Art Mart

20190106_120410

A dramatic 6’x4’ acrylic on canvas by Mahadeva Shetty

The first Sunday of January is marked down in every Bangalorean’s calendar as Chitra Santhe Day, the day when the busy Kumara Krupa Road is taken over by artists exhibiting and selling their works.

20190106_111151The Sunday just gone by was the 16th edition of the Chitra Santhe. About 1500 artists from 16 states of India were there, and 400,000 people visited!

As a regular visitor to the Santhe, it is something I look forward to. More than the art even, the festive atmosphere, people taking the time to look at paintings and talk about them, mothers and fathers discussing art with their children….

20190106_113620

Grateful to the organizers and the city for this opportunity. And since it is about art, less words and some pics this time!

–Meena

Cleaning up the Abode of Gods

Lessons on Sustainable Tourism: Sudha Priscilla, continues..

Yuksom currently serves as the gateway to many of India’s most beautiful and difficult treks. Recognised as the ancient capital of Sikkim, the town is of historical importance as the first Chogyal (king) of Sikkim was crowned here in 1642 AD.

IMG_20181101_154529On our drive to Yuksom from the airport, I noticed a garbage bag provided in the taxi. This gave us our first insight into their environmentally conscious mind-set. Despite the invasion of visitors, Yuksom has retained an abundance of green spaces and public spaces are all remarkably clean. Every street is equipped with a well-placed litter bin.

Through my travel, I tried to find out more, and here is some of what I learnt. Truly inspiring

In order to thwart degradation of the fragile ecosystem caused by increased tourism, the community formed the Khanchendzonga Conservation Committee in the ‘90s. KCC played an instrumental role in banning the use of firewood previously used for cooking, heating and camp-fires. They also run a garbage management centre that segregates garbage collected on the trekking trails and recycles it.

IMG_20181102_122801The local gram panchayat has also formed an informal association of shopkeepers known as the ‘Bazaar Association’. One of the activities they undertake is sending a family member each week to collect trash from the streets of Yuksom.

During the off-season, members of the Yuksom Tourism Development Committee comprising of stakeholders from the tourism industry, trudge back along various trek routes to collect trash that may have been left behind by travellers. Most of the collected waste is then recycled, thereby reducing pollution.

Additionally, most reputable tour agencies offer clients portable pop-up toilet tents that act as pit latrines. The tent and toilet seat is pitched on a flat surface and placed over a shallow pit with a hump of mud outside. The pit is then used by the client who in turn covers it with mud ensuring that the waste seeps into the ground.  This prevents trekkers from defecating near water bodies.

The town is truly at the helm of the movement promoting sustainable tourism.

ABODE OF GODS

A Christmas Guest Longread from a friend and colleague, Sudha Priscilla . This should get you planning your 2019 Autumn break now!

When G and I met in 2014, we quickly bonded over our passion for the Himalayas. He had just completed the Leh-Ladakh bikers’ circuit on his KTM Duke 390, and I had backpacked across Nepal with a close friend.

Fast forward to 2018 and we’re now married, having shared many adventures along the way. Most recently we formulated an ambitious plan that included trekking and camping for 8 days in West Sikkim and then exploring East and North Sikkim on an Enfield.

Putting plan into action, we got in touch with Mingma Sherpa, proprietor of ‘Mountain Tours, Treks & Travels’. His family has a rich legacy in the field of mountaineering. His grandfather, Namgyal Sherpa was part of the first successful Everest expedition in 1953 alongside Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. He was the expedition companion of the then expedition leader, Sir John Hunt. The dynamic duo played a critical role in opening the route towards the summit of Everest.

Faced with many options, we zeroed in on the ‘Goechala’ trek. The steep trail allows one to view Mt. Kanchenjunga from up close. Having finalised the itinerary with Mingma, we were left with three months to prepare ourselves mentally and physically for the trek.

We got our first glimpse of the mighty Himalayan range as the flight prepared to land in Bagdogra. At the airport, we met Manzil, a young lad who drove us to Yuksom which serves as the gateway to many of India’s most beautiful and difficult treks.

IMG_20181107_121145

The next day, we met Mingma who was busy planning the return journey, for a client who suffered from Altitude Sickness The client in question was an experienced trekker who has even summited Mt. Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately, he was struck by AMS halfway through the Goechala trek, and had to be carried down the mountain by his team on a stretcher. The oxygen tanks that his team members carried made a huge difference to his life. Once in Yuksom he was rushed to a nearby hospital where his health improved.

