# 16 Prof C N R Rao: India in top four in nanoscience

Prof. Chintamani Nagesa Ramachandra Rao, popularly known as CNR Rao is a leading Indian scientist in the field of solid state and materials chemistry. His major area of research comprises transition metal oxides and other extended inorganic solids, inorganic-organic hybrid materials, nanomaterials and generation of hydrogen by photocatalysis. His latest works include research on the new wonder material graphene and artificial photosynthesis.

In the last thirty years or so, the subject of solid state chemistry has been transformed into materials chemistry by absorbing various features of modern chemical science. The materials investigated by chemists are no longer limited to inorganic materials but include a variety of organic materials. Synthesis has become a major aspect of materials chemistry, with a variety of chemical strategies, soft chemical approaches, in particular, being employed. Studies of structure, properties, phenomena and relating structure to properties are important aspects of materials chemistry.

Speaking to CSP, Prof Rao says that in basic nanoscience, India is amongst the top four countries and there are a few individuals who have made significant contributions in their areas of work and have gained a good reputation. While he does say that he has become wary of rankings, he remarks IISc is ranked high in India and JNCASR is ranked 7 in the world.

Prof Rao is known to be forthright about his views on science funding and research. He says, “it is not correct to say that a lot of funds have been provided for research.  Research of the kind we do in educational institutions requires much more, if our infrastructure and facilities have to be world-class.  Do not forget that we spend less than 1% of GDP on science. We have to work on important problems and become more competitive.  We have to work hard. We have to contribute very much more in terms of quantity and do much much better in terms of quality”

Asked about youngsters going abroad to work and study and whether IISc has helped to retain young talent in science, Prof Rao says “many young people are coming back.  We have to provide good places to work.  Also, we should create a better environment for doing good science. Bangalore has the largest number of well-known institutions and IISc is the oldest research institute of India.  It used to be a nice place to live in. I cannot say that we offer anything special. The more important thing is that we should work in our motherland and contribute to its growth and reputation.”

Known for his vast publication records, Prof. Rao has contributed 1600 research publications and authored 51 books. He is the first Indian scientist to cross the H index of 100 – an author-level metric that attempts to measure both the productivity and citation impact of the publications of a scientist. Prof. Rao is one of the few scientists across the world having nearly 1 lakh citations for research publications. 

In his research career of five decades, Prof. Rao had served at many national and international institutions in various capacities. In addition to receiving numerous national and international recognitions and awards, he was awarded the Bharat Ratna – the highest civilian award in India, in 2014.

#15 Abhishek Banerjee – Math as a window to the universe

Most technology is based on Mathematics. As Tony Crilly puts it in his book ‘50 mathematical ideas you really need to know’, “there is no longer any pride left in announcing to have been no good at it when at school.” However, in the presence of Indian Institute of Science Assistant Professor Abhishek Banerjee, one can’t help but feel a bit mathematically overwhelmed.  He is our Bangalore Global Icon #15 for inspiring us to look at Mathematics, not with fear and trepidation as some of us did in school, but with awe and wonder.

Before joining IISc in January 2014, Abhishek used to be a Maître de Conférences (Associé) at Collège de France in Paris. And prior to that for three years he was a post-doc at Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques (IHÉS), Bures sur Yvette and a Zassenhaus Assistant Professor at Ohio State University. He received his PhD in 2009 from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

His research work is in the fields of Algebraic Geometry and Non-commutative Geometry. In the domain of Non-commutative Geometry, his main interest is in Hochschild and cyclic homology. In Algebraic Geometry, his main interest is in developing results for schemes over symmetric monoidal categories. Additionally, he studies bivariant Chow groups and also likes to dabble in K-theory and sometimes in arithmetic geometry.

One hears of different kinds of science – ancient Indian science and Greek science. I wondered if in modern times, if we differ mathematically? Abhishek says that modern mathematics is very international. “It is hard to identify any particular subculture within mathematics based on geography. My understanding is that at the college level, mathematics is taught in the same way roughly everywhere; in India, in the US or in Europe.”

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Being a Non-Mathematician, and for a long time at that, I asked Abhishek how the mathematical theories he was working on could help the world we live in.

AB: My work is mostly theoretical, in fields of mathematics known as ‘non-commutative geometry,’ ‘algebraic geometry,’ and ‘category theory.’ In terms of applications, it is hard to know exactly. But sometimes, the applications are not just more than we imagine, but more than we can imagine. For instance, non-commutative geometry is one of the key tools used to understand the universe in terms of what is called the ‘standard model.’  The standard model touches everything from general relativity to the Higgs Boson and basic principles of electromagnetic force.

Recently, I was invited to give a series of lectures to physicists at a large meeting in IISER-Kolkata on Quantum Computing. I was rather surprised to find out that category theory is of great interest to those working on Quantum computing. As you know, quantum computing is one of those technologies that is likely to change everything about our world.

Personally, I tend to think of mathematics more as a sport, such as running a race. Stretching the mind just as an athlete would push their body, searching for its limits.

Although I suspect I know the answer, I still ask Abhishek about his role model in Mathematics. After all Mathematics though spoken as one subject, is a vast ocean – and one can have heroes in pure and applied Mathematics, abstract and concrete, and even in the common man who can solve a Sudoku in a minute.

AB: That’s easy. Srinivasa Ramanujan of course. Like I said, I think of math more like a sport. And as with sport, we want to be like our heroes. At one point, I really wanted to be a number theorist, which is the field that Ramanujan worked in. But as I got more and more invested in the subject, I realized there were other forms of mathematics that were better suited to my temperament. 

I wanted to become a number theorist when I was young. Eventually, my research went another way. So I married a number theorist. She is a faculty member at IISER Pune.

From his ocean of research, I asked Abhishek to list his top three research works out of a very long, mind-boggling list and their application in layman terms.

AB: As I said before, my work is rather theoretical, but I can try to explain some of the themes. I already spoke about noncommutative geometry. In algebraic geometry, we often try to understand lines, curves and surfaces. A point has zero dimension, a line has one dimension and a surface has two. If you take two straight lines, they meet at one point, unless they are parallel. If you take two planes, they will meet in a line, unless they are parallel. 

From a mathematical point, this is unpleasant. The fact that we have to make an exception for parallel cases is ugly. In algebraic geometry, we find ways to redefine what it means for lines to ‘meet’, so that two straight lines will always meet in a point. Even the line will meet itself as in a single point.

A lot of questions in math begin like this. We identify something that looks like an ugly exception and then we define something new and beautiful that incorporates it into a single general rule. For example, we can add 10 given numbers or 100 given numbers. But how do you add infinitely many numbers together? 

In a recent talk for CSP Abhishek spoke about a stereotypical Math teacher whom all of us have encountered in our school days. So how do we get children to love maths nonetheless?

AB: The way mathematics is taught at the ground level, in school, needs serious reform. Not just in India, but all over the world. By the time students are in college, many have already internalized the idea that math is ‘difficult’. This is a cumulative failure of parents, teachers and popular culture, which work together to create this impression. And really sad, because math is in many ways the easiest subject. It requires almost zero rote memorization. There are so few rules that they would fit on the back of an envelope and never any exceptions to those rules. 

So the first thing would be to stop telling kids that math is ‘difficult,’ so that it does not turn into a self-fulfilling prophesy. Let children judge for themselves. Give them questions involving numbers and challenge them to find a solution. Once they have a solution, ask them if there’s any other way they could have solved the same problem. 

Often times, the solutions to standard problems are presented as boring algorithms to be memorized, starting with addition, carry overs and long division. This should be avoided. Help kids figure out the place value system, not just in terms of powers of 10, but powers of any number. Use the binary system to explain powers of 2. When a kid understands how to take powers, ask them how they would raise 2 to the power of pi. Would you multiply 2 to itself pi number of times? What does that even mean? Don’t be afraid to think laterally or ask questions that may be beyond the level.  It’s okay to have some questions unanswered, left for later as fodder for curiosity. 

So what drives Abhishek -the most complex of numbers or how they relate to life?

AB: I said that I often think of mathematics as a sport. I try to push my mind constantly. Every day is an adventure. I fail constantly, but you have to keep thinking harder and harder. A lot of mathematics is about seeking fundamental patterns. Often times, I think I have a pattern but it turns out to be a mirage. Remember that the person we can fool most easily is ourselves. So first you think you have something and next moment you are disappointed. But you think again, look for different fundamental properties and then maybe you will find something. I would say what drives me is failure. No tonic is better to keep going.

The beauty of maths lies in truths that have universal and absolute validity. Abhishek Banerjee gives the example of certain kinds of cicada, known as magicicadas, which have a 13 year life cycle, i.e. they hatch en masse once every 13 years.

AB: “Now, why is that so clever? Notice that 13 is a prime number. In nature, the life cycles of a predator will synchronize with prey to maximize availability of food. If Magicicadas emerged say every 6 years, a predator with a 2, 3, or 6 year life cycle would be able to feed on them. But the number 13 makes it that much harder for predators. So we are all thinking mathematically: even cicadas. If tomorrow we were to try to talk to an alien species, how would we communicate? Hard to think of any language more universal than Math.”

