Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Story of India

The story of India is not just about the wars and the fights - son killing his father, brother killing his brother, invaders plundering temples and ravaging villages, as we generally read in our history books. Rabindranath had expressed his shock over this type of history which gives but a crooked and narrow idea of a civilization which has been existing for more than 5000 years. In Discovery of India Jawaharlal Nehru says - "India has had many distressful periods in the course of her long history, when she was ravaged by fire and sword or by famine, and internal order collapsed. Yet a broad survey of this history appears to indicate that she had a far more peaceful and orderly existence for long periods of time at a stretch than Europe has had".

India is a story of amalgamation of so many creeds, faiths and cultures. It's the story of an all-inclusive development of millions of people across a vast land which has shown ways to the world in various ways. It's the story of prosperity that attracted people from far away places. It's the story of the best of the sciences, the best of the art, literature, architecture and music. It's the story of a land "Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high, Where knowledge is free, Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls, Where words come out from the depth of truth, Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection, Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit, Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought".

India is the story of everyone who has come here from everywhere with their own self and got mixed into the "vast sea of humanity - that is India. Here I stand with arms outstretched to hail man divine in his own image and sing to his glory in notes glad and free. No one knows whence and at whose call come pouring endless inundation of men rushing madly along to lose themselves in this vast sea of humanity that is India. Aryans and Non-Aryans, Dravidians and Chinese Scythians, Huns, Pathans and Mogols all are mixed, merged and lost in one body" - that's my body - the body of an Indian.

India is the story of impeccable harmony, tolerance and all-inclusive civilization. Ashoka turned into a Buddhist and played a great role in spreading Buddhism to major part of Asia Pacific. Statistically the spread of Buddhism during the reign of Ashoka and the successive Buddhist Rulers of India over the few centuries was much more than what the Caliphs could attain in the first few centuries after the birth of Islam - and all that without any force. Even though the whole of China, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, Sri Lanka and many other countries turned Buddhist, India still remained a majority Hindu nation. Have you ever heard of any conflict between the Hindu and Buddhist. Ashoka, Kanishka, Harshavardhana, the Palas and many more emperors of India, though themselves Buddhists, never antagonized the Hindu rituals and traditions. In the same way the Hindu Guptas allowed Buddhism to flourish. The result of this harmony was off course Taxila and Nalanda Universities, the centers of learning and education for the entire world for almost 1500 years, till the rise of Baghdad during the Golden Age of Islam. People from all over the world flocked to Taxila and Nalanda, which were the centers of great discussions, arguments, debates that resulted in the greatest researches, inventions and discoveries in the field of science, mathematics and astronomy.

The greatest example of harmony is perhaps the period between 1200 and 1800 AD, when most part of India was ruled by Muslim rulers, all of whom came from outside. It's remarkable that elsewhere Islam just swept across all the places where ever it went. Almost 100% of Persian Empire (covering Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Asia Minor and major parts of Middle East) and Arab land was converted into Islam over a few centuries. Traces of pre-Islamic culture and religions were wiped out since the decline of the Golden Age of Islam (8 to 12th Century AD). But despite the 600 years of Muslim rule in India, only a fraction of India had converted to Islam. From this point of view the Muslim rulers in India were undoubtedly much more tolerant than their Western counter parts. This is also an example of the Indian tradition of tolerance and harmony, that existed even before the advent of Islam in India. None of the Muslim rulers elsewhere in the world had non Muslims in critical positions as in India. Akbar's reign is just incredible from that point of view - 4 out of 9 in his Nava Ratna were Hindus. None of the Muslim rulers elsewhere in the world ever thought of amalgamating different religions and creating a new religion called Din-i-Ilahi like Akbar. Beyond the Islamic Golden Age, there were very few instances of free debates and discussions on religion and philosophy between people of various creed and cultures in the West. For three hundred years, the mullahs of the Ottoman Empire objected to the introduction of the printing press saying that the Word of God (the Qur’an) would be defiled if it came in contact with the wood or the metal of the press. It was only in the year 1728, three hundred years after it made its appearance in Christian Europe that the printing press was allowed into the Ottoman Empire. Contrary to that, Dara, one of Aurangzeb's brothers had translated Upanishad from Sanskrit to Persian. The first Ramayana in Bengali was written with the initiative of the first Muslim Rulers of Bengal. Has anyone heard of any Muslim King naming his capital after the a Hindu God? Well, that would be just a blasphemy in Arab world. But Tipu's capital was actually called Srirangapatnam - the city of Vishnu.

