINT EDITORIAL LEADERSHIP TEAM

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SEEMA CHOWDHRY SANJUKTA SHARMA

R. SUKUMAR (EDITOR)

NIRANJAN RAJADHYAKSHA (MANAGING EDITOR)

ANIL PADMANABHAN TAMAL BANDYOPADHYAY MANAS CHAKRAVARTY HARJEET AHLUWALIA JOSEY PULIYENTHURUTHEL ELIZABETH EAPEN VENKATESHA BABU ARCHNA SHUKLA ©2009 HT Media Ltd All Rights Reserved

he question of whether India should have a “military” parade on Republic Day has been much debated over the last few years. I for one was still reeling from US President Barack Obama’s political mega show and after repeatedly hinting to the husband that we dance cheekto-cheek to Etta James’ At Last, I convinced him to at least accompany me to the parade. Now I’m not a parade-watcher. I have a short attention span, I can’t sit still unless I’m staring at a movie screen and I certainly can’t tell my Jaguars from my DorniMARCH ers. But after Obama, I wanted a shot of Indian jingoism; I wanted to feel some national feeling. So off we went, braving the roadblocks and diversions, criss-crossing roads named after politicians alive and dead, past security forces of all acronym (CISF, BSF, CRPF, DP, HG), through eight detailed car checks until finally we were there, seated in a spot across from the President. I can’t remember the last time I saw so many men wearing so many different types of headgear. The husband, who grew up with parades, and who would much rather have watched this one on Doordarshan (with his breakfast firmly in hand), played expert commentator: “Look, an admiral with

his freshly Brassoed sword”; “Watch the turrets of the Bheeshma T90 S/SK swivel. They were banned from doing that for many years”; “The cavalry became the tank battalion in modern warfare.” The President drove up in a black stretch Mercedes with her guest Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan. For a Bombay girl whose only public exposure to the national anthem is the slow-mo Lata-Asha version before every movie at the Adlabs multiplex, the band version accompanied by the dull, reverberating thwack of the 21-gun (cannon actually) salute was quite something. I was quite taken with the President’s Guard, upright six-footers on stunning bay steeds that are a minimum of 15.2 hands with a full mane. I could just imagine Mumbai’s chatterati oohing and aahing over these uniformed men, all qualified paratroopers. Mumbai was in the spotlight when the Ashok Chakras were presented. “Posthumous means marne ke baad,” a mother explained to her child, as the wives (and one mother) lined up to accept the peace-time gallantry awards on behalf of their deceased, brave ones. Six of the 11 recipients died fighting the terrorists in Mumbai. Two fought terrorists in Jammu and

PLANNER | WHAT WOULD YOU DO FOR LOVE? With Valentine’s Day around the corner, we scouted for ways you can pamper your loved one ARVIND YADAV/HINDUSTAN TIMES

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Display your obliging side, with a package from French spa and salon Jean-Claude Biguine. You will both get a manicure, a consultation by a hair stylist, followed by a haircut of your partner’s choice. Dangerous, yes, but what’s love without a little excitement? The package is priced at Rs1,900 per couple, at Jean-Claude Biguine at Bandra, Mumbai (022-65222211); and The Collective, Vittal Mallya Road, Bangalore (080-67678877).

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Chenab Impex, an importer of gourmet foods, has special aphrodisiac hampers for the occasion. Some highlights of the goodies you get: Amedei dark chocolate and Urbani whole truffles from Italy, Lune de Miel (honey) from France, and Blue Elephant oyster sauce from Thailand. At Foodland and Nature’s Basket in Mumbai; Apna Bazaar in New Delhi and Spar, Thom’s Cafe and Nilgiris in Bangalore, or order online at www.chenabimpex.com. For Rs7,000.

Love and heritage: Celebrate the day on a train.

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If you’re looking for something risque, head straight to Boudoir London for a leather box filled with edible lingerie and handcuffs and chocolate and strawberry body paint. At Boudoir London, Juhu Tara Road, Mumbai (022-26607530), or order online at www.boudoirlondon.in for delivery all over India. Prices start at Rs3,900.

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If you’ve had enough frivolity, pack in an evening of culture. The Symphony Orchestra of India presents the Sixth Celebrity Concert season. On 14 February, Welsh musician and renowned composer Karl Jenkins, will conduct a performance of Adiemus, one of his most popular works. Kazakh violin virtuoso Marat Bisengaliev will perform Sarikiz, a concerto written specially for him by Jenkins. At Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, Mumbai, at 6.30pm. Tickets, Rs800-2,000. Call 022-22824567 or visit www.soimumbai.in

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With Valentine’s Day falling on a second Saturday, you can take an overnight trip to Alwar from New Delhi aboard the luxury heritage Fairy Queen Express (the Fairy Queen takes two trips a month, on the second and fourth Saturdays, between October and February). This is among the oldest running heritage steam locomotives

and accommodates only 50 people in one trip. The train starts from the Delhi Cantonment railway station at 9am and reaches Alwar at 3pm, where an overnight stay is organized at the Sariska tiger reserve. It leaves the next day at 1pm for Delhi Cantt. The overnight trip costs Rs8,600 (taxes extra) per person and includes the train fare and hotel stay. Call 9910161413 for details.

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Looking for a romantic dinner? Take a flight to Udaipur, the city of lakes, then drive for an hour to reach the Devi Garh Resort which is organizing a special V-day dinner at its terrace restaurant. There’s a red-and-black theme, rose petals, candles and live music. Only 40 spots are available at Rs3,700 per person (taxes extra) and dinner is a four-course fusion meal. If you want to spend the Valentine’s Day weekend at Devi Garh, book yourself in a Garden Suite for Rs29,000 (the package includes a twonight stay, three meals for a couple, taxes extra) and enjoy the special Adam and Eve treatment package at the spa. At Rs4,800 (taxes extra), the package entitles both of you to a massage and a foot treatment. For details, log on to www.deviresorts.com Parizaad Khan and Seema Chowdhry

Heady parade: Central Industrial Security Force officials; you see them at the airport every time you travel. Kashmir, one died in the Batla House encounter in New Delhi last September, one died battling militants in the jungles of Meghalaya, and one fighting Naxalites in Orissa. Who can imagine what it must be like for Maya, Shanti Devi, Kavita, Vinita, Smita or Tarabai to stand up there in front of all those people, waiting till the announcer has finished explaining to the crowds how the man in their family died before they collect their commendation (and pat on the left shoulder) from the President. Really, the awards were a summary of all that went wrong in India last year. Next, the parade commander was driven through Rajpath in a

chrome-plated jeep and thus began our show of military strength. The BrahMos missile, the OSA-AK weapon system, tanks with mine ploughs, amphibious vehicles, advanced light helicopters, the menacing, three-storey-high Agni III missile and more weapon systems. This was another India, not New India, not Real India, just a Parallel India that crosses our lives only once a year. The best part for me was not the 31 Dare Devils and their human pyramid on nine Enfields; it was the brightly-coloured, smart bands and marching contingents from the regiments that don’t occupy any of our mind space as we shuttle from work to home and back, trapped in our own urban reality/rut. The elite BSF marching contingent and its striking camel party; the Assam Rifles band with its swaying bagpipe players; the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), once a secret guerrilla force; the reclusive Ladakh Scouts; the naval and air force marching contingents (marching is not their strength, the husband pointed out), the folks from CISF (the same men you encounter at the airport, only dressed in their smart ceremonial outfits), and the best marchers, the Delhi Police. In short, I found things other than Obama to think about. And Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja has replaced At Last as my favourite song. Write to lounge@livemint.com

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Write to us at lounge@livemint.com ON HIS OWN FEET

Your article ‘Everybody loves a winner’, 24 January, narrated the other part of the Harshvardhan Nawathe story which I was not aware of. I appreciate the efforts made by Nawathe to create a name of his own. SANDEEP

THE ART OF BEING GANDHI Many of the images used to illustrate our special issue ‘Bapu & us’, to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi’s 61st death anniversary on 30 January, are sourced from ‘Bapu’, an ongoing group exhibition of 12 artists. Curated by Gayatri Sinha and put together by Saffronart, the artists interpret Gandhi through different mediums, and in the process, attempt to answer the question: How do we locate Gandhi in modern India? At Saffronart Gallery, Industry Manor, 3rd floor, Prabhadevi, Mumbai, till 15 February. ON THE COVER: A MIXED MEDIA INSTALLATION BY ANANDAJIT RAY/ ‘BAPU’ AT SAFFRONART GALLERY, MUMBAI


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Bapu & us

WHAT WOULD GANDHI DO? Is the measure of a leader economic growth or human rights? If Gandhi were Modi, how would he answer this poser? THE GOOD LIFE SHOBA NARAYAN

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received an interesting Internet petition from a gentleman I have never met. To mark the Mahatma’s 61st death anniversary, he wanted us to switch off our cellphones and BlackBerrys for one whole day to send a message to Messrs Anil Ambani and Sunil Mittal that we Indians would not tolerate “fascists as future prime ministers”. The politician in question is, of course, Narendra Modi, who has recently been proposed and endorsed (by the two corporate chieftains) for the post. Every now and then, and nowadays with increasing frequency, I mull the question: What would Gandhi have done? How would he have reacted to Modi’s actions? Is the measure of a leader economic growth or human rights? Why not both, you will ask. Yes, but if this particular neta’s tenure has been marked by extremes in both these areas, which one will count towards eligibility for higher office? Modi is lauded by businesspeople throughout India for making his state an economic powerhouse. By deregulating entire sectors and establishing an accessible, business-friendly bureaucracy, Modi has attracted foreign direct investment (FDI) worth millions of dollars into his state. Yet, he is a tainted politician who has been accused of standing by, Nero-like, during the 2002

post-Godhra riots. And that, some say, is the charitable description, hinting at complicity. Modi’s own party, the BJP, called the riots a “stain upon the country’s history”. The US revoked Modi’s tourist visa, stating that any foreign government official who “was responsible for or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom” was ineligible. At what price growth? While it is true that Modi has raised the standard of living in Gujarat, it is also true that the state’s Muslims feel marginalized like never before. Today, Gujarat is basking in the afterglow of having touched a 15% average industrial growth rate. Much of its growth is attributed to Modi. Does that make him a credible candidate for higher office? What would Gandhi have done if he were Modi? The easy answer is that Gandhi would never have let the post-Godhra riots happen. Put that aside for a moment. If Gandhi were Modi now, with aspirations to national office while still fighting off character allegations, what would he do? I believe that Gandhi would find a way to take ownership of the massacre. Similarly, Modi must find a way to acknowledge his role as a leader during that time. He must find a way to apologize to his state for failing in his role of maintaining law and order at a critical moment. And he must figure out a way to recompense the victims. There are many precedents that Modi can look to. Somehow I doubt that he will choose the

Nuremberg trials model as a way of bringing the perpetrators to justice. But he could use South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission that focused on the victims of apartheid as a way of righting past evils. Or, he could simply look at Gandhi. The Mahatma had flaws—he was a cruel husband and a mostly absent, if intensely anxious, father—but his moral compass was as unwavering as it was right. How else could a frail man sway a nation and chase out a powerful empire through ahimsa (non-violence) and satyagraha? Gandhi conducted peculiar experiments with young women—sleeping and bathing nude together to strengthen his chastity—but he didn’t suffer from the moral ambivalence that plagues much of Indian industry today. Ever the champion of human rights, he even put it ahead of nation-building. When Patel, Nehru, Azad and Jinnah were pondering the semantics and logistics of independence, Gandhi was in the largely Muslim areas of East Bengal (now Bangladesh) and Bihar, trying to stop communal violence. Gandhi was an expert at reconciling irreconcilables, something that every politician must do. He married the sublime and the mundane—talking national politics while spinning the charkha (spinning wheel) and singing bhajans. He was a keen strategist who placed his cards on the table but also played them

JAGANNATH PANDA

Bapu & us

An untitled work of acrylic and fabric on canvas by the Gurgaon-based artist. Gandhi is projected as a figure on the margins of the skyscraper-filled modern city—and a place for sparrows to perch on. At Saffronart Gallery, Mumbai, till 15 February

well. He collected friends and nurtured political alliances with the opposition—such as the one with Jinnah. But there is one overarching principle that defined Gandhi and permeated everything he did. Unlike Modi, Gandhi didn’t look at the world through “we-they” eyes. He never viewed people as Hindu or Muslim, Brahmin or untouchable, British or Indian, rich or poor. Even though he was fighting the British, he refused to think of them as the

enemy. As Rajmohan Gandhi says in his excellent book, Mohandas: “For many Indians, Gandhi’s position—‘I cannot and will not hate Englishmen; nor will I bear their yoke’—was hard to comprehend. For them fighting and hating went together.” If Modi does a Gandhi, he may well suffer a loss. But as Narayana Murthy said in a television interview, sticking to your principles usually involves a loss of some kind. If Modi finds a way to address the carnage, either through an apology or some sort of reconciliation commission, it may end his chances for higher office. For now. But it will prove to the nation that this able administrator also has the makings of a statesman. Modi’s mea culpa will allow him to rise above the “we-they” elements of his party. Can a 15% industrial growth rate make up for the loss of 1,000 lives? In its answer lies Modi’s legacy. And his future. Shoba Narayan plans to write a series titled “What would Gandhi do?” Write to her at thegoodlife@livemint.com www.livemint.com Read Shoba’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/shoba-narayan

THE MAHATMA’S CHILDREN Honesty, keeping a promise, non-violence and social responsibility are some Gandhian concepts your child must imbibe FATHER TO SON FEROZ ABBAS KHAN

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ahatma Gandhi’s ideas were not new. He carried forward concepts such as honesty, non-violence and living an austere life, which had been a part of Indian philosophy (such as Jainism) and thought for a long time. But what Gandhi really did well was reiterate them and live by them to his last breath. He followed what he believed in much more intensely than other people. There was no difference between his words and his deeds and that is what makes Gandhi admirable. There are four concepts which Gandhi followed that I believe are relevant even today and I want my 13-year-old son to understand and imbibe these.

