Society en Thu Dec 03 16:06:53 IST 2020 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 confessions-of-a-journalist-i-spell-truth-as-trp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>99 confessions of a journalist who feels the noble profession is facing flak for no fault of its own:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>1. I had never heard of drugs except for the medicines my doctor would prescribe for my sore throat and sluggish liver. Then, a couple of months ago, I heard for the first time ever that Bollywood stars take substances that send them to space. They were on their own ‘trip’, and we were on our ‘TRP’.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>2.&nbsp; I must confess that in the course of our team’s in-depth investigation, I did see a WhatsApp message from a superstar asking her secretary if she had got any ‘<i style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">maal</i>’. Using my superior intelligence, I deduced it was a misspelling for ‘mail’ (you know how terrible AutoCorrect can be).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>3.&nbsp; We are dissed for being sensational, but it is hard work. Almost anyone can report on what is actually happening, eg. the kharif crop has been good, but the prospects for the rabi seem bleak. But, that would put you to sleep by the second paragraph. To keep you engaged, you need a secret sauce that is imagination. We add large dollops of it to tell you things not as they are but as they could well have been. Be honest. Would you rather see a Doordarshan documentary or a Karan Johar spectacular? The fact is, the nation wants to know, not snore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>4. We journalists are perfectionists, if nothing else. Even when we are in hot pursuit of the biggest stories, we don’t miss the details. Just the other day, when one of my ace reporters followed a film star’s car, he noted every detail vital to the case, viz., how many times the driver honked, which gear the vehicle was in most of the time, the number of speed breakers crossed…. Do I hear you say these are trifles? Well, go tell that to Michelangelo who taught the world that ‘trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>5.&nbsp; People take pot shots and poke fun at us for not getting our priorities right.&nbsp; Often, the people doing the pot shooting and the poking are renegade members of our own tribe. Et tu Manas Chakravarty! We are also being blamed for everything that is wrong with country and society. That’s unfair. Would you blame the weather bureau reporter for the searing heat?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>6. I am after the truth, and nothing but. It is a different matter that I spell truth as TRP. Now don’t ask me how I spell ‘facts’.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>7.&nbsp; People keep saying that journalists should be talking ‘real issues’. Let me give you the back story to that. If I talk about China, I don’t think my article would have a single word that is printable. If I tell you about the underworld, I would have to renew my lapsed life insurance policy.&nbsp; And if I were to talk all about the local neta, my next of kin would benefit from that policy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>8. There is a lot of ‘Breaking News’ on some TV channels.&nbsp; Since what is being said is practically the same things that you had heard the previous evening, you will be wondering what’s being broken. It is actually the sound barrier, as we rush to get you the story ahead of the pack.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>9. It is not only in the present times that journalists are facing the heat. Voltaire has said that history is nothing but a fable that has been agreed upon. What is news but the first draft of history?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>10. &nbsp;Enough is enough. I am going to make a career switch from mainstream reporting to reviewing of books. Nobody kicks up a fuss about what one says about books, probably because nobody reads them anyway.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As you would have noticed, all of the above don’t add up to 99 but then the media has a reputation for sensationalism. And yes, I also exaggerate when I describe myself as a journalist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the author are personal and do not purport to reflect those of THE WEEK</i></p> Sun Oct 11 12:49:49 IST 2020 why-there-is-rampant-caste-based-violence-against-women-in-up <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There’s much talk of implementing police reforms as the only crucial remedy for timely redressal of crimes against women. In light of the Hathras gangrape and murder case, a comprehensive overhaul of the police machinery has been reiterated as a long overdue exercise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shobhana Smriti, an independent leader of Dalit Women Fight in Uttar Pradesh, dismisses the simplistic assumptions in the argument with an oft-repeated line from B.R. Ambedkar’s last speech in the Constituent Assembly. “... however good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot. However bad a Constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those who are called to work it, happen to be a good lot.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We may have the best laws and statutes, including the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, but their effectiveness only depends on those entrusted to implement it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The mentality of the police force in Uttar Pradesh, their behaviour and use of filthy language when addressing Dalit women is so rampant that the very first step in seeking justice for rape victims, that is the filing of FIRs, is fraught with risks,” says Smriti who has encountered multiple threats in the past while helping victims of rape complete formalities and paperwork for FIRs or medical treatment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her views find echoes with a joint report released by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives (AALI) on 29 September. The report has 14 case studies on rape survivors in Uttar Pradesh and it demonstrates how police refusal and failure to lodge complaints and FIRs of victims of sexual violence in the first instance have perpetuated a heinous rape culture in the state. Registration of FIRs is in fact the first most crucial factor in the dispensation of justice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Out of the 14 cases, FIRs of rape were registered in 11 cases only after survivors sought legal remedies. Of the 11 cases registered, testimonies revealed that the time taken by the police to actually register an FIR ranged from 2 to 228 days. In six of these cases, the police took more than 100 days to register the FIR. It’s hardly a surprise then that in the latest National Crime Records Bureau data released last month, Uttar Pradesh topped the country list in cases of crimes against women.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On 14 September, a 19-year-old dalit girl in Hathras was allegedly gang-raped and brutally tortured by four upper caste men in the bajra fields outside her house. She succumbed to her injuries on 29 September after being shunted from one hospital to the next and her body was hastily cremated by the police immediately after, without her family’s consent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Smriti, based in Lucknow, can recount a number of brutal crimes against dalit women in her state in the recent past, which she says were supressed. In 2017, just a few months before the Unnao rape case erupted into the national spotlight, an 11-year-old girl was burnt alive while going to a shop on a cycle, recalls Smriti. Another minor was sexually assaulted in Jaunpur in 2018,</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The victim’s head was cut off, acid was thrown on her face and her eyes were gouged out,” says Smriti who is now in constant touch with another girl from Kushinagar who was rescued and later treated in multiple private hospitals after being allegedly gang-raped by eight men in a room.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I don’t think that today any part of UP is safe for women. Even activists like us don’t feel safe alone after daylight,” says Smriti, who has been working on cases of caste-based discrimination in UP for over 10 years. Originally from Hardoi district, Smriti was married off at the age of 20. She is currently pursuing her LLB after being the first in her family to acquire two MA degrees.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In Hathras district, the extent of caste discrimination is so appalling in this day and age, that sometimes even I can’t help laughing. Our work in the area has revealed that some shops there have a separate corner for collecting money from customers from dalit communities. That money is later washed or cleaned before being reused by the shopkeeper. If an MLA from an SC/ST community goes to a Thakur’s house, he often carries his own disposable glass for tea or sherbet! What will you call this?” asks Smriti.</p> Mon Oct 12 17:57:40 IST 2020 how-lahore-is-planning-to-honour-its-luminaries <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A city never forgets. Delhi might have renamed a leafy road to erase its past, but Lahore is trying to preserve memories of a few who left. From the 'Lion of Punjab' Lala Lajpat Rai to legendary singer Mohammad Rafi, famous Lahoris will be honoured by the city they once called home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Blue enamel plaques will be put up in buildings associated with them. On the list is Amrita Pritam, described as a Punjabi poet and novelist—an acknowledgment of a shared past. Also, Sir Dyal Singh Majithia, “a philanthropist” who was the founder of Punjab National Bank and the founder of the Dyal Singh College. Sir Ganga Ram—an architect who left an indelible print on Lahore and was a philanthropist—already has a plaque up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pritam’s house in Hauz Khas was knocked down last year. A red name plate with K 25 is all that is left. In Lahore, however, where Pritam worked for a bit and married her first husband, there will be a blue plaque that marks her home in Anarkali. While she never went back to Lahore, the city she left behind has not forgotten that she once lived there. The idea of Lahore Sangat—motley group of architects, artists, historians and prominent Lahoris—founded about a year ago, is to remember all those walked its streets to create history going beyond boundaries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We want to honour prominent Lahoris regardless of caste, creed or nationality,’’ says Qasim Jafri, member of Lahore Sangat, an informal association that is undertaking the project.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Through the plaques, the Sangat also wants to create awareness. Jafri—a hotelier by profession and a lover of poetry—traces his roots across the border. Agra was home for his family before they moved during Partition. The research too, often involves cross border collaboration. “It takes time,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So far, more than 10 plaques have been put up across the city. There is a plan to put up 140 plaques honouring writers, architects, artists and sportsmen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Those who stayed, too, will be honoured. Legendary singer Noor Jehan, poet and humanist Faiz Ahmed Faiz, writer Sadaat Hasan Manto and Rustam Gama Pehalwan, known as the Great Gama and considered one of the greatest Indian wrestlers, will have plaques to honour them. Manto left Bombay to make Lahore his home and Rustam was born in India but chose to move to Lahore after Partition. Apart from his wrestling prowess, he is also known for saving many Hindus during the riots.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a city that has changed enormously in the decades after Partition, it takes a lot of research to narrow down the right place to put the plaque up. Lala Lajpat Rai met with the fatal blow while protesting against the Simon Commission at the Lahore Railway Station. Rai was with protesters leading a non-violent march demanding “Simon Go Back’’ holding black banners. The superintendent of police James A. Scott ordered a lathicharge, choosing to lead from the front. Rai sustained a head injury. Yet he addressed a crowd later—at Nasir Bagh—where he said: "I declare that the blows struck at me today will be the last nails in the coffin of British rule in India.” Three weeks later, he died.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The plaque, according to Lahore Sangat's Facebook page is to be put up at Nasir Bagh where he gives an impassioned plea. To ensure that each plaque—as well as where it has to be placed—has to be carefully. More than just getting the details just right—like in the case of Lala Lajpat Rai who was injured in one place and spoke in another—it also sometimes needs the permission of the current owners. “The government is involved, too. These plaques have to have legal cover. So that they can’t be taken off,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lahore is not the only city waking up to its pre-Partition past. Actor Dilip Kumar's house is being acquired by the government and will be renovated and preserved to made into a museum, according to news reports. A week ago, Kumar had tweeted evocatively about his memories of growing up in Peshawar, riding piggy back on his grandfather's shoulders listening to a storyteller in Qissa Khwani Bazaar "narrating stories of valour and victory, deceit and retribution which I would listen to with wide-eyed attention seated next to my father and uncles”. A city never forgets.