Thursday 27 December 2012

'Honour killings' bring dishonour to India

The public beheading of a woman by her brother in Kolkata highlights a surge in so-called 'honour killings'.

The policeman jumped to his feet as the man walked into the station and placed the head of his sister, along with the butcher knife that decapitated her, on the table in front of him.

The incident in Kolkata on December 7 was another killing in the name of "honour" and there has been a surge in such attacks over the past several months.    

Nilofar Bibi, 22, was only 14 years old when she left home in an arranged marriage. Alleging torture carried out by her in-laws, Bibi returned to her parents on November 28, but vanished days later.

Her brother, Mehtab Alam, 29, had discovered his sister was living with an old boyfriend, Firoz, an auto-rickshaw driver. Alam stormed into the home and dragged Bibi onto the street in broad daylight.

Passers-by looked on in horror as he cut off Bibi's head while saying "she had sinned and had to be punished".

Alam left his sister's body in a pool of blood on the road, and calmly walked to the police station, her head in hand, to surrender himself. The siblings' family expressed support for Alam, saying they were proud he upheld their honour.

In a country currently caught up in collective outrage over a gang rape of a medical student in New Delhi, Bibi's killing registered only a passing reference in the national media.

But the coverage - or the lack of it - failed to hide the true extent of a scourge that bedevils many Indian women.

In a similar incident, a 17-year-old girl, a resident of Khoraon village, Kaushambi in Uttar Pradesh, was hacked to death by her father for having an affair with a 20-year-old from another religion from the same village, on December 24.

In the south, a 19-year-old woman in Sangameshwar village in Dharwad, Karnataka, was allegedly killed and burnt by her parents on December 23.

Read more here.

Sunday 23 December 2012

Bus attack highlights India's rape epidemic

A brutal assault in New Delhi has led to public outrage and calls for tougher sentences for rapists.

Rarely has India, a country of more than a billion people, been so vigorously shaken out of its collective stupor than it has been in the recent days over the horrifying ordeal of a young woman on a speeding bus.

Ever since news broke that the 23-year-old medical student was brutally gang-raped by several men at the back seat of a bus in the nation’s capital New Delhi, shock, shame and outrage have engulfed India in equal measure.

Angry residents across Delhi and other cities have taken to the streets to protest. Stung by the outpouring over anger, even normally inert politicians and bureaucrats have joined the clamour for the harshest punishment for the culprits.

"It’s a day of national shame," lamented Jaya Bachchan, a member of Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Indian parliament which saw members cutting across party lines sink their differences to join ranks in condemning the crime. 

"Rapists should be hanged," said Neeraj Kumar, Delhi’s top police official, who said that he had never come across any other attack in his long career that matched the recent one's brutality.

Read more here...

QR319,000 collected in fines from smokers

Long criticised for non-existent enforcement of anti-smoking law, Qatar’s public health authorities have swung into action and handed out fines to some 829 people so far this year for lighting up in public places.

And the fines the health inspectors collected from the violators totalled an impressive 
QR319,000 — which means that on average a smoker caught paid QR385 in fine.

The places raided by the inspectors included popular hangouts like the City Centre, The Mall, Villaggio, Hyatt Plaza, Landmark and Royal Plaza, among others.

Interestingly, the health inspectors didn’t spare government offices, including ministry buildings, and raided them as well and caught violators.

Responsible for ensuring a smoke-free Qatar, the Supreme Council of Health (SCH) said in a release yesterday that inspectors from its anti-tobacco unit conducted 1,330 raids between January and mid-November this year at public places where smoking is banned.

The SCH has reiterated in its release it would intensify monitoring and conduct more raids, especially as many violators were caught in shops located closer to schools.

The SCH campaign assumes significance as it comes ahead of a law that is reported to be on the anvil, and, which many expect, could see the mushrooming ‘sheesha’ joints, especially in residential localities and near schools, close down.

During the latest anti-tobacco campaign of the SCH, however, what is surprising is that no ‘sheesha’ outlet has been raided by its inspectors and no fines have been handed out to users to ‘sheesha’ addicts, who, understandably, also include an increasing number of women and children.

The current anti-tobacco law is described by anti-smoking activists as weak and lacking teeth as the punitive measures provided for are not deterring enough.

Official figures suggest that some 16 percent of the Qatari population is addicted to smoking, and that includes ‘sheesha’ as well. 

School students aren’t immune. A survey has recently been conducted by public health authorities to determine the extent to which smoking is prevalent in schools.

Its findings are expected to help the SCH come up with ways that are effective enough in fighting this menace among youngsters.

The authorities have recently made it mandatory for cigarette packets being sold in the local market to carry graphic images of deadly ailments smoking can cause, but its impact on the prevalence of smoking in the country is yet to be assessed.

Some youngsters, instead of kicking the habit, have begun buying small steel — and sometimes silver — boxes so they could shift the cigarettes from what is a repulsive looking pack to a fancy case.

(Source: The Peninsula)

Number of women drug addicts on the rise in Oman

An increasing number of women in Oman are falling prey to drugs, according to an expert from Ibn Sina Hospital, which has the country's only de-addiction facility.

Evidence based on patient visits to the facility shows that three to four new women addicts have sought medical attention here every month this year till September. Based on this, an unofficial projection for this year alone throws up a much higher number compared to the 31 women drug patients the Ministry of Health (MoH) has registered over six years from 2006 to 2011.

Acknowledging the trend, Dr Amira bint Abdul Mohsin al Raaidan, a psychiatrist at Ibn Sina Hospital, told Muscat Daily, “There has been a sharp increase in the number of women drug addicts the hospital receives. Not all are registered as patients and 30 to 40 per cent do not come back for follow-up treatment.”

The MoH data for 2006-11, which was provided by Dr Amira, also shows that all the 31 women addicts were in the 16-25 years age bracket and some were drug dealers themselves. The period recorded a total of 1,521 drug abuse cases.

According to Dr Amira, who is also the chairperson of Al Hayat Association, the only NGO working on drug awareness in Oman, and a member of the National Committee for Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, most of the women patients are either addicted to morphine or heroin.

She attributed the cause of addition to influence from peer groups, coercion, failed relationships, easy access to drugs and excess money. Many cases end in relapse due to lack of facilities.

“Some people in Oman are so rich that they don't know what to do with the excess money, and try drugs. I have had patients who are well educated, holding high posts and from good family
backgrounds. Some are drug dealers themselves.”

According to her, half a gramme of morphine costs RO10 while the same quantity of heroin costs RO50. “All the women patients I have handled use injections as the mode, for an instant high. Many of them also end up as HIV positive and Hepatitis C patients.”

Addiction can happen at any age, said Dr Amira. “For instance, an 18 year old girl dealt in drugs and confessed that she can't give up the habit. There was a case where a man forced his wife into taking drugs and later, they both turned into dealers.” She said that it has taken authorities some time to address the problem and added that people appear to be embarrassed to seek medical help in a conservative society such as that of Oman.

Rehabilitation facilities at the Ibn Sina hospital, too are limited, Dr Amira said. “It has just five beds for detoxification. I have more than 100 patients waiting to be treated. We take in patients, detoxify them and prescribe them a course of almost a month.” However, many of them go back to drugs, she said.

