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HOW PANCHAM PUSHED LOUIZ BANKS INTO BOLLYWOOD

Music maestro R.D. Burman played a key role in kickstarting the Bollywood journey of Louiz Banks, who later became the godfather of Indian jazz.

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From the comfort of Blue Fox in Calcutta, to the country’s commercial capital by the Arabian Sea, the journey was a huge leap into the unknown. Bombay was a much bigger city and leaving a steady job overnight always carries a certain sense of insecurity. Louiz was lucky in two aspects. First, Ganga, his sister, had a rented flat in Nirmala Colony, Bombay where he could put up. And second, there was R.D. Burman’s assurance that the doors of his studio would always be open for him. However, the sudden closure of a life of contentment in Calcutta marked for Louiz a fresh beginning to something promising. Unlike most beginners, it was not a tale of an incognito struggling to get a toehold there. Just a day after he moved to Bombay, he landed straight in the recording room of Film Centre. The scopes and premises of music-making in Bombay differed vastly from what it was in Park Street. Louiz had had just a week’s experience when he had come there a year before, but at the time he had no clue he would be resuming his career there so soon.

Louiz had hardly any idea of the mammoth dimension of Hindi films and film music in the psyche of average Indians. One wonders whether cinema is an extension of Indian psyche or the other way round. Every average Indian has felt, at a certain point in their adolescent years, that they would like to be part of the dreams ferried in celluloid. They glorify the struggle that they see in their heroes of the screen and pass away their youth in vicarious wish-fulfilment. The victory of the hero over all odds assumes such a pyrrhic proportion to the countless fans that they can afford to smile even in the direst inadequacies of life.

So deep and probing is the reach of Hindi films in the sensibility of youth, that Bombay itself seems to be the gateway of dreams for the legions. Music is, in fact, the bedrock of Hindi films. There are thousands of technicians, like tunesmiths, whose works get relayed from one hand to the other. Finally, they take the shape of a glittering music piece. Hindi films are eloquent not just with dialogues but also with songs. So, when a wayward youth jostles through the screaming, vulgar train passengers on his way back home, a Kishore Kumar song keeps him absorbed in his own world. Or when an adolescent eyes his lady love while walking under her balcony, he sings another tune. Happiness in the family is ushered in with a song, a beggar sings out the pangs of his life, friends swear their companionship with a song, a loner rambles fostering a song in his heart and a song begins to float when hope resurfaces. Film songs are like the essential breath, the ultimate raconteur of dreams and despair, an identity of Indianness and a parallel lifeline of one’s being.

From the auspices of jazz music into this elaborate paraphernalia of music-making in the Hindi film industry, it was a massive paradigm shift for Louiz. The hysteria and frenzy associated with Hindi film songs can never be matched with any other genre of music. The process of music-making was elaborate. The songs were meant for the billions. On the contrary, jazz was always the music of the elite, food for the reflective and knowledgeable. It was primarily live improvised music, a marked departure from the recorded music of Hindi film songs. While jazz music is born on stage, recorded music is the finished product of many brains working together and the culmination of a lengthy procedure. Jazz is open to impromptu music, whereas Hindi film songs are a straitjacketed field of notes and bars—every single note is too sacrosanct for musicians to take any liberty. While jazz is the combined effort of primarily four or five minds, Hindi film music is the combination of hundreds where a pianist is just a small cog of a vast wheel. So, when Louiz chose to leave the seat of the bandleader and fit himself in one of the hundreds of musicians, it was undoubtedly a metamorphosis of his career. Taking a leave from the cloistered music circle, he jumped into the bandwagon of popular music. He welcomed another change in his life, a change of which he was not certain.

Jazz musicians were lucrative properties among the music directors for they could write and understand staff notations. Hindi movies had offered the scope for earning their bread and butter to quite a few jazz players. Jazz had not exactly been a domain known for minting money. Louiz followed the illustrious footsteps of the legendary jazz trumpeter Chic Chocolate who was a nightclub music performer and had been inducted to the Hindi film industry. Chic Chocolate, introduced by music director C. Ramchandra in Hindi film songs, was hailed to be one of the pioneers of bringing elements of jazz to Bollywood songs. Many other jazz musicians had since had sporadic stints in Hindi film industry. Louiz’s connection with Hindi films turned out to be an abiding one, and one that would cover a significant phase of his life.

Hindi film songs are woven out of interconnected notes in a well-thought-out pattern conceived by music directors and their arrangers. Individual players hardly have any freedom in that preconceived pattern. Moreover, a jazz standard runs for any length of time, whereas, the span of a film song barely crosses a duration of five to six minutes until, somewhat of a maverick and genius, R.D. Burman broke all the barriers. Like an iconoclast, he set his own parameters and definition of music-making in Hindi films. He not only composed songs of unusually longer lengths, but he was also instrumental in bringing many changes to the traditional concepts of Hindi film music. Other composers at the time were pretty complacent and did not cross beyond the known peripheries in order to pander to the popular taste. But Burman was ever experimental and set new dimensions in music for listeners. For him, music-making was an extension of his own aesthetics. He was more of an apostate, a free-thinking spirit looking to set new grounds for the future. From the innovative use of western instruments to various experimentations with sound, only R.D. Burman could break the set parameters with his free-thinking spirit and zest to explore the unknown. R.D was a jazz enthusiast. Introduced to this genre of music by his friend and musician Kersi Lord, he was largely influenced by the jazz greats and had tried to experiment with the tenets of jazz in his compositions. His team of musicians were key to implementing these experimental thoughts and ideas. When he had listened to Louiz’s music in Blue Fox, he had spotted a quintessential member in his armoury. There were pianists galore in the Bombay film industry but Burman had discovered a rare spark in the talent of Louiz. He could foresee an untapped potential in the young man’s piano-playing. The feel, the technique of playing chords and the instinct to sound different from the rest marked Louiz apart. On top of this, his jazz background helped him play in a manner which had never been witnessed before in anyone else’s technique. It was no wonder when Burman welcomed him the day Louiz decided to close the Calcutta chapter of his life. For Louiz, as he always believed himself to be one of the choicest recipients of divine intervention, it was another beginning. He found his ‘godfather’, R.D. Burman.

