About FOOTPRINTS IN THE BAJRA (Cedar Books, New Delhi); By Nabina Das

"Fittingly for a poet, Nabina’s novel also has a strong lyrical core. 'Footprints in the Bajra' takes the homely image of the millet field as its central metaphor. ... But the novel is less a thriller about guerrilla action than a subtly colored character study of a fascinating group of individuals who intersect at various points in their lives ..." -- DEBRA CASTILLO, author, editor and distinguished professor (Cornell University, April 17, 2010).

Footprints in the Bajra is a serious book that moves at a smart uncontrived pace. It voices deep concerns about how and why the deprived and the marginalized in certain parts of our country join the Maoist ranks; how they adopt desperate and often terrible measures to wrench justice and to make their voices heard... a confident debut novel, a good read, which will leave you with plenty to mull over. -- PRITI AISOLA, author (See Paris for Me, Penguin-India, 2009) in DANSE MACABRE XXXIV.

In her debut novel, Nabina Das writes about an India where social divides stand taller than multistoried shopping malls. Footprints in the Bajra, inspired by what she saw while touring the interiors of Bihar as part of a travelling theatre group, inquires into why the Maoists have an influence over a large section of Indian society. Das talked to Uttara Choudhury in New York about her book, and its protagonist Muskaan -- DAILY NEWS AND ANALYSIS, Mumbai, March 28, 2010.


"The interspersion of references from both the West and India do not clash. Shakespeare and Lazarus as reference points are brought in with ease, as also Valmiki and Goddess Chhinnamasta, and nothing jars ... The language is poetic and creates visual images of beauty and ugliness side by side." -- ABHA IYENGAR, poet (Yearnings: Serene Woods, 2010) and fiction writer in MUSE INDIA, May-Jun 2010

Shwetank Dubey says Nabina Das ably recreates the milieu of Maoist-infested regions of India -- Nabina Das has chosen the first person account of narrating a story from the main characters of the novel, Nora the sheherwali (urban dweller), Muskaan the rebel, Suryakant Sahay the crafty clandestine planner and Avadhut the frontrunner of all the operations... the book deals with something that no urban resident is bound to know on his own — the life and times of people living in Maoist infested areas and why do they give in to the temptation provided by the Red Brigade. -- PIONEER newspaper, April 25, 2010.
'"If you misrepresent them, they'll abduct and kill you," says Muskaan, our hostess'... goes the first line with which Nabina Das settles everything about her novel -- style, subject and pace... Excellent plotline. Wonderful detail. A beautifully crafted book. -- Karunamay Sinha; THE STATESMAN, Sunday supplement "8th Day", May 16, 2010.

"This is bitter-sweet, if a rather longish tale of a modern-day Maoist revolution and the seeds of destruction and betrayal that lie embedded in it." -- Business World, May 17, 2010

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Post-Harvest- A Poem

The CSMA Gallery reading on Sept. 27 had very few participants, sigh, perhaps owing to the fact that the Apple Harvest Festival was in full swing outdoors and people preferred being out especially after the nagging rain throughout that morning had finally stopped.

The good thing is that apart from poetry we also talked about different ways of getting folks to read and appreciate poetry and making it a part of an oncoming CSMA project called Arts Marathon where, with a meager donation of $2.62 from individuals, there'd be a workshop on writing 26.2 line poems, etc. etc. It's still in the process of being finalized. More later.

The theme was "apples", the meaning extended. Katharyn Howd Machan, first Poet Laureate of Tompkins County, read several lovely poems from her book Redwing as well as from a chapbook and her little hand-written diary. Mary Beth O'Connor too read some of her very interesting compositions including a great pantoum. Both Katharyn and Mary Beth teach writing up at Ithaca College.

The other participant, Ruth (I missed her last name), read only one, but it kept ringing in our minds. Some other people came and went in between. Later Anu, my scientist-poet friend came in, but she just heard the others (I really hope she reads next time...). Mo was there, naturally, to keep me company! My reading was pretty well-received in that small group. Anyway, one of those, APPLE PIE, is already on Sulekha.com and this other, I'm posting here. Suggestions are welcome, as this happens to be the second or third draft (I have a habit of going through several drafts):


Japanese lanterns or food for thoughts?
Reared and harvested by hands or hoes
Apples – they hang over homely farms
In orchards from Freeville to Candor
Topped in barrels, baked in
Subcutaneous oven stores.
We mix honey and ginger
Proven wonders
Raised from other gardens of calm
Along warm shores
Just so the shades mingle easily with textures
On our tongues and embalm
A toasted taste for which
They please
Our knack for orbs and oblong treats.

My bushel is never full because
I tend to stare more than use my hands
And when it’s over
Others noisily sip coffee they dislike
After the rain leaves splashing on the window of
Little barns where apples clutter
Like dreamy heads.

Meanwhile, the orchard sings alone
Only leaves play with memories.

Katharyn asked me to repeat the two ending lines and said she liked the mood of forlorn. Mary Beth said she liked "Our knack for orbs and oblong treats", which I thought, was a bit heavy-handed.
(I decided not to post the other two because of magazine submission regulations.)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bailout Tale from A Dump-Headed Village

Here's an interesting folktale:

Once upon a time, there was this group of moneylenders and shopkeepers who resided in a village somewhere in one obscure part of the world where people barely knew how the east was different from the west or north from the south. Although these folks did not bicker much about these issues, neither were they interested to know from where their food and articles of daily use came from, whether they had enough doctors or medicines in case they needed them or if their schools were teaching them stuff that would help them find stable jobs, have homes and later, a safe retired life. These were good people in this village, but because they truly believed the earth was flat, they rarely dared to go out far for fear of getting toppled at the edge.

The moneylenders and shopkeepers meanwhile, assured the good folks that they did not need to venture out far as everything the villagers wanted could be provided by this bunch of enterprising business people.

This is how it continued for several years until when one of the shopkeepers called E simply collapsed and people were surprised to find out that E had been indulging in bad business ethics, in essence, lying and cheating. This probably gave him heartburn and colon cancer, a deadly combination.

All that scandal was discussed animatedly but forgotten quite soon as other interesting things like an attack by a foreign enemy took place on the unsuspecting village. Laws, lifestyles and lot of other things changed owing to this dastardly incident. The village head was elected a second time and he led his army into another faraway village to punish the allies of the attackers. That war still rages today and costs a lot for the innocent inhabitants of our little village, but then, WTF, patriotism first, though our simple villagers.

