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Saturday, September 26, 2020

Sunday Long Reads: Unearthing stories from World War II, having big cats as pets, Fahadh Faasil’s love for Malayalam cinema, and more

Here is your Sunday reading list.

New Delhi | August 30, 2020 11:17:47 am
The members of the Second World War Imphal Campaign Foundation on an expedition in 2014. (courtesy: Yumnam Rajeshwor Singh )

How Manipur’s Battlefield Diggers are unearthing stories from World War II

On a full-moon night, atop a hill in Manipur, Yumnam Rajeshwor Singh reads the names of the dead. They may have been gone from this earth for 76 years, but time is relative for Rajeshwor, a man with a plan — and dozens of maps.

“We are on this ridge,” he says, tracing a finger along a route on an A-4 size copy of a map from 1944. “And there — there were the Japanese bunkers! From where they fired.” He points a little further away, in the direction we had trekked from — carrying everything from pressure cookers to metal detectors, tents and canned fish — earlier that morning. Of the 10 who had embarked on this journey, only nine made it, after one took ill en-route. The nondescript hill, about 15 km from Imphal, isn’t for the faint-hearted. It was, after all, one of the many battlefields of the Siege of Imphal, where the Allied and the Axis powers fought between March and July 1944, in some of the fiercest battles of World War II.


Fahadh Faasil: ‘I’m here because I’ve nowhere else to go’

Malayalam actor Fahadh Faasil in a still from CU Soon.

In recent years, Kochi-based Fahadh Faasil has been making heads turn with his fine acting in much-discussed films such as Maheshinte Prathikaaram (2016), Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (2017), Kumbalangi Nights and Tamil film Super Deluxe, in 2019, among others. Launched at age 19 by his filmmaker father Fazil in the romance drama Kaiyethum Doorath (2002), Faasil went to the US to study engineering after the film tanked. In his second innings as an actor, he has delivered a number of impressive performances. The 38-year-old will be seen next in CU Soon, a thriller shot in the lockdown, releasing on Amazon Prime Video on September 1.


How Sheeba Chaddha’s character arc adds a crucial layer to Bandish Bandits

Not a note out of place: A still from Bandish Bandits. (Courtesy: Amazon Prime Video)

For her role as Mohini Rathod, a daughter-in-law of a musical family of Jodhpur in the web-series Bandish Bandits (streaming on Amazon Prime Video), Sheeba Chaddha had to briefly play the tanpura. It was a little challenging, a little nostalgic. As a child, she had taken some lessons in playing the sitar. The show’s story, says the Mumbai-based actor, is not an “earth-shattering” one, “it has familiar tones, it worked because of the writing and the added twists and turns”. She doesn’t have very many dialogues, but her eyes and gait speak of her pain and acceptance of her constraints. The twist comes towards the end when her ghoonghat-clad character emerges from within the strict patriarchal world she inhabits – with silence and gravitas. “That, for me, was the most interesting part. And there is a rare sweetness to the show which we don’t see nowadays,” says Chaddha.


Why having creatures of the wild as pets is a bad idea

In many cases where a cub has been orphaned and rescued, the intention is to eventually rehabilitate it in the wild again. (Photo: Ranjit Lal)

The one thing I hate as much as croc wranglers showing off is people who keep big cats – tigers, lions, pumas and leopards – as pets. For all their “animal loving” ways, this, unfortunately, is allowed in many Western countries. In India, it’s against the law but who’s to say what goes on in the outlying farms of the rich and famous.

There are many videos and serials on this: inevitably they depict swaggering rednecks sauntering into enclosures and getting into loving clinches with a magnificent lion or tiger or a group of them, all of which with a single swipe of a paw can take their smug faces off. Probably, most of the animals must think it to be beneath their dignity – unless something sets them off and all hell breaks loose. But it’s really demeaning to see such gorgeous hunting animals, reduced to the state of overgrown pussycats.


The personal and the public coalesce in Isher Judge Ahluwalia’s memoir

In this together: A file photo of Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Isher Judge Ahluwalia at the Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. (Photo: PTI)

At almost the end of her long innings, wracked by grade IV glioblastoma, among the toughest of all cancers, Isher Judge Ahluwalia — grace, charm and subtlety personified, and, with widespread connections — took it upon herself to write this book. Courageous as she is, Isher did so in the most trying circumstances, while she was losing the ability to read and write on her own, relying extensively on help from the family to put down her thoughts.

Yet, thank God that she has written this book, for it is a story of grit, love, care and commitment. Grit, because who would have bet that a daughter of simple, traditional Sikh parents — one of 11 siblings — living in a small, rented flat near Purna Cinema, not far from Calcutta’s Kalighat, would reach where she did, entirely on the strength of her efforts and her intense determination to succeed?


The Play of Dolls stories show how Hindi poet Kunwar Narain explored the human through the inhuman

Kumar Narain was primarily a poet, in which capacity he won many plum awards and honours: the Sahitya Akademi, the Jnanpith, the Padma Bhushan and the lot. (Photo: Express archive photo)

In one of Kunwar Narain’s stories, two men begin fighting in the middle of a street, calling each other the “son of a pig,” “insect,” “owl”, etc. Gradually, all the creatures so invoked come and surround the two men to watch them fight. The ass asks (he would, wouldn’t he?) why they are fighting, not knowing that to fight you don’t need a reason, but only strength. When the two men have strangled each other to death, all the animals clap loud and long enough to make the skies resound. The lion declares ceremoniously that the fight ended in a tie, and orders an owl sitting on a tree to record the history of the fight for the edification of future generations of animals.


Why the issue with Yogendra Yadav’s Making Sense of Indian Democracy is analytical

Jan Sangh President Atal Behari Vajpayee, Dr Mahavir president of Delhi Jan Sangh, Professor Balraj Madhok and Jagannath Rao Joshi during National Executive of Jan Sangh in Ahmedabad 1970. (Photo: Express archive photo)

Few scholars and observers of the Indian political scene over the last three decades have been as prolific and wide in scope as Yogendra Yadav. His recent shift to party political work has seen a change of tone and timbre as he made the transition from being watcher to the player in the political and even electoral arena.

The core of his work is the relation of ideas to political practice, nowhere more so than in the study of electoral trends and the changing social and economic makeup of the parties that are so vital to the process. This collection is like refined gold, as it puts the core of his essays in one place. The demise of the Congress system and the rise of regional and Mandal and Dalit-led parties in north India was studied in his well-known essays. The titles say it all, though they do not appear in quite that direct, pithy form here.


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