Excerpt from the book ‘Louiz Banks: A Symphony of Love’ (published by Rupa Publications)

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A peep into India’s timeless values

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The book ‘ Peep into India’s Timeless Values by Dr Shimla provides a close look at those values and principles of behavioural conduct that have been laid down by ancient sages and thinkers of India to help guide human beings to the righteous path besides inspiring them to live in harmony with society, the world, and nature itself. All those values, that had given rise to a highly cultured society, had their roots in Vedas. Such virtue-based societies stayed intact for a long time. People followed value-based conduct as a natural way of life in earlier times which in the present times is on a decline. 

Dr Shimla has painstakingly culled the most relevant Indian values having universal appeal and reflected upon them in a present-day context. She has organised these values under six heads: personal conduct, society and relationships, human health and mental equilibrium, holistic view of environment, fundamentals of governance, and religion and spirituality besides introductory and conclusive chapters. Each chapter has an initial thematic verse from the scriptures.  

As is said that the virtue of the society is really the basis of its stability, the introductory chapter, therefore, draws a broad sketch of eroding values and moral ethics in our society in all spheres of life. The author first discusses the causes and effects of the downfall in values in the present scenario and then goes on to describe the time tested and long-cherished values of India. 

An individual is the basic unit of the edifice of society. If the individuals are of great character and adopt righteous values, then the society and the nation are bound to be great. The chapter on ‘personal conduct’ is devoted to essential human values to be followed by each individual in their personal life and interaction with others in society.

Man owes a lot to society as a whole as also to individuals like parents and teachers. In our culture, a man is ordained to repay debts in different forms for which he has to enter into Grahast Ashram (household duties). This stage starts with the uniting of two persons, man and woman in marriage. The seven vows of marriage outline the Dharma and responsibilities of a Grahasthi. Along with that, come the duties of relationships between husband and wife, parents and offspring, between siblings, and a plethora of other relationships in extended families. Then comes the religious and social duties that include the cooperative coexistence in the society and doing charity, welcoming and respecting guests, and also supporting the persons in other three stages of life as envisaged in Indian scriptures. The chapter on ‘society and relationships’ describes how to perform these duties in a righteous way.

The body is the foremost means for attaining all goals of human life, and human birth is the ultimate in the process of evolution. A human body with the sharpest brain is the greatest gift of God bestowed upon any living being in the entire creation. Therefore, to keep the body as well as the mind in good health is a sacred duty of all human beings. The chapter on ‘human health’, sheds light on the time tested values of the Indian system of thoughts with regard to health and highlights the holistic view and interconnectedness of mental and physical health. The ancient wisdom has been discussed purely with the Indian perspective which the world is lapping up after getting convinced about its efficacy in stressful modern times.

The chapter on ‘holistic view on environment’ discusses the Indian view on the importance of a clean environment. It is so vital that life itself could not be possible without the environment. In the Indian system of thoughts, everything in the world is believed to be enveloped by God. The whole universe is made of five great elements (panch-mahabhut), and they have their own presiding deities which are worshipped. The concept of sacred trees, sacred animals, and sacred grooves lends a spiritual connotation to these natural resources. The concept of rebirth in any form of life links us to the animal world and inspires compassion for them. Moreover, our scriptures forbid committing any cruelty or violence to animals. 

Cutting a green tree is linked with paap and planting trees is considered a meritorious deed. These beliefs and many more that are ingrained in Indian culture could ensure a cleaner environment.

In ancient times, the governance was based on Raj Dharma (duties of the Ruler) and Rajdanda (Impartial and pure justice system). These, as described in the ancient Niti Shastras like Vidur Niti, Manu Smriti, and the political science and economic policies by Chanakya, had been the cornerstones of governance, the justice system, and taxation. The seeds of a welfare government can be very well seen in these ancient thoughts.

 Dr Shimla perceives a connecting thread in these Niti Shastras that has a bearing on the constitutional imperatives and rights in the modern era. The ancient principles of Raj Dharma along with the modern constitutional provisions about rights and duties form the part of the chapter on ‘fundamentals of governance’. 

 The chapter, on ‘religion and spirituality’ discusses simple religiosity and spirituality and how it touches the lives of ordinary people. It is defined simply as,

“Yad Bhuthitamtyantam Tatsatyamiti Dharna,

Viparyayh Krito Adharmah Yasya Dharmasya Sykshmatam”.

‘Whatever conduces the most to the good of all beings is held to be truth, doing opposite to it is Adharma. This is the subtle nature of Dharma.’

India is home to almost all the major religions of the world which could be possible only because of the tolerant and democratic nature of the majority religion. It is said that Hinduism is a way of life. The concept of one all-pervading God who is Omnipresent, Omniscient, and Omnipotent makes it the most liberal religion. It is not only tolerant to other faiths but also divergent views within Hinduism. The belief in the concept of the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth makes it universal. It is believed that this life is one of many lives and one can be reborn as any living being according to the effects of Karmas. Hinduism also believes in humanism. A man can even achieve divinity by dint of his good deeds and even God can descend on earth incarnating as a human. The great Message of ‘Bhagwad Gita’ and the tenets of other faiths like Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism also find a place in this chapter. 

