Popular Features

From sexuality to travel, Popular Features talks about all that should be out there, but is not.

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By Dronacharya Dave:

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Source: Flickr.

Nestled amid the lush green and exquisite Himalayas, Dharamsala is a valley city in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, India. The spectacular natural beauty and the pious aroma that fills the air is a soothing and tranquil experience to have. Students in their gap year choose to volunteer abroad, and India is one of the most popular destinations for them. Since it is mainly around the summers that travellers arrive to volunteer in India, the Himalayas is the most apt location to visit.

I came across the concept of volunteer travelling during my early days of nomadic life, when I was travelling in the beautiful city of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. And, since then, this has been ‘my way’ of travelling across different destinations. There are a number of volunteer placement organisations that provide special summer volunteering in India at Palampur, which is at a short distance of 30-40 kilometres from Dharamsala; making it a perfect location to spend summers travelling abroad. Last summer, I chose to take up this stint in my own country, India, and chose Dharamsala for the same. What I experienced and learnt while volunteering in Dharamsala was an unmatched experience. And, thus, I decided to share my experience in the hope that it might motivate others as well.

That Dharamsala is home to His Holiness The Dalai Lama is just one of the factors that attracts the global community of travellers to this region. Here is a list of a few irresistible reasons to visit Dharamsala this summer to volunteer in India.

Awaken The Spiritual Sense In You

Dharamsala is home to his holiness The Dalai Lama, which is a strong enough indication of the piousness spread in the atmosphere. Apart from that, there are a number of Buddhist pagodas and temples spread across the region. In the Palampur area, I was accommodated along with seven other volunteers who had arrived from different countries, which showcases homogeneity in terms of spiritual environment.

Challenge Your Limits Trekking In The Himalayas

Palampur and Dharamsala both lie in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, which offers a number of breathtaking adventure activities. During the three weeks’ summer volunteering trip in India, I got the opportunity to explore the destination and take part in a number of activities in and around Palampur. One such activity was the Himalayan trek to the scintillating Triund Hill. There’s this another trek option which takes you to the hilltop of Bir-Billing that is world famous for it’s international paragliding events. Yes! You guessed it. It was a breathtaking experience to fly over the beautiful valley of Palampur. Why walk, when you can fly your way down!

Experience The Summer With The Joy Of Giving

While it’s a summer travel expedition, at the end of it all, it is a volunteer trip you take. Which means there will be work for you to do for the community. During my summer volunteer programme, I worked at the childcare centres in Palampur. The first lap of the volunteer work, however, began in Delhi where I worked under the ‘Street Children’ programme. Both these programmes revolve around the welfare and development of underprivileged children who come from highly compromised backgrounds. Volunteers can also involve themselves in construction work at these centres to refurbish parts that need repair and give them a new and fresh look.

Introduce Yourself To A New Culture And Lifestyle

The Indian sub-continent is known for its diverse culture and traditions. The kind of culture and lifestyle that I found in Palampur-Dharamsala was a lot different from what I saw in Delhi, or any other part of the country for that matter. Every region in India has its own set of language, dress, lifestyle, food, and more. So, while volunteering in Palampur, it was a totally different experience for me to witness a culture I had never even heard of. Now, isn’t that what we call globe-trotting?

Look Forward To Explore Other Destinations

The summer volunteering in India programme was a complete three-week extravaganza which kicked off from the capital city of New Delhi and then took me to some of the best locations in North India. While most of my journey covered exploring areas in and around Dharamsala and Palampur, the first lap, however, started from New Delhi including visits to:

1) Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab
2) The Taj Mahal, Agra
3) Amer Fort and Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

In Jaipur, we took a pit stop at an elephant village where we spent time with the friendly giant while doing some volunteer work as well, such as making food for the elephant, taking them for bath, etc.

Overwhelmed with the number of fun activities? Well, guess what? There are a number of other reasons as well which can’t be explained or mentioned but can only be felt and seen. Summers here and there couldn’t be a better time to plan your summer trip. Keep travelling…responsibly!

Posted by Ila Tyagi in Travel

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By Ila Tyagi:

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Leh. Source: Flickr.

Situated at an altitude of 11,000 feet in the middle of the Himalayas, Leh is both a peaceful and a dangerous place to be. It is a place for the disturbed soul to relax in the tranquility of Himalayan life and a place for the adventurous seeking to take a chance with life. Leh gets all kinds of visitors from mountaineers, mountain bikers, light trekkers, family tourists, spiritual and religious tourists, honeymooners etc. My trip to Leh lasted just over a week and I stumbled across many interesting characters on this vacation.

Leh is a retreat for the romantic. With its snow-capped mountains and sand covered valleys, it is a charming mountainous desert. Honeymooners and the adventurers can camp in the dunes of the Nubra Valley in colourful and ‘Bukhari’ warmed tents. While on the dunes, my family interacted with a newly-wed couple from New Delhi. The conversation soon escalated to the topic of marriage and they were surprised to find that my parents belonged to two different communities in India. Even though India is progressing towards the values of liberalism and embracing modernity, inter-community marriages are still considered a taboo in certain sections of society.

They told me that I am blessed to have such forward thinking parents as they had struggled to convince their parents to marry the partner of their choice because arranged marriages are still common in our society. Once the camping experience was complete, we moved to experience the spiritual side of Leh.

People take pictures of two monks play traditional bugle during the opening ceremony on the first day of two-day festival in Hemis Gompa, 45 km (28 miles) southeast of Leh July 10, 2011. The Hemis Gompa is the oldest and biggest monastery in Ladakh. The annual festival celebrates the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Lamaism (an off-shoot of Buddhism) in the eighth century. The two-day festival is marked by ritual dancing in which dancers wear masks representing deities and evil spirits. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli (INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR - Tags: RELIGION SOCIETY) - RTR2OPFO
Inside a Gompa. Representation only. Credit: Reuters.

Leh with its Tibetan Buddhist monasteries is the ideal place to rediscover yourself. I remember interacting with a British traveller who had lodged at the hotel for over three months. While I never really found out what were the personal issues that brought him to Leh, I realised that the engaging with Buddhism and meditation had lessened the sadness that his eyes betrayed. Our interactions mostly took place during dinnertime where he approached me upon spotting my University of Nottingham sweatshirt in the crowd. The discussions ranged from my life in the UK to his life in India. He recommended visiting the monasteries in Sheh, Thiksey, Diskit and Likir.

Sitting in the Diskit Monastery, I felt a unique sense of calm take over me. We were waiting for the monk’s lunch break to end in order to enter the temples and see the beautiful murals and frescoes. Most monasteries have fine paintings on their walls depicting Buddhist mythology and tales from Buddha’s life. Once the doors opened, we went around the temple admiring the vivid paintings. Looking at the paintings, I could draw the connection between Hinduism and Buddhism. Both religions believe in the existence of four gates to earth. In Buddhism, a ‘Mandala‘ painting depicts these gates. They represent the four boundless emotions of kindness, compassion, sympathy and equanimity. The monastery also runs a school for the young monks called Gompa.

A Gompa is a spiritual community and an educational institution. We were presented with the unique opportunity of gaining an insight into the functioning of a Gompa. We visited the dormitories of the young monks. Upon interacting with the young monks we learnt that they are sent to the Gompas by their families to receive training for becoming a Lama. They are taught the conventional school subjects along with teachings in Buddhism. They are ordained at a young age of eight to ten years and expected to lead an austere and simple life different to that of an ordinary follower of Buddhism. Celibacy is an important distinguishing factor between the monk and a lay follower of Buddhism.

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Pangong Tso. Source: Flickr.

Our next visit was to the breathtakingly beautiful Pangong Tso lake. It has been an attractive spot for shooting many Bollywood films. The lake is a three-hour drive from the Leh city and the roads are steep, narrow and dangerous. Many fatal accidents are reported every year on this route. It is located at an altitude of 4,250 meters and strong winds are experienced in this area. Our taxi driver was exceptionally courageous and skilled to drive us through tapering paths blocked by mountain rocks. I have utmost respect for the man because every time I peeked down from the car window, I would see a ‘Valley of Death’ that consumes hundreds of motorcyclists and car passengers every year.

Upon reaching the lakeside we ate food at the makeshift restaurants supported by tin sheets. There were many motorcyclists at the restaurant and a large Gujarati family busy ordering the children to eat the food available as they were being fussy. I ordered Kahwah tea, a unique blend of cinnamon, saffron, cardamom and Kashmiri roses. It is a popular local drink and is credited with making you feel relaxed and happy. For the main course, I ordered Chow mein that is markedly different from the one that originated in China. The Chow mein was customised to include many Indian masalas and was spicier than usual. The bikers struck up a conversation with my father upon seeing that he was from the military and enquired whether he was ever posted up in the mountains. My father replied in the affirmative and so began a detailed discussion of his adventures as an Army Officer stationed in Leh in the late 1980s.

When my father was stationed in Leh, their camp was based near the lake. They did not have concrete or wooden rooms to live in and camped in movable fibreglass establishments. There was no television or the internet to entertain them. In order to battle the winter depression, the troops usually took long walks around the valley that was untouched by civilisation. Their role was to guard the borders as a major part of the lake stretches into China. The soldiers were not allowed to bring their families to these camps and spent a chunk of their days battling loneliness and the extreme weather that hits minus twelve degrees Celsius. The only mode of heating available was a Bukhari (a stove that burns charcoal to generate heat).

Much has changed since those times in terms of entertainment due to the advent of cellphones, availability of television and 3G data in these areas but accommodation, heating and food remain a problem for these brave soldiers.

After lunch, we walked around the lake and marveled at this wonder of nature. The lake completely freezes in winters and was a famous spot for driving on the ice until a fatal accident occurred in which four officers died after falling in the frozen lake. On the return journey, we offered a ride to one of the motorcyclists back to Leh town, as he was experiencing breathing difficulties, a common problem due to lack of oxygen in high altitudes of the Himalayas. We learnt that he was an engineering student at the University of Chicago on a break before he started his job in the USA.

People play in an open area near Leh Palace in Leh June 16, 2007. The World Monuments Fund (WMF) reported on its website that the Buddhist dominated district of Ladakh is in the watch list of "100 Most Endangered Sites" across the world for 2008. The list intends to raise international attention to the challenges and threats that cultural heritage sites in Leh and adjoining areas face. REUTERS/Amit Gupta (INDIAN ADMINISTERED KASHMIR) - RTR1QX3F
Leh Palace. Credit: Reuters/Amit Gupta.

I asked him why he chose to ride to Leh on a motorbike. He told me that it was to have one last shot at adventure before he settles in his boring job as an engineer. He believed that riding a motorcycle up to the mountain is a remarkable experience as it gives you more time to explore and appreciate the unconventional sights that commercial tourists don’t know about. We dropped him off at his hotel and proceeded to rest at ours.

I visited the Leh Palace on my last day in Leh. The palace was abandoned in the 19th century when the Dogras attacked the Namgyal dynasty in Leh. Sitting atop a mountain, the palace offers a spectacular view of the Leh city and is a paradise for professional photographers. It also has a good museum, which displays jewellery, ceremonial dresses, ornaments and paintings from the Tibetan heritage. My last stop in Leh was the Tibetan Market. This vibrant market sells local handicrafts and jewellery. I purchased a copper Buddha as a memoir. Although it is not as ornate and colourful as the Bodhisattvas (Buddha statues) we saw at the various monasteries, it still fills my room with a positive vibe.

Many Ladakhis are moving to the plains and cities for better job opportunities. Most join the army or work in the tourism industry to earn a stable income in this region. Some return from their chaotic lives in the city to retire amidst the majestic and peaceful Himalayas. Reflecting on the experience, I would not pass an opportunity to visit this heavenly place again. It is the perfect escape from the noise and stress of the large metropolitan cities. You can breathe in the fresh air and see a star-studded sky at night; experiences that are now luxuries in heavily polluted cities like Delhi. Life moves at a leisurely pace here. But most of all, the people seem happy and content with what they have. I guess they fully comprehend and know how to bask in the splendour of nature. With its smoky ochre themed landscape, simple lifestyle, secluded location and welcoming people, Leh is the ideal place to relax and escape the complexities of life.

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By Gitanjali Maria:

IndiaTv11897d_zooJim Corbett National Park is known for its majestic tigers and the rich flora and fauna that adorns the forests. It lets visitors enjoy the jungle experience and appreciate the free-living of animals. I was glad to be able to do a safari of the jungle reserve area recently. Though unluckily, we couldn’t spot a tiger, we were happy to see quite a few deer and elephants.

But a major cause for alarm is the way people expect animals to behave. We were watching a huge Monitor Lizard take a nap in the morning sun, when another group, two families with kids, joined us. Seeing the reptile immobile, some of the elders in the group started making noise and throwing tiny stones. The children followed suit. It took some stern warning from our driver and us to make them stop the barbarism they were indulging in. You come to the jungle to appreciate wildlife and to teach your children to do the same. Not to disturb the local habitation to derive entertainment out of it.

