Echoes of Silence

posted in: Event Reports | 0

The poetry reading and conversation evening Echoes of Silence was held on Thursday 18 December at 6.30 pm at the FSI hall, South Asian University, Delhi. The programme sought to retrieve lost and painful memories to give shape to the echoes of silences teeming all around us. As the world continues to struggle to make sense of the extent of inhumanity at Peshawar, Echoes of Silence affirmed the role of poetry and art to bridge our polarised world. The evening brought together two eminent writers: Tamil poet in exile R Cheran (Sri Lanka) and English novelist Vikram Kapur (India). Both of them have been working closely with ethnic and religious confrontations in their respective spaces, using at times their creative works to articulate the hushed voices. The conversation that followed the readings was chaired by Kavita Sharma, President of the South Asian University. She opened the evening with one minute of silence for the victims of Peshawar.

Ritu Priya Mehrotra: Health Culture as Continuity

posted in: Event Reports | 0

“Health culture is not just medical culture. It is larger, wider. Looking at health culture, it is understanding that health has always been the primary centre and concern of civilisations.” Disciplinary fields, spaces and times were transcended on December 11th, as community health practitioner and Professor Ritu Priya Mehrotra argued for ‘Health Culture as Continuity’. “This is how we moved along, growing, properly, a sense of health care. Communities evolved, developing technologies to complement the environment, in support of the basic health requirements. Then only, power structures and social stratification happened.” In this long process, phases of biological plateaus permitted further developments: “slowly, a biology-culture balance is arrived at. The community benefits from a low endemicity… till new disturbances arrive: revolutions, invasions.”

KS Radhakrishnan: Bronze as Continuity

posted in: Event Reports | 0

The sculpture becomes. Here is one idea, one paradox that resonated through Gulmohar Hall, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, on the evening of December 4th, as sculptor KS Radhakrishnan invited a large and diverse audience through the journey of four decades of works. A hypnotising journey, when Radhakrishnan, screening through hundreds of artefacts, builds almost inadvertently on all that sculpture, and more specifically bronze, can tell us about creation, art, culture, politics and governance. “The sculpture becomes!” – the wave of inspiration started in 1974, and it grew and disseminated to reach shores all over India and across the world. “I get all this energy simply by doing, by making sculptures. Energy is generated this way, as a flow. It is like a wave: by losing, it gains. It brings us to the next wave.”

Daya Bai: Society as Continuity

posted in: Event Reports | 0

This was not supposed to be your habitual lecture. It could not have been. Daya Bai is much, so much more than a discourse. She is, to say the least, a model. A life, a lifestyle, a series of life decisions with as many confident no-returns as necessary. As many checkpoints left by life to verify that the force of her character is still there, firmly grounded and ready to face all the resistances, the fights, the abuses and the aggressions that our world produces when established orders are questioned. Here she was – tiny body, frail pitch. The hypnosis of an evening. A few minutes to recount some of the marking events of a life dedicated to causes – to the realisation of an ideal, in the most simple and practical forms, by living, by ‘becoming a local’ in villages of Bihar, of Haryana, of Maharashtra, of West Bengal, and finally of Madhya Pradesh, where she has been living with the Goondi people of the Barul village for nineteen years.

EP Unny: The Comic as Continuity

posted in: Event Reports | 1

“The boy is with me every morning. In the middle of all the problems of our times, he brings me solace, happiness… and laughter!” Ravikant’s introductory words felt like the gratefulness of two entire generations – all those who woke up with EP Unny’s cartoons over the last four decades. A cardinal cultural figure was with us for the ninth PRISM Lecture of 2014, but yet, just like his Newspaper Boy, a celebrity hiding behind his subtle humour, his respectful wittiness, his shy smile. “I couldn’t write. I could draw,” recalled Unny of his decision to become a cartoonist. “So, tonight, I face an unusual problem… word count!” The comic cartoon takes birth in the USA, in the first half of the past century. “Its purpose? To entertain.” Increasingly a vital ingredient of the newspaper, the cartoon soon enters its economy. “Initially, it was published to promote the paper, to bring audience. The cartoon creates characters – it permits characterisation.” And, through characterisation, an audience takes shape, following the daily remarks of this rather unique commentator. An early recurrent figure is Richard Outcault’s Yellow Kid, parodying high society antics. “With 20,000 cartoons, the Yellow Kid shows this art can become a rewarding career in the US.”

