Book release of 'Pathfinders'
- Lalitha Venkat, Chennai

August 8, 2011
A culture book on the innovations in Indian arts and culture across 60 years of Independent India titled PATHFINDERS was formally launched in Chennai on August 5, 2011 at Taj Coromandel. Ace Publications and Promotions in association with Taj Coromandel, Chennai, hosted this exclusive ‘invite only’ launch function involving a cultural program and book release, followed by dinner. Some of the artistes from Chennai who have been profiled in the book were present, like flute Sashank, Chitraveena Ravikiran, violinist GJR Krishnan and mandolin Srinivas. Also present were 3 of the authors from Chennai, who have contributed articles, namely S Janaki, V Ramnarayan and Gowri Ramnarayan. The evening started with a melodious Hindustani music recital featuring flautist Rakesh Chaurasia and sitar player Purbayan Chatterjee, accompanied on the tabla by Satyajeet Talwalkar.

This was followed by a speech by Ravikiran, who said that we in India don’t have a tradition of building archives but are happy to just get along with day to day activity. ‘Pathfinders’ is about great artistes whose focus, struggles, determination and passion showed us the path forward after the chaos that reigned after India won independence. Though Hollywood producers make films on pop music, they also make it a point to maintain traditional culture though it is only 200 years old. Our culture is 5000 years old, but it has also evolved and every one of us should be proud of it and be able to appreciate it. A beginning has already been made in this context to make culture relevant to youngsters today, lobbying with the government to have curriculum on cultural subjects from school level onwards. Ravikiran’s article in the book that he put together in just 72 hours is on ‘Carnatic music from 1950-2010: Modern interpretations of an ancient art.’

‘Pathfinders: A journey through art and culture over the last sixty years of the Indian Republic’ is a 463 page hardbound treasure replete with beautiful and rare archival images, essays on each segment, and write-ups on the profiled artistes focusing on their unique contribution to the field. There are six segments in all - music, visual arts, dance, literature, theatre and cinema – and two interviews with select artistes in each section apart from articles. 

Renowned theatre personality Dr. Vijaya Mehta released the book that weighs a whopping 5.5 kilos and the copy was received by ghatam maestro Vikku Vinayakram in the company of other artistes present.

In her keynote address, she said ‘Pathfinders’ is about the significance of the performing and visual arts in India since independence as reflected in the pioneering works of leading artistes, so a documentary of this nature and scope was long overdue. She quoted Picasso who said ‘All art is the greatest lie that takes you to the ultimate truth.’ In the theatre where she comes from, everything is a lie.  The players wear makeup to portray other people, say words written by someone else and do things as directed by the director. Music is aural, a defiance to reality. As we get immersed in it we are oblivious to other things around us. Dance is visual, created around space, and the dancer is far from real when he/she transforms into various characters on stage. Artistes are addicted to their art. This addiction urges them to establish connections.  Culture is all about connection to life. What is touching is that the connections help them to appeal to the audience individually as ‘one to one’.  When you are on stage, whatever be the medium, thousands of eyes look at you to connect. Yet in the public space, the artiste has a tremendous sense of privacy.

'Pathfinders' is the brainchild of Sashi Vyas, son of renowned musician CR Vyas, who was struck by the lack of archival documentation of the contribution of our cultural icons in the renaissance of Indian culture post independence. “Born into a musical family, having grown up during an exciting time in Indian arts and culture in the post independence era, I had the privilege of seeing some of the most creative stalwarts of the Indian cultural scene forge new paths and take Indian arts and culture to soaring heights. This experience made me realize that not only would our coming generations be isolated from this amazing heritage, but probably even unable to experience such a blessing any time soon. The likelihood of such a cultural renaissance occurring in this fast paced globalized world seemed uncertain.

From this view grew the seeds of Pathfinders, an intense desire to bring under one umbrella, the visionary path-breaking contributions of creative Indian souls across six segments. It was something my team and I hoped to leave behind not just for the current generation but also for all the long standing patrons of the Arts, who have loved and enjoyed the treasures of India’s rich cultural legacy. Something to learn, something to cherish, something to look back fondly on as memories, and something to wondrously ruminate on as inspiration for more creative innovations to decorate the future of India. I am filled with a sense of peace in having done the best we could in bringing forth what we hope is one of the most comprehensive reference books on the innovators that have shaped the evolution of Indian arts and culture across 60 years of independent India,” said Shashi Vyas.

Drawing from a vast list of cultural greats, the hard part was in making the selections as there were innumerable names that were synonymous with excellence in their chosen fields. As this list is by no means complete, Vyas envisions version 2, 3, 4 and 5 to happen in the future to do justice to the many visionaries.  Some of the greats profiled in the music section include Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Kishori Amonkar, DK Pattammal, TR Mahalingam, Amjad Ali Khan, Shivkumar Sharma, MS Subbulakshmi, CR Vyas, Ali Akbar Khan, Bhimsen Joshi, Zakir Hussain. The visual arts section features articles on MF Hussain, Bhupen Khakkar, Nalini Malani, VS Gaitonde, KG Subramanyan, Akbar Padamsee and so on. The dance section has interviews of Birju Maharaj and Padma Subrahmanyam and articles on Yamini Krishnamurthy, Vempati Chinna Sathyam, T Balasaraswati, Painkulam Rama Chakyar, Uday Shankar, Sonal Mansingh, Astad Deboo, Guru Bipin Singh, Kelucharan Mohapatra, Chandralekha, Kumudhini Lakhia, Kalamandalam Gopi etc.

The literature section features profiles of Jayakanthan, Sujata (Rangarajan), OV VIjayan, Agyeya, Dr. Shivrama Karanth, Saadat Hasan Manto, Vaikkom Mohammed Basheer, Mahasweta Devi, Ismat Chugtai, BS Mardhekar, to name a few. Some of the artistes profiled in the theatre section are Badal Sircar, BV Karanth, Ratan Thiyam, Satyadev Dubey, Kavalam Narayana Panikkar, Naseeruddin Shah, Vijay Tendulkar, Utpal Dutt, Habib Tanvir and the interviews are of Vijaya Mehta and Girish Karnad. The cinema section features interviews of Shyam Benegal and Aparna Sen and some of the featured artistes include Guru Dutt, Mani Ratnam, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, K Balachander, V Shantaram, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Girish Kasaravalli.

Priced at Rs.6000 or USD 150, ‘Pathfinders’ is indeed a collector’s item and a coffee table book that will be a valuable addition to libraries and archives.

Lalitha Venkat is the content editor of