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Sunday, April 05, 2020

Sunday Long Reads: Films, social distancing, COVID-19, food, nature, and more

Here is your Sunday reading list.

Updated: March 22, 2020 11:28:17 am
Actor Irrfan and his career in Bollywood, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express, indian express news Illustration: Suvajit Dey

Inimitable Irrfan

Picture this. A man and a woman are sitting on a beach, having a conversation. They’ve met before, all too briefly, as interested parties via a matrimonial site. But he’s getting married to another, and is not quite as delighted as he should be. And she’s not quite as blasé as she’s trying to be. There’s something between them, a teasing, tantalising something that they are trying to unpack.

“Why did you reject me,” blurts out Monty finally, “Tell me honestly.” “Because you looked at the wrong place,” retorts Shruti, “Mujhe achcha nahin laga.” He is taken aback. “I’m 35, well actually 38, but I admit to 35,” he says, “aur maine aaj tak kisi ladki ko theek se touch nahin kiya, aur tum itni khobsurat ho, tumhari body itni achchi hai, nazar udhar chali gayi toh galat kya kiya? What is so wrong about that?”

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Social distancing: Time to find enduring ways of being together

Social distancing, coronovirus, COVID-19, self-quarantine, isolation units, emergency stockpiling, global pandemic, social life, society, contagion, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express, indian express news All the services which we dismissed as trivial and addictive, are emerging as our new default. (Photo by Praveen Khanna)

Social distancing” is the phrase of the season. If the global Covid-19 pandemic does not come under control, it might very well become the phrase of the year. As we exercise caution in touching — never before has touch been so deeply put under suspicion — and hyphenated phrases like “self-quarantine” and “isolation-units” and “emergency-stockpiling” become a part of our everyday vocabulary, you know that none of them is going to have as much traction as social distancing. If it were a movie star, the phrase would already be generating festival buzz and preening itself to become the Oxford Word of the Year, taking the crown from last year’s “climate emergency”.

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Isolation Words: Pandemics are the petri-dish for fiction

novel coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic, fiction, writers, science fiction, HG Wells, The War of the Worlds, Sidin Vadukut, Bombay Fever, Richard Preston, The Hot Zone Scott Sigler’s Infected, Michael Crichton, The Andromeda Strain, Scott Sigler, Infected, Jack London, The Scarlet Plague, Earth Abides, George Stewart, Stephen King, The Stand, Graham Masterton, Plague, Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor   Anchor: A delivery man cycles next to an empty square between La Almudena Cathedral and the Royal Palace during partial lockdown as part of a 15-day state of emergency to combat the coronavirus disease outbreak (COVID-19) in Madrid, Spain, March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Juan Medina

One of the first science-fiction novels that I read was HG Wells’s The War of the Worlds (1898). The invading Martians are wreaking havoc. Just when all seems lost, humanity is saved — by “the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.”

The Martians, unused to earth’s bacteria, perish where they stand. In a stirring passage, Wells sums up our eternal struggle with the germ: “By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers; it would still be his were the Martians ten times as mighty as they are. For neither do men live nor die in vain.”

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How COVID-19 makes us reimagine our workspaces and the way we work

COVID-19, coronavirus, workspaces, architecture, design, Sanjay Wadhwa, office layouts, open-plan offices, cubicles, office design The idea of “less is more” comes into full force as office design takes a 180-degree turn. (Courtesy: SWBI Architects)

Don’t sit too close to one another. Work in shifts. Opt for virtual meetings. This is the advice in a recent video by the World Health Organisation for offices. As COVID-19 makes us imagine our lives differently, it brings us to a fundamental question about how we work and what spaces we occupy. Up until yesterday, we never blinked when our offices moved from cubicles to barrier-less open halls, when we sat next to our colleagues within arm’s distance and our chairs on casters got us ergonomically charged up to be at our desks longer.

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How a Bhopal-based publisher is changing the rules of children’s literature in Hindi

children’s literature in Hindi, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news Cycle (Source: Ektara)

Children live in the same world as us. Amid plants, rivers and humans around us. Then why is their literature so different from ours? Why is the language we read so full of pleasure and meaning, but for children, we are still writing that same poem: baarish aayi, baarish aayi? Why can’t a children’s poem say: Jiske paas chali gayi meri zameen, uske paas mere barishey bhi chali gayi (The one who has taken my land, he took away my rains, too)?”

For Sushil Shukla, these are old questions, with which he has been wrestling for at least a decade – as a poet and editor. The answers are to be found in the work of Ektara, a centre for children’s literature and art in Bhopal that he runs with Shashi Sablok, the Hindi books they publish, the posters they create and the two bi-monthly Hindi magazines for children that they bring out – Pluto (for children up to 9 years) and Cycle (9-16 years). “We think that we can speak to children about almost anything. Bachche nahi samjhenge – that idea we leave outside,” says Sablok, 52.

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A glimpse into the world of Mehlli Gobhai whose works held many secrets

Mehlli Gobhai, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news Hidden Truths: Mehlli Gobhai at his studio apartment in Cuffe Parade in 2015. (Source: Sooni Taraporevala)

Mehlli Gobhai passed away in 2018, aged 87, leaving his colours behind. Some 30 years ago, he told his friends, art critics Ranjit Hoskote and Nancy Adajania, that he was suspicious of colour, didn’t like their “seduction” and used only that colour “without which a painting could not survive”. The end results were Gobhai’s best-known abstract paintings in earthy shades – grey, like the surface of a Buddhist rock cave or brown, like a river pebble.

