The big question in art

Has the online world killed long-form art?

I recently came across a YouTube video of Mythili Prakash dancing to T.M. Krishna’s singing. Their Instagram posts are about the declining standards in performance art, thanks to the demand for short “recorded” performances. The beauty of longer, “boring” presentations is fast being replaced by made-to-order, “less-than-a-minute”, high-resolution capsules. For one, this has changed the very art forms as they are presented on social media. Secondly, it has led to a surfeit of content that stands the danger of becoming cookie-cutter stuff. But, more significantly, and I have written about it earlier in this column, the very purpose of art is now to please people and see how to make the content go viral.

This has deeply impacted artistes who have been groomed in the old system of learning and performing. Recently, a friend of mine called to ask if I could create more interesting reels. For a minute I was taken aback, since the word ‘reel’ in Madras bhashai means to pull a fast one. But a reel is a one-minute (or less than) rendition for Instagram. Once on the gram, it competes with millions of others, who dance to the latest film numbers, reveal their unbelievable six-pack abs to adoring young audiences, or display other more titillating slices of virtual perfection.

It’s as if the entire world loves to constantly break into song and dance. This might not in itself be totally bad or undesirable — if it is going to help build a happier planet or lead to wellness. But what if, on the contrary, artistes are forced to surrender to the demands of these drastically changing times. What happens to their lifelong sadhakam and deeper dive into art? Do we just brush all this under the carpet?

The 21st century post-pandemic reality calls for an urgent examination of this environment.

I recently attended a panel discussion, where participants spoke a lot about what constitutes art now, how performances should be curated, and the need to adapt to the new. To me, it was both underwhelming and conflicting.

Many of us are today being forced to take a stand in the virtual world. Stand in support of or against certain topics or statements. Anything we say or do assumes a political colour, while keeping silent is not taken very well either. Writer Manu Joseph summed it up perfectly when he said that being famous is a punishment in today’s world, and that it is easier to find contentment in having a niche for one’s work and adequate support to keep it going.

The questions that Krishna and Mythili were asking, therefore, are important. What is the nature of the art we are creating and performing today? What kind of pedagogies do teachers need to craft? Is the long-form dead? Do we focus only on titillation and byte-sized renditions for the virtual medium?

But do we have the answers?

The writer is a well-known pianist and educator and associate professor at Krea University.

Dr S. Sivakumar Appointed Officiating Vice-Chancellor of Krea University

Dr S. Sivakumar Appointed Officiating Vice-Chancellor of Krea University

Due to personal exigencies, Dr Mahesh Rangarajan has requested that he be relieved of his responsibilities as Vice-Chancellor of Krea University.  The Chancellor and the Governing Council of Krea University have accepted this request, and placed on record their deep appreciation for Dr Rangarajan’s contributions.  Dr Rangarajan will continue to serve as a Distinguished Visiting Professor of History and Environment at Krea University.    

Commenting on this, Dr Mahesh Rangarajan said, “Of the many institutions I have worked in, and the positions I have had the honour of serving in, none has given me more pleasure than that at Krea University, not only as Vice-Chancellor but also as a member of the faculty. To me, Krea is and will be more than a University: it stands for a mission to prepare both the teacher and the taught to work for the greater good and excellence in an uncertain world. I am grateful to the staff, students, faculty and all members of the Krea community who have been of great support and helped me at my work.  My departure for personal reasons and commitments is a moment of sadness.  But as Distinguished Visiting Professor, I look forward to continuing my association and engagement with faculty, students and the Krea community.”

In consultation with its faculty and staff, the University will initiate a search process for the next Vice-Chancellor. In the interim, the Chancellor and the Governing Council have appointed Dr S. Sivakumar as the Officiating Vice-Chancellor until such time that a final appointment is made. 

A theoretical physicist, Dr S. Sivakumar – Divisional Chair, Sciences and Professor of Physics at the School of Interwoven Arts and Sciences (SIAS) at Krea University, has a PhD in Physics from IIT-Madras. Prior to joining Krea University, he was associated with the Homi Bhabha National Institute and Chennai Mathematical Institute (CMI). His wide experience in academia includes faculty positions as Scientist/Professor at Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) at Kalpakkam, Visiting Scientist at Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad, and Adjunct Professor at CMI. He has also spent more than two decades researching problems critical to the nation-building objective of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), in addition to mentoring masters and graduate students. Interested in quantum and classical dynamics, and statistical physics, Dr Sivakumar has a passion for teaching and is routinely cited in numerous global publications and top journals. 

