My Journey to becoming a TEDx Curator

I have been always mesmerised by the world of TED. TED, which stands for Technology Entertainment and Design, has grown a lot more and is rarely now restricted to these domains. It is where ideas are born and conversations take centre stage.

In 2009, Lakshmi Pratury was the driving force of bringing TED to India. TEDIndia took place at the sprawling campus of Infosys at Mysore. Post which she started her own journey of establishing INK. INK which stands for Innovation and Knowledge became instantly very popular and a national level conference to the tune of TED. In fact, for the first five years, INK was in association with TED.

I have been associated with INK as a volunteer since 2013, right through all of their conferences from Kochi, Mumbai and Goa. These conferences have inspired me so much. I have learnt something new and in areas which I never thought would interest me. This motivated me to do something at a very community level. Where individuals are contributing to the development and betterment of a particular community. And that led to the inception of TEDxBandra.

TEDxBandra, a one-day conference is happening on 26 March at Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir, Bandra(W). It is a platform where scientists, authors, educators, musicians, and people from a variety of hues come together and talk about intellectually stimulating ideas, and issues that matter. TED is a global foundation devoted to “Ideas worth spreading”.

Founded in 1984, TED began as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged. Since then, its scope has become broader, covering almost all topics; from science to business to global issues. TED is a platform and a global movement focused on meaningful change through the power of ideas! TEDxBandra, a TEDx event happening at Bandra, Mumbai; will host a series of talks that strive to bring people together and also discuss on giving back to the Bandra community.

Bandra is a suburban Village, located at Western Mumbai. A cultural extravaganza starts right from street arts, extending audaciously to community places. Bandra is the heart of Mumbai, where music reverberates at each and every corner. It is a hub for numerous restaurants, bars and pubs. From Bandstand Kisses to Sea link drives, Star homes to a shopper’s Paradise. Bandra is all about Food, fashion, Music, Movies, Experiences, Stories, People and Events. Hence It is aptly called the ‘Queen of the Suburbs’. And this is what TEDxBandra wants to bring out on the stage.

My notion of Curation was skewed until I met Raghuveer Surupa, who is currently the curator for TEDxDharavi. He told me curation process in not only about working on the scripts and the talk style of the speakers but in fact assessing the grass root problems of the communities and bringing in people together who have contributed to these communities. When the idea is clear so as to what is the entire purpose of organising an area level TEDx conference is, and as a curator one is focussed on the values which can be added to the society, the entire process of curation becomes very streamlined and easier.

The idea of TEDxBandra is to provide a platform to the Bandra community where everyone can promote cultural exchange. The Theme for this year’s conference is ‘Unilateral Act, Universal Impact’ celebrates the fact that how a simple idea if executed perfectly can have a universally larger impact. This happens once the idea reaches its tipping point and becomes viral. A unilateral act can ignite millions, a voice can move a country, and a single action inspires people beyond boundaries.

More than 18 speakers will be joining on stage at TEDxBandra and participate in this one extravaganza. The conference will also showcase performances by various artistes. A unilateral act can inspire millions, a single voice can move a country, and some actions pushes us beyond boundaries.

At TEDxBandra we will explore this theme in a myriad of aspects of Technology, Design, Education, Psychology, Basic Human Rights, Art, Music, and Business to Medicine and much more, and accelerate the discussion of how one idea can change the world. Speakers such as Shaheen Mistri, Puja Marwaha, Vaibhav Lodha, Capt. Raghu Raman, Rushva Parihar, Jas Charanjiva, Ajeet Khurana, Puja Marwaha and many more shall be voicing out their thoughts and shall enlighten us about their journey of universal impact.

The journey to organising my first ever conference has been a roller coaster ride, but so enriching. It has taught me so much before the conference itself. The best part about the whole journey is how everyone has come together and supported this initiative in a variety of ways. I am also so proud of my team of twenty who are working round the clock to make our first TEDxBandra an unforgettable one.

Come support us and be a part of this journey and experience this event which I along with my team have curated for all of you. For more details, you can visit http://www.tedxbandra.in and follow us on @tedxbandra.

 

Queer Quotient in Hindu Mythology

‘Vikruti evam Prakruti’

Vikruti evam Prakruti. This term in Sanskrit literally translates to ‘ What seems unnatural is also natural’. This is stated in the Rigveda, one of the four Vedas which form the basis of the Hindu Philosophy.

