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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Shattered Teacup

An evening at T2F had Ms Raihana Hasan speaking about her book (Sips from a Broken Teacup). My wife read bits to me (she was also the panelist on the discussion at T2F).

The author writes well — but I was not enchanted by the book, at all! I thought her writing was far too pro 'West Pakistan' — despite the acts our people did in 'East Pakistan' — although the stated idea in the book was to tell people that the Bengalis had done many worse things which had not been reported at all in the press.

What prompted me to write this small piece was just to quote a person (a father-in-law of one of my younger friends) who was also featured in the book. While discussions were going on after the book reading - and dramatized readings by Zambeel - a Bengali 'friend' was mentioned, specially because he visited Pakistan recently. The person talking about him said "We used to call him Badboodaar Bengali because he was so - err - so - err Bengali!"


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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bye Bye (Boring) Textbooks …

Textbooks are about to go — and am I in favor?


Carrying kilos of books, many often priced at $60 or so, means you need around $350 each year. And the books are soon behind the times. In fact, many of them are already behind the times when they are published. Next year it is another $300+ (plus more, if you think of inflation costs in the next few years). Also, think of the paper wasted when the book is published. And the storehouses required to keep the books before they are sold. And the postage, often.

Think, now, of an Application that allows you to have these 'Multi-Touch Books' made for your iPad. The app is here, nowAnd other companies will soon follow — as they always do when Apple leads the way!

Oh, I forgot to mention the textbooks and their damned weight!!! See how that feels against a 1.33 kilo iPad that's only about $500 … Just once! You can keep that going for a long, long time. Mine is the first version of the iPad and it is still going absolutely fine. I carry it with me on my trips and never miss my iMac which I use for some special applications that require the power.

These Multi-Touch Books — and you own them and don't have to return them at the end of the year, as some people may have to do — are available on your iPad all the time! Most importantly, your iBooks also get updated when something new comes out: A 'fact' that is no longer real (Atlases are a great example); An event that is current or is closer to your taste/environment. The latest results from tests and activities can also now be 'appended' to your books. Oh, so many things. And this happens right away! You don't have to wait for the next edition of a book that could even take years. Several years, in Pakistan.

Students have many additional advantages. Apart from an interactive book - not possible without a computer - they can write notes, save definitions, collect points and share them from the book, add presentations to go with it using Keynote/PowerPoint, add music, bring in voices, have movies (the iPad will do for that, too), and answer many questions in the iBooks provided. 

None of this needs any knowledge about programming ... but if they are into IT (or team with someone else who is) they can increase their efforts much further. So can teachers.

This Multi-Touch Book, let's not forget, adds to a zillion new things on your iPad. Apps to brilliant articles and whatever else you want from the Internet. Your email and social networking is also there for you. And Skype. And if you have an iPad 2 (or the new version coming out in March) you also have two cameras, with a great way to chat with your friends and colleagues. However, even an original iPad (without cameras) is great for iBooks. The students have, most likely, got a camera in their cellphones.

Are the books here? Yes! Two chapters of E. O. Wilson's Life on Earth are available on the Apple Store for free and that's really a great start for you to try. In fact Wilson called this whole thing 'a miracle'.

Other books exist already and some are being added every few days. Almost 90% of the textbooks created by several US Publishers will be online, soon. Other publishers will follow. Surely the Brits will be online as fast as you can imagine. OUP here better start on this, too.

If you are in Pakistan (or someone who is an expat Pakistani), are you looking for Urdu books? I just visited a company that was trying hard and making headway into getting Nastaleeq scripts to go into their first iBooks. Soon that'll be done — though we need a bit of help from Apple. (I am trying!)

OK ... so what about you? Can you write a Multi-Touch iBook? Apple's new and startlingly simple application, iBooks Author, allows you to make a whole new series of textbooks for the iPad, with two options:
   (1) If you want to charge for them (or even give them for free in the iBooks format), you can deliver them only via the Apple Store. It does need you to sign in and put together an account, but that's not too difficult.
   (2) If you want to use them as 'pdf' books, or want to pass them in any non-iBooks form (you can use the application to make the books), you can distribute them in any platform you like.

