Archive for the ‘Personalities’ Category

Meera Ben – Gandhi’s English Daughter

August 15, 2008

She belonged to a weaker sex. She found a home in a foreign land. She fought for a cause that was a dream for million’s. She became a part of a struggle that could not have been her own. She was one of the two English daughters of Gandhi – Meera Ben. Come, lets explore her life story which journeys in midst of thorn and suffering but with a satisfied soul.

Meera Ben
The real name of Meera Ben is Madeline Slade. She was a solitary child who disliked school but loved flowers, birds, trees and animals. This made her parents to get her education at home by a governess. She learnt to read and write, but she just hated numbers. In the later part of her life this flaw made her study Botany and Anatomy than mathematics. As a child, she had an aptitude to learn different languages in short span. She learnt French, German and later Egyptian.

Meera Ben was an attractive lady, with six feet height, charismatic features, a sharp hooked nose and beautiful eyes. History states that she was much sought after by young men but the lady was not interested in love affair. She rather was frantically searching for peace and an significant aim in life.

One of the biographies state that Meera Ben did not like the western culture and instead enjoyed being with nature. She loved music that could soothe her soul. Beethoven a deaf musician roused in her a spiritual hunger, that made her go to a pilgrimage to Bonn and Vienna (the places of Beethoven’s birth and death). She was so imbibed in Beethoven that she made all possible attempts to know all about him. She was more inspired by him after reading ‘Jean Christophe’, a novel based on the life of Beethoven, written by Romain Rolland. Now, she made up her mind to meet this French philosopher. In order to talk to him in French, she first went to live in France in order to master the writers language.

It was here Meera Behn was introduced to Mahatma Gandhi. She read Romain Rolland’s book ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ at one sitting and it changed her life. In one of the interview she states, “Now I knew what that something was, the approach of which I had been feeling….It was to go to Mahatma Gandhi who served the cause of oppressed India through fearless truth and non-violence, a cause, which though focused in India, was for the whole of humanity.” She was such an ethical lady that in order to prepare herself to meet here Guru- Gandhi, she gave up alcoholic drinks, became a vegetarian and studied the Bhagvad Gita.

After Meera felt she was all prepared to join Gandhi’s mission, she wrote a letter to Gandhiji congratulating him at the end of his 21 day fast in 1924 and sent him some money for his cause. In the letter she insisted that she wanted to join him. Gandhi welcomed her with open arms and thus started her bit of struggle to India’s freedom. She came to Bombay on 6 November 1925 and the very next day she was at Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmadabad to be apart of a cause that millions dreamt.

In the beginning life in the Ashram was not any fairytale that Meera read in several books. But she never opted defeat she made all possible adjustments, learnt Hindi, adopted Indian dress and mastered spinning and carding. Gandhiji later sent her to the Kanya Gurukul, Dehradun. In the Gurukul she taught English, spinning and carding. Gandhiji never wanted her to join the political struggle, so she toured Bihar, Bengal and Madras to propagate Khadi and to teach improved methods of carding and spinning. She even taught the villagers sanitation and nursed the sick. However, her ill health usually made her travel back to the feet of Gandhi, but as soon as she recovered she went to her doom of people who needed her the most.
Meera Ben accompanied Gandhiji to the most important events like the Second Round Table Conference in 1932 (acted as his interpreter) and Satyagraha movement. She was later imprisoned along with Kasturba for her contribution in freedom struggle. A research states that during the Second World War, Bapu sent Meera to Assam, Orissa and Bengal and it was on the basis of her reports that he worked out a scheme of non-violent civil defense. She was also sent to the A. I. C. C. at Allahabad with a draft on Quit India Movement which was later accepted at the Bombay A. I. C. C. meeting in August 1942 as the Quit India Resolution. That’s not all, Meera was also arrested along with Bapu and was in the Aga Khan Palace Detention Camp from August 1942 to May 1944. After her release from the jail she started a center for the services of the villagers and old domestic animals near Rishikesh.

Meera never married. She vowed to be a Brahmacharini, so she shaved off her head and in later years adopted saffron robes. In one of the interviews, she said she felt like a foreigner in England but in India she found her home. This proved the immense love and faith she had towards India and her guru Gandhi. It was this love and faith that made Gandhi call her Meera. After Gandhi’s assassination, Meera felt lost in the mystic world. So, on 18th January 1959 she left India for good and settled in a small village about 30 miles out of Vienna. In her native land many workers and farmers called her “The Indian Lady”.

Meera Ben made her impact in Indian history and the struggle for freedom. She chose a path walked by few extraordinaries to find a land free form domination.

(Source: OneIndia)

Chandan Sen: Focusing on contemporary issues

August 5, 2008

Bahubachan Theatre Festival ’08

Renowned Indian playwright-director Chandan Sen was in Dhaka to attend the theatre festival by Bahubachan at the National Theatre Stage. This was his second time in Dhaka along with his troupe HaZaBaRaLa. Earlier HaZaBaRaLa participated in another theatre festival organised by Nagorik Natyangan.