</p> Wed Oct 07 19:44:38 IST 2020 opinion-el-salvador-the-country-in-need-of-the-savior <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>El Salvador was given its name by the Conquistador Pedro de Alvarado who dedicated the land of his conquest to Jesus Christ, The Saviour (El Salvador). The capital of the city is San Salvador which means Holy Saviour.</p> <p>The country is in dire need of the help of The Saviour. It has one of the highest murder rates in the world and is notorious for deadly gang wars. The country has been traumatized by civil war and the right-wing military dictatorships which massacred thousands of indigenous people and leftists. These days, the country keeps hitting news headlines in the US with the caravans of Salvadorians seeking asylum, giving more fuel to Trump’s anti-migrant vitriols. It is in this context that we get a Salvadorian perspective of the issues from Roberto Lovato, a Salvadorian writer living in the US, in his memoirs&nbsp;<i>Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas</i>, published in September 2020. He narrates the history of the tragedy of violence through his personal life story and that of his family.&nbsp;</p> <p>Lovato has the unique real-life experience of having lived as a Salvadorian mara gang member in the US, a guerilla fighter in Salvador against the dictatorship, a redeemed evangelical and finally as a writer, journalist and human rights activist for the refugees from Central America coming into the US.</p> <p>Lovato’s father Ramoncito was an illegitimate son of a rich coffee planter. His mother was a poor Indian woman Mama Tey who worked for the planter. Roberto is traumatised at the age of nine after witnessing the 1932 Matanza—the cold-blooded massacre of the indigenous community in his village by the military death squads. After the massacre, Mama Tey flees to San Salvador, the capital where she makes a living by stitching clothes for low-class prostitutes. Ramoncito gets his first job as a receptionist in a brothel, receiving customers and serving coffee for them. He takes to alcoholism and crimes in the company of his other poor friends. Later he and his mother move to Los Angeles, which has the largest Salvadorean community in the US.</p> <p>His son Roberto Lovato is born and brought up in Los Angels. Lovato and his Salvadorean friends are taunted and attacked by the bigger Mexican and local white gangs. Life for Salvadorian youth in the US is as insecure and dangerous as in El Salvador. For protection, Lovato joins a small Salvadorian gang, Los Originales, which steals cars and distributes drugs. But despite this gang involvement, Roberto finishes his university studies successfully and becomes a professor and writer. Moved by the tragedy of the massacre of innocent people, he travels to El Salvador and joins the FMLN (The Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) guerilla movement fighting against the military dictatorship. He gets guns and supplies for the guerillas from the US arranged by his father besides others. After the end of the civil war, Lovato returns to the US and resumes his academic career.</p> <p>Lovato goes back to El Salvador to investigate the old massacres and the new gang wars. He goes to Ahuachapán, where his father was born and learns that his grandfather (from father’side) was one of the active participants in the massacre of the Indians. He meets ex-guerrilla leaders of FMLN who have now come to power through the ballot. He interviews members of the two notorious gangs MS 13 and Barrio 18. He visits the places where leftists and Indians were executed and buried in anonymous mass graves. He sees the working of the forensic laboratories which work with the bones and skulls to identify and analyse them for the government and family members.</p> <p>The Salvadoran military death squads had run “counterinsurgency” programs that starved, shot up, and bombed indigenous communities they perceived as supporting the FMLN, the main guerilla movement. As a former Guatemalan president and School of Americas (at Fort Benning, Georgia) graduate José Efraín Ríos Montt put it, “The guerrilla is the fish. The people are the sea. If you cannot catch the fish, you have to drain the sea.” Ríos Montt was eventually convicted of genocide but was not sentenced due to his poor health.</p> <p>In the infamous El Mozote massacre of 1981, Colonel Monterrosa and his troops mistook nearly one thousand Campesinos for FMLN guerrilla—sympathizing civilians and slaughtered them. Investigations by forensic specialists have revealed that many of the victims were women and children. Of those killed, 553 were minors, 477 of whom were under twelve. The majority of the children were six years old or younger.</p> <p>The US supported the right-wing military dictatorships of El Salvador and gave counter-insurgency training in the School of the Americas to Salvadorian and other Latin American military officers. Of the twelve accused in the El Mozote massacre, by the UN Truth Commission report, ten, including Monterrosa, were graduates of the School of Americas. Counterinsurgency is a multi-billion-dollar industry for US arms dealers and military contractors who supply weapons, helicopters and other equipment to Latin America. The guns used by the Salvadorian gangs are illegally supplied from the US.</p> <p>Those killed in the massacres were buried in mass graves throughout the country. The cruelty of this can be seen from a letter from the country’s director of public health, who advised the governors and mayors “to take necessary sanitary measures in the face of reports of growing numbers of unburied bodies and mass graves. It is necessary to make the dimensions [of the mass graves] uniform for reasons of health. The accumulation of no more than fifty corpses in a single grave allows for better decomposition and less absorption into the soil. Even better would be isolated graves, in which no more than eight to ten corpses would be placed”. The land of El Salvador made fertile by a natural mix of volcanic ash and minerals, there is a new fertilizer, the decomposed bodies of thousands of indigenous people.</p> <p>Lovato falls in love with an FMLN guerrilla fighter and diplomat who comes to LA to work with the Salvadorean community. Born to a poor Indian family, she studied to become a nun. But when her family was killed by the army, she joins the guerrillas. She surprises Roberto saying that she loves operas and her favourite one is ‘O Fortuna’ from Carmina Burana,”. She says calls it as her ‘música de combate’, the music she listened in times of personal and political combat. She says, “Whenever we would march in protest against the government policies and death-squad killings, they would often kill many protesters. And then, to make things worse, they would play opera music in the government radio to mock us. So it became the music for us to remember our martyrs, our música de combate”.</p> <p>After all these adventures, Lovato is now settled in his postwar identity as a writer, journalist and human rights activist. He has finally found peace after almost twenty-five years of clandestinity, secrets, and fear. He is critical of the US police which treats all the Central Americans and Mexicans as gangsters and drug traffickers and harasses the whole community.</p> <p>Lovato says, “Throughout my life, our family has been divided by the border between memory and forgetting. Where most see the refugee crisis as “new,” I see the longue durée of history and memory. Where many see the story beginning at the border, I see the time-space continuum of violence, migration, and forgetting that extends far beyond and below the US-Mexico border. Where others see mine as a Central American story, I see it as a story about the United States”.</p> <p>True. It was the genocide and atrocities of the US-supported right-wing Salvadorian military dictatorships which made people flee to the US in the beginning. The US trained the Salvadorian military in counter-insurgency and also sent its own advisors to guide and observe some of the operations. The US gave billions of dollars of military assistance which was used by the Salvadorean dictatorships to fight its own people. Young Salvadoreans in the US were forced into gang culture by the US drug gangs. The notorious MS 13 and Barrio 18 gangs of El Salvador were originally formed in Los Angeles. When the US deported the Salvadorean gangsters back to their home country, they formed bigger gangs and caused mayhem with more deadly US weapons. This has made more Salvadoreans flee and seek asylum in the US. It is a vicious cycle with clear US complicity and culpability as the exporter of gang culture and illegal weapons to El Salvador.</p> <p>Lovato ends the book saying, “My Salvadorean journey from being half-dead to more fully alive has begun”. He quotes the poignant lines of the famous Salvadorean poet Roque Dalton who also took up guns as a guerilla fighter and took bullets becoming a martyr in 1975.</p> <p>Ser salvadoreño es ser medio muerto</p> <p>Sobrevivimos pero medio vivos</p> <p>To be a Salvadorean is half-dead</p> <p>We survive but only with half living</p> Tue Oct 06 17:43:37 IST 2020 explore-100-paintings-of-sh-raza <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When&nbsp;Sayed Haider Raza&nbsp;was eight years old, the school headmaster in his village in Mandla district in British India gave him a punishment. A restless Raza, by his own admission "a bad student", was asked to stay back after class. The teacher&nbsp;drew a black dot on the white wall of a verandah and asked Raza to sit and&nbsp;stare at the point with full concentration.&nbsp;Years later in an interview, Raza said “I could not understand the motivation [of this exercise], but I obeyed.” The benefit of hindsight allows us to flag this innocuous incident as life-changing considering the way the master-painter came to be synonymous with the single point motif that is "Bindu", also interpreted as shunya or the void of nothingness. But, there's more to Raza, a celebrated modernist who along with&nbsp;&nbsp;F.N. Souza and M.F. Husain set up the Progressive Artists Group in 1947, than his trademark Bindu.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Arts Trust, parent company of online auction house AstaGuru, is exhibiting 100 works of acclaimed artist S H Raza (1922-2016). The retrospective,&nbsp;‘Raza-Rendezvous’, features the artist's masterpieces drawn from an oeuvre spanning six decades, from 1940 to 2000. It offers an overarching glimpse into Raza’s artistic evolution from his early expressionist landscapes to his explorations with geometric forms in the 70s and his eventual progression into works centred around “Bindu”, which he believed served as the centre of the universe charged with energy.</p> <p>"The web platform enables us to showcase the works by SH Raza to a much wider audience and that is extremely crucial given the fact that we intend to spread awareness of the master's art," says&nbsp;Siddanth Shetty, vice president of The Arts Trust.&nbsp;</p> <p>Born in 1922 in Babaria, a small village in Madhya Pradesh, Raza grew up in the midst of verdant forests in Mandala, where his family moved after he turned six.&nbsp; He studied painting at the Nagpur School of Art and later at the Sir J. J. School of Arts in Bombay, and after graduation&nbsp;formed the Progressive Artists Group which would alter the course of Indian painting in the way it developed a modernist language. But soon he left for France on a scholarship in 1950 and studied painting at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts from 1950 to 1953. France was to make a strong impression on Raza, so much so that he spent most of his working life there in Paris, and also met his lifelong partner in&nbsp;Janine Mongillat, a French artist.&nbsp;</p> <p>Raza became the first non-French artist to be awarded the Prix de la Critique in Paris in 1956 and held numerous exhibitions both in India and abroad. But, Raza always retained his Indian passport. Wrote Hindi poet and critic Ashok Vajpeyi last month, "For a couple of decades, life was not easy for Raza in France. He was accepted as a painter of the Parisian School which gave him some recognition but it made him unhappy about his artistic identity. It is then that he, through a lot of agonising self-questioning, recalled the 'bindu."&nbsp;</p> <p>In the same article in <i>The Indian Express</i>, Vajpeyi recalls Raza saying "that he learnt how to paint from France and what to paint from India." A strong colourist, Raza's paintings capture the&nbsp; colours of India with all their symbolic and emotive value.&nbsp; He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1981, around the same period he began his explorations with the Bindu motif.