Thursday, December 24, 2009

Don't miss the Idiots

There used to be a time when we used to see Govinda's fims on the first day!! Perhaps Govinda had the highest standard deviation among his fans - at one side there are all of us in all the engineering and medical and management schools and at the other end there are the auto-walas!! After a very long time I again managed to see a film on the first day... well not even the first day but the premier show. No points for guessing, it's indeed another movie which would be liked by all IITians (I doubt though if the autowallas would like this that much).
It's just awesome. It will surely fill everyone with nostalgia - with all the typical legendary engineer jokes (like how does a DC machine start and many more). Though very loosely based on 5 Point Someone, but the essence is same. Few weeks back I read in a column, where Chetan Bhagat had mentioned about the screwed up education system of India with all the unreasonable pressures it puts on the students, the flimsy parameters to measure success and the total lack of any importance to creativity. This movie has just expressed each of these points so nicely!! You can call it a documentary on Indian education system, but at no point it bores you at all. It conveys some very good messages but never it sounds like Gyan!! And above all.... Amir Khan is just too good!!

Again Raju Hirani has proved that Indian cinemas can be serious stuff and not just hundred people with designer dresses dancing on the streets of New York or the exotic locales of Ladakh. Munnabhai MBBS and Lage Raho Munnabhai were also very made movies with every character well researched. I've read somewhere that the medical terms used in Munnabhai MBBS were all very authentic and truly depicted. Same here with the engineering terms and the various other things shown in the movie. I hope more and more people come forward and make meaningful and well researched movies like this.

Each and every character in 3 Idiots appear so real. Roughly the story line follows 5 Point Someone. Here also there are three friends who start feeling a spark between them from the very first day in engineering college. The ragging scenes are little different from what's there in the book. Nevertheless Raju Hirani has captured many of the common ragging practices across various engineering colleges - like dancing with undies, being asked to pee on an electric heater and getting electrified etc. IIT Delhi has become Imperial College of Engineering, which we all know is actually the IIMB. The director of the engineering college could have been no one other than Boman Irani. He has been given an Einsteinish look and he is just fabulous in the role of a ruthless and heartless professor who just judges one by the grades and nothing else. Amitabh Bachchan in Mohabbatein was also supposed to be a similar type of person, but you need to really see the difference in the way these two characters with similar shade have been treated. Mohabbatein was just a crap making a caricature of the principal, and here the director so neatly represents a typical crude face of the Indian education system which is nothing but a ghost of the clerk making system started by the British more than hundred years back. Amir Khan represents what the education should have been in reality - s0me thing that Rabindranath would have aspired of creating in his Shantiniketan or any educationist anywhere on earth would have talked about. Vivekananda defined education so simply as the manifestation of perfection already in man. The role of a school is to just bring out the perfection. The role of school is something like a gardener who nurtures a sapling to grow into a big tree. The gardener never makes a pine out of a rose plant. A rose plant will always grow into rose tree whatever you feed. The basic fault in our education system is, as mentioned in the movie, to force a Lata Mangeshkar to become a fast bowler and a Sachin a singer. Some of the dialogues are so nice. Like "don't go after success, just learn whatever you can and success will come running after you". In fact the last scene of the movie is exactly an enactment of this.

Those who have read 5 Point Someone will any way know the story. So there's no suspense. But still the creators of the movie have created some extra suspense and parallel story lines just to make sure that not everyone predicts everything that's happening. One major difference is that the main character of the movie is shown as the topper, who doesn't believe in the education system, but still manages to score high grades because he actually loves to learn engineering and doesn't always run after grades. Whatever he does, he does with passion. Apart from that there's not much of difference in the characterization of the three 'idiots'. Amir falls in love with Boman Irani's daughter, Samran Joshi's father is paralyzed and Madhavan's father has forced him to study engineering against his wishes to become a wild life photographer. Finally there's also the suicide attempt of Samran and stealing the question papers by the trio. The rooftop escapades are also retained so nicely in the movie. This is one of the very few cases where a successful book is converted into even a better movie.

The most entertaining thing about the movie is undoubtedly the dialogues - they are so humorous. Raju Hirani and his team has kept their signature prominently in this movie also with all the witty scenes and dialogues. Even the underlining pathos in some of the scenes have been given such a wonderful touch of humor!!

Overall - too good a movie!! Go and watch!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bonjour India Festivals: Bangalore

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Where is my State

Just sometime back Pankaj-paaji and myself were discussing that we should fight for a statehood of Rainbow Drive, the place I stay!! Afterall all it takes to get a state is a threat of fasting by any asshole.... I do qualify for that asshole and I don't mind going for a mock fast. In fact I had an operation sometime back and didn't (rather couldn't) take food for 3 days. Pankaj was suggesting I should have launched the RBD statehood agitation at that time!!

BTW there are many other proposals that may crop up now:

  1. State for Bengali speaking people in Karnataka (I, being an asshole, can volunteer for fasting)
  2. State for sardar-gang (a group of close friends who share the a tremendous sense of humor and a penchant for wit - a group of friends and colleagues working in a company called Synopsys in Bangalore in mid ninetees) ..... this will look like what pakistan was in 1947, two parts one in Punjab and the other around Bangalore
  3. Some historical statehoods (after all Telengana is the erstwhile Telegu speaking Nizam's territory): like Vijaynagar, Chola, Chera, Pandya, Kakatiya, Mysore etc in South, one state for each of the erstwhile princely states in rajastan, then Awadh in the north and so on!!
  4. Some overlapping statehoods: The problem will arise if Indians start claiming states based on the kingdoms (or rather empires) of Aurangzeb or Shivaji or Ashoka!! That would really be an interesting thing - more than 80% of present India would be one state. But then if all three states have to exist simultaneously then it would be a case like Chandigarh where almost 100% of the areas of the three states would be common!!

Well, that's for now!! So volunteers needed to go on for fast.
Job description is something like this:

  • Should be an asshole (MUST)

That's all... no other requirement!!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Identity and Violence

Just recently I've completed reading the book, 'Identity and Violence, The Illusion of Destiny', by Amartya Sen. Off course it's not a kind of thriller that you'd read in a few days. I did take quite a good amount of time to complete the book - not because it's boring, but because it's a little heavy. Nevertheless, it's a very enlightening experience at the end. This is the second book of Amartya Sen that I've read. I read Argumentative Indian much faster, because that was entirely about the culture and history of India that I could relate so well. It also had one chapter on Tagore and one on Satyajit Ray. Identity and Violence is a truly global book with examples and scenarios taken from across the world. Many of the incidents and references are not something that I could relate to that well. But at the end reading the book was quite an enriching experience. Not only is the topic very relevant in today's world, but his treatment is also very contemporary. Though he has taken enough examples from history but still he never deviates from the present. The history is used only at places where he aims to make a point of recent relevance.