Books Banter: Q & A with Prof Bishnu Mohapatra on the launch of his book, Buddha aur Aam, Hindi translation of selection of his poems from Odia

Books Banter: Q & A with Prof Bishnu Mohapatra on the launch of his book, Buddha aur Aam, Hindi translation of selection of his poems from Odia

What is the underlying idea that binds this selection of poems together in Buddha aur Aam?

The title of this poetry volume is taken from a poem evocative of the subtle and sublime force of personal faith and devotion, kept alive in times of great disenchantment.  The poems are largely taken from the first four volumes of my poetry. Many of my poems seek to re-enchant our world, by reflecting on contemporary realities through a gaze that seeks out nature’s mystery in the most unlikely of places. Memory as a weave of remembering and forgetting, as a means of understanding our place in time, is also a recurring theme in many of my poems.

What is your relationship with the Odia language and why is writing in it, particularly special?

Odia is my mother language.  It is not just the language that I learnt to speak, read and write in first, but it is also my emotive language, the language of my memory and also the language of my sensorium. 

The metaphors and the presence of nature that dominate my poetry were imprinted in memory from my childhood; the feel of wet leaves under my feet at the riverbank, the creaking of insects at night, the light of glow worms, the songs of jatras, the lament of the cuckoo, all of these were carved into my imagination in the language of the land where I was born. 

Writing poetry in Odia and doing my social science and academic work in English has given me two vast and diverse landscapes which speak to each other, and enrich each other.  Each language carries with it its own life-world, its own inner resources.  Even after living more than four decades outside Odisha, my love for Odia and its rich tradition of literature, lives and thrives inside me.  Writing poetry in Odia enlivens a connection between place and time, and moves me beyond ‘here’ and ‘there’, ‘now’ and ‘then’, to the unknown place where metaphors take shape and make meaning.

How do you work closely with a translator in a manner that the spirit and essence of your work is captured in its truest form? Why is that process so important?

I am also a translator, although I rarely translate my own poetry.  I have translated and published Pablo Neruda’s poetry into Odia and my translations of Rilke’s poetry is to be published this year. I believe that translation is also a form of interpretation, of transposition, and that the translator carries from one language into another not only the essence of the poet’s expression, but also a little bit of of themselves.  I tend not to interfere much with the translator’s work as the process of translation has its own integrity.  I am grateful to my translator Dr Rajendra Prasad Mishra for his careful and dedicated attention to carrying my voice along with his into the Hindi translation.

In the world we live in, why is reading poetry crucial?

For me, poetry has always been more than a form.  It is a way to un-conceal the world, without revealing all of its mystery.  Recently, some of my poems were published in an anthology ‘Singing in the Dark’ – a collection of poems from across the world written during the pandemic related lockdown.  What were poets writing about during these uncertain times? Why are we reading more poetry about this time?  Poetry has the capacity to hold that which cannot be understood, while signalling us towards a multitude of possibilities.  A poet’s expression is always an indication, a nudge, a glimpse towards a larger vision.  The human condition and its striving towards its hidden own possibilities is what makes reading poetry essential.

Prof.  Bishnu Mohapatra, Professor of Politics, Krea University

Reach him at: [email protected]

BOOKS BANTER : Q&A with Prof Bharath Sethuraman on the launch of his book

BOOKS BANTER : Q&A with Prof Bharath Sethuraman on the launch of his book

Proofs and Ideas: A Prelude to Advanced Mathematics

Prof Sethuraman, could you tell us what was the inspiration for the book?

Most people view mathematics as a formidable edifice built using reams upon reams of mysterious symbols, decipherable only to the chosen few who have dedicated their lives to it. While this view has partial justification, it fails to capture the essence of the subject: mathematics is a beautiful subject, full of the most delectable patterns, many of which can be appreciated by anyone who has studied the subject in high school. It is an arena for play, for exercising our creativity. It can bring joy. It can evoke a deep sense of wonder. All it requires is patience and a willingness to push our minds to their furthest.

Why is this book the need of the hour?

Unfortunately, a lot of school mathematics is geared towards getting students ready for the applications of mathematics to physics and engineering, and this essence of mathematics is lost among all the symbol pushing and manipulation needed. Therefore, this essence needs to be re-captured when studying for a degree in mathematics, for there, one has to go beyond mere symbols and get down to the heart of the subject.

What is the premise of the book?

This book focusses on some core ideas that are needed for studying mathematics, ideas that are quite accessible to anyone with exposure to high school mathematics. For instance, how do you show that given any six arbitrary natural numbers, the difference of some two of them must end in 0 or 5? Or, how do we capture the fact that the kind of infinity represented by the natural numbers is the same as that represented by the rational numbers (the set of reduced fractions), but is different from the kind of infinity represented by the real numbers (the numbers represented by lengths along a line)? The ideas behind these are all simple and yet deep.