Of the four plays included at the Bahubachan Theatre Festival, Chandan Sen was the playwright of three. Bahubachan staged his play Daibaddho on the opening day of the festival. HaZaBaRaLa staged the 296th show of Aniket Shondhya last Thursday and its sequel Phire Esho Prem yesterday at the festival. Chandan Sen shared his views on several subjects.

Chandan Sen has been active in theatre for 40 years. Initially he was an actor, however, he has achieved popularity as a playwright. He also directs HaZaBaRaLa’s productions.

So far he has written 27 plays, of which 15 are original and the rest are translations and adaptations of international classics.

Most of the plays written by Sen have attracted audiences in India and abroad. Sen informed that his play Daibaddho has had over 700 shows in India. Twenty-two plays by Sen are available as books. These plays are popular literature in Indian, informed the playwright.

What’s the secret to this popularity? Sen’s response: “Most of my plays feature a contemporary issue: Solitude and suffering of the elderly in a materialistic social structure, which touches the heart of the viewers.”

“People these days are losing values, forgetting the traditions. Everyone is becoming self-centred like the westerners. I focus on these issues in my plays,” said Sen.

“My plays have become so popular among the Bengali communities all over the world that two essays have been published on my dialogue dictions. Even youngsters use dialogues from my plays in their text messages.”

Chandan Sen said that following his footsteps, many contemporary Indian playwrights are also writing these types of family drama.

As a playwright Chandan Sen has received many awards such as Natya Academy Padak and State Academy of Art Award.

(Source: The Daily Star)

Hamburg University honours Dr Nishank

July 31, 2008

Health Minister of Uttarakhand and noted Hindi writer and poet Dr Ramesh Pokhriyal “Nishank” was honoured by Hamburg University of Germany for his commendable work in the field of literature as well as propagation of Ayurveda. The German translation of his story collection, Tum Aur Main was also released under the German title, Du und Ich, on this occasion. Dr Nishank was also honoured at a function in Berlin. English translation of his book was also released at a function held in Berlin.

The function at Hamburg was organised by the Afro-Asian Institute, University of Hamburg. After felicitating Dr Nishank, Professor Tapania Aarkaya of the University said Du und Ich and Nur Ein Wunsch were German translations of two fine Hindi books authored by Dr Nishank. She said Dr Nishank always wrote about human sensibilities and, therefore, attracted a good readership. Prof. Aarkaya stated that the other books written by Dr Nishank would also be translated into German language and the Hamburg University would help set up an International Hindi Research Centre in Uttarakhand. This would attract scholars from across the world to Uttarakhand for research. The Centre would serve as an institute not only for Hindi but also for several major world languages.

The English version of a collection of stories authored by Dr Ramesh Pokhriyal “Nishank” titled, the Crowd Bears Witness, was released by renowned Ayurvedic and Vedic scholar Dr David Frawley. The book is an English translation of his Hindi book, Bheed Sakshi Hai.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr Frawley noted that literature and politics rarely mingled but Dr Nishank was an exception to the rule. Dr Nishank was a well-known author and poet too besides being a politician. He also reiterated that Dr Nishank had been awarded and honoured by three Presidents of India.

Magical Terrains – Shashi Deshpande

July 24, 2008

Shashi Deshpande talks about dealing with new landscapes of love and goodness in her new novel In the Country of Deceit; the potential for conflicts between the magical and unexpected aspects of creativity, and the marketing hype of modern-day publishing. Excerpts from a conversation with writer USHA K.R.

With eight novels, six collections of short stories, four children’s books, essays and translations from Kannada and Marathi into English, you are one of the few Indian writers in English with a corpus of work, and one who has successfully handled different forms. You have explored conventional feminist themes, as in your Sahitya Akademi Award winning novel That Long Silence as well as broader human concerns through your male protagonists, such as Gopal in A Matter of Time and Baba in Moving On. Tell us something about your forthcoming novel. Where does it stand in the context of your work and your concerns?

Each new novel comes as a surprise — one never knows what’s coming and where it’s coming from. This novel, In the Country of Deceit, has been a surprise for two other reasons. One is the character who brought it into being. Generally, once a novel is done, the characters withdraw gracefully, making room for other people. But Devayani, a character in an early novel Come Up and Be Dead, lingered. I ignored her, but she was quietly persistent. Five novels and 20 years later, after completing Moving On, I realised that the next novel would be Devayani’s story. This, however, is not a sequel.

The second surprise to me was that this is a love story.

And the title is In the Country of Deceit?

