Sunday, February 20, 2011
Who remembers Junior Statesman, India’s first youth magazine that was published by The Statesman newspaper in the 1960s and 70s? The magazine had columns by Zeenat Aman, Jug Suraiya, etc... JS was perhaps Desmond Doig’s biggest contribution – except, perhaps, his sketches of Calcutta -- to the newspaper. Anyway, I’ve several issues of the magazine and I still enjoy reading them.
Sunday, May 03, 2009
On returning to India, Ferena Wazeir has landed several big projects in the Hindi film industry and one with Oscar-winning director Danis Tanovic. She discusses with Mathures Paul the difference in work culture in India and Scotland
After Deepka Padukone, a number of young talented actresses are all set to face the spotlight. Besides Shruti Seth and Shruti Haasan, another contender for a leading spot in the industry is Ferena Wazeir, whose family has strong ties with Kashmir but she was brought up in Scotland. Once she returned to India, it was only a matter of time before she landed important roles in films directed by the Hindi film industry’s leading directors.
Wazeir will soon be seen in Ketan Mehta’s period epic Rang Rasiya ~ produced by Deepa Sahi ~ which is based on Raja Ravi Varma’s life. She essays the role of a journalist and the “third love” in the painter’s life. Wazeir has also landed a three-movie deal with a major studio in Bollywood. Adding to her kitty is Sadiyaan, a Raj Kanwar movie that features Luv Sinha (Shatrugan Sinha’s son), Rekha, Rishi Kapoor and Hema Malini. Well, that’s not all. The beauty from Scotland has signed on a Hollywood project with Danis Tanovic, the Oscar-winning director, for No Man’s Land. Also in the pipeline is a movie with Soni Razdan, the adaptation of Little Daughters, and Deepa Sahi’s Nana Karte Pyar.
Ferena Wazeir speaks to The Statesman.
Rang Rasiya has a complex plot as it tries to analyse the life one of the greatest artists of our times.
It wasn’t the most of difficult of roles. I essay the role of a Parsi journalist and a socialite in the film that’s set in the nineteenth century. Getting into the character wasn’t very tough as I often meet a number of socialites in Mumbai and I often interact with journalists. Since the character is slightly on the older side, I had to make my body language a little more mature. Rang Rasiya is certainly a very relevant film for our times. What Raja Ravi Varma went through during his lifetime, people like MF Husain is going through today. There is still suppression when it comes to freedom of artists. The intolerant attitude of society is easily understood.
About your role in Sadiyaan and working with Luv Sinha…
This is a very commercial film by Raj Kanwar, who has launched many newcomers ~ Lara Dutta, Priyanka Chopra, Divya Bharati… He is now launching Shatrugan Sinha’s son. It’s a family drama and a period film. In this film I am playing a happy-go-lucky Punjabi girl. Luv’s approach to acting is very different from that of Shatrugan Sinha. He has a style of his own and has done a great job. The film was shot last year in Kashmir, Chandighar and Amritsar.
Working with Hema Malini, Rekha and Rishi Kapoor.
I was a bit nervous but they are all very wonderful people. Rekhaji is very beautiful and is helpful towards newcomers like Luv and myself. Rishi Kapoor is funny and sarcastic. Newcomers were made to feel very comfortable.
Your family is from Kashmir.
We left Kashmir when I was very young. My education was in Scotland... My parents didn’t advice me to visit some of the places we had been to earlier. When you are shooting, there is hardly time for anything else. We are from Rajouri which is up near the border. So, I couldn’t imagine my director letting me visit the place.
Moving back to India and the work atmosphere here.
It’s been wonderful in many ways and challenging in many ways. It’s a different culture. Technical teams are fine and very professional. But things take time as one has to deal with a lot of natural elements that are at play here ~ sound pollution, weather… But the good thing is, once you start dealing with problems, you become a spontaneous actor… I have studied with Alyque Padamsee and Satyadev Dubey ~ that has helped me a lot.
Danis Tanovic’s No Man’s Land…
He will soon be shooting in India. He first wanted to shoot in Pakistan but now it will be done in India. This will be more of a ‘world cinema’ kind of release, like Slumdog Millionaire.
Is there a need for casting directors in India?
Yes. The approach in India is not as professional as, say, in the USA. There’s a lot of nepotism at work. Then again, it’s a different work culture here. Fortunately things are changing and casting directors are beginning to pop up. Productions are becoming better. Watch a movie like Chak De! which had an interesting casting.
Did you watch Slumdog Millionaire?
I have read the book and wanted to see how the film turned out to be. I liked it. The film is different from the book but every director has his/her approach.
The film for the United Nations.
Fifteen directors had been chosen from around the world to make a number of short films on the eco-system. From India Pan Nalin was selected.
After returning, has the environment been bothering you?
Yes, I am suffering from sinus problems, pollution-related allergies. When I see children brought up in Scotland where the air is very clean and those brought up here, I feel sad. Pollution affects many things ~ height, health, hair growth... Also people throw away things here and there. Let’s make an effort to keep our country clean.
Dance Routes’ choreographic works include pieces meant for performance as well as films
By Mathures Paul
Rekha Tandon, one of the foremost exponents of the Odissi, established Dance Routes in 1997 with help from Michael Weston, a musician and film-maker, for experimentation, research and education in Indian classical dance. She was initially under the guidance of SN Jena, and subsequently under Shrimati Madhavi Mudgal, Guru Trinath Maharana and Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. Tandon was part of Madhavi Mudgal’s dance company between 1985 and 1992.
Dance Routes’ choreographic works have included pieces created for both performance and film, using multicultural literary and musical resources, which retain the criteria of dance being used as a means of dialogue with divinity. Educational initiatives have included workshops both in the UK and India that explore the relationship between dance, yoga and the cultural environments that nurtured these classical traditions.
Dhara, one of her recent productions, has enjoyed a good press. The mixed-media production uses Odissi, folk performing traditions and indigenous murals and pattachitra. Its aim was to demonstrate how rural artistes, when given supplementary training and a professional presentation, could successfully compete with classical urban artistes on the metropolitan stage.
Tandon, who has a PhD in Dance Studies from Laban in London, a Master’s degree in Art History from the National Museum Institute New Delhi, and a Bachelor’s degree from the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, speaks to The Statesman.
The concept behind Dhara?
Dhara emerged and acquired shape organically. It started with workshops in the village of Raghurajpur near Puri, with little gotipua children whom I was playing with, teaching yoga to, so that they would do their acrobatics with more control, and devising simple Odissi movements for. The final production grew from these early sessions, slowly getting more layered, theatrical and sophisticated.
Since the formation of Dhara, what has been some of its achievements?
On a human level, quite indescribable. Village boys sat on a plane, went abroad, saw a completely new world and were hugely feted. They returned as heroes and were welcomed at the railway station by their village with garlands.
On a socio-economic level, Dhara-like work provides a means for older boys from the gotipua tradition to be successful (stunning!) dancers on the metropolitan stage as adults. We have had a wonderful reception everywhere we have performed, both abroad and in India, and are now hoping we will have an economically viable dance company which will allow many such village kids to be professional dancers.
Personally as an artist, this project has been hugely rewarding. These boys have such a lovely, earthy personality, and incredible strength and flexibility. We have been able to teach classical movements, and they have worked hard. This combination allows so much possibility for choreography.
What prompted you to combine pattachitra, Odissi and murals under one umbrella?
The pattachitra painters and gotipua dancers all live cheek by jowl in a village like Raghurajpur. Many of my dancers come from pattachitra families. It seemed such a natural combination to me, I find it surprising nobody has done it before. (Visit www.danceroutes. com Training section, for Raghurajpur Lila project Details)
In this project how are responsibilities divided amongst Michael Weston and yourself?
Michael is musical director, audio-visual creator, stage manager, multipurpose office, critical aesthetic eye and Silent Saint, behind it all! I do the dance training and choreography.
Spirituality and life ~ how closely these two factors work and inspire Dance Routes projects?
Very closely. Our work would not be worth doing otherwise.
In these troubled times what role should Indian classical musicians/ dancers and artists play?
I think Indian classical music/dance work that crosses cultural boundaries by using religious/ poetic text from different traditions; can be very therapeutic in bringing religiously divided communities together. This is something Indian art forms and artists are uniquely well equipped to do since they have such a long history of dealing with spirituality.
Dundee is known for jam, journalism and jute. For a better understanding of the jute industry, which has almost disappeared from Dundee, Hopscotch Films crew was in India. John Archer shares his thoughts on the subject with Mathures Paul
The old jute mills that once dotted Calcutta are fast disappearing, only to be replaced by concrete jungles. The importance of the raw material, needless to say, will be understood not before it’s too late. Glasgow-based production company Hopscotch Films set out to make a documentary on a subject that binds Dundee to Calcutta. John Archer was in Calcutta with his large team to film Brian Cox’s Jute Journey, a subject close to the heart of actor Brian Cox. John Archer of Hopscotch Films speaks to The Statesman.
What prompted Hopscotch Films to take on a documentary on jute trade?
In Scotland, Dundee is renowned as being the city of the three Js ~ jam, jute and journalism. This is such an old cliche that we will not be mentioning it in our documentary! And sadly it is also out of date. Dundee is the home to some of Britain’s most famous comics ~ The Dandy and The Beano ~ but although the jam and marmalade manufacturing business continues, jute has disappeared. Dundee was the first place to discover how to break down jute for processing: it was the whaling capital of Britain and the whale oil was perfect for making jute pliable. At one time the city was buzzing with mills and 50,000 people worked in the mills. Among them many Irish immigrants, including Brian Cox’s parents. So, raw jute was imported from North-east India via Calcutta. We knew little of the mills which evolved later in Calcutta and which, of course, are still very busy. Many of the Scottish managers and engineers that went out from Dundee as mills declined in Scotland 1950s onwards are now living in retirement in Broughty Ferry (near Dundee). At the Cannes Film Festival last year the idea of the documentary was pitched to me by the Dundee-born film journalist Bob Flynn, who now works in Edinburgh. We discussed it and thought we could make a great documentary by interviewing former managers and engineers about their time in Calcutta, and then going to the mills ourselves to film them. Fortunately BBC Scotland agreed and funded the project with just about enough money. We will combine interviews with managers with their old eight-mm cine film to create a documentary that is rich in their memories as well as provide a glimpse to the mills and the city.
