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Last Word Mallika Sarabhai
Rwanda's forgivers
Five women from Rwanda, all awarded the Unesco peace prize in 1996, stood tall and with pride tinged with immense grief. I was there in Paris to perform my piece on violence, V For..., for the award ceremony. The women had just spent two years after the horrendous genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutus-8,00,000 people were raped, hunted, murdered, burnt, tortured and rendered homeless. The women...
Yours unfaithfully
In his 1995 book Trust, the political scientist Francis Fukuyama argued that economic prosperity tends to flourish in societies where business relationships can operate informally, on a ‘my word is my bond’ basis, while backed up by law. Both parties are able to work on the assumption that, for example, goods will be delivered and paid for. In societies where an individual has strong...
The invisible stories
Last month I coughed more than I breathed. And in that state I had to travel to Delhi to honour a commitment made to Khabar Lahariya. I tried excusing myself but their insistence and my desire to keep my word gave me the strength to travel. Though it left me physically tired, I came back energised. And I want to use this space to tell their inspiring story that may not otherwise reach you.When I...
Forgotten songbird
This year, on May 19, our aunt Amita Sen would have turned one hundred. She died in 1940, six days after her 26th birthday. Neither of us ever met her; however, she had been a significant presence in the family, even for those who entered by marriage. Amita’s life story is important to recall today, not only because we share the family’s pride in the remarkable achievements of her...
Missing ethical compass
When the Tarun Tejpal story was being played out in 70mm and 3D throughout the country, I was once again left asking myself where the truth was in a story of molestation between two adults who knew each other well. If there were no witnesses, how would one emphatically accept one person’s word against another? What if both were drunk? What if there were other mitigating circumstances?A...
Breaking United Kingdom
The United Kingdom may be facing partition later this year, when the people of Scotland vote on whether or not to become independent. As so often in history, the larger power, in this case England, is not taking the idea too seriously. But it may be in for a rude shock if separation becomes a reality. In terms of population, we would not be losing too many of our fellow citizens-a little over 8...
A dramatic experiment
When someone ventures into a new terrain, there are always questions and also admiration for the brave. The more the world plays safe and becomes straitjacketed, the greater is the need for innovations. And they are exciting even when they are not revolutionary and simply deviations from the well-trodden path.Cineplay is one such experiment. It is a new form that cinematically captures theatre...
Health care heroes
The Medico Friend Circle (MFC) recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary. A small group, it is not very well known except among those who share its passionate commitment to pro-people alternatives in health care.The members and fellow travellers of the MFC have contributed their own, often meagre, resources (no sponsorships allowed) for the publication of a bulletin that contains their...
Figures tell a tale
Anywhere one turns today, the Gujarat Growth Model is being flaunted. Be it in the print media or on television, in debates or on hoardings, the development of Gujarat is getting five gold stars. Most of the readers of this magazine, too, buy into it. So it is time to look a little beyond the hype and into the actual statistics of this model. (All the figures quoted in this piece are from...
An attack that never happened
A blogger from an obscure web site recently landed an unlikely scoop about Operation Blue Star, the bungled military raid on the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984. Using official documents released accidentally to Britain’s National Archives, Phil Miller revealed that an officer from the Special Air Service, an elite special forces regiment, had visited Delhi in February 1984 to draw up a...
Anna, Mina, Barcelona
I write this on my way home after finishing the second and final leg of the film, Traces of Sandalwood (working title), directed by Maria Ripoll. We shot the film over the past few months in Mumbai and Barcelona. I cannot help marvelling that the two cities that seem so different have many common threads. For one, both never sleep—although the Catalans do love their afternoon siesta, which...
Baul of fire
It is that time of the year again when rural Bengal (both in West Bengal and Bangladesh) comes alive with the Baul melas. It coincides with Makar sankranti, which is celebrated by preparing a variety of pitha (rice-based sweets and savouries) at home and also by taking part in Baul gatherings. Birbhum and Nadia in West Bengal and Kushtia and Jessore in Bangladesh play host to the best Baul...
Lowering the Bar
Anima Murayath is probably bemused at the national headlines she has captured. The young newly-minted lawyer from Kozhikode, Kerala, has been debarred for a month from the 125-year-old Calicut Bar Association and has become probably the first lawyer in India to be so treated because of a truthful Facebook post.Having joined the legal profession seven months ago, she started getting irritated and...
Squabbles with Uncle Sam
The rapid dip in the Indo-US relationship in the wake of the arrest last December of diplomat Devyani Khobragade represents a return to the norm—for most of independent India's history, America has been seen as a villain. When Bill Clinton became the first US president to visit India in more than two decades in 2000, his effigy was burnt in Delhi. One of the protesters, Swami Agnivesh,...
