Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A Sexy C.V.Raman for the Road to Future: Let’s Begin with asking ‘Why the Sky is Blue’


On 22nd December 1968 Nobel Laureate Physicist C.V.Raman while laying the foundation stone for the Community Science Centre in Ahmedabad made a speech, an apparently simplistic speech coming from a Nobel Laureate but loaded with scientific as well as philosophical nuances, which had found its way to the anthologies of speeches that had changed the outlook of the world and initiated the general masses into the scientific spirit of enquiry. Titled ‘Why the Sky is Blue’ this speech was brought to my attention by Dr.Ajitkumar and he promised that the text of the speech would change me for better. Now having read that speech, I would say that Dr.Ajitkumar was absolutely right; here I am, sitting and writing this small note as a changed man!

C.V.Raman uses an ‘academic’ method in developing the speech; by academic what I mean is the spirit of the Grecian academies where Socrates, Plato and Aristotle delved deep into the philosophical issues of life by raising rhetorical questions at times and at other times answering the real questions put to them by their disciples who were only happy to record them for the posterity. C.V.Raman, a Renaissance man whose influence has an unwavering effect on the global scientific community over a century asks a simple question, ‘why the sky is blue’ and explains it based on his life-research that had resulted into the phenomenon called Raman Effect or Raman Scattering.

The rhetoric question here is just a pretext for the great scientist to say a few things pertaining to the changing scenario of the world, especially of India, a young country that had gained its independence from the British and was trying to stand on its own despite the debilitating factors like poverty, illiteracy and an unhappy population. The Nehruvian hopes were waning and the growing religious disturbances were causing a thing of concern. Nehru died as a man in despair; a country with a scientific world view was his ambition which at every step was being thwarted by the divisive religious forces that eyed power through vote bank politics.

C.V.Raman was 78 when he was making this lecture; he too had a Tagorean spirit in him; at once poetic, desperate and melancholic. One could listen to the words of hope emanating from within the words that he articulates, may be in order to overcome the melancholy. He reiterates need for scientific spirit. “This is a very heartening thing because one should not think that scientific work in order to be valuable, should be useful. Scientific work is valuable because it will ultimately prove its value for the whole of human life and human activity. That is the history of modem science. Science has altered the complexion of things around us.” He was not approaching science as a ‘product’ oriented entity on the contrary he had the belief, in an Arnoldian sense, that the disinterested pursuit of science would eventually benefit the humankind for it has eventually ‘altered the complexion of things around us.’

Yes, science does alter things around us but today for making monetary benefits for the corporates that fund the scientific experiments. Hence we could say that today we have a utilitarian science that has subordinated itself to the money machines established by the corporates. But C.V.Raman is more appealing to us today is because he has a contrary view about science. One should say that he has more an idealistic view of science. He celebrates the essence of scientific enquiry than the immediate outcome of it. He says that if one is interested in the outcome, he or she could take a job and get a pay packet but for a scientist enquiry itself is a thing of satisfaction. He says: “Essentially, 1 do not think there is the least difference whatever between the urge that drives a man of science to devote his life to science, to the search for knowledge and the urge that makes workers in other fields devote their lives to achieving something. The greatest thing in life is not the achievement but it is the desire to achieve. It is the effort that we put in, that ultimately is the greatest satisfaction.”

