Wednesday 31 January 2018

'Mayaanadhi' reminded me to remind men that hey, sex is not a promise

While there should ideally be nothing exceptional about female sexual desire and her choice to wear that as part of her identity, if she so pleases, in the real world, a woman who does not feel guilt is one to be feared, writes Remya Sasindran in the Ladies Finger. Read on:

In the recent Malayalam release Mayaanadhi, Aparna (Aishwarya Lekhmi) tells Mathan (Tovino Thomas) that the two people she loves the most have called her a prostitute in the span of just a day. In the scene before this one, we see the couple spending a passionate night in her house while her mother is away. As dawn breaks, Mathan asks her to come away with him to Dubai. After the passionate night of love making, he is sure she, a struggling actress in Cochin, would have changed her mind about staying back and will move abroad with him.

Her response is simple but powerful: Sex is not a promise.

His reaction is perhaps too predictable: Why are you talking like a prostitute?

Just as she asks him to leave after this hurtful comment, Aparna’s mother comes home and finds them together. Mathan leaves embarrassed, in a scene that is bordering on comical (for him) as he clumsily grabs his shoes. But the director, Aashiq Abu, leaves it up to the audience to imagine what might have happened between mother and daughter, after the man leaves. The next day when Mathan shows up to apologize for having said what he had, Aparna tells him that after he left, her mother, too, called her a prostitute. Visibly hurt, but composed, Aparna tells him she wants to be left alone to live her life as she wants to.

The habit of calling a woman a whore/prostitute/slut [insert synonym and language of choice here] is perhaps as old as the word itself. Women are called this for sexual and non-sexual behaviours and thoughts that don’t fit into the scheme of things for the person (usually the man) calling her the name. What is more, the fear of being tagged a whore has worked very well in keeping women from stepping out of line. In fact, the genius of the patriarchy is such that the word does not even have to be uttered. Years of regressive socialization ensures that pointed questions or underhanded comments are enough for women to pick up on the impending doom of being called a whore and regulate themselves, thus.

Aside: Some women have embraced the word (a la Slut Walk) and wear the tag proudly to protest the very idea: I will not be shamed for my thoughts and actions, or for being a woman. But those women are few and far between. Appropriation of words such as “slut” is a luxury not all women have access to.

While there should ideally be nothing exceptional about female sexual desire and her choice to wear that as part of her identity, if she so pleases, in the real world, a woman who does not feel guilt is one to be feared. Aparna in Maayanadhi is that rare female character we almost never get to see. Pushing the envelope just a little bit are films such as Lipstick Under My Burkha (2017), Angry Indian Goddesses (2015), and Aiyyaa (2012) where we catch women fantasizing about a man without his permission. In that sense, Aiyyaa was a breath of fresh air, in which the female protagonist, Meenakshi (Rani Mukherji), unabashedly and without guilt fantasizes about her object of desire, Surya ( an artist played by Prithviraj Sukumaran).

Is Meenakshi the first female stalker we have seen in a Hindi film? I don’t know. I liked it but am not sure if I liked it enough to excuse that the film climaxes (no pun intended) with the promise of marriage and forever togetherness. In my version of the ending, when Surya asks Meenakshi to marry him (his words: “my mother would like a bahu like you”), I imagine her turning him down for something less predictable and more exciting. Which is also why Maina, Meenakshi’s quirky and sexually explicit friend, is the actual star of the show and it is Maina’s story that truly deserves to be told.

However, beyond the fleeting glimpse of Meenakshi and Maina, we haven’t seen too many other women who wear their sexuality on their sleeve for themselves, till Aparna came along. That in itself says a lot about the fear men have of women who don’t cushion their own sexual behaviour with bouts of guilt.  Cinema continuously throws up the usual suspects: from the quivering virgin to the foul-mouthed, fearless sex worker. And the goodness of all these women is assessed by how they express their sexual desire to the male protagonist.  Somewhere between “silence is golden” and “she asked for it”, women, on and off screen, continue to weigh their actions and words, unsure of how an instance of sexual desire or consent can be extrapolated to her entire being and existence – of her being a whore – here whore taken to mean not a sex worker as they are in the world but as the object of derision that exists in the male mind.

Remember the cringe-worthy scene in Fashion, when Priyanka Chopra’s character wakes up next to a black man after a night of excesses? So bad is the resulting guilt that it makes her quit her modelling career and go back to her small town life.  And let us not even begin talking about the bordering-on-rapey scene from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge when Raj tells Simran that they got drunk and had sex in the hotel room, when they actually hadn’t. Raj treating this (presumably non-consensual interaction given she was drunk) as a joke, while she is horrified at the prospect, is an indication of what an act of sex means to each of them.  It makes me wonder if there are any female characters in a main stream Indian film who has sex with a man she will not eventually marry and then not be attacked by a sense of regret, shame, guilt, gratification, or even, love. Can a woman have sex and wake up to get on with her life like the many “play boy” male protagonists we see all the time?

As things stand now, it seems we have a long way before we get there. Within the spectrum of how female sexual desire is expressed, the scariest one is the woman who does not feel guilt. The idea of a woman who can have sex with the person of her choice and then decide the level of connection she wants to maintain with him, seems anarchic and chaotic in the world we currently live in.

Given this reality, the question that we need to repeatedly ask is: isn’t it high time a woman also thought of sex as something that just is? Not every act of sex has to be a promise, as Aparna tells Mathan, in that rather poignant scene in Mayaanadhi. This statement hangs in mid-air, gaping and unresolved, because men still struggle with the basics of understanding female autonomy.  If she is not a girlfriend, wife, or whore, what is she? So much so that there isn’t even a word framed for this kind of a woman. What do you call a woman who has guilt-free sex and refuses to be identified as a whore, by herself and others?

If only men gave women the same flexibility to be fallible and make human mistakes as they give themselves, perhaps it wouldn’t be so hard for them to understand female autonomy. Men seem to be in a perennial state of being confused by the nuances of female existence and never have any trouble saying so. But in the face of an autonomous woman who they cannot box in, the default mode for men will be to turn to the omnipotent tag of “whore”. An easy way out of saying: there must be something wrong with you, which is why I can’t figure you out.

‘Padmaavat’: Ranveer Singh’s Khilji vs Om Puri’s Khilji

Long before Ranveer Singh played the Delhi Sultanate leader Alauddin Khilji in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat as the mercurial monster, late veteran actor Om Puri essayed his role in Shyam Benegal’s Bharat Ek Khoj, the 53-episode Indian historical drama based on the book The Discovery of India (1946) by Jawaharlal Nehru. Both the works of art are based on Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s sixteenth-century epic poem Padmavat.

While we should give credit to Bhansali for the depiction of a strong Rani Padmini unlike the docile queen in Bharat Ek Khoj, the fault lines are evident in the depiction of the tyrant Khliji. Puri’s Khilji and Singh’s Khilji are like chalk and cheese.

The Khilji in Padmaavat comes across as a vile, snarling, meat-eating savage sans table manners driven by lust - a personification of depravity. His kohl rimmed eyes and towering, brawny physique, seems to be modelled on Khal Drogo from The Game of Thrones. His world, including his wardrobe is enveloped in a dark palette reflecting his primeval universe and his murky intentions. The Khilji in Bharat Ek Khoj dressed in vibrant royal garb looks like he bathes every day unlike Ranveer’s Khilji, a leader whose face is speckled with grime throughout the film. If Ranveer wears furry coats, Puri wears pearls. Puri may have nurtured the desire to covet Rani Padmini after hearing about her legendary beauty but his greed for the Chittorgarh jewels supersedes his desire for the queen. Unlike Ranveer’s Khilji, he is not a repulsive portrait of menace and lechery but a ruthless and authoritarian aristocrat.

A Machiavellian character, Ranveer’s Khilji steers clear of integrity, while Puri’s Khilji does stop and think before he indulges in the unscrupulous act of incarcerating and betraying Ratan Singh. He is polite and cultivated in his mannerisms.