Throughout the book he maintains the theme that any individual or nation or entity can't be represented through a single identity. Everyone has multiple identities each of which is relevant and important at a particular scenario or forum. For example I can be a Bengali by birth but staying in Bangalore for the past thirteen years, an Indian, a violinist, a non vegetarian, an IITian, a professional in the domain of semiconductors designs, a Hindu by religion, a member of an amateur music band, an avid reader of history and literature, a great fan of Hemant Kumar and so on. Each of my identities is so much a part of me that you take out one of them and I no longer remain myself. But at the same time not all the identities are relevant or important always. When I'm going through the emigration check at San Francisco airport my only identity is that of an Indian. It doesn't matter which language I speak or where I live. But when I'm buying an agricultural land in Karnataka my Indian identity is not sufficient. My domiciliary status as a resident of Karnataka for the past thirteen years is what is important. When I'm entering the Puri Jagannath temple my Hindu identity is important. When I'm booking a flight ticket I've to say that I'm non-vegetarian so that I get the right meal in the flight. When I'm buying 10 CDs of Hemant Kumar my only identity is that I'm a great fan of Hemant Kumar. So it's really baseless to deny the existence of multiple identities and cling to one particular. Whenever there' a tendency of giving undue stress to one particular identity all hell breaks loose. When the Talibans highlight their Muslim identity above all, all hell breaks loose in Afghanistan. Though it's not mentioned in the book, but we can very well appreciate this point through so many instances. When Raj Thackeray gives more importance to his Maratha identity than anything else we see the hooliganism in Bombay. The integrity of a nation is of the utmost importance and for that the only identity that's relevant is that of an Indian. The point when the Rajs of Bombay and the Annas of Madras understand that their regional identity is not above their Indian identity for their own prosperity all the regional clashes will stop.

There's also the reference of Multi Culturalism or Cultural Pluralism versus Plural Monoculturalism. Though the writer has given examples from Britain, but the scenario is well understood even with Indian context. For example we always say that Indian is a multi cultural nation and we take great pride of it. But in reality what we have in India is not Cultural Pluralism, but Plural Monoculturalism. It's true that there are so many languages and cultures. But in reality do we've the freedom to choose from all these cultures? No one is Tamil by choice. On the contrary he seldom has a choice even to marry someone who is not a Tamil. Our identities are more often than not predecided and we seldom have any chance to change them or choose them. We stay in ghettos through out our lives. Our country is full of such ghettos all around. A Tamil will stay in Calcutta for forty years but still he may not prefer to marry a Bengali or even take a Bengali identity. His Tamil identity is thrust upon him. A much better scenario would be when I've the right to choose my identity from all that I see in front of me. This freedom to choose my own identity can only create a truly multi cultural country. This point is so well made and is so relevant in India when everyone wants to thrust his own culture on others. In Karnataka you've to write all sign boards in Kannada. In Bombay you have to say Mumbai and so on. Why shouldn't I have the right to write the signboards in any language of my choice anywhere in India?

Apart from many things that have come up in his book, one very informative thing is about the myth that Western civilization has done all the advancements in Science and technology. This myth, or rather attitude of the Western people, may be the reason for the present tension between them and the Muslim world. The West has ignored the identity of the Arabs and the Asians in areas of science and technology. Amartya Sen has provided some very interesting facts. The most interesting is the history how the trigonometrical concept and term 'sine' comes directly from Indian mathematician Aryabhatta via Arab. There are lot of such striking things about the contribution of China, India and Arab in the field of science and technology. These identities were tried to be forgotten by the West and that's one of the major mistakes that they might have done in creating the mess that the world is in now!!

Talibans of India

Whatever be the etymological meaning of the word Taliban, commonly it's used as a synonym for utter misinterpretation of religious texts, religious or cultural regression, and off course extreme social injustice meted out to hapless people. If that's the case then who tells that Talibans are only in Pakistan and Afghanistan? Statistically India may have more Talibans!!

Let's consider each of the points that I've mentioned above to define a Taliban.

First let's take up the first point: Misinterpretation of religions texts. The Talibans in Pakistan and Afghanistan want to justify everything they do in the name of religion. They claim that everything is written in Quran - though any learned Muslim would vehemently protest against it. And any sane person, who hasn't read even a page of Quran would never believe that Quran actually justifies public lashing of women if they listen to music or not wear burqa or fall in love. There's no doubt that the entire Talibanism is caused due to serious misinterpretation of the religious texts. Well, let's now turn towards India.

Let's take a very simple example. A big part of India is vegetarian and the vegetarianism is linked with religion. I do accept that Jainism and Buddhism, which were very popular in many parts of India for a good amount of time in ancient time, do put stress on not killing lives, but no way can anyone say the same about Hinduism. To go back a bit into history, Hinduism got its origin from the Vedas. Though the term Hinduism is quite new, but the religion that is now loosely accepted as Hinduism, can also be called more correctly as the Vedic religion, something which took shape over three millennia with the ideas and philosophies of the Aryans synthesized with the same of the indigenous pre-Vedic people of India. The people of Indus Valley civilization, which predates the Vedas, would have also had their own religion. But not much is known about that. Many people believe (including Jawaharlal Nehru in Discovery of India) that the remnants of the Indus Valley religion may be found in the Vedic religion in many forms. Anyway, what so ever be it, there's no doubt that the Vedas are the earliest reference available for Hinduism and also the ancient history of the Indian people. No where it's found that the Vedic seers promoted vegetarianism. On the contrary beef was widely consumed. Not only that, even horse meats were consumed after the Ashva Medha Yajna (Horse Killing Ceremony). So when I find a Tamil Brahmin not renting his house to someone who takes meat, is it not a case of a gross misinterpretation of religious texts? The Rig Veda is considered to be the most sacred religious text for the Hindus and in that text there's absolutely no reference to vegetarianism. Well, you may say that equating this with Talibanism is ridiculous. That's true. Not renting a house to some one who eats meat is no match for the injustice meted out towards women in Afghanistan. But the point is indeed true - that a vast majority of Indians did misinterpret the religions text to justify something - vegetarianism in this case. In reality, no other religious book in any other religion is as pragmatic as the Vedas. There's absolutely no compulsion or restriction in the Vedas, especially the Rig Vedas - the earliest of the Vedas.

