Mumbai, April 7, 2021: On the occasion of World Health Day, Indus Health Plus Survey revealed that people in Maharashtra are susceptible to diabetes (27%), Vitamin B12 Deficiency (23%), dyslipidemia (17%), obesity (13%) followed by heart diseases (10%) and anaemia (10%). The key non-modifiable risk factor is the genetic makeup of an individual favoured by environmental, age, gender, stress and physiology, metabolism, which increases the onset and progression of lifestyle diseases.
The study’s overall sample size was 21,500 people who underwent preventive health check-ups between October 2019 and February 2021. From Mumbai, the total sample size was 2,978 people. It was observed that the Mumbaikars are predisposed to diabetes (25%), dyslipidemia (18%), Vitamin B12 deficiency (16%), obesity (15%), followed by anaemia (14%) and heart diseases (12%).
Amol Naikawadi, JMD, and Preventive Healthcare Specialist, Indus Health Plus, says, “Diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are prevalent in India. These diseases tend to impact people in the most productive years of their lives and result in social and economic consequences. Another important aspect is that comorbid conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and heart diseases are high-risk conditions for COVID-19. Hence, proper management to keep them in control is vital, especially in this situation.”
Measures to boost immunity
- Get enough sleep
- Eat more healthy fats and whole plant food
- Stay hydrated
- Take a probiotic supplement
- Limit added sugars
- Engage in moderate exercise
- Manage stress
- Maintain good hygiene
- Avoid smoking and alcohol
- Don’t consume excessive saturated fats
The trend report highlights that women are prone to anaemia (23%) and dyslipidemia (20%) compared to men. Men are at higher risk of diabetes (27%), Vitamin B12 deficiency (21%)and heart ailments (14%).
The data gives us an insight into individual health needs to be taken very seriously. Health means physical, social, mental wellbeing with absence from diseases. Therefore, ensure regular health check-ups and follow-ups, personalized diet and lifestyle goals need to be set and followed, and strong immunity to protect from diseases.
“While exposure to the SARS-Cov-2 virus remains the most decisive factor determining the chances of getting COVID-19, other possible factors may influence the response to infection. These risk factors include reduced immunity, presence of existing comorbidities, and age. The genetic variants can influence the response to COVID-19 by regulating the immune function that can make an individual less or more vulnerable than others. Therefore people must understand the value of prevention and continue to invest in timely and routine examination to monitor comorbidities and keep them at bay,” adds Naikawadi.
The main focus of people should be on wellness and prevention of lifestyle diseases and to create a culture of healthy living among the younger generation. The best way to minimize the cost of treating lifestyle diseases is to invest in preventive healthcare, which accounts for a fraction of the money spent on corrective steps.
|CATEGORY||No. of MEN: 1436||No. of WOMEN: 1542||Total: 2978|
|In %||In %||In %|
|DIABETES – F BSL||27%||23%||25%|
|DYSLIPIDEMIA – TOTAL CHOLESTEROL||16%||20%||18%|
|HEART PROBLEM – CT CORONARY ANGIOGRAPHY||14%||9%||12%|
|VITAMIN B 12||21%||12%||16%|
The last you would have heard of a well’s wedding was in the folklore of Tenali Rama. Once upon a time, it had so happened that King Sri Krishnadevaraya and his wise advisor Tenali Rama had a spat over some trivial issue, following which the King banished him from the royal court. After this episode, Tenali Rama left the kingdom and moved to a nondescript village. Soon, the King realised that Tenali Rama was, in fact, correct, and he was keen to have him back in his court. But his special advisor was nowhere to be found. To look for him, the King had to use his wits. An announcement was made saying that the King had organised the royal well’s wedding in his capital Vijayanagar on the full moon night, and the village panchayats in his kingdom were cordially invited to attend the same with their wells in tow. The King wouldn’t tolerate any defiance, and if the villagers failed to bring their wells along for the wedding, they would be penalised 100 gold coins. The harried villagers sought Tenali Rama’s advice. He suggested that they meet the King the following day and tell him that the village wells would attend the wedding for sure, but only if the royal well comes and invites them personally. The King knew that it could be only his witty courtier Tenali Rama, who could give the villagers this suggestion to outwit the King’s proposed well’s wedding plan, and well, eventually both won the battle of wits in equal measure.
Taking a leaf out of this folklore, a quaint neighbourhood — Vikas Nagar — in Ward no 8 of the Barh subdivision of Patna district organised a wedding of its well with great pomp and show on November 28, 2019.
New Delhi, April 1, 2021: The COVID19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown generated a lot of fear and stress across all age groups. Children usually thrive under predictable conditions, but the pandemic’s disruption greatly impacted them physically and emotionally. Online schooling, social isolation, lack of interactions with their friends, lack of physical sports and parental angst have aggravated their mental and emotional wellbeing. Children and adolscents have developed fear, anxiety, depression, and boredom. While most parents were involved in dealing with the pandemic’s uncertainty and putting all efforts to keep their family safe and sustainable, the emotional needss and mental health of children were somehow ignored.
THE IMPACT OF THE PANDEMIC ON CHILDREN: The pandemic has changed the way children typically grow, learn, play, behave, interact, and manage emotions. Children have been observed to have conduct problems, peer problems, externalizing problems, and general psychological distress. When compared with children who did not exercise, children with psychical activity had lower hyperactivity-inattention and less prosocial behavior problems.
Moreover, from a more emotional perspective, they have a lot going around in their head, and the biggest worry for them is whether or not they will see their friends in school or get sick. The combined effect between lifestyle changes and psychosocial stress caused by home confinement perhaps aggravates children’s behavioural problems.
In the long run, this can lead to an emotional breakdown among children, and the same may lead to these children resisting to return to school post-lockdown. This can happen primarily because children have lost their pre-lockdown routines and the loss of touch with their peers and mentors. In addition to this, the lockdown-related constraints can have a long-term negative effect on their overall psychological wellbeing.
SO, HOW DO WE TACKLE THIS? Here’s how you can help children cope with COVID-related stress;
- Address fears: Anxiety and emotional depression can be tackled by parents to some extent by addressing fears of children, talking about problems and possible solutions from the child’s perspective.
- Spend time with grandparents: Children who have grandparents can spend some quality time with them, listen to stories and tell them stories. Talking to them will help.
- Follow a routine: Parents can maintain some routines even if confined at home. It is always good if parents and children can plan some activities together. Parents should also plan their children’s tasks one at a time, involve them in various home activities, educate them about following hygiene habits and social distancing.
- Play games: Engage in indoor play and creative activities. In addition to these activities, children can be advised to be involved in household chores and understand their social responsibilities.
- Organise virtual play dates: To keep them in touch with friends and classmates, plan a virtual party and playdates.
- Discuss issues: Parents should pay more attention to the emotional wellbeing of the child. Keep emphasizing COVID19 measures like wearing a mask, social distancing, and frequent hand washing, as the pandemic is not over yet. Also, children should be encouraged to socialize with their friends and classmates through digital forums under the parent’s supervision.
New Delhi, March 31, 2021: A year of COVID19 lockdown has kept most of us indoors but gradually we are stepping out as offices, schools, public transports, etc., are slowing opening up and life is limping back to normalcy. Summer is right here, staring at us. Are your skin and hair ready to beat the heat?
SKIN DURING SUMMER: When summers approach, temperatures rise and so does the humidity level. Humidity brings in a lot of changes in our skin and hair behavior. Our skin becomes sweaty, oily, develops acne flare ups, blackheads, whiteheads, and is prone to fungal infections, heat boils, body odors etc. Even our hair becomes frizzy with an oily scalp, dandruff, etc.
SO HOW TO TACKLE SKIN PROBLEMS DURING SUMMER? For having a healthy skin during these hard summer days, few tips can be helpful.
- Cleanse your skin well with a gentle cleanser-twice daily is optimal. In case your body becomes excessively sweaty or one suffers from body odors, bathing twice daily will be helpful.
- Make sure to dry your skin well before layering clothes, preferably even use some dusting powder, since it helps absorb excess moisture and thus, prevents fungal infections, heat boils or prickly heat issues.
- Using a sunscreen is crucial, especially for those who suffer from hyperpigmentation and sun sensitivity.
- Wearing closed footwear for a prolonged period can give rise to fungal infections and soft corns in the web spaces, so using dusting powder on the foot before wearing socks or shoes, aids in keeping your feet dry and clean.
CARING FOR YOUR HAIR DURING SUMMER? During summers, while it is necessary to care for your skin, it is equally important to take good care of your hair.
- Cleansing hair at least twice a week is optimal. For those suffering from an itchy or dandruff prone scalp, using an anti-dandruff shampoo regularly keeps dandruff at bay.
- Oiling your hair shouldn’t be done frequently as it can lead to heat boils on scalp with acne flare ups on the forehead and trunk. Just a teaspoon of oil an hour before hair wash, once a week, is adequate. In case the above steps don’t help your skin, consult a dermatologist.
BEWARE OF THE STEROIDS THAT MAY DAMAGE YOUR SKIN: Avoid taking drugs or applying over-the-counter-creams recommended by friends or the pharmacist, since majority of them contain steroids which may worsen your skin condition.
- Avoid using topical steroid creams sold over the counter to treat fungal infections
- Keep your body well hydrated! Drink lots of water, juices and eat plenty of fruits rich in Vitamin C.
THINGS TO DO TO SAFEGUARD YOUR SKIN & HAIR WHILE STEPPING OUT: While stepping out, one must ensure that a generous coat of a broad spectrum sunscreen is used. Reapplication of the same every 2-3 hourly is necessary to avail adequate sun protection, especially if one is constantly out in the sun. Also it is not necessary to apply sunscreen under your mask, as it may cause irritation and acne flare-ups since the occlusion inside the mask damages skin barrier and makes skin more prone to irritation. Apart from using a sunscreen, wearing protective clothing helps. Light colored loose cotton garments should be preferred to avoid any excessive sweating and friction.
Wishing you all ‘happy summer skin days’!
(Dr Kiran Godse is Consultant, Dermatology & Cosmetology, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi-A Fortis Network Hospital)
I was approached by one of my friends to share my thoughts and memories on Sindhi cuisine. Normally, I would have said no, but this time around, I tried to scuttle my way out of it by saying that I am not a foodie because that is what my daughter believes, and for obvious reasons. I show no excitement for food, and that earns her ire. She will happily give me a pasting (in words) if I do not react to her mother’s yummy food, which I normally don’t.
After having said no to my friend, I started pondering that am I actually not a foodie? Then who is not a foodie? I believe everyone is, albeit with varying degrees. I am privileged to be blessed with two amazing women who are wonderful cooks, and thanks to their culinary skills that I always have had the yummiest food served with love. Be it, my mother first, and now my wife, I must admit both have been a blessing. I can’t thank them enough. I am guilty of taking them for granted, though.
Since my friend’s request was to share memories, I had second thoughts. Nostalgia gives me a kick and brings a smile to my face. So I thought, why not pen my memories around Sindhi cuisine.
A majority of my life has been spent in metropolis cities that are melting pot of varied cultures. As you know, Sindhi’s aren’t a vast populace, so its food culture remains mainly under wraps. I had spent my childhood on the outskirts of Mumbai (then Bombay) in a place called Ulhasnagar, where I was born and did most of my primary schooling. Ulhasnagar was one of the refugee centres at the time of partition, and so it is dominated by Sindhis, who migrated from undivided India in 1947.
My earliest memory of Sindhi food was the breakfast item called Daal or Chola Dhabal (Pav). There would be enterprising people out with their carts with about three aluminium handis placed on a charcoal burner on the streets. One handi used to have cooked chana daal, another one chickpeas (super soft, treated with tea powder to give it a dark colour) and the third handi had moong daal. He would also have containers with finely cut onions, chutney, pickle and coriander leaves as condiments as per his clientele’s taste. He would have many ladis of pav (it was called dhabal – double roti in Bambaiya). It was the most filling breakfast for us on Sunday mornings.
Pav with either daal or chola or mixed. And this yummy delicacy cost just for 25 paise back in the early 70s. Yes, yes, 25 paise! Unbelievable, isn’t it. My parents sent me with a rupee note (it was a note back then) to get the daal-chola-dhabal for the entire family. And so was the popularity of this that you would find all neighbourhood lining up for this breakfast.
Check this video to see how popular this item was for Sindhis. It is not as widely available now, but the memories are so fresh in my mind.
Two other Sindhi delicacies that have retained their popularity are Daal-Pakwan and Koki. These are widely available in metropolitan cities (we get them in Dubai too) and are very popular amongst other communities. The drill for Daal-Pakwan is the same – handis with the same ingredients. The pav is replaced by deep-fried layers of dough made of maida and is deep fried. On the other hand, Koki is like a paratha but with onions and spices mixed with dough and roasted on tawa on low flame. It is served best with yoghurt. Both, Daal-Pakwan and Koki are mainly breakfast items but are quite filling.
Another lesser-known Sindhi food is lotus stem or Kamal Kakdi. We call it bhee. It’s a Sindhi delicacy and is not easily available in the market. It’s priced more than other vegetables. Cleaning and cooking it is a task. And you must know how to relish it.
My friend asked me why do Sindhis add potato to all vegetables. Well, I don’t have an answer to it. What I know is that we are fond of eating a good quantity of bhajis (veggies) at every meal. To increase the amount of the vegetables, you add potato to it as a universal add along. In fact, potato in black pepper and cardamom curry is a popular dish during the big Ekadashi called Gyars in Sindhi.
Another potato delicacy of Sindhis is called Aloo-Tuk; a simple dish that goes perfect with Daal-Chawal. Potato would feel left out, so we add brinjal for the company. And it reminds me of another Sindhi breakfast delicacy called Seyun-Patata (sweet vermicelli with Aloo-Tuk).
Another breakfast delicacy in our home (me and my brother’s favourite) is Seyal Mani. It is made of leftover chappatis cooked with garlic, onion and tomato. Such was the craze for this delicacy that my brother would tell mom to make more chappatis for dinner to have leftover chappatis for the following day. This dish doesn’t taste the same with freshly made chappatis. When I moved to Muscat for a job, I came across this dish called Kuttu Paratha. Similar, but nowhere close to the yummy ‘Seyal Mani’ that my mother used to prepare.
In the Sindhi festival called Thadri, you are not supposed to light stove/gas and have to consume cold food. Delicacies are thus made the previous day and consumed the whole day of Thadri. It’s a much-deserved rest day for ladies and family would have fun by playing cards and other games while relishing Thadri special food.
As they say, karoge yaad toh har baat yaad aayegi. The gastronomic trip has left me nostalgic and I food and those times. There are so many more Sindhi dishes viz. Sai Bhaji, Bhuga Chawal, Sindhi Kadhi, Tayri, and the list goes on and on. I now realise that if I start recounting and writing about all the Sindhi dishes, I will need to write a book.
Last but not least, the most popular Sindhi delicacy is and will forever remain – papad. It is believed that Papad is originally a Sindhi item and was adapted by various other communities, and Lijjat made it a household name in India. No meal would be complete without papad, and hence a Sindhi household would have papad as the first item on their grocery list. Papad making is a tedious exercise, and many Sindhi ladies used to make papads and pickles as business to cater to the heavy demand.
The most popular Sindhi delicacy is the all-time favourite papad. It is believed that a Papad is a Sindhi item and was adapted by other communities in India. No meal in a Sindhi household is complete without papad, and it is the first item on their grocery list. Paniwari Khatair or water pickle is another Sindhi speciality. It is made of turnips and doesn’t contain a drop of oil.
So am I a foodie? I think I am now with all these memories gushing in. I just realised that Sindhis do have a long list of delicacies. My wife will surely hate me for placing a request for Seyal Mani and Gyars Patata, and I must thank my friend for making me revisit these lovely food memories.
(Cover image by Ritesh Uttamchandani)
The sweet taste of success
Ritesh, Shirley and Sonia | Mumbai
Mumbai-based Uttamchandani sibling trio – Ritesh, Shirley and Sonia – had a rather sweet initiation into the home-grown food business with Sev Mithai or Singharji Mithai and Mohanthal, both traditional Sindhi desserts during the lockdown months. Ritesh was keen that Shirley become a home chef and start her business because the siblings were known for their Sindhi food among their friends and acquaintances. “It was always a super hit with everyone during the get-togethers but I was quite wary of log kya kahenge, especially the traditional Sindhis,” recounts Shirley.
Ritesh wanted to share Sev Barfi with his friends on his birthday, and it was then that the idea first emerged. “It was around Ritesh’s birthday on July 30, 2020, that this idea first came up for discussion among us after one of his friends requested for it. We were thrilled to bits about the concept as we had received encouraging reviews from our friends to our food pop-ups. So we started the home delivery of mithais,” says Shirley. The trio was wary of people’s reaction, especially from the traditional Sindhis, but the sweet taste tickled their taste buds too, apart from finding favour among the non-Sindhis.
“The response that we got was unbelievable! I was making big thals of Sev Barfi every day, not once or twice but even thrice. Every single person loved this flavourful sweet,” says Shirley. It tickled the taste buds of even the non-Sindhis. “Some of them were kind enough to heap praises by saying that it is better than Tharu’s at Bandra and Jhama Sweets at Chembur. Well, being even compared to these legendary sweet shops itself was a huge compliment,” says Sonia, adding, “Also, because we are using elaichi (cardamom) and kesar (saffron) generously.”
On the menu
Since then, their business has grown manifold, and they have had several additions to the menu, including traditional Sindhi foods such as Daal-Pakwan-Aloo Tikki, Sindhi Kadhi-rice-aalo tuk, Kokis, sanha pakoras, Sindhi mitha lolas, gajar ka halwa, Kaju barfi, seyal machi (fish), bhee alu,etc.
The culinary skill among the Uttamchandani siblings is hereditary. “My parents were wonderful cooks. Papa used to make finger-licking kadhi teevan (mutton) and fish till about he was 80. He always insisted on moderate use of spices so that the taste of vegetables retain its flavour. My mother used to cook amazing food. Her nieces and nephews settled abroad used to come and visit us because she used to pamper them with yummy chole kokis, sanha pakoras and mitha lolas and carrot and onion pickles made in Sindhi style,” says Sonia with a tinge of nostalgia.
Sonia highlights how most of the upmarket eating places don’t have even Sindhi food added to their menu like south Indian, Punjabi or even Chinese, and that’s sad.
Ritesh attributes the rising popularity of Sindhi food among non-Sindhis to curiosity. “Over the years, our food culture has been influenced by other cuisines, and it has travelled to different parts of the world. It bodes well because, unlike the generation before mine that thinks it is diluting our culinary delights. I believe it is assimilation. Each Sindhi household has modified the dishes a bit, and still there’s a lot that remains the same,” he says. The Sev Mithai uses Sev as the main ingredient, and Sev is also used in the Kachchi dish, Sev Tamatar. Even Maharashtrians use Sev, so there are similarities, yet all the Sev dishes are different.
Their speciality is jaggery-based Sev Mithai. “Jaggery and milk are quite tricky to handle together but it’s Ritesh’s creative mind and the courage to experiment that has made this mithai a possibility and a success with those who don’t want to consume processed sugar. And this food experiment helped us even to make jaggery-based Mohanthal, which feels much lighter than the sugar version,” explains Shirley. Uttamchandani siblings have added orange-flavoured Sev Barfi as their next experiment.
“Food has made possible such beautiful connections. People whom I have never met have become good friends of ours now. I am glad that our offerings have found a home in each of our client’s palate and plate,” chirps in Shirley, who can’t imagine how all of it started and how our food and sweets have so far reached more than 300 homes! “The connections that we have made are simply priceless. It is everyone’s love and God’s grace that has kept us motivated,” add Uttamchandanis.
Archana Manwani in the Capital loved to host non-Sindhi friends for lunches and dinners. “It was their encouragement that led to this food business. I take orders 24 hours prior because I prepare my food with specially sourced ingredients, be it vegetables or spices,” she says, adding that she learned traditional ways of cooking from her grandmother and mother-in-law.
Manwani, who is registered on mother’s food app, Sindhinama, and runs her business through a Facebook page, is quite keen to promote Sindhi cuisine among Delhiites.
“I approached Director of Tourism, Delhi Government, to allot a stall in Dilli Haat for promotion of Sindhi cuisine. We got no response from him even after two reminders.”
The FSSAI licensed home chef explains how Sindhi food is distinct in its typical preparation of food in sehal style (pan fried onion and tomatoes with vegetables like bhindi, baingan tinda, gobhi, etc). “Spices like jeera, sarson, khaskhas, amchoor, anardana and imli are quite common in our food,” she says.
Her special Sindhi dishes include:
Besni Bhaji: chickpea floor tillkis made in onions and khas khas deep fried and then sehal style.
Methi Meha Muthdiya: A traditional sindhi dish muthdiya made of wheat flour and steamed and the cooked with methi leaves and tinda.
Sai Bhaji/Bhuga Chawar/Took Patata; Kadhi Chawar; Sehal Bhaji Dhodho.
On special occasions, it is Dal Pakwan, Tikki Dabal Chola, and Seyoo Patata.
Giving a rundown of how she got into the business, Mumbai-based home chef Poonam Shahani, who runs Mamma’s Cucina, says, “I used to cook for my family and friends of my children. Their compliments made me realise how so many of these dishes have never even been tried before. I started to realise that not many people are aware of what Sindhi food entails. And there’s a dearth of places that serve Sindhi food unless you visit one of the Sindhi camp areas in Mumbai.”
“Sindhi culture is getting lost somewhere. The younger generations don’t know how to cook Sindhi food. For the younger Sindhis, this food is like a piece of old memory served with love and platter. The flavour of my foods is clean and simple. I avoid using too much oil or ghee and customise spices according to a person’s taste. It reminds them of home and home-cooked food. The response has been great among non-Sindhis too! There is a Parsi man here who orders mutton and paya curry almost every other day.”
Sindhi food has a hint of Muslim influences, when it comes to our biryanis and mutton curries. This is because Muslim Sindhis and Hindu Sindhis lived together in pre-partition Sindh. In non-veg, the food in demand include Sindhi Mutton Basar Mein, Sayal Tewaran, Photewaro or Elaichi Kaare Mirchi Mein Mutton, Sindhi Paaya, Sindhi Mutton, Peas Keema, Sayal Green Masala Mein Machi while in veg, it is Sindhi Kadhi, Aaloo Took, Saibhaji, Toor Khati Daal, Dahi Curry, Bhi Aaloo Makwana ji Bhaji, Sindhi Veg Briyani Koki, and Daal Pakwan.
“I think it’s a mix of things. We use many vegetables that are nother otherwise found in other cuisines. We have a sabzi made of lotus stem called bhee aloo. We use drumsticks in Sindhi kadhi. We also use a technique to allow food to cook in its own juices called teewan. Teewan is essentially a gravy made of tomatoes, onions and spices. We make rice with it (seyal teewan), bread (seyal dabroti), roti (seyal mani) and mutton. We also prepare mutton curry with pepper and cardamom called Fote Bhugi Mutton,” says Shahani.
Chef Satyajit Kotwal of Satyajit’s Kitchen
Apart from having a unique flavour of its own, Sindhi food has an unmistakable mark of dynasties like Arabs and Mughal. The koftas biryanis and meat curries got infused into Sindhi cuisine during that time.
They have a popular way of cooking Daagh, Seyal, Saye Masaley Main, and Dhaas, unique to their own culture. The distinction that sets it apart from other cuisines lies in cooking, which includes slow cooking technique, layering of herbs and spices with the right combination of sweet and savoury taste.
Under vegetarian, my favourite would include Dhaas vegetables which are stuffed vegetables; it could be okra, apple gourds, capsicum, etc. Another one is Daagh which is a Sindhi curry prepared with brown onions. Seyal is another veg Sindhi breakfast prepared from leftover bread or rotis in a spicy or tangy curry-like gravy. Sindhi Kadhi is a unique and special dish prepared on festive occasions. It consists of a thick spicy gravy made from chickpea flour, unlike buttermilk, usually used for kadi preparation along with seasonal vegetables. Drinks that are famous with the Sindhis include thadal (made from almonds and poppy seeds), Khirni (hot drink made with milk, flavours of cardamoms and saffron), sharbat which is made from rose petals or sandalwood.
In non-veg, Bhuna Mutton is a famous Sindhi main course meal. Popular Sindhi biryanis and meat curries have a mix of flavor from the Arabs and Mughals. Pallo Machi is another popular Sindhi delicacy; it is Hilsa fish prepared with numerous cooking methods. It can be deep fried and garnished with local spices, can be cooked with onions and potatoes into a traditional fish meal or barbequed.
Different methods of Sindhi food preparations:
Sindhi foods are simple, and the flavour of vegetables is retained due to the minimum use of spices. Most common type of Sindhi cooking is Daag Mein, which is onion-tomato-based-curries. This method brings out the sweetness of caramelised onions to provide a balanced flavour to the curries. Another way of cooking is called Seyal where the amount of onions are added more than that of vegetables. The sliced or diced onions are cooked till translucent.