The bisexual insinuations in Khilji’s track from Padmaavat count as firsts in mainstream Bollywood but they are missing in Benegals’ Bharat Ek Khoj. The latter does not even depict jauhar.

(Source: The Quint)

The island that switches countries every six months

Next week, France will hand over 3,000 sq m (3,200 sq ft) of its territory to Spain without a single shot being fired. But in six months' time Spain will voluntarily hand back the land to France. As Chris Bockman reports, it's been that way for more than 350 years.

The French Basque beach resort of Hendaye is the last town before the border with Spain. Out of season, its beautiful curved sandy bay seems to be occupied by hundreds of seals. But look more closely and they are, in fact, defiant winter surfers in wetsuits.

Just beyond a long breakwater is the historic Spanish town of Hondarribia and its sprawling, built-up neighbour Irun. The natural border is the river Bidassoa, which flows into an estuary dividing the two countries.

As you go upstream from the river mouth, the view changes. Imposing and colourful Basque buildings give way to industrial warehouses on the French side, and unappealing residential tower blocks on the Spanish.

But what I have come to see is Pheasant Island (in French Ile des Faisans, in Spanish Isla de los Faisanes). It's not easy to find. When I ask for directions, nobody understands why I want to go there. They tell me there is nothing to see and warn me you can't visit it - no-one lives there, it's not a tourist destination like Mont St Michel.

But there it is - a peaceful, inaccessible island in the middle of the river, with tree cover and neatly trimmed grass, and an old monument which pays tribute to a remarkable historical event that happened here in 1659.

For three months, the Spanish and French negotiated the end to their long war on the island, as it was considered neutral territory. Wooden bridges were extended from both sides. The armies stood ready as the negotiations began.

A peace agreement was signed - the Treaty of the Pyrenees. Territory was swapped and the border demarcated. And the deal was sealed with a royal wedding, as the French King Louis XIV married the daughter of the Spanish King Philip IV.

Louis XIV of France and Philip IV of Spain meet on the island of Faisans in 1660
One other detail was that the island itself was to be shared between the two countries, with control rotating from one to the other. For six months of the year, from February 1 to 31 July, it's under Spanish rule - and for the following six months it's French. This sort of joint sovereignty is called a condominium, and Faisans Island is one of the oldest in existence.

The naval commander in the Spanish town of San Sebastian and his French counterpart in Bayonne act as governors or viceroys of the island. In reality they have bigger fish to deal with, so it's up to the Mayors of Irun and Hendaye to take turns looking after the island.

Benoit Ugartemendia runs the parks division for the local council in Hendaye. He told me he sends a small team once a year by boat to the island to cut the grass, trim the tree branches and that's about it. The river is tidal - you can sometimes reach the island by foot from Spain - so as well as cutting the grass, the Spanish police chase off illegal campers.

The island is tiny - just over 200m long and 40m wide. Very occasionally, the public is invited to visit on heritage open days, but Benoit says it only interests older people and younger people know nothing of its historical importance.

These days, crossing from France to Spain by land is a seamless experience except for the gridlocked traffic - but under the Franco dictatorship, the border was heavily policed. The Mayor of Hendaye, Kotte Ecenarro, told me there used to be sentry points every 100m along the river facing the island to prevent opponents getting in or out.

The border was not always peaceful - here, journalist Raymond Walker dashes across the bridge with a baby during the Spanish Civil War
These days, the mayors of Irun and Hendaye meet about a dozen times a year to discuss issues like water quality and fishing rights. In the past, Spanish fishermen have complained about the shape of French boats and lately have been upset with French holiday makers in canoes disrupting their business.

The island itself is a low priority. It's being eroded - it has lost nearly half of its size over the centuries, as snow melt rushes down from the Pyrenees and into the river. But neither country wants to spend money building up the island's defences.

This year, there will be no ceremony marking the handover. There was an idea to fly the flag of whichever country was currently in - but Mr Ecenarro the mayor told me that until recently, that would only have encouraged the Basque Separatists to take it down or replace it with their own. So in a few days' time - perhaps the world's most undisputed border island will change ownership again. And in August Spain will hand it back once more.

(Source: BBC)

Back to the darkroom: Young fans reject digital to revive classic film camera

Photographers relish the return of 35mm film and a crowdfunded SLR camera in a medium they say has more ‘soul’ than digital, writes Robin Stummer in the Guardian. Read on: 

First it was vinyl LPs. Then more recently, it was the turn of audio cassettes. Now old-style film photography has risen from the almost-dead. Large numbers of still photographers, professional and amateur alike, are turning their backs on digital technology in favour of images with “soul”, conjured by exposing gelatin-coated strips of thin plastic to light – a process that can now seem as remote and exotic as the methods of medieval alchemy.

The first new single lens reflex film camera to be designed since the early 1990s is about to enter production, having been planned and prototyped in a small workshop in Stoke Newington, London.

The Reflex is the brainchild of a small band of young photography enthusiasts and designers from across Europe who, for the past year, have been closeted away in a corner of a Victorian industrial building, creating a brand new camera system using 35mm film.

 Kodachrome, introduced in 1935 and withdrawn in 2010, continues to exert a powerful cultural and emotional hold
The global market for film peaked in 2003, when nearly a billion rolls of film were sold. But by 2012, Kodak, the vast American corporation that had dominated photography throughout the 20th century, had filed for bankruptcy protection, felled by digital cameras and mobile phones.

But film was not doomed. Sales remain a fraction of the high point, with sales of about 20 million annually. But, as with vinyl, the market sank, stabilised, then began to rise. Ilford, the venerable British firm that specialises in black and white film, paper and chemicals, has reported a 5% growth in sales, while Kodak Alaris – the UK-based firm that rose from US Kodak’s ashes to continue producing film and paper – also reports rising sales.

In fact Kodak Alaris is resurrecting one of Kodak’s most popular films, Ektachrome – a colour reversal, or transparency, film launched in 1946 and discontinued in 2013. The firm is exploring ways of reintroducing its most famous product, Kodachrome – also a colour reversal film.

Ann Sheridan in 1941. The Kodachrome look typifies our impression of Hollywood and America in its 1930s heyday. Photograph: Warner Bros/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
Kodachrome, introduced in 1935 and withdrawn in 2010, continues to exert a powerful cultural and emotional hold. It was used widely during the heyday of Hollywood and during the second world war, prized for its saturated greens, blues and reds and the slightly surreal, intense feel that for many became the defining look of 20th-century America. In 1973, Paul Simon eulogised the film, singing: “Kodachrome/They give us those nice bright colors/They give us the greens of summers/Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day.” Steve McCurry’s acclaimed 1984 National Geographic cover picture Afghan Girl was shot on Kodachrome.

As the market for 35mm film crashed, so did that for film cameras: only a handful are still made, mainly by Nikon and Leica. The new Reflex camera is aimed at a generation who grew up with digital picture-taking but have fallen for film. Sold as a camera body with lenses available separately, the Reflex resembles a traditional 35mm SLR camera of the 1960s or 70s but has a removable film back, making it possible to rapidly swap films in daylight without having to wait until the end of the roll. The camera body will have the option of five lens mounts.

“For several months I worked through every single camera design out there,” says the driving force behind the Reflex, Belgian-born filmmaker and photographer Laurence Von Thomas, 39. “I wanted to ensure that there was an alternative to using second-hand cameras if you want to use 35mm film.

Elliott Brown, by photographer Rosie Matheson, was shot using a
Mamiya RZ67 camera on Kodak Portra 400 film. The image was
selected for Portrait of Britain Award 2016.
“Using film is more than just nostalgia. We had a pop-up show for the Reflex prototype in London over Christmas, and the demographic coming to look was very broad. We had children – seven-, eight-, nine-, 12-year-olds – with their parents, trying out the camera.”

Rosie Matheson is typical of the new wave of professionals who have embraced film. At the age of 22, the portrait and documentary photographer has worked for Adidas and Nike, and for Vice and i-D magazines.

