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The Old and the Deposed

Kanishk Prasad

By C.S.H. Jhabvala
Lustre Press-Roli Books, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 108


Before and after Independence, India was engaged in a process of discovering itself and re-fashioning an identity for itself. A land replete with rich culture, a long history of cultural development and global engagement, ample natural resources, diverse topographical and climatic regions and inhabi-ted by a set of hugely industrious people through the National Movement and the ideology of the then Indian National Congress to bring these disparate groups of people and ideas closer together. Those at the helm of the movement at the time including Gandhi and Nehru travelled extensively in India observing both its weaknesses and its abundant opportunities. This confluence of ideas, cultures and people placed within the theoretical frame-work of a modern nation state (India officially became a Republic on 26 January 1950) was the vision that India seemed to want to see for itself moving into the second half of the 20th century. The principle of federalism which became its political embodiment with the states becoming agencies of governance at a local level threaded into a conglomeration defined by the Union. More interestingly it created a fascinating duality where the states, their peoples and cultures came to represent the contexts, historical, geographical and topographical, that they came from. While the Union encouraged the evolution of a gene-ration of art practitioners, creative thinkers and cultural institutions who, as a result of their education and professional exposure, critically examined and reflected upon bringing closer this diverse set of social formations. These practitioners in the field of art, music, dance, theatre and architecture began to constructively engage with vernacular traditions around them. They employed rationalist Modernist approaches to document and analyse cultures at play. These engage-ments generated conflict and creative tensions in some cases and instances of gentle consideration and development in others. But the nature of the outcome notwithstanding, they almost always became sites for critiques at the most fundamental level of both the traditional wisdom as well as the Modernist learning, leading to bold reinventions in terms of style and form. The idea that a creative practitioner in India always exists in this dynamic, split between the abundant living heritage of tradi-tional systems and the theoretical underpinnings of one's profession became central to the movement of the evolving arts and architecture in new India. C.S.H. Jhabvala to me is without doubt one such practitioner. Having completed his studies in Mumbai (then Bombay) and London he returned ...

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