The Hindu : Opinion / Lead : Conquering the fear of the setting sun

The article shared below is a beautifully articulated opinion piece on the recent deplorable gang rape and subsequent death of the young girl in New Delhi.

There is a need to change the collective mindset of our nation cutting across class/caste/geographical  barriers to reclaim the public spaces for women as a right and not by reservation.

We look forward to enjoying our fundamental right to move freely in any part of this country in the true spirit of freedom without the fear or stigma of being admonished for being in the ‘wrong’ place at the ‘wrong’ times and thus ‘inviting’ trouble.

We also look forward to a society where stringent  and rapidly executed punitive measures would serve as a strong deterrent to potential perpetrators of any form of crime outraging the bodily integrity of women…

Let the change begin within each one of us.

The Hindu : Opinion / Lead : Conquering the fear of the setting sun.

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On ‘Final Draft’

A diminutive small town girl struggles with creative writing skills. She knows her limitations. She is apologetic about her lack of talent. She knows she isn’t sorted. She fidgets and fumbles, but fiercely guards that dark little corner of her world which is the only source of inspiration for her haltingly penned, lackluster story ideas. Not even the dominating, larger than life, fast-talking self-appointed mentor can cross that boundary for a sneak preview. But when he does, he is ill-prepared for the onslaught ……

‘Final Draft’, a contemporary Marathi two-act drama written and directed by Girish Joshi analyzes the agony and identity crisis of a playwright and literateur who hasn’t quite made it to the hall of fame. What takes you by surprise and engages your intellect is the shifting power play between the young girl and the short-tempered mentor as roles are subtly reversed and viewers are left marveling at the deftness with which each character slides in and out of being the ‘protagonist’ of the story..

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Enough is enough

Enough is enough..Mumbai continues to be targeted and Mumbai continues to bounce back..The Junta is cynical..the Intelligence Bureau red in the face..the Netas demonstrate practiced outrage and lip sync with their counterparts who were at the helm of affairs when the terrorists struck in November 2008, July 2006, March 93 and then some stray incidences in between..
No one incidence is the same in magnitude and impact as the other though. Different persons die. Different families bereave. A new lot of people are critically wounded and only a lucky few survive with a broken leg or spine. The only common thread is the shared pain, grief and helplessness…
Similarly, the face and form of terror keeps changing…but the cold, calculated and ill-founded ‘ism’ of terror rings in the same message of doom and desperation holding democracy to ransom again and again..
Honestly..we need another ‘Wednesday’ now…let us shove their terror tactics up theirs’..that too in the language they understand best…

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Balgandharva

Young Narayan, a child prodigy, renders a soul-stirring natya-pada. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, spell-bound by his rendition, confers upon him the title ‘Balgandharva’…

Balgandharva lives to his name and carves a niche for himself in the history of performing arts as a singer-actor par excellence. He is remembered for the legendary female characters staged by him in all their regal splendour and charm in many a Marathi musical period drama of the pre-independence era. He has an eye for detail and a no-compromise attitude which make his musicals a visual treat. Unfortunately, he also shows a lack of business acumen. He squanders away his own resources to satisfy his unreasonably extravagant standards, which ultimately pull him down from the heights of fame and fortune to near penury. His relationship and business association with Gauhar Karnataki doesn’t exactly flatter his fading glory. There’s a bail-out in the form of a grandiose offer from V Shantaram, to turn to the silver screen. However, Balgandharva feels out of his depth in what he sees as an ‘impersonal’ medium and opts out after one half-hearted venture.

The Marathi magnum opus by Nitin Desai is a bravura attempt at presenting the character –sketch of the legend in its many splendoured dimensions. Superlative performances by a brilliant star cast, a glossed up, opulent 70 mm feel, near-perfect music scores and some memorable, heart-wrenching scenes raise the bar of this biopic, which could otherwise have remained just another eloquent documentary on the life and times of Balgandharva.

There are a few sore points though, which may not go well with a discerning audience…the casting of Gauhar Jaan seems inappropriate and out of sync with the actual persona…one wouldn’t expect a slender-waisted, fair-skinned PYT, to carry off this important role convincingly..And sure enough this character doesn’t blend well with the look and feel of the rest of the movie.

Also, a lot of characters move in and out of the frames rapidly, without giving the viewer enough time to comprehend the full impact their presence has on the narrative. The point made by the director to bring into focus the situation more than the characters creating it, is well-taken though.