Get your own safetipin
Last year has been a watershed in the attention that violence against women has drawn. While largely an urban phenomenon, the uproars have brought to the fore what many of us women have experienced first-hand. The threat we face is all too common—a perpetrator can be lurking anywhere, anytime. A scary thought for every woman, in any place, of any age. And, unfortunately, the burden of...
Tagore, 2014 edition
In these times of hyped-up national assertion with statues, runs and rhetoric, it may be interesting to review Rabindranath Tagore’s engagement with issues of the nation and its major social institutions. This has recently been the subject of several books and journal articles.Tagore’s anti-imperialist positions, like his return of the knighthood conferred upon him following the...
In the name of culture
My maid has an abusive husband. Over a 22-year marriage, he has broken her ribs, pulled out her hair, put kitchen implements up her vagina and broken an ear drum. When she started working for me five years ago, and I learnt of this, I tried persuading her to file a complaint with the police, and to file for divorce. He is a drunkard and brings in no income. He also lives with another woman and...
Homosexuality is God-given
When the Supreme Court recriminalised male homosexuality on December 11, the foreign media deduced that Indian society remains traditional when it comes to personal relations. According to the BBC, “in deeply conservative India, homosexuality is a taboo and many people still regard same-sex relationships as illegitimate.” This is only half true. Certainly the majority of parents still...
Borderline perceptions
I am writing this as I leave the Wagah border after two glorious days in Lahore. I was there for a conference called the South Asia Conclave that explored 'The Power of Collaboration'. But the conclave seemed mostly an Indo-Pak summit given that more than 80 delegates were from India and barely five from other South Asian countries. But they must have rightly thought that the...
Empty stomachs and infected lungs
The shoddy nature of our public health care system can be illustrated by the national strategies to combat tuberculosis. India is the single largest contributor to the global burden of morbidity, mortality and drug resistance in TB. It affects an estimated 8.5 million Indians annually, with 87,000 cases of multi-drug resistance and 3,70,000 deaths.It is common wisdom that tuberculosis affects the...
Fighting unfair with fair
Will you act in a Malayalam film by the award-winning director T.V. Chandran?” an acquaintance from Thiruvananthapuram asked me on the phone one day in 2000. I had always wanted to be more involved with Kerala, my mother’s state, and was interested in getting back to cinema of a more serious nature. The offer excited me. I immediately showed my enthusiasm to know more but was...
Matrimonial mysteries
I’ve been visiting a country where they have strange, fascinating matrimonial advertisements in the newspaper—the United States of America. I say advertisements, but they are really more like statements where families promote marital alliances that have just been made. The bride and groom, and their parents, usually seem to have high social expectations of each other.Status is all...
In praise of lost causes
Growing up in Delhi, over the years I have seen many protests at Jantar Mantar. It was not unusual to see a passionate bunch, often on hunger strike, screaming, with or without a mike, about causes close to their heart.  Sometimes, the crowds were huge, even thousands, and on occasion, the  ‘unruly elements’ were forcibly dispersed with lathi charge or tear gas. Though most...
Sinister, sickly politics
Watching the Assembly elections unfold in Chhattisgarh after a long gap has been a revealing experience on several counts. There is, of course, the usual flurry of election-related PR exercise: full-page advertisements in major newspapers, leaflets distributed through multiple channels, hoardings at major points in the cities, loved and unloved leaders beaming down at the public from their many...
Hands-off do-gooders
Come April, big corporations in India will be mandated to spend 2 per cent of their profits on being responsible citizens. For many years, they have been spending 1 per cent on being socially responsible, and even this sum adds up to a hefty amount. But, to the best of my knowledge, no large-scale survey has been conducted to view the overall effect of this spending on the nation’s...
For the love of family
An interest in hereditary politics is one of those things, like drinking too much coffee or alcohol, that can easily turn into an addiction. Whenever I notice that a new MP or a chief minister has the same surname as a previous one, I make a mental note—and there is nothing so far about Akhilesh Yadav’s tenure as CM that makes me think he would have got the job if his father had not...
Penny for my thoughts
For a child, money matters little. For me, while growing up, it mattered even less. I never got pocket money, so did not have to worry about managing, spending or saving it. I never saw my parents having any financial considerations in the choices they made. Money was never a talking point at home. Also, words like career and success were not part of our vocabulary and all we were told was,...