Speak the truth, always

Adolescents nowadays know that truth has consequences and lying has benefits. So it is very tough to convince them to be truthful all the time. As parents, it is important that we make them understand that the consequences of speaking the truth are not always bad and that truth is not to be feared. Sometime back, someone I knew picked up something at school that did not belong to him. When his mother found out, she had a chat with him and asked him to return it. He was scared that his principal would be upset if he owned

up and that his friends would make fun of him. But his mother took him to school and told him that he must own up. Finally, he did that. After that incident the boy realized the power of truth and why one should not be afraid to speak the truth always.

Keep a promise

Last year, I attended an annual inter-school competition organized by Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya, Mumbai. There was a little girl who wrote a piece on Gandhi. She said the thing she liked best about Gandhi was that “Bapu made a promise that he would get us independence and he kept that promise.” I was very touched at how she was able to recognize that and assign the role of promise-keeper to Gandhi. As a parent, if you want your child to honour any commitment, you must learn to do the same first.

Do not initiate violence

Nowadays children tend to believe that Gandhi stood for cowardice because he advocated the path of non-violence. In today’s context, it is very tough to tell children to turn the other cheek, especially if they are facing a bully at school or are threatened in some other way. The concept of total non-violence and its spiritual context is understood over a period of time and most teenagers are probably not at a point to understand it. I like to explain to my son that if you disagree with somebody or dislike someone, it is not right to express that through violence.

HARIKRISHNA KATRAGADDA/MINT

“I don’t like you, or your ideas, or what you believe” should not mean that it is okay to get into a physical fight. Neither are discomfort, dislike and disagreement reasons enough for aggression, nor does attacking someone make you a brave person—that is the message a parent must get across. It is important to explain to teenagers that if you are operationally in a position where you can exercise the option of not hitting somebody or if you can, through a conversation, resolve a disagreement, then that is the first path to take. Violence as a measure of getting someone to agree to your point of view is unacceptable, and your child must know that.

Contribute to society

Children nowadays indulge in a huge amount of spending. Things that we aspired to in our youth are a necessity for the children of today. I like the way Gandhi contributed to society and I think that this is something that should be inculcated in children at a young age. For example, encourage your children to share some part of the money they receive on occasions such as birthdays and festivals for causes that they want to support, such as the welfare of stray dogs or saving trees. Make them aware, but do not force them to do this. Teaching a child the concept of denying himself something so that someone else can benefit is an extremely valuable lesson to learn, but this will come only if parents follow the concept of social responsibility themselves. Feroz Abbas Khan is a theatre director and has directed the film Gandhi My Father. As told to Seema Chowdhry Write to lounge@livemint.com

Life lessons: Gandhi did not differentiate between his words and deeds.


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Gandhi & us GANDHI AT CROSSROADS The Mahatma’s statues can like Bapulook & us Advani, Groucho Marx or even a high school teacher

VIVEK VILASINI ‘Vernacular Chants II’ is a series of photographs of Gandhi statues. (from extreme left) A statue resembling L.K. Advani; a Tamilian face, smeared with ash; a Groucho Marx lookalike in Attur, Tamil Nadu; and a C. Rajagopalachari lookalike. At Saffronart Gallery, Mumbai, till 15 February B Y P AVITRA J AYARAMAN pavitra.j@livemint.com

···························· apu doesn’t look like Bapu any more. Or at least that is what seems to be the point of artist Vivek Vilasini’s work Vernacular Chants II—a set of nine photographs of Gandhi statues and busts taken in south India. The idea was born when Vilasini visited the town of Attur in Tamil Nadu to pick up some granite for his sculpting work. On his way to the granite dealer, he had to take a turn at

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the town’s Gandhi statue. “I found that it looked nothing like the great man,” he recalls. “Instead, Groucho Marx was staring down at me. That’s when the idea of putting this work together occurred to me.” Soon after, Vilasini set off on a two-week expedition with his brother to photograph Gandhi statues and busts, and managed to capture 30 cement sculptures. Nine of these make Vernacular Chants II. Most of them have been shot in Tamil Nadu. “The visualization of

HER HYMN

Singer MS Subbulakshmi’s gift to Gandhi HINDUSTAN TIMES ARCHIVES

B Y S AMANTH S UBRAMANIAN samanth.s@livemint.com

··································· n M.S. Subbulakshmi, an immortal hymn found an immortal voice. For many years, Subbulakshmi sang Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite bhajan, Vaishnava Janato, towards the end of her Carnatic music concerts, regularly moving her audiences to tears. “But you know,” says Gowri Ramnarayan, Subbulakshmi’s grandniece and for long her vocal support in concerts, “MS amma Voice of god: Subbulakshmi was overwhelmed by Gandhi’s praise. was never entirely satisfied with the melody of Vaishnava Janato, with the maudlin, Vaidyanathan decided, would way the tune went up and down, up and be Darbari Kaanada. down. But there was another song, Through that night-long recording brilliantly tuned and conceived—and the session, Vaidyanathan set Hari Tum Haro story behind that is a fascinating one.” to music, for Subbulakshmi to learn and In 1947, roughly a week before record immediately. The spool tape left for Gandhi’s 78th birthday, Indian National New Delhi the following morning, on Congress leader Sucheta Kriplani 2 October, in the care of Sadasivam’s telephoned the Chennai offices of the nephew, aboard a Dakota flight. Thus, on magazine Kalki and asked to speak to the evening of his birthday, Gandhi was T. Sadasivam, the magazine’s co-founder able to listen to his beloved bhajan. and Subbulakshmi’s husband. On 2 Subbulakshmi would learn what he had to October, there were to be a few musical say about the music only later, from performances for Gandhi in New Delhi. Maniben Patel’s diary. “Her voice is Would Subbulakshmi be able to come to exceedingly sweet,” Patel had quoted the Capital on the day, to sing one of his Gandhi as saying. “To sing a bhajan is one favourite bhajans, Hari Tum Haro? thing; to sing it by losing oneself in god is Sadasivam had to decline politely. “He quite different.” told her that Kunjamma (as he and many Subbulakshmi and Sadasivam would others called Subbulakshmi) did not know meet Gandhi soon after that, during a trip that song,” says Ramnarayan. “Also, for some family reasons, MS amma could not to New Delhi in January 1948. “Gandhiji was so depressed because of the go to Delhi that particular week, so communal riots,” Ramnarayan recalls. So Sadasivam said, ‘No, you’ll have to find Sadasivam urged Radha, their little somebody else.’” But the matter did not daughter, to dance for Gandhi as rest there. Just a day or two before Subbulakshmi sang. “Gandhiji’s laughter Gandhi’s birthday, Kriplani called was said to have rang out in peal after peal Sadasivam again. “Gandhiji would rather hear Subbulakshmi recite the verse on a as Radha danced,” she says. “At the end of tape,” she is said to have told Sadasivam, their visit, Gandhi’s followers thanked “than hear anybody else sing it.” them, because they hadn’t seen him smile After that highest of compliments, there in such a long time.” was no way Subbulakshmi and Sadasivam On the evening of 30 January 1948, could refuse. So, at 9pm, they picked up Subbulakshmi was at home in Chennai, their friend R. Vaidyanathan— listening to AIR’s recorded broadcast of the Ramnarayan calls him “a pianist and an annual music festival at Tiruvaiyaru, which eccentric genius”—and made their way to had been held earlier that month. the All India Radio (AIR) recording Suddenly, the broadcast was interrupted, studios in Chennai. There, Vaidyanathan and an announcer broke the unvarnished mulled over the lyrics of Hari Tum Haro, news: Mahatma Gandhi had just been Meera’s prayer to Lord Krishna. “You who assassinated at his prayer meeting in New saved Draupadi, you who are so Delhi. As Subbulakshmi listened in horror, compassionate,” the song pleads, “remove the brief announcement ended and AIR, all the sorrows of the people.” The best stuck for further details, segued into a raga to express the pathos and grandeur musical tribute. The song, inevitably, was of the song without meandering into the Hari Tum Haro in Subbulakshmi’s voice.

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Mahatma Gandhi seems to have become imaginative, and it speaks volumes about the open-mindedness of Indians,” Vilasini says. A Gandhi statue that he found outside a municipality office in a town near Salem, Tamil Nadu, looked uncannily like Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Lal Krishna Advani. The resemblance probably has nothing to do with the town’s political allegiance, says Vilasini, as the BJP doesn’t have much of a presence in the state. “In all probability, it just speaks of the artist’s

imagination,” he says. Vilasini also stumbled on a statue which reminded him of his high school art teacher. “If Mr Das shaved his head, he’d look like that,” he says. Another statue he spotted by a bus stand resembled C. Rajagopalachari, or Rajaji, independent India’s first governor general and father-in-law of Gandhi’s son Devdas. One, in front of a temple, looked very Tamilian, complete with sacred ash smeared on the forehead. “It (my work) is rather

humorous, and yet makes a socially relevant statement,” the artist says. “As I toured towns and villages looking for Gandhi statues and busts, I found that while there were plenty of them, most of them were neglected. They got attention only once or twice a year.” Vilasini’s work, infused with humour as well as satire, has already provoked some Gandhi loyalists to question whether the artist indeed visited these places and photographed statues that exist, or sculpted them himself to make a point.


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IN THE BYLANES OF PORBANDAR Bapu & us

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GIGI SCARIA ‘Porbandar 2008’ is a series of photographs of Gandhi’s birthplace. (clockwise from left) A half-constructed ship at the Porbandar port; the main arterial road of Porbandar; and a dilapidated lighthouse. At Saffronart Gallery, Mumbai, till 15 February

Gandhi is a silent social memory in the town of his birth

B Y G IGI S CARIA ···························· visited Porbandar for the first time in the summer of 2008. After an 8-hour road trip from Ahmedabad, I reached the sleepy town around 10pm. With cameras in hand, I trawled through its roads, not knowing that Mahatma Gandhi, its hero—and its only claim to fame—was as inconspicuous in the night as in the day. I was already working on a project on Gandhi when art critic and curator Gayatri Sinha, who had seen a video film on Gandhians in New Delhi that I had done earlier, asked me to participate in the Saffronart show. On 1 May, I reached Gujarat, and over the next six days, travelled through the state, documenting every Gandhi landmark I came across. The Porbandar photos on display were taken by a Canon 5D

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camera on a very bright and cloudless May afternoon, and digitally printed on archival paper in editions of five. In Porbandar, Gandhi’s house, Kirti Mandir, is situated at one end of the town’s arterial road, near a square where a clean and well-maintained marble statue of his stands. Early in the morning, I saw a man stop his scooter, climb the statue and put a fresh garland around its neck. This, I later discovered, was a daily ritual—the only way the people of Porbandar are trying to keep Gandhi alive in his birthplace. Kirti Mandir was rumoured to have collapsed during the 2001 earthquake, but it wasn’t significantly damaged. I went in and climbed the narrow, steep staircase with the help of a rope hanging from the ceiling. I walked around the small rooms, imagining the person who grew up in them—a boy without

academic brilliance or any spark of genius, who went on to become a hero of the 20th century. In the afternoon, a few locals and some visitors from outside Porbandar walked through its three floors—looking at its walls, also perhaps imagining a hero. Porbandar’s buildings, its architecture and broad roads seem to belong neither to the present nor to its historical past—it’s a town lost somewhere in between. The last time we heard of this port town was two months ago, when it was found that it had been the first Indian stop for the terrorists from Karachi (Pakistan) who attacked Mumbai. I walked along the long wall constructed between the sea and the road which runs along the entire length of the Porbandar port, the town’s most famous landmark. I took a right turn into a gate and found

myself looking at thousands of fishing boats. Poor boatbuilders and petty businessmen, contaminated seawaters, polluted air, half-constructed boats, wrecked and abandoned boats, flags of India, heat, wood and dust—everything intermingled to create a picture of decadence and activity. Most ships and boats in the port are used by fishermen and locals for their small businesses. At least that’s what the locals tell you. The port has done little to improve the prospects of the town—it has been a long time since it was developed. Most boats on the shore are made of wood, but are unpainted. Around the port area thrives a large community of boatbuilders, most of whom are Muslims. Some boats and houses along the sea have inscriptions in Arabic. There’s a deep divide between the

Muslim and Hindu populations in this area. The locals react to the mention of Gandhi with pride and amusement. They smile if you ask for directions to Gandhi’s house. Other than that, they don’t really talk about Gandhi or anything related to Gandhi. Unlike Sabarmati, Gandhi’s ashram in Ahmedabad, which attracts tourists from all over the world, his home in Porbandar is a quiet, inconspicuous structure maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. Gandhi is just a social memory in the land of his birth; there is no room for his own ideas about change in Porbandar’s present. Gigi Scaria is a New Delhi-based artist. As told to Sanjukta Sharma Write to lounge@livemint.com


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Indian playwrights have depicted BapuGandhi & us as a saint, a sinner and as all too human B Y D EVINA D UTT ···························· s India approached the 50th anniversary of its independence in 1997, a few Indian playwrights, notably from Maharashtra, had begun to present the compelling figure of Mahatma Gandhi on the Indian stage. The preceding years had seen the rise of the right wing forces, the rath yatra, the assassination of a prime minister and the deregulation of the Indian economy. The epochal changes and a general mood of stocktaking no doubt contributed to a reassessment of nationhood and its central ideas. The depiction of Gandhi in these early plays was as varied as the sympathies of the playwrights and the points of view adopted by them. Thus Gandhi appeared as a failed father in Ajit Dalvi’s Marathi play Gandhi Virudh Gandhi in 1995. Earlier, in 1989, the Maharashtra government had refused permission to stage the controversial Marathi play Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoi, written originally by Pradeep Dalvi in Gujarati. The play was staged in 1997 and the government banned it after just six shows. After its return to the stage in 2002, the play was a resounding commercial success across Maharashtra. Gandhi is seen through the lens of extreme rightist thought and shown to be responsible for Partition. A more measured tone was struck by Premanand Gajvi, whose play Gandhi Ambedkar attempted to present the differences the two had, mainly over the vexed issue of the caste system. A play of ideas backed by eight years of careful research, it met with reasonable critical success but could run only for a few months in 1997. Clearly the passage of time had liberated a section of Indian playwrights, allowing them to explore specific aspects of this multifaceted personality. These plays, which depicted Gandhi on stage as an actual historical figure, were followed by a wave of plays which idealized Gandhi. Perhaps this was inevitable, more so in the face of the commercial success of a play such as Mee Nathuram. Playwright Ramu Ramanathan says part of the reason behind writing the heart-warming play Mahadevbhai was to correct the false propaganda about Gandhi that was being lapped up not only by adult audiences in Mumbai but also by the young. “The entire idea of Gandhi was being violated in more ways than one and I felt it was necessary to remind people about what Gandhi stood for,” he says.