“I blame this on the lack of facilities. Oman had always been a timid nation and we did not regard this as an issue until now. It's a wake-up call for us.”

According to MoH figures, the period from 2006-11 registered 1,945 cases of alcohol and drug abuse (men and women) of which 1,521 were drug-related. The 1,945 cases included 1,155 singles, 692 married patients, 83 divorcees and five widows.

The most common mode of abuse was injections (1,009). The highest number of addicts (men and women) were registered in Muscat (1,149) followed by North Batinah (316).

Addicts can be identified from changes in behaviour and physical appearance. They may suffer weight loss, display violent behaviour, and have erratic sleeping patterns.


Old magazines at doctor clinic spread germs

Do you often leaf through a glossy magazine while awaiting your turn at a doctor's clinic? Beware!

Experts have warned that magazines in the waiting room can provide a welcome distraction before having to face the dentist, but they could do more harm than good by spreading germs, claim infection experts.

They insist that magazines should be thrown out or recycled after just a week and not left out to be leafed through by patients for a very long time, the 'Daily Mail' reported.

The UK's National Health Service (NHS) has handed out a warning to a dentist in Lyme Regis, Dorset.

The dentist was warned that ignoring it could lead to her failing an inspection by the Care Quality Commission. 

Experts from Dorset Primary Care Trust have warned that Blu-tack on posters in her waiting room posed a health risk if re-used.

The dentist, who has practised for more than 30 years, said: "I can't believe the magazines would pose any risk to patients. We have some dating back to 2004. Generally we try to keep up-to-date but plenty of old magazines are quite interesting."

The Care Quality Commission stressed that waiting areas should be kept clear of clutter.

"There is no specific requirement for practices to remove magazines within a specified period," a commission spokesman said.

"However, practice owners, as part of a regular cleaning schedule, should ensure that the magazines are in good condition and free from obvious contamination.

"This advice will be kept under review and may be modified in the event of any future community infection outbreaks," the spokesman said.

The General Dental Council said it was heavy-handed to wage war on magazines. "Providing magazines in waiting rooms for patients is a good way of helping them relax and can ease the concerns of anxious individuals," Dr John Milne, chairman of the organisation's general practice committee, said.

He added that posters are used to give advice on oral health or provide information about the surgery and its services. Previously magazines were removed from some doctors' waiting rooms during the swine flu outbreak, the report said.

(Source: PTI)

Thursday 20 December 2012

Bus attack highlights India's rape epidemic

A brutal assault in New Delhi has led to public outrage and calls for tougher sentences for rapists.

Rarely has India, a country of more than a billion people, been so vigorously shaken out of its collective stupor than it has been in the recent days over the horrifying ordeal of a young woman on a speeding bus.

Ever since news broke that the 23-year-old medical student was brutally gang-raped by several men at the back seat of a bus in the nation’s capital New Delhi, shock, shame and outrage have engulfed India in equal measure.

Angry residents across Delhi and other cities have taken to the streets to protest. Stung by the outpouring over anger, even normally inert politicians and bureaucrats have joined the clamour for the harshest punishment for the culprits.

"New Delhi is no longer a safe place for women, and it's difficult to step outside of one's home after dusk."

-Ayesha Ahmed, a resident

"It’s a day of national shame," lamented Jaya Bachchan, a member of Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Indian parliament which saw members cutting across party lines sink their differences to join ranks in condemning the crime.

"Rapists should be hanged," said Neeraj Kumar, Delhi’s top police official, who said that he had never come across any other attack in his long career that matched the recent one's brutality.

Grisly details of what happened that night on the bus are continuing to emerge, as the girl battles for her life in a hospital. Several of her vital organs have been damaged after she and her male companion were beaten up by the assailants before being thrown off the bus.

Doctors at the Safdarjung Hospital are cautiously optimistic that the girl would eventually pull through. But it has done precious little to heal the scars that the mindless brutality has left either on the nation’s conscience or Delhi’s reputation.

If at all, it has further bolstered Delhi’s notoriety as an extremely unsafe city where women face various forms of abuse almost on a daily basis.

"New Delhi is no longer a safe place for women, and it's difficult to step outside of one's home after dusk," says Ayesha Ahmed, a former resident who now lives in Mumbai.

Read more here.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Annapurna Devi & Ravi Shankar: The tragedy of a relationship

In August 2000, Ravi Shankar’s first wife, the reclusive surbahar virtuoso Annapurna Devi, gave Man’s World a rare interview in which she spoke about her torturous marriage and the tragic life of their son Shubho. The interview was a bit bizarre. She invited the writer Aalif Surti to her house, allowed him to wander around, but refused to meet him. She asked him to give a written set of questions and then answered all of them on paper.  

In the Hindustani classical music fraternity, Annapurna Devi’s genius is part of a growing mythology. The daughter of the great Ustad Allauddin Khan, the sister of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and the divorced wife of Pandit Ravi Shankar, she is considered to be one of the greatest living exponents of both the surbahar and the sitar.

