You don’t know it, right?

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

The World Wide Web of Hindi 

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

Shillpi a singh

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

Subtitling King  | François-Xavier Durandy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicling crisis | Vinod Kapri

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

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

Reading by the ears | Jameel Gulrays

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

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

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

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

Verse is good | Pratap Somvanshi

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

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

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

Love of literature | Ankur Mishra

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

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

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

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

Vantage point is bilingualism | Pankaj Dubey

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

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

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

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

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

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

A wish list for 2022

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

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

2021: A year Love, Labour and Loss

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

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS INTIMATE: Intimacy coaches

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

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

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

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

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

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

Role of an intimacy coach

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

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

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

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

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

On the need for conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

jane austen

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS FRIENDSHIP: Aashish Juyal

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

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

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


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

LOVE IS FRIENDSHIP: Aashish Juyal

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

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

Maya Angelou

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS MISCHIEF: Cheetpatakadumpa

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

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

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

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

LOVE IS MISCHIEF: Teja (Bhumika Dube) in Cheepatakadumpa

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

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

LOVE IS MISCHIEF: Tamanna (Annapurna Soni) in Cheepatakadumpa

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

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

LOVE IS MISCHIEF: Cheepatakadumpa

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

One mischief always introduces another.

Daniel Defoe

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS GRATITUDE: Ravi Sahani

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

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

LOVE IS GRATITUDE: Ravi Sahani

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

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

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

Gratitude is the memory of the heart.

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS GIVING: The Gift

LOVE IS GIVING: The Gift

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

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

LOVE IS GIVING: The Gift

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

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

LOVE IS GIVING: The Gift

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

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

LOVE IS GIVING: The Gift

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

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

Nicholas Sparks

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS STORY: Jameel Gulrays

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

Early years

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

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

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

A poster of film Surajmukhi.

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

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

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

Ad-ding on to life 

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

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

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

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

A new chapter 

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

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

A virtual Baithak with Team Katha Kathan in progress.

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

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

Praiseworthy efforts

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

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

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

Minding the language

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

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

Jameel Gulrays is not just an individual but an institution.

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

Lifelong mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Katha Kathan with Jameel Gulrays.

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

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

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

victor hugo

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

SHILLPI A SINGH

LOVE IS FAITH: Khrienuo Angami & Akshat Sharma

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

LOVE IS FAITH: Khrienuo Angami & Akshat Sharma

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

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

LOVE IS FAITH: Khrienuo Angami & Akshat Sharma

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

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

Dwight L. Moody

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS FOOD FOR THE SOUL: Farmers and Agripreneurs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plans in the offing

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

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

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

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

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

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS PROMISE: Jaspreet Chandhok

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rumi

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

SHILLPI A SINGH

LOVE IS EQUALITY: Tribe of Penguin Dads

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

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

LOVE IS EQUALITY: Abhinav Sitesh with his twins.

Parenting as a joint venture

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

LOVE IS EQUALITY: Rajani and Nishant with their children.

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

Starting point 

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

LOVE IS EQUALITY: Pankaj Ramendu with his daughter Sadgi.

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

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

Changing the rules 

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

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

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

Two-gether is the way 

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

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

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

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS DIVERSITY: Kalki Subramaniam

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

LOVE IS DIVERSITY: Kalki Subramaniam

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

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

On her coming out story 

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

On living as a transwoman

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

On making the write choice  

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

On art activism

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

On being the agent of change 

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

On her role model 

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

On what’s in the offing 

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

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

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS ART: Cheriyal scroll painters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photographs by P Mohanaiah and Tejaswini Paladi)

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

SHILLPI A SINGH

LOVE IS A JAR OF PICKLES: Upasna Prasad

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

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

LOVE IS A JAR OF PICKLES: Upasna Prasad

Why pickles?

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

Pickling: My favourite winter past-time

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homegrown art 

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

LOVE IS A JAR OF PICKLES: Upasna Prasad

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

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

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

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

Rating: 1 out of 5.

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS FREE-SPIRITED: Phoolsunghi

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

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

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

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

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

LOVE IS FREE-SPIRITED: PHOOLSUNGHI

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

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

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

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

Alice Walker

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

SHILLPI A SINGH

LOVE IS DESIRE

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

LOVE IS DESIRE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leo Christopher

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS ADVENTURE: Anshu Jamsenpa

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

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

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

LOVE IS ADVENTURE: Anshu Jamsenpa from Arunachal Pradesh.

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

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

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

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

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

Quick ones:

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

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

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

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

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

Penny Reid

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS COURAGE: Aashna Lidder

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

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

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

Geetika Lidder, wife of Brigadier LS lidder

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

Aashna Lidder, daughter of Brigadier LS Lidder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eleanor Roosevelt 

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

SHILLPI A SINGH

LOVE IS BELONGING: Sindhustan

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

Trailer of Sindhustan.

