Saturday, May 31, 2014

India colours seasons of auctions in London


New Delhi/London
India is the colour of the summer auction season in London- both on and off the ground. A private collection of paintings dating between 1600-1800 CE, “India on Paper” is on sale online at the global art auctioneer Christie’s from May 29-June 12. Collected by a European connoisseur for over three decades, the collection comprises 50 lots from six major Indian School of paintings, ranging in geography from the Himalayan foothills to Karnataka.
The collection includes Pahari works from Bilaspur and Kangra and south Indian Deccani miniature art from Mysore and from Aurangabad in the Deccan region. The estimates for the collection range between £7000 and  £ 20,000.
The auction house said the sale featured paintings from the Mughal and the Provincial Mughal schools as well. The highlights of the sale includes a large Pahari illustration from a dispersed “Harivamsa” series painted in Kangra in Himachal Pradesh by an artist Purkhu in 1830 CE. The painting describes the moment when Krishna and Indra go to battle for the wives — both of whom covet the Parijata tree. When both Krishna and Indra realize that they cannot beat each other to acquire the tree, they decide to keep the tree at Dwarka in modern day Gujarart.
The Harivamsa – the story of the dynasty of Hari or Vishnu – is a excerpt Mahabharata in three chapters.
Two important collectibles in the series are a couple of miniatures from Bikaner — one showing a couple on a terrace, which is probably an illustration from the Bharamasa and Ragamala series inspired by the Desakar classical raga – dating to the 1710 CE and an Equestrian portrait of Raja Sujan Singh painted by Ustad Qasim dating to 1720 CE.
In another sale on June 11 at Christie’s London, a collection of Indian modern and contemporary masters will go under the hammer led by “Man & Woman Grinding Their Teeth (1957)” – a satirical and dark painting by contemporary icon Francis Newton Souza. The double portrait executed in the typical Souza style of figurative abstraction from the artist’s experimental decades between 1950-1970s borrows from the traditional African art and cubism. The figures have mask like faces and elongated torsos. It is estimated at £1,000,000. ($1,700,000-2,500,000).
The large-scale work was formerly owned by Harold Kovner, a wealthy American hospital owner and collector who was a patron and admirer of the artist during a critical period in Souza’s life.
An accompanying photograph shows Souza at work in his studio/ It was shot by lenswoman Ida Kar in the same year the artist painted Man & Woman…” 
A second portrait, also from the collection of Kovner, “Imbecile Girl in a Green Blouse”, is an arresting three-quarter length portrait of a half-naked girl set against a crimson background, It is estimated at £120,000-180,000 ($210,000-300,000)
The sale also features works by Indian modern masters from the Collection of Willem Baars, a pioneering Dutch gallerist, critic and curator. The collection includes an outstanding selection of contemporary works by Indian artists. Since the 1990s, when Willem Baars made his first trip to India as a backpacking 19-year-old, he has become a great patron, respected collector and gallerist, who was instrumental in making Amsterdam, the unlikely artistic and creative haven for many Indian contemporary artists. His exceptional collection is a product of passion, a keen eye and most importantly, friendship. Baars has been a great friend to many artists he met on his trips to India. Artists like Jitish Kallat, Bharti Kher, Bhupen Khakhar and Bose Krishnamachari would often visit him in Amsterdam and tour the city pillion-riding on Baar’s bicycle.
Thirty-one art works from Baar’s collection are on sale in the auction including Jitish Kallat’s (b.1974) FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions), a work from a 2003 series showing the head of a boy in triplicate with FAQ wriiten in bold across the centre of the canvas.
A senior spokesperson for the Christie’s said the June 11 sale would be the second of this year’s four sales for the auction house’ international department which would conclude with a sale in India, to be held in Mumbai this December. The debut sale of Christie’s in Mumbai was held last winter on Dec 19, 2013 .
