School reopening: Parents play it safe

The article was published in the edition dated November 15, 2021.

While some parents have no qualms about letting their children return to learning in the physical space, many others are wary. I spoke to a few of them to know the reasons behind their decision.

The drop in COVID-19 cases and rising vaccination figures bode well for wary parents and their children across the country. Gradually schools are reopening, with a few of them opting for a hybrid model — offline and online — for students who don’t wish to attend physical classes can log in and take virtual lessons.  

The much-awaited move marks the slow return of normal life for children. While some parents still have reservations about reopening schools and sending their children to attend classes in the physical space, most of them agreed that what the child could do sitting in a classroom can never match what the child does sitting in front of the screen at home.    

Apart from poor quality, a worried parent Shabeeh from New Delhi, who isn’t sending her children to school once it reopens on November 15, says, “My concern is that we do not know much about post-COVID complications in kids. Studies show that kids are the least affected, but I am afraid if any complication arises, and lasts long, it would be difficult to manage.”

For a few others, the hybrid model suits them best. During the lockdown, Hyderabad resident Nimesh Priyadarshi shifted base to Bhubaneshwar but didn’t want to change his daughter Navya’s school in mid-session. “She is still in the same school as she was in Hyderabad, and the online classes have made it possible to attend school from anywhere. We prefer the hybrid model for her, though the school has resumed offline classes for others as well,” he says.   

Before opening their doors and resuming teaching within the four walls of the learning space, the schools had taken ample precautions, including seeking parents’ consent. To assuage the concerns of the parents and children, the schools had ensured complete vaccination of the school staff, with regular sanitization of the entire premises, while maintaining social distancing in the classroom, encouraging hygiene among students, etc. A quick roundup of those sending their children to school versus those who don’t want to, and why.  

Online classes meant zilch learning 

Noida based Amitesh, and Priyamvada Srivastava had sent their children Aadyant and Aarya to attend classes in the physical space when the school had reopened briefly in November last year. “We had no apprehensions this time around. No doubt, online learning was convenient. Kids could attend classes while being stationed here in Noida or Patna or Kolkata, and they did. But when it came to learning, there were no takeaways for children. My son told us that offline is real learning after returning home on the first day, November 8. We were relieved to see this return to normalcy,” he says. There were three children in Aadyant’s class 7 and four in Aarya class 5 on Day 1, but slowly the strength is increasing. Online and offline classes follow different timetables and timings, and there are different teachers assigned for each. “Children are responsible and particular about COVID protocols because any miss could have severe consequences,” she adds.  

Good to see children reclaiming their space 

Patna residents Divesh and Deepa Sehara have been sending their son Milind Dev (Class 8) to school on alternate days from September 6, and every day after Dussehra break. Deepa says, “I was happy about school reopening. Children had forgotten about what life was all about before the pandemic. Their world shrank to a mere phone or a laptop. School is not just about studying; it is also about overall mental and physical growth. So it was a relief to see him back to where he rightfully belongs, the school.” Sehara duo has faith in the precaution being taken by the school, giving them peace that second home is as safe as their child’s first. 

Let children return to their school routine

Dr Nisheeth Kumar, who has been working from home since the lockdown started in March 2020, was pleased with the move to reopen schools. His twin sons, Aditya and Arnav, 7, are in Class 2. They have been going to school for about a month in Patna. “Children have been exposed to testing times for a long duration, and with the situation showing improvement, I think it made sense to let kids resume schools and attend classes in the offline mode. Overexposure to screens has taken a visible toll on children. I am glad schools have reopened, and kids are back to where they belong. My children seemed quite eager to be back to school, and my wife, Rashmi and I heartily welcomed this move,” Dr Kumar states. 

If children can go everywhere else, then why not school?

Priya and Rahul Singh from Bhopal had one nagging issue with the reopening of schools. “The only constraint for us was that children are not vaccinated yet. At the same time, we know that children have strong immunity to recover against infection compared to adults. When parents take their children to malls, markets, and other public places, why not to school?” Rahul asks. Duo’s daughter Rupal is in Class 8, and her school is running and about for all classes, from 1-12, both in online and offline modes. “People in public places can be careless with COVID norms, but not in school. Everyone has to follow them. I feel that little ones in Classes 1-5 are too young to follow norms, so the school should consider excusing them from the offline mode in this session,” Priya adds.

Caught between the devil and deep sea 

As a healthcare worker, Dr Shabana Mehnaaz in Ranchi has had close encounters with COVID in the last 20 months. “I have been extra careful all this while. Corona is not gone yet, and we can’t let our guards down. If I send my eight grader son Tipu Sultan to school, I will worry about his safety because he refuses to wear a mask, and if I choose to let him stay alone at home, I will be worried about his overexposure to screen and mindless Net surfing. Both situations are worrying as a mother,” she says. A surge of cases in Europe and elsewhere has made her jittery about sending Tipu to school, but eventually, that seems the best possible recourse to take, she feels.

The worst is over, but COVID is not gone yet

Ritesh and Aparajita Chandra from Mumbai have similar concerns for Ishi (Class 8) and Aditri (Class 1). “Reopening schools at this stage is a very debatable issue. The first thing to consider is whether health is a priority at this stage. We are still not sure whether there is any third wave coming or not. What if the children are caught in the worst phase yet to be seen of the pandemic. I have not opted for physical school for my eighth grader as I do not want to risk her health and life,” says Aparajita. The flip side, she agrees, is that the children are deprived of regular school life. Two golden years of school life got lost in this conundrum. The couple’s younger one has suffered a lot regarding the initial development of reading and writing skills. “The interaction through peers at this age is vital. Also, managing work from home and attending school duties for children is tough,” Ritesh adds.

Both propositions have pros and cons

Bhubaneshwar based Namrita and Jaspinder Chahal have two children – Mehr in Class 7 and Zaara in Class 4 – and their reasons to let them attend online classes outweigh those for attending school in physical space. “I am wary of letting them attend school. It is safe but can be risky in no time. I can’t compromise on their health. I agree that online classes aren’t as good as offline classes, but until vaccines come and are available to all children, schools reopening might be a dangerous idea,” Namrita says. Their elder daughter has classes for two hours a day, while the younger one has four to five hours a day, which proves to be harmful to her eyesight. “Schools should keep the hybrid learning mode on for those who choose to stay away from offline class,” Jaspinder adds.

The decision to return to school is tough 

Aman and Vandana Ritolia from Bengaluru have been in touch with his son Shrey’s school since it reopened for Classes 5 and above earlier this year and are looking forward to sending him to school once it resumes class in offline mode for junior school in January 2022. “We are in a fix. On the one hand, we are apprehensive because kids are not yet vaccinated. How will they transition mentally after nearly two years of “home” based learning? The other side of the argument is that online education has been more destructive to kids development – emotionally, socially, physically and mentally. I hope that the schools can compensate for the lost time. Kids are resilient, and the long period of being absent from school does not leave any long-lasting impact on the kids,” Aman says, adding how long home quarantine for a single kid family affected his child. “A confident public speaker has become shy and introverted. Working on a computer has led to a severe loss of writing skills, and there’s no outdoor physical activity. All of it is bad,” adds Vandana about her son who is a Class 3 student at a private school in Bengaluru.

Kids are responsible and will stick to norms 

Durgapur based Rajiv and Indu Dalmia have two kids — Viha in Class 9 and Vedant in Class 3, while one goes to school, the other is attending online school still. “It has been over 500 days since the schools shut due to the pandemic. Having lost a year and a half of learning with adverse effects on kids physical and mental well-being, the benefits of opening schools with precautions far outweigh the risks,” says Indu. With everything else being open — theatres, malls, restaurants, airports, etc., the huge gatherings during festivals, it is high time to consider reopening schools for lower classes too with necessary precautions and restrictions, she argues. “Children are losing touch with the basic foundation of their lives, and that’s a huge cost to pay in the long term,” says Rajiv.

Cheepatakadumpa: Hitting the G-Spot

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. 

Santo (Ipshita Chakraborty Singh)

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.

Teja (Bhumika Dube).

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. 

Tamanna (Annapurna Soni).

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.

Register to watch it, here:       

(All pics courtesy 

When FAN made a star

In the sweltering heat of 2016, superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s Fan got a “Jabardast” Bhojpuri twist in Manoj Tiwari’s voice. The lyrics penned by Dr Ranju Sinha scorched the musical charts and cooled the heart and soul of Bhojpuri music lovers. The song was released in nine Indian languages, two foreign languages and a mashup version that was a remix version of all the 11 tracks. Here’s SRK Fan Dr Ranju Sinha’s personal relationship with her Superstar.  

Shillpi a singh

If you are a die-hard Shah Rukh Khan Fan from the eastern part of India, where Bhojpuri is the native language, chances are that you would have made a secret wish to see the superstar groove to a Bhojpuri song. Lo and behold, the wish had come true sooner when the Jabardast Fan song from Shah Rukh Khan-starrer was recorded in Bhojpuri, among many other languages. The peppy version was sung by singer, actor and parliamentarian Manoj Tiwari. The Hindi lyricist was Varun Grover, while the Bhojpuri version was penned by Dr Ranju Sinha, a producer, director, and lyricist in Bhojpuri cinema. And like Gaurav in Fan, she states, “Connection Bhi Na Kamaal Ki Cheez Hal, Bas Ho Gaya To Ho Gaya, Mat Pucho Kaise.” A conversation with Sinha and her special musical relationship with the Superstar… as a Jabardast Fan.

It was Sinha’s first outing in the Hindi cinema, and she still can’t believe that she had managed to fulfil a part of her dream – write the lyrics for Badshah SRK.

Retaining the essence of the original Jabardast Fan song in Hindi, she peppered the song with her nuanced choices of frequently spoken Bhojpuri words that helped the song strike a chord with Bhojpuri speaking youngsters. The Bhojpuri version of the song was a rage in Western Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand.

Reminiscing her Fan moment, Sinha says, “It was a dream come true for someone like me to write a song for the superstar. SRK’s movie was about how a fan makes a star. In my case, too, I would say, Fan made me a star, in some measure.”

Dr Ranju Sinha.

A renowned name in the Bhojpuri cine circuit, life is a beautiful coincidence for Sinha. Born in a middle-class family in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district on March 15th, 1962, she was married off at the age of 16 to Neelmani Kumar Sinha, a Bihar government official. “I was married off soon after Class 10 exams. I thought marriage meant the end of my academic and creative pursuits. But my parents-in-law and husband proved me wrong. They ensured that I continued my studies and finished my Class 12th, bachelors, masters and even got a doctorate,” she says, with a lot of pride.

Armed with a doctorate, she joined Raj Narain Singh Inter College, Muzaffarpur, as a lecturer in the home science department in 2002. By then, her two children — daughter Pooja Priyanka and son Pancham Priyam — had been packed off to New Delhi for schooling.

In 2005, her daughter moved to pursue an undergraduate program in audiology and speech therapy at Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for the Hearing Handicapped, Mumbai. “My daughter was all alone in Mumbai. She was homesick, so I thought it would be a good idea to move to Mumbai; Pooja would get to stay at home with me and would be able to focus on her studies.”

A homemaker, who mostly spent her days and nights taking care of her home and family in Muzaffarpur, Sinha shifted base to Mumbai only to give company to her daughter. She had planned to return home after Pooja completed her studies. As they say, man proposes, God disposes. “Initially, I did not know what to do with a lot of free time in this city. But it made me discover the creative side of my personality, which has been the biggest takeaway of being in Mumbai.” She was fond of writing, and for the first few months, all that she did was contribute articles for magazines and newspapers in Mumbai. Her penchant for writing made her explore options as a lyricist in the film industry. A movie buff, Sinha enjoyed watching the latest releases, but she had zilch knowledge about the craft of film-making as she admits today. But she was destined to be part of the film industry.

She says her elder brother, Mumbai-based businessman late Raman Kumar Bachchan, helped her get a toehold. It was on his insistence that she started looking for a meaningful creative engagement in the Bhojpuri film industry. “I started my career by penning devotional songs in Bhojpuri for ‘Chhatt Maharani’ for T-Series.” Dhananjay Mishra had composed the songs while Manoj Tiwari, and Anuradha Paudwal sang the songs. “It was a good start for a newcomer. Renowned singers such as Manoj Tiwari and Anuradha Paudwal lent their voices to my words. I was overjoyed.”

There was no looking back for Sinha after her debut as a songwriter for this devotional album. Buoyed by the success of this venture, she went on to pen devotional songs for two more albums — Chalo Re Sai Dham and Sai Base Hain Kan Kan Mein. Today she is a sought-after lyricist and story writer in the Bhojpuri film industry, having penned songs for hit movies such as Sautan, Ajab Devra ke Gazab Bhaujai, Niruha Banal Don, Rangbaaz and Jai Ho Jagdamba Mai. But that’s not all. She successfully forayed into film production and direction under her home banner, Gauri Shankar Arts Private Limited. She has produced half a dozen movies, including Jai Ho Jagdamba Mai, Chandrika, Preet Bada Anmol, Paro Patna Wali and among many others.

“In a way, I am in the best phase of my life. My children are doing well. Pooja is married to Dr Shashank Kumar, a dentist here in Mumbai, and the couple has a son Dhwanit. My son Pancham is currently working as Project Manager in NIIT Technologies in London, and he lives there with his wife and son.” So does she intend to leave Mumbai and return to her roots? “As of now, my hands are full. There is so much to do that I can’t even think of doing so by any means. I can’t even afford to take a break from work.”

Recalling her long association with Tiwari, Sinha says, “We go back a long way. His voice has the Midas touch. It did wonders to my just launched career way back in 2006. I was glad to have him lend his voice for the Bhojpuri version of Jabardast Fan.”