Calcutta (and Dhaka) was once known for its jute mills that employed a number of Scots as managers and engineers. Much of that has made way to concrete blocks. How difficult was the project?
There are lots of mills still active in Calcutta ~ on the northern side of the Hoogly. We were very fortunate to be able to film in Howrah Mill, which I am told is one of the more picturesque. The president there, Niranjan Das, and all his staff, were very helpful. I had met him in February ~ I was in the city working on a rather different project but took a morning out to recce the mill. He, his staff and managers ~ besides the mill itself with its atmospheric natural lighting with shafts of sunlight streaming in through the dusty air ~ have provided the visual treat of our documentary. I’d also visited St Andrews church ~ they kindly agreed to let us film in the church during their Palm Sunday service. We had been discussing this project for a while when Brian Cox suddenly announced a gap in his acting diary that he could give for this project. I was in Australia at the time and we had about four weeks to get everything organised. The filming permit and visas were very rushed and stressful for me. So I concentrated on practical arrangements and the director Brian Ross worked on the shape and script of the documentary, from the research we’d done. The filming in Calcutta itself had its challenges ~ mostly to do with travelling long distances and through crowds of people; but in retrospect, I think it went well. The problem for visiting crews is that there is so much to take in ~ so much you want to film ~ that you have to keep focussed on your story. I love the city ~ the architecture and people make it my favourite in India. It would be great to have time to go deeper into its makeup.
The research that went into the project…
Bob Flynn had met some of the people at the Dundee end. We augmented this through contacts made by our researcher in Glasgow, Dhivya Kate Chetty. As we started filming, there was a history conference in Dundee attended by the leading jute historian, now based in the USA, Gordon Stewart. We started by interviewing him. The research was conducted both on the story ~ through reading, library and Internet search ~ and on people. In Dundee, the Calcutta and Mofussil Scots Society were a great help: they are the surviving managers and engineers who worked in Calcutta. We got over 25 of them together in Dundee before we left and filmed a great evening with Brian Cox. And in Calcutta young journalist Damayantee Dhar researched potential interviewees and locations for us, talking to people we’d heard of back in Scotland. We’re very grateful to all the people who helped us in Calcutta but three people in particular went out of their way: Akbere at Akberally Tailors in Esplanade Row East where Brian had a couple of jackets made (which we filmed); Ranju Alex at the Oberoi Grand, which provided a welcome haven from the bustle of filming; and Mr Mukerji at the Tollygunge Club who generously welcomed us so warmly to film at the club, and then entertained us to a great dinner ~ I’d love to make a documentaries about all three of those people and places.
While filming, what were some of the lesser known facts about jute trade that you came across?
We didn’t know that people ate it! When we visited Champadanga to see jute plants growing, we were served delicious jute patties. But really the whole documentary has been a journey of discovery. We were mostly ignorant about the mills in Calcutta when we started. From my point of view I knew of jute as the raw material for sacks that stocked corn on my father’s farm, they were the raw material for my childhood dens. It seems to me it has a great future as a renewable and biodegradable packaging material as well as for finer cloth. With the banning of plastic bags for shopping in many countries, jute will find a new world market again.
As the documentary is called Brian Cox’s Jute Journey, would it more of a first-person narrative?
Yes, it is. It is a subject very close to Brian’s heart. It will be his journey and reflect the things he has felt and discovered, with the grounding of research.
What have been some of the creative inputs of Brian Cox?
Brian has steered the project to suit his own interests and experience, particularly in the emotional feel of the documentary. He has made it clear as we went along the things that interested him. So he was informed by the research that was done but the feel and tone of the film will be all his.
How important a role background music would play in the documentary?
The director Brian Ross and I first worked together on a music documentary last year about a very special Shetland singer Thomas Fraser. Music is important to both of us, and will be to this documentary. Before we started filming we were very keen on the music on the album A Meeting by the River by Ry Cooder and VM Bhatt, which mixes slide guitar with sitar. So we may use something like that.
I was in Calcutta in February on a labour of love ~ The Story of Film, a history of cinema around the world that focuses on when and where in the world cinema has been at its most exciting and innovative. This is based on the brilliant book The Story of Film by Mark Cousins, who is directing the series. We had a brilliant time in Calcutta, visiting the Pather Panchali location and interviewing the great cinematographer Soumendhu Roy. We are still working on that. We have a DVD of the Thomas Fraser documentary and concert to launch. We are waiting to hear whether the BBC will commission a documentary on John Calvin and his impact on Scotland 500 years after his birth, and have a drama short and feature film about to go into production. But my main concern right now is to edit our Jute Journey and to submit it to the Calcutta Film Festival later this year.
(John Archer was head of music and arts at BBC Scotland and the founding chief executive of Scottish Screen.)
Kiran Ahluwalia’s ghazals have a lot of Western influence, including a harmonic structure based on jazz and Western classical music, writes Mathures Paul
Born in India and brought up in Toronto, Kiran Ahluwalia is a musician who doesn’t resist Western music from influencing her vocal style. A trained exponent of the ghazal, she finds inspiration in the poetry of Indian and Pakistani poets living in Canada. After giving us albums like Kashish: Attraction and Wanderlust, she is once again in the studio recording her next effort. In an exclusive interview to The Statesman.
As a student of Vithal Rao in what ways do you implement his lessons in your projects?
I learned ghazal gaayaki from him ~ basically how to sing a ghazal. Vithal Rao is a maestro and so he doesn’t really have a method of teaching. He simply sings for you and it is up to you to ask and learn what you can. I also learned many things about composition but I am not able to articulate these in words ~ they are more intrinsic ~ they are things you learn just by having spent so time listening to your teacher. Vithal Rao ji is my ghazal guruji. I received my Indian classical training from Padma Talwalkarji in Mumbai.
When you were studying Indian classical vocal music, did you ever think of moving towards other forms of music?
I started studying Indian classical music in order to be a better singer of ghazal and Punjabi folk song. My parents both had a passion for ghazal and also film and folk songs. They had both studied Indian classical music so they knew the benefits of training. They are the ones who first got me started in music when I was about seven in India. Then we moved to Canada in the 1970s where they found an Indian music teacher for me in Toronto. After I completed my Bachelors at the University of Toronto (in International Relations), I came back to India to study music full time.
The going is tough for classical musicians in India. While a student of music in India, did uncertainty bother you?
Not really. When I was studying music in India ~ first in Mumbai and then in Hyderabad, I never thought I would be able to make a career out of it ~ especially since my permanent residence was in Canada. For more than ten years I kept returning to India to study music full time for long periods of time ~ and I did this purely because it was what I wanted to do. I didn’t really think about where it was going to take me. I would stay in India for a year to do music and then go back to Canada and work for a year and save money only to come back to India and spend it all on another year of music.
In 2000 I released my first commercial CD Kashish: Attraction. I thought that after the CD was done I would return to work of another nature. But the CD brought me to the attention of a manager, an agent and radio stations in Canada. These three things helped me launch a career even before I had a chance to map things out. I’m so thankful it happened that way.
Ghazal or folk music has a spiritual link. How important is spirituality in your music?
Spirituality is important in my life. Sometimes it informs my compositions and my choices but at other times I am influenced by totally different things. In terms of my music ~ the importance of spirituality is up to the listener. If listeners find a spiritual connection with my compositions that’s great but there are many other types of connections that are equally valid.
While collaborating, what is that particular thing/aspect you look forward to in other musicians’ works that attracts you?
I simply have to like the aesthetic of a certain type of music to want to include it in my own Indian style of music. In my latest CD, Wanderlust, there is an underlying current of harmonic structure coming from jazz and Western classical music. Beyond that, I fell in love with Portuguese fado and African trance grooves. I liked all these and composed my songs in ways that would make it possible to embrace these styles. I recorded with Portuguese musicians in Lisbon and with African musicians in Toronto.
In terms of my philosophy, I think it is harder and harder to find cultural purity; in food, art, technology and in our very beings we are influenced by things outside of our geographic borders and our cultural heredity ~ Bollywood music itself and so many other aspects of life; of being an Indian in India are influenced by things happening outside India. At the same time, people in other parts of the world are influenced by things in India. The idea of authentic cultural and artistic purity is I think just not valid anymore. Mixing musical styles and ideas certainly speaks to that and embraces the combination of influences already within us.
How do you go about composing songs?
I read a lot of poetry. Poems, both ghazal and folk, are often the lyrics of what I compose. After my first CD, I made an important discovery ~ I found Indian and Pakistani poets living in Canada writing fresh poetry in the ghazal and Punjabi folk genres. A whole new world opened up for me. Instead of having to constantly look back to India and try to find poems in published books, I had hit a spring of fresh poetry in my backyard. The lyrics of many compositions on my second CD, Beyond Boundaries, were penned by Urdu and Punjabi writers living in Canada.
How challenging is it to sing ghazals and folk songs before an audience that primarily features foreigners?
It’s funny that you use the term ‘foreigners’. I was born in India and grew up in Canada and I do identity with Canadian culture ~ I call myself Indian but I also call myself Canadian. Not to call myself Canadian would be to deny the reality of the influences that have shaped me. So to me, Canadians are also ‘my people’ (just like Indians) and not foreigners.
