Why the sun is setting on the Boeing 747

Why the sun is setting on the Boeing 747
Photo Credit: pixabay
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It’s difficult to imagine now, in the age of mass global travel, that building an aeroplane to carry hundreds of people at a time was once seen as a huge risk. But as the world’s first wide-body airliner, the Boeing 747 went on to change not only aviation but the entire tourism industry. Its economic design did much to move international travel within reach of middle-class holiday goers rather than just the privileged few.

However, the venerable Boeing 747 may be nearing the end of its production life – its manufacturing rate is to be halved to six a year. A shift towards newer and more efficient aircraft that can land at smaller (and so more) airports and a tendency to use former passenger planes for freight has reduced the remaining 747 order book to just 20, after building more than 1,500 since 1969.

Boeing’s decision to develop a new, giant airliner bigger than those of its competitors in the mid-1960s was a very bold move. It was a huge commercial risk that required borrowing some $2bn from a banking consortium, the largest amount of money ever borrowed by any corporation at that time. The gamble also involved buying a 780-acre site near Seattle to build a totally new manufacturing site, and promising to deliver its first orders in a shorter time than any normal projection to develop such a large aircraft.

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But more than this, the company was throwing its resources into creating the world’s largest, widest, and (bar the much smaller Concorde) most technically advanced airliner, and doing so in a very complex market. Boeing’s competitors were also developing slightly smaller wide-body aircraft – defined as having two aisles or a cabin wider than 200 inches – that launched within two years of the 747’s 1969 debut.

But also, much of the world expected the future of air transport to be supersonic. Even Boeing hedged its bets somewhat by deliberately designing the 747 to be adapted as a freighter, in case supersonic passenger travel became the norm.

Compared to the competing McDonnell Douglas DC10 and Lockheed L1011 Tristar, the 747 was bigger and more expensive, carrying four instead of three engines (the most expensive components). But the fourth engine gave the plane a significant safety advantage in that it would retain much greater propulsion power if one of the engines failed. These engines – the Pratt and Whitney JT9D and the similarly sized Rolls Royce RB211 – also provided much greater power and better fuel economy than was previously available.

Two engines too many

The nose of the Boeing 747.
The nose of the Boeing 747.

Today, the industry has moved towards twin-engine aeroplanes such as the Boeing 777 and the Airbus A330, with three-engine aeroplanes being relatively unpopular because of the high labour costs of working on an engine bedded into the aeroplane fin. The four-engine 747 retained a clear place in the market because twin-engine planes must stay within a certain distance from an airport in case of engine failure. This allowed the 747 to achieve shorter journey times on the longest routes because it can use more direct flight paths.

However, improving engine reliability means authorities have slowly increased the distance a twin-engine airliner can fly from a runway, gradually reducing the advantage of having four engines. And of course, those newer, more reliable engines have also been bigger and more efficient.

Of course, the slowdown in 747 production doesn’t mean the original jumbo jet will disappear from our skies just yet. The latest models are much longer, bigger and operate with more modern engines and instruments than the earlier 747-100s (no longer do the crew have to take sextant readings through the cockpit roof), and the newer aircraft are likely to stay in service for at least another 20 years.

The size and flexibility of the design also mean the 747 provides some very specialist functions. For example, a joint US/German project has built a giant infrared space telescopeinto one. The US Air Force has installed a chemical laser into another as part of its Star Wars programme, and has successfully used it in tests to shoot down ballistic missiles.

However, the 747 has probably been improved as much as it can be. The four-engine wide-body aircraft may not be dead yet, but the 747’s nearest competitor the Airbus A380 has also suffered from the shift to smaller and more flexible aircraft and took no new orders last year. Boeing itself has moved on to other models, most recently the lightweight 787.

Still, the original jumbo jet will always be the aircraft that made Boeing into the global leader it is today, helping bring long-distance air travel to many of us who previously could never have dreamed of it.

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Why no book-buying expedition can still match a visit to the Kolkata Book Fair

Why no book-buying expedition can still match a visit to the Kolkata Book Fair
Photo Credit: IANS
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I had been warned about the dust time and again. Magazine articles, friends, all warned, bhishon dhulo (awfully dusty)! So I was prepared for the 2016 Kolkata Book Fair to be something akin to the Thar Desert. What I had not expected, however, was the music. And the public announcements. But more on that later. First, a few necessary facts about the Kolkata Book Fair, or Boi Mela, as everyone knows it.

An annual affair, the Kolkata Book Fair runs for 12 days from the end of January to the second Sunday of February. Now in its 40th year, it has seen various ups and downs, including a devastating fire (the fair was back and running in three days though one person died of a heart attack and over 100,000 books were destroyed), a major shift in venue, rains and such cataclysms. It’s one of the largest retail book fairs in the world (as opposed to trade fairs like Frankfurt and London). Such facts aside, it has remained an important part of the city’s social and cultural calendar because, well, Bengalis and books and kaalchar, and the fact that it melds “books” and “fair” spectacularly.

Ghosts of Boi Mela past

I had last been to the fair more than a decade ago, when it was still held at the Maidan – that massive patch of green in the heart of the city. From that era I held an abiding memory of long queues, where people waited patiently (maybe not so patiently sometimes) to enter the stalls of major English and Bengali publishers.

I had felt privileged and very relieved since I worked in a publishing house that was one of these hot destinations and so I could safely enter the stall as and when I pleased without a thirty-minute wait. I had even manned a few counters and convinced buyers to pick up books of my choice.

This time I was there purely as a visitor and I intended to make the best use of the one day I would get for this. That brings me back to the music. Soon after entering the Milan Mela ground, and while I was just about getting my bearings on which way to head, the Boi Mela Song started playing.

Yes, those capital letters are deliberate. It’s a song exhorting every Calcuttan worth their salt to visit the fair. The rest of the lyrics have now buried themselves somewhere in my brain under all the other noise, and all I remember is a cheerful warbling of “boi mela boi mela”. Doesn’t sound so bad, but as it accompanies you to every stall you visit, or when you sit awhile to rest the feet and tired shoulders, or when you are buying a much needed cup of tea or some ice cream, then there comes upon oneself a great desire to swat the song away like a pesky fly.

Sometimes it would stop. To be replaced by other songs – Tagore’s songs, aka Rabindrasangeet, and The Beatles – or poetry recitations. And when those stopped there would be a kindly voice telling you not to litter, that the fair had participants from all over the country and that there was a free shuttle service from Park Circus to the mela venue if you wanted it. I later noticed that this song was being played at many traffic signals too, so it basically accompanied you wherever you went in the city.

