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By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Saturday, July 15, 2017

When & How Chairman Haksar Wrote His Monumental Essay On Art & Culture

As mentioned in the preceding blog ( The Disadvantages And Disconnectionsof Diversity ), my long twin track records as a professional civil servant and amateur journalist had brought me a unique opportunity for blending hard work with soft play, as the Member-Secretary of a prestigious panel which reviewed the performance of four Government-funded apex institutions in the cultural sphere.  

At the outset I had the assurance of the Chairman, Mr. P.N. Haksar, that I would be solely responsible for writing the panel's report, which had to survive the severe tests of time. I did produce an excellent draft on specific issues concerning the arts, but found the generic concepts governing the true dimensions of culture rather elusive.  In the event, it was the Chairman himself who wrote the introductory chapter, which enhanced the flavor and force of the whole report.

I told the story in an essay a couple of years later, and submitted it to the Editor of THE HINDU, Mr. G. Kasturi, suggesting it could perhaps be the prelude to a monthly column on art and culture, to be titled Articulations.  His instant response was to launch the column with Mr. Haksar's exquisite articulations.

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Glossary & annotations
(in same order as in text)


P.N. Haksar  --  Distinguished Indian diplomat who had wielded enormous power and influence as Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's principal private secretary, and after superannuation, had turned into a highly sensitive and widely respected cultural philosopher.

Sangeet Research Institute, Calcutta  --  A music-research unit in India's leading tobacco company  (ITC) : a corporate contribution to Indian culture, meant to dilute adverse impressions arising from certain negative aspects of the company's cigarette business.

National Akademis  --  Three prestigious Government-funded institutions in New Delhi, concerned with the promotion of art and culture -- called Lalit Kala Akademi (visual arts and crafts : drawing, painting, sculpture),  Sangeet Natak Akademi (performing arts : music, dance, drama), and Sahitya Akademi (literature).  

H.Y. Sharada Prasad  -- Civil servant and journalist, who was media adviser to Indian Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. 

Other Members  --  Ebrahim Alkazi (patron of Indian arts and former Director of National School of Drama);  Indira Parthasarathy (South Indian novelist, writing in Tamil language);  K.V. Ramanathan (High-ranking civil servant who retired as Secretary, Planning Commission, and then became Editor, Indian Express);  Premlata Sharma (musicologist);   and Ghulam Sheikh (artist : oil-painting). 

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THE HINDU
Sunday Magazine

3 February 1991

Articulations

The Chairman's chapter

Addressing an impressive gathering of classical musicians and dancers, musicologists, music and dance critics and members of the cultural bureaucracy in New Delhi recently, Mr. P.N. Haksar outlined his wide-angled vision of culture in a democratic society and polity.

The occasion was the inauguration of a four-day symposium organized in the Capital by the Indian Classical Music And Dance Fraternity and the Sangeet Research Academy, Calcutta.

Not so long ago, Mr. Haksar had chaired a committee which had reviewed the performance of the three National Akademis (Sangeet Natak, Lalit Kala and Sahitya Akademis) and the National School of Drama.  Its  report was submitted to the Government of India in July 1990, and the Department of Culture released a summary in August.
 
There have been several Press reports about the committee's recommendations since then, but so far they have tended to be sketchy, distorted or speculative.  Although a thousand copies had been printed by the Government several months ago, they have not been circulated widely.  There seems to be no clear awareness, even among the articulate journalists, of what Mr. Haksar and his colleagues had actually said about the various issues involved.  I ought to know, because I happened to be the Member-Secretary of the committee.

The main theme of the Classical Music And Dance Fraternity's symposium was the role of the Government in the field of art and culture.  The Haksar Committee had gone exhaustively into that question because it felt that the activities of the National Akademis had to be viewed in the widest possible perspective, which naturally covered the legitimacy and limits of the State's intervention and functions in this sensitive area.

A few months before we started writing our report, Mr. Haksar had asked me to prepare a draft on the definition of 'culture' and the values which should govern the cultural environment in India today.  This had to be written at the conceptual level, incorporating a historic and philosophic vision rather than a clinical set of views.

I did try, but not for long.  I just could not get a grip on the composition, though I knew exactly what Mr. Haksar had to say on every aspect of art and culture.  I was confidently looking forward to initiating the draft dealing with our findings and recommendations, but the chapter on the definition and dimensions of culture was clearly beyond my credentials.

