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।
नई दिल्ली। 22 फरवरी: इंडिया इंटरनेशनल सेंटर, नई दिल्ली, में अंतरराष्ट्रीय मातृभाषा दिवस पर विचार गोष्ठी आयोजित की गई। यह भोजपुरी समाज दिल्ली एवं विश्व भोजपुरी सम्मेलन संस्था की दिल्ली इकाई के संयुक्त तत्वावधान में ‘भोजपुरी-हमार माँ’-मनन मंथन और मंतव्य शीर्षक से आयोजित किया गया। इस विचार गोष्ठी में विशिष्ट अतिथि के रूप में शहरी विकास मंत्रालय के सचिव श्री दुर्गा शंकर मिश्र, पूर्व सैन्य उप प्रमुख ले. जनरल एस के सिंह, वरिष्ठ पत्रकार मनोज मिश्र जी उपस्थित रहें। इस विचार गोष्ठी में विश्व भोजपुरी सम्मेलन संस्था के राष्ट्रीय अध्यक्ष अजीत दुबे ने बीज वक्तव्य दिया।
विश्व भोजपुरी सम्मेलन दिल्ली इकाई के अध्यक्ष श्री विनय मणि त्रिपाठी ने आगंतुकों का शाब्दिक स्वागत किया। विश्व भोजपुरी सम्मेलन के राष्ट्रीय अध्यक्ष श्री अजीत दुबे ने अपने वक्तव्य के दौरान भोजपुरी की वास्तविक स्थिति प्रस्तुत करते हुए कहा कि “विगत कुछ समय में भोजपुरी के लिए ऐतिहासिक काम हुआ है। मॉरीशस के 250 सरकारी स्कूलों में भोजपुरी की पढ़ाई शुरू हो गई। मॉरीशस सरकार के अनुरोध पर यूनेस्को ने एक दिसंबर 2016 को कुछ भोजपुरी लोकगीतों को सांस्कृतिक धरोहर में सम्मिलित कर लिया, मगर 5 बार आश्वासन मिलने के बाद भी भोजपुरी को संविधान में स्थान नहीं मिला। यह सोचनीय और चिंतनीय है। ये सरकार, जो सबका साथ सबका विकास नारा दे रही है, वह अपने कर्म से बता रही है कि भोजपुरी का भी कल्याण होगा। इसके लिए सरकार को अपनी इच्छा शक्ति को बढ़ाना पड़ेगा और भोजपुरी को संविधान में सम्मिलित करना पड़ेगा। आज भोजपुरी गर्व का विषय है।”
वरिष्ठ पत्रकार मनोज मिश्र ने अपने संबोधन में कहा, “भोजपुरी को संवैधानिक मान्यता मिले, हम उसी हक में हैं। भोजपुरी अतिशीघ्र संविधान में सम्मिलित किया जाए।” अगले वक्ता के रूप में श्री दुर्गा शंकर मिश्र जी ने कहा कि “भोजपुरी के अगर आगे बढ़ावे के बा तो युवा लोग के आगे आने के पड़ी। अपनी भाषा को नहीं भूलना चाहिए। भोजपुरी की नींव बहुत मजबूत है, बस, अब महल बनाने की ही आवश्यकता है। ने कहा कि भोजपुरी के लिए विडंबना यह है कि देश से बाहर तो भोजपुरी को खूब मान मिल रहा है और अपने ही घर में संविधान में सम्मिलित होने के लिए तड़प रही है।”
पूरे कार्यक्रम का संचालन विजय बहादुर सिंह ने किया। इस आयोजन में भारतीय प्रशासनिक सेवा के वरिष्ठ अधिकारी श्री दुर्गा शंकर मिश्र, ले. जनरल श्रीकृष्ण सिंह, वरिष्ठ पत्रकार श्री मनोज मिश्र, लेखक श्री गौतम चौबे, संपादक श्री मनोज भावुक को भोजपुरी रत्न सम्मान से सम्मानित किया गया। आयोजन में भोजपुरी राष्ट्रीय गीत बटोहिया की प्रस्तुति लोक गायिका सीमा तिवारी एवं उनकी टीम द्वारा किया गया। खचाखच भरे-पूरे हॉल में इस गीत को सुनकर श्रोता भावविभोर हो गए। इस आयोजन में वरिष्ठ नाट्यकार, महेंद्र सिंह, लोक गायिका सीमा तिवारी, अरविंद दुबे, जलज मिश्र, सत्येंद्र त्रिपाठी सहित काफ़ी संख्या में गणमान्य लोग उपस्थित रहे।
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.
