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Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Excerpts from A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Excerpts from A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James:

Figuring things out is a dangerous thing. It makes you look backward and that’s also dangerous. You keep doing it you find yourself right back at the thing, the one thing that pushed you forward in the first place. I don’t know and I swore I put myself on the damn couch to stop the fucking thinking. I wish he was home. Silly girl you just wished he wasn’t. Barely five minutes ago, girl, I was with you I heard every word. Can people do that? Can people want to be with someone all the time, okay most of the time, and yet also wish they were alone? And not in little compartments but at once? At the same time? All the time? I want to be alone but I need to not be. I wished Chuck was one of the men I thought that would make sense to. Usually I just turn on the radio and let it fill the house, noise, people, music, company that I don’t have to acknowledge or respond to but I know they are there. I wish I could do that with people. I wish people would do that with me. Where’s the man who I can be with who doesn’t need me to need him? I don’t know what I’m talking about. Need is the only reason I’m right here, right now in this room. No. Jesus, what a bitch. Today I shall love his hair.

Tonight I shall love all the sounds he makes when he sleeps. The heehaw, the whistle when one of his nostrils blocks. The half of a sentence. The mumble. The flap flap flap flap snore. The groan. The American fart. That part of the night, three-ish, four-ish, when I can ask a question and he’ll answer, which is how I know he’s not really sure how his family will react to meeting a woman like me, though his mom is just the sweetest gal, really just the sweetest. I know all his sounds because I never sleep. Up all night, sleep all day, there are names for women like me. Women like me don’t sleep. We know that the night is no friend of us. Night does things, brings people, swallows you up. Night never makes you forget but it enters dreams to make you remember. Night is a game where I wait, I count off until I see the little pink streak cut through our window and I go outside to see the sun rise over the sea. And congratulate myself for making it, because I swear, every night. Every night.

Last night I realised I could kill anybody, even a child. Maybe a boy. Don’t know about a girl. Just because you don’t sleep doesn’t mean you don’t dream, there’s something my mother never told me. Last night I could have killed a kid. There was this gate and it was just some rusty gate but I knew I had to get through it. The only way forward is through. Who said that? I had to get through it, if I didn’t I would die, get cut open, sliced with a knife from the neck right down to labia with me screaming all the time, I just had to get through the fucking gate. And there was this kid at the gate, one of those children you see in movies where you can’t tell if it’s a boy or a girl. Maybe he was white but white like linen not skin. And the whole time I could see the white alarm clock about to hit two a.m. and the four walls around me, two glass windows, even the sky outside, but I could also see the gate, and I could hear Chuck snoring but I could also see the kid and I could look down and see slashed-up flesh where my feet was supposed to be. I had run my feet off. And I wanted to go through the gate and this kid was blocking it with this look, not threatening but confident, smarmy, cocky — Chuck would have said cocky. And I took this knife that I had and grabbed him by the hair and lifted him up and drove the knife in his heart and because the blood was blue I didn’t feel bad about stabbing him again and again and every time the knife went through his skin it’s like his flesh was too tough and the knife bent in a different direction than where I aimed and the kid was screaming and laughing and screaming and the only thing to do was pull out the knife and saw his head off and throw it away. And scream as I ran to the gate. Then I woke up. But I wasn’t asleep.

Maybe I should bathe or something. When Chuck was going off to work he asked what am I up to today? Shouldn’t have told him nothing because I went out. Maybe I should take off these clothes or at least these shoes. Even a man who loves to say babykins, I don’t know about this fashion shit, knows the clothes I wear to go out is not the clothes I wear to buy bread. And if he sees his woman in the good clothes he would know she was trying to impress a man and might have succeeded, but that man is not him. I really should at least take off this blouse. Or lie down until the gulls fly away. Maybe if he asks I can say I was dressing up for him, hoping we would go out. But babykins, nowhere’s safe outside, he’s going to say. Not even in Montego. I’ll say that Jamaicans shorten Montego Bay by saying Mobay, not Montego. I’ll say I want to go out, I want to dance and he’ll say but I dance better than you and I’ll pretend that last one didn’t sting.

(Source: The Punch Magazine)

Drive through without paying toll fees if your wait time exceeds 3 minutes

Advocate Hari Om Jindal files an RTI to put an end to many commuters misery

I cannot remember the last time it took me less than three minutes to cross the toll plaza. There is invariably some hold-up; either the toll collectors do not have adequate change, or the driver is scrambling to get the money out once he reaches the toll gate. Whatever the reason might be, many other drivers waiting behind in line face the consequences.

Frustrated at being subjected to this wait day in and day out, Advocate Hari Om Jindal decided to find out what was causing this delay. Conversations with the toll officials didn’t yield any results, he says. “Those who man the toll booths are all junior level staff and would always conveniently pass the buck on to the next level.”

“I found it unacceptable that due to their inefficiency, the commuters were being put through so much hardship.”

Keeping this in mind, Hari Om started communicating with the National Highways Authority India (NHAI) and subsequently in 2016 filed a Right To Information petition. “I asked very pointed questions in my RTI and the answers I got were surprising.”

1. Total time required for a vehicle to wait for its turn in the queue, besides the 30 seconds provided for processing fees at the counter?
a. 2 minutes 50 seconds are required for a vehicle, to wait for its turn in the queue.

2. Are different times provided for the user counter and queue? Provide details.
b. No

3. If the total waiting time including the time spent in the queue surpasses 30 seconds, which means delay and harassment suffered by the commuters, what are the provisions for compensation to be paid by your office to the commuter?
c. There is total waiting time of 3 minutes. If the 3 minutes exceed in waiting then there is a provision to pass the vehicle free of cost.

4. In case of vehicle breakdown on the road, who can be contacted and what are the contact details?
d. In case vehicle breakdown, commuter can contact the toll free number 18001803636

Any grievance against the public services provided by the NHAI would be heard by a High Court alone. Hari Om challenged this and filed a complaint at the Consumer Forum. He says, “Since toll is not a tax, and is a service fee, for which the consumer must get a service in return (usage of the road), the aggrieved party must be allowed to file a complaint with the consumer forum.”

Approaching the High Court for a grievance of this nature is not only time consuming but will also cost the petitioner a lot more than the amount he would pay as toll. “Now a person in Gurgaon need not travel to Chandigarh to approach the High Court for redressal. He can do so by simply approaching the consumer forum in his city itself.”

By filing this complaint before the consumer forum and getting a favourable order, Hari Om has ensured that many more aggrieved persons come forward and seek redressal.

While the idea of waiting at a toll gate for not more than 3 minutes is a very good move, some implementation hiccups remain. For example, if one expects to be let through the tollgates free of cost after waiting for more than 3 minutes, how would it be explained to the toll operators that they have been waiting for that much time?

The need of the hour is to ensure that processes are streamlined to facilitate the smooth passage of traffic through the toll plazas.

Clarification: The 3 minute wait rule in Toll Plazas is not applicable Pan India. The rule as it stands now is applicable only in Punjab.

(Source: The Better India)

Did you know that the LGBTQ community can’t donate blood in India?

Thanks to an application filed by RTI activist Chetan Kothari, it’s been revealed that the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) in India considers the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community as a “high risk group” (for HIV), and therefore says that members of the community are banned from donating blood.

A similar issue was brought to light in the United States after the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida in June 2016. After 53 people were injured, blood banks in the area put out urgent calls for blood, and when gay people responded to the call in solidarity, discovered that men who had had sex with men in the last 12 months were prohibited from donating blood.

Doctors quoted in initial reports on this issue in India say that the ban on members of the LGBT community donating blood is in place because “they have multiple sexual partners and there is a high incidence of HIV”.

Um. Obviously members of the LGBT community aren’t the only ones who have multiple sexual partners, and as reports, “the HIV epidemic in India is driven by heterosexual sex, which accounted for 87% of new infections in 2015.” And either way, as Sambuddha Chaudhuri points out in the Huffington Post, “blood samples need to be screened for HIV and other viruses anyway before try are transfused , so setting up a check like this does little for securing extra safe blood samples.”

