International Yoga Day: Yoga A Day Is A Sure Shot Way To Keep Sickness Away

International Yoga Day Special featured in The Free Press Journal.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/international-day-of-yoga-acroyoga-chair-yoga-aerial-yoga-and-laughter-yoga-reinventing-yoga-for-the-new-age-fitness-buffs

Dad’s the word!

This Father’s Day Special piece for The Free Press Journal was published on June 19, 2022.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/fathers-day-2022-five-heartwarming-tales-of-fatherhood

Appy to Date? Not Actually!

The article was published in The Free Press Journal, Mumbai, edition dated May 22, 2022.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/how-single-women-are-navigating-the-world-of-online-dating

In some measure, Dhruv Sehgal’s I Love Thane in Amazon Prime’s latest anthology Modern Love Mumbai is a cautionary tale on the trappings of a dating app, its trials and tribulations and the emotional toll it takes on a person when things don’t go as ‘planned’. The 34-year-old protagonist, landscape architect Saiba, played by Masaba Gupta, is caught in the dating app loop, spending a lot of time and energy hopeful about finding love just by swiping right. Her expectations from a prospective date are different, and she fails to find the perfect match in the app universe. The emotionally excruciating process gives her self-doubt and humiliation in abundance, as she admits in one scene, but then she starts the grind all over again in the hope of finding that elusive love and Mr Right. On one of her Date Zero, where she meets a hotshot startup founder whom she had never met in person before starts listing out the must-have qualities in the prospective life partner. His long monologue is greeted with her blank, bleak stare. The camera zooms in to capture the disappointment in Saiba’s gaze and matches it with that of another woman sitting a few tables away and out on a date as well; the women exchange a glance of blighted hope, equally let down by their respective dates. The fleeting moment elucidates the dating app plot that often makes one feel like a square peg in a round hole, with many misses before that one hit.     

(The frames that tell the story… from I Love Thane in Modern Love Mumbai, currently streaming on Amazon Prime.)

A drippy medical fad?

The article was published on April 17, 2022, in the weekend edition.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/iv-lounges-all-you-need-to-know-about-the-new-medical-fad

National Safe Motherhood Day 2022: Maternal health matters

National Safe Motherhood Day Special carried in The Free Press Journal on April 10, 2022.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/national-safe-motherhood-day-maternal-mortality-rate-all-you-need-to-know-about-the-fall-the-cause-and-the-reason

Oasis of Hope

World Water Day special for The Free Press Journal published on March 20, 2022.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/world-water-day-spotlighting-a-few-warriors-who-are-creating-abundance-in-scarcity

The Ecofeminist Warrior

The ethos of Padma Shri recipient Shyam Sunder Paliwal’s life revolves around water, daughter and trees. A resident of Rajsamund district in Rajasthan, Paliwal is the architect of the Piplantri Model that hinges on water conservation, environment protection and saving the girl child.

“It was not too long ago that the district was known as a hub of marble mining. When I took over as Sarpanch of Piplantari, I found that the water here was severely contaminated. The poor sex ratio was another worry. The winds of change began to blow when we started an initiative to plant 111 saplings to celebrate the birth of a girl child across the villages, nurture and help the tree thrive. Slowly, the rural communities had realised that the trees that would grow from these humble efforts would help the environment in more than one way. Simultaneously, we started water conservation efforts like building small check dams,” says Paliwal, founder of Kiran Nidhi Sansthan, a grassroots organisation committed to rural development. 

Padma Shri Shyam Sunder Paliwal

His initiative brought about a visible social change and helped water and environmental conservation in Piplantari. More than three lakh trees have been planted here in the last ten years, and the water level has increased to 50 feet from 500 feet. “It is heartening to see my penance bear fruits. It has been a long and arduous journey spread over the last two decades. We never dithered but stayed put, instilled confidence in the people and won their trust to do this wonder here. It was possible because the community came forward and pitched its support to these initiatives for tree plantation, water conservation and saving the girl child,” he says.

But the work is far from over. The much-celebrated water warrior’s Piplantari Model is the perfect medium to convey the message to others, and many Panchayats and village heads are following in his footsteps.    

He will continue his work on these three fronts all around the desert state and elsewhere in the country because it is an ongoing process. “There can never be enough of these measures to save the environment from climate change. We need to do more, all the more,” he emphasises.

 

More here: https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/world-water-day-spotlighting-a-few-warriors-who-are-creating-abundance-in-scarcity

The Green Giant of Nagaur

Nagaur farmer Himmata Ram Bhambhu a.k.a. ‘Registan ke Ratna Ram’ was felicitated with Padma Shri for his enviable contribution to the environment. He adores and reveres trees and has so far planted five and a half lakh saplings in desert areas of Rajasthan, using ingenious ways to water and see them grow into green giants.      

Bhambhu fondly recalls how his grandmother once made him plant a Peepal sapling and sowed a noble thought in his impressionable mind that eventually shaped his life. “She made me realise that humans could live at the most for 100, but trees live for hundreds of years. The thought stayed with me. Over the past five decades, I have been on a sapling planting spree in Rajasthan, and almost all of them have grown into green giants dotting Nagaur and other places in the desert state. They are my real wealth,” he says. 

Hon’ble President of India Ramnath Kovind felicitated Nagaur farmer Himmata Ram Bhambhu with Padma Shri for Social Work (Environment) in 2020.

The district is home to India’s largest salt lake, Sambhar Lake and so Bhambhu had an onerous task at hand – overcome the problem of saltwater that could foil his green plan. He devised ways to counter it, and chose trees that could withstand water scarcity in the arid state. 

He bought six acres of land in Harima village near Nagaur in 1999 and over the years, planted 11 thousand saplings, and today that patch of land has turned into a lush green forest and is the abode of hundreds of animals and birds. “Nagaur experiment proves that plants can grow in saltwater. We carried water from elsewhere, mixed it with saltwater to nurture this forest. Watering these saplings was a task in itself, but totally worth it. Our successful experiment here proves it. There are all kinds of trees in this forest, and what better than trees for rainwater harvesting. These are the biggest oxygen generators,” he adds.

Himmata Ram Bhambhu

Currently, the septuagenarian is in mission mode to plant five lakh more saplings by 2030 in the state. “I look at the 7 Js – jal (water), jungle (forest), jameen (land), jeev (animals), jaivik (organic farming), jalvayu (climate change), and jansankhya (population) – as the major standpoints of my green plan because each are inter-related,” he highlights.

https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/world-water-day-spotlighting-a-few-warriors-who-are-creating-abundance-in-scarcity

Krishan Kumar: Govinda fan who loves to dance like his Hero No. 1

Love is Love

“If it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts,” wrote Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina. Love is one complex emotion that has different definitions for different people. Ahead of Valentine’s Day, we delved deep into the love of all kinds, types and hues to explore what the four-letter word means to different people, and in the process, discovered an all-new vocabulary to define LOVE. Every great love starts with a great story, and that’s what connects Rekha and Jameel. If falling in love seemed next to impossible for Rachit, Sapna was determined, and that’s why their love is different. Gazala and Ahmed have evolved over the years, and love is both sweet, sour and spicy for them. For Nimisha and Rohini, love is an unsaid commitment to be with each other, while Manish Gaekwad is still waiting for love to come his way. It means selfless service for Vimla Kaul and giving for Tunisha. It is comforting for Anil and Kritika Rao and evergreen for widow Divya Juyal. But Love is Love for all.

Valentine’s Day special for The Free Press Journal.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/love-is-love-this-valentines-day-lets-take-a-look-at-love-in-all-its-hues

February 8: Together for a better internet

Keeping children safe online is a challenge for most parents, but it is needed now more than before because their world is mostly online. Ahead of Safer Internet Day, we look at the concerns, risks and possible ways to beat the challenges of this growing conundrum.
The article was published in The Free Press Journal, Mumbai, on February 6, 2022.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/safer-internet-day-heres-how-parents-can-make-the-online-world-a-safe-place-for-their-children

Padma Awardee Faisal Ali Dar and his Punch-tantra

Bandipore resident Faisal Ali Dar, 33, has etched his name in the annals of history by becoming the first sportsperson from Jammu and Kashmir to be conferred with the Padma Shri this year. A martial arts champion, he has been training children and young adults at Ali’s Sports Academy. “Indulgence in sports,” he says, “will keep the young and restless gainfully engaged, drive away the blues, keep them in the best of health, and help them abstain from drugs.” He is a humanitarian who continues to work for the betterment of the people, be it by providing COVID relief, or by organising blood donation camps, and has been zealously pursuing his dream to make sports, especially martial arts, a way of life for children and youngsters in the Valley.

कालिया 

Kaalia

ADnaama

सेलफोन के ईजाद से बहुत साल पहले, एक काले रोटरी-डायल टेलीफोन के जादुई शक्ति ने मेरे बचपन और अस्सी के दशक में जन्में अन्य बच्चों की कल्पनाओं को ऊँची उड़ान दी थी।

देवाशीष मखीजा, लेखक और फिल्म निर्देशक

कोरोमंडल एक्सप्रेस में हमारे डिब्बे को अलग कर बैंगलोर मेल में लगाया जा रहा था। हमारे डिब्बे को छोड़कर अन्य सभी यात्रियों की यात्रा मद्रास में समाप्त हो चुकी थी । हमारा वाला डिब्बा करीब तीन घंटे से एक ही जगह स्थिर खड़ा था, और उसके दोबारा चलने के इंतज़ार ने मेरी बेचैनी को बढ़ा दिया था । मैंने माँ से हमारा काला वाला टेलीफोन मांगा ताकि मैं नानी को कॉल कर उनसे कुछ गुलाब जामुन भेजने के लिए कह सकूं। “अगर हमारी ट्रेन कभी शुरू नहीं हुई तो हम कभी बैंगलोर नहीं पहुंचेंगे,” मैंने कहा, “और पिंकू सब कुछ चट कर जायेगा ।” अपनी छोटी बेटी के साथ यात्रा कर…

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Movement is medicine to beat menopause symptoms: Phillipa Butler

Did you know regular exercise can provide relief from menopause symptoms? But where to begin? UK-based Chartered Physiotherapist Phillipa Butler offers help with her Pilates and Yoga Online classes designed to support women up to, through and beyond menopause.

shillpi a singh

Phillipa Butler is a UK-based Chartered Physiotherapist with a wealth of experience treating musculoskeletal conditions, disorders affecting bones, joints and muscles. She has spent her career developing and refining knowledge and skills and is passionate about movement as medicine. She’s a certified Pilates Mat and Reformer teacher, 200 hours certified Hatha Yoga instructor and certified meditation teacher.

She’s the founder of Precizion Ltd where she offers online physiotherapy advice, private movement coaching, group Pilates and Yoga classes. She runs workshops and provides ongoing support to guide one to optimal health. A firm believer of Movement as Medicine, she has been at it for three decades, working with patients, housewives, career women and athletes to improve their lives through movement and exercise. 

“My philosophy in my own life is that prevention is better than cure and I believe that a regular programme of appropriate exercise is the key to a fitter, healthier future. I work to help people to achieve their goals; manage pain, improve mental and physical performance and participate in activities they enjoy,” says Phillipa.

Her programmes improve posture, dynamic balance, and muscle and bone strength. “My movement approaches provide the perfect antidote to the challenges of midlife, ageing and the detrimental impact of our modern lives,” adds Phillipa.

Phillipa Butler

Her ‘Moving through Menopause’ Podcast is now in its fourth season. “It is my contribution to the conversation. Health experts and ordinary people share insights, information and a few giggles,” she states. Listen Here

In an exclusive conversation with me, she shares health information and advice to help a woman while dealing with menopause up to, through and beyond menopause.  

Q: What are the general symptoms of menopause?

A: I was one of the 25% of women who suffered severe symptoms in the peri-menopausal period. Beginning from the age of 45 with a gradual onset, I experienced many symptoms that undermined my ability to perform at work and at home and severely impacted my quality of life. I had always been a healthy specimen and embraced a healthy lifestyle, and like many, I rarely sought the help of my doctor. 

Unfortunately, on this occasion, and despite exhibiting a majority of the symptoms of approaching menopause, I found myself misled and mostly unsupported by the healthcare system. Hence my quest was to learn all I could to support my shifting physiology and psychology. I now incorporate all my learning and expertise into the movement programmes that I teach online. 

The common symptoms of Menopause include:

Night sweats, hot flushes, irregular heartbeat;
Disrupted sleep, fatigue;
Anxiety, depression, panic disorder;
Digestive problems, bloating, weight gain;
Muscle tension, joint pains, electric shocks, tingling;
Osteoporosis;
Itchy skin, hair loss, brittle nails, allergies, body odour;
Memory lapses, poor concentration, irritability;
Headaches, dizzy spells;
Stress incontinence, frequency, urgency, frequent UTI’s, vaginal dryness, dyspareunia, decreased libido, irregular periods, breast soreness;
Burning mouth and gum problems.

Q: What is the age for the onset of menopause?

A: Menopause marks the end of the reproductive years and is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age. Menopause is reached when a year passes without having had a menstrual period. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach menopause is 51. 

Q: How long on average do menopause symptoms last?

A: Menopause arrives after Perimenopause or “pre-menopause” when levels of female sex hormones are gradually declining. You can expect this “pre” menopausal stage to last from a few months up to 10 years. This period of fluctuating hormonal levels is when symptoms are most likely to be experienced.

Q: How important is it to be aware of your body and the changes? 

A: Most women will experience some symptoms around menopause, but the age of onset, duration and severity varies greatly from woman to woman. This results in confusion and uncertainty. Some women will proudly announce that they ‘got away with it’, suffering only mild symptoms yet others suffer from heroic levels of determination. For some women, a medley of menopause symptoms makes them wonder whether there is something seriously wrong with them! Unfortunately, a trip to the doctor can result in a varied approach to advice and management and women are not always supported to receive what should be offered.  

Women must be aware of the symptoms of menopause and their options for treatment. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence guideline for menopause diagnosis and management states women should be offered HRT for vasomotor symptoms after discussing with them the short-term and longer-term benefits and risks.

I have always embraced a holistic approach to health since my young son was diagnosed with cancer 20 years ago. We have always relied on home-cooked nutritious food and regular exercise as a family. I have used complementary approaches to support our health, including acupuncture, homoeopathy and aromatherapy and rarely resorted to visiting the doctor apart from routine health checks or vaccinations. It is important to understand that I am not opposed to hormonal replacement therapy and, in fact, I take it myself but even this doesn’t necessarily address all of the short and long term health challenges and complementary approaches will sit happily alongside. 

Because the challenges of menopause are as many and varied as the women who experience them, I have reached out to experts and professionals through my podcast to bring information and advice to women. Out of that, a group of women we call the Menopause Collective has grown; we aim to offer advice and support to women journeying through menopause.

Q: Why are women gaining fat in menopause?

Fluctuating and falling hormone levels around menopause can affect how we store fat and develop “insulin resistance” making our bodies store, rather than burn calories. Actually, our body needs less energy as we age, studies suggest we may need around 200 calories a day less than we did in the past. Finally, we are losing muscle mass, known as sarcopenia, at around 8% per decade after age 40. Muscle is more metabolically active meaning it burns more energy so less muscle corresponds to more weight gain.

Q: Why do they have hip problems and bone problems too?

A: Oestrogen has a key role in the normal bone cell turnover cycle. Declining bone density is associated with oestrogen decline. Bone density is one factor that affects your bone strength overall, and low bone density or osteoporosis increases your risk of a fracture. Common fracture sites include the wrist, hip and vertebrae. www.nhs.uk/conditions/osteoporosis

Osteoporosis affects men and women of all races. But white and Asian women, especially older women past menopause, are at the highest risk. (Royal Osteoporosis Society) Worldwide, 1 in 3 women over age 50 will experience osteoporosis fractures, but only 1 in 5 men aged over 50 will. (International Osteoporosis Foundation).

A wrist fracture may be the first sign of osteoporosis and is quite common in middle-aged women who put out their arms to break a fall. Just a word to the wise, if I had a pound for everyone I saw who fractured a wrist falling over their dog, I would be a wealthy woman right now! A healthy bone should cope with this kind of force, so these breaks are called fragility fractures. It gets more serious when we discover that around 50% of people with one fracture due to osteoporosis will have another. This is when our overall health and ability to live our lives as we would like become affected. Worse still, a hip fracture is associated with increased mortality risk.

Q: Does a woman feel normal again when it’s all over?

A: What is normal? What is true is that human beings have an amazing capacity to adjust to a new set of circumstances with a degree of amnesia about the past. There is also an unwritten rule that a woman has to bear the burden of hormonal fluctuations, whether at puberty, pregnancy, or menopause. Acceptance is our default, this is not the case for me, and I want all women to know it doesn’t have to be the case for them either.!

So although these physical symptoms can reduce after menopause, this is not always the case, and women in their 70’s can still experience hot flushes and sleeplessness, for instance. 

Q: What are the long-term health consequences of oestrogen loss?

A: All women will live the rest of their lives without oestrogen. Life expectancy in the UK from 2017 to 2019 83.1 years for females; this is now a whopping 32 years of living with oestrogen deficiency! So what are the long term health consequences of menopause?

The effects of oestrogen are far-reaching as the 34 symptoms of menopause suggest. The many structures and systems that can be affected include our bones, muscles, brain, cardiovascular system, and pelvic organs. As you probably realise, by now, this is a lifelong deficiency with far-reaching health ramifications.

Q: How can women stay healthy through and beyond menopause?

A: Now we know all about the possible far-reaching effects of declining oestrogen levels, let’s consider the appropriate action to prevent and mitigate these far-reaching effects. There is evidence and a clear consensus that lifestyle management strategies considerably contribute to our ability to improve our symptoms, both in the long and short term. 

Exercise can positively influence bone, muscle, the brain, cardiovascular system and even the bits below the waist. Where to begin? With Pilates, of course!

I have incorporated the current guidance and research and the lessons I have learned into the Pilates programmes I now teach for the benefit of all women. 

Q: What kinds of exercise should women be doing? 

A: Pilates has the potential to positively influence menopause symptoms, bone, muscle, tendon, cartilage, nerves, the brain, heart, and even the bits below the waist! I have incorporated all the lessons I have gleaned from my research and self-experimentation into the Pilates programmes that I now teach. My Pilates for Menopause programmes helps women have better balance, strengthen muscle and bone, improve posture and flexibility, protect the pelvic floor and feel relaxed and invigorated all simultaneously!

The Pilates principles of concentration, control, core, body alignment, and precision nurture the mind-body connection, making Pilates a perfect way to introduce physical training safely in midlife and beyond.

Q: How does training help a person’s posture and ageing?

A: Ageing causes alterations in various body functions, such as motor, sensory, cognitive and psychosocial. One of the factors associated with ageing is the decline in proprioceptive function, this is essential for the body’s normal functioning during movement and maintaining balance.

Pilates is all about proprioception; we increase body awareness and incorporate a deep mind-body connection whilst undertaking our Pilates exercises. Developing an understanding of ‘where your body is in space’ helps us adopt new movement habits such as standing up straighter. My physiotherapy training allows me to choose the exercises that provide the necessary joint mobility and back muscle strength to hold us up. 

Phillipa Butler

Q: How does Pilates work? What is Pilates?

A: Pilates is a system of exercises designed to improve physical strength, flexibility, and posture and enhance mental awareness. 

The key components are breathing, body alignment, core muscle activation, and always moving with precision and control.

The power of the breath is often underestimated, but breath is the power and movement with breath is Pilates!

Pilates is all about paying attention to how we move and helps us move better, feel better, and look better. I love that Pilates is a whole-body exercise and is suitable for everyone of any age.

When we do Pilates, it creates long, lean muscles, increases flexibility and improves posture. The focus on the core muscles improves the abdominal muscle tone and can promote weight loss.

Pilates Integrates the body and mind, and you will leave a class feeling energised, not drained! 

Q: How long should a menopausal woman workout in a week?

A: When it comes to improving athletic performance, the American College of Sports and Exercise Medicine (ACSEM) has a model for fitness that incorporates six key parameters: muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiorespiratory endurance, neuromuscular control, body composition and flexibility. 

Training effects will only be realised if we apply the principle of overload. What that means is that for any exercise the last couple of repetitions should ‘feel difficult’.

Valuable guidance exists in the Royal Osteoporosis Society Consensus statement on physical activity and exercise for osteoporosis published in 2019. The recommendations from the Royal Osteoporosis Society provide a good starting point when considering the ‘dose’ of resistance training that is advisable.

  • On 2-3 days a week undertake activities or exercise to feel a push or pull on the muscles (explain mild discomfort afterwards is normal).
  • For maximum benefit, depending on fitness levels, recommend increasing the intensity of exercise to work muscles harder using weights or resistance bands. 
  • Build up to 3 sets of exercises with 8-12 repetitions of the maximum weight that can be lifted safely.

But we must remember that strength training is only one part of a programme to achieve physical fitness. Luckily this is my bread and butter, and flexibility, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and neuromuscular control are all taken care of. So all you need to do is fit in your daily walking and appropriate nutrition.

Q: How much should a woman walk in a day?

A: I aim for 10,00 steps a day. But we must remember why we are doing it; for heart health, how we do it matters. I maintain that it must be purposeful walking and that you cannot count pottering around your usual day as your steps. Yes, it is better to be pottering around than sitting down all day, but as with all these things, there is a bit of science involved, so the intensity of the activity matters. 

The general recommended exercise intensity from the American Heart Association to prevent cardiovascular diseases is 30 minutes, five times a week to reach at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 25 minutes, three times a week to reach at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity. It could be a mix of both, of course.

To understand exercise intensity, we can measure the heart rate. The American Heart Association recommends exercising with a target heart rate of 50 to 75 per cent of your maximum heart rate for beginners and moderately intense exercise. You can work at 70 to 85 per cent of your maximum heart rate during vigorous activity.

You can calculate your maximum heart rate threshold using the equation 220 minus your age. Then the threshold is a percentage of that figure. At 54, my maximum HR is 166, 50% is 83bpm, 75% is 124bpm. I use a wearable device to monitor my activities and my heart rate while doing it. Now you know what it takes to feel fitter. It is important to know that anything is better than nothing, and Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Q: What are the benefits of strength training?

A: Resistance training will combat the effects of sarcopenia. Studies have found that both resistance training and aerobic exercise increase muscle protein synthesis and improve muscle function irrespective of age and may help counteract some of the effects of ageing. Reference 

Most women love the discovery that an increase of 2kg of muscle will provide a 10% increase in the Basal Metabolic Rate. Developing strong and toned muscles will make clothes fit better and increase self-confidence.

Resistance training makes us feel better, and Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is released. This is like a fertiliser for the brain and guards against neurodegeneration. Studies show that regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing dementia by about 30 per cent, and by 45 per cent for Alzheimer’s disease specifically. 

My message is that regular exercise can transform how we feel physically and emotionally and protect us from illness and disease. It can be a lot of fun too, so what are you waiting for? Your time is now.

(Phillipa Butler can be contacted via email if you have any questions: hi@precizion.co.uk)

Carrying the mental burden of a physical disease called PCOS

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a lifestyle disease caused by hormonal disorders. The incidence of this syndrome affecting young girls and women is on the rise. A mix of lifestyle changes such as healthy food and a regular exercise regime and medications in some cases can help alleviate the symptoms, explain health experts.

shillpi a singh

Nutritionist and Health Coach Voomika Mukherjee got a bolt from the blue in 2019 when medical conditions caught her off guard. “I suddenly had many medical issues like PCOD symptoms, one year of stress followed by anxiety, almost six months of sleepless nights, finally into depression and mood swings and a lot more. This whole journey made me gain 40 kg. My personal and professional lives were adversely affected. I lost myself, smile, sleep, and peace and went into depression. The frequent migraine attacks made it worse for me,” recalls Mukherjee, who is one of the many young girls and women who bear the mental burden of a physical disease – Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) – silently for years.

Like Mukherjee, lawyer Richa Srivastava also first learned about her PCOS in 2019. The trigger was a missed period! “I was prescribed some hormonal tests to conclude the findings and it was unfortunately confirmed with a high AMH (Anti Mullerian Hormone test). The doctor prescribed a 21-day birth control pill but I refused to take that. I read up that PCOS is a lifestyle disease so was told that making lifestyle changes such as healthy food and a regular exercise regime would definitely help alleviate the symptoms. I tried that for some time but couldn’t follow it religiously,” says Srivastava, recounting her struggles with PCOS.

Understanding PCOS

PCOS is a common hormonal disorder in young girls and women that brings along a lot of physical changes and also mental health issues. The mental burden of being diagnosed with PCOS is because the symptoms have a physical manifestation and also impact mental health. Dr Akanksha Tripathi, Consultant Obstetrics and Gynaecologist, Paras JK Hospital, Udaipur, says, “Patients get panicky when they read about the long-term effects associated with PCOS as results take time. Patients are overweight/obese, have acne or facial hair, thinning of hair, which leads to low self-esteem and poor confidence, impacting their mental health. Sometimes depression has been seen in a few patients.”

Differentiating between Polycystic Ovarian Disorder (PCOD) and PCOS, Dr Gandhali Deorukhkar, Gynaecologist & Obstetrician, Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai Central, says, “PCOD is a condition in which ovaries produce many immature or partially mature eggs, this happens due to poor lifestyle, obesity, stress and hormonal imbalance. PCOS is a metabolic disorder and a more severe form of PCOD that can lead to anovulation where ovaries stop releasing eggs.”

