Monthly Archives: June 2011

Darkness in Mind

 

A stock of adjectives used with education illustrates the variety of interests in what is perceived to be pillar-stone of any society. From the days of studying professions or pursuing vocations, adjectives have been added to this natural activity of a community. Study had been restricted to the domain of religion; renaissance brought it to secular domain. In a feudal structure, only the curious pursued it and found it strangely illuminating their minds and liberating their consciousness from immediate concerns of here and now. The enchanted mind could transcend the bounds of history and geography and soak his thirsty soul in perpetual fount of knowledge. It was with his blessed state as a model that education found its truest epithet. Liberal education existed till almost the final decades of last century, but paradoxically the political change it formulated and realized – burgeoning of democracy – could not support this ‘feudal’ ideal and it gave way to several of its avatar-s, each of which tried to replace it fully and failed. Well, failed to hold their own, but together they almost succeeded in flushing it out.

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Of mice, men and numbers

 

There will always be a part, and always a very large part of every community, that have no care but for themselves, and whose care for themselves reaches little further than impatience of immediate pain, and eagerness for the nearest good. Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784) Taxation No Tyranny

This seems to be the guiding philosophy behind all agencies, technologically empowered to gather information for their own ends. Governments have been, for very valid reasons, collecting in-depth information about the citizens, their location, education, well-being  and so on. It is now groups with less benign motives who gather information for their own ends. Not public information which is available from different sources, but invasive, personal information about routine activities that create a profile as X-Ray or MRI examination do of body.

Data – in itself an abstraction (meta-data?) – has come to represent materiality. Its value has outgrown that of idea. Lust for bits of insignificant reality has led to disregard and disdain for the individual. It was the idea that created a set of conditions known as democracy. Following the eternal ethos, Mahatma Gandhi stressed on purity of means to attain the desired (pure) end. Time and again his followers were frustrated by his insistence on absolute respect for this principle. It is evident in most everyday situations, the harm caused by neglect of this. The greatest harm, one that creeps in silently, is that impurity of action corrodes the mind. TheSpeaker

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Speak, but let others too

Prof.B.K.Passi

Educators never rest. Through their looking glass they focus on this and that. At times, it pays to have narrow focus, for learning gets intense and in-depth. Generally, an inclusive point of view appears liberal, but it tends to fitter away energy. The holistic model might truly get whole, if it allows a two-way communication. From Veda-s to Greek philosophers, a dialogue between the curious and the wise has unfolded the mysteries of universe and existence. Many have tried to emulate it in parts. David Bohm, Donald Factor and Peter Garrett among others are proponents for application of Dialogue. Proposed below is one more look at this approach.

Dialogue Based Wholistic Model

This model called Dialogue Based Pedagogy of teacher education is powerful and relevant for correcting a fragmented society. Dialogue creates a wholistic pedagogy that works against the approach of reductionism.

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Agritainers: Culture catching up

 

The website, Texas Crossroads Gathering attempts to connect consumers with farmers. ‘Bottom of pyramid’, ‘grass-roots’, ‘foundation of society’, ‘food-providers’ – there are numerous titles given to farmers across societies globally. The very vocation that founded the basis of human society and evolution of civilization stands almost as remote as its historical point of beginning. It is sad fact that estrangement of farmers from non-farming members of society has been on constant increase. In third world countries, economic gain governed formulation of policies which changed the natural crop cycles, made nature-dependent agriculture lose geo-sensitive crop preferences, bringing end to farmer’s autonomy where he exists as a loser –  as entrepreneur and worker.

In many societies lack of infra-structure leads to absence of dialogue between farmer and the rest. At best, they might have access to information channels, which coax them into adopting current practices. This has led to suicides by famers in countries like India. An estimated 200,000 farmers have taken their own lives in India over the past 13 years, according to Indian government statistics. Prime factors were ceding of  seed supply control to the corporate chemical industry, which enhanced production costs and falling food prices in a global agricultural economy.

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Losing to Curation?