Song notwithstanding, I plunged into the maze of halls, each named after a famous litterateur and then on to the stalls which were out in the open. Discounted books, used books, brand new books, books in Hindi, they all started popping up on my path. I asked the Hindi stall person what kind of business he was hoping for. He shrugged, it was early days yet, the number of people reading in Hindi wasn’t that many, but there was enough for his company to set up shop and he hoped to do good enough business. He refused to be more specific.

I soon made my first buys at Bookline. It had books at huge discounts as well as those selling at almost the printed price. As I browsed, I heard someone yelling “Madam, madam!” I looked up to see an ex-colleague waving frantically. Cut to ten minutes of exchanging news and gossip and discussion about the state of the book industry and where does one go next in one’s career. We agreed we were going to live and die among books and in the publishing business.

With that cheerful thought, I moved on from hall to hall. Taking up a large space, Patra Bharati had a big range of books for children too. I gravitated towards those and spent time leafing through many collections of comics. There were the old Bengalu favourites like Handa Bhonda, Nante Fante (also in English, which I bought) and a detective series named Black Diamond whom I had not encountered earlier. The cover was dramatic enough with a man standing in front of an onrushing train and held much promise of action and adventure.

Brewing something else

By now the buys were enough to start weighing the shoulders down so I wandered over to the tea stall. There my friend and I were greeted with great enthusiasm by a bevy of people. They had a new variety of a paper tea cup that held the tea bag within it. You can buy one cup for twenty rupees – and get two more cups FREE using that same cup, we were informed by all those standing around and whom I had taken to be customers like us.

There was much questioning and answering on how we wanted our teas and finally with the nicely warm cups in hand we sat down to refuel for a bit. Appropriately, a stall selling jute bags had a very ugly bag with this wonderful quote from Tagore printed on it: “Come oh come, ye tea-thirsty restless ones, the kettle boils, bubbles and sings musically.”

A largish Bangladesh pavilion appeared soon in front of me. It had a number of small stalls and I could only marvel at my ignorance about Bangladeshi writing. There were some interesting and good looking books for children by contemporary writers here, including the ubiquitous Humayun Ahmed. I, however, had a fit of nostalgia and picked up a slim hardbound edition of Leo Tolstoy’s stories for children translated into Bengali with their original black and white drawings. It reminded me of the Russian books we read as children and the drawings themselves were beautiful. It cost a princely sum of seventy-five rupees.

More wandering and an ice cream later I panicked realising I was yet to visit the big stalls of Ananda Publishers, Dey’s Publishing and a few more. I hotfooted into those. Deys was already full enough to have just some elbow room. I browsed a book on Banglar Pakhi (The Birds of Bengal), recoiled at large stacks of the writings of such luminaries as Tagore and JC Bose and Upendrakishore Ray arranged into worthy topics like science and social studies. My buy here – Dadabhaier Deyala (Dadabhai’s Mischief) by Gaganendranath Tagore, and illustrated by him.

At Dey’s, while moving from one section to the next, I stopped at the section on books on cinema. Near me, stood an old gentleman in a dhoti and shawl and carrying a jhola. He waited patiently till the person at the counter was free to attend to him and asked for (what seemed to me) an obscure book on the zamindari system and land rights in Bengal. The boys needed only a few minutes to locate it (perhaps it wasn’t so obscure after all). Their buyer stood and leisurely turned the pages of the thick book for a while before telling them to bill it.

Start-ups at play

Outside, every semblance of winter had disappeared, the sun was hammering in. As I stood wondering which way to head next and tried to make sense of the Fair directory and map (the stalls don’t always follow each other numerically) I found a boy of about 10 at my side holding a sheaf of newsletters. The small publications and newsletters are all over the place, each being offered by someone with an accompanying explanation of why it was produced and by whom. I had already paid five rupees for one by a LGBT rights organisation.

This boy, part of a children’s drama troupe in north Kolkata was offering the newsletter called Boi Melar Diary that consisted of short pieces by him and his friends on their experiences at the book fair. As I stopped to talk to him, immediately 3-4 others gathered around. He handed out the newsletter to all and when one started to walk off with it, called after him saying, Eta free na! (It’s not for free!)

Priced at ten rupees each, he and a few more of his friends were selling these to raise funds for their troupe. What plays have you performed? Dakghar, Obak Jolpaan, Lokkhoner Shaktishel he reeled off a list of names. And are people buying the newsletter? Yes, he said proudly, he had sold twenty already, this was their first day and the weekend would see lots of visitors. I hoped they would cover the printing cost of the newsletter and make some more, as I bought a copy.

The smell of popcorn and the calls to come taste some chaat were building up, clashing with my old friend the boi mela song. My shoulder was telling me to call it a day, as was the call for some water and food from the stomach. I headed back to the gate making my way past the artists who had set up their tables and tarps on the ground. A man waylaid me to try out churans and to buy greeting cards from his “NGO”. What does your NGO do, I asked.Lokeder shahajjo (helping people) was the supremely vague reply.

With that ended my one day at the boi mela after a decade. I learnt later that on the Sunday of the following weekend 10 lakh people had visited the Fair. I am hundreds of miles away in another part of the country now, and I wish the many lakhs who will visit till the last day on February 7 a suitably intellectual, bodily wearying and aurally challenging time. And no, there wasn’t that much of dhulo.

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‘Bad elements’ or ‘no orders to control’: Who was responsible for Andhra train burning?

'Bad elements' or 'no orders to control': Who was responsible for Andhra train burning?Photo Credit: Mridula Chari
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On Sunday afternoon, Y Jaswanth boarded the Ratnachal Express from Visakhapatnam to Vijayawada at Tuni, a small town of 53,000 people in Andhra Pradesh’s East Godavari district. Jaswanth, his wife and son hoped to reach Vijayawada by 6.30 that evening. Instead, their journey ended a few kilometres beyond Tuni.

Late that evening, reports began to trickle in that protestors at a massive rally calling for reservations for the Kapu caste had set a train on fire and attacked government property. That was the train Jaswanth was on.

The rally was at a field in Velama Kothuru, a small village off the Howrah-Chennai national highway, where a few signs of the protest that shook the state are still visible. Hundreds of watermelon rinds were scattered at the site of the protest, as were remnants of water packets. While there did not seem to be any attempts to clear the grounds, the railway did not have the same luxury.

A group of around 30 employees were hard at work replacing elastic rail clips, heavy steel clips that hold railway sleepers in place.

“The people had removed the clips and thrown them far out into the fields,” said S Padanna, a senior section engineer of the railways at the site. “They also moved the sleepers 200 metres to one side to stop the train. All this took a long time to put back into place.”

Workers get the tracks ready for traffic again.
Workers get the tracks ready for traffic again.