To cut to the chase, very recently, the moneylenders and shopkeepers who have been regulating very important aspects of public life, business and politics, as well as funding the wars and several such important projects, found themselves without the expected returns. It appeared that the villagers were unable to pay back to the business community as per the high interest rates charged. Because the villagers did not have enough good jobs, enough assets and savings, also enough security that might prompt them to do timely paybacks. This despite the fact that the villagers often worked overtime, at two or more jobs, barely finished education or had little in healthcare or vacations.

So, when this situation continued, one by one the moneylenders and shopkeepers started to declare themselves "defunct" and asked the village head to bail them out. The amount they asked for was several times more than they could have spent in healthcare, education or environment for all these many years. Quite a few villagers found this a big joke and even protested. All that money the business community demanded was after all, supposed to be the money villagers paid in taxes so they could have improved governance. Some even pointed out the case of E, when it had gone bankrupt, causing irreparable harm to many villagers, taking their money with it. However, many others did not even understand what was going on and they thought the business folks must be re-instated. This is because the defaulters "constituted" the village economy.

Secretly, the moneylenders and shopkeepers were happy that nothing majorly punitive or critical was thrown their way. Even if they had lost out a bit, their core asset was intact and their leaders could still take home plump salaries, go for Caribbean cruises and buy land in Hawaii. After all, the villagers still believed in them. Goodfellas.

I'm stopping my folklore here. Because I ain't no crystal gazer. If the people of this village don't learn any lesson from this crisis, they sure are suckers for everything devious. Or else, it's chow-time again dudes!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Poetry Reading at CSMA Gallery, Saturday, Sept. 27

My first poetry reading in Ithaca, NY, will be this Saturday, Sept. 27. I have read earlier at my university -- JNU, New Delhi -- in the hoary past where doing theater workshops and reading others' and my own poetry minus any intention for publication or exposure used to be our pastime!

The theme of this reading is "apples" widely interpreted and coinciding with the annual Apple Harvest Festival downtown.
"Ithaca Community Poets and Writers Read"
The Community School of Music and Arts, CSMA Gallery

Coordinated by Katharyn Howd Machan (former Tompkins County Poet Laureate), who will also read from her work.
3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
330 E State Street
Ithaca, NY

I have heard Katharyn recite and perform before. It's an absolute delight. Although my voice is under attack from a bad cold, I hope to engage. It's not singing, after all! So, welcome everyone.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Other India Stories: Death penalty for Dalit murders

A court in the western Indian state of Maharashtra has sentenced six people to death for killing four members of a lower-caste Dalit family in 2006. Read more here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7633128.stm in this edition of Other India Stories.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Other India Stories: Revolutionizing (almost ruining) a Rural Indian (Brahmin) Wedding

We often keep having animated discussions on this aspect of Indian society -- caste, gender, religious bigotry and related hierarchy. We meaning Mo, Shashi, Anu and me for most times. Anu runs this group blog "Time and Us" (http://castory.wordpress.com/) where she has several others comment and write, and she also cross-posts blogs and articles of relevance that debate the topic. I happen to be one of the registered "commentators" of that blog but I usually have very little to write. But when we meet face to face, a slew of anecdotes and observations flow spontaneously. This is not because I have zero stories about the Dalit experience (I am not one and can't speak on behalf of others). But caste and gender divides are all pervasive in the Indian society much as you may try to deny it. So, I do have my own share of stories that pinpoint the experience of being a "non-Brahmin", often an effective blanket term dumped on an individual in several parts of India when it comes to maintaining the power structure, exercising status quo, according social acceptance, the degree of acceptance and ritualistic adherence (if one is a practising Hindu).

This is a story I shared recently with my friends about attending a rural wedding in a Brahmin family of Uttar Pradesh, in a village called Jagdishpur. I'll call this series -- for I hope to have some more -- Other India Stories.

We were invited by our Delhi neighbor, of last name Pandey, to their oldest son's wedding. The fellow -- I'll call him UP here, how significant! -- was Mo's childhood friend and the family treated Mo like their own son, although they were Brahmins and Mo's family Khatris (I have no clue what that caste is, perhaps something to do with being a martial clan, so don't ask me to explain ... these labels come up only during socio-religious events like marriages, festivals and idle chatter by folks who have nothing better to do). Anyway, so in that respect I was considered their "bahu" or daughter-in-law.

The journey from Delhi via Lucknow to Jagdishpur itself can constitute an interesting tale. But I'll try not to digress. That we were traveling to a place totally back of beyond, was evident hour by hour. When we reached, Jagdishpur stood like a canvas of green farm fields flanked by lofty brick-and-mortar houses with erratic electricity lighting up the quaint rural scenes later at night. I was told, the farm laborers lived quite a distance away, not in the vicinity of the rich Brahmin landowner. So I didn't see any other villager there.

Soon on reaching, I became a cat among the pigeons. Without even suspecting what commotion my statements would generate, I asked to join the baraat (groom's party that goes to the bride's house to marry the boy) the next evening.

"But women never accompany men in the baraat. Never," was the terse comment that followed from the senior-most Pandey (he never appeared to talk directly, so this sort of wafted from his chamber where mostly men were assembled).

Oh, I should have realized. Women and men never ate together in these households, women never walked side by side with their men (they followed them mutely), women never sat down to tea with the men to discuss sorrow, happiness and life in general. So now that I said it, what'll happen? Precisely that's the question the Pandey women asked themselves, a little scandalized by my audacity but also hopeful that they can finally, in the 21st century, attend a wedding in the girl's house by joining the traditional baraat. One of them, UP's cousin's wife, told me privately how this was absolutely the need of the hour, breaking down this silly rule. You bet!

From indirect sources again, Mo was requested to pump some good sense into my impatient foolhardy head. But only 'requested'. He was like a son to them, he couldn't be ordered as they would have ordered a peasant. So he did not prevail over me.

I was further blacklisted, a woman who did not heed her 'lord's' words. I'm told the Pandey household, the menfolk actually, got huddled into a conference. The older women were sort of terrified, but they smiled at me, those aunts and grandmas, trying to look normal.

Meanwhile, eager to savor fresh country air, I even went to the "khet" (farmland) with UP, his brother, a young girl of seven (not yet in the 'woman' category) and Mo. Going to the khet has a terrible connotation in rural India. Later on that.

Finally the verdict came.

Yes!! We'll all go as baraatis to the bride's house. They could not turn down the request of a 'daughter-in-law'. Suddenly all the younger women in the house looked bright like sunflowers. They busied themselves in choosing the right saris, ornaments and the mehendi to be done in time. I guess I managed to break a huge taboo, but back then, I was only interested in enjoying things as one should.

Now the second part.