Much more than these books, here's something all teachers can do: Use the application to put together an interactive lesson plan for the day or the week or more. Turn it into a Multi-Touch book and show it on the projector. Of course, you could pass it on to students as a pdf file for free (though some of the stuff may be missing — but that can be shown in class). The process is not difficult at all ...

This is the best thing that has happened to textbooks and I am thrilled that someone has taken a major step forward. There will be further improvements soon, to this application and the new ones that follow.  When Steve Jobs said the iPad was the best thing he had done for years, he wasn't wrong. The man had all the things you can think of and a whole lot more!


If there were a bunch of teachers, from the same institution or different institutions, we could set up a program of this where we could run through a basic video of the introduction, show them a couple of iBooks, start them off on a small project to build a chapter of an iBook (or a Lesson Plan), show them the different things they can do and get them going. Longer sessions can be followed up later, if needed. Anyone ready?


By the way, until you get some iBooks downloaded on to your own iPad and your kids iPad, here is a lovely regular book plus a tremendous iPad App. Watch the videos.

Richard Dawkins

Quite apart from being one of the best books I have read for people from 12-'upwards' (I enjoyed a lot of it myself as I learnt a few new things), I have also downloaded the iPad version. The little animations and more lovely stuff are a treat, maximizing the impact of Dave McKean's artwork.

I bought my book in Mumbai some months ago. In Pakistan you can buy it for Rs. 1795 at Liberty Books - great price, since it is almost the same at ($18). The iPad App is around $14. Give your child (and the whole family, really!) the book at the next opportunity … but if you have an iPad, get the interactive item right away!

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia in Karachi

Thank you for the invites, Jehan Ara & Amin Hashwani. 

Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia plays the North Indian bamboo flute, the Bañsuri ... and he is at the very top of a list of anyone playing this instrument.

Bañsuri, one of the oldest musical instruments in India, is a side-blown flute made of bamboo or reed and has 6 or 7 holes. The instrument is associated with the Hindu God, Krishna, who is often shown playing it.

Chaurasia Ji, himself, says he should be called a bañsuri-player and not a flute-player because the western flute is made up of a number of things that the bañsuri does not have. In fact a bañsuri, as he told the crowd in Karachi, "has no strings, no buttons, no tuning. Its just a piece of wood with a few holes and you pick it up and practice and play it!"

Pandit Pannalal Ghosh, a well-known bañsuri player, really brought this instrument into classical music … but it was Chaurasia Ji who expanded its area and is now considered to be the man who really made this reed-instrument one of the most loved and respected in India and the world of music.
Sabeen Mahmud saw Jehan Ara's mention on Twitter, in her remarks to Tammy Haq, that Pandit Chaurasia was playing in Karachi (as well as Islamabad and Lahore). The last time he came to Pakistan many years ago, he performed only at the other two places but not Karachi. This time he was being invited to play for India's 63rd Republic Day Anniversary. Also involved - I am most happy to say - was the ICCR

Sabeen, a founder member of APMC  (I was a founder member, too, when it started), was at my house and I called Ayla Raza — the 'actual' Founder of APMC, Karachi — and asked her to come to the house. I called Aneesh Pradahan and Shubha Mudgal and got Chaurasia Ji's number in Mumbai. Ayla called up the number and spoke to his daughter-in-law. She manages his bookings and we were told that he was free one night before the Indian Embassy performance in Karachi. She told us the 'rather large' sum of money he'd charge. 

Hmmm: Well, it was of the kind of money that some people generally use for their daughter's wedding-day jo∂aa here — but this is only our subcontinental classical music (being performed by one its Masters) so who'd pay for this?

Ayla said she'd go and call up Arshad Mahmud (NAPA), Sharif Awan (Tehzeeb), and Hameed Haroon (Dawn). We three felt that it was important that a large venue be agreed upon and all the groups (APMC, NAPA, Tehzeeb, and Dawn) should put in the money, arrange for lots of free guests - preferably at Mohatta Palace - and let our audience hear this music. Ayla also had to get permission from ICCR in India, who had helped his coming here along with the Indian High Commission.

A whole day passed and nothing happened. Sadly, we gave it up! It was too late to invite people, or even arrange for anything at all by now. I don't know if she got to Hameed or not but was, more or less, shoo'd away by the others (or so I am told).
The same evening I got a call from Mehreen Rafi (an ex-NAPA student) that Chaurasia Ji was lecturing at NAPA the next morning at 8:30, but she seemed pretty 'unsure' about his really being in Karachi. I said he was in Karachi and I'll come to NAPA with my wife and Sabeen in the morning. I phoned Arshad about the time. He told me it was going to begin at 10 AM and asked me to come early because "it will be crowded".