However, the call from Yash Raj Films was quite surprising for Sinha, as she fondly recalls. “I had initially dismissed it as a prank call. I couldn’t believe in my wildest dreams that I got a call from YRF to sing a song for their movie. When I checked with the production house, I realized it was indeed true. I was over the moon,” she says.

Sinha is a self-proclaimed Fan of SRK. The Bhojpuri Fan song is still popular among the masses. But unfortunately, not many people know that ‘E dilwa tohre jabardast ab toh fan ho gayil‘ was my work. The crowd goes berserk still to hear it in Bhojpuri, and that gladdens my heart.”

United We Celebrate

My Diwali Special for The Free Press Journal in its edition is dated October 31, 2021.

‘धन’ और ‘धान’ की अतीत में सिसकता धनबाद

24 अक्टूबर को धनबाद के स्थापना दिवस पर उत्तम मुखर्जी का लेख

धनबाद कभी ‘धान’ की धरती था।धान उगलती धरती के कारण ही यहां के गांव-कस्बों का नाम खेतों की प्रकृति के अनुसार निर्धारित किए गए थे। मसलन कनाली, बाइद, बहियार, टांड़, आदि। रामकनाली, बहियारडीह, छाताबाद, छाताटांड़… आदि। यहां धान की उपज खूब होती थी। दामोदर, कतरी, कारी, खोदो..नदियों से घिरा था इलाका। पर्वत-पहाड़, वन-पाथर से आच्छादित एक मनोरम स्थल।बहियार खेतों में पानी सालोभर रहता था। बाइद खेतों की सिंचाई नदियों के पानी से होती थी। पहले धनबाद मानभूम जिले का हिस्सा था। उस समय बाइद खेत के अनुरूप धनबाद का नाम ‘धनबाइद’ था।
DHANBAID का मुख्यालय पुरुलिया था। वर्तमान में पुरुलिया पश्चिम बंगाल के हिस्से में है। धनबाद के सहायक उपायुक्त ADC बैठते थे। ICS लुबी साहब ADC थे। उन्होंने ही DHANBAID से I शब्द को विलोपित कर शहर का नाम धनबाद ..DHANBAD रखा।
भाषा के नाम पर भी यह शहर विवाद झेल चुका है।जो विवाद गहराया था वह बंगाल और बिहार के मुख्यमंत्रीद्वय डॉ विधान चन्द्र राय और श्रीकृष्ण सिंह की उदार भावना और पहल के बिना खत्म होना मुश्किल था। सन’ 1905 में बंग भंग आंदोलन हुआ । 1911 में इसे खारिज़ किया गया । वर्ष’ 1912 में मानभूम को बिहार-उड़ीसा के अधीन रखा गया। 1921 में मानभूम कांग्रेस का गठन हुआ । निवारण चन्द्र दासगुप्ता अध्यक्ष और अतुल चन्द्र घोष सचिव बने । आज़ादी के बाद मानभूम बिहार के हिस्से गया । ज़िला स्कूल में हिंदी का साइन बोर्ड लगाया गया ।हिंदी को जिले की भाषा बनाई गई। फिर भाषा आंदोलन शुरू हुआ । वर्ष’ 1948 में अध्यक्ष और सचिव समेत कांग्रेस के 35 सदस्यों ने हिंदी के विरोध में इस्तीफ़ा दिया । बांग्ला के समर्थन में लोक सेवक संघ का गठन हुआ। कोलकाता मार्च हुआ ।पाखेरबेड़ा का यह आंदोलन देश भर में चर्चित हुआ । बांग्ला के समर्थन में सत्याग्रह , हाल जोल और टुसू सत्याग्रह आंदोलन शुरू हुए। विवाद के नाम पर भाईचारे की कब्र खोदी जानी शुरू हो गई। बांग्ला-हिंदी मिलकर ‘जय हिंद’ के लिए कुर्बानी दी जा रही थी । अब दोनों भाषाएं आमने-सामने थीं । बाद में बंगाल के मुख्यमंत्री डॉ विधान चन्द्र राय और बिहार के सीएम श्रीकृष्ण सिंह ने मिलकर राह आसान किए । 1956 के 24 अक्टूबर को 2007 वर्गमील क्षेत्र , 16 थाना मिलाकर मानभूम से पुरूलिया को अलग कर बंगाल का हिस्सा बनाया गया जबकि धनबाद को बिहार में रखा गया । उस समय बोकारो भी धनबाद का हिस्सा था। बाद में टिस्को के आग्रह पर बंगाल के मुख्यमंत्री डॉ विधान चन्द्र राय ने धनबाद के साथ चांडिल , ईचागढ़ और पटमदा को भी बिहार के हवाले किए ।

मानभूम कल्चर आज भी धनबाद के गांवों में देखने को मिलता है। टुसू, भादू की पूजा आज भी यहां के गांवों में होती है।
मानभूम का जब विभाजन हुआ पणिक्कर कमीशन का गठन हुआ था। मानभूम के कौन सा इलाके को बंगाल को दिया जाए और कौन इलाका बिहार में रहे, इसे लेकर आयोग के सदस्य उलझन में रहे। बाद में उलूध्वनि(शादी में बंगाली समाज की महिलाएं एक ध्वनि निकालती है), अंडा-डिम, रस्सी-दड़ी, डोल-बाल्टी…इन शब्दों के सहारे सर्वे कर…चास रोड के दूसरे छोर के हिस्से को पुरुलिया में रखकर बंगाल को दिया गया। शेष हिस्से को धनबाद बनाकर बिहार का जिला बनाया गया।

धनबाद के सांसद पीआर चक्रवर्ती को जानिए…

मानभूम से ही अलग होकर धनबाद का गठन हुआ है। पीआर चक्रवर्ती यहां से एकबार सांसद रह चुके हैं । पीआर चक्रवर्ती नेहरूजी के करीबी रहे । एकबार उन्हें धनबाद से सांसद का टिकट मिल गया । हालांकि उनकी यहां कोई पहचान नहीं थी । लोगों को उम्मीद थी कि डीसी मल्लिक को कांग्रेस टिकट देगी । हालांकि चक्रवर्ती के पास नेहरूजी का एक पत्र था जिसमें उन्होंने कहा था कि उन्हें वोट देना है। वह लेटर काफी चर्चे में आया था । लोग कहते हैं बिना पहचान के सिर्फ़ नेहरूजी के पत्र के सहारे पीआर चक्रवर्ती चुनावी वैतरणी पार कर गए थे । उस समय भी नेताओं के बीच नाराज़गी होती थी लेकिन लोग दुश्मन नहीं बनते थे । मल्लिक का टिकट कटने के बाद भी चक्रवर्ती उनके आवास में ही ठहरते थे और मल्लिक उन्हें मदद भी करते थे । पीआर चक्रवर्ती ढाका विश्वविद्यालय के प्रोफेसर
रहे । ढाका वर्तमान में बांग्लादेश की राजधानी है ।विभाजन के समय चक्रवर्ती मानभूम के पुरूलिया आ गए थे । वे एआईसीसी के सचिव भी बने बाद में देवघर स्थित अनुकूल ठाकुर के आश्रम में चले गए। फिर धनबाद की ओर कभी रूख नहीं किए।

भुला दिए गए आदिनाथ

आदिनाथ भूगर्भशास्त्री थे। वे NCDC की कोलियरियों में निदेशक भी थे। कोल माइनिंग फ्यूल रिसर्च इंस्टीच्यूट की स्थापना में भी उनकी भूमिका रही। जब सत्तर के दशक में चारी कमिटी की सिफारिश पर कोयला उद्योग का राष्ट्रीयकरण हुआ, वे वैज्ञानिक पद्धति से खनन का प्रस्ताव दिए थे। उनके प्रस्ताव पर अमल नहीं हुआ। धनबाद का कोयला उद्योग आज मरणासन्न हो गया। आज जब अन्य कोयला कम्पनियां 100 मिलियन टन से ऊपर कोयला उत्पादन कर रही हैं। धनबाद स्थित BCCL 25 मिलियन टन में सिमट गई है। डेढ़ लाख से ऊपर मैनपावर BCCL में था। आज 39 हजार में सिकुड़ गया। फिर भी मज़दूर सरप्लस लग रहे। अगर आउटसोर्सिंग कम्पनियां न रहे तो कम्पनी खुद के बूते पर खड़ी नहीं रह सकती है। भारत-रूझ मैत्री के तहत खुले मुकुंदा प्रोजेक्ट और भारत-फ्रांस मैत्री के तहत शुरू किए गए लांग वाल मेकानाइज़्ड खदान अब अतीत की कहानी बन चुके हैं। झरिया, कतरास और केंदुआ शहर आग और भूधसान की चपेट में है।
धनबाद को गर्व है

धनबाद से निकले सुबोध जयसवाल आज CBI के निदेशक हैं। राकेश अस्थाना भी धनबाद के CBI SP रह चुके हैं। वीरेंद्र सिंह धनोआ ने सर्जिकल स्ट्राइक किया, उनका बचपन धनबाद में बीता। जस्टिस एसबी सिन्हा सुप्रीम कोर्ट के जज बने। धनबाद को इस बात पर भी गर्व हो सकता है कि कोकिंग कोल सिर्फ यही इलाका देता है। देश का दूसरा सबसे बड़ा राजस्व धनबाद रेल डिवीजन देता है ।CMPF, DGMS, ISM-IIT, CIMFR जैसी केंद्रीय संस्थाएं यहां हैं। लोगों को पीड़ा है कि आज भी धनबाद को एक अदद एयरपोर्ट नहीं मिला। एक बेहतर अस्पताल नहीं मिला। कई शहरों को जोड़नेवाले गया ब्रिज आज संकट में है। शहर के हृदयस्थल बैंक मोड़ से लेकर स्टेशन तक लोगों के लिए पैदल चलना भी मुश्किल है। तीन शहर अस्तित्व संकट से जूझ रहे हैं। यहां की प्रमुख भाषा खोरठा को आज भी उचित सम्मान नहीं मिला। लाखों फॉलोवर होने के बावजूद विनय तिवारी, मनोज देहाती जैसे लेखक-कलाकार को यथोचित सम्मान नहीं मिला। मिलेनियम सिटी बनाने का सपना टूटकर बिखर गया। रंगदारी, हत्या, कोयले के कारोबार पर कब्ज़ा… रोजमर्रे की बात है। कृषि तो कब का इतिहास बन चुकी है। न ‘धान’ और न ‘धन’ की धरती बन पा रहा धनबाद।

Education 3.0
The article was published in The Free Press Journal in its eduition dated October 24, 2021.

Lanka’s Sleeping Demon Kumbhakaran joins mattress brand Wakefit as Chief Sleep Officer

In this exciting role, the greatest sleep influencer on Earth will officially test the mattresses, and they will be dispatched to a customer only once #ApprovedbyKumbhakarn. 

New Delhi, October 18, 2021: Wakefit has appointed Kumbhakarn (KK) as the Chief Sleep Officer on October 12, 2021, and in this role, he will be officially “testing” all Wakefit mattresses before they are delivered at a customer’s doorstep.

“I am the official “tester” 👮 of Wakefit mattresses. No mattress shall show up at your doorstep without being #ApprovedbyKumbhkaran. If it reaches slightly late, then you can blame it on me. Woh kya hain na, I am quite meticulouzzz. 😉,” says the sleeping demon on his appointment as CSO, Wakefit. 

The official communication announcing KK’s appointment as CSO, Wakefit.

The reasons for joining Wakefit are obvious. His work days are gonna be sleep days, and who wouldn’t want that. “At my previous workplace, they often caught me sleeping 😴 on the job. It was against the rules, they said. Pfft! They were the worst. Believe it or not, once they made a thousand elephants walk over me to wake me up. 😒 Speak of toxic bosses, right? Well, mine was a demon so,” says KK, adding how his previous employer often shamed him for his sleeping habits.   

But he is glad that his passion has finally been recognized by the wonderful folks at Wakefit. He thanked Wakefit founder Ankit Garg and co-founder Chaitanya Ramalingegowda for recruiting him for this vacation… ahem, position. 

“I am highly enthuzzziastic about sleep. I am a total foodie and believe that one must have the cake and eat it too, basically, eat cake twice! My jokes make me chuckle even in my sleep. My favorite saying is, May the snores be with you. Yes, believe it or not, Obi-Wan Kenobi stole it from me,” KK proudly proclaims about his biggest strength, the power to have a sound sleep.

As morale booster in Ravana’s Lankan Army, he had witnessed 13 days of absolute chaos. Calling it a professional mistake, KK says the stint taught him that he can’t lose sleep over someone else’s whims and fancies. “I enjoyed the first few days, but the boss expected too much of me. If you think your boss is two-faced, mine was ten-faced! Also, no chai-sona breaks. Can you believe that? What were they thinking?,” he quips. 

KK had also delivered a BED Talk on this professional mistake. It has more than 10 million hits so far.

“If all of us could learn one thing from Kumbhkaran is laser sharp focus on the task at hand. Absolutely hates multitasking and hustle. Lots to learn from him and his inputs have really benefited our business.” 

Prateek Malpani, Head Of Brand at Wakefit

Talking about his growing up years in Lanka where he was just another friendly daemon, he says, “My job basically entailed sleeping, and boy was I the best in the business! But alas, my joy was short-lived. I mean just a couple of centuries, but they went by so quickly, like a few years. 😒 Good old days. Anyway, I am keeping my face toward the sun, because unlike you, the sun got nothing on my sleep. 😏😬

KK is a proud recipient of three awards, Asian Hypnos, Asian Thanos and Philo-sooo-pher of the Year. At Wakefit, he is currently working on Project Operation Cheap Thrill. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from Narad Muni University.  