New Delhi, February 21, 2021: The third day of the Kumbh of literature was filled with a dance of history, memoir, pandemic, technology, the Booker 2020 winner and much more. There were sessions exploring conversations on Vincent Brown’s groundbreaking geopolitical thriller Tacky′s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War, Phoolsunghi – the first Bhojpuri novel to be translated into English, India’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, an acute insight into the professional and personal relationship between the first Chief Information Commissioner of India, Wajahat Habibullah and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the impact of liberalism and its place in an age of resurging autocracy, the concept of Dharma and many other sessions.
In conversation with journalist Sreenivasan Jain, celebrated American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic and political activist Professor Noam Chomsky discussed the global “drift into authoritarianism”, post-Trump America, and the factors that made social reform possible. He spoke of the recent storming of the United States Capitol, and how it was a turning point for the country, sharing what it was like to wake up in America in the “aftermath” of Donald Trump. Professor Chomsky insisted that the American democracy had “serious problems” even before his presidency. Speaking about the rise of authoritarianism, Professor Chomsky delved into the “neoliberal assault” of the last few decades, explaining how inequality and authoritarianism appeared to be inextricably linked. Responding to Jain’s question on what can be done to resist the threats to democracy, Professor Chomsky said, “There’s no magic key! “You fight it the way you’ve always fought it, with educational programmes, with organisation, with activism.”
“Over time any political or social movement can work,” he said, pointing to the Independence Movement in India. Reflecting on some of the critical progressive movements like the labour movement, the civil rights movement and the women’s rights movement among others, he talked about the significance of coming together in solidarity and with constant dedicated struggle. “There is no point being optimistic or pessimistic. The point is to face the challenges, take the opportunities, get to work and overcome the problems. It can be done – and optimism says yes, let’s do it,” he said.
The “queer son of a single mother”. This is how Douglas Stuart, Scottish-American writer, who recently won the Booker Prize for his debut novel, Shuggie Bain, introduced himself in his session with writer and playwright Paul McVeigh on day 3 of the Festival. Stuart spoke about his mother, on whom the book’s central character Agnes was based. He delved deep into the character, drawing similarities with his mother – she too, like Agnes, had been an alcoholic and had eventually succumbed to her addiction when Stuart had been 16. He said that in her little working class Glasgow milieu, she had perhaps been ‘insignificant’ but she had been ‘very significant’ to him, and like the children of all addicts, he was always on the lookout for strategies to keep her safe.
Irish author Colum McCann, in conversation with Sri Lankan-born writer and activist Ru Freeman, discussed the inspirations behind his book Apeirogon, and the undying quality of hope. When asked about the research he had to do to capture the essence of Beit Jala, where the novel has been based, the first thing McCann was reminded of was the ‘Bird Ringing Centre’ there. He said he was quite fascinated about how the migrating birds were captured, tagged and freed and even compared them to readers who came to this place and went back with a part of it in them. In the five years that he wrote this book, McCann met Rami and Bassam, the protagonists of Apeirogon, and spent time with them and their families. A novelist’s job, as McCann candidly put it, was to ‘put us in the pulse of the moment’—to turn the book into a living, breathing medium, which was why he attempted and left most of the politics up to the reader’s imagination. The heart-rending stories of Rami and Bassam’s loss were painful for McCann to even contemplate but what kept him going was their own hurt and sorrow. The process, he said, was “difficult, but necessary” and an “extraordinary journey”.
