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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Sunday Long Reads: Stories from the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Gandhi’s legacy, learning from primates, and more

Here is your Sunday reading list

New Delhi | Updated: October 4, 2020 7:24:03 pm
sunday eye indian express, sunday eye indian express stories, rashtrapati bhawan stories. Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte SitareFor the first time, long-time staffers share behind-the-scenes anecdotes of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The Power and the Glory: Stories from Rashtrapati Bhavan

By Ajay Singh

If there is one monument that epitomises modern Indian history, it is the Rashtrapati Bhavan. It has been witness to the high noon of colonialism, negotiations of a painful Partition, the dawn of Independence, and countless events that have shaped the republic since.

As a symbol of the seat of power, its majesty is overwhelming. A report published in The Daily Telegraph of London on December 12, 1928, said that the palace that Lord and Lady Irwin would occupy contains “340 rooms, 227 columns, 35 loggias, 37 fountains, 14 lifts, 45 lac bricks, 14 lac cubic feet of stone, 7,500 tons of cement and 1,350 tons of iron and steel”. Its architecture, though European in concept, was executed predominantly with Indian motifs and craftsmanship. Spread over 330-odd acres, it is also called a “geometrical extravaganza” because of chief architect Edwin Landseer Lutyens’s fascination with a mathematical balance in architecture. This is why it is bound by a distinct thread of sound logic.

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Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy looms large over Rashtrapati Bhavan

A Gandhi portrait in a banquet hall of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Written by Praveen Siddharth

One of the popular exhibits in the Rashtrapati Bhavan Museum is an interactive experience called ‘Walk with the Mahatma’. Visitors see themselves projected on a screen walking alongside Mahatma Gandhi across the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. It is an instant favourite with those who delight at the experience of feeling part of history.

But did the Mahatma really visit Rashtrapati Bhavan? This question led me to pore over some old records. Technically, of course, he did not, since this magnificent building became the Rashtrapati Bhavan only in the 1950s. Before that it was the ‘Viceroy House’ and ‘Government House’. If we leave the semantics aside though, things become interesting. Construction of the Viceroy House began in 1912 and was complete only by 1929. Lord Irwin became its first resident sometime in February 1931 and one of the early visitors to the Viceroy House was, in fact, Mahatma Gandhi. On February 17, 1931, he held the first of his famous meetings with Lord Irwin. Having just been jailed for the Dandi March and Salt Satyagraha, he is famously said to have carried his own salt in a packet and used it to mix in his nimbu pani.

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Artists visualise Mahatma Gandhi and his ideals in these uncertain times

Gandhi’s mural on the Delhi Police Headquarters, painted in 2014 by German graffiti artist Hendrik Beikirch. (Photo: Enrico Fabian)

Thinking of Gandhiji today leaves you in a state of despair, as the voices of sanity and civilised conduct in our public life have been pushed into the margins, if not extinguished. We watch with utter disbelief how aggression and violence govern every walk of our life, how every form of dissent is muzzled, how freedom continues to be curtailed, leaving the civilised populace in a helpless limbo. Let’s not forget that Gandhiji practised a humane behaviour in his public and private life, listened to those who often reviled him, upholding their right to differ with respect and humility.

His absence is sorely missed in this world that has turned increasingly violent. I’ve often turned to Gandhiji in my work.

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Alankrita Shrivastava and Konkona Sen Sharma on why they’re drawn to stories about the complex, inner lives of women

What the heart wants: Konkona Sen Sharma with Alankrita Shrivastava

When writer-director Alankrita Shrivastava ran into Konkona Sen Sharma at their neighbourhood salon in Versova, Mumbai, one afternoon in 2018, the former mentioned a new script that she had written. The two had become friends while working on Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016) and understood each other’s creative worlds. When the script, titled Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare reached her inbox soon after, Sen Sharma read it and was impressed. Dolly is a woman who aspires to a picture-perfect life while hiding her conflicts behind an effervescent manner. When Shrivastava, 40, offered her the role, Sen Sharma agreed immediately.

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Anand Patwardhan: ‘All resistance is bravery’

Anant Patwardhan

You are almost as old as independent India. Were you a ’70s ‘angry young man’ who was making films to channel his anger?

While on a scholarship in the US, I first filmed anti-Vietnam war protests that landed me in prison twice. On returning to India in 1972, I joined a voluntary rural development and education project in Madhya Pradesh, then moved to Bihar in 1974 when the JP (Jayaprakash Narayan) movement began and picked up the camera again to record police violence. Our film Waves of Revolution (1974) went underground in 1975 during the Emergency. I later made a film on political prisoners (Prisoners of Conscience, 1978). So the journey began.

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Why do women need to rescue themselves?

Wonder Women: B Narayanaswamy (left) and MD Pallavi

At the end of Othello, Desdemona is murdered in her bedchamber on the suspicion of being unfaithful. Yet, when asked the identity of her killer, Desdemona responds, “Nobody; I myself”. The Shakespearean tragedy is usually enacted as the saga of a troubled Moor. Now, a group of Bengaluru theatre practitioners borrow Desdemona’s last words to study history and mythology’s missing women.

“Why does Desdemona say nobody killed her? The death was the act of punishment because of the notion: if the woman has betrayed a man, she’s to be killed.

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How a 1985 film exposed the hypocrisy and unease around the HIV/AIDS crisis

A still from the film Buddies

Deadly viruses have always been a magnet for the movies. In the worst of times, we need stories filled with hope, and such films as Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 Contagion, which some claim predicted the arrival of the coronavirus, end with the discovery of a vaccine. Prescient it may have been, but Contagion was strictly fiction. The truth was revealed much more recently, at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), in 76 Days, a terrific documentary directed by New York-based Hao Wu.

The film gave us never-before access to the hospitals in Wuhan, where COVID-19 is said to have originated. The title refers to the number of days Wuhan was in lockdown, as doctors and medical workers struggled to contain the rising number of deaths in an atmosphere of fear and the official crackdown on the information.

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Learning love, faith and acceptance from my parents

As we get ready to celebrate the wedding anniversary of two bold humans with unmatched empathy, I find myself in awe of Mom (and Dad, whom she sounds more and more like today) as deeply now as I was as a kid.

After 47 years of life, I have many endearing memories of my parents. Winding through and colouring them all is the immense feeling of gratitude I have for the constellations and stars, the planetary movements, and the human intersection in their crossroads that led to my birth in the Saran home in Delhi. My good fortune to have been a child to my incredible parents and through them having been blessed with remarkable extended families. Families that socialised me early in life for handling whatever the world sent my way.

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What can primates teach us?

Old man of the forest: The gentle-eyed orangutans are hugely shrewd (Wikimedia Commons)

At a chimpanzee’s enclosure in any Indian zoo, young men are found hooting, shrieking, pulling faces and offering the chimps cigarettes and even bits of broken bottles. It’s difficult to tell who the real chimpanzees are. That’s how closely related we are to the great apes. Back in the very old bad days, a highlight of any circus act was the chimpanzee tea party where the chimps would end up throwing teacups at each other and shriek much like what happens in the hallowed halls where the laws of the nation are framed.

Of the 13 species of apes in the world (excluding us), four are the “great” apes, the others, “lesser” apes, a distinction made solely on the basis of size. Three of the former are found in Africa and one in the rainforests of Southeast Asia – which is also the realm of the lesser apes.

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