The other side of the story is also equally enchanting. The Bengali San Calendar, considered to be a Hindu calendar, was actually synched up with the lunar Hijri during Akbar's reign, but the counting remained Solar. That's why the date in the Bengali San calendar is quite close to that in Hijri. This means that my marriage, on some auspicious day as per Hindu norms, has a reference to the day when Prophet Mohammed marched from Mecca to Medina. Well, you might argue that Akbar might have forced this on the Bengalis. But then the Bengalis didn't change this ever - even after the death of Akbar or the end of the Muslim Rule in India. Is there any other place in this world where a Muslim calendar is synched up with Christian era or vice versa? Has anyone spoken about this? The sound of Shehnai is part of the ritual in any Hindu marriage in North India even though till date I haven't heard of any Hindu playing Shehnai. In older days even the staunch Brahmins used to invite the Muslim Shenai players to perform in their marriages. Is there any ritual in any part of the world where people of different faith play such a great role? Bismillah Khan's shehnai was one of the main attractions in the temples of Banaras till his death. Can you show me any single church or masjid in the world where a Hindu has been asked to sing Bhajan? Have you ever heard of any Hindu preferring the Brahmin Kishore Kumar Gangopadhyay over a Muslim Mohd. Rafi for religious reason? Have you ever heard of any actor becoming superstar by virtue of his religion? Khans are the rulers of Bollywood. Some of the richest Muslims, the likes of Wadias and Azim Premji, of the corporate world are in India. The biggest real estate company, Prestige, in Bangalore is owned by Muslims. One of the poorest persons, also a Muslim, from one of the remotest villages went on to become the top boss of India's premier defense research organization and later the President. Ask Abdul Kalam, ask Mohd. Rafi, ask the Wadias, ask Azharuddin, ask Bismillah Khan, ask Shahrukh Khan, ask Amjad Ali Khan and Ali Akbar Khan, ask the sexy Katrina Kaif, ask Omar Abdullah, ask Ghulam Ali if they have ever faced any discrimination? No.... India has never discriminated. That's why the Parsis never found any problem to establish the biggest business houses in India where as they had to flee from their home land - Persia. The Tatas are as much Indians as are the Birlas and Ambanis. Have you heard of anyone discriminating between Tatas and Ambanis because of their religion?

But sadly I don't get to read this story very easily. "Discovery of India" is indeed one of the most lively books about Indian history. Most history books become uninteresting because they deal with just facts of lives, but not with the life of facts. Perhaps history is meant to be that way. But I never like a lifeless history. If history can't bring life into someone who has died hundreds of years ago, then what's the point in reading it. India's history is a story about life - a life that is so lively, so charming, so benign, so loving, and so prosperous too. Some glimpses of the true and lively story of India come out in some of the novels written by well researched people. The life that Tarashankar Banerjee had infused into the people of Hampi during the days of Vijaynagar rule in his Bengali novel "Tungabhadrar Teere" is something that lasts much longer than some mere facts read in a history book. The rulers of Vijaynagar had indeed fought many a battle, but the prosperity of the people, the art and culture that flourished during that time, the happiness of the normal people, the hustle and bustle of the main street leading to the Virupaksha Temple say much more about the period than the battles. During my visit to Hampi some ten years back I was feeling as if I myself had walked down the streets sometime in the past. Each and every building, temple seemed to be known to me. Sadly, not many books have been written like this.

