Mass production or produced by the masses?
- Shanta Serbjeet Singh, New Delhi

April 1, 2010 

"I was here when he was here," she said. 'He' was the Mahatma, the one who walked the earth in the pursuit of peace sixty years ago. 'She' was Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan whose leadership of the cultural think tanks of the country continues without flagging. The occasion was the launch of Rajiv Sethi's three day marathon launch of 'Jiyo! Live it,' whose subtext reads: "Creating Work with Hand and Body, Mind and Spirit." This is his baby, conceived, nurtured for a lifetime, and nurtured, with a push by the World Bank. Despite the animus that that names inspires in many serious designers, thinkers, creative industry walas and walis, I found that when Shyam Benegal and Ashok Chatterjee, Sam Pitroda and Kapil Sibal, Salman Khurshid and Tara Bhattacharjee, Ela Bhatt and Malavika Sarukkai turned up at his do to lend a hand and raise a voice in support, they were hoping, along with him, that this time around, unlike many of his earlier efforts like The Golden Eye and the land that he got but lost at the last minute, to give his tribe of itinerant Shadipur depot nomads a home at AnandGram, with Jiyo he will finally meet with success.

So what exactly is Rajiv trying to do? To realise his old passion, to empower India's traditional arts and crafts persons to create a market for themselves that will change the taste of middleclass India in favour of aesthetics and beauty and that will bring their wonderful handiwork the economic strength that it so richly deserves. Jiyo, he says, signifies the arrival of a Swadeshi brand for the 21st century with the message: "Believe, Buy, Belong" honouring the Mahatma's message of hand work and the need for self reliance.

Prof. A.G. Rashid, speaking in the session of "Traditional Skill as content in a Knowledge Economy" started with an anecdote, the famous parable of the caged parrot of an Afghani trader, who was visiting India to convey his message of well being to fellow parrots in the land of the Hindus. When the Afghani trader had offered his salutations to a bevy of Indian parrots, they, having listened to him quietly, fell down in a dead faint. The Afghani businessman was very surprised at this development and upon his return to his land, he told the story of the Indian parrots to his pet parrot. At this, the Afghani parrot too, fell down in a dead faint. Saddened beyond measure, the Afghan opened the cage door to put the body of the dead parrot out. The moment the cage door opened, the parrot flexed its wings and flew off in a big soaring arc. He thanked his erstwhile master for bringing him the message from the Indian parrots of how to work for his freedom!

The good professor spoke of how all the master craftsmen of his country, the men who made the famous Afghani Kaleen and such like works had gone beyond the pale of life and now the art was in serious danger of total extinction. He also talked of how much they valued Indian help and how there were only 200 school leaving children in Afghani schools but 6,000 Afghan boys and girls studying in India. My suggestion that perhaps a way could be found to bring the remaining Afghani master crafts persons to India to train Indians - and maybe also Afghans - found much favour with specialists like Dr. Vatsyayan and Rajiv Sethi. May the parrots of culture fly freely between the two countries, so inextricably linked in history and civilizational skills!

Shanta Serbjeet Singh, for twenty-five years, columnist, critic and media analyst for The Hindustan Times, The Economic Times and The Times of India, India's most important mainstream English dailies, is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the premier Government cultural institution of India in 2000 and the same from Delhi Govt.'s Sahitya Kala Parishad in 2003 for her contribution to the field of culture. 

She is on the Central Audition Board of Doordarshan, India's national television, as well as the selection committees of several prestigious government bodies involved in culture such as The Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the Department of Culture. She was a member of the Tenth Five Year Plan Committee for Cultural Policy and of the First National Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. 

Singh has authored several best selling books on Indian arts such as 'Indian Dance: The Ultimate Metaphor,' 'The 50th Milestone: A Feminine Critique,' 'Nanak, The Guru' and 'America and You' (22 editions). 

As elected Chairperson of APPAN (The Asia-Pacific Performing Arts Network) for the past nine years, she has individually organized and helped her team of eminent artistes to organize eight international symposiums and festivals in several Asian countries and in the United States. APPAN, set up in 1999 by UNESCO, has, with the collaboration of UNESCO, pioneered the concept of delivering stress therapy, in particular in disaster-prone situations such as the tsunami and earthquake victims. The pilot project of this series was done under her leadership in four Asian countries after the tsunami of 2005 and another for the cyclone affected of Myanmar in 2008. Singh is the founder-Secretary of The World Culture Forum -India and Director of WCF-India's first Global WCF to be held in New Delhi in 2011.