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.


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). 


Sunday Magazine

3 February 1991


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. 

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