caught in a
tangled web of murder, myth and mirth...
Something is rotten in the state of Amravati. A mysterious ailment afflicts Indrah, reducing the omnipotent king of
the gods to, well, not quite the man he used to be. To add to his woes, the
Holy Trinity threaten to fire him for dereliction of duty. But Indrah’s
troubles wilt in comparison to those of his asura counterpart, Bali, ruler of
Even as Indrah sits fretting over his delicate health, an
assassination attempt on Bali leaves the asura on the brink of death.There is only one thing that can save both these men from certain doom:
amrit, the mythical nectar. But to secure it, the gods and the asuras will have
to cooperate and churn the Ocean of Milk together… Will Indrah and Bali be able
to set aside their ancient enmity, or will old rivalries keep them from pulling
off this epic feat? (Available for sale on Flipkart over here)
PRAISE FOR THE BOOK
A ripping good yarn...
tells a ripping good yarn, the fast-paced action given resonance by echoes of
current moral, political and social issues...the frequent use of modern idiom
adds a touch of timelessness to the tale which is seen to take place in a then
which is an enduring and relevant now. As is the case in all the best myths of
all ages.’ – Jug Suraiya, Times of
A grand and frothy manthan of myth, magic...
‘A grand and frothy manthan of myth, magic, palace intrigue, Wodehouse-ian humour and more! Nilanjan Choudhury uses the entire palette of good story-telling – humour, conflict, sex, dramatic reversals and action sequences that should have Hollywood pounding at Choudhury’s door. A modern day Aristophanes!’ – Mahesh Dattani, Sahitya Akademi Award-winning playwright and film-maker
An engaging mythological
'Nilanjan Choudhury’s novel creates an engaging mythological universe of
arrogant gods, warring asuras and convoluted power play which resonates with
contemporary politics' –Proteeti
Banerjee, Business World (Link)
Spicy retelling ...
'Dig into this spicy concoction of myth, human drama, social satire and
humour. You won’t be disappointed as you revisit our ancient myths,
discovering their contemporary resonance with plenty of chuckles along the way'
– Utkal Mohanty,Deccan Herald Books Review (Link)
A rollicking good read…
‘Bali and the Ocean of Milk, is a rollicking good read. It’s funny, it’s serious and it is a thriller’ – Malavika Velayanikal, DNA (Link)
'Once I started the book, I just couldn’t put it down... the book made
me revisit mythology in a very unique way' - Arundhati Raja,
Bangalore Mirror (Link)
Lip-smackingly good fun...
‘Genre-bending fiction, like a purana on modern politics narrated by a cynical, urban dilettante… The dialogues are crisp and well-written…and most of the book is seriously funny’ – Sailen Routray, Hard News (Link)
Quite a cocktail...
‘A tongue-in-cheek story that spans time, mythology
and politics. Quite a cocktail.’ – Abhijit Bhaduri, bestselling
‘Mythology with a modern political twist,
subversive and side-splittingly funny’ – C.K. Meena, author and
Web and Blog Reviews The Freespirit Some times a book comes along that leaves such a lasting impression that you want to recommend it to everyone! Nilanjan Choudhury's Bali & the Ocean of Milk, is a rib tickling take on the old 'Sagar Manthan' tale from Indian mythology. More
Abhinav's Blog This book is a standout in the genre of Hindu mythology-based fiction, and succeeds on many, many levels. More The Reading Corner This book comes as a refreshing change in the sea of modern representations of Hindu mythology. The bonus being the satire that accompanies the story telling. More
The book is a treat to read through - the setting of scenes, the building of characters, the amalgamation of modern age vocabulary with mythology, the witticism, the wackiness, the humour, everything is just perfect. More
My Chocolet Handbag
Right from page one I knew that this was going to be a book different from any I had read before.Go and buy the book NOW! Yes, you heard me, buy it NOW.More
Choudhury gives the tale a contemporary twist injected with humour, resulting in one very entertaining book. More
Brilliant read... Storytelling is back.... Hilarious yet thought provoking
A book that will grip you, surprise & shock you... More
(From Learning Curve, Issue XVIII, Sep 2012 published by Azim Premji University)
In the summer of 1959, the
British chemist and novelist, C. P. Snow delivered an influential lecture at
the University of Cambridge entitled “The Two Cultures and the Scientific
Revolution”. In his talk he drew attention to the ever widening chasm between
the sciences and the humanities in post-war Britain. He went on to say that “…
the intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being
split into two polar groups” – literary intellectuals on one side and physical
scientists on the other.
Half a century later, in a
distinctly warmer part of the world i.e. India, it would appear that the
situation has not changed significantly. Of course, not being an intellectual by
any stretch of imagination, prevents me from commenting on the “intellectual
life” of Indian society but I certainly think that the polarity that Snow pointed
out is alive and kicking in our schools, colleges and daily lives.
