Goodbye, Girish Karnad

Along with family and friends, I said goodbye to Girish Karnad for the last time today at his home;  even as my heart wept through the readings from his works that replaced the chanting of priests, I noted how right this tribute felt. Like everyone else, I mourn the passing of this colossal intellectual and multi-talented giant. I also remember his gracious friendliness; a person of letters who was never patronising to lesser writers;  a handsome, charming and gallant man who evoked a feminine response in me.Girish Karnad 2

At our first meeting, I remembered my pink-faced indignation at a press conference by several cultural personalities at the Indian Institute of Engineers (perhaps in support of Protima Bedi being given land for Nrityagram in the early 90s). He asked me which newspaper I was with and wanted me to quote him.  Before that I had had no luck getting him to give me a quote on something or the other,  and as a cub reporter, the chief reporter’s furious barbs were as hurtful as seeing his interview the next morning in a rival newspaper (to a guy i was then dating and later married).  I bristled with pique as I asked him why he gave me a brush off when I called for a quote. He laughed good naturedly, apologised and promised to give me an interview any time I wanted one.

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Over the years, he graduated from Mr.Karnad to just Girish. As he pointed out while getting Kamal Haasan to pose for a photo with me at the release of ‘Hey Ram’, there were some benefits to knowing him. Several years later, he offered to move when I was getting a photo with another crush, Anant Nag, at the release of Kathak guru Maya Rao’s autobiography. I confessed then that I might have had a crush on Anant as a school girl, but my crush on Karnad as an adult was more enduring!

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With Girish Karnad and Kamal Haasan
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With Girish Karnad, Anant Nag and Aditya Mendonca

Some memories stick out; he wrote a small article for a book that Raintree Media published, Table the Window, and upon some persuasion, released it, too. He got his revenge at the launch when he announced that “Sandhya has a way of taking your hand and gently squeezing it, so you can’t say no to her request”. Continue reading “Goodbye, Girish Karnad”

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A woman’s place is in the House…of the people

I opened a session titled Womanifesto recently with this provocative line, “A woman’s place is in the House”. The audience held its collective breath and some of them who know me, watched with puzzlement. Before they could recover and organise a lynch mob, I quickly went on to add, ‘of the People’.

Way back in 2015, I had mulled over the idea of pushing for a more open discussion on this topic ; I even had a few graphics run up.

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But I never got around to actively pushing it out, and so when Shruti Kaura asked me to moderate the  programme on April 24, I accepted with alacrity. The following are my statements at the programme. For a detailed report on what other speakers said, read Citizen Matters.

“This is an apolitical forum, notwithstanding our personal political beliefs, to encourage all parties to put up more women on their own right, and who are the actual representatives. We would like to get more women candidates and more credible women candidates.

Karnataka was the first to introduce reservation for women in Panchayat Raj, keeping 25 per cent of the seats for women, way back in 1983. After the 73rd and 74th amendments to the constitution, three levels of Panchayat Raj institutions, more than half of the members of gram panchayat, taluk panchayat and zilla panchayat are women.

But when it comes to representation in Legislative Assembly and Parliament, it is a very sorry set of figures.

Let’s look at numbers. Karnataka’s population is 6.1 crore out of which men are 50.7 percent and women are 49.3 percent. But when it comes to representation in the state assembly, the percentage of women is just 2.6 percent. Of the 225 seats in the 14th Karnataka Legislative Assembly, there are just six elected women and one nominated. Out of 70 ministers in the Karnataka cabinet, only 2 are women. For the upcoming elections, the candidates of major political parties are predominantly men.

The worrisome fact is that not only are fewer women contesting, fewer women are winning.  175 women contested in the last Assembly elections in 2013, out of which only 6 won, 159 of those lost forfeited their deposits. (In the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, 21 women contested in Karnataka, and only one won).

