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Excerpt Tagore Translations

The Parrot’s Tale by Tagore

Title: Rabindranth Tagore. The Land of Cards: Stories, Poems and Plays for Children.

Translator: Radha Chakravarty

Publishers: Penguin India: Puffin Classics.

The Parrot’s Tale

Once there was a bird.  He was uneducated.  He sang, but did not read the shastras.  He hopped about and flew, but didn’t know good manners.

“Such a bird is of no use,” declared the king, “but he harms the sale of fruit in the royal market by eating up the wild fruits in the forest.”

He sent for the minister. “Educate this bird,” he ordered.

2

The king’s nephews were given the responsibility of educating the bird.

The pundits assembled and considered the matter at length.  The question was: “What is the reason for this creature’s lack of education?”

They concluded that there was not much room for learning in the bird’s nest, made from a few humble straws and twigs.  Hence it was necessary, first of all, to make him a proper cage.

Receiving their dues, the royal pundits went home happily.

3

The goldsmith now set about making a golden cage.  So marvelous was the cage he made, people from far-off lands came there to admire it.  Some said, “It is the height of education.”  “Even if he doesn’t get an education, at least he has a cage,” declared others.  “What a lucky bird!”

The goldsmith was rewarded with a bagful of money as bakshish.  He went home happily.

The pundits got down to the business of educating the bird.  “This is not a task to be achieved with just a few books,” they declared, inhaling snuff.

Now the royal nephews summoned all the scribes.  Copying many textbooks and making copies of copies, they produced a mountain-high pile of books.  Anyone who saw it exclaimed:  “Shabash – congratulations!  This heap of knowledge is full to bursting!”

Loading a bullock with all the money they received as payment, the scribes rushed home.  They no longer had any trouble making both ends meet.

There was no end to the royal nephews’ fussing over the very expensive cage.  There was no end to all the repair and maintenance, either.  And there was such a to-do about dusting, wiping and polishing, that the sight made everyone declare:  “These are signs of progress.”

The work required a lot of manpower, and to keep an eye on the workers, even more men had to be deployed.  Month by month, they collected their payments by the fistful and stuffed the money in their safes.

These men, and all their maternal and paternal cousins, settled happily in palatial brick-built mansions.

4

Many other things are lacking in this world, but there is no dearth of fault-finders.  “The cage is improving,” they said, “but nobody asks after the bird.”

The matter reached the king’s ears.  He sent for the nephews and demanded:  “O nephews, what’s this I hear?”

“Maharaj,” said the nephews, “if you want to hear the truth, summon the goldsmiths, pundits, scribes, the maintenance workers and their supervisors.  It’s because the fault-finders don’t get enough to eat that they say such evil things.”

From this reply, the situation became clear to the king.  Golden necklaces were ordered at once, to adorn the nephews’ necks.

5

The king wanted to see for himself the tremendous pace at which the bird’s education was progressing.

At once, the area near the portico began to resound with the noise of conchs, bells, dhak, dhol, kada, nakada, turi, bheri, damama, kanshi, flutes, gongs, khol, cymbals, mridanga and jagajhampa.  With full-throated abandon, shaking the unshaven locks of their tikis, the pundits began to chant mantras.  The masons, workmen, goldsmith, scribes, supervisors and their maternal and paternal cousins, sang to the king’s glory.

“Maharaj, can you see what a to-do there is!” observed a nephew.

“Amazing!  The noise is quite extraordinary,” observed the Maharaja.

“It’s not just the noise; the money that’s gone into it is not inconsiderable either,” the nephew pointed out.

Delighted, the Maharaja crossed the portico and was about to mount his elephant when a fault-finder concealed in the bushes called out: “Maharaj, have you had a look at the bird?”

The king was startled.  “Oh no!” he exclaimed.  “I had clean forgotten.  I haven’t seen the bird.”

He went back and told the pundit, “I need to observe your technique for training the bird.”

He was duly shown the technique.  What he saw pleased him greatly. The method was so much more important than the bird, that the bird could not be seen at all; it seemed needless to see him at all.  The king realized that the arrangements lacked nothing.  There was no grain in the cage, no water, just a mass of pages torn from a mass of books, being stuffed down the bird’s throat by the end of a quill pen.  The bird’s song could not be heard of course, for it was too stifled even to scream.  It was a thrilling sight, enough to give one goose-pimples.

Now, while mounting his elephant, the king instructed the Chief Ear-puller to tweak the fault-finder thoroughly by the ears.

6

Day by day, the bird arrived at a half-dead state, in a civilized fashion.  His guardians saw this as a hopeful sign.  But still, by natural instinct, the bird would gaze at the morning light and flutter his wings in a way that was unacceptable.  In fact, one day he was seen struggling to cut through the bars of his cage with his fragile beak.

“What audacity!” cried the Kotwal, the law-maker.

Now the blacksmith appeared in the training quarters, armed with bellows, hammer and fire.  How hard he beat the iron!  Iron shackles were forged, and the bird’s wings were clipped.

Gravely shaking their heads, the king’s associates declared: “In this kingdom, the birds lack not only brains, but gratitude as well.”

Now, armed with pen in one hand and rod in the other, the pundits accomplished the dramatic feat called education.

The blacksmiths gained so much importance, their wives bedecked themselves with ornaments, and seeing the alertness of the Kotwal, the king bestowed him with a shiropa, a turban of honour.

7

The parrot died.  Nobody could say when.

The wretched fault-finder spread the word: “The bird is dead.”

“Nephews, what is this I hear?” demanded the king.

“Maharaj, the bird’s training is complete,” declared the nephews.

“Does he hop about anymore” the king enquired.

“Arre Rama! No,” demurred the nephew.

“Does he fly anymore?”

“No.”

“Does he sing anymore?”

“No.”

“Does he scream if he does not receive grain for his feed?”

“No.”

“Bring the bird to me once,” the king ordered.  “Let me see him.”

The bird was brought.  Along with the bird came the Kotwal, paiks, and horsemen.

The king prodded the bird.  But the bird neither opened his beak, nor made any sound.  Only the dry pages torn from books rustled and sighed in his belly.

Outside, stirred by the fresh spring breeze blowing in from the south, the sighing of new leaves spread anguish in the sky, above the newly blossoming woods.

 (Published with permission from Penguin Random House India.)

About the Book:

Poet, novelist, painter, musician and Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore was one of modern India’s greatest literary figures. This collection brings together some of his best works—poems, short stories and plays—in one volume for today’s young readers.

Be it the wit, magic and lyricism of his poetry or the vividly etched social milieu of his stories, or the sheer power and vibrancy of his plays, Tagore’s versatility and unceasing creativity come alive in these writings. The title play ‘The Land of Cards’ is a satire against the bondage of orthodox rules, while in ‘The Post Office’, a child suffocated by his confined existence dreams of freedom in the world outside. From a son’s cherished desire to protect his mother in the poem ‘Hero’ to a fruit-seller’s sentiments for his faraway daughter in the story ‘Kabuliwala’, Tagore’s works convey his broad humanism and his deep awareness of the poignancy of human relationships.

Radha Chakravarty’s lucid translation captures the sheer genius of Tagore’s evocative language, making these works accessible to contemporary readers.

About the Translator: Radha Chakravarty is a writer, critic and translator. She has co-edited The Essential Tagore (Harvard and Visva Bharati), nominated Book of the Year 2011 by Martha Nussbaum, and edited Shades of Difference: Selected Writings of Rabindranath Tagore (Social Science Press, 2015). She is the author of Feminism and Contemporary Women Writers (Routledge, 2008) and Novelist Tagore: Gender and Modernity in Selected Texts (Routledge, 2013). Her translations of Tagore include Gora, Chokher Bali, Boyhood Days, Farewell Song: Shesher Kabita and The Land of Cards: Stories, Poems and Plays for Children.  Other works in translation are Bankimchandra Chatterjee’s Kapalkundala, In the Name of the Mother by Mahasweta Devi (nominated for the Crossword Translation Award, 2004), Vermillion Clouds: Stories by Bengali Women,and Crossings: Stories from Bangladesh and India. She has edited Bodymaps: Stories by South Asian Women and co-edited Writing Feminism: South Asian Voices and Writing Freedom: South Asian Voices. Her poems have appeared in Journal of the Poetry Society of India, Contemporary Major Indian Women Poets, The Poet, Hakara, Narrow Road Journal, Krishna in Indian Thought, Literature and Music, The Fib Review, The Skinny Poetry Journal and Indian Poetry through the Passage of Time. Forthcoming books include Our Santiniketan (translation of Mahasweta Devi’s memoirs; Seagull Publishers); The Tagore Phenomenon (Allen Lane), Kazi Nazrul Islam: Selected Essays (Nazrul Centre for Social and Cultural Studies) and Mahasweta Devi: Writer, Activist, Visionary (Routledge, UK).  She is Professor of Comparative Literature & Translation Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi.

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Satyajit Ray, Bibhuti Bhushan & Nabendu Ghosh and a Famous Triology

Pather Panchali (Song of the Road) by Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyay was a classic immortalised further by Satyajit Ray’s films, also known know as the Apu Triology. Here is a translation from Nabendu Ghosh’s autobiography which introduces how the film came to be. This portion has been excerpted from Eka Naukar Jatri (Journey of a Lonesome Boat) and translated by Ratnottama Sengupta as a celebration of the Satyajit Ray Centenary.

