Tag Archives: Devashish Makhija

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS MISCHIEF: Cheetpatakadumpa

Three friends — Teja (Bhumika Dube), Santo (Ipshita Chakraborty Singh) and Tamanna (Annapurna Soni) — from small-town India meet at an upmarket mall, and from there, take the audience on a pillion ride into the world of female desire on a full moon night.

A tightly-knit storyline has the trio exploring the idea of women loving their bodies by taking matters into their hands, quite literally. Two of the actors — Bhumika and Ipshita — have co-written the script with filmmaker Devashish Makhija, and it reflects in their combined gaze on the subject. The off-screen camaraderie of the trio, all alumni of the National School of Drama with a solid body of work in theatre, makes them shine in this short. Sharp dialogues, clever camera work, and tight editing give the not-so-openly-spoken topic in Hindi cinema, ample space to stretch itself to the imagination. 

LOVE IS MISCHIEF: Santo (Ipshita Chakraborty Singh) in Cheepatakadumpa

The opening scene is a good starter. Teja owns her sexuality and unabashedly. That unbelievable power of ownership leads the audience to the unchartered territory of female desire, and Santo as the woman who fantasises about having sex with a married man under full moon’s gaze that night, ably takes the plot further.

LOVE IS MISCHIEF: Teja (Bhumika Dube) in Cheepatakadumpa

In between, the duo leads married but yet uninitiated Tamanna to experience that elusive pleasure for the first time. The transition from organ to orgasm is organic. The result is an ecstatic high. Bishna Chouhan adds zealously to keep the spark alive with her deadpan expression.  

The last scene pans out in the open and broad daylight, letting the audience experience the freaky idea of femaleness, of women seeking pleasure and owning their sexuality through the deft approach of a man and two women to this taboo subject. The scene is liberating. Together, all of them have treaded the thin line, carefully manoeuvring the plot and keeping it on track without being preachy or voyeuristic, and that’s quite a feat to say it all in barely 23 minutes. 

LOVE IS MISCHIEF: Tamanna (Annapurna Soni) in Cheepatakadumpa

Makhija uses the mobile camera, fiddles with aspect ratio, cramps the actor in small spaces and lets the camera focus on their quirky expressions, movements and gestures as they go about exploring their femaleness in this short film currently playing at the Dharamshala International Film Festival.   

Cheepatakadumpa questions the double standards regarding sexuality — a rule for a man, an exception for a woman — subtly by letting the female protagonists explore the idea that there’s nothing wrong in seeking pleasure. It is in their hands, after all.

LOVE IS MISCHIEF: Cheepatakadumpa

(All pics courtesy https://makhijafilm.com/) 

One mischief always introduces another.

Daniel Defoe

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS FOOD FOR THE SOUL: Farmers and Agripreneurs

“Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: Love. They must do it for love. Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. If the scale of their farming is small enough, they like to work in the company of their children and with the help of their children. They love the measure of independence that farm life can still provide,” said Wendell Berry.

Retracing actor extraordinaire Manoj Bajpayee’s brand endorsements in 2021 makes one marvel at the ingenuity of his choices. He endorsed products and services that matter to an ordinary person, be it home, finance, farm, food, and rightly so. “I was born and brought up in a village, and I have always flaunted being a farmer’s son with immense pride. It is the core of my being, my work and how I choose to do what I do,” he says. A proud farmer’s son, he endorsed Krish-e App by Mahindra because the product reflects his identity, and he could relate to it. “Moreso, because I find technology a great enabler, and Krish-e has leveraged it to its advantage to help farmers reduce costs, increase productivity, and ultimately farmers’ income,” says the actor, who won the National Award for his searing performance in Devashish Makhija’s Bhonsle this year. With his endorsement, Bajpayee set the tone for the changing narrative in the agriculture sector that’s gravitating towards tech and seeing the active participation of young agripreneurs.  

LOVE IS FOOD FOR THE SOUL: Actor Manoj Bajpayee
To read more, https://adnaama.in/2021/11/06/the-ad-ventures-of-mr-b/
Farmer’s pride

IT professional Muhaimin Sheik decoded the perfect work-from-home balance during the lockdown, much to his delight. A native of Ramanathapuram, Pottagavayal village in Tamil Nadu, Sheik returned home to be with his family during the pandemic last year and has stayed in the village ever since then. Hailing from a family of farmers, he wasn’t as deeply involved in the process as he is now, and the WFH, in a way, helped him reconnect with his roots. “I spend five days coding and two days farming. I start my weekdays with a stroll down the farm before logging in for work. One day someone asked me, ‘You are educated and working with a software firm, so why do you want to do this? The company pays you well, right?’ I replied, ‘Yes, it does, but I can’t eat the money. I can eat rice only’,” says Sheik.    

A native of Ramanathapuram, Pottagavayal village in Tamil Nadu, IT professional Muhaimin Sheik at his farm.

CEO of Athvas Horti Fed Producer Company Ltd Asiya Nazir from Kupwara in Kashmir runs a farmer producer organisation and sells to wholesale and retail buyers on a tech-enabled Harvesting Farmers Network (HFN) platform. “I sell walnut, almonds, apple jam, honey and saffron on HFN mobile app directly to buyers across India. The tech-enabled market linkage is a massive relief for farmers like me,” says Nazir.

CEO of Athvas Horti Fed Producer Company Ltd Asiya Nazir from Kupwara in Kashmir

On the other hand, Raghu Dharanipathi of Kapila Agrofarms in Siddipet, Telangana, has benefitted tremendously by feeding corn silage (Cornvita by SAGO) to his cattle for the last three years. “Sago has been one of the best both in terms of quality of the product and customer service. Milk production of our dairy cattle consistently improved by 10-15% in the last three years,” says Dharanipathi. 

The story of Ajit Sorate,a large farmland owner from Baramati, Maharashtra, who faced challenges due to a lack of knowledge about the advanced implements available in the market, is no different. Thanks to Krish-e advisory, his plantation costs have been drastically reduced. Earlier, Sorate used to utilise 16 acres for sugarcane and 12 acres for maize cultivation. This year, after registering on the Krish-e app, he has planted sugarcane, from which he expects over 35% more output. “Krish-e app comes with Mahindra’s promise and has a smooth functioning where I can avail proper advice on soil testing, primary tillage and intercropping to help in scientific mapping of the crop,” he says.  

Back story

Krish-e is a new business vertical from Mahindra Group that provides technology-driven services that are progressive, affordable, and accessible to farmers. “We launched Krish-e and Nidaan apps in October 2021, keeping in mind the ever-evolving needs of the modern farmers. These apps leverage a combination of agronomy, data and farming expertise to improve farmer’s income per acre,” says Hemant Sikka, President, Farm Equipment Sector, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. 

HFN founder Ruchit Garg, who launched a mobile app in November 2021, had been actively helping smallholders’ farmers from across the country market and sell their harvest through a dedicated Twitter page during the first wave of COVID19. Farmers used to message crop details to him, and he used to broadcast those details on Twitter, and the farmers’ produce used to find buyers in no time. Buoyed by the consumer response, he decided to have a dedicated mobile app for farmers. “HFN Kisan mobile app is world’s only mobile app which provides full-stack services to not only farmers in horticulture, but also to farmers involved in fishery, poultry and livestock,” says Garg. 

Hyderabad-based agri-tech startup SAGO Speciality Feeds was started by three passionate agripreneurs — former NABARD employee Chandrasekhar Singh, his nephew Saikiran and son Anurag —  in 2019. At SAGO, they have deployed fermentation biology to develop and manufacture silage from corn crops and use microbial inoculants for making silage. The technology helps produce high-quality feed for cattle and enables efficient year-long storage of green fodder. “Silage is a highly nutritious and balanced feed for cattle, sheep and other ruminants, and it can also be used as a biofuel feedstock for anaerobic digesters. It doesn’t contain any synthetic additives or chemicals. Silage also helps reduce the volume of feed as it is highly compressed, thereby decreasing the overall cost and meeting the nutritional requirement,” says Singh.  

Agri-tech startup SAGO Speciality Feeds was started by three passionate agripreneurs — former NABARD employee Chandrasekhar Singh, his nephew Saikiran and son Anurag —  in 2019.
Growth in numbers 

The numbers are promising, and best elucidate the success story. Garg recounts how the app helped a Bangalore farmer sell 20,000 kg of grapes in just three days and how a farmer from Bihar got a weekly brinjal subscription from a nearby hotel by using the app. “We have at least one farmer from each Indian state/UT on our platform,” he adds with pride. 

Ruchit Garg, founder of HFN Mandi and HFN mobile app.

The high-quality corn silage is produced at SAGO’s plant in Banswara, Rajasthan. “More than 1,200 farmers produce corn crop for us annually. Over 230 dairy farms, involving over 12,000 dairy cattle, are fed with our corn silage annually. Sago has created an efficient and sustainable agricultural production ecosystem covering Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Telangana and significantly improved the livelihood of the farming community involved,” elucidates Singh. 