East is East
In India, the hard lines between
science, humanities and arts are drawn deep and early. Formally, this occurs
after the Class 10 board exams, when students necessarily have to make a choice
between Science, Arts or Commerce. From this point onwards, the rigidity of the
formal education system offers little space to a 16 year old who has a passion
for say, both painting and physics (assuming that s/he is interested in
anything at all, after the brutal cramming of the previous 10 years). Unlike foreign Universities, where one may
easily combine a major in engineering with a minor in film studies, such
possibilities are remote here. Is it any wonder that we rarely encounter the
likes of Steve Jobs who integrated engineering and calligraphy to develop the
marvellous user interface of Apple products?
An increasingly specialized world
forces us down straight and narrow paths that lead to a diminished appreciation
of the richness of both the sciences and the arts. Yet, when the two converge the results can be unexpected
Quantum Mechanics Meets Rashomon
In the last few months, I have
had the opportunity to be a part such a convergence. The amateur theatre group
that I sometimes work with, staged two plays about science and scientists –
Copenhagen by Michael Frayn and Life of Galieo by Bertolt Brecht.
Both plays are based on true incidents
and feature historical characters. Copenhagen is a dramatized account of a
mysterious meeting between two giants of modern atomic physics – Werner
Heisenberg and Niels Bohr. The meeting took place in Bohr’s house in Copenhagen
in September, 1941 at the height of the Second World War, at a time when
Denmark was under German occupation. Heisenberg
was one the few physicists who had stayed on in Hitler’s Germany unlike
Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli, Max Born and many others who had crossed over to the
Allies. Heisenberg, a deeply patriotic German, was accused of trying to build
the atom bomb for Hitler, an allegation that he refuted time and again. Bohr on
the other hand, was part of the Manhattan project that actually built the
Allied atomic bombs that were ultimately unleashed upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In a Rashomon like narrative
structure, the play flits across time and space, interpreting and re-interpreting
that fateful meeting between Bohr and Heisenberg, as multiple attempts are made
to answer the crucial question – why did Heisenberg meet Bohr in Copenhagen in
1941? Each dramatic interpretation presents a different answer to the audience.
Among others, the answers include – (1) that Heisenberg tried to appeal to
Bohr’s conscience as a scientist hoping that he would be able to influence the
allies to stop the Manhattan Project (2) that Heisenberg tried to pick Bohr’s
brains to understand the physics of fission so that he could build the bomb
himself (3) that he came to explain how he was preventing the Nazi scientists
from building the bomb and why he had to stay on in Germany.
The play operates at many levels
– personal, political and scientific. It explores the personal and professional
relationship between Bohr and Heisenberg, once friends and colleagues, but now
pitted against each other. It brings out the very human dilemmas before the
scientist, who engrossed in his research doesn’t care “what the truth will lead
to” but suddenly discovers that he is forced to care because of his innate
Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen is a incredibly
complex and nuanced work – a three hour long play liberally peppered with references
to abstruse concepts such as the uncertainty principle, Schrodinger’s Cat, matrix
mechanics, the diffusion equation and so on, which make it a bizarrely
difficult and intellectually demanding experience for any audience. When the play opened we were fairly sure that
people would start leaving after half an hour.
Yet much to our surprise, we had packed
houses and people sat attentively (the odd yawn apart) through the play. Audience
members terrified of science said that they had no idea that atomic physics
could be so interesting. Yet others said
that they were fascinated by how history had come alive before them. Students with advanced degrees in science
remarked how they had finally understood what quantum mechanics was really
about (although this must be taken with a pinch of salt).
On the other hand, Brecht’s ‘Life
of Galileo’, which describes Galileo’s struggles against the Church to
establish the doctrine of heliocentrism, is much more accessible. To begin
with, the science bits are mostly about stellar and planetary motions – much easier
on the mind than quantum mechanics. The
storyline is linear, there are light moments and the themes are epic and
dramatic – the battle between science
and superstition, the power of the state versus the power of ideas, the needs
of the flesh versus the yearnings of the soul, love versus integrity and so on.
However, it is a very verbose and
a very long play that runs for nearly three hours. Not your usual Saturday night
entertainment in an age where Twitter-length attention spans abound. Once again
we were queasy when the play opened and once again the audience surprised us
with their numbers and continued presence. What delighted us most was that many
children attended and how several of them later remarked that they had enjoyed
Children are the best and most
honest of critics. They don’t care for names. Brecht and Galileo might as well
be Martians in pink suits to them. If they get bored they make it amply clear
very quickly. I wondered what would make a child of eleven or twelve sit still
for three hours, to watch the story of a discovery that any eight year old
The answer of course, lies in the
power of storytelling. And theatre tells
the story of science in a different way altogether.
