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A 21ST CENTURY GENERAL TO A 15TH CENTURY FORT

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A 21ST CENTURY GENERAL TO A 15TH CENTURY FORT
File photo of the majestic Mehrangarh Fort

HITESHREE DAS

“Which museum director would go in the courtyard and play cricket with the school children? Karni”

—Neil Greentree

Jodhpur serves as the heart of Marwar. Through tactful utilisation of its undulated topography for defence and water conservation, Jodhpur as a capital city was established in 1459 AD. Thus was laid the groundwork for Mehrangarh Fort, a 1200-acre engineering marvel carved out of monolithic volcanic rock and sandstone. So colossal are the fort’s proportions that Kipling called it “the work of giants.” In its current life as the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, this 15th century fort has served as a leading cultural institution at the forefront of conservation and a centre for academic study under its 21st century general, the late director Karni Singh Jasol.

I have had the honour of calling him my uncle and, more affectionately, Mamosa. The Indian term for a maternal uncle, “mama,” literally translates to “a person twice as much as a mother,” implying a rare relationship with another person who would do twice as many things unconditionally as your own mother and that is exactly what my relationship with my mamosa was.

I recall accompanying my parents as a four-year-old to see him off at the Delhi Cantt. Railway station after his meetings and staying two additional days to help organise and attend my fourth birthday celebration.

I was insistent on going to Jodhpur with my mamosa, simply to remain around him a little longer. Perhaps the choice to write this article about him stems from a similar wish: to be with him for just a little bit longer, for one last time.

My uncle was introduced to the distinguished world of art history very early in his childhood, while his father Thakur Nahar Singhji Jasol (my grandfather) served as a historian and the second director of the Mehrangarh fort.

In its formative stages as a site of tourist attraction, the fort created formal jobs for the people of Marwar. People of all ranks, castes, and classes were offered positions as museum attendants, gatekeepers, and tour guides in a post-independent India when jobs were rarely offered to those without a formal school-level education. Families in need from my grandmother’s hamlet, Kunda, thrust deep in the Thar Desert, were given an opportunity to contribute to the birth of a pioneering cultural institution that Mehrangarh was to become in a few decades. As a child, my uncle would often be carried on the shoulders of the people who worked there, and soon he grew up to shoulder the responsibility of their progress and their children’s development. Perhaps my uncle’s implicit exposure to the subject in the context of a redeveloping institution with limited resources, yet a source of hope for many, influenced his perspective of the arts differently, compared to the emerging art scene in the Indian metropolis. Trained by Mapu (Late Martand Singhji) and Marukh Tarapor, my uncle sought to provide livelihoods and a respectable lifestyle for the people of Marwar by revitalising traditional knowledge systems.

While my uncle learned primarily through observation and executed tasks pragmatically, he was also formally trained in museology. After his schooling at Mayo College, Ajmer, he pursued museum management, Indian history, and ethno-archaeology at Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU), Vadodara. Soon after, he was awarded the Charles Wallace Award for his study on the collection management and storage system at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He subsequently also received the Nehru Trust Award, the Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award, Fulbright Scholar Recognition, and a certification from UNESCO for being the key person responsible for museum artefact conservation and interpretation at Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad.

“Karni is Mehrangarh, and Mehrangarh is Karni” say those who’ve known him. He viewed Mehrangarh as a landscape of palaces, water bodies, religious sites, and gardens that collaboratively contribute to providing a glimpse into the relentless spirit of Marwar—one that can turn “scarcity into success.” He provided this as a unique view to any cultural discourse at a global forum. In contrast to most museum complexes in the West, he urged and emphasised that any historical site in this geography must first proclaim its original role as a cultural space or a public service institution before identifying as a museum.

Although I like to compare his role as the director of the fort to that of an army general. Instead of stiff khakis and medals on the breast pocket, this general was usually adorned in cotton shirts, a linen Nehru jacket with a pocket square, dark corduroy trousers, and formal laced shoes or mojris. Statuesquely tall, firm in his walk and decisions, yet gentle and graceful in the way he carried himself. Opening the door for a lady, be she young or senior, offering help to lift heavy luggage without knowing another person, or giving a ride to a stranger waiting for conveyance in the heat—all came naturally to him. He defined what it means to be a true gentleman. He thought in simple and practical ways. His instructions and advice were always well thought through, to-the-point and brief, just like the meetings he called upon.

In the year 2001, Karni Singh Jasol set foot in Mehrangarh in a professional capacity as an assistant curator. “That day was a special day disguised in normality. “No one imagined this slender, innocent boy would take Mehrangarh and Marwar to the world’s stage some day,” says Dr. Mahendra Singh Tanwar, assistant director of the Library & Archives at Mehrangarh.