The Krish-e and Nidaan apps have received more than six lakh downloads. With an omnichannel approach, Krish-e is has been able to make a considerable difference to farming outcomes. “Through Krish-e, Mahindra is creating a nation of ‘Champion Farmers’. To date, Krish-e has increased the yield of farmers by up to Rs 15,000, brought down the cost of farming by about 8-12% and increased profit by up to Rs 6000 per acre. It reflects the passion of those progressive farmers who have adopted new practices to improve their outcomes,” adds Sikka. 

Plans in the offing

SAGO plans to expand into other speciality feeds for animals such as Aflatoxin free corn for pet feed and Quality Protein Maize for poultry feed. “These are a couple of products in the pipeline to be launched in the next two years. We are preparing to foray into the value-added food sector, focused on Functional Foods,” says Singh. 

Mahindra Group’s biannual event – Krish-e Champion Awards – is aligned with the Kharif and Rabi seasons. These Awards recognise and felicitate farmers and institutions, who have risen above the ordinary, by thinking innovatively and driving a positive change in agriculture. “Through the Krish-e Champion Awards, we aim to inspire millions of farmers and agripreneurs to build a promising future for the country. These Awards celebrate the progress of these farmers who took this first and very important step with us,” emphasises Sikka. 

Like most other fields, technology in agriculture is a must, believes Garg, adding that it impacts every aspect of agriculture, from seed to market. “Agriculture requires a mix of digital and physical approaches for building a scalable and sustainable business model,” says Garg, who is planning to launch a network of brick-and-mortar HFN Kisan Centers. “These will be farmer-owned and operated. We plan to open 17,000 such centres across India,” he adds. 

Young farmer Sheik sums up the tenacious spirit of others of his ilk and states, “There are many ways to earn money, but there is only one way to earn food, and that’s through agriculture.” True that! We owe a lot to the farmers. It is about time we realise it too. 

Kisan Diwas is observed on December 23 in remembrance of former PM Chaudhary Charan Singh, who was committed to the wellbeing of the farmers. I met farmers and agripreneurs, who have leveraged technology, to do the same to celebrate the day. The article was published in The Free Press Journal on December 19, 2021.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/kisan-diwas-2021-how-farmers-and-agripreneursare-making-the-most-of-technology-that-is-at-their-disposal

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, sexual, philosophical, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE HAS LANGUAGES: Abhishek Banerjee

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you

Maya Angelou

Actor and casting director Abhishek Banerjee is perhaps the only actor who has had two cinematic outings with a mannequin in his career. The mannequin had a guest appearance in Devashish Makhija’s Ajji (2017) where Banerjee was playing the male lead, while in Ashwani Iyer Tiwari’s Ankahi Kahaniya (2021), it was his co-star. On both occasions, he cleverly used a mannequin, once as a prop, and then as a tool to explore the chalk and cheese sides of his manhood on the big screen. 

A trailer of Ajji.

As politician Vilasrao Dhavle in Ajji, Banerjee used a mannequin to show his gut-wrenching perversion. In complete contrast, the polite salesboy Pradeep Loharia from Gandarwara of Ankahi Kahaniya ekes out a living selling women’s garments at Delight Wear in Mumbai. He happens to meet a mannequin at a crummy little shop and falls madly in love with it. He fondly names her Pari. Two contrasting roles with mannequins help him get under the characters’ skin and bring out the worst and the best that a man can be. 

In his book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, Gary Chapman described five different ways of expressing and receiving love. These five love languages are words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. 

In Ajji, Banerjee remains the lustful, black sunglasses-wearing, foul-mouthed Dhavale who has no qualms in brutalising a mannequin and cruelly dismembering it, while raping it. The rape sequence is deeply disturbing, even though it is filmed on a dummy. The camera’s gaze moves on to show the mannequin’s severed head at the end, symbolising the blank stare of the people who let such crimes happen because it makes sense to stand and stare, and not stand up and act. Here he uses just one language to communicate his intent to the object of lust, the brutal touch that translates into a visceral action onscreen. It for sure makes for an unsettling watch. 

Tailer of Ankahi Kahaniya

Banerjee makes a mannequin his object of affection in his second appearance in Ankahi Kahaniya. He communicates his love to the inanimate object using all five languages and to perfection. Though his overtures remain unrequited, we as the audience, still make a silent wish for it to come alive, just like Emmy in Mannequin (1987), starring Andrew McCarthy and Kim Cattrall.

MANNEQUIN

Banerjee’s role can very well be called a dummy’s guide (pun unintentional) for a man who wants to love a woman just the way she wants. Makhija had once said in an interview that it was the abyss in Banerjee’s eyes that gazed back at him and compelled him to offer Banerjee a role in the short film, Agli Baar. He then chose Banerjee to play Dhavale in Ajji, and Rajendra in Bhonsle, and for both, the abyss in his eyes stared at the roles and helped him take the leap of faith into the world of cinema.  

With every appearance, Banerjee seems to have bettered the act. Pradeep of Ankahi Kahaniya is unbelievably good at giving a masterclass on loving a woman because he speaks all five languages of love and fluently. The happiness glows on his face, and his coy smile gives it away. The secret love dalliance makes him a butt of ridicule and reprimand, as his boss and colleague mistake his love for Pari as perverted behaviour. On his return home, he confides in his bride-to-be. One of the most tender moments is when he confesses that he is technically single, but his heart is taken by someone he can’t call his own. Pradeep-Pari’s story also remains the saddest love of all, the one that lets him fall with nothing to hold. But the same love finds its belated fulfilment because it flutters away like a butterfly and dwells in the heart of the person who is destined to keep it forever, his would-be wife. What he felt for Pari felt so real in his heart, but he doesn’t cling to it for long and bids her goodbye with a yellow dupatta, a warm hug, and teary eyes. 

I must confess that in all his cinematic outings, Banerjee uses the abyss in his eyes to his advantage, much to the audience’s delight, transforming into the monster (Hathoda Tyagi of Pataal Lok) and mushy lover (Dream Girl) with ease. 

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, sexual, philosophical, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

Shillpi a singh

LOVE IS BEAUTIFUL

Ultimately, it’s more useful to see love not as a feeling, but as an act.

Mark manson

It was World Health Day on April 7th, and quite ironically, it was the day when it dawned upon me that an accidental exposure a couple of days ago (because that’s the only time we had stepped out) had compromised the health of my family of four. All of us had started showing symptoms of COVID at a gap of a few days from each other. 

My school friend Aashish Juyal, whom I had known since I was a few months old threatened me that if I didn’t come to see him at Sohna for Easter brunch on the 4th, he wouldn’t talk to me ever. I went with my family. He was writhing in high fever, cough and complaining of body ache since April 5th. His wife got the mandatory tests done when he came home on the 9th, and it was a false negative. Astonishingly. The treating local physician dubbed it to be a case of viral fever. His family didn’t find anything amiss and rightly so because the doctor said so, hoping that it would subside and he would be fine soon. 

A day later, on 8th, I casually informed my writer-filmmaker friend Devashish Makhija (Dev) how the virus had got the better of me/us, and I was suspecting that we were on our way to be COVID positive. He asked me to wait for the tests, and then the results. On the other hand, my school friend Deepa was constantly praying for it not to be what it eventually turned out to be.  

I was wary of informing my sisters and my parents, but I did. In between, Aashish was rushed to a hospital on April 12th; he appeared normal, refused to lie down on the bed in the ambulance, or lie down on the stretcher and even laughed and talked on his way, his wife Divya informed me days later. He was admitted and taken to ICU immediately; his saturation was 31 at that point. He suffered a massive cardiac arrest, and within minutes, a warm, compassionate and beautiful soul had left us wailing and grieving for the rest of our lives. The news hit all of us like a boulder. We were aghast. The bereaved family is yet to come to terms with his untimely demise.  

On the same day, we travelled 25 km in high fever to get our RTPCR tests done; the results came two days later and confirmed our worst fears. The corresponding blood tests done on April 13th made it doubly sure that Coronavirus had invaded our bodies, and with every passing minute, the truant virus was getting bolder and our immune system weaker to stand up to it and fight that war.  

On my sister, Shruti’s insistence, three of us (kids aged 8, 6 and I) started the medication prescribed by the treating physician, but my husband Ajay chose to rely on paracetamol solely, much to my chagrin. He was running a high fever, cough and severe body ache. She was kind to send my brother-in-law Pushp with food, medicines, and coconut water to my place, and in the process, the poor boy got exposed to the virus and tested positive with his little daughter about a week later. By God’s grace, the infection could be managed with home isolation or else I would have been forever guilty.

Dev formed a WhatsApp War Room with other warriors – Anupama Bose, Chhitra Subramaniam, Monica Rajeha, Gillian Pinto, Niiya Kumar, Mayuri Joshi Dhavale, Taranjit Kaur – that worked like a safety net for my family and me. Day in and day out, these warrior members were busy getting food delivered, sending medicines, arranging for a doctor consultation, checking about hospital beds, and above all, assuring me that it is just a phase and it too shall pass. This lovely bunch made me believe that “sometimes miracles are just good people with kind hearts.” Their kindness stood me in good stead all through this crisis. Also, because I knew these people had my back.

