Tag Archives: British Council

What’s so perfect about a ’10′ anyway?

Apparently, none of us really look good. We are all either too fat or too thin; our hair and skin are not of the right colour or texture; or some part of our body is not of the right shape, or size. If only that one aspect were different, if only…

WHAT IS BODY SHAMING?

In its broadest sense body shaming is, either overt or covert, criticism of deviance from an accepted body norm. This body norm attempts to codify how the body should be presented and represented if it needs to be perceived in certain ways – as beautiful, or as ugly, or funny, mysterious, etc. In its most simplistic and hyper-analysed form, one can think of a body norm as a two-dimensional table where body features or traits point to certain “meanings.” This is how “tall, dark, and handsome” means a desirable lover in romantic pulp fiction or in sitcoms, a short, bald, or fat guy has come to mean a shallow loser who provides comic relief.

WHY DO WE DO IT?

We have always been body shamers. We are social beings and there is an awareness of (consciously or unconsciously) agreed-upon norms. We show our conformity to the tribe by reiterating and reaffirming these norms. One way this happens is through the choices we make about presenting our bodies (including but not limited to body shaping, styling and even colours). However, sometimes we pledge allegiance by interpreting and then communicating value judgements (“I don’t think you should shave your moustache; it makes you look womanly” or “look at how high she wears those trousers”). In saying something positive, we may by accident, be body shaming.

WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?

The body norm is neither universal (apparently, women with tiny feet used to be quite the thing in China) nor timeless (think of the robust beauties of renaissance art). It survives and is replenished through its agents – us. One way to fight body shaming, especially its more pernicious effects, is to offer a genuine counter discourse – one that stops short of a too lazy normalisation, one that is more inclusive and diverse in its representations, and one that not only accepts but also celebrates pluralism through its language. We have the agency and herein lies hope.

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Written by Anshuman Manur, Teacher of English, British Council – Chennai

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Hey skinny! Your ribs are showing!

Is fat really the worst thing a human being can be? Is fat worse than vindictive, jealous, shallow, vain, boring, evil or cruel?

J K Rowling

A number of new words have been added to the dictionary since the turn of the century. Many are interesting- wackadoodle, bookaholic, some are weird- schvitz, TPing, and a few abbreviations of existing words that we can’t be bothered to say in toto- adorbs, bestie. And then there are a few that should never have come into existence- Body-shaming! Fit-shaming! Skinny-bashing! -, which are however being used in increasingly vicious attacks by unknown others, imaginatively called Trolls! 

Jokes about people’s bodies are not new. Neither is it new to create unrealistic body types as benchmarks- stereotypes that sections of the population feel compelled to conform to. Nor is this a gender specific, contemporary trend. ‘Hey skinny! Your ribs are showing!’ In the 1920’s this caption for a mail order workout course showed a skinny guy being beaten up by a bully in front of his girlfriend; until he followed the course, became buff, and beat the bad guy up! It reinforced stereotypes that a man had to be strong, muscular and attractive, not a bag of bones. Captain America, anyone?

If thin is in, in most places, there are countries where the opposite is just as painfully true. In the West African nation of Mauritania, thin is definitely not in! Young girls and teens are force fed, much as one does a goose for foie gras; a fat girl is a prosperous girl!

There is no doubt that things have changed. The beach bully of close to 100 years ago has migrated. They now shame anyone across the world with impunity, hiding behind the anonymity that the internet offers. The quest for the perfect body shape has led to an increase in the number of young people afflicted with eating disorders who hate the way they look.

As the wheel of fashion turns, things will change. Just as the Rubens-women of the Italian Renaissance gave way to the corseted shape of Victorian England, in turn replaced by a celebration of the almost boyish women of early 20th Century, this idea of beauty too shall pass. So, why all the fuss over an ephemeral idea?

If only we could accept people for who they were and not how they looked.

