Connecting through culture

 Connecting through culture

Let’s face books. Not time pass facebook or data, meta, peta. What’s a book? Paper, cover, print and photos? Or, between two covers there are ideas that can change world, inspire individuals or help motivate society? Even move governments or make them fall. But, books today are like the radio of a bygone era. A sense of good times gone by. When time was productive (not a product) and life was peaceful not full of pieces.

An index of level of society or a city’s culture is how many bookshops or libraries exist. Look around your own city. What do you see? Earlier, there were 200 bookshops in Delhi, 20 in CP alone. Or 50 in Daryaganj, where most publishers were and are still located. Khan market one. Now 10! Bangalore had 55 shops. Chennai 25. Kol, a whole street! All loved to read but purchasing power was low. Bombay (now Mumbai) the financial capital of India loved account books more and just about 10, Ahemdabad two, Baroda one. Now? Go see for yourself (above tally I did in each city as we wanted to avoid 40 per cent commission distributors took just to make our yearbook attenDance reach max).

Now, in digital age there is less interest to kindle love for books. There’s less and less of physical space for books. Almost everyone is on facebook but not many people are found facing a book. On trains (most railway stations had a Higginbotham’s outlet) or planes earlier one saw some people reading a book or a magazine. Or in shops, even hotels and malls buying a book. Reading. Books are getting rarer. In this age of Facebook, real books have been a casualty. Publishers additionally suffered Covid too, as trade declined. International fairs didn’t take place; promotional events too a no no. Shops had closed down even earlier but these two years made most shut permanently. In each city the story is the same.

In this scenario, if any book on dance or yoga or music or allied arts came out then the credit goes to those few who worked at it, against all odds. Sarkari agencies like the IGNCA or ICCR, Shubhi publishers or high-end Niyogi, even Sterling. Add Sage (social science more) or Wisdom Tree that flower and fruit.

The IGNCA has flowered under Dr Sachchidanand Joshi and the ICCR under Dr Vinay Sahasrabuddhe. In worst of pandemic times, these two institutions, under able leaderships, delivered much nationally and internationally. They had also mooted the idea, two years ago, of a compendium on culture that was comprehensive. The idea was to package Indian mind, thought and philosophy for the world. A conundrum of Indian culture, its soft power. Its strengths.

ICCR is the official cultural wing of the Foreign Ministry and over 60 years of existence has had a rather on-off existence, depending on who was heading it. Maulana Azad was the first founder head, then also India’s education minister. Then a succession of ministers and heads came, drawn from the IFS. That’s Indian Foreign Service. Manorama Bhalla in the 70s left a mark, Allan Nazareth in the 80s, Lalit Mansingh in the 90s and Veena Sikri too, later. Suresh Goel’s term in the 2010s was active. Vasant Sathe then Karan Singh sahib’s presidentship gave the body clout, although earlier, by convention, the Vice President of India was also the President of the ICCR. Today, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Education, Social welfare and Women’s issues, Dr Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, is the president of the ICCR and lots of new directions and initiatives are being undertaken, some in collaboration with the IGNCA where a dynamic cultured person Dr Sachchidanand Joshi did remarkably well in his first term, that earned him a second term of five years. IGNCA was a giant cultural institution opposite India Gate, inaugurated with fanfare in 1980s; then did some seminal work under its founder-head Kapila Vatsyayan but after her demitting office, the institution languished and finally was in coma for a decade until this government appointed new, dynamic trustees like Sonal Mansingh, Padma Subrahmaniyam, Saryu Doshi, Prasoon Joshi and Bharat Gupt under the leadership of Dr Sachchidanand Joshi. Not to forget the IGNCA’s able president Ram Bahadur Rai sahib, the Constitution expert and distinguished former editor of Jansatta/IE group. Today, it is India’s most happening and only multi -disciplinary cultural institution, with branches all over the country. It is also undertaking lots of projects for the Ministry of Culture, its parent body.

Foreign Minister S Jaishankar no less released the compendium, Connecting Through Culture, on Guru Purnima day (July 13) with Governor of Kerala in attendance. Both are erudite speakers with lateral knowledge. The FM spoke on shades of soft power that itself is layered, he said there’s the good cop like this anthology purports to be; then there’s global world of military, economic and political realities. Arif Khan sahib, the Governor of Kerala, is a Sanskrit scholar to boot and most knowledgeable person on scriptures of both Hinduism and Islam. He speaks with authority and substance.

Connecting Culture

He opened the next day full-day symposium too at the IIC, where most of the contributing authors participated. Many inter/nationally renowned names decorate the almost 300 page tome: Amish Tripathi, Arif Khan, late Alka Raghuvanshi, Pushpesh Pant, Jaya Jaitly, Shyam Banerji, yours truly and so on.

In the opening session itself the ICCR president focused on key issues of 51 vs 49 syndrome. What does one do with 49 per cent of a debate or democracy that doesn’t agree with any issue 51 per cent population does? He twice took up “knotty issues” that plague the sense of entitlement vs empowerment. This actually is the kernel of this govt.