Well, there are several other cases of misinterpretation of religious texts in India. Let's take the example of the famous Puri Jagannath temple. Even Rabindranath Tagore was disallowed to enter the temple because he was actually a Brahmo, a sect started by the likes of Raja Rammohan Ray and Debendranath Tagore, based on the Vedas and the Upanishads. Even Indira Gandhi was not allowed to enter because she had married a Parsi. Puri temple has a centuries old tradition of disallowing any non-Hindu. Well, here again it's a serious misinterpretation about who is a Hindu. If Hinduism is the Vedic religion, which I assume is never disputed, then how can a Brahmo be different from a Hindu - both are based on the Vedas and Upanishands. Also the Parsi religion was started by the same group of people who wrote the Vedas. Their earliest book Avesta has striking similarities with not only the language but also the content of the Rig Vedas. Even to this day the Parsis don't differ much from a present day Hindu. So if a believer of Vedas can be allowed into a temple, I find no reason why a Parsi won't be allowed.

Stretching my reasoning a bit more, etymologically, historically, geographically a Hindu is anyone who stays in India. So disallowing any Indian to any Hindu temple is anyway something that has no basis. Just because a non Muslim is not allowed to enter into the main shrine of Mecca, that doesn't mean that there has to be Hindu temples also disallowing a non Hindu. Bankim Chandra, the creator of Vande Mataram, had summed it up very well - Tumi adhom hoile ami uttam hoibo na keno - meaning if you're inferior then why can't I be superior?

Apart from Puri temple there's the famus Guruvayur Temple in Kerala. There also a non Hindu is disallowed to enter!! Again the same story of misinterpretation of the Vedas.

Now let's move to more serious stuff. The entire saga of untouchability is a matter of serious misinterpretation of the Vedas. It has nothing to do with the Chatura Varnas or the four Classes mentioned in the Vedas. It's understandable why Mahatma Gandhi fought so much against untouchability - because he was a staunch Hindu!!

Let's talk about social regression and injustice. Well, just do a google search on "caste killings in India" and see what you get. There's also an article in wikipedia about caste related violence. If you read through all those I don't think you'd anything more respectable from what you read about Talibanism.

I think the every tom-dick-harry has misinterpreted Hinduism in all possible ways and come up with really ridiculous traditions over the past one thousand years. Even now the practice of Sati is wrongly justified by some verses of the Vedas. More than 150 years ago people like Rammohan Ray and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar had tried in all possible ways to point fingers to such misinterpretations of the Hindu texts. But still you find miserable misinterpretations and subsequent social regression and injustice in many places. And the most sad part is that after Mahatma Gandhi no one has put any effort to eradicate these!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

After The Empires of Indus, it's Ganesh of Delhi

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Re: About your book
From: "Alice Albinia" <>
Date: Tue, December 1, 2009 5:29 pm
To: "Sudipto Das" <>
Dear Sudipto,

Thank you for your nice mail. I'm really glad you enjoyed reading my book - and read it in record time! - and that it is inspiring your own writing. By the way, my next book is a novel set in Delhi, with the god Ganesh as a character, which you might find interesting. I'll let you know nearer the time when it's due out (around 2011).

Till then, all the best,

2009/11/20 Sudipto Das <>:

Hi Alice,

I believe by this time you'd been already flooded with tons of mails from your surprised readers. So I'm not sure if this mail of mine would attract your attention.

I'd seen your book quite sometime back at a bookstore in Bangalore. I'd browsed through a few pages while sipping tea at the store and decided to get back to it later. I already had a pile of books to be read and I didn't want to make me feel worse with a bigger backlog of books. But then I saw the book again at one of my friends' place and he spoke very highly about it. Next time I was at the same book store I again saw your book and while going through the later chapters I saw a whole chapter on Kalash people and that's when I just bought the book and completed reading in record time. I'm a slow reader and I've to fight to get time out of the grinding of my work, but still I completed your book in one night - while at hospital recuperating from an operation just after I'd bought the book!!

I've been always fascinated by history and literature and lately I've been reading a lot about the ancient history of Indian subcontinent. And you can expect very well why an avid reader with investigative mind - reading deeply about India's past shrouded with mysteries and myths - would get attracted to the Kalash people. For quite some time I've been struggling to find unbiased and authentic materials about the origin of the Aryan people and the myths around it. Interestingly few chapters in your book provided me exactly with the kind of stuff and reference I was looking for. The bibliography you provided has been also very helpful. I've been reading many of the books you've referred - but I was not sure if I'm reading the right type of books.

I'd like to thank you a lot for writing such a wonderful piece of travelogue. I don't think I have read a better travelogue!! Most interestingly if Western people read your book they may get a totally different perspective of Pakistan which is now midst of all wrong things. It's high time that people within and outside Pakistan take a different perspective of their own culture and history and get things on right track. Anyway, if you happen to read my mail - please accept my best wishes. I hope to see many more similar stuff from you!! Thanks again for your wonderful book!! I await for more from you!!


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Nationality is the only Identity: Part III

By Dileep Padgaonkar, 21 November 2009: Reproduced from Times of India

For three decades Bal Thackeray has ranted about one issue or the other with dollops of coarse humour to the delight of his flock and the wrath
of his detractors. Early in his political journey he realized that to achieve success he needed to exploit the insecurities of the urban, middle and lower middle class Maharashtrians. They had been left far behind by the enterprising Jains, Gujaratis, Sindhis, Punjabis, south Indians and north Indians. The feverish rhetoric of regional identity, he reckoned, would mobilise the Marathi manoos more effectively than the tall talk of progress, secularism and national pride.

And so it is that he directed his ire first at the 'Madrasis', then, high on the heady brew of Hindutva, at the Muslims and finally against the 'Bhaiyyas' of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Time and again the arms he deployed against these communities proved to be lethal: intimidation, threats, harassment and, with growing intensity, raw violence. These were the times when one statement at a Shivaji Park rally, one editorial in the party organ Samnaa, one order issued from Matoshri, his Bandra residence, could shut down Mumbai and send his opponents cowering for cover.

Thackeray had the means, and the gall, to "teach a lesson" to anyone who crossed his path: a defector, builder, film star, businessman, underworld don or journalist who failed to pay obeisance to the Supremo. In such instances, he showed a sovereign disregard for the rule of law and constitutional niceties. He placed himself on a pedestal higher than the highest court in the land.

That is why he could gloat over his 'achievements' that included the felling of the Babri masjid and the wave of violence he unleashed against Muslims in Mumbai. None of this would have been possible had his declared adversaries, the Congress and especially the NCP, not played footsie with him. But that Faustian deal was Thackeray's insurance against arrest and prosecution.

The idyll was too good to last. The deaths of a son and of his wife shattered him. He became more vulnerable when close associates began to abandon the ship. Age, too, had started to take its toll. But what crippled him was the crisis that gripped the family. In the bitter fight between his son, Uddhav, and his nephew, Raj, to take control of the party, Thackeray cast his lot with the son. But the son could simply not match his cousin's charisma, organisational abilities, determination or his rapacious ambition.

