Wednesday, 19 June 2019

From neighbour to mentor to colleague: Chaitanya KM remembers Girish Karnad

The filmmaker, who had seen Girish Karnad talk about science on Doordarshan’s Turning Point, first met the playwright when he arrived at his doorstep with some yogurt curry.

A prominent theatre person once invited Girish Karnad for his birthday. Karnad replied with the line, “Birth and death are personal things. It has to be marked with those close to us. It is what we do between birth and death that matters.”

Chaitanya K.M. and Girish Karnad have worked together on multiple projects spanning television, cinema and theatre. Source: Twitter/@kmchaitanya and Edex Live/Flickr

When he was about 16 years old, Karnad used to make sketches of prominent people and send it to them. He would request them to sign it and send it back to him. The young Karnad had quite a collection of competent sketches of the likes of Albert Einstein, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and others, all signed by those legends. He sent one such sketch to the Irish playwright Seán O’Casey. The playwright, however, wrote back saying, “Why do you bother about getting the autographs of other people?” O’Casey instead asked Karnad to use his intelligence and work so that people would one day ask for his autograph.

Karnad was just 22 when he wrote Yayati. Since then he has written several plays that have established him as one among the foremost playwrights in India and the world. My earliest memory of Karnad is from when he moved into his house at JP Nagar in Bengaluru about 25 years ago. Karnad came to my house one day with a box of bellulli thambuli, a garlic yogurt curry. “What are neighbours for if we cannot exchange groceries and food?” he asked my mother.

I had seen him talk about science on Doordarshan’s successful show Turning Point, so it was strange to see him at our door with box of thambuli. Karnad loved his house and the neighbourhood. Five years ago, the road in front of his house was dug up, the trees that lined it were felled and a huge underpass was created. The construction process and the traffic snarls that followed after the project was completed, turned the road into a busy and noisy one. But it also inspired scenes in three of his plays ⁠— Boiled Beans on Toast, Wedding Album and A Heap of Broken Images ⁠— where characters comment on the changing landscape of the city.

Last year, he sold his house in JP Nagar and shifted to an apartment in central Bengaluru. When I visited him there, he said, “Look! It is so quiet here right in the centre of the city. All the madness has moved to other places.”

Girish Karnad was full of interesting anecdotes of what were actually historic moments in cinema and theatre. Source: Twitter/@NFAIOfficial

‘Will you assist me?’
When I completed my Masters in Communication and wanted to move to Mumbai, my father suggested I pay a visit to Karnad. He was a stickler for time who once turned away a famous Bollywood actor from his house in London because she had arrived an hour early. I also saw him scold another prominent actor for being “five minutes late”. So for that meeting, I went five minutes early, waited outside his house and walked in just at the appointed time.

Nervously, I told him about my intention of moving to Mumbai and said I had friends there who could help me find work. And in what I thought was a very subtle manner, I told him that I was only visiting him because my father had asked me to and not to ask him to pull favours for me. He surprised me by saying, “Why do you want to go to Mumbai? I am doing a TV series. Will you assist me?”

Thus began my journey into the world of cinema and television. I worked with him on two television shows. When he decided to bring Kuvempu’s classic Kanooru Heggadithi to the screens, simultaneously as a feature film in Kannada and a serial in Hindi, I became his associate director. While filming was on, he won the Jnanpith Award and had to go to Delhi. Since we were in the Malenadu region of Karnataka and the entire cast and crew were stationed there, we could not stop shooting. So Karnad put me in charge and went. S Ramachandra, the legendary cinematographer who shot Malgudi Days, was the cameraman. I was 23 years old and overwhelmed. Every other evening, Karnad would call on the landline phone in the huge rented house where the main crew lived together for almost two months. When he returned and saw the footage of the scenes I had shot, he told me to take over the television series completely so that he could concentrate on the film.

‘Smoke your last cigarette with me’
Karnad was full of interesting anecdotes of what were historic moments in cinema and theatre. When he was director of Film and Television Institute of India, the selection panel rejected Om Puri from admission for the acting course, reportedly because he was pock-marked and thin. Karnad used his discretionary powers to admit him, and the rest is history.