C.V.Raman stands very close to the artistic spirit and in the speech he recognizes the search of an artist and underlines what gives an artist his greatest satisfaction: “What does a poet do? What does a painter do? What does a great sculptor do? He takes a block of marble, chips, goes on chipping and chipping. At the end of it, he produces the dream in the marble. We admire it. But, my young friends please remember what a tremendous amount of concentrated effort has gone in to producing that marble piece. It is the hope of realising something which will last for every which we will admire forever that made him undertake all that work.” What makes the speech more palatable is the scientist’s attitude towards science. He does not ask anyone to sit in the laboratories; instead he says the people to come out and look around. Science starts where your skin ends. Science lies in your immediate surroundings. When Tony Joseph in his path breaking book, ‘Early Indians’ says that to see the first modern human beings who had come out of Africa 65000 years ago you need not even look for a fossil but look at a mirror; there he/she is! We in us carry the genes of the early human beings. Tony Joseph is not far away from C.V.Raman’s spirit. This is the same spirit that finds its expression in Pranay Lal’s book ‘Indica’ where he says that to see the early biological forms we need not go far away but just turn our eyes to our surroundings. It was what Milton stated when he wrote, ‘they also serve who stand and stare’. This is what lies in the Proustian stream of consciousness; this is what Tagore felt when he looked at the sunrise and sunset.

By looking at a Casuarina Tree, Thoru Dutt could articulate the beauty of a morning. From beauty starts the enquiry; what makes the beauty. It could take many lines and the easiest one being the religious and metaphysical one. You don’t know so you could get into the metaphysical ramblings and fix everything to a causative primary being who is the negation of all what you know but the assertion of all what you are. But science moves in a different direction. It asks a question and then pursues the question till it opens up so many avenues of knowledge, at times useful and at times absolutely useless. Scientific enquiry is a never ending enquiry for it discards the absoluteness of everything and assumes the possibility of everything getting better, evolving into new forms of existence. While metaphysics is a dead end, science is a highway which is being laid wherever one is lacking. At times science could get into alleyways and lanes and it could take dirt paths and gravel roads, always with a hope to find a new place, new sight and a new vision. And whenever it wants it could come back to the highway.

We are living in a world where corrupted interpretations of metaphysics for the purposes of religion and vested interested of the corporations (that cleverly use science for money machine and metaphysics for sedation and seduction) has taken an upper hand. A majority of the population has fallen prey to the uncanny charm of the false science. The seduction of it is too irresistible and the irony is that this seduction happens amidst scientific inventions. It is in these confusing times that we need the scientific spirit of people like C.V.Raman whose enquiry starts from a simple question, why the sky is blue and he takes us to the nuances of atmosphere, the formation of clouds, the dust particles, the properties of atmosphere, the transparency of it, the intensity of color spectrum, the varying levels of intensity that the colors could absorb or reflect sunlight, the self-absorption or dispersion of light within the atmosphere, the properties of blue as a color, the day sky, the night sky, the stars, galaxies, the greatness and fun of astronomy and he finally reaches the charm of meteorology; all this by asking a simple question, why the sky is blue.

Let us develop this charming scientific spirit and discard this divisive metaphysics masquerading as religions and vice versa. The bigotry of the political parties could be effectively resisted only through the development of scientific spirit among people. It is a difficult task but it is possible. We need to have the will to do so because we have the technology to spread the message. The seductive power of the violent political establishments that use religion for distracting people to its own purposes is too high and the money power the political establishments wield is enormous; they have the military power in their hands and the policing has become a daily reality. Nazi fiction is going to be a reality in our country soon. Let us look around and look for the scientific clues; let us tell ourselves that the truth is just around us and it is our duty to ‘see’ it. Post truth is postponed truth. Let’s confront blind politics with thousand eyed science, if not with the wondrous eyes of a child that learns the world freshly and undoubtedly.

n  JohnyML

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Meet Bhupesh Kavadia, an artist who turned an arid land into an artist’s H(e)aven in Udaipur

Bhupesh Kavadia dropped out at the school final year. He thought he was not cut to learn things in the conventional way. Then Udaipur, the city of lakes became his university. When he chanced upon a few theatre activists in the city in 1985, he realized that he had a true calling for stage. Acting took him to places and for a school dropout like him it was a ‘strange(r)’ experience in the beginning to talk about names like Albert Camus, Bretolt Brecht and Samuel Becket. But characters devised by them found expression through the acting medium of Bhupesh.