Yes. Seems odd, doesn’t it? But when you think of what love does to people and the things love makes them do… My novel explores the slippery, treacherous terrain that love takes people into. Actually, except for one or two early attempts, I had never written a love story, in the sense in which these words are usually used. It amuses me that I had to get to this age to be able to write one. Once I began, I realised the difficulties of writing about love. It’s so easy to slip into clichéd language, clichéd situations, to become banal and maudlin. But the truth is that love is a strong emotion; there is nothing banal or clichéd about it. My gold standard for a love story is Wuthering Heights — the scene where Heathcliff waits outside all night while Catherine is dying is so amazingly powerful.

Some time during the writing of this novel, I realised that I have been exploring the idea of love in all my novels. Different kinds of love, the different faces of love. I also find myself increasingly interested in the idea of goodness in human beings. The emphasis today, perhaps because of the times, is on violence, on evil. Goodness, when it is written about, is made to seem like weakness. In fact, we shy away from the very word. We speak of values instead. Nevertheless, goodness is real, it exists — not only in people like Bapu or Mother Teresa, but in ordinary people. It is these people who make life worth living. So, whether it is Joe in Small Remedies, Kalyani in A Matter of Time, Akka in The Binding Vine, or Gayatri in Moving On, they make life possible for others.

A ‘writerly’ writer, I believe, pursues the same or similar themes in different guises, often without being aware of it. Your work has been strong on ‘literary’ qualities — the imagination, the story fused with its telling, with the structure, with deeply drawn characters. What do you basically seek to do in your novels? While the ‘imagination’ is important, how do you incorporate ‘fact’ into your fiction? How much of ‘research’ do you do?

To me, a novel is basically a story. About people. So when I write a novel, I write about humans and human relationships. Of their struggle to make sense of life, to understand their place in the scheme of things. At the same time, since people don’t live in a vacuum, I need to know the details of their lives: where they live, the culture, language, religion of the society they live in and so on. And there’s their work, their professions. I had to understand something of Hindustani music to write about Savitribai, I had to read up on anatomy to write about Jiji’s father, the Professor of Anatomy. Before I begin writing, I must have all this information, even though when I write I will use only those facts which are relevant to the story. Of course, our lives are affected by events around us, but the important thing to a novelist is how characters react to events, not the event itself. How people’s lives change because of happenings, not the happening itself. And that is how events and history enter the novel, through people’s lives, through their perceptions. I consider the demands of the story to be the novelist’s first concern. Research (a word I rather dislike in connection with a novel) is necessary in the interests of accuracy, but the facts have to be invisible, submerged. Even in a historical novel, where research is so important, a skilful author will weave facts into the story, into the lives of the characters and not make them obtrusive.

But there’s no denying that the novels that tackle grand themes, that span continents and centuries, or have major events at their centre are considered big. For instance, one would automatically assume that In the Country of Deceit signals to a larger entity…

I don’t think of it as big or small. I know that love is a basic and universal human emotion. So is the pain that comes on betrayal. I find it a problem that we divide novels into big and small (or major and minor) depending on the theme of the novel, the issues, or its ideological value. (Though, very strangely, if the ideology is feminism, there is a kind of devaluation!) Indian Writing in English (IWE) is more concerned with issues than ideologies, and therefore novels which deal with “big” issues, like terrorism, fundamentalism and national and international events, become major novels; so too those that span, as you say, continents and centuries. For some reason, IWE thinks that to be important, novels have to be “narratives of the nation”. But aren’t all stories of human lives part of this narrative?

And, as a reader, I am not looking out for a significant novel; I’m looking for a good novel. I did not think that John Updike’s Terrorist or Ian McEwan’s Saturday, (which is about 9/11), were good novels. We read a novel not because it increases our knowledge, but because it illuminates our own lives; human stories echo one another across time and space. And if large issues and themes were to make novels significant, what about novels like Emma, Howard’s End, or Wuthering Heights, almost perfect novels in my opinion? It is tempting to see the big picture as the real one, but one can get as much, if not more, from a micro picture. In fact, I very defiantly used Erica Jong’s words about all stories being stories of families as the epigraph to Moving On.

IWE has become an exciting place — other than big and small books, there are so may new writers experimenting with different forms — the graphic novel, variations of historical fiction, fantasy, chick lit … Is it time to celebrate the ‘richness’ of IWE? Can we claim that IWE has come of age?

Certainly there has been much vigour and confidence, as well as good writing in IWE in the last few years. But there’s no room for complacence. It has to go a long way before we can call it “rich”. We need many more books in all genres — romance, historical fiction, crime novels, children’s books, drama, poetry and so on. While non-fiction is doing well, short stories are dwindling, poetry remains invisible except to poets and poetry lovers, crime fiction is still not making its presence felt and we don’t have enough books for children of all ages. And have you noticed the lack of diversity in the voices? We’re all so politically correct. And of course, there’s the never-ending problem of letting Western publishers decide which are the books that matter, since the books they publish inevitably get more noticed. Personally, I also consider the lack of what I call good middle-of-the-road writing a huge lacuna. There are not enough readable books, something between the literary novel and pulp fiction. Not cordon bleu cuisine, not junk food, just everyday food that keeps you going. As a child, writers like Daphne du Maurier, A.J. Cronin, Somerset Maugham, Agatha Christie — and many others who wrote good books, if not high literary fiction. — kept me hooked to reading.