“My parents had an old 35mm film camera lying around, and I picked it up around age of seven and started to use it,” she recalls. “I started shooting digital when I was a teenager but I never fell in love with it. The images looked compressed to me, [they] didn’t look authentic. The darkroom is for me almost therapeutic, going into your own world, listening to music, bringing these images to life.

Watching it all happen, a physical experience. We’re now in such an instant world, with iPhones, digital cameras. It’s good to have this slow process, ripping off the wrapper around the film, putting it in the camera.

 Film photography focuses your mind but with digital, the brain tends to wander off when you’re still taking the pictures- Laurence Von Thomas

“With digital, on a shoot you’ll have a team of anything from five to 30 people looking at your pictures on a screen, and then someone jumps in with their own point of view about your pictures, and directs you how to shoot. With film, it’s just about what you see through your viewfinder, and your subject. No one else is involved. That shows in the photographs: there’s more sense of feeling and atmosphere. People are intrigued by a slow process. It means more.”

Von Thomas agrees: “If you shoot on film, your mind focuses very differently from when you shoot digitally. Film photography focuses your mind but with digital, the brain tends to wander off when you’re still taking the pictures, and you’re thinking about adjusting the pictures digitally while you’re taking them.”

With backing secured last month from the online crowdfunding resource Kickstarter, the Reflex team aims to complete refining its prototypes by spring. Keeping this European camera affordable for the twenties and thirties target age-group has meant that it has to be manufactured in China. The Reflex will be available from the autumn, priced between £350 and £399.

Tuesday 30 January 2018

Nasa map of Earth over 20 years highlights astonishing impact of climate change

The visualisation also captures the state of the oceans and life within it. Recent years feature more and more purple patches – areas where little life thrives known as "biological deserts".

"It's like watching the Earth breathe. It's really remarkable," said Jeremy Werdell, a Nasa oceanographer who took part in the project.

"It's like all of my senses are being transported into space, and then you can compress time and rewind it, and just continually watch this kind of visualization.”

This autumn marks 20 years since Nasa began a continuous, global view of life on both land and sea using multiple satellites known as the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor.

Mr Werdell said the visualization shows spring coming earlier and autumn lasting longer in the Northern Hemisphere. Also noticeable to him is the Arctic ice caps receding over time – and, though less obvious, the Antarctic, too.

On the sea side, Mr Werdell was struck by "this hugely productive bloom of biology" that exploded in the Pacific along the equator from 1997 to 1998, when a water-warming El Nino event merged into cooling La Nina. This algae bloom is evident by a line of bright green.

In considerably smaller Lake Erie, one of the five Great Lakes in North America, more and more contaminating algae blooms are apparent – appearing red and yellow.

All this data can provide resources for policymakers as well as commercial fishermen and many others, according to Mr Werdell.

Programmer Alex Kekesi, at Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said it took three months to complete the visualization using satellite imagery.

Just like our Earth, the visualization will continually change, officials said, as computer systems improve, new remote-sensing satellites are launched and more observations are made.

(Source: Independent)

Dear Swara Bhasker, your letter on ‘Padmaavat’ got me thinking

The points that you put forward seem baseless if you think of it from the perspective of a viewer, writes Soumyani Ghoshal in the Quint in response to Swara Bhasker's oppen letter on Padmaavat. Read on:

Dear Swara Bhasker,

I have immense respect for you as an actor. But unfortunately, this particular open-letter has forced me to put forth some ideas regarding this film, Padmaavat(i) and the allegations that you have made against the director and the cast.

The points that you put forward seem baseless if you think of it from the perspective of a viewer. The film is merely a picturisation of 13th century 'Hindustan’, and the director has tried his best to portray that through his film. It would seem extremely unrealistic to portray these women in an emancipated light.

While having these women fight against the Khilji dynasty and safeguard themselves would indeed have been an empowering and inspiring sight, it wouldn't have made any sense to the time the movie has been set.

Needless to say, I am sure the director has made use of his creative liberty to add some glam to the film.

No one is trying to romanticise or glorify the idea of Jauhar through this film. That’s like saying that the practices of adultery and polygamy were justified, glorified and romanticised through ‘Bajirao Mastani’ (not to mention Tanu Weds Manu Returns, a film you were a vital part of).

I hope you don't believe that.

Warm regards,
A woman, and not just a vagina,

Over 7 lakh muslims congregate at Nanjangud for 3-day Ijtema

Nearly seven lakh Muslims including 13 Maulvis from the country and abroad are congregating at the three-day All India Mushavarathi Ijtema (Convention), organised by the Muslim community at the Adakanahalli Industrial Area, near Kadokola in Nanjangud taluk.

People have been coming in buses, cars and trains from yesterday from Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Telengana, Maharashtra and even from Bangladesh, Kenya, Mauritius and other parts of Karnataka and the number has already touched six lakhs and it is likely to go up to seven lakhs by this evening.

The Ulemas or Maulvis conduct prayers, speak about unity and communal harmony, is the message that is strongly sent on all the three days. One of the organisers, speaking on condition of anonymity told Star of Mysore that this is the first time such a big convention is being held in Mysuru and the earlier conventions were held only at the district level.

There are ten camps set up at the site and the food for three days that includes breakfast, lunch and dinner both vegetarian and non-vegetarian costs Rs.150 for all the three days. Five times Namaz is held.

Teachings on Quran are held and there are no political speeches, said the source. People living in Mysuru, return home, while all others stay in the camp.

One of the camp coordinators Aftab Ahmed has set up a camp at the Mysuru Toll Gate to receive the visitors and the second camp is at the City Railway Station where KSRTC buses hired for taking the participants to the venue by paying Rs.50 for Volvo buses and Rs.40 for ordinary ones.

Hazrath Moulana Ahmed Hussain, Gujarat  Hazrath Moulana Ibrahim Ibrahim Devos, Gujarat and Hazrath Moulana Ahmed Lad Saheb, Gujarat, Hazrath Moulana Dr. Khalid Ahmed, Aligarh, UP, Hazrath Moulana Dr. Sana Ulla, Aligharh, UP, Hazrath Moulana Abdul Rahman, Hazrath Moulana Farooq Ahmed, Hazrath Moualna Akbar Shariff Shariff, Bengaluru and Hazrath Moulana Mohamed Zaka Ulla Saheb Siddiqui, President, All India Mili Council, Mysuru District Unit, are some of the many Maulvis attending the Ijtema.

Thousands of volunteers are working day and night and vehicular traffic is being controlled by them. There are no banners or slogans raised at the venue, said the source.

(Source: Star of Mysore)

Law firm buys a $3 million plane to fly its people from Texas

San Francisco rent is so expensive that a law firm bought a $3 million plane to fly its people in from Texas instead of having them live there, writes Tanza Loudenback in BI. Read on: 

Rent and home prices in the Bay Area are so high that one Houston-based law firm is using an alternative to hiring expensive local talent: a private jet.

Patterson and Sheridan, an intellectual-property law firm headquartered in Houston, bought a nine-seat plane to shuttle its patent lawyers to clients in the Bay Area once a month.

Though the jet cost $3 million, the Houston Chronicle's L.M. Sixel reports, it's cheaper than hiring local lawyers, and even less expensive than relocating the Texas lawyers with business in Silicon Valley to the area.

"The young people that we want to hire out there have high expectations that are hard to meet," Bruce Patterson, a partner at the firm, told The New York Times. "Rent is so high they can't even afford a car."

According to Zillow, the median rent in San Francisco is $4,450, while the median home price is just under $1.2 million. Rent in San Jose, a nearby city popular among Silicon Valley workers, while lower, is still more than double the median rent in Houston.

Each flight for the firm costs about $1,900 a passenger — adding up to $2,500 an hour in operating costs — but since the lawyers are working in-flight, the three-to-four-hour ride is billable, the Chronicle described Todd Patterson, a managing partner, as saying. Plus, private flights protect any confidential work and save the firm's lawyers about 36 collective hours they would spend arriving early, waiting in security, and checking bags on a commercial flight.