The tragedy is that her music is lost to the world. Four decades ago, following problems with Ravi Shankar, she took a vow never to perform in public. Since then she has lived as a virtual recluse, rarely stepping out of her Mumbai residence. She is 74, but has never made a recording. No outsider has seen her play in almost 50 years, except for George Harrison, who in the 1970s was allowed the rare opportunity of sitting through her daily riyaz, that too following a special request from the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Annapurna Devi’s virtuosity, however, is attested by the accomplishments of her students, among whom are some of the greatest musicians of this country — Nikhil Banerjee, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Nityanand Haldipur, Basant Kabra, Amit Bhattacharya, and Amit Roy.
Annapurna Devi’s aloofness from the world extends to not even taking phone calls. The only time she has spoken to the press has been through her students. For this article she made the concession of letting the writer into the house, but did not allow a face to face meeting. She later answered a written questionnaire on a variety of subjects including her hurt at the manner in which Ravi Shankar chose to portray their marriage and the death of their only son Shubho in his autobiography Raga Mala. “I am aware of the false and fabricated stories about me regarding what happened in my married life…,” she says at one point, “…I think Panditji is losing his sense of propriety or his mental balance, or that he has turned into a pathological liar.”
Annapurna Devi’s sixth floor flat at South Mumbai’s Akashganga Apartments bears her name plate and a plastic plaque which says, “Please ring the bell only three times. If no one answers, kindly leave your card/letter. Thank you for your co-operation.” I ring the bell once and the door is opened by a smiling Rooshikumar Pandya (“He is all the time laughing-laughing,” the liftman tells me). A psychology teacher at a Montreal College, Pandya came to Mumbai in the early 1980s to take music lessons from Annapurna Devi and never went back. He married her in 1984. Most visitors to the house don’t get past his room, just across from the main door. However, tonight one of her students, Atul Merchant, takes me through the passage into the ‘forbidden zone’.
We pass the kitchen, where Annapurna Devi herself cooks and cleans, as she keeps no servants in the house. But even while she is busy in the kitchen, her ears, Atul claims, monitor the students playing in the drawing room. Nothing escapes her ears. “Once,” recalls Atul, “her student, sarodist Basant Kabra, was practising Raag Bihaag. All of us sitting near him couldn’t discern any mistake, until Ma yelled from the kitchen, ‘Nishad ka taraf besura hai, sunai nahin deta kya?’” Across the bottom of the kitchen door is a small wooden partition, which was kept, I am later told, for her dachshund Munna. It’s been twenty years since Munna reached the big kennel in the sky but the partition symbolises her affection for him and immortalises his memory.
Straight ahead is a door, which is firmly shut. “Maa is meditating,” Atul says simply and guides me into the drawing room cum talim room. Alongside a wall is a row of sitars of different sizes in their sheaths. We come into a large drawing room opening out through sliding doors on to the Arabian Sea. Near the centre of the room is a well-worn chattai. “This is where Dakhinamohan Tagore, Nikhil Bannerjee, Aashish Khan, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Nityanand Haldipur, Basant Kabra and every one of Maa’s students has sat and learnt from her. And this round cane munda is where Maa sits while teaching,” Atul says. One instantly perceives that the air in the room is extraordinarily dense with silence. There is a sense of an involuntary freezing of the chattering mind. Around the room are paintings and bronze busts of Allauddin Khan, her father and guru, and her legendary surbahar. But it is a small framed sketch in the corner that catches my eye. “That was drawn by Shubho when he was young,” Atul informs me. It is hypnotic. A stark black graphic depicting a series of doors leading you into them. It’s eerie.
Later, I spoke to one of Annapurna’s senior students of Shubho’s illustration. He quickly remarked, “It sucks you in, doesn’t it?” Shubho is Annapurna and Ravi Shankar’s son who died under tragic circumstances in 1992.
Annapurna’s story
Young Ali Akbar was practising his latest lesson on the sarod. His younger sister Annapurna was playing hopscotch outside their family house in Maihar, 160 miles outside Benares. It was sometime in the 1930s. “Bhaiya, Baba ne aisa nahin, aisa sikhaya,” said Annapurna, who stopped playing and started singing Baba’s lesson flawlessly. And she hadn’t even been given music lessons by Baba. Allauddin Khan had trained his elder daughter, but music had caused marital problems in her conservative Muslim husband’s house. Hence he was not going to make the same mistake with his younger daughter. “I was so involved in the music,” Annapurna recalls, “that I didn’t notice Baba returning and watching me. I was most afraid when I suddenly felt his presence.
But instead of scolding me, Baba called me in his room. He perceived that I had a genuine interest in music, that I loved it and I could do it. This was the beginning of my taalim.” Her taalim had begun, as was compulsory for all students, with vocal Dhrupad training. Then, she was taught the sitar. One day, her father asked her if she would like to shift to the surbahar, a larger and more difficult cousin of the sitar, but ultimately a more rewarding instrument. As she recalls, “He said, ‘I want to teach my Guru’s vidya to you because you have no greed. To learn you need to have infinite patience and a calm mind. I feel that you can preserve my Guru’s gift because you love music. However, you will have to leave sitar, an instrument liked by the connoisseurs as well as the commoners. Only listeners who understand the depth of music or who intuitively feel music, on the other hand, will appreciate the surbahar. The commoner might throw tomatoes at you. So what is your decision?’ I was dumfounded. ‘I will do as per your aadesh,’ was my simple response.”
Around this time, Uday Shankar’s younger brother, eighteen-year-old Robindra Shankar (he changed his name to Ravi Shankar around 1940), came to learn at Maihar. At that time, Annapurna was a shy thirteen-year-old and, in the words of Ravi Shankar, “very bright and quite attractive, with lovely eyes and a brighter complexion than Alubhai’s (Ali Akbar Khan).” Their marriage was not a love marriage. “I was brought up by Ma and Baba in an ashram-like atmosphere at Maihar. There was no question of my getting attracted to Panditji. Ours was an arranged marriage and not a love marriage,” Annapurna Devi says with finality.
Pandit Ravi Shankar too writes in his latest autobiography, Raga Mala, “There was no love or romance or hanky-panky at all between Annapurna and myself, despite what many people thought at that time. I do not know how she truly felt about the match before marriage, although I was told that she had ‘agreed’.” And on the morning of May 15, 1941, Annapurna was converted to Hinduism and the same evening they were married according to Hindu rites. Connoisseurs and music critics believe that she is a more gifted musician than either Ravi Shankar or Ali Akbar. As Ustad Amir Khan would later point out, “Annapurna Devi is 80 percent of Ustad Allauddin Khan, Ali Akbar is 70 percent and Ravi Shankar is about 40 percent.” Ali Akbar himself agrees in his oft-quoted statement: “Put Ravi Shankar, Pannalal (Ghosh) and me on one side and put Annapurna on the other and yet her side of the scale will be heavier.”
Annapurna claims this was what led to the discord in their marriage. Says she, “Whenever I performed, people appreciated my playing and I sensed that Panditji was not too happy about their response. I was not that fond of performing anyway so I stopped it and continued my sadhana.” It is no secret that it was this marriage that was the basis of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s popular film Abhimaan, where a famous singer (Amitabh Bachchan) and his shy wife (Jaya Bachchan) have problems in their marriage when her popularity soars above his. Mukherjee in fact discussed the story with Annapurna Devi before he embarked on the film. However, while in the movie the couple gets back together to live happily ever after, in real life Ravi Shankar and Annapurna Devi’s marital discord got worse and they eventually divorced. To save her marriage, Annapurna Devi says she took a vow before an image of Baba and Goddess Shardama never to perform in public again. But even a sacrifice as great as this didn’t save her marriage.
Ravi Shankar recalls the issue a little differently. In a recent television interview he said, “As long as we were married I used to force her to play along with me and give programmes… But after that she didn’t want to perform alone. She always wanted to sit with me. And after we separated she didn’t want to perform… She maybe doesn’t like to face the public or she is nervous or whatever but it is of her own will that she has stopped. This is very sad because she is a fantastic musician.”
Madanlal Vyas, who was Ravi Shankar’s student and the music critic for The Navbharat Times for 36 years, gives another perspective. “After the concerts people used to surround Annapurna Devi more than him, which Panditji could not tolerate. He was no match for her. She is a genius. Even Baba, the unforgiving and uncompromising Guru called her the embodiment of Saraswati. What higher praise than this?”