“Kumbhkaran is a great team leader and runs tight meetings with clear agendas – everyone gets to sleep. Such an inspiration!”

Mosab A., Growth & Strategy at Wakefit
Movies, Masti and Snore… yes, that’s what keeps Wakefit’s CSO on his toes, ahem, bed.

The greatest sleep influencer on Earth, Kumbhakaran has proven experience in quality assurance, philosophy, army and sleep training, that will come in handy in his current role as Chief Sleep Officer. 

Click here: to interact with KK and see for yourself.

A Pillar of the Post
The article was published in The Free Press Journal in the edition dated October 17, 2021.

During National Postal Week that concluded on October 16, I spoke to women working in the Mumbai Postal Region, at different levels of hierarchy, about what it means to be part of the world’s largest postal network.

On the occasion of National Mails Day on October 16, 2021, India Post, Mumbai Region, took a tech-tonic leap and launched a new mobile application, Know Your Postman. The mobile application is a brainchild of Swati Pandey, Postmaster-General (PMG) of Mumbai Region. The unique android application designed and created by Mumbai Postal Region will enable Mumbaikars to get the details of their beat postman when searched by locality, area, post office name and Pin Code; more than 86,000 localities of Mumbai city and suburb are readily available in the database. There are 89 delivery post offices in Mumbai city, around 2,000 postmen/women with mobile devices, and around 2 to 2.5 lakh accountable mails, which includes speed posts, registered posts, Aadhar cards, passports, etc. that are delivered every day.

“Know Your Postman is an initiative towards digitisation of the postal network that will enable the working population of Mumbai to directly communicate with their beat postman and facilitate delivery as per their convenience.”

Swati Pandey, Postmaster-General, Mumbai region

Earlier, the postal department was synonymous with letters, parcels, money orders, telegrams, etc. But today, India Post is much more than these, remaining relevant by adding a plethora of services under its wings. A significant part of it deals with financial inclusion vis-a-vis savings. For the unversed, the Post Office Savings Bank provides some of the best small scale savings schemes to individuals. India Post also delivers old-age pensions at customers’ doorsteps, does Aadhar enrolment and updation work in post offices, and has a formidable clientele on the Business Development wing. 

Besides these, the India Post Payment Bank instantly transfers money to any part of the country if the Aadhar card is linked with the customer’s bank account. “So, the bouquet of services that we provide in present days makes us completely relevant, and we are the leading organization in public service across the country,” says Pandey, adding how postmen and postwomen, who are the brand ambassadors of India Post, have undergone a major makeover in the present era and are matching the pace of changing times.

Being a postwoman

Postwoman Radhika Milind Parkar, 58, shares a deep bond with India Post. Parkar’s father was a postmaster, while his uncle and aunt served in the post office, so joining the postal network was the obvious choice. “I had joined as an Extra Department Stamp Vendor in 1982 at a salary of Rs 90. My first posting was at Malabar Hill Post Office. I have always felt at home in the Post Office,” she recounts.

Her salary had touched Rs 500 by the time she appeared for the Departmental Exam in 1990, cleared it and joined as a postwoman at Grant Road PO. “I was posted there till 2008, and have been at Mahim PO since then,” she says. A mother of two boys, one of whom is specially-abled, Parkar thanks her stars for bagging this job and staying put all through. She is one of the three postwomen at Mahim Bazar all-women Post Office.

The ratio of the postwoman to the postman in the country is approximately 10% to 15%, but change is round the corner. “Of late, I have seen that women are approaching this field with enthusiasm and sit for exams held by the department of post to become a postwoman, and that’s so heartening,” says Sub Postmaster Amrita Jogi of Mahim Bazar all-women Post Office.

Currently, women are manning nine post offices across Mumbai city and suburb. “Earlier, there were fewer postwomen, considering the outdoor mode of work that included door-to-door visits and long working hours. However, with time more and more women have started joining the service, and in present days the ratio has reduced,” says Pandey, Indian Postal Services officer and administrative head of 229 post offices across Mumbai city and suburb..

The face of India Post

Pandey was instrumental in launching the Smartest Postmen Campaign and Digital Identity of Postmen. Talking about the initiative, she observes how the image of the postmen/postwomen has undergone a tech-tonic shift over the years. “We visualize a postman as a lean, grey-moustached, old man delivering letters to us, but the real fact is that young, smart, tech-savvy cool gentlemen have long replaced that old, grey-moustached men with smartphones in bikes and two-wheelers delivering mails to us. Postmen and postwomen are the brand ambassadors of India Post who have undergone a major makeover in the present era. These two campaigns were initiated to change the viewpoint of people towards post offices and postmen,” she says.

The smartest postmen campaign awards the title to one postman and one postwoman from every post office in Mumbai city and suburb based on their smart approach, proper dress up and chutzpah, while the Digital Identity of Postmen is an effort to emphasise the digitalization of India Post, where you can scroll on the mobile application and get details of your beat postmen. “Both the initiatives are to change the face of postmen/postwomen before the public and make them feel better in look and smarter at work,” says the PMG.

The uniform is their prized possession. “The khaki salwar-kameez with the India Post logo is my identity. It gets me immense respect from people. I am familiar with the nook and corner of Mahim, and the people I have been serving are like my extended family members. A few of them even call me to check my well-being on the days when they don’t see me around in the area,” she says, beaming with pride talking about people in and around her service area, who are the biggest asset that she’s accumulated over the years. She starts the round at 10 am, goes door-to-door on foot, distributes mail, and trudges back to the post office by 3 pm, and calls it a day by 4 pm. “The goodwill earned by me is my actual gratuity. I will be able to live off that alone after I retire in another two years,” she adds.

Empowering women

Jogi, who had joined as Postal Assistant at Tulsiwadi PO in 1993, is today at the helm of affairs at the all-women Post Office in Mahim Bazar inaugurated on the eve of Republic Day last year. In all these years, she has seen India Post adapt to the changing times and adopt newer ways to serve the customers. “All postal business transactions are made available with proper display of services at Mahim Bazar PO. All types of saving bank services, Multipurpose Counter Machine services, India Post Payment Bank services, Common Service Centre services, Aadhar services, etc., are offered here and are provided by women staff only,” she says.

The response of the public is overwhelming, and Mahim Bazar PO sees a high footfall of women. “People appreciate our services a lot. It motivates us to work with more enthusiasm. Many customers are astonished to find that an all-women staff runs this office,” says Jogi. She attributes the smooth run to her colleagues at the PO, who leave no stone unturned, come what may. “The staff here is always on its toes. Despite facing a lot of pressure, they handle it patiently. The staff is efficient and adept at work, and that makes me so proud of all of them,” she states. 

The work that Parkar does as part of her job is the same as that for a man. “Work doesn’t differentiate between our genders, and even we don’t. We walk shoulder to shoulder and give each day our best, delivering letters and other items from door-to-door, day and night,” says the postwoman.

Rising to the occasion

During the pandemic, India Post played a vital role in delivering medicines to needy people, banking facilities, and even Aadhar services, apart from regular work. “When people were scared to step out of their homes, India Post took the initiative to provide essential items to the people, deliver PPE Kits to hospitals, etc. Also, we offered Aadhaar-related services to people as it was indispensable for COVID19 vaccination purposes,” says Jogi.

Pandey, who was instrumental in launching SOFT or Supporting Officials for Treatment during the pandemic, states, “Mumbai was the worst affected city during the first wave of COVID. Helplessly watching my team succumb to the deadly virus, depressed and agitated me. SOFT was the outcome of this emotional trauma. I formed a team of officers who would extend help from admission in hospitals to delivering medicines and groceries at the doorsteps of the COVID affected members of India Post, Mumbai Region.”

To build a proper communication chain, she coordinated with the local authorities, local hospitals, and nursing homes to make beds available immediately for the patients, 24×7. “We coordinated with the medical and grocery shops as well to readily provide service to my team members. SOFT was an immensely successful initiative that the Directorate later adopted as part of their HR policy,” adds Pandey.

Indian Postal Services Officer Swati Pandey, who happens to be the first officer of the India Post to win a National Film Award for her documentary on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Elephants Do Remember. As a career bureaucrat and administrative head of 229 post offices across Mumbai city and suburb, Pandey no doubt has a tremendously hectic work schedule, yet the “keeda” of filmmaking keeps her on her toes. “Currently, I am working on a script that may take off in the middle of the coming year,” says the filmmaker bureaucrat. She started the Heritage Walk of Mumbai GPO in 2019, and authored a book titled Dawn under the Dome on the illustrious history of the Mumbai General Post Office with one of her staff members, Orchida Mukherjee.   

Why is an eye lazy to see?

Tests and diagnosis: 

The ophthalmologist will look for a wandering eye, as well as a difference in vision between the eyes or poor vision in both eyes. Depending on the child’s age, tests may include the following:
* Newborns: Red reflex test to look for cataracts, using a lighted magnifying device (ophthalmoscope)
* Infants: Test for ability to fixate their gaze and follow a moving object, as well as check for strabismus
* Toddlers: Red reflex test, photo screening or remote auto refraction
* Preschoolers and older children: Testing using pictures or letters. Each eye is patched in turn to test the other
The doctor may also check for inflammation, tumors and other inner eye problems.

Common causes of the condition

Muscle imbalance (Squint): The most common cause of lazy eye is an imbalance in the muscles that position the eyes. This imbalance can cause the eyes to cross in or turn out, and prevents them from tracking together in a coordinated way.

Difference in sharpness of vision between the eyes (refractive anisometropia): A significant difference between the prescriptions in each eye can result in lazy eye. Glasses or contact lenses are typically used to correct these refractive problems.

Deprivation of sight: Any problem with one eye — such as a cloudy area in the lens (cataract) — can deprive a child of clear vision in that eye. Deprivation amblyopia in infancy requires urgent treatment to prevent permanent vision loss. Deprivation amblyopia often results in the most severe amblyopia.

Treatment options depend on the cause of lazy eye and on how much the condition is affecting the child’s vision.

Corrective eyewear: Glasses or contact lenses can correct problems such as nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism that result in lazy eye.

Eye patches: To stimulate the weaker eye, your child may wear an eye patch over the stronger eye. The patch is generally worn for two to six hours a day.

Eyedrops: A twice-weekly eyedrop of a medication called atropine (Isopto Atropine) can temporarily blur vision in the stronger eye. This will encourage your child to use the weaker eye, and offers an alternative to wearing a patch. Side effects include sensitivity to light.

Surgery: If the child’s eyes cross or wander apart, the doctor may recommend surgical repair for the eye muscles. The child may also need surgery if he or she has droopy eyelids or cataracts.

World Sight Day 2021: Touch to See, Listen to Know

Grooming is a man thing

Does one cream fit all? No, not anymore. Not just women, but the men, are equally conscious of their looks. After all, it pays to look presentable, and well-groomed. And unlike the common perception that men aren’t bothered enough to pay attention to their skin, beard, hair, men do care, and a lot more than ever. True that! Even though the millennial generation has grown up watching the men in the family apply nothing more than Old Spice after shaving lotion as far as grooming was concerned, and it was the only indulgence. Then came the onslaught of creams, and here too, they were happy to use the products meant only for women because none existed for them. But going by the way the men’s grooming market is expanding in every conceivable dimension – categories that people are using, diversity of choice variables, price points that are operational, and so on, there is one cream for every season, to suit any occasion and indeed, for a good reason. Be it skin care, body and bath, hair care, or beard and moustache; a man is spoiled for choice when it comes to a grooming range explicitly meant for them, from the tip to that toe, nothing is off that grooming range. Because a well-groomed man is a complete man.

Shillpi A singh

Rheumatoid Arthritis is more common in women

On World Arthritis Health, Dr Siddharth M. Shah says that Rheumatoid Arthritis impacts the immune system attacks its joints and organs. It results in inflammation, destruction, and damage of the involved joints, tissues, or organs. Like most autoimmune problems, rheumatoid arthritis also affects women more commonly than men. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune condition that predominantly affects the joints in one’s body. It may also affect other parts like the skin, lungs, eyes, heart, blood vessels, and bones. A dysfunctional immune system characterises autoimmune disorders. The body’s immune mechanism, which is supposed to fight against harmful bacteria and viruses, attacks its joints, tissues, and organs. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks its joints and organs. It results in inflammation, destruction, and damage of the involved joints, tissues, or organs. Like most autoimmune problems, rheumatoid arthritis also affects women more commonly than men. Statistically, it occurs three times more in women than men and is typically seen amongst 30 to 60-year-olds.

What causes the gender differences in rheumatoid arthritis? Rheumatoid arthritis not only affects women more but also causes a severe disease manifestation in them. Although the exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, genetic, hormonal, environmental, and lifestyle factors are assumed to play a role. The gender differences can be attributed to genetic (X chromosome) and hormonal factors. Women’s immune systems are stronger and more reactive; this might help explain a greater prevalence of autoimmune problems. The X-linked genetic factors can also be held responsible for severe disease in women.

Hormonal factors are thought to play a role because the disease is influenced by pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, menopause, and the menstrual cycle. These significant bodily changes fluctuate the hormonal balance in the body. Generally, normal levels of female hormones Oestrogen and Progesterone protect against rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Sometimes, women who have rheumatoid arthritis may experience disease remission during pregnancy. The condition is also known to flare up post-childbirth.
  • Breastfeeding has been found to reduce the risk of getting rheumatoid arthritis.
  • The disease may appear after having a baby or around menopause.
  • Women may experience worsening symptoms during the second week of their menstrual cycle when the hormonal levels are low.