I have witnessed similar behaviour in zoos as well. The tiger would be sleeping peacefully in a corner after a meal and the crowd gathered around it would be jeering and shouting, just so that they can see it walk or hear it growl. What nasty selfish beings we are. I overheard an elderly lady ask the guard, “Why is the animal sleeping? Why can’t you wake it up so that we have a better photograph?” Such stupid questions! How would you behave if someone does the same with you when you are sleeping and that too for a picture?

Tourism should not thrive at the cost of the natural habitat that’s put on display. A responsible tourist is one who likes to see things as they are and can derive pleasure and enjoyment without damaging or altering everything.

It is important to appreciate nature without destroying it, especially when you are in ecologically sensitive areas like hill stations, forests, beaches, lakes, and riversides. These areas are already facing precarious circumstances, and it would be a great catastrophe if man tries to alter them further in his greed to derive more pleasure and enjoyment.

Moreover, the people of hill stations are very protective of their land and natural heritage. It would be a huge disgrace and disservice if, as tourists, we destroy their lands and their homes by callously stomping about as though their world was created to show ‘us’ a ‘good’ time during vacation. Carelessly throwing plastic waste on the beaches; throwing left-over food into the lake while boating; using loud motor vehicles when options of walking or cycling are conducive and easily available; teasing animals and birds that are natural to these areas are all acts of an irresponsible tourist. Such tourists do not deserve to be in such a naturally beautiful and divine place as they hardly hold any respect in their hearts.

While it is important to be aware of one’s action when visiting ecologically fragile locations and terrains, it is also important to remain responsible when visiting historical places. Today, very few historical monuments in India have been left untouched; with no scribbles defiling its walls. Parents do not bother (or in some cases even encourage) when their children deface monument walls. The lack of cameras and security guards in many places of archaeological significance encourage people to profess their love or their anger on these beautiful walls that have withstood time and seen much better days. Would these morons have dared touch the walls or scrape of the gemstones from it had the King been alive and ruling? Anil Yadav_farrukhnagar 021

Historical monuments like natural resources need to be preserved for the enjoyment and learning of posterity. Tourism – ecological, natural, historical, or otherwise, should be looked at from the same perspective as that of sustainable development. While they can be admired and enjoyed by the current generation, it also needs to be preserved for future generations. They too have a right to this inheritance.

Travel 1

By YKA Staff:

The summer is here and you’re probably already looking for places you can travel to, and escape the heat. And while you’re at it, might as well make it cost effective or stir up the backpacker in you. We found this super useful Quora thread with some of the most beautiful (and budget-friendly) places you can travel to with friends, family or even solo. Take a look (try and resist the temptation of just packing your bag and setting off), and let us know which places you’d add to this list in the comments below.

1. Sikkim

We just recently went on a trip to Sikkim and it has everything for you. Snow capped mountains to lush greenery. Pristine and cheap. We went for a 2 week trip, from the south and it cost us only 20k. M.g marg is one amazing place and it makes Gangtok serene. If you would like to visit places unexplored with human intervention, I would suggest you to pay a visit to north Sikkim. This place has some of the most spectacular places like Gurudongmar lake , @17800 feet , and a freezing temperature of -10°c. And ofcourse, it was frozen.

Also Darjeeling is just a 3 hour drive away from Gangtok. Another hillstation, which is relatively cooler than Gangtok. River teesta flows beside you en route to Darjeeling. The best time to visit Sikkim would be from mid march – June and from october-december. During monsoons, landslides may happen and during decemeber-february there would be snow all around.

This is how a random landslide would look like :p.

Sikkim 3
​Photos and text by Robin S. Kishore

2. Araku Valley

If you are looking for hill stations in summer, that are off the beaten track, not too expensive, I would recommend the following options. Most of them are down South, not that crowded, pretty much quiet, and have decent accommodation. Avoid Ooty, Kodaikanal, Munnar, which have become too touristy. Though becoming popular or late, it (Araku Valley) is still less crowded, compared to other hill stations. Many decent hotels out here, and accessibility is good from Vizag. And if not for anything just for the 2 things, one the train route from Vizag to Araku, one of the best ever rail routes. And the breathtaking Borra Caves.

Araku to use

Photos and text by Ratnakar Sadasyula

3. Vagamon

I would recommend Vagamon hill-station located in Kottayam-Idukki border of Idukki district of Kerala, India. It has a cool climate with the temperature between 10 and 23 °C even during a summer midday.

Place 1

Last November, I went on a Solo trip to this place for few days and would highly recommend this place because,

Vagamon is not commercialised yet (thank god), so you will not find many tourists here. That makes it one of the quietest places

The stay is very cheap here (I stayed in a youth hostel which costed me around 300 Rs/night)

Vagamon is highly safe for any kind of travelers.

Food is very cheap and good , since they are all prepared by local homemakers.

Text and photo by Mari Subramanian

4. Uttarakhand

The 4 dham yatra Gangotri-Yamunotri-Kedarnath-Badrinath

Haridwar

We stayed at the Bharat Sevashram Sangha guest houses where you can stay for 20-30 rupees per day. It is not only cheap,but peaceful,secluded from the rest of the town.You can sit there in there meditation room for hours and pray to God or listen to Maharajas singing.The people there are very friendly so,you won’t have any problem while travelling.

You will get only vegetarian food in this state so that’s the only thing that you need to consider.

The Kedarnath dham yatra is on foot,14 kms from Gauri Kund(people worship Gauri Maata there).

Text and photo by Souravi Sarkar

5. Yelagiri

Yelagiri is a hill station located near Vellore at altitude of 1110 m above sea level. This place is not as commercialized as other popular hills stations. Sparsely populated villages , where you can either be a paying guest or in a cheap, good quality resort. This place is good during May as well as Oct/Nov.

Yel to use

Text and photos by Venkatesh Balaji

6. Katagla Village

Quietest – Katagla Village in Kasol. It is 3.5 Kms short of noisy and crowded Kasol town and is across the River Parvati. Set amidst a jungle that runs along the river, lower Katagla is a heaven.

Cheapest – guesthouses are cheap. Katagla Forest Retreat is a Himachali house and if you want to stay for long, they can offer you very good discounts. Food is available in the cafe called Mari Vanna. Reaching Kasol is also cheap- Rs 400 by Govt bus from Delhi or 1000 by Volvo (get down at Bhuntar).

Katagla

Summers – you always need a windcheater kind of jacket during mornings and evenings while days are pleasant during summers. It snows only in late December onwards and October is cool.

Photo and text by Lay Pubs

7. Thachi, Himachal Pradesh

I won’t say this is the most beautiful place, but this is most beautiful place for me. It might as well be the most beautiful place for you, if are looking for peace, want to take a break from the crowd and/or looking for some nature.

Basic Information:

  • Thachi  is situated near the Great Himalayan National Park.
  • District: Mandi (3 hours from Manali)
  • Google Maps Link: Google Maps

Thachi is calm and peaceful, People are good at hospitality. Nothing to worry about at all, no crimes ever,  at-least I have not heard of any.

Thachi

Indian director Mira Nair poses during a photo call at the Venice Lido September 5, 2004. Nair's movie 'Vanity Fair' is in competition at the Venice film festival. - RTXMX6R

By Kanika Katyal for Youth Ki Awaaz:

Indian director Mira Nair poses during a photo call at the Venice Lido September 5, 2004. Nair's movie 'Vanity Fair' is in competition at the Venice film festival. - RTXMX6R
Image source: Reuters

When art takes on the form of activism, it reaches out to even those territories between us that have been left abandoned or veiled for too long. It moves us so that sometimes even those unarticulated emotions within us find a voice.

With the aim to provide that creative space for resistance, the I View Film Festival by Engendered, a transnational arts and human rights organization, conceived and convened in New York for several years made its debut in India this year. It brought together powerful names from the world of cinema, media, and academia on a common platform to create uplifting conversations around gender, desire, culture, marginalities and human rights.

The festival which boasted of an illustrious list of artists also had Padma Bhushan Awardee, director, Mira Nair attending. With an array of phenomenal films to her credit such as ‘The Namesake‘, ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist‘, the Golden Lion-winning ‘Monsoon Wedding’ and ‘Salaam Bombay!‘, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, she released the much-awaited first look of her upcoming film ‘The Queen Of Katwe’ at the festival. The film is based on the life of Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan chess prodigy who becomes a Woman Candidate Master after her performances at World Chess Olympiads, and stars Oscar-winning Lupita Nyong’o.

In a quick chat off the red carpet, here’s what she told Youth Ki Awaaz about her upcoming film, filmmaking as a political act and the challenges she faces as a South Asian woman filmmaker.

Kanika Katyal (KK): When does filmmaking become a political act?

Mira Nair (MN): I think filmmaking is a political act, it doesn’t become it. It begins from the inception – What do you have to say about the world in your film? What is your point of view? Where are you looking at the world from? What are you choosing to say or show? I feel so firmly that if we don’t tell our own story, no one will tell them (for us).

Living in New York, America, Kampala, Uganda and, India, I am often offered to make films about a world that I could make films on but I choose not to because there are so many people who could make those stories, say, largely about the West. I feel very firmly that my camera, my soul, my film, my eyes, and my heart most of all, should be and is with the people who are mine and are often not heard or seen.

KK: With the diverse range of stories and characters that you pick, be it ‘Salaam Bombay!’ Or ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’, it is very important that one does not end up creating an “us versus them” sort of picture in the mind of the audience. What is the dialogue that you seek to create through your films?

MN: I think an “us versus them” approach is a reductive approach because it implies that one is lesser than the other, and when one is lesser than the other then there’s almost no truth in it.

If you take the case of ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist‘, I made that film not only to create a real dialogue between the two homes I have, between the East and the West, but also as a filmmaker to present both sides of the equation with as much nuance, complexity and unpredictability as life holds for many of us. I do that in all my films but in ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist‘ specifically, because in the world, so often, a Muslim man and what he comes from is presented in such a misunderstood, myopic, and one-dimensional fashion. Similarly, the American reality which is as such so complicated but is only shown in an “about them” kind of fashion. I felt uniquely equipped and charged with the idea that one has to represent both in equal complexity. Look at what the world is doing to add to that myopia and misunderstanding. Any misunderstanding of that nature is from ignorance and if we don’t illuminate it, we will continue to be ignorant.

KK: What is you motivation behind your upcoming film ‘The Queen Of Katwe’?

MN: At the heart of ‘The Queen Of Katwe‘ is the fact that genius is truly everywhere. It’s a question of knowing and looking for it and when you find it, to nourish it. That is what happened to Phiona Mutesi, a young ten-year-old corn seller who was taught to play chess and became a prodigy. She linked her life to chess, not through just strategic game playing but equating it with her own highly impoverished and uncertain life. Chess was viewed as a game of almost life and death, and that strategic thinking taught her how to play her life; not to get subsumed by the difficulties of her life but to find a way, like she does on the chess board, to triumph in her life.

I always take great heart when people who are considered outside of any society make themselves survive with a great amount of resilience and panache, right from ‘Salam Bombay!‘ to ‘The Queen Of Katwe‘.

Cast member Lupita Nyong'o poses at the premiere of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in Hollywood, California December 14, 2015.  REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni - RTX1YPQD
Lupita Nyong’o. Image source:  REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

And lastly, Kampala truly is my home, for the last 27 years and more. It was a fantastic thing to make a film that represents the dignity and beauty of everyday Kampala and everyday Ugandan people with the knowledge and love that I had from living there.

Again, Africa is rarely seen on screen, and Africa is rarely made by Africans. I have a film school there called Maisha for 11 years now. We have trained more than 600 filmmakers and making the ‘The Queen of Katwe‘ was an opportunity to work with my alumnus, to together make a film that represented our reality.

KK: Your film ‘Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love’ (1996) was banned in India, because it was said to have erotic scenes – homosexual and heterosexual. Today ‘Aligarh’ has received rave reviews all over. Love and desire as a human emotion is what connects them both. What is it about love that makes it so rebellious when it is portrayed on screen? Do you think that today our definitions of intimacy and love have evolved?

MN: It is heartening to see that the multiple facets of love are being received in a way that is not twisted or even coquettish. That is what I was trying to do also in ‘Kama Sutra‘. We were a country that had compiled the customs of love and living in a societal fashion about desire, so how had we become so twisted in the years to come? So it was an examination of that matter-of-fact situation of what we were taught in the Kama Sutra. It was not a manual of what it’s reduced to often – being considered as a pop up of all kinds of sexual positions. It was so far from that. It was an analysis of sexual and social mores.

I am heartened by what is happening to some extent and the openness. But it has come with a lot of struggle, discrimination and even day to day violence against those who are not seen as what society considers conventional. So it is a struggle that continues to be fought and needs to be fought.

KK: What is your favourite part about film making?

MN: It is to inhabit a world that I want to inhabit; to be successful in capturing its complexity, beauty and unpredictability, in all facets and be able to present it to millions of people in the immortal emulsion of cinema. The other part is that loving so many facets of art as I do, the medium lets me encompass them whether it is painting or music or performance on the screen. That porousness is extraordinary about cinema.

KK: As a South Asian Woman director, the intersection of which two social categories make it most challenging for you? From – religion/gender/class/caste/ethnicity/race.

MN: Class is at the heart of (what governs) the justice and injustice of the world and what requires people to struggle and sometimes want the mobility to transcend the situation they are in.

