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Monday, July 06, 2020

Sunday Long Reads: Of mental health, COVID-19, books, Mughals, nature, web-series, and more

Here is your Sunday reading list

New Delhi | Published: June 21, 2020 12:32:07 pm
coronavirus, COVID-19, lockdown, pandemic, urban planning, city planning, urban architecture, urban living, Arcosanti, Auroville, public space The novel coronavirus pandemic and the lockdowns that were put in place across the world to tackle it pose questions about the future of urban living.

How will COVID-19 change our cities?

Think of a city that has a skin that can inflate and deflate, depending on the number of people it needs to accommodate. A house that can be lifted on a crane and perched on skyscrapers and detached when your work in the city is done. What if a city can hang off an airship and land overnight in a place, with a kit of moveable parts? In the late 1960s, when modernism was making chunky cubes of houses for people to live in and grids for urban layouts, a group of six British architects came together to form Archigram. They began with a single-page magazine that was filled with collages, poems and visuals of utopian possibilities of a city — flexible, mobile and adaptable. The group would challenge generations of architects to build, dream and envision possible futures. Though Archigram never built any city and critics called them out for their assumption that the earth had endless resources, many of their ideas seem to have found their way into our everyday, from escalators to monorails.

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Mental health is a collective responsibility: The person is not the problem

mental health, parenting, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news Reach out, hold tight: We need to reflect on how to help each other overcome mental-health impediments. (Source: getty images)

Right from an early age, we are recruiting our children into believing that there is one right way to live their life. In a talk or in a workshop, I generally ask the audience if they know somebody who has experienced mental health struggles. Some hands shoot up right away, then others start raising their hands tentatively, looking around and taking solace in the sense of solidarity until all the hands go up. Then, I make it a little more difficult and check if they know somebody who has dealt with suicidal thoughts. Majority of the hands go up again. It is all around us — in our homes, our schools, colleges, workspaces, public places — staring back at us, asking us to look, listen. But we turn away, leaving them with their silences. Maybe sometimes, that silence and shame becomes too much to live with. It takes the death of a public figure to remind us how much mental health matters. For the coming weeks, there will be a flurry of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter posts by well-meaning people, but then it will all go away, as it generally does. Do we realise how difficult it is for people living with depression or anxiety to be their own advocates at every step, especially when they have been convinced that something is inherently wrong with them — that they are the problem?

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It was a golden opportunity to represent the transgender community, says Manipur’s Mairembam Ronaldo Singh

Mairembam Ronaldo Singh, Cheeni, Mary Lyngdoh, Paatal Lok Screen time: Mairembam Ronaldo Singh in a scene from the web-series on Amazon Prime Paatal Lok.

One of the more moving arcs in the acclaimed web series Paatal Lok belongs to Mary Lyngdoh, also called Cheeni, who is one of the accused in the murder plot that opens the show. Playing Cheeni is Manipur’s Mairembam Ronaldo Singh. In this interview, the 19-year-old talks about the character, the challenges faced by the transgender community and life back home:

From Moirang, Manipur, to Mumbai — how did that happen?

I grew up watching Manipuri cinema. Acting was always a passion for me but never did I think I would be acting in front of a camera in a Hindi language series! The geographical remoteness of the place I come from and the language barrier — these are just some of the challenges we northeasterners face regularly in life. Last December, Eliza Ngangom, a transgender activist from Manipur (also my make-up teacher), told me that people from Mumbai had come looking for someone to play the role of a transgender character. Nikita (Grover) ma’am, the casting director, came down to my hometown in Moirang to meet me. We met at a chai stall and my audition happened in the backseat of a car! I was very, very shy but somehow they decided to pick me.