While the men baraatis went in a van -- smoking, a few drinking and waving to the crowd when they reached the bride's house, our van was a silent one, with very dark tainted windows all rolled up. We could see people (mostly the poor, forsaken, low-caste villagers) standing by the roadside and gesturing and blessing, but we were advised not to open the windows or respond in any manner. This was a 'law-and-order' requirement, we were told. So be it. But we were there.

I'm told the bride's family too was faced with a major quandary about how to welcome a van full of errant women (one of them a city woman, the word got around), how to sneak them inside the wedding venue without the lowly subjects spotting us, and in general how to deal with any social stigma if one might arise out of this.

I'm so glad I was blissfully unaware of all goings-on.

Only that cousin's wife whispered to me later (seeing me half-sleepy through the elaborate wedding ceremony): "You asked to come here and revolutionized the family wedding! No one can stop us after this. Don't sleep now for God's sake!"

I ... revolutionized ... a wedding? I thought I almost ruined their family event. Seeing her and others happy made me feel good. But does it take an 'outsider' always to break rigid norms? Why can't they themselves do it?

"We are daughters, daughter-in-laws and women in a high-caste household. Our society will never allow us to change things," one said.

The only man, other than Mo (UP and his father maintained a diplomatic profile) who quietly praised the adventure was UP's sister's husband, a soft-spoken man who conducted things slightly differently than his enlightened counterparts. The others, especially the senior-most Pandey of Jagdishpur, never spoke to me directly, even after the episode. When we were taking their leave, I thought of acting traditional and doing a pranam to him, to which he said rather nicely, "Daughters don't touch feet. Be happy."

I said goodbye in English then. From daughter-in-law to daughter, I did make some progress!

Will be back later with more Other India anecdotes!

SHEHER -- the Tentative Cover

Guest-edited by Meena Kandasamy, the anthology of "urban" poems by Indian women writers has this tentative cover. Haven't heard if they were re-working it. Encore shameless plug: my poem will be there humbly nestled, hopefully by the scintillating Kamala Das (same last names, you see!).

Basically, these were my comments on the cover:

*the vertical view conveys strength and direct approach of the woman’s position

*that she is holding together what represents the cities symbolic ‘mammoth’ bridges, pillars/monuments/edifice… she is like the female Krishna who held the mount govardhana (was it?) to shelter the cattle from rains… (aw I forgot my mythology!)

* that her back is turned towards us. We don't need to see her face always, a face that has been over-abused in movies, calendars, posters, matrimonial (shaadi.com?) ads… et al. hence we don't need to know if she is good/bad looking, dark or light, shy or angry… whatever

* that the image also conveys a sense of control in the way she holds the city’s edifice and looks upon the spread before her. She surmises it, it’s her say on the city.

* her hands holding together or apart of the monument and bridge is very emergetic. She has the capability to change, that comes out well.

What I didn't like is:

*that she looks very ‘rural’ in the way she has been dressed. per se there is nothing wrong with ‘rural looks’, but here, perhaps a more “straight” form would look better than a swingy, ghaghra-wearing sort of form. Perhaps the artist can rework on relaxing this formative structure of the woman’s image.

*I love B&W but there is just too much black there. and the spotlight kind of treatment doesn't make it less imposing. Could a border around the etching work to keep the image in its lightedness?

* The title font (I don't think it is spooky at all) seems to jar a bit with the slug/sub-hed below.

Also, friend and poet Anuradha Pujar's work will be there. Two writers from Ithaca in the same anthology, ain't that cool?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

My Sunday Reading -- Seamus Heaney

Apart from gathering old stories and articles (mostly written by me) I also read something refreshing every now and then. Poetry Foundation (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/feature.html?id=182158) is a good place to go, and when I read Seamus Heaney, one of my favorites, the weekend seems quite good despite the gray sky and that nibble at the toes by a nagging about-to-descend autumn weather hovering outside my doors. Joshua Weiner writes an insightful article about Heaney's craft and how identity plays a role in shaping it...


by Seamus Heaney
He would drink by himself
And raise a weathered thumb
Towards the high shelf,
Calling another rum
And blackcurrant, without
Having to raise his voice,
Or order a quick stout
By a lifting of the eyes
And a discreet dumb-show
Of pulling off the top;
At closing time would go
In waders and peaked cap
Into the showery dark,
A dole-kept breadwinner
But a natural for work.
I loved his whole manner,
Sure-footed but too sly,
His deadpan sidling tact,
His fisherman’s quick eye
And turned observant back.
To him, my other life.
Sometimes, on the high stool,
Too busy with his knife
At a tobacco plug
And not meeting my eye,
In the pause after a slug
He mentioned poetry.
We would be on our own
And, always politic
And shy of condescension,
I would manage by some trick
To switch the talk to eels
Or lore of the horse and cart
Or the Provisionals.
But my tentative art
His turned back watches too:
He was blown to bits
Out drinking in a curfew
Others obeyed, three nights
After they shot dead
The thirteen men in Derry.
PARAS THIRTEEN, the walls said,
BOGSIDE NIL. That Wednesday
Everyone held
His breath and trembled.
It was a day of cold
Raw silence, wind-blown
Surplice and soutane:
Rained-on, flower-laden
Coffin after coffin
Seemed to float from the door
Of the packed cathedral
Like blossoms on slow water.
The common funeral
Unrolled its swaddling band,
Lapping, tightening
Till we were braced and bound
Like brothers in a ring.
But he would not be held
At home by his own crowd
Whatever threats were phoned,
Whatever black flags waved.
I see him as he turned
In that bombed offending place,
Remorse fused with terror
In his still knowable face,
His cornered outfaced stare
Blinding in the flash.
He had gone miles away
For he drank like a fish
Nightly, naturally
Swimming towards the lure
Of warm lit-up places,
The blurred mesh and murmur
Drifting among glasses
In the gregarious smoke.
How culpable was he
That last night when he broke
Our tribe’s complicity?
‘Now, you’re supposed to be
An educated man,’
I hear him say. ‘Puzzle me
The right answer to that one.’
I missed his funeral,
Those quiet walkers
And sideways talkers
Shoaling out of his lane
To the respectable
Purring of the hearse...
They move in equal pace
With the habitual
Slow consolation
Of a dawdling engine,
The line lifted, hand
Over fist, cold sunshine
On the water, the land
Banked under fog: that morning
I was taken in his boat,
The screw purling, turning
Indolent fathoms white,
I tasted freedom with him.
To get out early, haul
Steadily off the bottom,
Dispraise the catch, and smile
As you find a rhythm
Working you, slow mile by mile,
Into your proper haunt
Somewhere, well out, beyond...
Dawn-sniffing revenant,
Plodder through midnight rain,
Question me again.

Some DTE stories, Lost and Found from 1996!