Race and society (in terms of) the place that you’re born in and the colour that you’re born in, are (also) vital. But it’s interesting, having just made a 100% African film, then you sit in America and hear the debates between say “Oscar So White”, and the African American (identity) being forgotten in a very conscious manner. It is viewed, especially in the Oscars as an “us and them” situation.

But it is very different in Kampala, Uganda and in the ‘Queen…‘ which is an entirely African world. In Phiona’s world, a kid in the slum has never been asked to play chess in an upper-class school. And yet the upper-class school has also not been seen by the world because you think of Africa as a place where child soldiers and genocide, war and dictatorship exists. You never see what we’re going to show you in ‘Queen…‘ about a young person who simply wants to exercise her mind in the stance of the world.

KK: How has your experience been of the I View World Festival having its debut in Delhi and opening up discussions on human rights, gender, desire and sensualities?

MN: I really welcome what Engendered and I View stand for because it forces you to think of the world in a much more open and holistic manner, and question what we have been handed down as a way to be, or not to be.

I always welcome anything that pushes the envelope with passion and responsibility and a sense of great craft. The films in the festival that I am happy to be a part of, have that. It is also a great of way of having conversations. I was at the Delhi University screening of ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist‘ two days ago and I was incredibly impressed with the level of dialogue and discussion I had with students there. It was world level! It was fantastic to see that articulation and the curiosity. Without curiosity we are nothing! Therefore, it is a great pleasure and in fact, an honour for me to be here.

Youth Ki Awaaz is the media partner for I View World 2016. For more details, and the screening schedule, click here.

richa singh cropped

By Abhimanyu Singh for Youth Ki Awaaz: 

richa singhRicha Singh is the first female president of the Allahabad University Students Union. She won as an independent candidate. The other four members on the panel are from the right-wing student group ABVP. Singh had opposed the entry of Yogi Adityanath last year on the campus which had led to an altercation with the ABVP. She had also invited senior journalist Siddharth Varadarajan to speak on the campus earlier this year which was also marred by controversy.

Youth Ki Awaaz met her on February 25 in Delhi. She spoke about alleged harassment at the hands of the university administration, among other things.

Abhimanyu Singh (AS): You have been writing to the MHRD regularly about these developments. Could you tell us about that?

Richa Singh (RS): Yes, I have done that. When we had opposed the entry of Yogi Adityanath on the campus, and sat on a hunger strike, the four office-bearers of ABVP and at least 30 to 35 goons with them had attacked us. There was sexual violence. Sexually-coloured remarks were made. We wrote to MHRD about this.

AS: The university administration did not help?

RS: They stood there and watched. The next day, in the report filed on the incident by a university official, I was blamed for the incident and served with a show-cause notice. We also filed an FIR naming that particular university official because it was his responsibility to intervene and save us. My right wrist was in fact injured in the scuffle. However, that university official continues to be in his position.

We wrote to the PM, the president and the MHRD about this but we did not even receive a proper acknowledgment, only a system generated e-mail.

We demanded a judicial enquiry into the matter but the university did nothing. The matter was hushed up. Why? Because ABVP people were involved in it. They had to be saved.

A day before the Varadarajan meet, on January 19, in front of the Vice-Chancellor, Proctor and the Dean of Students Welfare, ABVP people threatened me openly that they won’t let me function on campus. I wrote once again to MHRD and asked them to look into this.

There are many gender-related issues in the university. Girls don’t feel safe. We wrote to them about that but nothing happened.

AS: Girls are being sexually harassed regularly on the campus?

RS: Yes. Just a day ago, a boy slapped a girl at the Arts Faculty. True, now they are saying we will expel that boy after we created pressure and filed an FIR but why should such an environment exist within the campus?

We have said several times that there are no boards against sexual harassment or ragging in the campus, no awareness about the issue.

AS: You want a separate body like JNU’s GSCASH (Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment) to look into such cases?

RS: Yes, along with the spread of general awareness. I have given them the outlines for such projects several times as I have been a Women’s Studies scholar too. But nothing happened.

Moreover, recently the V-C appointed an Officer on Special Duty. He has been a research scholar earlier at the University. He faces charges of sexually harassing a Dalit girl, along with charges under the law which prevents atrocities against Dalits. We challenged the V-C on this appointment.

AS: When was the OSD appointed?

RS: Around a month ago.

AS: And when were charges filed against him.

RS: The charges were part of an FIR filed in 2014. It was filed by the victim who later left the hostel. Later on, she withdrew her name from the FIR but still, the final report on the matter has not been presented in the case. We believe that a university is meant for academics. Will it adhere to some standards of morality or not?

On February 18, there was a meeting at MHRD to which all V-Cs were invited. It was to discuss sensitization on women and Dalit issues. On one hand you are discussing that and on the other, such appointments are being made.
Since I have raised this issue in front of the V-C – I wrote to MHRD too and handed over a letter personally to MoS (R.S.) Katheria – nothing has happened. MoS assured that action will be taken but that’s all. I have written four letters to Smriti Irani but I have received no response.

In fact, the V-C has been threatening me that he will expel me. In fact, I heard today that a committee has been formed to probe my admission in the PhD programme. What am I supposed to think? That you actually want to turn me out? Of course, I will take it up legally, but it means only two things to form such a committee: either you wish to turn me out of the university or you want to put me under pressure. I also believe that the government is interfering in our university.

I was admitted through the due process: I wrote the Common Research Entrance Test and appeared for the interview, submitted my synopsis. The very fact of constituting a committee is to threaten me.

I have been sent a legal notice by the OSD. V-C has been saying he will file a defamation case against me. But I have all the papers backing my charges.

Thing is, to appoint such an OSD, accused of sexual harassment, sends a wrong message to the university.

AS: Do you think saffronisation within universities has become more prominent during this government’s term?

RS: Yes. For example, the confrontation that took place between Rohith’s group (Ambedkarite Students Association) and ABVP could have been resolved at the university level. That’s how it has always happened. But the BJP government intervened and wrote several times asking for action against Rohit. Now they (ABVP) is getting a back-up. Look at what happened with Sandeep Pandey in BHU or in Madras IIT with APSC. Those who are not with BJP are being targeted directly.

If it’s not so, why does the PM Modi not issue a clarification? He is not only the BJP’s PM, he is the PM of the entire nation.

Look at what happened when they protested against the seminar on Ram Janmabhoomi in DU. Or in BHU a couple of days ago when PM Modi visited.

Why is the right to protest being snatched away from us? Recently, our V-C released a circular that the students union can’t organise any programme. You are trying to gag us.

When Varadarajan was to come, the university administration barred us from holding the function. The district administration did the same. So we held it right outside the campus. But the same day, inside the students union hall, the ABVP conducted a pravachan ( sermon) by Shantanu ji maharaj. It can be seen on YouTube. Why was there no action against it? We even questioned the V-C on this, Varadarajan was with us. The V-C simply denied this, despite the evidence.

AS: Do you think this is also making the progressive forces rally together?

RS: Yes, because they also understand that everyone’s space is in danger here. There is no option except struggle.

AS: Because they have been divided too…

RS: Yes. Yesterday I got to speak at the rally held at Jantar Mantar on land rights. I said that the farmers, students, progressive forces, they will all have to unite together and fight. Only then can we succeed.

I said this during the Occupy UGC movement too. That the government knows we are divided. The fight can take place only through unity and won too through unity.

AS: Some have said that issues of class and caste are different; that the Rohith Vemula issue should be kept separate…

RS: Those are political statements. These are issues related to universities and will be tackled by students. There will be different problems in different universities. There were more Dalits in Hyderabad so it manifested in that way. JNU has more progressive people. In Allahabad, you can see a woman president being harassed.

I did my post-graduation in economics. I topped in M.Phil in my women’s studies course. I have cleared NET in both these subjects.

When I contested, people asked me: have you got nothing else to do? So a student can be an industrialist, an economist, a bureaucrat, but he can’t be in politics? This is the youngest country in the world. It is very important that the youth should participate in politics. Elections will now be held at the level of young and female voters. Women will now come into leadership roles.

See, it is not only about Richa. The girl students saw some hope in my victory – that they could also contest. The politics in Allahabad university is different in many aspects.

AS: In which way?

RS: DU’s politics is glamourous. JNU’s politics is progressive. The politics here is about muscle power, money power, caste and patriarchy. I mean, otherwise, why did they not have a single women president in 128 years? When I contested, it was pointed out to me several times. I told them it was not about being a man or a woman but also maintained that we should not be overlooked because we are women. You listen to what I have to say and then decide. I never said that vote for me because I am a woman.

But the kind of attack that took place before the Yogi Adityanath visit created a fear among girls. The way I am being targeted, they feel I have unnecessarily fallen for controversies (by contesting elections). Instead of having our morale boosted, we are being demoralised. It appears that they are trying to harass me so much that no one dares to contest the next time.

Allahabad University used to be called the Oxford of the East but it is out of the national scenario at least for the last decade. That’s because there is no participation in student politics on issues of education, economics, etc. I had said that I would bring the university back to the national scenario and I believe I succeeded in that. We have provided the model of resistance here. But I have had to pay a heavy price for that.

I fought a fair election. During university elections, the city is replete with hoardings of candidates. I did not even have money to put up hoardings and neither did I want to because we wanted to do away with that model.

It has been only two months since the V-C took over and this is his first appointment. We have questioned that if his first appointment is so improper, what do we expect next?

Yesterday, there was a public meeting here. I said that I am speaking here but maybe, after 15-20 days, you will have to come to Allahabad. Because they are planning to expel me. Since you have no grounds for that, you have formed a committee to look into my admission. Maybe in a month’s time, something similar (to what happened with Rohit ) will happen to me. After Hyderabad (Central University), Allahabad (University) could be next.

AS: Do you think the students are the flagbearer of dissent against Modi?

RS: If the Modi government is being challenged, it is by the students.

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hansal_manoj

By Rohini Banerjee for Youth Ki Awaaz:

hansal_manojIt’s a pleasant Saturday afternoon on March 5th as I arrive for this screening of ‘Aligarh’, for the ‘I View World Film Festival’, almost fifteen minutes late. The movie has just begun, and people are still trying to jostle into an already packed room. It’s then that I first spot Hansal Mehta, the director—unassumingly dressed in a simple white shirt, politely asking a journalist to leave the camera he had entered with outside the hall.

‘Aligarh’ raises some harrowing, important questions—about the right to privacy, the right to dignity of an LGBTQ person. But more than that, it’s the story of the shy Professor Ramchandra Siras, who, on a lonely night, sought sexual companionship with a young rickshaw-puller, but was brutally persecuted for doing so. The film delves deep into the professor’s psyche and explores his alienation with great sensitivity, along with exposing the terrifying reality of anti-gay prejudice within the country.

Hansal Mehta has previously directed critically-acclaimed (and National Award winning) films like ‘Shahid’ and ‘CityLights’. These films, coupled with ‘Aligarh’, have, at its heart a similar theme—of innocent, good men becoming victims of an unjust, biased system.

Once I finally catch a few minutes with him alone, I realise that he’s as simple and unassuming as his plain white shirt. He accidentally scalds himself as he spills his tea, and sheepishly apologises for it. I discuss the film with him, tell him how deeply it affected me, and he says with a smile, “that was my intention.” Here is how he opened up to Youth Ki Awaaz about his craft, LGBT rights and the film itself:

How did you choose this particular subject? Why do you think telling this story was important?

I think it’s an important story of our times, and it reflects our reality. I’m always interested in the marginalised communities and the way we treat who we believe are the ‘others’, so I think this story found me, I did not find it.

Nuanced portrayals of queer characters are so rare in Indian cinema that they are almost nonexistent. In such an environment, what are some of the challenges you faced in bringing this nuanced gay character to life?

The biggest challenge was to remain true to the story—to maintain the character’s dignity in the film and not reduce him to a caricature. I wanted to show the human side of Professor Siras, and to do that, the biggest challenge was conveying his loneliness and isolation. It’s easy to write about isolation and loneliness, but cinematically it’s not so easy to show on screen.

How did you go about researching the story? Did you actually go to Aligarh and meet those who knew Prof. Siras, or was it reconstructed through news reports?

The research was mostly done by my writers. It was reconstructed majorly through reports and personal accounts of the events, but there was also a lot of research done independently in Aligarh. But, a lot of it is also fiction—based on our imagination of what Professor Siras might have been going through.

Usually, straight actors shy away from playing gay roles (even in Hollywood), and there are hardly any openly gay actors here in India. In light of this, how did you go about casting for this role? Did you face rejection from straight actors? How did you ultimately zero in on Manoj Bajpayee?

Actually, Manoj was the first actor we ever approached, and as far as I remember, Manoj did not even hesitate for a moment before he accepted the part. I think a good actor should ideally never reject such parts. The ultimate thing is the character—it’s not just about his sexuality or sexual orientation. We’re ultimately telling the story of a person, and his sexuality just happens to be a part of who he is.

The film has already faced its fair share of controversy, first with it being given an ‘A’ certificate by the Censor Board, and now it being banned in Aligarh. How do you respond to this?

Actually, I don’t see it as controversy. The film sparked off a spate of dissent, a spate of disagreement, which is important. People’s biases came out in the open because of this film, and I think that’s very important. I might not agree with those people, but when they hide their biases, that’s even more dangerous.