Having said that, the challenge for me is singing ghazal and folks songs to an audience who doesn’t understand the languages that I sing in ~ Urdu and Punjabi. (There are also lots of young Indians in the audience who do not understand any of the Indian languages). I listen to music where I don’t understand the words ~ Portuguese fado, Italian love songs, African grooves with vocals. I connect with the emotion in the music as it is presented as a whole and I think that is what my audience is connecting to.
Also my ghazals are not really traditional ~ they have a lot of Western influence in them including a harmonic structure based on jazz and Western classical music ~ and so for Western audiences there are windows to enter the music.
(To know more about Kiran Ahluwalia, visit www.kiranmusic.com)
Photograph from the Internet
To type in Bengali, Hindi or Nepali, you don’t need to be a scholar
By Mathures Paul
In a few years time, you don’t need to know English to be on the web. Every major IT company is spending large amounts to develop interfaces in various languages. Using artificial intelligence structure most of these interfaces are being developed. A leader in the area is Tachyon Technologies and its Quillpad. You don’t need to know how to write Bengali or Hindi or Nepali or Punjabi to use Quillpad.
On www.quillpad.in simply choose a language you want the text matter to be in and start typing in English. To be more specific, users spell out words of local languages phonetically in Roman letters, and Quillpad’s predictive engine converts them into other scripts. If you are unsure of the pronunciation of a word, simply right click and a list of alternatives is provided.
Launched in 2000, it took KS Sreeram and Ram Prakash almost four years of planning and visualizing various ideas. Quillpad allows one to type in 10 languages ~ Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi and Nepali. It’s web-based and is now online with e-mail and Internet search features. Some of Tachyon’s clients are Rediff Mail and iLand, Ibibo, Indiatimes, Guruji, Fropper and OnMobile. Ram Prakash speaks to The Statesman.
How does one convert anything that’s typed online into SMS?
Quillpad online solutions is different from Quillpad mobile solution. Mobile solution can be installed on handsets directly and one can use Quillpad to type SMSes in Indian languages.
Configuration of mobile phones to use Quillpad...
Quillpad will work or ported on to any device that has Indian language font. Today, most devices released in the market come with Devanagari font support.
During election, has there been an increase in usage of Quillpad?
We have seen that since February usage on Quillpad site has doubled. We are not sure if that is in any way correlated to election-related usage.
Profile of customers using the product...
We have people using Quillpad for sending e-mails, writing blogs, chatting, sending greetings in their mother tongue, etc. Apart from these, there are a lot of serious users and reporters writing long articles, local business people writing their business communications and also an instance of a novelist using Quillpad for writing her novel.
What is the strength of the various vernacular dictionaries you are using?
Quillpad does not use any dictionary. Instead, we use statistically learnt language patterns. Thus, even when people type some non-dictionary words, like names or words that never appeared in the training corpus, Quillpad can most of the time apply the patterns it has learnt from other words to intelligently transliterate the names. Quillpad training for a given language does not require any special training data nor does it require human language experts to design patterns or rules. Quillpad technology can learn to predict any alphabet-based language in the world, not just Indian languages, within a matter of hours.
Can the interface be incorporated into operating systems…
Quillpad can be integrated into operating systems as easily as it can be integrated with mobile platforms. It is only a matter of intentions and priorities of the operating system developers to work with us.
Quillpad has been currently licensed to several websites and mobile handset manufacturers on annual licensing/royalty models. We are soon opening Quillpad API that can be purchased online. This API will be free for non-commercial websites.
(To get a feel of Quillpad, visit www.quillpad.in)
Sunday, November 02, 2008
"There is something about Kolkata and India that gets into your blood!” J Chloe Braun has been writing articles and short stories most of her life. Having spent 12 years working with underprivileged women and children, her journals and memories gave birth to Hurdy Gurdy, a fictional account of one brave woman’s escape from spousal abuse.
Raised in the small Armenian community, one of her aunts by marriage was an Anglo Indian. “Along with my parents she had a tremendous influence on me — encouraging me to read by buying me books, to be always willing to read my work, to study music and to think! Kolkata was a great place to grow up in – with its rich culture and hospitable people. Most of my teachers were Anglo Indians – my English teacher was tremendous. She not only taught us to speak proper English but to love the language as well.”
The seeds for Hurdy Gurdy was sowed at a writing competition. “The topic (of the competition) was ‘Unusual customs or practices’, or something like that. And I decided to write about ‘bride burning’ because I thought it would be a very unusual entry. A woman in India confided in me that her in-laws had tried to burn her because the amount of her dowry was not enough. There were also articles in newspapers and journals about such cruelty. As I continued my research and began recalling some of the experiences I had heard from women I had worked with, the story took a different path. The contest deadline came and went but I was so engrossed in continuing, it seemed the novel wrote itself. I had not meant it to be so poignant and dark. I developed one main character and used her to tell the many stories I had heard from women in situations of domestic violence.” Since the story unfolds in the first person, many consider Hurdy Gurdy to be autobiographical. But this is not true.
Besides Hurdy Gurdy, she has written another mystery novel set in Kolkata and the Himalayas. “It’s about a group of bumbling jewel thieves who go after some famous emeralds. I co-authored it with Lynne Rebeiro, who is involved with the Anglo Indian community in Canada. Lynne helped me to answer some of these questions since she is more knowledgeable than I am. Our book is called Blind Spot and is being published by Amazon.com later this year. All profits will go to help the Tiljallah Project (CTR Calcutta Tiljallah Relief fund) with which Lynne is very much involved.”
The Anglo Indian community in the United States is steadily growing. “But there is no active association or organisation to bring the community together. Canada, however, has a thriving Anglo Indian community. The Anglo Indian Association of Canada is the 2007 host city for the World Anglo Indian Reunion.”
Living in the Midwest with her husband and two children, Braun works with the chancellor’s office at the local University. Of the shrinking Anglo Indian community in India, especially Kolkata, she says, “After Partition, as the Anglo Indian diaspora immigrated to various western venues, the remaining members endeavoured to maintain their unique culture and at the same time embrace their Indian heritage in a whole-hearted manner. In so doing, they adopted the language, the Indian dress and most importantly, married outside the community.”
Away from her former home, Braun is always ready to return. “I would love to just pack up my bags and take a long sentimental journey back to India, especially Kolkata where my dearest friend resides. I would love to take a year off and trek all over that wonderful land. It would be wonderful to tour the Nilgiris with our daughter who was born there.”
-- Mathures Paul
The father of a theory that is now the life of many consumer goods, Lothi Zadeh shows no signs of slowing down at 85. Over to Mathures Paul
Lotfi Zadeh was born before his time. Whenever he’d come up with a theory, the world wouldn’t readily accept it. But the scientist’s Fuzzy Logic theory has stood the test of time and is now the life of many electronic consumer goods. He isn’t your comic book image of the driven scientist with the unkept hair and manic eyes. But he is 85 and shows no signs of slowing down.
Born in 1921 in Baku, Azerbaijan, Zadeh is a mathematician, computer scientist and professor at the University of California at Berkeley. He grew up in Iran, studied at Alborz High School and Tehran University and moved to the USA in the mid-1940s. Since the 1950s he’s been with Berkeley.
“Russia has gone down. In America people now speak of China and India. I get my share of news from Radio Liberty. It broadcasts serious news and no propaganda. I wish there was a channel like this in the USA,” he quips. Talking of the technical advancements India is making, he moves to the subject he’s called the father of — Fuzzy Logic. “Much more can be done with it. In the coming years the Internet will see the use of Fuzzy Logic. Now it’s more attached with consumer products. In the realm of search engines, the theory will be helpful. When I wrote the paper, I thought Fuzzy Logic would be more in use in fields of psychology, social and human sciences. But it’s been used in the field of engineering, for, I guess, the matter requries certain mathematical understanding.
“In recent years we have been developing fuzzy games that have a greater proximation to the real world. The pay-off is not one or zero. After all, everything cannot be divided into right or wrong. In 10-15 years’ time, classical game theory will be forgotten. Professor Raiffa (a known name in the arena of game theory) once told students his intention of buying a house. He asked whether he should buy a particular house or not. Now one or zero cannot be used to solve the dilemma.”
When the concept of Fuzzy Logic was born, there were few takers in the West. “The theory was taken more seriously in Japan since 1968. In the USA, the concept was looked down upon with skepticism, partly because the name had negative connotations and partly because Americans grew up on a Cartesian attitude (either right or wrong). For example, President Bush says, ‘Either you are with us or against us.’ It took years for the theory to gain a toehold in the American scientific community. Since the 1980s, the Japanese have been using Fuzzy Logic in elevators, particularly in tall buildings with many shafts. Soon the USA understood, but it could not compete with the Japanese and in 1989 a congress was held on Fuzzy Logic. Elevators using the theory move smoothly. With Fuzzy Logic the system can decide which among the 18 (for example) elevators can be used by you. The concept is being used in automobile transmission (Volkswagen and Ford) and camcorders. Previously, when using a camcorder, jerks were recorded in sync with hand movements. But Fuzzy Logic helps in image stablisation. But remember, Sony doesn’t use the technique, for its rival holds most patents using the technology.”
When Zadeh wrote his paper it was known as Fuzzy Sets. In 1974, the term “Fuzzy Logic” was used. But the logic is not at all fuzzy and is concerned more with reasoning. “By training I am an electrical engineer. But I love mathematics. In the 1960s I realised that maths was too precise and the real world imprecise. For example, physics is more than economics. It occurred to me that in classical mathematics everything was too sharply divided — right or wrong. Now when a hotel tells its guest the check out time is 1 pm, the information imparted is imprecise. For most, it’s impossible to leave the hotel exactly at the appointed hour. I wanted to deal with the imprecise world.”