On the other hand, Dr Neema Sharma, Director, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj, says that PCOD is an old term. “PCOD has been replaced by PCOS because it’s not a disorder. It’s just a lifestyle disease and it is a syndrome so it has been replaced by the term called PCOS,” she claims.

Dr Deorukhkar adds that PCOD is a disease in which a lot of obesity is involved, along with cosmetic problems like acne or irritation, a lot of hair fall, hair thinning, bald patches on the head, and male pattern facial hair growth. “So this makes women vulnerable to body shaming and they are depressed. They’re extremely anxious and nervous about facing society and generally in a slump because of the metabolic syndrome,” emphasises Dr Deorukhkar.

Explaining the term, Dr Sharma, states that PCOS has a few clinical features, a few biochemical features and then there are ultrasound parameters. “It is actually a hormonal imbalance or actually it is also a lifestyle disease that can affect young girls and it can happen later as well. The common symptoms are prolonged cycles means a girl starts skipping her periods or they can be scanty periods. It can be in 45 days, two months, sometimes six months or even a year,” says Dr Sharma. Apart from excessive pimples or acne, facial hair, which can be male pattern kind of facial hair on the face or the chest, hair fall, male pattern baldness, there can be excessive weight gain, and a girl/woman suffering from PCOS. “There is usually weight gain in the trunkal part. The waist-hip ratio gets altered,” she explains.

Diagnosing PCOS

The first thing that Dr Sharma advises is an ultrasound to understand the typical polycystic patterns of the ovary. “The ovary is a little bulky, and there are polycystic ovaries. There are multiple small cysts in the ovaries. We do the blood test on the second day of the period to know the extent of hormonal imbalances like a follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, estradiol, followed by thyroid levels, prolactin levels, blood sugar, lipid profile, and serum testosterone levels. Suppose the girl/woman is having excessive facial hair. In that case, we do certain other tests to know if there’s any other reason for excessive facial hair like dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate 17 and alpha hydroxyprogesterone,” she states.

Dr Tripathi agrees that menstrual irregularity, delayed cycle, acne, skin pigmentation over the neck, increase facial hair growth are all a part of metabolic syndrome. “They are multi-factorial and poor lifestyle, poor eating habits, lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle can add to the woes of a girl/woman with PCOS,” she adds.

Dr Sharma says that it can happen to any girl/woman as it’s a lifestyle disease. “PCOS can also be caused because of excess insulin in the body. There is a condition called insulin resistance, which happens in PCOS because excessive insulin resistance, may increase male hormonal levels in the body, which may cause difficulty in ovulation. And as a result, they have male kind of androgen in excess of androgen levels, which can cause acne facial hair, and delayed cycles,” says Dr Sharma.

Treatment plan

A woman with PCOS often gets prolonged cycles because of anovulation. It means that they don’t ovulate every month because of the increased insulin levels. “There is no ovulation, and if there is no ovulation, she doesn’t get periods on time and that is the cause of her prolonged cycles. So the diagnosis is a combination of clinical features, ultrasound and blood test. Once we have confirmed that yes, she has PCOS, then it’s important to follow up with these patients with regular monitoring of their blood pressure, regular monitoring of their sugars, cholesterol triglyceride levels, and it’s also important to screen for depression and anxiety,” explains Dr Sharma.

First and foremost, Dr Sharma adds that often PCOS is associated with some kind of mental health issues and it needs to be addressed well on time. “Both proper cycle treatment and psychological counselling are important aspects for young girls/women,” she says.

There is no one size that fits all. There is no such common treatment plan because every girl/woman is a different individual and she could suffer from different symptoms. It could be not getting periods on time, acne, facial hair, difficulty in conceiving or miscarriage or recurrent miscarriages so the management and treatment would be customised accordingly. “A girl/woman may have good skin or she may have acne full skin. Another girl may have regular periods and another PCOD girl may have irregular periods. So the treatment plan is not common for all the PCOD goals and it needs to be individualised as per the patient,” says Dr Deorukhkar.

The first line of PCOS management is always lifestyle modification. “PCOS is all about adopting a healthy lifestyle to improve the hormonal imbalance. A healthy lifestyle includes healthy dietary intake, regular exercise and regular sleep. Complex Carb Diet, a combination of cardio and strength, and staying committing to the goal,” adds Mukherjee.

Dr Sharma explains that dietary changes are needed to maintain weight while including at least 30 minutes of exercise will help maintain BMI. “These together will help maintain a proper waist-hip ratio that gets altered in a woman/girl with PCOS. So that has to be managed.” She advises medications to regularise cycles, fix acne issues, address hair fall and hair thinning, but once these pills are stopped, then the symptoms will reappear. “There is no permanent solution for PCOS. Lifestyle modification alone can help control the symptoms,” argues Dr Sharma.

For facial hair too, the first line of treatment would be conservative – threading, facial or even laser treatment. If these measures don’t work, then there is a medicine to block the effect of male hormones on the skin. “It helps those with excessive facial hair and hair fall. But it is not recommended if one is pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Then there are certain local creams available for facial hair growth, which can be tried,” says Dr Sharma. The tablet is a birth control pill containing estrogen and anti-testosterone, which decreases androgen levels.

There is great emphasis on lifestyle modification if diagnosed with PCOS by all health experts because any lax can have serious consequences. “It can give rise to sub-fertility or infertility. It is a precursor of chronic diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnoea syndrome, endometrial carcinoma, etc.,” warns Dr Tripathi.

After two years, Srivastava was prescribed another drug to control PCOS but she realised that PCOS can never be cured fully but only controlled to some extent by a mix of drugs and healthy lifestyle choices. “The most drastic side effect that I faced and still am is infertility. It makes it difficult to conceive with PCOS but not to say that PCOS people don’t ever conceive. I have heard and seen many people with a history of PCOS successfully getting pregnant and having healthy children! I hope the same for myself,” she adds on how PCOS has come across as the biggest stumbling block in her motherhood journey.

As for women like Srivastava who have been having difficulty in conceiving, Dr Sharma suggests medication to stimulate the ovaries. “The ovulation-inducing drugs stimulate the ovaries and help in the formation of eggs. Another treatment is Metformin. Suppose if there’s a young girl with very high levels of sugars and a very high level of fasting insulin level, then we advise Metformin, which is actually an insulin sensitizer. It improves insulin resistance, lowers insulin levels, and helps spontaneous ovulation.”

Genes are the cause

Excess insulin is one of the reasons for PCOS. “It is hereditary. There are certain genes but are not yet confirmed,” says Dr Sharma.

Deorukhkar claims that PCOD is a genetic thing and so doesn’t have a permanent cure. “It’s a gene that is passed on from generation to generation. The girls are born with polycystic ovaries and it manifests at some point of time in their life. The ovaries become bulky, due to the storage of eggs,” she elucidates.

The other health complications that could arise because of PCOD could be obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, high triglycerides and high sugars. “That is basically a pre-diabetic or raised insulin levels in PCOD girls which leads to where there could be thyroid imbalance and the prolactin hormone imbalance as well. All factors can lead towards metabolic syndrome, which is a triad of obesity, hypertension and high sugars,” explains Dr Deorukhkar.

She warns that PCOD patients could face a problem called gestational diabetes during pregnancy. “The sugar starts rising in the third trimester and sometimes needs insulin for correction till the delivery of the baby. If the sugars are not controlled, it can lead to harmful effects to the foetus,” she says.

Family’s role

Once the parents notice the tell-tale signs, they can consult the doctor, educate themselves and help their daughters. “Parents can help their girls in developing good eating habits, giving emphasis on outdoor sports or physical exercise, avoiding junk and consult the doctor as soon as the symptoms appear. They could become their exercise partners,” advises Dr Tripathi.

It took 1.5 years of struggle for Mukherjee to get a grip on herself and take adequate steps to manage PCOS that had wreaked havoc in her life. “In short, I went through hell and it took almost 12-18 months to get myself back with a peaceful mind, relaxed calm environment, and proper self-guidance. My parents gave me immense support and now I’m almost out of my medical condition. No PCOS symptoms and no depression. I’m living my life to the fullest,” says Mukherjee.

Parents can help their daughters by educating themselves with the observations and treatment modalities of PCOS patients. Deorukhkar elucidates that there is a PCOS Society of India that can help parents with the necessary information.

The men have an important role to play in the life of a woman diagnosed with PCOS because they need to give full-fledged support to their partners. “These women have been body-shamed because of their obesity. These women have faced the social stigma of having a face full of acne, or hair on the face, and severe hair fall. Some girls need to shave their beard kind of hair on their face. So men need to be educated about PCOD so that they stop making fun of their partners or other females,” says Deorukhkar.

Mukherjee who bravely fought the PCOS battle and won it too has an important piece of advice for those who are yet to come to terms with the syndrome. “I realize that there are a lot of women out there who are shattered after being diagnosed with PCOS. But let me assure you that you can get this under your control with the right knowledge and mentoring. You are the priority for yourself. If you are happy, fit and healthy and have a peaceful mind, then you can stay happy and take care of yourself and your family too,” she says in the parting.

DIETARY GUIDELINES FOR PCOS

(By Voomika Mukherjee)

  • It increases the risk of insulin resistance, making the body prone to diabetes.
  • Eat more fresh produce with more fibre content.
  • PCOS consume more unprocessed grains like wheat, rice, jowar, bajra, ragi, barley etc.
  • Include good quality proteins in the daily diet (eg. milk, paneer, curd, eggs, white meat)
  • Consuming food sources of unsaturated fats like nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashew nuts) and seed oils (mustard oil, sesame oil, groundnut oil) are important.
  • Consume more soybean and flaxseeds as they boost the function of female hormones and make their work more effective.
  • Reducing consumption of caffeine-containing beverages may be helpful as they reduce iron absorption in the body.
  • Exercising every day for around 30-45 minutes is essential as it helps in increasing insulin sensitivity.

Home remedies for PCOS weight loss

(By Voomika Mukherjee)

  • Cinnamon Powder: Add one teaspoon of cinnamon powder to a glass of hot water. Drink it daily for a few months. You can also include this spice in your diet by sprinkling cinnamon powder on your cereal, oatmeal, yoghurt, cottage cheese, peanut butter sandwich and other foods.
  • Flaxseeds: Mix one or two tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseeds in a glass of water & drink it daily. Also include ground flaxseeds in your diet regularly by adding them to your smoothies, soups and salads.
  • Apple cider vinegar: It helps to control blood sugar and keeps your body from producing too much insulin. Less insulin means less testosterone. Plus, it will help you lose weight and improve your overall health. Take 1 tsp apple cider vinegar with 1 glass of water.
  • Spearmint Tea: Spearmint tea can also help deal with PCOS due to its anti-androgenic properties. Drinking spearmint tea can help reduce hirsutism or excess body hair, by reducing free and total testosterone levels and increasing luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels.

A cuppa of coffee is brewing with health benefits?

Studies and research suggest that the physiological effects of drinking coffee can extend beyond a small dose of wakefulness, but only if done in moderation.

Shillpi A Singh

“The powers of a man’s mind are directly proportioned to the quantity of coffee he drinks,” stated Sir James Mackintosh, a caffeinator who believed that coffee helped improve understanding.

Here’s what a fact-check of Mackintosh’s statement reveals about the impact of caffeine on depression, skin health, blood pressure and blood sugar.

Coffee and depression

Ask a caffeinator why they rush for a cup of coffee when they feel a bit low, and pat would come to the response… it gives an immediate boost of energy. Caffeine, the stimulant found in beverages like coffee, is a probable mood-lifter. Perhaps that’s the reason why most people consume coffee with the US alone accounting for over 600 million cups of coffee being guzzled each day.

Research into coffee and depression has found that people tend to experience less severe symptoms when they drink coffee.

A large longitudinal study titled Coffee, Caffeine, and Risk of Depression Among Women, found that depression risk decreases with increasing caffeinated coffee consumption. A meta-analysis with a dose-response analysis quantitatively summarized that coffee and caffeine consumption were significantly associated with decreased risk of depression.

Dr Kriti Anand, Associate Consultant, Psychiatry, Paras Hospitals, Panchkula, states, “Caffeine may be considered as the much-needed accelerator included in medication to help you feel quick relief. The plant-based substance may also help some people deal with the effects of depression.”

Elucidating it further, Dr Anand adds that depression is a mood disorder that affects approximately 1 in 5 Indians in a lifetime, and is often treated using a combination of psychotherapy and medication.

“An analysis of the relationship between caffeine and depression found that caffeine consumption decreased depression risk. Another study found a connection between decreased depression and coffee consumption, but no connection with other caffeinated drinks. These findings suggest that it is something in coffee that reduces the risk for depression, not caffeine,” he claims.

Caffeine may help relieve depressive symptoms or protect against depression suggests Research. A 2016 meta-analysis accounting for 3,46,913 individuals and 8,146 cases of depression suggested that coffee consumption may have a protective effect. A dose-response analysis suggests a J-shaped curve, with the effect reported for up to approx 300 mg of caffeine (about 4 cups of coffee) per day.

However, the risks of drinking too much coffee galore among those looking for energy to push through with their jobs or studies. According to Food and Drug Administration, four regular-sized cups of coffee is considered generally safe. However, drinking coffee can produce side effects such as restlessness, rapid heartbeat and insomnia.

Quoting studies, health experts advise moderation because more than four cups of coffee per day can have an adverse impact on the body. Some people reported heightened anxiety, headaches and agitation on the consumption of more than four cups. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used to assess and diagnose mental disorders, calls it “coffee intoxication”.

“Caffeine consumption in children and teenagers was found to increase depression among 5th and 10th graders. Caffeine has a negative impact on sleep, and that could affect a person’s mood. The type of caffeinated drink, person’s age and sensitivity to caffeine also have a role to play,” says Dr Anand.

Studies have found positive benefits of coffee on the body such as lowering the risk of getting cancer or stroke, developing dementia and Parkinson’s disease. That’s not all. The effects of caffeine along with the protective compounds found in coffee beans can considerably lower the potential of developing Alzheimer’s disease and improve mental cognitive abilities.

“The powers of a man’s mind are directly proportioned to the quantity of coffee he drinks,” stated Sir James Mackintosh, a caffeinator who believed that coffee helped improve understanding.

Well, we at THIP fact-checked Mackintosh’s statement to find out more about the impact of caffeine on depression, skin health, blood pressure and blood sugar, and this is what we found.

Coffee and diabetes

There is good news for those who can’t face the day till they have downed a cup of coffee. A study by Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that coffee consumption lowered women’s risk of type 2 diabetes by 8%, while for men it was 4% by drinking regular coffee and 7% for decaffeinated coffee.

The 2012 findings made the case that coffee is a healthy drink for most people. But conditions apply, coffee is good as long as it isn’t loaded with cream and sugar.

However, caffeine affects every person differently. If a person already has diabetes, the impact of caffeine on insulin action may be associated with higher or lower blood sugar levels. In other words, coffee could have adverse effects on those who already have type 2 diabetes. Coffee can raise blood sugar and insulin levels for diabetics because caffeine can affect how the body responds to insulin, the hormone that allows sugar to enter the cells and get converted into energy.

Caffeine may lower insulin sensitivity. In other words, the cells don’t react to the hormone as much as they once did or don’t absorb as much sugar from blood after a meal or a drink. It causes the body to make more insulin, so sugar levels are higher than normal after meals. Caffeine may make it tougher for a person with type 2 diabetes to bring down insulin to a healthy point and may lead to too-high blood sugar levels. Over time, this may raise the chance of diabetes complications, like nerve damage or heart disease.

Dr Gaurav Palikhe, Consultant, Endocrinology, Paras Hospitals, Panchkula, agrees that it has been proven from various studies that coffee acutely raises blood glucose due to various mechanisms like antagonism to adenosine receptors in muscle, the release of catecholamines and stimulation of lipolysis. “Though in the long term, it has been shown to prevent diabetes from epidemiological studies. This specific 50% rise in blood glucose was found in a study by UK researchers published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2020. They found 50% more blood glucose rise following ingestion of black coffee preceding breakfast. Hence, the take-home point from this is that it’s better to take coffee sometime after the completion of breakfast to prevent this rise in postprandial blood rise in blood glucose.”

Coffee and blood pressure

Research indicates that coffee consumption may increase blood pressure for a short time. A review of 34 studies showed that 200-300 mg of caffeine from coffee (approximately 1.5-2 cups) led to an average increase of 8 mm Hg and 6 mm Hg in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, respectively.

The impact was visible for up to three hours after coffee consumption, and results were similar in people with normal blood pressure at baseline and those with pre-existing high blood pressure. However, interestingly, regular coffee consumption is not associated with the same impact on blood pressure — which may be due to the caffeine tolerance that develops when you habitually drink it.

To explain this phenomenon, Dr Smriti Naswa, Consultant Clinical, Pediatric & Cosmetic Dermatologist, Fortis Hospital Mulund, Mumbai, says, “Coffee has caffeine. It can lead to increased heart rate, blood pressure by constricting blood vessels. A good blood supply to the skin ensures toxin removal and rejuvenation of the skin which doesn’t happen with the caffeine effect.”

However, she warns against excess consumption of coffee. “The dehydrating properties of coffee make skin looks dry, lusterless, and also aged (if someone binges on coffee or tea). Moreover, it is also acidic (just like tea) and can enhance ageing,” says Dr Naswa.

So health experts and studies advise that coffee consumption can be good for health, but only if done in moderation.

Street hawker Kallu Kewat songs reflect people’s poet Nazeer Akbarabadi’s style

Hawker with a swag! That’s Bundeli artist Kallu Kewat. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eE9GHZuelMA

ADnaama

नज़ीर अकबराबादी दुनिया के पहले एडवरटाइजिंग जिंगल राइटर थे।उन्होंने लगभग हर चीज़ पर नज़्म लिखी है। नज़ीर ऐसे जनकवि थे जिन्हें आप कुछ भी दे दीजिये, वो उसको बेचने के लिए आम जन की जुबान में नज़्म लिख डालते थे।रंगकर्मी, शायर और लेखक हबीब तनवीर ने अपने सबसे यादगार कृति ‘आगरा बाज़ार’ में शायर नज़ीर अकबराबादी की नज़्मों को पहली बार १९५४ में नाट्य रूप में पेश किया था।आगरा के बाज़ार में घोर मंदी छाई हुई थी और कुछ भी नहीं बिक रहा था। वहां एक ककड़ी वाले के दिमाग़ में यह बात आयी कि यदि कोई कवि उसकी ककड़ी के गुणों का बखान कविता में कर दे तो बिक्री ज़रूर बढ़ेगी। वो कई शायरों के पास गया पर कोई भी इस काम के लिए राज़ी नहीं हुआ । अंत में वह शायर नज़ीर साहब के पास पहुंचा। उन्होंने फौरन उसका काम कर दिया। वह नज़ीर की लिखी ककड़ी पर…

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You don’t know it, right?

The article was carried in the Free Press Journal to celebrate Republic Day in its edition dated January 23, 2022.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/republic-day-2022-from-right-to-zero-fir-to-right-to-use-the-restroom-at-any-hotel-interesting-laws-that-you-probably-didnt-know

The World Wide Web of Hindi 

Hindi is the common thread that connects, binds and gives a sense of belonging to storytellers who are using the different mediums to take the language to greater heights with their humble endeavours. Be it an award-winning French subtitler who is using his knowledge of Hindi and Urdu, and understanding of Indian culture to take Indian cinema to a larger market across the shores or an award-winning filmmaker who turned into an author while documenting the 2020 migrant crisis in the wake of countrywide pandemic-induced lockdown. On the other hand, a bilingual author turned filmmaker who is currently busy adapting his first novel for the big screen loves to transcreate stories in Hindi and English and simultaneously. A poet-journalist loves translating human emotions into verses and rues the neglect of the language over the years. A walking-talking library of Indian literature started a read-aloud storytelling project for the Millennials who prefer to read with their ears while a young literature buff is busy building a feature on his platform that will pay readers to read because “reading makes a person”.   

Shillpi a singh

On January 10, the first World Hindi Conference was held in 1975 in Nagpur, Maharashtra. In 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared this day World Hindi Day. Here’s what a few raconteurs in India and abroad had to say to celebrate the day. 

Subtitling King  | François-Xavier Durandy

French national and award-winning subtitler François-Xavier Durandy has been associated with many great films shown at major festivals in France. He is a trained translator who speaks English, Hindi, German and Urdu, besides his mother tongue French. Incredibly, most of the movies he has subtitled have gained recognition at international fora. The most recent being CNC Aide aux Cinémas du Monde grant for Girls Will be Girls produced by Richa Chadha and Ali Fazal’s banner Pushing Buttons Studios, and backed by Sanjay Gulati and Pooja Chauhan of Crawling Angel Films and Claire Chassagne of Paris-based Dolce Vita Films. 

Having spent considerable time in India, he has picked up the nuances of the language and its cultural cues. “It is indeed paramount to slip into the shoes of both storytellers and their different characters. In French, the word interprète has three distinct meanings: interpreter, of course, and spokesperson and performer. As translators, we have to interpret the meaning of a text to the best of our abilities, act as the author’s spokesperson in a different cultural context and embody the characters, become their voice and somehow perform their part in the target language,” says Durandy. 

Perfect command of the original language and a thorough knowledge of Indian culture comes in handy in his job as a subtitler. “My familiarity with Hindi and Indian culture does help me know the nuances and character dynamics of a script, even when it’s not in Hindi. I translated the script from English into French for Girls Will Be Girls for submission to the CNC Aide aux Cinémas du Monde grant. The whole script is in English, including the dialogue, at this stage. But when I was translating the lines of the characters, I was always thinking about what they would say in Hindi to see whether it would make a difference in my translation. A simple example is the second person pronoun. To choose between tu and vous in French, I would try to imagine what would be likelier between tum and aap,” he adds.

Subtitling is a major enabler per se, as it allows a film to find its audience beyond its linguistic boundaries. “All the more so with indie cinema, which is more content-driven. 

The audience may enjoy big-budget films without subtitles or poor subtitles because of their immense production value. But when it comes to smaller films, shot on location and with lesser visual impact, quality subtitling becomes a must,” he says, explaining how cinema in India’s so-called regional languages has travelled and been embraced by the rest of the country and world, thanks to subtitles. 

Film scripts that Durandy has translated for CNC were usually all-English because many writers have their dialogue translated into Hindi (or another regional language) later, with all pre-production work happening in English. “I worked recently for a debut filmmaker, and while the dialogue was in Hindi, the rest was in English, but you could tell that he would have been much more comfortable in his mother tongue. I felt that resorting to English was not allowing him to fully and eloquently express himself. People should always be free to write and talk in the language they’re the most comfortable with. That’s what we translators are here for!” 

Chronicling crisis | Vinod Kapri

In a televised address to the nation at 8 pm on March 24, 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the entire country would be in ‘lockdown’ (from midnight of March 25) to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. The sudden measure wreaked havoc on the lives and livelihoods of daily-wage migrant workers across the country and had far-reaching repercussions. Award-winning filmmaker and author Vinod Kapri, who had been actively engaged in COVID relief work in and around Delhi NCR during those days, was rattled at the misery unfolding before his eyes. One day, he knew that seven of them were planning to set off on bicycles to their hometowns, from Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh to Saharsa in Bihar. “My seven heroes – Sandeep, Mukesh, Ritesh, Aashish, Rambabu, Sonu and Krishna – had no employment, no food, and no place to call home after the sudden lockdown. Their seven-day-long journey speaks of their indomitable spirit. They defied all imaginable odds to cycle for 1232 km,” says Kapri, who accompanied them on this journey, shadowing them until they reached their hometown. The heartwrenching account of the construction labourers pedalling their way home was first released as a documentary early in 2021. It had two songs of despair – “Marenge To Wahin Jaakar” and “O Re Bidesiya” – penned by Gulzar and composed by Vishal Bharadwaj. 

One thing led to another. “I only wanted to document their journey, but there were many things that I couldn’t capture on camera but jotted in my diary. The book was never on my mind. But a close friend suggested that I put it down on paper because he felt that 1232 Km spotlighted the COVID-19-led migrant crisis in India. It found a home, and quite on its merit, be it the OTT platform or publishers because this extraordinary story really pulls on the heartstrings,” recounts Kapri. His debut book has been released in Hindi, English, and four other regional languages. The response to his documentary and books has been overwhelming. “It is a documentation of the plight of migrant workers. I want it to reach more and more people so that people know the nameless faces around us, who sweat it out day in and day out only to make our lives easier but bore the worst during the lockdown. The royalty of these books will go to these men because it is their book,” he emphasises.                  

Reading by the ears | Jameel Gulrays

It is quite commonplace for the Millennials to be quite well-versed with Franz Kafka, Khalil Gibran, Haruki Murakami, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and many other literary giants of their ilk from across the world. But seldom do they even care to flip through the enormous body of work of litterateurs from the Indian subcontinent. Mumbai-based septuagenarian former adman, Urdu connoisseur and avid storyteller Jameel Gulrays started a read-aloud storytelling project called Katha Kathan in 2015 to help the Millennials “read these literary gems through their ears.”  

“My storytelling project aims to explore the rich tapestry of literature in Hindi, Urdu, and other Indian languages to preserve, promote, and popularise them so that they aren’t lost into oblivion but live on for many generations. My band of storytellers at Katha Kathan are the backbone of this. Our zealous efforts are aimed at the larger cause of preserving the vast repertoire of Indian literature,” says Gulrays. 

