Society en Sat Mar 06 10:54:00 IST 2021 jpegs-gifs-and-cat-memes-the-weird-world-of-crypto-art <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The 3D animation painting is casually titled &quot;Summer Vibes&quot;.&nbsp;</p> <p>In a semicircular glass case, a blue hammock is hinged on two coconut trees on either side. Siraj Hassan, a 31-year-old computer engineer from Chennai created this image, part of his &quot;Caged&quot; series, in February and posted it on <a href="">OpenSea</a>, a marketplace for &quot;crypto collectables&quot;. Soon an art collector evoked an interest in Hassan's digital art and made inquiries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For 0.015 ethereum (ETH), now considered the second-largest cryptocurrency after bitcoin, Sajjan sold off Summer Vibes to the unknown collector with a Non-Fungible Token (NFT) which in layman's parlance can be considered an Aadhaar or a PAN card for one's artwork—a unique digital id which helps an artist keep track of his/her painting's journey in the market and later claim commissions.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So when the collector resold Summer Vibes, Hassan got a 5 per cent royalty, roughly Rs 1,000 for a 3D artwork he originally sold for Rs 4,500 in ETH.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;The value of ethers, they keep changing. One ethereum went up to 1 lakh rupees this year from around Rs 60,000 last year. This is the thing with ethers and NFTs in the crypto marketplace. I can pin-point who has my artwork at any given point and the value they have received after reselling so I also get a share as the original artist,&quot; says Hassan who only wandered into 3D arts during lockdown last year.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He got to know about &quot;crypto art&quot; from a fellow Instagramer in October and in January launched &quot;Caged&quot; which encases surrealist imagery in cookie jar-like glass boxes. Sajjan has so far earned close to Rs 18,000 trading art in ethers.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sajjan is rightly inspired by Mike Winklemann, popularly known as Beeple, who sold history's most expensive work of digital art last week for a whopping $69 million. Beeple, who is now being compared to trailblazers like Andy Warhol and Banksy, has been selling digital art with his signature backed by NFTs since last year. Before long, legacy auction house Christie's took note of his work in December and got him to make a collage of his 5,000 previous works. The JPEG image which the famous auction house sold to an unknown Indian-origin crypto investor in Singapore is a square of 21,069x21,069 pixels.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For an auction house used to selling physical artworks, the departure into digital art means serious business. &quot;It's really a radical gesture to offer for sale something without any object, and we might as well lean into that,&quot; said Noah Davis, a specialist in Post-War &amp; Contemporary Art at Christie's in an interview with the&nbsp;<i>Business Insider</i>&nbsp;recently.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;There's an interesting parallel between Mike and Andy Warhol in the way that their careers developed...Andy also started as an illustrator working in, basically, a gig economy,&quot; Davis further added in the same interview, indicating how a global pandemic is reshaping the art market in bewildering ways.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The digital token called NFTs ensures authentication and ownership for memes and GIFs too. An animated cat meme sold for half a million dollars on February 19. While NFTs have been around for a while—they in fact entered the market as a blockchain game of cat collectables called &quot;crypto kitties&quot; in 2017—its presence boomed in 2020, hitting a market cap of over $338 million.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even Banksy is reported to have turned one of his original works into an NFT. A blockchain company called Injective Protocol bought Banksy’s original artwork titled “Morons (White)” for $95,000. In typical Banksy daredevilry, the artwork was burnt in a Twitter live stream and the digital version was sold as an NFT for 228.69 ETH on OpenSea.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;This is what some famous artists in the West are doing. They are selling their physical art and the NFT as one unit. Whenever the physical art changes hand, the NFT also changes hands,&quot; says Hassan who has firmly latched on to this method of selling artworks among other avenues like many of his peers and artist communes on the interweb.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The share of cryptocurrencies in the Indian art market may be rather small and still-evolving, but it is full of unseen possibilities, says Hassan.&nbsp;</p> Tue Mar 16 21:51:29 IST 2021 mob-online <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is impossible to find a woman in Bangladesh who has not been sexually harassed online even once, but try finding a woman who has sought legal recourse for it under the Digital Security Act. It is akin to finding a needle in a haystack.
</p> <p>Amina is one such needle. A final year student of University of Dhaka, she filed a case against a person who sexually harassed her online in 2020, but is still waiting for something, anything, to happen. She requested anonymity to avoid reprisal.</p> <p>“On October 20, 2020, a male junior from my department who was barely known to me misbehaved with me on Facebook over a comment. He was not on my friend list. [Demanding to know] what my problem was, he asked me a question [that shook me]: ‘Does your fiance know that you do stuff like this?’ He uttered gender discriminating statements and questioned my religious beliefs,” said Amina.</p> <p>“In spite of all his insulting, demeaning and gender derogatory remarks I continued the conversation respectfully, stating again and again that he cannot talk to me like this. Then at one point he threatened me saying, ‘Do this again if you have courage left, will show you what I am capable of,’” said Amina.</p> <p>She went to Shahbagh police station two days later and filed a general diary stating that a person committed an offence against her, a violation of Section 25 (A) of the Digital Security Act.</p> <p>Section 25 (A) states that, if any person, through any website or any other digital medium, intentionally or knowingly transmits, publishes or propagates any data or information which he knows to be offensive, false or threatening in order to annoy, insult, humiliate or malign a person, then such act of the person shall be an offence.</p> <p>This is the section under which dozens of journalists have been sued for what they have written or published, and this is one of the multiple “offences” of cartoonist Ahmed Kishore and writer Mushtaq Ahmed, both of whom were allegedly tortured in custody.</p> <p>While journalists, cartoonists, writers and free thinkers have been arrested at the drop of a hat under the DSA for making “offensive” social media posts, real offenders like sexual harassers slip through.</p> <p>“I had to go to the cyber crime department where the police officer sat me and my harasser down together and mocked me for wanting to proceed with this case. He said, ‘People are left with no work during this corona period. Thus this is happening. Why do you want to tarnish your university's name at court? Please rethink,’’’ said Amina. As the officer made light of the situation, her harasser smirked.</p> <p>She was directed to the lower court to file a petition requesting that the investigation begin, on November 15. Her petition was accepted and she was told that the investigation report will be sent to the police station within a week. “Since then, there has been no news regarding that case. It has been 113 days and I am waiting in line to know what will happen next,” said Amina. She is continuing to attend classes with the harasser.</p> <p>Sexual harassment of women online is of epidemic proportions, and it is a price women pay for speaking up, or even for existing on social media.</p> <p>As activists would say, at no time is the abuse more apparent than when women take to the streets to seek justice for gender-based violence—an overpowering wave of online trolls hoist their keyboards.</p> <p>In the beginning of the year, there was a horrific rape and murder of a young student. When her classmates—mere schoolchildren—left their classrooms and held up banners on a road to demand justice, a barrage of adult men online jumped on their photos, videos and posts.</p> <p>“Is this not the ***** who had gone to group study? She had voluntarily been raped so why is she asking for justice?” wrote a man beneath a Facebook photo of a young girl holding up a placard saying “My body, my choice”. A few hundreds rushed in to support him.</p> <p>“Yes it is your body, your choice, but only in your room. If you come to protest in a public place, then you will be caned,” said another man. Seventy-four people supported his comment.</p> <p>On YouTube too, the comments sections of the videos of the protest were littered with threats of rape; too numerous to document, too violent to ignore.</p> <p>“The online public space is an extension or another version of the physical public space. Being online for women means the same thing—violence or fear of violence,” said Umama Zillur, founder of Kotha, an organisation that has been pushing back against gender-based violence on social media.</p> <p>“Sharing personal photos and other information online… has been another tool used against women activists. We need a democratic environment and social climate, where there is freedom of expression and accountability for those in power, if we are going to try and create a safe space for women online. The DSA hasn't meant safety or justice for women,” she said.</p> <p>Data from the Cyber Crimes Tribunal shows that 1,228 cases were filed under the Digital Security Act since the inception of the law in October 2018. Considering the barrage of harassers active on social media, it is clear that women are not using this law to protect themselves.</p> <p>“If there are a hundred cases, about 35 per cent would be filed by women,” said Nazrul Islam Shamim, special public prosecutor of the Cyber Crimes Tribunal, pointing out that women seeking justice are in fact a relative minority. The tribunal could not say how many of these cases were by women trying to protect themselves from online abusers, and how many had succeeded.</p> <p>Singer-actor-development worker Rafiath Rashid Mithila is one of the most sexually harassed women in Bangladesh cyberspace, and to her, the Digital Security Act is as useless as a tail.</p> <p>Ever since her divorce from another well-known musician, online sexual harassment has made up much of the publicity she has received on social media.</p> <p>“How many cases can I file? At the rate I get harassed, I would need the cyber crimes department to handle my social media accounts. I only sought legal help when someone I know was hacked and certain private photos were leaked all over social media. But other than that, I have not filed any cases,” said Mithila.</p> <p>“I remember this one time, I actually outlined the punishments afforded by the law in a Facebook post, hoping to convey the seriousness of the crime being committed, but the harassers trolled that post too,” she said.</p> <p>“The law is there, but implementation is not. If there were a few exemplary cases of justice, the others would get scared. They do this because they know they can get away with it,” she said.</p> <p>These days, Mithila is bracing herself for a new challenge—how to protect her 7-year-old daughter, who she fears will soon face the abuse that her mother faces, simply by extension.</p> <p>“My daughter knows how her mother gets attacked. She is being taught about cyber harassment from this age, and how to deal with it. It is hard,” she said. “As humans we get upset when one person says something negative about us, and now there are thousands saying all this.”</p> <p><b>Zyma Islam is a reporter at The Daily Star, Bangladesh</b></p> Mon Mar 08 11:59:44 IST 2021 a-world-of-slur <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Earlier it was verbal abuse. Only the people around—relatives, neighbours or acquaintances—would manage to give women 'cold vibes mixed with warning' for 'crossing limits' or standing for change, equality or inclusion at 'the cost of social fabric'. Now it's easy for abusers, thanks to digital empowerment. And because it's digital, where the two parties need not come face-to-face, the abusers are even vulgar and ruthless. Digital violence against women is on the rise; female journalists are not spared, either. For covering stories against patriarchy, religious dogmas and inequality, dozens of women journalists across Nepal have received threats from people.</p> <p>Says Neetu Pandit, president of <i>Sancharika Samuha</i>, an umbrella organisation of women journalists in Nepal: “There have been a few serious cases while other cases are of milder abuses. We don't have accurate data on the scale of digital violence on women journalists. However, on the basis of the stories shared by women we can say that the situation is worrisome.”</p> <p>According to the Federation of Nepali Journalists, 16 per cent of (1,613 women out of 10,095 journalists) are women. Of those, 48 per cent work in radio and FM stations, 41 per cent in print media, 10 per cent in television and 2 per cent in online platforms. Almost 47 per cent of female journalists say they report on ‘soft social issues’.</p> <p>According to Pandit, character assassination, which is generally used against women to silence them, is used against women journalists as well. Members of <i>Sancharika Samuha </i>say their Facebook and Twitter inboxes fill with ugly messages soon after they put forth 'different views' or speak up for change.</p> <p>"I was forced to open a fake ID on social media simply because of abuses. Handling such abuses becomes challenging when the platform is visible to your close ones—parents or other family members. The abuses then affect not just you," says Shilpa Karna, a newspaper journalist. "Because I am from Madhesh, the causes and the nature of attack also happen to be a little different. For instance, if I take the side of '<i>Pahade</i>' (hill people) in some genuine issue that appeals to me, I am much more targeted," she says.</p> <p>Handling two IDs on Facebook and Twitter is like living two separate lives for Karna. She appears quiet and meek in one, and just the opposite in the other. Had she been a male journalist, the uproar expressed on social media would be less troublesome, she says.</p> <p>"As a journalist, I have to appear fair and decent to some degree. But simply because I am a female, breaching that image turns out to be costlier; people jump to naming and shaming when I disagree with their views. So fake ID is a safe haven," she elaborates.</p> <p>As per <i>Sancharika Samuha</i>, the women journalists are easily body shamed. Some journalists have faced allegations that they are linked with influential persons and that they have taken special favours. Their critics talk less about their professional strength or weakness, than about their family, husband or character.</p> <p>"I have experienced this. It undermines our hard work, passion, capacity. If we succeed at something, the credit is given to our outer beauty and our links, and not to our talent or essence. It's very funny, but it's true," says Reeta Pariyar, a media person and activist. "I don't know when people will begin to treat a female as an individual who can handle life independently. Be it journalists or other professionals, society expects them to behave in a certain way. The liberty given to them is narrower.”</p> <p>Pariyar has been abused several times digitally when she raised her voice for justice for the dalits, women, differently-abled and other marginalised communities. People warn that she should keep 'social harmony' in her mind before posting 'provocative messages'.</p> <p>"I don't reply to mild concerns. But when it's ugly, I block such users. If there is a need, women should not hesitate to file a complaint at the cyber cell in the police," she says.</p> <p>Women journalists have sought help from the federation of women journalists in handling cases of digital violence. Pandit was involved in dealing with two such cases two years ago. But she believes that such attacks are too rampant to be handled just by the federation or any such organisation. It is the high time digital discipline was inculcated among people through some policy, she says.</p> <p>"Or else, a lot of damage could be done to journalists and others alike. And because people are more prone to attacking women, fewer women want to use social sites, claiming little digital space for themselves."</p> <p><b>Anjali Subedi is a journalist at myRepublica, Nepal</b></p> Mon Mar 08 12:00:51 IST 2021 in-the-crossfire <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>“Sometimes I think they just wanted to scare me, but then I think maybe they wanted me dead,” says Bisma (name changed), a journalist well known for her progressive views, about several shots that were fired right outside her house one evening in February 2019. She has never spoken about the incident to anyone except her immediate family, her boss and the head of the media company she works for—all of whom believe it was due to her reporting.</p> <p>It had been a year since Bisma had done a particular story and started getting threatening calls warning her to “watch out”, the tone in each subsequent call turning more and more aggressive. “I never thought they would show up at my doorstep,” she says. Fearing further repercussions, she kept quiet, and has since then drastically cut down her social media presence. “The message was pretty clear.”</p> <p>Such ‘messages’ have become increasingly common, and even more deadly. Over the years, Pakistan has earned a reputation of being a hard country for journalists. At least 61 reporters—all men—have been killed in the line of duty since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. It ranked 145th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index 2020.</p> <p>Reporting is the easiest part, say most women journalists <i>Dawn</i> reached out to. Far more difficult is the continuous battle to create and hold onto spaces within male-dominated newsrooms and public places while fighting misinformation, deeply personal attacks and misogyny—both offline and online—which is overwhelming some of the most courageous and dedicated women journalists in Pakistan.</p> <p>On August 12 last year, a group of women journalists issued a statement against government-affiliated social media accounts and supporters. “Vicious attacks through social media are being directed at women journalists and commentators in Pakistan, making it incredibly difficult for us to carry out our professional duties,” the statement said, adding: “In what is certainly a well-defined and coordinated campaign, personal details of women journalists and analysts have been made public. To further discredit, frighten and intimidate us, we are referred to as ‘peddlers of fake news’, ‘enemy of the people’ and accused of taking bribes (often termed as ‘paid’ journalists or <i>lifafas</i>).”</p> <p>The statement led to another round of virulent online abuse and harassment that was enough to make most women journalists—many of whom had not signed the petition fearing a backlash—worry that these threats could translate into real attacks.</p> <p>“If there was a World Cup for getting trolled, I would have won it,” quips Asma Shirazi, a signatory to the petition. Host of a flagship political talk show on Aaj News and one of the country’s top rated anchors, Shirazi left PTV to join Geo TV in 2002 when there were hardly any women doing political reporting. “In 2007, during Musharraf’s rule, I was banned from TV along with some others,” she says. “Back then, we would get threats, someone would follow us or a message would be delivered via messengers, but all records were smashed after 2011 when social media especially Twitter became big…. There is an extensive campaign to discredit pro-democracy voices. I have been a victim of fake news so often, I have gotten used to it. My private pictures are often doctored and leaked. I can’t fight with the forces [behind these attacks]; all I can do is stand by the ideology I believe in.”</p> <p>“For women in Pakistan, there is no safe space,” contends Gharidah Farooqi, a current affairs talk show host on NewsOne. Abuse hurled her way includes allegations of extramarital affairs with political figures. “During the 2014 dharna, accounts associated with PTI ran a campaign against me and I was also physically attacked while reporting on the sit-in,” she says.</p> <p>Many women journalists tell <i>Dawn</i> that whenever they write a political story or even tweet an opinion deemed unfavourable to the PTI, the security establishment or the corporate sector, they are mercilessly trolled. The backlash, which ranges from threatening phone calls to doxing is, in the case of political trolling, amplified if verified party accounts jumped in.</p> <p><b>Hostile newsrooms</b></p> <p>Many women reporters also describe the environment of the newsrooms as hostile; male journalists can be their female colleagues’ worst enemies.</p> <p>Pakistan’s first female chief reporter and Karachi bureau chief Rafia Haider would agree. In a career spanning 30 years at the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP), the state-run ‘premier’ news agency, she has reported extensively on health, environment and human rights.</p> <p>Her male colleagues are not keen on taking directions from a woman chief reporter. Haider has been repeatedly subjected to online and offline vilification campaigns. “The most laughable thing was that recently my colleagues sent a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, implying that I am a coronavirus-denier and am forcing them to work in a pandemic when all I was doing was following orders from the head office,” says Haider. A year away from retirement, and weary of the bullying, she often contemplates quitting.</p> <p>Similarly, Multan-based Rakshsanda Nayyer, a reporter with over two decades of experience at <i>Nawai Waqt</i> newspaper, accuses her colleagues of making it impossible for her to work. One day she filed a story on the challenges faced by female lawyers in her hometown, which ended up on the front page of <i>Nawai Waqt</i> Multan as well as in all other editions. “When I went to work, the beat reporter was furious and threatened to break my legs. ‘I will burn you, I will burn this face of yours that you go around with’ were his words,” she remembers. It took an intervention from several media colleagues to get the man to back off. “But the resident editor actually asked me why I was interfering with his beat.”</p> <p>For female television reporters, stepping into the public domain means facing crowds of leering men. “Someone will try to touch your back or bottom, grope you or scream loudly in your ear,” says Naheed (name changed), a young TV journalist. “But the worst are the cameramen themselves who try to take advantage of new girls by offering to adjust their collar mic”. Other women reporters have similar tales to tell; complaining means being labelled ‘difficult’ and losing out on choice assignments.</p> <p>The ‘Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010’ stipulates that every organisation must adopt the Code of Conduct prescribed by the law and ensure it is displayed noticeably in languages understood by the majority of employees. Failure to do so is punishable by a Rs100,000 fine. In practice, many media houses are reluctant to comply with these directions.</p> <p>Sindh’s provincial ombudsman for protection against harassment at workplace, the retired Justice Shahnawaz Tariq, says: “Journalists, including women reporters, like many others working in the private sector, do not enjoy legal protections from being easily terminated that are available to those working in the public sector if they file a complaint against harassment at the workplace. The fear of losing employment and possibly killing one’s career prospects acts as a deterrent which discourages women from coming forward with harassment complaints.” Since 2010, only one case—involving a media company and a female radio host—has been lodged with the provincial ombudsman. The case was decided in her favour and the accused convicted.</p> <p>For women in Pakistani media, most days are the equivalent of climbing a personal Everest, navigating harsh terrain and bottlenecks, where a slight misstep can put paid to one’s job, reputation and sanity, and where their experience of offline and online abuse is dismissed as an ‘occupational hazard’. This is unacceptable. They need assurance from their employers as well as from the state that when they talk of being doxed, trolled, surveilled or physically attacked, they are not dismissed as being paranoid and told to ‘toughen up’. Instead, their tormentors must be brought to book.</p> <p><b>Sumaira Jajja is a journalist at The Dawn, Pakistan</b></p> <p><br> <br> </p> <p><br> <br> </p> Mon Mar 08 12:01:25 IST 2021 fear-in-the-air <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Neha Dixit, an independent, award-winning journalist, was alone when she heard someone try to enter her first-floor home in Delhi on January 25, 2021. She assumed that it was her filmmaker husband at the door, but still called out <i>‘Kaun hai?</i>’ (Who is it?) a few times before opening the door. A whiff of air confirmed that someone had been there, even though she did not see anyone or hear any footsteps.</p> <p>Dixit says she had been receiving threatening phone calls since September 2020. The first of these calls, which came when she was buying vegetables, made it clear that the threat was related to her work. <i>“Badi journalist bani phirti ho” </i>(So you think you are a big journalist), said the anonymous caller in Hindi. Subsequent callers, she says, pointedly mentioned where she was at that very moment. Once as she stepped out of a friend’s home, the caller said, <i>“Aa gayi dost ke yahan party karke. Ab tera rape karke sadak pe chod denge”</i> (You are out of a party with friends; you will be raped and left on the road). No matter how many phone numbers she blocked, the calls routed through the Internet did not stop, she says.</p> <p>This is not the first time that Dixit, a journalist for 14 years, has said that she is being targeted. In 2016, two cases were filed against her after she wrote a story alleging that a social service organisation had “trafficked” children from Assam and sent them to Gujarat and Punjab. She says she is still fighting these cases in Guwahati, Assam. In 2018, when reporting on fake “encounter” killings in Mewat (Rajasthan), she was chased by local people.</p> <p>Dixit says her defence mechanism is ‘not to think about it’ as undue thought will leave her unable to work. After the break-in attempt at her home, though, she filed a police report.</p> <p>While journalists have never been immune to defamation cases, Dixit says, “This political regime is unlike any other. No government has crushed free press so relentlessly. This has given people the impunity to physically attack journalists.” In the 2016 case against her, Dixit has been charged with “inciting communal hatred”. If proved, it will get her five years in prison and a fine.</p> <p>Journalistic organisations do little to offer notional or real support. Dixit says that one of their greatest failings is that they do not even insist that freelance journalists be given identification cards. This leaves such scribes open to all kinds of mistreatment. Reactions that pour in when independent journalists such as Mandeep Punia, who was arrested from the site of the farmers protest at Singhu (Haryana), are just those: knee-jerk reactions with no thought given to solutions.</p> <p>According to the independent, not-for-profit Committee to Protect Journalists, between 1992 and 2021 as many as 52 journalists were killed in India. This is just the number of cases in which the motive was confirmed. Getting Away with Murder, a study sponsored by the Thakur Foundation on attacks on journalists in India during 2014-19, reported 198 serious attacks and 48 killings (with 21 having definite links to the journalists’ work).</p> <p>In March 2017 journalist Poonam Agarwal of Delhi was accused of breach of the Official Secrets Act (OSA), as well as abetment to suicide, after she wrote a report on the sahayak (buddy) system prevalent in the Indian Army. The system, which had been devised as a pairing technique, so that no soldier was alone during war or peace, had degenerated into one where the junior was reduced to performing such menial tasks as polishing the senior’s shoes or laying his undergarments out to dry. Agarwal had stumbled upon the story through a social media post made by one such sahayak and then travelled to Deolali (Nashik, Maharashtra) to interview other sahayaks within the Cantonment residential areas.</p> <p>When the web portal that employed Agarwal featured the story, it blurred faces of the men, but their voices remained unchanged. One of the sahayaks who had spoken to Agarwal went missing and his dead body was found some days later. This was explained as a suicide that had happened because the soldier had been “misquoted” in the story.</p> <p>Agarwal, who has been a journalist for 16 years, says that the terrifying aspect of treating journalists with such impunity is that it pushes the envelope on what is acceptable behaviour. “The damage done will be irreparable. Any subsequent government will further the same agenda. Governments have never been very friendly with the media but neither have been this brazen. The dents that this government has made will not be erased soon.”&nbsp;The First Information Report (FIR) against her was quashed only in April 2019, after multiple runs to the Mumbai High Court.</p> <p>Agarwal, unlike Dixit, had the backing of her publication. Yet she kept away from field reporting and shifted to a friend’s house till she was granted bail.</p> <p>While there might be no difference in the quantum of threats and violence directed at male and female journalists, a 2017 United Nations report titled, ‘The&nbsp; Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity’ noted: “Women who cover topics such as politics, law, economics, sport, women’s rights, gender and feminism are particularly likely to become targets of online violence.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Social media enables easy abuse. But when regimes give their tacit approval to these acts, it is easier for such perversions to move to the real world. In the virtual world, though, women journalists face cruder threats, often with graphic descriptions of body parts and detailed illustrations of the crimes that can be committed against them.</p> <p>There is no telling which kind of threat is more damaging, mentally and emotionally. Just as there is no telling who will use the impunity to threat with greater force.