Velama Kothuru might seem an unlikely spot for a protest of the scale witnessed on Sunday. It is, in fact, a regular venue for political rallies, with its uncultivated fields of almost 100 acres along the highway being regularly rented out for events. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi has campaigned here.

On Sunday evening, the village that had absorbed so many political events before, was stirred by unprecedented violence, when protestors at the Kapu rally stopped a train and set it alight.

What happened?

Protestors at the rally stopped the train at 3.20 pm on Sunday. At around five, they asked passengers to leave the train, saying that there would be a fire.

“I didn’t believe them at first,” said Jaswanth. “I thought they only wanted us to get off the train for their own purposes.”

Before the train burnt. Photo credit: Y Jaswanth
Before the train burnt. Photo credit: Y Jaswanth

However, unidentified people set two coaches ablaze. When he saw the flames, Jaswanth was no longer in doubt. He, his wife and son left the train with their belongings and began the five-kilometre trek back to Tuni. It took them two hours.

Back at Velama Kothuru, the fire rapidly spread from the first two coaches to the rest of the train. All but one of its 24 coaches were gutted. The most expensive component of a train – its engine worth Rs 25 crore – was also damaged beyond repair.

The train stands now at Tuni station, where it was brought at 2 am, once the fire brigade finally managed to douse its flames.

“We have put it on a loop line [which bypasses the main one] so now the schedule is not affected,” said MD Srinivas, station superintendent at the small town’s railway station. “But the train cannot be salvaged. After the police finish their investigation, it will have to go for scrap.”

The police has formed seven teams to investigate the incident, with officials drawn from across the district and state. The station itself now bristles with representatives from the Railway Protection Force and local police. A car with the helpful sign “Clues” is parked at the station entrance. Its occupants had gone for an extended tea break.

The scene at Tuni station, where the remnants of the gutted Ratnachal Express now stand.
The scene at Tuni station, where the remnants of the gutted Ratnachal Express now stand.

Railway authorities estimate the damage to be around Rs 13 crores, but their loss goes beyond one train, Padanna said. Sixteen trains were cancelled because of the blocked line, which meant that the fares of disgruntled passengers had to be refunded. In the initial confusion following the return of passengers who had left their station only a few hours ago, railway authorities also denied them any refund. They insisted instead on retaining Rs 30 as cancellation charges, as per existing railway rules. Only passenger outrage, said Jaswanth, forced them to relent and return the full amount of Rs 700.

Kapus allege conspiracy

Reports of the size of the rally vary, pegging the crowd at anything between five lakh to eight lakh attendees.

Mudragada Padmanabhan, the Kapu leader who had announced the rally two months ago, said that Kapus had nothing at all to do with the violence. Instead, it was “bad elements” in the crowd, allegedly planted by the government, who caused the entire violence.

“We got the approval for the rally in advance,” Padmanabhan said. “There was no lathi-charge there. Our people were cool and the police were cool. We faced no aggression. So how could this have suddenly occurred then?”

Padmanabhan also alleged that these “bad elements” were at work even before they stopped the train – his generator was unplugged and his microphone switched off mid-speech.

“This is a conspiracy to dilute our agitation,” he said. “Why else would the police go away during the meeting?”

Protestors perch on the engine of the train before it is burnt. Photo credit: Y Jaswanth
Protestors perch on the engine of the train before it is burnt. Photo credit: Y Jaswanth

The police version

Why indeed did the police abandon their post? Some answers might be had at the Velama Kothuru police station, which is not inside the village, but a few hundred metres away, adjacent to the meeting ground.

Padmanabhan had informed the police about the rally, permission for which, said head constable at the station, T Prasada Rao, came from the chief minister himself. Although there were 2,800 police officials on duty that day, drawn from all neighbouring villages, they were unable to withstand the crowd, Rao added.

“First they burnt the train and when we tried to stop them, they attacked us instead,” he said. “We had to run away.”

The mob burnt 26 four-wheel vehicles, including new Boleros belonging to the superintendent of police and the deputy superintendent. They also set fire to 40 two-wheelers and the records rooms of the Velama Kothuru police station. Rao’s own car, a privately owned Indica, parked at the police living quarters a few hundred metres away, was also burnt, he said.

“We got no order for lathi-charge from above,” Rao said. “If we had, we could have done something. They told us to wait, which is why we could not control the crowd.”

Burnt vehicles at Velama Kothuru police station. Photo credit: Y Jaswanth
Burnt vehicles at Velama Kothuru police station. Photo credit: Y Jaswanth

By nine that night, the crowd had moved ahead to Tuni, where the police station bears signs of their vandalism, including a soot-blackened porch and windows with holes the size of stones in them.

Up to 33 cases have been registered so far, but there have as yet been no arrests.

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Remembering the legacy of Bhupen Khakhar, India’s first openly gay artist

Remembering the legacy of Bhupen Khakhar, India’s first openly gay artist12.7K
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This is the full text of a presentation prepared by Ranjit Hoskote for the symposium, ‘Remembering Bhupen’, held at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi on January 27.

1.

It seems faintly absurd to discuss the question of Bhupen Khakhar’s legacy in a country that legally regards one of the most defining aspects of his life and art as criminal behaviour.

Bhupen Khakhar was India’s first openly gay artist. From the 1980s onwards, he asserted a defiantly adversarial stance both as artist and as social subjectivity: he began to take the intimate and social fact of alternative sexuality as his dominant subject, articulating the everyday life, emotional states, fantasies, anxieties and aspirations of the homoerotic self.

Article 377 of Chapter XVI of the Indian Penal Code (1860) is unambiguous: “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to [a] fine.” Although convictions under this colonial-era provision are admittedly rare, its continued existence as law condemns a large number of Indian citizens to the shadowlands, their life choices stigmatized as being – in a singularly sweeping and theological phrase, for a secular nation-state – “against the order of nature”.

Bhupen was adept at camouflaging the radical and transgressive nature of his art in the guise of ludic eccentricity or the stylised whimsicality of the everyday. Nonetheless, he very legibly asserted the liberty of the individual to fashion his or her own life in defiance of prevailing norms, and also actively challenged the stability and validity of such norms through his work.

Can such an artist really find accommodation in the public sphere of early 21st century India, which has been held hostage by a violent and expansive politics that has invaded every aspect of human consciousness, behaviour, interaction and congregation? Assuming the form of an aggressive, illiberal, demagogic populism, this form of politics has exceeded the parameters of the State allotted to it by Enlightenment political theory, and overrun civil society and the market as well. Whether through mob action or through sanction from those in authority, it has menaced and placed in question the right of artists and writers to explore reality in an idiosyncratic or critical manner, to enter a discussion at an oblique angle or exit it at a tangent, to propose a dissenting view or a dissident perspective.