The movie also tries to address the pangs of guilt suffered by the young actors about whiling away their youth in such trivia as the performing arts when their counterparts choose full-blooded militancy or passive aggression to oppose colonial rule. Balgandharva is portrayed as a sympathizer of the freedom movement doing his bit for the cause by donating the proceeds of an entire show to the freedom fund.

A question lingers in my mind though…were such theatre troupes supporting the cause of the freedom movement or effectively getting used to support the cause of the colonial rule by engaging a hall full of able bodied men into an activity of leisure when they could have taken to the streets or engaged themselves in other forms of organized opposition to the British rule and perhaps expedited the end-result of the struggle?

But I digress from the review…and while I digress I also mention that there remains a strong lobby of proponents who revere the contribution of thespians such as Balgandharva to keep the rich tradition of performing arts alive even in those turbulent times, besides using this medium to convey strong social messages. ‘Sangeet Sharda’ and ‘Ekach Pyala’ are milestones which prove the point.

And this final brownie point for the movie: It takes you back in the contemporary times of Balgandharva and engages you. You are just as amazed by the transformation of the handsome young groom Narayan as he deftly changes into a beautiful woman with restrained sensuality much to the indulgence of his young bride. You are left misty-eyed like the rest of the troupe as Narayan chooses to entertain the audience with yet another bewitching performance, holding back his own tears over an irreparable personal loss. Finally, you wonder why legends don’t get their own equations right. Is it perhaps the lack of a practical perspective of life, coupled with an extraordinary talent and an all-consuming passion to make this world richer by their contribution that sets them apart from the lesser mortals?

I left the cinema theatre with mixed feelings. To each one his own. The movie wins. Don’t miss it.

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The Kite Runner

 The pace is fast, the language, fluid. The characters so real, you can almost feel the towering personality of ‘Baba’ jump out of the pages and loom large over the sheltered but hollow existence of young Amir. You can see little Hassan, the hare-lipped faithful, risk life and limb running after the coveted prize. You shudder at the prospect of the impending doom as he bends around the alley. You are as much a voyeur as his alter ego Amir, who bears the cross for most of his adult life, until the opportunity for redemption presents itself in the most befitting way it possibly could have.

The changing life and times in a shell-shocked and broken Afghanistan provide a cold and sordid backdrop as the story unfolds the coming of age of two friends, the children of destiny. Khaled Hosseini has indeed penned down a blockbuster.  

Yet, what could have been a  contemporary classic remains a much-talked about bestseller as the story takes a predictable turn. Khaled Hosseini’s ‘Kite Runner’ is a superlative attempt at narrating   the well-worn and romanticized conflict of the protagonist with a painful past and pedigree.

It’s a recommended read for its sheer simplicity and raw appeal to the sensibilities of readers especially those from the Indian sub-continent. This lot has the relative advantage of early exposure to such legends as the mother-of-all epics, ‘Mahabharata’ to the more pedestrian Bollywood versions, where the overarching themes unfailingly are illicit relationships, illegitimate heirs, deceit, revenge, remorse and a friendship to die for.

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Sex education in schools: Doing the right thing and doing things right

For most children transition into adulthood is happy, healthy and unscarred. Boys become men. Girls blossom. They complete their education, find their match, explore their sexuality, marry, found a family and move on. Their environment is safe. Their boundaries are clear. Their value systems are inherited and passed on from one generation to the next with conviction. All is well. And this is Utopia.

The state of youth affairs in India tells a different story.
• Highly vulnerable to risks and most disempowered are adolescents (15-19 yrs) who comprise 33% of youth population and contribute towards 17% of total fertility.
• 60% of school children are victims of sex abuse.
• Talking about sexuality is taboo. There are restrictive interpretations of ideologies, customs and traditions.
• Higher risk sex and sex with multiple partners is not uncommon among youth in India
Young people face significant risks related to sexual and reproductive health, and many lack the knowledge and power they need to make informed sexual and reproductive health choices. They are growing up in a fast-changing world with rapid changes in attitudes and expectations.

A lot of national and international data on the need for sex education per se has been published. However, the debate rages on about the effective approach to introducing sex education in schools. There was a furore in recent times over a ban imposed by some Indian States on an adolescent education programme designed for 15-17 years in all state-run schools. The bone of contention was a manual for teachers that allegedly featured offensive illustrations and classroom exercises.

Critics fear a corruption of young minds and moral values and an increasing permissiveness in society through sex education. Many parents however find themselves more concerned about the environment their children find themselves exposed to when sex-education classes are being taught.