Elsewhere in the sale, is a work painted two years after S.H. Raza became the first foreign artist to win the prestigious Prix de la Critique in Paris. The painting. L’Orage from a private Canadian collection represents the epitome of the artist’s experimentation with colour and structure in the 1950s and is one of his “largest and most ambitious works of the period”. Raza uses gestural brushstrokes and a heavy impasto to build up a stormy autumnal scene, in stylistic devices that foreshadow his later more abstract landscapes of the 1960s and 1970s. The work is £300,000-500,000 / $510,000-840,000)
A painting of a seated woman “Untitled” by Tyeb Mehta (1925-2009) is a vivid portrait in orange and blue representing a period when Mehta was experimenting with texture through thick impasto and bright colours having seen the work of the European expressionists on a visit to England in 1959. “Bhishma”, a free flowing composition by Arpita Singh addresses the challenging social and political issues of the 1990s using mythology as an allegorical tool.
The 1997 painting depicts the story of “Bhisma” in the final scene from the battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas in the epic Mahabharata. The warring sides are shown as modern day rival gangs waging a street fight. The painting is estimated at £80,000-120,000 ($140,000-200,000 ). Also on sale is Night” , a highly nuanced and symbolic painting by Bhupen Kakhar, which was shown in an exhibition at the Mumbai’s National Gallery of Modern Art in 2003, a year before the artist's death. “Night”, a study in mega scale, is inexorably linked to Kakhar’s alternative sexuality — a scenario in which the artist imagines life as a marginalized member of a lower middle class community of homosexuals in India. The work is estimated at £180,000-250,000 ($310,000-420,000).
The contemporary highlight is Atul Dodiya’s “Black Moon”, shutter portrait commenting on the socio-politics of contemporary India.
The auction house is presenting showcase of the last nine paintings of contemporary legend M.F. Husain at the V&Museum in London from May 28 to July 27, 2014. -Staff Writer

Monday, May 26, 2014

A design revolution from the grassroots to workshops - across India


By Madhusree Chatterjee

A geometric contraption, sleek and flashy, with a large monitor screen kept a hawk’s watch on the cricket buffs who thronged the venues to catch their cricket icons in action in the last Indian Premier League season. The visitor management system (VMS) is a new tracking apparatus that can record the facilities accessed by specific visitors and provide documentation on the whereabouts in a public venue. It is designer in appearance and easy to operate. The manufacturers claim that the machine can help security personnel screen individuals and allow them access to secure areas of operation.
 In the last IPL cricket season, the flamboyant visitor management system was a hit.
 Design is an important aspect of mass consumers’ and individual utility products in India with companies and standalone manufacturers warming up to the need of aesthetics in technology to package their wares for better user-efficiency. The contemporary design manual of India, however, reads a little different from its counterparts in the developed nations. It takes into account affordability, visual aesthetics, economy of scale, eco-compatibility, competitiveness, reduction of production processes, downscaling of overheads and at the same time ensures quality to meet global standards. The design solutions have to relate to diverse segments among the spectrum of consumers to cater to the traditional mindsets of the domestic buyers and the ideas of minimal ethnic chic that international buyers seek from Indian designers.
“We have a national design policy that works on the slogan ‘made in India for the world’. We have to make this a reality. The Indian design is difficult to define, but it has to ensure quality at the bottom and keep in mind artistic traditions of the country,” Pradyumna Vyas, the director of the National School of Design (Ahmedabad), told this writer in the national capital, explaining th essence of the new Indian design paradigm.
 Vyas is at the helm of a national design movement in the country, the “Design Clinic”, which is helping medium and small scale industries (MSMEs) in India to streamline their products with design interventions to make them more user-friendly and competitive in the market. The Design Clinic, which provides solutions to MSMEs was launched in 2010 under the aegis of the National Institute of Design and the Indian ministry of commerce.
 The director of the National Institute of Design said the "objective of the  campaign was to enhance the manufacturing competency” of the micro-medium-and small enterprises through design strategies to improvise on product designs, processes, commercialization of scale, ergonomics, packaging and many other system-related activity through design support. The Design Clinic has since mobilized interface between the designers’ fraternity and entrepreneurs with 311 design awareness seminars and 160 design awareness programmes in the last four years. Statistics cite that over 250 design projects were in various stages of progress across the country.
 The figures furnished by National Institute of Design are impressive —Over 300 MSME clusters have been design sensitized with seminars and the design needs of more than 185 clusters accessed  spot design solutions. A query as to why the government has targeted the MSMEs for a design intervention programme throws light on the need and the potential for design intervention in this  sector.