With the urge to see the history of India not as a repository of fights and battles but as a story of constant rising and awakening, constant creation of highest form of art and culture, constant urge for acquiring the highest forms of knowledge in various aspects, really long stretches of prosperity and unity. I also wanted to figure out how many times a pan Indian nation had emerged through the ages. Thanks to Wikipedia, my personal collection of books of Lively Indian History like "Discovery of India", "Argumentative Indian", various novels (mostly in Bengali) and a wonderful site for online maps of the different kingdoms across ages:, I'm able to create a concise single page chart of the time line of Indian history highlighting almost all the important events and dynasties spanning across 5000 years, starting from Indus Valley Civilization. The maps are very important to appreciate the history of any nation or kingdom because that speaks the best about the gradual growth and development of any civilization and nation over the ages. It also speaks of the neighbors whose culture and religion have always played an important role in shaping up India's art, culture, music, architecture, lamguage, literature... and what not. Alongside the rise and fall of dynasties and kingdoms, which are just the natural phenomenon which can't be prevented even by the strongest of the emperors, wars and battles I've also marked the following
  1. The events, personalities and times associated with an extraordinary, universal and all inclusive developments in art, culture, science, religion or any renaissance.
  2. World Heritage Sites - which traces extra ordinary achievement in the field of art and architecture that has significant socio-cultural relevance over a long period of time and can be considered as an epoch in the annals of a period or age. Though not always true, but in general a dynasty generally creates the best of the architectures during its golden period when the administration is also at its peak and the nation or kingdom experiences an all inclusive growth and prosperity. That's why marking the Word Heritage Sites also indirectly marks the Golden Ages in the annals of history.
  3. Emergence of Pan Indian nation and times of remarkable administration and prosperity.

The result of this is really very striking. Almost every century there has been some very important development in the field of art, culture, science, religion or administration that has played a very important role in shaping up the culture, philosophy and prosperity of India. Nehru was not wrong when he remarked that India "had a far more peaceful and orderly existence for long periods of time at a stretch than Europe has had".

The multicultural and multi ethnic atmosphere of tolerance, arguments and debates provide the ideal ground for renaissance, which comes once in thousand years to any nation or civilization. But India never stopped from having renaissance in some sense throughout her history. In 2nd century BC when Maurya Empire was declining somewhere else people were were creating the wonderful paintings of Ajanta caves. When the Tamil Sangama Age was ending in the south during third century AD, the Kushanas were creating the Bamiyan Buddha in the north west. When the Gupta Empire was declining and the Hun invasion was creating turmoil in the 6th century AD the first Rajput Kingdom of the Pratiharas and the Chalukyan Kingdoms were being established in North and South respectively. When Mahmud of Ghor was creating devastations in the North in 12th century AD, the Hoyasalas were creating the wonderful temples of Belur and Halebidu and the mathematician Bhaskaracharya was born. Even during the last phases of Mughal Empire in the 19th century, the best Urdu poetries were being written by Mirza Ghalib. Amir Khusro brought a renaissance in Hindustani Classical Music during a time when politically India was not so stable in the 14th century. At the time when the British Rule started, after the Sepoy Mutiny, the Indian's were having most recent cultural and social renaissance - nationalism was emerging in a strong way during this time. Throughout her history she never ceased to grow or prosper despite everything. This is indeed the true history of India - the story of continuous growth and prosperity and renaissance!!

The Timeline of Indian History created by me may be seen here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Land Ownership in India vs. Urban Economic Growth

by CBSagar, April 2008

If the millions of landless own small amounts of land in India, we can improve the lives of hundreds of millions and help close the rural-urban gap where years of rapid growth have disproportionately benefited the cities, as per a Rural Development Institute report published in Washington Times.

Lack of clear rules regarding land ownership has locked many rural residents into deep poverty. Economic growth was disproportionately generous to Indian cities, forging a glaring rural-urban gap and a population of 60 million landless families. Some economists argue that clear property rights, giving the poor a clear ownership of his tiny plot of land are the foundation for free markets, prosperity and honest governance.

Millions landless families in India are forced to live and work on others property, earning very little in terms of a tiny agricultural wage. Most land reforms are at best short-term solutions for rural Indian poverty, not permanent solutions, as per economists. With 800 million rural residents and only 400 million acres of arable land in India, people should be out of the countryside. The future of Indian agriculture requires widespread irrigation, technology investments and large acreage agriculture farmlands similar to those found in mainland USA! Real Estate times (courtesy)

Landholding distribution too has become skewed. According to government data compiled from sources such as the All India Report on Agriculture Census 1991-2000, in 1995-96:

  • 1.2% of landholdings in the country accounted for 14.8% of the total operational holdings with large holdings of 10 hectares and above (average holding: 17.21 hectares).
  • 6.1% of holdings accounted for 25.3% of the total operational holdings with medium holdings of 4 to 10 hectares (average holding: 5.8 hectares).
  • 12.3% of holdings accounted for 23.8% of the total operational holdings with semi-medium holdings of 2 to 4 hectares (average holding: 2.73 hectares).
  • 18.7% of holdings accounted for 19.8% of the total operational holdings with holdings of 1 to 2 hectares (average holding: 1.42 hectares).
  • As many as 61.2% of holdings accounted for only 17.2% of the total operational holdings. On average, the size of these marginal holdings was 0.4 hectares.

Landless labour

According to the India Rural Development Report of 1992, 43% of the country’s rural population was absolutely or near landless. Landless agricultural labour makes up almost half of those living below the poverty line in rural India.

A majority of the economically and socially weaker sections of society, such as scheduled castes and tribes, dalits, adivasis and women, make up the majority of landless population working as labour.

Landlessness has been steadily rising among the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. According to a government Rural Labour Enquiry report, the percentage of landless households among scheduled castes increased from 56.8% in 1977-98 to 61.5% in 1983, while among adivasis it increased from 48.5% in 1977-78 to 49.4% in 1983.

Even among those who own land, a majority own marginal plots that provide them little or no food security. The government describes such marginal landowners as ‘mere landless’ (those who own less than 0.002 hectares) and ‘near landless’ (those who own between 0.002 and 0.2 hectares). According to the draft paper of the Ninth Five-Year Plan, 77% of dalits and 90% of adivasis are either ‘absolute landless’ (own no land) or ‘mere landless’.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Rehman's attempt to create Symphony for Indian Music

I don't know how many of you have listened to the music of the recent movie Yuvaraj, composed by Rahman. Though the movie didn't create much of a mark, neither did the songs become chart busters. But there's indeed some thing very special about the songs composed by Rahman. I feel this is the first time that a proper Western Classical Symphonic orchestration, arangement and composition has been used in Hindi movie.

Use of Western Classical Music is quite insignificant even in the Hollywood movies or Western music albums. I feel in Hollywood it is restricted mainly to the background scores or opera based songs in period movies. But quite interstingly Bollywood has quite a few instances of using Western Classical music - works of various composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi etc in songs. Perhaps the extensive use of songs in Indian movies provide more scope to incorporate Western Classical Music than Hollywood. Even then, the proper use of Symphonic orchestra and symphonic style of compositions in Hindi movies was perhaps never attempted before Rahman.

I should acknowledge that there have been some significant efforts in the past in bringing Western Classical Music in mainstream Indian music by people like Anada Shankar (son of legendary dancer Uday Shankar and nephew of Ravi Shankar and perhaps the first Indian to attempt fusion music successfully) and Ilyaraja (the first Indian to compose for Philharmonic Orchestra London), but still Western Classical Music has always been a niche and elite thing, not quite within the reach of the mass. Over the years the Indian Classical Music has been able to penetrate more into mass listeners, to a great extent due to movies using various forms of classical and semi classical music in songs and also due to the glamour and aura created by many leading performers like Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar, Amzad Ali Khan, Zakir Hussain, L Subramaniam - to name a few - all of whom have also created a significant market for Eastern Classical Music in the West. In this context, Rahman's effort is really commendable. In India movies play a great role in popularizing any form of music. I'm sure the present popularity of Ghazal, Sufi music or folk forms like Bhangra won't have been possible without significant patronage from movies.