Saye Masale Mein is a Sindhi way of food preparation where a lot of coriander leaves are used along with garlic, ginger and green chillies and are cooked with grated tomatoes and spices. This mixture is basically used as a base in many Sindhi preparations.
Another popular method of Sindhi cooking is Daas, where whole vegetables like apple gourds, bitter gourds or capsicum are stuffed with a mixture of grated onion and Sindhi pesto and cooked till tender.
Chef Sanjeev Kapoor
1) What is the influence of other cuisines on Sindhi food?
Sindhi cuisine is a result of many influences. Since Balochistan touches the border of Sindh, and so does Punjab, there is bound to be an immigration of ideas. Pre-partition played a crucial role in shaping Sindhi cuisine. This cuisine also has some impact on the Mughals, Arabs, and Turks since all these dynasties ruled the Sindh province once. As Sindh was once part of India, Indian cuisine also has a significant influence on it.
2) What sets Sindhi cuisine apart from others? Is it their way of using vegetables, spices, or their way of cooking?
I feel it’s an amalgamation of both! They have a unique style of cooking and have their favourites when it comes to the addition of masalas. They like to play with the base of their dishes. Their most classic recipes either have a tomato or onion base or a ginger-garlicky with a heavy dose of spiciness. Yes! Sindhis like their food spicy. But, not all their food is fiery, there’s an array of sweets, snacks, and breads too in this wonderful cuisine to pick from. When it comes to vegetables, leafy greens like spinach (palak), fenugreek leaves (methi) & dill (savaa), and others like ladyfingers (bhindi), potatoes (aloo) & drumsticks (seeng) are extensively used. Apart from this, accompaniments are also imperative in a typical Sindhi meal. Dishes such as fried potatoes or fried bhindi, papads, dahi, sweet boondi, etc., are the most common ones.
3) What are the items that are your favourite?
My favourite food is Dal Pakwan but not forget their simple sabzi like bhindi bashar or the yummy sai bhaji… dishes like koki n lola feature on my breakfast menu some days. Another classic item that I love and will have soon during Holi is Gheeyar.
4) How is Sindhi Kadhi different from other Kadhis?
Sindhi Kadhi is so flavorful which is made using tomatoes and some besan but what I like the most is the veggies that go in it, gavar and bhindi. The element of dahi is missing in a Sindhi kadhi.
New Delhi, March 26, 2021: Started in 2019, Hyderabad-based AgriTech startup — SAGO Speciality Feeds — is aiming to contribute to the dairy sector and the corn industry in India by making end-to-end mechanised corn-based silage with quality nutrients. By doing this, the company founded by three passionate agripreneurs, is promoting extensive cultivation of high-yielding biomass corn hybrids, suitable for livestock feed and sensitising the farming community to be a part of forage production – a high priority agricultural activity. The high-quality corn silage produced at SAGO’s Banswara, Rajasthan, plant helps build a fodder ecosystem among the dairy industry for feeding the dairy animals, thus driving increased milk yields.
In an exclusive conversation, one of its founders, Chandrasekhar Singh, takes us through his entrepreneurial journey in the Agri sector and talks at length about his passion project, its flagship brand of corn silage — CornvitaTM, and why giving cattle the right nutrition matters to him and his company. He says, “it is because this activity is directly beneficial and profitable to the farming community at large, the dairy farmers, the livestock and also the consumers at the end.” SAGO’s hardwork has been suitably rewarded — it is the only company in Rajasthan to make corn silage this season. Read on:
Q: Please take us through your entrepreneurial journey, from NABARD to Sago Feeds; how has it been so far?
Appearing for competitive examinations was a routine affair during my college days, and by the age of 22, I had three offers in government service to choose from, and I opted for NABARD, that too, before completing my graduation. It was a great pride for my parents as I joined the government service at a young age and in our hometown. Everything was smooth and happy, and in no time, I completed 29 years of service. I had the honour of serving NABARD for 27 years in Hyderabad and two years in Mumbai. Many-a-times, I felt like everything was moving in a formatted manner with not many challenges coming my way.
I always dreamt of being an entrepreneur, especially in the agricultural sector. It took almost four years of research and firming up the plan, and I finally decided to take the big leap. I quit my job at NABARD, and I was relieved on February 28, 2019; I registered my company on March 6, 2019.
Adding to my thoughts and strength was my nephew Saikiran, who was then working as a Quality Engineer in the US after completing his MS in Automobile Engineering. He quit his job and switched careers. We were joined by my son Anurag, who was working for Amazon. Today, three of us have come together from different professional backgrounds and skillsets from the same family to work on SAGO.
What is the story behind this name?
As we all three belong to the same family, we thought of launching a brand which is close to all of us. After all the brain-storming sessions, we finalised SA-GO, which is coined from the names of my mother (SA-thyavathi) and my father (GO-pal Singh). We launched our company SAGO Speciality Feeds (2019), and CORNVITA is our flagship brand of corn silage.
Why did you choose cattle feed? What research went behind choosing it? What is the market standing of cattle feed? Do people invest in buying good cattle feed?
Dairy was something that fascinated me, especially the feed sector. After a detailed study, I felt tremendous potential and dearth for dairy feed in India.
India has been the leading producer and consumer of dairy products since 1998, with sustained growth in the availability of milk and milk products. Dairy activities form an essential part of the rural Indian economy and serve as an important source of employment and income for the people.
India also has the largest bovine population in the world. However, per animal milk production is significantly low as compared to the other major dairy producers. Moreover, India’s dairy produce is consumed domestically, with the majority of it being sold as fluid milk. On account of this, the Indian dairy industry holds tremendous potential for value-addition and overall development. According to the latest IMARC Group report, titled “Dairy Industry in India 2021 Edition: Market Size, Growth, Prices, Segments, Cooperatives, Private Dairies, Procurement and Distribution”, the dairy market in India reached a value of INR 11,360 billion in 2020.
Poor nutrition and lack of proper feed management are the reasons for low milk yield. The non-availability of green fodder during summers and reliable production in monsoon are the biggest challenges today. Corn Silage is one such fodder supplements that address these challenges. Silage is not only delicious and more palatable for the cattle but also has the right amount of proteins, carbohydrates and acidity that ensures a healthier gut and improves overall health and fertility.
Silage is a fermented, high-moisture, stored green fodder fed to cattle, sheep and other ruminants; it can also be used as a biofuel feedstock for anaerobic digesters. It doesn’t contain any synthetic additives or chemicals. Silage also reduces the volume of feed as it is highly compressed, thereby decreasing the overall cost of feed and meeting the nutritional requirement. With its relatively high energy content, corn silage is also well adapted for low-cost rations for fattening cattle.
CornvitaTM has an ideal balance of proteins, carbohydrates and several amino-acids. As silage is pre-digested food, cattle do not find it necessary to ruminate. As a result, ease of digestion increases, thereby improving the overall health of cattle’s gut. As proteins now can easily get digested and metabolised, the quantity of milk improves along with an increase in fat and SNF percentages.
We observed that most of the dairy entrepreneurs (small and big) lack the knowledge of the feeding system and guidance from experts. They lack the technical support and exposure to the best practices of feeding cattle. Most of the small farmers aim at the most economical way of feeding their animals without knowing the merits or demerits of the feed. But once they are enlightened with the results of using silage and balancing with other feeds, there is a tremendous shift in their approach and opt for silage.
What goes behind the scenes of producing silage, from start to finish?
The process of silage production is exciting and challenging. It needs meticulous planning and monitored at every stage. Growing maize crop for silage is highly beneficial for the cultivating farmers with higher yield and higher price per acre plus an additional season every year as the crop is harvested on the 80th day instead of 120 days.
We travelled extensively by road in Gujarat and Rajasthan to identify corn growing belts. Simultaneously, we also had a good number of meetings with large dairies with whom we could collaborate for sales. We could also meet a large group of farmers and FPOs from remote areas of Udaipur, Rajsamand, Chittorgarh, Bikaner, Barmer, Pratapgarh and Bhilwara districts.
Your plant is based in Rajasthan. Why did you choose Banswara?
Banswara district in Rajasthan is strategically located close to the border and close to three other states — Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The rich soil and weather conditions are suitable for maize cultivation and added to this, the district is blessed with Mahi river with round the year water availability. Moreover, Gujarat and Rajasthan have the biggest dairies in India also have the largest cattle population. During our initial visits, we had to drive through hundreds of kilometres of maize fields. Also, it was easy to discuss with farmers who are already into maize cultivation.
How is the team at Sago Feeds structured? What is the supply chain like; please explain?
SAGO Speciality Feeds has bloomed from within a single-family. We all share responsibilities depending on our skill sets. I take care of the operations, management and planning.
My nephew Saikiran has experience in manufacturing and supply chain. He drives overall strategic vision and direction.
My son Anurag heads product development and marketing. He holds the experience of leading several life-science research projects, digital marketing and has worked for Amazon in the last mile analytics and quality team.
Who are the primary beneficiaries? How do you market and sell your products? How has been the response so far?
Our activity is something that is directly beneficial and profitable to the farming community at large, the dairy farmers, the livestock and also the consumers at the end.
Marketing and sales are challenging at the beginning. It is difficult to reach the dairy farmers and convince them about the benefits of silage. We usually give them a demonstration of our product and sometimes give them samples to use. Even humans have a reluctance to anything new, and the same is the case with animals. But once they are used to this feed, it is a cyclic action, and there is always continuous demand. Seeing is always believing, and when the farmers witness the results for themselves with higher milk production within 6-8 days and higher Fat & SNF percentage, they tend to shift to this feed.
Currently, we have committed demands from Banas Dairy, Gujarat, and Parag Dairy, Maharashtra, Miraj and Bhilwara Dairy, Rajasthan and many others around our location. We have continuous supplies to Palanpur, Mehsana, Anand, in Gujarat, Rajsamand, Udaipur, Pratapgarh in Rajasthan and Indore, Bhopal, Dewas in Madhya Pradesh, Nasik and Ahmednagar in Maharashtra. We have also started supplies to places as far as Chhattisgarh and Telangana. We keep getting enquiries from places like Karnataka and North East. This itself shows the huge demand and also dearth of the product.
Incidentally, we are the only company that made corn silage this season in Rajasthan. The response is so huge that we have nearly 10,000 MT of demand on hand, but we have only 3,100 MT of material to supply.
We travelled extensively at regular intervals within Gujarat and Rajasthan, including the border districts like Bikaner in Rajasthan and Kutch in Gujarat. Farmers are excited to use the product, which is beneficial for them. After all our meetings across the states, we felt most of the farmers are still ignorant of the latest developments, technology, science and are not aware of the best practices of feeding their animals. Incidentally, Banas Dairy, Gujarat, is collaborating with us to train and sensitise the farmers on the use and making of silage in Gujarat.
What were the major challenges in your entrepreneurial journey? How did you overcome them?
Switching my career — from being a Government servant to becoming an entrepreneur — was a 360⁰ shift in my thought process. I could really experience the transition of this journey and I can say these two are poles apart from one another. Earning money was not my prime goal but building a system that is consistent and sustainable was. Meeting farmers from across the states and being one among them was always an enriching experience. Our success can only be measured with our reach, growth and prosperity of the farmers.
Reaching farmers and sensitising them about our activity was a difficult task. Not everyone is inclined towards this shift in the cultivation of corn crop and a shift from the age-old feeding system to their cattle. Initially, we started our supplies at a few of the big dairies, their feedback made all the difference and that made a beginning in our supplies.
Who are the other players in this market?
Punjab and Haryana are the leaders in India’s silage production, with nearly 1.5 lakh MT of production every year. There are 4-5 big companies all based in Punjab, which cater to most states’ needs. There are 3-4 other companies scattered in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, which are into silage production.
What are your plans for SAGO?
After completing three production cycles in three different states, we now plan to replicate the process in different places to cater to a particular zone, cutting down the transportation costs. We plan to set up small pockets/points wherein we can stock the material for supplies to the nearby places. We hope to start our activities closer to Odisha/Chhattishgarh for the eastern states, Indore/Bhopal for the central parts and then continue at Rajasthan to cater to the needs of Gujarat and Maharashtra.
Silage conventionally is seen as a premium feed by dairy farmers. The present challenge of handling and wastage of the product makes the purchase feasible only for large dairy farmers to purchase. We are re-working our strategies and challenging the status quo to make our product available to every dairy farmer across the country. Not just that, we also have plans to start a few initiations in the food sector soon.
(Text by Shillpi A Singh and images sourced from SAGO)
New Delhi, March 24, 2021: In a bid to create equitable healthcare access for all, Practo, India’s leading integrated healthcare company has launched veterinary telemedicine service on its platform. Teaming with licensed veterinarians across the country, the company will be offering 24*7 online consultation services for pets.
With more than 20 million households with pets in India, and a growth of over 40% in the adoption of puppies and cats amid a work-from-home setting, this service will help pet owners get medical help for their furry friends from the comfort of their homes. They can easily talk to veterinarians regarding concerns that do not require a physical examination or warrant an emergency visit to the clinic.
Launched as a pilot project last month, Practo recorded nearly two lakh search queries from pet parents. Buoyed by the positive response, the speciality was launched officially as a part of the company’s telemedicine services. Most of the veterinary queries revolved around diet management for pets, medication for fleas and ticks, food allergies among pets, and behavioral problems among pets. Queries came in from more than 40 cities with Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Delhi NCR, and Mumbai topping the list.
Commenting on the new initiative, Siddhartha Nihalani, VP – Product, Practo, said, “Our foray into virtual veterinary care aligns with our larger vision of improving access to quality healthcare. With many people taking care of pets for the first time during the Coronavirus-induced lockdown, and several others anxious about visiting a clinic amid this pandemic, we want to enable them with a convenient yet reliable solution.”
Online veterinary consultations become even more convenient once the work from home situation ends, as pet parents can consult online whenever they have concerns without skipping work. This includes getting a second opinion for certain procedures, obtaining treatment or diet recommendations, asking follow-up questions, and seeking advice on behavioural issues – all in real-time and without exposing themselves to any risk.
Dr Daisy Rani, a veterinarian from Chennai with 25 years of experience, said, “Helping people to take care of their pets is the best part of being a veterinarian. Being able to do that in a way that is convenient for pet parents, especially during a pandemic like this, is a truly rewarding experience. I am glad that a company like Practo is going the extra mile for the well-being of pets by adding veterinary services as a part of its telemedicine platform.”
With Practo’s veterinary telemedicine service, pet parents can connect with a verified veterinarian via audio or video call or even text messages – anytime, anywhere – in just 60 seconds. Not only is this convenient, but also crucial to get timely advice on common but potentially harmful ailments. The service will be available both on Practo’s app as well as the website. To consult a veterinary doctor online, click here.
New Delhi, March 24, 2021: In the past year, the COVID19 virus grabbed much of our attention. The collateral damage that it caused in one year is very unimaginable. But did you know, Tuberculosis (TB) kills a more significant number of people in India every year than the lives COVID19 has claimed over the past 12months?
Tuberculosis continues to inflict a large quantum of socioeconomic cost on our nation. Although TB has been curable and our government has made great strides to improve diagnosis and drug delivery mechanisms, our war with this deadly disease exists. All we need today is a surge in our actions to reduce the TB burden intensely. But how is that possible?
Well, the best approach to this is to sensitize people with the growing burden of TB and empower them enough to identify symptoms, report it early, undergo timely diagnosis, and complete adherence to treatment. So, first things first.
WHAT IS TUBERCULOSIS AND HOW DOES IT AFFECT US? TB is an infection caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium Tuberculosis and spreads through the air from one person to another when an infected person coughs, sneezes or laughs. Even though the bacteria travel easily, it’s not easy to be infected by TB. Most often, it’s spread between family members, close friends, and people who live or work together. TB most commonly affects the lungs, but it can affect other parts of the body as well, like lymph glands, abdomen, spine, joints, etc.
There are two kinds of tuberculosis (TB) infections — latent TB and active TB disease.
WHAT IS LATENT TB? In most healthy people, the body’s natural immune system kills the bacteria and there are no symptoms. Sometimes, the immune system cannot kill the bacteria but manages to prevent it from spreading in the body. You will not have any symptoms, but the bacteria will remain in your body – this is known as Latent TB. People with Latent TB are not infectious to others, and do not feel ill. It is usually happens to children. Sometimes, this dormant TB gets activated when the body’s immune system is extremely low, say in the case of HIV, cancer, diabetes, etc.
This may occur like a normal fever and can go unnoticed. In India, we do not treat latent TB, as most people would have been exposed to the bacteria at some point in time. Moreover, there is no good evidence that all these people will develop active TB disease in the future, or that treating Latent TB will prevent further reinfection.
WHAT IS AN ACTIVE TB? When the immune system is unable to kill or contain the bacteria, Active TB develops. The lungs’ Active TB disease is contagious, which means it can be spread from one person to another. It is most often spread through the air; these bacteria may enter the air when a person with TB disease of the Lungs or throat coughs. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and get infected. People get sick from the TB bacteria that are alive and active.
SO, WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS?
- Being in close contact with a person with Active Lung TB disease is highly risky
- If you are in contact with any groups known for passing on TB, such as the homeless, injection drug users, and persons with HIV/AIDS
- If you are living or working with people who are at high risk for TB, such as those in hospitals, homeless shelters, prisons, slums, or refugee camps
MAJOR SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS THAT YOU SHOULDN’T IGNORE:
- A cough that lasts two-three weeks or more
- Pain in the chest, with cough or at rest
- Coughing up blood or thick mucous
- Night sweats
- Feeling weak or tired
- Weight loss
- Not wanting to eat
- Fever, mainly in the evening
- Swollen neck lymph-gland(s)
The longer people wait, the TB disease worsens. Although the stigma associated with TB has gone down significantly, people need to be alert, aware, and responsible when it comes to identifying symptoms and getting treated early. TB is treatable and curable. Treatment for drug-sensitive TB is a combination of antibiotics for six months. People with drug-resistant TB will need more extended treatment with at least 5-6 drugs under expert supervision.
New Delhi, March 22, 2021: On World Water Day, while we all should aim to save the most precious gift and a vital life source, we must also focus on improving water supplies and hygiene. You must be wondering why, so let me explain the impact of poor water hygiene on health. Worldwide, 2.2 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water, and 4.2 billion people lack safe sanitation. Unsafe hygiene practices are widespread, compounding the effects on people’s health. The impact on child mortality rates is devastating, with more than 2,97,000 children under five die annually from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor sanitation, poor hygiene, or unsafe drinking water.
In India, the problem of unsafe water is a substantial public health concern. Apart from illnesses such as diarrohea, jaundice, etc., unsafe water also contributes to Hepatitis A & E. Both these diseases are associated with inadequate and unsafe water supplies, poor sanitation & hygiene, leading to infection and inflammation of the liver.
What is Hepatitis A and E? Hepatitis A and E viruses are RNA virus, which primarily infects the liver, causing inflammation of the liver (Acute Hepatitis). Infection with Hepatitis A & E is usually self-limiting.
How is the infection acquired? Hepatitis A or E is spread primarily through food or water contaminated by faeces from an infected person (feco-oral route). It enters the liver from our gut and is then excreted again by our gut into the stool, thus completing the infection cycle.
Who are at risk for Hepatitis A or E? Not everyone who’s infected will have any evidence of this disease, as it may go unnoticed (asymptomatic disease). But still, these people can excrete viruses in their stool and continue to infect others (carriers).
Asymptomatic disease: India being a developing nation with poor sanitation conditions, more than 95% of children below five years of age are usually infected with these viruses, with an asymptomatic course. Thus, in India, antibody to Hepatitis A virus is nearly universally detectable by adolescence, and antibody to HEV increases during young adulthood to reach about 40% in adults.
How does it spread? Hepatitis A is usually spread person-to-person through food or water contamination. An infected person’s hands can become the source of infection after using the bathroom. The virus then spreads by direct contact or by food, beverages or other objects that the infected person handled. An infected individual can transmit the virus to others as early as two weeks before the symptoms begin to appear.
Symptomatic disease: International travellers to India, children from high-income families are at risk of developing Hepatitis A or E infection because they do not eat much from the streets and have not developed the required antibodies resulting in fever, stomach-ache and jaundice.
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis A or E?
- Stomach upset
- Loss of appetite
- Dark yellow urine
- Yellowish eye & skin called jaundice
Why is it dangerous? Unlike Hepatitis B & C, Hepatitis A does not cause Chronic Liver Disease and is rarely fatal. But it can cause debilitating symptoms and Fulminant Hepatitis (Acute Liver Failure), which is often fatal. Fulminant Hepatic Failure leading to death is seen in 1.8 % adults, and 10% in pregnant ladies.
Most people with Hepatitis E get better within a few months. Usually, it doesn’t lead to long-term illness, or Liver damage like other forms of Hepatitis do. But Hepatitis E can be dangerous for pregnant women or anyone with weak immune systems, including the elderly or ill.
How to prevent it? The best approach is to take all precautions to avoid Hepatitis and ensure safe drinking water for all. Make sure that your water source is clean and well maintained. Apart from this, follow this:
- Hand sanitation: Frequent handwashes before meals and after using the washroom.
- Avoid eating outside, especially if you are pregnant.
- Hepatitis A vaccine: Vaccinate your children below six years (consult a paediatrician about this).
If you identify any of the above symptoms, kindly meet your Gastroenterologist for timely treatment and care to resolve the infection with expected full recovery.
(Dr Sonali Gautam, Consultant-Gastroenterology, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi, a Fortis network hospital; Image from Pixabay)
Dr G. Arun Kumar, Scientific Affairs Manager, MedGenome Labs
Explain genetic testing/screening to a layman. What are the challenges of genetic testing?
To understand genetic testing, it is essential to understand the role of DNA and genes in our bodies. We can see our genome as the instruction book in our body which exists in multiple volumes, the genes as the individual pages present in these books, while the DNA is the language in which the pages are written. Genes regulate specific parts or functions of a cell. We inherit two copies of every gene, one from each parent. Sometimes multiple genes are required to control one function. Other times, just one gene may influence multiple functions. The DNA sequence of a gene is the code that instructs the cell to make proteins. These proteins, in turn, affect all bodily functions. Any variations in the DNA sequence can disrupt the protein it encodes and put us at greater risk of acquiring certain diseases in our lives. Genetic testing is a tool used to look at our DNA to detect such variants. Results from a genetic test can significantly help doctors understand the cause of a disease or symptoms, predict an individual’s risk of developing certain diseases, tell if one could pass the disease to their children and help in choosing the best treatment that can be tailored for the individual. For instance, if a person has cancer, then a genetic test can tell if the person inherited a cancer-causing genetic aberration. Early detection can also help doctors make an informed decision about the same and tell if the patient is at risk of developing any other type of cancers as well. Genetic testing of cancer tissue can help in identifying genetic variants that can be targeted using specific drugs.
Performing genetic testing requires high expertise both in terms of laboratory testing and analysis of genetic data. Understanding a genetic testing report for a commoner requires a clinician or a genetic counsellor.
If I have hereditary spherocytosis, can I get to know the chances of it being carried by my offspring and how?
In most cases, spherocytosis occurs as an inherited disease that changes and reduces the life of red blood cells in the patient’s body and causes anaemia. The initial evaluation of hereditary Spherocytosis involves a physical inspection, a review of the family history, and few lab tests on blood samples. In Spherocytosis, the structure of red blood cell changes, attributable to a defective protein produced in the cell due to genetic mutations. Genetic testing for spherocytosis looks for variants in the genes ANK1, EPB42, SLC4A1, SPTA1, SPTB. Some of these genetic variants are inherited in an “Autosomal recessive” manner. It means that for a person to express the disease (s)he must inherit genetic variants in both the gene’s copies. If a person has inherited a genetic variant in only one copy of the gene, the other copy being healthy, then this person is termed as a carrier. A person with the disease will 100% pass on one defective copy of the gene to the offspring. On the other hand, an individual who is a carrier has a 50% chance of passing the offspring’s variant. In either case, if the partner of the individual also passes on one defective copy to the offspring, then the child will develop the disease.
What are the things to keep in mind while opting for genetic testing/screening? What are its hope for medical science in the days to come?
Genetic testing can help in identifying an inherited disease risk in an individual. It is important to discuss the reasons for a genetic test with your doctor as they may guide you to a medical geneticist who is trained to diagnose a genetic condition, select the appropriate genetic tests, explain the test results, and recommend personalized treatment and prevention options. Before opting for genetic testing, one should gather as much information as possible about the family’s medical history to understand the risk better.
What are the diseases for which this screening works?
MedGenome currently offers more than 475 genetic tests across several disease categories such as paediatrics, neurology, oncology, haematology, endocrinology, nephrology, ophthalmology, etc. Any disorder that has an established genetic basis can be screened. Additionally, we also offer carrier screening for couples that will tell the carrier status of various genetic variants in the couple. This shall aid the clinician counsel the couple for future pregnancy.
