Saturday, November 25, 2017

The end (Interview of Amit Sahu-Anubhuti)

Thirty minutes before his talk show goes live, the blind host decides that it will be his last show. It’s an intriguing decision considering that the show has been pretty successful and thus begins a series of questions in the minds of the viewers.

In the midst of all this, there’s an ongoing interaction between the host and the co-host of the show (both played by Amit Sahu). “The host has been helped by various people to reach this stage. So he remembers all their gestures and unravels their stories, by playing those characters,” explains Sahu.

A one-man show, Anubhuti was staged for the first time in 2016. It was the result of Sahu’s quest to push himself as an actor. “I wanted to do something to push myself out of the comfort zone. I have acted in ensemble plays, co-acted and so on. So I thought why not do a solo show and see how it goes,” says Sahu.

Sahu, who has also scripted and directed the predominantly Hindi play, put together six stories of various characters. He needed one ‘connecting story’ and that was how he thought of the talk show host. “In 2015, I had written one monologue so I included it in this play. After each performance, I used the feedback to improvise the show. After the Kolkata show, I was told that while the back stories of the rest of the characters were clear, the one of the co-host wasn’t and I needed to work on it. So in Bengaluru, where the show was held in August, I included this story of being a single parent,” adds he.

A Ruh Manch production, Anubhuti doesn’t hold a spotlight over media, so much as that on social issues. “I play eight characters, each having a social issue to tackle — disability, illness, loneliness faced by senior citizens and so on. I switch between these eight characters on stage, keeping the audience on their toes. There is no prolonged stage presence of any character. My aim was to talk about social ills and the talk show host happens to be someone who brings all these stories, via the characters, in public domain,” he explains.

When asked if the blind talk show is used as a metaphor, Sahu admits that initially he had not seen it as such. “In hindsight, when the talk show host becomes those characters, he lends his own vision to those people — how they must have thought, walked, behaved etc. It’s his perception of how things are,” says Sahu, “All this eventually adds up to the question — why he wants to stop the telecast of the show? And that’s revealed at the end,” he says.

Many ideas of ‘self’ (Review of Pratibimb, Marathi play)

With Mahesh Elkunchwar’s name as a writer associated with Pratibimb (Reflection), you know nothing in the play will be at face value. Nothing is what it seems. It is difficult for commoners to get into Elkunchwar’s mindspace, which is precisely the subject of the Marathi play, which was staged earlier in August and will now be performed again on Friday, September 15 at Sudarshan Rangmanch, Shaniwar Peth.

While watching the play, it’s evident that the viewer has to peel various layers to get to the core of the story — Who are you? What does ‘self-identity’ mean? Is it so bad if your reflection goes missing or if you have no identity?

Thokale (a white-collared office goer) wakes up one morning and finds his reflection missing. Enters Bai, his landlady, who tries to assure him that nothing is lost. In fact, it could be a ‘breaking news’ for the newspaper. This perhaps could have led to a lot of chaos physically. Instead, we are led to the darkness looming large in our dystopian minds. There’s manipulation and the seeming destruction and numbing of empathy and inability to face our fears.

All this and more is what Pratibimb stands for, says Joshi, who joins us for a quick tête-à-tête about the play. “Pratibimb deals with fundamental question of existence. When I first read the play a couple of years ago, I had difficulty comprehending it. In Jan-Feb, this year, the cast of the play approached me to direct it. I was a little busy then and asked if they could wait. I had decided to go with the cast’s idea and framework and make changes wherever necessary. But it was agreed that we would do a lot of rehearsals and readings of all the plays written by Elkunchwar, not just Pratibimb. We wanted to find out the commonalities in other plays and ingrain the underlying meaning,” he begins.

Except for one change to the original cast, where Naresh Gund graduated from playing Bavate (a union leader of sorts) to Thokale (the protagonist), the play proceeded smoothly. “Thokale was one self-absorbed character, someone who was in love with himself. Naresh suited this character and he could easily grasp the nuances of the play. Bai is played by Anjali Joshi and she is the manipulator here. Bavate, by Krutharth Shevgaonkar, is one rabble rouser, but gets petrified when his secrets are on the verge of being revealed to everyone. And, Kersuni (a broom) by Ankita Naik, is a symbol for all those women who are accomplished, but still prefer to live in their husband’s shadow — to be made use of, when deemed fit,” adds Joshi.

The play is set in the late ’70s, early ’80s and Joshi decided to stick with it. “The props used — the dialing telephone, the old radio and the doorbell, have a similar tone. And, so when one rings, there is confusion as to which one pealed out. They add to the confusion and mental chaos and eventually become a character of their own. To make the play more contemporary, I would have had to use mobile phone or an ipod, or substitute Liril advertisement with a new one, but that would have just created cosmetic changes. The core of the play would not have been disturbed. So it made sense for me to retain the play as it was,” explains Joshi, who has also directed Chafa.

At the moment, the team is looking at it as a study project and would stage at least 10 performances of Pratibimb. “If it catches up, then we hope to sustain it much longer,” he concludes.

K for Kattaikkuttu

Have you sat through Kattaikkuttu’s all-night performance held in Chennai villages? The eight-hour long musical theatre combines stories from the epics, especially the Mahabharata.

There are several versions of the Mahabharata in southern as well as northern India. But Kattaikkuttu Sangam performances are very much attuned to the local audience and how it relates to everyday life of people, in one particular region. It’s similar to a nautanki or a jatra in Bengal. “It used to be an all male tradition; but now we have both male and female characters.

And, that’s quite empowering. People in villages are still surprised to see women on the stage. They appreciate it as long as it’s not their wife, daughter or sister!,” explains Dr Hanne M De Bruin-Rajagopal, Programme Director of Kattaikkuttu Sangam and Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam at Kancheepuram.

Dr Bruin-Rajagopal will be getting the young performers of Kattaikkuttu to Pune and interact with students of Delhi Public School (DPS) during ‘Arts Encounter’ arranged by ‘Junoon arts at play with schools’.

Talking to us ahead of the programme to be held on November 8, Dr Bruin-Rajagopal shares what she has planned for the students of DPS. “This is the first time we are participating with ‘Junoon arts at play with schools’. We have classes VI, VII and VIII with us. So the programme is focussed on that particular age group. We bring students of similar ages, because we also run a school offering professional training and drama education,” says she.

The Kattaikkuttu Sangam will be presenting three episodes from their repertory, which focus on children with some kind of participatory content. “We have 50 kids in one group. So we plan to involve them; but it’s impossible to get all of them on stage,” she says with a chuckle.

Dr Bruin-Rajagopal, who is married to P Rajagopal, a Kattaikkuttu artist and founder of Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam, adds, “The first episode is from an all night performances which we do in villages. It’s called Kurvanjini and has a woman character. This is the first time that a woman is playing a role in the all-male domain. So we want to showcase that women have the same capacity as men and can perform in a physically demanding form. Kurvanjini is from a construction background and she is famous for making tattoos and so there is a comic scene in which the junior-most clown played by a boy wants a tattoo.”

The second is the episode of building of a shamiana (canopy), for a game of dice, which Duryodhana organises. This episode will invite kids from the audience to be the killers.

In the last episode, Hanuman encounters Bheema, who is his half-brother. “Bheema is selfish and considers himself to be the strongest person on earth. Hanuman sprawls across the road and Bheema is unable to lift him. That’s the last scene,” she adds.

Besides the performances, Dr Bruin-Rajagopal also plans to have a demonstration on how Kattaikkuttu sounds, how it works. “Voice training is an important aspect in Kattaikkuttu, besides knowing the stories. How the form unfolds is also significant because it doesn’t have scripted performances. You can’t memorise for eight hours. So how does the performer know what to say on the stage? All this will be a part of the demonstration,” explains Dr Bruin-Rajagopal.

Besides adapting episodes from the Mahabharata, the Kattaikkuttu Sangam is also working on new stories. “My husband has written a story called Magic Horse for the younger ones he works with. The Mahabharata can be quite complex for kids to understand. So they come with a request to include characters like the magic horse, a magician, a doctor, a tortoise etc,” she adds.

Besides that, the husband-wife duo also try to introduce kids to other art forms, which are based in the metropolis, or get international troupes to perform at their gurukulam. “We have international workshops for our students and other artists, like we had an acrobatic workshop. Kattaikkuttu is a rural art form. So through these collaborations, we are trying to shift the paradigm a little bit,” concludes Dr Bruin-Rajagopal.


The idea of multiple perspectives

After three years of collaboration with ‘Junoon — arts at play with schools’, cinematographer Ajay Noronha has stopped being surprised at how bright, open and forthcoming the children are.

The Pune edition of the festival will take place between November 4-10 and Noronha is a part of ‘Meet the Artist’ segment. He will be interacting with kids of Delhi Public School on November 9.

When asked what he has planned for the interaction, Noronha says, “I am trained as a cinematographer and make my own documentary films. What I share with the kids is the idea of multiple perspectives. As an introduction, I give them a peek into what a cinematographer does. But, eventually, all I want them is to escape the school atmosphere, and ask questions.”

Find your story
As a cinematographer and photographer, Noronha creates images and emotions. That’s his way of telling stories. And, he wants kids to find their stories, starting with, ‘Where do we get our stories from’. “One way is to get them to think of the fact that they can get their stories from ‘where they come’. Get them to share the stories of or told by their ajji-ajoba, nana-nani, or dadu-dadi,” he explains.

Next step is to make the students aware of the dangers of a single narrative. “The idea is to get them to see things from different points of views. I start off with myself; I tell them not to take whatever I say as the complete truth. Talk to different people and you might get to see different sides of the stories. I want the children to move from ‘one’ to a binary, which is ‘two’. And, then get them to think of several possibilities in between,” says the cinematographer of Hindi film Ferrari ki Sawari.