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

Poster of Sindhustan.

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

LOVE IS BELONGING: A still from Sindhustan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hugo Hamilton

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

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

shillpi a singh

LOVE HAS LANGUAGES: Abhishek Banerjee

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

Maya Angelou

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

A trailer of Ajji.

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

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

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

Tailer of Ankahi Kahaniya

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

MANNEQUIN

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

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

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

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS LIFE: Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy

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

​Petrach

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

LOVE IS LIFE: NIRMAL ANAND KI PUPPY

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

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

The film was screened at the CINEQUEST FILM FESTIVAL.


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

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

Shillpi a singh

LOVE IS BEAUTIFUL

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

Mark manson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOVE IS BEAUTIFUL!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS LONELY: Divya Juyal

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

Pablo neruda

Dear Ashish

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

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

LOVE IS LONELY: Divya and Aashish Juyal

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

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

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

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

With love, 

Divya

Inheriting six yards of elegance

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

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

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS STARRY-EYED: Raju Singh

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

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

Waiting in the wings

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

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

LOVE IS STARRY-EYED: RAJU SINGH

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

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

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

The story of firsts 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS GRIEF: Dr Amit Gupta

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

Lao Tzu

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

LOVE IS GRIEF: DR AMIT GUPTA


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

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

LOVE IS GRIEF: Dr Srishti Mittal and Dr Amit Gupta

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


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

DR AMIT GUPTA WHILE HE WAS HOSPITALISED.

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

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

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

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

Shillpi A Singh

LOVE IS MUSIC: The Busking Man

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

William Shakespeare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music is Love and Peace: The Busking Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Busking Man and his journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do as a corporate music wellness coach? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Busking Man is music personified.

What are the legalities of busking? 

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

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

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

What is the future of busking in India? 

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

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

How often do you see buskers in India? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

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

Shillpi a singh

LOVE IS HOPE: Suman Rajat

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”  

Desmond tutu

Do you know what did the COVID-19 virus tell Delhi-based Suman Rajat? “I came, I saw, but I couldn’t conquer you.” Suman fought tooth and nail for two and a half months in the hospital and still suffers from symptoms of long COVID, but she’s one of the lucky few who managed to walk out of the hospital after a long and arduous fight with the virus.
“It’s been seven months now, but my lungs are still reeling under the impact of the virus. HRCT score is worrisome. The virus has impacted my neurological health as well, the doctors say. But then the worst is behind me is what I feel right now as I look back at the life-altering experience of 2021,” says the teacher, who gives a lesson in resilience to one and all with her indomitable spirit.
As an external examiner for the board exams, she was on duty in the government school when the COVID symptoms knocked her down. “It was on April 12, and I suddenly started feeling sick while checking the papers. I got myself tested once. It was negative. Then I went for a repeat test. It was positive, and I couldn’t take any chance. I was wheeled in the hospital after my oxygen saturation started plummeting on April 15. My comorbidities made it imperative to put me under intensive care,” she recounts. The high blood pressure and diabetes added to her COVID woes. While in hospital, on April 26, 2021, her SPO2 sank to as low as 37%, and it got scarier with every passing day. She was administered two units of plasma and six doses of Remdesivir. The para monitor sitting atop the slab next to her bed kept beeping 24×7. After all, it had the onerous responsibility to count her heartbeat and pulse rate. In a way, it gave a real-time account of how the oxygen-supported respiratory mechanism was helping her breathe, and with great difficulty.


“It could have either gotten better or worse from that moment. I was comfortably numb by then. By then, none of the people around me in that intensive care ward had survived the virus, except one. They were falling like flies. To see death all around shattered me to the core, but I knew it was about either fight or fright. I didn’t want to give the option of flight to myself,” she reminisces.
Her husband Manoj, too, had contracted COVID by then. He came to the hospital on the night when her saturation levels and pulse rate were playing truant and stayed back to look after her. He, along with the doctors, nurses, support staff, saw a miracle unfold as she started showing slow signs of improvement, and in May, she was sent away to the general ward. From being on full oxygen support, she came to 4l/minute, and her saturation hovered around 88-92%. She remained on oxygen support until she was discharged from the hospital on June 30, 2021. She survived the deadly attack of the virus by clinging on to hope with all her might and putting up an intense fight.
“ACP of Narela, Dr Nirav Patel ji and Dr Yashpal ji stayed were in constant touch with the attending doctors at the hospital – Satyawadi Raja Harishchandra Hospital – and provided continuous help with the treatment. During this crisis, Balbir Singh, Ranjana ji, Balbir Antil ji and Anita Antil ji gave moral support and motivational guidance, and I thank all of them. Harish and Manjit Bhai helped me with the plasma donation, and that’s what kept me going. My family stood like a rock during this crisis and helped me beat this virus. I will be forever indebted to them,” she says.