After wowing the audience through live sessions held in Mumbai and many other cities during the pre-pandemic days, a successful run on his YouTube channel, and podcasts on Soundcloud, Team Katha Kathan forayed into the voice-based social network app Clubhouse in 2021. The literary evening enlivens the statement made by Premchand in his memorable short story, Eidgaah, “Club ghar mein jadoo hota hai” through weekly dramatised readings of classics. “We endeavour to reintroduce and rejuvenate languages and motivate the younger generations by narrating the literature and ensuring it reaches them through the medium (read social media platforms) they consume,” states Gulrays.  

The session sees the audience from India’s nook and corners and across the world tuning in every weekend to brush up on these classics. It is a mix of both literature lovers and newbies to the world of Urdu and Indian classics. It often has celebrities like Rekha Bharadwaj, Vishal Bharadwaj, Naseeruddin Shah, and many others joining in to be regaled by stories.  

Verse is good | Pratap Somvanshi

Journalist and poet Pratap Somvanshi made a failed literary debut when he was still in school. “I was in class 8 then and had written a short story. I sent a two, and a half-page story accompanied by a three-page covering letter addressed to the editor of Nandan. The story was rejected, but the thoughtful editor sent a heartwarming note,” reminisces Somvanshi. The rejection letter laid the foundation of his career path. He is the editorial head of a leading Hindi national paper and writes poetry. “It is ‘bhavanuvad’ – a translation of human emotions and relationships,” he adds. In 2016, his first anthology of poems – Itwar Chhota Pad Gaya – a culmination of his friends’ tireless efforts and wife’s insistence was published. “I love poetry and live it too. My poems and life are interdependent. They can’t exist in isolation,” he says. 

Commenting on the long-standing neglect of Hindi, he gives an overview of the publishing industry. According to him, today, it is like a business where the publishers look for saleability and numbers. It could also be a co-operative where the author pays to publish his book or is Atmanirbhar venture where the author opts for self-publishing option. “There were a few Hindi publishers till a few years ago, and they too had their priorities. Books in Hindi were never published to sell copies but to be stocked in libraries. There are 150 crore Hindi speakers worldwide, of which 100 crore can read and write Hindi. But when it comes to Hindi, only 1000 copies are published, be it novel, poetry or short stories.”

Somvanshi whose couplet – Ram tumhare yug ka Ravan accha tha – is the most forwarded message on social media platforms on Dussehra. “Social media has made crowd sharing of emotions so easy, and it bodes well for Hindi writers. People are discovering literary gems on social media, and then they go hunting for books by these poets, be it of Jaun Elia or Fahim Badayuni,” he states. A few poets find publishers on their merit – be it known face or saleability – but a lot depends on the readers. “They create the market and not the other way around,” he says.

Love of literature | Ankur Mishra

Ankur Mishra wears many hats and aplomb. He is the founder of Kavishala and Foreantech and the author of seven books, but he remains a literature buff in one’s heart of hearts. He started a website called Kavishala for poets to have an online mehfil of sorts. “Kavishala is a one-stop platform for literary minds. Ease of getting good and genuine content at one place. Kavishala has many verticals – Kavishala Talks and Kavishala Campus Ambassadors, and Kavishala Sootradhar, where one can access the works of eminent litterateurs of yore. We must make the younger generation aware of the treasure trove of Indian literature and languages,” says Mishra. 

Another interesting vertical on the platform, Kavishala Labs, helps readers access exciting articles about Indian literature and writers. “The Kavishala team works hard for these articles, and they come up with not known and lesser facts for an engaging read. Kavishala Sootradhar is a vertical where we have 6000+ poets and writers from Indian and world literature, and the content is free. We aim to be a virtual library for our readers in easy clicks. Kavishala has three million-plus monthly page views on this content only,” he adds.

80% plus writers and poets are from the Hindi language to date. “The number of readers in Sootradhar is encouraging. We’ve 13% plus page views from the USA and 10% plus from UAE, which means Hindi literature has a good reach in non-Hindi speaking countries. If we get help from investors, we can make it even bigger and better,” he says. On World Hindi Day, Kavishala is conducting Kavishala International Meetup, where the platform will bring together Hindi and Hindi literature lovers in one place. “The event will be virtual and private. Our target is to have at least 150-200 people from different countries,” he adds.

Another plan in the offing includes making Kavishala the word first kind of platform, which will give readers money for reading. “We attempt to make reading a habit. There are a handful few readers left among the younger generations. We want to pay them for reading in an attempt to revive that reading culture,” he emphasises. 

Vantage point is bilingualism | Pankaj Dubey

Filmmaker-author Pankaj Dubey has an uncanny knack for transcreation. With nine bestselling titles to his credit, five in English and the rest four transcreated in Hindi, almost simultaneously, Dubey is currently busy adapting his first novel What a Loser (English) and Loser Kahin Ka (Hindi) for the big screen. What sets him apart from others of his ilk is the two-language deal for all his books from the publishing house, Penguin Random House. “I owe it to my editor, late Renu Agal, who spotted it first and encouraged me to write in both. Being bilingual is a significant marker in South Asia. It helped me bag the nomination for a prestigious writer’s Residency in Seoul, South Korea, in 2016,” says Dubey, who was one amongst the three novelists from Asia to get this opportunity. “I am bilingual, so I write all my stories together in Hindi and English. I never try to translate. Since my first book, I’ve been selling quite well, and that’s been my purpose because if I’m not interested in being a much-loved author, I would rather write diaries and not get them published,” he says.

The spectacular success of his first novel made it a breeze for the rest. “I always had conviction in my story and my telling. I have been fortunate, but I know that many others don’t have it easy. But once you get a publisher, and if your book does well, the sky’s the limit,” adds Dubey, who pursued his filmmaking passion and his first film, Maratha Mandir Theatre, is streaming on Disney Hotstar+.  

He owes his success to his storytelling and adaptability, both of which are up to date. The books are popular among the Millennials because the characters speak the readers’ language. One problem with Hindi literature is that the growth of writers in Hindi literature has been slower than the growth of readers. Moreso, because the readers and their tastes have evolved over a while. 

Commenting on the challenges of contemporary Hindi writing, he says, “Most Hindi writers, if not all, are stuck to the language and vocabulary of the past, which makes it dull and uninteresting for the readers. The idea is to contemporise things and accepts the linguistic ingredients of the contemporary world and society. That helps a lot,” he adds. 

Dubey attributes the democratisation of the reading and writing process to the advent of social media. “It has given access to everyone to all kinds of literature at the click of a mouse. So it is very challenging for the writers if they don’t try it well. The attention span of the readers is decreasing every day. Social media has made it challenging for good writers. At the same time, it has opened new ways to promote your work. So you can spread awareness around your writing, and once your writing is light, it will fly on its own,” he states. 

The article was carried in The Free Press Journal on the eve of World Hindi Day on January 9, 2022.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/world-hindi-day-here-are-some-keepers-of-the-language-that-are-taking-it-to-the-greater-heights

A wish list for 2022

In 2022, a visually impaired assistant professor #AkhileshKumar waits to hold his book in hand, while a mother-in-waiting #JaspreetChandhok is looking forward to bringing home her ‘adopted’ child.
A person with epilepsy #VinayJani will run to create awareness for the less spoken neurological condition, while a Bicycle Mayor #ArshelAkhter will pedal for green mobility. 
#ShramanJha of #WWFIndia believes the emphasis shifts to a more proactive, participative stance with the theme “Shape our Future”, be it for the #EarthHour or as #AkashDeep of #GRIHACouncil says on #greenbuildings that can be #sustainable and #affordable.  
An entrepreneur #SarvmeetOberoi hopes to pamper our pawsome family members at his pet facility – #PetfelixDogBoarding – a little more. At the same time, a chocolate brand #Kocoatrait led by L Nitin Chordia expects to become more sustainable and increase its contribution to the circular economy.
A martial arts expert #FaisalAliDar hopes to initiate more children into sports and sportspersons into coaching while a cafe’s founder in Jamshedpur #AvinashDugar is brewing a change for the deaf.
A busker Debojyoti Nath hopes to make more music and spread kindness, and a farmer #PradeepGawande is sowing hope to reap prosperity in 2022, for himself and others of his ilk.  
What we left behind are memories. What we are taking forward are moments. Here’s what 12 wonderful people are looking forward to this year, their wishes, and everything in between worth celebrating!  

The article was featured in The Free Press Journal in its edition dated January 2, 2022.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/from-world-braille-day-to-kisan-diwas-12-individuals-speak-about-the-special-days-of-2022-while-revealing-their-wish-list

2021: A year Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS INTIMATE: Intimacy coaches

The rules of engagement in modern relationships have changed over the years, comments Pallavi Barnwal, certified sexuality coach, and founder of GetIntimacy.com, listing out the changes, one by one. 

She observes how love is aided by technology; people find their partners or connect to them on a dating app, or through social media. The age of getting married has increased (which means the first relationship is not always the last one and people have more than one past relationship before they get married. Technology has spoilt people for choice and the days are engulfed around technology but at the same time of energy of technology (fast, quick, solution-oriented) does not match the energy of love which is (slow, gradual, mystical). People are socially distanced from extended family networks, and although they might have broad swathes of followers and social media friends, the reality is that is lonelier than ever. In this realm, their expectations and demands from their marriages and partners have drastically increased. New relationship models are emerging – single-parent families, live-in relationships, gay couples, divorce because of emotional/ sexual compatibility. People are looking towards sex not just as a form of making babies, or intimacy but also as a source of pleasure. They are looking towards sex not just as a form of making babies, or intimacy but also as a source of pleasure; they don’t mind are experimenting with sex toys, watching adult movies on Netflix, trying out kink partners in onlyfans, exploring cuckoldry, threesomes, etc. 

New Delhi-based Barnwal states how the emerging era of modern love and sex is a completely different paradigm. “To be able to deal with it and get what we want needs totally different skills. One we have not learned in our parent families, since that relationship model was based on meeting needs, setting family, and raising kids. But we are spoilt for choice and because of a rising emphasis on “self” or the “individual” we feel entitled to our wants and also have a ‘more’ mindset when it comes to Love and Sex.” 

LOVE IS INTIMACY
The article was published in The Free Press Journal on December 26, 2021.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/featured-blog/up-close-and-personal-heard-of-intimacy-coaches-heres-what-they-do-and-when-to-seek-their-help

Mr and Mrs Malhotra, a happily married couple on (role play), who deep down were broken, shattered and looking for ways to walk out on each other because their sex life was in a mess. In the nick of time, the couple went through a series of sessions. In their first session together as a couple, the intimacy coach got hold of the issue between the two. “She helped me communicate with my husband in a positive manner. Earlier I would whine and complain but wasn’t clear in my expectations. The next six sessions were with two of us individually where the coach helped us understand each other and our needs better. She empowered us to learn ways of positive and non-violent communication and helped us to understand what the other partner was going through and what are the challenges both of us are facing with one another,” recounts Mrs Malhotra. 

The couple also received home works and assignments that they had to practice during the week before the next session. The last two sessions were together as a couple where they communicated with each other, planned on how to work together as a couple with respect and empathy. “We are now on a nurture program where we meet the counsellor once a month to go through any current challenges and find solutions to them,” says Mr Malhotra.

Role of an intimacy coach

The growing bitterness in modern relationships and the subsequent incapability to express one’s desires has led to a growing need for an intimacy coach. Malhotra couple’s intimacy coach, Niyatii N Shah worked on building their love languages, admiration, gratitude and forgiveness. Talking about her role, Mumbai-based Shah adds how she doubles up as a counsellor, psychologist or sex educator and intimacy coach to work with couples and help them build or revive intimacy in their relationship. 

A trained sex educator and sex coach, Barnwal is currently practising as a sexual wellness coach where her work involves conducting assessments (verbal, written) to understand the client issue, history taking, assisting the client with the right information around sex, and recommending activities and exercises to have a healthy sexuality. “The actual work involves a lot of nitty-gritty. My work also involves a blend of mythology and sexuality, where I share mythological stories, and Kamasutra retelling because, in essence, it is a guidebook for a healthy marriage where Kama – sexual desire is one of the significant sections of the book,” says Barnwal.

On the other hand, Bengaluru-based relationship and intimacy coach Shivanya Yogmayaa’s clientele includes people who are suffering from issues with sexual intimacy, emotional disconnect with their partner, and need help in sexual behaviour and sexual orientation issues. She uses holistic psychological and practical approaches to resolve issues between couples. “I believe in when a person heals, relationship heals. I help couples to deepen the connections between themselves and everyone else around. I also guide people to achieve more confident and satisfying lives.”

As Mr and Mrs Das recount how they had worked with a few therapists and relationship counsellors across the world in the past before they stumbled upon Shivanya. “No one has been able to bring the breakthroughs in our relationship the way Shivanya has. We have had long-standing intimacy issues over our 15-year-old relationship and were getting close to calling the marriage off when we reached out to an intimacy coach. With every session, she intuitively and carefully helped us see each other’s perspectives and gave us practical tools and guidance to begin building our intimacy in a way that feels authentic to each of us,” says the Das couple, recounting their experience with intimacy coaching sessions that empowered them to understand and articulate their needs better. 

Shah agrees that most couples experience love and attraction in their early relationship and after a few years their responsibility and social expectations rip off the bonds, and the first casualty is their intimate relationship. “Our aim is to provide support and enhance the internal resources so that the couple can make amends in their lives. We support and help the couple find new possibilities and alternative solutions while observing professional boundaries and absolute confidentiality,” she emphasises.

On the need for conversation

Barnwal adds how with the information age, and rising incomes, and a metro lifestyle, people become more familiar with sexual pleasure. “This awareness was steered by a handful of sex educators who started breaking the taboos by initiating conversations and spreading knowledge around sex. I talk about sexual communication, sex personality, kink, sexual problems, dating, and sexual pleasure. Because there had been an acute dearth of information around these subjects, the content came as a breath of fresh air,” says Barnwal, who has set up a community of over 50,000 people overall where they reach out with their problems, hopes, and queries. 

Working as an intimacy coach is not an easy task. Explaining how she does what she does, Shah says, “It takes a series of sessions to work with the couple on understanding the challenges and obstacles that the couple is facing, exploring practical solutions for their relationship issues and then deepening their connection, emotionally, mentally and physically so that they can communicate their needs and preferences lovingly with each other.” Most coaches take independent sessions or have packages as per the client’s case.

It is a niche category of coaching, and people who have warmed up to the idea include a minuscule percentage in comparison to those who actually need intimacy coaching. “Unfortunately, sex coaching or sex counselling is a non-existent field in India. Here we have sexology which is more about a clinical treatment for physiological, biological disorders around sex. But as you see a lot of these stories are not about any biological problem, it is a lifestyle, relationship, and psychological issue. The taboo around sex is so huge that many mental health professionals are either not trained on this or are reluctant to even broach this subject,” says Barnwal recounting horrors of client stories where they were advised by other professionals to “just do it” or worse even “watch porn to get in the mood” which according to her is a typical response but lacks professional oversight.

Most couples-in-trouble over intimacy issues aren’t even aware that there’s someone like an intimacy coach who can help them sail through the crisis and save their relationship. “A little awareness shared on social media is helping people to know there are ways to solve their relationship issues. Seeking professional help for intimacy is still a taboo and there’s a lot of hesitancy still,” observes Shah.  

Shivanya couldn’t agree more with Barnwal and Shah. “Intimacy coaching is yet to pick up in the Indian context. People prefer secrecy and lack the courage to open up in what they see as a private matter. But they fail to understand is that this private matter is the foundation of their marriage,” she says. Another issue that Barnwal highlights is how most people expect overnight results in coaching which is not possible. “Considering our heavy puritanical past and the sexual stigma deep-seated in our family structures, social fabric, and our psyche, creating awareness around sex education is a mammoth task,” she stresses.

It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy;—it is disposition alone. Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others.

jane austen

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS FRIENDSHIP: Aashish Juyal

… a letter for my dearest friend, Aashish
वो कह के चले इतनी मुलाक़ात बहुत है
मैंने कहा रुक जाओ अभी रात बहुत है
LOVE IS FRIENDSHIP: Aashish Juyal

प्रिय आशीष,
बचपन में तुम्हारी शैतानियाँ। लड़कपन में तुम्हारी इश्क़ की कहानियाँ। और फिर जवानी में तुम्हारे हाथ की बनी मिठाइयाँ। आज बहुत याद आ रही है तुम्हारी, दोस्त ।
पिछले कुछ सालों में आदत सी हो गयी थी तुम्हारी बतकही की। चाहे तुम कितना भी व्यस्त रहते थे, चाहे दुनिया के किसी भी कोने में होते थे, पर हर दूसरे दिन एक बार फ़ोन खटका ही दिया करते थे, कभी हाल-चाल जानने के लिए, कभी कुछ बताने के लिए, कभी अपना दिल हलका करने के लिए और कभी मेरी बेवजह वाली बकवास सुनने के लिए । तुम्हारे इंडिया लौट आने के बाद तुमसे हर अगले दिन बात हो जाया करती थी।और बातें भी क्या हुआ करती थी बस यूँ ही इधर-उधर की बकर, बेवजह की हंसी-ठिठोली और कुछ दूर एक साथ बचपन के शहर की यादों में खो जाना। बहुत अच्छा लगता था । आज फिर तुम्हारी कमी बहुत ज्यादा महसूस हो रही है क्यूंकि तुम्हारे जैसा और कोई नहीं था और न होगा, आशीष।
तुमने उस दिन (चार अप्रैल) को कितनी बड़ी धमकी दी थी मुझे, याद है तुम्हें? “अगर आज तू मुझसे मिलने सोहना नहीं आयी तो मैं तुझसे ज़िन्दगी भर फिर कभी बात नहीं करूँगा! याद रखना, शिल्पीजी (इस नाम से सिर्फ तुम ही बुलाते थे मुझे)।” तुम और तुम्हारी इमोशनल ब्लैकमेलिंग ! इनके सामने मेरी क्या बिसात। दिन के बारह बजे थे और फ़ोन पर तुम्हारी धमकी सुनकर मेरे दिल में बारह बज गए। फिर क्या था। तुमसे फिर कभी न बात करने से बड़ी और कोई सज़ा नहीं हो सकती है मेरे लिए, मेरे दोस्त। तुम्हें फ़ोन कर बता दिया कि हम सब आ रहे हैं। तुरंत बच्चों को तैयार करवा कर हम सपरिवार तुम्हारे आदेशानुसार सोहना के लिए रवाना हो गए। तब तक दोपहर के दो बज गए थे। दूरी बहुत ज्यादा थी। तुम हर दस मिनट के बाद पूछ रहे थे, “अब कहाँ?” “और कितनी दूर?” “कब पहुँचोगी?” आज सब कुछ बहुत याद आ रहा है।
पौने चार बज गए थे हमें सोहना पहुँचते-पहुँचते और हम चारों को वहां देख तुम कितने खुश हुए जैसे एक रूठे हुए बच्चे के हाथ में उसकी प्यारी चॉकलेट थमा दी हो किसी ने और उसे पा कर उस बच्चे की बांझे खिल गयी हो। तुमने दोनों बच्चों कि जिम्मेदारी मेरे हाथों से ले ली और मुझे हिदायत दी, “अब तू सिर्फ रिलैक्स कर। यहाँ बैठ, और सिर्फ खा-पी।” शायद यह कह कर तुम मुझे आने वाले तूफ़ान से जूझने के लिए तैयार कर रहे थे। तुम्हारे साथ बच्चों ने खूब मस्ती की। आज भी उन्हें तुम बहुत याद आते हो। तुमने उन्हें चॉपस्टिक से नूडल्स खाना सिखाया और यह शायद उनके लिए एक अनमोल सीख है। और हमेशा रहेगी।
हम तुम फिर यूँ ही शाम की हलकी धूप में बैठकर हमेशा की तरह फिर से बकर करने में जुट गए। कितने देर तक यूँ ही बैठे रहे। तुमने मेरी वाली कड़क चाय बनवाई और प्यार से एक नहीं दो कप मेरे लिए मंगवाई।वह शाम, तुम और तुम्हारी बातें आज बहुत याद आ रही हैं।

दीवार पर एक काली छिपकली देख कर तुमने हाउसकीपिंग वाले बन्दे को बुला कर खूब डांटा और शायद उसके आने से पहले तुम्हारे गुस्से से डर कर वह छिपकली तुरंत गायब भी हो गयी थी । मैंने हंस कर तुम्हें बताया कि दो दिन पहले मुझे और अजय को सपने में छिपकली खुद पर रेंगती दिखी थी। तुम भी हंस कर बोले, “और तू डर गयी?” मैंने कहा, “नहीं, पर कहते हैं कि ऐसा सपना देखने से इंसान की जान को खतरा होता है।” तुम और जोर से हंस कर मेरी खिल्ली उड़ाने लग गए।
बात आयी गयी कर तुम हमें पूल के पास ले गए। दिन खत्म होने को था पर तुम्हारी कहानियाँ खत्म होने का नाम ही नहीं ले रही थी। बचपन-जवानी-बुढ़ापा (क्यूंकि हम और तुम हमेशा एक-दुसरे से यह कह कर अपनी ४०+ उम्र का मजाक उड़ाते थे) तुमने मुझे तीनों पड़ावों के बहुत सारे किस्से सुनाये थे उस दिन । आज भी सब कुछ याद है।
बातों-बातों में तुमने अपने युवा सहकर्मी की कुछ दिन पहले (ग्यारह मार्च) को सड़क दुर्घटना में हुई मौत के बारे में बताया। तुम उसके अचानक यूँ ही चले जाने से बहुत दुखी थे। यह कहते-कहते तुम्हारी बड़ी-बड़ी भूरी आखें आंसुओं से भर कर धुंधली हो गयीं थी । आंसुओं को तो तुमने किसी तरह रोक लिया पर तब तक तुम्हारी आवाज ने धोखा दे दिया। उस सहकर्मी के पार्थिव शरीर को देख कर उसकी माँ की हालत बताते हुए तुम जैसे फिर से टूट गए थे। ऐसा लग रहा था कि तुम्हें यकीन नहीं हो रहा था कि वो अब फिर कभी लौट कर नहीं आएगा। तुम्हें क्या पता था कि आज मेरी भी वही हालत है।
शाम हो चली थी। हमने भी तुमसे घर जाने की अनुमति मांगी। तुमने साथ में मेरा वाला चॉकलेट केक, मिठाइयों का डिब्बा और मीठी यादों के साथ हमें विदा किया।आखरी बातचीत में साथ में ऋषिकेश जाना तय हुआ था।इस बात पर तुमने कहा था, “पक्का, पक्का।” याद है न, तुम्हें? पर तुम तो अकेले ही चले गए। तुम्हें शायद अनहोनी का पूर्वाभास हो गया था पर मुझे तो अभी भी यकीन नहीं हुआ है तुम्हारे नहीं होने का।
अगले दिन तुमने शाम को पांच बजे के करीब फ़ोन कर पूछा, “तू रिलैक्स हुई। आजा फिर। बच्चों की चिंता मत कर। मैं उनकी देखभाल कर लूँगा। तू सिर्फ अपना ख्याल रख। बस खुश रह।” मैंने कहा, “अरे, कल ही तो आई थी सोहना। अब कल फिर आ जाऊँ?” हम-तुम यूँही फिर थोड़ी देर बकर करते रहे और जल्दी मिलने का वादा करके फ़ोन रख दिया। बस शायद यह पूर्णविराम था। मेरे और तुम्हारे लिए।
उसी हफ़्ते हम-तुम बीमार पड़े। दिव्या को मैंने अचानक आठ तारीख को फ़ोन किया तो तुम्हारी तबियत के बारे में मालूम हुआ। ऐसा हमेशा होता था कि जब भी तुमसे बात नहीं हो पाती थी तो उससे तुम्हारा हाल-चाल पूछ लिया करते थे। पर उस दिन क्यों तुम्हें नहीं पर उसे फ़ोन लगाया यह समझ नहीं आया। तुम्हारी तरह, तब तक हम भी सपरिवार बुख़ार कि चपेट में आ गए थे। फिर दस तारीख को दिव्या से यह पता चला कि तुम्हारा कोविड टेस्ट नेगेटिव है तो बहुत राहत मिली। पर यह फाल्स नेगेटिव था। हमने तब तक टेस्ट नहीं करवाया था। ग्यारह को रविवार होने कि वजह से गुरुग्राम में सभी लैब बंद थे तो हम सपरिवार बारह तारीख को टेस्ट करवाने गए।


वहां से वापस घर पहुंचे ही थे कि दिव्या का कॉल आया। पर कॉल मिस हो गया। तब तक दोस्तों के मेसेजस आने लगे। पर यकीन नहीं हुआ। तुम चले गए थे। दूर, बहुत दूर। अपना वादा तोड़ कर। दिव्या, अभिनव और अर्णव, मीनू को अकेला छोड़ कर। तुमने कहा था कि अगर मैं तुमसे मिलने नहीं आई तो तुम मुझसे बात नहीं करोगे पर मैं मिलने तो आई थी उस दिन पर तब भी तुम मुझसे अब कभी बात नहीं करोगे। ऐसा कोई करता है क्या, दोस्त? मुझे इतनी बड़ी सजा दे दी ? क्यों?
तुम्हारी याद में,
शिल्पी

LOVE IS FRIENDSHIP: Aashish Juyal

(वर्तनी और व्याकरण की गलतियों के लिए मैं क्षमाप्रार्थी हूं)

“I dreamt we walked together along the shore. We made satisfying small talk and laughed. This morning I found sand in my shoe and a seashell in my pocket. Was I only dreaming?”