Our saturation levels started dipping, and my younger brother Anshuman Sinha suggested that we get an oxygen concentrator at home. I told my father GP Sinha, who is based out of Dhanbad, and he used his vast reservoir of contacts to arrange an oxygen concentrator and have it delivered at home, past midnight on April 14th. Both my younger kid and Ajay needed oxygen support, but there was only one outlet, and both of them took turns, with Ajay sleeping with 5l/minute oxygen support that night. The morning was quite rushed, and I found that his SPO2 was around 92% while my daughter kept complaining that ‘air is not coming in through her nose’. So I let them use it alternatively with different oxygen masks. 

I was alarmed by these two developments and knew for sure that it is getting worse faster than I had expected. All that I had to do next was to keep help handy and immediately look for a hospital with an ICU facility and oxygen bed while thinking of the best and preparing for the worst. At the same time, I was petrified of hospitalisation. I told Dev that ‘if I go to the hospital, I won’t come back. He dismissed it all and texted, ‘of course, you will.’ His words were reassuring, but I still had my doubts like an eternal pessimist. 

The next day, I helplessly informed Dev about our deteriorating medical condition and also put out an SOS tweet at 1.42 pm on April 15th while fixing Ajay’s oxygen flow on the concentrator, and checking his saturation level stuck at 92 at 5l/min, as if calling out the Universe to unite its forces and come to my family’s rescue. I was scared to death. I didn’t know whom to call to seek four beds in a hospital and on an urgent basis.

As a non-celebrity with hardly 800 odd followers on the social media handle, I knew my tweet’s fate… it would slip into oblivion sooner than expected. Who cares for an indie writer’s SOS message? “Can anyone please help find oxygen beds in #Gurugram or #Delhi? My family of four is #COVID positive. Our spo2 is dropping off alarmingly.” I was fatigued with this minor exercise and mental marathon that followed, thinking about – what if no help came about? What would we do? How will we manage this COVID emergency? I put the phone aside and dozed off. I woke up to a flurry of WhatsApp messages from my friends. They had sent me screenshots of some of the responses that my tweet had elicited, especially of #IndianYouthCongress Chief, Srinivas BV. He had tweeted asking me to DM my details, and my friends who knew the urgency started calling me frantically to respond. I did so pronto with little hope. But what followed after this leaves me choked with emotions. 

Within seconds of dropping my number, the National Convenor of Indian Youth Congress (Social Media) and an active volunteer of #SOSIYC, Manu Jain, called. He asked me about my family’s saturation levels and told him that while my elder daughter and I were hovering at 93-94, my husband and younger one were 92 on intermittent oxygen support. He assured me of all possible help. He connected me to a doctor (Dr Komal Panchal from Satyawadi Raja Harish Chandra Hospital in Narela) for teleconsultation, who asked me to monitor our saturation levels and continue the medicine protocol. I requested Manu that I would prefer a government hospital. He said, ‘Don’t worry, we will do it. For now, follow the doctor’s advice.’ He called a few minutes later to inform me that he had arranged four hospital beds in a government hospital, and I could move there if there were the slightest indication that Ajay’s condition is deteriorating. The worst fears came true that night when his saturation dipped to 90 on oxygen support, and I knew home isolation wouldn’t work for him or my younger daughter anymore. His comorbidities added to my fears, and the following day, I called up Manu at 10 am to update him about the saturation status. Upon hearing Ajay’s numbers, he told me to rush immediately to the hospital and gave me the person’s coordinates (Vikas Panchal) at Satyawadi Raja Harish Chandra Hospital, Narela. The comforting bit was that the hospital was willing to accommodate all four of us. 

I informed my co-warriors in the WhatsApp group because they were looking for a bed for us all over NCR, scouring options at both private and government facilities on a war footing. Anupama Bose, or AB as I call her, was quick to send me an ambulance guy’s number that I called, booked, packed some clothes and at 1.30 pm on April 16th, started the arduous journey to recovery. 

We reached the hospital at 4 pm, and by then, Ajay’s SPO2 had dipped to 74. He was wheeled into ICU and while we to the third-floor general ward. My younger one needed oxygen support, and she was put on one immediately. 

Our go-to person Vikas and his wife Dr Komal, who was posted in the same hospital, were just a call away all through. So were Manu and Srinivas, constantly checking on us and taking our health updates with the treating doctor, especially for Ajay. 

The Warrior Squad formed by Dev became my secure space, and I don’t know how much and what all these beautiful souls did to make me stay put and fight it out with all my might, even as they battled with the agony of their near and dear ones becoming COVID positive and losing the battle. But they kept HOPE afloat for my family and me.  

On 20th, my sister Richa and brother-in-law Anudeep got six vials of Remdesivir for Ajay, and by paying an exorbitant sum of money. Ajay’s elder brother Rahul got the first two picked up from Faridabad and dropped at Vikas’ place, who came to the hospital and handed them to Ajay’s doctor. The first two doses were administered on the same day and rest over the next four days. The other four came on 22nd through Abdul, a driver who collected them from Rohini and came to Narela to give them. 

My father got to know about a homoeopathic medicine that was a lung booster. I contacted Deepa, whose husband Divesh (whom I fondly call a magician) got his bureaucratic colleagues in Delhi into action and within hours, I had the medicine with me. Papa scoured his phone book to get in touch with a driver whom he had met on his recent trips to Delhi to deliver some food and fruits for Ajay in the hospital. My second cousin Rachit sent home-cooked food, fruits and everything else that was needed for him. Papa’s doctor friends provided medical guidance and all of them were mighty impressed with the way doctors were going about his treatment. Anshul, my lawyer and brother from another mother, made ample arrangements by putting his clients on the job of sending snacks for my children and coconut water for Ajay in the hospital, and I can’t thank him enough for this.

His saturation dipped to 84 on 23rd and on full flow oxygen support, and I felt I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I met a doctor on the round, and he told me, ‘Ajay is very sick, and you need to look for a ventilator bed for him.’ I broke into a thousand pieces that moment. I called up Vikas and then Manu. Both of them reassured that Ajay has been showing signs of recovery and it could be a minor glitch that he will overcome soon. ‘Nothing to worry,’ they said almost in unison. I believed them and went about looking after my children and Ajay. Manu and Vikas were right.

The first bit of good news came on 25th when the doctors told me that my daughters are stable and good to go home in their best interests because they might catch another infection if they stay around any longer. My sister Shruti whose husband Pushp and four-year-old daughter were also COVID positive, pitched in to take them home in Sarita Vihar on 26th, and they were with her till May 10th. It was a great relief because now I had only one child to take care of, Ajay.   

I saw many deaths during my hospital stay, and they all bring an immense amount of pain even to date. I met Gaurav Maul, who was tending to his sick mother Radha, on the same floor. She was on BiPap, and her saturation was fluctuating. She needed intensive care, and despite our best efforts, we couldn’t get an ICU bed for her. She battled a lonely war against the virus in her hospital bed before breathing her last on the 28th. The helplessness still haunts me. The grief is so personal and yet so collective. 

On 29th, around midnight, there was another shocker. The doctor on night duty called me to discuss Ajay’s poor recovery because it was worrisome. He suggested that I take him out of the hospital and get his CT Scan done. It was a sleepless night. I dropped another SOS to my guardian angel, AB, to find a diagnostic centre around the hospital. She found one and booked an appointment past midnight. 

The following day, I signed a declaration form to take Ajay out of the hospital at my own risk. Once again, I dialled Vikas and Manu. Vikas told me that Ajay is recovering fine, and HRCT isn’t required. I requested Manu to help me get a small oxygen cylinder. He knew Ajay’s saturation was 92 then and was reassured that he would be fine without oxygen support for those half an hour while being away for the tests. It was a thriller drama as we left the hospital bed at 12.12 pm on 30th, rushed in my cousin brother’s private car to the nearest diagnostic centre, and came back at 12.53 pm. Ajay was huffing and puffing and his SPO2 without support at that moment when he reached his bed was 87. He was immediately put on full oxygen support, and slowly, he bounced back. 

LOVE IS BEAUTIFUL!

The reports were still worrisome, but the silver lining was his negative RAT and RTPCR tests that came the next day. We were relieved.  

Ajay was on full flow oxygen support during the first two weeks, intermittent after 15 days and then slowly no support after 17 days. He had his share of injections – antibiotics, anti-coagulant, and steroids – pumped into his veins that helped him get back on his feet. With its minimum resources, the hospital left no stone unturned to offer the best treatment to him, and that’s quite commendable.   

After three harrowing weeks of hospitalisation and near-death experience due to COVID, Ajay was discharged on May 5th, after 20 days. It will be a long road to recovery given the extent of damage to his lungs, but a significant part is hopefully behind.  