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 Written by Shailaja Mani, Teacher of English, British Council – Chennai

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Authors from Bloody Scotland at the 2017 Kolkata Lit Festival

Bloody Scotland is an annual Crime Writers festival held in Stirling, Scotland, and sees participation from some well-known crime fiction authors from Scotland and India. Earlier in February, three Scottish authors participated in a series of sessions with Indian crime fiction authors to explore themes around crime writing:

Lin Anderson shares her experience of participating in the Kolkata Literature festival in this Blog post here  

My favourite memory was of a boy of about ten who had chosen his book from a selection of classics. Clutching it to his chest like a prize possession he was approaching the pay desk with a broad smile on his face.

Lin Anderson

Lin Anderson

Lin Anderson is best known as the author of a series of crime thriller novels and for her part in founding the annual ‘Bloody Scotland’ crime writing festival. Lin’s novel Paths of the Dead was shortlisted for the 2015 Scottish Crime Book of the Year award. Her novels have been published in translation in a number of countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden and Russia. Lin is also an award-winning scriptwriter, with her work broadcast internationally on radio and TV.

 

 

 

Doug Johnstone also writes about his time in Kolkata, dodging the traffic, meeting authors from India and gorging on masala omelettes in his blog here

Turns out we had a lot in common with our Kolkatan counterparts, and we learnt a lot about the crime scene there, as well as spreading the word about our own writing. Ideally, we ‘d love to have some Indian writers come over to Scotland in the future, and I hope we can make that happen.

Doug Johnstone. Picture: Chris Scott

Doug Johnstone. Picture: Chris Scott

Doug Johnstone is a writer, musician and journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland. His eighth novel, Crash Land, was published by Faber & Faber in November 2016. His previous book, The Jump, was shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Best Scottish Crime Novel. Doug has had short stories appear in various publications and anthologies.

 

 

 

 

Find out more about the Bloody Scotland Festival 

 

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David Leddy writing workshops in India

Being a writer is wonderful in many ways and frustrating in many ways. Words are very literal things. As Bjork says “words are useless, especially sentences.”  You can stretch language and manipulate it, that’s what I love to do. But it falls off a cliff pretty quick. The more obtuse your writing becomes the more it turns into linguistic soup. I often feel rather envious of visual artists for the freedom and ambiguity that the non-textual affords. It’s so much easier to be elliptical, indirect, atmospheric.

In November 2016 I came to Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi and Kolkata to lead workshops for writers and to have a series of meetings with artists who I might collaborate with in the future. The British Council asked me to write a blogpost about it.

So, bearing in mind what I’ve described above, I decided that I would give you a visual essay, a series of atmospheres that sums up my trip in an indirect way. I hope you enjoy it.

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

 

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

Welcome home biscuits © David Leddy

 

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Sir Ian McKellen casts magic spell on Mumbai: launches Shakespeare on Film collection

Ian Mckellen addresses school children at the BD Somani school, Mumbai

Ian Mckellen addresses children at BD Somani school, Mumbai

The actor was in Mumbai between 23- 26 May, as a guest of the British Council and the British Film Institute, to launch the Shakespeare on Film Collection at the NCPA in Mumbai

Calm and collected. Sir Ian McKellen’s on-screen persona matches his real-life self. ‘Gandalf’ aka McKellen kicked-off his Shakespeare tour of India in the balmy weather of Mumbai, with an hour-long Twitter chat with fans from across the globe, on 22 May.

Having arrived the night before on a long-haul flight from London, McKellen was gracious enough to entertain questions from fans across the globe who enquired about his eating preferences to his favourite Shakespeare roles on-screen. Check out updates from the tweet chat here.

Having discovered Shakespeare “at the age of 9″, McKellen is known for his acting on stage in plays such as Macbeth, Henry IV; King Lear and Richard III. The next day, 23 May, he spent an entertaining evening, in-conversation with actor Aamir Khan at the NCPA, Mumbai.