</p> <p>Agarwal and Dixit were protected by their relatively better access to legal counsel. For journalists from smaller areas and/or conflict zones the challenges are knottier.</p> <p>Pushpa Rokde has been a journalist since 2004 and is based in Jagdalpur (Bastar, Chhattisgarh). During the Covid-19 pandemic, she took up work as a supervisor in a road construction company to supplement her dwindling income as a journalist. (Her income was calculated as a percentage of the commission on advertisements, and it saw a drastic fall during the Covid lockdown.) Rokde and her husband were tasked with supervising the construction of an eight-kilometre-long road that would join three remote villages to the main road. For this, she has faced the ire of the Maoists in the area. The first salvo was in the form of a poster which was stuck on a tree close to the under-construction road. Among other threats it read, “Be it journalists or anyone, this should be read and understood that the work of the road should be stopped.”</p> <p>Late in January, she received a handwritten note which accused her of being a police informer. “When the public comes for demonstration and hartals, you call the police at once as per our information,” read the letter.</p> <p>Rokde says that her journalism has been compromised by the general threat of Maoist violence that all media persons in her area face. The police are of little help. “The police have checked on us once or twice. We are essentially on our own,” she says. “However, what bothers me greatly is what I have been accused of. I only want to know when I have betrayed the people who my journalism is supposed to serve. In fact, I am one of the very few journalists (male or female) in the area who regularly raise people’s issues and take on the government.”</p> <p>There are many layers of complexity to the issue of journalistic freedom. For women, these layers are far more intricate because of the mere fact of their gender. And thus, the threats, abuse and violence are that much more worrisome.</p> <p><b>(Puja Awasthi is Senior Special Correspondent of THE WEEK magazine in Lucknow)</b></p> Mon Mar 08 12:02:52 IST 2021 online-platforms-have-helped-galleries-to-engage-new-young-buyers <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The granddaddy of all art fairs, the biggest and one of the most prestigious, Art Basel, couldn't fight the coronavirus last year and had to move all its editions online. It was also the year when the art fair powerhouse would have celebrated its 50th birthday.</p> <p>As Art Basel cautiously preps up to come back to its physical editions in 2021, Adeline Ooi, Asia director of the fair, talks to The Week on the sidelines of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the annual conference of Kolkata Centre for Creativity, on the way forward for arts fairs to become wiser and stronger.</p> <p><b>Edited excerpts:</b></p> <p><b>How would you rate online viewing rooms in driving business in a pandemic year? What were some of the surprises?</b></p> <p>For a few years now, digitalisation has been changing the art world in a significant way. Art is becoming more and more accessible and the pandemic only accelerated that further. It has been incredible to watch the innovation of the art world in such a short time. Our online platforms have helped galleries to engage with new and young buyers, in particular, which has been great to see. Galleries who participated in our OVRs reported strong sales across all levels of the market. If you look at the stats from the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report 2020, 57 per cent of online sales made by dealers were to new buyers who had never been to their gallery or met the dealer in person, and millennial collectors were the most regular users of the online channel.</p> <p><b>What were some of the changes you noticed in fine-art buying behaviour with publicly posted prices?</b></p> <p>The transparency of prices gave many buyers something they have wanted for a long time. Galleries have fed back that it has given newer collectors more confidence to get in touch.</p> <p><b>Moving forward, what are some of the ways in which art fairs can be held in financially prudent ways when they get back to the physical format?</b></p> <p>The pandemic has proven that collaboration is a key component in supporting the local and international art communities, such as our one-off Hong Kong Spotlight presentation in collaboration with Fine Art Asia last year; Unscheduled at Tai Kwun where the local galleries come together and more. Within the South Asian context, it has been heartwarming to witness the collaborations that have taken place over the past year such as the In Touch, as well as the current On-Site exhibition in Delhi to name a few. And there are so many other similar stories happening across the world, whether in Berlin or Mexico City - galleries have been finding new models of presentation, experimenting with new platforms with a collaborative spirit to overcome challenges by seeking strength in numbers and supporting one another. I believe this approach will continue to evolve and flourish over time.</p> <p><b>What are some of the things you do not like about virtual art fairs? What aspects are worrying for you?</b></p> <p>I believe that the experience of seeing art or visiting a fair in person cannot be replaced by virtual innovations. Collectors don’t tend to attend fairs exclusively to buy work, just as gallerists don’t only participate to sell works. I don’t feel that artworks can truly hold the same power when digitised. Everyone who goes to a fair, whether that be a collector, gallerist or curator, attends our shows to develop relationships with new and existing clients, to create a dialogue, and exchange ideas. In person interaction still remains vital for a market that was built on trust and nurtured relationships.</p> <p><b>What are some of the pre-Covid art fair practices which will not come back anymore?</b></p> <p>The art world is constantly innovating and evolving, so it’s exciting to see what the future holds. However, it is hard to tell what the long term impact of the pandemic will be. I anticipate that people will reconsider constant international travel and will more selective in their approach but there are always audience for great artwork. The cultural ecosystem will become a physical and digital hybrid for people from all over the world to connect and engage.</p> <p><b>Who are some of most exciting South Asian artists you have discovered in recent years or are hoping to collaborate with?</b></p> <p>Too many to name to be honest as South Asian artists have always found a special place in my heart. Having said that, I count Lubna Chowdhury, Ayesha Sultana, Mithu Sen, Shilpa Gupta, Adeela Suleman among some of the most exciting talents who have consistently taken my breath away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sat Mar 06 16:39:50 IST 2021 a-legacy-japanese-soy-sauce-brand-wants-to-elevate-indian-dishes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>If you ask Quora about soy sauce, users will tell you it's bad for your health. Perhaps because we are used to generic versions of the popular condiment, often comprising a cocktail of food colours, corn syrup, MSG and other preservatives. But the real deal is as layered as fermenting of wine in a brewery. It's a slow burn fermentation of soybean and wheat with nothing more than water and salt.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last month, the world’s largest producer of soy sauce, a Japanese brand called Kikkoman with a presence in over 100 countries, formally entered India to expand the palate of soy sauce pairing beyond Asian dishes. With a legacy going back 350 years, Kikkoman has over 300 aroma variations and has been a secret ingredient for chefs around the globe. Their lime and chilli ponzu is a gourmand's delight. The sauce's versatile flavour profile has been used from cupcakes to jalebis and bhajiyas.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A famous Japanese designer took three years and fiddled with around 100 prototypes to come up with the iconic teardrop-shaped glass bottle of Kikkoman soy sauce in the 1950s. A standard Kikkoman bottle in India is expected to cost around Rs 250.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Cooking with Kikkoman</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chef Vicky Ratnani tells THE WEEK how we can transform some of our favourite Indian dishes with a dash of Kikkoman.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Kikkoman is over 100 years old as a brand. What makes it so special in the history of Asian food? Who are some of its most famous advocates?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For decades, Kikkoman has been making one of the world’s most preferred soy sauces, bringing exceptional food experiences to people through its authentic and naturally brewed soy sauce. The production of Kikkoman soy sauce goes through a fermentation process that lasts several months, a process that cannot be rushed. It is pure, natural, and composed of only four ingredients—soybeans, wheat, water and salt—and is brewed using the Honjozo method. This is what lends the product its well-known elements—the rich yet mellow flavour, an appetizing aroma, and the distinctive bright reddish-brown colour.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have personally preferred Kikkoman soy sauce compared to any other soy sauce in the world, for these very reasons. The fact that it is still brewed using traditional methods, and to this day, does not include any chemical additives is why it has been used for decades and has become a staple in many households, not just in Asia but across the globe. I have been an advocate for the brand for over a decade now and I know many chefs across the globe that use only Kikkoman soy sauce. In fact, some have even replaced the use of salt in their cooking with Kikkoman soy sauce.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One name that pops in my head right away is the popular Iron Chef of the Japanese programme, Chef Chin Kenichi, who uses Kikkoman soy sauce in his restaurant Shisen Hanten in Japan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>When did you first discover this soy sauce and how have you adapted it in your cooking since then?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have been using Kikkoman soy sauce for about 18 years now and that also includes using it in my dishes on the legendary cruises of QE2. I discovered Kikkoman on one of my trips abroad. The ‘Duck Daikon Shoyu’ is one of my signature recipes that include Kikkoman soy sauce. It helps add balance to the other ingredients of the dish while enhancing the taste and aroma. The aroma of the dish alone makes it irresistible. Apart from Asian cooking, salad dressings and marinades, I’ve also come to use Kikkoman soy sauce in a variety of Indian dishes, including some home-cooked dishes. Jalebi and Kanda Bhajiya have to be my favourite Indian dishes enhanced with Kikkoman soy sauce. Another exciting way of incorporating Kikkoman soy sauce is to use it in desserts. Be it cupcakes, any chocolate dish, cakes, frosting, pudding, tiramisu—the list is never-ending. If you’re not convinced, try a dash of Kikkoman soy sauce on your vanilla ice cream the next time. You too will be converted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How would you compare Kikkoman with other international soy sauces like Yamaroku and Lee Kum Kee? Is there a great deal of competition globally between China and Japan for the top spot when it comes to soy sauce?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kikkoman stands out given the brand’s legacy and the unique ‘Honjozo’ brewing process. With a history of over 100 years, Kikkoman has 300 aroma components and is the most versatile soy sauce that works well with all kinds of cuisines. Much like fine wine—it’s a process that is not rushed and gives the product its aroma and robust flavour. I haven’t found the same flavour profile, depth and versatility in any other soy sauce. The fact that Kikkoman has an illustrious legacy and has distinct product attributes, is exactly why the company is a legend all over the world.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Japanese soy sauce evolved originally from Chinese soy sauce. The development of the Japanese soy sauce flourished and became a global brand, particularly after World War 2. I do not know how Chinese soy sauce is doing globally as such, but I know that Kikkoman is the No. 1 soy sauce in Japan and that it is used in over 100 countries now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is Kikkoman suited to the Indian palate? What are the Indian dishes you have transformed with a dash of Kikkoman?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kikkoman can be used in any dish, be it vegetable, meat or fish. I’ve been using it for salad dressings, marinades and to glaze food too, be it Indian or any other cuisine. I use Kikkoman soy sauce for quite a few Indian fusion dishes, as well as Western dishes like roast chicken. Desserts and pakoras or bhajiyas are my personal favourites that have been transformed with the addition of Kikkoman soy sauce. Adding it to jalebis, for example, helps add a whole new layer to the original flavour profile. With Kanda Bhajiya or Pyaaz Pakora, adding Kikkoman soy sauce gives the dish more depth and also makes them crispier.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I know a few other industry experts who are also consistently experimenting with Kikkoman soy sauce. One such person is Prashant Issar, who is a Michelin star restauranteur, who is known to have transformed dishes like an Indian mushroom khichdi, lamb kheema and the humble samosa with Kikkoman soy sauce.</p> Tue Mar 09 18:15:11 IST 2021 proudly-made-in-india-meet-the-avgeek-making-artwork-of-indian-aircraft <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Were it not for his glasses, 25-year-old Angad Maolankar may well have been soaring in the skies in the supersonic warplanes he spent his life surrounded by. But to the detriment of countless aviation geeks (or avgeeks) with corrected vision, the Air Force’s eyesight standards bar those with spectacles from performing flying duty.<br> </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But even without taking flight, Maolankar found a way to complement the stunning aerobatic displays at Aero India 2021: Art. Or more precisely, scrupulously-detailed renderings of the aircraft used by the Indian armed forces, ranging from the Indian-made LCA Tejas and Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) to the Russian MiG-29Ks, Su-30MKIs and Beriev A-50.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“If it looks right, it probably flies right,’” he tells THE WEEK, citing a classic aviation adage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A commercial pilot in training, his exams were delayed by COVID-19. With an iPad Pencil, time, and the benefit of some computer-aided design (CAD), he was able to make picture-perfect recreations of India’s deadliest flying machines—with punchy captions like “Homegrown Hero” for the Tejas, “OUTFLANKED” for the Sukhoi 30 “Flanker”, or “Deep Sea Fishing” for one of the P-8I “Poseidon” dropping submarine-hunting torpedos. Each drawing takes him about a month-and-a-half to complete, though he tends to start six at a time and hop from one to the other.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His work, which spans much of the past and present of Indian military aviation, exhibits an attention to detail that, for avgeeks, can be nigh impossible to find if you’re searching for an illustrated poster on Google.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“If you ask me to draw still life and fruit, I’m very bad,” he tells THE WEEK with a laugh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the son of a Navy test pilot, he grew up in a DRDO compound, surrounded by the men and women who design, work on, and maintain aircraft ranging from the Indian-made LCA Tejas to the Russian Su-30MKIs. The devil lies in the details, whether it’s the accurate placement of fuel tanks on the Tejas or the tilted thrust-vectoring nozzles on the Su-30MKI.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For all these details, he has the perfect human encyclopedias to fact-check with: Engineers and pilots alike who all live a stone’s throw from his house near the HAL airport in Bengaluru.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His family name, shortened to “Mao”, has been a call-sign in the armed forces for decades: His grandfather flew Auster AOP.9s for the Indian Army before transitioning to helicopters, his father is a Navy test pilot for the LCA Tejas, and conducted the <a href="">desi plane’s first arrested landing on board INS Vikramaditya in January last year</a>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hoping to some day earn the same call sign, Maolankar goes by “non communist Mao” on Instagram and on his <a href="">self-designed Wix website</a>, where he sells posters and stickers. So far, he has sold over 700 of the former, and 2,000 of the latter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like any good capitalist (and non-communist) he’s applying marketing principles to his work: Giving away over 4,000 stickers to spread word-of-mouth. And his customers, asides from avgeeks in India, include many pilots and engineers in the Armed Forces. Now, Navy and Air Force squadrons are commissioning him to make murals for their offices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The art of the (indigenous defence) deal</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There’s also a strong purpose behind his work, a reason he likes to illustrate and promote the LCA, and the LCA Navy in particular.</p> <p>“I feel like as humans we are hardwired to like good looking things (or people), as such, something as small or as inconsequential as a brightly coloured laptop sticker, or a snazzy poster on a factory floor can slowly work away at a potential customer’s psyche,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When asked why desi aviation needs such a shot in the arm, he relates a telling anecdote: Every Aero India, SAAB distributes free “Gripen” themed hats. The Gripen is SAAB's single-engine multi-role fighter that the company pitched first for the now defunct Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender and then for the 2018 RFI for 114 multi-role aircraft. Since the hats were free, everybody would line up to wear them, giving SAAB free (and effective) marketing at an airshow full of potential deal makers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, Maolankar makes it his mission to distribute his desi merch to anyone who will have it. Some of his customers are even abroad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“As someone with work hanging in the Sikorsky offices in Stratford Connecticut and West Palm Beach, Florida, and in at least one govt building in Paro, Bhutan I’d like to believe I’m doing my small, relatively inconsequential, part in exporting Indian soft power. I know it won't lead to anything overt, but I am extremely sure it will slowly but surely work away at any future viewer, till one day it has the same effect that F-16 and F-22 posters have on the world—building an air of fear and awe for the American military machine,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On his future plans, Maolankar says he wants to concentrate on the less “glamorous” aircraft.</p> <p>“In the grand scheme of things the oil-streaked An-32 transport is as important to the final war fighting capability as the new flashy Dassault Rafale. Make no mistake, this is a decision driven purely by emotion, and feeling 'bad' and slight pity for the 'forgotten' world of aviation,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Indian aircraft and Indian weapons are going to be my main focus—hopefully one day the LCA will be [considered] ‘as cool’ as the Su-30MKI,” he adds.</p> Sat Feb 27 21:48:42 IST 2021 khajuraho-dance-festival-wows-art-lovers-tourists-alike <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>“I had never thought I would be able to experience this in my lifetime. I had heard about it only from my seniors. So, the opportunity came as a surprise and I was left overwhelmed. It was really a privilege and wonderful, amazing experience,” Bharatnatyam exponent Geeta Chandran says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandran and her troupe gave the opening performance at the 47th Khajuraho Dance Festival that was held on the premises of the world heritage group of temples after 44 years through a special permission. And not only Chandran, but also a clutch of artistes, who used the temples as a perfect backdrop and setting to give mesmerising performances for six days, were left as overwhelmed by the experience just like the art lovers who came to watch them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I wish all the other states/organisers also use the popular public spaces in a similar way to democratise art and culture performances and bring them out of the limitations of elitist auditoriums,” Chandran told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indore-based painters and sisters-in-law Pratima Singh and Seema Singh, whose families hail from Khajuraho, could not stop showing the photographs and videos of the performances that they captured. “It was really out of the world to watch the performances with that exquisite backdrop. You have to watch it yourself to know the experience,” Seema Singh said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And the temple backdrop was not the only thing that was special about the festival this time. Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board actively collaborated with the culture department and its Ustad Allauddin Khan Music and Arts Academy and the Sanskritik Parishad to give a wider experience to the art lovers and tourists who participated in the festival.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The festival was themed ‘Beyond the Dance Festival’ and on the sidelines of the daily evening performances, there were a clutch of art- and craft-based daily activities. They included a travelogue focused on Bharatanatyam dance forman art conclave, a dialogue on arts, a fair of indigenous art tradition, a venture of films focusing on art, artists and art traditions, an exhibition of terracotta and ceramics ware a Bundeli food festival, and a fest of folk culture and tradition to keep the real art and craft lovers engrossed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the real variety was provided by tourism-related activities that included a free bus tour to heritage site and museum of Dhubela dedicated to Maharaja Chhatrasal—the Bundela Rajput warrior king (1649-1731), camping and adventure activities in and around Khajuraho, an old Khajuraho village tour, e-bike tour from western to eastern group of Khajuraho temples, a heritage walk and water sports activities at Kutni island resort, just 16km from Khajuraho.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also a six-day excursion tour from Orchha to Khajuraho to Panna, inclusive of Dhubela was on offer for the visitors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mansi Grover, an events choreographer from Indore, who participated in different activities and visited some of the spots, told THE WEEK that the variety of activities and tourism possibilities held attractions for all the age group and every kind of person—be it an art, heritage, adventure or food lover.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Activities to continue, more to be added</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tourism board and culture department want to continue with its activities in and around Khajuraho throughout the year. “We wanted the dance festival—hitherto only a dancing event—to be a holistic experience for the participants and viewers. So, we decided to weave in heritage, nature and tourism too with culture and we want to continue with the activities,” Sheo Shekhar Shukla, principal secretary of tourism and culture, told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from the regular heritage walks, village tour, e-biking experience that are already available, activities like hot air ballooning at Khajuraho and Panna, camping on the outskirts of Panna national party (40km from Khajuraho), rural homestay facilities, customised excursion plan on the Orchha-Dhubela-Khajuraho-Panna circuit are also on the cards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shukla said that the department plans to hold daily evening cultural events at about six or seven prominent tourist places, including Khajuraho, Pachmarhi, Orchha, Mandu and others. “We will be developing cultural and arts and crafts centre at these places to promote local folk art and music through daily performances and set up local market for handicrafts from across the state for people to pick up as souvenirs too,” the officer said, adding that this is aimed at giving the tourists a complete feel of Madhya Pradesh’s diverse art, craft, heritage and natural endowments.&nbsp;</p> Sat Feb 27 21:26:26 IST 2021 the-week-archives-when-vishnu-narayanan-namboodiri-got-caught-in-priestly-duel <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was not the Kathakali that the lord loves so much. The high drama 'enacted' on July 10 at the Sree Vallabha temple at Tiruvalla, near Kottayam, had all the makings of a soap opera. Only, it was happening in the precincts of a 59 AD Vishnu temple as tradition clashed with modern-day reality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sree Vallabha is said be a lover of Kathakali, which is performed almost daily at the temple as offering by the devotees, to please the lord. They believe He sits among the audience and enjoys it. But what He saw that July morning must have brought him little joy: one of the high priests of the temple, Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri, was banned by the authorities from entering the sanctum sanctorum. His sin: he had crossed the seven seas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The issue assumed seriousness after it was splashed in the media. The fact that Namboodiri is a well-known cultural figure added to the controversy. Namboodiri is a Kendra Sahitya Akademi award-winning poet and retired as head of the department of English in Kerala University three years ago. The Hindu community stands divided on the issue with the rationalists calling for the lifting of the ban and the orthodox backing the action of the temple's tantri (who is seen as being in the position of the father of the deity), Akkeraman Kalidasan Bhattathiri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It all started in March when two London-based organisations, Study Society and Scientific and Medical Network, invited him to lecture at the 'Millennium Conference on Integration of Science and Consciousness at York.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Namboodiri, who was the only invitee from India accepted the invitation. According to him, he informed the tantri and the Devaswom authorities about the invitation and his decision to go overseas. "The tantri encouraged me saying that it is good that I got the chance," Namboodiri told THE WEEK. "He told me that it would go a long way in spreading the temple's fame."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Kalidasan Bhattathiri, 36, has another story to tell. "Namboodiri talked about the seminar over phone two or three days before he was to leave," he said. "He had made all arrangements by then. Though it is true that I did not discourage him from going, I had hinted about the consequences once he returned."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A claim hotly contested by Namboodiri. “It is like branding me a liar. Had he told me anything about the problems I would have to face, I would not have gone," he said. Namboodiri even has a letter, written by the organisers thanking the tantri for permitting him to attend the conference.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Millennium Conference, from June 30 to July 3, was organised to discuss the changing outlook towards science and consciousness. It was attended by celebrities including Dana Zohar, Mourie Ann, Max Velmass, lan Marshall, Vassilis Bassios, Emilios Bouratinous and Rupert Sheldreake. Namboodiri presented his paper on 'Consciousness in the Vedic lore' on July 1, which was received well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Namboodiri returned to India on July 9 and went to the temple the next morning to resume duty, unaware of what lay in store. Even as he approached the Sopanam of the temple, a junior priest informed him that he should first talk to the tantri before entering the sanctum sanctorum. Namboodiri rang up Bhattathiri only to be told that he would have to go through a purification ceremony since he had gone abroad. The tantri, who was to conduct the ceremony, also asked him to chant the Gayatri mantra 1,008 times and prostrate before Sree Vallabha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"I suggested to him to act fast before more people came to know of it," said Namboodiri. "But he told me that he was busy and could do it only the next day."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhattathiri said he also wanted to avoid negative publicity for the temple. "The people were angry at the high priest's foreign sojourn," he claimed. "Considering his position in the society, I was prepared for a secret ceremony the next day. But before that could take place, he went to the press with his controversial statements."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Namboodiri said he waited till afternoon on June 10 before talking to the press. Many question Namboodiri's wisdom of rushing to the press with the issue. They argue that had he shown restraint, the issue would have blown over. Namboodiri's statements to the press only hardened the stand of the tantri and the temple advisory committee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"I talked to the Devaswom Board president before I met the reporters," he said. "If I have to do something, I do it openly. I have nothing to hide. No sacred text has banned voyage across seas." News of the controversy even reached his hosts in York. He said they called him to inquire about the incident after reading about it in newspapers. Once the matter became public, the two sides indulged in a statement war in the press. The devotees too joined in. Many openly expressed their dissatisfaction. "What we need is not a poet but a priest," said a temple advisory committee member. "The high priest is not above God."