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Mohit Chauhan: The face of World Voice Programme April 15, 2013

Posted by British Council India in General.
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The World Voice Project was launched in India with a four-day workshop on singing was held from 14 to 18 March 2013 at the N.I.E. Auditorium in the N.C.E.R.T. Campus, New Delhi. The workshop was led by Mr Richard Frostick (Artistic Director, World Voice project) and Mr Mohit Chauhan (Musician and Indian World Voice Champion), with around 70 participants including, school students (age groups 9-11), school music teachers and independent music trainers from various public and private schools across Delhi in India.

The World Voice Programme is a pioneering initiative between the British Council and the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). It endeavours to promote arts in school education and uses music through singing to support the development of musicality and contribute towards a wider learning. It will promote sharing of British expertise in singing education with classrooms globally and to promote an exchange of skills, knowledge and understanding between all participating countries; support colleagues from around the world who wish to learn more about singing leadership techniques; provide a network where countries can forge long-lasting working relationships; provide resources which teachers and young people can use in the classroom; and last but not the least, celebrate singing as a fundamental global expressive art.

During the much enjoyed workshop sessions, the school children learnt six English songs well as a Hindi song, ‘Morni’ (a Himachali folk song from the western Himalayas) taught by Mr Mohit Chauhan. The other Hindi song, unanimously selected by the participants was ‘Saare Jahan se Accha’. The sessions were joyful, lively and interesting as Mr Richard Frostick, employed a step- by- step approach to explain the background as well as the geographic, historic or cultural context of each song. In addition to this, he emphasized on correct body posture; proper breathing; voice modulation and accuracy in pronunciation. The students were fascinated with the new words and phrases that they learnt while learning the songs.

During the interactive sessions, the teaching techniques and learning experiences were discussed and exchanged by the school music teachers and the music trainers. Richard emphasized on integrating music into the curriculum, for which he felt lesson planning was necessary. He stressed on ‘learning to be fun for the children’.

Post workshop, Mohit who never had any formal training, said that “music has a way of doing things with people”. He also remarked that he was delighted to teach kids as they picked up lyrics and tune of a Himachali folk song within two hours.

It is interesting to know that the idea for the World Voice project grew in the UK with one goal: to promote learning through music and, in the process, connect classrooms around the world. Cathy Graham, Director Music, British Council, who has 14 years of professional experience in music, said, “Singing is a joyful experience. If you start it young, you have it for life. We would like the World Voice Programme to leave a legacy such that perhaps 10 years from now, children of one country are happily singing the traditional songs of another. They are all doing it without knowing why.”

So, would you agree if we say that such is the magic of music as it connects people globally by transcending the physical limits and connect directly with you? Share your views with us.


From Orator to an ardent Debater March 5, 2013

Posted by British Council India in Debating Matters India.
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Debating Matters India enriched us with experiences that made us competent in the arena of debating. It was a platform that brought our latent debating skills to the fore. We all started our journey of debating from DMI and hopefully would want to continue with it.
Unlike conventional debates, we were exposed to a forum which demanded thorough research, understanding and knowledge of the topics. We understood that debating was not only about statistics, facts and examples but with what content and passion you put forward your arguments. The topics, of course, were current and thought-provoking. It was all together an intellectual supplement. The unpredictability of the outcome taught us to be well-equipped to face any ‘uphill battle’. It was a test of our ability to respond under pressure which empowered us and sparked our enthusiasm. It developed our critical analysis, improved our confidence and enhanced our presence of mind.
The experts’ seminar was very illuminating and we were extremely fortunate to meet celebrities of various spheres of life. The programme in total was very efficiently organized, well-anchored, the atmosphere- welcoming, and the cuisine- excellent! It was a cross section of ethnical diversity and there was warm cultural exchange.
Walking past the threshold of the British Council, New Delhi, we evolved from what we were to what we have become now- confident, strong, rational, focused, research-oriented and a better personality. We advanced from being a mere orator to an ardent debater.

