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Round and about town


THE TWO Americans of Indian origin were as slick hucksters as you'd find in the best of consultancy organisations. Both have investment and international finance backgrounds, but what brought them to the discussion group I'd dropped in to hear was as emissaries of the think-tank they're founder members of. The U.S.-India Institute of Strategic Policy is Washington DC-based and is committed to "strengthening relations between the two countries in the areas of national security, defense and economics". The junior member of the team also chairs the Defense & Strategic Affairs Committee, "the leading Indian American public advocacy group on Capitol Hill".

The sales pitch of the visitors, shorn of all their eloquence, was simple: "The rocky Indo-American relationship of the past should be forgotten; with America of the view that it now needs India, it was offering India the hand of friendship and support; it is a hand that should be grasped warmly if India wants to move from being a Third World country to a First World one; and the earnest of that warmth should be the sending of Indian troops to Iraq! Bush Americans, if ever there were ones! The fusillade that followed from an audience comprising former leaders of the intelligence, military, bureaucratic and academic communities focussed on the baggage of the past - and ended with a categorical avowal that India would never send troops to Iraq. All the heat generated only demonstrated that the two Indian Americans were on their own - even if those disagreeing with them had as many American links as they did.

Stirring curiosity

At another recent meeting, Communication was the theme. And the Pulli Raja campaign was not exactly welcomed by the lecturer who thought it was a bit of nonsense repeated too often. Ad nauseam, did he mean? The defenders of the Government campaign to take the word `AIDS' out of the closet and bring it into everyday discussion in a society that thinks it's a dirty word adopted the position that it was one of the most successful curiosity-stirring campaigns in a long time. Of course, how curiosity over Pulli Raja is going to translate into making AIDS a talked about subject I'm not sure, but certainly Pulli Raja did stir a lot of curiosity till some answers began to appear.

I was as puzzled by at least one aspect of the lecture. It stressed the necessity to communicate in language that could be understood by the audience. A plethora of Sanskrit stanzas and Thiruvalluvar verses was hardly a language a cosmopolitan audience would understand as clearly as it should.

Certainly most of us in the city do not know Sanskrit and a large number of us would find the finer nuances of Thiruvalluvar's Tamil leaving us perplexed. So even if the gist of what was suggested by the speaker was understood, the clear understanding he emphasised that good communication should ensure was not quite achieved. Scholars, I've always held, usually run into this problem when communicating to a lay audience.

Reviving crafts

A little noticed exhibition recently was Kandanghi. Organised by the three-year-old M.Rm.Rm. Cultural Foundation, it took its name for what the Chettiars call the traditional cotton sarees of Chettinad. The sarees on display were the outcome of Visalakshi Ramaswamy of the Foundation reviving the craft in Chettinad, offering weavers designs and getting them to go beyond cottons into silk-cottons and pure silks.

Visalakshi Ramaswamy, however, has gone several steps further in preserving the traditions of Chettinad and reviving ancient crafts. And this was the most interesting part of the exhibition. The making of kottans (woven palm leaf containers in multicolours), the creation of handmade Athangudi tiles and the blending of Chettinad eggshell plaster - that offers the sheen of velvet - have all been documented by the Foundation, which also has a kottan weaving project underway.

Also documented meticulously and displayed was Visalakshi Ramaswamy's palatial house in Chettinad. The documentation of the house, the plaster and the tiles is something every architecture student should take a close look at and be briefed on. It would be a great idea if the Foundation took the Exhibition around to the architectural colleges in Tamil Nadu and interacted with the students.

That would be a great step towards its commitment to "facilitate interaction of design and architectural students with local crafts communities" and encourage architectural documentation. The Foundation may be contacted at or 2436 1498 or 2432 1082.

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