 

Banish? You couldn’t. Utilitarians, rationalists, fanatics and most kinds of men have railed against poetry for some reason or other. Followers have paled by its frailty; some mourned its demise. Like Hydra or Phoenix, it raises its head again and again.

Many fortunate ones are gloriously unaware of its existence; still more can conscientiously wave it off as immaterial to ‘life’. For those, who require a bit more than trivia to move them, attention is requested to following samplers:

Blast/Bless poems submitted to Tate Britain & Creative Review initiative, an ongoing exhibition.

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Game of Life

Magister Ludi, considered to be most significant work of Herman Hesse, was given another title,  Das Glasperlenspiel or The Glassbead Game. In a futuristic setting the author speaks of  a game of life (the rules are alluded to but never stated), which the students have to master. It is the story of Joseph Knecht who starts as a schoolboy and rises to become Magister Ludi of the great place considered to be Ivory Tower. The Latin stem, Lud means both play and school. The apparently modern notion of learning by fun is a rediscovery of essence of learning.

This brief post is to highlight how Gaming Pundits are discovering important truths about inter-relationship between game, motivation, learning, fulfillment and hard-core reality. The following Slideshare presentation by Sebastian Deterding, aimed at designers for better comprehending the concept of ‘gamification’ , serves equally well in understanding the prime objectives in education.

A Presentation by Sebastian Deterding

Don't Play Games With Me: Promises and Pitfalls of Gameful Design

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Where knowledge is free

 

With a gesture of great hope, India has announced NATGRID.  This is a logical consequence to unique ID (UID) started a year back. The census exercise was designed as a preparatory step to this end and with people formally registering for (UID), a sharper data-set would be available to planners. An incentive had been originally envisaged and now various state governments are offering Rs. 100 to different segments, so that each individual has a bank account. The government will directly transfer a sum equivalent to US dollar 2.23 into the bank accounts of beneficiaries of social security schemes, pensioners, physically disabled and widows, and those of rural employment guarantee scheme who are below poverty line after they produce relevant documents as proof at the time of enrolment. Apart from understandable requirement for ration card (the sole universally obtained card across all sections in the country), other documents needed for UID like IP pump set details, Passbook number in milk cooperative society, Customer card number for LPG connection etcetera imply that data being collected would be used for other purposes as well.

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Architecture as Verb

Terence Tuhinanshu

Mirror’s coverage of British artist Anish Kapoor’s latest work –  Leviathan, at Grand Palais in Paris – is a happy re-examination of limit to human creativity. The work is another example of architecture blending with Art. This artist has been known for sculpting mammoth shapes in his search ‘to create a space within a space’.  For a critic’s view point please read Martin Newman’s review in Mirror. 

Designboom image of Anish Kapoor’s Leviathan. View Time Photo Essay Continue reading

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Of the ‘fittest’

Youth today would find it hard to imagine a world without facilities available to them. As a writer quipped that in future, grandchildren would laugh at you, if you told them you could not read Amazon books on Kobo or Sony format on Nook. Apart from ease, what else is it that technology realizes? Empowerment. Which may work both ways.

The sufferer is economically deficient class, community and individuals.  Less, through poverty and more through refusal to get distracted, did a number of communities invite a techno-bias. There is nothing that hurts as neglect. It is an invisible weapon of decay.

Often, perfection in their knowledge-system demanded insularity and Indian sciences survive today only where this rule is followed. Far more blunt than imaginary deductions of physics that lead to uncertainty, is the truth that any interaction between two systems is certain to change them both. To an alloy the touch of gold would bring little change in its value, but the purity of gold gets destroyed at once.

Indian artiste is the wrapt most self-situated individual. To qualify this statement, consider his motivation. His art is the medium granted to him to offer his gratitude to creator for having been granted the ability to offer it. Tautology? All forms of art transcend words that concretize thought. Suffice here then, for some incomprehensible reason, he would behave in a fashion that does nothing to weld a relationship between his art and the world that surrounds him. Why? Why, is he not bothered by presence of others besides him, on this planet? Is it not his duty to acknowledge them and do something for them?

