I am a part-time procaeffinator and full-time writer.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. I started my career as a journalist in the early-noughties and worked in various capacities in leading national publications - The Asian Age, The Times of India, The Hindustan Times (as it was then), India Today - across New Delhi and Mumbai for more than 15 years. I dabbled in corporate communications on two occasions, firstly with the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development in Mumbai, and then again with The Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi, in between.
I returned to the fold as a freelance journalist five years ago and over the past few years, I have contributed to many newspapers and magazines, including The New Indian Express, Chennai; TheMorning Standard, New Delhi; India Perspectives, MEA’s magazine; Shubh Yatra, Air India’s in-flight magazine; The Free Press Journal, Mumbai; Vistara, AirVistara’s in-flight magazine; Rail Bandhu, Indian Railways’ on-board magazine; TruJetter, TruJet Airlines’in-flight magazine; NewsGram.com, a US-based news website; eShe.in, an online magazine for women; The Times of Amma, an online magazine for women; News18.com, a news portal; Sbcltr.in, an online magazine; DailyO, an online website; eastindiastory.com and apotpourriofvestiges.com. I also run my parenting website, theparentslogue.com.
I mostly write to while away my time and at times to explore the devilry of my idle mind, on anything and everything that tickles my grey matter.
I hold a PG Degree in English Journalism from IIMC, New Delhi, and Post Graduate Certificate in Marketing and Brand Management from MICA, Ahmedabad.
View all posts by Shillpi A Singh →
New Delhi, July 28, 2021: Globally, around 325 million people live with Hepatitis infection. Hepatitis is referred an inflammation of the liver that can cause complications. The liver is a vital organ that processes nutrients, filters the blood, and fights infections. When the liver is inflamed or damaged, its function can be affected. The common cause of Hepatitis is a viral infection, but there are other possible causes of Hepatitis as well. These include Autoimmune Hepatitis and Hepatitis, which occurs as a secondary result of medications, drugs, toxins, and alcohol. Autoimmune Hepatitis is a disease that occurs when your body makes antibodies against your liver tissue. Common forms of Viral Hepatitis include:
Hepatitis A: This form of Hepatitis does not lead to chronic infection and usually has no complications. The liver usually heals from Hepatitis A within several months. However, occasional deaths from Hepatitis A have occurred due to liver failure, and some people have required a liver transplant for Acute Hepatitis A infection. Hepatitis A can be prevented by vaccination.
Hepatitis B: It is transmitted through contact with infectious body fluids, such as blood, vaginal secretions, or semen, containing the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV). Injection drug use, having sex with an infected partner or sharing razors with an infected person increase your risk of getting Hepatitis B. The earlier in life Hepatitis B is contracted, the more likely it is to become chronic. People can carry the virus without feeling sick but can still spread the virus. Hepatitis B can be prevented by getting a vaccine.
Hepatitis C: About 75% to 85% of patients with Hepatitis C develop a chronic liver infection. It often does not show any symptoms. No vaccine is yet available to prevent Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis D: Hepatitis D only happens to people who are infected by the Hepatitis B virus. If you are vaccinated against Hepatitis B, you will be protected against the Hepatitis D virus.
Hepatitis E: This type of Hepatitis is spread by ingesting contaminated food or water. Hepatitis E is common throughout the world. Even though vaccines exist, they are not available everywhere.
Most people recover from Hepatitis, and the disease is often preventable. However, it is still considered a serious health risk because it can:
Destroy the liver tissue
Spread easily from person to person
Weaken the body’s immune system
Cause the liver to fail
Cause liver cancer
Cause death (in rare cases)
TIPS TO PREVENT HEPATITIS: Hepatitis is a preventable disease, and the following precautions can keep you safe. Practising good hygiene is one key way to avoid contracting Hepatitis A and E. If you’re traveling, you should avoid:
Raw or undercooked shellfish and oysters
Raw fruit and vegetables
Hepatitis B, C, and D contracted through contaminated blood can be prevented by:
Not sharing drug needles
Not sharing razors
Not using someone else’s toothbrush
Not touching spilt blood
Hepatitis B and C can also be contracted through sexual intercourse and intimate sexual contact. Practising safe sex by using condoms and dental dams can help decrease the risk of infection. Vaccination is another effective way to stay protected against Hepatitis A and B. Experts are currently developing vaccines against Hepatitis C. Above all, prevention, hygiene practices, and vaccination are the most effective tool against Hepatitis. Speak to your doctor today to know more.
