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Sunday, September 27, 2020

Sunday Long Reads: The legacy of Pandit Jasraj, the struggle of working urban women in lockdown, and more

Here is your Sunday reading list

New Delhi | Updated: August 23, 2020 7:29:30 pm
women, coronavirus pandemicIllustration: Suvajit Dey

The struggle of working urban women to strike a fine balance at home and work during the pandemic

Amrita Mahale was about five months pregnant when the first lockdown was announced on March 22. Overnight, her doctor shut her clinic, medicines became harder to find, and the bustling city of Mumbai, at the heart of her acclaimed debut novel, Milk Teeth (2018), became an unfamiliar place, haunted by a pandemic that had the world in its death grip. While she wrote on the weekends, it was her job as a product manager at a non-profit AI-for-social-good innovation lab that took up most of her time. Only a week ago, the lab had started a work-from-home trial. Her husband, who runs an education startup, too, had to move to online lessons, making a part of the house out of bounds for most of the day. Suddenly, Mahale, 35, found her world shrinking into her apartment in Bandra. “I am not great at multitasking, and I find switching contexts frequently quite hard, so I need proper separation between work and writing. I found myself sinking into deep anxiety. I was checking the rising COVID numbers obsessively and closely following the migrant crisis with a growing sense of despondency. It’s impossible to not question your decision to bring a new life into a world that seems to be falling apart. Pregnant women are a high-risk group for COVID, so I stopped leaving the house entirely, which wasn’t great for my mental health,” says Mahale, whose son was born a month ago. It was a “surreal” experience, she says; not even her parents were allowed to visit her in the hospital.

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How different types of discrimination can overlap in our identities

eye 2020, sunday eye The answer to intersectionality is to expose its discrimination and not end up becoming its teeth and claws. (Photo: Getty Images)

COVID-19 has been a time of reckoning as we come face to face with the injustices that have created structural inequality at so many levels. It could be the plight of the urban labourers as they trudged back to their villages, traversing hundreds of miles, rejected by the very people who used them mercilessly while they could. Ours is the society that turned its eyes away from the predicament of millions of street children and women who were made more vulnerable in abusive homes. Globally, the #BlackLivesMatter movement became even more significant with the stark contrast of racial discrimination in the COVID-19 deaths. People are taking to the streets to protest as centuries of cruelty continues to be called out. The present times are like X-ray (a metaphor used by the activist Arundhati Roy) exposing the fault lines of a society built on indifference and injustice.

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What Pandit Jasraj taught us about becoming one with the divine

Suvir Saran, Slice of Life, Pandit Jasraj, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express, indian express news Race, religion, gender, caste and colour did not matter to the legendary maestro.

Marina Ahmad, one of the seven students of Pandit Jasraj whom he considered his fondest and closest of chelas (disciples), is a proud New Yorker. She also maintains homes in Mumbai and Dhaka. A nomad at heart, she travels the world without fear and at the drop of a hat. She brings India, Pandit Jasraj and his peerless, soul-stirring music with her wherever she lands. Music so pure and rich, it heals and inspires most deeply.

Marina was born to Faqueer Shahabuddin Ahmad and Ayesha Akhtar of Dhaka. Ahmad was the first attorney general of Bangladesh. Ayesha was his wife and mother of their seven children. Music was in their blood, but law was the ancestral vocation followed with pride. Even so, Marina was encouraged from a young age to explore and professionalise her singing.

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A wonderfully atmospheric Perry Mason reboot

Shubhra Gupta, Eye Spy, Perry Mason, Matthew Rhys, Juliet Rylance, Chris Chalk, Timothy Van Patten, Deniz Gamze Ergüven Set in the Los Angeles of the early ’30s, we get everything that matches the period.

Perry Mason regarded her with calm appraisal, as though considering just what sort of an impression she would make on the witness stand. ‘Tell me more, Thelma,’ he said. ‘I was out with a boyfriend,’ she told him. The mask of patient tranquillity dropped from Mason… (1934, The Case Of The Lucky Legs by Erle Stanley Gardner). For those familiar with the pulpy, grungy universe of Gardner, the bestselling author whose fictional lawyer Perry Mason solved practically every case he took on, with a mix of sleuthing acumen and slick courtroom moves, these lines would evoke instant nostalgia. Each case (Gardner was prolific and wrote more than 80 novels and short stories) held out the promise of a juicy mystery full of dodgy characters, confusing red herrings and an end blazing with clarity, where Mason exonerated the innocent and got the guilty to confess.

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Raqs Media Collective: ‘We have been questioning the boundaries of knowledge and art’

Raqs Media Collective, Yokohama Triennale, art, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news The Collective’s trio – (from left) Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta. (Tanaka Yuichiro/Courtesy: Organising Committee for Yokohama Triennale)

The Yokohama Triennale is one of the first major art events to take place after a spate of cancellations due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the curatorial note you mention how “Afterglow” (the title) “lights up an awareness of what it means to keep making art in the twenty-first century”. If you could please elaborate. 

The Yokohama Triennale 2020 opened on July 17, with every precaution in place, and with protocols for how visitors can be within the exhibition so as to minimise chances of contact. The opening signals to the world that art is there — to think with everyone in this moment, to invite all to activate the imagination, and to be with thought, desire, and insight into care and contagion.

The Yokohama Triennale Committee, along with us (Artistic Directors) and the curatorial and production teams, had arrived at an understanding that it was possible to install the exhibition and keep it open. It is also our understanding that, almost a decade ago, the Yokohama Triennale 2011, which had opened after the tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear accident, had had an increased turnout. People had turned to art as a source of renewal and solidarity. This time too feels connected to something deeper. It has only been a week since the exhibition has opened, but the initial response from the public, press, and artists to the Triennale has been extremely heart-warming and exhilarating.

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Are software algorithms racist and sexist?

eye 2020, sunday eye Got My Eyes On You.

AI, Ain’t I a Woman?…Today we pose this question to new powers…as faces increment scars/ Old burns, new urns, collecting data, chronicling our past/ Often forgetting to deal with gender, race and class.

When Joy Buolamwini, a Ghanaian-American poet and research assistant at MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts, the US, chanted this spoken-word piece in 2018, inspired by African-American women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech from 1851, she was voicing her research findings for the masses. The piece (on YouTube) spoke of what she discovered — racial bias in the facial-recognition software created by Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft, among others. These either didn’t recognise people of colour accurately or didn’t register them at all. Or, acknowledged women as men — even former US first lady Michelle Obama, actor Oprah Winfrey, tennis player Serena Williams were not spared. Buolamwini was baffled when on wearing a white theatre mask she cleared recognition. With Timnit Gebru of Microsoft Research, she put together a paper on the flaws of algorithms. Her organisation Algorithmic Justice League’s efforts have now led cities like San Francisco, Oakland, Somerville to pass laws to ban government use of any controversial facial-recognition technology. Last month, the Massachusetts Senate approved a bill to halt law enforcement’s use of facial recognition.

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The ethical treatment of plants

Ranjit Lal, Down in Jungleland, plant rights, sunday eye, eye 2020, indianexpress, Plants also run the world’s best juice factory, producing, through their fruit, juices of bewildering variety, natural sweetness and flavour.

There’s an increasing number of people who are hectoring the world about our abominable treatment of animals, especially those bred and “farmed” for food and they try very hard to make these people give up steaks and smoked ham and eat leaves instead. Many of their criticisms are valid and we ought to be more humane in our dealings with them (though doing so while killing something might seem paradoxical). Ah, yes, and now here comes the “but”!

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