My sister Sonali, brother-in-law Rohit and niece Anushka in Mumbai were on their toes, praying and sending me her motivational videos so that I could hold on and not let it slip away. My friends Dev, AB, Chhitra, Taranjit, Mayank Aggarwal, Subha, Nidhi Jamwal, Eklavya Bhaiyya, Deepa, Divesh, Satish, Renu, Pallavi, Saroj, Anumeha, Manisha, Suman, Priyankita, Nikita, Fasiha, Saif, Jaspinder, Nishant, Abhishek, Jolly, Nidhi Sinha, Amitesh… and almost all of them from my family of friends from three schools that I attended, colleges I went to, places where I worked, became my sounding board as I could rant and crib and get back to caregiving business with more vigour. My foster family of Jameel Gulrays Sahab and his wife Rekha stood like a pillar during this crisis, and so did my friend Desiree’s father and mother, Khursheed and Pushpa Anwar, who are my foster parents. I had been a non-believer in healing, but Chhitra and Sonali made me see it in a new light. I was amazed how Manisha who is settled in Dubai had a strong intuition and kept texting and calling me when we tested positive; she didn’t buzz off till I told her that yes, we were positive. I think that is the friendship of three decades and its power that helped us heal. My brothers from North East – Jyoti, Ziaul and Arghadeep – texted and kept my spirits high all through. My octagenarian school teacher Mrs Vimla Kaul had immense faith that I will somehow sail through, and I am glad I did. My former bosses – P Mohanaiah Sir and S. Mani Kumar from NABARD – were worried from the day I informed them so they kept checking on me, and motivating me to keep my chin up. And on nights when I was anxious and stressed, I had two options to ease my mind… either call up Deepa and talk to her or go to YouTube and listen to my fav song – I’d Love You to Want Me by Lobo. These voices acted as a lullaby and soothed my frayed nerves.

My mother Shivam Sinha, who had immense faith in her Gods, and in the fact that her daughter is brave enough to defeat this invisible enemy and bring her family out of it, safe and sound, helped me sail through with her willpower once again. It was her faith that silently worked wonders. Papa did everything possible and built a support system around me so that I don’t feel alone in any way whatsoever. Unfortunately, my UK-based sister-in-law Poonam, who was another reservoir of hope for me during this crisis, lost her father-in-law to COVID in Kangra just a couple of days ago. Her husband (in London) and his younger brother (in Bhopal) couldn’t fly for his last rites, and that will perhaps haunt them forever. But that’s how this virus has crippled us. I made a few friends from those days in the hospital. And I hope to stay in touch as a reminder of the grim times that we overcame together.

We as a family are so profoundly touched and overwhelmed by the deluge of goodwill, messages, prayers of one and all. Upon returning home, I checked my Twitter DM, and there were messages from absolute strangers who wished us well and offered help. I don’t know what I have done to deserve this kind of love and support. My heart swells with gratitude at this outpouring. I was unable to reply to several messages or speak due to my tight caregiving schedule but my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who stood by us and prayed! It’s those prayers and wishes that gave us a new lease of life. And above all, I am deeply grateful to the do-gooder trio – Srinivas, Manu and Vikas – as I lovingly call them for all that they did to save a family from becoming a casualty figure in the second wave of COVID. 

And yes, Dev was right all through. I did come back home with my guttural laughter (because I laugh from the gut or so thinks my friend Manish Gaekwad). Exhausted, but still alive and kicking. However, I will never be able to speak to Aashish, never again, and that hurts. It will always do.

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, how we become better, and make the world a better place to live, for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, sexual, philosophical, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS STARRY-EYED: Raju Singh

Mumbai-based Raju Singh, 18, who played the titular role in writer-filmmaker Devashish Makhija’s critically acclaimed 2013 film Oonga, is happy as a clam. The reason lies being Makhija’s recently-released novel – Oonga – for young adults that is a reverse-adaptation of his first film. Singh had started his cinematic innings at 9 with Makhija’s directorial debut, and he still hopes to make it big in films to fulfil his mother’s dream. “I have been immortalised in Oonga, the novel. The cover photo of a boy sitting atop a banyan tree branch is mine, and so is the one on the back cover with a bow and arrow,” he says, grinning from ear to ear.  Oonga is the winner of the Neev Book Award 2021 in the young adult category and YathaKatha International Film and Literature Award 2021 for Best Book (Fiction).

LOVE IS STARRY-EYED: RAJU SINGH
(Picture courtesy: Devashish Makhija)

Waiting in the wings

The days spent shooting for the film in faraway Odisha are still fresh in his heart and mind. Reliving his days as the 10-11-year-old Dongria Kondh boy, Singh immediately rattles dialogues in chaste Odia – Ma baygi baygi noyile school pilamane mutti chhaari polayibe (Ma, hurry, or they’ll go for the school trip without me). The impeccable Odia accent is what he had picked up while playing the part of a tribal boy, learning the never-heard language’s nuances from a teacher on the film sets. The film got long over, but Odia is something that has stayed on with the young man of Nepali antecedents, and quite effortlessly. “I enjoyed playing the part of Oonga to the hilt, and it was a dream come true for my mother and me to bag this role,” he says with a twinkle in his eyes. 

Hailing from a modest background, he had come to Mumbai with his parents when he was barely a year old, and lives in a one-room apartment in Andheri with his family. “My father works as a supervisor, and my mother is house help. I have two younger sisters studying in a BMC-run school here in Versova,” says Singh, who is currently enrolled as an NCC cadet in the senior division because he is keen to make a career in the armed forces. 

LOVE IS STARRY-EYED: RAJU SINGH

His entry into the glamour world was serendipitous, he recounts. “My mother used to cook for one of the casting directors, Prabodh Bhajni. He had been looking hard to find a little boy, who could play Oonga in Makhija Sir’s film, and was visibly perturbed in those days. My mother asked him why and he told her how he had been looking for Oonga but in vain. She volunteered to bring a boy who could do justice to the role, but without telling him that the boy is her son, Raju. She took me to meet him the next day, and that’s how I walked my way into the film, quite literally,” he says with a smile. The audition for the role wasn’t a cakewalk, but his grit and persistence paid off. “I had spent a sleepless night thinking about nothing else, but bagging the role, sharing the screen space with famous actors, having my billboards plastered all over the city, and becoming rich and famous. The serpentine queue of children outside the casting director’s office in Aaram Nagar greeted me, and I was nervous as hell. I somehow pulled through the audition process and knocked everyone’s socks off,” says Singh, who was barely nine then.

He fondly remembers the euphoria that followed. “People in the office were thrilled at this find. They were clapping and calling me Oonga. But I kept reminding them that my name is Raju and not Oonga,” he reminisces with a childish grin. A student of Class 4 then, Singh, was ecstatic at bagging this role and getting a break into the world of entertainment, and his family was over the moon too. “Next day, my parents were called and informed about the shooting schedule. I was thrilled to bits at the prospect of all that lay ahead,” says the Class 12 student at Bhavan’s College, Mumbai. 

Raju Singh poses with author-filmmaker Devashish Makhija’s award-winning novel for young adults, Oonga.

The story of firsts 

He flew for the first time, stayed in a hotel in Odisha, and learned a little about the filmmaking process and people who work behind the scenes during the shooting schedule. “Oonga brought many firsts in my life. I had studied that A for aeroplane while learning English alphabets and used to wave at it longingly but had never thought that I would get an opportunity to board a flight, one day. Oonga gave me wings,” he says. One thing that he realised after this role was that acting is so much more than it appears. “For the first time, I witnessed the hard work that went behind canning a perfect shot. It is a lot of work and involved long hours, but I realised that what keeps one going is the thrill of seeing oneself on the big screen, getting appreciated and recognised, and winning awards,” he says with a sigh. 

Singing paeans to his director’s genius, he reminisces how Makhija took extra care of him on the film set. “I had Odia dialogues and would at times forget them, but he would be patient with me and wait for me to deliver them to perfection,” he says about Makhija. The duo shared an excellent rapport on and off-screen, and to date, he is immensely thankful to him for giving a little boy like him an opportunity to hang the moon and the stars in his directorial debut.

Raju Singh with his sisters Pooja and Komal, father Bharat and mother Meena.

Singh lives with one regret, though. The film won critical acclaim and had a successful festival run, but never hit the theatres, and the fame that he was looking forward to never came his way. “I gave that role my best. If only Oonga had been released here in India, I would have become famous and bagged many more roles. But no one saw me as Oonga, and all my work went unappreciated. I felt terrible. I managed small roles in some films, but like my first, these too failed to hit the theatres,” he says, summing up his acting career. 

The cover image on Makhija’s novel for young adults has sparked that desire to hit the limelight again, and he yearns to get one more chance to make it big in the world of entertainment. “It is my mother’s dream to see me on the television and in films. I tried my luck by auditioning for a reality show after Oonga, but nothing came of those attempts. I want to fulfil her dream,” he says, brimming with hope at the prospect of becoming an actor, once again. 

But till he makes it big, he wants people to buy the book – Oonga – and read the story of a daring little boy who took it upon himself to become Lord Rama and fix the wrongs.       

(https://en.gaonconnection.com/oonga-movie-novel-devashish-makhija-odisha-tribal-adivasi-mining/)

Cheepatakadumpa: Hitting the G-Spot

Three friends — Teja (Bhumika Dube), Santo (Ipshita Chakraborty Singh) and Tamanna (Annapurna Soni) — from small-town India meet at an upmarket mall, and from there, take the audience on a pillion ride into the world of female desire on a full moon night.

A tightly-knit storyline has the trio exploring the idea of women loving their bodies by taking matters into their hands, quite literally. Two of the actors — Bhumika and Ipshita — have co-written the script with filmmaker Devashish Makhija, and it reflects in their combined gaze on the subject. The off-screen camaraderie of the trio, all alumni of the National School of Drama with a solid body of work in theatre, makes them shine in this short. Sharp dialogues, clever camera work, and tight editing give the not-so-openly-spoken topic in Hindi cinema, ample space to stretch itself to the imagination. 