They gave no quarter
Director Ranu Ghosh’s movie Quarter number 4/11 has been screened to acclaim at several international film festivals, including the 'OzAsia: India on Screen' festival, in 2012. However, there has been no public screening in India.The film documents the story of Shambhu Singh, a courageous, second- generation migrant worker from Bihar who works in Kolkata’s Jay Engineering...
Lobby of death
I do not believe that smoking is injurious to health. I have a 98-year-old uncle who has smoked cigars for 60 years. His 90-year-old friend smokes 40 cigarettes a day. And I myself have been smoking for the past 30 years and am as fit as a fiddle,” said a friend at a party some years ago. This was after a 30-year battle in the US, starting in the 60s, during which hundreds of thousands of...
America's Iron Curtain
It may be no comfort to hear this, but it's not only people with names like Shahrukh who get driven up the wall by US immigration authorities. In my experience, the Department of Homeland Security strives to be an equal opportunity insulter. I used to think India’s high commission in London in the 1980s was the worst visa issuing authority on earth. There wasn’t a queue, or a...
Every inspiration counts
My whole being often longs to be out in the open, away from the city, close to nature and with rooted people. Thankfully, there is no dearth of such places in the country. So every few weeks, I try to escape with my little son to a place more peaceful and conducive for reflection.Last weekend there was a show of my play in Baroda, so I jumped at the prospect of going to the Vinoba Ashram on the...
Engage the fringe dwellers
The Mumbai gang-rape of a 22-year-old photojournalist, less than a year after the December 16 gang-rape in Delhi, has demonstrated once again that women’s bodies continue to be sites of brutal violence despite all the advances we may have made as a nation. The gravity of the situation can be understood when we recall that these two events were among many others, some of which, like the...
Tied down by traditions and trauma
Khushi is four. She is a bright and smiling girl and always gets top marks in her class. She also invariably gets asked to dress as a fairy for festive occasions by her teacher. She lives with her mother, 20, her maternal uncle, 17, a rickshaw driver without a licence, and her maternal grandmother, 39. Every night, they are also visited by her grandfather, an abusive drunk who takes this...
The Other India
Another week, another story about a foreign woman being harassed in India. This time it was a University of Chicago student who told the CNN web site how she had been stalked on the streets, groped and worse during her stay. She wrote: “This is the story you don’t want to hear when you ask me about India.” Reactions by readers to what she described ranged from sympathetic to...
Learning to unschool
My early July went by in patient sessions in my son’s pre-primary—Saifee, his first step into a school. It is a lovely little place tucked in Walkeshwar, Mumbai. They take children only at 2 years and 9 months, and only if they have not gone to any play-school before. I was told that it was easy to spot those who had hidden this pre condition, as the children were more aggressive than...
The sweet poison
India has the largest number of malnourished people in the world. Various surveys like the third round of the National Family Health Survey have documented the extent of this problem. Among children, one in every two is below the standard weight, and half the deaths are associated with malnutrition. One-third of all adults in the country suffer from chronic hunger. The National Nutrition...
A deadly route
Friday the 26th of July was a red-letter day for many of us. It was the day of the release of the Indian People’s Charter on Nuclear Energy. A clarion call from all of us (and I hope some of you) who truly believe that nuclear power is a deadly route for India to take.Grassroots movements for a safe energy future have been around for close to two decades. Every time there is a disaster, the...
A sepia-tinted visit
Painters, novelists and creative artists often like to convince themselves and other people that they are not in it for the money: the art comes first. This is true, up to a point. Anyone who becomes, say, a sculptor hoping to make a fortune, is likely to be disappointed. But historically, artistic creation has been intimately bound up with economic influence, initially through patrons and more...
Anchored in hope
It is seldom that one writes about something difficult and painful, and yet the experience brings a big smile to one's face. I recently attended the 25th anniversary of Anchorage—a sheltered-workshop where mentally challenged adults earn their dignity through work. Gradually, as a life-space, it now encompasses dance, music, yoga, mathematics and, most importantly, how to be happy.I was...
Reading between the lives
Life accounts of oppressed humans often emerge under literary limelight. Indian languages have a rich tradition in this regard, beginning with remarkable autobiographies like Jina Amucha (The Prisons We Broke), Baby Kamble’s narrative of a Dalit woman’s life, in Marathi. In recent years, two major works in this genre have come from the east. Baby Halder’s Alo Aandhaari (A Life...
Music for healing
I am sitting in a hall with glass windows overlooking the Alps. In front of me are 16 musicians from the Orchestra Solidarite of the Resonnance Foundation in Barcelona, the Spanish branch of the foundation created by my friend and colleague Elizabeth Sombart. The audience of about 300 is made up in equal part by severely disabled adults, young and old, many in wheelchairs, and their minders. We...