Yes, it is not enough to breed ambitious writers. There has to be a healthy, vibrant literary environment to sustain them — libraries, book clubs, through which readers and writers can interact, responsive university departments, a culture of literary criticism.

No argument about this! Circulating libraries have always been important in popularising novels, right from Jane Austen’s time. I too did all my reading through library books. There were no bookshops, and who had the money to buy books anyway? I was fascinated to read that in Victorian times, Mudie’s, the circulating library, was able to influence the shape of the novel. The three volume form came because it was more profitable for Mudie’s to circulate one novel among three readers. And since most subscribers belonged to the middle class, the novels were also expected to be close to their sensibilities. The point was that that the novel was mostly read through these libraries which made it possible for Mudie’s to subsidise publishers. Sadly we have few book libraries in India now.

Books must also be written about. Writing and criticism go hand in hand …

Yes, criticism is important for both writers and readers, But what do we have? Academic critics, whose jargon distances the ordinary reader. Reviews in magazines and newspapers, necessarily short, because there is never enough space for books, often casual, if not flippant, poorly informed and at times actuated by malice and frustration. Recently I read somewhere that John Updike’s reviewing was accessible and designed to give pleasure. That’s how a review should be. There should be honesty, not cruelty. And respect for the work being reviewed. Some of the reviews in India are what I can only call soul-destroying. I can imagine what it does to younger writers.

While there are more people writing in English today, we still do not seem to have a domestic market that can sustain indigenous writers.

No, we don’t, which is why I was amazed to read Jeffrey Archer’s comment that the Indian market is bigger than the U.S. market. Things are changing and at some time this may happen, but right now it isn’t true. You and I who are published in India know this very well. I’ll believe that we have a big domestic market the day an author from the West sends a manuscript to an Indian publisher and the Indian publisher says, “our readers won’t understand this. Why don’t you change this and this and this?” And the author does it!

On the one hand, writing is an unhurried, reflective activity. We know that writers take time to mature, to find their voice, and they need publishers who recognise this, and readers who will grow with them. On the other hand is the loud, high octane act of marketing, which is unavoidable today but quite contrary to the spirit of creativity. This also creates a climate of impatience which sends out misleading signals to young writers. That perhaps there are ‘formulas’ for success. It is making it increasingly difficult for writers and readers to trust their judgement. How can we ever resolve these two contrary aspects?

There was a time when I was optimistic, I thought IWE is on the right path, we have many talented writers, publishers and a bigger English readership. But marketing has changed everything. With huge global markets and so much money at stake, it has become frighteningly powerful. The problem with IWE is that writing in English enables a book to enter the world market. And agents/ publishers have their own idea of what an “Indian novel” should be; to be published, writers have to toe the line. I heard an Australian writer say, (they are roughly in the same situation as we are, not enough of a home market, so they need to publish outside) her book was judged by a question: where are the kangaroos? For us, it would be: where are the elephants? Young writers will try to provide the elephants because they need to be published. How does one blame them? And will publishers ever understand that even if the book is now a product to be sold by aggressive marketing, good writing, unlike other products, can’t be produced using a formula! There’s some magic about creation, about its unexpectedness and amazing vitality. We lose out on originality and the unexpected if we try to control or curb creativity. That’s why the willingness and ability of young writers to adapt worries me, because the future of any literature lies with the young.

And you are so right about writers and readers beginning to mistrust their own judgement, given the kind of books that are thrust on us as “great”. But this is where literary critics need to take control and assert literary values, to separate the grain from the chaff.

Equally worrying is what marketing does to readers. Veteran readers may go past known names and best-selling lists to choose a book by an unknown author, or a less-known favourite author. But novice readers have to go entirely by what they read in the media. And the media projects only some authors, the successful ones mainly; most others remain invisible. Readers should not be hustled into buying a book because of marketing spiel! I think that literature is really a conversation between a writer and a reader. We need to re-establish this direct and personal relationship.

But writers persist, despite everything. What would you say to young or aspiring writers?

That’s true. I think the fact that so many of us go on despite indifferent publishers, ignorant reviews and little money makes it clear that it’s the writing that really matters. As for me, I don’t think I’d ever want to do anything else. I’ve written through bad times, through difficult times and later wondered how I did it. But I guess that’s what kept me going, still keeps me going.

Advice for aspiring writers? Keep reading, keep writing, and don’t expect to make a living out of writing. Hold on to your job!