It is amazing how sometimes the Internet can throw up surprises at you, that too on a lazy browsy Sunday! I found some of my 1996, yes sir, 1996 stories published in Down To Earth environmental magazine (http://www.downtoearth.org.in/). Guess where? Some website called India Environmental Portal I never knew about. I have pasted them below with link to the portal. The map, graphic and the photo with the stories are original, accompanying the articles the way they were printed back in 1996. I feel old, ooh!

Waterfront Cauvery
Author(s): Nabina Das
Date: 28/02/1996
Source: Down to Earth
Tags: Cauvery, Karnataka, Water Distribution, India

THE dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu regarding the distribution of the Cauvery river water in the winter of 1995, had become a constitutional crisis, Early this year, the Narasimha Rao government appointed a three- member panel which was expected to submit a report to the Centre after assessing the crop pattern and stress in the Cauvery basin and the delta (Down To Earth, Vol 4, No 18). According to Y K Alagh, vice-chancellor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and head of the panel, the report has recently been submitted to the government. although it has not been made public yet. Earlier reports had assessed crop condition in region during normal rainfall seasons, and not in the dry months. Speaking to Down To Earth on February 1, Y K Alagh, refusing to comment categorically on the panel's findings, said, "I think both the states are great, and I am glad to render my service for a national cause. I can only say that the crisis is a seasonal problem, under discussion since last quarter of the last century, with which the farmers in both the states have learnt to live. External water supply may be required to lessen their sufferings." In Alagh's opinion, southern India has a very complex crop pattern (rotating kuruva, samba and thaladi rice crops) dependent mainly on the north- east monsoon, as opposed to the north Indian crop pattern. The 'canal colonies' that modem Punjab boasts of today, were in fact, already present in the state of Mysore since long. His observations reaffirmed the position held by many experts that the crisis stems largely from the recent shift over to water-intensive cash crops, Several experts have opined that the failure of the northeast monsoon last year, triggered the recent crisis in the Cauvery basin. The dams had very little water; even satellite pictures showed a very low index of both ground and surface water. The VC pointed out the correlation of the present water crisis: Tamil Nadu's needs heighten Karnataka's, and vice versa. He observed that both the states were actually water-strapped in different ways. And it is only the balancing of 'need' and 'usage'- important determinants of the irrigation methodology practised in the two states (the reliability is almost 75 per cent) - that can solve problems. Referring to probable measures to reduce the sorrow of farmers in the Cauvery basin and the delta, Alagh said, "Water should be used in an optimum manner. There can be better sharing patterns, rationing and pricing of water, rainwater harvesting, creation of effective water markets and the like." Eventually, these measures are expected to improve the ground and surface water situation in the Cauvery basin. He said that all these would be part of the National Water Policy which has been created to aid both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka; but it should be made "effectively operative", He commented, "Already, we are late in creating the policy." Alagh sounded an ominous prediction. He said, "In the very ear future, India is going to be a water-strapped economy. Mostly, the country will face groundwater irrigation problems, increasing salinity and ingress in several regions marked by a falling water table. Pricing of water may teach policymakers a few lessons. The need of the hour is societal and political wisdom, which can put the problems to rest."

For All That Is green
Author(s): Nabina Das
Date: 29/06/1996
Source: Down to Earth Vol: 5 Issue: 19960630
Tags: Environment

AT a function organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature- India in New Delhi on June 5 on the occasion of World Environment Day, the chief election commissioner, T N Seshan said that the burning topic of environment could be compared to the proverbial elephant which was touched by four blind persons and wrongly defined by all! There is no need to go into the details of the proceedings of the function where several suggestions were made, debates held and explanations given, except imbibe the information that there are only five people to every vehicle in Delhi as opposed to 45 in Calcutta, 24 in Mumbai and 55 in Madras; and that vehicular pollution alone contributes to 64 per cent of the Delhi's noise and air pollution; that the quality of the Yamuna water in Delhi is in the E category - fit only for irrigation and industrial uses, and that by AD 2010, the food grain requirement in the country will touch 240 million tonnes. Depressing enough. What rules our lives anyway? Environmentalists and their outfits have emerged as the 20th century Nostradamus, predicting a great apocalypse if the right things don't just happen. Dante's descent into Hell perhaps couldn't have been worse. The emergence of environmentalism in the last decade has, in certain ways proved a boon and in some cases, a sustained eyewash. From forming a committee for mountain development to wildlife conservation to protest incinerator usage to CFC phase-6ut efforts, the world has marched a long way in defining green crusadeering today. Even as the Habitat ii in Istanbul took off after a yawning span of two decades (Habitat I was held in Vancouver), to parley the state of the world's teeming multitude, everyone woke up to several cruel facts about the state of the global populace. Since many of the situations are being realised as irreversible, there seems to be a frenetic attempt to pitchfork reforms everywhere, from anywhere. But the centre is falling apart. The book Our Stolen Future, by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski and John P Myers - described as a cautionary tale - makes interesting observations: "What is happening to the animals in Florida, English rivers, the Baltic, the high Arctic, the Great Lakes, and Lake Baikal in Siberia has immediate relevance to humans. The damage seen in lab animals and in wildlife has ominously foreshadowed symptoms that appear to be increasing in the human population." The book says: "In time, the alarming reproductive problems first seen in wildlife touched humans, too." In fact, the root of the problem had been grasped by the early 20th century American philosopher, John Muir, quoted in the book as saying, "When we try to pick up anything by itself, we find that it is bound by a thousand invisible cords ... to everything in the universe." No one seems to have yet picked up the common thread. Precious little is usually done to resolve any ecological disaster until the 91tuation gets out of control. At this moment, we are bestowed with a punctured ozone layer; a massive onslaught of death-dealing old and forgotten viruses; the AIDS / HIV spectre; a toxic waste inundation resulting in,@carcinogenic food, water, dyes and materials; a struggle for the right over one's indigenous resources; nuclear' disasters still lurk around; virulence of pollution; a marauded forest cover, dying waterbodies and depleting resources, and a madly burgeoning population. Intellectuals may have been and swearing by the swooning over environment on umpteen occasions like the World Environment Day or the Habitat conference. Sustainable @evelopment anyway is their mantra. Alternatives naught. But a national newspaper reported that despite all homilies or exhortations, 17,000 biological species or sub-species disappeared from the face of Earth, about 26 billion tonnes of top soil was washed away by surface erosion, desertification rose by nearly six million ha, 17 million ha of forest cover was lost - and all this in just one year. Environmental activism today should mean environmental legislation strictly coupled with people's participation the world over, in tune with the scale of degradation experienced in different places. It is heartening to note that for the first time in the judicial history of India, the first green bench has started sitting from June 3 at the Calcutta High Court as per the Supreme Court's direction. One expects a lot from it. A Poison Information Centre recently set up at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi would, besides immediately treating cases of poisoning, provide information on poisoning induced by chemicals, plants, drugs and household pesticides. Shimla has reportedly been successful in completely banning polythene bags and introducing paper and cloth bags for commercial purposes. In this kind of effort, educating the people is a basic necessity. In this regard, Anil Agarwal, director of the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, opines that Third World issues, being complex ones, need careful handling. According to him, the Third World must have development in a way that protects the environment and its people from harm. And there is still enough time left for us to deliver the goods.