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Matters came to such a pass that devotees were prepared to take control of the situation; some of the faithful were ready to prevent the high priest from entering the temple were he to receive permission from the tantri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The high priests—there are two high priests, one from five select Malayali Brahmin families and the other from eight select Tulu Brahmin families—are held in high esteem, and the post is coveted. Namboodiri, a Malayali Brahmin, donned priestly robes after retirement, to fulfil his mother's vow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His appointment as high priest was also shrouded in controversy. Another Brahmin family moved court to stay his appointment. But Kalidasan Bhattathiri anointed him high priest on a Sunday, to circumvent the stay order.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today the two are ranged against each other. "Namboodiri is trying to malign my name in public," alleged the tantri. "Now it has reached a stage where there is little chance left for reconciliation." But Namboodiri refutes the allegation. "What am I going to gain by maligning his name?" he asked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tantri's ban order, meanwhile, has evoked mixed reaction among the Brahmin community. It also sparked a debate on whether the age-old customs should be followed as said in the texts or not. The intellectuals naturally were with Namboodiri while the orthodox Hindus supported the tantri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But at least one orthodox Hindu backed Namboodiri. He was Rajivaré Kantararé, who will be the high priest of Sabarimala for a year from August 17. "Namboodiri did a right thing in going abroad and teaching Veda to the foreigners," he said "Namboodiri should be honoured for undertaking the task."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Travancore Devaswom Board's role in this drama has come in for severe criticism from the temple advisory committee and the tantri. Following Namboodiri's complaint, the Board asked the temple manager to readmit the high priest. But he did not comply. In his report to the Board, the manager said that one of its members, M.V.G. Namboodiri, had asked him orally to abide by the tantri's decision. M.V.G Namboodiri, however, denied this. Incidentally, he is also a member of one of the five select families.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, a special meeting of the Board convened in Thiruvananthapuram saw MVG and the president taking different stands. The Board, on July 16, asked the manager to reinstall Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri at any cost. But the scholar reportedly told him that he would return only if the ban order was revoked by the tantri, and the people wanted him to.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, efforts are on by neutral Hindu leaders to solve the knotty issue. Both sides have expressed their willingness for a dialogue and have decided that there will be no more public statements accusing each other. According to the tantri, the controversy is serving only to desecrate Hindu faith and the glorious heritage of the temple.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Namboodiri echoed similar sentiments. "I don't want to enter the temple using force," he told THE WEEK. "My three-year term ends on August 15. This controversy was thrust upon me." He was willing to initiate a discussion and come to an amicable settlement. "This squabble will only help to paint Hindus in a bad light," he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If such good sense prevails, it won't be long before the temple is once again filled with the sights and sounds of Kathakali.</p> Fri Feb 26 22:41:11 IST 2021 let-a-thousand-conspiracies-bloom <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>News just doesn’t make sense to me anymore. That’s why I love grand, unifying theories which join the dots, offer unexpected explanations and leave behind a delightful, tangy flavour. Here are a few of my favourite conspiracy theories:</p> <p><b>The Greta Good</b></p> <p>This Swedish girl who came out of nowhere is telling us that the way we react to climate change is all wrong. What does she know! For most of us, things are pretty straightforward. The way we react to climate change is to turn the thermostat, sometimes this way, sometimes that. So Greta Thunberg must have a hush-hush reason to ask us to do things differently. It’s a secret known only to very few around the world. I am one of them. After you read this, you will be another. Did you know Greta is the brand ambassador (undercover) for water heater companies. Surprised? Well, global warming is hitting their market hard, and the warmer the globe gets, the smaller will be the demand for heating appliances. So they are hitting back, and Greta is their secret weapon (you can call it toolkit if you like).</p> <p>Right now, what has got every Indian’s goat is Greta’s tweet in support of the agitating farmers. What, you will ask, have water heaters to do with the farmers at the gates of Delhi – if anything, they are against the Adanis of ports and airports, not the Bajajs of domestic geysers fame. Ah, the plot thickens for here lies Greta’s second, even more sinister secret. The girl with the dragon tattoo (she hails from Stieg Larsson’s land) is out to cast a blight on the world. It’s obvious to me. If it’s not obvious to you, just focus on her name for a while, and count the letters. Adds up to 13! Need I say more?</p> <p><b>The Second Surge</b></p> <p>Things seem to be getting bad once again, with an alarming COVID uptick in many states. Really? The truth, my dear friends, is that this is all part of a diabolical plot to get us to take the vaccines. It’s more than a month since they were cleared for use. The powers-that-be had geared themselves for a torrent but ended up with a trickle. The first solution was to think of a catchy slogan that would persuade people to take the jab. They came up with what they thought was a winner: ‘Don’t Vacillate, just Vaccinate’. When that didn’t do the trick, sinister minds came up with Plan B. Flood a pliant media with reports of a resurgence of the virus, and scare the pants off the dilly-dalliers and force them to queue up for the vaccines. This may not score high on ethics but all is fair in love, war and conspiracy theories.</p> <p><b>World’s Envy, Nation’s Pride</b></p> <p>Let me now tell you the real reason why our country is being afflicted by poverty, squalor, intolerance and discontent (you can add house flies to the list of woes). The reason can be expressed in one word: envy. The West is, and always was, insanely jealous of us. They can’t stand our shining achievements, e.g., how we are successfully battling the pandemic (ignore the recent surge). They are shame-faced when they learn of our glorious history dating back to the golden age of the Guptas, our democracy, and our excellent systems. Their darkest fear is that if things are allowed to continue, India will become a superpower before you can say ‘Bullet Train’. The only way then for the West to stop us in our tracks was to sponsor mass squatting in Shaheen Bagh, set Bollywood insiders to hound outsiders, get people to make a hue and cry about such everyday events as rapes, lynchings, lootings…. From what we read in the papers, the plan seems to be working beyond the wildest dreams of the plotters.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Oscar for Scam Dog</b></p> <p>Not all conspiracies are of recent origin. Let me pull one out of the archives.</p> <p>In 2009, <i>Slumdog Millionaire</i> bagged a clutch of Oscars? Felt happy, didn’t you? Ah, that is what you were meant to feel. Actually, it was all part of massive conspiracy. Orchestrating the cloak and dagger stuff was Raju Patel, father of lead actor Dev Patel. On paper, Raju was an IT consultant but that was only his day job. In reality, he could have had the Hindujas (officially, Britain’s richest Indians) for breakfast. Son loved acting and father loved son. So when voting for the Oscars began, Raju took himself and his billions to LA and bribed everybody in sight. With the golden statuette under his arm, Raju was sure his son would become Hollywood’s hottest property.</p> <p>That hasn’t happened, you say? Johnny Depp is Johnny Depp and Dev Patel is…who’s that? Ah, just you wait. Some conspiracies take a long time to bear fruit.</p> <p><b>Ryot and Wrong</b></p> <p>Conspiracies do not always walk in single file like school children at parade. Sometimes there are double-deckers – like the farmer’s agitation. As everyone knows, it’s not by the farmers themselves but by ‘middle-men’ acting as farmers and dressed for the part. They are doing a good job of it, and if all else fails, Bollywood’s talent scouts will certainly get them to audition for a <i>Do Bigha Zameen</i> sequel.</p> <p>A parallel conspiracy concerns the people who are going to benefit from the reform bills. Psst, they are two industrialists who desperately want to give up the big bad world of industry and become noble farmers themselves. Since they are natural big thinkers, they aimed to buy up all the arable land going (something only Sharad Pawar had dreamed of earlier). The agitation is but a temporary setback to their plans. Once they succeed in their mission, don’t be surprised at what you will see. Roti will come to you free, but the dal will cost you half your salary.</p> <p>Now that you’ve heard so many conspiracy theories, you can smile a superior smile at gullible friends who accept things at face value. Next time you hear of something juicy …just nod your head meditatively, look quickly around as if to check if people are overhearing, and murmur in a low voice – there’s more to this than meets the eye.</p> Fri Feb 26 18:39:33 IST 2021 why-knowing-your-bata-size-in-a-shoe-shop-is-not-enough <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>You go to a footwear shop and the shopkeeper asks for your shoe-size. Chances are you don't know the US or the UK size, or at best insist on a 'Bata size' number to make things simpler. A sigh of relief follows when you spot a length-measuring device where you just have to plonk your foot to find the best fitting model.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>K.J. Sreeram, director of CSIR-Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI), points out how we never measure the width of our feet for those perfectly snug shoes. Neither do UK or US sizing systems account for a wider width when it comes to the Indian feet. From August this year, CLRI will lead a pan-India foot-scanning survey in collaboration with the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), fanning out to 100 districts from Kerala to Jammu, and cover a sample size of one lakh people to eventually determine a Footwear Sizing System of India. Armed with box-like three-dimensional scanners, the survey will measure the length, width and 20 other parameters of the Indian feet. Sreeram, in a telephonic interview with THE WEEK, talks about why it is high time we have an Indian standard sizing system for shoes.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why are we coming up with an Indian standard sizing system for shoes to replace the UK version which has become the norm?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In India we are predominantly using a UK size, but it so happens that India also makes chappals and shoes based on the UK, French or the US sizes. This is because in 1963 or thereabouts we just adopted the UK standard and started making our footwear in that format. Because then we were more of an exporting country rather than a consumer country. But going forward, as our understanding of the science of footwear increased and alongside human anthropometry, we found that the foot shape of a common Indian person (man, woman or even children) is very different from that of the western world. We have a broader front area when compared to the European feet. If you go back and look at fashionable shoes for women, most of the European or french ones are too narrow in the front. Our women would find it difficult to insert the front portion of their legs into such shoes. So they would adopt the next size or a slightly larger size. The length is now more to accommodate the width of the foot. Such situations often lead to foot related disorders including breaking of the bones. Instead of continuing to accept the old standard, it was decided by the government of India to ensure that the Indian population would have its own footwear sizing system. We will take care of the width and length now.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How have the characteristics of the Indian feet changed over the years? And what about the many regional variations?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Depending on our lifestyle, the body assumes different shapes and the foot is no different. In the 1960s, most of us were in the habit of sitting and working for longer hours, especially the "babu" class. Women were mostly indoors. But now we spend a lot more time travelling, the strength of the foot has changed, the office sitting and standing systems have also changed, and most importantly, our leg usually remains covered inside a footwear for more than 12 hours a day. This has changed the shape of our foot and these changes manifest and become predominant in a span of 15 to 20 years. This change has prompted us to go back and do our own sizing system as the 1960s' one was an adopted standard from the Britishers.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How long has this idea of an Indian standard size for shoes been around? When was it first floated?</b><br> </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) programme was going around countries to study dimensional changes. They approached CSIR-Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) to do a survey of just about 5,000 people to understand dimensions of Indian feet at the time. Though we collected data pan India, it was a small sample. But the data was significant enough to indicate towards major differences in shapes between western and Indian foot sizes. We also did a small survey for school children between 2012 and 2017 and even then we found there is a need for a new India-specific system for shoes. Initial scientific papers which CLRI presented in government forums ended up igniting the idea of possibly going for a pan-India survey.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you see the international footmakers modifying their dimensions to comply with the new Indian size? There might be a lot of confusion for the shopkeepers.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have already pre-empted this problem of confusion coming up. So in this project, we have said that we will also develop what is known as the equivalence system, so that India size X will be equivalent to UK size Y, US size Z, etc. The nearest matching size chart will be available, so this avoids the problem of confusion. But India has become a very good procurer and user of footwear. There can be local manufacturers looking at the domestic market who will adopt the Indian standard itself. People involved in domestic and export businesses can use equivalence standards.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There is something called the 'Bata size' which people just assume to be the Indian standard size just as the company itself is assumed to be Indian.&nbsp;</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bata size is a concept which the company itself came up with. After getting a grip on their consumers' needs and characteristics, they started playing around with the so-called UK size or US size by changing the width of the shoe somewhat. The Bata size will not match exactly in the UK or the US but the company has adopted a slightly different sizing system for India. They tweaked the dimensions for the India market. That is why the same-size shoe at Bata and Liberty are different. And that is why it is hard to switch brands. That is also the reason why the online market for footwear is not growing.</p> Wed Feb 24 21:14:17 IST 2021 how-a-young-bodo-entrepreneur-wants-to-serve-a-slice-of-her-culture <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Bhanu Brahma has been dreaming about this for years. The 26-year-old Bodo, from Kukumari village in Assam's Chirang district, has been a Delhi resident since 2013. She has been going about her college and her many jobs with a vague sense of certainty that one day, eventually, she would get to be a cultural ambassador by opening a restaurant on Bodo cuisine.</p> <p>&quot;Even today, my parents call and say all this is useless. You should come home and become an IAS officer. I once spent one whole year in UPSC coaching and would wonder what is the whole point?,&quot; says Brahma who launched her restaurant, Bodo Ising, in December. Brahma says it is the only restaurant of its kind outside of Assam, specialising in food of the Bodo people.</p> <p>The Bodos are the largest plains tribe in Northeast India, believed to be the earliest original inhabitants of the Brahmaputra Valley with a distinct religion, culture and language. The fight to preserve their ethno-cultural identity has led to agitations for a separate homeland since the 1980s, leading to the creation of an autonomous Bodoland Territorial Region in 2003, made of four districts in Assam. While many of her seniors from Delhi colleges and universities harbour serious political ambitions, Brahma wants to tap into the good life of her native culture. &quot;I felt very proud when I first showcased culinary delicacies from our culture at a festival back in 2017. My friends would often laugh every time I set up a stall on Bodo cuisine at Northeast festivals, wondering who will eat our food,&quot; says Brahma for whom these festival gigs were trials and experiments before plunging full-time into the food business.</p> <p>Bodo Ising was supposed to open doors on April 2 last year, but COVID-19 bung a spanner into Brahma's plans. &quot;My initial investment went bust. The landlord did not let go of the rent and I lost the original venue for the restaurant. All my savings were gone. The new location required extensive repairs. The carpenters would barely listen to me,&quot; laughs Brahma in hindsight, as she shows us the interiors of Bodo Ising done up with bamboo logs, grass stalks and shrubs with large paintings where a Bagurumba dancer is decked out in a dokhona wraparound with an aronai wrapped around her waist, and the wall next to it has a Bodo woman playing the flute. &quot;No Google search result shows our culture properly. Everything about Bodoland is conflict and statehood. I want to share our culture with people,&quot; says Brahma.</p> <p>While rice, fish and pork are indispensable in traditional Bodo fare, Brahma has recollected staples from family picnics back home to curate a menu which is simple and soulful. She is particularly fond of Onlajung Oma where pork is cooked with rice powder, and Khadrwi which is produced by filtering the ashes of burnt banana trunks. Khardwi is used in small quantities in most Bodo curries; too much of it can make the food salty. Another specialty is sobaijung dao, a kind of black lentil curry cooked with chicken, apart from fish curries made with star fruits and roselle leaves. A hefty breakfast platter includes pitha where steamed rice cakes are stuffed with sesame seed or coconut. &quot;Our food is different from the mainstream Assamese fare. It is slightly more bland,&quot; says Brahma who wants to add more mocktails to her menu when she expands it further.</p> <p>Being the sole owner of a restaurant serving up a slice of a little understood culture is not easy for Brahma, but she is happy doing what is closest to her heart. &quot;Last year, during lockdown, so many of my friends who went home from Delhi, decided to open small businesses in my village. Now there is a 9/11 like store. Another is prepping to start a huge restaurant-cum-bar. One is getting into the wedding business. I don't know what's happening,&quot; Brahma gives a knowing wink.</p> Tue Feb 23 12:34:28 IST 2021 ram-aur-farm-when-bollywood-meets-farmers-protest <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The farmer’s agitation has gone for long enough to get the country’s dream factory working at full throttle. Here they come with a crop of films in which vintage cinema gets a contemporary flavour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>TWIN WIN</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It’s the ageless story re-told one more time. Twin brothers are lost in a <i>mela </i>after one of them wriggles free and dashes off towards the festooned Ferris wheel, only to get carried away by the throng. The distraught parents can do nothing but console themselves by lavishing all their attention on the son they are left with, and moulding him into a fine, upstanding farmer. The missing son falls into questionable company and grows up to become a politician’s apprentice. Deep in their souls, each twin knows that he has a brother but never do the twain meet until one day confrontation brings them face to face across the barricades at Singhu. The farmers raise the popular slogan ‘<i>Kanoon wapsi nahi to ghar wapsi nahi</i>.’ Sham sings the line in a soulful melody all his own. Swinging his truncheon above his head, Ram is about to bring it down with a thump on Sham’s rump when he stops short. Wait! A sepia memory sharpens into focus. The song is based on the tune of his mother’s lullaby. Could it be…? Is it possible…? Ram looks at farmer, farmer looks at Ram in wild surmise. Lathi and sickle clatter by their sides, and issues that were pending for months are resolved in minutes as the brothers bond. In the film’s final fadeout, the lullaby soothes the agitators into restful slumber.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>‘<b>DO BIGHA ZAMEEN, EK TURBO-CHARGED TRACTOR’</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What the world thinks today, Bimal Roy thought of yesterday or to be precise in 1953. With <i>Do Bigha Zameen</i>, he gave Balraj Sahni an enduring place in Indian filmdom’s hall of fame. We wept as the marginal farmer-turned-rickshaw puller wages a heroic struggle against many-headed evil. In the film’s newly re-loaded version, there is no place for weeping for with the Green Revolution done and dusted, it’s time for the ‘Mean Revolution’ where the farmer thinks only of the Minimum Support Price. Naseeruddin Shah is a <i>Dabbang </i>farmer on steroids. No rickshaw puller he, Shah rides a tractor and puts it to devastating use. Under its wheel come them all–crony capitalism, scrawny socialism, corny materialism and a pack of other isms that the farmers have had enough of. But what he doesn’t know is that there is an international conspiracy–some say ‘galactic gathbandhan’–out to get him. In the film’s climactic scene, sinister forces throw the national flag in his way. The conspiracy of course is to frame the farmer as an angsty national. He nearly falls into the trap but manages to apply the brakes just in time. Proudly holding flag, family and fervour high, the tractor fades into the sunset. Applause.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE THREE IDIOTS</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This film directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra was universally liked when it hit the screens in 2009. A decade later, Chopra adds drama to the sequel with a brain teaser–nobody agrees who the three are. If you are on the Delhi side of the Tikri Gate, the three idiots are the ones who are leading the agitators. If you are on the other side, the three could be part of the government. And your guess is as good as mine about exactly who they are. Or perhaps, we have all missed film’s deep symbolism. The three idiots symbolize those three laws that are behind all the fuss. You will say that the laws have been put into cold storage anyway for 18 months…but as the veteran producer knows only too well, you must strike when the iron is hot, or the blockbuster could make its producer go bust.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>‘<b>RIHANNA BHI DO YARON’</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This sequel to Kundan Shahi’s 1983 cult classic has all the ingredients for a masterpiece of the absurd. There is an international pop singer who had wowed the world with songs like ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’. There is a law, or rather three laws and more outlaws than you can number or name. Then of course there is the Republic Day parade in which peaceful, well-mannered tractors go rogue. They choose the Republic Day because they are convinced that’s the best way of getting back at Republic TV. To top it all, a climate activist expresses support for a mob of dedicated stubble burners. Nothing of this makes logical sense. But then neither does life. All we can say for sure is that every patriotic Indian is convinced the good girl has indeed gone bad, very bad. But it’s late now, <i>Ab jaane bhi do yaaron</i>.</p> Fri Feb 05 17:24:33 IST 2021 a-131-day-ordeal-with-a-happy-ending <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Venugopala M. cannot wait for March to arrive. The 59-year-old BEML employee's daughter is getting married next month. The doting father is getting ready for the big day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Venugopala can breath easy now. Literally. Life has been nothing short of a miracle for him, having survived a 131-day fight against COVID-19. He was finally discharged last Saturday after a lengthy treatment process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A resident of HSR Layout in Bengaluru, Venugopala had a history of high BP. After contracting COVID-19, he developed severe pneumonia. “His CT scan report showed how badly his lunges were affected,” says Dr Rajesh Mohan Shetty, consultant, critical care medicine, Manipal Hospitals. “We determine the lung damage based on how many parts of the lungs have been affected—basically, we divide the lungs into 25 parts. If the number of parts affected is more than 16 out of 25, it is considered as severe disease. In Venugopala’s case, it was 25/25. Every part of his lung was affected. The more the lung damage, the longer it takes to recover,” explains Shetty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Venugopala had a low chance of survival. However, his family didn’t give up on him. “We didn’t lose hope because we knew dad is strong-willed. We trusted the doctors and they kept us updated. When we were not allowed to meet dad, the doctors spoke to him and kept us posted,” says his son Manoj V. Reddy, 30, who works as delivery lead at Acuity Knowledge Partners in Bengaluru.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>COVID-19 can lead to severe respiratory complications which, in turn, can take a toll on kidney and liver. “The patient’s oxygen level was low, and so, other body parts also started getting affected. The patient had low blood pressure and started experiencing drowsiness. When somebody has got such a bad disease, his kidney and liver function worsens and he will only have a slim chance of survival,’’ says Shetty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Venugopala was given Remdesivir, plasma and steroids, but nothing worked. “His CT scan reports showed that his condition was deteriorating further. The lung injury caused by the virus was not getting better at all. At one stage, we thought there is no point in continuing like this. And we even considered lung transplant. But, after 40 days, Venugopala started showing some improvement,’’ recalls Shetty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mutual trust made the 131-day long journey easier, he says. “The patient's family trusted us from the beginning. They sold their property to arrange money for treatment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Some patients give consent to treatment, but then they think ‘the doctor is taking me for a ride’ and back out. Sometimes, patient's relatives ask you to stop treatment and say let the patient die peacefully. It is not ethically right to deny treatment to a patient.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Venugopala's family had an experience with ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation is a treatment that uses a pump to circulate blood through an artificial lung back into the bloodstream) with one of their family members. He was on ECMO for several days and he survived. So, they knew ECMO can save lives.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thankfully, it did in Venugopala's case, too.&nbsp;</p> Tue Feb 02 22:34:43 IST 2021 indias-first-museum-biennale-to-be-held-in-bihar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There's the art biennale. The odd fashion and design biennale also exist. But little do we know of a museum biennale. That is set to change with the Bihar Museum announcing its first ever Museum Biennale.</p> <p>To be held at the premises of the Bihar Museum in Patna for a week from March 22, this first-of-its-kind Biennale will have over 12 Indian and international museums participate in specially curated virtual tours which will be streamed live as well as pan out physically at the Bihar museum.&nbsp;</p> <p>The participating museums from India include the Assam State Museum; City Palace Museum, Udaipur; Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Mumbai; Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya, Bhopal; Kanha Museum of Life and Art, Madhya Pradesh; Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi; Museum of Goa, Panaji; National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi; Virasat-e-Khalsa, Anandpur Sahib, apart from museums from Mexico, Poland and Paris. Initially conceived as a physical, three-month long event, the Biennale will now be held in a hybrid form, physical and digital, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.</p> <p>It is poised to be a key initiative in Bihar’s cultural calendar of 2021. The inauguration on February 22, celebrated as Bihar Diwas,&nbsp; will be held in presence of the Chief Minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar. The publication, Bihar, India and the World: Celebrating Museum Collections, which will have detailed information of the 12 primary national participating museums, will also be launched.&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;The concept of a museum biennale is to celebrate museum collections which become very esoteric and abstract when they are placed in a formal space. But when you bring them all together, there will be a cross-cultural dialogue both within the country and with collections outside,&quot; says Alka Pande, project director of the Museum Biennale.</p> <p>&quot;Human nature, human resources, historical past, these are all very important things for us to understand who we are in the present times. So the Museum Biennale will present a wonderful visual journey of the human civilization,&quot; says Pande.