Punjab Today …

Posted on May 17, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

Here is Life in Punjab thru the Eyes of a Tragedy Stricken 2019 Election Candidate – Extracted from Kabir Agrawal’ Article in The Wire …

In 1999, when the match of Veerpal Kaur and Dharamvir Singh was proposed, one thing was common. Both had lost their Fathers to farmer Suicides due to debts. Kaur’s father drank poison in 1995 and Singh’s hanged himself in 1990.

After four years of marriage, they had a three-year-old daughter and an 18-month-old son. Then her husband, burdened by new debt and failed crops, set himself on fire in 2003.

“It was horrifying. Imagine my children seeing his body,” Kaur said as she stood by a multi-seater Mahindra auto rickshaw, asking people to vote for the matka – her election symbol.

She is contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha polls from her home constituency, Bathinda, where she is challenging Shiromani Akali Dal’s (SAD) Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Congress’s Amarinder Singh Raja Warring.

Kaur knows her candidature is only symbolic. “I know I am not going to win. But I am not worried about that. I have lost a lot in life, what is one election?” she said.

“My fight is bigger than just an election. I want to bring the focus to the plight of the suicide victim families. Maybe I can give hope to others – that ‘If she can fight, we can too’.

In Punjab, families whose members have committed suicide due to farm distress are referred to as “victim families”. In the last couple of decades, Punjab has become home to thousands of them.

According to data compiled by three state universities in Punjab, 16,606 farmers and farm labourers committed suicide in the state between 2000 and 2015.

Devinder Sharma, an agriculture authority, calls this Punjab’s paradox – high productivity levels and thousands of farmer suicides.

“You look at the productivity of crops like wheat and rice in Punjab. They are among the highest in the world. Then, 98% of the crop area is irrigated. On the other hand, there are more than a thousand suicides every year. You pick up any local paper, and there are at least three or four reports of farmer suicides every day,” he sid.

The problem is not equally distributed across the state and is particularly acute in the South. According to the three-university study, 88% of the suicides took place in six districts of the Malwa region, and 3,388 in Veerpal Kaur’s home district of Mansa – a part of the Bathinda Lok Sabha constituency.

It is a problem not addressed by either the SAD-BJP alliance or the Congress, the two formations that have held power in the state, said Kaur to a small group assembled in Jeeda, a village on the outskirts of Bathinda city.

“No candidate discusses the problems faced by farmers,” she said, struggling to be audible. “Both parties have made promises and they haven’t been fulfilled. But we have to fight. We have to ensure that no party can ignore farmers and farmer suicide victim families. By supporting me, you are supporting the voiceless farmer who is the heart of Punjab.”

Her audience, comprising entirely men, was receptive but unsure about what impact she is likely to have. “What she is saying is right. We understand her pain and her struggle. But the two parties (SAD and Congress) are strong here,” said Sukhbir Maan, a 58-year-old farmer.

Sant Ram, a young potter in Jeeda, said he will vote for her. “I will vote for her even if she is not winning. More people like her should. 

Everyone gathered contributed to her campaign. So far, she has raised a little over Rs 14,000. The idea is to be able to cover the cost of the security deposit (Rs 25,000) that she has incurred to contest.

Kaur has been campaigning since May 4. Her day begins at 7 in the morning when she sets off in the hired auto rickshaw from her village Ralla in Mansa district. She has a light meal and a glass of lassi. She does not carry any meals with her and relies on langars in gurdwaras and the hospitality of residents in the villages she visits.

Her 19-year-old daughter, Diljot, and 17-year-old son, Abhishek, accompany her. They are both writing their college exams and divide duties between them.

“When he has an exam the next day, he doesn’t travel and the same goes for me. But we ensure that one of us is there every day,” said Diljot, who is studying for a Bachelor of Arts in political science and is in the third year.

A couple of patrons, originally from Ludhiana and now based in Canada, are funding the education of the siblings. “When they heard about my father’s suicide, they offered to fund our education,” said Diljot. 

One of the activists supporting Veerpal Kaur is Kiranjeet Kaur, a gutsy and determined postgraduate student. Her father, a cotton farmer in Mansa, committed suicide in 2016. He had been burdened by Rs 8 lakh in debt after a year of crop loss and a subsequent medical emergency that cost the family Rs 2 lakh. 