Which means that this ban seems, on the face of it, quite unethical, and based on decades-old stereotypes about HIV and gay people. Ideas like this only contribute to further discrimination and stereotyping around a community that already faces too much of it in the country. Plus, it’s always shocking to notice how deeply embedded these stereotypes have become in law, medicine and even seemingly neutral and unbiased “science”.

(Source: The Ladies Finger)

Monday, 24 July 2017

Meet the ‘cranky country publisher’ who files lawsuits instead of tweets

At the Sacramento Valley Mirror, Tim Crews is everything.

He’s the founder, publisher, editor and owner. He reports, takes photos and sells ads. The newspaper is so small that he even helps deliver copies when it prints twice a week.

And you wouldn't know it by his blank email signature or no-nonsense tone, but Crews is also a controversial, bulldog investigator. He’s used open records to expose wrongdoing by public officials, penned countless editorials about various misdeeds and published long-form investigations about local government. But what people think of the plucky 73-year-old varies widely, from a noble bastion of watchdog journalism to a scandalous rabble-rouser who’s up to no good.

"He has no friends, but he recognizes no enemies," said Rowland "Reb" Rebele, a First Amendment Coalition board member. "He’s a hero for journalism everywhere."

Located in Willows, California — a small town in the middle of the sweltering valley for which the Mirror is named — Crews works seven days a week to stay in business. The poker-faced Santa Claus look-alike occasionally even goes around town begging people to buy ads.

"Every week is another war," he said. "We struggle to pay the bills, to keep the doors open.”

And recently, that war has gotten even harder to wage.

Crews said he has been shot at, his office burgled, his building set on fire, his car's brakes weakened and his dog Kafka poisoned. In late March, Crews and reporter Larry Judkins were the subject of threatening phone calls and complaints after writing about a local homicide, according to a recent Reporters Without Borders (RSF) article. The Mirror publisher even sent the journalism advocacy organization a photo of a noose that was left in front of the newspaper's downtown Willows office in late April.

"This threat, in broad daylight, means to us that the perpetrators, who are trying to warn us off a series we are working on, are operating with impunity," Crews told the RSF.

In June, the Online News Association, Society of Professional Journalists and Committee to Protect Journalists joined the RSF in sending a letter to the Willows police chief calling for an investigation into the threats, which came amid a national uptick in hostility against the media. But the pressure hasn't stopped the Mirror from doing some dogged public records reporting.

In a time when many local papers have been decimated by cost-cutting and shrinking print ad budgets — merging, folding and compromising good journalism for clicks — the Mirror stands out. The 16-page broadsheet has become known for both its fight for open records access in California and its penchant for local gossip — despite having only a three-person full-time staff and a smattering of volunteers.

"I don’t see many small papers doing what we do," Crews said.

Crews said his newspaper files an average of more than 20 state records demands every year, some of which he goes to court to defend. In 2013, a California appeals court ruled that the publisher didn't have to pay the legal fees for the school board he sued over an open records request — a major win for government transparency, according to the First Amendment Coalition. In 2000, Crews spent five days in jail after refusing to reveal the names of his sources in a case involving a local police officer's theft of a firearm.

"In a figurative sense, he’s taken a bullet for the First Amendment," said Richard Molin, a Chico-based personal injury attorney who advertises in Crews' paper. "Not many other people have gone to jail over their issue out of principle."

But for Crews, the fight for press access and government transparency isn't a principled or glorious one. It's a way of life — one he’d like to keep up for another 10 years.

"You have to just stand up for yourself," he said. "If someone is messing with you, you have to fight back. It's just the American way."

'A little unusual'
Before Crews was an irreverent newspaper publisher, he was a blue-collar worker and itinerant journalist.

Born in Aberdeen, Washington, Crews grew up in Olympia, where he helped take photos for the local newspaper. He spent three years in the Marine Corps and started attending Central Washington State College in 1963, where he studied on and off for seven years before deciding it wasn't for him. After working for a logging company, a steel mill and in commercial fishing, he injured his back and decided to try his hand at being a journalist.

He landed his first newspaper job at the Santa Barbara News & Review in the mid-1970s.

"I was the house libertarian in a liberal employee-owned weekly. Much fun," he said.

The move kicked off Crews' Quixotic journey around the world, taking him to writing gigs in Texas, Colorado, Washington and even the Middle East before moving back to California in the 1980s. Through and through, Crews' blue-collar upbringing was always a way for him to connect with people.

"I can look at people and look at their hands and I know what they’re going through," he said. "I know what other people don’t know."

In 1989, Crews was hired on as general manager and editor at the Tri-County Newspapers, which cover Willows and Orland, California. But he said he resigned after the vice president sided with law enforcement in a story he wrote about how the county sheriff was questionably distributing concealed carry permits.

That's when he decided to start the Mirror.

"The reason I’m here is that I don’t like to be run out of a place," Crews said. "I didn't want these guys to run me out of town."

The first issue of the Mirror came out on Christmas Eve of 1991 and was produced in a spare building in Artois, California. His first wife had just left him and, with only $50 and a borrowed phone to his name, Crews started publishing the newspaper twice a week with one goal in mind: hold the powerful accountable.

The two other full-time employees at the Mirror joined Crews within the first few years of its existence. Donna Settle, the newspaper publisher's spouse of 26 years, originally met Crews shortly after he started the Mirror. He was renting office space at the local timber company she worked at as a secretary, and when she lost her job amid tightening environmental regulations, Crews offered her one.

"I was always an accountant. I wasn’t familiar with the newspaper industry at all," said Settle, who is an editor at the Mirror. "We just hit it off."

Judkins joined in December 1994 after working at motels as a night auditor and as an Atheist activist in Northern California. When a local radio show effectively banned him for being too brazen about the separation of church and state, Crews asked him to write an Atheism column for the Mirror. He's worked there ever since.

"So far as small papers are concerned, we’re a little unusual," Judkins said. "When people run out of other options, they often come to us with the hopes that maybe a little light — a little public exposure — will help whatever problems that they may have."

'It does get people talking'
“If we don’t report it, who will?”

That's the question at the top of each copy of the Mirror, which has a surprising amount of influence in a town of a little more than 6,000 people. But not all the hype is positive.

While many Willows townspeople read and praise the newspaper religiously, others say they wouldn’t pay a dime for it. They say it’s a scandal rag.

"He’s a newspaper guy — his job is to stir up things and sell newspapers, which he does very well here, for better or for worse, depending on which side you’re on," said Dwayne Stewart, district attorney of Glenn County. "It does get people talking, that’s for sure. Nobody will admit to reading it, but everybody seems to know what he writes."

And as the largest newspaper in a county of nearly 28,000 people — with a circulation of more than 2,700 and a fiercely loyal readership — it's easy to see how the Mirror is often the first and last word on local happenings. The newspaper prints every booking, animal control call and police log in the county. The nearby Chico Enterprise-Record doesn't report as much as it used to on Glenn County, where nearly 21 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Mirror has one of the only Atheist columns in the country, and it doesn't charge for wedding photos or obituaries.

Plus, a newspaper subscription only costs between $60 and $90 a year, depending on whether you're a senior and live in the county.

"That kind of stuff that newspapers in the past always did, we still do. But on the other hand, we’re very much an investigative organ," Crews said. “People want to know what’s going on.”

The publisher of the Sacramento Valley Mirror in jail in 2000. (Courtesy Tim Crews)

Crews is no exception. He has used the California Public Records and California Open Meetings acts to write stories about officials allegedly using county resources for vacations and political campaigns, expensive remodels of government buildings that were already set to close and lagging efforts to build a soccer field for Latino residents — who make up about about 40 percent of Glenn County, according to 2010 U.S. Census data. And, despite the fact that his paper rarely breaks even and Crews himself makes only about $20,000 a year, he frequently goes to court to fight for his right to access.

In 2013, Crews filed an open records request to see the emails of the then-superintendent of the Willows Unified School District. When the district released some but not all emails, Crews sued — a case that was not only dismissed and ruled in favor of WUSD's decision to withhold certain records, but also called "frivolous" by the judge, who ordered Crews to pay the district's legal fees. The latter judgment was rejected on appeal.