Many shades of grey
Noronha wants children to know that life is really in greys and it’s not fair to take a position — like or dislike, you are with me or against me. “Is it as simple as that? While I am discussing this with the students, I am also encouraging teachers to think about it — the hard positions that everyone is increasingly forced to take,” he explains.

His solution is to ask questions. “It’s important to ask questions and take nothing at face value. Only when one questions, can some true learning take place,” Noronha points out.

The Mumbai-based cinematographer has worked with Seeds of Peace, an organisation that works with children from conflict-ridden zones of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine. He discusses this side of the story with the older students.

Says he, “I worked with Seeds of Peace. My interest has broadened and deepened and I have been working independently and exploring, making my next film around the idea of home — longing and belonging. What does it mean to have a home? What does it mean to leave a home? This story is set in Israel and Palestine. I try to make teens understand the privileges that we take for granted. ‘Get up in the morning, put on the uniform and get into school bus and reach school’. Whereas when you are in Palestine, you can’t take any of this for granted.”

Screening of documentaries
Noronha might also screen a clipping or two from his documentaries. “If necessary, to make a point, I might screen clips from my documentary — A picture of you. It might help them to think of their own childhood or to think about, ‘where they come from’. I also have a small, three-minute clip of what I have shot in Israel-Palestine — because what we get to hear from these parts, Kashmir and North-east is — terrorism.

But one’s not going beyond that to say that there are people living there and trying to live as normal lives as they can. The bottomline is that I want the children to ask questions, to find out what’s happening in the world around them,” he says and concludes.

To children of Israel, with love

A chat with Dr Irene Judah who has written a book tracing the history of Bene Israel community in the Konkan region

When Nimkar ajji-ajoba passed away, the Judahs felt a personal loss. It so happened that in the ’90s when Dr Irene and her husband Dr Judah, along with their friends, were travelling in Thal village, they met the Nimkar couple. “We were exploring the Konkan countryside for synagogues.

In Thal, there was one synagogue. But since it was a public holiday, it was closed. We wanted to use the loo and so requested the Nimkars. At their home, we heard the ajji singing Shabbath songs in Hebrew! We learnt that there were hardly any Jews left and so no one gathered for the prayers any more. Having lived opposite the synagogue for several years now, the Nimkars knew which prayer to sing at what time, in which order,” recalls Irene in chaste Marathi.

A few years later when they were in that area, they went over to Nimkars again. But learnt that they were no more. “The shock I felt must have shown on my face, because the young girl before me asked if I wanted water and if I wanted to rest,” adds Irene.
The facade of that synagogue in Thal became the cover of Irene’s book — Evolution of the Bene Israels and their synagogues in the Konkan — brought out by Vishwakarma Publications.

The book got the printed form in 2017, but putting together notes of her community began in Irene’s childhood. “I was always filing away notes, news bits about Bene Israels (Sons of Israel) in my diary. My granny also used to tell me lots of stories about Jewish community. Somewhere I knew, the story of our community had to be told, and so this is a lifelong project,” she explains.

In Konkan
Just like the Parsis, theirs is a tale of persecution. “Legend goes that nearly 2,500 years ago, seven men and seven women, came to India, by sea route. They got shipwrecked near Konkan coast and that’s how we came to live in the coastal area. One group was shipwrecked near Kochi (Cochin); they are called the Kochi Jews. And, there is another group of Baghdadi Jews,” she adds.

So is there another book in the offing, we ask. “Yes, it is. But that will be my third book, not second one,” points out Irene.
Going back to the story of her community, Irene has many tales of the generosity of the Konkani people, who assimilated the Jews in their region.

“Most of the synagogues were returned to Zilla Parishads and now function as schools. In the deluge of 2005 rains in Mumbai and Konkan region, one school-cum-synagogue was affected badly. The religious scrolls had got wet and one of the teachers used to dry one scroll carefully, every single day. She managed to save so many scrolls and our history. She couldn’t even read them, but she knew something of the Jewish community and the fact that the school was earlier a synagogue. Many thanks to such people and Konkan region is full of them,” she adds.

The Maharashtrian suffix
“There are about 3000 Bene Israels who have taken on the Maharashtrian suffix of ‘kar’ in their surnames like Kandlekar, Cheulkar etc, in the country, mostly living in Mumbai. Pune has less than 200 such families,” says Irene. Most of them left the country for Israel, US, UK etc when the country gained Independence. “But, now, most of them are returning to India in search of their roots. If a family has two sons, then one goes abroad, while the other stays in India. In one of our travels, the locals told us of a story of a young Jewish chap who came to these parts, set up a guest house, Shalom (which means peace in Jewish) and is inviting people to stay there,” she adds.

The book is the tale of many such stories from the oil-presser community, who have got educated and trained in various fields like academics, medicine, navy and army, computers etc. “India has always been very accommodative and assimilative,” Irene concludes.

‘Every story worth its salt is saying something of value’ (Interview with Paro Anand)

Her book Wild Child and Other Stories by Puffin fetched her Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Purasakar for 2017. Her stories are simple, real and cut quite close to our bone. Would you consider reading a story about a child who lost her father to terrorism? You should. It’s not preachy, it doesn’t make you angry. It makes you believe in faith, friendship and love. There’s another story of a girl, who’s shunned by others. Because she is ‘different’, ‘weird’, ‘not like others’. She turns all the negatives into her strengths and comes back to fly high.

Excerpts from an email chat:
Are stories read or written to escape into a world of fantasy? Or come face to face with the reality that is plaguing us?

Why not both? Sometimes you need to or want to escape reality and sometimes you just have to face up to the reality that surrounds you. Mine do a bit of both, I hope.

The stories of bomb blast, terrorism are tales of our torn childhood — kids born in late 80s and 90s. Many authors usually tweak their own childhood tales when writing for kids. Was this your reason too when you wrote these stories?

I was lucky to be born into peace and privilege. So I can’t claim these stories from my childhood. But I do work with children in difficult circumstances and those who are growing up within the backdrop of violence. And so it is their stories that inspire and compel me to talk about their realities. Of course, there are stories from my own childhood that have found their way into my books. Like Pepper the Capuchin Monkey about a lie that I told when I was just 12. It was the title story of my first book.

When you are writing for kids or young adults, do you write thinking ‘I am writing for children’ or ‘I am writing a story’?
Honestly, neither. I write. I dive right in or write in. And I don’t much think of anything else. I actually inhabit the world of my story and my characters. So it becomes very real and current and ‘now’ for me, so I don’t intellectually think of the writing process at all.

Considering stories meant for children are read by their parents as well, do you contrive to weave in a message that the adults can comprehend and inculcate in the younger ones?
I believe that every story worth its salt is saying something of value. I would like to think that anyone I write for is touched by what my story says. But I try very hard to stay away from being messagey. I actually only want to provoke thought. And independent, critical thinking. I only want my reader, whether child or parent to question and come to their own answers.

Can simply written A-Z stories hold against magic, vampires, werewolves etc? Do you enjoy reading Goosebumps or any such stories?
I think there is a space for every kind of story. And it is a question of the reader finding the story that ‘fits’ him/her. I say this from personal experience. I was a poor reader right until I was about 10-11 years old and then I found Joy Adam’s Born Free. It was the perfect book at the perfect time for me and I became a reader. I grew up in a house of books so there was a lot to choose from. After getting hooked onto books, I began to devour a lot of those that had been sitting on our shelves forever.

Do you like writing a story vis -a-vis ‘performing’ one?
Both and equally. I think these are the two sides of my coin. One is the working with young people and one is writing for and about them. I also often read some of my stories out loud before they even get published and sometimes I will make a change to make it more performable. I started doing this after I would read some of my stories to a group and feel that there was one word too many, or I could find a better rhythm in another way.

Kitty on the Prowl (Interview with Trisha Bora)

Author Trisha Bora’s What Kitty Did is a laugh out loud comic caper. She talks about her ditzy, witty heroine, who can bake delicious cakes

Kitty, aka Ketaki Roy, is an English Lit grad, working for a lifestyle magazine in Delhi. She is a sugar addict, alcoholic and well, always bungles up her assignments. But like all the underdogs, Kitty emerges a champ. It’s a familiar premise, but makes you laugh, chuckle and giggle, when Kitty is in her elements.

What Kitty Did (HarperCollins), written by Trisha Bora, a commissioning editor at Juggernaut Books, is a hilarious take on the coming-of-age story of the 20-something protagonist. And, if you have read Susan Coolidge’s What Katy Did, then Kitty Roy of untamed wild hair, will certainly appeal to you. Here’s what Bora has to say about her heroine:

Who is Kitty — a person based on many people you have met or is she your alter ego?
She is a caricature of many 20-somethings I’ve had the pleasure to meet and observe, and also a figment of my imagination. She’s not my alter ego at all.

Do you think flawed, bumbling characters make for interesting protagonists?
Of course. Because they hold up a mirror to our lives. We can identify with them only if they are imperfect like us.

Humour is important in the book. Was it difficult to come up with seemingly ordinary chuckle-aloud scenarios?
Not really. I had a bag full of ridiculous stories that just worked perfectly for this book. And the remaining stories will go into the next Kitty book.

Were you inspired by a certain Sunanda Pushkar/Tharoor case to have your own Roxy Merchant case?
Yes, but of course, this isn’t about them. There are certain cases that hold the public’s imagination for whatever reasons.

You have captured Delhi so beautifully. How many years did you spend in the city?
I’ve lived in the city for 13 years, and was heartbroken to let it go. For all its problems and eccentricities, I love Delhi. It’s where I went to college, fell in love, got a job. Plus, all my friends are there and where the book business is.

Lastly, the recipes. Magical and mouth-watering. How did you come up with those?
That’s really a basic brownie recipe. My mother’s, which I tweaked a little.

