Monthly Archives: November 2020

Phoolsunghi’s English debut is a lot more than just a peck on Bhojpuri literature’s cheeks

By Shillpi A Singh

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

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

The historical novel spanning ninety years touches upon the early years of colonial rule in India without making any direct references to the fight for independence or any social conflict or instances of religious disharmony. The plot, story, and setting spread over 16 chapters together draw a reader into the enchanting world of the lifelike characters. Music serves as the perfect backdrop in Phoolsunghi, and there is a lot of drama, action, tragedy that unfolds in the lives of these people, to keep one hooked, from start to finish. The enthralling mehfils and mujras, high-pitched abduction drama, episodes of court cases and counterfeiting notes reveal author’s attempt to make it a wholesome entertainer. The author explores various shades of romantic love, making it an emotional roller coaster ride for a reader. It delves deep into the characters through the maze of the relationships that they share with each other, crossing paths at times, and flowing like the two banks of a river in a few instances.

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

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

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

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

(Cover image sourced from Penguin Random House’s Twitter handle)

Ashraf Patel of Pravah and ComMutiny Youth Collective wins Social Entrepreneur Of the Year Award – India 2020

New Delhi, November 26, 2020: The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, the sister organisation of the World Economic Forum and the Jubilant Bhartia Foundation of Jubilant Bhartia Group today announced Ashraf Patel of Pravah & ComMutiny Youth Collective (CYC) as the winner of the Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award – India 2020. The award was presented by Smt Smriti Zubin Irani, Hon’ble Minister of Women & Child Development & Textiles, Government of India, at a virtual ceremony in presence of eminent personalities from different fields from across the world.

Congratulating the winner and appreciating the finalists of this year’s SEOY Award India 2020, Smt Smriti Zubin Irani, Hon’ble Minister of Women & Child Development & Textiles, Government of India, said, “I acknowledge and appreciate the contribution of Schwab Foundation and Jubilant Bhartia Foundation in celebrating social entrepreneurs. I would like to congratulate all the social entrepreneurs who have been considered by the esteemed jury for this prestigious award. This award today highlights to the rest of our country, that compassion is not only the most endearing but also an equally profitable business skill. Those who have come to this platform are the champions of digital India.”

Source: Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship

The SEOY Award India 2020 winner – Ashraf Patel has been bringing revolutionary change through development of a generation of empathetic, sensitive youth change-makers in India. It is doing so, through psycho-social interventions and helping them build more inclusive identities & societies.

Source: Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship

Prof Klaus Schwab, Founder & Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum and Co-Founder of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, announced the winner of the SEOY Award India 2020 and added, “The World Economic Forum is very much involved in helping fight the pandemic. I am looking forward to having India very well represented in our activities because India is a major force in shaping the future and has to be very prominently engaged.

Commending the winner and the finalists of SEOY Award India 2020, Mrs Hilde Schwab, Chairperson and Co-Founder of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, said, “This year’s winner and finalists of the Social Entrepreneur of the Year India award all exemplify what our community is about – actors who have selflessly dedicated their lives to improving the state of the world around them. Social innovators are pioneering agents of change re-inventing the way our institutions operate, and are critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The current global pandemic has highlighted the crucial role of social innovators in identifying urgent needs and mobilizing responses to realities on the ground. The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurships is proud to have been partnering with Jubilant Bhartia Foundation over the past 11 years to award social innovators from India who are not only driving change but are also shifting organisations and systems towards a more just, inclusive, sustainable future.”

Applauding the winner and the finalists, Mr Shyam S Bhartia, Chairman and Founder and Mr Hari S Bhartia, Chairman & Co-Founder, Jubilant Bhartia Group and Founder Directors of Jubilant Bhartia Foundation, said, “Over last eleven years, we have seen a diversity of applications coming from the remotest corners of the country. The award process has so far seen over 1600 diverse applications. This year, inspite of trying times of pandemic, we received over 100 applications, with over one third women social entrepreneur applicants. The enthusiastic participation reflects the resilience & the tenacity of the social sector in these challenging times. It hearting to see that the finalists of this year have brought disruption in their own fields with their innovative ideas and approach. They have done path-breaking work in the fields of Healthcare, Youth Development and Solid Waste Management. Congratulations and kudos to the winner and the finalists for their extraordinary efforts. Their commitment to the cause is incomparable.

