• Devi Valentine

    It was the day after Saraswati Puja. One January morning in the late 1970’s, a new-born was brought home from the nursing home. The family was getting ready to take the idol out for immersion. And the baby was me. I was just on time to see the Goddess of Knowledge depart from the household. It was a telling omen. I got plenty of chances to chase the illusion of wisdom later in life, and I guess am still on the trail.

    The fifth day of the month of Magh by the old lunar calendar is celebrated in India as Vasant Panchami, marking the arrival of spring. On this day, Goddess Saraswati is venerated and girls deck up in Basanti or yellow saris. Yellow is supposed to be the color of spring, energy and regeneration. Saraswati herself wears white, as a symbol of purity. She is beautiful and severe, and as a child, I always wondered why she rides a swan. In my limited imagination, these birds were the large ungainly creatures waddling around a nearby swimming pool, honking tunelessly, and nibbling

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  • Read Only Memory

    The tyrannosaurus rex stood at the most chaotic crossroad of the city. A rail bridge and a fly-over were getting built. The traffic circle had been dug up and a new subway constructed. Pipes, wires, steel and concrete structures dwarfed him. He was an old and dusty dinosaur with a hind toenail missing after collision with a drunk driver. What hurt most was being overlooked and ignored by children who used to start crying as soon as they spotted him.

    He has been stationed in front of Science City since 1997. Too new to be a relic and too old to be swanky, he doesn’t have anywhere to go.

    Let me take you on a little trip through Kolkata. I could do the same in Pune and Mumbai, and an older part of ‘New’ Delhi. One associates certain things or people with certain places. What if these identifiers disappear, creating gaps between memory and reality, like roads where enormous potholes surface after the very first rain? I am not talking about “important” structures like the Taj Mahal, Victoria

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  • The Calcutta Complex

    How old is Kolkata?

    The answers are so many that we have to list it:

    • Just 11 years. In 2001, Calcutta was renamed Kolkata.
    • The spelling of ‘Calcutta’ was coined by Job Charnock in 1690, so it’s roughly 322 years old.
    • The three-village conglomerate (Kolikata, Sutanuti, Gobindopur), have been around for centuries. Abul Fazal refers to Saptagram (a bigger village group) back in 1596 in the Ain-i-Akbari.
    • The Portuguese passed through this region often while trading/raiding Bengal 1530 onwards.
    • Manasamangal, the epic on the snake goddess Manasa composed around 1484, mentions Kalighat, the Kali temple in Kolkata.
    • About 35 km from Kolkata, lie the ruins of Chandraketugarh, with relics from 400 to 100 BC. This fort, now an archaeological site, was part of what Greek historians like Megasthenes, Plutarch and Siculus describe as Gangaridai, the land through which flows the Ganga, inhabited by the Gangaridae people. It seemed a King was around in 300 BC, and he was powerful (and prosperous)
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  • Profile View

    Do you think all men with neatly combed hair and striped shirt are respectable? Do you feel any woman in a 12 yard sari is religious? We all have some preconceived notions on gender, race, culture, relationships and the world in general. Nothing can change this set of deeply ingrained ideas except a direct experience of life where convenient generalizations don’t work.

    A friend of mine believes in same-sex relations. When he declared he was gay, his childhood friends were surprisingly at ease. There was no ‘shock effect’ to his announcement. As an activist, he has tried to create awareness and an acceptance of the fact that India always had space for multiple gender orientations. Professionally a history teacher, he has been able to provide precedents from ancient myths, texts and historical records.

    In one of our early conversations in Delhi, I had pointed out that I don’t comprehend his notions of sexuality since mine would be so very different. But I do agree there’s nothing

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  • Code Like a Woman

    If I wasn’t in a hurry, I could’ve walked the distance in 15 minutes. The auto rickshaw guy wanted Rs 80 for it. I bargained it down to Rs 50. On reaching, the driver started cribbing again, and of course, he didn’t have change for a hundred rupee note. I counted out the coins, paid him Rs 50, and had the pleasure of hearing him mutter obscenities under his breath as he drove away in a huff. He was certain I didn’t understand his language. But I did understand a smattering of it, enough to follow what he was saying. So that was Day 1 @Bangalore. A well-laid city with lovely weather, good food, lots of friendly people and some folk who try to take advantage of every situation on the basis of their practiced lingua. Applies to people from both the northern and southern parts of the country living in the ‘Garden City’. It’s all about quick money, and has nothing to do with where one comes from.