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Poetry as App

How deeply does Eliot grieve passing away of all treasures civilization amassed, nursing the random fragments he has shored against ruins. The loss was felt by Arnold when he found that sea of faith had receded and it was no longer possible to find trust. The Bard himself had a lot to mourn, though none ever made him feel helpless.

Poetry had been identified as spanner in the works by Plato, “there is an old quarrel between philosophy and poetry”. (Republic, 607b5-6) And the writer of  How to Read a Poem, Terry Eagleton finds that things are no different today:

Poetry is the most intimidating of all the literary arts. Even students of literature tends to give it a wide berth these days, preferring a rattling good Conradian yarn to the perils of Paradise Lost. Most could spot a sexist stereotype in a poem, but not many could pick out an example of bathos or understatement. This is not because they are obtuse. It is because a lot of their teachers, not least the younger generation of them, couldn’t either. Poetry is rapidly becoming the bad fairy at the literary ball. And good poetry criticism among students is becoming as rare as clog dancing.

Appears as the death-knell of this devious art has been sounded. It exists in pages of history, alone. Poetry has spoken volumes in a few syllables; has been unfurled in voluminous generational works; given new dimension to music; been invigorated through musicality; it has been counter-foil to prose and also been expresses in un-poetic prose. It is something that works in devious ways,   something that doesn’t like a ‘wall’. It is a skylark of imagination; a cat o’ nine tails.

So in an age, burdened with grand observations of grand deaths (god, narratives, word) what chance does it hold. In a world full of visuality, would the invisible, intangible spirit of indomitable human expression survive?

Not long ago, while people were still not uncertain about literature turning a thing-of-past, they wanted to protect sanctity of its expression from the numbing, stifling cage of visual representation. Poetry can never be expressed  on celluloid, even though ‘poetry of celluloid’ could well exist. Poetry films, today are a recognized film-genre; they may not be a genre of poetry though.

Scholars and critics have spent more time in defining poetry than giving some, like the lay man, to its enjoyment. Like the human form that has dressed itself in countless garbs, poetry too remains equally alive and vibrant. Words are greatest of human inventions and thus the sacred most one is God’s; but the inventive spirit still lives. It may often neglect the genius of past due its engagement with constructing a future, but neither imagination, nor innovation, nor romance has withered away.

While Joyce finds a new Avatar as twitter boils down Ullyses, a greater serious treatment is accorded to Eliot by Faber who launched a video app of Wasteland.

Faber launches The Waste Land app – video | Books | guardian.co.uk

This is sacrilege to some, reassuring to others. The classics may just have got themselves a wedge that ‘book-marks’ them on ipv6. That poetry is another name to instinct of expression is well supported in Dougiedownunder’s comment on the Guardian post.

The i.tune of J Alfred Prufrock

Let us go then, you and I,
To the Apple store and buy, buy, buy
Like an addict stupefied by news`from Faber;
Let us go, like certain half – demented geeks,
Who mutter on for weeks
Through restless nights of world wide web soft sells
Of awesome Apps of which the Guardian tells:
Geeks who need no facile argument
Of insidious intent
To lead me to an overwhelming question …
I need not ask “What is it?’
I’m hot to trot and make my visit.

While it may offend the chaste tastes of a word-master to call application an ‘App’, abbreviating is an act of simplification; poetry has often been accused of simplifying life – but that is its charm, is it not?

So, O Prophet of a wasteland where ideas vie with each other in mad rush towards oblivion, the fragment, you shore against your ruin might save a geeky soul from drowning in his y/i/pad/pod. Yes, Lazarus comes to speak again.

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Taxing Music

 

The age of Technology is yet to arrive. For that matter, even industrialization has not come to many parts of the world. Dark ages and middle ages may still be discovered on earth. But human progress is measured largely by new vistas discovered and new possibilities created. It is amazing how this forward movement is not strictly linear; it is multi-dimensional.

