SOCIETY

‘Aisey hi to hota hai, Madam’
Women’s Day comes and goes every year with the right noises made for women’s rights at various forums. The bias and insensitive conditions against the fairer sex however remain a hard to put off reality, finds out Malavika Karlekar after a visit to the Kumaon region.

A tribute to Bal Guru
K.S. Bains on Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, which has been raised in memory of Guru Harkrishan. This is the fourth of the nine-part series on the important Sikh shrines in Delhi.

Family affair
Aditi Tandon
Sohaila Kapur is all set to bring out a biography, The Anands of Bollywood
Revisiting
history is a tough job and tougher still when the history is one’s own. But writer Sohaila Kapur does not seem to mind the challenge. For her, retracing the steps of the Anand family—once the fountainhead of cinematic excellence in India—is of paramount importance. 



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‘Aisey hi to hota hai, Madam’

Women’s Day comes and goes every year with the right noises made for women’s rights at various forums. The bias and insensitive conditions against the fairer sex however remain a hard to put off reality, finds out
Malavika Karlekar after a visit to the Kumaon region.

In this harsh terrain, life is cruel for women and children
In this harsh terrain, life is cruel for women and children

On March 8 this year - International Women’s Day - in Haldwani, Uttaranchal , a young employee who was filling in my application form for a BSNL mobile phone connection asked , "Father’s/husband’s name?" For a long moment, I looked at him incredulously. "Why is this on the form?" I fumed, grimacing. After all, BSNL is a relatively new corporation, new enough to know that following protests, the passport application form no longer asks such questions'. But the insouciance of youth! "Aisey hi to hota hai, Madam" (it is like this only, Madam), he said, impatiently, fingering his poised pen.

The struggle to make both ends meet continues for Kumaoni women.
The struggle to make both ends meet continues for Kumaoni women. — Photo courtesy: Anjali Capila

My identity sealed, I walked dejected, into the heat outside, barely avoiding rickshaws and pedestrians. I reflected mutely on all those years of taking to the streets for women’s rights on Women’s Day. And on impassioned discussions on violence against women, its many readings and understandings, investigating why girl children still did not go to school or had access to healthcare and so on. Though, along with many thousands of other women, being a part of the Indian women’s movement for well nigh two decades has changed my perspective on gender relations, I sometimes wonder whether our views are as yet not still a tip of the iceberg.

In Nainital district of Kumaon, over 60 per cent of the schools are still more than 5 km from home. Girls in Ramgarh, one of the eight blocks of this district of Uttaranchal, have to walk down more than this distance to the middle school in Talla Ramgarh. And it is not an easy terrain, through beautiful though darkly forbidding patches of the fairly dense Himalayan oak and pine forest. Naturally, the girls—as well as their families—prefer that they walk in a group. Recently, a man-eating leopard has lifted two young children and attacked a woman in nearby Hartola, spreading panic and rumour-mongering in the area. But the encounters girls need to guard against are not with wild animals alone. . .

When they come home, daughters help their mothers with fetching water, tending to livestock, younger siblings, old grandparents—the daily list of chores is unending. In the evenings, their brothers play cricket on the winding road up to Writer’s Bungalow, one of the two 19th century structures that form a part of the Neemrana chain of hotels. Loud shouts of "out nahin hai" (that’s not out) drown the gentle patter of feet as a young girl takes time off to play hopscotch in the courtyard. In all likelihood, mothers are returning carrying at least 10 kg of firewood on their heads, faces barely visible beneath the neatly stacked rows of oak branches. Fathers are migrants, daily wagers or unemployed – spending hours gambling and, as the night draws near, indulge in drunken bouts. Alcoholism is widespread and silently accepted.

Development, the building of roads, chronic poverty and the lure of as yet sylvan surroundings for middle class urbanites hoping to escape from the miasma of city life, has made the fertile terraced orchard lands highly marketable. With easy money has come indolence, more drinking and a fantasy of security that does not necessarily translate into more per capita investment in humans but rather in material goods. Each visit, I notice more shining DTH dishes atop houses, freshly painted roofs and hear the whirring of the village seamstress’s old sewing machine as she copes with a growing avalanche of orders.

A Scheduled Caste widow, who has brought up three sons and a daughter, she doesn’t own any land or livestock and is, at the best of times, the major breadwinner. Her eldest son works in the Army canteen in Almora, while the other two float in and out of jobs in a haze of inebriated nonchalance. Like most hill women, Sushila does not cavil at her lot. Our neighbour is a roadways worker and his wife an auxiliary nurse midwife. The mother of three beautiful daughters, she suffered from severe migraines. Mysteriously, these abated after her eldest girl was married across caste and community to a Punjabi who lives in Chandigarh and runs a family business. The other two too are waiting to flee the wilderness and cannot understand why we would want to live in Ramgarh. Their parents worry about dowry as the girls look plainsward—and soon enough, no doubt, Mamta’s head will start its familiar throbbing.