My fear is that, if India’s public sphere continues to be held hostage by such a politics of illiberalism, it is extremely unlikely that Bhupen’s art, thought and life will leave any mark on Indian culture at large. He will, of course, live on in the hearts, minds and books of his friends and admirers – this gathering offers eloquent testimony to the fact – but this will be strictly the special interest of the arts community.

Given these circumstances, I would congratulate the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, and its Director, Professor Rajeev Lochan, on the courageous decision to present a substantial exhibition of Bhupen’s work. This decision clearly springs from a desire to keep the gates of discussion and understanding open.

Courtesy: gallerychemould.com
Courtesy: gallerychemould.com

2.

We on this panel have been invited to address the question of Bhupen’s legacy – a word that carries with it an aura of unbroken continuity, suggesting a productive relationship between a past that offers the gift of its achievements to a future that receives them appreciatively, as part of its memory and self-understanding. Unfortunately, the historical record is not uniformly encouraging on this subject. Amnesia, erasure and rupture have more often been the fate that great art has met.

There is no assurance whatever that the memory of great art will be preserved for posterity. The Old Stone Age caves of Lascaux would have remained buried forever, had a dog bearing the remarkable name of Robot not fallen down a hole made by the rain in 1940, obliging his owners to dig down into the earth. The Buddhist painted caves of Ajanta, executed between the 2nd century BC and the 5th century AD, had been reclaimed by the jungle and were lost to public consciousness for more than a millennium, until they were quite fortuitously discovered in 1819 by a British hunting party.

There is no guarantee whatever that the work of a great artist will turn into a benchmark for the future by itself, or by some fictional general consensus. Without the apparatus of museum retrospectives, mid-career surveys, monographic exhibitions and critical writing, many 20th-century artists would be destined to remain last among equals, or be consigned to the unexplored corners of the reserve collections of the world’s great institutions.

In brief, there is no such eternal and stable fact as collective memory, on which we may safely rely for the transmission of a legacy from the past to the future. The collective memory of a society is a fluid construct: the outcome of discussions and negotiations, the hybrid fruit of belief, ideological dogma and historical inquiry.

3.

For myself, I respond most strongly to what I have elsewhere described as Bhupen’s ‘religious imagination’. I have spoken of Bhupen as an “icon-maker in an age without religious certitudes” – as an artist who found himself in a world of anomie, a world alienated and disenchanted by instrumental reason, routinisation and the fetishisation of cultural objects, and sought to re-enchant the depleted experience of being by transforming it into an utsav, a ceaseless and unpredictable festivity. He returned constantly to the rich, splendid and playful iconography of Krishna-as-Shrinathji, central to the Pushti-marga, and offered us his translations and adaptations of it.

Did Bhupen hope, perhaps, to retrieve the sacred from the monopoly of politicised religiosity, reclaim it from those who would fetishise and ossify it? Did he hope to bring the sacred back into public circulation as a lavish energy of redemption, which resists the names and forms in which the orthodox trap it? And what future might such a project have in a society where hard-edged, politicised versions of religious belief are rapidly gaining ascendancy in a demographic and territorial struggle that has nothing to do with spiritual experience? The erotic body of the voluptuary and the austere body of the renunciate, so often melded in Bhupen’s art, will perhaps always be held apart in such a society; we will measure the loss in a narrowing of our imaginative capacities, our human potentialities.

Courtsey: bhupenkhakharcollection.com
Courtsey: bhupenkhakharcollection.com

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Intizar Husain (1923-2016): The Pakistani writer who mourned what the Partition did not bring

Intizar Husain (1923-2016): The Pakistani writer who mourned what the Partition did not bringPhoto Credit: Tanveer Shehzad / Dawn
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Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize for 2013, Intizar Husain (1923-2016) has chronicled the changes that unspooled from the Partition of 1947 possibly like no other writer from the Indian subcontinent. Starting his literary career close on the heels of Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955), he too has viewed the events of 1947 as an immense human tragedy; however, unlike Manto and the other writers associated with the powerful literary grouping known as the Progressive Writers’ Movement, Intizar Husain has shown no predilection for depicting the communal violence that spiralled out of Independence.

If Manto probed the horrors of Partition with all the delicacy of a camp surgeon, laying bare a sick, ailing society like “a patient etherised upon a table”, Intizar sahib has chosen to view Partition as hijrat or migration; the greatest cross-border migration in recent history, which he repeatedly likens to a recurrent historical partition, is for him brimful with the possibility of exploring the past while unravelling the present.

And so, instead of a compulsive scraping of wounds, a cataloguing of unimaginable horrors and a depiction of a sick, momentarily depraved society that his contemporaries found fit to do as a way of exorcising the evil within, Intizar sahib has chosen, in story after story, to imaginatively revisit a syncretic, tolerant pluralistic past in a search for meaning, to find out why the tide turned so irreversibly, and why a revisit in real terms often becomes so difficult.

It has only been recently – close to over thirty years since his first novel Bastiappeared in 1979 – that the literary world in India has taken stock of his immense contribution not merely to Urdu prose but to a subaltern history.

What is more, the Man Booker shortlist has at long last brought attention to the one overriding concern articulated by Intizar Husain throughout his literary career: namely, the persistent refusal among human beings to learn from past mistakes.

For, if there is one overarching theme that strings together Intizar sahib’s career as a novelist, short story writer and journalist, it is not merely the haunting sense of loss for a way of life that is irrevocably gone but also a lingering regret. He seems to rue the possibilities that Partition presented but were lost or frittered away. He talks of how, suddenly, almost by accident, Partition allowed writers like him to “regain” a great experience namely hijrat that has a unique place in the history of Muslims.

He even finds a religious sanction for the choice some are forced to make when they leave their homes in search of newer, safer havens. In the story Dream and Reality (Khwaab aur Haqeeqat), one of the characters says, “Friends, remember the hadith of the Prophet: When your city becomes narrow and small for you, you must leave it and go away.” Yet, this unique opportunity too is squandered and the loss makes him sad.

As he once said in an interview: “And the great expectation we had of making something out of it at a creative level and of exploiting it to develop a new consciousness and sensibility – that bright expectation has now faded and gone.”

His epochal novel, Basti, is set in 1971 when war clouds are gathering over the subcontinent, the new country of Pakistan is no longer fresh and pure and hopeful but soiled and weary and entirely without hope, and news from distant East Pakistan is ominous.