</p> <p>Organized by the Department of Arts, Culture and Youth affairs, Government of Bihar, the Biennale aims to sensitize the public to the importance and significance of a museum culture. Other well-known names from the world of museology set to participate include Neil MacGregor, British art historian; Hilary Knight, director of digital, Tate Galleries, UK;&nbsp; Souraya Noujaim, scientific, curatorial and collections management director at Louvre Abu Dhabi; Sabyasachi Mukherjee, director-general of CSMVS, Mumbai; Javier Baron from Museo del Prado.&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;The Bihar Museum has been appreciated as a bold, new concept in the Indian museum movement. It is commendable that the first ever Museum Biennale in the country will be held at its premises,&quot;&nbsp; says Vinod Daniel, board member at the International Council of Museums and chair at AusHeritage.</p> <p>&quot;Virtual tours of many other Indian Museums to be shown there would create a new momentum for online presence of Indian museums. Especially as the world of museums through the&nbsp; International Council of Museums debates on a new definition for museums, events such as this will create the platform for discussing constructive ideas on relevance and connection of museums to the societies where they are based,&quot; says Daniel.&nbsp;</p> <p>Bihar Museum was formally launched in October 2017. Spread over an area of 13.9 acres,&nbsp; with a built up area of 2.5 lakh square feet, the Museum is reported to have been built at a cost of over Rs500 crore and has received several design awards.&nbsp;<br> </p> Tue Feb 02 22:21:25 IST 2021 how-chikoo-dreams-spurred-a-range-of-fruit-wines <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Priyanka Save thinks grape as a fruit is overrated. Born and raised in the coastal village of Bordi in the Palghar district of Maharashtra, Save has been exposed to the best variety of Chikoo. This led her to create her sparkling fruit beverage, Fruzzante.<br> </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Dahanu-Gholvad belt in the district is famous for the fruit also known as sapota and is the only place in the world where it is grown all through the year. The calcium-rich soil of Gholvad ensured a GI tag for the fruit in 2017. So adding value to her cherished native fruit was the most natural inclination for her—she is after all part of the fourth generation from a family of chikoo farmers in the region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;&quot;There is really no byproduct of chikoo one can think of. There is no jam or jelly or achar. You can only think of a chikoo milkshake. Nobody will tell you their favourite fruit is chikoo even if they like it,&quot; says Save on the phone from Bordi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With these sentiments and tentative experiments with the fruit, Save accidentally discovered the fermentation of chikoo juice—just like in wine or cider.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;Even watermelon juice straight out of a blender starts fermenting after a while. Bacteria starts eating the sugar and starts converting the sugar into alcohol. While the chikoo juice was getting spoilt, it kept fermenting. It still retained a lot of character and tasted good,&quot; she says.</p> <p>Save has since moved beyond Chikoo to tap into seasonal fruits for alchemizing them into bubbling colourful &quot;wines&quot; in beer-like bottles.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;This is not wine or cider or an alcoholic beverage but the process of creating this fruit beverage via fermentation is like wine. We add no colours or flavour, just the fruit,&quot; says Save about Fruzzante which takes its name from Frizzante, another word for sparkling wine. Available in mango, pineapple and strawberry, apart from starfruit, the company will launch an orange variant this summer. From farm to bottle, the drink has a gestation period of around 50 days and a shelf life of 2 years. While it is selling in 22 districts of Maharashtra, priced at Rs 200 a bottle, February will see it being launched in Goa and Punjab.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Save runs Fruzzante's winery with her husband Nagesh in the basement of her father's resort called Hill Zill in Bordi. Save is certain the time has come for fresher, more fruit-forward styles.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;It is easier to sell mango, strawberry and pineapple than wine,&quot; she says. Save admits that getting people to accept this curious in-between product can be a challenge even with all the tastings and awareness building, but her special story of chikoo farming in Bordi will take her through.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;This is where I grew up. There is great history associated with the place. Chikoo was brought here by the Parsis in the 1800s. It is in the northernmost tip of the Konkan region. It is hardly known. People will remember the story behind it&quot;&nbsp;</p> Fri Feb 05 17:33:54 IST 2021 the-curious-case-of-two-bhuri-bais-and-one-padma-shri <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>During the annual fair of Gol Gadheda, a tribal festival celebrated in certain parts of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh a week after Holi, young men try to climb a slippery 30-feet pole to find their matrimonial match. Slathered with oil, the pole has a knotted bundle of coconut and jaggery hanging on top, which is sought by bachelors while women standing below playfully beat the climber with sticks to distract him. If the climber manages to snag the bundle without falling off, he gets to choose a girl he can marry from the bevy of stick-wielding women.</p> <p>Sher Singh Bhil recounts the details of this annual fair on the phone from Bhopal two days after he learnt from the local newspaper that his mother Bhuri Bai, a Bhil artist, has been conferred the Padma Shri. 'Gol Gadheda' is also one of his favourite paintings by his mother. He shows images of the same on WhatsApp. &quot;But no media house has gotten in touch (with us) so far. We have not even received any official communication,&quot; says Sher Singh, 33, who hails from Jher village in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh. He belongs to the community of Bhils, the second largest tribal group in Madhya Pradesh after the Gonds. He picked up the tradition of Bhil painting from his mother Bhuri Bai when he was seven years old. It was his mother who taught him to work with a paint brush on a canvas, from colouring images on the mud wall of his house with a <i>datun</i> (teeth-cleaning twig). His mother is also the first woman in the Bhil community to paint on paper, Sher Singh says. Unsure of her exact age, Sher Singh says his mother is around 50 to 55 years old.</p> <p>But Jhabua district has another Bhuri Bai, who is almost the same age as Sher Singh's mother. She is also a famous Bhil artist who works in Bhopal. And she has more than likely won the Padma Shri.</p> <p>&quot;Some reporter pasted the wrong Bhuri Bai's photo, of the one who works in Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya. I work in the Tribal Museum in Bhopal. I am 51 years old. The other Bhuri Bai is also my age, maybe a little older. Both of us never received any prior official communication. But I have received the award with Kapil Tiwari because everybody is congratulating me now. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan met me on November 26. And tomorrow he will be coming to my house,&quot; says Bhuri Bhai Baria. Sher Singh's mother writes her full name as Bhuri Bai Bhapor.</p> <p>“I started painting on paper under J. Swaminathan at Bharat Bhawan and went on to receive numerous state awards,&quot; says Bhuri Bai Baria, adding another layer of uncertainty as to who really was the first woman to paint on paper between the two.</p> <p>Anubhav Nath, director of Ojas Art Gallery in Delhi, has showcased the works of both the artists. The gallery has been representing traditional and vernacular artists for quite some time now. &quot;There was a confusion in social and print media as there are two proficient artists by the same name. Sadly, which lead to both thinking they had received the Padma Shri. Of course, only one of them has gotten it,&quot; says Nath.</p> <p>Sher Singh is still unsure who has won the award. &quot;We are not able to confirm anything,&quot; he says.</p> Wed Jan 27 20:37:00 IST 2021 how-to-entomb-history-in-time-capsules <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On January 26, Aligarh Muslim University will bury a time capsule—a 1.5 tonne container bearing important documents and texts celebrating 100 years of its illustrious history—as part of the varsity's centenary celebrations.</p> <p>This isn't a one of its kind event. Last year, there were conflicting reports of a 'kaal patra', or time capsule, being prepared to be sunk 200 feet into the ground at the Ram Temple construction site, so that "the reality about Ayodhya and Ram is preserved for the next thousands of years".</p> <p>One of the most controversial time capsules in India pertains to the time of former prime minister Indira Gandhi when she entombed a copper capsule in 1973 to celebrate 25 years of Independent India. It was also called 'Kalpaatra' and Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) was allotted the task of preparing the manuscripts and documents which would go into the container. While a 1,000-year timeline was set for unearthing this time capsule, it was disentombed in 1977 itself when the Janata Party came to power. The exact details of the written texts inside the capsule are still unknown.</p> <p>There are time capsules buried near the auditorium of IIT Kanpur and another one at Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar on 50 years of Gujarat's history since its foundation.</p> <p>What is a time capsule and why is it considered an important tool of communication with future generations? A major event or the establishment of an important new edifice occasions the creation of a time capsule. The word itself was coined in 1937 in the run up to the 1939 New York's World Fair where an an 800-pound tube of copper and chromium was hauled down 50 feet into the ground. It has 35 regular household items from 20th century America as historical records of a civilization, including copies of <i>Life Magazine</i> and Camel cigarettes; it cannot be resurrected until the year 6939, that is 5,000 years from the year of burial.</p> <p>There are tutorials and guidelines online on ways to preserve the contents of a capsule, from using aluminum or stainless steel housing to ensuring there is no water infiltration, colour transfer or acid migration; or how to use acid-free paper to separate black and white photographs from leather. This box containing pieces of the past and present are meant to educate and enlighten the custodians of a distant future.</p> <p>Time capsules are unintentional too, like the Roman city of Pompeii buried under mounds of volcanic ash. But here we are more concerned with intentional time capsules which are often criticized for harbouring not-so-useful objects and can be subject to self-regarding, one-dimensional historical portraits. Added to this are preservation woes like groundwater percolation and paper disintegration. Drawing a distinction between accidental and planned capsules as representative of a period in time, a 2015 article in <i>The Atlantic</i> succinctly illustrates how the wreckage of the Titanic under the sea of the Chernobyl exclusion zone have more historical objectivity. "Because disasters come about with little or no warning, people have no opportunity to muck up the reality of their daily living through selectivity, distortion, and suppression. Catastrophe best reveals who we are," says the piece titled 'The Paradox of Time Capsules'.</p> <p>Some of the more interesting, contemporary time capsule projects include the Future Library art project which will have an original work by a famous writer every year from 2014 to 2114. The books will be held by a trust and remain unread and unpublished until 2114 and trees planted in a forest near Oslo specifically for the project will be used to publish limited-edition anthologies of these unread manuscripts in 2114. It has been dubbed the world's most secretive library and the first writer to contribute was Margaret Atwood. Or take the Arctic World Archive, as another instance. It is meant for data preservation in the Svalbard archipelago, as an insurance against natural and man-made disasters. It aims to save world's digital materials, including music and art, in "resilient long-term storage technology" in "remote, safe and cold conditions" between Norway and the North Pole. Just like the Global Seed Vault for crop samples. Recently, an Indian company called Sapio Analytics claimed to have sent high-resolution images of Ajanta Caves to the Arctic World Archives; the images were copied onto a 35mm photosensitive film which has a shelf life of 1,000 years.</p> Mon Jan 25 20:22:05 IST 2021 from-kennedy-to-biden-the-tradition-of-the-inaugural-poet <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Three US Presidents, fond of literature and reading, have had poets read at their inaugural ceremonies. In 2021, Joe Biden, 46th president of the United States, will be the fourth, after John F. Kennedy (1961), Bill Clinton (1993, 1997) and Barack Obama (2009, 2013). And, Biden's inaugural committee has chosen a young 22-year-old Amanda Gorman to do the honours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact Gorman is the youngest poet to recite at a presidential inauguration, following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Maya Angelou and Robert Frost.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Los Angeles native, interested in issues of race, feminism and the African diaspora, was named the National Youth Poet Laureate in the US in 2017. First lady, Jill Biden, counts herself as a fan of the young poet's verses and is reported to have made a case for her at the inaugural committee. Interestingly, both Biden and Gorman have had to overcome speech impediment disorders of their own as children. Gorman particularly struggled with the letter 'R'.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On inauguration day, Gorman would be reciting her new work for the occasion which she could complete only after including parts of pro-Trump rioters storming the Capitol.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"In my poem, I'm not going to in any way gloss over what we've seen over the past few weeks and, dare I say, the past few years," said Gorman to <i>The New York Times</i>, ahead of the inauguration day on January 20, indicating how her task of composing an appropriate poem was rendered doubly difficult at a time when the American society is highly polarised, reeling under pandemic woes and an economic crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her poem, 'The Hill We Climb', reads thus:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>We've seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,</i></p> <p><i>Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.</i></p> <p><i>And this effort very nearly succeeded.</i></p> <p><i>But while democracy can be periodically delayed,</i></p> <p><i>It can never be permanently defeated.</i></p> <p><i>In this truth, in this faith we trust.</i></p> <p><i>For while we have our eyes on the future,</i></p> <p><i>History has its eyes on us.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How the arts and literature are intrinsic to the development of a civilisation is hardly ever acknowledged by heads of state. In his election campaign speeches, Biden has quoted lines from literary grandees like Seamus Heaney, W. B. Yeats and Langston Hughes. The practice of reciting original poems at US presidential swearing-ins is rather new and started with Kennedy who invited Frost in 1961 to read 'The Gift Outright'.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A 2017 piece in <i>The Atlantic</i> notes how poetry engendered some of the most unforgettable moments in presidential inauguration history. "Robert Frost struggling to see what he'd written down and then improvising at John F Kennedy's swearing-in; Maya Angelou speaking of dinosaurs, God and unity at Bill Clinton's; Richard Blanco saying 'hello, shalom, buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos dias' to Barack Obama's second inaugural crowd."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No Republican president has ever had a poet read for their inauguration. Former US president Donald Trump is not known to have favoured any poet. The closest he's come to a poem are the lyrics of a song he recited during his 2016 campaign trail. Called "The Snake", it is unsurprisingly a cautionary tale on the dangers of immigration in Trump's reading of it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Wed Jan 20 18:22:25 IST 2021 meet-the-indian-entrepreneur-making-handcrafted-top-gun-propellers <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>You'd expect aviation enthusiasts would be excited about the idea of using aircraft propellers as wall art. But Mumbai-based entrepreneur Akshay Sharma has been selling most of his exquisite, handcrafted propellers to clients who don't have an interest in aeronautics.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>Sharma carves propellers out of wood, adds his creative flourish and whips up two-armed rotational artefacts which are hung like 6-feet-wide paintings on the wall. Now his three-year-old company WoodFeather has convinced Paramount Pictures to launch a special edition line of&nbsp;<i style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Top Gun</i>&nbsp;propellers, in the run-up to the July 2 launch of the sequel to the 1980s action drama starring Tom Cruise.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>&quot;Woodfeather is the only company in the world making high-end, artsy propellers.&nbsp;<i style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Top Gun</i>&nbsp;was a movie I have always idolised. I had this idea of creating propellers inspired by themes and characters from the film. We managed to [get] through to Paramount Pictures last year. They loved the idea and ran it past Cruise's team. And now we are making a line of four official Top Gun propellers,&quot; says an excited Sharma, who is a certified pilot himself. With his private pilot license, Sharma would often go to the US in pre-COVID years and rent a Cessna or a Beechcraft for recreational use as the culture of owning private planes is not that unusual in the US.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>Six years ago, when he began building his own house in India, he wanted to mount a propellor on his wall and so he ordered one from eBay, &quot;Among pilots, propellers are quite a thing as art objects,&quot; informs Sharma. But when his shipment got lost in transit, Sharma decided to make one himself. A half-baked first one from a log of wood led to 10 more and then some more and before he knew it, an idea for a company was born. Starting with no background in design or woodwork, Sharma has mastered the art of making plush, decorative propellers with full creative control.</p> <p>&quot;Even though propellers as decor are available online, they are of much poorer quality, with cheap wood from China. I take liberties with materials and finishes, like using teakwood,&quot; says Sharma. &quot;From superheroes, race cars, iconic planes from World War II to a chapter from the Ramayana in hand-painted folk art, inspiration can come from anywhere.&quot;</p> <p>The <i>Top Gun</i> propellers are made of Burma teak wood in four designs, Maverick, Wingman, F/A-18 and P-51D and are priced between Rs 70,000-75,000 apiece. </p> <p>&quot;What we’re making is something that’s never been done before. An iconic film deserves iconic memorabilia and our&nbsp;<i>Top Gun</i>&nbsp;propellers are nothing short of it...being a die-hard&nbsp;<i>Top Gun</i>&nbsp;fan myself I can promise that is this something every fan is going to want to own,” says Sharma who has clients mostly from the luxury-lifestyle segment.</p> <p>Since 2017, Sharma has sold over 1,000 propellers in an India-focussed market.&nbsp;</p> Mon Jan 18 22:45:12 IST 2021 a-popular-meat-house-from-bihar-wants-to-be-next-kfc <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For two years, Gopal Kumar Khushwaha tried to place his BMH magic meat masala on Amazon and Flipkart, but they did not oblige. A foodpreneur from Patna, his outlet 'Old Champaran Meat House' is now a well-known chain in Bihar for takeaway handi or ahuna mutton. Three years after setting up business in 2014, he started facing stiff competition from other canny peers. That is when the 42-year-old decided to package and popularise his 32-masala alchemy.</p> <p>&quot;I wanted to create something from home. Anyone in the world should be able to make our kind of handi mutton. I started selling these packets to visitors at our store. My wife and I made YouTube videos and WhatsApp forwards,&quot; says Gopal on the phone from Patna. &quot;I can assure you that there are 10,000 outlets in India which are using our magic masala to make Old Champaran style mutton curry,&quot; says Gopal, who claims to be the original mastermind of the regional delicacy Champaran meat curry, a popular one-pot mutton curry from Bihar, also known as 'matka ghost' as the meat is cooked in earthen pots.</p> <p>When lockdown kicked in last year, Old Champaran Meat House was not open for business like everyone else. Denizens of the city missed the soft, smoky offerings of their favourite meat house. Suddenly, the demand for&nbsp;BMH magic meat masala shot up. &quot;And then Amazon and Flipkart came calling.&nbsp;BMH magic meat masala made a blockbuster entry on these e-commerce sites last year,&quot; says Gopal with much pride.</p> <p>Since lockdown, he says he has packed off more than a lakh boxes of the multi-spice mix. &quot;Other brands are neither sure nor pure. With BMH, 1 kg of Handi mutton can be cooked with 35g of my spice-mix,&quot; says Gopal whose product now competes with meat masala mixes from brands like Everest, Tata and Catch. &quot;Anyone who only knows how to make tea can easily make mutton with our masala, this is my guarantee. If it doesn't happen, my life is a waste,&quot; says Gopal who has added his and wife's phone numbers on the masala box for any clarifications from customers.</p> <p>But 2020 lockdown hasn't just translated into magical sales for Gopal's meat masala boxes. It has spurred him to invent machines which will cook the exact same specialties from Old Champaran Meat House.</p> <p>Gopal had opened an outlet in Noida Sector 15 in Delhi. But the pandemic shut down his dreams of expanding into the capital. Besides, he is always wary of franchise owners not following strict guidelines for the specific oil and spices to be used for the meat preparation. So without moping, he used his time to make fully automatic machines retrofitted with 'bhatti', temperature control, smoke detectors and the works. &quot;These are tools for me to be able to step out of Bihar. One of them is as big as a cement mixer and can be scaled to cook for 2 lakh people at a time. I am waiting to get them patented,&quot; says Gopal, who started off as a caterer for weddings and other social events in Patna. Once a client demanded Handi mutton for one of his events and this set Gopal off to Ghorasahan village in east Champaran, close to the Bihar Nepal border, where handi mutton is cooked in open pots. He improvised this method to cover a rice-cooker like pot with kneaded dough, leading to a softer, more delectable version of ahuna mutton in record time. After setting up Old Champaran Meat House in Patna in 2014, he has opened five more outlets.</p> <p>&quot;With my machines and masala, even if your workers run away, your restaurant will still be running and smiling. I want to be the KFC in India,&quot; says Gopal, keen to chart international waters by 2022.</p> Tue Jan 12 13:47:59 IST 2021 ved-mehta-from-a-blind-child-to-a-celebrity-writer <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Indians go to the US for higher education, jobs and some of them to settle down in the Promised Land. But Ved Mehta, who became blind at the age of three, went to the US for a different reason in 1949 when he was 15. In his own words, “I constantly dreamed of and worked on getting out of India and making my way to the West, where my disability would not be perceived as a barrier to education”. He got admission in a school for the blind in Little Rock, Arkansas. He went to Harvard and Oxford universities for higher studies. He settled in New York and became an American citizen in 1975. He was a staff writer for <i>New Yorker</i> from 1960 to 1993. Besides writing, he taught in Yale and New York universities.</p> <p>He started writing for <i>New Yorker</i> magazine when was a college student. He published his first book, an autobiography, when he was 23. He says that he wrote it out of a feeling that he could partly alleviate a life of deprivation, by writing about it. He was proud that he had earned his livelihood with his pen, since his 20s. His chosen method for improvement of his writing was to read and reread works of masters such as William Shakespeare and John Milton.</p> <p>Mehta is the author of 27 books of fiction and non-fiction, covering a variety of themes such as Indian politics, Oxford Dons and American education. He has written a monumental autobiography 'Continents of Exile', in twelve installments between 1972 and 2004. He calls it as a cross- cultural story of India, England and US.</p> <p>Mehta became blind at the age of four due to meningitis. Since then, his life was about overcoming the disability. He says, “I had to prove every day to everyone that I was able to do things that they thought I could not do. Whenever people tried to help or protect me, they jarred my self-confidence and dulled my senses”. To prove to others, he drove cycle in his childhood and car in his youth to impress his date, much to the consternation of others.</p> <p>Every day of his life was struggle for him, as he admits, “There was hardly a day that I did not feel defeated, condescended to and humiliated- when I did not long to be spared the incessant indignities that assailed me”. Reliance on his own will to overcome his disability made him feel lonely and the pain of loneliness was unrelenting.</p> <p>He compares himself to those blessed with eye sight saying, “I was in the grip of the fantasy that I could see. Even then I maintained the habit of checking external reality. I never accidentally walked off a cliff, for instance. Without such continual checking, I could not have survived in the sighted world. But the sighted can think what they like about the blind without feeling the need to check the reality of the blind. Every moment, I instinctively translated into images any and all information received by my sharpened senses. I was creating my own reality, seeing things in my own way- only imagining that what I saw was identical to what other people saw”.</p> <p>He sought romantic relationship during his college years but found that girls were prepared to be friends with him but generally spurned any romantic overtures. It was only after he started writing and publishing that girls took romantic interest in him. He has written about his romance and muses in the book 'All for love'.</p> <p>Mehta died on January 9, 2021.</p> <p>In his website, he says, &quot; Deprivation often makes a writer&quot;.</p> <p>I am inspired by his life story and achievements. As I struggle with my own amateurish occasional writings, I am encouraged by his statement,&quot;Some forty years after I published my first book I am struggling with words and sentences, drafts and alterations. I was constantly tempted to put off writing, a process which is turbulent and involves a lot of angst.&quot;</p> <p><b>The author is an expert in Latin American affairs</b></p> Mon Jan 11 17:50:30 IST 2021 raising-over-rs-45-crore-shasn-become-most-crowdfunded-game-from-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Shasn,&nbsp;<a href="">a political strategy board game</a>, made all the right noises when it launched&nbsp;a Kickstarter campaign in July 2019. Conceived by&nbsp;Goa-based film and new media studio Memesys Culture Lab, run by filmmaker Anand Gandhi and designer Zain Memon, the table-top game simulates elections and examines democratic systems and the nature of power.&nbsp; Within 24 hours of its crowdfunding launch, the&nbsp;game had reportedly raised close to Rs 20 lakh from some 333 backers. Now, the makers of Shasn claim they have managed to raise over Rs 4.5 crore for their game on the crowdfunding platform.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;By raising $650,000, Shasn&nbsp;has become the most successful crowdfunding campaign from India since we went live in 2019. We are entering the retail market this month,&quot; says Anand Gandhi, whose 2013 debut feature film&nbsp;<i>Ship of Theseus&nbsp;</i>won the national award for best picture.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shasn is meant to be an extension&nbsp;of the political conversation started after the release of the&nbsp;2017&nbsp;nonfiction thriller&nbsp;<i>An Insignificant Man</i>, which was produced by Gandhi and tracked the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;With the documentary, we were more aware of the inner workings of a political party. So, we began designing this game which is an action-packed, fun experience where players feel like characters from the House of Cards in the middle of a political battle,&quot; says Memon about the boardgame,&nbsp;which has roped in futurists and historians to design competitive strategy gameplay at the intersection of political thinking, systems theory and narrative storytelling.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;There have been Shasn Cups in India and the US in the pre-run of the game. One thousand matches have already been played with the prototype. It has travelled to gaming conventions around the world and won awards, including at IndieCade, the Sundance of gaming, for best social impact game,&quot; says Gandhi on how the board-game has gained global visibility.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;We have been reviewed superlatively by gaming critics. Some of the greatest game designers, like those of Cards Against Humanity, Dungeons and Dragons and Exploding Kittens, have said that it is one of the finest games out there,&quot; says Gandhi.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The two to five player game has a modular set-up which can be interchanged to play five different political scenarios: Indian, American, Brexit, politics of the future and the Roman empire.&nbsp;Players contest elections for nine states on the board. There are policy questions at every turn and players get to&nbsp;influence vote banks by collecting resources using a permutation and combination of media,&nbsp; trust,&nbsp;clout and big&nbsp;corporations&nbsp;funds.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;The game is about the experience of politicking&nbsp;and the amount of passion that comes out. It does not offer any moral prescriptions; you can stand anywhere on the ideological spectrum. But in the end, there are prophecy cards which predict the nation you have built based on your policy decisions.