"That was an interesting struggle, but it made good law for people in California who want to review those emails," Crews said.

Despite the lawsuit, current WUSD Superintendent Mort Geivett said he has a good working relationship with the publisher of the Mirror, which he reads twice a week.

"I think that we respect each other," Geivett said. "He kind of latches onto something and he takes it from beginning to end.”

Rebele, former owner of the Paradise Post — where Crews worked as a reporter in the 1980s — said he gave the newspaper publisher money for the case against the Willows school district, which he said made his "blood curdle."

"He’s really done a wonderful job of showing people what a newspaper can do when it really covers the news, and really goes beyond just covering the news — when it finds foul play or a lack of public access," Rebele said. "That's the kind of thing Tim does.”

The ardent newspaper publisher is almost a magnet for what he calls "interesting struggles." In addition to waging press freedom lawsuits, Crews has successfully fought subpoenas for his reporting notes and written stories about local officials that later prompted California Department of Justice investigations. Settle said that Crews rarely sleeps, and when he does, it's with the police scanner on in the background and the persistent knowledge that if an accident happens, he's getting up and going to it.

Not bad for a 73-year-old who usually puts in 70-hour weeks.

"He manages to keep everything straight all the time even though he’ll be working on a dozen different things at once," Judkins said. "I’m constantly amazed at how he does it."

While Crews is frequently lauded for his work as a community watchdog, he has also made enemies. Settle said that especially when Crews publishes crime stories that make townspeople look bad, they openly ostracize or criticize him.

"How often do you have to report people’s wrongdoing of some type that you may go to a party or local function, and then there they are?" she said. "People who get in trouble get irritated with him, but frankly everyone else around here loves him."

'We know someone is watching'
Crews has no website. He doesn't tweet, isn't concerned about growing his digital audience and says the migration of newspapers to the internet is "ruinous."

What he does have is a desire to seek out and report the truth, a record of improving his community and a substantial network of people who support him. And it's not limited to his mostly senior audience or old newspaper pals.

In 1985, Rebele — who is also the former president of the California Newspaper Publishers Association — created a scholarship fund with his alma mater Stanford University to set students up with summer internships in journalism. Now the program awards 30-50 internships per year, and while Rebele has sent aspiring journalists to a variety of news organizations — from the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg, to the Palo Alto Weekly and Seattle Times — he said the Mirror is unparalleled in the experience it gives interns.

"Tim Crews has been probably our most successful mentor of interns when he takes one. All those interns come out of that experience with Tim just raving because they learn so much about public records and how to get access to meetings," he said. "In its own way, and for its own community, Tim Crews has done the same thing (as big newspapers). It's just that Tim's reach is not as great as the L.A. Times’ reach is."

Interns who have previously worked at the Mirror gush in a promotional pamphlet that's titled "The Best Darn Journalism Internship in California?" and starts with "... if you're not serious about journalism and hearing about what is arguably the best hands-on, blood and guts newspaper summer internship in California, then don't waste your time reading any further." Students say things like "It was, hands down, the most valuable summer of my life" and "If not for Tim Crews, I would probably not be a journalist right now." The flier is 15 pages long.

"If you are an aspiring journalist, or you know one who would like to consider a career, they could do a lot worse than being an intern at Tim's paper," Rebele said.

Tim Crews at the Willows Fire Department officers' installation dinner in January 2017. (WFD Capt. Skip Sykes)

Beyond instilling his stubborn knack for reporting in aspiring young reporters, Crews has won several awards for his work at the Mirror. In 2009 he was named Newspaper Executive of the Year by the California Press Foundation, which called the small-town operation "California's most courageous newspaper." He has also won the California Society of Newspaper Editors’ Bill Farr Award, the 2013 California Newspaper Publishers Association Freedom of Information Award and the Hofstra University Francis Frost Wood Award for Courage in Journalism.

The fancy accolades are nice, but the ornery newspaper publisher sees himself a little differently — especially in the Willows and Orland communities.

"While Crews is seen by some as curmudgeon in high dudgeon, he is simply a cranky country publisher," reads the bio he sends to people, including Poynter.

As county D.A., Stewart definitely leans more toward the curmudgeon epithet. He said the Mirror's reporting is almost never fair and balanced, often omitting facts that don't fit into a larger narrative.

"He tends to leave out the boring stuff, which the boring stuff gives perspective on certain issues," Stewart said. "We spend an inordinate amount of time replying to his nonsense requests. If I had the time I spend responding to his requests responding to cases, we would get a lot more done."

Stewart isn't the only one who thinks of Crews as an overly fervent ideologue. Glenn County Sheriff Richard Warren said that while the publisher's reporting isn't always 100 percent accurate and often contains a good bit of opinion, Crews truly believes in the work he does — and it has an influential effect on the community.

"I think that sometimes he does not do his due diligence in truly investigating and being certain about everything," Warren said. "(But) he’s done a very good job at taking a very small newspaper and making it relevant and prevalent in our local community."

As a government official, Warren said the Mirror's reporting sometimes makes his job harder. He's been the subject of negative articles, some of which he said were more like editorials than objective news stories. Crews once even wrote more than 25 articles in a series on the death of a local man in a fire, an incident he said wasn't properly investigated by the county sheriff, according to the Chico News & Review.

"He has made it very difficult sometimes for government to operate, but he has also held government accountable, too," Warren said. "I think we do a lot better job on some things in this county because we know someone is watching and know someone will hold us accountable."

Crews’ investigations haven't won him a Pulitzer Prize. He doesn't have millions of subscribers, pageviews or dollars. Townspeople in Willows and Orland constantly read his work, but some would be hard-pressed to admit to it. The Mirror isn't The New York Times — but for Crews, his scrappy little newspaper in the middle of rural Northern California might as well be.

"If you want to know what’s going on in Iraq, this is not the place to look," he said. "People in small towns deserve A1 journalism the same as everybody else."

(Source: Poynter)

Why say “Kannada Gottilla” when you can now easily learn the language on WhatsApp?

The initiative Kannada Gottilla, started by a Bengaluru-based techie, helps people learn the basics of Kannada over WhatsApp.

“Kannada Gottilla” is the one (and only) Kannada catchphrase known to every non-Kannada speaker in the vast city of Bengaluru. Meaning “don’t know Kannada,” it is the most common response to native speakers who instinctively start a conversation in their mother tongue. While many wish to learn the language, it is the lack of convenient options and time that holds them back.

Borrowing its name from the famous phrase, Kannada Gottilla is an initiative that allows people to learn Kannada over WhatsApp.

The initiative that was targeted mainly at the urban migrants who move cities for work, has taught the basics of Kannada to over 4,000 people across the globe in the past two years.

Brainchild of IT professional Anup Maiya, the initiative was born out of Anup’s personal experience.

“I have been working in the IT industry for over 8 years now. I moved to Pune a few years ago and while I was there, I decided to learn Marathi. It mattered to me that I learn as much about the language and culture of the city while I stayed there. However, even after searching a lot, I couldn’t find any course or online tool that’d help me grasp the basics of the language in a convenient way. That’s when the idea of a platform like Kannada Gottilla came to me,” says Anup.

Immediately after returning to Bengaluru, Anup started thinking about developing a platform that’d help the non-Kannadigas learn Kannada. Since his target group was working professionals, lengthier and time-consuming modules were out of question. The idea needed to be quick, simple and convenient.

“We all use WhatsApp. It’s a great way to communicate and keep in touch with the people in our lives. I thought why couldn’t it be a learning tool as well? I started designing a simple curriculum that focused on sentence building and was aided by vocabulary training. I soon had 10 students, who were willing to learn,” says Anup.

In the past two years, the number of teachers at Kannada Gottilla has gone up to 12 and that of students to over 4,000. Simplicity and convenience are the two USPs of the programme.