Soon after her father’s suicide, Kiranjeet started realising that her plight was shared by several others in her village. She said, “I talked to people and I realised that around 40 families in my village alone had lost at least one member due to suicide.”

She then went to meet the ‘victim families’, as she refers to them, in neighbouring villages.

“You enter any village in Punjab, you will find a victim family. They will take you to another ten families and so on,” she said. Slowly, other people joined her and she formed a village committee, then a block committee, a district committee and finally a state level organisation called the Kisan Mazdoor Khudkhushi Pidit Parivar Committee. 

On her own, she has visited 4,500 victim families and collected information on their incomes, property owned, status of the widow pension and of children’s’ education. “We also help the families get their widow pensions and other entitlements,” said Kiranjeet.

The organisation is also a source of mutual support, where the victim families can meet each other. “We have regular meetings, and providing emotional support has become one of our major functions.”

She plans to take her organisation to each district of Punjab. “Our work is only beginning. We want to reach each and every village in each and every district of Punjab,” she said.

Saara Punjab aaj victim hai (The whole of Punjab is a victim today),”

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Four Term PM with Boozing Record Unbeat …

Posted on May 16, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

SORRY the Guy Died at 89 – But a Four Term PM and with a Boozing Record Unbeat THREE CHEERS FOR THE GUY .

Bob Hawke, Australia’s longest-serving Labor Party prime minister, whose charisma and powers of persuasion earned him near-folk hero status among many Australians, died on Thursday, his wife said. He was 89.

The former union leader dedicated much of his political career to trade union issues, and he was widely regarded as a man of his people. He had a down-to-earth attitude, a passion for sports and legendary status among beer lovers — for once drinking himself into the record books.

He won four terms as prime minister, serving from 1983 to 1991 before being ousted by his own center-left party when the economy soured. Only two other prime ministers served Australia longer, and both were members of the conservative Liberal Party.

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Attack on Vidyasagar – the Beloved of Bengal …

Posted on May 16, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

From an Article by Shikha Mukerjee, in The Wire –

Vidyasagar, from undivided Midnapore was an educationist, indefatigable crusader for women’s rights, an orthodox Brahmin with a vast tolerance and a generous benefactor whose humility is so profound that he is not paraded as one of the greatest Bengalis that ever lived – is embedded in all our lives. 

He is part of our identity as Bengalis – even though my family has been detached from Bengal for at least 150 years, if not more.   

Vandals destroying his bust with sticks and rods on Tuesday shook us to the very core, because that is where this erudite educationist and staunch Hindu is located. But he is a Hindu, not a votary of Hindutva.

Therefore, what happened in Kolkata on May 14 as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s gaudy road show trundled down College Street was a confrontation of the Hindu way of thought and life by lumpens who preach Hindutva, a manufactured political ideology that exploits the word, but has no faith in the idea.

Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar. Credit: Vidyasagar University Prospectus/Wikimedia

It was a clash to beat down a civilisation and a culture that produced Vidyasagar and made him a part of our being. 

What else is Vidyasagar to us? He is the man who would swim across a swollen Hooghly to reach his mother. He was the man who sat under a gas lamp on the street to study and slake his thirst for knowledge. He is the man who was so humble that he carried the luggage of a foreigner who had travelled to meet him and who mistook him for a “coolie.”

He promoted women’s education. He is the man who practiced what he preached – widow remarriage; he married his son to a child widow. He is the man who defended the right of the Bramho Samaj to pursue their own interpretations of oldest Sanskrit texts even though he was a practicing ‘Sanatan’ Hindu.

When one of Bengal’s greatest poets and social radical was reduced to penury, it was Vidyasagar who rescued him from destitution. The poet was Michael Madhusudan Dutt; convert to Christianity, a beef eater and consumer of alcohol, a poet who began writing sonnets in English and then wrote the extraordinary Meghnad Badh Kavya, reinterpreting the Ramayana from the perspective of Ravana’s son, Meghnad, who was a great warrior doomed to destruction. 

That the spirit of Vidyasagar and his place in secular, modern India is as secure as it was precarious when he lived in an age of confrontation between conforming to Sanatan Hindu ways and reinterpreting them to move into the present, is evident across West Bengal, as rallies, processions, protests and statements against the vandalisation reveal the anguish and the anger.

The Trinamool Congress, the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left all organised major rallies. CPI(M)’s rally included General Secretary Sitaram Yechury and his predecessor Prakash Karat, who walked through the streets of the city to protest what occurred.