Santo (Ipshita Chakraborty Singh)

The opening scene is a good starter. Teja owns her sexuality and unabashedly. That unbelievable power of ownership leads the audience to the unchartered territory of female desire, and Santo as the woman who fantasises about having sex with a married man under full moon’s gaze that night, ably takes the plot further.

Teja (Bhumika Dube).

In between, the duo leads married but yet uninitiated Tamanna to experience that elusive pleasure for the first time. The transition from organ to orgasm is organic. The result is an ecstatic high. Bishna Chouhan adds zealously to keep the spark alive with her deadpan expression.  

The last scene pans out in the open and broad daylight, letting the audience experience the freaky idea of femaleness, of women seeking pleasure and owning their sexuality through the deft approach of a man and two women to this taboo subject. The scene is liberating. Together, all of them have treaded the thin line, carefully manoeuvring the plot and keeping it on track without being preachy or voyeuristic, and that’s quite a feat to say it all in barely 23 minutes. 

Tamanna (Annapurna Soni).

Makhija uses the mobile camera, fiddles with aspect ratio, cramps the actor in small spaces and lets the camera focus on their quirky expressions, movements and gestures as they go about exploring their femaleness in this short film currently playing at the Dharamshala International Film Festival.   

Cheepatakadumpa questions the double standards regarding sexuality — a rule for a man, an exception for a woman — subtly by letting the female protagonists explore the idea that there’s nothing wrong in seeking pleasure. It is in their hands, after all.

Register to watch it, here:  https://online.diff.co.in/film/cheepatakadumpa/       

(All pics courtesy https://makhijafilm.com/) 

Oonga takes a new Avatar for young adults

Writer-filmmaker Devashish Makhija’s critically acclaimed film Oonga has been reverse-adapted into a novel for young adults. Published by Tulika Books, it was released at the 14th Jaipur Literature Festival.  

The article was carried in all the editions of The New Sunday Express magazine and The Sunday Standard magazine on May 16, 2021. https://www.newindianexpress.com/magazine/2021/may/16/devashish-makhijas-oonga-book-review-tabling-the-counter-perspective-2302390.html

Q 1. The blue-skinned Dongria Kondh boy, Oonga, resembles the Na’vi of James Cameron’s Avatar. What is the back story? 

Devashish Makhija (DM): The story of Oonga finds its seed in a small anecdote I heard while in Koraput, Orissa. Sharanya Nayak, the local head of Action Aid, told me how she had taken a group of Adivasis to watch a dubbed version of Avatar. They hollered and cheered the Na’vi right through the film as if they were their own fellow tribals fighting the same battles they were. They felt like it was their own story being shown on that screen. But they were shocked when the film ended. It ended ‘happily’! Though many years later, the group of Adivasis were still fighting the same battles and losing. Something about that not being reflected in Avatar distressed them. When we conceived the story of Oonga, he was to run off to watch Avatar in the nearby town, and return convinced that he was a ‘Na’vi’ and could save his village from pillaging the way the Na’vi did. But, of course, things don’t play out in the real world like they do in the movies. We replaced Avatar with its source material, the Ramayana, as we developed the story further.

Q 2. What was your most crucial literary tool for reaching out to young readers?

DM: Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s idea of the ‘collective unconscious’ has perhaps shaped me as a storyteller. As Jung’s words suggest, there is so much shared information in all our unconscious minds that we – as creators and consumers of stories – find resonance in one another’s mythologies and experiences. This shared understanding gives rise to archetypes. Like most storytellers, I’m very interested in these archetypes, in what makes a story about a little corner of Orissa resonate with a Dutch musician in New York. What emotional experiences do these two share? Hence, what elements can make a story culturally specific in its details yet emotionally universal in its appeal?

Q 3. How was it documenting the Adivasi crisis and their conflict with the corporates, juxtaposing it with mythology, and presenting it for young adults?  

DM: Stories are the ‘people’s perspective’. The people cannot write history books. Those in power do. And history books end up being the primary source of information of our times for future generations. It is dangerous that any other perspective but the ruling regime’s is always missing from the history books – since time immemorial. In storytelling, we can document the flip perspective of the people… of those being marginalised. I see myself as a chronicler of this counter-perspective before I see myself as a storyteller even. Young adults will be the decision-makers of tomorrow. And I need them to travel into tomorrow armed with both sides of the argument – the side they will receive with almost a military lack of choice from their curriculum; and the side they will actively choose to receive from stories like Oonga, outside their curriculum.

Q 4. Using a 10-11-year-old tribal boy as the medium to convey the more prominent and more pertinent message to young adults. Why is he not an adult?   

DM: Children are naïve hence fearless. If you don’t know, something can hurt you that something won’t scare you. And the absence of fear is a very attractive quality that draws young audiences into stories like nothing else can. Youngsters are constantly being told what NOT to do. If, suddenly, they are shown this little boy or little girl who, despite being told NOT to undertake certain journeys, proceed to undertake them, the youngsters reading the story love to live their own fantasy of rebellion out vicariously through such characters. Once that is achieved, once I have reeled them in, I can then slowly immerse them in the deeper questions I seek to raise through the story.

The Iranian cinema of the 1980s and 1990s did this successfully. Oonga is me trying to attempt that.

Q 5. What are the similarities and differences in your writing process when you chose to pen a novel for young adults (vis-à-vis children’s books and short and feature films)?

DM: A novel is a gargantuan beast.

In a short story, a children’s picture book or a short film, I don’t have the liberty of character establishment. I often need to get into the thick of the action almost as soon as the story begins. Also, a short story cannot ‘end’ in a conventional way. Closing the loop neatly in a short story is almost impossible given how little time we’ve spent with the characters. It becomes very important there to choose very carefully the ‘portion’ of the characters’ journey I want to make the story about.

The other thing this allows for then in the shorter mediums – short story, children’s book, short film – is multiple revisits by the reader/viewer. A short story or children’s book could be like a favourite song that you can play again and again. A novel demands much more time and attention and investment to provide this kind of a relationship with the reader.

I consciously approach a shorter format story in a way that the narrative doesn’t close its loop by the end. Questions stay unanswered. Characters stay partially undiscovered. The story feels like it could go on.

But with a novel like Oonga each character has his/her own complete arc, even as the story has one of its own. I map each arc beforehand, so I know their intersectionalities, convergences, and divergences before starting the physical writing process. The abruptness of a wildly open-end can leave the reader very dissatisfied in a novel because I have drawn them into a ‘world’ that they inhabit with the characters for over 300 pages.

Whereas the shorter storytelling forms allow me to undertake more of an exploratory creative process, a novel needs all the engineering, cartography, universe-building skills I can muster. Whereas the shorter forms end up mostly being about the character(s), a novel like Oonga needs to be about a well-charted story, an amply-detailed universe, as well as deeply-plumbed characters.

The mind, the heart and the eye need to be prepared differently for both.

Q 6. Dialogue is one of the most important themes that you have touched upon in this book. How do you think this novel can help start a conversation around the issues that you have spoken about in Oonga? What are your expectations from this novel? 

DM: There are some things in life we don’t think about often and deeply enough. Our daily lives always get in the way. Death, Injustice, our Anthropocentrism, our capacity for Hate, our very imbalanced view of Development… I like raising questions about these through my stories. Generally, I never have a solution or an answer. I simply share with the viewer my own heartburn, hoping that these questions will haunt them once they emerge from my stories, and keep asking them too.

Q 7. Do you think a socio-political writer or artist can bring about a real tangible change in society?

DM: No idea. Of course, all of us harbour delusions of grandeur, hoping to affect people enough to get them to question the status quo in more significant numbers to effect social, political, anthropological change. We see dreams of this happening when we write our stories and create our art. But can an artist or a storyteller achieve that? Like a policymaker or political leader can? Who knows. I’m not holding my breath for it.

All I can say for sure is that I create my work this way because if I didn’t put my unrest and heartache and rage and questions and protest into my stories, I’d self-destruct. I do this so I can get some sleep at night, however, disturbed.

I’m hoping that Oonga finds readers so that I feel energized enough to drop everything and write my next novel about that night on the 6th of December 1992 in that mohalla in Kolkata, says writer-filmmaker Devashish Makhija

Writer-filmmaker was in conversation with senior journalist Kaveree Bamzai at the launch of his novel Oonga at the recently concluded 14th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Sanjoy Roy: Welcome back to the 14th Jaipur Literature Festival protected by Dettol. We are delighted to bring it to you from here at the Diggi Palace front lawn live. It’s a pleasure to present today, Oonga by Devashish Makhija. He’s in conversation with Kaveree Bamzai and introduced by Nandita Das. Director and writer Devashish Makhija’s latest book Oonga is a powerful novel based on his first feature film of the same name. Capturing the inherent paradox between dystopian development and utopian ideologies, the book narrates the journey of a little boy in the midst of a clash between the Adivasis, the Naxalites, the CRPF and the mining company. Makhija’s other books include When Ali Became Bajrang Bali, Why Paploo Was Perplexed, Forgetting and Occupying Silence. He’s also the director of the feature films – Ajji and Bhonsle – and the short film Taandav. Among others, in his conversation with Kaveree Bamzai, Makhija dives into this evocative tale of identity and the tragedy of victims of violence forced into battles, they don’t wish to fight. The book is being launched here at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2021. Nandita Das has acted in more than 40 feature films in 10 different languages. Manto, Nandita’s second directorial film, premiered in 2018 at the Cannes Film Festival. Her first book, Manto and I, chronicles her six-year-long journey of making the film. Nandita, we’re delighted to have you here to make an introductory comment on Oonga, a film that you acted in. Nandita Das, over to you.

