Tag Archives: #indianhistory

10 Books to Read On Modern Indian History

It is no surprise that India has a long and rich history. However, which books are the best for learning about the country’s amazing history? Below are ten of the best books that delve into India’s politics, culture, and economy.

India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha

“Guha’s India After Gandhi is the must-read guide on the journey of modern India, post-independence from the British in 1947 to the 1990s” says Donald Roussel, a book blogger at Essayroo and Paperfellows. This book thoroughly covers India’s political history over the latter half of the 20th century, providing a great backdrop for India’s current economic and social climate within the country.

India -from midnight to the millennium by Shashi Tharoor

The history of modern India but in the much more precise and succinct style of Dr. Sashi Tharoor. Although this account is not unbiased like Guha’s India After Gandhi, readers will benefit from Sashi Tharoor’s fresh and unique perspective.

India — The Emerging Giant by Arvind Panagiriya

This book is the most in-depth account of the most remarkable experiment in economic development under democracy. Panagiriya explores the history of the economic path followed by Nehru to Manmohan Singh. 

An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India by Shashi Tharoor

Tharoor explores the lasting damage committed by British rule in India. Funny and witty at times, Tharoor provides ample research lending credibility to his claims. “He systematically debunks any of the arguments that have been made about the positive benefits of British rule” explains Constance Moore, a writer at State Of Writing and OXEssays.

The Great Partition by Yasmin Khan

The Great Partition is an essential read for anyone seeking to understand contemporary South Asia. The book looks at both the execution and aftermath of the partition between India and Pakistan. Khan thoroughly examines the contexts and decisions which led to the decision of partition as well as the horrific cost of human life and the impact it still has today.

The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen

This book is a collection of essays on Indian history by Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen. It is an essential read for anyone seeking to understand the foundations of Indian polity. Sen focuses on the traditions of public debate and intellectual pluralism and Sen argues that is this argumentative history that will help shape India’s democracy today.

Burden of Democracy by Pratap Bhanu Mehta

In Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s book, politics has truly created opportunities for people to participate in society. Mehta reveals that the persistent social inequality, along with the mistaken view of the state’s proper function and organization have modified and hindered the workings of democracy and its effects in innumerable ways. This book offers new ideological imaginations which illuminate the average Indian citizen’s discontents. 

Emergency Retold by Kuldip Nayar

In Emergency Retold, Kuldip Nayar breaks down the Prime Minister’s move and re-sparks a debate on this dark period of events. The book provides the reader with the facts, lies and truths in an easily digestible style. It reveals the atrocities that were committed and who were the chief perpetrators of these crimes. This is a must-read about those harrowing dark months in India’s history.

Our Moon Has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits by Rahul Pandita

The book narrates the bleak history of Kashmiri Pandits.  Tortured, killed, and driven out of their homes by Islamic militants, this book highlights these horrible acts. The book goes on to describe how the Pandits lived out the rest of their days in exile.

A feast of vultures: The hidden business of democracy in India by Josy Joseph

Josy Joseph, an investigative reporter, takes a close look at the darker side of India-how money, business, power, and politics all collide.  This 2016 novel is meticulously researched and highlights modern India’s democracy and how corruption and business and the political arena shape this modern nation.

These are 10 of the best books on modern Indian history. They provide a well-balanced look at all aspects of life within India, including the issues facing this great country.


Lauren Groff is a writer at Coursework Service and Academic Writing Service. She reviews books online. She also is a contributor at Boomessays Reviews.  


 

Why Madhubani? Find Out At Our Free Workshop!

Why Madhubani Art?

Madhubani literally means ‘forests of honey’ and refers to paintings in a distinct style that captures viewers’ attention with their vibrancy. ‘Madhubani’, is a folk art handed down over thousands of years from the times of Ramayana. Tradition states that King Janak of Mithila commissioned artists to make paintings for the wedding of his daughter, Sita, to Lord Ram. The womenfolk of the village drew the paintings on the walls of their home as an illustration of their thoughts, hopes, and dreams.

With time, the paintings became a part of festivities and special events. It was unknown to the outside world until the massive Bihar earthquake of 1934. House walls had tumbled down, and the British colonial officer in Madhubani District, William G. Archer, inspecting the damage, ‘discovered’ the paintings on the newly exposed interior walls of homes. Archer was stunned by the beauty of the paintings and their similarities to the work of modern Western artists like Klee, Miro, and Picasso. Slowly and gradually, Madhubani paintings from Bihar, India, crossed the traditional boundaries and started reaching connoisseurs of art at the national as well as the international level. 

Madhubani paintings, done in villages around the present town of Madhubani, were usually done on freshly plastered mud walls of huts. These paintings use two-dimensional imagery, and the colors used are derived from plants. Traditional themes generally revolve around Hindu deities like Krishna, Ram, Shiva, Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. The paintings also depict natural objects, like the sun and moon, and religious plants, like tulsi (holy basil). Other motifs include scenes from the royal court and social events, apart from activities from daily life. 

Madhubani is a unique folk art that is said to beckon the gods every morning who comes invisibly to the household to bless the members of the family and to bring prosperity. Hence my fascination with it!

About Bandiworks and Me

I’m a multi-disciplinary artist who enjoys engaging with folk art from across the world – with a special focus on India. The idea is to share with people the simplicity of these creative forms and my love for them – I find them so empowering. I design and conduct experiential workshops for all age groups, giving a contemporary bent to heritage Arts and Crafts. 

At Bandiworks, one of the artforms we worked with extensively is ‘Madhubani’ of Bihar. We have adapted this folk art to create contemporary custom-made articles of use as well as curated paired experiences which introduce you to Madhubani in different settings. Be it along with the traditional food of Bihar, the Dashavatar rendition in Kathak, or the intricate folds of Origami. This juxtaposition makes for thought-provoking forms of expression and gives rise to unexpected conversations.

India Currents and Bandiworks Connects

Join me, in collaboration with India Currents, for a free LIVE Madhubani drawing workshop on March 31st at 6:30pm PDT and 9:30pm EDT.

Sign up for the event here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/146816172123

Join us from anywhere in the world to celebrate Holi and draw Madhubani art.

This event is for all ages and will run as a 1.5 hr online workshop on Zoom.

No previous drawing skills required!!

You will walk away with the knowledge of an age-old traditional art form, appreciation for it because you’ve drawn it yourself, and an hour of relaxation and fun – much needed during these times.

Materials Required:

  • A4 sized paper (Thicker is better. Handmade paper if you have access to it)
  • Fine tipped gel/fibre tipped pens in black and red (fine-tipped sharpies)

Look forward to seeing you all there!


Bandana Agarwal is passionate about folk art from around the world and hopes to make it accessible!

India’s Military Campaigns Beyond Her Boundaries

We often hear that Indian rulers throughout history never invaded other countries – never established colonies in foreign lands.  The above statements are made, no doubt, to extol the virtues of our Hindu/Buddhist civilization – its emphasis on high philosophy, a penchant for peace, and deep-rooted spiritual (as opposed to materialistic) values. History generally bears out the validity of these statements. There are, however, some very notable exceptions.

The earliest example of foreign invasion (to Lanka) comes from Ramayana, whose historicity is, at best, questionable. But we cannot deny that the ethos for foreign invasions clearly finds favor in Ramayana. Of course, gods like Rama are judged differently from mere mortals like us. Then, there is in a famous Bengali poem, the legend of Vijaysingha, a prince from Bengal, subjugating the same Lanka (a favorite whipping boy, it seems) and rechristened it Simhala. A similar legend, I am told, exists in Sri Lanka that Prince Vijay came from somewhere in India and conquered Lanka. The historicity of this conquest, I gather, has not gotten universal approval from established historians. However, reverence for his exploits have withstood the test of time, thereby indicating our support for such endeavors, quite at variance with the ethos of non-aggression outside our borders.

Moving down in time, and based on firmer historical evidence, we find the great Maurya Empire of Chandragupta, Bindusara, and Asoka (322 BCE to 232 BCE) extending in the northwest into what is now Afghanistan and Balochistan and into the borders of Persia (Iran). In 305 BCE, Chandragupta Maurya led a series of campaigns to capture the satrapies left behind by Alexander the Great when he returned westwards. Seleucus I Nicator fought to defend these territories. Both sides made peace in 303 BCE with a treaty that gave Chandragupta control of the regions he sought, while Seleucus was given 500 highly valued war elephants in exchange. A map of Chandragupta’s empire in 320 BC (Figure 1) indicates that it included the entire present-day Balochistan under Pakistan and extending up to the southeastern end of present-day Afghanistan, including Gandhara, Kandahar, and Kabul Valley.  

