Culture

How to pour drinks with passion

How does a bartender become successful? Renowned mixologist Ondrej Pospichal says it has more to do with one’s personality than just the ability to mix potent drinks, underscoring the popular dictum among bartenders which is: ‘You are not creating drinks, you are serving people.’ “A good bartender is judged by the way he conducts himself behind the bar, on how he strikes a chord with his customer, on how he understands his pulse. Making fine drinks, I would say, is secondary,” he maintains. Visiting Bangalore as part of Grey Goose – Beyond the Bar programme, the master mixologist interacted with bartenders from different hotels in the city, teaching them not only how to concoct world-class cocktails, but also how to stand out in their profession.

ONDREJ POSPICHAL

The first thing that strikes him about the city is the enthusiasm and passion among the bartenders. He says, “The lot here is very gung-ho about their profession. And that is what is required. You have to love your job if you have to be good at it.” He adds that they were brimming with innovative concepts and ideas, which is sure to help them in their career.

Though well-travelled and having mastered his craft in some of the world’s most prominent bars, tailoring the programme to meet local requirements was very crucial to him, he recalls. When he first landed in India, he roamed the streets of New Delhi, soaking in the sights, sounds and smells of the place. Upon visiting Dilli Haat, he found an array of ingredients on sale there, some very unique to the Indian subcontinent. And inspired by this, he created his first signature drink in India, ‘New Dilli’ with a mix of local flavours — apple, celery, lemon and others.

His ‘Signature 7’, whipped up specially for the programme, also includes a blend of locally available ingredients like Ginger, Fenugreek, Coriander, Sea Salt, Coffee, and a variety of fresh herbs and spices, to make it truly India-inspired. “It was very important for me to bring a bit of Indianness to the whole initiative. Of course, I could have taught something from London. But I did not want to do that,” he says.

This head bartender of one of London’s most influential bars, MASH, doesn’t consider himself a molecular mixologist, given that his art of mixology includes non-esoteric techniques and fun, adventurous cocktails. So what’s his favourite trick to make the perfect drink? “Keep it simple,” he responds promptly, “Infuse layers of flavour and pay attention to the texture rather than the complexity and techniques of making a drink.“


First published in The New Indian Express on October 6, 2014

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Tracing the roots of Urdu in India and Pakistan

Rakhshanda JalilAuthor Rakhshanda Jalil, best known for her book ‘Invisible City: The hidden Monuments of India’, has been one of the frontrunners in the movement to create awareness for Hindi-Urdu literature in India. Having come to the field of writing as a translator in 1992, she had published a series of translated works before moving to the fray of critical writing and then increasingly veering towards academic pieces, biographies, historiographies and even English fiction.

Given this large oeuvre of works, what really interests Jalil are biographies and books that require rigorous amounts of research. She recently completed her book on Rashid Jahan, an Indian writer, a member of the Communist party and the Progressive Writers’ Association. “It was then I realised that this is what I enjoy doing. I like to locate writers in a certain context,” she says. At the moment, she is working on a biography on an Urdu poet, Sardar Jafri to be published by Oxford University Press.

At the recently concluded Bangalore Literature Festival, Jalil took part in a panel discussion that traced the roots of Urdu in India and Pakistan and also mapped its future. About the state of the language, she notes, “This whole business of script , going on for the past 60 or 80 years, where people are saying it has be written in Devanagari is contributing to its downfall. When we learn Japanese or Russian or Chinese, we take the trouble to learn their script. With Urdu, why do we want to take the easy way out? This is just doing more harm than good.”

Being a proponent of translating works from Urdu to English and making it available for the masses, she does feel that the essence of the language is most often lost in the process. “There is no way you can say that what you are translating is 100% right,” she says. In a language as disparate as Urdu and English or Hindi for that matter, not only the resonances or speech patterns differ but also the way of constructing sentences. Hence as a translator you have to work within these limitations and put out a work that is sincere and sensible, she says.