The method is simple. A batch of 25 is taught by 3 teachers. A WhatsApp group is created, wherein the teachers share 3 new sentences every day, explaining the why’s and how’s of the grammar. They also share voice recordings for the students to pick up the pronunciation. Different video clips of songs with subtitles and dialogues from films are also shared to help students get the flair of the language.

For the first year, Kannada Gottilla’s WhatsApp coaching was free. Now, the platform charges a nominal fee of Rs 200 per month.

For those not comfortable with learning the language on WhatsApp, Kannada Gottilla also conducts one-day workshops every month. The workshop that is conducted at Rangoli Art Centre on M G Road is free of cost.

About two months ago, Kannada Gottilla started the campaign #ABCT, short for Anybody Can Teach, with the objective of creating an online video repository of small tutorials, which will be available to all on the website.

“As a part of the campaign, we asked Kannadigas to upload short videos using Kannada words and sentences. As many as 100 videos have been uploaded on our Facebook page so far. We are also in the process of uploading these videos on our website,” says Anup.

He dreams of expanding the initiative to several metro cities of India, where something like Kannada Gottilla will certainly be welcomed, he feels.

“Why shouldn’t there be a platform like Bangla Jaani Na or Marathi Yet Nahi in Kolkata or Pune respectively?” he asks!

(Source: The Better India)

Excerpts from Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

Excerpts from Satin Island by Tom McCarthy: 

Around me and my screen, more screens: of other laptops, mobiles, televisions. These last screens had tickers scrolling across them, text whose subjects included the air delay in which I was caught up. Behind the tickers, news footage was running. One screen showed highlights of a football game. Another showed the aftermath of a marketplace truck bombing somewhere in the Middle East, the type of scene you always see in this kind of report: hysterical, blood-spattered people running about screaming. One of these people, a man who looked straight at the camera as he ran towards it, wore a T-shirt that showed Snoopy lounging on his kennel’s roof, the word Perfection hovering in the air above him. Then the scene gave over to an oil spill that had happened somewhere in the world that morning, or the night before: aerial shots of a stricken offshore platform around which a large, dark water-flower was blooming; white-feathered sea birds, filmed from both air and ground, milling around on pristine, snowy shorelines, unaware of the black tide inching its way towards them; and, villain of the piece, shot by an underwater robot, a broken pipe gushing its endless load into the ocean.

My phone beeped and vibrated in my jacket. I took it out and read the message I’d received. It came from Peyman. Peyman was my boss. It said: We won. That was it. Two boys ran past me; one fell down; his brother jolted to a halt, backtracked a few paces and roughly pulled him to his feet; they ran on. I looked up again at the television monitor on which the football game was showing. The goal I’d seen a moment earlier was replaying in slow motion. The ball’s trajectory, the arc it followed as it cleared defenders’ heads and keeper’s hands, the backspin of its hexagons and stars, the sudden buckle and eruption of the net’s neat grid as the ball hit it — this sequence now aligned itself with these words sent to me by Peyman: We won. I looked at the screen’s upper corner, where the scoreline was displayed, to see which teams were playing. Barcelona and Bayern Munich. I texted him back: Who won what? Company won Project contract, he responded half a minute later. This I understood. The Company was our company, Peyman’s company, the company I worked for. The Project was the Koob-Sassen Project; we’d been going after the contract for some time. Good, I texted. The answer came more quickly this time: Good? That’s it? I deliberated for a few seconds, then sent back a new message: Very good. His next text crossed with mine: You still stuck in transit? I confirmed this. Me too, Peyman eventually informed me; in Vienna. Come see me tomorrow a.m. Then a message came from Tapio. Tapio was Peyman’s right-hand man. Company won KSP contract, it said. Two more, from other colleagues, followed in quick succession, both conveying the same news. The effects of my chance exposure to this football game lingered after I’d read these; so it seemed to me that Bayern Munich’s striker, roaring with delight towards the stands, was rejoicing not for his own team and fans but rather for us; and it even seemed that the victim with the Snoopy shirt on, as he ran screaming towards the camera, was celebrating the news too: from his ruined market with its standard twisted metal and its blood, for us.

Now my laptop started ringing: someone was Skyping me. JoanofArc, the caller-ident box read. I recognised the handle: it belonged to a woman named Madison, whom I’d met two months previously in Budapest. I clicked to accept. Can you hear me? Madison’s voice asked. I said that I could. Activate your camera, the voice instructed me. I did this. Madison appeared to me at the same time. She asked me where I was. I told her. She told me that she’d been in Torino-Caselle Airport too, in 2001. What brought you here? I asked her, but my question seemed to get lost in the relay; she didn’t answer it, at any rate. Instead, she asked when I’d be back in London. Her face, on my screen, jumped in small cascades of motion from one pool of stillness to another. I don’t know, I said. I popped the news page open as I talked to her. The airspace lock-up was announced halfway down, adjacent to and in the same font-size as the marketplace truck bombing. Above it, slightly larger, the oil spill, with a sequence of photos showing tugs, oil-covered men wrestling with grips and winches, those black-ringed outlying islands, the giant oil-flower and so forth. The editor had chosen a “fade” effect to link the shots together, rather than the more abrupt type of succession that recalls old slideshow carousels. It struck me as the right effect to use, aesthetically speaking.


The same two boys ran past me. Once more the small one’s feet slipped out from under him: it must have been the angle as the floor rounded the row of seats — that, and the fact that the floor was polished. Once more his brother (if it was his brother) picked him up and they ran on. Madison asked once more when I’d be back. She said she needed ethnological attention. How so? I asked, sliding her screen back above the news page. I’m lacking, she began to tell me — but just then the audio dropped. Her face froze in mid-sentence too. Its mouth was open in an asymmetric, drooly kind of way, as though she’d lost control of its muscles following a stroke; her eyes had rolled upwards, so the pupils were half-hidden by the lids. A little circle span in front of her, to denote buffering. My screen stayed that way for a long, long time, while I gazed at it, waiting for the buffering to pass. It didn’t: instead, a Call Ended message eventually replaced both face and circle.

(Source: The Punch Magazine)

Short wives and tall husbands have the best marriages!

I don’t consider myself to be a very tall person, but I’m not shorty, either. In fact, I’m pretty average when it comes to the height department (but when it comes to the weight numbers, I would rather not say).

My husband on the other hand is pretty tall. Like, really tall. He towers over most people that we know and it looks like our children might end up surpassing me in height thanks to his Jolly Green Giant genes. Of course, I’m not complaining. In fact, there’s a new study that says short wives who marry tall husbands actually have very happy marriages (and uber exciting sex lives). Ok, the second part there might have been an exaggeration (or not), but it looks like your height and your partner’s height plays an important role in the happiness factor.

New research shows that couples with the biggest height differences have the happiest relationships.

Dr Kitae Sohn, from Konkuk University in Seoul, South Korea, conducted a study that said height has a lot to do with happiness, especially when it comes to married couples. The study found that a taller husband was directly related to the happiness of the wife. But here’s the kicker: these effects eventually fade in a marriage. Yikes.

“Although it has been known that women prefer tall men in mating for evolutionary reasons, no study has investigated whether a taller husband makes his wife happier,” Dr Sohn explained in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. “A greater height difference in a couple was positively related to the wife’s happiness.”

He added that the relationship between height and happiness gradually weakened over time and entirely dissipated by 18 years of marital duration.

Of course, the Internet had a lot to say about this study. People either agree or disagree with the research. Some comments have included:

“Primal desire to propagate taller offspring is more powerful than we realize. Sorry short guys.”

Another says, “That’s just great. Where am I going to find a three foot tall woman…”

“I’m 5’3 and my ex husband is 6’4. I’m currently in a relationship with a man 5’7 and never been so happy in relationship.” another commenter says. “It depends on the soul connection not physical height.”

I would have to agree with a lot of the critics that say height in this matter is nothing but a number. But then again, I know what I’m attracted to. I’ve always loved taller guys and that’s one of the reasons why I married my husband. Sure, personality is important, but you have to be attracted to the guy to make your marriage work, too! We’re not walking around with our eyes closed here, people!