Maya Angelou

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS MISCHIEF: Cheetpatakadumpa

Three friends — Teja (Bhumika Dube), Santo (Ipshita Chakraborty Singh) and Tamanna (Annapurna Soni) — from small-town India meet at an upmarket mall, and from there, take the audience on a pillion ride into the world of female desire on a full moon night.

A tightly-knit storyline has the trio exploring the idea of women loving their bodies by taking matters into their hands, quite literally. Two of the actors — Bhumika and Ipshita — have co-written the script with filmmaker Devashish Makhija, and it reflects in their combined gaze on the subject. The off-screen camaraderie of the trio, all alumni of the National School of Drama with a solid body of work in theatre, makes them shine in this short. Sharp dialogues, clever camera work, and tight editing give the not-so-openly-spoken topic in Hindi cinema, ample space to stretch itself to the imagination. 

LOVE IS MISCHIEF: Santo (Ipshita Chakraborty Singh) in Cheepatakadumpa

The opening scene is a good starter. Teja owns her sexuality and unabashedly. That unbelievable power of ownership leads the audience to the unchartered territory of female desire, and Santo as the woman who fantasises about having sex with a married man under full moon’s gaze that night, ably takes the plot further.

LOVE IS MISCHIEF: Teja (Bhumika Dube) in Cheepatakadumpa

In between, the duo leads married but yet uninitiated Tamanna to experience that elusive pleasure for the first time. The transition from organ to orgasm is organic. The result is an ecstatic high. Bishna Chouhan adds zealously to keep the spark alive with her deadpan expression.  

The last scene pans out in the open and broad daylight, letting the audience experience the freaky idea of femaleness, of women seeking pleasure and owning their sexuality through the deft approach of a man and two women to this taboo subject. The scene is liberating. Together, all of them have treaded the thin line, carefully manoeuvring the plot and keeping it on track without being preachy or voyeuristic, and that’s quite a feat to say it all in barely 23 minutes. 

LOVE IS MISCHIEF: Tamanna (Annapurna Soni) in Cheepatakadumpa

Makhija uses the mobile camera, fiddles with aspect ratio, cramps the actor in small spaces and lets the camera focus on their quirky expressions, movements and gestures as they go about exploring their femaleness in this short film currently playing at the Dharamshala International Film Festival.   

Cheepatakadumpa questions the double standards regarding sexuality — a rule for a man, an exception for a woman — subtly by letting the female protagonists explore the idea that there’s nothing wrong in seeking pleasure. It is in their hands, after all.

LOVE IS MISCHIEF: Cheepatakadumpa

(All pics courtesy https://makhijafilm.com/) 

One mischief always introduces another.

Daniel Defoe

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS GRATITUDE: Ravi Sahani

… a feeling of thankful appreciation for the favors received from the Universe.

प्रिय दोस्तों
वो दिन हमारी ज़िंदगी के सबसे कठिन दिनों में से था। एक साथ घर के सात लोगों का बीमार हो जाना, बहुत ही कष्ट कारक और भयावह था। लेकिन हमलोगों ने मिलकर उसका मुक़ाबला किया, बिना डरे, पूरी हिम्मत के साथ। बीमारी के दरम्यान हमने कभी भी हिम्मत नहीं हारी, एक दूसरे के लिए हमेशा तैयार थे, किसी भी परिस्थिति से लड़ने के लिए।
उस वक़्त लहर अपनी चरम पर था, कभी टीवी देखने का मन होता तो, दो मिनट के अंदर ही उसे बंद कर देना पड़ता था, उस वक्त न्यूज़ चैनलों पर कुछ भी ऐसा नहीं दिखता था जो अंदर से आपको मजबूत करता हो उस बीमारी से लड़ने के लिए, जब भी टीवी चलाओ तो सिर्फ हाहाकार ही सुनाई देती थी, हमने दो महीने तक फिर दुबारा न्यूज़ चैनलों को देखा ही नहीं।
हमने तय किया था कि, हमलोग हॉस्पिटल नहीं जायेंगे, लगभग रोज़ डॉक्टर से ऑनलाइन बात होती थी और डॉक्टरों के परामर्श के अनुसार हम अपनी दवाईयाँ लेते थे। मेरे घर में सबसे बाद में मुझे इंफेक्शन हुआ था और घर के सभी लोगों से ज़्यादा इंफेक्शन मुझे था, रोज़ दस इंजेक्शन लगते थे, लीवर और लंग बुरी तरह इंफेक्टेड थे, अच्छी बात यह थी कि मेरा ऑक्सीजन लेवल कभी भी बहुत कम नहीं हुआ। अपनी बीमारी के दरम्यान मैंने हमेशा अपनी हिम्मत को बनाये रखा, और घर के बाकी लोगों को भी ढाढ़स और हिम्मत देता रहता था।
पर एक बात थी जो मुझे बहुत चिंतित कर रही थी, वह थी बहुत ही ख़राब हो चुकी मेरी आर्थिक स्थिति, बैंक के पैसे तो कब के खत्म हो चुके थे, अब सारी दवाईयाँ क्रेडिट कार्ड से आ रहे थे, डॉक्टरों, कंपाउंडर और बाकि खर्चों का भुगतान भी क्रेडिट कार्ड से ही किया जा रहा था, पर दवाईयाँ और इंजेक्शन इतने महँगे थे कि मेरे कार्ड का क्रेडिट लिमिट भी बस 1-2 दिन में ख़त्म होने वाला था, मुझे समझ नहीं आ रहा था कि अब ख़र्च कैसे चलेगा। किसी से उधार माँगने में भी बहुत संकोच हो रहा था, क्योंकि लगभग हर घर में कोई न कोई बीमार था।

LOVE IS GRATITUDE: Ravi Sahani

मैंने अपनी दोस्त को फ़ोन किया, हालचाल पूछा तो पता चला वह चारों लोग भी इंफेक्टेड हो गए थे, और उसके पति तो बहुत ज़्यादा बीमार थे और हॉस्पिटल में भर्ती थे, तसल्ली की बात थी कि नेगेटिव होने के बाद उस समय घर आ गए थे। दोनों बेटियाँ और ख़ुद मेरी दोस्त भी पहले से ठीक थी। मेरी दोस्त ने मेरे बारे में पूछा तुम कैसे हो, मैंने कहा ‘पॉजिटिव’ हूँ, फिर अपने और घर के बारे में बताया और अपनी आर्थिक स्थिति के बारे में भी।
मेरी दोस्त से मैंने पूछा कि क्या ये संभव है कि क्राउड फंडिंग से मुझे बिना ब्याज के कुछ रुपये मिल सकते हैं जिसे मैं बाद में वापस कर सकूँ जब मेरे पास रुपये आ जाएँ, क्योंकि इलाज के लिए ख़र्च में अब दिक्कत आने लगी है ?
22 मई की शाम को हमारी यह बात हो रही थी, मेरी दोस्त ने कहा मैं देखती हूँ क्या हो सकता है, 23 मई की सुबह मेरी दोस्त का कॉल आया कि उसने अपने कुछ मित्रों से मेरे बारे में बात की है और उन्होंने मेरी सहायता के लिए ट्विटर पर पोस्ट डाला है, कुछ लोगों ने तुम्हारा एकाउंट डिटेल्स मांगा है, कुछ लोगों ने फण्ड रेजिंग प्लेटफार्म पर कैम्पेन बनाने की भी सलाह दी है।

फिर करीब दिन के एक बजे मेरी दोस्त का व्हाट्सएप पर मैसेज आया कि मैंने ketto पर तुम्हारा एक फण्ड रेजिंग कैम्पेन बना दिया है तुम देख लो। मेरी दोस्त ने मेरे लिए ढाई लाख रुपयों के लिए फण्ड रेजिंग कैम्पेन बनाया था, जब मैंने ketto पे लॉगिन किया तब तक लोगों ने कुछ रुपये भेज भी दिए थे, ट्विटर पर मेरे क्राउड फंडिंग को ज़्यादा से ज़्यादा लोगों तक पहुँचाने का जिम्मा मेरी दोस्त के अलावा जिन लोगों ने उठाया था उसमें सबसे आगे थे मयंक अग्रवाल और मेरे मित्र रितेश उत्तमचंदानी, रितेश तो मेरे पुराने मित्र हैं पर मयंक को मैं बिल्कुल नहीं जानता था, दरअसल मयंक मेरी दोस्त के मित्र हैं पर मयंक ने हमसे किसी जान पहचान के जो किया वह अपने आप में अद्भुत था। मेरा कैम्पेन दिन के एक बजे शुरू हुआ था और दिन के साढ़े तीन बजे तक कैम्पेन में डेढ़ लाख आ गए थे, लोगों का प्यार और सहयोग देखकर मुझे रोना आ रहा था। लोग ketto के अलावा मेरे एकाउंट में सीधे भी रुपये भेज रहे थे, मेरी दोस्त की दोस्त चित्रा सुब्रमण्यम जी ने तो ketto के अलावा मेरे एकाउंट में सीधे भी रुपये भेज दिए। मित्रों और शुभचिंतकों के प्यार की वजह से मेरे कैम्पेन में मात्र 11 घंटों के भीतर ढाई लाख एक सौ रुपये आ चुके थे, मैं हैरान था लोगों का प्यार और सहयोग देखकर, मुझे यक़ीन ही नहीं हो रहा था कि यह सब सिर्फ़ ग्यारह घंटे में हो गया है। यह सब संभव हो पाया क्योंकि अभी भी लोगों के अंदर दूसरों की मदद करने की भावनाएं जिंदा हैं, लोग अगर आर्थिक रूप से सक्षम हैं लोगों की मदद करने के लिए तो वह दिल से लोगों की मदद करते हैं चाहे वह उसको जानते हो या नहीं।

मैं यह बात इसलिए कह रहा हूँ क्योंकि मेरे डोनर्स में आधे से ज़्यादा ऐसे लोग थे जिनको मैं जानता भी नहीं था, ना तब और ना अब जान पाया हूँ क्योंकि उन लोगों ने बिना नाम बताए मेरी और मेरे परिवार की मदद की है, उन अनाम फरिश्तों को मेरा सलाम। बाकि जिनको मैं नाम से या व्यक्तिगत रूप से जानता हूँ उनको तो मैंने व्यक्तिगत शुक्रिया और आभार प्रेषित किया है पर उन अंजान शुभचिंतकों को विशेष रूप से धन्यवाद कहना चाहता हूँ। मैं बहुत भाग्यशाली हूँ कि मुझे लोगों का इतना प्यार मिला, मैं अचंभित था कि सहयोग करने वालों में ऐसे लोग भी थे जिनसे मिले, बातें किए हुए 10 साल या उससे ज़्यादा भी हो गए थे, कुछ तो पुराने सहकर्मी थे, तो कुछ अपनी फोटोग्राफर और जॉर्नलिस्ट बिरादरी के मित्र थे, जिनसे मिले जमाना हो गया था, पर जब मेरी बीमारी के बारे में पता चला तो उन्होंने आगे बढ़ कर मेरा हौसला बढ़ाया और मेरी मदद की, उनके लिए कोई शब्द नहीं है मेरे पास, बस इतना कहना चाहता हूँ शुक्रिया दोस्तों आप सब ने मुझे तब भी याद रखा जब मैं ख़ुद को भुलाने लगा था। आप लोगों का प्यार मेरे लिए एक करिश्मे की तरह है।
शुक्रिया।
रवि

Gratitude is the memory of the heart.

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS GIVING: The Gift

LOVE IS GIVING: The Gift

Producer-director Suman Bhattacharya’s debut movie, The Gift, is a short, simple and beautiful present. It has the quintessential O Henryesque flavour in its tone and tenor. Unlike a toffee or chocolate, The Gift does not come clothed in a fancy wrapper. Unlike other presents that give temporary contentment, this one is an emotion and provides deep satisfaction. The power of unconditional love. The power of selfless giving. The audience needs to peel off the various layers to see the real Gift here, and that’s a clever task by the debutant director.

The endearing film opens with the morning hustle-bustle of a busy metropolis, Kolkata. The city and its milieu, its daily grind, the mad rush to make a living, and in the process, forgetting how to live and choosing just to exist. That’s the bane of our being. The dull and insignificant events that happen in a day flow with clockwork precision but hardly matter to us in the larger scheme of things. They only make us more indifferent and disconnected from ourselves and each other. Nothing really tugs at one’s heartstrings. Nothing seems to matter anymore.

LOVE IS GIVING: The Gift

The camera takes us through the mundane life of urban residents until the day draws to an end, and a dog sleeping on the pavement conveys the subtlety of this profound statement. The subtle notes of the sitar playing in the background make the story’s plot music to one’s ears.

The narrator leads the audience into another day, but it comes covered in myriad human emotions that unfold, scene by scene, and by the end, the audience finally gets to unwrap the gift they had waited for all along.
The ten something girl comes with her father to an upmarket bakery to buy a birthday cake but realises that these things are way beyond their means. Her father makes up for it, but without compromising on his self-respect. Just when we had lost everything that we thought there was to lose, and everything seemed dark and gloomy, the father-daughter duo came along and gave us something for free. It is the greatest gift one can ever give another person (here, the uber-rich woman who comes to the cafe and orders chicken quiche and hazelnut cappuccino, and also the audience), and that is one’s happiness. Remember the smiley chocolate? The girl gives it away, quite literally and also metaphorically.

LOVE IS GIVING: The Gift

The little girl’s generous heart is open. It is always ready to give even things that it can’t afford. She doesn’t belong but offers the most precious gift — the experience of knowing that we always belong, somewhere, somehow, and to people who are special.

The narrator’s takeaway is also ours — never mind those failures till yesterday because each new day is a sequel of a beautiful life; gifted with hopes to succeed. The movie starring Adrija Chakraborty, Jayati Chakraborty and Ashok Majumder is all about unconditional love and selfless giving. There is also a not-so-obvious reference to The Gift of the Magi’s magical sentence, “Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest.”

LOVE IS GIVING: The Gift

Like O Henry’s heartwarming story, The Gift of the Magi, Suman’s short film The Gift brings joy all along, much more than the material value of the onscreen exchange, and that’s what is a priceless gift for the audience too.
It is currently doing festival rounds and has had 18 screenings, seven awards and counting. The Gift’s next stop is the online International Kolkata Short Film Festival from January 22-29, 2022.

Gifts of the heart can’t be claimed by anyone except the giver.

Nicholas Sparks

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS STORY: Jameel Gulrays

The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories, said American writer Mary Catherine Bateson, and Mumbai-based septuagenarian adman Jameel Gulrays couldn’t agree more with her. After spending more than five decades in the advertising world, working on popular brands, and teaching the nuances of this profession as a faculty member at leading institutions, Gulrays turned a new leaf and dedicated himself to work on his passion project – Katha Kathan. It was kindled by his earnest desire to preserve Urdu, and other Indian languages, promote and popularise them so that these aren’t reduced to mere dialects but live on to tell tales and regale the younger generations. He, along with his band of storytellers, has been pursuing the idea zealously since then.   

Early years

He was born with a silver spoon to Abid Gulrays in Bombay (as Mumbai was known then) on November 5, 1949. His father was multitalented – satirist, poet, and columnist par excellence – who also wrote songs for Hindi films in the 40s and 50s. Reminiscing his lyricist father, he says, “Surajmukhi released in 1950 had two memorable songs – suniye huzoor husn ka charcha na kijiye and husn ka guroor hai ye buri baat hai. The latter sung by Lata Mangeshkar was a blazing hit.” His father has 20 songs and ghazals to his credit as a lyricist. 

(from left to right) Abid Gulrays with Durga Khote, Ayaz Peerbhoy, and O.N. Verma, while recording a radio programme “Sanforized Ke Mehmaan”. 

At one point time, Abid Sahab was also associated with the newspaper, Inquilab. His satirical poems titled Baatein were a popular feature of the newspaper. He wrote these poems daily under the pseudonym, Cigarette Baaz. He also wrote a column, Tazyane, and it was so popular among the readers that many of them bought the newspaper just to read his piece. He used the pseudonym Phool Phenk, which came from Gulraiz. He wrote many columns under different names. He moved on from Inqilab to edit Mosavvir following a tiff with the management at the newspaper. Babu Rao Patel owned the publication Mosavvir, a popular film magazine, and at one point in time, it was edited by none other than Saadat Hasan Manto.

A poster of film Surajmukhi.

“I still fondly remember what he told me in my growing-up years, though I lost him quite early on at eight, these lessons have become the guiding principles of my life. He used to tell me that ‘should anyone move one step towards you, you should take ten steps forward and meet him/ her. If someone takes one step away, you move 10 miles away’. He always urged me to do my job without expecting anything in return, as expectations always hurt. Another invaluable lesson was around money. It is inconsequential, so don’t give importance to it; it can’t buy happiness.”    

But destiny had other plans. Gulrays’ father was fond of horse racing, and in one such race, he lost his entire fortune. He couldn’t cope with the humungous loss, and unable to bear it, he passed away soon after. It was the beginning of a long period of misery for the family. They were forced to move out of their plush bungalow in Mahim and settle in the predominantly Muslim locality, Bhendi Bazaar. The little boy was just eight then. Due to financial constraints, he was enrolled in an Urdu medium school – Bandra Urdu High School (now Bandra Urdu High School & Junior College Of Science, Commerce and MCVC). “In hindsight, I think, it was all a part of God’s plan. I loved reading Urdu and Persian literature during my early years in school and college, and these stories stayed on with me forever. Perhaps, I was destined to take on the arduous job of saving the language and its literature one day,” he says, with a deep sense of satisfaction.  

The badge of his Bandra Urdu High School carried three words – Azm (determination), Koshish (efforts) and Imaandari (honesty) and these values have stood him in good stead all through. 

Ad-ding on to life 

The loss of the breadwinner took a toll on his mother. She couldn’t live for long in penury, fell ill, and eventually passed away. “Her death shattered me completely as she was my biggest pillar of strength,” he says with moist eyes. His voice chokes on the mere mention of his parents, both of whom he lost early on in life. 

Gulrays shared his mother’s photo on her birth anniversary on June 6. She passed away when he was 18.

He was eighteen and barely in the first year of college then, but he had to fend for himself and also look after his family that included two younger brothers. He desperately started looking for a job to make ends meet. Circumstances forced him to leave his place in Bhendi Bazaar and relocate to a far-off suburb Malvani. “The nearest station was Naigaon, and I had to walk for an hour to take a local train. It was an underdeveloped area then, and hardly any buses used to ply there. Come rain or hail, I had no choice but to keep marching on, both literally and metaphorically,” he says. 

Advertising legend Ayaz Peerbhoy, who was his father’s friend, came forward to help and hired him for his agency. The remuneration was meagre, but it was something he badly needed, and he gladly took up this offer. In those days, the advertising world was dominated by English-speaking people, and anyone who didn’t know the language had little or no chance of survival. His ability not to give up came in handy and has stood him in good stead throughout. He not only learned English but mastered it. Later in his life, he set up an advertising agency and had the top-notch brand as his clients, and gave some memorable advertising campaigns in his five-decade-long career.

A new chapter 

He is an avid reader, and loves to spend hours immersed in the world of words. The library at his house in Khar, Mumbai, has an enviable collection of Urdu literature. One day, while sitting in his room, immersed in one of Manto’s stories, it dawned upon him that after his demise, his treasure trove will be in a shambles. “A raddi wala (ragpicker) will come and collect these books and sell it to a kabadi wala (junk dealer), who will sell it to vendors. Manto will be served on a plate of bhelpuri, Chugtai will be wrapped in paan, and Krishan Chander will be wrapped on vada pavs,” he rued. The thought shook him no end, and he decided to tell those tales, some well-known, others not so known, and many of them unheard, unread, and unknown, for the benefit of the younger generation. His passion for preserving Urdu and other Indian languages and the earnest desire to promote and popularise them for the younger generation led him to pursue the idea zealously. 

His undying love for stories that gave birth to Katha Kathan, a virtual repository of gems from Indian languages, relayed through his online social media channels on YouTube and Soundcloud – and relived through his offline storytelling sessions, a regular feature before the lockdown.  

A virtual Baithak with Team Katha Kathan in progress.

To start with, he started recording masterpieces from Urdu literature and releasing them on his YouTube channel. “One day, people might not be able to read these tales as they would no longer know the script. If these pieces are recorded and preserved, they would still be able to listen to them, whenever and wherever, and this, in a way, will preserve the treasure trove of stories for posterity,” he recounts. Initially, Gulrays thought of focussing only on Urdu literature, but once he exchanged the idea with others, he realised that the fate of other Indian languages is no different, so he widened his scope and included other “gems” of Indian literature, and featured stories in vernacular languages too.

Katha Kathan was started in 2015, and to date, he has recorded more than two thousand stories for his online platforms. It is a passion project funded by his selfless desire, and in all these six years, he has made humungous investments in terms of his money, time and energy, without taking a penny from any outsider. The growth and reach of the Katha Kathan project are purely organic, be it the views or the subscribers. The numbers only show the depth of his involvement and the widespread reach of his movement to keep Urdu and other Indian languages alive.  

Praiseworthy efforts

His honest endeavours have been suitably rewarded, and the former adman is now known as a connoisseur of the Urdu language, and his quintessential storytelling has won him many ardent fans and followers, and they range from celebrities to ordinary people. His popularity cuts across geographical, social, and linguistic barriers. People across the globe closely follow his work. Renowned actor Naseeruddin Shah has joined hands with him and is a regular in all Katha Kathan events. It is their shared love for Urdu that has kindled their camaraderie and friendship.  

Jameel Gulrays and actor Naseeruddin Shah pose against the Wall of Fame featuring literary giants from Urdu and other Indian languages. “Our relationship is based on mutual respect for each other’s work,” he says.

Sharing an anecdote, he says, “It so happened that I was recording Ismat Apa’s stories and releasing them on my YouTube channel, one after the other. I noticed that someone called Naseeruddin Shah would invariably comment and praise my work on these uploads. At first, I thought this must be some imposter. Why would someone of Naseeruddin Shah’s stature stop by at my YouTube channel, appreciate my work and care to comment? I wondered.” After the fifth story, he received a message that he (Naseeruddin) is coming to Delhi and would like to meet Gulrays. The actor thought that Gulrays is Delhi-based. Gulrays informed him that he lives in Mumbai, and they met, discussed the stories; Shah staged those as “Aurat, Aurat, Aurat,” and it was well-received by the audience. The actor, in his magnanimity, mentioned Gulrays’ name and his contribution in every interview that he gave after his play’s astounding success. “I sometimes wonder how come a genuine soul like him still exists in this world. He never declined his invite to any Katha Kathan show,” he says. Today, the actor is relearning Urdu, and calls Gulrays whenever he comes across a difficult word or sentence. Their relationship is based on mutual respect for each other’s work. “I have also benefited immensely from this partnership, and Naseeruddin Shah has always obliged my request for the interviews. Karwan-e-Mohabbat, with which I am associated, has gained a lot from these interviews,” he says.

Minding the language

These days, filmmaker Vishal Bharadwaj and his singer wife Rekha Bharadwaj are taking lessons in Ghalib from the connoisseur of the Urdu language. “There are two interesting anecdotes about Ghalib. One is that “if it wasn’t for many of Ghalib’s “shrah” (explanation of Ghalib by many scholars), he would have been very easy to understand. And the second one is that Ghalib is perhaps the only poet in the world whose work, if you can’t decipher, gives you double the pleasure,” says Gulrays. He thinks that if one has to understand Ghalib, one has to view his poetry through the prism of mysticism. “Ghalib himself declares in one of his couplets that he would have been considered a “Sufi” if it wasn’t for his drinking habits. Jameel insists that any effort to understand Ghalib must be made in this direction if we truly want to decipher his work,” he adds. One of his explanations has impressed Gulzar so much that he has expressed his desire to meet him. 

Katha Kathan celebrates the works of Rabindranath Tagore, Premchand, Sahir Ludhianvi, Krishen Chander, Ismat Chugtai, and many others, but the celebrated and controversial writer Manto remains Gulrays’ all-time favorite. “Manto continues to be misunderstood despite finding new admirers decades after his death because most people haven’t really read his work in totality. They read six or eight of his stories and dub him an obscene or a dark writer. He is neither, and there is a lot of it that needs to be explored to understand Manto’s body of work better,” he adds.

Jameel Gulrays is not just an individual but an institution.

Taking a walk down the memory lane, he recounts how his childhood home – his lavish bungalow in Mahim – had a portion of it rented out to Shyam, a popular actor in those days, by his father to tide over the financial crunch. Shyam and Manto were best of friends, and Manto often dropped in to see Shyam. It seems like a connection established by the umbilical cord, and Gulrays holds the prolific writer in high regard. “Why Manto decided to migrate to Pakistan is a question still debated by many. He was miserable there, as some of his letters reveal. Perhaps, he took that decision because of an incident involving his friend Shyam. Riots had hit both sides of the border. Shyam had some relatives in Lahore, and he was anxious about their safety and wellbeing in such troubled times. One day, news came that one of them had been killed, and in an inebriated state, he told Manto that he could kill him one of these days. Regaining his sobriety, he apologised, but Manto was so shaken up that he decided to leave India. The interesting bit is Shyam went to see him off at the dock, where they drank together for the last time,” recounts Gulrays.

