Saturday, October 1, 2022

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – The Prodigy of Prodigies

There is a whole spectrum of classical music composers throughout history who have left a deep impact on the fine art of music. Before Mozart, it was Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Friedrich Haendel, Antonio Vivaldi and Tomaso Albinoni. These were household names. After the birth of Mozart in 1756 in Salzburg Austria, this was one composer who usurped the throne of music from all his predecessors as the never-ending fountain of music, all in the short life span of thirty-four years. His childhood was an exciting one as a child prodigy. From an early age, he had an ambitious thirst for recognition which drove him to the distant courts of Europe from Salzburg, Austria in search of fame and wealth. His family struggled financially in his early years when he was compelled to become a child performer. It was observed that he became an eccentric at an early age. He was a slender and non-descript boy but a soft-spoken musician who had a mischievous glint in his eye. He was liable at any moment to crack a dirty joke or play a prank. All said and done, the compositions he created in his short life were sublime and divinely inspired works of extreme sophistication. He defined an entire age of music history and inspired music composers who followed him. Nearly every opera he wrote premiered to popular and critical acclaim. He also won a vast variety of audiences as a skilled performer on the harpsichord and later, the clavier or the pianoforte. All this was possible because of his prodigious talents. Bulk of his career was spent in the concert halls of Vienna, playing solo concerts of his own planning. His sister was also a talented performer and his father was a skilled musician. The Mozart family was well exposed to European nobility as a result of their extensive travel. This experience allowed his music to become universally acknowledged. His voluminous output includes some of the most sophisticated and complex works of music in the entire history of music. His father, Leopold Mozart, had considerable musical skills. He made a moderate living as a composer and a teacher. He was also a violinist in the court of the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg. He was eventually made the Kapellmeister. He wrote an educational textbook on violin playing which sold successfully. He taught his children several languages along with academic subjects and rounded off their education, giving special time to their prodigious musical talents. Wolfgang, from his childhood, was able to recreate effortlessly musical pieces that he had been taught. He was not only striking the correct chords but he was doing that delicately and with precision. By the age of four, he was able to compose pieces which were approved by his father. His first ever compositions have survived in the form of Nannerl Notenbuch. They were hardly a couple of minutes’ long but they projected a fine understanding of musical composition and theory. They are very significant because a toddler has written them. He took u violin practice at that age and began transcribing new compositions of his own. When his father observed how keenly Wolfgang focused on music, he gave up composing himself and began to focus on teaching his children. Wolfgang suffered serious health scare when he was touring Vienna at the age of seven as he had contracted small pox. He was lucky to survive during that harsh outbreak. He started writing larger music opuses and when he was fourteen; he wrote his first opera - `Mitridate, re di Ponto’. No one has written a full opera at that age. At that age, Mozart had realized that he possessed superior and extraordinary talent. The opera received moderate success. He received commissions to write other operas. The works that followed were Ascanio en Alba and Lucio Silla. Archduke Ferdinand was impressed with these operas when he attended their premieres. He was the Governor of Milan at that time. Wolfgang was appointed court musician at Salzburg to Prince Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo. He had no respect for this Archbishop. During this tenure, he wrote several violin concerti. Then, he started writing many piano concerti. Mozart was not satisfied with his pay at the court. He wrote a new opera, La Finta Giardiniera. He wrote his thirteenth opera in 1781, `Idomeneo, re di Creta’. It was performed in Munich and was received successfully. Mozart had always told the world that music written should never be painful to the ear. After leaving the court at Salzburg, Mozart found work in Vienna and achieved success. He started living in a degree of relative comfort. He performed tours as a pianist and a famous tour involved a competition with Muzio Clementi. At the end of that tour, Mozart was hailed as the finest keyboard player in Vienna. He also received regular commissions to compose. In 1782, at the age of 25, he wrote his opera `Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail’. It was among his biggest critical successes and was performed widely all over Europe. During this time, Mozart started a love affair with Aloysia Weber and she had become a famous singer. She ditched him later and married an actor by the name of Joseph Lange. Mozart then turned his attention on her younger sister, Constanze. She became his wife and remained so until his death nine years later. They had six children in these nine years and only two of them survived infancy. With the help of the patronage of Gottfried van Swieten, a Viennese government official, Mozart had access to volumes of scores of Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Frideric Haendel. These studies had a big influence on many of Mozart’s later works as there was a shift in his work to a more Baroque style of writing. The influence is marked in his finest opera, Die Zauberflote, the Mass in C Minor and his last Jupiter symphony # 41. Mozart met Franz Joseph Haydn in the early part of 1784. The two formed a good friendship and collaborated frequently. They often played together in string quartet ensembles. Not many people are aware that Mozart wrote six string quartets that were dedicated to Haydn. Both composers drew inspiration from each other and this is what Haydn had to say about him, “I tell you before God and as an honest man that Mozart is the greatest composer known to me by person and repute; he has taste and what is more, the greatest skill in composition.” We can understand the evolution of the musical style of Mozart by reading one of his diary entries, “It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art comes easy to me. I assure the world that I give much care to the study of composition. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied.” At his most productive, Mozart in 1785, wrote three new clavier concerti in a season. The success of his concerts and composition commissions afforded his family a degree of wealth that they had not experienced until then. However, the money was spent foolishly and frivolously in this period of financial excess. They moved into a lavish apartment in central Vienna with an annual rent of four hundred florins and their eldest son, Karl Thomas, was sent to an elite boarding school. The family kept several full-time servants. With this extravagant lifestyle, they were not able to save much and this would prove to be serious mistakes made by Mozart. In 1784, he became a Freemason and the institution became important for him for the remainder of his life. He started moving around in Freemasonry circles and attended the lodge meetings regularly. He wrote several compositions for the Masonic Lodge. The most famous piece is a funeral march he composed on the occasion of the death of his Masonic brothers. In 1785, Mozart shifted his focus to operas and wrote The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan Tutte. The public reception to these operas was positive, despite the audience finding some parts of the operas complex to follow. He lost his father this year before the premiere of Don Giovanni. The news of his father’s death affected him profoundly. Mozart