In the competitive world we live in the ‘Two-person, zero-sum games’ are very common. A game played by all of us, involving two sides, where one wins and the other loses. Finding the cheapest route, sending coded secret messages, mathematics is all pervasive. I ask Abhishek about his conversations with a biologist on the meaning of life as understood through mathematics.

One of my most interesting scientific interactions ever was with an Israeli professor who was a biologist. We would meet for lunch every single day and ask simple but perhaps unlikely questions. And try to find rational answers. The first one we had was ‘why do we die?’ After a few days we agreed that an organism that never dies would have to be able to survive without food, water, be fire proof … not even susceptible to being crushed by a rock. The complexity that would require is simply unachievable in one single evolutionary step. 

Another question we had was – why are there two genders? Why not three or five? We eventually settled on the conclusion that having sexual reproduction by bringing together two genders is hard enough. Think about how complicated cross pollination is with two genders already. Can you imagine how unlikely pollination would be if a bee had to visit three different flowers of the same species but of three different genders? As for genetic diversity, powers of 2 grow fast enough to produce healthy offspring with variety of traits. No need to go for powers of 3 or more.

The first thing to realize is that things like these are scientific questions that deserve rational answers. We wouldn’t claim that our answers above were the correct ones. As I said, this was some informal chatting between us, purely for entertainment purposes. I think the important thing here is the focus on rationalism. 

# 14 Prakash Belawadi: One million stories of a multi-centric India

Theatre, film and TV personality, Prakash Belawadi is a bold voice in contemporary Indian storytelling. He is # 14 in our list of Bangalore’s Global Icons. In this free-flowing interview with CSP, he talks about Indian cinema steering a new course and about the need to write stories which reflect a new, vibrant India. Here is Prakash Belawadi, in his own words.

On Cinema: ‘The film industry defies the logic of one India. It is a multi-centric India.’

I think we should have a script bank and a bank of films and every year you should do an Indic film festival that actually looks at and interrogates Indian history reimagined in creative work today. Every year you must do that. Without showcasing these works, people will not be familiar with our real history and this must be in all the languages.

There is already a tendency in India now to look at India’s immediate history. We never had the courage to do this so far. That is why you had a biopic on the most famous person of the 20th century to be done by Richard Attenborough. You did that because you did not have the courage to give it to any Indian. Today such a thing will be unbelievable. First of all we have moved so far away from that kind of an India. The Government of India giving money to somebody else to make a film doesn’t exist. A Kannada film dubbed and released in Bombay – KGF– beat a Shahrukh Khan film released that week in Bombay. This is a changed India with films like Bahubali, KGF.

I acted in Madras Café which looks at the assassination of a former Prime Minister. You have Neerja, the heroic tale of an airhostess saving lives. I acted in Raja Krishna Menon’s Airlift which documents the largest air evacuation in history carried out by Air India. In Malayalam, I acted in a film called Take Off which talks about the release of nurses from the ISIS.

In our times we didn’t have this. We had a Garam Hawa, an art film which was like a lament on beautiful India lost. While doing my latest film with actor Surya, I told him: ‘If a star of your stature can come and do contemporary history film like this, it will lift Indian cinema.’ He said ‘it is time we all did this.’” That sensibility has come. Maybe that stream needs to be strengthened.

I acted in ‘Accidental Prime Minister’ which was based on Sanjaya Baru book on Manmohan Singh’s tenure. The film did not have the profundity that you see in a film like The Post (which depicts the true story of attempts by journalists to publish the Pentagon Papers) for example. However, you have films from directors like Shoojit Sircar (director of Yahaan, Vicky Donor, Madras Cafe, Piku, and October. He also produced the 2012 film Aparajita Tumi) that are remarkable.

The Tashkent Files, which is such a low budget film, has such high quality research. And its power lies in the imagination of the director to frame the story in such a way so as to be able to investigate the past with such contemporary or modern angst. All this is very interesting. These narratives have to be strengthened. It is happening across India.

Once I did the story of Punyakoti as a puppet show and children were weeping. In Punyakoti, when the cow tells the tiger, I will feed my calf and return, the tiger asks how can I believe that you will come back, the cow says, ‘Truth is our community, Truth is my father, mother. Truth is my everything. If I don’t agree to abide what I have given in contract, Achuta Srihari will not forgive me.’ The tiger is taken aback and lets her go. When the calf asks ‘When you go away, who will look after me,’ the cow pleads with the community, ‘look after this child as your own.’ When the cow is asked if she will not stay back, she says ‘I will not break my promise, I will not think bad, and the commitment I have made, whatever comes, I will meet it.’ What a profound value to give children. The meaning keeps coming as a refrain – that you are bound to the Truth and the truth here is Dharma. The cow is conflicted, it wants to live for the child. But it has given its word. In the conflict of Dharma it is interpreted in a way we understand.

On Content: “We need to give people genuine avenues to understand what India was”.

We are dependent on the media which is compromised by ownership, not just by politics. Owners come with agendas and that has so grossly interfered with the traditions of media freedom that you can no longer trust mainstream media alone. There are better India narratives. Somebody goes to Kashi or Kashmir and writes a blog, you should be able to fact check it, showcase it, and maybe commission these storytellers to make small projects, make documentaries, give talks.

It is the casual patriotism of the Indian people that is in the margins. I don’t use the word ‘nationalism’ as it is a bogus word and has no resonance in India. The Indian intellectual is a Western intellectual. In India, it is not enough to be an intellectual. You have to be a ‘viveki’. We should stand above the intellectual tradition, western educated people are spouting. They don’t know anything. What they know is what they have been told. I am sympathetic to the casually patriotic Indian who has not even gone to college. A person who has not even gone to high-school. You talk to auto-drivers, lift operators, they are far more concerned about India than all these people. You need to take the responsibility to reach this to them.

India, I can tell you has not been destroyed. It has seen much. All kind of stuff has happened. We have somehow survived, and this Liberal front that is projected in India is the swan song. This is the last stand. I feel after this we will settle into a sane debate. Where extremists on this side and extremists on that side will become irrelevant. So that we can talk. But for that to be enabled, you, we, can play a catalyst and it is a great role.  

You need to do a sufficient amount of push messaging before you have a critical mass of aware people, so that a pull model can operate and they can do it themselves. I am not sure we need to spend money to do a ‘Shankara TV or Aastha channel’. We don’t need anyone to teach us bhakti, we need them to teach us viveka. We need to give people genuine avenues to understand what India was.

On Translation and vernacular narratives: You need to revalorise people who genuinely did good in this country

Your history books, your best books are not translated into Indian languages. You should have a great translation project and a dubbing project for great works in audio-visual media. Invest in one radio channel or one frequency across the states and run an Indic series. Radio is your most powerful medium. Forget print. Second you should have a translation center, where great works are translated, digitalised, kept in a library, create an app where people can easily access the library. Just like the Gita and the Veda are now available easily, we should be able to access what our great gurus and leaders said. I don’t know what Bankim said. I would call him the father of the Bengal renaissance, but we Indians don’t what he said. I don’t know what Madan Mohan Malaviya said. I don’t know what Krishnaraja Wodeyar said – he was the Vice-Chancellor of Benaras Hindu University. You need to revalorise people who genuinely did good in this country and that should reach out not in a pious way but as knowledge, as annotated notes, you should find ways to do it through a TV channel, a translation center, and a series of radio channels.

Don’t try to start a university. This is India, you just give them a little bit of self-awareness and their self-respect will automatically flower. Indic culture is now a bonsai culture, it is hidden in the ground, cramped, dormant, terrified, and covered in mud. If you give them the sunlight of awareness, they will grow big.

There is a movement around the world where people are saying, ‘human beings need not go and regenerate nature, just leave it be, don’t go there, nature will heal itself.’ I don’t know if that is true and if we have done too much damage. However, India, I can tell you has not been destroyed. It has seen much. All kind of stuff has happened. We have somehow survived, and this Liberal front that is projected in India is the swan song. This is the last stand. I feel after this we will settle into a sane debate. Where extremists on this side and extremists on that side will become irrelevant. So that we can talk. But for that to be enabled, you, we, can play a catalyst and it is a great role.  

As city dwellers we know about Indian history because of Amar Chitra Kathas. Even when I was reading Shakespearean plays, I was still reading ACKs. Because that is all we had. So if you do quality literature people will be receptive. When Ramayana and Mahabarata series were running on TV, wedding invitations would come saying that TV sets had been arranged in wedding halls. The Indian narrative does not need push. Where it needs a push is access to it.

One way of doing it is by reviving traditions that we had in magazines like Chandamama, Ananda Vigadan, Sindhura, Mayura.  Exploit opportunities where children can be exposed to things more profound rather than just film songs through shows like Sa Re Ga Ma where their cuteness is exploited. You can do a classical music event for children. Do a 40-day event for children during holidays. Plug-in with the Ramotsav of the Ram Seva Mandali which is going on for 80 years.

Look at the wealth of this country. Now students are doing Panchatantra instead of Aesop’s fables. The idea that we can turn to our own culture has already come into this country. In a population of 1.63 billion, if you can get one 1 million writers, and give them one year to write a story which has the quality of a fable or parable which has an Indic, complex, moral value, we have enough, we have the narrative. We must do a one million story project and promote our own stories.