In a captivating conversation, Professor Vincent Brown discussed his book ‘Tacky’s Revolt’, with Professor Maya Jasanoff. The focus of the book resides on a slave revolt which occurred in the middle of the 18th century in Jamaica, in the midst of the Seven Years War between Britain and its imperial enemies. Professor Brown said that this event had often been ignored and not considered as a battle that occurred during the Seven Years War; nor had it been wrestled with as a major event in the history of the empire. To shed light on this moment of history, Professor Brown wrote this book and it became the first long account of the revolt since Edward Long, the polemic defender of slavery who wrote his contemporary account of the events in 1774.
Liberalism has always been at the core of western culture as it puts individual freedom at the forefront. Journalist and author John Micklethwait summarised this succinctly by saying that “the starting point of liberals is a distrust of authority or power”, at a session titled “The Death of Liberalism”. During the conversation Micklethwait and co-panelist, American author Adam Gopnik, agreed that liberal democracy needed to take a hard look and reinvent itself to avoid authoritarianism. Micklethwait stressed the need for “social trust and social capital” before having free markets. Gopnik spoke of the degradation of public education in the last thirty years in the US, underscoring the need for liberals “to re-endow these problem areas with a lot more dignity and monetary support”. He also highlighted that a powerful social and democratic government can pose no danger to social or liberal freedom, strongly emphasising that “a high degree of statism, social intervention, and national health above all can co-exist with classic liberal freedoms – that is an empirical truth”.
The concept of Dharma is unique to Indian philosophy and difficult to translate as it implies different things in different contexts. Hindu narratives are ambiguous and avoid prescriptive moralities. The Dharma and duties of different individuals face conflicts of ethical and human dimensions. Distinguished economist, writer, scholar and translator Bibek Debroy spoke of these dilemmas and the ethical and karmic choices inherent in them. In a deep and engrossing session, he talked with Keerthik Sasidharan, author of the recently published novel The Dharma Foresto.
Protected by Reckitt Benckiser, the session titled “Till we win: India’s Fight Against the Covid-19 Pandemic”, with doctors Randeep Guleria, Chandrakant Lahariya and Gagandeep Kang, in conversation with journalist Maya Mirchandani, discussed the book of the same name, that these three medical virtuosos at the forefront of India’s fight against the global pandemic, have written on their experiences and lessons learnt so far.
Concluding the first weekend of the Festival was a debate on “All Power Corrupts” featuring authors Amish Tripathi and Pavan K. Varma, Dutch journalist Kim Ghattas, Indian politician Pinaki Misra, well-known lawyer Pinky Anand and columnist Suhel Seth. The speakers examined the different dimensions of the truth that power corrupts. Is there something inherent in power itself that makes all power corrupt, or is there something else that has to be looked at? Does power corrupt by itself or does power only corrupt when there are no checks and balances?
Speaking against the proposition, journalist, author and analyst Kim Ghattas shared, “I’ve lived through and covered some of the worst abuses of power. Power is wielded at all levels, by the bureaucrat, by the prison guard, by the dictator, but I have also seen power used for good – to help, to save. So, I want to believe that power can do good, and that good people can become powerful and remain true to their moral compass.”Kim Ghattas, Journalist, author and analyst | Against the motion | All Power Corrupts
“The key is to try and understand human nature in a competing world, especially illustrated by politics. If you acquire power, there is a tendency for you to believe that you, as that repository of power, can bend rules in accordance with those measures required to sustain your power.”Pavan K. Varma, Writer-diplomat and politician | For the Motion | All Power Corrupts
Amish Tripathi countered saying, “Lord Ram had tremendous power, but he wasn’t corrupt, so what power showed was who he really was.” Amish talked of power as an unveiling of human nature and a challenge to find out what you’re really made of. He also referenced The Dalai Lama as someone who currently wields tremendous power, but uses it for good.