Its protagonist, Zakir, has already faced one tumult, that of 1947, when he left India and migrated to the Land of the Pure. After the first “luminous” day spent walking the streets of the new city (Lahore) that is to be his home, savouring the delight of walking about freely without the fear that someone will slip a knife into his ribs, soaking in the new sights, sounds and smells, Zakir stays awake all night, weeping and remembering the city, streets, sounds and people he has left behind. “That day seemed very pure to him, with its night, with the tears of its night.”

But those days of innocence and goodness and large-heartedness of the new people in the new land united not so much by one religion but by a common loss and the feeling of homelessness slip away. “After that, the days gradually grew soiled and dirty. Perhaps it’s always like this.”

Gradually the goodness and sincerity leach out and in its place there is greed, corruption and intolerance.

Looking back, Zakir reflects, “Those were good days, good and sincere. I ought to remember those days, or in fact I ought to write them down, for fear I should forget them again. And the days afterward? Them too, so I can know how the goodness and sincerity gradually died out from the days, how the days came to be filled with misfortune and nights with ill omen.”

Slowly the vim and vigour of building a new nation begin to sap. Gradually, the cities on both sides of the new border get filled with new people: “People have come from all kinds of places. Like kites with their strings cut, that go flying and come down on a roof somewhere.” So these people, each with their own stories, alight on strange roofs. And speaking through them, in the course of everyday inconsequential conversations, Intizar Husain slips in statements of great import and consequence, and says many things that his own oblique style of storytelling does not allow.

For instance, in answer to a question that haunts an entire weary generation of post-1947 Pakistanis: “Was it good that Pakistan was created?”, Intizar Husain makes a wise old Maulvi sahib in Basti reply: “In the hands of the wrong people, even right becomes wrong.” And elsewhere in the novel, there are many seemingly random comments that stay for a long time in the readers’ memory: “When the masters are cruel and the sons rebellious, any disaster at all can befall the Lord’s creatures.” Or “When shoelaces speak, those who can speak stay silent.” Or “In times such as this, throats become strong and minds weak.” Or, “Tomorrow might be even worse than today.”

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This year, Goans are being urged to hug a new Valentine – coconut trees

This year, Goans are being urged to hug a new Valentine – coconut trees
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Last month, the Goa government declared that the state’s iconic coconut palm was not actually a tree. It removed the species from the purview of the Goa Daman and Diu Preservation of Trees Act, thus allowing palms to be felled without a permit. In a state where the palm is highly valued and never cut unless absolutely necessary, the decision caused widespread anger. Now, two organisations have devised a unique way to express their unhappiness.

On February 14, they aim to stage a festival-protest titled “Coconut Love, Coconut Valentine”, at which residents of the palm-fringed state can express their love for the “kalpavriksha” (tree of heaven) and register their opposition to the government’s decision to declassify it as a tree.

“Every true Goan who loves our heritage is angry with this government,” said historian Prajal Sakhardande of Goa Heritage Action Group, which has organised the event along with Goa for Giving.

On January 14, the amendment to the Goa, Daman and Diu Preservation of Trees Act, 1984, dropped the tree status granted to coconut palms ostensibly to help farmers to cull old and ailing trees without going through lengthy bureaucratic procedures. But citizens groups spearheading protests against the decision did not buy this claim: they believe it is a ploy to make construction easier for apartments, factories and resorts.

“We feel they [the government] is out to destroy the natural heritage of this place, to aid certain lobbies,” alleged Sakhardande.

Event organiser Armando Gonslaves said that Valentine’s Day was the perfect day on which to demonstrate love for the initiative was an ideal way to make their feelings known. “We thought of using the day to show our love for this tree, which has sustained us for so long,” he said.

As part of the programme, several events related to the coconut tree will be held across the state from February 6-14. A photography competition will encourage Goans to pose with a palm tree and post their pictures on social media. “Make the coconut tree your Valentine” is one theme.

Fashion designer Wendell Rodricks, photographer Prasad Pankar, and cartoonist Alexyz will inaugurate the festival by symbolically pinning hearts on a coconut tree.

Gonsalves said the finale is a planned Coconut Valentine festival of sorts at the South Goa seaside venue Zeepop-by-the Sea, which locals will demonstrate a variety of crafts, products, sweets and foods that use the coconut, along with poetry, music and art related to the palm. He has also planned smaller festivals across Goa, including cooking competitions and art competitions for children.

“Already, people have posted song, satire, art and cartoons on social media to express their dismay,” said Gonsalves, who led a delegation last week to the Goa governor on the issue. “And this will continue till the government realises it is wrong and rescinds the amendment.

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Disease may wipe out world’s bananas – but here’s how we might just save them

Disease may wipe out world’s bananas – but here’s how we might just save themPhoto Credit: pixabay
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Catastrophe is looming for the banana industry. A new strain has emerged of a soil-borne fungus known as “Panama disease” which can wipe out entire plantations – and it is rapidly spreading around the world. Farmers in Australia, Latin America and across Asiaand Africa all fear the worst.

The fungus is almost impossible to stop or eradicate. It moves through soil, so contamination can be as simple as infected dirt travelling from one farm to another on the sole of a shoe, or as complex as soil particles blowing on the wind across long distances – even across oceans, in theory.

Faced with huge losses to a global industry, many have called for a new strain of disease-resistant “superbanana”. However, this would be just another temporary fix. After all, the world’s most popular banana, the Cavendish, was itself the wonder fruit of its day, being introduced in the 1950s after an earlier strain of Panama disease destroyed its predecessor.

The fungi simply adapted and fought back, though, until the Cavendish also became susceptible. Panama and other diseases will continue to do so until we seriously reform how we grow and market bananas.

The banana industry is its own worst enemy. The huge farms where most exported bananas are grown are ideal for pests. These plantations are monocultures, which means they grow only bananas and nothing else. With very few shifts between crops over the years, and lots of tropical sunshine, there is an abundant and year-round supply of food for pests without any breaks, in time or space, to disrupt the supply and lower the disease pressure.

Banana producers spend a third of their income on controlling these pests, according to a study I published in 2013. Chemicals to control microscopic but deadly worms are applied several times a year. Herbicides that control weeds are applied up to eight times a year, while bananas may be sprayed with fungicides from a plane more than 50 times per year in order to control Black Sigatoka, an airborne fungus.

And those bags that are wrapped around each individual banana bunch? They’re lined with insecticides to serve as both a physical and chemical barrier to insects feeding on and damaging the skins.

All of this amounts to approximately one litre of active ingredients for every 18.6 kg box of bananas that is exported to consumers in the global north. It’s a huge, long-running problem for the industry and the new strain of Panama disease may just be the nail in its coffin.

Or maybe this is the wake-up call the export banana industry so desperately needs.