Unfortunately, her music is lost to the world. There are very few people who remember watching her in concert. There is only one recording of her playing in existence: a rare, private recording from one of their jugalbandi performances which was made from the speaker placed outside the door when the auditorium was filled. Apart from Ravi Shankar, and her current husband, Rooshi Pandya, the only person who has heard her play since she withdrew from public life is the Beatle George Harrison. The story goes that when he was here in the 1970s with violinist Yehudi Menuhin, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked them if she could do anything. Menuhin said he wanted to ask for something impossible — could Mrs Gandhi get Annapurna Devi to play for him? After much persuasion, a reluctant Annapurna Devi agreed, not to a special performance, but to allow them to sit in on her daily riyaz. On the appointed day, however, Menuhin had to rush back home on account of an illness in the family. Harrison thus became the lucky one to see her play.
Shubho’s story
Shubhendra Shankar was born on March 30, 1942, to the newly married Ravi Shankar and Annapurna. Within eight weeks of his birth, he was diagnosed to be suffering from a rare, painful condition due to an intestinal obstruction. Though he was cured within a month, staying awake all night with a crying child after more than ten hours of sitar lessons every day, Ravi Shankar says in his autobiography, put the first strains on their marriage. “…Because of that trouble Shubho had now developed the habit of not sleeping in the night. It continued for the next year or so, and gradually I saw Annapurna’s personality changing. For both of us it was extremely strenuous, and our tempers would fray. At that time I too wouldn’t stand any nonsense, and we would get angry together. I had not known before, but found out that she had her father’s temper. She would tell me off — `You have married me only for music! You don’t love me! You had all these beautiful women!’ She was becoming insanely jealous of any other woman I talked to. Whenever I returned from a programme in another city, she would accuse me of having affairs there. It was like an obsession.”
Shubho, meanwhile, was showing interest in painting and had a private tutor appointed to teach him. He was also being taught to play the sitar by his father. When the family shifted to Bombay he joined the Sir JJ School of Art, although he never completed the course. His father was already a star and constantly busy, either on tour playing concerts or travelling to do music for films and ballets, so his musical education was taken over by Annapurna Devi.
In Bombay, however, the marriage took a turn for the worse when Annapurna discovered that Ravi Shankar was having an affair with Kamla Sastri (later Chakravarty), a dancer from his brother’s company. Upset, she went back to her father’s house in Maihar taking Shubho with her, coming back only after Kamla was married off to film director Amiya Chakravarty. But things were never the same again for Ravi Shankar and Annapurna. In 1956, she left for two years and by 1967 they had separated for good.
Through all this Shubho’s riyaz continued with his mother. Her rigorous teaching method made sure that he developed proficiency in playing long alaaps with beautiful meends. He had also mastered the sapta taan; a skill that experts say Ravi Shankar lacks. How Panditji came to discover Shubho, the sitarist is part of a legend in itself. One day, the story goes, Ravi Shankar was at a recording studio in Bombay for some minor recording where he heard a little sitar piece.
Astonished, he asked who the musician was, because though the sitar was unmistakably a variation of his gharana, which Baba Allauddin Khan had developed, the player was neither Nikhil Banerjee nor himself. The studio recordist laughed and said, “Surely you’re joking, Panditji. Don’t you recognise your own son playing?” Pandit Ravi Shankar called Shubho to his hotel room and Shubho played what he had learnt for him. When the performance was over, Panditji asked the audience, “Don’t you think he’s brilliant?” Everyone agreed. Then Panditji added, “Don’t you think he should start performing now?”
And once again, everyone nodded in assent. So Panditji suggested Shubho should come to the U.S. and start sharing the stage with him. Dazzled by his father’s charisma and also by the lure of the West, Shubho, who had grown up cocooned within his mother’s spartan lifestyle and his art classes, became insistent that he wanted to go to America with his father. His mother asked him to complete his taalim, which he was due to within two years, before performing on stage. But he didn’t agree. As a final offer, Annapurna asked him to study hard for six months, and then he was free to go wherever he wanted. But Shubho was adamant. It was at this point that the famous ‘sleeping pills episode’ occurred.
In Raag Mala, Pandit Ravi Shankar writes: “When I was staying in Bombay sometime in early 1970, I received an SOS call at my hotel from Shubho, asking me in a feeble voice to come home and take him away. I didn’t know what was happening and was terrified by his tone of voice, so I rushed to the flat in Malabar Hill, which I had not visited in the three-and-a-half years since I left for good. There I saw Shubho lying down and looking ill. He clung on to me desperately, like a little boy, and begged me to take him away with me to America, as he could no longer stand the hot temper and harshness of his mother — not only in connection with music but in general too. Coming from a man of 28, this both melted my heart and angered me. I did not want to make a scene and managed to control myself even as Annapurna was shouting in fury, ‘Yes, take him away! I don’t want him!’ After we left I learnt that Shubho had taken 8-10 sleeping pills in an attempt to end his life. Fortunately, the doctor had arrived just in time and emptied Shubho’s stomach completely.”
This was, for many years, the official version of the story. The rest was always dismissed by Pandit Ravi Shankar as the fabrication of Annapurna’s overzealous disciples. But now, for the first time, Annapurna herself says on record that father and son concocted this episode. In fact, in the interview with Man’s World she has been particularly vicious on Ravi Shankar: “I am aware of the false and fabricated stories about me regarding what happened in my married life,” she says, “I have been quiet about it because I thought of Baba while he was alive. I didn’t want to hurt him in any way so I put up with the injustice and suffering. However, now I feel that the world should know my side of at least the Shubho part of the story.
“I think Panditji is losing his sense of propriety or his mental balance or that he has turned into a pathological liar. He has exemplified the English proverb: ‘No fool like an old fool.’ It would be nice if he would devote all his time to teaching his shishyas instead of wasting his time and energy in such frivolous pursuits. His shishyas would be grateful for his gift and India would be richer with talents.
“That year when Panditji came to Mumbai, he learnt that Shubho was playing very well. He called him and after listening to him, initially underplayed Shubho’s artistry and then suggested to Shubho that he should now go with his father. The people of Panditji’s circle pointed out that Shubho was taiyar and that he could play anything and that he should tour with his father. According to Shubho, Panditji had added, ‘Your mother and I have studied under the same Guru so I could also teach you.’ My response was, ‘He is right but he would not have the time for it. Please stay here and continue your taalim for one-and-a-half years more. After that you can go anywhere you like. I would not stop you because by then, you would be ready to take on the world.’
“This is when Panditji and Shubho hatched the plan about Shubho’s taking sleeping pills — a stage-managed drama to malign me and to take him away from me. Shubho was immature at the time and hence unwittingly became a party to his father’s plot. I think he realized this later and stopped communicating with his father a few months before his untimely and possibly preventable death.“Let me share with you what did happen… When I was told that Shubho had taken sleeping pills, I immediately called a doctor who examined him and confirmed that nothing was wrong with him. We also searched for an empty bottle or any other telltale signs but nothing was found. As a matter of fact Shubho himself called his father at that time and told him to take him away as per their plan. My only plea to Panditji at that time was, “You have ruined my life and now you are ruining your son’s life. Why?” His only answer was, “It is because of you.”
Till today I have not understood his motives for interrupting Shubho’s taalim. Maybe it was because of the rumours making the rounds that Shubho was going to be a better player than Panditji and this was my revenge against Panditji. I don’t understand how people can think like that. If Shubho, or anybody for that matter, becomes a good musician the credit goes to Baba. Our music is his gift.
