Bifurcate the HRD Ministry!

We need a bold new culture policy to preserve our ancient heritages and to project our contemporary brand image.

Before I write about anything else this time, I have to mention two events, one exciting, one saddening. The exciting this is about the archeological discoveries in Athens, Greece, where they have unearthing of  a marble bust of Aristotle, the roman coins showing Brutus, the murderer of Julius Caesar. There is going to be a three-storey New Acropolis Museum.

The sad news is that two of the world’s famous indology depts., one at Cambridge and the other Berlin Institute of Indology closed down their Sanskrit depts. are closed down for want of students! This is terrible news! I don’t know whether the Indian government is awake to this news and what we, Indians, should be doing?

Very unlikely, any action will take place! Such is our apathy! I wrote a letter to the PM about Santiniketan’s decline some months ago. No reply whatever. No routine referring of the same to the HRD ministry. In Rajiv Gandhi time, there was so much activity. I got a long letter from the PM office! What a fall of standards of governance and values!

Our HRD ministry must be bifurcated into education and culture. We need a separate Cabinet rank culture dept.

I am just now reading through Andre Malraux’s “anti-memoirs”. Malraux had the rare standing in the culture world; he studied archeology and orientalism and shaped the Fifth Republic’s culture policy under De Gaulle. Space constraints inhibit my thoughts. I had personal experiences of the French culture houses in every town of France. I just now read about China had destroyed its cultural past; it envies Indian museum’s incomparable art pieces. I also read just now how the visiting Cambodian artist, Arn Chorn Pond, just in Chennai, speaks about the Cambodia’s plunder under the Khmer.

India is a cultural link with these Asian countries and we have re-established the Sanskrit chairs in Cambridge and Berlin to re-capture our long cultural heritage researches in the West.

I have just now come back after attending the famed Chennai’s December music season! What a treat? What a reinvigorating feeling of richness of mind and body! Yes, you can’t have such a rich cultural offering anywhere, in India, except in Chennai. This is the impression that got reinforced this time too.

Chennai politics is rather unpleasant. The very tone and tenor of life in the non-political Chennai is one its cultural richness. In a significant sense I would place Chennai a cut above Kolkatta as a cultural heritage city. Kolkatta has the throbbing high intellectual climate. You can engage in Kolkatta in an international style and even international level conversation, be it literature, poetry, music or economics or philosophy or religion. There is a well-developed long academic heritage in the city. You can hope to meet like-minded persons in all its cafes or in the fashionable Fluerys and bookshops on the Park Street, which also houses the famed Bengal Asiatic Society. But in Chennai I feel deprived of such high caliber environment. In Chennai, rather I get a narrower, more focused emphasis on Carnatic music and Bharata Natyam.This time too I just attended to these pursuits.

Malavika Sarukkai is simple the most outstanding performer in India,I can say with confidence, after watched her brilliant footwork and high emotional and intellectual interpretations of the padams.I also saw the other older persons who are simply out of their old forms.

Luckily this time, I strayed into a programme for the simple reason it was being held in the very hotel venue where I was staying. But this was the real discovery, organized by one foundation devoted to reviving the older and more genuine traditions of the Devadasi system of Sadir /Bharatam before it became Bharata Natyam.

Ironically, for me it was no discovery in fact. It was a sort of homecoming for me. The point is that I was interested in this art for a longer period of time since I founded my own school in my village some four decades ago. Where I had brought the famed “nattuvanars” to teach this dance form.Then,I was in close touch with the Kerala Kalamandalam and my links with the arts go back to my Santiniketan days.

The point is that in Chennai I met the disciples and sons and heirs of the famous Tanjore Quartte’s own heirs.K.P.Kittappa Pillai(who trained a large number in cluding Hema Malini) and his brother K.P.Sivanandam Pillai(the veena maestro).These two stalwarts in their prime were known to me personally! So,I had some reason to feel connected again to this great tradition of artistes.Indu Verma,belonging to the Chchin royal lineage  is the director of the movement, suitably titled as “Forgotten Traditions”. She is young and yet seems pretty steely-willed! To run any institution is difficult these days. And to run a dance revival school is a tough proposition. And she is placed close the giants in the field like Kalashetra. So, Indu Verma’s efforts deserve all praise and support and much recognition.

I met some old hands, there was Tilakavathi of the Kondi family of the famed Tiruvarur Tyagesa temple dancers heritage.There was the living disciple of Balasaraswathi. Then, I was rather happy and yet shocked to see Mr.Gopalakrishnan, the grandson of the legendary Pandanallur Meenakshisundaram Pillai.

The meet was inaugurated by Ganapathy Stapathi, the living legend of stone sculpture, the builder of the many modern Hindu temples in India and abroad, the Tiruvalluvar statue in Kanyakumari was designed and executed by him. He is past 80.A national treasure thought.

I also had the pleasure of meeting some very outstanding scholars in the music and dance tradition. I met the famed Bharata Nat yam scholar and a tireless researcher, B.M.Sundaram; I also met Dr.S.Ramanathan, the former head of music, Madras University. Next day meet also saw some great scholars and musicians of stature.

But alas, there was not enough publicity and the event, in my view, went without much notice and excitement.

But there was always excitement and buzz in the music venue, the Music Academy was house full practically all the time of the day! The Narada Gana Sabha had more space and it had some ambience of leisure that is needed in such places.Sudha Ragunathan has a fan following, I enjoyed listen to her; she seems to have a set formula of items that draw applauses.

Of course, the other sabhas, though located far and wide in all parts of the city, had their own fan crowd. Mylapore Fine Arts Academy presented Chitra Visvesvaran; age has played its trick, now she is past her past glory! The young new face, Swarnamalya at Naradagana Sabha was competent, but her choice of a Ponnayya padam in Telugu was too much a strain for her, perhaps, she must have chosen a Tamil one, so that the audience might have judged her competence clearly. When once we went to hear a vocal concert at the Music Academy, it was past one in the afternoon! The performers were all in their early twenties, including the girl singer (Gayatri).The boys on the violin (Kartik) and mridangam must have been just past their twenties.But what a high level of talent and attainment! It was really amazing! This, I was telling within myself, is the newest of the new talent! It was good for two full hours, we just forgot the lunch! By the time the concert drew to a close I turned back and saw the capacious auditorium jam-packed! That is Chennai! That is music appreciation in Madras Music Academy.

Of course there are two clearly demarcated worlds in Chennai society. One, the high culture, highly sensitive and appreciative society. This makes up the December season crowd in Chennai. Then, there is the garrulous, noisy, unsophisticated world of politics and humdrum life outside this society.

This time we took some time off to see something far and distant. We paid a visit to the Fort St.George Musuem; we saw Robert Clive and his letters so well-preserved. So too the other objects, the uniforms worn by Indian sepoys and policemen etc.

How and why the white men who landed on the shore just before my eyes were able to subdue the Indians, the poor and the rulers? I saw the Nawabs of Arcot in full regalia.

As I was driving past the Amir Mahal, the one given the the British in exchange to the original palace at Chepuak, many thoughts floated in my tired mind. Indians are easy targets for flamboyance, it seems. The British gave us colorful uniforms and taught us formal drills, this captivated us, the poor bellies and hungry mouths! As for the native rulers, we were always unmanly, not suspicious of intruders and we sign on the dot. This Chandragiri raja did whose fort I had visited on way to Thirupathi and here too in Fort.St.George, the Nawab did the same, this time of course to get his debts written off!

What a shame, I wondered, as I got into the milling crowd on the busy Mount Road!

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