Citywards Ho!
Author(s): Nabina Das
Date: 29/06/1996
Source: Down to Earth
Tags: Children, Population, Urbanisation, Women

IT is definitely a small world that we live in today, and Damocles' sword never shone so ruthlessly before. This fact has been highlighted by the startling revelations in the recently released The State of World Population, 1996. Within 10 years, more than half the people of the global village will become city dwellers, comprising 3.3 billion of the 6.59 billion urbanites. states the report. The report examines "the causes of urban growth and the implications of expanding urbanisation" that would inevitably face neo-urbanites. This may not necessarily be a "bad" development, assured Wasim Zaman, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) representative, while releasing the report. "But it is also true that in developing countries some 600 million of today's 1.7 billion urban residents do not have the means to meet their basic needs for shelter, water and health," he said. Zaman stressed that poverty will threaten the growth of urban future; for the poor, their environment will emerge as overcrowded, violent and unhealthy, where millions of urban children may be at the risk of being school drop-outs and becoming victims of labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STD). In the foreword to the report, UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali says, "To be sustainable, development should be better balanced between rural and urban areas, and among small, medium-sized and large cities." The report pinpoints increased mobility as one of the major features of rapid urbanisaton. Migration, in fact, accounts for some 40 per cent of the citywards exodus, where the effects of international migration (although insignificant by comparison with internal movement) would have more serious implications. Apocalypse now While the report touches upon all the issues confronting urban life, it makes some startling statements: "The emerging viruses (on which another UN report was carried in Down TO Earth, Vol 5, No 2) are the only most dramatic examples of rural diseases establishing themselves in urban areas." Hectic urbanisation is projected to lead to a deadly apocalypse whereby several infectious diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, cholera, antibiotic-resistant infections and STDS/HIV/AIDS, etc would wreak havoc on communities in the developing world. Already, India has seen a resurgence in the onslaught by the first three. The possible threats to urban health conditions are more or less unknown to rural surroundings, most important among them being air and water pollution - the direct result of industrial activity, transportation and cooking exhausts. The neo-urbanites will thus be exposed to hazards which their natural immune system is unaccustomed to, making them much more susceptible. The report states: "The demands of the urban future will test the pledges made by the world's governments at the series of global conferences on social development, which started in 1992 and concludes in June 1996 with the International Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat ii) in Istanbul. Meeting their universally agreed goals is vital for the future of cities and for all prospects for human development." It also says: "Among the most specific goals are those of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo in 1994). The 1CPD aims at achieving primary goals of providing universal primary health care including reproductive health care, family planning and sexual health by 2015, closing the gender gap in education and providing education for all by then , and ensuring equality and autonomy for women as essential for dynamic urban growth." Interestingly, the report documents the composition and distribution of the World's largest cities that have undergone dramatic changes over the past 45 years. Bangalore, Mumbai, Calcutta and Delhi are among those metropolises 'projected to become megacities by AD 2015, registering a more than three per cent growth rate per annum between I @90 and AD 2000. Zaman specifies, "By the year 2000, it is projected that Mumbai will be the second largest city of the world and there will be three Indian cities with population of 10 million and over."

Focus on Eve Several recent studies, according to the report, show that a growing proportion of the rural-urban migration patterns comprises women; and if individuals migrate, they do so as "part of a complex family and community process". It is evident, then, that the gender factor plays a significant role in determining migration streams. But this aspect remains somewhat elusive - "obscured by conceptual problems and measurement difficulties". The report discusses the policies, strategies and issues for improving the cities, which have been further refined by the ongoing Habitat ii conference which has focussed on shelter for all; it was attended by a representative of the NGO Waste Wise from Bangalore in India which presented an alternative approach to solid waste management. The ICPD'S main concerns are families and children, health and environment, population distribution, urban management and ensuring access to information. The UNFPA strategies encompass improved family planning and health care for all, and advocates empowerment of women. But questioning Turkey's right to hold the conference, 35 NGOS organised an Alternative Habitat ii to highlight problems not adressed by the official event. The urban future is feared to carry several risks towards our physical environment and natural resources, for social cohesion and human rights. However, considering the opinion Of sociologists, that cities - already accounting for 60-80 per cent of the GNP of many developing nations - could serve as hubs of human creativity, this growth could open up a lot of developmental avenues. Despite the speculated setbacks, the phenomenal urban growth is seen as a very heartening "secular shift in societies and economies, on a scale never experienced before", asserts the report. The need of the hour is a cohesive society where women's role will be well-defined. To meet existent needs and anticipating new ones would be the crux of the agenda in building a "civic society", it envisions.

A Bolt From The Blue Author(s): Nabina Das
Date: 14/12/1996
Source: Down to Earth
Tags: Air Transport, India