 “The medium, micro and the small scale sector is a huge area which employs the largest workforce in the country after agriculture. The entrepreneurs in these sectors have to come out with innovative products that can survive competition from the multinational companies with value addition through design and creative packaging,” Vyas said. The exponential growth in the sector since independence and  globalization have been the primary inspiration for the campaign. “I want to let people (sic consumers) know that a small industry can offer quality with design – manufacture products that are economical, user-friendly, upgraded and with a feel good factor,’ the director of NID said.
 The project operates on a three-pronged premise – it tries to build design awareness by taking designers and solutions to the doorstep of the industry, as several medium and small scale factories in the country have no idea about the importance of design in their products, convince entrepreneurs to invest in design to reap higher returns and pools designers from the fraternity - of design students, design faculty and professional designers - to intervene as teams across the country.
 By bringing together designers and those who have competitive initiatives under one umbrella, the “clinic” has been able to create a holistic report about the status of design and industry, Shashank Mehta, activity chairperson of the Design Clinic said. One of the advantages of the design movement has been creation of linkages at multiple levels – between designers, manufacturers, academia, artists, workforce and governments. It has led to the growth  of a new segment of self-taught designers with technical background, who have become innovators, Mehta said.
 The design movement in India is not confined to the industry alone — a parallel movement in the field of utility arts is coming closer to the industry to forge a greater linkage with the nationwide design intervention movement on the strength of a wide range of “highly aesthetic utility designer goods”. Bulk if it is household accessory and lifestyle products – which provide cost-effective alternatives to the fast-moving consumer goods and lifestyle segments.
 The Sunil Sethi Design Alliance (SSDA) connects local material to craftspeople with designer training programmes and market nodes for networks to sell crafts based designer products in the domestic and international markets. The alliance uses local material like metal, stone, wood, terracotta and natural fabrics on a mass production scale by requisitioning the services of trained designers, who mobilize craftspeople at the grassroots with awareness and innovations.
 “Crafts is well accepted in the global market. The products made in India using Indian crafts traditions are sold at some of the best of stores worldwide. However, the creative brief and the vision comes from the world market – and the formal foreign clients who commission manufacturing in India,” Sunil Sethi of SSDA told this writer in an interview. Sethi, who heads the Fashion Design of India, said the “creative brief of Indian design must change from west-oriented notions of creative expression to a more indigenised designs”.\ The change will only happen when India is secure and confident about brand India. In fact, tremendous efforts are being made by the government and different bodies at the grassroots to create opportunities for people craftspeople and artisans, Sethi pointed out.
“It is the industry link which is missing, wherein Indian designers, who are not working under the creative vision of international brands and stories, get recognized for their creativity,” Sethi said.The design veteran pointed to three broad trends in the lifestyle design segments — a desire to experiment with new techniques and material, collaborations and crossing over of different genres.
 “The world is ready to embrace brand India – but Indian designers need to be more serious about it. In the last five years, the primary change that is visible today is that crafts will be accepted at every level- be it in the luxury segment or on the high street. Use of natural material is in global demand. Sustainable fabrics and textiles using techniques like block printing and vegetable dyes that are part of our tradition – today have a global market,” Sethi said.  It is the sensibility in design that needs to be adapted in a global language, he argued.
Beside textiles, “stones and table ware from India in contemporary products using traditional Indian material are rising in appeal as well, Sethi explained. India is a country known for its colours; but “it is important to show restraint in the colour palette and showcase the nuances of the textures in Indian handicrafts instead in the international market.”
 The most significant trend in the design naufacture industry is that it is no longer necessary to target economies of scale and “produce in large numbers”. Boutique stories and brands positions are gaining toehold globally and the “niche trade” networks are working for India where most of the  crafts-based manufacturing is cottage industry, requiring flexibility, Sethi said. “We can now focus on quality”.
