Tag Archives: India

135JournalsAudioReview: Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History Podcast

19 Sep

Feeling puple. April 2017. Alexandra Hanson-Harding.

Got my podcast listening face on. Alexandra Hanson-Harding.

I’m sitting here among my breakfast crumbs, verklempt. I have just finished listening to the Season Two, Episode Five, edition of Revisionist History Podcast, which is entitled, “The Prime Minister and the Prof.” It is about the friendship of Winston Churchill to an odd scientist named Frederick Lindemann which affected the course of World War II in some painful ways. Although I consider myself a history buff and am rarely surprised by “Did you know” history stories, I was stunned by hearing about a brutal famine in Bengal in 1943 and its effects.

If you are familiar with the work of Malcolm Gladwell, you will no doubt know that one of the gifts of his style is his ability to follow the golden thread of his curiosity down some very unexpected byways and draw some very interesting conclusions. At times, this is also his curse, as some of those conclusions can seem, at least to me, rather simplistic. Still, if taken in the proper spirit of skepticism, it is fascinating to go along on the journey of Gladwell’s lightning mind. And I also like to consider his way of thinking as a role model for how I can tackle a wayward question that occurs to me–to pursue it, wherever it goes, and learn whatever I learn on the journey to its answer. He reminds me that it really does take a lifetime to become an educated person, and that there are many different ways to learn.

There are two seasons of ten episodes each of Revisionist History now available on http://panoply.fm/ which has a number of other great podcasts, including the The Gist, http://panoply.fm/podcasts/SM7755575778, Unorthodox, http://panoply.fm/podcasts/unorthodox, The Grift, http://panoply.fm/podcasts/thegrift, and more. The husband and I devoured all of Season One in a single gulp, and we’re trying to ration ourselves with season 2. I could give you the titles of what is in Season 1_-Saigon 1965 is one episode. The Big Man Can’t Shoot is another. Food Fight is another. But what you really need to know is: What you assume in the beginning is not where you’ll end up at the end. And you’ll go through a very interesting journey to learn why. It’s a really great way to spend 35 minutes or so, one that you’ll remember long after it’s over. Two thumbs definitely up!

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135 Journals Theater Review: India Ink by Tom Stoppard

14 Sep
Radha

Krishna and Radha, together at last. Painting from the Brooklyn Museum (via Wikimedia Commons).

35 Journals Theater Review: India Ink by Tom Stoppard

 

Last night the Mr. and I continued what is becoming the preview of “See-a-play-for-his-birthday” month. And by preview I mean, this is not even his birthday month, and his birthday is at the end of THAT. A few weeks ago we saw a blah play whose name I cannot even remember, but last night’s production of India Ink at the Roundabout Theater in New York, New York, was indeed a gem, as are, in my opinion, all of Tom Stoppard’s plays. The first play I ever saw of his was Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. My English teacher took a few of the biggest nerds (i.e; me and my best friends) to see a production of this amazing play, which combines Dadaism and Shakespeare to amazing effect. Thank you, Mr. Denver! That is just one of the ways that Mr. Paul Denver changed my life. But I will write more about that at a later time. The other plays I have seen by Tom Stoppard have been equally thought-provoking, not to mention incredibly well-researched. I have come away from them with much to think about, even when I found them at times, shall we say, discursive and undramatic in parts. Stoppard has enough confidence in his audience to 1. Assume that they are reasonably well-educated; 2. Give them enough information so that if they missed something, there has been enough discussion of the major issues so that by the time the person has left the play, he and she will know where to start digging for more; and 3. He actually does tell interesting stories in his plays.

India Ink is a story set in two different times: in 1930 when a glamorous poet named Flora Crewe comes to India “for her health”—despite the fact that India at that time and no doubt today were infamous to putting an end to one quickly. She rents a small villa and meets an artist named Nirad Das who wants to paint a portrait of the poet (as indeed, Modigliani had—NUDE!!!). Simultaneously, and overlappingly (if such is a word) it is also set in the 1980s, when a biographer named Eldon Pike is overcome with excitement as he reads the correspondence of and interviews Flora’s sister, Eleanor Swan. Soon, Eldon is ready for the fainting couch because it is rumored that there is a painting of Eleanor Swan by an Indian painter, once again, NUDE. Not nude as in “Damn, I don’t know what to wear.” Nude as in an allusion to the Hindi god Krishna’s married lover Radha, the most beautiful of the cowmaidens (Gopis, I think?) who would cluster around him. Radha waited naked in a house waiting for love. Basically, if Flora had been painted naked by an Indian artist at that time, it would be an even more scandalous breach of the times’ mores. Not that Flora would have cared. As her sister archly noted, “Flora used men like batteries. If one wore out, she’d plug in another one for energy.”