&nbsp;</p> <p>Raza-Rendezvous is on view till October 9 at <a href=""></a><br> </p> Wed Sep 30 22:14:19 IST 2020 tourism-day-special-pillars-that-sing-architectural-marvels-of-indian-temples <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>India—often described as the ‘country of temples’—saw temple-building activity begin in the 5th century CE. It was only in the 6th–7th centuries that a more pronounced idiom developed. In that, regional styles began taking shape. These styles had their own quirks. Gradually, these distinct architectural styles became a ‘formula’ that came to be associated with a region. Among several specificities that defined the temples of different regions, the musical pillars became idiosyncratic to the temples of Deccan and, especially, in the state of Tamil Nadu. In other regions, for instance, Odisha came to be associated with the Rekhā deul-style, the Śekhari-style with the temples of Madhya Pradesh, the Phaṁsanā-style with the temples of Kashmir, the Karnāṭa-Draviḍa style with the temples of Karnataka and Andhra and, Draviḍian-style with the temples of Tamil Nadu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are musical pillars?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They are a group of stone shafts that produce musical notes of varying frequencies when tapped with a finger or wooden mallet. These pillars are of two kinds: 1) Beating/Tapping pillars and 2) Blowing pillars. While the first kind produces sound when tapped, the second kind, which is most likely hollow, works like a wind instrument. The tapping pillars are further classified into three categories: <i>Shruti</i>, <i>Gana</i> and <i>Laya</i>. It is suggested that shruti produces <i>swara</i>s, gana produces classical <i>raga</i>s, and laya produces <i>taal</i> when tapped.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you are wondering how to identify these pillars, it is not all that onerous. Musical pillars are narrow yet firm in form, clamped at the ends, drawn out of a single block of stone, bereft of carving. According to scholars, they are usually arranged in groups (between 3 and 56) around a central pillar which supports the roof of the structure. The central pillar could vary in height, but the cluster pillars are of the same height with varying girth and shape.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>National award-winning scientist H.V. Modak referred to these pillars as ‘Stone Pianos’ in a paper on <a href="">Sahapedia</a>, assigning them to the Vijayanagar period (14th–16th centuries), while scholars M.G. Prasad and B. Rajavel believe they might have begun surfacing as early as the 5th century—the Tirunelveli Nellaiappar temple in Tamil Nadu—but mostly during the 14th–16th centuries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So why was there an influx of musical pillars for 200 years?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is said that these pillars were tapped or blown like musical instruments to accompany chants and devotional performances in the temples. The possible reason for their prevalence in the ‘medieval’ temples of the South could be the multiple halls (<i>maṇḍapa</i>)—sculpture gallery, musical pillar hall, performance hall, etc.—which became an intrinsic part of massive temple complexes, a layout which out-shadowed the concept of single maṇḍapa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What influenced the peculiar acoustics was either the rock type or the clustered arrangement of the columns. According to the <i>Śhilpa Śhāstras,</i> rocks are masculine, feminine and neuter based on their sound and colour. The male rock produces the tinkle of bronze bells, the female of bass and the neuter produces a dull sound. It is possible that the pillars are musical because they are carved out of rocks with acoustic properties—diabase rocks (black granite) or rocks rich in silica and metallic ore. Such rocks are called singing or lithophonic rocks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, in an experiment carried out at various temples with musical pillars, Modak realised that the arrangement of the clustered pillars in the wall-less maṇḍapas also played a role in lending sound to the pillars. In a cluster, when a pillar is tapped, other pillars with same frequency vibrate with resonance making the group a musical instrument, fit to accompany hymns and performances composed in three–five notes. It is interesting to note that all the shafts from the cluster do not emit musical notes, only the ones on the outside were tailored to produce music.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Where to find them?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Temples with musical pillars are spread across Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala, with Tamil Nadu topping the chart. Look out for the popular Hampi, Vijaya Vitthala temple in Karnataka; Madhurai Meenakshi Amman temple, Tirunelveli Nellaiyappar temple, Suchindram Thanumalayam temple, Kanchipuram Varadharaja Perumal temple in Tamil Nadu; Tirupati Venkateshvara Swamy temple, Lepakshi Veerabhadra temple in Andhra Pradesh; Thiruvananthapuram Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Kerala, to list a few.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not known to many, the <i>mahāmaṇḍapa</i> (main hall) of Hampi’s Vitthala temple boasts a cluster of 56 such pillars; 40 of them forming an aisle, the remaining forming a rectangular cluster in the centre. The tall pillars of the ‘musical hall’ are carved with beautiful ends. It is said that the granite monoliths produce sounds of seven notes, percussion instruments such as tabla, veena, mridanga, damaru, ghatam, and bells and conch-shells once struck with one’s hands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several temples in the South are executed with architectural elements such as pillars, stairs and icons that produce music. One such temple is the 16th-century Kanchipuram Varadharaja Perumal. This temple is well-known for its 100-pillared hall, a sculpture gallery depicting scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata. It has been suggested that the sculptures of this gallery produce sounds of metals such as gold, copper and silver; tambura, an Indian musical instrument; and chains when tapped, a relatively unknown fact. Do not miss the musical sculptured pillars and monolithic chains with movable links suspending from the eaves, the next time you visit the Varadaraja Perumal temple.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Often, as camera-wielding tourists, we don’t notice other elements that architecture has to offer. Many, like these musical pillars, haven’t been explored as much either. Interestingly, the feature seems to be unique to a handful of these South Indian temples, which make them an even more prized aspect of Indian architecture, and definitely worth checking out in person.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>This article is part of </i><a href=""><i>Saha Sutra</i></a><i>, on </i><a href=""><i></i></a><i>, an online resource for Indian arts, culture and heritage.&nbsp;</i><br> </p> Sun Sep 27 17:22:54 IST 2020 is-there-a-problem-with-the-women-have-legs-campaign <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The women in Malayalam cinema have expressed solidarity with a young actor, who got trolled on social media for wearing a dress of her choice, via the online campaign ‘<a href="" target="_blank">women have legs</a>’. Several actors have vehemently resisted the trolls, paying them back in their own coin of hatred and anger, sneering at them as unlettered, jobless, and unacquainted with foreign cultures and feminist literature. Such responses from actors often stimulate the interest of media and society and are highlighted as positive examples of standing up for personal freedom. However, there are some fundamental problems with the ‘women have legs’ campaign.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First and foremost, it is worrying that the actors could be right, and the trolls could in fact be from the ill-educated and unemployed youth, who possibly lack the privilege of class power and wealth yet, have access to the world’s cheapest mobile data. In a country like India, the issues related to the protection and security of women have to be viewed in conjunction with a deeper crisis that exists among its younger generation. The unemployment rate in the country has hit an all-time high of 23.5 percent following the closure of businesses during the pandemic. In the state of Kerala, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the unemployment rate is at a 40-month high of 26.5 per cent as of May 2020.&nbsp;</p> <p>Second, the campaign 'women have legs' is in distaste of the entire opposite sex. This false dichotomy gives rise to a wrong notion of the battle of sexes and could estrange even the allies among men. Following the rise of violence against women in India, legal experts like Ratna Kapur have affirmed that stringent laws/policies or stricter law enforcement may not be the answer to a deep-seated societal problem. The need of the hour is to foster equality in ways that are not threatening, by involving young men as advocates for women’s rights.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>Third, the very sincerity of the campaign, which projects a sisterhood or camaraderie among actors, is questionable. Psychological studies confirm that trolling is a status-enhancing activity attracting attention and approval. Trolling encourages people to be instinctive by providing them with anonymity. Perhaps, campaigns such as ‘women have legs’ pick up tremendous support as it is easy to contest less powerful and anonymous individuals. For example, it is evident that the formation of Women in Cinema Collective (WCC), formed following the assault of a female actor, has not won equivalent massive support in Malayalam cinema. Several female actors who had given favorable statements supporting the assaulted actor during the initial stages of investigation have recently disavowed their earlier stance.<br> </p> <p>Female actors are hesitant to respond to controversial issues that involve powerful male colleagues unless the former are veterans or part of an established clique. They dodge questions on equal pay, WCC or feminism, leading to vicarious embarrassment among the educated viewers who look up to them as role models and privileged advocates of gender equity. This culture of silence, denial, or even justification of existing hierarchies is a clear indication of deep-rooted internalized oppression and prevalent power dynamics.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>Lastly, can we wash our hands of the responsibility of raising a disoriented generation when our education system undermines gender equity? Post economic liberalization, India’s urban population frequents cafes, malls and shops for happiness, and travels abroad for vacations. In stark contrast, another section of society is destined to work like a horse and live like a saint to make it through poverty. There are no economic solutions proposed to integrate marginalized individuals into a rapidly growing society and reasons for their aberrant behaviours are not examined, understood, and dealt with. Having great influence especially over the younger generation, the least the actors can do is to meet with them, engage in productive conversations, involve in community activities to promote causes such as gender and class equity and share such experiences with the public.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>According to activists like Bell Hooks, feminist politics is about coming up with strategies to empower women and men of all classes. We need to critically introspect whether the campaigns like ‘women have legs’ are in fact exposing our feet of clay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b><i>Priya Harindranathan is a researcher at the Center for the Analytics of Learning and Teaching (C-ALT) at Colorado State University.<br> </i></b></p> <p><b><i>The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of THE WEEK</i></b><br> </p> Sat Sep 26 17:30:09 IST 2020 art-project-to-create-antithesis-whatsapp-university <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As a graduate in information design and communications head in the development sector, Tejas Pande has always sought to understand how people consume information and respond to presentations of truth. With the onset of the pandemic, Pande noticed an inflection of sorts at &quot;WhatsApp&nbsp;university&quot;, India's most distrusted source of news.</p> <p>&quot;After the Janata Curfew and the lockdown, I noticed a&nbsp;shift in how people were behaving in&nbsp;WhatsApp&nbsp;groups. It was interesting to see how people were refiguring the way they consume content,&quot; says the 33-year-old who has now received a grant under Now On, a Pro Helvetia New Delhi initiative to get artists and organisations to respond to the global health disaster with innovative ideas, thoughts and experiments.</p> <p>Talking about the project, Akshay Pathak, Head at Pro Helvetia New Delhi says, “We at Pro Helvetia New Delhi are too overwhelmed with the response we have received. It only goes out to show how this global pandemic has further inspired artists in the region to create and share their art with the world.”<br> <br> Pande's experiments with the infodemic led him to devise an interactive project called &quot;WhatsApp-Free university&quot;. &quot;WhatsApp&nbsp;university is a slur that is hurled at someone operating out of ignorance. My project is an antithesis to this notion of&nbsp;WhatsApp&nbsp;university. It wants people to check their own biases as a way of critical thinking,&quot; says Pande who has noticed more receptivity to objective, fact-based news in varying groups on&nbsp;WhatsApp&nbsp;and other social media platforms in the last few months.