Searching for the superbanana

Given the way the fungus spreads, containment and quarantine are hardly long-term solutions. Some experts, especially those entrenched in the business of growing export bananas, argue that we need to breed or genetically modify a new type of banana that is resistant to the latest strain of Panama disease.

But this is harder than it sounds. Modern bananas – the tasty yellow ones – don’t exist in nature; they were bred into existence around 10,000 years ago. They reproduce asexually, which means they don’t have seeds and every banana is a genetic clone of the previous generation.

This lack of genetic variation makes breeding a new banana particularly challenging. If one Cavendish is susceptible to a disease, all others will be too. When all bananas are clones, how do you create the genetic variation from which traits for better disease resistance can be identified and nurtured?

A new banana would also have to be tasty, durable enough to withstand long voyages without bruising, and bright yellow. Looks really do trump pest-resistance. A new type of banana introduced during a previous Panama disease panic back in the 1920s was rejected by consumers for going black on the outside, even when it was ripe and sweet inside.

Saving the banana

Today, banana growers are in a fight for survival, continuously applying newly-formulated fungicides in an effort to keep ahead of the diseases. But they are acutely aware that they are losing ground. While breeding a new banana staves off the current problem, history has already shown that this doesn’t get to the root of the problem, which is the design of the production system.

We need to ditch the massive farms. Around the world, millions of small-scale farmers already grow bananas in a more organic and sustainable way. Alongside bananas are cacao, avocado, mango, corn, orange, lemon and more. A mix of crops creates more stable production systems which rely on fewer, if any, pesticides and generates diverse income sources, handing local people greater food sovereignty. Farms where bananas are mixed in with other crops are also more resilient to climate change which is likely to hit banana-producing regions – developing countries – harder than most.

Yes, this would mean fewer bananas are grown. Sustainable agriculture simply can’t keep up with the megafarms. But if we learned to ignore the odd blemished or undersized banana, then the actual amount sent to market need not drop at all.

The farmers themselves should be okay as they’ll make up their income by producing different crops. Breaking the dominance of the banana multinationals should also distribute wealth among more farmers and empower the regions where they’re grown. As a consumer, ask yourself this: isn’t that a far better way to spend your money?

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TRS sweeps Hyderabad polls, decisively settling the question of whom the city belongs to

TRS sweeps Hyderabad polls, decisively settling the question of whom the city belongs to
Photo Credit: IANS
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On Friday, as results began to come in for the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections held on February 2, it was clear that the Telangana Rashtra Samiti was doing much better than the opinion polls had predicted. The surveys had shown that the party would get 75-85 seats in the 150-member house. But by late evening, it had already won 98 seats and was expected to easily get a two-thirds majority.

The Telangana Rashtra Samiti victory points to crucial political realignments in Hyderabad. The party seems to have won the votes not just of its core Telangana constituency, but also of the more apolitical middle-class, the working class poor and even the openly hostile Andhra Telugus.

By late Friday, Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen had won 32 seats, the Congress had only one seat, as did the Telugu Desam Party. The Bharatiya Janata Party had won three.

To understand how a party with less than two years of experience in office exceeded expectations, it is vital to understand why the first Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation polls in an independent Telangana mattered for the Telangana Rashtra Samiti.

A key election

When Telugu-dominated Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated in 2014 to allow for the creation of Telangana, the city of Hyderbad was a major source of contention between advocates of each state. The city, with a sizeable population of Andhra Telugus, was eventually awarded to Telangana. But it was decided that Hyderabad would remain the joint capital of both states until 2024. It was vital for the TRS to get a majority in these municipal elections to settle the question about whom Hyderabad actually belongs to.

To score this victory, the TRS undercut the more established parties with their political and patronage networks. For instance, the old city with its majority Muslim population is considered to be the impregnable bastion of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. The areas on the outer periphery have a sizeable Andhra Telugu population, which tends to vote for the Telugu Desam Party, while the non-Muslim minorities, Dalits and weaker sections were traditional Congress voters.

“The party appealed to different classes of people in different ways,” said Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu, who was active in the Telangana movement. “They pulled out all stops to win the final bastion.”

A changing city

To woo the working class who constitute 40%-50% of the population the TRS relied on welfare measures. One such is the promise to build low-cost two-bedroom homes. Though the fine print is yet to be released, voters were enthusiastic. The working class has been priced out of the city in the last two decades in which Hyderabad has gone from being a laid-back nawabi city to a back office for global Information Technology and consulting firms. The centre of economic gravity has shifted to the HITEC city, the gleaming IT district on the western periphery where the skilled migrants live.

Although the middle class has benefitted from the boom, their situation has also become more precarious, said Rakesh Reddy, who used to be a software engineer himself. Two decades ago, a family could live comfortably in the city on a monthly income of Rs 15,000, he said. That is impossible now, as a boom in construction and real estate has pushed up prices. The TRS has used its position as Telangana’s ruling party to assure working class voters that it will take care of their interests.

To appeal to the middle class, the TRS used a different strategy. For this they had IT and Panchayati Raj minister, K Taraka Rama Rao, who is known as KTR. He is the suave, English-speaking face of the party in contrast to his father, TRS founder and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, who is more comfortable spouting witticisms in Telugu. KTR was meant to assure a globalised middle class uncomfortable with the rhetoric about a parochial state that the party understood their concerns.

Problems aplenty

Lastly, the large Andhra population, which was the core of the anti-Telangana sentiment also voted for the TRS, because no other party is in a position to protect their interests.

However, winning a majority does not mean that Hyderabad’s urban problems will get solved. Corruption in the civic body blights the quality of works undertaken by it. “Half of the GHMC budget is misappropriated by the eco-system of corruption,” said Padmanabha Reddy, the Secretary of the Forum for Good Governance.

Besides, the delineation of powers is not clear. Water and sewerage is the remit of another agency, while electricity and transport come under different departments. The Metro, which is still under construction, has a different parent while the MMTS suburban rail system is under the control of the Railways.

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Krupabai Satthianadhan’s ‘Saguna’, which appeared in 1887, was largely autobiographical.

The first autobiographical novel by an Indian woman writing in English was both beautiful and profound
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I began this series last summer with the first book written in English by an Indian. So when it was time to read the first book of 2016 for my bottom shelf, I picked another old volume that enjoys a similar honour. This time, it’s by an author who is credited with being the first woman novelist in English from India.

From 1887 to 1888, the Madras Christian College Magazine serialised a story in English called Saguna. It was an autobiographical novel by Krupabai Satthianadhan, a young woman in her twenties. In 1895, a year after her untimely death, Saguna: A Story of Native Christian Life was published posthumously by Srinivasa, Varadachari and Co. in Madras. The book was presented to Queen Victoria who, upon reading it, was so impressed that she asked for more books by the same author.