Nandita Das: Oonga is a film that I did almost nine years ago. When Dev came to me, it was his first film but I could see he was very passionate about the story and it’s a story that you know is really exploring the difficulties that Adivasis feel, especially as this is set in Odisha, a state that I come from, because they are caught between the Maoists, Naxal movements and outfits that are really fighting for their rights but can also get violent and at the same time those were trying to mainstream them in the name of development and how the common Adivasis just get completely caught between fighting for their rights and really not knowing how they should be dealing with their lives. You know, it’s a very complex issue and seldom do we see such complexities being told simply and powerfully. In fact, increasingly such films that are really representing stories of the people at large are vanishing from our collective consciousness. So it was definitely a film that I felt, I wanted to be part of. Hemla’s character was also really nice. It was very interesting because she’s kind of a conduit. She’s neither part of the Naxalite movement nor is she part of obviously the government or the mining corporation and all those people who are trying to mainstream them. She is really wanting to educate the children. She feels that’s where the power is and ideologically she’s very strong and it was lovely to be in Odisha and to be playing a character there. So yes, I mean it was a film that was close to my heart and I was really disappointed that it didn’t get released properly. Many independent films, unfortunately, bear with that fate.

I’m so happy that Dev decided to give it another form because the story had to be told and it’s really wonderful that now it’s in a book and we can all read it. And I think, you know, a story has its own soul and it must continue whether it’s through a film or through a book and maybe they’ll feed into each other. Maybe once you read the book, you’d want to see the film and those who have seen the film would want to read the book.

Nandita Das
Nandita Das introducing Oonga, the film, and Oonga, the novel.

I just want to wish Dev and the publishers and everyone who’s been involved with the project good luck, and I’m sorry that I couldn’t be at Diggi Palace, quite a favorite place to come to JLF, but here is wishing the book and the people who have been with that journey for this long. Twelve years is not a short journey. So glad Dev, that you stuck with it and that you’re bringing this story to us. Thank you!

Sanjoy Roy: Thank you, Nandita Das for setting the context for Oonga, the film and Oonga, the book.  

Devashish Makhija has researched and assisted on the movies Black Friday and Bunty Aur Babli. He has written numerous screenplays, notably Anurag Kashyap’s yet-to-be-made superhero saga Doga, has had a solo art show Occupying Silence, written a collection of short stories Forgetting, the forthcoming book of poems Disengaged, the bestselling children’s books When Ali Became Bajrangbali and Why Paploo Was Perplexed and been featured in numerous anthologies including Mumbai Noir, Penguin First Proof and the Sahitya Akademi’s Modern English Poetry.

He has also written and directed the multiple award-winning short films Taandav, El’ayichi, Agli Baar, Rahim Murge Pe Mat Ro (Don’t Cry for Rahim LeCock), Absent, Happy, and the critically acclaimed full-length feature films Ajji (Granny) and Bhonsle. His films have competed and won awards at the international film festivals of Rotterdam, Gothenberg, Beaune, Black Nights, Busan, Glasgow, Tampere, MOMA, APSA, Barcelona, Singapore, amongst many others. Oonga, a feature film he wrote and directed in 2013 never released in Indian theatres despite a critically acclaimed film festival run so he reverse-adapted it into a gripping novel.

Kaveree Bamzai is an independent journalist. She was the first, and so far, only woman editor of India Today. A recipient of the Chevening Scholarship, she worked for the Times of India and Indian Express before this. She is the author of No Regrets: The Guilt-Free Woman’s Guide to a Good Life, Bollywood Today and two monographs in the series Women in Indian Film. She sits on several committees, including the Women Examplar Committee of CII and is recognised as a changemaker by Save The Children charity.

Kaveree: Devashish, it’s such a pleasure to see you and it’s been an absolute joy to read the book. I’ve spent the last two days doing that and it is truly gripping. It’s very powerful. I want to start with the line that you have there… “We, who take from the Earth and give back, will be replaced by those who take and never give back.” This really is who we are right now and I think the pandemic has taught us more than ever that this cannot go on. How amazing is it that the movie that you made, well, quite a few years ago, 2013, when it was released, is still so relevant? How amazing is that and how much more relevant is it? So, talk a little about that journey about making that movie, making this book and, at this moment in time. 

Devashish: The sad thing is I don’t think it’s amazing as much as it’s hugely tragic. Yes, it’s hugely tragic that we can just never learn from our mistakes and I have travelled the areas, the Adivasi areas of Chhattisgarh and south Odisha about 11 years ago and for about five or six years before that, I was curious and dissatisfied with the narrative that I was reading in the mainstream media about what the Naxalites wanted; how they were being called to be the greatest internal security threat to this country by the Manmohan Singh Government and I felt that I wasn’t getting the complete picture. So when I travelled to those areas and the things that I saw, they sort of reeked of what the British had done to the Indians in all those years and now we were doing to our own countrymen. So, somewhere you know, that, that wheel was turning over and over again and we were not learning from our mistakes. What was relevant 200 years ago, was relevant 10 years ago. What was relevant 10 years ago, continues to be relevant today. I don’t know if it’s going to change. That’s the biggest heartbreaker.

So all the things that I wrote in Oonga in 2012 when I wrote the script and eight years hence when we were doing the final edits of the book, Tulika and I and I were re-reading material, re-reading my research (I had several exercise books where I had made notes as I was travelling through those areas), nothing had changed. Not one shred of research material or statistic or you know things that broke my heart in 2010. Nothing had changed. So somewhere, a book like this, sadly, would probably be relevant till we die.

Devashish Makhija

I don’t know what our next generation will see but the pandemic also hasn’t changed anything. We are back to being monsters. I thought we would, you know, re-evaluate our decisions, but no, we’re not.

Kaveree: Absolutely! And, in fact, Devashish, you also call it the company and company could be, you know, the company that you mentioned in the book. It could be the East India Company; really nothing changes; that’s really as you said is quite tragic. 

The other point is the relationship between the Adivasis and their land and you know, we see it again and again and all the protests that we see — the farmers’ protests as well, their relationship with the land is so deep. And in fact, the land, and as you say in your book also reacts to their moods, you know, the trees cry, you know, the Earth cries; talk a little about that relationship. It’s so deep and so moving. 

Devashish: Yeah. So in fact, it’s not just the Adivasis. If I say, any of us say that the Adivasis have this deep connection with nature and you know, we shouldn’t deprive them of that connection with nature. I think it will smack of an over-simplification. It will smack of talking about them as the other. I think we all have that connection; it’s just that with urban life, the kind of life that we live, we’re getting increasingly disconnected. So for me talking about these things using the Adivasi as a medium, was trying to tell urban youngsters, you know because it is young adult fiction; it’s for age group 16 and plus; I am hoping kids just out of school or in the last years of school will read this and wonder if they lost something by being born into these urbane, consumerist technologically, dependent lifestyles. So it’s all of us, who can, you know, pick cues from nature, live in harmony with nature and gain a lot, but we’ve just, we have lost that ability. So the Adivasis are a reminder that we have that ability and if we don’t live that codependent lives we are going to self-destruct faster and faster. 

Kaveree: Yeah, another remarkable thing about the book is the women and I think that is the key here. The women are the ones who’re holding this community. They’re holding really a whole world aloft on their shoulders, you know, whether it’s Hemla or Oonga’s mother, they really are the spine, the backbone of the community. 

Devashish: Women as characters and again I might smack of over-simplification here, but being a man when I made this film, Ajji, about five years ago, it was me trying to understand, what is the female energy and what is my relationship as a man being born into a world that is increasingly patriarchal. Even the MeToo movement really didn’t find success because we are so deep-rootedly patriarchal people; we need something stronger than that. So, from Ajji onwards, I’ve been questioning my role in the scheme of things that how can I raise questions that can hopefully someday 10 years or 100 years later lead to an answer.

The women that you speak of in Oonga, were there in the film as well. But I think I was not equipped to explore them to a certain depth like I could in the novel. For me Lakshmi, the Naxalite leader, Hemla and Oongamma are the beating heart of the story; Oonga is literally just the face. He’s not the beating heart of the story.

Devashish Makhija

So for me, it was important to explore those themes that I have now, you know been exploring the last four to five years. They were not in the film when we did that all those years back. 

Kaveree: Devashish, the other thing is that it’s in Odisha, but it could be anywhere; it could be Kashmir, it could be the Northeast, that is the tragedy of India. It could be in any part of the country and it would be the same issue and I really admire the way you’ve been able to capture the CRPF sort of mindset, you know, it’s a very peculiar mindset, but we often don’t see them as victims and here you’ve been very non-judgmental and you have shown, they’ve suffered too. You have Pradip’s character, who realizes that the only way to have powers is to be in uniform; his father ended up in uniform guarding the very land that he sold them and it’s all such a terribly vicious cycle, but they are as well as victims. 

