To: IT BHU
Cc: Avinash K. Sahay
----- Forwarded Message ----
From: Brian Fernandez
Sent: Sun, October 17, 2010 11:17:02 AM
Subject: Improvised India
if you haven't read this earlier, well worth a chuckle: bf
The CWG has shown how India wins by not playing by the rules
The Commonwealth Games have shown – yet again – that India has a knack of winning by the simple expedient of throwing away the rulebook. The harvest of medals reaped by our sportspeople was garnered strictly by the rules of the different disciplines involved. But where India, typically, snatched victory from the laws of defeat was in the run-up to the Games: the preparations – or rather, total lack of preparations – that made almost all commentators predict that the event would be a total fiasco and bring shame and ignominy to Brand India. And, true to type, Brand India – this time in the jaunty avatar of Shera – proved the critics wrong by pulling off a largely acceptable CWG, a few downers notwithstanding: empty stadia, tickets sold as raddi and cops behaving like thugs. And it did this by resorting to what it’s always been best at: improvisation.
India – both as the ancient civilisation and the modern nation which coexist not just side by side but within each other – can be said to be improvisation incarnate, having elevated ad hocism not just to an art form but to a philosophy. Other cultures and countries, particularly those belonging to the western world, do things by rules and regulations, in a systematic step-by-step manner. India does its unique number by ignoring the rules and getting it all together at the very last moment by an instinct for improvisation, by working the mystery of the makeshift, as it did in the case of the CWG. Horrific images of collapsed footbridges and filthy toilets suddenly morphed into an eye-catching opening ceremony that raised the curtain on the Games. India had confounded its critics by pulling the rabbit out of the hat of the unplanned, the messy, the make-do and the extempore.
The extempore is part and parcel of the Indian ethos. Indian classical music is innocent of musical notation; there are no score sheets, no laid-down rules which have rigidly to be followed. Indian music is pure improvisation, grounded not in a pre-determined set of rules but on spur-of-the-moment inspiration guided only by the flexible grammar of the raga in which it is being played. No two performances can be identical; each is made distinct by the individual improvisation of the performer.
This is equally true of Indian cooking. Other cuisines follow recipes, detailed rules which tell you exactly how much of what to use, so many grammes of this, so many teaspoons of that. In India, recipes follow the cook’s spontaneous estimation of the use of a particular ingredient based on andaza, a term that can’t be translated into any other idiom. How much of this spice, or that? Just use your andaza. It is the creative use of andaza, this celebration of spontaneity and improvisation that gives Indian food its unmatchable zest and flavour.
India has famously been described as a functioning anarchy, and we see evidence of this everywhere, where impending disaster is staved off by a whisker. The horrors of Partition seemed to confirm the dire predictions of those who – like the ach-imperialist Winston Churchill – prophesied that independent India wouldn’t last 10 years, and would fragment into warring states. According to the rulebook, with all its social and economic disparities, India ought to have disintegrated. But despite largely foreign-inspired divisiveness in Kashmir and the north-east, and Maoist militancy in tribal areas, multilingual, multi-religious India has survived its many predictions of doom, thanks to its seemingly endless ability to reinvent or re-improvise itself as and when occasion demands.
Perhaps nowhere is this creative interpretation of rules more obvious than in India’s chaotic traffic conditions in which everyone invents their own rules as they go along. Yes, tragic collisions do take place. But considering the chaos of Indian streets, these are far fewer than anticipated. Indeed, perhaps the safest way to navigate Indian roads is to follow the advice of the veteran driver to the novice: don’t follow the rules; if you do you’re certain to cause an accident.
In improvised India, the rule is that there are no rules. But what if ruleless improvisation itself becomes a rule? What rule then shall we follow – or break?
With reference to the Second Opinion ‘Improvised India’ (Oct 13) by Jug Suraiya, it reminded me of an interesting conversation i had about three years ago with a Japanese friend at Honda. He said: “Murad San, when we came to India we tried to introduce Japanese management philosophies. Sometimes they work. Most times they do not work. We tried to introduce JIT (Just In Time) philosophy. Difficult! But we found that India has a philosophy that works better. SHIT…Some how in time.”