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Since 2002, Mahadevbhai, directed by Ramanathan and performed by Jaimini Pathak, has had many shows across the country. Narrated by Mahadev Desai, secretary to Gandhi, it is based on the daily diary that Desai maintained. The play offers an intimate look at the Mahatma and has freedom fighters appearing in cameos and asides as ordinary humans, not superheroes. The play has been particularly successful with young students. “Most of them came backstage and thanked us for doing this show since they did not know this history,” says Pathak. Sammy, a play on similar lines written by Pratap Sharma and directed by Lillette Dubey, makes use of all that is inspirational in Gandhi’s life and covers his political life, from his time in South Africa till his assassination. Although plays such as Mahadevbhai idealize Gandhi and present only the entirely defensible aspects of the man, they do so without distorting history. This cannot be said of plays such as Mee Nathuram, a first-person account by Gandhi’s killer Nathuram Godse, which reveals a deep contempt for non-violence. In order to justify killing Gandhi, the playwright has doctored historical facts pertaining to the time before and just after Partition. Five hundred shows later, the success of the play is a testimony to the fact that hostility to Gandhi and his ideals continues, particularly in Maharashtra. Audiences have also warmed to plays which are not antagonistic to Gandhi, such as Gandhi Virudh Gandhi, which shows him as a troubled family man, partly because these strike at the idea of the Mahatma being infallible. Gajvi, who spent eight years researching Gandhi Ambedkar, says his task was compounded by the fact that every time he read something new, he would also come across a contradictory reference. “I had to be very careful about the facts because I felt responsible for the followers of the two leaders,” he says. Although Gajvi’s research is thorough, the play often tilts towards Ambedkar. Ramdas Bhatkal, founder of the publishing company Popular Prakashan, is working on a doctoral thesis on Gandhi and has been researching the subject for a decade. He says that Gandhi tends to suffer in contemporary depictions as “knowing the facts about Gandhi is one thing and forming an understanding of him is another matter. He was essentially a great unifying force. PRIMETIME THEATRE COMPANY

Playwright’s muse: A scene from Sammy, written by Pratap Sharma.

SACHIN KARNE While viewing this untitled work of acrylic on mirror, the spectator becomes a part of it. The artist invites the viewer to walk alongside Gandhi and the two daughter figures who always accompanied him. At Saffronart Gallery, Mumbai, till 15 February Besides, a close look at his life provides more evidence than a reading of documented facts.” Perhaps it is significant then that of late there has been a resurgence of interest in Gandhi in theatre circles outside Maharashtra. Last year, New Delhi-based director M.K. Raina presented Stay Yet Awhile, a play which chronicled the correspondence between Gandhi and Tagore. The play had three actors reading out the letters, while video and documentary footage of the freedom movement was used as a backdrop. Raina, who has since begun to script a play on Gandhi’s special relationship with children, was drawn to the humour and grace that marked the relationship between Tagore and Gandhi. “We are all so eager to hero-worship that we don’t realize that these two had serious differences. Besides, there is not a single issue on which Gandhi does not speak to us today. Everything he talked about has come back to hit us today,” he says. Therein lies the enduring idea of a leader who sought to fuse idealistic humanism with the pragmatic and political, even as he subjected himself to superhuman trials in the pursuit of truth. The plays based on his life have tended to take positions of intense hostility and deep admiration, and there is plenty of unexplored material which could lend itself to a more critical, nuanced and thoughtful representation in theatre. Write to lounge@livemint.com


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RIYAS KOMU ‘Two Fathers from Gujarat’ is a mixed media work in which the artist superimposed vintage photographs of Gandhi and Mohammad Ali Jinnah on linen and pasted them on canvas. He stained the canvas with tea and used other materials to achieve the worn-out look. At Saffronart Gallery, Mumbai, till 15 February

YOU CAN DO IT TOO

On 1 January, the copyright on Gandhi’s books ended and they entered the public domain. We revisit his autobiography and discover why, in its ninth decade, it can make us newly reflective and ambitious B Y C HANDRAHAS C HOUDHURY ···························· alfway through Part II of his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, we see Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, still only 24, preparing to leave South Africa in 1893 after the successful resolution of the court case that originally took him there. Gandhi has, by this time, won not just the respect but also the love of the Indian community in South Africa. His unusually stringent and holistic approach towards authority, law and morals; his keen interest in matters well outside his brief, such as racial discrimination, religious division and sanitation; and his enthusiasm for petitioning and pamphleteering, organizing meetings and travelling has made him many friends and admirers. In Natal, his friends, the merchant community in particular, pester him to stay back and set up a legal practice there. They are willing not only to send private legal work his way, but also organize funds for the “public work” of reform and improvement that so preoccupies him. Gandhi mulls over their offer, and then refuses the second part of it: “My work would be mainly to make you all work. And how could I charge you for that?” My Experiments with Truth was first published in English translation in 1927, and in its ninth decade, it still retains the capacity, just like its author, to

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An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth: Navajivan Mudranalaya, 420 pages, Rs100.

make us work should we come within range of it, to make us newly reflective, newly ambitious. It is, as Gandhi himself writes, not “a real autobiography” but a spartan, goal-directed one, closely focused only on those incidents and encounters in his life “which bear upon the practice of truth”. It reflects its author’s impatience with inessentials and his constant search for first principles; it is rich in lessons and maxims, in speculations about root causes and deep connections, and in an infectious moral restlessness and urgency. It can sometimes be vexing and cranky, as in the author’s obsession with matters of diet and sexual self-control, or his imputation of a divine will at work in the most mundane matters. But, as Gandhi himself writes, “The useful and the useless must, like good and evil generally, go on together, and man must make his choice.” The autobiography was written or dictated in haste, during the fallow years of the 1920s, when the energy of the independence struggle had subsided somewhat but the demands on Gandhi’s time remained immense. It was published piece by piece from 1925 onwards in Gandhi’s Gujarati weekly Navajivan (which explains the book’s often arbitrary division into dozens of three- and four-page chapters). Gandhi’s faithful associate, Mahadev Desai, translated it almost concurrently into

English, supervised by Gandhi himself, but the paradox remains that the autobiography of one of India’s greatest writers of English comes to us in an English translation by another hand. The copies of it available in most Indian homes are the unsophisticated, homely, cheap editions published by Gandhi’s own press, the Navajivan Trust, but they are in keeping with the spirit of the author, who honoured substance and economy over show and style. Notwithstanding the fact that most of it is set in England and South Africa, the autobiography is the most quintessentially Indian of books—indeed, it might be usefully prescribed as the foundational book for anyone approaching Indian life or literature for the first time. This is in part because of the range of fundamental Indian experiences with which it engages critically—that of travelling in third-class railway compartments across the length and breadth of India, of agonizing over the filth and squalor of public and community spaces, of walking through temples and observing religious festivals, of reflecting on the inequity of power relations in Indian life all the way from marriage (beginning with the author’s own marriage) to caste and class. But it also demands to be read because of Gandhi’s own creative attitude—the insight offered by his specific strategies and responses—as a negotiator between the forces of tradition

and modernity, as a seeker of a common ground where inter-religious dialogue can take place, as an enthusiast when it comes to the multiplicity of Indian languages and systems. At different points in the book, we see him trying to learn Tamil, the better to deal with indentured labourers from south India in South Africa; speaking in Hindi (or Hindustani) at a viceregal meeting where the accepted practice was to speak in English; and trying to win over a predominantly Muslim audience in faltering Urdu. Gandhi always goes one step further than one would expect in dealing with the other; he always seems to be urging, “You can do it too.” Among the aspects of Gandhi’s nature that emerge most clearly from the autobiography are his considerable talents as propagandist, pressman and editor. Gandhi’s Collected Works run into a hundred volumes, yet relatively few of these were conceived as independent books—they all made their first appearances in newspapers and periodicals, often those run by Gandhi himself. Although Gandhi began to read newspapers only in his teens, very early in his career he seems to have become conscious of the enormous power of the printed word to disseminate information, to stoke reflection, to offer considered criticism, and to forge durable relationships without the necessity of the reader actually meeting the author. But—and this is characteristic of him—he also saw in the written word a means of pinning himself to the highest standards of fairness and justice (which are only other words for what he would have understood as “truth”). Writing about the journal Indian Opinion, which he ran for over a decade in South Africa, he recalls, “Week after week I poured out my soul in its columns... The journal became for me a training in self-restraint... The critic found very little to which he could object. In fact, the tone of Indian Opinion compelled the critic to put a curb on his own pen.” Here, as at many other points in the book, we see Gandhi advance a sophisticated understanding of the dialectical relationship between one’s own

actions and those of others, such as when he says, “My experience has shown that we win justice quickest by rendering justice to the other party.” Gandhi often asks the impossible of us but—as the 2006 film Lage Raho Munnabhai reasserted, albeit in a highly contrived manner—his appeal is in the radical possibilities he opens up before us; he expands our moral playing field. After reading Gandhi, we come away with an enhanced view of our connections to the world. Under Indian law, the copyright of an author over his works expires 60 years after his death. Thus, on 1 January, all of Gandhi’s works entered the public domain, and anybody can now compile and publish them in whatever form they think fit. Although this would probably deal a blow to the revenues of the Navajivan Trust (as of January, a total of 1,489,000 copies of the English edition had been sold), one feels that Gandhi, with his ideal of aparigraha or non-possession, and his evident pleasure at holding a mass readership, would actually have been quite pleased to be released from the bounds of copyright and to become— notionally at least—a free resource like air or water. Gandhi interpreted the word “religion” not just as a belief in god, rituals, beliefs and doctrine, but “in its broadest sense, meaning thereby self-realization or knowledge of self”. Looking at his own book similarly in the broadest possible perspective, we can locate it in a venerable tradition of ambitious human seeking and questioning. Nearly 2,500 years ago, the Greek philosopher Socrates was sentenced to death in Athens for impiety and for corrupting the youth with unsound ideas. The main line of Socrates’ defence in court—“The unexamined life is not worth living”—has rung across the centuries as an ideal of human life. My Experiments with Truth might be seen not just as the central book in modern Indian literature, but among the most Socratic books in world literature, with its insistent questioning of both self and world and its rousing call for us to listen “to the higher law of our being, the voice of conscience”. Write to lounge@livemint.com


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SPINNING A NEW YARN Gandhi & us

LAKME FASHION WEEK

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From a weaver’s village in West Bengal to the fashion runway in Mumbai, a designer takes khadi on a new journey PHOTOGRAPHS

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···························· he 5-hour car ride from Kolkata to Chowk village in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district on a bumpy, broken road is sure to leave you with a sore back. This journey is probably why the region has escaped the attention of potential handloom buyers, who flock to more accessible hubs in the state. But 29-year-old Kolkata-based designer Soumitra Mondal is willing to make the trip once every two months to nurture his camaraderie with the local weavers and reassure them that their craft is still valued. Silk weaving is the main cottage industry in Murshidabad. Around 16,000 families in Chowk, in the Islampur area, and 30 neighbouring villages are engaged at various points of the process of silk production—from separating silk threads from cocoons and spinning the yarn to weaving them into cloth. Walk down the dusty roads of Chowk and the air hums with the rattle of the taant (the indigenous wooden loom on which the cloth is woven). The brick-and-mortar houses indicate that the village is relatively more prosperous than other parts of the poor district. The looms date back to the 1950s, when the craft took root in the area, and have been handed down from one generation to the next. There has been little impetus from the government to modernize the fabric and make it popular among the general public. But now, hope has come in the form of Indian fashion designers who are willing to experiment. Designers such as Ritu Kumar, Rohit Bal, Raghavendra Rathore and Anamika Khanna have used khadi in their creations, and newer labels such as Gaba are now doing so. Mondal is currently working on a line of autumn/winter clothes for daily wear for his fashion label, Marg. He says this collection—in earthy tones of brown, yellow ochre, green and maroon—will be crafted with just cotton and silk handloom and khadi, and adorned with thread embroidery. “Khadi can be given a soft texture that breathes well, and with the infusion of vibrant colours and modern designs, it can be very chic,” Mondal says. We visited Chowk with the designer, who was there to take delivery of a consignment of bleached white “linen silk”, an innovative combination of handmade silk and linen yarn that he has conceptualized. Having extensively researched khadi (he began experimenting with the fabric in 1999, while he was interning with designer Rahul Gupta), Mondal has been working with the artisans of the

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Khadi’s bright hues: Models showing Mondal’s Spring/Summer 2009 collection at Lakme Fashion Week; the outfits are now available at fashion stores in Mumbai. Wheel of life: (top) Weavers in Islampur; and Mondal at Chandrakant Lalitmohan Resham Khadi Samity, from where he sources fabric. Islampur area to procure fabric for his collections. His linen silk dresses were well-received at Lakme Fashion Week in Spring/Summer 2008. That was the first time Mondal presented a collection using khadi silk. He went a step further with his Spring/Summer 2009 collection (currently selling at Aza and The Oak Tree in Mumbai; prices start at Rs1,200), which was crafted entirely from khadi silk and included a few linen silk garments. The collection received an overwhelming response at Lakme Fashion Week in October. The look and

feel of the lightweight and translucent linen silk was a hit. “This kind of innovation is required not only to popularize khadi, but also to make sure that the artisans are given new challenges to make the job more exciting. The only way an art or a profession can survive is when there is a demand for it,” he says. “If I am successful in popularizing khadi as a niche material in India and abroad, I could support a hundred families in this area involved in the production of khadi.” There is a long way to go. With khadi generally relegated to being a dull and coarse fabric

without mass appeal, the fortunes of around one million artisans involved in the production of khadi across India have been dwindling. Though much of Mondal’s production work is done in Phulia (the more famous handloom hub in the state), he delegates a substantial portion of it to Islampur since it is the only area in the state, according to him, where the entire process takes place—from the cultivation of silkworms to the separation of the thread and the weaving of the cloth.

