Saturday, September 5, 2009

Hello , this is Sam.

Despite the sudden inclement weather, the 16th annual Luvraj Kumar memorial lecture was held on schedule on the 13th of August, at Trimurti Bhavan, although with a much truncated audience. A number of people I spoke to later, gave up on the event, despite starting on time, but getting stuck in the traffic. This year’s speaker was Sam Pitroda, talking on Access and Aspirations. Sam spoke lucidly and compellingly on how aspirations increase with access to technology. He related his own life story as an example of how his journey to US changed his outlook of the world. His contribution to the Indian telecom revolution is much underplayed. He did say that when the idea of privatisation of telecommunications was floated, there was less resistance to it, as CDOT had already demonstrated the advantages of a cheaper and effective way of doing things. CDOT was a unique concept as it operated within the “system” a.k.a Government of India, but was effectively outside it. If I remember correctly, Sam Pitroda’s role was much criticized by the bureaucrats and the politicians of the time. Looks like all that was totally irrelevant, as much of politicians views are in any case. It was unfortunate that as CDOT wound down, Sam had to return to USA to earn some money to get his children through college. He is now back to head the PM’s technology commission, and looks like he still provides his services gratis. (Unless the system learns to pay well, it will be hard pressed to find people like Sam).

His idea of providing a UID to every citizen of India has led to Nandan Nilekani start on this venture. Only with today’s technology of online finger printing, photographs and communicating with a central data base is this possible. Here is wishing Sam Pitroda all the best of this and other ventures.

Jai Bharat Mata

After much trepidation, I did manage to bolster enough courage to go to the talk on Undressing Political Icons, at The Attic. After all, with an incendiary sounding topic as this, the chances of some loony right wingers turning up with bottles and stones are not too remote. Fortunately they did not get a sniff of this talk, and we managed to gather convivially in CP. The Attic is a small, but a very warm place, which, the photocopied programme for the month told us, holds many such social soirees. For a weekday, we had an almost full house. Arundhati, and her husband Jean, did put together a neat and well synchronised talk on the subject. Relating Maqbool Fida Hussain’s controversial painting , the evolution of the imagery of Bharat Mata, and the European concept of nationhood as a female symbolised in Liberty, Europa, and Marianne was done with ├ęclat. The constant swapping of the two speakers to illustrate the Indian and the Europeon aspects was done surprisingly adroitly. It was quite educating to follow the changes in Bharat Mata across the ages; starting in a painting by Aurobindo Ghosh, through to 2006 Hussain’s work. While Europe’s concept of the female symbol embraces nudity ( but not sexually provocative) as an integral part of the image, India’s attempt at this attracted much censure. This is a bit sad, as Hussain’s painting, once placed in front of the European images, is very tame. There was a smattering of questions from the well informed audience, which were addressed expertly and succinctly. On the whole, a very satisfying evening.

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