‘The film isn’t a word-for-word adaptation’ (Interview with Saba Imtiaz)

Journalist and author Saba Imtiaz is eager to see her book, Karachi, You’re Killing Me, come to life on the big screen through someone else’s vision and interpretation
Ayesha Khan is goofy, endearing, worried about piling on calories and looking for that elusive love. This makes her like you and me. But that’s where the similarities begin and end. Ayesha is a 28-year-old journalist and for her, dealing with fundamentalists, bootleggers or a Guantanamo Bay detainee is all a day’s job. And she’s from Karachi. Yes, the city which is touted as “the most dangerous” to live in.

Now, Karachi becomes Mumbai. And, Ayesha becomes Noor. Sonakshi Sinha portrays the bespectacled Noor Roy Choudhary. The fiction novel written by Saba Imtiaz is being adapted for Bollywood. And, unlike Ayesha (Noor) who might have got all frazzled with the attention, Imtiaz is all calm.

Excerpts from an email conversation:

Was it easier to write Karachi, You’re Killing Me, because you are also a journalist and could recreate the professional and personal world accurately?
Yes, it helped to recreate some elements of reporting — press conferences and rallies and work schedules — because I’m a journalist and could write about assignments and dialogues. The personal world was fictional.

The book was an instant hit in India and word-of-mouth recommendation really worked. Did you anticipate this sort of success and recognition?
No, I didn’t think about the reaction to the book at all, or who would read it.

There is lot of humour in the book. Does it come naturally to you because of your profession?
I don’t know whether it comes through because of the profession. I think that might just be a Karachi thing — a dark sense of humour and ingrained sarcasm. I don’t think of myself as being funny.

Now that the movie is being made on the book, how detached are you? The name of the protagonist has changed from Ayesha to Noor. How much of say did you have in the big-screen adaptation?
Very detached. The film isn’t a word-for-word adaptation, it is also based on elements out of the book. I didn’t have anything to do with the adaptation. And, I’m really excited to see it come to life through someone else’s vision and interpretation.

Do you expect trouble when the screening of the film nears, knowing the current animosity between the two nations?
If I could predict the future, I’d probably have a much more lucrative career by now.

Would you consider writing more sequels to Karachi, You’re Killing Me,?
No. It would be the easier thing to do, and that’s what makes it tempting. But as of now I don’t think I would ever write a sequel.

Have you visited Mumbai or Delhi? If you had the chance to write Ayesha’s story in either of these cities, how would you do it? What kind of traits would you imbue her with?
Yep, I’ve been to both Mumbai and Delhi, though not for long enough periods to be able to set a character in either place.

At present, you are working on a non-fiction book on your city. Can you tell us something more about it?
It’s a non-fiction book called No Team of Angels: Murder, Violence, and Land in Pakistan’s Largest City: Karachi. It explores the factors underlying violence in Karachi.

‘The art is not meant only for rich people’ (Interview of Atul Dodiya)

In 2005, Atul Dodiya inaugurated Maharashtra Cultural Centre’s (MCC) Sudarshan Art Gallery. And, 12 years later, he is going to be back at the gallery to deliver a retrospective of his creative journey of the last three decades. On Saturday, Dodiya will be engaging in a dialogue with students and members of the art fraternity, wherein he will be making an audio-visual presentation of his paintings.

Speaking to Sakal Times ahead of the ‘Chitra Sanvad’ initiative of MCC, the senior contemporary artist says, “In my talk, I will explain the variety of mediums and subject matter of paintings that I have experimented with. As far as explaining art is concerned, I talk in the same language with the layman and the artists. My articulation is very simple. I myself don’t understand too much critical and theoretical approach.”

This sets the tone for a free-wheeling and candid chat with the Ghatkopar-based artist. Excerpts...

A senior artist once revealed that he prefers bare walls in his home because he can visualise his next painting on them. When we asked if Dodiya follows a similar approach, he remarked, “An empty room doesn’t inspire me. I need people around me, talking, arguing, joking, gossipping — it’s from here my art emerges.”

The enduring themes in his work are cinema motifs and a series of portraits of Mahatma Gandhi. “There is no agenda that I have to follow certain films, theatre or literature. These engagements happen seamlessly. I love poetry, especially Arun Kolatkar’s and Vinda Karandikar’s. Their works inspire me to do something. When I was a teenager, I watched lots of plays at Chhabildas in Dadar — those of Arvind Deshpande, Vijay Tendulkar and Nana Patekar. I also followed Avishkar’s theatre productions. I used to watch Satyadev Dubey’s Hindi plays,” he says.

However, his overriding love has been for Satyajit Ray’s Bengali cinema. “The images in his movie are beautiful. They provoke me, inspire me. I have seen his Apur Sansar — Apu Trilogy — several times. Currently, young Marathi filmmakers are doing fine work,” Dodiya points out.

At home in Mumbai and coming up with splendid work after his stay in Paris, one wonders if geographical locations have influenced his art. The contemporary artist agrees and says, “I have always said that whatever I have achieved through my work is because of Mumbai, where I have been born and brought up. If I was born in Santiniketan, I would have been a different kind of painter. The pace of life is different there. It’s in close proximity with nature while in Mumbai, there is lot of noise, chaos. My creativity is within this chaos. The geography does play a role, but it doesn’t have to apply to all.”

It’s only recently that Dodiya moved to his penthouse studio in Ghatkopar. Earlier, he worked from his father’s house in a Ghatkopar chawl. There his neighbours would often stop, take a look at his work, comment and ask questions. Dodiya believes that his neighbours have every right to stop by and see his work, and raise their doubts. “That’s one way of getting acquainted with modern art. Many say, ‘we don’t understand modern art of Gaitonde or Raza. But they understand Ravi Varma, Moolgaonkar and Deenanath Dalal. The reason is because they don’t visit art galleries. It’s also our fault that the galleries are in South Mumbai. Shouldn’t we open more galleries and museums in suburbs? The art is not meant only for rich people. It’s for everyone,” he emphasises.

“When we have to do good shows, we have to go to Mumbai or Delhi. Why not Ahmedabad or Chennai and Bengaluru? Or Pune and Nagpur? Ours is a huge country, but very few people run galleries. There should be active galleries, holding programmes every month. First, a small group of people will attend, then more people will join. The tribe will increase,” he adds.

Continuing with his thoughts on galleries and museums, Dodiya says, “Seeing art is more important. Practising is one thing, but seeing is another. I wouldn’t say ‘go and watch any Tom, Dick and Harry’s painting exhibition’; but go and look at the work of the masters like Picasso, Van Gogh etc. These are the people you should be visiting — through their works, reproductions, reprints, interpretations of their work in museums or reading books on them or making use of internet.”

When asked what role biennales have to play in art education, the creator of Shutter series says, “In India, we don’t have museums, institutions dealing with contemporary art. So in this kind of scenario, when you have a biennale, where the works of international artists are shown, it is a great thing. So whether a biennale is being held in Kochi or Pune, please attend. This is how you make people aware of how you can enjoy and enrich yourself through art. Art can be a life-changing experience.”

Art can also be a shattering experience when politics enters art and sets limits on what an artist can do with his canvas. For the 50th independence of India, Dodiya had made a series of portraits on Mahatma Gandhi. Has anything changed at all in the last two decades?

“There is so much of hatred now, so much of intolerance. People are not willing to accept other people’s lifestyles, food habits. Any imposition on anyone is not a right thing. A single party or group cannot decide what the entire country should do. It’s not acceptable. As an artist, my primary requirement is freedom. If there is no freedom, then there is no creation,” he says emphatically.

And, as far as deciding what can artist do or not, it solely depends on the artist. “Only I have the right to decide about my work. There are some people who like the experiments I do in my work. They feel that Atul’s work is amazing. There are others who feel that my work is too diverse, which is fine. But what I should do on the canvas, only I can decide,” adds Dodiya.

Memories of time

What if you had to leave your home overnight and escape to safety carrying minimal stuff? What would you take with you?

Aanchal Malhotra, whose Daadi (paternal grandmother) escaped to this side during the Partition, took out her coin collection — belonging to British India — after her husband passed away. With Malhotra watching her, Daadi said, ‘Humne kya kya din nahi dekhe’.

Malhotra went on to meet people from both India and Pakistan to talk about their memories and the belongings they escaped with. The stories have been compiled in a HarperCollins book titled Remnants of a Separation — A History of the Partition Through Material Memory. Excerpts...

Interesting title. It says ‘Separation’. Are you voicing the sentiments of those who were displaced from their homeland and who hope to be back someday?
That is certainly one way to look at it: the line that separates this side from that, a person from their homeland and childhood. Several people that I interviewed spoke about this separation from land and soil, from family and friends, from the place and home of their birth.

But another way to understand the word separation is to look at the relationship between India and Pakistan. The word divorce seems too exact, too harsh and severe, as there is so much that remained untangled between the two nations.

This book tries to look at those untangled threads through things that were taken across the border by refugees during the Partition in 1947. It looks at objects — both private and public — that have absorbed within them the memory of the time and exist as testaments to one of the most momentous events in the subcontinent’s contemporary history.

While doing the interviews, you were upset about being intrusive and digging up all the grief and pain. What was the feedback you received when your subjects read their stories and those of others?
It’s true, asking the questions was hard sometimes, but even harder was relaying a memory that one might have buried deep within them. Many a times, my subjects would have tears in their eyes, at other times we would sit in prolonged silence as my recorder recorded only our breaths.
But what I have seen with my own grandfather and several other people, was that eventually, the wall came down and the memories were told and recorded and there seemed to be a definite lightness to them after that. The book had become a repository for many people, and because over the last four years, they have become my family, I feel pride in presenting their stories to the world.