(Source: Hot Moms Club)

Polyamory isn't 'sleeping around', monogamy isn't natural: Meet Indians who are 'poly'

How does it feel to be in multiple relationships with your partner’s consent?

Society as we know it today, with monogamous, heterosexual marriage being the norm, is suspicious of anyone who does not toe the line.

Whether it is those who have a different sexual orientation or have made other lifestyle choices, it is hard to escape judgment and social censure. But outliers to the "system" do exist, even if they may not be in a position to proclaim their decisions and choices to everyone.

One such group is those who practise polyamory, which is engaging in multiple intimate relationships with the consent of all the partners involved.

No, it's not "cheating" and neither is it "sleeping around".

Is monogamy "natural"?
33-year-old Shekar* is a heterosexual man who is attracted to women. It was in his late 20s that he discovered polyamory.

Calling monogamy "a construct that has become the default programming over centuries", Shekar says that most people are likely to be polyamorous - just that it's hard to be so when monogamy has been the norm for so many years.

This is why, he points out, polyamory has to be cultivated as a relationship practice.

Shekar is currently in a 10-year-long relationship with a woman. While their relationship has been monogamous for the large part, Shekar says that there have been polyamorous periods in between.

For 36-year-old Krishna*, a scientist, polyamory is a political choice he made three years ago. However, he acknowledges that members within the polyamorous community may consider it to be a sexual orientation or a relationship practice.

"I became disillusioned about monogamous relationships at age 24, when I started learning more about IPA (Intimate Partner Abuse)," he says.

Krishna is mostly attracted to women and draws a distinction between what one would call having a "fling" and being polyamorous.

"Polyamory is not the same as casual relationships. In casual relationships, people may have sex with multiple partners, but the relationships themselves maybe considered temporary. Polyamory acknowledges that many relationships may carry emotional weight, and tries to open the conversation up regarding how to handle that emotional weight in the long term," he says.

35-year-old Sandhya* is a writer and researcher. She is a trans woman who is currently in a relationship with an "amazing, amazing woman".

While Sandhya says she is polyamorous in theory, she's currently monogamous.

"I don't know if I had a clear moment of epiphany when I knew I was poly. It was just a slow realisation, along with my changing ideas of gender, sexuality, and whatever else, that monogamy was an artificial imposition and was designed as a system of control and policing of human reproductive capacity and sexuality. Or something like that," she says.

Isn't this just a fancy term for sleeping around?
Sandhya's answer is an emphatic no.

"People who cheat or sleep around might use that as an excuse, but polyamory is based on trust, communication, and establishing boundaries. It means full disclosure to your primary partner, if you have one," she says.

Shekar and Krishna are on the same page.

In polyamorous relationships, "trust" is the operative word and all the people involved know what the terms and boundaries are.

As Shekar puts it, "The whole point of a polyamorous relationship is to multiply and infinitise the principles of care and love, not to denude them."

What this means is that polyamorous people don't believe in an artificial hierarchy where you are forced to care about only one person, pushing others to the bottom. And of course, terms and boundaries can always be re-assessed and negotiated.

Krishna says, "Being polyamorous implies being honest with your partners regarding your intent. Some relationships did not turn sexual after I admitted to being polyamorous. Some partners thought it would be interesting to experiment with it. Some ended abruptly. Some turned into platonic friendships."

Shekhar shares that while he first considered polyamory because he realised he was attracted to multiple women, it's actually his partner who has had relationships outside their primary one.

How do you handle the drama?
When there's so much drama in the average monogamous relationship, does it get multiplied in polyamory?

Shekar says, "When my partner first entered into a relationship with another man, my thoughts were stuck in competition mode, wondering if he was a better lover than me."

However, when he indulged in some self-introspection, he realised that he was making this all about himself and his desire to satisfy every need of his partner's.

He frames polyamory as a "sort of the Copernican revolution of relationships -- the realisation that you don't have to be the centre of your partner's universe for there to be love between you."

For Sandhya, the question of drama doesn't arise when boundaries have been established, and Krishna points out that emotions like jealousy and possessiveness can be part of platonic relationships, too.

So, are you out of the closet?
The Internet has made it easy for the polyamorous to find like-minded people and have discussions and conversations on relationships.

However, in real life, it's a very small circle (outside of their relationships, that is) which knows that they're polyamorous.

Friends, more than family, are likely to be taken into confidence. So, even though polyamory is "liberating", the fact that it is still very stigmatised means that people cannot talk about it as openly as they'd like to, says Krishna.

Sandhya sums it up: "To me the best thing is the idea of polyamory. Of knowing this is a more natural 'state' of human sexuality and sexual expression. And that it allows someone to develop close, intimate relationships and partnerships based on mutual need and desires, understanding."

*Names changed on request

(Source: TNM)

Why the British tell better children’s stories

Their history informs fantastical myths and legends, while American tales tend to focus on moral realism.

If Harry Potter and Huckleberry Finn were each to represent British versus American children’s literature, a curious dynamic would emerge: In a literary duel for the hearts and minds of children, one is a wizard-in-training at a boarding school in the Scottish Highlands, while the other is a barefoot boy drifting down the Mississippi, beset by con artists, slave hunters, and thieves. One defeats evil with a wand, the other takes to a raft to right a social wrong. Both orphans took over the world of English-language children’s literature, but their stories unfold in noticeably different ways.

The small island of Great Britain is an undisputed powerhouse of children’s bestsellers: The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, Winnie-the-Pooh, Peter Pan, The Hobbit, James and the Giant Peach, Harry Potter, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Significantly, all are fantasies. Meanwhile, the United States, also a major player in the field of children’s classics, deals much less in magic. Stories like Little House in the Big Woods, The Call of the Wild, Charlotte’s Web, The Yearling, Little Women, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are more notable for their realistic portraits of day-to-day life in the towns and farmlands on the growing frontier. If British children gathered in the glow of the kitchen hearth to hear stories about magic swords and talking bears, American children sat at their mother’s knee listening to tales larded with moral messages about a world where life was hard, obedience emphasized, and Christian morality valued. Each style has its virtues, but the British approach undoubtedly yields the kinds of stories that appeal to the furthest reaches of children’s imagination.

It all goes back to each country’s distinct cultural heritage. For one, the British have always been in touch with their pagan folklore, says Maria Tatar, a Harvard professor of children’s literature and folklore. After all, the country’s very origin story is about a young king tutored by a wizard. Legends have always been embraced as history, from Merlin to Macbeth. “Even as Brits were digging into these enchanted worlds, Americans, much more pragmatic, always viewed their soil as something to exploit,” says Tatar. Americans are defined by a Protestant work ethic that can still be heard in stories like Pollyanna or The Little Engine That Could.

Americans write fantasies too, but nothing like the British, says Jerry Griswold, a San Diego State University emeritus professor of children’s literature. “American stories are rooted in realism; even our fantasies are rooted in realism,” he said, pointing to Dorothy who unmasks the great and powerful Wizard of Oz as a charlatan.

American fantasies differ in another way: They usually end with a moral lesson learned—such as, surprisingly, in the zany works by Dr. Seuss who has Horton the elephant intoning: “A person’s a person no matter how small,” and, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one hundred percent.” Even The Cat in the Hat restores order from chaos just before mother gets home. In Oz, Dorothy’s Technicolor quest ends with the realization: “There’s no place like home.” And Max in Where the Wild Things Are atones for the “wild rumpus” of his temper tantrum by calming down and sailing home.

Landscape matters: Britain’s antique countryside, strewn with moldering castles and cozy farms, lends itself to fairy-tale invention. As Tatar puts it, the British are tuned in to the charm of their pastoral fields: “Think about Beatrix Potter talking to bunnies in the hedgerows, or A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh wandering the Hundred Acre Wood.” Not for nothing, J.K. Rowling set Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the spooky wilds of the Scottish Highlands. Lewis Carroll drew on the ancient stonewalled gardens, sleepy rivers, and hidden hallways of Oxford University to breathe life into the whimsical prose of Alice in Wonderland.