(As told to Aparna Sridhar)

# 13 Indian Music Experience – putting music in people’s hands

Imagine a museum for music, showcasing not just the past, but a living, breathing space where the sounds from the past and present merge in a very contemporary setting. Where perhaps, as one writer put it, “comes the idea of taking art (museum shows/collections) out of the realm of the ‘institution’ and putting it into the hands of the individual”.

The ambitious Centre for Indian Music Experience (IME) being built at a cost of Rs 40 crore in Bangalore recreates a sound scape of musical history, aesthetics and sounds in a walk-around campus of two acres under the aegis of the Brigade group. Started in 2008, the project was inaugurated this August by tabla maestro Zakir Hussain.

Builders Brigade Millenium who own 20 acres of prime land in the up-scale JP Nagar area, had to dedicate Rs 2 crore to a socially relevant project. A survey was conducted to explore different ideas, and by popular vote it was decided to allocate the space to Indian music.

 In many ways, Bangalore’s eclectic musical tastes makes it the right choice for a national museum of such scale. It has been a melting pot of various genres apart being the home of Carnatic and Hindustani music. Director Outreach IME Dr Suma Sudhindra, says “Bangalore is a rich cultural place right now. If you look at India, apart from Mumbai, I think that it’s only in Bangalore that you have an audience for every kind of music and music is appreciated in all its forms. Another plus point is that we have a lot of tourists from abroad and this could become a great tourist destination.”

It was the Chairman and Director of the Brigade Group M R Jayashankar who decided to create a museum on the lines of the Experience Music Project in Seattle after a chance visit during a business trip abroad. Like the Seattle Music Experience Complex, IME blends exhibits, technology, media, and hands-on activities that combine the interpretive aspects of a traditional museum, educational role of a school, and audience-drawing qualities of performance venues and popular attractions.

New York based designers, Gallaghers and Associates provided the Interpretative Master Plan for the museum. They have designed many music museums in the US including the National Blues Museum Interactives, Grammy Museum Mississippi Interactives, Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, LA.

They believe the IME will be a “vibrant music epicentre that celebrates India’s unity in spirit, diversity and creative expression. Visitors will be able to rediscover their connections to the living tradition that is Indian music.” G&A worked to define the visitor experience model and its relationship to a conceptual architectural plan.

The Gallaghers design is the greatest attraction of the IME. A very contemporary style, they believe “giving life and meaning to the mission and collections of cultural organizations is the heart of excellent experiential design. Collaboration and innovative design creates engaging and theatrical storytelling. The design of exhibit experiences with strong graphics and interactive components, supported by well-articulated content, creates context and personal connections for each and every visitor,” states Gallaghers.

 The architects who worked with Gallaghers were selected through a competition. Suma says, “We have not chopped a single tree in this project. The fluidity of music has inspired the architecture. The non-standard site shape and a desire to weave the building (covering 50,000 square feet) around existing trees without having to cut them also makes it interesting.”

The content for the Centre has been developed by a committee headed by eminent musicologist Dr Pappu Venugopala Rao. Suma says, the idea has been to create an appeal for someone who has no initiation into any kind of music except perhaps Bollywood, “because everyone in India knows Bollywood, which is also represented here. If someone goes through the museum in 45 minutes, we want him to come out with an experience of our rich musical tradition. So basically we are not diving deep into our various traditions, but we are touching upon every aspect of our music from traditional to contemporary.”

“We touch upon most of the salient features. Here the concepts are more about the music and not the musicians. Though we have the stars galary where we will be featuring 100 legends of music across genres – from folk, to regional to classical. Since there is a lot of virtual material, there will be a lot of indepth material for someone who is interested. But if you ask very technical questions, they may not be answered here.

The five music Bharat Ratnas in music – MS Subbulakshmi, Bhimsen Joshi, Bismillah Khan, Lata Mangeshkar and Pandit Ravishankar are featured. Suma Sudhindra says “IME has  Bishmillah Khan Sahib’s Shenahi, which was I think a very emotional moment for all of us at IME. Because when his son came to hand over the instruments, he had tears while parting with the instrument. As an instrumentalists we all understand how emotional we get with our instruments. In fact its an intrinsic part of my life. I have hardly cried in my life, but when my veena broke once, I cried uncontrollably.”

All the Carnatic music instruments were given by practicing musicians. Suma asked her performing co-artistes if they could donate their instruments and they did so.  “They have been very generous. So much so that we have not bought a single Carnatic instrument and have got excess instruments. It would have been easy to buy the instruments and house them here. But it’s more valuable to have used instruments. Ghatam Manjunath was a famous ghatam artiste of yesteryears. His ghatam was with one young ghatam player Ravikumar and he parted with it. Ravikiran gave a ghotuvadyam,” says Suma Sudhindra.

Manasi Prasad, on the managing committee of IME and a vocalist herself, says when she when she completed her MBA and was turning down a career in Wall Street and coming back to India to pursue a career in music, people thought she was making a sacrifice. “How many people have the opportunity in their 20s to be entrusted with the responsibility of setting up something that is going to be a landmark musical institution not just for this generation but for generations to come? I have lived this passion,” says Manasi.

“The vision of the IME is to increase the understanding and appreciation of the Indian music, from the traditional to the contemporary, through experiences that engage and educate. The idea is, we view this centre, which is to be the first of its kind, as serving two important purposes—one, to inspire, because young Indians today need role models beyond cricket and Bollywood, and see the stories of people like a boy who ran away from home at the age of eleven and toured India for over two years in search of a guru, and went on to become Bhim Sen Joshi, or the boy from a wrestlers’ family who went on to become a celebrated flautist like Hariprasad Chaurasiya… Whoever you are, wherever you come from, these stories can inspire. And that’s what the IME aims to do, through experiential storyboards we’ve created, from talking about these musicians to listening to their music. So that’s one part. The other part is education—how you can covey what the entire gamut of Indian music is about in a space of twenty thousand square feet, which is our gallery space. We do this through a variety of ways, and these are the experiences.”

“The IME consists of thematic galleries, where we’ve looked at various genres of music, things like the history of recording, how music plays a role in political movements like in our songs of struggle gallery. So we’ve taken these themes, and how we create the experiences is we take storyboards, which have images and little stories like how Vande Mataram was not chosen to be the national anthem, but Jana Gana Mana was, or how the microphone changed performance, and how some artists resisted it. There are hundreds of stories throughout the museum through storyboards. Apart from that, what’s more interesting is we have these audio-visual kiosks. We have these iPads, where whatever you see in the museum, you will hear. For example in the Hall of Fame we have one hundred musicians, and you will hear the music of these musicians with little notes saying what’s special in these pieces of music. Then we have interactive installations. So if you’ve always wondered how DJs create these pieces of music that has a little bit of sitar coming, then drums, then the electronic sound, we give you the chance to be DJs and you’ll have your own console, where you can mix pieces of music on an interactive touchscreen. And there are many interactors like this. And then we have many mini theatrical experiences. For example, in Hindustani music there is a concept called Samay chakra, which is about how music and time are so closely interlinked. How much ever you write about that, people may not understand, but imagine yourself in a theatre—you’re seeing the sun rise and set, and the music changes accordingly, and you can hear a little bit of the sounds of thunder and lightning, and the malhaar. The idea is to create the experience of the samay chakra, and not just give it in terms of dry information.”

The whole premise of the IME is ‘catch them young’. “We believe that it’s only when you can influence young minds that you can really make a change. We also subscribe to that philosophy of ‘you don’t need a thousand Tansens, but you need a thousand kaansens’. The audience is the ecosystem that supports the arts. The idea of a centre like this, which we believe can create change, is that your first engagement with culture and the arts should be in a way that’s fun, and exciting, and hands-on. So you come here to a sound garden, and in most places, when you see an instrument they say, “Don’t touch,” but here we say, “Please touch. Please play the instrument. Please hear what it sounds like.” So when you have this hands-on experience, when you can make that personal connect somewhere, we believe that that’s where people are going to be more engaged with the arts. So that’s on one side. There are other ways of answering the question. I do feel that there are problems with audiences. A Carnatic music rasika may not necessarily attend a fusion music concert, or a young rock music enthusiast will want to stay miles away from a Carnatic music concert. The idea of a space like this is when you present different forms of music on the same platform, people realise that ‘Hey, there are so many connections out here.’ For example in our film music section we have a section called diverse influences, where you look at the fact that there is a filmy Sufi song, a filmy Bhajan, a filmy hip-hop, etc., then you realise that there is a link to this tradition, which I will then explain in the folk music gallery, which is thousands of years old. So why are we making these distinctions between different forms of music? Yes, you can have a natural affinity towards one form, but I do feel like a space like this can give people the chance to experience more than one genre.”

