Soft Power

From Kannada rock to Sufi gospel: India puts its soft power on show in Australia

A 12-week-long festival across seven cities in the continent gives cultural diplomacy a big push.

Cultural diplomacy is putting a positive spin on the India-Australia bilateral relationship and also enriching the Australian economy.

The first Confluence Festival of India in Australia, touted as one of the largest foreign cultural festivals to be organised in the continent country, rolled out 25 productions showcased at over 70 different events at iconic landmarks across seven cities, in 12 weeks starting from August.

For decades, India’s soft power potential has remained largely untapped, but the Narendra Modi government has been focusing on raising India’s profile in the international arena through cultural diplomacy. The Indian high commissioner to Australia, Navdeep Suri, strongly believes that “India is a super power when it comes to soft power and Prime Minister Modi has been adroit in recognising the potential of yoga and cultural diplomacy in raising India’s profile around the world”.

The country is leveraging culture as a tool of diplomacy to strengthen its reputation as an innovative, creative and culturally robust nation in this age of likes, tweets and hits.

“Public diplomacy is an essential handmaiden of traditional diplomacy and its importance will only increase in a global economy and a global media stuffed full of rapidly changing images,” said the former Australian high commissioner to India, Peter Varghese. “For our relationship with India, public diplomacy is essential if we are to build the strategic partnership which both governments desire and which our converging interests makes necessary.”

He added, “But in the end, the hard yards of public diplomacy are gained not by governments but by individuals and groups. It is the networks in the arts, in business, in education and in all the other nooks and crannies of community life that underpin a people-to-people relationship.”

All things Indian

The 12-week-long festival of all things Indian – dance, music, theatre, visual arts, cartooning, puppetry, khadi and, of course, yoga – has struck a chord that will endure long after its final act, the dance drama Jatayu Moksham from the Ramayana by The Kalakshetra Foundation in Canberra on November 8.

Sponsored by the Indian government, the Ministry of Culture and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations have pitched in more than Rs 2.5 crore while the Australian government has granted AU$250,000 (Rs 1.2 crore approximately) for the festival. In addition, there has been plenty of support in kind from state and local authorities. This includes the gala opening at the Sydney Opera House, which was supported by the New South Wales state government. Some of the venues were made available on a discounted or revenue-sharing basis and this has helped bring down costs considerably.

“The total in kind support that we received, including the media support from the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation], would be worth well over a million dollars,” said Suri, who decided to use the public-private partnership model, riding high on the successful festivals he previously organised in South Africa and Egypt. It resulted in an international-class show unbridled by bureaucratic constraints.

“By supplementing government resources with private sector and local contributions, we got the flexibility to work with local groups and forge the kind of collaboration that one saw in Sydney Opera House on September 18,” Suri said. “We were also able to do special media launch events for the festival and reach out to new audiences via social media. This would be much harder if we were only reliant on government funding.”

Australian economy

In return, the festival has made a substantial contribution to the local economy. “On a conservative scale, the festival has contributed over AU$ 2 million to the Australian economy from venue hires, sale of tickets, hospitality, etc,” said Sanjoy Roy, managing director of India-based entertainment company Teamwork Arts, which was entrusted with the responsibility of organising the events.

Securing iconic venues such as the Opera House in Sydney, Federation Square in Melbourne, Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane, Festival Centre in Adelaide, the Old Parliament in Canberra and the State Theatre in Perth was a challenge.

“Once the mainstream venues understood what we wished to present, they were enthused and welcoming and created gaps in their plans to host festival programmes,” said Roy. “What helped was that we reached out to them well in time and discussed jointly what would or could work in terms of audience engagement and what would drive ticket sales.”

Teamwork Arts has been working in Australia since 2002. “The professionalism that technology and production crew displayed in their dealings with artists and my colleagues was always in keeping with best practices and Australia’s reputation of having excellent sound engineers, technicians and theatre staff,” said Roy. “We have always found that the arts-going audiences in Australia have both welcomed and celebrated the diversity and richness of Indian performing and visual arts.”

Mainstream audience

So, did the festival catch the fancy of mainstream Australians and succeed in going beyond the stereotypes – cricket, Bollywood, Kashmir, poverty?

“I feel that perceptions about India are changing anyway, thanks to the growth of the Indian economy and the impact made by Prime Minister Modi in the international arena,” said high commissioner Navdeep Suri. “But through the festival, we wanted to convey that in addition to the well-known classical arts forms, there is also a youthful and vibrant India that is comfortable in its own skin, happy to experiment with different art forms and quite unselfconscious about borrowing from others.”

The above was reflected in Raghu Dixit’s Kannada rock, in Sonam Kalra’s Sufi gospel project, in Piya Behrupiya – a uniquely Indian take on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night – and cartoonist Ajit Ninan’s talk on political humour. While the Raghu Dixit performances were dominated by audiences from the diaspora, all the other shows had 60% to 65% mainstream audiences.

As Christopher Zinn, a consumer campaigner and former foreign correspondent residing in Sydney’s Bondi beach area, said, “While many Australians might be hard pressed to realise there was a specific festival, few might have overlooked the many and varied ways India and Indians have been active, alive and on display in our public life over the past few months. As a result, the exotic energy of India, which contrasts so sharply with average Australia, is becoming both more familiar and welcome to the mainstream.”

The Indian high commission worked with selected journalists from Australia’s main print outlets, arranging for a few to visit India before the festival to interview the artistes and capture the stories behind renowned institutions such as Nrityagram and Kalakshetra. Publicity about the festival in specialised outlets like Time Out also played a major role in driving audiences to the shows.