This episode left me worried. On observing this, Mingma handed me a strip of ‘Diamox’ tablets, which is commonly used by mountaineers and trekkers a few days before their steep ascent in order to prevent AMS. He also went through the gear we brought along and offered me a down jacket, which was insulated with soft, warm feathers.

Early next morning, we were introduced to our experienced guide. He was accompanied by a very capable team which included a cook, cook’s helper, porter, Yak herder and 4 beautiful Dzos.  Dzos are a hybrid between yak and domestic cattle, possessing the desirable characteristics of each animal. Our heavier backpacks were mounted on the Dzos along with food supplies and the required logistics. This included a two person A-shape sleeping tent, toilet tent, dining tent, kitchen tent, dining table and sleeping bags.

Before we set off, Mingma presented us with beautiful silk scarves to wish us good luck. We were filled with excitement as we exited Yuksom and entered Kanchenjunga National Park.

Day 1- The first day of the trek was long and arduous. We had to reach Tshoka  13 kms away and perched at approx. 3050 metres. The trail was picturesque but steep. Lunch consisted of a boiled egg, potato slices, juice and chocolate, aimed towards restoring depleted strength. Enroute we met a couple of dejected trekkers who were headed back to Yuksom. They were exasperated at not being able to get a clear view of Mt. Kanchenjunga due to inclement weather.

IMG_20181106_081638

An hour before arriving at Tshoka, Ashok signalled us to remain quiet. We heard what sounded like a bark coming from inside the jungle. ‘Barking Deer’, said a gleaming Ashok. Though tired, this incident propelled us along.

By the time we reached Tshoka, it was around 8 pm. The rest of our team members who reached a few hours earlier, greeted us with a heart-warming dinner consisting of vegetable soup, rice, dal, sabzi, rayosag fry (local type of spinach), papad, ginger tea and a banana.

Day 2- We headed out to Phedang (Approx. 3550 metres), only 5 hours away. The trail was laid with pine wood logs, and meandered through Rhododendron forests. During April and May, the trail is apparently set ablaze by colourful Rhododendron blooms. G spent most of the day spotting birds such as the Himalayan Magpie and the Himalayan Eagle through his binoculars.

At the campsite, we were greeted by our team who offered us hot orange juice and pakoda. The treat was laid out neatly on a dining table surrounded by the glorious views of the Himalayas and the Rhododendron forest.

On Day 3-After a hearty breakfast that included muesli, ginger tea, steamed banana and toast with peanut butter, we left for our upward march towards Dzongri. Perched at approx. 4300 metres, it is surrounded by the mighty peaks of the Himalayan range. The landscape changed dramatically from forest trails to open mountain meadows rich in juniper shrubs. The plant is mostly used as incense in Buddhist monasteries, in order to purify the air of any negativities ahead of a puja or arrival of an important guest. We reached our campsite by noon.

Since we were not surrounded by trees, our tents lay exposed to winds that seemed to strengthen as time went by. G and I took a walk around, but we didn’t get too far since oxygen levels were much lower at this point and every step felt tedious. Lunch that day included boiled apples.

The night sky was lit by a million stars, but we were unable to fully enjoy it as temperatures plummeted.

Day 4- It was just about 4:00 am when Ashok woke us. After snacking on ginger tea, biscuits and popcorn, we set off for Dzongri Top. Popcorn also known as ‘Natural Diamox’, is said to increase one’s oxygen capacity. It was a constant snack throughout our trek.

We braved the heavy winds to reach Dzongri top at around 5:30 am, just as the amber sun rays hit the top of Mt. Kanchenjunga and its surrounding peaks such as Mt. Pandim and Mt. Kabru Dome. The magnificent view injected our tired souls with much needed energy. As the winds picked up, we headed down to the valley for yet another breakfast and then headed out to Thangsing.

Situated at 3,930 mtrs, Thangsing is a beautiful valley that can be reached via a short climb to a ridge followed by a rapid steep descent through yet another Rhododendron forest. The highlight of the day was the apple pie that our remarkable cook, Purna, served us for dinner.

Day 5- We took a gentle 3 hour walk to Lamuney (Approx. 4,200 metres) alongside the Prekchu River. The trail goes past stunted rhododendron bushes, azaleas and a Buddhist prayer wall. According to legend, years ago, a trekker of foreign descent was passing through when he ran into a lady. He repeatedly asked her the name of the place, when she answered ‘Lamuney’ meaning ‘Female Monk’. Not knowing English, the monk thought he was asking her name.