After discussing the causes of present times’ degradation in the value system in our society as contrary to the great value system of yore, the conclusive chapter explains how that grand system of human values designed by our sages and thinkers is a way forward to look for the solution to the host of problems the humanity is besieged with today. What appears most striking to me is the way the author has interpreted the simple sayings and even the Vedic Mantras in a totally different light. They are not simply Mantras to be recited but concrete instructions and exhortations to ensure a better life on earth. Her interpretation of Shanti Mantra appearing in Yajurveda is brilliant and unique so far as I understand. I like her way of linking the issues of environment and personal conduct with the concept of ‘paap’ and ‘punya’ as a sure panacea to many of the world’s problems. 

Her simple and lucid language and liberal use of mythological references and examples from day-to-day life to illustrate a particular human value add an interesting touch to the readability factor of the book. It’s a commendable work by the author. It is certainly worth a read for all as it presents the Indian values in a different light, especially for the younger generation who might have lost sight of this priceless heritage of India as well as the offspring of the Indian diaspora living far away from their roots.

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DEBUNKING MYTHS AROUND AYURVEDA

Let’s bust some of the common myths and misconceptions surrounding this ancient alternative medicine system.

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You are about to embark upon a journey of knowledge. The first thing to do is jettison myths and misconceptions. In my conversations with those unfamiliar with Ayurveda, I have realised that they carry at least one of the myths mentioned below.

AYURVEDA IS UNSCIENTIFIC

As mentioned before, Nature  published a paper in 2015 that I co-authored. It was titled ‘Prakriti’ and was about how genome-wide analysis correlates with Ayurveda; it established the scientific validity of the concept of Prakriti. For decades, many Western cynics scoffed at Prakriti as an unscientific idea. In fact, they said that since Prakriti could not be proved as a valid idea and since Ayurveda began its investigation by determining the Prakriti of an individual, Ayurveda was nothing but pseudoscience. But in the chapter ‘Prakriti and the Genome’, you will learn how each of the three doṣas (vāta, pitta and kapha) correlates to a number of unique genes.

Throughout this book, I will underscore the scientific validity of each idea presented. But more importantly, I will be honest about the limitations of Ayurveda. In the past few centuries, Western medicine has leveraged scientific progress to make seminal breakthroughs. Ayurveda hasn’t done the same. Yet, simply because it is still playing catch-up doesn’t make it a non-science.

AYURVEDA IS STATIC

Ayurveda has been evolving for millennia, but one must concede that the last significant addition to science was made in the late nineteenth century. Back then, new plants were discovered and their medicinal qualities investigated. As a result, new treatment methodologies came into being. The earliest texts, the Rig Veda and the Yajur Veda, mention only sixty plants. Till date, more than 1,200 plants have been used by Ayurveda. Even plants that came to India with the Europeans — plants such as tomato, tobacco and potato — were utilised as healing agents. These plants have been mentioned in the Shaligrama Nighantu, a text created in the nineteenth century.

AYURVEDA IS RIGID

Today’s Ayurveda practitioners leverage modern diagnostic tools to offer the best care possible to their patients. They can read a CT scan, a blood report or an EEG chart with as much proficiency as an allopath. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies that manufacture Ayurveda medicines rely on modern technology to deliver quality products. While researching the prakṛti project, we used software developed by C-DAC, Pune, to determine the prakṛti of individuals. Like any science, Ayurveda has exhibited a willingness to adapt. This will become amply clear as you read this book, especially the chapter titled ‘The Summative Approach’. The pioneering

physician and surgeon Sushruta explicitly asks the practitioner to go above and beyond the science of Ayurveda and leverage newer scientific fields to become successful and productive.

AYURVEDA HAS INFERIOR DIAGNOSTICS

Just because Ayurveda acknowledges the efficacy of modern diagnostic tools doesn’t mean it has inferior diagnostics. In ‘Pathogenesis and the Path of Moderation’, you will learn how Ayurveda identifies the existence of disease at the earliest stages. In the chapter ‘Tailor-Made Healthcare’, you will be exposed to the sophisticated customisation of treatment. This can happen only if science can diagnose the unique condition of the individual’s physical and mental state.

AYURVEDA IS THE SCIENCE OF BRAHMINS

Ayurveda does not originate from a particular caste or sect. The first Ayurveda guru, Charaka, was a wanderer with a castefree identity. Sushruta was born a Kshatriya. He was, in fact, the son of a king. Meanwhile, Vagbhata, the author of numerous classical Ayurveda texts, is believed to have been a Buddhist.

Few visionary gurus of Ayurveda were Brahmins. It is generally observed that people from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are great practitioners of the science of Ayurveda. In Kerala, Ayurveda still thrives in some of the scheduled castes and tribal communities. In fact, when the Dutch governor Hendrik van Rheede was working on his book Hortus Malabaricus, he took help from an Ezhava (a ‘backward’ caste) physician Itty Achudan Vaidyan. Ashtavaidya parampara is a Brahmin lineage in Ayurveda.

But it’s easy to see why the modern interpreter would equate Ayurveda with Brahminism. Both use Sanskrit slokas to preserve and propagate ideas. That shouldn’t be surprising —back then, Sanskrit was the language of science as well as the language on the streets. Having said that, many ancient Ayurveda texts we use till date were created in other Indian languages. Again, that is quite logical — Ayurveda developed organically across the length and breadth of India. 