Do you think this film is an important step for LGBT rights in India, especially now that Section 377 is being reconsidered?

I definitely think so! I think this film has somewhere become central to the fight for LGBT rights in the country, and the biggest thing this film does is make a case for a fairer and more accepting environment for LGBT people.

How would you take this film, and this conversation, to the masses, because right now the film’s audience is mostly urban?

I think this film reaching any number of people is a great thing. Even if it reaches a thousand people, and it touches them, and it moves them—it makes those thousand people think about their prejudices and look at the way they treat the world. And if it does that, then the film has achieved its goal.

Mehta is not wrong. The film reaching any number of people, especially through film festivals such as ‘I View World’ that focus on the human rights of the marginalised, and making them rethink their biases is important. Manoj Bajpayee, at a Q&A session which followed the film, talked about how we should buy tickets for ‘Aligarh’ and watch it, to show the country that yes, here is a film about the need for LGBT rights and we support it. Only then can some change in the country’s homophobic mindset occur. The change required is significant, and definitely, cannot happen overnight. But the very existence of this film (and the debate surrounding it) is a positive step in that direction.

Youth Ki Awaaz is the media partner for I View World 2016. For more details, and the screening schedule, click here.

mohammad yousuf taragami

By Daanish Bin Nabi for Youth Ki Awaaz:

mohammad yousuf taragami
Image source: Harmukh news

Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami is a veteran Left politician from Kashmir. He has won from the Kulgam constituency in 1996, 2002, 2008 and 2014. He is presently the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Jammu and Kashmir State Committee Secretary and a member of the party’s Central Committee. In view of the JNU controversy, Youth Ki Awaaz spoke to Tarigami, to know his views.

Here are excerpts:

Daanish Bin Nabi (DBN): For how many years have you been associated with Communist Party of India (Marxist) Jammu and Kashmir?

Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami (MYT): I have been the part of Left activities since my childhood. At an early age, I remember in 1967, I was arrested along with other friends for the first time while raising some demands for peasants in Kulgam area of south Kashmir. Since then, I have been engaged in student politics and other political activities. This has resulted in my detention under Defence of India Rules (DIR), Preventive Detention Act (PDA) and Public Safety Act (PSA) several times.

DBN: How do you view the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) row?

MYT: The JNU happenings and the way it has been handled by Delhi Police with the full backing of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led Government of India (GoI) has evoked deep concern across the country. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been contemplating since long to encroach upon the autonomy of universities and thereby making ideological inroads in all institutions of higher learning. In fact, Sangh Parivar wants to run the universities like RSS Shakhas (units).

The universities across the country are being attacked in a well-designed manner. The way the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) Pune students protested against the imposition of a RSS supporter as its director, the Chennai IIT and the Hyderabad Central University incidents where Dalit students were suspended leading to the tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula, speaks volumes about the direct attacks of Sangh Parivar on the educational institutions.

JNU which has been an eyesore for the RSS since long is the latest addition on that list. Using false videos and an isolated incident as a pretext, the Delhi police virtually put the entire campus under siege and started harassing, arresting and intimidating students indiscriminately.

JNU campus has been at the centre stage of academic excellence and has a reputation of being one of the finest seats of learning. It has produced people of eminence in all fields of life and the country feels proud of such institutions. An environment of debate, discussion and dissent has been available in JNU since its inception. Time and again, desperate attempts have been made by RSS and its affiliate Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) to undermine these healthy traditions. With the excuse of some elements raising “objectionable” slogans, the BJP government cracked down on the entire campus despite the fact that no evidence whatsoever has been produced against any individual. The authorities evoked the colonial clauses of Indian Penal Code and arrested students under sedition charges. (These) have been opposed by even those who disapprove of the slogans raised by some elements at the campus.

The government cannot selectively use this section as it is being done now. If someone objects to the hanging of Afzal Guru, he is dubbed as being an anti-national. But when RSS supporters shout slogans in support of Nathu Ram Godse, assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, he is hailed as a hero and money is collected to build his statue.

Modi government doesn’t take any action against these elements. It is nothing but hypocrisy. The incident at Patiala Court has sent shock waves across the country. (The brazen way in which) a BJP legislator and his supporters attacked media persons and JNU students and ruthlessly beat up Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) President Kanhaiya Kumar inside the court premises is highly shameful and condemnable. This can only suit the BJP goons. The image of our institutions is deeply dented by such hooliganism which has evoked widespread condemnation across the world.

DBN: What repercussions can the JNU controversy have on Kashmir?

MYT: The situation in Jammu and Kashmir is worrisome as the uncertainty has not been addressed politically. This has resulted in generating and promoting widespread hopelessness and disillusionment among our younger generation.

What is required is a serious dialogue with these youngsters at both at governmental and non-governmental levels. Debates and discussions on such issues among students in universities can help us in finding out the way forward.

DBN: Left has been on the forefront in agitating for the students of JNU. Why don’t we see the same kind of protests in Kashmir by the Left?

MYT: Left has been contributing its bit in raising its voice against injustices committed on our people by the authorities in Jammu and Kashmir. The Left has consistently been taking the issues of the people in appropriate forums.

Recently, the Left parties had organized protests at various places particularly at Jammu against the harassment and illegal arrests of JNU students. CPI (M) has been at the forefront in protesting against the harassment of Kashmiri students across the country.

DBN: Why is there no student wing of CPIM-JK in the University of Kashmir?

MYT: Students have a bigger role to play on issues which pertain to their studies and unitedly raise their voice against all shades of atrocities. Unfortunately, the authorities in Jammu and Kashmir have opted for not allowing the students to form their unions in educational institutions of Kashmir. This, in our opinion, amounts to muzzling the voices of our younger generation. The students have to be trusted and encouraged to organize themselves in order to shape their future. Universities provide opportunities for debates even over issues which are controversial. Such debates help in opening up communication with those who feel alienated.

chhatedi bhuj gujarat

By Polomi Mandal:

While I searched for must-visit places in Bhuj for my Kutch trip, I had no idea about Chhatedi.

On reaching Bhuj, my travel mate asked a rickshaw to take us to Chhatedi. I did not even catch the name properly and kept asking him what it was several times. I then asked the rickshawala what the place is and he told me it’s a historical place near the Hamirsar lake.

Chhatedi is known for its architectural excellence. One shot in the movie ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ was also filmed here. Unfortunately, a major part of it was damaged in the 2001 earthquake.

I tried searching but not much has been written about this place. A local friend who accompanied us told that this place used to be the funeral place for Maharajas of Kutch.

amitesh mishra shabdanagari final

By Komal Nathani:

amitesh mishra shabdanagari finalPossessing an idea of Hindi interface, IIT Mumbai Alumnus Amitesh Mishra entrenched a long-awaited platform in the world of web. The young engineering scholar gave up lucrative job offers and made way to an avenue where he could chase his dream. With his vigorous team-mates, Amitesh created one of India’s first Hindi social networking site – Shabdanagari.in, which in no time has garnered more than 5000 users.

With paramount passion and with a desire to create an innovative change in the arena of social networking, the young impassioned engineering scholars laid all their efforts to reach to their dream of connecting 65 crore people together on a Hindi interface.

Shabdanagari.in provides a platform which is extremely easy for anyone to use. “You type in English it’ll get translated into Hindi,” said Nitin Tripathi (Digital Marketing and Production head of Shabdanagari).

In an interview with Shabdanagari team, Amitesh Mishra (CEO and a social entrepreneur of Trident Analytical Solutions) sheds light on his entrepreneurial career and shares his wonderful experiences working with his team on his dream idea.

What went through your mind in 2011, when you left your job with a renowned I.T giant and came back to your hometown (Kanpur) to initiate Shabdanagari or say, to step-up for an idea which you probably once thought during college days?

A few of my friends and I once thought of programming a site while I was pursuing M.Tech in IIT-Bombay which should strictly be a Hindi interface. We always wanted to begin something new in the web world also which hasn’t been analyzed yet but has an exigency in today’s scenario. So, after intense research by joining SIIC (SIDBI Innovation and Incubation Centre) in 2011, we set off with an aim of creating a Hindi social networking interface and launched Shabdanagari.

What triggered you to programme a social networking site in Hindi despite the fact that today’s youth are more indulged in the hashtag trend in English.

Well, for that matter firstly, I would say Hindi is our national language and it shouldn’t be neglected. Secondly, what we primarily observed is, if people want to ask in Hindi “how are you?” they probably choose to write- “kaise ho?” This is of course because the keyboard is in English. So we thought why not change that completely. You type it in your own way and after pressing space bar, the word will be translated into Hindi.

How did you decide the site’s name? ‘Shabdanagari’ is very much akin to the word ‘devanagri’. Is that how you kept its name?

Yes, you can say that. At the time of the launch, we all were thinking that it’s a Hindi social networking site, thereby, the name should also be in Hindi and that too different. Then one of our team-mate Rajat suggested Shabdanagari. And it’s certainly simple and quite easy to learn and speak. So, this is how we got the name to our website.

Who supported you in making your small idea to a big national product in the market? Did you face any sort of obstructions in the avenue of meeting the people’s expectations?

Of course, Shabdanagari is not just my initiative, we have a team of around 10 members, who buckle down and put all their efforts for the organization’s work. Besides, SIIC (SIDBI Innovation and Incubation Centre) of IIT-Kanpur supported our initiative in financial terms. More so, IIT-Mumbai also appreciated our idea and supported us.

Well, obstructions are pretty apparent in an avenue when you’re leading your dream product. But I believe when you have the support and skills of people with you, it strengthens one in a very different way which is inexplicable.

Therefore, I would like to thank my team, who have been very supportive in each and every situation with me.

How is Shabdanagari different from other social networking sites? Can you briefly describe its special features?

Shabdanagari has got peculiar features which will fascinate young people. It offers blogging, share and search, making a website and other multiple options, but all strictly in Hindi. More so, it’s very easy to work on, there is no complex procedure or language issues which people might face in other sites. It, in a way, eases your communication.

Moreover, to work on Shabdanagari, one doesn’t have to learn Hindi typing to write on it.

How do you see your project from an investment perspective? I mean don’t you think that it fits into the ‘Make in India’ project of PM Narendra Modi?

Yes, surely why not. Shabdanagari has a distinct feel of ‘Make in India’, which can attract anyone, be it foreigners, NRIs, civilians. For us as I.T professionals, it’s more like ‘Make for India’. We, firmly believe that Shabdanagari will do well from the investment perspective as it has Hindi as its quintessential feature.

Does Shabdanagari have any advertisements so far on web, or on T.V or radio?

We launched our first advertisement on YouTube which is basically presenting a small and an easy process as to tell how one can connect with site. We have advertised on the web till now and will do in other mediums shortly.

We have heard that your team is running one more site which is a social media management site known as ‘SOCIOTA’. Would you mind explaining what it is all about?

It’s a social media management site by which you can deal your campaign in a better and in a more dynamic way. Sociota is a product which facilitates that, moreover, it’s more useful for advertisers, campaigners etc. We launched Sociota in 2012, before Shabdanagari.

Is there any advice that you would like to give to young engineering aspirants and young entrepreneurs?

I would just say, always step-up and try. If you have a small idea, don’t lose hope before trying it for once. You never know that someday your small idea might make billions and trillions out of it.

narlikar big bang 3

By Subhrangshu Pratim Sarmah:

Jayant_Vishnu_Narlikar_-_Kolkata_2007-03-20_07324
Source: Wikipedia

Dr. Jayant Vishnu Narlikar needs no introduction. He is one of those very few scientists in India who have contributed to the field of Astrophysics throughout their life. Born on July 19, 1938, in Kolhapur, Maharashtra to a family of scholars, Narlikar – a Senior Wrangler, or mathematics topper at Cambridge – served as a Berry Ramsey fellow in King’s College, Cambridge University until 1972 and, later on, became the Founder-Director of Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA). Former President of the Cosmology Commission of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), Prof. Narlikar, who has also served as the Chairperson of the Advisory Group for Textbooks in Science and Mathematics published by NCERT, is globally known for his work in cosmology, specifically championing models alternative to the popular Big Bang Model.

It was like a dream come true when the reply of my questionnaire to Padma Vibhushan Dr. Jayant Vishnu Narlikar, flashed on my laptop screen. If one needs to name the ‘Pitamah Bhishma’ of Astrophysics for the whole of today’s India, there’s only one name and he is none other than Prof. Narlikar. Way back in March 2013, I had a conversation with him to decide whether to take up Science after Class X. Although I decided to pursue studies in the Humanities instead of Science, he continues to be one of my most favorite scientist and a source of inspiration. Keeping the trend of many students opting to study Science in view, a few months ago, I decided to conduct this interview with Prof. Narlikar.

Subhrangshu Pratim Sarmah (SPS): Sir, why did you select science as your area of study? When was the decision taken?

Prof. Narlikar (JVN):
I liked mathematics right from the beginning, say, from primary school days. Later I also began to like science. My father encouraged my interests by giving me books on recreational maths to read. At the secondary school level, he also set up for us chemistry and physics laboratories. I went to Cambridge at the age of nineteen to study maths and it was here that I grew interest in theoretical astrophysics. This was largely through the lectures by Fred Hoyle there.

