Thursday, November 22, 2007

What's wrong with the PadmaShri?

While civilian awards are meant to honour citizens with noteworthy achievements, the flawed selection criteria leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the richly deserving kind. How come sportspersons & film-folk are accorded the same honour as literary giants, scholars & explorers???

Sania Mirza is barely twenty & with a fairly limited set of achievements has a PadmaShri to her name. Others such as Leander Paes, Azhar, Shabana Azmi & Sachin Tendulkar too have received Padma Shris. No doubt they've made contributions on the world stage, but these are all transient achievements (with the exception of Sachin Tendulkar). Their work will not live on for years to come and will in all probability have no great social impact.

Compare this to the lifelong work of people like Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Dr. Zahoor Qasim and Ali Jawad Zaidi, giants in their own fields, people who put India on the International map in fields like music, oceanography and literature as opposed to sports!
Others like Kaifi Azmi too received a PadmaShri. As did his daughter Shabana & son-in-law Javed Akhtar. Both of them will willingly acknowledge the superiority of Kaifi's brilliance over their own achievements. Yet the Govt. clubbed Kaifi's literary achievements with their (in comparision) dabbles in art?

I'm not belittling sport or cinema here; I'm just saying that most of civilized society will rate the Sistine Chapel over all of Navratilova's Wimbledon crowns! And over Citizen Kane or any other movie you please! And this comes from a die hard Tennis enthusiast! One who had to confirm the spelling of the aforesaid chapel on the net before hitting publish! Yet I realize that science & art has always held sway over sport for some reason.

So why are our awards lopsided? It's bad enough that we have so-called popular awards. Must our Govt. of India awards pander to popular taste too???

I don't want to make any random allegations, but a close look at the Padma Shri recipients list & Padma Bhushan recipients list does seem to point to the existence of lobbying. The more powerful a recommendation/lobbying, the better your chances of an award. As with everything else in the hands of the Indian Govt, I guess...

There is a story about of Ali Jawad Zaidi being shortchanged because of a recommendation/clerical error. He was supposed to have been awarded the Padma Bhushan but erroneously his name made it to the Padma Shri list. Genuine artists are never bothered by such things & Ali Jawad Zaidi let it go. But shouldn't someone in the department have been bothered enough to correct the error?

Why does everything in India seem so warped to me?

I dunno if ranting bloggers like me will help but I sure hope that leaders like Manmohan Singh, young blood like Rahul, Sachin & Jyoti and initiatives like Lead India bring more fairness & transparency into our system.


  1. Not with you on this.
    Who says that civilized society rates painting (sistine chapel) over film? How many people love and relate to film and how many even understand art? And who decides that the Sistine Chapel is great? A bunch of people, after all. And these people chose to impose their views of 'civilization', their own aesthetic on the rest of the world.
    I personally rate a filmmaker, even if he isn't mould-breaking or critically acclaimed, very high on the list of people who contribute to society now. Society itself is changing, why shouldn't our aesthetic and our recognition of what gives us joy and forms our culture?
    I personally rate Shabana Azmi higher as an actress, than I rate Kaifi Azmi as a poet. But that's personal. Cinema is a different medium entirely and it makes no sense to compare it with painting.
    A 3-hour documentary like Final Solution gives us, as a society and a nation, much more than the sistine chapel. I do not love Kathakali dancing the way I love animated poetry. Awards should be inclusive, opening their arms to more and more practitioners of art, or sport, or policy, or whatever makes life good and worthwhile. Not the opposite!
    As for tennis, sania has given India a lot - a name in women's tennis that we never had before. also, sportspeople's careers cannot be compared to poets. Poets rarely reach maturity before they hit 30, and sometimes, their best work comes after 20 or 30 years of trying. a tennis player may start training at 4 or 5, on the other hand... who is to compare who gives how much to our collective idea of ourselves?
    It isn't fair to compare.
    Lobbying is a whole different kettle of fish. It stinks alright, but that's just corruption of another sort and where do we not have corruption? Is there even in sector or field?
    And despite everything, the government awards do mean a lot. There are accusations of lobbying (or just plain poor taste) with reference to the sahitya academy awards too. but several eminent people have also been awarded by the same academy. most of the national award winning movies i've seen have been really good. and in the documentary and short film sector, some of them are fantastic.