AS the debris of the first ever mid-air collision in the history of Indian aviation between a Saudi Boeing and a Kazakh IL-76 aircraft lie spread over an area of 10 km in Charkhi Dadri — about 80 km southwest of Delhi — several investigations are on to probe into the disaster. Whether it was pilot error or instrument failure, for aviation experts, however, the cause behind the collision that claimed 351 lives and reduced the safety of the Indian skies to a myth, lies somewhere in the haloed portals of the ministry of civil aviation and the National Airports Authority (NAA). The omen has long been felt to be disconcerting on the ground itself. The "airport stress syndrome' came to roost in India with the statement of an annual air traffic growth rate of five per cent and the NAA projection that the rate would have climbed to eight per cent from 1996 (see Down To Earth, Vol 3, No 12), thanks to the open skies policy adopted under the aviation glasnost. If the sheer magnitude of the November 12 accident makes the word ‘tragedy' sound like an understatement, the word ‘crowded' fails to convey the state of the Indian skies, once thought to be generous and capacious. Says air marshall D Keeler, former additional director general of civil aviation (ADGCA), "The quantum of air traffic handled by airports like Delhi and Mumbai has flown above the danger mark. We are promoting its further growth and approaching the target of close to 20 flights per hour. Aviation operations are a matter of dealing with carefully carved out corridors, and presently, the corridors resemble a choked throat.' But the asphyxiation of air corridors is not an unheard of phenomenon. Way back in 1988, when Vayudoot was being conceived as the alternative domestic airliner to the sagging Indian Airlines, jams in the air with aircrafts flying bumper to bumper were foreseen. Air Traffic Control (atc) was identified as the key area of growth to handle the number of flights that resembled German armadas over England during World War II.K V N Murthy, former executive director (planning), naa, says, "There are airports in the west and the east which are handling much more traffic. But the difference is the quality of technology at disposal in the air traffic control rooms that makes their job easier and reduces the error margin.'It is indeed a startling revelation that air traffic controllers at the Delhi and Mumbai airports which, incidentally, are the most modern ones, monitor air traffic manually. Surjeet Singh, a controller in Delhi says, "We handle flights on paper and fix recording points for both incoming and outgoing flights. Once a flight reports its presence, we fix another slot and then move to the next. Once there is a computer to do all this and a sensor to feed a voice system, we can cut down the time taken to handle each flight.'In fact, an ambitious atc automation project was conceived in 1988 by the naa in collaboration with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Following global tenders in 1990, the contract went to the lowest bidder — Raytheon — a us-based company. Today, the project outlay cost is Rs 423 crore.As per the contract, Delhi and Mumbai atcs would get a whole range of sensors: one airport surveillance radar (ASR) with a range of 60 nautical miles, one en route surveillance radar and a monopulse secondary surveillance radar — the last two with a range of 250 nautical miles (one nautical mile = 2.9 km). For better communication, installation of very high frequency omnigraphers (VHFO) of a 30 nautical mile range and very high frequency omni range transmitters for bifurcation of unidirectional flights have been proposed. Presently, the Delhi and Mumbai control towers function with an ASR having a range of 60 miles. Of the seven vhfos that were proposed, four have been installed. But there were complaints of radar ‘slippage'. For example, on the radar screen one aircraft was shown by two blips, and often, the radar did not pick up the signal of a moving target within its range. According to airport officials, apparently the equipment supplied had some defects in the software. Says Keeler, "Had the new radars been commissioned in time, then there would have been fewer chances of this collision. Ironically, the given date of completion of the automation project was November 1, and the crash took place within a fortnight's time." Keeler says that the collision occurred because one of the two aircrafts strayed into the others flight path although the Saudia plane was directed by the atc to maintain a height of "14,000 ft and level' after leaving Delhi, and the incoming Kazakh airliner was asked to maintain "15,000 ft and level'. It has been recorded that the two aircrafts were at a distance of 13 miles, and were, according to the pilots, maintaining their respective heights (later, a section of the press reported that the Saudia aircraft had assumed excess height). But 13 miles is a minor distance between two aircrafts moving towards each other along the same path at the speed of 260 nautical mile/hour — to be covered within a matter of seconds.The atc at the control tower saw the two aircrafts on the screen as two blips. He knew the distance between the two and their position, but not the speed or the height, because the 20-year old radars in use at the igia do not provide this kind of data. Therefore, even as the two blips converged on the screen, the atc saw no cause for alarm. It was only when the blips did not separate themselves and carry on along the designated path but just vanished from the screen, that the initial shock set in. Says Murthy, "World over, the atcs have detailed data and they warn the aircrafts from straying into each other's path. But not so in India." Experts like Keeler say, "What is important is the fact that the control tower did not have an inkling that the two crafts were on the collision course. On the radar screens that are in use, all incoming and outgoing flights on the same radial seem to be on the collision course. These two dots, however, met on the screen and disappeared." The former ADGCA says that even a freak meteorological phenomenon could have led to the collision. H S Khola, DGCA, however, refuted charges that the equipments at the igia control tower were outmoded. He was speaking at a press conference in New Delhi, on November 13. It is also not known whether the aircrafts were equipped with a collision warning system, mandatory for aircrafts operating in the developed world. But it was not just the absence of certain instruments that invited the disaster. There were other lapses as far as the general operation procedures laid down by the icao are concerned, the most crucial being the ‘lateral separation' of the incoming and outgoing flights.Says Keeler, "The aircrafts in the sector (path) were separated by a height of 1000 ft. That is one level of safety margin. But then, they could have been separated laterally also, so that, even if there is some problem in levelling, they are still not on collision course." The two ill-destined aircrafts were flying in a sector once nicknamed ‘green five two', which handles more international flights than domestic ones. Normally, all sectors have corridors with lateral seperation for both incoming and outgoing, as well as domestic and international flights. In fact, all corridors in the Indian air space have provision for lateral separation, with the exception of this particular one.Keeler says, "The lateral separation was not done in this case as it was claimed that the corridor towards Pakistan in the west is too narrow. But I do not agree. It is at least three km wide, and there is scope for lateral seperation for adding another safety margin." The alibi adopted by the naa was that the Indian Airforce has always resisted expansion of the corridor citing security reasons. But according to Keeler, the airforce had, some months ago, called for negotiations for widening of the corridor. Another factor is the curfew system enforced by countries on the east and west of India due to the immense noise polllution caused by the aircrafts. Thus, to skip night travel through these countries, aircrafts on international sorties prefer night flying over India. But with ancient radars and communication systems in our country, night flying increases the risk factor all the more. Recently, the situation had improved a little when in Delhi and Mumbai, an Instrument Guided Landing System was installed to facilitate safe take-off and landing. To take a look at the West, in the us, a comprehensive plan known as the Future Air Navigation System (fans), is being drawn up by aviation authorities which is expected to be operational from ad 2010. A close-up of the system shows the following features:
• the package includes the Global Satellite Navigation System (GSNS)
• it is being developed by the us department of defense
• the fans package involves a total of 21 satellites
• the system transmits position and altitude data to an accuracy of 10 m
The GSNS, which will update positional information on aircrafts, is a combination of observation and communication satellites. Several European nations have expressed their interest in this system. According to the NAA, the Indian authorities, too, are keen on having the fans installed for a safer flying future.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Will the Real Sarah Palin Stand Up Please!

Sarah Palin appeared like a new star on the American political firmament, bright and sweeping, sweeping away all coverage of the old jaded Biden (pardon, no ageism here, he really is) from print, radio, TV, and the Internet. Even Obama's rock-star status seemed to wince a little from the enthusiasm she generated and the jibes she made with her 'pit bull wearing lipstick' half-liner (some power talk, huh?).

What an entry.

But the more I watched her speak (no hard news interviews to anyone yet. She just talks family stuff to soft mags and the only newsy bytes that came from her were apparently that she knows God -- my gawd -- supports Iraq war and Alaska pipeline. Also, probably hockey...) ad nauseum about her family, five kids, husband Todd, how she is so gung-ho about managing government and family together, the more suspicious I became.