Childhood, they say, has a very strong impact on a writer’s psyche and it is true in Jalil’s case. Having grown up in a house filled with books, taught by a mother who retired as a librarian and having people who talked about books and gave books as birthday gifts, she was blessed. She adds,  “When I was in the eighth grade, I got a book called ‘The Exile’ by a French existentialist writer as a birthday gift. When most children got Enid Blyton books, I was encouraged to read books from different genres. That, in a way, drew me to writing and if I hadn’t been a writer I would have done something else in writing.”

Incidentally, Jalil started her career, first as a teacher and then as an editor in the publishing industry. She agrees, “I have felt words. I write them now. But I have known them all throughout.”


First published in The New Indian Express on September 30, 2014

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Axwell /\ Ingrosso enthral audience with high-octane sounds

Axwell IngrossoAfter calling it quits, cohorts of the erstwhile trio Swedish House Mafia have come back as a team, Axwell /\ Ingrosso. Having debuted at the Governors Ball Music Festival at Randall’s Island in June, they recently wrapped up their gig in Bangalore at Sunburn Arena. At the concert, which was the first for the duo in India, they debuted new songs from an album due later this year like This time we can’t go home, Can’t hold us down, Sun is shining and so are you and On my Way. Their set also had a sprinkling of songs from Swedish House Mafia and from Alesso and Ghecko.

This album, for Universal Music Group’s Def Jam Recordings, is one of the firsts for the duo, as SHM never released an LP of their songs. Says Sebastian Ingrosso, “We’ve been working for almost a year on this album. But we are almost done. We are going to start releasing the singles soon and we are really excited for what’s coming.”

Despite riding a wave that popularised electronic dance music across the world, the brand of music they love to listen to is very different from what they produce and doesn’t always include progressive/house elements. “When it comes to listening to music, electronic music is very low on the list. Both of us listen to a lot of rock, hip-hop and folk. I listen to classical music sometimes,” Ingrosso confesses, to which Axwell adds, “We love listening to stuff we don’t normally get to hear in our line. Sometimes I go on to Spotify and just discover new music.”

A year since their last show in Bangalore for ‘One Last Tour’, this show rounded off their debut in style, as they enthralled the audience with high-octane sounds and a cacophony of pyrotechnics and SFX. How did it feel to be back in Bangalore? Ingrosso responds, “It was really really exciting. The weather is nice and here there’s a certain energy in the air. Last time, it was phenomenal but we didn’t know we would ever come back to India. But the feedback we got on social media for this tour is equally overwhelming; the excitement that we have come back to the city is great.”

Their gig at the Ultra Music Festival 2013 marked an end of an era in electronic dance music, as they parted ways to pursue their solo careers. Will they ever come back again as Swedish House Mafia? “No, that’s not we are thinking about right now,” informs Axwell.

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‘Congress driven more by dynasty now’

A scion of the Nehru family, Nayantara Sahgal, is known to not mince words. Driven by her belief in non-violence, she published fierce essays condemning her cousin Indira Gandhi when she declared Emergency.

Over the years, Sahgal has illustrated through her acerbic writing how Congress, once a beacon of democratic integrity, has departed from Nehru’s ideologies. Once again, she voiced her opinion of the Gandhi family at the second day of the Bangalore Literature Festival on Saturday. “Congress, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are different entities for me. Congress is nothing like what Gandhi had envisaged. It is now driven by dynastic succession,” she said.

But Sahgal believes Congress can revive itself under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership but Rahul Gandhi should not be associated with her.

In Modi, she sees a better time for India. “Modi has risen from humble origins. That is a great tribute to the foundation of democracy laid at Independence and the social mobility that rose out of it,” Sahgal said.

Talking about her political personage, author Ritu Menon, whose book Out of Line dwells on Sahgal’s life and works, said, “She is a writer who has continued to be politically engaged with the kind of integrity that is rare in writers”.

On how she put together the biography, Menon said though Sahgal’s oeuvre is fiction, the political thread that runs through her writing forms the spine of the book. “Sahgal’s life, whether it is personal or familial, cannot be understood without understanding the political. Likewise, the literary cannot be read without a reference to the political and personal,” Menon concluded


First published in The New Indian Express on September 28, 2014

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Soak in the cultural extravaganza that’s the Bangalore Lit Fest

At the third edition of the Bangalore Literature Festival, the city’s literary excellence came into its own. Bringing together exemplars of the written word and also book lovers from the city, the festival went on to reiterate that Bangalore is undoubtedly a haven for literature enthusiasts, at the same time underscoring the literary diversity the city has to offer.

