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Frequently feel dizzy? It could be vertigo.

Dr Pawan Ojha gives the lowdown on the disease of the vestibular system.

Do you often get a spinning feeling while lying down on your bed or when you are still? Often do you experience dizziness that disrupts your balance? This could be a sign of vertigo. Dizziness might imply vertigo, fainting, poor body balance, or even fits. Vertigo is a type of dizziness where you feel like spinning. These feelings may last from a few seconds to days and often worsen with movement.

WHAT CAUSES DIZZINESS? Vertigo is commonly caused by disease of the vestibular system. The vestibular system inside the inner ear helps in sensing our head position in space relative to the body, and works in an integrated manner with the brain to maintain body position. Vertigo can also result from diseases of the vestibular nerve or parts of the brain that deal with body balance.

IS VERTIGO A BIG PROBLEM? The diseases related to the inner ear and its nerve supply are generally considered less worrisome. ‘Benign Positional Vertigo’ often causes the most severe vertigo but can be treated easily by experts. It occurs when the calcium deposits of Otolith organs of the inner ear fall in the inner ear canals to cause short episodes of severe vertigo upon head movement, such as while lying down or getting up from the bed. Another important cause of vertigo is ‘Vestibular Neuritis’ which occurs due to viral infection or autoimmune disease of vestibular nerve, where vertigo, nausea, or vomiting can last up to several days. Meniere’s Disease is caused by a build-up of fluid in the inner ear tubes, causing episodic vertigo with ringing in the ears and hearing loss. The exact cause is unclear, a viral infection, an autoimmune reaction or a genetic component coule be the trigger. Many people who have migraine often complain of vertigo with or without headache, that is called ‘Vestibular Migraine.’ A neurologist can often easily identify and treat the underlying migraine to relieve vertigo.

WHAT’S THE MOST WORRISOME KIND OF VERTIGO? Vertigo that is caused by brain disease should be considered worrisome and treated on an urgent basis. Stroke is an important and serious condition causing dizziness. In a population-based study of more than 1,600 patients, 3.2% of those presenting to an emergency department with dizziness were diagnosed with a Stroke. Apart form this, brain infection, Multiple Sclerosis, hypothyroidism and other biochemical disturbances can cause vertigo even in the absence of fever.

So, one should not delay consulting a doctor as soon as one feels sudden dizziness. Warning signs for a serious cause of vertigo include severe headache, persistent vomiting and imbalance, double vision, vision problems, sudden hearing loss, or early signs of brain stroke (weakness or numbness in arm or leg , face drooping to one side, trouble while speaking or swallowing). People who are older than 60 years, with diabetes, hypertension, smoking and history of heart disease or brain stroke, should be extra careful. Doctors might require an urgent MRI of the brain to diagnose the brain problem and treat it in time.

TREATMENTS ARE AVAILABLE: Medications prescribed to relieve Vertigo include betahistine, antihistamines and anti-emetics. Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) can be treated by physical repositioning procedures performed by expert doctors. Video-Nystagmography equipment might need to be used for complex cases. Special precautions in vertigo are limiting sodium intake, avoiding caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, and tobacco. If diagnosed in time, brain stroke can be effeciently treated with clot busters and/or interventional treatment. If vertigo is caused other serious problem, such as brain tumor or injury to the brain or neck, surgical treatment might be necessary to rectify those problems. Vestibular rehabilitation in the hands of expert physiotherapists forms an essential part of vertigo treatment. With correct diagnosis and treatment, most patients can be relieved of their vertigo effectively.

(Dr Pawan Ojha is Senior Neurologist-Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi-A Fortis network Hospital)

National Science Day 2021: Women in science on what it means to be one
The article was published in The Free Press Journal, edition dated 28 February 2021.


Nano Stories

(A dear friend sent me this beautiful photo clicked by an amazing photographer, Rene’ Kahle’ from Netherlands who posted this photo on his instagram handle rene_kahle.My friend asked me if I could write a nano story based on this photo.And I did write a story which I am sharing with you all here)

When she was captured and put in a fancy cage, the love bird couldn’t bear the separation from her mate and stopped eating.She grew weak and lost her sheen.The bird catcher took pity and released her.
She couldn’t fly high but found a thorny cactus to rest.In an instant , her long lost mate who hadn’t let her go out of his sight found her.

He perched himself beside her inspite of the thorns piercing his body, fed her lovingly and groomed her till she got her sheen back.

The Chubby Little Girl.
Copyright © 2020

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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.

#KaaliKhuhiAtMAMI a good #Halloween watch on Netflix India

A cursed village. A deep well. A diary of dark secrets. A spirit on the rampage. A woman who lives with a guilt. A series of horrifying deaths. Yes, that’s #KaaliKhuhiAtMAMI – Spooky. Dark. Raw. #KaaliKhuhiAtMAMI relives the horrors of the spine chilling practise of female infanticide (Kudi-Maar) in Punjab through an uneasy tale spun by Terrie Samundra.

Leela Samson shines as Dadi. Shabana Azmi owns Satya Maasi’s grief and guilt with the heaviness in her voice and gait. Her unibrow adds another dimension to her remarkable performance. Satyadeep Misra and Sanjeeda Sheikh make Darshan and Priya their own. Three children – Riva Arora, Hetvi Bhanushali and Rose Rathod – are film’s bright sparks whose measured and nuanced performances make #KaaliKhuhi a gripping watch.