The result was obvious in the recent assembly polls when the MNS outsmarted the Shiv Sena reducing it to a sideshow. This should have encouraged Bal Thackeray to introspect. He did nothing of the sort. Instead, he chose to revile the Marathi manoos for stabbing him in the back. Later he sought to make some amends. His statement, he argued, was made not in a fit of anger but merely to express a benign patriarch's feelings of hurt over the conduct of his errant progeny. It triggered a fusillade of ridicule.

Hardly had the dust raised by the display of 'hurt feelings' begun to settle down than Thackeray fired another diatribe. This time the target was none other than a national icon: Sachin Tendulkar. The nation, and the world at large, applauded him as a cricketer beyond compare. But India discovered another, immensely attractive side of him when he declared that he placed his Indian identity above his Maharashtrian identity. He took great pride in both but his priorities were clear. Add to this his assertion that Mumbai belonged to all Indians.

Bal Thackeray, ever eager to seize the initiative from nephew Raj, gave Sachin an 'affectionate' earful. The ploy misfired. Sachin has emerged from this episode as an enlightened citizen of the republic, one who bears not the slightest taint of any sort of parochialism and, by that token, represents the face of a modern, self-confident and pluralistic India. In the process, he has exposed Bal Thackeray the troubadour of communal strife and regional chauvinism and the destroyer of Bombay's much cherished cosmopolitan character for what he has become today: a caricature of his former self with nothing but bile flowing in his veins. He cannot, or will not, read the writing on the wall. It says: your time is up.

Nationality is the only Identity: Part II

by Chetan Bhagat: Reproduced from Times of India
Raj Thackeray and the MNS have hogged headlines for some months now. Many of the enlightened articles that have appeared in newsprint paint him
as an evil villain who runs a party of goons. Quite frankly, this reductionist approach is not too different from that of his supporters who view him as a crusader for the ignored Marathi cause. The trading of such direct personality attacks makes it difficult to understand the real issues at hand. We should remember that the MNS is not alone. Millions of people now vote for it. In a mere three years of existence, it has attained a significant vote share as seen in the results of the recent assembly polls in Maharashtra. Compared to the Congress's vote share, the MNS still lags behind. However, for every four people who voted Congress in the state, one person voted MNS. This is significant.

To understand how the MNS gained so many supporters so fast, we must examine the issues taken up by the MNS that seem to resonate with the people of the state. One, while most of India's billionaires have Maharashtra addresses, the state also houses large numbers of poor people in the country. A majority of the state's population is dependent on agriculture, and this sector has suffered with falling crop yields and a poor irrigation infrastructure. The result is a dependence on rainfall, and high fluctuations in output. The state has the highest numbers of farmer suicides in the country. Why? If we want India to progress, shouldn't our farmers progress too?

Two, the so-called secular or nationalist parties don't seem to be doing much presently. There are little signs of visible progress. While agriculture is suffering, the situation in urban areas is no better with crumbling basic infrastructure. Compared to someone inept and invisible, at least the MNS comes across as action-oriented.

Third, the media's elitist obsession plays a role. Most publications and channels are only interested in covering high-class issues rather than the stories of the people of Mumbai, thus relegating a perfectly fine Marathi culture to a lower-class status. Ours is probably the only country where local cultures are looked down upon. Anything too Indian, or liked by too many Indians, is considered down-market. This, despite Marathi culture being one of the richest, original cultures in India, followed by a majority of Maharashtrians. In such a scenario, any party offering visibility to an ignored but loved culture is bound to get support. For the record, the MNS has organised Marathi poetry recitations and literature exhibitions.

However, despite the above valid causes and potentially good intentions, MNS may not be the best bet for Marathis. MNS has gained maximum publicity when it does something dramatic and violent. While such acts attract attention, it is a slippery slope. To get noticed next time, you have to keep increasing the intensity and do something with higher shock value. Members of the MNS have reached the point of slapping an elected representative in the state assembly. But even that story died soon. Soon they'll increase the heat further, hurt innocent people, and cross the limits of civilised behaviour. Is that Marathi culture?

MNS may have brought forward the Marathi cause but by going against almost everyone non-Marathi, it has demonstrated how little it understands the state's dependence on the central government. Maharashtra needs central support to complete critical irrigation projects, which will cost thousands of crores of rupees. Our best shot at progress as a nation is if all states work together with a common agenda, instead of pulling in different directions. Also, by indulging in violent fights with other political parties, the MNS displays an unwillingness to get along with other interest groups. Such an attitude is impractical in a country like India. If MNS members can't listen to people, who will listen to them?

By claiming Mumbai for Marathis and calling everyone else an outsider, MNS is only harming Marathis in the long term. In today's world, progress depends on inter-dependence. If global agricultural companies are incentivised and welcomed to base themselves in Maharashtra, it can dramatically alter the standard of living for Marathi farmers. Kicking everyone else out won't. A lack of understanding of the modern world also casts doubt over MNS's ability to actually deliver on the issues it has raised.

Most Marathis still do not vote MNS. It is these people who can help most by talking more about the choices available to their community and the pros and cons of each option. Increasing the decibel levels of the moderate Marathi voice is needed now. In that respect, the recent comments by Sachin Tendulkar are commendable. Non-Marathis have to stop painting individual personalities as villains and spend more time thinking about what is truly driving the support base of a divisive person. If you dig deep, you will find that just like you, all that the MNS supporters are looking for is a better life. And that common desire alone is enough reason for us to be one.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Nationality is the only identity

I always like to pronounce the name Bal Thackeray because of the Bengali intonation of the word 'Bal'!! I used to like him a lot because he has guts and is not pretentious. He doesn't like Pakistan and he makes it very clear in all possible ways. He did do some good development in Maharashtra when he was in power. Well, that's good, but there's one basic problem in the functioning of people like him - they seem to think that a regional identity is more important than the national.

He suffers from the same cancerous disease that was perhaps introduced for the first time in India by the Tamil leader Anna. I may be wrong, but I don't recall any other leader before him who had put forward a regional identity above everything else. Irrespective of multiple empires rising in India, throughout the history the entire landmass of Indian subcontinent used to be always referred to as a single civilization by the external world. The name India or Indika or Hindustan never denoted any particular empire or group of people. From Chandragupta Maurya to Shivaji every emperor was always an Indian emperor. Though truly regional powers, still the Vijaynagar or the Chola kingdoms were always referred to as Indian kingdoms. Even now irrespective of the religion or language apart from being Indian there's no other identity that an Indian has when he or she is abroad. How many people outside know of so many languages of India. Does it make any sense to stand at the emigration counter in Iceland and say that I'm a Bengali or Tamil?

This doesn't mean that the regional identity is insignificant.