&nbsp;That really is paradigm-shifting,&quot; says Gandhi.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Other successful Indian gaming ventures on crowdfunding platforms include The Bystander Anthology, Mantri Cards and Ek Tha Gao.&nbsp;</p> Fri Jan 08 20:09:28 IST 2021 different-strokes-for-different-moods <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Is it possible to paint democracy? Or give colour to politics? A Hyderabadi artist believes so. A few political developments that occurred in Andhra Pradesh in 2018 and 2019 is now a work of art at the studio of 42-year-old Suneel Posimreddy. The painting has different shades of dark red, orange and other colours and conveys a disturbing message that there is a threat to democracy. There is another painting in the collection on unethical politics being practised by few political parties. These are just some of the 400 odd paintings that have been produced over the past few years under the theme ‘The Mood Catcher’.</p> <p>A product design strategist in a software company in Hyderabad, Posimreddy’s art is a different form of commentary on the state of affairs. Whenever there is a social issue or a ghastly crime against a woman, Posimreddy tries to capture them through his oil paintings or sketches. For instance, post the gruesome gangrape and murder on the outskirts of Hyderabad, Posimreddy painted the mood of the women in the country by depicting a few raised hands in the backdrop of fire.</p> <p>He credits his profession for sparking off his passion for capturing moods through paintings.</p> <p>“Right from my childhood, I have always been interested in painting. After completing my Masters in design in digital media abroad, I came back to India. As part of designing a product and experience-building for apps, I had to study the users, their knowledge, requirements and feelings. This was the step before we would get into the designing part. That is when I realised that I could capture the moods of various people I meet.”</p> <p>This interest took a different turn after Posimreddy began associating with a political party. During 2014 elections, he was closely involved with the digital work of the party, bringing him closer to the on-ground politics of Andhra Pradesh and the newsmakers.</p> <p>“When you are in politics, the world is different. The events I saw and experienced triggered a new set of paintings. Some political incidents also inspired me to make paintings, showing the positive side of the world,” said Posimreddy.</p> <p>The Fine Arts graduate, who shuttles between US and India, wants to create a market for Indian artists in the western world.</p> <p>“I traveled a lot and saw a lot of people invest in paintings in the Middle East, Europe and the US. My long-term goal is to build an art gallery for local artists and get revenues by creating a market outside the country where there are potential buyers,” said Posimreddy, who made the most of the lockdown with his brush and colours.</p> Wed Dec 30 21:12:15 IST 2020 how-vip-took-their-new-year-resolutions-this-year <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A WORD TO THE WISE</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let us begin at the top: our honourable prime minister. He has drawn up an ambitious list of resolutions for 2021. Alert readers will no doubt point to the growing pile of resolutions pending from the past, that little matter of acche din, for instance. But if I were you, I wouldn’t raise a din about our burre<i style="font-size: 0.8125rem;"> </i>din. Our PM believes that if at first you don’t succeed, you need to find a good acronym. When you hit upon something like UDAN (Udde Desh ki Aam Nagrik), you are home and dry. So far his think tank has been able to come up with Farm Laws Opposed by Public (FLOP). Well, when that didn’t do the trick, he tried KISAN, viz., Keep Insisting the Scoundrels are Anti Nationals. Next year, by hook or by crook, he will find the magic words. Watch this space.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>ARTH-SHAH-STRA</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Home Minister Amit Shah’s plans are simple. In a word, his resolution is dissolution—dissolution of all un-saffron state assemblies. It Is not going to be easy, but unlike getting hold of the Don, it is not impossible. The more state governments he wrests, the better he rests. The techniques are all there in India’s ancient political treatise which our political mastermind knows so well, he’s going to come up with an updated edition next year: Arth-SHAH-stra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>DYNASTY AND DESTINY</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the other end of the political spectrum stands, bloodied but unbowed, Sonia Gandhi. With more time on her hands now than when she was pulling strings for accidental prime ministers, Sonia has committed herself next year to an in-depth study of genetics. Many in the country would like to join in her research too. We all want to know where the fabled political genes of her mother-in-law have vanished.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>SHIFTING GOALPOSTS</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over in Maharashtra, the chief minister whose first love was photography has been compelled by circumstance to take up a new hobby. He’s decided to subscribe to a correspondence course from the man who last week broke the record for most goals scored—Lionel Messi. It will be a big help to the CM in the political football that is being played every other day between state and Centre. The venue obviously is the site of the Mumbai Metro Car Shed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>CAREER CHOICE</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Films part-time or controversy full-time? <i style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Neta</i> or <i style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">abhineta</i>? Caught in a mid-career dilemma, Kangana Ranaut must decide if it is going to be her way or the highway.&nbsp; In films, she’s rapidly approaching her ‘best before’ date. But in stirring up issues and voicing her views long and loud, the possibilities are limitless. It could land her the role of a lifetime—politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>HE CAME, HE SHAW…</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two years ago, Prithvi Shaw had a dream debut, becoming the youngest batsman ever to score a ton in his maiden Test. But last fortnight as the whole Indian team fell to its lowest total ever, he became the ‘fall guy’. Young Shaw has been coached at some of the world’s leading cricket academies. But his resolution for ’21 runs deep. He is going to get life lessons on how fickle is fame, fortune and friends. Meanwhile, his captain Virat Kohli has resolved to catch up on reading books on planned parenthood. There is going to be no controversy ever again about having to leave a ‘Test’ series midway.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>DIPLOMATIC IMPUNITY</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Diplomats enjoy a lot of privileges. One of them is that their baggage is waved through by the Airport Customs without any checks.&nbsp; But, on July 5 this year, the Thiruvananthapuram Airport Customs did stop a bag belonging to the UAE Consulate labeled ‘Bathroom Fittings’. The investigating officers immediately struck gold—30 kg of it! Heads rolled, and are rolling still. As for the diplomats, their New Year resolutions include: to travel light, settle for made-in-India sanitary ware, and/or go easy on their baths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>ALL ABOUT MONEY, HONEY</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Honey is not hamburger. It’s hallowed by tradition, doesn’t contain foul fish or fowl, and is not made by evil MNCs. If fact it’s as pure as pure can bee! Best of all, it’s got Baba Ramdev’s stamp of approval. But last month environmentalist Sunita Narain stung him and leading manufacturers. She demonstrated that leading brands of honey were spiked with rice syrup. Like most entertaining movies therefore, the bottles too merited an ‘A’ Certificate (for Adulterated). &nbsp;Honey makers retaliated casting aspersions on Ms Narain’s testing processes. So, the Baba’s New Year resolution is to clear the air. Deep breathing and a session of <i style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">kapaalbhatti</i> should help.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>REST IN PEACE</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the international arena, Chinese Premier Xi Jinping’s resolution is to work towards world peace. We are sure he will succeed beyond his wildest dreams. After the infection his country unleashed early in 2020, nobody is in a position to wage war in any case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since we began at the top to the pyramid, it makes sense to end at the base, viz. me. I have decided to stop making up stories like all of the above.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not purport to reflect those of THE WEEK</i></p> Sun Dec 27 12:31:10 IST 2020 amid-pandemic-funds-crunch-leprosy-hospital-struggle-survival <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Little Flower Leprosy Hospital in a village near Raxaul in Bihar has stood witness to the many highs and lows of life. But what has remained constant for the residents of the leprosy colony attached to the hospital, is hope—the kind of hope that a dignified shelter brings, even when their own have shunned them.</p> <p>Now, however, with a dip in donations over the years and the pandemic-induced lockdown halting the work at their silk and khadi products unit, the hospital is facing a cash crunch. The centre was founded in 1982 by a priest, Fr Christudas, to treat ostracised leprosy patients and give them a fresh start in life. What started as a small mud hospital, was later extended into a complex that included a village, work centre, school and hostel. People cured of leprosy continued to stay in the village and work in small-scale projects like the spinning and weaving unit. Christudas, fondly referred to as ‘Baba’, passed away in July 2011.</p> <p>“The stigma tied to leprosy will haunt you for generations. If your parent suffered from leprosy, or if you say you live in the leprosy colony, people will move away even today,” says Suresh Kumar Das, a volunteer at the hospital. For Das, Little Flower Hospital is home.&nbsp; His parents, both leprosy patients from Kolkata who arrived at the hospital for treatment, eventually married each other.</p> <p>The hospital structure is also in a dilapidated state and volunteers like Suresh Kumar are hoping to soon give it a new look. “All of us who grew up in the colony received good education. Baba ensured we were well-equipped,” he says, adding that many children who were born in the colony and were schooled there are engaged in varied professions like medicine to law.</p> <p>On World Leprosy Day on January 30, Suresh Kumar and others like him who are currently engaged with their lives in other cities, plan to get together at Little Flower Hospital to chart the way forward for the centre. “We are not receiving enough money to pay the inmates, and many are also taking to begging,” he added, hoping well-wishers will pitch in to support the cause.</p> <p>Suresh Kumar says that there currently over 200 families in the colony and 60-70 patients under treatment at the hospital.</p> <p><b>THE WEEK Man of the Year</b></p> <p>In 2009, Christudas was recognised as THE WEEK’s Man of the Year, for his exemplary work among socially ostracised people. Christudas, who hailed from Kerala, was working with the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata when he decided to travel to north Bihar where leprosy was considered almost endemic. In 2009, when THE WEEK spoke to Christudas, north Bihar had only 22 leper colonies, 10 less than when he reached there in 1981. The integration of the leprosy patients and their families in mainstream society is &quot;the sole purpose of my work”, he had said.</p> <p>Christudas had said he is looking forward to a time when the hospital has no patients. &quot;Then I will know that my life has been a worthy one.&quot;</p> Wed Jan 06 10:45:04 IST 2021 year-ender-how-a-generation-struggled-to-cope-with-the-rigours-of-covid-19-lockdown <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On March 17, in the middle of the&nbsp;pandemic lockdown, when a blonde woman with vacuous eyes and smeared mascara crouched down on all fours over what appeared to be a toilet seat on a TikTok stream, a spectre of destiny lingered over the moment. There was the foreboding weight of history being witnessed in real-time—a prophetic urgency that demanded muted silence and screamed for your complete attention.<br> </p> <p>Like Jawaharlal Nehru’s dramatic flourish on the podium on Independence Day midnight, or the first snowflakes of 1941 winter that surrounded the attacking Nazi encampments in USSR Moscow, or even Tony Stark’s fingers mid-snap in&nbsp;<i>Avengers: Endgame</i>.</p> <p><br> In one quick motion, the blonde woman licked the edges of the human waste sanctuary (twice) and flashed the victory sign and an effortless duck face (I can already hear a horde of angry incels descend upon me on Reddit, arguing that it was a fish gape).<br> <br> Predictably, the clip went viral. Even more predictably, the “influencer”</p> <p>Ava Louise was invited to appear on multiple US national television channels including the hit show Dr Phil—the American TV version of DD’s Dr Rakesh, who spends half an hour a day convincing terror-stricken teens on air that, no, masturbation does not result in blindness. Louise identified herself, before an audience of millions, as a full-time “sugar baby”(noun; a sugar baby is to a prostitute what the NITI Aayog is to the Planning Commission); she claimed that, on the same day, she had put “way dirtier things in her mouth than the toilet seat”, and stated that she did the video because she could not “bear that the corona was getting more publicity than her”.</p> <p><br> Her TV circuits were followed by a glowing VICE documentary on her “lifestyle” in their aptly named 'Slut-Ever' section.</p> <p>Heeding the Khaleesi's call to “lick as many toilet surfaces as possible”, thousands of copycats swarmed Instagram and Snapchat, kissing and caressing the grossest surfaces imaginable to intelligent primates. The cherry on the cake? One influencer Larz, in that noble quest for internet clout, was even hospitalised with a serious case of coronavirus infection, a few days after he stuck his tongue into a public shitter.</p> <p>Watching the events unfold, the dominos fall into place, was a thing of celestial beauty, something akin to an astronaut's first view of the Earth from the International Space Station (ISS). It was a scintillating, all-encompassing vision of something so vast and so ethereal that no mortal had the right to lay eyes on it.</p> <p>No other event in recent history had provided as clear a bird’s eye view of a washed-up generation’s eternal struggle against the life’s mundanes and the extremes.<br> </p> <p>Make no mistake, the lockdown was our ultimate acid test. Think about it. How long have we been complaining (many of our gripes indeed warranted) about the horrible hand that has been dealt to us as a generation? Quoting from the Holy Fight Club, the millennial Bible:</p> <p><i>Tyler Durden (PBUH) 13:2</i>—<i>We are the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war. Our Great Depression is our lives.</i></p> <p>Now, we had a Great War on our hands. We had our purpose. This was our time to shine. Whenever the father next screamed at us about having had to dodge a bullet in some pretty-sure-it-did-not-happen war, or swim across high-tide Ganges to attend school when he was your age (Geez, we just wanted money for a third Xbox), we had a tailor-made retort: Have you had to live, as a young person, through a global pandemic? Have you? Have you?</p> <p>Whenever the mother called us in tears at ungodly hours, cursing the&nbsp;<i>dabbawala&nbsp;</i>(who was struggling for the next breath at the corporation hospital) and the cleaning&nbsp;<i>bhabhi</i>&nbsp;(who we refused to pay an extra Rs 30 to avail private transport during lockdown) for letting us starve to death in a strange land a four-hour drive away, you could proudly send her a video note of a spick-and-span house, boiling Rajma and simmering rice.<br> <br> Our objectives were simple: stay inside, physical distance and reduce human interaction. This was a battle that was ours to lose. For what are we but a generation of self-proclaimed “introverts”, who moan 24x7 about a lack of physical space, mental “burnout”, and bash our employers for not giving us a three-day work week option. Who are we but a proud people who managed to make depression and physical dysmorphia into an exclusive and cool sub-culture, like a Radiohead fan club. This was our battle, on our turf—we were the Rafa Nadal on clay—and, by gods, we were bringing atomic disintegrators to a pie fight.<br> <br> Wishful thinking is one thing. Reality is a whole different ball game. Turns out, we did not have some great unplumbed depths of courage and strength inside us. Turns out, once the Oreo supplies ran out, it was a struggle to boil cabbages and carrots, slice onions and prepare sustenance thrice a day. Not to mention the cleaning up after. The Alphas, who sternly lectured everybody on social media to use the lockdown to read one book a week, to work out, expand horizons with online classes, and invest in the stock market, was soon fatigued by the tiring vortex of everyday mundanities and retreated to a comfortable hole of doomscrolling on Twitter, 13-hour Netflix marathons and increasingly frequent episodes of self-pity at their gradually ballooning guts.<br> <br> The betas, sniffing a chance after seeing the Alphas decommissioned, threw down their weapons and deserted the Holy Fight at the first light. They slid into the DMs of every female on the face of the planet, soliciting ‘nudes’and hoping against hope someone would acquiesce to their requests. Meanwhile, the Gamas were distracted, busy setting up ‘Justice for Sushant’and ‘Sushant Bureau of Investigation’accounts on Twitter. Even the trusted lieutenants that we pinned our hopes on abandoned us in the fight.</p> <p>The great socialist hope Cardi B ranted incoherently on Insta Live to her 60 million followers about coronavirus and resistance and how “the bitch is scared”.<br> <br> We imploded. For all our tall claims, we were betrayed for what we actually were: the perpetually under-stimulated ‘spectacle’generation. Raised on a steady diet of sugar and an unabating need for strangers’approval, we had lost the ability to perform even the basic tasks without the carrot of cheap dopamines. If we travelled, we were subconsciously driven by the need to #wanderlust on Instagram. If we ate, we ate not just to fill our belly but to boost our Facebook following. Our lives became geared for social media consumption and social media consumption alone, as we conducted rave parties on terraces, impromptu multi-house concerts that were ‘promptu’as hell, and sought escapism with the same fanaticism as a hyperventilating heroin addict in search of his next fix. We were overweight hamsters on the wheel, primed for easy slaughter.<br> <br> Millions of people are dying, and children are starving and wanting of the most basic needs, but, hey, did you hear Joe Rogan rant for three hours on aliens, evil feminists and Illuminati? Can’t wait!</p> Sat Dec 26 12:36:43 IST 2020 concerts-in-quarantineland <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>“And what is the use of a concert…without a stage or audience?”wondered Alice, circa 2019.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Coronavirus, lockdown, social distancing, super-spreader, WFH, webinars, quarantine, contact tracing.... It was to this infinite glossary of pandemic-induced vocabulary that “virtual concert”—aka performance livestreamed from the comfy space of an artiste’s living room—was added.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perfected and popularised mostly by K-pop stars, virtual concerts, however, became an everyday affair as Earthlings were left to fend for themselves in a pandemic.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It all began with the ‘iHeart Living Room Concert for America’to raise funds for corona warriors in March. Billie Eilish sang on her sofa. Elton John played the guitar from his kitchen and the Backstreet Boys sang in unison from five locations.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But days before that, fans could not believe their eyes as Chrissy Teigen made a cameo on her husband John Legend’s at-home show. Wrapped in a towel, she read out the viewers' comments and song requests to her husband, who was on the piano.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon, a mini-explosion of live concerts and DJs flooded the internet as performers—including those who were hesitant to embrace the virtual space for its lack of connect with the audience—made their debut on their social media handles and YouTube channels, rallying around hashtags like #TogetherAtHome.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Musicians and performers sang, played instruments or danced to audience's requests or at one’s own whim. Performing live from one’s attic was a distant reality for most of these artistes and their audience until a year ago. For the performers, a stage was not one without the adrenaline rush and vibe of the audience. For fans, an energetic show without crowds chanting and hopping was incomprehensible.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Come 2020, the unthinkable happened—from pyjama parties of the past mankind entered pyjama gigs. Performers are often seen without their makeup, without expensive outfits. Sans the colour and glamour of the stage, the post-pandemic virtual concerts give a more personal feel. This never-seen-before casual air is the most fun aspect of the current social media concert trend.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“While performing within the confines of a room, it is mostly only you and your band. It is more personal and introspective. On a stage, people may not notice the mistakes a performer makes. But now, it is you, the mike and the instruments. Hence, it is more performance-oriented. We also figured out how bandmates vibed,”says Bengaluru-based rapper Sooraj Cherukat, aka Hanumankind, who loves to associate himself with anything music.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>'Will you follow me back?'</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As much as the artistes are immersed in their performance, they also seem to keep it real. Sometimes, a pressure cooker whistles in the background, on the other side of the screen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The virtual gigs or shows have wide opened fresh possibilities in audience engagement, thanks to an ever vibrant social media.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Performers often engage with their fans via comments or online Q&amp;As, even during live shows. Live chats and comments are acid tests. From complex questions to product queries and mischievous comments from acquaintances just to embarrass the performer in front of the live audience, these artistes have seen it all.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;Where did you buy that head band from?&quot;, &quot;I've followed you, follow me back!&quot; (yes, that's an order!), &quot;Where is your partner?&quot;—fans can get really intrusive at times!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rekha Raju, an acclaimed Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam dancer and teacher from Bengaluru, was conducting an online demonstration when a member from the audience asked how one can identify if an artiste was good or not during a live performance. What is an appropriate answer to that? “If you can watch a performer for 20 minutes, that must give you an answer,”pat came the reply from Raju. “It is a live online show, with people watching you from across the globe. Such tricky situations do not happen during an on-stage lecture with limited avenue for interaction,”she says laughing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Enter Murphy’s Law. An Indian classical dancer from Delhi hosted her first online performance from home for a social cause. Effervescent in her vibrant costume and jewellery, she began her Facebook live with pre-recorded classical music in the background. A few minutes into the performance, as (un)luck would have it, the power snapped (something which had not happened in a while). She continued performing (thumb rule says dancers cannot stop performing midway, whatever happens) for a couple of minutes more before she realised that it was dark, with no music and the Wi-Fi cut off.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Dawning of a new era?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many artistes and aficionados shrugged off virtual concerts and the not-so-formal pre-recorded performances even during the early lockdown days. Turns out, what necessity is to inventions, adaptability is to survival instincts. “It takes only a small amount of effort to stay relevant. People appreciate what you do honestly,”says Ashwin Gopakumar, vocalist and founding partner of music band When Chai Met Toast.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the performers of the Bengaluru-based music band who were touring relentlessly since the last couple of years, the lockdown was a blessing in disguise. “It was as if our exams got rescheduled,”Gopakumar quips from the other end over a WhatsApp call. “We revised, rewrote, reworked, unwound with families and learned. The lockdown also showed us the relevance of independent musicians in the society.”In isolation, music feels more necessary than usual, to hold people together, to instil hope in them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He notes that the pandemic led to the meeting of the artist and the musician. “We collaborated with a lot of new artists and animators&nbsp;for our work. These mutual collaborations have been a lesson in creativity and growth.”&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That said, as much as they miss live shows, the band is in no mood to host a live virtual concert. The audio quality and bandwidth is usually poor or less than ideal and that hinders with the audience’s experience and reception.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An up and coming music composer friend recently observed, &quot;Chris Martin is a really good singer. But he was a shadow of himself during a recent online performance. In spite of realising the same, it was funny how he continued singing unapologetically and without feeling a bit embarrassed.”It is about such raw experiences, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the below par audio quality is the least of worries for the layman huddled at home for an extended period.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For, who does not like to be reassured that a beautiful world is still out there?</p> Sat Dec 26 12:37:38 IST 2020 humour-in-times-of-covid-19-down-but-not-out <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Exam fever. Exam blues. Exam fear....</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was to students what Modiji is to most Indians now when he goes “Mere pyare deshwasiyon…” at 8pm (take, and not give, a couple of hours). There was no escaping me, though the exercise seemed futile. There was no wishing me away. I came as I pleased and took my ‘pound of flesh’, as Shakespeare put it. There was no Portia in disguise or otherwise to save Antonio!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or so I thought. Sigh. ‘Beware the ides of March’, the soothsayer had warned. The writing was on the wall, but I was lost in between the lines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am called different names, and I am omnipresent, but March is a month over which I hold sway. Tense students and tenser parents, all sweating over the board exam, which makes or breaks careers for many. There I was, this year too, taking it all in, much to my delight. There were murmurs of a certain virus making its presence felt in the country, but most of us, much like Caesar, dismissed it as a ‘dreamer’ and hoped it would ‘pass’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It did not. And before I could say ‘time's up, pens down’, I was postponed indefinitely and the country went into a never-seen-before lockdown. I, Exam, for the first time in my life, bowed before the unknown—Covid-19. This virus, which sounded like some English king (did I miss the 18 ones before it? Are there more to come, I dread now), made me feel like the student whose paper was snatched away before he could tie the all-important second knot on his extra sheets. Will those sheets hold on till they reached the evaluator? With extreme trepidation, I crossed out the days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Schools and colleges were closed and I gathered dust. My masters tried to revive me, but faced stiff resistance from you-know-who. It was the calm before the storm, I consoled myself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the storm never came. CBSE betrayed me. They devised their own law of averages to assess the performance of the students and the results were declared. I gulped down the insult and soldiered on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amid the clapping, beating of utensils and showering of petals, I was pushed into the shadows. I felt like Thakur Baldev Singh in Sholay, while the nation trembled in the wake of the spike-headed Gabbar Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The man with the hammer, however, came to my rescue. No, not Thor. The Supreme Court gave me my Jai and Veeru—National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) Main. Despite protests from students and political parties across the country, the court put its foot down and gave the green signal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My hopes of regaining past glory soared. But, once again, the C-word was on everyone’s lips and on meme-happy social media. Yeah, don’t mind me. The D-Day arrived. For a second, I thought I was in a medical camp or had walked right into a doctors’ protest rally minus the banners and slogans. Armed with masks and gloves, and face shields to boot, they looked nothing like the chattering and nervously excited groups I was used to. Add to it the sweet-smelling hand sanitisers of every build and quality, and the temperature checks at the entrance. The tension was palpable. And so was the distancing, literally and otherwise. A sneeze or a cough was met with fiery stares that would put even Amrish Puri to shame!