  2. One would have to know the criteria used by the judges of the Padmashri & Padmabhushan.
    To me, a layperson, Padmashri means,' an eminent Indian', & Padma bhushan, 'an Indian Jewel'
    Between the two, selection is very important, & errors, if any should definitely be corrected. A panel can be set up to examine the said Ali Jawad Zaidi's works, & surely the Padmabhushan can be awarded even posthumously. (Well actually I’m not sure if they do that!)
    As regards the Padmashri, an eminent sportsperson is as entitled to be called a 'great' as a writer or musician. The sportsperson sweats out his or her life like any other, & has to have a certain calibre in order to make it to the nationals; as such he or she is entitled to the award.
    The question of lobbying remains. In itself, I don't believe this is wrong, either. How do you expect the judges to peek into every hut, & by lane, attend & keep up with every concert, & game played on the Indian territory, to see if someone who is exceptionally talented (but does not have the means, or the inclination to be visible, to compete, to be published, to train etc.) has not been left out; that everyone has been taken into account before deciding the award?
    Unfair lobbying is wrong, no doubt, but fair lobbying should be okay, by me, & the judges must be fair & study the merits of all whose names have been offered for consideration. They will require the help of experts, of course, who take the trouble to do an in-depth study on the achievements & calibre of the candidates under consideration.
    While on the topic of lobbying, are we really doing our bit in this field? When we see talent or loveliness around us, do we do anything to promote it, to help it make its mark, to help make it visible, to popularise it, get it to the masses? We don't! Let us not try to dissuade those who are trying to help SOMEONE get public name & fame. If we feel we know someone who has been underestimated, maybe we should garner support, & help them find their rightful place in the system.
    Publicity, unfortunately is a powerful thing, & if you neglect it, you can forget about fame. Hard facts of life. If there are lasses more beautiful & balanced than Ash, hidden away somewhere in some village, or in some college in a city, who have no inclination to be part of a beauty pageant, one can't blame the judges for not offering them the crown. If a wonderful poet will not bother to have his works published, or if an excellent writer does get his work published, but does not bother about its sales, does not keep track to see if he is read, does not attend writers' meets, or send his books to selection committees etc., & he neither has an agent nor family member nor friend who will do this, how will the judges know about his greatness?
    In our present times, one cannot hide his light beneath a bushel, & still hope to be known. Nor can a talented person devote time & effort to sales/publicity/lobbying/visibility, without neglecting the quality of his work. His well-wishers & admirers must do this for him. Those who benefit by/are entertained by padmashris & padmabhushans, have a corresponding duty to lobby for them - to the various degrees of their ability & power.
    Not that this exonerates those whom the govt. has appointed for the task!
    These awards are given yearly? It is not necessary that in the same year you may find a sportsman who is as great as a Ravishankar or a Sarojini Naidu. Another year, there may be a greater sportsman, & a lesser-known poet.
    I guess the main thing is that you have been proclaimed as a great son or daughter of India, when you get these awards, & except while comparing the 'shri' with the 'bhushan', one should not get into the degrees of comparison.

  3. Well balanced points of view both. All I have a problem with is:
    Just because the world around us is changing doesn't mean:
    a) It is changing for the better; or
    b) that we need to be a part of that change.
    For example, Modi in Gujrat is not right. And we don't have be a part of it just beause it is the new thing.
    As far as Shabana being a better actress than Kaifi a poet is concerned, maybe you're right. But however great a tennis champion Agassi was, he cannot be compared with Da Vinci, can he?
    Sport is good, it's great, but not in the same league as art & culture. And neither is filmdom.
    I would've vehemently fought this a few years back, so I am surprised that at this role reversal.

  4. All the above comments are ok, but can someone tell me what the eligibility for these awards is with respect to nationality/ citizenship? I am at a loss to understand Sunita WIlliams inclusion in this years list.....all the proclamations that she is an Indian-American....don't know what they mean by that....she is a born US citizen married to a US citizen. Her mother is a Slovenian and the only link to India is her father. How does that make her an "Indian" from any angle??? It is simply ridiculous as to how the country wants to jump and proclaim an achiever to be "theirs" and bestow her with so much honor only to publicize their country.
    As far as I know even a born Indian is refused to be recognized as an "Indian" if he willingly took up a citizenship of any other country- he stands to lose all his rights and is termed as a "foreigner". Hope the Government looks into this and clarifies once and for all the precise eligibility criteria.

  5. vibs33,

    Thanks for the visit & comment.
    I was initially equally intrigued by the award until 2 thoughts came to mind:

    1. We Indians either suffer from too strong an identity crisis that we claim everything great as our own. So Amartya Sen & Hargobind Khurana are Indians. So is Mother Teresa. And Leander Paes is apparently bengali!!!


    2. We're starting to do what other countries have been doing for some time now. For example France routinely confers awards on Indian artists, actors etc. for their contribution to the arts. If they can bestow honours on our people, may we can bestow it on Indian-Americans as well.


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