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Thursday, April 02, 2020

Sunday Long Reads: Women, protests, democracy, books, travel and more

What does this week's Sunday Eye have on offer? Women leading protests, politics, democracy, books, art and more. Read on.

Published: January 19, 2020 11:58:20 am
From anti-CAA protests, to JNU and Jamia, why women are leading the fight, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news The girls who kicked a hornet’s nest: A protester at Shaheen Bagh, Delhi. (Photo: Amit Mehra)

From anti-CAA protests, to JNU and Jamia, why women are leading the fight

women, women protesters, eye 2020, Sunday Eye, Indian Express news Protestors at the anti CAB protest in Jamia Milia Islamia in New Delhi. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

“I am not a protester, just an ordinary student,” says the PhD student as she settles down on one of the stools outside Ganga Dhaba at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi, wolfing down a plate of Maggi.

She is just back on the fortified campus after a protest at Mandi House, along with hundreds of others, raising slogans against the incidents of January 5, when masked men had run amok on campus, attacking students and faculty. “My education has helped me understand what is right and what isn’t, and I speak up when it’s important to,” she says, adding that it is the smaller battles that she faced – “and won” — at home and outside, while growing up, that inspired her to come out and protest.


The digital risks that come with recording these times of protest

digital risks, protests, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news We live in an age of information overload. (Photo: Getty Images)

History has always had chroniclers who tell tales of where and who we were when the world was changing. Histories are important because they eventually define who we are, and where we come from. When history repeats itself, it doesn’t bring the past to life but shapes the future of our present. The anxiety in history has often been that there is scarce information, limited data, and biased recordings which, eventually, reflect the view of the winner, rather than the woes of the vanquished.

In the world of constant communication, incessant information, and continuous computing, this changes. When everybody is wearing an information recording device; when drones and smart devices capture live streams of what we do; when algorithms training on expansive datasets learn to depict, sort, and classify reality in patterns of easy recognition, we know things are different. However, we live in an age of information overload: our protests get streamed, songs of resistance get recorded, presence gets marked on point-and-shoot cameras, and our data trails etched out by smart devices.


The anatomy of a protest in Kolkata: slogans, courage and a night of many firsts

protest, Kolkata, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news In solidarity: The sit-in at Park Circus, Kolkata (Photo: Partha Paul)

It is a little after midnight and a rising breeze has lent fangs to Kolkata’s otherwise pleasant winter. A couple of hundred people, a majority being women, huddle together in warm, intimate clusters on foam mattresses spread on the open field till things hot up with a renewed burst of sloganeering, forcing everybody on their feet.

“This is what you’ll have to say after me,” a college student and campus activist handholds the crowd, almost overwhelmingly Muslim women, into the magnetic world of collective political sloganeering. “I will say, ‘NRC ko, NPR ko tod ke dikhaya hai (We have destroyed the NRC and NPR)’, and you will say, ‘Desh ki mahilayon ne rasta dikhaya hai (The country’s women have shown the way),’” she says. The chorus is instantly picked up and is deafening.


‘In my opinion, democracy does not exist in India’

Asghar Wajahat, democracy, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news Writer Asghar Wajahat in Pune (Express photo by Arul Horizon)

Few writers are as prolific as Asghar Wajahat. At 73, the acclaimed Hindi language author has close to 40 published works, including plays, novels, short story compilations, literary criticism and travelogues. However, the Delhi-based author is best known for writings that look at communalism, especially through the lens of Partition. In this interview, he talks about Jamia Millia Islamia, where he taught for 42 years and why his plays continue to resonate.


‘Poetry, for me, is an archive of social relations’

Neelba Khandekar, poetry, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news Konkani poet Neelba Khandekar (Courtesy: Smita Nair)

Konkani poet Neelba Khandekar, 60, will be in New Delhi on February 25 to receive the 2019 Sahitya Akademi Award for his collection, The Words (2017). Khandekar, has been battling Goa Konkani Akademi, a state government body, which has rejected the purchase and circulation of the book over “objectionable and obscene content”. Reputed in Goa’s Konkani language circles as a poet who “reflects the society”, one of his poem, titled Gangrape, in the 43-poem anthology has been singled out for using words like yoni and thann (vagina and breasts in Konkani).