Equations and Emotions
In school text books, Galileo’s
epic struggles are reduced to a single page of dry text with perhaps a diagram
or two. But Brecht, in his masterly
prose, explores many different dimensions of science and scientific thinking –
the rejection of authority (“truth is the child of time, not of authority”),
the hollowness of theory without experimental evidence (“would you care to
observe those impossible and unnecessary stars through the telescope”), the
test of repeatability when validating theory (“fifty times the man weighs his
pieces of ice”) and the responsibility of science towards humanity (when
Galileo describes scientists as “inventive
Theatre can be a powerful means
of communicating the excitement and richness of science. But what makes it a unique
medium is its ability to uncover the messy human emotions that accompany the discovery
of the cold and elegant equations that explain our world – the conflicts and
the choices, the disappointments and the euphoria of people whom we know of,
but do not really know.
Theatre provides the possibility
of bridging the divide between science and art that Snow spoke of. Can it stimulate
both the right and left brains and help develop more well rounded children? Can
it excite more young people into considering science as a profession as opposed
to engineering, medicine or management? Can it persuade painters in taking a greater
interest in the science of colours? The experience of science theatre in India
is too recent and the scale too tiny, to even attempt any answers.
But to my mind, the real value of
theatre to science lies elsewhere.
We live in a country where
superstitions and irrational thinking abound and frequently surface in many
unpleasant ways – in the form of mobs stampeding to worship milk drinking
Ganeshas, Chief Ministers who feed crows to ward off evil, lovers separated by
uncooperative horoscopes and children who are made to fear eclipses.
If the theatre of science can
provoke people to think about the world in which they live, in a scientific and
rational way, it will have played its part well.
(From Times of India, Education Times, Sep 17 2012)
Education in India / Industry Status
school education system is unparalleled in scale and diversity. It comprises of
1.3 million schools, 220 million children and 5.5 million teachers. 80% of the
schools are run by the Government. They are scattered across 640 districts, where
each district is dramatically different from the other – ecologically,
culturally and socio-economically. Throw in 438 living languages, scattered tribal
populations, minorities, remote habitations, children with special needs and
the challenge of providing universal quality education increases manifold.
spite of these challenges, remarkable progress has been made in areas such as
access, infrastructure and enrolment. 99% of the population now is within
walking distance of a school, enrolment is 100% and education is now a
Fundamental Right of every citizen.
quality, equity and retention remain as elusive as ever. For example, a recent
survey conducted among 89 so called ‘top schools' in five Indian metros, revealed
that about 40% of middle school students believed that education for a girl is
not as important as family responsibilities. About half thought that the shape
of square object changes if it is tilted. The misery continued as a global test
assessing academic abilities of school children ranked India at 72 among 73
participating countries. Girls and socially disadvantaged children continue to
face much discrimination and their literacy levels are typically 20% lower.
paraphrase Charles Dickens, Indian education today appears to be caught between
the spring of hope and the winter of despair. And nothing short of a deep
rooted systemic transformation will do, if the idea of India to become a
reality in our lifetimes.
Priorities / Growth areas
there are many interventions and improvements are required to address these
challenges, a few critical ones include:
Overhaul of Teacher Education: The pre-service and
in-service teacher education systems in India are in disarray. An estimated 80%
of existing B.Ed. colleges are defunct with uncontrolled mushrooming of low
quality teacher training institutes. The curriculum, pedagogy, leadership and
regulation of teacher education needs to be revamped and revitalized urgently.
2.Teacher Professional Development: There
must be profound improvement in a range of related areas in Teacher Education
and Professional Development. This includes teacher selection, teacher
preparation, ongoing professional development and academic support.
Leadership and Management: A small percentage of government schools provide high quality education
to their students – often because of the leadership provided by head teachers
involved. Improving the leadership qualities of Head Teachers to equip them for the task of
leading their school to quality performance is a critical need.
4.Assessment Reforms: The RTE Act talks
about Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) for assessing learning. Yet
this is a poorly understood concept across the country. Examinations continue
to test rote learning in a conventional way and stress out children. Changing
assessment methods to test conceptual understanding and analysis can lead to
improved teaching methods and better learning outcomes.
government, CSR units of companies and the many NGOs working in education have
realized the importance of such interventions and are making significant investments
in these areas. In addition, the RTE Act has mandated a pupil teacher ratio of
1:30 and the deployment of adequately trained and qualified teachers. In
several states, this has resulted in the need to recruit thousands of new
teachers and training of the existing teachers.
career opportunities have thus emerged for Teachers, Teacher Educators and
Trainers, Pedagogy and Subject Matter Experts, Assessment Experts etc. Multiple openings exist in various government
organizations, private and public schools, NGOs, teacher training institutes
and CSR functions.
perspectives in education through actual teaching experience or formal qualifications
(B.Ed., B.El.Ed., MA (Edu) etc.), a graduate or post-graduate degree in any
subject, a love of learning and the desire to make a difference.
entry level government school teacher could draw Rs. 13,000 to Rs. 20, 000 per
month. A Head Teacher could earn about Rs. 40,000 per month. Salaries in
private schools vary widely. NGOs and CSR functions could offer entry level
salaries of Rs. 20, 000 per month which may go up to Rs 60,000 or more at
senior levels. While salaries in this sector are not the highest, the satisfaction
of making a difference to the world in which one lives can be immense.