The novel was read widely both in India and England at the time, and received glowing reviews recommending the book “for its high moral tone.” But then, for the next hundred and odd years, it disappeared from the public eye. It was only in 1998 that Oxford University Press decided to reissue it with an introduction by editor Chandani Lokuge, and a new title: Saguna: The First Autobiographical Novel by an Indian Woman.

An autobiographical novel is defined as a work that merges fiction and autobiographical elements. Saguna captures factual details about the author’s life as well as the prevailing mood of the time with the help of wonderful descriptions, vivid character sketches, and poetic language. As is evident from the original title, it has predominantly Christian overtones, and as the new title indicates, it also deals heavily with “the woman question.”

From life to literature

The book opens with the author stating her intention to “present a faithful picture of the experiences and thoughts of a simple Indian girl.” In the beginning we come to know the autobiographical details, which are very interesting given Krupabai’s education and learning at a time when both were uncommon for women. Here are some of the basics.

Saguna/Krupabai was one of 14 siblings, born in Ahmednagar (then in the Bombay Presidency) to the first Brahmin converts to Christianity. Her father died early, her three elder sisters were married, and she was left at home with four boys for company. It was the eldest brother, Bhasker, who exercised a powerful and permanent influence on the young Saguna.

His death, when Saguna was thirteen, devastated her. In order to recover, she spent some time under the care of two European women who introduced her to British ways, and subsequently attended boarding school in Bombay, where she proved to be a brilliant student and developed an interest in medicine. She was even awarded a scholarship to attend medical school in England, but was not allowed to go due to her poor health and prevailing patriarchal attitudes.

She then entered Madras Medical College, the first medical college in India to admit women, but, unfortunately, was forced to give up her medical career because of depression and ill health. In 1881, she met and fell in love with a reverend’s son, Samuel Sattianadhan, who had just returned from university in England. The novel ends with their marriage, but in her own life Krupabai went on to become a teacher and writer.

A firm believer in girls’ education, she taught in zenanas and opened a small school for Muslim girls. Her essays, poems, travelogues, and fiction originally appeared in local newspapers, journals, and magazines, and were posthumously published in Miscellaneous Writings of Krupabai Sattianadhan. Interestingly, her second novel was called Kamala: A Story of Hindu Life.

Representing a new voice

In her Preface to the OUP edition, Lokuge discusses the persona of the “Indian New-Woman” who emerged during the late nineteenth century, “as a subsequence of British colonialist influences which included educational and socio-religious reforms. Defying institutional patriarchal ideologies that enforced her domesticity and subjectivity, the New-Woman sought greater equality between men and women.”

Sattianadhan begins her book with an account of her mother’s early life. At the time when we first meet Saguna’s mother Radha, she lives with an aging father and a helpless little brother in her older brother’s house. Her sister-in-law is a mean and snide woman, given to fits of violent temper. Radha slaves for her day and night and quietly bears any beatings she is given. Sattianadhan takes pains to point out that it was not just Radha but also other little girls who were thus forced to do housework for their families.

It is this early portrait of what young Hindu girls’ lives were like that paves the way for the two predominant themes in the book, those of the Christian faith and the treatment of women. “Poor girls? What can we expect from such impoverished, stunted minds?” asks Krupabai.

“The refined, civilised mind shudders or looks down with pity on the exhibition as a relic of savagery; and yet these are the daughters of India whose lot is considered as not needing any improvement by many of my countrymen who are highly cultured and who are supposed to have benefitted from Western civilisation.”

Radha’s misfortunes continue after she is forced to go and live with her husband’s family. Her mother-in-law is a stern and pompous woman. Radha is depicted as a helpless and sensitive girl who is completely dependent on other people and has no voice or agency. The two factors that cause her such distress are her sex and the religion she has been born into. Here is an excerpt about her mother-in-law’s treatment of Radha that combines both ideas:

“Her treatment of Radha from an outsider’s point of view was indeed objectionable, but we must make allowance for a Hindu notion of a daughter-in-law who is regarded as a lying, screaming wretch, ever ready to work any amount of ill to a mother-in-law, stealing the affections, when she can, of a good and dutiful son, turning like a serpent on those that have fed and clothed her, trying every means to get the power which the mother-in-law wields.”

From despair to faith

It is against this backdrop that we are introduced to a force that according to the author has the power to rescue people from oppression. One night when she receives a harsh beating by her mother-in-law and also learns of her beloved little brother’s death, Radha tries unsuccessfully to commit suicide. In short, this is her darkest hour. It is on this night that she sees her husband, with whom so far she has had very little interaction, engrossed in Christian prayer. “The words that he uttered seemed to hold her with a power and her whole soul was absorbed in listening. The words fell on her ears with untold balm and healing.”

Radha’s husband Harichandra is an intellectual, well-read young man from a wealthy and “remarkably religious” Brahmin family known for its adherence to high morals and religious rituals. For him and his family Christianity is “the religion of the mlechas.” And yet, following a period of existential crisis and soul searching, it is to this religion that Harichandra turns. The impact on the Brahmin community, needless to say, is scandalous.

But Harichandra’s life is transformed into one of pure bliss. “Here was the infinite revealed in all its perfection, thus showing the possibility of an indissoluble union between God and man…he seemed lifted out of himself, up above all the world. A wild, delirious joy shot through his frame, and all his heart glowed with a new-found happiness. He could bear anything, suffer anything. All difficulties vanished.”

From this moment on in the book, faith becomes an integral theme, and passages of similar grandiose prose extolling the individual’s sublime connection with a higher spiritual power recur. Harichandra is the first in the family to experience the moment, but certainly not the last.

As good as a man?

Initially, Radha is “rebellious and uncontrollable,” refusing to accept the Christians and sahibs, and clinging to her festivals and fasts. But, soon, she too begins to doubt her belief in “shastras and idols.” Eventually, “the calm of the Christian Sabbath, the call for morning and evening prayers, her husband’s devotion, and the great forbearance shown to her ignorant, superstitious ways by those whom she felt were superior to her – these and many other things changed her attitude towards the new religion, and gradually she succumbed to the strong influences of Christianity.” The new faith is shown to be liberating. “There was now no feeling of constraint between Harichandra and Radha. The unnatural fetters of custom had fallen away…”

The children of Harichandra and Radha are devout Christians and even do missionary work in villages, spreading the word of god. The passages that deal with this subject are abstract and lofty and almost sound like sermons. In contrast, the sections dealing with “the woman question” are more concrete and rooted in the characters’ temperaments. Unlike her mother’s gentle and submissive nature, Saguna’s is a lot more feisty and independent. Even as a child, she refuses to accept the traditional place reserved for girls, and wants to be just like her brothers, something they don’t take to kindly.

