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How India needs characters created by Harper Lee, Umberto Eco

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By Vikas Dutta

Last week the literature world witnessed the death of two great authors as American reclusive Harper Lee and Italian philosopher Umberto Eco passed away. The connection between them is not just the timing of death but that both of them had a decent, tolerant lawyer who combats prejudice and vigilantism and a rational, tolerant monk who solves mysteries as the main character of their first fictional work. Recent events in India showed the need of both as role models.

Mockingbird” (1960) set in segregationist American south in the 1930s and Brother William of Baskerville of “The Name of the Rose” (1980) taking place in superstition- and schism-ridden northern Italy in the 14th century are not only models for emulation but the authors’ abiding contribution towards the goals of human dignity, equity, tolerance and reason. Remembering them is the best tribute we can pay to their creators.

Both works have been made into acclaimed films, with the parts played memorably by Gregory Peck and Sean Connery respectively (and earning them an Oscar and a BAFTA for best actor). Most of us would have read the books and/or seen the films but for those who might not have, or forgotten, the characters can be introduced again.

Like their creators, the middle-aged, widowed lawyer and the Franciscan monk are both disparate characters, not only in time and space but nature too though they have certain points of resemblance. Apart from being “moral compasses” and morally and personally courageous, they are caring father figures – Finch to his children (six-year-old Jean-Louise “Scout” and 10-year-old Jeremy “Jem”) and William to a companion, novice Adso.

“To Kill a Mockingbird”, based on Lee’s own reminiscences (Finch turned out to be based on her own father) and incorporating some contemporary racial issues, is set in a small town in Alabama during the Great Depression. Finch is asked to defend a young black man, Tom Robbins, accused of raping a white woman, and agrees despite public disapproval. Not only does he defend his charge the best he can, he also protects him from a lynch mob. He is, however, unable to get Robbins off despite demolishing the prosecution case, and learns later that he has been shot “while trying to escape”.

But despite the outcome, it is the qualities Finch embodies – decent, fair treatment to all people, not to respond to violence with violence, to stand for what you believe and not force it on others – that make him relevant for any time.

A quote from the book – also used in the film – is illustrative. As he advises his daughter: “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

“To Kill a Mockingbird” was Lee’s sole work. “Go Set a Watchman” (2015), set some years in the future and presenting a Finch who is not so heroic, is touted as a sequel but as per detailed examination is deemed to be an earlier draft.

Eco, apart from being a best-selling novelist, was an academician with significant contributions to semiotics or study of human signs and symbols and their interpretation, aesthetics, literary theory, media culture and philosophy and it shows in “The Name of the Rose”.

William and Adso reach a northern Italian monastery to attend a theological disputation, but all is not calm there. First there is a suicide and then several other mysterious deaths and William is asked to probe but there is labyrinthine library whose mysteries have to be solved, some secrets that the abbot is unwilling to divulge and the Inquisition is also present.

With his name commemorating a medieval philosopher and the area of a famous detective’s most celebrated exploits, the character’s inspiration is obvious. William of Ockham’s philosophical technique “Ockham’s Razor” advised that the simplest explanation accounting for all the facts should always be accepted as most likely mirrors Holmes’ dictum “that when one has eliminated the impossible, whatever remains – however improbable – must be the truth”.

William also looks and behaves like Holmes, being tall, so thin that he appears taller, with sharp and piercing eyes, a thin, sharp nose and a prominent chin, is capable of most intense activity but curiously still when not intellectually stimulated, and has the same sharp intellect and deduction powers. Unlike Holmes, his skills were not very welcome in his era but he didn’t let it deter him.

When brute prejudice reigns, unthinking conformity imposed and dissent deemed criminal, such models are more than necessary. But will we – and especially those demeaning these professions – only let them remain fictional archetypes?