The film starts on a spooky note, fumbles on the tropes midway but its edgy climax saves the day. By the end of it, you will be looking for that tiny piece of Tangadi that holds the plot together; its tinkle reminds of the overriding thought running throughout the plot – female infanticide – with the shrill cry of the newborn baby adding to it. The well is an important character in the film, and many a dark secrets are buried in its depths; these are unravelled slowly by 10-year-old Shivangi, who unburdens the haunting spirit with a promise to save the girl child and ultimately frees the village of its curse. That’s the film’s sunshine moment quite literally, and the young girls sitting in small groups with a well in the frame has a far greater symbolism in the film’s language that surely lingers on for long.

The scenes and sequences that make Kaali Khuhi a must watch start with the opening shot when an inquisitive Shivangi (who happens to see a girl’s reflection inside the well) is saved from accidentally falling inside by her mother which is in complete contrast with the other one where the spirit pulls the curious farmer deep inside the well; the rain soaked entry of Sakshi’s spirit; the death of characters after puking a slimy, black liquid instead of blood takes a cue from the title Kaali Khuhi (Black Well) and reminds the viewers that all is black in this well; and how Dadi’s body suddenly catches fire on its way to the cremation ground, leaving the villagers run away in fear to save themselves from the spirit, in a way punishes and purges the departed one of its sins.

Another one has the unborn baby (foetus) throbbing with life that is soon reduced to ashes when Shivangi confronts the spirit; this scene alone highlights the plight and agony of the thousands of helpless babies whose gender became the reason for their deaths at the hands of elderly women in the village, and takes the core idea of female infanticide many notches up in the story line, and succeeds in leaving a deep impact on the viewers.

The makeup and prosthetics stand out. The cinematography and sound design are haunting. The editing and screenplay could have been sharper. Kaali Khuhi is produced by Anku Pande and Ramon Chibb.

So celebrate #Halloween at home with this spooky outing on #Netflix. Out on October 30. #Halloween2020!

Festive Fervour

Dussehra or Dasara is one of the biggest Hindu festivals, Dussehra marks the culmination of Navratri, devotional nine nights of Goddess Durga, with the celebration of her victory over buffalo-headed demon Mahishasura on the tenth day. It was on this day that Lord Rama killed ten-headed Ravana in Lanka, and that is the reason why effigies of Ravana, his brother Kumbhkaran and son Meghnad are burned on this occasion. The festival marks the victory of good over evil. But while Vijaya Dashmi marks the end of Dussehra or Dasara festivities across the country, Kullu gets into festive mood on the tenth day and the celebrations last for a week. Here’s a lowdown on Dussehra celebrations across the country. 

Kolkata, West Bengal: Not just the City of Joy but the entire state wears a festive look a month before the pujo. The shiuli flowers or coral jasmine that bloom at night and wither away at dawn carpet the roads and make for a pretty sight as they herald the arrival of autumn and also of Devi Durga. The fragrance of these flowers fills evening sky, and the festive fervour is palpable in the air as the city gets ready to welcome the deity. The shops and malls see heavy footfall with people out in hordes to do their pujo shopping for the four-day long frenzy that leaves the roads and streets chock-a-block, bustling with activity and vehicles jostling for space. On the other hand, construction of pandals gets underway in full swing across the nook and corner of the city, and its buildings, both new and old, big and small, wear a bejewelled look. But away from the din, ensconced in the Kumartoli stay the men who work day and night to make beautiful idols of Goddess Durga for the pujo. It is believed that the deity visits the earth for only four days but seven days before the Pujas, starts the Mahalaya that marks the end of Pitrupaksha and the beginning of Devipaksha.It is on Mahalaya that the potters draw the eyes onto the idols in an auspicious ritual called Chokkhu Daan. The Durga Puja celebrations start off with Mahishasuramardini – a two-hour broadcast – on AIR  in the voice of the late Birendra Krishna Bhadra and the late Pankaj Kumar Mullick as they recite hymns from the scriptures from the Devi Mahatmyam (Chandi Path); it is a ritual of sorts for Bengalis to tune into this broadcast. The potters start giving finishing touches to the idols as the pandals get ready to bring them on Shasthi or the sixth day of the festival. The idol of Goddess Durga on a lion slaying the demon Mahishaura, flanked by idols of Saraswati and Karthika on the left and Lakshmi and Ganesha on the right is placed in the beautifully decorated and lit pandals, most of which follow a theme and compete for different titles. Devotees throng the pandals in the morning to offer pushpanjali to the deities, and in the evening, aarti is performed to the accompaniment of drums, bells and chants. A major attraction is the dhaak and dhunuchi-naach. At the juncture of Asthami or the eighth day and Nabami or the ninth day, Sandhi puja is performed; it lasts from the last 24 minutes of Ashtami till the first 24 minutes of Nabami. The Goddess is worshipped in her Chamunda form as she killed two demons – Chando and Mundo – who attacked her while she was engaged in a fierce battle with Mahishasura. On Dashami or the tenth day, married women gather at the pandals, wearing traditional red and white sarees, and smear sindoor (vermillion) on each other’s faces as a part of Sindoor Khela, symbolising a happy and long married life. Following this, the idols are then taken out in a procession and immersed in the river amidst loud cheers and fireworks. 