Under the guidance of His Highness Maharaja Gaj Singhji II, my uncle carried out his commandant’s vision as his own. He had the rare quality of making fine observations and distilling ideas to their absolute essence.

The restoration of the Nagaur-Ahhichatragarh fort is one such example. Under my uncle’s leadership, the Mehrangarh Museum Trust undertook its mighty restoration project, using a blend of both traditional building methods and modern scientific techniques. Today, the fort serves as a revered venue for the World Sacred Spirit Festival, a music festival that transcends communities, cultures, and creeds through spiritual music traditions like sufi and baul.

Within an “auspicious” number of 21 years, he transformed the Mehrangarh fort into an archetypal cultural and educational institution by implementing an adaptive re-use strategy. The mahals serve as galleries, displaying a collection of the royal arms, paintings, and palinquins. Courtyards that were once utilised for ceremonial functions now serve as exotic venues for the RIFF, a collaborative folk music festival. The Zenana that was once home to recuperation and maternal care for the maiden queen, is now utilized as the conservation lab. Chidiya Nathji ro Maidan, a field used to train armies, is now a cricket gound forutilisedt’s staff and their children.

While he spent many years perfecting each aspect of the fort experience—from accessibility to cleanliness to visitor engagement—he spent the last decade thinking about how to connect these attributes.Perhaps, as he progressed from an assistant curator to serving as the fort’s director, this idea expanded with him. He called it the Museum Re-Imagination Project.

As per his Museum Re-Imagination Brief, the mighty Mehrangarh experience begins even before one enters its gates. The majestic entrance was to be paired with the drum beats of the royal nagarchis, to provide a glimpse into the dramatic ceremonial processions witnessed by the fort for over six centuries. The Indian custom of offering money to support the arts was the impetus for relocating musicians near the entryway on an accessible platform.

Thus, Karni Singh Jasol first provided jobs and learning opportunities to the people of Marwar, then catered to a diverse audience of the fort and its upkeep, and finally, he presented a dynamic institutional example to the world. He was a modern thinker on a mission to change how history is perceived as a past subject. He brought the fort back to life, not in its “original” glory but in its true living sense as an adaptive space that has always facilitated co-creation and, above all, served the needs of its people.

My uncle spent many weekends ploughing fields in his hometown, Jasol, and then returned to the office on Monday mornings to virtually meet with curators at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the CSMVS Museum at Mumbai. Similarly, he would host embassy delegations for Champagne tours at the fort at 6 p.m. and be back in the village by 9 p.m., savouring sogras and curd. There was always a blazer hanging behind his seat and a safa placed in the passenger seat, as he frequented Jasol and Jodhpur.

He left a fine example of utilising local creative potential to not only sustain families but many villages of the desert region, weaving an aesthetic of endurance through the ease with which he traversed the intangible barriers between the two realms of art and grassroots people.

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The Union Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology and Union Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, on Thursday said India will be a significant player in the digital economy. “India has been advancing toward a new era of technology. The nation will become a major force in the digital economy within a year. All Indians share the vision of a developed India, which is reflected in the expanding digital economy of the nation.”

In an interactive session with Professor MD Nalapat and Priya Sahgal at the first Capital Dialouge, organised by The Sunday Guardian Foundation, the Union minister said, “India will play a vital role in entrepreneurship and the digital economy. 

Post-Covid, we have reimagined our ambitions, and talking about a trillion-dollar economy is a critical discussion. There has been discussion about a five-trillion-dollar economy in the past, but over the last two and a half years, the acceleration of digitalisation around the world has led to a permanent change in the global value of all products and services. We have come to a point where we are confident that India will be a significant player in the digital world.”

The digital economy has constituted about 6% to 8% of the overall economy, and the goal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to achieve a minimum of 20% of the overall GDP by 2025–2026. Apart from the incentives and schemes of the government, the momentum, and determination of young entrepreneurs play a key role in enabling a strong digital economy. 

Explaining the concept of ‘New India for Young India’, the minister, said, “The last few years have been a difficult time as the world had to deal with the pandemic. However, we have produced a very strong, surging digital economy, as well as strong innovation and startup ecosystem growth. Over 102 unicorns and 75000 startups have grown in India as a result of global-scale innovation and products and services. This gives us the confidence of a trillion-dollar digital economy.”

The journey, when 90% of mobile phones were imported to one where 97% are country-made-manufactured phones, demonstrates the success of India’s digital economy. Today, almost 55000 crores of mobile brands are exported from India. From 2014 to 2018, the digital economy has been slowly building, followed by the growth of investments. 