Over time, as other languages grew in influence, those languages were used to document brand-new solutions created within the framework of Ayurveda. In short, Ayurveda has always been a people’s science that does not discriminate on the basis of caste or any other divisive entity.

AYURVEDA IS ALL ABOUT HERBS AND VEGETARIANISM

Ayurveda promotes moderation instead of any form of extremism. While the bulk of Ayurveda medicines are plant-based, animal-based medicines are also used as needed. Many wonderful Ayurveda medicines have animal products in them, although vegetarian alternatives exist for most. One way in which Ayurveda promotes moderation is by asking the individual to balance the needs of life and the afterlife. One can enjoy life while doing deeds to enjoy the afterlife. Joy can be derived by consuming fruits and vegetables that are most suitable for the season and person. Also, some specific foods have been identified as wholesome and worthy of consumption:

• White pumpkin is the best creeper vegetable.

• Dry grapes are the best fruits.

• Green gram is the best among pulses.

• Red rice is the best among grains.

• Chicken flesh has optimal strength-giving qualities.

• Mutton soup (māṁsa rasa) offers the best nutrition and is digested easily during an illness such as influenza and tuberculosis (TB). For broken bones, soup of a mutton leg is great medicine. Ayurveda neither promotes vegetarianism nor embraces the consumption of meat with gusto. It respects individual choice and propagates a moderate path. Also, if a person is used to consuming meats (as part of one’s natural diet, or sātmya), it will not advocate an overnight relinquishing of such a diet. 

Ayurveda also suggests that an individual’s diet be aligned with lifestyle and profession. Those who do a lot of physical labour are better suited to the consumption of more meat. Details of how Ayurveda uses animal-based products are provided in the chapter ‘Limitations of Ayurveda’. A great number of Indians are vegetarians, but as a civilisation, India has meat consumers. Recent political developments might have stigmatised the consumption of some meats, but our ancestors knew better than to politicise scienceand medicine.

AYURVEDA TREATMENTS ARE INCONVENIENT

Ayurveda treatments include oral medication, therapeutic tools such as massages, and lifestyle changes. Together, all of these help in sustaining health and restoring the body to its former glory. Some of the oral medication might be bitter, but I believe taste should not be a criterion while choosing medicine. The good news is that many companies and institutions are finding ways to make these medicines more compact and palatable. Check out the chapter ‘The Summative Approach’ for more details. Meanwhile, other treatment techniques — such as massages — can prove to be quite invigorating and relaxing for both the body and the mind.

The excerpt is from the book ‘Ayurveda: The True Way to Restore Your Health and Happiness’ (published by Ebury Press).

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An alternative story of the Taj

The book makes a strong case for a re-look at the legend of Taj Mahal.

Sreenivas Bidari

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It’s an anthology of writings, research papers and photographic evidences on Taj Mahal, edited by Stephen Knapp, an Indophile. He dedicates it to “all those who are not afraid to view the real history of ancient India”. Clearly, the book is for people who have the courage to listen to alternative theories and examine them objectively. Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world, is popularly believed to have been built as the expression of Shah Jahan’s love for his wife Mumtaz. Is this true? Did Shah Jahan really build it, or did he merely acquire it from Raja Jai Singh?

Chapter 1 is a short write up by Dr V.S. Godbole, author of ‘Taj Mahal: Analysis of a Great Deception’, based on his seminal research of 15 years (1981-96) on contemporary accounts and primary sources, wherein he proposes that the legend of Taj is a British colonial conspiracy. Chapter 3 is the architectural analysis of the Taj by US senior architect Prof Marvin H. Mills. Chapter 4 is a research paper ‘The Question of the Taj Mahal’ by P.S. Bhat and A.L. Athavale.

The authors scrutinise primary sources like the travelogue of J.B. Tavernier, Elliot and Dowson’s work History of India (8 vols) published in 1867-77, Mughal court chronicle Badshah Nama, Book Agra Historical and Descriptive written in 1894 by Khan Bahaddur Syed Muhammad Latif, Commercial Report of a Dutch, Fransisco Pelsaert, senior factor merchant at Agra in 1626, travelogue of Peter Mundy, book Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb by Wayne Edison Begley and Ziyaud-Din Ahmad Desai, farmans issued by Shah Jahan to Raja Jai Singh, letter written by Aurangzeb in 1652, complaining of the extensive repairs being done on the Taj Mahal (recorded in chronicles titled ‘Aadaab-Ealamgiri’, ‘Yaadgaarnama’ and the ‘Muraaqqa-I-Akbarabadi’).

The farman of Shah Jahan issued on 20 September 1632 to Raja Jai Singh asked him to hasten the shipment of marble for the facing of the interior walls of the mausoleum! Prof Mills points out, obviously, that a building had to be there by then for the shipment of marble. He also examines the description of the first Urs of Mumtaz given by Begley and Desai and points out that by that time the building was surely in place. Even the European traveller Peter Mundy, on whom Begley and Desai extensively rely, said that he saw the installation of the enamelled gold railing surrounding Mumtaz’s cenotaph at the time of the second Urs on 26 May 1633. Since the railing could not have stood forth in the open air, it can only mean that the Taj building was existing. Prof Mills also reveals that radiocarbon dating of a piece of wood surreptitiously taken from one of the doors revealed the 13th century as a possible date. P.S. Bhat and A.L. Athavale wonder, given the mammoth planning, marshalling of resources, gigantic financial outlay involved, why the contemporary Mughal court papers do not have any records of the same.