(21.02.2016 – Vikas Datta is an Associate Editor at IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at vikas.d@ians.in )(IANS)(image-wikipedia)

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Coca-Cola plans to break into Indian ‘fruit circular economy’

According to Krishnakumar, Coca-Cola India with its focus on the 'fruit circular economy' will enable the growth in demand for fruits which in turn would improve the farm practices and increase the farmer income

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The company is also planning to launch vegetable-based beverage like carrot juice.
The company is also planning to launch vegetable-based beverage like carrot juice. Wikimedia Commons
  • Coca-Cola is also planning to launch vegetable-based beverage like carrot juice
  • The company plans to launch fruit juices based on the regional preferences
  • The company’s focus on fruit beverages is in line with its philosophy of ‘beverage for life’

Expanding its fruit-based beverage offerings, frozen fruit dessert, getting into dairy based value-added products and also exporting those products developed in India, are some of the plans of Coca-Cola India Pvt Ltd, said a top company official.

He said the company’s focus will be on ‘fruit circular economy’– enabling farmers to increase their yield, source pulp and launch fruit-based products.

The company is also planning to launch vegetable-based beverage like carrot juice.

“We are in the process of developing different fruit beverages including based on regional fruits and would soon be launching them.

“Similarly we will also expand our portfolio of fruit flavoured sparkling drinks like Fanta.

Also Read: Tune into a healthy lifestyle with these natural sweeteners

“After successful piloting of our frozen fruit dessert in Bengaluru, we will launch the product in major cities this April,” T. Krishnamukar, President, Coca-Cola India and Southwest Asia told select media here late on Thursday.

He said the company plans to launch fruit juices based on the regional preferences. For instance, the company would launch mango juices based on mango varieties that are available and popular in a particular region so that there is also a local connect.

Presently the Coca-Cola group is a $21 billion brand.
Presently the Coca-Cola group is a $21 billion brand. Wikimedia Common

“We are also working on a product based on gooseberries,” he added.

According to him, the company has tied up with Jain Irrigation that operates fruit pulping plants in different regions.

“We have tied up with Jain Irrigation for sourcing and pulping mango fruit. Similarly, we have a tie-up with that company for oranges in Maharashtra.

“We expect Jain Irrigation may start setting up an orange pulping plant and the first commercial orange pulp may be available sometime in 2020,” Krishnakumar added.

Also Read: Prepare these Amazing Cocktails for a tipsy Winter

He said the company’s focus on fruit beverages is in line with its philosophy of ‘beverage for life’ meaning to have a product for people in different age groups.

“The philosophy now is to make the company bigger than the Coca-Cola brand.

Presently the Coca-Cola group is a $21 billion brand,” he said.

According to Krishnakumar, Coca-Cola India with its focus on the ‘fruit circular economy’ will enable the growth in demand for fruits which in turn would improve the farm practices and increase the farmer income.

the company would launch mango juices based on mango varieties that are available and popular in a particular region so that there is also a local connect.
the company would launch mango juices based on mango varieties that are available and popular in a particular region so that there is also a local connect. Wikimedia Commons

“We felt we should be more relevant to the local community. Tastes, views vary based on regions. So we have to move globally to local and local to global,” he said.

The company will launch the local fruit beverages-including the mango beverage- under the Minute Maid brand.

“The fruit pulp content will be between 10 percent to 25 percent in such drinks,” Krishnakumar added.

He said the research and development (R&D) work for new products is being done in India and also in Shanghai in China.

Speaking of exports, he said the company has started exporting Indian brands like the carbonated drink ThumsUp and masala soda RimZim to Bangladesh and later to Sri Lanka, Bhutan and other markets.

Also Read: Five Benefits of Honey and Lemon Drink that Can’t be Ignored

“We want to build on Indian brand as a billion dollar beverage brand. We are not shipping the end product but the formula, brand and related matters,” he said.

Speaking of the sugar content in the company’s beverages, Krishnakumar said work in on to reduce the sugar content in its drinks and in five years time the beverages sold by the company will have far less sugar content than what it currently has.

On the foray into the dairy products segment, Krishnakumar said during the second half of the current year the company would launch the value-added dairy product. (IANS)