Lifelong mission

Now, in his twilight days, Gulrays could ill afford to bask in the glory days and live off comfortably. Not someone to sit on his laurels, he has been working for the Indian languages and literature because, as he says, “Languages are our homes, and we must protect them.” 

He rues how the millennials are losing touch with their mother tongue. “If they don’t prefer to communicate in their mother tongue, eventually they would lose touch and forget to read and write in that language. Once that happens, it would spell the death knell for these languages,” says Gulrays, explaining the real reason behind his passion project – the need to preserve these languages so that they don’t up remain a dialect for future generations.    

To listen to stories, follow Jameel Gulrays on YouTube and Soundcloud.

Gulrays is not just an individual but an institution. So many people claim to love Urdu, but there is no one like him. He remains one among the few sincere and selfless soldiers of the language who has been single-handedly working on this mission, regardless of the bouquet or brickbats that could come his way.

A Baithak of Katha Kathan is a must on the first Saturday of every month. During the pandemic, it has moved to a virtual platform. Earlier, it was held at his home, where stories flowed along with a generous helping of snacks and beverages. These days, he has started using Clubhouse to his advantage and hosts a dramatised storytelling session with Katha Kathan Team at 10.30 pm every Sunday. These virtual sessions see story lovers from across the world in attendance. 

Katha Kathan’s Jashn-e-Manto featuring actor Naseeruddin Shah.

Bushra Rahman, an eminent Urdu novelist across the border, once sent a message praising his style. Shah, when asked, ‘why we don’t a Zia Mohyeddin here?’ had once famously quipped, “You haven’t heard of Jameel Gulrays.” Shah’s statement sums up the sentiments of his ardent admirers, who come from across the world, belong to different age groups, and speak different languages. The common thread binding them all is their love for stories in Urdu and other Indian languages. And the tribe is growing every day. 

Team Katha Kathan with Jameel Gulrays.

A devoted Urdu lover, he has a team of young volunteers growing under his tutelage at Katha Kathan to keep the love for languages and stories alight. He quotes a couplet of Majrooh Sultanpuri in the parting, and that succinctly sums up his illustrious journey.  

“Maiñ akelā hī chalā thā jānib-e-manzil magar 
log saath aate ga.e aur kārvāñ bantā gayā.”

The power of a glance has been so much abused in love stories, that it has come to be disbelieved in. Few people dare now to say that two beings have fallen in love because they have looked at each other. Yet it is in this way that love begins, and in this way only.

victor hugo

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

SHILLPI A SINGH

LOVE IS FAITH: Khrienuo Angami & Akshat Sharma

Kohima girl Khrienuo Angami met Dehradun boy Akshat Sharma at the Naga Students Union Sports Meet at Delhi University’s Hindu College in 2003. “It was a chance meeting for a fleeting moment that was destined to bring two people hailing from different faiths and different states together for a lifetime. There were hiccups, a lot of them, but Que Sera Sera,” recounts Angami with a chuckle.

LOVE IS FAITH: Khrienuo Angami & Akshat Sharma

While Sharma moved to XLRI, Jamshedpur, to pursue MBA, Angami went to Jawaharlal Nehru University for her M.Phil. Angami and Sharma identified each other more with the friend tag, but Cupid had struck them no matter how hard they tried, and they had been swept off their feet. “We started dating each other only in 2007 and informed our respective parents about our plans to get hitched. Well, but it was easier said than done. The opposition was vehement,” says Angami, a Protestant Christian from the Scheduled Tribes in Nagaland, while Sharma is a Brahmin from Uttarakhand.

The family dynamics also played a significant role in paving the way for acceptance. Angami’s three younger brothers rallied around her. They championed the cause of intercaste, interfaith union with all their might, even as her parents and younger sisters chose to oppose the alliance, tooth and nail; they stopped all communication for a year. Being the only child worked in Sharma’s favour, and his parents gave in easily because “his happiness mattered the most to them.” Sharma visited Angami’s folks in Nagaland and tried to win them over to break the ice. He succeeded, and two rounds of talks between their parents over the wedding rituals to be followed happened in Delhi in 2011. “I have four younger siblings, and my parents were worried that I would be ex-communicated from the church if I marry a Hindu. The news would be a big disgrace to the family back in Nagaland. He somehow agreed, but it wasn’t easy to win him over,” recalls Angami.

LOVE IS FAITH: Khrienuo Angami & Akshat Sharma

The couple got married twice – one according to elaborate Hindu rituals and the other under the Special Marriage Act in 2012. Today, their two children follow both religions, and festivals for the Angami-Sharma household are all about fun and food. It’s their faith in love and humanity that keeps them afloat.

Faith makes all things possible… love makes all things easy.

Dwight L. Moody

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS FOOD FOR THE SOUL: Farmers and Agripreneurs

“Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: Love. They must do it for love. Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. If the scale of their farming is small enough, they like to work in the company of their children and with the help of their children. They love the measure of independence that farm life can still provide,” said Wendell Berry.

Retracing actor extraordinaire Manoj Bajpayee’s brand endorsements in 2021 makes one marvel at the ingenuity of his choices. He endorsed products and services that matter to an ordinary person, be it home, finance, farm, food, and rightly so. “I was born and brought up in a village, and I have always flaunted being a farmer’s son with immense pride. It is the core of my being, my work and how I choose to do what I do,” he says. A proud farmer’s son, he endorsed Krish-e App by Mahindra because the product reflects his identity, and he could relate to it. “Moreso, because I find technology a great enabler, and Krish-e has leveraged it to its advantage to help farmers reduce costs, increase productivity, and ultimately farmers’ income,” says the actor, who won the National Award for his searing performance in Devashish Makhija’s Bhonsle this year. With his endorsement, Bajpayee set the tone for the changing narrative in the agriculture sector that’s gravitating towards tech and seeing the active participation of young agripreneurs.  

LOVE IS FOOD FOR THE SOUL: Actor Manoj Bajpayee
To read more, https://adnaama.in/2021/11/06/the-ad-ventures-of-mr-b/
Farmer’s pride

IT professional Muhaimin Sheik decoded the perfect work-from-home balance during the lockdown, much to his delight. A native of Ramanathapuram, Pottagavayal village in Tamil Nadu, Sheik returned home to be with his family during the pandemic last year and has stayed in the village ever since then. Hailing from a family of farmers, he wasn’t as deeply involved in the process as he is now, and the WFH, in a way, helped him reconnect with his roots. “I spend five days coding and two days farming. I start my weekdays with a stroll down the farm before logging in for work. One day someone asked me, ‘You are educated and working with a software firm, so why do you want to do this? The company pays you well, right?’ I replied, ‘Yes, it does, but I can’t eat the money. I can eat rice only’,” says Sheik.    

A native of Ramanathapuram, Pottagavayal village in Tamil Nadu, IT professional Muhaimin Sheik at his farm.

CEO of Athvas Horti Fed Producer Company Ltd Asiya Nazir from Kupwara in Kashmir runs a farmer producer organisation and sells to wholesale and retail buyers on a tech-enabled Harvesting Farmers Network (HFN) platform. “I sell walnut, almonds, apple jam, honey and saffron on HFN mobile app directly to buyers across India. The tech-enabled market linkage is a massive relief for farmers like me,” says Nazir.

CEO of Athvas Horti Fed Producer Company Ltd Asiya Nazir from Kupwara in Kashmir

On the other hand, Raghu Dharanipathi of Kapila Agrofarms in Siddipet, Telangana, has benefitted tremendously by feeding corn silage (Cornvita by SAGO) to his cattle for the last three years. “Sago has been one of the best both in terms of quality of the product and customer service. Milk production of our dairy cattle consistently improved by 10-15% in the last three years,” says Dharanipathi. 

The story of Ajit Sorate,a large farmland owner from Baramati, Maharashtra, who faced challenges due to a lack of knowledge about the advanced implements available in the market, is no different. Thanks to Krish-e advisory, his plantation costs have been drastically reduced. Earlier, Sorate used to utilise 16 acres for sugarcane and 12 acres for maize cultivation. This year, after registering on the Krish-e app, he has planted sugarcane, from which he expects over 35% more output. “Krish-e app comes with Mahindra’s promise and has a smooth functioning where I can avail proper advice on soil testing, primary tillage and intercropping to help in scientific mapping of the crop,” he says.  

Back story

Krish-e is a new business vertical from Mahindra Group that provides technology-driven services that are progressive, affordable, and accessible to farmers. “We launched Krish-e and Nidaan apps in October 2021, keeping in mind the ever-evolving needs of the modern farmers. These apps leverage a combination of agronomy, data and farming expertise to improve farmer’s income per acre,” says Hemant Sikka, President, Farm Equipment Sector, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. 

HFN founder Ruchit Garg, who launched a mobile app in November 2021, had been actively helping smallholders’ farmers from across the country market and sell their harvest through a dedicated Twitter page during the first wave of COVID19. Farmers used to message crop details to him, and he used to broadcast those details on Twitter, and the farmers’ produce used to find buyers in no time. Buoyed by the consumer response, he decided to have a dedicated mobile app for farmers. “HFN Kisan mobile app is world’s only mobile app which provides full-stack services to not only farmers in horticulture, but also to farmers involved in fishery, poultry and livestock,” says Garg. 

Hyderabad-based agri-tech startup SAGO Speciality Feeds was started by three passionate agripreneurs — former NABARD employee Chandrasekhar Singh, his nephew Saikiran and son Anurag —  in 2019. At SAGO, they have deployed fermentation biology to develop and manufacture silage from corn crops and use microbial inoculants for making silage. The technology helps produce high-quality feed for cattle and enables efficient year-long storage of green fodder. “Silage is a highly nutritious and balanced feed for cattle, sheep and other ruminants, and it can also be used as a biofuel feedstock for anaerobic digesters. It doesn’t contain any synthetic additives or chemicals. Silage also helps reduce the volume of feed as it is highly compressed, thereby decreasing the overall cost and meeting the nutritional requirement,” says Singh.  

Agri-tech startup SAGO Speciality Feeds was started by three passionate agripreneurs — former NABARD employee Chandrasekhar Singh, his nephew Saikiran and son Anurag —  in 2019.
Growth in numbers 

The numbers are promising, and best elucidate the success story. Garg recounts how the app helped a Bangalore farmer sell 20,000 kg of grapes in just three days and how a farmer from Bihar got a weekly brinjal subscription from a nearby hotel by using the app. “We have at least one farmer from each Indian state/UT on our platform,” he adds with pride. 

Ruchit Garg, founder of HFN Mandi and HFN mobile app.

The high-quality corn silage is produced at SAGO’s plant in Banswara, Rajasthan. “More than 1,200 farmers produce corn crop for us annually. Over 230 dairy farms, involving over 12,000 dairy cattle, are fed with our corn silage annually. Sago has created an efficient and sustainable agricultural production ecosystem covering Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Telangana and significantly improved the livelihood of the farming community involved,” elucidates Singh. 

The Krish-e and Nidaan apps have received more than six lakh downloads. With an omnichannel approach, Krish-e is has been able to make a considerable difference to farming outcomes. “Through Krish-e, Mahindra is creating a nation of ‘Champion Farmers’. To date, Krish-e has increased the yield of farmers by up to Rs 15,000, brought down the cost of farming by about 8-12% and increased profit by up to Rs 6000 per acre. It reflects the passion of those progressive farmers who have adopted new practices to improve their outcomes,” adds Sikka. 

Plans in the offing

SAGO plans to expand into other speciality feeds for animals such as Aflatoxin free corn for pet feed and Quality Protein Maize for poultry feed. “These are a couple of products in the pipeline to be launched in the next two years. We are preparing to foray into the value-added food sector, focused on Functional Foods,” says Singh. 

Mahindra Group’s biannual event – Krish-e Champion Awards – is aligned with the Kharif and Rabi seasons. These Awards recognise and felicitate farmers and institutions, who have risen above the ordinary, by thinking innovatively and driving a positive change in agriculture. “Through the Krish-e Champion Awards, we aim to inspire millions of farmers and agripreneurs to build a promising future for the country. These Awards celebrate the progress of these farmers who took this first and very important step with us,” emphasises Sikka. 

Like most other fields, technology in agriculture is a must, believes Garg, adding that it impacts every aspect of agriculture, from seed to market. “Agriculture requires a mix of digital and physical approaches for building a scalable and sustainable business model,” says Garg, who is planning to launch a network of brick-and-mortar HFN Kisan Centers. “These will be farmer-owned and operated. We plan to open 17,000 such centres across India,” he adds. 

Young farmer Sheik sums up the tenacious spirit of others of his ilk and states, “There are many ways to earn money, but there is only one way to earn food, and that’s through agriculture.” True that! We owe a lot to the farmers. It is about time we realise it too. 

Kisan Diwas is observed on December 23 in remembrance of former PM Chaudhary Charan Singh, who was committed to the wellbeing of the farmers. I met farmers and agripreneurs, who have leveraged technology, to do the same to celebrate the day. The article was published in The Free Press Journal on December 19, 2021.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/kisan-diwas-2021-how-farmers-and-agripreneursare-making-the-most-of-technology-that-is-at-their-disposal

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS PROMISE: Jaspreet Chandhok

Jaspreet Chandhok is an architect by education who runs one of India’s leading lighting design firms, Ethereal Designs in Delhi & Mumbai, and is a happy mother-in-waiting. “Motherhood was always on my mind, but adoption has been my only choice,” says Chandhok.

LOVE IS PROMISE: Jaspreet Chandhok, a mother-in-waiting.

She got married at 35 and conceived at 36. The first trimester was tough for her. “I had frequent nausea, severe acidity, lethargy, throwing up at any strong smell or taste to the extent I couldn’t even brush my teeth daily for fear of vomiting. As the first trimester completed, I suffered a miscarriage. It was traumatic. The idea repulsed us, and we were afraid of going through the same rigmarole again. To add to it, my husband was facing a challenging medical situation too,” reminisces Chandhok. 

At 40, she wanted to be a mother badly but chose to miss the biological route. “Adoption seemed to be the most promising and empowering means of bringing a child into our lives. We registered in the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) in August 2020. Our seniority on the waiting list of prospective adoptive parents in Delhi was 1421 in September 2020; Currently, we are 1014th, which could mean another 18 to 20 months of waiting time,” adds Chandhok.

Once she and her husband registered for CARA, they have been pretty firm on their decision throughout. “We not only preferred to go for closed adoption only though CARA because we feel it fulfils the mutual need of the child and the couple,” says the mother, who is happily waiting to bring her bundle of joy home, one day soon. It is a long and arduous wait.

Less than 30% of prospective parents registered at CARA before the Chandhoks have brought their child home in the last 16 months. The maths is simple: 16 months for 400. At this rate, the total wait for the Chandhok couple seems longer than three years. The number on the waiting list seems more gruelling and taxing than even the toughest All-India competition’s list of rank holders. They stand 1014 on Delhi’s waiting list, 1408 on Maharashtra and 892 in Punjab as on December 18, 2021.

Meanwhile, a group of 350 (the number is growing every day) prospective adoptive parents (registered with CARA) like her formed ‘Adoption Action Group’ four months ago and have been trying various means to bring about awareness and request the Ministry of Women and Child to streamline, improve and make the adoption process faster.

“I also coordinate some activities of the group including the Twitter campaign, and I ardently keep tweeting on some days. It worries my close ones. They get the impression that I’m suffering while waiting, so I’m doing it. But I don’t do it out of frustration or desperation. I do it as a process of motherhood. I might not be carrying that unknown child in my womb and watching it grow inside me, but I have been feeling similar excitement as any other biological mother. My motherhood journey is different but yet similar to any other mother,” says Chandhok.

As a mother-in-waiting, she signs off saying the most profound words in favour of her decision to adopt and not give birth: “Yes, the child we will bring home won’t have our bloodline, our looks or genes, but we are not running a kingdom anyway; there is no royal blood legacy that we are aware of and something that we must take forward through our progeny. Our love is our legacy. We are eagerly looking forward to our child, who shall belong to our own ‘Loveline’ not ‘bloodline’.” That’s an unsaid PROMISE she’s made to her unknown CHILD, and with LOVE.

“We are born of love; love is our mother.”

Rumi

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

SHILLPI A SINGH

LOVE IS EQUALITY: Tribe of Penguin Dads

Penguin dads are redefining the rules of parenthood by ‘mothering’ their children. Meet the waddle, who are busting the pre-defined and gender-dictated notions and social norms and taking up daddy duties, and for good. 

Bengaluru-based IT professionals Abhinav Sitesh and his wife Natasha welcomed twin girls – Abhisha and Naysha – into their lives in December 2016. The couple’s joys were doubled, and so were the duties and responsibilities that came along in their new role. “Natasha’s post-delivery complications had left her bedridden. We had no family support around, so I was on double duty. I had to take care of the little ones’ feeding, bathing, massaging, cleaning poop, pee, and puke, plus putting them to sleep. With two of them, it was around the clock job, from then to now, and to add to my woes was my work-from-home arrangement for an important office assignment,” recalls Sitesh, who had to give paternity leave a miss to do the due as a ‘working father’. He has since then chosen to WFH and is one of the many young fathers, who are happy to be on daddy duty 24×7 and find the newfound role to be far more enjoyable and satisfying. “When one of my children was diagnosed with autism, I knew that here on, I will have far more responsibilities to shoulder. A lot more interventions are required at my end to ease it out for them,” he says. The couple relocated to Lucknow from Bengaluru in March this year so that his children could be around their grandparents, relatives and other extended family members.   

LOVE IS EQUALITY: Abhinav Sitesh with his twins.

Parenting as a joint venture

In a traditional setup, the onus often falls on a mother to raise the child, and she eventually becomes the sole nurturer, while the father’s role is to earn, and he is considered more of a provider. Delhi-based sports journalist Nishant Singh, who is married to news anchor and correspondent Rajani Sen, belongs to the new creed of fathers and is happy to ‘mother’ his two boys, Adamya and Sahishnu. “The societal norms are changing, and our generation is making necessary contributions by shattering the stereotyped, gender-defined roles at home and outside. What a mother does, a father can do too, and a couple is in this parenting business together, isn’t it?” asks Singh. As a father, he is quite hands-on in raising his children and loves to do it all, be it helping with their studies, taking them out to play games or participating in extracurricular activities. As his wife recounts, “Adamya had to wear a rainbow-themed shirt to school, and she was in office in the evening shift, and by the time she came home, Nishant had used his creativity to colour a white shirt and keep it ready for his school.” 

LOVE IS EQUALITY: Rajani and Nishant with their children.

Parenting coach and author of a parenting book ParenTeen Prakriti Prasad agrees with Singh on the shared responsibilities while raising a child. “Conceiving a child is a joint endeavour of both parents. I don’t see why and how nurturing that infant, toddler, adolescent or even a young adult became the sole responsibility of the mother with the father acting as a mere spectator, supervisor or sometimes a visiting faculty, with minimal involvement in parenting,” she says.

Starting point 

A father playing an active role in raising his children becomes a talking point because it has been an exception and not a rule. As a father of seven-year-old Sadgi, author and columnist Pankaj Ramendu, who chose to stay at home to take care of her since her birth, while his wife Kalpana pursued her career ambitions, rues, “Why do people find it unusual? It is because our previous generations have been raising children with a set mindset. We have never questioned the existing gender roles in our society because we have been conditioned to accept it as a norm.” 

LOVE IS EQUALITY: Pankaj Ramendu with his daughter Sadgi.

Contextualising the parenting dynamics, Prasad adds, “Indian dads have traditionally just been onlookers of their newborns or enforcers of discipline in their growing up years. It’s both heartening and relieving to see this burgeoning trend of hands-on dads, what you call ‘penguin dads’ now in India too. Millennial fathers are taking paternity leave not just to revel in the birth of their child but chipping in with staying up the nights, changing diapers or bathing and feeding their infants.” 

Ramendu believes that a man has never been taught to shoulder this responsibility and participate in a child’s upbringing because this idea has been perpetuated to suit the patriarchal setup. “It is all about gender equality, something which has been an oft-neglected issue. Motherhood is an emotion and not a gender-specific category to bracket a parent. A father can have the same emotions and fit in the role of a mother well if given a chance,” he says.  

Changing the rules 

Bengaluru-based Prithvi Ramachandran has dabbled in many trades, most notably being the Bengaluru casting director for the Oscar-winning Ang Lee film, Life of Pi, but one role that he is content with the most is the role of a do-it-all dad for his two boys – Mir and Arya. “I have been a stay-at-home dad since my elder son was born, although the terminology might be disputed since the pandemic began and everyone else also began to stay at home! My wife Ruhi works full time and has had a demanding career for over 25 years,” says Ramachandran, who decided to take an active role in children’s upbringing. He takes care of school drops/pickups, organizing playdates, and cooking/ensuring healthy meals and snacks, and the couple takes turns reading stories to kids at bedtime. 

A father doing it all for his children, more than the mother, makes his role conspicuous to others, and there is a fair share of challenges all through. “However, much I’ve had to swallow my ego and deal with disapproving looks, snide comments from friends and relatives, and a general giving up of power, I feel blessed that I have been able to spend so much time with my children and dogs. Having children, watching them grow and experiencing with them the joys of the simple things in life helped me realize what life is truly about,” says Ramachandran. 

It is a win-win situation for all three parties – the mother, the father and the kid. While the overworked mom gets a breather, dad his share of unique bonding and the kid thrives in an atmosphere of love and attention. “These children are bound to share a much deeper bond with their fathers. Besides, I think this will also reverse the archaic gender perceptions about fathers being the breadwinners while mothers being the nurturers, something we’ve unwittingly been passing on to our children,” advises Prasad.

Two-gether is the way 

The tribe of penguin dads is growing because these men want to reverse the outdated concept of bracketing a mother as a nurturer and a father as a provider because these gender-defined roles have blurred. Sitesh fondly remembers how his equation with Abhisha and Naysha is in complete contrast to what he shared with his dad. “I like it this way – open, warm and affable,” he says. Like Ramendu, Ramachandran too believes in gender agnostic parenting and says, “Men being involved in the raising their children is the way it ought to be. It is challenging enough to leave it to just one person. As the saying goes, it takes a village, and all that.. the more hands, the better.” 

But Prasad is amazed and also amused to see only mothers flocking parenting workshops and sessions. She encourages both parents to attend such sessions or their children’s PTMs or school events to keep parenting even-keeled. “It goes a long way in boosting the child’s confidence and self-worth besides strengthening their bond. When both parents work as a team to bring up their children, the child grows upon the firm foundations of love, understanding and belief in each other. Such children grow up to display positive traits,” she reasons.

The article was carried on Father’s Day (June 20, 2021) in The Free Press Journal; https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/fathers-day-2021-meet-the-new-tribe-of-do-it-all-penguin-dads

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS DIVERSITY: Kalki Subramaniam

Her name, when translated from Sanskrit, means the destroyer of ignorance or darkness. As a transgender activist, artist and author, Chennai-based Kalki Subramaniam has her work cut out. She aspires for an inclusive world where her community people aren’t considered the others. Subramaniam’s been at it for as long as she can remember. Working in mission mode, she wants equal rights for the countless transgender and non-binary people so that one day they get their rightful place in our society.     

LOVE IS DIVERSITY: Kalki Subramaniam

She recently released a collection of poems, essays, monologues, art and conversations titled We Are Not The Others in English. The champion of transgender rights has given ample reasons to judge the book by its cover. The title gives away the author’s core idea of change — equality, opportunity and dignity — for the transgender community. Her profile against the backdrop of red palm impressions from the RedWall community art project undertaken by her initiative – Sahodari Foundation – takes the thought a step further and tells the tale of the successful amalgamation of art and activism to give a creative expression to others of her ilk. The book is her second literary outing, the first being a poetry anthology in Tamil titled Kuri Aruthean published in 2014. 

Excerpts of an exclusive conversation on all that matters to Subramaniam and makes her a successful sum of many parts:

On her coming out story 

I was born in a very beautiful town in Tamil Nadu called Pollachi. I received my early education in Pollachi and at St. Joseph’s Public School in Kodaikanal. I have some lovely memories of my school days. My coming out happened during the last few years of my schooling. I was feeling suicidal due to my gender dysphoria. Life was a complicated web of impossibilities, but I removed the knots one by one. Where there is a will, there is a way.

On living as a transwoman

I don’t think you need bravery to live as a transwoman; you just need to respect and love yourself and never feel down about your gender. I always tell my transgender sisters and brothers that we should never feel down and low. We are truly special, and we must celebrate who we are no matter what the world thinks about us.  

On making the write choice  

My role as an activist drove me to write the book. There was this urgency to tell the stories, my own stories and the stories of my friends – alive and dead, to put down the poetry and poetic experiences with baring truths before I forget everything with time. That urgency was the reason I had to write. I am super proud of my book because it isn’t just any other book; it has its fierceness and is so human. 

On art activism

At Sahodari Foundation, we use art as a powerful tool and medium to address issues. Transgender people get trained as artists and artisans. We also encourage them to open up about their lives, stand up for themselves, and encourage them to be activists, the voices of the community. 

On being the agent of change 

For me, change is equality, opportunity and dignity. The transgender community deserves all three. I would like to see scientists, entrepreneurs, CEOs, engineers, farmers, writers, doctors, professors, and teachers from the transgender community in the next ten years. I dream of the day when the transgender community will be respected in our country like no other place in the world. We bring the change and make sure it is implemented for the well being of the queer and transgender community — a bright and equal future for them.

On her role model 

There are so many of them; right from my childhood, I have watched them and grew up. During various times of my life, many women became my role models. Princess Diana, Velu Nachiyar, Rani of Jhansi, Indira Gandhi, Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet, Sridevi, Oprah Winfrey… the list is long. I still learn from all of them. 