All the authors in this book rely on the Mughal court chronicle Badshah Nama written by the emperor’s chronicler, Moulvi Abdul Hamid Lahori. It devotes two pages for burial of Mumtaz Mahal, wherein it says, “The site is covered with magnificent lush garden, to the south of that great city and amidst which the building known as the palace of Raja Mansingh, at present owned by Raja Jaisingh, grandson was selected for the burial of the queen whose abode is in heaven… in exchange of that grand palace, he was granted a piece of government land… Next year that illustrious body of the heavenly queen was laid to rest… as per royal orders the officials hid the pious lady from the eyes of the world under the sky-high lofty mausoleum.” They argue that Badshah Nama being a contemporary account should have been adequate evidence for any historian.

Taj is a multi-storeyed structure (including a basement) with many stairways; on one floor above the basement the real grave of Queen Mumtaz is located. This floor has corridors and rooms on both sides of corridors, rooms’ wide windows opening towards the river; it has 3 entrances. The basement floor is permanently sealed with brick and mortar and likewise the entrances and all the rooms on the floor above are permanently sealed. The authors question the necessity to build a basement floor and the corridors, rooms’ entrances on the floor earmarked for the real grave.  And then again, why were they sealed permanently?

In Chapter 2, Stephen Knapp presents an excerpt from his book Proof of Vedic Culture’s Global Existence. He narrates a series of deceptions, distortions made in Indian history including the legend of Taj. He lists other monuments which are similarly misidentified; viz Qutb Minar, Humayun’s Tomb (French writer G. Le Bon in his book, The World of Ancient India, has published a photo of marble footprints), Sikandra Tomb of Akbar, Fatehpur Sikri, Jama Masjid at Ahmedabad, Gol Gumbaz at Bijapur, etc.

Chapter 5 contains photos of Taj and other monuments. It is the visual proof for the discussions in the book. Photos of architectural features, details and motifs, plans and sketches of Taj help us to better comprehend the arguments made in the book.

Next (Chapter 6), an essay by Dr Radhasyam Brahmachari, discusses the Munj-Bateshwar edict found a few km from the Taj. The 25th, 26th and 34th verses in the edict mention that King (Paramardidev of the Chandratreya dynasty) has built two marble temples one each for Vishnu and Shiva and that the edict was laid in 1212 Vikram Samvat (AD 1156). Agra has two marble monuments, one is the mausoleum of Itmad-ud-Daulah, and the other is Taj Mahal; this coincides with two marble temples mentioned in Munj-Bateshwar edict.

Last chapter (chapter 7) is a summary of the book Taj Mahal: True Story by P.N. Oak. It lists 110 documentary and architectural evidences to establish that Taj Mahal was built as a Hindu temple or a palace.

The book makes a strong case for a re-look at the legend of Taj. A multi-disciplinary team must be constituted to research all relevant sources and examine the architecture of Taj by opening all the sealed parts.

The reviewer, IRS, Commissioner of Income Tax, is interested in social service, literature, history, culture, economics, science, agriculture and law.

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WHY RENU’S ‘MAILA AANCHAL’ REMAINS RELEVANT IN COVID TIMES

Phanishwar Nath ‘Renu’, in his maiden novel, highlights misperceptions and misplaced priorities of both socio-politically and medically endangered society.

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I write this article to remember Phanishwar Nath ‘Renu’ whose birth centenary celebrations were preempted by the onslaught of Covid-19 which has wrecked havoc on countless people across the world. He is a major twentieth century Hindi writer who wrote socio-politically relevant short-stories and novels. With the publication of his maiden novel, Maila Aachal in 1954, he dramatically emerged as a highly successful and extremely influential novelist after Munshi Premchand who had revolutionised Hindi literature by writing about a dozen novels including Godaan in 1936—the year Premchand passed way after presiding over the inaugural ceremony of Progressive Writer’s Association (PWA). Renu’s Maila Aachal in many ways took the entire Hindi literary world by storm. It generated some controversies but tremendous amount of euphoria and jubilation all around.

The idea of Maila Aanchal came from this poem, Bharat Mata Gramvashini, by Sumitanandan Pant who has given us an explicit portrayal of the figure of mother India who is kind of desolate and destitute and whose aanchal is sort of maila. Renu picked up this idea and wrote a classic which actually triggered an intriguing and long-drawn out war of words between two predominant literary camps of the then north India, namely progressives and experimentalists (as they were often called) who fought on the issue whether Premchand or Renu is better equipped to represent Indian rural realities.

Maila Aanchal tells us the tale of an emergent nation from the shackles of British rule, which has again sunk into all kinds of regressive practices for the unbridled and unethical material aggrandisement. The kind of social legitimacy these practices began to gain in Indian villages immediately after Independence explains the beginning of our postcolonial experience in modern India. But the reception of Maila Aanchal in the mainstream of Hindi literary criticism follows a different trajectory altogether. When the dust has finally settled over the controversies associated with the worth and impact of Maila Aanchal in the immediate aftermath of its publication some 66 years before, one can safely reflect on the ways in which the reception of the novel took place in Hindi heartland against the backdrop of provocative but serious debates about the concepts of “Aanchalik Upanyasa” (Provincial novel) and “Premchand Ki Parampara” (the tradition of Premchand).