Chandragupta Empire (Figure 1) from mapsofindia.com

King Asoka the Great made further additions to his empire in the northwest. A map of Asoka’s empire in 265 BCE (Figure 2) shows it to include entire present-day Afghanistan encroaching into the southeastern reaches of present-day Turkmenistan. Also, his empire expanded further across the Pakistani border in Balochistan into the eastern reaches of present-day Iran.  

Ashoka’s Empire (Figure 2) from mapsofindia.com

Thereafter, there is a mention of Hindu Shahis as rulers of Gandhara and Kabul Valley from 850 to 1026 CE.  There is little mention of Hindu Shahis in Indian history about their origins. It appears that the dynasty was set up by a minister of the Kabul Shahi dynasty by usurping its existing ruler. The Hindu Shahis had a tenuous existence with the local Saffarids and Samanids.  The Samanids captured Kabul around 900 CE, but the Hindu Shahis continued in the Gandhara till they were conquered by Mahmud of Ghazni.  

Probably the most stunning examples of campaigns outside the traditional borders of India are the naval exploits of the Chola kings of South India, Raja Raja Chola (reigned 985-1014), and his son Rajendra Chola (reigned 1014-1044). Raja Raja Chola’s naval forces captured the northern part of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and also subjugated the Maldive Islands. His son Rajendra’s naval campaigns were even more impressive.  He captured the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and brought the whole island of Ceylon under his control by imprisoning their king, Mahinda.  In 1025 CE, Rajendra led Chola forces across the Indian Ocean and invaded the Srivijaya kingdom, attacking several places in Malaysia and Indonesia.  This was surely a unique event in the annals of Indian history. The Cholas sacked Kadaram (the capital) and Pannai in Sumatra and Malaiyur in Indonesia. Rajendra also invaded Tambralinga, the Langkasuka Kingdom in modern Malaysia, and south Thailand. The Chola forces captured the last ruler of the Sailendra Dynasty, Sangrama Vijayatunggavarman. The Chola invasion engendered the end of the Srivajaya empire, whose maritime power declined under Chola attack. After this, the Cholas conquered large portions of Srivijaya Kingdom, including its ports of LigorKedah, and Tumask (now Singapore).  For the next century, Tamil trading companies from southern India dominated Southeast Asia. A map showing the Chola kingdom in 1030 CE is presented in Figure 3.

Chola Empire (Figure 3) from Wikimedia Commons

The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s disastrous encounters with the Uzbeks in 1645-1647 should perhaps be mentioned. The Emperor was possibly driven by his dreams of recapturing the Mughals’ ancestral homelands in those parts. It was the only time in recorded history that an India-based power ventured across the Hindu Kush to annex a Central Asian territory. Shah Jahan himself moved to Kabul to oversee the operations and two of his sons, Murad and Aurungzeb were involved in various phases. The war ended in a status quo with the Hindu Kush remaining as the western border of the Mughal empire. The Mughals suffered heavy losses in the campaigns, both financially and in manpower, a lot of it due to severe weather conditions.

Finally, there was the Sikh empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839 CE), which extended from Khyber Pass in the west to western Tibet in the east.  Ranjit Singh had several encounters with the Afghans in the borders, starting from 1823 with the defeat of a large army of Yusufzai north of the Kabul River. The Battle of Jamrud and his march through Kabul in 1838, in cooperation with the colonial British army stationed in Sindh, became the last confrontation between the Sikhs led by him and the Afghans. It helped extend and establish the western boundaries of the Sikh Empire. In 1838, Ranjit Singh with his troops marched into Kabul to take part in the victory parade along with the British after restoring Shah Shoja to the Afghan throne at Kabul. The Maharaja’s general, Zorowar Singh, after successful campaigns to Ladakh, Gilgit, and Baltistan, marched into Tibet in 1841 at the head of a large army and fought successfully with the Chinese Qing forces. Within six months, he had conquered territory to the northwest of the Mayyum Pass.  But then a strong Tibetan army descended down from Lhasa. He fought many a pitched action in the vicinity of Lake Manasarovar and was killed in the last one of these on December 12, 1841. A map showing the Sikh Empire from 1799 to 1849 is presented in Figure 4.