America’s mighty vistas, by contrast, are less cozy, less human-scaled, and less haunted. The characters that populate its purple mountain majesties and fruited plains are decidedly real: There’s the burro Brighty of the Grand Canyon, the Boston cop who stops traffic in Make Way for Ducklings, and the mail-order bride in Sarah, Plain and Tall who brings love to lonely children on a Midwestern farm. No dragons, wands, or Mary Poppins umbrellas here.

Popular storytelling in the New World instead tended to celebrate in words and song the larger-than-life exploits of ordinary men and women.

Britain’s pagan religions and the stories that form their liturgy never really disappeared, the literature professor Meg Bateman told me in an interview on the Isle of Skye in the Scottish Highlands. Pagan Britain, Scotland in particular, survived the march of Christianity far longer than the rest of Europe. Monotheism had a harder time making inroads into Great Britain despite how quickly it swept away the continent’s nature religions, says Bateman, whose entire curriculum is taught in Gaelic. Isolated behind Hadrian’s Wall—built by the Romans to stem raids by the Northern barbarian hordes—Scotland endured as a place where pagan beliefs persisted; beliefs brewed from the religious cauldron of folklore donated by successive invasions of Picts, Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, and Vikings.

Even well into the 19th and even 20th centuries, many believed they could be whisked away to a parallel universe. Shape shifters have long haunted the castles of clans claiming seals and bears as ancestors. “Gaelic culture teaches we needn’t fear the dark side,” Bateman says. Death is neither “a portal to heaven nor hell, but instead a continued life on earth where spirits are released to shadow the living.” A tear in this fabric is all it takes for a story to begin. Think Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Dark Is Rising, Peter Pan, The Golden Compass—all of which feature parallel worlds.

These were beliefs the Puritans firmly rejected as they fled Great Britain and religious persecution for the New World’s rocky shores. America is peculiar in its lack of indigenous folklore, Harvard’s Tatar says. Though African slaves brought folktales to Southern plantations, and Native Americans had a long tradition of mythology, little remains today of these rich worlds other than in small collections of Native American stories or the devalued vernacular of Uncle Remus, Uncle Tom, and the slave Jim in Huckleberry Finn.

Popular storytelling in the New World instead tended to celebrate in words and song the larger-than-life exploits of ordinary men and women: Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Calamity Jane, even a mule named Sal on the Erie Canal. Out of bragging contests in logging and mining camps came even greater exaggerations—Tall Tales—about the giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan, the twister-riding cowboy Pecos Bill, and that steel-driving man John Henry, who, born a slave, died with a hammer in his hand. All of these characters embodied the American promise: They earned their fame.

British children may read about royal destiny discovered when a young King Arthur pulls a sword from a stone. But immigrants to America who came to escape such unearned birthrights are much more interested in challenges to aristocracy, says Griswold. He points to Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, which reveals the two boys to be interchangeable: “We question castles here.”

In Scotland, Bateman in turn suggests the difference between the countries may be that Americans “lack the kind of ironic humor needed for questioning the reliability of reality”—very different from the wry, self-deprecating humor of the British. Which means American tales can come off a bit “preachy” to British ears. The award-winning Maurice Sendak-illustrated book of etiquette: What Do You Say, Dear? comes to mind. Even Little Women is described by Bateman as something of a Protestant “parable about doing your best in trying circumstances.”

Maybe a world not fixated on atonement and moral imperatives is more conducive to a rousing tale. In Edinburgh—an old town like Rome built on seven hills, where dark alleys drop from cobbled streets, dive under stone buildings, and descend crooked stairs to make their way to the sea—8-year-old Caleb Sansom is one kid who thinks so. Digging with his mum through the stacks of the downtown library, he said he likes stories with “naughty animals, doing people things.” Like Mr. Toad in The Wind in the Willows “who drives fast, gets in accidents, sings, and goes to jail.” As for American books such as The Little House in the Big Woods: “There’s a bit too much following the rules. ‘Do this. Stop doing that.’ Can get boring.”

Pagan folktales are less about morality and more about characters like the trickster who triumphs through wit and skill: Bilbo Baggins outwits Gollum with a guessing game; the mouse in the The Gruffalo avoids being eaten by tricking a hungry owl and fox. Griswold calls tricksters the “Lords of Misrule” who appeal to a child’s natural desire to subvert authority and celebrate naughtiness: “Children embrace a logic more pagan than adult.” And yet Bateman says in pagan myth it’s the young who possess the qualities needed to confront evil. Further, each side has opposing views of naughtiness and children: Pagan babies are born innocent; Christian children are born in sin and need correcting. Like Jody in The Yearling who, forced to kill his pet deer, must understand life’s hard choices before he can forgive his mother and shoulder the responsibility of manhood.

It turns out that fantasy—the established domain of British children’s literature—is critical to childhood development.
Ever since Bruno Bettelheim wrote The Uses of Enchantment about the psychological meaning of fairy tales, child psychologists have looked at storytelling as an important tool children use to work through their anxieties about the adult world. Fairy-tale fantasies are now regarded as almost literal depictions of childhood fears about abandonment, powerlessness, and death.

Most successful children’s books address these common fears through visiting and revisiting the same emotional themes, says Griswold. In his book, Feeling Like a Kid: Childhood and Children’s Literature, he identifies five basic story mechanisms children find particularly compelling—snug spaces, small worlds, scary villains, lightness or flying, as well as animated toys and talking animals—all part of the serious business of make-believe.

“Kids think through their problems by creating fantasy worlds in ways adults don’t,” Griswold says. “Within these parallel universes, things can be solved, shaped and understood.” Just as children learn best through hands-on activities, they tend to process their feelings through metaphorical reenactments. “Stories,” Griswold noted, “serve a purpose beyond pleasure, a purpose encoded in analogies. Story arcs, like dreams, have an almost biological function.”

It turns out that fantasy—the established domain of British children’s literature—is critical to childhood development. With faeries as voices from the earth, from beyond human history, with a different take on the meaning of life and way of understanding death, Bateman says there’s wisdom in recognizing nature as a greater life force. “Pagan folklore keeps us humble by reminding us we are temporary guests on earth—a true parable for our time.”

Today there may be more reason than ever to find solace in fantasy. With post-9/11 terrorism fears and concern about a warming planet, Griswold says American authors are turning increasingly to fantasy of a darker kind—the dystopian fiction of The Hunger Games, The Giver, Divergent, and The Maze Runner. Like the collapse of the Twin Towers, these are sad and disturbing stories of post-apocalyptic worlds falling apart, of brains implanted with computer chips that reflect anxiety about the intrusion of a consumer society aided by social media. This is a future where hope is qualified, and whose deserted worlds are flat and impoverished. But maybe there’s purpose. If children use fairy tales to process their fears, such dystopian fantasies (and their heroes and heroines) may model the hope kids need today to address the scale of the problems ahead.

(Source: The Atlantic)

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Ammachies of Travancore: Wives who were married to royalty but were never Ranis

The wife of the Maharajah was not his queen—she could only be addressed as ‘the consort’ and had no claims to being a ‘Highness’, writes Manu S Pillai in the book 'The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore':

In 1912 a magazine in London carried a feature on the wife of an Indian Maharajah. “Whenever a stranger goes to Travancore, one of the largest and most picturesque native States,” it began, “they always tell him not to address her as ‘Your Highness’. They think this word is too dignified to apply to her. No doubt she is the Ruler’s spouse; but that does not make her the Maharani or even the Rani. She is only Ammachi, just the mother of His Highness’ children, and they believe that word is good enough to express her relationship to the man who is autocrat of more than 2,950,000 people, inhabiting [over] seven thousand square miles of territory, yielding an annual revenue of about £700,000.”

Visitors to Kerala often found themselves fascinated by the matrilineal system that governed succession among its dominant castes. For here, to put it simplistically, a family did not consist of man, wife, and children but of man, sister, and her children. In the royal family too, much to the disbelief of outsiders, the wife of the Maharajah was not his queen—she could only be addressed as ‘the consort’ and had no claims to being a ‘Highness’. There was, however, a Maharani, the difference being that she was either the sister or niece of the ruler, and it was she who produced heirs to the throne through a male ‘consort’ of her own. Power always descended from uncle to nephew and not father to son, and no Maharajah had ever inherited the throne from his father, and no son of his could ever claim anything more than a glamorous bloodline.