Allahabad-based literary initiative under the umbrella of Parimal with which literary figures like Dharmavir Bharti and Vijyadev Narayan Sahi were associated, was undoubtedly responsible for the critical acclaim of Maila Aanchal at an early stage of its reception. Bharti, the author of the famous play, Andha Yuga, the then editor of prestigious Hindi literary journal, Alochana, is often mentioned as someone who made that kind of helpful and genuine reception possible. But even before Bharti could bestow deserving but generous praise upon Renu whom the former declared the Vidyapati of Mithila in Hindi prose, Nalin Vimochan Sharma, the noted Patna-based critic of Yesteryears in Hindi, brought Maila Aanchal to the notice of Hindi readership. Writing probably the earliest review of the novel, he drew the attention of the academic scholar and critics alike to the abundant merits of the novel. Sharma looked at Renu’s maiden novel in comparison with Premchand masterpiece, Godaan, which he found far more superior in terms of its epic-scale representations of human condition and its crystallisation of grand-narratives for all major issues involving the Indian village life. He believed Maila Aanchal to be representative of just a specific Indian village, whereas Godaan represented each and every Indian village. 

But he termed Maila Aanchal the best Hindi novel after Godaan and placed Renu in the tradition of Premchand. Probably because of the intellectual and ideological differences between Parimal and Progressive Writers Association, Ramvilas Sharma, an active member of PWA, left no stone unturned to demolish Renu, perhaps to contain his literary rival, Bharti, too. In his book Premchand aur Unka Yug, he forcefully attempted to dissociate Renu from the tradition of novel-writing initiated by Premchand. Following Ramvilas Sharma, the entire debate began to revolve around the idea of provincial novel (Aanchalik Upanya) and its relationship with the tradition established by Premchand.

Later, Shivdan Singh Chuahan, the founder editor of Aalochana and an active member of PWA as well, set the record straight when he categorically pointed out that distinction made between Godaan representing the entire Indian village and Maila Aanchal only the province of a district is defective and flawed as Renu’s novel embodies as much village-life and its richness in terms of cultural traditions, myths, languages and social experiences as Premchan’s Godaan. Chuahan insisted that no comparison should be made between the first novel of Renu and the last novel of Premchand even while he gave Maila Aanchal the kind of reception that reinforces its popular recognition as a classic across different schools of literary thought in Hindi.

In Hindi literary cultures or what Francesca Orsini has defined as the Hindi public sphere, the reception of Maila Aanchal has taken place as a classic of Hindi literature which narrates the nation as it has emerged in the aftermath of Indian independence. Except some of the early hostile criticism associated with this text, successive generations of literary critics in Hindi have gone on to appreciate this text without ever suggesting the idea that they should be understood and interpreted as post-colonial texts. Two volumes of Aadhunik Hindi Upanyasa (Modern Hindi Novels, which offers us a collection of critical essays on modern Hindi novels), published by Rajkamal Prakashan, a reputed publication in Hindi, have the same story to tell us about this text as far as the genre of the novel is concerned. The comprehensive and perceptive introduction written by Virendra Yadav, a well-known literary critic in Hindi, in the second volume of Modern Hindi Novels, categorically points out the status of classic Maila Aanchal holds in Hindi literary traditions. That this novel is a genuinely postcolonial text was indicated in an article “Indian and Postcolonial discourse” written by bilingual literary critic Harish Trivedi in the book Interrogating Post-colonialism, jointly edited by Trivedi and Meenakshi Mukherjee.

Maila Aanchal identifies the sources of and underlines the instances of the decline of our nationalist values in its multi-layered narratives shaped and sustained not only by the unconventional and even adventurous story of doctor Prasant and his beloved, Kamli, but also by the immense courage and inspirational sacrifice of the Gandhian figure, Bawandas. Whereas Premchand contributed a great deal to the reawakening of our national consciousness in his literary endeavours by writing the idea of Gandhi in myriad ways, Renu did tell us shocking and rather systematic demise of Gandhian principles during the very early years of independent India.

This novel is a classic creative reflection on the ways in which Gandhi began to be increasingly irrelevant in the immediate aftermath of Independence in Indian socio-political discourse and public life leading to his physical death symbolised by the ruthless annihilation of Bawandas in the novel in discussion. It is as difficult to erase the memory associated with the figure of honest and nonviolent Bawandas who stands for Gandhi himself and whose values were already put to the periphery as that of Renu, arguably one of the three best novelists in Hindi.

Maila Aachal begins with the opening of a hospital for the eradication of the disease called malaria. Dr Prashant, a medical genius, is posted there. He finds out the real reasons for the outbreak of malaria. According to Prashant, they are poverty and ignorance. Not only in the beginning but even in the later parts of the novel which brings to the fore those broken dreams which nationalists like Gandhi envisioned but hypocritical politicians and postcolonial citizens alike demolished because of their greed and ignorance, Renu highlights misperceptions and misplaced priorities of both socio-politically and medically endangered society.

The daily loss of lives followed by heart-wrenching pain and pathos with which people are reeling under terribly dark circumstances due to flawed response to the pandemic does tell us a similar story, but Renu is sadly conspicuous by his absence to create another classic.

The writer is Assistant professor in English, Rajdhani College, University of Delhi.

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BOOKS TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEK

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Hostility

Abdul Basit

Hostility is former Pakistan high commissioner to India Abdul Basit’s memoir of his tenure in New Delhi, from 2014 to 2017. It takes us through perhaps the most difficult era in India-Pakistan relations in recent years. While Narendra Modi’s first prime-ministership began with a new hope of normalising relations between Pakistan and India, subsequent events unfortunately proved otherwise. The author takes us through the highs and lows of one of the most difficult diplomatic postings in the world. This book is written with honesty, lucidity, and filled with explosive nuggets about what goes on behind the scenes between India and Pakistan.