From his experience of living in America, Zadeh feels youngsters lack an interest in science. “In the Soviet Union science was glorified. When I became a professor, my role model was not someone who worked for money. I looked up to Russian scientists who were simple. When I wrote my paper in 1965, I was not a young man. And a man in his mid-40s thinks more of money. But since my role models were different, my approach towards science has been different. Even at 85, I am interested in science and learning new techniques. The problem with youngsters in the USA is their love for stars of the entertainment world. In the USA money is God. Indian television is still clean but slowly it's changing.”
Returning to Fuzzy Logic, he feels soft computing will become an important area. Soft computing is, he says, an alliance of neuro network, Fuzzy Logic and other aspects. “The future of computing lies in MIQ (Machine IQ). This means that if a question is placed before a search engine, the latter will answer. Google at present cannot answer any questions. But we are working towards it. Google is doing extremely well as a search engine and is closely followed by MSN and Yahoo!. Let’s see how the three fare.”
Besides science, Zadeh loves to collect hi-fi systems and is also a shutterbug. He loves clicking portraits and listens to music in his spare time. He is the winner of the Honda Prize (1989), Kampe de Feriet Prize (1992), Grigore Moisil Prize for Fundamental Researches, Romanian Society for Fuzzy Systems (1993) Award, Richard E Bellman Control Heritage Award (1998) and the IEEE Millennium Medal (2000), among others.
(The article was published in The Statesman when Lotfi Zadeh visited Kolkata)
Mathures Paul meets cartoonist Mangesh Tendulkar
Proud of his creations, Mangesh Tendulkar walks around Tilak Hall in Maharastra Nivas explaining to visitors the power of cartoons. An opposite of his renowned playwright brother Vijay Tendulkar, 70-year-old Mangesh is in town to host his first exhibition. You have read much about Anant Pai and RK Laxman. Their contribution to Indian comics and cartoons is immense. But that of Tendulkar is equally important.
He is a master in the art of single frames. He doesn’t enjoy the advantage of white space that exists between panels in a comic book. Much can happen between frames — Superman might die, Hagar give up drinking and Charlie Brown win a baseball match. Tendulkar has to tell his story with a single picture and that too without a bubble. “Words make the frame weak. To tell a story without words is difficult,” says the cartoonist.
The last time he was in Kolkata was in 1976-77. “Kolkata has allowed me to enjoy great music, poetry, film and theatre. I am not saying this to befriend critics. When I draw, I listen to Bengali music. Sadly, I don't know the language. I am 70 and this is possibly the last time I am visiting Kolkata. It’s a dream come true and my life is complete.” He remembers his earlier visits well. “I used to visit Ichapur frequently. And I used to take a late night train back to Kolkata. What amused me, and still does, was the security people enjoyed. Women used to travel by train without worry.”
Tendulkar’s cartoons bespeak contemporary issues through drawings anybody can relate to. Sometime back he drew the cartoon of a naked man hiding his modesty with an Indian monetary note to depict the declining rate of interest in small saving schemes. Yet, the picture remains true to life. The same can be said about a sequence in which Earth is churned in a food processor until the human population overflowed the jar. “Political cartoons are created by politicians. Our job is to accentuate. I am interested in the human mind, which creates problems and solves them,” adds Tendulkar.
It was after reading Lawrence Lariar’s Cartooning For Everybody Tendulkar took up cartooning. His elder brother too wanted to be a cartoonist “but ended up a playwright. In 1995 I declared that I had completed my responsibilities towards the family and I wanted to live a life of my own. I still work for at least eight hours a day,” says the admirer of Shankar Pillai and RK Laxman cartoons.
He believes cartoons is a violent medium. “One has to use the art form with care. There is a great possibility of destruction.” Unlike most cartoonists who draw freely from mythology, Tendulkar is interested in bridging the urban-rural divide. “We believe in myths. We believe in democracy. Had democracy existed in mythological times, the Kauravas would have had two-third majority! We are living in a confused world."
Recently there has been a trend of using computer technology in the colouring stage. “Computers are becoming essential. But a beginner should always make hand-drawn cartoons. When my generation began cartooning, a single mistake in the frame made sure that the sheet of paper ended up in a dustbin. This way you master the trade.”
Cartoonists are enjoying less space in Indian newspapers, which are mostly into international syndicated strips. “When I was young, a square centimetre was cheap. Nowadays Indian cartoonists enjoy less space and are looking to art galleries. The situation in America is becoming increasingly similar,” continues Tendulkar, whose first work was published around 1954.
A force behind his illustrious career is his wife. “She is not into cartooning and is a very serious person. She has passed an ordinance against using her in cartoons!” rounds off Tendulkar munching a sandwich and sipping coffee served by his affable wife.
Mangesh Tendulkar is among the first generation cartoonists in India. Today we speak of the great Indian animation. He is all praise for it. But isn’t it time we got down to serious indigenous content and stop speaking about outsourcing and 2D animations?
By Mathures Paul
Silence is golden. With every footstep along the less-treaded green grass of South Park Street Cemetery one discovers on headstones names that inspired mortal souls to pen works of labour. In full bloom, branches still hang low over the tombs of the forgotten.
Rose Aylmer, whom these wakeful eyes
May weep, but never see,
A night of memories and of sighs
I consecrate to thee.
Buried in the cemetery, Rose Aylmer’s death inspired poet Walter Savage Landor to write this verse. As a 17-year-old carefree girl, Rose strolled alongside Landor on the mountains of Wales. She arrived in the city in May 1798 to join her aunt, Lady Russell (after whose husband Russell Street was named). But as luck would have it, she died of cholera a year after her arrival. Heartsick, Landor penned his elegy to Rose Aylmer that was engraved on her tomb in 1910. Even in death she remains a mystery for some. A few locals attribute her death to choking on pineapple and a few to an overdose of the fruit! Her tomb, in the design of a high shaft set on a pedestal composed of several tiers of steps, bears a simple inscription: “In memory of the Honourable Rose Whit-worth Aylmer, who departed this life 3 March, 1800, aged 20 years.”
Another corner of the cemetery has the grave of Lucia Palk, a protagonist of Rudyard Kipling’s sketch “Concerning Lucia” in his City of Dreadful Nights. Little is known of her. The Kipling Journal of September 1932 mentions Lucia to be the “wife of Robert Palk, daughter of the Rev Dr Stonhouse. Born in Northampton, 26th November, 1747.”
A few metres down the lane is the tomb of another memorable figure, Elizabeth Jane Barwell (died 1779). She, according to Then and Now, a publication of the Association for the Preservation of Historical Cemeteries in India, was “the famous beauty of eighteenth century Calcutta, who, as Miss Sanderson, was universally popular if we may believe contemporary reports”. It is said that at one ball she advised each of her suitors in advance of the costume she would wear. Each turned up in attires to match her dress and this resulted in 10 or 12 men wearing an identical shade of pea-green! Later, they lined on both sides of her palanquin and sang well-known tunes. Ultimately, Elizabeth married Richard Barwell.
Speaking of ladies who have inspired poets and writers, one must not forget to mention a book — The Bevy of Calcutta Beauties: A collection of poems. It was printed by Daniel Stuart in 1785.
Penned by a mysterious poet, the collection has 18 poems, 16 of which are on ladies who were the toast of the town known as Calcutta.
Casually dressed, soft-spoken and a patient listener, Pascal Bruckner is an acclaimed French novelist. Born with an instinct for the fresh, Bruckner belongs to the Generation of 1968, a revolutionary era in the history of France. In town to promote The Divine Child (Rupa France), a novel published sometime back, he is a man who doesn’t divorce politics, culture and sexuality.
“There are numerous ways to exhibit the spirit of resistance. In France, everybody wants to resist, some against the government and others against culture. In Divine Child the question that I place before readers is what if a child were permitted to choose, before birth, whether or not to enter the world,” says Bruckner.
In the book, Madeleine Barthelemey is pregnant with twins. Doctors advice her to undertake their education in utero. Soon Celine is born. But she has to forgo her eruditeness upon entering the world. Being a spectator of her fate, Louis refuses birth and embarks on a rebellion. In chapters like “the Uterine Republic”, “the pedantic peewee”, “the cerberus of conjugal life” and “a retiring foetus”, the critically-acclaimed novel unfolds.
Bruckner is not a first time visitor to the country. His first visit was in 1980. “I had read Naipaul and his description of a ‘sinking country’. I investigated the matter for a few French newspapers and covered Indira Gandhi’s re-election. Back after 25 years, I find that Naipaul was wrong. The country has changed immensely. On one hand you have millionaires and on the other a vast and aspiring middle class. Liberalisation has been a huge incentive. After witnessing the change, I have stopped making predictions. In the course of one life I find history changing.”
The French novelist wrote an important criticism of what Paul Berman calls “Left-wing self-delusion” in The Tears of the White Man. He is also known for La Mélancolie Démocratique and La Tentation de l’innocence. The last mentioned goes on to show his understanding of the United States. Speaking on the rise of China and India on the political map he says, “India has an advantage over China as far as democracy is concerned. You can vote and reject a President or Prime Minister. China is lacking in this respect. In India, the press is free. This is proved time and again when I read The Statesman or The Hindu. I feel France should attract more Indian students. Visa regulation in my country should be eased out. Occidentals look at the Orient with curiosity and fear, for China and India are emerging countries.
“Previously India was considered a poor country. But seeing the new image of the country, they are a bit scared.”
Some friends of Bruckner see the novelist as an individual who attacks the peace of the French intelligentsia. He is a person who provokes debates.