Source: Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship

On winning the SEOY Award – India 2020, Ashraf Patel, said, “This recognition for youth leadership has come at a moment when it was needed the most, the world right now is beset with inequality, conflict and environmental issues. Never before have we needed more collaboration and shared leadership with young people to create a better world.”

Ashraf Patel will join the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship Community, the world’s largest and prestigious network of social innovators from around the world. The winner also participates in the annual and regional meetings of the World Economic Forum, which offer unique opportunities to engage with global decision makers from the public, corporate, media, academic and civil society sectors. The other finalists were Sujoy Santra of IKure, Kolkata & Sandeep Patel of NEPRA , Ahmedabad .

Celebrating its 11th year, the SEOY Award India has established itself as one of the most reputed and coveted awards for social entrepreneurs in India. The award recognises entrepreneurs who implement innovative, sustainable and scalable solutions to solve India’s social problems. In 2010, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and Jubilant Bhartia Foundation came together to promote social innovation in India through the Social Entrepreneur of the Year (SEOY) India Award.

The SEOY Award – India 2020 received applications from 23 cities this year, with interventions in diverse fields including clean technology, media communication, youth development, disability, energy, enterprise development, labour conditions, microfinance, health & nutrition, sustainable farming and water & sanitation.

Source: Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship

This year’s jury members for the award included, Shobhana Bhartia, Chairperson & Editorial Director, HT Media Ltd; Hilde Schwab, Chairperson & Co-Founder, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship; Sudha Pillai, Board Member, Jubilant Life Sciences Ltd & Former Member Secretary, Planning Commission, Government of India; Uday Kotak, President, CII & Executive Vice Chairman and Managing Director, Kotak Mahindra Bank; Rakesh Mohan, President and Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Social & Economic Progress; Rohini Nilekani, Chairperson, Arghyam Foundation; P R Ganapathy, Regional Director, Stanford Seed, India, and Dipesh Sutariya, Co-founder, EnAble India, Winner SEOY 2019.

PadSquad launches campaign to provide menstrual cups to underprivileged women  

by Shillpi A Singh

Diwali, the festival of lights, is around the corner. It is the season of exchanging gifts and spreading love and light in the lives of our near and dear ones. How about doing it differently this time? And instead, go about spreading kindness. 

If that’s what you want to do this festive season, then look no further. The members of a citizen’s collective called PadSquad, who have been working with other PadSquadders (volunteers) to make menstrual products accessible to underprivileged women across the length and breadth of the country since last five months, have a cracker of an idea to spread happiness this Diwali, and would love to have you aboard their campaign. 

The members of the collective include film producer and social activist Monica Raheja, actors Niiya Kumar and Gillian Pinto, social entrepreneur Mayuri Joshi Dhavale, filmmakers Surya Balakrishnan and Devashish Makhija, actor, poet and social activist Taranjit Kaur, and film producer Chhitra Subramaniam. 

So while we are busy decking up our homes for the festival of lights, Taranjit has been doing rounds of the slum pockets in Mumbai on her scooter, distributing menstrual cups to underprivileged women, with Monica and Chhitra busy ‘cupverting’ women across the city. Another co-founder of the collective, Surya, will be joining the cup distribution drive soon. 

The movement that started on June 1 this year with the distribution of sanitary pads, soon moved to bio-degradable pads, then reusable ones and finally, these menstrual cups. Introducing these is no mean feat, but the Team PadSquad is constantly at it. “It will be a long-drawn process because there are many inhibitions, and we are trying to overcome them, one cup at a time,” says Taranjit.