It occurred to me after some time that perhaps Mr. H.Y. Sharada Prasad, who was one of the Members of the Committee, could undertake the job successfully. Just before we started writing the report, all of us got together and had some long discussions, so as to crystallize our views.  During one of these sessions I made my suggestion.  Mr. Sharada Prasad's response was immediate and decisive.  He declared that Mr. Haksar should himself write the general chapter.  The Chairman said he would prefer to have a first draft, which he could review and touch up. "Not at all,"  Mr. Sharada Prasad told him firmly, "It's your job, Mr. Chairman, not ours!  We shall do some touching up, if necessary."

So Mr. Haksar had no choice but to agree, and said he would try.  He declined all offers of technical help and said he would be working "in his own way".  He dictated the entire chapter to a very capable stenographer-friend called Mr. Unni, and took no assistance from anyone else in the committee.  After some time, when we were wrestling with the rest of the draft, the Chairman's chapter hit us like a tidal wave.


Profoundly simple 

It was an intricate piece of writing, all 25 typed pages of it, so tightly packed with ideas that it seemed to weigh like a large block of marble.  I showed the manuscript to Mr. Sharada Prasad and asked him whether I should try to simplify the text.

After reading the chapter very carefully, he told me not to interfere with the text except for cutting out some lengthy quotations.  "Mr. Haksar should be quoted, he shouldn't quote so much!" he quipped, repeating a thought he had once expressed about Indira Gandhi's speeches, many of which he had either written or edited.  He also jotted down half a dozen other suggestions -- to alter a word here, or moderate a phrase there -- and told me to get them approved by the Chairman tactfully.  Apart from that, he ruled, the text was not to be touched by anybody including himself.

"We want this report to stand the test of time," he told me. "It is Mr. Haksar's chapter which will make that possible.  Those who can't take it in quickly can skip it and go on to the next chapter, but this one will ensure that the report lives on.  We can't take liberties with a piece of literature!"  During our final deliberations, all the other Members --  Mr. Ebrahim Alkazi, Prof. Indira Parthasarathy, Mr. K.V. Ramanathan. Prof. Premlata Sharma and Mr. Ghulam Sheikh --  agreed with him.  In the event, the only addition we found necessary to make was a single paragraph, in which Mr. Ramanathan succinctly articulated some of our common thoughts on the regional diversity of India.

I certainly saw the point, but I was not quite satisfied.  It was all right for Mr. P.N. Haksar to address his peers on an exalted plane, but it was my obligation as the committee's anchorman to produce a document which could be wholly and readily understood by the ordinary reader.  I went on groping for a solution, and found it when I started drafting the final chapter summarizing our recommendations. 

I had been worrying for some time about how to condense Mr. Haksar's profound reflections into one or two pages of our report.  It had looked like an impossible task at first.  I was about to give up the idea altogether, consoling myself with the thought that the last chapter was to be a summary of our suggestions and not our approach.  But when I was brooding over the problem, it occurred to me that the conceptual chapter contained, apart from a scholarly and philosophic dissertation on the history of Indian culture, certain statements which had the force of recommendations of a generic kind.

These were addressed not only to the cultural establishment and the artistic and literary communities, but to our society as a whole.  I realized that I had only to extract these, and there would be no need to look any further for a precis.

So I just marked every sentence which contained a definitive expression of advice, or of guidance, addressed to any intelligent reader.  I arranged them in a sequence I liked -- and I saw that the core of Mr. Haksar's cultural vision stood out like a tower, and would be visible even to the layman's naked eye.  Mr. Sharada Prasad condensed and re-phrased my extracts a little so as to match them properly in length and language with the rest of our summary of recommendations -- and we had a short section containing a far-reaching cultural testament, which could be  read through and understood effortlessly. 


Glowing vision

I have since reviewed the text, and made a fresh compilation which is only slightly longer but fully restores the unique flavor of Mr. Haksar's prose.  Bulging with such a rich haul of gold, I am sure Chairman Haksar's hold-all is not likely to escape the close attention of the cultural authorities and the people of India.  And what is true of our society, I should imagine, is likely to be valid in the whole world.

--  The term 'culture', in its most comprehensive sense, refers to diverse creative activities which give a sense of purpose to human existence, and provides the reflective poise and spiritual energy so essential to the maturing of the 'Good Society'.

--  Thus defined, culture refers to a wide range of activities -- literature, performing and visual arts, and various forms of artistic self-expression -- in which individuals and communities are perpetually engaged.  The definition of culture, therefore, should not differentiate between the specialist creator of culture and the lay citizen.  Culture constitutes an integral part of the social and political existence of human beings.