Pather Panchali : Unprecedented

The year, in all probability, was 1938. (This was the year of the Prabasi Bengali Sahitya Sammelan in Guwahati. Nabendu met Bibhuti Bhushan later, probably in 1942 or 1943, when the Bengal Famine was on.) Nabendu Ghosh talks of his meeting with Bibhuti Bhushan, reading whose novel, he was transported to Nischindipur, where the narrative was set. When he met Bibhuti Bhushan, he felt he had met Apu. When he saw Song of the Road, he could only chant, ‘Apurbo!’

The Prabasi Banga Sahitya Sammelan ( Bengla festival of expatriate writers) was being held in Guwahati. Delegates from all over the country were to meet and discuss Bengali authors, novelists and poets, enjoy cultural evenings, and to tour the city in between the sessions. From Patna we – five of us – set out with printed copies of the annual number of our magazine, Prabhati. The chairman that year was Anurupa Devi (1882-1958), one of the most reputed women novelist in the British colonial era. This eminent writer was the younger sister of Surupa Devi who also wrote under the pseudonym of Indira Devi. Anurupa Devi’s Poshya Putra (Adopted Son), when staged as a play, had become a super hit. I had read two of her major novels, Mahanisha (1919) and Mantra Shakti (1915), which were made into films in 1954 with a star-studded cast. Finally I was face to face with the formidable personality. To me, to this day Anurupa Devi tops the list of women writers.

The other name that made a deep impression was Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyay. Everyone was talking about his Pather Panchali – apparently it was “mesmerizing.” At the end of the session, as soon as I reached Patna, I visited the city’s biggest bookseller, Burman Company. The owner Bidyut Burman hailed from Madhya Pradesh but spoke flawless Bengali. The minute I mentioned Pather Panchali, he brought out two copies. I bought one for myself.

I finished reading it in three days. Every night I was supposed to switch off at 11 pm but, on the pretext of writing an important tutorial for my college, I stayed up all night to finish it. Three days later I shook my head and shouted at the top of my voice, “Apurbo!” (That is the name of the protagonist, and it means ‘unprecedented.’)

Maa heard me shout and came running, “What is the matter? Why did you scream?”

“For the heck of it, Maa,” I assured her, “in sheer delight.”

“Delighted? By what?” – Maa asked me.

“This book Maa,” I pointed to the copy of Pather Panchali.

“Put it on my table,” Maa said. “Let me read it.” 

Morning till evening Maa had so much work, it took her two weeks to read the book. When she finished reading she returned it to me with these words, “What a lovely reading re! Soaked in sadness, yet it enriches you from within. In fact, it loyally reflects reality – life is such! Reading this book purifies the soul.”

The way Maa put it, my admiration for the greatness of the work went up manifold. Truly, Pather Panchali is a vivid chronicle of the journey of life. Simple in its language, unadorned but poetic in its descriptions. I learnt to look at Nature anew. I got acquainted with many a tree that I had only heard about. I discovered many that I was not even aware of. The names of many creepers brought me the story of a world so far unseen. Now I was in communion with Benibabur bagan, the widespread garden that surrounded the rented house we lived in.

Bankim Chandra was my first guru in literature but honestly speaking, I could not identify with many of his characters. Sarat Chandra evoked a world much closer to the one we inhabit. I could understand the motivations of his characters who were of my age. But Pather Panchali revealed one hundred percent the inner world of my childhood. Particularly in my case. I was raised in the happy environs of our house and yet, even in my young life I had witnessed extreme unhappiness too. In every station of life innocent children with their sinless minds are drawn to happiness. The way they raid the natural world to seek out the bare minimum quota of joy from nature, what they dream of — all this is stuff this novel is made of. When I finished reading it, I felt I AM Apu — Apurbo Kishore, the protagonist of Pather Panchali: timid, faultless,  ever keen to drink of the honey of life – much like a butterfly. Apu who is not ‘smart’ or clever, Apu whose constant hunger is for flowers and fruits and dreams…

After reading Pather Panchali my attachment with Benibabur bagan grew manifold. I felt that it was the abode of Nischindipur (where the novel unfolds). In the hazy light of morning, in the stillness of sun scorched noon, in the lazy twilight of sundown and the stifled darkness when night has swallowed day, I would be transported to Nischindipur.

Many many days have passed since then. I was a youth who was knocking on the doors of manhood, thereon I have advanced towards super annuation — but that little boy Apu still resides within me. The Apu of Pather Panchali who grew up into the teenaged Aparajito, Unvanquished, and then the young man who marries and sets up Apur Sansar — Apu’s household — and travels into fatherhood, stands frozen in time there. But he sets out on a new journey into childhood through his son Kaajal. This child breathes life anew into Nischindipur.

To me, Nischindipur equates the land of No-Worry. I am reminded of W B Yates’s ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ :

And I shall have some peace there, for

Peace comes dropping slow 

Dropping from the veils of the morning

To where the cricket sings…

***

Without prior notice I got an opportunity to go to Calcutta. The occasion was the wedding of my paternal aunt’s son Radha Gobinda Ghosh, who had just completed his Master in Arts studies with distinction and secured a government job.

Let me confess here that the wedding was but a pretext to go to Calcutta.  My real intention was to meet the author of Pather Panchali — Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyay.

Mani Bhushan Da, the editor of our magazine, Prabhati, had provided me with his address on Mirzapur Street. He lived in Paradise Lodge, next door to the famous sweetmeat shop Putiram. It was a seven minute walk from Sagar Dutta Lane where my cousin Radha Gobinda Da lived.

The day after I reached Calcutta I told my aunt that I was going for a stroll up to College Square. “Don’t stray too far,” she cautioned me. “No, I won’t,” I assured her and set out.

I walked down Kalutola Street and across College Street, the hub of books and publishing industry in Bengal. There, on my right was Putiram, beckoning me with its array of sweets. I ignored them all and turned into the three-storeyed structure next door. The dominating signboard at the gate read ‘Paradise Lodge’.

I entered and asked for Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyay. An elderly person directed me, “Climb non-stop upto the terrace and walk into the room there.”

It was like a chilekotha – a garret. It had the touch of middle class living all over it: a table with chair, a cot, the floor covered with a sheetalpati woven out of mat, an almirah full of books.

Clad in a cotton banyan a gentleman seated on the chair was reading a book. The minute I showed up at the door he looked up with a question in his eyes, “Yes?”

“I would like to meet Bibhuti Bhushan, Sir.”

“I am that very person. Where are you from?”

“Sir I am from Patna. I am carrying a letter from Manindra Chandra Samaddar of Prabhati Sangha.” I touched his feet before handing him the letter.

“May you prosper,” he blessed me with a raised palm. Then, before opening the letter he said, “Come, sit — you have come all the way from Patna!”

He smiled after reading the letter. “So you are in Mani’s team. Well well, I know Mani — a splendid person with matchless character and breathing idealism. I have gone through the last annual number of Prabhati. Very good effort. Mani mentions that you also write.”

He called out a name.

“Yes sir, here I c-o-m-e –” the name replied. He was one of the attendants at Paradise Lodge. “Get some sweets, and tea for my guest — he has come from Patna,” Bibhuti Bhushan looked at me. Then he started asking me for details about me and my writing. It was his way of getting acquainted with Nabendu.

When he paused, I ventured to speak, “I am charmed by your Pather Panchali.”

He smiled at me. “I am happy to hear that.”

Out of the blue I popped my query, “Tell me, are you Apu?”

He smiled as he nodded, ” Sure I am there in Apu. Actually every writer blends himself in with what he has seen and heard to create his characters. They see the people around them, their joys and sorrows, they laugh and cry with them, they get involved with the problems and crises in their lives and then they adapt them to their novels and stories. You are also penning stories — be a bit more aware, observe more carefully, objectively, and you will find that you are also doing the same.”

Until that moment I was not aware that such a process was at work behind what I wrote. After I heard Bibhuti Bhushan I realised the truth of his words.

The tea and sweets didn’t take too long to appear in the chilekotha room. I decided that they must be from Putiram.

As I made to take leave, he said, “Read a lot. Read the established writers. As you keep writing you will yourself realise where to start and where to stop, how much to tell and how much to leave out.”

When I left I was convinced that I was leaving Apu of Nischindipur. By this time he had become an elderly relative of mine — a well-wisher.

***

Years later. Could be 1952. 

Puffing on his Chesterfield in between the sips from his teacup, Bimalda said, “Now that Maa is complete, What next? We need new work. Bombay Talkies is in a precarious state now – in case Maa is not a hit, we will be like bad penny to them. So, before Maa is released in the theatres, we must get a new contract. And for that to happen we need a stock of stories. Hiten Chaudhuri is talking to two possible producers, two others have got in touch with me. But without a story none of these will work out.”

So we needed stories. But what kind of stories? The kind that wins over viewers when it is reflected on the silver screen in a darkened theatre. One that compels them to repeat, “And then? What now? What will happen?” But what will happen to whom? To the problems and crises in the lives of the characters. If the problems are pregnant with drama, that will blend with the skill of unfolding the narrative and keep pumping the adrenaline of the viewer and raise his blood pressure higher and higher and they will wonder, “And then? What now? What will happen?” In unison with the persona, seeking a resolution of their conflicts, they will wordlessly demand, “And then? What now? What will happen to them?” 