What are the services offered by MedGenome?
Medgenome offers genetic testing services under four major divisions, viz – Actia, Claria, Prima and Micra. The Actia division deals with genetic testing of all inherited disorders encompassing all major medicine disciplines, including neurology, ophthalmology, cardio-vascular, Metabolic disorder, Nephrology, etc. The Claria division deals with reproductive genetics that offers various prenatal genetic testing panels, NIPT, and pre-implementation genetic testing. The Prima division deals with Oncology (solid tumours and Leukaemia) and Hematology range of testing. All these tests are College of American Pathology accredited. The Micra division is a new addition to our portfolio that is involved in infectious disease testing. In this range, we have indigenously developed the first whole genome sequencing of Mycobacterium tuberculosis directly from a patient’s sputum.
MedGenome is the market leader in India’s genetic diagnostics and is one of the largest high- throughput NGS sequencing labs in South Asia. We possess state-of-the-art Next-generation Sequencing (NGS) facility, which houses cutting-edge genome sequencing platforms such as Illumina’s NovaSeq, HiSeq X, HiSeq 4000 and 2500, MiSeq, etc. A sophisticated IHC pathology lab supports our Sequencing facility. We also offer other genomic testing technologies such as FISH, PCR, Sanger Sequencing, and Microarray to offer comprehensive diagnostic solutions to clinicians, hospitals and researchers. We offer genetic testing at different scales such as identification of point mutations using Sanger technique, RT-PCR; chromosomal level aberrations using FISH, Chromosomal microarray; multigene and whole-genome sequencing using Next Generation Sequencing
Is genetic testing gaining popularity?
Genetic testing is gaining popularity among all medicine disciplines because of its wide applications inpatient management and family planning. Almost all significant guidelines of different medical disciplines have incorporated genetic testing in their statements. The awareness of genetic testing among the general public is also increasing so much so that direct consumer testing for personal genomics is not far from reality.
What are the cost implications?
Genome sequencing technology has undergone tectonic changes in the last decade. The development of superior technology and informatics tools has improved genome sequencing precision and has contributed to a 100-fold reduction in sequencing cost. MedGenome has been a forerunner in India for democratising genome sequencing by making it affordable, beyond the reach of a commoner a decade ago, without compromising the quality.
Arun Kiran P, Lead Genetic Counsellor, Prenetics Limited
Explain genetic testing?
Genetic testing, also known as DNA testing, is a process of identifying changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins.
Genetic testing results can help individuals either confirm or rule out the possibility of having a clinical condition; identifying genetic mutations can determine a person’s chance of developing genetic predisposition risk or passing on a genetic disorder.
There are several genetic tests in the market, and the purpose of these tests solely depends on the case and the scenario it is in use. Several methods are used for genetic testing:
- Molecular genetic tests: where single genes or short lengths of the DNA variations are identified that can lead to a genetic disorder. With the recent advancements in the genetic testing space, platforms like the Next Generation Sequencing allow individuals to access Whole Genome or Exome Sequencing (WES).
One’s DNA is composed of more than 3 billion base pairs. Collectively, these pairs are called the genome. A portion of the genome is called the exome, the protein-sequencing region of one’s DNA.
- Chromosomal genetic tests analyse whole chromosomes or long lengths of DNA to see if there are large genetic changes, such as an extra copy of a chromosome, that cause a genetic condition.
- Biochemical genetic tests study the amount or activity level of proteins; abnormalities in either can indicate changes to the DNA that result in a genetic disorder.
2) If I have hereditary spherocytosis, can I get to know the chances of it being carried by my offspring and how?
Hereditary spherocytosis is a condition characterized by haemolytic anaemia (when red blood cells are destroyed earlier than normal).
Signs and symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include anaemia, pale skin, fatigue, jaundice, gallstones, and/or enlargement of the spleen. Severe cases involve short stature, delayed puberty and skeletal abnormalities.
Mutations cause this condition in any of the several genes, such as the ANK1, EPB42, SLC4A1, SPTA1, and SPTB genes. It is most commonly inherited in an autosomal dominant manner but may be inherited in an autosomal recessive manner in rare cases. Different types of hereditary spherocytosis are distinguished by severity and genetic cause.
Autosomal Dominant Inheritance:
About 75% of cases of hereditary spherocytosis are inherited in an autosomal dominant manner. This means that having a change (mutation) in only one copy of the responsible gene in each cell is enough to cause the condition.
When a person with a mutation passes on to the child for an autosomal dominant condition, each child has a 50% (1 in 2) chance to inherit that mutation.
In rare cases, hereditary spherocytosis is inherited in an autosomal recessive manner.
A person must have inherited one mutated gene copy from each parent, who are referred to as genetic carriers.
When 2 carriers of an autosomal recessive condition have children, each child has a:
– 25% (1 in 4) chance to be affected
– 50% (1 in 2) chance to be an unaffected carrier like each parent
– 25% chance to be unaffected and not be a carrier
Carriers of an autosomal recessive condition typically do not have any signs or symptoms (they are unaffected). By doing a full gene analysis of these genes, one can understand the risk of passing it on to their offspring.
Any interesting case study or success story?
- Ms Roopa, who is in her early 30s from Bangalore, reached out to me as she had a strong family history of breast cancer on the maternal side of the family. Ms Roopa’s mother and maternal aunt were diagnosed with breast cancer in their 40s and she was very worried about her potential risk of being diagnosed with Breast Cancer in future. As a genetic counsellor, I explained to Ms Roopa about the potential chances of inheriting a genetic mutation in one of the cancer-causing genes associated with breast cancer based on the family history she had described.
- Ms Roopa was suggested to get her mother tested for a hereditary cancer panel consisting of breast cancer-causing genes. Based on the hereditary breast cancer panel analysis, it was found that Ms Roopa’s mother had a genetic mutation in PALB2 gene, which is strongly associated with Breast cancer, and this mutation is also known to increase the risk of pancreatic cancer and ovarian cancer.
- The genetic mutation that was detected in Ms Roopa’s mother was tested for Ms Roopa and based on the analysis the same genetic mutation was inherited in the PALB2 gene. This led to an understanding that Ms Roopa has an increased risk for the above-mentioned hereditary cancer conditions.
- As the genetic mutation present in the gene PALB2 follows an autosomal dominant mode of inheritance where there is 50% chance for the genetic mutation to be passed on to the offspring. Based on these interpretations and findings, specific screening and surveillance measures were suggested to Ms Roopa based on the National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®). Due to the genetic mutation being present the surveillance and screening needs to start as early as the age of 30 onwards considering the family history and clinical data.
- Ms Roopa was suggested to do Annual mammography with consideration of tomosynthesis along with consideration of annual breast MRI with contrast starting at age 30, with modification as appropriate based on family history by discussing with the physician.
- Potential management options such as prophylactic risk-reducing mastectomy (surgery to remove one or both breasts to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer by up to 95%) was suggested as an option by having a discussion with the oncologist based on the family history.
- Knowing if a PALB2 genetic mutation is present is advantageous. At-risk relatives, i.e., first/second-degree relatives, can be identified, enabling the pursuit of a diagnostic evaluation.
- Getting the genetic test done has helped Ms Roopa be more proactive about her health and do these screenings from an early age onwards to help in potentially detecting any breast cancer tumours at the early stage of cancer for better treatment management purposes as most of the cancers do not show immediate symptoms and go undiagnosed till late stage of cancer-causing lesser chances of survival.
- As a genetic counsellor, all the questions related to risk assessment, limitations of the genetic test, screening and surveillance options, and management options were discussed with Ms Roopa by giving her access to the right set of resources and a specialised doctor who can help her with overall process. More insights were provided based on the genetic findings to Ms Roopa and she was able to take her own choice based on the options provided by the genetic counsellor and the physician.
- What are the things to keep in mind while opting for genetic testing/screening? What is its hope for medical science in the days to come?
- Every genetic test is performed based on the situation. Individuals need to talk with their physician, geneticist or genetic counsellor to have a better understanding, especially when it comes to a diagnosis or a clinical condition.
- There are things to keep in mind before deciding on a genetic test. Such as the test platform, test limitations, laboratory accreditations, measures taken to safeguard data and privacy, ability to access raw data. And most importantly, having access to genetic counsellors to understand the results to avoid undue stress and misinterpretation.
- Accessibility of genetic tests has been dramatically increasing, and prices are still dropping to this day.
- In 2006, the cost of sequencing one’s genes dropped to around $14 million. Less than ten years later, in 2015, that figure dropped to approximately $4,000. By the end of the same year, costs were as low as $1,500.
- There are constant updates in the field of genetics. This means new data, scientific associations and massive large-scale studies are published frequently, which increases knowledge on various conditions. This indeed helps the community diagnose and prevent conditions from being passed on to the next generation.
- Due to an increase in budget for research and development in the field of medical sciences, drug discovery and gene-therapies will be available for many rare conditions. This includes common health conditions that leads to personalised health solutions and precision medicine.
- What are the services offered by Prenetics Ltd and what are the cost implications?
Depending on which CircleDNA kit one chooses, we provide different sets of information.
- Vital kit (HK$1,192 ~ 11k INR) includes reports across 14 categories centring on diet, nutrition, fitness and overall wellness
- Health kit (HK$3,192 ~ 30k INR) includes reports in four categories looking at health risks such as cancer and disease
- Family Planning kit (HK$3,192 ~ 30k INR), made for those planning to conceive, is focused on the assessment of your carrier status for hereditary conditions.
- Premium kit (HK3,992 ~ 37k INR) is the most comprehensive genetic test in the market, which offers more than 500+ reports across all categories.
Note that the CircleDNA results are not medical advice or report. They should not be used for diagnostic purposes. These tests are strictly meant to help individuals understand their genetic predispositions, where the results can be used to personalise their recommendations for optimum health.
For more details, refer to www.circledna.com
What are the numbers like? Is it popular or gaining popularity?
The CircleDNA direct-to-consumer test under Prenetics Ltd has been quite popular in Asia, South East Asia, UK and in European countries.
On an average the lab processes more than 15,000 samples per month.
What is the turnaround time for the test?
From the sample collection to the test results being ready in the CircleDNA app, the process takes around 3-4 weeks of time. The testing process is very simple. Using a cheek swab in the DNA collection kit, collect a saliva sample and send your sample back to the lab.
What are the diseases for which this screening works?
CircleDNA is a comprehensive genetic test which consists of 500+ reports and tests for categories like Diet and Nutrition, Well-Being, Stress and Sleep, Pollution, Skin, Talents and Sports, Sports and Fitness, Success Traits, Music and Dance, Ancestry Test Results (with up to 15 geographical categories), Personality Traits, Behavioural Traits, Physical Traits, Gender Traits, Carrier Screening for understanding the risk of passing on the risk to the child (Family Planning), Hereditary Cancer risk.
The test helps an individual understand if h/she has inherited any mutation, increasing the risk for Cancers with a genetic basis, Dementia & Brain Health, common health risks such as obesity, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Such health risks are very prevalent among the South Asian population.
co founder and CEO of Mapmygenome
1) Explain genetic testing for a layman.
Genetic tests analyse your DNA. They can confirm or rule out disease, predict risk for disease, and assess the possibility of passing on abnormal genes to offspring. Depending on the purpose of testing, you may be recommend molecular testing, chromosomal testing, biochemical testing, or whole genome sequencing.
2) If I have hereditary spherocytosis, can I get to know the chances of it being carried by my offspring and how?
Hereditary Spherocytosis is a condition that affects the RBCs. One of the most common symptoms of Hereditary Spherocytosis is anaemia or reduced number of RBCs because of the breakdown of RBCs commonly associated with this condition. We can also oftentimes see jaundice – yellowing of the skin and eyes. Another common symptom is splenomegaly or enlargement of the spleen. These are common symptoms associated with Hereditary Spherocytosis and there are at least 5 well-established genes associated with the cause of the disease.
For someone who is diagnosed with Hereditary Spherocytosis, it is often natural to wonder about the chances of passing this on to the next generation. The answer to this condition really depends on which of the 5 genes are involved for a particular individual and family. That really decides whether the mode of transmission is dominant, where there would be 50% risk to the next generation or whether it is recessive, where there would be a 25% risk to the next generation. Having said that, the vast majority of nearly 75% of Hereditary Spherocytosis is inherited in an autosomal dominant manner and the most common gene that is involved is ANK1 gene. It becomes most important to understand what gene is involved in the family and the individual and genetic testing can help understand what gene is causing your Hereditary Spherocytosis. Once we have an understanding of that, then it is an easier process to understand if this gene is responsible for autosomal dominant condition or recessive condition. That can inform the recurrence risk or the chance of passing it on to the future generation.
It is really helpful to speak to your genetic counsellor so that they can document the medical history and family history, which can sometimes give a sense of what the inheritance pattern looks like. However, the best way to approach understanding what the risk is to the next generation is through genetic testing. Genetic counsellors are experts in medical genetics and psychological counselling and they can help facilitate genetic testing and also help you understand what your genetic test report means in terms of what is the gene involved, what is the inheritance pattern related to that particular gene, and what it means for any future children that you may have, the genetic testing that can help in future pregnancies, and to help make decisions about testing and management of the condition. There are management recommendations or guidelines for children born with the condition. The vast majority of people with the condition (60-70%) have a moderate form of the condition with symptoms of anaemia, jaundice, and splenomegaly. Nearly 3-5% have a severe form of the disease – they may require frequent transfusions and they may have skeletal development issues. The first step is to understand what gene is involved, and then the next steps can be discussed with the genetic counsellor. I would strongly recommend genetic counselling for you, for your family.
3) Any interesting case study or success story?
We have had several success stories related to weight loss, diabetes management, prevention of cardiovascular diseases and cancer, and in optimizing treatments. Many prominent physicians recommend our tests to their patients for confirming diagnosis and our genetic counselling sessions for informed choices. With the pandemic, we are seeing a growing demand for our immunity screening, nutrigenomics, and fitness genomics tests.
4) What are the things to keep in mind while opting for genetic testing/screening? What are its hope for medical science in the days to come?
Understand your health history. Consult with a doctor or genetic counsellor for better insights into health history, medical history, and lifestyle. This can help in preparing better for the test results, in devising mitigation plans, and in making informed choices. Sometimes, when there is a genetic condition in the family, it is better to discuss with the family to understand the implications to all members. Individuals with healthcare insurance often find out if the insurance provider covers the test costs.
Genetic testing is a nascent field, where technology is evolving. With these advances in technology, the scope of genetics in medical science keeps increasing.
5) What are the services offered by Mapmygenome?
- Predictive genomics or personalized health solutions – Genomepatri, Myfitgene, MyNutriGene, SmartSport
- Molecular diagnostics including Whole Exome Sequencing, Whole Genome Sequencing, and BRCA 1/2 Full Gene Sequencing.
- Carrier screening, prenatal screening, new-born screening
- Pharmacogenomics – MedicaMap
- Ancestry testing
- Genetic counselling
- RT-PCR based infectious disease tests
- COVID-19 – NABL and ICMR approved RT-PCR diagnostic test, Immunity testing (presymptomatic) including COVID risk and severity prediction, antibody testing
6) What are the numbers like? Is it popular or gaining popularity?
When we started offering personal genomics this was a new concept in India. We had to create awareness and build the market. Today, tens of thousands of people from various parts of the country and from abroad are our customers. In the last year, with the growing demand for healthier lifestyle, we have seen an increase in popularity.
7) What are the cost implications?
Predictive genomic testing is more like an investment plan – the earlier you start, the more benefits you derive. They cost a fraction of some of the modern treatment fees and amount cumulatively spent on regular health check-ups. Let us consider the benefits – with these tests, it becomes easier to switch to healthy lifestyle, to prevent or delay onset of disease, to manage lifestyle conditions such as diabetes, to help your doctors in choosing the best treatment plan that works for you, etc.
Molecular diagnostic tests on the other hand help in confirming diagnosis, thereby reducing the cost of diagnostic odyssey. Family members of patients with specific gene variants or mutations also encouraged to take up genetic testing as a screening method.
Overall, the benefits far outweigh the costs.
8) What are the diseases for which this screening works?
Our predictive genomics tests span several domains in healthcare – cardiovascular, lifestyle (diabetes, obesity, etc.), cancers, neuropsychiatric, skin, immunity, nutritional gaps, fitness and performance, autoimmune conditions, skin troubles and diseases, kidney health, gut health, bone health, gyanec health, habits (smoking, caffeine, alcohol, etc.), and more
9) What else does genetic screening/testing help in?
- To find your genetic risk for a disease, which can help you in preventing or delaying the onset of disease
- To find your risk of passing on some genetic conditions to your offspring
- To screen your baby or foetus
- To confirm a clinical diagnosis
- To understand disease biology and inheritance patterns
- To determine the best treatment and management plans for a disease
- To personalize your nutrition and fitness plans
- To understand your genetic roots and ancestry
- To understand what makes you unique and possibly eccentric
Dr Gurudutt Bhat, Consultant – Paediatrics, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan
What are the opportunities and challenges of genetic testing?
The COVID19 pandemic has truly showcased India’s medical engineering talent, scientific expertise and the country’s potential to become a healthcare hub of the future. In this growth story, what stands out is India’s vast opportunity to achieve dramatic improvements in health outcomes. One way to that is genetic testing. Genetic testing has come a long way in preventive medicine, especially among pregnant women and their babies.
Blood and other tests are done mainly in pregnant women to rule out any diseases caused by a defect in the baby’s genes. It helps the expectant mother and her treating Obstetrician to manage the pregnancy and delivery appropriately. Some of the defects which can be detected are of the baby’s brain or spine etc. It can be an invasive test like a blood test or Amniotic Fluid Test, or non-invasive test like Ultrasonography. After the baby is born, its genetic sequencing can help confirm any gene mutations’ presence or absence. If the family already has an older child with genetic disorders, this test will help the subsequent baby be diagnosed early, and appropriate intervention can be initiated.
A great example of genetic screening is in older women who get pregnant after the age of 34yrs. These women are at high risk of having babies with Down’s Syndrome. Since it is a genetic disorder, the early screening will help detect such defects. This allows the family understand the consequences of the defect. They can undergo appropriate counseling, and it also helps the mother deliver the baby with proper precautions.
The biggest challenge for the success of genetic testing in India is its high cost. However, with the increasing use of genetic screening in India, the cost factor is slowly balancing out. Another problem area is that like everything else in medicine, this is not an exact science. There is a lot of evidence that still needs to be organized. There may be some problems with the tests available with some genetic testing companies, and not all tests are available easily in India.
When does genetic disorder get transmitted from a mother to her baby?
The defects in a mother’s X chromosome can be inherited by both male and female babies. A defect in Y chromosome can only be detected in a male baby. A defect in the other chromosome can be transmitted to a baby in two forms known as autosomal dominant i.e. the gene will express dominantly in the baby even if there is only one copy of that gene on a chromosome. In an autosomal recessive genetic conditions both copies of the gene are needed for expression.
If I have hereditary spherocytosis, can I get to know its chances being carried by my daughter?
Hereditary spherocytosis is a genetic defect leading to a defect in the spectrin protein, which make the red blood cell membranes fragile. This red blood cell breakdown causes anemia and its complications. Up to 75 % of hereditary spherocytosis cases are autosomal dominant gene induced hence can be seen in babies of mothers with this condition. Hence, early diagnosis and proper treatment can prevent complications.
Any interesting case study or success story?
A recent case of a girl with the genetic problem of Spino-Muscular Atrophy can be a classic example of a success story. Due to genetic screening, doctors were able to diagnose her medical condition. Her parents raised Rs 16 crores for her treatment with a new gene modifier drug. This is a testimonial to the future where early genetic testing can help find a cure and offer early interventions for some genetic conditions.
What are the things to keep in mind while opting for genetic testing?
The idea for seeking genetic testing is to find way to prevent or treat certain conditions that we might be predisposed to. Decide which screening tests you need (to find a disease at an early stage when it might be more treatable), is important, so seek advice before testing:
- Think about your reasons for wanting the test
- Get the right tests
- Ensure that you and your family are prepared for the results
- Ensure that you have a personalized plan for dealing with the diagnosis
What is its hope for medical science in the days to come?
Genetic testing can help people make healthy choices. For instance, in a family that is predisposed to developing a certain kind of Colon Cancer or any other factors that can cause Cancer, genetic screening can help identify this risk. The opportunities this discipline offers for arriving at better health outcomes and personalized medicine are immense. We must realize that genetic testing has grown from a niche speciality for rare disorders to a broad scope of applications for routine, complex diseases and personal use. However, there is a need for healthcare providers, the diagnostic community and the government to step-up and uplift genetic diagnostics, making it available, accessible and safe for all.
Dr Udhaya Kotecha, Lead Clinical Geneticist, Neuberg Centre of Genomic Medicine
If I have hereditary spherocytosis, can I get to know its chances of being carried by my daughter?
Hereditary spherocytosis is a condition where hemolytic anemia occurs due to destruction of red blood cells. Currently, five genes are known to be causative for this disorder (genetic heterogeneity: where a single disease can be caused by genetic disease, causing variation in more than one gene). A patient suspected of having hereditary spherocytosis can have the same due to genetic variation in any one of the five genes. It is commonly inherited in an autosomal dominant manner, meaning that if one of your gene copies is carrying the variant, you may manifest symptoms. There is a 50% chance that each of your offspring may inherit the disease-causing variant in this inheritance pattern. Rarely hereditary spherocytosis is caused by recessive mutations: meaning that both copies of the gene need to be alerted to have the disease. If you have hereditary spherocytosis due to a recessive mutation, the chances that your children will be affected depends on your partner’s carrier status. If your partner is also carrier, a disease-causing variant in the same gene, then there is a 75% chance of your children being affected. If your partner does not carry any genetic alteration in the same gene, then all your children will only be carriers, but none will be affected.
Dr Siddharth Srivastava, Chief Scientist (Molecular Oncology), Neuberg Center for Genomic Medicine
What are the challenges of genetic testing?
The patient, their family members, consulting clinician/ medical geneticist, molecular pathologist, and genetic counsellor have stakes in the successful resolution of the patient’s problem. Interestingly all of them face different sets of challenges. Finding the genetic basis of diseases is a matter of speciality doctors. The first challenge the patient faces is navigating their way from general practice to these centres that are usually located in cities or large towns. The rarefied set of specialists doctors are further split into sub-speciality. Doctors who understand genetic basis of cancers or that of cardiovascular disorders, inherited diseases etc. To get to the right doctor, often naïve patients have to go through a maze of trial and error.
A conclusive diagnosis of such disorders or disease can be made by using molecular techniques. A dialogue between the consulting doctor and molecular pathologist sets up where the molecular pathologist understands the patient’s clinical history and clinician’s question. Accordingly s/he selects right test using most appropriate technique. This is crucial as molecular tests are complex, running into weeks and they are also expensive. For most accurate reports, the molecular pathologist should get detailed and accurate patient history which helps them to correlate molecular data and write accurate interpretations which will have deep implications on patient management. Acquiring patient’s clinical history is a challenge.
A lot of the times, diagnosis of the patient has implications on the immediate family members such as children, siblings, children of siblings. During the time of diagnosis of the patient, the “at risk” family members may seem to be leading a normal life. They do not feel concerned about their own chances of getting the disease in later parts of their lives. Genetic counsellors face tremendous challenges by collecting data from various family members and discussing the risks and convincing them to take the test.
Any interesting case study or success story?
Genomic testing has made both detection of inherited disorders, as well as treatment of complex diseases such as cancer and there, are countless success stories. There was a person from Mumbai whose mother (70 years old) was detected with breast cancer (ER+Her2- type). An extremely sharp cancer doctor was treating her with hormone therapy. After three years of treatment, she relapsed. This means that she stopped responding to the hormone treatment and the tumour grew despite getting the therapy. The doctor discussed with us at Neuberg Center of Genomic Medicine, and based on the clinical history, we predicted that most likely a defect in either ESR1 gene or PIK3CA gene may have resulted in the patient no longer responding to the treatment. If the defect was indeed in ESR1 gene, the doctor could changer her therapy to a drug called fulvestrant, and if the defect were in PIK3CA gene, then the drug would have changed to Alpelisib (approved by US FDA). However, the problem got compounded as the patient moved out of Mumbai, and the amount of tumour tissue was less to perform the test. We resorted to another test call liquid biopsy, where a tube full of patient blood was collected from her home and shipped to our laboratory. Indeed we detected a defect in PIK3CA, and the patient is now doing very well on Alpelisib therapy.