-- While the State has a vital role to play in the field of art and culture, its political and ideological predilections can have adverse consequences.  Any rash political intervention into culture would be disastrous.

--  There is a need for the exercise of extreme sensitiveness on the part of the cultural bureaucracies of the Akademis and the Government departments concerned with cultural affairs at the Centre and in the States, and by politicians.  Management of culture should be avoided.

--  The  State, through institutions specially designed to facilitate creative activity, can only promote a congenial climate for the stimulation of culture.  It remains the task of the inspired artists to invoke that spirit which reflects culture in the noblest form. 

--  It must be ensured that the cultural life of the individual, no less than that of the community, should seek to relate aesthetic fulfilment to the everyday activities of life.  Encouragement should be held out to creative activity which locates both beauty and utility in the artefacts of cultural as well as material production. 

--  We must be constantly be on guard against any surrender to vulgar or populist forms of artistic endeavor.

--  Manifestations of folk art and culture must not be considered as museum exhibits for satisfying exotic interests.  Their subordination to the laws of commercial 'mass culture' is a threat against which it is necessary to provide institutional protection and support. 

--  Cultural production today is accomplished in a social context in which the mass media and the market have emerged as arbiters of taste and quality in aesthetic activity.  Modern economics have converted art itself into a commodity.  In the generation of cultural values, the market needs to be tamed and harnessed to serve the interests of men, nature and society. 

--  The laws of the market of mass-produced culture should not be allowed to annihilate the artist, even as the artist tries to wrestle with them.  This must be one of the desiderata of State support. 

--  Those concerned with the field of culture must sensitize themselves to the fact that our country is involved in vast, complex and turbulent processes of economic, political, social and cultural transformation.  

--  Culture has to be an important component of our planning processes.  Our response to the 'hunger of the heart' and the 'famine of the brain' need not await the response to the minimum needs of the body. 

--  Cultural development requires the planned and sustained creation of infrastructure over a long period of time. 


--  The approach to culture in India must positively encourage regional diversity, and not merely tolerate it, so that no region or group can have the threat of having a feeling of being swamped.  There are no 'majority' and 'minority' cultures.  The smallest unit has its contribution to make to the enrichment of the national sum total, and must be respected. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Disadvantages And Disconnections of Diversity

A rather discouraging thing about Articulations Online is that it has no chance of uniformly pleasing a universal audience, because its progress is characterized by so many sudden twists and turns.  The following facts will indicate the true reason for such a kaleidoscopic perspective :-

Recalling my reflections as an articulate layman -- writing in some of the most prestigious English-language newspapers in India for more than 50 years -- had gradually evolved as the main objective of this column, as explained in the preceding post (The Never-endingExpansion Of The Great Cyberian Ocean).

Unfortunately my contributions had never been collected in book form, which could perhaps have made a progressive impact on more and more readers, especially those belonging to younger generations.  So it seemed to be a good idea to dig the best of them out of cold storage and present them in this blog -- with suitable introductions and postscripts to make them relevant today and tomorrow in a historic sense (and also with helpful glossaries and annotations, to let the texts make sense in global terms) -- thus consolidating them into a durable, universally accessible source of reference.

But my intellectual excursions in the cultural, social and organizational realms, spanning five decades, had been extremely diverse in character, content and style.  Naturally, readers of Articulations Online who are fascinated by some of my vintage reflections tend to look for more and more recollections of the same kind, and are likely to be disappointed when they encounter something totally different -- which in turn may fascinate some other readers (who may not be pleased by texts of the first kind, of course).

After all, even bestselling novelists like Dick Francis or John Grisham must have displeased millions of their devoted readers when leaving their standard settings like race courses or courts of law and venturing into some far different scenario on rare occasions.   And who knows, at the same time they might have pleased some other readers who found those unique novels more interesting than the authors' usual works!

Twin tracks

At this stage, when I set out to review the merits and constraints of this ongoing endeavor to salvage and preserve some of my most significant articulations in a universal source of recurring reference, I must explain my concerns both as a professional civil servant and as an amateur journalist. 

I was an innovative officer of the Indian Audit & Accounts Service (IAAS) for more than 35 years in the second half of the 20th century, and also a forceful freelance journalist for 30 years till the end of that period.  Thus I had a combined track record of more than 65 years as a successful bureaucrat-commentator when I retired from civil service towards the end of the century.  On my superannuation, I worked for a couple of years as a consultant to the Comptroller & Auditor-General of India and the Press Trust of India successively, on certain unusual assignments.  

