The Centre organized a critical dialogue with eminent researcher, thinker and author, Professor Madhusudan Dhanki on January 10, 2011. Dr. Hemant Dave, critic and theorist, initiated the discussion on Professor Dhanki’s work, focusing on his Nirgranth Aitihasik Lekh-Samuchchay.  The dialogue included a discussion of Madhusudan Dhanki’s creative writings in Gujarati and his distinguished research work on Indian Temple Architecture and allied areas. Dhanki reflected on the ability of Indian society to assimilate divergent factors and also affirmed that this coexistence has not always been harmonious. He answered questions on Ramjanmabhoomi issue, religious fundamentalism, fanaticism and communalism by historicizing the conflicts between and confluence of religions in India and tried to make sense of the psychology and legality of demolition and construction of religious structures.

Debashish Banerji, a professor, freelance journalist, literary and art critic and software engineer discussed his book titled The Alternate Nation of Abanindranath Tagore on 17 January 2011. The event was organized jointly by the Centre and Faculty of Fine Arts, MSU, Baroda . Banerji argued that the school of art that Abanindranath Tagore founded had too many facets to be just labelled “ Bengal School .” According to him “the art of Abanindranath, developed during the Bengal Renaissance in the 19th-20th centuries, was not merely a normalization of national or oriental principle, but conducted a critical engagement with post-Enlightenment modernity and post-colonialism.” In a convincing manner, he illustrated how the later Abanindranath of the 1930-51 was a complex figure who was outside the public domain, although the Jorasanko household itself was like a small township. Banerji, who is a professor of Indian Studies and the educational coordinator of the University of Philosophical Research , Los Angeles , read out a section of the book in which he analyzed Abanindranath’s painting of Sindbad. It was a deft attempt to reclaim Abanindranath’s space on the stage of those who contributed to an emerging Independent India. “Abanindranath may have been sidelined for his miniatures on the Arabian Nights since it reinforced the one nation theory of India and Pakistan ,” contemplated Banerji. “His painting Bharat Mata was first known as Bongo Mata of the Sakti cult. Abanindranath was a Neo Vedantist and a Sufi, not orthodox and believed in the fluidity of religion,” he affirmed.

Yumna Siddiqi, an Associate Professor of English at Middlebury College, USA and the author of Anxieties of Empire and the Fiction of Intrigue spoke  on “Migration and Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss” on January 31 2011. Yumna Siddiqi’s areas of specialization are postcolonial South Asian, African and Caribbean literature, postcolonial theory, diaspora and migration studies, literary theory, 19th and 20th Century British literature, and gender studies.  She has published articles on postcolonial literature and culture in Cultural Critique, Victorian Literature and Culture, Renaissance Drama, Alif, and South Asia Research. Her current research is on labour migration from South Asia , gender, and literature and culture. She also teaches courses on social movements, and on Marxism. Yumna did her Ph. D. at Columbia University in New York under the direction of Edward Said. The lecture tried to explain the political, experiential and social implications of migrancy and its various kinds of expressions in literature. She analyzed the terms used uncritically in her area of expertize and showed how the ideas such as nostalgia, melting pot, hybridity, and salad bowl, etc. are turning into clichés or worse being used indiscriminately without acknowledging any kind of contextual distinctions. Her lecture was a sensitive reading into the work of Kiran Desai, but juxtaposed instances from writers such as Pamuk, Rushdie, Naipaul and many others while interpreting the phenomenon of migration.

On March 7, 2011, Professor Gour K. Das spoke on the topic, “The Receding Literature / Culture of Benevolence: Is there an Oasis in Gujarat ?” It was a talk based largely on material from memories of the speaker, current literary texts and stimulated by some empirical data on contemporary social trends. Professor Das also brought in the intriguing life and work of Balvantbhai Parekh to illustrate the notion of benevolence. Dr. Das retired as Professor of English, University of Delhi . A former director of the University of Delhi South Campus , he is also a former Vice Chancellor of Utkal University, Bhubaneswar .  He is known for his internationally published works on E. M. Forster and D.H. Lawrence. His latest work is an edition (with Dr. Sushma Arya) of a volume of seminar papers on the literature relating to 1857, titled Literature of Resistance: India 1857 (Primus Books, New Delhi : 2009].  The following is a summary of the talk prepared by the speaker himself. 

Benevolence, traditionally among the foremost of India ’s cultural traits, is becoming rare in our time. One reason for its decline in contemporary India may be the increasing social disorder, diffusion or confusion of social perceptions maybe. Noticeable is also another paradoxical feature of today’s cultural scenario that is the increasing mental distance among people and communities, despite the increased mobility, that tends to lessen mutuality of concern or understanding among them.

 Benevolence is more likely to be noticed / felt from a distance, though, rather than in close proximity. As for instance, during the super cyclone in Odisha some a decade ago, loads of relief came from distant parts of the country that placed the organizers in a fix as to how best to cope with the task of proper distribution of relief. A similar situation was there in Gujarat also, in recent memory, when there was wide-spread plague in Surat and there was national and international concern and tangible sympathy for the victims.  Such cases were exceptional and extraordinary, however; the provision of relief moreover was a demonstration of charity rather than benevolence. The motive of ‘benevolence’ camouflaged in acts of kindness and good will in exceptional situations and emergencies is not easy to determine or assess.