 Innovation and diversity of material are integral to design innovations both at the industrial and lifestyle accessory segments. Designers like Abraham & Thakore, Anupama Kundoo, Thukral & Tagra and Gunjan Gupta say the “today’s fashion is becoming more post-conceptual in nature” – marking a homecoming for designers who are falling back on roots material, crafts base and minimalist motifs and cuts in basic colours to make brand India more assertive — and create an identity both at the overseas and domestic platforms.  Beside the private initiatives, the government of India has been promoting ethnic crafts-based design with the creation of ethnic crafts haats (markets) clusters across the country  - where local artisans are allowed to hawk their wares directly to buyers without the mediation of touts or networks of middlemen in the metrpolitan centres. "The government has to be more proactive in promoting India-made designer products in the global markets," crafts activist Jaya Jaitly said.   
 In a design showcase, “Made in India – Samskara” few months ago under the global “Be Open” project, a global design promotion campaign, five leading Indian designers revived a traditional range of material and crafts like “gadda”, “bori”, traditional glass blowing, terracotta, metal,  stone craft, meenakari, and temple ware in contemporary lifestyle products.
 “It is the way we use the material that gives the products new sensibilities,” Rakesh Thakore of Abraham & Thakore, said. Thakore’s strength lies in his hand-woven fabrics which he uses for designer scarves, sari and clothings. Thakore’s creations, like many designers in India, reflect the spirit of  minimalim and adaptabality to the western styles sustained by an  Indian aesthetic core.
 International design promoter Yelena Baturina, who conceived the “Be Open” design promotion campaign globally, says her mission is to find best proponents of the hand-made designs today and find a place for their works in the future. “I strongly believe that the future of design making is grounded in the past – therefore keeping the heritage alive is vital,” Baturina told this writer in an interview. India figures on the top on the list of priority nations.
 There are many things said about the artistic energy of India – its extraordinary living mythology, the presence of the past, its spirituality and simultaneously its “contemporaniety”,” the promoter said. All this makes India, “a more remarkable place to launch a global investigation into bringing the past into the present and future.
 Another integral component of the behind the design movement in India is to alleviate fears that globalization, free trade and mass market production are threats to artisans - by turning “the free trade economy into an opportunity for craftspeople at the grassroots”. "We are committed to making it a reality," Padyumna Vyas, the director of the National School of Design said.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Urban stories drive new literature in India, sub-continent


New Delhi
Cities are the new preserves of profound creative theatres in India- luring scores of young expressionists to paint their urban experiences and whims in words. The city has been an aggressive wellspring of an urban literature blitz in India for the last decade, spreading its wings to bring new terrain into its metropolitan folds across the length and breadth of this vast country - with more stories.
Urban literature is now a genre by itself unlike in the initial decades of the 20th century and before when lives played out in the rural landscapes before moving for their climatic denouements to the city. Now, literature is conceived and scripted within the urban precincts rarely accompanied by the need to see beyond the concrete skyline.
Three new books – Capital by Rana Dasgupta, Conversations in the Nude by Mihir Srivastava and The Americans by Chitra Viraragavan – explores four quaint urban facets of transformation, mobility demography and the aesthetics of metro-sexuality that are making up the cities and people of 21st century India.
Writer-reporter and artist Mihir Srivastava – a city slicker- reports about nudism through live drawings of nude subjects with whom he strikes conversations about freedom, aesthetics and the liberation of the human body from the confines of clothes and conventions – by encouraging them to shed clothes for posing sessions some of which lasts for days and even years.
Nudity in the contemporary Indian urban matrix means many things – a desire to come clean of urban pretentions that imposes a code of modern conduct on a human being as socially sensible species, a empowerment of the self and the body; self discovery, venting of existential blues, rebellion and a latent longing to the connect to the basic human nature by way of a dialogue between artist and the nude subject.
“I don’t consider myself as an artist to start with. I am not sure whether it is art I have written about. I look at it as reportage. As a journalist in a big city, I experienced a kid of existential dilemmas. I have always been witness to extraordinary situations. Over a period of time, these extraordinary circumstances became clinical- how people live and die. The stories brought enormous boredom after 10 years as a reporter,” Srivastava said. It was around this time that he began to draw nude as a hobby to tide over his urban blues.
“Once I took it up as a hobby – I realized that nudity was not an end but a ticket to enter into this very specialist place – ‘private place for public nudity,” Srivastava told this writer at his home in an upscale South Delhi neighbourhood- a quiet residential cluster, where no one questions Srivastava’s essentially metro lifestyle.
He lets his home out to “house guests from all over the world” for months at a stretch. The guests, mostly foreign – who come to India as scholars, artists or Indophiles for a brush with the eastern mystique -- share Srivastava’s home and sample Indian urban comforts.
It is this sense of sharing without reservations that makes Srivastava very prosaic about the subjects he paints. “People project a certain identity – a complex identity, a professional identity, regional, linguistic and sexual identity. There is a great spiritual tension because of this – you are trying to control what people should think of you. Nudity, on its part, is an entry port to the space where you feel vulnerable because you think you can’t project or control perceptions,” Srivastava said. The writer-artist exploits this vulnerability to “its outermost limits” by allowing his subjects to get over the shame of being nude till the point “when the social condition that we have to project an identity gives away and nudity becomes the strongest means of self-assertion,” Srivastava explained this growing urban obsession with nudity in Indian mega cities, where lives are making fast-track detours to experimental tracks- and in a way reconnection to man’s primal desire for freedom from frills.
“Power equations change as my subjects begin to feel – this is who I am,” the artist said. Srivastava in his auto-biographical account about a painter of nude bodies tries to bring about this politics of the body through his experiences and anecdotes about painting people without clothes. The dialogues point to a new social paradigm where “the comfort level and acceptance of the body as it is on the rise”. Nudity is dispossession as well, the artist said.
“Sometimes, Srivastava has sex with his subjects. “But it does not get into my art,” he said.
The phenomenon of nudity as a statement in the modern civilisation stage dates back to the early history when Vatsayana conceived the “Kamasutra” – the first-ever love manual that showed lovers in various stages of undress and love – as an aesthetic statement. Over the millennia, nudity has been subject to conventions, religious dictum, and social repression as an aberration to emerge as a fashion signature in the 20th century west – with artists and votaries of human freedom endorsing it as a symbol of urban empowerment and even protest. IN India, the hippie movement of the 1970s unshackled several inhibitions associated with the acceptance of the body in the nude.
It is an urban reality for the artist in me, Srivastava, who is preparing to set out on a world nude painting tour in the near future.
If transformation is the thread that runs through Srivastava’s urban obsession, then writer Chitra Viraraghvan’s debut novel, “The Americans” address the transformation stories of the Indian immigrants’ to America in the 1990s-2000s. She narrates the changes through a motley cast of oddball characters who went to America post globalization and turned their lives around– doing what they had never dreamed of achieving in new worlds.
Drain has been an urban spur of transformation and demographic realignments since the run-up to globalization when the best brains from the developing worlds – primarily from India and south-east Asia – sought high-net worth professional trappings of the west that dangled as carrots for hundreds of young service seekers in white collared rings. Engineers, doctors, finance graduates, scientists and intellectuals moved westward creating a new cultural vocabulary – the immigrants’ tale.
This culture of relocation prompted an oeuvre of literature – the diaspora novel which took a look at the first generation of immigrant Asians in the west through stories of adaptations, naturalizations and integration in a curiously Indian way into the mainstream rainbow society. A second stream of literary exposition was the account of experiences by outsider immigrant – the ones who went to study in United States ivy leagues from the premier urban centres of India in a rush of graduate entrance tests. They were “foreign educated” urban Indian writers, who recollected their trysts with the west in literary retrospect in urban story-telling that related to the evolution of the socio-politico- historical and cultural landscapes they straddled. The pioneers of this genre – a group of writers like Bharati Mukherjee, Jhumpa Lahiri and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni to recall a few – wrote about India from a western perspective because they lived in the west unlike their predecessors during the colonial Raj, who marveled at the colours of a maharaja’s India a century earlier.
“I wrote what I saw there. I was intuited to see how those groups who migrated from India dealt with American racism and class consciousness. Personally, these issues meant a lot because I belonged to the urban privileged class. But when I reached America (Boston), I realized I was an Indian. Race became an issue for me to deal with,” Chitra Viraraghavan said.
The writer, who went to America in the mid-Nineties to study, transformed her own life. “Indians in America live a little ghetto life- devoted to earning money. Most Indians fit into that category and enjoy it. But I broke away from the immigrants’ stereotype to lead a American life… It gave me chance to explore the immigrants’ stories from around the world, meet Indians who had ceased to be their old selves,” the writer explained.