Well, amazement is a part of human perception and thought. Alternating between  periods of illumination and darkness, civilization keeps discovering new thought, new tools, new Heroes. Pythagorean efforts surpassed the Herculean; for twenty five centuries mathematics lay in core of all rational thought. In the last two centuries this ‘pure science’ has been beleaguered with numerous uncertainties. Herman Weyl observed six decades back,

The question of the foundations and the ultimate meaning of mathematics remains open; we do not know in what direction it will find its final solution or even whether a final objective answer can be expected at all. “Mathematizing” may well be a creative activity of man like language or music, of primary originality, whose historical decisions defy complete objective rationalization.

It is not surprising then, that while one part of human ingenuity unravels itself in one direction, another may be involved with things in a different dimension. It may annoy the rational mind, but mystery (rising out of multiple action-bits, a few in process, unknown) is the yarn life uses to weave its carpet. ‘Man proposes, god disposes’ is no longer a religious homily; instead, it has become the truth of real life power game. Some of these power-maneuvers result in gain; it is equally possible for them to lead to situations, in which, the differend remains unaddressed. Questioning of authority results less in immediate gain; after losses of all kind, the gain is of truth alone. So, it is not surprising that while the rock-foundation of all science – Mathematics – may contain internal incongruity, all its applications measure up to expectations. Far greater in changing the face of earth would have been its tiniest failure in the complex experiment of  Long Hedron Collider than failure of computing electronics in Y2K.  Yet, none of these possible man-made catastrophes became real.  Mathematics still works. And even when a great part of world lies in differing  stages of development, it is now connected enough for everyone to make sympathetic evaluations. As the night, the day. It is a visible truth, now.

Only our concern for probable loss makes us take a stand that proven, would ensure encapsulation from a present wrong in future. The act may not be easy.  The efficient yet stifling bureaucracy has resulted through several steps accepted out of tiresome debate, deep meditation and vehement opposition. Bureaucracy is a wall – to protect and block. A shield against loss, an obstruction to gain.  In a  lecture delivered to the plebe class at the United States Military Academy at West Point in October 2010,  William Deresiewicz outlined the need of solitude for developing true leadership. Contemplation grants direction and courage, to write rules for new reality. Giving example of General David Petraeus, he emphasized that even within an institution like Army (which gave foundation to very idea of regimentation), officers need to think flexibly, creatively, and independently. Only then, the mediocrities would yield leadership to excellence.

Civil life is no different. In a world fraught with inconstancies and counter-poised motivations, it is the institution of law devised to grant justice. Democracy runs on the right to disagree with existing body of thought and seek redress even if it means making a change in the law.  Yet, it seems burdensome and counter-productive to a person engaged in an absorbing activity to drop it, so after bringing about a change, he may engage in it again. Everyone knows that you can’t have them both. He who finds the principle valuable than the fruit, alone would strive to set things right. But apart from moral courage, it is immediate necessity that keeps one from standing up.

Yususf Mirajkar and Dr. Mukesh Garg

Yususf Mirajkar and Dr. Mukesh Garg: Role of Instruments in ICM

In a conference on “Role of Instruments in Indian Classical Music”, a seventh generation instrument-maker Yusuf Mirajkar  explained why in near future musicians may not have any instruments to make music with. It may no longer be possible for us to hear the original sounds as getting adequate raw material is becoming difficult. The forest department has regulations to provide forest resources for traditional crafts, but not for commercial purposes. Now a musician is the sole user of the instrument while it remains serviceable. But he needs another artiste to craft it according to his need. Bureaucracy can not be bothered with such fine distinctions. So long an instrument-maker is making a musical instrument not for his own use but for another person, it is a commercial activity and not traditional craft. Secondly, the actual commercial interests cause selective plantation so that plants/ trees used for musical instruments would not be available in future. A true Miraj Tanpura, warned Mr. Mirajkar, would turn into a museum piece so that future vocalists would not be able to sing with one. He said the makers have neither wealth, power or influence; it is artistes alone who may use their influence to safeguard musical instruments. No artiste has taken a public stand regarding this.