So too were the circumstances in which husbands of the Maharanis of Travancore were placed. They had no official standing at court and as late as the 1920s when the ruling queen granted her husband precedence over her chief minister at a banquet, it caused a minor scandal—you could be married to royalty, but you remained a subject. If she had to go out, it was essential that her consort followed in a separate car. At feasts in the palace, the Maharani was served four varieties of dessert—her husband received two. Most tellingly, perhaps, the partners of the princesses of Travancore were not even permitted to sit in their presence, and had always to address their wives as ‘Highnesses’ and never by name. When the aforementioned Maharani decided to ‘modernise’ things and permit her husband to take a seat and to drive with her, her uncle, the Maharajah, ‘much disapproved’ of such radical innovations.
Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi with her consort and children

If this was the status of the men who married Maharanis of Travancore, the female consorts of its Maharajahs were in a similar boat. When in the 1860s Theodore Jensen, a Danish painter, arrived in Trivandrum to do a portrait of the ruler and his consort, he was baffled to discover that they would not give him joint sittings even though the painting was to show them together. As Samuel Mateer noted, “The Ammachi…is not a member of the royal household, has neither official nor social position at court, and cannot even be seen in public with the ruler whose associate she is.” When the Maharajahs’ daughters were married, the fathers could never attend the ceremonies—they were his offspring but they were not his matrilineal kin. And when a Maharajah died, his children were not permitted at the funeral. So too when the consort of a Maharani was on his deathbed, he was removed from the palace. They could have been married for decades, but a consort always remained a mere consort and could not defile the palace by dying there.

This was both on account of matrilineal conventions as well as due to reasons of caste. The wife of the Maharajah, in particular, was never his social equal. The Ammachies were chosen from the Nair community, which was the most important non-Brahmin upper-caste in Kerala. Its members, however, did not wear the sacred Brahminical thread and were, therefore, a rank below the Maharajahs of Travancore who had acquired the thread and a social upgrade in the eighteenth century. Food cooked by his consort could never be touched by a Maharajah (though fried items and pickles were exceptions—and it is very likely many princes cheated) and as late as the 1940s, wives of male members of the royal family were not entertained at feasts. As Rukmini Varma, the painter, who was born Princess Bharani Tirunal of Travancore recalls:

The whole family would assemble for this ritual [feast] but not the Ammachies. They couldn’t come anywhere near us when a meal was being eaten and if by accident they did, then the whole meal had to be sent back—because if anyone below caste set foot in the room while the meal was in progress, it would have to be cooked again. Dinner was always a bit more relaxed because that was after sunset, when everything is more relaxed.
For all this, however, the wives of the Maharajahs were not concubines. They were legitimate spouses whose status, in the patriarchal system, is most comparable to morganatic wives i.e. women married to highborn men on the understanding that they could not inherit their titles and estates. Often the Ammachies were strong, accomplished women and their stories with the Maharajahs moving romances. One Maharajah in the 1850s patiently hosted a durbar in honour of Queen Victoria to satisfy his British overlords. But once the formalities were over, he hastened to join his ailing consort, who died that very night leaving him distraught. In 1882 another prince, upon the death of his wife—the woman with whom he could not be seen in public, whose food he was prohibited from touching, and to whom he could never grant more than basic aristocratic status—wrote: “The loss is an irreparable one and it is more than I could bear with all my fortitude.” He didn’t marry again for nearly twenty years.

Arumana Ammachi

In 1885, when the then Maharajah lay on his deathbed, “he sent for his Consort and children, and they came before him in the evening very late. He beckoned his daughters to approach close to the cot, and the light not being very bright, he bade his Consort trim the flickering lamp, in order to enable him to see his daughters well, and he gazed on them for a while and wept. His Consort and children also wept; but he told them that God would protect and help them, and asked them to take leave. His Consort, his son, and daughters prostrated themselves at his feet, according to oriental custom, and took their last farewell. On the same night his Consort and his eldest daughter took ill, being overcome with grief[i].” Part of the concern might also have been that this particular Maharajah had left them little money-- his predecessor had ensured that his wife was extremely well taken care of.

History has erased the Ammachies from memory on account of the fact that their sons never succeeded to power—at least the consorts of the Maharanis fathered monarchs and could therefore claim some celebrity, unlike the wives of Maharajahs who disappeared into the shadows after the lifetimes of their royal husbands. Kalyani Pillai, the wife of the Maharajah who ruled from 1860 till 1880 was a poet of great talent, with a phenomenal interest in art, culture, music, and more, emerging as one of the earliest patrons of Raja Ravi Varma. An exquisitely good-looking woman, hers are also some of the earliest portraits Ravi Varma did (a rare honour, for normally other men did not have access to the Maharajah’s consort) -- paintings that have never since been seen, however.

Kalyani Pillai 

She was also a very confident woman, the daughter of the chief minister of neighbouring Cochin State, who had been married once before she met the Maharajah. Visitors to court paid courtesy calls on her, and with her husband, she travelled across India. She took English lessons and invited missionaries home to read the Bible with her and to teach her to paint. If an 1868 photograph is any proof, she was also probably the first Malayali woman to wear a sari. After her husband’s passing, however, an associate noted that “she is very thin and delicate looking, and has lost much of her beauty…She seems so friendless and lonely that I feel sorry for her…” By the time she died in 1909, few outside Trivandrum remembered her.

Then there were consorts such as the one who features in that London magazine from 1912. “She has a light complexion and is short and very stout”, possessed as she was of “an excess of adipose tissue” in a culture where every additional pound was seen as “a sign of prosperity”. This lady too had been married before she was espoused by the Maharajah, the difference being that her husband, a palace employee, went on to achieve tremendous notoriety as a corrupt influence behind the throne. Soon the Maharajah became putty in his hands, the consort retreated to an upstairs suite in her palace where she painted landscapes, and the “former husband of the Maharajah’s present wife” became the real power in the state. When this penultimate ruler of Travancore died, his consort was forgotten too though not her ex-husband.

The last Maharajah of Travancore never took an official consort. While there were rumours that his mother, who was the force behind his throne, and minister had an ‘unholy pact’ to keep him under their thumb and prevent a third influence on the man, the official line was that the Maharajah disapproved of the very matrilineal system that had vested him with power, since the idea of his wife being only the consort and his children being excluded from the privileges of his dynasty were most repugnant to him. Instead he lavished his attention on the offspring of his royal sister, who remembered that after signing over Travancore to the Indian Union in 1949, he went straight to the little girls’ room and resumed a story he was telling from the great Indian epics.

Painting by Rukmini Varma of the last surviving consort 

But the story of the consorts does not end with the bachelor Maharajah who died in 1991. The final chapter is yet to close, for living in Bangalore in an old colonial house on Richmond Road is the last of the male consorts who married a princess of Travancore. He was 21 when, in 1938, the daughter of the Senior Maharani spotted him from her palanquin during a procession. Before he knew it, he had been elevated as her consort. Independence followed a decade later and the world changed—the princess and he chose to give up their titles and begin a new life away from the kingdom her ancestors ruled. She passed away in 2008, but today, at the grand old age of 100, her husband still remains in their large, old house, as the last of those consorts who married into what was once the House of Travancore.

(Source: TNM)

33 utterly unusual things that will surprise you abroad

To the present day, every country has its own traditions and norms of politeness, which sometimes can be understood only by natives.

First of all, you’ll be shocked; second, you decrease the risk of accidentally insulting a country’s resident.

(Source: Brightside)

How an Indian freedom fighter’s curry became a sensation in Japan

Rash Behari Bose’s role in the freedom struggle remains relatively unknown in popular history. However, the unique dish he introduced remains immensely popular in his adopted home.