His theatrical expeditions also involved making sets and props for the stage productions and it was then he realized that he had a ‘thing’ for three dimensional sculptures. Papier Mache gave way to clay and he moved to harder materials like granite and marble. Bhupesh did not know that he was slowly turning into a sculptor. Stage gave him two things; a sense of space and an affinity for emotions and ideas made tangible in sculptures. Then came the now notorious art boom. Bhupesh’s marble and granite works found their way to many a collection in India and to his starving coffer came gold glittering in. The money he made out of his sculptures was invested into establishing a gallery in Udaipur which did not have any gallery till then. Part of the fortune was invested in buying a few acres of arid land, undulating and unapproachable. Then the land became the field of his artistic experiments; first he became a forester but planting so many rare and wild trees and then designing the place according to his whims.

Today, askew land looks like a boon by nature and the sight of Aravali hill ranges and the green vales at a distance and near gives away the feeling of a cool hill station. The edifices that are coming up based on Bhupesh’s plan and the expertise of local masons (Bhupesh has not sought the help of architects or structural engineers. He seems to be going by instinct and practical experience) stand evidence to his sense of space. There is a homely space and also an academic space where you have a library and study room. The sprawling kitchen doubles up as a meeting place and a space to whip up a feast as well as some juicy gossips. There are waterbodies and stretching over them are cottages in blown up scale so that the resident artists could feel space, light and air all the time. One of the cottages has curvaceous walls and Bhupesh says that the cottage developed along with the carving of the land. Bhupesh has employed the traditional building techniques of Rajasthan that give an impressive texture and volume to the buildings.

There is a sprawling square that for the time being houses the large scale marble and granite works of Bhupesh, which in fact need city squares or corporate courtyards for permanent display. They are not commissioned. Nor does Bhupesh know where they would go eventually. He collects scrap granite and marbles from quarries and converts them into sculptures. He has also made a foundry space for bronze casting. Bhupesh has a good collection of sculptures and paintings; the collection proves that sculptures are his first love. Udaipur could be attractive for the artists in the coming days because of art spaces like Bhupesh’. “I could have moved to any city. But Udaipur gives me ideas which I could put into practice and this space is such a realization of a long time dream and it is a dream in progress,” says Bhupesh. A must visit art space in Udaipur.

About 'Madhuri Dixit', an academic monograph by Nandana Sen for the British Film Institute

Madhuri Dixit- Cutting into the Life and Times of a Cultural Diva

Had it been any other aspirant of Bollywood stardom than Madhuri Dixit she would have ended up either in some B-Grade masala movies or as one of the side actresses (in saheli/friend roles) in the highly forgettable movies that came out during 1980s, dubbed as the ‘most degenerated phase’ of Hindi films. Madhuri Dixit was determined to stay there and was destined to be the reigning queen for almost a decade and more. Madhuri Dixit, unlike the legendary actresses like Vyjayantimala, Hema Malini and Sridevi had/has the edge of being a Maharashtrian/Marathi that has been one of her rights to claim the top position for a longer time than the other actresses. Madhuri, when debuted in mid 80s was a girl who was there just to try her luck but successive flops made the talented actress in her so determined that she did succeed at last!

That’s how generally success stories are packaged in wide-eyed writings on the film stars that are churned out periodically for mass consumption. But the book ‘Madhuri Dixit’ is an academic monograph and has an absolutely different story to tell. Written by Nandana Bose, former professor at the Department of Film Studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, USA, this monograph is published by the Bloomsbury for the British Film Institute. In this delightful read academic analysis intersperses with the well-known film trivia pertaining to Madhuri Dixit and the inferences give an absolutely different picture about the star actress who had literally sweated it out to make to the top. A powerhouse of talent and an indefatigable experimenter, Madhuri in her hundred and fifty odd films took out all what she could muster up from her talent repertoire but by the time she started her post-marriage second phase in the Bollywood film industry, felt that there was much more to be explored in her. This book does not tell us a lot about how she managed to stay afloat and afresh delivering box office success after success for a long time but it does speak a lot about why it all happened.

