Every weekend, the Sunday EYE special from the Indian Express brings to you the best weekend reads. 2016 has been a witness to many controversies and revelations, and we had a glimpse of all such stories here. Beyond the usual take, what one sees on the surface, we tried to look for things within, a side that one often misses.
From contemporary issues of dissent and Islamophobia to what we don’t talk when talking about exile, the year has been an exhaustive one, when it came to matters of serious concern. The EYE tried to portray every essence–be it about past glory or celebrating the new ideas.
Dear readers, EYE is not just sheets of printed stories, it’s a journey that each of you take with us, our authors and their muses week after week. Although we know you have been following us closely, we bring to you some of our best stories from 2017, just in case you missed them, or would like to revisit them.
Patrick Patterson: The story of an Unquiet Mind
This is not easy for me. Believe you me…believe you me…” Those are the words I hear before the door opens. After six years and three trips to the Caribbean, searching and scouring the entire Jamaican island for Patrick Patterson, the moment has finally arrived. I’m outside his residence and he’s just about to step out. But somehow, I’m not sure of what to expect.
For years now, I’ve only heard grave and dire speculations about Patterson’s present state — that he’s lost in the bush or is in an asylum; maybe, even roaming the streets as a destitute. Patterson has only added to the ambiguity. Earlier in the day, he had sounded rather cryptic over the phone. “I find moving around tough and I struggle with my daily functioning,” he had said. At some point, Patterson also mentioned not having his own shelter. And, as I stand near the gate of this rather spacious but slightly unkempt one-storey house, which I later realise has been home the former fastest-bowler-in-the-world-turned-recluse for nearly 25 years, it’s difficult not to fear the worst. Click here to read more.
Krishna Sobti on her childhood, days of Independence and the crisis of contemporary India
My last interview,” she repeats. Her left wrist is pierced with needles, and connected by a tube to a bottle of fluids hanging over the bed.
Four months ago, she turned 92, perhaps the oldest novelist alive in India. Age has done little to dull her creative energies and keep her away from her writerly commitments. Until this stay in hospital, she read three newspapers in the morning, attended protest seminars held by writers, and had almost daily visitors at her home. Recently, her autobiographical novel, Gujarat Pakistan se Gujarat Hindustan, was released. Yet, she is aware of the inevitable and is now “settling pending things” fast. She has just handed over reams of her manuscripts to the archives of a university. Click here to read more.
Every Girl’s Guide to the streets of UP
Seema Yadav, the lone mahila police officer in Jaunpur district, was away on leave in late March when the Uttar Pradesh government constituted the anti-Romeo squads. She returned a few days later, and plunged into immediate action. One of her first cases involved a couple hanging out at a popular public place in Jaunpur. They were engaged to be married, they told her. “So what?” said Yadav. “That doesn’t give an unmarried couple licence to go about town without their guardians.” She marched them to the thana and released them only after closely questioning the girl.
In the first week, anti-Romeo squads grabbed headlines for the wrong reasons. They appeared to focus on couples, shaving the heads of some men, and, in some cases, beating them up. The state government beat a hasty retreat, issuing strongly-worded orders to police officers to lay off couples. The squads were meant to curb molestation and harassment of women, not to badger lovers. Click here to read more.
Teacher’s Day: Sir is not in class
If I am your class teacher, I know everything about you. I am supposed to,” says Tathagata Dutta. Only minutes ago, the 31-year-old English teacher at The Shri Ram School, Gurgaon, had given a quick demonstration of those skills. Walking past a student in her football jersey, he had softly asked: “So, whom did you lose to?” “What do you mean? How do you know?” she had squealed, stunned that Dutta already knew that minutes ago, the school team had lost an inter-school match.
After that briefly triumphal moment, Dutta settles down to talk about what it feels to be a “minority” at the workplace. Dutta, class teacher of X G, says he is among eight male teachers in the senior staffroom of over a 100, a numerical disadvantage he tackles by “being asexual in the classroom”. Click here to read more.
Mutton Undhiyu in Vadodara
Everywhere on the Ahmedabad-Rajkot highway, signboards hold out the promise of “pure veg” to the traveller. But we are looking for meat. Not butter chicken or mutton rogan josh or seekh kebab — which, contrary to stereotype, one can find in the cities of this “vegetarian” state — but authentic Gujarati meat dishes.
In the stretch between Bavla in Ahmedabad district and Chotila in Surendranagar district, only a couple of run-down dhabas, shrinking apologetically in the shadow of plush vegetarian food joints, offer “non-veg”. Many dhabas have come up here recently to cater to migrants from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. They deny that they sell meat—“only eggs,” says an owner. Click here to read more.
If it’s Sundae, It Must be Sitaphal
In the heat and humidity of a Mumbai summer, looking for the fabled “best” ice cream is a happy, if tiring, task. The Taj Ice Cream, situated deep inside one of the many narrow, overcrowded lanes of Bhendi Bazaar’s Bohri Mohalla, is not easy to find, and can usually be reached only with the guidance of someone who knows the lay of the land.