Will you be working on the second edition of the book since you had to leave out some stories?
I did leave out some stories, but I don’t know whether there will be a second edition of the book yet. I am working on a digital museum called the ‘Museum of Material Memory’ ( — it was launched last week) with a friend, Navdha Malhotra.

Our premise is to open this platform up to a submission-based museum so that people from across the subcontinent can send in stories about the objects of age that hold importance for them. Our hope is to build a diverse digital repository of material culture of the Indian subcontinent that traces family history and social ethnography through heirlooms, collectibles and objects of antiquity.

It is often said ‘Punjabis in Dilli are refugees’. Will we be able to get rid of the ‘refugee’ tag at some point?
I can only speak for my own family…the origin of all four of my grandparents’ families can be traced to the other side. My paternal grandfather who began Bahrisons Bookshop, was allotted land in Khan Market, a refugee market set up in 1951. For years I heard the term ‘refugee market’ and ‘refugee family’ from him, but I believe that he truly rose above that title during his life in Delhi.

On the other hand, my maternal side has many stories to tell about the status of the Punjabi refugees that came from the other side. My grandfather’s eldest brother recounts how their father began a jewellery store with his friends in Chandni Chowk. Having come to Delhi from Lahore via Amritsar, the family remembers how the surrounding Hindu shop-owners around them would often say, ‘Hum phoonk maar ke nikaal denge tumhe (we will blow your shop away).

But I don’t think this refugee tag exists for the Punjabis in Delhi any longer. If the city has built the post-Partition Punjabi into a model of entrepreneurship and resilience, then the Punjabi has also built the city just as much. The refugee tag has long been absorbed into the years.

Book review

Historical novels afford a large canvas for any writer: to research and recreate the old world for the youngsters, to imagine and fill in the gaps. N S Inamdar, who has penned 16 historical novels in Marathi, was successful in writing about the past and towering personalities, and then presenting them before his readers in flesh and blood, warts and all.

Rau, one of his most successful novels, was received very well when it was brought out by Continental Prakshan in 1972. The novel, now released in English by Pan Macmillan India, depicts the poignant love story of Bajirao-Mastani, which is far more impactful than Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s grandiose film project.

The film is based on Inamdar’s novel and so the text will not be entirely unfamiliar to those who have watched the movie. However, as it is with most cinematic adaptations of books, the latter provide a more linear graph of the plot and the characters. That’s the case with Rau as well, in which Kashibai, the wife of Peshwa Bajirao I, is given more heft. Her back story, the deals and the strained relations with her own family as also with those of her sisters-in-law — all bring out the conflict between the star-crossed lovers more clearly. As a result, the historical novel doesn’t confine itself to a period romance. The readers get a complete picture of the prevalent social and caste dogmas and the political hierarchy of the Peshwa era.

Bajirao’s romance or passion with Mastani is covered with a lot of feeling, but somewhere the courtesan/mistress has been given a touch of manipulation. Unlike the movie, where her relationship with the Bundel Raja is clearly shown, here it’s kept vague. No one knows where she comes from, where she first met the Peshwa and under what circumstances.

Rau, the titular protagonist, has been painted with all his weakness and glory in bright colours. And, it’s in his shadows that readers try to probe

Mastani’s character.

N S Inamdar

Translated by:
Vikrant Pande

Pan Macmillan India


Rs 399

Silent empathy (Kaasav film review)

The sheer sense of relief that is palpable on the curly haired boy’s face when he uses a razor to cut open his wrist, speaks volumes. There are several such scenes in Kaasav, the National Award-winning film. In fact, the storyline progresses with the interminable silence looming over the busy Mumbai’s local railway network and later over the Konkan coastline.

The curly haired boy (Alok Rajwade) is called Niche, by Janaki (Irawati Harshe) who finds him burning with fever on the roadside. Something about his state of mind connects with Janaki, a researcher, who also suffers from panic attacks.

In the process of sifting through her emotions, and trying to put herself in his shoes, she attempts to establish a tenuous bond with Niche. But the lad rebuffs her overtures. And, thus begins our involvement with Niche — who comes across as an ungrateful brat with pseudo-angst up his sleeve. A regular youth, who has it all, and is yet ‘lost’, inviting derision from the ‘sorted’ folk. What is his problem? What reason does he have to complain? Why is he angry? Such questions crowd our mind until we find Niche. That moment is when Niche (who is actually named Maanavendra/Manav) finally opens his mouth to sing. His free spirited joyous cry reaches the skies, alongwith Janaki’s softer tone. The shell cracks open a tiny bit.

There is also a parallel track in which Janaki and Dattabhau (Dr Agashe) are working on olive ridley sea turtle conservation project. The mothers leave behind the eggs on the shore, wading into the waters, hoping that the baby turtles too find their feet in the water. The two, alongwith the villagers, try to provide a safe, nesting spot. Just like Janaki does for Niche, and Niche does for a village urchin. A little warmth and empathy is all that we require.

Without making it ‘pedantic, research-worthy film on depression’, Bhave, Sukthankar and Agashe invite us to ‘crack open the shell’ for ourselves and for others. There is darkness within us and around us. It’s time we stopped being afraid of it.

Soul Connect

Picture this. At home, after her surgery, a woman in her mid-60s, is recuperating. Her sister comes to inquire after her health. When she is leaving, the lady ruffles gently through her sister’s sparse hair. The gesture reflects the deep love and affection that only sisters can share.

Sisters — they fight, they care; they make you laugh, they bring you to tears; they make your lives hell and also make the world a much better place to live in! And, those who don’t have a blood sister to turn to, search for this bond amongst their lady friends.

Techie Parineeta Chettri has two elder sisters and one younger brother. And, the bond they share is quite thick. “My eldest sister and I have a five year age difference, so I am a little careful while talking to her. It’s not what I am talking to her, but how I talk to her. I accord Pratima Didi utmost respect,” she says.

Rajashree Marathe, who has two elder sisters, shares a cordial relation with them. “Umatai is 8-years-older to me, while Tanujatai is 6 and half years older to me. When I was younger, they troubled me a lot. The usual sibling menace — ‘you are not our real sister; mom took pity on you and got you home’ etc. I spent my teenage years in a hostel, so I bonded more with girls my age. I couldn’t bring myself to discuss college infatuations, affairs etc with my sisters,” she explains.

Now in her 30s, Marathe says, “We talk to each other every Sunday and share what’s going on with our lives. But when it comes to small sorrows, mood swings and general disappointment, I don’t speak with the two. I choose to chat with my friends instead.”

Being the middle child, Chettri is comfortable hanging out with her younger brother and older sisters too. “Growing up, we would fight over room allotment, who would sleep where, who would wear or not wear someone’s clothes etc. We sulked and fought, but stood up for each other if someone tried to create trouble between us,” adds she.

Avantika Kekan and Akanksha Dinesh have a four year difference between them. “We are introvert extroverts!,” Kekan says. When asked to explain, the anaesthesia specialist says, “We gel with very few people. When we hang around with like-minded people, we jabber a lot; with others, we are cordial and polite!”

The two sisters also share a love for travelling and sometimes trek together. “My sister works for a travel company. She also has her travel blog, so I often write for her. We are good with camera too, so that’s another common interest. And, if it comes to laughing over break-ups, crushes, or seeing each other through troubles, well, there is no one better than my kid sister,” says Kekan, adding, “We are always on the same page.”

Kirti and Ketaki Sathey too have similar tales to share. In a big joint family, teeming with aunts and cousins, and cats, the two sisters always stuck together. So much so that the younger one, Ketaki, opted for the same subjects in college that Kirti had — so that she could turn to her elder sister for guidance.

Kirti is less communicative of the two. “And, so talking to Ketaki, makes sense to me. I know my secrets are safe with her, and she will always watch my back,” adds Kirti. That’s what sisters are for.

Reconnecting with rare thumri

In 19th century North India, devotees of Lord Krishna would narrate his tales in the temples. They were called kathas from which originated Kathak, inclusive of song, dance and drama. The music compositions were called thumri — thumri is derived from thumakna (associated with Kathak dance) and ri means baat-cheet. Thus Dr Pournima Dhumale explains the semi-classical genre of Indian classical music — thumri.

She, accompanied by Dr Chaitanya Kunte on the harmonium and Arun Gawai on the tabla, will revive and reconstruct some of the rare thumri compositions this evening at Jyotsna Bhole Sabhagruha, Tilak Road.

“The programme titled, ‘Recherché Thumri’ or unpublished thumris, will be performed on the third anniversary of Dr Ashok Da Ranade Archives (ADRA) Pune,” explains Kunte adding, “The idea is to revive and reconstruct archival material and present them in the form of performances. Most performers don’t turn to archival material, preferring to concentrate on their practice. So we thought of building a bridge between archival material and the performers. Hence we thought of inviting performers to conceptualise such research-based performances. Dr Pournima Dhumale is a scholar-musician and through this performance, she will be demonstrating how archival material can be used,” he adds.

Speaking about her performance, Dr Dhumale, says, “The thumris that I will be presenting are from 1850-1920. They are ‘khandani’ thumris, connected to Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Lucknow. The books that I referred to (Pt Rajabhai Moochwale of Gwalior gharana has written a book Thumri Tarangi; Marhum Sheikh Rahat Ali Khan’s thumri collection written by Narhar Bhave, father of Vinoba Bhave; and a couple of others) had a collection of 300-350 thumris. I chose about six-seven rare compositions by Anokhe Piya, Shauk Rang and Chand. Some are also by anonymous writers. Thumri is closely associated with Radha-Krishna’s raas leela. It’s a blend of shringar and bhakti or simply called madhur bhakti.”

The Agra gharana exponent will be presenting Bandish ki Thumri, also called Bol-baat ki Thumri, which is the USP of the gharana. She will also be presenting Kacchi Hori, Kajari, which are derived from folk music. Some are also raga-based like Gara, Natamalhar, and Palasi.