I've been recently reading "Identity and Violence" by Amartya Sen and he has dealt with this very topic in a very elaborate manner. Every individual has multiple identities and all of these identities may be equally important to him or her. Suppressing one particular identity and highlighting another is not a good idea. Different identities have significance at different forums. A person can be a Hindu, but a non-vegetarian, a lover of Qawali music, a gay, an economist, a speaker of Bengali, Hindi and English languages, born to parents who stay in West Bengal, a native of Bangalore for the past thirty years and so on. Each identity has a significance. When the person wants to enter into the Jagannath Temple in Puri his Hindu identity is important otherwise he won't be allowed to enter. When he books a flight ticket he has to inform that he needs a non-vegetarian meal in flight. When there's a function by Rehat Fateh Ali Khan in Bangalore then he buys a ticket because he loves Qawali. When he buys an agricultural land in Bangalore his domicile identity as a resident of Karnataka for the past thirty years is important. Each identity is thus dependent on a particular event or activity.

It's really foolish to flaunt the irrelevant identity at the wrong place. It's foolish to flaunt the Karnataka domicile identity for buying a flight ticket. The only thing relevant here is whether he takes vegetarian or non vegetarian food. Like wise for his employment as the professor of Economics at a university in Timbuktu the only identity that is relevant is his being an economist. It's immaterial if he is a Hindu or a gay or a vegetarian.

Like wise it's totally immaterial whether I'm a Maharashtrian or a Tamilian if I want to reside in Bombay. As long as I'm an Indian or a foreigner with a valid Visa, I can stay in Bombay like anyone else. Sachin very correctly pointed out that he is proud of being a Maharashtrian, but he is also an Indian. He also iterated that Bombay belongs to the whole of India. I wish some one told the same thing to Anna that Madras or Tamil Nadu belongs to India not to someone who speaks Tamil or who have stayed in Tamil Nadu for hundred years!!

If we go back a little, in the pre-independence era, Jawaharlal Nehru and his colleagues in Congress had opted for a strong centralized government with lesser power to the states. Jinnah had opted exactly the opposite - a weak federal government with autonomy for states - something like USA. Fast forward 60 years and we know which is a better model. There's still not much of difference of culture between the people of Pakistan and India. Still Pakistan is on the verge of disintegration and India is still better off, though we do have our own internal problems. The only reason is that Pakistan never had a strong federal government which is very important for such a multi cultural and diverse country. Historically also only those empires became large and successful in India who had very strong federal governments with limited powers to states. Starting from Chandragupta Maurya-Ashoka to Akbar-Shivaji, every where it's the same story. If today we allow the regions to grow stronger than the center then we're also going the same way as Pakistan.

You may argue then why is USA so successful. Haven't you heard of different strokes for different folks? Culturally we're different and much diverse than USA. Europe never became a strong nation, rather remained a cluster of small regional powers for ever because of the same reason. They are also culturally as diverse as India but they very rarely had strong and powerful federal governments like that of Ashoka's or the Mughals or the Government of India in the past 60 years!!

So that's it.... let's really put an end to these silly regional politics. No regional identity should be allowed to rise beyond the national identity. There's no place for a Raj or a Bal or an Anna!! As the Bengalis say, these are all 'BAL'!!

Empires of Indus

One more young girl I'm falling in love with - Alice Albinia - merely in her late twenties and the writer of the best travelogue I've read ever - that's "Empires of Indus".

People who haven't read the Bengali travelogues of Kalkut, (pseudonym of Samaresh Basu), they are anyway deprived of a genre of travelogues which mix a travel experience with passion and emotions derived from the past and present of the people around. At the end of the reading you just become a part of the place. You identify yourself with the people you just read about. You become a part of the history of the place you just read about!! The real life characters and the backdrop become a mystical novel - a piece of fiction which you have problems to believe that they are real!! After reading "Empires of Indus" I just felt as if I've traveled along Indus from Karachi to the source in Manas Sarovar, traversing through a history of three millenia and witnessing the rise and fall of so many civilizations along its banks!!

The river Indus not only gave the name to India (rather the entire Indian subcontinent or South Asia), it gave all her identities and religions and cultures. Starting from the ancient Persia in the west to the eastern most boundaries of Indian sub continent Indus has its influences spread across histories and geographies in various forms. Indus has been one of the cradles of civilization of the world. For a greater part of the history of Indian subcontinent Indus has been at the center of all activities. It was at the center of Indus Valley Civilization, the earliest Aryan settlements in India and the Rig Vedas - the first book written by humanity, the invasions of the Persians and Alexander the great and even the first Muslim invasion and the subsequent spread of Islam in India. But sadly the river lost most of its significance in the Indian subcontinent in subsequent times. Alice has tried to revive the lost glory of Indus.

Alice traveled from the mouth of Indus in Karachi to the source, traveling through some of the most dangerous areas of the world infested by militancy and lawlessness and the most unfriendly terrains. Most of the times she has traveled through Pakistan and a little bit of Afghanistan and India (Jammu & Kashmir). Not that has always traveled along the banks of Indus, but Indus was always at the center of her adventures. Where ever she went she mixed with the local people, tried to understand the local culture and tried to unearth many untold histories. She took the path that Alexander is believed to have taken during his not-so-successful conquest of India. She went to the places where the mystical Aryans are believed to have left their only physical marks in the forms of graves spread across a heavenly abode where the three highest mountains of the world - Hindukush, Himalayas and the Karakoram - meet. On her way she discovered the unfolding of a number of empires and civilizations. Metaphorically the Indus comes to life and speaks of the empires along his course!! The most enchanting thing about the book is that the present and the past are mixed so well at every point that the reader never gets bored with the serious history that she deals with. No reading of history could have been so interesting and thrilling.

Most importantly if Western people read this book they may get a totally different perspective of Pakistan which is now midst of all wrong things. It's high time that people within and outside Pakistan take a different perspective of their own culture and history and get things on right track. Indus is not only important to India, but also to Pakistan. Indus stands for a unique and rich culture and civilization that has made the entire Indian subcontinent one of the most sought after places in the world. The book is a reminder of all of that!!

I'm no longer interested in "Lost Symbol"

Two weeks back suddenly I'd to undergo an emergency surgery to remove my infected appendix. That was very unexpected and one fine morning I suddenly found myself lying on a hospital bed getting ready to enter into OT. Knowing that I'd be in hospital for a few days and then bed ridden for the next few at home, I'd asked my wife to get some books to hospital. For quite some time I'd been lagging a bit in catching up with a number of books that I'd been planing to read. I thought getting an unexpected respite for 10-12 days won't be that bad a thing - I could make up for the backlog with my books.

Very recently I'd bought "Empires of Indus", by Alice Albinia - by far the best travelogue I've ever read. (I'll very soon write a blog on this book). At the same time my friend Pankaj gave me a huge bricked shaped book - Dan Brown's latest thriller - Lost Symbol. Pankaj did warn me of this 'brick' and advised me not to read this in public because I may get so violent that I may throw the book to people around me!! Well, Pankaj has a very good sense of humor and I didn't take it in literal sense. But I now know that he was not wrong!! Yes, I did go violent not because I didn't like the book, but because the writer has betrayed an avid reader of his and that's a serious offence for a writer.