The outpouring of people on the streets was a reaffirmation that vandalising Vidyasagar’s statue serves to consolidate the opposition against the BJP.

That the BJP has not comprehended the deep anguish that vandalising Vidyasagar’s statue has inflicted on the Bengali psyche is obvious. On Twitter, BJPwallahs are using abusive and horrifyingly offensive language about Vidyasagar.

Organising a silent black arm/headband protest in New Delhi to “Save Democracy” from being destroyed by the Trinamool Congress is by far the best measure of how little the BJP understands West Bengal and its people.

By doing so, BJP has demonstrated that it is a party that has no roots in West Bengal.

The investment by the BJP in terms of money, time and other resources to conquer West Bengal politically has perhaps been wiped out by the vandalism on College Street.

After the incident occurred, there was a brief window of opportunity for the BJP to salvage some political capital. But it could not respond fast enough to issue a statement, express sorrow, shame and shock, because the leadership, including Amit Shah, failed to gauge the position of Vidyasagar in the Bengali psyche.

The degree of unfamiliarity, which is also an index of its alienation, that is reflected in its response to the vandalism marks the BJP irretrievably as the party of the Hindi speaking and representative of “cow belt” politics.

In contrast, Mamata Banerjee, fully aware of the consequences of the vandalism rushed to Vidyasagar College and swore vengeance against the perpetrators. The CPI(M) organised a morning rally, where Biman Bose pointed in the direction of “out of state” actors as responsible for the vandalism. 

Kolkata is buzzing with stories of who the vandals were. There are demands for an independent enquiry, a police investigation and whatever else is on offer to uncover the identity of the vandals. The speculation is that the vandals were BJP’s cadres from across the border or from Uttar Pradesh.  

The timing of the incident will cost the BJP politically. Its expectations of making a bid to capture North Kolkata, Jadavpur, South Kolkata will probably not work out. 

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Indian Election 2019 – Lows …

Posted on May 14, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

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KPS Gill – Meglomaniac …

Posted on April 25, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

By Basant Rath, a 2000-batch Indian Police Service officer who belongs to the Jammu and Kashmir cadre. Extracted from The Wire.

On May 26, 2017, Kanwar Pal Singh Gill died at Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. Of cardiac arrest. 

Exactly 20 years earlier, on May 23 1997, Ajit Singh Sandhu, an Ex Police Officer died on a railway track. He committed suicide. Before he threw himself in front of the Himalayan Queen that morning, he left a note: “It is better to die than live in humiliation.”

Gill was the much-hyped super-cop who led the Punjab police twice during the peak of militancy; Sandhu was the Punjab police officer who took on the challenge of battling Sikh militants in their stronghold in Tarn Taran in 1991 when KPS selected him due his ruthlessness to rule the district as Police Chief.

Under suspension after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) indicted him in two of 16 cases involving serious violations of law, Sandhu had served time in Amritsar jail before he was released on bail in January 1997 following an assault by militants lodged in the prison.

Gill was conferred the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honour; Sandhu was decorated twice with the president’s award for gallantry.

By the time Gill retired from the IPS in 1995, the state government of the day, faced with the increasing number of lawsuits against more than 500 police personnel, had set up a separate litigation wing under an inspector general (IG). 

By May 1997, 1,100 petitions were filed in different courts. Twelve hundred cases were registered against police officials. In the aftermath of Gill’s ‘war on terror’, the Punjab police was facing 85 CBI and 91 judicial probes. 

Thirty policemen were in jail, around 100 were out on bail and 140, including seven SPs, were facing prosecution. The CBI, on the direction of the National Human Rights Commission, was also probing 2,000 cases involving partially identified or unidentified bodies and mass cremations and disappearances from police custody. 

In those two years alone, the state government had to shell out as much as Rs 80 lakh as compensation in 18 cases. After the next director general of police took charge,  there were 723 complaints of high-handedness against the police within three months, 15% of them related to corruption.

When Sandhu committed suicide, his despondency was symptomatic of the growing despair of more than 2,000 police officers in the state who were being hauled up in various courts for the extra-judicial methods they had employed in fighting terrorism. 

With the CBI, on the Supreme Court’s order, investigating cases involving partially identified or unidentified bodies, the future looked dark and hopeless.

The “great men make history” model of sociological explanation is a shallow way of looking at social reality. It is neither objective in its understanding, nor reliable in its judgment. 