-- Mathures Paul
(The article was published in The Statesman when Pascal Bruckner visited the Kolkata Book Fair)
Renowned stand-up comic Russell Peters visits Kolkata, where his mother and brother were born. He speaks to Mathures Paul about his early career, the elections in America and future projects
In North America a growing number of stand-up comics of Indian origin are becoming famous, a popular name among them is Russell Peters, who started performing in Toronto in 1989. These days he lives in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, where the environment is ‘just right’ for stand-up comics. After a long break Peters returned to India, which he doesn’t, like many celebrities of Indian origin, loosely calls his ‘hometown’. His show in Kolkata perhaps was just another show for him but his stay here surely was special to him. His father was born in Mumbai and mother in Kolkata. His elder brother, Clayton, was also born in Kolkata, making his stay a memorable one. In fact, when The Statesman caught up with him, he had a few minutes to spare before rushing off to meet his uncles.
“I have never seen stand-up comics in India. Though I know there are a few stand-up comic shows on television, I cannot compare it with the scene in Canada,” said Peters.
Nominated for four Gemini Awards, for Best Male Comic at the Canadian Comedy Awards, the stand-up comic has been featured in Just for Laughs (Juste Pour Rire) Comedy Festival, the Winnipeg Comedy Festival and the Edinburgh Festival. Peters has many feathers in his cap but his visit to India was more of a “return to childhood” exercise. “I am presenting the same show and whatever I say simply reflects my perspective. Yet, to an extent, it’s a return to childhood days.”
When Peters started performing abroad, people were apprehensive. “Especially Indians. We were not huge in numbers and everybody wondered how the majority would react. At the end of the day, whatever I do, I do it for myself. If you like it, come back for my next show, otherwise, it’s your problem!” Stand-up comics of Indian origin living abroad are more or less walking the same line but their delivery style is the distinguishing factor.
For him jokes come naturally, thanks to his upbringing. “I am from an Anglo Indian family, who were once known for their jokes. It was never a big deal cracking a few jokes. And family members never stopped me from taking up the profession. My childhood shaped my adulthood. The Canada I see today is a lot different from what it was in the 1970’s or 80’s. Back then there was an identity crisis.”
With elections in the US around the corner, this is a great time for Peters to be on stage. “I get to crack scores of jokes. People know who to vote for but will they, I wonder!”
Living in Los Angeles has changed his life quite a bit. “It’s a fun place but a difficult one to survive in. There are many stand-up comics, making competition tough. On any night, one can go up on stage and crack a bunch of jokes. If they don’t like them, the boos often turnout to be louder than cheers.” He also has a place in Las Vegas. “This is where I live. It’s a cool place and I like to hangout on the Strip.”
Next up from Mr Funny Bones is Red White And Brown. The DVD contains over two hours of bonus features, including commentaries, ‘featurettes’, deleted scenes and has material from his record-braking Homecoming Tour. Recorded live at the WAMU Theatre in Madison Square Garden on 2 February, the cover art for the DVD has been done by David Choe, who created titles for the film Juno and album cover for Jay Z vs. Linkin Park. Three weeks ago the DVD was released in Canada and hopefully it would be available in Asia soon.
“I love performing in Asia because the people are friendly. I am getting ready for a ‘Greatest Hits’ tour and hopefully I would be back in India. I know the Malaysian government won’t allow me but I am looking for dates in Hong Kong,” rounds off Peters.
Innovating on the spot. That sums up what Helga’s Fun Band is all about. Formed in November 2004, this is a band to watch out for. The group’s four happy-go-luck chaps — Siddharth Coutto (also drummer of Zero), Meghashyam (ex-guitarist of Acquired Funk Syndrome and Zero guitarist), Gino Banks (son of Louiz Banks) and Johan Pais (ex-Vicious Circle) — are always game to come up with a song on the spur of the moment. It’s a mini “supergroup” with seasoned musicians.
The “jam” band was formed by Coutto to fulfil his desires to become a singer and mainly because he was bored playing the drums all the time. “We are just a bunch of guys out to have fun. If there’s a gig and you want four fun-loving musicians, think of us,” says Coutto before a performance at Someplace Else.
HFC started off as Helga’s Funk Castle but soon dropped the “k” from “funk”. “We were considered a funk band even though we performed all kinds of numbers. To spice up things, we became known as Helga’s Fun Castle. It’s a mysterious name!” he adds with a wink and a smile.
The group’s rise to stardom began with their gig at Channel [V] Launchpad concert. “Early 2005 we were performing at Launchpad. One of the judges, Luke Kenny, asked us to compose a tune on the spot. And we came up with ‘For Luke’,” chips in Meghshyam. And soon their album, Thank You. Come Again was cut, which received rave reviews. The group is currently working on the sequel. “It should be out later this year or early next year. We have already recorded six tracks and need to work on two more,” says Pais.
“Each of us has been in another successful band which doesn’t necessarily sound like anything we do. Each of us infuses his own blend of style and experience into everything we do with HFC and we never consider limiting ourselves to a genre,” continues Glenn.
Some of the tracks on their repertoire in Someplace Else were their version of the Michael Jackson classic Smooth criminal, Elevation by U2 and original HFC tracks like Mr Fancy Pants and Brother Jim. The best part of the night was the track dedicated to SPE.
Sidd’s vocal range is awe-inspiring and Meghashyam is definitely among the best guitarists around. Pais is a newcomer and he is learning the tricks of the trade and little needs to be said about Gino. Many upcoming drummers in western India are eager to take lessons from him.
The main objective of the band is to bring about a change in the current live music scene in Kolkata by incorporating the sound of jazz, funk, soul and R&B into the existing sound. In Someplace Else they explore their venture into the international music scene, charting tracks from John Coltraine to Steely Dan.
-- Mathures Paul
With Indian politicians at work, editorial cartoonists have a bright future, feels Shekhar Gurera. Mathures Paul sketches his experiences
While depicting social ills, his pencil earned him several awards. Always making a social or political comment, the winner of Saitama’s Humour Photo Contest (2002), Best Cartoon Award (1990) and Best Cartoonist Award (1992), cartoonist Shekhar Gurera’s humble beginnings won many a heart.
“In fact, I was a science student. After completing my BSc from Patiala in 1986, I was studying MCA. But instinct made me switch over to the arts. Thereafter I took admission in BFA in College of Arts (on the basis of the medals and certificates I won while participating in co-curricular activities at the national level). When I was in the first year of BFA, I began my career as a freelance cartoonist. By the time I graduated from BFA, I was an established name in the world of cartoons. By that time I had my page one column in four or five daily newspapers in various corners of India... Occasionally I did a few cartoons/illustrations based assignments.”
Gurera compiled Kargil Cartoons (a collection of cartoons in a book form and a series of exhibitions) that featured the works of leading cartoonists. It was a token of solidarity with the Indian Army fighting in the difficult terrain of Kashmir. Gurera drew on-the-spot cartoons of jawans who passed through the New Delhi railway station on their way to the Front. These cartoons were later exhibited at Lalit Kala Academy in New Delhi in 1999, followed by exhibitions at Jaipur, Chandigarh, Patna and Indore.
“During the Kargil war there was a wave of patriotism. Everybody was willing to contribute somehow to the cause. A few of the leading cartoonists in Delhi decided to join hands and draw on-the-spot caricatures of jawans. We also took the initiative to compile Kargil Cartoons : A collection of cartoons dedicated to the Indian defence forces that was on sale for Rs 50. Arya Book Depot bore the publishing cost and we contributed for free,” he adds.
Slowly the government is waking up to the efficiency of cartoons in depicting social issues at a low cost. “The use of cartoons is negligible when compared to the developed countries. Cartooning is a full-fledged international language. In Japan they call it manga and it is used to depict road signs, public messages, instructions and so on.”
With no plans to open an animation academy, Gurera is busy with cartooning. “There is a difference between comic books and an animated film. We have to bypass several sequences in a printed book as compared to films. Secondly, a character cannot fully develop in a single book and requires quite a few editions.”
Presently working as cartoonist for several publications ~ The Pioneer, Punjab Kesari, Sanmarg, Nava Bharat and others ~ he has no plans to move into animation. “Compared to the US, editorial cartoonists here have a good future. Indian politicians are working full-time for us!”
When she rolled her fingers over the piano keys, every note danced in praise of Neda Navaee’s beauty. The weekend crowd at the Calcutta School of Music enjoyed an evening of classical pieces played on the piano by the Toranto-based pianist Navaee.
Born in 1973 in Isfahan, Iran, her parents soon moved to Washington, where she received her first piano lessons at the age of five. “With father being a musician, I was unknowingly inclined towards the subject since childhood. We had a normal piano, which I loved playing. When I turned 15, I took up playing the piano more seriously,” said Navaee, who had earlier performed in Mumbai and Pune.
“Before I reached India, I was aware of the fact that people don’t get the opportunity to listen to Western classical music on piano as often as Westerners. After the initial bout of anxiety, I was relieved to hear crowds applaud.”
The programme, sponsored by the Canadian High Commission and ITC Ltd, featured compositions by Beethoven, Prokofiev and Mendelssohn. At 16, Neda joined Musikhochschule in Cologne, where she studied with Pavel Gililov. She also studied chamber music with the Amadeus Quartet and Alban Berg Quartet. On a full scholarship she joined the Royal Academy of Music in London in 1994 and she received her Master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music in New York soon after.
“Although I play Western classical music, I am open to other genres. I listen to Indian music and if I get the opportunity, will play it too.” Speaking of the popularity of pianists in America she said, “There are at least 10-12 concerts every evening in New York City alone. Then there are quite a few schools teaching classical Western music. In India, I guess, the situation is different.”
With a self-titled album under her belt, she’s working on her next album, due for release in Fall 2007. After India, she will be touring Canada and England, where she will perform for 10 days.