With a full house, the nearly 1,000 audience members listened intently as both veterans discussed Shakespeare and acting influences.

It’s no surprise that McKellen is a master of the stage and that fact was exemplified when he delivered an impromptu performance of the Elizabethan play, Sir Thomas More, to a chorus of applause.

Ian McKellen with Robin Baker at the NCPA Mumbai talking about 'Richard III'

Ian McKellen with Robin Baker at the NCPA Mumbai talking about ‘Richard III’

The next day, McKellen screened his BFI classic RichardIII to a small gathering of Shakespeare fans from Mumbai.

The 108-minute screening was followed by a lively discussion on the influences behind the movie, between him and Robin Baker of the BFI!

 

 

Not just Shakespeare, McKellen is known for being a global LGBT rights celebrity having been vocal about his opinions from an early stage.

Ian at Kashish Opening Ceremony

Ian at Kashish Opening Ceremony

He was also the guest of honour at the Kashish MIQF festival on 25 May, where he also celebrated his 77th birthday with a cake-cutting ceremony. On the final day of his visit, Ian had a school engagement where he addressed children from the BD Somani school, who also staged a version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. 

 

 

 

 

Further Reading: 

Alan Gemmell talks about Ian McKellen visit, Shakespeare and the Digital Open Call  

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A Cultural Shift: Dan Daw of Candoco Dance Company on disability in dance

Dance artist, Dan Daw, recently spent 10 days touring India with Candoco Dance Company, performing Studies for C supported by the British Council. In this blog, he captures his thoughts, feelings and observations of his first trip to India

Studies For C performers, Dan Daw and Mirjam Gurtner in Chennai

Studies For C performers, Dan Daw and Mirjam Gurtner in Chennai

Incredible India. Before experiencing India for myself, I’d look at that slogan plastered to the entire surface of a London black cab with a cynicism asking, “How can an entire country be described as just ‘incredible’?” It is a slogan our taxi driver in Delhi would exclaim proudly as we’d stop, patiently waiting while a holy bull sauntered nonchalantly across a road in rush hour, or as we’d swerve out of the way of vehicles coming toward us in strategic attempts to expedite their journey.

Having been, I can now answer my own question of doubt and unknowing by saying, “Because that’s exactly what it is. In every sense of the word, India is incredible.”

It is indeed a difficulty to pinpoint the very thing that makes India so incredible, but if held to task, it would absolutely be the people. This would be confirmed as I departed Chennai, departed Kolkata and departed Delhi on our 10-day tour, finding myself thinking back to moments shared with new-found friends.

Connected to each performance of Studies for C by Javier de Frutos, a work we have been touring with on and off for almost four years, was a post-show discussion, which revealed just how sincere and genuinely interested in Candoco Dance Company’s work, approach and legacy the people in each of the three cities actually were.

Artiste Dan Daw (middle) in a post-show discussion with Dr Ambika Kameshwar (second from left) in Chennai

Artiste Dan Daw (middle) in a post-show discussion with Dr Ambika Kameshwar (second from left) in Chennai

Although clear that dance therapy was the broader understanding of inclusive dance practice, there was a sense of wanting to move beyond the notion that dance for disabled people was simply to ‘fix’ them.

How did our audiences respond? Our performance sparked debate and raised some interesting and key questions from within the Chennai, Kolkata and Delhi audiences and arts communities about how a cultural shift might be able to occur to allow perceptions to expand. As an artist and producer, I am interested in the traces my practice leaves behind; the ripples that remain long after the pool closes.

Studies For C in Delhi

Studies For C in Delhi

It is my hope, rather than expectation, that these traces provoke a shift in artistic and social consciousness.

How do we, as foreign artists, facilitate this shift in artistic and social consciousness?

In 10 days it is impossible to know what this shift is, let alone how to facilitate it, but with the foundation a series of performances, post-show discussions, press engagements and community workshops provides, a structure can now be built and I suspect construction will begin soon.

 

About Dan Daw:

Dan Daw

Dan Daw

Dan danced with Candoco for four years from 2010 until 2014 and worked as Assistant Creative Producer in 2013. He still performs with the company in Studies for C and Imperfect Storm.

He completed a Bachelor of Creative Arts at the Flinders University Drama Centre in 2004. And joined Restless Dance Company in 2002, performing in works by Ingrid Voorendt, Kat Worth, Daisy Brown, Michael Whaites, Garry Stewart, and Billie Cook.

In early 2006, Dan danced with UK company FRONTLINE dance in their 5th Anniversary Tour and in 2007 he performed with Scottish Dance Theatre as Guest Dancer in Adam Benjamin’s Angels of Incidence for their Spring Tour. In 2007/2008, Dan worked with Kate Champion’s Force Majeure performing in The Age I’m In for the 2008 Sydney and Adelaide Festivals.

READ: For more information on the Studies For C India tour, click here: 

 

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myEnglish launches in Bengaluru and Mumbai

Students of English in Mumbai and Bengaluru now have a reason to celebrate. The British Council marked the launch of its pioneering blended learning programme in these cities on 12 January, 2016. myEnglish combines the latest education technology and student-centred classroom instruction to improve students’ language skills, and more. The courses also foster essential 21st century skills such as time management, independent learning and critical thinking. While the courses are now available to more students across two new cities, they have been running successfully in Pune since May 2015.

The formal launch event in Bengaluru was well-attended as several eminent panellists joined members of the press and public for a discussion on ‘Better English, Better Opportunities’. The panel comprised experts from the world of business, education and technology; including Arvind Katageri (Senior Manager, Centre for Behavioural Excellence – Talent Transformation, Wipro), Ashwani Sharma (Country Head, University Relations, Google India Pvt Ltd), Lalitha Murthy (Consultant, Business English, Tata Consultancy Services) and Nirupa Fernandez (Assistant Director, English, British Council).

The panellists discuss 'Better English, Better Opportunities' at the myEnglish launch event in Bengaluru

The panellists discuss ‘Better English, Better Opportunities’ at the myEnglish launch event in Bengaluru

A lively dialogue ensued as the panellists discussed the role of English in the world of business. Lalitha Murthy from Tata Consultancy Services pointed out that while many new recruits may be confident about their English skills, what they may lack is the communicative competence required in the business world. Another topic discussed was the role played by technology in education. As Ashwini Sharma from Google pointed out, “Even a pen is technology” and in the debate that followed the panellists concluded that technology had always been present in education and that teachers have a responsibility to keep up with developments.

The launch was also attended by two myEnglish students, Ramchandra Kulkarni and Vishal Chandegave, who spoke eloquently and positively about their experiences on the course and about how it has helped them be more confident in their professional and daily lives. Read more about their experiences in The Times of India and the Deccan Herald

The myEnglish launch event in Bangalore was accompanied by a simultaneous press release in Mumbai and has generated a lot of interest among the press in both cities, with coverage in major publications including the Times of India, the New Indian Express, the Deccan Chronicle and the Deccan Herald. Several news websites and regional publications also covered the event.

For more information on myEnglish, please visit our course page.

If you want to register for a course, please leave your details here and we will get back to you.

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Kathryn Harkup: the secret poisons of Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie had most certainly one poison for every occasion. As her tally of “killings” in her novels reflects that a total of 100 killings out of 300 were committed by poison. As a former volunteer nurse in World War 1, Christie had gained extensive knowledge of her chemicals. No wonder she used them to good effect to eliminate her characters.

In her debut non-fiction book , A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie chemist Dr Kathryn Harkup reveals her passion and respect for the work of Agatha Christie.

In this blog post, Harkup shares some interesting trivia & lesser-known facts about Christie and her use of poison through her fiction series.