Those who claim terrorism in Punjab died a painful death because of Gill’s extra-legal counter-terrorist operations need to understand the politico-economic milieu of that fateful decade. 

The tacit understanding between Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi had a substantive role to play in cutting off Islamabad’s support to Khalistani terrorist groups and their political mentors. 

Moreover, while foreign-funded terrorist groups enjoyed some support among Sikh separatists in the earlier decade, that support gradually disappeared by the early 1990s. 

The insurgency weakened the Punjab economy and led to an increase in mass disaffection with the criminalised insurgents. 

The contribution of the average villager in rural Punjab in rooting out criminal-infested terrorist gangs needs special mention. So does the role played by Gill’s predecessor and boss for two years at the time of Operation Blue Star, Julio Ribeiro, as his efforts to galvanise the Punjab police helped make Gill’s job in the police administration easier.

Gill, as a police leader working under the checks and balances of India’s constitutional democracy, was a disaster. In matters of policing and security, Gill didn’t have much time and energy for institutions and processes. 

He had no concern for the consequences his decisions brought upon the very police officers who followed his orders blindly. 

People like him are great crisis managers and brilliant executioners but they are a threat to democratic institutions and their legitimacy. They like the limelight and crave it – and if there is no crisis, they create one by outraging the modesty of women. 

He romanticised the “break the rules” kind of freedom and broke down institutions and processes as if they were enemy bones.

Gill, as the chief of Indian Hockey Federation (IHF – the then national body for the sport) for 14 years, lost his position when the Indian Olympic Association suspended the IHF in 2008. 

If Gill, as an individual shorn of uniform-clad charisma and stripped of any institutionalised police authority, had any claim to inspiring leaderhsip, what he did to India’s hockey in that period, as the puppeteer in a one-man management show, does not reflect well on him at all.

During those  14 debilitating years, India’s hockey tripped from one off-field controversy to another while the performance of the national senior team on AstroTurf continued, minus two Asian tournaments, to be pathetic. 

In 2008, India failed to qualify for the Olympics. It was the first time since 1928 that the Indian hockey team did not play in the tournament. And no media criticism disturbed Gill’s confidence and no on-field debacle troubled his conscience. And then came the suspension.

K.P.S. Gill led a good number of his officers to jail and did nothing to save them other than writing a letter to the prime minister, with a copy to the chief justice of India, the speaker of the Lok Sabha and the chairman of the Rajya Sabha.

These are his words, taken from the letter that he wrote on his return to Delhi from the funeral of Sandhu:

“A constitutional commission should be set up to examine the records of judicial processes and judgments during the years of terrorism in Punjab; to identify the judicial officers who failed to discharge their constitutional obligations, and to honour their oath to dispense justice without fear or favour; to determine their accountability; and to take suitable action to ensure that the judicial and criminal justice system does not collapse or fail ever again in the face of lawlessness.”

These words came to his mind only after his retirement. And he didn’t think that the same measures could apply to him and his wayward officers as well.

India’s police leadership has a huge task at hand. Armed insurgent groups are fighting the legitimacy of the Indian state in 172 districts in the form of insurgency, left-wing extremism and terrorism. 

From Bastar to Baramulla, from Imphal to Nalgonda, from Gadchiroli to Purulia, India’s tryst with democracy is being challenged by gun-wielding groups that claim no allegiance to her constitution. The rule of law can’t be given a royal go-by in the name of fighting these insurgents in the national interest.

The kind of protection that is given to members of the IPS as an all-India service under Article 312 of the Indian constitution is not available to all the police personnel (state police and central armed police forces) working under their charge. 

If lionising Gill is an act of love for his labour, if placing him in the pantheon of IPS heroes is a hat tip to the greatness of the fraternity, if his questionable acts of commission and omission are permissible in the interest of the country’s territorial integrity, we need to remember Sandhu and thousands of faceless police personnel who lived their nameless lives and died their obituary-less deaths, and whose family members survived the ignominy of court cases for no fault of their own – other than of having blindly followed illegal orders.

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Gen KMB – Tiger Woods …

Posted on April 23, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

There aare two pieces On Tiger Woods in the Wall Street Journal

The first one extols the magnificent comeback of Tiger Woods and thrusts his profile, after a long interval, into the front and center of the  golfing Universe. Haunted by arrest for alleged substance abuse, buffeted by the pangs of divorce and custody battle, and debilitated by aches and pain,

Tiger made several unsuccessful forays into various golf championships and almost gave them up as lost causes. He suffered the humiliation of being rank-ordered to a lowly 1000.