sought an appointment as Emperor Joseph II’s chamber composer. It gave him an annual income of eight hundred florins. He had to write dances for the annual balls and galas at Hofburg Palace. Mozart and Haydn stand as archetypes of the Classical style in music. It has to be remembered that Mozart began composition of very intricate pieces in an era when the popular genre was `style galant’. This style was a reaction to the Baroque period style. Music in that age was embellished and defined by ornamentation or complicated measures inserted throughout a piece of music. Popular musical forms included cantatas and sonatas. Baroque music was also defined by its seriousness. Many consider it unpleasant to listen to. Style galant depended on its being light-hearted and its vast range of appeal. Mozart’s prodigious bloodline and his worldly education allowed him to evolve into one of the classical masters in history. Once in his diary, he wrote, “Show the whole world that you are not afraid; be silent, if you choose but when it is necessary – speak in such a way that people will remember it.” People forget that behind the beauty of the creations of Mozart, there was a man full of pain who was at the mercy of same joys and sorrows as any other human. As far as his physical appearance went, he was rather averagely built and gave no indication about the genius that lay within him. His hair was light. He was not tall but had large, expressive eyes. His face was scarred and pitted due to a bout of smallpox that he had as a child when he was eleven. He was soft-spoken but mischievous and with a good sense of humour. While at work in the court, he had a reputation of being a practical jokester. He was deeply fond of scatological or toilet humour. Mozart had a keen interest in the fashion of his day in terms of clothes. He had an extravagant wardrobe of fashionable clothes. His hobbies included dancing and billiards. For a while, he got interested in fencing. He had a special fondness for animals and kept multiple pets at home. He had a dog, a horse and different kinds of birds. Concerning his work ethics, he always composed several drafts before he settled on a final product. He wrote once in his diary on why he wrote simple and recognizable tunes, “The golden mean, the truth, is no longer recognized or valued. To win applause, one must write stuff so simple that a coachman might sing it, or so incomprehensible that it pleases simply because no sensible man can comprehend it.” As the 1780s were drawing to a close, the financial situation of the Mozart family was worsening. He produced his final three symphonies in such a situation. In 1789, he wrote an opera, Cosi fan Tutte. In 1791, in the months leading up to his death, h wrote the liturgical motet Ave Verum Corpus and Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) and his incomplete Requiem. In September 1791, Mozart fell seriously ill while attending the premiere of his opera, `La Clemenza di Tito’ in Prague. By November, he was bedridden. He used to suffer with considerable physical pain along with swelling and bouts of vomiting. He was suffering with uremia and kidney disease. In his last days, Mozart was looked after by his wife and his sister and his family physician. Even with his suffering, he tried his level best to complete his Requiem. He died on 5th December, 1791. It is pure myth that Antonio Salieri poisoned him out of jealousy. That was not the case! However, it is true that Mozart had premonitions about his death a month before he passed away. The parish register records registering his death stated kidney disease and swelling, suggesting a compromised immune system. Mozart had become a living legend in his own lifetime; he is the prime example of being a Prodigy of Prodigies! Ludwig van Beethoven, despite Haydn being his tutor, besides admiring Haydn hailed Mozart once in his diary and wrote, “I have always reckoned myself among the greatest admirers of Mozart and shall do so till the day of my death.” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart summed up every important trait of the Classical musical style. His approach to music composition and his innovative style of writing influenced all his successors for a long, long time. There was a stage play by an English playwright, Peter Shaffer, called `Amadeus’. It was turned into an important film by Milos Forman. Though the film depicted many scenes surrounding the life of Mozart effectively, I am not one of the followers of the theory of Antonio Salieri poisoning Mozart out of envy and I did not like Tom Hulce portraying Mozart as a naughty buffoon. To summarise, the unique childhood of this composer contributed very strongly to his musical style and the influence he commanded. He mixed around with several musicians and artists from the European continent. Many of them had well-situated social connections and court appointments, while others challenged his methods of writing and exposed him to new styles and genres for creating music. Mozart died a premature death at the age of thirty-five, cutting short a productive period in his career as a music composer and leaving his Requiem unfinished. One thing is certain; that after his death, he was admired and recognized throughout the world. His legacy will live on in every new wave of musical transition.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Spread of Freemasonry in India

The history of Freemasonry dates back several hundreds of years. Recently, the credit for introducing India to the freemasonry cult goes to writers like Dan Brown and Ashwin Sanghi. The Freemasons belong to a secret society right from the period of King Solomon. They are often compared with the infamous Illuminati group which is believed to be trying to dominate the world. What is the aim of Freemasonry? The Freemasons pledge to be good citizens by practicing the highest moral and social standards in friendship, charity and integrity. They try to encourage their members or brethren to serve their own community in order to exemplify that they are a society of upright men. They are believers in one God or ‘Father of Universe’ and they go by the motto of ‘brotherly love, relief and truth’. Freemasonry came into India through the British and the Scots. The Grand Lodge of England elected a Grandmaster after a meeting of London’s local lodges in 1717. A united constitution was then drawn up and came into recognition by all the lodges there. The Worshipful Master was elected in a democratic tradition. He was then authorized to select his team of officers, starting from Senior Warden, Junior Warden, Senior and Junior Deacon, Inner Guard and Outer Guard (Tyler). In 1729, a petition was proposed by few brethren in India to set up a Grand Lodge in Calcutta. A Provincial Grandmaster was appointed to oversee Masonic activity in India and the Far East in 1728. It took the next forty-seven years for an Indian to become the first Mason. He was Umdat-ul-Umrah. He was followed by P.C. Dutt. Eventually, the Grand Lodge of India was born in 1895. Since then, Freemasonry did grow in India and one hundred and twelve years later, there are 380 lodges in 140 locations all over the country. There are about twenty thousand Freemasons in India. In Hyderabad, Freemasonry started in October 1988 with the lodge meeting in the upper storey of the existing Goshamahal Baradari. This building was used prior to this event as a military barrack. This was the birth of Lodge Hyderabad, Lodge Deccan and Lodge Morland. In 1912, The Nizam of Hyderabad, Asaf Jah VI, Mahboob Ali Pasha granted a sum of Rupees ten thousand to create a nucleus fund for building a Masonic temple and this work was carried out by Right Worshipful Brother Terence Keyes, the British Resident in Hyderabad.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

The Art Story of John Constable