Universal problem

Do female candidates ‘lose votes’?: A study on the experience of female candidates in the 1979 and 1980 Canadian general elections concludes that, ‘It does not seem, then, that the relative failure of women in federal elections can be traced directly to voters’ sentiments. Rather, it appears as if the limited success of women in federal politics in Canada largely originates in their difficulties in securing nominations to contest seats which they have some reasonable prospect of winning.’

The Women’s Reservation Bill or The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008, is a lapsed bill in the Parliament of India which proposed to amend the Constitution of India to reserve 33% of all seats in the Lower house of Parliament of India, the Lok Sabha, and in all state legislative assemblies for women. The seats were proposed to be reserved in rotation and would have been determined by draw of lots in such a way that a seat would be reserved only once in three consecutive general elections.

The Rajya Sabha passed the bill on 9 March 2010. However, the Lok Sabha never voted on the bill. The bill lapsed after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.

Is there hope on the horizon? As women in India are getting  more mobilized than ever before over issues of safety, sexual harassment and human rights, could this lead to more political mobilisation?

Can all women’s groups and women’s wings of political parties agree to lobby for the passing of The Women’s Reservation Bill  It should be a non-negotiable agenda, cutting across ideologies and affiliations. Be it a women’s wing of a political party or an Inner Wheel Club, in the next Parliamentary elections, all women should refuse to vote until all political parties agree to pass this bill.

A study by Politico.com says that America has a shortage of female politicians because, to put it simply, women don’t want the job. What about Indian women? Are we up to the job?”

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More about me: I have always been interested in politics; I studied for a Master’s degree in political science, and I was at the periphery of student politics as class mates and friends were involved in the students’ union. The major part of my career as a journalist was spent covering Karnataka politics. 

It was years later that the irony struck me; that while in college, students could win votes based on their capabilities without gender being an impediment, the equation seemed to change in the real world of adults. For many impressionable young women, the fact that we had a woman Prime Minister was a matter of great pride. I has secretly treasured with shy pride the family lore that, when I was very young and while on a tour of the Parliament, I had climbed on to the Prime Minister’s seat. Childhood games of pretend that I played with my older sister consisted of me playing the role of Indira Gandhi. 

The sad reality is that the poster women of Indian politics Indira Gandhi, Mamta Bannerjee, J Jayalalithaa, Mayawati could have played a bigger role for the cause of women. Their triumphs are more personal than a victory for the sisterhood. One of Karnataka’s most successful politicians told me in an interview that politics is a man’s world. A change has got to come!

Learning the alphabet for justice

In the wake of the recent spate of brutal torture, rape & murders of young girls in India, the staging of 17-year old play hits home truths.

Alipha

The current production of Alipha is an example of theatre at its best, with a great amount of ‘simpatico’ between playwright and director on the one hand, and director and actors on the other. Poile Sengupta has an incredible felicity in fleshing out her characters, and you are bound to immediately connect with them as they remind you of people you have met.

Two actors command your attention for an hour on either side of the stage. One is a little orphan girl (Kavya Srinivasan) being raised by an aunt; she dreams of going to an English medium school and is ecstatic at a scholarship. The other actor (Anirudh Acharya) is the son of a politician, entitled and self-obsessed, used to riding rough shod over anybody who comes in the way of his greed and appetite. Their lives run on tangential tracks until they collide with disastrous results.

Read the full review at http://thegoodcity.in/j-for-justice-the-alipha-of-poile-sengupta

Going beyond boundaries, with Ravi Kashi

Don’t look for prettiness. Don’t expect to be soothed. For that surely isn’t what you are going to get.

Expect the unexpected. To be jerked out of complacency.  To be bereft of speech.

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I would say that Ravikumar Kashi is perhaps the most adventurous contemporary artist of Bengaluru. His body of work extends across paintings, sculpture, photography and installation.