On the official front, whether as an accounts executive, internal financial controller/adviser, or external auditor -- in the Audit Department as well as other government departments or organizations on deputation -- I invariably streamlined existing working methods or introduced new ones, usually achieving impressive results (and sometimes spectacular ones, as during an intensive ten-year spell when I emerged as the leading pioneer in the field of investigative government audit in India). 

As an amateur journalist, I began by writing English essays of the classical kind in THE HINDU (then published only in Madras), but later on wrote humorous articles including satire, and turned to Indian and Western music as constant and substantial sources of material --  writing successively in the Free Press Bulletin in Bombay, Indian Express in Madras, Shankar's Weekly and Hindustan Times Evening News in New Delhi, and again THE HINDU (music in the New Delhi edition, essays on art and culture in all editions).  I had also drawn cartoons to illustrate my light-hearted weekly column in the Evening News and the HINDU essays.

There were a couple of unusual contexts in which these parallel track records proved my credentials for undertaking two unprecedented assignments.  The first one, a few years before I retired from government service, was when I was the sole candidate for the position of Member-Secretary of  a special panel in the Culture Department reviewing the performance of four prestigious national institutions concerned with music, dance, drama and literature -- a choice made personally by Mr. P.N. Haksar, a distinguished ex-diplomat and cultural philosopher, who was looking for someone who had achieved excellence as a bureaucrat, writer and artist at the same time.  

Style and status

The second occasion arose a couple of years after my superannuation, when THE HINDU appointed me as a special correspondent on a semi-professional basis, mainly for writing a forceful and unprecedented column on the audit reports of the Comptroller & Auditor-General of India.  This feature, titled India of C-A-G, explained the substance of the most significant current audit findings in a historic perspective, recalling relevant past scenarios, and analyzed important related issues.  

Mr. N. Ravi, the Editor, gave me absolute freedom of expression, and allowed me to adopt a lucid personal style and illustrate the texts with my own cartoons, which simplified even the toughest topics and made audit and accounts almost as interesting as art and culture. He also gave me a remarkably free hand to draw cartoons in a startling style in a weekly feature called Talk Exchange in the business section of the newspaper.

That assignment, which gave me a  prominent semi-professional status among leading newspapermen in India, was the summit of my progress as a journalist.  I thought it would never end, but it did after five years, for some mysterious reasons. I tried continuing the CAG saga in a monthly column called Auditscan in the online edition of the Business Today in New Delhi, but I couldn't cope for long with the tensions created by criticizing the fraudulent activities of businessmen in a business magazine.

After that I went on what amounted to a sabbatical for a few years, making an unsuccessful attempt to transform into reality my lifelong dream of writing a humorous bestselling book on management which would project some intriguingly original ideas.  But in due course I found my way back to my alma mater, THE HINDU -- once again as an amateur contributor -- and wrote a fortnightly column called Musicscan for several years, conveying many useful insights into concepts and trends relating to Indian and Western music.     


Changing tracks

Obviously, presenting even some selected articles on such diverse topics (written in several different styles, depending on the contexts and contents) in a single source of reference carried the risk of building up an amorphous mass of writing, which would have no continuity and might please some readers sometimes but none of them at all times. 

Anyway, I fished out more than a hundred vintage essays or reviews or sketches from my old records and posted them in the blog at random, just stringing together some of them now and then if they were of the same or a similar kind or flavor. In mid-2016, however,  I lined up more than 30 articles in a row with a common thread running through them, highlighting the perceptions and and preferences of ordinary lovers of Western music in India, which cried out (and still cry out today) for the serious attention of local organizers and foreign musicians visiting this alien land. 

Actually there were many more articles which would have reinforced the above theme, but this exercise in continuity and total concentration on a specific idea had to be halted at some point because it was excluding so many significant articles on different topics which were worth recirculation for the benefit of readers with other expectations.

Thus, whether there has been continuity or discontinuity in building up this body of writing, I haven't been able to fully satisfy any set of readers anywhere in the world.  And of course, the fact that I haven't been able to devote myself exclusively to this task due to other important preoccupations, resulting in wide gaps between posts, has been another source of dissatisfaction.


As I take fresh stock of things at this stage, I find that I haven't included in this collection (or recollection, if you like!) some of my best essays, and not a single one of my articles on audit or cartoons.  So let me change tracks again now, though I know I may be incurring the displeasure of even some of the readers who have taken an extremely tolerant view of the disconnections so far!