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Friday, January 29, 2010

An Indian-cum-Euoropean Technocrat:Prof. Jaroslav Fric

Tushar Bhatt

    The almond-shaped face,lined with furrows the plough of time has made,is sporting a friendly smile. The eyes,peering from behind the metal-rimmed spectacles,also show a bit of age,with bags and crow-feet.He would easily pass off as an elderly,portly,slightly prosperous-looking foreign tourist,with an obligatory camera on the shoulder.
    A foreigner he is,but the 69-year-old Prof.Jaroslav Fric (pronounced freech) is more at home India than his appearance and English ,spoken with a central European accent, would betray.
    For one thing,he does not wear on his face the perpetual,mandatory scowl that elderly,slightly-prosperous looking foreign tourists carry as a standard baggage--"beggers,flies,filth and awful living conditions".
    For another,he loves India and has been trying to understand the psyche of this ancient land for projecting an image of India.Fric has been visiting and working in India producing hi-tech audio-visual presentations right from 1971-72.
    It was Fric who helped produce an audio-visual show,The Indian People  put up in the central pavilion at Asia-72.It was again he who was called upon to visualise and install Crystal River commemorating the memory of the late Mrs Indira Gandhi at the spot she was killed at her Safdarjung house.
    After three years of work last year,he put together a hi-tech multi-media show,using the latest laser technology , at the Akshardahm complex of the Bochasanwasi Aksharpurushottam Sanstha of the Swaminarayan sect, a fusion of technology and ancient Indian philosophy,of the physical and meta-physical ideas.He has just got a bronze at the 9th International Audio-visual and Multi-Media Festival,held in Munich ,West Germany.There were as many as 135 entries at the festival,and the judges were experts from Germany,France,Spain,England and the U.S., which means it was not easy to impress them with a show that tries to explain intricacies of the Indian concept of Sat-chit-anand.
    Artistic and technological aspects apart,the very production of the audio-visual presentation ,involving spiritual and similar abstract ideas would present a formidable challenge even to an Indian producer because the aim of the show would be to hold the interest of viewers,familiar or unfamiliar with the notions,educated or unlettered,Indians or foreigners.For a person like Fric,born and brought up in Czchoslovakia,it would mean a complete re-orientation of the mind without any guarantee of being able to communicate it all to others. Say Sadhu Atmaswarup Swami and Sadhu Brahmprakash Swami of the sect: "That the show was not only hailed by thousands of Indian visitors to the complex in Gandhinagar,but also attracted the attention of an international specialist gathering indicated that Fric had been able to establish this communication link; he showed what the sect wanted to show,showed in such a beautiful manner,and managed to make an impact as well." Born on June 9,1924,Fric comes from a family that had traditionally been linked with the arts. But it was by no means a family of ascetics for whom transformation from one spiritual track to another may not be an insurmountable problem. Fric has been a down-to-earth man,not mentioning the fact that he lived in the then eastern bloc where man and the party were everything and there was nothing beyond.
    His education too ,therefore,did not equip him to take on the meta-physical.The first steps of his studies took him into the world of technology; Fric studied during the Second World War,when the regular universities had closed,at the vocational school of electronics in Brno,and later ,in the wake of liberation, at the electro-technical faculty of the Czech Technical University.The broad knowledge in electronics led him into research work and at first he worked at the Czechosolvak Research Institute of Nuclear Physics.This would mean he was equipped to be neck-deep in nuclear physics.
    The artistic gene in Fric appears to have made all the difference.To him physics was not a mere abstract science.With a rare sensitivity,he seemed to find "an abundance of interesting visual phenomena - photoelastic effects,tale-telling records of traces of a synthesis of nuclear elements." He was intrigued by the process of visualisation itself,the taking hold of the apparently "invisible" in the physical processes, in tranforming those processes into visible processes and which for outside viewers remained concealed.
    A chance- he calls it "luck" - made him participate in the setting up ofan exhibition called "Aoms for Peace" in 1953,providing him with an opportunity to get acquainted with the different means of audio-visual presentation.He pondered about the multiplication of space,processes of scene-creation,techniques and tricks of stage and exhibition architecture.
    All of which made him give up his research to join at the national enterprise for exhibition design in Prague,and helped create the lighting techniques at the Czech pavilion at the Brussels Export-58.A string of other assignments followed,culminating in his founding in 1969, a creative team named SCARS (Science-Art-Sense) at the Czech centre of fine arts.The teams operates from there even today.