Sikh Empire (Figure 4) from mapsofindia.com

I contend that there are many more reasons for the relatively small number of incidences of Indian invasions beyond traditional borders other than our Hindu/Buddhist ethos. One principal reason could be that over the years, India, unlike China, has had few very powerful kings with large empires. It is self-evident that unless one’s kingdom reached the borders of India, the intervening territory had to be subjugated before venturing across the borders. Besides, the kings were kept busy fighting their neighboring kings as well as usurpers in their own kingdoms.

India’s geography – the high mountains in the north and seas around the peninsular south – there was a further deterrent to potential ambitions of Indian kings regarding campaigns beyond the borders. The high altitudes of the Himalayas and the very cold climates for much of the year were always formidable obstacles to overcome. And campaigns across the seas required significant development of naval technologies yet to come. It is perhaps no accident that the great European colonies of Britain, France, Holland, Portugal, and Spain in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, all sprouted after the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries with the advent of newer naval developments.


Partha Sircar has a BE in Civil Engineering from Bengal Engineering College in Shibpur, India, and a Ph.D. in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley.  He is a 53-year resident of the United States, including the last 36 years in California. He has worked in several engineering organizations over the years and is now retired for over eight years.  He loves to write.

Monita's mother and daughter

A Story of Luck and Luster

Not a ray of hope, but a mountain of light emerged from the Kohinoor. A dazzling rock carved out from the Golconda mines. A mighty jewel for an emperor’s crown!

I steal a look at her chiseled profile, head bent over a book. Black lashes cast sweeping shadows.  A twinkle of a tiny, but brilliant diamond in her nose. A glittering mustard seed. A diamond mined from the Kollur Golconda mines in Guntur district of Andhra. The mines that produced the legendary 100 carat diamond in the coffers of Babur, the founder of Mughal Empire. I touch the tousled hair splayed on my shoulder. The diamond gleams softly, reassuringly. My girl’s light may not be as lofty as a mountain but it warms my heart. Her limpid eyes are twin Manasarovar lakes in Mount Kailash. Her still waters are cool and sweet to quench my longing for life, born with an emotional acre of her own. Sunflowers, moonbeams and white diamonds bursting on rolling tides. A waxing, gibbous moon rising. The Pink City awakening to a fragrant deluge. My mother, warm and eager to hold her by my side. Her beauty summoned tears of joy. We laughed through our tears. She was here. Our own bundle of perfection. Made of sugar, almonds, makhanas, moonstones, tender secrets, clarified butter, cardamom, laughter, white clouds, musk and iridescent peacock feathers. 

Today she stands tall and lithe, with a delicate bone structure. Mango-bark tresses gleam on her shoulders. She curls them around her face, delighted in the effect. I smile. She twirls a silky strand on her finger, sifts her thoughts through a sieve of memory. I love the parts of her that are familiar. The unfamiliar aspects of her aptitude intrigue me. Melodies speak to her, her sense of style, her attention to detail. Simple pleasures of baking a perfect pastry. A shriek of delight at a “pun” unintended. Her competitive spirit in chess, golf and scrabble. “I take after my nani” she sighs in relief, when she surveys a well made bed, a gleaming kitchen, a tidy home. Different from my hurly burly ways. I thank my sweet mother as her gentle goodness gleams in the brilliant facets of my daughter’s soul. Together they shine brighter than the Kohinoor. An inimitable quality. Soft, supple, strong. Focused. Minimalists, both. Comfortable in vintage jeans, a well-cut soft blouse, small hoops.  Her waif-like face, huge eyes and an aura of effortless beauty makes heads turn. My mother was also stopped in her tracks. Her regal bearing still inspires awe. They do not belong to a tribe. They have agency. Their combined Myrrh envelops me. She ties and unties the knots in her hair and heart. Her lustrous eyes search for a safe place. A garden to call home. Where her moonflowers will take root and grow.

She has a hint of “his mother”, in her knotted brow but lacks in worldly ways. She does not gesture with her eyes. Nor engages in endless banter with the motley multitude. The world wants to engage her in conversation. She looks up from her inner reverie, and politely responds to mundane questions: When will the flight take off? Are you traveling alone? What are you reading?  She has her wits about her, to evade personal intrusion. She is good at concocting “travel identities”. My mother-in-law never even lifted eyes from her knitting, when we drove from Jaipur to Agra. But my moonbeam loves to go places. They avidly absorb history, art, culture, museums, gardens. This COVID lockdown has doused our wanderlust. We can’t fly to be with her ‘nani’, but we walk. We reminisce. We read, sing, paint. Tell stories.