“I know Panditji is very image conscious. Maybe he feels that the recently published book on me has made some dent in his image and his articles are an attempt to salvage his image and assuage his guilt for the gross injustice he did to his son. Shubho realised this during the last months of his life and refused to see his father. Shubho could have been a great artiste; he was close to it. If he had continued his taalim he would have played great music. But a combination of factors prevented it.”
The fact remains that given his prodigious talent, Shubho never achieved the heights he ought to have in America. Within a week, his father fixed him up with a small apartment and a Ford Mustang and within two years of his arrival in America, he played with his father at New York’s prestigious Carnegie Hall. But gradually, he lost interest in playing the sitar. Never a strong-willed person, he developed a passion for junk food and Coca-Cola and ended up doing odd jobs to make ends meet. For a while he even worked in a liquor store to earn extra money. He stopped playing the sitar for almost eight years. He married Linda and had two children, Som and daughter Kaveri.
After eight years, he began playing the sitar again with Panditji and returned to India for a few concerts. On this trip, which was to be his last visit to India, he also met his mother again. Sarodist Suresh Vyas, one of her senior students, recalls, “Picture this scene: mother and son meet again after twenty years. For all these years there has been no communication between the two. He comes in, does pranam. His mother says: ‘Ae Shubo, aesho, aesho. How are your children? How is your wife?’ This goes on for two minutes. After that he says, ‘Maa, ami shikhu (I want to learn).’ She replies, ‘Fine. Your sitar is still there. Take it and sit down.’ And the mother begins to teach the son again. As if nothing has happened!”
Music critic Madanlal Vyas recalls, “Father and son had played together at the Sawai Gandharva Festival in Pune in 1990. We got the news in Bombay that Shubho was besura. Not just one music critic but a few others also said the same. Later, I heard the recording of the concert and found it was absolutely untrue. But by then the news had spread…I did get the feeling that there was a campaign to demoralize him—there were stories that his microphone was tampered with. Whether it was planned or not, I don’t know. But I am certain that Shubho was an extraordinarily talented musician. I remember hearing him play around the same time at a private concert on Nepean Sea Road. He played Raag Des, and so beautifully I have never heard anyone else play, before or since. After the concert when I spoke to him, he said he had learnt it from Maa just that morning!”
“During that visit, it was obvious that he was defeated and broken down,” Atul Merchant remembers. “We tried to convince him to stay on in India and complete his sitar education but he said it was too late now.” Shubho returned to the U.S., and in his last few months cut himself off from everyone. He contracted bronchial pneumonia and died prematurely in a U.S. hospital on September 15, 1992.
Life with Maa
It has been over 50 years since any outsider has heard Annapurna Devi play her surbahar. Those who have the temerity to request her to play are put off with a simple “Mujhe kuch nahi aata (I don’t know how to play at all).” Even her closest students are taught through singing, much the same way as she had corrected her brother years ago. She begins her own riyaz on the surbahar late at night and goes into the wee hours of the morning. Her students swear that after she has played a certain raag, the entire house gets inexplicably perfumed with the fragrance of sandalwood. In a private correspondence she wrote about this phenomenon. “Sometimes while practising at night, I suddenly have a sensation that I am surrounded by the fragrance of flowers. Baba used to say that this is one of the ways in which Sharda Maa makes her presence felt. He also said that whenever that happens, don’t think you’re great or anything. Instead, such experiences should make one feel more humble in the presence of the divine.”
For the rest of the day, her life is no different from that of any woman. “Her day begins at six in the morning,” sarodist Suresh Vyas reveals, “when she wakes up to take in the milk, not very different from any Indian housewife. She sleeps barely two-three hours. She cooks, cleans the house, and even washes her own clothes because her father had told her in her childhood that one should never let anyone else wash one’s clothes. So even if she is sick she makes sure that no one else washes her clothes but herself. As for her cooking, Prof Pandya and I joke that when it comes to accomplishment, there is a close tie between her cooking and her music. And she’s true to her name. No one who enters the house is allowed to leave without eating.”
In her free time, her students say, she listens to old Hindi film songs on the radio or to other music, even contemporary music. She liked A.R. Rahman’s first album Roja. A recent addition is Cable TV. Her students still keep her busy, though advancing age has meant that she has now stopped accepting new students. “I think it is only partially true,” her husband Rooshi Pandya says, “to say that she keeps aloof and away from people. While it is true that she does not meet people socially, as far as music is concerned she is very much involved with her students and their progress. Teaching music takes up most of her time. The rest of the time she spends doing her puja, riyaz and household work and all this does not allow her the luxury of socialising. This is her choice, her lifestyle and she is comfortable with it.”
One hears she has a fondness for pigeons like her father. “Oh yes,” Suresh Vyas says, “Every afternoon, she feeds hundreds of pigeons on her balcony. And mind you, she recognises each one of them. Once or twice, when I went over in the afternoon to drop something, I saw her feeding them. She would point to one and say, ‘This one is very mischievous, he doesn’t allow her to eat.’ In fact, I think that’s her biggest expenditure in the month. As far as I know, she eats very little, though none of us have ever seen her eat. A recent addition to her family is a crow, who comes on the kitchen window and refuses to eat unless Maa feeds him with her own hands. And he loves malai, so Maa saves malai for him.” Then of course, there was Munna. Munna was arguably the world’s first canine connoisseur of music. The dachshund who was Annapurna Devi’s best friend during some of her lowest days had an unerring ear for music. Those who were there recall that whenever any of her students—Nikhil, Shubho or Hariprasad Chaurasia—played particularly well, Munna would run and sit in their lap. “So hers is not a lonely life?” I ask Suresh Vyas. “Not at all, she’s very content in her own world. Though she’s unhappy at another level.
She’s unhappy at the declining standards in music today. It hurts her when she sees unripe musicians tempted by quick money and fame. This saddens her deeply,” he says. “Look at it this way: because we are so close to Maa, we see her as a human being with all the human frailties, but if we step back, there is another, much larger picture.
She was born and trained in an era when musicians lived under the sheltering umbrella of royal patronage. A musician had to please just one person, who was more often than not his student too. But she lives now and teaches music to a generation that plays music for the public to earn its livelihood So that purity, the flight of excellence in music, is vanishing in favour of crowd-pleasing antics. Maa represents the vital last link in that chain. She doesn’t play for the crowds. And she trains us in music in the same exacting way her father had taught her and her father’s father had taught him. Otherwise, if you look around, there is no one else to maintain that tradition.”
So eventually, I never did meet her. But if I had what could I have described? The sound of her voice? The colour of her sari or her complexion? What could I have fathomed from those trivialities? She answered my questions on paper; and from her students and critics and her correspondence I pieced together the story of the greatest surbahar player you never heard. Except for some old pictures, I have no living vision to remember her by. But the one image that lingers in my mind as if I had seen it with my own eyes is Annapurna Devi feeding her pigeons on her sun-washed balcony. Perhaps because the pigeons enjoy the freedom she herself chooses not to have. Perhaps because her father too did the same, and in some secret way she pays a tribute to her father every time she feeds them, chides them and sends them off. And perhaps also because of something her father had said in his last days: “When a pigeon flies, his wings beat in taal… You can count the matras if you don’t believe me. And such a sweet voice… God has invested such a treasure of music in each of his creations that man can take armfuls away but never exhaust it. Goddess Saraswati has given me a little too. But not as much as I would have liked. Just when I began to draw something from the ocean of music, my time was up. This is the trouble, when the fruit of a man’s lifelong labour ripens… Who can understand God’s ways? But one thing I have understood a little. There is a fruit, the custard apple. I like it very much. I eat it and throw the seeds outside the window. And one day I look and there’s another tree of the same fruit. With new fruits on its branches. I eat it and others enjoy it too. This music also is like that. It is not the property of one, it belongs to so many.”
- From the September 2000 issue of Man’s World
(Source: MW)