Another instance was that of a 45 years old man from Nashik who had prostate cancer. Since he was diagnosed at a young age with cancer, the clinical doctor suspected it to run in the family. The doctor connected with us, and one of our genetic counsellor spoke with the patient at length to get a history of cancers in the extended family. Patient’s mother had breast cancer at the age of 55, and she had since passed away. Genetic counsellor converts entire patient’s family history into the pedigree chart. Defects in BRCA genes and BRCAness genes could be the reason for the patient’s prostate cancer. If true, the patient could become eligible for a drug called Olaparib, and it would then become imperative to test his 15-year-old daughter too. We collected patient’s blood and tested for BRCA and BRCAness genes. Indeed the patient came positive for BRCA mutation. While it brought cheer to him, he also got concerned for his daughter. We tested the daughter and several of his “at risk” first and second-degree relatives. While his daughter had no pathogenic BRCA mutation, and she was considered as normal as any individual, patient’s 30 years old sister was detected positive with the same BRCA mutation. Thus the clinical doctor has kept her on active surveillance while doing periodic mammogram and breast exams.
What are the things to keep in mind while opting for genetic testing? What are its hope for medical science in the days to come?
While opting for genetic testing, one should know that either the blood or tissue sample would be asked from the patient. I would advice patients to collect their tissue samples from pathology labs if ever their biopsy is done. Usually the tests takes more than ten days to give out the results. Patients should take time to understand their report from the treating doctor and, if necessary, call the molecular pathologist. The patient should provide the detailed family history to the genetic counsellors.
The genetic basis of most complex diseases is being identified every passing day. Identifying the genetic cause helps to detect “at risk family members” and helps find newer therapies for the patient to manage disease such as cancer.
What are the diseases for which it works?
Most inherited disorders such as Down’s syndrome, thalassemia/haemophilia, muscle dystrophy/spinal muscular atrophy can be detected using genetic testing. Genetic testing is also used in prenatal diagnosis, recurrent abortions, infertility, mental retardation. In complex diseases such as cancers, genomic testing can diagnose and give newer and better treatment options. Approximately, 6,000 genes are known to cause human disorders, and the same can be tested via different genetic tests. The rapid rate of gene discovery is increasing the number of diseases known on an almost daily basis.
Sanjoy Roy: Welcome back to the 14th Jaipur Literature Festival protected by Dettol. We are delighted to bring it to you from here at the Diggi Palace front lawn live. It’s a pleasure to present today, Oonga by Devashish Makhija. He’s in conversation with Kaveree Bamzai and introduced by Nandita Das. Director and writer Devashish Makhija’s latest book Oonga is a powerful novel based on his first feature film of the same name. Capturing the inherent paradox between dystopian development and utopian ideologies, the book narrates the journey of a little boy in the midst of a clash between the Adivasis, the Naxalites, the CRPF and the mining company. Makhija’s other books include When Ali Became Bajrang Bali, Why Paploo Was Perplexed, Forgetting and Occupying Silence. He’s also the director of the feature films – Ajji and Bhonsle – and the short film Taandav. Among others, in his conversation with Kaveree Bamzai, Makhija dives into this evocative tale of identity and the tragedy of victims of violence forced into battles, they don’t wish to fight. The book is being launched here at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2021. Nandita Das has acted in more than 40 feature films in 10 different languages. Manto, Nandita’s second directorial film, premiered in 2018 at the Cannes Film Festival. Her first book, Manto and I, chronicles her six-year-long journey of making the film. Nandita, we’re delighted to have you here to make an introductory comment on Oonga, a film that you acted in. Nandita Das, over to you.
Nandita Das: Oonga is a film that I did almost nine years ago. When Dev came to me, it was his first film but I could see he was very passionate about the story and it’s a story that you know is really exploring the difficulties that Adivasis feel, especially as this is set in Odisha, a state that I come from, because they are caught between the Maoists, Naxal movements and outfits that are really fighting for their rights but can also get violent and at the same time those were trying to mainstream them in the name of development and how the common Adivasis just get completely caught between fighting for their rights and really not knowing how they should be dealing with their lives. You know, it’s a very complex issue and seldom do we see such complexities being told simply and powerfully. In fact, increasingly such films that are really representing stories of the people at large are vanishing from our collective consciousness. So it was definitely a film that I felt, I wanted to be part of. Hemla’s character was also really nice. It was very interesting because she’s kind of a conduit. She’s neither part of the Naxalite movement nor is she part of obviously the government or the mining corporation and all those people who are trying to mainstream them. She is really wanting to educate the children. She feels that’s where the power is and ideologically she’s very strong and it was lovely to be in Odisha and to be playing a character there. So yes, I mean it was a film that was close to my heart and I was really disappointed that it didn’t get released properly. Many independent films, unfortunately, bear with that fate.
I’m so happy that Dev decided to give it another form because the story had to be told and it’s really wonderful that now it’s in a book and we can all read it. And I think, you know, a story has its own soul and it must continue whether it’s through a film or through a book and maybe they’ll feed into each other. Maybe once you read the book, you’d want to see the film and those who have seen the film would want to read the book.Nandita Das
I just want to wish Dev and the publishers and everyone who’s been involved with the project good luck, and I’m sorry that I couldn’t be at Diggi Palace, quite a favorite place to come to JLF, but here is wishing the book and the people who have been with that journey for this long. Twelve years is not a short journey. So glad Dev, that you stuck with it and that you’re bringing this story to us. Thank you!
Sanjoy Roy: Thank you, Nandita Das for setting the context for Oonga, the film and Oonga, the book.
Devashish Makhija has researched and assisted on the movies Black Friday and Bunty Aur Babli. He has written numerous screenplays, notably Anurag Kashyap’s yet-to-be-made superhero saga Doga, has had a solo art show Occupying Silence, written a collection of short stories Forgetting, the forthcoming book of poems Disengaged, the bestselling children’s books When Ali Became Bajrangbali and Why Paploo Was Perplexed and been featured in numerous anthologies including Mumbai Noir, Penguin First Proof and the Sahitya Akademi’s Modern English Poetry.
He has also written and directed the multiple award-winning short films Taandav, El’ayichi, Agli Baar, Rahim Murge Pe Mat Ro (Don’t Cry for Rahim LeCock), Absent, Happy, and the critically acclaimed full-length feature films Ajji (Granny) and Bhonsle. His films have competed and won awards at the international film festivals of Rotterdam, Gothenberg, Beaune, Black Nights, Busan, Glasgow, Tampere, MOMA, APSA, Barcelona, Singapore, amongst many others. Oonga, a feature film he wrote and directed in 2013 never released in Indian theatres despite a critically acclaimed film festival run so he reverse-adapted it into a gripping novel.
Kaveree Bamzai is an independent journalist. She was the first, and so far, only woman editor of India Today. A recipient of the Chevening Scholarship, she worked for the Times of India and Indian Express before this. She is the author of No Regrets: The Guilt-Free Woman’s Guide to a Good Life, Bollywood Today and two monographs in the series Women in Indian Film. She sits on several committees, including the Women Examplar Committee of CII and is recognised as a changemaker by Save The Children charity.
Kaveree: Devashish, it’s such a pleasure to see you and it’s been an absolute joy to read the book. I’ve spent the last two days doing that and it is truly gripping. It’s very powerful. I want to start with the line that you have there… “We, who take from the Earth and give back, will be replaced by those who take and never give back.” This really is who we are right now and I think the pandemic has taught us more than ever that this cannot go on. How amazing is it that the movie that you made, well, quite a few years ago, 2013, when it was released, is still so relevant? How amazing is that and how much more relevant is it? So, talk a little about that journey about making that movie, making this book and, at this moment in time.
Devashish: The sad thing is I don’t think it’s amazing as much as it’s hugely tragic. Yes, it’s hugely tragic that we can just never learn from our mistakes and I have travelled the areas, the Adivasi areas of Chhattisgarh and south Odisha about 11 years ago and for about five or six years before that, I was curious and dissatisfied with the narrative that I was reading in the mainstream media about what the Naxalites wanted; how they were being called to be the greatest internal security threat to this country by the Manmohan Singh Government and I felt that I wasn’t getting the complete picture. So when I travelled to those areas and the things that I saw, they sort of reeked of what the British had done to the Indians in all those years and now we were doing to our own countrymen. So, somewhere you know, that, that wheel was turning over and over again and we were not learning from our mistakes. What was relevant 200 years ago, was relevant 10 years ago. What was relevant 10 years ago, continues to be relevant today. I don’t know if it’s going to change. That’s the biggest heartbreaker.
So all the things that I wrote in Oonga in 2012 when I wrote the script and eight years hence when we were doing the final edits of the book, Tulika and I and I were re-reading material, re-reading my research (I had several exercise books where I had made notes as I was travelling through those areas), nothing had changed. Not one shred of research material or statistic or you know things that broke my heart in 2010. Nothing had changed. So somewhere, a book like this, sadly, would probably be relevant till we die.Devashish Makhija
I don’t know what our next generation will see but the pandemic also hasn’t changed anything. We are back to being monsters. I thought we would, you know, re-evaluate our decisions, but no, we’re not.
Kaveree: Absolutely! And, in fact, Devashish, you also call it the company and company could be, you know, the company that you mentioned in the book. It could be the East India Company; really nothing changes; that’s really as you said is quite tragic.
The other point is the relationship between the Adivasis and their land and you know, we see it again and again and all the protests that we see — the farmers’ protests as well, their relationship with the land is so deep. And in fact, the land, and as you say in your book also reacts to their moods, you know, the trees cry, you know, the Earth cries; talk a little about that relationship. It’s so deep and so moving.
Devashish: Yeah. So in fact, it’s not just the Adivasis. If I say, any of us say that the Adivasis have this deep connection with nature and you know, we shouldn’t deprive them of that connection with nature. I think it will smack of an over-simplification. It will smack of talking about them as the other. I think we all have that connection; it’s just that with urban life, the kind of life that we live, we’re getting increasingly disconnected. So for me talking about these things using the Adivasi as a medium, was trying to tell urban youngsters, you know because it is young adult fiction; it’s for age group 16 and plus; I am hoping kids just out of school or in the last years of school will read this and wonder if they lost something by being born into these urbane, consumerist technologically, dependent lifestyles. So it’s all of us, who can, you know, pick cues from nature, live in harmony with nature and gain a lot, but we’ve just, we have lost that ability. So the Adivasis are a reminder that we have that ability and if we don’t live that codependent lives we are going to self-destruct faster and faster.
Kaveree: Yeah, another remarkable thing about the book is the women and I think that is the key here. The women are the ones who’re holding this community. They’re holding really a whole world aloft on their shoulders, you know, whether it’s Hemla or Oonga’s mother, they really are the spine, the backbone of the community.
Devashish: Women as characters and again I might smack of over-simplification here, but being a man when I made this film, Ajji, about five years ago, it was me trying to understand, what is the female energy and what is my relationship as a man being born into a world that is increasingly patriarchal. Even the MeToo movement really didn’t find success because we are so deep-rootedly patriarchal people; we need something stronger than that. So, from Ajji onwards, I’ve been questioning my role in the scheme of things that how can I raise questions that can hopefully someday 10 years or 100 years later lead to an answer.
The women that you speak of in Oonga, were there in the film as well. But I think I was not equipped to explore them to a certain depth like I could in the novel. For me Lakshmi, the Naxalite leader, Hemla and Oongamma are the beating heart of the story; Oonga is literally just the face. He’s not the beating heart of the story.Devashish Makhija
So for me, it was important to explore those themes that I have now, you know been exploring the last four to five years. They were not in the film when we did that all those years back.
Kaveree: Devashish, the other thing is that it’s in Odisha, but it could be anywhere; it could be Kashmir, it could be the Northeast, that is the tragedy of India. It could be in any part of the country and it would be the same issue and I really admire the way you’ve been able to capture the CRPF sort of mindset, you know, it’s a very peculiar mindset, but we often don’t see them as victims and here you’ve been very non-judgmental and you have shown, they’ve suffered too. You have Pradip’s character, who realizes that the only way to have powers is to be in uniform; his father ended up in uniform guarding the very land that he sold them and it’s all such a terribly vicious cycle, but they are as well as victims.
Devashish: You know, as you were saying, it was a faceless company. It could be the East India Company. It could be a private company. It could be a public sector company. It was irrelevant to me what the company was. What was relevant to me was the thought process behind something as hegemonious and huge as a company that will only see its profit and when something that huge, you collectively are up against something, everybody ends up being a victim.
Sometimes even you don’t realize you’re a victim like Manoranjan, the CRPF commander. He doesn’t realize he’s a victim of a larger thought process, of a larger machine that is only using him for a certain end goal; and when you’re collectively up against that what can you be but a victim because you can’t use your mind and your consciousness to take decisions against that larger vicious thing; so for me, it was important to see that the CRPF are not in control. The Naxalites are reacting; they might have sometimes very very valid agenda, but they are not in control either.
Everybody is merely reactive and somewhere, the atmosphere that we live in today in this country, anyone who wants to question anything that the establishment does, we are all just reacting and that’s exhausting. I wish people act upon something sometimes because we spend all our lives we have reacting and we have no energy left to really act upon you know, our true impulses; somewhere that helplessness that I was feeling, I wanted to explore through this idea of everyone being a victim; a helpless victim.Devashish Makhija
Kaveree: Absolutely. I think, the other point that every form of protest that we see, every form of dissent that we see, you see echoes of it in your book. The idea of asking for papers. The idea of asking for identity. I mean the whole agitation against CAA was all about that. The whole question is being explored here. It is quite contemporary in that sense. Talk a little about that sense of identity as well. The Adivasi sense of identity versus the Company, which could be anything. How does it play out?
Devashish: You have to look at the farmers’ protest today. When I speak to my peers, my contemporaries in the city, everyone looks at the farmers of India as one big mass. A faceless mass. And when they talk about what they’re up against, the government policies which are pro-corporate, you have an Adani or Ambani which has a face. They are not faceless.
Somewhere those who don’t understand what the farmers are protesting for and if they don’t try to understand how that’s important to the rest of us. We will always see that protesters faceless and they will always see what they’re protesting against as having a face and that’s what makes it easier for them to relate to you know the system because the system always comes with some sort of a face, be it the government or a corporate. So here also in my story, I was trying to flip it. I was trying to make the company faceless. I was trying to give a sense of identity to those who are paying that price, whether it was the CRPF or the Adivasi. It could be the farmers today in India or it could be the Dalit.Devashish Makhija
It could be you know for lack of a better metaphor here, I myself feel rather displaced because I’m a Sindhi. My parents both of them came from Pakistan, which is now Pakistan during the partition. I was born and I grew up in Calcutta where I wasn’t a Bengali, but I was around Bengali culture a lot. I’ve been working in Bombay for 18 years, but I’m not Marathi, but I’m around Marathi culture a lot. My two films are Ajji and Bhonsle and, if you don’t know better, sound like Marathi films so I have been struggling with identity. I don’t know where my roots are. Yeah, so when I am trying to question the system as to my place in the scheme of things, I don’t know where to begin because I have nothing to prove that I have an identity that allows me to question this system.
If I multiply my helplessness by 5,000, I get the helplessness of an Adivasi or a Dalit or a farmer and for me, that breaks my heart, so I needed to give them faces and explore their identity.
Kaveree: The other interesting thing in the story is the importance of the eye. You see it everywhere in the novel. Everyone has to keep an eye out, ahead, behind. There is a symbol of the eye that represents the company. I found that again a very very powerful metaphor. Talk about that.
Devashish: Again you have beautifully caught it because somewhere I was trying to simplify and allegorise the idea of surveillance and today with modern technology, the system can observe you, surveil you a lot more but it’s always been the case. Even when we had landline phones, if the government wanted, they could tap your line. This goes back to my research for Black Friday. I spent six months researching material that S. Hussain Zaidi had already put in the book, but when you try to give faces for cinema, you need to research the people a little more deeply. So around that time, I spoke to people whom I can’t name. I spoke to the CBI. I spoke to people in the IB. I spoke to the police, the crime branch and there were thousands of hours of phone recordings that they had of people that I can’t name, but they’re like all the phones were tapped and they were just surveilling, surveilling, surveilling, all the time. I asked them that you know, you’ve got all this material, what is that you want to do with it. They said, if we release or leak it, we will not be able to hold on to the government for more than five minutes. So they sit on all this material.
I knew that back to the 1960s, when we could tap anything anywhere at will; today it has just become easier. So how do you then live a life of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and all the things that the Constitution enshrines? How do you live that life? If you are being watched all the time? If you are supposed to toe the line. Do you walk the talk that the system wants you to? How do you manifest those ideas in the Constitution? So that idea of the eye for me was to create that sense of dread that you know, you’re being watched and you don’t have freedom even though you think that you do. It is a delusion.Devashish Makhija
Kaveree: Yeah, absolutely, but I found in Hemla’s character so much purity, so much courage and so much fearlessness and I think that is the fearlessness that we have lost as a society. We’re also afraid. Aren’t we? I think that’s the biggest threat to us. It’s not what the state is doing to us. It’s not what the environment is doing to us and it’s our own fear and I think Hemla is such a hero to me because she has so much courage.
Devashish: One of my biggest inspirations for Hemla was Soni Sori and when I sort of knew more about her or watched her at work. There’s a line that I use often that a woman without hope is a woman without fear. So when you take away hope and I saw it in Soni Sori’s eye. If you look into her eyes, I see an absence of Hope, but that doesn’t mean that it manifests as utter Hopelessness. The absence of Hope is not Hopelessness but that absence of hope because she seemed so much taken away brings her certain courage. She has nothing left to lose. What do you take away from her anymore? So somewhere for Hemla, I wanted to manifest that she might have seen so much that we are not privy to that she cannot fear anymore. What is the worst that can happen that she will be physically assaulted, that someone will chop her hands off? She has seen that too. She has seen that happen. And something a friend of mine said to me during those journeys through the Adivasi area. He said that you know, we have to lose our fear of being thrown in jail.
Most of the time people don’t act upon a certain thing that they want to question the government about because they are afraid that they will get thrown in jail. He said you have to obliterate that fear. Forget that you will die in jail. You will get food. You will be able to take a piss when you want. You will get to dump once a day. You will get to sleep. Maybe the mosquitoes would bother you, but you will not die in jail. So if you take away that fear, it takes away your fear to question the system because the system has only one way to bring you down. By disciplining you. By throwing you in jail. By threatening you with a warrant. So I want to take talk about those things through Hemla.Devashish Makhija
Kaveree: And you have done that really well. The other point I think comes through so powerfully is that question that we saw of the huge exodus during the pandemic when people went home and they were walking the streets with all their belongings on them. It’s not just about poverty. I think at the end of the day, it is about dignity. They want respect and if you don’t give it to them then, you know, at some point they will break.
Devashish: Dignity is everything and that’s one of the saddest things when you go to an Adivasi village where maybe five or six men have been missing for years because they were thrown in jail for merely asking for their rights. The first thing you see is that crushed soul because amongst themselves there’s a lot of dignity, but when they have to face the system like we went on to help one of the Praja lawyers there with a particular bunch of cases. So because we could read and write in English, so it was easier to read documents for them. These documents come by the fucking kilogram, so they always need help to read documents and respond to them. So we went to jail and we tried talking to the Jailor. We tried talking to their lawyer the first thing that the Jailor or the lawyer did was to get up and look through us and walk away. We felt insulted. Now imagine, we were there for a month and a half. Now imagine having to put up with that every day where you’re not acknowledged. When nobody looks you in the eye. Nobody talks to you. They just get up and walk away. That can make you think of doing very extreme things.
Kaveree: And yet you have Hemla trying her best to initiate dialogue, trying the best to teach Hindi to children so that they can grow up and speak to the company or the CRPF or whoever in their own language. So there is some amount of hope but it gets crushed so easily. Yet that plea for peaceful dialogue is still a very powerful hope that you end with even in your book, although it is dystopian. It is still there. The plea for hope. The plea for dialogue. To understand each other and to listen to each other. Let’s talk a little about how that is so much an absence, not just in that community, but everywhere, currently.
Devashish: You know that the dystopia that you speak of I think manifests in that one line wherein the end Hemla has run back to the Village. She still trying to talk to Manoranjan, but suddenly she has this gun pointed in her face and she suddenly realizes that I’ve been talking to the barrel of this gun all the time. I’ve not been talking to the people behind it because this is what they thrust in my face when I’m actually pleading. Somewhere that absence of communication that everyone is talking different languages.
When I say different languages, I don’t mean literally someone speaking Kovi or someone speaking Hindi but someone speaking the language of the gun when someone’s trying to speak the language of the heart. There cannot be a dialogue in such a situation. The gun has to be put down if there has to be a dialogue. When you see the farmers’ protests, there are water cannons or tear gas, metal rods. When you walk in with that you can’t have a dialogue with farmers who actually didn’t want to attack you in the first place and they still haven’t. But the face of the system is always, almost always, that of, you know of a violent weapon and you cannot talk to that beyond a point. The weapon has to be shed. Faces have to emerge for that dialogue to happen and somewhere the book is trying to entreaties. It is trying to make a case for that. But how possible is it until that effort is taken from both sides, not just one side?Devashish Makhija
Kaveree: What does it do to you personally? You see all these beautiful, proud people, as you said earlier, you see their souls being crushed and you see so much oppression. I mean we see it too, but you’ve undertaken this journey and you have chronicled it. What does it do to you as a person?
Devashish: I had behavioural issues around the time I was working on this material. I’ve had physiological issues. Around the time I was making Ajji, I contracted prostate cancer and I didn’t realize then why these things were happening. But when you’re experiencing this and I’m not as strong as Medha Patkar. I don’t have those qualities to shield myself, to keep myself disaffected to carry on the fight because I’m always trying to take that emotion and create something of it. When I’m channelling that emotion through me, it is leaving something in me. So I had to grapple with my own demons that sort of got created when I see what I see or when I interact with the people I do and hopefully I try and manifest all of that into my story so that they don’t stay within me entirely, but of course, they don’t entirely go away either. So I have a life of stories inside me that have to do with all of this material. So a lot of my peers ask me, “Don’t you want to make a happy story? Don’t you want to tell a love story? The biggest tragedy is that I have love stories inside me. I have mainstream ideas. I have happy stories. I don’t have the opportunity to say them because there’s so much else. I finish with the Adivasi struggle and there’s the Dalit who needs representation. You finish with that and then there is patriarchy. You finish with that and then there is something else. The country is tearing at its seams with how horrific we are in the way we treat our own countrymen.
Kaveree: I mean I come from a state which has become a complete mental asylum. It’s an open mental asylum. Kashmir, I think is the most paranoid state in this country because it’s been like this now for over 25 years. They’ve lived with this surveillance thing. But the whole idea of nature feeling us. When you talk about the trees and the grass, they feel for us. They soak it all in, you know, when the Adivasis talk about the strange view that has come and they talk about nature feeling their pain. How much of that do you think is happening around us. You know, when we look at the raging environmental crisis. Is that nature’s way of feeding off some toxicity in a way?
Devashish: How can nature escape that if we are such an intrinsic part of nature. Say about a thousand years or 2,000 years back, we were not the most proliferating species on this planet. So there were other species maybe. Maybe they were more rats than human beings 2,000 years ago. So nature still has some chance of staying balanced, but now there are so many of us and we also emerged from nature. So when we are going to go around destroying what we ourselves a part of, will there not be a backlash? And I think, it is getting exponentially exacerbated. I think what we are thinking global warming might destroy us by 2055. It might happen by 2028 because it’s just exponentially getting worse. We are and we have been proliferating like a virus. Maybe COVID is one way of nature trying to find the little balance. I’m surprised that we had COVID so light. Like I thought we’d have it much worse.
Kaveree: Yeah, and I don’t think it’s changed us too much fundamentally. The other opposition I see so starkly in the novel is between Lakshmi and Hemla. It’s not just the ideology of the gun versus education, but it’s also the idea of giving in to your anger and I think that again is one of the greatest tragedies of our time. We have given in to our anger; we’ve given in it to our rage. Hemla is still someone who tries not to do that, but Lakshmi is too far gone on that path again. This is such a fundamental contrast.
Devashish: Oh, yes. So unfortunately when I started writing Oonga many years ago, I wanted to give Hemla some sort of a culmination in hope because I believe in her stance but as the story progressed, more and more, it felt too me that Laksmi is right and Hemla is being foolish and somewhere by the end, I couldn’t control it. It just went out of control and Laxmi survives and Hemla pays the price for believing.
Kaveree: That’s really tragic. But unfortunately, it’s the truth.
Devashish: Yes, I don’t know. Given the current climate.
Kaveree: More than ever.
Devashish: Punning on the word climate, I think across the world. I don’t know how we can escape this tragedy unless we all start thinking, you know, positively all at once, and believe in the right things, all at once. It can’t happen piecemeal anymore.
Kaveree: Another interesting thing that I found in your book is reclaiming of Ram by Oonga. I found that lovely because here you have Ram who’s been appropriated as a symbol by a very toxic movement and here you have this little boy, sort of appropriating Ram in the purest way possible, and in the sweetest way possible. This is something quite remarkable. And I think this is something again that you must talk a bit about this little boy believing in Ram and believing that he can vanquish Ravan.