The Indian music experience is comprised of three main elements. The first area is the sound garden, where outside the museum, there are installations, musical sculptures that are made out of natural materials like stone, wood, metal. So there are large xylophones, reeds, gongs, railings that produce sound… so the idea of the sound garden is to introduce visitors to the principles of sound, where they themselves can play the instruments and see how sound is produced. The second part of the museum is the exhibit area, which has eight thematic galleries and an instrument gallery. So here, through audio-visual kiosks, through storyboards, etc, the visitors will get to explore and find out a little bit about various genres of music… and also other parts such as the history of recording, political and social movements and their involvement with music, etc. As part of the exhibit area, there is an introductory theatre which will plays a film about the diversity of music. At the concluding theatre, a multi-purpose space live performances, film screenings and temporary exhibits are showcased.

The third part of the museum is the learning centre, with five classrooms, a seminar hall and a library space. Music and dance classes are conducted. IME also does periodic workshops and seminars by reputed international musicians who come and visit.  

# 12 G Raj Narayan: Radel supports tradition

G RAJ NARAYAN is a recipient of the Karnataka State Government Rajyotsava Award for his achievements in the field of electronic music instruments. His company Radel Electronics Pvt Ltd has revolutionised music learning and performing with several inventions including electronic tanpuras, tablas and veena. An A-grade AIR artiste, he is a flautist, and also holds a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from IIT Madras. His love for music and technology have led to inventions which have dramatically decreased musicians’ dependency on others for practice

At the heart of any music is the need to achieve shruthi shuddham. Can your invention actually help learners develop a sense of shruthi?

When we started making these instruments in our factory, technicians without any music background used to test the instruments to see if each unit is holding its shruthi. All they had to do was put 30-40 instruments (set to the same pitch) in a sealed room and test them for about 3 hours. I found that after 5-6 months of sitting in that room, the technicians had developed a musical sense. And they were able to tune the instruments as well, sometimes better than professional musicians. This made me realise if you just turn this instrument on in your house for an hour or two and if your kids who are learning music listen to this, shruthi shuddham will come. A genuine musician who is seriously interested in developing good shruthi shuddham, should listen to shruthi and do exercises of holding on to a note.

Sadly, the desire to perform to higher levels of quality, especially when it comes to shruthi has come down. People think it is the fireworks, the brikhas, and complex patterns which are important, not the shruthi shuddham. In North Indian music also, people complain that present generation musicians are not as precise in sur as the older generation, but even to this day they hold on to a note for long periods because if they waver it gets noticed.

What advancements have you made on your original design of the electronic shruthi box?

The electronic tanpura which I made in the 1970s has gone through so many generations of designs. Every year we have come up with new designs. Initially it was the discrete transistor, then the small Integrated Circuit (IC) based tanpuras, then the microprocessor based tanpuras, then the microcontrollers and now we have Digital Signal Processing (DSP). Today’s tanpura is nothing but a digitally recorded tanpura sound in a studio. String by string these are played in real time in a sequence as controlled by the user. So you can alter the tempo. If people say it does not sound like a real tanpura, that does not hold true.

If you just turn this instrument on in your house for an hour or two and if your kids who are learning music listen to this, shruthi shuddham will come. A genuine musician who is seriously interested in developing good shruthi shuddham, should listen to shruthi and do exercises of holding on to a note

G Raj Narayan

All this was a result of developing the electronic tabla for North Indians. The electronic tabla was mix of analog and digital systems. A microprocessor was controlling the sequence but the actual sound generation was through analog means. The tanpura sound is a far simpler sound as compared to the complex sounds produced on the tabla. The electronic tabla had to sound absolutely like the original and like it would have to distinguish between tha, na, din. In the tambura you are looking for the Sa Pa Sa. If the sound is slightly different it doesn’t matter as long as you get the pitch. Whereas in the tabla, it had to sound like the dha, the na, the dhin.  So it was a far more challenging problem than the invention of the tambura.

Which of your inventions has had the greatest impact on learning?

I personally feel that the invention of the electronic tabla in 1987, is a bigger break through than the electronic tanpura. Not many people have recognised this in the South.  As a child I was aware that whenever my mother practiced Hindustani music on the veena, she would require a tabla artiste to come and play for her. The tabla is required for practice whether you play the veena, sing or play the sitar, sarod etc. Earlier North Indian musicians could only do the aalap or sing the raga, not a tala-based composition. That’s because the entire tala system of North Indian music is encoded onto the tabla. Anytime anyone wanted to practice Hindustani music, they had to wait for a tabla artiste. And he would come for maybe an hour, thrice a week. There was a limit on the number of hours a person could practice independently per week.

All the great musicians can always command a tabla artiste to come and play. But the middle level and beginners, and others non-professionals and amateurs have a big difficulty. With this instrument, they said atleast they had a point of reference. That is why I believe the bigger achievement has been missed in the media as well as in the South. These inventions have revolutionised Indian music because they have contributed to people learning or practising by themselves for long periods.

You say these technologies have made musicians independent. Can you elaborate please.

To demonstrate the tala instrument at the Music Academy, I played a complex Pallavi on the flute. To practice a complex Pallavi you either need somebody who is well-versed with music to put the tala or a machine like this. It was an audio visual instrument, which had lights grouped for laghu, dhrutham etc. Although it was not the same as putting the tala by hand, I tried to create this audio visual effect so that it is not a completely new or different format. Palghat Mani Iyer used to make some of these complex patterns on the mridangam and he said this instrument would help him practice.

Similarly, corresponding to the tabla we have a lehra instrument which enables a tabla artiste to practice (also called Nagma). It’s a precomposed tune set to different taals. Each of it can be set to any taal, any raag, different tunes, and then you alter the tempo so as to enable the tabla artiste to practise at different speeds.

So South Indian artistes are independent thanks to the tanpura, shruthi box and tala meter, the main Hindustani singer is independent of the tabla artiste, and the tabla artiste is also free to practice now.   

How is the electronic veena different and how have musicians responded to this invention?

The sounds of the veena are very feeble. I used to play duets with my mother and my wife (both of who are vainikas). After the concerts, people would say that the concerts were good but they could barely hear the veena. In 1971, I demonstrated a solid body electric veena with a pick up and removable gourd. Then I thought why not put the tambura into the veena, as they also need shruthi. This is a self-contained instrument where you have the shruthi, the veena and the pickup for the talam string. It has undergone various levels of development and today we have a synthesiser which is shaped and played like a veena.

The need for all of these inventions was born out of complete necessity. In any concert, vainikas have to keep tuning the strings every 3-4 minutes. When you pull one string, another string goes to a different shruthi. Refretting is one of the biggest problems faced by veena players. It is difficult to get it done even in India. Removable and adjustable frets are an engineering solution. The artiste can alter each fret even on the concert platform.

The main objection people had to the electronic veena is that it does not look like the Saraswathi Veena. However, my design resembles the veena in the older sculptures. Today’s vainikas are using the traditional veena with a magnetic pick up. The magnetic pick up bypasses the big kodam. It takes the sound from the string and out, exactly like the electronic veena. The only difference is they are using an electric veena which looks like a traditional veena. Why should a musician risk damaging a delicately carved out instrument when he/she can instead use something which made of solid wood and which does not break easily. Apart from solving the refretting and breakage problems, the most important issue of volume (in the conventional veena the fine nuances, gamakams, sangathis get lost because the sound dies) is solved because here the sound continues.

We now have shruthi apps and other manufacturers. How does Radel compare?

The app that plays in the mobile phone should actually be as good as a CD played tambura or an electronic tambura. If they are not as good as the electronic tamburas, it may be because ultimately the sound is being played through another attachment, the amplispeaker. The amplispeaker is not designed to reproduce the fine nuances of the tambura harmonics.

Flute Mali was already using a shruthi box developed by someone else when I met him, but he was not very happy as it used to wobble and drift with change in temperature. This is where I bring in my electronics background in HAL where everything has to be extremely precise and reliable.

People have started using these new technologies because of their convenience over traditional instruments, despite their initial hesitancy, reservations, conservatism, and the feeling that this was ‘not traditional’. I believe that tradition changes and if technology enables you to do things differently without any drawbacks, you might as well use it. (

# 10: Harish Bijoor: On Brand Bangalore

“Brands are meant to enable lives positively. Not by deceit. Not by subterfuge. And most certainly not by clever lines that hide more than reveal” – Harish Bijoor

When Harish Bijoor, Brand-strategy specialist was asked by me a few years earlier if Indian Classical Music needed branding, he replied, “A quick answer on this one. Yes. A big yes. Yes, yes, yes, said three times over and underlined even. Who doesn’t need branding really?”

By extension, everyone would benefit with a little branding.  But as Harish says, “Branding a complex amalgam of people, mindsets, and cultures that a country represents is far more difficult than branding an individual.”

Harish Bijoor is CSP’s Bangalore’s Global Icon # 10, our go-to man perhaps for strategizing India’s soft power. A Brand-thinker and practitioner operating out of Bengaluru, Harish runs a unique boutique-consulting outfit branded ‘Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.’, a brand name that has a consulting presence across the markets of Hong Kong, Seattle, London, Istanbul, Dubai and the Indian sub-continent.

Harish has spent his career across the aggressive realms of FMCG, Telecom and Consumer Durables. Ever ahead of the consumer thinking curve, Harish has spoken to corporate audiences across the world for 10419 hours to date (MICA website).