  • Christie used more poisons and more often than any other crime writer. Her toxic tally is over 30 different killer compounds. She killed over 300 characters, over 100 of them by poison. She consistently displays an impressively high degree of accuracy in her use of poisons.

    Kathryn Harkup

    Kathryn Harkup, author of “A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie”

Christie trained as an Apothecaries’ Assistant during WWI which made her very knowledgeable in chemistry as well as dangerous drugs and different prescriptions that were available. Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, written when she was working in a hospital dispensary, used three drugs to kill the victim (bromide powders, a narcotic and strychnine). She was complimented on her accuracy by a reviewer in The Pharmaceutical Journal, a review she was said to cherish above all others.

  • Her novel The Pale Horse used thallium, a very unusual poison. The plot was similar to some aspects of a real-life poisoning case, Graham Young who poisoned several of his work colleagues with thallium, and it was suggested Christie may have inspired him but he always denied it. But the novel may have saved two lives because the accurate descriptions of thallium poisoning symptoms alerted doctors to the true cause of a young girl’s mysterious illness.
  • Christie often used real-life murder cases as inspiration for her plots. Aspects of the Dr Crippen poisoning case appear in Ordeal by Innocence. The arsenic in the cake in After the Funeral is similar to the Marie LaFarge case. The suspected arsenic poisoning in Murder is Easy is very similar to the Armstrong case.

*This post was contributed by Dr Kathryn Harkup who will present her session at the Crime Writers Festival at the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival on 15 January & on the 17 Jan at the Oxford Books store, Connaught Place, New Delhi.

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Daljit Nagra: Ramayana – A Retelling India tour

Daljit Nagra was in India between 25 November – 5 December on a touring promotion of his latest novel Ramayana: A Retelling . He performed extracts from his latest compelling read in front of packed audiences in venues across Bangalore, New Delhi, Chandigarh and Mumbai as part of the Times Lit Fest. He shares some moments from his journey on the road and interacting with young audiences. Some moments from his reading:

Daljit Nagra

Daljit Nagra

Bangalore, 25 November, 2015
Venue: Vidya Shilp Academy school
Timing: 9:00 am – 3 pm

I suspect I’m crossing no line of tact by saying the traffic situation is impossible in Bangalore. Not only are the roads teeming with cars, motor bikes and horn bleats but there is no concept of lane driving. Drivers find a gap and invent a lane then shuffle along the jam-packed roads. I imagine all this would cause frustration. That’s too polite. I imagine it’d cause rage, proper road rage! So when on my third day here, my driver has an accident, my first but no doubt not last of the trip, he knocks a motorbike and both drivers head from their vehicles for a showdown.

Daljit Nagra at the Vidya Shilp Academy school in Bangalore

Daljit Nagra at the Vidya Shilp Academy school in Bangalore

I look away fearing fisticuffs and expletives. Instead, when I look up the drivers are checking each other vehicles and noticing nothing much has happened. Then in the 30 degree heat they seem to be wearing wry benign looks and seem to be chatting as though they’re about to exchange addresses for a meet up. When they eventually part, they seem lit with smiles as they return back into the traffic.

This must be an example of that famous laid-back, affable geniality attributed to Bangaloreans. I’m left wondering, if there’s any chance of the DVLA inculcating this gentility into the next generation of our British drivers?

New Delhi, 30 November, 2015
Venue: Maidens Hotel
Session: Performance reading

At the Delhi Festival last night, I watched the great Indian poet, Jeet Thayil, author of Booker Prize shortlisted Narcopolis, read from his Collected Poems. After the reading I bought his book and whilst queuing for the autograph, I bumped into a girl and a boy. It turned out although they looked like lean teenagers they were in their early 20s. I asked them about their poetry reading at school and they said they’d read mostly British Romantic poets and so they knew of very few Indian poets who write in English.