In the two-hour performance, Dr Dhumale will be elaborating on the thumris explaining the historical roots and aesthetic values as well. Says Dr Kunte, “Maharashtra has had some good thumri singers in the past. But this genre is not so well-known as compared to khayal gayaki, natya sangeet and bhav geet. Hence this is also an attempt to make people here aware of the multi-faceted genre.”

Thumri singers are usually accompanied by sarangi, tabla and harmonium players. “But there are hardly any sarangi players now. So in this performance we only have tabla and harmonium players as accompanists,” he adds.

Thumri has both slow and fast tempo. But as the compositions to be showcased in the programme are associated with Kathak, they are going to be fast-paced tempo. The rhythm cycles also differ,” points out Kunte.

The late Dr Ashok Damodar Ranade was an ethnomusicologist, an expert on linguists and living culture, and had a large personal collection of books, records on music, dance and drama. Dr Chaitanya Kunte, faculty of Lalit Kala Kendra, Savitribai Phule Pune University, founded the ADRA, which operates out of Udyog Bhavan, Hirabaug Chowk, in 2014.

“The reason behind starting this archive is that despite the tag of ‘cultural capital’, Pune had no centre that worked for conservation of music, dance and drama, on the lines of Mumbai’s NCPA or Sangeet Natak Akademi in New Delhi. So ADRA was founded in Pune on October 31, 2014,” explains Kunte.

The research material is based on the personal collection of Dr Ranade. It includes books and audio-visual material. “The facility is being used by students of performing arts and researchers. But we want more and more artists to make use of this facility. The archival material needs to be revived and reconstructed and brought before people. That was the idea of starting this archive centre,” he adds.

The Maharashtra Cultural Centre has organised ‘Recherché Thumri’ on the third anniversary of Dr Ashok Da Ranade Archives, a research centre for performing arts and cultures. The programme will be held at Jyotsna Bhole Sabhagruha, Hirabaug, this evening, 6 pm onwards

Reading for pleasure

A former journalist on education beat, Swaha Sahoo, is currently heading Parag Initiative of Tata Trusts. Speaking to us ahead of the Big Little Book Awards (BLBA) nominations, Sahoo outlines the achievements of the initiative and their plan to strengthen the practice and discourse around children’s libraries in India.

How do you decide on the ‘language of the year’ for the BLBA award?
The criteria for the award has guided our choice of language. The language we choose (this year it’s Bengali) must have some authors writing dedicatedly for children over the last decade. Authors should have an original body of work, must have contributed to creating readers and demonstrated growth and willingness to break known barriers in what defines a children’s author.

At the same time, they have not been recognised widely outside of the state. And there is enough scope for the Big Little Book Awards to create that platform, promote their work and take it to a wider audience.

Which Bengali titles and authors are in the reckoning?
Personally, I have read only English translations of children’s literature written by Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury and Mahasweta Devi.

This year for Bengali, we have received 23 unique nominations under the author category. We have arrived at a longlist. The jury will announce the shortlist in September 2017.

Can you explain ‘capacity building for librarians, teachers and
It has been our experience that just creating libraries and giving children access to books is not enough to ignite a love for reading. Children, especially first generation learners and those struggling to read, need support in various ways inside a library.

If they have a caring adult who understands books and their struggle, and is able to help them connect with books, children stand a better chance to become readers.

Parag’s flagship Library Educators Course (LEC) aims to do this. The professional seven-month dual mode course is meant for teachers, librarians, facilitators working with books and children and equips them with the skills to run vibrant and engaged libraries.

There are some elements necessary for running vibrant libraries — an engaged librarian, a curated collection of children’s books that takes into account children’s reading levels, interests and language and an inviting space. We support libraries to bring all three together.

What is the region-wise data for the aforementioned project?
At present, Tata Trusts’ Parag initiative supports 600 libraries across eight states in various capacities, reaching out to 40,000 children. These include Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Odisha, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka. Most of our work happens in government schools and some of it through community libraries.

How can one access books published by Parag? Is there a website?
The Parag website is being set up and should be ready by September. But books can be accessed through the websites of the various publishers and partners we work with. We do not publish books ourselves and therefore their dissemination is also not done by us.

Please tell us about the achievements of Parag Initiative?
When you are trying to bring about a cultural shift in how reading for pleasure and children’s books are perceived, talking about numbers often seems inadequate. Any real impact will be long term.

Over the past 14 years, the Parag Initiative has supported publishing 420 original children’s books in multiple Indian languages reaching over 20 million children. Parag has published books in nine Indian languages so far and some non-mainstream languages such as Mundari, Bhilori and Pawri.

Two years ago, Parag launched the Riyaaz Academy for Illustrators, which is a one-year professional certificate course to train young illustrators to illustrate for kids books and magazines. The continuing discourse around the need for children’s books and reading for pleasure, that Parag engages in, is perhaps our biggest achievement.

Past (wasn't) Perfect

Fashion designer-author, Wendell Rodricks in his second book Poskem — Goans in the Shadows, writes subtly about the horrors of child labour and documents history

He is known as the ‘Guru of Minimalism’, when it comes to his designs and style. We can also say the same for his stories — Wendell Rodricks’ second book, Poskem — Goans in the Shadows (published by Om Books International), tells the tales of his four protagonists simply but empathetically, drawing us into their tales of pathos, revenge and small joys. Wendell weaves a masterful story of the island state that we, as tourists, are perhaps not aware of. His writing is complemented by the late Mario Miranda’s illustrations. We caught up with the fashion designer-author in between the book’s launch parties. Excerpts:

How long did the idea simmer in your mind before putting pen to paper?
I think it must have been a decade ago that the idea of writing about the Poskim (Poskem is female, Posko is male and Poskim is plural) germinated. I had a Poskem who lived opposite my house, and when Rosa passed away, I promised at her coffin that I would write about the Poskim people.

Were all these stories a culmination of the tales that you had heard in your growing-up years?
A combination of both. I did not know the meaning of Poskim when growing up. I thought it meant a servant. When I grew up, my mother told me what the word meant and I was horrified at the thought that wealthy families adopted children who were later used as labour for the home.

Are you glad that the Poskim tradition has died a natural death, because of laws, changing social mores, etc?
There are still some Poskim in Goa. In fact, I received an email from a lady who is a Poskem and wants to meet me to tell her story. I hope to meet. With this book, I hope the tradition dies forever.

Did you study the part on Baghdadi Jews/ Moira Jews, Goan-African unions?
I know my Goan history well. There was no need to research that part about the Jews and Africans in Goa.

Is Rosa, the Poskem, the same Tia Rosa whose culinary skills you’ve described in Mita Kapur’s food anthology Chilies and Porridge?
Both Rosas have no connection at all. One was a fictional aunt and the other is a real Poskem.

Can you explain the bit about Poskim being good cooks, but lacked the skills of the elite society, like playing the piano?
It depended on the situation. Some loved to cook. Others were taught other skills. In my book, which is fiction based on factual happenings, three Poskim have a good life, one suffers. But eventually all are victorious in their own way. Their connection was food... in my mind. Food was the link between the four siblings.

The decades that you mentioned — how the story unfolds in the lives of Alda, Nascimento, Sita and Lianne — are they important years in Goa’s social and historical fabric?
Those decades are important to Goa. We look back with what the Goans call ‘saudades’; a bitter sweet memory and nostalgia. After Goa became a part of India, things changed dramatically in every way — from the people and cultural to the physical landscape. I personally yearn for the days when I was growing up in a very innocent Goa. When I wrote Poskem... it took me back to those days.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Get, set for the past

On a simplistic level, Sita — Warrior of Mithila — is a reinterpretation of the consort of Lord Ram, giving her character more heft. However, the subtext is deeply political. Not the petty, narrow political wheeling-dealing, but debating the ills that we grapple with, offering us the egalitarian point of view which was the hallmark of our ancient past.

‘Imbalance’ is the core of Amish’s second book in the Ram Chandra Series. And, to address and correct the ‘imbalance’ are the two protagonists and also Vishnu-in-partnership, Ram and Sita. This version tells Sita’s story beginning from the apaharan and then going back to her birth and gurukul, discussions with Guru Vishwamitra, and her skill of archery and wielding the lathi. The warrior in the title is clearly justified and challenges the popular image of Sita as a meek and submissive woman.

In the book, it says that most of our history is oral. And, it is so because it can be changed to suit the changing circumstances of society. So we ask Amish, in which stage of history was Sita’s popular image conceived?

“In the original Valmiki version, Sita is not a warrior. But she is a very strong character. She is very clear about what she wants, she is very clear about what dharma is and will fight for it. The ancient versions of Puranas and the epics tell us that there was equality between men and women. The versions that were written in the late medieval period and onwards painted a less equal relationship. I think that happened because when a society suffers from a lot of violence, it tends to become patriarchal. And, India has faced a lot of violence for the last few centuries,” explains Amish.

He goes on to add that societies become patriarchal because women can compete with men in almost every area, except in the area of violence. “That is because they don’t have too much of testosterone and their bodies are smaller. So they find it difficult. The Arab world today is patriarchal. But 1,200-1,300 years ago, they were actually quite equal.

The Arab world suffered a lot of horrific invasions. Turks and Mongols who destroyed us, went and destroyed them. The Arabs haven’t had independence for more than 700 years and since there was a lot of violence, they have become more patriarchal. We have been a peaceful society for the last 70 years, so it’s time we revived our ancient, more equal society,” he adds.

