It’s been an exciting day. On the way to our show tonight I got a call from the director of Acharya Bhavan (literally “Influential Teacher’s Building”), the home of Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937), India’s Father of Modern Science who, like Tesla, was light years ahead of Marconi. His home is now a museum full of artistic, architectural and scientific wonders. Bose, in addition to being good friends with Rabindranath Tagore and a host of other luminaries around the world, was a student of Father Lafont (1837-1908) whom I lectured about 2 weeks ago at St. Xavier’s College, one of the ten best colleges in India. Acharya Bhavan has invited me to reprise the lecture at Bose’s house. I’m thrilled and honored (but never speechless).
The lecture, Science City: How Father Lafont Brought Pop Science to Kolkata, will be at 2:30pm on Friday, 3rd May.
This won’t be merely an introductory recap of Lafont’s biography, but based on my own research which aims to separate fact from folklore. Legendary Belgian Jesuit Father and St. Xavier’s founding faculty Eugene Lafont was not only J.C. Bose’s professor and lifelong friend and colleague, he was also instrumental in popularizing science to lay audiences in Kolkata with his theatrical flair. Bose had the same abilities and they sometimes “performed” together in some spectacular demonstrations. Lafont inadvertently helped give birth to India’s record industry as well as, perhaps, its film industry. The lecture is a detective story of sorts, tracing my journey to learn about the connection between Lafont and pioneer Bengali filmmaker Hiralal Sen.
This Thursday, April 25th at 6pm IST I’ll be performing in the East & West poetry reading with Kolkata performance artist Indrani Majumder. I’ll be reading some selections from Rabindranath Tagore’s 1912 Nobel-winning collection “Gitanjali” in English as a counter to Indrani performing the same poems in Bengali. Gitanjali’s central theme in this collection of largely pastoral poems is devotion, or as Tagore puts it in one of his verses, “I am here to sing thee songs”.
When I first read “Gitanjali” years ago it immediately brought Walt Whitman’s late 19th century “Song of Myself” to mind in its sensual appreciation for life and its seeking of the divine in nature. I love this epic poem so much that I keep a small pocket edition in my camping gear and always take it with me backpacking or camping, and make a point of spending a few minutes alone in the forest reading it; a tradition I hope to impart to my son. That said, I’ll be concluding my portion of the evening by reading a selection from “Song of Myself.”
We’re part of a larger evening lineup and the event is free.
ICCR Kolkata (Indian Council for Cultural Relations)
9A Ho Chi Minh Sarani just opposite the US Consulate
I’m so honored and thrilled to share that this Wednesday, 10th April, I will be giving a lecture at historicSt. Xavier’s College on the legendary Belgian Jesuit Father and St. Xavier’s early faculty Eugene Lafont — his connection to pop science (he was the Bill Nye the Science Guy of late 19th and early 20th century Kolkata) and to the birth of India’s film and record industries.
My talk is entitled “Science City: How Father Lafont Brought Pop Science to Kolkata.” This will only be for St. Xavier’s students so there won’t be as much public fanfare as my other talks and workshops but please send good wishes my way. This won’t be just an introductory recap of his biography that one can find many places online, but based on my own research which aims to separate fact from folklore (trust me, the truth is more amazing than the legend in this case). Thanks to Lafont it might be my most entertaining solo performance yet.