eye for others
John Major with patients at Sankar Foundation Eye Hospital
ode to freedom
ludoos for girls
An eye for others
Ramesh Kandula on A. Sankar Rao’s initiative in setting up a charitable eye hospital, in Visakhapatnam, which has restored sight to many
When former British Prime Minister John Major and Standard Chartered Group Chief Executive Mervyn Davies made a day-long trip to Visakhapatnam on March 9 last, even the media had no clue what brought them all the way to the port city. The visit, off limits to the prying media, was undertaken to acknowledge a charity effort that had literally brought vision to thousands of rural people on the East Coast.
Sankar Foundation, founded by a businessmen who came up the hard way in life, is an eye hospital at Simhachalam on the outskirts of Vizag. The public-spirited institution has been making a difference to the medical and economic life of the deprived sections of north coastal Andhra and parts of neighbouring Orissa and Madhya Pradesh for eight years now.
The philanthropic effort received the attention of Major, who is a member of Standard Chartered Bank’s corporate social responsibility project, for the professional and focused manner in which eye care was offered free of cost to the needy. Sight Savers International chose the hospital for showcasing a documentary on prevention of blindness through a programme by BBC World, whose team exclusively covered the Major visit.
Sankar Foundation is the dream come true of one person, who knew not only how to make money but how to spend it for a purpose. A. Sankar Rao had a turbulent childhood but overcame all hurdles to become a successful businessman. "I had always an intense urge to serve the underprivileged. In 1995, I had decided to devote myself fully to the cause of social service with whatever money I had," 74-year-old Rao said. After taking care of his three children, Sankar Rao and his wife Yashoda willed Rs 2 crore to the charity efforts, keeping Rs 40 lakh for their upkeep.
He tried his hand at various social service activities but was not happy with the result. "I realised I had to restrict my area of operation, if my efforts have to benefit the maximum number of people with the resources that we had," he said.
The result was Sankar Foundation Eye Hospital, which had treated 2.5 lakh out patients and done nearly 50,000 successful eye surgeries to the poor since it was established in 1997. Presently, with nine full time ophthalmic surgeons, supported by 70 paramedical and administrative staff, the hospital is operating upon more than 1,000 patients a month. "The equipment is state-of-the-art and the place is well-designed for its purposes," remarked Dr Hans Tingsater, Member of the Swedish Medical Academy, who visited the hospital. The hospital undertook several innovative measures such as conducting eye camps in the villages and bringing the identified patients to the hospital, operating upon them and keeping them in the hospital for three days for post-operative care before sending them back, all at no expense to the patient.
The staff is paid market wages to ensure that only the best serve the patients. "I am very particular that we don’t give the patients the impression that they are beneficiaries of some charity. The emphasis is on quality surgery with love and compassion," Rao said. No wonder, recognition and donations followed to help the hospital take up its mandate in a bigger way.
Standard Chartered through Sight Savers International, Royal Blind Society, London and the Indian government are some of the agencies helping the hospital carry out its mission. Rao is now busy planning a state of the art premises with one lakh square foot building in two stages for the hospital at a two-acre land given by the Andhra Pradesh Government.
The first stage of the hospital will cost Rs 6 crore, out of which Rs 2 crore is available with the foundation. Rao is hopeful he would be able to generate the funds for the noble cause.
Major, who spent nearly eight hours
watching eye operations at the Sankar Foundation, meeting patients and
talking to the BBC crew that came from London to capture activities of
the hospital, was all praise for the "wonderful work" being
done. "I am happy to be here to witness a worthy effort," the
former British Prime Minister said.
Frida’s ode to freedom
revolutionary, painter of searing honesty—Frida Kahlo remains a
creative icon for our age. Sue Hubbard
looks forward to a major exhibition of her work
The work of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo has achieved near-cult status and resulted in numerous books, a feature film and, now, a major new exhibition at the Tate. Her total output was small, no more than 150 paintings. Yet her exotic, provocative and colourful life has become the stuff of modern myth.
Frida’s life was characterised by a series of dichotomies - the pull between Europe and Mexico, masculine and feminine, dark and light, ancient and modern, illness and health, and the personal and the political. These conflicts led to her lifelong investigations of female sexuality, sexual difference, marginality, cultural identity, power, passivity and pain.
Kahlo had a complicated childhood. Her mother was her father’s second wife, and she grew up amid rivalry with her half-sisters. Although her father, a photographer, was cultivated and sensitive to his daughter’s needs, her mother (known by Frida as el jefe - the chief) was more inclined to effusive religious avowals than to displays of maternal affection.
At the age of six, Kahlo caught polio. One leg became very thin and her foot was deformed, resulting in the nickname "peg-leg Frida" at the German College in Mexico City to which she had been sent. It had been her father’s idea for her to have a German education.
He was a loving but fragile man, subject to epileptic fits. She helped him touch up his photographs in the studio and he encouraged her interest in art and reading.
The very personal images of her broken and battered body have become iconic. Certainly she suffered physical pain from her injuries, depression due to her miscarriage and her inability to carry a child to term, and despair at Rivera’s constant affairs, and these events contributed to the rich, idiosyncratic, language of her paintings.