Currently, we are facing an epidemic of another form of Hepatitis which is Fatty Liver Disease. This is because of sedentary life, changing eating habits and obesity. Also, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension are risk factors associated with it. It is diagnosed by sonography and Liver Function Test. If it’s not corrected, it will lead to the development of Cirrhosis and Liver Cancer. So a healthy traditional diet, weight control, exercise, and regular check will help prevent this disease which affects 25% of the population.
(Dr Rakesh Patel is Consultant, Gastroenterology, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan)
In the June of 2016, my family of five sailed aboard the largest cruise ship in the world, the Royal Caribbean, from Port Canaveral, Orlando, Florida. It was a voyage to explore the unseen places nestled in the Caribbean, most of which we had only heard in our Geography books but visiting them had left us visibly excited. One of our destinations was the Grand Cayman Islands.
For the unversed, it is one of the largest and westernmost of the three Cayman Islands. It was a day stopover, and we were welcomed there by sweltering heat. The hot and sultry weather was slightly unsettling initially, but then we had no choice but to make the most of it. Upon arrival on the Island, which lies south of Cuba and northwest of Jamaica, we hired a bus to take us to the West Bay district from George Town, its capital. I had a whale of a time window shopping there. The high-end retailers and souvenir stores kept me super busy, at least for the first few hours. The blocks of neatly kept houses were a common sight on the Island. But the place where we went next will knock your socks off. What if I tell you that Hell is a must-visit place, you would surely think that I have gone bonkers. But trust me, the football field-size area full of a large number of unique, short, black limestone formations in the form of jagged and spongy pinnacles with a unique nickname ‘Hell’ is a major tourist hotspot in the Cayman Islands.
It is also one of the most fascinating geological wonders in the world. The iron shore foundation is what makes Hell Cayman Islands so unusual. It is said that the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean may be a critical factor in the rock’s formation millions of years ago. The clear blue sky above with black limestone formations poking out of lush green vegetation made it a sight to behold. If you are visiting Hell, it is forbidden to walk on the limestone formations depicting devils around the limestone landscape. After marvelling at the field of black peaks, we headed to the bright red post office nearby to send postcards from Hell to my family and friends back in India. Yes, you had guessed it right. The postcards were stamped with the mark ‘Hell’. I am sure those who received those postcards must have been in shock and awe too.
There were souvenir shops and other stores in the area with Biblical quotations on their side in Hell, and I quickly toured them. Mind you, visiting Hell at night could be a spooky experience, though! Hell is located close to another popular attraction, Cayman Turtle Centre, where we spotted wonderful creatures in the lagoon. Been there, done that, I will say that Hell Grand Cayman remains one the most unique, light-hearted, fun-filled tourist attractions in the whole world. And it gives me immense delight to say that I went to Hell and was back on my cruise, safe and sound, before the day ended, ready to sail and explore another unseen place.
Lucknow boy Kushal Srivastava calls 1999 a year to remember. Fresh out of school, he had made it to the Indian Air Force as a non-commissioned officer and was waiting for his joining letter when the Kargil War broke out in May. It left the lanky teenager on tenterhooks. The ensuing months saw the reluctant newsie (as he calls himself) glued to his television set, 24×7. He keenly followed the war updates from Kargil and Drass way more than keeping a tab on the runs scored by the Men in Blue at the seventh edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup in England. “The Kargil War against Pakistan had overridden my love for cricket, and it remains like that to date. Cricket reminds me of that war. Sitting many miles away from the war front in my home, I remember how it felt so personal. I would cringe every time a soldier was martyred in Kargil; the fatalities in LoC were devastating because it felt like losing one of my own to the enemy,” he recounts.
The only good thing that he remembers of that year is how Pakistan collapsed to a meagre 132 in the final, leading to an eight-wicket win for Australia in the World Cup, and how this loss at the Lord’s matched its fate on the war front in Kargil, this time at the hands of Indian soldiers. Every year since 1999, July 26, the day the Kargil war ended, is celebrated as the Vijay Diwas. Srivastava, who went on to join IAF on December 23, 1999, served in the logistics department till 2006 and landed on the cinematic horizon with his directorial debut Vodka Diaries, featuring Kay Kay Menon, Mandira Bedi and Raima Sen, followed by his production debut The Job in 2018. Still an Airman at heart, he had something up his sleeve to commemorate the 21st anniversary of Kargil War. Days later, on the eve of the Independence Day, he went on to announce his next film, Golden Arrows; Rashmi Sharma of Pink fame is producing the film.
On the occasion of the 88th anniversary of the Indian Air Force Day, we caught up with Srivastava, who took us down the memory lane, reminiscing his good old days in the air force, besides giving us a sneak-peek into his upcoming project.