“Our media partnership with ABC clearly played a big role in generating so much coverage for the festival in the mainstream media,” Suri said. “I am delighted that I could persuade Michelle Guthrie, the new CEO of ABC, that our festival would fit well into her own plans to bring greater diversity into ABC content.”

The response has been gratifying even in the remote town of Alice Springs, where Confluence partnered with the Desert Song Festival, and in Perth, where Delhi-based artist Vibhor Sogani’s art installation Mahatma in Me, was showcased at Elizabeth Quay. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s saying “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”, the installation has subtle images of Gandhi and some impressions of his thoughts expressed in mirror finish stainless steel. “It attracted people to see their own reflection in the image of the Mahatma, pause and possibly introspect… a moment of self-realisation and the responsibility we all carry to bring about the change,” said Sogani.

Similarly, designer Sunaina Suneja’s exhibition, Bapu: The Craftperson’s Vision, in Brisbane and her khadi fashion show at the India Australia Business and Community Awards in Sydney were warmly received. She had styled the garments for an Australian audience, for Spring-Summer 2016-’17 and beyond, enforcing the natural fibre’s versatility and global appeal.

“The architecture for Confluence to become an annual event has been put in place and I am pretty sure it will be back in 2017,” said Suri, who is moving on as the Indian ambassador to Abu Dhabi after an 18-month stint in Australia.

The writer is president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Association (Australia & South Pacific).

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Why do our clothes fade, tear and lose their sheen?

From purchase to the back of the wardrobe – the life-cycle of a piece of clothing.

It’s an oft repeated story - shiny new dresses and smart blazers are bought with much enthusiasm, only to end up at the back of the wardrobe, frayed, faded or misshapen. From the moment of purchase, clothes are subject to wear and tear caused by nature, manmade chemicals and....human mishandling.

Just the act of wearing clothes is enough for gradual erosion. Some bodily functions aren’t too kind on certain fabrics. Sweat - made of trace amounts of minerals, lactic acid and urea - may seem harmless. But when combined with bacteria, it can weaken and discolour clothes over time. And if you think this is something you can remedy with an antiperspirant, you’ll just make matters worse. The chemical cocktail in deodorants and antiperspirants leads to those stubborn yellowish stains that don’t yield to multiple wash cycles or scrubbing sessions. Linen, rayon, cotton and synthetic blends are especially vulnerable.

Add to that, sun exposure. Though a reliable dryer and disinfectant, the UV radiation from the sun causes clothes to fade. You needn’t even dry your clothes out in the sun; walking outside on a sunny day is enough for your clothes to gradually fade.

And then there’s what we do to our clothes when we’re not wearing them - ignoring labels, forgetting to segregate while washing and maintaining improper storage habits. You think you know how to hang a sweater? Not if you hang it just like all your shirts - gravity stretches out the neck and shoulders of heavier clothing. Shielding your clothes by leaving them in the dry-cleaning bag? You just trapped them in humidity and foul odour. Fabrics need to breathe, so they shouldn’t be languishing in plastic bags. Tossing workout clothes into the laundry bag first thing after returning home? It’s why the odour stays. Excessive moisture boosts fungal growth, so these clothes need to be hung out to dry first. Every day, a whole host of such actions unleash immense wear and tear on our clothes.

Clothes encounter maximum resistance in the wash; it’s the biggest factor behind premature degeneration of clothes. Wash sessions that don’t adhere to the rules of fabric care have a harsh impact on clothes. For starters, extra effort often backfires. Using more detergent than is indicated may seem reasonable for a tub full of soiled clothes, but it actually adds to their erosion. Aggressive scrubbing, too, is counterproductive as it worsens stains. And most clothes can be worn a few times before being put in the wash, unless of course they are sweat-soaked gym clothes. Daily washing of regulars exposes them to too much friction, hastening their wear and tear.

Different fabrics react differently to these abrasive agents. Natural fabrics include cotton, wool, silk and linen and each has distinct care requirements. Synthetic fabrics, on the other hand, are sensitive to heat and oil.

A little bit of conscious effort will help your clothes survive for longer. You can start by lessening the forces acting on the clothes while washing. Sort your clothes by fabric instead of colour while loading them in the washing machine. This helps save lighter fabrics from the friction of rubbing against heavier ones. It’s best to wash denim materials separately as they are quite coarse. For the same reason, clothes should be unzipped and buttoned before being tossed in the washing machine. Turning jeans, printed clothes and shirts inside out while loading will also ensure any abrasion is limited to the inner layers only. Avoid overloading the washing machine to reduce friction between the clothes.

Your choice of washing tools also makes a huge difference. Invest in a gentler detergent, devoid of excessive dyes, perfumes and other unnecessary chemicals. If you prefer a washing machine for its convenience, you needn’t worry anymore. The latest washing machines are far gentler, and even equipped to handle delicate clothing with minimal wear and tear.


Bosch’s range of top loading washing machines, for example, care for your everyday wear to ensure they look as good as new over time. The machines make use of the PowerWave Wash System to retain the quality of the fabrics. The WaveDrum movement adds a top-down motion to the regular round action for a thorough cleaning, while the dynamic water flow reduces the friction and pulling forces on the clothes.

Play

The intelligent system also creates water displacement for better movement of clothes, resulting in lesser tangles and clothes that retain their shape for longer. These wash cycles are also noiseless and more energy efficient as the motor is directly attached to the tub to reduce overall friction. Bosch’s top loading washing machines take the guesswork away from setting of controls by automatically choosing the right wash program based on the load. All that’s needed is a one-touch start for a wash cycle that’s free of human errors. Read more about the range here. You can also follow Bosch on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Bosch and not by the Scroll editorial team.