He was an English painter. He was born on 11th June 1776 in East Bergholt, Suffolk, England and died on 31st March 1837 in London. He revolutionised landscape painting of the nineteenth century along with J.M.W. Turner. His paintings had a far reaching impact on European art, especially in France. He turned away from the idealised landscapes that were an expected norm during his times and preferred realistic depiction of the natural world around him through a close and keen observation. He is remembered for his pastoral images, in and around Stour Valley. He is also remembered for his portraits that are more than hundred in number. He has left behind a large number of preparatory sketches that were often completed in oil. He experimented in these sketches with a free style of representation which allowed him to capture the effects of elementary changes in the countryside quite spontaneously, which he was able to transfer to the finished works. At close observation, his sketches are actually impressionistic, carrying less detail than his display canvases. The bottom line is that he managed to depict the scenery, which he captured in a realistic manner. Constable said, “Landscape is my mistress, ‘tis to her that I look for fame and all that the warmth of the imagination renders dear to Man.” Constable used colour more than what his contemporaries did. He wanted to reflect the hues that he would find in nature. He is recognized for his addition of pure white highlights that represented the sparkle of light on water. Constable was always fascinated by the changing patterns of clouds and light and he wanted to capture these moments in his oil sketches. He worked with loose and large brushstrokes to represent an overall sense of what he actually observed and experienced. His work can actually be described as a precursor to the Impressionist art that followed three decades later. He abandoned the conservative and invisible brushstrokes that were expected in Academic art of that period. He decided to apply paint in a large range of ways that included even a palette knife to give his canvases an imperfect and textured finish that went on to boost their realism. Dedham Vale (1802) is one of Constable’s first major paintings. He was only twenty-six when he created it. This painting illustrates his commitment to his keen powers of observation of nature by the details rendered of the sky and the trees. Your eye is led through the painting from the foreground along the river route to the distant town of Dedham Church, which forms a focal point for this work. The trees on both sides of the canvas form a central focus of this image. These experiences may have formed a crucial part of Constable’s childhood. He made another painting in 1828, twenty-six years later and called it `The Vale of Dedham’. He included few figures in that painting. He made another masterpiece in 1821 - `The Hay Wain’. This is perhaps his most celebrated work. River Stour is depicted in it as it divides the counties of Essex and Suffolk. The cottage of Willy Lott stands to the left. The cart is standing in a small pond. The image displays serenity by means of the colour palette. The blue of the sky is reflected in the tones of the water. The terracotta of the house is reflected in the harness of the horse. The green of the vegetation in the meadow also stands out. Hay Wain is glorifying nature without much exaggeration. Another noteworthy masterwork of Constable is his `Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows’ of 1837. This is the last of his large six-foot canvases and he considered it as his finest work. The sky is depicted as a violent one and the rainbow adds to the drama. He used the rainbow effectively in another great work of his - `The Stonehenge’ of 1835. It is a symbol of hope in the Romantic Movement for painters. Constable wrote, “Nature, in all the varied aspects of her beauty, exhibits no other feature lovelier nor any that awakens a more soothing reflection than the rainbow.” The rainbow helps in heightening the drama in the blustery sky. Constable is known for realistic depictions of the natural world. He rejected the styles that were contemporary in his days for landscapes, stating that “the vices of the present day are bravura; it is an attempt to do something beyond the truth.” He created his own distinct style of representation that was based on transferring what he saw amidst nature as truthfully as possible to a canvas.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

How is India managing its tigers and their need for natural habitat?

Not many people are aware in this world that India gives shelter to more than sixty per cent of the planet’s population of tigers. Is the country really sheltering and nurturing its tigers? This is a matter of much contemplation and debate. What are the major hurdles faced in conserving the growth of tigers in India? Loss of habitat and poaching remain major obstacles. Tigers continue to face threat and extinction from loss of natural habitat and the wicked machinations of the poachers; all in the name of development. However, forty nine years ago, a project was initiated and it was called `Management Effectiveness and Evaluation of Tiger Reserves’. This was part of a grand scheme known as `Project Tiger.’ This project is aimed to safeguard the population of Bengal tigers in natural habitat. It has also helped in preserving regions of biological importance as part of a natural heritage connected with a diversity of ecosystems across tiger distribution in India. There are forty-seven tiger reserves in India and they are all necessary for the survival of this wonderful species. These reserves are not being monitored just for the terms of the tiger count and population growth; but also for the health of the tiger habitat and even prey population, which is very essential for its survival. In 2014, an additional program was launched towards this aim – it was the NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority). (1) Why has the tiger population dwindled in the last three centuries in India? The population of tigers dwindled in India in the last three hundred years primarily owing to the fact that India was colonised by the East India Company (the British Raj) and most of the people in powerful positions during this regime were fond of hunting and killing not only tigers but many wildlife species. Then human greed and wickedness played its part in the shape of poachers who hunted these tigers for the sake of trade. The poachers are after the tigers on account of their body parts, ranging from the whiskers to the tail. The third important factor is that urbanisation spread its roots into forest and jungle regions, forcing the tigers to face heavy losses in their natural habitat and their marked territories. Their habitats have been invaded and encroached upon in a big way as selfish and greedy humans have cut down forest areas to satisfy their personal needs. Forests were turned gradually into agricultural lands and timber goldmines. This led to a major conflict between humans and tigers as it boiled down to a fierce competition for their own spaces. Another major and the fourth factor in the decline of tiger population over a span of three centuries is prey depletion. It is a well known fact that tigers decline in numbers as a result of prey depletion as against being killed. A tiger, in order to stay healthy and fit, needs to eat about six thousand pounds worth of living prey each year. If he prey base is sufficient and protection measures are good, then tiger population will thrive as this species breeds at a rapid rate. The fifth factor that affects tiger population and its decline is the ever present risk of climate change. The rising sea levels on this planet as an effect of global warming are indirectly playing their part in wiping out fertile regions in India like the Sundarban forests. Mangrove trees are being damaged and they happen to be the largest shelters for tiger habitat, particularly of Bengal tigers. Forests do have substantial diversity of wildlife and when they get affected in a negative way, it indirectly affects all species, living in that particular region. It comes as a shock to students of environmental protection studies that the number of Bengal tigers has dropped by more than sixty-five per cent since the advent of the twentieth century. In the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, tigers were able to roam freely not only across India but in most Asian