“The story of Mr. Rash Behari Bose forms a vital part of India’s struggle for independence, and the victory which was finally achieved was in no small measure due to his organizational skill and wonderful spirit of sacrifice. If Netaji came out in the fight as Garibaldi of the movement, Rash Behari’s part in the drama was more than that of a Mazzini”- Thakin Nu, ex-Prime Minister of Myanmar.

When it comes to the Azad Hind Fauj (also known as Indian National Army or INA) and its courageous attempts to overthrow the British colonial rule in India, the first name that comes to our mind is Subhash Chandra Bose. However, not many know that the spadework for this legendary organisation was done by another Bose.

An unsung hero of India’s struggle for Independence, Rash Behari Bose was once an officer of the Raj itself (he worked as the head clerk at the Forest Research Institute in Dehradun) but he sacrificed his job and easy life to join the Indian revolutionary struggle. Deeply aggrieved by the Partition of Bengal, he played a key role in the Delhi Conspiracy Case (the assassination attempt on the British Viceroy, Lord Hardinge), the Banaras Conspiracy Case and the Ghadr Conspiracy at Lahore.

Bose also founded the Indian Independence League (the precursor of INA) before passing on the baton to Subhash Chandra Bose when he fled to Japan to avoid a certain death sentence. During the latter half of his life in Japan, he continued to serve the cause of Indian freedom. A regular writer on Indian affairs in Japanese publications of the time, his efforts were instrumental in persuading the Japanese authorities to support the Indian independence movement.

Rash Behari Bose (extreme left), Rabindranath Tagore (centre) and the Soma family at Nakamuraya

Interestingly, Bose is famous among the citizens of Japan (especially of Tokyo) for another unique reason: introducing an authentic Indian curry that is still served in Tokyo’s popular restaurants!

After living underground in Chandan Nagar in Bengal (his native village) for about an year, in April 1915, Bose set sail for Japan under the false identity of poet P N Thakur. He arrived at the port city of Kobe in June 1915, and made his way to Tokyo where he established contact with Pan-Asian leaders sympathetic to the Indian cause, including influential rightist politician, Mitsuru Toyama.

Such was the fear Bose inspired in the British that they hired detective agencies with the express purpose of tracking or assassinating him. They finally managed to trace the revolutionary to Tokyo and asked the Japanese government to extradite him to India. At that time, Bose was living at the home of Toyama and this protected him from being immediately arrested by the Japanese police (the police were wary of raiding the house of a leader as influential as Toyama).

Using the opportunity provided by this brief delay and help provided by his friends, Bose escaped to his new hideout in Shinjuku, Tokyo’s commercial district.

Amid the tiny shops and narrow alleyways of this bustling locality, he found shelter at the Nakamuraya bakery owned by the wealthy Soma family.

Aizo and Kotsuko Soma were supporters of the Indian cause and they hid Bose for many months in the basement of their quarters. Aware of the dangers of letting outsiders know about Bose’s whereabouts, the Somas were careful about entrusting his care only to family members. Soon, an affectionate relationship developed between the family and Bose. It was during this time that Bose introduced the Soma household to a recipe close to his heart.The family loved the delicious Indian curry and it soon became a family favourite.

Meanwhile, a British ship had fired at a Japanese merchant carrier and relations between the two countries had soured. As a result, the deportation order on Bose was withdrawn by the Japanese government.

Now that he was free to stay and move around in Japan, Bose asked Aizo and Kotsuko’s permission to marry their elder daughter, Toshiko, with whom he had fallen in love. As Toshiko reciprocated his feelings and they themselves were very fond of him, they agreed to his proposal and the couple married in a simple ceremony in July 1918.

Rash Behari Bose and his wife, Toshiko

Bose’s story would be incomplete without acknowledging Toshiko’s immense contribution to his life.

Toshiko married Bose at a time when marriage to foreigners, especially to one in exile, was considered the worst case by Japanese society. Not only did she willingly accept the life of a social outcast, she shouldered most of the domestic responsibilities so as to let Bose pursue his goal of Indian independence with single-minded devotion.

Thanks to Toshiko’s unwavering love and support, it seemed as if things had finally started to look up for Bose. But this did not last long. In 1925, at the age of 28, Toshiko suddenly passed away due to tuberculosis, leaving behind two young children. A grief-stricken Bose threw himself into work. Two years later, he decided to partner with his father-in-law to set up a small restaurant on top of the bakery that would sell Indian-style curry and rice.

The selection of ingredients and preparation of the dish – named Indo Karii – was personally supervised by Bose who wanted Asians to experience India’s food and culture without the exchange being mediated by Westerners.

Nakamuraya’s curry clicked instantly with the locals, quickly becoming more popular than the bakery’s signature item, custard buns.

The curious citizens of Tokyo began flocking to the restaurant to taste authentic Indian food and soon the restaurant grew into such a big venture that it became one of the first food companies to go public on the Japanese stock exchange.

Thanks to newspapers that zealously wrote about his struggles against imperialism and his romance with Toshiko, ‘Bose of Nakamuraya’ became a household name in Tokyo and his ‘Indo-Karii’ was famously christened the ‘taste of love and revolution’.

All this while, Bose continued to work towards the independence of India. From founding the ‘Indian Club’ of Tokyo to spreading his ideas through writings and anti-British radio broadcasts, he worked tirelessly to rake in global support to end British colonial rule in India. For instance, in a letter in The United States of India in July 1925, he strongly condemned the deployment of Sikh policemen in the Shanghai massacre. Highlighting it as another instance of colonial abuse of Indian manpower, he wrote:

“… So long as Britain has control over India, the lives and property of weaker nations are not safe, and peace can never reign in the world… The Indian independence therefore is not a question which concerns the Indians only; it is a question which concerns the whole world…”

He also keenly followed the development of the nationalist movements in India, especially of Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose. While he admired Gandhi’s ideas and spirit of sacrifice, he was far more impressed by the younger leader who he described as the “person of today”.

When World War II broke out and Singapore fell to Japan in 1942, there were around 32,000 Indian prisoners-of-war in Southeast Asia. Major Fujiwara (who was in charge of Singapore) had promised these Indian soldiers that he would offer them all the assistance in the fight against the British.

Bose left Tokyo and travelled to Bangkok to help them achieve their aim of liberating India with help from the Japanese. It was here that he founded the Indian Independence League to consolidate the revolutionary uprising against the British, with INA being the military wing of the league. He also invited Indian representatives from Malaya, China, Japan and Thailand to join the struggle.

In May 1943, he met Subhash Chandra Bose (who had arrived in Japan after a secretive submarine journey from Berlin) for the first time and conversed in fluent Bengali. A month later, he transferred the leadership of Indian Independence League to his younger, charismatic namesake.

Thus, he laid the foundation of an organisation that would go on to play a significant role in weakening the British hold on India (as was later accepted by erstwhile British PM, Clement Atlee).

In 1944, Bose suffered a collapse of his lungs from which he never fully recovered. Hospitalised in Tokyo, he would spend his days listening to radio broadcasts of the progress of the INA, hoping to hear the news of liberation of his beloved motherland. Sadly, he passed away in Tokyo in January 1945, two years before India became independent.

There is an memorable anecdote about Bose’s last weeks in the hospital.

Questioned by his doctor about his appetite, a glum Bose answered, “How can I have an appetite when the nurses don’t allow me to have the food I most desire?”

“And what is that?” asked the doctor. The answer, of course, was the Indian curry from Nakamuraya!

Compared to the charismatic Netaji, Rash Behari Bose’s role in the Indian freedom struggle remains relatively unknown in popular history. However, the chicken curry introduced by this multi-faceted freedom fighter remains alive in the popular imagination of his adopted home.

With over 6 billion helpings being served annually, the Nakamuraya Indo-Karii (still made according to Bose’s original recipe) continues to be a Japanese favourite, supplying packaged ready-to-eat meals to supermarkets across the country!

As for the flagship restaurant, it still stands in its original location in Shinjuku with a foyer adorned by vintage photographs of the Soma family and the Indian revolutionary they sheltered. If you are ever in Tokyo, remember to pay this historic eatery a visit, After all, where else will you get to try the “taste of love and revolution”?

(Source: The Better India)