In keeping with its theme, “India Rising: Tradition Meets Modernity” is structured as a presentation on the colorful kaleidoscope that India presents: literature and cinema with rural village scenes competing with urban landscapes, Indian-American cultural fusion, and the seductive joys of Bollywood. The event explores present-day India, which is rooted in ancient themes that intermingle with contemporary modes of expression: Modern artists incorporating gods and legendary heroes in their work, musicians fusing jazz and Western classical with Indian traditional.
Presented by Humanities West, the nonprofit’s programs encompass fine arts, social history, music, politics, and philosophy of the arts.
“There are moments in time and history when we all must still ourselves and take note of the human achievement. India has been on such a rejuvenating path of evolution, that we wanted to pause for a weekend and celebrate it,” says George C. Hammond, chairman of the board of directors at Humanities West.
The weekend of Indian intellectual delights will commence on Friday with Shashi Tharoor, a well-known Indian diplomat and writer discussing the “soft power” of India. In contrast to how India’s economic dynamism, political stability, and proven military capabilities assure its status as a world leader, Tharoor’s lecture will examine how Indian art, music and dance, fashions, and cuisine strengthen India’s worldwide influence and contribute to its “great power.”
Santhi Kavuri-Bauer, assistant professor of art history at San Francisco State University, will trace the development of modern art in India. She will highlight several contemporary artists who combine traditional symbols, forms, and processes with modern media techniques.
Saturday will rouse those who are word-oriented. Vikram Chandra, one of modern India’s popular novelists and UC Berkeley professor, will read from his best-known epic, Sacred Games. The Victorian-Indian-gangster-spy-family saga is representative of the vastness of Indian literature today and of the event’s wide spectrum.
Of course, cinema in and of India cannot be ignored in an event marking Indian culture. Dilip Basu, associate professor of history and founding director of Archives and Study Center on Satyajit Ray at UC Santa Cruz, will present a lecture with film clips, affirming that the cinema of Ray and his cohorts in post-independent India remain quintessentially modern.
For the musically inclined, “India Rising” offers Dard Neuman, Kamil and Talat Hasan endowed chair in Classical Indian Music at UC Santa Cruz, lectures on Indian music, with rare recordings. There will also be special pre-program musical performances in the Indian classical style by Joanna Mack of the Ali Akbar College of Music on both days. Raka Ray, chair of the Center for South Asia Studies at UC Berkeley, will discuss the “Indian Idol” phenomenon—India’s answer to “American Idol.”
Impressively, “India Rising” has been two years in the making. Every season, Humanities West gathers feedback from its 200 core, and a larger group of about 500 supporters on which shift in civilization and cultural evolution to showcase next. Once the quorum has spoken, every effort is made to put together an exciting menu of programs, and to garner relevant speakers from the country in context and international subject-matter experts. The recurring theme has been (r)evolution brought about by people and places, for example, Humanities West has previously featured Voltaire, Genghis Khan, and Benjamin Franklin.
Friday, Feb. 27, 8-10:15 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 28, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. $30-$100 general; $20 students/teachers. Tickets: (415) 392-4400; or www.cityboxoffice.com. For a complete event schedule, go to www.humanitieswest.org.
Priya Das is a freelance writer, technical marketer, and dancer. She lives in the South Bay.