Mission Accomplished: Applying Military Principles to Real Life

Virender Kapoor

Written around 500 BCE, The Art of War by Sun Tzu not only serves as a guide to modern military strategy but has also been adapted by top leadership across the board. In fact, almost all modern management principles are a derivative of military operational strategies, which have withstood the test of time in different cultures, geographies and circumstances. Practised over hundreds of years, these were tried and tested under the most trying circumstances during military operations where millions perished. Mission Accomplished examines strategies that define a military process to accomplish a task in an operational scenario.

A Map of Longings: Life and Works of Agha Shahid Ali

Manan Kapoor

Agha Shahid Ali is widely regarded as one of the finest poets from the Indian subcontinent, and his works are read across the world, touching millions of lives. A pioneer of ghazal writing in English, he wrote extensively about loss, nostalgia and home. In this biography, Manan Kapoor explores the concerns that shaped Shahid’s life and works, following in the footsteps of the ‘Beloved Witness’ from Kashmir to New Delhi and finally to the United States. He traces the complex evolution of Shahid’s evocative verses, which mapped various cultures and geographies, and mourned injustice and loss, both personal and political.

Love, Hope and Magic

Ashish Bagrecha

A survivor of life and death, a fighter of depression, and a believer in the power of the universe, Ashish Bagrecha — the best-selling author of self-help book Dear Stranger, I Know How You Feel, and one of the most popular Instagram poets in the country — brings you his very first collection of poetry. Divided into six chapters, this book is about loving deeply and getting broken. It’s about falling into the darkness and still chasing the light. It’s about letting love find you, trusting the universe and believing in the magic we carry within ourselves. It’s is not written to inspire you but to fix you.

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RETRACING THALAIVA’S FORAY INTO FILMS

Rajinikanth’s entry into the Tamil film industry marked a clear break from the conventional fair-skinned hero who was a paragon of virtue. His rawness and irreverence made him a hero of the subaltern.

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It is in this atmosphere — the air filled with irreverence to caste and class hierarchy that Shivaji Rao Gaekwad entered Tamil films — with his anti-hero image, nonchalance, defiance of authority, and rakish smile. 

Again, it was Bhaskar Rao who predicted during those uncertain first years that Rajinikanth would become a superstar. He had written a review of Katha Sangama. The piece had been short and needed four more lines to fill it out. Bhaskar Rao hastily added what came to him. He wrote, ‘Here is an actor with such talent that it should not surprise anyone if he becomes a superstar one day.

Actors who were baffled at the way he stormed the field could only attribute it to ‘sheer luck’ or the fact that he was ‘blessed’. Rajini was lucky in a sense. His arrival coincided with a massive change that the Tamil film industry was undergoing in terms of production, content, and storytelling. Tamil commercial cinema was dominated by MGR (who also belonged to the DMK), Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini Ganesan, Jaishankar, and such others. From the 1950s till the early 70s, films that projected the resurgent Dravidian symbolisms and party ideologies with melodramatic acting and theatrical textual Tamil scripts dominated the scene. The Dravidian Movement used films and film songs sung and acted by MGR, the hero, to take its ideologies to the masses. The audience lapped it all up during the period that was charged with and inspired by revolutionary ideals. MGR always played the do-gooder, a protector of damsels in distress, a non-smoker, and a non-drinker. His promoters envisaged his characterization with a view to projecting him as a future chief minister of Tamil Nadu. He became a symbol for the party. MGR fan clubs were created to muster votes. 

The DMK came to power in 1967, and later when the DMK split and MGR formed his own party, AIADMK, in 1974, there was no longer any need to use cinema to take the ideology to the masses. Veteran actors MGR and Sivaji had outgrown their romantic hero roles. Even their most ardent fans were tired of the same old plots with heroes giving sermons about good behaviour. 

By the time Balachander came on the scene, the cinema-going public was ready for a whiff of fresh air. Balachander was born into a Brahmin family in Nannilam, a small town in Thiruvarur district. He completed his graduation and joined the Accountant General’s office in Madras as a clerk. A theatre enthusiast, he had been writing plays with themes that interested the middle class. He was not part of the Dravidian movement. The movement had empowered the backward classes. And now a vibrant middle class, aware of equal rights and gender issues, was ready for a conscious questioning of traditional mores and values. Balachander was able to capture the shifting mood of the audience and write plays that spoke to them. His characters were bold, irreverent, and asked pertinent questions. The dark actor was not always the villain and the fair one was not an angel. There was no age taboo for love. He painted prostitutes as prisoners of circumstances and not as social outcasts. The woman was no longer just the loyal faithful wife who did not cross the threshold of her house. His plays were huge draws and when he ventured into cinema, his films were box office hits.

It was at this time that music maestro Ilaiyaraaja and director P. Bharathiraja also entered Tamil films. They set new trends in music composition and storytelling respectively. Bharathiraja shifted the lens outside the studios and set his stories in the countryside. Theatrical dialogue backed by ideological underpinnings was replaced by colloquial banter. For the first time, the urban audience could smell the freshness of the village air and hear the chirping of the birds. This is when Rajinikanth entered. His entry marked a clear break from the conventional fair-skinned hero who was a paragon of virtue. Rajinikanth was dark, he smoked and drank on-screen, and could play dark characters and get away with it. His rawness and irreverence made him a hero of the subaltern. 

Sadanand Menon says, ‘With Rajini, Tamil cinema, and by extension, Tamil society learnt to be kosher with being “bad”. It was no longer something that someone was going to make them feel guilty about. Rajini taught Tamil society to abandon platitudes about Rama as maryada purushottam and accept the possibility of a Ravana or a Duryodhana actually being good. When Rajini stared directly back into the camera…and hissed out the lines from the corner of his mouth, executed his side-winded walk of electric energy, tossing his tousled hair, he became the new and manifest example of hitherto suppressed expressions of desire, no matter how risky or preposterous it seemed.’ 