The disease severity is greater, and its progression is faster in women. Research suggests that women may experience more physical pain for the same painful stimulus as compared to men. Rheumatoid arthritis is also known to cause more disability in women as they have lesser muscle strength than men. In contrast, the male hormone Testosterone suppresses the immune system, which is primarily responsible for the disease, explaining the less severity of symptoms in men.

How to deal with Rheumatoid Arthritis?

  • It is best to seek timely treatment from a specialist and follow up regularly
  • Avoid smoking as it worsens the symptoms
  • Moderate alcohol consumption may have some beneficial effects as it tends to reduce exhibitory symptoms by reducing inflammatory activity
  • Maintain a healthy body weight as being overweight can worsen your rheumatoid arthritis
  • Regular exercise has been found to improve rheumatoid arthritis
  • Frequently consume fish rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids to gain protection against rheumatoid arthritis

Although there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, modern medical treatments can help keep the disease under control and achieve remission. The importance of early diagnosis and appropriate treatment of rheumatoid arthritis in women cannot be stressed enough, as they are likely to have a severe disease with rapid progression. Hence, proper, timely medical care helps limit disability and improves the quality of life.

(Dr Siddharth M. Shah is Consultant Orthopaedics & Joint Replacement Surgeon, SL Raheja Hospital, Mahim)

Mind it because older adults matter
The article was published in all editions of The Free Press Journal on World Mental Health Day on October 10, 2021.

Floored by Flowers

Bathukamma is a unique floral festival celebrated mostly by women and young girls in Telangana during Navarathri. During these nine days, women worship the ‘life-giver’ Bathukamma, and seek her blessings for prosperity. Three elements that form a staple part of the festivities are colours, flowers and water. Men in the house gather flowers and women create Bathukamma as a beautiful flower stack, using different seasonal flowers in seven concentric layers, to resemble a temple gopuram. The goddess is made of flowers, and created every year, which signifies both life and eternity in its colours as well as impermanence. It is immersed in the local water body on Ashwayuja Ashtami that falls two days before Dussehra. The Government of Telangana has declared the Bathukamma festival as Telangana’s state festival.  A photo feature with photos by Chandrasekhar Singh M and text by Shillpi A Singh; it was first published in TruJetter.

The nine-day long Bathukamma festival begins on Petramavasya or Mahalaya Amavasya in the month of Bhadrapadam. During these nine days, women worship the nine Bathukammas. The festivities culminate on Pedda Bathukamma or Ashwayuja Ashtami that falls two days before Dussehra. Women walk with their Bathukammas, place it on the banks of the river, pond or lake, sing and dance before immersing them. The festival is a celebration of womanhood, but men also participate in it with equal fervour. Mostly, it is the menfolk who gather flowers and also carry the Bathukamma on their heads before leaving it into the water body as the women watch Bathukammas flow away. The flowers used for making Bathukamma work as purifiers for water bodies and help in ecological conservation. 
The marketplace is abuzz with flowers, sellers and buyers during this time of the year. A seller sits with a heap of flowers called Gunugu, the common name for Silver Cock’s comb or Celosia agrentea. Like other flowers used in preparing Bathukamma, this too has unique medicinal values. 
Preparing a Bathukamma is an art. The layers of the flower are arranged in the shape of a pyramid with a lotus or pumpkin flower on top of the stack along with Gouramma (a symbolic idol of Gowri made of turmeric). The lotus flower used in Bathukamma represents prosperity. 
Bathukamma is made to represent a pyramid with seven layers of different flowers. The flowers that bloom in this season are used for Bathukamma, and are of different colours, variety, fragrance, and shapes. The riot of colours can be attributed to Gunugu, Ganneru and Kashirathnam in red, Beera, Chitti Chamanthi, and Thangedu in yellow, Gaddi Poolu, Kanakambaralu, and Banthi in orange, Challagutti, Malle, Lilly, and Pattukuchhu in white, Gulabi and Chandrakantha in pink, among many others.  

For those who are tired of shopping or collecting different varieties of flowers for the preparation of a traditional Bathukamma, or those who do not know how to make one, can buy a readymade one. The cost of a readymade Bathukamma depends on the number of flower layers and ranges from Rs 200 and Rs 2,500. 
The arrangement of seasonal flowers in the shape of a temple gopuram requires a deft handling of different shapes, hues, and varieties of flowers and an aesthetic sense to make a Bathukamma look nothing but a piece of art.  
For making a Bathukamma, flowers are arranged in seven concentric circles to form a pyramid on a round steel or brass plate with a small edge. Two pieces of thread are laid on the plate, perpendicular to each other, and passing over the centre of the plate. A ‘Vistharaku’ or a plate made of leaves is placed on the steel or brass plate. A layer of pumpkin leaves is spread over the ‘Vistharaku’, over which a layer of Thangedu, tiny yellow flowers with green buds and leaves and long stems, is placed and on top of it, Gunugu flowers are arranged radially. The hollow that is formed in the centre is called Bathukamma’s stomach, and it is kept full and filled with leaves and other flowers. The filling also makes the pyramid strong irrespective of its size. The subsequent layers/rows are arranged with Banthi and Chamanthi or any other colourful flower and even some artificially coloured flowers. On the top of the layer, a pumpkin flower or lotus is placed. Finally, the loose ends of the two threads are drawn up and tied at the top to hold the Bathukamma in position. 

In addition to the beautiful layering of flowers, Bathukamma festival is also about folk songs, a great vocal tradition handed down from generation to generation. In the evenings and on the last day, women dressed in their traditional finery assemble at an open ground, keep their Bathukammas in a circle and dance around it while singing soul-stirring Bathukamma folk songs. Their moves are beautifully syncronized with clapping in between that makes for a splendid sight. The older Bathukamma songs depicted people’s problems whereas the current songs are about Telangana culture and traditions.

Happy 43rd to India’s first IVF baby, Durga

On October 3, 1978, Dr Subhash Mukhopadhyay’s and his team in Calcutta successfully delivered happiness in the lives of a childless couple with the birth of their little bundle of joy. The girl who was nicknamed Durga after the Hindu goddess was born through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) thanks to Dr Mukhopadhyay’s pioneering effort that was the second such successful attempt for IVF across the world. It was a repeat of what his English counterparts Robert G Edwards and Patrick Steptoe had achieved barely days ago, on July 25 with the birth of Louise Brown, the world’s first such baby. The news bode well for thousands of infertile couples who yearned to become parents, but unlike the much celebrated IVF birth in England, there was no noise around his pioneering achievement, the first of its kind in India. Perhaps because the couple chose to remain mum and didn’t want themselves or the child’s public image to be shaped by the manner of conception, and the other stakeholders too remained indifferent to his remarkable achievement. Battling ignominy and failure to be recognised for his monumental work led him to take his life on June 19, 1981.

Meanwhile, Dr Indira Hinduja and Dr Kusum Zaveri helped deliver a baby girl named Harsha on August 6, 1986, who went on to earn the pride of being India’s first test-tube baby. But recognition did come Dr Mukhopadhyay’s way, posthumously, and 25 years after the birth of Durga, the Indian physician was “officially” regarded as the first doctor to perform in-vitro fertilization in India. 
The case in point explains the burden of having a progeny, often weighed down by the shame and embarrassment of not having one without any medical intervention, and sets the tone for the problem called infertility, a condition that needs attention and like any other ailment, can be cured with proper treatment. To fulfil parenthood dream, one needs to get past the maze of ignorance to access medical care that often comes at a price, endure all the pain that is borne by the patient, and doctor in equal measure, and get assurance in abundance that one day it would be all worth it with a baby around to wipe off all the weariness of undertaking the arduous journey called IVF. 

Published in The New Indian Express on September 30, 2018
Published in The New Indian Express on September 30, 2018

Prachi Shevgaonkar: Appy to be a climate warrior

The article was carried on World Environmental Health Day in The Free Press Journal, Mumbai, on September 26, 2021.

A trip to the Last Frontier

Alaska has many pleasant surprises in store, says avid globetrotter and travel writer Upasna Prasad. 

My family was holidaying in Vancouver, Canada, in June 2015, from where we decided to go on a week-long Celebrity Cruise trip across Alaska. Our first halt was Icy Strait Point, then Juneau and finally Ketchikan before retreating to Vancouver.

Icy Strait Point.

Icy Strait Point: After being on the sea for a full two days with no land in sight across the North Pacific Ocean, we reached Hoonah village, Alaska’s largest Native Tlingit village, on the third day. Icy Strait Point was the name of the port where our ship disembarked. We took the exciting Humpback Whale watching boat trip in the Pacific’s nutrient-rich, bountiful, icy cold waters. The whales are plentiful here, so we did spot a few.

Our Humpback Whale watching boat trip.

Next, we headed to Tongass National Park on a local bus for coastal brown bear sightings. Alas, we did not have a glimpse of the bear! We wore warm-layered clothing and a waterproof jacket with comfortable shoes to enjoy the open-air adventure. Remember, when in Alaska, do not forget your cameras and binoculars!

The Gray Line of Alaska.

Juneau: In Alaska, there are many spectacular glaciers and mountains to view. So, upon reaching Juneau, the capital city of Alaska and an important hub for gold diggers; we did not waste time. After finishing our scrumptious lunch of delectable Dungeness crabs, grilled corn and salmon, we headed to view the spectacular Mendenhall Glacier. The glacier has retreated a mile every year since 1930. We also visited a visitor centre nearby with a wealth of information on plants, animals and geology.

Mendenhall Glacier.

Since it was a day stopover, we had to make the most of it. We hired a Ranger who showed us old gold mines in the mountains. We continued with our adventure with a helicopter sightseeing at Douglas Island. It was a phenomenal experience over the Juneau ice fields in the picturesque Norris Glacier. The pilot was well informed too! The helicopter halted at Norris Glacier for a mushing time, Dog Sledding!

A helicopter sightseeing at Douglas Island.

The dog teams welcomed us and took us on a thrilling trip on wheeled sleds. Alaskan huskies pulled us across fields blanketed by snow and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. We were given snow boots to wear over our shoes to walk comfortably.

The dog sled tour.

It was a fabulous experience. The dog sled tour is long over, but the memories will remain with us forever.

Ketchikan: Rains welcomed us in Ketchikan, a colourful city of timber, totem poles and salmon. Totem poles are beautifully carved, painted logs of wood, vertically mounted and constructed by the North American Tlingit clan. In fact, colourful Totem poles adorn the whole city. Each animal or spirit carved on the pole has a meaning and is part of an important story or myth.

The totem pole in Ketchikan.

The Alaskan salmon have interesting lives as before they die, they return to their birth stream or river after spending several years in the Pacific. Our Ranger told us that brown bears come down from the mountains towards the rivers or streams searching for salmon. 

Cruising along.

By evening, we bid adieu to this colourful historic city of Ketchikan and embarked on our cruise for our last lap of the journey back to Vancouver.

Blue-finned is out of the red

The article on Mahseer also called the tiger of the freshwater was published in The Free Press Journal, Mumbai, in the edition dated September 19, 2021.

Returned Undelivered

… a letter for my dearest and now departed friend, Aashish

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,

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

वो कह के चले इतनी मुलाक़ात बहुत है
मैंने कहा रुक जाओ अभी रात बहुत है
Handsome is as handsome does… Aashish Juyal.

Follow COVID-19 safety protocols during Ganeshotsav this year

Ganesh Chaturthi is just around the corner. We are also excited to welcome Ganpati Bappa into our homes, but there is a constant worry of inviting people at home or celebrating the upcoming festivals in a crowded setting. Well, there goes a famous song, “There’s no place like home for the holidays,” and this classic English song seems more relevant in times today than ever before as we navigate the festival season in the COVID-19 era.

Most experts across the country have insisted that staying home is the best and safest option. That doesn’t make it sting less, though. After months of isolation, economic anxiety, and pandemic fatigue, it is entirely understandable that people are yearning for hugs from family members and meet-ups with friends.

But the reality remains that large parties/gatherings, travelling to see friends and family and brushing off masks and social distancing can have serious consequences – the impact of which will be felt beyond your circle. There is no need to celebrate festivals by gathering in a crowd; the festivities can be scaled down too. The good news is, with some modifications, you can still make the most out of our favourite time of the year. Most festivals bring hope and light – and we must hold onto this meaning all the more if we cannot celebrate them in the way we might have in the past. 


  • Make your event as safe as possible for guests; ventilate the rooms appropriately or host the event on the terrace/ balcony to enable natural ventilation.
  • Keep the gathering small and short.
  • Encourage people to wear masks and ensure enough space for each guest to maintain at least a 1-meter distance from others.
  • Help your guests follow COVID19 appropriate measures – provide masks, alcohol-based hand sanitiser or access to soap and water, tissues and bins with lids that close.
  • Follow guidance issued by local public health authorities before you plan a gathering.


  • All crowded places should be avoided; festivals should be celebrated with all precautions.
  • Meet people in open areas and maintain required distancing.
  • Wearing a mask is a must once you step out of the house.
  • Six feet or two meters of social distancing is compulsory.
  • Sanitize your hands frequently (for at least 20 seconds).
  • Go out with only your social bubble.
  • Spitting is strictly prohibited.
  • Even if you get stuck in a crowd by chance, make sure you are wearing a mask and avoiding face-to-face contact.
  • Wash your clothes with detergent after coming back home and also take a hot water bath.
  • Experts suggest that those with respiratory complaints or a weakened immune system must refrain from venturing out at any cost.
  • Consult a doctor without delay if you notice any symptoms after returning home.