Harish teaches at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad & Mohali, in addition to semesters at overseas Business schools in the US and Europe. He has been teaching at the Indian School of Business for the past 15 years.

Intrigued by his book titled, ‘Brand Irrationals: a fundamental journey into brand-think’, I asked him about his thoughts on branding. “My definition of a brand is a simple one. The brand is a thought. A thought that lives in people’s mind. A simple thought that gets planted (either by intent or accident) in the mind of a person. This thought then has the ability to germinate and flourish in a person’s mind. It equally has the ability to decay and get relegated to the farthest recesses of the mind. Brands that invest in keeping their “thought” alive, peppy, contemporary, relevant to the generation, original in impact and innovative in their offerings tend to thrive and do well. Those that don’t die and get pushed into the outer-most periphery of near-oblivion in the person’s mind. And remember, this is a “person” and not a “consumer” I am talking about. Brands live in people’s minds. And these people are not necessarily consumers or fans, as yet.”

World over Soft Power has been concentrated in some core cities – New York, London, Paris and even perhaps Mumbai. It is telling that a major city like New York finds the need to spend billions on branding. In the 1970s New York had a reputation for a being a hard city, with scary edges. Brand managers were roped in, and branding budgets raised from $400,000 to $4.3 million and New York was transformed. Ad agency Wolff Olins asked:  “There’s only one New York City, but within it are five boroughs, approximately 191 neighbourhoods, nearly a million buildings and over 8.2 million people. How could a brand successfully represent this diversity?”

Bangalore Global Icon 10: Harish Bijoor

The answer was a brilliantly successful logo designed by Milton Glaser. His “I ❤ NY” logo is possibly one of the most iconic logos ever, which represented everything the city stood for, for everyone who loved it.

So if one had to brand Bangalore as a city – one can only turn to Harish Bijoor. “Bengaluru is a thought. A thought that lives in people’s minds. These people may live in Bengaluru, live outside it in India or live as a diaspora of citizens outside, or live as citizens of other countries. Bengaluru the brand lives in each of these myriad sets of minds. And each has a different thought of Bengaluru. Brand Bengaluru is a collective amalgam of these thoughts. When we talk Brand Bangalore, we talk of this collective understanding of the city brand Bengaluru.”

What do people think of Bangalore? How can we brand it better? Make people come back again and again to it. Leave it with memories of a lifetime?

“I do believe we can brand Bengaluru better by an effort that is rich in experience. Rich in the collective experience of all our sets of consumers. To do that, we need to make a bottom-up effort and not a top-down one. A top-down effort would typically be an advertising effort that showcases Bengaluru and a bottom-up effort in contrast is one that offers real-time good experiences to people. I believe in the latter. Bottom-up Bengaluru is a preference anytime as opposed to Top-down Bengaluru,” says Harish.

“Bengaluru is a peaceful city. Foreigners love that. We offer the best of the tradition and technology. We are at the cutting edge of both. For the foreigner, we care able to offer a cultural experience during the day and a nightlife experience that is not far from what he or she or they are used to in their own country. The city is a young city, and that in itself is an attraction.

With the Internet of Things, perceptions are created both offline and online. “Bengaluru is therefore an experience we need to create. This experience needs to be both a physical and a virtual experience. The physical experience will be felt by those who live in it and visit it frequently and infrequently. The virtual experience will be ones that will travel as tales from those who visit and those who experience the brand physically. We can brand Bengaluru better by enriching the first hand experiences of our peoples. These experiences will cover the terrains of the political, the social, the economic, the religious, the cultural, the ecological and the touristy as well. Brand Bengaluru is an experience. We need to deepen and widen this experience. We need to enrich it. We need to make it socially inclusive and politically correct as an experience as well. This is a project in itself. A project no one wants to handle for now.” Let’s not forget the New York story. It can be rewritten.

Yes, there are things that need to be changed. But what are the things that Bangalore has going for it that attracts foreigners? “Bengaluru is a peaceful city. Foreigners love that. We offer the best of the tradition and technology. We are at the cutting edge of both. For the foreigner, we care able to offer a cultural experience during the day and a nightlife experience that is not far from what he or she or they are used to in their own country. The city is a young city, and that in itself is an attraction.  We offer 27 different cuisines in the city and are non-jingoistic by and large. The Kannadiga is a secular entity who embraces one and all, never mind where you come from. We do not frown at dressing styles and are comfortable with skirts of any length, from the South Indian ‘Pavada’ to the Korean mini-skirt. By and large, Bengaluru is the microcosm of the world at large. And we speak English better than a whole lot of countries can carry it off. These are big attractions for sure,” says Harish.

One can’t help but ask the brilliant ad man, what would he choose as a slogan for Bangalore. “My slogan would be: “Bengaluru: Bisi, Bisi Bisibelebaath Bengaluru!” (“Bengaluru: Hot, Hot Bisibelebaath Bengaluru). Bisibelebaath, to the uninitiated is the South Indian ‘khichdi’. Tastier and more varied than the North Indian variant for sure. It has ingredients that come close to the ‘Sambar-rice’ combination. A wholesome meal in itself. It packs all of 23 ingredients. All varied. Everything that comes from all over.”

And that ties in with the cities cosmopolitan outlook. “And that is why I call Bengaluru a bisibelebaath city. We have people from every Indian city, from major cities of the world, and all of us cause for an eclectic city called Bengaluru. And we survive and thrive. And how! Therefore my slogan: “Bengaluru: Bisi, Bisi Bisibelebaath Bengaluru”! We are a piping hot city for sure!

Harish has spoken about the ‘The Enabling Lives Dictum’ where he says brands are meant to enrich the lives of people. “Brands are meant to be solutions. Real solutions to real problems. The moment your brand is moving away from this dictum, it is time to re-orient your brand strategy. If your business owner is however inclined to go his way, time to call your friendly headhunter and re-orient your job-strategy instead. Brands are meant to enable lives positively. Not by deceit. Not by subterfuge. And most certainly not by clever lines that hide more than reveal.”

# 11 National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences

Interview with Director NIMHANS Dr B N Gangadhar and Clinical Neuropsychologist Dr Shantala Hegde

The National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences traces its origins right back to the early 19th century when the first rudimentary attempts at addressing mental health issues were made in India. Today NIMHANS undertakes a wide range of activities in creating awareness and also on destigmatising mental health both within and outside NIMHANS.

As CSP’s Bangalore Global Icons No 11, we have picked Dr G N Gangadhar, Director of NIMHANS and eminent music cognition neuropsychologist at the same institute – Associate Professor Dr Shantala Hegde.

Professor Gangadhar says that NIMHANS was the first Institute created as an exclusive Department of Mental Health Education way back in 1980’s, “to give thrust and to ensure that the awareness activities are conducted continuously. Before NIMHANS, the All India Institute of Mental Health (AIIMH) was recognised as a multi-disciplinary service, as a research and academic facility with the distinction of even establishing ancillary departments such as biochemistry, biostatistics, social work etc. It took a holistic stand on problems related to the mind and brain and the nervous system. In this, NIMHANS mirrored global thinking in its initial years and now continues to be a multidisciplinary organisation which makes it unique. The central government is now modelling other mental health institutions on the lines of NIMHANS as ‘NIMHANS-like’ institutions’.”

Director NIMHANS Dr B N Gangadhar

Spread around 135 acres at the heart of the city, NIMHANS has long been a pioneer in addressing mental health issues. “Public health is one important area where, work at NIMHANS lead to a national program, District Mental Health Programme.  The other areas are Addiction Medicine, Psychiatric Rehabilitation (for which NIMHANS received a national award), Geriatric Psychiatry (Award winning) Women and Perinatal Psychiatry (other countries have emulated this), non-invasive brain stimulation, biological psychiatry including molecular genetics (led to international grants), Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (we serve on national committees), Suicide Prevention, Yoga and meditation in mental health (we recently set up a department of Integrative Health) and also stem cell research,” says Professor Gangadhar.

Asked about the vision of NIMHANS in the coming years, he foresees technology playing an important role in capacity strengthening, providing Mental Health services and Human Resource Development. “This is expected to play an important role in reaching mental health for all.  For this reason NIMHANS has strengthened telemedicine through VKN (Virtual Knowledge Network) and formally created a NIMHANS Digital Academy.  Several hundreds have been trained and accredited by this.  Accordingly the number will cross 1000 in this one year itself.  NIMHANS also foresees a role in a national effort to convert Mental hospitals to Academic institutes to augment trained human resource in the country.”

NIMHANS has been a collaborating centre for the World Health Organisation for a long time.  NIMHANS has regularly participated in international activities through WHO in terms of bringing out health related manuals, training visitors from neighbouring countries who have been deputed by WHO (the latest one will be a team from Maldives in November 2019). Faculty of NIMHANS have been independently invited by WHO from time to time for several academic and clinical agenda, from formulating ICD 11 criteria to inspecting WHO projects in other countries to writing reports/manuals/guidelines et, says Professor Gangadhar.

A large scale nationwide National Mental Health Survey (NMHS) was conducted by NIMHANS which helped in understanding the burden of Mental illness in India. It emphasised the importance of Mental health and also the scope for research in the field of Mental health. NIMHANS has established collaboration and is researching on several specific disorders at international level including in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Dementia etc.