First, I cannot imagine a mom shoving her minor daughter up on the pedestal, declaring to the world she is five-months pregnant -- they didn't do abstinence classes in Alaska, perhaps it was too cold, that's why; and we know Palin is against contraception, sex education and all that evil stuff -- and then whining that the press made a mincemeat of this juicy information. Just how calculating and cold-hearted can one be?

Second, to display little Trig as her trophy to be slung back on the face of the Democrats, was absolutely out of line. And this, after she had kept her pregnancy under wraps as she became the governor and disclosing it only towards the very end.

I totally fail to understand, why the business of running a government is made out to be a 'very special' job especially if you are a woman with five kids (one of them anyway decided to not remain a kid anymore and have her own kid)? Is "governance" supposed to be a measurement whereby gender angles now get defined? If you, a woman, had one kid and been in governance, you were not special at all. If you produced five or more kids -- one of them while you took up governance -- you are called "strong". As Palin has been.

What is so "strong" about having multiple kids and doing other work together? Instead of being a reaffirmation of feminism, this stinks of being a huge rotten piece of the anti-feminist agenda. Women not only have babies, but also work. Haven't we heard that always? And oh yeah, they have been working in fields, farms, large joint households feeding scores of mouths, walking miles to fetch water, firewood, fodder for cattle and ferrying food for their toiling male counterparts.

This has happened for thousands of years, it happens all over those underdeveloped or developing nations of the world even today. I am from the South Asian Subcontinent. Ask me, how the sacred duties of homemaking are hailed with greater reverence when the woman, a "good woman", does more work outside her four walls. Things like invading so-called male bastions like governance and policymaking and become false goddesses. But hey, while she does that, let her not forget babymaking and breadmaking.

While my respect for women who have been in aforementioned situations much due to patriarchal pressure than owing to their free will is unlimited, I don't figure out why such things should be considered a norm in today's world. Governance is an area where I'd want my representative to carry out her duties as a clear-headed person, married or unmarried, straight or gay, man or woman, with or without family and kids, equally effectively. And I won't listen to anyone telling me I cannot be a good journalist/writer/manager/banker/artist/professor/prime minister/leader because I have or don't have a huge family to look after.

Besides, to have or NOT have babies is a choice, clearly something Sarah Palin doesn't believe in.

Why else should anyone choose her? Not at least because of her moose-hunting, salmon-fishing skills (is it because these activities sound 'oh-so-manly'?). We've already had the outgoing Veep Dick Cheney proving that his quail-hunting skills were pretty similar to his governance skills. Don't need another!

Matt Damon's quip about Palin that it all seems a really bad Disney movie finds a zesty ring here with me. The Alaska governor reminds me of the pompous, raucous, flamboyant Fairy Godmother of Shrek the movie. She is really hoping to find that magic potion for her admirers. Well, I'm afraid she'll give them and several other unsuspecting ones a poison without an antidote.

Also please don't vote her for her rimless glasses, for I see little vision in her. Besides those glasses cost a packet -- elitist may I say? And although I cannot vote in the US, I think it's a good idea not to fall for polar bear burgers (I'm afraid that's truly why she wants those bears around, for hunting) on our table.

No, Palin is not a star and not someone who cares about policies for people's good. As much as Palin has energized the Republican campaign (she looks better than McCain, there's no denying), she hasn't made any detailed comment on issues like the economic trend, the debt, the tremor in stock markets, taxes. So, who is she? We definitely need to see the real Sarah Palin behind those rimless fixated eyes, bright lipstick, the plastic smile, the rankling voice, the Shrek Fairy Godmother braggadocio. Will the real Palin -- on real issues -- stand up please? Enough about what she thinks American life should be.

It's time to know what America deserves.

P.S. ---- If Sarah Palin wins, it'll be perpetual Halloween (interpreted as Hallelujah by Republicans...) for USA! There, my two cents. Also, I just read Katha Pollitt's "Lipstick on a Wing Nut" (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20080929/pollitt) on The Nation's website which I recommend for her intelligent language and irreverent style (I had briefly attended one of her classes in Wesleyan Writers' Conference where I went as a Jakobson fiction scholar).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Eileen Moeller's "Vertical Footholds" in Kritya

Poet Eileen Moeller's "Vertical Footholds" appears in Kritya's September issue. An excellent visual poem that made me search out Eileen's blog so I can read her updates regularly. See http://eileenmoeller.blogspot.com/2008/09/my-poem-vertical-footholds.html

She is so kind to mention my contribution too. As Upstate New York 'neighbors', it was a pleasure to be published alongside her work.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Trouble With Azaadi

I would like all visitors to take a look at this post I came across recently:

Qalandar makes a point that's usually not given much space for discussion in the subcontinental forums, especially when passions run really high and national movements are deigned to be the only path for subverting existing nation-state strangleholds.

I'll return with my observations later.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Sulekha poetry prize

I don't have the audacity to post the poem here, I really never thought it'd be getting a prize. But Sulekha.com, the gigantic website that is a jolly pastime for expats and residents Indians alike as well as a few 'outside' voices, took a poem of mine and declared it one of the winners in one of their ongoing contests. This was a poem about my brother and me, seen through a very puerile juvenile pair of eyes, but no, really, I won't post it here! I am happy but a little embarrassed.

A couple of my other Sulekha poems are presented in the form of hyperlinks on this site. So if you find the one in question while chasing those ones, good luck! In the meanwhile, I am twiddling my thumb and hoping for more news about writings I have been submitting here and there.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Vogue-India: Not à la Mode

When Queen Marie Antoinette supposedly had said, "if they don't have bread, let them eat cake," about the starving French commoners during that infamous and controversial monarchical reign, she had underestimated the power of people and also, did not think much if her 'creative' quip would backfire that horribly, costing her own life. Legend may have spun this tale into something we all want to believe.

Priya Tanna is no Marie Antoinette and although being in charge of 'creative' aspects of Vogue India is something she is serious about, she is not serious about India's poverty and the way the fashion industry shape the middle class psyche, not legend but reality. She won't be guillotined for sure, but a lot of folks would want that little head of hers to think a little more humanistically.

Fascinating really is while the Indian media, of course those channels and papers that pride themselves as "mainstream", is busy producing oodles of newsprint and tape about the Indo-US Nuclear deal deliberations in Vienna, a handful of journalists are talking about a recent photo series by the fashion magazine Vogue-India. There's even a Facebook protest group.