Q1. What are your memories of this day?
A. It is the most important day of the year for me, and means more than my birthday, even though I am not in the service anymore. During my seven years there, I was a part of the Air Force Day Parade at Palam Air Base on three occasions. And every year, since 2006, I have made it a point to be there as a spectator. It gives me unbridled joy. During those days, my fellow air warriors would perform funny plays, and I used to direct them. This year, I am working on my next that is my, a soldier’s tribute to the two greats of IAF – former Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa, and fighter pilot Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja – who was martyred in the Kargil War. They are my real-life heroes.
Q2. How did you get into films?
A. Films were always on my radar, but I was more enamoured by the craft of filmmaking. I was barely 11 when my uncle Raju Srivastava took me along to N Chandra’s film set in Mumbai. I saw a shot being canned for the first time in my life, and that image stayed on with me for years. And even though I was serving in IAF, in the heart of hearts, I knew my real calling was filmmaking. I started as an assistant director. My first film as AD was A Flat featuring Jimmy Shergill, under Anjum Rizvi Productions. I assisted JP Dutta, and also Anurag Basu. I directed Kaafir, my first short film at MET College, Mumbai, which bagged the Best Short film award. The real learning happened under filmmaker JP Dutta; he is my film school who taught me the ethics of filmmaking. He always used to tell that there should be honesty and integrity in your work, which is missing in most of the masala films that hit the theatres on Fridays these days. So now I’m not too fond of half of the movies made by our film industry. The journey since then has been quite eventful and interesting, and I have also realised that every obstacle is a challenge. One should stay focused and keep working towards one’s goal.
Q3. Your next cinematic outing, Golden Arrows, seems like a big-ticket project. Tell us more about the subject.
A. Golden Arrows is a war film about a squadron then led by Wing Commander Dhanoa. The film is dedicated to Sqn Ldr Ahuja. It displays the glory and the courage of our fighter pilots during the most challenging air war ever fought. Yes, production-wise, it’s a big-budget film with a large canvas. That’s the requirement of the subject.
Q4. How did you zero-in on this subject?
A. Fighter jets have always fascinated me. Those dragons are the most amazing things in the world. Going back on the subject, Golden Arrows was raised on October 1, 1951, in Ambala and was based in Bathinda during the Kargil War. Living up to their motto, Arise Forever, they flew in the most challenging and highest terrains in the world, where flying and bombing was impossible by any air force in the world.
When a co-pilot had to eject amidst the war, Sqn Ldr Ahuja decided to go beyond the call of duty to ‘Never leave his wingman behind’, but while doing so, he was hit by Stinger Missile and had to lay down his life. He was awarded the Vir Chakra for his bravery.
The primary role of Golden Arrows was to do photo recce. But when Dhanoa, a trained fighter pilot, lost Ahuja, he converted his aircraft to a bombing one. He set a new benchmark in the world by going for maximum bombing missions in the war and leading India to victory, hence making Golden Arrows the most decorated squadron in the IAF during the war.
Dhanoa later became the Chief of the Indian Air Force and was behind another successful operation, the Balakot strikes. As Chief of Air Force, Dhanoa paid tributes to Sqn Ldr Ahuja and other martyrs of Kargil War by flying a ‘missing man’ formation in a Mig-21. The newly inducted Rafale aircraft is a part of the resurrected Golden Arrows.
The heroism of ACM Dhanoa, the sacrifice of Sqn Ldr Ahuja and the camaraderie of Golden Arrows is unprecedented. Kargil was the toughest air war ever fought in the world, we as Indians should be proud of it, but instead, most of us are unaware of it. Hence, this is my tribute to the air warriors, albeit on the big screen.
Q5. What is that one factor from the life of the former ACM Dhanoa that stood out for you?
A. He is an initiator and a risk-taker and forges his unique path, aims high, and reaches his destination come what may. He is a living example of how luck favours the brave.
Q6. How significant were your personal experiences in the making of this film?
A. The heroic but not-so-known story of the Kargil War had been simmering within me for all these 21 years. It flows in my blood. I have lived it. It was just a matter of time, and I am quite excited to see this dream come true. It is for the first time in the world that an ex-soldier will make a war film.
Q7. How difficult or easy is it to make a war film during the current situation?
A. If you are honest, then nothing else matters. What matters is whether you are giving your 100% in the given situation, and then rest everything else will follow.
Q8. What is the learning from the recent releases – Gunjan Saxena, Uri, Avrodh – that came in handy while prepping for Golden Arrows?