On what’s in the offing 

When the pandemic is over, I want to travel around the world — to universities, museums and art galleries with my art and art initiatives. I want to spread the message of gender equality across the globe. I want to be the International Ambassador of Gender Equality. I value time more than money, and I know it is worth and so I won’t waste my time. I will make the best of what I can to bring happiness to my people in my lifetime. 

The article was carried in The Free Press Journal, Mumbai, in its edition dated August 29, 2021. https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/you-dont-need-bravery-to-live-as-a-transwoman-you-just-need-to-respect-and-love-yourself-says-author-and-transgender-activist-kalki-subramaniam

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS ART: Cheriyal scroll painters

The handful of artists belonging to the Nakash caste and hailing from Cheriyal village in Telangana are the keepers of the visual form of storytelling popularly named after them as Nakashi art or Cheriyal paintings. Over the years, these artists have painstakingly preserved the rich cultural tradition of using pictures to tell stories from Indian mythology and local folklore. The proponents of this art form are heavily dependent on their art for survival, but the 15-month lockdown left them in the throws of woes.

LOVE IS ART: The award-winning Nakashi artists D Vaikuntam and his wife Vanaja.

“The Cheriyal art is on the brink of extinction. Today, only seven families are engaged in this art form. Five of these belong to the Nakashi community, and the others are outsiders who learned it from my father, D Vaikuntam,” says D. Rakesh, a young Nakashi artist. With no other source of income, his family of five – father Vaikuntam, mother Vanaja, brother Vinay Kumar, and wife Monisha – took to online workshops to fend for themselves during this period. The workshops conducted by SkillXn, Paramparik Karigar, Crafts Council of Telangana, Spic Macay, Dastkaar Haat Samiti, and Rajasthani Studios were creatively satisfying monetarily rewarding for his family. “The response was heartening, and the students showed keen interest in learning the art form. We want to keep it alive, and efforts like these will help us reach out to a wider audience,” says Vaikuntam.

The dying art form received a Geographical Indication status in 2007. Reminiscing the rich cultural tradition, Vaikuntam says, “Cheriyal scroll painting is one of the earliest forms of audio-visual entertainment. Hundreds of years ago, the storytelling communities travelled through villages, singing and narrating stories using the scroll as a visual tool. Each scroll measured about three feet in width and could extend to over 60 feet. A scroll contained about 40 to 50 panels, and each panel depicted a part of the story. These were displayed in a sequence to tell the tale.”

With newer forms of storytelling ruling the public imagination, the Nakashi artists have adopted unique ways to reinvent the art form and keep it relevant. “The pictorial tale from the epics doesn’t excite people anymore. The scrolls have been reduced to an aesthetic item adorning the walls, collected by art lovers,” rues Vaikuntam. To make the art form saleable, Nakash artists have designed utility items. “We made masks during the lockdown and sold them through our Facebook and Insta pages. We also use the traditional art form to make key chains, pen holders, and wall decor items,” says Rakesh.

Each Cheriyal scroll starts with a panel of Ganapati, followed by Goddess Saraswati. “It is customary for the artist to seek the blessing of the deities to ensure that the art flourishes without any obstacle,” says Vaikuntam. The Cheriyal scroll painting is drawn on handmade khadi cloth or canvas processed by applying a paste of tamarind seed, tree gum and white clay. Three coats of the paste are applied, allowing a day in between for the paste to dry. Once the scroll is ready, the artist outlines characters using a squirrel-haired brush. In Cheriyal scrolls, only natural colours are used like white comes from grounded sea shells, black from lamp soot, yellow from Pevidi stone, blue from Indigo leafs, red from Inglikam stone and the other colours from various vegetable dyes and ground stones. Every colour is mixed with thirumani tree gum, before being applied on the scroll. “The red colour fills the background. The face and skin colours are decided by the nature of the character, like blue and yellow are for gods and goddesses, respectively; brown or darker shades for demons, while pink and skin tones are for humans,” explains Vaikuntam.

LOVE IS ART: National Award winner Cheriyal artist D Vaikuntam.

(Photographs by P Mohanaiah and Tejaswini Paladi)

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

SHILLPI A SINGH

LOVE IS A JAR OF PICKLES: Upasna Prasad

Like a jar of pickles, love is sweet, sour, tangy, and spicy. Love brings colour to your life, just like a jar of pickles makes your everyday meal delectable by adding flavour. Love and a jar of pickles take their own sweet time to ferment. If not preserved well, both a jar of pickles and love can get spoiled in no time.   

Homemaker Upasna Prasad has been pickling for as long as she remembers, especially during cold winter months. “It takes a lot of patience and time for the pickles to come out just right,” she says. We couldn’t agree more. It is ditto for love.

LOVE IS A JAR OF PICKLES: Upasna Prasad

Why pickles?

“I have developed my system of learning good Bihari recipes for the past few years. And I have realised that unless I learn fast, the recipes of my grandmother, mother and mother-in-law will be lost forever. Who would send me these delectable achars? So I started pickling with fervour a couple of years, picking up the tips and tricks from them, and mastering the art in some measure.”

Pickling: My favourite winter past-time

“Karonda ka khatta-meetha achar is a sweet Bihari pickle that is a welcome change from regular pickles. When it is freshly made, this seasonal achar tastes best.

One can never match up to the flavour and aroma of homemade Barabar achar. As the name suggests, yam or jimikand (oal) achar is popularly known as Barabar achar since all the major ingredients used in this pickle are equal in quantities or proportions.

Bharwan lal mirch achar (stuffed red chilli pickle) is an integral recipe of any Bihari household. The market is flooded with this bright red delight during the winter months. What makes this pickle extraordinary is the tanginess of dry amchoor powder and the mild bitterness of mustard powder topping it with loads of mustard oil added as a pickling agent.

A mixed achar is one of the best Bihari pickles passed on from generation to generation with everlasting memories. Mostly fresh winter vegetables such as potato, brinjal, ginger, chilli, radish, carrot, cauliflower, and flat beans are blended perfectly with spices and mustard oil giving a tangy, zingy flavour. It needs to be soaked in the winter sun before it can be pronounced ready for consumption.

Lahsun ke patta ka achaar is another popular homemade Bihari pickle, enhancing the taste of the simplest food with its strong aroma and flavours. That’s the magic of green garlic!

How can one forget Amla (Indian gooseberry) achaar, which is nutrient-rich, loaded with iron and vitamin C in abundance, and easiest to prepare. The ingredients are simple too – amla, carrom seeds, turmeric, salt and oil to prepare. It is a must-have in winter to keep the cold at bay.”

Homegrown art 

“In Bihari pickles, we use a fine blend of roasted spices and oodles of mustard oil to ensure the pickle’s longevity. This delicate balance of spices and oil will make a fantastic pickle that will last for the whole year and not spoil.

LOVE IS A JAR OF PICKLES: Upasna Prasad

Bihari pickles have a consistency close to a large rough chunk of the featured spices/ vegetables smothered in tangy (mostly mustard) oil and stained yellow colour from the inclusion of ground turmeric (haldi).

Among many Bihari families, pickles are a complete substitute to various recipes, as it requires no refrigeration and is ideal for long-distance journeys.

I love Bihari pickles as a side to most dal dishes and rice. Winter is the time to conjure up some sweet, spicy, sour and tangy pickles to accentuate any meal. These homemade pickles are good to eat and so easy to prepare that you will wonder why we ever buy them from grocery stores. There is something good about how pickles are prepared in Bihar and Jharkhand. The tartness combined with the spiciness is just perfect.”

A bite can tickle, be it a jar of pickles for your taste buds or love for your life. 

Rating: 1 out of 5.

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS FREE-SPIRITED: Phoolsunghi

New Delhi-based academician, columnist and translator Gautam Choubey has scripted history with his literary outing — Phoolsunghi — that happens to be the first-ever translation of a Bhojpuri novel into English. Apart from being the most representative work in Bhojpuri, Phoolsunghi also happens to be one of the most loved literary works by Pandey Kapil, who is hailed as the protagonist of the Bhojpuri literary movement in post-Independence India. It was published in Hamish Hamilton by Penguin Random House. 

The story from the soil of Bihar pans out in Chhapra where the magical, mystical, and mundane intertwine much like the lives of three characters — courtesan Gulzaribai who was popular in the region as Dhelabai; ageing zamindar Babu Haliwant Sahay, who worked as an official in the law court and had a stake in the flourishing opium trade; and Bhojpuri folk poet and singer Mahendra Misir. The timeless tale about these celebrated legends of Bihar has traversed centuries and fascinated litterateurs across ages. These dalliances resulted in three other literary jaunts of repute — Ramnath Pandey’s Mahendar Misir, Jauhar Safiyabad’s Poorvi Ke Dhah and Anamika’s Dus Dwareka Pinjara

The historical novel spanning ninety years touches upon the early years of colonial rule in India without making any direct references to the fight for independence or any social conflict or instances of religious disharmony. The plot, story, and setting spread over 16 chapters together draw a reader into the enchanting world of the lifelike characters. Music serves as the perfect backdrop in Phoolsunghi, and there is a lot of drama, action, tragedy that unfolds in the lives of these people, to keep one hooked, from start to finish. The enthralling mehfils and mujras, high-pitched abduction drama, episodes of court cases and counterfeiting notes reveal the author’s attempt to make it a wholesome entertainer.

The author explores various shades of romantic love, making it an emotional roller coaster ride for a reader. It delves deep into the characters through the maze of the relationships that they share with each other, crossing paths at times, and flowing like the two banks of a river in a few instances.

The novel documents the lives and times, rise and fall, love and longing, trials and tribulations of these characters, who live in and around the banks of river Saryu in Chhapra and its adjoining villages of Mishrawaliya, Sheetalpur, Revelgunj and Muzaffarpur. Like a river that flows through these cities, the plot intermittently drifts to Banaras and Calcutta, and makes pit stops in Punjab and Delhi, before returning to Chhapra. The story also traces the advent of the railway line and how dhuwankas or trains play an important part in the narrative. Phoolsunghi offers a bird’s-eye view of how the characters co-existed in harmony without being bothered by religious, class or caste considerations, and in some measures, it is also a social commentary on the lives of migrant workers. It reveals how some of them seamlessly merged in the mainstream in their adopted land while a few others, bit by melancholia trace their way back to their roots, sooner than later. The migrant’s life in a metropolis is bound to resonate with the readers, and tug at their heartstrings, especially those who have either been a migrant themselves or have witnessed something more heart-wrenching pan out in the country not so long ago. 

LOVE IS FREE-SPIRITED: PHOOLSUNGHI

The Bhojpuri story is quite evocative and engrossing, and Choubey has done full justice to it. The translated work has a cinematic language to it with lively characterisation, and vivid imagery making it an endearing read. It will be no surprise to see the real characters, who inhabited Chhapra once upon a time, taking a reel avatar sometime soon and glossing the big screen, regaling the larger audience who live far, far away from this mofussil. The verses in Bhojpuri have been passionately and painstakingly translated into English by Choubey, but a reader would have benefitted from the richness of the language and appreciated it more had only a list of the originals been provided along with the glossary.   

By foraying into the unexplored domain of translating a popular piece of Bhojpuri literature for a discerning, elitist, city-bred reader, Choubey has managed to do the unthinkable, and in one go. It is a stellar act for its sheer thought and effort. He has not only highlighted the long and diverse literary culture of the language but also debunked the common perception of it being only a folk language, giving Bhojpuri its due. His disruptive effort, hopefully, might lead to many more such works being produced by the speakers and readers of the language, and in that context, Choubey’s present translation will fondly be remembered for being the first of its kind that helped to pave the path for many more.

Phoolsunghi has something for all; it serves as a timely reminder about the richness of Bhojpuri literature for the younger generation and has a multitude of joy and nostalgia to offer for the older ones. The story will transport you back to your roots so soak in the subtleties of a bygone era from a faraway land, and shore it up for yourself and your coming generations. 

“I have fallen in love with the imagination. And if you fall in love with the imagination, you understand that it is a free spirit. It will go anywhere, and it can do anything.”

Alice Walker

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

SHILLPI A SINGH

LOVE IS DESIRE

It was not too long ago when lonely widow Usha Parmar (Ratna Pathak Shah) in Alankrita Srivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha scorched the screen with her burning desire for intimacy. Parmar sought refuge in Hindi pulp novels out of desperation, fantasised about escapades with a young man and, in return, was rebuked and ridiculed for her overt sexuality because her actions were unfitting her age. Subtly, Parmar’s character hints that sexuality, desire, activity and intimacy in the elderly don’t come with an expiry date. While age-related medical issues have a considerable role to play, the social and cultural aspects too have a bearing on them.

LOVE IS DESIRE

Senior psychotherapist and counsellor Padma Rewari recalls how she recently offered consultation to a 52-year-old woman, well past her menopause, who didn’t want to put a pause button on her sex life, much to her husband’s chagrin. “The woman went deep into depression after her husband body-shamed her and made fun of her overtures. She didn’t know how to deal with her need for intimacy, which was a social and cultural taboo for her husband. His behaviour made her feel so low about herself that she developed suicidal tendencies,” says Rewari.

LOVE IS DESIRE AND IT DOESN’T HAVE AN EXPIRY DATE.

Cause of concern
One partner’s overt and other partner’s inert reaction to the other’s needs was the cause of the problem in Rewari’s patient. Although sexuality is a fundamental driving force, human sexuality is frequently misunderstood and often neglected in the case of the elders. “Sexuality and senior citizens seems a weird proposition. There is a mental block. People often suppress those desires and feelings because it is not age-appropriate behaviour,” says Rewari.
It is assumed that older people lose their sexual desires or are physically unable to perform. It is common for older men to fear the loss of sexual prowess, while older women may also express sexual desire but may fear their interest is undignified and disgraceful. “You become a senior citizen as soon as you cross 50. Ageism has a tremendous impact on the subconscious mind. It makes one slowly withdraw and retire when it comes to sexual activity, and expressing the desire and need for intimacy is a strict no-no. It is taboo. If one partner still has such desires, and the other partner doesn’t show such feelings or desires, it leads the partner (who has it still) on a guilt trip,” adds Rewari.
Niyatii N Shah, sexuality educator, intimacy coach and counsellor, has come across many cases where one of the partners and, in some cases, the couple approached her for help. “I have had both types of clients. Many of them seek advice through social media. A few of the most common reasons I have come across are lack of respect, no sexual satisfaction, boredom and abuse,” says Niyatii.

Dealing with the issue
The sexuality, desire, activity and intimacy in the elderly seems to be waning partly because of medical complications and partly because of a general loss of interest due to social or cultural reasons. “It’s a mix of both but mainly because of loss of interest and emotional baggage. Most of the time, partners are very supportive if there’s a medical reason. Intimacy counselling looks into why the couples are not intimate anymore and helps them live a fuller life that they desire from each other,” informs Niyatii. 
During a recent webinar organised by Boston Scientific, psychiatrist, clinical sexologist, and sex and intimacy coach Dr Anita Shyam, who regularly meets such couples, said, “I also follow a simple formula in patients — seek a detailed sexual and relationship history. So that pretty much gives me a more comprehensive view of the issue. Is it an organic cause? Or is it a psychological cause? Is it a social cause or whether it is a relationship problem?”
If there is an organic cause, she refers them to the physicians who specialise in that field, but if it is a psychological cause, she digs deeper to ascertain the reason. “Is this person suffering from anxiety or depression? Or is he or she into drugs and alcohol? Sometimes even the partner can have a problem. The partner must be suffering from medical issues, desire disorders or depression that could lead the man to have ED. If not, then the couple must be having a relationship problem. So, I look holistically at the three parts of the triangle — the individual, the partner and the relationship,” she says.

The article was published in The Free Press Journal on December 12, 2021.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/love-sex-and-age-does-desire-have-an-expiry-date-no-many-older-adults-will-say

A problem area
A marked increase in life expectancy over the past century has meant that individuals over the age of 65 form an increasingly large proportion of the population. Yet, very little attention has been paid until recently to treating sexual dysfunction in older adults. Older individuals are generally erroneously viewed as asexual people who have lost their interest in sex and their capacity for sexual behaviour. Calling for the need for more attention in psychiatric training to deal with sexuality in the elderly, Rewari adds, “The chain of ignorance needs to break. We need to change the way we think about older people and how they treat each other once they reach a certain age. We say age gracefully but without suppressing the fantasy or the feeling of sexual desires. Leave the guilt out, which plays on every human mind. These are conditioned behaviours and patterns which we have seen all through, but it is normal to have the flame of desire and need for intimacy burning even if you are past a certain age.”
People often refuse to believe that they are depressed and stressed. And sometimes, they could even be on a list of psychiatric medications. “Stress is a major factor for any of the psychological and several medical problems. There are four phases in a sexual cycle. Stress affects the desire, if the desire is affected, it’s going to affect the arousal, it affects the orgasm and also the resolution. It plays a major role in even in an individual’s life and in the relationship, causing a lot of relationship and sexual problems in couples,” says Dr Shyam.

Health issues
While women could blame menopause, older men could have many physical problems because of diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and smoking that could affect their sexual capabilities. “There are many issues that men may have. A libido problem means he doesn’t feel the urge for sex. He may have an arousal problem and he’s not attracted to his partner, he may have an erection problem. Then sometimes, he has a problem with early orgasm or premature ejaculation. All of which are different and need different treatments,” says Dr Rupin Shah, consultant andrologist and microsurgeon.
India is the diabetes capital and 50-70% of men with diabetes will eventually develop erectile dysfunction due to the disease. “Lifestyle is vital because, as I tell patients, sex happens when you are at the peak of your health, then you have the greatest urge, the greatest energy, the greatest capability. As your general health diminishes, your sexual abilities decrease, even though that desire may be there. So the middle-aged executive who’s overweight, not exercising, overeating sugar, smoking 10 cigarettes a day is going to have a lifestyle-induced sexual problem,” adds Dr Shah. 

Why it matters
There was an upsurge in teleconsultation in such cases during the pandemic-induced lockdown. It was because it is comfortable and convenient for the couple or individual to discuss the issue over a phone rather than in person. The key remains communication. “Always communicate how you feel with your partner. Seek professional help, talk to friends, understand what spouses think in general, and seek medical help if required,” emphasises Niyatii.
Communication and conversation become more important as one grows older. “The bond needs to be stronger, and as the empty nest syndrome hits, the couple needs to be there for each other. A relationship which is healthy and respectful needs to be maintained so that the couple live happily,” says Rewari, signing off.

Ask me to define my love for you and I’ll say it’s captured in every beautiful memory of our past, detailed out in vivid visions of our dreams and future plans, but most of all it’s right now, at the moment where everything I’ve ever wanted in my life is standing right in front of me.

Leo Christopher

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS ADVENTURE: Anshu Jamsenpa

Her name means the sun’s rays, and she’s been living up to it, in letter and spirit. Like the sun that shines above the mountain even when the sky is covered with clouds, Anshu Jamsenpa, the young mountaineer from Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh has been shining on the highest peak of the world by standing atop it and unfurling the Tricolour on five occasions, a feat that only a few can match.

President Ram Nath Kovind gave away the Padma Shri award to Anshu Jamsenpa at a function in the Rashtrapati Bhawan on November 9, 2021. 

She’s the fastest woman mountaineer in the world to summit Mt Everest twice in five days, the first woman in the world to do two double ascents of Everest (first one on May 10, 2011, and May 21, 2011; the second one on May 16, 2017, and May 21, 2017) and the first Indian woman in the world to summit Everest five times. Her third successful attempt to conquer the 29,029 ft peak was in between the two double ascents, on May 18, 2013.

LOVE IS ADVENTURE: Anshu Jamsenpa from Arunachal Pradesh.

A mother of two girls, Anshu was busy looking after her husband Tsering Wange’s travel and tourism business when one fine day she happened to accompany a group of three mountaineers for rock climbing and river crossing activities in her hometown. “The month-long Himalayan Trekking Expedition Programme had been planned by my husband’s company. I used to go along with them daily, stand and watch as they went about rock climbing. One day, I just walked up to the trio and told them that I want to try it too. I did it, and quite well. It gave me an adrenaline rush,” she recounts.

The rock climbing incident stoked her dormant adventure streak, and she was enthused to take it up. She was finally initiated into mountaineering in 2009 after being egged on by the mountaineering instructor of the Arunachal Mountaineering & Adventure Sports Association to follow her passion seriously. She enrolled herself in a course. But the toughest part about taking up mountaineering seriously as a career was convincing family members, especially her husband. “The thought of summiting Everest crossed my mind while I was undergoing a training course, but it was easier said than done. Climbing Everest was obviously the toughest one so far. Barring my second summit of the double ascent in 2011 when the weather was pleasant, the rest of all the other four summits have been tough from different perspectives,” she says. But in the same breath, she clarifies that there is nothing like the easiest or toughest climb. “In the mountains, there is no surety. The risk factors are always there,” she adds.

As someone who yearns to travel to mountain-tops, she says it is because there’s a sense of belonging and an emotional connection with the peaks. “Mountains bring out the best in me. I’m most happy in their company,” she adds. But she also derives a lot of happiness listening to music and being with her children Pasang Droma, 19, and Tenzin Nyiddon, 15.

In between, she is busy working on her pet project, starting a training institute in Bomdila to encourage other deserving candidates into mountaineering and adventure sports from across the country. “It is just a small piece of land, and the building is yet to come up, but I have managed to train more than 5000 adventure enthusiasts here so far,” she says with a sense of pride.

She has also scaled Mt DKD2, Mt Trishul, Mt Nun and Mt Shivling. 

Quick ones:

A fact not known: She played the female lead in the feature film ‘Crossing Bridges” that won several awards including the National Film Award.

The weirdest quirk: I used to keep a notebook with my favourite songs written in it. Writing songs and singing has a calming effect on me.

Must carry items to the mountains: I carry a photograph of His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Kindle and camera.

https://www.newindianexpress.com/magazine/2017/sep/30/on-top-of-the-world-1664215.html

I know you want adventure, I know you want to see the world. But love is the greatest adventure, where you risk the most for the greatest reward. What good will all this exceptional living do if you’re doing it only for yourself?

Penny Reid

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS COURAGE: Aashna Lidder

Aashna Lidder, 16, is Geetika and late Brigadier Lakhwinder Singh Lidder’s only child. Her father was one among the thirteen people, who lost their lives when an Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopter crashed in Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiris district on December 8. The tragic air crash claimed the lives of the country’s first and sitting Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat and his wife Madhulika Rawat, and ten other defence personnel – Lt Col H Singh, Wg Cdr PS Chauhan, Sqn Ldr K Singh, JWO Das, JWO Pradeep A, Hav Satpal, Nk Gursewak Singh, Nk Jitender, L/Nk Vivek and L/Nk S Teja. Group Captain Varun Singh, who survived the crash, is presently undergoing treatment.   

A student of Class 12, Aashna is an author whose book In Search of a Title: A Teenager’s Journey of Trials, Tribulations, Musings and Learnings was released on Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 2021, in the Capital. 

We Must Give Him a Good Farewell, A Smiling Send-Off, I Am A Soldier’s Wife, I have Nothing More To Say, गर्व से ज़्यादा तो दुख है, लाइफ़ बहुत लंबी हमें काटने के लिए लेकिन भगवान को यही मंज़ूर तो यही सही, He Was A Very Good Father, My Child Will Really Miss Him, It’s A Big Loss…”

Geetika Lidder, wife of Brigadier LS lidder

“I am going to be 17. So he was with me for 17 years, we will go ahead with happy memories. It’s a national loss. My father was a hero, my best friend. Maybe it was destined and better things will come our way. He was my biggest motivator.” 

Aashna Lidder, daughter of Brigadier LS Lidder

Aashna shared a special relationship with her father who, she said, used to pamper her. In an old video that recently surfaced on social media, Aashna can be seen proudly speaking about her father on Father’s Day.

“In my fifteen years, my father has missed my birthday seven times and missed at least twenty family functions. We knew we did not come first, the nation did I couldn’t be more proud of him. In the Army, we learn to salute before we shake hands, we learn to say Jai Hind before we say hello,” she says in the video. 

Former Puducherry lieutenant governor Kiran Bedi took to Twitter to share a clip of Aashna Lidder reciting a poem from the latter’s first book. 

“This is the poem Aashna Lidder (daughter of Late Brigadier Lidder who lost his life in the Helicopter crash) recited this from her own book, on December 3, in the Friday Book Reading session. It was ominous when you listen to it. Life is very mysterious,” Bedi tweeted on Friday, hours after the army officer was cremated with full military honours in Delhi.

Clip shared by Kiran Bedi of Aashna Lidder reciting a poem from her debut book.

“So, I’m going to be reading a poem of mine which I wrote on Independence Day and it is called Selfless Independence. It is called that because of how selfless independence is, how people are ready to give up themselves and their lives for a nation and other people, even though gratitude is not sure to come from the other end. They aren’t sure if you’re going to be grateful for what they’ve done but they still do it,” she says, sharing the screen with the nation’s first female police officer, and five other participants.

The aspiring writer then narrates the poem from her debut book, In Search of a Title: Musings Of A Teenager. She says, “To the man that serves not for him but for us, to the man with ruptured organs, silent, creating no buzz. To the child that’s fearless, to a wife who is rudderless, to an incomplete family for a complete nation, to sacrifice beyond your imagination. To the man that buried his independence for you, for you and nothing more. To every fighter on land, on air and shore, for you we pray, for you we pray every way in every day. So, here’s wishing you a very happy Independence Day.”