His current exhibition, ‘Silent Echo’ (at Gallery Sumukha is on until Dec 31, open 10.30 am – 6 pm, Mon-Sat), is an exhibition of installations and artists’ books, and revolves around the ‘object.’ Says Kashi, “One of the main threads that bind these works is an insight as to how objects become an extension of ourselves, retain memory, gain their own persona over a period of time. And when more than one object comes together, they affect and alter each other’s meaning. Five distinct but interrelated pieces of work in the show address the character, historicity, function, and relevance of diverse objects that the artist chooses to build his narratives around.”

The main work ‘Silent Echo’ is a sculptural installation of mesh and paper pulp. Says the artist, “It evokes many of the metaphors of our time where hope and despair ride together side by side”. Kashi handcrafts objects and puts them together with other objects that he finds, creating installations such as ‘Heirlooms of Fear’ and ‘Dark Revenue’.

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Kashi has won the Kannada Sahitya Academy Award for a book on art, apart from the awards given by the Karnataka Lalit Kala Akademi and the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, for his art. A fascinating aspect of the current exhibition, is a set of ‘Artists’ Books’, called ‘All is always now’Ravi has been creating artists’ books for ten or more years, making the paper by hand and drawing images that are times radical and subversive at times.

These books predominantly have more visuals, and less text, and as a publisher, I found his earlier works ‘In pursuit of happiness’ (a series of water colour and ink on cast cotton pulp) and ‘A thousand desires’ (an installation of a thousand tongues) – a perfect fit for the BEST OF BANGALORE- Innovation edition (Raintree Media, 2014).

Kashi says that he intends ‘Silent Echo’ to be a multi-dimensional experience with a common thread running through it. “The third dimension is provided by two sets of works with photography as the mainstay. The first is a set of four individual photographs called Memorial.’ The second is a photobook called ‘Shelf life. Together, the two explore complex narratives that emanate from ‘showcases’ which are ubiquitous in most middle class homes, and display cases in shops.”

This is not an exhibition you should breeze through. Plan to spend an hour, if not more. You will need it to absorb what you see. It’s an education. I wish schools and parents would take kids to let them see that art is much more than pretty pictures and straight lines, to let them see art that goes beyond boundaries.

 

 

Brace for impact : ‘Sully’

I like chatty pilots, especially those with a fine turn of phrase. But the one time that I could have done without a compulsive talker for a pilot was in September 2010, when I was returning from Spain & Portugal. Our take-off was delayed as some passengers arrived late (their connecting flight was late) and there was congestion at the airport. The Lufthansa captain wasn’t too happy and kept up a running commentary.

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The details are a little hazy now but I remember she said that she was asking permission to fly at a lower altitude than scheduled as we were running low on fuel. When we landed, perhaps at Frankfurt, she announced that the plane was being refuelled with all us on board, and told us to unfasten our seat belts and be prepared for a quick exit if required. I am not a nervous flier, but I confess my heart did a quick flip and I breathed easy only when we were safely up and away once more.

Thankfully, that was the most frightening flight experience I have had. I can’t begin to imagine what I would feel on hearing “This is your Captain. Brace for impact”. This is what Capt. Sully, who was in command of US Airways flight 1549, announced to the 155 passengers and crew on January 15, 2009. With both engines disabled by bird hit, he chose to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River.

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‘Sully’, the movie is directed and co-produced by Clint Eastwood, with Tom Hanks playing the lead with impressive understatement. A finely crafted movie, it is a tribute to the pilot who chose his ‘human’ ability (instinct backed by solid experience). It is also as much a tribute to the rapid response of rescue teams who had all the passengers on board the Airbus 320 safe in less than half hour after the landing.

The heart soars up when one sees such a fortunate coming together of people; as Sully – astonished at finding himself become a hero- said at the end of the hearing that proved that he had taken the right call, it was all of them together who made the miracle on the Hudson happen.

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The irony when most of the world hails Sully as a saviour while his company wants to pin the blame on him, the worries of a career in jeopardy, the family’s pressing need for money – the tumult of emotions are delicately portrayed. As biopics go, this ranks amongst the best; the very simplicity of its narrative makes it a compelling watch. It might just make you go out to the nearest pub and stand everyone a round of beer.