NIMHANS Integrated Centre for yoga (NICY), which has been established in the Institute of National Importance i.e. NIMHANS, has been striving to do research on the scientific underpinnings of yoga in both healthy people as well people with various psychiatric and neurological disorders. NIMHANS is conducting an international conference on 26th and 27th of June 2020 titled “Yoga And Neuro-sciences Traditions And Research Approaches” or YANTRA 2020.

At NIMHANS there are both basic science researchers and clinician researchers. Faculty members from both Basic Sciences and Clinical Sciences are carrying out research work in different areas related to Neuroscience and Mental Health on par with what is happening in the global scenario.

Dr Shantala Hegde is a clinical neuropsychologist carrying out clinical and research in two streams – one in the area of Clinical Neuropsychology and Neurorehabilitation and the other in area of Neuromusicology. She is the first Clinical Psychologist in the country to receive the Intermediate Fellowship by the India Alliance DBT Wellcome Trust.

“The CPHI Intermediate Fellowship has given me the opportunity to hone my skills as a clinician, and as a researcher under the mentorship of Professor Dr Gottfried Schlaug (Director, Music and Neuroimaging Laboratory, Stroke Recovery Laboratory, and Division Chief, Cerebrovascular Diseases Associate Professor of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School), a leading researcher in the field of Neurology and Neuromusicology.  I am thankful for this opportunity to pursue my interest to bring the two areas of my interest together, towards helping patients with neurological conditions, in particular, Parkinson’s disease. It is surely the beginning, but worth a journey to look forward to.”

Dr Hegde is faculty in charge of the Music Cognition Laboratory inaugurated in June 2011. This is the first laboratory in India which aims at neuroscientific investigations of music perception and cognition and to study its neural correlates.

The research focus of this laboratory is music cognition and neuromusicology from basic science to clinical application. The aim is to carry out basic science research (on musically trained, untrained healthy participants and various clinical conditions) as well as clinical research examining the effects of music based intervention to other domains of functioning like cognition, language, emotion and overall functionality in various neurological and psychiatric conditions using neurocognitive evaluation, EEG/ERP, fMRI methods.

The laboratory is equipped with sound proof rooms, 64-channel EEG/ERP system, a recording studio with infrastructure and audio system to carry out audio recording and audio-data processing.

“Research work so far has examined musical emotion, music and language, rhythm perception, effect of music on other cognitive processes in musically trained and untrained individuals. The variations in musical rhythm perception in clinical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Schizophrenia and effect of music intervention during spinal surgery on levels of anxiety and pain as well as its effect of anaesthetic drug dosage, level of cortisol has been carried out,” says Dr Hegde.

Dr Shantala Hegde (extreme left) with mentor Professor Dr Gottfried Schlaug and team at Harvard

In her study investigating the variations in emotional experience during the different phases of raga elaboration, Dr Hegde found that emotional variations within certain ragas were often larger than between ragas. Indian classical musicians have the ability to strongly vary the expressivity associated with a specific raga in their performances, but within the constraints of the raga framework (Hegde et al, 2012).

In an electroencephalography (EEG) study, 20 musically untrained individuals listened to NICM ragas; they showed increased overall alpha, delta and theta power in comparison with an eyes-closed rest condition. The observed changes during music listening had previously been linked with highly relaxed states, such as meditative states (Hegde et al, 2012).

The world of mental health sciences in India has grown due to the efforts of NIMHANS. From the ‘lunatic asylum’ in the 19th century to the Mysore Government Mental Hospital in 1934, the All India Institute of Mental Health in 1954 and NIMHANS in 1974 to acquiring the status of a Deemed University in 1994 and being bestowed the status of Institute of National Importance through a separate act of Parliament in 2013, NIMHANS has grown in stature and made tremendous strides over the decades.

# 9: Pavithra Muddaya, Vimor Handloom Foundation

Pavithra Muddaya, Managing Trustee, Vimor Handloom Foundation has a family tradition of preserving India’s beautiful crafts. Her mother Chimmy Nanjappa was the first Manager of Cauvery Handicrafts, Bangalore in the late 50’s. Cauvery Emporium at the junction of MG Road and Brigade Road in Bangalore has been a cultural landmark showcasing the best of Karnataka’s handicrafts.

The idea of starting a saree business was her father A C Nanjappa’s brainwave after her mother returned from the World Fair in Montreal in 1967. On his goading Chimmy Nanjappa sourced sarees for a Delhi buyer. Later while accompanying her husband for his work in Molkalmuru she purchased some silk sarees, which she sold out of a trunk at home. After her husband’s demise in 1974, Vimor was registered as a partnership between Chimmy and Pavithra. What began as a necessity slowly grew into a passion to saving handloom designs and supporting weavers to succeed, says Pavithra of Vimor.

Kamaladevi Chattopadhya, Indian social reformer and freedom activist, the driving force behind the renaissance of Indian handicrafts, hand looms, and theater in independent India was a big supporter of Vimor. “Forty ago she appreciated that we were preserving traditional designs and supporting weavers. Her biggest advice to me when the saree design was not to both our satisfaction was ‘I do not want any excuses from you’. I was upset at that time but as I got older I understood what she meant and now this is a line I use with my weavers till date,” says Pavithra.

Over the last 50 years, Vimor has done yeomen work in working with weavers and preserving certain weaving practices and styles of sarees. “The most significant contribution that Vimor has done is that we have saved many traditional saree designs from being lost. We do this by recreating these designs with weavers. Doing this with empathy and integrity for the artisan and his crafts is of primary importance to us. Design intervention is undertaken in a step by step process accompanied by monetary advances and assured buy back, allowing him to function in a risk free environment, till he is independent.” This allows the weaver to grow successfully without using the Vimor name but continuing to use Pavithra’s designs. Today this has created a ripple effect where some of the designs are in continuous production for over 35/40 years impacting weavers unknown to Vimor. This has helped weavers grown from weavers to businessmen, says Pavithra.

This July the Vimor Handloom Foundation has opened a Museum called The Museum of Living Textiles in Bangalore showcasing textiles. The foundation will look at research and documentation of textiles, livelihood training for women in distress and advocacy and publishing weaver stories.

Some of the pieces are family heirlooms while others have been donated by family and friends. On display is a datthi seere, woven for children, with a length of 3.15 metres. The devi sarees are woven on much smaller looms to suit the size of a goddess’ statue. A rare Chanderi saree runs upto 64 inches. There are some Chinese and Cambodian collections too.

The Indian textile industry is so varied with even neighbouring states having different varieties and even within states like Andhra and Tamil Nadu there being many kinds of sarees. Indian handlooms are known for their richness, exquisiteness, variety and fine quality. “Handlooms comprise the largest cottage industry in the country. Millions of looms across the country are engaged in weaving cotton, silk and other natural fibers to bring out traditional beauty of India’s precious heritage and also providing livelihood to millions of families. There is hardly a village where weavers do not exist weaving out the traditional beauty of the region. The skills and activities are kept alive by passing the skills from generation to generation. What sets our handloom apart is the excellent workmanship, color combination and fine quality,” says a well-known textile retailer.

Pavithra, who has been working with the most beautiful of colours, patterns and designs, says “This is the most beautiful aspect of our country’s diversity. We should celebrate our local cultural spectrum and use these as inspirations to create products that are aesthetic in design, environmentally friendly and allows weavers to participate and succeed financially. At Vimor this is how we have always worked not letting geographic boundaries restrict us.”

The saree will never go out of fashion. How it is draped, what is accessorised, what is designed may change, but “sarees will always be attractive to women. Our strength at Vimor is our design ability and our customers have always supported this journey. Thirty five years ago we created working women’s light silks, these were price friendly, easy home wash maintenance. At that time there were many women in executive positions and these sarees were worn to office and meetings. We believe design has to reflect the time, and purpose so as to allow women to celebrate their individuality. This is what will always make the saree attractive,” says Pavithra.

Famous people drop in announced to Vimor and Pavithra has respected their privacy and “not used their names to further our business and they respect this fact.”

“Sheila Dikshit (late Delhi chief Minister) came to Vimor, saw my aunt wearing a kodava style saree and was curious about it, so we dressed her in the style before she left. When she returned to the Raj Bhavan, she told us that the staff was amused that she wore one style going and another coming back.”

Indian textiles are much sought after. “Weavers are benefiting from the global interest in Indian textiles as the sheer variety and skill is difficult to find in any other country. Today the youth are tech savvy with using Whatsapp and social media for marketing and can cater for any overseas customer to grow their business,” says Pavithra of the growing market for Indian textiles.

# 8 Dr H R Nagendra – From NASA to S-VYASA

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi was disturbed to see Arvind Kejrawal coughing non-stop in New Delhi, he asked him to visit Dr H R Nagendra, Chancellor S-VYASA (Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana) for a cure for an allergy cough caused by high levels of pollution in New Delhi. Prime Minister Modi himself visits Dr Nagendra regularly.