We are moving away from the novel, says ‘Show Them A Good Time’ author Nicole Flattery

Nicole Flattery, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express, indian express news I often think about how one female writer has to do the difficult groundwork so another can follow, more easily, in her footsteps, says Nicole Flattery.

The debut collection of Irish writer Nicole Flattery, Show Them A Good Time (Stinging Fly Press, 2019) was named one of the top 12 books to read in January by Time magazine. In their themes — especially the power equations between young women and older men — Flattery’s stories tread territories similar to those by Irish literary sensation, Sally Rooney.

Flattery, 29, who got a six-figure advance from Bloomsbury for the UK publishing rights, is hailed as the next star among the damburst of Irish women writers to have achieved global fame.


Alan Sealy on becoming a writer, being bypassed by stardom and protests in India

Irwin Allan Sealy, Eye 2020, Sunday Eye, Indian Express news Teller of Tales: For Indian writing in English, Irwin Allan Sealy’s work is a compass to new worlds, even if conventional literary stardom has passed him by (Illustration: Suvajit Dey)

The sun has been sucked out of the Dehradun sky. Everything shivers in a grey haze; even the bright blue of the gate to Irwin Allan Sealy’s home — the 433 square yards of earth that are consecrated in the delicate, tensile prose of The Small Wild Goose Pagoda: An Almanack (2014, Aleph). Inside is warmth, from a roomful of books, a brisk hospitality — slices of sponge cake served with clotted cream, and hot coffee — and a clear voice reminiscing the stirrings of literary ambition: “I am maybe 24 or 25 years old. I am reading The Tin Drum (1959). I love this book so much. And it’s telling the story of the German people. What happened to them? How did they allow themselves to be misled in this way? And I say, yes, this is what I will do…,” says Sealy, 68.


The beauty and history of the cultural sites in Iran that Donald Trump threatened to bomb

Islamic pilgrimage sites, Donald Trump, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news This list does not include several important Islamic pilgrimage sites as well as museums and palaces of Tehran.

By Surabhi Narendranath

Amidst the rapid escalation of hostilities between the US and Iran, US President Donald Trump threatened to strike at Iran’s cultural sites early this month. Days later, Pentagon ruled out striking these sites and both countries conceded de-escalation as the best solution to resolve the crisis. A look, in the aftermath of the threat, at these sites that may not be as familiar to us as, say, Notre Dame in Paris, but their loss would be an incalculable loss to our shared world heritage.

This list does not include several important Islamic pilgrimage sites as well as museums and palaces of Tehran. These sites offer invaluable glimpses into civilisations past and must be preserved for generations to come.


What to expect if you go to the Basar Confluence festival in Arunchal Pradesh

Basar Confluence festival, Arunchal Pradesh, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news Eco-warriors: The dance by the Nocte tribe is performed to celebrate headhunting.

My three kids were excited to see elderly men doing somersaults in the air on a thick reed tied to a bamboo pole. As these men climbed on another vertical pole, the adults shrieked as loudly as the kids.

We were at the fourth edition of Basar Confluence (BasCon), a people-owned festival held in the bucolic census town of Basar in central Arunachal Pradesh in December. The event, relatively less known, even to the festival crowd that frequents Cherry Blossom Festival in Shillong or Hornbill Festival in Nagaland, is high on ecological sensibilities. It was this that had us embark on an 800-km road trip. We reached a day in advance, hoping to soak in the place. And we sure did wake up to an artist’s rendition of a rural landscape — clear blue sky with fluffy white clouds, and a few bamboo houses embellishing the space between us.