Sexual and reproductive behaviors emerge from and have an impact upon life contexts. Today’s generation is more clued in than ever about their internal and external environments. The focus is on adding life to years and not just piling on years to life. Healthy sexuality is an integral part of one’s being.
It is this aspect of sexuality that needs to make its way into the curricula of schools today. Curricula should indeed talk about ways of enhancing young people’s knowledge, attitude and behaviour towards shaping their own sexual identity . Education in human sexuality should be holistic and not restricted to an abrupt and half-hearted attempt at ‘sex’ education.
The Government of India has commissioned expert groups to come up with a module non-threatening, age, gender and culture-sensitive and free from negative value judgments.

NGOs have petitioned for more transparency in the process of developing a curriculum, and the participation of young people in developing the curriculum in accordance with children’s right to participate in programmes and policies that directly affect their lives and futures.

It is for conscientious parents, teachers and advocates of sex education to build support for a well-rounded value-based sexuality education programme in schools.

Manisha Bhise
August 14, 2010

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Non-Destructible Missile 1?

A team of researchers based in the UK are unsettled by the fact that even the most potent antibiotics, are rendered ineffective by a newly discovered enzyme NDM1. In its most virulent forms, NDM1 or New Delhi Metallo Beta Lactamase- 1, produces multi-resistant strains of bacteria, dubbed as superbugs. Infections caused by such superbugs increase disease morbidity and the cost of treatment putting health care systems the world over under the gloom of an impending pandemic due to the unchecked spread of these superbugs.

This serious public health concern surrounding NDM1 has been published in the recent issue of The Lancet, a reputed medical journal with international readership. The article also implicates the Indian sub-continent as the focal point of spread of the NDM1 carrying superbugs, underscoring the controversial name given to this enzyme. There is understandably a knee-jerk reaction from the Indian media, politicians and the scientific community to demand greater evidence for such a claim.

Rightful indignation notwithstanding, a lot of questions need to be answered for a deeper understanding of this issue. Scientific facts and data need to be presented in a balanced way to bring about greater public awareness about dealing with this crisis if it were to happen and also the means to prevent such an eventuality, taking a cue from the international response to the SARS and the H1N1 virus.

Can bacteria harboring the NDM1 enzyme exist in an individual’s body in a state of ‘suspended animation’ so that the individual may not show the symptoms, yet remain a carrier of the infection? What needs to be done to avoid exposure to such multi-drug resistant bacteria? Is the history of a brief visit to India evidence enough to prove that exposure to the superbug also happened in India? Is it possible that some of the infected individuals who tested positive for carrying NDM1 had acquired the infection elsewhere but it was only detected in India?

What are the public health implications of such difficult-to treat infections for a country like India? Should every individual suffering from a bacterial infection not responding to conventional treatment be tested for NDM1?

Can foreign nationals visiting India for elective surgeries carry a medical report declaring their NDM1 status? Would this be akin to asking for declaration of the HIV status, which is appropriately an infringement on an individual’s right to confidentiality and not mandatory in our country, despite enough evidences pointing to the origin of the virus in the West? Should alarm bells ring at airports the world over suspecting every traveler from India to be a potential carrier of NDM1?

Should there not be concerted efforts to contain the spread of the superbug before it poses a global challenge?

Lack of widespread awareness about treatment protocols amongst the masses, an indiscriminate use of antibiotics as over-the-counter medications by health care providers and a dearth of targeted public health interventions to improve the health seeking behavior of an uneducated, disempowered and indifferent population contribute to the increasing challenge of drug-resistance in India.

The powers that be should garner political will to strengthen preventive health strategies and fund research in India to contain the superbug with different treatment modalities. Immunotherapy, evidence-based herbal remedies are perhaps some research avenues worth exploring. Simple messages about personal hygiene and rational use of antibiotics need to be scaled up into national campaigns to raise public awareness about reducing the susceptibility to infections.

India cannot afford publicity for the wrong reasons, what with the world sitting up and taking notice of the country’s growing economy. Medical tourism is bringing revenue to the nation’s coffers like never before. Yet, the possibility of contracting the NDM1 while on a medical tourism trip to India printed in an internationally acclaimed scientific journal would be sufficient for the developed countries to rethink their strategies to collaborate with Indian multispecialty hospitals.

Superbugs will don newer, more sinister avatars and continue to do what they are best at: bugging the harried health care providers and threatening to wreak havoc amongst vulnerable communities. Conscientious scientists need to stay focused and work speedily towards inventing the next super drug to crack such superbugs. Else, the politics of power, the billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry interests and mass media hysteria have the collective power to rechristen the ubiquitous NDM1 into a sensational new weapon of mass destruction the ‘Non Destructible Missile 1.’  

Manisha Shashank Bhise

September 8, 2010

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