At the primary school, little Nepalis, children of stateless wage labourers, learn to find a space for themselves in a society where their fathers and mothers are at the bottom of the heap. Every year though more and more girls are in school, multi-tasking and juggling roles are internalised early. Familial obligations claim girls soon enough. Boys outnumber girls in the two computer centres run by public-spirited individuals and dropout rates are also higher among the former.

So far I haven’t had the courage to probe into the nature and extent of domestic violence—neither overt gestures nor innuendoes. For whether it is a disprivileged girl child or a middle-aged woman, the notion of who is fair game is not absent in any part of India. Like when we were driving back to Delhi on NH 24 on that same International Women’s Day, two young men on a speeding motor cycle wove in and out, accelerating and then falling back, grinning at the three women in a small car. Though blood pressures rose, we tried to ignore the latent aggression, the leers, and my young companions handled their annoyance much better.

For me, the invasive glances were somehow a gnawing counterpoint to all that March 8 stood for. I belong to the generation that had marched for `taking back the night’, worked with the mothers of dowry victims, shared their pain and debated legal reform. Those who have come after are, in many respects, the beneficiaries of those action-packed years when the Indian women’s movement was vibrant and constructive.

I felt I was justified in ranting about the motorcyclists. After all, such attitudes have been pilloried endlessly by the likes of us in many forums. Yet, clearly, that celebration of March 8 signifies a deep-seated struggle for half the world’s population is recognised by only a fraction. And appreciated by even less. It is this awareness which hurts when girls insist that their needy parents borrow to give them dowry. And are soon beaten within an inch of their lives in hostile matrimonial homes. Or when men eye women old enough to be their mothers and lewd comments waft through the heavy air of Indian marketplaces.

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A tribute to Bal Guru

K.S. Bains on Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, which has been raised in memory of Guru Harkrishan. This is the fourth of the nine-part series on the important Sikh shrines in Delhi.

Gurdwara Bangla Sahib
Gurdwara Bangla Sahib

This gurdwara is associated with Guru Harkrishan. Over time, particularly since Guru Arjan Dev, Sikhs had become a social and religious force under the leadership of their Gurus. There had been interaction between Sikh gurus and Mughal emperors. Emperor Akbar visited Guru Ramdas at a place, which is now called Jalalabad in Amritsar district. Since the time of Guru Arjan Dev, the Mughal rulers began to keep a watch on the activities of the Gurus.

Ram Rai, the elder brother of Guru Harkrishan had been sent to Delhi by his father Guru Har Rai to explain Gurbani to Aurangzeb, the then Mughal emperor. He distorted a verse in the Granth Sahib to please the emperor. He also performed some miracles for him. Guru Har Rai, displeased with his son Ram Rai’s actions, nominated his younger son Harkrishan as the next Guru. He also instructed him not to visit any Mughal emperor.

Ram Rai, who was five years older than Harkrishan, could not reconcile with this decision and kept on scheming against his brother. He succeeded in persuading the emperor to summon Guru Harkrishan to Delhi for a meeting. Guru Harkrishan initially declined to go to Delhi. Raja Jai Singh, a very influential functionary in the Mughal Court, however, persuaded Guru Harkrishan to come to Delhi. The Guru went to Delhi and stayed at a bungalow which belonged to Raja Jai Singh but he did not meet the emperor.

With the arrival of the Guru, the place was visited by a large number of devotees regularly. There was a small spring on the premises. At that time small pox had spread in the city. The Guru would give water to those afflicted with this disease from this spring. It is believed that the water given by him had curative powers. The Guru also went out into the streets to offer relief to those suffering from the disease. Later on, he too got afflicted with small pox and could not recover from it.

The bungalow of Raja Jai Singh where the Guru stayed has over the years become an important Sikh shrine and is called Gurdwara Bangla Sahib. The gurdwara is on a high platform with a large marble paved courtyard in the front. The main building of the gurdwara, with a high golden dome, is in marble. There is a sarovar with a beautiful arcaded veranda on the periphery. There is path running between the gurdwara and the sarovar. Though a part of it has been covered, the gurdwara and the sarovar do not merge into one entity.

Gurdwara Bangla Sahib is immensely popular. It is located near the Connaught Place between the Ashok Road and the Baba Kharag Singh Marg.

Guru Harkrishan was born on July 7, 1656 and died on March 30, 1664. His body was cremated at a place which is known as Gurdwara Bala Sahib, near Bhogal.