regions; but today, they are restricted to just about ten per cent of their original range, both in grasslands and in isolated forests. As habitats are shrinking with each passing day, India is finding it hard to manage the survival and thriving of the big cats. So, to summarise, it was the British and the Indian royal perverts who were responsible for the speedy decline in tiger population. Secondly, it was the demand for tiger body parts by the Chinese, who are rich and can pay anything for such rarity that drew the poachers to hunt the tigers. Last, but not the least of the reasons was loss of habitat due to overpopulation of the two-legged species. While all conservation efforts are being focused at increasing the count of tigers in India, global experts are suggesting that India will have to prepare for an unexpected challenge of reaching the limits of its project’s management capacity. As of 2014, India had 2,225 tigers. The Head of the Global Tiger Forum feels that India’s current capacity to host the big cats ranges from 2,500 to 3,000. Another official from the forum also feels that almost 35% of the tiger population in India has now started living outside of those protected reserves. These officials have pointed out that there were various challenges apart from the dwindling of core forest areas along with the simultaneous shrinking of the tiger corridors or those strips of land which allow the tigers to move freely across varied habitat. To add to such woes, we also face the issues of man-animal conflict and poaching. These are all hurdles to achieving success in the goal of tiger conservation. Despite these hurdles, statistics present a different and an optimistic picture of the growth in tiger population in India. In 2006, India had only 1,410 tigers and this rose to 2,225 in 2014. There is not much doubt that this was possible on account of enhanced conservation measures and revised and innovative estimation methods. (2). How can we go about conserving tigers and their growth in numbers? Steps were taken almost fifty years ago in India with the initiation of Project Tiger. This was a distinguished plan to save tigers, not only in India but on the whole planet. In 1973, there were only nine tiger reserves, to begin with. Five decades later, that figure has grown to fifty-one. How can natural habitats be conserved? They can be conserved by not cutting down forests for man’s business needs and greed. We can all start helping protect our forests and, at the same time, saving natural habitats of tigers. We can start showing preference for sanctuaries or reservoirs over zoos. Wildlife sanctuaries offer larger spaces and when they are amidst nature; tigers feel very much at home than being caged in zoos. This is the reason why we have to encourage in preserving more natural reservoirs and sanctuaries in order to protect biodiversity. Let us all try and allow the tigers in India to live happily in natural habitats and let them breed more without fear of losing their territories. Unfortunately, man has never had a dialogue of `live and let live’ with tigers. How can climate changed be controlled and have a bearing on the rearing of tigers? There is all talk and not much real and practical effort to halt the adverse climatic changes. We are silently observing things go from bad to worse in areas of climate change. Drastic increase in environmental heat is melting ice reefs and raising the sea levels to an alarming degree. (3) People of this world are not bothered about any other species except themselves. They are ignoring the fact that tigers may be isolated only in few regions in the world, but they happen to be the largest species of the cat family and, without any doubt, one of the most iconic creatures on Planet Earth. The statistics themselves tell the whole picture of what I am trying to say – about a hundred years ago, there were over a hundred thousand tigers roaming on this planet but now there may not be more five thousand left, all over. There is plenty of work that has to be done in order to preserve and then improve the numbers of tigers on this planet. (4) If we allow the tigers to thrive in their natural habitats, we are indirectly making our ecosystem healthy. India, currently, has habitat potential that will be able to support even ten thousand tigers but the numbers have been low on account of degradation of forests and rapid overlapping of development with lands occupied by tigers. State-wise Performance concerning Project Tiger If we want to see how each state has performed in preserving the growth of the tiger population, maybe seven or eight states have been largely responsible for the steady progress made in this respect while most states have been indifferent and have let down the tigers. They allowed habitat degradation and backed businessmen to take over the forests and drive the animals away. Greed is the only answer for the reason behind this act. (5)(Refer Chart on State-wise Bengal Tiger Population in India) The South Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are home to nearly 40% of elephants, 35% of tigers and around 30% of leopards in the whole country. The Northeast states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, West Bengal and Tripura account for 5% of tigers and 30% of elephants in the country. The national parks in the country are Category II protected areas that fall under IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). The first national park was established in India in 1936 and that was the Hailey National Park which later on went on to become Corbett National Park (named after Jim Corbett). It is in the state of Uttarakhand. By the year 1970, five national parks were set up and they were followed three years later by the launching of the Wildlife Protection Act and Project Tiger. These goals were meant to safeguard the habitats of tiger species in India. Good work has gone behind conservation in the past fifty years as we now have five hundred and fifty wildlife sanctuaries in the country which cover close to 120,000 square kilometers. Among these are fifty-one tiger reserves which fall under the governance of Project Tiger and they are particularly significant towards the conservation of the Bengal Tiger. The government of India has set up eighteen biosphere reserves. This has been done to protect vast areas of natural habitat and they are not similar to animal sanctuaries or national parks. These reserves have been established along with buffer zones which are open to economic uses. Protection is not only given to the tiger population but also to the fauna and flora of these regions and to the human communities that inhabit these places. Significance of Sundarbans Tiger Reserve under the Project Tiger Scheme Sundarban was considered under Project Tiger in the inauguration year, 1973. It was one of the first among nine Tiger Reserves declared under the Project Tiger scheme that year. The National Park area of the Tiger Reserve is a natural World Heritage Site as declared in 1987. The Sundarbans Tiger Reserve is a part of the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve, which is one of the few globally recognised Biosphere Reserves in the country. It was declared as a Biosphere Reserve in 1989. It makes up over 60% of the total mangrove forest area in the entire country and has 90% of the total Indian mangrove species. The Sundarbans has been classified as a Tiger Conservation Landscape of global priority, as it is the only mangrove habitat (along with Bangladesh), that supports a significant tiger population. (6) The Tiger Reserve is home to a large number of endangered and globally threatened species like the tiger, fishing cat, estuarine crocodile, Gangetic and Irrawaddy dolphins, king cobra and water monitor lizards. It also gives harbour to river terrapins that have become extinct from all other regions of the world. Sundarbans is also the nesting ground for marine turtles like Olive Ridley, Green Sea Turtle and Hawksbill Turtle. The mangroves serve as garden centres to shell fish and fin-fishes and maintain the coastal fisheries of the whole east coast of India. It is considered as a kingfisher's paradise as