Equality and meritocracy, the recurring debate in our present socio-political system, finds voice in Sita. These are the issues which Amish is passionate about and so they are woven into his stories. Says he,

“The stories that I write may be set in an ancient era, but I write of things that I am passionate about. And, I am passionate about India. I love my country. To me, true love also means that you point out things which are wrong and have to be improved. We have to speak about the ills which ail our society. I don’t believe in the present caste-system hierarchy based on birth; that’s against our ancient culture. And, so is the inequality between man and woman and inequality between people who are born here. I believe that anyone who is born in the country and wishes to do something for its progress, is ours.”

That’s what the partnership of the two Vishnus — Ram and Sita — also hopes to achieve through their rule. So, who in the present day, can become those Vishnus and lead us on the right path of idealism and pragmatism?

Amish declines a straight answer saying that he has never worn his political beliefs on his sleeve. On being pressed, the authors of The Immortals of Meluha, says, “I never comment on politics and I don’t support any political party openly. But I comment on social issues and I am passionate about India. I believe that we are a lucky generation; it’s not very often that we see a country of this scale rising. We are a lucky generation that’s going to see it and even be a part of it. We will all make our contribution towards it. It’s a privilege.”

In ancient India with which Amish has an affinity, even if the countrymen had differences of opinion, they were welcome because the ultimate goal — the good of the country — mattered. “Accepting someone’s strengths and weakness is a nuanced approach. That’s the ancient Indian way. That’s how it should be now” he says.

This approach also reflects in the book and the way his characters are etched. Ravan, the third book in the Ramchandra Series is already being written. And, will try to show Ravan as a complete person — his intellect, his strength, warrior skills and his fallacies. “The biggest lesson that we can learn from Ravana is to keep our egos in control. In Shaivaite Purana too, a nuanced approach towards Ravana is seen. We can’t be simplistic and believe that Asuras are all dark skinned people with horns. That’s not how Asuras and Devas were described in the Puranas. Asuras were fair-skinned, while the Devas were dark-skinned too. Lord Shiva is touted to be a Dravidian God, but he is fair-skinned. Lord Ram and Lord Krishna are dark skinned. No one is completely black, or white,” Amish makes a point.

So in the next book, do we see him making the biggest revelation — that Sita is Ravan’s daughter? “No...No. There is a Malaysian version that says so. But at least I have not come across any Indian version that says ‘Sita is Ravan’s daughter’,” he clarifies.

But, Amish tells us, and everyone who has read the second book will know, that he has left clues for us to guess Sita’s identity and parentage. “Go through the text and think of Sanskrit roots of various names which hint at deer. What does Mrigasya mean?” Ponder over this readers and you will know if you cracked it when the book on Ravan is out in 2018!

Personal and Political

Omar Zafarullah’s A Hundred Journeys — Stories of My Fatherland is a sane commentary on Pakistan and consequently India too. Born in 1971, the watershed year in Pakistan’s political history, Zafarullah has written about his country, warts and all, for his children to understand where they come from.

A part memoir and part living manual, the book traces his family’s history, its migration from Ropar in Punjab, British India in 1910, to Gojra in the present-day Pakistan.

Zafarullah’s A Hundred Journeys, brought out by Rupa, is an ode to the author’s father and also recalls the indomitable spirit of his grandmother, Maaji, and the British India’s policies, which gave his family a chance to lift themselves out of poverty. Excerpts from an email chat...

Does the title A Hundred Journeys have any reference to Quran? And, why the ‘Stories of my Fatherland?’
The story traces the history of my father’s family; a major incentive for me was to explain better to my kids about my father whom they have never seen; I felt this was something they needed to know in order to complete their perception of who they are. This book is really an indirect ode to my father. Hence, Fatherland.

The title has nothing to do with the Quran. The book has nothing to do with it either. I travel a lot. There is also a chapter called a Hundred Journeys in the book. And there is a line in the book that ‘a hundred journeys began’ towards Gojra when news of my father’s death spread. That is its genesis.

It began as a working title. In the end, Rupa did not give me any time to think of something better and they thought it was fine — so that is that.

In the book, you have said that many of your friends and relatives don’t want to listen to the argument that Taliban is the cause of the nation’s woes. How do you think the book will be received in Pakistan?
Most people had decided that the woes in our country are the result of a grand Western plan to destabilise the world’s only Muslim nuclear power and the Taliban are only a small symptom of this larger disease. So, for most of my friends, the US is the cause of all our woes. I want to know what they will have to say on the book. I have not discussed it with them yet.

I have no idea how the book will be received in Pakistan. I am just as curious as you are about this. I have told my family to be prepared for any outcome. I touch upon some foundational issues which are ingrained in our patriotism. But these are artificial constructs which cannot sustain themselves against the forces of common sense; which will eventually prevail.

Pakistan is in flux. We are constantly trying to figure a way out of our morass. And we will find our way out. This book will be received well when we have figured this out. But that is the future. Today, will this book be received well or will it be disparaged as yet another Western ploy? I cannot tell.

Have your kids, Hyder and Maya, read the book? What’s their feedback?
Maya has read the first page and the dedication. She is seven. She wants me to tell her how my father died. Hyder is reading it now. He is 13. He says he has read about a third and he feels the quality of my writing is up to his standards; if I tried, I could be as good as Rick Riordan, he says. He has given me a small thumbs up for encouragement.

Since these subjects are discussed quite often in our home, I think he has a good idea where the book is going. I will ask him again after he finishes it.

Have you been to Ropar with Hyder and Maya to learn more about your roots?
Nope. I came to Chandigarh for the semi final of the 1996 World Cup of Cricket. My sister has been to Amritsar a few times, but travel to India has dried up in the past decade or so.

The book is about your family’s history in the changing landscape of Pakistan. But there are no pictures of the family or the city/country. Was that deliberate?
Yes it was, now that you mention it. It is quite perceptive of you to bring this out. No photos can quite capture the pictures in the mind; the light and the shadow of memories in the dark.

What is your dream for Pakistan? How do you want it to be for the kids to live in?
Safe. Equal. Free. Jazzy. Confident. Cool.

Would India be of any aid to Pakistan’s well-being?
Of course. Good question. We are fighting India’s fight on its Western borders; A buffer state keeping the insecurity of the Middle East and of Central Asia at bay. India can help Pakistan by ratcheting down its rhetoric; by working jointly on fixing Afghanistan; by affording our politicians the room to negotiate an honourable peace; by allowing democratic Pakistani voices to be heard in Indian cities; by playing Pakistani dramas and music on its media; by allowing more travel. The costs of these moves are small; the gains are manifold.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Emulate these heroes

The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and the US Consulate General, Mumbai, are organising Green Heroes Film Festival in Mumbai on Tuesday. This programme will recognise individuals and organisations who work relentlessly at grassroots level to protect the environment in their neighbourhood and communities.

As part of this effort, TERI identified Green Heroes in five cities in western India — Ahmedabad, Indore, Mumbai, Panjim and Pune — and enabled up-and-coming storytellers to make films on the initiatives of Green Heroes through workshops in each of these cities. The programme has resulted in 22 insightful, heart-warming short films on the heroes who are working in diverse fields such as forest and water conservation, composting, wildlife protection, waste management and clean energy.

Four of them are from Pune — Jeevit Nadi Foundation, Sunil and Priya Bhide, R Cube, Charity Store and Sharad Shinde from Mawal.

Three Green Heroes share their stories with us:

Cause of a river
A group of Punekars are working to ensure that the Mula-Mutha river and its eco-system thrives and the future generations be a part of it. For the first few years, Punekars, now formed into a group called Jeevit Nadi, spread awareness about the importance of saving our rivers from pollutants. In the following years, along with actual work there has been awareness too.

Shailaja Deshpande of Jeevit Nadi Foundation, says, “From last year, we are concentrating on awareness+action programmes. Our first programme is toxic-free lifestyle and promoting bio-degradable products. Various studies have shown that 70 per cent pollution of Mula-Mutha is domestic, while industrial waste amounts to 30 per cent. This tells us that individuals can rectify the mistake. So now we are meeting with corporates, visiting colleges. We are telling them that there are two bio-degradable products that they can use. One is toilet cleaners and another is floor cleaners. This will reduce the pollution and also reduce the load on Sewage Treatment Plans (STPs).”

The members are also promoting Mission Ground Water actively in Aundh, Pashan, Baner areas. Plus they are also networking with other organisations to drive this cause.

“The second awareness+action programme is building an app, which will tell people who are buying land, to know whether it falls under Blueline and Redline areas (areas which encroach on the river bed),” adds Deshpande.

Their third action plan is ‘adopt a stretch’. “If the river/ stream/ rivulet flows through your neighbourhood, people should come together to start a clean-up activity. We want people — individuals, corporates, Ganesh mandals and temple trusts — to take ownership of that particular stretch,” she explains.

The foundation also focuses on riparian vegetation. Riparian vegetation means the grass, bushes, shrubs, trees that grow alongside the river bank. “This vegetation is the association between ground and water. It recharges ground water and provides support to the river body,” adds Deshpande. Next, the members have also approached schools to include ‘river’ in their curriculum. “That means, the students can study the river and its eco-system. Make projects which will be a part of their science and environment subject. The students will thus be involved with their eco-system,” she points out.
(The film is called Jeevit Nadi)

The urban agriculturists
The outside temperature hovers between 40 and 42 degrees Centigrade. But inside the home of Priya Bhide, it’s 3-4 degrees cooler. It’s all due to the efforts of the Bhide family, who enjoy physical labour, and therefore do not have TV and AC installed in their home. Says Bhide, “We are urban agriculturists. More like waste managers. We collect dry leaves, vegetable waste, segregate them, create compost and use it for our plants on terrace. This is our main season of work — from November to May. Our neighbours send us some 20 gunny sacks filled with leaves and waste. We haul it up to our terrace. That’s our idea of enjoyment. We enjoy physical labour.”

Priya Bhide’s terrace garden is teeming with vegetables
The former physiotherapist, Bhide, currently, is involved in guiding people who want to set up similar gardening, composting or waste management projects.