“This was a short poem,” Aashna Lidder concludes, as Bedi applauds her.

The book was released last month, at a ceremony attended by, among others, the teenager’s parents, as well as Kiran Bedi herself, and Madhulika Rawat. According to a media report, the book has seen a surge in demand in the days following the December 8 tragedy.

It takes courage to love, but pain through love is the purifying fire which those who love generously know.

Eleanor Roosevelt 

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

SHILLPI A SINGH

LOVE IS BELONGING: Sindhustan

“All I knew about my culture was Sindhi kadhi,” pronounces celebrity hairstylist and filmmaker in her documentary Sindhustan and on that note, she sets the tone of a poignant tale spread over the last few decades before and after partition to retrace her Sindhi roots. The ubiquitous flavour of vegetable-rich kadhi makes Sindhustan a delectable watch as it meanders through the lanes and bylanes of Sindhis’ memories, whose quintessential identity is synonymous with their kadhi that’s like no other.  

Trailer of Sindhustan.

The kadhi also becomes the documentary’s access point; Bhavnani’s aunt Kamla Thakur’s kitchen conversation and verses by the renowned 18th-century Sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif becomes a crucial cinematic tool for the filmmaker. The unobtrusive camera captures her cooking, from start to finish, and the tedious kadhi-making process serves as a metaphor for Sindhis in general and Bhavnani in particular. It manages to create a steady simmer in the storyline, from the moment her aunt places tur dal in a cooker on the stove to painstakingly following the rigours, till it is ready to be served on a carefully laid out table filled with other Sindhi delicacies. The brilliant move not only adds a rich flavour to her storytelling, but the shots, panning in and out the kitchen, and shifting focus on the lives and times of other Sindhis, then and now, takes the story forward. “Food is something big for us, and so it made sense to weave the story around it. Kadhi is my favourite, and it was my only choice because it is also our identity in a way. Also, so many stories happen in the kitchen and around the fire, so it was my best bet,” tells Bhavnani.

Poster of Sindhustan.

The entire process of making a Sindhi kadhi takes about three hours, and Thakur, a chef herself, gives us a sneak-peek into the Sindhi household and tells us how Sindhi kadhi is different from other kadhis in the course of the filming. “It is made from toor daal. We boil it with tomatoes in a cooker, then seave and use the soup, cooking it on slow fire much like a mithai. It is nutritious as we put lots of vegetables in it,” says Thakur. 

LOVE IS BELONGING: A still from Sindhustan.

Another thing that stands out in Bhavnani’s maiden project is the story that her legs carry – the fusion of two dying art forms, one from Sindh and another one from Bihar in the tattoos; while her feet reflect her rootlessness with an image of fish on each to show how the waves have given them a sense of fleeting sand, lashing it with memories, time and again.  The use of alta (red liquid dye) to decorate her feet and fingers is another fusion of culture that Bhavnani has used to her advantage in the documentary, and the ease with which she has used ink to tell the story of the largest migration of culture in history is truly commendable.

“My one leg has motifs from Ajrak, a predominantly Sindhi art form. Here the cloth was first washed in a solution of water and ajrak berries. It was then steamed and stamped with wooden blocks injected with dyes. The printed cloth was then dipped in a solution of indigo and washed in water so that colours came out sparkingly bright. The other leg reflects the popular Madhubani art form from Bihar. The only common thing between the two cultures is fish. It is predominant in Madhubani paintings and also in ours because it is believed that our presiding deity Jhulelal rode a fish,” she recounts. The beauty of this amalgamation in her passion project makes Sindhustan a mini piece of art in itself.

The pain and trauma of those who lived and survived the painful partition echo louder in each person’s account. Their sense of longing and belonging and connection with the land of their origin – Sindh – where they or their ancestors once lived tugs at the audience’s heartstrings.

Sindhustan is a must-watch if you are a Sindhi because it has high nostalgic value.

It is even more important to watch Sindhustan if you are a non-Sindhi because it is a ready reckoner to understand a community that has been dispossessed and displaced but still retains its enterprising, industrious, zealous, benevolent and cosmopolitan nature transcending barriers of castes, race and religion.

Thakur is the go-to person for Bhavnani for food, and she loves to feast on her “Teevan, Sai Bhaji, Seyal Beeh Patata, and, of course, Kadhi on Sundays.” Also, don’t forget to feast on Sindhi kadhi that Thakur’s French neighbours in Paris referred to as the water of gods. Bon appétit!

Maybe your country is only a place you make up in your own mind. Something you dream about and sing about. Maybe it’s not a place on the map at all, but just a story full of people you meet and places you visit, full of books and films you’ve been to. I’m not afraid of being homesick and having no language to live in. I don’t have to be like anyone else. I’m walking on the wall and nobody can stop me.

Hugo Hamilton

(All pictures from Sindhustan; the film is streaming on https://www.moviesaints.com/movie/sindhustan)

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, sexual, philosophical, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE HAS LANGUAGES: Abhishek Banerjee

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you

Maya Angelou

Actor and casting director Abhishek Banerjee is perhaps the only actor who has had two cinematic outings with a mannequin in his career. The mannequin had a guest appearance in Devashish Makhija’s Ajji (2017) where Banerjee was playing the male lead, while in Ashwani Iyer Tiwari’s Ankahi Kahaniya (2021), it was his co-star. On both occasions, he cleverly used a mannequin, once as a prop, and then as a tool to explore the chalk and cheese sides of his manhood on the big screen. 

A trailer of Ajji.

As politician Vilasrao Dhavle in Ajji, Banerjee used a mannequin to show his gut-wrenching perversion. In complete contrast, the polite salesboy Pradeep Loharia from Gandarwara of Ankahi Kahaniya ekes out a living selling women’s garments at Delight Wear in Mumbai. He happens to meet a mannequin at a crummy little shop and falls madly in love with it. He fondly names her Pari. Two contrasting roles with mannequins help him get under the characters’ skin and bring out the worst and the best that a man can be. 

In his book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, Gary Chapman described five different ways of expressing and receiving love. These five love languages are words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. 

In Ajji, Banerjee remains the lustful, black sunglasses-wearing, foul-mouthed Dhavale who has no qualms in brutalising a mannequin and cruelly dismembering it, while raping it. The rape sequence is deeply disturbing, even though it is filmed on a dummy. The camera’s gaze moves on to show the mannequin’s severed head at the end, symbolising the blank stare of the people who let such crimes happen because it makes sense to stand and stare, and not stand up and act. Here he uses just one language to communicate his intent to the object of lust, the brutal touch that translates into a visceral action onscreen. It for sure makes for an unsettling watch. 

Tailer of Ankahi Kahaniya

Banerjee makes a mannequin his object of affection in his second appearance in Ankahi Kahaniya. He communicates his love to the inanimate object using all five languages and to perfection. Though his overtures remain unrequited, we as the audience, still make a silent wish for it to come alive, just like Emmy in Mannequin (1987), starring Andrew McCarthy and Kim Cattrall.

MANNEQUIN

Banerjee’s role can very well be called a dummy’s guide (pun unintentional) for a man who wants to love a woman just the way she wants. Makhija had once said in an interview that it was the abyss in Banerjee’s eyes that gazed back at him and compelled him to offer Banerjee a role in the short film, Agli Baar. He then chose Banerjee to play Dhavale in Ajji, and Rajendra in Bhonsle, and for both, the abyss in his eyes stared at the roles and helped him take the leap of faith into the world of cinema.  

With every appearance, Banerjee seems to have bettered the act. Pradeep of Ankahi Kahaniya is unbelievably good at giving a masterclass on loving a woman because he speaks all five languages of love and fluently. The happiness glows on his face, and his coy smile gives it away. The secret love dalliance makes him a butt of ridicule and reprimand, as his boss and colleague mistake his love for Pari as perverted behaviour. On his return home, he confides in his bride-to-be. One of the most tender moments is when he confesses that he is technically single, but his heart is taken by someone he can’t call his own. Pradeep-Pari’s story also remains the saddest love of all, the one that lets him fall with nothing to hold. But the same love finds its belated fulfilment because it flutters away like a butterfly and dwells in the heart of the person who is destined to keep it forever, his would-be wife. What he felt for Pari felt so real in his heart, but he doesn’t cling to it for long and bids her goodbye with a yellow dupatta, a warm hug, and teary eyes. 

I must confess that in all his cinematic outings, Banerjee uses the abyss in his eyes to his advantage, much to the audience’s delight, transforming into the monster (Hathoda Tyagi of Pataal Lok) and mushy lover (Dream Girl) with ease. 

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, sexual, philosophical, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS LIFE: Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy

​True, we love life, not because we are used to living, but because we are used to loving. There is always some madness in love, but there is also always some reason in madness.​

​Petrach

​​​​Filmmaker Sandeep Mohan’s ​​Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy gives away a hint in its title itself. And yes, you guessed it right. A puppy is at the core of this little gem, be it the dog Parie or a kiss, also called puppy in common parlance, and the twain have intertwined beautifully to take the plot forward.

LOVE IS LIFE: NIRMAL ANAND KI PUPPY

The film opens with an Insta feed where Nirmal Anand (Karanveer Khullar) is busy playing and cuddling his dog Parie as wife Sarah (Gillian Pinto) captures the tender moment. The relationship between the three picks pace as the movie progresses. The young couple, played with a lot of sincerity by Khullar and Pinto, seems the neighbour next door. They are happy in their lives, with Nirmal working as General Manager in a pharma company that manufactures a health supplement to keep diabetes at bay. His wife takes care of the home, Parie, and kids (a daughter with the couple’s second baby on the way) while juggling her career as an archivist, working on a freelance basis in between the daily grind.
The mundane routine of their lives has been depicted with many credible elements on the screen, with Mohan using clever dialogues and situations to make it an endearing watch.    

The usual tropes of domesticity add to the drama. The interfaith couple faces many adjustment issues with their respective families after the runaway wedding, including the name of their newborn son.  
Their happy life soon hits a roadblock when the man of the house ​is diagnosed with lifestyle disease, and the twists that follow make the couple use different coping mechanisms to deal with the trials and tribulations to keep their lives going. Nirmal takes refuge in looking for an alternate career as an actor for a filmmaker he met at a Yoga studio. At the same time, Sarah engrosses herself in restoring memories from archival materials like old cassettes for a client. She can’t help but get charmed by the dead man whom she talks to and even dreams about because he strums a guitar and sings love songs to woo her, all in mushy dream sequences. The track fills her with self-doubt, and it ends pretty abruptly for the audience.  
To make his role as a Taxi Driver (where Robert De Niro meets Nana Patekar) look authentic, Nirmal takes leave from work and spends days and nights driving a taxi around Mumbai. At the same time, Sarah gives birth to a boy and gets back to a full-time job, shifting base and moving out of their marital home to live with her mother.

The film was screened at the CINEQUEST FILM FESTIVAL.


Nirmal’s short reel life kiss with a co-star disturbs the peace in their real lives, leaving their relationship in a tizzy and showing their vulnerability as just another couple. Many tender moments in the couple’s lives add a layer of credibility to their frayed relationships. Mumbai serves as the perfect backdrop for their love story and gives a sneak peek into the gruelling demands of urban living that are often higher than other cities.   
Nirmal’s calculation of the percentage of emotional torture and happiness in marriage, in the beginning, ​and at the end​, makes the plot and characterisation as convincing as possible for the audience because life is all about loving and living and with a fair share of Emotional Atyachar. ​​The duo agrees on all they disagreed before, including a full-time career for Sarah and acting for Anand, among many things.​ ​The name they chose for their son reflects how they lived and loved happily ever after. ​The end proves that the film is more than just ‘puppy’ love.  

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, sexual, philosophical, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

Shillpi a singh

LOVE IS BEAUTIFUL

Ultimately, it’s more useful to see love not as a feeling, but as an act.

Mark manson

It was World Health Day on April 7th, and quite ironically, it was the day when it dawned upon me that an accidental exposure a couple of days ago (because that’s the only time we had stepped out) had compromised the health of my family of four. All of us had started showing symptoms of COVID at a gap of a few days from each other. 

My school friend Aashish Juyal, whom I had known since I was a few months old threatened me that if I didn’t come to see him at Sohna for Easter brunch on the 4th, he wouldn’t talk to me ever. I went with my family. He was writhing in high fever, cough and complaining of body ache since April 5th. His wife got the mandatory tests done when he came home on the 9th, and it was a false negative. Astonishingly. The treating local physician dubbed it to be a case of viral fever. His family didn’t find anything amiss and rightly so because the doctor said so, hoping that it would subside and he would be fine soon. 

A day later, on 8th, I casually informed my writer-filmmaker friend Devashish Makhija (Dev) how the virus had got the better of me/us, and I was suspecting that we were on our way to be COVID positive. He asked me to wait for the tests, and then the results. On the other hand, my school friend Deepa was constantly praying for it not to be what it eventually turned out to be.  

I was wary of informing my sisters and my parents, but I did. In between, Aashish was rushed to a hospital on April 12th; he appeared normal, refused to lie down on the bed in the ambulance, or lie down on the stretcher and even laughed and talked on his way, his wife Divya informed me days later. He was admitted and taken to ICU immediately; his saturation was 31 at that point. He suffered a massive cardiac arrest, and within minutes, a warm, compassionate and beautiful soul had left us wailing and grieving for the rest of our lives. The news hit all of us like a boulder. We were aghast. The bereaved family is yet to come to terms with his untimely demise.  

On the same day, we travelled 25 km in high fever to get our RTPCR tests done; the results came two days later and confirmed our worst fears. The corresponding blood tests done on April 13th made it doubly sure that Coronavirus had invaded our bodies, and with every passing minute, the truant virus was getting bolder and our immune system weaker to stand up to it and fight that war.  

On my sister, Shruti’s insistence, three of us (kids aged 8, 6 and I) started the medication prescribed by the treating physician, but my husband Ajay chose to rely on paracetamol solely, much to my chagrin. He was running a high fever, cough and severe body ache. She was kind to send my brother-in-law Pushp with food, medicines, and coconut water to my place, and in the process, the poor boy got exposed to the virus and tested positive with his little daughter about a week later. By God’s grace, the infection could be managed with home isolation or else I would have been forever guilty.

Dev formed a WhatsApp War Room with other warriors – Anupama Bose, Chhitra Subramaniam, Monica Rajeha, Gillian Pinto, Niiya Kumar, Mayuri Joshi Dhavale, Taranjit Kaur – that worked like a safety net for my family and me. Day in and day out, these warrior members were busy getting food delivered, sending medicines, arranging for a doctor consultation, checking about hospital beds, and above all, assuring me that it is just a phase and it too shall pass. This lovely bunch made me believe that “sometimes miracles are just good people with kind hearts.” Their kindness stood me in good stead all through this crisis. Also, because I knew these people had my back.

Our saturation levels started dipping, and my younger brother Anshuman Sinha suggested that we get an oxygen concentrator at home. I told my father GP Sinha, who is based out of Dhanbad, and he used his vast reservoir of contacts to arrange an oxygen concentrator and have it delivered at home, past midnight on April 14th. Both my younger kid and Ajay needed oxygen support, but there was only one outlet, and both of them took turns, with Ajay sleeping with 5l/minute oxygen support that night. The morning was quite rushed, and I found that his SPO2 was around 92% while my daughter kept complaining that ‘air is not coming in through her nose’. So I let them use it alternatively with different oxygen masks. 

I was alarmed by these two developments and knew for sure that it is getting worse faster than I had expected. All that I had to do next was to keep help handy and immediately look for a hospital with an ICU facility and oxygen bed while thinking of the best and preparing for the worst. At the same time, I was petrified of hospitalisation. I told Dev that ‘if I go to the hospital, I won’t come back. He dismissed it all and texted, ‘of course, you will.’ His words were reassuring, but I still had my doubts like an eternal pessimist. 

The next day, I helplessly informed Dev about our deteriorating medical condition and also put out an SOS tweet at 1.42 pm on April 15th while fixing Ajay’s oxygen flow on the concentrator, and checking his saturation level stuck at 92 at 5l/min, as if calling out the Universe to unite its forces and come to my family’s rescue. I was scared to death. I didn’t know whom to call to seek four beds in a hospital and on an urgent basis.

As a non-celebrity with hardly 800 odd followers on the social media handle, I knew my tweet’s fate… it would slip into oblivion sooner than expected. Who cares for an indie writer’s SOS message? “Can anyone please help find oxygen beds in #Gurugram or #Delhi? My family of four is #COVID positive. Our spo2 is dropping off alarmingly.” I was fatigued with this minor exercise and mental marathon that followed, thinking about – what if no help came about? What would we do? How will we manage this COVID emergency? I put the phone aside and dozed off. I woke up to a flurry of WhatsApp messages from my friends. They had sent me screenshots of some of the responses that my tweet had elicited, especially of #IndianYouthCongress Chief, Srinivas BV. He had tweeted asking me to DM my details, and my friends who knew the urgency started calling me frantically to respond. I did so pronto with little hope. But what followed after this leaves me choked with emotions. 

Within seconds of dropping my number, the National Convenor of Indian Youth Congress (Social Media) and an active volunteer of #SOSIYC, Manu Jain, called. He asked me about my family’s saturation levels and told him that while my elder daughter and I were hovering at 93-94, my husband and younger one were 92 on intermittent oxygen support. He assured me of all possible help. He connected me to a doctor (Dr Komal Panchal from Satyawadi Raja Harish Chandra Hospital in Narela) for teleconsultation, who asked me to monitor our saturation levels and continue the medicine protocol. I requested Manu that I would prefer a government hospital. He said, ‘Don’t worry, we will do it. For now, follow the doctor’s advice.’ He called a few minutes later to inform me that he had arranged four hospital beds in a government hospital, and I could move there if there were the slightest indication that Ajay’s condition is deteriorating. The worst fears came true that night when his saturation dipped to 90 on oxygen support, and I knew home isolation wouldn’t work for him or my younger daughter anymore. His comorbidities added to my fears, and the following day, I called up Manu at 10 am to update him about the saturation status. Upon hearing Ajay’s numbers, he told me to rush immediately to the hospital and gave me the person’s coordinates (Vikas Panchal) at Satyawadi Raja Harish Chandra Hospital, Narela. The comforting bit was that the hospital was willing to accommodate all four of us. 

I informed my co-warriors in the WhatsApp group because they were looking for a bed for us all over NCR, scouring options at both private and government facilities on a war footing. Anupama Bose, or AB as I call her, was quick to send me an ambulance guy’s number that I called, booked, packed some clothes and at 1.30 pm on April 16th, started the arduous journey to recovery. 

We reached the hospital at 4 pm, and by then, Ajay’s SPO2 had dipped to 74. He was wheeled into ICU and while we to the third-floor general ward. My younger one needed oxygen support, and she was put on one immediately. 

Our go-to person Vikas and his wife Dr Komal, who was posted in the same hospital, were just a call away all through. So were Manu and Srinivas, constantly checking on us and taking our health updates with the treating doctor, especially for Ajay. 

The Warrior Squad formed by Dev became my secure space, and I don’t know how much and what all these beautiful souls did to make me stay put and fight it out with all my might, even as they battled with the agony of their near and dear ones becoming COVID positive and losing the battle. But they kept HOPE afloat for my family and me.  

On 20th, my sister Richa and brother-in-law Anudeep got six vials of Remdesivir for Ajay, and by paying an exorbitant sum of money. Ajay’s elder brother Rahul got the first two picked up from Faridabad and dropped at Vikas’ place, who came to the hospital and handed them to Ajay’s doctor. The first two doses were administered on the same day and rest over the next four days. The other four came on 22nd through Abdul, a driver who collected them from Rohini and came to Narela to give them. 

My father got to know about a homoeopathic medicine that was a lung booster. I contacted Deepa, whose husband Divesh (whom I fondly call a magician) got his bureaucratic colleagues in Delhi into action and within hours, I had the medicine with me. Papa scoured his phone book to get in touch with a driver whom he had met on his recent trips to Delhi to deliver some food and fruits for Ajay in the hospital. My second cousin Rachit sent home-cooked food, fruits and everything else that was needed for him. Papa’s doctor friends provided medical guidance and all of them were mighty impressed with the way doctors were going about his treatment. Anshul, my lawyer and brother from another mother, made ample arrangements by putting his clients on the job of sending snacks for my children and coconut water for Ajay in the hospital, and I can’t thank him enough for this.

His saturation dipped to 84 on 23rd and on full flow oxygen support, and I felt I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I met a doctor on the round, and he told me, ‘Ajay is very sick, and you need to look for a ventilator bed for him.’ I broke into a thousand pieces that moment. I called up Vikas and then Manu. Both of them reassured that Ajay has been showing signs of recovery and it could be a minor glitch that he will overcome soon. ‘Nothing to worry,’ they said almost in unison. I believed them and went about looking after my children and Ajay. Manu and Vikas were right.

The first bit of good news came on 25th when the doctors told me that my daughters are stable and good to go home in their best interests because they might catch another infection if they stay around any longer. My sister Shruti whose husband Pushp and four-year-old daughter were also COVID positive, pitched in to take them home in Sarita Vihar on 26th, and they were with her till May 10th. It was a great relief because now I had only one child to take care of, Ajay.   

I saw many deaths during my hospital stay, and they all bring an immense amount of pain even to date. I met Gaurav Maul, who was tending to his sick mother Radha, on the same floor. She was on BiPap, and her saturation was fluctuating. She needed intensive care, and despite our best efforts, we couldn’t get an ICU bed for her. She battled a lonely war against the virus in her hospital bed before breathing her last on the 28th. The helplessness still haunts me. The grief is so personal and yet so collective. 

On 29th, around midnight, there was another shocker. The doctor on night duty called me to discuss Ajay’s poor recovery because it was worrisome. He suggested that I take him out of the hospital and get his CT Scan done. It was a sleepless night. I dropped another SOS to my guardian angel, AB, to find a diagnostic centre around the hospital. She found one and booked an appointment past midnight. 

The following day, I signed a declaration form to take Ajay out of the hospital at my own risk. Once again, I dialled Vikas and Manu. Vikas told me that Ajay is recovering fine, and HRCT isn’t required. I requested Manu to help me get a small oxygen cylinder. He knew Ajay’s saturation was 92 then and was reassured that he would be fine without oxygen support for those half an hour while being away for the tests. It was a thriller drama as we left the hospital bed at 12.12 pm on 30th, rushed in my cousin brother’s private car to the nearest diagnostic centre, and came back at 12.53 pm. Ajay was huffing and puffing and his SPO2 without support at that moment when he reached his bed was 87. He was immediately put on full oxygen support, and slowly, he bounced back. 

LOVE IS BEAUTIFUL!

The reports were still worrisome, but the silver lining was his negative RAT and RTPCR tests that came the next day. We were relieved.  

Ajay was on full flow oxygen support during the first two weeks, intermittent after 15 days and then slowly no support after 17 days. He had his share of injections – antibiotics, anti-coagulant, and steroids – pumped into his veins that helped him get back on his feet. With its minimum resources, the hospital left no stone unturned to offer the best treatment to him, and that’s quite commendable.   

After three harrowing weeks of hospitalisation and near-death experience due to COVID, Ajay was discharged on May 5th, after 20 days. It will be a long road to recovery given the extent of damage to his lungs, but a significant part is hopefully behind.  

My sister Sonali, brother-in-law Rohit and niece Anushka in Mumbai were on their toes, praying and sending me her motivational videos so that I could hold on and not let it slip away. My friends Dev, AB, Chhitra, Taranjit, Mayank Aggarwal, Subha, Nidhi Jamwal, Eklavya Bhaiyya, Deepa, Divesh, Satish, Renu, Pallavi, Saroj, Anumeha, Manisha, Suman, Priyankita, Nikita, Fasiha, Saif, Jaspinder, Nishant, Abhishek, Jolly, Nidhi Sinha, Amitesh… and almost all of them from my family of friends from three schools that I attended, colleges I went to, places where I worked, became my sounding board as I could rant and crib and get back to caregiving business with more vigour. My foster family of Jameel Gulrays Sahab and his wife Rekha stood like a pillar during this crisis, and so did my friend Desiree’s father and mother, Khursheed and Pushpa Anwar, who are my foster parents. I had been a non-believer in healing, but Chhitra and Sonali made me see it in a new light. I was amazed how Manisha who is settled in Dubai had a strong intuition and kept texting and calling me when we tested positive; she didn’t buzz off till I told her that yes, we were positive. I think that is the friendship of three decades and its power that helped us heal. My brothers from North East – Jyoti, Ziaul and Arghadeep – texted and kept my spirits high all through. My octagenarian school teacher Mrs Vimla Kaul had immense faith that I will somehow sail through, and I am glad I did. My former bosses – P Mohanaiah Sir and S. Mani Kumar from NABARD – were worried from the day I informed them so they kept checking on me, and motivating me to keep my chin up. And on nights when I was anxious and stressed, I had two options to ease my mind… either call up Deepa and talk to her or go to YouTube and listen to my fav song – I’d Love You to Want Me by Lobo. These voices acted as a lullaby and soothed my frayed nerves.

