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It’s an anthology that took 10 years to compile but that’s not surprising given that it takes 200 years of Indians writing prose and poetry in English and what emerges is a priceless collection of something that has never been attempted before.
“We started talking about the book, or one like it, about eight or ten years ago. But it was only an idea and it never got anywhere, mainly because I did not know where to begin or where to find the essays, especially of the 19th century,” its editor, poet-translator-anthologist Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, told IANS in an interview of “The Book of Indian Essays” (Black Kite)”.
“At first I thought of restricting the book to essays written since independence, then pushed it back to cover the 20th century, then decided to take in the whole period of writing in English in India, from around the 1820s to the present.
“We have never had a selection of essays for the general reader before and I thought that if we were going to do one we may as well include the 19th century, particularly since I knew at least two essays that I wanted to include the ones by (poet and assistant headmaster of Hindu College Calcutta Henry Louis Vivian) Derozio and (author-historian-poet), Shoshee Chunder Dutt.
“They would otherwise have remained buried in books that only a handful of specialists would ever read. Which is sad, for the essays, when they were written, were aimed at the magazine or newspaper reader of the time and not for the specialist of the future,” Mehrotra explained.
Given his vast research, does he see the writing in English evolving over the 200 years that the book covers?
“Unlike science, literature does not evolve. Unlike economies, it does not stagnate or grow. Something was written let’s say in the 1870s, Shoshee Chunder’s ‘Street Music of Calcutta’ for example, might have been written yesterday in Delhi if anyone in Delhi had the brains to listen to street cries and write an essay on the subject. The essay (or poem) is immersed at the moment, but it is a moment that’s been illuminated and which the passage of time cannot darken.
“Literature does not evolve but neither does it fade. Parts of it can of course be neglected and sink into obscurity. ‘The Book of Indian Essays’ is an attempt at rescuing a few pieces of prose before they disappeared altogether, though their sentences, had you stumbled upon them, would have lost none of their newness and surprise, as Derozio’s and Shoshee Chunder’s have not,” Mehrotra contended
He also noted that while Indians have been writing prose for 200 years, and yet when we think of literary prose we think only of the novel. “The ‘essay’ brings only the school essay to mind. Those of us who read and write English in India might find it hard to name an essay even by someone like R.K. Narayan as easily as we would one of his novels, say ‘Swami and Friends’ or ‘The Guide’. Our inability to recall essays is largely due to the strange paradox that while the form itself remains invisible, it is everywhere present.
“The paradox becomes even more strange when we realize that some of our finest writers of English prose did not write novels at all, they wrote essays. The anthology is an attempt at making what has always been present also permanently visible,” Mehrotra explained. To this end, the 45 essayists in the anthology include some of the best-known Indian writers of English, including Jawaharlal Nehru, Aubrey Menen, G.V. Desani, Dom Moraes, Sheila Dhar, Madhur Jaffrey, Amitav Ghosh, Anita Desai, Chitrita Banerji, Mukul Kesavan and Pankaj Mishra, to mention just a few.
Working as an alternative history, the anthology is impressive in its range, taking in the reflective essay, the luminous memoir, the essay disguised as a story, the memorable prefatory article, the newspaper column that transcends its humdrum origins, the gossip piece that oozes literariness, the forgotten flower in the long-dead magazine, the satirical put down – all of them find a place.
This is Mehrotra’s 21st work. How does he find the time and energy for this?
“Time is something we are always short of but in this I was fortunate. I retired from my job the day it started. Since I started at a young age, at 21, I retired early. You could say that I have been retired all my well-paid working life. The job I had was teaching English at the University of Allahabad. It was as undemanding on my time as it was on my mind. The only way to keep the mind from rotting away and falling off and immersing it in Sangam was to write or translate or edit books,” Mehrotra concluded. Power to those of his ilk! (IANS)
Japan has successfully launched a new navigation satellite into orbit that will replace its decade-old navigation satellite.
The satellite, QZS-1R, was launched onboard an H-2A rocket that lifted off from the Tanegashima Space Center at 10.19 p.m. on Monday night, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said in a statement.
The company builds and operates H-2A rockets the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
QZS-1R is a replacement for Quasi-Zenith Satellite System 1 satellite first launched in 2010. “It was a really beautiful launch," the company said in a tweet after a successful lift-off.
"H-IIA F44 flight proceeded nominally. Approximately 28 minutes 6 seconds after launch, as planned, the payload separated from the launch vehicle," the statement said.
The official QZSS website lists four satellites in the constellation: QZS-1, QZS-2, QZS-3 and QZS-4, Space.com reported.
The QZSS constellation will eventually consist of a total of seven satellites that fly in an orbit passing through a near-zenith (or directly overhead) above Japan, and QZS-R1 is meant to share nearly the same transmission signals as recent GPS satellites, according to JAXA.
It is specially optimised for mountainous and urban regions in Japan, JAXA said.
Mitsubishi's H-2A 202 rocket launch system has been operational since 2003 and has sent satellites to locations such as Venus (Akatsuki) and Mars (Emirates Mars Mission).
