Incarnations: India In 50 Lives

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Amrita Sher-Gil: This Is Me20160307

Amrita Sher-Gil: This Is Me20160307

Sunil Khilnani tells the story of the painter Amrita Sher-Gil - 20th century India's first art star - who died under shrouded circumstances in 1941 at the age of just 28.

Sher-Gil left a vortex of stories behind her: about her narcissism and her love affairs. But even more compelling than the stories are the canvasses she left behind.

Drawing from European artists like Cezanne, Gauguin, and Brancusi, and from Indian ones - the makers of the Buddhist wall paintings in the caves of Ajanta, and the miniature painters of the Pahari tradition - Amrita Sher-Gil managed to do something radical within Indian culture: to declare her own vision - a woman's vision - vital in the history of art.

She endowed successive generations of Indians with something scarce in the culture: an example of an autonomous, creative female.

Featuring interviews with artists Bharti Kher and Vivan Sundaram.

Readings by Sheenu Das.

Producer: Martin Williams

Executive Producer: Martin Smith

Original music composed by Talvin Singh.

Amrita Sher-Gil: This Is Me20160307

Sunil Khilnani tells the story of the painter Amrita Sher-Gil - 20th century India's first art star - who died under shrouded circumstances in 1941 at the age of just 28.

Sher-Gil left a vortex of stories behind her: about her narcissism and her love affairs. But even more compelling than the stories are the canvasses she left behind.

Drawing from European artists like Cezanne, Gauguin, and Brancusi, and from Indian ones - the makers of the Buddhist wall paintings in the caves of Ajanta, and the miniature painters of the Pahari tradition - Amrita Sher-Gil managed to do something radical within Indian culture: to declare her own vision - a woman's vision - vital in the history of art.

She endowed successive generations of Indians with something scarce in the culture: an example of an autonomous, creative female.

Featuring interviews with artists Bharti Kher and Vivan Sundaram.

Readings by Sheenu Das.

Producer: Martin Williams

Executive Producer: Martin Smith

Original music composed by Talvin Singh.

Bhimrao Ambedkar: Building Palaces on Dung Heaps20160314

Bhimrao Ambedkar: Building Palaces on Dung Heaps20160314

Professor Sunil Khilnani, from the King's India Institute, looks at the life of Bhimrao Ambedkar, champion of the community previously known as 'untouchables' whom he renamed as Dalits. Ambedkar, who was a Dalit himself and fought against caste discrimination. His face can be found on posters, paintings and coloured tiles in tens of millions of Dalit homes. To Indian schoolchildren, he is the man who wrote the country's constitution; and to India's politicians he is a public emblem of how far India has come in addressing the blight of caste. "Both readings simultaneously exaggerate and ghettoize Ambedkar's contribution," says Professor Khilnani. "He was a sophisticated, long-sighted Constitutional collaborator whose interests extended past caste to the very structure and psychology of Indian democracy."

Producer: Mark Savage.

Gandhi: In the Palm of Our Hands20160309

Gandhi: In the Palm of Our Hands20160309

Professor Sunil Khilnani explores the life and legacy of the Mahatma Gandhi: lawyer, politician and leader of the nationalist movement against British rule in India. He is generally admired outside India, but is the subject of heated debate and contention in his homeland. Some view him as an appeaser of Muslims, and blame him for India's partition. Others regret Gandhi's induction of Hindu rhetoric and symbols into Indian nationalism, revile him for his refusal to disavow caste, believe he betrayed the labouring classes, and are appalled at his views on women. "It's unsurprising that Gandhi provokes such a barrage of attacks," says Professor Khilnani. "His entire life was an argument - or rather, a series of arguments - with the world."

Producer: Mark Savage.

Gandhi: In the Palm of Our Hands20160309

Professor Sunil Khilnani explores the life and legacy of the Mahatma Gandhi: lawyer, politician and leader of the nationalist movement against British rule in India. He is generally admired outside India, but is the subject of heated debate and contention in his homeland. Some view him as an appeaser of Muslims, and blame him for India's partition. Others regret Gandhi's induction of Hindu rhetoric and symbols into Indian nationalism, revile him for his refusal to disavow caste, believe he betrayed the labouring classes, and are appalled at his views on women. "It's unsurprising that Gandhi provokes such a barrage of attacks," says Professor Khilnani. "His entire life was an argument - or rather, a series of arguments - with the world."