The shop is small and unpretentious and, to one who has never tasted the ice cream served here, it is hard to believe that people travel all the way from Ahmedabad and Jaipur just for a helping — or two. But, to one who has had the pleasure of spooning up cups of Taj’s ice cream, this seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. It is, as loyalists claim, the richest, true-est ice cream one is likely to find in Mumbai and, given the number of outlets that dot the city, that’s saying something. Click here to read more.
Revolution is a Poem: Why a Punjabi poet killed by Khalistanis is ruffling feathers in contemporary India?
On the highway from Jalandhar to Nakodar, Talwandi Salem village declares its link to one of Punjab’s most famous poets through the Pash-Hansraj Memorial Complex that comes up just ahead of the village. “Complex” is an aspiration for this dusty open ground, a raised platform at the far end, and a small room to each side of the dais. Behind it is the village where Avtar Singh Sandhu, the poet better known as Pash, was born and lived most of his life. In one of its fields, now lush green and fragrant with rice, he was shot dead by Khalistanis on March 23, 1988.
A group of teenaged boys shooting the breeze under the shade of a tree nearby zone out when asked about Pash. With effort, one of them vaguely recollects that he had studied a poem by Pash in Class XI. Struggling to remember the name, he says, “Bomb-wala tha koi”. Click here to read more.
The Shade of You
“Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” Toni Morrison, Beloved. The year I discovered the works of Toni Morrison and Chinua Achebe is the year I met Bryan Ochieng. It was the summer of 2005, right in the middle of Delhi University’s annual break. We met outside a nightclub in Mehrauli, waiting for a mutual friend to drop us home.
My mind had wolf-whistled the second I lay eyes on him he was the gorgeous man I’d ever seen and, as I got into the front seat, I fervently hoped that his brain had made a similar sound, too. The Maruti 800 was packed, five people had crammed into the back, and it took Bryan several minutes to tap my shoulder and pass his Nokia 3310 to me. The compose box said: “You deserve to be taken out for coffee on Saturday.” Bryan was a man of few words but the smoothest operator I have ever known. Click here to read more.
Arundhati Roy: Ignoring of things is as political as the addressing of them
Towards the end of Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Penguin), there’s a poem by Tilottama, one of her two protagonists: “How to tell a shattered story? By slowly becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything.”
Indeed, in this new novel, her second after The God of Small Things (1997), Roy, 55, is at once, everything and everyone. She is Anjum, once Aftab, who becomes Delhi’s most famous hijra; she is the mysterious, dark-skinned Tilottama, whom “nobody seemed to be able to place”. She is Musa, a Kashmiri student-turned revolutionary; she is also Garson Hobart, “the upper-caste, upper-class oppressor from every angle”. But, more than that, the universe that Roy’s whimsical cast inhabits is an India, divided; one where “war is peace and peace is war”, where Emergency and Godhra, the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and Ayodhya are as real as the battles in Kashmir and in Bastar. Click here to read more.
Shah Rukh Khan: It is the most beautiful feeling to be a star
The King of Romance Shah Rukh Khan, who took up slightly off-beat characters in Fan, Dear Zindagi and Raees, will be back again as a Harvinder Singh also known as Harry in Jab Harry Met Sejal. During a chat with The Indian Express, the actor spoke about stardom and about his upcoming film. Click here to read more.
Funny Guys Finish Last
In Govinda we trust, I think, as I take sips from a glass bottle of Thums Up inside Chandan cinema, a single-screen theatre near the actor’s home in Juhu, Mumbai. Along with 70 other people in the hall, I hope to rewind to a time when not everybody was a critic and Chi Chi was Hero No1. Aa Gaya Hero, Govinda’s comeback film, is supposed to be a throwback to his golden years in the Nineties, so who are we to argue?
After all, this is the man who has given us some of the most entertaining comedy-romance-action films of the last 25 years. In a world overrun by Prem, Raj and Rahul, Govinda kept it real by being Raju, Bhola, Suraj, Shyamsunder, Bunnu, Gopi and even Kanaklakshmi in drag. Click here to read more.
The Spirit is Alive
On July 15, 2004, Manipuri theatre director Heisnam Kanhailal and his actor wife Heisnam Sabitri were in Delhi, taking a class at the National School of Drama (NSD), when they received a phone call. At Kangla Fort in Imphal, Manipur, where the 17 Assam Rifles was stationed, a group of middle-aged mothers had taken off their clothes and stood with a banner that read: “Indian Army Rape Us”.
“A theatre worker phoned us and said, ‘This is the second time Draupadi has been disrobed. Kanhailal sir, you are a chingu (a wise man who can see the future)’,” says Sabitri, “That day, I cried for a long time.”
Four years earlier, Sabitri had become nude before audiences to play a victim of custodial gangrape, Draupadi. Mahasweta Devi had written the story of Dopdi Mejhen, a Naxalite rebel and “ most notorious female” of the 1970s, who is picked up by soldiers and repeatedly gangraped until her black body seeks no solace in clothes. Click here to read more.
Love Will Keep Us Alive
Disclaimer: This is a true story of love jihad, based on real characters in real circumstances. The names of the characters haven’t been changed (it’s a different thing that I haven’t named any of them).