Yet, he fought back, held his cool, and scored a spectacular and historic win, earning kudos from friends and detractors, alike.

The 2nd piece that appeared in WSJ  had a more sobering tone and did not wax eloquent on his stellar performance; instead, it dwelt at length on the transformative interregnum between his last triumph and the latest on.

In particular, it eulogized about how Tiger Woods trained himself in the unforgiving school of hard knocks and eventually emerged as a humble and human learner.

Tiger Wood’s sad decline and remarkable rise remind us of the famous verses of Lord Tennyson in his magnum opus, “Idylls of the King”.

“Rapt in this fancy of his Table Round,
And swearing men to vows impossible,
To make them like himself: but, friend, to me
He is all fault who hath no fault at all:
For who loves me must have a touch of earth;”

Line 130.

Tiger Woods seems to have reclaimed his “touch of earth”.

Does resilience have implications for the armed forces? An attempt to glean the implications, at first blush, appears to be a stretch.

On deeper reflection it is no exaggeration to assert that military leadership is marinated in resilience: study how the Maratha leadership snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the third battle of Panipat, which is rued as one of the ignominious defeats in the annals of military history.

Internalize how Slim turned defeat into victory; critique how MacArthur brought to bear his experience of “island hopping” to smash the North Koreans at Inchon;.

ast but not the least how Sagat Singh, having tried and failed in set-piece attacks against Pakistan’s border posts, came up with an innovative version of the “indirect approach” to bring about the “physical distension” and “psychological dislocation” of the enemy, the twin pillars of the Strategy of Indirect Approach a la Liddell- Hart.

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Baba Ramdev …

Posted on April 18, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

Extracted from an Article in The Wire –

Baba Ramdev took India by storm in the early 2010s. His shirshasanas, or headstands, have extended far beyond the world of yoga, upturning India’s multi-billion-dollar consumer goods industry.

Over the years, Ramdev has adopted many avatars: Hindu ascetic, anti-corruption crusader and the guiding force behind the Patanjali empire.

But when the final chapter of his story is written, his role as a low-key media mogul, beaming commodified spiritual content to India’s masses, may be end up being the most interesting. 

Over the last two decades, India’s devotional TV industry has boomed and rapidly evolved, with Ramdev’s journey being symbolic of how the sector has changed.

The billionaire yogi has always had a strong bond with media. His tryst with television goes back to 2002 when he was spotted by Aastha TV’s founding editor Madhav Kant Mishra, who met him at one of his small yoga shivirs in Haridwar in early 2002.

“My first impression about Ramdev was that he can make it big. I found two of his traits sellable: firstly, he was a ‘sanyasi’, and secondly, he was able to do ‘nauli kriya’, churning his stomach. The moment I saw him doing it, I knew he would be a big hit. However, the top management was not convinced and we lost Ramdev to our rival channel – Sanskar TV,”

Back then, it was a gamble for Sanskar to bet on an unknown yoga guru from Haridwar. But the show was a huge hit, and the channel’s TRPs were going through the roof.

Stunned by his sudden rise in popularity, Aastha TV realised its mistake and poached him for the same slot within a year. It was through these two channels that Ramdev found his mass following.

Though Ramdev is now more popularly associated with all things ‘Patanjali’, his yoga guru image on devotional TV channels is the oldest of all his avatars.

Around 25 years ago, Ramdev started his self-appointed mission of popularising yoga and Ayurveda in India. In 1995, he founded the Divya Yoga Trust along with with Acharya Balkrishna and Karamveer in Haridwar. 

He would have still been in Haridwar, like many of his other peers in the holy city, had the appearance on Sanskar TV not happened.

Cut to 2019. Ramdev has owned both Sanskar and Aastha TV for some time and has aggressively expanded the ambit of his media business since these two acquisitions. He has a controlling stake in and operates ten Hindu devotional channels.

The gamble taken by Sanskar TV not only changed the fortune for the channel and Ramdev but also shaped this segment as a whole.

Now widely recognised as industry pioneers, both channels were launched in the mid-2000s. Within a few years, they were followed by a flurry of similar-looking and sounding competitors. 

Every telegenic yogi looking for a bigger audience has tried to replicate Ramdev’s success, and every new devotional channel wants to become the next Aastha or Sanskar TV.