Producer: Mark Savage.

Kabir: Offender and Offendable20150526

Kabir: Offender and Offendable20150526

Today's subject is the low-caste weaver and poet who dared to upturn the social orthodoxies of 15th century India - and who still challenges us today. Sunil explores the life and poetic legacy of Kabir - a dissenter, a provoker and an abrasive debunker of humbug.

There are plenty of legends around the poet - for example that, after his death, his body transfigured into flowers so that he could be neither cremated by his Hindu followers s nor buried by Muslim devotees - but we actually know very little about Kabir's life. One of the few certain facts is that he lived in India's most sacred city, Varanasi. Sunil Khilnani finds himself in the poor neighbourhood of Bajardhia where low-caste Muslims still work today as weavers. Sitting in cramped rooms among men with little work, Sunil reflects on the man who described himself as 'a patient weaver's son' but who is actually one of the most impatient, acerbic, fed-up voices in the Indian cultural canon.

Kabir has become venerated across northern India as a saint, almost a god. Yet Sunil finds Kabir's name being invoked in secular circles too, for example the annual Jaipur Literary Festival, a 21st century haven for independent thinking. Here he meets the eminent poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, translator of Kabir's poems into modern idiom and an advocate for the poetic dissenter who wasn't afraid to offend the powerful.

Producer: Jeremy Grange

Original music composed by Talvin Singh.

Kabir: Offender and Offendable20150526

Today's subject is the low-caste weaver and poet who dared to upturn the social orthodoxies of 15th century India - and who still challenges us today. Sunil explores the life and poetic legacy of Kabir - a dissenter, a provoker and an abrasive debunker of humbug.

There are plenty of legends around the poet - for example that, after his death, his body transfigured into flowers so that he could be neither cremated by his Hindu followers s nor buried by Muslim devotees - but we actually know very little about Kabir's life. One of the few certain facts is that he lived in India's most sacred city, Varanasi. Sunil Khilnani finds himself in the poor neighbourhood of Bajardhia where low-caste Muslims still work today as weavers. Sitting in cramped rooms among men with little work, Sunil reflects on the man who described himself as 'a patient weaver's son' but who is actually one of the most impatient, acerbic, fed-up voices in the Indian cultural canon.

Kabir has become venerated across northern India as a saint, almost a god. Yet Sunil finds Kabir's name being invoked in secular circles too, for example the annual Jaipur Literary Festival, a 21st century haven for independent thinking. Here he meets the eminent poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, translator of Kabir's poems into modern idiom and an advocate for the poetic dissenter who wasn't afraid to offend the powerful.

Producer: Jeremy Grange

Original music composed by Talvin Singh.

Manto: The Unsentimentalist20160311

Manto: The Unsentimentalist20160311

Sunil Khilnani explores the life and work of India's master of the short story, Saadat Hasan Manto.

Manto didn't fuss much over his sentences. He wrote in a rush, at hack speed, for money - and often legless drunk. His raw, visceral, personal response to his experiences - including the massacre at Amritsar, cosmopolitan Bombay and the horror of Partition - matched a historical moment that needed a raw, human response. In a divided country that Manto thought possessed 'too few leaders, and two many stuntmen', his sentences asserted, plainly, the human facts - not the moral or political motives that produced them.

As Professor Khilnani says, 'for all the velocity that his economy of language creates, the pressure of a story builds slowly. You're never quite prepared for the moment that blasts off the emotional roof. His sentences etch a groove in the mind not because he saturates his truths about atrocity in lurid color, but because he delivers them off-hand, even elliptically.'

Readings by Sagar Arya.

Producer: Martin Williams.

Mirabai: I Go the Other Way20150529

Mirabai: I Go the Other Way20150529

Sunil Khilnani tells the story of Mirabai, the 16th century mystic poet who is one of India's most revered saints. Mirabai was born into a conservative warrior caste in Rajastan but rejected traditional family life and became a wandering religious singer devoted to the Hindu god Krishna. "All this, of course, was scandalous behaviour," says Professor Sunil Khilnani "But Mira proved herself ungovernable in her spiritual zeal". Mirabai composed up to a hundred songs or bhajans which have been passed down through the centuries by oral tradition. Others have been added in her name over the centuries. Today some see Mirabai as a potent symbol of feminism and self-transformation, others as a passionate religious inspiration.