</p> <p>By way of example, he mentions a recent&nbsp;WhatsApp&nbsp;forward of Arnab Goswami&nbsp;lashing out at opposition parties over India's GDP growth slump, where the contraction of 23.9 per cent was not as bad as countries like Singapore, Canada, the UK, the US, according to the news anchor. But Pande also noticed another related&nbsp;WhatsApp&nbsp;forward, equally popular, which pointed out tiny contextualizations like&nbsp;the numbers can't be compared because the scale has to be annual, not quarterly, and that GDP is not the only indicator of growth. Another instance was forwards around handling of Covid in Maharashtra, where people with clear-cut political&nbsp;sympathies grudgingly appreciated the good work of individuals from opposing parties.&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;I want to take away the taint of ignorance and bias from&nbsp;WhatsApp&nbsp;in popular perception. This can be a thinking university. How do people take control of the platform rather than becoming critical of it,&quot; he says about&nbsp;WhatsApp-Free university project which seeks to encourage engagement with one's cognitive biases in tier-II and tier III cities in Maharashtra, a social setting Pande is more familiar with.</p> <p>He will devise seven bi-lingual videos in Marathi and English as group experiments for the project. Some of these videos will explain contemporary infomedia-speak like echo chamber, algorithms, risk analysis, confirmation bias, etc., as&nbsp;WhatsApp&nbsp;forwards in social groups from smaller cities and towns in Maharashtra using local idioms in ways which are non-technical and jargon-free. Straight translations will be avoided. So, the word Echo Chamber in Marathi is explained as &quot;getting caught up in a storm of similar ideas&quot;. Algorithm, which Pande believes needs to be talked about in a better way than writing 'algos' in Devanagari, is “social media technology rules&quot;.&nbsp;</p> <p>In his latest explanatory video, shared in batches, Pande explains the idea of bias and what it does in a social setting when people exchange information.&nbsp;WhatsApp&nbsp;forwards may seem new, challenge or confirm already existing biases, the video says using coloured pieces in an abstract representation.</p> <p>&quot;Biases inherently are not negative traits. It is a way in which our brains process information faster---information that I already have to process more information faster. When a barrage of information like memes and forwards are hit at us from every direction, we use&nbsp;more of that information to process new information faster rather than engage with content first-hand. That's when the relationship becomes problematic,&quot; says Pande who was surprised to see positive nods to this video from the older generation.</p> <p>Some even asked for a list of organisations that bust myths and are into fact-checking. The video ends on a note that we have to learn to confront our biases and work on them. &quot;That's the only way to exist in a very dense environment full of information,&quot; says Pande.&nbsp;</p> Fri Sep 25 16:45:17 IST 2020 geza-von-habsburg-on-the-history-of-the-faberge-egg <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>One hundred years ago, communism killed one of the greatest jewellers to be born in Russia. For the longest time, Peter Carl Fabergé (1846-1920) was the most cherished goldsmith to the Russian Tsars until World War I, the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 and the death of monarchy forced the celebrated jeweller and designer into exile. They say Peter Fabergé died of a broken heart on 24 September 1920 in Switzerland.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During his heyday, between 1882 and 1917, the House of Fabergé is reported to have produced some 150,000 objects like Christmas ornaments, cigarette cases, brooches, photo frames, and boxes, etc.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, the most admired objets de fantasie by the master-jeweler remains the Imperial presentation eggs. The exquisite bejewelled eggs have remained synonymous with the name of the company as it was Peter Fabergé who created the famed series of 50 Imperial Easter eggs for the Russian Imperial family from 1885 to 1916. Some of these eggs were in fact sold off by Joseph Stalin in 1927 to acquire more foreign currency. Between 1930 and 1933, some 14 Imperial Easter eggs were traded off, According to Dr. Géza von Habsburg, world-renowned Fabergé expert and curator, Armand Hammer from the United States managed to snag most of Fabergé eggs at the time. </p> <p>&quot;A great&nbsp;entrepreneur, president of&nbsp;Occidental Petroleum&nbsp;and personal friend of Lenin, his father was the founder of the&nbsp;Communist party&nbsp;in the&nbsp;United States,&quot; wrote Habsburg once.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an email chat with THE WEEK on the 100th death anniversary of Peter Carl Fabergé, Habsburg traces the journey from the first Imperial egg of 1885 to executing the&nbsp;'most complicated objet d’art in modern-day history' in 2018 , a second egg comparable to the “Imperial Class”, the many Indian maharajas who were patrons of the House of Fabergé and when the eggs came to town at the National Museum in Delhi.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q.&nbsp; What is&nbsp;the&nbsp;origin story of&nbsp;the&nbsp;Imperial Easter Egg collection?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>The&nbsp;giving of eggs, considered by many as signs of life re-born, long ago formed part of&nbsp;the&nbsp;ancient spring solstice festival. For&nbsp;the&nbsp;Christian church, which adopted many pagan traditions, eggs represented Jesus’s emergence from&nbsp;the&nbsp;tomb and his resurrection, and - painted red - symbolised Christ’s blood spilled for us.&nbsp; Eggs made of painted wood, lacquer, glass and porcelain were common Easter presents in&nbsp;the&nbsp;18th&nbsp;and 19th&nbsp;century.&nbsp; Fabergé’s first Imperial egg of 1885 was inspired by 18th-century eggs with an enamelled white shell and a gold yolk containing a jewelled hen, of which several examples have survived in royal treasuries.&nbsp;The&nbsp;success of this charming Easter present from Tsar Alexander III to his royal bride started a tradition continued by his son Tsar Nicholas II which was to last 31 years, engendering an absolutely unique series of 50 Easter eggs, 10 during Alexander’s lifetime and 40 eggs created for Nicholas II.</p> <p><b>Q2. How has&nbsp;the&nbsp;celebrated motif of&nbsp;the&nbsp;egg evolved at&nbsp;the&nbsp;House of Fabergé after&nbsp;the&nbsp;death of&nbsp;Peter Carl Fabergé? What are some of its contemporary iterations?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Russian Orthodox Easter in 1917 was feasted on April 15. At&nbsp;the&nbsp;abdication of Tsar Nicholas on 16 March 1917, Fabergé’s simple birchwood Easter egg for Tsarina Alexandra and&nbsp;the&nbsp;blue glass Easter egg for his mother was still unfinished.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Following&nbsp;the&nbsp;demise of&nbsp;the&nbsp;Imperial family in 1918, Fabergé’s death in 1920 and&nbsp;the&nbsp;upheaval of&nbsp;the&nbsp;old social order at&nbsp;the&nbsp;end of World War I,&nbsp;the&nbsp;creation of luxurious objects came to a total standstill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The&nbsp;Fabergé brand changed hands a number of times during&nbsp;the&nbsp;next decades and in 1989 was acquired by Unilever of nutrition, hygiene and personal care fame. During&nbsp;their ownership, 97 well-crafted egg-objects were created in limited numbers between 1990 and 2008 under a Fabergé licensing agreement with&nbsp;the&nbsp;German firm of Victor Mayer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2007 Pallinghurst, a South African owned investment group, acquired all&nbsp;the&nbsp;rights to&nbsp;the&nbsp;Fabergé brand with a view of bringing&nbsp;the&nbsp;great Russian house back to its original fame. Fine high jewellery was created in&nbsp;the&nbsp;beginning in 2008.&nbsp;The&nbsp;commission for&nbsp;the&nbsp;firm’s first egg came in 2013, after a hiatus of almost 100 years with&nbsp;The&nbsp;Pearl Egg. Paying homage to&nbsp;the&nbsp;distinguished imperial tradition, Fabergé crafted an extraordinary, one-of-kind egg objet in collaboration with&nbsp;the&nbsp;Al-Fardan family, one of&nbsp;the&nbsp;world’s most renowned collectors of pearls.&nbsp;The&nbsp;Fabergé Pearl Egg draws inspiration from&nbsp;the&nbsp;formation of a pearl within an oyster, and&nbsp;the&nbsp;egg’s painstakingly-crafted mother-of-pearl exterior opens to reveal a unique grey pearl of 12.17 carats, sourced from&nbsp;the&nbsp;Arabian Gulf and exhibiting exceptional purity and a highly unusual shade of grey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More recently, in 2018, Fabergé partnered with Rolls Royce Motor Cars to create an exceptional egg called&nbsp;the&nbsp;“Spirit of Ecstasy” for a client. Named after&nbsp;the&nbsp;iconic hood ornament that has adorned Rolls-Royce cars since 1911, it is&nbsp;the&nbsp;most complicated objet d’art in our modern-day history and only&nbsp;the&nbsp;second egg to be deemed “Imperial Class” since 1917.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q3. Was Peter Carl Faberge ever commissioned to design anything for&nbsp;the&nbsp;Indian royalty?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During Fabergé’s lifetime between 1908 and 1917, sales teams were dispatched regularly to India from London to cater to a number of&nbsp;the&nbsp;ruling Maharajas. At least one name has survived in Fabergé’s sales ledgers, that of Maharajah Sir Pratab Singh Bahadur of Jamma and Kashmir, who in 1903 commissioned a gold-mounted rock-crystal stamp box which has survived.&nbsp;The&nbsp;Maharajahs of Bikaner and of Patiala and&nbsp;the&nbsp;Rajah of Pudukkotai are also known to have belonged to Fabergé’s clientele.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q4. Where can&nbsp;the&nbsp;Imperial eggs be seen in Russia today?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The&nbsp;privately-owned Fabergé Museum in&nbsp;the&nbsp;Shuvalov Palace situated on St. Petersburg’s Fontanka River Embankment, opened 2013, houses over 4000 Russian works of art of which almost 800, including&nbsp;the&nbsp;9 Imperial Easter eggs formerly in&nbsp;the&nbsp;Forbes Magazine Collection, are by Fabergé.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The&nbsp;State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg owns&nbsp;the&nbsp;Fabergé Rothschild Egg, recently given by Vladimir Putin for&nbsp;the&nbsp;museum’s 250th&nbsp;anniversary, together with approximately 100 further objects in different departments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The&nbsp;Kremlin Armoury Museum&nbsp;in Moscow has 9 Imperial Easter eggs on view when&nbsp;they are not travelling, and approximately 100 other Fabergé objects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q5. Has&nbsp;there ever been any talk of bringing&nbsp;the&nbsp;timeless&nbsp;Fabergé collection to India as a touring exhibition?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The&nbsp;Russian Link of Times Foundation, owners of 9 Fabergé eggs formerly owned by Forbes Magazine of New York, lent&nbsp;their collection to&nbsp;the&nbsp;New Delhi Museum between December 2008 and January 2009, together with other 180 priceless objects of art. Reportedly over 700 visitors attended&nbsp;the&nbsp;exhibit. No other exhibitions are planned in&nbsp;the&nbsp;near future although from 2017 we have planned a series of trunk-shows of objet d’art, jewellery and timepieces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q6. What is&nbsp;the&nbsp;single-most-important legacy of&nbsp; Peter Carl Fabergé in&nbsp;the&nbsp;world of modern jewellery? Something that has inspired jewellery designers around&nbsp;the&nbsp;world?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, Fabergé offers a wide collection of jewellery, timepieces and objet d’art, including of course egg pendants. We do not copy previous designs but take inspiration from our past to create contemporary pieces. We continue to be inspired by&nbsp;the&nbsp;spirit and ethos of Peter Carl Fabergé and his workmasters to create jewellery and objects for&nbsp;the&nbsp;21st century. As we remember his passing 100 years ago, his legacy of&nbsp;the&nbsp;artist jeweller lives on. We take forward&nbsp;the&nbsp;concepts of fine craftsmanship, colour, creativity and collaboration not only with our makers but also with our clients.</p> Wed Sep 23 23:24:25 IST 2020 blindian-couples-regarded-as-fighters-jonah-of-blindian-project-fame <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was in 2017 that London-based Jonah Batambuze, a Ugandan-American IT consultant, read about the racial attacks on Nigerian students in Noida. Married to an Indian girl from a Telugu family in Andhra Pradesh, who he met while studying in Dublin, the news article came to him just a day before leaving for India to meet his wife's family. The mob violence against Africans living in India led him to delve deeper into the culture of anti-blackness in the world's largest democracy.