Moreover, since Phulia is only a 2-hour drive from Kolkata, the artisans there have more than enough work and are, therefore, often hard-pressed to deliver consignments on time, says Mondal. “Since Islampur is far less accessible and further away from Kolkata, it has not yet been explored by potential buyers. So the commitment and

excitement among the weavers of this area is far greater.” Procuring the material directly from weavers also gives him a cost advantage. Mondal is planning to give linen silk a popular platform by incorporating it in designs meant for apparel stores such as the Linen Club, promoted by the Aditya Birla Group. He has also been in talks with Fabindia, which is interested in exploring the idea of stocking dresses made of khadi silk with traditional ikkat work. If the deal is clinched, it would mean more work for the artisans of Chowk.


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They were blamed, probably accurately, for a recent attempt on the life of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. The rise of the Maoists in the 1980s and beyond owes much to the work of a former schoolteacher named Kondapalli Seetaramaiah. He was the head of the Peoples War Group which, especially in Andhra Pradesh, mounted a series of daring attacks on railway stations and police camps. The police finally arrested KS (as he was known); but then he feigned illness and was admitted to hospital, from where he escaped. It took the police two years to recapture Seetaramaiah. A journalist later asked him what he had done when on the run. KS replied that he went from the hospital in Hyderabad to Gandhi’s birthplace in Gujarat, some 900 miles (about 1448km) away. Here the revolutionary got off the train and took a rickshaw to the Mahatma’s parental home, now a museum dedicated to his memory. “I went there and spat on the maggu,” KS told the reporter, maggu being the Telugu word for the painted decorations placed outside most Indian shrines. Thus did this Maoist show his contempt for a man acknowledged to be the Father of the Indian Nation. Extremists despise Gandhi— what, however, of the vital centre? For much of the time that India has been an independent nation, the government in New Delhi has been run by the Congress party, to which Gandhi himself belonged. On the day of independence, 15 August 1947, the Mahatma was striving for communal peace in Kolkata. When the new ministers of the Bengal government went to seek his blessings, Gandhi told them that they had been tested during the British regime: “But in a way it has been no test at all. But now there will be no end to your being tested. Do not fall a prey to the lure of wealth. May God help you! You are there to serve the villages and the poor.” To say that Indian politicians have since dishonoured Gandhi’s advice would be a colossal understatement. The first betrayal, perhaps, was the abandonment of the villages and the poor. Through the 1950s and the 1960s, the economic policy of the state focused on the urban-industrial sector. Agriculture and crafts were neglected; so, even more grievously, was primary education. There still remained something “Gandhian” about the men in power; they were, on the whole, not personally corrupt. However, from the 1970s, politi-

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Bapu & us

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B Y R AMACHANDRA G UHA ···························· ince independence and Partition, no event has so divided the Indian people as the demolition of a mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya in December 1992. Hindu radicals claimed that the mosque, known as the Babri Masjid, was built on the ruins of a temple, and that the site itself was the birthplace of god Ram. Through the late 1980s and early 1990s, bands of volunteers tried to storm the mosque, in the process provoking a series of bloody riots across northern India. Shortly before the Babri Masjid was destroyed, a group of Gandhians visited Ayodhya. They were led by a woman named Sushila Nayar, an 80-year-old physician who had worked closely with Mahatma Gandhi. A prayer meeting conducted by Nayar ended in the singing of Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram, a favourite hymn of the Mahatma. When they came to the line Ishwar Allah Tero Naam (God is named both Ishwar and Allah), the meeting was disrupted by shouts and slogans. A section of the crowd surged towards the stage. Nayar came down to explain to the protesters that the singers had come “on behalf” of Gandhi (“hum Gandhiji ki taraf se aye hain”). “Aur hum Godse ki taraf se,” the disruptionists are said to have replied: we have come on behalf of (Gandhi’s assassin) Nathuram Godse, and like him, we think you Gandhians are too soft on the Muslims. In contemporary India, it is not just the Hindu right that detests Gandhi. So does the Maoist left, which has recently been described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the “greatest internal security threat” facing the nation. As readers of this newspaper know, the Indian Maoists are known as Naxalites, after a village in north Bengal where their movement began in 1967. Two years after the birth of naxalism, the world celebrated the centenary of Gandhi’s birth. Through that year, 1969, the Naxalites brought down statues of the Mahatma in towns and villages across West Bengal. Occasionally, by way of variation, they entered a government office to vandalize his portrait. The Maoists were vanquished in the 1970s by a combination of police action and killings by cadres of rival Communist groupings. But they later revived, and are especially powerful now in the states of central and eastern India. Now they have once more made their presence felt in West Bengal.

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cians began abusing their position to enrich themselves and their families. A global survey carried out by Gallup in 2004 found that the lack of confidence in politicians was highest in India. As many as 91% of those polled felt that their elected representatives were not honest. What remains of Gandhi and Gandhism in India today? Before answering this question, let me note that like the Buddha, Gandhi was born in the Indian subcontinent but does not belong to this land alone. Just as the Buddha found his most devoted adherents elsewhere, the legacy of Gandhi has been admirably taken over by Martin Luther King, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi. It is a matter of shame that Gandhi was never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; the shame is also felt by those who decide on the prize in Oslo, who have since made amends by awarding it to the four “Gandhians” mentioned above. Within India, meanwhile, a Gandhian tradition exists outside politics. There is a vigorous environmental movement, which has campaigned against the excesses of industrial development and worked to promote renewable energy and smallscale irrigation systems. These Greens often begin or end their programmes on 2 October, Gandhi’s birthday. The Gandhian influence is also present in the feminist and human rights movements, where it coexists with tendencies drawing inspiration from other, more conventionally left-wing political traditions. Doctors and teachers inspired by Gandhi leave their city homes to run clinics and schools in the countryside. And at least a handful of India’s many millionaires are influenced by Gandhi. Where the majority hoard their wealth or spend it on jewellery and foreign holidays, there are some titans who have given away vast amounts of money to promote primary education and transparency in governance. What should remain of Gandhi and Gandhism in the world today? Sixty-one years after his death, some of his teachings are plainly irrelevant. For example, his ideas on food (his diet consisted chiefly of nuts and fruits and boiled vegetables) and sex (he imposed a strict celibacy on his followers) can hardly find favour with the majority of humans. That said, there are at least four areas in which Gandhi’s ideas remain of interest and importance. The first is the environment. The economic rise of China

Why 61 years after his death, both left- and right-wing extremists feel the need to vilify him. Why answers to the world’s most pressing crises lie in his teachings

RAM RAHMAN This photograph was taken by Rahman in 2002, during an India Day parade in New York. A man dressed as Gandhi walks down Madison Avenue as others follow him, holding the tricolour in their hands. At Saffronart Gallery, Mumbai, till 15 February and India has brought a long suppressed, and quintessentially Gandhian, question to the fore: How much should a person consume? So long as the West had a monopoly on modern lifestyles, the question simply did not arise. But if most Chinese and most Indians come, like most Americans and most Englishmen, to own and drive a car, this will place unbearable burdens on the

earth. Back in 1928, Gandhi had warned about the unsustainability, on the global scale, of Western patterns of production and consumption. “God forbid that India should ever take to industrialization after the manner of the West,” he said. “The economic imperialism of a single tiny island kingdom (England) is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 million

At least a handful of India’s many millionaires are influenced by Gandhi. Where the majority hoard their wealth or spend it on jewellery and foreign holidays, there are some titans who have given away vast amounts of money to promote primary education and transparency in governance

took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts.” The second area is faith. Gandhi was at odds both with secularists who confidently looked forward to God’s funeral, and with monotheists who insisted that theirs was the one and true God. Gandhi believed that no religion had a monopoly on the truth. He argued that one should accept the faith into which one was born (hence his opposition to conversion), but seek always to interpret it in the most broad-minded and non-violent way. And he actively encouraged friendships across religions. His own best friend was a Christian priest, C.F. And-

rews. In his ashram he held a daily prayer meeting at which texts from different religions were read or sung. At the time, his position appeared eccentric; in retrospect, it seems to be precocious. In a world driven by religious misunderstanding, it can help cultivate mutual respect and recognition. The third (and perhaps most obvious) area is non-violent resistance. That social change is both less harmful and more sustainable when achieved by nonviolent means is now widely recognized. A study of some 60 transitions to democratic rule since World War II, by the think tank Freedom House, found that “far more often than is generally

understood, the change agent is broad-based, non-violent civic resistance—which employs tactics such as boycotts, mass protests, blockades, strikes and civil disobedience to de-legitimate authoritarian rulers and erode their sources of support, including the loyalty of their armed defenders.” These, of course, were all methods of protest pioneered by Gandhi. The fourth area is public life. In his Reflections on Gandhi, George Orwell wrote that “regarded simply as a politician, and compared with the other leading political figures of our time, how clean a smell he has managed to leave behind!” In an age of terror, politicians may not

be able to live as open a life as Gandhi. There were no securitymen posted outside his ashram; visitors of any creed and nationality would walk in when they chose. Still, the politicians (and activists) of today might at least emulate his lack of dissembling and his utter lack of reliance on “spin”. His campaigns of civil disobedience were always announced in advance. His social experiments were minutely dissected in the pages of his newspapers, the comments of his critics placed alongside his own. Gandhi was a Hindu; but his Hinduism was altogether less dogmatic than that of the fundamentalists of today. Gandhi

fought against injustice; but without recourse to the gun and without demonizing his adversary. That, six decades after his death, the extremists of left and right still need to vilify him is in itself a considerable tribute to the relevance of his thought. So, in a somewhat different way, is the need for mainstream politicians to garland portraits of Gandhi even as their practice is at odds with the man they profess to honour. Gandhi was a prophet of sorts, but by no means a joyless one. On a visit to London in 1931 he met a British monarch for the first and last time. When he came out of Buckingham Palace after speaking with George

VI, a reporter asked whether he had not felt cold in his loincloth. Gandhi answered, “The King had enough on for both of us.” Another version has Gandhi saying, “The King wears plus-fours; I wear minus-fours.” In those self-deprecatory jokes lies a good deal of (still enduring) wisdom. ©Ramachandra Guha. A version of this piece first ran in The Guardian. Ramachandra Guha is the author of India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy. Write to lounge@livemint.com


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They were blamed, probably accurately, for a recent attempt on the life of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. The rise of the Maoists in the 1980s and beyond owes much to the work of a former schoolteacher named Kondapalli Seetaramaiah. He was the head of the Peoples War Group which, especially in Andhra Pradesh, mounted a series of daring attacks on railway stations and police camps. The police finally arrested KS (as he was known); but then he feigned illness and was admitted to hospital, from where he escaped. It took the police two years to recapture Seetaramaiah. A journalist later asked him what he had done when on the run. KS replied that he went from the hospital in Hyderabad to Gandhi’s birthplace in Gujarat, some 900 miles (about 1448km) away. Here the revolutionary got off the train and took a rickshaw to the Mahatma’s parental home, now a museum dedicated to his memory. “I went there and spat on the maggu,” KS told the reporter, maggu being the Telugu word for the painted decorations placed outside most Indian shrines. Thus did this Maoist show his contempt for a man acknowledged to be the Father of the Indian Nation. Extremists despise Gandhi— what, however, of the vital centre? For much of the time that India has been an independent nation, the government in New Delhi has been run by the Congress party, to which Gandhi himself belonged. On the day of independence, 15 August 1947, the Mahatma was striving for communal peace in Kolkata. When the new ministers of the Bengal government went to seek his blessings, Gandhi told them that they had been tested during the British regime: “But in a way it has been no test at all. But now there will be no end to your being tested. Do not fall a prey to the lure of wealth. May God help you! You are there to serve the villages and the poor.” To say that Indian politicians have since dishonoured Gandhi’s advice would be a colossal understatement. The first betrayal, perhaps, was the abandonment of the villages and the poor. Through the 1950s and the 1960s, the economic policy of the state focused on the urban-industrial sector. Agriculture and crafts were neglected; so, even more grievously, was primary education. There still remained something “Gandhian” about the men in power; they were, on the whole, not personally corrupt. However, from the 1970s, politi-

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B Y R AMACHANDRA G UHA ···························· ince independence and Partition, no event has so divided the Indian people as the demolition of a mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya in December 1992. Hindu radicals claimed that the mosque, known as the Babri Masjid, was built on the ruins of a temple, and that the site itself was the birthplace of god Ram. Through the late 1980s and early 1990s, bands of volunteers tried to storm the mosque, in the process provoking a series of bloody riots across northern India. Shortly before the Babri Masjid was destroyed, a group of Gandhians visited Ayodhya. They were led by a woman named Sushila Nayar, an 80-year-old physician who had worked closely with Mahatma Gandhi. A prayer meeting conducted by Nayar ended in the singing of Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram, a favourite hymn of the Mahatma. When they came to the line Ishwar Allah Tero Naam (God is named both Ishwar and Allah), the meeting was disrupted by shouts and slogans. A section of the crowd surged towards the stage. Nayar came down to explain to the protesters that the singers had come “on behalf” of Gandhi (“hum Gandhiji ki taraf se aye hain”). “Aur hum Godse ki taraf se,” the disruptionists are said to have replied: we have come on behalf of (Gandhi’s assassin) Nathuram Godse, and like him, we think you Gandhians are too soft on the Muslims. In contemporary India, it is not just the Hindu right that detests Gandhi. So does the Maoist left, which has recently been described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the “greatest internal security threat” facing the nation. As readers of this newspaper know, the Indian Maoists are known as Naxalites, after a village in north Bengal where their movement began in 1967. Two years after the birth of naxalism, the world celebrated the centenary of Gandhi’s birth. Through that year, 1969, the Naxalites brought down statues of the Mahatma in towns and villages across West Bengal. Occasionally, by way of variation, they entered a government office to vandalize his portrait. The Maoists were vanquished in the 1970s by a combination of police action and killings by cadres of rival Communist groupings. But they later revived, and are especially powerful now in the states of central and eastern India. Now they have once more made their presence felt in West Bengal.

