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.

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