Talking about the fete, writer and columnist Shobhaa De averred, “I have been to festivals across India, lit fests across the world. But I have to say, there’s something about Bangalore Lit Fest that makes it exceptional.” Why? “The fact that the fest is noncommercial, that it is truly democratic in spirit, that we hear voices that we don’t hear at other lit fests, that we hear voices that speak their minds in a public space fearlessly, that we have a very receptive audience, that the city supports it the way it does, that the number grow and grow  with each passing year, everything is exceptional,” she responds.

Like Shobhaa De, who has been part of BLF since the first edition, bestselling author and screenwriter, Chetan Bhagat, who is considered a ‘youth icon,’ also has an interesting experience to recount. “When Shinie Antony (one of the founders) told me about the idea of starting a lit fest here, I thought to myself, ‘The city favours IT. Maybe an Android Developers Conference or a Java Coding Weekend would be more apt. Or at most, a traffic festival.’ But when I attended the first edition, I saw how well it was received. And now, in just three years it has become the most sought after events in the city.”

This year, the festival was dedicated to the memory of UR Ananthamurthy, a contemporary writer, master storyteller and legend. In three corners of the lawns at Crowne Plaza, panel discussions on diverse themes were held at makeshift tents named after three of Ananthamurthy’s greatest books. Departing from the previous editions, this year the fest has focused on literature by marginalised sections of the society and aboriginal writers.

Highlights of the panel discussions

Of books, cinema and women characters

The ever controversial Chetan Bhagat was in conversation with Shinie Antony about the predominance of strong women characters in his books and screenplays. He affirms, “I like women who are smart, intellectual, passionate. That is why no woman in my stories are props. Every single one is opinionated.”

His sometimes tongue-in-cheek, sometimes self-deprecating humour left everyone in splits. Among other things he also discussed why he has become the most spoken about author today. His take? Not because he is the best author, but because he is the bestselling author. “There are different types of writers and I write about real people, ordinary middle class life, I have to out there living that life, not running away from people. That makes me a little more visible. And I do have good marketing skills. So maybe that’s the reason why you hear about me than everyone else.”

On the plight of marginalised communities

Dhruba Hazarika, Pradyot Manikya Deb Burman and Binalakshmi Nepram spoke on the all-pervasive issue, ‘Does India neglect its eight sisters?’ Striking at the heart of the issue, Binalakshmi rues that myriad perceptions wrought by misconceived notions is why the north eastern frontier stands ostracised.

“How do you define the North east of India? It is a jungle land where you can exploit, a place where people eat everything that moves. If it is a man, he must be a drug addict and if it is a woman, she must be morally loose — these are the perceptions that are spiralling in today’s India.” It is not a place where half naked tribals live, she says. On the contrary, there’s so much that ‘India’ doesn’t know or want to know. “It constitutes of eight beautiful states, home to 45 million citizens, belonging to different ethnic groups, a place where India’s first oil was found, it a place of amazing potential.” And yet, it remains unbeknownst to most of us.

On a similar vein, a session on ‘Minority Report’ delved into the notion of secularism in the country today. One of the questions raised during this one hour debate was ‘Do we need a minority commission at all?’ Answering in the affirmative, Keki Daruwala justified, “We may have excellent laws but if the implementation is not satisfactory, it does not hold good. Implementers in our country are very often corrupt and partial. And I also feel the police in this country — and I have been to riots in Assam, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand where I  have witnessed this first hand — is biased and hence cannot be reiled on.”

On Kannada Literature

There was a session on Kannada literature where stalwarts like Vasudhendra, KS Pavitra and HN Arathi addressed concerns surrounding the pertinency of the language in the present day and age. Titled ‘Hosa Chiguru- New voices in Kannada’ the panelists shared ideas on how to promote the language not only by teaching it as a subject in schools and colleges but by enhancing its relevance through art, dance, poetry and music.