The most conspicuous difference that the audience saw in Rajinikanth was his unbridled energy. After that initial lull, Balachander cast him in three films: Anthuleni Katha (Telugu, 1976), Moondru Mudichu (1976), and Avargal (1977) in quick succession. It ensured that the film-going public didn’t forget him. In the year 1977, Rajinikanth acted in fifteen films, and didn’t play the hero’s role in all of them. Unlike other actors, Rajinikanth enjoyed playing the villain and stole the show with his off-beat portrayals of these dark characters. All the films were hits and Rajini began to be considered lucky by producers. 

Y. G. Mahendran got to know Rajini well when they worked together on the Tamil film Bhuvana Oru Kelvi Kuri (1977), directed by reputed director S. P. Muthuraman. Mahendran found that Rajini was an intense person who did not speak much. He was very respectful to his seniors—even to Mahendran, who was a senior in the profession, and also because he was the son of his former principal. Mahendran noticed that Rajini would listen carefully to suggestions given by everyone, but he would take only what he thought was right for him. He knew right from the beginning that he could survive in the field only if he stood out. Mahendran remembers how an experienced senior actor, P. Sivakumar, tried to coach him on how to deliver a line. Rajini listened and nodded, but finally delivered the line in his own style. ‘People think he is a director’s actor, but he often went beyond the brief. Muthuraman allowed him the freedom. That is why the pair clicked so well.’

Muthuraman has been associated with the legendary AVM Studios that has produced over 170 films in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Hindi since 1955. He started there as an assistant in the editing department and went on to become a successful film director. Sitting in his modest office room at the AVM Studios compound, he remembers his reaction when he first saw Rajinikanth on the screen in a villain’s role. Actors who played the villain followed a set formula—they had a loud, sinister laugh, rolled their eyes, and gritted their teeth. But Rajini played it very differently and with a style that had not been seen. Muthuraman was impressed. When it came to casting Rajinikanth for Bhuvana Oru Kelvi Kuri, he cast him for the hero’s part made Sivakumar the villain. He was convinced that Rajinikanth was capable of bringing something unique to the character. The two main characters were not straightforward—the one who came across as the villain was, in fact, the good guy while the one who seemed to be the hero was the villain. Muthuraman felt that making Rajinikanth appear to be the good guy would ensure that the audience would be surprised. Sivakumar, who had always played the good guy, was disappointed when he came to know that he would be playing the villain. But Muthuraman convinced him that it would work. The film became a box office hit. 

‘Mind you, at that time, Rajinikanth was not able to speak two sentences at a stretch in Tamil,’ laughs Muthuraman. Rajinikanth was a little nervous when he saw that he had to speak lengthy dialogues in the film. Muthuraman put him at ease, telling him to prepare as much as he could and then act in his own style. This freedom and belief that the director showed in him allowed Rajini to reach ‘the next level’ in his acting career. Muthuraman believes that if A. V. M. Chettiar (founder of AVM Productions) had been alive, he would not have accepted Rajinikanth, because Chettiar demanded perfect rendering of Tamil. But it was Rajinikanth’s Kannada-tinged Tamil and the speed with which he delivered his lines that became a style statement. Muthuraman and Rajinikanth worked together in twenty-five films, with Rajinikanth playing a variety of characters. Bhuvana Oru Kelvi Kuri was not only a commercial hit, Rajini’s acting in it also received critical acclaim. 

Sivakumar’s friends felt that he should not have agreed to take on the villain’s role. But ‘it was destiny’, he says. ‘I told them so. Rajinikanth was destined to shoot up in popularity due to that role. No power on earth could have changed that.’ But it was not sheer luck or divine grace that was the reason for his success, says Muthuraman. It was hard work and total involvement in the work he did. Unless he had absorbed the story completely and internalized it, he would not act. His popularity was the direct result of his dedication to the craft. 

Muthuraman admits that directors like him did indeed include songs and scenarios that they knew would appeal to the fans— the speed and unique gestures. Unlike in earlier years, this was not done to curate his image. Instead, it catered to aspects of Rajini’s persona that the filmmakers knew the fans loved. The 1980 film Murattu Kaalai directed by Muthuraman had a song with these lyrics: 

“Pothuvaa en manasu thangam, aana oru pottiyinnu vanthuvitta singam” (Usually my heart is like gold but when there is a contest it becomes fierce as a lion)

And in the 1989 film Raja Chinna Roja had this: “Superstar yaarunnu ketta kuzhanthaiyum sollum” (If you ask: ‘who is the superstar?’, even a child will tell you)

Once when the cast and crew were driving to a location for an outdoor shoot, a group of schoolchildren from Classes V to XII blocked the road, forcing the vehicles to stop. ‘They had come to know that Rajinikanth would be in that group. “Stop the vehicle, we want to see Rajinikanth!” they shouted. Such was his appeal. He had caught the imagination of children as young as six.’ 

Rajini’s fans would request the theatre manager to play the songs again and again. This was very different from MGR’s popularity. MGR’s image was built very carefully and systematically as a viable political leader. Rajini had no political ambitions when he first entered films. He wanted to work as much as he could, act in as many films as possible, take every opportunity that came his way and make money. He began working non-stop. The recognition that came early in his career was intoxicating, blinding. He worked like one possessed. Work became an obsession. A disease, an affliction…till the mind went berserk.

The excerpt is from the book ‘Rajinikanth: A Life’ (published by Aleph Book Company).

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