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cians began abusing their position to enrich themselves and their families. A global survey carried out by Gallup in 2004 found that the lack of confidence in politicians was highest in India. As many as 91% of those polled felt that their elected representatives were not honest. What remains of Gandhi and Gandhism in India today? Before answering this question, let me note that like the Buddha, Gandhi was born in the Indian subcontinent but does not belong to this land alone. Just as the Buddha found his most devoted adherents elsewhere, the legacy of Gandhi has been admirably taken over by Martin Luther King, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi. It is a matter of shame that Gandhi was never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; the shame is also felt by those who decide on the prize in Oslo, who have since made amends by awarding it to the four “Gandhians” mentioned above. Within India, meanwhile, a Gandhian tradition exists outside politics. There is a vigorous environmental movement, which has campaigned against the excesses of industrial development and worked to promote renewable energy and smallscale irrigation systems. These Greens often begin or end their programmes on 2 October, Gandhi’s birthday. The Gandhian influence is also present in the feminist and human rights movements, where it coexists with tendencies drawing inspiration from other, more conventionally left-wing political traditions. Doctors and teachers inspired by Gandhi leave their city homes to run clinics and schools in the countryside. And at least a handful of India’s many millionaires are influenced by Gandhi. Where the majority hoard their wealth or spend it on jewellery and foreign holidays, there are some titans who have given away vast amounts of money to promote primary education and transparency in governance. What should remain of Gandhi and Gandhism in the world today? Sixty-one years after his death, some of his teachings are plainly irrelevant. For example, his ideas on food (his diet consisted chiefly of nuts and fruits and boiled vegetables) and sex (he imposed a strict celibacy on his followers) can hardly find favour with the majority of humans. That said, there are at least four areas in which Gandhi’s ideas remain of interest and importance. The first is the environment. The economic rise of China

Why 61 years after his death, both left- and right-wing extremists feel the need to vilify him. Why answers to the world’s most pressing crises lie in his teachings

RAM RAHMAN This photograph was taken by Rahman in 2002, during an India Day parade in New York. A man dressed as Gandhi walks down Madison Avenue as others follow him, holding the tricolour in their hands. At Saffronart Gallery, Mumbai, till 15 February and India has brought a long suppressed, and quintessentially Gandhian, question to the fore: How much should a person consume? So long as the West had a monopoly on modern lifestyles, the question simply did not arise. But if most Chinese and most Indians come, like most Americans and most Englishmen, to own and drive a car, this will place unbearable burdens on the

earth. Back in 1928, Gandhi had warned about the unsustainability, on the global scale, of Western patterns of production and consumption. “God forbid that India should ever take to industrialization after the manner of the West,” he said. “The economic imperialism of a single tiny island kingdom (England) is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 million

At least a handful of India’s many millionaires are influenced by Gandhi. Where the majority hoard their wealth or spend it on jewellery and foreign holidays, there are some titans who have given away vast amounts of money to promote primary education and transparency in governance

took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts.” The second area is faith. Gandhi was at odds both with secularists who confidently looked forward to God’s funeral, and with monotheists who insisted that theirs was the one and true God. Gandhi believed that no religion had a monopoly on the truth. He argued that one should accept the faith into which one was born (hence his opposition to conversion), but seek always to interpret it in the most broad-minded and non-violent way. And he actively encouraged friendships across religions. His own best friend was a Christian priest, C.F. And-

rews. In his ashram he held a daily prayer meeting at which texts from different religions were read or sung. At the time, his position appeared eccentric; in retrospect, it seems to be precocious. In a world driven by religious misunderstanding, it can help cultivate mutual respect and recognition. The third (and perhaps most obvious) area is non-violent resistance. That social change is both less harmful and more sustainable when achieved by nonviolent means is now widely recognized. A study of some 60 transitions to democratic rule since World War II, by the think tank Freedom House, found that “far more often than is generally

understood, the change agent is broad-based, non-violent civic resistance—which employs tactics such as boycotts, mass protests, blockades, strikes and civil disobedience to de-legitimate authoritarian rulers and erode their sources of support, including the loyalty of their armed defenders.” These, of course, were all methods of protest pioneered by Gandhi. The fourth area is public life. In his Reflections on Gandhi, George Orwell wrote that “regarded simply as a politician, and compared with the other leading political figures of our time, how clean a smell he has managed to leave behind!” In an age of terror, politicians may not

be able to live as open a life as Gandhi. There were no securitymen posted outside his ashram; visitors of any creed and nationality would walk in when they chose. Still, the politicians (and activists) of today might at least emulate his lack of dissembling and his utter lack of reliance on “spin”. His campaigns of civil disobedience were always announced in advance. His social experiments were minutely dissected in the pages of his newspapers, the comments of his critics placed alongside his own. Gandhi was a Hindu; but his Hinduism was altogether less dogmatic than that of the fundamentalists of today. Gandhi

fought against injustice; but without recourse to the gun and without demonizing his adversary. That, six decades after his death, the extremists of left and right still need to vilify him is in itself a considerable tribute to the relevance of his thought. So, in a somewhat different way, is the need for mainstream politicians to garland portraits of Gandhi even as their practice is at odds with the man they profess to honour. Gandhi was a prophet of sorts, but by no means a joyless one. On a visit to London in 1931 he met a British monarch for the first and last time. When he came out of Buckingham Palace after speaking with George

VI, a reporter asked whether he had not felt cold in his loincloth. Gandhi answered, “The King had enough on for both of us.” Another version has Gandhi saying, “The King wears plus-fours; I wear minus-fours.” In those self-deprecatory jokes lies a good deal of (still enduring) wisdom. ©Ramachandra Guha. A version of this piece first ran in The Guardian. Ramachandra Guha is the author of India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy. Write to lounge@livemint.com


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How the floundering discipline of Gandhian studies might be set for a long overdue revival B Y K RISH R AGHAV & S IDIN V ADUKUT ···························· xactly 50 years ago, a remarkably detailed, extraordinary blueprint was drawn for The Gandhi Institute—a university that would “extend and fulfil” Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s thoughts and philosophy. It named Albert Einstein, Karl Jung, Aurobindo Ghosh and Jean-Paul Sartre as “patrons”. Envisioned as a global hub for Gandhian studies and education, its elaborate plans included 17 departments, 10 institutions abroad and “an imposing building in Delhi” to house the institute. It was an ambitious plan. And one that remained entirely on paper. That failure was perhaps a sign of things to come. The last 50 years have seen a range of half-baked, oft-delayed and poorly implemented plans that have not only obscured the Mahatma’s thoughts but, in some cases, effectively buried them. Gandhian studies now exists as a fringe discipline— under-funded, poorly managed and all but forgotten. “I’m sorry to say that all we have are signboards with titles—nothing has taken off,” says Savita Singh, director of the International Centre for Gandhian Studies and Research at Rajghat, New Delhi. “Things are not in a good shape. The financial situation of a lot of Gandhian institutions, especially educational, is not very rosy,” says Razi Ahmed, secretary of the Gandhi Sangrahalaya in Patna. According to Ahmed, while the government has provisions to help such institutions, most functionaries rise to symbolic action only “during centenaries and anniversaries”. It was in that vein in 1969, on Gandhi’s birth centenary, that the government announced a set of ambitious plans to set up 69 Gandhi Bhavans in universities and a National Service Scheme, a student volunteer corps focusing on community service. History repeated itself. “Most of these plans are in disarray as they were not wellcoordinated,” says Singh. At around the same time, a large, elaborate exhibition complex came up along the Rajghat memorial; it was called the Gandhi Darshan International Exhibition Complex. In a by now all-too-familiar pattern, the exhibition, after a six-month run, was forgotten and largely abandoned. An early plan to convert the site into an international centre for Gandhian studies resurfaced 25 years later in 1994, when then prime

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VASUDHA THOZHUR An untitled work of mixed media on canvas, Thozhur’s work evokes the monkey, common on the rooftops of Gujarat. Playing into the image of the three monkeys, the work suggests that in the land of Gandhi’s birth, the doctrine of ‘ahimsa’ has been violated. At Saffronart Gallery, Mumbai, till 15 February minister Narasimha Rao christened it the International Centre for Gandhian Studies and Research. Since then, the centre— spread over 36 acres, with numerous classrooms, lecture halls and auditoriums already constructed and waiting—has been lobbying for deemed university status. Currently it conducts short, vocational courses in spinning, tailoring and pottery for schoolchildren (about 400 have applied in the last five years), and is a recognized centre of the National Institute of Open Schooling. Elsewhere, as part of the Ninth Plan from 1997 to 2002, the University Grants Commission (UGC) announced the “Epochmaking Social Thinkers” scheme, which granted financial support to universities starting Gandhian study centres. As of August 2008, 61 universities had signed up and obtained funds. While Singh is of the opinion that few of these centres function with any success, Jeevan Kumar, director of the Centre for Gandhian Studies at Bangalore University, disagrees: “From my experience, a number of these centres are doing significant work, and we must remember that most of these are started with UGC support... So when

the UGC withdraws this support in, say, five years, the lack of adequate finances on the university’s side means that activities get curtailed.” Other universities have found that a little modification of the syllabus helps increase the number of takers. The Panjab University’s department of Gandhian studies, for example, has seen a flood of applications for its master’s programme in Gandhian and

peace studies. So much so that the university recently increased the number of seats from 20 to 25. The change? “We’ve restructured the course to be more oriented towards people taking competitive examinations,” says Jai Narain Sharma, professor, chairman and honorary director of the department. “We’re proud to say that nine students from our current batch have made it to the final stages of the civil HARIKRISHNA KATRAGADDA/MINT

LINKED IN

Stay up-to-date with online resources for Gandhian studies: 1. Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence: www.jmu.edu/gandhicenter 2. International Centre of Gandhian Studies and Research: www.gandhismriti.nic.in/ index.asp?langid=2 3. 2009 Global Nonviolence International Conference: www.aupeace.org/?q=node/3781

Last bastion: Savita Singh hopes the International Centre for Gandhian Studies and Research in New Delhi will finally get its due.

services examinations, while two others have sat for the judicial services.” Sharma says Gandhian studies are still relevant and contemporary, but students are mostly looking for something “job-oriented”, a need few Gandhi courses seem to cater to. Kumar, however, says he’s “not convinced” this particular approach would work: “I’m not sure we can adjust a course on Gandhi to be more careeroriented. I would look at it more as a philosophy or a set of principles one inculcates in whatever career you find yourself in.” Outside India, however, the outlook appears more optimistic. Sushil Mittal, a professor of Hinduism at the James Madison University in Virginia, US, sees a growing interest in the ideals of Gandhi. “Recent years, especially after 11 September 2001, have witnessed a considerable worldwide growth, and in particular in the US, in Gandhian thought,” said Mittal in an email interview. Mittal is founder-director of the Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence at the university. According to Mittal, the centre is helping to put together the considerable amount of Gandhi-related work going on in American institutions. Starting this year, the best of this research may be found in the International Journal of Gandhi Studies, the flagship annual publication of Mittal’s centre. Mittal hopes that the journal will help revive neglected areas of Gandhian studies and find relevant, modern interpretations. In April, the centre will host an international conference on non-violence with the theme “Rethinking Gandhi and Global Nonviolence”. As far as Mittal is concerned, Gandhian studies are getting a new lease of life abroad. He

says several teacher-scholars are doing cutting-edge work and contrasts this with the largely symbolic efforts in India. And while most students are non-Indian—Mittal says that only around 1% of the 1,500 students he has taught are Indian—he believes that the discipline has come of age. Contemporary global events have provided a new reason to go back to the Mahatma’s teachings. Referring to 9/11, Mittal observes, “It took the worst act of terror in Western history to make the world, and in particular the scholars, remember and learn from the life and achievements of the Mahatma!” In India too, after years of start-and-stop initiatives, we could now see a resurgence in the discipline. “We feel that now, when the government is mulling plans for a World University at Nalanda, we can push for a plan that is equally relevant: setting up a central university of Gandhian thought here in Delhi,” says Singh. She, along with other signatories, has drafted a letter outlining plans to Arjun Singh, the Union minister for human resource and development. The Rajghat campus is ready with a “full-fledged” plan, Singh says, including course curricula up to the PhD level. All it needs now is the government’s go-ahead. While films and art exhibitions continue to perpetuate the icon that was Gandhi, the essence of the Mahatma, his beliefs, convictions and philosophy, struggle to find people willing to study or teach them. Singh says, “Gandhi himself didn’t want to be remembered or idolized; he wanted people to build a world that would make him irrelevant.” That has probably happened. But not in the way the Mahatma intended. krish.r@livemint.com


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The First Lady’s message KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

Immigrant designers embody the quest for the American dream, echoing President Barack Obama’s speeches

JASON REED/REUTERS

B Y C HERYL L U-L IEN T AN ···························· he colour, fit and style of Michelle Obama’s inauguration-day dresses have already been minutely dissected, from the pale lemon grass hue and sparkly details of her daytime outfit to the feminine, even demure silk chiffon and crystals of her ball gown. Yet what was most interesting about her style choices for her first day as First Lady was not the ensembles themselves but the message she telegraphed through the designers she picked. Her day dress and matching jacket were created by Isabel Toledo, a designer who is admired for her artistic touches, which often include eye-catching architectural shapes and geometric patterns. Toledo, who has run her small business largely on the fringes of mainstream fashion over the past 25 years, was born in Cuba but left as a girl when her family fled to the US in search of a better life. Michelle Obama went off the beaten path of well-known designers again when choosing her evening gown. The dress she wore was made by Jason Wu, a 26-year-old Taipei-born designer who lived in Vancouver and Paris before interning in New York for Narciso Rodriguez (whose work she wore for other inauguration festivities) and then launched his own line in 2006. The designers embodied multiculturalism, the universal immigrant’s success story and the quest for the American dream—and their frocks, as a result, were much more than just pieces of silk and crystals stitched together. They provided a powerful visual symbol of the struggles and triumphs that Barack Obama has spoken of in his sweeping speeches about this country. “Every designer that Michelle has worn and supported in the past 48 hours has a very American story to tell,” says Mary Alice Stephenson, a stylist and fashion expert. “It’s just like the Obama slogan about change—these are the rising stars in fashion, and Michelle gave them a little push to be the artists that they are going to be.” Fashion is a fitting slate for the message, as immigrants from a wide variety of backgrounds in recent years have charted remarkable rises in the field. Thailand-born Thakoon Panichgul, Behnaz Sarafpour, born in Iran, and evening-wear designer Monique Lhuillier, born in the Philippines, are just a few of the designers pollinating the industry with new ideas. Despite a powerful fashion establishment, it is still possible to find designers whose meteoric rises echo Michelle Obama’s own. Carefully thought-out

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All that sparkle: The white ball gown by Taipei-born Jason Wu.