I tell her the story of Kohinoor because it is an important story. A story of our land. Plundered by Sultan Ibrahim Lodi, retrieved by Babur after a bloody battle. Fell into the ill-fated hands of Humayun who tumbled to his death. Sher Khan coveted it, but was blown up in the siege of Kalinjar Fort. It’s the story of Shah Jahan who honored his love by building the Taj Mahal. The Kohinoor was installed in the Peacock Throne. Aurangzeb seized the throne and imprisoned his own father, who died pining. A story of passion and pain. Nadir Shah of Iran, the plunderer carried the Peacock Throne to Persia. Only to be assassinated. It’s a tale of greed, betrayal and conspiracies. It’s the story of Kohinoor. The diamond changed many hands and was ultimately endowed to  Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab. When Ranjit Singh died, the British East India Company usurped it for Queen Victoria. Now it is part of the British Crown jewels where it fulfills the strange prophecy: ‘He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, may wear it with impunity.


Monita Soni has one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India, and a heart steeped in humanity. Monita has published many poems, essays and two books, My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.

Pulling Passion’s Strings: The Life of a Master Puppeteer

Some things are hardwired into our DNA no matter where we might travel across the globe. Language and vocabulary feature right at the top of the list. The words ‘Karnataka’ and ‘handcrafted puppetry jumped out at me from my email inbox one morning. I was intrigued and soon found myself driving up winding California hillsides to a home in Los Altos hills for a lecture demonstration on traditional wood puppetry of Karnataka. Hosted by Bay Area art & cultural organization SACHI, the event featured Anupama Hoskere, a familiar name I had heard during my visits to India.

Together with her husband Vidyashankar Hoskere, Anupama founded “Dhaatu” an organization dedicated to all things puppetry related – the first of its kind, in Bengaluru. In Sanskrit the word Dhaatu means the root, the soul, the essence of everything. The Hoskeres established this non-profit organization with the aim of imparting traditional wisdoms that today’s world can benefit from. Annually, Dhaatu is also the venue of the famous Navratra Mahotsava – the pageant of dolls – depicting upwards of 5000 dolls displaying various scenes from Hindu mythology!  It was one of those ‘must see’ items on my list that had slipped through the cracks over the years, and now here Anupama was in my backyard! Serendipity or what?!

On a small stage in an intimate home theater, a single chair sat occupied by a brightly clad puppet. She was outfitted in elaborately fashioned jewelry and draped in a beautiful sari, her large kajal-laden eyes taking in the gathered audience, as we sat eagerly awaiting the evening’s program. Even in stillness she seemed to fill the space with her presence. It made you wonder what she might be like when animated.

Walking onto the stage Anupama’s presence was just as magnetic, the passion for her life’s work, evident in every word she uttered. Over the next hour we were initiated into the elements of puppetry, mythology, and a behind-the-scenes peek into this fascinating world! Currently on a 20 city tour of the U.S, Anupama and her Dhaatu team is raising funds for the ‘Support a Child’ program. They are showcasing a novel concept with their production of “Malavikagnimitram” – a romance set in the second century BCE, which plays out in the court of King Agnimitra of the Shunga dynasty. The lecture concluded with the enactment of a scene from the production featuring the puppet on stage, who was joined by Anupama’s daughter Divya Hoskere – an established Bharatanatyam dancer. 

Anupama graciously consented to an interview with India Currents in the midst of hopping across timezones on their hectic 20 city tour. 

P.K:   Thank you for speaking with me Anupama! The lecture demonstration was a wonderful experience. We would love to know more about the cause you are supporting with your tour of the U.S.

A.H:   At Dhaatu, we like to involve ourselves with causes like “Support a Child USA” – an organization doing creditable work that needs our help and support. They came to us with the idea of sponsoring a puppetry production on a tour of the U.S, and the idea was both challenging and exciting!  It also enabled Dhaatu to make a creative contribution to an already valuable cause. No questions asked when such an offer comes our way!