How do some ideas in the book find expression in the Krea curriculum?

I have used the material in this book for the Core and Skills course at Krea “Mathematical Reasoning,” and have also used it for the required mathematics department course “Discrete Mathematics” (soon to be re-named as Introduction to Proofs and Mathematical Thinking).

When did you start work on the book and how do you feel now that it is officially launched?

The project started several years ago at my previous university, California State University Northridge, where I designed the text for their version of the Introduction to Proofs course. While the core was conceptualized and developed there, much of the book was written after moving to India, and in particular, the last portions were written at Krea (and used for courses here). It was delayed by Covid (and my own laziness), but I am glad that it is finally out.

About Prof.  Bharath Sethuraman

Professor of Mathematics, Krea University

Prof. Bharath Sethuraman has nearly thirty years of experience as a mathematician and a teacher. He received his B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from IIT Madras, but switched to pure mathematics and obtained his Ph.D. from the University of California at San Diego. He held a permanent position as mathematics faculty at California State University Northridge for over twenty-five years, teaching undergraduate and masters level students, many of whom came from less privileged backgrounds, and many of whom were first generation college learners. He has also taught at other universities in the US and in India, including at IIT Bombay, Indian Statistical Institute Bangalore, and Azim Premji University.

Besides being a committed teacher, Prof. Sethuraman has been active in research, working primarily in the fields of algebraic number theory and algebraic geometry. Prof. Sethuraman has been the recipient of several research grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation, and of other research and teaching grants from various sources.

Prof. Sethuraman has written three books for undergraduate students: Rings Fields and Vector Spaces, A Gentle Introduction to Abstract Algebra, and Proofs and Ideas: A Prelude to Advanced Mathematics. Outside of academics, he enjoys traveling, cycling, reading, and music.

Reach him at: [email protected]

Budget 2022: What will be different in Economic Survey

The Economic Survey is a report card of the economy and Volume 1 has been used by successive chief economic adviser’s (CEA) to push through reform ideas.

The government will present the Economic Survey for the financial year 2021-22 on January 31.

The survey is expected to project a growth of around 9 per cent for the next financial year.

This year, the finance ministry is expected to come out with a single volume Economic Survey, instead of the two volume survey that was released every year.

It is likely to present data for the fiscal year across sectors and will not have the policy prescriptions which form part of the main Volume-1.

Last year’s survey had projected a GDP growth of 11 per cent for the current fiscal year.

What is Economic Survey

The Economic Survey is a report card of the economy and Volume 1 has been used by successive chief economic adviser’s (CEA) to push through reform ideas.

Unlike in the past, some of the major reform initiatives outlined in the survey were implemented by the government this year to help the economy recover swiftly from the devastating impact of the Covid pandemic.

It is tabled in Parliament by the finance minister one day before the Union Budget presentation.

Who prepares it

Traditionally, the survey is prepared by the CEA. However, this year it is being prepared by principal economic adviser and other officials as the post of CEA remained vacant after Krishnamurthy Subramaniam’s term ended in December.

The government appointed Dr V Anantha Nageswaran as the new CEA on January 28.

Ex-CEA Subramanian returned to academia after serving a three-year tenure.

Nageswaran assumes role

Dr Nageswaran assumed office of CEA just days ahead of presentation of Economic Survey.

Prior to this appointment, Nageswaran has worked as an author, teacher and consultant.

He has also been a part-time member of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India from 2019 to 2021.

Besides, he has taught at several business schools and institutes of management in India and in Singapore and has published extensively.

Nageswaran holds a Post-Graduate Diploma in Management (MBA) degree from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. He obtained a doctoral degree in Finance from the University of Massachusetts in 1994 for his work on the empirical behaviour of exchange rates.

He was the Dean of the IFMR Graduate School of Business and a distinguished Visiting Professor of Economics at Krea University.

Economic growth projection

As per the first advanced estimates released by the National Statistical Organisation (NSO), the economy is expected to record growth of 9.2 per cent during the current fiscal year, which is tad lower than 9.5 per cent projected by RBI.

On account of the outbreak of Covid-19 and subsequent nation-wide lockdown to check the spread of the virus, the economy contracted by 7.3 per cent during 2020-21.

The impact of virus on the economy was comparatively less during the second and third Covid waves as the lockdowns were local in nature and did not cause large-scale disruption in economic activity.