SPS: What was the role of your parents or family as a whole in shaping your destiny as one of the giant figures in scientific research in the world? Would you like to share any incident with us regarding this? I have read the story about your uncle offering you difficult sums to solve in the book ‘One Hundred Reasons to be a Scientist’.

JVN: My father was always supportive of my mathematical and scientific interests. Additionally my maternal uncle Morumama, who was staying with us for 2-3 years for his M.Sc. studies also contributed. He noticed that we had two wall-blackboards. These had been set up by my father and had been used by my brother and me for recreational purposes. Knowing my aptitude for mathematics, he began to use the smaller of them for writing, “Challenge problems for JVN.” The writing on the board would stay until either I solved the problem or conceded defeat. This provided good stimulus to me and I picked up a lot more of maths than my school syllabus required.

SPS: As you were born and brought up in British India, what differences have you noticed between the pre and post-independence era in the field of education, science and society at large?

JVN: I feel that the people of India are more independent in thinking than they were in the British era. At the same time, I do not think there was as much corruption then as there is now. The fields of education, science and social amenities are more extensive today than they were before independence.

SPS: What were the greatest lessons you learnt from your legendary teacher, scientist Fred Hoyle?

JVN: Fred Hoyle did not accept any scientific idea until he was satisfied that experimentally or observationally it was proven. This meant he often had conflicts with bandwagon type supporters of some ideas, such as the big bang model which states that the universe started existing after a big explosion. I have tried to follow this independence of thinking.

SPS: How would you explain the ‘Hoyle–Narlikar Theory’, in a simple way for our readers, for which you are well known in the world of Astrophysics?

JVN: In the HN theory we have introduced the notion that inertia of matter arises because of the rest of the matter in the universe. Ernst Mach, a nineteenth-century German philosopher-scientist, had proposed such a notion without giving a mathematical formulation of the concept. Today it is known as Mach’s principle. We provided a mathematical structure to this idea. It led us to a gravity theory more comprehensive than Newtonian or Einsteinian ideas. We have a few new predictions which will require more detailed observations. We hope the large telescopes under consideration today will provide some relevant evidence.

SPS: As a Senior Wrangler of Cambridge you could have become a top level civil servant, but you opted for teaching. Why?

JVN: The popular career options in my time were the administrative services and engineering or medical fields. I was taken up with science and did not consider these more popular options.

SPS: Tell us a bit about your work in championing models providing an alternative to the popular Big Bang model.

JVN: As mentioned [above] I do not feel enthusiastic about the big bang model because it demands speculations far exceeding actual evidence. In this model, the notions of dark matter, dark energy and strange [kinds] of matter have to be accepted without evidence. So Fred Hoyle, Geoffrey Burbidge (alas, both are no longer with us now) and I proposed a new model in 1993. Known as the quasi steady state cosmology (QSSC) it has [a] universe without a beginning or end, having oscillations on a time scale of 50 billion years and a longer term expansion on the scale of a thousand billion years. We claim that this model explains all the presently observed features of the universe. If we are successful in demonstrating that very old (20 billion years or more) stars do exist today, that will be an important evidence against the big bang universe and in favor of the QSSC.

SPS: How was your experience as the President of the Cosmology Commission of the International Astronomical Union?

JVN: I appreciated the honor which at least recognized my work done against the bandwagon ideas. Several astronomers appreciated my role as an honest critic!

SPS: How is the environment of India for scientific research today? Are we, the Indians, lacking somewhere in developing a scientific temperament in comparison to the west? I mean, the murder of Marathi activist Narendra Dabholkar seems to indicate it.

JVN: There are two different things here! Indians need to be more appreciative of research and learn to be self-critical. There is adequate support for science for R&D, but no one checks if the money is spent in a productive way. Secondly, we as a nation tend to believe in superstitions and do not appreciate the scientific temper. Dabholkar’s killing was probably because of his efforts to eradicate superstitions. I sincerely hope the mystery of his murder will be solved and we will come to know the motive.

SPS: During 1999-2003, you headed an international team in a pioneering experiment designed to sample air for microorganisms in the atmosphere at heights of up to 41km. What were its results?

JVN: We planned to sample air at 41 km height for microorganisms. Normally we do not expect bacteria from the Earth to rise that high and so if we found such microbes we would have a possibility of those being extraterrestrial, falling from above. Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe from U.K. had argued that bacteria and viruses are present in the interstellar space and some of these may come near us riding on comets. If a cometary tail brushes the Earth’s atmosphere, some bacteria may be transferred there and then fall down under [the influence of] gravity.

We sent balloons in 2001 and 2005 up to this height (the maximum possible!) and collected air samples. They were sent to biology labs for examination. In the first experiment, the biology group in Cardiff, U.K. found live cells and an examination of another sample by a group in Sheffield revealed bacteria. The group in CCMB (Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology) lab in Hyderabad found bacteria which was resistant to UV radiation. In the 2005 experiment, this property was also seen in the bacteria (12 types) found by two labs (CCMB and Pune-based National Centre for Cell Science). Three of these species were unknown on the Earth before. They were named after Hoyle, Aryabhatta, the 5th-century astronomer, and ISRO, the sponsoring agency. These findings are suggestive of the microbes being extraterrestrial but for a proof we need to look for some way of determining the nuclear isotopic composition of the captured bacteria. A future experiment will be needed for this purpose.

SPS: You were appointed the Chairperson, Advisory Group for Textbooks in Science and Mathematics. How far, in your opinion, are the various textbooks published by NCERT able to generate the thirst for knowledge in students? What improvements will you suggest?

JVN: The present textbooks are improvements on the earlier ones. But I would like to reduce the information content and add more to the comprehension of basic concepts. This may come in stages. Also, one needs to create an environment in which schools are able to have access to experimental facilities.

SPS: As a global figure in Astronomy, you once featured on Carl Sagan’s TV show ‘Cosmos: A Personal Voyage’ in the late 1980s. How was your personal relation with Sagan? What is your view of this visionary Astrophysicist?

JVN: Carl Sagan was a charismatic figure who was sincere in his desire to enthuse people [about] science and its sociology. He was an excellent scientist and science popularizer.

SPS: You have written science fiction, novels and short stories in English, Hindi, and Marathi. I have gone through your science fiction The Adventure (an excerpt of it was there in our Class XI NCERT English textbook) and realised how JVN aptly harmonised historical plots and characters with science fiction. Do you have any future plans for writing more such stories? I have also gone through your article titled ‘Where time stands still’. What are the things we should keep in mind while writing a scientific article and science fiction?

JVN: The story Adventure as printed in the textbook is half of the original. By some mistake, the earlier half is missed out. After my pointing [that] out, NCERT put the whole story on their website. I hope it is easier to understand now. While a science article is expected to be factually correct, a science fiction story can have fictional additions to the science we know. Of course, the additions should not conflict with the science we know.

SPS: What is your advice to students in general and students studying science in particular?

JVN: Try to understand the basic concepts and do not hesitate to ask questions.

SPS: I am from Assam. Have you ever visited the state? If yes, how was your experience? Our school students, sometimes opt for science but later repent as they pursue it under parental pressure, or are simply following the popular trend, but end up failing to grasp anything.What is your advice? Moreover, should ‘engineering’ (later leading to a job in a private company) and ‘medical’ be the ultimate goal of studying Science?

JVN: My five visits to Assam have been happy ones with friendly interactions with people there. My advice to students is to “opt for science if you really like it.” There are good career prospects in scientific R&D but to appreciate them remember my advice [given] above.

SPS: If you are given a second life, what will you choose to be born as?

JVN:
Same as now!

SPS: Do you have any regrets in life?

JVN: Perhaps I miss reading many books for lack of time, study Sanskrit (which I love as a language) to a deeper level and maybe wish I had seen more of the world (although I have visited 50 countries).

SPS: Your motto after a lifetime of experience which you would like to convey to us?

JVN:
Whatever you do, give your best to it.

3

By Polomi Mondal:

Some places, no matter how amazing the pictures you manage to click are, can never be captured through a lens. The beauty of such places can be captured only when you see them yourself.

The white desert of Kutch is one such surreal place. You must have seen the most amazing pictures, heard the best stories, but nothing comes close to seeing it for yourself. The full moon experience in the desert is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Soon after sunset, the colour of the sand and the sky looks exactly the same and there appears to be no horizon. As far as I could see, it was white and only white.

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After sunset. Rann Utsav, Dhordo

The “Khusboo Gujarat Ki” ads of Amitabh Bachchan always fascinated me. You must have heard Mr. Bachchan saying “Kutch nahi dekha to kuch nahi dekha” (If you haven’t seen kutch, then you haven’t seen anything).

The Rann of Kutch is a large area of salt marshes located partly in Gujarat and partly in Sindh (Pakistan). The Great Rann of Kutch is a seasonal salt marsh located in the Thar Desert and is reputed to be one of the largest salt deserts in the world.

During my 3-day trip to Kutch, I spent one evening at the Dhordo Rann. I preferred to stay at Bhuj to keep my budget minimal and travel to the Rann Utsav with a Local tour Operator whose advertisement ‘my travel mate’ I had spotted in a local newspaper a day earlier when I wasn’t quite sure whether to go to Ekal ka Rann or the Dhordo Rann. The deal offered by the tour operator was a good one. Rs 550/per person only, inclusive of the Border charges. It turned out to be the best deal for us as it was a full moon night.

These are the sites we visited:

1) Black Hill, known as Kala Dungar
2) India Bridge
3) Lunch at the Toran Resort
4) Rann Utsav at Dhordo (reached around 4 p.m. and spent the entire evening there)

While we were asked to come back at 6:30 p.m., we made sure we got a good view of the full moon. We came back at around 7:45-8:00 p.m. and had to face other angry travelers waiting for us in the bus but it was worth it. Sometimes it’s okay to make people wait, for example, when you have to get the full moon view at the White Sand desert.

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The entrance to the Rann Utsav.
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Just arrived.
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Musicians performing.
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At your service.

You can opt to walk as far as you can in the desert or try these horse rides or camel rides.

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Camel cart at the Rann Utsav.
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Posing for a photograph.

We spotted this very popular transport medium used in Kutch known as a ‘chakda’ in the local language. This was only available for clicking pictures.

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A gang of kids playing a game.
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Let the shadows do the talking.
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Yes. Pease, no littering.

Soon after the sunset, you see different shades of colour at the Rann. When we arrived, the sky was white. Then slowly, close to sunset, it started turning yellow, then orange, then red, blue and at the end white again.

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As the sun goes down.
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The full moon at night.

I wish I could have clicked a better picture of the full moon, but this is what I was able to capture with my lens (I had an 18mm-55mm).

All pictures were taken with a Nikon D3200.

Visited Rann Utsav on January 23-25th January 2016.

All images provided by Polomi Mondal.

6

By Polomi Mondal:

On the way to Mandvi from Bhuj, is a Jain pilgrimage, a home to 72 deris of Lord Mahavira, at Koday Village known as Bauter Jinalay (72 Temples). It is also known as “Adishwar Bauter Jinalay Mahatirth”.

Spread over 80 acres of land, the temple has a residence facility at a dharamshala and a dining facility at a bhojanalaya. After spending the day at Mandvi and visiting various places, we planned to check out this temple. It was quite tiring, and I was not very interested in visiting the temple at that time. But my friend, who accompanied me to the Kutch trip, insisted that we see it.

We reached the temple in the evening, around 6:30-7:00 pm. I was happy to see very few people, and happier to get the first look at the temple. It looked incredible. It was very peaceful, and the serenity of the temple amazed me. It looked even more beautiful, once the lights were lit up in the evening. The temple was so mesmerising and I visited it again, in my 3-day-trip to Kutch.

 

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Address
: 72 Jinalaya, Gunnagar, Talwana Village, Mandvi Taluka, Kutch, Gujarat, 370460.

Distance : 11 kms from Mandvi and 51 kms from Bhuj

ST buses and jeeps depart from Bhuj about every 30 minutes. If you are in a group of four to five people, better hire rickshaws/cabs that fit in to your budget. Local buses are always the easier option. Ask the driver/conductor to stop at the temple as its on the highway.

pinto

By Anamika Aami:

pinto
Source: YouTube

Jerry Pinto is an all in one package: journalist, poet, novelist, translator and social activist. He lives in Mumbai where he grew up and to which he remains deeply attached. His first novel ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ won The Hindu Literary Prize and the Crossword Book Award in 2013. He was also awarded National Film Award for Best Book on Cinema for ‘Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb’. Here is an interview conducted over e-mail:

Anamika Aami (AA): As a child were you interested in literature. When did you start writing?

Jerry Pinto (JP): I loved reading. I loved reading more than anything else. I think everyone who loves reading will begin to want to write. So that’s when I started writing.

AA: Jerry Pinto – journalist, poet, novelist, translator, social activist. Which one do you prefer and why?