Devashish: You know, as you were saying, it was a faceless company. It could be the East India Company. It could be a private company. It could be a public sector company. It was irrelevant to me what the company was. What was relevant to me was the thought process behind something as hegemonious and huge as a company that will only see its profit and when something that huge, you collectively are up against something, everybody ends up being a victim.

Sometimes even you don’t realize you’re a victim like Manoranjan, the CRPF commander. He doesn’t realize he’s a victim of a larger thought process, of a larger machine that is only using him for a certain end goal; and when you’re collectively up against that what can you be but a victim because you can’t use your mind and your consciousness to take decisions against that larger vicious thing; so for me, it was important to see that the CRPF are not in control. The Naxalites are reacting; they might have sometimes very very valid agenda, but they are not in control either.

Everybody is merely reactive and somewhere, the atmosphere that we live in today in this country, anyone who wants to question anything that the establishment does, we are all just reacting and that’s exhausting. I wish people act upon something sometimes because we spend all our lives we have reacting and we have no energy left to really act upon you know, our true impulses; somewhere that helplessness that I was feeling, I wanted to explore through this idea of everyone being a victim; a helpless victim.

Devashish Makhija
Oonga, reverse adapted from a critically acclaimed film.

Kaveree: Absolutely. I think, the other point that every form of protest that we see, every form of dissent that we see, you see echoes of it in your book. The idea of asking for papers. The idea of asking for identity. I mean the whole agitation against CAA was all about that. The whole question is being explored here. It is quite contemporary in that sense. Talk a little about that sense of identity as well. The Adivasi sense of identity versus the Company, which could be anything. How does it play out? 

Devashish: You have to look at the farmers’ protest today. When I speak to my peers, my contemporaries in the city, everyone looks at the farmers of India as one big mass. A faceless mass. And when they talk about what they’re up against, the government policies which are pro-corporate, you have an Adani or Ambani which has a face. They are not faceless.

Somewhere those who don’t understand what the farmers are protesting for and if they don’t try to understand how that’s important to the rest of us. We will always see that protesters faceless and they will always see what they’re protesting against as having a face and that’s what makes it easier for them to relate to you know the system because the system always comes with some sort of a face, be it the government or a corporate. So here also in my story, I was trying to flip it. I was trying to make the company faceless. I was trying to give a sense of identity to those who are paying that price, whether it was the CRPF or the Adivasi. It could be the farmers today in India or it could be the Dalit. 

Devashish Makhija

It could be you know for lack of a better metaphor here, I myself feel rather displaced because I’m a Sindhi. My parents both of them came from Pakistan, which is now Pakistan during the partition. I was born and I grew up in Calcutta where I wasn’t a Bengali, but I was around Bengali culture a lot. I’ve been working in Bombay for 18 years, but I’m not Marathi, but I’m around Marathi culture a lot. My two films are Ajji and Bhonsle and, if you don’t know better, sound like Marathi films so I have been struggling with identity. I don’t know where my roots are. Yeah, so when I am trying to question the system as to my place in the scheme of things, I don’t know where to begin because I have nothing to prove that I have an identity that allows me to question this system. 

If I multiply my helplessness by 5,000, I get the helplessness of an Adivasi or a Dalit or a farmer and for me, that breaks my heart, so I needed to give them faces and explore their identity. 

Kaveree: The other interesting thing in the story is the importance of the eye. You see it everywhere in the novel. Everyone has to keep an eye out, ahead, behind. There is a symbol of the eye that represents the company. I found that again a very very powerful metaphor. Talk about that.

Devashish: Again you have beautifully caught it because somewhere I was trying to simplify and allegorise the idea of surveillance and today with modern technology, the system can observe you, surveil you a lot more but it’s always been the case. Even when we had landline phones, if the government wanted, they could tap your line. This goes back to my research for Black Friday. I spent six months researching material that S. Hussain Zaidi had already put in the book, but when you try to give faces for cinema, you need to research the people a little more deeply. So around that time, I spoke to people whom I can’t name. I spoke to the CBI. I spoke to people in the IB. I spoke to the police, the crime branch and there were thousands of hours of phone recordings that they had of people that I can’t name, but they’re like all the phones were tapped and they were just surveilling, surveilling, surveilling, all the time. I asked them that you know, you’ve got all this material, what is that you want to do with it. They said, if we release or leak it, we will not be able to hold on to the government for more than five minutes. So they sit on all this material.

I knew that back to the 1960s, when we could tap anything anywhere at will; today it has just become easier. So how do you then live a life of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and all the things that the Constitution enshrines? How do you live that life? If you are being watched all the time? If you are supposed to toe the line. Do you walk the talk that the system wants you to? How do you manifest those ideas in the Constitution? So that idea of the eye for me was to create that sense of dread that you know, you’re being watched and you don’t have freedom even though you think that you do. It is a delusion.

Devashish Makhija

Kaveree: Yeah, absolutely, but I found in Hemla’s character so much purity, so much courage and so much fearlessness and I think that is the fearlessness that we have lost as a society. We’re also afraid. Aren’t we? I think that’s the biggest threat to us. It’s not what the state is doing to us. It’s not what the environment is doing to us and it’s our own fear and I think Hemla is such a hero to me because she has so much courage. 

Devashish: One of my biggest inspirations for Hemla was Soni Sori and when I sort of knew more about her or watched her at work. There’s a line that I use often that a woman without hope is a woman without fear. So when you take away hope and I saw it in Soni Sori’s eye. If you look into her eyes, I see an absence of Hope, but that doesn’t mean that it manifests as utter Hopelessness. The absence of Hope is not Hopelessness but that absence of hope because she seemed so much taken away brings her certain courage. She has nothing left to lose. What do you take away from her anymore? So somewhere for Hemla, I wanted to manifest that she might have seen so much that we are not privy to that she cannot fear anymore. What is the worst that can happen that she will be physically assaulted, that someone will chop her hands off? She has seen that too. She has seen that happen. And something a friend of mine said to me during those journeys through the Adivasi area. He said that you know, we have to lose our fear of being thrown in jail.

Most of the time people don’t act upon a certain thing that they want to question the government about because they are afraid that they will get thrown in jail. He said you have to obliterate that fear. Forget that you will die in jail. You will get food. You will be able to take a piss when you want. You will get to dump once a day. You will get to sleep. Maybe the mosquitoes would bother you, but you will not die in jail. So if you take away that fear, it takes away your fear to question the system because the system has only one way to bring you down. By disciplining you. By throwing you in jail. By threatening you with a warrant. So I want to take talk about those things through Hemla.

Devashish Makhija

Kaveree: And you have done that really well. The other point I think comes through so powerfully is that question that we saw of the huge exodus during the pandemic when people went home and they were walking the streets with all their belongings on them. It’s not just about poverty. I think at the end of the day, it is about dignity. They want respect and if you don’t give it to them then, you know, at some point they will break. 

Devashish: Dignity is everything and that’s one of the saddest things when you go to an Adivasi village where maybe five or six men have been missing for years because they were thrown in jail for merely asking for their rights. The first thing you see is that crushed soul because amongst themselves there’s a lot of dignity, but when they have to face the system like we went on to help one of the Praja lawyers there with a particular bunch of cases. So because we could read and write in English, so it was easier to read documents for them. These documents come by the fucking kilogram, so they always need help to read documents and respond to them. So we went to jail and we tried talking to the Jailor. We tried talking to their lawyer the first thing that the Jailor or the lawyer did was to get up and look through us and walk away. We felt insulted. Now imagine, we were there for a month and a half. Now imagine having to put up with that every day where you’re not acknowledged. When nobody looks you in the eye. Nobody talks to you. They just get up and walk away. That can make you think of doing very extreme things. 

Kaveree: And yet you have Hemla trying her best to initiate dialogue, trying the best to teach Hindi to children so that they can grow up and speak to the company or the CRPF or whoever in their own language. So there is some amount of hope but it gets crushed so easily. Yet that plea for peaceful dialogue is still a very powerful hope that you end with even in your book, although it is dystopian. It is still there. The plea for hope. The plea for dialogue. To understand each other and to listen to each other. Let’s talk a little about how that is so much an absence, not just in that community, but everywhere, currently.

Devashish: You know that the dystopia that you speak of I think manifests in that one line wherein the end Hemla has run back to the Village. She still trying to talk to Manoranjan, but suddenly she has this gun pointed in her face and she suddenly realizes that I’ve been talking to the barrel of this gun all the time. I’ve not been talking to the people behind it because this is what they thrust in my face when I’m actually pleading. Somewhere that absence of communication that everyone is talking different languages.