Devashish: So now at the expense of probably calling a fatwa on my head by the very frightening right-wing. So on 6 December 1992. I’ll just take a minute to trace this back to an experience, a very personal experience. On 6 December 1992, in a little mohalla in Calcutta, I was 12-13 and we were one of three Hindu families in a predominantly Bangladeshi Muslim slum. The news of the masjid being demolished reaches this mohalla and we were attacked that night. My mother was almost raped. And that never left me. I didn’t feel anger for whoever was attacking us as more as much as I felt confusion. I didn’t know why that happened. The next morning. We were almost back to normal because I had to go buy eggs from a shop in the slum. I had to you know, navigate those same gullies that I was navigating every day growing up in that Mohalla so that stayed with me and somewhere every time someone says that there is a bhoomi where Ram was born, I have a physical response to that because you can’t literalise a metaphor. Ram is a metaphor for you know, certain values. All the characters of the Ramayana or the Mahabharata stand for certain values. Storytelling back then and even today is literally about dispensing values to the people you are telling those stories to through the characters that you populate those stories with.
So Oonga is my Ramayana, my Mahabharata, my modern mythology through which I’m trying to impart certain values. So for me to put forth that idea that Ram was, stood or represented certain ideas and was not real, was the most important thing for me in this story because it sort of achieves many things at many levels. It achieves that the idea that he goes beyond religion. So Ram is not just a Hindu metaphor anymore. Ram could be an Adivasi. He could be that Adivasi who stood up for his jungle and didn’t want his jungle destroyed by the industry and when little Oonga, a 10-11-year-old boy will actually arrive at the heart of that metaphor much quicker than an adult because he doesn’t have those trappings and those conditionings that adults do. So he finds the heart of Rama being an Adivasi and much quicker.Devashish Makhija
He arrives at the metaphor and therefore when he understands at a very subconscious level that this is a metaphor so if Ram is a metaphor then what’s stopping me from being Ram and I can replicate those values and those ideas where I come from. So I want to send out this messaging because the right-wing has appropriated from me the things that I took away from the Ramayana, so this is me trying to take it back.
Kaveree: You do it really well, Devashish. I wanted to know what makes you? What keeps you going?
Devashish: One thing that also breaks me is the one thing that keeps me going. There is an unending abyss of rage. I try not showing it half the time when I’m constantly grappling with it, trying to subdue it, trying to therapeutise it, but when I sit down and tell a story, I dip into that rage. Without that rage, I don’t know how to tell stories. So it’s rage all the way. I would rather it come into my stories then manifest in me picking up the gun.
Kaveree: I really want to ask what’s next for you?
Devashish: Like I was telling Sanjoy earlier, all my stories are really hard to find backing for so I am trying. I’ve got like 15-16 stories that I’m trying to turn into films, but I’m hoping that this novel does well. The films I make get watched by a very niche audience. They almost never make their money back. So it takes me three-four years to set up a film so somewhere, you know, a storyteller like me is not getting the energy back that I’m putting into the world. So I’m hoping this book finds readers so that I feel like I’ve been energized enough. I would actually drop everything and write my next novel which is ready. And it has all the same motifs that Oonga did, only that they are a lot more personal. It’s about that night on the 6th of December 1992 in that mohalla in Kolkata.
(The above text – transcription and editing – is a handiwork of Suman Bhattacharya and Shillpi A Singh)
New Delhi, March 20, 2021: Did you know that people whose inner cheek, teeth and gums are in poor condition may be more susceptible to mouth and throat cancers? Well, here is what you should know. Oral cancer is one of India’s most common cancers amongst men (11.28% of all cancers), the fifth most frequently occurring cancer amongst women (4.3% of all cancers). The causes attributed to oral cancer are mainly tobacco chewing, areca nut, alcohol consumption, and poor oral hygiene (POH). We often associate poor oral hygiene with dental caries, Gingivitis, Periodontitis (gum disease) and foul smell. Still, poor oral hygiene, in the long run, can give rise to fatal diseases, including cancer. A British study has shown that patients with poor oral health index have an overall higher mortality rate (they die prematurely) compared to others. Let’s take a look at the frequently asked question related to poor oral hygiene and oral cancer.
WHAT ARE THE FACTORS CAUSING POOR ORAL HYGIENE? There are numerous common factors leading to poor oral hygiene, including tobacco chewing, alcohol, areca nut chewing, infrequent dental visits, immunocompromised status, low socio-economic status, and lower education level. Studies have shown that all these factors significantly deteriorate oral hygiene.
HOW DOES POOR ORAL HYGIENE CAUSE ORAL CANCER? POH is strongly associated with oral cancers. It aids the carcinogenic potential of other known carcinogens, like tobacco and alcohol. It causes easy conversion (faster endogenous nitration) of tobacco metabolite into cancer causing products (nitrosamines), leading to cancer development. POH also reacts with alcohol to form Aldehyde-also a class I carcinogen (Class I carcinogen are the product which can independently cause cancer).
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT ORAL CANCER BY MAINTAINING GOOD ORAL HYGIENE? One should not consume tobacco or tobacco products, which is one of Gingival Recession’s major causes (loss of gums), leading to loosening of teeth and the formation of a pre-cancerous lesion. Similarly, avoiding alcohol consumption may help maintain good oral hygiene, as evidence shows that an alcohol consumer has higher chances of foul-smelling mouth, more tar burdened teeth, and a greater possibility of bleeding gums.
WHICH ARE THE PARTS OF ORAL CAVITY YOU SHOULD LOOK FOR CANCEROUS LESION ASSOCIATED WITH POOR ORAL HYGIENE? Buccal Mucosa (inner cheek mucosa) is the most common oral cavity cancer site when POH is associated with tobacco chewing habit. When POH is associated with alcohol, then under the tongue’s surface, the floor of the mouth is the most common site.
CAN SHARP TOOTH OR ILL-FITTING DENTURE CAUSE ORAL CANCER? Chronic mucosal trauma due to a sharp tooth or ill-fitting dentures can cause oral cancer. A study conducted by Tata Memorial Centre (Singhavi et al) has concluded that chronic mucosa trauma has higher chances of developing oral cancer. It’s not an uncommon finding to have oral cancer in non-habitual patients, especially tongue cancers. Chronic mucosa trauma and poor oral hygiene are the front runners in such cases.
Evidence that ascertains the link between poor oral hygiene and oral cancer: Level 1 (direct causation) evidence to determine poor oral hygiene as the primary etiological factor of oral cancer is lacking. However, studies have shown that maintaining good hygiene reduces the chances of oral cancer by 200%. Also, 93 relevant articles published in the literature until the year 2020 concluded that poor oral hygiene contributes to oral cancer causation, in one way or the other. However, for more information, refer to https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6414580.
Thus, on the occasion of World Oral Health Day, which is observed on March 20th, 2021, let’s pledge to spread the word and educate people on the significance of oral health and sensitise people that maintaining good oral hygiene is a must to stay away from oral cancer.
New Delhi, March 19, 2021: Royal Philips, a global leader in health technology, recently released the findings of the India Sleep Survey Report titled ‘Philips Global Sleep Survey 2021’. The report focuses on the impact of the COVID19 pandemic on sleep health as well as the increase in adoption of digital health technologies. Highlighting the importance of digital health technologies, 60% of the Indians said that they have used or are willing to use telehealth for sleep-related concerns.
The report highlighted that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Indian adults experienced new sleep challenges like difficulty falling asleep (37%), difficulty staying asleep (27%), and waking up during the night (39%).
The survey also focused on the adverse effects that sleep apnea has on patients. The study reported that 80% of patients with sleep apnea experience daytime drowsiness while only 52% of those who do not have sleep apnea experience the same. 47% of the participants also said that sleep apnea is impacting their relationships. With symptoms like unwarranted daytime sleepiness and trouble in concentrating, sleep apnea impacts productivity and overall quality of life. Sleep apnea can also lead to graver health issues including cardiac conditions, strokes, neurological disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity as has been noted in widely referenced clinical research papers
Philips also announced the launch of its Care Orchestrator Sleep and Respiratory Care Management system today. The system enables clinicians and healthcare institutions to drive superior health outcomes by remotely monitoring and managing all sleep apnea and respiratory patients with a single system.
Chhitiz Kumar, Business Leader, Precision Diagnosis and Connected Care, Philips Indian Subcontinent, said “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on everyone’s lives. With everyone now adapting to the new normal, both healthcare providers and patients have a critical role to play in transforming the way healthcare is delivered. The increase in adoption of digital technologies such as telehealth for treatment of sleep related disorders from patient side is a positive change that must be welcomed and encouraged. Philips Care Orchestrator Sleep and Respiratory Care Management system is one such breakthrough solution that will enable healthcare institutions and practitioners to remotely monitor and manage all their sleep apnea and respiratory patients with a single system. As we head into the next decade, Philips is focused on designing a future where technology leveraged across the entire sleep ecosystem can help people get the most out of their lives.”
Dr. J.C. Suri, Director and Head, Department of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Fortis Flt. Lt. Rajan Dhall Hospital, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi and Founder, President and Chairman, Indian Sleep Disorders Association, highlighted that “sleep is an important component of our daily lives. It has profound impact on our physical and mental wellbeing. I have seen a steady improvement in awareness about sleep disorders such as sleep apnea in the last decade. However, we still have a long way to go in increasing seriousness towards diagnosing and treating this disorder. Brands like Philips and the physician community have an important role to play in this regard. While brands work on sensitizing people towards sleep apnea, it is also vital to equip physicians with the right know-how to screen, diagnose and treat sleep disorders in general and sleep apnea in particular. Only then we would be able to bring significant improvement in the sleep health of India.”
As part of its overall initiatives to combat sleep disorders and sleep apnea in particular, Philips announced in October 2020 launch of first-of-its-kind six-month online certified comprehensive Sleep Medicine Course. The course is being organized in collaboration with Academy of Pulmonary Critical Care and Sleep Medicine (APCCSM) and under the aegis of Indian Sleep Disorders Association (ISDA). Designed to augment the gap in medical education in sleep care, the inaugural batch of the course commenced on March 2, 2021 with more than 70 doctors being trained under the able guidance of Dr. J.C. Suri. Philips also launched a dedicated sleep helpline (1800 258 7678) and Home Sleep Test Solution to enhance access to care for patients suffering from sleep disorders in October 2020.
The company has also trained more than 500 sleep technicians and guided the launch of more than 850 sleep labs in the country till date.
As an industry leader and innovator in sleep and respiratory care, Philips is deeply rooted in its commitment to developing clinically proven solutions that help people take control of their sleep health. Philips aims to provide solutions that meet the growing and evolving needs of consumers and healthcare professionals alike. In line with its focus on offering quality, accessible and value-based care, the company also provides ‘No-cost EMI’ offer on its products under the Respironics range of sleep and respiratory solutions.
Key Findings of Philips India Sleep Survey 2021
- 67% of Indian adults say they are completely or somewhat satisfied with their sleep, and 25% say they are somewhat or entirely dissatisfied.
- 54% of Indian adults report that the amount of time spent fully asleep has increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and 18-34-year-olds are especially impacted, with 61% reporting an increase in sleep compared to 41% of 50-64-year-olds and 35% of 65+ year-olds.
- Since COVID-19 started, many Indian adults report new sleep challenges like difficulty falling asleep (37%), difficulty staying asleep (27%), and waking up during the night (39%).
- Indian adults report the following being negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Work routine – 43%
- Sleep routine – 41%
- Ability to sleep well – 36%
- Stress – 50%
- Physical health – 35%
- Mental/emotional health – 47%
- 80% of Indian adults with sleep apnea experience daytime drowsiness, while only 52% of those who do not have sleep apnea experience daytime drowsiness.
- 77% of Indian adults with sleep apnea experience chronic fatigue, while only 36% of those who do not have sleep apnea experience chronic fatigue.
- 74% of Indian adults feel like they get enough sleep at night.
- Approximately 1 in 5 (19%) Indian adults experience sleep apnea.
- One-third (34%) of Indian adults with sleep apnea currently use sleep apnea therapy to improve their sleep.
- Of the Indian adults that have been tested for sleep apnea, 55% say they were tested in-home, and 34% say they were tested at a sleep lab or doctor’s office
- 50% received their results during an in-person visit, and 41% through a telehealth visit (video call or telephone appointment)
- According to Indian adults, when it came to using their phone in bed:
- 8% say they do not use their phone in bed.
- 29% say they charge their phone overnight next to their bed.
- 32% say they respond to texts or calls that wake them up during the night.
- 53% say the last thing they do before falling asleep is look at their phone.
- 54% say they look at their phone as soon as they wake up in the morning.
- 54% use their phone as an alarm clock.
- 58% use it for entertainment (e.g. watching videos, scrolling through social media)
- Of those (53%) that said their phone is the last thing they look at before falling asleep at night, 81% said this leads them to fall asleep later than they would like to.
- Of those that said their phone is the last thing they look at before falling asleep at night, during that time:
- 80% are scrolling through social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, TikTok)
- 78% are watching videos (e.g. YouTube, Netflix)
- 63% are checking email
- 58% are sending/receiving text messages
- 53% are setting their alarms
- 50% are looking at pictures
- 46% are reading news not related to the pandemic or politics
- 43% are reading news about the COVID-19 pandemic
- 39% are reading political news
- 22% of Indian adults say worry/stress is what most limits their ability to get good sleep, and when it comes to what contributes to this stress, the top responses were:
- 63% reported financial challenges, with 81% of 35-49-year-olds reporting this as their top contributor to worry/stress
- 59% reported the COVID-19 pandemic
- 56% reported work responsibilities
- 48% reported health (mine or family member’s)
- 44% of Indian adults either currently use or have used sleep trackers to improve their sleep.
- 40% of Indian adults have never set a bedtime/wake-up schedule to improve their sleep.
- 60% of Indian adults say they have used or are willing to use telehealth for sleep-related concerns.
- 55% of Indian adults who have used a telehealth program/talked to a healthcare specialist online about sleep-related concerns did so for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- 50% of Indian adults over the age of 65 do not think it is necessary to be treated for sleep apnea.
- Of those reporting to have sleep apnea, 47% of Indian adults believe sleep apnea is impacting their relationship(s).
Book: Oonga Author: Devashish Makhija Publication: Tulika Publishers Genre: Fiction
A 2013 critically acclaimed film now a novel
Devashish Makhija, a screen writer and director of Hindi Cinema, made the film ‘Oonga‘ in 2013 with actress Nandita Das playing one of the important characters of the story. The film though critically acclaimed was not released commercially for various reasons. The author has released the story now as a novel and the bookOonga was launched in the Jaipur Literature Festival 2021.
Few years ago before directing the film of the same name, Makhija, spent time traveling through the jungles of Odisha meeting and observing locals and their everyday fight for survival. He realized that the story still seemed relevant in current times and decided to bring the story in the form of book. The book ‘Oonga’ is inspired by the Dongria Kondh tribals and their way of…
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New Delhi, March 15, 2021: Kewal Krishan, age 107 years plus, became the oldest person in India to be vaccinated against COVID under the supervision of his cardiologist Dr Ashok Seth, Chairman, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute. Two years ago, he was the oldest patient in the world to have undergone stenting to the artery of left side of brain by Dr Ashok Seth to prevent a major brain stroke.
Dr Ashok Seth, Chairman, Interventional Cardiology, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, said, “It is really a heartening moment to see that Mr Kewal Krishan has got vaccinated safely and will continue to lead a good quality of life in safety. This is important especially because two years ago Krishan started having repeated small strokes and was threatening a major stroke leading to paralysis. He had a 95% calcified left carotid artery stenosis (blockage in the main artery supplying blood to the left half of brain). The blockages were very hard, torturous and angulated. It took us two hours to treat it via a non-invasive Carotid Artery Stent Implantation. I am happy to say that he improved and that day we prevented him from having a major stroke and today he is well, lead a quality of life and therefore took the vaccine to remain well and enjoy his life with his family. He is an example for many other elderly patients to keep a positive attitude to life and wellbeing.”
Mr Anil Vinayak, Group COO, Fortis Healthcare, said, “Fortis is committed to supporting the Government in this mammoth vaccination drive. At Fortis Healthcare, we have administered more than 60,000 doses till date across 21 of our network hospitals pan India. It is extremely encouraging to see the increase in the vaccination numbers with each passing day.”
The article was published in The Free Press Journal, Mumbai, edition dated March 14, 2021.
New Delhi, March 13, 2021: We have entered the second phase of the world’s largest immunization program. However, several looming questions could hamper the success of this program and weaken the fight against COVID19.
Yes, vaccination is the most effective tool to fight the COVID19 pandemic, and help us succeed in our mission to restore normalcy! Having said that, the COVID19 vaccination drive in India has seen much momentum since day one. With an enthusiastic push from the civic bodies, we are slowly but steadily approaching our target goals. After successful round of vaccination for the healthcare providers and frontline workers, we have now moved to vaccinate and protect seniors above 60 years of age, and those above 45 years with comorbidities.
Here’s a guideline to help proceed with vaccinating yourself and your loved ones:
1. All adults should take the COVID19 vaccine and encourage others to take it as well.
2. You should have had your meals, and be well hydrated for your vaccination.
3. Only people who have an Anaphylaxis (allergic reaction) to any of the vaccine contents, should NOT take the vaccine.
4. All approved vaccines including Covishield and Covaxin have:
- 100% efficacy in preventing death due to COVID19
- Very high efficacy against severe COVID19
- High to moderate efficacy (60%-95%) against symptomatic COVID19
- Poor efficacy only against asymptomatic COVID19
5. Vaccinating the high-risk vulnerable population – above 60 yrs and above 45 yrs with co-morbidities will bring down the mortality rate to ‘very low’, as currently, this group forms almost 90% of patients who succumb to the disease. Therefore, we must encourage people in these age groups to be vaccinated.
6. People with previous COVID19 infection should take the vaccine only after 8-12 weeks of recovery from COVID 19.
7. A person who has received Plasma Therapy to treat a previous COVID19 infection should wait for 8-12 weeks before taking the vaccine.
8. Vaccine is safe in patients with hypertension, diabetes, renal failure, and heart disease, amongst those who have undergone bypass, post-angiography, and those on dialysis.
9. In pregnant women, if the benefit outweighs the risks of the vaccine, then you may take the vaccine. For example, a frontline pregnant worker should take the vaccine.
10. There is no data on how long pregnancy should be avoided post-vaccination. However, as it is an inactivated or dead virus it should be safe after 6-8 weeks of vaccination to conceive.
11. Vaccine is safe amongst those with a food allergy, drug allergy (other than the vaccine components) and common allergic conditions such as asthma, allergic rhinitis and allergic dermatitis. But consult your doctor before enrolling yourself.
12. People on anti-platelet agents like Aspirin and Clopidogrel should take the COVID19 vaccine without stopping their medication.
13. Patients on blood thinners like Warfarin or newer anticoagulation agents have a small risk of injection site swelling. Patients who are on these newer agents can skip their morning dose, take the vaccine and continue the next regular dose.
14. Patients with neurological complications like stroke, Parkinson’s, dementia should take the vaccine as it is safe for them.
15. Patients on immunosuppressant’s (i.e. patients who’ve undergone organ transplants) of any type can safely take the vaccine. However, immune response may not be complete. Check with your doctor before enrolling.
16. It is false that alcohol is not allowed post-vaccine or that vaccine causes impotency or that vaccine will change the DNA of a person.
17. There are currently no trials available on children, hence vaccination for those below 18 years can be delayed for now.
18. Patients with cancer and those undergoing Chemotherapy should consult their doctor and seek an appropriate window for vaccination between the Chemotherapy cycles. Ideally, the patient should wait for at least four weeks post-chemotherapy to take their vaccine.
19. Fever, body ache, dizziness, headaches are common symptoms post-vaccination.
20. A simple Paracetamol can be taken post-vaccination if required, and most symptoms would be well controlled.
Do not believe in rumours, the best way to get the right information is to speak to doctors at medical centres who are offering the COVID19 vaccination. Remember, vaccine-induced immunity is as important as herd immunity. It is the current and the only way to tackle the growing menace of the virus. Let’s all come together to fight back and end the pandemic once and for all.
(The article has been authored by Dr Rahul Pandit, Director-Critical Care, Fortis Hospitals Mumbai & Member-Maharashtra’s COVID Taskforce)
The article was published in the Women’s Day Special of The Free Press Journal, edition dated March 7, 2021.
New Delhi, March 5, 2021: Ever since Lata entered puberty, she has had difficulty in managing her weight. She craved carbohydrates and even skipped dinner, but her weight increased at a faster rate month over months. Apart from her weight problem, she faced acne and Hirsutism issues (male-pattern facial hair growth). She also has visited her primary care physician on several occasions, complaining of dizziness, feeling shaky, and irregular menses. Her doctor started her on birth control pills to regulate her periods but in vain. Later, she was detected with Hypoglycemia; her physician and her family encouraged her to follow a strict diet and exercise regimen.
Lata is now married for two years and plans to begin a family but cannot conceive. She continues to struggle with severe Hypoglycemia, has elevated serum triglyceride levels and feels miserable. However, recently when Lata visited a reproductive Endocrinologist, she was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
Like Lata, many young women suffer from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) or Polycystic Ovarian Disease (PCOD) and cannot live a healthy life. These conditions bring along complications that deteriorate the quality of life among young women. Statistics state that one in every five women in India suffers from PCOS.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PCOS AND PCOD: In women with PCOS, their ovaries produce higher levels of androgen than usual, which interferes with the development and release of the eggs. Some of the eggs develop into cysts – which are the little sacs filled with liquid. Instead of being released during ovulation, these cysts build up in the ovaries and even get enlarged. PCOD (Polycystic Ovarian Disease) is a condition where the ovaries release many immature or partially mature eggs, which eventually turn into cysts. Some common symptoms are abdominal weight gain, irregular periods, male pattern hair loss, and infertility. In this condition, the ovaries usually become enlarged and secrete large amounts of androgens that can cause havoc with a woman’s fertility & her body.
EFFECTIVE WAYS TO MANAGE PCOD AND PCOS: Obesity is recognized as an important contributory factor in these conditions. So, diet control, exercise, and monitored weight loss are the first line of treatment. Even 10% weight loss helps quite a lot for hormone imbalance management and in bringing body mass index <25. This also improves menstrual disorders, infertility, insulin resistance, Hirsutism, and acne.
Hormonal management with combined Oral Contraceptive Pills (OCP) is effective in reducing Luteinizing Hormone and Testosterone Hormone. PCOD/ PCOS is not a disease; it is a hormonal imbalance where male hormones increase, so we can control these hormonal changes with OCPs. Insulin resistance is associated with Diabetes Mellitus, central obesity, Dyslipidemia and Hypertension, which can be managed.
Hormonal changes cause abnormal uterine bleeding, prolonged menses, and anovulation (absence of ovulation), for Endometrial Hyperplasia, sometimes endometrial biopsy has to be done. For young females presented with infertility, ovulation induction is done with hormones. Sometimes if the person is not responding to medicine, then Laparoscopic Ovarian Drilling is done. There are rare cases where if weight loss is not possible with diet and exercise, then bariatric surgery is prescribed. Anti-androgen medicines are used for cosmetic purposes in Hirsutism patients. Laser is also used for hair removal.
So, eating the right foods and avoiding certain carbohydrates & fat helps manage the symptoms. Try to consume whole foods which are free from sugar, hormones and preservatives; fruits, vegetables whole grains and legumes should be preferred. Moreover, plant-based proteins and unprocessed high carbohydrates can improve insulin sensitivity. Try to consume more fibre in your diet, reduce the consumption of coffee. Soy, Turmeric, Cinnamon, Vitamin-D3, Calcium, Zinc, Primosa oil, and Cod liver oil should be added to your diet.
(Text by Dr Sushma Tomar, Consultant Obstetrics and Gynecology Fortis Hospital, Kalyan; Images by Soleha Shaikh, Mumbai-based nutritionist and certified diabetes educator, and calligraphy artist.)
“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.
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.
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.
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 a 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 echoes 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 as the water of gods. Bon appétit!
(Text by Shillpi A Singh; pictures from Sindhustan; the film is streaming on https://www.moviesaints.com/movie/sindhustan; it is also the official selection at the upcoming Wench Film Festival https://wenchfilms.com/)
By Shillpi A Singh
आज की ख़ास बातचीत अमरेंद्र शर्मा से जिन्हें आपने फिल्मों और टेलीविज़न में अभिनेता के रूप में देखा होगा पर क्या आप जानते हैं इन्होंने पिछले साल भोजपुरी गाने – चल रे बटोही – के गायक और निर्माता के रूप में एक नयी पहचान बना कर सब को चौंका दिया था। चलिए एक बटोही के साथ उसके सफर पर और जानिये इस अभिनेता, गायक और निर्माता के पीछे छुपे एक प्रवासी के दर्द को।
आप को हमनें फिल्मों और टेलीविज़न पर अभिनेता के रूप में देखा है। पिछले साल आपने दो म्यूजिक वीडियो में बतौर गायक और निर्माता के रूप में हम सब के सामने आये। इस सफर की शुरुआत कहाँ से और कैसे हुई ?