Some believe this particular term supports the homosexual behavior of human beings and deems it as as natural as anything else in this universe, else it would not have been created and included in these texts in the first place.

Hindu Mythology makes constant references to queerness, the idea that questions notions of maleness and femaleness. A lot of queer stories are related to Hindu Mythology where in Gods and mortals often change genders, indulge in homosexual activities as well as heterosexual activities as different reincarnated genders. Transgenders have also been mentioned in quite a few Hindu Mythological tales. All these various references just points out to the fact that queerness has been there since centuries in our culture, existing for more than about 2000 years now.

imagesShiva is at times referred to as Ardhanarisvara, who has a dual nature of femininity as well as masculinity. The male form represents the mind and the female form represents the nature, and they are interdependent on each other. This story comes from the Shaiva Agamas.

In the karmic worldview,one is queer because of karma, and it may turn out to be a boon or a curse.

Queer stories are not restricted to Hindu Mythology only. Most of the Queer tales are restricted to men, but a few exceptions are there, one of which were the Greek Poems of love and passion of a women for another women , by Sappho , which were written on the island of Lesbos, giving rise to the term ‘Lesbian’

Intrigued by the whole idea of the intersection queerness and mythology I looked up for a few books, and  Shikhandi and other tales they don’t tell you by Devdutt Pattanaik didn’t fail to impress me.

Shikhandi and other tales they don’t tell you
is short book with a few short tales from the Hindu Mythology which have an element of queerness. Men turning to women, Men loving men or individuals having unique sexual tastes , or stories even about cross dressers.

The book begins with a brief introduction on appreciating queerness and mentions how Hindu mythology has been defining the queer quotient since ages. It also gives an insight to the queer community in various other mythologies including the stories from the  Arctic and the  Vikings,  ranging to Egyptian, Chinese, Greek , Persian and biblical mythologies

The highlight of this book is this very historical acquaintance with the LGBTQ trends occurring in the pre Kali Yuga era. It’s fascinating to know what people condemn today was practiced long ago. And these are not the stories of ordinary people. The tales we are talking about,  largely revolves around Kings and God’s and people with quite some stature in the society. Seems like Indian history has been breaking barriers even before it was a barrier.

Tshikhandihe book has around thirty tales which revolve around various characters from the Hindu Mythology. Stories from Ramayana,  Mahabharata and tales from various Puranas have been roped in. This shows the diversity of the spread of queer culture back then.

The writing has been exemplary. I have now read almost half of Devdutt’s books, and it keeps on getting better every time. More than the stories I have loved his piece on discovery and invention of queerness, in which the historical existence has been discussed at length.

There have been a lot of similar stories in the book apart from, Shikhandi, who became a man to satisfy her wife.These includes the story of Arjuna, who became temporarily castrated for showing restraint, and other tales like that of Aravan , whose wife was the complete man and of course about Vishnu, who became a women to deliver his devotee’s child. So on and so forth, a few other stories have been explained in length and the list essentially is endless.

As always, Devdutt Pattanaik’s books have been filled with interesting illustrations. Apart from being a doctor, writer and a mythologist he is an impeccable illustrator. This book is worth a read if one wants to discover the roots of queer culture in Hindu Mythology and it is definitely a recommended book.

In 2009 , India was going through a social change. There was hope in the air. During that year Delhi High court decriminalised section 377, and everyone had the same freedom as anyone else. It was a renaissance period for people of this country. A change was happening, and people were quite vocal about it as well. In 2013 Delhi High court revoked the order. This back tracking of the judgement has had seen a lot of dialogue between regressive protectors of Indian Culture, pseudo progressive individuals as well as a few obnoxious punks and some open minded intellectuals.

Indian culture is all about being plural and being open to accepting. In the end its about loving another person. I have had the privilege of meeting quite a few notable people from the LGBTQ community at various conferences where they have been addressing the delegates. They have succeeded in impacting an audience confined in that auditorium but we are far from convincing the reality. Times are changing but one thing is certain, had Queerness been against our culture it would not have been expressed in our mythological texts explicitly.

