background makes him pro-Indian: Historian Simon Schama (Interview)
By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, Jan 29 (IANS) New US President Barack Obama's background
makes him pro-Indian and "he is going to do a lot for
India before this spring is out", says noted historian
A professor at Columbia University in the US, British historian
Simon Schama foresees a favourable run for India vis-a-vis
bilateral ties with the US during Barack Obama's government.
Why? "Obama's background - his mother was a hippy adventurist
and his Indonesian link - makes him very pluralistic and very
pro-Indian," Schama told IANS in an interview.
The man hailed as one of the best historians and art writers
of our times held forth on a variety of subjects like politics,
art and music in Jaipur recently.
The author of 14 books, Schama writes for "The Guardian"
and the "New Yorker" and has presented more than
30 movies for the BBC Television and the Emmy award-winning
"Power of Art".
His new book, "The American Future: A History",
explores how the American optimism about the infinite possibilities
of its land and resources may be snuffed out. His other books
include "Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution",
"Landscape and Memory", "Rembrandt's Eyes",
"Rough Crossings: Britain, the American Revolution and
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: What kind of future do you foresee for India during
Barack Obama's tenure?
A: If George W. Bush was hospitable to India, then Barack
Obama's background - his mother was a hippy adventurist and
his Indonesian link - makes him very pluralistic and very
pro-Indian. He is very anxious to make it work for India and
is going to do a lot before the spring is out - he will go
to the Middle East - especially to West Bank and Gaza - and
then come to India. He will also appoint a new Indian ambassador.
I think Hillary Clinton will be the key to the appointment
because she is so pro-Indian and will not be telephoning every
five minutes to ask who's good for India. Moreover, the fact
that Bill Clinton was so engaged in Kashmir will give her
a better perspective.
Q: What do you think of the war on terror, the recent terrorist
strikes in India and nuclear proliferation?
A: For me, the issue is whether it has been contained. It
is very easy to get uranium and make dirty bombs. John McCain
had declared during the US presidential campaign that "I
know where Osama bin Laden is. I will track him down."
It sounded so silly - almost like an American cowboy rhetoric
from 1950 American B-movie.
Mumbai was a devastating slaughter - how did the terrorists
find ways to come to the city by boats? That is the issue.
And as the US senator from Indiana Richard Lugar says, 'Illicit
trafficking in nuclear material is the most serious direct
threat to US interest today and in the foreseeable future';
we must investigate into the disposal of n-waste, global trafficking
in n-material and where all the stuff in Ukraine has gone.
Q: What is your favourite medium - television or books?
What are you working on?
A: I love both television and books. But if someone asked
me give something up - I would give up television. I am primarily
a writer. However, I learnt how to edit, dub and how to produce
for television at the British Broadcasting Corporation. I
would describe television documentaries (he has made 30 for
BCC) as a collaborative craft.
I often make changes on the spot. I am making a film on John
Donne - as part of a series on poets who have changed English
poetry and I am constantly changing.
But I love writing, there's a kind of lonely sovereignty.
There is one book I would like to go back to in a couple of
years and finally write it. The book is set in the 19th century.
It is called "Merchant of Venice" - and it spans
three generations of women - a woman banker in her 40s, her
mother and daughter.
Q: What kind of art do you like? Which according to you
have been the most productive periods in the history of art?
A: I cannot talk about any particular period - but there have
been breakthrough moments between Raphael and Goya, which
was marked by a new way of realising figures. It brought about
three-dimensional human beings. The period between 1890 and
1920 was also astounding.
But I am a great defender of contemporary art. I love video
art and some works by Damien Hirst because of the way he explores
western traditions of Christian sacrifice - though he has
been written about very badly and accused of making money.
Q: Since you also write about popular music, what kind
of music do you like?
A: I love Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, the old guys. But I
also like listening to P.J. Harvey and punk rock bands like
I love David Bowie and the noise generated by "Sex Pistols"
and the "Clash" (the leading bands of the British
Punk Rock Movement of the Seventies). As I was born in 1945,
I grew up on Beatles, but given a chance I would always vote
for "Rolling Stones". The Stones are more physical...
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at email@example.com)
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