(Source: The Hindu)

Breaking the barriers – Prof. Bernd Schmitt

July 21, 2008

Prof. Bernd Schmitt, one of world’s most recognised observers of brand dynamics addressed business and industry, on branding and customer experience management on 17 – 18 July 2008 in Kolkata.

In his address, Prof Schmitt opined that much of marketing practice in India is based on traditional 4-Ps, but Indian brands need to enhance customer experience to become global brands. Prof Bernd Schmitt, Ph.D., is Robert D. Calkins Professor of International Business and Executive Director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership at Columbia Business School in New York.

Prof. Schmitt is widely recognized for his major contribution to branding, marketing, and management through his unique focus on the customer experience.  His frameworks and tools are used worldwide by companies committed to delivering value and a great experience to their customers. Schmitt has authored or co-authored more than 50 articles in marketing and psychology journals and six books which have been translated into 16 languages.

Prof Schmitt said that customer experience is the next step of branding and is much more important than just putting an image of the product in the brains of the customers.  He gave immense importance on ‘thinking big’. He affirmed that in order to excel, the characteristics of the companies should get transformed from inertia & resistance to creativity & Change, from narrow mindedness to visionary leadership and from risk aversions to bold ideas and quick actions. Prof Schmitt avowed that the six steps of a big think strategy are Sourcing bold ideas, Evaluating and selecting best ideas, Turning ideas into a big think strategy, Executing big think strategy, Leading big think strategy and Sustaining big think strategy.

Interview with Gita Krishnankutty

July 19, 2008

Gita Krishnankutty is an award-winning and well established translator from Malayalam to English. Her work won her first Crossword Indian language fiction award in 1999, and this year her translation of ‘Govardhan’s Travels: A Novel’ written by Anand shared the Vodafone Crossword book award with Arunava Sinha’s rendition of a Bengali novel ‘Chowringhee’ by Shankar. Dr Krishnankutty has also won two Katha awards for translation. She has studied English literature and French, and lives and works in Chennai. She spoke with Rrishi Raote

What impact does winning an award like this have?
I don’t know that it makes that much difference. Translations are not selling well anyway and I don’t have much hope on that score. They say it’s changing but as far as we are concerned, I look for my books in bookshops and I don’t see them.

Your writing and translation often have to do with women’s issues and identity. Is this a major theme of Malayalam literature?
I would think so, yes, because Malayalis have been concerned with that. Regional literature is very rich in all fields. We have so many languages and not enough being translated, except for Bengali and Malayalam. In Tamil and Telugu more are coming out now. We [translators] work very hard and sometimes I wonder why.

You have translated three books so far by MT Vasudevan Nair. As a translator, why are you drawn to his books?
I’ve always liked him. Also because he has written so much, he hadn’t restricted himself to any one genre: short story, screenplay, article, novel…

How do you choose what you will translate?
The way we do translations varies a lot. Some are commissioned by publishers, some we choose the text. Sometimes we’re told by the publisher to do a particular author. It’s not always entirely our choice.

What makes a translatable author? Are some more difficult to translate than others?
Anand [CP Sachidanandan] was difficult, he’s a very cerebral writer. You work your way into the text. He’s also very cooperative. I used to [ask to] find out whether I’ve got it right. That’s also an interesting experience, continuous feedback. The challenge of the text becomes quite exciting.

Besides translation, what do you do?
I listen to music. I taught French at the Alliance Francaise, but just for a short while.

Have learning and teaching French had any bearing on your translation work?
You do realise that you can move from language to language without too much difficulty. But I have not really used anything that I learnt there in Malayalam-English.

What are you working on now?
I have a few pieces here and there, nothing I’m ready to talk about. I have the urge to write but I’ve never written. Well, I’ve written one biography. It’s about the founder of ayurveda in Kerala, founder of the Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Sala [Aryavaidyan PS Varier]. That sold well, but I don’t hear about it now.

Memoir and biography seem to be making a comeback now – is this also true in Malayalam?
I see it happening and I think people like to read memoirs provided there’s enough material there. It’s always been interesting. There was a short biography of a sex worker recently translated – a matter-of-fact rendering [Nalini Jameela’s Autobiography of a Sex Worker, trans. J Devika]. In Malayalam it did extremely well.

(Source: Business Standard)

From ‘peon’ to V-C: Narendra Jadhav

July 7, 2008

Growing up in the heart of a Wadala slum, eight-year-old Narendra Jadhav knew what he wanted to be when he grew up: a gangster.

Somewhere along the way he changed course and ended up as chief economist of the Reserve Bank of India and then vice-chancellor of Pune University, a chair he currently holds. This prestigious post has a special sweetness to it, for a hundred years ago, Jadhav’s Dalit ancestors were made to leave Pune city before dark and carry brooms to sweep away their own polluting shadow.

Jadhav’s unique success story has often been cited as a sterling example of how education can unchain and transform when seemingly nothing else can. The street and the slum taught the young boy to be resilient but it was the all-consuming emphasis placed on education by his semi-literate father, a Dalit worker with the Bombay Port Trust, that set him on the road to success. His brother excelled too, got into the IAS, and went on to become municipal commissioner in Mumbai.

Jadhav’s schooling was split between a municipal primary school and a private secondary school, both united in the poverty of the children who sat in the classrooms. His ambitions changed all the time. First he wanted to be a gangster, and then something far less glamorous, a peon. “I grew up at a time when life was uncertain. I wanted a steady job that nobody could take away from me. A peon’s job sounded ideal.” Later, he decided he wanted to be a teacher, but by 13, he told his horrified brother that he hoped to be a writer. “My brother threw a fit. He told me I’d starve.” But Jadhav’s father, who went on to painstakingly pen his own memoirs, overheard the conversation and jumped to his defence. “Don’t listen to what others tell you to become. They may tell you to become a doctor, barrister or engineer. But follow your inner voice and do what you want. I really don’t care what you choose for yourself, as long as you’re at the top, wherever you are. Don’t ever be mediocre. Even if you’re a thief, make sure you’re an internationally acclaimed one.”

The boy took his father’s words very seriously. At the SSC exam, he topped in Sanskrit, a language he had defiantly chosen because generations of Dalits had been denied access to a tongue considered the preserve of the Brahmins. At Ruia College, Mumbai, he passed his BSc in Statistics and Economics with distinction. After completing the first year of his MA in Economics from Mumbai University, Jadhav got a job as a probationary officer with the State Bank of India. So, during his second year, he juggled his studies with a full-time job. “My brother thought this was a bad idea. He was convinced that my scores would dip and that I could not have my cake and eat it too,” said Jadhav. But he proved his brother wrong. He succeeded at his job and set a record by getting a first in Economics, something that no Dalit had done before.

After a three-year stint with the bank, during which he travelled extensively in Maharashtra, he joined the Reserve Bank of India. At 24, he was their youngest researcher. A few years into the job, he felt the need to study further. So, on a government of India scholarship, he headed for the University of Indiana, where he received a Ph.D in Public Finance. He was awarded the Best International Student and won the Award for Outstanding Contribution to Economic Theory.

His classmates at Indiana, where he headed the Indian Students Association, were shocked when he told them he wanted to return to India after his Ph.D. “At that time, no Indian who went abroad to study returned home. Most of them were from rich families who would settle abroad and then complain of how they were subjected to racism. And here was I, from a down-trodden family in India, turning my back on over a dozen job offers to return home instead.” Seven days after his got his PhD, Jadhav was back “because I believe there can be no substitute for your motherland. My commitment to my own people was so strong that I would not been happy anywhere else”.

When Jadhav passed his SSC, he could barely speak in English, a language he has now consummately mastered. “Of course it was hard for me to switch from Marathi to English. But then, life is hard. You can’t use your background as an excuse for incompetence. And there’s no substitute for hard work. The fact that I lived in a slum and studied at a Marathi-medium school did not come in the way of my higher education abroad,” he says.

When Jadhav returned home, his mother found it hard to understand why her son was still working so hard after all these years of study. Surely a PhD meant he could now take it easy? That’s when Jadhav’s father stepped in once again with his earthy wisdom. He said a PhD was like a driving licence. You don’t stop driving once you get a licence. You start driving. “Here was one illiterate person explaining the value of PhD to another illiterate person. And he couldn’t have put it better,” says his son.

As a tribute to the man who, although himself uneducated, lived fearlessly and overcame caste and class barriers, Jadhav wrote ‘Amcha Baap ani Amhi,’ a book on his father’s life that has been translated into many languages. Once, while Jadhav was at Indiana, his father fell critically ill. He rushed back to see him, only to be reprimanded. “Don’t waste your time in the middle of your studies. Come back when you’ve finished your degree. I won’t die until then.”

He kept his word. He died three years after his son returned to India as Dr Narendra Jadhav.

(Source: TOI)

In the world of his own – Jibanananda Das

June 29, 2008

The pre-eminent and best loved Bengali poet after Tagore was an elusive, deeply private writer, reluctant to make himself better known, reluctant, in some crucial instances, to publish his own work… Jibanananda Das.

‘Jibanananda’ is a Tagorean name; its meaning, ‘the joy of life’, recalls, for me, the lines from a famous song in the Gitanjali, in which Tagore’s defiant Nietzschean mood is contained, as it almost always is, by decorum and serenity: ‘Jagate ananda jagne/ Amaar nimantrana’ — ‘I have been invited/ to the world’s festival of joy.’ Of course, Tagore had to earn those lines’ triumphal affirmation, and also their irony; by the time he wrote them, his wife was dead, as were two children, a son and his favourite daughter, Rani.