मैं बिहार के बेतिया जिले के शिकारपुर गाँव से मैट्रिक करने के बाद 1998 में पटना थिएटर करने आ गया। बिहार आर्ट थिएटर से एक्टिंग में दो साल का डिप्लोमा किया और उसी समय पंकज त्रिपाठी भईया से मिलना हुआ और उन्होंने मुझे नेशनल स्कूल ऑफ़ ड्रामा (एनएसडी) के विजय कुमार जी के मंच आर्ट ग्रुप से जोड़ लिया। फिर हमलोग कई सालों तक पूरे देश मे घूम घूम के बहुत सारे नाटक किया जिसमे फणीश्वरनाथ रेणु जी की कहानियां (पंच लाइट, रसप्रिया), हरीशंकर परसाई जी की कहानियां (ना जाने केंहि भेष में, हम बिहार में चुनाव लड़ रहे हैं) का कोलाज़ बना के, फिर रागदरबारी, जात ना पूछो साधु के, ऑफ माइस एंड मैन, बहुत सारे शोज़ किये। फिर कोलकाता में उषा गांगुली जी के रंगकर्मी रेपेट्री से जुड़ गया। वहाँ पर कोर्टमार्शल, शोभायात्रा, काशी के असी, मुक्ति, मातादीन चाँद पे, बहुत सारे शोज़ किये। उसके बाद दिल्ली साहित्य कला परिषद रेपेट्री से जुड़ गया। वँहा पर सतीश आनंद सर के साथ अन्वेषक, महानिर्वाण, चित्तरंजन त्रिपाठी जी के साथ लड़ी नज़रिया, दस दिन का अनसन (हरिशंकर परसाई जी की) सुमन कुमार जी के साथ कहानियों का मंचन किया।
दिल्ली में नाटक करते हुए मनोज बाजपेयी सर की फ़िल्म 1971 में काम करने का मौक़ा मिला, जिसमे मैं पाकिस्तानी सोल्जर की भूमिका में था। काम कुछ ख़ास नहीं था, पर मुझे मनोज जी को क़रीब से अभिनय करते देखना था, मैं उनको स्वाभिमान, दौड़, तमन्ना के समय से फॉलो करता था, जब सत्या आई तो मैं बिल्कुल बेचैन हो गया कि मुझे कैसे भी कर के एक्टर बनना है। मैंने उनकी सत्या देखी थी और शायद तभी से मुझे अभिनेता बनने की इच्छा जागी थी। स्कूल टाइम में अजय देवगन साहब का जबरदस्त फैन रहा हूँ। एक भी फ़िल्म नहीं छोड़ता था। फिर 2008 में मुम्बई आ गया। दूसरे मेरे पसन्दीदा एक्टर इरफान खान सर के साथ अपना आसमान किया। मणिरत्नम सर के साथ रावण किया। फिर मैंने फिल्मों से थोड़ी दूरी बना लिया, अच्छे काम नहीं मिल रहे थे सो मैंने टेलीविजन के तरफ़ रुख़ किया। क्राइम शोज़ में लीड रोल किये। कुछ विज्ञापनों में भी काम किया। 2018 में मुझे भोर फ़िल्म मिली, फिर 2019 में बाटला हाउस मिली। 2020 में मैंने बटोही म्यूजिक वीडियो बनाया। बटोही के बाद, छठ का गीत बनाया, उसे भी लोगों ने पसंद किया।
आप खुद को प्रवासी रचनात्मक मजदूर क्यों कहते हैं ? बटोही म्यूजिक वीडियो के पीछे क्या कहानी छुपी हुई है ?
सन 2000 में मैं पहली बार बिहार से बाहर, दिल्ली नाटक करने, अपने गाँव के कुछ लोगों के साथ पहुंचा था । वो लोग कापसहेड़ा में फैक्ट्री में काम करते थे और एक छोटे से कमरे में 7 से 8 लोग रहते थे। मैं भी उनलोगों के साथ रहने लगा, उन लोगों की स्थिति देख के मुझे बहुत बुरा लगा। मुझे बाहर इतनी बुरी स्थिति में रहना पड़ेगा, मैं कभी सपने में भी नही सोचा था, पर धीरे धीरे मैं भी उनमें ढल गया। कुछ समय बाद मैं वंहा से मंडी हाउस चला आया और अपने नाटक में मस्त हो गया। उसी समय NDTV पर रविश कुमार जी की रिपोर्ट देखी, जिसमे रविश जी मेरे ही ज़िले के प्रवासी मज़दूरों के साथ खाना खाते हुए रिपोर्टिंग कर रहे थे। उस दृश्य ने मुझे अंदर से झंझोर दिया। ख़ुद को पराजित महसूस करने लगा। पहली बार प्रवासी शब्द का अर्थ समझा, पहली बार अहसास हुआ कि मैं भी प्रवासी मज़दूर हूँ। मैं भी अपना परिवार, गाँव, समाज और जगह छोड़ कर मज़दूरी करने आया हूँ। उसके बाद मैं कलकत्ता गया, फिर मुम्बई आ गया, हर जगह उस दर्द को महसूस करता रहा।
चल रे बटोही अपन गाँव म्यूजिक वीडियो बनाने में कितना समय लगा ?
मुम्बई में संघर्ष करते वक़्त महसूस हुआ कि भोजपुरी में बहुत बुरा काम हो रहा है। भोजपुरी अश्लीलता का पर्याय बन चुका है। दूसरे राज्य के दोस्तों के बीच भोजपुरी मज़ाक की भाषा थी। बहुत बुरा लगता था। भोजपुरी में कुछ करना चाहता था पर कर नहीं पा रहा था, जिस तरह की भोजपुरी फ़िल्म बन रहीं थी कभी मन नही हुआ करने का। मैं गायक नही हूँ, पर नाटक में हमेशा गाता रहा हूँ, सो मेरा मन किया कि क्यूं न भोजपुरी में कुछ गाया जाय। प्रवासी होने का दर्द मैं मुम्बई में भी महसूस कर रहा था सो पलायन पर कुछ गाने का मन बनाया। सन 2018 की बात है, मैंने गीत लिखना शुरू किया पर पेपर पर उसको उतार नहीं पाया। फिर अपने गाँव के अभिजीत मिश्र को समझाया और कई महीनों के डिस्कस करने के बाद गीत तैयार हुआ। फिर भी मुझे गीत अधूरा लग रहा था; फिर मैं मुम्बई में राइटर डायरेक्ट आशुतोष तिवारी से मिला और बटोही का दूसरा अंतरा लिखवाया।
फिर दोस्त मनु वर्मा से डेमो म्यूजिक तैयार करवा के, फाइनेंस के लिए लोगों से मिलता रहा, पर कोई तैयार नहीं हुआ। फिर सोचा अब किसी से नही मिलूंगा, ख़ुद ही बनाऊंगा। ऐसे सोचते सोचते दो साल बीत गए। फिर लॉक डाउन में गाँव आ गया। प्रवासी मज़दूरों का संघर्ष देखा तो बहुत दुःख हुआ, ऐसा लगा बटोही इसी दिन के लिए बचा के रखा हूँ। कुछ समझ नही आ रहा था, गाँव में कोई सुविधा नहीं थी। क्या करूँ, सोचा फेसबुक पे लाइव गा देता हूँ, पर मन नहीं माना। फिर बेतिया में ही DOP चंदन से बात किया और वहीं पर लॉक डाउन में रेकॉर्डिंग कर के वीडियो भी शूट कर लिया। फिर मुम्बई एडिट के लिए फ़ाइल सेंड करने में तीन दिन लग गए, यहां पे इनटरनेट का बहुत प्रॉब्लम था। वीडियो शूट करने में टोटल चार लोग थे। ज़ीरो बज़ट में बटोही बन कर तैयार हुआ।
आपके बटोही गाने की बहुत तारीफ हुई है। क्या आपने ऐसा सोचा था ?
बटोही को जैसा मैंने सोचा था वैसे ही सबके सामने था, सभी का प्यार बहुत मिला।
मनोज बाजपेयी सर ने ट्विटर पे शेयर किया। पंकज त्रिपाठी भईया ने अपने पेज से शेयर किया।
रविश कुमार जी ने NDTV पे प्राइम टाइम में पूरा वीडियो चलाया।
निर्देशक अविनाश दास जी, अरविंद गौर जी … सब ने शेयर किया।
सबसे बड़ी बात मुझे ये लगी की दूसरे राज्य के लोगों ने भी इस भोजपुरी गीत को सराहा और पसंद किया।शायद इसलिए भी क्यूंकि इस देश में अगर बिहार का लड़का अगर महाराष्ट्र में काम करता और रहता है तो वह एक प्रवासी है। और इस तरह हम सभी प्रवासी ही हैं।
आप अभिनय और गायन के क्षेत्र में इस साल और क्या-क्या कर रहे हैं ?
दो फिल्मों – मछली और नरभक्षी – में काम किया है जिसका पोस्ट प्रोडक्शन चल रहा है। एक हॉट स्टार की वेब सीरीज कर रहा हूँ। कुछ भोजपुरी म्यूजिक वीडियो भी प्लान किया है, उसको करना है। अभी मैं किन्नर समुदाय के दुर्दशा और व्यथा पर भोजपुरी में म्यूजिक वीडियो बना रहा हूँ।
Raj Mohan is a poet, singer, composer, songwriter in the Sarnámi-Bhojpuri language in The Netherlands and Suriname. He released his first pop album in Sarnámi-Bhojpuri lyrics, Hindi songs and poems in 2011, were he not only sang but also composed the music and wrote the lyrics. In his album ‘Kantráki‘ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-r5NfLzJ3M (2005), he invented the Sarnámi-Bhojpuri Geet in the Geet & Ghazal style, which was appreciated worldwide. He performed the Geet/Ghazalnuma songs in the traditional Ghazal setting as well as in jazz and pop in his album, Daayra https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUFqPZYQfdE (2011).
He has so far released five music albums, including a bhajan album with Anup Jalota and authored two books with Sarnámi-Bhojpuri poems. His latest album ‘Dui Mutthi‘ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgBy07OcDUk (2013) was released to mark 140 years of Indian migration to Suriname.
In a freewheeling chat with Shillpi A Singh, he takes us through his last musical offering, Batohiya, released during the pandemic and everything else around Bhojpuri that is close to his heart, sould and being. Excerpts:
How did the Batohiya song happen?
I wanted to record this song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZFW92GR2bo) for a long time, but I couldn’t because of my other engagements. I discussed the idea with my manager and business partner in India, Devendra Singh. He loved it. He was responsible for online marketing and coordinating the audio and video recordings in India. He suggested doing it with various artists from different diaspora countries. It was a huge challenge, but still, I went ahead. My student and artist Ragga Menno was another important resource who helped me shape this project and realise this dream.
What were the challenges? What went behind the scenes?
The biggest challenge was the distance between all the artistes and me. The audio had to be recorded separately in studios. Devendra Singh and his team managed the recordings from India. He arranged for the performers in different cities in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to record the audio and video. I also coordinated this with my team from Suriname, South Africa, Guyana/Trinidad and The Netherlands.
Once all the material was collected, we started working on patching the audio and doing the video editing.
How long did all of this take, from start to finish?
We worked on this for two months with our team.
Who were the other collaborators in this musical project?
The song was producer by GFRecords (The Netherlands), and Devendra, Ragga and I were the co-producers.
I composed the music using the lyrics originally written by the legendary poet Babu Raghuvir Narayan. The spoken words were by Hemelbesem. The backend crew included Babak Rastagar from Austria (Programming & Mixing); Mailmen Studio from The Netherlands (Mastering) and FOX Media Productions from The Netherlands (Video). I directed the video while Ragga did the editing. Nityanand Tiwari from India did its translation, from English to Bhojpuri.
The vocalists included 11 artistes from seven countries — Munna Singh, Chhotu Bihari, Arya Nandini, and Vishwajeet Pratap Singh from India; Hemelbesem from South Africa; Terry Gajraj from Guyana/USA; Ilhaam Ahmadali from Suriname; Rukshana from The Netherlands; Angel ArunA, Ragga and myself from Suriname/The Netherlands.
Our partners in this project included GFRecords and FOX Media Productions from The Netherlands; Facebook groups from India — Anjora, Jogira, Bhojpuria, Khanti Bhojpuria, Magadhi Boys and Witty Froth Films; and radio channel Abee Chunes from New York.
There have been so many versions of the same song. Which one is your favourite?
Of course, mine. We are the Batohiyas (travellers) in the true sense. This song has been made by and with descendants of artistes and participants of the Indian diaspora. It is about us. It tells the story of our ancestors who couldn’t go back to their beloved homeland India. At the same time, this song was also for the families that stayed behind in India. It conveyed their pride, pain of separation, longing, belonging, and even ours. After all, those people never saw their ancestors or families again. Most of them didn’t know which country they were going to and how they would fare there. The cherry on the cake is that it has been written by one of the strugglers, Babu Raghuvir Narayan.
Bhojpuri is the third most spoken language of the Sarnámi-Bhojpuri community in The Netherlands. What is the other way to keep the language alive for the younger generation?
Music is a powerful way to connect with each other. Other ways could be to hold meetings, conferences involving the young people with interactive programs and hip, new music; songs that appeal to them like Bhojpuri pop, (hard) rock or rap, and spoken word. We must have a modern, contemporary approach. We must organise regular gatherings to preserve and spread the Bhojpuri language and culture in all its versatility and diversity.
What are the most striking endeavours that stood out for you as far as doing a great service to the language in 2020?
I have given many online concerts with songs sung mainly in Bhojpuri in both traditional (harmonium) and modern (guitar) styles. I released another song on Corona – Ham ka kari by Ragga Menno.
What is the scene like in your country? Do children read, write and speak Bhojpuri? What are the special measures being undertaken by the keepers of the language to keep it alive?
Activities are organised, presented or developed in various ways. There are very few radio programs and (online) TV report in Sarnámi-Bhojpuri. The new generation of lyricists should write songs in our language, but they instead copy Bollywood songs or write songs in Hindi.
Baithak gana (our folklore) is very popular, even with children who learn to sing the songs and play various instruments such as the dholak, harmonium and dhantaal (dandtaal). A major drawback is that the performers’ awareness (and of their parents) is not high enough to understand and/or speak the language they sing. The language is in danger of being lost here, just like in other Caribbean countries such as Guyana and Trinidad. In these countries, they don’t bother to learn the language or understand the words. Unfortunately, this also applies to most (almost all) professional artistes in Suriname, The Netherlands, Guyana and Trinidad. That is regrettable.
The article appeared in The New Indian Express, edition dated February 14, 2021. https://www.newindianexpress.com/lifestyle/books/2021/feb/14/the-moving-finger-writessulekha-ink-and-itscollectors-edition-swadeshi-line-2262808.html
New Delhi, February 17, 2021: A virtual discussion jointly organised by Ogilvy India and the country’s leading fashion and design institute, National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) Delhi, brought together subject matter experts from legal, law enforcement, education, and policy on a common platform calling for active measures to raise awareness for a citizen’s role in combating rape and expediting justice with better use of forensic DNA technology. The event themed ‘Role of Citizens in Combating Rape – The Power of Youth & Creative Expression’ saw representatives from NIFT Delhi join the #DNAFightsRape–Save the Evidence awareness initiative which has been backed by UN Women India, Girl Up, Delhi Police, and AIIMS among several others in the past.
Opening the discussion, Neeti Banga, Associate Professor, Leather Design Department, NIFT Delhi said, “Youth have always been the greatest drivers of social transformation. They have the potential to disrupt inertia with their energy and creativity. However, to tap into that, our education system must introduce them to pressing social issues and seek their participation in finding solutions. Traditional learning must be supplemented with critical thinking and creative thought to facilitate change. This initiative deals with one of biggest challenges our society faces and requires a new way of thinking. Only when we change mindsets can we ensure a safe and free world for our women & children. We are delighted to be associated with this cause and look forward to extending our support to bring the message home.”
Chiming in on the significance of educating the youth on this burning social issue, Dr Pinky Anand, Sr. Advocate, Supreme Court of India added, “Breaking the cycle of abuse will require concerted collaboration and action between governmental and non-governmental actors including educators, health-care authorities, legislators, the judiciary and the mass media. Education of young men and women will lead to change in attitudes and perceptions. It is therefore extremely important for the youth of this nation to understand the sensitivity of this issue and create awareness through various mediums, by conducting webinars, joining causes like #DNAFightsRape and further help in educating the citizens of this nation.”
Explaining how DNA evidence helps with the pursuit of truth and justice, Vivek Sood, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India said, “Authenticity of evidence in criminal prosecutions including rape cases, is critical for securing conviction of the accused. Otherwise, there’s a risk of rapists going scot free and innocents getting punished. DNA is a very credible piece of evidence that nails the rapists and exonerates the innocents who are falsely implicated. DNA evidence supports criminal justice in rape cases, as no other piece of evidence. It is also the strongest piece of corroborative evidence that supports the version of the victim of rape. In cases where the rape victim dies, DNA can be used as a stand-alone evidence.
The initiative was lauded by DCP Isha Pant, Bengaluru who has long been involved in initiatives for safety of women & children. Sharing her experience with ‘Be Together Bangalore’ campaign and ‘Safe City Project’ to make public spaces safer for women, she said, “While it’s the job of law enforcement agencies to conduct thorough investigations in sexual crimes, it is also important for us to work with the civil society to build confidence in our justice system by raising awareness about all that is being done to ensure their safety. Not only can forensic DNA technology bring sex offenders to justice, it can also act as a strong deterrent by putting the fear of law in the minds of criminals. Use of scientific methods of investigation remains a priority for Bengaluru Police and we’re taking steps to equip the force with the training and resources for proper collection and handling of DNA samples in such cases”.
The highlight of the event was a musical composition rendered into a video film created by Chords & Co., the official music club of Manipal Institute of Technology, MAHE, urging citizens to ensure justice and build a safer India by preserving DNA evidence and demanding it in cases of rape & sexual assault.
Talking about their inspiration behind the musical tribute, Rasika Muralidharan, Vocalist and Head of Social Media, Chords & Co said, “As a young woman, I’m constantly aware of the threats that exist out there. The reality of the situation is grim and cannot be unseen or unheard. As a student club, we ensure that the vulnerable feel safe and flourish without fear and hesitation. Like all artists, we want our work to be impactful, to be part of the change. The track we created for this campaign holds a lot of value and power. It reminds us of the past and the atrocities we let happen as a society. But it is also a beacon of hope. A message of awareness and empowerment to victims of sexual abuse and the power of DNA evidence. The essence of the track is simply true justice for the victim with due respect for those who are wrongly accused.”
Bringing in a global perspective Tim Schellberg, Founder & President, Gordon Thomas Honeywell—GA added, “It is good to see growing public awareness and faith in forensic DNA technology in India. People are beginning to realise the unmatched power DNA evidence in bringing sexual offenders to justice and deterring incidence of rape. However, considering the size of its population and the quantum of violent crime, India is still conducting DNA tests only in a tiny fraction of cases. Like everywhere else in the world, the youth always play a big role in changing status quo and we’re beginning to see that in India. They are more globally connected and woke than any generation in the past and realise how other countries are using this technology effectively to bring down crime rate and even catch serial offenders.”
Arneeta Vasudeva, Head, Public Relations & Influence, Ogilvy India added, “Rape is a pandemic that has infected our society for long. With only 1 in 4 such cases leading to conviction, the future looks grim unless we do something about it. What started as the #DNAFightsRape–Save the Evidence citizen awareness drive has today become a movement with members of the civil society stepping forward to spread the message of Don’t Wash, Don’t Clean. Save the Evidence in their own unique ways. We will continue to take this message to the masses till conducting DNA tests in rape cases becomes the norm”.
Despite rising crime, declining conviction rates, and an unprecedented backlog of cases in courts, there is huge unmet potential for DNA casework in India. Official statistics show a dramatic increase in the number of crimes against women, which have shot up from 24,923 in 2012 to 33,356 in 2018 – a jump of 34 per cent. As per NCRB data, one woman is raped every 15 minutes in India, whereas only one in four reported rape cases result in conviction.
Over the last couple of years, increasing awareness of forensic DNA technology in India has led to the doubling of the number of DNA tests conducted in criminal cases from 10,000 cases in 2017 to nearly 20,000 in 2019. However, despite growth in the number of profiles being tested, the absolute volume remains low, especially in crimes against women and children.
Brussels, Belgium, February 17, 2021: Described as the ‘greatest literary show on Earth’, the Jaipur Literature Festival is a sumptuous feast of ideas and inspiration. From 19th to 28th February 2021, the Festival returns with it’s 14th edition – fully virtual – featuring famous writers and curated for audiences across the world.
The European Union will participate at the Jaipur Literature Festival for the first time as a Festival Partner through an extensive programme curated by the Cultural Relations Platform (an EU-funded initiative) and the Delegation of the European Union to India. Renowned European writers and winners of the European Union Prize for Literature (EUPL), representing six Member States and partner countries, will be conducting literary exchanges with their Indian peers including authors, journalists, and opinion makers.
During the two weekends of the Festival (19-21 and 26-28 February), four European Prize for Literature laureates will take part in extensive conversations with Indian counterparts and interact with international audiences. The authors – Kevin Barry (Ireland), Meelis Friedenthal (Estonia), Rodaan Al Galidi (the Netherlands), and Adam Foulds (UK) – representing some of the most talented writers in Europe, will showcase the depth of the continent’s contemporary literature at South Asia’s biggest literary festival.
Next to the Festival’s main programme, the European Union will also support encounters between literary professionals from Europe and India as part of the Festival’s B2B wing – the Jaipur BookMark (JBM). Three sessions will be supported by the EU and address themes including literary translation, current trends in international publishing markets, and the transnational circulation of literary output. EUPL laureates Matthias Nawrat (Germany) and Selja Ahava (Finland), and key industry stakeholders representing the Federation of European Publishers, Latvia, Greece, and Finland will engage with counterparts from the Indian publishing industry.
The initiative is supported by the European Union and the Cultural Relations Platform with the aim of strengthening international cultural relations and stimulating collaborations as outlined in the EU Strategy for International Cultural Relations and the New European Agenda for Culture 2018 . It is co-organised by the Cultural Relations Platform (an EU-funded project), the Delegation of the European Union to India, and Teamwork Arts (India). This collaboration is an extension of longstanding EU-India creative sector exchanges – and will mark the fourth consecutive year that the EUPL will be represented at India’s most high-profile literary events.
Speaking of growing EU-India artistic and cultural ties, H.E. Ugo Astuto, Ambassador of the European Union to India and Bhutan, welcomed this collaboration, remarking that, “The EU is committed to fostering an environment conducive to greater creative exchanges with India. With our participation in the Jaipur Literature Festival and the Jaipur BookMark, we wish to strengthen the EU’s position as a major cultural partner of India, recognizing the importance of inter-cultural dialogue as a key element of our partnership.”
Sharing his enthusiasm Sanjoy K Roy, Managing Director, Teamwork Arts producer of the Jaipur Literature Festival said, “We are delighted to partner with the European Union and European Union prize for Literature and explore the rich writing from this region and strengthen our focus on translations and bringing to the fore the best writers from across the world during the Jaipur Literature Festival.
|Friday 19 February; 3pm IST / 10:30am CET||JLF 1st panel: Adam Foulds in conversation with Elaine Canning|
|Monday 22 February; 4:45pm IST / 12:15pm CET||JBM Session 1: European Union Prize for Literature: Writing from across Europe|
|Wednesday 24 February; 6pm IST / 1:30pm CET||JBM Session 2: Extending the Novel: Fiction, non-fiction, translation|
|Thursday 25 February; 4:45pm / 12:15pm CET||JBM Session 3: Publishing Market: International exchange|
|Friday 26 February; 4pm IST / 11:30am CET||JLF 2nd panel: Meelis Friedenthal in conversation with Malashri Lal|
|Saturday 27 February; 5pm IST / 12:30pm CET||JLF 3rd panel: Rodaan Al Galidi and Jonathan Reeder in conversation with Neeta Gupta|
|Sunday 28 February; 4pm IST / 11:30am CET||JLF 4th panel: Kevin Barry in conversation with Cauvery Madhavan|
There are many risks that myths and misconceptions around oral contraceptive pills can bring along. For example, unfounded concerns or false perceptions deter men and women from using a particular contraceptive method or contraceptive altogether. It can ultimately lead to unwanted pregnancies and unnecessary physical as well as mental harm to the woman. However, with the right amount of education, women can easily have a healthy sexual and reproductive life.
The biggest advantage of oral contraceptive pills is that they are effective and have a very low failure rate when used correctly; other benefits include regular menstrual cycles and lighter flow. However, taking one pill daily can seem tedious for some women and can also lead to missed pills which add to the failure rate. Therefore, women need to take responsibility for their reproductive health while consuming contraceptive consciously and carefully. All women must consult a gynaecologist before starting any new contraceptive, especially pills.