Uzramma: Cotton Cloth as Continuity

posted in: Event Reports | 2

The story starts as a fairytale. Once upon a time, a country produced enough cotton to clothe its large population, and much of the rest of the world. A tale in which emperors would go to any extent to acquire those refined, light and smooth clothes. And this fairy tale, is the story of cotton cloth in India. And a fairy tale it is, sadly, because the worldwide fame of the past has ironically turned into a leftover industry in its own land, overrun by the capital and energy demanding reign of the power looms. “The handloom is a low carbon production technology for the energy-stressed future,” textile activist Uzramma said, in the introduction of the eighth PRISM lecture of this year’s series… and yet, this industry, which employs nearly fifty million people in the country, is unrecognised, almost invisible, indebted and under-promoted today.

Pepita Seth: Ritual as Continuity

posted in: Event Reports | 1

“She binds a large part of Malabar together; that, there is no doubt.” She is Annapoorneswari, alias Amma, goddess and mother of the people of North Kerala. In the seventh lecture of the PRISM Series 2014, photographer and writer Pepita Seth brought the focus on Kerala, and the Theyyam rituals associated with the worship traditions of Annapoorneswari, to unravel yet another face of culture as continuity. Through her experience of over three decades in the southern state, Pepita Seth could present how some of our oldest traditions, at the crossroads of religion, social order and pre-Hindu rituals, can highlight another model of governance, ancestral yet urgently relevant in today’s world.

Navtej Johar: Physical Traditions as Continuity

posted in: Event Reports | 1

“There are some questions on Yoga that a practitioner such as myself needs to air.” For the sixth event of the PRISM Lecture Series 2014, Navtej Johar delivered a talk that was enlightened and scholarly, but also oriented towards very concrete and quotidian concerns. “In my teachers, in my students, I can see how much Yoga creates Sukha, happiness – it is tangible, evident. This state permits to maintain the moderation of Sattva, surfacing between the creative dynamic of energy and exhaustion that makes Yoga. But, what happens when we block the depth of this Sukha? Yoga creates happiness, but we don’t let it sink. It turns into a dusty carpet we throw in the air – the dust goes off for a little while, until it comes back in another configuration.”

Tapan Chakravarty: Urban Space as Continuity

posted in: Event Reports | 0

Listen around: the city has become, too often, the very emblem of the discontinuous. Till today, we tend to see the city as the absurd reconstruction of an artificial environment, permanently mutating, changing, transforming itself, everyday moving further away from our natural roots. Grand parents regret the peace of the countryside, while parents are nostalgic of the city of their youth. “Pollution, crowd, or time act on us as markers of something,” argued Tapan Chakravarty, “and that thing is discontinuity.” “Space has been taken away in the city, they say…. But, is it really so?” How can we retrieve the continuity of urban spaces? That is the task of urban designers, Chakravarty explained, but the first challenge is one of understanding, for everyone. Continuity is all around us. “What is discontinuity? As long as time does not halt, there is nothing like discontinuity. It may be transformation, mild change, drastic change… but is it always continuity. Discontinuity can only be death, the end of everything.” To undertake this change of outlook, Chakravarty presented his two key words. “There is Thing, and there is Thought. A thing without a thought is useless. A thought without a thing is abstract.”

Vidya Rao: Song as Continuity

posted in: Event Reports | 1

Through the small changes, the tangents, the idiosyncrasies, across decades and regions, a genre grows, expands and relocates. “With Thumri, continuity and discontinuity are not sufficient words. With song traditions, one needs to break those categories.” In the fourth lecture of the LILA PRISM Lecture Series 2014, Thumri-Dadra performer and writer Vidya Rao invited the audience for a journey through the dis/continuous history of the Thumri genre. “In India, we say one should never seek to know the source of a river!” Vidya Rao led the exploration of Thumri’s evolution through a dozen audio excerpts from performances, twelve halts illustrating departures, alternatives and junctions. The examples started with Malka Jaan, one of the earliest singers ever recorded in India, in 1904. At the time, Thumri was performed by courtesans for the entertainment of an elite male audience and for their patrons, with whom they often also were involved in sexual liaisons. But, more than just channels for the sensuous, the Thumri singers influenced their cultural environments.