In Bollywood, actresses who come in as outsiders (those who do not belong to rooted film families and production houses) are either taken under the wings of powerful actors or are mentored by established directors. In both the cases, the young actresses are seen as ‘mistresses’ or ‘girl friends’ of the chauvinist actors. The protective cover that they gain through the associations with male actors comes with a price of being them called as ‘home breakers’ for most of these males are married, or as lose characters. Madhuri did not face either of these blames and could survive as a ‘pure Marathi middle class woman with traditional values’. Nandana Bose argues that it is not just an actress’ talent that helps her to be but the definite extra-corporeal support that she gains at the initial stage of her career. Madhuri was lucky to have one of the prominent directors, Subhash Gai to come in as her mentor. Boney Kapoor and Anil Kapoor were her well wishers (despite their close association with the then reigning queen, Sridevi) and the junior Kapoor even shared his efficient personal manager Rakesh ‘Rikku’ Nath with Madhuri. This could save the actress from many shames that could have come along while negotiating with roles and business deals with the male chauvinist members in the filmdom.

Nandana Bose delineates how Saroj Khan, the iconic and legendary choreographer in the Bollywood film industry literally ‘shaped’ Madhuri into a performing body and a ‘text’. Also Khatoon, Madhuri’s hairdresser also had played a pivotal role in keeping Madhuri away from unwanted and unwarranted exchanges and attentions. The book also deals with Madhuri as a text and how extratextual cultural indexes and markers worked for her in making her stardom more alluring and pristine. An actresses who steer cleared all the gossips regarding her possible alliances with male actors always had the ‘pure middle class woman’ image on her side. She gave value to the existence of the middle class girls and her fashion statements became the fashion statements of a larger female population among the Indian middle class. Her body was open to male gaze and it was always in a male desire induced dream that her skin was exposed not in ‘reality’. The apparent vulgarity of her ‘dance’ movements that had created a lot of controversies however did not touch her personality because it was always either for keeping ‘rama dharma’ that she did those acts or always it happened in the wet dreams of the males which she never had the agency to stop.

The author also probes into the construct of the ideal middle class Hindu woman as portrayed by many a Madhuri character. Each time she moves out of the decorum of a middle class Hindu woman, her characters very carefully and cleverly get back into the fold without challenging the patriarchal structures. However, Madhuri Dixit has acted in a few movies which had strong feminist undertones, like Mrutyudand, Gulabi Gang and so on. Madhuri’s marriage with Dr.Sriram Nene in an arranged marriage though had broken many a heart in India, redeemed her into the minds of the very same ‘Hindu’ men and women who thought that Madhuri could retain the virtue of the mythical Sita who eventually got united with ‘Sriram’ Nene. Madhuri’s second phase starts with her appearance as a judge in the reality shows, advertisement icon and then her coming back vehicle, ‘Aaja Nachle’. Nandana Bose says how her image as a dancing star reiterated itself in the film’s narrative and later proved it to be the mainstay of Madhuri’s new avatar as an entrepreneur in the digital interfaces keeping ‘dance’ as the center of her business discourse. The extra-textual associations have always come to help the Madhuri myth going in the transmedia interfaces that she chose to play with. She also very skillfully adopted herself into the social media platforms by engaging new age agencies to work for her, assuring her image is always there in the public not only for star gazing and inspiration but also for scrutiny.

Though academic in nature, this monograph is really a page turner both for the informed reader and someone who delights him/herself in film trivia. Reading of this book makes you go and have a relook at the works referred in this book, which I did quite devotedly and it has proved to be another added dimension to the understanding of the book’s narrative, the subject’s life and the very zeitgeist of the Madhuri movies which not only created the Madhuri icon but also symbiotically created a cultural situation within which the Madhuri transgressions could be enjoyed and contained.
 JohnyML