A. Kargil War, as we know, was high-altitude warfare. Both sides fought it on mountainous terrain. But what is untold is how IAF’s operation Safed Sagar was instrumental in winning the war. It was for the first time that IAF had air power at the height of 32,000 feet.
Golden Arrows was a photo-reconnaissance squadron of IAF, then led by Wing Commander Dhanoa and Sqn Ldr Ahuja. Technically, reconnaissance in force is a means of obtaining information on the enemy’s disposition, and for probing enemy defenses for gaps. In a layman’s language, the Airmen fly and click the pictures of the enemy. Then they provide the exact location of the enemy to the bombers and the Army. In the Kargil War, they helped identify the Pakistani troops and Mujahideens, and bomb enemy locations.
Also, Golden Arrows doesn’t have a reference point. We have not produced any air force war film in India yet. Commercially, they may be good films, but as an insider, I could only see what mistakes I have to avoid.
Q9. How much does Mr Dutta’s filmmaking style influence your cinematic sensibilities, especially when it comes to war dramas?
A. He has a knack for bringing out the humane part of the war, and that’s Mr Dutta’s innate and effortless talent. I have always admired his attention to details and how he deals with human emotions in his films. Most of his films have been multi-starrers, but he is known for giving equal weightage to each character. You will never feel that character X was in any way less than character Y or Z. I strive to imbibe that quality in my films. I hope I succeed.
Q10. What is behind the scene action that is currently on?
A. As we speak, casting director Mukesh Chabbra is busy finalising the details. It requires a lot of meticulous planning. It is a two-hero film, so we need to two male leads to essay the roles of ACM Dhanoa and Sqn Ldr Ahuja. Meanwhile, the remaining work is also in progress. The film will go on the floors later this year, and we are aiming for a 2021 release.
Q11. What filmmaking lessons did you gather while making Vodka Diaries that you think will help you in upping the game while directing this one?
A. Vodka Diaries was like an exam. It was conceived purely out of my love for thrillers. The script was written keeping in mind, Kay Kay Menon. Once, he was on board, rest everything fell into place. It was a complicated subject, and that’s the reason why I went for it. I like challenges, maybe that’s something I have imbibed from my stint with IAF. The film helped me prove my mettle. Now I find it easier to convince people.
THE STORY OF SCRIPTS (Source: Kayasth: An Encyclopedia of Untold Stories)
The oldest decipherable script is Brahmi. The oldest indecipherable script is the Sindhu-Harappan script.
The world over, script and languages have been written either left to right (Brahmi, Nagri, Roman, French, Russian, etc.) or right to left (Kharoshti, Persian, Arabic, Urdu, etc.) and from top to bottom (Chinese, Japanese, etc).
The ones written from left to right are inspired by the rays of the Sun, those from right to left are inspired by the Moon, and the flame of fire inspires the ones that are written from top to bottom.
The Buddhist literature ‘Lalit Granth’ traces Kaithi not to Brahmi but the undeciphered Harappan script of Sindhu.
Every ancient civilisation has a God of the pen. Egyptians have Dhot God, and Babylonians had Nebo. Jews traced it to Musa, Islam to Allah, and Greeks to Hemens. Hindu’s pen-God is Shree Chitragupta, who created the script for the writer class.
Kayasthas gifted four scripts to the Indian civilisation – Kaithi, Kaithili, Bangla, and Devanagri.
The handful of artists belonging to the Nakash caste and hailing from Cheriyal village in Telangana are the keepers of the visual form of storytelling popularly named after them as Nakashi art or Cheriyal paintings. Over the years, these artists have painstakingly preserved the rich cultural tradition of using pictures to tell stories from Indian mythology and local folklore. The proponents of this art form are heavily dependent on their art for survival, but the 15-month lockdown left them in the throws of woes.
“The Cheriyal art is on the brink of extinction. Today, only seven families are engaged in this art form. Five of these belong to the Nakashi community, and the others are outsiders who learned it from my father, D Vaikuntam,” says D. Rakesh, a young Nakashi artist. With no other source of income, his family of five – father Vaikuntam, mother Vanaja, brother Vinay Kumar, and wife Monisha – took to online workshops to fend for themselves during this period. The workshops conducted by SkillXn, Paramparik Karigar, Crafts Council of Telangana, Spic Macay, Dastkaar Haat Samiti, and Rajasthani Studios were creatively satisfying monetarily rewarding for his family. “The response was heartening, and the students showed keen interest in learning the art form. We want to keep it alive, and efforts like these will help us reach out to a wider audience,” says Vaikuntam.
