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‘Darkness is transparent, you can see through’

“In the evening, when you looked down the well, there were innumerable fireflies hanging there. How does one describe that?,”

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Darkness is transparent

New Delhi, Jan 22 : We talk about soil and clay. She says that working with them heals — emotionally and physically. There is talk of childhood memories. She says all the dust had vanished and her memory is now crystal clear. She recounts the watermill back in her village in Bihar. A composition of water, sound, light, the splash on the iron sheets – the entire musicality of it. “In the evening, when you looked down the well, there were innumerable fireflies hanging there. How does one describe that?,” smiles Shambhavi.

It’s a hectic day for the painter, printmaker, and installation artist whose non-figurative work has always dwelled upon the condition of the farming community. As she takes a break from guiding her staff for the upcoming solo exhibition Burukuwa Dwan which will be shown at Shrine Empire in the capital, as a collateral event of the India Art Fair 2020 from January 25 to February 24, the artist, whose work Cosmic Seeds Light/Beej Brahmaand Ek was acquired by the prestigious Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, says, “You’ll see the mud-and-hay textured walls of their houses, the grey mist that rises from the field on winter mornings explores various facets of interplay between man, nature and art.”

In fact, “Bhoomi”, another solo show by her will be running simultaneously at Gallery Espace, which will have her iron sculptures and installations.

Interestingly, the conversation with Shambhavi is not linear, her striking work at 2018 Kochi Biennale “Maati Ma”, featuring four of her works – “Lullaby”, “Water Garland”, “Rippers Melody” and “Brail” takes the conversation forward and what the viewers will experience in her forthcoming exhibitions as she exhibits in the capital after a gap of six years.

The artist, whose poetic work forever carries social undertones says, “Burukuwa is the last star. The moment villagers see it, they know it’s 4 am and time to start the day. It is a magical hour. When you’re half asleep, the kind of sound that comes with their activities of getting ready for the day is reminiscent of musicians on the stage getting ready for a performance. The sound, the light, the last musings of the night, and the farmer’s first glance at the fields early morning – these are the connections I have grown up with as I would frequently go to my grandparents’ place in the village. But these are also the relationships people are increasingly refusing to see — that’s where my work Braille comes in.”

In many ways, when Shambhavi takes the farmers’ tools from their world and makes sculptures out of them, she is in fact pleading for them. This Patna College of Arts and Crafts pass-out adds, “But remember, my education is mostly from experience rather than reading.”

For someone who now lives in Delhi’s urban landscape, there is no dichotomy.

“I am clear that I don’t see here. I want to say something here, about them. And maybe my art can make a bridge.”

Talking about her association with Takshila Foundation’s programme in Bihar’s countryside, the artist says, “We run long-term residencies for international and national artists and students at Siwan, so that they actually get to connect to rural landscape at all levels and understand the multiple dimensions of living that life.”

Back in the late 80’s when she was a scholar at Lalit Kala Akademi Regional Centre in Luck now and painted huge canvasses, most people called them abstracts.

“Believe me, at that time, I didn’t even know the eA’ of abstract. I painted the riverbank and my village engulfed in darkness – when there was no electricity. The drawings were realistic, but they were covered with dark, and everyone read it as abstract art. Yes, I painted very clear dark because let’s not forget, darkness is transparent, you can see through.”

Travelling abroad extensively for residencies and shows, and the consequent edistance’ from home allowed her to so things here more clearly.

“When you travel you read your homeland much better, perceptions change. When I am in Bihar, I am not Bihari, when I am out, I am. The moment I leave India, I am more Indian. Out there, you’re questioned about India and not regions. When such questions are posed, you embrace the whole country. And I cherish the fact that I got such experiences from a very young age — a time when I was not very politically or intellectually charged. You know, I made it a point to travel to most countries without reading about them. When I came back, then read. It has always been the other way round for me. This way, it becomes a fresh experience with the land – travelling to the unknown.”

Insisting that art and music makes one understand a country much more effectively, she adds, “It was a huge experience to see people going to the museum as if it was a temple — something completely absent here. That gives you a kick to keep working. In India, we may have a very small art world, but the world we live in is amazing. Connection with creativity is so well presented there which inspires you. Here we are still distant.”

As the conversation veers towards the need for an overhaul in art school curriculums, she asserts, “It is in such a run down state. We haven’t come out of the British system yet. It’s shocking to see that they don’t even understand the difference between art and decoration. And not just art schools, the entire school curriculum needs to be looked at. We all study math in school and realise that everyone doesn’t become a mathematician. But at least when a mathematician is sitting with me, I understand who is he. Then why is it that when an artist or musician is around, we tend to think that what he does is some kind of an eextra-curricular’ activity?”