In September 2005, Navaee was appointed professor of piano in the department of music and performing arts in New York University. Among yesteryear artistes, America, according to her, still listens to the likes of Pepe Jaramillo. On that note she looks across the hall only to find a house filling up rapidly. It was showtime.
-- Mathures Paul
Cookery to Keith Floyd is the result of religion, geography and war. Mathures Paul marinades his career
When satellite television arrived in India, two personalities inspired men to enter kitchens — Keith Floyd and Martin Yan. While some men lost a finger or two trying to outdo Yan, others went a bit tipsy watching Floyd sip wine and rustle up delicacies in natural surroundings. After all these years, Floyd, with his bow tie and smooth talk, remains a favourite among television viewers.
Floyd’s definition of cooking is best described in A Feast of Floyd: “Cooking is an art and patience a virtue... Careful shopping, fresh ingredients and an unhurried approach are nearly all you need. There is one more thing — love. Love for food and love for those you invite to your table. With a combination of these things you can be an artist — not perhaps in the representational style of a Dutch master, but rather more like Gauguin, the naïve, or Van Gogh, the impressionist. Plates or pictures of sunshine taste of happiness and love.”
Born in Somerset in 1943, he has written more than 20 books and hosted 19 “Floyd” series for television viewers across the globe. Floyd’s stint in the army, which the film Zulu made him undertake, shaped his future. “When I was based in Germany, I had a copy of Elizabeth David’s cookery book. I persuaded our mess cook to change the boring old style of cooking to a more innovative one. Corporal Feast, who was our mess cook, willingly adapted my suggestions. So, instead of boring old roasts and stodgy soups, we introduced things like jugged hare, coq au vin and on special nights, but not to do with Elizabeth David, curry nights. In those many long years ago, we fried our popadoms, instructed the mess cooks to prepare naan bread and made wonderful mutton curries served with natural yogurt, fresh herbs and spices. But, I was not an army cook, I was a lieutenant in the Royal Tank Regiment, I just had an overwhelming interest in cooking,” says Floyd.
Once his Army days were over, he worked in London and France as a barman, dishwasher, vegetable peeler and in other capacities. By 1971 he owned three restaurants in Briston, which he later sold to buy a boat called Flirty. “I still prepare a rich, red wine sauce chicken casserole with baby onions, mushrooms and little pieces of bacon or pork. It is an enduring dish. It can, of course, be prepared without the bacon or pork,” he adds, recalling his yesteryears.
An adventurer, Floyd constantly bought and sold restaurants. In 1991, he bought Floyd’s Inn Tuckenhay Devon, which he sold in 1996 and moved to Kinsale in Ireland. In 1997, he shifted base to Marbella in Spain and, finally by 2000, he was settled in the south of France.
The Indian summer has always mesmerised the bow-tied chef. Unlike most visitors to India, he doesn’t have inhibitions about street food. “Gosh, I have travelled from Kerala, to Goa, to Kolkata, to Mumbai, to Jaipur and Amritsar and more. I have travelled throughout India and enjoyed the street food, the restaurant food, the subtleties of coconut milk and oil in south India and the mustard seed oil in Kolkata. It is a dazzling country with an exquisite range of food.”
Leaving behind treacle tart, Irish potato cakes, Lancashire hot-pot and pigeon pie, he is game anytime to sample Asian cuisine. “In all my travels, and I have been almost everywhere, I was passionately inspired by the various preparations of Asia, in this I have to include India as well as Thailand and Vietnam, for the flavours and diversity. I do, however, have a love for Mediterranean cuisine… When I visited India, I loved the fact that there were so many varieties of vegetable dishes, but no one was referred to as vegetarians. It was just part of the huge choice of superb dishes. But if you are going to be extravagant and stupid and fill yourself with meat, you are a fool. Eating must always consist of a balanced diet.”
Cookery to him is the “result of religion, geography and war. The spice wars influenced the gastronomic landscape of our current day life. I had the most magnificent journey throughout India four or five years ago when I filmed a television series. The experience opened my eyes to the dazzling diversity of Indian cuisine, whether it was a smart restaurant or a street hawker, I just enjoyed it all.”
And what does he have to say about wine? After all, when BBC first aired him to Indian audiences, the glass was his good friend! “In European cuisine, wine has a particular place in its cold climate to simmer stews. Wine in India and Asia is totally inappropriate. Chillies, ginger, cumin, star anise, garlic and beautiful little red shallots give the excitement to Asian dishes. It is more appropriate to drink salted lassi, sweet lassi, spiced lassi or freshly squeezed lime juice than it is to drink wine. It is a geographical thing.”
Floyd’s first show on television was called Floyd on Fish and it was about cooking fish, catching fish, explaining how men worked hard to catch them. Ever prepared with an exotic recipe, saucepan and warm smile, Floyd is ready to take on a new challenge. “At present I have just written three books, and from April I will be concentrating on my award-winning one man show, which is a countrywide tour of theatres in the UK,” he concludes without divulging much about the show.
Born on a farm and afflicted with asthma, Jim Davis took to cat doodles to while away the time ~ and the rest is history, writes Mathures Paul
HE eats too much because he’s depressed. And he’s depressed because he eats too much. It took Garfield years to perfect the vicious circle! Born on 19 June 1978, Jim Davis’ humorous strip is centered round the life of a fat, lazy, cynical orange cat who loves lasagne, coffee, the television remote control, the suffering of his owner Jon Arbuckle and the other house pet, Odie. And nothing has changed in the past 28-odd years.
“I always say Garfield is a human in a cat suit. Garfield deals with two subjects that are universal — eating and sleeping. We all eat and we all sleep (with any luck). He’s also an anti-hero. He does everything we humans would like to do if we could get away with it,” says Jim Davis in an exclusive interview to The Statesman.
Davis’ upbringing charted out his future. His parents, James and Betty Davis, had a farm which, like most barnyards, had its share of stray cats — around 25 of them. Had he not suffered from asthma in childhood, Jim was destined to become a farmer. Trapped in his little room, he whiled away the time doodling. Accompanying his drawings were bubbles and so was born the first frames.
Before he reached junior high school, his asthma was under control to the extent that he turned out to be a good footballer. All this while cartooning as a profession was a distant hobby. He was spending time at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, where he majored in art and business.
Before skipping to the day Garfield was born, it is imperative to know a few more facts about Davis. Leaving college, he spent two years working in a local advertising agency and soon after became assistant to Tumbleweeds creator Tom Ryan, who taught him the tricks of the trade. So was born his first strip, Gnorm Gnat.
When a newspaper syndicate couldn’t relate to the bug in his strip, Davis ventured out on his own. And after five years of drawing Gnorm, the sky sent down a giant foot that crushed the bug. The next few months made Davis think of a character that funny pages did not feature. Moving back to his childhood on the farm, a fat orange ball was born, James Garfield Davis, named after his grandfather.
“Garfield relieves our guilt. He says it’s okay to enjoy life. He overeats, naps in abandon, and is an unapologetic about his behaviour. It’s kind of refreshing,” says the artist. In 41 newspapers Garfield debuted on 19 June 1978. Running into heavy weather, Garfield was cancelled by the Chicago Sun-Times after a few months. More than 1,300 readers protested and the rest is history.
Over the years, Garfield has achieved a majestic look. Earlier he was a bit grubby. Today he has a shine, a certain majestic smile. “His looks have changed a bit. In the very early years, Garfield had much smaller eyes and his body was more or less a big blob. Over the years, his eyes got bigger because I found his eyes were very expressive. I needed the comic strip readers to see his eyes better because his eyes were capable of saying so much. His body is more rounded and his legs are longer now, too. All these changes took place pretty gradually and, for the most part, the changes were made to help story lines along. I think Garfield is more appealing graphically now than he was in 1978, and even though his looks changed, his personality has not. He’s still fat, lazy, selfish and interested in his own creature comforts — just like when he was introduced in 1978. It’s funny that you mention
Garfield looking majestic. In his next movie he plays a ‘royal’ cat!”
Garfield is enjoying the highs Snoopy once revelled in. While Snoopy still sells insurance, Garfield is on everything, from cereal to pencil boxes. But the greatest perk he enjoys being a cartoon character is eternal youth, very much like Davis who is scared of wrinkles popping up here and there. “In some ways I’m a lot like Garfield. I love the good things in life — food, relaxation, television, food. I do love lasagne and just about any Italian food, especially pizza. On the other hand, I’m pretty driven and a hard worker, so in that way I’m nothing like Garfield. Many of Garfield’s characteristics are culled from my impressions of all the farm cats I remember from my childhood. I combined typical cat-like traits with the personality of my grandfather, James “Garfield” Davis, who was a rather curmudgeonly fellow with a dry wit.”
Davis’ success doesn’t end with drawing a few frames that are carried by a few thousand newspapers. He has won four Emmy Awards for “outstanding animated programme” and was inducted into the Licensing Hall of Fame (1998). But his most prized awards are from his peers in the National Cartoonist Society: Best Humor Strip (1981 and 1985), the Elzie Segar Award (1990) and the coveted Reuben Award (1990). Among his dreams is to see Garfield strips being translated into Indian languages. “India is really a hot topic in the USA now. In fact, there was a big feature in Newsweek magazine some weeks ago. I’d love to see Garfield translated for Indian readers.”
But dreams of crossing the seven seas and introducing Garfield to readers of magazines like Tinkle and Chacha Chowdhury will not give birth to Indian or other Asian characters in the strip. In Garfield, rarely do we find Indian, Japanese or even Afro-Americans. “I’ve never been asked that before. It’s an interesting question. There’s no conscious decision on my part, one way or the other. Garfield’s world is a reflection of my world. So far, Garfield has done well with the original ensemble cast — Jon, Odie and Garfield. There are other characters that make occasional appearances: Jon’s family — Grandma, Mom and Dad, Doc Boy; then there’s Jon’s love interest, Liz the veterinarian, Arlene, Garfield’s now-and-then girlfriend, and Nermal, the world’s cutest kitten. Considering the comic strip is just three frames long, you don’t need a lot of characters to fit into the story.