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Disappointed and a trifle hurt, I searched for solace in online exams, and soon realised why teachers and angels alike fear to tread there. Gone were the classrooms of yore, and instead, there was Google Classroom and the like. Learning is a never-ending process, and the teachers are learning it the hard way now, as much as the students. But, as history has proved, the students are always a leap ahead of their gurus. I heard tales about benevolent souls who would write the correct answers and pass it on to academically challenged souls on WhatsApp groups and other sharing platforms. Books are kept open, and so are the multiple tabs on the browser. But being time-bound, the students have to know precisely what they are looking for and where. It is almost like playing Fastest-Finger-First on KBC, don’t you think?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some audacious ones even try to pass off somebody else’s answer sheet as his own, or a Google image as his own diagram. Desperate times call for desperate measures, teachers admit with a chuckle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And if nothing works, there’s always the good old excuse—rukavat ke liye khed hain (Technical issue. Inconvenience is regretted)! From sudden loss of internet connection, to attachment errors, teachers have now seen it all. Of course, there are proctoring software and AI tools available, but when has surveillance acted as a deterrent for students, really. Eternal optimists and geniuses that they are!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My hopes now rest on the vaccines brewing in the labs around the world. And then, people will behold me with the same old awe and fear. And then, I will ‘bestride the narrow world like a Colossus’ again.</p> Wed Dec 23 22:15:39 IST 2020 sugathakumari-the-greenest-poet-of-kerala-who-fought-for-nature-and-women <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>&quot;Plant a banyan tree, if you want to remember me after I am gone... Please don't write anything on or near it. Do not keep even my ashes there. Let birds come and eat the fruits, that's all I want,&quot; Sugathakumari, one of the most renowned poets and green activists in Kerala, cannot have said anything else when asked how she wanted to be remembered. She had also located a spot to plant the tree—at the backyard of Abhaya, the home she had begun for destitute women and people with mental illnesses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The celebrated poet breathed her last <a title="Renowned Malayalam poet Sugathakumari passes away" href="" target="_self">Wednesday morning due to post-COVID</a> complications. She had tested positive for the coronavirus just a day before. She was 86.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sugathakumari was the second daughter of Gandhian Bodheshwaran and Sanskrit scholar V.K. Karthiyayayani.&nbsp; Her sisters—Hridayakumari and Sujatha—were also well-known writers and poets. She is survived by a daughter.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sugathakumari's life cannot be bracketed into a single box. She was many things to different people and complete in whatever she did.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her entry into poetry, like many women in the 50s, was under a pseudonym. But within a few years, she established as a poet under her real name and a decade later, won her first Kerala Sahitya Akademi award for <i>Pathirapookkal </i>(Flowers of Midnight). A decade later, she won the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award for <i>Raathrimazha </i>(Night Rain). Her other famous poems include <i>Paavam Maanavahridayam </i>(Poor Human Heart), <i>Thulaavarshappacha </i>(Green Monsoon), and <i>Radha Evide </i>(Where is Radha). She has won many prestigious awards, including the Odakkuzhal Award in 1982, Vayalar Award in '84, Asan Prize in 1991, Lalithambika Sahitya Award in 2001, Ezhuthachan and Basheer Awards in 2009, among many others. Most recently, she won the ONV Literary Award in 2017 and Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan Award in 2019.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kerala witnessed her activism phase when she became one of the most active campaigners of the Save Silent Valley Movement as it took shape in the 1980s. Silent Valley, home to many endangered species, including lion-tailed macaque, was chosen to host a hydroelectric dam by the Kerala State Electricity Board. Environmentalists all over the world fought against the proposal that would destroy one of the greenest spots on Earth and Sugathakumari's presence forced the government to buckle down. She had written a poem–<i>Marathinu Sthuti </i>(Hymn to a Tree)—which was recited at every venue to save the Silent Valley.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By the 90s, she became more of a social activist. In 1992, she started 'Abhaya', a home for destitute women and a daycare centre for people with mental health issues. It also provided shelter to children in distress and women who did not find their own homes safe. She was appointed the first chairperson of the Kerala State Women’s Commission in 1996. She was awarded Padmashree in 2006.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sugathakumari was leading a kind of retired life for the past decade, withdrawing from public gatherings. But in 2018, when five nuns protested in Kerala's Ernakulam against a bishop accused of raping their colleague, the activist in her got better off. The 84-year-old had then come out of her silent mode and sat along with the protestors. &quot;It was my duty to be with them,&quot; she had said then.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Sugathakumari had been close to many literary personalities who were actively part of politics, she had never been part of any mainstream political parties—a rarity, considering the highly volatile nature of Kerala's sociopolitical scenario. She had always considered Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda as her gurus.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to those close to her, Sugathakumari has left without fulfilling one wish—to visit the Silent Valley, the very green spot, which, to a large extent, owes its survival to her—once again. Her family and associates, however, are determined to plant a banyan tree as per her wish and to see it grow and become home to hundreds of birds and animals—a befitting memory for a soul who lived for Mother Nature.</p> Wed Dec 23 15:13:55 IST 2020 exploring-victor-egan-relationship-with-amriota-shergil <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Volumes have been written about the &quot;pioneer&quot; of modern Indian art, Amrita Sher-Gil. Her melancholic portraits of women—'Three Girls', 'Women on the charpai', 'Hill Women', 'Young Girls'—often got the Hungarian-Indian painter dubbed as the &quot;Indian Frida Kahlo&quot;. But not much is known about her doctor husband Victor Egan whom she married in 1938. Now a rare 'Portrait of Victor Egan', painted by Sher-Gil around 1939, will make its first ever market appearance in AstaGuru's forthcoming online action on December 19.</p> <p>Estimated somewhere between Rs 10 to 15 crore, the painting has Egan, a Hungarian army doctor, clad in his uniform and coolly holding a cigarette between his fingers. It showcases Sher-Gil's great proficiency as a portraiture artist, and elucidates Sher-Gil's academic training. The press note says Sher-Gil created the work as a parting gift to Egan's family. After they got married, Egan and Sher-Gil lived in Hungary, however due to the looming war situation they decided to shift to India in the year 1939 to Sher Gil's paternal home in Uttar Pradesh, thereafter moving to Lahore in 1941. Three months after she moved to Lahore with Egan, Sher-Gil died on December 6, 1941 after a brief illness, just when she was about to showcase her latest paintings in an exhibition on December 14 , causing the art circles there to speculate the real reason of her death.</p> <p>But to get a deeper sense of Egan's personality and his relationship with Sher-Gil, there are some blogs from Pakistan which shine a light on their journey together. One blog by Tariq Luqman has what appears to be an excerpt from Egan's daughter Eva Sood's writings which describes how her father and Sher-Gil grew up together in Hungary and were the best of friends. &quot;He was studying medicine and she, the ever eccentric artist claimed he was the only one who kept her grounded and understood her. She was the one who proposed they get married much against the wishes of her parents...Her mother Marie Antoinette thought she could have done better than marry her first cousin who was a young inexperienced doctor with no money,&quot; the entry notes.</p> <p>Her mother, the blog further elaborates, also held Egan responsible for her daughter's death, accusing him of murder. Another blog by the name of Chugtai Museum observes in a essay, &quot;But people knew the personality of Amrita. She had excessive sexual appetite and she quenched it with affairs with many people. Her Hungarian husband Dr Victor Egan did not like that, although he loved her very much. A jealous husband with access to sophisticated poisons, poisoned her to death. That was the story everybody knew in Lahore and is known in art circles.&quot;</p> <p>After Sher-Gil's death, Egan found himself to be an enemy subject in the British Raj in the middle of the Second World War, states Luqman's blog. But he eventually managed to go back to Saraya in Uttar Pradesh and restarted his medical practice there. He gave up on his native country Hungary which had turned communist.&nbsp;</p> Wed Jan 06 09:48:43 IST 2021 jairam-ramesh-amit-ahuja-share-kamaladevi-chattopadhyay-nif-book-prize <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There is some good news for the Congress party, by way of an award for compelling narrative. The Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay New India Foundation Book prize—one of the biggest non-fiction book awards in the country—has chosen Jairam Ramesh’s <i>A Chequered Brilliance: The Many Lives of V.K. Krishna Menon</i> as its winner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ramesh, former environment minister and a prolific writer, shares the award with young scholar Amit Ahuja, who has written <i>Mobilizing the Marginalised: Ethnic Parties without Ethnic Movements</i>. The two winners will split the prize money of Rs 15 lakh and will get a Book Prize trophy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Kamaladevi Chattopadyay prize was started two years ago. The idea of the NIF is to create a readable, well-researched scholarship for India post-Independence. Like history—which is often seen to end after 1947—scholarship that seeks to understand the complexity of India after freedom has not been focussed on often. The NIF aims to address this. In 2018, the prize was awarded to Milan Vaishnav for <i>When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics</i>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is not Ramesh’s first biography. Over the years, Ramesh has carefully chronicled the lives of politicians to give readers a glimpse into the political spectrum of Congress leaders in the early post-indepenence era. He has written <i>Indira Gandhi: A Life in Nature </i>as well as a biography of her close confidant <i>Intertwined Lives: P.N. Haskar and Indira Gandhi</i>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His latest book paints a portrait of Menon, who wore many hats as a propagandist, diplomat, editor and publisher. Menon was close to Jawaharlal Nehru and is believed to played an important role in the 1962 debacle. Dipping into archival material, Ramesh produces a “compelling portrait of a brilliant, complicated and controversial man, whose public life came to a rather tragic end,’’ the citation of the award read.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ahuja’s book, meanwhile, explores why dalit ethnic parties perform well in states where their social mobilisation is strong and poorly where their social mobilization is weak.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“This is [an] elegantly written and accessible work of scholarship that richly illuminates the relationship between social movements and political parties in redeeming the promise of Indian democracy for marginalised groups,” the citation reads.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 10 17:07:03 IST 2020 farmer-agitation-gives-birth-to-viral-tunes-of-protest <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>&nbsp;The fields are alive with the sound of music, not wedding ditties or soulful melodies but songs of resistance born in the farmers’ protest against the new agri laws and echoing all the way from Punjab to Delhi.</p> <p>As thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, braved water cannons and teargas to camp at the national capital’s borders to demand a rollback of the laws and their representatives held talks with the government, the songs flowed, speaking of pride of the land, strength in unity and the rights of the people fighting a mighty establishment.</p> <p>Shared on YouTube, WhatsApp and other social media platforms, the protest music has found a wide audience. Several singers said it is also an assertion of their Punjabi identity that they say is deep rooted and comes before caste or creed.</p> <p>"This is a big issue for us. We are all connected with the soil," said singer Kanwar Grewal, the voice behind the popular protest songs “Ailaan” and “Pecha” that support the farmers’ agitation.</p> <p>He is planning a third song "Jawani Zindabad" to highlight the participation of youth in the protest.</p> <p>"Pecha", which has been written by Harf Cheema and sung by both Cheema and Grewal, has got more than 30 lakh views on YouTube. While the song speaks of the rift between Punjab and Delhi, farmers’ suicides, the Centre’s "kaliya niti karde laagu (bad policies) and rouses people to wake up, the accompanying video has long shots of convoys of trucks and tractors blocking highways and men and women, young and old, shouting slogans and holding flags.</p> <p>"The song is about common people fighting against the government for their rights. It is a democratic country. Everyone has the right to express their views. Farmers are protesting and we are using music as a tool,” Cheema told PTI.</p> <p>He said the protest has become a mass movement with not just farmers but traders and small shopkeepers from 18 states also joining the protests.</p> <p>Cheema estimates that 70-80 protest songs have been composed and circulated in the last two to three months since the farmers have been protesting – before gathering at Delhi’s gateways, farmers from Punjab had been staging numerous protests, including ‘rail roko’ agitations.</p> <p>"All this is for farmers who feed us day and night. This is all we can do for them,” said Cheema, who has also penned and voiced the songs “Sarkare” and “Punjab” spotlighting the current stir.</p> <p>Take away agriculture from Punjab and there is not much left, said Grewal, adding that 75 per cent of the population is connected to farming in one way or another.</p> <p>"A brother of mine wrote the song and we started singing. It became a rage. We never thought we would come up with songs,” said the singer.</p> <p>Noted Punjabi singer and actor Harbhajan Mann, who has been supporting farmers'' protests for the last several months, also came out with a new song on Wednesday.</p> <p>" ''Murrde ni laye bina haq, Dilliye''... is all about how farmers, carrying rations for six months, are protesting and stresses that the safety of their fields is very important. It is a fight of their existence,” Mann said.</p> <p>The video of the song shows farmers braving water cannons and breaking police barriers as they try and push their way into Delhi.</p> <p>The Punjabi singer and actor, who had attended the protest in Delhi, on Friday announced he will not accept the Punjab government’s ''Shiromani Punjabi Singer’ award as a sign of solidarity with the protesting farmers</p> <p>“Though I''m grateful to be selected, I humbly cannot accept the Shiromni Gayak award from the Department of Language. People''s love is the biggest award of my career, &amp; all attention &amp; efforts right now from us all must be dedicated to the peaceful farmers'' protest,” Mann said on Twitter.</p> <p>He has also come out with "Anndataa, Khet Saadi Maa, Khet Saadi Pagg" (fields are our mother, fields are our pride). &nbsp;</p> <p>"When farmers are facing tough times, it is our responsibility to stand with them. Farmers feel that these laws are not in their favour. We should support them in their agitation,” said Mann. &nbsp;</p> <p>Famous singer Jasbir Jassi, best known for his hit "Dil Le Gayee", said it is good that Punjabi artists are supporting the farmers.</p> <p>"Punjab ka jo jeevan hai emotional raha hai (Punjabis are known to be emotional). After a long time, Punjab is seen as Punjab. There is no Hindu or Muslim or Sikh or rich or poor. Everyone has come together, including the youth, who were earlier being accused of consuming drugs. The important thing is it has been a peaceful protest,” Jassi said.</p> <p>“It is about the culture of Punjab and Sikhism that they are feeding those policemen who have lathis in their hands. Punjab is known for making sacrifices,” he added.</p> <p>Punjabi musicians Sidhu Moosewala, Babbu Maan, Jass Bajwa, Himmat Sandu, R Nait and Anmol Gagan have also come up with their own songs hailing the fighting spirit of the Punjabis in songs such as “Jatta Takda Ho Ja”, “Asi Vaddange” , “Delhi Aa Punjab Nal Pange Thik Nahi” and “Kisaan vs Rajneeti”.</p> <p>The tune can change too.</p> <p>Singer Jazim Sharma, who hails from Bhatinda and is known for his composition of ghazals with a modern touch recently released a shabad (spiritual song), to bring peace in Punjab on the occasion of Gurpurab.</p> <p>He said the song "Satnam Da Chakra Firaya" is about peace and positivity in challenging times.</p> <p>"It’s really sad to see what is happening with our kisan brothers. Today is the time when our jawans and kisans are standing against each other which is really disheartening."</p> <p>Others in showbiz are also speaking out.</p> <p>Actor Manav Vij, who &nbsp;hails from Ferozpur, Punjab, said he is saddened by the situation.</p> <p>“The country’s soldier is raising his hand against the country’s farmer. How did we arrive at a situation like this?</p> <p>"The issue that our elders have come on the roads means something is wrong,” Vij, best known for his performance in “Udta Punjab” and “Andhadhun”, said.</p> <p>Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) general secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan thanked Punjabi artists and singers for standing in solidarity with the protesting farmers against the “black laws”. &nbsp;</p> <p>“It is a historical fact that artists are very important for the success of any struggle. We hail the singers for standing with the farmers,” he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>The farmers, who have called for a Bharat Bandh on Tuesday, fear the new farm laws will dismantle the minimum support price system, leaving them at the "mercy" of big corporates.&nbsp;</p> Sat Dec 05 13:18:54 IST 2020 the-eternal-stability <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>War. Crime. Loot. Politics. Noise. Drugs. News. Do the above-mentioned words make you uncomfortable and weary? Do they disturb your peace of mind? Your thoughtful silence is an obvious affirmation to the fact that most of the inputs that influence us from morning till evening, 365 days of the year are definitely instrumental in creating fear, anxiety and pandemonium in the control centre of our mortal existence, termed as mind.</p> <p>Well then, welcome to the world of joy and bliss. The hub of love, harmony, brotherhood and spiritual ecstasy. Nirankari Sant Samagam, the spiritual festival of Oneness, has been a source of inspiration and bliss for many for the last 73 years. The Nirankari Samagam has come a long way, from being organised at Idgah ground with a few hundred devotees to being held at Ramlila Grounds, then behind Red Fort, followed by huge grounds at Burari and presently at the Nirankari Spiritual Centre at Samalkha, Haryana with participation of around a million devotees. The Nirankari Samagam is not merely a gathering of a huge number of people but an amalgam of various languages, cultures, nationalities and other backgrounds for a very pious purpose. The devotees dedicate themselves to selfless service, introspect on their spiritual growth and pledge to improvise thoughts, words and actions in the year to follow. A sight to behold, the Samagam campus can be seen vibrant with sounds of “Dhan Nirankar Ji” (Praise be to the formless almighty God), the greeting that Nirankari devotees address while bowing to each other, a subtle reminder of the presence of God in each one of us.</p> <p>The three-day mega congregation starts with Samagam Sewa. The Samagam days witness an array of devotional speeches, poems and hymns that are focused on the basic ideology of the mission, that knowledge of the formless God and a life lived in continuous realization is the only way to eternal peace. The Samagam campus takes the shape of a mini spiritual city with all basic amenities like free community kitchen (langar), subsidised canteens, free medical care, ATMs, toilets, residential tents, publication counters, care for specially-abled and much more, all of which is controlled and executed by the group of Sant Nirankari Sewdal volunteers.</p> <p>2020 has been a year of challenges. A year that brought Covid-19, lockdowns, financial challenges and medical revolution across the world. The Nirankari Family, under the divine guidance of their Satguru, faced each challenge with assuredness and responsibility. The selfless service rendered by thousands of Nirankari devotees in the form of langar, free ration kits, free masks, blood donation, sanitisation drives, free PPE kits and converting Satsang Bhawans into isolation centres can be seen on the mission’s website ( or through video new programmes on the mission’s YouTube page.</p> <p>&nbsp;Followers of the Nirankari Mission are in the habit of regularly attending satsangs, which for obvious reasons could not be organised after March 22 2020. With the grace of Satguru Mata Sudiksha Ji Maharaj, the online platform was used and devotees from across the world connected with each other on a daily basis through online ‘Gyan Charcha’ programmes. Topics like Practical Spirituality, Loving Devotion, Tolerance and Magnanimity, Knowledge and Wisdom, Faith, Desire and Ego were discussed through speeches, hymns and poems. The discourses by Her Holiness Mata Ji motivated and guided all to stay composed and stable in the global scenario of fear and uncertainty. At a time when everyone was uncertain about the 73rd Annual Samagam, Her Holiness declared that the Samagam will most certainly be held, albeit through the online medium on December 5, 6 and 7. The topic of the Samagam was announced as Sthirta (The Eternal Stability).&nbsp;</p> <p>Thereafter, with all government norms in place, the recordings took place in the august presence of Satguru Mata Ji at Burari, Delhi during the first and second week of November. Many items were recorded by devotees in their respective cities also. The recorded programme was webcast through the mission’s website and on Sanskar TV on the afore-mentioned dates. Lakhs of devotees across the world were overwhelmed to view the Samagam from their homes, manifesting the word of Her Holiness, that this year we will celebrate ‘Samagam from Home’. The kitchens at home turned into langar halls of samagam, devotees dressed up in their best like they do at samagam and sat dedicatedly with family members to view the complete samagam virtually.</p> <p>The proceedings of day 1 started with Her Holiness delivering a message for the entire humankind. In Her message, she said that though Covid-19 had changed the lives of people on the planet drastically, those who remained connected to the eternally stable Nirankar (The Formless Almighty God), remained stable and composed. They instead took lessons from this period, increased their level of gratitude and resolved to become an instrument of divine will by helping out those in need. Her Holiness said that this period has distinctly taught us that materialistic gains are only a means to livelihood and thus the doctrine of ‘Detached Attachment’ can save us from stress and illusion. At the end of the message, she said “Let’s love not because we have to, but because it’s the only way forward”. Other speakers of the day also spoke about various dimensions of stability in spiritual sense and how it becomes easier to attain equanimity in life, if we have company of conscientious people.</p> <p>The second day of the samagam was embellished with the Sewadal Rally, with recordings of volunteers from hundreds of cities across India and abroad. Many cultural items were presented along with physical formations and games, each item establishing some human value that can make this world a better place to live. The satsang programme of day 2 was also a wonderful panorama of melodious spiritual hymns and sublime speeches, expounding the need of spirituality in today’s time. The programme concluded with the discourse of Her Holiness Mata Ji, which carried many simple yet profound messages. She said that the process of peace and stability is not outside in, rather inside out. Any amount of disturbance in our sur roundings can be dealt with, if our inner state is rooted in faith and awareness. She explained drawing an allegory of a boat in the sea, that the boat will continue to waver and move in random direction till it is tied to the shore with an anchor. Likewise, God-Knowledge acts as the pivot, giving stability to the wavering mind. She said, Sewa (selfless service), Simran (mindful remembrance of God) and Satsang (company of enlightened saints) act as catalysts to help us keep our faith intact. Indicating that we need to implement spirituality in our practical lives, Satguru Mata ji said that rather than becoming a liability on society or our families, we should become an asset for all by sincerely obeying our duties. We should not even become a burden for ourselves by regretting our past or worrying about our future. We should rather live in the present moment responsibly with gratitude.</p> <p>The final day once again gave millions of viewers the chance to listen to the wise words of various saints, coupled with awe-inspiring poems that formed a part of the much awaited ‘Poetic Symposium’ based on the topic- ‘Sthir se naata jod ke man ka, jeewan ko hum sehej banayen’ (Let’s connect to the stable One, attaining equanimity in our lives). The discourse of Her Holiness on this day stressed upon the need of acceptance in our life. She said we have all originated from one source, and if we remember this fact, all hatred and judgment can be brought to an end. Rather than making materialistic gains a yardstick of our achievements, let’s see how many hearts we have won, and to start with, we need to practise this from our homes. As humans, we should realise the responsibility we have on our shoulders and try to become a blessing for mankind. Mata Ji also prayed to almighty Nirankar that may humanity find relief from the current situation, so that normalcy returns soon, giving us all an opportunity to become a part of congregations and samagams, like before.&nbsp;</p> <p>The 73rd Nirankari Samagam, though organised virtually, left a deep imprint in the minds and hearts of the devotees and many others who witnessed the soul stirring Mahayagya over the three days. It indeed made us all more thankful, dutiful, calm, composed, connected and stable. To know more about the mission, visit or the YouTube page of Sant Nirankari Mission.</p> Wed Jan 06 15:28:12 IST 2021 microcosm-of-peaceful-coexistence <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Have we ever realised how each of the approximately 15 trillion cells in a human body work in mutual cooperation to make our body function in a hugely complex way? Further on, how do the tissues, organs and systems work in tandem, supporting each other to make the body survive? Have you heard of the Nervous System imposing its might as the ‘decision-maker’ on the other systems? Or the Heart, for that matter, expressing favour to the other systems for being the only ‘pump-house’ of the body? Let’s shift our focus to the abundant bounty of nature around us with a similar perspective. Imagine the Sun going on strike for not being thanked enough by the flora and fauna on Earth, which would not exist in the absence of sunshine.</p> <p>The rivers going dry in a rage of anger for not being conveyed gratitude by the lush green farms and their crops. The above metaphorical reference is an attempt to understand that every part of the nature around us supports, shares, cooperates and coordinates with the other part(s) because it knows that ‘I exist, only if We exist’. Nothing and no one can exist in isolation. If the relation we share with nature is more or less inter-dependent, without scope for favours or obligations, why then do we humans think we are doing a huge ‘charity’ or ‘favour’ by helping our fellow brothers and sisters, who need our helping hand? Ironical.</p> <p>The Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 has given us humans a chance to look at life with a deeper understanding of purpose, also making us realise that any and every context of hatred, jealousy, judgement or competition is too trifle for giants like us, termed Homo Sapiens in taxonomy.</p> <p>&nbsp;A platform which celebrates togetherness and oneness of human race, rather of the entire universe has been promoting this cause since 1929 across India and rest of the world. Sant Nirankari Mission, moving on the path of collaborative compassion under the divine aegis of its present Satguru, Her Holiness Mata Sudiksha Ji Maharaj, has been instrumental in sowing seeds of Universal Brotherhood in the minds and hearts of millions of fellow humans. This knowledge and realisation manifests into a perception, free from all prejudices of caste, colour, race or nationality etc. which was showcased vividly when thousands of Nirankari devotees came forward for selfless service of lakhs of our brothers and sisters affected during lockdown period from April 2020 onwards. The Mission has been the torch bearer of practical spirituality for devotees of all ages, who not only speak about Harmony in Oneness, but try to make it a part of their everyday life. The message of ‘A World Without Walls’ given by Baba Hardev Singh Ji, the fourth master of the Mission is undoubtedly finding hope of materializing through the ideology and teaching of the Sant Nirankari Mission.