“ ‘But she wanted to do exactly like us,’ said one of my brothers impetuously in self-defence.

‘And am I not as good as a boy? I can do as many sums as they,’ I said as I came out hastily, afraid of losing ground, ‘and I can read and write too.’ ”

Not only does Saguna read and write, but she does it rather well. Bhasker is the one who encourages her and shows her what books to read, and tells her about famous men. This is the start of a remarkable education and a lifelong love of learning. Later in the book, Saguna proclaims, “I would now throw aside the fetters that bound me and be independent. I had chafed under the restraints and the ties which formed the common lot of women, and I longed for an opportunity to show that a woman is in no way inferior to a man. How hard it seemed to my mind that marriage should be the goal of woman’s ambition, and that she should spend her days in the light trifles of a home life, live to dress, to look pretty, and never know the joy of independence and intellectual work.” Towards the end of the novel, Saguna turns down three marriage proposals in a single scene in favour of independence and a career.

However, her desire for independence does not prevent Saguna from falling in love with Samuel. While the novel ends there, in real life Krupabai went on to give up her career in medicine, and live a fairly conventional married life, following her husband wherever his work took him.

According to Lokuge, Krupabai, despite all her rebellions, remained, at heart, a dependent woman. As a child she idolised her older brother on whom she was totally dependent intellectually and psychologically. Later, she became dependent on her husband.

“She is torn apart by having to assert that she is ‘as good as a man,’ even while admitting the inbuilt compulsion to succumb to the tradition of being “only a woman.” It’s not just in this regard but overall that Sattianadhan displays strong internal conflict between opposing forces.

An internal battlefield

On the one hand, she appears to adopt Western ways of life, beginning with a Western faith. Hers seems to be a colonialist view of things. On the other hand, she consciously critiques Western ways of life. The author herself admits to these moments of self-division. In my opinion, these add a layer of complexity to the book, which, we should not forget, is not just meant to be an evangelical treatise or a manifesto of women’s rights. It is, above all, a novel.

Lokuge calls this book “a literary masterpiece of its time.” It is not hard to see why. This slim volume is full of beautiful language and characters that come alive on the page. Places and scenes are described evocatively. In contrast to the lofty language in the Christian sections, it’s when Sattianadhan writes about people – whom she no doubt knew personally – that her empathy and insight make the scenes quite moving.

For instance, the first time we see Radha, she is standing with her friend by the ghats in the town of Shivagunga. “The two formed a little world in themselves, amidst the large bustling world around them. None knew their feelings, their joys, their sorrows.”

This book would not be half as interesting as it is if it were not for the fact that it is a more or less accurate rendition of the author’s own life. Every now and then, she reflects on the nature of her memory, and how the passage of time has altered her perspective. These not only offer a window into Krupabai’s soul but also make the character of Saguna more introspective and reliable.

Before he got fatally ill, Bhasker often told Saguna that his greatest desire was to do great things. He once pleaded with his sister, “speak boldly to your countrywomen.” Despite Saguna’s own early passing at the age of 32, she has left behind a literary legacy that few Indian readers might be aware of today. In this book we have a fascinating record of an educated, Anglicised Indian woman’s experiences and perspective on issues of national importance towards the end of the nineteenth century. Surely, the adored older brother would have approved.

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Two rare archival interviews with the formidable vocalist.

'They lack logic': Hindustani maestro Bade Ghulam Ali Khan explains why he doesn't like new raags
Photo Credit: via YouTube
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Known for his unbelievable virtuosity, superb intonation, unpredictability, and above all, a unique tonal quality, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (1901-1968), doyen of the Patiala gharana, took the world of Hindustani music by storm in the 1940s. Though inimitable, he left behind a stylistic legacy that has impacted several vocalists of successive generations.

In the series featuring conversations with maestros of Hindustani music, here are two interviews with Bade Ghulam Ali Khan included on a single track. Despite his indifferent health during the first interview, he responds in great detail to wide-ranging questions posed by noted vocalist Naina Devi. He describes his tutelage under his uncle Kale Khan and his father Ali Baksh, and enumerates the stylistic features of the Patiala gharana. Perfect intonation, respect for the structure and the grammar of the raag, proper elaboration of the composition, clarity in taans or swift melodic passages, and preventing the raag and the khayal composition from losing their original character and transforming into a thumri, are some of the characteristics that he mentions. He demonstrates his vocal and tonal range that he had developed as per the instruction he had received and the practice regimen that he had followed.

Responding to a question about styles of thumri, he states that the Purab style was the original one and was later adopted by singers in Punjab. He emphasises that the thumri form cannot be presented well by all artistes, as it requires a different sensibility that is not easy to come by. He elaborates on this by demonstrating the Purab and Punjab styles, constantly mimicking the defects that are noticeable in some thumri singers. In this context, he refers to the exaggerated vocal articulation, the excessive theatrical element and the forceful projection, that he believes hampers the presentation of some singers in both styles.

Dismissing novelty

Bade Ghulam Ali Khan is dismissive of the introduction of new raags in the Hindustani system. He believes this lacks logic and basis, and is often done only to create novelty. In this context, he refers to raags like Kirwani and Charukeshi that were adopted from the Carnatic system. Interestingly, these two raags have been made popular over the past few decades by extremely popular and well-respected performers who have regarded Bade Ghulam Ali Khan as a pathbreaker and an idol, thus proving that changes in repertoire and presentation are inevitable in spite of opposition from older musicians. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan also explains the structural requirements of raags in the Hindustani system. Contradicting popular perception that performers do not articulate their thoughts on the structure and grammar of raags, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan presents his views candidly.

Asked for his reaction to patronage for Hindustani music at the time that this interview was taken, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan states that the number of listeners has increased but not all in the audience are informed about musical subtleties. He compliments the state for its patronage, but he is not very hopeful about the outcome of institutionalised music education. In fact, he clearly states that those who train in music institutions can only be employed as music teachers in schools but cannot perform. He rates practice higher than theory, thus revealing the dichotomy and the tension that existed between practitioners and theoreticians. Clearly, his statements are a reflection of the dismissive position held by many hereditary musicians towards institutionalised music education and knowledge based on the written word.

The 52” interview ends with demonstrations of his compositions.

The second interview features Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s thoughts on the evolution of raags. He demonstrates various folk melodies found in various parts of India and neighbouring regions that he believes later evolved into forms that are now recognised as established raags.

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