Another interesting and equally inimical is the move to label musical instruments as devices. Indian musical instruments have a continuous history of evolution for over two millennium now. In his seminal work, Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya, Dr. Lalmani Misra correlates this evolution with Indian music theory step by step, with evidence from contemporary texts and sculptures. The Goddess of learning and music, Saraswati carried the most evolved string instrument of the age as stated by one scholar. It is the Indian classification of instruments that serves as foundation of modern Sachs-Hornbostel system. The Sachs-Hornbostel system classified instruments into four main groups: idiophones, membranophones, chordophones, and aerophones.  Later Sachs added a fifth category, electrophones, such as theremins, which produce sound by electronic means. (Kartomi, p.176)

All Indian musical instruments, classical, folk and modern ones accepted in practice of classical music at the time of its writing were included in Dr. Misra’s book. It was the year of his death 1979, that first Indian Electronic musical Instrument was made. Evolution has always been technology driven and starting from a pedal harmonium through transistors, integrated chips, the electronic instruments  G.Raj Narayan created were representative of creative spirit. Unless one has been formally trained in rigors of Indian classical music, it is difficult to understand how small was the chance of distilling the vast knowledge necessary into successful creation of these instruments. Befittingly, in the 2002 edition of Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya, analytical description of the electronic musical instruments was included. Since then, syllabi of various universities have granted these instruments due place. The students are involved with these instruments both theoretically and practically.

It is not formal academia alone that vitalizes or enriches life. The innovator of these instruments deserves highest honor that may be imagined for making it possible to  encapsulate Indian music in its essence, undistorted in a life-style soon to turn virtual. Four decades back no one could have imagined that a nation dedicated to agriculture with human activities in complete sync with nature, would one day wake up to Gutka (tobacco-pouch) Pepsi, and China-made cell-phones / handsets with double batteries ( or mechanical charge) that provide them 4 gb of indi-films, pop-songs and Bhajan-s in their villages where their government is unable to provide them with promised 6 hours of electricity for powering irrigation-pumps. The descent of post-modern  has been so vigorous, that Indian society, which assimilated all invading cultures  for centuries without batting an eyelid, is like a charged bull stomping to tear down all fences.

Ever since the quiet fabric of a slumberous existence had finally been torn by the war, partition and the country awakened to its independent existence, music had lost its traditional patronage. In third decade after independence music had turned into an industry. The audio cassette revolution  blasted the control of record companies and music was ‘liberated’ in all senses. Accessible as personal choice to lowest common denominator, quality was no more an essential. Very soon, it was ‘undesirable’ and the elite, cerebral Classical music, difficult to learn, costly to practice that was thrown out of homes, schools and temples. The paltry state stipends and  apathetic broadcasting agencies were not even bothered to drive the last nail in.

Classical music was on its way out when Radel Tabla and Tanpura breathed in a new lease of life. While purists fought over nuances and all others had their backs turned, the blessed children of Saraswati – the ineffaceable reminder of excellence – could with these electronic instruments turn into Aranya-Rishi,  learning and practice music with just a few batteries and their capability for immersion. No longer the need to stay in the house of Guru (the poor man could barely support himself); visit him once a week or month and do the Sadhana, Riyaz at home. Raj Narayan had created the mythical philosopher’s stone, the Paras whose touch would turn metal into gold. Well, almost. It needed pure metal to be turned into gold, yet, it accorded an equal chance to all who wished to practice learning Classical music, even those who may not have received approval of the Guru. On the minus side, many lost or never developed the ability to rely on their ears alone to produce the exact Swar. The reason Raj Narayan persistently went on with innovation was the demand of musician within. He had seen the best of artistes losing concentration, achieving little in comparison to their effort and talent because their instruments would fail them at one point or another. Finally he began creating instruments where the musician would be able to design the instrument according to his own sensibility and render the Raga to fullest of his abilities without finding his instrument a burden or hurdle. If a good artiste could achieve a lot with a limiting instrument, what would he not create let free. It was the desire to liberate and empower the talented that served as his Muse.