Paljor Namgyal Girls’ School
Debating Team, 2012-13

Nistha Sharma
Leah Grace Tenzing Namchyo
Rachel Ongmu Sangay Lepcha
Priyanka Chettri

Teacher co-ordinator:
Ms Alka Chhetri

Paljor Namgya girls

British Council India launches international research on education change management May 21, 2012

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I write this on the morning flight from Calcutta to Delhi, on my way to the national launch of our global research publication on English language, Managing Change in English Language Teaching: Lessons from Experience, edited by Dr Chris Tribble.

Am lucky to have a window seat. On a clear summer day like this the vast Gangetic plain lies spread out like pages on an open atlas. The snow-capped Himalayan peaks, Mt Everest among them, masquerade as clouds that fringe the far horizon.


I fly over West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh on my way to Delhi, I cannot help but think that what lies beneath is one of the most densely populated human habitations not only in India but perhaps the whole world. And that the British Council has substantial English language projects in two of these three states – in Bihar and in West Bengal.

Over the next few days, as this itinerant launch programme travels from Delhi to Chennai to Patna and culminates in Chandigarh, we will be taking a hard look at critical questions on education change and demonstrating the value of project interventions to all manner of stakeholders. At each stop, the panel will feature Dr Tribble and joined by several leading policy makers, ministers of education, academics, consultants, NGOs, funding agencies.

The key areas of our enquiry at each stop will be clustered around the four major strands raised in the book:
•Policy and Design
•Monitoring and Evaluation
•Embedding and Dissemination
There will be lessons for all of us in these discussions and I suspect that at each stop there will be more issues added to the agenda.

The book itself comes at a time of great change and even greater expectations in the public provision of education in India, against the backdrop of intense debates on the implications of Right to Education Act and an increasing attrition of pupils from free government schools to fee-paying private schools, almost all of them flaunting an ‘English medium’ badge. The compilation looks at the larger issues of education change and management through the prism of language teaching and many of the conclusions drawn have far wider practical application than just English language teaching.
Managing Change will be launched at the following locations in India:
City Date Venue For invitation contact
Delhi Mon 21 May British Council

Chennai Tue 22 May Hyatt Regency

Patna Wed 23 May Hotel Chanakya

Chandigarh Fri 25 May Hotel Marriott

The panellists in Delhi are:
Dr Christopher Tribble, King’s College London (editor of the volume)
Dr Rukmini Banerjee, Director, Pratham ASER Centre
Prof Rama Mathews, University of Delhi (she is also a contributor to the volume)
Colin Bangay, Senior Education Advisor, DFID India
Clare Woodward, Open University UK (also a contributor to the volume, by videoconference)
Mike Solly, Lecturer, Open University UK (also a contributor to the volume, by videoconference)
Chair: Alan Mackenzie, Senior Training Consultant, British Council India

The panellists in Chennai are:
Dr Christopher Tribble
Clare O’Donahue, British Council Senior Training Consultant and contributor to the volume
Dr Kannappan
Mr Sundaraman
Dr V Bharathi Harishankar
Chair: Nirupa Fernandez, British Council Head English and Examinations, South India

A hard copy version of the book will be made available to all those who attend the event.

About the editor

Dr Christopher Tribble is a lecturer in Applied Linguistics at King’s College London. He has worked as a classroom language teacher in the public and private sectors in France, China and the UK, and has extensive experience as a manager and evaluator of English language projects, and as a project management trainer.
Chris also has a column in the Guardian called Weekly Words: http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/tribble
Chris Tribble’s current major activities include:
the development of a photographic archive of the work of the Teatr Polski in Warsaw
a photographic and documentation of the work of community groups associated with the new King’s Place Arts venue in London’s King’s Cross.
Chris Tribble is also a documentary photographer and provides a comprehensive photographic documentary service for organisations involved in education, social development and performing arts.
More on Christopher Tribble at http://www.ctribble.co.uk/
For more information on Managing Change launch programme in India or if you interested in contributing to the dialogue on managing change in education, write to Debanjan.Chakrabarti@in.britishcouncil.org

Track, engage, inspire – Revolutionary Social Media April 23, 2012

Posted by British Council India in Climate Change.
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Information is power, said Robin Morgan. And this power is gaining more and more momentum online or in the ‘new media’ sphere. It engages and empowers millions of internet users. Internetworldstats.com pitches the figure at 2267 million users worldwide.