out of a dozen species of kingfishers found in the country, ten species are found here. Also found are a couple of species of horse shoe crabs (they are considered as living fossils dated at over four hundred million years). The mangrove forests also act as an innate shelter belt and shield the surrounding environment from storms, cyclones, sea-water seepage and incursions. What are the challenges faced in managing the Sundarbans Reserve? The boundary poses a problem as it is shared with Bangladesh. The next issue is the staff strength which is inadequate, facing almost a fifty per cent vacancy in frontline staff deployment. There is a significant biotic pressure on these forests by the villagers dwelling at its perimeters for wood as fuel, crab collection, catching of fish and tiger prawn seeds. This cannot be helped as the socio-economic condition of these villagers is in the low income cadre. Frequent cyclones also pose a threat to this reserve on account of climate change and global warming. To add to these woes, staff confronts tigers’ straying from their territories with imminent conflicts with humans. It has to be noted that this is a difficult terrain of a corrosive nature and with unstable soil. Prospects The entire reserve is quite well demarcated with its natural boundary, making a vast majority of the area encroachment free. The whole area gets inundated on a daily basis on account of the tidal fluctuation, reducing the risk of forest fire. As there is diverse presence of species, the region is also grazing free. There is plenty of scope for growth and development in eco-tourism in this permitted zone. The chart below will give a fair idea about how this reserve has thrived – (7)(Refer Chart in Annexure concerning increasing population of tigers in Sundarbans Tiger Reserve) Valmik Thapar’s take on what is really happening concerning the Indian tiger scene Valmik Thapar is one India’s foremost recognized conservationist and a wildlife expert. His writings have captured and analysed the shortcomings and the partial failure of `Project Tiger’ that was created by the government as a conservation apparatus. We can look at his writings as a critique and understand the issues of mismanagement by forest departments and their bureaucracy, mainly on account of the staff not being scientifically trained in relevant skills. Oxford University Press has published a book written by him called ‘The Last Tiger’ that spells out a strong case about the shortcomings of Project Tiger. Thapar has spent several decades following the country’s fortunes in preserving the growth of the tiger population in the country. We cannot deny the hard work he has put in as a steward of the `Ranthambore Foundation’. He became a member of the `Tiger Task Force’ in 2005. This scheme was also initiated by the Government of India. In his report, he expressed his disagreement at the entire approach of the forces that managed Project Tiger. He criticised even the Tiger Task Force and pointed out that it was diplomatically focused on prospecting towards co-existence of humans and tigers. In his view, he maintained that it was not consistent with the main objectives of the scheme. He also felt that the Task Force never paid proper attention to bigger questions facing conservation of tigers by neglecting the menace of poaching and absence of science with hurdles to research work as posed by bureaucracies. Thapar’s writings have analysed the shortcomings of Project Tiger. He felt that it was mismanaged by bureaucratic forest departments who were equipped with staff that was not scientifically trained. Thapar has been recognized for his selfless work done for the conservation of tigers in India and his strong bonds with several tigresses, such as `Macchli’ and `T-24’, as is gathered by some of his chronicles. While India’s population has doubled from 630 million to 1.4 billion, the tigers have just gone from a mere 1,800 in 1973 to around 4,000 currently. It is sad to note that several tiger reserves such as Dampha, Buxa, Periyar and Palamau have very few tigers left. A tiger reserve like Mukundra is now declared tiger-less. Thapar has been shouting from the rooftops that flawed policies need to be addressed. He maintains that the number of tigers will grow with adequate regeneration of habitat and field protection, with minimal human use. The real increase in tiger numbers has taken place in states like Maharashtra who have done commendable work – the Tadoba Tiger near Nagpur reserve is a case in example. This is because of better connectivity between tiger habitats with restored strips. The state government is following an imaginative policy in the form of village relocation and meeting the demands of villagers to relocate to other and better lands for their economic stability. Thapar felt that the tiger gets overhyped in India as it commands attention of the public from all over the world. The fact that cannot be overlooked is that almost seven hundred million people go to see tigers in zoos. While trying to preserve tigers in India, Thapar said that other species such as birds and smaller mammals are being neglected. Schemes are under way now to preserve dolphins in the Gangetic belt. Work is being done also on leopards, lions and great Indian bustards. However, problems surmount as much of the forest governing bureaucracy is actually ignorant to the real needs of wildlife. As per Thapar, only two states have done selfless work towards tiger preservation and they are Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Maharashtra has initiated the `Jan Vaan Vikas Yojana’ (Man-Tiger Co-Existence Scheme) while Rajasthan has initiated the `Vaan Dhan Yojana’ (Tiger Wealth Scheme). These state strategies, he feels, could mitigate conflicts between tiger landscapes and people effectively. Minimum interference by the Central Government and more power to the State Governments is the best way forward as per Thapar for maintaining healthier statistics for tigers. More participation of the younger generation of people from the non-governmental sectors will be essential to bolster positive change and new concepts. Thapar laments that Vanyavilas and Ranthambore National Parks have experienced rapid dwindling of tiger numbers. He also mourns the state of affairs at Corbett Park in Uttar Pradesh. The tiger tales of Jim Corbett have remained legends and just that. The poachers have left nothing much for the coming generations. (8) Billy Arjan Singh’s Conservation Efforts His efforts towards conservation of wildlife are well known as he successfully reintroduced tigers and leopards into the wild regions of Dudhwa National Park in Uttar Pradesh, India. He started all this in 1973 (The same year as the initiation of Project Tiger) by nurturing an orphaned male cub of a leopard and called him `Prince’. He subsequently brought up two orphaned female leopard cubs so that he would be able to provide opportunity of mating at a later date. The female cubs were named Juliette and Harriet. Three years later, in 1976, he again introduced a female tiger cub that was hand-reared and named her `Tara’. He had picked her up from Twycross Zoo in England. She was reintroduced into the wild regions of Dudhwa National Park with a sanction from then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. Billy Arjan Singh has always kept a close eye on the mating and growth of these tigers and leopards since then. He has taken the help of CCMB (Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology) in Hyderabad, then Andhra Pradesh State by sending hair samples and getting them analysed using mitochondrial sequence analysis. The results that were achieved after such an analysis brought out facts that the mitochondrial haplo-type suggested that some mothers were Bengal tigresses while others would suggest that several tigers had alleles in a couple of loci, contributed by Siberian and Bengal tiger subspecies. Epilogue Despite what the optimism is about the conservation of tigers in India, I will lament on their dwindling number when compared with the figures of a century ago. I visited Corbett Park, Vanyavilas and the Ranthambore National Park. I was disappointed by their actual numbers there; the only place that gave me a gleam of hope was Tadoba National Park in Maharashtra. When I was at Corbett Park, Uttar Pradesh in 2007, I was excited and hoped to come across at least one tiger during my stay there for three days. I came back disappointed for I saw none. There were pugmarks at some places or were they? I am not alone in this; there have been several people like me who have come back from these parks disillusioned with zero sighting. The tiger tales of Corbett have remained just legends and nothing more than that. The poachers have left nothing much for the coming generations. The reality is that actual number of tigers is falling rapidly in India. One of my friends has recently sighted a tiger in Nagzira and the Koka Forest. Elsewhere in Ranthambore, big cats were sighted in Rajasthan. Was I plain unlucky or the others have been smarter than me? India has always been famous for the Taj Mahal and the Bengal Tiger. The Taj Mahal is easy enough but the Bengal Tiger is pretty elusive. Sooner than you expect, this magnificent tiger will probably disappear from the face of the planet Earth. I wonder if there are more than five thousand tigers left on earth today. I curse the bloody British/Nawabs/Rajahs and their hunting expeditions, the evil poachers and the encroachment of people into the animal habitats which have collectively taken their toll on this now rare species in India. In the distant future, the coming generations in India will only be able to see tigers in tiger tale books and this animal will join the myth and folklore species. Coming to grips with the current situation, if you are planning a vacation to look out for tigers, perhaps Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan may be the place to go for or the Tadoba Tiger Reserve in Nagpur, Maharashtra. You may be able to catch a face to face situation and realize that you managed to look at a big cat before it went extinct. In the pre-independence era, tiger hunts were considered fashionable with the British officers and the elite of the Indian society. They perhaps still are with the Bollywood eunuchs. These hunts provided entertainment for the Maharajas. Even after independence, hunts were organized when the Royalty visited. One specific extravagant hunt was organized in 1961 by Maharani Gayatri Devi for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip when the royal couple visited Jaipur. It took twenty five years for an independent nation to initiate a nationwide ban on tiger hunting. The Wildlife Protection Act came into being in 1972. It became illegal to hunt tigers or take ownership of their body parts. The Tiger Task Force was set up in 1973 and, at first; nine forests were declared as tiger reserves. Will any poacher or any Wildlife Preservation Organizations rise and look the culprits if they are asked about the tiger being declared as an endangered animal in India? Why are tigers so important for this planet? This is mainly because tigers are apex predators in the food chain and it goes a long way in keeping our environment lively and healthy. This is the way things work in a natural way in wildlife regions. Predators are as important as the prey they depend on. To give an example, herbivores or plant-eaters such as deer are principal consumers in the food chain; but, without enough tigers to eat the deer, herbivores are more than likely to start overgrazing and can begin to damage land environment, resulting in the disruption of balance of nature in a local environment. We all know that local human population depends largely on a healthy environment for its food and water supply and various other resources, additionally. Hence, by protecting tigers and their growth in numbers, we also help in taking care of the regions where they inhabit and this is essential for everyone’s good in that particular region.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh

Often, a work of art becomes so intensely famous that it can obscure people to its original meaning and context. This is the case with Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh. The version that is in the National Gallery in London was painted by Van Gogh in Arles in August 1888 in Southern France. Fifteen sunflowers spring out of a quaint earthenware pot with a background that is blazing yellow. Some of the flowers may be found to be perky and fresh and they are surrounded by halos of petals that resemble a flame; while others are beginning to droop. This is a powerful painting. Van Gogh has used just three tints of yellow and has achieved total harmony with that stroke. This simple motif has appealed in a profound way to many people. Van Gogh started painting still of flowers in order to experiment mainly with colour. Another motivation was that flowers’ stills sold well, commercially. He got inspired to introduce more colour into those stills after observing the colourful and fresh paintings of the Impressionists like Renoir and Monet in Paris, France. He began these stills with traditional colours, but as he progressed; he experimented with extreme contrasts in colour. The flowers’ painting that has been placed in National Gallery in London since 1924 has become so popular that more than twenty-six thousand postcards have been sold from among the entire collection of sunflowers painted by Van Gogh. Actually, many among the five million people who visit National Gallery every year are not aware that this painting belongs to a series of four sunflower stills which Van Gogh made in less than a week’s time during summer of 1888. He did those indoors as cold northerly winds restricted him from working outdoors. The first among this collection now belongs to a private owner. It has three orange-yellow blooms in a green-glazed pot that is set against a turquoise background. It was last shown in public in 1948 at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The second among this collection has three flowers in a pot along with three more lying on the table in the foreground. This is set in front of a wall with royal blue colour. This particular painting was partially destroyed during the American bombardment of Ashiya, a Japanese town, in 1945. This painting is quite similar to the one that is placed in the National Gallery but it has fourteen sunflowers with turquoise background and it has now been placed in Neue Pinakothek Gallery in Munich, Germany. After these four sunflowers were executed, Van Gogh created three more variations or replicas; one of them has been loaned by Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam to the National Gallery in London. The first sunflower was painted during the summer of 1886 and a couple of years later; he began painting sunflowers to brighten up his collection. His contemporaries were working on all kinds of flowers but he chose to go with sunflowers. Other painters may have thought that sunflowers would look unrefined or coarse. Van Gogh wanted that coarse touch in his work. They went on to become his signature work and Van Gogh realized that he had finally created something very important and was glad that he did not paint hollyhocks or peonies. He managed to work with a resonant motif, that he could call his own.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Zubin Mehta A Musical Journey [Source Extracts: Bakhtiar. K. Dadabhoy]