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Picasso in Barcelona …

Posted on April 17, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

Extracted from an Article by Anjan Basu carried in The Wire –

Museu Picasso happens to be the first-ever museum dedicated to Picasso’s work. Opened on March 9, 1963, it was also the only one created in Picasso’s lifetime. Originally, the idea was to set it up in Malaga – where he was born and spent his childhood – but Picasso opted for Barcelona, the city he felt most drawn to in all of Spain.

Courtyard of Museu Picasso. Credit: ctj71081/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

It was his ‘coming-out’ place as a 13-year-old adolescent from a small town and here he struck many friendships that shaped him. Also, it was here that he returned to again and again from his sojourns in Paris till Franco’s rise to power made it impossible for Picasso, an ardent Republican, to return to Spain again.

It was the artist Jaume Sabartes, Picasso’s life-long friend and later his secretary, who conceived of and piloted the museum project with help from the Barcelona city administration. But Picasso was unwilling to allow the museum to bear his name until Spain had fought back dictatorship and was again a democracy.

So it started off as the ‘Sabartes Collection’ and Sabartes’s opening donation of over 670 Picasso canvases and drawings, gifted to him by the artist, got the project off the starting block.

David Douglas Duncan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Over subsequent years, donations, transfers from other Spanish institutions and fresh acquisitions from different sources have enriched and significantly widened the Picasso’s permanent collection and archives.

Major donors have been members of the Picasso family (his mother, sister and nephew), his painter friend Salvador Dali, his second wife Jacqueline Roque and the Barcelona city council.

Today, Museu Picasso boasts nearly 4,300 exhibits in its permanent collection – drawings, paintings, etchings, engravings, sculptures, ceramics, photographs and sketchbooks –making it one of the largest dedicated art museums in the world.

The David Douglas Duncan album of 163 brilliant black-and-white photographs, documenting the Picasso family’s time at Cannes (1957-60), got added to the museum collection on the day I happened to visit the museum in 2013.

The steadily expanding collection has obliged Museu Picasso to spread out beyond its original location at Palau Aguilar, a 13th-century nobleman’s mansion on Carrer de Montcada, to four other adjacent buildings – the Castellet, the Meca, La casa Mauri and Palau Finestres, all originally built in the 14th century.

There is a quaint, old-world flavour about these structures, with wide open verandahs running along the sides and broad exterior staircases winding around their cores.

Some rooms are as large as a basketball court and the ceilings thrice as high as the ones in fashion today. Therefore, the first thing that strikes you about the galleries is the sense of space and light they give you and the exhibits do not crowd around you.

The original/main building, Palau Aguilar, has an extensive public library which can be used for reference purposes. A documentary film on Picasso’s life and work runs at designated hours through the day in the library auditorium.

Museu Picasso is the biggest repository of the artist’s early work. There are some ink drawings and oils from 1890 even, when Picasso was not yet nine, and by the time you reach 1894-95, you are face-to-face with a full-grown, accomplished artist.

It looks as though, by age 13/14, Picasso had come to terms with, indeed mastered, nearly all the different mediums and idioms that past generations of painters had worked in before he himself came along.

His portraits of his parents, sister Lola, aunt and his pet dog – done when he was not quite 15 – take your breath away not only by their absolute mastery over form, but also by how cleverly he was experimenting with his palette at an early age.

While noting how Picasso always sought out writers and original thinkers, rather than other painters, for friends, the American writer Gertrude Stein, one of Picasso’s earliest patrons, made this interesting observation:

“He needed ideas….. but not ideas for painting, no, he had to know those who were interested in ideas, but as to knowing how to paint, he was born knowing all of that.”

His early work includes a fairly large number of oils on wood – not only on canvas which was later pasted on the wood slab, but painted on the wood directly – which gives a quite distinctive tone to the painting, a little darkish and craggy, not very bright or cheerful even when the subject is care-free, gay.

Even before coming to Barcelona, he had done some landscapes which look striking in tone and composition even today: I am thinking of Casa de Comp, a Catalan house standing under a spring-day sky that could well have come from Van Gogh, except that the lone human figure in it was drawn with sharper contours than we would associate with Van Gogh’s oeuvre.

Portrait of the Artist’s Mother (1896)

Man Sitting on Barcelona Beach (1896) would not have been unworthy of Manet, or Ciutadella Park (1896) of Monet at his splendid best.