The mediums are many- blogs, video blogs, youtube, social networking sites, online petition campaigns. This medium is fast gaining recognition for lobbying for environmental action. We all are familiar with the power of the ‘share’ and ‘like’ button, thanks to a certain Zuckerberg.

The COP meets for past few years had a number of civil society observers and independent bloggers. There were a lot of independent videos and documentaries produced. There are now official ‘tracking teams’ at such summits, each responsibly and dedicatedly reporting back to their home countries from these international forums. Though traditional media continue to report at the forefront of such events, but the dynamism and the connectedness of the online media is unmatched. Especially among the youth, it continues to be the top most source of their daily news dose.

Off late, I have realized the power of the audio-visual media to tell inspiring stories and the power of sites like Reddit, Digg, Stumble upon and of course Facebook to spread this work around.

I participated in a two month online film-making course by noted environmental film-maker Nitin Das, organised by the British Council for select climate champions from India. Short documentaries were prepared by all participants and we have been circulating this work through a group called ‘Circle of good’ on Facebook and other social media tools. It was formed with the objective of creating a platform to find an audience for our creative work (mostly of environmental and climate change advocacy category). This viral experiment is on-going and we hope to take our stories to a wide audience using social media.

I chose to make my documentary on the subject of solar energy called ‘Solar Sangh’ which tracks an initiative of two young postgraduate students trying to spread solar energy technology to the masses. In India, the target audience for solar technology is associated with villages and the rural poor. We miss out on the urban poor that form a sizable segment in our cities.

There are many such stories waiting to be told. In the coming times, youth will play a major role in taking mitigation and adaptation actions for climate change. And social media will humbly be the medium of their messages. ‘Medium is the message’ coined by Marshall McLuhan holds a new meaning.

Rozita Singh is British Council’s International Climate Champion.
If you are an environmental filmmaker (professional or amateur) or are simply interested in watching environmental films, you too can join the Circle of Good group on Facebook.

After Dickens Writing Competition April 19, 2012

Posted by arnabbanerjee87 in After Dickens, Dickens 2012.
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In the range of activities that the British Council India hosted to mark the 200th birth of Portsmouth’s favourite son, a writing competition for young Indian authors tested the spirit of creativity and tribute to their favourite Victorian novelist – Charles Dickens.

After Dickens online writing competition ran across the  length and width  of India, engaged over 170+ writers between 16-21 years. Submissions ranged from short stories to poetry, reportage and documentary and even accounts of  Mr Dickens’ visit to India and his candid Tête-à-tête with  legends of Indian literature.  Some accounted even candid conversations between Dickens.

Armed with exciting entries, we reached the doors of academic Sajni Kriplani Mukherji. Sajni Di  (as she’s fondly referred to) is a Dickens expert and her appetite of all things Dickens made our vision even stronger.  “Things are a little   tight Arnab. She said to me as I sipped the hot Darjeeling tea sitting beside her study-cum-work desk. I am occupied with a range of family priorities that are not too pleasant.

I’ll try to finish these within 5 days but if I don’t, then we’ll have to work things out slightly different. I grinned with excitement and nervousness hoping certainly for the best of times and not the worst. But as things go, Sajni di smilingly handed over the entries on the fifth day! Hurray!

As a promise, we bring to you her verdict that goes out to all our contributors and their untiring efforts.

A big ‘thank-you’ to you Sajni Di

We present to you the winning entries from the competition.

Happy reading!

– Arnab Banerjee

An unsaid prayer – Haard Barot April 19, 2012

Posted by arnabbanerjee87 in After Dickens, Dickens 2012.
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Haard is 16 years old. He hails from Bharuch in Gujarat. He loves to write and amongst other things enjoys playing table tennis and chess.

Haard’s  imagines an emotional situation where, Charles Dickens visits his son’s grave in Kolkata, India.