P .K:   Indian mythology offers a plethora of subject matter. Why choose this particular story for your production?

A.H:  Malavikagnimitram is a romantic comedy; an elaborate, many-layered story. It was originally a Sanskrit play written by the famous Kalidasa. It lends itself beautifully to a sophisticated production. And it also makes for great entertainment! It lets us showcase the exciting advancements in the field of puppetry that is being practiced today. Set in the 2nd century BCE, in Vidisha, in the court of King Agnimitra, the plot details the highly evolved artistic and cultural scene of the time period. The Indo-Greek war is mentioned – the war with the ‘Yavanas’! Details like a ‘Dolotsava’ ceremonial procession in a temple is depicted in great depth. It is a richly vivid portrayal of so many aspects of life of that period in history. Great material for a production! 

P.K:   Our life path takes us to interesting places. Yours has been more than just ‘interesting’ in every sense of the word! How do you go from a Masters degree in Engineering, a job and life in the U.S, to a totally divergent life hand crafting puppets?

A.H:   Passion! That is the one ingredient that makes such a shift possible! I was on what was widely accepted as the ‘path of success’ in a competitive world. And I was doing very well. But I didn’t really know quite how I got there! A day came when I realized that the enrichment I received in my childhood, had ultimately led to my being where I was. Then the question I was faced with was, “how can I give back what I received to the next generation”? This was what helped make my choice to return to what I loved most. 

P.K:   And what was the enrichment in your childhood like? We would love to know more about it.

A.H:   I was blessed to have grown up with my grandmother who told wonderful stories! Not just stories like Panchatantra etc that was common, but she also narrated scenes from Kalidasa’s Sanskrit plays. She was very well read, and passionate about sharing her knowledge. Nowadays children have many more options if they want to familiarize themselves with mythological stories. Our choices were limited. That’s why my grandmother’s oral storytelling was precious to me! We also had traditional Yakshagana troupes perform near where we lived. Watching those plays, we saw old storylines being depicted in new ways all the time! Creativity was boundless. That sort of learning and enrichment is priceless!

P.K:   Your audience is often comprised of children. How do you see their involvement in your shows?

A.H:   The impact of real time entertainment in puppetry is very different from virtual entertainment and engagement. And children especially, they get involved in a very deep way! Puppets  become more real to them than the people around them! Communication happens in a beautiful manner. Their minds open up differently and it creates a huge potential for self exploration with something they might go on to create by themselves. It is like opening a door to lifelong exploration! 

P.K:   What is their reaction when they connect with the characters?

A.H:   Different age groups express in different ways. But all of them engage 100%! It is fun to watch them get into the scene and characters! When we staged Bhakta Prahlada, after the final scene, the puppet Prahlada was garlanded! No one else was given this honor! It just goes to show that if the right setting is provided for a puppet show, audience – no matter their age – can engage in a wonderful way!

P.K:   Each of your puppets is created with such attention to detail! Where do you draw your resources for costuming, era appropriate jewelry etc?

A.H:  All our puppets are handcrafted to the tiniest detail! We design them and use a lighter wood to allow better handling. There are various resources to research and collect information. Ajanta-Ellora paintings, research by scholars on various dynasties, the staff at the Mysore palace for example. And there is the internet of course. But because historical authenticity is very important to us at Dhaatu, we take extra care and go in search of verified information. Many of the Puranas and epic poems have historical details and visual imagery given in great detail. You just have to know where to find it. But it is available. And it is a treasure trove for us when we start creating our own puppets. 

P.K:   You have been involved with puppetry on the global scene. How do you see the art form showcased in Czech Republic or Indonesia? How does it compare to the way it is received in India?

A.H:   I went to Europe as part of a scholarship. Then I realized that there is a division between art for children and adults. That is how it is perceived. Puppetry was mainly developed as an entertainment for children. There was a rebel movement which also developed alongside mainstream practices. Both thrived. Tourism is key to the survival of such artforms in Europe and Indonesia. In North India puppeteers had access to western and Japanese styles of the artform. So their styles became more contemporary. In South India we were untouched by such western influences and retained traditional styles. But with time, urbanization took away patronage for this artform. Without patronage puppetry cannot survive! Our numbers started dwindling. Today there is a new revival, a new energy on the puppetry scene. More traditional practices are being showcased and accepted once more.