When he saw a young Shankar Nag in a Marathi play in Mumbai, Karnad told me that he went backstage and approached the actor to play the lead in his upcoming film. Shankar said that while he respected Karnad as a writer and director he did not want to act under him and instead wanted to be his assistant director. Karnad returned to Bengaluru and called Anant Nag, Shankar’s elder brother. A few days later Anant brought Shankar to Karnad’s house and Ondanondu Kaladalli became his entry into the world of cinema.

Karnad could quote freely from the Upanishads, the Gita and classical Sanskrit literature, all of which inspired his work. A moment from his play The Fire and the Rain. Source: bhisham pratap padha/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
When Karnad decided to quit smoking about 40 years ago and joined the Jindal Naturecure Institute, Shankar visited him there. Karnad told me that the actor asked him to come along for a walk and pulled a cigarette out of his pocket. Karnad told him that cigarettes were strictly forbidden on the campus but Shankar said, “If you are quitting, then I want you to smoke your last cigarette with me.”

Karnad also told me how Amjad Khan once gave him a full lesson on the art of cutting meat and that Satyajit Ray considered the Ambassador a better car than the Mercedes. He told me so much more too.

‘Art that created the world’
Once, BBC was doing a series titled Art That Shook the World and asked Karnad to present the episode on the Mahabharata. He told the producers that the Mahabharata could not be compared to any classic in the world and that they would have to run a separate series called ‘Art That Created the World’ if they wanted to feature the epic. He convinced them to do an episode on the Bhagavad Gita instead.

He could quote freely from the Upanishads, the Gita and classical Sanskrit literature just as he would quote Shakespeare and Eliot.

Odakalu Bimba, a play that involved just one actor in conversation with herself on screen was the first time that Karnad decided to direct a play he had written. Because he was struggling with how to make the interaction between the actor on stage and her pre-recorded video convincing, I suggested a few things that could make it work and volunteered to be at the shows to ensure that the technical part went smoothly. When the posters of the play came out, Karnad had credited me as the director of the play, along with him.

When Agni Sreedhar was looking for a director for the first film he was producing, I suggested that he ask Girish Karnad. Sreedhar narrated a story to Karnad who said that it needed a young director with energy. Sreedhar eventually chose me to direct it. I requested Karnad to co-write the screenplay with Sreedhar. He obliged and also enacted a major role in the film. When we wrote the first draft, Karnad read it and said, “There is nothing here for women”.

It was an underworld film based on real events that had happened in the Bangalore of 1986. We had tried to make the script dramatic but no one had thought of the women audience until Karnad.

He also suggested the dialogue “Daari yaavudayya vaikuntakke” which became a memorable scene in the film Aa Dinagalu.

‘A few months, that’s it’
When I was commissioned first by the information department of Karnataka and later by the Sahitya Akademi, to make a documentary on Karnad, I was able to shoot extensively with him in the places where he grew up. When I sat down to edit it, I realised that it needed very little commentary. Karnad himself was so articulate that all I had to do was to stitch the footage into a cohesive narrative.

Karnad was always vocal in his opinions. From the time he quit FTII in protest against the Emergency, to his criticism of the Defamation Bill brought by Rajiv Gandhi, his stringent stand against the Babri Masjid demolition and subsequent communal violence that followed, Karnad has always been outspoken. As the news media expanded from dailies and Doordarshan to television channels and social media, the need to constantly sensationalise made Karnad’s outspokenness a gold mine for them.

Karnad loved his morning walk. He would not miss it no matter where he was. His typical morning involved a long walk around the mini forest in JP Nagar. He would then stop by at SLN Refreshments – a café near his house where he would eat his favourite uddina vada. His walk was something he missed a lot during his illness in the last three years.

A few months ago, Karnad was nominated for an award for literary excellence by the Hindi publication Amar Ujala. It was to be conferred on him by the former president of India, Pranab Mukherjee. Since Karnad could not travel he decided to send them a video of his acceptance speech and called me to come and shoot the video.