It takes times. With scorn, derision, mockery that every inventor faces, acceptance, appreciation and regard came his way.  The Citation of the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award in 1996 admitted,

“Recognising with gratitude your outstanding service in the field of musical instrument manufacture, the Government of Karnataka is pleased to honour you with the Rajyotsava Award for the year 1996.”

The Citation of the Karnataka Kalashree Award for 2000-2001, presented by the Sangeetha Nrithya Academy says:

“For the invaluable service in the field of instrument manufacture, Karnataka Sangeetha Nrithya Academy honours Sri Raj Narayan, Radel Electronics, with the ‘Karnataka Kalashree’ award.”

So, he was not awarded or honored for creating a musical Paras, but for a musical instrument. After all bureaucracies do not admit legends and myths; they deal in reality. But these awards did indicate that his service to unknown enthusiasts, virtuoso and stalwarts was now visible to the collective mind. Unmindful, the genius was busy in his Sadhana and continued discovering greater depths.

The Techno-Classicist was soon overtaken by the techno-economist. If the people had accepted an invention that benefitted them, was not it their duty to pay tithe to Caesar? Only, in this case it was more than a tithe.  Commissioner of Commercial Taxes, (Govt. of Karnataka)  ruled with reference to these:

“Such electronic gadgets which are run on electrical / battery power without any human intervention can by no stretch of imagination be construed as musical instruments. These are not Indian musical instruments or even musical instruments but electronic devices that automatically produce similar sound; therefore they have to be taxed at the rate mandated for electronics gadgets, which is at present 14% from April 1, 2011”.

It is very clear that this ruling is not about collecting revenue alone. It seems to reflect a bias of the collective against the loner, the genius, the thinker. True to the reductive attitude of the post-modern age, the statement deconstructs the possibility of  any  quality beyond average in creation of product in question. That there can be a possibility of the product going beyond its immediate utility and contributing to a larger ideal or goal is obviously beyond the logic-system which subverts it. It does not matter that delivered in garb of detached objectivity, such statements are qualified, making value judgment by proxy. In the heat of moment, they exceed their limits and decimate the power of very ideal they purport to act on behalf of.

In an age where realization has percolated to the very top, so that to safeguard Intangible Cultural Heritage practices from insatiable acquisitiveness and destruction of unbridled commercialization,UNESCO  Convention 2003 was ratified, the very institutions created to support and protect need to evaluate each action so that they may not subvert their function.

India was home to thinker Chanakya who prescribed taxation – to be collected as bees collect nectar from flowers. Taxation has also been practiced as deterrent – in modern India sometimes on foreign goods, almost always on alcohol and tobacco. It is more perhaps because of insularity (again a political canon from the Sage) than intention that a benevolent bureaucracy shows a stranger aspect.

Taxation is materialization of the abstraction that a government is. When  Thoreau wished to register his protest against the government, he refused to pay his due and sitting in prison wondered about the concept of freedom. If through its actions, the abstraction does not manifest a benign face even though it wants to, then it should reexamine the mechanisms that manifest its will.

The order of the tax department also shows that Technology is still an alien in many nations of the world. Why else, should a musical instrument functioning on principles of Indian music, invented by an Indian musician-engineer within India for musicians practicing Indian music be denied the label of being Indian or musical or even instruments? Calling them electronic devices is not scientific classification but an intended denigration based on their (partly-comprehended) function of ‘automatically produce(ing) similar sound’.

Take a look at the headlines, the feed on your pod or adverts inviting you to enticing products, alluring services. You can not only talk, but send text, book tickets and authorize payments with your cell phones. Google wallet will not only change the way individuals handle money but affect the whole system of finance conceptually. The world eagerly looks forward to technology changing the way we work or relax, at times wary, but never with derision. If it is not good, it will cease to be. The choice is clear: celebrate or be unconcerned.