</p> <p>After returning to London, he reached out to Black and South Asian couples to share their stories of prejudice and discrimination. After 10 couples agreed to share their journey to companionship, #BlindianProject was born across Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram. Since then Jonah has worked on several other crowdsourced projects to remove adverse stereotypes around Black fatherhood and Black masculinity. In 2020, as Black Lives Matter movement gathers renewed urgency at a time of heightened police racism, Jonah has returned to his most impactful campaign yet: #BlindianProject. In an interview with THE WEEK, he talks about racist jibes in secular societies, raising Blindian children and what Kamala Harris could do for racial minorities in America.&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You have been married to Swetha for more than 15 years now. What were some of the hiccups that came your way back then (when both of you decided to marry) which &quot;blindian&quot; couples might not face today?</b></p> <p>Swetha and I were fortunate that our families were fairly accepting of our relationship. This is not to say that we didn't experience challenges, but neither one of us ever felt that we would get disowned for being together.</p> <p>If you look back to the 1991 cult film <i>Mississippi Masala</i>, many of the negative stereotypes and stigmas surrounding Blindian relationships that existed then are still present now.</p> <p><b>Do you feel Blindian couples who are both based outside their native countries have it easier when it comes to societal acceptance?</b></p> <p>I feel that Blindian couples based in the West have it easier than similar couples based in India. However, this isn't to say that Blindian couples in the West don't experience challenges from their families or communities, or aren't also disowned.</p> <p><b>What kind of subtle, racist jibes have you had to encounter as a Blindian couple in so-called progressive, secular societies?</b></p> <p>My wife Swetha and I have two beautiful mixed-race children aged six and four. Occasionally, we still receive stares from members of both of our communities when out in public. I can also remember a recent incident from a wedding when an uncle thought he was being funny when he commented on my skin complexion.</p> <p><b>Both of you are similar in cultural richness and share a history of &quot;otherness&quot; in predominantly white milieus. Even so, as a Blindian couple and between yourselves, how defensive do you get about your respective racial and cultural identities? Do these issues on cultural competitiveness arise because of racist attitudes in your immediate environment?</b></p> <p>From early in our relationship, Swetha and I had many conversations regarding race, cultural identity, and how we wanted to raise our family. These discussions were essential to ensure we knew what was important to us both collectively and individually. We believe in the beauty of diversity and don't feel any competitiveness between our cultures within our relationship.</p> <p><b>What are some of the new complexities around race and colour introduced in your lives with raising Blindian children?</b></p> <p>Conversations that may have been seen as more acceptable regarding skin complexion when we both were growing up doesn't apply to our mixed Black x South Asian children.<b></b></p> <p>For example, the use of Fair &amp; Lovely as a skin lightening product would never be suggested to either of our children. We want our children to embrace their melanated skin; so, offering those types of products is counterintuitive. While our children represent both of our cultures, we know our children will be looked at by society with a different lens.</p> <p><b>You are in constant touch with so many Blindian couples through your social media project. What are some of the trends that you are happy about and concerns around 2020 Blindian coupledom that worry you?</b></p> <p>In 2020, Blindian couples have seen a much greater representation in the media and mainstream society. People are being forced to discuss a topic that has been swept under the carpet for too long. Another trend is a growing need to find/belong to a community with people who can relate to the Blindian experience.</p> <p><b>How have Blindian couples benefited from the renewed buzz around Black Lives Matter?</b></p> <p>The horrific George Floyd’s incident that occurred earlier this year has inspired the South Asian community to reflect on how they perpetuate AntiBlackness and how they can become better allies. This moment has renewed conversations around Black x South Asian love, and forced people to confront it. My concern regarding Blindian relationships is that progress has been extremely slow, and couples are still fighting the same stigmas from 30+ years ago.</p> <p><b>What do you like about each other the most?</b></p> <p>The thing I love most about Swetha is that her South Asian culture is important to her, and she is an extremely loyal companion that emphasises family. Swetha has an adventurous, outgoing personality and often gets me out of my comfort zone. Which means I can unexpectedly find myself white water-rafting on the Nile River, or zip-lining on England's longest and fastest zip wire. I often find myself participating in activities that I would have never tried, which keeps life exciting.</p> <p><b>How much do you feel Kamala Harris epitomises the Blindian ethos? How is she likely to create a safer space for racial minorities in America if she wins?</b></p> <p>The thing I like about Kamala Harris is that she appears to be a fighter, not scared to stand up against others. When you think about Blindian couples, we are often regarded as fighters—because we are forced to fight for our love.</p> <p>Many people are sceptical about Kamala Harris's time as a DA and Attorney General in which several of her actions disproportionately affected minorities. So, the jury is still out. Regardless of Harris's past, I would much rather see a Biden-Harris ticket in-office than the current administration.</p> Fri Sep 18 12:19:12 IST 2020 can-open-air-theatres-be-adapted-to-stage-plays <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Vivek Vijayakumaran from Our World theatre company in Bengaluru has parked a trial play for October. He clarifies it is not a livestream or a Zoom workshop, but a "normal" performance in the collective's company space in Koramangala. Without giving away too much, he informs that it will be a small show of about 40 minutes, so the audience, which won't be more than 10 to 15 in number, won't have to wear masks for a long time. Theirs is not a closed space anyway, they have French windows on all four sides to allow enough natural air. Vijayakumaran assures he will only invite people he knows as this kind of an undertaking now involves trust. Ten days before the play is showcased, he has instructed the actors to refrain from stepping out much in public to avoid unnecessary exposure.</p> <p>Vijayakumaran is reluctant to call this upcoming show a public performance. "It is a work-in-progress kind of sharing among theatre-makers. Even something like this was unimaginable in the last few months," says Vijayakumaran as he gingerly takes baby steps to revert towards what used to be routine affairs as a thespian in the good old pre-COVID days. "I am using this time to prepare two solos for when the world opens up. And it's not about Corona," says Vijayakumaran, equal parts hopeful and defiant.</p> <p>But what about the fact that open air theatres are allowed to resume operations with a maximum of 100 people from September 21 as part of the 'Unlock 4.0' guidelines? Can plays be adapted for an open air stage at a time when auditoriums and cinema halls remain shut? "In a city like Bengaluru, you never know when it can rain. As an urban city, we aren't really prepared to put up plays in the open air," he says.</p> <p>His nonchalance about open air theatres are echoed by most thespians who have been busy pivoting to a digital interface, putting out solo performances on Insta live, holding acting workshops on Zoom or doing re-runs of old shows on YouTube. Few are hopeful about returning to the proscenium this year even as 'Unlock' stages advance in the midst of India becoming the country with the second highest number of Covid cases.</p> <p>Mumbai-based playwright Purva Naresh knows that making a stage out of nothing is always a creative challenge for thespians, it is their playground. Still, she hasn't been designing anything for an open air format. "We are still trying to come up with new grammar for the online space. A lot of us are going through this validation question. What is a live performing art now? How does it change if this is going to be the new normal? How does that affect us? If we are undergoing a change and the audience is also undergoing a similar change, then how does that synergy between an actor and audience change?" says Naresh. "Besides, I don't even know how many open-air theatres are there in Mumbai," she adds.</p> <p>For film, theatre and television actor Hemant Pandey, the good times might not be too far away since 'Unlock' guidelines are changing every month. He and his friends are working towards the day auditoriums can be allowed to open, even at a reduced capacity. "Adapting to a digital medium is a big challenge for the theatre people. It is a highly interactive art form. Virtually, you can't gauge the audience response, there is no clapping. It is just boring. All of us have been working through the pandemic and we are dying to show our work," says Pandey who doesn't think open air theatres can be of much use for stage actors since it requires one to arrange their own light and sound, jacking up production costs.</p> <p>Theatre veteran M.K. Raina is skeptical about auditoriums themselves, if and when they do open this year. "All these theatre auditoriums are privately owned by big houses. They want to earn money. Kamani (in Delhi) is a lakh plus for one day. Shri Ram Centre is around Rs 70,000 per day. It's not worth that much. Theatre people are redundant for them today." Raina does have a solution to offer if open air theatres in Delhi are to be utilized for stage productions. "The Kejriwal government should either foot the bill or share the cost with theatre companies and directors to stage a play in open air theatres. Then we may consider it. We mount a production, do publicity and then call only 100 people? It's absolutely stupid."&nbsp;</p> Wed Sep 16 21:29:51 IST 2020 let-the-music-play-ensemble-singing-in-a-pandemic <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Researchers from Lund University in Sweden recently urged singers to maintain social distancing while performing their art. A recent study found that projection of aerosol particles and droplets is high while singing, particularly for "loud and constant-rich singing".</p> <p>The letters 'B' and 'P' are supposed to be the biggest aerosol spreaders. Aerosols are fine liquid droplets or solid particles in the air and activities like choral singing, concert singalongs, chanting during sporting events or any kind of group singing are feared COVID-19 vectors.&nbsp; The louder one sings, the more particles they spread, according to the aerosol specialists at the Swedish university.&nbsp;</p> <p>William Richmond, Shillong Chamber Choir's lead singer, was well aware of the risks posed by ensemble singing right from the early days of March when the novel coronavirus outbreak was much more serious in other countries. India's premier choir group had begun cancelling their shows across the country that month, up until the time when the national lockdown was imposed in the last week.</p> <p>"At the SCC, we were preparing ourselves to take this very seriously from the start. Since then we have made it a point that none of the choir members socialises anywhere. We are not just singers, we are torchbearers. We have to lead by example," says Richmond as he points out how choral singing venues have been COVID-19 vectors in other parts of the world.</p> <p>Such strict precautionary measures have allowed them to continue with rehearsals, including outdoor rehearsals in smaller groups.&nbsp; Following these safety standards, remote rehearsals and voice care measures,&nbsp; the choir group had released two viral songs in the first week of May ‘Sar Jo Tera Chakraye’ from the 1957 film Pyasa and the ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ from The Sound of Music. In the middle of the lockdown in April, the choir members also started a special home delivery service for the sick and elderly called Uncle’s Home Delivery. "That also allowed our group members to stay in touch," he says.&nbsp;</p> <p>Now SCC, within the next 10 days, will launch a brand new, 1,000 sq ft studio space dedicated exclusively for virtual broadcasts.</p> <p> "It’s going to be a massive space where we can spread out. It will have air purifiers and proper ventilation. We have commissioned a production house to build it here in Pohkseh. It is probably going to be a one-of-its-kind facility in the country," says Richmond about the temporary structure with trussing, built to be soundproof.</p> <p>This digital concert hall will now be used for all their performances as a group; upcoming shows in the new space are now lined up to be broadcast in Singapore, Philadelphia and Kolkata.</p> <p>"Any ensemble singing is a risk at the moment. But we have to learn to adapt and reinvent ourselves as artists. Art and music have always been an immense source of healing in every major incident in human history, especially wars and climatic disasters," says Richmond who does rue the absence of a real audience to interact with.