Rakhi Sawant writes complaint letter against Digvijaya

A day after Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh compared her with anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal, Bollywood actor Rakhi Sawant on Monday hit back at the politician writing a complaint letter against him to the commissioner of Mumbai police.

In her letter to the police chief, Sawant accused the Congress leader of making indecent and lewd remarks, and asked for an FIR to be filed against him for outraging the modesty of a woman.

Here's the full text of the letter written by Rakhi Sawant, which has been reproduced in its entirety with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors:

Mrs. Rakhi Anant Sawant,
4001, Imperial Height, B Tower, Best Colony, behind Oshiwara Depot, Goregaon, west, Mumbai-104, Dated -12/11/12 

To, 1). Commissioner of Police, 
2). Home Secretary, State of Maharashtra, 
3). Sr. P.I., Goregaon Police Station,

Subject;- Complaint for taking cognizance on the lewd and indecent remark on me by One Digvijay Singh General Secretary of Congress Party.

Dear Sir,

I, the undersigned and as mentioned above, respectfully bring to your information my grievances with a hope to get justice, as under :-

1) I am a professional and artist and world known stage performer, famine activist, social worker and cultural Maharashtrian Maratha girl.

2) I have been hearing many news channels playing news on me and calling on and reporting about lewd indecent, outrageous remark on me by the said accused Digvijay Singh of congress Party. Whatever I heard about my self and my person, which is said by the said digvijay singh a as... arvind kejarival and rakhi sawant are quit similar...they tried to expose but no substance..."

3) He said that I am a female and cultural activist. I say that said accused has lowered my image and reputation by comparing with masculine gender Kejarival and thus raised question mark on my feminist. I say that accused Digvijay has compared me with political activistwho has no specific base and character.

4) I say that who told Digvijay singh that I have no substabce. I say that I do not know Digavijay singh personally and neither I have entered into any contractual obligation to claim expose to show. Neither I feel that any such elderly person of such old age shall inter into private life and profession in any manner. For the same I have already issued instruction to my lawyer Ejaz Naqvi to issue notice for claim against defamation for damage of Rs. 50 Crore to said accused Digavijay Singh at his address for loss etc. and further calling on him to stop such comment in further future.

5) Prima facie it looks that Your officer and the concerned state congress machinery is inclined to presume and spread the false contention about my person that I am outrageous. Which is too attracting jurisdiction of state/national Human Right Commission I say that the same contention/presumption of Congress Party and is general Secretary Digvijay Singh is baseless and false and I wanted to prove it by enacting Police investigations. Fore the sake of justice and my right to dignified life under the constitution of India.

In the circumstances and gruesome attack on my noble character and log history of disregarding to lodge proper cognizance despite being informed about such remarks on my person, I finally request you to direct to you subordinate to register an appropriate complaint and F.I.R. of outraging modesty of a woman/female, charges of passing lewd remarks and eve teasing, abusing, mischief, passing defamatory remake and false statement and rumour etc against me and Criminal Conspiracy etc. and further transfer it to C.B.I. against the above mentioned accused under the Relevant provisions of I.P.C. u/s. 354, 427, 500, 511 and also section 67/A and 69 of Information Technology Act 2000 etc. and investigate the matter as disclosed in the Complaint and find out the accused etc. and secure the dignified life & legal interest of the Complainant & in the interest of justice and Right to dignified life as guaranteed of the constitution for all the citizens to get justice.

Yours truly,
Rakhi Arun Sawant Adv. S. Ejaz A. Naqvi
(I have been told all the facts in Marathi before signature),

C.C.-1) DG.P.-Maharashtra 
2) Chairman, State Woman Commission, Mumbai/bandra for calling the accused Digvijay Singh for his lewd and anti woman remark and proper action.
3). Sonia Gandhi , President of Congress party, 10 Jan pat for taking appropriate action on the said accused Digvijat Singh for lovering image of a hindu Woman.

(Source: IBNLive)

Echoes of the past ring true in sound museum

The online Museum for Endangered Sounds stores long-forgotten gadget-based audio for today's networked generation.

Brendan Chilcutt wears oversized glasses and glances over his shoulder as he types.

"Imagine a world where we never again hear the symphonic startup of a Windows 95 machine… the textured rattle and hum of a VHS tape being sucked into the womb of a 1983 JVC HR-7100 VCR," he writes.

Chilcutt? Yes, Brendan Chilcutt. He is a fabrication, a "nerd mascot" dreamt up by three advertising students in their mid-20s who met at Virginia Commonwealth University's Brandcenter.

"Where will we turn for the sound of fingers striking QWERTY keypads? Tell me that," Chilcutt writes.
"And tell me: Who will play my GameBoy when I'm gone?"

It is this question which haunted the trio - Marybeth Ledesma, Phil Hadad and Greg Elwood - who came up with an idea to create an online museum for "endangered sounds".

Read more here...

Saturday 8 December 2012

Echoes of the past ring true in sound museum

The online Museum for Endangered Sounds stores long-forgotten gadget-based audio for today's networked generation.

Brendan Chilcutt wears oversized glasses and glances over his shoulder as he types.

"Imagine a world where we never again hear the symphonic startup of a Windows 95 machine… the textured rattle and hum of a VHS tape being sucked into the womb of a 1983 JVC HR-7100 VCR," he writes.

Chilcutt? Yes, Brendan Chilcutt. He is a fabrication, a "nerd mascot" dreamt up by three advertising students in their mid-20s who met at Virginia Commonwealth University's Brandcenter.

"Where will we turn for the sound of fingers striking QWERTY keypads? Tell me that," Chilcutt writes.

"And tell me: Who will play my GameBoy when I'm gone?"

It is this question which haunted the trio - Marybeth Ledesma, Phil Hadad and Greg Elwood - who came up with an idea to create an online museum for "endangered sounds".

The homepage of the Museum of Endangered Sounds houses audio clips and memories from many a long-forgotten childhood.

The museum, which started as a fun extracurricular project, was born out of a late-night snack session.

"The idea all started when we were on our way to a restaurant. Everyone was texting on the way there, but you could only hear Marybeth because she didn't have a smart phone. We heard her clicking while our texting was silent," explained Hadad, a 28-year-old from Boulder, Colorado.

"It was like an epiphany, because we realised how technology today is so silent and sleek. Then we thought of the opposite - how loud technology was when we were growing up," Hadad, a copywriter at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, told Al Jazeera.

Read more here.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Late marriages among Qataris cause concern

The country’s demographic policymakers have expressed concern over late marriages among Qataris, saying the practice is a hurdle in the way of achieving the target of a higher birth rate in the community.

A high of 43 percent of the targets related to population could not be achieved in the third phase due to lack of new directives to encourage marriage. 

The Permanent Population Committee (PPC) said in its annual report for 2012 released yesterday that it was working on a new law to set up a marriage fund for Qataris to encourage early marriages.

High cost of marriage is a major factor behind delayed marriages among the Qatari youth, the panel said.
“We are planning to launch an awareness drive among newly-wed couples and those who are planning to get married on the benefits of opting for small apartments as a temporary solution,” the report said.

The committee admitted in the report that it has failed to achieve many of its targets related to its population policy. There is severe imbalance between the population of Qataris and foreigners in the country. The population of foreign workers has increased in double digits (at 13 percent annually) between 2004 and 2010. “This is a major challenge before the Committee. The Committee must think of ways to confront this challenge,” said the head of the Committee, Dr Saleh Mohamed Al Nabit. The Committee is also busy assessing the likely impact of the upcoming mega projects on the Qatar’s population which is tipped to grow immensely due to a large influx of foreign workers.