The firm says it's "still able to offer companies and inventors lower costs because most of the patent work is done in Houston, where commercial real estate is 43% cheaper, salaries 52% lower, and competition for technical talent far less fierce," according to Sixel, who rode on the jet last summer while reporting the story.

"We fly it full," Patterson said. "It's not a luxury item."

It's also "a selling point to recruit young lawyers" who want to work with top tech companies but can't afford Silicon Valley's cost of living, Sixel reported. The firm's frequent visits to California have also brought in new clients including Intuit, Western Digital, and Cavendish Kinetics.

Perhaps some companies looking for talent in Los Angeles, Silicon Valley's neighbor to the south, could benefit from this strategy.

A report from the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Business Council published earlier this year found that exorbitant housing costs in Los Angeles were inhibiting employers from attracting "high performers" or top talent to their companies.

About 60% of the employers surveyed said Los Angeles' high cost of living affects employee retention, with 75% naming housing costs as a specific concern. And nearly all said they viewed high housing costs as a barrier to hiring new mid- and upper-level employees.

Hillary Clinton sends up Trump in surprise Fire and Fury skit at Grammys

Clinton joined John Legend, Cardi B and Cher in a skewering of Trump that saw the group read excerpts from Michael Wolffs’s tell-all book

In an unexpected prerecorded segment at Sunday night’s Grammy awards, Hillary Clinton read a few lines from Michael Wolff’s bombshell Trump White House exposé Fire and Fury. The former secretary of state was the last of several famous folks to appear in the video, in which Grammys host James Corden pretends to be auditioning narrators for the Fire and Fury audiobook.

In the run-up to the video, Corden joked that by next year’s awards the Trump presidency will have inspired a spoken word album and potential Grammy nominee. Spoofing the concept, John Legend appeared reading from the book, which contains allegations that caused a media firestorm upon its release earlier this month.

“Trump won’t read anything,” Legend said. “He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored.”

“His comb-over: a product called Just for Men,” noted Cher, who was followed by Snoop Dogg and then the rapper Cardi B, who read the now-notorious excerpt about the president’s supposed affinity for eating cheeseburgers in bed. “Why am I reading this shit?” she asked.

After a cameo from DJ Khaled, Clinton lowered the book to reveal herself. “One reason why he liked to eat at McDonalds,” Clinton read aloud. “Nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely premade.”

While chuckles from the live New York City audience could be heard upon Clinton’s appearance, not everyone was amused. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley vented her frustration with Clinton’s cameo on Twitter.

Wolff’s book, which has sold more than 1.7m copies and has sat atop the New York Times bestseller list for three weeks, has come under fire for what many regard as unsubstantiated claims and lax fact-checking. Nevertheless, Endeavor Content purchased the film and television rights to the book last week in a deal rumored to exceed seven figures.

(Source: The Guardian)

Monday 29 January 2018

This Kerala tribal woman can prepare 500 medicines from memory

Hundreds trek to the forests in Thiruvananthapuram district to get treated by Lakshmikutty.

She lives in a small hut with a palm leaves roof in a tribal settlement, deep in the forest of Kallar in Thiruvananthapuram district.

Lakshmikutty, a 75-year-old tribal woman is a poet, poison healer and teacher at Kerala Folklore Academy.

With medicinal herbs and plants surrounding her small hut, hundreds trek to the forests to visit Lakshmikutty, who offers herbal treatment for poisoning. But it’s not only medicine that she has to offer but she also helps calm those affected with her gentle words, which can last for hours. 

All her knowledge on herbal treatment, she says, was passed on from her mother, who worked as a midwife. And with neither Lakshmikutty nor her mother making a written record of the medicinal plants and their uses, the Kerala Forest Department has decided to compile a book based on her expertise.

“I can prepare about 500 medicinal treatments from memory. Till now I have not forgotten them. But people come here for poison treatment mainly snake or insect bites,” she says.

Her dream, she says, is to convert her hut into a small hospital, where patients requiring long-term treatment can continue to stay.

Many fondly refer to her as ‘Vanamuthassi’ (Grandmother of the jungle in Malayalam) but she is more than just that. Lakshmikutty also gives lectures on natural medicine at various institutions across the southern states.

“I have visited many places outside the forest. Met many people, but I belong here. My heredity exists here,” she notes.

It was in 1995 that Lakshmikutti got noticed by those outside her forest when she received the ‘Naattu Vaidya Rathna’ award (award for naturopathy) from the Kerala government.

“Till then people used to come here after hearing me from those I have already cured. Before 1995 people visited me from far off places but the number increased after I won the award,” she recalls. She has won numerous awards since then, with the latest coming from the Indian Biodiversity Congress in 2016.

Her persistence made her the only tribal girl from her area to attend school in the 1950s. “I still wonder how I went to school. I was persistent that I go to school and my father finally had to agree,” she laughs.  Together with two other boys from her settlement, Lakshmikutty walked 10 kilometres every day to get to school. She, however, studied only until class 8 as her school did not have higher education.

One of the boys she walked to school with, was her cousin Mathan Kaani, who she developed a deep friendship with, that eventually progressed to marriage. “He was with me in all my decisions and achievements. He used to tell me that I can achieve my goals even without him because I was a strong woman. He was the perfect partner from the day I got married at the age of 16 until he died last year,” she recounts.

Not wanting their children to face the same challenges they had undergone as tribals living in the forest, Lakshmikutty and her husband provided their children with a good education.

“I was adamant that my children should study. Nobody in our settlement gets an education, I consider it valuable,” she says.

But tragedy struck Lakshmikutty’s family.

“The most painful incident I have gone through is my elder son’s death. He was killed by a wild elephant,” she recalls. Her younger son also died in an accident. Another son is working as chief ticket examiner for the railways.

But beyond the world of natural medicine, Lakshmikutty is also known for her satirical poems and writings. She has written numerous articles ranging from tribal culture to the forests, which have been published by DC Books.

Her poems, she observes, can be recited on a rhythm. “These are simple words anybody can recite, it’s not in tribal language as you expect,” she smiles.

And despite all that she’s achieved, the 75-year-old woman insists, “The outer world has given me a lot, awards, honour, published books and so on. But I want to stay here. To live in the forest, you need courage.”

(Source: TNM)

How the sushi boom is fuelling tapeworm infections

As eating raw fish has become more popular, gruesome tapeworm tales have emerged. But how worried should sashimi lovers be – and how else might we become infected?

The good news, said A&E doctor Kenny Bahn, was that the patient who had turned up at the emergency department was not dying. That is about the only happy element of the story Bahn, who works at a hospital in California, went on to tell on This Won’t Hurt a Bit, a medical podcast, about a man who arrived at hospital carrying a plastic bag. Inside the bag, wrapped around the cardboard tube of a toilet roll, was a 1.7-metre (5ft 6in) tapeworm. Bahn measured it once he had unravelled it on the hospital floor.

The patient had complained of abdominal pain. During a bout of bloody diarrhoea, reports Bahn, “he says: ‘I look down and I look like there’s a piece of intestine hanging out of me.’ What’s racing through his mind is he thinks he’s dying … He grabs it and he pulls on it and it keeps coming out. ‘What is this long piece of entrail?’ And he picks it up and looks at it and what does it do?” There is a dramatic pause to enhance the horror. “It starts moving.”

Bahn said that the tapeworm had probably come from the patient’s daily intake of salmon sashimi. “He told me he was freaked out, but I guess when you think you’re dying because your entrails are shooting out your bottom and you find out it’s not you, but something else, that’s probably a good thing.”