Since the mainstream media is still dithering, let me cut to the backstory, a report in the New York Times:(http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/01/business/worldbusiness/01vogue.html)

According to Heather Timmons, the writer, for many in India there are reasons to feel squeamish about the photos as the editorial spread seemed “not just tacky but downright distasteful” according to Kanika Gahlaut, a columnist for the daily newspaper Mail Today. She denounced it as an “example of vulgarity.” There’s nothing “fun or funny” about putting a poor person in a mud hut in clothing designed by Alexander McQueen, according to Gahlaut who spoke in a telephone interview. “There are farmer suicides here, for God’s sake” she said, referring to thousands of Indian farmers who have killed themselves in the last decade because of debt."

Priya Tanna, the editor of the fashion magazine in question, tried dismissing the notes of disapproval. “You have to remember with fashion, you can’t take it that seriously,” Ms. Tanna said. “We weren’t trying to make a political statement or save the world.”

Precisely, that's the problem. Ms. Tanna ignored the fact that in a country like India, statements, reports, photos, features, songs -- everything has a political bearing. Every crumb of bread is politically earned by a huge majority. Every slice of cake produced (I presume Ms. Tanna likes her cake) by impoverished underpaid workers translates into social and political ballot. So, to depict a poor villager who perhaps earns less than $2 a day holding a Burberry umbrella or a toothless and clearly poverty-stricken old woman cuddle an infant wearing a designer French bib is nothing but political immaturity and an unpardonable frivolous act.
Do I then say that fashion cannot and shouldn't depict the poor and the underprivileged? Why not. I love fashion, I have my own version of it and I think the established fashion houses only need employ their resources a little better to "democratize" fashion in India.

Let's back up from the pseudo-arty pretension of Vogue/Ms. Tanna and see how else fashion events can make a difference. All of us here know about the UN's recent bid to promote awareness about sanitation and the NYC event where Indian sanitation workers (mostly Dalits) walked with top models (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7489296.stm). Naturally, the intention of that fashion event was to make the society open up its sluggish eyes (Cosmopolitan or Bloody Mary-induced) and look at folks who have barely earned any respect for a service they have been providing to a society divided so comfortably hierarchically...

Lip service? I'd rather have folks do that than turning away from realities as if they never existed. If Vogue had an iota of concern for the people they recruited (were they paid in French bibs and Burberry umbrellas?) -- perhaps a poor farmer like thousands we hear committing suicide, an old homeless woman, her ilk neglected and discarded, a baby representing millions that don't have basic care, a young girl who symbolizes gender imbalance and female foeticide -- I'd have probably looked at their campaign with sympathy in a country where it's cruel to call this photo series anything like 'art'.
Having said that, it's a pity that quite a few people still love a war, a drought, a hungry sad face... Be it fashion or news reportage or community outreach, so many book covers/magazine covers/annual reports (of NGOs too) etc. are full of sordid images meant to sell. If you ask me, one of my favorites is that famous photo of the Afghan girl (Sharbat Gula) looking with her stunned bewildered green eyes clicked by Steve McCurry. But then, here the photographer's mission statement was clear -- exposing the brutality and uselessness of war.
What is Vogue's mission in their caricature of a campaign? Just "lighten up" as Ms. Tanna said? She should probably suggest international Vogue editions to do high-fashion photo-shoots with East European war refugees, Katrina victims, rundown Chicago neighborhoods, jobless US auto workers etc., and see the reaction. Not only lighten up, she'll sober up too. If there has to be a fashion agenda making these folks the cynosure of all eyes, there better be a good reason beyond just selling magazines.
Why boycott Vogue India? They say the circulation figure is 50,000 although I doubt about the magazine's real following. Just march to Priya Tanna's office, bombard her with e-mails and phones, post blogs and messages, so she takes both fashion and poverty seriously hereafter. As a journalist I have seen worse, as an activist I don't want to see more.
My journalist friend Subir has blogged on this issue and as he mobilizes more opinions, I shall draft all that here.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


The September issue of KRITYA poetry journal is out. Three of my poems are featured in the section "Poetry In Our Times". Follow the link: http://www.kritya.in/0404/En/poetry_at_our_time.html to read the first one titled "Lost Landscape" and then click on "More poems by Nabina Das" to read the rest -- "Buddha's Children" and "Dialogues With Dilli" (you can click on the title of this post too, it'll take you to the relevant page of Kritya).
A very close friend asked me why I chose these three poems, and if there was any link among them at all. At a first glance, the three poems are geographically located in three different places -- Assam, my birthplace; Tawang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh, where I did my field-work for a Masters dissertation in Linguistics, and Delhi, where I lived for a decade or so studying first at Jawaharlal Nehru University and then working as a journalist for several years at several places before marrying a 'Delhiite'. The poet's voice, if there is something like that, is personal in "landscape" and "Dilli". When I shared these poems in an informal forum, I was told how the 'pain' of the first got re-generated in the third, in an altered form. The normative gesture of missing a lost landscape (birthplace) and another landscape (home away from home) where I lived for a considerable length of time, is iconized, according to my commentators. A few identified readily with "Dilli" because it is iconic of anybody's uprooting -- if roots are the only 'imagined' links -- from a place of utter familiarity. Nice supposition. But all the while, I contended that Delhi as a city had not enhanced my so-called rootlessness. What it had done is cast my own beliefs and fears into a complex relationship of unfamiliarity that I was ready to understand and to some extent, absorb. Hence, the question: "Dilli do you love me?" And this love is a new love, a grown-up love, somewhat carnal in flavor, as opposed to the sense of love's loss in "Lost Landscape" -- a love that is a child's attachment with her pleasurable as well as reviled things from the past (flute, Borgeets, bloodshed, death); a love that is now anecdotal in her contemporary memory; a love that she doesn't sanctify but showcases for sure. When finally my readers mentioned the words 'love' and 'roots', it was interesting to see the kind of symbiosis the words formed in the context of these two poems.

As for "Buddha's Children", the poetic voice there I think is pretty much a 'fly on the wall'. It's a documentary poem. Perhaps it should have spoken about the beauty of Tawang, the golden monastery, the breathtaking mountains all around, etc., if the poem were to follow a traditional descriptive route. But I'm glad it speaks about the people, the villagers, who make up the spirit of Tawang -- every morning as they trot up in a file along the precarious mountain roads to find work and come back exactly the same way. It's almost a set routine. What is not is the lavish monastery, the cheerful monks and their larder full of grains and food. The latter, therefore, never interested me. The villagers did, while they carried on building roads, scrubbing the Tawang courtyard spanking golden, minding their mules and children, chewing on their paltry meal and waiting patiently for the divine blessing to come.

In the same section of Kritya (second from the bottom), do read the wonderful poems of Vera Zubarev. Also, in the section "In the Name of Poetry", see Eileen Moeller's work. Absolutely refreshing.