This bio sketch covers almost six decades of the Maestro’s life. Not many people are aware of a unique achievement of Zubin and that was to conduct two principal orchestras in North America simultaneously (in Montreal and Los Angeles). He was also the youngest conductor in history to be featured on the cover of `Time’ magazine. He was just thirty-one then. He has been conducting since 1961 and it is now sixty-one years he has been on the podium. His health has been indifferent since the past couple of years and now he is unable to conduct while standing. He has to sit in a chair and conduct like Klemperer and Celibidache. The only conductor who in his nineties is still active on his feet is Blomstedt. Zubin Mehta has had the privilege of working with distinguished artistes and orchestras in his long career. He had a long standing relationship as Music Director for Life with Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, right from 1969 until a couple of years ago, when he retired from that position. The baton that is held by a modern conductor has been credited largely to Ludwig Spohr who was a violinist and a conductor. He had initially used the violin bow and then shifted to holding a roll of stiff paper for keeping time. Eventually, he introduced the modern baton in 1817 in Hamburg. The cult of a virtuoso conductor was, at first, viewed with suspicion; but now, it is there to stay. The conductor, particularly a model such as Wilhelm Furtwangler, has emerged as a person who interprets the whole orchestral music completely and controls all individual skills of his ensemble. Music notation is an inexact art and instructions on a music score are subject to different interpretations. Leonard Bernstein said, “A conductor is a sculptor whose element is time rather than marble; and while sculpting, he has to have a superior sense of both relationship and proportion.” All teachers in the art of conducting feel that a good conductor will have a proper blend of knowing how much to prod and when to leave the members alone. The founder of modern conducting was the Hungarian Artur Nikisch. Zubin Mehta studied under Hans Swarowsky in Vienna and made his debut in London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1961. He also took training as a contrabassist. He has retained his Indian passport while holding a dual citizenship of the United States of America. He was born in Bombay, India on 29th April 1936. This also happened to be the day Arturo Toscanini conducted his last performance with New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He was originally being groomed for the medical profession. His father, Mehli Mehta was an amateur musician, violinist and conductor but professionally, he was an accountant. It was his father who honed Zubin’s talent and his mother, Tehmina, who gave him encouragement to leave Medicine as vocation and take up music studies. He studied at Campion School in Bombay, India as well as St. Mary’s at Mazagaon in Bombay. `Zubin’ in Gujarati means a powerful sword. Zubin shares his birthday – 29th April with two great English conductors, Thomas Beecham and Malcolm Sargent. Young Days The Parsis in India embraced Western Classical music more than they did Indian Classical music. In 1922, J.B. Petit, a Parsi philanthropist, funded the first symphony orchestra in Bombay and a chamber orchestra at the same time. Most of the initial musicians were Goans and the audiences were, of course, mostly Parsis. In the 1940s, a prominent lawyer of India, Nani Palkhivala played violin in the Bombay Symphony Orchestra that was directed by Mehli Mehta. He taught himself the art of playing the violin. In 1935, when Anna Pavlova toured Bombay, she relied on Bombay Symphony Orchestra to add to the ensemble she was touring with and it was Mehli Mehta who played all the solos in the performances in Bombay of Adam’s Giselle and Glazunov’s Raymonda. A Dutch musician who was living in Bombay, Jules Craen, was a big support to Mehli Mehta in managing the Bombay Symphony Orchestra. Early Training During his early training days, Zubin became friends with Daniel Barenboim. This was a friendship that began when Daniel was only twelve years of age and was well established as a prodigy. They met at Siena when they were taking training at Accademia Musicale Chigiana. Soon after, Zubin met Claudio Abbado. After taking up the musical directorship for life with Israel Philharmonic in 1969, Zubin supported efforts of Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said towards bringing together Palestinian and young Israeli musicians. The West-Eastern Divan project came to life, then. Among other friends of Zubin during these days were Jacqueline du Pre, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Placido Domingo. Zubin has another feather in his cap. Karl Bohm handed over the Nikisch Ring in Vienna. His stint with the New York Philharmonic between 1978 and 1991 also happens to be the longest incumbency of any conductor in the history of that orchestra. He achieved instant stardom after his `Three Tenors’ concert in Rome. One of his main adventurous achievements was playing Wagner in Israel, in 1981. His relationship with the New York Philharmonic was not really on amicable terms after his interview with `Newsweek’ when he mentioned that New York was notorious for finishing off careers of many conductors. He apologised to the orchestra management before taking up the assignment but it took several years for the wounds to heal. He noticed during his tenure there that he rarely received good press for his concerts, particularly in his last few years. He also crossed paths with a music critic and correspondent while he was in Los Angeles and that was Martin Bernheimer. Zubin gave his first concert with Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 1961 when he had to fill in at the last minute for Eugene Ormandy. In 1967, when the six-day war broke out with Palestine, Zubin dropped his engagements in Montreal and flew straight to Tel Aviv to conduct Israel Philharmonic. On this occasion also, he was filling in after the cancellation of Erich Leinsdorf’s visit. His gorgeous looks during his early days of training made him a big hit with women. His aquiline features and his zest for life gave him an appeal of a movie celebrity and a unique cultural icon. He had a charismatic personality and his musical performances were galvanizing, to say the least. While at Los Angeles, he developed a good friendship with Edward. G. Robinson. Taking up the helm at New York City Zubin Mehta succeeded Pierre Boulez at the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in September 1978. At the same time, Zubin was succeeded by Carlo Maria Giulini at Los Angeles. His tenure was extended in 1983 for a further period of seven years. In March of 1984, Zubin had to undergo surgery for lateral epicondylitis. This condition involves severe and chronic inflammation of the muscles which are attached to the elbow. This is akin to a tennis elbow and it results after vigorous hand and arm movements. He had to be hospitalised for a week and had to take rest for a fortnight after the surgery. After recovery, Zubin took the New York Philharmonic Orchestra on a tour of India in September 1984. The tour was a success. Zubin had come to India with an orchestra after seventeen years. I remember that very well as I was present during the Bombay concert and was pleased with the rendition at Shanmukhananda Hall in Matunga. The program included Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin and Dvorak’s New World Symphony. In June 1988, he took the orchestra to Soviet Union. Three performances were given at Leningrad’s Philharmonic Hall and three at Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Hall. After the Russian tour, the orchestra visited ten other European countries in 1988. Zubin’s contract expired in 1991. His successor was Kurt Masur. Florence, Valencia and Munich Zubin got his contract with Maggio Musicale Fiorentino after New York Philharmonic and he managed to take the orchestra to twelve countries in a span of next twenty years. While conducting Wagner’s Ring with Valencia Community Orchestra, Zubin paid a great tribute to Wilhelm Furtwangler. He was an admirer of Furtwangler and of the latter’s philosophy of searching for deep messages between the music sheets. Zubin mentioned that Furtwangler had inspired all his players to give something over and above the score and their normal abilities and how Furtwangler had made every concert of his an emotionally intense experience for himself and his audience.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Charles Dickens – A Novelist of Substance