Style code: Michelle Obama’s inauguration-day dress was designed by Cuban-born Isabel Toledo. messages were present, too, in the outfits of the Obamas’ daughters. The ensembles picked out for 10-year-old Malia and seven-year-old Sasha appeared calibrated for challenging economic times. Jenna and Barbara Bush were outfitted in high-end Badgley Mischka for the 2005 inauguration’s evening festivities. But Malia’s periwinkle blue coat and Sasha’s bubble-gum pink coat—as well as potential evening ensembles that weren’t seen by the public since the girls skipped the inaugural balls—were designed by American retailer J.Crew, according to the label. For the children, it was important “to make sure that they were wearing things that were festive but not out of reach for many Americans”, says Patricia Mears, deputy director for the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “The underlying message of this momentous occasion is that she’s standing up and saying that Americans make great designs, and ‘I’m going to stand as a symbol for American creativity’.” Barack Obama, whose attire has been far less scrutinized than his wife’s, also opted for American-made evening attire, with a classic tuxedo by Chicago suit maker Hart Schaffner Marx. To be sure, Michelle Obama does not make her style choices

alone. She appears to rely heavily on Ikram Goldman, the owner of the high-end Ikram boutique in Chicago, to steer her towards designers and runway looks that would work for her. Wu, for example, came to design the $3,510 (about Rs1.72 lakh) silk shift dress that she wore to a November interview with Barbara Walters after Goldman saw the style at his spring 2009 runway show in September and put in a special order. Also, designers from all price ranges have been lobbying Michelle Obama to wear their clothing since it’s become clear that almost anything the 45-year-old former lawyer wears sparks a buying frenzy and copycat looks. But she has the final say. Late in the afternoon on 20 January, for example, a spokeswoman for the First Lady said she hadn’t decided till then which gown she would wear for the inaugural balls, and made her choice when she returned from the parade to change clothes. Wu, a designer whose work only recently got picked up by major stores such as Nordstrom, says that when Goldman contacted him in November, requesting a formal gown for an unspecified event, she only had one request: “Sparkle”. While Wu says he didn’t dare to hope that the dress might be for the inaugural balls, he felt pressure to

produce a gown that would convey many things for “a moment of history: It had to be powerful, beautiful, striking and convey her exuberance and intelligence”. Wu, who worked with a team “sewing night and day” for a week in December to produce the dress, says he chose white because “it’s a bold colour—nothing’s cleaner than white”. He used a modern, oneshouldered silhouette to give a hint of sexiness without showing too much skin and added Swarovski crystal flowers for a “dream-like” effect. Michelle Obama’s inauguration-day choices, though still edgy in her choice of designers, seemed just a touch safer than her usual fare. The dress she wore for morning church services and the swearing-in ceremony was conservatively high-necked and fit loosely, unlike the bodyconscious shifts she wore while still on the campaign trail. The soft, rather coquettish inauguralball gown posed a sharp contrast to the bold looks and striking shades of purple and crimson that have marked her style. As time passes, will her sartorial choices become more conservative? Will she be less likely to take chances on the Jason Wus of the world? Fans of the US fashion industry hope not. Write to wsj@livemint.com


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Just one more thing B Y K RISH R AGHAV

With Steve Jobs’ health a concern, what will happen to the iconic ‘stevenote’? We look at 25 years of classic presentations

krish.r@livemint.com

···························· pple CEO Steve Jobs is a master showman, and the “stevenote” his greatest spell. The colloquial term for his annual keynote speeches, usually given at events such as the annual Macworld Expo or the Worldwide Developers Conference, stevenotes are often where new Apple products (among them the iPhone, iPod and iMac) are first revealed to the world. Jobs’ mastery of the presentation, however, transforms mere speeches into pop culture artefacts, and mystifies an audience of largely reasonable individuals into giddy, excitable converts at the altar of personal electronics.

A

MATTHEW YOHE

Consequently, stevenotes have a strange, almost chaos theory-like effect—stock prices vary wildly after each presentation, and much cheering and whooping follow even the most minor of announcements. So, geeks and journalists were aghast when Apple announced on 16 December that Jobs would miss Macworld 2009, held from 5-9 January. There were rumours of health complications and later, Jobs left on a half-year break from work. Experts think this heralds the end of stevenotes. From all the dramatic flourishes, maddening suspense and furious speculation to the pulse-quickening thrill of Jobs’ trademark “one more thing...” coda, we draw up a timeline of the best (and rare worst) of Jobsian showmanship.

THE CLASSICS: MARCO MIOLI/ALL ABOUT APPLE

1983 FALL SALES MEETING

Jobs’ Fall 1983 stevenote at an Apple sales event introduced Apple as “the force that can ensure freedom from an IBM-dominated world”. The now-legendary “1984” advertisement, directed by Ridley Scott, was previewed and the original Macintosh unveiled.

1984 MACINTOSH LAUNCH

Now a YouTube classic, the image of the bow-tied Jobs unveiling the Macintosh at an Apple shareholders’ meet is a textbook example of sheer showmanship. The next 13 years would be the dark ages of the stevenote, spent in the murky depths of NeXT obscurity, before Jobs returned to a beleaguered and broken Apple in 1997. Showstopper: Steve Jobs holds up the Macbook Air at Macworld 2008.

1997-2008: 1998 MACWORLD NEW YORK

1997 MACWORLD BOSTON

1999 MACWORLD NEW YORK

The 1998 stevenote was a remarkable return to form for showman Jobs—flashy, expensive products and an almost masterful command of the adoring and constantly cheering audience. The original iMac and the Powerbook G3 were unveiled, and Apple’s return to profitability was announced in perhaps the first “one more thing...”

The return of the stevenote was a near-disaster. Jobs announced, amid much booing, an alliance with Microsoft (Internet Explorer became the Mac’s official browser, and in what would go down as perhaps the most disappointing Macworld launch announcement yet, Office 98 was announced for the Mac).

The original iBook was unveiled, with a trademark Jobsian flourish for seemingly minor features—in this case, the laptop’s apparently revolutionary “handle”. Apple’s Airport Wireless service was revealed in a “one more thing...”

MASASHIGE MOTOE

APPLE COMPUTER

JARED C BENEDICT FHKE

2000

2001

MACWORLD SAN FRANCISCO

The first stevenote of the new century consolidated and clarified Apple’s strategy for the years ahead. The stylish, robust OS X operating system was shown, and the toaster-like Powermac G4 Cube was launched (it went on to become one of Apple’s rare flops).

2003 MACWORLD

2004 MACWORLD

The 17-inch and 12-inch Powerbook were unveiled, and a long-standing source of annoyance within the Mac community was resolved when Safari ousted Internet Explorer as the official browser. Apple’s presentation suite Keynote made its appearance.

Jobs, with a ragged beard and looking rather unwell, unveiled the ace up Apple’s sleeve—the small, mid-capacity multicoloured iPod mini—and music software GarageBand was the latest addition to the iLife suite (which included iTunes and iPhoto).

SAN FRANCISCO

SAN FRANCISCO

2006 MACWORLD SAN FRANCISCO

Intel CEO Paul Otellini joined Jobs on stage to announce Apple’s historic shift to Intel processors. The first Intel Macs were unveiled, as was the Macbook Pro, in a “one more thing...”

2007 MACWORLD SAN FRANCISCO

“This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for two-and-a-half years,” said Jobs at the start of his 2007 stevenote—proceeding to pile on the hype and hyperbole for the launch of the iPhone, a device that had been awaited eagerly for so long that journalists immediately dubbed it the “Jesus phone”.

CUPERTINO EVENT

In what is now inexplicable, the original iPod was launched at a nondescript, oddly somnolent event in Cupertino, California. While Jobs, with his solid, reasoned defence of the device, appeared convinced of Apple’s decision to make a music player, the audience was strangely silent and tepid.

2008 MACWORLD SAN FRANCISCO

The 2008 Macworld saw logical updates to Apple’s existing products; iPhone went 3G and the Macbook Air was pulled out of a manila envelope in a classic Jobs moment.

APPLE COMPUTER

2001 MACWORLD SAN FRANCISCO

It was a more sombre affair, with Jobs concentrating on hardware upgrades to existing laptop lines and unveiling the “Superdrive”, which could read and write DVDs. The then seemingly unimportant iTunes was also launched and Jobs called it “the hub” of their new digital entertainment strategy.

2005 MACWORLD SAN FRANCISCO

A much healthier Jobs launched the iPod Shuffle, and unveiled the Mac Mini, which got loud cheers when its ultra-low price (by Apple standards, that is) of $499 (around Rs24,500 now) was announced.

2009 MACWORLD SAN FRANCISCO

Apple announced that this would be their last appearance at the cult conference. Jobs declined to speak and was replaced by Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice-president of worldwide product marketing. On 14 January, Jobs announced that he was going on a six-month leave of absence.


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SATURDAY, JANUARY 31, 2009

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Insider

LOUNGE

G FABIANO/SIPA PRESS/WSJ

HOMES

Extreme makeover: presidential edition SIMON UPTON/WSJ

White House carbon footprint—with a public accounting. Show us where to look for the big energy drains in all our homes. Next, the low-hanging fruit: Find the hundreds of ways to be more energy efficient. The White House can upgrade insulation and install more light-emitting diodes inside—these use one-third the electricity of compact fluorescents and contain no toxic mercury. The Obamas can also get serious about energy production. What about digging under that expansive lawn and installing a geothermal system to generate energy using heat stored in the earth? According to Jackson Robinson, who manages Bostonbased Winslow Green Growth, which invests in sustainable public companies, “the technology

In a surprise move, the Obamas select a high-profile—and high-spending—LA-based designer to redo family quarters

B Y D OMINIQUE B ROWNING ···························· tyle watchers are buzzing about Michael Smith, the Los Angeles (LA) decorator to stars, models and fund managers, who is joining the Obamas in Washington to design the family quarters. He’s a surprising pick, if only because he is associated with clients such as Cindy Crawford and Steven Spielberg, for whom the concept of a budget is impressionistic at best (Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp., which owns The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), is also a client. WSJ has an exclusive content partnership with Mint). Michelle Obama’s press office praised Smith’s “family-focused and affordable approach”, but I doubt even he can remember when he last accepted a $100,000 (around Rs48 lakh) limit—that’s what is earmarked for the presidential family quarters—unless that was the budget for window treatments. Private donations will subsidize this project. The connection to Smith was made through incoming White House social secretary Desiree Rogers, a friend of one of Smith’s important Chicago clients, realtor Katherine Chez and her companion Judd Malkin, an important Democratic Party donor. Smith is a national star. He makes classic rooms that look like their owners have inherited money and furnishings, and he mixes things up with tastefully hip pieces—just as he wears Keds and John Lobb custom shoes. The Obamas made it clear during their campaign that they would not tolerate divas, another reason Smith is a startling pick, but he’s smart enough to know when to respect protocol. Smith declined to comment. As goes the cabinet, so goes the cabinetry. Smith’s qualifications

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are strong: This is no time for the inexperienced, particularly if the at-home style of the Obamas reflects anything of their public personae. We can expect that the private quarters will embrace what in decorating parlance is called an eclectic style—America’s favourite in every survey. That sounds like anything goes, but is far from it, quite difficult to pull off gracefully. Smith said in a press release that he plans to bring “20th century American artists to the forefront”. Let’s hope he also turns to America’s artisans, such as potter Frances Palmer, weavers Jamie Gould, Elizabeth Jackson and Angela Adams, and designers Stephanie Odegard and Katie Ridder. But for now, you can expect to hear lots of talk about shopping at Ikea and West Elm, at least for the girls’ rooms; Smith is savvy enough to know that it isn’t in the Obamas’ interests to give the impression that they have launched a bailout for the highend design industry. Apart from the Oval Office, I’d like to submit a vote that, unless things are in tatters, the public rooms be left alone. If refreshing is needed, the White House can be a model of what I’m calling the Borrow Economy—sharing the stuff in our closets. The White House collection fills warehouses. Instead, the Obamas should invest their $1.6 million restoration budget in...yes, infrastructure! They can become leaders in green living. Our homes are labouring under outmoded systems. While campaigning, Barack Obama stated that we should achieve an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. Home is the place to start: Obama can advance his agenda, lower White House operating costs, and, best of all, support American industry. First up, a thorough audit of the