IMG_20181109_153517.jpg

This campsite was by far my favourite. It had the best views of Mt. Pandim, Mt. Kanchenjunga, and Mt. Tenchenkhang.

Day 6- The ever conscientious Ashok woke us at 2:45 am. We quickly got ready and met our team members who fed us biscuits, popcorn and loads of ginger tea. Armed with head torches and flashlights, we headed out in the dark to Goechala (Approx. 4,950 mtrs). Temperatures had dipped to -15 degrees, but the down jacket coupled with a shawl made of yak wool kept me warm. We trudged upward along the moraine path by the side of Samiti Lake to view the East face of Mt. Kanchenjunga. Towering at 8586 metres, the sunrays hit Mt. Kanchenjunga peak first, and slowly spread across the peaks of Kobru, Tenchenkhang, Pandim, Jupono and Rathong. We munched on popcorn and drank hot chai as this scene played out before us.

Ashok explained to us that as a gesture of respect for the religious sensitivities of the local people who regard the mountain as a deity, the Indian govt. banned expeditions to Kanchenjunga and seven others sacred peaks surrounding it.

Trekkers were earlier allowed to proceed to a second viewpoint, which now remains closed due to sightings of the elusive snow leopard. After basking in the sun for an hour, we headed back to Lamuney for breakfast. On our way down, Ashok pointed out towards the upward ridge, where we could see the silhouette of a Bharal, commonly known as the Himalayan Blue Sheep.

After yet another hearty breakfast, we headed down to Kockchurung campsite (Approx. 3700 metres). We slept at the trekker’s hut that night instead of pitching our tents by the riverside. Purna managed to make us pizza for dinner, which he aptly christened ‘Mountain Pizza’.

Day 7- We headed back to Tshoka, our final campsite. We enjoyed going at a slower pace choosing to spend more time with our team members. Lucky for us, we also stumbled upon a flock of ‘Blood Pheasants’ (the state bird of Sikkim), scurrying through the tree lines.

As it was our final night together, the team surprised us with a steamed cake that said ‘Thank you Visit Again’. This gesture reflected how we were cared for by our team. They were patient, kind, humble, witty and understanding of us throughout the trek.

Day 8- The following day we were escorted back to Yuksom, by a young guide named ‘Buddhist’, as Ashok had to accompany a couple from Canada back to Goechala. His introductory line was ‘My name is Buddhist but I’m a Hindu’. He was a jovial lad, who hoped to visit Goa someday.

The day ended with G and me rushing into the hotel and competing to hit the bathroom first. Our first shower in many days!

The next day we headed to Gangtok and met with Tsewang, owner of ‘Biker’s Hub’. He advised us to rent the Enfield 500 cc for the second leg of our journey.

Over the next few days, we rode to many touristy places such as the high altitude lake of Gurodongmar (Approx. 5180 metres) and zero point situated close to the Indo-China border.

The highlight of our ride was visiting Nathang valley. Located at approx. 4100 metres, the valley is located along the old Silk Route. The Silk Route in Sikkim is an offshoot of an ancient trade route which originated in Lhasa, Tibet and ended in the sea ports of Bengal. Interestingly, horses and tea were the most treasured items traded in this part of the route and not silk.

What was supposed to be a 3 hour ride from Gangtok, ended up being 8 hours due to snowfall and ice covered roads. I spent half of the time walking since it was impossible for G to manoeuvre the slithering roads with a pillion. We stopped midway in a guesthouse for a hot cup of chai and Maggi noodles. The friendly owner, led us to the bukhari in her house so we could warm ourselves. The bukhari seen in many homes here, is a traditional wood burning stoves that act as a radiator and a cooker.

We also passed a lot of army camps along the way, as the route ran along the border of China. At one point, I was even offered a lift by an Army officer in a jeep. He obviously took pity on the scrawny figure who was waddling through the snow just moments earlier. I would like to mention that the army officers we met in Sikkim were extremely helpful. Apart from helping us tweak our bike when we had trouble with the headlights, we saw a couple of bikers take shelter in an army camp as one of them unexpectedly suffered from AMS.