As urban Indians, “one usually has a notion what India is; you cannot define India”. “Indians have this certain sense of superiority. This superior power is put to test when they negotiate the American landscape,” Viraraghavan said. The writer draws those people who have given up their Indianness to “make new choices that are sometime chaotic, dysfunctional and melodramatic”.
The underlying theme of both Raghavan’s and Srivastava’s narrative is globalization – where the boundaries crumble under the onslaught of mobility and flight maps which have melted the physical walls separating geography - into one global village.
The opening of the Indian economy in the 1990s bore its first flush in urban centres, when the multinational companies came knocking on the doors to open a different level of competition and corporate awareness among educated middle class with an ability to assimilate. A group of Indian writers, who were exposed to the tides of globalization early on cashed in on the spirit of “lazes faire” with Anglophone narratives that moved to and fro across India and its global chain.
Writers like Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Upamanyu Chatterjee, Shashi Tharoor, Anita Desai and Amitav Ghosh - to name a few – wrote about the new Indian, whose ethos spread beyond the boundaries of the nation. They were urban to the core with an individualistic Indianness that smelt of western capitalism because of their encounters with the occident.
One such writer is Rana Dasgupta, whose books, “Tokyo Cancelled”, “Solo” and “Capital” have been tempered by his status as a global Indian – who finds his stories in the cities of the world he has either lived in or has visited.
His latest novel, “Capital: ….” , released last year is an investigation into the changing soul of the country’s political powerhouse, New Delhi, an ancient city that has grown over the years – in the midst of the vagaries of history – to become a cosmopolitan urban magnate with a demography that has transformed radically to make room for an Indian microcosm. Dasgupta, unlike Mihir Srivastava or Chitra Viraraghavan, does not find his stories from the Indian urban archetypes and quirks alone; he is a global writer who likes to write about countries much removed from the cultural praxis of India – and its global connections- like Bulgaria in his award-winning novel “Solo” or as in his collection of contemporary folk tales “Tokyo Cancelled” set in the world capitals as an outsider, who reacts to the peculiarities of bigger urban civilization of a post-globalised nature.
“Do I like Delhi…,” Dasgupta pointed to the essence of his novel, “Capital” in an attempt to answer the question. “The Capital is one of my most significant books about the pains and anxieties in my relationship with the city to which I moved in 2000,” he said. All his three books were plotted in the city of Delhi – despite their diverse locales which Dasgupta were reminiscences of his earlier rendezvous with the globe.
“I lived in New York before and when I came to New Delhi, I discovered different kinds of cultural contexts. And just as I was writing the book, the contexts were changing. Capital tells the story of my arrival into the city and the stories of a certain cross-section of people- like the artists, bohemians, urban floaters, intellectuals and service men who make up the new capital. After five years of arrival to the city, 26/11 happened…This book has been written in the spirit of therapy,” Dasgupta said.
Delhi may be Dasgupta’s muse, but the “boundaries of excitement, the unforeseen and the sense of renewal” that the novel probes as the new urban foundations of uncertainty and exhilaration of living in mega cities applies to Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru and Kolkata in India – and to London, New York and Paris – the global capitals as well.
“The trend began with Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City,” says Chiki Sarkar, publisher of Penguin-Random House India. Mehta, who wrote about Mumbai as a maximum metropolis of his thought-scape in 2003-2004 encapsulating the transformation, culture and the colours of the city opened the gates to a flood of writers like Arvind Adiga, Vikram Chandra, Chetan Bhagat, Jeet Thayil, Gregory David Roberts (of Shantaram fame) and scores, who saw in the city the stories they wanted to tell – sitting like aural halos in the lives of the ordinary and extraordinary who inhabited urban landscape.
“Mumbai is a city of great drama probably because of the movie industry. It is any writer’s goldmine. Every person I meet in Mumbai, whether he is a betel shop owner, a cop or a crime reporter, has a story to tell. One can use the urban landscape and real geographies  ,” Vikram Chandra, the author of the cult novel, “Love and Longing in Bombay” said. (take more)
Another such urban phenomenon is Chetan Bhagat- the mass market’s best-welling writer who is a household name in urban India for his stories about new Indian realities of love, friendship, changing corporate cultures and social sensitivities – that combine both the heartland and elite urban India to comment on migration, demographic compositions of the neo-middle class, youth and the impact of globalization on cities.