Dickens is remembered as a novelist who established his reputation during his lifetime and it now one and a half century since he has left us; his works remain as masterpieces among creations in English literature. We cannot forget dialogues like “Please Sir, may I have some more?” from Oliver Twist or “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” from A Tale of Two Cities. Most of his creations have been adapted into cinema screenplays or television drama series. They were also adapted for the stage during his lifetime. The Christmas Carol gets performed year after year. When he was twelve, he worked in a shoe-blacking factory while his father was put in prison for outstanding debts. Dickens was always observant, even as a child and was able to create characters of a dramatic nature by means of his close scrutiny of people around him. The people he knew inspired almost all his characters that he wrote about. His sister’s four-year old boy who was a cripple turned into Tiny Tim of A Christmas Carol. His childhood love, Maria Beadnell turned into Flora Finching of Little Dorrit. Dickens was impulsive and hot-headed but never allowed his nature to get the better of him. He always wanted to bring about change for the good in the society that he lived in. He loved theatre right from his childhood and was always unsuccessful in his love affairs. He survived a train accident and was very concerned about how man exploited his own species and brought about poverty. He helped raise the genre of English novel writing to popular heights. He recalled his work in the blacking factory and wrote in his diary, “No words can express the secret agony of my soul... the sense I had of being utterly neglected and hopeless; of the shame I felt in my position … my whole nature was penetrated with grief and humiliation.” He was born on 7th February 1812. His full name was Charles John Huffman Dickens. His mother, Elizabeth Dickens had a good sense of humour, a pleasant personality and was well educated. His father, John, was in the Navy but lived beyond his means and put himself into serious debts. Charles started reading classics at the tender age of five. His first back was Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. An early favourite of his was the compilation of Arabian Nights. He was also introduced to Shakespeare’s plays by the local theatre in Kent. One of the first plays that Charles Dickens wrote when he was just nine was ‘Misnar – the Sultan of India’. His father was arrested and put in prison when Charles was only twelve. At that age, Charles helped his family survive by pawning their possessions – furniture and books. He was lucky to be given work at the blacking factory. He had to label pots of boot and shoe blacking. With the help of his friend, he got a membership to the reading room of the British Museum and spent much of his spare time there. In 1830, he met Maria Beadnell at that place and courted her, hoping to marry her someday. Her parents rejected him because of his family’s financial situation. He eventually lost her as she married someone else. Dejected in love, he published his first short piece of fiction which he called, `A Dinner at Poplar Walk’. It was an achievement that he was proud of, later in life. His next big work was `The Strange Gentleman’. He courted and got married to Catherine Hogarth in April 1836. After the wedding, he started work on his first major success, the `Pickwick Papers’. The next year, Charles and Catherine had their first child, a son. Dickens started work on `Oliver Twist’. Catherine suffered with depressive bouts after childbirth. Charles also had indifferent health. He sorted out his health problems by taking long walks in the countryside for fresh air. This period in his life saw him move up in life, both socially and economically. During this time, he developed a strong bond with John Forster and Dickens started sharing his deepest thoughts and his feelings with him. The two men became companions while walking, riding and attending the theatre. Forster became a literary agent for Dickens. After Oliver Twist, Dickens started work on `Nicholas Nickleby’. This novel went a long way in attracting attention of the readers towards the dismal conditions at schools for orphans and illegitimate children in Yorkshire. In 1838, Charles and Catherine had a second child, a daughter. The next year, they had their third child, a daughter again. He had to move into a larger house in Devonshire. He started work on a new project and named it `Barnaby Rudge’. Heavy workload started telling on his health. He started work on a new novel, ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’. This novel brought him impressive popularity. It was hailed as a masterpiece. The theme of the protagonist’s death (Nell) struck a deep chord with the audiences of his times and infant mortality rate had already become a personal tragedy experience for most in England. His next important work was ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’. Sales of this work were dismal. However, he did not lose hope and started work on his next project – A Christmas Carol. This story and Ebenezer Scrooge in particular captured the attention of the audiences and the book has remained among the most popular works of Dickens for over fifteen decades now. Dickens went on to write two more stories related with Christmas time. They were `The Chimes’ and `Cricket on the Hearth’. Dickens wrote a pensive preface to another masterpiece of his, `David Copperfield’. “An author feels as though he were dismissing some portion of himself into the shadowy world, when a crowd of the creatures of his brain are going from him forever.” This novel contains many autobiographical elements. During the summer of 1846, Dickens began work on `Dombey and Son’ in Switzerland. He was living in Lausanne at that time. After that he wrote another Christmas Novella and called it `The Haunted Man’. The story is quite interesting – a chemist is troubled by painful memories and he accepts a ghost’s offer to remove his memories and allow him to remove those of everyone he meets. The story has a strong underlying message of tolerance and forgiveness. In 1851, after enjoying the success of `David Copperfield’, Dickens wrote a satirical essay, “A Child’s History of England”. In 1852, he started work on another novel, `Bleak House’. This work focused on the inefficiency of the Chancery and the problems it caused. It was filled with dark cynicism. He followed this work with `Hard Times’ and `Little Dorrit’. On a personal front, Dickens lost in his wife and children and became selfish and indifferent. However, he kept himself engrossed while reading his works. It fit into his love of the theatre and gave him an opportunity to enact all his characters and gave them personality and voices. He enjoyed this experience and he became popular doing it. He went on tour through major cities from Dublin to Edinburgh and London and Manchester. In April 1859, he started writing `A Tale of Two Cities’. The plot for this book was inspired by the drama `the Frozen Deep’ written by Wilkie Collins. Dickens had taken part in that and acted on stage. Dickens had deep interest in the French Revolution after reading Thomas Carlyle’s `History of the French Revolution’. This novel of Dickens is more action-based than most of his other works. His next great work was to be `Great Expectations’. It told the story of the orphan, Pip. Many consider the development of Pip’s character to be the ultimate among authorial achievements of Dickens. Charles Dickens visited the United States of America and did not like the tall buildings of New York City and its garish lights. In 1863, Dickens began work on his last novel, `Our Mutual Friend’. He suffered a stroke in 1866 and after that; his health declined. He had indifferent health for the next three years. He started work on another novel, `The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ but could not finish it and left the ending hanging. He died on 9th June 1870. It is a general consensus in England that after Shakespeare; it was Dickens who was the best known among English authors. His popularity has been great down the ages. His characters have become icons and are remembered to be given attached meanings; for example, `Scrooge’ is associated with miserliness. His works have left their mark on his readers. It has to be mentioned that not all his novels were successes. However, his works have inspired many film adaptations.