We finally reached Nathang valley around dusk and took shelter at a local homestay, where we were treated to a hot plate of rice and chicken curry. Rest of the night, we chatted away with the owner on the history of Nathang and my hopes of collecting a yak bell on this trip.

The next morning, the owner promptly greeted me with an antique yak bell that was just lying around as scrap in his home. I was beyond thrilled!

We then returned to Gangtok via Dzuluk, which has approximately 32 sharp hairpin bends. This was the perfect end to our adventurous tour.

IMG_20181113_102248

Merry Christmas to all our Readers!

Weaving Beautiful Tales

25 years ago, our friend Darshan Shah began a journey—a journey called Weavers Studio, a business set up with the aim of supporting and contemporising textile-based handcrafts in India. Today, as it celebrates its Silver Jubilee, it is an iconic brand.

5970DF55-0BE0-459B-8797-8F2BBB91E826

But even more important than Darshan’s success as an entrepreneur, may be her contribution to the knowledge and skill revival in India’s textile traditions, and the promotion of arts and crafts. Weaver Studio Archives are one of the finest collection of old Indian textiles, housing over 1200 rare and old samples. Their Centre for the Arts promotes performing and non-performing arts, and presents over a 100 events every year.

One of the significant contributions of Weavers Studio has been to the revival of interest in Baluchari.  Baluchari saris (and shawls and textiles) take their name from the village of Baluchar, from the Murshidabad region of Bengal. The village itself no longer exists. Probably washed away in some flood at some time. The weaving of these special saris is thought to have flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries, and was generally done on silk, though cotton Balucharis were also woven. They are known to have been exhibited in the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London.

The distinguishing feature of Baluchari is the quirkiness of the motifs. Imagine having a hookah-smoking sahib reclining in an armchair on your pallu! Or an elephant bearing an Englishman and his wife walking across it. Or men on a steamer floating across it. Or a courtesan in a dance pose. You could also have scenes from Ramayana or Mahabharata of course.

Balucharis are fun, quirky and works of art. They are an invaluable part of our craft and textile tradition. Buy a Baluchari, own a treasure!

I am the proud possessor of a Baluchari which I bought in a Bengal State Emporium about 25 years ago (in pic). But it was a rare and lucky find, because when I went out again looking for another such, I could, for almost two decades not find one.

–Meena

 

True Grit

Winter is the season of Doctor’s conferences in my city, when super specialists of many branches of medicine meet to discuss professional research and new developments. Among these are many women who are working shoulder-to-shoulder with their male counterparts. It is difficult to imagine that just over 150 years ago, a woman doctor was unheard and undreamt of. This reminder was strongly communicated in a recent performance that traced the life of India’s first female doctor–Anandibai Joshi.

Anandibai Joshi is known to be the first woman of Indian origin to graduate with a degree in medicine in the US.  Her story of grit and determination is an inspiration, and a trailblazer.

Born in 1865 as Yamuna, the third unwanted daughter, she was married off at the age of nine to a widower postal clerk 20 years her senior. Her husband Gopalrao took charge of her life by first changing her name to Anandi; but also encouraged her to study, which was unusual for that time. Anandi was a bright and curious girl-child, balancing between her innocence, her thirst for learning and her expected chores and role as ‘wife’. She became a mother at the age of 14, but lost her 10-day old child due to lack of medical care and facilities. Traumatised by this event, she began to dream the undreamable– to become a doctor so that she can help other women like herself. In a time when a girl going to school was spat at, and looked upon with intense disapproval, Anandi was supported to some extent by her husband.

Even more unusual is the story of how she reached America. A letter written by Gopalrao to an American missionary asking if Anandi could study medicine in America, was published in some American magazines, where a woman called Theodicia Carpenter read it and wrote to the young girl with an offer of a home and support if she were to go to New York. Against opposition from all quarters in India, Anandi embarked upon this journey into the unknown, reaching New York after an arduous two-month ship voyage. Once she reached, with support from her mentor Theodicia, Anandi Gopal Joshi applied to the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and was granted admission at the age of 19. Medical school and life in an alien land was extremely difficult; but Anandi met the challenges head on—the extreme cold weather (she changed her attire from the traditional nine-yard sari to the six-yard one), the food (at one point she became so nutritionally deficient she had to start eating eggs), very poor health, loneliness, hostile classmates and neighbours, and nasty letters from her suspicious husband. Anandi persevered towards her goal and got through medical school, graduating in 1886. She returned to India the same year and was appointed as the physician-in-charge at the Albert Edward Hospital in the then princely state of Kohlapur (in present day Maharashtra).