  • As a family, be there for each other – try to have conversations with family and friends. Maybe a virtual call or small gathering while maintaining social distancing can be done. Listen to how others are coping and act with empathy & understanding.
  • Gift-giving – we’re all in this together and you & your gifts can be a way to share your love with your family and friends.
  • Be aware of overindulging – regardless of whether we can have large celebrations or not, it’s important to keep an eye on what you’re drinking and eating.
  • Celebrating with children – this may be when your children usually get together with cousins or friends. You could try to keep them connected through video calls so they feel included. Spend more time with them, cook for them, and indulge in some fun activities with them.
  • Maintain traditions – you could try to stick to the traditions that you have in place. Whether it’s making a particular meal or decorating your home on a certain day, you can create a sense of normality by maintaining these traditions.

To conclude, we can’t become complacent and should not let our guard down until the maximum population gets fully vaccinated or we reach herd immunity. Till then, we can continue following our traditions and enjoy ourselves with our family and friends while following COVID-appropriate behaviour.

(Dr Sandeep Patil, Chief Intensivist, and Dr Sudhir Gore, Head-Emergency Medicine, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan)

Frequently feel dizzy? It could be vertigo.

Dr Pawan Ojha gives the lowdown on the disease of the vestibular system.

Do you often get a spinning feeling while lying down on your bed or when you are still? Often do you experience dizziness that disrupts your balance? This could be a sign of vertigo. Dizziness might imply vertigo, fainting, poor body balance, or even fits. Vertigo is a type of dizziness where you feel like spinning. These feelings may last from a few seconds to days and often worsen with movement.

WHAT CAUSES DIZZINESS? Vertigo is commonly caused by disease of the vestibular system. The vestibular system inside the inner ear helps in sensing our head position in space relative to the body, and works in an integrated manner with the brain to maintain body position. Vertigo can also result from diseases of the vestibular nerve or parts of the brain that deal with body balance.

IS VERTIGO A BIG PROBLEM? The diseases related to the inner ear and its nerve supply are generally considered less worrisome. ‘Benign Positional Vertigo’ often causes the most severe vertigo but can be treated easily by experts. It occurs when the calcium deposits of Otolith organs of the inner ear fall in the inner ear canals to cause short episodes of severe vertigo upon head movement, such as while lying down or getting up from the bed. Another important cause of vertigo is ‘Vestibular Neuritis’ which occurs due to viral infection or autoimmune disease of vestibular nerve, where vertigo, nausea, or vomiting can last up to several days. Meniere’s Disease is caused by a build-up of fluid in the inner ear tubes, causing episodic vertigo with ringing in the ears and hearing loss. The exact cause is unclear, a viral infection, an autoimmune reaction or a genetic component coule be the trigger. Many people who have migraine often complain of vertigo with or without headache, that is called ‘Vestibular Migraine.’ A neurologist can often easily identify and treat the underlying migraine to relieve vertigo.

WHAT’S THE MOST WORRISOME KIND OF VERTIGO? Vertigo that is caused by brain disease should be considered worrisome and treated on an urgent basis. Stroke is an important and serious condition causing dizziness. In a population-based study of more than 1,600 patients, 3.2% of those presenting to an emergency department with dizziness were diagnosed with a Stroke. Apart form this, brain infection, Multiple Sclerosis, hypothyroidism and other biochemical disturbances can cause vertigo even in the absence of fever.

So, one should not delay consulting a doctor as soon as one feels sudden dizziness. Warning signs for a serious cause of vertigo include severe headache, persistent vomiting and imbalance, double vision, vision problems, sudden hearing loss, or early signs of brain stroke (weakness or numbness in arm or leg , face drooping to one side, trouble while speaking or swallowing). People who are older than 60 years, with diabetes, hypertension, smoking and history of heart disease or brain stroke, should be extra careful. Doctors might require an urgent MRI of the brain to diagnose the brain problem and treat it in time.

TREATMENTS ARE AVAILABLE: Medications prescribed to relieve Vertigo include betahistine, antihistamines and anti-emetics. Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) can be treated by physical repositioning procedures performed by expert doctors. Video-Nystagmography equipment might need to be used for complex cases. Special precautions in vertigo are limiting sodium intake, avoiding caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, and tobacco. If diagnosed in time, brain stroke can be effeciently treated with clot busters and/or interventional treatment. If vertigo is caused other serious problem, such as brain tumor or injury to the brain or neck, surgical treatment might be necessary to rectify those problems. Vestibular rehabilitation in the hands of expert physiotherapists forms an essential part of vertigo treatment. With correct diagnosis and treatment, most patients can be relieved of their vertigo effectively.

(Dr Pawan Ojha is Senior Neurologist-Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi-A Fortis network Hospital)

बचपन, बारिश, और सियार का ब्याह

… क्यूंकि आज यूँ ही मेरा दिल फिर ऐसी बारिश के लिए बेचैन हो गया।

आजकल मेरे बचपन के शहर धनबाद में फिर वैसी ही बारिश हो रही है जैसे सियार का ब्याह हो रहा हो। हाँ, आपने ठीक पढ़ा। हमने तो अपने बचपन ये कहावत खूब सुना था। दादी कहा करती थी – जब धूप में बारिश होती थी तो कहीं दूर जंगल में सियार का ब्याह हो रहा होता है।या यह समझ लीजिये, जब सूरज बादलों के बीच से कहीं झाँक रहा हो और खिली धूप में बस थोडी देर के लिए जोर दार बारिश हो जाये तो उसे सियार का ब्याह होना कहते है।

A view of the rainbow from the terrace of my home in Dhanbad. Photo Credit: Shruti

सिर्फ दादी ही नहीं, मैंने कई लोगों को यही कहते सुना है।और उसके बाद इन्द्रधनुष भी दिखता था। मानो जैसे दुल्हन के लिए बहुभात का आयोजन प्रकृति ने स्वयं ही कर दिया हो। उन दिनों ऐसे मंज़र से ज्यादा खूबसूरत और कुछ नहीं हुआ करता था। पल छीन में बरसात, बादल, धूप, सूरज और इन्द्रधनुष सब देख कर सारी इंद्रियां तृप्त और मन प्रसन्न हो जाया करता था।

फिर कभी-कभार जब हम चारों बहनों को छत पर एक साथ आसमान में दो इंद्रधनुष दिख जाया करता था तो ऐसा लगता है कि जैसे हमें कुबेर का खज़ाना मिल गया हो। आप सोच रहे होंगे ऐसा भला क्यों ? क्यूंकि हमनें कभी किसी को यूँ कहते सुना था – अगर एक साथ दो इंद्रधनुष दिख जाये तो तुरंत किसी कपड़े के टुकड़े में गांठ बांध कर कामना करने से वो कामना पूरी हो जाती है। ऐसा कर के हम चारों बहनों ने न जाने घर की कितनी ही चुन्नियों और रूमालों के कोनों में गांठ बाँधा होगा।अब यह तो मेरी माँ ही बता सकती है क्यूंकि वह आज तक इन गांठों का रहस्य नहीं समझ पायीं। और न हम चारों को यह याद है कि गांठ बांध कर हमारी कितनी मनोकामनाएं अब तक पूरी हुई हैं।

A rainbow hanging atop the hills as seen from my home in Dhanbad. Picture credit: Shruti

सियार का ब्याह क्यूँ कहा जाता था ये आज तक मालूम नहीं कर पाए – न हम और और न कोई और। ऐसा था हमारा बचपन और उसकी बारिशें।

(बारिशों के पानी, बचपन की यादों और हज़ारों अधूरी ख़्वाहिशों को सप्रेम समर्पित। क्यूंकि यह तीनों ही असंख्येय, अविस्मरणीय और अमूर्त हैं। Pictures provided by my sister Shruti from her recent Dhanbad trip; written by Shillpi | शिल्पी)

Kalki Subramaniam: A metaphor for eternity

The article was carried in The Free Press Journal, Mumbai, in its edition dated August 29, 2021.

Footloose in the stunning countryside

On her way to Tuscany, Upasna Prasad stopped by every single town. So come tag along as she takes you on a memorable road trip around Italy.

There are many good road trips all over the world, but driving through Tuscany, a region in central Italy, is an altogether another level of experience. Known for its dessert wine Vin Santo, made from a variety of region’s grapes, the countryside is a perfect picture book where green hills are dotted with slender cypress trees standing in line, sunflower fields and vineyards at every corner. On the way, every single town is worth stopping by.
It is imperative to feel safe and comfortable while driving, so we hired a tourist Volvo bus in accordance with our budget from Firenze (Florence city, capital of Tuscany) early morning 7 am in the summer month of June two years ago.
The lush green countryside and rolling hills were a sight to behold, needless to say, the Tuscan sun beaming on our faces and the breeze seething through our hair. Many stupendous little villages also dotted the region.
The itinerary detailed here are the places I had visited, encompassing every beautiful village and hilltop Tuscany had to offer. Buon Viaggio!


We had started our journey from the gorgeous city of Florence, known for its art and culture. After driving around for a little over two hours, our first stop was Montalcino, a beautiful historical town perched on a hilltop in Tuscany. If you love wine, this is a special place to be as wine knowledge, passion, and quality are exceptional. Even if you don’t drink, the sheer pride and interest in wine-making will make you love this town. Though you reach this town by car/bus, you discover this place on foot.
Known for the production of delicious wine, the famous Rosso and Brunelleschi di Montalcino, there were stunning views over the surrounding countryside and wonderful food and wine to give the perfect company.


On our way to Pienza countryside, we stopped at San Quirico d’Orcia to take pictures of the beautiful, scenic countryside. Pienza is Tuscany’s ‘Ideal Town’ perched atop a beautiful hill in scenic Val d’ Orcia, with incredible history.

Here the architecture blended beautifully into the landscape, and there were pretty alleys and excellent food too. Though we met with occasional rains here, we could completely immerse ourselves in this remarkable town.


It is another stunning Tuscan town famous for its views and wine. The famous wine produced here is Vino nobili di Montepulciano, and the town also houses a historical town centre with pleasant streets, beautiful piazzas, churches and breathtaking viewing terraces over the countryside. The street was long, meandering and delightful; dotted with cafes, restaurants, shops, local souvenirs, local textile and kitchenware. Excellent wine and olive oil are also produced here.
We continued with our Tuscan countryside trip on the second day from Florence.


After driving for an hour and 10 minutes, we reached Siena at 10 in the morning. It is a city famous for its Palio (horse race) that takes place twice a year and its characteristic narrow streets flanked by brick buildings. The traditional Sienese dishes include Crostini neri, toasted bread with liver; Pappardelle con leprechaun, ribbon shaped pasta with a sauce made with hare; Pici, long thick spaghetti with a rich sauce and ribolita.

San Gimignano

The world’s best gelato and ice cream are served at Gelateria Dondoli, an award-winning gelateria in San Gimignano. That is the reason we stopped here. There were countless astounding and delicious gelatos here, and a long queue waited outside to get their delicious pick. We had to wait for an hour, but it was worth the wait. San Gimignano and its surroundings are well worth visiting to enjoy historical monuments and taste great wines. There are a dozen tower houses, which form a beautiful skyline with its hilltop setting and encircling walls.


Our last destination was the city of Pisa, best known for its iconic Leaning Tower, a World Heritage Site. It was a crowded place full of tourists. I could see many Indians also here. It took almost two centuries to complete the Leaning Tower. The tilting towards the north started with the completion of the second floor because of the bad soil underneath it. Pisa is a Greek word meaning “marshy sands”. The terrain in this area is mainly made of clay, and for this reason, it is not strong enough to sustain such a tall construction. The Bell Tower of Romanesque rises next to it in the Piazza dei Miracoli.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa.

That was the end of our Tuscany countryside trip covered in two days. By the end of it, I was exhausted. Black poplar trees were found in the countryside on our way back to Florence. The peculiarity of these trees is that oyster mushrooms grow here, pushing through the bark of trees after a cold rain. Finally, we were back in Florence. This road trip was not so much about the destination, but it was about the journey in between.
All I can say is breathe deep, take your time and soak in the beauty of Tuscany!

(All pics courtesy Upasna Prasad)

Bond beautiful

The article was carried in The Free Press Journal, Mumbai, in its Raksha Bandhan special edition.

A city frozen in time

Upasna Prasad takes us on a virtual trip to the ruined ancient Roman city, Pompeii, in Italy.

Pompeii is a city in Southern Italy’s Napoli region where history has its testimonials preserved till today. Two years back, while in Rome with my family, we went for a short and sweet day trip to Pompeii.
The easiest way to get to Pompeii from Rome is by train, which is only about an hour and a half each way. From Rome’s Termini Station, we took the high-speed train to Naples’ Napoli Centrale Station. I must add here that it is always better to purchase tickets in advance. From Naples, we hired a taxi to take us to Pompeii en route to Sorrento.
The sleeping Mount Vesuvius overlooks this ancient city. The entire city was destroyed by the deadly volcanic explosions of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Nearly 1000 years later, in the 18th century, this city was discovered by archaeologists.
It is a city frozen in time as it was entirely buried under 12 metres of ash and lava, preserving it for centuries to come. The weather being hot and sultry, as we walked down the cobbled streets and lanes, we got the impression that everyone had been doing their chores, having the slightest idea that their last acts would provide a window to ancient life for the later generations.
Everything has been protected from the normal decay of time, including Pompeii’s paintings, furniture and tools of everyday life. The most significant discovery is human plaster casts – the ghostly impressions in the ash left by the city residents who were buried alive. It was an eerie experience to come across the plaster casts of human bodies, animals and plants. A large of Pompeii still remains unexcavated, and work is going on to dig out the remains.
Pompeii has two theatres – the Teatro Grande, the larger of the two can seat 5000 spectators. It is still used for summer performances.
We spent around three hours in this creepy yet fascinating city before heading back to Rome. Though the sight of the people frozen in their final moments trembled me, but it is a must-visit for history buffs.