Life is a golden chain….which
Death tries to break,
but all in vain.
The years may wipe out many things
But some they wipe out never.
Like memories of those happy times When  we were all together.
What I wouldn’t give
To have you in my arms again,Let me lay my hand Over your heart,
So I canFeel it beating Beneath my touch.

I will not stand at your grave and weep,

BECAUSE…..You are not here.

YOU are a thousand winds that blow,
YOU are the laughter in children’s eyes,
YOU are the sunlight that spreads hope,
YOU are the gentle pleasant rain,
When I awake in the morning’s hush,
You are the quiet of birds in unknown flight,
You are the star that shines at night,
I will not stand at your grave and cry,
YOU are not here, YOU did not die.

Sunglasses for all seasons – Amartya Kumar Mitra April 19, 2012

Posted by arnabbanerjee87 in After Dickens, Dickens 2012.
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 Amartya is studying in class X. His interests are music, creative writing, films and recitation. His ambition is to compose music and perform at the Wembley arena of London and to make films on world’s amazing short stories

You can never focus on a single thing when you are in Esplanade.

Something or other will make you look at it. This is not only because there are a variety of things but their low price tags. The only problem lies with the label. You may find a shirt with a costly brand name but you can never say if it’s genuine because here the genuine and fake items are like Siamese twins. Trust me, if you feel down just step into a bus and head for this heavenly place. But it may help only if you are a bit too drawn to the lures of material world. If you feel those is not anything worthy for a man to dwell upon then change your bus if you are already on board and head for Dakshineshwar temple.

The traffic sergeant with a wave of his hand stopped the vehicles. A huge crowd rushed to the other side of the street like violent bulls. Tired daily-passengers inside the bus exchanged hopeless expressions. Irregular passengers mostly woman watched the event with puzzled looks and open mouths. Everyday on such a busy hour Robi, a handsome twenty three years old boy would cross the road. His looks often drew attention of people passing him. Whether the weather was sunny, overcast or rainy he wore a sunglass and had a fancy stick with a bell metal handle. His attires changed only occasionally as he was not rich and neither did he want to be. Only thing he wanted was to help his brother in his studies doing the laundry job for him as his brother was working in a well known laundry so that one day he can buy enough food to feed both of them . The laundry owner knew that Robi needed money to support his brother and his brother needed time for his studying. He allowed Robi to work in place of his brother.

Robi was knocking around the laundry building when the voice of his boss was heard. He was calling Robi. As usual Robi was waiting for this call and climbed the stairs.

‘’ Yes Sir’’ said Robi

The stout laundry owner sipped his fruit drink slowly and said ‘’ It’s in your delivery area but the address is new. Deliver this to 401, Serpentine lane,Howrah’’ and handed Robi a parcel packed in brown papers which had dry- washed kurta pyjamas. Robi took the parcel and repeated the address twice. He crossed the very same road but instead of walking this time he got into a bus.

Merely five or ten passengers in the office hours can make a man standing outside a bus think that the bus is over-crowded. (Just for the terrible noise they make). The same man might think the bus is deserted just after six full half hours but when he boards the vehicle he will find dozens of drooping heads in post lunch siesta. No risk of pick pockets as those thieves also probably doze at such an hour.

Robi couldn’t dare to take a nap asHowrahwas not far from Esplanade. The bus reached there by half an hour. The clock said 1.30. The holy water of the Ganga looked like sparklingChampagne(though not transparent). Robi made his way to a dhaba nearby not to have lunch but ask the owner who happened to be his childhood friend the exact location of 404 Serpentine lane. The Dhaba owner forced him to have his lunch there and Robi had no choice but to eat there. When he finished it was already two. He hurried to the address. On the way sadly enough he stumbled down as his feet struck a small rock jutting out of the narrow road. The pain was tolerable but the parcel he was carrying got torn and the kurta pyjamas got somewhat soiled.

‘’ What the hell is this?’’ screamed the owner of those clothes. ‘’ I gave this to be washed and ironed but what is this? huh? He continued.

‘’ Sorry sir I……’’

‘’ Sorry? I want to kill the man who invented that word. Will it clean my dress?