Dr Joshi in his address touched on need for dialogue. Else, how will the twain meet and eat at a common table, when the cultural pie is under-funded. Just point 0.11 per cent, not even one per cent of the national budget. While all speakers had something to offer, the top five who used their 10 allotted minutes effectively were Amish Tripathi (mall as centre of modern cities vs temples earlier); Pushpesh Pant, shatabdi speed as ever, with full command of the subject of food as culture; Jaya Jaitly on crafts and its creators who never wasted resources; Dr Shubhada Joshi on types of yoga and Arvind Singh, Secretary-Tourism on reality check today. I’m told I was humorous with meaningful engagement. Shyam Banerji is an all-rounder and sang his way through – ably and importantly- since music culture had not been touched at all in two days of exchange.

Such a book (at just under Rs 900/-, co- published by Wisdom Tree and available on Amazon) will help India present itself on world foras and reach out. Indian culture is the best calling card for India. Not steel or low-end IT. It has unique features that touch humanity. Mind, body and soul.

Another arts and culture publisher is Shubhi. Its catalogue shows how much work they have done in arts, indology, culture and the owner Sanjay Arya, helps all: first-time writers, established ones and important ones, to reach out. He offers terms that are acceptable and helps publish books no one else will touch. In that, he is doing social work. When big publishers with deep pockets have failed to do anything for Indian arts and culture, this man has continued to help the field.

A Moment in Time by Alka Raghuvanshi was re-printed by Shubhi and launched at Habitat with a grand function on her first death anniversary (May 26). Alka was a solid arts writer and editor at Pioneer, in the 90s. She was of the old school, pucca and polished. She came up the hard way and made a difference to the art world. She leaves a rich legacy of sari designing and crafts which her sister Manisha is trying to fulfil. A moment in Time is like a book stood in time: Black and white photographs, many giants of the art world from MS to MF. Painters, musicians, dancers, gurus and divas get platformed. Theatre names are added on like Uttara Baokar.

Connecting Culture

I know most of those featured closely so I read word to word on one I didn’t know much about : BV Karanth. His life story comes through. The poverty he grew up in as a child in Udupi. His struggle post Parsi theatre, Vibha Mishra case and more. His contribution and complexes. Manohar Singh is another feature in the book that engages. That Ali Akbar Khan had a serious Jodhpur connection was a revelation. The book is a slice of art history. Alka is a novelist at heart; she delights in descriptive writing. This book is well packaged and presented. Congrats, to all involved.

Involving three authors for one book on one subject, that too biographical is not good but one recent book on Kathak’s unsung talent, Pt Mohanrao Kallianpurkar shows three authors need not necessarily make a khichdi but a nice dish. Well packaged with even QR code at base to get more information on photos, this book looks ordinary in design and print but has first rate content, inside. Vidhushi Shama Bhate, research scholar Arshiya Sethi and polyglot Shilpa Bhide – all deserve credit for putting together a handsome book that shares history and heritage of Kathak through the persona of one rather neglected guru. Prologue itself shows Arshiya’s American exposure through two Fulbright scholarships. Words unused in Indian dance writing: Paviour, in title. Shibboleths page 10; Templars! Add tectonic shifts and “unbridled ways of Kathak gurus” are delectable and ever so nicely put. Americans are actually very polite people; in films and in world events, they look violent. In the book, Footnotes are very good too. Like Page 26, tracing the lineage of Shamsi or Samsi. I met Pt Yogesh Samsi in Tanjore in February and asked him of his Kashmiri lineage and he was shocked that a Madrasi knew of that. That he is also Pt Dinakar Kaikani’s grandson I didn’t know. Some sweeping statements abound too like on Page 25. Kathak remains indebted to them… For giving dignity Whoa! No art form can be credited with few individuals; many make it.

Connecting Culture

All said and done at just 495/- it’s a steal. One can’t even buy a family-sized pizza these days for that! Sterling the publisher stands complimented for maintaining good production values too.

First published book for an author is akin to first love. One keeps looking at it! Harsha Rani with her unusual compilation on Gurudwara as cultural space/museum “open to the sky” must feel the same. Recently out, this surely looks at a very visited place of religious significance as a cultural space too. Original idea. Kudos Harsha Kumari. The book is well researched and received.

Connecting Culture

Receiving patronage from sarkari bodies is much easier under Modi rule. Culture Ministry has many schemes to help artistes and mega events like Amrit Mahotsava have funds to fund many events all over India. Now, government should support book trade and publishers, especially in the field of Indian cultural education as artists don’t have purchasing power and schools and colleges could be an important outreach. Can you imagine if all schools and college libraries bought an art book? Five to 10000 copies will sell in a jiffy. Achhe din indeed!

Ashish Mohan Khokar is a reputed authority on Indian arts and culture, with 40 years
of exemplary work in the field. He is also hailed as the gold standard of art journalism.
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1 Comment

  • I am a book love and though I’ve been gifted Kindle don’t use it as much as a book. It’s sad that children do not read as much as we do. I do try and encourage it in my class. I’ll do it with more vigour now!!!

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