Historically speaking, benevolent actions were in public evidence in 9th century Gujarat , however, when the Rastrakuta king Karka-Suvarnavarsa , himself a strong devotee of Lord Siva, gave land to a ( non-Saivite)  Jaina Vihar, according to the Surat Plates of 821 A.D.  The copper plates discovered from Anustu (near Karjan) also record the gift of a village to a Brahman student for the pursuit and promotion of ‘religious merit’ and renown in this world and the next of ‘our parents and of ourselves.’ Five different grants awarded by Karka-Suvarnavarsa that find mention in archival material relating to the cultural history of Gujarat are: the Baroda Plates, the Navsari Plates, the Anastu Plates, the Surat Plates and the Brahmanapalli Plates. Extensive work has been done on this part of the cultural history of Gujarat by the Archaeology department of M. S. University , Baroda .

 Instances of public acts of benevolence were common in pre-colonial India . The literature produced in ancient and medieval India bears testimony to the prevalence of the spirit of benevolence uncontaminated by any ulterior motive.  Popular writers and poets of various denominations, who lived in Gujarat e.g. Narsinh Mehta, Daya Ram, Meera bai (who spent her last years in Gujarat ), the Kabir Panthis and others best represented the spirit of that age. The culture of benevolence also survived in modern Gujarati literature produced in what afterwards came to be known as the ‘Gandhian era.’  The works of Narmad, Umashankar Joshi, Pannalal Patel, Rajendra Keshavlal Shah, Indu Kumar Jani, Prakash Shah and others did maintain a critical continuity with the value-oriented beliefs of the older generation.

 Does that lingering continuity of benevolence in the Gujarat literary tradition hold firmly today against the daunting tidal wave of a so called cultural globalization with its promise of a ‘global social order’, ‘global citizenship’ and ‘more extensive benevolence’? The talk addressed that question in a discussion of a selection of works by more recent writers of Gujarat, e.g. Suresh Joshi, Raghuvir Chaudhuri, Chandrakant Bakshi, Gieve Patel and Madhu Rai, and in special reference to empirical evidence found in day to day life and times especially in the city of Vadodara, foregrounding the ongoing work and thought of Gujarat’s living exemplars of benevolence such as Balvant Parekh.

Professor Ratan Parimoo spoke on the topic “Sources and Development of Rabindranath’s Paintings” on 21 March, 2011.   Professor Parimoo, an eminent painter and historian, has been the Head of the Department of Art History and Aesthetics and Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, M. S. University of Baroda. He is currently the Director of L.D. Museum and N.C. Mehta Gallery, Ahmedabad. He has published several books including Paintings of the Three Tagores: Abanindranath, Ganganendranathand Rabindranath, Studies in Modern Indian Art, Sculptures of Sheshasayi Vishnu, Life of Buddha in Indian Sculpture and Essays on New Art History Studies in Indian Sculpture, etc. The lecture comprised an analysis of Tagore’s paintings which were displayed through a slide show. His interpretations in the light of the life of Tagore and incidents in his life were enlightening and perceptive. He contextualized Tagore and his acquaintances with different people, engagements with a variety of art forms and movements with reference to the use of colour and imagery in his paintings. At the same time he reminded the audience that it becomes a flawed method if we try to find exact equivalences and parallels in the artistic expressions and life of the artist. One can see the associations between life and art as a possible influence, a fleeting inspiration and the like.  

.Professor Bharat Chattoo a professor and scientist at the Department of Microbiology and Biotechnology Centre, and Director, Genome Research Centre at M.S. University of Baroda delivered a lecture on 23 July 2011 on the theme “ Genome Research: The Current Excitement. ” Prof. Chattoo’s lucid and interesting lecture was an exploration into the possibilities and problems of Genome research. He illustrated how the recent advances in technology have made it possible to address basic questions in genetics at a fundamental level that was not possible before.

Prof. Prahlad K. Vyas delivered a lecture on “Mathematical Games”  at  the Centre on 27 August 2011 at 4pm. Prof. Vyas has been teaching Mathematics for more than three decades at various educational institutions. He is currently working with Suganitam Trust which has benefitted from his expertise since 1991. According to Professor Vyas, teaching Mathematics through games and puzzles is important because Mathematics is considered to be a difficult, dry and intimidating subject, feared by most of the students studying at any level. He discussed some recreational aspects of mathematics in the form of mathematical Games, Mathematical models, Mathematical Puzzles, etc. He observed that though everybody talks about teaching mathematics in an interesting manner, it is not an easy task. 

 Dr. Kiran Shinglot, Chief Medical Officer, M.S. University Health Centre spoke on “The Philosophy of Medicine” on 3 September 2011. He analyzed the history of medicine and illustrated how various disciplines have contributed to medical knowledge. Dr. Shinglot briefly discussed the challenges in medical practice and emphasized the need for a holistic approach in diagnosis and cure. He also reflected on the role of alternative medical practices. 

 Rekha Rodwittiya, a renowned scholar and artist, lectured on the theme, “Indian Contemporary Women Artists: Voices of Strength” at the Centre at 4 pm on Saturday, 12 November 2011. Rekha argued that the writing of any history will always be a chronicled space that must invite critique and re-examination. It is only through this process that we can hope to have a better comprehension of our connection with a cultural legacy. The history of world art, till quite recently, has underplayed the contributions of many women of significance; and so vast passages of time, in which the aesthetics of feminine sensibility has fashioned creative expression, have been left undocumented and unacknowledged. Rekha explored a timeline in our cultural history that showcases a selection of women artists through a slide show based on their works.