The story has attracted attention all over the world, as these things tend to do, says Peter Olson, a tapeworm expert and a researcher at the Natural History Museum’s life sciences department, “because they’re gross”. The worm, he says, was “almost certainly something called the broad fish tapeworm ... salmon is one of the main ways you would pick it up, if you don’t cook the meat.” The life of the broad fish tapeworm involves more than one host. “A typical life cycle might include a bear that feeds on salmon, then defecates back into the river. The larvae would be passed into the environment and, in the case of an aquatic life cycle like this, it would be eaten by something like a copepod, a little crustacean. When that copepod is eaten by a fish, it would transform into a larval tapeworm and that’s what is being transmitted to a human in this case. That would go to the intestine and grow into this giant worm.”

The tapeworm is a monstrous and impressive creation. It has a segmented body, with male and female reproductive organs in each segment, so it is capable of self-fertilisation. It does not have a head as such – its “head” is only useful for holding on to its host’s gut, rather than for “eating” (it absorbs nutrients through its skin). In many cases, you would not know you were infected. You might spot bits of tapeworm segment in your stool – small, pale, rice-like bits – or experience stomach pain or vomiting.

The transmission of tapeworm larvae is a much greater problem in regions such as Central America, where hygiene standards are poorer. Photograph: Science Picture Co/Getty Images
Of the more than 10,000 known species of tapeworm, only a small number can infect humans. The type of tapeworm you might pick up from sushi or undercooked fish is deeply unpleasant, but relatively harmless – although it may cause gastric symptoms and allergic reactions. In rare cases, it can obstruct the intestine (a worm can reach a length of 15 metres or even 25 metres, according to one scientific paper). It is fairly easily treated with the type of worming tablets given to pets.

In those cases, Olson says chillingly, the human is the “final host”. But it is when we are the “intermediate host” that tapeworms can cause significant damage. “The problem is that the larvae don’t grow in the intestine, they move to other parts of the body and in particular to the central nervous system,” says Olson. They can cause cysts in the body, such as in the brain, causing seizures and headaches. In some cases, they can be fatal.

The transmission is far more likely to come from faecal contamination, rather than eating undercooked meat, he says. “It’s a huge problem in places such as Central America, where there is a large pork industry and amount of pig farming; the worse the sanitation conditions, the more likely there is to be transmission,” says Olsen. Tapeworm infection is thought to be a cause of up to one-third of cases of epilepsy in the region.

The fox tapeworm, transmitted from fox faeces, is another variety of damaging parasite. However, although it can be found in Europe, it is not found in the UK. People can get it by ingesting it unwittingly. “A child, therefore, might be more likely to end up with those sorts of things.” Could you pick it up from pets? “Again, only through faecal contamination.” Olson recalls a case where a man was thought to have been infected with a parasite by a dog. However, he had HIV and his immune system was weakened. The tapeworm infection “wouldn’t have survived in him if he wasn’t immunocompromised. In most cases, we don’t share the same parasites [as a dog]. But the dog can bring faecal contamination in from the outside.”

 The World Health Organization has added tapeworm infections to its list of major neglected tropical diseases

Another horrible case involved a patient who had HIV and was thought to have cancer. However, biopsies from tumours found that they were not human cancer cells, but cells from a cancerous tapeworm (he died before he could be treated). He had been infected with Hymenolepsis nana, a common tapeworm thought to affect up to 75 million people at any one time. An infection with this parasite is easily treated, but this case highlights the severe problems it can cause, particularly in areas of the developing world where there are high rates of HIV.

These are among the cases that have affected many of the world’s poorest people. Such illnesses could be eradicated with investment in sanitation, education and drug administration – the World Health Organization has added tapeworm infections to its list of major neglected tropical diseases. These are not the rare, horrific-but-fascinating stories of California sushi-eaters becoming host to a parasitic worm.

However, doctors have warned that contracting diseases in this way is a risk of which we should become more aware. A case report in the British Medical Journal last March told of a 32-year-old man in Portugal who was admitted to hospital with severe abdominal pain; an endoscopy revealed a parasitic worm was attached to his gut wall and it was removed. It is thought he ingested the parasite while eating sushi. “Owing to changes in food habits, anisakiasis [disease caused by worms from fish, causing symptoms such as pain, vomiting and diarrhoea] is a growing disease in western countries, which should be suspected in patients with a history of ingestion of raw or uncooked fish,” wrote the researchers.

In the UK, EU food hygiene legislation requires fish that is to be eaten raw or cooked lightly be frozen first (although some farmed fish is exempt), since cooking fully or freezing kills any parasites. Tapeworms from fish probably cause more economic damage, says Olson, than human damage. “If you have contaminated meat, you can’t sell it. If you’re farming salmon and lots end up with the parasite, you’ve got a lot of meat you can’t sell. In terms of humans getting this parasite, it’s not a killer. It’s just a gruesome thought.”

(Source: The Guardian)

Can see her underwear: Passenger writes to Malaysia about AirAsia crew’s short skirts

June Robertson from New Zealand, who recently travelled in an AirAsia flight, wrote a letter to a Malaysian senator raising an objection to its crew's dress code. In the letter she mentioned that she felt "offended" by the way AirAsia's female staff was dressed up.

She wrote, "The European Airlines, NZ, Australian and American Airlines' staff do not wear such short skirts." She also said that she felt "disgusted" and doesn't appreciate the crew's behaviour.

In October 2017, while travelling from Auckland to Kuala Lumpur, Robertson even told a crew member to "button-up" her blouse as she felt the female staff was bending over them on purpose.

"One of the things we like about Malaysia is the fact your women do not dress like prostitutes and the people are very respectful of others," Robertson mentioned in her letter which was posted on Facebook.

Here's a copy of her letter:

Robertson questioned why a respectful country like Malaysia is allowing this kind of behaviour. The Robertson's letter was addressed to Malaysian senator Datuk Hanafi Mamat.

However, according to a report by a Malaysian Daily, there are theories related to the existence of this woman, June Robertson as well. While New Zealand Herald claims there is no existence of Robertson, Kiwi News portal reported that a woman named June Robertson is registered at the provided address.

(Source: India Today)

‘Padmaavat’: ‘Ram-Leela’ co-writers respond to Swara’s open letter

Swara Bhaskar wrote a no-holds-barred letter to Bhansali lamenting his depiction of ‘jauhar’ in Padmaavat but at the same time, upholding the right to freedom of speech and expression. Not denying that she is a fan of his operatic storytelling, she pointed out the possibly damaging effects of glorifying the medieval practice of self-immolation.

Read her letter here.

The co-writers of Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela and lyricists of one of the songs from Padmaavat, Siddharth-Garima responded to her letter by writing another open letter titled, An open letter to all Vaginas. The letter begins with the dictionary definition of feminism and then goes on decry the concept.

Here are some of the excerpts from the letter. After citing all the incidents in the film that depict Rani Padmini’s agency in the film as a strong queen, they continue to question ‘equality of the sexes’ and Swara’s statement about feeling like being reduced to a vagina after watching the film.
But how can anyone advocate about ‘equality of the sexes’? A woman has a vagina, the door to life. It has the power to procure ‘life’, which no man, however hard he tries, can ever do. The question of equality is settled there, once and for all.

They must have felt like a ‘vagina’ when she chose ‘fire’ over ‘rape’? It was her ‘call’, her ‘decision’ as a vagina. Right, wrong, strong, weak is up to you to interpret as a ‘penis’ or as a ‘vagina’.

What perhaps was a victory for the filmmaker was the blinding of khilji as he entered the fort precincts, by burning embers thrown at him by the women. Such was the power of their fire within that they didn’t let the enemy lay their hands upon themselves. Why make them small and guilty of an act that they chose to protect themselves in the face of lynching and a life of slavery? Why judge that day from 700 years ago with ‘what would I do today’? It’s a film based in the 13th century when women preferred and chose death to rape.

Then don’t watch historicals, here or abroad. A ‘gladiator’ would perhaps shake your sensibilities of a slave in today’s context! Or a Troy might again make you feel like some other body part… A squishy liver perhaps. Since we cant appreciate art, lets violate it. With Karni Sena on one side and the vaginas on the other.