SIMON UPTON/WSJ

First style: (clockwise from top) Laura Bush updated the design of the famous guest bedroom, The Lincoln Bedroom; the design world is buzzing over the Obamas’ radical choice of Michael Smith to update the White House; Smith uses extremely expensive products and upholstery, as in this living room at a beach house and a guest bedroom at his home. JOAO CANZIANI/CORBIS OUTLINE/WSJ

already exists to lower heating and cooling costs by 70%—and it is American technology. The two leading geothermal-heat-pump companies are based in our heartland, in Indiana and Oklahoma.” The Obamas could document the work online; the White House website is filled with pretty pictures of tulips, but it could do more to show us how to live responsibly. Let the building industry teach—and learn. Then climb to the rooftop, and shout it out: thin film solar! Remember when president Carter put in solar panels, which were admittedly ungainly—and the Reagans took them out? Now there is technology for wrapping the rooftop with sheets that unobtrusively take in solar energy, and can withstand Category 5 hurricanes. And the best available flexible thin film in the world is being made in Michigan, by Energy Conversion Devices, one of the fastest growing new energy companies. A few green acres carved out of that gloriously sunny lawn (irrigated with a “grey water system” that uses water from the showers and sinks for the lawn and gardens) will supply enough organically grown fruits and vegetables to feed the first family and friends—send the surplus to food banks or schools for their lunch programmes. Let’s hope the Obamas become “locavores”, getting their meat and poultry from the area’s small farms. Environmentalists have a culture war on their hands, whether or not they acknowledge it. Their values haven’t yet been translated appealingly to enough people. But we’re now in times when we can surely appreciate what most of this boils down to: habits of thrift, modesty, order and discipline. They’re still part of our national DNA, though recessive, perhaps. We need a values shift of epic proportions. A green lifestyle shouldn’t be an unaffordable status symbol; it has to become mainstream. With the Obamas’ leadership, America can trace a path to a more compassionate, respectful and sustainable way of keeping house. Write to wsj@livemint.com


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SATURDAY, JANUARY 31, 2009

Books

LOUNGE

THE CANON | NATALIE ANGIER

READING ROOM

TABISH KHAIR

Science can be fun

THE BOOKER-NOBEL CUT

Can’t remember a thing about biology or chemistry? Take this easy ride to understand worker bees, evolution and the solar system The Canon—The Beautiful Basics of Science: Penguin India, 264 pages, Rs399. B Y M ELISSA A . B ELL melissa.b@livemint.com

···························· t the age of 10, there is nothing cooler than science class: dissecting cockroaches and frogs, growing mould on bread and building volcanoes that spew baking soda lava. Science seems a veritable playground filled with untold mysteries and strange substances. But somewhere along the way, and especially by the time we reach university, the electric wires and Bunsen burners continue to fascinate only a small sect of men and women in white lab coats. Along the way, science somehow loses its mojo. In her new book, The Canon, Natalie Angier, a Pulitzer Prizewinning New York Times science reporter, bemoans the fact that the general population is moving further and further from the “beautiful basics of science”. Angier interviewed hundreds of scientists, breaking down their explanations of the basics and writing it all up in a neat 264-page package. She says in her introduction: “Science is huge, a great ocean of human experience; it’s the product and point of having the most deeply corrugated brain of any species this planet has spawned. If you never learn to swim, you’ll surely regret it; and the sea is so big, it won’t let you forget it.” To ease her readers in, Angier starts with an impassioned chapter on “thinking scientifically”, admonishing generations of high school science teachers for taking the fun out of science. In Angier’s view, science is a great adventure—mulling over the moon’s shadow, appreciating the blush of

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Microscopic: Angier breaks down complex theories into simple facts. a red rose, and even fixing a broken DVD player. A few chapters on probabilities and calibrations gently lead the reader further into the rabbit hole—by creating strong visuals to help picture the distance from an atom’s neutron to its electron and from the earth to the next solar system; adding quick descriptions of complicated experiments parsed into a few pithy paragraphs; and suggesting simple experiments for readers to practise. Angier believes that people need science to intelligently choose politicians, understand medical testing and discount false prophets. She harps on people’s surprise over coincidences such as finding out that you share a birthday with the person you’re talking to at a cocktail party. She says that the improbability of finding two people in a group of 65 with a matching birth date rests below 1%. It took questioning only 32 people in my office to find two people who shared 13 June as their date of birth and two

others who shared 30 April. It may not be as much fun as shouting, “Oh my god! We were born Geminis!”, but there is also something mysterious and exciting about the precision with which these experiments work. After the first few chapters, Angier leaps into various subdivisions, spurring us through physics, chemistry, biology, geology and astronomy in a whirlwind, condensing years of science classes into a few pages. Her skill as a news writer comes in handy in translating obtuse scientific terms and processes into explanations that even a reader who nearly failed those very science classes (myself included) can understand. Angier’s work is occasionally stymied by her own verbal wordplay. She relies on bad jokes and silly puns to create mnemonic devices: “If a neutron were to order a drink at the bar, and then ask how much it owed, the bartender would reply, ‘For you, no charge’.” The joke breaks up the monotony of re-learning the dif-

ference between neutrons, protons and electrons. But at other times, her way with words obfuscates concepts. In explaining an experiment on what separates worker bees from foraging bees, Angier writes: “Through each evidentiary strand, and every corresponding control, still the discovery held. Unless the foraging gene blazed on, the bee didn’t budge. A modest finding perhaps, but one chiselled and polished until it was the bees knees.” Angier also loses her logical, fun, objective touch when talking about evolution. It’s easy to see which side she is on when it comes to the great debate between Creationists and Darwinism, especially with a cover quote by leading atheist Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion and financier of the recent bus advertisements in London that read: “There probably is no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Angier does little to hide her disapproval of the Creationist theory: “The Creationists’ clock is—what’s the word for ‘off by six orders of magnitude’?—cuckoo.” In a chapter dedicated to evolutionary biology, she writes, “I’m always surprised at how often I encounter resistance toward or doubts about Darwinism among otherwise rational people.” Condescension directed at the very people you’re talking isn’t the most sound negotiating tool. However, Angier has convinced at least one science sceptic that atoms, stars and cells can indeed be fun. IN SIX WORDS A quick remedy for science phobia

u Laurel-Hardy Last year was not a bad one for South Asian fiction. Four authors of South Asian origin were on the Booker longlist and the prize was bagged by one of them. But then the Sahitya Akademi struck back: No Indian English book was “found eligible for the honour” of an Akademi award in 2008. ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG 1:0 in favour of bhasha literature (literature in Indian languages)? An ungracious controversy has been raging between some writers of bhasha literature and Indian English authors for decades now. On the one side, Indian English authors are accused of being superficial, on the other—most famously by Salman Rushdie—bhasha writers are dismissed as not good enough. Was the Akademi’s decision to ignore Indian English Anti-provincial: Rushdie famously books a consequence of this? dismissed bhasha writers. Whatever the reason, this controversy caricatures issues on all sides. It also leaves Indian literature in English out in the cold. For there are Indian literatures in English, not just Indian English literature. The stuff shortlisted for the Booker is decent literature—but often of a certain type, in terms of politics, theme, style, etc. Other kinds of literature are written in English by Indians too. The Sahitya Akademi would have done us a favour by looking at these alternatives to the grand/global narratives of Booker India. One need not copy the Laurel-Hardy act of Booker-Nobel: fat-thin, bing-bong, topical-forgotten. The Booker tends to go to talented writers who, it seems, are yet to write their best novels. The Nobel is tending to go to talented writers who wrote their best books many years ago. But these are not the only options that the Sahitya Akademi has; no, not in the various nooks and corners of Indian literature in English. u Fashion vs Fanon My favourite 2008 novel was John Edgar Wideman’s Fanon. Rooted in marginalized African-American experiences (his brother and son are in prison for major crimes), the novel fictionalizes the story of Frantz Fanon (1925-1961). Caribbean-born, educated as a psychiatrist in France, Fanon participated in the Algerian revolution and authored anti-colonial studies such as Black Skin, White Masks. By inserting himself into the text as the narrator, Wideman transposes Fanon’s revolutionary struggle on to contemporary times. The oppression of European colonization, captured in Fanon’s story, is superimposed on the killing fields of Iraq and America’s overflowing prisons. The two illuminate—or rather darken—one another. A raw, risky book. And though the author-narrator claims there is “no way out of this goddamn mess”, the novel—due to its unfashionable courage in narrating the “mess” with unblinking eyes—makes one hope. Fashion: 0. Fanon:1. Finally! u Oxford comma “Who cares a f*** about the Oxford comma,” sing Vampire Weekend in one of the better songs that made the top charts in 2008. The song was “inspired” by a Columbia University society: Students for the Preservation of the Oxford Comma. Though I buy the John Agard point being guitared by the Afro-pop band, I confess that whenever someone emails 2 me 4 something, I do get anxious about the Oxford comma. Born in Gaya, Bihar, Tabish Khair is a Denmark-based author whose last book was Filming: A Love Story. Write to Tabish at readingroom@livemint.com

NEXT DOOR | JAHNAVI BARUA

By the Brahmaputra Portraits of Assamese people deeply attached to their land and home B Y C HANDRAHAS C HOUDHURY ···························· or the great American short story writer Eudora Welty, fiction’s reach and its themes were universal, but at the same time, the power of a story was “all bound up in the local”. Her simple explanation for this was that human feelings, which are the source and also the subject of all fiction, are inextricably bound up with place. Like trees, human beings have roots in particular places. Further, they are also marked by place in their thought, speech, imagination, food and dress. Place, as seen through the filter of the human mind, is a kind of extension of the self. To tell the stories of people properly, we must also tell the stories of places.

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Next Door: Penguin, 232 pages, Rs250.

ANUPAM NATH/AP

Indeed, it is the strength of feeling with respect to place that distinguishes the stories of Jahnavi Barua’s debut collection of stories, Next Door. Barua’s stories are set in Assam—a territory under-represented in Indian fiction in English—and they glow with affection (demonstrated by both the narrator and the characters) for the region’s forests and fields, for the surging, life-giving Brahmaputra river that cuts a swathe through the state, and the sun that wheels over the land all day and sinks finally “behind the dark hills of Bhutan”. Further—and this is one way of bringing out the peculiar power dynamics in Indian families—many of Barua’s characters either feel trapped by their houses and live in bitterness and resentment, or else love their homes and their gardens intensely, and can be found in their vicinity all day long. In one of the best of these stories, The Patriot, we are shown a retired government servant, Dhiren Majumdar, and his two houses. One is the old, dilapidated house in which he grew up, and

Setting sail: The river is a backdrop for Barua’s stories. which he cannot knock down. The other is the smaller dwelling alongside, which was all he could afford to build for his family. Every morning, Majumdar sits down in his compound with a cup of tea, and “examine(s) his kingdom as if he were seeing it for the very first time”. One evening, Majumdar sees a flicker of movement in his old house and is alarmed. He goes across to investigate and finds a youth lying in the darkness, badly injured. The boy is an insurgent, and he wants Majumdar to get him medicine and food, and to keep his presence a secret. Majumdar has a grown-up son who is a successful civil servant,

but somehow there is no feeling between them—indeed, he feels abject before his son, as he used to before his superiors at work. Now, as Majumdar huffs and puffs under the burden of the arrogant young insurgent’s demands, we feel—although Barua never states this explicitly—that he is being fulfilled as a father for the first time. Barua delicately grafts the bloodshed and violence of the insurgency on to the pathos and neediness of the old man’s life. Many of the other stories in Next Door also take the relationship between parents and children as their theme. In Sour Green Mangoes, we experience the frustration

of a young woman, Madhumita, at the way her ageing parents control every aspect of her life, and here Barua’s writing works beautifully to portray the home as a prison. With time, Madhumita has learnt to harass her parents, yet even this gives her no satisfaction, for she knows it is yet another symptom of her condition. “She will not let them defeat her now,” writes Barua, “but what was done was done; she has already become what she is today.” This is an observation of great empathy and subtlety. Not all the stories in Next Door are written to an equal standard. Some strike the reader as ripening buds—to use a metaphor consistent with Barua’s work—rather than flowers in full bloom. At times the plotting seems slightly shaky, and there are points when the dialogue seems to hit the wrong notes. Yet there are many deft touches to be found on these pages, and this is a striking debut that marks its author as someone to watch. Write to lounge@livemint.com


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SATURDAY, JANUARY 31, 2009

Culture

LOUNGE ART

Change in the wings? PHOTOGRAPHS

BY

MADHU KAPPARATH/MINT

Does the opening of NGMA’s new wing augur a fresh start? Opinion is divided B Y H IMANSHU B HAGAT himanshu.b@livemint.com

···························· he design for a new wing at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), New Delhi, was finalized in 1985. Twenty-three years later, the new wing has been opened to the public. It could have taken longer. Rajeev Lochan, the director of NGMA, assumed his post in 2001. “Seven months after I joined,” he recalls, “I was forced to do the Picasso exhibition at the National Museum.” The lack of space at Jaipur House—which houses the original wing of the NGMA and is situated right next to India Gate—to host a major show prompted Lochan to push for the construction of the additional wing. “It was all in planning already,” he says. “I was only the catalyst.” Thus far, only 4% of the NGMA’s permanent collection could be displayed in the relatively limited confines of Jaipur House. With the new wing, this figure will go up to 24%. The new wing consists of three interconnected blocks constructed adjacent to and behind Jaipur House. Despite being much bigger, the new structure blends in with the surroundings. All the works in the two inaugural shows are from the museum’s permanent collection: ...In the seeds of time traces the evolution of modern art in India, and Rhythms of India: The art of Nandalal Bose shows about 85 works by the master. “The new wing looks very attractive from the outside,” says photographer Raghu Rai, who had a retrospective exhibition at the NGMA last year. But he found the interiors disappointing. “It is so open and naked,” he says. “It doesn’t contain the space. I’ll hesitate to have a retrospective here.” Besides finding the space, which is split into four levels, “too large and overwhelming”, Rai also finds the lighting inadequate. “It is very ordinary,” he says. “The ceiling and the AC ducts—everything is too visible.” Rai, however, is all praise for Lochan for seeing the project through. “He pushed and pushed, and got it (the new wing) open.” Rai’s view of the NGMA—one that is echoed by many artists—is that it has been a largely ineffectual institution hobbled by red tape and lack of vision. “It is

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Labour of love: Rajeev Lochan.