Afterall,
‘What seems unnatural,is also natural’ – Rigveda

 


 

Quotes from Shikhandi and other tales they don’t tell you by Devdutt Pattanaik
Illustrations by Devdutt Pattanaik from devdutt.com
You can read more about the author on devdutt.com

Other Sources :

Blog, Times of India : Homosexuality in India – Progressive judiciary, regressive people

Speaking Tree : What do Vedas say about Homosexuality

 

First 100!

It brings me immense joy to know that my blog A year of reading India is now followed by more than 100 followers across various parts of the world with close to about 1000 readers and  viewers from about 24 countries. As a new blogger, this is really overwhelming! I am happy that the readers love the content and are interested in the books I blog about.

One thing which I really did not want was to convert it into a conventional Book Review Blog. As many of you might have noticed my reviews of the books I read weave around a particular story theme or concept , and I try to provide information, ideas and views not only related to the book but try to paint a picture on a wider canvas.

I have loved writing Mythology, Philosophy, Fiction, Non-Fiction by an array of Indian authors, and I still feel a lot more needs to be written about. Of my earlier posts I have written, my top five personal favourites are Jaya, which is a beautiful modern redering of the Mahabharata. Followed by Shantaram, which gives a vivid description of the Mumbai city, which now I call my home. I have loved Palace of Illusions, surely the fastest read I have undertaken in one sitting. Sita has been a very touching book for me personally and finally Gita which was very enlightening.

There are so many communities, cultures and vivid people all in this one small subcontinent in Asia. I am reading an array of books by Indian Authors and myself am intrigued by the variety of categories. Surely Indian writing is taking over subsequently, be it in a regional language or English.

I do have a few books lined up for upcoming posts, but I urge my readers to suggest books they would want me to write about pertaining to India or written by Indian Authors, and continue inspiring me in this journey of reading India.


Cover Photo by Vicky Roy

Godan : Munshi’s Last Masterpiece

I have been hearing about this book, Godan, right from my school days. We had a couple of short stories by Munshi Premchand in our curriculum. But I never picked up any of his novels, until last week when I came across Godan on the Amazon Kindle store and thought of giving it a shot.

‘Godan’ literally translates to ‘Donation of a cow’. In Hindu culture, a cow is supposed to be the most sacred animal and one who is worshipped daily. Godan means gifting a cow to a brahmin and a certain set of prayers need to be performed along with it.This is a very sacred ritual in the Hindu subcontinent.

Mythologically it has been mentioned in Shastras that the performance of the Godan ritual facilitates one’s route or journey across the Vaitarani River and it becomes very easy for the dead. This gift serves as a relief to the deceased along their journey.

So the book revolves around a villager, ‘Hori’ and his life as a peasant in India. Suppressed by landlords or Zamindars and being pushed into a vicious cycle of debts , this book clearly identifies the plight of the poor and still doesn’t fail to identify the  small joys they experience each day.

This is a book about the rich as well as much it is about the poor. Godan provides a large canvas of various interwoven stories set Uttar Pradesh short of Lucknow. A long and arduous read. What I thought was not necessary was too many secondary characters which do not have a major role in the novel which could have been avoided. A highly recommended read.

The book which is a translation in English by Jai Ratan & P. Lal,  fails to capture the emotions by Premchand. The writing is downright mediocre but the story makes up for the pathetic translation. One should go for reading it in Hindi only if the language is not a barrier.

Munshi Premchand’s words ring true even today, with great reverence that always leave their mark. Premchand’s original name was Dhanpat Rai, but he shifted to his pen name ‘Nawab’ Rai and changing it to Premchand short while thereafter.

 Munshi was a great laureate in both Hindi and Urdu. A lot of people say that he has been an unparalleled author in Hindi Literature, one of the first and he definitely struck a chord with the rich and poor alike.

This is my way to pay tribute to someone who has coloured true and vivid pictures of real India through his writings and it cannot get real than this. I think I selected this book because unless the heart of India is not read about, its villages not experienced vicariously, reading India seems incomplete.

Today I post this as a tribute to Munshi Prem Chand on his Birthday and I believe that more people should go ahead get a copy and read this brilliant masterpiece.

Before I Begin

Its been quite a while since the conception of setting up this blog and writing the first blog post. In the past few months I have read some of the most amazing works by a few Indian Authors and came across quite profound literature on the Indian Subcontinent.