Initially, there used to be a service road in front of the gurdwara. Lt. Governor Shri A.N. Jha, keeping in view the sanctity of the gurdwara, had the road closed. As a result, the large park in front of the gurdwara almost appears to be part of it and has enhanced the ambience of the place.

The gurdwara houses Sr Baghel Singh Sikh Museum. The main approach to the gurdwara is rather shabby and is lined with ugly water tanks that have been placed haphazardly. An underground multi-storeyed parking lot, which is being constructed, is likely to ease the pressure on the parking space.

It is time an overall plan for the gurdwara is drawn up so that additions and alterations are not done in a haphazard manner. Location-wise and size-wise, the gurdwara may be one of the most important places in New Delhi. It could become a showcase of Sikh Gurdwara architecture if more attention is paid to its upkeep.

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Family affair
Aditi Tandon

Sohaila Kapur is all set to bring out a biography, The Anands of Bollywood

Sohaila Kapur: Recording family bonds
Sohaila Kapur: Recording family bonds

Revisiting history is a tough job and tougher still when the history is one’s own. But writer Sohaila Kapur does not seem to mind the challenge. For her, retracing the steps of the Anand family—once the fountainhead of cinematic excellence in India—is of paramount importance. There are several distortions waiting to be corrected and a whole new world of truth about Chetan, Vijay and Dev Anand’s lives waiting to come to light. And then there is the pressing urge to preserve precious past and escort it into the future`.

Fashioned as a biography, The Anands of Bollywood does not set out with any objectives nor does it attempt an analysis of the works of Anand brothers. Sohaila, their favourite niece, explains, "The book deals with their personal lives and my recollections of their struggles and successes. Despite being part of the so-competitive film world, they were incredibly bonded to one another. In fact, Dev Anand was at a complete loss after the death of Chetan Anand. In the book I trace the roots of their love. I also examine people’s diverse perceptions of the three great artistes."

The book concentrates on the lesser-known aspects of the life and times of Anands. It begins with Chetan Anand – the master craftsman whose maiden film Neecha Nagar became India’s first entry to the Cannes Film Festival. Interestingly, the book also dwells on Chetan Anand’s better half Uma. It was she who wrote the script for Neecha Nagar and for many other films which Chetan Anand later directed.

A childhood sweetheart, a friend, a co-worker, Uma Anand was much to Chetan Anand before the couple finally parted ways. But Sohaila Kapur’s accounts will tell us how Uma Anand mothered Vijay and Dev Anand long after her separation from Chetan Anand. "She was the most endearing woman. In her youth, she was famous as the "Gem of Lahore," and the Lahoris were pretty envious when Chetan Anand married her and took her away," says Sohaila, who has also delved into the romantic association of Chetan Anand and Priya.

The book, she says, follows the path of natural progression – from Chetan to Vijay to Dev Anand – and reveals the family spirit through a host of photographs never published before. Her accounts also devote space to her uncle’s sons, who have graduated to become actors.

Sohaila has not yet finalised the publishing details. All of now, she has just put everything together and got her famous filmmaker brother Shekhar Kapur to write a foreword for the book. Not many know that it was Dev Anand who gave Shekhar Kapur his first break in Ishq, Ishq.

While the book is on its way, Sohaila is busy setting up a department of theatre at Jamia Milia Islamia, Delhi. She is also working on a book on the warrior queens of India. For now, all we need to know is that Rani Laxmibai was not the only Indian queen who fought the enemy forces. Indian history offers accounts of at least 13 warrior queens who captained the Indian armies against the British Raj. What’s best—most of them were courtesans who later married the kings and ruled the states on their behalf. Hazrat Mahal, the concubine of Wajid Ali Shah of Avadh, was one of them.

Spirit away the addiction

Scientists from the American National Development and Research Institutes have explored the role of social supports, spirituality, life meaning, and 12-step participation in the process of recovery from alcohol addiction.

While the path to recovery is challenging, the study reveals markedly improved life satisfaction as recovery progresses as well as a decrease in stress, a critical finding since stress is a key predictor of relapse to drug use.

Supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the authors, scientists from the National Development and Research Institutes, Inc. (NDRI) in New York City and Chestnut Health System in Bloomington, Illinois, conducted one of the few comprehensive scientific studies of the recovery process.

Over 300 recovering persons recruited for the study in New York City, were interviewed in depth about their addiction recovery experiences.

"We were successful in demonstrating scientifically the way in which quality of life and recovery from addictions is enhanced by social supports, spirituality, religiousness, and participation with 12-step fellowship programs such as Narcotics Anonymous. Our work should give hope to everyone struggling with addiction and to their families, and guide clinicians toward developing individualized programs to maximize the chances of recovery," noted Dr. Bernard S. Arons, Executive Director of NDRI, where the research was conducted. — ANI

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