Thursday, May 19, 2011

Three ladies

The first two require no guesswork: Jayalalitha and Mamatadidi. Everyone is writing/blogging/tweeting about them. Here's a link or two to some recent posts about them.

The women who rule India;

`Amma,' `Didi' to double the number of women CMs.

The third one may come as a bit of a surprise. This is Jane Goodall, the celebrated primatologist, in the news this week for having two children's books written about her. Her pathbreaking studies in primatology started with a childhood gift from her father, a toy chimpanzee called Jubilee. Goodall is best known for her studies of the social behaviour of chimpanzees. She lived among the chimpanzees in Gombe National Park in Kenya, and is credited with the first observations of tool making in non-human primates, and for exploding the belief that chimpanzees were vegetarians. She also observed evidence of mental traits like reasoning, abstraction, symbolic representation and a sense of self among chimpanzees, which had been thought to be unique to humans upto that point. Jane's studies were criticised for not following the strict, impersonal norms of primate studies which were followed at that point, like giving names to the chimpanzees she observed, instead of numbers, as was thought to be more `objective'. This lack of `objectivity' was supposed to contribute to the `anthropomorphic' conclusions of her study. However, many of her conclusions have been validated by other studies.

In a recent interview, Dr. Goodall was asked a question on what she thought were the reasons for which women, by and large, stayed away from scientific careers. To paraphrase loosely, she said that this might be because science was thought to be a career where empathy and intuition, two traits which she said were pronounced in girls, were squashed out in favour of coldness which was equated with objectivity. She also said that scientists should be human beings first, and scientists next, and empathy and intuition should be taken advantage of, and the conclusions drawn using these traits should be tested out in the light of rationality. This is a truly unique message and surely worth thinking about.

Quote of the week: `If you have a dream as a child, follow it even if people laugh at you for it, as they laughed at me.'- Jane Goodall.

This post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

An ode to the west wind

Today marks the birth anniversary of one of India's most illustrious sons. Rabindranath Tagore was born on May 7th, 1861, a hundred and fifty years ago. The newspapers have written reams about his poetry, his novels, his world view, and his impact on the world. This post is about a very tiny aspect of his personality and genius, namely, the impact of western music on Tagore and how it influenced some of his work.

Most Bengalis are aware that Tagore was inspired by old English, Scottish and Irish tunes in his youth - the poet admitted as much himself. Such songs are termed bilāti-bhāngā gān. Tagore went to England at the impressionable age of seventeen, and heard the tunes of Irish melodies and Scottish reels. He returned full of high spirits and began composing songs for the evening entertainments that were a regular feature of his ancestral home; and many of these songs were inspired by his musical experiences abroad.

Tagore first used bilati airs immediately after his return from England in 1881 in the musical Vālmīki Pratibhā which narrates the metamorphosis of Ratnākar, a formidable bandit king, to Vālmīki, legendary poet-sage who wrote the Rāmāyaņa. Of this work, Tagore himself said `the tunes in this musical drama are mostly Indian, but they have been dragged out of their classic dignity; that which soared in the sky was taught to run on the earth. Those who have seen and heard it performed will, I trust, bear witness that the harnessing of Indian melodic modes to the service of the drama has proved neither derogatory nor futile.' Many of the tunes of this play were composed by Rabindranath's brother Jyotirindra. Two of the songs in the play were set to `English' tunes, viz. `Nancy Lee' by Michael Maybrick (who composed as Stephen Adams) and `John Peel'. `Nancy Lee', a rousing sea shanty in the original, metamorphosed to an invocation to the Goddess Kālī that the bandits sing in the forest in Tagore’s version.`D'you ken John Peel', a popular hunting song, has been surmised to inspire the song ‘tobé āy shobé āy’, of Valmiki Pratibha, which is similar in both melody and spirit.

Soon after this, Tagore stopped using bilāti tunes in his songs. Instead, the stream of ideas trickled underground, to emerge in his mature years in his great song offerings in the Gitanjali. Tagore's poems and music managed to break free of the rigidities of the classical Indian forms and achieved a brilliant fusion of both Indian and western sensibilities, and made him the Gurudev that we commemorate today.

This post is by Srovonti Basu Bandopadhyay. Srobonti is an accomplished Rabindra Sangeet singer. We hope to see her, her husband Arindam, and their friends, perform these songs one of these days. Incidentally, Srovonti is Rahul's cousin. -Neelima.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Tere bin laden (and millinery too)

Just so as not to be the only blog that hasn't mentioned the topic of the week, here is a slightly skewed take on Osama bin Laden and his death. There will be arguments ad infinitum on whether bin Laden's death really changes anything, and whether Pakistan first concealed his whereabouts and then threw him to the wolves when the U.S. made things too hot; to say nothing of whether U.S. policy towards states which sponsor terrorism will change after this. This post is only to admire the classic intelligence legwork and tailing of small fry which led to the discovery of Osama's hiding place. It is to be hoped that no part of this success will get tainted by identification with the inhuman interrogation techniques of Guantanamo Bay (although one can't be sure at this point). If not, George Smiley would surely rejoice!

On the topic of last week, namely, the Will-Kate wedding, what hats!

This post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.