In our country most people gravitate to stories that revolve around the crisis called ‘love’, perhaps because desire to love is universal and to be loved is eternal. So love is a safe bet, especially in cinema. We have just completed Maa for Bombay Talkies, but that does not revolve around love between a man and a woman — it is structured around a mother’s love, for her husband and her sons. It is a family drama. We will know the power of this love only when the film releases.

So what kind of stories shall we narrate to the producers? Which stories will assure them that their investment will be secure and prompt them to say, “Yes sir! We will film this very story!” Because, no matter which story you decide on, to make it into a film means investing lakhs of lakhs — and every producer prays that he should recover his investment if not make a profit.

Over the next five-six days, we discussed and narrowed down the list to a few ideas. We listed some stories and novels from Bengali literature.  Bas – done — we were equipped for one more round of chess with success. 

The problem with cinema as a mode of livelihood lies in this: the success or failure of each film decides the film you will get to do or not do next. The director’s team is engaged to constantly come up with ideas, concepts, narration that will appeal, first, to a producer and then to a financier.

That is the first stage. And, in the final stage, the viewer will give his verdict, “Waah!” “Lovely!” Only then will the moneybags be willing to hear your next story. There is only one problem: What if the aesthetics of the moneybag is not evolved? Or, sometimes, for the sake of livelihood you bow to his ego and settle for a story idea he supplies, then all your effort might go waste like a falling kite. In short, the art form we have embraced as our mode of eking a living is a dicey form — we are constantly walking the razor’s edge.

***

Suddenly I remembered the novel that had mesmerized me. I went up to Bimalda and said, “I want to remind you of this classic novel which you must have read…”

“Which novel?” Bimalda was curious.

“It can translate into a spellbinding movie. I am talking about Bibhuti Bhushan’s Pather Panchali.”

For a few seconds Bimalda gazed fixedly at me. Then, slowly, pondering over every word he said, “Yes, it is an amazing novel. But in this Hindi film industry nobody will be able to appreciate its innate rasa. No Nabendu Babu, there will be no taker for it in this market.”

End of story. But I could not forget Pather Panchali. That very evening I met Phani Da (Majumdar) in his office and, in the course of our conversation, I mentioned it to him. I did not stop there: for almost an hour I narrated the highlights of the novel to him.

Phani Da also responded, “It will be extremely difficult to sell this in Bombay. But,” he went on, “there is no doubt that it has the possibility to become a movie of an entirely different flavour. Let’s do this: Let’s buy the rights to the story. You please write the letter.”

Write to whom? In 1950, at the age of 56, Bibhuti Bhushan had left for his heavenly abode. I did not know where his son lived. So, the next day I wrote to the publisher, the noted writer Gajendra Kumar Mitra. His company, Mitra & Ghosh had published Pather Panchali and I was lucky to claim his affection. So he would certainly guide me in the matter.

A week or so later I heard from Gajen Da. The movie rights of the novel have been purchased by the art director of the established advertising firm, D J Keemer, Mr Satyajit Ray. Initially the name was not significant to me but then, within brackets Gajen Da had written “He is the son of Sukumar Ray, the author of HaJaBaRaLa (Habber Jabber Lawand Pagla Dashu (Mad Dashu).” The name acquired a certain significance then. 

At the same time I felt a sense of loss. For three years after that the sense of loss would surface like a bubble, at unguarded moments.

One day all of a sudden I learnt that Pather Panchali will be screened for a private gathering. Along with Bimalda we made a beeline for the show. By then Bimalda had become an international celebrity thanks to Do Bigha Zamin (Two Acres of Land).

During the interval, lighting up his Chesterfield, Bimalda said, “You can do justice to a classic of Bengali literature only in Bengali. West Bengal government has sponsored the making of this film — that is a rare happening in the history of cinema worldwide. Director Satyajit Ray deserves congratulations.”

***

Indeed everything about Pather Panchali was unprecedented. The casting of characters, the creation of environment, the re-creation of Nischindipur where the actions unfold, the cinematography, and — finally — the background score: I repeat, every single aspect of the film was unprecedented. Apurbo!

Since that evening the sense of loss has never surfaced to torment me. After watching the film I was convinced that the Good Lord had created Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyay to write Pather Panchali, and that very Lord had created Satyajit Ray to transcreate the novel on screen.

Nabendu Ghosh and his daughter, Ratnottama Sengupta

Nabendu Ghosh (1917-2007) was a dancer, novelist, short-story writer, film director, actor and screenwriter. His oeuvre of work includes thirty novels and fifteen collections of short stories. As part of a team of iconic film directors and actors, he was instrumental in shaping an entire age of Indian cinema. He was the recipient of numerous literary and film awards, including the Bankim Puraskar, the Bibhuti Bhushan Sahitya Arghya, the Filmfare Best Screenplay Award and the National Film Award for Best First Film of a Director.

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Ratnottama Sengupta, formerly Arts Editor of The Times of India, teaches mass communication and film appreciation, curates film festivals and art exhibitions, and translates and write books. She has been a member of CBFC, served on the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National Award. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

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Feisal Alkazi’s Enter Stage Right

Title: Enter Stage Right: The Alkazi Padamsee Family Memoir

Author: Feisal Alkazi

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books, 2021

The tremendous vitality and ferment in the Western music scene was very much a part of our growing up. From the Beatles to the Rolling Stones, from Janis Joplin to Joan Baez, from The Who to Santana, lyrics of protest set to unforgettable melodies and dense instrumental tracks were to be heard, absorbed and danced to.

And did we dance! Every Saturday night a bunch of my friends and I could be found ‘grooving’ for at least four hours at the newly opened The Cellar in CP (as Connaught Place was known) or Wheels at the Ambassador Hotel. The Cellar was the beginning of the discotheque culture in Delhi, and we were among its first patrons, adorning the ceiling with our names etched in smoke! Foreign hippies in their lungis and tee-shirts, high on ganja or whatever else, brought an edge of curious excitement to our Saturday nights. After all, we were the Dum maro dum generation! The Cellar was situated in the basement of Regal building and the excitement and apprehension of being in Connaught Place at night lent its own thrill to every visit.

 Wheels near Khan Market drew a different, older, more sedate crowd, the yuppie professionals of south Delhi, whom we could elbow off the floor with our vigorous dance moves. In a Gadda da Vida and Hotel California were our favourite dance tracks. We did this from the ages of seventeen to twenty-three. Seven years on the dance floor every Saturday night! Talk of Saturday Night Fever? The phrase could have been coined for us.

All four of us were children of practicing artists and performers. Books lined the walls in all our homes, divans were draped with handloom bedspreads and the walls covered with contemporary art, arresting photographs, classical sculpture or an occasional African mask. Food was often a Burmese dish of noodles and soup called Mahmi, or a detectable Bohri mince pie or best of all, hot chicken patties from Wengers.

Our parents were friends, part of a large and growing circle of artists, who had chosen to gravitate to Delhi and to live in or around Nizamuddin. Gaitonde, Ram Kumar, M.F. Husain among others were part of this charmed circle.

 The ‘younger’ lot of artists, somewhere in age between our parents and us, were Eruch Hakim and Nasreen Mohamedi. We would occasionally drop in at their barsati-cum-studio apartments, to watch them create their black-and-white drawings. Nasreen introduced us to green tea, Eruch was always ready to roll a joint.

There was an amazing camaraderie and willingness to help one another within the artist community. They were beyond friends, they were family. When the Mehtas relocated from London to Delhi, they stayed with us for the initial month. When Pablo’s parents travelled to the US for a year, as Richard won the prestigious Rockefeller scholarship, Pablo stayed with us. Going out of your way to help a friend in a very tangible way was an integral part of my mother’s personality.

Husain was already an icon in Indian art, an artist who stood apart with his characteristic white beard, long paintbrush and bare feet. Tyeb was more quiet, the ‘intellectual’ of the group who had recently returned from several years spent in London, Krishen had only just given up his regular job in a bank to become a ‘full-time’ artist.

Husain enjoyed gathering many of these families together, bundling us into his Fiat with his iconic horse painted on it, and dragging us off to see Helen dancing in Inteqam at Golcha Cinema in Old Delhi, followed by a meal at Flora in Jama Masjid. He knew exactly what time Helen’s dance sequence was, so a large group of us would walk into the hall minutes before the dance, and exit immediately after it was over. A compliant management and Husain, the charming smooth-talker, made such a privilege possible.

It was my first encounter with Old Delhi at night with its crowded lanes, women in burqas, the smell of frying kababs, the flavours of dum pukht biryani and the call of the azaan. I wondered if this was similar to Mohammed Ali Road in Bombay where my father grew up. It was an alien, exotic world aeons away from my Westernized, though bohemian, childhood in south Bombay. Little did I know at the time that I would soon spend ten years working in Old Delhi!