‘’ Sir I just…”

“Don’t say a word and just get lost. A young fellow like you can’t deliver a laundry in a good condition and what the hell for you are wearing a sunglass and carrying a stick like that? Style huh?’’ and he slammed the door.

‘’ No sir pleases ……”

Robi didn’t get a chance to say a word and left. He feared the worst. May be his boss will fire him or pay him less or……….

On the other side the angry customer who wanted the Kurta to be ready for attending a wedding went to the telephone and called the laundry office.

‘’ Hello! Hello! Are you the worthless owner of the laundry?’’

‘’ Excuse me Sir may I know who are you speaking?’’

‘’ One of your customers fromHowrah’’

‘’ What can I do for you sir?

‘’ Shut up! This is possibly the worst laundry service in Kolkata. That stylish boy. Who came to deliver my laundry? He has ruined my Kurta. I thing he dropped it carelessly. Now you have troubled me much and I swear I will never use you service anymore Good Bye!!”

‘’ Wait! Don’t show so many attitudes. We have hundreds of customers and we don’t care if you stop dealing with us any more but being the owner of the company I will refund you the money and ….. Are you listening?’’

‘’ Yes’’

‘’ And for Heaven’s sake don’t curse the boy for his mistake. He is blind’’.

Films for the Future April 2, 2012

Posted by British Council India in Climate Change.
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What does the future hold? A question that is relevant for each of one of us. Not just as individuals, but also as a society. Our world is undergoing a period of rapid change and a lot of this development is happening at the cost of the environment.  But the positive aspect of this development is that it is connecting the world together. Helping us share knowledge, ideas and solutions.

In a world of digital media and social networks, films on environment are a very important tool to sow the seeds of awareness and inspire a large number of people

To build on this idea, we carried out a very interesting project. We worked with a small group of dedicated young people from the British Council Climate Champions network and trained them in the art of filmmaking over a period of 2 months.

Given below is a selection of some of the films that were made by the climate champions.

    • Film by Ayush  (Save Electricity) – “Through this film I have thematically tried to bridge the gap between our daily-practices and their indirect but definite impact on the environment” says Aayush.
    • Film by Dinesh (Car Pooling) – “Cars, cars everywhere; not a hint of movement’, this was the thought in Dinesh’s mind when he made this film.
    • Film by Tanya (Plastic Bottle Reuse) – Tanya feels that “waste pickers in Pune have always been doing work that is beneficial for the environment, but have never really received their due. This film is to showcase their contribution to effective waste management.”

About the facilitator: Nitin Das runs a production house that focuses on producing socially relevant films: www.filmkaar.com. For the past 2 years he has been working on a project that uses films and stories from around the world to create awareness about the environment: http://www.elfproject.org

For more information on the British Council Climate Champions project visit this link.

CHARLES DICKENS IN KOLKATA – Sudeep Chakravarti February 17, 2012

Posted by arnabbanerjee87 in Dickens 2012, What Would Dickens Write Today.
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Sudeep Chakravarti is the author of  Tin Fish and The Avenue of Kings. His major non-fiction work, Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country, was short-listed for the Vodafone Crossword Non-Fiction Award 2008.  Sudeep’s next work, Highway 39, set in Nagaland and Manipur, will be published in April 2012.

The poor man literally wrote himself to death in London. In Kolkata that was Calcutta in Charles Dickens’ time, he would have lived better—there were exchange-rate princes even in those days. He would have been a star curiosity and chronicler at the socialist end of the spectrum, opposite to, say, fantasies of Empire wrought by a writer that came after him, Rudyard Kipling—the other Victorian-era star curiosity and chronicler. They both had a father called John, but there rested commonality.

I imagine Dickens would have lived for about the same years in the Calcutta of his ‘when’; a relatively better quality of life than in London compacted by various Calcutta-borne diseases and, for sure, overwork from an overload of subjects. The White Nabob’s Papers, perhaps? Hard Times and Bleak House would surely be ready titles.