Tragically, before she could finally make her childhood dream come true, by practising as a doctor, Dr Anandi Joshi died of TB in 1887, just over a month before her 22nd birthday. As per her wish, her ashes were sent to Theodicia Carpenter, who placed them in her family cemetery in Poughkeepsie, New York.

The true-grit story of Yamuna/Anandi was brought to life in a solo performance by Manasi Prabhakar Joshi. Titled Dr Anandibai this powerfully transposed the story of the path breaker in the context of the challenges that women face even today—reminding us that while on the one hand much has changed, on the other, much remains the same. Anandibai’s story continues to remain an inspiration and a beacon.

–Mamata

 

 

Audio Books

A recent article titled Human Library immediately grabbed my attention. Being always drawn to anything related to books and libraries I was curious to know what this was. Turns out that this was literally a library where people instead of books are issued out! I was intrigued—What, How and Why?

At a Human Library event, the “books” are people with special experiences; “readers” can choose from various “titles” and then “borrow” them. The procedure is similar to that of a regular library.  At the main desk there is a list of “books” available and each “reader” is given a Human Library card by one of the librarians. They then choose a “book”, sometimes with the help of an official matchmaker or library assistant. The reader and the book then move to a space where there are numerous tables and chairs; this is where a safe and respectful conversation begins, and lasts for up to half an hour. The “reader” reads the “book” by asking the “book” questions about their personal situation. The “book”, as well as answering pertinent questions, has the option not to answer and also to ask their own questions.

The most interesting aspect of this library is the choice of “books”. In keeping with its fundamental premise which is ‘to build a positive framework for conversations that can challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue’, the Human Library encourages people to challenge their own preconceived notions—to truly get to know, and learn from, someone they might otherwise make a snap judgement about. As the website says “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

Most of the stories that the “books” tell have to do with some kind of stereotype or stigmatized topic. For example in the Human Library UK  “The titles celebrate diversity and promote equality by deliberately acknowledging differences, lifestyles, ethnicities, faiths, disabilities, abilities and characteristics that may be stigmatised in the hope it might provoke an assumption or even prejudice in readers.”

While new to me, it turns out that the concept of human libraries is not that new. The Human Library is an international organization and movement that first started in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2000. It was “a place where difficult questions are expected, appreciated and answered.” Its objective was to address people’s prejudices by helping them to talk to those they would not normally meet, and to initiate conversations between people of different orientations, backgrounds and religions, by urging participants to listen to each other’s life experiences.

It began with an event which was open eight hours a day for four days straight and featured over fifty different “titles”. More than a thousand readers took advantage leaving books, librarians, organisers and readers stunned at the impact of the Human Library.

Today the movement has become an international phenomenon with “libraries” in more than 70 countries. In India there are Human Libraries in several cities including Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, and spreading.

What an amazing and inspiring movement! For me the term ‘audio books’ has acquired a unique human dimension.

–Mamata

 

Festival of Farming

20181117_120113_resizedThe annual Krishi Mela is an event Bangaloreans look forward to. Organized in November every year, the 3-day Mela showcases the latest in agriculture and livestock related developments—from technologies, to equipment and tools, to new varieties of seeds, to green farming.

First a word about the Gandhi Krishi Vignana Kendra (GKVK), the venue of the mela. This amazing 1300+ acre campus has a hoary history. More than a century ago in 1899, Her Excellency Maharani Vani Vilasa, Regent of Mysore donated 30 acres of land for an Experimental Agricultural Station at Hebbal, which initiated research projects related to agriculture. In 1963, the Government of Mysore decided to establish University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) along the lines of Land Grant College system of USA and passed the University of Agricultural Sciences Bill. It granted 1300 acres to the GKVK Campus.

UAS was inaugurated by Dr Zakir Hussain, then Vice President of India, on 21st Aug 1964. Speaking at the event, he set the institute a lofty mandate: “By bringing about significant improvement in every phase of rural life, by much needed change in methods of production, by influencing the whole outlook of the rural community and rural home, by giving them a new vision and new hope, this university will be able to make great contribution to national welfare”.

The Krishi Mela sees visitation in the lakhs—from farmers to students to urbanites interested in agriculture, it is a joyous (though somewhat hot and tiring) occasion.