My mother Shivam Sinha, who had immense faith in her Gods, and in the fact that her daughter is brave enough to defeat this invisible enemy and bring her family out of it, safe and sound, helped me sail through with her willpower once again. It was her faith that silently worked wonders. Papa did everything possible and built a support system around me so that I don’t feel alone in any way whatsoever. Unfortunately, my UK-based sister-in-law Poonam, who was another reservoir of hope for me during this crisis, lost her father-in-law to COVID in Kangra just a couple of days ago. Her husband (in London) and his younger brother (in Bhopal) couldn’t fly for his last rites, and that will perhaps haunt them forever. But that’s how this virus has crippled us. I made a few friends from those days in the hospital. And I hope to stay in touch as a reminder of the grim times that we overcame together.

We as a family are so profoundly touched and overwhelmed by the deluge of goodwill, messages, prayers of one and all. Upon returning home, I checked my Twitter DM, and there were messages from absolute strangers who wished us well and offered help. I don’t know what I have done to deserve this kind of love and support. My heart swells with gratitude at this outpouring. I was unable to reply to several messages or speak due to my tight caregiving schedule but my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who stood by us and prayed! It’s those prayers and wishes that gave us a new lease of life. And above all, I am deeply grateful to the do-gooder trio – Srinivas, Manu and Vikas – as I lovingly call them for all that they did to save a family from becoming a casualty figure in the second wave of COVID. 

And yes, Dev was right all through. I did come back home with my guttural laughter (because I laugh from the gut or so thinks my friend Manish Gaekwad). Exhausted, but still alive and kicking. However, I will never be able to speak to Aashish, never again, and that hurts. It will always do.

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS LONELY: Divya Juyal

“Love is so short, forgetting is so long.”

Pablo neruda

Dear Ashish

I wish you could listen to the songs I am playing on a loop because the lyrics speak the words I fail to say, but I want you to know how much it hurts me to let you go. 

You were in such a tearing hurry to leave that you never bothered to give a second thought about how I would cope without you or how children would grow up without their father? We are keeping our chin up for you, but it is easier said than done. Living has become such a drag!  

LOVE IS LONELY: Divya and Aashish Juyal

I would have, like usual, enjoyed the music when you were around, but now I understand the lyrics, and the words pierce like an ice dagger, wounding my heart and leaving it bleeding profusely. The words speak the language of my love and longing for you. 

On most nights, I cry myself to sleep. The glare of the day controls my tears, holds them tight in my eyes, but the night gives them away. So as the silence of the night descends, my tears are on their own again. They flow like a river in rage, walloping over my cheeks, wreaking havoc on my emotions, and leaving me more broken than before. 

You taught us the art of living, but you forgot to give us lessons in the art of leaving. I must tell you that I am not living. I am simply existing. It feels like a war, like a perfect goddamn storm. It seems like the sky is falling in, and I’m the only one to bear the load that I don’t want to. I might not find the words to say, but this song says it for me.

And out of the dark, I hear a voice speaking sense, saying, even love can be so lonely at times. Yes, it is very very lonely without you.

With love, 

Divya

Inheriting six yards of elegance

A full-page dedicated to women, heirloom and nostalgia in The Free Press Journal edition dated December 5, 2021.

https://www.freepressjournal.in/featured-blog/inheriting-six-yards-of-elegance-keepers-of-the-sari-tradition-give-a-glimpse-of-their-prized-possessions

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, how we become better, and make the world a better place to live, for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, sexual, philosophical, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS STARRY-EYED: Raju Singh

Mumbai-based Raju Singh, 18, who played the titular role in writer-filmmaker Devashish Makhija’s critically acclaimed 2013 film Oonga, is happy as a clam. The reason lies being Makhija’s recently-released novel – Oonga – for young adults that is a reverse-adaptation of his first film. Singh had started his cinematic innings at 9 with Makhija’s directorial debut, and he still hopes to make it big in films to fulfil his mother’s dream. “I have been immortalised in Oonga, the novel. The cover photo of a boy sitting atop a banyan tree branch is mine, and so is the one on the back cover with a bow and arrow,” he says, grinning from ear to ear.  Oonga is the winner of the Neev Book Award 2021 in the young adult category and YathaKatha International Film and Literature Award 2021 for Best Book (Fiction).

LOVE IS STARRY-EYED: RAJU SINGH
(Picture courtesy: Devashish Makhija)

Waiting in the wings

The days spent shooting for the film in faraway Odisha are still fresh in his heart and mind. Reliving his days as the 10-11-year-old Dongria Kondh boy, Singh immediately rattles dialogues in chaste Odia – Ma baygi baygi noyile school pilamane mutti chhaari polayibe (Ma, hurry, or they’ll go for the school trip without me). The impeccable Odia accent is what he had picked up while playing the part of a tribal boy, learning the never-heard language’s nuances from a teacher on the film sets. The film got long over, but Odia is something that has stayed on with the young man of Nepali antecedents, and quite effortlessly. “I enjoyed playing the part of Oonga to the hilt, and it was a dream come true for my mother and me to bag this role,” he says with a twinkle in his eyes. 

Hailing from a modest background, he had come to Mumbai with his parents when he was barely a year old, and lives in a one-room apartment in Andheri with his family. “My father works as a supervisor, and my mother is house help. I have two younger sisters studying in a BMC-run school here in Versova,” says Singh, who is currently enrolled as an NCC cadet in the senior division because he is keen to make a career in the armed forces. 

LOVE IS STARRY-EYED: RAJU SINGH

His entry into the glamour world was serendipitous, he recounts. “My mother used to cook for one of the casting directors, Prabodh Bhajni. He had been looking hard to find a little boy, who could play Oonga in Makhija Sir’s film, and was visibly perturbed in those days. My mother asked him why and he told her how he had been looking for Oonga but in vain. She volunteered to bring a boy who could do justice to the role, but without telling him that the boy is her son, Raju. She took me to meet him the next day, and that’s how I walked my way into the film, quite literally,” he says with a smile. The audition for the role wasn’t a cakewalk, but his grit and persistence paid off. “I had spent a sleepless night thinking about nothing else, but bagging the role, sharing the screen space with famous actors, having my billboards plastered all over the city, and becoming rich and famous. The serpentine queue of children outside the casting director’s office in Aaram Nagar greeted me, and I was nervous as hell. I somehow pulled through the audition process and knocked everyone’s socks off,” says Singh, who was barely nine then.

He fondly remembers the euphoria that followed. “People in the office were thrilled at this find. They were clapping and calling me Oonga. But I kept reminding them that my name is Raju and not Oonga,” he reminisces with a childish grin. A student of Class 4 then, Singh, was ecstatic at bagging this role and getting a break into the world of entertainment, and his family was over the moon too. “Next day, my parents were called and informed about the shooting schedule. I was thrilled to bits at the prospect of all that lay ahead,” says the Class 12 student at Bhavan’s College, Mumbai. 

Raju Singh poses with author-filmmaker Devashish Makhija’s award-winning novel for young adults, Oonga.

The story of firsts 

He flew for the first time, stayed in a hotel in Odisha, and learned a little about the filmmaking process and people who work behind the scenes during the shooting schedule. “Oonga brought many firsts in my life. I had studied that A for aeroplane while learning English alphabets and used to wave at it longingly but had never thought that I would get an opportunity to board a flight, one day. Oonga gave me wings,” he says. One thing that he realised after this role was that acting is so much more than it appears. “For the first time, I witnessed the hard work that went behind canning a perfect shot. It is a lot of work and involved long hours, but I realised that what keeps one going is the thrill of seeing oneself on the big screen, getting appreciated and recognised, and winning awards,” he says with a sigh. 

Singing paeans to his director’s genius, he reminisces how Makhija took extra care of him on the film set. “I had Odia dialogues and would at times forget them, but he would be patient with me and wait for me to deliver them to perfection,” he says about Makhija. The duo shared an excellent rapport on and off-screen, and to date, he is immensely thankful to him for giving a little boy like him an opportunity to hang the moon and the stars in his directorial debut.

Raju Singh with his sisters Pooja and Komal, father Bharat and mother Meena.

Singh lives with one regret, though. The film won critical acclaim and had a successful festival run, but never hit the theatres, and the fame that he was looking forward to never came his way. “I gave that role my best. If only Oonga had been released here in India, I would have become famous and bagged many more roles. But no one saw me as Oonga, and all my work went unappreciated. I felt terrible. I managed small roles in some films, but like my first, these too failed to hit the theatres,” he says, summing up his acting career. 

The cover image on Makhija’s novel for young adults has sparked that desire to hit the limelight again, and he yearns to get one more chance to make it big in the world of entertainment. “It is my mother’s dream to see me on the television and in films. I tried my luck by auditioning for a reality show after Oonga, but nothing came of those attempts. I want to fulfil her dream,” he says, brimming with hope at the prospect of becoming an actor, once again. 

But till he makes it big, he wants people to buy the book – Oonga – and read the story of a daring little boy who took it upon himself to become Lord Rama and fix the wrongs.       

(https://en.gaonconnection.com/oonga-movie-novel-devashish-makhija-odisha-tribal-adivasi-mining/)

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, how we become better, and make the world a better place to live, for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, sexual, philosophical, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe an emotion so complex. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but like a phoenix, it miraculously sprang on a few occasions. My vocabulary of LOVE was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS GRIEF: Dr Amit Gupta

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

Lao Tzu

While graduating from a medical school, like others of his ilk, Dr Amit Gupta, 39, must have also taken the Hippocratic oath to consecrate his life to the service of humanity and make the health of his patient his first consideration. Little did he know that years later, the oath would be put to test by COVID-19. Dr Gupta is one among those 1,492 doctors, who lived every word of this pledge while being on duty during the first and second waves in India and sadly succumbed to coronavirus infection, according to data released by the Indian Medical Association earlier this year. They are our frontline health workers, our real-life heroes who bravely served their patients without caring for their lives and eventually lost the battle for breath.

LOVE IS GRIEF: DR AMIT GUPTA


It was on April 18, 2021, senior resident Dr Gupta of Satyawadi Raja Harishchandra Hospital (SRCH) in Narela, New Delhi, returned home after being on duty for 80 hours at a stretch. He was doing his job with utmost sincerity. The second wave of COVID-19 was at its peak. Clad in a PPE suit in that sweltering heat, he was there in the hospital, round the clock, and contracted COVID-19 while serving other patients. In spite of his busy schedule, he never forgot to check on others in his family and friend circle who were COVID infected, sending them medical advice and medications as well. The hospitals across the country were fast running out of beds, and oxygen cylinders were scarce, but the doctors were still keeping their chin up and busy fighting the war against the deadly virus, clinging on to hope to save as many lives as possible.
Dr Gupta was initially hospitalised at SRCH for a few days, and then at a private hospital in his neighbourhood, and from there moved to Medanta Gurgaon. The virus had severely damaged his lungs by then. The doctors suggested that he required extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) support. His family decided to take him to a hospital in Secunderabad early in May.
Meanwhile, on May 18, 2021, Delhi government health minister Satyendar Jain announced that “the state government would bear the entire cost of treatment because Corona warriors are our strength.”

The Hon’ble minister’s promise gave Dr Gupta’s family immense support, but the official procedures were tardy, and the clearance of bills took longer than usual. The family was back to square one. They were still running helter and skelter, borrowing money from friends, relatives to meet this unforeseen medical emergency. “We spent our entire savings, took huge loans to cater to the medical expenses. Desperate for financial assistance, we even started a fundraising campaign, till the state government cleared a part of the promised amount, and that too after National Human Rights Commission’s intervention,” says his wife, Dr Srishti Mittal.

LOVE IS GRIEF: Dr Srishti Mittal and Dr Amit Gupta

Dr Gupta’s deteriorating condition and the mounting expenses were a cause of concern for the family, but they hoped for the better. “That may be the treatment would work, and he would be fit as a fiddle, if not today, maybe tomorrow for sure. We took loans from all possible quarters hoping to return when the Government would clear our bills because they had promised to do so,” adds Mittal.


The treating doctors in Secunderabad advised lung transplant, and the family left no stone unturned to arrange the organ. The transplant was successful, but the post-operation complications bothered the recovery of Dr Gupta. After a courageous four-month-long battle, he gave up and left for his heavenly abode on August 14, 2021. He is survived by his wife, son, and elderly parents.

DR AMIT GUPTA WHILE HE WAS HOSPITALISED.

Dr Mittal has resumed duty at SRCH, serving patients just like before, deeply engrossed in work, working in shifts, and living up to the Hippocratic oath. It is the same place where she once worked with her life partner, Dr Gupta. Her co-traveller abandoned the journey mid-way, leaving her all alone to put up a strong fight on all fronts, professional as well as personal, but that hasn’t deterred her. She is fighting to clear the debts amounting to Rs 1 crore 67 lakh by following up with the government officials, and once that is done, she will live on for the couple’s little boy and his elderly parents.

Her decision to return to work at SRCH is perhaps a way to beat the deep grief that is like a river — ebbs and flows. It is the last act of love that we give to our loved ones. It is never one thing. It deposits the memory of the past as sediments one day; it eats it away as a shark the next. But it is never one thing. Grief is but non-linear, spread over as carpet of our desire kept under the circumstances: grief ebbs and flows.

Grief is like love. It is a burden and a privilege as well. It is the ache of longing for all that is lost but seeing through the darkness of death, Dr Srishti Mittal is living with gratitude for the gift of time and love she shared with Dr Amit Gupta, and that alone gives her the courage to live on.

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, how we become better, and make the world a better place to live, for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, sexual, philosophical, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe an emotion so complex. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but like a phoenix, it miraculously sprang on a few occasions. My vocabulary of LOVE was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

Shillpi A Singh

LOVE IS MUSIC: The Busking Man

“If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.

William Shakespeare

If life is a song, then love is music for Debojyoti Nath, aka The Busking Man. Nath wears many hats. He is a singer-songwriter, busker, life-skills educator, storyteller, and Musart Brigade’s founder. In a heartwarming chat, he takes us along his eventful journey, and gives us a sneak peek into what music means to him… it is love and peace.  

Would you please tell me something about your initial years and initiation into the world of music?

I was born in a small jungle town of Umrongshu in Assam and moved to Shillong a few years later. It was there where my love for music took birth. Being in Shillong, you couldn’t escape music. I would go to the tiny shacks for some tea and momos in the mornings and evenings and invariably find western rock, pop, and folk music playing all day. I started being a part of our school musicals in class four and did it every year.  

I had a very musical family growing up. My father was Indian classical, my mother was Rabindra sangeet, and both my sisters were classically trained pianists. So there was music everywhere. My sister tried to teach me the piano, but I found it intimidating because of a deep-rooted fear of maths. I grew fond of the guitar instead and eventually learnt how to play it by myself. I loved to sing and play the guitar. And after winning the solo singer prize in Class 10, I felt like I made it!

Then I studied in Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, and all these places impacted me and the kind of music I listened to or sang. 

Since I was 16 years old, I always dreamt of putting out my album containing my original songs. Nearly two decades later, I fulfilled that dream when I released my album Rolling On under The Busking Man’s name in January 2021. When the album was out on all the major streaming platforms, I felt like I did justice to my life and dreams. And no matter how long it took, I am glad I never gave up on myself.

How did busking happen? When and where did it all start? What was the trigger to embark on this nationwide journey? 

My journey as a busker began after a massive internal frustration of not being able to do my bit to promote Peace and Love in a world filled with hate and wars and violence and brutal rapes, and mindless violence. After the Nirbhaya case that rattled the nation, I was quickly filled with the undying need to do my bit to spread the message of peace and love through music. I was working for the media industry then, and I also got to see the madness of media and how quickly a tragedy became fodder for the media. Being completely disillusioned and disheartened by it all, I was dying to take a stand for myself, if not for what was happening around me. 

Having studied and been inspired by iconic movements like John Lennon’s Bed-In for Peace, the Woodstock concert, the Vietnam protest movement, I knew I wanted to go out there in the masses and sing songs of love and peace. Also, I was 29 going to turn 30, and I wanted to do something for myself that made me happy and content as a human being. 

Music is Love and Peace: The Busking Man

So one fine, chilly Sunday morning in October of 2014, I painted a couple of placards with the words Peace and Love and headed over to Connaught Place in Delhi. I hovered around to find a suitable spot, and once I did, I busked my heart out. It was the most incredible feeling ever. Initially, people gave me funny stares, but gradually people stood and heard the songs I was singing and even started donating in my little box.

Literally, two weeks later, one evening after coming back from a frustrating day at work, I almost instantly decided to quit my job and busk around the nation. I wanted to busk in all the 29 states of India and spread the message of Peace and Love through Music. I tried to busk in all the state capitals and other cities as well. I pulled out a map of India from the internet and plotted my journey. That was all that I had planned.

I decided to start my audacious journey on the 1st of January 2015 from Kolkata and reach back home on the 17th of July on my birthday as I turned 30. I wanted to turn 30 on a train back home, and that’s exactly how it happened. 

And so I did. I became the first busker and musician in India to have busked in all the 29 states of India and 36 cities over seven months. It was life-altering. It was my moment of self-actualization. I took trains and buses and shared taxis and even walked. I couch-surfed and also took shelter in a café in the hills. My friends spread the word, and through these connections, I always found a place to stay or find support. I gave up the little savings I had and used whatever I earned on the streets to travel. Later I also ran a crowdfunding campaign to fund a major half of my travels. On average, I would make about 800–1500 a day just by playing on the streets. The earnings from the streets would be more than enough to help me get three meals a day and even shelter in places where I had no contacts. People were extremely generous towards me as well. It was all like a dream.

You have performed abroad as well. How was it different from the Indian performances?

My busking performances aboard were more novelty and tributes than a complete busking set. I played my original song on the hallowed grounds of Woodstock at minus 14 degrees because I just had to. I also performed in New York at the Lennon memorial in Central Park. 

These were more for myself as I played in some of the most iconic spots in music history and that in itself was a big deal for me.

What has been the most memorable busking experience? And why? 

This is a tough one to answer. To date, every place that I have busked is super special to me. But if I had to answer, it has to be the first time I ever busked in my life in Delhi. I chose that because it is where everything started. That one and half hours of busking changed everything for me. It gave me a new identity as The Busking Man, it gave me direction for my future, and it was instrumental in helping me take control of my life and focus on the things I wanted to do. 

How was the crowd experience? Did you feel let down anytime? 

The crowd experience was magical. For me, it was the crowd experience that made everything worthwhile. An artist is nothing without an audience. People gave me love, and I will always be grateful for that. 

Every place I went to and performed, at least one or two people would stay till the end to have a conversation, and those conversations are priceless. Those conversations made me a more empathetic human being. They would share their life story and how they wish they could do something else from what they were doing. I met people from all classes, religions and economic backgrounds, and it helped me understand people a little better. Everyone has a story to tell, and I was all ears for every one of them.

What stood out at the forefront of my busking journey was the power of music. Music was the key. It did not matter what genre it belonged to or what state I was in. I truly understood the power of music by being on the streets in all the 29 states of India. Wherever I went, people understood music, even if it was not in a language they understood or spoke.  

Initially, I would only sing in English and literally, in the second city I went to, Jaipur, I was standing in front of the Hawa Mahal and singing English songs. People loved the music but did not connect to the words. I sang about people and love and non-violence, but no one could understand. So I instantly composed a Hindi song called Nafaratey Bhulao Yaar, that said everything I stood up for. It was just a couple of lines. And as I sang it, I could see the people instantly understanding the words, and they had smiles on their faces. So I made it a point to include multiple languages whenever I sang. I sang, mimicked or tried to sing songs in Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, Bengali, Khasi, Assamese, Nepali and Spanish. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, Lucknow and Jaipur to Shillong, Manipur and Nagaland, no matter where I performed, people danced and enjoyed themselves with this odd guy singing on the streets with his guitar.

No matter what genre I sang, I made sure I sang songs that would make people dance or groove or casually headbang or bob their heads and tap their feet. Every day was a performance. I did not want to be meek in my performance. I wanted it to be explosive and joyful, and thought-provoking. Even though technically it was a ticketless concert, I did not take it lightly or take it for granted. I gave it my all, and the audience gave me theirs. All I wanted to do was spread love and music and make someone’s day a little happier and brighter. And invariably, they would give me back all the love tenfold. It was a win-win for me wherever I went. 

I never felt let down in all these years. On the contrary, I have only received more love and care and compassion. I feel I let myself down if I don’t give my 100 per cent in the performances. 

How is busking different and the same as doing a live gig in a ticketed event? 

Busking is vastly different from doing a live gig as a ticketed event. It’s almost at the other end of the spectrum. When someone busks, no person is obligated to stop and stand a listen to your music. If they find you and your music appealing, you might gather up a crowd.

Also, no one is obligated to pay you for the music or your performance. It usually depends on the kindness and generosity of people. 

Coming to the logistics, I have never busked using a microphone or a PA system. So I had to be louder than the traffic or the hustle and bustle to be even heard. It’s great that I am generally loud when I sing, but I also had to maintain my voice and fitness to do so day after day for seven months while travelling. 

Busking also eliminates any boundaries of privilege. Everyone has access to a busker, just like radio. It is free and your choice whether to listen or not.

The Busking Man and his journey

You have beautifully documented your busking journey on the website. Do you intend to bring out a memoir? 

Thank you so much. It took a long while to do that, but I am delighted I did. I put the entire journey as posts on my Instagram. Photo memoirs with stories. I made the whole thing during the pandemic. I have always wanted to write a memoir and put it out but lacked confidence initially as a storyteller. But having made this photo memoir and having received positive feedback, I can see there is a possibility to pen down a memoir. https://www.thebuskingman.com/

You are a busker, teacher, coach or musician-singer-songwriter. Which role seems easier? 

At many levels, all these are very closely interconnected. Having developed a love for music led me to become a musician. Being a musician helped me become a busker, being a busker helped me become a singer-songwriter, which led me to become a teacher eventually. 

So it is pretty easy for me to switch between any of these roles as I am deeply passionate about each one of them. 

Being a musician and a music and arts educator are two roles I love.

What do you do as a corporate music wellness coach? 

As a corporate music wellness coach, I conduct various workshops based on the preferred modules that I have created. The wellness organization Good Lives have tied up with me to conduct workshops as well. I usually work around three main umbrellas — music wellness, mindfulness and expressive arts and lastly, sound therapy. I have developed modules based on each one of these comprising of various activities and instruction based tasks.

Please tell us briefly about Musart Brigade? How did it happen? Why is it Musart and not Mozart?  

Musart is an amalgamation of music and art. Musart Brigade happened when I lost my job from the NGO I used to teach the children of South Delhi Govt. schools. It was in the middle of the pandemic, and I was quite heartbroken. But instead of being sad and dejected, I took this as an opportunity to start something of my own and take my love for teaching a little further. 

So I teamed up with one of my colleagues from the same NGO we taught together. And after a lot of brainstorming, we came up with the teaching initiative called Musart Brigade.

Since taking physical classes was not possible as every school was shut for the pandemic, we decided to start giving online classes. My friend parted ways a little later, and I continued with the Musart classes. And now Musart has completed a year this November, and I can proudly say that Musart has reached close to 500 online classes and collectively will have done over 20 workshops, big and small.

How do you see busking gaining popularity in the age of social media? 

Busking is super popular in the western and Latin American countries like America, Europe, UK, Australia, Brazil, Argentina etc. Some of today’s most prominent musicians started as buskers such as Ed Sheeran. And now, with social media, a lot of buskers have gained a significant fan following. It is a brilliant exposure and also free marketing for buskers. 

In India, it is a whole different story. Busking is something that is very, very niche but slowly picking up some steam. 

The Busking Man is music personified.

What are the legalities of busking? 

What is interesting is that busking abroad has a well-controlled and regulated system. There are unions for buskers where every busker is auditioned and then assigned a spot in the city. For buskers, finding that perfect spot for busking is vital. 

But in India, we are still far from having a body that regulates and encourages busking. When I started out busking, I did not need any permission. I also made sure I did not have any logistics that would require me to take prior permission. I always sang and played the guitar without any amplification. 

But suppose a busker decided to go busking with some PA. In that case, it is always wise to check and ask around with the local authorities, police or the district municipality to avoid any kind of legal or police confrontation.    

What is the future of busking in India? 

I think the future of busking in India looks promising as new buskers come popping up in street corners and perform. I still keep receiving emails and messages from young buskers and musicians asking me about my experience and how to start busking. 

Receiving these makes me happy, and I hope more artists, musicians, dancers, painters, theatre artists make the streets their stage and brighten up people’s lives. 

How often do you see buskers in India? 

When I started, there were hardly any buskers I encountered during my travels, except for Mumbai, where I performed with two other buskers. But through the years, I saw a lot more buskers on the streets. 

Busking in India has always been there in the forms of nukkad natak, and in local trains or our dingy street corners, we mostly never called them buskers. We mostly called them beggars. I used to wonder how there could be privilege or class in busking till I started busking myself. I am privileged who can busk for music and passion and the pure love of it. For many people, busking is the only way to make a living for themselves or their families.

But if I ever encounter a busker, I sure do stop and listen to their performance and put some money in their hats or boxes. I know it can make their day.

Would you like to comment on Shakeel, who recently gathered ample funds for his music school by busking in Mumbai? Or Varun Dagar, who went on to taste fame by participating in the dance reality show?

Shakeel and Varun are doing something very inspiring, and their art is taking them to the next level of their lives. Doing your art for a cause is something to be appreciated. Busking in itself, I feel, is already a way of giving back to society. And when someone does it for a good cause, it doubles up the satisfaction. 

I hope more people, young and old, get inspired by people like Shakeel and Varun and spread the joy of music and the arts in every street.

HE IS MUSIC.
MUSIC IS LOVE.
LOVE IS PEACE.