Mysore, Karnataka: One of the biggest Dasara celebrations in the state and entire South India takes place in Mysore that originates from the word “Mahishasurana Ooru”, meaning the town of Mahishasura in Kannada; the name was first changed to Mahisur or Mysuru, and later anglicized as Mysore. An incarnation of Durga, Goddess Chamundeshwari who battled the buffalo-headed demon, Mahishasura, for nine nights and killed him on the tenth day. The 10-day long Mysore Dasara is a celebration in honour of the Goddess and covers the duration of the epic battle and honours the nine forms of the goddess as well as the victory of good over evil. It was started off by the royal family of Mysore, the Wodeyars in the 15th century, but today the entire city comes together to join them in the festivities, making it the state festival or Nadahabba. This year marks the 407th year of the celebrations. The Mysore Palace is decorated with lights during the festivities, and the entire city wears a festive look with flowers and diyas dotting its buildings. The nine days of Navarathri have celebrations starting only after the sixth day which is devoted to honour goddess Saraswathi, the eighth day is dedicated to Goddess Durga and the ninth day is for Goddess Lakshmi. The festival culminates in a grand spectacle on the tenth day with a grand procession that begins from the illuminated Mysore Palace attracting thousands of devotees and tourists alike, from India and abroad. On Vijayadashami, the royal family performs the Nandi Dhwaja puja or the worship of Nandi, Lord Shiva’s vehicle, following which the Jumbo Savaari or grand elephant procession starts from the Mysore Palace and ends at Bannimantap. One of the beautifully decked royal elephants carries the idol of Chamundeshwari in a golden howdah in a colourful procession led by six elephants across the city. An elephant-led chariot, royal horse, cow and elephant, camels, horsemen, musical bands, folk dancers also form a part of the procession. The programme culminates in the ‘Panjina Kavayatthu’ or a torch light parade that takes place in the evening followed by a massive firework display and jubilation on the streets. Another major attraction is the Dasara exhibition that is held in the grounds opposite the Mysore Palace. It starts during Dasara and goes on until December. 

Ahmedabad, Gujarat: During Navratri or the nine nights, the entire state of Gujarat turns into a nine-night dance festival, as people of all ages and gender gather in open spaces at night to sway to the rhythmic beats of Dandiya and spin and swirl doing the Garba only to celebrate Shakti or feminine divinity. At night, people worship one of the nine forms of Goddess. The nine nights are divided into three sections – the first one is for Goddess Durga, who destroyed the buffalo-headed demon Mahishasura, and who also destroys human impurities, the second is for Goddess Lakshmi, who symbolises prosperity and the third is for Goddess Saraswati, who represents wisdom and art. Navratri also coincides with the end of rainy season and these nine days are a celebration of fertility and monsoon harvest, represented by a mound of fresh soil in which grains are sown for the puja. The festival, however, is synonymous with the colourful and vibrant Garba and Dandiya dances that are usually performed in a circle around a small shrine of Goddess Shakti erected by each community on the first day of Ashwin, the Hindu month, that also marks the beginning of the festival. The small shrine in the centre includes a garbo, an earthenware pot, in which a betel nut, coconut, and silver coin are placed. There are many places tucked away in the nook and corner of the city that host these events. While Garba is performed in circular movements with hands and feet, Dandiya is played with colourful dandiya sticks. Young and old, men and women dressed in traditional Gujarati attire dance through the night to folk music, live orchestra and some Bollywood numbers too.State-level Garba and Dandiya competitions are also organised and a winner stands a chance to win attractive prizes. The tenth day, Dashera is celebrated by doing a puja for one’s vehicle, and it is also the day to buy new vehicles.  

Kullu, Himachal Pradesh: The burning of effigies of Ravana and others and immersion of idols on Vijaya Dashmi marks the end of Dussehra celebrations across the country, but the festivities start that day in Kullu and last for seven days. The history of the festival in Kullu dates back to the 17th century when local King Jagat Singh, who ruled Kullu from 1637 to 1672, installed an idol of Lord Raghunath on his throne as a mark of penance for his wrongdoings. After this, Lord Raghunath was declared as the ruling deity of the Kullu Valley. For the uninitiated, Kullu Valley is known as the Valley of the Living Gods in the North India. The arrival of palanquin of Goddess Hidimba from Manali kick starts the festivities in Kullu. On the first day of the festival, the statue of Lord Raghunathji is placed on a beautifully designed rath (chariot), which is pulled by the locals with the help of ropes from its original place Dhalpur Maidan to another spot where it stays for the next six days. The festivities also sees more than hundred local deities mounted on colourful palanquins congregating in Kullu to pay their obeisance to Lord Raghunathji, the presiding deity, and the procession of deities makes for a spectacular sight. On the sixth day, the assembly of Gods takes place, which is called ‘Mohalla’. The village gods and goddesses dressed in colourful attires along with their followers and band of musicians attending the assembly makes for a visual treat. On the last day, the chariot is pulled to the banks of river Beas where a pile of thorn bushes is set on fire to symbolise the burning of Lanka, and the idol of Raghunathji returns to the temple on the same chariot, marking the end of the festivities. Kullu also plays host to the international folk dance festival that sees enthusiastic participation of folk dance troops from across the globe. 

Delhi: The city plays host to Ramleela, a theatrical presentation of the Ramayana, organised by Ramleela Committees across the nook and corner during the Navratras. The Ramleela Committees leave no stone unturned to oust each other in attracting crowds. While some invite famous film and television stars to essay the roles of Ramayana’s characters, others boast of high-tech set-up with a revolving stage, LED screens, state of the art light and sound systems, and even mind-boggling stunts. Dussehra also marks the end of nine days of fasting, and on the tenth day, colourful effigies of the demon king, Ravana, his kin Meghnath and Kumbhakarana are set on fire amidst fireworks and loud cheers of crowds. 