Much of the play is devoted to the mystery of seeing if the modern day Eldon and his Indian colleagues—and Nirad Das’s son—will find out the true story of this rumor and who the artist is if it exists. But along the way, one is exposed to a slice of history as rich as the Battenberg cakes and “sponge” that Mrs. Swan stuffs her guests with. It grapples with the coexisting cooperation unrest between Hindus and Muslims that existed at that time, Gandhi’s salt march, the fact that more and more Indians were being invited to join the government, but not the clubs, the ways that the English considered that their great contribution was making India “governable” (although it points to ways that it did not—for example, there were parts of India, notably Rajasthan, that were controlled by princely states rather than the British themselves–) and the idea that what ruined the British/Indian system was when the Suez Canal opened and “Memsahibs”—British ladies—could join their husbands, so the husbands were no longer forced to deal with the local population for their, um, family needs. One fairly sympathetic British character is amazed that the Indians don’t rise up and slaughter the English. The intensely Anglophilic nature of certain aspects of Indian culture is mentioned repeatedly, with affection, bemusement, and dismay. If one knew nothing about India, one would absorb a lot quite painlessly, following the story of the free-spirited Flora. But it is absolute catnip for those who find India, its art, history, theology, and intensely atmospheric way of being itself (which means being a million different things as well as being one things—somewhat like the Hindu gods) endlessly intriguing. As my husband teaches Asian literature and I have not only edited several thick books on India but have had the good fortune to have a number of Indian friends, this was like a parade of hits. We even have a beautiful painting of Radha being courted by Krishna in a clearing in our living room.

One thing that I found interesting, frustrating, fair, brave, and/or annoying (can’t decide) was Stoppard’s choice to write this story—his take on India, basically—from the perspective of /or a story about a white woman. Naturally, it harkens back to (and even refers to) Forster’s A Passage to India (at least in part). It was an interesting choice to write from an English woman’s perspective rather than an Indian one. But then again, in this modern era, when there are so many famous and talented Indian writers who can tell their own stories, it seems less bothersome to let Stoppard choose the story that calls to him. Especially because, as the husband says, I wish I could have read the script over—it was so rich, and it didn’t have that “forced” quality many plays have—four people are waiting in the room waiting to find out who the murderer is or whatever.”

So, will the flutey, flirty, frail Flora be, um, united in a very special relationship with India? As I think I said at the end of every book report I wrote, “You’ll just have to wait and see for yourself.”
In the meantime, four thumbs up from the two of us!

Writing Prompt: When you think of India, what images, tastes, bits of history, and more come to mind?

Jana Gana Mana

30 Sep

Yesterday, at Toastmasters, the Table Topics questions section, (at which the Table Topics Mistress can ask a question of anybody and it is that person’s responsibility  to figure out a two minute answer), the beautiful Monica, who looked lovelier than usual in an elegant salwar kameez, asked questions on the theme of India. As part of her presentation, she played India’s  national anthem, Jana Gana Mana. This anthem was first sung in 1911, was made India’s national anthem in 1950, and has now celebrated its hundredth birthday.

Something was tickling at the back of my mind as I heard the anthem. And then I remembered why. It’s because it was written by one of India’s greatest figures, Nobel Prize for Literature winner Rabindranath Tagore in the early part of the century. Tagore had one of those brains which try everything. He was an Indian nationalist (especially Bengali) when most of India was under British rule. He was interested in art and music (writing more than 2,230 songs), science, read widely of the Western classics, traveled and met with famous people all over the world, started a famous school, and did many other things.

But there is one small, ironic story I want to tell today about Jana Gana Mana. The words, in English (Thank you, Wikipidia (http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jana_Gana_Mana_) are

Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people,

Dispenser of India’s destiny.

Thy name rouses the hearts of Punjab,

Sindh, Gujarat, and Maratha,

Of the  Dravida and  Orissa and Bengal;

It echoes in the hills of the Vindhyas and Himalayas,

mingles in the music of Jamuna and Ganges and is

chanted by the waves of the Indian Sea.

They pray for thy blessings and sing thy praise.

The saving of all people waits in thy hand,

Thou dispenser of India’s destiny.
 victory forever.

The story is that some people assumed that the “You” that Tagore was talking about was King George V of Great Britain. But Tagore was disgusted by that idea. According to the Wikipidia article, he wrote in a letter to a friend, “A certain high official in His Majesty’s service. . .  had requested that I write a song of felicitation towards the Emperor. The request simply amazed me. It caused a great stir in my heart. In response to that great mental turmoil, I pronounced the victory in Jana Gana Mana of that Bhagya Vidhata [ed. God of Destiny] of India who has from age after age held steadfast the reins of India’s chariot through rise and fall, through the straight path and the curved. That Lord of Destiny, that Reader of the Collective Mind of India, that Perennial Guide, could never be George V, George VI, or any other George. Even my official friend understood this about the song. After all, even if his admiration for the crown was excessive, he was not lacking in simple common sense.”

It would indeed be strange for a man whose entire life was devoted to Indian independence to call the British emperor “Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people,
 Dispenser of India’s destiny.” Certainly King George V WAS the dispenser of India’s destiny—but not forever! And he most certainly was not the ruler of India’s minds!

Here is a longish recording of all five verses. But notice how beautiful it is. How so many national anthems seem indistinguishable, but the music of this one is deeply and truly Indian in nature.

And Jaya jaya jaya he, to my Indian friends, Victory—and peace—to your amazing land.

 

Prompt: Have you ever had anyone COMPLETELY misunderstand what you were trying to say?

India’s National Anthem in 39 individual voices.