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Thursday, January 21, 2021

Sunday Long Reads: Creativity of boredom, changes in households, Sonu Sood’s new book, and more

Here is your Sunday reading list

New Delhi | Updated: January 3, 2021 7:15:40 pm
sunday eye, sunday eye long list, sunday eye long reads, sunday stories, sunday eye, indian express, indian express newsDespite the layers of meaning we have attributed to it, boredom is in itself amoral. (Source: Getty Images)

How boredom can make us do creative things

Read any number of Sherlock Holmes’ adventures and the fictional detective is often introduced lounging lazily in his dressing gown at his Baker Street residence. With his superior intellect, Holmes finds ordinary life boring, and ordinary crime, even more so. His only escape from this dullness — and his only vice — is cocaine.

For that matter, The Sign of the Four (1890) begins with Holmes administering himself a cocaine injection. His defence: “Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram…I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence…That is why I have chosen my own particular profession — or, rather, created it.”

The great consulting detective was, like most of modern society, just terribly bored. Boredom propelled him to seek the most fantastical cases, to lead a more imaginative life, landing somewhere between cocaine and ambition. Boredom is what made the genius relatable.

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Five top changes our homes witnessed in 2020

As we shift gears to pace ourselves with the new normal, designers share the trends they have seen emerge in homes. (Courtesy: The Orange Lane)

Ever since the coronavirus has entered our lives, we have begun to rethink our spaces. Do we need such a large drawing room? Can we do with less? Can we move the furniture around to fit in a work table? Is there a way to escape from my own family and find a quiet place in the house? These are questions we have all grappled with in 2020. As we shift gears to pace ourselves with the new normal, designers share the trends they have seen emerge in homes.

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Why Sonu Sood wrote a book about the steps he took to address the migrant crisis during the lockdown

Mission Possible: Sonu Sood.

Sonu Sood’s “Kalinga Moment” occurred on April 15, 2020, in the city of Kalwa, in Maharashtra’s Thane district. He had driven there from his home in Mumbai to help distribute the food packets he had arranged for the migrant workers who were heading home during the nationwide lockdown. But as he stood among the thousands who were making their way on foot down National Highway 48, which leads southwards to Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, he asked himself if he had done enough. In his just-released book about his Ghar Bhejo relief mission, I Am No Messiah (Penguin Random House), co-written with journalist Meena K Iyer, Sood writes: “If I had given in to the celebrity syndrome of sitting in my ivory tower and having my largesse delivered to the needy by remote control, I would never have come face to face with the trauma of the migrant workers or understood that a food packet was a woefully inadequate substitute for a ride back home.”

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We only have 10 years to save the planet from a climate emergency

Porritt says that all of us have a different role to play in the Climate Emergency — and that the 2020s will be the “decisive decade” in addressing it.

What is hope? Merriam-Webster defines it as “to cherish a desire with anticipation: to want something to happen or be true/to desire with expectation of obtainment or fulfillment/ to expect with confidence.” And right below it: “hope against hope: to hope without any basis for expecting fulfillment”.

That last one made me pause. It defined what I felt about the climate crisis, a hope for decisive changes that may stay unfulfilled, but which we still anticipate, expect, wish. In the face of the loss of Arctic sea ice, erratic monsoons, forest fires, and chalking up the warmest months globally every year, we keep our fingers and toes crossed.

Which is why when Jonathon Porritt’s Hope in Hell: A Decade to Confront the Climate Emergency came my way, I had that same feeling – hope and despair, the two sides of the climate coin. “Runaway climate change is undoubtedly a hellish prospect,” Porritt writes in the section titled, ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’. “Despair often beckons. But I’m also – strangely, and rather wonderfully – brimful of hope in a way that I haven’t been for a long time.” He illustrates the problems and their urgency, and, also, the improbable hope that he has because of the growing social and political transformation, new technologies and innovation,the activism of young adults.

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‘I didn’t find any reference to gay Indian art history’

Untitled #13 (2008) from the series The New Pre-Raphaelites (Photos Courtesy: the artist and Hales GAllery, Stephen Bulger GAllery and Vadehra Art Gallery)

How is the feedback for From Here to Eternity: Sunil Gupta. A Retrospective (till 21 February at The Photographers’ Gallery, London, thephotographersgallery.org.uk)? It features 16 series over 45 years.