Das found himself invited to the ‘festival of joy’ in 1899; from the evidence of his poems and fiction, it doesn’t appear that he thought life — ‘jiban’ — an unqualified benediction. There is, not infrequently, a note of bewilderment in the way Das’s poems speak of earthly existence, the bewilderment of a person who wakes to find himself in a place of transit from which he must soon move on. The nameless speaker in the poem ‘Banalata Sen’ begins wearily:

For thousands of years I roamed the paths of this earth,
From waters round Ceylon in dead of night to Malayan seas.
Much have I wandered. I was there in the gray world of Asoka
And Bimbisara, pressed on through darkness to the city of Vidharbha.
I am a weary heart surrounded by life’s frothy ocean.
To me she gave me a moment’s peace — Banalata Sen from Natore.

The translation is Clinton B Seely’s, of the Department of South Asian Languages at Chicago, from his superb literary biography of Das, A Poet Apart. From the beginning, Das, an elusive, deeply private writer, reluctant to make himself better known, reluctant, in some crucial instances, to publish his own work, has had his champions, who attempted to bring his work to the attention of the Bengali, and now the Anglophone, reader. The most important of these was the poet and critic, Buddhadeva Bose, Das’s contemporary, probably the most influential Bengali writer of that bristly, fascinating post-Tagorean generation, whose generosity in supporting a fellow poet was, and still is, as unusual in the republic of Indian letters as was his critical shrewdness and acumen. The poems are now part of the Bengali consciousness, on both sides of the border dividing India from what was Pakistan and is now Bangladesh; it’s safe to claim that Das is the pre-eminent and best loved Bengali poet after Tagore. Those who know his work first-hand are convinced that he is among the twentieth century’s great writers, and so the process of recuperation continues, now in English. Like some of those writers — one thinks of Pessoa and Kafka — Das felt, for some reason, compelled either to suppress some of his most important writings, or to locate them in a secret life. Seely’s excellent work, as translator and biographer, represents a sustained effort that’s been ongoing for a few decades now, a project, however, dogged by the sort of inexplicable delays and impediments (his translations have still to find a publisher), the sort of nebulous cloud, that occasionally seemed to keep Das’s contemporaries (despite the enthusiasm of Bose and some younger writers, and Tagore’s qualified but genuine admiration) from seeing the true value of his work.

Now the English poet Joe Winter’s translations, collected in two slim but not insubstantial volumes, Naked Lonely Hand, a selection of some of the most well-known poems, and Bengal the Beautiful, which contains the sonnets that were published posthumously and made him a household name in Bengal, give the process of dissemination, and the cause of Das, a fresh impetus — a small but significant contribution which will not be, hopefully, scuppered by Saturn.

(Source: Outlook)

In a class of his own – Gulzar

June 27, 2008

Throughout his career nobody has accused Gulzar of profligacy. However, four books have been published by the master poet-lyricist in a little over four months. Par for course in a world of relentless overstatements, one would say. But more than a pleasant oddity for Gulzar, a man who weaves words with as much skill and patience as a weaver strings together a piece of cloth. Remember, he is the one who penned Girahein or “Weaver”! “A book a month. That is not how I had planned it,” Gulzar says as he talks of Selected Poems, his work translated by Pavan K. Varma and published by Penguin recently.

Stranger things have seldom happened in Bollywood: Amitabh Bachchan has played second fiddle to Navin Nishchol, for instance. “I don’t know how I happened to get so many books through. You cannot do it with effort or planning,” insists Gulzar, self-effacing in his modesty.

Hallmark humility

It is the same humility that has stood him in good stead in the film industry where he is the link between the generations of Sahir Ludhianvi and Kaifi Azmi to the present Prasoon Joshis and Piyush Mishras. “My poetry is a part of my sensibility. You cannot plan or compartmentalise life. It is instinctive. Just be yourself. That is the easiest way but also the most difficult. There are so many pressures, demands, lehaz karna padhta hai. But if one is honest to oneself, there is always a way out. If you are yourself, nobody can say you are wrong.”

He continues, “I don’t know so much of life that I can advise. Many times you have to think inside you, you feel comfortable.” It was a feeling he had when he said yes to Bimal Roy’s proposal to him for writing lyrics. “I felt like saying yes, when I said yes. Similarly I wanted to be in literature.”

He is into literature all right. He has not made a film for long: his last foray, “Hu Tu Tu” was a disaster at the box office due to a combination of factors that rankled the sensitive Gulzar. And then, of course, he had to take time out for his own writing too.

“The failure of Hu Tu Tu did not stop me from writing what I wanted. And how would I give you all these books if I were to make films all the time? The reason I have been away from films is I like to write, particularly for children. I have done a few musical ballets, like ‘Agar Magar’, ‘The Man Who Says No’. If I were to make films when will I do all this? The days still consists only of 24 hours. Poetry remains my shelter. I can hide inside it. It remains my own expression. And when I had a guy like Pavan Varma who has translated my latest book, it thrilled me because he has caught the fibre correctly. He narrated my own poems to me. He has that spontaneity. We did not plan to sit down and discuss every poem. He worked out on his own. At times, he even improved my poems.” (This is a great lesson not only for budding translators, but for the experienced ones too!)