“Many people in Bhandarkar Road and nearby areas are into urban agriculture. Then, there are people from other cities, who too want to change their lifestyles for the better and need tips. I make presentations, attend phone calls, reply to emails and also write for a Marathi daily on how to create your own green corner,” she adds.

Bhide has taken up waste management and gardening project on a bigger scale, but her advice to beginners is to take baby steps. “You feel reassured and satisfied only when you see results. And, that takes time,” says she.

Constantly innovating and following a green lifestyle, the Bhides use drained water for their terrace garden. “Every year, we hear and read stories of drought and water scarcity. We require a good amount of water for our terrace gardens. So we collect drained water from the bathroom, washbasins in a storage tank. We pull it up to the terrace via a pump, where it’s filtered and then used to water the plants. In this way, we use about 1000 litres of drained water for our garden,” explains Bhide.

She also points out that they haven’t faced any problems because of their large terrace garden — no mosquito menace, etc. “Only before monsoon, we ensure that the drains at home are not choked with leaves,” she adds.
(The film on Sunil and Priya Bhide is called Green Soil)

Don’t be a consumerist
A father, waiting to pick up his daughter from a birthday party, to kill time, enters a mall. A few minutes later, he walks out with a shopping bag, filled with items worth Rs 800. That man is architect Prashant Shah.

Someone who is always conscious about energy issue, Shah was stunned with his impulsive shopping. “I didn’t need half the stuff that I bought. That happens with most of us. Strategically placed eye-catching objects in a mall or store lure us and we end up buying them. We hoard stuff in our cupboards and wardrobes and then they are hauled up to the loft because of lack of space,” explains Shah.

That incident and two other connected episodes set Shah thinking. And, he started Rcube, a Charity Store, which believes in Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

“I was once giving a lecture and quoted a principle of Jainism — Aparigraha — which means ‘less is more’. It means that what is in excess should be given away, shared, distributed. A lady in the audience asked, ‘Give it away where, to whom?’ That set me thinking. And, then when I was travelling in the UK, I came across many charity stores on high streets. The West is admirably ahead of us in ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ philosophy,” he says.

Five years ago, Shah started Rcube in Mayur Colony. “People can donate clothes, books, toys, appliances in good condition. And, those who can’t afford actual goods, can buy them from this store at nominal price,” adds Shah.

His only wish is that more such stores open up in Pune, so that the gap between the haves and have-nots is bridged. To this effect, Shah sends a WhatsApp message every Saturday to his group. For instance, he says, how a t-shirt is manufactured. He provides a graphic of the assembly line — from where the cotton is produced to the end product. “There is so much of energy and cost involved. We can’t afford to turn a blind eye to this. Do you really need 40 pair of shoes? Or 50 pairs of shirts and trousers? Think about it,” he concludes.
(The film on Prashant Shah and Rcube is called Aparigriha)

‘She never flickered as a human being’

Photojournalist Raghu Rai’s camera trailed Mother Teresa for five decades. In his pictorial biography, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, you get to see the iconic images of the lady who was mother to all

The diminutive figure draped in a white saree with a blue border was a personification of compassion and love. She continues to be so even after her death. In his pictorial biography, Saint Teresa of Calcutta — A Celebration of Her Life & Legacy, (brought out by Aleph Book Company) photojournalist Raghu Rai captures the story of Mother Teresa and the work of Missionaries of Charity.

Rai’s camera was a witness to the daily and eventful happenings in the life of Mother and did its job faithfully, adhering to instructions of Mother — to respect the dignity of the poorest of the poor.

Divided into three sections — The Canonization of Mother Teresa, Her Life and Work and Her Legacy, the book also has an appendix with a chronology of events in Mother’s life.

The book, which is scattered with quotes of Mother, doesn’t have captions. Says Rai, “The book doesn’t give individual captions to the pictures because they are fairly self-explanatory. I also feel a successful picture doesn’t need any crutches, any words to explain itself.”

Excerpts from the conversation:
It was in 1970s that you first met Mother Teresa. Can you remember the moment?
In 1970, one of my editors at Statesman, Desmond Doig — a very prolific writer, designer, artist — rang me up in Delhi saying, “Raghu, I have met a great lady. And you have to come and photograph her.” I had a lot of respect for Desmond, his understanding, so I went to Calcutta and I met Mother Teresa in 1970.

The best part is that the Mother I met in 1970 and the Mother who left us in 1997 was the same ordinary, compassionate, loving mother. She never flickered as a human being. For me, her spiritual powers never dimmed.

How did you establish a connection with her? For someone who was so involved with her mission, did she find your camera intrusive?
Yes, she found my camera intrusive. Always. That was the only problem I had with her. After I had taken a few pictures, she would look at me and say, ‘Oh, I think you have taken enough pictures.’ How could I tell her that they were not enough?

When I turned up after a few months to take more photos, she would say, ‘You have come again. But we are in prayer’. So then I told her, ‘Mother, you have your way of praying. My way of praying is when I take pictures and capture the magic.’ She replied, ‘Oh dear, it’s nice. Do your work’.

You formed a lifelong association with her. Did that lead to exchange of confidences?
Mother was an open book and she did what she thought was necessary for the most ordinary, poorest of poor. But sometimes, she would wonder, ‘Oh my God! There is so much to do and I don’t have so much strength and resources to serve Him’. We never discussed personal lives.

What were your impressions of Calcutta as seen by the Mother?
In the book, there are several pages devoted to life in Calcutta — images of people sleeping in the open; one topless woman sitting in the middle of a street. The poverty was visible on footpath, on streets. These scenes disturbed her and inspired her to do what she did. Calcutta was the place which ignited her compassion and to do seva of the poorest of the poor. Toh yeh saari batein mein Mother ke saath jiya hua hun.

Abroad, people think of India as a land that has ailing and malnourished people, especially from the photographs that are showcased there. In your book, have you portrayed the ailing and suffering in a different light?
You know, people come with different sets of ideas and you can’t really challenge the understanding that they have of India. One thing which Mother told me in the beginning was: ‘Please remember one thing Raghu Rai, when you take pictures, the dignity and respect of the poorest of the poor has to be reflected in them. Unless you portray the sensitivity and care that we are giving them, in the images, you can’t shoot pictures when they are lying naked, filthy and painful’.

Have you gone back to Missionaries of Charity and seen the present-day work?
Before Mother was canonised, I was in Calcutta and I spent time visiting her Homes all over the city again. I was surprised to find that they were run more efficiently. Also, the presence of Mother was everywhere; in the sense that some portrait of Mother is looking down at you from the wall; there is her statue or bust. There were also some pictures that I had clicked.

I went to Old People’s Home in Kalighat and there was Mother. I went to Children’s Home — Shishu Bhavan and I see a statue of Mother, looking down at the babies. Then I went to Prem Dan where the leprosy patients are hosted. Her statue was there. I have photographed her Homes, showing her presence everywhere.

How many photographs went into the book? What sort of archival methods did you employ?
The book is about 150 pages and it has 130 photographs or so. I am not a very good archival person, but luckily, some of the important negatives were kept away, in safe place. So thanks to digital technology, we scanned and touched them, and they were then ready to print.

Did the newsworthy images go into the book?
No, it’s not really news images or journalistic images. But more humane photographs, that bring out the suffering of the ordinary people and the concern of the Mother and Missionaries of Charity for them.

When you heard about her demise, what thoughts crowded your mind?
When she passed away, in September 1997, it was pouring that day and the next day as well. But thousands of people stood in the queue to have her last darshan. Because she was Mother to all. Some people might say she was Christian and bringing more people into her faith, but the love and care she gave and the way she touched the hearts of everybody, it was quite touching to watch.

A toast to the coast

For someone who takes a long time in opening up, chatting up random people in the queue while boarding the ferry from Dabhol-Dhopave and then to Tawsal-Jaigad, surprisingly became easy. Away from prying, judgemental eyes, it seemed perfectly natural to lie down in the shade of a shut kirana shop or walk barefoot on the cool grass. Sitting on a blue tarpulin sheet under a makeshift bamboo roof, it was easier to understand a farm hand’s woes about the ‘winter’ in Konkan which spoils the fruit crop.

Two Health Departments workers wait for passengers with kids at Tavsal jetty

These impromptu halts, while doing a l00-km run on a daily basis for six days along the coastal Maharashtra, were postcards to myself; the images were familiar, but they were dipped in different hues. When you are working in a newsroom, you are inundated mostly with stats and a not-so-rosy picture of the world around you. This is not to say that what we saw during this trip from Alibaug to Goa was free of dark clouds. However, they mostly came with a silver lining.

The village kids show us their catch -- the crabs -- which they are going to sell at the market

The journey
While travelling to Dive Agar, to join the cyclists whom I was assisting on their ride, I boarded an MSRTC bus from Swargate. After a certain point, I chaffed at the bus’ slow speed, its frequent halts, until it struck me that it wasn’t easy driving the bus around the winding ghats with four-wheelers racing down from the opposite direction. Amongst my companions in the bus were students from Mangaon, Shrivardhan etc, who were studying in Pune. For them and all those village folk who had to visit Pune for work, the bus was their only link with the city.

Later, when I was following the cyclists in the back-up car, we spotted a few boats at a picturesque spot. I alighted from the car, to take a few pics. A lad came running (perhaps to join his friends). When I asked if I could click his photo, he was thrilled and although I couldn’t share it because it was clicked on an SLR camera, he was happy to see his image, exclaiming to his friends, “Aye! Maza photo aala bagh!”

He and his merry friends then decided to treat me and a friend with crabs. “Take a look!” they urged. The group of kids was going to sell the crabs at the market.