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI), based at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai, is India’s first and only professional orchestra. They typically don't have singers in their ensembles, but the risks in congregating, rehearsing and performing persist. Marat Bisengaliev, music director at SOI, does not see a problem working with the entire orchestra with all the safety standards in place.</p> <p>"Of course, there is a bigger risk with the wind instruments in spreading the virus because of the air projection and as it’s impossible to wear masks while playing them, but even so, there are ways to solve this too. I strongly believe that the risk of infection at rehearsals, concerts and other cultural events is not more—perhaps even less—than any other areas where public gathering is permitted," says Bisengaliev.</p> <p>The Kazakh violinist, as founding music director of SOI, has also been a conductor of West Kazakhstan Philharmonic Orchestra and Turan Alem Kazakhstan Philharmonic Orchestra.</p> <p>"We have to adapt. The rehearsals are carrying on in smaller groups. Online teaching is more regular and for longer duration than one-on-one teaching. We are ready for orchestra performances with all required guidelines and I can’t wait for live music to resume," says Bisengaliev.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>While open-air theatres have been allowed to operate with a maximum capacity of 100 people from September 21, no dates have been announced for the reopening of closed auditoriums and concert halls.&nbsp;</p> Tue Sep 15 18:28:19 IST 2020 from-jeffrey-archer-karan-johar-children-books-lures-more-stars <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Get ready to spot the celebrity on a children's bookshelf. From Karan Johar to Jeffrey Archer, celebrities are gearing up for their toughest challenge ever—keeping those with the short attention spans hooked.</p> <p>Archer has enthralled adults for decades, but this is his foray into the imaginative world of children's fiction—officially. “I wrote these three books at a time when my children were aged six and four, and obviously were too young to read Kane and Abel! But their friends were telling them I was an author, and they demanded their own books. Willy is my eldest son William, and James his younger brother,'' said Jeffrey Archer in a media statement. He also has experience with two grandsons and finally a granddaughter Vivenne in November 2017, born while he was en route to India.</p> <p><i>By Royal Appointment</i> is about King Benefactor and Queen Echo of Littleland agreeing to have a race to decide which is the fastest car in the world; <i>Willy Visits the Square World</i> is about a rescue mission for Yo Yo the Cat by Willy and Randolph the Bear and <i>Willy and the Killer Kipper</i> is to find Neptune, the world's largest submarine.</p> <p>Twisty and fun, these books are meant for age group of five to nine years and will be launched on October 21, publishers Pan Macmillan India said.</p> <p>This is not the first time the famous have chosen to turn their attention to write for children. The thrill of winning children's hearts has always been the ultimate prize. It helps that it also comes with sometimes a generous advance. Madonna, John Travolta, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld and even Will Smith have tried to follow in J.K Rowling's steps.</p> <p>In India, too, this has now become a trend. The tips for mothering—and parenting—has become has domain that every celebrity in India wants to be part of. Even Esha Deol has a book on parenting. But fiction for children so far—apart from a few exceptions—usually has either been dominated by the established writers from across the world or Indian writers who have now become superstars like Sudha Murthy or Ruskin Bond. No longer. Karan Johar has now taken his first step into this space with <i>The Big Thoughts of Little Luv</i>—a picture book being brought out by Juggernaut Books.</p> <p>Going beyond just writing, celebs with kids are also reading. Story time with Soha Ali Khan was launched with Juggernaut in partnership with Hubhopper to get Khan to read her favourite stories for kids. An idea to promote reading among children, while it might have been the brain child of Chiki Sarkar of Juggernaut, the stories were by other publishers too. This is just the start.</p> Sat Sep 12 16:11:50 IST 2020 what-irresponsible-reporting-on-suicide-can-do-to-your-mental-health <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In a recent paper published in the Indian Journal of Social Psychiatry, titled 'Psychology of Misinformation and the Media', the authors start with a Jim Morrison quote: "Whoever controls the media, controls the mind."</p> <p>Co-author Dr Debanjan Banerjee,&nbsp; a senior resident at the geriatric unit of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, points to the section on responsible reporting of suicides, especially during disasters and for popular figures. Two theories from suicide-related literature are drawn to explain the role of media in abetting or preventing suicides.</p> <p>On one end is the "Werther effect ", also called "Copycat suicides". The name is derived from Goethe's first successful book, <i>The Sorrows of Young Werther</i>, in which the protagonist, Werther, on finding himself enmeshed in a love triangle, assumes the only way out is by ending his own life. The popularity of the book led to a spate of real suicides when fans began to identify with the travails of the fictional young Werther. The event spawned the theory of "Copycat suicides" born out of local knowledge, repetitive accounts or portrayals of suicide in fiction, television and other forms of media.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>At the other end is the "Papageno" effect, named after a character in Mozart’s opera <i>The Magic Flute</i>. Papageno, the bird-catcher, decides to take his own life after he loses his love. But, his attempt is foiled by three boys who enlighten him on alternatives to dying. From this operatic sub-plot, a simple theory was born that for anyone contemplating suicide or in extreme mental turmoil, the way the media reports the act can have a bearing on an individual's decision.</p> <p>"It is also important to remember that media professionals themselves get affected with suicide reporting and vivid visual content, with studies showing a high prevalence of insomnia, acute stress, depression, and complex posttraumatic stress disorder in them," write Banerjee and his co-author T. S. Sathyanarayana Rao. They direct the reader to clear-cut WHO guidelines, framed in 2017,&nbsp; on reporting suicides.</p> <p>Making personal assumptions, holding biases, sharing "tales" and conspiracy theories, coercive questioning of the bereaved on camera and excessive emphasis on the personal life and contextual information must be avoided.&nbsp;</p> <p>One does not need to overstate where the India media stands on the spectrum from "Werther" to "Papageno" when it comes to reporting the latest celebrity suicide case of a Bollywood star.</p> <p>September 10 is designated as World Suicide Prevention day and one cannot help but reflect on the morbid fascination with the death of Sushant Singh Rajput which could very well have been a direct result of a mental health issue—an aspect of the case which is now conveniently overshadowed.&nbsp;</p> <p>On 14 June, Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput was found dead in his Bandra home and the cause of his death was ruled as suicide by hanging. Almost three months in and the media circus around his death is at fever pitch with all the forced suspense, intrigue and an obscene witchhunt played out in full public glare. In a recent development, Rajput's father filed a complaint to Medical Council of India against his son's therapist Susan Walker for breaking confidentiality agreements by opening up about the actor's medication for anxiety and bipolar disorder diagnosis. A crucial piece of the puzzle, a conversation around mental health in high-stakes showbiz, is now buried under high-decibel speculations around murder, conspiracy, drugs and poltical mileage.&nbsp;</p> <p>Prama Bhattacharya, a clinical psychologist and PhD Scholar from IIT Kanpur, concedes she's never seen such overwhelming involvement of the nation in the untimely death of a celebrity and the media's efforts in keeping this fascination alive. </p> <p>"I personally feel that this time a lot has been catalysed by the fact that the suicide happened during a period of nationwide lockdown. Even now, many of us are working from home, with limited social interaction in our daily life," says Bhattacharya.</p> <p> "Social media thus becomes an integral part of our life. We are probably trying to make up for our social isolation by not being idle on social media and therefore having an opinion on almost everything. We are all scared of the pandemic, and the SSR case gave us something to be distracted with."</p> <p>What are the mental health implications for a country on a diet of largely unfactual reporting of a suicide event and inhumane interviewing of the bereaved? What does irresponsible reporting do to the collective psyche of a nation already grappling with unrelenting public health and economic crises? </p> <p>"Undoubtedly, a very negative one.&nbsp; Our frustration against an insurmountable crisis like the pandemic is getting rerouted in this direction where we can point fingers towards a “villain”. I wonder if this is some form of catharsis, but it worries me," says Bhattacharya.&nbsp;<br> </p> Thu Sep 10 21:00:19 IST 2020 the-drama-of-the-domestic <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>That the home can be a place of critical art outside the white cube is more than reinforced in a pandemic. Shrugged-off objects like a sofa or a side-table have acquired new meaning and purpose. Our private insecurities and fears bounce off these sterile surfaces with greater force in home isolation. To view these domesticated objects pulsating with renewed life, one should look no further than Tanmoy Samanta's solo show at Gallery Espace, as part of TAP India—a new collective of major art galleries on one digital platform, created to make Indian art accessible even in a pandemic.</p> <p>A leaking blue comb, a dissolving telephone under a fish receiver or the serrated edges of two knives outlining faces in red, there is enough inspiration from surrounding banality. There's a pretty chair with a lusty tongue and a portrait of a lady overshadowed by a fighter plane.</p> <p>&quot;I use mundane, domestic objects because they closely witness our lives and are repositories of memory. The containers and cabinets become receptacles of secrets and whisper a moment of history,&quot; says Samanta on the phone from Kolkata.</p> <p>He strives to dismantle assumptions of any visual security with his fluid, surreal style of painting everyday objects in his chosen medium of tempera and opaque watercolour. &quot;All my works grow on the viewer stealthily, until they begin to believe it.&quot;</p> <p>The sewing machine with undefined contours is a mysterious recurrence in the show titled 'The Afterlife of Objects'. &quot;The form and the function of the sewing machine is fascinating. It is evocative and intimate. So it keeps coming back into my work. It is one of the heirlooms that I see in my household, no longer in use but full of stories that it can stitch together,&quot; says Samanta who trained at the Kala Bhawan in Santiniketan, the art institution which later became synonymous with the 'Bengal School' of art.</p> <p>He has been part of several group and solo shows in India and other international art fairs. His works adorn the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, where he co-worked on an installation called 'The Rabbit Hole' with a re-purposed Nano car, and the new Terminal 2 at Mumbai International airport.</p> <p>&quot;Due to the ongoing pandemic, the relationship between one's own self with the objects at home are becoming more dramatic,&quot; says Samanta, reminding us to be more mindful of the objects we co-habit with. &quot;They are evolving a social life of their own.&quot;</p> <p>The 'Afterlife of Objects' is on view till end-October at</p> Thu Sep 10 18:08:11 IST 2020 a-poet-diplomat-ode-to-latin-america <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>If TS Eliot's Prufrock was to visit the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, he might sing: "In the Sambadrone dancers come and go/showing off their torso," or so poet Abhay Kumar reimagines the famous lines in Eliot's lovesong in his latest collection of poems The<i> Alphabets of Latin America</i>.&nbsp;</p> <p>The very first poem which Kumar wrote in the book was 'Carnival: Prufrock at the Carnival in Rio'. The dancers, the swelling crowd, the sounds, lights and colours at Rio's "modern Rasleela" are images that stayed with the poet-diplomat during his stay and travels in&nbsp;Latin America&nbsp;from 2016 to 2019, during which time he also served in the Indian mission of Brasilia.</p> <p>Currently serving as India's Ambassador to the Indian Ocean islands of&nbsp;Madagascar&nbsp;and&nbsp;Comoros, Kumar has crafted a joyous ode to the rich cultural and literary heritage of a beguiling continent which was once the ground beneath his feet.&nbsp;<br> <br> “The common expectation is that literature born amid social and economic crisis by nature must be didactic and polemical, obsessed with simplistic affirmations of identity and written in a raw idiom unconcerned with nuance,” but that a look at Latino/a poetries “will frustrate that expectation.”