Growth of new cities and the proliferation of English as a medium of education have been two of the biggest catalysts in the explosion of urban literature. As cities tier themselves into the hinterland, new young authors like Ravinder Singh – India’s phenomenal motivational love story writer – from smaller towns like Chandigarh have cast their spell on the average young reader with tales of “despair and love possible several times over”.
A current of renewal drives the new urban literature to speak of hope and find meanings in mundane urban joys- like in Nilanjana S. Roy’s award winning book, “The Wildlings”- an allegorical tale about Delhi’s stray cats, left to fend for themselves in the highrise clusters.
Experts say the “sociology of urban literature is difficult to quantify”. While on one hand, writers tend to become inured to the circumstances around them” on the other, a segment react violently to new social realities. The right stand is to strike a balance between fiction and real life.
Publishers say the segmentation of the mass urban readership into categories like “chick lit”, “young adults”, “literary fictions”, “alternative literature” and “contemporary mass market novels” have powered the growth of urban literature that has been pushing the farthest frontiers of story-telling. Business is most brisk in the urban mass market segment with publishers like Rupa & Co, Harper Collins-India and Penguin-Random House India devoting much of their resources and commissioning energies to urban mass market literature.
In a fast changing cultural and economic landscape where rural-urban migration has peaked in India, urban readers want to identify with their environs. Cities are the big things of the future. It is the city where all action has gravitated and in all likelihood will gather pace.
Publisher and chief editor of Harper Collins V.A. Karthika says "segmentation that was once seen to be important for more focused selling and marketing is now becoming less relevant". "Any category you can think of is also subcategorised in various ways and the metadata that drives online search engines reference points of intersection rather than differentiation. So urban literature which, in the case of English language publishing, means nearly all fiction barring the odd exception and of course translations from other languages, is also romance or politics or crime or humour or whatever other category it fits. It seems to me that in India, the 'pure literary' is more and more a notional category of privilege. What readers appear to be looking for is prose they can access, and stories they can embrace as their own," Karthika said. 
The great Indian urban middle class – the country’s highest literate block- wants to participate in the nationalism of the future. There is greater engagement at the intellectual level, says writer Pavan Varma, the author of “The New Indian Middle Class”.
-Madhusree Chatterjee

(Conversations in the Nude, The Americans and The New Indian Middle Class have been published by Harper Collins. The Capital has been published by Penguin India)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

'Manmohan Singh should have contested 2009 election to make a mark'


The decline of the Congress as a political party with a credible realpolitik to identify with the masses in thelast five years may not be entirely tied to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s paucity of strength to prove himself as an aggressive helmsman in the face of an autocratic high command, but the fact that the Prime Minister caved in to Sonia Gandhi’s post-2009 decisions has a lot to with the disenchantment of the middle class, who had pinned their hopes on a dynamic Prime Minister in 2004-2005. Manmohan Singh rode the wave of globalization in the early 1990s as the finance minister in the erstwhile Narasimha Rao government to carve a niche for himself as a man of vision for India in the new world order. “I think as I say in my book that the single important mistake in the political career of Manmohan Singh was his decision not to contest the election as a Lok Sabha (Parliament) candidate in 2009. Had he contested the Lok Sabha poll, he could have pushed his way harder in the party and it would have been a different government,” writer-journalist Sanjaya Baru, former media adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, said at the launch of a political biography of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, “The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh” on May 12, 2014. Baru, who left his career as a journalist for The Financial Express to join Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as his media adviser in the first United Progressive Alliance government in 2004, had seen the man in action for four years with an ear to the ground. 
The Prime Minister had offered him the job with the words, “Sitting here, I know I will be isolated from the outside world, I want you to be my eyes and ears. Tell me what you know, without fear or favour.” Ten years later, Baru is back to journalism but richer in experience after a tumultuous tenure at the Prime Minister’s Office. As Manmohan Singh’s spin doctor and trusted aide for four years, Baru observed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh closely and his often troubled relationship with his ministers, his cautious equations with Sonia Gandhi and how he dealt with big crises like “keeping the Left in amicable humour” and pushing the nuclear deal through.