At the jetty, we met two women from the state health department. The jetty was their halt to administer polio drops to babies who were holidaying with their parents. At the arrival of each ferry, they would single out parents with babies, administer the drops to the tots, while cooing and consoling them. It was work and we don’t know if it was pleasure to them.

The experiences
On the way to Achara, while waiting for the cyclists to show up, I dozed off on the veranda of a shop, but was not completely oblivious to the happenings around. A group of school girls was cackling away at the bus stop, without bothering to discuss the ‘stranger’ in their midst. None of the two-wheeler commuters slowed down, no catcalls.

On waking up, my eyes fell on a blackboard announcing ‘Dashavtar’ festival, a traditional theatrical performance based on the Puranas which is one of the interesting features of Konkan. It was organised by autorickshaw owners of Munge village. Dish and Cable TV has its own charm, but getting together and watching a theatrical performance gets the entire village grooving. May be, I shall make time for it the next time I go visiting.

On the last leg of our journey, things could have gone haywire. That day, all the shops, restaurants were shut in Sindhudurg district. A meeting of the merchants was on in a neighbouring town and to show their solidarity, all the shop owners had downed their shutters. We managed to convince one ‘dada’ of Parule village to open his chai-nashta dukan and feed us hot Vadas, steaming cups of chai and Konkani Misal. He served this with a toothless grin and a 1 rupee coin stuffed in his left ear.

In Vengurle, another 60 km away, Ashok Vengurlekar offered to prepare maase thali (fish thali) for the cyclists who were due to reach in an hour or so. Vengurlekar also went out of his way to help this writer send an important email. The internet cafes there were shut, so the guy offered us his relative’s scooter and asked us to follow him to the tehsildar’s office. Unfortunately, there was network problem. Not giving up, the gentleman asked a printer friend of his to let us use his computer and send the mail.

It’s gestures like these that make India incredible and leave you with warm memories of the place made special by unselfish people.

One with the tribe

What makes a home? The people, of course. And also the surroundings. Can a house made of cement and concrete find itself in harmony with the greenery around in a forested area? Not really. Gone are the days when every region had its unique architecture, suiting the landscape and lending it an exclusivity. For instance, Konkan was known for its chiryachi ghara (red brick houses) and Marathwada for its dhabyachi ghara (flat-roofed houses). Now, these structures are few and far between. Cement and glass constructions have mushroomed both in rural and urban landscapes. We have gone wrong trying to bring in a ‘homogeneous’ look, and, more importantly, ignoring the region’s climatic conditions.

The house of a farmer at Palsunda village which won the Design Jatra team HUDCO prize
It was this which acted as a trigger point for architect Pratik Dhanmer when he returned to his village Murbad near Dahanu. “My village consists of 70 houses. In the past, we relied on traditional architecture — like using karvy (reed grass) and bamboo to build them. They grew in plenty in our region. However, in the new constructions, cement was being used. When I objected to it, a villager pointed out, ‘You have lived in a cement house in Mumbai for several years. You have consumed natural resources far more than us. Who are you to tell us where we should live or not?’ That hurt me. But it was also the truth,” explains Dhanmer.

He and his architect friend Shardul Patil, who also hailed from the same region, decided to renovate the latter’s home using traditional architecture. They are now in the process of building Dhanmer’s home using karvy and red bricks. “My old home was 100 per cent made of karvy. In the new construction, the walls and partitions are made of karvy and wood, while the columns are made of red bricks. The foundation is of mud,” he adds.

Dhanmer, Patil and their two friends Anuradha Wakde and Vinita Chiragiya form the core team of Design Jatra — an architectural firm, adhering to Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings. They are all students of Rachana Sansad’s Academy of Architecture, Mumbai.

Work ethics
Dhanmer cites Gandhi’s conversation with architect Laurie Baker on how we should ideally be using the material available within a five km radius of the construction site. “However, we are finding it difficult to construct houses using material within a five km radius. So we have extended it to 20-25 km radius. We are primarily a tribal village, so we want our construction to meet their needs. A tribal earns Rs 200 as daily wages. So how can he pay Rs 350 for a bag of cement? He then gets caught in a debt trap. Plus, cement curing requires a lot of water. We don’t have enough water resources, so the process of cement curing isn’t done properly. That results in poor quality construction and in a year or two, the houses collapse,” he adds.

Tribal life
Having observed the tribals closely in Jawahar and Palghar districts (near Mumbai), Dhanmer and his friends realised that their work shouldn’t disrupt their natural way of life. “The tribals have an organic way of living. They toil in the fields and live in homes made of mud, bricks and stones which are available in plenty. They live in close proximity to nature. So why burden them with extra funds?” he asks.

The Design Jatra: (from left) Shardul Patil, Anuradha Wakde, Vinita Chiragiya and Pratik Dhanmer
City-based architect, Mayukh Gosavi, who has also collaborated with Design Jatra in the past, says, “The walls of tribal homes are made of kud or karvy. The dried, long, slender reeds are woven into a mat, which becomes a wall panel. Over this panel a thin layer of mud and cow dung is applied. Cow dung stabilises the structure. In about two years, the wall partitions decay. Instead of wasting them, the tribals use them in the field, where it decomposes into manure. This manure is used in growing crop.”

The tribals are also fond of their animals and want to live in close proximity to them. And, unlike us urban dwellers, they are not comfortable with the idea of toilets at home. “I think their needs and beliefs have to reflect in the architecture. The Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana (PMAY earlier known as Indira Awaas Yojana) didn’t take these realities into account,” adds Gosavi.

The Design Jatra team was appointed as sub-consultant to PMAY and they have also signed a contract with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to build low-cost houses within a limited budget. “PMAY offers Rs 1 lakh for the beneficiary — families living below poverty line. If we use modern technology, they get a 267 or 270 sq ft (approx) house. Most villagers are reluctant to live in small homes. Plus, many districts in Maharashtra are drought-prone. So cement construction is doomed from the beginning. A farmer in Palsunda village had approached us with his brief of building a small house, but not like the ones constructed under the government scheme. So we used mud, bricks from his old home, and brick and mortar locally available and constructed the house. Many of his neighbours too joined in, thus making it a community project,” explains Gosavi.
“The house,” adds Dhanmere, “gave us the second prize from HUDCO for designing low cost houses. That was a start we were looking for and now we have built six such 1,500 sq ft houses.”

The team members of Design Jatra, who call themselves ‘social architects’, have turned their attention to creating sustainable living. “We have realised that people are not averse to the old way of living. It’s just that the resources are dying, because of ignorance and lack of dependency on them. There is no good utilisation of wood, because forests are being cut down. So we formed two self-help groups in the village and have been encouraging villagers to turn to community farming, steering them away from using chemical fertilisers and eventually taking up forestation. This is our long-term plan,” says Dhanmer.

The group has also coordinated with Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation (BAIF) and procured 50 native rice varieties to be grown by the villagers. They are also working on a native seed bank and motivating village women for backyard farming.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Border-line syndrome

The news of Indian soldiers mutilated by the Pakistani army has set off a fresh wave of protests among the countrymen. The daughter of Head Constable of Border Security Force, Prem Sagar, wants 50 Pakistanis to be beheaded as revenge for her father’s death. A long round of Pakistan bashing and war-hate will occupy the news space for a few days to come. In the midst of this, a few peaceniks, like Tehmina Dadyseth, will try to talk about people and humanism.

Before the hate mail for Tehmina starts, here’s a disclaimer. She is the heroine of Anuja Chauhan’s Baaz, a war romance, if one can categorise it. Daughter of a retired General, Tehmina aka Tinka, doesn’t support war. Her love interest, Ishaan Faujdaar (Shaanu), is a flying officer in the Indian Air Force. Quite like ‘maverick’ (Tom Cruise in Top Gun), he believes in his duty to the nation. Until his and Tinka’s views clash and, make us, the readers, squirm.

Unlike her other books, which too had an element of conflict in the plotline, Chauhan’s Baaz is different. It captures the spirit of what is happening now. Around us. The war hyperbole, nationalism and patriotism debate is in the book, with an insight into what the armed forces think about the conflicts across the border.

Set around the 1971 Indo-Pak war (Liberation of Bangladesh), Baaz makes you yearn for love and think of the world as one.

Excerpts from conversation with the author:
When did you actually write the book? It reminded us of Gurmehar Kaur controversy and the nationalism debate which is being discussed, dissented now.
I actually put fingers to keyboard in February 2016. And finished the first draft on November 30 of the same year. Then, there was some editing feedback and consultation with a military expert. So, yes, it happened before the whole Gurmehar blow-up, but I think those concerns have been very much a part of our national debate in the last couple of years. In fact, those issues are always relevant, aren’t they? Rabindranath Tagore believed that there is something higher than the concept of National Identity and that is Humanity.

Which side of the debate are you on?
I believe very strongly in speaking softly and carrying a big stick. The defence services are our big stick — it’s important that they be absolutely battle-ready at every moment — fit, trained, highly motivated, well-armed and well-provisioned. But it’s equally important that we deal with our neighbours with kindness and mutual respect.

Did the tone write out itself? Was it going to be a love story between Indian Air Office officer and a Pakistani girl?
No, there was never any Pakistani girl! This is a book about India and Indians — the soul-searching we all go through as citizens and soldiers. The central conflict, the thing that attracted me to this setting, was the differences between the ideologies of Tinka and Shaanu. She, who has seen the havoc war can wreak (her brother is a dead fauji) is essentially a pacifist and he, a boy from a small Haryana village, totally seduced by the sexy flying machines of his dreams and can’t wait to go to war.

And, how does it feel to be back with HarperCollins after a fling with Westland?
It feels great — I loved Westland too — they have two of my books (The Zoya Factor and The House that BJ built), and also all my titles in six Indian languages. The quest is always to find a wider audience, and that again, is what has bought me back to Harper at the moment.