Tamil Nadu: People celebrate Golu, where dolls of gods and goddesses are used to represent everyday scenes. On Dasara, one doll from the setup is symbolically put to sleep and then the Golu is dismantled after offering prayers. It is done because when Durga needed power, all the other gods combined their powers and transferred it into her so that she could fight the demon. The celebrations in Mutharamman Temple in Kulasekharapattinam, a coastal town, see devotees come dressed in an avatar of their choice. They could be dressed as kings or beggars, monkeys or demons, but the more popular are different forms of the Devi, and they have to beg for alms to sustain themselves. It is believed that this exercise will help them overcome their ego.

Kerala: The ninth day of Navratri is celebrated as Saraswati Puja or Ayudh Puja for which the books and tools are placed for worship on the eighth day. The tenth day or Vijaya Dasami is considered auspicious for initiating children into learning. It’s called Vidyarambham as the child is made to sit in the lap of the oldest member in the house, the temple priest, or a learned scholar, who holds the child’s index finger and writes a letter on rice spread on a plate.

Odisha: The state also has a lavish celebration of Durga Puja with installation of the idols of the Goddess Durga, and other deities at pandals. The Goddess is worshipped on all the nine days, and people keep a fast on the Ashtami (or eighth day) and on the last day, married women prepare manda pitha (steamed sweet) for the deity. These delicacies are offered to the goddess, and then her idol is carried out in a procession for immersion (bisarjan jatra) in the local river or pond. Ravana Podi or burning of effigies of Ravana and others take place in the evening. 

Andhra Pradesh and Telangana: Across the twin states, during navaratri people worship Goddess Durga’s nine avatars. The married women perform Lalita Sahasranaama Paarayana and Kumkumaarchana pooja to pray for their husband’s well-being and a happy married life. In some regions, young girls celebrate Dasara by showcasing their collection of dolls in a particular order; the showcasing of dolls is known as Bommala Koluvu. People also worship their vehicles and heavy machinery by decorating them with vermillion, flowers, plantain trees and mango leaves during Ayudh pooja that happens on the ninth day. Sreevari Brahmotsavaalu at the Tirumala Temple in Andhra Pradesh is a major celebration during Navratra. It starts on the second day and ends on the Vijaya Dashami with the chakra snaanam. 

Food and travel make the world go around for actor Pankaj Tripathi

Actor Pankaj Tripathi can breathe life into reel characters of all shades and hues, lengths, language, and genres with his measured and nuanced approach. He manages to woo the audience with power-packed performance, warm their hearts with his simplicity, and win them over with his humility. In real life, he often uses the same methods to indulge in his culinary skills. And once in a while, he likes to be footloose and fancy-free. In a freewheeling conversation with Shillpi A Singh he opens up about his indulgences.

“I sincerely believe that travel is for everyone, just that it may mean something different for each one of us. But one reason remains the same — our desire to experience new things. Here I must confess that I always yearned to become an actor because I wanted to travel the world. And it was my love for travel that made me move out from Belsand, a nondescript village in Bihar, first to Patna, Delhi and then Mumbai. Or I can say that one passion of mine fuelled another, and here I am. I love to see new places, taste new flavours, learn new cultures, meet new people, and enrich my life with all these small joys that come along.

Thankfully, my job allows me to be footloose and fancy-free, and I couldn’t ask for more. In all these years, I have had the pleasure of seeing all the places across the globe that I secretly wished to visit one day. Benjamin Disraeli famously said that like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen. I couldn’t agree more with him. At times, I travel for business, and in between my hectic work schedule, I try and steal a few days to travel for pleasure too. And those moments spend with my family on holiday are enough to keep me on my toes till I get another opportunity to sneak out and enjoy. I got a taste of the English summer, and its beautiful countryside this year as a significant portion of my film, 83, was shot in the United Kingdom. It was an unforgettable experience. My family — wife Mridula and daughter Aashi — shares my passion for exploring new places, and that I would say is a great advantage.

The English getaway sounds like an exotic vacay, but trust me, I enjoy visiting far-off, and unseen cities, towns and even villages across India as well. The experience brings forth something that I can never discover otherwise. I get to know how other people live, eat and cook. It widens my learning horizon. So I earnestly look forward to packing my bags and heading to some faraway place to gather knowledge from people I stumble upon during my journey and stay. That remains a significant takeaway for me. But some places remain my all-time favourite like Leh and Ladakh, villages in and around Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, and Bikaner in Rajasthan, villages of Himachal Pradesh, and Kerala. It has been long since I visited Jaisalmer Fortpopularly known as Sonar Quila, or wandered aimlessly in Kuldhara village in Jaisalmer, or enjoyed a taste of rural life in Sam village, also in Jaisalmer. Other offbeat destinations in Himachal Pradesh that remain memorable for an awesome vacay are Tirthan Valley in the Kullu district where Tirthan river meanders along, and Jibhia scenic, unpretentious and old Himalayan village in the Banjar Valley. I choose to visit them over and over again because they are still pristine and breathtakingly beautiful. They soothe my frayed nerves and provide solace to my soul, and leave me refreshed and rejuvenated to carry on with the humdrum affairs of my life with greater vigour.

The other best part of travelling remains food. Once we were on our way to Jodhpur from Jaisalmer, and there was an eatery in sight. I asked my cab driver if we were going to stop for food? I could eat a horse, I told him. He said, “we will stop at a good one, some kilometres away.” But I spotted a hut that doubled up as a makeshift roadside eatery catering to the rural populace and asked him to stop the car. He was reluctant though saying we might not like the traditional Rajasthani food served there. I somehow had my way and went inside. The woman manning the Dhaba said that she had bajre ki roti and Kair Sangri for us, but if we could wait, she would prepare mirchi ki sabji too. Well, I was already salivating at the mere mention of these delicacies. The woman quickly went to her farm, plucked some green chillies, cooked the yummiest chilly curry that I have ever had in my life, dipped hot bajre ki rotis in ghee and served a meal in no time. It was way above our humble expectations, and perhaps the taste still lingers on in my mouth as I write about that meal at a roadside eatery many moons ago.