Monica has added a new term that to the PadSquad vocabulary, cupversion, that means the process of converting pad users to menstrual cups. “Cupversion is a slow process and requires patience and handholding. There are a lot of psychological barriers to overcome. We intend to go back and give support, education and aim at more conversions on a regular basis,” she chirps in, having led three menstrual cups distribution drive in Mumbai, starting with Gorai.

Film producers and social activists Monica Raheja and Chhitra Subramaniam are busy ‘cupverting’ women across the city.

“We were always been keen on providing sustainable solutions to women to manage their menstrual needs. A menstrual cup can last a woman from five to 10 years, it’s the way forward for the world,” says Taranjit, who with along with her friend Chand Sayyed, has distributed cups in the slum pockets of Sidharth Nagar, and sanitary pads in local communities near Andheri bridge, Andheri station, RTO, Juhu and Bandra over the last few days. 

Monica has led the green campaign at Kamathipura in Mumbai along with social activist Seema Khandale. The duo managed to ‘cupvert’ five of the eight eligible women in the red light area. “It was a promising conversion rate for starters. It was a fun session with the women there. We left feeling very overwhelmed and happy with the outcome,” adds Monica.

Chhitra started her cupversion drive at Yari Road Basti on November 8 with Monica. “This is where I went to distribute sanitary pads for the first time in May 2020. It felt joyous to be back to the same locality for my first menstrual cup drive. The women were curious and surprisingly accepting of making the shift to menstrual cups,” she says. The duo was excited to have cupverted six of the 10 women/girls in the Basti in one day.

The core idea behind introducing menstrual cups remains to care for Mother Earth in small measure by helping women make that transition from sanitary pad to a menstrual cup. “Trillions of tonnes of waste is flooding the environment every year. So we must move in a direction of more eco-friendly solutions. Though pads are a quick option, cups need more hand-holding and follow-ups with women for a longer-term. We are happy to get help from support groups for the same and look forward to getting support from organisations like FICCI and Innerwheel to get a pan-India reach,” says Taranjit.          

Film producer and social activist Monica Raheja educating women
about menstrual cups during her cupversion drive in Kamathipura.

The collective has recently launched a new drive, #CupofKindness, in association with PeeSafe to coincide with the World Kindness Week, and World Kindness Day. “PadSquad’s collaboration with PeeSafe will help us in procuring and distributing menstrual cups to underprivileged women across the country. It is one golden opportunity to donate a #CupofKindness, and share video or photo with us using #CupofKindness,” quips Taranjit.

A menstrual cup lasts a woman 5-10 years, saving a lot of money, improving the environment (no disposable pads). And it’s available at a fabulous 50% discount. At Rs 225 per cup (v/s MRP of 499), that’s less than Rs 40 a year to provide safe menstrual hygiene to a woman. 

“So if you make a small donation of 20 cups, to begin with, Venkat Krishnan N, founder of Living My Promise, will match your donations up to 1,000 cups! Ditto for Amit Chandra, founder of The ATE Chandra Foundation and who features in the list of India’s top philanthropists, will also match your donations up to 1,000 cups. I’m sure more people like them will match, so be generous and make your contribution,” says Chhitra.

Actor, poet and social activist Taranjit Kaur during a menstrual
cup distribution drive in a local slum community in Mumbai.

If you are planning to donate for the #CupofKindness, remember to use the discount code PADSQUAD. Here’s the link

“There are many more cups to be given. Many many more cupversions to be done, so come do good, be good this Diwali, and spread kindness,” says Monica in the parting.

Go green this Diwali with eco-friendly bamboo candles from Tripura

By Shillpi A Singh

After making waves with handcrafted bamboo bottles, bamboo shoot cookies, and bamboo rice, the Tripura government recently introduced eco-friendly bamboo candles. These beautifully crafted bamboo candles are the handiwork of the local communities living in Mohanbhog RD Block and Nalchar RD Block, both in Sepahijala district.