The countryside may have always inspired Shambhavi, but she also sees how it has metamorphosed over the years.

“Now when I go, I can experience the emptiness there. The warmth has faded, of course my grandparent’s generation is no longer there, cousins have scatterede. There is a strong isolation, a feeling of being left out. The pressure and crisis of currency is now very visible.”

(Sukant Deepak can be contacted at [email protected])

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Rahul used ‘strong words’, Manmohan right in not quitting: Montek

Ahluwalia has mentioned this incident in great detail in his latest book “Backstage: The Story behind India’s High Growth Years”.

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Manmohan Rahul

New Delhi, Feb 17 : The now-defunct Planning Commission’s former Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia on Monday said Congress leader Rahul Gandhi used “strong words” in 2013 while tearing up an ordinance on convicted lawmakers, but insisted then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did the right thing by not resigning.

In an exclusive interview to IANS, Ahluwalia said: “On hindsight, I think, Dr Singh took the right call.”

Giving his reasons, the former aide to Manmohan Singh said that had Rahul Gandhi been a member of the then Union Council of Ministers, things would have been different. “But he was the Vice President of a political party,” he pointed out.

When pointed out that Gandhi kept Dr Singh in the dark about his sudden move on the ordinance, he quoted former Congress Vice President (Gandhi) to suggest that his choice of words could have been better.

“You must realise, in a democracy, there is nothing wrong to have dissent within the party. I don’t think there’s much merit in running a party in a way in which everyone in a party simply endorses what the party leadership thinks. This is an example of democratic dissent surfacing (within the party). In my view, nothing wrong with it. Mr Gandhi himself, I think, said that may be the words he used were not very appropriate… I think he said ‘complete nonsense’, okay? Strong words! But the bottom line is, had he simply gone there and said ‘this has happened that I frankly have great doubts about’… I think there would not have been anything wrong with that. That’s what democracy is all about. People should freely express their views, and if you disagree with them, you discuss that. And that’s what they did,” Ahluwalia said.

Ahluwalia has mentioned this incident in great detail in his latest book “Backstage: The Story behind India’s High Growth Years”.

He said that after his brother wrote an article to advocate Dr Singh’s resignation, he showed the article to the then Prime Minister.

“The first thing I did was to take the text across to the PM’s suite because I wanted him to hear about it from me first. He read it in silence, and initially made no comment. Then, he suddenly asked me whether I thought he should resign. I thought about it for a while and said ‘I do not think a resignation on this issue is appropriate’.”

In 2013, after the Supreme Court ruled that sitting lawmakers convicted of crime would be immediately disqualified and not continue as MPs, MLAs or MLCs pending an appeal, the then United Progressive Alliance government sought to bring an ordinance to counter the verdict.

Rahul Gandhi appeared unannounced at an event to oppose his own party’s line and tore a copy of the ordinance, an act seen as undermining the Prime Minister’s authority while he was in the US.

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Dubbing dissent as disloyalty totally wrong: Montek

Speaking on the importance of dissent, Ahluwalia pointed to Rahul GAndhi’s act of tearing up an ordinance copy during the UPA rule.

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Montek Singh Ahluwaia

New Delhi, Feb 17 : At a time when Delhi and other cities are witnessing anti-CAA protests, now-defunct Planning Commission’s former Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia on Monday cautioned against labelling dissent as disloyalty.

Referring to the protests against Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the country’s once- foremost policymaker told IANS: “There are many protests going on right now in the streets. I frequently hear, sort of, wherein dissent is equated with disloyalty. I think that’s completely wrong. Peaceful dissent is an essential part of the democratic process. If people feel that’s not happening, then I think the government should reassure them that, you know, they are under misapprehension and live up to those standards.”

In an interview to IANS, Ahluwalia said: “I do feel that in a multi-identity, complex country (like India), expression of dissent is an essential part of democracy. To my knowledge, everyone recognises this. And if that’s not happening, then we should worry.”

His comments assume significance in the wake of a high-voltage and often acerbic campaigning in Delhi Assembly elections, including shouting of slogan “desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maro saalon ko” at a rally addressed by Union Minister Anurag Thakur.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, during the campaigning, “Earlier it was that the Congress used to feed biryani in Kashmir, now it is (Delhi Chief Minister Arvind) Kejriwal who is doing the same in Shaheen Bagh….”

Speaking on the importance of dissent, Ahluwalia pointed to Rahul GAndhi’s act of tearing up an ordinance copy during the UPA rule.

“You must realise, in a democracy, there is nothing wrong to have dissent within the party. I don’t think there’s much merit in running a party in a way in which everyone in a party simply endorses what the party leadership thinks. This is an example of democratic dissent surfacing (within the party). In my view nothing wrong with it.”