Such is the power of food that we eat. It conjures memories, often good ones that flash before your eyes as you think about what your mother cooking for you or anything that you once relished. For me, it is of the food cooked by my Ma, served with dollops of love and care, and the satiated look on my face and one of satisfaction on Ma’s after I polished my plate. I fondly remember the grinding of raw spices — cumin, coriander, turmeric, chilly — in sil-batta back at home that lent food its distinct taste, especially coriander leaf chutney. Long before entering the house, one could figure out that chutney had been prepared at home. Such was its aroma. I still prefer to go the traditional way and not much in favour of readymade spices or those ground in mixers for my cooking.

While travelling, I often prefer local food, be it in India or abroad. Food in any part of the world has its history, as old and as unique as our civilisations. I advise people to eat food slowly and chew it properly to get a clear understanding of the ingredients and the processes used in cooking that food.

Also, not many know that I was, at one point in time, a professional cook at a top-notch hotel in Patna. As a trainee there, I was made to peel vegetables for a week, and in reasonable amounts — 30 kg of onions, 50 kg of boiled potatoes, and 500 eggs in a day. There was no respite. It was a test of my patience and a way to check suitability for the job. Thankfully, I fared well.

I also remember having some of the best meals in the hotel kitchen. Many wouldn’t know, but the kitchen prepares two sets of food, one for the guests, and another one for its staff. There were 52 of us in the kitchen. Daily, the staff used to prepare 10-12 different types of meals for themselves. Like others, our gang of four too used to do cook food in a hurry with no or minimal cutting of vegetables, and use of a few spices and but still we had the yummiest food in those days. Those were the good, old days.

Back in Mumbai, I am always on the lookout for the vegetables that we get in our part of world — nenua (sponge gourd), arbi (colocasia), ole (yam), etc. These are the rare ones to find as there are few takers for them. My all-time comfort food remains litti-chokha, sattu ka paratha, makai-sattu (corn-roasted gram) powder, and chawal-teesi (rice and roasted flaxseed powder).

In the parting, I would say that cooking is an art, akin to acting where one has to use imagination and attention in abundance. One has to use ingredients in the right proportion and use them creatively. Similarly in acting, if one overdoes it or leaves it undone by even one per cent, then it shows. Like when we buy okra, we prepare a mental map of how we intend to cook it, whether it would be a dry preparation or a gravy one. In acting too, we visualise the role mostly according to the script and to some extent on imagination and instinct, and then enact the same onscreen.

By the way, don’t be surprised if you hear that I have opened a restaurant serving Purvanchali food.

Bon Appétit!

‘Kyunki fitoor dimag ke khatam nahin hote’

Shillpi A Singh

The crisp white kurta that he wears on a pair of white trousers (and not pyjamas) adorn his poetic frame; coincidentally the all-white dressing happens to be his best identifiable style statement. Strands of silver hair, neatly combed in the side parting on his head are nothing but wisdom-highlights. He prefers not to dye them because “colour black is reserved for the ink that he uses to pen down his thoughts”. Twinkle and sparkle hide behind the spectacled frame perched on his long nose, and a childlike smile makes a fleeting appearance on his face. His ageless heart that is younger than the youngest writer of our time defies the wrinkles on his visage and a mind that works overtime “kyunki fitoor dimag ke khatam nahin hote”. His wide mouth that hides below his neatly trimmed white moustache moves to utter a verse or two in quick interval, before one can blink an eye, and even then, one can’t miss the words that soothe and heal a weary heart. He speaks and pauses in equal measure. His words intoxicate and awaken at times, amuse with wit and wisdom, and above all provide solace and take one aboard a beautiful world of words that is his abode. Yes, that’s poet, lyricist, novelist, and filmmaker Gulzar for you and me.

At 86, he is audacious enough to dare age to do the unthinkable, “ae umr, agar dum hai to kar de itni si khata, bachpan toh cheen liya, bachpana cheen kar bata”. Well, it is the age that concedes defeat, even without saying a word, humbly leaving him to let thoughts dance to his words, and weave magic in his every written word, and leave the readers spellbound.

Writer’s block 

And though Gulzar reads a lot on a daily basis that is akin to riyaaz, he writes only when he is ready to shape his thoughts. “It is like a pot of water that has been simmering on the stove for a while, but only when it has reaches a boiling point that the plate covering it starts shaking, giving way to the steam to sneak out in full force. That is what writing is for me. It is an outlet to express my pent-up thoughts. But I don’t write daily,” he says.

