Sunday, September 17, 2017

Frozen Frames by D Vasudeva Rao: Memory and Fulfillment

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Frozen Frames: A Life of  Fulfillment
D Vasudeva Rao
Chennai: 2017
An interesting read

The author of the book, Frozen Frames: A Life in Fulfillemt, has chosen an apt title. Reflecting on his life, Janus like, two generation before him and forward to two generations after him, Vasudeva Rao has charted his professional journey from a professional Chartered Accountant to a highly challenging and rewarding career in the world of corporate institutions, global competition and one that saw the transition of India form a protected licence and quota raj to the fast changing reality of a global India. The fact that an individual's life is caught in the cusp of  major historical and systemic forces over which he/she has little control and the choices that constitute the frozen frames of memory is the stuff of autobiography and the author has traversed this territory with ease and great aplomb.

On page 18 the author sets out the ethnic and linguistic identity of his family in terms of three terms: Marathi, Deshastha and Madhva. A linguistic, regional and a sectarian (Vaishnava Dwaita) describe the matrix within which the life can be structured and situated. Reading Vasudeva Rao's book makes one wonder how the vast tectonic social transformations in South India, the anti brahmin Movement, the triumph of the Justice Party and its later day incarnation, the DMK led to this small community which numbered around 15,000 in the Census of 1911,lose its elan and today is in the danger of losing its identity as it struggles to keep afloat against the rising tide of political, linguistic and ethnic oppression. He is a Marathi speaker and a descendent of Gyano Pant who migrated into South India when the Maratha Empire was at its height. Deshasta, meaning from the Desh as a contrast to Konkanastha, from the coast was a geographical term referring to the plains south of the Ghats and stretching into Bijapur. Madhva, a sectarian affiliation, underscores the importance the Udipi Mutts have had in shaping the collective identity of this small but vibrant community marooned on the shoals of time. The author pays equal attention to all the three aspects of his individual and social history. As the Maratha empire expanded and as there was need to collect revenue from a fragmented and dispersed land holdings from which the Confederacy drew its fiscal resources, Deshesta revenue managers were appointed in different parts of the empire. Modi remained the language of revenue records until 1834 when it was supplanted by the vernacular.

Vasudeva Rao sketches the social horizon of his own family by an extended foray into kinship, both affinal and agnatic. Family ties played an important role in providing security and opportunity. The Marathi Deshastha who settled in Madras, now Chennai, soon adopted the regal functions of patronage of culture and music and in neighbourhoods like Mylapore, Tyagaraja Nagar and Besant Nagar set up Sabhas for musical performances and theatre groups. The Raj was not the least interested in the fragments of South Indian culture that still lingered and Institutions like Music Academy set up by Shri T V Subba Rao and Vani Mahal played a seminal role in the preservation of culture and identity. The author has rightly drawn our attention to these landmark institutions.

The author has leld several senior positions in the Corporate sector and he has given rich and illuminating details of his life, achievements and personal philosophy. Like the Jews the Deshestas are modernizing while simultaneously retaining their religious rituals and performative texts. I enjoyed reading this book and is a rare document of social history as well.

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