Dr Nagendra’s journey from NASA to S-VYASA is part of yoga lore. When the AYUSH Ministry set up a committee of Yoga experts in the country to direct the course of Yoga, Dr Nagendra was made the Chairman.

After receiving his doctorate in 1968, Dr Nagendra served as faculty of IISc in Department of Mechanical Engineering. He then went to Canada as Post- Doctoral Research Fellow in the University of British Columbia, Canada in 1970. From there, he moved to NASA Marshall Space Flight Centre, USA as Post-Doctoral Research Associate in 1971 and moved to Engineering Science Laboratory, Harvard University, USA as a Consultant in 1972. He served as Visiting Staff at Imperial College of Science and Technology, London later.

Dr Nagendra brought his brilliant engineering credentials to Vivekananda Kendra, a service mission, as a whole-time worker in 1975. Today he heads India’s and perhaps the world’s largest Yoga University in Bangalore. He has published 30 Research Papers in Engineering and more than 60 papers on Yoga. He has authored and co-authored 35 books on Yoga.

S-VYASA has partnered with over 20 institutions abroad including East Tennessee State University, Central Michigan University, The Centre for International Mental Health and School of Population Health, The University of Melbourne, Japan Vivekananda Yoga Kendra, Yonago,  Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Health Synergies, Indianapolis, Indiana, The Perrott-Warrick Project, Alexander Group, Taipei, Republic Polytechnic, Singapore, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Centre, KWA Kuratorium Wohnen im Alter Gag, Munich, and others.

The University attracts around 200 foreigners per year and the numbers are increasing. S-VYASA centers run by Alumni are spread in 30 countries.

If one were to look at the research undertaken by the University in the last 5 years, it covers a host of topics, relevant to health and well-being. The most complex includes Cerebral auto regulation and sympathetic nervous system activity (SNS) while performing cognitive tasks during yoga practices which have different effects on SNS and the simplest is Effect of Fresh Coconut in A Balanced Diet A Randomized Comparative Study.

Speaking to the Center for Soft Power, Dr Nagendra says his vision was to bring Yoga to higher education after it was introduced at Primary, Middle and High school levels in Arunachal Pradesh Vivekananda Kendra Vidyalayas, which had the wonderful result of “total personality development in children. We should bring teachings of Yoga right form the Primary school level, thereby attracting students to its fold by traditional yoga practices. We have done it through Krida Yoga.” 

Asked if he expected Yoga to reach the heights it has today, Dr Nagendra says, “Ours was to do the efforts in all sincerity. Results, I believe was expected to come. But it is our PM who has made it possible to the extent it has grown now.”

In 2014, Dr H R Nagendra, Chancellor S-VYASA, the world’s largest university, put forth a new form of Yoga called ‘Vivekananda Yoga’ – modern, rooted and focussed on strengthening the mind. Dr Nagendra has been the Yoga guru for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Speaking about him, Dr Nagendra says, “He is a role model for yoga and for the country. It was incidental that he came to Prashanti Kutiram when Mananiya Sheshadri (my uncle, mentor and role model who introduced me to Yoga and Bhagavadgita at the age of 6) used to come and stay here for many days. For Modi ji and me Swami Vivekananda is the Aradhya devata. So we jelled well. He saw the combination of Traditional Yoga combined with modern scientific research here in VYASA which I think attracted him.”      

Dr Nagendra says that scientific research as the specialty of S-VYASA with the largest contribution of research on Yoga to the world. “We have been able to unravel the secrets of Yoga from Yoga texts and bring them to benefit society by an evidence based approach.”

The aim and mission of S-VYASA, he says is to bring the benefits of Yoga and its applications to everyone in society by modern scientific research.  “Combining the best of the East with that of the West, to bring peace on earth, create ideal social orders featured by Wealth and Health, Bliss and Peace, Efficiency and Harmony.” On a Nobel Prize for Yoga and Ayurveda, Dr Nagendra counters, “India should develop and institute a bigger prize than Nobel Prize.” 

Thoughts on YOGA

“Most people think yoga means asanas. But now people are aware that Yoga is a way of life. The great master Patanjali said Yoga is to gain mastery over the mind – Yogaha chitta vritti nirodha. Yoga means the process of joining. We are small beings. We have to expand our personality and merge with the totality. Raising ourselves to become great human beings, super human beings, divine human beings, and reach perfection itself. That is the whole process of yoga and in that the mind is the most important.”

“Does concentration make you a Yogi? No. A marketing executive goes to work for 6 to 8 to 10 hours. He is full of concentration. When he returns home he is worried, he’s anxious about what is going to happen. In a few years he ends up in a cardiac ward. He is bright, intelligent, why does this happen to him. Patanjali says this is only one aspect of the mind. There is a second dimension to the mastery that is to calm down the mind. To silence the mind. You should be able to come out of the worrying or thinking loop. Come out of the enslaving loop and remain calm, quiet and silent. You are a giant on one side and a pygmy on the other. This brings an imbalance in the body. It causes and autonomous and endocrine imbalance. If not addressed it will lead to many diseases. Unfortunately, in our education system all over the world we are not taught techniques to calm down the mind.”

“Our children have become very brilliant, they can do things very fast, but when we ask them to calm down, no chewing gum in the mouth, no Walkman in the ear, no I-pad in the hand, it becomes a punishment. The objective of yoga is to develop the second wing through yogic postures, asanas. Use the body to gain mastery over the mind. Asanas are useful not only for burning calories but more important to gain mastery of the mind. Patanjali gives the answer – sthira sukham asanam. Sit still in a posture. Make the asnaa steady, start saying in the asana longer and longer, so Patanjali said imaginge a vast blue sky or ocean and keep your mind tuned to that. That is the third phase of asana, which is called sukha. Tuning your mind to ananthatha. In every position you must relax the body, relaxation of the effort.”

“Another tool is pranayama. The manifestation of pranayama is breathing. Gain mastery over breathing. You should be able to slow down the breathing. We all breathe 15-18 breathes per minute. We whoudl come down to 12, 10, 6, 2 per minute and then 1 breath in 2 minutes, 1 breathe in 3 minutes. When you slow down breathing, you slow down mind. In our university we call it the breath of the Brahmari time. It maybe 15 seconds or 20 seconds. Then you must elongate it. If you achieve 35-40 seconds you are in good shape. Anxiety, depression, dementia, everything will start vanishing.”

# 7 Dr L Subramaniam – The Carnatic Violin goes West


Today, L Subramaniam plays the solo Carnatic violin at the prime 3.30 am slot in major music festivals across the world, from the Dover festival in the UK to neighbouring Bangladesh. He is also India’s leading composer for international symphonies. His work is published by Schott Music, the second oldest and the largest music publishing houses in Europe.

Dr Subramaniam has invested the Carnatic violin with its own solo sound, repertoire, techniques and styles, and taken it to the best concert halls around the world – besides composing orchestral music for symphonies overseas. Violinist Yehudi Menuhin has said of Subramaniam’s compositions, “I find nothing more inspiring than the music making of my very great colleague Subramaniam. Each time I listen to him, I am carried away in wonderment.”

The Western violin’s induction into Carnatic Music in the late 19th century and its subsequent entrenchment over the 20th century as both a concert and recording must-have, in its role as an instrument closely following, but never ahead of, the vocal melody, must rank as one of the most remarkable occurrences in the evolution of any conservative, classical tradition anywhere in the world.

Something struck a chord in the Carnatic world, and it is no doubt the fretless, bowed, violin’s almost unique ability to reproduce every nuance and sustain of the human voice, vital in Carnatic’s modal, raga-based, gamaka-laden singing.

Indeed, recent research published in the science Savart Journal indicates that “great violin makers, such as Stradivari and Guarneri, may have designed violins to mimic the human voice.” The study’s author Joseph Nagyvary, an emeritus biochemistry professor at Texas A&M University, says that “violins ‘sing’ with a female soprano voice.”

But can the violin, then, be happy being only an accompanist to the centre-stage vocalist, consigned permanently to the notorious second-fiddle status? Having given of itself to Carnatic music, will it not seek to take something back as well?

Many great violin players including Thirkkodikaval Krishna Iyer and Govindaswamy Pillai, followed by   T Chowdaiah from Mysore, Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu and Pappa Venkataramaiah accompanied the greatest vocalists of Carnatic music, creating a golden period for melody.

Even in those early days, accompanists were not entirely satisfied in merely following the voice. While these instrumentalists became legends because of their innovation and creativity in adapting a western instrument to Indian music, for a long time it was difficult to conceive the violin as a having the potential to be a solo instrument. For one thing, any violinist, all old-timers agree, who showed off skill above and beyond the accompanist’s role, might quickly find it a struggle get concerts to play.

So the violin in Dr L Subramaniam’s hand, as he sits in his elegantly furnished home in Sanjay Nagar, Bengaluru, has indeed come a very long way. His father V Lakshminarayana had a vision for the Carnatic violin as a solo instrument, with its own repertoire, its own techniques and styles, not just in India but in concert halls across the world.

Today, Subramaniam plays the solo Carnatic violin at the prime 3.30 am slot in major music festivals across the world, from the Dover festival in the UK to neighbouring Bangladesh.

“If you work hard, then you can achieve great things like T N Rajaratinam Pillai did for the nadaswaram, Palghat Mani Iyer did for the mridangam or T R Mahalingam did for the flute. Mandolin Shrinivas is one of our finest musicians of all times, and in his generation he is the best. They were artistes who did different things and brought their chosen instrument to a different level. So people came just to listen to their instruments. My father believed that the violin had that potential,” he says.

It was in the late 1970s that Subramaniam finished his MBBS and went to the US. Prior to that he was playing with his brothers L Vaidyanathan and L Shankar as part of the ‘Violin Trio’. Trained by his father all his life, waking up at 4 am for practice almost every day, he had got to the point where he had his first chance to lead a major orchestral symphony at Los Angeles. But with his mother in hospital, he did not want to go ahead. His father insisted that he not give up an opportunity to play the violin as a soloist, that too with hundreds of western musicians playing behind him.

Lakshminarayana told him, “Just think of what you will be giving up. Our dream is to make the Indian violin a solo instrument. Here you have the opportunity to be a soloist, with hundreds of western musicians behind you and they are playing your composition based on an Indian Raga.”  Subramaniam led from the front.

When Subramaniam got his first chance to play at the New York Philharmonic, his mother had passed away and he was grieving. Again he was persuaded by his father and older brother L Vaidyanathan not to skip a chance to play in one of the world’s most prestigious orchestras. It was a special opportunity to write a piece for the New York Philharmonic, and work with Zubin Mehta. “My father was very clear what our role was. His dream was to make sure that the Indian violin was heard in major concert halls in the world.”

For all of this to happen, two major changes had to be brought about. The first was to branch off into solo playing, and the second was to strengthen the techniques and the content of the music to enable solo playing as well as to give it an edge while playing with Western artistes, to whom the violin essentially belonged.


The first change was to carve a space for solo concerts in an Indian milieu which was inconceivable in the 1960s and 1970s, given the concert paddathi. But the change was necessary. “When you accompany people you have restrict yourself, you cannot play what you want to play. If you are a virtuoso player, practicing for so long every day, you want to exhibit your talent and art for people who really like it and who support it. In that kind of a situation there is a conflict. Because if you are a solo player and you play an accompaniment, then you are not called for the next concert because people start applauding your accompaniment as it is more expressive. Typically they don’t want a scenario where the accompanist is getting more attention that the main artiste. The only resolution to this was to decide to play only solo or only accompaniment.”

It was not an easy decision to make. The concert opportunities were not many and most artistes struggled getting a regular income. “There were a few AIR jobs through recommendations, with only a few available through merit. The rest of them survived by playing with somebody. For that somebody to call you means that you should ensure that you don’t overshadow them. This was the reality,” says Subramaniam.

Instrumental music in South India has had to fight for its rightful place. In Subramaniam’s view, it is often “people’s personal agendas, personal thoughts, personal prejudices which are always there in the framework. You are a brought up in a society where there are many preconceived notions about music. In India, our organisations put restrictions on what one can play. None of the Indian organisations have made me what I am. People heard me and called me all over the world.”

Subramaniam moved to the US in the early 1970s and around that period stopped accompanying vocalists. Earlier he would accompany Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar and it was during one such concert before Subramaniam’s final MBBS exam that Chembai told him he would become a ‘Chakravarthy’ (emperor) in playing the violin.

After singing for two hours, Chembai began a Todi. “I knew that it would take a minimum of another half an hour to 45 minutes. I told him mama, I have an exam next day and if I fail, I have to wait six months to write the exam again. I played a short Todi, then he asked me to play it once more. At that time he told me I would be a Violin Chakravarthy, and will not make a single penny from medicine even if I pass the exam. It was Deva Vak (divine word).” Subramaniam has never practiced medicine despite being a qualified doctor.

CONTENT AND TECHNIQUES                                                         

The second change that was necessary was to set up the Indian violin against the Western violin. In order to set up a solo style that was accepted globally, “we had to create new techniques because in terms of the violin, the West was far ahead and they considered even our greatest artistes as folk artistes or ethnic musicians who sat down and played the instrument.

“So the task before us was to create acceptance on par with them and create a desire to collaborate with us. Changing that mindset was difficult because they will not collaborate unless they feel you have something to collaborate with on par with their level of technique, their level of popularity or their level of musicianship,” says Subramaniam who since 1973 has collaborated with Yehudi Menuhin, Stephane Grappelli, Stevie Wonder, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Ruggiero Ricci, Arve Tellefsen, Herbie Hancock, Joe Sample, Stanley Clarke, George Duke, Al Jarreau, Jean Luc Ponty, Earl Klugh, Larry Coryell, Corky Siegel, Tony Williams, Billy Cobham and Maynard Ferguson.

Lakshminarayana had decided to innovate with the content, creating a solo technique in varnams, with multiple speeds, playing in a much faster tempo, which normally doesn’t happen in a vocal concert. “My father changed some of the right hand and left hand techniques and incorporated veena techniques so that it becomes our own technique and we were not copying the Western violin.”

The greatest challenge was to try to do things which were not easy for a vocalist, says Subramaniam. “There were a lot of things. Seeing what it feels to play with full range, and then try and go beyond that range. I recorded a varnam in 15 speeds pancha nadai with Palghat Mani Iyer playing the mridangam, which till today has not been duplicated because you need a player like Palghat Mani Iyer also to do something like that.”

Dr L Subramaniam at Albert Hall

The last century was a golden period for the Voice. There was MS Subbulakshmi, GN Balasubramaniam, Ariyakudi, Maharajapuram Vishwanatha Iyer, the Alathur Brothers and everyone was unique in their own way. Their music was always innovative and vocal music flourished.

The content of their music, however, was not always based on lyrics, says Subramaniam. “They were not singing krithis alone. Krithis are a part of a concert. There’s the raga before, swarakalpana after, the Ragam Tanam Pallavi, etc. and a major portion of it could be improvised depending on the artiste. Are there words in the improvisation?  Similarly in instrumental music you can enjoy the music without words. We should have an open mind to say I will hear both if it is good. If as an organiser you give only what people are asking, then you can become like Bollywood, do Bollywood films. Here you have the responsibility of spreading the culture.”

To him the power of instrumental music is undeniable. Subramaniam says, “Instrumental music has been able to penetrate and spread our culture in the West, more than vocal music. You see in Western music the power of the orchestra. Why was instrumental music given that importance? They too had vocal music, but slowly they started writing music only for instruments. Right from the time of Bach to Wagner and Mahler. They did it with 200 people, 500 people. They write pieces with that magnitude for orchestra. The sound is absolutely amazing and mind blowing. In India, only those instrumentalists who were immensely talented or were exceptional, were taken notice of.”


Today, Subramaniam is India’s leading composer for international symphonies. His work is published by Schott Music, the second oldest and the largest music publishing houses in Europe. He picked up a masters in Western Classical music, (formal training is useful for proper notation) and he composes music and notates it himself. “The Double Concerto for violin and flute” combines western scales and micro intervals. “Spring – Rhapsody” is a homage to Bach and Baroque music.

Over the years he has written and created works for the world’s greatest orchestras The New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Zubin Mehta (“Fantasy on Vedic Chants”), the Swiss Romande Orchestra (“Turbulence”); The Kirov Ballet (“Shanti Priya”) The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra (“The Concerto for Two Violins”); The Berlin Opera (Global Symphony), the live concert of which was broadcast simultaneously over 28 nations for millions of people. ‘Astral Symphony’ is a composition for a full symphony orchestra.  

Dr Subramaniam received his doctorate in 2017 for his study on Raga Harmony – a study he undertook when a lot of westerners asked him how to compose music using the Indian system.

He has tried to create a system for both Indian and Western musicians to be able to compose orchestral work with a knowledge of western music and using the Indian raga system. “We can create full symphony works using the harmony in the raga system. I have selected 36 ragas out of the 72 and with these 36 ragas we can create any harmony. And whatever harmony has been used in the past also fit into this. So it is a complete system. These 36 raga scale fit in with the Hindustani raga system as well as the Western scales. Everything fits into it, plus, one can go on creating absolutely new harmonic systems. New tonalities which have never been explored can be taken up.”

If an Indian musician wants to write an orchestral piece, without knowing western music, they would have to depend on someone else to write it, based on the melody one chooses. “So, literally, it is not your music. In the West, when we say Mozart wrote a piece, he wrote every note. Bach wrote every note. In India, in Bollywood for instance, somebody gives an idea, somebody will orchestrate it, somebody will arrange it and someone becomes the Music Director. For our musicians to write Western music, they must have knowledge of harmonics, counterpoint, writing score, etc. Similarly if a western musician wants to write a piece using raga, then they must know our system,” adds Subramaniam.

 When Dr L Subramaniam started out as a soloist people said he was making a mistake. They asked “Who is going to listen to him.” In the generation preceding him, 95 percent of the violinists accompanied vocalists. But he was driven by a deep passion for the violin and wanted to play like his father said he should. “Nothing else mattered. If you have God’s blessings, guru’s guidance, and faith, and love and passion in what you are doing, nothing can stop you,” says Subramaniam. lorful Accent 6