Pinaki Misra, who spoke against the motion, reminded the audience of Abraham Lincoln’s quote “Nearly all men can withstand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Speaking from his experience of working in the public sector, he added that “power can be viewed, not as an end in itself but as a means to an end, to transform the lives of the people”.
Speaking for the motion, Suhel Seth said “A lot of people do good, but it’s more political power unbridled that we are talking about, that is then used to abuse the system.” He argued that “compassionate benevolence” is much more the exception than the rule.
Pinky Anand who also spoke against the motion said, “I think we have shown with the test of time that institutional challenges, institutional controls, checks and balances have ensured that constitutions and democracies are able to function and of course ultimately, it’s the will of the people.”
Pavan K. Varma reinforced his stance emphatically, saying that if all power didn’t corrupt, “Why does democracy provide so many checks and balances? Unless they exist, power will corrupt.”
At the end, while the panelists seemed to be reluctantly coming more towards a mutual understanding, the audience poll boldly declared the winning argument to be in favour of the motion that “All Power Corrupts”.
The weekend was also filled with musical performances by Anirudh Varma Collective, Rehmat-e-Nusrat and ‘Belonging’ featuring Jason O’Rourke and Deepmoy Das.
The ongoing 14th edition of the iconic Festival will be held till 28th February on an exclusive virtual platform. The next in line for the upcoming weekend is a multifaceted conversation on climate change with Bill Gates, apart from sessions with John Zubrzyck discussing his book The House of Jaipur, authors Camilla Townsend and Peter Frankopan discussing the Aztec empire, Nobel Peace Prize winner and bestselling author Malala Yousafzai, artist Anish Kapoor in conversation with Homi K. Bhabha, Marina Wheeler on her exploration of her Indian ancestry. There will also be sessions on the Chipko movement with Ramachandra Guha, Shekhar Pathak and Manisha Chaudhry in conversation with Mukul Sharma, Boria Majumdar’s Sport and a Billion Dreams: 2021 with Pullela Gopichand and Mansi Joshi, Jeremy Seal on A Coup in Turkey: A Tale of Democracy, Despotism and Vengeance and several more important themes.
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 20, 2021: The second day of ‘the greatest literary show on Earth’ featured sessions on fiction, film, food, feminism, biography, theology and much more. It included sessions featuring novels that unblinkingly examined inequity across Indian society, the extravagant journey of perhaps one of the greatest filmmakers Bollywood has seen, the life and writings of the master of words, Dante, on the 700th anniversary of his death, along with a session that brought together a cross-section of voices and perspectives to understand feminism and its kaleidoscopic dimensions. In conversation with Shahnaz Habib, Annie Zaidi and Deepa Anappara spoke about their writing process, their exploration of the fiction genre and the source of their inspirations. At the session, supported by The JCB Prize for Literature, the authors spoke about the liberty that writing fiction allowed and how it helped them bring harrowing stories from marginalised communities to the fore, allowing them to showcase different points of view without having to approach the subject from a journalistic lens. Prelude to a Riot by Annie Zaidi is the disturbing narrative of two families, and charts the growth of religious intolerance, while Deepa Anappara’s debut novel, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, tells a haunting tale of heartbreak and the loss of innocence.
Bestselling author Simon Winchester discussed his latest book Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World, which traces the concept of land and its ownership from an anthropological perspective. In conversation with Raghu Karnad, Winchester spoke about the “bloody” history of land ownership, which he attributed to “capitalistic thought” and its mythical idea of land that dictates that once you own it, it’s yours, mostly because land had the capacity to yield money. “Land is proving to be no longer immutable,” he said, “We’re losing it to global warming and climate change and it may be slow but it is very noticeable.” Unfair, oppressive and fascinating ideas such as ‘Terra nullius’ (Latin for nobody’s land) were brought to light. The conversation traced political, religious and technological feats and shone light on everything from the history of race to ecological plights and how humankind’s connection with land has been elemental, contentious and necessary.