Learn the truths about 5 contraceptive myths that you should not believe:
ALL CONTRACEPTIVE PILLS LEAD TO WEIGHT GAIN: First generation contraceptive pills caused some temporary weight gain related to fluid retention in the body. However, newer formulations do not cause weight gain, rather they help with weight loss in patients who have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) along with other benefits.
CONTRACEPTIVE PILLS LEAD TO ACNE OR ABNORMAL HAIR GROWTH: Newer contraceptive pill formulations with different progesterone components, reduce testosterone concentration and reduce the incidence of acne in patients with PCOS.
IT IS ALL RIGHT TO MISS ONE OR MORE PILLS IN THE CYCLE: Missing pills during the cycle should not be taken lightly. It can lead to unexpected pregnancy due to contraception failure. Moreover, it can also cause spotting or mid-cycle bleeding to begin. One must always consult a gynaecologist if one or more pills have been missed to learn about what all precautions are to be taken in such an instance, and how to make sure unexpected pregnancies do not happen.
CONTRACEPTIVE PILLS DAMAGE FERTILITY: There is no evidence that contraceptive pills have an adverse impact on fertility. They only prevent ovulation and pregnancies.
BIRTH CONTROL PILLS CAN BE STARTED WITHOUT ANY PRIOR EVALUATION OR RISK ASSESSMENT: Birth control pills are generally safe, but some people who have certain risk factors like having a genetic tendency for blood clot formation, or those who are obese or who smoke might not be suitable candidates for contraceptive pill use. Hence, one must always consult a doctor and get a risk evaluation before starting Oral Contraceptive Pills (OCP). Having said that, lots of confusion information is available on the internet, it tends to create fear among women. Here is what you can do to debunk these doubts.
- Getting the right information about contraceptives is crucial. The best way to get the correct information is through a medical resource coming from government websites, from international health organizations or from a hospital website.
- Discuss your concerns with your Ob-Gyn about the use of any contraceptive method. Not every method suits everyone, and making an informed choice helps in finding the best fit for you and your partner.
- Many of the myths associated with the birth control pill do not apply to every person. Each one of us is different, and only you and your doctor can determine whether the pill (and which pill) is right for you. Be sure to ask your doctor any questions you have and discuss your concerns.
(Dr Neha Bothara is Consultant Gynecologist & Obstetrician, Fortis Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi).
Mr X and Ms Y, a young couple were dating each other for two years when suddenly due to career commitments, Ms Y had to move to a different city. This is a familiar situation for many couples today, as career, personal and professional growth, as well as family commitments, make them get into ‘long-distance relationship’. With people connecting online, long-distance relationships are prevalent. A 2018 survey of long-distance couples found that while 27% had never lived near each other, about 50% of couples in the survey had met each other online.
A long-distance relationship is a phase where people are geographically distanced from each other, and work to overcome the physical distance by being connected virtually. Initially, Ms Y was very apprehensive about the prospect of staying away from Mr X. Negative thoughts and the questions that people would ask her like “How can you stay away from him?” and “He will find somebody better than you!” plagued her.
The most important thing that Ms Y and Mr X did was communicate with each other. Before going ‘away’ they spoke a lot, they understood each other’s situation, perspective and promised to not breach their trust in each other. A few coping mechanisms that any Mr X and Ms Y can use to nurture a long-distance relationship are as follows:
MUTUAL ACCEPTANCE: First and foremost, accept that the person is not going to be around you physically, and also acknowledge the reasons behind getting into this phase; the variable reasons could be a job switch, financial needs, family circumstances, etc. Acceptance would make the couple sail through the phase smoothly.
COMMUNICATION: It is always suggested to talk about things with each other. Communication becomes a key aspect when people are in a long-distance relationship. However, one needs to understand that there is some leeway that needs to be given. Communicate because you feel like it and do not force yourself into it. Sharing things about each other’s day can help in maintaining a crucial connection even from afar.
USING TECHNOLOGY IN DIFFERENT WAYS: It is an excellent idea to use technology to your advantage such as making a video call, writing an E-mail, surprising through letters, online gifting to keep the spark alive in the relationship.
DOING ACTIVITIES TOGETHER: There is a need to explore and experience things together when people are in a relationship, but for some, it becomes difficult when there is a geographical distance. However, doing some activities together like watching a movie at the same time, virtually cooking together, or exploring one’s day virtually could help the couple sail through
MAINTAINING TRUST BEYOND THE DISTANCE: Even if there is a physical distance, attachment, and emotional connection can be sustained effectively. Trusting the partner becomes an important aspect of the relationship, whether long-distance or face to face. Try giving the virtual and personal space to each other, respecting, and accepting the changes. Try and avoid linking all the issues and concerns to physical distance.
Getting into a long-distance relationship is a unique phase that people go through; however, keeping in mind certain things, it can be managed effectively. As there can be times when things can be overwhelming and emotionally disturbing, self-care is important, including taking both physical and mental care of oneself.
(This article has been written by Dr Hirak Patel, Counselling Psychologist, Fortis Hospital, Mulund.)
New Delhi, February 5, 2021: Having a headache or a sore throat or indigestion, how many times have you turned to the internet to get a diagnosis? Do you have the habit of searching the internet at the first sign of a niggle? Well, you might be suffering from cyberchondria. The term was coined by a British newspaper in the early 2000s as a play on the word hypochondria. Like hypochondria, cyberchondria refers to a person’s anxiety about their health that is created or exacerbated by using the internet to search for medical information.
The digital revolution has changed many aspects of our lives, especially in the way we source health-related information, as it is easily and freely available. In the earlier times, 1 out of 10 patients used to seek health information on the internet, but today, that number has changed to 9 out of 10 people seeking health information online before visiting a doctor. Many even believe that the internet has all the answers to their health problems. Ironic indeed! But that is how people surf the world of web, in pursuit of a definite health solution or a diagnosis.
A recent Google trend report on how Indians surfed the web in the past year has some shocking revelation. According to Google trends, “How to make coronavirus vaccine at home? And how to improve immunity against COVID?” were some of the top trending searches on the internet in India, followed by questions around food to eat to build immunity, plasma therapy, COVID symptoms, home remedies for COVID, etc. This indicated that people are all willing to take a chance on self-treatment and self-diagnosis. But is this worth the shot?
RISK OF MISDIAGNOSIS, OVER-DIAGNOSIS OR UNDER-DIAGNOSIS: More often than not, self-diagnosis on the internet always points towards something more frightening. It can lead to misdiagnosis or over-diagnosis. For example, if you search for ‘headache’, you are likely to find around 20 results showing the different interpretation of headaches, each scarier than the other. There are chances that your headache may be something small, but the internet search shows signs of a cancerous tumour or some other neurological problem. In the bargain, you will freak out, and this may cause a high level of stress. Moreover, self-medication involves pharmacological risks that can result in severe adverse reactions. Sometimes, you would even under-diagnose yourself, which could have a severe long-term impact on the quality of life or worse, death.
SYMPTOMS OF A CYBERCHONDRIAC: According to experts, lately, cyberchondria is becoming a growing problem as people resort to finding out what the internet has to say about their health and wellbeing. People having cyberchondria tend to misinterpret regular bodily changes and minor physical symptoms as signs of severe illness or disease. For many people living with health anxiety, fear can become so severe that it interferes with work and relationships.
SEEKING HELP FROM A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL IS THE RIGHT WAY: Many times, we come across patients with a whole list of questions about their symptoms and medical condition. Some patients come with a diagnosis they have already arrived at by using the internet. And some, come with lab reports and medical investigations, also a result of online searching. Of course, we would call them empowered patients, but quite often, these people display a lack of trust in the health advice offered by doctors. We must understand that no technology or internet search can completely replace professional medical help. By doing so, you are inadvertently putting yourself at risk of anxiety and incorrect diagnosis and will spend more money on healthcare.
‘SEARCH IT’ THE RIGHT WAY: Using search engines to gain knowledge about health topics is not wrong but checking the source of information is very important. Information on these websites and apps should be viewed very cautiously as they don’t know your medical history or actual symptoms. The suggestions they make are not made by medical practitioners but are actually key-word based.
Remember, the internet is just a channel through which you can gain information, but the actual empowerment comes when you use that information wisely and not rashly.
(The article has been authored by Dr Sanjay Shah, General Physician & Dr Pradip Shah, General Physician, Fortis Hospital, Mulund.)
New Delhi, February 4, 2021: Cervical cancer is the cancer of the cervix which is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Most cervical cancers are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, that also cause genital warts.
About 25% of all global deaths due to cervical cancer occur in India and this form of cancer forms 16.5% of the total cancer cases in Indian women. It is estimated that about 160 million women between the ages of 30 and 59 years are at risk of developing cervical cancer in India, with 96,922 new cases registered in 2018 alone. The reason for this difference is lack of effective screening and access to timely treatment.
But most women are not aware of the right age to start screening for cervical cancer. Many assume that it is best done after the age of 40; but that is not true. Women can get regular pap smear test every three years starting at 21 years. Do all women need to test themselves? Ideally, women between age of 25 to 65 years should receive an HPV test once every five years. As cervical cancer is silent, it takes a long time to manifest. Therefore, it is paramount that women learn about cervical cancer and test themselves regularly.
SYMPTOMS OF CERVICAL CANCER: Early-stage cervical cancers do not show any signs or symptoms in most cases, but there are some symptoms that every woman should be aware of:
- Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods or after menopause
- Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor
- Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse
SCREENING AND DETECTION: Screening helps detect cervical cancer and the pre-cancerous cells that may develop into cancer eventually. This is done using Pap Smear and HPV DNA Test. Detection of cancer would involve physical examination by the doctor using a colposcope and biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.
PREVENTION OF CERVICAL CANCER:
Ask your doctor about the HPV vaccine: Receiving a vaccination to prevent HPV infection may reduce your risk of Cervical Cancer and other HPV-related Cancers. The vaccine is ideally given before the first sexual contact for maximum protection (ideally between the age of 15-26 years).
Have routine Pap tests: Pap tests can detect pre-cancerous conditions of the cervix, so they can be monitored or treated to prevent cervical cancer.
Practice safe sex: Reduce your risk of cervical cancer by taking measures to prevent Sexually Transmitted Infections, such as using a condom every time you have sex, and limiting the number of sexual partners.
Do not smoke: If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, talk to your doctor about strategies to help you quit.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR PAP OR HPV TEST? You should not schedule your test for a time when you are having your period. If you are going to have a test in the next two days:
- Do not douche (rinse the vagina with water or another fluid)
- Avoid a tampon
- Avoid sex
- Do not use a birth control foam, cream, or jelly
- Do not use a medicine or cream in your vagina
Above all, all women should talk to their doctors about cervical cancer and decide on an appropriate screening schedule. For women at high risk for developing cervical cancer, screening is recommended at an earlier age and more often, than for women who have an average risk of cervical cancer.
By Shweta Mahadik
It is no secret that a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of cancer in many ways. Research shows that many types of cancers are linked to lifestyle behaviours, including unhealthy eating patterns and a lack of physical activity. A healthy lifestyle can also help positively support treatment and recovery if you are diagnosed with it.
TO BEAT CANCER:
- Include fruits and vegetables such as oranges, berries, pineapple, sweet lime, lemon, amla, broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, kale, cauliflower and brussels sprouts, etc. Add whole-grains such as whole wheat, oats/oatmeal, rye, barley, brown rice, millets, high-fibre foods, vegetables, and legumes (beans) to your plate.
- Consume good amount of protein like cow’s milk and its products, legumes, pulses, whole grains, egg whites, poultry and fish.
- Eat foods rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids like fish, especially oily fish (sardine, mackerel, tuna, salmon, herring, trout), almonds, walnuts, and flaxseeds. Prefer cooking methods such as broiling, boiling, stewing, grilling, baking, roasting rather than frying.
ENERGY-RICH FOODS THAT ARE A MUST-HAVE:
- Antioxidants: Antioxidants protect cells from damage caused by free radicals known as ‘unstable molecules’. Some of the examples of antioxidants include Beta-Carotene, Lycopene, Vitamins C, E, and A, etc.
- Omega 3 rich foods: Omega-3 PUFAs present in nuts, oilseeds, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, fish like salmon, tuna, and herring etc., plays an essential role in cell signalling and in the cell structure and fluidity of membranes. They participate in the resolution of inflammation and have anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive effects
- Garlic: Some clinical studies found that regular consumption of garlic in our diet helps with DNA repair, slow the growth of cancer cells and decrease inflammation as garlic is rich in Allicin i.e. soluble Allyl Sulphur compounds which is responsible for many cancer-fighting properties. Several functional foods showed anti-cancer activity via scavenging free radicals e.g., garlic, broccoli, green tea, soybean, tomato, carrot, cabbage, onion, cauliflower, red beets, cranberries, cocoa, blackberry, blueberry, red grapes, prunes and citrus fruits.
- Bitter melon: Bitter melon is a widely consumed vegetable all over the world that comprises of several bioactive components such as Polyphenols, Flavonoids & Saponins, and has been reported to possess anti-cancer potential.
- Wheat Bran: Wheat Bran is abundant in a variety of healthy phytochemicals such as phenolics, flavonoids, glucans and pigments and has been observed to evince noticeable anti-cancer activity.
Apart from diet, it is important that cancer patients maintain a healthy weight, increase physical activity, make healthy food choices, and stay happy in mind and body.
(Shweta Mahadik is Dietitian, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan)
New Delhi, January 30, 2021: On the second World Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) Day on January 30, 2021, more than 50 landmarks representing 25 nations worldwide were lit up to celebrate how far we’ve come in beating these diseases. India too proudly joined these countries by illuminating UNESCO world heritage site, Qutub Minar.
The day highlights the global community’s commitment to end the NTDs. These diseases cause immeasurable suffering among the world’s most marginalized communities.
From Tokyo Tower to Qutub Minar to Seattle Columbia Center, the world came together to end the neglect of NTDs and bring a brighter future to the most impoverished communities worldwide.
One in five people around the world are affected by NTDs and India, is home to the world’s largest absolute burden of at least 11 of these major neglected tropical diseases. These diseases debilitate, disfigure, and can even be fatal to those affected. But NTDs can and must be beaten.
Filmmaker Arati Kadav’s sci-fi short film 55 km/sec starring Richa Chadha and Mrinal Dutt on Disney+Hotstar is a poignant retelling of the year that was for most of us. It is set against a meteor attack and covers the last few minutes before the end comes calling for the two protagonists and all others who inhabit the planet, and it gets over with a bang.
At a deeper level, it is an ingenious attempt to look back at the year when the mighty Coronavirus hit the entire world, and a few of our own — relatives, friends, acquaintances — and lakhs of unknown people around the globe became hapless victims of COVID, much like the meteor — Celestine — moving at a speed of 55 km/sec that was about to hit the planet at 3 pm on that fateful day, wiping all traces of life and living out of it.
The writing on the walls only adds to the fright factor with the planes zip, zap, zooming in the clear blue sky adding to the woes. The flight service to another safe place is available only to a chosen few. There’s no escape from the impending doom for most of the people as the TV anchors announce, giving hope that they will be together, uninterrupted, with their viewers till end. The deserted streets and quiet supermarket are reminiscent of the times that all of us lived and survived in the early part of the year gone by, so the shots and settings are relatable, as are the video and phone calls. The VVIPs had been safely escorted to a safe haven as the voiceover announced; a few lucky ones had found a place in the underground bunkers of dubious construction quality while others who couldn’t make it to the lottery system were in the queue, waiting for the inevitable end. The government had sent the animal kingdom’s embryos to outer space to save the species from extinction. Just as life seemed slipping away, minute by minute, a bunch of college buddies get together on a video call to bide away time and prepare for the strike of the meteor, together, talking, laughing, and bantering. There is a twist in the tale when the boy Suraj (Mrinal Dutt) confesses his love for Shrishti (Richa Chadha) over the video call, and out of the blue. Perhaps the morbid fear of the end makes him say what he would have otherwise never said. She tells him about the greeting card with hearts that he had received from an anonymous sender back then was actually from her; he finds it lying in one of the cartons and it fuels the spark in his heart. He keeps asking her, “are you alone?” till the voice on the other end, blanks out and with that, his hope of togetherness too. The names of the protagonists are metaphorical.
The entire film was remotely shot during the COVID-19 lockdown, and the cast and crew deserve a big round of applause for adapting to the new normal in filmmaking with perfect ease. Their seamless coordination, the frugality of the means and minimalism in the filmmaking approach make Kadav’s effort commendable. The subtle subtext and the deftness with which she handles her subject — questioning the human existence with a lot of empathy — leaves us shocked and awed, in equal measure, at her clever attempt. Her sci-fi gives an out of the world experience that unfolds in a little more than 20 minutes but keeps you gasping till the big thud announces that it is all over, and the blank screen gives way to the credit roll. It’s an escape from the mundane world to the unknown, unheard, unseen and unexplored, and is undoubtedly worth a watch. ~ Shillpi A Singh
Benefits of Bamboo Rice
- Decreased Constipation and Colon Cancer Risk because it is rich in dietary fibre.
- Lowered Risk of Cardiovascular Disease because the high fibre content also reduces the bad cholesterol levels and maintains blood pressure levels.
- Optimized Brain and Nerve Health because it is a phenomenal source of B complex vitamins.
(By Dr Shweta Mahadik, Clinical Dietician, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan)
New Delhi, January 21, 2021: Set to take place between 19th to 28th February 2021, the Jaipur Literature Festival returns with a stellar online programme, spread over 10 days, for its 14th edition.
The ‘greatest literary show on Earth’ returns in a virtual avatar, featuring a spectacular line-up of speakers from across the world, consisting of writers, poets, playwrights, thinkers, politicians, journalists, cultural icons and recipients of major literary awards including the Man Booker, the Pulitzer, JCB Prize for Literature, Commonwealth, European Union Prize, the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, PEN Award for Poetry in Translation etc.
The programme, unveiled today, is vast and kaleidoscopic, with themes ranging from Technology & AI, Politics & History, Environment & Climate Change, Mental Health, Economics, Translations, Poetry & Music, Food & Literature, Geopolitics, Science & Medicine, Democracy & Constitutions, Water & Sustainability, Historical Fiction, Travel, etc.
Some highlights from the programme include Glasgow-born author Douglas Stuart whose 2020 Booker Prize-winning debut novel Shuggie Bain evokes the essence of addiction, parenthood, courage and love. Following the bond between a son and his mother, fractured by alcoholism, poverty, aspiration and human misery, the novel graphs an intimate, devastating yet ultimately hopeful journey through their lives. In conversation with writer and playwright Paul McVeigh, Stuart will unravel the thought and process behind bringing this heartbreaking story out into the world.
Celebrated American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic, and political activist Noam Chomsky’s latest book, Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power, sharply questions the utopian idea of neoliberalism and the consequences of markets dictating all aspects of society. Evaluating the ten principles that have fuelled this idea, he will unravel its roots and its troubling impact on American society, culture and politics, in conversation with journalist Sreenivasan Jain.
Covering the ongoing pandemic, doctors and co-authors Randeep Guleria, Chandrakant Lahariya and Gagandeep Kang will discuss their exciting new project in conversation with award-winning journalist Maya Mirchandani. The focus of the session will revolve around whether India wins the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Randeep Guleria, Director of All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, is an MD in Medicine and the first DM in Pulmonary Medicine in the country, and has been at the forefront of the Government of India’s efforts on the COVID-19 pandemic’s preparedness and response. Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya is a leading public policy and health systems expert and a recipient of the Indian Council of Medical Research’s Dr. BC Srivastava Foundation Award for his work on translating community-based health research in public policy interventions. Dr. Gagandeep Kang is a renowned infectious disease researcher and virologist who serves on many advisory committees in India and internationally, including for the World Health Organization.
During the Festival, award-winning Irish writer Colm Tóibín will take us through the rhythm and roots of his writing process and celebrated career. A master of expression and text, Tóibín possesses a unique ability to inhabit and blend through his words an expansive universe of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. He is the bestselling author of The Master, The Blackwater Lightship, The Testament of Mary and Nora Webster; his upcoming book is The Magician.
Marina Wheeler, a Queen’s Counsel in England, opens the portals of memory as the daughter of a woman traumatised by the Partition of 1947 that divided British India into Pakistan and India. Wheeler follows her mother’s buried past, her marriage and move to England where she refuses to look over her shoulder at a lost world. In conversation with Navtej Sarna, the former High Commissioner of India to the United Kingdom, she will explore the meaning of the Punjabi Sikh identity as it survives through cultural transitions.
In a special session, director and writer Devashish Makhija’s latest book, Oonga will be launched followed by a conversation exploring the book. The book is a powerful novel based on his film of the same name. Capturing the inherent paradox between dystopian ‘development’ and utopian ideologies, the book narrates the journey of a little boy in the midst of a clash between Adivasis, Naxalites, the CRPF and a mining company.
Acclaimed author and historian Vincent Brown‘s groundbreaking geopolitical thriller Tacky′s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War takes on the Atlantic slave trade with a subversive and powerful reconstruction of the history of insurgency, rebellion, victory and defeat. With a keen emphasis on the seminal uprising that upended the dominant imperial rule of the British Atlantic world, eventually becoming known as the Tacky’s Revolt, and ultimately leading the way for abolition. At as session titled ‘Tacky′s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War’, in conversation with writer and academic Maya Jasanoff, Brown will unpack the complex narratives binding the conflicting histories of Europe, Africa and America, offering illuminating insights into the condition of terror and war, more relevant than ever in the era of BLM and socio-political change.
Our knowledge and information of the Aztec empire, their history and their conquest, for generations have been informed by the Western pen. Author and historian Camilla Townsend’s Cundill History Prize-winning Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs brings to light a complex and riveting history of the Aztecs based entirely on direct translations of the annals written in the neglected Nahuatl language. The author will speak to acclaimed author and Oxford professor Peter Frankopan and explore the precarious survival and brutal conquest of the people of the sun and their journey of endurance.
Journalist and writer George Packer’s Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century is an enduring account of the force behind the Dayton Accords which famously ended the Balkan wars. Packer’s sweeping diplomatic history is based on Holbrooke’s diaries and papers and gives a peek into the life of a man equally admired and detested. In conversation with journalist and writer Basharat Peer, Packer will dive into the life and career of an extraordinary and deeply flawed man and the political and social circles he inhabited.
Journalist and writer Meenakshi Ahamed’s latest book, A Matter Of Trust, charts the complex relationship between India and the United States from the years following Indian Independence to today’s evolving politics. Based on her research of presidential papers, newly declassified documents, memoirs and interviews, the book evaluates the dynamics between the people in power in both countries against the backdrop of constantly developing socio-political-economic changes. At a book launch session, the writer will be in conversation with former Foreign Secretary to the Government of India, Shyam Saran and former diplomat Frank G. Wisner, and will discuss the far-reaching implications of this relationship and the current global political climate.
Tripurdaman Singh‘s latest book Sixteen Stormy Days: The Story of the First Amendment of the Constitution of India is a fascinating look into the turbulent history and contentious legacy of the First Amendment of the Constitution. In conversation with journalist and writer Karan Thapar, Singh will explore the nascent years of India in the context of what he calls ‘the first great battle of ideas.’
Democracy is an inherently participatory process that ensures the role of constituents in the direction and operation of political and social life. Electoral systems convert individual votes and choices into larger decisions that impact societies, cultures and nations. At a special session, a distinguished panel consisting of author and the 16th Chief Election Commissioner of India Navin B. Chawla, former Chief Election Commissioner of Nepal Neil Kantha Uprety and the Chief Election Commissioner of Bhutan Dasho Kunzang Wangdi will decipher and evaluate the electoral process in conversation with anthropologist and writer Mukulika Banerjee.
These are dangerous times for democracy. In his new book, The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? renowned philosopher Michael Sandel shows how the polarised politics of our time reflects the deep divide between winners and losers. He argues that we must rethink the attitudes toward success and failure that have accompanied globalisation and rising inequality. In conversation with celebrated author and Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor, Sandel will offer an ethic of dignity and solidarity that points the way to a new politics of the common good.
The Festival continues its rediscovery of the vast heritage of India’s languages. In a session focused on Hindipoetry, scholar and academic Rupert Snell will speak of the enduring legacy of the Bihari Satsai with its evocative romantic imagery and visual vocabulary, in conversation with fellow scholar, academic and translator Harish Trivedi. The Bihari Satsai is a work of the early 17th century by the poet Biharilal in Braj Bhasha. The Satsai was written in the court of Raja Jai Singh of Amber near Jaipur. The poet was rewarded with a gold coin for each verse; 700 verses were compiled into the Bihari Satsai, which has been considered an outstanding representative of the Riti period, weaving together worldly experience and divine immanence, and adapting the writing style of court poetry. Rupert Snell’s translation for the Murty Classical Library is scholarly yet accessible and brings alive the tradition for modern readers.