That a machinery should be celebrative is perhaps too optimistic; at best we may request its unbiased concern. In this case, determine the ultimate point where deterrent would take effect. An increase in price is certain to decrease the sale and therefore reduce the use of electronic music instruments. Consult a cross-section of users;  or just look at the sales record and examine its function most superficially. It will be clear that these instruments are used not by advertising agencies, nor commercial service-providers but by students and musicians who use it for their learning, practice and satisfaction. Raising its cost is certain to reduce the number of users, which in turn means that number of people espousing Indian Classical Music would fall. One more method of expressing individuality would wither away.  This is the goal of uni-polar mono-cultural economy that connects good with largeness of numbers. As representative of the largest parliamentarian democracy respected throughout the world for fairness of its constitution, is it right to act against the essence, the spirit that directs its culture, which is also world’s heritage? Is it even fair to the current divinity of Technology to hold its achievement against itself? When shall we mature to express gratitude open-heartedly, to find power in empowerment and joy in making others smile? It is only then we shall like Wordsworth, carry the music in our hearts.

I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.

Citations:

Weyl, Hermann. “Mathematics and Logic.” The American Mathematical Monthly53 (1946): 2-13. Print.

Kartomi, Margaret J. “On Concepts and Classifications of Musical Instruments”,  University of Chicago Press, Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology (CSE), 1990.

“528. Solitary Reaper. William Wordsworth. The Oxford Book of English Verse.”Bartleby.com: Great Books Online — Quotes, Poems, Novels, Classics and Hundreds More. Web. 04 June 2011. <http://www.bartleby.com/101/528.html&gt;.

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Cultural Awareness: Contradictions And Paradoxes

(Courtesy: www. omenad.net)

Rajiv Trivedi

We are truly social creatures now. Man’s dependence on others has reached exponential levels; also his connectedness. The time between one man’s thought another’s benefit is drastically reduced. Also, time is no longer an absorbent or  muffler that might diminish or soften harsh ideas or actions. This “real-time” action takes away any meaningful action on individual level. While it turns life into a queue or a traffic lane with little leeway for self-directed  action (theirs not to question why, theirs but to do and die), greatest sufferers are those who dwell in the realm of creativity, imagination and ideas.

Heads, IGRMS

On the Wall -- Gary McHarg

The movement of ICH (Unesco Convention 2003) is directed against the constrictive, regimentation-oriented all-pervading force of globalization. In broad terms it aims to safeguard traditional practices that rise out of and define the life-style of a community but are threatened by socio-economic changes amplified by technology that spell “modernity”, “progress” and “global unification” today.  It rightly recognizes that to ensure continuity of practices involving oral transfer of knowledge the community needs to be empowered so that it may retain its mode of existence.  There is emphasis on the issue of privacy.  In the attempt made by outsiders, to preserve the traditional practice there is fair chance the endeavour turns into “museumification” (relocation of artifact/ practice away from its natural context  through suggested economic measure for self-sustenance) and  “demuseumification” (forced interaction robs people and practice of their original context  and artificially re-places  them for “authenticity”) thereby destroying the very purpose.  The convention reinforces consent, involvement and commitment of the community  in safeguarding a practice.

On first count, intangibility in several of such practices lies in experiential truths gleaned over a period and preserved as racial memory; here, in part, a direct approach might work without absolute dismantling the practice. The other kind is that, which permeates all artistic expressions. This has no substitute. It is an end to itself.  As there is no distinction made between the two, practices of latter kind are certain to suffer by any outside intervention. Situation grows still more complex with realization that most practices involve both aspects of intangibility.

Like the recurring decimal in arithmetic, even when a phenomenon has been explained in all possible manner, there always remains a non-terminating section of sense that eludes language. This indicates that indestructibility is an essential aspect of intangibility.  Intangibility: Transcending Visuality

But for all that, a clear mechanism has not been defined to this end.