There are some watercolours in the ‘Pointillist’ style (made famous by Georges Seurat and Paul Signac) also, with the difference that, unlike Seurat or Signac, Picasso always places one or more human figures within his frame that are drawn in the more common impressionistic style, without ‘points’, and somehow it is these figures that readily draw the viewer’s attention.

Increasingly in Barcelona, Picasso turned his gaze to the humdrum, dreary lives people lived around him. Poverty, loneliness and loss of hope emerge as major themes. Man in a Beret is clearly a rootless man who looks at you blankly: he has nowhere to go and he has stopped bothering about it.

An even earlier work, called Head of a Man, presaged the overriding interest in the human form vis-a-vis other subjects: here was a plainly ordinary man with no distinctive features in his physiognomy whom the young Picasso had drawn with great sensitivity and care.

This same interest was driving him to a concern for the human condition which underpins much of his later work. The 1900 painting The Embrace in the Street (pastel on paper), done probably in course of Picasso’s first visit to Paris, shows a couple, a simple working man and woman, united in an embrace that seems to melt them into a single whole.

‘The expressionistic deformation of the bodies is accentuated with intense colours and the marked edges of the figures’, as the museum catalogue explains. The union is taking place as it were in a separate space isolated from the urban landscape, which appears only dimly, distantly.

Back in Barcelona, Picasso embarked on what is known as his Blue Period (1901-04), a time when his palette consisted of monochromatic shades of blue, or a variant of blue-green rarely warmed up by other, more lively colours.

Many canvases of this period are on display at Museu Picasso, and they show him engaging repeatedly with the hopelessness of lives lived at society’s margins.

Barcelona Rooftops (1900)

Motherhood (1903) captures this theme with remarkable vividness: here, a poor mother shields her child from the harsh winter weather, her disproportionately large hand contrasting sharply with the expressionless faces of both mother and child. Touches of white pastel lend great luminosity to the faces, but the round, black eyes look on resignedly.A

To the same period, but to not the same medium, belongs the etching (on zinc) The Frugal Meal (1904), which was a recurrent motif of the period, finding expression in a number of paintings and drawings of the period displayed at different museums.

Misery and desolation envelop a desperately poor couple seated at a pathetic meal, the man sightless, the woman melancholy despite her partner’s tender embrace around her. Both have elongated, spindly fingers that deepen the impression of raw hopelessness.

The Embrace on the Street (1900)

Picasso aficionados will not find many works from his cubist/analytical cubist period here, though some sculptures (mostly in bronze) done in that genre are part of the collection. In fact, there is no painting in the museum catalogue after 1917 – until the 58 paintings from the Las Maninas (1957) series make their appearance.

This series has, as its point of departure, the eponymous Velazquez canvas from 1656, and goes on to interpret that famous painting from the standpoint of a 20th-century compatriot of the old master.

Picasso explores the world of Velazquez by branching out into different directions, by shifting one or more figures from their original place on the canvas, or modulating, sometimes changing, the amount or even the kind of light that illuminates the scene and/or the characters.

Unlike Velazquez, he does not paint the human figures (or even the dog) in the semi-realistic or heroic (the king in the original) style, but draws them the cubist way, or flattens or reshapes them, highlighting their gestures / bodily signals.

The series evolves with its own sense of drama, and you almost get to see why Picasso makes a particular change, or what he was trying to find out.

The focus is on the child, the princess Margarita, and through a fascinating sub-series of sketches and even finished oils, Picasso finally arrives at a representation of the girl that is basically cubist but retains the original’s features with minor exaggerations.

In the process, the light-and-shade of the Velazquez canvas has been transformed into a drawing room scene on a bright summer’s day, not a room in the royal palace, but rather the living room of a middle-class home in a city today with a TV and other usual bric-a-brac.

There are layers of social commentary underlying this process of reinterpretation that critics have often commented upon.

The David Douglas Duncan exhibition provided a fascinating window into an extraordinary life lived, for the most part, like any ordinary human.

Duncan was an ace photojournalist who had made his name covering the Second World War and the Korean War (and later, the Vietnam War). A friend of Picasso’s, he stayed with them as a guest in their home in Cannes off and on during the late 1950s.

Motherhood (1903)

Remarkably sensitive portraits of the great man, wife Jacqueline, their young children, their pets (including a Billy Goat with a formidable beard) adorn the collection together with outstanding pictures of their garden, living and dining rooms and Picasso’s studio.