For farmers, it is an opportunity to see the latest advancements in the field of agriculture; to interact with agro-business companies and see demonstrations of agricultural implements; to get advice from university researchers on best methods of farming for a particular crop; and be exposed to practices like biological control of insects, organic farming in polyhouses, setting up biogas plants and extracting biodiesel.

For a layperson like me, it is an occasion to buy seeds and gardening implements; get some advice on how to look after plants; get to know something about the complexities of farming; marvel at things like a 70 kg bunch of bananas and a magnificent Gir bull; and gawk at sights like a drone which can be used for spraying pesticides. Also to partake of a traditional lunch (Menu: ragi muddu, palya, rice-rasam, curd-rice and a sweet) at Rs.50!

For me, the best thing about bringing such a mela into the heart of a city like Bangalore is the value it has as a reminder to us of who feeds us, and the challenges they face to do so!

Colour and Cheer

 

 

P1130289 (1).JPGRight through the long and dusty summer months when all the other plants drooped and dried, it was the riot of pink and white bougainvillae in my little garden that bestowed colour and cheer to the sweltering days.

I have always enjoyed the sight of the colourful mass, and took it pretty much for granted until I read an interesting story about how the plant was discovered. In 1766 the French government had commissioned French Navy admiral and explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville to sail around the world, to find new territories for France. Accompanying him on this voyage of circumnavigation was Philibert Commerson a botanist, whose brief was to collect hitherto unknown plants from the different continents and countries during the voyage. It is Commerson who is thought to be the first European to describe the plant we know of as bougainvillae.

Recently, the story of the discovery of bougainvillea has been revised. It turns out that Commerson did go on the voyage and was the botanist. But he was accompanied by his housekeeper and lover, Jeanne Baret. The French navy absolutely and explicitly prohibited women on naval vessels. Nevertheless, Baret disguised herself as a man and not only sailed with Commerson, she was with him while he was exploring plants in the new lands where the ship docked. As Commerson was frequently unwell, it was Baret who did most of the plant collecting, and she is believed to have discovered many of the plants which are attributed as being Commerson’s discoveries.

It is now believed that it was probably Baret who found bougainvillea at the very beginning of the trip, in Rio de Janiero. Impressed by the bright blossoms, Commerson named them Bougainvillea after the admiral. Baret also thus became the first woman known to have circumnavigated the globe. Interestingly the surviving journals of the expedition barely mention her, probably due to the fear of the consequences of admitting that the “no women!” rule had been broken.

Since the introduction of the first two species to Europe in the late 1700s, Bougainvillea have made their home all around the tropical world. They are drought-, salt- and wind-resistant, but require hot climate and hours of full sun. They will grow as shrubs, or vines, or even low ground covers and are found in many colours. Currently, there are over 300 varieties of bougainvillea around the world, and since many of the hybrids have been crossed over several generations, it is now difficult to identify their respective origins. Botanists, however, have traced back most of today’s rich variety of bougainvillea back to only three of the original eighteen South American species identified.

While the Bougainvillea is popularly known as an ornamental plant, the people of the Amazon region had long used bougainvillea as a medicinal herb, and it is only more recently that it medicinal values are being recognised by other schools of medicine.

There is definitely more to the bougainvillea than colour and cheer!

P1130286 (1).JPG
 It’s not the flowers that make this plant so colourful, it’s actually the bracts or modified leaves that surround the tiny white flowers. 

–Mamata

 

Nobel Paths

October is the month when the Nobel Prizes for the year are announced. The months preceding the announcements are full of expectation and speculation about who the winners would be, especially in the case of the Nobel Peace Prize.

While the Nobel Peace Prize is one of the most prestigious and honoured awards, it is ironic that the man after whom the prizes are named was an eccentric Swedish chemist, engineer and industrialist, who after a long study of explosives, produced the first dynamite, which was then labelled Nobel’s Safety Powder. He also went on to make other advanced explosives and detonators. These inventions made him a very rich man.

Interestingly, Nobel was essentially a pacifist who hoped that the destructive powers of his inventions would help bring an end to wars. This was reflected in his will which he made two weeks before he died, donating most of his wealth for the setting up of  a Trust to establish five world-wide prizes for peace, physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, and literature. His family contested the will and his selected award committee also refused to carry out his wishes. It was five years before the first Nobel was awarded.

The general principles governing the awards were also laid down in his will and are followed to this day.