P.K:   Under lining your comment from the lecture demonstration, I would like you to address the reasoning behind your choice of basing a majority of your productions on mythology as opposed to current social issues.

A.H:   It is my conviction that mythology is always a best seller! No matter what the storyline, and however repetitive, the manner in which you treat it will set you apart. South India’s Yakshagana is a great example of this! Yakshagana artistes depict so many subtle layers of the Puranas. Knowledge is important. And since mythology involves the use of all this knowledge, investing in this particular dimension of mythology stimulates the storyline.

Socially relevant subject matter needs financing and patronage. Also there is a limited timeline in terms of relevancy for many such topics. The Government of India has used puppeteers to implement their political agendas. If the government changes, their policies become irrelevant. And the patronage disappears! Puppeteers who invest considerable time and resources in the creation of specific puppets have no protection to weather such situations! It is a short-lived blip that leaves us high and dry! Mythology on the other hand, always endures and comes out on top!

P.K:   With your current production Malavikagnimitram, you have an interesting concept of combining live actors and dancers with puppets. Highly engaging, as we saw from the scene enacted during the lecture. Challenging as well I am sure? 

A.H:   Oh sure! It is like putting the puppets to a litmus test when a live dancer/actor shares the stage with them. My main concern was whether the audience would ‘see’ the puppet at all?! Or would the actor/dancer upstage the puppets? The current concept was built up slowly over two or three productions. We are still working on polishing it further, that process never ends. But in the end we realized that the puppets could hold their own!  The interaction between a live dancer and a puppet is magical! A great example of this type of interaction can be seen in our production Vijayanagara Vybhava”. You will see what I mean by puppets managing to shine on their own merit! Yes, there are challenges, of course. Stage design is the obvious challenge. The Proscenium theater design means there is limited space for dancers when sharing it with puppets. So we had to redesign the stage and the placement of characters over several iterations to make sure we could create this magic!

P.K:   Does India have guilds or cooperatives of puppeteers? And how difficult is it to procure funding for productions?

A.H:   No, there is no such thing as a guild for puppeteers as yet. State level academies and a Government entity –  Sangeet Natak Academy, do exist. And yes, it is a challenge to get funding. Private patronage what we have at the moment.

P.K:   What types of workshops does Dhaatu offer?

A.H:   Dhaatu offers workshops for all ages – starting at age 3 to adults! Puppetry and puppet making teaches aesthetics in a way that lego & robotics etc do not. They certainly have their positive points. But puppetry is multi faceted. Besides aesthetics, it also involves aspects of engineering and requires fine motor skills both in making and handling puppets. There is the aspect of movement with puppetry that needs to be mastered. When you are able to control a puppets subtle movements, it is a thrilling experience! 

P.K:   Your personal journey with puppetry started with a ‘leap of faith’. And you just found out you are the recipient of a prestigious award!   

A.H:   Yes! My phone was inundated with congratulatory messages since early this morning and that is how I discovered I had been awarded the prestigious Sangeet Natak Academi award! It is a great feeling of satisfaction that a Nation has accepted this artform! My Bharatanatyam guru, the late Smt. Narmada received this award from the hands of the late President Abdul Kalam in 2007. For me to receive the same award is a great honor! I am overwhelmed!  All the growing pains and potholes that I have experienced with Dhaatu’s journey is validated by this acknowledgement and ultimate reward! It inspires us to do more and reach greater heights – in making magic with our puppets for the generations to come.

P.K:   What are your plans upon your return to Bengaluru?

A.H:   Maybe one day of rest and then it is back to work again! The festival season will start soon. During Dussera, Dhaatu opens it doors to showcase our incredible collection of dolls with ‘Dhaatu Navaratra Mahotsava’. We will have over 5000 dolls on display, depicting scenes from mythology. It is an annual event and we have been doing this for a decade now. There’s no resting until that is done! 

Anupama’s enthusiasm gives new meaning to the term ‘pulling strings’! Her passion and that of her team at Dhaatu is definitely award worthy. Dhaatu’s workshops and productions bear the hallmark of true creativity while contributing a treasure trove of traditional & cultural knowledge to children and adults alike.  

India Currents congratulates Anupama on the prestigious Sangeet Natak Academi award! 

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Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. Her new avatar requires creative juggling with the pen and the brush.