Things to look out for on Saturday

  • Writers Anjum Hasan, Susan Visvanathan, Palash Krishna Mehrotra, Usha K.R. and Saniya take a session on the art of writing short stories at at 10 am
  • We, the Children of India: Revisiting the Constitution of India with Leila Seth at 10.30 am
  • Around the Story Tree: Folk Tales withVikram Sridhar at 11.15 am
  • For children, a Ghostly Detective Workshop by Shweta Taneja at 4 pm
  • A session on contemporary Urdu literature in India anand Pakistan at 12 noon

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Portraying The ‘Real’ Story of Dance

p3pic2Almost all of Roy Campbell-Moore’s photographs can be categorised as avant-garde. Sweaty dancers populate the images, in movement against a low-light background, resting after a strenuous dance practice or during the frenzy before the performances. Most are gritty and not what you would call ‘picture perfect.’ But that’s his aim — to showcase the alternative world of dance, not just the beautiful side, and illuminate the relationship the dancers have with the art form. He says, “I try to photograph from the inside of the art form and that’s why not all photographs are necessarily beautiful.”

Giving this idea a further boost, Roy embarked on a project The Beauty And The Grit over a year ago, identifying dance companies across Wales and India, along the way aiming to cultivate a more personal examination of the art form among photographers and dancers. After completing a residency at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi and working with dance company, The Danceworx there, he is now in Bangalore, for his show that will run till Friday at Vismaya Art Gallery, Rangoli Metro Art Center.

He has also completed a four-day workshop with the Stem Dance Kampni, engaging with 15 different photographers. “We created a new short piece of dance for the company. The photographers had to capture everything part of the making process, from day one to the final performance. After that we had a showing of the different works at the studio. To me, the photographs came across as very passionate, very aggressive. It was fantastic. Even the dance performance was very unusual for the dancers because they had to learn a new way of western dance. But they were very enthusiastic,” he says.

Roy’s tryst with Bangalore started when he collaborated with Madhu Nataraj of Stem Dance Kampni about five years ago and since then he has been travelling back and forth teaching residencies and conducting workshops. He recalls, “One particular experience is very close to my heart. Six months ago, we created a series of 18 monumental installations, about 5 foot 1 inch in size showing how dancers engage with different spaces, be it dance studios, stray buildings, office buildings, even a Banana field. These were very unusual settings, and it was incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever done something like that in my life before.”

Roy has been photographing dance as a specialist for about 15 years after he stopped dancing. In fact, he was a ballet dancer for over 40 years and even founded the National Dance Company to promote arts back in Wales. But when he realised his love for photography, he stepped down from the role of an artistic director and even gave up dancing. He explains, “I happened to get into photography out of necessity. Back then, good photographers used to charge exorbitant fees. It was also expensive because we had to get them all the way down from London. So I thought I will try to do it myself, see how I can get on. After all, I knew the dancers better and I had a better understanding of the subject. So I bought the best camera I could get my hands on and started work. I studied hard for over three years and taught myself using tutorials. And then, it paid off.” And what does he consider the most rewarding aspect? He says it is the privilege of working with talented dancers and learning about them as people as well as subjects for his photography. But the main driving force is that it enables him to delve deeper into the art form.


First published in The New Indian Express on September 25, 2014

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Festival brings city stories

Last year, the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) Bangalore held a film festival, Urban Lens: Festival of Films and the City. The three day festival showcased films that dealt with a multitude of political, social, economic and cultural concerns in an urban landscape. This year, the second edition of the festival will be held from September 26 to 28 bringing over 35 non-fiction films, again the leitmotif being urban mores. “The festival attempts to see how the idea of the city finds cinematic expression. We will be engaging with filmmakers to see how the city influences their films and vice versa,” informs Subasri Krishnan, who is in-charge of the general programming.

Of the 35 films from filmmakers in India, South Africa, Peru, Chile, Colombia and Canada, over 20 films speak on the urban theme, but not just the physical construct but the metaphysical quality of our surroundings. Subasri notes, “When we think of ‘urban,’ we immediately think of the ‘built’ form, often relating the term to the skyline of an urban metropolis. These films go beyond this concept.”