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India a $5 trillion economy by 2025 unrealistic: Montek Singh Ahluwalia

He also cautions against “strong centralised governments”, a scenario that is now unfolding in India.

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Montek Singh Ahluwaia

New Delhi, Feb 15 : Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream of India rising to a $5 trillion economy by 2025 is unrealistic though it will happen at some time, says Montek Singh Ahluwalia, a former Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission and whose document prepared in 1990 largely influenced the economic reforms unveiled the next year, in his book “Backstage – The Story Behind India’s High Growth Years”. He is also extremely harsh on “two major policy mistakes” of the present government — demonetisation and the hasty implementation of GST.

To become a $5 trillion economy “calls for an average growth rate of about 9 per cent in real terms over the six-year period from 2019-20 to 2024-25. With growth below 5 per cent in 2019-20, and only a slow recovery expected next year, achieving an average of 9 per cent for the period as a whole is simply not credible. We will certainly get to $5 trillion, but it will be a few years later,” Ahluwalia writes.

“A more realistic target would be to try to reach a growth rate of around 8 per cent per year as quickly as possible. This is certainly necessary if we want to continue to reduce poverty and generate the employment needed to satisfy our young and aspirational labour force. Is 8 per cent growth feasible? India did achieve GDP growth of 8.5 per cent in the first seven years of the UPA, but a return to that growth rate is easier said than done,” Ahluwalia warns.

India’s growth was at 6.8 per cent in 2018-19 and dropped to 5 per cent in 2019-20. It is expected to “strongly rebound” to 6-6.5 per cent in 2020-21 the Economic Survey tabled in Parliament on January 31 said.

Demonetisation, Ahluwalia writes, “came as a complete surprise when the government on 8 November 2016 announced that all currency notes of denominations Rs 1,000 and Rs 500, accounting for 86 per cent of the value of currency with the public, were no longer legal tender. Holders of these notes were given up to 31 December to take the notes to banks to convert them into new notes. The decision was originally presented as a decisive attack on black money and corruption, but as that particular justification seemed difficult to sustain, several other justifications were advanced.”

“Raghuram Rajan, who was then governor of the RBI, was consulted informally about a possible demonetization and he had advised that any long-term benefits would not be worth the short-term costs. In any case, he counselled that if the government was determined to demonetise, there should be careful planning to ensure adequate supply of new notes. In fact, demonetisation was hastily announced a couple of months after Raghu’s term as governor came to an end.”

Rajan’s fears were “amply vindicated. People rushed to banks to exchange their holdings of old notes for new notes, but as there was a shortage of new notes, amounts handed over to banks could only be credited to their bank accounts, from which cash withdrawals were permitted on a restricted basis until the supply of new notes could catch up with demand. The shortage of cash disrupted agricultural markets and operations in the informal sector, both of which are highly cash-dependent”, Ahluwalia writes.

Eight months later, “the economy received a second jolt when the GST was introduced in July 2017. Unlike demonetization, which had very little support from professional economists, the GST was universally regarded as a major reform of the indirect tax system. It was expected to generate larger revenues, and also simplify the system but it failed on both counts because of a flawed design and poor implementation.”

Also, “frequent changes in the rates added to the confusion, giving the signal that rates could be adjusted through lobbying, which goes completely contrary to the signal of stability that GST should normally convey”, Ahluwalia maintains.

He also cautions against “strong centralised governments”, a scenario that is now unfolding in India.

“Strong centralised governments have some advantages but they also have a major disadvantage: the failure to provide room for different views. This reduces the likelihood that policy mistakes will be acknowledged and corrected.

“Manmohan Singh recognised the importance of encouraging free expression of views and descent in a liberal democracy. We are now about to go through a different experience with a government enjoying a strong majority and also one which was expected to rely on much greater centralisation of power in the PMO,” Ahluwalia maintains.

Ahluwalia concludes that India’s “transition to high growth was not a chance development. It was achieved by deliberate policy steps taken by those who had conviction and belief in the need for change. Changing policies in a country as complex as India has to go much beyond making declarations of intent. It needs an open society where businessmen and other stakeholders are free to criticize the government and draw attention to whatever is not working. It needs a team of technically skilled professionals with the ability to understand economic issues offering honest advice to the political class. It also needs a political class that can combine the unavoidable compulsions of adversarial politics with working towards building consensus on the broad direction of economic policy”.

“Good economics may not seem to be good politics in the short run, but wise political leaders will realise that it is almost always the best politics in the long run. How to marry the two is, in some sense, the real test of political leadership. I remain an unrelenting optimist that our political system can resolve this conflict and that the India story of high growth and development will therefore continue. India can and must return to its high growth years-our younger generation deserves nothing less.”

(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at [email protected])

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