North Indian Romans
European travellers in India in previous centuries were prone to compare every place they visited to the country they had left behind. A river in Kashmir might bring back memories of salmon fishing on the River Tweed in Scotland, and the Nilgiris would somehow evoke the Picos de Europa. So, it is with some hesitation that I say nowhere in Europe reminds me of north India quite so much as the city...
A dreamer’s reality
Today I am writing about a dream that my father saw several years ago. A dream of setting up an art centre to preserve and promote the visual arts and crafts. This idealistic intent is best described by Baba, as I call him, but here I will call Jatin Das, JD, “I am deeply inspired by traditional crafts and want them to share the same space as a Chola bronze or a Brancusi, to dissolve the...
From war to peace
The horrific killings of Congress leaders by armed Maoist guerillas that took place at Jiram Ghati in Chhattisgarh on May 25 have drawn the world's attention. The latest victim was Vidya Charan Shukla, who succumbed to his wounds on June 11, at the age of 84. The victims included Nandkumar Patel and his son Dinesh, who were shot in cold blood after being led away. The bodies were found with...
Treat the mother
In 1994, I suddenly found myself in an awkward position. I had spent many years talking about the necessity of sustainable farming, recycling water and using it sparingly, without chemicals. Yet, I hadn’t actually tried what I was preaching. So, I decided to attempt all this myself and acquired the most infertile piece of land I could find in the vicinity of Ahmedabad.Over the next few...
Reflecting ourselves
When public figures get into trouble—ministers, movie stars and officials—they usually move quickly to apportion blame. The most obvious target is the journalists surrounding them, pushing cameras in their faces while they are trying to get out of a car or into a building. The harassed BCCI president N. Srinivasan is no exception: “The media is hounding me. I have already...
El Somni in Barcelona
I have to say, this column allows me to document experiences and process them more deeply, saving many from fading with time. One such recent experience was in Barcelona, where I attended a project called El Somni (The Dream). In less abstract terms, it was about having a 12-course meal prepared by the three Roca brothers, of El Celler de Can Roca, recently named the best restaurant in the world....
The voice that rebelled
Listening to Paul Robeson’s rare recordings of two very special concerts, during a recent visit to the US, was an emotional experience for us. The first concert was at the AME Zion Church in New York on June 1, 1958. It was also his last concert in the US before his passport was restored to him, after nine years of legal struggle and official attempts to erase his singing career. The second...
Single? Not ready to mingle
Anuradha Sengupta in Kolkata and Kiran in Ankleswar are two among the thousands of single women—with or without children, divorced or unmarried—who face rage, hatred and threats of violence on a daily basis from decent, educated middle class people like us. A letter sent to a friend by Anuradha came to me and the horror of it struck me like a bolt. A journalist with a 13-year-old son,...
Sepoys in Flanders
A photo from the time of World War I shows a pair of wounded, bandaged Indian soldiers advancing on crutches along the cobbled streets of Ypres, the Belgian city that was at the heart of some of the worst fighting of that terrible conflict. Last week, I watched a party of workers replacing cobbles on the same roads, a little way up from the Menin Gate, the enormous stone memorial to the British...
Jai Bhim!
Considering I seldom watch the telly, it was strange for me to go for a launch of the 829th channel. Long way to go before it can compete with the 828 that already exist. But here was a young team wanting to make a small difference in the lives of the people of Vidarbha, to start with, then all of Maharashtra and, finally, if it survived the test of time, to those of the entire nation. Awaaz...
Remarkable life, remarkable times
The remarkable life and times of Dr Vinayan have been brought to life in a publication Vinayan: Jeevan, Vichar, Sangharsh brought out by Govind Prasad Sharma and his colleagues on his fifth death anniversary on behalf of the trust created to commemorate the late doctor. The slim collection features some of Vinayan’s own writings—essays, letters, poems, interviews, accounts of his life...
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Last Word  |  Mallika Sarabhai
Rwanda's forgivers
Five women from Rwanda, all awarded the Unesco peace prize in 1996, stood tall and with pride tinged with immense grief. I was there in Paris to perform my piece on violence, V For..., for the award ceremony. The ...  »
Power Point  |  Sachidananda Murthy
The treasurers two
Atal Bihari Vajpayee is increasingly becoming the silent mascot of the BJP campaign, with Narendra Modi invoking his governance model. Vajpayee is confined to his Delhi home because of old age illnesses and could ...  »
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