“But I do occasionally pull a character out of thin air if it moves the joke along. Sometimes these people appear more than once, and other times, one time and POOF, they’re gone. I don’t know, when I’m creating them, if they’ll return.”
Like Blondie or Superman, a good deal of daily happenings are featured in Garfield, making cartoons/comics a potent medium. “Obviously there’s a lot of nonsense — most cats don’t order pizza, use a TV remote control and drink coffee. But it’s Garfield’s human characteristics that make him resonate with people. So, in that regard, a great deal of the humour in the strip is derived from real life experiences.”
Besides Garfield, Davis had a comic strip called US Acres (about a bunch of farm animals) and several books based on that comic strip were made. With video games based on comic books becoming popular (Asterix is a case in point), Davis is not unaware of the medium’s potential. “Garfield’s just getting warmed up. This year there will be several new video game releases. There’s a new Gameboy game called ‘Garfield: His Nine Lives’, which is coming out next month. Then in June, there will be a Playstation 2 and Nintendo DS video game based on Garfield’s new
movie, ‘Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties’. In the fall, a new Nintendo game called ‘Garfield’s Nightmare’ will be released.”
But what about Garfield, the film? Wasn’t the cat too big, too old, a bit un-Garfield? “I loved it. We worked hand-in-hand with the director of the film to get Garfield to look like he belonged in the ‘real’ world. It wasn’t easy to do because everyone is so used to seeing Garfield from the comic strip, but I was very pleased with the results. The film was a great success at the box office and we’re excited about the sequel coming out this year.”
If you thought cartooning is all fun and no work, think again and again. “I set aside one week every month to focus on writing the comic strip. Once I get in writing mode, the gags can sometimes really flow and I might write four to six weeks’ worth of material in one week. Brett Koth, a talented writer and artist in his own right, assists me in gag writing sessions. We play off each other and it helps to have someone to bounce ideas off. I have several assistants on the comic strip — Gary Barker and Jeff Wesley draw the strip based on my thumbnail sketch. It’s then inked by Lori Barker or Larry Fentz and then Eric Reaves does the lettering and coloration. I’m guessing from that start to finish it takes about six hours to complete a strip.”
And what about the future of Garfield? What mischief will he be up to next? Will Odie be spared the kick while waiting at the table-edge? “We’re considering colonising Mars. Just kidding. As long as there’s lasagne in the world, Garfield will go on.”
With those words, Jim takes leave to drill into Garfield the meaning of “diet” — “die” with a “t”!
(The article was published in The Statesman before The Tale of Two Kitties was released)
Flamenco has evolved over centuries of political and ethnic influences, writes Mathures Paul
Grace personified, Laura Gonzalez swirled across the Calcutta School of Music auditorium floor to the amazement of those participating in a flamenco workshop.
The very word flamenco conjures up images of intense passion and makes you say “Ole!”. Guitarist Fran Molina, Luis Garcia, percussionist Daniel Parra and dancer Laura Gonzalez gave pointers to the receptive audience gathered at Calcutta School of Music. But they were not averse to learning more about Indian dance forms and the degree to which the two can blend. “Whenever we get the opportunity, we listen to Indian music. It has rhythm. I know an American drummer who learnt the tabla when he visited India. But we have never spared a thought to the proposition of mixing Indian rhythms with flamenco,” says Daniel.
Before arriving in Kolkata, the four mesmerised crowds in Delhi, where a sitar was also incorporated into the performance. Like other art forms, flamenco has undergone changes over the decades. “It stared with a simple guitar and singing. Soon dancing and the cajon were added,” says Fran. Originally, flamenco consisted of unaccompanied singing. Later, songs were accompanied by a flamenco guitar (toque), rhythmic hand clapping (palmas), rhythmic feet stomping (zapateado) and dance (baile). More recently, cajón (a wooden box used as a percussion instrument) and castanets (castañuelas) were introduced.
The four met about 10 years back and have been working together for the last seven-odd years. “We teach together in Madrid and conduct workshops across the country. When we began, Laura was a little girl. She began dancing at the age of eight and today she tours with us,” adds Daniel, as Laura swirls before the participants.
Though language was a hindrance, the four proved the existence of a world language called music. Every time Fran and Luis played a bar of Autumn leaves, the crowd was held spellbound. “This is just a project and will not amount in an album. We don’t look too far ahead into the future,” continues Daniel with a smile. A lover of Trini Lopez he continues, “Lopez is still very popular. We play his music at times. But much of the time we stick to jazz.” And with those words, the workshop was again in full swing.
Sukhwinder Singh always finds Kolkata to be a tough venue for concerts as listeners here appreciate good lyrics and melody over crass ‘hit’ numbers. Over to Mathures Paul
Performing in Kolkata has always been a challenge for most singers as music lovers here look beyond the glitz and glamour, at elements that distinguish mediocre from the talented, melody from a clutter of notations, feels Sukhwinder Singh, who arrives in Kolkata on 2 November to perform at Rabindra Sarovar Stadium, after successful concerts in Bangalore, Ambala, Ajmer, Rourkela and Thane. An extremely selective singer, quite like most composers/musicians he works with, Singh is currently in the news for Fashion Ka Jalwa, the hit track from Madhur Bhandarkar’s Fashion. Speaking to The Statesman, he shares thoughts beyond films.
His Kolkata performance would feature mostly his hit numbers, and the list is quite long ~ from films such as Dil Se to Tashan to Fashion, played with a twist in terms of orchestration. He shares his fear. “Usually listeners here expect something more than film numbers. A touch of classical music is always welcome in Kolkata. The tracks selected for concerts usually come to my mind a day before the programme and thus I have a fair idea of what I would perform but the final list is yet to be prepared. In Kolkata the emphasis is always on tunes that are rich in vocals.”
Singh is usually found inside recording studios, making fans look forward to his concerts. Yet, to the singer there is little difference in approach to live concerts and studio sessions. “Two elements remain the same ~ mood and environment. I would never choose venues that don’t complement my songs, neither would I sing for the sake of singing. These days special arrangements are made in studios to make recordings sound ‘real’. Depending on the song, I decide on the arrangement of speakers and microphones. Same goes for the mood; for example, while recording Dil Haara (Tashan) there was a need to have lots of flowers around us (musicians). During recording sessions I close my eyes and imagine thousands sitting before me, listening to my songs. Similarly, during live concerts I try to feel the pulse of the crowd.
It’s been a while since we heard a solo album from Singh but the wait should be over in March 2009. “We have planned an album with Gulzarsaab. This time I am looking forward to AR Rahman composing for it. He knows my taste in music ~ The Wall or music from The Killing Fields, The Woman In Red, etc.” Already two songs have been recorded and the rest shouldn’t take too long. “I usually don’t work on more than four or five films every year. It does sound clichéd but I’m selective. Let’s admit it, there are a few composers in India who are really good. I always tell directors that I am very busy with very few projects!”
Returning to the Haywards 5000 Solid Nights concerts, hosted by the SABMiller group, Singh says, “It would be a tough one. People are calling me quite frequently enquiring about the track list. I mentioned earlier, the crowd here likes melodious numbers, those with a strong vocal element.”
For those interested in how Sukhwinder Singh started his career, his early hits include Chaiyya Chaiyya for Mani Ratnam’s 1998 film Dil Se, composed by AR Rahman (he won the Best Male Playback award at the 1999 Filmfare Awards) and recently he gave us hits in films like Chak De! India and Om Shanti Om (Dard-E-Disco). His other recent hits are from films like Shootout at Lokhandwala, Tashan, Bhootnath and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom.
Pratima Naithani could easily have been a jazz pianist but her destiny was to be an artist, one who is inspired by Indian history, music and films, writes Mathures Paul
Children dream of becoming artists, musicians, scientist or engineers. Pratima Naithani’s options were limited due to a problem ~ which went undiagnosed until she was 13 ~ with her eyesight. Nevertheless, she was equally adept in expressing herself through music. A passion for the piano led her to play by ear without learning to read music, a skill she developed quickly to become a classical and jazz pianist. A twist of fate made her, still a student at boarding school, discover the world of art.
Shaping the young mind was the rich cultural heritage of her parents. Her mother is from El Salvador and her father from India, Naithani grew up in the suburban town of Princeton, New Jersey. Since her mother’s country was at war for most of her childhood, preventing frequent visits, she developed a deeper relationship with her Indian roots. Many of her works draw upon her summers in India while Indian music, film and history inspire her.
Though her interest in music is unshakable, Naithani’s love is painting that motivated her to join School of Visual Arts in New York City, from which she graduated in 2003. Her artwork was immediately selected for the Visionaire 41/World Issue in 2003, alongside Karl Lagerfeld, Baz Luhrmann and others. Most recently Dance Festival of India commissioned Naithani to create by hand mixed media artworks on paper blending India’s cultural past with it’s present.
“My mixed heritage and my growing up in the US have allowed me to take in different cultures, religions, and respect for the ‘other’ in all that surrounds me. While very much grounded in the American soil, I have had the opportunity to travel extensively in India and other foreign lands. While growing up my brother and I were taken to visit family and friends and we always took time to travel and appreciate sites and monuments as well as to observe and appreciate their people and their rich cultures. As an artist, I have been strongly inspired by India’s tribal, folk, and the modern art movement and, so far, I have dedicated my work to show a contemporary view of India’s rich and ancient heritage. I feel that at the heart of my artistic endeavour is a desire to blend India’s cultural past with its present. I think of my art as alternating notions of time and space by pairing archaic refinement with modern austerity,” said Naithani in an interview to The Statesman.