Once we completed filming it, he told me that he might not live for much longer. “At the most, I have a few months, that’s it,” he said in a matter-of-fact way. He was aware of his condition and had reconciled himself to it. I tried to lighten the situation for myself. “What if your assessment is wrong?” I asked. “Then I’ll write the second part of my autobiography,” he said.

He had told his family and friends that his death had to be a private affair. He left us with the same quiet dignity and integrity with which he had lived.

(Source: The Wire)

China is harvesting organs from detainees, tribunal concludes

Victims include imprisoned followers of Falun Gong movement, China Tribunal says

An independent tribunal sitting in London has concluded that the killing of detainees in China for organ transplants is continuing, and victims include imprisoned followers of the Falun Gong movement.

The China Tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who was a prosecutor at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, said in a unanimous determination at the end of its hearings it was “certain that Falun Gong as a source - probably the principal source - of organs for forced organ harvesting”.

“The conclusion shows that very many people have died indescribably hideous deaths for no reason, that more may suffer in similar ways and that all of us live on a planet where extreme wickedness may be found in the power of those, for the time being, running a country with one of the oldest civilisations known to modern man.”

He added: “There is no evidence of the practice having been stopped and the tribunal is satisfied that it is continuing.”

The tribunal has been taking evidence from medical experts, human rights investigators and others.

 Waiting times for transplantation offered by hospitals in China are extraordinarily low. Photograph: Sean Smith/The Guardian
Among those killed, it has been alleged, are members of religious minorities such as Falun Gong. Persecution of the group began in 1999 after it had attracted tens of millions of followers and came to be seen as a threat to the communist party.

There is less evidence about the treatment of Tibetans, Uighur Muslims and some Christian sects.

China announced in 2014 that it would stop removing organs for transplantation from executed prisoners and has dismissed the claims as politically-motivated and untrue.

The tribunal was initiated by the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China (Etac) and its members, all of whom worked without payment, included medical experts.

Waiting times for transplantation offered by hospitals in China were extraordinarily low, the tribunal noted, often only a couple of weeks.

Investigators calling hospitals in China inquiring about transplants for patients, the tribunal said, have in the past been told that the source of some organs were from Falun Gong followers.

Both former Falun Gong and Uighur inmates gave testimony of undergoing repeated medical testing in Chinese jails.

Jennifer Zeng, a Falun Gong activist who was imprisoned for a year in a female labour camp, gave evidence to the China Tribunal about what she said were repeated medical check-ups and blood tests to which inmates were subjected.

She told the Guardian: “On the day we were transferred to the labour camp, we were taken to a medical facility where we underwent physical check-ups. We were interrogated about what diseases we had and I told them I had hepatitis.

“The second time, after about a month in the camp, everyone was handcuffed and put in a van and taken to a huge hospital. That was for a more thorough physical check-up. We were given X-rays. On the third occasion in the camp, they were drawing blood from us. We were all told to line up in the corridor and the test were given.”

Zeng, who fled China in 2001, did not see any direct evidence of forced organ removal but since reading other accounts, she has questioned whether the tests were part of a medical selection process.

In her statement to the tribunal, she said: “Inmates of the labour camp were not allowed to exchange contact details, so there was no way to trace each other after we were released. When anyone disappeared from the camp, I would assume that she was released and had gone home.

“But in reality that cannot be confirmed, as I had no way to trace others after my release and I now fear they might have been taken to a hospital and had their organs removed without consent and thus killed in the process.”

As many as 90,000 transplant operations a year are being carried out in China, the tribunal estimated, a far higher figure than that given by official government sources.

There have been calls for the UK parliament to ban patients from travelling to China for transplant surgery. More than 40 MPs from all parties have backed the motion. Israel, Italy, Spain and Taiwan already enforce such restrictions.

China insists it adheres to international medical standards that require organ donations to be made by consent and without any financial charges. It declined to participate in the tribunal.

Commenting on the claims earlier this year, the Chinese embassy told the Guardian: “The Chinese government always follows the World Health Organization’s guiding principles on human organ transplant, and has strengthened its management on organ transplant in recent years. On 21 March 2007, the Chinese state council enacted the regulation on human organ transplant, providing that human organ donation must be done voluntarily and gratis. We hope that the British people will not be misled by rumours.”

The tribunal heard reports of extraction of kidneys from executed prisoners from as far back as the 1970s. Most of the evidence, however, came from 2000 onwards.

(Source: The Guardian)

The first human trafficking handbook for airports

To assist airports in the fight against human trafficking, the ACI has launched its first Combatting Human Trafficking Handbook which draws on the experiences of airports affected and provides guidance on how to act. FRANCES MARCELLIN takes a closer look to find out some of the key lessons

In 2014, when Nadia Murad was 19, ISIS attacked her village in Iraq. Hundreds were killed (including 600 men, some from her family) and she was forced into sex slavery with other Yazidi women and girls.

After three months of abuse she escaped to a refugee camp. Since then she has become a global voice for the Yazidi people and campaigned against human trafficking, of which 70% of the victims are women.

Murad became a UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018.

"While we are far from ending impunity, international and national efforts to effectively implement the Protocol against Trafficking in Persons have made a difference,” stated United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Yury Fedotov, when the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2018 was released earlier this year.

Spreading knowledge and awareness is an important factor in fighting against human trafficking. While there are around 40 million modern slaves in the world, UNODC reports that the global detection rates for human trafficking have increased along with the number of convictions.

Air travel is one of the key ways traffickers move victims around, but with the right strategy in place airports can play a key role in raising public awareness, identifying trafficking situations and helping victims travelling through the airport. It is also possible for airports to put pressure on governments in countries where action needs to be taken.

To optimise a global response from all stakeholders in aviation, in March 2019 the Airports Council International (ACI) released the first “Combatting Human Trafficking Handbook”, a free resource designed to help airports comprehensively deal with modern slavery.

The break through handbook outlines eight areas where airports can take an active role. These compriseairport staff training; public awareness; engaging the local community; strategically-placing information to help victims; engaging with agencies (such as law enforcement and immigration); communicating with airlines; supply chain responsibility; and co-ordinating with advocacy groups.

To ensure that all airport staff, whether they are a full-time employee or contractor, are clear are about how to identify and report trafficking, the report advises airports to put a trafficking policy in place. This should include vision and mission statements, as well as responsibilities and reporting policies.

“The policy should set out the responsibility for all staff members to report suspected cases of trafficking and provide clear instructions on how and when to report,” states the report. “It is important to emphasise confidentiality.”

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 1 in 4 victims of modern slavery are children. The handbook offers additional ways for staff to identify trafficked children, such as if they are travelling unaccompanied by adults or with people who are not relatives.

The free resource also provides an overview of the various ways employees could identify a trafficking victim through visual or behavioural indicators. These include appearance (such as injury or dirty clothes); behaviour (if the person is intimidated or nervous); unusual interaction with travelling companions (if they don’t speak the same language or appear to be under instruction); and travel circumstances (for example, if it is a last-minute flight or they don’t know their home or work address).

A Campaign at Hartsfield Jackson Airport, which also ran the Freedom Expressions project, featuring more than 80 pieces of artwork from students and artists. Image courtesy of ACI

As well as underlining the importance of a reporting policy, the handbook offers some advice on how an airport staff member could approach a potential trafficking victim, if in line with the airport’s policy.

Making contact in a washroom or striking up a conversation if it is safe to do so are suggested as ways to find out if the person needs help. Yet caution is also advised, and it warns not to take on the role of a law enforcement officer.

An example of how to train staff is given by Heathrow Airport, which provides a 60-minute ‘Modern Slavery’ session, including presentations, videos, trainer-led talks and open discussions. It also recommends e-learning as a way for staff to work through advisory material on their own.

Public awareness campaigns in and out of the airport are recommended as a powerful way to engage the community and increase detection. Dynamic signage (such as digital displays or videos at departure gates), movable signage (which can be strategically placed), and social media are the three most effective.

Outside of the airport, press conferences or media campaigns that harness influential people in the community are also recommended as ways to increase awareness.

In 2016, the Houston Airport System, which operates George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and William P Hobby Airport (HOU), launched an anti-human trafficking awareness programme. The team worked with customs and border protection and created a campaign that included altering public perceptions (such as via a ‘Watch for Traffick’ multimedia campaign) and improving links to support for victims, before sharing it with other municipalities to maximise the spread of awareness.

Houston Airport System, which handles around 55 million passengers a year, was praised by NGO Polaris, which called the initiative the “first comprehensive, municipal-level response to combating human trafficking”.

One of the most visually-striking campaigns was by Toronto Crime Stoppers, of a silenced woman gagged by airline baggage tickets - these adverts are still shown at airports. Image courtesy of ACI
For Houston Airport System chief external affairs officer Saba Abashawl, promoting awareness is the most important step in the fight against human trafficking. “The more we are aware of the signs, of the impact, and what we can do to help recognise and stop human trafficking, the more weapons we have in our arsenal to combat it,” she stated in the handbook.

“Proactively preparing the people on the front lines, the dedicated people working at airports and for airlines, to be an active part of the efforts to identify and take action to stop human trafficking is an invaluable asset in reaching this important goal,” she added. “They can serve as vigilant eyes and ears and can help raise the public’s awareness.”

Another example of how an airport has raised awareness comes from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, in partnership with the International Human Trafficking Institute (IHTI).

Over a three-month period in 2015, it ran the Freedom Expressions project, which exhibited more than 80 pieces of artwork from students and artists. This not only attracted more than 100,000 visitors, but the project was broadcast in more than 20 countries by CNN International as it included an opening reception by the CNN Freedom Project.

One of the most visually-striking campaigns was by Toronto Crime Stoppers, of a silenced woman gagged by airline baggage tickets. These adverts are still shown at airports and offer a website link where the public can follow up for more information.

The real-life examples, guidelines and campaign case studies offered in the handbook have been compiled to help airports combat trafficking and enhance support for passengers who are victims of these crimes.
ACI World Director General Angela Gittens. Image courtesy of ACI

“The safety and security of passengers remains all airports’ number one priority and the airport community is determined to work with border authorities and our partners across the world to help put a stop to the appalling crime of human trafficking,” stresses ACI World Director General Angela Gittens.

“Many of our airport members are already demonstrating their commitment to this effort and this handbook provides useful information and advice to strengthen our combined efforts in awareness, training and reporting.”

(Source: AIR)

Nasa spots huge 'Star Trek' logo on the surface of Mars

'Enterprising viewers will make the discovery that these features look conspicuously like a famous logo'

Nasa has spotted strange chevrons on Mars – and they look more than a little like an appropriate logo.

The curious shapes look remarkably like the famous logo from Star Trek and is carved into the surface of our nearby neighbour.

But the space agency is keen to stress that the icon has not been carved into the red planet by the Starfleet. "Enterprising viewers will make the discovery that these features look conspicuously like a famous logo: and you’d be right, but it’s only a coincidence," it wrote.

(NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
Instead, it's a natural phenomenon that shows how Mars has developed over its history. The shapes – spotted on the Hellas Planitia plane on the south of Mars – were formed by a confluence of dunes, lava and wind that tell the story of the red planet's surface.

On ancient Mars, there were huge crescent-shaped dunes that moved over the area. At some point, an eruption meant that lava flowed around the dunes but did not reach their top.

When the lava became solid, the dunes were higher up, like islands. But the wind was still able to shift them, and it continued to blow – pushing the sand piles away.

That left behind the gaps in the lava plain that the dunes once filled. They are known as "dune casts", and set like casts made out of plaster – leaving an unchanging record of the now disappeared dust.

Zooming out, it's possible to see that there are actually a variety of the chevrons visible on the surface.

The images were taken by Nasa's HiRISE camera, which is floating over the Mars surface onboard the space agency's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

(Source: Independent)

Top 10 stellar places to stargaze around the world

So you may or may not have seen the northern lights yet, but you can surely visit these phenomenal places for a stunning, no we change that – mind boggling view of the night sky. Here we go:

1. Atacama Desert, Chile

Being one of the driest places on earth (it receives only a millimetre of rain every year), Chile’s Atacama Desert is a cloudless landscape. Add to that an altitude of 8,200 feet and what do you get? One of Earth’s best places to stargaze from!