Bollywood has always attracted the best of the talents from all over India. This has created a very cosmopolitan and enriched form of popular music. Many regional flavors amalgamated into a pan Indian form. In the earlier days Bollyood was mainly driven by people from Bengal, Punjab and Maharashtra thus bringing in rich elements of literature, culture, folk, devotional, traditional, classical and semi-classical forms of music from all these regions into Bollywood. During the earliest phase of Hindi movie production in Calcutta in 30-40s under New Theatres, Bombay Talkies' Devika Rani, Himanshu Rai, Ashok Kumar, Filmistan's Shashadhar Mukherjee and music composers like Anil Biswas, Timir Baran, Pankaj Mallik and K C Dey, Rabindranath Tagore was still alive and his influence in any form or art and culture was really unavoidable. Interestingly till date the format of any movie song in any language in India still follows the format of a Rabindra Sangeet with the duration of 3-4 minutes and consisting of sections like Mukhra, Antara and Sanchari. Rabindra Sangeet itself has many ingredients of an Opera. The later Bengali composers like Salil Chowdhury, S D Burman, Hemant Kumar also used folk elements of Bengal and Assam like Baul, Bhatiyali, Kirtan and Bihu widely in Hindi movies. The trio Raj Kapoor-Dilip Kumar-Dev Anand along with composers like O P Nayyar, Roshan, Madan Mohan, Khayyam, Shankar (of Shankar Jaikishan duo) and above all the most famous singer of the time Mohd. Rafi brought in Punjabi elements in music and movies. C Ramachandra and off course the Mangeshkar sisters Lata and Asha, with genes deeply rooted in Marathi Natya Sangeet brought another dimension to Hindi movies. Naushad brought elements of Uttar Pradesh. Apart from the regional flavors in Bollywwod the undercurrent of classical and semi classical music was also quite predominant because most of the composers had deep roots in Indian Classical Music. But throughout the Western Classical Music was always little ignored in Bollywood. Even the usage of Western Classical instruments like Cello and Viola reduced considerably after the 60's. Who can forget the Cello in "Waqt Ke Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam" and "Woh Shaam Kuchh Ajeeb Thi"? That's why Rahman's experiment in Yuvaraj is really a great thing for Indian Music.

Just listen to the song "Dil Ka Rishta" from Yuvaraj. Apart from the incredible background score with pure symphonic or philharmonic style, there's also a fast Jhala style fusion of vocals, rendered by Rahman himself, and the orchestra. Though Rahman seems to go off tune at times, still the effect is quite good. Rahman has recently started the KK Symphony Orchestra, the first full fledged philharmonic orchestra in India. It's really a great effort to bring Western Classical Music to India in a big and far reaching way.

Also listen to the other song "Tu Muskura" from Yuvaraj. The female portion, sung by Alka Yagnik, is very much like a vocal rendition of a symphony. I personally liked the music, more because of the effort that Rahman is putting in creating a new style in our music. I hope that he can really popularize styles of Western Classical Music for Indian mass listeners.

Rahman has always brought new styles in any music he has composed be it the highly classical "Hai Rama Yeh Kya Hua" from Rangeela and "Tu Hi Re" from Bombay or the peppy "Pappu Can't Dance Saala" from Jane Tu Ya Jane Na and "Humma Humma" from Bombay. He brought a totally different dimension in Sufi and Qawal styles when he composed "Haji Ali" for Fizaa or "Khwaja Mere Khwaja" for Jodha Akbar. He even used Qawal style of composition for "Mehendi Hai Rachne Waali" in Zubeidaa in the backdrop of a Royal Rajasthani Hindu Marriage or the "Tere Bina" number in Guru in the background during potrayal of a very important phase of life of a Guajarati couple. He has elevated an Islamic devotional form of music to a level which was never heard of. Not for a moment did these Qawal numbers seem to be misfit in a totally different type of sequence in the movies. His use of folk elements of Bengal in "Kabhi Neem Neem" in Yuva, typical Central Indian village style "Mitwa" in Lagaan and off course the unforgettable Bhangra style "Rang De Basanti" in Rang De Basanti sung by Daler Mehendi and himself are just incredible. He has the capability to put his own unique stamp in whatever he composes and at the end of the day reach to the mass. Almost all his compositions are chart busters. One of his first compositions, "Dil Hai Chhota Sa" from Roja is my Rahman's favorite. I still can't forget my excitement and enthralment when I first heard the song in 1992. It has a totaly fresh set of sounds which created Rahman's signature for ever.

In this context it might be interesting to know about K M Music Conservatory founded by Rahman with a mission to provide students with a strong artistic, intellectual, and technical foundation for pursuing professional careers in music which will be facilitated by creating a learning environment that will provide the highest order of education in all major aspects of music and music technology, offer programs/courses that are contemporarily designed and foster a cultural exchange between students from different parts of the world.

Rahman Favorites