About the Book:

Bombay, 1943. The young Parsi actress who was playing Salome in the newly founded Theatre Group’s production of Oscar Wilde’s eponymously titled play drew the line at performing the Dance of the Seven Veils, a sort of ‘Biblical striptease’. So director Sultan Padamsee’s 19-year-old sister Roshen stepped in. And met the handsome, intense Arab who played the male lead-Ebrahim Alkazi. In 1946, they were married. Thus was forged one of the greatest alliances in the world of theatre and art in post-Independence India.

Ebrahim Alkazi took English theatre from its early beginnings in Bombay to national and even international acclaim as he directed and acted in more than a hundred plays, ranging from Oedipus Rex, Murder in the Cathedral and Macbeth in the 1950s, to Ashadh Ka Ek Din, Andha Yug and Tughlaq in the ’60s and ’70s. As director of the fabled National School of Drama from 1962 to 1977, he launched some of the finest actors of our times, including Om Shivpuri, Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Rohini Hattangadi, Manohar Singh and Uttara Baokar. The chief costume designer and seamstress for all his productions was Roshen Alkazi. In 1977, when Ebrahim and Roshen decided to open Art Heritage in Delhi, it gave a new dimension to the world of art, as the leading artists of the day, including M.F. Husain, Krishen Khanna, F.N. Souza, Tyeb Mehta, K.G. Subramanyam and Laxma Goud, flocked to this space that was not just a ‘commercial’ gallery, but a foundation for documenting and preserving the arts. With more than 50 rare photographs, Enter Stage Right is the story of theatre in India as it has never been told before…to be treasured by theatre buffs, and savoured by anyone who loves a good story.

Author Bio:

Educationist, theatre director and activist, Feisal Alkazi has carved out his own niche with his group, Ruchika. He has directed over 200 plays with adults in Hindi, English and Urdu. He has also directed over 100 productions for schools all over India, and in the field of disability, he has directed 30 documentary films and produced several plays.


Photo credits: Ram Rahman:15-Feisal Alkazi and friends in The Cellar, a discotheque in Delhi 1975

Alkazi Theatre Archives: Jaffer Padamsee and Kulsum with Sultan_Bobby (standing right), Roshen (standing left), Bapsi (seated centre), Zarine (seated right)

Excerpted from Enter Stage Right: The Alkazi/Padamsee Family Memoir by Feisal Alkazi. Speaking Tiger Books, 2021.

Click here to read the book review.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

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The First Travelogue by a Bengali Lady from England in 1885

Excerpted from A Bengali Lady in England: Annotated Translation with Critical Introduction to Krishnabhabini Das’ Englandey Bangamahila. Translated by Nabanita Sengupta: Published by Shambhabi, 2020.

From the Introduction

Englandey Bangamahila is an important text that highlights the socio-cultural history of that period and conforms to the dominant ideologies of the nineteenth century. But beyond all these, there is a distinctive woman’s voice, sympathetic to her fellow sufferers. In fact, her concern about other Bengali women, trapped in the traditional Bengali society is the driving force behind this text. Krishnabhabini Das’ overwhelming concern about the fate of the Bengali women visible in the issues she chose to represent in her text makes her narrative one about the subjugated women of Bengal. The persona of Krishnabhabini is built up through the way she perceives the existence of her fellow sisters as opposed to the relatively free women of England. The author becomes inseparable from other women of India who faced the doubly bonded life at every moment of their existence. It reminds us of Rowbotham’s concept of ‘collective consciousness’ that goes into the making of a woman’s self, as discussed in Susan Friedman’s essay, “Women’s autobiographical selves: Theory and Practice”. It is this collective consciousness which constitutes Krishnabhabini’s psyche and identity.

In Friedman’s words it is actually a “sense of shared identity with other women, an aspect of identity that exists in tension with a sense of [her] own uniqueness” (44). It is this tension between the individual identity and the shared identity which adds to the complexities of women’s life writings. The individual identity of Krishnabhabini as a woman enjoying relatively greater freedom compared to her fellow sisters contradicts the identity that she gains in solidarity with them. These issues together make Krishnabhabini’s work more complex than a mere travelogue.

Nationalism and travel writing being two important concerns of the nineteenth century Englandey Bangamahila has often been examined under these lenses. As pointed out by Simonti Sen, “Krishnabhabini clearly resided with her co-travellers in the space constitutive of the nation. Her travel account is cast in the usual frame that separates the ‘backward East from the ‘progressive West’ and engages with all the stock-in-trade nationalist questions” (Travels to Europe 23). But what has been ignored under the impact of these more dominant concerns is the effort that underlies the making of this travel narrative. It is more than evident that for a lady with her background and situation it was not possible to have access to all the places and details she describes in the text. She must have had recourse to other texts on England. The question is how did she use them? Does her use of such text add a special dimension to her narrative?

British Woman

Among the affluent there are many women who are completely given to luxury. They leave their home and children to their servants’ care and spend their time indulging in music, fashion or reading novels. But how can I blame them for this? In almost every country it is seen that the rich women are lazy. Everywhere, surfeit of wealth is the root cause of a luxurious living. Women build the foundation of a family. So if the women in general had been lazy here, then the British household could not have run efficiently and England too would not have developed so much. I feel that they are the true counterparts of their men. The way these women help their men and at times even do men’s work are things that we almost never see in our country. Apart from their own work, these women can also execute men’s jobs efficiently. They often run shops, work as clerks, teachers, write books and contribute in newspapers, arrange meetings and accomplish much more. Women constitute half of a country’s population: their aversion to work and inclination towards laziness harm the whole nation. British women have not restricted themselves to just household chores. They cooperate with men in many other works; great tasks are being accomplished here and there is so much of progress.

British women who live in India are extremely lazy because everything they need, including servants, come quite cheap in this country. Also, they do not care much about money as their husbands earn a high salary. Food, fashion, gossiping, music and strolling in the open air are their chief preoccupations. Taking these women as models, the Indians consider all British women to be babu[i]. There was a time when I too believed that all British women were lazy, but after seeing everything here, that impression has changed. I have been greatly surprised to see them capable of as much hard work, tolerance and diligence as men. Instead of just aping the manners of these women if we can imbibe their virtues, then perhaps we shall be truly benefitted.

England provides a lot of opportunity for women’s education. There is no dearth of good schools or colleges for girls in cities here. In almost every neighbourhood in London there are two to three girls’ schools. Nowadays in the universities of London, Oxford and Cambridge, women can get the same education as men. In the University of London[ii], women receive education together with men, attending the same classes and under the same professors. They pass the same examinations and receive the same degrees. Though the examinations here are tougher than the B.A and M.A examinations of our country, many women competing with men pass these and often score much higher marks. In London, there is no dearth of women who hold university degrees like men.  One can often hear names such as Miss Smith, B.A, Misses Jones, M.A, etc. Now women do not hesitate to participate even in those tough examinations which few men take up. This proves that women are not inferior to men in terms of intelligence; the fact that they have achieved as much as men in spite of all the hurdles they face actually prove their superiority. I have heard that in North America, women can attain the high posts of judge, barrister etc, and preside over legal cases as men do. All the upper-class women are quite well-educated! The British women yet do not take part in professions that might require higher degrees of efficiency than teaching or practicing medicine. But here too, there is such a progress in the field of education that it seems quite soon the British women will surpass the American ones in this regard.

I cannot express the extent of happiness that I feel when I see girls and young women going to schools and colleges in groups like the boys and young men. Here the girls too go to school from the age of six or seven till they are twenty to twenty-five. Many women are not satisfied even with this. Like the educated British men, they continue their pursuit of education till the end of their life. Here there are many women who are authors, scholars and scientists. In certain aspects the women dominate men.  Best of the novels of recent times have come from women authors[iii].

In the provinces girls not only study but also learn stitching, knitting, music, physical exercises and at times even cooking. British parents take good care so that their daughters can learn all these skills. They take equal care to impart education to both their sons and daughters. There is no lack of female teachers here and that is why while appointing teachers for their sons they do the same for their daughters as well, spending almost an equal amount of money for both. Not just in the rich households, but even the daughters of middle class houses pursue education and learn music and other necessary art forms till they are eighteen or nineteen. Parents spend liberally till their daughters become skilled enough in all these subjects. They feel happy to have done their duties towards their daughters. Compared to India, here the girls belonging to lower classes are much better educated and more intelligent than their counterparts in India. In this country, barring the lowest strata of society, almost everybody’s daughters and wives can read, write and play on the piano. Almost everyone is skilled in household chores and dress making etc.

Along with their intellect, British women take adequate care of their health. In almost every girl’s school there are facilities for physical exercises and games. In many cases, women are as expert as men in games like gymnastics which require physical stamina. They are also at par with men in walking, horse riding, running, and lawn tennis.  I have often seen many such women who are stronger than many Bengali men in terms of both physical and mental strength. I doubt whether an Indian man would be able to walk as much as an upper class British woman does. Also, the women here are stronger and more industrious than the women of other European races. It is said that an Italian lady does not walk as much in a year as a British lady walks in a day. So it is not surprising that such strong and industrious mothers will bear healthy and strong children who, will later grow up to be brave, spirited and hard-working British men.


[i] The word babu discussed earlier, refers to those nineteenth century men who spent their time and money in luxury and foppery. But  interestingly, though it is used for men in Bengali society, Krishnabhabini confers this on the rich and idle English women given to laziness.