The process leading up to the selection starts almost a year before the actual announcement when the invitations are sent out to those competent under the Nobel statutes to do so, for nomination of candidates. Proposed names need to reach the proper Nobel Committee in writing before February 1st of the year of the awards, following which the Committees consider the nominations—the deliberations and voting are secret at all stages.

As stipulated in Alfred Nobel’s will  which was opened after his death in 1896, the Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine and Literature are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, while the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway.

Since 1901, the Nobel Prizes have been presented to the Laureates at ceremonies on 10 December, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. The ceremonial presentations for physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and economics have been taking place at the Stockholm Concert Hall (Stockholms Konserthus) since 1926; and that for the Peace Prize takes place in Oslo. From 1947 till 1990, the setting was the auditorium of the University of Oslo; in 1990 the event moved to the Oslo City Hall.

By happenstance, a few years ago, I had the opportunity to attend another awards ceremony (not quite Nobel!) in the Stockholm Concert Hall. It was an awe-inspiring experience. And earlier this year my daughter attended a function in the Oslo City Hall!

If not Nobel Laureates ourselves, we can at least lay claim to have followed the footsteps of the great and the Nobel, on the hallowed carpets where the exalted ones have tread!

IMG_20180619_205027544 (1).jpg
Oslo City Hall

–Mamata

 

My Tribute to Mother India

‘Mother India’ considered one of Bollywood’s classics, was released 61 years ago today (Oct 25). It was India’s first entry for the Oscars.

I saw the film when I was in my twenties, probably on Doordarshan. I remember thinking it was over-dramatic, over-emotional, over-the-top. It just seemed too much–one woman facing one tragedy after the other; struggling every day, every month; everyone out to exploit her. And still holding nobly to her values.

30 years have taught me quite a few lessons. One of them is that there is a Mother India in every street, in every lane.

This was brought home to me poignantly only last week, when I had occasion to spend a lot of time with the lady who takes care of our office. At personal inconvenience, she was going out of her way to help me in my time of need. The time we spent together gave me insights into her life.

Born in a family of agricultural labourers, she dropped out of school at 10, to take care of younger siblings. At 12, she joined her mother in the fields. Her father died of cancer, and things got even worse. She did any work she could get—from labour on construction sites, to digging wells, to everything in between.

At about 17 or 18, she was married off. Her mother was told that the groom was on the verge of getting a permanent government job, and she would live a life of comfort. The husband was semi-handicapped, but more devastating to her, completely lazy and good-for-nothing. As a three-month bride, she started work as a domestic help.

Life went its usual course. A son came along, on whom she pinned all her hopes. The husband worked at casual jobs about 10 days a month. The other 20 days, he lazed around the house. She slaved from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day of the month, at multiple jobs, to put the son through a good school, and he got his polytechnic diploma.

She thought her troubles were almost over. The son, rather than find a job, announced he wanted to get into engineering through lateral entry. She was thrilled—an engineer in the family. She worked harder than ever, as the husband lazed, and the son bought himself a motor cycle and fancy phone in keeping with his status as an engineering student.

One year went by and then tragedy struck. She found that her son, not being able to cope with his studies, had quietly dropped out of college without even telling her; that he was using the money she was giving him for fees and expenses, on feeding his bike with petrol and hanging out with friends.

With the help of relatives, friends, and well-wishers all around, the son has been coaxed, cajoled, threatened and re-admitted into college. Several fingers are crossed. Who knows what he will do?

I have worked with the mother for four years now. It seems impossible to believe, but she has never taken a day off. She is there half an hour before us, and stays half an hour after the last of us leaves, to clean and close up. I have never known her not to smile. I have never known her to take any shortcuts. I have never known her to ask for money. I have never known her to not sympathize and offer a cup of tea if I complain of headache. I have never known her being backward in helping any of us. I have never known her to be less than dignified or gracious.

I have known this Mother India. Look around. I would wager that a woman you meet today will be a Mother India. The sheet anchor of her family and community. Acting with integrity and dignity in every situation. Holding up her bit of the sky with a smile, in the face of every hurdle life throws her way.

I salute the makers of ‘Mother India’. They say art is about capturing universal truths and presenting them in the idiom of the times. And now, when I have seen something of the world, I believe this is so, and that there is nothing over-blown about Mother India.

I salute the Mother India in every woman around me.

–Meena

PS: I lost my mother last week. And I salute her cheerfulness, her courage, her love, her compassion, and the joy she spread around her through her long life.