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Review

Unraveling Odisha

Book Review by Bijaya Kumar Mohanty

Title: No Strings Attached: Writings on Odisha

Author: Bhaskar Parichha

In No Strings Attached: Writings on Odisha, Bhaskar Parichha brings together some of his earlier published essays, primarily written for The Political and Business Daily and other newspapers. The well-known journalist and author begins with a preface in which he quotes Oscar Wilde: “Journalism is unreadable and literature is not read.” I would rather begin by inserting a slight modification to Wilde’s quotation, ‘Journalism is certainly readable and literature is not widely read’. I have inserted this modification, keeping Philip L. Graham’s quote in mind. He states: “Journalism is the first rough draft of history”.

Parichcha’s book ably presents the author’s long bilingual career in the field of journalism. He primarily writes in Odia and English. The wide variety of essays in the book is intended to create a yearning to know more on the subject. This book would attract all those who are interested in a brief understanding of modern Odisha in general and post-millennial political narratives in particular. It fills a void in the field of political economy of contemporary Odisha.

The book is divided into four parts: ‘Portraits’, ‘Politics and Beyond’, ‘Conflict Zone’ and ‘Odds and Ends’. And concludes with a postscript on “what to expect from Naveen Patnaik’s fifth term as Odisha Chief Minister”.

‘Portraits’ consists of six essays. It starts with Madhusudan das aka Madhubabu, the architect of modern Odisha as ‘the global Indian’.  In Odisha, when children are first introduced to the world of education, they get to learn a widely popular Odia rhyme:

Patha Padhibi, Okila Hebi,

Kalia Ghoda re Chadhibi,

Madhu Babu sange Ladhibi…

A rough translation of the popular memory is: ‘I will study with all the commitment, will achieve all the success and will fight for the nation like Madhubabu’. Madhubabu was one of the earlier institutional builders in the context of colonial inter-region specific cultural and economic conflicts. As rightly concluded by the author, Madhubabu “had a practical sense of realism and fought fearlessly against the ‘mental’ darkness of early twentieth century Odisha”. 

The other five essays are on the maverick Biju Patnaik; the legendary Harish Chandra Bakshipatra; the arrival of astute Naveen Patniak along with two cultural icons of post-colonial Odisha, Pandit Raghunath Panigrahi and the noted film scholar/maker Nirad Mohapatra and his world of Maya Miriga.

This section concluded with Nirad Mohaptra’s Maya Miriga (The Mirage). This was one of the few new wave regional films ever produced in India, as observed by C.S. Venkiteswaran, the noted Kerala based film critic, academic, documentary film-maker, who contended: “There are two kinds of film-makers — those who create an oeuvre of their own and leave a personal imprint on their field, and those who not only want to explore the medium and create a body of work, but also want to communicate and connect with society of their time”. Nirad Mohapatra belonged to the latter kind, by quoting Mohapatra’s words, the author argues that “the making of Maya Miriga was an exciting experience of improvisation within the broad framework of a written story”.

The beauty of Maya Miriga lay in shooting almost the entire film in a single house, which was renovated beforehand by the filmmaker to portray the characters as realistically as possible. To Parichha, Nirad Mohapatra’s kind of cinema truly “sought after truth, didn’t obey convention, and certainly didn’t become subservient to common notions of what was good and palatable”.

The second part, is called ‘Politics and Beyond’. This part accommodates sixteen essays written on issues related to the rise of BJD ( Biju Janata Dal). The strength of these essays revolves around the BJD’s immediate rivalry with parties in context of everyday governance and its electoral prospects in the state.

The third part of the book has some exciting pieces on the issues titled under the sub-section name: ‘Conflict Zone’. Essays written in the context of ‘Polavaram Tangle’ and ‘Make in Odisha Conclave 2016’ are impressive. These have comparative analysis with neighbouring states, like Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, or with richer states, like Gujarat, for attracting foreign direct investments. They even address issues of rehabilitating displaced people as a result of Andhra Pradesh’s unilateral actions with regard to Polavaram Project.

Finally, the last part of the book, has 16 essays titled ‘Odds and Ends’. This section hosts governance issues that range from chit fund scams to a news item on the terror attack in the state capital, Puri; safety issues in the world of Odisha’s industrial corridors; the big confusion around the so-called – India’s single-largest foreign direct investment by the POSCO (Korea) and the aftermath issues of Phailin (a book on Odisha without touching the issues of natural disasters is indeed an incomplete one).

 In ‘Is Odisha a litigant State’, Parichha justifiably contends: “It is high time the Odisha government comes up with a litigation policy on the lines of the Haryana government in order to bring about a visible, qualitative and quantitative improvement in the manner in which litigations are pursued and managed by the state.” ‘How healthy is Odisha?’ brings out the dismal state of public health care as well as private health sector. He urges for an increase in the outlay for public health expenditure from the annual budget.

In ‘Baina, Itishree and Nirbhayas’, Parichha highlights the issues of widespread domestic violence, discrimination against women at the workplace etc. Towards end of the essay, he mentions the introduction of Gender Inequality index (GII) in 2010 as a result of the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) report. The quality of having such an index, according to the author, can be put to use by the public sectors to address the existing anomalies of “poor distribution of resources and opportunities amongst male and female”. He rightly says, “Acknowledging the presence of a problem will lead to solutions sooner or later”.

Parichha’s book is an open ended one. The author’s wide array of interest on the issues related to Odisha would be of interest to both lay persons and researchers.

 

Mr. Bijaya Kumar Mohanty, teaches Development Process and Social Movements. He is an Assistant Professor in Political Science, Ramjas College, University of Delhi. Email Id: bijaya@ramjas.du.ac.in

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

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Excerpt

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

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

Categories
Essay

Begum Akhtar: The ‘Mallika-e-Ghazal’

By Bhaskar Parichha

‘When I decided to be a singer, my mother warned me I’d be alone a lot. Basically we all are. Loneliness comes with life.’

-Whitney Houston

For Begum Akhtar loneliness came rather belatedly — after her marriage to barrister Ishtiaq Ahmed Abbasi. With marriage came the ban — no music, no concert. How can a Begum sing publicly?

However, Akhtaribai Faizabadi, as she was known before marriage, couldn’t have lived a day without a recital because she was born for it.

Her first guru was Ustad Imdad Khan, a great sarangi exponent. She was also trained under Ata Mohammed Khan. But it was in Kolkata in the early thirties that her musical career took a big twirl. She began learning music from such classical stalwarts like Mohammad Khan, Abdul Waheed Khan and Ustad Jhande Khan. There was no going back after that.

Begum Akhtar gave her first public performance at a very early age — fifteen to be precise and she took the music world by storm.  Sarojini Naidu — the nightingale of India — was so moved   by Begum Akhtar’s singing during a concert organised in the aid of victims of Bihar earthquake that she prophesied the materialisation of a great singer in the young Akhtaribai.

Ghazal singing was Begum’s forte. She cut her first disc for the Megaphone Record Company in the mid-thirties followed by a number of gramophone records carrying her ghazalsdadrasthumris.  What is little known about the ‘Queen of Ghazals’ is that she was a feminist to the core.  Begum lived her life like no other woman till her death in 1974. She had dared to play around with the freedom to make choices in life, revealing a true feminist soul.

With the advent of the talkie era in India, Begum Akhtar acted in a few Hindi movies. In fact, she was the leading lady in films of those times. Ek Din Ka Badshah (An Emperor for a Day) was her first film produced by the East India Film Company of Calcutta. Then came Nala Damayanti (1933).  Like others of her genre, she herself sang her songs. She continued acting and there were a couple of memorable films to her credit: Ameena (1934), Mumtaz Begum (1934), Jawaani Ka Nasha (The Drunkenness of Youth, 1935), Naseeb Ka Chakkar (The Circle of Destiny, 1935). She acted in Roti (1942) — produced and directed by Mehboob Khan — for which she sang six ghazals. The music was composed by melody maestro Anil Biswas.

Begum Akhtar’s association with films continued even after a face-off with Mehboob Khan. Music Director Madan Mohan gave her a chance to sing in two of his films– Daana Paani (Food-Water,1953) and Ehsaan (Favour,1954). Satyajit Ray’s Bengali film Jalsaghar (The Music Room, 1958) was her very last role where she played the role of a classical singer. Begum Akhtar alternated between Bombay and Lucknow in pursuit of her career. She had a stint in theatre too. But her voice needed to be regularly hoisted up. So, she gave up acting in theatre.

Begum Akhtar’s voice matured with time, adding richness and depth. She sang ghazals and light classical pieces in her inimitable style. She has nearly four hundred songs to her credit — an incredible inventory for someone who grew up amid harsh conditions.

A regular performer on All India Radio, she invariably composed her own ghazals and most of her compositions were raga– based. Begum Akhtar had a deep, husky and richly-timbered voice with nasal intonations. In her thumris she blended the Purab and Punjabi styles. She did not resort to taan patterns in a fast tempo. Her dadras were infused with a sprightly mood; her ghazals were thumri-oriented with much scope for improvisation.

The peculiar charm of her voice was easier felt than described. Hers was an extraordinary voice — not ‘round or petal-soft but angular and pincer-like.’ She was known to use a momentary split in her voice, called ‘patti’, which appeared like a crack in the upper register. It is said that her admirers waited for the ‘patti’ to come out when she sang.
Begum Akhtar was a scholar of Urdu poetry too. Her favorite poets were Ghalib, Dadh, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Jigar Moradabadi, Shakeel Badayuni, and Kaifi Azmi. Many small poets rose to prominence when she selected their lyrics. It speaks highly of her music that she had an impressive following even in regions where Urdu or Hindi was not properly understood. In later years she sang in Bengali and Gujarati too. She taught for a trice at the Bhatkhande College of Music in Lucknow. Her disciples included Shanti Hiranand, Rita Ganguly, Vasundhara Pandit, and Rekha Surya.

The singing sensation’s last concert was held in Ahmedabad. It was here that she fell ill and had to be rushed to a hospital. Death came her way on the 30th of October, 1974 leaving a big void in ghazal singing. She was posthumously awarded the Padmabhushan, the third highest civilian award in India.

Begum Akhtar’s name is synonymous with the notion of ghazal gaayaki*. She immortalized her own definitive style of singing — a style that few have been able to be equivalent. She is fittingly called — Mallika-e-Ghazal.

*The mode of rendition

Bhaskar Parichha is a Bhubaneswar-based  journalist and author. He writes on a broad spectrum of  subjects , but more focused on art ,culture and biographies.His recent book ‘No Strings Attached’ has been published by Dhauli Books.