[ii] Though the author presents an almost utopian view of women’s education, it was not until 1878 that the University of London opened its doors to women. According to the brief history of the institution provided in their official website “in 1880, four women passed the BA examination and in 1881 two women obtained a BSc.”

[iii] Victorian novels were dominated by women authors, many of whom have obliviated from public memory in the later years. Nineteenth century saw prolific novelists like Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835-1915), also known as the “queen of circulating libraries” who authored about eighty books; George Eliot (1819-1880), one of the most learned and scholarly writers of her times, whose chief concern was the contemporary society and women; Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865), immensely popular in her times though not remembered much by posterity, her most popular work was Mary Barton, her contribution to the ‘condition of England’ novels along with Dickens, Disraeli and others. There were many more women novelists in this period, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Fanny Burney to name a few.

About the Book

Englandey Bangamahila is the first travel writing by a Bengali woman in England, published in 1885. This book is a documentation of the 19th century England—its strength and prejudices, as seen through the eyes of a twenty-year-old woman, Krishnabhabini Das, a housewife belonging to an orthodox Hindu family. Krishnabhabini did not believe in social taboos and went against quite a number of them like travelling abroad, educating herself, not adhering to the 19th century views of motherhood. Her book too was iconoclastic in a number of ways, including its bold criticism of British imperialism and other aspects of British culture. Written from the perspective of a doubly marginalised individual, this book is a rich study of ethnography, culture studies, postcolonial studies, 19th century nationalism and gender studies.

Author’s Bio:

Born in 1864, Krishnabhabini Das was an iconoclast woman who, in spite of being married into an orthodox Hindu family, worked for the development of women throughout her life. She travelled to England in the 1880s with her husband, leaving behind her nine-year-old daughter. Though the trip enriched her in various ways, it also led to a long separation from her daughter who was married off at a very early age. She, being far away in another country, could not stop her child’s marriage. Krishnabhabini wrote a detailed account of the British lifestyle during her stay in England in her book Englandey Bangamahila and after returning to India continued with her social work and writings in the leading periodicals of her times. She died in 1919 leaving behind a lifetime of work regarding upliftment of women.

Translator’s Bio:

A translator and creative writer by choice and teacher by profession, Dr. Nabanita Sengupta is presently employed as assistant professor in English at Sarsuna College, affiliated to the University of Calcutta. She is also associated with two literary societies – Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library and Kolkata Translators’ Forum. Her poetry, fiction and non-fiction have been variously published at places like SETU, Borderless Journal, Muse India, Coldnoon, Café Dissensus, NewsMinute.in, News18.com, Kitaab.org and Different Truths. She also has a number of critical writings to her name and has presented papers at various national and international seminars and webinars. Her latest publication is A Bengali Lady in England: Annotated Translation with a critical Introduction to Krishnabhabini Das’ Englandey Bangamahila.

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Excerpt

Parenting Children

Title: Raising a Humanist; Conscious Parenting in an Increasingly Fragmented World

Authors: Dr. Manisha Pathak-Shelat & Kiran Vinod Bhatia

Publisher: Sage, 2021

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Chapter 1: What Is Your Child’s World View?

The Big Three: How Family, School and Media Shape Our Children

Family, school and media are the three most important building blocks constituting children’s world view. While families and schools allow children to learn and practise norms and codes of conduct acceptable to the communities and countries in which they live, the media is a channel that connects children’s local environments and the outside world. Children’s perceptions of how power and politics work in the world, how to make sense of realities which they cannot experience first-hand, their mental images of people and places and their perception of their own place in the world are largely influenced by the media.

Let us look at an example. Young girls learn about gender roles dominant in their immediate communities from family members, teachers, friends and peers through routine interactions.

Many families and communities in India, for instance, want their girls to be fair because only fair skin is considered to be beautiful.

Fair becomes synonymous with lovely. In many schools, fair girls often act as female protagonists in theatre activities and other school programmes, such as cultural dance performances and video making. Many young girls are raised on a staple diet of the following aspirations.

Fair is lovely!

• You must try to make your skin look fair.

• If you have a dark skin, you must resort to chemical treatments/facials/and other cosmetic procedures to lighten your skin colour.

• Girls should not play sports because exposure to the sun will darken their skin and make them look ugly.

• Girls who have a dark skin shouldn’t wear certain colours because those colours will make their skin look darker.

• For matrimony, only fair girls are in demand. If your daughter has dark skin, it will be difficult to find a match for her.

As is evident, families and communities instil in children the obsession for fair skin through daily communication and practices.

Gradually, it also translates into discrimination against dark-skinned people, that is, considering them less valuable or beautiful.

This obsession over fair skin is then reinforced through media narratives where famous celebrities endorse beauty products designed to make girls look fair and lovely. The media acts as a bridge between children’s local experiences and the trends and practices dominant in the outside world. It is, however, important to realize that popular culture in the outside world of children and everyday experiences in their immediate surroundings happen simultaneously and constantly feed off each other.

Children are socialized on the basis of an interaction between what they observe and practise at home, in schools and communities and how these patterns of thoughts and actions are normalized and justified through media and popular culture. What is significant in this spiral of socialization is the interdependence of these two worlds.

Media: Constructing Social Realities

The media often acts as a lens through which children witness and participate in the outside world. It performs two critical functions in socializing children. First, it informs and influences the aspirations of children in relation to how they should position themselves in their societies. Second, it legitimizes several social practices and interactions. For instance, young children who have been raised on the staple diet of item numbers often sing, dance and appreciate these songs in their routines. We observe that many child contestants on children’s talent shows in India such as ‘Dance India Dance’, ‘India’s Got Talent’ and others are encouraged to perform seductively on item number songs to become more popular and get more votes. Repeated and continuous exposure to such TV content normalizes the act of sexualizing children’s bodies and encourages children to look at themselves using the same lens. They may also develop the fear that if they do not do this, the attention and love they are receiving will be withdrawn.

It is important to note that the role of the media is not limited to just representing the society as it is. It not only selects trending issues of popular interest but also encourages individuals to understand these issues in specific ways. For instance, for years, item number songs in Bollywood movies were not criticized for sexualizing and objectifying female bodies in harmful ways.

Also, the portrayals of protagonists or female leads in Bollywood movies as fair and thin reinforce the stereotype that a girl must be fair and thin to be successful in life. In many movies, their role and character are ornamental; that is, they provide diversion and comic-relief through extremely sexualized songs and dances. Media portrayals thus compel us to think of beauty among women in a limited sense—fair, thin, unquestioning and yielding, and to believe that their role in the society is limited to ‘serving the men’.

Media often represents a selected part of reality and what they want to show. For instance, during a religious conflict, voices that are strident, violent and radical always draw the maximum attention from the media, thus skewing our perception of a community. In each religious community, there are fringe voices and there are people who are working hard to initiate interfaith dialogue and to establish peace between different communal factions. These voices are never heard on prime-time news channels because voicing of moderate opinions seldom boosts their TRPs*. On the contrary, sensationalizing issues help news channels sustain and/or increase their viewership and revenue earned from advertisements, sponsorships, partnerships and other forms of economic and political alliances. When children and adults consume media stories that sensationalize differences between religious communities, individuals start believing that their religion will ultimately decide their fate in the world. Constant exposure to and consumption of such biased media stories can influence children’s everyday interactions with those from different religious communities.

When all that children can see and hear in their families, schools and media is discrimination and stereotyping, how will they find the resources to imagine a different reality?

Of course, the media has a great potential to present new possibilities and to enable individuals to reimagine ways of being in the world, but mainstream media companies are more driven by revenue generation than by democratic morals and values. If they make their audience uncomfortable, they risk losing their viewership and so they prefer to align their coverage with the dominant thoughts, practices and values in the society. When children consume media uncritically, they reproduce in their routines the aspirations and lifestyle choices projected by the media. This is how the media socializes children to behave within religious, gender, class and caste norms that benefit powerful groups in the society.

*Target Rating Points

About the Book

The world is immensely divided and broken. We have lost the art of having conversations with those who are different from us. While we cannot change the world, we can take small remedial steps starting with our homes and communities.

The authors—communication scholars—with a vast experience of working with parents, teachers and youth engage you in a conversation that is bound to leave a lasting impression on you, your children, and our world. Using critical questions, pragmatic tips and interesting anecdotes, they touch upon the deep divisive issues of our society and provide fascinating ways to use art, technology and media to provide our children with a nurturing community.

Bold and provocative at times, this empowering book is your companion in raising a humanist.

About the Authors

Dr. Manisha Pathak-Shelat is a Professor, Communication & Digital Platforms and Strategies, and Chair, Centre for Development Management and Communication, MICA, Ahmedabad. A widely published scholar, Manisha has taught and worked as a media consultant, communication trainer, and researcher in India, Thailand, and U.S.A. Manisha believes in scholarship that is socially engaged and accessible for making meaningful contribution towards a better world.