Having authored umpteen books with short stories being his favourite form, Two, his debut novel in English examines the status of refugees after the Partition while Footprints on Zero Line brings together a collection of his finest writings – fiction, non-fiction and poems – on the subject; the launch of both books coincided with 70 years of the Partition in 2017. “Two was originally written in Urdu. But then, it included many words and phrases in Punjabi, Saraiki and other dialects spoken in that area of Punjab which became Pakistan after Partition,” said Gulzar, who was born in Dina in Pakistan as Sampoorna Singh Kalra in 1934, and went on to translate his work himself. “You may not find ‘perfect’ or ‘proper’ English in it, but you will find stories of refugees, and how life planted them all over the world,” noted the octogenarian talking about his first attempt at a longer work of fiction and whose friends Sukrita Paul Kumar and Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri had tried their hands at translation before he took over. Former diplomat-turned-politician Pavan K Varma, who has translated many of Gulzar’s works, writes in the book’s preface, “Two is a poem because the imagery reads like one; it is a screenplay because each episode is like a picture unfolding before your eyes, and it is a novel because it tells a story in a format that is neither a poem nor a screenplay.” Translated by author and translator Rakhshanda Jalil, Footprints on Zero Line, he said, “I had the advantage of reading the works of other writers on Partition. I had gone through the pain and suffering that Partition wreaked in many lives, including mine. I used to have these nightmares for many years when I used to wake up at night with the horrors of all that I had seen during those days. The writing is an expression of that suffering. The partition does not stop at the events of 1947 but continues to affect our lives to this day. The riots that take place even today are reminders of that past.”

Director’s cut

His first film Mere Apne in 1971 starring Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha in lead roles highlighted the agony of unemployment and loneliness when he penned, Koi hota jisko apna hum apna kah lete yaaron. “Every medium has its own ways of conveying the message. Cinema is visual literature. As a lover of literature, I love traversing through the literary lanes for the songs in my films. The lyrics are another form of saying something relevant to our times, with a dash of humour, and a liberal dose of sarcasm. The means of expression are nothing else but words. I am fond of this form of expression,” said Gulzar.

His wizardry with words reflected in the directorial ventures that followed with some memorable songs, dialogues and screenplay. The last film that he directed was Tabu-Suniel Shetty-starrer Hu Tu Tu. He has restricted himself to writing since then and limited his roles in films to writing songs. “I hadn’t completed my academic education. My family sent me to Bombay after Partition to fend off for the family. I couldn’t complete my studies, and that complex was the reason for my attachment to literature. And it continues till date,” said the poet.

Wordsmith at play

His migration from literature to films happened at the insistence of friends such as filmmaker Bimal Roy and lyricist Shailendra, and he went on to pen his first song Mora Gora Ang Layle for Bandini in 1963. “Bimal Da knew my aptitude. It was he who first told me that he didn’t want me to waste myself slogging hard as a mechanic in the garage. His thoughtfulness touched me. I gained a foothold in films with my work because literature was a staple in films. My initiation into films was on literary grounds, both for the kind of films that I wrote songs for and also the same kind I went on to make later,” he remembered. In his first song, he had used a minute reference to one of Mirza Ghalib’s couplet based on the understanding of the character, situation and also the script. The words “Ek laaj roke paiyya, ek moh kheeje paiyya” were his way of reflecting on Ghalib’s “iman mujhe roke hai jo khinche hai mujhe kufr, kaaba mere pichhe hai kalisa mere aage.”

Talking of the contribution of lyricists that influenced his work over the years, he said, “All my predecessors inspire me. Sahir Ludhianavi’s choice of words is unique like when he wrote pedo ki shakhon pe soyi si chandni. It was romantic. Shailendra’s usage of everyday words in whatever song he wrote was his way to connect with the characters. He knew the medium and subconsciously and consciously, I have learned a lot from him.” There were others too whose work he studied extensively in the course of writing and found that all of them had left a deep imprint on the songs of those times. “On the other hand, I also admire the works of DN Madhok who was the first one to bring the flavor of folk songs in Hindi film songs. Rajendra Kishen’s chup chup baithe ho zaroor koi baat was an extension of a dialogue that moved to a song. Then there is Kedar Sharma who used bird as imagery in more than 50 songs. And then there were likes of Arzoo Lucknawi and Pandit Sudarshan too whose writing is commendable,” he added.

Poetry in motion

He continued his dalliance with literature and gave books and stories a celluloid dimension in his cinematic work. If Parichay was based Raj Kumar Maitra’s Bengali novel Rangeen Uttarain, Aandhi came from Kaali Aandhi by Kamleshwar, Khushboo from Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Pandit Mashay, and Mausam, which was loosely based on the story Weather from The Judas Tree by A.J. Cronin. He adapted Bard’s Comedy of Errors in Angoor. Gulzar even paid an ode to Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib with a television show starring Naseeruddin Shah and broadcast on Doordarshan in the late Eighties. He directed Tahreer Munshi Premchand Ki based on the novels of Premchand, and wrote lyrics and dialogues for several Doordarshan TV series including Jungle Book and Alice in Wonderland. His Ay Hairathe Aashiqui for Mani Ratnam’s Guru was inspired from Amir Khusro’s Ay Sarbathe Aashiqui while Chaiyya Chaiyya from Dil Se was based on the Sufi folk song, Thaiyya Thaiyya with lyrics by poet Bulleh Shah.

Hooked and booked

Tagore has been an all-time favourite of Gulzar. “I had read his translated work in English during my school days, and the fascination to read the original in Bengali led me to learn the language,” he said with a chuckle. His first tryst with Tagore on the big screen was during the making of Hemen Gupta’s Kabuliwala (1961), based on Tagore’s story. The noted lyricist wrote the song Ganga Aaye Kahan Se, which was set to the tune of an east Bengal bhatyali (boatman) folk composition by Salil Chowdhury. “From there on, my obsession with all things Bengali began to take shape, from the use of melodies to films inspired by Bengali writers and filmmakers, and even marriage to Rakhee, my “bangalan” wife, turned a Sikh writer into a half Bengali,” he quipped.