The dying art form received a Geographical Indication status in 2007. Reminiscing the rich cultural tradition, Vaikuntam says, “Cheriyal scroll painting is one of the earliest forms of audio-visual entertainment. Hundreds of years ago, the storytelling communities travelled through villages, singing and narrating stories using the scroll as a visual tool. Each scroll measured about three feet in width and could extend to over 60 feet. A scroll contained about 40 to 50 panels, and each panel depicted a part of the story. These were displayed in a sequence to tell the tale.”
With newer forms of storytelling ruling the public imagination, the Nakashi artists have adopted unique ways to reinvent the art form and keep it relevant. “The pictorial tale from the epics doesn’t excite people anymore. The scrolls have been reduced to an aesthetic item adorning the walls, collected by art lovers,” rues Vaikuntam. To make the art form saleable, Nakash artists have designed utility items. “We made masks during the lockdown and sold them through our Facebook and Insta pages. We also use the traditional art form to make key chains, pen holders, and wall decor items,” says Rakesh.
Each Cheriyal scroll starts with a panel of Ganapati, followed by Goddess Saraswati. “It is customary for the artist to seek the blessing of the deities to ensure that the art flourishes without any obstacle,” says Vaikuntam. The Cheriyal scroll painting is drawn on handmade khadi cloth or canvas processed by applying a paste of tamarind seed, tree gum and white clay. Three coats of the paste are applied, allowing a day in between for the paste to dry. Once the scroll is ready, the artist outlines characters using a squirrel-haired brush. In Cheriyal scrolls, only natural colours are used like white comes from grounded sea shells, black from lamp soot, yellow from Pevidi stone, blue from Indigo leafs, red from Inglikam stone and the other colours from various vegetable dyes and ground stones. Every colour is mixed with thirumani tree gum, before being applied on the scroll. “The red colour fills the background. The face and skin colours are decided by the nature of the character, like blue and yellow are for gods and goddesses, respectively; brown or darker shades for demons, while pink and skin tones are for humans,” explains Vaikuntam. Text by Shillpi A Singh and photographs by P Mohanaiah and Tejaswini Paladi.
Hotel management graduates Divya Gupta and Aashish Juyal were the perfect strangers for each other till fate played Cupid and brought them together for life. It was their first job at The Grand Hyatt in New Delhi way back in 2000, but the duo stayed oblivious to each other’s presence for almost two years. “We had common friends but had never spoken to each other before till that cold, rainy night in December 2002. Aashish’s father was ailing and hospitalised, and he didn’t have enough money for some emergency medical procedure. He came to my home as a last resort to borrow some money. I handed him my ATM card and PIN without even knowing him well enough, and I guess that gesture surprised him; that moment was love at first sight for him,” says Divya with a smile, adding, “I took longer to accept and come around.”
Aashish’s father passed away soon after, and he had to shoulder the responsibility of his family of three that included his younger unmarried sister and mother. Juyal got a job offer in Dubai, and he moved there in 2003. Divya took up a lucrative assignment at Muscat during the same time. While Divya hailed from Meerut, Aashish came from a conservative Brahmin family in Rishikesh, and his mother was dead against their relationship. “My family had no issues with my intercaste marriage. We were on holiday in India in 2006 when it so happened that my father insisted on getting us hitched. Aashish’s mother threw a fit and refused to be a part of the celebration. She reluctantly agreed after a lot of cajoling,” remembers Divya. Aashish was sure that Divya was the girl he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, come what may. He moved mountains to coax his mother who had reservations against the intercaste alliance. “But he had told me long ago that come what may, I will bring you home as my wife, but making a place in the family will be your responsibility,” reminisces Divya.
In all these years, she’s not only made a place in the family but also in their hearts. Her mother-in-law’s fondness for her grew with every passing moment, and she realized that caste is the most irrelevant subject that works best as a tool to divide. “Aashish used to always tell others, ‘Divya used her caste to unite the family’,” says Divya. Aashish’s mother’s love and blessings made their marital life beautiful. She was ailing for a long time, and Divya took it upon herself to take care of her, leaving her full-time job, and spending days and nights cleaning her pee, poop, and vomit, bathing and feeding her, all alone while Aashish stayed back in Dubai to fend for the family. “She breathed her last in my arms,” says Divya.
Today, the couple would have celebrated their 15th year of marital togetherness, but again fate had other plans, and Aashish left for his heavenly abode on April 12, 2021. “He always used to say, ‘Divya will manage this, that and everything. I guess that’s why he chose to leave me all alone,” she says with tears welling up in her eyes.
The couple has two sons who are Divya’s hope and happiness. She is trying hard to pick up the pieces and love for her children, one day at a time. May love give her ample strength and make her life beautiful and living worthwhile.