Kiran Vinod Bhatia is a doctoral candidate at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Bhatia has published widely in journals of international repute and has co-authored a book on media education and critical literacy. Bhatia believes that critical education and thinking have the potential to change the ways in which we engage with others in our societies.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

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A Sense of Time

Title: A Sense of Time and Other Stories

Author: Anuradha Kumar

Publisher: Weavers Press, San Francisco, 2021

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Dorothy Cries in the Bus

She spoke for too long on her cell phone. That was the first thing Malati noticed about the foreign lady seated in front of her in the bus. She had brown hair fading at the corners and she spoke English. She sounded American to her ears. All this Malati noticed in degrees, having been too hassled to really look when she’d boarded the bus. There were last minute instructions she had to message her husband, even if she was leaving him and never coming back. Having sent off her last message, she sat disoriented for a while. Her eyes strayed ever so often to the glass fronted dial of her cell phone hoping it would light up. But of course, it didn’t. He really didn’t care. Even now, when he should rightfully have been worried about her, whether she’d boarded the bus all right, what with the heavy rains all along the Konkan till Goa, he was with that harlot. Malati felt certain that they were at the temple in Mahalaxmi, necking on the steps, offering prayers, all in the vain hope that the gods would not consider them shameless. The hair on Malati’s arms stood up in anger and indignation. 

   Images rushed through her mind, a savage anger that made her long to jump off the bus, hail a rickshaw and rush straight home. But she wouldn’t do that, not yet. Let Ashok miss her. He would know how difficult it was to run things in the house without her. Soon he’d be calling her up, begging her to return. Malati smiled at the thought, the anger disappearing into the sunny silver of her changing thoughts. How many days should she stay away, she wondered. Should she wait for him to fetch her?  

   She sat up straight, adjusting her sari around herself. It was then she gave herself time to take in her surroundings. Was everything as it should be? Perhaps the air conditioner was on too high. When the conductor came around, she would ask for it to be lowered. She paid 500 rupees extra for an air-conditioned seat and she was determined to get her money’s worth. She looked around at her neighbors. Some students on her left and an old lady on her right, who was perhaps being shunted off to yet another set of relatives. Would that be her fate too? Malati wondered. And just in front, though she could not see her face yet, was that American. Everyone who moved down the aisle, to their seats behind, bottles of mineral water, groundnut or chikki packets, even bananas, in hand, turned to look at her. It made Malati curious too. But she didn’t want to crane her neck or peer over her seat because that might feed the other woman’s vanity, make her think she was special. Women were the same everywhere that way, even Malati knew that. In any case from the back of her head visible over the seat Malati could tell she dyed her hair. A golden brown shade that was, as she’d already seen with some gladness, already fading. 

   She would wait for her to get up. Passengers usually did that, most of them in the minutes just before the bus started. It was an inevitable and uniform act, that after sitting for so long patiently, in the silence that prevailed after the driver had slammed the door to his cabin shut, before the conductor began his sedate traipse down the aisle, to click away at the tickets extended to him, people always remembered some last chore. Minutes before departure, the stench emanating from the public toilets rose unbearably high forcing people to send prayers of relief up to the heavens once they heard the engine revving up. The woman in front though didn’t get up and in the silence broken only by the steadily advancing click of the conductor’s stapler, Malati heard her voice too. It had to be American, she was sure now. The accent Malati could easily place thanks to the serials she watched. 

   But then the woman sounded distressed as well. She was on her phone again. Malati tried her best to follow the conversation, but it was short, and she could only make out the bye-bye at the end. Malati did not miss the last sob in her voice. Languages could be diverse, but nothing could hide expression. The American was crying to this person on the other end. Possibly her husband. These Americans were free in their feelings that way. The serials showed them kissing and hugging each other, openly, and always for too long. It really embarrassed Malati, even when she was by herself.  

   From the gap between the two chairs, she saw the woman move her hands over her face. She wiped her tears away. Poor thing, Malati thought. Such a long way from home, she was. Malati wondered whether she should ask to exchange seats with the woman who sat next to the American woman. But next to her sat someone who looked to be one of those students from the engineering college. They always traveled in groups over the weekend and did not deign to speak to anyone. Just because they were more educated, so fluent in English and rich. Malati sniffed. 

About the book: 
The stories in A Sense of Time and Other Stories offer a range of themes and emotions. They speak of the challenges of being human, the unpredictability of the mundane, the strange attractiveness of the unfamiliar, and the constant quest to make connections and find love, even with an alien from another world. In ‘An Entomologist at the Trial,’ a small town lawyer’s ambition turns on his attempt to resolve a thorny case that falls amusingly flat. ‘Pandemic 2121: A Love Story’ and ‘Missing’ are stories, varied in theme, that yet speak of the loneliness of keeping love. How does one save a love when everything is conspiring against it, these stories ask. ‘All The Way to the Twelfth Floor,’ ‘The Bus and the Minister,’ ‘Big Fish, and the title story, ‘A Sense of Time,’ speak of the alienation and helplessness of the common person when confronted with a faceless, stony-eyed system. A world with rules set in time, where conventions matter more, leaves little room for those at the very bottom who have little choice but to wait endlessly for succour. ‘Rekha Crosses the Line’ on the other hand, is a more subversive account of a woman who gives in to her desire for some fleeting moments, only to wonder if it was really worth it. ‘Alterations’ casts a satirical eye on a wannabe scientist’s experiments as he craves world recognition. And finally, ‘Comfort Food’ and ‘The Man Who Played Gandhi’ speak of our quest to make sense of those long gone, those whom we have lost. Written in the span of a decade and more, these stories will hopefully stay on, linger in the mind, long after being read. These stories might make you see yourself and even others in a different way. It takes only a little empathy to allow the hidden to surface.       

About the Author:  
Anuradha Kumar is a prolific and established writer. A Sense of Time and Other Stories is collection of short stories after The Girl Who Ran Away in a Washing Machine and Other Stories (Kitaab 2016). She has written several novels, including three works of historical fiction as Adity Kay. Anu also writes pieces on history for Scroll.in. Her stories have received awards from the Commonwealth Foundation, and The Little Magazine India. She was born in Odisha, lived in various parts of India, Singapore, before moving to the US more than a decade ago. She now lives in New Jersey with her husband and daughter. 

Read here interview by clicking here

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Across and Beyond, Essays on Travel

Excerpted from the Introduction of a book of travel essays  

Title: Across and Beyond, Essays on Travel

Editor: Nishi Pulugurtha,

Publisher: Avenel Press, 2020

Small little things – a place, a book, a poem, an image, an incident, an anecdote, the memory of a journey, a short walk, a sight, a monument, a photograph, a magazine article, a snippet of history,  the train whistle, a meal, a trinket, a souvenir, someone I met, help received at some point of time — these and many more things like these often remind me of journeys, of my sojourns, some taken, some still to be taken, a story that is waiting to happen or a story that has become a part of my being. Nostalgia, memory and longing are closely intertwined in my mind whenever the word travel comes to mind.

Travel is about negotiating with the known and the unknown, the familiar and the unfamiliar. It brings in ideas of negotiation, urban planning, history, architecture, space, food, memory, exile, emigration, and colonialism. As a free, voluntary, spontaneous movement, travel could be contrasted to ideas of displacement. This brings into contention as to who can and who cannot travel, an important idea in today’s world, where violence has caused forced displacement of people. There are places where one cannot travel to because of restrictions. This counters the basic idea of travel as a free, spontaneous movement. There is also the travel of certain people that is necessitated by work – for instance, journalists travelling to war ravaged zones.

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Since time immemorial travel has excited and enticed people. Inspite of the fact that not all travel has had or has happy associations, people have written about their voyages in strange and new lands, opening new vistas, people and places. These works of travel, of experiences and adventures have enriched literature, and have worked at recreating social, cultural, political and economic history.

Travel writing is not just about travel. It is about one’s experiences, about places, people, culture. It is the subjective that matters more, or should matter more. Travel is about observations, it is about lives lived differently, in places that are so very different from what one is used to, the land, the history, the culture, the people, the food, the music, the textiles, the sights and sounds, the weather, everything that one gets to see is so very different. The personal, the subjective, becomes important, whether it is a personal narrative, or one that has a particular agenda to serve, whether it is about experiences pleasant or those unpleasant. Memory plays an important role in writing about travel experience. History, politics, geography, almost all branches of life feature prominently in works that talk about travel. 

Travel and writing on travel bring up various issues and themes. What makes people travel? How does the idea of travel work to re-present one’s lived place? How do the familiar and well-known take on a charm so very different? How do people and places seem to interact to create a sense of lived experience? What role do memory and nostalgia play in travel? Does writing about travel bring about a re-living of the whole experience? How do bad experiences while travelling colour one’s experience of the place visited? Who travels, for what purpose, and how does the purpose or nature of travel determine itineraries? Do images/ narratives/ descriptions produced by travellers influence or present constructions of identity? What is the role of travel writing in colonialism? How does travel writing work to present the little known or almost forgotten places and people? At a time when more and more women are beginning to travel alone or in women-only groups for pleasure, how do their experiences of travel add to the genre of travel narratives? Could travel writing be gendered?

The essays range from personal accounts of travel that interweave food, music, textiles and books into them, that speak of the nuances of language and words, of culture and its influence on things, of place and memory, critical essays on literary texts which have travel as an important aspect of their narrative or deal with travel as a metaphor, essays that deal with travel in the nineteenth century, to essays that talk about the fear that instinctively comes to the mind of a solo woman traveller conditioned socially to be wary of people and /or places, travel in popular culture, essays that bring together notions of identity, politics, diplomacy, geography and history, of work related travel and the experiences wrought thereof.

