December 28, 2006

Thank you

In 2006,
four people
very close to me
were involved
in accidents.

All escaped

Somehow I get
a feeling
that God
my blog.

Thank you, God.

December 27, 2006

Year TwoKaySeven

Plant a tree . Consume less . Think about the Earth . In the new year.

December 20, 2006

Sawai Gandharva: answers to a first-timer’s questions

I had a lot of researching to do before my Sawai trip, and it wasn’t easy finding answers to practical questions. I was doubtful till the last minute about whether I would get tickets at all.

Here are some answers to questions a person going to attend Sawai Gandharva for the first time would have.

1. Is there a Sawai website?
Yes, there is... but it may not always have answers to your questions.

2. When is this festival held?
In 2006, it was held 7–11 Dec. As I understand, it is usually in the second week of December, ending usually on a Sunday.

3. Where is it held?
Since a few years the New English School, Ramanbaug has been hosting this festival. This school is quite close to the railway station.

4. Where are tickets available?
In 2006, they were available in some specified places in Pune from 1 December. The announcement about this was made in Pune newspapers and radio a week or so earlier. So you need help from a Pune-ite to get tickets. Also, only two tickets are given per head. However, tickets for Bharatiya baithak can be bought at the venue every day.

5. Are tickets available online?
Not that I know of.

6. How much do the tickets cost?
Rs 350 for the Bharatiya baithak; Rs 1600 season ticket (4 days) for chairs.

7. Any hotels close by where one can stay?
We were advised to stay in Hotel Shreyas (Apte Road) an affordable place, with a restaurant attached. It is not too far away from the concert venue. For the five-star hotel types, there is the Meredian, bang next to the railway station.

December 17, 2006

Sawai Gandharva: excellence, simplicity, genuineness

I do not have a very deep understanding or knowledge of Hindustani classical music as many others I know, but I have grown up with it, and have been listening to it for a long time now, and really enjoy it. I treated myself to a trip to Pune to attend the 54th Sawai Gandharva music festival, 7–11 December this year. This festival was started by Bhimsen Joshi in memory of his Guru Sawai Gandharva, in 1952, and is one of the best-known classical music events in India.

I can describe this experience using just one word that everyone understands very well: AWESOME. But I will go on to say that being part of this festival was to be part of what has become a tradition of excellence...excellence in music, excellence in organization, excellence in audience behaviour, and excellence in compering. It is sheer pleasure to witness such an event.

For musicians who are invited to perform here, it is an indication that they have ‘arrived’. They all do their best...and the knowledgeable audience passes instant judgement by their hearty applause...or lack of it.

The list of musicians this year was as below:
Day 1. Shailesh Bhagwat (Shahnai); Meena Phatarphekar; Dilshad/Saabir Khan (Sarangi); Shashwati Mandal; Ustad Raashid Khan.

Day 2. Kamlakar Naik from Goa (I loved his Sab jhoote jag ke yeh naate); Padma Deshpande (her naatyasangeet piece Roopbalee to narashaardool in Raag Kaafi is still ringing in my head); Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (wow!); Kaushiki Chakravarty (wow! wow!), and Pandit Jasraj (audiences love him!).

Day 3: Hema Upasani (very good); Manju Mehta (Sitar--played despite arthritis); Rahul Deshpande (wow! wow!) Debu Chowdhury (Sitar--very good); and Malini Rajurkar (as always, very good).

Day 4 morning: Parmeshwar Hegde; Rakesh Chaurasia (flute—his Pahadi dhun was oh! so melodious, with ghungroo sounds for added effect!) Asha Khadilkar (she’s good); and Madhav Gudi (voice and style just like Bhimsen Joshi).

Day 4 evening: Hemant Pendse; Anant Terdal (unique voice); Shubha Mudgal (what presence!); Amjad Ali Khan (wow!); and Deepak Maharaj (Kathak—very good, but it was like a lec-dem); The festival was supposed to end with Prabha Atre but she had a sore throat, so it ended with Bhimsen Joshi’s disciples singing Bhairavi. More about this treat in later paras.

I missed the first day, but attended the 2nd, 3rd and 4th days. At Sawai, I realised that one has to redefine one’s favourites, and add to their list of favourites...three newcomers stood out this year, and walked straight into the audience’s hearts: 25-year old Kaushiki Chakravarti, who sings brilliantly, is beautiful, and expressive (she must have stolen all 12,000 hearts!); Rahul Deshpande, who is someone to watch out for...his creativity and spontaneity are astounding; and Rakesh Chaurasia, nephew of Hariprasad Chaurasia, in whose hands the bansuri weaves melodious magic, much like it does in the hands of his uncle.

I discovered why some of the all-time greats are what they are: Pandit Jasraj, Shiv Kumar Sharma, and Amjad Ali Khan. They have mastered the art of enchanting audiences by their music, which is but an extension of their beings.

Other interesting aspects apart from the music itself: More than 10,000 people attended every day...on the last day, there must have been double that number!

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi came a few times...his car drove right in and he listened from the car. Many a musician said they prayed that he would sing next year.

One thing touched me very much. See photo. This man was led into and out of the concert place by this little boy (his grandson?) several times during the 3 days I attended.

The seating arrangements are amazing. Almost everyone gets to sit...either on sofas or chairs or on the ground in the baithak style. If someone sitting on the chairs goes away, the chair remains one comes and sits on it. Kudos to the discipline of the Sawai audiences!

There are food stalls behind, and in the lane outside, selling simple, tasty food. There are a few stalls selling music and related articles, such as books, Shruthi boxes, calendars, etc. It gave me immense happiness to buy a Shruthi box for my daughter from this sacred place...what’s more, the brand I was recommended to buy was Raagini—same as my daughter’s name!

A line about the compere Anand Deshmukh: he has a great voice; he uses just enough words; does not dominate the show; has a sense of humour; and gracefully fits into the Sawai Gandharva tradition of excellence.

The ending of this year’s festival was unique too. Bhimsen Joshi’s disciples (including son Srinivas Joshi and Madhavgudi) sang Jamuna ke teer (Bhairavi). It was a touching moment when Joshi’s contemporary, Pt. Firoz Dastur (now 87, very old and feeble, and hardly able to talk), suddenly began to sing along! The applause all around was thunderous!

I would not be exaggerating if I said that when one attends Sawai Gandharva, one gets a taste of what heaven must be like.


December 12, 2006

Red seeds that look like beads

Colour possesses me. I don’t have to pursue it. It will possess me always, I know it. Color and I are one. – Paul Klee

Me too...I am attracted by colour, wherever I see it. And where better than in nature? Just look at these seeds...aren't they brilliant?

This one's called Abrus (Abrus precatorius). It has many other names: Jequirity, Crab’s Eye, Rosary Pea, etc. Some Indian names for Abrus are: Guriginja (Telugu), Kunni (Malayalam), Coondrimany (Tamil), Galaganji (Kannada), Ghungchi (Hindi), Kunch (Bengali), Gunj (Marathi).

I have seen jewellers using these attractive seeds to weigh gold and silver. Each seed has a remarkably uniform weight of 1/10th of a gram. The seed is highly poisonous. They look like ladybugs and are used in jewellery.
I spotted this tree (photo above right) in KBR Park, Banjara Hills (I had never seen one before). This is what it looks like in February.

This splash of red is from the Coral bean seeds from the Coral bean tree (right), also called red sandalwood, sagaseed tree, red-bead tree, Raktakambal in Hindi (Adenanthera pavonina).

This one’s a family favourite. We collect these red seeds when we go for walks to Indira Park nearby. The red dots on brown earth make a very pretty sight. Children love collecting them.

These seeds too are toxic, and can only germinate if they are scarified or boiled for one minute. Like Abrus, these seeds were also used to weigh gold. Four seeds make up about one gram. In fact the name "saga" is apparently traced to the Arabic term for "goldsmith".

If anyone knows what this tree/seed is called in other Indian languages, please tell me...I am interested.

Photos from Sadhana's Kodak

December 01, 2006

Mahasweta Devi's India

Moving on from Bettina Guthridge's India (see earlier post), here is a beautiful and touching description of India and its culture, by the 80-year old Bengali writer, Mahasweta Devi. These are excerpts from her passionate speech on India at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2006.

 “At 80-plus I move forward often stepping back into the shadows. Sometimes I am bold enough to step back into the sunlight. As a young person, as a mother, I would often move forward to when I was old. Amuse my son. Pretend I couldn’t hear or see. Make mockery of memory, forget things that had happened a moment ago. These games were for fun. Now they are no longer funny. My life has moved forward and is repeating itself. I am repeating myself. Recollecting for you what has been. What is. What could have been. May have been.

See the tree, the forest, the field lush with crops, a stream dazzling i
n sunlight. And see, the spotted deer are jumping and fleeing to the forest, the mothers are filling the pitchers from the stream, clutching their children. And the houses are the ones they left behind at Badihatta. The sun is leaning to see the earth. The peasants are irrigating their fields. What an expanse of forest. How green the hills are.

Nothing happens unless you know how to dream. The Establishment is out to destroy, by remote control, all the brain cells that induce dreams. But some dreams manage to escape. I am after the dreams that have escaped from jail. The right to dream is what allows mankind to survive. If you end the right to dream — which the entire world and everyone is doing — you destroy the world. The right to dream should be the first fundamental right. The right to dream. [...]

There’s a story about Nanak — his father made him sit in a shop, told him to sell goods… dus, gyarah, barah, tera… tera, tera, tera... and he gave everything away. Everything is yours. With me, everything became tera… nothing touches the inside. Material things don’t touch me, I remain an outsider, I can’t always be an insider. Genuine warmth, real understanding, some friendship, a few strange things touch me, but I’m an outsider and an insider at the same time. [...]

Since the 1980s, I have been vocal about the daily injustice and exploitation faced by the most marginalised and dispossessed of our people: tribals, the landless rural poor who then turn into itinerant labour or pavement dwellers in cities. Through reports in newspapers, through petitions, court cases, letters to the authorities, participation in activist organisations and advocacy, through the grassroots journal I edit, Bortika, in which the dispossessed tell their own truths, and finally through my fiction, I have sought to bring the harsh reality of this ignored segment of India’s population to the notice of the nation, I have sought to include their forgotten and invisible history in the official history of the nation. I have said over and over, our Independence was false; there has been no Independence for these dispossessed peoples, still deprived of their most basic rights.

Let the people trace their hands over every alphabet until they can write for themselves: 
I know, I can, I will.

How to save and protect one’s culture in these circumstances? Which culture do we protect? And what do we mean when we speak of Indian culture in the 21st century? What culture? Which India? Sixty years after our hard-won Independence, the khadi sari is India just as the mini skirt and the backless choli is. A bullock cart is India just as much as is the latest Toyota or Mercedes car. Illiteracy haunts us, yet the same India produces men and women at the forefront of medicine, science and technology. Eight-year-old children toil mercilessly, facing unimaginable working conditions and abuse as child labourers. That is India. On the other hand, there is another lot of eight-year-olds who spend their time in air-conditioned classrooms and call their mothers at lunch break using their personal mobile phones. That too is India. Satyam Shivam Sundaram is India. Choli ke peechchey kya hai is also India. The multiplex and the mega mall are India. The snake charmer and the maharishi — they too are India.

Indian culture is a tapestry of many weaves, many threads. The weaving is endless as are the shades of the pattern. Somewhere dark, somewhere light, somewhere saffron, somewhere as green as the fields of new paddy, somewhere flecked with blood, somewhere washed cool by the waters of a Himalayan spring. Somewhere the red of a watermelon slice. Somewhere the blue of an autumn sky in Bengal. Somewhere the purple of a musk deer’s eye. Somewhere the red of a new bride’s sindoor. Somewhere the threads form words in Urdu, somewhere in Bengali, somewhere in Kannada, somewhere in Assamese, yet elsewhere in Marathi. Somewhere the cloth frays. Somewhere the threads tear. But still it holds. Still. It holds.

The pattern shifts, flows, stutters, forms again and changes shape from one season to the other. I see one India in the pattern. You see another. Light and shadow play. History and modernity collide. Superstition and myth, Rabindrasangeet and rap, Sufi and Shia and Sunni, caste and computers, text and sub-plot, laughter and tears, governments and oppositions, reservations and quotas, struggles and captivity, success and achievement, hamburgers and Hari Om Hari, Sanskrit and sms, the smell of rain and the sound of the sea. A seamless stitching. Many, many hands have stitched, are stitching and will continue to stitch India. My country. Torn, tattered, proud, beautiful, hot, humid, cold, sandy, bright, dull, educated, barbaric, savage, shining India. My country. And its myriad cultures. From time immemorial to now, the 21st country. From the Indus Valley to the bluetooth handset, India has seen it all, contains it all within itself and its cultures. There is room in India for all faiths, all languages, all people. Despite the communal crises, despite the fundamentalism, the backwardness of rural life, the memories of underdevelopment which are no memory but reality for us, the threat of aids, tsunamis, earthquakes, floods and droughts, farmer suicides, police violence, environmental disasters wreaked by industries and farmland being bought over by multinational companies, despite the battering by history and circumstance, India still is. Its culture still is. Hence we all still are. India has learnt to survive, to adapt, to keep the old with the modern, to walk hand in hand with the new millennium whistling a tune from the dawn of time. This is truly the age when the joota is Japani, the patloon Englistani, the topi Roosi. But the dil — the dil is and always will remain Hindustani.

As we face the future, and as I stand here, invited to speak of my country’s culture before such an eminent gathering and at such an honourable occasion, I wish to share my dream of where I would like to see my India go. I have spoken of the fundamental right to dream. I would now like to exercise that right.

I dream of an India where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. Where knowledge is free. Where the world has not been broken into fragments by narrow domestic walls. Where words come out of the depth of truth. Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection. Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way in the dreary sand of dead habit.

I dream of an India to which the world ‘backward’ does not and cannot ever apply. I wish to be Third World no more but First, the only world. I wish for children to be educated. I wish for women to step into the light. I wish for justice for the common man. Survival for the farmer. Homes for the poor. And hope for all. I wish for debts to cease. For poverty to vanish. For hunger to become a bad word that no one utters. I wish for the environment to be protected, to be loved and restored. I wish the land to be healed, the waters to be pure again. For the tiger to survive. I wish for self reliance, for self respect, for independence from the shackles of superstition. I wish for equal medical aid for all.

For light and water and a roof above every head. I wish for more and more books to be written, to be published, in every language there is in the country. Let the words pour out. Let the stories be told. Let the people read. Let them learn to read. To trace their fingers over every alphabet until they can spell their names. Their addresses. Until they can write for themselves: I know. I can. I will. Let us fight ignorance with knowledge. Let us battle hatred with logic. Let us slay evil with the sword of the pen.

I wish for no more satis, no more dowry deaths, no more honour killings, no more flesh being bought and sold. Let no more parents sell their children to survive. Let no more mothers drown their daughters in the dead of night. Let the downtrodden awake, let the forgotten faces and the muffled voices arise to claim their own. Let the pattern make room, let these new threads find place, let new colours set afire the tapestry. Set ablaze the future. Into that heaven of freedom, let my India awaken again and again. It is a big dream, I know. But not an impossible one.

When I speak of Indian culture, then, I speak of all this. Culture is what will take us into the future yet keep us in close contact with our roots, our history, our tradition, our heritage. Culture will let us take a quantum leap and land on the moon bur first, before all that, it must help us take a few small steps towards understanding ourselves better, towards knowing each other better. Culture must once again remind us to be a tolerant and truly secular people.

I have tried in my own way to give you a picture of this culture. But how am I to even to begin arriving at a definition that will be acceptable to all across an India that is so chaotic. So calm. So flexible. So rigid. So rich. So poor. So understanding. So easy to be misunderstood. After all, there are many Indias, as I say over and over again. Simultaneous. Even parallel.

And whose culture is it anyway? Yours? Mine? Theirs? There are so many ‘theirs’ in the land of my birth who have nothing but the harsh landscape of surviving from day to day. The dispossessed remain with us after six decades of becoming possessed of a freedom we all fought for. They all fought for.

I claim elsewhere to have always written about the ‘culture of the downtrodden’. How tall or short or true or false is this claim? The more I think and write and think some more, the harder it gets to arrive at a definition. I hesitate. I falter. I cling to the belief that for any culture as old and ancient as ours to have survived over time and in time, there could only be one basic common and acceptable core thought: humaneness. To accept each other’s right to be human with dignity.

This then is my fight. My dream. In my life and in my literature.”

I edited this post on 17 Feb 2017. What you see here is almost the whole speech. Earlier I had posted only paras that are in bold, and had given a link to the Tehelka website, but that is no longer working. Mahasweta Devi died on 28 July 2016, about 10 years after she gave this speech. This makes these words all the more precious.

(Thanks to Savitri who sent me the speech; photo of bead sellers above, taken by Sadhana at Tirupati Nov 2004)