The latest H2-A rocket launch is the first since November 29, 2020, when Japan launched an advanced relay satellite with laser communications tech into orbit, the report said. (IANS/JB)
Keywords: Science, Space Satellite, Communications, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, satellite QZS-1R
Everyone loves firecrackers, even the most environment-friendly advocates cannot hide their joy when they see these delightful lights colour the skies. India celebrates Diwali in the true spirit of her culture and heritage by spraying the navy-blue skies with sparkling hues of gold, silver, red, and green. Firecrackers are not just a tradition in this country, they are a legacy.
The original connotation one makes with fireworks in China. The elaborate Chinese celebrations with dragons and zapping firecrackers have left their mark in human memory, but the use of fireworks is not limited to heralding the Chinese New Year. All over the world, fireworks have come to symbolise the ultimate celebration. During Diwali in India, this spirit is re-ignited every year.
Indians have known the use of gunpowder for many centuries now. Sanskrit texts name a substance called 'agnichura' which is described as a 'powder that creates fire'. This is believed to be saltpetre.
A single firecracker ablaze Photo by Unsplash
Sometime during the rule of the Vijayanagar Empire, and the Adil Shah Dynasty in South India, the use of the Chinese pyrotechnic formulae became extensively common in entertaining the royals. Weddings, Festivals, and other special celebrations in the palace were marked with a spectacular display of fireworks.
Between the 1920s and 1940s, the dynamics of fireworks changed in India. Ayya Nadar and Shanmuga Nadar, from Tamil Nadu's Sivakasi who migrated to Kolkata, set up a fireworks factory there. It began as a match factory, but after receiving the required permission, it was converted into a fireworks unit. Within a few years, another factory was set up in Sivakasi. Before long, multiple units were set up there, and today, it is India's fireworks hub. Most of the crackers that are used during Diwali come from Sivakasi.
Recently, environmental concerns have caused the ban of fireworks as it causes air pollution. The sale of crackers has reduced drastically after this new law. During the lockdown, the factory labourers underwent great losses, especially in Sivakasi. But keeping the spirit of Diwali in mind. crackers cannot be entirely done away with, and continue to light up the skies at least for a few hours every year.
Keywords: Diwali festival, Fireworks, Sivakasi, the Vijayanagar Empire, culture and heritage in India.
PARIS — In a decision with potential ramifications across European museums, France is displaying 26 looted colonial-era artifacts for one last time before returning them home to Benin.
The wooden anthropomorphic statues, royal thrones and sacred altars were pilfered by the French army in the 19th century from Western Africa.
President Emmanuel Macron suggested that France now needed to right the wrongs of the past, making a landmark speech in 2017 in which he said he can no longer accept "that a large part of many African countries' cultural heritage lies in France." It laid down a roadmap for the controversial return of the royal treasures taken during the era of empire and colony. The French will have a final glimpse of the objects in the Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac from 26-31 October.
French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot tried to assuage jitters among European museums, emphasizing that this initiative "will not create a legal precedent."
A royal seat of the 'Royal treasures of Abomey kingdom' (Œuvres des tresors royaux d'Abomey) on display at the Musee du quai Branly in Paris, Sept. 10, 2021. Photo Credit: VOA
A French law was passed last year to allow the restitution of the statues to the Republic of Benin, as well as a storied sword to the Army Museum in Senegal.
But she said that the French government's law was intentionally specific in applying solely to the 27 artifacts. "[It] does not establish any general right to restitution" and "in no way calls into question" the right of French museums to hold on to their heritage.
Yet critics of such moves — including London's British Museum that is in a decades-long tug-of-war with the Greek government over a restitution of the Elgin Marbles — argue that it will open the floodgates to emptying Western museums of their collections. Many are made up of objects acquired, or stolen, during colonial times. French museums alone hold at least 90,000 artifacts from sub-Saharan Africa.
A woman looks at the Parthenon Marbles, a collection of stone objects, inscriptions and sculptures. Photo Credit: VOA
The story of the "Abomey Treasures" is as dramatic as their sculpted forms. In November 1892, Colonel Alfred Dodds led a pilfering French expeditionary force into the Kingdom of Danhomè located in the south of present-day Benin. The colonizing troops broke into the Abomey Palace, home of King Behanzin, seizing as they did many royal objects including the 26 artifacts that Dodds donated to the Musée d'Ethnographie du Trocadéro in Paris in the 1890s. Since 2003, the objects have been housed at the Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac.
One hundred and twenty-nine years later, their far-flung journey abroad will finally end.
Benin's Culture Minister Jean-Michel Abimbola called the return of the works, a "historic milestone," and the beginning of further cooperation between the two countries, during a news conference last week. The country is founding a museum in Abomey to house the treasures that will be partly funded by the French government. The French Development Agency will give some 35 million euros toward the "Museum of the Saga of the Amazonians and the Dan home Kings" under a pledge signed this year.
The official transfer of the 26 pieces is expected to be signed in Paris on Nov. 9 in the presence of Macron and the art is expected to be in Benin a few days later, Abimbola said.
While locals say the decision is overdue, what's important is that the art will be returned.
"It was a vacuum created among Benin's historical treasures, which is gradually being reconstituted," said Fortune Sossa, President of the African Cultural Journalists Network. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Benin art, Emmanuel Macron, European museums, Abomey Treasures, anthropomorphic statues