(All the pictures in the slideshow are by Upasna Prasad)

Lost in Paradise

Everything in the Kew Gardens is lovely, says Upasna Prasad.

It was London calling, and I was there too with my family in tow in the summer of 2018. One bright sunny morning, five of us decided to take a full-day tour of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, (commonly known as Kew Gardens). Located in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames in southwest London, it borders the river Thames between Richmond in the south, with Brentford to the north. This UNESCO World Heritage site officially opened to the public in 1840.
For the best experience, one would want to visit on a day when it is not raining. Whatever be the season, there is always something special to see at the Royal Botanic Gardens, with surprises at every turn. We were lucky as there was plenty of sunshine, making our day most enjoyable. Plants being voiceless, we had plenty of time to soak it all in.
We arrived there at around 11 am and the Gardens closed by 5 pm, so we couldn’t manage to see everything, but we did stop at various picturesque spots to take pictures; this being the largest and most diverse garden in the world!
We boarded the land train that provides a hop-on, hop-off service with seven stops around the gardens. The ride helped us maximise our sightseeing as much as possible, as we were not keen on the full trek on foot. We were blown away by the breathtaking view of nature, and the hours spent at the Kew Gardens slipped by too soon.
We revelled in the fresh air and open space. It was overwhelmingly peaceful for all of us. Our first stop was the iconic Victorian Palm House with a rainforest environment. The plants were dedicated to the world’s tropical regions. The Victorian Glasshouse is impressive; we ascended a rustic spiral staircase to view everything from above.
We were in for a surprise as we continued walking to the Temperate House. There were vast variations of plants from all around the globe that needed 10 degrees Celsius or above to survive.
Outside the Palm House were beautifully manicured roses. We could inhale the scent of scores of roses in this stunning Rose Garden. The scent lingered along the mowed walkways between the beds.
We also experienced the lustrous beauty of a perfectly trimmed Grass Garden with feathery seed heads catching the light of the low sun with leaves turning shades of yellow and bronze.
It was a good day outing, amongst nature and away from the grime of the city. We purchased tickets at the Victoria Gate and hired a Kew Explorer Tour, which gave us a better understanding of the gardens.
A lot of it remained unexplored, and we wish to visit Kew Gardens once more to cover the rest of the green and serene spot in London. If in London, do plan a trip to Kew.

(All photos of the slideshow by Upasna Prasad)

Handloom tales

The article was carried in The Free Press Journal in its edition dated August 8, 2021.

Hands that rock the loom also hold the flame of hope burning bright for the handloom sector. Coupled with interventions by government and entities working in this field, artisans both young and old, can go a long way in making my handloom, my pride.

The Immovable Rock

The Rock of Gibraltar, its pleasant weather and the many macaques dotting the picturesque landscape made Upasna Prasad’s day-long trip memorable.

In the summer of 2017, while holidaying in Seville, Spain, my family of three decided to venture out on a full-day trip to Gibraltar. It was an impromptu plan. We hired a tourist minibus that took five hours to reach the southernmost tip of Spain overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

The runway of the airport.

For those unfamiliar, Gibraltar is a British territory at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula in Southern Europe. It has been under the sovereignty of the British kingdom since 1704 but has since then been claimed by Spain. Geographically, it is located in the ‘Strait of Gibraltar’ with the narrowest point between Europe and Africa.

A distant view of the Rock.

The Schengen visa law is not applicable to enter this small city of 34,000 people living on a 6.5 km square area. We had to take a UK visa to grant us entry into the city.
Upon arrival, our bus stopped half a kilometre away from the Rock of Gibraltar, and we had to walk towards the Rock and enter the city. It is undoubtedly the most distinguished landmark, and we entered the Rock to see the stalactites and stalagmites.

The stalactites and stalagmites inside the Rock of Gibraltar.

We were welcomed by an old European tourist guide, who had served in the army previously. And like the Rock, he was a strong and sturdy older man who showed around the place and doubled up as our chauffeur, driving the huge Volvo bus that carried other tourists and us for a fun roller coaster ride around the city. Gibraltar is hilly with steep, sharp slopes. There were some dangerous, meandering curves around the city, and every time our bus took a sharp turn, my heart sank into my boots.

Meandering through the Rock of Gibraltar.

Luckily the sky was clear, so we could easily see African Morocco overlooking the sea on the other side of the Rock. Tourism is the primary industry here, and a year-round warm climate is an added charm for the tourists who flock in hordes. I lost count of several caves and tunnels that we traversed during our trip to the city.

The lighthouse of Gibraltar at the Europa point.

After a brief tour of the lighthouse of Gibraltar at the Europa point and the rocks of Gibraltar with its world-famous Gibraltar macaques, we decided to halt for sumptuous lunch at the city centre.
An interesting feature was the runway of the Gibraltar airport near the Rock. Ahead of the runway lay a typical street. We waited at the barrier for the incoming and outgoing aircraft. It was unique and exciting to look at this feature.

The Gibraltar macaques.

I must admit that we were scared of the Gibraltar macaques (monkeys); they were omnipresent. A barrel dotted the entrance of the Rock, and we somehow made our way inside.
Gibraltar is full of them, and it is illegal to drive them away. The guide told us that every Gibraltar macaque had a unique code in Gibraltar and the city authorities knew the exact count of macaques present in the city.
After spending around five hours in this beautiful city, we made our way back to Seville, Spain, with wonderful memories of the Rock, its pleasant weather and meeting and greeting the many macaques dotting the picturesque landscape.

The Rock of Gibraltar.

Tech tickles taste buds

The article was carried in The Free Press Journal in the edition dated August 1, 2021.

It is time to say, thank God, there’s the technology that makes food easy to cook and good to eat with less effort and zero stress.

Breastfeeding is a blessing

World Breastfeeding Week: Dr Sushma Tomar explains why it is good for mother & baby.

Breastfeeding is a special phase in a mother’s life and is remembered with a sense of pride. It gives the best sense of satisfaction to a mother. Moreover, breastfeeding is the most effective way in which a mother and baby connect and bond together. But beyond this, breast milk is the best for every baby. It has many benefits for both the mother and the child.


Promotes faster weight loss after birth, burning about 500 extra calories a day to build and maintain a milk supply. Breastfeeding helps in uterus contraction, so it comes to normal size and controls post-delivery bleeding

  • Increases self-confidence
  • Reduces Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
  • Reduces the chances of Anemia
  • Lessens the risk of postpartum Depression and build a positive mood
  • Produces the naturally soothing hormones Oxytocin and Prolactin that promote stress reduction and positive feelings in the nursing mother
  • Supports the wellness of body, mind, and spirit for the whole family
  • Improves emotional and physical bonding between the mother and the child
  • Minimises the chances of Breast Cancer, Ovarian Cancer, Endometriosis, Osteoporosis, Diabetes, Hypertension, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Cardiac Disease and skin diseases
  • Acts as a natural contraceptive for a limited time (speak to your gynaecologist about this)


  • A strong immune system
  • Cries less overall and have fewer incidences of childhood illness
  • No digestive issues as breast milk has a low osmotic load; the fats are digested better. It is rich in protein and lactoalbumin. 
  • Less diarrhoea, constipation, gastroenteritis, gastroesophageal reflux, and preterm necrotizing enterocolitis
  • Fewer colds and respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia, respiratory syncytial virus and whooping cough
  • Fewer ear infections, especially those that damage hearing
  • Fewer cases of bacterial meningitis
  • Better vision
  • Lower rates of infant mortality & Sudden Infant Death Syndrome 

Above all, breast milk provides abundant and easily absorbed nutritional components, antioxidants, enzymes, immune properties, and live antibodies from the mother. A mother’s more mature immune system makes antibodies against the germs she and her baby have been exposed to. These antibodies enter her milk to help protect her baby from illness. Immunoglobulin A coats the lining of the baby’s immature intestines helping germs and allergens from leaking through. Breast milk also contains substances that naturally soothe infants. So, if you are thinking breastfeeding may cause harm to you and your baby, think again.

(Dr Sushma Tomar is Consultant Obstetrics & Gynecology, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan)

A, B, C, D, E of Hepatitis

Did you know that sharing needles, having unprotected sex, and drinking large amounts of alcohol can put you at a higher risk of contracting the Hepatitis virus? On World Hepatitis Day, Dr Rakesh Patel suggests a few hygiene practices to protect oneself from the illness.

Life depends on the liver.

New Delhi, July 28, 2021: Globally, around 325 million people live with Hepatitis infection. Hepatitis is referred an inflammation of the liver that can cause complications. The liver is a vital organ that processes nutrients, filters the blood, and fights infections. When the liver is inflamed or damaged, its function can be affected. The common cause of Hepatitis is a viral infection, but there are other possible causes of Hepatitis as well. These include Autoimmune Hepatitis and Hepatitis, which occurs as a secondary result of medications, drugs, toxins, and alcohol. Autoimmune Hepatitis is a disease that occurs when your body makes antibodies against your liver tissue. Common forms of Viral Hepatitis include:

Hepatitis A: This form of Hepatitis does not lead to chronic infection and usually has no complications. The liver usually heals from Hepatitis A within several months. However, occasional deaths from Hepatitis A have occurred due to liver failure, and some people have required a liver transplant for Acute Hepatitis A infection. Hepatitis A can be prevented by vaccination.

Hepatitis B: It is transmitted through contact with infectious body fluids, such as blood, vaginal secretions, or semen, containing the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV). Injection drug use, having sex with an infected partner or sharing razors with an infected person increase your risk of getting Hepatitis B. The earlier in life Hepatitis B is contracted, the more likely it is to become chronic. People can carry the virus without feeling sick but can still spread the virus. Hepatitis B can be prevented by getting a vaccine.

Hepatitis C: About 75% to 85% of patients with Hepatitis C develop a chronic liver infection. It often does not show any symptoms. No vaccine is yet available to prevent Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis D: Hepatitis D only happens to people who are infected by the Hepatitis B virus. If you are vaccinated against Hepatitis B, you will be protected against the Hepatitis D virus.

Hepatitis E: This type of Hepatitis is spread by ingesting contaminated food or water. Hepatitis E is common throughout the world. Even though vaccines exist, they are not available everywhere.

Most people recover from Hepatitis, and the disease is often preventable. However, it is still considered a serious health risk because it can:

  • Destroy the liver tissue
  • Spread easily from person to person
  • Weaken the body’s immune system
  • Cause the liver to fail
  • Cause liver cancer
  • Cause death (in rare cases)

TIPS TO PREVENT HEPATITIS: Hepatitis is a preventable disease, and the following precautions can keep you safe. Practising good hygiene is one key way to avoid contracting Hepatitis A and E. If you’re traveling, you should avoid:

  • Local water
  • Ice
  • Raw or undercooked shellfish and oysters
  • Raw fruit and vegetables

Hepatitis B, C, and D contracted through contaminated blood can be prevented by:

  • Not sharing drug needles
  • Not sharing razors
  • Not using someone else’s toothbrush
  • Not touching spilt blood          

Hepatitis B and C can also be contracted through sexual intercourse and intimate sexual contact. Practising safe sex by using condoms and dental dams can help decrease the risk of infection. Vaccination is another effective way to stay protected against Hepatitis A and B. Experts are currently developing vaccines against Hepatitis C. Above all, prevention, hygiene practices, and vaccination are the most effective tool against Hepatitis. Speak to your doctor today to know more.

Currently, we are facing an epidemic of another form of Hepatitis which is Fatty Liver Disease. This is because of sedentary life, changing eating habits and obesity. Also, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension are risk factors associated with it. It is diagnosed by sonography and Liver Function Test. If it’s not corrected, it will lead to the development of Cirrhosis and Liver Cancer. So a healthy traditional diet, weight control, exercise, and regular check will help prevent this disease which affects 25% of the population.

(Dr Rakesh Patel is Consultant, Gastroenterology, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan)

Yes, you can go to ‘Hell’

Upasna Prasad spent a fun-filled day in Hell, and says, it is a must-visit place.

In the June of 2016, my family of five sailed aboard the largest cruise ship in the world, the Royal Caribbean, from Port Canaveral, Orlando, Florida. It was a voyage to explore the unseen places nestled in the Caribbean, most of which we had only heard in our Geography books but visiting them had left us visibly excited. One of our destinations was the Grand Cayman Islands.

For the unversed, it is one of the largest and westernmost of the three Cayman Islands.
It was a day stopover, and we were welcomed there by sweltering heat. The hot and sultry weather was slightly unsettling initially, but then we had no choice but to make the most of it.
Upon arrival on the Island, which lies south of Cuba and northwest of Jamaica, we hired a bus to take us to the West Bay district from George Town, its capital. I had a whale of a time window shopping there. The high-end retailers and souvenir stores kept me super busy, at least for the first few hours. The blocks of neatly kept houses were a common sight on the Island. But the place where we went next will knock your socks off.
What if I tell you that Hell is a must-visit place, you would surely think that I have gone bonkers. But trust me, the football field-size area full of a large number of unique, short, black limestone formations in the form of jagged and spongy pinnacles with a unique nickname ‘Hell’ is a major tourist hotspot in the Cayman Islands.

It is also one of the most fascinating geological wonders in the world. The iron shore foundation is what makes Hell Cayman Islands so unusual. It is said that the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean may be a critical factor in the rock’s formation millions of years ago.
The clear blue sky above with black limestone formations poking out of lush green vegetation made it a sight to behold. If you are visiting Hell, it is forbidden to walk on the limestone formations depicting devils around the limestone landscape.
After marvelling at the field of black peaks, we headed to the bright red post office nearby to send postcards from Hell to my family and friends back in India. Yes, you had guessed it right. The postcards were stamped with the mark ‘Hell’. I am sure those who received those postcards must have been in shock and awe too.

There were souvenir shops and other stores in the area with Biblical quotations on their side in Hell, and I quickly toured them. Mind you, visiting Hell at night could be a spooky experience, though!
Hell is located close to another popular attraction, Cayman Turtle Centre, where we spotted wonderful creatures in the lagoon.
Been there, done that, I will say that Hell Grand Cayman remains one the most unique, light-hearted, fun-filled tourist attractions in the whole world.
And it gives me immense delight to say that I went to Hell and was back on my cruise, safe and sound, before the day ended, ready to sail and explore another unseen place.

‘Golden Arrows is a soldier’s tribute to former Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa and fighter pilot Sqn Ldr Ajay Ahuja’

Lucknow boy Kushal Srivastava calls 1999 a year to remember. Fresh out of school, he had made it to the Indian Air Force as a non-commissioned officer and was waiting for his joining letter when the Kargil War broke out in May. It left the lanky teenager on tenterhooks. The ensuing months saw the reluctant newsie (as he calls himself) glued to his television set, 24×7. He keenly followed the war updates from Kargil and Drass way more than keeping a tab on the runs scored by the Men in Blue at the seventh edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup in England. “The Kargil War against Pakistan had overridden my love for cricket, and it remains like that to date. Cricket reminds me of that war. Sitting many miles away from the war front in my home, I remember how it felt so personal. I would cringe every time a soldier was martyred in Kargil; the fatalities in LoC were devastating because it felt like losing one of my own to the enemy,” he recounts.

The only good thing that he remembers of that year is how Pakistan collapsed to a meagre 132 in the final, leading to an eight-wicket win for Australia in the World Cup, and how this loss at the Lord’s matched its fate on the war front in Kargil, this time at the hands of Indian soldiers. Every year since 1999, July 26, the day the Kargil war ended, is celebrated as the Vijay Diwas. Srivastava, who went on to join IAF on December 23, 1999, served in the logistics department till 2006 and landed on the cinematic horizon with his directorial debut Vodka Diaries, featuring Kay Kay Menon, Mandira Bedi and Raima Sen, followed by his production debut The Job in 2018. Still an Airman at heart, he had something up his sleeve to commemorate the 21st anniversary of Kargil War. Days later, on the eve of the Independence Day, he went on to announce his next film, Golden Arrows; Rashmi Sharma of Pink fame is producing the film.

On the occasion of the 88th anniversary of the Indian Air Force Day, we caught up with Srivastava, who took us down the memory lane, reminiscing his good old days in the air force, besides giving us a sneak-peek into his upcoming project.

Filmmaker Kushal Srivastava.


Q1. What are your memories of this day?

A. It is the most important day of the year for me, and means more than my birthday, even though I am not in the service anymore. During my seven years there, I was a part of the Air Force Day Parade at Palam Air Base on three occasions. And every year, since 2006, I have made it a point to be there as a spectator. It gives me unbridled joy. During those days, my fellow air warriors would perform funny plays, and I used to direct them. This year, I am working on my next that is my, a soldier’s tribute to the two greats of IAF – former Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa, and fighter pilot Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja – who was martyred in the Kargil War. They are my real-life heroes.  

Q2. How did you get into films?

A. Films were always on my radar, but I was more enamoured by the craft of filmmaking. I was barely 11 when my uncle Raju Srivastava took me along to N Chandra’s film set in Mumbai. I saw a shot being canned for the first time in my life, and that image stayed on with me for years. And even though I was serving in IAF, in the heart of hearts, I knew my real calling was filmmaking. I started as an assistant director. My first film as AD was A Flat featuring Jimmy Shergill, under Anjum Rizvi Productions. I assisted JP Dutta, and also Anurag Basu. I directed Kaafir, my first short film at MET College, Mumbai, which bagged the Best Short film award. The real learning happened under filmmaker JP Dutta; he is my film school who taught me the ethics of filmmaking. He always used to tell that there should be honesty and integrity in your work, which is missing in most of the masala films that hit the theatres on Fridays these days. So now I’m not too fond of half of the movies made by our film industry. The journey since then has been quite eventful and interesting, and I have also realised that every obstacle is a challenge. One should stay focused and keep working towards one’s goal. 

A poster of filmmaker Kushal Srivastava’s next, Golden Arrows.

Q3. Your next cinematic outing, Golden Arrows, seems like a big-ticket project. Tell us more about the subject.

A. Golden Arrows is a war film about a squadron then led by Wing Commander Dhanoa. The film is dedicated to Sqn Ldr Ahuja. It displays the glory and the courage of our fighter pilots during the most challenging air war ever fought. Yes, production-wise, it’s a big-budget film with a large canvas. That’s the requirement of the subject. 

Q4. How did you zero-in on this subject? 

A. Fighter jets have always fascinated me. Those dragons are the most amazing things in the world. Going back on the subject, Golden Arrows was raised on October 1, 1951, in Ambala and was based in Bathinda during the Kargil War. Living up to their motto, Arise Forever, they flew in the most challenging and highest terrains in the world, where flying and bombing was impossible by any air force in the world. 

When a co-pilot had to eject amidst the war, Sqn Ldr Ahuja decided to go beyond the call of duty to ‘Never leave his wingman behind’, but while doing so, he was hit by Stinger Missile and had to lay down his life. He was awarded the Vir Chakra for his bravery. 

The primary role of Golden Arrows was to do photo recce. But when Dhanoa, a trained fighter pilot, lost Ahuja, he converted his aircraft to a bombing one. He set a new benchmark in the world by going for maximum bombing missions in the war and leading India to victory, hence making Golden Arrows the most decorated squadron in the IAF during the war. 

Dhanoa later became the Chief of the Indian Air Force and was behind another successful operation, the Balakot strikes. As Chief of Air Force, Dhanoa paid tributes to Sqn Ldr Ahuja and other martyrs of Kargil War by flying a ‘missing man’ formation in a Mig-21. The newly inducted Rafale aircraft is a part of the resurrected Golden Arrows. 

Filmmaker Kushal Srivastava and his crew with former ACM BS Dhanoa and his wife.

The heroism of ACM Dhanoa, the sacrifice of Sqn Ldr Ahuja and the camaraderie of Golden Arrows is unprecedented. Kargil was the toughest air war ever fought in the world, we as Indians should be proud of it, but instead, most of us are unaware of it. Hence, this is my tribute to the air warriors, albeit on the big screen. 

Q5. What is that one factor from the life of the former ACM Dhanoa that stood out for you?

A. He is an initiator and a risk-taker and forges his unique path, aims high, and reaches his destination come what may. He is a living example of how luck favours the brave. 

Q6. How significant were your personal experiences in the making of this film?

A. The heroic but not-so-known story of the Kargil War had been simmering within me for all these 21 years. It flows in my blood. I have lived it. It was just a matter of time, and I am quite excited to see this dream come true. It is for the first time in the world that an ex-soldier will make a war film. 

Q7. How difficult or easy is it to make a war film during the current situation? 

A. If you are honest, then nothing else matters. What matters is whether you are giving your 100% in the given situation, and then rest everything else will follow. 

Q8. What is the learning from the recent releases – Gunjan Saxena, Uri, Avrodh – that came in handy while prepping for Golden Arrows? 

A. Kargil War, as we know, was high-altitude warfare. Both sides fought it on mountainous terrain. But what is untold is how IAF’s operation Safed Sagar was instrumental in winning the war. It was for the first time that IAF had air power at the height of 32,000 feet. 

Golden Arrows was a photo-reconnaissance squadron of IAF, then led by Wing Commander Dhanoa and Sqn Ldr Ahuja. Technically, reconnaissance in force is a means of obtaining information on the enemy’s disposition, and for probing enemy defenses for gaps. In a layman’s language, the Airmen fly and click the pictures of the enemy. Then they provide the exact location of the enemy to the bombers and the Army. In the Kargil War, they helped identify the Pakistani troops and Mujahideens, and bomb enemy locations.

Also, Golden Arrows doesn’t have a reference point. We have not produced any air force war film in India yet. Commercially, they may be good films, but as an insider, I could only see what mistakes I have to avoid. 

Q9. How much does Mr Dutta’s filmmaking style influence your cinematic sensibilities, especially when it comes to war dramas? 

A. He has a knack for bringing out the humane part of the war, and that’s Mr Dutta’s innate and effortless talent. I have always admired his attention to details and how he deals with human emotions in his films. Most of his films have been multi-starrers, but he is known for giving equal weightage to each character. You will never feel that character X was in any way less than character Y or Z. I strive to imbibe that quality in my films. I hope I succeed.  

Q10. What is behind the scene action that is currently on? 

A. As we speak, casting director Mukesh Chabbra is busy finalising the details. It requires a lot of meticulous planning. It is a two-hero film, so we need to two male leads to essay the roles of ACM Dhanoa and Sqn Ldr Ahuja. Meanwhile, the remaining work is also in progress. The film will go on the floors later this year, and we are aiming for a 2021 release.  

Poster of Vodka Diaries.

Q11. What filmmaking lessons did you gather while making Vodka Diaries that you think will help you in upping the game while directing this one? 

A. Vodka Diaries was like an exam. It was conceived purely out of my love for thrillers. The script was written keeping in mind, Kay Kay Menon. Once, he was on board, rest everything fell into place. It was a complicated subject, and that’s the reason why I went for it. I like challenges, maybe that’s something I have imbibed from my stint with IAF. The film helped me prove my mettle. Now I find it easier to convince people.

(The article was first published here:

The Audio Medium

The article was published in all editions of The Free Press Journal on July 18, 2021.

The Fading Script
The article was carried in The Free Press Journal in its edition dated July 11, 2021.

THE STORY OF SCRIPTS (Source: Kayasth: An Encyclopedia of Untold Stories)

The oldest decipherable script is Brahmi. The oldest indecipherable script is the Sindhu-Harappan script.

The world over, script and languages have been written either left to right (Brahmi, Nagri, Roman, French, Russian, etc.) or right to left (Kharoshti, Persian, Arabic, Urdu, etc.) and from top to bottom (Chinese, Japanese, etc).

The ones written from left to right are inspired by the rays of the Sun, those from right to left are inspired by the Moon, and the flame of fire inspires the ones that are written from top to bottom.

The Buddhist literature ‘Lalit Granth’ traces Kaithi not to Brahmi but the undeciphered Harappan script of Sindhu.

Every ancient civilisation has a God of the pen. Egyptians have Dhot God, and Babylonians had Nebo. Jews traced it to Musa, Islam to Allah, and Greeks to Hemens. Hindu’s pen-God is Shree Chitragupta, who created the script for the writer class.

Kayasthas gifted four scripts to the Indian civilisation –  Kaithi, Kaithili, Bangla, and Devanagri.

Scrolling art for livelihood

Pandemic has forced the famous Cheriyal artists of Telangana to live in penury.

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.

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.
Text by Shillpi A Singh and photographs by P Mohanaiah and Tejaswini Paladi.

National Award winner Cheriyal artist D Vaikuntam.

Love Unfinished

Aashish and Divya Juyal

Hotel management graduates Divya Gupta and Aashish Juyal were the perfect strangers for each other till fate played Cupid and brought them together for life. It was their first job at The Grand Hyatt in New Delhi way back in 2000, but the duo stayed oblivious to each other’s presence for almost two years. “We had common friends but had never spoken to each other before till that cold, rainy night in December 2002. Aashish’s father was ailing and hospitalised, and he didn’t have enough money for some emergency medical procedure. He came to my home as a last resort to borrow some money. I handed him my ATM card and PIN without even knowing him well enough, and I guess that gesture surprised him; that moment was love at first sight for him,” says Divya with a smile, adding, “I took longer to accept and come around.” 

Inked in L.O.V.E.

Aashish’s father passed away soon after, and he had to shoulder the responsibility of his family of three that included his younger unmarried sister and mother. Juyal got a job offer in Dubai, and he moved there in 2003. Divya took up a lucrative assignment at Muscat during the same time. While Divya hailed from Meerut, Aashish came from a conservative Brahmin family in Rishikesh, and his mother was dead against their relationship. “My family had no issues with my intercaste marriage. We were on holiday in India in 2006 when it so happened that my father insisted on getting us hitched. Aashish’s mother threw a fit and refused to be a part of the celebration. She reluctantly agreed after a lot of cajoling,” remembers Divya. Aashish was sure that Divya was the girl he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, come what may. He moved mountains to coax his mother who had reservations against the intercaste alliance. “But he had told me long ago that come what may, I will bring you home as my wife, but making a place in the family will be your responsibility,” reminisces Divya.

Aashish and Divya celebrating Durga Puja in Dhanbad in 2018.

In all these years, she’s not only made a place in the family but also in their hearts. Her mother-in-law’s fondness for her grew with every passing moment, and she realized that caste is the most irrelevant subject that works best as a tool to divide. “Aashish used to always tell others, ‘Divya used her caste to unite the family’,” says Divya. Aashish’s mother’s love and blessings made their marital life beautiful. She was ailing for a long time, and Divya took it upon herself to take care of her, leaving her full-time job, and spending days and nights cleaning her pee, poop, and vomit, bathing and feeding her, all alone while Aashish stayed back in Dubai to fend for the family. “She breathed her last in my arms,” says Divya.  

Divya and Aashish.

Today, the couple would have celebrated their 15th year of marital togetherness, but again fate had other plans, and Aashish left for his heavenly abode on April 12, 2021. “He always used to say, ‘Divya will manage this, that and everything. I guess that’s why he chose to leave me all alone,” she says with tears welling up in her eyes.


Aashish and Divya with their children, Abhinav and Arnav.