Oh yeah, it is a filmi romance — a girl from the sleepy, lake town of Udaipur; a boy, two years her senior in college, from badass Bombay (uh-huh, Mum…baai). A college picnic in the remote, forested tribal lands of Jadhol. A few students from the picnic group go on a trek. The girl and the boy get lost in the jungle. Alone. Period. Need we say any more? Click here to read more.
A House for Hamida Begum
At the northern end of Worli seaface, Mumbai, an anachronism amidst high rises such as Godrej Bayview, stands a sprawling white two-storey bungalow. Kishori Court, worth at least Rs 500 crore in today’s prices, traces its ownership to a Pakistani actress of the ’40s known for a flamboyant lifestyle.
It is now in possession of the Custodian of Enemy Property, and, unsurprisingly, is also on the radar of property developers. Some of its tenants fear it is haunted and perform a shanti puja at the courtyard every year. Kishori Court was owned by Bai Hamida Begum, popularly known as Kishori, an influential actor and businesswoman of the 1940s. She left for Pakistan in the late 1950s. Click here to read more.
All You Need Is Love: Setting an example for India’s transgender community
She remembers the day they first met. From the moment he walked in through the door around midnight, till the time he left to take the first train back to his place, the walls of her house seemed to have shrunk. He was tall and broad-shouldered, almost towering over her. But equally shy, choosing only to steal glances at her, his brazen persistence to meet now gone. He seemed too close, and, somehow, that didn’t seem to bother her. What was meant to be a 10-minute meeting lasted four hours as they sat talking through the night.
Today, 15 months since, sitting next to Jay Rajnath Sharma in the same house, a one-room tenement in a Kurla chawl in Mumbai, Madhuri Sarode is glad she gave in to her instincts that day. In Sharma, she has found an ideal partner — loving, caring and a stable family man. But to Sarode, his greatest quality has been his unfaltering acceptance of her sexuality: Sarode is a transgender. In what can be termed as a defining moment in the fight for rights for the transgender community, the couple openly tied the knot on December 28 in a temple ceremony. Click here to read more.
Ways Of Seeing
The ongoing Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) is not just a visual experience. Here, conversations are as vital as the colours on the canvases and performances have become as significant as the sculptures that dot Aspinwall Hall, the prime venue of the biennale. Curator of KMB, artist Sudarshan Shetty says opening up the biennale to every person with a vision was a well-thought-out decision. “The question that I wanted to address was what does it mean to be contemporary; what does it it mean to be together in time, if that is what contemporary means,” says Shetty.
And so, the biennale now accommodates artists and architects, authors, poets, theatre people and musicians showcasing their vision of life. As viewers step from one exhibit to the other, they are inundated with multiple visuals, sounds and mediums. Click here to read more.
A Dying Fall: Is the shehnai on its way out?
On the morning of August 15, 1947, hours after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru delivered his “Tryst with Destiny” speech, there rose, from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi, the incredibly delicate notes of a shehnai. The raag was Kafi and the musician, Ustad Bismillah Khan, a devout Shia Muslim, who was then based in Lucknow. Dressed in his trademark achkan and Nehru topi, he blew life into the reed and hope in the hearts of those who had gathered to hear India’s first Prime Minister speak.
The mangalvadya, as the shehnai was called, was an apt choice for the occasion. It was a staple at auspicious events — births, weddings and pooja in temples — and the birth of a nation demanded that it be pressed into service. Click here to read more.
My Days with Thatha
There was once an elephant that loved dosas. Dressed in either a dhoti or a top hat-monocle outfit, this animal braved great dangers, such as a shortage of rice flour and stores running out of ghee, in its quest to eat every kind of dosa under the sun.
My paternal grandfather, whose name I embarrassingly mangled to Danduppa as a child, is without a doubt the worst storyteller I have ever had the misfortune of listening to. Celebrated Tamil writer he may be, but the elephant story was the pinnacle of his oral narrative skills. Click here to read more.
Time to let go
Among his string of girlfriends, Akshay Jadhav is pained to admit that not one of them lives, like him, in Worli’s Bombay Development Directorate (BDD) chawl. “Whenever I ask a girl from here out, she asks for my building number. When I tell her, she knows my caste and goes away,” he says with a sigh.
The BDD chawls in central Mumbai are a tough place to find a date, and when everyone knows everyone, romance is a casualty.
But the smile never leaves the 22-year-old’s face. He knows that he’s born into a “lafde waali jagah”, and that it’s bound to have some consequences. “Outside of here, no girl asks where I live. It is like this only in the chawls. I wonder when that is going to change.” Click here to read more.
Cooking with Pragyasundari
A couple of weeks ago, my best friend Gee, newly retired from a lifetime of government servitude, came to visit and announced that we should Marie Kondo our kitchens instantly. Except, instead of keeping things that fill us with joy, we should keep only the things that our grandmothers would have recognised — and cooked.
“So, you mean, things that fill us with horror? Chhyaanchhraa, chhenki, ghonto, chorchori, shuktuni, ombol…,” I quipped, safely stashing my chocolate digestives away before Gee got a chance to Kondo them. “Quite right,” Gee insisted, unfazed. Click here to read more.