As the Eurostar emerged from Channel Tunnel and the train announcements switched to first English and then French from the other way around, I had that feeling of being back at home, which is paradoxical. I have lived in England for 11 years now and familiarity is a factor, particularly after being reprimanded at the Left Luggage facility at Gare Du Nord for not speaking French. But then, English is still not my first language, and my schooling was not in English - it is a language I have learnt much later in life. But, as it seems, my worth today is defined by English I speak and write - as I make my living as a rainmaker and enjoy my occasional Warholian 15-minutes on this blog.
But, before I get to the point about an English-speaking Indian, let me say a few things how it felt in Paris, where I spent a week (which should explain my silence on this blog). I took off to Paris for many reasons, one of them being able to reset the clock back in my own mind - I once spent a particularly lovely few days in Paris which changed my life in many ways - and to start again. Having seen the sights as all tourists must do, I had no particular imperative to climb up the Eiffel Tower, or to jostle with humourless tourist groups for a selfie in front of Monalisa. However, Paris still meant walking endlessly on beautifully laid out roads, and watch the couples lost in their reverie in beautiful gardens and riverbank, and to turn my own creative self on, something that I needed desperately at a time when, not for the first time in my life, I feel like drifting.
But, then, I am older and I saw something new in Paris. All those beautiful sights had a message which I missed earlier - that at their core, there is oppression. Sacré-Cœur standing on the very grounds of the initial revolts leading to Paris Commune, the beautiful Winged Bull of Louvre or the Egyptian treasure being a legacy of the Napoleonic or later imperial campaigns, the destitute beggars on Champs-Élysées waiting for the guilt of the Touristy heart, all the grandeur of Paris, and its beauty, appeared to me, this time around, with its oppressive abandon. Indeed, this is about me losing my innocence, though I shall claim to retain my sense of wonder, and may even be the proof of pessimism that I was looking for in the first place. But, the point that I was not bitter or resentful about the oppression, but was rather thinking that all beauty and grandeur pre-require oppression - not morally justifying it, but seeing this as inevitable - might have been the key point for me to take-away. In that sense, my particular calming moment was inside Pantheon, somewhat more peaceful without the tourist groups, to stand in front of the grave of Rousseau, whose words - that all civilisation is barbarity - I am perhaps repeating. However, I did not come away with any righteous rage, but rather a frame of thinking about culture, including that of my own English language.
The point of Paris, for me the older man, is not another outrage about imperial looting and reparation, but the truth of all cultures - that it is dead creativity! We are supposed to marvel at the museums on the assumption that the artifacts are the ones which made humanity great, but the institution of the museum, and the act of collecting and curating, is an action supported by power and wealth, not creativity. And, this is not just about affording the artifact - the procurement and preservation needs money - but also selecting the artifact is guided by the same assumptions of power, which makes the institutional form of museum some sort of a modern Pyramid, a palace of dead culture, ritualistic and ready for consumption. This is great for commerce, all those miniature Monets and Van Goghs on handbags, but the creativity remains outside, on the fringe. The stunning display of Impressionists at Musée d'Orsay or Musée de l’Orangerie may be doing great work in making those great painters available to posterity, but the act of curation is very different - one of power, privilege and approval - than the real act of creation, which many of those destitute painters indulged in, with little outside acclaim or support. That latter act, of creation, of drawing inspiration from inside oneself, doing what one wants rather than looking for social (or commercial) approval, that makes humanity great. And, in that sense, the museum is the wrong message - the hallway of Orsay was abuzz with how much the Monets would be worth - and in many a sense, the regression of human culture.
It is a conflicting thought. Louvre was made to set art free, from private collections to the world at large, a function it, and the other museums, serve. This conflict, however, does not nullify my other thought about all culture as repression, but exist side-by-side. The Parisian dream, that of an attic and tuberculosis (as a Woody Allen character succinctly mentions), is less about the culturally sanctioned grandeur and more in the realm of those destitute migrants locked up in Calais, and that is what makes humanity great. Every cultural flowering is preceded by a revolution, where street creativity overwhelms mummified culture of the museums, be in the 1870s France followed by belle-epoch, or the Counter-culture that preceded the Silicon Valley (which Fred Turner writes about). A cultural epoch, in my mind, starts with people changing the conversation (an expression Theodore Zeldin uses) beating the powerful in their own game of Culture with a big C. And, then, history proceeds - of enveloping the creativity and transforming it into the culture of the next generation - all those evaluating Monets in financial terms are live examples! But that is the point of death of creativity, death by culture is such a great expression, a middle class disease and symptom of decay that we are currently afflicted with.
Which brings me to own conflicts with English language. At one level, I have learned the language and live daily with it, so much so that it feels like home. On the other, I know that this comes loaded with those assumptions of power, that selects a few and divides all, and I see this in my day-job, where, concerning mainly with developing countries and India, articulation trumps accomplishment. English language, in context of India and Indianness, is like the Museums of Paris, full of grandeur and beauty, a place of culture - but selective, a code between the powerful, with its own code of hierarchy and access. It may be a tool to access the outside and bring the world knowledge into our doorstep, the precise dream that set me into the journey of learning the language and living in England, but a more common use of it as a sieve, of keeping many out. And, yet, the creative energy outside is what defines humanity, and it eventually overwhelms the sanitised world of culture and official language, just as it did many times in history. In many a sense, Paris sets me free again - this time around, it was from my own assumptions.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
A week into lockdown and things are beginning to change. Mornings are late, afternoons are lazier and evenings never end; meditations are filling out the time for Yoga routines and Netflix profiles are strewn with half-finished movies. This state-mandated, state-funded period of idleness is being likened to being called up to serve, but is nothing like that: Such a comparison is really an affront to the idea of service. Instead, this is just one long streak of panic; of the centre not holding and life not going on as usual. With the usual patterns and rules in suspended animation and business talk - and business - being rendered meaningless, space is opening up for unusual questions: Is Capitalism about to end? Is this the death of globalisation? Does it get uglier from here? My grandfather's generation would have scoffed at us. They saw through wars and pandemics. But, in fairness, we haven't had a life-ending crisis of our own. Notwithstanding the experiences of th
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.