For instance, she points out films that give ‘urban’ a whole new dimension. She describes, “Gitanjali Rao’s animated ‘Printed Rainbow is about an old lady and her cat which evocatively speaks of the loneliness synonymous with the dreariness of city life. The questions raised in the political documentary ‘Kya Hua Is Shahar Ko?’ by Deepa Dhanraj still holds relevance today. Nishtha Jain’s ‘City of Photos explores photo studios in Indian cities. ‘Memory of a Light’ by Sandhya Kumar is a visual portrait of her childhood memories. Priya Sen’s ‘Noon Day Dispensary’ is shot in a resettlement colony and is an ironic depiction of a dispensary there. Then there are films by international makers such as ‘El Olvido’ which is about the city of  Lima and ‘My Winnipeg,’ a docu-fantasia set in the town of Winnipeg. So, the festival has a wide variety of films on view.”

Apart from this, a selection from the Films Division archive curated by film director and cinematographer, Avijit Mukul Kishore will be screened. Called ‘The Visual Grammar of Nation Building,’ these films made in the first three decades after independence reflect the aspirations of a young nation.

A special screening will be held on September 26 at 7 pm featuring Patricio Guzman’s 2010 documentary ‘Nostalgia for the Light’ based on life under dictator Augusto Pinochet. The 90 minute documentary narrated by Guzman, famed for his political documentaries capturing the history and politics of Chile, includes commentary from those affected by the dictator’s reign, from astronomers to Chilean women who search for dead bodies in the Atacama Desert. Poet and filmmaker Rajula Shah’s film, ‘Sabad Nirantar’ studying the life of the poet Kabir, will be screened on September 27 at 7 pm. Both the screenings will be followed by open house discussions.

On September 28 at 6.15 pm, a public talk will be held by Rohan Shivkumar, an architect and urban designer from Mumbai and the Deputy Director of the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture and Environmental Studies. His session titled ‘Producing Images, Consuming Images – The spaces of the film industry in Mumbai’, will add to the growing conversation of the nature in which the film industry engages with public spaces.

Though the film festival is in its nascent stage, Subasri hopes it will initiate a dialogue about public spaces, real and imagined.

Some of the films that will be showcased at Urban Lens 2014

Film: Kya Hua Is Shahar Ko?

Director: Deepa Dhanraj

Date and time: September 26 at 3.25 pm

Synopsis: A political documentary based on 1984 Hindu-Muslim riots in Hyderabad. The film, released in 1986, addresses issues of the omnipresent communal conflicts, marginalisation of the Muslims as the ‘other’ community, urban poverty and analyses power struggles in the political arena.

Kya Hua Is Shehar Ko


Film: Wasted

Director: Anirban Datta

Date and time: September 26 at 11.45 am

Synopsis: In the old agrarian system, there was nothing called as waste. But now, waste has become sort of a yardstick to measure development. With the country on its way to becoming an important player in the global economic development, so is the mountain of waste it produces becoming bigger. Combined with footages from Datta’s previous films, ‘Wasted’ examines the concept of waste and recycling in India through the eyes of an easterner with a western vocabulary.

Wasted


Film: Cities on Speed: Bogota Change

Director: Andreas Dalsgaard

Date and time: September 27 at 2 pm

Synopsis: The film studies how the city an explosion on the population living in urban areas can pose serious global challenges. Against this backdrop, it tells the story of two mayors Antanas Mockus and Enrique Penalosa who using unconventional methods create a peaceful city, Bogota.

Cities on Speed


Film: Dear Mandela

Director: Dara Kell

Date and time: September 27 at 12 noon

Synopsis: The film is shot against the landscape of poverty in South Africa and is a fascinating story of the country coming of age. Three ‘young lions’, when they learn of the Government’s plan to ‘eradicate the slums,’ rise from the shacks to take on the Government. But even as they challenge the Slums Act all the way to the Constitutional Court, they learn of the sacrifices that come with leadership.