</p> <p>The Mission organises many congregations at micro and macro levels, which are most formidably epitomes and microcosms of peaceful co-existence. A sight to behold, the annual congregation of the mission, called Nirankari Sant Samagam has been taking place in Delhi-NCR for the last 72 years at various venues, witnessing presence of around million Nirankari followers from India and abroad. This year, following the government and health agency norms due to Covid-19, the Mission is organising its 73rd Annual Sant Samagam virtually on 5, 6 and 7 Dec 2020. The program has been recorded in a small ‘Covid Bubble’ set-up where all precautions like covid testing, sanitization, social distancing and use of mask etc were followed. The theme of the Samagam is ‘Sthirta’ (The Eternal Stability). This program, which will be viewed by lakhs of Nirankari Devotees is to be webcast from mission’s website ( along with a telecast scheduled on the same days from 5:30 pm to 9:00 pm on Sanskar TV. All the readers are welcome to be a part of the proceedings and experience the pure spiritual essence through soulful hymns, profound speeches and blissful message of Her Holiness Satguru Mata Sudiksha Ji Maharaj.</p> Wed Jan 06 15:28:10 IST 2021 how-a-couple-built-the-world-largest-private-insect-collection <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The insect 'love bug', also known as honeymoon fly or the double-headed bug, are always found in pairs. The male and the female of the species seem attached tail to tail. In the award-winning short documentary <i>The Love Bugs</i>, two renowned entomologists are similarly matched—with over 60 years of marriage, joint research and the world's largest private collection of insects.</p> <p>Charlie and Lois O’Brien from Arizona first met in an entomology class, he a teacher and she his student. He liked weevils and she was fond of plant-hoppers. Together they romped some 70 countries to amass a collection of more than 1 million insects worth $10 million. <i>The Love Bugs</i>—which is part of the first virtual edition of All Living Things Environmental Film Festival (ALTEFF) from December 5—is a gentle, humorous take on an octogenarian couple, their love of nature and unstinting commitment to the study of insects.</p> <p>ATLEFF has a line-up of 33 films on social and environmental issues on view till December 13. The festival, originally conceived as a physical event in Panchgani, has environmental filmmaker Mike Pandey on its advisory team. Apart from Indian films, stories from South Africa, Germany, Madagascar, US and the UK also feature in the festival.</p> <p>The<i> Love Bugs</i> opens with Charlie and Lois at 90, struggling with failing health, preening and packing away their shiny disco ball-like insects into boxes for donation to the Arizona State University. The difficult decision to give away drawer upon drawers of carefully labelled and lovingly curated weevils and plant-hoppers is taken in their stride with touching equanimity.</p> <p>"The sheer size of the collection and the diversity of insects within it fascinated me. I also loved hearing Charlie and Lois’ stories about different specimens and their characteristics and behaviors," says co-director Allison Otto who first read about the couple in an article on the National Public Radio website in 2017 after they made national headlines.</p> <p>"When I filmed the insects with a macro lens, I was really able to see all of their beautiful details. Up close, some resembled miniature dinosaurs while others looked like something straight out of science fiction. It was awe-inspiring, and I developed even more of a reverence for insects," says Otto over email.</p> <p>"The O’Briens were intriguing in the news article, but they were even more impressive and quirky in person," she says. The filmmakers inform that the O’Briens’ collection more than doubled the size of the university’s existing collection and they also endowed professorships for identifying and naming new species.</p> <p>Charlie O' Brien passed away last year. Lois currently lives in an independent living community for seniors, in close proximity to the collection. She still enjoys displaying her drawers of insect specimens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Wed Dec 02 18:23:23 IST 2020 how-a-community-radio-station-is-dealing-with-shadow-pandemic-of-domestic-violence <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Domestic violence is a social norm here, says Nitika Kakkar, project director of <i>Hinsa ko No</i>—an initiative by Smart, the NGO that runs Radio Mewat, a popular community radio station in one of the most backward districts in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"When the lockdown was imposed in March this year, we knew the situation for women is going to worsen," says Kakkar whose team came up with a mask-making campaign as an excuse and opportunity to identify cases of violence and abuse. Her team tapped into a ground network of some 700 women from 30 panchayats as part of the already existing campaign of <i>Hinsa ko No</i>. These women would report stories and cases of harassment in households nearby. The NGO had special travel passes made during peak lockdown, got its ground staff to find women who own sewing machines and can stitch and sew, provided cloth material and got the local administration to approve the stitched samples.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From mid-April to July, some 300 women were engaged in this mask-making effort and produced some 55,000 units which were redistributed, after paying Rs 6 for each mask. "The women would visit homes to provide the cloth, teach them how to make the mask, but most importantly inquire after their well being. The conversations were all about how violence at home," says Kakkar, who would learn of stories and cases which would feed Radio Mewat's programming for extensive messaging on domestic violence and mental health. "It became an opportunity to maintain communication with women on the ground and provide a source of comfort for them in highly constrained circumstances," recalls Kakkar. She informs how the One Stop Centre—a centrally sponsored scheme which offers an integrated range of services to women affected by violence in every district—was established only last year in Mewat. "That is run by a single person and that too a man. Even this centre was shut through the lockdown. Women hardly know about its existence," says Kakkar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>November 25 is observed as International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women and gives way to a 16-day campaign against Gender-Based Violence . The UN has called it the "Shadow Pandemic" amid the COVID-19 crisis. The National Crime Records Bureau's 2019 report says of the 4.05 lakh crimes against women, over 30 per cent were that of domestic violence, with the highest reported cases from Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. According to a 2020 National Commission for Women report, domestic violence complaints increased by 2.5 times since the nationwide lockdown began in India. Kakkar recalls the story of a girl, already a victim of domestic violence at her in-laws' place which she eventually shuns, becomes the receiver of physical violence at her maternal household when her father and brother lose their daily wage jobs in April. "Our team members told her about the mask-making project and she fortunately had a sewing machine. We were the first ones in Mewat to start this initiative and others soon followed."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Supported by Azim Premji Philanthropy Initiative (APPI), <i>Hinsa Ko No</i> initiative, which is three years old now, targets not just women in Mewat, but various other stakeholders that have the power to make a difference. Smart has reached out to 10 most active community radio stations from Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana and is now training their staff in a three-day workshop, ending November 27, at the India International Centre in Delhi. "The purpose of the physical workshop—the first of its kind during COVID-19—is to help produce and develop programmes that can create awareness about their rights, and the law, to help build the agency of women to take control of their lives. The aim is to understand the existing patriarchal societal structures, and enhance their capabilities to negotiate these structures for their own self-respect and safety," states the press note from Smart.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under this project, the stations will build stakeholders by including panchayats, police, women and child development protection officers (WCDPO), lawyers and paralegals, mediapersons, local NGOs and activists, as well as students.&nbsp;</p> Wed Nov 25 20:24:36 IST 2020 astaguru-to-host-its-first-online-auction-for-vintage-cars <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Internationally, demand for classic cars and collector vehicles remains unperturbed in a pandemic year even as live auctions have mostly been scrapped. It turns out that aficionados are ready to buy them online without either a test drive or inspection.&nbsp;</p> <p>Auction house AstaGuru will host the third edition of its annual ‘Vintage &amp; Classic Car’ online on 27 and 28 November, the only Indian auction house to deal with vintage cars. The catalogue will feature a specially curated line-up of rare vintage and classic cars by manufacturers like Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz, Ford, Cadillac, Wolseley, Chevrolet, Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino (FIAT), Rover, Jaguar and Buick, amongst others. The auction promises great provenance for seasoned collectors including a lot originally from the collection of the Princely State of Tonk.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The headliner is a magnificent 1917 Ford Model T, the revolutionary car that defined the future for assembly line production worldwide. Another intriguing buy could be a vintage Wolseley 11/22 drophead coupe from the year 1926—its highlight being its drophead coupe body style and the seating arrangement of two seats in front and a dickey seat/rumble in the rear. It has a side-mounted stepney wheel and a fuel can with a wooden dashboard as the interior.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another item is a Chevrolet Master Six from the 1930s. Cosmetically and mechanically refurbished, it is a reliable family car.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jehangir Bhoot, a specialist in automobiles at AstaGuru, says, “India has a niche, but steadily growing vintage car collectors’ market. Through this well-curated auction line-up, we aim to showcase some of the best models, rich in provenance, aesthetics and craftsmanship. We are very happy to include rare masterpieces which will be a true value addition to any collection. We anticipate strong demand for each of the cars that are part of the lineup.”&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There's Cadillac's famed ‘Series 61’ from 1948; only a handful are believed to exist in India. The two-door sedanette functions with its original engine and drivetrain. A beautiful, quaint Mercedes–Benz 180B from 1960, [with] an original 1.8 litre overhead valve (OHV) engine and a manual gearbox. An important offering from Rolls Royce Silver Spirit 1982 is a well-maintained Marque with refurbished interiors.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The auction house also hosted a special preview for car enthusiasts in Mumbai on November 20-21 at High Street Phoenix in Lower Parel.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Mon Nov 23 13:49:43 IST 2020 a-digital-serendipity-arts-festival-offers-newer-ways-of-forging-artistic-collaborations <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the arts calendar of 2020, with most annual, biennials, festivals and exhibitions scrapped or postponed for the year. The annual December fixture in Goa, Serendipity Arts Festival, has migrated online with a novel digital incarnation called SA Virtual. From December 4, SA Virtual will host two weeks of programming through a specially designed website,, which will offer free access for all upon registering.</p> <p>SA Virtual is part of Serendipity Arts Foundation’s expansion into digital world in the year 2020, at a time of stringent advisories on travel and gatherings, apart from acknowledging the emergence of the internet as a platform for forging artistic collaborations more meaningfully. The foundation has already launched a number of digital initiatives, like SAF x You, the How to…Series, and the Memory Capsule Project. But the programming for the digital edition of one of India's premier arts extravaganza is set to encourage newer thinking and possibilities for how art is created and experienced in the future.</p> <p>SA Virtual will feature curated projects for and on the internet, apart from performances, workshops, talks and discourses. Some of the curators and artists for the digital arts festival include Amitesh Grover, Anmol Vellani, Anuja Ghosalkar, Kai Tuchmann, Kristine Michael, Chandrika Grover Ralleigh, Mandeep Raikhy, Siddhant Shah, among others.</p> <p>One of the highlights include My story | Your story | Our story, curated by thespian Anmol Vellani. The project will have two performances—in live and recorded medium respectively, and an unfinished story. Another, The Last Poet, is being curated by Amitesh Grover, as a multilayered artform with theatre, film, sound art, creative coding, digital scenography, and live performance—to be navigated by visitors as rooms and doors leading to experiences. Meanwhile, Mandeep Raikhy’s The Body-in-Movement is imagined as an interconnected web of thinking, seeing, making and writing, allowing a group of artists from across disciplines to think through what it means to move/create/perform in current political climate and what the digital space has to offer to the emergent discourse of the body.</p> <p>Says Sunil Kant Munjal, founder-patron of Serendipity Arts Foundation, on the idea behind SA Virtual, “Historically, the arts have survived perilous times and emerged stronger because of an innate ability to adapt, acclimatise and evolve. Over the last few months, the internet surge has catalyzed this evolution. Through SA Virtual, we have tried to draw attention to the limitless possibilities that arts as a practice and the internet as a medium can offer each other."</p> <p>The programmes also feature Vertigo Dance Company’s performance One, One &amp; One, choreographed by Israeli artist Noa Wertheim and a dance workshop, supported by the Embassy of Israel in India. A performance of Introducing... Antigone, Interrupted by Scottish Dance Theatre, is another unique virtual offering in the performance arts space and will be presented with support from British Council, India. Other satellite programmes include craft artisan workshops including Phad, Madhubani and Gond paintings, guided drawings, kite making, scroll painting, sanjhi paper cutting, recipes from Goan restaurants, among others.&nbsp;</p> Fri Nov 20 19:42:44 IST 2020 video-games-like-animal-crossing-plants-vs-zombies-good-for-mental-health-oxford <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Studies on the effect of video games often fluctuate in their findings based on the quality of the data: Studies of better quality were less likely to find a link between video games and developing aggressive tendencies, one meta-analysis in 2020 found.<br> </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Increasingly, studies have contradicted the age-old assertion—often backed by politicians following a mass shooting—that video games are linked to violence. In 2019, Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute, demonstrated in a definitive study that found <a href=",-SocietyMental%20health&amp;text=Researchers%20at%20the%20Oxford%20Internet,spent%20playing%20violent%20video%20games.">no correlation</a> between playing video games and teenagers developing aggressive behaviour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, Przybylski’s team have <a href="">found the opposite</a>: More hours played of certain video game can actually correlate with better mental health.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like with his earlier study, the new one used actual player data instead of relying on self-reported figures. The team collaborated with game companies Electronic Arts and Nintendo of America to obtain player data for Animal Crossing: New Horizons (which blew up in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, with over 11 million players across the world) and Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville. The study surveyed players for their “well-being, motivations, and need satisfaction during play and merged their responses with telemetry data (logged game play)”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the study, it found a “small positive relation between game time and well-being for players of both games. We did not find evidence that this relation was moderated by need satisfactions and motivations. Overall, our findings suggest that regulating video games, on the basis of time, might not bring the benefits many might expect, though the correlational nature of the data limits that conclusion.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The study notes that it cannot demonstrate a causal relationship. However, the lead author told the Guardian that the study’s results “show that if you play four hours a day of Animal Crossing, you’re a much happier human being,” noting that this inference is only interesting because “all of the other research before this is done so badly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ever since the Columbine High School shooting, great scrutiny has been placed on the claim that violent video games could encourage violent behaviour. US President Donald Trump has prominently blamed video games—and not loose gun regulations—for mass shootings in the US. In 2019, the World Health Organisation classified video game addiction as a disorder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The primary goal of the study was to demonstrate the possibility of using accurate data—supplied by the video game makers who track a host of statistics—to produce a rigorous study of quality that could shed more light on video games and their impact than popularly-held notions about them.</p> Mon Nov 16 17:46:22 IST 2020 how-this-son-wore-red-lipstick-to-stand-up-for-his-mother <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends,” said the great Albus Dumbledore about Neville Longbottom in <i>Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone</i>. Which is probably why when Pushpak Sen stood up to his relatives for his mother, the netizens couldn't but laud his courage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Kolkata-based man took to Facebook to narrate his mother's ordeal. The 54-year-old woman was slut-shamed for wearing red lipstick at a family gathering. What was worse, Sen said, was that nobody, young or old, objected to the 'bullying'.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My mother, a woman of 54 years, got slutshamed, by some of our nearest relatives, for wearing a red lipstick at a family get-together. So yesterday, I sent all of them this picture with a 'Good morning. Get well soon.' message,” Sen wrote on his Facebook page.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“What baffled me the most is that some of these relatives have children, who are super 'woke' on social media and were present when this 'gossip' was happening but didn't say a word.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Here I am, a man with a full face of beard and a red lipstick.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Here I am, standing up for all the mothers, sisters, daughters, non males and all the womxn (sic) who have had to suppress their desires because of the toxicity of an insecure society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Here I am, standing up for all of them and asking my fellow brothers to stand up for the womxn (sic) you know, in your own way, when you see your loved ones getting bullied.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>#NoFilter #NoEdits”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sen's action was hailed by several netizens on Facebook. At the time of writing, Sen's post had got over 14,000 likes and reactions, and over 4,000 shares.</p> Thu Nov 12 18:14:42 IST 2020 meet-inverted-coconut-american-outside-malayali-inside <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Aparna Mulberry may not be a Malayali by birth, but this half-American, half-Chilean girl can speak better Malayalam than most Keralites. When she was three years old, her parents moved to spiritual leader Amritanandamayi’s ashram in Kollam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My parents were searching for a bigger purpose, not a 9-5 job. They wanted their lives to be purposeful. And both of them, separately, found their way to India where they met for the first time. The rest is history,” Aparna says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though, initially she was in Vivekananda Public School, which was not an English medium school, she soon shifted to Amrita Vidyalayam, where she did her primary and higher secondary schooling. “Although it was an English medium school, all my friends spoke in Malayalam. I used to be teased initially, but they taught me the language through conversations, fighting and teasing. In school, I took up Sanskrit so I give full credit to my friends for my efficiency in spoken Malayalam,” Aparna says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What about her name? “Amma (Amritanandamayi) gave me the name,” she says. “I was named ‘Saiisha’ by my parents but at the age of six or seven, I went up to Amma and asked her for a name. At the time, she told me to go and come back later, but I was persistent and I kept going behind her. Finally, she gave me this name; it has a very deep spiritual meaning.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aparna believes that language can break many barriers and that she would not have had the same set of friends had she not learned Malayalam. “I love Kerala. The welcoming nature of people and their warmth. Even if they don’t know you well, they would say, ‘Come home for <i>chai</i>!’; I think even the rowdiest Malayali is sweet. Kerala is all about community and family; this is what makes it feel like home,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Aparna, the big turning point in her life was when the tsunami hit the state in 2004. “I was around 15 years old and the ashram where we stayed was near the ocean. We did not even take our sandals when we vacated. I remember climbing up a multi-storeyed building as the water levels went up; it was up to my waist. We went from one building to another, one boat at a time,” she recalls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There was a rope tied across the building and we were all involved in helping the people cross to a safer place. The next two months, our lives revolved around chopping vegetables, cleaning and other relief work. We did not even have proper toothbrushes and we slept on a mat.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A couple of months after the disaster hit, Aparna moved to the US to be with her father for a while. “I had a culture shock,” she says. “The next three years in the US were super difficult and got me the closest to depression. I was trying hard to fit into the American lifestyle. I thought, at the time, that I would have to forget my Indian connection to fit in. Even high school was so different. Very brutal, to say the least; it is all that they show in the movies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thanks to her father, Aparna came out of her difficult phase and embraced her true self—an American girl who is a Malayali at heart. “My father told me to let my Indian roots shine. He emphasized on how I should never push my true identity, culture and language away. That made all the difference and it changed my life. I always tell people to keep one’s true tradition close to the heart,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Currently living in France with her wife Amrita Sri, who is a cardiologist there, Aparna is into digital marketing and teaching English to students in China. “Amrita Sri is from Spain; I met her during one of the service activities of Amma (Amritanandamayi),” she says. Interestingly, both of them have similar stories. “Amma gave her the name as well but her name before this one is also Indian—Deva. Her brothers also have Indian names—Krishna and Ananda. Like my parents, even her parents were into service and spirituality-oriented activities. Her father is into transcendental meditation,” Aparna says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Her Instagram page</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>‘Inverted Coconut’ sounds like a pretty quirky name for a page. But Aparna says there is another meaning to it. “Most non-resident Malayalis say that they feel like a coconut—brown outside and white inside. But I felt the exact opposite. Hence, the name for the handle. It is a platform where I interact with all my Malayali friends across the world,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aparna is also quick to say that it also helps her practise speaking the language. “It was in February 2020 that I started the page. One day, I just randomly woke at four in the morning. The pandemic was just starting. During that time, I was also planning a trip to Kerala but it did not happen. And the page just happened and little did I expect it to grow the way it did,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With over 72,000 followers, @invertedcoconut is a hit on Instagram. She also used the platform to come out and reveal her true rainbow colours. In a recent post on her Instagram page, she wrote about how it took years for her to be open about her marriage. In the description of her post with her wife, Aparna wrote, “Though I have been an open and proud member of the LGBTQA+ community for over 12 years in the West, I was always worried how my fellow Malayalis would accept me. I hope this does not change anything for you or how you see me…I am still the same warm friendly girl who will always love your country and language.” And surely, nothing has changed. Her friends and fans are equally supportive of her choices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Kerala is warm and giving, unlike the US where it is almost the exact opposite. In the West, people are more selfish; individual goals are more important than community goals. But there is a lot of freedom here. Freedom of expression, freedom to love who you want and freedom to make your choices,” she says. “I am surprised by the response, love and support I got from my Malayali friends across the globe.” And maybe that is what Malayalis do—give and, then, give again some more.</p> Wed Nov 11 17:43:58 IST 2020 how-language-is-used-as-a-semiotic-in-a-suitable-boy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>A Suitable Boy</i>, since its trailer launch with its bright colours of red, yellow, and green, had slowly settled in our hearts as the next Netflix release we were longing to watch. When we eased into a cup of chamomile tea that Sunday afternoon (unfortunately, a couple of days after the release), we found ourselves in the enchanting world only Mira is capable of creating.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The slow ghazals and the colours that mean more to us as Indians than the colour itself—whether it is the colours of Holi, the green-coloured tapestry of Saeeda Bai’s house or the saffron simmer of the bhakts or the black clouds of smoke rising into the sky, painted a picture of India from so long ago quite beautifully. Something like yearning rose in our chest for a period most of us have only read about.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since the trailer release, there was a lot of heat against the language in the series. So many found it revolting that the primary language of <i>A Suitable Boy</i> was English. It was astounding to find that despite the perfection on the screen, the series rested on a meagre 6.4 IMDB rating. Although it is available in Hindi as well now, the series seems to convey a lot more meaning in English.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>English in <i>A Suitable Boy</i>&nbsp;acts as a semiotic where it is a symbol of the social status and economic background of each character. The accent and language of the characters also speak volumes about their idiosyncrasies and identity.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Identity</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The setting of the series takes place in India immediately after partition. The main characters of the movie—the Chatterjis, the Kapoors, the Mehras, and the Khans—all belong to upper class.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meenakshi (Arun Mehra’s wife) “whose father and grandfather have been high court judges” obviously comes from a background where English is more prevalent and preferred. Of course, English was the language of the privileged (isn’t it still?). Both Meenakshi and her brother Amit are hence very comfortable in the language, English was probably even their first language.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>English is like dazzling music, flowing, varying in pitch in the tongue of the deceiving and cunning Meenakshi. Amit’s accent has a ring of gusto that can only be explained as his fondness for the language, which makes sense as he is a poet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The same goes for the Kapoors where position and privilege have naturally drifted them to English. Isn’t Maan’s (the proverbial son’s) English more foreign than the others in his family? Although Maan can speak Urdu, he can neither read nor write it. He gives the implication of an outsider—ignorant and uncaring about his motherland. Mahesh Kapoor’s (Maan’s father) and Pran’s (Maan’s brother) English is simple and straight forward, just as they are.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Arun Mehra’s whole idea of status and standard revolves around English, it is only deliberate that his English is more ‘British’ than anyone else’s in the story. “English is very far from being his first language,” he tells Lata about Haresh, the shoemaker, (and uses it as one of the main reasons why Haresh is deemed an ‘unsuitable’ match). Although Arun has never even been to London, he roots for the English culture and looks down on the Indian.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When it comes to the wealthy Khans, while the Nawab’s English is fairly Indian, his well educated (probably abroad) son, Firoz’s is anything but sophisticated.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also the magnificent Saeeda Bai who tells Maan, “You’re unfamiliar with the language of our great poets” and insists Maan learn the same. She also tells him that Urdu is her language; “the language of my songs, the language of my soul”. We also see her usually conversing in Urdu with Maan. She is determined that her daughter Tasneem also learn Urdu. Her inclination towards Urdu is so profound that her ghazals can rekindle the dormant traditional fervour in any person.