&nbsp;&nbsp;wrote&nbsp;Martín Espada in&nbsp;<i>El Coro: A Chorus of Latino and Latina Poetry</i>&nbsp;(1997).&nbsp;&nbsp;Latin American poets like Pablo Neruda, Octavia Paz, Gabriela Mistral and Jorge Luis Borges inspired Kumar to take up a diplomatic assignment in the region. Kumar himself has published eight collections of poetry, including 'The Prophecy of Brasilia'. His poems have been published in&nbsp;60 literary journals, including Poetry Salzburg Review. He's also edited collections like <i>New Brazilian Poems</i> and <i>The Bloomsbury Anthology of Great Indian Poems.&nbsp;</i></p> <p>So, the poet in him heeded the call of a fascinating continent waiting to be explored more than geopolitical interests. "In fact, Latin American poets like Neruda, Paz and Mistral were all poets and diplomats at the same time. Neruda was Chile's&nbsp;ambassador to France, Paz was Mexico's ambassador to India and Mistral was the cultural representative of Chile," says Kumar. "All of them went on to win the Nobel Prize in literature. They created a special group of poet-diplomats who have excelled in both poetry and diplomacy," he says.&nbsp;</p> <p>In over 100 poems, Kumar has enthusiastically dipped into the dizzying, many-splendoured wonders of South American society and culture for poetic inspiration. From Amazon, Atacama and Ayahuasca to quetzal, Santiago and Tijuca, there is a sense of yearning and childlike joy upon discovering an exciting new geography. Hence, Brasilia is a "piece of cake", "a fantasy island in the lake", a "Dominican night shake". while Cartagena is a "city that squirms, then revels inhaling its smell".&nbsp; In a delightful poem on&nbsp;Colombian figurative artist and sculptor&nbsp;Fernando Botero and the larger-than-life women he painted, Kumar calls them "xeroxed/yearning/zoomorphic/but not fat." The book of poems can also serve as a travel map in the way it covers a rich mosaic of cultural and geographic terrain.&nbsp;</p> <p>What about versifying the great human churning at this point in history? "I have not been infected by the poetry virus this pandemic. But I have used this time to translate <i>Meghdoot</i> and <i>Ritusamhara</i> of Kalidas from Sanskrit," says Kumar who is editing an anthology of great Indian love poems, out in October.&nbsp;</p> Wed Sep 09 15:37:34 IST 2020 taking-etikoppaka-toys-to-next-level <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Shiny water jars, grinding&nbsp;bowls, shepherds, sparrows or spinning tops---the lacquer wood toys from the tiny&nbsp;village of Etikoppaka&nbsp;on the banks of Varaha River in Vizag occupy a pride of place in India's craft heritage. The delightful little toys from Etikoppaka, with a tradition going back to 400 years, was even GI-tagged in 2017. CV Raju---an agriculturalist from&nbsp;Etikoppaka who revived the use of natural dyes, was praised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his&nbsp;Mann ki Baat radio broadcast on August 31 to propel India's toy-making industry.&nbsp;</p> <p>But Raju believes there is a lot more work left to position&nbsp;Etikoppaka toys in the global market.&nbsp;</p> <p>"In order to meet the export-import requirements of US and Europe, we need heavy metals certification. Otherwise the GI tag is useless," says Raju on the phone from Andhra Pradesh.&nbsp;Heavy metal analysis is crucial for exporters to assure international markets that the toys do not contain substances like barium, cadmium and lead.</p> <p>The export of&nbsp;Etikoppaka toys had come to a halt in 2007 when the artisans could not procure&nbsp;heavy metal certification. "National Biodiversity Authority which endorses the wood we use, the&nbsp;Indian Institute of Toxicology Research and&nbsp;every other national organisation of the kind are not coming together to issue this certification which has become more than relevant now," says Raju who is busy preparing proposals for concerned Central ministries for support and what he calls to take the craft of making&nbsp; Etikoppaka toys "to the next level".&nbsp;</p> <p>For the longest time since early 1910s, the use of natural, tree-based dyes and traditional toy-making methods were replaced by synthetic chemicals and cheap plastic toys, including the use of titanium dioxide in the&nbsp;lacquer. Migration of artisans to urban areas as unskilled labourers was another regressive trend. Raju and his family estate in&nbsp;Etikoppaka village&nbsp;have been responsible&nbsp;for restoring the use of plant-based dyes using innovative methods apart from working with the Crafts Council to test the toxicity&nbsp;of the dyes produced anew. He also worked with the forest department to increase the availability of the&nbsp;soft Ankudu wood used for making the toys found in every Telugu home in India. He began a&nbsp;cooperative association of artisans called “Padmavati Associates” to implement new tools and ideas to go back to the tradition of making vegetative dyes.&nbsp;</p> <p>While these changes improved the lives of artisans and the international prices of toys from the region, 95 per cent of the domestic toy market was soon dominated by&nbsp;Chinese variety in later years. The Sino-Indian border dispute&nbsp;and a growing demand for banning import of Chinese toys is expected to boost India's toy-manufacturing&nbsp;capabilities.&nbsp;</p> <p>But Raju knows there's a long way to go before all toys from India can be as qualitatively superior as the soft, round and polished ones in&nbsp;Etikoppaka. Craftsmanship is not elevated to the stature of science here.</p> <p>"We need an experimentation and research centre in the village. There is a need to impart skills and knowledge to the next generation by rejuvenating the craft center to a level of interpretation, archiving and experimentation. The use of natural dyes needs to be diversified for other applications including fabric, furniture, interiors as well as pottery," says Raju.&nbsp;</p> <p><b>&nbsp;</b></p> Wed Sep 09 13:58:19 IST 2020 celebrity-shoutout-apps-and-the-brand-new-universe-of-fan-engagement <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It took $85 for a comedy writer in New York, Ali-Asghar Abedi, to get a <i>Fox News</i> anchor to call Trump an &quot;ullu&quot;. How did Abedi do it?</p> <p>Abedi was alerted to a &quot;celebrity shoutout&quot; app called Cameo where one can pay for customised messages from celebrities across a range of industries. From movie stars and musicians to athletes and social media influencers, all are game for personalised dispatches for a price on Cameo. The comedy writer wondered if Cameo personalities could be made to say anything for a quick buck. And he was mostly right. Last week, the conservative news anchor parroted “President Trump is wise like an ullu,” never bothering to check the usage of the word in an Indian context.</p> <p>Cameo has been around since 2017 in the US market and has now received a new round of funding to the tune of $65 million to expand to other parts of the world, including India. Its South African web cousin myFanPark, which originated in 2019 and became one of the top five start-ups there, has now opened out to users in Germany, Nigeria and India. On 15 August, entrepreneur and director Shailendra Singh launched myFanPark in India at a time when similar celebrity shoutout fora like Tring, Wysh, YoShot, and Celebrify are also helping fans from smaller towns and cities to purchase recorded messages and videos from television actors and local celebrities, often for as small an amount as Rs 500 for a wish. Sunny Leone reportedly listed herself on Wysh.</p> <p>&quot;The potential of this business is immense. It goes beyond shoutout videos between celebrities and fans. It creates a brand new universe of fan engagement in relation to their celebrities. It is the future Facebook of engagement between celebrities and fans,&quot; says Singh, director of&nbsp;myFanPark, who is banking on a large spectrum of micro-celebrities in India, especially in the B,C,D category to sign up for these apps.</p> <p>&quot;India is a new nation, an emerging market where celebrities range from poets, news anchors, athletes, singers, politicians, doctors, priests, gurus and actors. Our country is very celebrity-struck. The Alia Bhatts, Virat Kohlis and Amitabh Bachchans are making enough money by public appearances, endorsements, movies, awards, conferences, weddings, etc. The A-listers don't need this. But there are other smaller ones with a massive following; they understand the true potential of this. They can make money, keep their brand alive and stay engaged with fans,&quot; says Singh who has enlisted some Bollywood actors and sports athletes for myFanPark where they record and submit their videos on MYP app and messages are delivered to the users via email or WhatsApp. Prices range from Rs 1,000 to 10 lakh on myFanPark.</p> <p>Singh is certain that the concept will take off for Indian fans. &quot;Some Indian artists have obsessive following in places like Dubai and Singapore. So, we may not even know the true potential of an artist and his relationship with his fans. Indians living abroad are more emotional and fan-struck about Indian celebrities than Indians,&quot; adds Singh.</p> <p>Some call it a nifty side-hustle while others disregard it as a &quot;prostitution of talent&quot;. In the West, Cameo has had a hard time onboarding celebrities on to the app. Articles have been written about 'How Cameo Turned D-List Celebs Into a Monetization Machine'. Some D-listers jockey for attention alongside non-celeb categories, which include Trump impersonators, Playboy models, tarot card readers and even real animals like dogs, cats, pigs and horses, as reported in a recent article on Cameo in <i>Wired</i>. It is only after the shutdown of the entertainment industry in a year of the pandemic that more celebrities have found the app useful, often for raising money for charity. &quot;From February to March of this year there was a 77 per cent increase in talent joining the site. Some, whose pre-COVID-19 lives were a whirlwind of performances, shoots, travel and fan interactions, were bored at home,&quot; <i>Wired</i> wrote about Cameo.&nbsp;</p> Thu Sep 03 18:54:19 IST 2020 why-mf-husain-is-the-most-sought-after-indian-artist-in-2020 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Spanning 20 feet, M.F. Husain’s 1958 oil-on-canvas ‘Voices’ is a curious amalgam of shapes and symbols. There is a dark scaffolding of a shelter on one side, damp shades of green enmeshed with vague human outlines in the middle, followed by a grey and blue realm with an indistinct form of a horse’s hoof. Or so it appears. There’s always a tendency to look for horses in the master-painter’s sweeping oeuvre since he began painting the animal in the early 1950s. Yet ‘Voices’ eschews any direct representation of the valiant animal or the painter’s typical figurative style but represents a rich, expansive collectivity of a diverse nation, in fact an abstract assemblage of his many stylistic flourishes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>‘Voices’ broke all previous auction actualizations of the painter, selling for Rs 18.47 crore, the highest-ever for Husain who is India’s most important 20th-century artist, a trailblazer in modern Indian art. The online auction by AstaGuru on Sunday, as part of a solo artist auction “Husain”,&nbsp; fetched the record price for the artist whose last sale record of Rs 13.44 crore was set in March 2020 for ‘Battle of Ganga and Jamuna: Mahabharata 12’ in a Saffronart auction of seized items from the fugitive businessman Nirav Modi’s estate. The entire auction “Husain” achieved&nbsp; more than Rs 55 crore in total sales revenue from 34 artworks spanning a collection of paintings, jewellery, tapestry and toys. This makes the late M.F. Husain the most sought after Indian artist in 2020 so far.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“While the economy is grappling with a slowdown, the Indian art market has been recording solid trade. Artery India Knowledge reports that the artist with the highest turnover since January is M.F. Husain, with Rs 98.7 crores realised from 88 works,” says Arvind Vijaymohan, CEO of Artery India, an art market intelligence and asset advisory firm.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vijaymohan says that some of the strongest art acquisition opportunities arise in recessionary times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“From January 2020 till date, new global price records have been established for 67 Indian artists—ranging from Rs 13,992 to Rs. 18.4 crores. Of further importance, since April 2020, 685 works have been successfully sold to realise a turnover of Rs 201.7 crores. Amongst these, 46 works have sold for over Rs 1 crore each,” confirm Vijaymohan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>‘Voices’ was created during a significant phase in Husain’s career in the late 1950s, when he was steadily gaining international repute and his art practice and philosophy was visible on a global stage. The artwork itself was highly commended internationally even back then and won him the International Biennale Award at the Tokyo Biennale in 1959. This further led to him receiving a Rockefeller scholarship later that year to study in New York where his style was further enriched by exposure to abstract expressionists. The painting enjoys an extensive exhibition history and was also shown at a retrospective in 2005 at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai. But this is the first time that ‘Voices’ came up for auction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“‘Voices’ is a masterpiece by M.F. Husain and is amongst his top three works, following ‘Between the Spider and the Lamp’ and ‘Zameen’. He created this work to proclaim India’s evolving and unified ‘Voice’ as a nation to the world,” says Tushar Sethi, CEO of AstaGuru. “The work is his largest from the 1950s. The artist proved his mettle and artistic virtuosity through such iconic works, and garnered a global reputation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Romanticised as “India’s Picasso” for adapting a Cubist style, Husain began his artistic career by painting cinema posters after attending art school in then Bombay. Husain spent the last few years of his life in a self-imposed exile—living between Dubai, Qatar and London—after being hounded by right-wing fundamentalists in India over perceived obscenity in artworks depicting Hindu deities. He died in London in 2011, aged 95.