Dear Mandela


Film: Tracing Bylanes

Director: Surabhi Sharma

Date and time: September 28 at 2.30 pm

Synopsis: ‘When does a city become a city?’ With this question in her mind, Surabhi Sharma went about chronicling the history, sights and sounds of the city of Chandigarh in ‘Tracing Bylanes.’ The 15 minute documentary tells the story of the city which was born out of Partition, and built by Le Corbusier and how after 60 years, it struggles to retain its iconic character.


Tracing Bylanes


First published in The New Indian Express on September 13, 2014

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Gypsy Grooves on the Stage

Gypsies, ostracised from mainstream culture, are survivors, nonetheless. Often seen as ‘outsiders’ and despite being scattered across vast geo-cultural spaces, they are united by a common thread – the richness of their music and dance.

Through the years, their lifestyle has influenced many early forms of modern dance forms as disparate as north-Indian Kathak, Spanish flamenco and Egyptian belly dance. Giving Bangaloreans a glimpse into what a Gypsy life is like and how they have influenced modern day culture, a dance performance part of The SaraLuna Dance Project will be held on Saturday.

The SaraLuna project comprises of Indu Manohar and Kavya Viswanathan

The SaraLuna project comprises of Indu Manohar and Kavya Viswanathan

The project, founded in June this year by Studio Tarang – an open cultural space for dance and drama, traces the journey of the Roma people – often referred to as the ‘gypsies’ – through their diverse dance forms. “It will be an evening of dance, showcasing flamenco and belly dance. Many modern forms that we see today owe much of their early development to Spanish gypsies or gitanos and Egyptian gypsies known as the ghawazi,” says Indu Manohar, one of the founders.

 Indu, who dances kathak, odissi and flamenco, dons the hat of Luna and her friend, the belly dance instructor, odissi dancer and co-founder of Tarang, Kavya Viswanathan is Sara. Indu adds, “Kavya is a globetrotter. In order to learn the dances of the nomadic community, she had travelled around the world. In fact, she was in Turkey earlier this year and will chase down the last gypsy dancers of Egypt in November.”

Together, reflects Indu, they “seek to explore the contradictions of the gypsy existence through dance – they are united but diverse, nomadic but have a home in music and dance, persecuted but imitated, assimilated but kept estranged.” They also hope to study the different Romani trail dance forms that have come in contact with different cultures and civilisations through intercultural performances.

Saturday’s event will herald a series of performances throughout the city in the coming months. The dancing duo aim to raise awareness about the community’s immense contribution to culture around the world and also throw light on their current plight through workshops, classes and social activities. 

The SaraLuna Project will be held at Opus in Vasanthnagar at 7.30 pm on September 6.


 

First published in The New Indian Express on September 4, 2014

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The Great Asian Game Changers

Title: Makers of Modern Asia
Author: Edited by Ramachandra Guha
Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 978-0674365414
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biographies & Autobiographies, History and Politics, Geography
Published: August 2014
Pages: 400

The economic progress that Asia has witnessed in the last few decades has made the Western world sit up and take notice. The 21st century belongs to Asia and especially to India and China, which are seeing an increased prominence in world affairs. In fact, this century has been dubbed the Asian century just like the 19th century belonged to Europe. However, according to historian and eminent thinker Ramchandra Guha, it is limiting to see this development in solely economic terms and assess it in terms of the gross national product, per capita income and global trade alone. His idea is to broaden this understanding of development by focusing on the political game changers who have charted the path to growth and progress. His latest work is a testament to this fact.

Makers of Modern Asia 

Makers of Modern Asia (Harvard University Press) edited by Ramchandra Guha is a collection of 11 essays that aims to provide a socio-historical context to Asia’s economic advancement. “The essential thesis of the book is that in this fascination, obsession and enchantment with the economic growth of specific Asian countries, we have forgotten the political preconditions of that economic growth,” says Guha.

Through each of its essays, the volume draws a portrait of nationalists who helped craft their respective political systems, which in turn provided a fillip to their economic struggle. Listed in the book are outstanding exemplars of 19th and 20th century political change in Asia.