So I set up two personal challenges for me, the first one being reading 100 books in 2016.This seemed next to impossible, along with studying for a crammed up graduate course to doing two research projects simultaneously and undertaking a global level challenge. While running from pillar to post and juggling between all the activities and managing to scrape through my exams and quizzes the one thing that I have relished a lot has been reading new books.

I have read books on Mythology, Philosophy , Psychology, Fantasy , Biography, Autobiography, Entrepreneurship and Fiction this year, and a lot of them have been by Indian Authors. I hope to finish my 100 book challenge provided I keep going at the current pace.

The second challenge has been to set up and maintain the blog which you are currently reading. The challenge includes reading 29 books about India or by Indian authors. 29 books signify the twenty nine states of India.

The entire purpose is to understand the rich heritage culture, narratives art and rituals across the subcontinent. The books that I have considered taking up talk about the vast geography of the subcontinent, the history and stories about India.

I will also be blogging about my new found love,  mythology of the Indian sub continent. To understand the Hindu mythology a paradigm shift is required, which I will be portraying in my further posts. A lot has been written about mythology and a lot of views have been expressed on the same, but none the less it has been governed by the Hegelian Maxim. “All that is rational is actual and all that is actual is rational”.

In Hindu metaphysics things exist only when they are observed and there are a few things which I wound want to undertake. Be is the Shiv Shakti relationship or Arjun-Krishna or Jaya-Vijaya relationship or the song by Ashtavakra for King Janaka, every incidence has a story to tell and a meaning behind it.

I will also discuss about the Indian queer quotient, and the presence of queerness in Indian history, which has become such a taboo in the modern Indian society.

The first book which I will Blog about will be Jaya by Devdutt Pattanaik. This book features in my top five favorite books of all time. This will be followed by a post on ‘My Gita‘ by the same author.

I would like to end with some food for thought. Since I have been talking about Gita, a verse from the same , which happens to be my favorite.

Arjuna, you grieve for those whom you should not feel sorry for, and you argue as if you are a man of wisdom. But the wise grieve for no one: neither the living, nor the dead.- Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2, Verse 11

I hope I do justice to all the posts, please let me know your suggestions and your thoughts on the same.

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An Appeal

India is a country of 1.2 Billion people. It is more than the sixth of the world’s total population. Divided into twenty nine states and seven union territories, this giant peninsular is vast. Here one not only finds, people speaking so many different languages and dialects, but one notices a cultural shift every few kilometers. This vast ethnicity has contributed so much to India’s rich literature. There is an enormous generation of culturally rich knowledge and learning’s which await to be explored.

My father is an Ex-Army Officer from the Indian Army. The best thing about this has been moving to various places every few years. Not just my geographical understanding of the region has been solidified but I have learnt the shift in social cultures and traditions across the length and breath of the country. I have grown up in small towns as well as big cities. I can ride the roughness of a small village, and survive the madness and high of a metro at the same time.  The experience has been just amazing until now.

But I don’t want to stop there; I want to explore more of this country which I proudly call home. I would want to spend a year of reading India. Experiencing India, vicariously. With such rich background, I am yet to experience it fully. And hence this project has been a small initiative to fill in the void I think has been missing.

A step to know India better through the medium of Print would be a good way to begin.

So what is this project all about?

During 2016 I am going to read 29 books signifying each of the 29 states in India. It could be either originating from a particular state or written by an author of a particular state. In turn I would also be blogging about these books as and when I read. And each of these, which is, Reading, Researching and Blogging about all the books from each of the states will be done in a period of one year.

I understand a lot of local books might not have been translated to English, hence finding the really good ones would be a challenging task. Hence I appeal to each one of you to please suggest me books, be it fiction or nonfiction, self-help, history, adventure, folklore or a collection of short stories from each state of India. Also I would request each one of you to share the post and help spread the message.

You can help me suggest books in the comment section below, or get in touch with me via E Mail, Facebook or Twitter. All details are mentioned in the contact page of this blog.

This will help me in shortlisting the best books for the project. What I am in particular looking at is that, each book should have a reflection of a particular state in some manner or the other and a story worth sharing. Also please connect me to the right people in case you think, who will be well informed about such books.

I hope I do justice to the project, and bring the best out of each book.