We are

The IDG is one of the oldest and most respected societies of St. Stephen's College, Delhi. It looks to broaden perspectives by discussing a variety of issues with eminent personalities.

Our talks often throw up some very unexpected answers and, even more often, some very unexpected questions.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rajni Palriwala - Women and the Modern Economy

In India, sex is not normally discussed within families. Rajni Palriwala, a sociologist at Delhi University, says: "There's too much hypocrisy in our society. Families sit together and watch Hindi films which are full of obscene innuendos. "And children are not stupid, they know a lot. They know their parents have sex and if children get the wrong messages, it's because the parents will not talk to them openly about it." Professor Palriwala says the pictures in India Today may have an element of titillation, but if putting sex on the cover of a family magazine stops it being a dirty word, it might not be such a bad idea.
(From a BBC News report.)

Gautam Navlakha - Kashmir and the Upcoming Elections ('08)

The elections in Indian-administered Kashmir, which concluded Tuesday, were conducted fairly, but not freely according to an independent team of observers. The team was sent to the disputed territory by a think tank, the Institute of Social Sciences. They said the fear of attacks by separatist militants did not prevent large numbers of people from turning out to vote in some areas. Voters waiting to vote in the final phaseThe elections in Indian Kashmir, during which more than 800 lives have been lost, were overshadowed by controversy, because of Pakistan's claim to the territory. The Delhi-based Institute of Social Sciences concluded that it was a fair election, but, because of the all-pervading sense of fear, it could not be called free.
(From BBC News, South Asia.)

Professor Yashpal - The Mystery of The Universe

As early as the sixth century B.C., various seekers supposed that everything in the universe was reducible to some primary substance like water, air, fire, or earth. By the fifth century B.C., the philosopher Heraclites foreshadowed modern field theory and relativity when he declared fire as a material substance and a motive force. Others, like Empedocles and Anaxagoras, argued that an immaterial agent—whether “Love and Strife” or an incorporeal Mind—gave rise to the universe. Over the next 2500 years, investigators would traverse the inner depths of matter to the outer reaches of the cosmos, yielding theories of the atom, space-time and the fundamental forces of nature. But over the last century, their discoveries have been as stunning as they have been confounding; perhaps no more so than those concerning the structure of the universe.
Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done.”

Anand Patwardhan - Environmentalism and Globalization

A legion of public international and private non-governmental organizations therefore seek solutions for environmental issues, such as the United Nations Environmental Program, Greenpeace, and the Worldwatch Institute. A multitude of treaties have been concluded to harmonize governmental policy on environmental protection. Some environmentalists have even proposed the creation of a "world environmental organization" to coordinate international environmental policies. Others have questioned the need for rigorous environmental protection, however, on scientific, economic, and sovereignty grounds. Critics of environmental protection argue that alleged dangers, such as global warming, have been exaggerated and the economic harm from regulation of natural resources has been minimized, in pursuit of a radical, anti-capitalist agenda. They argue that too much regulation is both unnecessary and ultimately harmful because it keeps people poor by preventing the competitive use of their resources. In contrast, advocates of environmental protection say that unregulated economic activity has led to environmental destruction and must be slowed, and they say that their critics are uniformed and pursuing their own agenda of unfettered capitalist expansion.
(From The Levin Institute project.)

Mukul Kesavan

R A: Looking Through Glass argues so much history it seems very much as if a historian took on the novel genre.

M K: I make historical points but I write novels because I've always liked reading them.I didn't write a historical novel where a whole world in the past is recreated. E.L Doctorow (the American novelist) does that, and when I finish reading his books I am exhausted. My narrator in Looking Through Glass is a twenty-something who travels back to the world of the 40's. That world is seen through his eyes. But what historical points are you talking about? What was your Akbar S. Ahmed thinking casting Christopher Lee as in the movie! You know that Rushdie, in an essay or article years ago when the movie came out, said Attenborough's looked like Count Dracula! For your generation I don't know what means, but for us the time is here to take apart. I respect that man for so many things but he was wrong about a lot. Nehruvian was like a salon. If you said the right things you could be a member. If you were from some, say, UP qasbah there was a lot you had to leave behind to be a member. You couldn't say, for example, my was from Faizabad and it was wiped out during Partition. Now that secular ideology is threatened those people who never really felt at ease with it are not around to defend it either.
(From an interview with Rehan Ansari.)

Pradip Kishen - Of Botany and Cinema

How did you get started writing a book on Delhi's trees?
I was introduced to trees by a forester friend who used to take me for nature walks in the jungles of Panchmarhi in Madhya Pradesh. Gradually, I learnt to read scientific floras and decode the esoteric vocabulary that botanists use. As I became more familiar with forest tees, I told myself way back in 1998 that it would be wonderful to do a book on the trees of the city where I lived.

Was it hard to identify Delhi's trees?
The difficulty was posed, mostly, by certain kinds of exotic trees. I came across some strange trees that no one in the Sundar Nursery seemed to know about. They must have been planted it during the 1940s or 50s by someone — Percy Lancaster perhaps — probably as an experiment.
Those that did well got “promoted” to becoming street or park trees. Those that “failed” in some significant way were consigned to the rubbish bin since no one took any more notice of them. Now the problem about an exotic tree is where does one begin to look it up; which flora does one consult? Australia's or South Africa's?

(From an interview with Rashme Sehgal.)