Padmavati was not a ‘rape victim’ who was so shamed that she didn’t have a right to live, as you make it out to be in your letter. Amazing what you all make it into. Was your open letter about Padmaavat or the regressive ‘Bhoomi’?

(Source: The Quint)

Padmaavat: ‘At the end of your magnum opus… I felt reduced to a vagina – only’

In an open letter to Padmaavat director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, actor Swara Bhaskar decries glorification of  Sati and Jauhar which deny women the right to live.

Dear Mr. Bhansali,

At the outset Sir, congratulations on finally being able to release your magnum opus ‘Padmaavat’ – minus the ‘i’, minus the gorgeous Deepika Padukone’s uncovered slender waist, minus 70 shots you apparently had to cut out.. but heyyyy! You managed to have it released with everyone’s heads still on their shoulders and noses still intact. And in this ‘tolerant’ India of today, where people are being murdered over meat, and school children are targets for avenging some archaic notion of male pride, that your film even managed a release – that is I guess commendable, and so again, congratulations.

Congratulations also on the stunning performances all around by your entire cast — primary and supporting.  And, of course, the film was a stunning visual treat. But then all of this is to be expected from a brilliant auteur like yourself, a man who leaves his stamp on everything he touches.

By the way Sir, we know each other, after a fashion. I don’t know if you remember, but I played a tiny role in your film Guzaarish. A two-scene -long role, to be precise.  I remember having a brief chat with you about my lines, and you asking me what I thought about the lines. I remember feeling proud for a whole month that Sanjay Leela Bhansali had asked me my opinion. I watched you agitatedly explaining to junior artists in one scene, and to the jimmy jib operator in the second scene; some minutiae of the particular shot you were taking. And I remember thinking to myself, “Wow! This man really cares about every little detail in his film.” I was impressed with you Sir.

An avid watcher of your films, I marveled at how you pushed boundaries with every film you made and how stars turned into fierce and deep performers under your able direction. You moulded my idea of what epic love must be like and I fantasised about the day I will be directed by you in a protagonist part. I was and remain a fan.

And I want you to know, I really fought for your film when it was still called Padmavati. I grant you, I fought on Twitter timelines –not on the battlefield, and I sparred with trolls not raving manic Muslims; but still I fought for you. I said to TV cameras the things I thought you were not being able to say because your Rs 185 crore were on the line.

Here’s proof:

And I genuinely believed what I said. I genuinely believed and still believe that you and every other person in this country has the right to say the story they want to say, the way they want to say it, showing how much ever stomach of the protagonist they want to show; without having their sets burnt, their selves assaulted, their limbs severed or their lives lost.

Also, in general, people should be able to make and release films and children should be able to get to school safely.  And I want you to know that I really wished that your film turn out to be a stupendous success, a blockbuster breaking box office records, whose collections itself would be a slap in the faces of the Karni Sena terrorists and their ilk. And so it was with great excitement and the zeal of a believer that I booked first day, first show tickets for Padmaavat, and took my whole family and our cook to watch the film.

Perhaps it is because of this attachment and concern that I had for the film that I am SO stunned having watched it. And perhaps that is why I take the liberty and have the temerity to write to you. I will try and be concise and direct though there is much to say.

Women have the right to live, despite being raped sir.
Women have the right to live, despite the death of their husbands, male ‘protectors’, ‘owners’, ‘controllers of their sexuality’.. whatever you understand the men to be.
Women have the right to live — independent of whether men are living or not.
Women have the right to live. Period.
It’s actually pretty basic.

Some more basic points:

Women are not only walking talking vaginas.
Yes, women have vaginas, but they have more to them as well. So their whole life need not be focused on the vagina, and controlling it, protecting it, maintaining it’s purity. (Maybe in the 13th century that was the case, but in the 21st century we do not need to subscribe to these limiting ideas. We certainly do not need to glorify them. )
It would be nice if the vaginas are respected; but in the unfortunate case that they are not, a woman can continue to live. She need not be punished with death, because another person disrespected her vagina without her consent.
There is life outside the vagina, and so there can be life after rape. (I know I repeat, but this point can never be stressed enough.)
In general there is more to life than the vagina.
You may be wondering why the hell I am going on and on thus about vaginas. Because Sir, that’s what I felt like at the end of your magnum opus. I felt like a vagina. I felt reduced to a vagina–only. I felt like all the ‘minor’ achievements that women and women’s movements have made over the years– like the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to education, equal pay for equal work, maternity leave, the Vishakha judgement, the right to adopt children…… all of it was pointless; because we were back to basics.

We were back to the basic question — of right to life. Your film, it felt, had brought us back to that question from the Dark Ages – do women – widowed, raped, young, old, pregnant, pre-pubescent… do they have the right to live?

I understand that Jauhar and Sati are a part of our social history. These happened. I understand that they are sensational, shocking dramatic occurrences that lend themselves to splendid, stark and stunning visual representation; especially in the hands of a consummate maker like yourself — but then so were the lynchings of blacks by murderous white mobs in the 19th century in the US – sensational, shocking dramatic social occurrences. Does that mean one should make a film about it with no perspective on racism? Or, without a comment on racial hatred? Worse, should one make a film glorifying lynchings as a sign of some warped notion of hot-bloodedness, purity, bravery – I don’t know, I have no idea how possibly one could glorify such a heinous hate crime.

Surely Sir, you agree that Sati, and Jauhar are not practices to be glorified. Surely, you agree that notwithstanding whatever archaic idea of honour, sacrifice, purity propels women and men to participate in and condone such practices; that basically Sati and Jauhar, like the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Honour Killings, are steeped in deeply patriarchal, misogynist and problematic ideas.  A mentality that believes that the worth of women lies in their vaginas, that female lives are worthless if the women are no longer controlled by male owners or if their bodies have been ‘desecrated’ by the touch of ; or even the gaze of a male who doesn’t by social sanction ‘own’ or ‘control’ the female.

Practices like Sati, Jauhar, FGM, Honour Killings should not be glorified because they don’t merely deny women equality, they deny women personhood. They deny women humanity. They deny women the right to life. And that is wrong. One would have assumed that in 2018, this is not a point that even needs to be made; but apparently, it does. Surely, you wouldn’t consider making a film glorifying FGM or Honour Killings!

Sir, you will say to me that I am over-reacting and that I must see the film in its context. That it’s a story about people in the 13th Century. And in the 13th century that’s what life was– polygamy was accepted,  Muslims were beasts who devoured meat and women alike, and honourable Hindu women happily jumped into their husbands funeral pyre, and if they couldn’t make it to the funeral, they built a pyre and rushed into it — in fact, they liked the idea of collective suicide so much that they gleefully discussed it over their daily beautification rituals. “Verisimilitude” you will say to me.

No Sir; Rajasthan in the 13th century with its cruel practices is merely the historical setting of the ballad you have adapted into the film Padmaavat. The context of your film is India in the 21st century; where five years ago, a girl was gang-raped brutally in the country’s capital inside a moving bus. She didn’t commit suicide because her honour had been desecrated, Sir. She fought her six rapists. She fought them so hard that one of those monsters shoved an iron rod up her vagina. She was found on the road with her intestines spilling out. Apologies for the graphic details, Sir, but this is the real ‘context’ of your film.
Swara Bhasker
A week before your film released, a 15-year-old Dalit girl was brutally gang-raped in Jind in Haryana; a crime bearing sinister similarities to the rape of Nirbhaya.

You do know that acts like Sati and raping women are two sides of the same mindset. A rapist attempts to violate and attack a woman in her genital area, penetrate it forcibly, mutilate it in an effort to control the woman, dominate her or annihilate her. A Sati- Jauhar apologist or supporter attempts to annihilate  the woman altogether if the genitals have been violated or if her genitals are no longer in the control of a ‘rightful’ male owner. In both cases the attempt and idea is to reduce women to a sum total of their genitals.

The context of art, any art is the time and place when it was created and consumed. And that’s why this gang-rape infested India, this rape condoning mindset, this victim blaming society is the actual context of your film, Sir. Surely in this context, you could have offered some sort of a critique of Sati and Jauhar in your film?