Well, first of all there's no denying the fact that Dan Brown researched even better than any of his previous books. I always maintain that his "Deception Point" is by far his most researched book. In fact I can say that "Deception Point" may be one of the most scientifically researched books I've read. "Lost Symbol" seems to be even more deeply researched. Most importantly he has endeavored very well to mix the spirituality and mysticism of all the ancient religions and cultures with modern science. In general Indian spirituality is more often than not depicted in a derogatory manner by most of the Western writers, off course barring the better few. After the likes of Einstein and Heisenberg, Indian spirituality and mysticism and philosophies never needed any other Western writer of novelist for propaganda or generous space in books. Nevertheless, Dan Brown's indepth and authentic studies about the advancements of scientific knowledge in ancient India and its correct depiction is indeed a very surprising experience in reading this book. I haven't seen much books, even now when information and knowledge is no longer restricted or limited, talking about advanced Indian sciences of ancient times at par with that of the Greeks and Egyptians. More over the entire usage of Noetic Science is a very charming thing. In today's worlds when traditions and cultures seem to attract lesser and lesser people, it's indeed a very good attempt to instill in the young minds the thought that science and technologies never tell anyone to be dismissive of religion, faith or cultures. It's true that most of the dialogues that Katherine Solomon, the Noetic scientist and a main character of the novel, speaks have shades of Einstein, still it's indeed a good attempt to bring it up again for the young readers - who I doubt would ever read anything written by Einstein - be it scientific or else.

But the main problem with "Lost Symbol" is that it's too repetitive and boring. First of all it's probably bigger in size than the previous adventures of Robert Langdon - it's more than 500 pages and just imagine those many pages in a hard bound edition. The stuff like ancient mysteries and hidden knowledge and the excessive of the weirdly depicted dark rituals of the Freemasons have been dealt with quite heavily in the past two adventures. One more novel again on the same topic and going into so much depth about the same things seemed quite boring to me. I was shocked to find that I'd to skip pages of grotesque descriptions of rituals that the villain Ma'lakh indulge in. It may be true and very authentic but I somehow didn't enjoy. I was feeling bad because I never had to skip even a single word of the other works of Dan Brown. The dialogues between the different characters get too lengthy and hence boring. At times the novel seems to be mere research notes rather than a thriller. And at least once, I can remember very well, that the research notes are over done. Just think about this - Katherine Solomon is shown to have invented a gadget that measures the weight of the soul!! It's a very simple stuff - a dying person is put into this "soul-measuring" gadget and Katherine keeps a tab on the weight of the person. As soon as the person dies his weight is shown to reduce by a notable amount - accounting for the soul that leaves the body of the dead person!! Wow, that should impress us Indians who believe that atma or Ruh never dies but leave a body to enter into another!!

The story is quite simple. The Solomons, a family of highly esteemed masons have been hiding for more than a century a clue that will lead to some ancient mysteries and the most enlightening knowledge of the world which is supposed to be hidden somewhere in Washington DC. Obviously Robert Langdon is summoned to decipher it. The bachelor Robert has, this time, as his charming companion Ms. Katherine Solomon, the sister of Peter Solomon - the third generation Solomon keeping the clue in secrecy. Off course there's the villain Ma'lakh, who reminds us of the villain of "Da Vinci Code" - a weird nut who indulges in dark rituals!! And there is the CIA and a very unconvincing national threat. I may not speak more about this because avid readers may get angry because I'm spilling to much. But I can say that at present an American would be surely considering many things else as national threats rather than what is told in the novel. A previous American president was allegedly given a blow job by an intern and when that was spilled out even then it didn't become a national threat and here Dan Brown thinks that if people know that some senators indulge in dark rituals then that's a national threat!! Wow..... is it?

C'mon, Americans, what do you say?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Politics of Name

Juliet, a character created by a stupid fellow called Shakespeare, had foolishly observed

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

Yes, I don't think anyone can be more stupid than Juliet or her creator Shakespeare. How could they forget that name is the most important identity of a nation, culture and society - that if you change the name then the very existence of a nation or a civilization is at stake? How could they not understand that the names 'Rose' and 'Ghulab' and 'Rosa Californica' and 'Rosa Bracteata' are totally different things? How could he miss that the rose that grows in Bengal is totally different than that which grows in Maharastra or Timbuktu or Honolulu or Ghana or Uganda?

Well, no one more than Raj Thackeray, would criticize Shakespeare for his stupid verses. If you go by Raj's ideology then nothing is more important than the name, whatever be it. According to him the respect of a person lies in his name - it doesn't matter what's the name and what's the background. He himself is the sole authority to decide what should be the name of a person and then he assigns everything to that name according to his whims!! According to him the name 'Mumbai' signifies everything that stands for the respect and pride of the Marathas, and calling by any other name tantamounts to stripping off all the respect and dignity.

Let me just point out how ridiculous and futile it is to associate a name with chauvinism of a regional culture or civilization. Forget about a small region, even the names of countries, more often than not, signify the collective impact of so many foreign entities that it's really stupid to associate much of the in-house culture on them. For example the very name 'India', or 'Hindustan' or 'Hindu' etc are totally foreign in origin - all of these are of Persian origin, popularized by Greeks and other people of the west. The culture of India is to a large extent India's own. But there also it's a mixture of so many cultures of so many people over a span of 4000 years. When we should be really proud of our culture, we shouldn't put any royalty on anything, specially the names. The Indian culture is the same irrespective of the name by which it's called - Indian, Hindi, Hindustani, Hindu, oriental, South Asian etc. It's ridiculous to force people to use one particular name and reject anything else just because one 'sounds' more Indian and the other Western!! That's exactly the case with Mumbai, Kolkata or Chennai. Let me take the case on Mumbai only because I've spoken about Raj Thackeray.

Let's first start with the word Maratha, whose origin itself is shrouded in obscurity. One theory says that it could have come from the word 'Ratta', which is believed to be a short of Rashtrakuta, the dynasty that ruled regions in and around present day Maharastra in the past. That makes the Marathas of Aryan origin coming from the North. Alternatively it's also believed that Ratta may be of Dravidian origin, equivalent to Kanarese and Telegu Raddi or Redi denoting the caste of aboriginal Telegu farmers. Another theory also says that the Maharastrians may be the Rashtrikas referred to in many Ashoka's inscriptions as the people of this region. The Maratha language no doubt came from the Prakrit (post Sanskrit) language known as Maharashtri, used in many Jain literature. The word Marhatta used in the Jain Maharashtri literature/language comes from Sanskrit Maha Rashtra. So out of all the names from which 'Maratha' may have come, none is or local origin. So what is that the Maratha's should identify with as absolutely their own name? I think it should be the name by which they are popularly called or referred to. If they are called by multiple names let all the names be used.