Similarly, the launch of 5G is a big joy as it represents ‘transformation’. Speaking about the launching of 5G, the minister said, “Indian technology is finding its place in cutting-edge technology.” Reminiscent of the days when all services were imported, India has come a long way, establishing a strong presence in the world of future 5G wireless hi-tech Indian products.

With the growth of entrepreneurship, the unemployment rate has also come down, although, the aftereffects of the pandemic cannot be negated. Hospitality, one of the major employment generators, is left with a deep scar post-pandemic. However, the rebound is taking place slowly, and around 10 lakh net new jobs are being created in the technology sector, where 54% of women are, presently, employed. The revamping of the digital ecosystem along with local economic opportunities based on districts and migratory opportunities will soon provide more employment to Indian youth. 

Highlighting upskilling and reskilling Indian youth, the minister said, “In the future, various institutions, trainers, students, and so on will come on one platform to assess and provide suggestions about local opportunities that will lead to empowerment.”

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The Royal Swedish Academy on Thursday awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in literature to French writer Annie Ernaux for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory. 

“BREAKING NEWS: The 2022 #NobelPrize in Literature is awarded to the French author Annie Ernaux for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory,” the official Twitter handle of The Nobel Prize said. “French writer Annie Ernaux – awarded the 2022 #NobelPrize in Literature – was born in 1940 and grew up in the small town of Yvetot in Normandy, where her parents had a combined grocery store and cafe. Her path to authorship was long and arduous,” the tweet added. 

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With great courage and clinical acuity, Annie Ernaux reveals the agony of the experience of class, describing shame, humiliation, jealousy or inability to see who you are, she has achieved something admirable and enduring. 

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And when she with great courage and clinical acuity reveals the agony of the experience of class, describing shame, humiliation, jealousy or inability to see who you are, she has achieved something admirable and enduring. 

Last year, Tanzanian author Abdulrazak Gurnah won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature. Born in 1948 and growing up on the island of Zanzibar, Gurnah has published ten novels and a number of short stories. The theme of the refugee’s disruption runs throughout his work. He began writing as a 21-year-old in English exile, and although Swahili was his first language, English became his literary tool. 

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The Union government has started an investigation into four cough syrups manufactured by a Haryana-based pharmaceutical firm after the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that they could be linked to the deaths of 66 children in Gambia.

At the same time, the government on Thursday activated National Regulatory Authority, CDSCO who requested the World Health Organization (WHO) to share the report on the establishment of “causal relation to death” with the syrups manufactured by a Haryana-based company, Maiden Pharmaceutical Limited.  

This comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) issued an alert on four India-made cough and cold syrups used for paediatric groups. Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) took up an urgent investigation in this regard. WHO informed that the certificate of analysis will be made available to WHO in near future and it will be shared with the Indian Regulator which is yet to be done. The exact one-to-one causal relation of death has not yet been provided by WHO to CDSCO. 

“As a robust National Regulatory Authority, CDSCO has requested WHO to share at the earliest with CDSCO the report on the establishment of causal relation to death with the medical products in question etc.,” it added. 

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“From the preliminary enquiry of CDSCO, it has been made out that Maiden Pharmaceutical Limited, Sonepat, Haryana is a manufacturer licensed by the State Drug Controller for the products Promethazine Oral Solution BP, Kofexnalin Baby Cough Syrup, MaKoff Baby Cough Syrup and MaGrip n Cold Syrup under reference, and holds manufacturing permission for these products for export only. The company has manufactured and exported these products only to The Gambia,” the press release said. 

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CDSCO took up the matter immediately with the Haryana State Regulatory Authority, under whose jurisdiction the drug manufacturing unit of Maiden Pharmaceutical Limited, Sonepat is located. 

Further, a detailed investigation was also launched to ascertain the facts/ details in the matter in collaboration with State Drugs Controller, Haryana. 

It is a usual practice that the importing country tests these imported products on quality parameters, and satisfies itself as to the quality of the products before the importing country decides to release such products for usage in the country. As per the tentative results received by WHO, out of the 23 samples of the products under reference which were tested, 4 samples have been found to contain Diethylene Glycol/ Ethylene Glycol. 

The samples (controlled samples of the same batch manufactured by Maiden Pharmaceuticals Limited for all four drugs in question) have been taken and sent for testing to Regional Drug Testing Lab, Chandigarh by CDSCO, the results of which will guide a further course of action as well as bring clarity on the inputs received from WHO. 

More reports on page 5

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India abstains from voting in UN on rights issue in Xinjiang

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