The Dance Festival of India series was created to display a contemporary view of India’s rich, ancient heritage. The unusual blend of past and present creates a rarely seen representation to Western audiences, but also brings a certain nostalgia to her audiences in the East. This conversation makes her one of the more emotionally charged artists.
Forty-five artworks, created on paper using traditional techniques ranging from hand made stencils, painting, and drawing. The artworks depict different forms of classical Indian dance. But the presentation of content in her art digresses from tradition by dissecting the elements of subjects to their raw form. The art is framed unusually with beautiful sari borders.
In America she is labelled a ‘contemporary Indian artist’ rather than simply an artist but this doesn’t bother her. “It doesn’t change what I do and the way I want to present my work to my audiences. There is no question that my work reflects my background and exposure to everything Indian but, after all, I was born to a Salvadorian mother and an Indian father and raised and educated in the US.”
“My introduction to art started ever since I can remember. My parents had a fondness, and still do, for collecting so I grew up with inspirational art around me, inclusive of music and film. Over time, this strong influence combined with what I absorbed during our summer travels, cemented my interest and love for traditional forms, be it textiles, the art of craftsmanship, and all things classical.”
Some of her group shows include Engendered held at Lincoln Center, Erasing Borders 2008 presented by Indo-American Arts Council, the exhibition Fatal Love held at the Queens Museum presented by the Asia Society in 2005. Following that, she spent much of her time in Mumbai preparing for her first solo exhibition which travelled to two influential art galleries specializing in Indian art: the Visual Arts Gallery in New Delhi and the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai as well as a solo exhibition of her work at the Miami Art Basel.
For a 29-year-old to find access to galleries and into the good books of curators is always a challenge but not a difficult one to overcome. “But as my work expands and brings new audiences, I am confident that eventually I will find the right gallery to represent me. From my side, it is important to concentrate all my efforts in creating a body of work that reflects my artistic desires and, hopefully one day, catch the attention or, like you phrased it, ‘get in the good books’ of the people I respect in the art world.”
Looking back, music has been her good friend during childhood days and this friend might even find a way into her next project. “I am currently working on combining my visual art output with my passion for music. I have some plans in the works, let’s see how it unfolds... I don’t like to concentrate on the past but I think that all the moves I have made, being positive or negative, have molded me to what I am today and prepared me for what the future has to offer. I feel grateful for the opportunities and thankful for the blessings.”
Mathures Paul reports on a project that will map world migratory patterns dating back some 150,000 years and fill in the huge gaps in our knowledge of humankind’s migratory history
WHERE do we come from? Where are we headed? The objective of the Genographic Project, led by National Geographic explorer-in-residence Dr Spencer Wells, who is working with a team of renowned international scientists and IBM researchers, is to analyse historical patterns in DNA from participants around the world to better understand our human genetic roots. Dr Ajay K Royyuru, project leader, Computational Biology Centre, IBM Research (Watson Research Centre), shares some insights into IBM’s Genographic Project and discusses how IBM’s India Research Laboratory is contributing to the project. Excerpts:
Major findings so far…
A common origin of the entire human population was established on the basis of genetic evidence well before the Genographic Project. We are all Africans. The human species appeared in the 2.5 million years before the present time frame, in Africa. Human migration within and out of Africa has occurred substantively in the last 100,000 years. On the basis of genetic markers, one defines population groups that share a common ancestry. Such data can be analysed as a phylogeny (tree). Populations on close by branches share more recent common ancestors. The branches labelled “L-haplogroups” from mitochondrial DNA analysis are indeed the ones connected closest to the root, therefore these are populations ancestral to all other (non-L) populations. A majority of the present day L-population is in the African continent.
The current status of the project…
As of August 2008, over 40,000 samples have been collected. The resulting data will map world migratory patterns dating back some 150,000 years and will fill in the huge gaps in our knowledge of humankind’s migratory history. This data will eventually comprise the largest database of its kind.
In addition to the field research component, the general public around the world is invited to participate in the study by purchasing a Genographic Public Participation Kit. By sending in a simple cheek swab sample, a participant will learn about his or her own deep ancestry while contributing to the overall project. So far, over 265,000members of the general public have joined by purchasing Participation Kits from over 130 countries — two and a half times our five-year goal in the first three years!
In essence, it is a zoom lens on who we are and how we moved around the world. The Genographic Project will result in the creation of a global database of human genetic variation and associated anthropological data (language, social customs, etc). This database will serve as an invaluable scientific resource for the research community. Many indigenous and traditional populations around the world are facing strong challenges to their cultural identities. The Genographic Project will provide a snapshot of human genetic variation before we lose the cultural context necessary to make sense of the genetic data. Ultimately, we hope that the findings from the project will underscore how closely related we are to one another as part of the extended human family.
If humans have their origin in Adam, why are our skin tones different?
The origin of human species was on the African continent. “Adam” is just a short hand notation, has no particular ethnic or racial significance. Through the course of the last 100,000-plus years as the human species has expanded and migrated, populations have moved to varying latitudes and climates, resulting in various genetic adaptations. One such adaptation is the loss of pigmentation on skin (lighter skin), in northern latitudes, allowing for greater absorption of sunlight from skin, a crucial ingredient for synthesis of vitamin D.
While talking about the migratory history of the human species, Spencer Wells said there is a common male ancestor for all humans. How was the conclusion reached? Does the genetic Adam relate to the Adam of the Bible?
Phylogenetic analysis — reconstructing the family tree — from human genetic data provides the conclusive evidence of most recent common ancestry. Analysis of Y chromosome data allows inference of male ancestry, since the Y chromosome is carried exclusively by males. Such evidence points overwhelmingly towards the origin of the human species in Africa, since the genetic diversity in African populations far exceeds that outside Africa. Genetic “Adam”is simply a label, a short hand notation to refer to Most Recent Common Ancestor, a scientific term as explained above.
Inferring ancestry from present population will always fail to detect historical lineages that had no progeny. Therefore, one must conclude that in the time frame of the most recent common ancestor, there were many other individuals whose descendants have not made it into the present sampled population. Also, reconstructing the family tree to a most recent common ancestor does not imply that there was exactly one individual as the ancestor. Instead, it implies a population of ancestors that are genetically unresolved on the basis of current used genetic markers.
I am not a Biblical scholar, so I cannot comment on who the Biblical Adam was. All I can say is genetic evidence points to common human origin in Africa, dating to about 200,000 years before the present.
Where does IBM fit into the project?
This is the most ambitious genetic anthropology research initiative in history, with plans to gather one of the largest collections of DNA samples to map how humankind populated the planet. Our role in the partnership will be to handle all aspects of storage and analysis of this complex data. Ten of the world’s leading geneticists, working with indigenous and traditional peoples from across the globe, use our (IBM) technology to collect and analyse samples. Data gathered is analysed by IBM research, which generates conclusions about humanity’s migratory history.
IBM supports the Genographic Project in three main ways…
— First, the scientists use a novel IBM client solution that allows for simpler data collection in the field and allows the scientists to securely transmit this data to a central repository;
— Second, IBM designed and built a solution called the DNA Analysis Repository that houses the genetic information of hundreds of thousands of volunteers who have donated DNA to the Genographic Project, as well as data submitted by the scientists;
— Third, IBM’s Computational Biology Centre, one of the world’s foremost life sciences research facilities, is helping to analyse the data to infer patterns of ancestry, including eventually opening this massive database to researchers around the world at the conclusion of the five-year Genographic Project.
IBM has developed client software that allows the Principal Investigators in the field to collect, store and transfer the data that they are collecting. By creating a simple user interface and linking the software with genotyping equipment from Applied Biosystems, the Genographic client software allows the PI to create expeditions, manage phenotyping and genotyping, and then securely transmit that data back to a central repository to allow for further study from the entire Genographic Consortium. Currently, we have 11 scientists working in the field and have collected tens of thousands of DNA samples from participating indigenous groups, whose partnership is a vital component of the Genographic Project.
As this project is an international effort, a central DNA repository is critical to its success. IBM has developed a solution to manage this unprecedented mountain of genetic information — the DNA Analysis Repository. The Dar sits at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, DC, and is comprised of a Linux BladeCenter and a host of IBM software, including DB2 and Websphere. This central repository, and an IBM reporting interface to query it, allows for scientists all over the world to analyse this data to draw the migratory paths of our species back tens of thousands of years.
At the conclusion of the Genographic Project, this database will be made available to scientists to encourage further study.
IBM’s Computational Biology Centre provides critical analysis on the gathered data to infer patters of descent and shed light on the migratory paths of our species. The IBM CBC team, along with the rest of the Genographic Project Consortium, has authored several papers detailing the findings from the Genographic Project, with many more on the way.
In India, are experiments restricted to Madurai and Delhi?
Professor Rasamswamy Pitchappan at Madurai Kamraj University is leading the field research for the project in India. He has conducted several expeditions within India, to obtain samples from selected indigenous populations. He has already gathered samples from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Chattisgarh, Assam. And plans are underway to gather samples from all across the Indian subcontinent.
Does the project state anything about the people of eastern and north-eastern India?
Evidence from recorded history (for instance, cultural, anthropological, linguistic) and the limited genetic evidence gathered from prior studies indicates that the Indian subcontinent has a high diversity of populations and holds significant clues to global migratory patterns. Professor Pitchappan and Dr Spencer Wells’ prior work, for instance, revealed the migration of Australian indigenous population from Africa, via southern India. We hope to uncover many such patterns in global migration, by relating and analysing the data from different regions of the world.