JP: I don’t have much of a choice about these roles. I call myself a journalist because that is where I earned my daily bread and butter for so many years and where I learned to write under pressure. I became a teacher when I was young and didn’t know that I knew nothing and so would not be able to teach anything. That was lucky because it left me free to learn from my students. I write poetry and novels because I want to. I translate because I believe we need bridges between languages and experiences, and each translation can be a bridge. And I work on the board of MelJol because education has always been important to me and I think rural children get a raw deal and trying to make the classroom a livelier place and trying to make teachers aware of the rights of the child is an important activity. So, I don’t prefer any of these roles. They all arose because of some part of my personality and then they became some part of my personality.

AA: How much non-fiction is there in your fiction?

JP: Lots. The difficult thing is when fiction seeps into your non-fiction.

AA: Out of all the film artists why do you choose Helen for writing a biography? 

JP: Because she was marginal, the woman on the periphery. And it is in the peripheral that I am interested. The stars don’t interest me. There are lots of people who will write about them. But, when Ravi Singh, my editor and publisher, came to me and asked, “Who do you think would write a book on Helen?” my answer was instinctive. I said, “Me” and I started the next day.

AA: How do you see awards? Are they important for you as a writer?

JP: I think they’re important. That may be because I have received awards. If I’d not got any, I would have probably said they’re unimportant.

AA: How far do you agree or disagree with the socially accepted set of gender roles?

JP: I don’t know that there’s an accepted set of gender roles. If there is, who accepted them? Think about men and crying. Now masculinity in its most macho sense was represented by Amitabh Bachchan but he cried in almost every film he ever made. Think about the term ‘Mama’s boy’ which is meant to represent the worst kind of whiny effeminate boy. No Indian man would be bothered about being called a Mama’s boy. And yes, I know there are such gender stereotypes. I remember when I was translating Sachin Kundalkar’s Cobalt Blue, there’s a passage where the young man Tanay is beaten by his cousin. Here it is:

On one of these days, I was taking the wooden bucket in which the ice-cream was made out of the kitchen when Sunil, Ram Kaka’s son, hit me on the legs. I almost dropped the bucket. I set it down and sat down to rub my legs. Sunil was always exercising; he had almost no other conversation. He now shouted at me, “Walk properly. Keep your legs apart and walk straight. Why do you mince along like a woman?” Then he took me into the backyard which was set with large square tiles. He made me put one foot on one tile and the other on another and walk with my legs apart. For about an hour, he sat on Baba’s scooter and tried to rewrite my gait. “Tanya, walk straight, walk slow, keep those shoulders up, push your chest out,” he roared. Aai was in the kitchen scraping the meat out of coconuts and he told her, “Kaku, make him walk like this every morning and send him out to play with the boys. He just sits around, reading.” From then on, right up to this day, I fear that I am walking funny, in other words, that I am walking like a woman. When I find myself walking at my own pace, I almost immediately slow down. And I learned what men do not do. They do not wet their dry lips by running their tongues over them. They don’t trot after their mothers into the kitchen. They don’t use face powder. They don’t sit on a motorbike behind a woman. They don’t need mirrors in the rooms where they might change their clothes. On trips, they can go behind a tree. They don’t even need an enclosed space to take a dump; they can do it in the open. They shouldn’t be afraid of other people seeing their bodies. If there’s only one bathroom, they can bathe in the open. When caned in class, they do not cry. They do not buy tamarind from the lady who sells it on the road and they certainly do not sit by her side and eat it. This is a horrible thing to do and a horrible set of almost arbitrary rules.
That’s what I think gender stereotypes are: arbitrary rules set by tradition.

AA: How do you view the recent student protest movements, for instance, the FTII or Pondicherry University protests?

JP: I am a democrat at heart and I support the rights of every segment of society to protect their interests and to make their feelings known to the government they have elected.

AA: Since you are a journalist and been in this field for a long time, what are your views on the current scenario of media?

JP: Every nation gets the media it deserves.

AA: How much influence did Mumbai have in turning Jerry Pinto to a writer?

JP: I call myself mahimkajerry. It’s my twitter handle. I think that says a lot about what I think my environment contributed to my development.

AA: How do you think one can eliminate social stigma associated with mental illness?

JP: I think we should talk about it as much as possible and we should not be ashamed of the moments when we have been subject to some mental problem, as we all are, even the most normal and rational of us. When I wrote Em and the Big Hoom, it was to me a novel. It was not about a way of beginning conversations about mental illness but if it has done that I am grateful.

AA: You recently translated a Dalit autobiography. How interested are you in Dalit literature and what is its relevance today?

JP: I translated Baluta by Daya Pawar, the first Dalit autobiography to be written in India. I believe it is as fresh and vibrant today as it was in 1978 when it was first written. This is because it is a great book and great books always remain fresh and relevant.

AA: How were you during your college days and what is your advice to aspiring writers or journalists?

JP: I was a very average college student and my advice to aspiring writers and journalists can be summed up in one word: read.

rajashtan tourism

By Lipi Mehta

It feels refreshing to see the government try out new things, and reach out to the public in creative ways. Whether it be through social media or innovative speeches or even TV ad campaigns. In its latest effort, the Rajasthan Government has tried out a zany approach to showcase the beauty and warmth of the state and promote tourism. A series of groundbreaking new ads, all from the tourists’ perspective show how there is something unique to explore for every traveller in Rajasthan.

Unlike ‘Incredible India’, that takes a more emotional approach and goes by ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ or how every guest in the country is akin to god (treated with utmost hospitality), this campaign has a more free-spirited approach, with equally fun music to boot! These ads could also remind you of Madhya Pradesh government’s ‘Hindustan Ka Dil Dekho’ campaign, a popular series that remains fresh in the minds of many, even though it was first launched in 2006. However, the Rajasthan ads are unique as they allow for the viewer to discover the state’s beauty on their own, without necessarily telling them what they’re looking at or giving recommendations of where they must go.

Well hopefully, all of these efforts should be able to present the better and more ‘palatable’ side of India, in comparison to the dark, ‘inedible‘ reality that exists in most places.

Watch the ads here and if you feel like travelling to Rajasthan at the end of these, tell us in the comments below!

All in ONE Rajasthan Tourism ads. I am a fan of the music at the end of each video. I am sure you'll love it too. Good to see the Government doing new things. :)Like ➡ Oye Teri ✅

Posted by Oye Teri on Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Yasin Malik (2)

By Mir Basit Hussain for Youth Ki Awaaz: 

Yasin Malik, chief of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) attends a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi February 17, 2006.  REUTERS/B Mathur - RTR16BH3
Yasin Malik. Source: REUTERS/B Mathur

Known as one of the first Kashmiri boys to fire a bullet against the Indian administration, Yasin Malik, currently the Chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, believes that peaceful protests didn’t succeed because there is no space for them in Kashmir. Malik also feels that the phenomenon of educated youth picking arms is not a new thing in Kashmir.

“There is no difference between what it was in 1984, ‘85, ‘86. We are the products of the non-violent democratic movement of ’84, ‘85, ‘86, and ‘87. What happened to us during that movement? We saw Red-16 type of interrogation centres. We faced beating, unhygienic food, contaminated water, and psychological and physical torture. Our parents used to face the worst kind of abuse from police at that time. Those were the reasons for that generation to start an armed struggle,” Malik told me as we sat conversing at his Abi Guzar office in Central Srinagar.

Malik added that the ‘5000-year-old’ history of Kashmir had been ‘non-violent’.

“But you have to see, what forced the young people to take such a step? When you have no space for a non-violent democratic movement, what will one do?” asked the Separatist leader, counted by some commentators as one of the top four new generation leaders in Kashmir, along with former C.M. Omar Abdullah and leader of People’s Democratic Party, Mehbooba Mufti.

Malik believes that the British rule in India, despite being an imperialist force, provided space for the non-violent movement of Gandhi as the English rulers were ‘wise’.

“In that way, the imperialist British were a ‘wise’ force. During that time, Gandhian non-violent movement was going on. Gandhi gave the concept of non-violence and people like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and others took inspiration from him. So you should appreciate the British for giving space to Gandhi’s non-violent movement. Gandhi or his colleagues were never sent to any interrogation centre by the British. Their family members were never abused or taken to police stations and tortured,” he explained.

According to Malik, the Gandhian way was not the only one open for the people to follow and it had to compete with other methods.

“At that time in the Indian sub-continent, there were two schools of thought: one was Gandhian and the other was represented by Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Ashfaqullah, Rajguru, Ram Prasad Bismil and others who believed in liberation through an armed struggle. They were against Gandhi. But the Gandhian movement sustained itself because of the genuine space provided by the British empire,” Malik contended.

He pointed out that when Kashmiris tried their hands at non-violence during the protests of 2008, ‘09, and ‘10 following the row over a grant of land made to the Amarnath shrine, the Indian Government used the same brute force which they used on the likes of him in the 80’s.

Mohammed Yasin Malik, chief of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), addresses a crowd on the first day of "Safar-e-Azadi" or Journey of Freedom in Kokernag, 65 km (40 miles) south of Srinagar May 20, 2007. JKLF, which declared a ceasefire in 1994 against Indian security forces, says it leads a political struggle for Kashmir's complete independence both from India and Pakistan, who claim the region in full but rule in parts, started "Safar-e-Azadi" on Sunday from Kokernag which will run for the next six months.  REUTERS/Danish Ismail   (INDIAN ADMINISTERED KASHMIR) - RTR1PW7J
Yasin Malik, on the first day of “Safar-e-Azadi” REUTERS/Danish Ismail

“What happened with us in the late 80’s, same thing is being repeated for the last 4-5 years. In 2008, when we saw the collective transformation of the Kashmiris from violent to non-violent, the Indian state again used the brute military force and shot down 72 people that year. They shot down 44 in 2009 and 135 in 2010. After that, they arrested more than 7000 boys, which was a record. That was not the end. Then we saw how their parents were abused and tortured by the forces,” Malik alleged.

Malik also accused the security forces of breaking their own law by detaining and abusing the parents of boys who are either militants or wanted in instances of stone-pelting. He called them ‘kidnappers’.

“We have seen many boys who participated in that non-violent movement joining militant ranks. So what forced them to resort to violence when they were a part of a non-violent struggle? That means there is no space for non-violence. Why would your father and mother be called to a police station, if you are wanted in stone-pelting? What is their crime? Recently I was in Pulwama, where two fathers whose sons were wanted in stone-pelting were detained. I went to the police station and told them this is purely an instance of kidnapping. Does your own Indian law allow you to detain the father of an accused? Can you detain some other person in place of the accused?” asked Malik.

He recalled the time when he undertook Safar-e-Azadi (a signature campaign in favour of independence). Malik alleged a couple of boys who were with him during that ‘democratic process’ were tortured and they joined militant ranks.

“Today’s youth is getting convinced that there are no takers for a non-violent movement. There is no such space. Two or three boys who were with me during the Safar-e-Azadi joined militant ranks. The reason was the same. They were abused and tortured by the police. There is no accountability for the state and its forces,” alleged the JKLF chief.

Malik also alleged that the members of the security forces are set free after killing boys in cold blood. “Now see what they did when Modi arrived here. Gowhar Dar, an engineering student from HMT area was killed by the security forces. SSP police said on record that they fired tear gas shells. Then they constituted a magisterial probe and they said we did not find any bullets missing with the CRPF members so they exonerated them!” he told me.

Gowhar Ahmed Dar, a 22-year-old was killed when protests took place in Kashmir after PM Modi left the state following a visit. Dar died as a teargas shell hit him in the head.

Indian police personnel detain a supporter of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a separatist party, during a clash in Srinagar May 30, 2013. Dozens of JKLF supporters held a protest on Thursday against the government's decision not to allow JKLF chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik to visit the earthquake-affected areas of the Doda region to distribute aid to victims, local media reported. REUTERS/Danish Ismail (INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR - Tags: CIVIL UNREST MILITARY CRIME LAW TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTX105WO
Soure: REUTERS/Danish Ismail

Malik questioned that when youngsters saw how CRPF members walked free after ‘killing’ protesters, why shouldn’t they die as militants? “When the boys see how they exonerated the CRPF, don’t you think the impact would be directly on them? When they see how a young boy was killed in the streets during a non-violent protest, they think why should we not get killed with a gun in our hands?” reasoned Malik.

He also recalled how after a unilateral ceasefire in 1996, his colleagues were allegedly killed.

“When we gave up arms and agreed on a unilateral ceasefire in 1996, 600 colleagues of mine were killed after that. The Indian state still called us a terrorist movement but we proved them wrong. The 116-day Safar-e-Azadi march is the only democratic process regarding Independence that has taken place in Kashmir. We have 1.5 million signatures in favour of independence. Then we saw how the Indian government dealt with us again. There have been I don’t know how many attempts on my life. I have been arrested hundreds of times. In 2002, I was tortured in Jammu. I lost the ability to hear in my right ear. I was sent to Jodhpur jail in 1999 and tortured there also,” said Malik.

Malik feels it’s déjàvu all over again. “The boys are facing the same things again. Otherwise, what happened in 2008?The same youth came out on the streets to protest non-violently, not with guns. Who crushed them? Who packed them in body bags? Who sent them to torture centres?” asked an angry Malik.

He also totally rubbished the fact that ‘educated boys’ were picking arms now which was not the case in the ‘80s.