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A new leaf? (top) Inside the new NGMA wing; and at the museum store. sarkari (bureaucratic), run by the sarkar (government) and the director becomes helpless,” he says. A telling example, he points out, is something as simple as the museum visiting hours, 10am to 5pm—which is clearly an unthinking replication of government office hours. Lochan’s response is equally telling, “It is not in my hands but the (culture and tourism) ministry’s.” Photographer Pablo Bartholomew, who had his own show at the National Museum last year, also feels that like most government institutions meant to promote culture, the NGMA’s functioning leaves much to be desired. He grants that budgets can be a constraint but says the problems run deeper. “You can always trot out 10 million excuses but basically, there is a lack of vision,” he says. “The new building is a shell. Let’s see whether the new space will be a living space or a mausoleum.” New Delhi-based artist Vivan Sundaram echoes this sentiment. “My perception is that even though the space (in the old wing) is limited, much more could have been done,” he says. He admits that granting greater autonomy to the museum director would go some way in improving things. “(The director) should demand

The new building is a shell. Let’s see whether it will be a living space or a mausoleum. Pablo Bartholomew Photographer

greater permission so that he can’t use it as an excuse that ‘every nail I have to knock requires permission’.” Sundaram points out that with the Indian art scene increasingly more active and dynamic, the gap between it and the NGMA is widening. He is clear, however, that private galleries, auction houses and wealthy buyers can never be a substitute for museums meant for the general public. “Private art is for a niche, moneyed class. There is a huge middle class that wants to see art but can’t buy it,” he says. Sundaram feels museums here lag when it comes to showing cutting-edge work. He suggests that they should make their shows more inclusive when it comes to new media. “I have a museum, not a gallery,” says Lochan, countering accusations of the latest trends being ignored. He says that encouraging and supporting practising artists is the job of galleries; museums are meant for those who have “arrived and achieved”. He points out that the NGMA bought works by contemporary artists such as Subodh Gupta, Jitesh Kallat and Chintan Upadhyaya before they became big names, adding that even among contemporary artists, only those who have “proved their worth” can be acquired by a museum. Lochan is at pains to point out that he has organized around 80 shows in his seven-and-a-halfyear tenure. Whether it is increasing the number of outreach programmes, setting up new artist-in-residence programmes or a video-art library, or opening a museum shop and café, he says plans are “in the pipeline”. Quizzed about bureaucratic interference, he sounds an optimistic note: “Working within the government structure, if this annexe could be made, then other things are possible too.”

WHAT ARE YOU SAYING?

SIDIN VADUKUT

THAT KNIGHT IN HIS SHINY GOLD PLATING What does everyone’s favourite movie have to do with everyone’s favourite trophy? Unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere with no phones, mobile network or wireless Internet, you’ve probably heard of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. Just when it seemed that the whole world had exhausted its supply of gleeful fanatic adoration of Barack Obama, there comes along this movie that most people love and a few people—including Amitabh Bachchan, we hear—had issues with. By now you’ve probably seen the movie already. And tweeted your opinion about it, even before you left the multiplex. Boyle’s masterpiece has already won those Golden Globes and several other lesser prizes at film festivals. The movie has also garnered a stunning 10 Oscar nominations, including nods for best movie, best director, best music, best song and best adapted screenplay. And, going by that Aravind Adiga-esque feeling in the gut, we should be seeing Boyle and company walk away with at least a couple of golden statuettes—perhaps AFP even one of the important ones. Which nicely brings us to the trivial pursuit of this fortnight’s column. Surely you know that the statuette given away each year at the Oscars is known as the Academy Award for Merit? It is made of an alloy called Britannium, plated with gold, and weighs a hefty 3.85kg. The imagery of the naked man with the strategically held sword in front is one of the most iconic in the world. Film professionals work their entire lives to get one of those art deco statues. People like us wake up early in the morning and sit in front of our TVs to see them win the trophy and then cry, holler or even rant like Michael Moore. Swordsman: The statuette was modelled Film studio after a little-known Mexican actor. Metro-GoldwynMayer’s art director Cedric Gibbons created the Oscar statue around 1928. Gibbons, a trendsetting art director, was an original member of the academy, and so was a natural choice to design the prize. When he was hunting for a suitable male model for the prize, Gibbons’ wife told him to try using Mexican actor Emilio Fernandez (quite how Mrs Gibbons knew how Fernandez looked naked is worth mulling over). Fernandez reluctantly agreed to model naked and the rest is film history. Gibbons, incidentally, would win 11 Oscars himself. Only Walt Disney has won more. While there is no discounting his achievements as an art director and designer, Gibbons was not without his foibles. For some odd reason, some believe he fabricated the fact that he was born in Dublin, Ireland. He also tried to pass himself off as an architectural engineer when, in fact, he wasn’t one. These details, of course, would have no bearing on his performance as an art director. He was a very good one and he knew it. So much so that his contract with MGM in 1924 insisted that every movie MGM released in the US credit him as the art director, even if he didn’t do any work at all (which explains the 1,500 or so movies credited to him). But when he did work on movies, he was outstanding. He won an Oscar for almost one in every 15 movies he was personally involved in. By the time he retired in 1956, Gibbons was considered one of the fathers of art direction. And even in the year he retired, Gibbons is credited with 18 projects, including Lust For Life, which was nominated for an Oscar. Another one of those 18 was the musical High Society, starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong. High Society received positive reviews and did well at the box office. The soundtrack came in for great praise and was a success on both sides of the Atlantic. It was composed entirely by Cole Porter and had great performances by Kelly, Crosby and, of course, Sinatra. The particular track we are interested in was performed by Sinatra and Celeste Holm. The song that celebrates the pleasures of a simple life was called Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? In 1998, when producers were looking for a name for a novel quiz show format with just one contestant featured at a time, they decided to pick the name of the song from High Society. So will Boyle’s movie, based on the quiz show named after a song from a movie designed by Gibbons, win a statuette? We will know in about three weeks. Write to Sidin at whatareyousaying@livemint.com


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SATURDAY, JANUARY 31, 2009

Travel

LOUNGE

FOOT NOTES | SUMANA MUKHERJEE

48 weeks, 30 must-visits Why Bangladesh, Rwanda and Lebanon must make it to your vacation planner this year

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orty-eight weeks left in the year, and that includes at least three weeks of vacation. Where will you holiday? Exclusive Top 10 extracts from Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2009 (formerly Lonely Planet Bluelist)—which lists 850 trends, destinations, journeys and experiences—narrow it down for you and tell you why these 30 destinations are must-visits.

Hand-picked: (clockwise from above) Ice-fishing huts dot the bleak wilderness in L’anse-St-Jean, Quebec, Canada; the Maronite Christian parade in a Beirut suburb is in sharp contrast to the city’s war-weary concrete expanses; and a monastery in Yunnan, China.

TOP 10 COUNTRIES

• Lisbon, Portugal

Glasgow for the cocktails, cuisine and designer chic (plus the legendary native wit).

• Algeria

Peace. For most Algerians, the simple pleasures the rest of us take for granted…feel like being able to breathe again.

• Bangladesh

A revelation that actually leaves India looking a little worse for wear.

• Canada

Winter or summer, Canada is a land of action, with an insane amount of terrain to play on.

• Georgia

A fascinating culture, a realm where the welcome is spontaneous, where the landscape is breathtaking, and where travel is still a challenge…

• Greenland

• Peru

(Try) falling asleep in a hammock as you float away down the Amazon, waking up just in time to catch (the) dawn over the world’s second-longest river.

• Rwanda

The tough terrain will be nothing more than a distant memory once you find yourself face to face with a 200kg silverback.

• Sierra Leone

We know what you’re thinking. Blood Diamonds. Child soldiers. Summary amputations. But that was then…

splendid emerald curves is the distilled, 80-proof version of traditional Chile.

• Hawai’i (The Big Island), Hawaii

This oversized, “hang loose, brah” place has all the necessary tropical delights (plus lavaspewing volcanoes!), and it’s less crowded and less expensive.

• Ko Tao, Thailand

…tiny Tao sure knows how to pack it in—there’s something for everyone, and nothing is in moderation.

• Languedoc, France

Out-of-this-world scenery, iceberg-filled fjords and mesmerising pure light…the experience is worth every penny.

• Basque country, France and Spain

Spiky interior versus coastal plain; deep chestnut forests against vast rolling vineyards; fisherfolk and shepherds…

The country that your inner nomad has secretly been dreaming about all these years.

• Bay of Fires, Tasmania, Australia

Die-hard adventurers can tackle leeches and thigh-destroying slopes on a true jungle trek.

• The islands of Chiloé, Chile

Clamber up to the hammock swaying over the sea and soak it all in.

• Kyrgyzstan

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2009: Lonely Planet Publications, 240 pages, $22.99 (around Rs1,120).

• Oman

The difference here is that the words of welcome, the spirit of religious tolerance, the preservation of the past…are the real deal.

TOP 10 REGIONS

It’s a country that’s so complicated its borders are marked on no maps. The secret edge of Tasmania, laid out like a pirate’s treasure map. This misty archipelago with

Backpackers’ club Sixteen countries over 40 days, a jungle trek, and under suspicion of drug-peddling

Four guys with Schengen visas and no itinerary. Whatever possessed you to come up with such a footloose plan? Well, the plan had been on the anvil for quite a while, actually. We first began toying with the idea of going backpacking three years ago, but it kept getting postponed. We also had a tough time convincing our respective wives to stay back with the kids! Once that was done, we set

about acquiring the visas. Apart from Schengen visas, we got papers for Turkey, Romania and Croatia. We applied for a Bulgarian visa, but didn’t get it, so we had to fly from Istanbul to Budapest, instead of taking the land route. How did you go about choosing your destinations? That was the funniest part of all. We’d take our place in individual queues at various railway stations and figure out two important things: The longest journey, which would allow us to spend a night on the train and thus save on accommodation, and the cheapest tickets, as the fast trains are much more expensive than regular trains covering the same distance. Mostly, we would decide on the spur of the moment. Only twice did we board TGVs (Train à Grande Vitesse), high-speed trains that can touch 320km per hour (kmph). Fast

trains in India move at 120kmph at the most. And you ended up visiting 16 countries. Yes. We ended up spending a day and a half or two days at each place. Let’s see, we started with Greece, then went to Turkey, Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia, Poland, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Monaco and Italy. Phew! What would you pick as your favourite places? First, it’d be Pamukkale, a World Heritage site in Turkey. Located in the valley of the river Menderes, it would be pretty nondescript were it not for a white, terraced mountain. From what I understood, the mountain is the result of the earth’s movements and the chalk-heavy composition of the water there. Basically, the water has formed these brilliant white stalactites in some places; elsewhere, they still cascade down in hot springs. Next, Cappadocia, also in Turkey. We arrived in Goreme, a small town in Cappadocia, famous for the fairy chimney rock formations, at around 5-6am, after an overnight bus journey. Dawn is the time when

• Svalbard, Norway

“Cold coast” in Norwegian, this is Europe’s most northerly landmass and the planet’s northernmost permanently inhabited spot.

• Yunnan, China

Yunnan is China distilled into one superlative province and offers more variety than any other place in China. Period.

TOP 10 CITIES

• Antwerp, Belgium

There’s much more to this city than the world’s best variety of beer.

• Beirut, Lebanon

• Nam Ha National Protected Area, Laos

Despite its weakness for all that’s new and swanky, Beirut’s not entirely about the hottest, priciest and glitziest.

• San Andrés and Providencia, Colombia

If you want your finger on America’s pulse, don’t head to New York or LA. The heart beats in Chicago.

HOLIDAY POSTMORTEM | RAJESH SIMHA

Four Bangalore-based professionals— entrepreneurs Rajesh Simha, 46, and Abhijit Shilotri, 39, engineer C Ramprasad, 44, and radiologist Shivanna Uppin, 57—hit Europe over summer with no fixed itinerary

GUYLAIN DOYLE

CHAR ABUMANSOOR/ALAMY

• Chicago, USA

• Glasgow, Scotland

Forget about castles, kilts, bagpipes and tartan—you come to

While a lesser girl would have developed bags under her eyes after all this partying, Lisbon has simply become better with age.

• Mexico City, Mexico

Crossing the street in Mexico City plays out like a scene from Death Race 2000. No kidding.

• São Paulo, Brazil

Once typecast as the bad-boy city of crime and pollution, São Paulo has reinvented itself in recent years, emerging as Brazil’s cultural behemoth.

• Shanghai, China

Racy architecture, charming side streets and European verve meet the clamour and energy of the Chinese.

• Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw still has its work cut out to become a world-class capital…but any visitor willing to spend some time here will find its energy and vibe infectious.

• Zürich, Switzerland

This is one city that definitely changes its face after dark. That’s when the pinstripe brigade yields the streets to glam bar-hoppers and clubbers… Write to lounge@livemint.com

ABHIJIT SHILOTRI

Four adventurers: (from left) Ramprasad, Uppin, Shilotri and Simha at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. 25-30 hot-air balloons take off for a bird’s-eye view of the extensive natural formations, but at Rs10,000 a ride, we felt it would be too expensive for us backpackers. So we headed towards the caves, which the early Christians built apparently to escape invaders. They go 18 storeys below the ground. This is a place built for adventure, actually, though there are very real chances of getting lost! So we also did a 3km jungle trek with fellow backpackers from Australia, Canada and Korea, who we are still in touch with. Next, Rhodes and Kos island in Greece. These aren’t the

typical touristy beaches you’d imagine, but tiny towns bustling with activity. Lovely places to hang up our shoes for a while. Since you were on the road so much, did you face any danger? The scariest experience was in Vienna. One of us is dark and big-built, and soon after he had helped a black man with directions, a plainclothes policeman came up and started asking questions, sniffed at his cash and generally gave him a real hard time. The rest of us approached a police station, where the personnel confirmed that the man was indeed a

policeman working under cover in VVIP areas to nab drug dealers. We can have a good laugh about it now but at that moment we knew sheer panic. Any low points? Well, a trip such as this requires a great deal of camaraderie: You are thrown together for over a month under what can be trying circumstances—a sort of a Big Brother on the move! Towards the end of the trip, three of us fell out with the fourth member of our group and one of us actually left a week before we were supposed to return home. The lesson we learnt is to do such trips only with people we know and trust. As told to Sumana Mukherjee Share your last holiday with us at lounge@livemint.com

GETTING THERE The secret to a successful road/train trip through Europe lies in first forming a basic itinerary: Every embassy where you seek a visa will require it. Once in Europe, a Eurail pass (www.eurail.com) gives you the liberty to go pretty much where you please across 25 countries.



Gandhi