Her political sensibility is clearly visible in her less flamboyant still lifes of fruit and vegetables, which express a pride in Mexican identity; in the paintings that examine the imbalance of power between Mexico and the US; and in the images of her broken body, which reflect the shattered dreams of the Mexican Revolution. The personal is, in the case of Frida Kahlo, very definitely political. So what is her legacy? How important is she as an artist? Her rather flatly painted canvases have little to do with the ideas of gesture and surface explored by mostly male artists within the modern art movements of Europe and America in the first half of the 20th century, borrowing as they do from popular and native Mexican art.
Describing her life and work in 1943, Rivera said: "Frida’s art is collective-individual. Her realism is so monumental that everything possesses universal dimensions, and, as a consequence, she paints the outside, the inside, and the very bottom of herself and the world."
Pink ludoos for girls
V. Radhika reports on a film that is winning awards as well as forcing the Indian community in Canada to rethink social biases
The birth of a child calls for celebration. Well, not always. Not if it is a girl, and certainly not if born out of wedlock. But the determination of an unwed 19-year-old Sikh girl to give birth to triplet girls, thereby jolting a patriarchal social order is the theme of Pink Ludoos, a film that is winning critical acclaim and awards.
Laced with wit, the film tackles the serious issue of societal discrimination against women and portrays how people can cross geographical boundaries with their attitudes intact. And worse, perpetuate them. So in
British Columbia, when
a boy is born in the Punjabi community (it could be true of many
communities the world over), it is a time of great celebration, and
relatives hand out ludoos.
While Indo-Canadian filmmakers have explored themes of arranged marriages, inter-generational conflict, immigrant identity and so on, Pink Ludoos is the first to explore gender selection - aborting the female foetus. Even though, under Bill C-13, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, passed last year, the practice (of sex determination) is banned in Canada, many clinics in the US provide information about the sex of the foetus. It is well known that women, particularly from the Indian and Chinese communities hop over the border to these clinics for sex determination tests, says Belle Mott, 41, who wrote the screenplay for Pink Ludoos.
An English teacher, Belle (her real name is Balbir), entered Pink Ludoos at a screenplay writing competition. She won and soon Pink Ludoos moved from paper to the big screen when Brightlight Pictures picked it up and approached Gaurav Seth to direct it. The film’s title draws on the Indian practice of distributing ladoos on joyous/auspicious occasions. Although ladoos are usually yellow or orange, the choice of pink (which signifies girls) is deliberate and the message is clear: the birth of a girl is as much a cause to celebrate as that of a boy.
The producers suggested a title change since ludoos is an unfamiliar word to the mainstream audience, but Belle refused. Her stand: "The movie was about gender preference and I wanted the name to be a metaphor. We should get into our consciousness that girls are as valuable." Unfortunately, she says, the growing number of educated professionals has not meant a corresponding change in mental attitudes. While it is true that attitudes are changing, the change is too slow and Mott hopes movies like Pink Ludoos will hasten the process.
The film is a tongue-in-cheek journey into the superstitions and caste prejudices prevalent in the Indian community. In all the festivals it has been screened at so far, the audience has lapped up the film’s humorous take on these serious issues.
It was this very aspect that also attracted Gaurav Seth, the film’s director. Seth, 36, who made his debut with an award-winning film, A Passage to Ottawa, three years ago, snapped up the offer to direct Pink Ludoos. "I read the script and was totally sold," says the filmmaker who grew up in Mumbai and studied filmmaking in Russia before settling in Canada in 1999. Incidentally, Seth had submitted the script of a psychological thriller to Brightlight Pictures hours before they gave him Pink Ludoos. He says he was attracted to the film because it "was raising an important issue but in a humorous, palatable and playful manner." He filmed it with an inexperienced cast, in 16 days, and on a shoestring budget of Canadian $1.2 million.
Seth says the fact that comedies are underrated in terms of a message they can put forward has worked to his advantage. "People think comedies mean just humour and I like the fact that comedies are underrated for messages because you can make movies like this and sneak in a message or at least an idea to think about without making a big deal of it or without people expecting it. This makes the film even more potent than someone going into theatre knowing it is a serious film or raising a very important issue."
Seth also feels that this issue (patriarchy) in the Indian community is not talked about much, especially in the West.
Although Pink Ludoos
was originally meant to be a television film, the overwhelming response
to its screenings at recent film festivals in the US and Canada has made
the producers abandon its telly-screening and schedule a commercial
release later in 2005. At the Reelworld Film Festival in Toronto last
month, Pink Ludoos won the award for best Canadian film. While
the film has won all-round appreciation, some people have been upset
with the community’s portrayal, arguing that it reinforces stereotypes
and that Indo-Canadian filmmakers have a responsibility to portray the
positive side. "Yes there are problems, but when you are an ethnic
minority you are already stereotyped so much, you don’t like to see
Seth counters that such arguments stem from a "need to be accepted" by the White mainstream populace. "I am comfortable enough with my culture not to gloss over its negative aspects," he says. Mott argues on similar lines. "I am being socially responsible as a member of the community. Fortunately, my parents have been very liberal and provided me an education and voice because of which I feel a responsibility to talk about some things in our culture. I do not mean to criticise, but to look at our vulnerabilities and put them in a place where the mainstream audience can see them," she says. After all, she argues, "everybody has to admit there is a problem, then we can start addressing the issues." — WFS