You will say that you put out a disclaimer at the beginning of the film claiming that the film did not support Sati or Jauhar. Sure Sir, but you followed that up with a two-hour-45-minute-long paean on Rajput honour, and the bravery of honourable Rajput women who chose happily to sacrifice their lives in raging flames, than to be touched by enemy men who were not their husbands but were incidentally Muslim.

There were more than three instances of the ‘good’ characters of your story speaking of Sati/Jauhar as the honourable choice, your female protagonist – epitome of both beauty, brains and virtue sought permission from her husband to commit Jauhar, because she could not even die without his permission; soon after she delivered a long speech about the war between Satya and Asatya, Dharm and Adharm and presented collective Sati to be the path of Truth and Dharm.

 Then in the climax, breathtakingly shot of course – hundreds of women bedecked in red like Goddess Durga as bride rushed into the Jauhar fire while a raving Muslim psychopathic villain loomed over them and a pulsating musical track – that had the power of an anthem; seduced the audience into being awestruck and admiring of this act. Sir, if this is not glorification and support of Sati and Jauhar, I really do not know what is.

I felt very uncomfortable watching your climax, watching that pregnant woman and little girl walk into the fire. I felt my existence was illegitimate because God forbid anything untoward happened to me, I would do everything in my power to sneak out of that fiery pit– even if that meant being enslaved to a monster like Khilji forever. I felt in that moment that it was wrong of me to choose life over death. It was wrong to have the desire to live. This Sir, is the power of cinema.

Your cinema particularly is inspiring, evocative and powerful. It can move audiences to emotional highs and lows. It can influence thinking and that, Sir, is why you must be responsible as to what it is you are doing and saying in your film.

It was with great difficulty that a group of reform-minded Indians, and the provincial British Colonial governments and Princely States in India abolished and criminalised Sati in a series of judgments between 1829 and 1861. In independent India, The Indian Sati Prevention Act (1988) further criminalised any type of aiding, abetting, and glorifying of Sati. Your act of thoughtlessly glorifying this misogynistic criminal practice is something you ought to answer for, Sir. As your ticket- buying audience, I have the right to ask you how and why you did this.

You must be aware that modern Indian history has recorded some more recent Jauhar– like acts. During India and Pakistan’s bloody Partition some 75,000 women were raped, kidnapped, abducted, forcibly impregnated by men of the ‘other’ religion. There were numerous instances of voluntary and assisted suicides by women, in some cases husbands and fathers themselves beheaded their wives and daughters before men of the ‘other’ religion could touch them.

Bir Bahadur Singh, survivor of the riots in Thoa Khalsa in Punjab, described a scene of women jumping into the village well to commit suicide. In about half an hour, he recalled, the well was full. The women on top survived. His mother was a survivor. Singh, recalls author Urvashi Butalia in her 1998 book The Other Side Of Silence, was ashamed of his mother for living for the remainder of her life. This is among the darkest periods of Indian history and ought to be remembered with shame, horror, sadness, reflection, empathy, nuance; not with thoughtless sensational glorification. These sad tales of the Partition, too, are a less obvious context of your film Padmaavat.

Mr. Bhansali, I will end in peace; wishing that you make many more films the way you want to, and are allowed to shoot and release them in peace; that you, your actors, your producers, your studio and your audiences remain safe from threats and vandalism. I promise to fight trolls and television commentators for your freedom to express; but I also promise to ask you questions about the art you make for public consumption. Meanwhile, let’s hope that no zealot member of any Karni Sena or some Marni Sena gets the idea to demand decriminalisation of the practice of Sati!


Swara Bhasker
Desirous of Life

p.s: Swara Bhasker is an award winning actress in the Hindi film industry whose filmography includes the critically acclaimed Anaarkali Of Aarah (2017), the critical-commercial success Nil Battey Sannata (2016);  superhit blockbuster films Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo (2015),  Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015), Raanjhanaa (2013) and Tanu Weds Manu (2011).
She is also an occasional writer and columnist and her short stories and articles have appeared in The Little Magazine, Seminar, The Himal Southasian, The Hindu and the Indian Express.

(Source: The Wire)

Sunday 28 January 2018

Vows, promises and resolutions In Indian mythology

A resolution was for keeps: breaking it was akin to dishonour, a sin, an irrefutable measure of self-failure, writes author Kavita Kane in She the People TV. Read on: 

What would Ramayan be without the vow given to Kaikeyi by King Dashrath? Or would the course of events and the internecine bloodshed have been averted had Bhishma not taken his monstrous oath of lifelong celibacy and relinquishing his rights?

The premise of both the epics, interestingly, hinges on promises, resolutions and oaths. While Bhishma’s is a self-imposed vow, the one by King Dashrath becomes an enforced plea, an anguished order, and eventually a burden to be borne by his own death and the travails of his son Ram, who is exiled for fourteen years. But in both cases, the resolutions are the trigger points; they change the narrative quickly and drastically.

That brings us to the importance and impact of such heavy, humongous resolutions in the epics. Why are resolutions taken? However varied may be the answers, they were definitely not meant to be broken.

A resolution was for keeps: breaking it was akin to dishonour, a sin, an irrefutable measure of self-failure.

The vow starts as an act of gratitude by King Dashrath who gives his young wife two boons when she saves his life in the battlefield. She dismisses it but the king promises to grant them whenever she wants. She takes it at the opportune time of Ram’s coronation: she wants the throne for her son, Bharat and Ram to go in exile for 14 years.

A son does not go against his father’s orders, especially when he had given his word to his wife.
Although the vow in the form of two boons, is given by his father to his stepmother, it is Ram who has to bear the brunt of it – as intended by Kaikeyi. Breaking it is inconceivable. The resolution hardens thereby into a command, which Ram, unhesitatingly obeys, considering it his filial duty. A son does not go against his father’s orders, especially when he had given his word to his wife. Carrying out the resolution is a moral obligation, not just appeasement of it.

On this single pledge, the entire Ramayan is weaved and woven with its threads of politics and promises, devotion and disappointments, acceptance and rejection. It is this vow which makes Ram for what he is, taking with him in the tide, the fate and future of his wife Sita and his brother Lakshman. It is Dashrath’s grateful vow to his wife that takes a turn for the worst to usher in the drama and disillusionment in the royal family.

However dramatic or tragic the events unfold, it does not undermine the importance or the sanctity of that resolution.

Price Devavrat, the heir apparent to the throne of Hastinapur takes up a self-imposed oath and becomes Bhishma, the man with the terrible oath. This pledge of his paves way events to come, on which he has no control. His resolution unleashes a series of occurrences and circumstances, he himself becomes helpless victim to them. But he never ever thinks of reverting his resolution, even when it culminates in the violent suicide of Amba and the future of the Hastinapur throne, when both his brothers die an untimely death. The oath eventually becomes a curse for him and his family, yet breaking it would have been a violation of duty.

The weight of such resolutions crush the people carrying it yet lifting them to nobler heights. From Devavrat, an ordinary prince becomes Bhishma to dominate the Mahabharata for his righteousness, however misplaced. Ram takes on his father’s promise as an act of duty and a personal challenge to brave into the forest and rid it of the evil rakshasas.  A vow triggers a mission in both cases. A vow entails enormous personal sacrifice, taking on hues of nobleness and virtue.

Urmila promises her departing husband, Lakshman that she will never shed a tear in his fourteen-year absence. So, does his mother Sumitra. Both choose their own private expatriation, and a worse form of exiles for themselves.

There are instances of vows being broken:
King Dushyant breaks his promise to the young, impressionable Shakuntala and never returns to make her his queen. Krishna breaks his pledge of raising weapons during the Kurukshetra war when, in amount of frustration, he decides to kill the invanquishable Bhishma on Arjun’s reluctance to take arms against his gurus and relatives. But he stops himself on time and instead gives birth to the Bhagwat Gita.