Daljit Nagra in New Delhi

Daljit Nagra at a performance reading of “Ramayana… in New Delhi

I asked them whether they were poets and both said that they were performance poets. They’d independently and quietly been writing page poetry then one day they’d gone on Youtube and discovered the likes of B Zephaniah and K Tempest. These clips had changed their lives because they too wanted to be performance poets.

 

 

They had both quit studies in Law to see if they could homogenise performance poetry in India. Into an Indian Poetry Society. They now live in Bangalore and have been funded in this venture by a young start-up entrepreneur. They both believe young people are not being encouraged into individual expression of if they are writing poetry they have no outlet for it. So this young couple, Shantanu and Nandini, have been visiting campuses around the country to spot new talent and give them an online presence.

 

I said I’d pass on their emails to people I know at The Poetry Society in Great Britain and to Apples & Snakes. Perhaps we are able to support this valiant cause.

Chandigarh, 1-2 December
Venue: British Library; Vivek High School; Yadavindra Public School, Mohali
Timing: 3 pm 

I have returned to the land of my ancestors as a poet, for the first time. Whilst being driven around and at poetry readings I’ve found myself hearing Dylan Thomas’ chiasmus about his own background, Ah the land of my fathers; my fathers can keep it! I felt this most potently last night at a reading I gave in Chandigarh.

Daljit Nagra at Brtish Library N Chnadigargh

Daljit Nagra at the British Library in Chandigarh

The audience for my event was even gendered and well-balanced in age, from College students up to a few elderly individuals. Once I was introduced by the MC I duly took the podium but there were no customary applause. Only stony silence. So I thought I’d try and lighten the mood with a couple of my more humorous poems. Neither was there laughter at my best lines nor was there applause at the end of each poem. Instead, each spectator seemed to wear a brow-knitted angered look. On it went, the stony silence, the perplexed look from each viewer. Anyway, I stopped reading ahead of time because I suspected my reading was clearly unwanted. Perhaps it had offended.

Yet when I was asked for questions, I was flooded by a stream of insightful questions. The audience put up their hands and whilst still not smiling, at least there were many lovely questions about my work which went on for over 40 minutes. Even after the event had finished, several people came up to me to discuss poetic and political issues. These issues helped me deepen, and are helping me deepen an understanding of myself.

Audience members enjoy the reading session at the British Library

Audience members enjoy the reading session at the British Library

So what I learned about my ancestors: their serious looks are scary looks (which I must have worn all my life in England!), they don’t care for humour but only for deadly serious poetry, they are wonderfully brilliant listeners and supremely interiorised about their appreciation; they allow you to elicit their pleasure by asking you brilliant questions.

I am proud to say the land of my fathers is a land I’d like to keep close to my heart. Next time I read in Punjab, I’ll come fully prepared to treat the silent treatment as a sign of affection.

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Livestream of Hamlet on 18 October: Globe Theatre in Bangalore


finalStats

The British Council live streamed the production of Hamlet on 18 October, 2015 at 7:30 pm. The live stream is now over.

SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE PRESENTS

HAMLET
by William Shakespeare

Directed by Dominic Dromgoole and Bill Buckhurst

Designed by Jonathan Fensom

Composed by Bill Barclay

Original Music Laura Forrest-Hay

A Globe Theatre production of Hamlet (C) Bronwen Sharp

A Globe Theatre production of Hamlet (C) Bronwen Sharp

About Hamlet:

Learning of the king his father’s death, Hamlet comes home to find his uncle married to his mother and installed on the Danish throne. At night, the ghost of the old king demands that Hamlet avenge his “foul and most unnatural murder”.

Encompassing political intrigue and sexual obsession, philosophical reflection and violent action, tragic depth and wild humour, Hamlet is Shakespeare’s “poem unlimited”, a colossus in the story of the English language and the fullest expression of Shakespeare’s genius.

Lasting only two-and-a-half hours and touring to every country in the world over two years, a handful of travelling players will perform a raw, thrillingly elemental production of this inexhaustible play.

 

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