The couple has two sons who are Divya’s hope and happiness. She is trying hard to pick up the pieces and love for her children, one day at a time. May love give her ample strength and make her life beautiful and living worthwhile.  

A sip of goodness

Bamboo leaf tea comes loaded with benefits but is it the next big brew?    

The article was carried in The Free Press Journal on June 22, 2021.

Touch to See, Listen to Know


On World Book Day, we salute the tireless pursuit of some of the changemakers whose pathbreaking initiatives — software, apps, digital audio libraries, colourful, tactile books, museum guides, a magazine and also a newspaper — are helping the visually challenged access knowledge and transform their reading experience. 

You survive only if you read,” says Prathmesh Bendre, an alumnus of Xavier’s College, a stage poetry performer, songwriter, musician and law aspirant. “I am a poet and love writing. But to be a good writer one has to be a reader first,” he says. Bendre’s words sum up his love of books and fondness for reading, but in some measure, they also highlight his agony and anguish at not being able to read it all. Not because he doesn’t have access to good books, but because he can’t read like you and me. He is visually challenged and to feed his brain with knowledge, he is dependent on a talking book or an audio clip or an app or software or at best a tactile book to be able to celebrate books and enjoy reading, much like his sighted counterpart. Here are some of the initiatives that have made a difference to his reading experience. 

1. CLABIL (Central Library of Audio Books in Indian Languages), a project started by Esha – People for the Blind. 
USP: CLABIL is both web and app based. Users can access the library with the help of an app named Suno, and also on the browsers of their smartphones, tablets or desktops.The audio library has 6,293 books in 20 Indian languages in MP3 format. The entire CLABIL content ( is available online, and anyone can download it. The audio library can be accessed at
Nidhi Arora, an alumna of IIM, Kolkata, started Esha in January 2005, and then came up with CLABIL in 2010. “I don’t know why I started Esha. I also don’t know why empowering blindness meant so much. I guess the answer would have to be “because it was there – the need to empower. The day that need vanishes, I will not do Esha,” she says. Esha and Arora live by three words — Dignity, Empowerment and Enablement — and she aims to make knowledge available to every citizen of India, especially to those who don’t speak English, are not literate or English literate, etc. Esha also designs Braille visiting card, greeting card, organises Blind Walks and conducts Theater Workshops and helps make commercial, corporate and educational spaces friendly and non-intimidating for the blind. As for the future, Arora says, “The program is a lot more demand driven. There are plans to keep adding to the library and more importantly, trying to add Indian dialects and languages not represented so far.”  

 2. Digital Access Information System (DAISY) Centre: Digital Book Library, a project started by Samarthanam Trust for Disabled.
USP: To provide practical support to school and college students by making course material and books available to them. Using software like JAWS and DAISY, printed books are converted to the audio format, enabling students to listen to them using MP3 players on their devices like mobile phones and laptops. It has more than 1000 books in its audio library. Eight centers are operational.
Mahantesh G. Kivadasannavar started Samarthanam Trust for Disabled in Bengaluru in 1997 and the Digital Book Library in 2008. “It was born out of compassion and empathy, two ideals that have been our greatest strengths since its inception,” he says. The founders, being visually impaired and having witnessed various challenges, conceptualized Samarthanam to cater to people with disabilities, including the visually impaired and underprivileged so that such people receive all possible support to pursue education and sports. The Digital Book Library aims to make education accessible for the print-disabled including visually impaired, dyslexic children and those with verbal processing difficulties. The persons with disabilities produce their textbooks to be converted into a digital form, and volunteers help in converting these books. The final audio is transferred onto a CD, which the students can use as per their convenience. The initiative, digital library, was the first of its kind to be set up and operational in India. Thanks to their efforts, students have gone on to join IIM, and it has also produced the first visually impaired chartered accountant, Rajani Gopal. It hopes to touch a more than lakh lives by 2020. 

3. The Audio Book Project, a We4You initiative in assisting the visually challenged in pursuing their dreams
USP: It is making education accessible to the visually challenged students in Odisha by converting their textbooks into audio format. 
Founders Abhaya Mohanta, Bhabani Sankar Parida, Rajaram Biswal and Devi Prasad Panda came together to start We4You in 2010 that initiated the Audio Book Project to convert school textbooks into the audio format in their home state, Odisha.They want to ensure that every visually challenged child in India gets the right to education because education is empowerment. “Our focus is on preparing audio books to solve the problems caused by unavailability of Braille books for the visually impaired, especially college students,” says Abhaya Mohanta. The volunteer-based service survives on meagre means and depends on people to donate their voice that in turn helps in converting textbooks into audio format. The facility caters to the Odia, English and Hindi speaking students as of now.
4. Hear2Read, a text to speech software that enables reading without seeing. 
USP: It allows visually challenged people to read digital media (email, documents, websites, e-books, etc.). The facility is available in Kannada, Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu. It runs on low-cost smartphones and tablets. The App can be downloaded from Google Play Store. 
Suresh Bazaj, an alumnus of IIT Kanpur, and University of Michigan, and a computer software and networking professional based in the Silicon Valley, US, developed Hear2Read ( in 2013. Whenever Bazaj met people with visual impairments, who achieved great success, he thought of the students at the Poddar School for Blind Boys in his hometown Varanasi, where some students ended up as manual labours despite having a spectrum of other talents. “These people didn’t lose their ability to think just because they didn’t have their eyesight. The big problem was the lack of education.” That made him develop this software. The response has been overwhelming so far. “Hear2Read TTS App works with Android Talkback Accessibility service for vision-impaired users. All users (sighted as well as vision-impaired) can use “@Voice Aloud Reader” (Free)  to read on screen text content from other Android apps, e.g. web pages, news articles email, TXT, PDF, DOC, DOCX, RTF, and eBooks. eBook readers allow navigation within a book by chapter, page number, or bookmark, and word searches,” he says. 

5. Dreaming Fingers, a tactile book imprint from Karadi Tales
USP: The picture books for visually challenged have Braille text and textures for different elements on the page. 

Shobha Viswanath, the co-founder and Publishing Director of Karadi Tales Company, had been involved with projects for the visually challenged for years but the idea for Dreaming Fingers struck her at a dinner meeting with Jean-Christophe, the publishing director of Lemniscaat, a Dutch children’s publishing house. “We decided to collaborate on tactile books for the visually challenged,” she says. The first entirely tactile book released under the imprint was Eric Carle’s bestseller ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’. Her tactile books have sold tens of thousands of copies, but most of these sales have been abroad. “Producing tactile books is an expensive and time-consuming affair and without government support, it is difficult for such books to have a market in India,” says Viswanath. The best takeaway is to see the success of these tactile books. It’s not just popular among the visually challenged children but also adults and the differently abled. 

6. White Print, a lifestyle magazine

USP: Launched in May 2013, this 64-page monthly magazine is printed at the National Association for the Blind, Mumbai, and circulated across India. The magazine has articles on sports, politics, culture, fashion, technology, inspiring stories of the common man, short stories and even reader contributions.
A stray thought of what did the visually impaired people read in their leisure time led public relations professional Upasana Makati to start White Print, India’s first English lifestyle magazine in Braille. “I quite enjoyed what I did but always wanted to do more.” One night, Makati started counting the number of magazines that she, a sighted person, could read. But when she thought of those who couldn’t see, she found none. “After conducting thorough online and offline research, and finding absolutely nothing in the space, I quit my job to give a concrete shape to this idea,” she says. After eight months and three title rejection processes from the Registrar of Newspapers for India, White Print was formed in May 2013. The magazine is priced at Rs 30 and publishes 350 copies in a month; the annual subscription is Rs 300. “It has been receiving subscription orders from all over the country, even from places that I haven’t heard of and that’s quite heartening,” she says. The latest addition is a Tactabet — a Braille-Tactile-Text version of ABC books for children in both English and Hindi.

7. Open Braille Guidebook for the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum in Jaipur
USP: The first Braille book for a museum in India has tactile illustrations of the paintings, objects d’art and architectural elements at the museum for the visually challenged visitors.
Siddhant Shah is a heritage architect and Access Management Consultant who specializes in bridging the gap between Cultural Heritage and Disability. A Stavros Niarchos Scholar, Shah finished his MA in Heritage Management from the University of Kent (Athens Campus, Greece). During his stay abroad, he was exposed to a lot of museums, most of which were disable friendly. “I decided to return to India and try to make our museums disable friendly and easily accessible.”He started off by consulting schools, museums, art galleries and monuments to help them become disable friendly. “We started by making the space accessible through ramps, railings and signage.” In Mumbai, he saw a blind couple sitting aloof on a bench at a monument site. “There was no engagement for them. Even my mother is partially sighted, so it instigated me to take this social endeavour professionally to make knowledge of art, culture and heritage more accessible to those with visual impairment.”Since then, he has been relentlessly pursuing his goal. For the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum Trust in Jaipur, he made the country’s first Museum Braille Book with Tactile Plates. As a Resource Consultant on Disability Access to the Ministry of Culture’s National Museum, New Delhi, he helped set up the new tactile gallery for PwD. He had also designed a unique interpretative project called ‘Abhas: A tactile experience’ for the Delhi Art Gallery at the India Art Fair ’15, where he converted the artworks of Raza, Jamini Roy and others into tactile reproductions and aids along with a Braille book on Visual Art. His endeavour helped the visually impaired explore the world of visual arts. Shah has also designed and co-authored India’s first Open Braille guidebook with a large script font and tactile plates for the Jaipur City Palace. He has just launched a Touch & Feel Book on India Folk Art, a first of its kind in the country and world too, as a part of the Pustaka Bookaroo (Children’s Literature Festival) in Malaysia. “It was something which we were thinking of doing for the past one year, but were waiting for funds.” 

8. Booklet App that has textual and audio summary of best sellers in Amrut Deshmukh’s voice
USP: The App is freely available on Play store and Apple Store and has been made compatible with the Talk Back facility for Android and iOS phones which are very helpful for the visually challenged. The book summary in audio format is storytelling with emotions, voice modulations, and music.
Mumbai-based Chartered Accountant Amrut Deshmukh was struggling with start-up ideas but it was a book summary that he happened to casually narrate to his friend at a theatre that set the ball rolling for him. “My friend was so impressed that he asked me to share a summary of the books that I read next.” An avid reader this proposition seemed more like a business idea, and it clicked. He decided to execute the idea within a week and WhatsApp came in handy. He started sharing a book summary every week with 15 of his close friends and asked them to share with their friends. Within two weeks, he got 1000 requests on WhatsApp. “I was thrilled and named it Mission Make India Read.” But people were not reading his summaries. To grab their attention, he started recording the book summaries in his voice. “I shared the summaries on WhatsApp in both text and audio form. And that was an instant hit!” On the World Book Day last year, he launched Booklet App. This year, he has come out with the App in Hindi and other regional languages are also in the offing. Calling his venture a social enterprise, Deshmukh has Recently started “Booklet Hindi” and will soon come up with a Grandma’s Booklet for kids. The best appreciation came from a visually challenged girl who called to thank him for enabling her to read through his eyes. He has also tied up with an organisation, All India Blind Graduates Forum, to help them access the app and read booklets with eyes closed.

9. Sparshdnyan meaning ‘knowledge by touch’, a Marathi newspaper in Braille by Swagat Thorat 
USP: The first of its kind in India, the paper was launched in 1998. The 50-page newspaper is published on the first and fifteenth of every month and has a dedicated reader base.    
A former journalist, Swagat Thorat firmly believes that reading is empowering, not just for the sighted but also the visually challenged. But when he decided to bring out a newspaper in Braille, he knew that it wouldn’t be easy. “I was sighted. I didn’t know Braille. To understand what it is to be blind, I started learning Braille and slowly entered their world,” he says. An acclaimed filmmaker, wildlife photographer, playwright, and painter, he had been acquainted with the life and times of a visually challenged during his work. Over the years, he has managed to do it all alone — from raising funds to building the infrastructure, from procuring Braille printing machines, to collecting articles and producing it till date. 

Cheepatakadumpa Review

The Recliner Seat

In Cheepatakadumpa, Devashish Makhija’s short film that is circling across film festivals in India, we are introduced to a surrealist narrative of female friendship, sexual orientation, and emancipation in an easy, unassuming, light-hearted manner that is quite in contrast to the understanding of Makhija’s cinema.

The story involves three friends. Santo and Teja (Bhumika Dube and Ipshita Chakraborty Singh), images of modern, sexually active urban women. While one does not shy away from having an orgasm on a ride in an amusement park, the other is busy scheduling a couple of hours of sexual intercourse with a married man with two kids.

Soon they meet their friend Tamanna (Annapurna Soni), a woman hidden behind a burqa; married, and too shy to even speak the word “sex” in front of her friends. Together, these three friends go on a rarely discussed, and often poorly depicted coming-of-age journey. Santi and Teja…

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The Ad-ventures of Mr B

The Ad-ventures of Mr B


Actor extraordinaire Manoj Bajpayee has made some exciting choices vis-a-vis brand endorsements. Here’s retracing his journey in the ad world in 2021.

Jameel Gulrays

Padma Shri Manoj Bajpayee’s prolific career has been accentuated with numerous awards for his spectacular performances, and the latest addition is the National Film Award for Best Actor 2019 for his searing portrayal of a retired cop – Ganpat Bhonsle – in Bhonsle.

The actor extraordinaire has traversed a long and exciting journey across the medium, from television to films, and then OTT, navigating his way through each medium with deftness, and in between, he has also made interesting forays in the world of advertising to promote/endorse brands that he can relate and connect.

“I come from a middle-class rural family, and that’s my biggest identity to date. I proudly wear it as a badge of honour on my sleeves. I was born and brought…

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