Next let's come to the name Bombay. One of the oldest coins found in Bombay is attributed to one Krishna Raja Rashtrakuta, believed to have ruled between 375-400AD. No specific name of Bombay is available from that age. Bombay may be Ptolemy's Heptanesia (2nd century AD), the name for a harbor formed of seven islands.

One of the earliest inhabitants of regions in and around present Bombay were the Kolis, a Dravidian fishermen tribe. Other early tribes were Prabhus, Bhandari (palm juice drawers), Bhanguli, Palshi and Pachkalshi - none of whom can be claimed to be the original inhabitants of this region - they had all migrated from other parts of India - the same way the North Indians have migrated recently to Bombay for livelihood. The Walkeshwar and Mumbadevi temples, two important temples of the local inhabitants, were already existing when the Portuguese arrived in this region in the 16th century AD. The origin of the name Mumbadevi or Mumba-ai (ai means mother in Marathi) is also not clear. It's believed that some 600 years ago a Koli fisherman by the name Munga founded a temple and called it Mungachi Amba, which contracted to Devi Mumba or Mumba-ai or Mumbai. It was the practice of the time to name temples in the name of the founder.

There's no doubt that all forms of names by which the city was called or referred to in the past 600 years have been derived from Mumbadevi or Mumbai. But then what does the name of a Dravidian fisherman have to do with the chauvinism of the residents of present day Bombay or the Marathas. The Kolis were exactly same as the Biharis and other North Indians who are now branded as outsiders. More importantly the place where the Koli Munga built a temple and the subsequent metropolis of Bombay are totally different entities. They are as different as Mr. Narendra Nath Dutta is from Swami Vivekananda or Mr. M K Gandhi is from Mahatma Gandhi. It's true that in Marathi and Gujrati language the city has been always referred to as Mumbai, but to the majority of people outside Bombay, the city has been known in various names since 16th century and Bombay is by far the most popular of all.

After Ptolemy's reference as Heptanesia in the 2nd century AD, the first reference to the city in the recent past was perhaps in 1516 by writer Duarte Barbosa in the strange form of Tana Maiambu. In the Portuguese edition it became Benamajambu, where Bena may be Thana and Majambu may be Mahim. First reference of Bombay was by Portuguese writer Gaspar Correa as Bombaim. He came to India in 1512. Next writer to refer to Bombay (also as Bombaim) was in 1538. In 1554 it was referred as Bombaym and Monbaym. Bombaim is often believed to be the Portuguese of Boon Bay (Good Bay), though it may not be correct.

Each of the names by which the city has been called in the past are part of the history and culture of the city and ignoring any one of the names would mean stripping off a part of history from the city. Erasing the name Bombay from Mumbai is as criminal an offence as erasing the Mahatma from Gandhi, who was born Mohandas, but became famous as Mahatma. The present day city might have been born as Mumbai, but it grew up to be Bombay. Does a Raj or any tom-dick-harry have the right to rip off the adult name of the city?

More over having multiple names is a part of Indian tradition. The Hindu Gods have thousand names and people are supposed to chant all thousand names as part of rituals. So why can't Bombay have many names?

How stupid was Shakespeare!! Silly fellow, you know!!


Monday, September 21, 2009

Illu & Rangoli - A Very Rare Form of Art That Finally Became Extinct

People who haven't seen the Illumination and the Rangoli competition on Diwali in IIT Kharagpur have absolutely no idea what's it about. Though lately it has been covered a bit in some national media, still it remains an almost unknown facade of IIT Kharagpur, which is unique not only to the rest of world, but also to all the other IITs. It's an excellent example of a mammoth team work, unparalleled intricate project planning & management - accurate to the minutest level, timely delivery of the highest quality with more than 6 sigma precision (it never failed ever) and finally a very high quality of art that you would see no where else in the world.

First let be try to explain the magnanimity of the event. Rangoli is a well known form of art very popular in most parts of India. It's an art with various powdered colors (used in Indian festivals like Diwali and Holi) known as gulal and also some other colored materials like tumeric or haldi powder. In most houses in North India the women folk create colorful Rangoli during festivals. So from that point of view it's not something that's unique. But what's indeed unique is the size. Generally the common rooms of the hostels were used to create these huge Rangolis which used to be at least 20'x20' or even more. As you can see in the above picture, it's not possible to capture a full Rangoli in a single frame of a picture unless you break the walls of the rooms and tale a snap from 100ft. above.

Next let me explain the most unique thing - that's the illumination or more commonly known as Illu in the KGP lingo. The above picture is just a portion of a lighted facade of an Illu of one of the hostels. The entire front elevation of all the hostels used to be lighted like what you can see in the picture. The interesting thing here is that the complete lighting was done with earthen lamps - holding a small quantity of oil which can burn a small piece of cloth dipped in it only for a few minutes. Huge structures, called chatai, stitched out of flattened pieces of bamboo - sized at least 20'x20' - were put up against the walls of the hostels covering the complete front elevations. The three storied hostel buildings stretching some 100 or 200 ft were completely covered with these chatais. Depending on the actual size, at least some dozens of chatais were required to cover the walls for each hostel. Chalks were used to draw marks on each of the chatais such that when all these chatais were put up in the correct order a complete sketch was visible from a distance. The earthen lamps were then tied to the chatais along the chalk-marks, which formed the outlines of the sketch. When all the lamps were all lit together then the sketch appeared on the chatais. From a distance they looked like huge bill boards. That's what we used to call Illu. The sketches used to be generally chosen from Indian mythologies, mainly Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Now let's come to the monumental task required to put up the Illu and the Rangoli. It required serious planning and meticulous execution. I don't think I would ever get to see such levels of project planning and execution ever in my life. The corporates need to take lessons of leadership and team work from this. The entire event required a hierarchical team with an over all project manager, team-leads for various teams, a very detailed project planning with task breakdown to the minutest levels, regular tracking of the project for 2 weeks and finally a fully motivated team of few hundred residents of each hostel working almost round the clock without any grievance and grudge. The over all project manager used to be the president or the secretary for Socio Cultural activities of the hall. You can see this post as the CEO of a company. Apart from him, all the other team leads were selected solely based on their artistic skills. Like during the last two years of my stay in RK Hall of Residence, Pushpen used to be the unanimous choice to lead the sketches and Rangoli because he was the best painter in our hall. There were other guys also with good aptitude for art, but still there was never any confusion or politics in selecting Pushpen as the GM in charge of Rangoli. Most companies fail because they choose the wrong person - mostly due to legacy or internal politics. But Illu and Rangoli never failed.