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Saeeda Bai is steered towards English by the course of history but her homeland remains to be Urdu. When Bibbo (who waits on Saeeda) mentions how Saeeda got the gift of English from the aristocrats she was ‘introduced’ to, she sighs and says heavily, “Yeah. Quite a gift.” It is suggested that to Saeeda alone, English is anything but a gift.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>English is also used to draw the differences between Rasheed (Tasneem’s Urdu tutor) and his father. Rasheed describes his father as, “Zamindars! They do nothing but make their living from other people’s misery. And they try to force their sons into the same ugly mould as themselves. And if their sons want to do anything else, then they make life miserable for them too.” Rasheed is not his father. For one thing, he has spurned the inheritance of the ‘ugly mould’ from his father and to his father’s disdain is in awe of Mahesh Kapoor who is trying to pass the Zamindari Bill. For a second thing, unlike his father, he is educated and speaks English.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Socio-economic status</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This representation of language as a semiotic also helps us delve deep into the characters and their social and economic background. While amongst people of the same class these families converse in English, notice how with the lower class the language they use is Indian.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Maan and Firoz are surrounded by the Hindu mob ready to mutilate Firoz for being a Muslim, Maan screams at them to back off in Hindi.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maan and Rasheed talk to the poor farmers in Rasheed’s remote village in Urdu. Neither the tormenting landowner nor the poverty-stricken farmers speak English. The English that the suffering farmers do not know speak loudly about the basic privileges that they do not have. It also symbolises the lack of civility in a place far away from the English-speaking cities.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Take heed of how the lingual context has been incorporated with precision in the series. As far back as the early 19th century, Urdu had emerged as a language among the Muslims to create a definite Islamic identity. The Muslims in the series - Saeeda Bai, the Khans, Rasheed’s father, the farmers of the village speak Urdu. On the contrary, the Hindus—the Kapoors, Haresh, Kalpana, etc, speak Hindi. During that time in history, Hindi had become the definitive language of the Hindus. After the partition, Urdu became the official language of Pakistan, while Hindi became India’s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Waris, the Nawab’s “man here” has a localized English, the accent of his mother tongue seeping into his English. This is very evident, especially when he speaks to Maan, whose “whovvuayu” can only be a demarcation of their vertically and geographically distant backgrounds.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Remember how Haresh after talking to Lata and her mother in English, turns to a worker at the shoe factory and says, “Janatham Ji, Namaskar, Aapki beti Kaisi hai?”&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Coming to think of Haresh, the pragmatic shoemaker’s accent can only be described as, as tip-top as his shoes. The paan-chewing “unsuitable” Haresh comes from an ‘unsuitable’ society. He had been in the less pompous parts of London where he attended the Northampton College of Technology (much to the contempt of the Chatterjis). His lack of pomp and steadfastness to his morality reflects on his English that is plain and uninventive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>English in the tongue of several of the characters, Lata, Rupa (Lata’s mother) and Kabir Durrani (one of Lata’s love interests), for instance, seem forced. Well, as forced as necessary, finding themselves at a time in history where the culture, art, and language of the colonizer, the oppressor equated to respect, admiration and civility.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Note the various other instances in which the European substitutes the Indian. Pran is but an English professor. Amit is an English poet. The Dance that the Chatterjis indulge in is Tango, the music is opera (although Kuku’s fiance does endeavour to sing a Bengali song—in the opera style), Kuku’s instrument is the piano and the game is cricket. The luncheon that Haresh invites them to is through and through English - complete with wine, knives, spoons and forks—one that is designed to impress and is of the ‘highest standard’.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We also see the Chatterjis cook Bengali food for Arun’s boss and his wife, but from the subsequent dialogue, it is apparent that Coxes had wanted to try a “new” thing.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The drinks are always Scotch whisky or Champagne. The Literature that Lata quotes occasionally is also English, (except for the James Joyce in her dissertation which was rejected precisely for the reason that James Joyce is Irish), but this can be because she is more familiar with English Literature as she is a student of the subject. (Well, exactly the point.) In the second episode, there is also a scene where the senior women sit around a table and play cards, which used to be a common pastime among Western women.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, sometimes the dialogues sound as though they have been taken out of a textbook, but that had been the intention in the first place. Mira had said in an interview that in <i>A Suitable Boy</i>, it is “a polished, convent school English,” as it was how they spoke English in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s in the region.</p> Fri Nov 06 12:22:01 IST 2020 how-ghungroos-from-up-are-making-themselves-heard-worldwide <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It will be music to your ears, if you are from Etah in Uttar Pradesh. Ghungroos (musical anklets) from the district are finding buyers in South Africa, South East Asia and the Middle East.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As per figures released by the state government, the annual average trade of ghungroos in India and abroad has crossed Rs 100 crore. The industry provides employment to more than 10,000 people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghungroos are Etah’s product under the state government’s One District One Product (ODOP) scheme—a plan that promotes indigenous and specialised products and crafts of the state. In Etah, ghungroos and brass bells have been traditionally produced in the town of Jalesar, which was the capital of the Magadha empire. The materials that go into making ghungroos—mud, white powder and brass—are available in abundance in the area.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A government release noted that loans of Rs 350 crore had been provided to the industry and 1,000 youth trained in the art thus far.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pallavi Trivedi, a Lucknow-based Bharatanatyam danseuse, said that the quality of ghungroos is to be judged by the sound they produce. “The khanak (tinker) is what determines the quality of a ghungroo. This cannot be judged by sight,” she said. The pitch is determined by the size and composition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The number of ghungroos that a dancer wears is determined by the form of dance being practised. Thus kathak, the most prominent north Indian dance form marked by extensive foot movements, uses more bells than bharatanatyam—said to be the oldest Indian classical dance form, and which relies more on hand, eye and facial gestures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trivedi, who holds the equivalent of a Masters degree in the dance form and has trained under Saroja Vaidyanathan, procures her ghungroos from Chennai as the kind used in bharatanatyam (stitched on to leather or cloth pads) are not available in Lucknow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kathak dancers buy loose ghungroos that are then strung through a strong thread. The number of ghungroos used by a kathak dancer rises with the level of expertise attained.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Navneet Sehgal, additional chief secretary (ACS), MSME and Export Promotion, said, “We have been working towards reviving the industry and providing a platform to dying arts under the ODOP scheme. The government has carved out a plan to promote, preserve and develop lesser known but exclusive products of each district on a global platform”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19, government efforts have seen the ghungroo and bell trade increase by 15-20 per cent in the past few months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There has been an increase in demand from Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE and Iraq, among other countries in the recent months.</p> Mon Oct 26 21:37:43 IST 2020 Poornima-Seetharaman-is-the-first-Indian-in-the-Games-Hall-of-Fame <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Poornima Seetharaman in late September got enlisted herself in the ‘Women Games Hall of Fame’ by being the first Indian woman as a game designer. Seetharaman, who is based in Bengaluru has a career spanning 14 years.&nbsp;</p> <p>It began when Seetharaman began designing games while in college for her friends. Her friends would play the games designed by her and give feedback.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>Seetharaman has worked with various franchises including 'BioShock'&nbsp;and 'FarmVille'. Her first job was at a Korean game studio and her first work was the Dungeons &amp; Dragon’s manuals.</p> <p>This is the first time Seetharam gave her name to any of these nominations. Her name was selected from among 61 entries. Names previously enlisted in the 'Women Games Hall of Fames' include Rhianna Pratchett (Heavenly Sword, Tomb Raider), Shioban Reddy (Little Big Planet), and Debbie Bestwick (Worms series).&nbsp;</p> <p>Seetharaman was also part of the famous first batch at Indiagames-- one of India’s first globally recognised game studios which were eventually acquired by Disney.<br> </p> Mon Oct 26 16:03:07 IST 2020 new-book-seeks-to-demystify-evolution-rti <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There is a tendency to attribute the birth of the Right to Information (RTI) through enactment of a law in 2005 to social movement and policy making that is more contemporary in nature. However, a new book seeks to demystify the historical evolution of RTI, showing that it was dependent on ideas that emerged within the state since independence.</p> <p>Based on historical evidence that has been overlooked in mainstream literature, the book <i>Capturing Institutional Change: The Case of the Right to Information Act in India</i> by Himanshu Jha, chronicles the evolution of RTI, seeking to move beyond the two prominent narratives that are normally cited to explain the enactment of the law – the social movement spearheaded by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghathan which later expanded as National Campaign of Peoples Right to Information, and the political claim-making that UPA I facilitated the birth of the RTI Act.</p> <p>The book states that reports of various government committees constituted immediately after independence supported transparency. A similar movement towards transparency was evident in the 1965 ruling of the speaker of Lok Sabha which extended, in the public interest, to all MPs in the Lower House the privilege of quoting from confidential documents. This move was triggered by the demand from the opposition. A similar sentiment was evident when the opposition assumed power in 1977 with the Janata party coming to power and concrete policy steps were initiated to ensure freedom of information.</p> <p>The book details how in 1977, home minister Charan Singh constituted a working committee to determine if the Official Secrets Act could be amended and official information made public. The trend continued well into the 1980s and the 1990s. For instance, G.C. Bhattacharya, an MP in the Upper House from the Lok Dal Party, part of the ruling Janata Party coalition in 1977, introduced the first Bill on the freedom of information in the parliament. Interestingly, this bill has an uncanny resemblance to the present RTI Act.</p> <p>“Several such historical pieces of evidence are brought to the light in this book. These moves are completely missing in the mainstream narrative about the evolution of RTIA,” says Jha.</p> <p>Building on this fresh empirical material, the book argues that an endogenous policy discourse on enacting legislation on access to information had begun early and it incrementally evolved, and after surviving many political challenges, reached a ‘tipping point’ in 2005. Initially, these ideas emerged gradually and incrementally as part of opposition politics but eventually became part of mainstream politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It was surprising to find out that this ideational churning was driven primarily by the opposition, the government committees and the judiciary. The evidence shows that the Congress party resisted it throughout. Also by the time social movement around the issue emerged in the mid-’90s substantial policy movement had already occurred within the state. State thinking had moved positively towards possible legislation on access to information. Had the state thinking not moved in this favourable direction the state would have dealt with the same social movement very differently,” says Jha.</p> Mon Oct 26 15:25:50 IST 2020 covering-other-humanitarian-stories-helped-me-process-the-trauma-of-jandk-my-homeland <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Ahmer Khan is an award-winning, multimedia journalist from Kashmir. He was nominated for the Emmys 2020 for the Vice News film, India Burning, which focused on the plight of the 200 million Muslims in the country after the rise of Hindu nationalism. Khan is also the recipient of numerous awards, including the Lorenzo Natali Media Prize by European Commission 2018, AFP Kate Webb Prize 2019, and the Human Rights Press Award 2020. He is also among the finalists for the Rory Peck Award 2020. He has contributed to major international publications such as The New York Times, The Guardian, TIME, SHOWTIME, Al-Jazeera, Radio France International, Amnesty International, The Christian Science Monitor and Vice News, among others. Khan talks to THE WEEK about his career and what it is to be a journalist in Kashmir. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How did you turn to journalism?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>I was always passionate about storytelling. Since Kashmir is full of stories and each one of us has stories of struggle and survival, it is intricate and hence, natural to desire to become a storyteller.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Which was your first job as a freelance visual journalist?</b></p> <p>One of my pictures got published in a Spanish magazine back in 2012 and later, my work on Kashmir floods was published in AlJazeera.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Was it the camera or telling stories through visuals that you were attracted to?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>Well, it was a little bit of both. Kashmir and photography are directly proportional to each other. First, I used to click pictures with a Sony Ericson handset. But I always knew what I was going to do in future. So I studied journalism and worked simultaneously.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What exactly did your work consist of in 'India Burning'?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>I was a local producer of the film and I shot some parts of the film as well. My responsibility was to take care of everything in Assam. From set-up to the execution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is there a reason why you work with international media rather than the national media?&nbsp;&nbsp;</b></p> <p>Yes, of course. I have never worked with any Indian organisation purposely. I did not want my stories to get distorted and manipulated the way editors of most of the Indian organisations do. I am grateful that I have found work elsewhere because there is too much saturation and it is hard for stories to get accepted anywhere now.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How did you establish your name in the industry?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>I think I chose to report outside Kashmir from the beginning. I didn’t restrict myself to Kashmir or even India. I have reported from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. That is something not everyone does.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Has living amidst the conflict in Kashmir, in any way, affected you as a person and as a journalist?</b></p> <p>Our home is a dystopian state. We all have had encounters affecting our lives forever. My father passed away when I was 10 years old. I think every job/assignment in Kashmir is scary. The fear of uncertainty is always there.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You deal with more humanitarian stories, you are always in the middle of conflict and turbulence, you report on natural disasters and political disruptions. What is it that drives you to this beat?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>It all comes from the basic human tendency of wanting to explore more of what you have grown up seeing. I grew up in the '90s in Kashmir when the turmoil was at its peak and then I witnessed the uprising from 2008, 2010 and the following years. I, like any other Kashmiri, witnessed young Kashmiris being killed, tortured and extreme human rights violations on the streets. It is too much to handle and process, but when one looks at the other side of the world, we see pain everywhere and start being grateful for what we have. I think for me, covering other humanitarian stories helped me process the daily trauma of my own homeland.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How is covering stories in Kashmir different from other places in India?</b></p> <p>In Kashmir, everything is way too personal. At times, we have to cover the stories while looking at the dead bodies of our own people. It is hard to keep aside your human side. But covering other human rights stories elsewhere and in mainland India, including Assam and Delhi has surely strengthened me more. Although, in Kashmir, it is getting extremely difficult to work freely as days pass. There is a constant fear of being muzzled for telling the truth. And, I think it’s happening across the South Asian countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You deal with a lot of life-threatening situations, you have also been harassed by the authorities. How does that make you feel?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>Most people in the media in Kashmir have faced harassment and intimidation by the state. We have recently seen journalists being booked in stringent terror laws. We are living through one of the most dangerous periods of all times for the Kashmiri press to work. It is natural to feel worried. There is a continuous fear of life for all of us.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>When you find yourself covering stories from a risky place, how do you know where to draw the line—whether to back off or to keep at it?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>It is about instincts. I think everyone decides on the spot.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You identify yourself as a multimedia journalist. How is covering a story through writing, photography and videography different?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>I am quintessentially a photographer and videographer. I started writing because I know the media nowadays is shrinking into one multimedia space. One skill isn’t enough. So the work adds. When you go to cover the story, you have to shoot, take quotes, video interviews and also make sure that you have got all aspects of the story in terms of text, video and photos. It is hard work but satisfactory in many ways. I also do radio stories. In fact, my Lorenzo Natali Media award was for my first radio story for Radio France International. Being a freelance journalist, you have to keep up with the demands of editors as there is a lot of uncertainty.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What do you have to say about the mainstream journalism that is turning blasphemous?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>What they are doing is not journalism. It is dangerous and authoritarian. If a journalist does not report about the oppressed, undermined or underprivileged, he or she is just doing PR.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Any advice to the upcoming freelance and independent journalists who are trying to find their own niche and make a difference?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>Freelancing is risky. It works sometimes, but sometimes, it does not. But the most important thing is to continue doing what your heart says. Failure and success—both are bound to happen. Be honest with your work. Report the truth. Do journalism, not PR.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are you currently working on? What plans do you have for the future?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>I am not doing anything currently. I think we all need a break sometimes. The plan is to continue telling stories from south Asia.</p> <p><br> <br> </p> Sun Oct 18 13:33:52 IST 2020 not-just-a-dogs-life <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Mr Denning wasn’t feeling that great. He just wanted to lie down. He went into his room and shut the door. The room started swimming, and the last thing he remembered before he passed out was that he had to get to the bed. While Mr Denning lay unconscious in his room, his wife and daughter</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>were in the living room. His daughter was visiting and had brought her dog and he began barking furiously. He normally wasn’t particularly fond of Mr Denning and stayed away from him during their regular visit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The family tried to shush the dog as they thought Mr Denning was asleep, but he kept barking incessantly. He then ran up the stairs to Mr Denning’s room and began scratching at the door. The family pulled the dog back, but he ran right back up and kept barking. Mrs Denning then opened the door to apologise for the noise when she discovered Denning unconscious on the floor. The emergency personnel barely got there in time, and on arrival to the ER, he was found to have a massive internal bleed. His heart stopped during the resuscitation, and he ended up with a pacemaker, but he made it. His daughter’s dog had saved his life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The story of humans and dogs date back over fourteen thousand years, and like any relationship, has matured over time. They have evolved from mere guards to essential companions and now to saviours’ and healers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first documented search dogs were the St. Bernard’s, named after the monastery/hospice on the summit of the Great Bernard pass. The dogs would accompany monks searching for lost travellers, who were sometimes buried in avalanches. The dogs with their sense of direction and smell would soon be guiding the monks in finding people. The dogs. Dogs were used in WWI by the Red Cross to find wounded soldiers. In the second world war, dogs were routinely used to find people trapped in buildings.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was in the late 1960s that dogs began being used for civilian purposes, predominantly for finding people who were lost. Their job description continued to widen. They have worked as cops, DEA agents, crime units, assassins, guides for the handicapped and local security detail. Over the past decade, there has been an interest in dogs as medical personnel for diagnosing disease.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How do dogs diagnose disease and how can they be trained? Dogs have a unique sense of smell. A dog can detect substances at concentrations of one part per trillion, how powerful is that they can detect a drop of liquid in 20 Olympic size swimming pools. Disease cause subtle change in odours</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>and dogs can be trained to recognise these odours. Not all dogs can be trained at this, just like not all humans are not cut out to be doctors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dogs have been trained to detect cancer. Cancer cells release chemicals that release subtle odours that dogs can detect. Types of cancers that they can detect include skin, breast, colon and Ovarian. Dogs can also be trained to detect low blood glucose levels in diabetics. They do so by detecting isoprene, a substance in human breath, that increases when</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>blood sugar drops. There is research ongoing with seizure dogs, as it is thought that before a seizure, there are chemicals released that cause change in odour. This is an area of controversy though. I had another patient with bad lung disease and every time her oxygen levels dropped the dog would begin barking. She removed her oxygen in the office and sure enough, when her oxygen saturation level dropped below 90, the dog got restless and began barking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Studies show that dog ownership, especially in people living</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>alone significantly decreases the risk of death after a heart attack or stroke.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dogs are currently being trained to detect malaria, and believe it or not COVID-19. A recent study from Germany showed a 94 per cent accuracy in diagnosing COVID-19. Most importantly dogs help in stress reduction. I know that for a fact as does any dog owner. The feeling of joy that you have when you get back from work and he/she rushes into your arms-the love is unconditional, irrespective of your looks, income or social status.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are all a little broken, weird and odd. Life does that to us. I am pretty sure that we need our dogs, as much as they need us. Sometimes caring for them is our way of healing. As far as the dog and master bit, I am not sure who is who-but does it really matter?</p> Wed Oct 14 16:56:37 IST 2020 10-year-old-daughter-of-wing-commander-cooks-30-dishes-makes-it-to-record-books <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A 10-year-old girl dished out 30 plus scrumptious food items including corn fritters, ‘uttapam,’ fried rice and chicken roast in less than one hour, earning her a place in record books.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The amazing feat by Saanvi M. Prajith, daughter of Wing Commander of Indian Air Force Prajith Babu and Manjma hailing from Ernakulam, has been recognised by the Asia Book of Records and the India Book of Records, her family said here.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Asia Book of Records authorities watched online the cookery event organised at her Visakhapatnam residence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Saanvi M. Prajith, daughter of Wing Commander of Indian Air Force Prajit Babu and Manjma hailing from Ernakulam, who has been recognised by the Asia Book of Records and the India Book of Records.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The girl said she was inspired by her mother, a star chef and a Reality cookery show finalist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manjma said as a child, Saanvi has always been fascinated by the kitchen and took to cooking at a very early age alongside her mother and grandparents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Even when I was little I would observe how my mom and grandma cooked in the kitchen and try to copy them with vessels placed on the living room carpet,” Saanvi told THE WEEK. The 10-year-old who is also trained in Bharatanatyam and horse riding wants to be a fighter pilot like her father when she grows up. The first dish she made was paal ada payasam (a sweet made from milk), at a cooking competition at Forum Mall in Bengaluru. The 10-year old, whose favourite subjects in school are English, mathematics and science, has also taken part in a cooking competition at the Navy Children School, Vishakhapatnam.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Saanvi’s mother Manjma told THE WEEK, “I think it is a mix of both— love for cooking and kaipunyam (innate talent or gift in cooking flavoursome food). I am from Kannur, where hospitality is part of the culture— the kitchen table will always be laden with food— especially non-vegetarian food. I was raised in a place where food is savoured and when I got married to someone from the Armed forces, it became part of our lifestyle, as we would host or go to parties— sometimes, people would turn up unannounced— so having food ready to be served to any guest became a norm in our house. I think my daughter observed that and it added to her interest in cooking.”&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Saanvi who likes cooking pancakes, waffles and puttu, loves the chicken curry and appam her mother makes. “It all started during the lockdown,” says Manjma. “Kids couldn’t step out and she wanted to try something— I want to make Youtube videos, Saanvi said. So we decided to start putting up videos of her with easy-to-make recipes. Slowly her interest piqued and we moved from simpler dishes like cheesecake to chicken roast.” Saanvi's Youtube channel is called Saawan Saanvi</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the parents approached the Asian Book of Records, they were told that for a minor, making more than 18 dishes would be a record where 10 dishes would be non-fire preparations and eight would be prepared on a fire stove. “We were a little apprehensive—especially my mom-in-law because Saanvi hadn’t cooked on a fire stove yet. But with time and practice, she became adept in using a four-burner stove-top. Every day after her online classes ended at 1 pm, we would practice cooking. We tried different combinations of dishes that could be made within an hour. Over a period of time, we could zero-in the dishes she would prepare on August 29.”&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manjma says that she would not really like her daughter to enter reality television as it will be very taxing, but hopefully enter the Guinness Book of Records.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b><i>With PTI inputs</i></b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Mon Oct 12 17:00:45 IST 2020