Celebrating India's diversity
The Tamil Nadu state day on September 13 stood as one of the best organised events held in recent times at the Academy
Together with my colleagues Monica Dhami and Gauri P Joshi, we had the challenge of devising a new pedagogy to understand the why and what of history of the Independence Movement. We had to go beyond the standard text which is common to the syllabi of both the UPSC and the Foundation course, give them a critical understanding of the what and why of history, including the long view of history which this column had discussed a few weeks ago. It's easy to discuss the various schools of history – from Carlyle to Arnold Toynbee and the Marxist, Nationalist and the Imperialist versions of history. How do we call an event as salient August 15, 1947? Do we call it Independence (the official narrative), or Partition (the lived experience of people in Punjab and Bengal) or Transfer of Power (in the case of a majority of princely states), and which is also the way the British would like the event to be remembered, for this term gives retrospective legitimacy to their rule!
We thought that we would have a quiz in the class and ask names of authors of some of the leading titles written on August 15. These included Freedom at Midnight, Train to Pakistan, Indian Wins Freedom, Integration of states, Transfer of Power, Pakistan and the partition of India, Divide and Quit, Jhootha Sach, et al. After this, we would ask them to names some individuals, institutions, or events which they felt were critical in leading the country to Independence, and we chose the period 1900-1947 for the sake of convenience. These were all written on the Board. The immediate recall of names included Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Azad, Bhagat Singh, Jinnah, Iqbal, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Tagore, Subramania Bharti, Annie Beasant, Lajpat Rai, Subhash Bose, Sri Aurobindo and so on. We then constituted thirty-odd groups of 10 to 12 officers and asked each group to identify one individual, institution, incident or event (whose name had not been, mentioned on the board) who/which in their view spurred the march to Independence. Each group will be making a presentation/preparing a poster series/performing a skit/reciting a poem or a ballad/reading extracts from archival sources to buttress their point for eight to ten minutes, which would then be documented as the Towards Freedom project of the 94th FC. The themes chosen are reflective of the very wide spectrum which they felt have contributed to India's freedom and whose names did not feature in the first 30 names. The icons/individuals include women like Muthulkashmi Reddy, Durgabhai Deshmukh, Pritilata Waddedar, Kasturba Gandhi, Kamaladevi Chattopadhaya, Matangini Hazra, Kanaklata Barua and Tarabai Shinde besides leaders and freedom fighters representing many different regions and ideological dispensations like Vinoba Bhave, Gopi Nath Bardoloi, Chidambaram Pillai, Jatindra Nath Das, Udham Singh, Babu Jagjivan Ram, Pherozeshah Mehta, Dadbhai Naroji, Alluri Sitaram Raju and AK Goplalan. Besides, the above incidents and events which had a lasting impact include the formation of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, Ghadr party, INA, farmers' movements, Bengal famine, the revolt by the Naval ratings, the Tripuri and Lahore Sessions of the Congress, and last but not the least, the role of industrialists like Jamna Lal Bajaj in organising financial support and muscle to the Congress party.
Another highlight of the week that went by was the celebration of the Tamil Nadu state day on Friday, September 13 at the Academy with the support from the Resident Commissioner's office at New Delhi. In addition to the excellent rendition of Bharat Natyam by the troupe of Sudhana Sankar, we had some of the most breath-taking performances of Kaaliaatam and Kavadiattam – the folk dances of Tamil Nadu, and this ensemble was led by Dr Soma Sundaram. All performances received a standing ovation and the sumptuous meal after the performances was truly an offering to the gods. The food was catered by a team of TN House comprising P Thinesh Kannan, S Kumar, Hari and Mahesh. Stalls were set up by TN departments of Tourism, Co-optex and Poompuhar. Handloom and handicrafts corporations and Tourism department received many footfalls, and there was complete attention to detail in the organisation of everything connected to the State Day, including the placement of shoes in proper order. This was easily one of the best organised events in recent times at the Academy. Kudos to those who were part of the core organising committee.
The culmination of the Hindi week at the Academy was marked with a Keynote address by Tej Pratap Narayan from the Railway Board organised by the Rahul Sankritayan Manch for Hindi and Indian languages. Narayan stressed the point that in order to be an inclusive and all-encompassing language, as well as the preferred link language of the country, it ought to freely incorporate words from all Indian languages as well as English. He said that while the first dictionary of English had only ten thousand words, contemporary editions of popular dictionaries had close to a million words from all the languages of the world, and every year, English added another five hundred to a thousand words. The first Hindi dictionary commissioned after Independence had twenty thousand words, and now has close to three hundred thousand words – but in the first few decades, the stress on 'purity' led to the exclusion of words which were in usage in the common parlance. Now there is increasing recognition of the fact that a language grows by incorporating words which emanate from their particular contexts. Thus, words like computer, email, TV, radio, neck-tie, rail, rocket and acronyms like ONGC, for example, are best left as they are, and it does not make Hindi any poorer. On the contrary, if Hindi is written as she is spoken in her several dialects, it would grow richer and more intense. This was followed by a very well-argued debate on whether Hindi cinema has improved the stature of Hindi – and much was said on both sides. Another highlight of the evening was the commitment of Aalind Maheshwari of Rajkamal Prakashan (one of the leading publishing houses in Hindi) to bring a volume of poetry written by the officer trainees of this batch!
Hats-off to faculty colleagues Kumdini Nautiyal, Bhawana and Officer Trainee, Suraj Patel and his team for the successful organisation of an inclusive Hindi Divas at the Academy!
(Dr. Sanjeev Chopra is Director, LBSNAA, Mussoorie, and Honorary Curator, Valley of Words: Literature and Arts Festival, Dehradun. The views expressed are strictly personal)
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