The session “Of the People, For the People” featured former Chief Election Commissioner of India, Navin Chawla, former Chairman of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Deshapriya, former Chief Election Commissioner of Bhutan, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi and Commissioner at the Election Commission of Nepal, Neel Kantha Uprety, in conversation with author Mukulika Banerjee. Together, they spoke about the process, achievements and challenges of the electoral process in their respective countries. Uprety talked about how the electoral system played a significant role in bringing the insurgents into Nepal’s peace process. Deshapriya spoke of Sri Lanka being the first South Asian country to have gone through elections amid a global pandemic. In response to a statement about many politicians having criminal records, Wangdi said that in Bhutan, candidates seeking election to the Parliament needed a university degree as well as a certificate that testified they did not have a criminal record. Chawla highlighted the sheer scale, the “secrecy of the ballot” and the quick delivery of results as among the strengths of an Indian Election. Another important aspect of the Indian system, he added, was that results had to be accepted by both losers and winners graciously.
“Conducting free and fair elections is the basic building block of any democracy. We took this process for granted until the US elections, where the transfer of power was not peaceful.”Mukulika Banerjee, Author
The almost-mythical figures of the nationalist movement have always been surrounded by controversy and hold a revered status in the minds of many as they continue to influence the politics of today. Very rarely does a conversation revolving around the Partition not mention Nehru, Jinnah, and Gandhi; their political presence has played a key role in the formation of the modern-day understanding of India and Pakistan. Speaking at a session, Ishtiaq Ahmed, through his book ‘Jinnah: His Successes, Failures and Role in History’, aimed to debunk myths surrounding Pakistan’s Quaid-e-Azam. A well-known scholar of South Asian history and politics, Ahmed possesses an intricate understanding of partition studies, while his reliance on primary sources details his rigorous efforts to document true narratives.
Scholar and author Rupert Snell chatted with Harish Trivedi on his translation of the Bihari Satsai. Describing his long association with Biharilal’s compositions, Snell said that he was initially drawn to the playfulness of the poet’s language – the puns and alliterations attracted him to take on the translation. But he clarified that the book of his translation of the Satsai was only a “snapshot” of Bihari’s work and “not necessarily the final version”.
At a delightful session on feminism, writers Bee Rowlatt, Mariam Khan and Sabrina Mahfouz shared their perspectives on feminism and why feminism in its present form must die to accommodate other versions of feminism. Rowlatt, who calls herself a late-emerging feminist, said that one could not get stuck to one idea of feminism and that feminism needed to be constantly reframed. “I would compare feminism to a white shark that has to keep moving to get oxygen. Otherwise, it will die,” she said. Mahfouz, however, was not quite hopeful if feminism within the framework of patriarchy and white supremacy could be challenged. “It is tough,” she said. In fact, she herself continues to struggle with multiple tags that people put on her identity. For example, people wonder how she is both a Muslim and a vegan!
“I would compare feminism to a white shark that has to keep moving to get oxygen. Otherwise, it will die.”Bee Rowlatt, Writer
Discussing prolific playwright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard, authors Chandrahas Choudhury and Hermione Lee uncovered many fascinating facts of Stoppard’s life. During the session supported by the Hawthornden Trust, Lee shared her feelings that through her writing, she had found an artfulness that spoke to many different readers.
New Delhi, February 19, 2021: The 14th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival began on February 19, 2021, in a virtual avatar that recreated the magic of its customary home, the iconic Diggi Palace. Like every year, the Festival began with a breathtaking Morning Music performance by an internationally acclaimed performer, composer, cultural entrepreneur, and music educator, Shubhendra Rao. This was followed by the inaugural address, titled “Brave New world”, delivered by Jaipur Literature Festival Co-directors Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple, Managing Director of Teamwork Arts Sanjoy K. Roy and Hon. Minister Dr. B.D. Kalla, Government of Rajasthan.
