Sunday Long Reads: Memoirs of Veenapani Chawla, The Writing on the Wall of Rashtrapati Bhavan, Interview with BBC Director General Tim Davie and more
As Adishakti turns 40, she remembers Veenapani Chawla, who saved the theater from the spoken word and gave the body full play
Adishakti Theater Arts, a performing arts institution near Puducherry, is located on a campus covered in trees, half of which bear no flowers or fruit. When the group moved here in 1993, the artists funded their theatrical activities by growing and selling haricot beans, cucumbers, radishes and squash. Three years later, as their art evolved, the performers no longer wanted to view plants from the perspective of utilitarianism. The practice of taking produce to market ceased and the fertile land was tended to allow a small forest to grow.
What is that written on the wall? Rashtrapati Bhavan?
The transformation of the viceroyal house into the Rashtrapati Bhavan was a leap from imperialism to nationalism in which the visual arts played a major role. The ubiquitous influence of Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore also affected the world of art. It swept over them Rashtrapati Bhavan, and as far as the Vatican and the Mountbattens’ personal collection at Broadlands, Hampshire. Paintings by Sukumar Bose, the Bengali art school, adorn the walls of the Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Mountbattens’ home. In 1950, Pope Pius XII commissioned Bose, then art curator at the Rashtrapati Bhavanto create an Indian style painting on a Christian theme. The painting, titled The Nativity – The Birth of Christ, was located in the Vatican and now appears to be in a private collection.
“It’s really important that the BBC doesn’t just have one country perspective… we’re not just one company broadcasting from London,” says Tim Davie
In the older BBC markets like India there has been an explosion of other forms and outlets for international news. The BBC is no longer our most important window on the world. How do you see the company developing and competing in a crowded space?
I think one of the most important things for the BBC is to stay true to its values. Getting back to basics, we are a public service organization totally driven by impartial, fair reporting and content across many genres. In a very busy market, the last thing you want to do is do what everyone else is doing. You want to double where you are different. And the BBC is different as it is largely publicly funded and caring about the truth. As head of the BBC, I’ve tried to innovate how we deliver things through digital means and make sure we’re very, very fast. But our values remain true and hold firm. We are 100 years old and still growing. This year we are reaching almost 500 million people worldwide. It grows in India – we are up to 72 million. So I think the appetite for trusted news sources and trusted content has remained strong. It could be argued that in this modern world, where everything is debatable, there is so much noise that the value of a trustworthy source becomes higher, not lower.
How India’s birdman Sálim Ali showed us the connectedness of life
From debunking myths about fireflies lighting the homes of weaver birds to explaining the why and how of the spectacular phenomenon of bird migration, there was perhaps no one better at demystifying bird life than Sálim Ali, India’s foremost ornithologist. Adding to Ali’s already impressive list of works is a collection of his radio talks. Edited by Tara Gandhi, Words for Birds (Black Kite), the book shows him doing what he does best – reaching a cross-section of society about birds and the prominent role they play in preserving our environment.
How to look away from self-serving sectarianism and open our minds to introspective reflection
Mai aaine my dekhta hoon, main kahan chala gaya. Loosely translated from Urdu, the lyrics of this song say: “I look in the mirror and wonder where I got lost.”
Life has a way of living its journey with or without us. His movements, beats, notes, cadences, scents, sounds and touches are all of his own choosing; nothing we can predict, change or conquer. With or without us, life will make its journeys. Its rhythms, its pulse, its pace, its ups and downs, its seasons – nothing we can control. In many ways, life seems impossibly complicated, and yet it throws up tangents and parallels that connect us to our own stories, paths, loves, and relationships.
How Mother Nature creates light and strong armor for her myriad species
It couldn’t be more ironic: the very effective light armor they wear for their own homeland security (sometimes used for aggression) is fast lead to their own downfall – from our hands and for reasons that should make us hang our heads in shame. The resplendent rhino, the picturesque pangolin and the ferocious porcupine are perfectly equipped to protect themselves: the rhino can knock over a truck with a throw of its horn, the pangolin curls up into a scaly ball even lions can’t break open, and the porcupine can snuff out the tiger’s eye with just one of its innumerable quills. And those weapons are made of essentially the same stuff: a structural protein called keratin — which, by the way, is also what our own hair is made of. And in our eternal wisdom, we believe that crushed rhino horn serves as an aphrodisiac and pangolin scales have great medicinal value: as a result, both animals are now on the brink of extinction.