Picasso was on the wrong side of 75 then, but still manically energetic and sharp as a razor.

There are quite a few photographs of his at work in his studio, bare-bodied but for a pair of white shorts, fiddling with a sculpture or standing before an unfinished painting, scratching his head; also some showing him playing with the children in the garden, with the goat fooling around them.

There is a memorable photo of the man and the wife sitting side-by-side, examining a painting, their faces presenting a wonderful contrast. Jacqueline’s face is tender and soft, Picasso’s as leopard-like and taut as ever, his brows wrinkled in concentration, his eyes glowing with suppressed excitement.

The photo showing them leaving their house forever is a very moving one: wearing his Tyrolean hat, Picasso looks back at the house and the garden one last time before he turns the key in the lock and walks out.

The exhibition was as appropriate a tribute to a great and restless man as one could imagine.

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Nirav Modi – The Diamond Merchant …

Posted on April 17, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

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Of Leonardo …

Posted on April 16, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

Extracted from The Wire’ – An Article by Richard Gunderman, Chancellor’s Professor of Medicine, Liberal Arts, and Philanthropy, Indiana University

This year marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death. 

Widely considered one of the greatest polymaths in human history, Leonardo was an inventor, artist, musician, architect, engineer, anatomist, botanist, geologist, historian and cartographer.

Though his artistic output was small, his impact was great – reflecting his deep knowledge of the body, his extensive studies of light and the human face, and his sfumato (Italian for “smoky”) technique – which allowed for incredibly lifelike images. 

Leonardo regarded artists as divine apprentices, writing “We, by our arts, may be called the grandsons of God.”

Twenty-first-century scholars at MIT ranked him the sixth most influential person who ever lived. Like Rembrandt and Michelangelo, he is so renowned that he is known by only his first name.

Leonardo created some of the world’s most beautiful works of art, including the Last Supper and the Mona Lisa

In his own day, he was known as an exceptionally attractive person. One of Leonardo’s biographers describes him as a person of “outstanding physical beauty who displayed infinite grace in everything he did.” 

A contemporary described him as a “well proportioned, graceful, and good-looking man” who “wore a rose-pink tunic” and had “beautiful curling hair, carefully styled, which came down to the middle of his chest.”

The paintings generally attributed to Leonardo number fewer than 20, while his notebooks contain over 7,000 pages. They’re the best source of knowledge about Leonardo, housed today in locations such as Windsor Castle, the Louvre and the Spanish National Library in Madrid. 

Their diverse content ranges across drawings –most famously, Vitruvian Man –notes of things he wanted to investigate, scientific and technical diagrams and shopping lists. 

They comprise perhaps the most remarkable monument to human curiosity and creativity ever produced by a single person. Yet when Leonardo penned them, they were just loose pieces of paper of different types and sizes. 

His friends bound them into “notebooks” only after his death.

Leonardo’s life overlapped those of two other Renaissance giants – Michelangelo and Raphael – but it was Michelangelo who stoked an intense rivalry. 

The contrast between the two men could hardly have been sharper. Leonardo was elegant and evinced little interest in matters religious, while Michelangelo was deeply pious yet neglectful of his appearance and hygiene. 

Michelangelo created some of the greatest paintings in history, including the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and many considered his “David” the greatest sculpture ever produced, a triumph he lorded over his older rival.

In November 2017, one of the paintings attributed to Leonardo, Salvator Mundi(“Savior of the World”), set the record for the most expensive painting ever sold, fetching US$450 million. 

Painted in oil on walnut in about 1500, it depicts Jesus offering a benediction with his right hand while holding a crystalline orb that appears to represent the cosmos in his left. 

The painting had suffered from neglect and poor restorations and was long assumed to be the work of one of Leonardo’s students, selling as recently as 2005 as part of the estate of a Baton Rouge businessman for less than $10,000. Its current whereabouts are unknown.

Just a half-century after Leonardo’s death, the biographer Vasari beautifully summed up his enduring significance:

“In the normal course of events many men and women are born with remarkable talents; but occasionally, in a way that transcends nature, a single person is marvelously endowed by heaven with beauty, grace, and talent in such abundance that he leaves other men far behind. All his actions seem inspired, and indeed everything he does clearly comes from God rather than from human skill.”

Five hundred years after Leonardo’s death, these words still ring true.

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