It’s why Gobhai’s lesser-known polychrome paintings from the 1970s come as a real surprise. This set is ecstatic, unlike his earthy, meditative works. They have come into view for the first time in the artist’s first retrospective spanning 70 years of his art, curated by Hoskote and Adajania, at Mumbai’s National Gallery of Modern Art (the NGMA is currently closed till March 31 owing to Covid-19 outbreak). “It is a rare treat,” says Adajania, “to see these polychrome paintings suffused in a nocturnal Krishna blue, lacquer red, sunflower yellow and sap green. The sweeping, swirling brushstrokes and the jewel-like colours also reflect Mehlli’s preoccupation with Rajput and Pahari paintings.”

Why the Shaheen Bagh dadis remind me of my grandmothers

Grandmothers, Dadis of Shaheen Bagh, CAA, NRC, Kalpana Joshi, Kalpana Dutta, Chittagong Uprising, Anti-CAA protests, Dida, Thakuma Why the Shaheen Bagh dadis remind me of both my grandmothers — the firebrand, as well as the survivor.(Illustration: Suvajit Dey)

The dadis of Shaheen Bagh,” my friend announces to the entire bar after his fourth drink, “should come as no surprise to you.” His words, though officially directed at me, are meant to grab the attention of a woman on the next table, someone with whom he has been trying to strike up a conversation for the better part of the evening. He goes on to regale them with tales (hearsay) of Kalpana Joshi née Dutta, who was part of the 1930 Chittagong Uprising (she made bombs), was sent to prison by the British, became a communist and then married one, had two sons and then grandchildren. His Bengali point-of-focus for the night is impressed, a conversation begins. But the opening line wasn’t quite on the mark.

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Books on epidemics, pandemics and other health crises

COVID-19, coronavirus, The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel, Deborah Hopkinson, Jeanette Farrell, Invisible Enemies: Stories of Infectious Disease, Invisible Allies: Microbes that Shape Our Lives, Suzanne Jurmain, The Secret of the Yellow Fever: A True Story of Medical Sleuthing View of victims of the Spanish flu cases as they lie in beads at a barracks hospital on the campus of Colorado Agricultural College, Fort Collins, Colorado, 1918. (Photographs/PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

For a generation of children, COVID-19 is their first, scary introduction to belligerent malaises that science has not tamed yet. Which is, perhaps, why an awareness of the many epidemics and pandemics that have brought nations to a standstill over the centuries — the Spanish Flu, for instance, that killed 5,00,00,000 people in three years between 1918 and 1920, or the recent Ebola virus epidemic in 2014 — can offer a perspective. Here are three books, both fiction and non-fiction, that look at deadly diseases and how science ultimately got the better of them, but not before considerable human cost.

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What Satyajit Ray’s Ghare Baire tells us about our age of aggressive nationalism

Satyajit Ray, Ghare Baire, The Home and the World, Ghawre Bairey Aaj, Devi, Hirak Rajar Deshe, Ganashatru, Pather Panchali, nationalism, jingoism The film illustrated the choice between swift, divisive action and the painstaking work of inclusive progress.

Towards the end of Satyajit Ray’s film Ghare Baire (The Home and the World), a poignant scene unfolds. Nikhil Choudhury, a benevolent zamindar of a rural community in East Bengal, is meeting influential Hindus at his estate. The mood is sombre. Sandip Mukherjee, his one-time friend and now firebrand Swadeshi leader, has stoked communal tensions by inciting violence against Muslim villagers. Nikhil beseeches the assembled Hindu gentry to do whatever they can to prevent riots from breaking out. “We can choose to believe what we want to, but we have no right to interfere in the religions of others. Muslims are a part of India. This is a fact of history. We must accept it. We cannot imagine India without Muslims…Please, I beg of you, don’t permit this violence to continue,” he says.

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Dibakar Banerjee: ‘You can’t walk into the world of filmmaking with a fragile heart’

dibakar banerjee, sandeep pinky faraar, dibakar banerjee new films, sandeep aur pinky faraar, indian express, indian express news “Filmmaking teaches you to accept the inevitable. It also teaches you to be patient and to understand that there are things far bigger than your film.”

Five years after the ambitious Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (DBB, 2015), Dibakar Banerjee returns to the big screen with Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar (SAPF). Exploring the relationship between white-collar worker Sandeep (Parineeti Chopra) and Haryanvi cop Pinky (Arjun Kapoor), SAPF eschews romantic tropes. It explores new territory for a filmmaker who has regularly experimented with genres, in movies such as Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye (2008), Love, Sex Aur Dhokha (2010) and Shanghai (2012). Even as the movie’s already-delayed release has been further deferred due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the 50-year-old explains why the wait hasn’t bothered him too much.

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On the irresistible charms of chhole bhature

 chhole bhature, halwai, street food, Delhi, kabuli chana, KT Achaya, The Illustrated Foods of India, Lizzie Collingham, Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors The chickpea is amongst the oldest edible items known to humankind.

Which goodie would you find most difficult to give up, if you were to go on a diet?” a friend once asked me. I rarely give much thought to dieting, so I brushed aside her question. But as I recover from an infection that requires me to observe a few food-related restrictions, the answer seems apparent. My determination to desist from deep-fried food faces an almost daily challenge from the golden bhatures that appear in every halwai shop in the neighbourhood and the sight of chhole brings memories of spices exploding into my mouth.

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Did we bring COVID-19 on us?

COVID-19, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news The animal kingdom reacts to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the dreaded COVID-19 rampages through the world, ‘Down in Jungleland’ (DIJ) interviewed a leading animal kingdom representative (AKR), considering the virus is thought to have spread from certain members of that kingdom to us. The location of this interview and the identity of the AKR is confidential.

DIJ: So, what’s your take on this whole appalling situation? Do you guys feel in the least bit responsible?

AKR: What appalling situation?

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