His most recent musical outing is the non-film album Gulzar in Conversation with Tagore features seven songs based on Hindi translations of poems by Tagore. The indefatigable 86-year-old poet and filmmaker has written the lyrics for compositions by Shantanu Moitra and Shreya Ghoshal, all rendered by the singer Shaan.

In 1991, Gulzar adapted Tagore’s short story Kshudhita Pashan (Hungry Stones) for his film Lekin. Earlier in 2016, Gulzar translated Tagore’s poems in a set of two books, Nindiya Chor and Baghban. Gulzar in Conversation with Tagore is a companion piece to the books.

His reverse migration to literature and writing took place when he realised that he wanted to do a lot more than just making films. “Carrying a film is a 24×7 job. If you are making a film, you cannot do anything else. If I had been only making films, I wouldn’t have written books ever. I have always loved writing and books. It is like going towards a masjid, but stopping at a mehkhana en route, and then walking towards a masjid ,” he quipped, adding that he has no plans of returning to mehkhana because “it was only Ghalib who could take a detour and go to mehkhana again.”

State of mind

The painful first-hand experience of partition has a searing presence in most of his works, and it also reflected in the overbearing narrative of his songs and poems that speak volumes of loneliness as if he doesn’t want to comfort a broken heart but tends to scratch the wounds deeper so that they never heal like when he weaves the imagery of a broken relationship in Mera kuch saaman in Ijaazat. “You think so, but it is not so. Main cigarette toh nahin peeta par har aane wale se bas pooch leta hoon, maachis hai? Bahut kuch hai jise mein phookh dena chahta hoon, par himmat nahin hai. I don’t want to make someone cry, but it is how I am wailing. I am just sharing my suffering. The words don’t speak of anyone’s loneliness but my helplessness. I am expressing the same,” he said. And in between, he keeps returning to Balli Maran in Old Delhi, be it be the intro of TV show Mirza Ghalib or the famous Kajra Re filmed on Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Amitabh Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan in Bunty aur Babli.

His poetry can be interpreted in many different ways, sometimes with so many underlying, and overlapping layers, but what stays constant is his incredible ability to match pace with the changing times, and stay relevant. “All literary creation is a dream that the writer/poet lives,” he quips with nonchalance, and what makes him relevant even today is his non-judgmental attitude to change. If he’s written soulful odes to love in Saathiya, penned Goli maar bheje mein in Satya, made the Oscar-winning Jai Ho with AR Rahman, he’s written Beedi jalai le too proving that he can read the pulse of every generation. “How are you going to survive if you don’t know the latest trends in your field of work?” he argued. “One needs to stay abreast with the change that is happening around and also in one’s field of work. It is true for a computer engineer, a photographer and also for a writer. I work like a lumberjack; always looking for new tools.” But what he has tried to stay true is to express complex ideas in the simplest of words.

Social consciousness

According to him, the writers should not function as “an independent unit”. “A writer needs to have social consciousness in his writing. It is not a work in isolation but the work should reflect the times of the society because a writer is a piece of history that is taking place during his time. Writing is a reflection of society, so the writer has to be socially responsible. He has to chronicle it with empathy and detachment. It is not just his suffering but that of the entire society. It should reflect on all works of art, be it writing, painting or music,” he said. In Selected Poems, there is a poem about a young man with a nilgai tattoo on his shoulder. This poem concludes in just five lines, with the startling revelation that the youth’s choice of the tattoo was not just whim – in case of a communal clash, someone might see the bovine carved into the shoulder and spare him. Or Mausam Beghar Hone Lage Hai, a poem that he wrote to support the cause of climate change in Nil Madhab Panda’s Kadvi Hawa.

Films, in that respect, have come a long way in reflecting the realities of society, Gulzar believes. He’s happy that there is a new generation of writers and filmmakers telling their own stories, as opposed to adapting literary works.

He calls cinema a full-fledged independent art form in itself that needs to spawn its own literature. “Cinema’s language is imagery. It needs to create its own language and become an author and independent expression and independent creator of its literature. Like there have been many adaptations of Devdas, but its authorship will remain with Sarat Chandra for creating the story,” he argued.

Language of expression

For Gulzar, the staple language of expression remains Urdu. “Yeh kaisa ishq hai Urdu zabaan ka, Yeh kaisa ishq hai Urdu zabaan ka, Mazaa ghulta hai lafzon ka zabaan par, ki jaise paan mein mehenga kimaam ghulta hai,” he said. Talking about his love for Urdu, Gulzar noted that it was the only language that was capable of “turning strangers into friends”.

“I have seen changes in the language for decades now. This is why I don’t like to say that my language is Hindi or Urdu, I call it ‘Hindustani’ because it changes its structure with every city,” he said.

Looking back at the evolution of Urdu over a span of eight centuries, he emphasises on the need to revive the script of the language so that it is not only spoken and heard but also seen more. “Urdu is alive the same way it was earlier and it is alive with the same old strength. Its energy hasn’t reduced. Maybe its aspect is changing. Urdu is an alive language and moving ahead with times. Urdu is heard and spoken but the missing thing is that it is not seen much. There should be work done on Urdu scripts,” he said on why more scripts in Urdu should be written.

The lyricist, who bats in favour of the works of contemporary writers of the language to be included in our curriculum so that it stays alive, said, “Ghalib, Mir and others are classic names in relation to Urdu but the language has moved beyond the 19th century and is still alive. So we should move beyond these names too… There are many other poets who should be taught like the other greats. Faiz Ahmed Faiz should be part of your text today.”