Baru in his book throws insights into the flaws in Manmohan Singh’s polity as well – and underlines the weaknesses in his persona that have led to his near-disappearance from the media and public space in the last one year - at a time when the UPA was in dire need of a face to project as a Prime Minister of steel to counter the Narendra Modi wave whipped up by the rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“Manmohan Singh changed a lot from UPA 1 to UPA II (the two tenures of the Congress led United Progressive Alliance). His perceptions had changed as his persona. I think at the end of the day, it was lack of communication, lack of belief and lack of credibility,” Baru said, pointing to the factors which led to the undoing of Manmohan Singh. But in the same vein, Baru defends the Prime Minister, he had been close to for four years.
“Each coalition and every Prime Minister had to deal with corruption of colleagues they trusted. Rajiv Gandhi had to retain HKL Bhagat in the Cabinet. Jawaharlal Nehru too had corrupt ministers. You cannot blame Dr Singh if he did not take action against his ‘corrupt’ loyalists in the party because they were someone else’s loyalists who defended the Prime Minister (like Sharad Pawar). His equations with Pranab Mukherjee were civil,” the author said.
This is a Barack Obama life story. “If he had succeeded in UPA II, there would not have been any Arvind Kejriwal. He was the middle class dream- the boy from rural Punjab who had to walk miles to school and who won the Adam Smith prize for Economics in London… He could have left behind a legacy. That would have been a middle class role model,” Baru said. 
In his book, Baru explores the beginning of this slide in the final chapter, “Epilogue: Manmohan’s Legacy”. The chapter opens with a one-line question that Prime Minister asks himself. “Am I in Trouble?” in October 2010.
“The nuclear deal may have been the crowning glory of Manmohan Singh’s first term. As Narasimha Rao’s finance minister, he had made history by opening up the economy. Having conceded greater part of the turf to Sonia Gandhi and his senior colleagues, foreign policy was one of the areas he had zealously guarded the space, he had secured for himself. It was in that area that he could articulate his vision for India in a changing world and project his personality without coming into conflict with the priorities and the profile of the Congress president,” Baru says in his book.
Had there been no opposition to the nuclear deal, it would have neither have gained Manmohan Singh notoriety among his critics, Had the BJP claimed credit for starting it all or the Left had claimed credit, it would have many founding fathers. Had Sonia Gandhi fully backed Manmohan Singh on the deal, the Congress would have claimed credit. But none of it happened. Manmohan Singh was left to his own devices to move the world community in favour of the deal. He went to Washington DC, China and Pakistan to bend resistance over the deal. In the face of Sonia Gandhi’s wavering commitment to the nuclear deal, Manmohan Singh underscored his own relevance. It was around this time that Manmohan Singh displayed his skills as an astute politico by befriending Amar Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadavas well  to consolidate Congress position after the Left deserted Congress.
“His act of self-assertion against an ideologically motivated cabal dictating foreign policy to the government paid off. His reputation soared. The urban middle class that had deserted the Congress and had voted for Atal Bihari Vajpeyee in 1999 returned to the Congress fold in 2009. With that electoral victory, he now made a different kind of history, becoming the first Prime Minister after Jawaharlal Nehru to have returned to office after a full five-year term and with an improved majority to boot,” Baru says in his book.
Manmohan Singh did not contest the Lok Sabha poll in 2009 but became the indisputable candidate to head the country- and in course obligated himself to the high command. “In democratic politics, electoral victory is the ultimate test of performance and the prize every politician cherishes,” Baru writes. Dr Singh believed that he had delivered on that score in the summer of 2009, but then “he made the cardinal mistake of imagining that victory was his”.
Bit by bit, he was put in place and "defanged", when Sonia Gandhi nipped his dreams of inducting own coterie of ministers. She offered the financial portfolio to then Union minister Pranab Mukherjee without even consulting Manmohan Singh. It set off a silent power struggle between Singh and his party command which put its own ministerial apparatus in place bucking the Prime Minister's wishes- and choices.   

-Madhusree Chatterjee
(The book has been published by Penguin Viking. It is priced Rs 599)