</p> Tue Sep 01 19:50:12 IST 2020 memories-of-life-lived-with-ramakrishna-hegde <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is 16 years since he died and I try hard to remember that day through the haze, the blur, the caliginous atmosphere that descended on our surroundings, a deep loss that obnubilated and obfuscated the lives of my boys and I for several years to come.</p> <p>But just 16 years earlier than that fateful day in 2004, it was like H. Shipman said-</p> <p><i>Across the gateway of my heart</i></p> <p><i>I wrote: ‘No thoroughfare.’</i></p> <p><i>But love came laughing and cried:</i></p> <p><i>‘I enter everywhere.’</i></p> <p>I was in my parent’s house, my home then, doing something just about normal, like reading a book, when the phone rang. My brother answered and called out to me and said, “ Call for you. This person says Mr. Ramakrishna Hegde wants to speak to you.” I remember screaming, “Yes, sure and I am Indira Gandhi.” My mother quickly hushed us, got up and went to the phone. She turned to me and signalled that it was true, it was indeed Chief Minister Mr. R.K Hegde who wanted to speak to me.</p> <p>That was how it began. Mr. Hegde had watched my performance on television and liked the piece I performed- JagadhoDaarana, the popular Purandaradasa pada. He got to know that I was from Bangalore and wanted to congratulate me and convey his appreciation of my dance to me. Can you believe this? Can you for a moment imagine something like this happening in today’s times? A Chief Minister phoning a young, unknown classical dancer to convey his appreciation? I can still recall the feeling of elation that consumed me, that absolute sense of gratitude I felt for the entire Universe after this phone conversation.</p> <p>For a couple of years after that, I used to be an invitee to get-togethers, parties at his home, whenever he had artistes, cricketers, actors, journalists over, which were pretty regular, at least once a month. My father would drop me off at his residence and come back an hour later to take me home. I always sat on one particular chair, barely spoke to anyone unless spoken to and never had anything except Coca-Cola or juice. At the appointed time, I would run out without saying any goodbyes to meet my father outside, who I was certain would be annoyed if I made him wait.</p> <p>Many moons later, Hegde teased me often about those dinners, my special chair and my Cinderella-like sudden disappearances.</p> <p>The word ‘joy’ summed up my life then; of daring and caring despite the odds. Mr. Hegde was relentless in his pursuit. He was the most genuine, kind-hearted, charming person I had ever met in my life. He was thirty-five years older than I.</p> <p>There was no logic, no reason to our relationship. We just connected as two souls meant to be together. No one understood our relationship. We did not either, nor did we try to. So, the obvious name- calling me began. Flower girl, middle-class, social climber, political aspirant, ambitious etc. If ever I felt hurt and anguished by these comments, Mr. Hegde would tell me that these were small people with small minds and that I was meant for bigger things, with new and fresh grounds to break.</p> <p>A lot was going on politically for him then. He resigned as Chief Minister because</p> <p>of his own sense of who he was, his honesty and public probity and gave way to Mr. Bommai to become CM. Hegde then became one of the founders of the Janata Dal Party. He was willing to put his own political future in the back burner to ensure that a strong Opposition was formed at the national level. He was like a man possessed. He was convinced that ‘coalition politics’ was the only way forward. He said way back in 1987-88, and I quote, “unless a miracle happens, a coalition Government at the Centre comprising like -minded parties appears inevitable in the present political situation.”</p> <p>Determined to find a credible national alternative, he approached V.P Singh, then Defence Minister in Rajiv Gandhi cabinet, when the controversies regarding Bofors, Quattrocchi &amp; HDW submarines’ kickbacks started making news.</p> <p>It fell upon Hegde’s shoulders to convince big leaders like Lok Dal’s Devi Lal, Janata Party stalwarts Chandrashekar, Madhu Dandawate, Biju Patnaik, I.K Gujral, Lalu Prasad Yadav, George Fernandes &amp; others to come together under the united leadership of V.P Singh to fight the general elections. In addition to all of these, he had to take along leaders from his own State -S.R Bommai, then Chief Minister and H.D DeveGowda.</p> <p>Hegde went about convincing each one of them with missionary zeal to merge to form the Janata Dal and organised a massive rally in Bangalore Palace grounds on 11th October,1988. I, with my obvious political naiveté and complete trust in the wisdom of Hegde, was witness to how dedicatedly he worked towards the making of the National Front government with V. P Singh as the Prime Minister. He was offered the Deputy Chairmanship of the Planning Commission by PM V. P Singh, which he gracefully accepted as he was not one given to lobbying for ministerial berths or positions.</p> <p>They say politics is fickle; I say politics is fluid and politicians are fickle. PM V.P Singh, who the media projected as the saviour of Indian Democracy, wanted to go down in history as the champion of the backward castes and classes. Without calling for a cabinet meeting on the report submitted by the Mandal Commission, as per procedure towards ‘collective responsibility and consensus’, especially in a coalition government, V.P Singh announced the Government’s acceptance of the Mandal Commission report at a public rally. And in true ‘Caesar’s wife has to be above suspicion style,’ but primarily to clip the wings of the popular R. K Hegde, his cabinet accepted the report of a one- man Commission of a sitting judge Kuldip Singh that went into the alleged omissions and commissions of the Hegde Government, that was submitted on 22nd June, 1990. The Kuldip Singh report itself was baseless, had no evidence to back its charges and everything was based on “probable possibility,” according to legal luminaries. But, V. P Singh, thought it fit to rid Hegde even of the Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission post, even though he owed his Prime Ministership to the perseverance and commitment of R.K Hegde.</p> <p>A deeply pained Hegde, came home one day and handed over to me a handwritten note to the Prime Minister offering his resignation as the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission to ensure that the Government had a free hand in dealing with the matter. As strange as strange could be, Prime Minister V. P Singh accepted this handwritten resignation. Many intellectuals, politicians, legal experts, journalists, and others who believed in the deep integrity and honesty of R. K Hegde &amp; knew of his commitment to rid politics of corruption were shocked.</p> <p>Seeking a legal opinion on the findings of this one -man Commission from former Chief Justice of India, Mr. Y.V Chandrachud, an editorial in Indian Express dated August 13,1990 said under a very telling headline – ‘IF SHAME HAD SURVIVED’, and I quote , “ ...nothing in the report survives it as ‘evidence’.....indictments framed on ‘probable possibility’, theories invented to read meanings into documents and the manifest, straightforward explanation ignored; the Commission itself as well as the energetic prosecutor himself declaring one day that neither has a shred of evidence which cast a doubt on Hegde...ignoring entirely the fact that the land was never transferred and that it was not transferred solely because of the then Chief Minister’s insistence that rules be framed under which all such cases would be dealt with.....” It continues with this very definitive stand and I quote –“if there had been any sense of honour or shame, a Judge would never have done any of this. If there were any residual sense of honour or shame, the Judge having done any of it and having been found doing it, would have vacated his seat. But this is India. Of 1990, the Commissioner Kuldip Singh having perpetrated such perversities will continue to sit in judgement on the fortunes and reputations of countless citizens.....”.</p> <p>What an irony that the Supreme Court in a five-bench judgement said in 2014 that a commission of enquiry set up under 1952 law is a fact -finding body whose recommendations are not binding on the Government. ‘Dismissing the contempt petition filed by Subramaniam Swamy against the editor at that time, Arun Shourie, the five-member bench of the SC said that a Supreme Court judge doesn’t carry the powers and functions of a judge when he heads a commission of enquiry. At that time, he performs only statutory functions.’</p> <p>Why did Prime Minister V. P Singh not take legal advice on this ‘Report’ before accepting Mr. Hegde’s resignation? This was the beginning of the end of his Government. His Government sure enough fell soon, when BJP withdrew support and Chandrashekar became the PM with outside support of the Congress Party.</p> <p>In 1991, the Chandrashekar experiment failed and the Country was up for General Elections. This was especially significant because Hegde stood for parliamentary elections from Bagalkot constituency. There was huge excitement and he was hugely popular. His opponent was a relatively unknown person from the Congress Party Sidduname Gouda. Hegde insisted that I should campaign for him. I refused initially, said I could not, would not do it but he would not take no for an answer.</p> <p>For one month, I camped in Bagalkot at Ajay Kumar Sarnaik’s farm, from where I would go to different legislative constituencies and do door to door campaigning. No one knew who I was and nor did I care. I was there for Hegde, and only for him. Whether people thought I was the daughter, or a party worker or whatever hardly mattered to me.</p> <p>Soon, the local party workers started liking me and would request me to be present to campaign. My daily itinerary was filled up and I started enjoying meeting people and asking for votes for Hegde. I even went to Sidduname Gouda’s house and met his mother and had buttermilk with her. A simple, straight-forward woman, she said she admired R.K Hegde and had advised her son not to accept the Congress ticket against him. But, destiny played its tricks and Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated right the middle of the campaign and after the first phase of the elections. The campaign was called off and elections postponed. When they did take place, R.K Hegde lost to a relatively unknown youngster because of the huge sympathy wave for Rajiv Gandhi.</p> <p>A political lull set in for Hegde. He seemed happier though. He seemed carefree and would insist on my playing golf with him &amp; HGV Reddy every morning at the Airforce Golf Club or at KGA later whenever we were both in Bangalore. He had more time for reading, writing, music, and cultural programmes which he loved so much. Our relationship grew stronger. My career as a professional danseuse was on the rise. I was traveling a lot, in India and overseas. Through the Prasiddha Foundation, which we registered in 1990, I began organising huge dance -music festivals and all the famous artistes of India would come to perform at Sharad Vaibhava and Eka Aneka festivals. I was riding the crest of the wave. And all on my own steam. R.K Hegde respected me for it. And his was the valuable presence in my life ,which dwarfed everything else, and made everything seem so easy and enjoyable.</p> <p>It is impossible to be free from the humanness of experience, a life led, ineliminable memories, intangible bonding. How can I be objective about what to me is ‘personal’ or ‘emotional?’</p> <p>Life is like a ‘jewelled cup’- but unless there is the wine of love in it, it is lonely and lost. I had it all - love, freedom, free-will and the sheer joy of doing what I desired.</p> <p>I want our 22-year-old boys to know the ‘Ramakrishna Hegde- Prathibha Prahlad’ story from me in first person. And I want them to know that “it is love, not reason, that is stronger than death”.</p> <p><i><b><a href="">Prathibha Prahlad</a> is a pre-eminent danseuse, guru, choreographer, author, and cultural visionary. A distinguished speaker, socio-political activist, feminist, and culture multiplier add to her multi-faceted profile. She is the recipient Padmashri and Sangeet Nataka Akademi awards. She was a long-term companion of Ramakrishna Hegde and lives in Delhi with their two sons.</b></i></p> Sat Aug 29 23:17:38 IST 2020