We arrived at 9.30 and only Abro & Attiya Dawood (and Suhaee) were there ... and, perhaps, two or three students. However, by 11 AM when the car brought Chaurasia Ji, there were (maybe!) 15-20 students and ex-students, some other guests, and the local NAPA teachers.

During Chaurasia Ji's beautiful playing, someone from PTV (I think that's who he was) managed to get two phone calls and had an assistant go out to receive them and at each time the door cranked badly while she went out and came in. Two other people took calls and spoke with friends during the performance - and one was actually told by Zia Mohyeddin Sahab that he'd be shot!

Chaurasia Ji's performance and his humor and his conversations were brilliant and a lot of fun. I hope NAPA would do this kind of thing more often … and certainly invite some of our best musicians (all of whom were missing) to these events. They should also do similar things with our own non-Karachi musicians when they come here so that students can ask them questions, talk to them, understand how each thinks and moves, and how they are so amazingly rich - despite the lack of education in many -  in an area that very few people really understand.
One person said to me at the evening's fabulous concert at Marriott that "I was wanting to hold my own show". The other person said he had invited me to the NAPA concert, but he hadn't.

Ayla Raza was in the evening concert but only because her husband had been invited. No one who talked to her from NAPA invited her to the morning performance, despite knowing that she was the founder of APMC. Pity! 

Sheema Kermani was also at the evening concert and complained about why she had not been invited by NAPA and was told that it wasn't the job of the person she was speaking to for inviting anyone. More pity!

Some thoughts on this can also be seen on Mahvash's Facebook.


A little background of Chaurasia Ji's early life

Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, born on the 1st of July, 1938, in Varanasi (Benaras), surprisingly does not come from a lineage of flautists. His mother died when he was only six and he had to learn music without his father's knowledge because his father was a wrestler who wanted his son, Hariprasad, to follow in his footsteps.

Chaurasia Ji did go to the akhaa∂a and trained with his father for a while, but he also started learning music, practising at a friend's house. He often credits his wrestling training for giving him the immense stamina and lung power. He once said ,"I was not any good at wrestling. I went there only to please my father. But maybe because of the strength and stamina I built up then, I'm able to play the bañsuri even to this day."

He was 15 when he started on the first steps to his musical career by taking classical vocal lessons with Pandit Raja Ram of Benares. A little later he heard a flute recital by Pandit Bholanath and was so impressed that he changed his vocal lessons and became a bañsuri player.

At 19, Chaurasia Ji started playing in AIR, Orissa, and when he was 24 he was transferred to the AIR headquarters in Bombay. Strange that a bañsuri player should choose a Surbahar and Sitar player as a teacher ... but music is music … and it was here that he got his brilliant training from Shrimati Annapurna Devi (then the wife of Pandit Ravi Shankar). 

Annapurna Devi is the daughter of the famous Ustaad Alauddin Khan (of the Maihar Gharana). Alauddin Khan was also the father of Sarod Maestro Ustaad Ali Akbar Khan and the superb teacher of Sitar Maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar.
Ravi Shankar said in his autobiography that Ustaad Alauddin Khan told Roshan Ara Khan (Annapurna's Muslim name) when she asked him about marrying Ravi, "He is a  Brahman and cannot become a Muslim, so you should convert to Hindu and marry him! ". Which is what she did.
Apart from classical music, Chaurasia Ji has made a mark as a music director for Indian films along with Pt. Shivkumar Sharma, forming a group called Shiv-Hari. He told us that his first recording for a film song was with Talat Mahmood (and the now famous Sitarist Rais Khan also accompanied him).

He has also collaborated with various world musicians in experimental cross-cultural performances, including the fusion group Shakti and has played with several western musicians, for example with John McLaughlin and Jan Garbarek in Zakir Hussain's Making Music. (A brilliant CD - Get it now if you haven't heard it yet!)

Currently Chaurasia Ji is at Brindavan Gurukul in Mumbai, where he ensures that students learn the art of Indian Music as well as Fusion and Jazz. His discography can be found here.

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