“Were boys in the ‘80s uneducated? Shaheed Ashfaq Majeed Wani was a topper. Not just in studies but (he was very good) in sports also. Did he belong to any poor family? Nadim Khateeb, who was a commercial pilot in the USA, joined the armed rebellion, for what? Fame? And please note, all those boys were for many years a part of the non-violent movement. That is the reason that they were able to bring the biggest revolution in the 5000-year-old history of Kashmir,” said Malik.

He also mentioned that in any movement anywhere, it’s the students who are the torch bearers.

“Be it the Indian freedom movement, Palestinian movement, or any other, it’s the educated students who are at the forefront. Wherever you go in the world to a conflict zone, it’s the students who are leading the dissent. In the ‘80s, the students protested in Kashmir too. It was only after jail, torture, Red-16 type of interrogation centres that they picked up the gun,” explained Malik.

avirook sen aarushi

By Manira Chaudhary:

The Aarushi-Hemraj murder case is inarguably one of the biggest mysteries the country has ever encountered. In 2008, 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar, the daughter of dentists Nupur and Rajesh Talwar, and 45-year-old Hemraj, Talwars’ house help were found murdered at the Talwar residence in Noida. A long and complicated trial followed along with a salacious media coverage. The length of the trial was fraught with stories, allegations and conjectures popularized by mainstream media and worsened by heightened public interest.

Avirook Sen, an investigative journalist, also covered the case for two years for Mumbai Mirror before he decided to write a book on it. The book spells out the progression of the case in minute detail – some that the book claims were overlooked by the police and the CBI.

Watch this exclusive interview with Sen wherein he talks about his reasons for writing the book ‘Aarushi’, the wrongs that the mainstream media committed while covering the case, journalistic ethics, and more.

Posted by Lipi Mehta in Books

cornelia funke

By Lipi Mehta for Youth Ki Awaaz: 

Cornelia Funke’s ‘Inkheart’ series finds a coveted place in millions of bookshelves across the world. Often called the ‘German J. K. Rowling’, she is one of the most beloved children’s authors today and started her journey as a book illustrator who then decided to tell stories of her own. With her gripping fantasy and adventure narratives, and strong protagonists, Funke is a deserving giant of the literary world. Youth Ki Awaaz caught up with her (over email) to find out more about her audience, the causes she believes in and more. Read on.

Source: Bambi 2009/Flickr
Source: Bambi 2009/Flickr

Lipi Mehta (LM): How do you think writers of children’s literature perceive their audience? Do they think children are capable of making informed choices about what to read and what to infer from the stories they read?

Cornelia Funke (CF): A British publisher once said to me, “The difference between writers for children and writers for adults is that the children’s books writers love their audience.” Children are often far more aware and far more critical when it comes to questioning the status quo of the world. They don’t hide from the big questions yet: Where do we come from? Where do we go? Why is the world so beautiful and so terrible at the same time? At every event, I do – yes, at every single event! – a so-called grown up comes to me and says, “Those children! They asked such good questions!” and each time I answer, “Well, they always do. Whereas grown-ups mostly try to ask questions that make them sound clever.” In my opinion, we often know who we are much better when we are young. We still haven’t built a fortress around our hearts. We haven’t made ourselves into a firmly defined persona. Children are still aware that they are part of everything – which is both a magical and a frightening feeling. They are shapeshifters still – which makes them the most enchanting audience for a story teller. So in short, yes, children are capable of almost everything. They can be manipulated, they can have bad taste, they sometimes like bad books… but all that is true of their grown-up versions as well.

cornelia funk seriesLM: Do you think some themes that can largely shape a child’s upbringing are missing in children’s literature? Which themes do you think more children’s books need to be written about, and why?

CF: I don’t think that anything is missing. In our time, children’s literature is more diverse and rich than ever before. There are so many enchanting voices, from so many countries and cultures, both from storytellers and illustrators. In many ways, it is a golden age. Of course, there are also many bad books! As always. There is a ridiculous tendency to put an age label on every story, although we know how vastly different we all are and that age is relative. But still – and despite the fact that publishing is more and more just about money (which is probably true about the world as well) – children’s literature is vibrant, inspiring and offers many different dishes to feed children’s minds and souls

LM: You wrote your first story when you were 35 years old. A lot of writers find it difficult to ‘start late’ and are scared of making the switch to writing from whichever careers they are pursuing. What would you like to say to them?

I was actually 29, which is still quite old from a child’s perspective. And as for the fear: I believe that fear is something to be overcome. We are all scared to change, to grow, to challenge ourselves. Chances are golden keys, but they are always sticky with fear. They don’t come without it. One should pick up the key nevertheless. And walk through the fear.

LM: You strongly lend your voice to the cause of survivors of abuse, minority exclusion and marginalised women and children. How do you think this passion reveals itself in your writing, and why do you think it is important for creative people to contribute to society through their art?

CF: It’s a strange thing that we separate art from life – that’s as if we believe a flower can grow without the soil its seeds come from. Our creativity is a unique gift distinctly human – maybe nothing defines us more. Art enriches life, but it also questions, reveals, interprets, gives meaning… there is an artist in all of us, the strong urge to give shape and form to our life experiences. There is no greater gift than waking that talent and gift in someone, who faces darkness and pain. So yes, I think being an artist comes with the obligation to pass that gift on. To give sound to what we all feel, fear, hate and love. An artist shouldn’t express just him or herself. An artist should find expression for all the others who can’t. Music, visual art, literature… all these express the human experience in unforgettable ways.

As for how this opinion reveals itself in my writing – I don’t believe in messages or sermons. I deeply mistrust any form of missionisation, in art as much as in life. But of course, my writing is a mirror of my beliefs and passions. Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote that we don’t love writers for their plots, but for their spirit and for what they make us feel about the world. I agree. We all love a writer for the feeling a book gives us, for the glasses it hands us to see the world in a slightly different way.

LM: You are inspired by J. K. Rowling and your website mentions you could make the decision of ‘killing’ after how Rowling wrote the death of her character Sirius Black. Why do you think it is important, or rather necessary for writers to be inspired by other writers, and does this impact originality in any way?

CF: That’s funny, I don’t think I ever said I was influenced. I hated the way J.K. killed Sirius. I was quite upset about it, as I felt she got rid of him as casually as wiping a fly off the wall (which isn’t quite just a statement I admit) I had a discussion about it with her former editor and swore, that IF I ever have to kill a favorite character of one, there will be blood and tears on the page. Shortly after that, the story I was writing (‘Inkspell’ at that time) revealed a dead Dustfinger to me. To this day, I don’t know whether that had been decided long before my discussion (stories have their own minds after all) or was triggered by it. My first reaction was NOOO! I will never do that! But the images kept coming. I saw him dead. No doubt there. So for two days I tried to find out why the story wants me to go there. And when I did, I kept my promise to make it a memorable death (at least I hope I did). As for your question whether one should be inspired: of course. All artists inspire each other. Even bad books teach us something. But inspire doesn’t mean copy.

The interview was conducted as a part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s coverage of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival.

Cornelia Funke will be speaking at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival this year. Catch her between the 21st and 25th of January, at Diggi Palace, Jaipur.

r raj rao

By Shambhavi Saxena for Youth Ki Awaaz:

R. Raj Rao
Source: Facebook

Credited with writing one of India’s first ‘gay novels’, R. Raj Rao, the author of ‘The Boyfriend‘ (2003) and ‘Hostel Room 131‘ (2010) spoke to Youth Ki Awaaz about gender and sexual minorities in India, responses to the brazen queerness of his literature, and his experience of being mistaken for an orthodox Hindu writer. Rao’s writing is known (and lauded) for its dry humour and irreverence, which can be a breath of fresh air in times when people take the slightest things much too seriously. Longtime gay-rights activist and presently a professor at Pune University, he was the first in India to offer a programme on LGBT literature at his University.

Shambhavi Saxena (SS): In ‘The Boyfriend’, you’ve been careful to reflect a composite of identity markers like caste, class, profession and age. Do you think the urban LGBT+ movement in India is too preoccupied with sexual identity (and almost exclusively ‘gay’ and ‘trans’ identities) to look at these other intersections?

R. Raj Rao (RRR): Yes, possibly. Each constituency is concerned with its own agendas and couldn’t be bothered with the agendas of other constituencies. This is what hinders the formation of coalitions. But then, at the end of the day, ‘The Boyfriend‘ is a work of literary fiction. Identity politics must not be taken to be its main focus.

SS: When Sridhar Rangayan interviewed you for Project Bolo, you said you “can’t endorse political correctness.” Why is that? And do you think there is pressure on contemporary queer writers to be politically correct?

RRR: I can’t remember in what context I spoke about political correctness in my Project Bolo interview. My fiction is hardly politically correct. If it were, it wouldn’t work as fiction. The pressure on contemporary writers to be politically correct comes from activists and reviewers, not from publishers and fellow writers. That is why I am not the blue-eyed boy of the former.

SS: You spent a significant period of time in the UK, where a lot of your queer politics really crystallized. From what you’ve seen, how do you think British queer culture differs from what we have here in India? Especially since Section 377 was instituted by the British in India but struck down in the UK over 50 years ago?

RRR: British queer culture today is the same as the queer culture of America, Europe and the rest of the Western world. That is to say, it is progressive. But it also tends to straitjacket sexual identities, put them into boxes, as it were. That is where we score, here in India. Homos and heteros don’t have to take one of Robert Frost’s two roads, from which there’s no turning back. We can be on both roads at the same time, as our sexual identities are fluid. So many of our respondents in ‘Whistling in the Dark‘ have said that they have had sex with both men and women and have enjoyed both kinds of sex. This does not help when it comes to movements, or when archaic laws have to be changed. But it does help in decentring the ghetto.

The Boyfriend.inddSS: “Outcastes can only expect to be friends with outcastes,” says Yudi, in ‘The Boyfriend’. But no matter how cohesive or organized people on the margins become, they will not be granted access to the centre. Do you agree? Or do the margins have more radical potential than we give credit for?

RRR: But why do we need to reach the centre? Utopias are realized when the margins themselves become the centre. If these needs radicalization as you call it, I am all for it. Radical, to me, isn’t a dirty word, though in India we associate it with Maoism and militancy. I do not regard myself as different from a terrorist, except that my weapon is the pen.

SS: The Babri demolition and Shiv Sena operations form the backdrop for Yudi and Milind’s Bombay in ‘The Boyfriend’. Do you see similar communal tension in India of 2015? What does this mean for queer politics?

RRR: Oh, everyone knows it is much worse now than ever before, with the RSS ruling us. Didn’t you read my Pune Mirror column of 8 December 2015, where I said that there was a conspiracy between the legislature and judiciary to keep passing the buck from one to the other, with neither of them having any intention to scrap Section 377? At least, that’s what I gathered from Arun Jaitley’s recent remarks on Section 377. As long as the present government is in power – which is till 2019 at least – the climate for gays in India will only get more suffocating. Technically, we are criminals, and that is how the government wishes to see us.

SS: Can you share with us your experience of ‘the queer’ within academia? How have students responded and what implications does that have for (the possibility of) mainstreaming queer politics?

RRR: Queer studies in India hasn’t acquired the glamour and respect that women’s studies and Dalit studies have acquired. And it never will. Even now, in 2016, there are only a handful of Indian universities that have a queer studies course on the syllabus. It is always an optional course, so there are few takers. Some students think that if they take the course, they will be making a statement about their sexuality, which no one wants to do. You may call it homophobia. It is preposterous to think that queer politics can be mainstreamed the way caste and gender politics have been mainstreamed in India.

SS: Why have you acquired the pen-name Raja Rao Jr.?

RRR: Well, better late than never. Raja Rao was born in 1908 and died around the year 2000. In 1996, I finally met him in Austin, Texas, where he lived. But ever since I began writing and publishing in the late 1980s, I have been mistaken for Raja Rao. My name has been printed as Raja Rao in the newspapers hundreds of times. These howlers have proved costly. Once, I was inadvertently invited to an international conference in Sri Lanka to deliver a keynote address and was put up at a 5-star hotel in Colombo, called the Lanka Oberoi. It is only after I arrived at the airport that the organizers realized that they had made a terrible mistake, that I was not Raja Rao who wrote ‘Kanthapura’ and ‘The Serpent On The Rope’. But by then it was too late. They had to put me up at the Lanka Oberoi and hear my keynote address, of which Raja Rao would never have approved.

I have been asked to autograph Raja Rao’s books many times by readers who take me to be him. Rather than educate them, I have adopted the line of least resistance at such times–I have forged his signature on their books, and they have gone away happy.

To me, calling myself Raja Rao Jr. is the ultimate act of subversion, considering that he was a Brahmin with great faith in Vedanta philosophy, and was avowedly straight with a series of women in his life. And I, as you know, am none of these things, and my life’s mission is to attack religious hegemony and heterosexuality.

The interview was conducted as a part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s coverage of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival.

R. Raj Rao will be speaking at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival this year. Catch him between the 21st and 25th of January, at Diggi Palace, Jaipur.

IMG_20151008_064827999

By Hitesh Bhatt

hitch hiking hitesh bhattIn last five odd months, I have hitch-hiked in almost all the places I have gone to, including Nepal. I have hitched on the back of a bullock-cart; travelled with truckers; spent kilometers talking to tractor-drivers while hitching with them; hitched a sedan and bicycles. Of all the places I have hitched to, there is one place worth talking about: Punjab.

