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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Sunday Long Reads: Of coding, Gandhi’s assassination, Louise Glück’s best books, and more

Here is your Sunday reading list

New Delhi | October 11, 2020 11:04:50 am
Illustration: Suvajit Dey

Is coding a must-have life skill of the future?

The digital native that she is, eight-year-old Hirranya Rajani, with her experience of building an app and multiple skirmishes with pesky bugs, takes no time to break it down. “Coding is like, say, your friend comes home and asks for a glass of water. You are busy. She doesn’t know your house, and you have to tell her how to go about it, step by step. Tell her where the glass of water is kept, which way to turn till she gets there . . . Coding is like that, communicating with your computer and telling it what to do, and how to do it,” she says. For over a year, Hirranya has been learning the elements of the language on the ed-tech coding platform, WhiteHat Jr, that helps her do just that.

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How UK-born Barry John turned generations of Indians into theatre professionals

Barry John

In 1968, 22-year-old Barry John from central England’s Black Country, an area cloaked in soot and smoke from factories and mines, arrived in India and began to create theatre that would free the minds of children. “People were not used to the idea that children have voices and opinions. I was working from my heart, rather than my head, in fighting for the right of children to make their own choices instead of being told what to do, when to do or how to do,” he says over phone from Dharamshala, where he has been living in retirement since 2015.

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How social media kills information by overproducing it

The digital space is essentially a space of erasure by dead information. (Photo: Getty)

What do you do with dead information? Not information that is no longer valid. Not information that is no longer relevant. Not information that has fallen out of fashion. But the information that has become truly and profoundly dead — scrambled in an irreversible glitch, corrupt on fickle storage devices, residing in formats that nobody reads, written in machine languages that are long since forgotten. What do you do with information that is inaccessible, illegible, and not intelligible?

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Why animals fear us more than we could ever fear them

Itsy-bitsy terror: Our fear of creepy crawlies is usually irrational. (Photo by Ranjit Lal)

When faced with danger, every living creature responds in two ways, only one of which can be used at a time — fight or flight. Usually, when the threat is smaller and weaker, the creature will fight and vanquish it. At times, the threat is on a par with it and the animal has to decide whether it’s worth getting injured in a “do-or-die” fight or to simply retreat and live to fight (a weaker enemy) another day. Sometimes, of course, tempers short-circuit and a fight to the death commences: usually, no one comes off a clear winner. The loser may lose its life and the winner limp away, ready to be taken on by another challenger, which it is, now, in no condition to do.

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The essential Louise Glück reading list

Here’s a list of four collections that give a glimpse of Glück’s poetic genius.

After its controversial selection of Peter Handke for the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature, the Swedish Academy returned on course this year with a Laureate who met with all-round approval: Louise Glück’s mastery at laying bare the inner life of the individual has long been acknowledged. Here’s a list of four collections that give a glimpse of Glück’s poetic genius:

The House on Marshland (1975)

Glück’s second book of poetry, which came seven years after her debut volume, Firstborn, is considered to be the one that announced the arrival of a powerful new voice in American poetry. One of the poems in the collection, Gretel In Darkness, in particular, drew both censure and acclaim for its exploration of the theme of familial and cultural trauma, told from the perspective of Gretel, one of the protagonists from the Grimm Brothers’s fairytale.

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Did the First Amendment to the Constitution lay the foundation for an authoritarian state?

The book makes it evident that the First Amendment provided the DNA of a Hobbesian state in postcolonial India and laid the foundation of the Nehruvian state.

The story of Indian politics is one of continuities more than ruptures — contrary to the popular imagination, bolstered by arguments by several mainstream political analysts that the period since 2014 has paved the way for a new regime that has jeopardised democracy and tarnished the “idea of India”. Singh’s book, which narrates the story of the passage of the First Amendment to the Indian Constitution by the Jawaharlal Nehru government in June 1951, provides an important interruption to this narrative.

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Manbeena Sandhu: “Ma Anand Sheela is still the queen of her kingdom”

Manbeena Sandhu and Ma Anand Sheela

She was 16 when she accompanied her father to meet godman Rajneesh in Baroda, the beginning of a complex relationship that endured until she fled his ashram in the US in 1985. From setting up a commune in a wild outpost of Oregon and unsettling a conservative local community along the way, the flamboyant Ma Anand Sheela (born Sheela Ambalal Patel) was personal secretary to Osho, as Rajneesh later came to be called, and the face of the movement till her falling out with him, which ended in a 39-month prison spell for a series of charges, including immigration fraud, wiretapping and poisoning. In this interview, Manbeena Sandhu speaks on what led her to document the story of an unconventional life and the inner world of a controversial cult.

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How Gandhi’s assassination left one family not only shocked, but also politicised

The Brass Notebook: A Memoir

I like to call myself and those of us who were young adults in India in the 1950s, the before midnight’s children. Unlike Salman Rushdie’s protagonists who were born at the very midnight hour of August 15, 1947, the moment that India was declared free from British rule, I was born in 1933 and was a teenager at the time of Independence, and a young adult as we threw ourselves into the work of a new and free India. I would say that we experienced an India which we still fantasize about, and which also shaped our politics profoundly. I would go further and suggest that we got deeply attached to some ideas, ideologies and aspirations that were born of that experience that we are not able to shed, even today, in our eighties.

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