At our homestay, bamboo flooring creaked under our feet. Our hosts served us tea in bamboo glasses with a spicy aroma. Over the five days that we stayed in Basar, our north Indian family adapted to the smell of fermented bamboo shoot in food — graduating from twitching our noses to licking our fingers.


The bookshop in London that lets you play bookseller for a day

London bookshop, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news Turn up for the Books: Mark Nessfield at Offside Books.

A little bookstore, nestled amid rows of English cottages with picket fences, in Kilburn, northwest London, lets you play a bookseller for a day. If you dream of being surrounded by aisles of books, Offside Books is the perfect haunt, housing both used and new books. The bookshop, run by Mark Nessfield, is listed on Airbnb as an experience that people can pay for to play bookseller for eight hours a day.

Over five years ago, after a long career in data analysis and a brief stint in Madrid, Nessfield, 58, started the bookstore with his wife, Fatma. He named the store Offside as an homage to football, and also since the store was located off the main road. Offside is small, but an endless array of books seems to tumble out of its crevices. A plush beige sofa waits to be plonked into.


A perfect stuffing

samosa, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news Joyful geometry: The samosa in all its glory has been around for long in the subcontinent. (Source: Kalyan Kanuri/Wikimedia commons)

I couldn’t help but salivate. Placed on the counter of a Dhaka snack shop was a basket with some of the largest samosas I have ever seen. The smell of freshly-fried food wafted in the air. I had had a hearty lunch. But the temptation was irresistible — I asked for a plate of shingara, the word Bengalis use for the samosa. That was a mistake. The shopkeeper summoned his assistant, who proceeded to place before me a steel plate with triangular objects that seemed to be miniature versions of the samosas that had caught my fancy.

With diced potatoes, lightly sautéed peas and cauliflower, a light flavouring of cumin and asafoetida intermingling with the sweetness of a solitary raisin, the shingaras were delicious. But they were not what my heart was set on.


‘As an artist, it’s important to have conversations’, says Artist Bose Krishnamachari

Bose Krishnamachari, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news Pulse on the future: Artist Bose Krishnamachari in Kolkata. (Source: Partha Paul)

Artist Bose Krishnamachari, 57, on returning with a solo after nearly a decade and why an artist cannot work in isolation from his surroundings.

The exhibition, ‘The Mirror Sees Best in the Dark’, at Emami Art gallery in Kolkata is your solo after nine years. A mirror is usually associated with reflection. What made you title the exhibition so?

I have always felt that extremities coexist. The ambivalence sometimes comes as conflict — in the language of art we call it maximalism and minimalism. I have observed these extremes in my life in Kerala and Mumbai. In recent years, I feel, there have emerged new extremes such as nationalism, racism and technology. These have drastically reshaped our lives. The lure that an obsession can wield is similar to that of a mirror. A mirror is not just a reflector, it is also a receiver that draws you in; entraps you. It accumulates your obsessions, and obsessions can be very dangerous. This set of works reflects my anxieties about the tensions in contemporary society.


The Vegans Are Coming

plants, vegans, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news Down in Jungleland (DIJ) took its specially-designed ultrasound mike to interview a gnarled old banyan. (Source: Ranjit Lal)

Recently, there was a headline in a national newspaper on how plants let out ultrasound distress screams when subjected to stress. Apparently, the sound reveals the level of stress of the plant. Now, this has been said before and been treated with suspicion, but this recent research was done by an Israeli team and they’re not given to sentimental twaddle. Down in Jungleland (DIJ) took its specially-designed ultrasound mike to interview a gnarled old banyan, “the tree of knowledge” in a tropical rainforest, on all matters botanical:

Have you heard? It’s been found that plants too scream in distress when stressed.

Veteran Banyan: Of course we do. I’m screaming now! They’re going to build a 200 m wide road running through this forest and chop us all down! It’s taken us over 300 years to become so magnificent and within 30 seconds we’ll be lying flat on the ground!


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