The book includes Chinese stalwarts like Mao Zedong, leader of the Communist Revolution, Zhou Enlai, his close ally and confidant, Deng Xiaoping, who was purged by Mao and went on to reshape Chinese economic history with his revisionist policies and Chiang Kai-shek, whose Kuomintang party formed the basis of modern Taiwan. Other portraits come from India and cover Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Indira Gandhi, all of whom played crucial roles in guiding India toward independence. Then there are essays about Vietnam nationalist Ho Chi Minh, Indonesia’s Sukarno, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew and Pakistan’s Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

The book opens with an excerpt from the work, The Problem of China, which was written by philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1922 after spending about six months teaching philosophy in China. Russell had declared, “All the world will be vitally affected by the development of Chinese affairs, which may well prove a decisive factor, for good or evil, during the next two centuries.” At a time when China was desperately fragmented and fraught with conflict-ridden relations with European powers and Japan, this seemed quite far-fetched. He ended the book by outlining three reforms — the establishment of an orderly government, industrial development under Chinese control and the spread of education. And true to the precocious prediction, a few years later, China was on the way to dominance after the nationalist movement started by Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek and continued by Mao Zedong’s communists culminated with the unifying of China.

And this is equally relevant for other countries as well. Guha adds, “Younger Indians think that the Indian story began in 1991 with Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh. But what these visionaries did was open up the economy. The benefits of opening up the economy would never have been possible if India was not a unified nation and did not have a democratic political system.”

The territorial unification of India in a democratic template with religious and cultural pluralism was the work of the leaders, without whom none of the economic growth of the last 20 years would have happened. The same is the case with Vietnam, Indonesia and other erstwhile colonies who had to recover their sovereignty before they could even think of meeting the social and economical challenges of the modern world. Of crucial importance is the inter-Asian understanding espoused by many of the leaders that is brought to the fore in the book. This idea has significant urgency in the current times. “There was a constant exchange of ideas by leaders visiting different nations. Nowadays, we hesitate to look to our Asian counterparts. Instead, we rely on the west. I hope that this book leads to some reflection on inter-Asian understanding in each of the countries. As we move forward, I believe that it is very important that there is increased intellectual and cultural exchange between different Asian countries and I hope this edited volume makes a small contribution on this front.”

Unlike Guha’s earlier work, Makers of Modern India which was an anthology of original writing, the current book is a compilation of biographies put together by Pakistani, Australian, British and Norwegian historians who are experts in their fields. He adds, “I also chose to go with biographies because it a massively under-appreciated genre in the country.”

When he edited Makers of Modern India, Guha had faced a barrage of questions regarding the selection. He recalls, “The leftists were very angry that I hadn’t included any Marxists. A friend told me that when I visited Bengal next, I would have to wear a helmet because there was no mention of Subhash Chandra Bose as one of the architects of modern India. And although there were as many as six Maharashtrians in the book, they were not satisfied. Because Agarkar and Savarkar had been excluded from the treatise. This, I think, is an occupational hazard while creating an anthology.”

Armed with this experience, Guha knows that questions will be raised this time around too. And he is prepared for the inevitable. “For instance, I know people will ask me why I haven’t included Tagore. Well, it is because he did not run a state despite having a great intellectual impact and shaping the ideas of Gandhi and Tagore. People will also wonder why there is no mention of Jinnah. It was essentially because he died very soon after independence. The Pakistan of today is very far from the Pakistan Jinnah envisaged.” In the same breath Guha also mentions that although the India of today has directly diverged from what Gandhi hoped, in some recognizable features, Gandhi would perhaps have been glad to be a part of India today — he would have given his stamp of approval to the rise of the Dalit movement and freedom of the press among other things. “But in the case of Pakistan it is different. It is much better shaped by people like Bhutto,” he adds.

Then Indira Gandhi is the only woman profiled although he had considered including an essay on Aung San Suu Kyi. “However, the last chapter of her career is not yet written. Again, the only person profiled in this book who is alive is Lee Kuan Yew,” Guha opines.

Another controversial point, he notes, is that there is no Japanese leader, though Japan is colossally important to the continent. “There is no Japanese leader because the politics of Japan post World War II is massively dominated by America. Their political system, their constitution was written by the Americans and there has been no Japanese politician who has stamped his authority on the nation in the way Nehru, Sukarno or Bhutto did and including a pre-war fascist did not seem appealing.”