LOVE IS HOPE: SUMAN RAJAT
Love is Hope: Suman and Manoj

जिसके होने से मैं खुद को मुकम्मल मानती हूं, मैं खुदा से पहले मेरे परिवार को जानती हूँ। जब हमारी जिंदगी में कोई परेशानी आती है, तो उस परेशानी से लड़ने के लिए सबसे पहले जो साथ में खड़े होते हैं वह होते हैं परिवार के लोग और जब हम उस परेशानी से बाहर आते हैं तो हम सबको थैंक्स बोलते हैं, पर उन्हें थैंक्स बोलना भूल जाते हैं जो हमारे दिल के सबसे करीब होते हैं । लेकिन मुझे लगता है कि मेरी लिस्ट लम्बी है ।थैंक्स के पहले हकदार हैं मेरे पति मनोज जिन्होंने अपनी सेहत की चिंता ना करते हुए मेरी दिन रात सेवा की।मेरे माँ-बाप, भाई जिन्होंने मुझे बचाने के लिए रातों की नींद को खो दिया और भरसक प्रयास करते रहे कि मुझे हर सुविधा मिल जाए जिससे मैं अपने घर सही सलामत आ जाऊं।भाभी, जिन्होंने खाने-पीने का इंतज़ाम किया, पसंद के साथ-साथ सेहत का ध्यान रखा, उन्हें प्यार और आभार । मेरी बहनें, जीजा जी, मामा जी, बच्चे, कुल मिलाकर सभी लोग जिन्होंने मुझे इस बीमारी से लड़ने की हिम्मत दी उन सभी को साधुवाद।सबके हाथ प्रार्थना से जुड़े होते थे और वह सब निरंतर इस प्रयास में व्यस्त थे। ईश्वर ने उनकी प्रार्थना सुन ली। बस एक आस जुड़ी थी – वे सब चाहते थे कि एक सकारात्मक परिणाम आ जाए । जानते हैं उनके लिए धन्यवाद क्यों नहीं निकलता? क्योंकि उनके लिए शब्द नहीं मिलते । एक धन्यवाद कहना ही काफी नहीं होता । उनका प्यार अमूल्य है । उनके आगे हर चीज नतमस्तक है। धन्यवाद !

Suman rajat


She’s our fighter.
She’s our winner.
She’s our hope.
She’s one among the countable few happy stories from 2021.

School reopening: Parents play it safe

The article was published in the edition dated November 15, 2021.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/entertainment/playing-it-safe-heres-what-parents-say-about-sending-kids-unvaccinated-to-school-amid-the-pandemic

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:  https://online.diff.co.in/film/cheepatakadumpa/       

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

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.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/diwali-2021-from-kashmir-to-kerala-the-united-colours-of-celebration-kindle-hope-and-joy

‘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

https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/back-to-school-neither-offline-nor-online-because-education-30-is-all-about-hybrid-learning
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: https://bit.ly/3DBOCSi to interact with KK and see for yourself.

A Pillar of the Post

https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/india-post-undergoes-a-tech-tonic-makeover-to-match-the-pace-of-changing-times
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?

https://www.newindianexpress.com/lifestyle/health/2017/nov/11/when-apple-of-your-eye-gets-a-lazy-eye-1697058.html

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

https://www.freepressjournal.in/cmcm/they-cant-see-but-they-can-read
https://mindthegapalways.in/2017/04/23/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

https://www.freepressjournal.in/lifestyle/male-grooming-is-booming

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

https://www.freepressjournal.in/amp/weekend/world-mental-health-day-2021-helping-the-elderly-cope-with-mental-health-problems-amid-the-pandemic
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 https://www.newindianexpress.com/magazine/2018/sep/30/the-great-baby-race-1878013.html
Published in The New Indian Express on September 30, 2018 https://www.newindianexpress.com/magazine/2018/sep/30/the-great-baby-race-1878013.html

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.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/world-environmental-health-day-2021-heres-how-prachi-shevgaonkar-creator-of-cool-the-globe-app-is-making-a-difference

Touch to See, Listen to Know

 

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https://www.freepressjournal.in/cmcm/they-cant-see-but-they-can-read
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 (www.clabil.org) is available online, and anyone can download it. The audio library can be accessed at www.braillecards.org/audio.php
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 (www.hear2read.org) 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.