About the Book

An edited volume of a collection of essays by travel enthusiasts and scholars that range from personal accounts of travel that weave together food, music, textiles and books to essays that speak of the nuances of language, words and culture, of place and memory. There are essays that speak of travel in popular culture and bring together notions of identity, politics, geography and history. The volume also contains critical essays on literary texts which deal with travel, essays on travel in the nineteenth century, to essays that reveal the experiences of the solo woman traveller.

About the Editor

Nishi Pulugurtha is an academic and creative writer. Her research areas are British Romantic poetry, Indian Writing in English, diaspora literature, Shakespeare adaptations in film and she has presented papers and published in these areas extensively. She writes short stories, poems, essays, travelogues, and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Her creative writings have been published in anthologies, journals and magazines. She is the author of a monograph on Derozio (2010),  a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019), and has a volume of poems, The Real and the Unreal and Other Poems (2020). 

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The Brass Notebook: A Memoir by Devaki Jain

Excerpted from The Brass Notebook: A Memoir by Devaki Jain. Published by Speaking Tiger Books, 2020.

Upturning Hierarchies

‘She has wheels on her feet’: I think this phrase is used in several Indian languages to describe women who are constantly travelling (‘kaalile chakram’ in my own language, Tamil). The phrase sometimes carries with it a sense of exasperation or dismissal: why can’t she stay in one place? I was just the sort of person to whom that phrase applies. In retrospect, it amazes me to find that over a span of about fifty years, starting 1955, I have travelled to ninety-four different countries. I have also had the privilege of visiting every one of the twenty-nine states and seven Union Territories in India. In most of them, I have visited some of the poorest and most marginalized villages to meet women and to try to understand their struggles. Very little of this travel was for tourism or holidays. Nearly all of it was professional travel with my costs covered.

This cycle of constant travel began in a sense in childhood, when I accompanied my father on his trips and safaris. So many of my memories of childhood are of me in the back seat of a car, en route to somewhere unfamiliar. But I really became a self-sufficient traveller in my own right in 1962, when I found myself part of an unusual, and now almost impossible, overland trip from Oxford to Delhi. The leader of this bold travelling party was Elizabeth Whitcombe, an Oxford student who had studied ‘Greats’: that is to say, the four-year degree in Greek and Latin languages, literature, history and philosophy. She had only two conditions for members of her party: one had to be able to drive, and to contribute £100 to the kitty. In the end, there were four of us: two men and two women in a hardy Land Rover.

We started, of course, from where we were, in Oxford, and took the ferry across the English Channel into France. We drove across France and Switzerland, all the way down to Greece and then Turkey. Throughout, we stayed in what were called ‘mocamps’—camps for motorists to park their cars and spend the night. Sometimes, we slept out in the open in our sleeping bags. Elizabeth, a seasoned camper who had climbed mountains in New Zealand, brought all the necessary equipment. A well-read scholar, she could educate us about the antiquities in Greece and Turkey—archaeological sites and ancient monuments—that we visited.

From Ankara in Turkey, we went on through Trebizond, Batumi, Erzurum, Tabriz, stopping in each town, walking through and occasionally shopping in the bazaars. We all bought leather coats in the market in Istanbul, where the sturdiest and cheapest leather goods were to be found. The one memory of that part of the trip that stayed with me as a traumatic experience was seeing the decapitated heads of cattle being used to hang things on—bags, hats and so forth. The heads still had eyes and it was like they were staring right back at me when I looked at them.

One of my co-travellers, a mathematician from New Zealand called David Vere Jones, wrote to me recently with some of his memories from this leg of the journey: of a mosque with a wooden floor and many squares of old carpets, of leaving the mosque after dark in search of a camping ground, of eventually settling down for the night in a dry riverbed where some nomads were camping opposite. Some of the children and old men in their encampment came to visit us, bringing us melons; we accepted gratefully, offering them cigarettes and brandy in return. They sang for us, and one old man chose a particularly bawdy number that sent his companions into convulsions of laughter. David can also remember swimming in lakes, and the constant stomach upsets to which we all fell prey during the journey.

About the Book:

In this no-holds-barred memoir, Devaki Jain begins with her childhood in south India, a life of comfort and ease with a father who served as dewan in the Princely States of Mysore and Gwalior. But there were restrictions too, that come with growing up in an orthodox Tamil Brahmin family, as well as the rarely spoken about dangers of predatory male relatives. Ruskin College, Oxford, gave her her first taste of freedom in 1955, at the age of 22. Oxford brought her a degree in philosophy and economics—as well as hardship, as she washed dishes in a cafe to pay her fees. It was here, too, that she had her early encounters with the sensual life. With rare candour, she writes of her romantic liaisons in Oxford and Harvard, and falling in love with her ‘unsuitable boy’—her husband, Lakshmi Jain, whom she married against her beloved father’s wishes.

Devaki’s professional life saw her becoming deeply involved with the cause of ‘poor’ women—workers in the informal economy, for whom she strove to get a better deal. In the international arena, she joined cause with the concerns of the colonized nations of the south, as they fought to make their voices heard against the rich and powerful nations of the former colonizers. Her work brought her into contact with world leaders and thinkers, amongst them, Vinoba Bhave, Nelson Mandela, Henry Kissinger, and Iris Murdoch.

 About the Author

Devaki Jain graduated in economics and philosophy from St Anne’s College, Oxford and is an Honorary Fellow of the college. She is a recipient of the Padma Bhushan (2006) and an honorary doctorate from the University of Westville, Durban, South Africa.

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No Strings Attached

Book Excerpt from Bhaskar Parichha’s new book

The Tragedy of Itishrees 

Babina, Itishree, Nirbhayas-the list is lengthy. As 2013 fades away into history, the struggle that women face are enormous, and cases of gender inequality are monumental. Despite positive progress and legal guarantee, women continue to experience injustice, brutality, and unfairness in their homes and at the workplace. The devaluation of women and social domination of the male continues to worry sociologists and planners alike. Women in India are viewed as a shade lesser than men, the weaker gender, and this entrenched perception has led to their social and economic dispossession.

The key factor driving gender inequality is the preference for boys. Boys are deemed to be more useful than girls. They are given exclusive rights to inherit the family name and property. Bias also comes in the shape of religious practices making sons more attractive. What is more, the saddle of dowry discourages parents from having daughters. Thus, a combination of factors has shaped the imbalanced view of sexes in India.

The number of girls born and surviving in India is yet another worrisome factor because female fetuses are being aborted and baby girls deliberately neglected and left to die. Gender selection and selective abortion were banned in India under the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostics Technique Act, in 1994 but the use of ultrasound scanning for gender selection continues unabated.

In 1961, the Government of India passed the Dowry Prohibition Act, making the dowry demands in wedding illegal. However, many cases of dowry-related domestic violence, suicides, and murders are still reported. At least a dozen die each day in ‘kitchen fires’. Of course, amongst the urban educated dowry abuse has reduced dramatically. But rural women continue to be victims of dowry torture. Issues affecting Indian women are numerous. But it is domestic violence that impacts women the most. True, there are laws to protect them. Yet, they are defenseless and laws ultimately turn out to be mere pieces of paper.

In 1997, in a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court took a strong stand against sexual harassment of women in the workplace. The Court laid down detailed guidelines for the prevention and redressing of grievances. The National Commission for Women subsequently elaborated these guidelines into a Code of Conduct for employers.

 Whether it is self-employment, domestic work,   or even government jobs the discrimination of women more glaring. Equal pay laws may have been enacted, but women are still paid less than men across states and sectors. As if that isn’t enough, they are prohibited from working in the same industries as men. Several studies have linked the gender pay gap with women’s caring responsibilities- a responsibility which comes to women not on their own volition but according to their physique.

Talk about justice to women, the broad issue is one of empowerment. Even though there have been steep increases in women’s representation in parliament, state assemblies, and the Panchayati Raj institutions, there exists a case for more women in politics and public life. The horrendous crime perpetrated on Indian women says volumes about their vulnerability. The individual lives, the catastrophes, and the abuse that are the daily lots of millions of India’s women reveal poignant stories of bravery and struggle.

While there is a growing incidence of violence, many women shrink away from reporting crimes due to social stigma and weak justice systems. The costs and practical difficulties of seeking justice too are prohibitive — from travel to a distant court to paying for expensive legal advice. The result is high dropout rates where women fail to seek redress on gender-based violence. The phenomenon of honor killings is another variety of violence girls in India where village caste councils, or khap panchayats, often operate as an extralegal morals police force, issuing edicts against couples who marry outside their caste or who marry within the same village.

Though gradually rising, the female literacy rate in India is lower than the male literacy rate. Compared to boys, far fewer girls are enrolled in schools, and many of them drop out. According to various reports, the chief barriers to female education in India are inadequate school facilities such as sanitary, shortage of female teachers, and gender bias in curriculum. India has witnessed substantial improvements in female literacy and enrolment rate since the 1990s, but the quality of education for females remains to be heavily compromised.