The book in its entirety helps the reader understand the rise of Asia by offering an insight into its history and political lives — the anti-colonial revolutions, the process of consolidation, the sustainable political systems envisaged, their economic strategies and the attitude of the post-colonial state and its leaders to traditional beliefs which provided a backdrop to the economic growth we have seen over the last 30 or 40 years.

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First published in The New Indian Express on September 2, 2014

Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Books, Culture, Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Swiss films come to Bangalore

With the ‘Swiss Film Week’, taking place until September 1, the Swiss Consulate in Bangalore looks forward to celebrate a century of German teaching in India. Around six films — 4 fiction films and two documentaries — will be showcased at the festival at Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan. Rolf Frei, the consul general throws more light on the idea behind the screening as he says, “In Switzerland, we have four official languages; the most widely spoken one is German. The films we have chosen are films made by renowned Swiss filmmakers. By showcasing these films, which are in German, we aim to acquaint the people with our cinema culture.”

The festival will kickstart with a screening of ‘More than Honey,’ a documentary by Markus Imhoof, which was the country’s nomination for the ‘Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film’ in 2013. ‘More than Honey’ examines the causes for the dwindling population of bees across the world. In the course of 91 minutes, it captures insights from a Swiss beekeeper living on an alp, a brain researcher in Berlin, a pollen trader in China and more, documenting their lives.

Frei is confident that the festival will receive a good response and is eager to reach out to more people around the country after the screening in Bangalore. “We want to take the festival to five other cities. We are yet to finalise the details.”

The films

Film: Die Standesbeamtin (Will you marry us?) by Micha Lewinsky

Duration: 90 min

Screening: August 30, 8 pm

A civil registrar, Rahel Hubli has long given up on finding the ‘love of her life.’ But her outlook is set to change when her childhood friend, Ben, suddenly shows up. Love soon blooms between them. The movie, released in 2009, packs in humor, music and romance as Rahel tries to circumvent a marriage proposal from Ben as she is already married.

 

Film: Der Kreis (The Circle) by Stefan Haupt

Duration: 101 min

Screening: August 31, 6 pm

Released in February this year, the story is set in Zurich of 1958 at the underground organisation, Der Kreis which pioneered gay emancipation across Europe. The protagonist Ernst Ostertag, a young teacher falls in love with Robi Rapp, a German cabaret artist. Torn between his bourgeois existence and his love for Robi, Ernst joins Der Kreis and witnesses the rise and fall of the organisation.

 

Film: Der Verdingbub (The Foster Boy) by Markus Imboden

Duration: 108 min

Screening: August 31, 8 pm

A 2011 film, it is the story of Max, a 12-year old orphan who goes to work with a farmer, Bosiger. But here, Max, instead of finding a loving home, gets treated like a workhorse and is constantly humiliated and abused by the farmer’s son, Jacob. When his teacher stands up against the brutality, it only makes matters worse for Max at home. The only saving grace for him is his friendship with Berteli, who was also taken on to work at the farm. The story continues as he dreams of living in a fantasy world with Berteli in Argentina, where everything is hunky dory and where even hayforks are made of silver.

Film: Vaters Garten – Die Liebe meiner Eltern (Father´s green – The love of my parents) by Peter Liechti

Duration: 93 min

Screening: September 1, 6 pm

The film examines the strained relationship between the director and his parents. For decades, they avoided meeting each other as much as possible. The film follows a re-encounter years later between them. In the process, Peter understands more about their individual personalities,  their marriage and the love they have for each other which helped them sustain the bond for 62 years.

 

Film: Die Schwarzen Brüder (The Black Brothers) by Xavier Koller

Duration: 98 min

Screening: September 1, 8 pm

Die Schwarzen Brüder (The Black Brothers) is a poignant story of a young boy, Georgio, who is forced to work as a chimney-sweep in Milan. Saddened by his misfortune and the abject condition he is living in, he forms a community – ‘Black Brothers’. Together, they defend themselves against the attacks of street urchins called Die Wolfe. The film traces Georgio’s struggle in Milan and his escape back to Switzerland.


First published in The New Indian Express on August 28, 2014

Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Culture, Events, Music & Dance, Theatre and Art | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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