HolidayMe Recommendation – Go to the Paranal Observatory in Chile and enjoy an undisturbed view of the Southern Hemisphere sky. You have the option of either staying in the luxury of a hotel nearby or camping under a canopy of stars.

2. Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

Apart from being a very popular holiday destination thanks to its pristine beaches and volcanic mountains, Tenerife has recently been named one of the best locations in the world for star-gazing because of its low pollution level and unspoiled night-sky conditions.

HolidayMe Recommendation – Leave for the famed Tenerife observatory or simply set up a camp in the Teide National Park (awarded the title of ‘Starlight Tourist Destination’ and ‘Starlight Reserve’) to see our Milky Way, nebulae and shooting stars.

3. Kerry, Ireland

Ireland’s Kerry County is the latest addition to the small list of Gold Tier International Dark Sky Reserves around the world. Situated on a picture-perfect landscape, with Kerry Mountains on one side and Atlantic Ocean on the other, Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve gives you a spectacular view of the dark sky, and also offers basic astronomy classes and workshops throughout the year.

HolidayMe Recommendation – Check into one of the many guesthouses, self-catering homes, or caravans available for stargazers in the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve.

4. Hawaii, USA

At an altitude of almost 14,000 feet above the sea level, the volcanic summit of Mauna Kea holds a high risk of frosty temperature and altitude sickness, but wow! Is the view from the peak spectacular or what? Besides Atacama, this dormant volcano is a heaven for professional as well as amateur astronomers.

HolidayMe Recommendation – Make an early drop in at the Mauna Kea Visitor Centre (it closes by 10 pm!), or prepare for a memorable camping night at the nearby Haleakala National Park.

5. Namibia, Africa

How about mixing a bit of incredible stargazing to your safari trip in Africa’s Namib Desert? Considered to be the “darkest location the International Dark Sky Association has ever designated”, the country of Namibia is undoubtedly a jewel to view the heaven above.

HolidayMe Recommendation – Travel to NamibRand Nature Reserve, a private reserve that offers stargazing along with safaris. What’s more, you can also opt for an open-air lodging to have a direct access to the stars.

6. Aoraki / Mount Cook, New Zealand

This mountainous country, aside from being a popular tourist destination, is also home to the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, world’s largest dark sky reserve, spanning nearly 1,700 square miles.

HolidayMe Recommendation – Choose from any of the four companies offering stargazing trips to the reserve located in the picturesque Mackenzie Basin.

7. Alberta, Canada

The second largest dark sky preserve in the world, Alberta’s Jasper National Park Dark Sky Preserve give you heart-stopping views of the universe. Imagine standing on the famed Glacier Sky Walk and viewing the stars above. Yep, that should definitely be on your bucket list! The Vermilion Lakes, located in Banff, is another place no stargazer should miss.

HolidayMe Recommendation –  Prepare for a starry night in your cozy camp with family and friends, and make the incredible Jasper National Park Dark Sky Preserve your home for a night!

8. Galloway Forest Park, Scotland

At Scotland’s Galloway Forest Park (did we mention it was the United Kingdom’s first dark sky destination?), you can have a heavenly glimpse of more than 7000 stars, constellations and planets post sun down.

HolidayMe Recommendation – Vote for the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory if you’re looking for professional guidance on astronomy. Else, just sleep under the stars for a change!

9. Sutherland, South Africa

A minuscule town having less than 2,000 residents, South Africa’s Sutherland is located in the semi-desert area of the Karoo region. The town’s low population, remote location, and high altitude (mixed with low rainfall of a semi-arid region), makes Sutherland an unusual but an exemplary place to perceive the universe.

HolidayMe Recommendation – Go for that giant optical telescope – The South African Large Telescope (SALT) which again, is one of Sutherland’s many charms. Stargazing or not, viewing the celebrated SALT in person would be an experience in itself!

10. New Mexico, USA

One of America’s southern-most states, New Mexico is blessed with rugged topography and scant population, which in turn gives the state clear skies most part of the year.

HolidayMe Recommendation-  Climb the Sacramento Mountains, considered one of the very best places to go stargazing in the USA. The New Mexico Skies Observatories located there are an ideal place to gaze at the stars and other celestial bodies.