Women in India suffer from yet another advantage. They are not allowed to have combat roles in the armed forces. According to a study female officers are excluded from induction in close combat arms, where chances of physical contact with the enemy are high. Even a permanent commission has not been granted to female officers.

Gender Inequality Index (GII) is a new index for the measurement of gender disparity that was introduced in the 2010 Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). According to the Gender Gap Index 2011 released by the World Economic Forum (WEF), India was ranked 113 out of 135 countries polled. This represents a poor distribution of resources and opportunities amongst the male and female.

Since independence, many laws have been promulgated to protect women’s rights. The Constitution prohibits discrimination on several grounds including sex and recognises the principle of equality for all before the law and of opportunity in matters relating to employment. Women’s empowerment in India is a challenging task because gender-based discrimination is deep-rooted social malice. This sexual discrimination can be erased only through awareness of the ‘problem’ at all levels in society.

Acknowledging the presence of a problem will lead to solutions sooner or later. While the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women has to be the goal, what is important is a fundamental change in the misogynistic attitudes that exist in our society. 

(This was excerpted from the book ‘No strings Attached: Writings on Odisha’ by Bhaskar Parichha. Click here to buy)

About the Book: No Strings Attached  : Writings on Odisha

The past twenty years have been action-packed in Odisha’s millennial history – political bluntness, natural adversity, economic deceleration, community resilience and so forth. All these are part of the narrative of this book. Every single piece in the collection is the upshot of an occurrence. There are profiles, there is politics, and there are controversies and issues that have been part of the larger political process. The book is an Eldorado.

About the Author: Bhaskar Parichha is a journalist and author of Biju Patnaik – A Political Biography. He lives in Bhubaneswar and writes bilingually. Besides writing for newspapers, he also reviews books on various media platforms.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are solely of those of the author.

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The Birth of The Chronicler of the Hooghly

By Shakti Ghosal

In our lives, we at times get confronted with intense and traumatic events which force us to question who we are, what really matters to us and what we believe in. In some ways these events alter our sense of reality. Each of the four stories in my book, The Chronicler of the Hooghly draws inspiration from such crucible events that I have had to face in my own life. The protagonists in that sense carry a bit of my own ‘experience and thought’ genes. As I see them now within the larger fabric of the stories, I do notice shades of myself and others who have been part of my life. Writing the stories has been a personal journey in that sense. At times the stories seemed to write themselves. The four stories portray five crucible experiences and invite the reader to experience those transformative moments. Chances are that the reader would be able to relate to them in some way.

The Chronicler of the Hooghly is currently under publication. Here is an excerpt from the book.

Calcutta, 1757

The battle having been won, it was Omichand’s turn to demand his share from the East India Company. However, he did not realise he had more than met his match in the wily Clive.

Clive welcomed him with all solicitousness.

“Your share Omichand? But according to our agreement, you are not entitled to anything at all! Take a look at the agreement”.

Clive laid out before him the original agreement which had no mention of any wealth share from the royal treasury for him.

The earth moved from under Omichand’s feet, the whole world seemed to be swaying around him. His throat constricted. His head swam. He could not believe his eyes. The signatories were all there but the agreement was different.

Omichand realized he had been duped. “You have cheated me, you have cheated me!” was all he could say.

“Not at all dear friend”, said the wily Clive softly. “In fact, we have collected considerable riches as spoils of war, including an exquisite necklace made of pearls. We would like to offer that to you. Of course, we would continue to have you as one of our preferred trading partners. With the changed circumstances with a new and supportive Nawab, we expect the trade volumes to go up significantly”.

A medium-sized wooden box was placed before Omichand. “Take this home and be happy with it”, said Clive signalling that the meeting was over.

Omichand came back to his quarters and dully opened the box. He found a few trinkets, some gold coins and a pearl necklace. Omichand in his disturbed state failed to recognise the necklace. The deception and humiliation were taking its toll. Or was it the necklace that had started exercising its evil control? The outcome though was that Omichand, the one-time cunning and ruthless trader, started losing his sanity. The rumour went that he was given to alternate bouts of uncontrollable laughter and howls of misery.

One day in a fit of blind rage Omichand decided to go to Murshidabad to demand his rightful share from the new Nawab, the share from which he had been cheated. When the guards of the royal court heard of his audacious claim, they simply wrested all his belongings including the wooden box and threw him into the dungeon where he met his sorry end after a few years. The contents of the box went to the Nawab’s treasury.

Unbeknownst to all, the curse of the necklace had moved back to the Nawab of Bengal. It would ensure the decline in the fortunes and influence of the Murshidabad Royal Court over the years.

**

Ironically, as Omichand’s fortunes plummeted, they were on the rise for his one-time friend Nabakrishna Deb. The latter was rewarded with untold riches because of his services to the Company in the conspiracy against Siraj Ud Daula. Earning the title of Raja, Nabakrishna Deb rose in stature to become one of the leading luminaries in Calcutta.

Raja Nabakrishna Deb came to know that Clive wanted to do a thanksgiving ceremony to celebrate his victory at Plassey. Unfortunately, there was no suitable place in Calcutta, the one church that had been there was destroyed in Siraj Ud Daula’s attack a year earlier.

Nabakrishna suggested to Clive, “Your Lordship, I would like to invite you to the Durga Utsav that I would be performing at my residence. You may offer your thanks to the Goddess Durga”.

What Clive did not know was that this really was not the time for Durga Pujo which falls during the Bengali month of Chaitra, the end March- beginning April period. However the shrewd Nabakrishna had directed his purohits to come out with a suitable date or tithi in the local calendar. The generous pronami that was offered no doubt motivated the local priest community to come out with the creative solution of Akaal Bodhon.This essentially permitted the Durga Pujo ritual to be performed in autumn.

On the appointed day of the Pujo, Clive drove in his carriage to Nabakrishna Deb’s residence in Shova Bazaar and participated in what was to become the biggest festival in the Bengali calendar. He was accompanied by a number of Englishmen. The pomp and grandeur of the pujo were such that it became a talking point and something to aspire for by the upcoming rich merchant class. The Company Pujo, as it became known as, was not the usual conservative ritual based Hindu puja. Instead, it became known for its dance parties, elaborate menu of meats from the Wilson Hotel and unlimited drinks!

It is also said that Raja Nabakrishna Deb’s guests were regaled with the performances of the best nautch girls of Calcutta, one of them being the sensational new courtesan Rajni Bai who also responded to the name Joba.

**

Present Day

Dusk was on its way. The twinkling lights on both banks brought in an ethereal quality all around. Conversations were muted as most guests were immersed in the surroundings. The low voice of the Chronicler seemed to gain in intensity.

“The betrayal was huge and its impact momentous. A betrayal that led to the Nawab of Bengal losing the battle and his independence to a much smaller army. A betrayal that led to the payment of huge bribe money of Rupees eighty million to Nabakrishna Deb and other conspirators. A betrayal which led to the British becoming the dominant power in the subcontinent for over two centuries”.

But what is interesting is that this greatest betrayal in Indian history is so inexorably linked to one of the biggest religious festivals in the country. What is ironic is that the secular nature of the Durga Pujo festival, which receives praise all over the world, finds it origin in a tale of conspiracy and betrayal.” The Chronicler paused, looking at Samir with his hooded eyes.

Samir sat fascinated, only to hear the soft voice resuming from far, far away.

“The Hooghly ghats then were a far cry from the crumbling cesspools that we are seeing today. With magnificent facades and European classical architectures, the ghats were witness to impressive steam ships and tall masted boats sailing out to faraway places in England, Australia and New Zealand as also upstream to ports on the Ganga”.

“Did you know that there were thriving French, Dutch and Armenian settlements on the Hooghly in the early years of colonisation?” the Chronicler asked.

“Well I had read about the French settlement”, Samir responded.

“Fascinating, is it not, that events and rivalries five thousand miles away in Europe would show up in the waxing and waning of the Hooghly ghats? And so, it was that as the British colonialism went into ascendancy after winning the Napoleonic Wars in Europe in the early nineteenth century, the settlements of other nationalities on the Hooghly faded into oblivion.”

“Hmm! Interesting indeed. But what happened to the pearl necklace carrying the curse?’ asked Samir.

“Well for that we need to get into another story. A story which too is inexorably linked to the Hooghly”, replied the Chronicler.

Shakti Ghosal is new to the genre of fiction. He uses a wide-angle narrative style in his writings into which he brings his rich global perspective and life experiences. He loves to explore relationships within emergent situations. An engineer and a MBA (Faculty Gold Medal 1984) from IIM Bangalore, Shakti Ghosal has lived close to four decades of corporate life in India and abroad. A professional certified Coach, Mentor and Trainer, Shakti Ghosal runs Leadership Workshop cum coaching programs for organisations as part of his commitment to develop and upgrade Leadership Incubation globally. He is a visiting professor at IIM Udaipur, IIM Kashipur and IIM Nagpur. www.linkedin.com/in/Shaktighosal, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMg92VMo3_Cw8k-cu1rYWwg Ghosal has been blogging for close to a decade ( about 800 followers, 39,000 hits from all over the globe) on Leadership incubation, performance, life experience, philosophy and trends, and more recently, on his forthcoming book.www.esgeemusings.com

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