There are resolutions and there are bloodier resolutions:
If Bhisma’s oath is self-destructive, his biggest victim Amba, before jumping into a pyre, takes on a more terrible vow of vengeance – that she will be responsible for his death even if it means taking on another birth. Draupadi’s self-imposed, self-declared oath is the bloodiest of them all. Suffering her humiliation in rage and revenge, she declares her resolution in open court – that she will tie her hair only when Dushasan and Duryodhan are killed in war. Her pledge takes a gorier turn when Bhim echoes her sentiments of vengeance by promising her that he will braid her hair with the blood of the Dushasan whom he will tear apart with his bare hands on the battlefield. And he keeps his resolution as does Draupadi, her loose mane a constant taunt to her five husbands to seek revenge for her humiliation.

The narrative of both the epics are interspersed with a variety of small and big resolutions, each have its scale of importance and impact: but they all serve a purpose and moves the plot forward.

Arjun takes a vow that he will kill Jayadrath, who murdered his son Abhimanyu through subterfuge, before the sun sets the next day. Ashwattham gives a vow to a dying Duryodhan that he will annihilate the Pandav clan, and in the deathly stillness of the night, kills the two brothers of Draupadi – Shikhandi and Dhrishtadyumn – the killers of his father Dronacharya by stamping them and her five sons (Upapandavas) to death, assuming them to be the sleeping Pandavas. Karna promises Kunti that he would not kill the Pandavas – except Arjun – and that she will remain a mother of five sons. And it is he who dies in the battlefield, keeping his promise till his last breath.

On Ram’s exile to the forest, Bharat takes his own resolution – that he will not rule his brother’s kingdom but will guard it, placing Ram’s slippers on the throne. Likewise, Lakshman and the brothers follow a pledge of celibacy during those fourteen years in support of Ram’s exile.

And while numerous stories unfold for such promises to keep, without these resolutions the epics would not be what they are.

The worst (and best) thing about Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat

Sanjay Leela Bhansali's glorified treatment of the archaic practice of jauhar - mass suicide by fire - is a disconcerting watch. On a lighter note, if there's any lesson to take from this tragedy, it's to never send your husband shopping for jewels, writes Suhani Singh, the Senior Associate Editor, India Today, in Daily O. Read on: 

After a title change, a sartorial makeover and with two disclaimers - one elaborately long and one too short and ineffective - Sanjay Leela Bhansali's film finally releases. The only shade of grey in this film is Alauddin Khilji's kohl-lined eyes. Padmaavat is essentially a simplistic take on the good versus evil duel, in which the antagonist's crazy antics not only overshadow the righteous protagonists but also expose the flaws of their ethical code.

Padmaavat is not just a tribute to Rajput courage and in hindsight their obsession with principles of war as it is to Bhansali's filmography. Scenes from Bajirao Mastani and Devdas and a song from Saawariya will come to mind while watching the epic. Like Bajirao Mastani, here too is a married king, Rawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor), who finds a second wife while away from home. He has gone to the Singhalese kingdom to procure its famed pearls for his miffed wife. If there's any lesson to take from this tragedy, it's to never send your husband shopping for jewels.

Padmavati (Deepika Padukone) comes across as more pitiable than an inspiring figure. She is a spirited Singhalese warrior princess until she runs into Ratan Singh and soon becomes Chittor's queen. The bow and arrow and forest life is discarded for one stuck in a palace adorned with embellished ghaghras and big naths. And so begins a life of domesticity, in which Padmavati endlessly stares into her husband's eyes, exchanges amorous looks, smiles coyly and dresses him up.

This leisurely choreographed and luxurious take on romance is trademark Bhansali and also now too familiar. In this case it even makes you question the Rajput ruler's leadership skills while his kingdom is under threat.

It's all too familiar and jaded for once again Deepika plays another of Bhansali's virtuous heroines with little purpose other than to showcase the purity of her love. But her character isn't the problem here. In fact right until the #NotWithoutMyHusband climax, the queen is questioning her husband's decisions and his lack of action.

But then if history has taught us anything, it's that men rarely listen to women for the male ego is paramount. And so the weakest here is Rawal Ratan Singh who believes in making history by doing the right thing. It's hard to root for a character whose valour is misguided, is easily susceptible and thanks to Bhansali's love for craft preoccupied with his wardrobe. Sadly for him centuries later his persistence with his community's obedience to "usool" and "guroor" makes him seem an imprudent king. "Rajput kabhi peeth peeche nahi jaate." Sadly the words that ring true belong to Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) - "Jug ka ek hi usool hai, jeet".

(There is only one rule in war - victory). After all one remembers the winners, not the losers, and everything is fair in love and war.

But in Padmaavat its greed and not love which gets the plot going.

Raghav Chetan (Aayam Mehta), banished from Chittor for being a sleazy baba (the one rare occasion the film has contemporary significance), tells Khilji that he can be as celebrated a world conqueror as Alexander if he gets hold of Padmavati. Obsessed with making and rewriting history Khilji is enthralled at the prospect. Khilji attacks, struggles and then comes up with a stroke of genius. Chittor retaliates with one of its own courtesy Padmavati. Male chauvinism is at its peak when Padmavati arrives in Delhi only to be reprimanded by her husband for her daredevilry. Gradually Malik Muhammad Jayasi's 1520 poem, Padmavat, plays out.

Ranveer Singh shines as the megalomaniacal, lustful, narcissistic and ruthless Sultan. Compared to the indecisive Rajputs, the Afghan-origin Sultan of Delhi is the life of the proceedings. Women to him are objects to be mistreated and territories to be conquered. Padmavati is his Kiran, a woman to be had at all costs. Singh uses the kohl-lined eyes and muscular body effectively to put on a showy act, one which with a few jarring notes, is full of engaging moments. There is fun in the terror here. In one memorable scene, he makes his irritation of seeing Ratan Singh clear with a well-timed grimace. In another, he swaps his thali with the Rajput in fear of being poisoned. This is an actor savouring each and every moment, fully aware that deranged and debauched characters like this don't come your way every day.

Giving Khilji good company in the crazy department is his devoted aide Malik Kafur (Jim Sarbh), rewarded with the best entry sequence in the film. Labelled by the enemies as his wife, Kafur's own unconditional love for the king here is juxtaposed well against Khilji's insatiable want for Padmavati. This, and not Ratan Singh, Padmavati and Khilji, is the most fascinating love triangle in the film. The relationship only reiterates the differences between love and desire. Bhansali keeps the homoerotic tension between the two minimal but it's effective in getting the point across. Sarbh's measured performance ensures this character doesn't become a caricature and its sentiments are considered.

Apart from celebrating the Rajput spirit on the battlefield, the film inadvertently also highlights the royalty's ability to change clothes at a swift pace. The creative liberties here come at the cost of continuity. Padmaavat like any another Bhansali film excels in the craft department, with Sudeep Chatterjee's gorgeous lenswork and Rimple and Harpreet Narula's costumes playing big role in adding to the visual splendour. The grand scale is tasteful and impressive, even visible in the battle sequences.

But Padmaavat is also one of Bhansali's weakest musical efforts. Barring the censored ghoomar song, none register. The picturisation of the unreleased songs lacks the Bhansali magic. The Malhari-like track on Khilji is present only to further degrade the character.

Politics is why Padmaavat suffered and it's the film's politics which is hugely problematic. Bhansali's glorified treatment of the archaic practice of jauhar - mass suicide by fire - is a disconcerting watch. All along the Karni Sena, self-appointed custodians of Rajput honour, have been worried about the repercussions the film will have on how their community is perceived and judged.

The vilification here is entirely of Khilji and his Muslim army. Boorish they may be but at least they are not dull, a feature that the power couple does have. And that's the real failure of Padmaavat. It's inability to evoke a sense of loss and empathy for its Romeo and Juliet. Khilji may not have got what he wanted but he ensures that history remembers him. By the end of Padmaavat, it's Khilji that you are thinking about. Because really in this day and age who thinks mass immolation is a victory.