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How to have a healthy relationship with spiders

Ranjit Lal, spider, tarantula, black widow, zebra spider, crab spider, lynx spider, orb weavers, Argiope spiders, wolf spider Size matters: Small spiders are normally sparkly and hugely entertaining. (Ranjit Lal)

A lot of people have arachnophobia — an irrational fear of spiders. Many people, especially rednecks trying to show how macho they are, go to the other extreme and have huge furry tarantulas or black widows strolling up and down their beefy arms or thick necks. There’s no need to either scream every time you see a spider or have a cuddle with a tarantula to develop a healthy relationship with these absolutely remarkable creatures. While I will keep a healthy distance from the large furry kinds that prowl about the undergrowth or crouch behind bathroom doors in forest rest houses, I am equally gob-smacked every time I see a web looking like strings of pearls on a dewy morning, and will eyeball those small, fierce, jumping spiders whose bright obsidian eyes remain fixed on you as though they’re in love with you.

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A new book presents UR Ananthamurthy’s unique insights on 20th century India

UR Ananthamurthy, who is UR Ananthamurthy, UR Ananthamurthy new book, indianexpress, eye2020, sundayeye, writer Chandan Gowda, A Life in the World Think Tank: UR Ananthamurthy (right) with Chandan Gowda

Renowned Kannada writer UR Ananthamurthy (1932-2014) is best known to us as the author of Samskara (1965) and as a public intellectual. URA restlessly reflected on the problems of this world and had an urge to share these reflections with friends and visitors. He, therefore, immensely enjoyed conversing with others as much as thinking and writing about our life. The present book, A Life in the World: UR Ananthamurthy in Conversation with Chandan Gowda, is the result of one such conversation.

These conversations were shot at URA’s residence by Chandan Gowda, an eminent translator of URA’s fiction, along with a team of members from Azim Premji University, Bengaluru. This book, a by-product of such a documentary exercise, is structured into 10 chapters. These chapters not only reveal the mind of one of modern India’s great writers but also his penetrating insights into the varied issues of 20th century India. The first three chapters ‘Early Years’, ‘Mysore’ and ‘Birmingham and After’ reconstruct the intellectual formation of URA. From a Brahmin agrahara through Maharaja’s College in Mysore to Birmingham University, his experiences with this world contributed to his “world making”. He did not completely reject one space for another, but critically imbibed the virtues of all. Therefore, he became a critical insider, as the famous description of him goes.

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Akbar understood the complex nature of Hindustan: Ira Mukhoty

Ira Mukhoty, Akbar: The Great Mughal, Emperor Akbar, Akbar, Mughals, siege of Chittor, Abu’l Fez’s, Ain-i-Akbari, Mughal Empire, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express, indian express news A painting depicting Akbar during a Qumargha hunt, which served to demostrate the emperor’s wealth and power. (Courtesy: Aleph Book Company)

From the zenana in your second book to the monarch who would become the face of the dynasty, what drew you to the Mughals in the first place?

The Mughals are very close to us in time. Only around 250 years separate us from their glory days, following which they continued to exist, diminished, for another 100 years. So in a very physical, immediate sense, the legacy of the Mughals is all around us. It can be seen in the buildings that litter the landscape of India, in the clothes we wear, the attar we use, the words that seep into our vocabulary, the ingredients in our kitchens. It is even there, in the faux-Shahjahani arches and overly-creamy dishes served in ‘Mughalai’ restaurants in watery British towns.

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A historic crime thriller focuses on the underbelly of the British empire’s slave trade

historic crime thriller, Blood & Sugar, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news The book is a vividly-told murder story set in 1781.

Readers of crime fiction cannot fully explain, even if they feel it in their bones, what might be so comforting about reading about blood and gore in the middle of a pandemic. The fact that there is a crime in an otherwise placid world, which gets resolved by the last page, gives a sense of (false) comfort to the reader. The setting of the crime, usually idyllic or well-known, gives a sense of double ease that things have stayed the way “they were” once the crime is solved.

On both counts — in describing the sulphuric air of London as well as the grisly murder of an abolitionist — debut novelist Laura Shepherd Robinson is unsparing. In Blood and Sugar, a vividly-told murder story set in 1781, you are thrust into a London just about beginning to savour the joys of Empire as well as get to see the underbelly of the slave trade which made it profitable.

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