    A strange brand of opportunistic conservatism is fostered in an atmosphere like this. Landlords

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  • Indian, Woman

    During the internet turbulence in the wake of the Delhi gang rape in December 2012, I noticed a trend that confirmed some of my worst fears once again. The most visited ‘stories’ either had something to do with the horrific incident or were related to ‘entertainment’ where women were being very typically objectified. In other words, one might be commenting on the apathy of Delhi police and the utility of Botox treatment simultaneously in two ‘windows’, while listening once again to Chikni Chameli. Sounds familiar? Irrespective of gender or nationality, ‘we are like that only’. Even the sahibs aren’t any better. Visit any news site and look up reports on crimes against women, and you will notice some obvious similarities running through. It stems from a need to typify women – wife, whore, dumb blonde, mother, arm candy, feminist, sweetheart – and those who don’t fit are problems to be solved.

    No, I am not over-reacting. Let’s take the case of Damayanti Sen. An IPS officer, she had the

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  • GM crops and the food security fig leaf

    GM corn is threat to the environment, argues Greenpeace



    By Shivani Shah

    Let's talk about genetically engineered/modified (GE/GM) foods. And why the Indian Government is so adamant to have these foods commercialised in India. And why it has nothing to do with food security.

    Genetic engineering is the artificial transfer of genes from one species to another – plant or animal. This results in a genetically ‘modified’ organism (GMO). As a result, the genetic makeup or the genetic blueprint of the organism is completely and permanently altered. The objective of modifying is to bring about a certain function – for instance, in plants, producing toxic proteins to eliminate pests, developing a tolerance to agro-chemicals like herbicides, etc. In simple words it's about creating a new organism using molecular biology techniques, which will otherwise not be found in nature. So one might wonder what’s wrong. Growing scientific evidence shows that GM crops are a potential threat to human health and natural biodiversity. Moreover, once released into theRead More »from GM crops and the food security fig leaf
  • The rape, torture and murder of a 23 year old woman in New Delhi is not the reason for the current public outcry. It was that final weight tipping of the scale; it came at a point when the nation just couldn’t take any more. Rape has become so frequent that its presence is like the repeat telecast of the same episode running forgotten in a television while the family dines. The other compelling reason was the terribly familiar circumstances in which something grotesquely unfamiliar happened. The girl next door boarded a bus from a crowded place supposedly safe for students at 9:30 pm, and was skewered with an iron rod by six men. This can happen to just about any woman, anywhere, at any time. Thus the identification.

    Since it’s so close to us, and has made us finally, finally uncomfortable enough, let’s get closer to the remedy as well. Yes, we need to stop rape and we need justice. But how to do that without researching on the Indian psyche for the next 20 years or waiting till a

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  • Soft Light : Why Indian Men need to Protest against Rape

    Are you Indian and a man? Have you never felt up an unknown woman’s legs or accidentally ‘jostled’ her on the street? Are you a responsible father who loves his children? Are you a husband who has never beaten his wife? Are you a brother or son who doesn’t believe in ma-behen gaalis? In short, are you a man, potent, sexually capable, well-placed in life, having  perfectly normal relationships with women (mother/wife/friend/sister/daughter/colleague)?

    If so, please speak up against rape. Because if you don’t, guess what, the world will think you don’t exist. With a little help from our politicians, their allied theoreticians, and a certain section of the friendly press, you will either be declared extinct, like the dodo, or be placed on the list of endangered species along with the Royal Bengal tiger. Poachers will come looking for you, there will be a Wikipedia page on you in past tense.

    If you think I am over-reacting, look around you. Learned panelists on television are discussing

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  • Apathy was just another word for me until recently. And then three leaders, two of them at the helm of the sled-team drawing our nation through these cold, unfeeling times, broke the silence – and expanded my vocabulary. Apathy is no mere word; it is not just the gloomy, all-consuming emptiness in place of an emotion. It is in fact a god for our politicians – a worshipful, omnipotent deity that must be propitiated and appropriated to win those much-coveted keys to the nation’s governance -- and, I say this contentiously, for its coffers. And just as the rest of us may worship Ganapathy or Venkatachalapathy or Umapathy, our netas worship Apathy.

    And just as some of us believe that God made Man in his image, Apathy, too, manifests in a face. Witness, hereunder, the three faces of Apathy that we have seen in the week that was in these Grim Fairy Tales for Troubled Times.

    Grim Fairy Tale # 1 – Nero’s Fiddling Lesson
    Grim Fairy Tales - Nero's Fiddling Lesson - Bijoy VenugopalGrim Fairy Tales - Nero's Fiddling Lesson - Bijoy Venugopal
    Great Nero was in the midst of his fiddling lessons administered by his

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