With field recordings by Parita Mukta and readings by Sheenu Das

Produced by Mark Savage

Researcher: Manu Pillai

Listeners can catch up with the series and see the list of remarkable Indians featured on the Radio 4 website.

Mirabai: I Go the Other Way20150529

Sunil Khilnani tells the story of Mirabai, the 16th century mystic poet who is one of India's most revered saints. Mirabai was born into a conservative warrior caste in Rajastan but rejected traditional family life and became a wandering religious singer devoted to the Hindu god Krishna. "All this, of course, was scandalous behaviour," says Professor Sunil Khilnani "But Mira proved herself ungovernable in her spiritual zeal". Mirabai composed up to a hundred songs or bhajans which have been passed down through the centuries by oral tradition. Others have been added in her name over the centuries. Today some see Mirabai as a potent symbol of feminism and self-transformation, others as a passionate religious inspiration.

With field recordings by Parita Mukta and readings by Sheenu Das

Produced by Mark Savage

Researcher: Manu Pillai

Listeners can catch up with the series and see the list of remarkable Indians featured on the Radio 4 website.

Raj Kapoor: The Politics of Love20160315

Raj Kapoor: The Politics of Love20160315

Professor Sunil Khilnani, from the King's India Institute, looks at the life of the celebrated actor and movie director Raj Kapoor who attracted a huge following well before the term 'Bollywood' became known. Kapoor started making films, just as India became independent in 1947. Back then, the medium was more than mere entertainment. In a country where the literacy rate was 12 per cent, film was also a crucial medium of education and exposure. "Kapoor brought romance, sexuality, song and soul to Indian socialism," says Professor Khilnani.

Producer: Mark Savage.

Rajaraja Chola: Cults of the Imagination20150521

Rajaraja Chola: Cults of the Imagination20150521

Rajaraja was not the first of the Chola dynasty but he took their empire to its zenith - from a relatively small kingdom to the dominant empire in India. Professor Sunil Khilnani, from the King's India Institute in London, visits Tamil Nadu where he finds modern day connections with the ruler whose name means 'king of kings'. Professor Khilnani visits the temple at Thanjavur which Rajaraja built a thousand years ago and named after himself, utilising the profits of trade. "For Raja Raja had pulled off something that no Indian ruler before him seems to have done," says Professor Khilnani. "He'd commandeered trading boats, timber sailed craft and launched maritime expeditions, bringing far flung wealth back home." The king was lavish with his gifts and used his wealth to capture the imaginations of those he ruled. His most important gift to art history came at the temple's consecration: 60 portable icons of Lord Shiva, the Hindu deity.

Producer: Mark Savage

With incidental music by the composer Talvin Singh.

Listeners can catch up with the series and see the list of remarkable Indians featured on the Radio 4 website.

Rajaraja Chola: Cults of the Imagination20150521

Rajaraja was not the first of the Chola dynasty but he took their empire to its zenith - from a relatively small kingdom to the dominant empire in India. Professor Sunil Khilnani, from the King's India Institute in London, visits Tamil Nadu where he finds modern day connections with the ruler whose name means 'king of kings'. Professor Khilnani visits the temple at Thanjavur which Rajaraja built a thousand years ago and named after himself, utilising the profits of trade. "For Raja Raja had pulled off something that no Indian ruler before him seems to have done," says Professor Khilnani. "He'd commandeered trading boats, timber sailed craft and launched maritime expeditions, bringing far flung wealth back home." The king was lavish with his gifts and used his wealth to capture the imaginations of those he ruled. His most important gift to art history came at the temple's consecration: 60 portable icons of Lord Shiva, the Hindu deity.

Producer: Mark Savage

With incidental music by the composer Talvin Singh.

Listeners can catch up with the series and see the list of remarkable Indians featured on the Radio 4 website.

Subhas Chandra Bose: A Touch of the Abnormal20160308

Subhas Chandra Bose: A Touch of the Abnormal20160308

Sunil Khilnani explores the life of political leader and freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose.

Subhas Chandra Bose: A Touch of the Abnormal20160308

Sunil Khilnani explores the life of political leader and freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose.