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Friday, March 05, 2021

Sunday Long Reads: Invisibility of farmers in Bollywood, artists’ view of lockdown, and more

Here is your Sunday reading list!

New Delhi |
January 17, 2021 12:49:58 pm
sunday eye, sunday eye long reads, sunday eye long reads, sunday eye, indian express, indian express newsWe never know what the man, wearing a worn coat, dhoti and a petrified expression, has left behind.

When the farmer became invisible in Bollywood

Kaun hai wahaan?
Naya hoon, gaon se aaya hoon. Pyaas lagi hai.
Gaon ke kuaan, taalaab sookh gayein hain kya, jo yahan chala aaya? Chal bhaag yahaan se.

The classic Jagte Raho (1956) opens with these lines. At the receiving end of the harsh inquisition is a poor villager newly arrived in the city, seeking a better life. We never know what the man, wearing a worn coat, dhoti and a petrified expression, has left behind. What we can surmise is this: if his village was adequate to his needs, would the peasant have come to the city, filled with heartless gatekeepers?

If I were to be fanciful, I could be tempted to draw comparisons between that lone peasant of the ’50s, whose story we are still powerfully drawn to, and the present-day protesting farmer at the Singhu-Tikri-Ghazipur borders: both being kept at bay, both voices blowing in the wind. Some of these new-age farmers have moved far ahead from that long-ago comically-attired figure who spent an endless night in the Sombhu Mitra and Amit Maitra-directed film, searching for water to quench his thirst. In 2021, smartly-tailored jeans and jackets, not a badly-fitted coat and dhoti, and pizza along with roti, is on display in a few quarters of the protest sites. And what some of this vocal, demanding-their-rights lot has done is to bring back the “farmer” to the fore, a figure Bollywood sadly forgot, erasing it from popular imagination.


What happens to the mind and body when trauma is unaddressed?

In her book, Indurkar tells us about how she began to be regularly sexually abused at the age of six by someone known to her family, and of the trauma that she has carried since then.

In her memoir, It’s All in Your Head, M, Manjiri Indurkar recalls the reaction of one of her therapists when she was explaining how Alain Resnais’ iconic film Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) struck a chord with her: “…he paused, and, with a pained expression he asked me, ‘So, now you feel like you were in the Hiroshima bombing?’”

Writing about your inner world is terrifying. You dissect yourself, your experiences and your thoughts, laying them out for the world to scrutinise, study, discuss, and weigh in on. You open yourself up to being misunderstood, judged, accused of self-absorption, or even dismissed. In her memoir, Indurkar lays it all out — her prolonged sexual abuse as a child, her thorny relationship with her grandmother, her insecurities, her obsession with illness and her body, along with descriptions of the many trips to the toilet during the time her bowels gave in.

Indurkar’s book is personal to the extent that it very rarely strays out of her close personal spaces. Most of it is set in the Delhi flat she shared with a former partner, and her childhood home in Jabalpur — both are spaces in which she fought personal battles, and which she found were not as comfortable and secure as she had imagined.


Why a list of favourites from the wild must have the obvious and the unusual

Among the vast insect world, top of the list would be dungbeetles, those portly beetles eating, breeding, raising its families in dung — and turning it into useful soil. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

I’m often asked who my favourite author is and I always fumble before saying that it keeps changing depending on the best book I’ve read most recently. With regards to the animal kingdom, this list seems to stay relatively constant, spanning the myriad families the creatures (tiny tots and moving up) hail from.

The first on the list has to be Toxoplasma — a single-cell protozoan which has the most diabolical love life possible. It honeymoons in the guts of cats and the next-gen Toxo are evacuated via normal channels. Here, the baby Toxo lies doggo (and may even die) in the litter box or ground until a mouse or rat happens along and snuffles it up. In the rat gut, the Toxo gets to work: it migrates to the brain (the amygdala) and cuts the rat’s fear circuits in relation to cats: the rat is now unafraid of cats — though it has all the other usual rat phobias in place. Worse, the Toxo now helps release dopamine — the feel-good chemical that makes the rat develop feelings for the cat! So, off it goes in search of its new love and promptly gets eaten. Back in the honeymoon suite, the Toxo begins the whole romance again. This must be the most Machiavellian love story ever devised!


How an artist viewed the lockdown

Lockdown Couple (Photo courtesy: Sudhir Patwardhan)

Like lovers or foes, the home and the street have coexisted in artist Sudhir Patwardhan’s illustrious career. Thane-based Patwardhan, 72, is renowned for his interior works and urbanscapes, such that his art has been evoked in the same vein as New York’s Edward Hopper in 2020, as a way of talking about the pandemic lockdowns.

The artist has been busy responding to the pandemic in his own ways, too. In an ongoing series, from which selections have been presented online by Mumbai’s The Guild and Delhi’s Vadehra Art Gallery, Patwardhan contemplates an unpredictable year. Like lockdowns, 2020 came in phases, and his art has responded to each — starting with the relief of being homebound to the unease of the migrant exodus to the nation’s inconclusive political crises, until returning home.


How Aadhaar grew from an idea into one of the world’s largest identity platform

The book tends to get defensive in places, notwithstanding the author’s disclaimer at the beginning, “This book isn’t written to defend Aadhaar.”

The story of Aadhaar, as narrated in The Making of Aadhaar: World’s Largest Identity Platform, sounds like the story of the average startup — a radical idea executed by like-minded people coming together to resolve a problem. Whether this particular startup, which was conceived in 2009, was a failure or a success is debatable.

For the author of this book Ram Sewak Sharma, the first director general of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) — the body that designed, implemented and manages Aadhaar — the “proof of the pudding” came after May 2014, when the use of Aadhaar under the Narendra Modi government exploded. This, after the BJP, in its manifesto, had promised to review the Aadhaar programme “with implicit intent to shut it down altogether during the whirlwind election campaign”.


How the farmers’ protest found resonance in art

Four artists on what drew them to the farmers’ protests and why the agrarian crisis needs immediate addressal.

On December 18, as the farmers’ protest entered its 23rd day, came the first issue of Trolley Times — a bi-weekly, bilingual newsletter meant for and by the protestors. On its masthead was a turbanned farmer carrying a flag. In the subsequent editions, the illustrations on the masthead have been dedicated to different subjects, from women participants at the protest to marginalised labour to, most recently, a youngster jumping up to lock the police’s water cannon. “The aim was to turn it into a world-class newspaper as a voice of the kisan protest 2020. Since the first issue, the front page has been seen as a ‘work of art’. Keeping in focus the true nature of this brave endeavour, we are cognisant of the message and the impact it has,” state artists Sumir Tagra and Jiten Thukral, who work with the core team behind the newsletter.


How Rajasthan’s forts, over centuries, witnessed history in the making

Standing tall: Kumbhalgarh Fort Wikimedia Commons/ Varada Phadkay

The Forts of Rajasthan surprises the reader with the canvas of its detail and generous spread of striking pictures in an easy-to-carry hardcover format. What drew this reviewer was the rhythm of the text and its harmony with the camera. The author-couple, Rita and Vijai Sharma, have made the pen and photographs work as one for capturing the forts in their landscape of history and architecture.

The book goes beyond expectations. While recognising Chittorgarh as “an amphitheatre of history”, it also includes garhis on Jaisalmer’s bulge on the Tanot-Longewala international desert frontier. Among the forts is Siwana on the road to Barmer, Jalore with its long history of combating sieges and Nagaur with its restored interiors. Mewar, Marwar, Hadoti and the Dhundhar regions are well covered, including Gagron, a formidable fort, built between two rivers in Jhalawar, which, over the centuries, hosted Alauddin Khilji, Rana Kumbha, Rana Sanga, Humayun and Akbar.


Why the Chipko movements was truly a people’s movement

Tree-huggers: Chipko was a grassroots movement that spread throughout Uttarakhand.

When most people think of the Chipko movement, the primary image that comes to mind is of a group of village women in the Himalaya, hugging trees to protect them from felling by forest contractors. While that was the key moment when Chipko ignited, eminent historian Shekhar Pathak successfully unravels many other tangled threads of a story that is much more complicated, with far-reaching consequences for the people and forests of Uttarakhand, as well as conservation movements around the world. This carefully researched history draws upon official documents, published works, press reports, lyrics of protest songs and hundreds of personal interviews with all of the main protagonists. Translated by Manisha Chaudhry and edited by Ramachandra Guha, it is a condensation of Pathak’s Hari Bhari Umeed, the original Hindi edition published in 2019 by Vani Prakashan.

This environmental epic begins long before the events in Reni village on March 26, 1973, when Gaura Devi and a group of women held off agents of the Symonds sporting goods company who had been given a permit to cut a grove of ash trees that were destined to be turned into hockey sticks. The roots of Chipko stretch back to the mid-19th century, when the renegade timber baron, Frederick “Pahari” Wilson, clear-felled virgin forests in the Bhagirathi Valley and floated logs down the Ganga. Colonial forest policies placed a high commercial value on Himalayan species of trees like deodar and pine, as well as sal and shisham, at lower altitudes. One of the primary reasons for deforestation in the 19th and early 20th century was the expansion of the Indian Railways, which required thousands of miles of new tracks, all of which were laid upon wooden sleepers. In one of the largest land grabs in history, the Indian Forest Act of 1878 usurped vast tracts of uncultivated land throughout the subcontinent. Suddenly, forest dwellers were dispossessed of their ancestral rights and livelihood while pastoral and agricultural communities faced restrictions on gathering firewood and fodder as well as felling trees to construct farm implements and homes.


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