Saturday, September 17, 2011

Enchantment of the World

I woke up at 2 a.m and wondered what I should do for today's lecture. I teach two compulsory courses, and will probably do this for the next ten years while at JNU. Today was my Sociology of Religion course, and the reading I found was a book published in 1995, called The Inhuman Condition, and the author is Keith Tester. He is a follower of Hannah Arendt's work "The Human Condition" and one of the things he is concerned with is the Weberian problematic of the Disenchantment of the World.
Those of us who read Weber for a living, know that alongside the clarity of the position on subjectivity and objectivity in social science is the real preoccupation with modernism, that is rationality, bureaucracy and alienation. A lot of the work by Zygmunt Bauman and others is to test this hypothesis in terms of what they call postmodern conditions of Fluid Societies. Obsolescence, waste, fear and the turnabout provided by the reading of fiction, where this becomes a staple for those who feel that fantasy provides an answer. Young people are avid readers and the genre of fantasy becomes preparation for the momentum required to think of the next move. The landscapes of the future are so close that they see the genre of a propelled imagination sufficient to handle the possibility that tomorrow they will be called upon to make the long march or to waft upwards into the skies in new machines with extended orbits.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Internet and its Accessories

The interesting thing about the internet is that there is a huge population of bored people out there, who legitimately or illegitimately get into all your stuff. They do this because they think they are working for the State, or against the State, for the Nation, for Community, for one's base self or another''s a little like the wolf who wishes to eat the lamb, and tarries for a bit, giving reasons, but then the narrator of the story knows that the reasons are immaterial, for the lamb will be eaten.
For just this reason, I get quite perplexed when I am asked to review something or offer an opinion on the bases of total confidentiality, and ofcourse I am completely convinced that this confidentiality is a ruse by which those in power think that thier iron gates are up, and are spiked!
Ideological differences are ofcourse the newest form of the new Luddites. They essentially believe that they are the gatekeepers to ideas, but the internet makes sure that any view of theft or claims to originality are already placed in the chronology of internet archiving.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

NMML 2011

I was pleased to go back to the Tuesday Seminar at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. I remember it from 1989. We had joined the Centre for Contemporary Studies, and the seminars were held every Tuesday at 3 p.m and  as Fellows of the Centre, we contributed to the Weekly paper reading, and there were many guests too. NMML has a new Director, Mahesh Rangarajan who is comfortable doing his job, and the NMML has been having many visitors who feel that the seminar life of NMML is the best part of its functioning. I felt nostalgic for the roses though which seem to have dwindled. Outside, in the circle near the gate, they were abundant. Delhi's best gardeners are to be found at its traffic crossings.
The seminar room was looking exquisite, (the thick expensive blinds were rolled up,) and I hope that in the days to come there will be  khadi silk curtains  instead.  (The price of nostalgia is to ask "Where is the portrait of Nehru in the Seminar Room and the natural brown curtains, were they brown or fawn or ivory in 1989?" The light was blazing in.)Meanwhile, the trees outside looked familiar, and like a lot of former fellows, I felt a wonderful sense of being back. I had not been visiting the Library for the last two years since I was busy with the Chairpersonship of the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, in  JNU but going back to NMML meant meeting friends and having tea at Kutty's famous cafe where ideas are shared along with tea and subsidised food.
IIAS, Shimla also gives one the sense of an institution which means a lot to those who frequent it. Peter DeSouza has a wonderful sense for paint, stained glass and gardens so conservation has meant as much  to the Director of IIAS, as fulfilling obligations to fellow intellectuals and buying books for the Library.
What startled me most about NMML was that a whole section of wood panellling had been pulled out, and glass replaced it. It seems odd that state institutions, managed by the pwd, often have rooms locked in without sunlight, and replacement of perfectly functional materials by expensive new materials.
NMML always buzzed with ideas and critical thought, so listening to Mukul Sharma, a journalist and ecologist was immensely interesting. Sharma interviewed Anna Hazare for ten years, culminating in 2001, so ten years later his book is in press, and he is delighted to share ideas and views. Fearless as he is, the data he has is stunning. Those of us who believe that India's Freedom Movement works with constitutional rights and parliamentary democracy will find Sharma's views completely anchored in the Sociology of reading movements, charisma and authoritarian figures. The audience was immediately motivated to ask many questions, and these were answered very charmingly and astutely.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Kota Literary Festival

Pushpesh Pant, who teaches with us in JNU, and is a food critic and writer, invited me to go to the Kota Literary Festival, which is an extension of the Jaipur Festival. I stood at the  Nizamud-din  Railway station, waiting for my fellow travellers to arrive, since one of them had a combined ticket. It was a blazing hot day,  I had arrived much too early, and waited at the station with Chekhov's Letters, (published by Penguin) to help me pass the time. Three minutes before the train was to leave,  S.S Nirupam, who works with the magazine Sarita, and had to put an issue arrived. Pushpesh Pant had got caught in a visa queue, and would not make it to the conference. I travelled with Anamika, the well known Hindi poet, and Manisha Pande who writes a very popular blog for India Today. Our companions in the compartment, were a book seller and his wife, Mr Jain of Jain Book Depot, Kota who told us about the book trade in a small town, where 90 percent of the books sold are English text books.
The town is four hours from Delhi, and we reached on schedule at 8.15 p.m, but Mr Jain whom everyone  in the compartment knew, said it was fifteen minutes late. Raining and all lit up, Kota looked pretty. But once the conference began we found ourselves tied to the velocity of the discussions, which were heady, given that the Vardhman Mahaveer Open University saw the work of the authors in the four language groups (Rajasthani, Hindi, Sanskrit and English)  necessary for the production of the lucid prose that Open Universities require.
It rained without stop for the two days that we spent in Kota, and everything was so green, I could have been in Kerala. It was amazing, and the residents said that they have had continuous rainfall for the last four months. In my wildest dreams I would never have imagined Rajasthan to be so green, but as the proud residents of Kota said, they have no water or electricity problems, but are not on the tourist map, though they are well known for Kota stone, Kota sarees, (which are very fine and crisp cottons,)  and the kachoris. Kachoris are stuffed  deep fried puris, with thick crusts, and a  delicious filling of roasted urad dal, besan, hing, pounded chillies, and coriander seeds. The workers and the rich merchants of the city stand elbow to elbow buying these hot from a shop called Ratan, on the Nayapura flyover. The Open University is hoping that an annual literary festival and the famous savouries of Kota will create a space for the guaranteeing of an airport to their kasbah. Talking to many of the people who were from Kota, and who had come to the conference, I discovered that they all spoke highly of their town. Kota has the sense of comfort and charm that its residents enjoy, and they don't have a tradition of eating out, because they are good cooks, who eat at home. It was pouring, but two of the participants thought it would be a good idea to go to a mall, to a barrista, to a promenade cafe (all aspects of conference life that they are used to)...these things do not exist in Kota, and good thing too!  If Kota gets its airports, the kachori as Kota nivasis know it, will probably become an obscure savoury  on a multinational cuisine list,which costs 80 rupees each, instead of 8 rupees each. Maybe democracy has its own ways of asserting itself in Kota, in the aim of the Open University, which is to reach out to one lakh students, many of whom will be first generation learners, and the celebration of the kachori on rainy evenings, by its inhabitants who unequivocally love their town, and are proud of it. The poets and writers at the conference, both men and women, speaking in Hindi, English, Sanskrit and Rajasthani made the event memorable, and the Open University will soon make their work available in print. The internet as the most significant means of communication was the topic of discussion for an entire session, where young poets and writers showcased their work in journals which are now household names..