Work in progress

Having realized that children’s literature is a neglected domain that needs attention, he working full-time to fill that gap with the might of his pen. His children’s book Bosky Ka Panchatantra is a collection of stories from the Panchatantra, with Gulzar lending lyrical freshness in the narration. “When she (Bosky, his daughter) was small, I would tell her these stories. These stories have always stayed with me because writing and narrating stories to a child are no less than a challenge,” Gulzar said. “To learn children’s language is a challenging task. As the generation changes, language too changes. This book is also an attempt to bring children closer to the Hindi language,” he added. He has also re-written, translated and adapted for stage popular tales like those of Satyajit Ray’s Goopy Bagha (Gopi Gayen Bagha Bayen) and Pinocchio. His chaddi pehen ke phool khila hai lent a special touch to Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book that was adapted as a TV show. He went on to repeat the feat in many of his works that included Potli Baba Ki, Guchche, Alice In Wonderland, Sindbad Jahazi, and Danu Danasur that ruled Doordarshan in the Nineties. A considerable portion of the songs that he has written in his long career are targeted at children including Humko Mann Ki Shakti Dena in Guddi to Lakdi ki kaathi, kaathi pe ghoda in Masoom that have charmed and warmed many hearts, and he has written songs to tickle young minds, almost effortlessly. Even today, he is busy writing for children’s theatre. “I have been collaborating with theatre director Salim Arif. We recently did an adaptation of Pinocchio where around 200 children did Kathak to a full live orchestra at the recent show in Delhi,” he quipped. But there’s a lot more that he is engaged in. “For the last few years, I’ve been working on a book on the contemporary poetry of India. I’ve translated around 500 poems, of 300 poets from 32 languages of our country. No masters, just contemporary poets. I want to make our poetry young again,” he says that his dream is to celebrate the work of the poet and make it a poem a day.

(This piece has been compiled from his media interviews)

SIR makes a splash on fest circuit

by Shillpi A Singh

It’s been a year of highs for filmmaker Rohena Gera. Her film SIR featuring Tillotama Shome, Vivek Gomber and Geetanjali Kulkarni in lead roles has been on an award-winning spree on the fest circuit, bagging two in quick succession. After becoming the first woman filmmaker to win the Gan Foundation Award for SIR at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Gera went on to receive the Audience Award at the Cabourg Film Festival. 

The Cabourg Film Festival is dedicated to films in the romantic genre and SIR was up against many strong films including Pawil Pawilowski’s Cannes mise en scene award-winner Cold War, Alex Lutz’ Guy, and Love, Greg Berlanti’s Simon. “I was surprised, but delighted when they announced that the audience had voted for SIR as their favourite film. It’s important to me that the film connects with people on a human, emotional level, so this really means the world to me. It was beautiful to see how engaged people were, how much they were rooting for this woman to realise her dreams,” says Gera.

A still from SIR featuring Tillotama Shome, Vivek Gomber and Geetanjali Kulkarni.

Set in Mumbai, the film revolves around Ratna played by Shome, who works as domestic live-in help for Ashwin (Gomber), a man who hails from a rich family. Although Ashwin seems to have it all, Ratna can sense that he has given up on his dreams and is somewhat lost. On the other hand, Ratna who seems to have nothing is full of hope and works determinedly towards her dream. As these two worlds collide and the two individuals connect, the barriers between them seem only more insurmountable. Gera has added layers of class and women empowerment to bring forth the complexities in their characters, and how they deal with them, finding love and happiness within their different social statuses and constraints.

A still from SIR featuring Tillotama Shome, Vivek Gomber and Geetanjali Kulkarni.

Calling it an unusual love story and an Indian film in every sense, Gera is humbled to see SIR touch and move audience and critics on the foreign shores. “It questions how we allow ourselves to love who we love. The film touches upon the class dynamics in urban India. There’s a class difference between Ratna and Ashwin, but it is not about a victim and oppressor. It is about love where two people become equal and see each other’s points of view. Their two different worlds clash in one apartment, and how they break the barriers, both physical and social, and come closer,” she says. 

Gera only had Shome in mind to play Ratna, but Gomber landed the role after an audition. “I had seen Tillotama in Monsoon Wedding and Qissa, and like always, she’s done full justice to bring forth strength, dignity, optimism, freedom in Ratna’s character. Vivek gave a screen test, and inhabited the character and space around him, working hard to externalise Ashwin’s internal conflicts and be him, quite effortlessly,” she says on casting it right. 

Apart from Gera’s SIR, Nandita Das’ Manto also made it to the official selection under the Un-Certain Regard category at Cannes this year, and co-incidentally Shome is aboard both films. Reminiscing her Cannes moments, Shome says, “We were very warmly introduced by the incredibly humble Charles Tesson and the audiences reaction was overwhelming at the moment and it’s echoes are still reverberating in our hearts. I was so happy for both my directors, Rohena and Nandita. And so grateful that they gave me this chance.”

A still from SIR  featuring Tillotama Shome, Vivek Gomber and Geetanjali Kulkarni.

Talking about her SIR experience, Shome adds, “Vivek and I are not given so many chances to play principal characters in films, so we prepared for this one with great hunger. Rohena was supportive, and we attended workshops by Pushpendra Singh. Since we were in most of the scenes of the film, we had to move from one scene to another at a rapid pace and so keeping our focus and being disciplined was key.” The actor has two “very exciting projects” lined up. “I will be working on a film with Anup Singh by the end of this year and another with Madhuja Mukherjee, who was the co-writer of Qissa,” Shome says.

(The article was first published in the Mumbai edition of The Free Press Journal, issue dated 16.07.18)