The convention further recognizes the urgency “to ensure respect for the intangible cultural heritage of the communities, groups and individuals concerned”. As a corollary, it also provides “to raise awareness at the local, national and international levels of the importance of the intangible cultural heritage, and of ensuring mutual appreciation thereof”.  Whereas in essence, this is a simple statement of what their practice is to members of a given community; the action  from outside, even when it is to preserve and promote, shall destroy the very fabric. Then, is the whole activity futile? There is a simple and clear answer which translates the noble idea into possible action. The end of all action — at least end of that, which affects the living conditions of the community. With no external distractions the people and practice shall continue as directed by their local habitat. Even if that was possible, would it be advisable – keeping them perpetually under certain conditions and infringing upon their right to change? This is a perfect case for differendas defined by Lyotard. So often, like Eliza Dolittle, the learner complains about the loss of his innocence he was never conscious of in the first place.

Prior to the Unesco Conventionthere never had been voiced such a concern that sought international consensus in a planned manner. A few decades back, when visionaries of a global village were engaged with more tangible matters, it was too early to predict the predatory instinct of this benign utopian force. The convention is a timely answer to developing situation. Like all actions taken in response to crisis, it is to be commended more for its spirit – the essential intangibility – that recognizes the danger. It is justified in its demand to ‘ensure respect’. But only in an ancient civilization being shaken up by forces of “globalization” like India, can one understand how challenging is this demand.

Respect was the manifest most and best practiced aspect of intangibility that despite all external influences and interaction maintained the complex social fabric of this nation. Globalization functions on principle of erosion of intangible aspect of such intrinsic values. Today, within a single decade respect has been chased away from personal, social, aesthetic and vocational areas. Political and legal enterprise succeed in establishing justice for certain idea at the cost of sacrificing older yet still valuable ones. In a sense, in absence of broadening of our understanding, we destroy order to make way for the future one.

A community gains its identity because of the balance it achieves with external conditions. They sing and dance in a certain way, on such occasions as ‘holi’ or  ‘potlatch’, because their knowledge and belief propel them to do so. It is theirway to attain harmony with universe. Integrity of observation relies on holism. If one were to say that song and dance are elements of their culture but some or the other of their practice being ‘barbaric’ is not, hence the first should be encouraged while the latter decried, it is being judgmental. How can we stop being that? Is not all progress judgmental? Secondly, the moment external conditions change (the presence of alien world intruding through ‘cultural facilitator’) the coherent, integral essence is violated. The foreign curiosity about the dance, song or their head-gear makes the members conscious of these things in a new way; they themselves become agents of museumification.

Preserving Practices: Spindle

Cycle of Innovation -- Gary McHarg

 

Respect demands a certain level of fixity, permanence, reliability in the the tangible world. When the modern conditions reduce life to biological category of production and reproduction, human beings have no control over their lives at most basic level; they shall not be able to understand, uphold and practice such values in their true aspect and bloom. The current attitudes and processes aim at fluidity, flexibility, change and adaptability, in attaining which the traditional definitions are clear impediments. Thus the respect rising out of love and veneration is changed to acceptance of a stern action or confinement  for immediate local gain. The integral aspect of knowledge has given way to practiced expected responses. A traditional world view based on apparent non-change has woken up to dizzying whirl of change and novelty inducing the individual to exchange intangibility for visuality.

This bubble experientiality does not allow organic existence of any idea, discarding the present for a bold shiny one in the offing. Scholars have often expressed their anxiety whether tradition of Indian Classical Music would survive. To learn such an instrument as Rudra or Vichitra Veena one has to go through several stages — learning and mastering Dhrupad singing, playing simpler instruments like Sitar, Sarod and then graduating to the Veena. The whole process was based on unquestioned acceptance of the basics, regular practice and compete dedication to one’s art. The process breaks down to rich availability of time. Learning itself was the end thus establishing again the principle of harmony which communities follow. As all actions are understood to be agents for some material gain, music too is being molded to be an activity of immediate reward. Not only is richness of time no longer a given, the intangible relation between activity and joy has been derecognized. Scholar musicians would use their art to thread pearls of wisdom — the notes of Sam Ved being preserved in Raga Sameshwari — but would such a thing be possible in future?

If only the whirlwind nature of change could be contained, practices would not require safeguarding; they shall unselfconsciously change surely and as imperceptibly as earth on its axis, giving rise to ideas fresh as seasons.

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