Chief Minister of Tripura Biplab Kumar Deb recently introduced eco-friendly bamboo candles crafted by women SHG members from Mohanbhog and Nalchar blocks in Sepahijala district, Tripura.

For the uninitiated, the landlocked state in the North East is one of the major bamboo producing states in India. Bamboo has unique livelihood importance among a majority of the population and going by the recent initiatives undertaken by the state government, it has also become a sustainable choice for employment generation here.

Talking more about this initiative undertaken by artisans living in South Taibandal village, Narayan Chandra Majumder, Block Development Officer, Mohanbhog RD Block, says, “These products are the brainchild of Vishwasree B, IAS, DM and Collector of Sepahijala district, Tripura, who introduced this idea and initiated these local men and women into making bamboo candles.”

Sanjib Chakma, Block Development Officer, Nalchar RD Block, couldn’t agree more with him because he believes that sometimes it is an idea is all that it takes to bring about a change and serve as an inspiration to spark off activity and develop something aesthetically beautiful. “These women are expert in craftsmanship, and the idea of making bamboo candles shared by Sepahijala District Magistrate & Collector enthused these SHG women of Bagabassa GP under Nalchar RD Block. They lapped up the opportunity because they could visualise the product and have managed to realise this dream through their artistry and hard work,” quips Chakma.

Dipali Paul, one of the women from Bagabassa Gram Panchayat under Nalchar RD Block, who has been working on these bamboo candles, was full of praise for the district administration officials. “I can’t thank them enough for all that they have done for us. They came up with this ingenious idea and proposed it to a bunch of us. Initially, only a handful of us were involved in this bamboo candle making unit. Today more and more women are joining this initiative because it gives economic independence,” says Paul.

Dipali Paul, one of the women from Bagabassa Gram Panchayat under Nalchar RD Block, who has been working on these bamboo candles.

These candles produced by SHG members in Sipahijala come with double benefits – they reduce air pollution and generate employment opportunities for local communities. “The Self-Help Groups under the National Rural Livelihood Mission and Tripura Rural Livelihood Mission comprise women belonging to different communities, who are working together with a common goal of economic empowerment,” adds Chakma.

These candles have been designed aesthetically and have an inner coating of a mud diya so that they don’t catch fire when lit. The men and women source bamboo from local farmers while mud diyas fitted inside the bamboo are procured from the local potter, and wax and wick are bought from the local market. “These bamboo candles have the potential to generate employment among the rural population which is in tune with the vision of our Chief Minister,” said Majumder, who has been working closely with the local communities in the district.

The groundwork for making these candles started just before Durga Puja while the commercial production started a couple of days ago. The response has been overwhelming. Orders and enquiries are pouring in, and SHG women have been asked to increase the production of these candles.

The entire cycle of making a bamboo candle takes two days. The process includes sourcing best quality bamboo, cutting it into pieces, smoothening the rough edges, boiling the pieces to prevent termite attacks, and drying them in the sun. “Once it is dry as a bone, a mud diya is fitted inside, then molten wax is poured, and a wick fixed in it. The extra wax that would have spilt on the sides of the bamboo candles is cleaned, and finally, it is packaged with a bamboo cane. Some of these come with fine designs carved on them,” says Majumder.

The groundwork for making these candles started before Durga Puja while the commercial production started a couple of days ago; the response has been overwhelming. Orders and enquiries are pouring in, and SHG women have been asked to increase their production. “They have made a few hundred as of now and are working on scaling up the operation to cater to the growing demand,” adds Majumder.

There are two different packs of three bamboo candles on sale at the moment; one pack has two big candles, and one small and is priced at Rs 260 while the other one has two small candles and one big one priced at Rs 240.