When I say different languages, I don’t mean literally someone speaking Kovi or someone speaking Hindi but someone speaking the language of the gun when someone’s trying to speak the language of the heart. There cannot be a dialogue in such a situation. The gun has to be put down if there has to be a dialogue. When you see the farmers’ protests, there are water cannons or tear gas, metal rods. When you walk in with that you can’t have a dialogue with farmers who actually didn’t want to attack you in the first place and they still haven’t. But the face of the system is always, almost always, that of, you know of a violent weapon and you cannot talk to that beyond a point. The weapon has to be shed. Faces have to emerge for that dialogue to happen and somewhere the book is trying to entreaties. It is trying to make a case for that. But how possible is it until that effort is taken from both sides, not just one side?

Devashish Makhija

Kaveree: What does it do to you personally? You see all these beautiful, proud people, as you said earlier, you see their souls being crushed and you see so much oppression. I mean we see it too, but you’ve undertaken this journey and you have chronicled it. What does it do to you as a person? 

Devashish: I had behavioural issues around the time I was working on this material. I’ve had physiological issues. Around the time I was making Ajji, I contracted prostate cancer and I didn’t realize then why these things were happening. But when you’re experiencing this and I’m not as strong as Medha Patkar. I don’t have those qualities to shield myself, to keep myself disaffected to carry on the fight because I’m always trying to take that emotion and create something of it. When I’m channelling that emotion through me, it is leaving something in me. So I had to grapple with my own demons that sort of got created when I see what I see or when I interact with the people I do and hopefully I try and manifest all of that into my story so that they don’t stay within me entirely, but of course, they don’t entirely go away either. So I have a life of stories inside me that have to do with all of this material. So a lot of my peers ask me, “Don’t you want to make a happy story? Don’t you want to tell a love story? The biggest tragedy is that I have love stories inside me. I have mainstream ideas. I have happy stories. I don’t have the opportunity to say them because there’s so much else. I finish with the Adivasi struggle and there’s the Dalit who needs representation. You finish with that and then there is patriarchy. You finish with that and then there is something else. The country is tearing at its seams with how horrific we are in the way we treat our own countrymen. 

Kaveree: I mean I come from a state which has become a complete mental asylum. It’s an open mental asylum. Kashmir, I think is the most paranoid state in this country because it’s been like this now for over 25 years. They’ve lived with this surveillance thing. But the whole idea of nature feeling us. When you talk about the trees and the grass, they feel for us. They soak it all in, you know, when the Adivasis talk about the strange view that has come and they talk about nature feeling their pain. How much of that do you think is happening around us. You know, when we look at the raging environmental crisis. Is that nature’s way of feeding off some toxicity in a way?

Devashish: How can nature escape that if we are such an intrinsic part of nature. Say about a thousand years or 2,000 years back, we were not the most proliferating species on this planet. So there were other species maybe. Maybe they were more rats than human beings 2,000 years ago. So nature still has some chance of staying balanced, but now there are so many of us and we also emerged from nature. So when we are going to go around destroying what we ourselves a part of, will there not be a backlash? And I think, it is getting exponentially exacerbated. I think what we are thinking global warming might destroy us by 2055. It might happen by 2028 because it’s just exponentially getting worse. We are and we have been proliferating like a virus. Maybe COVID is one way of nature trying to find the little balance. I’m surprised that we had COVID so light. Like I thought we’d have it much worse. 

Writer-filmmaker Devashish Makhija in coversation with senior journalist Kaveree Bamzai about his novel Oonga at the recently concluded Jaipur Literature Festival 2021.

Kaveree: Yeah, and I don’t think it’s changed us too much fundamentally. The other opposition I see so starkly in the novel is between Lakshmi and Hemla. It’s not just the ideology of the gun versus education, but it’s also the idea of giving in to your anger and I think that again is one of the greatest tragedies of our time. We have given in to our anger; we’ve given in it to our rage. Hemla is still someone who tries not to do that, but Lakshmi is too far gone on that path again. This is such a fundamental contrast. 

Devashish: Oh, yes. So unfortunately when I started writing Oonga many years ago, I wanted to give Hemla some sort of a culmination in hope because I believe in her stance but as the story progressed, more and more, it felt too me that Laksmi is right and Hemla is being foolish and somewhere by the end, I couldn’t control it. It just went out of control and Laxmi survives and Hemla pays the price for believing. 

Kaveree: That’s really tragic. But unfortunately, it’s the truth. 

Devashish: Yes, I don’t know. Given the current climate.

Kaveree: More than ever.

Devashish: Punning on the word climate, I think across the world. I don’t know how we can escape this tragedy unless we all start thinking, you know, positively all at once, and believe in the right things, all at once. It can’t happen piecemeal anymore. 

Kaveree: Another interesting thing that I found in your book is reclaiming of Ram by Oonga. I found that lovely because here you have Ram who’s been appropriated as a symbol by a very toxic movement and here you have this little boy, sort of appropriating Ram in the purest way possible, and in the sweetest way possible. This is something quite remarkable. And I think this is something again that you must talk a bit about this little boy believing in Ram and believing that he can vanquish Ravan. 

Devashish: So now at the expense of probably calling a fatwa on my head by the very frightening right-wing. So on 6 December 1992. I’ll just take a minute to trace this back to an experience, a very personal experience. On 6 December 1992, in a little mohalla in Calcutta, I was 12-13 and we were one of three Hindu families in a predominantly Bangladeshi Muslim slum. The news of the masjid being demolished reaches this mohalla and we were attacked that night. My mother was almost raped. And that never left me. I didn’t feel anger for whoever was attacking us as more as much as I felt confusion. I didn’t know why that happened. The next morning. We were almost back to normal because I had to go buy eggs from a shop in the slum. I had to you know, navigate those same gullies that I was navigating every day growing up in that Mohalla so that stayed with me and somewhere every time someone says that there is a bhoomi where Ram was born, I have a physical response to that because you can’t literalise a metaphor. Ram is a metaphor for you know, certain values. All the characters of the Ramayana or the Mahabharata stand for certain values. Storytelling back then and even today is literally about dispensing values to the people you are telling those stories to through the characters that you populate those stories with.

So Oonga is my Ramayana, my Mahabharata, my modern mythology through which I’m trying to impart certain values. So for me to put forth that idea that Ram was, stood or represented certain ideas and was not real, was the most important thing for me in this story because it sort of achieves many things at many levels. It achieves that the idea that he goes beyond religion. So Ram is not just a Hindu metaphor anymore. Ram could be an Adivasi. He could be that Adivasi who stood up for his jungle and didn’t want his jungle destroyed by the industry and when little Oonga, a 10-11-year-old boy will actually arrive at the heart of that metaphor much quicker than an adult because he doesn’t have those trappings and those conditionings that adults do. So he finds the heart of Rama being an Adivasi and much quicker.

Devashish Makhija

He arrives at the metaphor and therefore when he understands at a very subconscious level that this is a metaphor so if Ram is a metaphor then what’s stopping me from being Ram and I can replicate those values and those ideas where I come from. So I want to send out this messaging because the right-wing has appropriated from me the things that I took away from the Ramayana, so this is me trying to take it back. 

Kaveree: You do it really well, Devashish. I wanted to know what makes you? What keeps you going? 

Devashish: One thing that also breaks me is the one thing that keeps me going. There is an unending abyss of rage. I try not showing it half the time when I’m constantly grappling with it, trying to subdue it, trying to therapeutise it, but when I sit down and tell a story, I dip into that rage. Without that rage, I don’t know how to tell stories. So it’s rage all the way. I would rather it come into my stories then manifest in me picking up the gun. 

Kaveree: I really want to ask what’s next for you? 

Devashish: Like I was telling Sanjoy earlier, all my stories are really hard to find backing for so I am trying. I’ve got like 15-16 stories that I’m trying to turn into films, but I’m hoping that this novel does well. The films I make get watched by a very niche audience. They almost never make their money back. So it takes me three-four years to set up a film so somewhere, you know, a storyteller like me is not getting the energy back that I’m putting into the world. So I’m hoping this book finds readers so that I feel like I’ve been energized enough. I would actually drop everything and write my next novel which is ready. And it has all the same motifs that Oonga did, only that they are a lot more personal. It’s about that night on the 6th of December 1992 in that mohalla in Kolkata.

To buy the book, click here.

(The above text – transcription and editing – is a handiwork of Suman Bhattacharya and Shillpi A Singh)

Book Review: Oonga

Shoma Abhyankar

Book: Oonga
Author: Devashish Makhija
Publication: Tulika Publishers
Genre: Fiction


A 2013 critically acclaimed film now a novel

Devashish Makhija, a screen writer and director of Hindi Cinema, made the film ‘Oonga‘ in 2013 with actress Nandita Das playing one of the important characters of the story. The film though critically acclaimed was not released commercially for various reasons. The author has released the story now as a novel and the bookOonga was launched in the Jaipur Literature Festival 2021.

Few years ago before directing the film of the same name, Makhija, spent time traveling through the jungles of Odisha meeting and observing locals and their everyday fight for survival. He realized that the story still seemed relevant in current times and decided to bring the story in the form of book. The book ‘Oonga’ is inspired by the Dongria Kondh tribals and their way of…

View original post 861 more words

2020 was the year of Bhojpuri disprutors

The article was published to celebrate the International Mother Language Day
in The Free Press Journal, Mumbai, on February 21, 2021.

To read more: https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/from-manoj-bajpayees-rap-to-podcasts-the-year-of-bhojpuri-disruptors