Talk of Selected Poems and Gulzar feels better. “Pavan has done a really fine job with poems ‘Fuel’, ‘’Jab Hum Chhote Thhe’. He has seen that life, lived that life, the kind of things I talk of…the soil of the land, the chulha, the koela, the raakh, the dhuaan. He has projected it so well. Also in ‘Dastak’, he has done everything naturally. All the poems carry the fragrance of our culture.”

But don’t things come easy at a time of life when accolades and awards find a lasting place on a man’s shelf? After all, Gulzar has won awards even for “Beedi jalai le”.

Beedi jalani padh gai. But even there, I was able to communicate to people and revive the usage of some words the youngsters had forgotten or never heard of. Words like lihaf, ghilaaf. Then I wrote lyrics like “aanchal dhoop ko pakde”. I know this medium and never do anything for the sake of doing it. However, it is the imagery I worked out in “No Smoking” that cannot be easily done by anybody. It was an abstract kind of film. There are some expressions I use which people don’t understand any more. But I still use them. Words like raan, (thigh) find space in my works.”

Isn’t he in danger of becoming a relic in a changing world?

Reflecting the times

“No, I have learnt to adapt. Change is always for the better. Our poetry has to depict the reality of our times. No poet uses words like radio, car or telephone today. But poetry has to reflect the changing life. Unfortunately, we still long for gav-takia. Our attitude to poetry is limited. There is a bit of two-facedness when it comes to Urdu poetry today. You can accept changes in English but not in Urdu poetry. I wonder why Urdu poets still use expressions like Phansi ka takht and shamsheer se sar qalam when these things are long dead in real life?”

So, how does it feel when every journalist or even compere introduces him as the man from Delhi’s Sabzi Mandi area, a guy called Sampooran Singh who worked as a car mechanic and became a celebrated poet as Gulzar?

“Now, you don’t bring up the Sampooran Singh bit. You know Majrooh as just Majrooh. Let me be. When I called myself Gulzar, my fellow poets said it seemed adhura, incomplete without a surname. Now, after all these years, it is complete. Just Gulzar. I always wanted to be just Gulzar.” Indeed.

(Source: The Hindu)

Secret of popularity: Simplicity – Chetan Bhagat

June 23, 2008

Simple language - Chetan Bhagat

Story telling for him is like spiking his tales with “green chillies, onions, lemon juice to intensify human emotions”. Chetan Bhagat has been called a “people’s writer”, one who writes with a style akin to Bollywood masala films. Of course two of his books are being made into movies. More than anything else, Five Point Someone, his first book, marked the start of a new movement in the publishing world.

Chetan Bhagat came to be known as a “publishing phenomenon”, to which he reacts, “I really don’t know how a rejected writer became a phenomenon. I write fun books and people liked to read them. I am still doing the same thing I used to when I started to write.”

The title, Three Mistakes of My Life, grabs attention because all of us are human and we all make mistakes. Set against the backdrop of communal strife and violence in Gujarat, the story picks up pace towards the second half of the book. His stories apparently fall under the genre of urban dark fiction; social critiquing is elemental and incidental since “my books carry my personality. I carry a fun exterior and a dark interior. People say when they read my books for the first time, they find an unputdownable story. The second time, they find the humour and the third time they find a lot of sadness. That’s me I guess. I do like to have a message in my books but entertainment always comes first.” Story telling come to Chetan naturally, “It is a natural gift. Frankly, I don’t have to work too hard to come up with stories.” No wonder then he says he’s like Microsoft’s open source programming.

Constant debate

Chetan’s books have fortified the constant debate between literary fiction and popular fiction — there is a feeling of one upmanship. “I don’t write for one-upmanship; I don’t have to. My readers are reason enough. For some fake people, books are an elitist product and they find happiness in putting down readers who like simple books. I stay away from such people, as deep down they are quite insecure.” Many readers from the Hindi-speaking belt have read Chetan’s books, which “feels great. I want to reach as many Indians as possible in my lifetime. We have some translations under way. The Marathi and Gujarati versions are out, while the Hindi one is in progress. It depends on having a good translator/publisher relationship working out.”

Young voice

Chetan speaks of “democratisation of literature” where “even a moderately educated person has the right to enjoy a book, and all associated activities around it — whether it is a book launch, discussions, movie adaptations. Books are for everyone, not just high-society snobs.” For all his populist appeal, his language has proved to be a double-edged sword. He has also been called the voice of young India. “The whole ‘voice of young India’ is a bit over the top. My language is simple, and that is the biggest appeal of my books. However, experts who claim to know better than me tell me that is not the way to write.”

(Source: The Hindu)