I worked closely with curator Mark Sealy to present a variety — four videos, all photographs from Christopher Street (1976), works from Trespass (1990s), Mr Malhotra’s Party (2006-), Homeland (2001-03), among others. We’ll have a bigger show in Toronto next year, but the retrospective is rather well-received in London. Many people are moved by it, even seem to relate to it. A lot has changed since the mid ’80s. People are more connected, doesn’t matter where you are. With the internet, nothing seems too distant. When Exiles was shown in the ’80s, London was one of the centres of Western cultural power and it didn’t consider material from outside Europe as art; it was looked on more like ethnography or anthropology, but now the expectation that art should come from all over the globe is more.

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What happened during Vajpayee’s 13-months prime ministerial term from 1998 to 1999

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (Source: PTI file)

Vajpayee: The Years That Changed India was not an easy book for Shakti Sinha to write. Sinha became Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s shadow in 1996, when he was leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. He remained with Vajpayee for three-and-a-half years, until he left New Delhi on deputation to the World Bank in Washington DC when Vajpayee began his third tenure as prime minister.

Vajpayee spent all his waking hours during those momentous years with either Sinha or Ranjan Bhattacharya, a family member, just a buzzer away unless one of these two men was in the late Prime Minister’s company. Yet, in the book, Sinha is modest about the role he played in helping Vajpayee in the discharge of his duties as head of India’s government and in his household.

Sinha admits that he was an “ordinary BJP worker” when he became private secretary to Vajpayee on May 16, 1996. The author was still a civil servant from the Indian Administrative Service and Vajpayee’s elevation to the most powerful office in the country “was a dream come true” for him.

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How different are the married lives of birds from that of the homo sapiens

Many species of birds have nuclear families, where both mama and papa take care of their brood.

We humans might think we have the monopoly on different types of matrimony and family: nuclear, joint, single-parent, or same-sex-parent families, communes, etc., but we can’t match up to the wild, especially birds.

Not only does the stately Sarus crane live in an ideal nuclear family (at times following the “hum-do-humare-do” mantra), couples are revered for their lifelong fidelity and devotion to each other. If one partner dies, the other will pine away till it joins its partner. Hear a lonely Sarus crane call on a moonlit night and you’ll know what I mean.

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What lies at the heart of prejudice, whether based on caste, religion or race?

New vision: Kanshi Ram’s pen model of caste hierarchy and his promise to make society horizontal remains profound and impactful.

Describing India in his opening remarks on the impeachment of Warren Hastings on February 15, 1788, Edmund Burke said, “In that country, the laws of religion, the laws of the land, and the laws of the honour are all united and consolidated in one, and bind a man eternally to the rules of what is called his caste.” This description of India’s caste system is, perhaps, the best summary of a highly complex social phenomenon for a Western audience.

Can caste be oversimplified? Perhaps, the reams of pages from ancient scriptures to modern social research have fallen short of giving an apt description of caste. But, I was mesmerised by the explanation of caste by Bahujan Samaj Party founder, Kanshi Ram. In his inimitable style, he would hold his pen and explain to anyone willing to listen — from Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani to VP Singh and Left stalwarts, depending upon the situation – that Indian society was organised vertically and his task was to turn it horizontal. He would then turn his pen. “A day will come when we will give you reservation,” he would say. There is no doubt that Kanshi Ram’s understanding of caste is superior to any scholarly treatise written on politics of caste in India.

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What Tagore believed about the role of joy in an unequal world

Bhattacharya nudges us to accompany the poet as he engages in some of the debates of the time — the limits on the actor’s role, masculinity and femininity in performance.

In the concluding part of this book under review, Rimli Bhattacharya writes about a letter Rabindranath Tagore wrote to the painter Nandalal Bose in the 1930s. He talks of preserving all that is beautiful in the past, even if that past was oppressive. For what “was the preserve of the few, reserved for an elite…could be open to all”. That, indeed, was the abiding concern of the poet, and many of his contemporaries. Sociological concepts like “modernisation of tradition” do not do justice to the creativity of this endeavour. Scholar Rimli Bhattacharya’s The Dancing Poet, Rabindranath Tagore and Choreographies of Participation is a more expansive exploration of the poet’s quest, one that tries to engage with the diversity of Tagore’s experiences, his predicaments, the contemporary cultural and political milieu and his constant search for the links between pedagogy and performance.

Central to the poet’s endeavour was the pursuit of joy, or ananda, not as a hedonist, but as a seeker for whom utsav, or celebration, was fundamental to life. She writes: “While affirming Gandhi’s emphasis on ensuring that every Indian should have enough by the way of food, clothing, shelter, access to education and other essentials, Rabindranath would continue to insist that anna (basic food) was not enough. Life was full of ananda, joy, something that could not be legislated by any state — colonial or otherwise”.

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