Al Nabit said all concerned agencies must work in close cooperation to help control the impact of the demographic changes and rapid expansion of the local labour market.

The high cost of marriage among Qataris is a major factor behind delayed marriages among the Qatari youth. The committee realised the need for more effective measures to encourage the youth to get married at an early age. The report talks about four focal points in the third phase — population and workforce, education and training, public health and empowerment of children, women, youth and the disabled.

In the education sector, the report identified the major challenge as the failure to link higher education with the demands of the job market. There is the lack of a full-fledged institute to fulfill the training requirement for different sectors. 

To address this issue, the Committee in the next phase will focus on short and long term courses to prepare the graduates for the job market and develop a training system that keeps pace with future requirements.
The major challenge identified in the health sector is to expand the healthcare facilities to meet the demands of the growing population.

The report also underlined the absence of a specialised centre to treat infertility, which a growing concern among the population.

As a solution, the Committee in the fourth phase will lay emphasis on  increasing the number of beds in public hospitals and distribution of healthcare facilities based on the demography of each region and locality.

On the environment front, the major issue cited by the report is a lack of public awareness on the wasteful use of water and electricity. The committee will focus on more awareness programmes on this issue and also encourage designers and developers to adopt green building concepts in future projects.

To promote empowerment of women and children, the committee will focus on establishing nurseries at workplaces to support working women. More paediatric emergencies will be set up across the country in the next phase.

There will be more business initiatives targeting the youth, especially in the SME sector and more job opportunities for people with special needs.

The priority areas in the next phase also include diversification of economic activities for Qatari women, ending all types of violence against children, and increasing the participation of youth in political, economic and social activities.

(Source: The Peninsula)

Sunday 4 November 2012

Lions and tigers as pets in villas terrify neighbours

Some people have big cats like lions and tigers in their homes as pets in flagrant violation of the country’s laws and without realising the threat these predators pose to them and their neighbours who live in constant fear and are exposed to severe health hazards.

A number of nationals have been complaining that some families living in their neighbourhood have tigers and lions as domesticated animals.

A citizen has claimed in remarks to Al Sharq that he knew a fellow citizen who had allocated rooms in his spacious residential compound for tigers which he had been raising as pets.

“Not only that, the man keeps the main gate of his large residence open all the time so children living in the vicinity keep frequenting the place just to look at the intriguing large and powerful carnivores,” the citizen was quoted as saying. “This is indeed a very dangerous thing.”

Complainants have expressed fear that even if these dangerous predators are kept securely caged inside residential compounds a typical stench hangs in the air in the entire area all the time which poses a severe health hazard.

And who knows how securely these animals are kept or caged by their so-called lovers. The beasts could break free and escape and seriously threaten people’s lives. “I don’t think people having such dangerous domesticated animals are equipped properly to take care of them. Most of these pets actually live in neglect,” said a complainant.

“These animals are predators and even at play their huge size and strength make them a threat, and who knows a careless owner might open the cage and forget to close it,” said the complainant.

When told about it, lawyer Mohasin Thiyab Al Suwaidi said it is a punishable offence under Qatar’s laws to keep dangerous animals as pets and anyone who knows about places other than a licenced zoo that have such animals must immediately inform the Interior Ministry. “Keeping dangerous animals at home as pets is more severe an offence than having unlicenced arms,” he told The Peninsula.

In case such a pet is let loose and attacks a person, its owner is to be held accountable. “Qatar’s laws are clear on this,” said the lawyer. The law allows such animals to be killed because their presence in residential areas poses severe threat to life and property.

Source: The Peninsula

Friday 19 October 2012

Celibate Indian priests turn matchmakers

Matrimonial website run by Catholic priests gains popularity in Kerala, helping Christians to find partners.

Priesthood in the Catholic Church is synonymous with celibacy, but that hasn't prevented some priests in the southern Indian state of Kerala from hooking up men and women for conjugal life.

The "men of the cloth" have set up a matrimonial website exclusively for the Christian community, discounting popular belief that the clergy knows little - or nothing - about the intricacies of love and marriage.

Directly managed by Catholic priests, the portal is the "most trustworthy and reliable" when it comes to matchmaking, according to Subin George, an assistant professor at a polytechnic college in Angamali, who found his wife through the service. 

Read more here...

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Celibate Indian priests turn matchmakers

Matrimonial website run by Catholic priests gains popularity in Kerala, helping Christians to find partners.

Priesthood in the Catholic Church is synonymous with celibacy, but that hasn't prevented some priests in the southern Indian state of Kerala from hooking up men and women for conjugal life.

The "men of the cloth" have set up a matrimonial website exclusively for the Christian community, discounting popular belief that the clergy knows little - or nothing - about the intricacies of love and marriage.

Directly managed by Catholic priests, the portal is the "most trustworthy and reliable" when it comes to matchmaking, according to Subin George, an assistant professor at a polytechnic college in Angamali, who found his wife through the service.

More than 10,000 weddings have taken place thanks to the website since its launch in 1996, Johnson C Abraham, the site's executive director, told Al Jazeera.

"We had only 10-15 registrations when we started and now here we stand as one of the most trusted and largest matrimonial services in the state."

- Johnson C Abraham, executive director

Headquartered in Kochi, the portal is named after Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara - the co-founder of the first congregation for men in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church which is now known as Caramelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI).

Chavara toiled for the enrichment of the Christian community and was beatified on February 8, 1986 by Pope John Paul II during his papal visit to India. His vision "good families resemble heavenly abode on Earth" is the motto behind the ISO-certified portal.

"We continue with Chavara's ideologies … This is a service, not a business," Father Roby Kannanchira, CMI, director, told Al Jazeera.

About 30,000 viewers visit the website each day from more than 100 countries, said Father Kannanchira.

Christianity is India's third-largest religion with about 24 million followers, or 2.3 per cent of India's population.

Operating from 13 branches in Kerala - with plans to open another in a yet-to-be named country - the priests' commitment to building strong families has resulted in Kerala's oldest and largest matrimonial service.

"We had only 10-15 registrations when started, and now here we stand as one of the most trusted and largest matrimonial services in the state," Abraham said.

He said referrals from those satisfied with their partners have helped grow the service. "Part of our success lies in our old clients and our popularity owes the word of mouth, rather than any marketing strategy," said Abraham.

Read more here.

Monday 8 October 2012

Splitsville train continues to steam roll down the track

Times are changing and the thoughts of people too. Everything happens quickly, be it wedding or divorce. Decisions are taken quickly, as quick as sometimes we wonder when people got married and when they got divorced and the splitsville train continues to steam roll down the track.

Sorry, I’m not talking about some film stars, their life is like that. But I’m talking about aam admi, people like you and me. I used to often wonder during my teenage how Elizabeth Taylor, the undisputable queen of divorce, had so many weddings in her kitty, not one or two, but eight weddings and eight divorces!

Then in 2005, I remember Shobhaa De coming up with Spouse: The Truth About Marriage. Oh, yes, Shobhaa, married twice, analysed the institution of an Indian marriage through a span of about 40 odd years in her book.