An intense day of conversations followed, with sessions on music, poetry, politics, science and India’s linguistic wealth. Some of the highlights included sessions on music across genres of folk, classical and popular; the First Amendment of the Constitution of India; the inspiring story of Kalbeliya exponent Gulabo Sapera; increasing political polarisation and its impact on democracy globally; the ancient Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna and his ideas on the conjunction of science and philosophy; the challenges that Covid-19 has brought to the fore and learnings from pandemics of the past.
In a session discussing his book Moustache, JCB Prize for Literature 2020 winner S. Hareesh talked about the story of the book’s protagonist Vavachan. Through the protagonist, Hareesh weaves a picture of caste and gender politics in Kerala’s Kuttanad. Hareesh said that no Indian story can be told without writing about caste. “Caste is a way of life; it pervades everything we do. As an Indian writer, caste will be a part of your writing, whether you realise it or not.” Moustache won the JCB Prize for Literature 2020, and with the help of award-winning translator Jayashree Kalathil, the novel was able to reach readers across the world.
At another conversation, celebrated actress and international star Priyanka Chopra Jonas was in conversation with author and columnist Shobhaa De, discussing her recently released memoir Unfinished. From her efforts with the girl child, the evolution of how women are perceived in the entertainment industry, from issues like nepotism to the positive power of support from friends and family, Priyanka spoke candidly about her journey through life and cinema. During the course of the conversation, Shobhaa asked Priyanka about her efforts with the girl child and referred to “Chhoti” in the actor’s memoir. “Chhoti is a really important part of it because it shaped just the person I am and the idea of being aware of the world around you was inculcated in me through my parents,” Priyanka said. Sharing an anecdote about Chhoti, she said that Chhoti’s mother worked as a cook at the Chopras’ home and she couldn’t go to school so that her brothers could. This provoked and moved her and eventually led her to initiate the change, said the actor. “I am a daughter of the same country and my parents raised me with encouragement, having an opinion, with choices in my own life, and making decisions according to my desires, and here was a daughter of the same country who didn’t even have the idea that she had choices,” she explained.
The session “Asia Vision 2021” featured an energy-driven panel discussing the global significance of Asia, given that it included more than half of the world’s population. Vivan Sharan, Mihir S. Sharma, Parag Khanna and Shruti Rajagopalan spoke with Sajjid Z. Chinoy about varied subjects including economics, geopolitics, technology and the aftermath of the pandemic. When asked about the “Asiafication of Asia” and what it meant, Parag replied that the world was Asian – demographically, economically and in many other innumerable ways. Thus, “Asia needs to be further Asianised for Asia is most of the world”. He also talked about the collapse of the Soviet having led to the “intra-regional processes” that have caused a “deepening interdependence” of Asian markets. Sharan spoke about technological aspects highlighting that almost all countries had agreed upon the “free flow of data” across borders but with different governance strategies. On being questioned about global politics and the tussle between the USA and China, Shruti suggested that “the only way to deal with geopolitics is to act as if it doesn’t exist” since market economics was more likely to overpower its effects. Speaking about the impact of the pandemic, Mihir commented that it was difficult to know the magnitude of the setback that Asia shall face, when the impediments will come to the fore and how exactly they were going to play out.
At another session, senior journalists Edward Luce and Anne Applebaum, in conversation with Suhasini Haidar, attempted to unpack the complex idea of increasing political polarisation, shaking up established democracies worldwide, and discussed the reasons for this trend. Held, in partnership with The Week, the engaging session took the audiences on an exploration of the global recession of democracies. Haidar was also in conversation with John Micklethwait, the Editor-in-Chief of Bloomberg, at a session concentrated on global power shifts and the necessity for a structural paradigm shift within governments, exposing giant lapses within governments across the world as they scrambled to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Exposing the deep fault lines within governments across the world in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, author and journalist John Micklethwait’s latest book, The Wake-Up Call: Why the Pandemic Has Exposed the Weakness of the West and How to Fix It co-authored with Adrian Woolridge, offers both critical analysis and solutions.
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.