And now? Dickens would die in a decade in Calcutta-now-Kolkata attempting to stave off overwork and everyday compulsion: so many subjects, so little time, such urgency to earn, what a churn to earn it in. Perhaps he would die of asphyxiation as he rested a nervous breakdown. This would be at a hospital once named after Mother Teresa and to be run not-for-profit—but now a privately-run hospital-for-profit in which nearly a hundred patients died of fire and fumes a few weeks before Christmas. In death, Dickens would morph into a character in one of his stories of supreme irony.

He would have such a full life, though, till the end came. Walking, seeing, feeling, smelling Kolkata in a way no National Geographic documentary seen in London could ever convey; gathering material for his stories he would churn out each week for miserly websites and struggling literary magazines, saving novellas for the pulp-literary annuals timed each autumn around Durga Puja, and novels for release at Kolkata Book Fair each January—here at the mercy of his workhouse publishers.

(Such would be the life of a person who chose to not return home after his fellowship at Jadavpur University’s Department of English had expired. Kolkata would welcome him with its seductive tentacles of ambient culture that mesmerized generations of self-seeking gullibles into belief that it made poverty and decrepitude worthwhile. And, it would hardly help that, driven by the example of worthies such as William Dalrymple he pinned his hopes on earnings as a writer in this ‘place of fertile plots’ and contrived to bring along his surly wife Catherine and their brood of ten. Too late, Dickens would realize what Dalrymple already had: there was much money writing about a romanticized past, nearly none writing a sordid present.)

The good news: As he wouldn’t write about religion, Dickens would at least be permitted to exhibit his works at the book fair, and even sign copies, a privilege not granted fellow writers like Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen. But such a politically craven ban would perhaps be to the good as Dickens would be swept away by the marketing finesse of his colleagues. Writing twitter, he would discover, is as crucial as writing prose. And an agent—oh, for a smart agent!

I can picture him, seated one evening by the traffic policeman at the corner of Park Street and Russell Street, watching the play of beggars and modern-day nabobs as they exited Bengal Club, to his left; younger nabobs and their frilly ladies from the music and dance clubs of Park Hotel, to his right.

I can see him walking under the flyover that stretches from the ragged cultural centre around Rabindara Sadan—an angrily thrown stone’s distance from the grand memorial to Empress Victoria—east toward a road once named after Viceroy Lansdowne. This flyover Kolkata claimed as a showpiece of progress to rebut claims of its death. Smooth vehicular movement for a few kilometers in a metropolis in which at the same time, several hundred kilometers worth of road would be gridlocked—even the roads the ‘fly over’ swept under its concrete and tar carpet. By walking under, Dickens would see huddled people in rags cooking meals in their homes of blue sheeting and beaten aluminium sheets that once held cooking oil. But he may already have seen those in a thousand shanties in Kolkata, a thousand streets. (Remember: he would have already written a short story about pickpocket children and their tormented leader, the lame Falguni who lived in the warrens carved under the platform of the suburban train station near the Lakes. The children would scurry in and out between trains; some would be run over, but there you have it.)

Dickens would have fought off for much his short, intense life all adulation from the Marxist government that ran Kolkata and the state of which it was the capital,West Bengal. Searching for propaganda victories, they would want him to join their version of the Communist Party. A man of Dickens’s proletarian, driven prose, they would reason, had to carry their card. He would even be summoned by their leader, Supremo, a gentleman who summered inLondonand appreciated the finer scotches. After passing on news of the stricken Charles’s former home, he would offer him a commission to write about the trodden in a manner that helped Supremo claim credit for saving the trodden.

Dickens would decline, pleading that such honour belonged to writers better than he. He would naively suggest Mahasweta Devi’s name—the tribal and caste rights activist—thinking her to be a kindred spirit, but without realizing she had gone past favour with Supremo. He would also choose to not see anger blazing through Supremo’s thick glasses, passing it off as an illusion worked by his own lack of sleep.

Some of his books would mysteriously burn in public squares as a result. Later, Supremo would send minions to the press that was readying to publish his next, an exposé of the wretched life of brick kiln workers near Kolkata. The thinly-veiled character of U. Ray, the overlord of those ‘bonded’ labourers was a senior Party functionary. Such exposés simply would not do.

Dickens would spend the next two years as a guerilla writer, underground, as his family remained sheltered by friends from a slum near his tenement home in Dhakuria. In particular a rickshaw puller called Joy, or Anondo, in Bengali. On one of his travels in the stricken northern suburbs of Kolkata—far from the new glitter of the tall towers of glass and steel to the east built over rich wetlands and farms—he would be searched out by a band of Maoist rebels. They had discovered that Supremo and his cohorts, worshippers of Marx, Engels and Lenin as they purported to be, were actually closer in characteristic to Stalin and a warped Croesus. This would please Dickens, as his recent writings focused on hypocrisy of power, especially crafted by those who claimed to speak on behalf of the powerless. Dickens, even on the run, appreciated the intent of these fighters who lived in the shadows of society, helping spread the word of revolution among the truly poor and the trodden: laid off factory workers; migrant farm workers who flocked to Kolkata from poorer parts of Bengal, and similar wasted lands of Bihar and Odisha; the children of prostitutes; beggars with limbs and faces deliberately disfigured to enhance the flow of alms.

While his power flowed from the keyboard of his trusted but nearly crumbling netbook; he would acknowledge that the power of some others may need to flow from the barrel of a gun. Anyway, it made for many plots for many stories. A man—and his wife and children—had to eat.

Alas, more clouds would visit our Charles, as soon he would shift his thoughts to how some of his Maoist brethren resembled Mao’s darker side in their dealings, suggesting radical social reconstruction as the only way out. If it were not for a Maoist fan of his early works, Dickens would not be able to escape to his family—he would likely be instead held up as a traitor to the cause. Even pushed to this wall, he would think to himself: more plot, more stories, more income (the resolute rickshaw-wallah and his family had been kind, but to feed ten children in this day and age?).

A lady in the neighbourhood, a new friend of his deeply bitter wife, Catherine, would intervene then as an angel. She worked at the home of a beautiful and wealthy spinster, Himali Sen. Himali had for long admired Dickens’s writings—‘truth must be told, even if it hurts,’ she would maintain, to some sniggers in her circles. And she would be delighted that her maid emerged as the conduit to this victimized talent, a shada-chamra—white skin—who had forsaken his own homeland to make a home among her kind; well, nearly so.

It would come to pass that one morning the maid would bring Dickens, camouflaged in burqa, to the stately mansion of Miss Himali Sen. The delighted lady would promise Dickens that better days were soon expected. Supremo and his cohorts were expected to be swept away by the impelling force of one she would only describe as Our Lady of Compassion—Mamata in Bengali—in the coming elections. And, by the way, did he realize that his powerfully descriptive works about commonplace tragedies and the trodden had become quite the flavour among society? Indeed, these could be said to provide motive force for political changes sweeping Kolkata. Dickens would be told he was now a darling of the classes, too.

His extreme nervous disorder would manifest itself soon after.

What Would Dickens Write Today – Neel Mukherjee February 17, 2012

Posted by arnabbanerjee87 in Dickens 2012, General, What Would Dickens Write Today.
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Neel Mukherjee’s first novel, A LIFE APART (PAST CONTINUOUS in India), won the Vodafone-Crossword Award for Best Fiction in 2009 and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award for Best Fiction in 2010. His second novel, The Lives of Others, is out in 2013.

Photocredit - Daniel Hart                 Photo credit – Daniel Hart

How could we ever have failed to imagine this marriage? Dickens and India. Just think of the correspondences: of sentimentality, of the impulse towards tear-jerking, of wild unreality in the texture of realism. Who, in moments of lucidity, has not agreed with Wilde on what was, by general consensus, the most unbearably moving moment in his 1841 novel, The Old Curiosity Shop: ‘You would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of little Nell’?  All the things that he took a scalpel to in Victorian England – poverty, child labour, the chasm between the haves and the have-nots, labyrinthine judicial processes, power exercised by an Old Boys’ network, the casual and entrenched cruelty of the powerful to the powerless  – flourish with sick fecundity in the hothouse of India. In a sense, a lot of what enraged him, and provided the motor for his writing, has disappeared from theEngland (and theLondon) he knew: the slums and the squalor, the all-too-visible human costs of the Industrial Revolution that poweredEngland’s resurgent economic growth, the seething social ills. Where do you think these things still obtain?India would have kept Dickens at the hot edge of inspiration and in material for several lifetimes. 

It is generally thought that the magical realism that marks the writings of Latin American writers developed as a response to represent in literature the surreality of politics and day-to-day life in Central and South American nations. If one were feeling charitable towards Dickens, as one feels somewhat bound to on his bicentenary year, that could serve as well an explanation as any for all those things in his novels that are so at home in a B- or C-grade Indian mainstream film or television drama – the wild and incredible coincidences, the tendency towards caricature in characterisation, the wishful endings.  That typical irreality in a Dickens novel – how well it answers to the Indian condition, the condition that is both a cause (the social and political situation) and an effect (as represented in cultural forms).

Consider this particular scenario, serialised, appropriately enough for a present-day Dickens novel, in a literary magazine, one of those rare corners where book-serialisation still thrives. A political party has sucked dry the lifeblood of the state in which it has been in power for three decades. Its early days of progressive land reforms are far behind it. The economy has changed; the future is not an agrarian economy any longer. Banging the anti-industrial drum has got the party the rural vote bank but the world is changing. That same tune, played relentlessly, has robbed the state of investment, encouraged an infamous ‘flight of capital’, made it an untouchable zone for industrialists, businessmen, blue-collar jobs. It has been falling falling falling for decades, it has become a byword for retrogression. For a state that still boasts of a Renaissance in learning and culture in the nineteenth century and likes to think of itself as the intellectual and creative powerhouse of the nation, its crucial development indicators, such as infant mortality rate, child nutrition, child immunisation (think of the possibilities in a Dickens novel here – slums, starving children, seething poverty), are lower than those of the neighbouring state, one traditionally thought of as the Heart of Darkness. Oh, the ironies of history.

The people, tired of stagnation, negative prospects of any kind of economic development or growth, rigged elections, the micro-rule of political goons, the impossibility of moving forward in any domain in their lives, have become restless and refractory. Into this cesspit arrives a rabble-rousing politician, promising the one thing that the people want: Change.  Every single bone in her body a populist one, she has promised to industrialise the state, thus creating sorely-needed jobs in the organised sector. Yet she has made her name chasing some prominent industrialists out of the state. How is she going to move forward? And why would the local power-brokers from the previous government, the public sector unions, teachers’ associations, the ‘dadas’, battened on thirty years of influence and power, allow her to erode their privileges? There are signs of an attempt to get out of this complete gridlock: playing Tagore songs at traffic junctions, initiating a public debate on tinkering with the name of the state. Think of the vast cast of characters as Dickens gets down to anatomise the different, clashing worlds, the hypocrisy and the festering stasis. Think of the fertile soil for some good old Dickensian caricaturing; admittedly, more the domain of the cartoonist than the novelist, but the situation is so rich, so inviting, that it demands it. The title of this novel? Great Expectations. Maybe even Bleak House.

Meanwhile, in the country at large, the coalition ruling party is mired in one corruption scandal after another; not your usual hands-in-the-till stuff (though there’s that too, in relation to an international sport festival) but on an industrial scale, costing the exchequer billions. But the main opposition party decrying this and demanding all kinds of anti-corruption measures, the party of the religious fundamentalist right, as it happens, has just had to depose a sitting Chief Minister of their party for his active, prolonged and leading role in mining and land acquisition corruption in a state down south; once again, the sums involved are tens of billions.  As if this were not enough, ministers from this very party, hysterically vocal about morality and corruption, have just been caught watching porn on their cellphones during a session of the State Assembly. And what’s this one called? Why, Hard Times, of course. 

Tolstoy, who had Dickens’s portrait on his wall, declared him the greatest nineteenth-century novelist; he would have been an even sharper twentieth- or twenty-first-century one.

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