    The grounding in physics and experience in the production of presentations led to a happy synthesis of his scientific outlook,which helped produce solutions to technological and logistical problemss, and his artistic talent,scaling new heights in audio-visual production. He also learnt how to organise talent for diverse jobs needed in such a production,managed to bring together a team of 40 people,and honed skilled in communications so that he could not only understand what his world clients wanted but also give them what they wanted,sometimes writing scrips himself.The first major work of his to attract notice in India was at the 1972 Asian fair,an extensive multi-vision fresco,including severtal freely linked independent parts. It was composed of three parts on the subjects of Indian people, the message and India.
    Fric and his team had by now become an internationally-known professional group,bagging prestigeous assignments for audio-visual presentations.Among the major ones were a show on the Birth of Europe for the European Community pavilion at Osaka Expo,Heritage of Ages on Iran,Victory of the people about his home land,50 years of Pahalvi dynasy again in Iran,The People of Czechoslovakia,the World of Fairy Tales for a Japanese gallery, a UNESCO show on prehistoric life,the Testament of Nehru for Asia-82 In the Constellation of Equals for the then Soviet Union.He has also co-authored a number of books and articles with other writers.
    But the Gandhinagar project was different from all others he had done thus far.It presented a challenge that seemed well-nigh impossible to meet.The monks of the sect had after roaming all over the world,scouting for suitable group of people to produce their audio-visual programme for a permament exhibition-cum-museum complex in Gujarat's capital.They heard of Fric,were impressed by his accomplishments and sounded him on the proposal for Gandhinagar.At first,although an adventurous professional,Fric was sceptical.He looked at the monks,dressed in orange and presenting an outward appearance of being simple,if not simpletons.His brief was to come from the head of the sect, Pramukh Swami,who did not speak English.Indian philosophy was even more mystifying to Fric than Greek and Latin.That was more than three years ago.
    Now, with the multi-media show running regularly week-in-and-week-out for a year,Fric is a man with a totally different perception.
    Fric had just risen from an afternoon catnap,snatching forty winks on a blue bed,rolled out under the open,azure sky in the spacious compound of the Shahibaug temple."You see,the basic problem was for me to grasp abstract ideas of the Indian philosophy such as Atma (soul). The concept of Atma being forever pure and eternal is very different from that of the soul in the west.I did not know even if after grasping it ,I would be able to make an audio-visual show from it."
    In the early 1970s,when he had first arrived in India,he had put up a five-star hotel in Bombay, to find from the window scenes of stark poverty. "Shanty colonies,emaciated people,begging children.I cried all night on the first day,despairing at the thought of how to project a positive image of India out of the immediate impressions that outsiders got like these scenes gave." Fric says,"the image of India abroad is of a poverty-ridden place,full of squalor,backwardness." But he persisted and was able to see the strengths of India, a vast ocean of talent,manpower and untapped wealth.
    He says the problem the Gandhinagar show presented was even more vexing.For so far in his career,he had worked on a physical plane,showing landmarks of either physical progress,technology or history of a people.One had to understand the history of a place,imbibe its spirit,but it was not impossible. "But to translate philosophy into a multi-media was a different cup of tea",he says, even now unable to articulate as to how exactly he did it.A group of seven monks helped him and occasionally he would see the head of the sect.All his life,admits Fric,he had worked for money -- " with a profit motive". The monks or their organisation were in no way capable of matching,say what the Sony of Japan might pay for a multi-media show.Yet,he was inspired to take up the assignment,travelled all over the country,logging more than 30,000 kms.,went to temples, read up history,philosophy,and anything that might help him.
    The resulting Sat-chit-anand show presents the message of philosophy easily ; man's futile pursuits of temporary happiness and the path of eternal bliss, sat-chit-anand by realising Atma and Paramatma as propounded by the Vedas and Upnishads.The show is presented with the aid of six dieo and 8 slide projectors,integrating artistic,optical light and sound effects on 14 screens.It is a computerised production, using a laser disc,leading to an exciting display.Since it was opened in November last year, a large number of people have seen it.
    Fric was in Ahmedabad for an inspection of the equipment. "I was fearful of the toll that the dust,continuous running of the show,the weather fluctuations might take on the presentation.But, I am amazed at the way care has been taken for it; so well-cared the equipment has been that it looks as if it is new." He has spoken to Czech president Victor Havel about the show and when he comes to India in February next on a visit,Havel is expected to come to Gandhinagar to see it.
    So Indianised Fric has become that he has become a great admirer and to some extent follower of the eastern philosophy. He has given up somking and drinking alcohol,does not think that wordly goods can give happiness as his western brethern believe.
    He had purused the profit motive all his career.What profit did he make from the Gandhinagar experience ? With a smile dancing in his eyes,the Czech says: "I have derived a great deal of mental peace for this project.I have done my work as best I could do even when money was decidedly not much.I did not even think of the fame it might get me." It got him that too.

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