The first Bhojpuri novel to be translated into English, Phoolsunghi, is a period piece about the life of a tawaif in the late 19th century in colonial Bihar. Though Bhojpuri songs and cinema have gained popular appeal, the richness of Bhojpuri literature is not widely known. Gautam Choubey, an academic and a columnist, has innovatively translated this modern classic and rendered it with cultural nuances and poetry. Academic and author Francesca Orsini is Professor of Hindi and South Asian Literature at SOAS, University of London. In conversation with academic and award-winning translator Jatindra Kumar Nayak, Orsini and Choubey will discuss the novel, the times it was set in as well as the challenges of presenting it for contemporary readers.
In conversation with the author of Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal The Cosmos, Priyamvada Natarajan, acclaimed Italian physicist and writer Carlo Rovelli will take us through the deeper meaning of the universe and our place in it. Drawing inspiration from the ancient Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna, Rovelli will take us on an illuminating journey through the unknown, exploring the mysteries of the cosmos, the fabric of space and the nature of time.
The Festival will remember legendary Indian actress Devika Rani through award-winning author and playwright Kishwar Desai’s book The Longest Kiss: The Life and Times of Devika Rani which charts the life and career of the celebrated actress. Based on her personal letters and documents, the book narrates her journey through the creation of Bombay Talkies, India’s first professional studio, her marriages to Himanshu Rai and Svetoslav Roerich, and the struggle of being a woman in the entirely male-dominated world of Indian cinema.
Speaking on the programme of this year, author and Festival Co-Director Namita Gokhale said, “It’s been a joyous challenge to work on the programming for Jaipur Literature Festival 2021. We look at our transformative times and try to understand the future through the lens of the present and the past. Our hybrid digital outreach has opened up a new universe of possibilities. I’m excited at having Italian astrophysicist and writer Carlo Rovelli in conversation with Professor Priyamvada Natarajan, on Nagarjuna, Sunyata, and Stardust. Winner of the 2020 Booker prize, Douglas Stuart, speaks of his award-winning debut novel. We rediscover Emperor Ashoka’s ancient edicts through music with T.M. Krishna.”
“There is so much more to experience and reflect upon – from Gulabo Sapera and the dance of the serpents to the science, art and philosophy of Indian food – from the tragic life of the great Bangla writer, poet, and playwright Michael Madhusudan Dutt to the one and only M.S. Subbulakshmi. Shekhar Pathak and Ramachandra Guha tell us of the people’s history of the Chipko Movement. We present S. Hareesh’s award-winning novel ‘Moustache’, translated from Malayalam. In ‘Brown Baby’, British writer Nikesh Shukla explores shifting ideas of home. We pay tribute to the genius of S.R. Faruqi as we present his posthumously published novel, ‘Kabze Zaman’. These are some glimpses of the treats in store – a few surprises still await!” she added.
Sanjoy K. Roy, Managing Director of Teamwork Arts, producer of the Jaipur Literature Festival, said, “A year after the world was felled by the pandemic, we have persevered and shown that human endurance can and will prevail, fuelled by knowledge and information, empathy and the right to justice. The Jaipur Literature Festival is representative of these ideals and will continue to be a platform to celebrate the joy of knowledge.”
The full programme will be available to view at : Programme – Jaipur Literature Festival
Jaipur BookMark (JBM), a B2B segment held parallel to the Festival, will open its eighth edition with an engaging virtual programme between the two weekends of the Jaipur Literature Festival. The virtual edition of JBM will run from 22nd to 25th February 2021, hosting two sessions per day. JBM will continue to bring together a wide range of publishers, literary agents, writers, translators, translation agencies and booksellers from across the world and give them an opportunity to exchange ideas and listen to major global industry players.
Ten years after making her directorial debut with Firaaq, actor Nandita Das is ready with her next on the life and times of revolutionary Urdu writer Sadaat Hasan Manto. Starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the titular role with Rasika Dugal as his wife Safia, the biopic is set in India and Pakistan and focuses on the period between 1945 and 1949; it is woven around five of Manto’s stories. In an exclusive piece, she talks about Manto, her fascination with his life and work, her Manto-esque father, and why Manto is still relevant today’s times.
Introduction to Manto
I first read Manto when I was in college. A few years later, I bought the complete original works in a collection called Dastavez, in Devanagari. I was struck by his simple yet profound narratives and the way he insightfully captured the people, politics and times he lived in. He wrote as he saw, as he felt, without dilution, and with a rare sensitivity and empathy for his characters.
For years, I thought of making a film based on his short stories, even before I made my directorial debut, Firaaq. In 2012, when I delved deeper into his essays, they helped the idea expand beyond his stories. Today I feel equipped, both emotionally and creatively, to tell this story that so needs to be told.
What drew me to the story of Manto was his free spirit and courage to stand up against orthodoxy of all kinds. He was irreverent and had an irrepressible desire to poke a finger in the eye of the establishment, often with sharp humor. As I plunged deeper into Manto’s life, I wondered why he seemed so familiar. Soon I realized that it felt like I was reading about my father, an artist. He too is intuitively unconventional, a misunderstood misfit, and whose bluntness is not too different from my protagonist.
Resonance with Manto:
It is his fearlessness and a deep concern for the human condition that I have always felt most deeply connected to. No part of human existence remained untouched or taboo for him. For him, the only identity that mattered was that of being a human. Manto’s faith in the redemptive power of the written word, through the hardest times, resonates with my own passion to tell stories. In some mystical way, I feel I am part of that hopeful legacy! Through him, I feel I am able to kindle my own conviction for a more liberal and compassionate world. I feel there is a Mantoiyat, in all of us – the part that wants to be free-spirited and outspoken.
My father is very Manto-esque:
My father Jatin Das is an artist and at a person level I feel he is very Manto-esque. In the sense that though an artist he has never really been part of the artist’s market group, as art has also sadly become a commodity. Like Manto, he has also never really been driven by money. He is very outspoken and somewhat a misfit. I’m very close to my father and when I come across struggles of someone who is so honest and wants to speak up all the time. Somewhere I feel that the film on Manto has the power of making a difference. That’s why I want to do films.
This is something that I feel so passionate about because it is a story that I really want to tell. I feel Manto had this feeling that writing and literature have that power of making a difference. That’s why he continued writing even when he was financially in a bad shape and became an alcoholic, especially when he was in Lahore. But he had a belief that his writing can contribute to some kind of change – not that he has ever said it but at a subconscious level he believed it. I think there is a resonance there as well.
Favourite works and why:
When I first read Manto in college, I was struck by his simple yet profound narratives. As for my favourite Manto work, there are many, so please don’t ask me to choose! To name a few, Dus Rupiya, 100 Watt Bulb, Hatak, Khushiya, Khol Do and many more – each one is powerful in its own way. His essays and sketches about people are equally poignant and sharp.
Manto once said, “Why would I undress a society that is already naked? It is true I make no attempt to cover it, but that’s not my job…my job is to write with a white chalk so that I can draw attention to the blackness of the board.” Manto wrote as he saw, as he felt, without dilution.
Relevance of Manto today:
The deeper I delve into this project, the more convinced I am about the relevance of Manto in these times. Not much has changed… almost 70 years later and we are still grappling with issues of freedom of expression and struggles of identity. Even today our identities lie inextricably linked to caste, class and religion as opposed to seeing the universality of human experience. I know he would have had lots to say about the times we live in. It is no surprise that so much is being written about Manto and that many theatre groups are often performing his plays and essays. He was relevant then and will sadly continue to be relevant for a long time to come.
Struggle for freedom of expression:
Manto never perceived himself to be an activist. He in fact says that ‘as much as Gandhi has to do with films I had to do with politics’. He didn’t feel that he was political and yet he was actually extremely political in all his writings. According to him, what political meant was to understand why things happen the way they happen. In today’s times, we can see this all around – censorship, people who are self-censoring to avoid trouble or moral policing where some group decides that something is hurting their sentiments.
And that is what Manto fought against. He was tried for obscenity six times – three times by the British government and three times by the Pakistani government, just because he wrote about the sex workers. There are a lot of interesting essays. We also have scenes in the film showing the way people attacked him saying that what he wrote was obscene and pornographic and how he defended literature, as his writing was not meant to titillate somebody. His writing tried to understand and empathize with people who are on the margins of society. It was about those people who nobody wants to write about. In fact he also says that if you can’t bear my stories it is only because we live in unbearable times. The stories only reflected what happened in society. So I think it is relevant not just in our South Asian sub-continent but also around the world. Artists, writers, freethinkers, rationalists are all being attacked in some form or the other and are being silenced. Any society grows and develops when you have people speaking up the truth and thinking differently. And if you silence them then what hope do we have?
On Manto being labeled a mainstream or an art film:
I do not like to label films as mainstream or art. And at the end, this film is an artistic expression. Manto was a great writer, and his story will reach out to millions because I think it is very relevant to our times, for multiple reasons. We are still grappling with issues like freedom of expression and struggles of identity. Also we don’t know many of our own writers, artists, scientists, and through them the history of our country and times they lived in. I think people in our country and globally, will connect to the story, as at the end of it all, it is a human story of struggle and courage and the will to speak out and be your own self – something we all struggle with.
(This interview was first published in Air Vistara’s inflight magazine, Vistara, in April 2018)
Filmmaker Anup Singh’s third feature film, The Song of Scorpions, starring Irrfan, Golshifteh Farahani, and Waheeda Rahman in lead roles, had its world premiere at Locarno International Film Festival 2017 and was screened to a packed house at the MAMI Film Festival in Mumbai in 2017. Excerpts of an email interview with the filmmaker:
1 . What made you decide to become a filmmaker in the first place?
AS: I was born in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania, in East Africa. We lived very close to the small harbour and I would watch huge ships float past and disappear into the horizon. My school was right next to Pesident Nyerere’s estate. Just separated by a metal fence. Deer and ostriches and giraffes and zebras were left to wander wild on the estate, but there were Masai caretakers, in their long, red cloaks and carrying spears.
Often we would meet the Masai at the metal fence and they would introduce us to a newly-born zebra, or show us an ostrich just hatched from its egg. There are so many stories I heard from them about their life in the African jungle, folk-tales about animals and legends about their gods.
That’s the landscape and school I come from.
In the early 1970s, with the disturbances in Idi Amin’s Uganda, there was some run-over effect in Tanzania as well and my family was forced to leave Africa to India and then to Europe.
For the many years my family made Mumbai their home and I graduated from the Mumbai University with a double MA, in English Literature and Philosophy. Already I was writing for various newspapers and magazines and I also had my own theatre group. Writing and theatre pointed me towards cinema and I joined FTII in 1983 and graduated from there in 1986 with my diploma film, called Lasya, The Gentle Dance, winning the main prize at the Oberhausen Film Festival, Germany and then being invited to festivals all over the world.
My parents, in the meantime, had moved on to London. After FTII, I worked for many years as assistant director, script writer, and set designer with India’s two great avant-garde filmmakers, Kumar Shahani and Mani Kaul.
In the late eighties when I tried to raise money for my own film, I could find support only in the UK, from the British Film Institute. But, soon, NFDC, India, decided to support my film, too, and that’s how I made my first film, Ekti Nadir Naam. In the meantime, I had been teaching cinema at various universities and film schools in the UK, and I got an offer from an arts school in Geneva, Switzerland. That’s how I first went to Geneva and have now been living there for near to 20 years.
2. How do you divide your time between projects here in India and abroad?
AS: I actually came to the movies very early in life. I was hardly a teenager. When my family had to leave Africa, we travelled by ship from Dar-es-Salaam to Mumbai. We were all almost in a kind of mourning at the thought of leaving Africa and hardly came out of our cabin in the first few days of the trip. But on the third night, a screen was raised on the deck of the ship that we were travelling on. That night a film played bright and loud between the sky above and the sea below. I think the film was Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam, or at least I would like to believe it was! And I knew at that moment that as long as I could invoke this experience of cinema, I would never be homeless. Cinema has been my home ever since.
The division of my time between Europe and India has more to do with each project rather than any fixed agenda. All my films as yet have been set in India. While most of my writing and raising of money is done in Europe, I do travel a lot to India for research, to look at locations, to begin the casting process. And, of course, when I’m ready to shoot.
3. How did you go about casting for your films? How did you zero in on Irrfan for two of your projects?
AS: I had the untiring effort of Pushpendra Singh, my assistant on both these films. Pushpendra has been an acting teacher at FTII and is now also steadily establishing himself as one of India’s important young filmmakers. Once I had established the look, age, and the quality of performance I was looking for in each of these films, it was Pushpendra who travelled through most of North India looking for actors amongst theatre troupes – he travelled through small towns, villages, big cities, holding workshops and documenting and photographing actors. It is from this research that that I started choosing the possible cast for my films. After that, I would meet all the actors and work with them, sometimes for weeks, before, finally, dropping or casting them.
When I first started writing the script of Qissa, I had Balraj Sahni in mind. For the fierce role of the father in my film, I knew needed an actor who could carry an immense secret hurt within himself even as he did some really horrendous things within his family. I wanted the actor to carry both fragility as well as threat. Since Balraj Sahni was dead many years, it was obvious to me that Irrfan was the only other actor who carried the skill and vulnerability to give me the performance I was looking for.
Initially, Irrfan did not really want to do the film. He was hesitant because he thought the character was too dark. I suggested to him that we watch some recordings of Nusrat Ali Fateh Khan. I pointed out to him the agony and almost a kind of violence that we saw in Nusrat Saab’s face and body as he sang. But, finally, the song that emerged from him was fragile and affirmative. Irrfan understood immediately what I was trying to tell him and accepted to do the film.
And, after working on Qissa together, we have achieved a tremendous respect and trust in each other’s imagination and courage to go into unknown regions of performance. It was with joy that I could cast him for The Song of Scorpions too.
4. What is the guiding thought behind choosing the subject of your films? From Qissa to The Song of the Scorpions, how has been your cinematic journey?
AS: I believe cinema’s the only art that confronts and questions us physically, conceptually, spiritually about how we live within the limits and possibilities of time. Cinema foregrounds time with an urgency that no other art does. Thus it confronts us directly with our mortality and questions us persistently – how in our span of life, the time we each have on this earth, how do we choose to live? This is the primal question that leads me to the various themes that emerge in my films: violence, boundaries, exile, the play of gender.
From my first film, The Name of a River, through Qissa and now The Song of Scorpions, these themes have been dominant. But with The Song of Scorpions, a new theme has emerged to the forefront: the theme of healing.
Given the world of violence we live in, we are breathing in some kind of poison into ourselves at every moment of our life. The critical question not only for me, but for all of us today is: when we breathe out, do we want to breathe out the same poison we have breathed in? Or do we choose, instead, to breathe out a song?
5. What special efforts went into making these films?
AS: Well, Qissa took 12 years of my life to make. And to do the kind of films I do, everything takes a special effort! From convincing producers, funding agencies, and actors to spending months travelling in the desert looking for the right locations and then finding out that you can’t get permits to shoot in those areas! But, seriously, all the special effort goes in the preparation. Writing and rewriting the script, working for months with the cinematographer trying to understand the light and dark that would carry the themes of the film. Checking the fabrics, colour schemes of the costumes, which is always a delight because the costume designers who worked with me on both Qissa and The Song of Scorpions, Niddhi and Divya Gambhir, are just as finicky and unhappy till every stitch is just the way it should be!
I’ll stop here. As I said, making a film like mine, everything takes a special effort!
6. Please give a rundown on the amount of research, choosing the actors, challenges, major take aways, etc. from your cinematic journey.
AS: To answer this question would compel me to write a Ph.D thesis! I think I’ve already answered the question about casting and the many challenges. As for the research, the truth is that I’m interested in every aspect that could affect the film. For instance, you could ask me what is the structure and size of a grain of desert sand in Jaisalmer and I could answer that!
I spent months visiting the community that is the subject of my film. My costume designers travelled for days sometimes to find the right fabric among the women of this community in various parts of Rajasthan. Golshifteh with some of my actors from Mumbai spent a couple of days living in the house of one of the families.
Rakesh Yadav spent months learning the architecture and materials that go into the making of this community’s houses. I spent many days learning the language and calls the camel traders use with their camels. My assistant, Pushpendra Singh, and I travelled vast distances to listen, discuss and record the music of the desert.
And what we take away from this experience is the inspiration and creativity the vast journeys over hundreds of years from all kinds of countries gifted this region. The caravans that travelled through here, from Iran and Iraq, from Mongolia and China, from Spain and Africa, each journey planted a seed here that has flourished to become music, fabrics, songs and stories. We hope this celebration of plurality is something we’ll be able to bring to our audience through our film.
7. What do you enjoy more? Writing or Directing?
AS: I enjoy both immensely. The writing for the solitary struggle with myself. The directing for the creative exchange with a diverse group of extraordinary talents.
8. What makes The Song of the Scorpions a must-watch?
AS: With two of the finest actors in the world, this is a love-story that questions the very basis of love. And yet affirms love as our most creative gift.
9. Any interesting anecdote that you would like to share?
AS: Waheeda Rehman will not like my mentioning this, but on her last day of shoot, she had a personally chosen gift for every one of the cast and crew. When I say every one, I mean every one! A personal gift for every light boy right up to the director! She had shopped for every item herself in the markets of Jaisalmer. As though that was not enough, she left a generous part of her fee for the film to be distributed equally to the light-boys and spot-boys.
10. The film has received an overwhelming response abroad. How does it feel and does it up the expectation quotient from Indian and other overseas audience?
AS: Mumbai is my home-town. I’m, of course, anxious but also very keen to see how an Indian audience responds to the film.
By Shillpi A Singh
And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it sums up the ardour and zest with which folk singer and Padma awardee Malini Awasthi has pursued her passion for music, relentlessly. Today, her unflinching faith and untiring efforts have given a new lease of life to the once dying folk and traditional music from the eastern parts of the country and moved it out from the so-called ghar-angaan (households) to national and international stage, making it an inseparable part and parcel of our humble being. Highly acclaimed for singing diverse folk forms – thumri, dadra, sohar, banna, jhoola, jajri, holi, chaiti, vivaah, dhobiya, nirgun – Awasthi mainly sings in local dialects such as Awadhi, Bundelkhandi, Braj and Bhojpuri.Her songs have touched a chord, among the masses, and the connoisseurs alike, regaling audience spread across the urban and rural pockets, and belonging to different age groups, spread across the country and also the globe. They help the older generation relive the days of yore when these songs were sung at home by the womenfolk, and provide a link to the younger generation for staying connected with the rich and varied musical heritage.
A native of Uttar Pradesh, Awasthi spent her early years learning the nuances of classical music from a guru at home. “My parents were not singers but had a taste for music. We (elder brother, sister and I) grew up listening to LP records at home, mostly classical renditions of musical stalwarts, thanks to our father. My sister used to take lessons from a guru who used to come over at 5.30 am. I joined his early morning class when I was barely five,” she says, fondly reminiscing her initiation into the world of music. Her father, a doctor by profession, who was then serving at the government hospital at Mirzapur, made it a point never to miss a classical music concert if it was happening at Banaras or Allahabad. “He took all of us along. The performances inculcated a deep love and understanding for music,” she says, recalling the days when her father used to pack them in a car and drive them to attend concerts. Even her mother had a great role to play in developing her musical taste. “She couldn’t sing but had once heard a song by Siddeshwari Devi (bindiya ka rang uda jaaye). She liked it a lot and asked my music teacher to help me with it,” she says of her mother.
As her father had a transferable job, he was posted next in Jhansi and from there he moved to Gorakhpur and then Lucknow. These places only added to her musical training and gave her the much-needed exposure. “In Gorakhpur, I had the privilege to receive musical training from two renowned gurus – Shujaat Husain Khan and Rahat Ali Khan. I received lessons in folk, classical, Sufiyana and ghazals from Rahat Ali. I was barely 14 then and to get an opportunity like this only helped me hone my voice and perfect the nuances.” Awasthi is revered for her fluency in ghazal and Sufi singing that comes from the sound knowledge of Urdu received from these two legendary teachers. For the uninitiated, Rahat Ali Khan had trained only two students in his life, one was Awasthi and the other one being Punjabi pop singer Daler Mehendi. By then, she had started giving programmes on radio and performing on stage. “My first appearance on radio was for Bal Jagat where I recited a poem and then sang a bhajan,” she says. She took to stage soon after and recited a song based on raag desh at a doctor’s conference in Gorakhpur. “I had no inhibitions and I was fearless because that is what my gurus had taught me. A performer on the stage attracts attention of audience so one must always respect that; appreciation and criticism that come a performer’s way mould him as an artiste and help him improve his art.” When her father moved to Lucknow, she got an opportunity to pursue a degree in Hindustani classical music from Bhatkhande University. A high-grade artiste of radio, she had already performed at festivals across the country and had also started doing television shows for Doordarshan.
It was at one such performance at Bhatkhande, legendary Hindustani classical singer Vidhushi Girija Devi whom she fondly calls Appajee heard her sing. Impressed with her voice, Appajee showered praises on Awasthi and asked her if she would like to accompany her to Kolkata and learn music. Overwhelmed at this offer, Awasthi almost jumped with joy. But her wedding with Uttar Pradesh cadre IAS officer Awanish Kumar Awasthi was fixed by then and she was couldn’t go with Appajee. After marriage, she accompanied her bureaucrat husband as he served in different districts but all along, she relentlessly pursued her passion for music. “I am blessed to have him as my life partner who has supported and encouraged me all through,” she says about her husband. As luck would have it, he was posted in Varanasi, and during this stint, Awasthi once again got a chance to continue her music lessons from Appajee. “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting,” says Awasthi, who lapped up every opportunity to stay in touch with music, from performing during cultural programmes in the district where her husband was posted to imparting music lessons to schoolchildren. She read and researched extensively on rural folk art forms and keenly observed how the folk music was slowly withering away for lack of attention and appreciation. The exposure strengthened her knowledge base and made her resolute in pursuit of music. “The strings of a musical instrument rust if left unused. I didn’t want my vocal chords to rust, so kept honing it by practising and singing. I didn’t sing for money. I didn’t care if the stage was big or small. I didn’t want to lose touch with the audience. I just wanted to perform,” she says.
Performer at heart
At times, Awasthi carried her children along, travelled in trains and buses to perform at All India Radio, and at other programmes across the country. “There used to be chain bookings in those days. I had performances at three places – Raipur, Raigarh, and Ambikapur – and I carried my daughter who was four and son who was one and a half to all these places, with my mother and mother-in-law in tow because I didn’t want to miss it. Such was my level of attachment to music,” she reminisces. It was at one such cultural function at Azamgarh that Gajendra Singh heard her sing and requested her to participate in a music reality show, Antakshari. “It was a life-changing experience, and I realised that one could create a space for oneself in public memory by sticking true to one’s musical roots,” she says about her first TV show. One thing led to another, and she did two other music-based shows (Sa Re Ga Ma and Junoon) and won the hearts of judges and audience alike. The best takeaway was a word of mention by none other than Lata Mangeshkar who called her a promising singer. The film offers started pouring, but that didn’t excite her to move bag and baggage to the city of dreams. She did lend her voice to many songs in Hindi films, most recent being Mano ya na mano in Laali Ki Shaadi Mein Laaddoo Deewana that hit the theatres in April this year. “My heart is here, and even though I go for recordings to Mumbai, I rush home because there is a sense of belonging and connect with my land,” says Awasthi.
Power of popularity
“With great power comes great responsibility,” she says on what it means to be a celebrity, adding, “I am thankful for all the praise and popularity that has come my way. It is a matter of great honour and I am trying in my own small way to use it to benefit folk music and other artistes.” Awasthi is clear about her goals. A true daughter of the soil, she wants to popularise the songs, culture and language, which she says, “if not revived may become obsolete, and extinct.” She is doing her bit, giving folk music its long-awaited due and respect, that it rightfully deserves. “As a singer, I am trying to make my songs relatable and relevant for my audience so that folk never becomes redundant for them.” She has formed an organisation called Son Chiraiyya to promote young and budding talents. “The name is symbolic of our rich heritage, and it aims to preserve, conserve and promote singers and artistes.” And whenever her NGO organises a programme, she doesn’t perform but chooses to anchor the show. “My job is to present other talented artistes,” she quips. That’s the passion and true sound of music that has touched the chords of so many hearts, on home ground and foreign shores alike, keeping Awasthi on her toes, and her calendar chock-a-block with shows, concerts, music festivals, in India and abroad.
Songs Sung by Malini Awasthi
Mano Ya Na Mano | Laali Ki Shaadi Mein Laaddoo Deewana
Dil Mera Muft Ka | Agent Vinod
Sawan | Jaanisaar
Teri Katili Nigahon Ne Mara | Jaanisaar
Sunder Susheel | Dum Laga Ke Haisha
Saiyyan Mile | Chaarfutiya Chhokare
Bhagan Ke Rekhan Ki | Issaq
Joban | Ata Pata Lapata
Mann Ki Asha | Bumm Bumm Bole
(This article was published in the August 2017 issue of Rail Bandhu)