Not because I had a love marriage (I was not married in 2005 and didn’t had any idea of having a love marriage), but as an Indian, it was rather easy to relate to the book. I agree that she has an impressive writing style and yes, I must admit that sometimes I’m allured by her blog. Her book took me through the wedding debate and how it is full of issues, how some marriages last long and how these days weddings are taking a back step over live-in relationships.

And anybody who reads the book can understand that Shobhaa believes in the beauty and sanctity of wedding and it’s easy for us to relate to that concept. Plus, the tongue-in-cheek and familiar conversational style of the book made me to go through the book without any boredom. Each and every chapter not only gives insights into her day-to-day encounters with Indian socialites, her children and her own experience, but also takes up an angle like, talking to partner, handling mother-in-law, dealing with fights, infidelity, differences in love marriage versus arranged marriage, long-distance marriages, importance of sex, talking about children and other trivial yet important issues.

Before I meander too much into that let me come back to the point. Even Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes recently split after five years of wedding. Not to mention Kim Kardashian who ended her knot within 72 days!

These days, divorces happen for silly reasons. I agree sometimes there are serious issues for the break-up, but sometimes I wonder if there’s more to the split or just those silly, trivial issues, as the reasons look so funny! Here, let me give some three instances which I have seen myself.

In the first incident, I came across the divorce of a friend – let me call her as Anita. When enquired, sisters of Anita’s former husband told me that Anita was not doing the household work and her husband was fed up of doing the work even at home, while she leisurely spent time at home. Is that all, I wondered. I have seen my dad helping my mom in household work and my hubby does that and what’s wrong if a man does household work? Wait, let me clarify here. Anita had a baby, less than one-year-old to take care of, so obviously she couldn’t manage the work and the baby. And if that was what bothering him, couldn’t Anita’s husband hire a nanny or a maid to do the household chorus? Is that the reason why he married? A woman who could do all the household work, no matter what else other than that she does? I don’t know. Should I mention that Anita is still single looking after her child and her former husband is on the lookout for another bride for himself?

My friend’s sister – let me call her Sujata – divorced her husband very recently. Her divorce process took her through literally a hell, as it was not mutual. Sujata moved away from her husband’s house within three months of her wedding. She was two months pregnant and she couldn’t take it anymore when her brothers-in-law started calling her by names. It was too much for her to bear when her husband also supported his brothers. After a legal battle for years together, she got her freedom from her husband and today, she lives independently with her daughter and I have heard that her former husband is planning to get married again.

Then, one of my best friend’s brother – let me call him Manu -- had a divorce within six months of his wedding. I was taken aback. They made a wonderful pair and I was surprised about what happened. But the reason was too silly. The newly wed girl refused to go to live with Manu. The very second day after the wedding, she returned to her parents’ house and later sought divorce. When Manu’s parents asked if she had anybody else in her mind, she said no one, but confessed that she was forced to marry by her parents. It’s another fact that she’s still single and Manu married for the second time, but don’t think his second married life is a bed of roses. Will share about what happened to him and generally about the second marriages in another post.

Then, there are my greedy uncle and his wife who saw the divorces of both the sons, my cousins – one a lecturer (let me call him Naveen) and the other a doctor (let me call him Prashanth) -- within three months of the wedding. The first daughter-in-law said on the very first day in my uncle’s house that she doesn’t want to live with my lecturer cousin. Then mutually agreed, my uncle paid Rs 40 lakh as compensation to the girl. They didn’t even bother to take back the jewels given to her during the wedding, as they feared her curses for their family! Then, instead of telling the world that the bahu refused to live with Naveen, they put the entire blame on the girl and told everybody that she was in love with someone else and so she divorced my cousin! No need to tell that the girl is still single and my cousin Naveen got married for the second time, but this time in secret, a poor villager, who is humble and quiet, no matter what my uncle’s family members do or say to her!

Coming to the other cousin, Prashanth, who is a doctor. Prashanth was in love with a girl, who also happened to be a doctor. But things were not in his favour, as her father was an influential officer. My uncle and aunt didn’t shirk back to ask dowry openly this time. And even though the girl’s father knew that giving and taking dowry is illegal, he didn’t bother about it, as all he wanted was happiness of his daughter. The officer gave one kg gold to his daughter and offered Rs 20 lakh in cash, but my aunt was adamant that she wanted to buy a Mercedes car for Prashanth and need Rs 40 lakh in cash, and yes, she indeed got all that she asked for. My aunt bought him a car for Rs 20 lakh and gave other Rs 20 lakh for interest. It was not even three months into the wedding and my aunt’s avarice increased, leading to the divorce. This time also, they didn’t go behind in putting all the blame on their bahu. They told everybody that bahu had the habit of taking drinks! They mutually agreed for the divorce on a condition that my uncle would pay Rs 1 crore as compensation and my uncle sold some of his ancestral property to get the cash and my cousin divorced his wife. Now, they are searching for another suitable bride for him.

One more interesting case is of another distant relative of mine who fell in love with a girl in Bangalore while studying, opposed his parents to get married to her. When everything looked fine after 3-4 months, suddenly a heartbreaking news came that his wife had disappeared with one of her former boyfriends. But it was too late for anything to be done, as by the time, my relative had transferred lakhs and lakhs of money to her account and had bought lot of immovable property in her name. Later, she agreed to divorce him only on the condition that he would forsake all the money and property in her name. God knows if she married her boyfriend or not, but my relative married for the second time, but this time a girl shown by his parents!  

Then, there’s a divorce in my hubby’s family too, which would be redundant if I mention it in this post.          

My parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary a few months back and I keep wondering how they have managed to be together for so many years, when I’m seeing so many of my friends and relatives going through splitsville within a short span of their wedding, majority of them within one year! I must admit here that even I had a couple of rough patches and had thought of calling it quits. Seeing divorces has become so common these days. Why? Is it because of the financial independence we women have these days? Maybe.

I keep asking my mom if she would have divorced my father if there were any such circumstances, and she thinks twice before answering. She feels women were literally dependent on their partners in earlier days and they had no other go but to have a compromised life, no matter how the partner was. But now, women are more confident, but have very low resilience levels. It often leads to compatibility issues and domestic problems, she convinces me, making me feel comfortable and drop any such ideas, if I have any! Moreover, bad marriages lasted long in the earlier days, but now there’s no need for any such tolerance. As women are financially independent and divorce is socially accepted, bad marriages end very soon.

I agree, priorities for homemakers which used to revolve around family, children, husband and home have been taken over by careers and active social life. And as such there’s no wonder that there’s always a sort of comparison, a sort of ego clash between husband and wife.

Whatever advance we may have made, men, society still expect women to be ideal housewives, taking care of homes, even if it means after a hectic day at work, having children, looking after in-laws, being obedient to them, not questioning the financial aspects, etc, etc.

There are couples who go in search of wedding counsellors, maybe they need one, a good one to save their weddings. But they fail to see that their own parents had a good wedding, if they had one and had not set a bad example. Maybe they should look for their parents to see how weddings work. If both spouses sit and think and stop chasing their careers, they can definitely enrich their life, not just keeping it from falling apart. The question is will people, including me, keep their egos at bay and find a solution and find a blissful life?!