I started from Delhi to Punjab on the third week of October last year. I stood on the NH1 where I was dropped by a trucker. There were a number of trucks pulled over in a row. Papers were being checked by police. I passed the checkpoint and found that a couple of trucks were parked near a tea stall. It almost had to beg to get a ride from one trucker. Later, while riding with him, he said that people in Delhi were not good and he wasn’t sure if I wasn’t a thug. He said had he been in Punjab he would have stopped his truck without asking. He was so true about that! He drove the truck to a vegetable market in Ambala. We chatted the whole night. He told me about his village, about his wife, about how studious his kids were. He even invited me to his house.

I slept in his truck until dawn. When I woke up, he got me tea and bread. Upon seeing sunlight, I decided to move as I had to reach Barnala which was still 170km away. I walked up to the highway and within five minutes, a tractor stopped. He offered me a ride up to Rajpura Road. He told me that he and his brothers are farmers and they all live together, happily. Wishing me luck, he dropped me and headed home.

It was merely 6 in the morning. I was standing right where a flyover ends. Within 10 minutes, a truck crossed me in a good speed and pulled over more than a 100mtr ahead. Much to my surprise, by the time I reached the truck, he had already taken out a bottle and glasses and was pouring a drink for himself and his cleaning man. I wondered if I should hop on to a drunkard’s truck but decided to anyway. I realised he was pretty drunk but he was funny as well. He drove me up to Ludhiana and the whole journey was hilarious. He was around 37 and the cleaning man was a 76-year-old veteran ex-trucker. The driver would tell me that the old man was a godfather to him as he taught him everything about trucks and driving. But when high on alcohol, he would swear at him saying, “This motherfucker is a useless old chap, he just feeds on my earnings; he is a parasite.”

IMG_6073The driver drove the truck the way many ride their motorcycles. At the speed of 80, he was able to make pegs for himself. I got off at Ludhiana and hitched another truck to Barnala.

I met a friend of mine in Barnala and we decided to go all the way back to Chandigarh to spend some time with his friends. But to reach Chandigarh, it involved a hitch with a truck, on a tractor, on a bullock-cart, and on an all-new sedan!

While coming back to Delhi, Punjab was going through a huge social unrest due to the desecration of the holy book by some hatemongering group. All the roads were blocked and a lot of people and police were injured, few of them even killed. In such atmosphere, I was rescued by a Mother-Dairy tanker. We drove through the villages, broken roads and he dropped me at Karnal. I took a bus from there to Delhi.

Punjab overwhelmed me with its hospitality. I can’t thank all the people enough who made me feel like the part of a world where goodness still overshadows evil. I have made friends with a few truckers who still call me to know how my journey is going on and when I would visit Punjab again. I learnt a good deal about lives of truckers.

A piece of advice: Hitch-hiking is one of the most common ways in which budget travellers commute throughout the world. In case of India, it is not so popular yet and it makes me sad to say that one needs to keep in mind many factors before opting for a hitch-hike here. It is all the more challenging for a solo woman to try hitch-hiking. Though I know a few brave Indian female travellers who do that, I wouldn’t personally recommend this to any woman. All I can say is follow your gut instincts before doing so, assess the situation you are in, and keep your safety the priority.

solo travel 1

By Hitesh Bhatt

It is the fifth month of my solo travelling. In these months, I have received a lot of messages asking me why I travel alone. Don’t I get bored? They say they like the concept of travelling but don’t understand how it is fun travelling solo.

There was a time when I won’t even go to a grocery store alone. I used to call my roommate to accompany me as I would get bored alone. Our society is also constructed in a way that fosters companionship. Watching a movie, shopping, and dining: these are things if someone does alone, is looked down upon in the society. The conditioning of our minds have become such that there remain less opportunities for us to spend a single minute with ourselves, peacefully. At times of catharsis, people are explicitly suggested to spend a few minutes alone with themselves. Meditation is promoted to those who lack peace of mind. While we all know and have experienced the power of togetherness, there are only a few who have experienced the power of being alone. There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. Alone is a choice while lonely is a forced/unwanted situation.

Let’s get into the material and non-material benefits of travelling solo:

solo travel 1Expense Control: I travel with a shoestring budget of Rs.300 a day. If I travel with someone else, two things happen. Either I end up spending more than 300 or the other person bears my expense. While the former happens more than the latter, I don’t appreciate the latter as well. Hence, I travel solo to the far and wide places in this country. In other words, if you travel solo, you will always be economical the way you had planned.

New Friends: When you travel with someone else, you are confined in your own two-person territory. You will spend more time talking and having fun with each other. In contrast, if travelling alone, the whole world will be your possible companion if you look for it. You will force yourself to talk to new people, take interest in the conversations, listen deeply, speak limited and learn more. If travelling is only fun for you, travel with a friend but if travelling is a way of life, there is no better teacher than solo travels. I have made so many friends from all over the world through my travels. My cross-cultural understanding has improved and I have, now, some of the great new friends in my life.

Control On Your Life: When you are out there trekking through dense forests and mountains, lost in your own thoughts, or sitting on a hill top watching a sun setting into the lap of mother nature or when you are awake at 5 in the morning to go to the beach and take a plunge to experience how it feels to swim and freeze: there is no one to tell you otherwise. You decide which destination you go next, how long you stay there, how much you travel on a particular day or how much you sleep. You feel like a free bird/bull and trust me that you will fall in love with this feeling and yourself.

Fearless: Everyone knows what fear is. It is something that stops us from doing so many things we could have done in our lives were we not fearful. That girl/boy we wanted to propose to in high school, that competition we wanted to take part in but didn’t due to the fear of losing, that entrance exam we didn’t prepare for due to the fear of not qualifying it, the jobs we didn’t apply due to the feeling of being under-qualified and fear of not getting it. Not only that, there is a fear which tops the chart of fears and that’s the fear of unknown. The fear of ‘what-if’ is our roadblock.

Before I started travelling, I was a person with all these fears in my mind. What if I lose my job, what if my girlfriend breaks up with me, what if I never am able to buy my dream car and so on. In these months of travelling, at times with consciousness and most of the times without realizing, I have overcome my fears. I am not scared of death, not even a painful one because I have started seeing everything as a life experience. I have learned to detach ‘I’ from any good or bad that happens with me and I don’t feel too happy or too sad. I am poised, calm, and fearless. All the credit goes to solo travelling. Had I been travelling with a companion and these changes would have occurred, I would think the other person is a big reason for these changes. Since, I know I have been alone; I give all the credits to myself for showing courage to change myself.

More Confidence: Once you see yourself doing things you had never imagined doing alone, you become more confident about your capabilities. When you overcome your fear of heights, fear of initiating a conversation with a stranger in a café, fear of spending a dark night alone on top of a mountain and so on, you become confident about yourself. You know that you have achieved something without an external help. And you know you can do more things all by yourself. That feeling is liberating.

Time For Introspection: Travelling solo will leave you to have ample time with yourself. You will have enough time to think about your past, your present, your future, your people, your friends and your foes. You’ll think about things you could have done and things you shouldn’t have done. You’ll understand yourself better and try to become an improved version of yourself.

Appreciate The People In Your Life: I’m a people person yet I travel solo. When I see a group of people having fun during a trek or a couple engrossed in a deep conversation in a crowded street, I, at times, miss my people. It makes me sad for a while and then I look at the other benefits of travelling alone and I let this feeling go by. But this teaches me to appreciate and take care of my people who have been with me through thick and thin. We realize the value of something when we don’t have it. When we don’t have friends and family when we want them the most, we know how important are them. Travelling solo fosters that feeling.

Anonymity: You are in an unknown place. You are alone. You are anonymous. You want to do something crazy that you have never done. You don’t have a known person around you to make you feel uncomfortable. You lie down in a busy street for 30 seconds. You get up. Everything feels different. You are still anonymous. You feel great. You are mad. You overheard someone calling you ‘abnormal’. You smile. You reply within, “I have had it with normalcy, anyway.”

In the End, We Are All Alone: Many a times when our heart breaks or something else that terribly goes wrong; we feel lonely. We think about all the people in our life and realise that in the end, we are the only friend we have that will remain till the end. If you are someone who has travelled solo at least once, you will be able to bear the pain of loneliness. You’ll be much appreciative of your loneliness than ever. You’ll become a stronger person.

Know Who We Are: In the end, the most important problem of our life. Who are we? What do we want to become? What are my strengths and weaknesses (not those you write in your job application resume)? What are my interest areas? You might not get an answer but you will definitely get an idea as to who you are and what your limits are and who do you want to be.

I found my peace while travelling solo. You might find yours. I have conquered my fears. I live freely, happily, and adventurously. What are you waiting for? If you are not a full time traveller, this weekend, pick up your backpack and go somewhere solo. It is liberating. Trust me.

If you are a solo traveller, already, please do add on to the above points and share with me why you prefer to travel solo.

Note: This post has also been published on the author’s personal blog. All images in this post have been provided by the author.

IMG_2969

By Aswati Anand

Flat sand banks embrace Indus as it curves and disappears into the gorge. My friend sits with his cigarette and lets the evening light the barren landscape of Ladakh. With his other hand, he fiddles with a radio, crackling with Radio Kashmir. But the three of us continue to listen to the sound of the river jumping over stones.

 He switches channels and we are listening to Radio Pakistan.

“Whoaaa..” he looks at both of us in wonder and tunes the device again only to get a channel in an entirely foreign language.

“Is that Radio China?”

IMG_2932You get enough reminders that this is a border area- through the hilariously pithy Border Roads Organisation signs (“Be gentle on my curves”), the jokes Ladakhi kids make, the army bunkers, the occasional Air Force planes going overhead and the check posts. Yet, it is difficult to orient yourself geographically in Ladakh when all you see is the sky bowing down to the majesty of these snow-flecked ochre mountains.

Among many a wonder this strange ‘moonland’ has to offer, where the idyllic haze takes over the acute awareness of being at the border, is Pangong Tso (Tibetan for “enchanted lake”).

Pangong lake is in Changthang plateau where the firoza stones Ladakhis wear on their perak (headdress) are found. The region is part of the Tibetan plateau with its dry grasslands, nomads who herd Pashmina goats, the occasional appearances of the Tibetan wild ass and the coy marmots.

After our descent from the massive snow walls of Chang La pass, where the altitude is so high that birds glide past our car like an auto-rickshaw cutting ahead in traffic, Changthang plateau is an entrance to a rugged version of Grimms Fairytale. Wild horses, yaks and pashmina goats drink from melting snow streams meandering through the dry green grasslands. Small stone houses occasionally pass you by. And at the end of this 5-hour-long drive from Leh is this endorheic saltwater lake made famous by Bollywood blockbuster ‘3 Idiots’ – which straddles the India-China border. About 70 percent of the lake sprawls in China – a hard fact that snatches away pleasures of boating on the lake.

IMG_2969In mid-March, we are greeted with a white sheet nestled between the red mountains instead of seven shades of blue that had become part of the lake’s myth. It is as if the saltwater itself is hibernating under the snow. However, a frozen Pangong Tso has other enchantments – a chance to walk on the lake or even better, make snow angels near Line of Actual Control.

But the lake wasn’t always divided.

When Ladakh was ruled by kings from Namgyal line, there was a war between Tibet and Bhutan.

The then ruler, Delden Namgyal, supported Bhutan. Angered, the 5th Dalai Lama sent an army to attack Ladakh in the 1680s. Ladakhis were defeated at Chang La pass and were chased down to Indus valley. The Ladakhi leaders and army hid inside the famed Basgo fort. The Tibetans confined them in the fort for three years.

Desperate, Delden Namgyal asked the Mughal rulers for help. Their help came with a price: that pashmina from Ladakh and Western Tibet be sold only to Kashmir and he must  convert to Islam. After this, Delden Namgyal was known as Aqibat Mahmud Khan in Kashmir. Tibetans, upset with this development, sent a representative to meet the king and signed a treaty in 1684 with the present borders cutting through the Pangong lake. The Ladakhis had to send tributes for Tibetan kings and monasteries every three years and Tibetans agreed to sell the pashmina from western Tibet to Kashmir. Ladakh was never truly independent after this. Subservient to both Kashmir and Tibet after this siege, the kings never tried to expand Ladakh’s borders.

ladakh 1My friends start to make a snowman by the lake’s edge as I stagger around with my camera, listening to the fluttering of prayer flags, sounds of laughter as my friends’ snowman-making exercise devolved into a snow fight, clicking pictures of this expanse of white contrasted starkly by the red mountains hemming the lake in.

Since it is off-season, there are only a few tourists apart from us – eating Maggi, clicking pictures and much to our amusement, asking their bewildered Ladakhi driver for the ‘3 Idiots point’. It can be argued that the movie has brought a lot of tourists to an otherwise isolated region, but I end up chuckling when my friend muttered under her breath, “Well I can see one idiot.”

As we head back to the school we were volunteering in, trying to process the beauty we saw, one of our students broke the spell: “Aap logon ne Pangong nahi dekha, aap ne barf dekha (you didn’t see Pangong, you saw snow).”

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