Next comes the ingenuity required to draw the sketches for Rangoli and Illu. Off course the sketches were drawn first on paper and then Pushpen used to blow it up using a very simple technique that had been passed to the juniors for years by the seniors. Pushpen used to first create a miniature of the complete front facade of the hostel on a paper where 1 cm used to represent 10ft. In this scale a chatai of size 20'x20' was a small square of 2cm by 2cm in his paper. Once the miniature sketch was complete on the paper, each chatai got its portion defined. Pushpen used to enumerate each chatai based on its coordinates in his paper and assigned the other artistically inclined people for each chatai. Pushpen had the complete right to choose his team based on the skills he felt were required to mark the outlines of the sketches on the chatais with chalk. This is again something most corporates miss now-a-days and finally land up in big mess.

Each chatai owner used to first draw his portion on a paper with a larger scale, say 1cm representing now 1ft. As each chatai used to be 20'x20' in size he could fit his sketch on a paper sized 20cm by 20cm. This helped him to blow up the sketch on the chatai very accurately. Pushpen used to keep a track of the progress on each chatai. I still wonder how meticulously the guys used to blow up the sketches that, when all 100 chatais were stitched together, nothing looked out of proportion.

The chalk marks on the chatais were ready a few days before Diwali. The next major task was to put those up against the walls. Enough safety measures were taken to avoid any accident in putting up chatais as high as 30 ft. I haven't heard of any accident during my four years of stay. Once the chatais were put up the earthen lamps were tied along the chalk marks.

The climax was the few minutes before the troupe of judges came for inspection. As the lamps would burn only for 5 minutes in the normal scenario, they had to be lit only when the judges came. We had a team of people giving latest information about the coordinates of the judges. When the judges were just 1-2 minutes from our hostel we started the task of lighting the lamps - the task that required the maximum coordination and involvement. Around 20000 lamps had to be lit in 1 or 2 minutes of time by some 150-200 people. This meant each person lighting 100 lamps in less than 2 minutes - that's at the rate of almost 1 lamp a second. Here also we used a very simple tactic that had been handed over by the seniors for years. Each person, with 100 lamps to light, used to first light 50 alternate lamps in the first minute so that even if he failed to light the remaining 50 still the portion of the outline of the sketch assigned to him would be lit - even though some what sparsely - by alternate lamps. In the second minute he would come back and light the remaining alternate lamps. I don't think there can be any better example of planning for a contingency or disaster management. Those were the days before any of us went to management schools. But still if I look back I find that we used to follow everything that any successful project should follow. Perhaps it's true that management is just common sense!!

It's just fascinating to even think of the scenario where an entire sketch of 200'x30' comes up to light in just 2 minutes of time. The satisfaction was immense and the competition a very fiercely fought one. Even the girls used to put up equal effort.

I've graduated in 96, more than 13 years. But still if I've to mention a single thing about IIT KGP that stands out it's undoubtedly the Illu and the Rangoli. More than the high quality of art involved it taught us the best lessons of team work, obeying the orders of the team lead and completing a project on time. Though nothing was maintained on a MS Project Planner, still each of us knew precisely our tasks. Not a single moment was wasted. Not a single order was contested. We had supreme faith on Pushpen about his abilities. Such a faith came only from the credibility that he had shown in the previous years. We never fought for power, never wasted time in useless discussions.

I wish we saw the same thing in our corporate lives!!

Sadly... this tradition of Illu and Rangoli has come to an end. 2007 was the last time that KGP saw the Illu. We heard that the participation had dwindled down a lot gradually. I feel this had to happen sometime. Even ten years back KGP was in secluded part of the world - it took at least 30 minutes on a bicycle (the only mode of transport other than the rickshaw) from the railway station. Once you're in KGP, we'd nothing else of the outside world. All our entertainment and fun and frolic were within KGP. Even internet connections were things of luxury and were available only in the labs. But with time, every room in the hostel had internet connection - which opened up unlimited entertainment within the four walls of your room. Also I'm sure the seclusion would have ended in the last few years. The very tradition of Illu and Rangoli which used to be our life line became an obligation in later times. Professional competition also increased fiercely. The two weeks spent on the preparation were gradually seen as sheer wastage of time and resources. People would have rather enjoyed spending that time in some academic preparations. What-so-ever be the actual reason it's indeed a sad end to an art that never existed elsewhere and will never exist anywhere else.

Reference and source of pictures

Durga Puja: A closely guarded Secular art from Bengal

Durga Puja is well known as the most important festival of the Bengalis throughout the world. People know that the entire West Bengal shuts down for a week during the Durga Puja. But it's not widely known to most of the people that Durga Puja is also a very closely guarded exquisite form of folk art that has rarely been appreciated or publicized outside Bengal.

I'm not aware of any other form of popular art exhibition, like the one that happens in the form of Durga Puja, anywhere else in the world. And very strikingly these art exhibitions, unlike the elite ones that you would have heard of, are too much well attended.

I don't intend to downplay the artistic superiority of the classy artists whose paintings and creations are exhibited in the art galleries, but the creations of the thousands of unknown artists and painters and artisans and sculptors and craftsmen that are show cased for a week for the mllions of people that throng the Puja Pandals across West Bengal are no doubt of very high degree of ingenuity.

The most important thing is that almost the entire class of people who create these pieces of art are mostly not much educated and belong to the financially weaker sections. But they do have a very rare indigenous skill which they use to the fullest to create authentic miniature replicas of Harry Potters palace, Indian Parliament building, American White House, Meenakshi Temple and many other building and structures with great finesse. And most importantly these structures are created mostly with eco friendly materials. Apart from thermocol almost everything else, like various forms of woods, straws, leaves, mud, that are used are eco friendly. Craftsmen also come up with unique raw materials like earthen lamps, mud cups, ice cream sticks or even the hogla leaves from Sundarban for decoration.

I've written about the economic implication of the entire event in a previous blog. Here I'd like to show case the artistic side of it. In this age where various forms of art are fast declining across the world this ingenious form of popular art, that is surviving solely due to the public interest and enthusiasm is indeed a very rare thing. I'm sure not many such instances would be found where an entire population take so keen interest to preserve a artistic tradition so keenly. Just a small statistic - there are at least 5000 clubs in Calcutta who organize Durga Puja in various parts of Calcutta. Each of these clubs have a budget ranging from a few hundred thousands to a few million rupees and each of them put up pandals of various shapes and sizes and artistry. More importantly the art, though associated with a religions festival of a particular religion, is very secular in nature. The pandals made in the form of a church or other non-Hindu form of architectures are plenty. On the other hand pandals in the form of temples are not that common.

Snippet of craftsmanship involved in Durga Puja