The products are on display at stalls put up in the offices of local DM and Collector in Sepahijala and Tripura Rural Livelihood Mission in Agartala, and will soon be available at the Tripura Bhawan across the country. The district administration has been very supportive in helping to advertise and market the bamboo candles. “The Cluster Coordinator and the Block Mission Manager (BDO), Block Mission Management Unit, TRLM, Nalchar RD Block have been actively coordinating with SHGs and encouraged these women to give their best in creating bamboo candles, which could serve as a vehicle for their economic stability and empowerment,” says Chakma.

Men giving finishing touches to the bamboo candles.

Laali has different hues of contrast

Abhiroop Basu’s short film Laali is the story of a lonely laundryman played by Pankaj Tripathi. His shop overlooking a busy street in Kolkata is the quietest place because he lives there with his loneliness, nostalgia and truckloads of memories of lost love.

He has a searing pain in his neck, and can’t move it much, but his sweet and docile companion – the clay dancing doll – sits prettily on the shelf above his bed, and moves its neck at the slightest nudge, sometimes with affection and at times in affirmation.

The rickety radio-cum-tape recorder gives him company 24×7 by incessantly playing songs to soothe his lonely heart, and the bootlegger slips in a bottle every night to help him gulp his melancholy.

The late-night radio show anchored by RJ Laali reminds him that neither time stays the same always nor everyone is fortunate enough to get love in life. The other Laali stuck in his head, heart and on the ceiling above the bed, only adds to his insidious sadness. Still unlike these two characters, the man remains the unnamed protagonist of Laali.

The flurry of customers, who come to give him clothes for ironing, and collect it from him with nonchalance after a couple of days, are his only human contact. When he is not ironing clothes, he is lost in his thoughts gazing at the view outside his shop.

The red velvet gown that comes hidden in a pile of clothes one day adds a hue of happiness in his monochromatic existence and breaks the monotony of his quotidian life. He tries looking for the owner but fails. Thinking that it is unclaimed, he decides to keep it with him.

He treats the red dress as a guest and welcomes its presence with warmth hospitality. He showers his affection at the red gown, makes it sit like a princess on a chair, and even sleeps next to it wearing a sherwani that someone had given for ironing the other day.

The next morning, a lady in blue sari (Ekavali Khanna) comes to claim it; the rude conversation wakes up the man from his sweet dream, and he reluctantly hands over the red gown to her. She snatches it and leaves away in a black car. Her fleeting appearance gives the much-needed twist to this simple tale.

Soon after this drama, a wedding procession moves past his shop, and the man who is sitting inside dressed as a groom himself is way too shocked at the turn of events and keeps blankly staring at the joyous crowd.

The metaphor extends in the last scene that pans out with a long shot of the wedding procession. It shows the groom missing from the white horse, which, in a way, poignantly captures the loneliness of the migrant man, who lives in Kolkata all by himself and stays that way till the end. The voice of RJ Laali once again proclaims the irony of time and love, and this man’s experience with the red gown mirrors it to a T. 

The highlight of Laali is the story of a man, and explores the shades of his loneliness in the context of a red gown; dialogues are bare minimum but crisp.

The sound design is another highlight. The sublime sounds stand out in the screenplay, and the film’s sound script plays out like perfume, present and yet invisible; one needs to absorb its beauty as it plays out quietly.

The lead actor carries the weight of the entire story on his shoulders, and does a wonderful job of playing a 40 something migrant man from Bihar settled in Kolkata; his measured performance reminded me of actor Manoj Bajpayee’s portrayal of loneliness in Devashish Makhija’s Bhonsle. These two actors are masters of melancholy. They say a lot more when they say nothing and it is the heaviness of silence that adds a lot of weight to their performances, and pulls you in their reel world.

The detailing in each scene is appreciable.

The play of light and dark via camerawork and tight shots in the cramped space add another element to director Abhiroop Basu’s storytelling.

It is a sweet and simple story, meticulously executed and well-told. It is playing at the ongoing Dharamshala International Film Festival till November 4.

Here’s the link: