"I have seen so many naked men," a young prostitute tells a hesitant client in a 1970 Bollywood film called Chetna, "that I hate clothed men now."
Rehana Sultan, a 20-year-old debutante fresh out of film school, is playing the role of the prostitute. She's sprawled on a bed in a blood-red chiffon sari after fixing herself a whiskey, and is trying to coax her unwilling customer to join her in bed.
"I like what I do. Come to me, and I am sure you will like it too," she says, her eyes fluttering.
Sultan stands up on the bed, and drops her clothes. (The hairdresser on the set has given her a long wig, so the thick, fake tresses cover her upper body.) Then the camera frames her legs in an inverted V, with the man, faintly out of focus, staring at her from the end of the room.
The image becomes India's most talked about cinema scene and poster of the year.
It was the early 1970s, and time moved slowly in India. Not long ago, censors had banned Lady Chatterley's Lover to stop "prurient minds which take delight and pleasures from erotic writings". Bollywood was better known for its mawkish song-and-dance fare. Heroines, as filmmaker Shyam Benegal said, were "required to be pure and virginal".
Chetna, an uneven and gutsy film on the rehabilitation of a prostitute, was a rash outlier. The film, directed by BR Ishara, a chain-smoking maverick, appeared to shock India.
One critic wrote that Sultan "gives a shockingly bold portrait (sic) of the undercover, high-priced whore". She was called a "trailblazer who ushered in a sexual revolution with her boldly-defiant portrayal of the assertive woman".
Sultan, chimed another critic, "shatters every canon of the industry by accepting the role of a call-girl and mouthing bold dialogue". Most appeared to have forgotten the film. They revelled in calling the debutante, the daughter of an electrical goods contractor and a homemaker mother from the sleepy northern city of Allahabad, a "new, bold sex phenomenon". They believed audiences were flocking to the film to "see more of her legs".
At the end of the year, another film starring Sultan hit the screens.
Dastak (Knock), directed by respected Urdu writer Rajinder Singh Bedi, was about the travails of a struggling newly-wed couple who unwittingly rented an apartment, previously occupied by a dancing girl, in a red light district in Mumbai.
Sultan played a lonely and tormented woman, trapped in her apartment, while her husband, played by the versatile star Sanjeev Kumar, is away at work. They both suffer knocks on their door from unruly clients of the previous tenant.
'Typecast' Again, the posters showed a scene in the film where Sultan lies on the floor, ostensibly naked. The papers called it a "second-long nude flash" even though she merely bared her shoulder for the scene. The fact is Dastak was not a salacious film.
It is a story, writes Avijit Ghosh in a book on Bollywood classics, of the "dilemmas and choices that often confronted millions of lower middle class Indians in the 1970s".
In the beginning, Sultan became the toast of tinsel town. Some critics called her the "original superstar of new wave cinema for her two unconventional films". Her work was appreciated by the iconic Indian director Satyajit Ray. Most importantly, Sultan even picked up the prestigious national award for the best actress for her debut outing. (Dastak was shot before Chetna, but released a few months later.)
But, again, the chatter about her work veered to her "hot scenes" in the dark, unsettling film which was shot in bleak black-and-white.
Well-known critic Firoze Rangoonwala wrote that the "suggestive scenes meant that Indian cinema had reached adulthood at last." What was conveniently forgotten was that Sultan picked up the prestigious national film award for her debut film. She even made the cover of India's most popular film magazine.
Sultan soon found herself inundated with what Bollywood loved to call "daring and bold roles". Producers offered her scripts full of "rain and bathing scenes", a ruse to show skin. She literally ran away from a film because the producer gave her a "shocking" script. "The lines that I had to speak were not bold, but filthy. It made me sick," she told a film magazine.
Sultan rejected most of the scripts. She continued to work fitfully in largely unremarkable roles for over a decade, never reprising her early success. There were few interesting roles. After her marriage to Ishara in 1984, she slowly faded out.
"I was typecast for sure. The audiences thought I equalled sexuality which I found risible. Producers came to me with rain scenes, bath tub scenes. I would scoff and tell them, how many Indian homes had bath tubs, why are we being so unrealistic? So I refused a lot of roles," Sultan told me, when I met her recently in her modest apartment in an upscale Mumbai neighbourhood.
Now 67, she is touchy about being described as a "discard". "I made mistakes too, I chose the wrong films. People didn't discard me, I am still welcomed," she says.
"They ogled at her and dumped her," says filmmaker Sudhir Mishra, who cast Sultan in a small cameo in a film five years ago. "She was a pioneer in many ways, one of our earliest and rare professionally trained actresses. She was way ahead of her time. The tragedy is that she's now completely forgotten. It tells us something about India, about how we typecast people and obliterate history."
At 18, Sultan had applied on a whim for the two-year acting course at India's Film and Television Institute of India, whose alumni include some of the country's most stellar film talent. Two weeks and a screen test later, she was in.
She waded through books by method acting guru Konstantin Stanislavski, watched hundreds of films, became a fan of Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren and counted Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thief and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow among her favourite films. She also acted in dozens of campus films, shot by students.
"She was a very fine, natural actress. She was not coy, and didn't fit the popular female stereotype of the demure, the seductress,' says film critic Rauf Ahmed. A journalist who met her wrote that she is a "mature person, who doesn't giggle like the other overgrown kids in filmdom".
Sultan's two-film curse is the stuff of an actor's worst fear: typecasting. But it also underlines the difficulties actresses have always faced in the largely male-dominated and what many say is misogynist world of Bollywood. Arthouse directors fared little better: when Sultan went to a leading auteur to ask for a role in his film, he told her: "You are a good actress, but you are a commercial cinema heroine".
"The heroes always had the opportunity to right their wrongs and redeem themselves in our movies," says Benegal, "Heroines had no second chances, and can get typecast very quickly".
A critic presciently wrote in the 1970s that the Chetna image has "near-fatally run" over Sultan's indisputable talent.
"To her audiences - mostly males - Rehana is a three-letter word: sex. She is nothing if she is clothed. Which explains very simply why every film after Dastak and Chetna was greeted with polite and respectful yawns."
Bollywood has grown up a little over decades, and a bunch of young filmmakers, including a few women, are bravely trying to smash the jaded blockbuster formula. Feisty young actresses like Kangana Ranaut are speaking their minds and taking on the "establishment".
Far away from the klieg lights, Sultan yearns to return to the studios and says she is open to offers.
"I miss everything about acting. I miss the camera, the atmosphere. I wonder why I stopped acting. I am open to acting again. But will anybody take me now?"
There were rifles, body armour and a possible kill list, but not much punishment for the white man feds said was bent on ‘race war’.
The year was 2012. The place was Bowling Green, Ohio. A federal raid had uncovered what the authorities feared were the makings of a massacre. There were 18 firearms, among them two AR–15 assault rifles, an AR-10 assault rifle and a Remington Model 700 sniper rifle. There was body armour, too, and the authorities counted some 40,000 rounds of ammunition. An extremist had been arrested, and prosecutors suspected that he had been aiming to carry out a wide assortment of killings.
“This defendant, quite simply, was a well-funded, well-armed and focused one-man army of racial and religious hate,” prosecutors said in a court filing.
The man arrested and charged was Richard Schmidt, a middle-aged owner of a sports-memorabilia business at a mall in town. Prosecutors would later call him a white supremacist. His planned targets, federal authorities said, had been African-Americans and Jews. They’d found a list with the names and addresses of those to be assassinated, including the leaders of NAACP chapters in Michigan and Ohio.
But Schmidt wound up being sentenced to less than six years in prison, after a federal judge said prosecutors had failed to adequately establish that he was a political terrorist, and he is scheduled for release in February 2018. The foiling of what the government worried was a credible plan for mass murder gained little national attention.
Faces of terrorism
For some concerned about America’s vulnerability to terrorism, the very real, mostly forgotten case of Richard Schmidt in Bowling Green, Ohio, deserves an important place in any debate about what is real and what is fake, what gets reported on by the news media and what doesn’t. Those deeply worried about domestic far-right terrorism believe United States authorities, across many administrations, have regularly underplayed the threat, and that the media has repeatedly underreported it. Perhaps we have become trapped in one view of what constitutes the terrorist threat, and as the case of Schmidt shows, that’s a problem.
The notion of a “Bowling Green massacre,” of course, has been in the news recently. Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump, referred to it in justifying the president’s travel ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Conway had Bowling Green, Kentucky, in mind, but she eventually conceded there had been no massacre there.
She meant, she said, to refer to the 2011 case of two Iraqi refugees who had moved to Kentucky and been convicted of trying to aid attacks on American military personnel in Iraq. One was sentenced to 40 years, the other to life in prison.
Her gaffe, accidental or intentional, prompted a mock vigil in New York and a flood of internet memes. The imaginary massacre now even has its own Wikipedia page.
On Monday, Trump made the provocative, unsubstantiated claim that the American media intentionally failed to cover acts of terrorism around the globe. “It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported,” he said in a speech to military commanders. “And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.”
At the Southern Poverty Law Center, Ryan Lenz tracks racist and extreme-right terrorists. So far, he said, he’s seen little from the Trump administration to suggest it will make a priority of combating political violence carried out by American racist groups.
“It doesn’t seem at all like they are interested in pursuing extremists inspired by radical right ideologies,” said Lenz, who edits the organisation’s HateWatch publication.
Indeed, Reuters reported last week that the Department of Homeland Security is planning to retool its Countering Violent Extremism program to focus solely on Islamic radicals. Government sources told the news agency the program would be rebranded as “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism,” and “would no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States.”
It wouldn’t be the first time the Department of Homeland Security chose to look away. In 2009, Daryl Johnson, then an analyst with the department, drafted a study of right-wing radicals in the United States. Johnson saw a confluence of factors that might energise the movement and its threat: the historic election of an African-American president; rising rates of immigration; proposed gun control legislation; and a wave of military veterans returning to civilian life at a time of painful economic recession.
The report predicted an uptick in extremist activity, particularly within “the white supremacist and militia movements.”
Response to the document was swift and punishing. Conservative news outlets and Republican leaders condemned Johnson’s report as a work of “anti-military bigotry” and an attack on conservative opinion. Janet Napolitano, the head of Homeland Security at the time, retracted the report and closed Johnson’s office, the Extremism and Radicalization Branch.
Three years later, Richard Schmidt came to the attention of the federal government almost by accident. Schmidt had been suspected of trading in counterfeit NFL jerseys. Searching his home and store for fake goods, FBI agents discovered something far more sinister: a vast arsenal. A secret room attached to Schmidt’s shop “contained nothing but his rifles, ammunition, body armor, his writings and a cot,” wrote prosecutors in a court document.
Beefy, thick-necked, standing 6-foot-4 and weighing about 250 pounds, Schmidt had spent years in the Army as an active-duty soldier and a reservist. His military service ended in 1989 when he got into a fight and shot three people, killing one of them, a man named Anthony Torres. As a result, Schmidt spent 13 years in prison on a manslaughter conviction and was legally barred from owning firearms.
After searching his property, the government came to believe he was involved with the National Alliance, a virulent and long-running extremist group, which was once among the nation’s most powerful white supremacist organizations. They also suspected him of an affiliation with the Vinlanders, a neo-Nazi skinhead gang.
Founded by William Pierce, who died in 2002, the National Alliance has long been linked to terrorism. Pierce, who started the group in 1970 and ran it for many years from a compound in West Virginia, wrote “The Turner Diaries,” an apocalyptic novel that basically lays out a blueprint for unleashing a white supremacist insurgency against the government. The novel was described by Timothy J. McVeigh as the inspiration for his bombing in 1995 of a federal office building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.
FBI agents came to believe Schmidt had been planning his own string of racially motivated attacks on African-American and Jewish community leaders. The agents spread out across Ohio and Michigan to alert his apparent targets. “They had a notebook of information from Schmidt’s home,” recalled Scott Kaufman, the chief executive of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. “Some of the items related specifically to our organization and staff – people’s names, locations, maps. It was certainly disturbing.”
In court, the defense lawyer Edward G Bryan disputed the government’s portrayal of Schmidt, who was 47 at the time of his arrest. Bryan painted his client as a slightly eccentric survivalist who didn’t intend to “harm anyone, including those listed in written materials found within his property.”
The government saw it differently. Schmidt, prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo filed in court, planned to assassinate “members of religious and cultural groups based only on their race, religion and ethnicity.” His cache of weapons, added prosecutors, had only one purpose: to start a “race war.” Other court documents suggest that he planned to videotape his killing spree and email the video clips to his fellow white supremacists.
After pleading guilty to weapons and counterfeiting charges, Schmidt was sentenced to 71 months in federal prison by Judge Jack Zouhary in December 2013.
These days, Kaufman of the Jewish Federation in Detroit doesn’t think much about Schmidt. He’s got plenty of other things to worry about. “In the last two weeks in our community we’ve had two bomb scares,” as well as an incident involving spray-painted swastikas, he said. He’s noted a spike in anti-Semitic incidents over the past year.
“This whole thing is trending in the wrong direction,” he said.
France won its first Miss Universe crown in 64 years on Monday in a made-for-television spectacle where finalists spoke out on the refugee crisis and other hot-button global issues.
Iris Mittenaere, a dental surgery student from Lille in the north of France, beat 85 of the world's most beautiful women at the event in the Philippines scheduled for primetime viewing in the United States.
Mittenaere, 24, edged out Miss Haiti, the first runner-up, and Miss Colombia, the second runner-up, to win France's first Miss Universe title since 1953.
"I was very surprised. I am always touching the crown and saying 'Oh my God. I have the crown on my head. I don't believe it,'" Mittenaere said in a post-pageant news conference.
"French people love beauty pageants but they don't really know Miss Universe because never (did) our country win," she said, adding she would advocate for good hygiene and educating children.
In the final question round, the six remaining contestants were each asked questions relating to various political issues in their own countries or abroad.
When asked about the global refugee crisis, Mittenaere said France had the right to close its borders to refugees if it wanted but she also spoke about the benefits of migration.
"In France we want to have the most globalisation that we can. We want to have the biggest exchange of people that we can. Maybe someday that will change but now we have open borders," Mittenaere said, with her comments translated into English for the audience.
"Having open borders allows us to travel more through the world and to find out more about what's out there in the world."
Miss Kenya, another finalist, said Donald Trump's presidency "may not have been the choice of many people" in the United States.
"So many people oppose his position. But I feel that once (Trump) took up his position, he was able to unify the entire nation," said Mary Esther Were, 27.
Miss Colombia appeared to allude to Trump when asked why violence was prevalent in the world.
"Although there are presidents who don't get along with others, we work together to unite. Campaigns, respect and inclusivity to be able to have a social transformation that would educate our children," said Andrea Tovar, 23.
Monday's show was headlined by US performers including Grammy award-winning rhythm and blues group Boyz II Men and rapper and Grammy award nominee Flo Rida.
- Smooth ceremony -
Pia Wurtzbach of the Philippines won last year following a major blunder in which the host -- Emmy Award winner Steve Harvey -- mistakenly awarded the title to Miss Colombia.
Harvey corrected the error minutes later, apologising on air to Wurtzbach and Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutierrez.
The mistake featured prominently on Monday's show, with candidates and the home audience often ribbing Harvey about it.
"Steve, I never got to thank you but thank you for making me the most popular Miss Universe," Wurtzbach told Harvey at the opening of show.
Harvey this year got through the closing moments of the ceremony smoothly.
The Philippines agreed to host the pageant as part of efforts to draw tourists and investors.
Beauty pageants are also hugely popular in the Philippines, particularly among the tens of millions of poor who see the contests as a chance for their beautiful compatriots to live a life of fame and luxury.
But allowing the Philippines to host has proved controversial, with critics claiming the pageant would whitewash Duterte's brutal drug war, which has left more than 6,000 people dead.
Environmentalists also hit out at pageant organisers for letting the bikini-clad contestants swim last month with endangered whale sharks.
Hours after her rousing speech at the Women’s March in Washington, DC, on January 21, the American actor stirred up the crowd during a visit to the city.
Barely eight hours after her impassioned performance of the poem Nasty Woman at the Women’s March in Washington DC on January 21, actor-activist Ashley Judd hopped onto a plane to make her maiden visit to Kolkata. The 48-year-old Hollywood star of such movies as Double Jeopardy, Kiss The Girls, Heat and the TV series Missing showed no signs of jet lag at the private lawn of a sprawling colonial-style bungalow in one of Kolkata’s toniest neighbourhoods. Dressed in a gossamer dress with fresh mehndi on her hand, Judd was the highlight of an evening aimed at raising awareness and funds for Apne Aap Women Worldwide, a charitable trust that works towards empowering women with the aim to resist and end sex trafficking.
In India to lend muscle to the efforts of her old friend and Apne Aap founder Ruchira Gupta, Judd has been spending her time with children and women in the red-light areas and shelters run by the foundation. She is also one of the speakers at the Kolkata Literary Meet.
On the evening of January 25, Judd held a smattering of Kolkata’s business and cultural elite in thrall as she read out a story from River of Flesh and Other Stories: The Prostituted Woman in Indian Short Fiction (Speaking Tiger). The anthology, edited by Gupta, features 21 stories of trafficked and prosecuted women by celebrated Indian writers.
Judd chose Niranjana’s The Last Customer, the gripping and tragic story of Kani, a mute teenager from Karnataka who is forced into prostitution. Judd was completely in her element under a chilly winter sky and in a city alien to her. She took off her slippers, put on her reading glasses, sat down next to a table lamp and plunged right into the story.
Kolkata’s favourite singer Usha Uthup, actor Nandana Dev Sen and her husband John Makinson, financial analyst Mudar Patherya of Kolkata Gives, and textile revivalist Shamlu Dudeja were among those at the fund-raiser. The gathering was not even a fraction of the rapturous crowds Judd had addressed in Washington DC, but her reading was as rivetting as her rendition of Nasty Woman, a poem written by 19-year-old Nina Donovan in response to US President Donald Trump’s remarks about his electoral rival Hillary Clinton.
This wasn’t the first time Judd was reading out The Last Customer, Gupta said. “But every time she reads it, she adds a new dimension to it.”
That Judd had her small but attentive audience hooked to every word was obvious when silence followed her rendition of the last words from the story. It seemed that the audience was unsure of whether to applaud Judd’s expressive reading or mourn the murder of the mute girl.
Judd addressed the dilemma: “You are a very attentive audience. It is not easy to sit through a long reading like this,” she said.
If she felt the energy dip just a bit at that point, Judd channelled her inner performer to shake things up.
“I am going to do something that may shock you,” she announced, pulling out a large sanitary napkin from her jute bag. The sanitary napkin had been prepared by women rehabilitated by Apne Aap. Judd explained how a former sex worker had come up with a “recession-proof business idea” and went to great lengths to procure jute, cotton and other material to manufacture the napkins at a small unit in Kolkata. The actor was earnest and effective as she held up the sanitary napkin for the guests. Even if the gents in suits and crisp kurtas were squirming inwardly, they did not show it. Some of the younger philanthropists pledged to help the women sell their wares at private hospitals and pharmacies.
There were more such ideas that connected Kolkata to Washington. Judd had spoken about menstruation and “tampon tax” at the march as well as sexual violence and the right to self-determination. The big worry that she shares with trusts and non-governmental organisations in India and the US is cutbacks in government budgets.
Judd is not unfamiliar with the way the Indian system works. Many years ago, she was in Delhi when a young girl, the daughter of a prostituted woman, had been rescued by Apne Aap and whisked away to the Child Welfare Centre. Narrating the episode, Judd spoke of how she used her influence with a section of the Delhi elite to have the girl released.
“The pimp was claiming to be her father, and she was begging to go home to the foundation,” Judd narrated to warm applause. “I said I am not going to leave the country until this is resolved.” But the times have changed, and despite her best intentions, Judd may get a few nasty surprises of a different kind if she tried the same approach now in Delhi. Kolkata, at least for the moment, seemed more welcoming.
Women gathered in 30 cities to reclaim their right to safe public spaces.
Soon after a mass molestation in Bengaluru on New Year’s Eve, a CCTV video showing two scooter-borne men assaulting and molesting a woman on in Bangalore’s Kammanahalli neighbourhood went viral, provoking outrage across India. Women began sharing messages of solidarity on social media and a movement that began in those posts coalesced into a nationwide march on Saturday evening.
From Mumbai and Delhi to Nagpur, Bhopal, Silchar and Thrissur, hundreds of women across 30 Indian cities marched as part of the “I Will Go Out” campaign to stake claim to equal right to public spaces. The marches were organised by a collective of individuals and women’s rights groups under the name “I Will Go Out”. The collective describes itself as “a nationwide gathering in solidarity against sexual harassment and misogyny, and to reclaim women’s right to safe public spaces”.
The mass protest had its roots in the Why Loiter campaign of 2014, which encouraged women to “loiter” in public spaces or enjoy them for no reason, other than to make them safer for other women. Ironically, on Saturday, the protesters in many cities were denied permission by the police to hold marches and eventually had to restrict themselves to one area.
Still, women turned up in large numbers, shouting slogans such as “Ab kehti hai har ek nari, Din bhi hamara raat bhi hamari” (Every woman voices the same chant, the day is ours, and so is the night) and holding placards that read “Take back the night, break the silence, end the violence”.
At many marches, the protesting women shared messages of solidarity and described their experiences in public spaces.
“I have every right to be safe,” said a protestor, recollecting instances of sexual assault. “Let’s remember Manorama, let’s remember those 16 victims and let’s remember any and everybody who’s never had the courage to come out, and talk about sexual harassment.”
Without question, two of the most influential voices in a Trump White House will be Ivanka Trump, Donald's eldest daughter, and her husband Jared Kushner.
Ivanka Trump is 35 and has three children. Who would know that when they meet her, always glamorous, always poised, with nay a strand of hair out of place.
Ivanka -- whose mum Ivana was a Czech champion skier and model -- graced her first magazine cover, Seventeen, back in 1997, when she was just 16.
She then walked the runway for Versace, Marc Bouwer and Thierry Mugler, and featured in ads for Tommy Hilfiger and Sasson Jeans.
Today, Ivanka runs a lifestyle Web site, Ivankatrump.com and also has a clothing and accessory line, the Ivanka Trump Collection.
With over 2 million followers on Twitter and 1.8 million on Instagram, Ivanka is as active on social media as her dad, doling out fashion advice to her followers.
During the election campaign, when The Donald, wildly strayed from script and his campaign staff ran amuck, Ivanka and her husband, billionaire realtor Jared Kushner, restored order and talked sense into the candidate.
After her parents' messy divorce, which her brothers Donald Jr and Eric took badly, Ivanka made it a point to reach out to her dad, spending time in his office after school.
Clearly, she is the favourite among Trump's five children from his three marriages.
The English version of the 2016 production ‘Flight Crew’ navigates turbulence and preposterousness to deliver edge-of-the-seat thrills.
Accomplished Russian blockbuster Flight Crew has arrived in India in a dubbed version with a new title and British accents. Nikolai Lebedev’s The Crew sets up its characters nicely for a little over 50 minutes before launching full-throttle into disaster movie zone, involving two planes that escape volcanic eruptions on an earthquake-hit island and navigate turbulence and preposterousness.
Movie star-handsome pilot Alex (Danila Kozlovsky) is kicked out of the military after he disobeys an obnoxious general. Relegated to trainee commercial pilot status, Alex comes into contact with chief pilot Fitzgerald (Vladimir Mashkov, who has also appeared in the Hollywood productions Behind Enemy Lines and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and fellow pilot Sandra (Agne Gurdyte). A short romance with Sandra goes nowhere, while Fitzgerald’s love for the rulebook frequently gets Alex into trouble.
Alex gets an opportunity to prove his mettle when he accompanies Fitzgerald on a rescue mission to an earthquake-ravaged island. When it appears that Alex has died during the rescue, Fitzgerald takes off with Sandra even though his son (Sergey Romanovich) is among the suspected victims.
Fortunately for Fitzgerald and the movie, Alex is not only alive but in hot pursuit of Fitzgerald’s aircraft, which has developed serious snags and is no position to land. A daring mid-air passenger transfer (yes, you read that right) is so convincingly filmed that it allows for suspension of disbelief to fly away with as much force as the few hapless flyers who don’t manage to make it.
Russian reserve keeps emotions within check, while Lebedev’s firm-handed steering and superbly filmed action scenes ensure that the mid-air heroics are always believable. Some Hollywood-style dialogue has crept into the dub – “Crazy? That’s what we need right now,” growls Fitzgerald when the passenger transfer is proposed – but all things considered, The Crew is less manipulative and gimmicky than the average Hollywood air disaster genre movie.
One of the movie’s inspirations and guiding lights is Alexander Mitta’s classic Russian disaster movie Air Crew (1979). The Crew lands amidst a couple of mysterious Russian air disasters and general global suspicion about the country’s role in contributing to Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential elections. The movie is surprisingly low-key in jingoism, and its gruff celebration of Russian courage under fire is best captured in the stoic faces lining the control room at headquarters. Hollywood would have pumped up the volume and thrown in a few ”Goddamits!” Bollywood would have added a song to the mix. In The Crew, the men and women in the control room keep their collective nerve and wait. The stretched ending is Hollywood; the treatment is resolutely not.
Vinod Mehta’s book on Meena Kumari is a book-length fan letter disguised as a biography. The journalist frequently refers to Meena Kumari as “my heroine” and gives a deeply personal account of her rise to stardom, her colourful private life, and the tensions with her husband, Kamal Amrohi, which nearly derailed the completion of her final film, ‘Pakeezah’. The movie was released in 1972 a month before the actor’s death, and it is regarded as a fitting tribute to a great star as well as one of Amrohi’s finest works.
On 16 March 1969, five years and twelve days after she had left her husband, Meena Kumari reported for work again on Pakeezah. Kamal organized a great reception. He gave his wife a peda (sweet) as a peace offering, and made a documentary film of her arrival at the studio.
From March 1969 to December 1971, Amrohi and my heroine worked and worked and worked. The last three years were years of feverish activity. Meena now had time on her hands and she willingly gave any dates that her husband required.
Every film, I suppose, has incidents behind it. So has Amrohi’s Pakeezah.
‘Even dacoits watch films’
On outdoor shooting, Mr Amrohi’s unit travelled in two cars, and these cars were poised in the direction of Delhi. Near a place called Shivpuri in MP, the cars all but ran out of petrol. There were just a few trickles left and for miles around there was nothing except a long, deserted, straight road. It was discovered that a bus passed on this route every morning from which fuel could be purchased. ‘Good,’ said Amrohi, ‘we’ll spend the night here.’
He said this without knowing that he was in the thick of India’s most notorious dacoit area. Mr Jayaprakash Narayan had not yet started his mission to reform the criminals and these dacoits were reported to be both ferocious and heartless. On learning where his cars had halted, he ordered that his unit roll up the windows of the cars and hope for the best.
A little after midnight the occupants of the vehicles were disturbed. They were surrounded by a dozen men. The men knocked on the closed windows and forced their way in. They said they were taking the cars to the police station. The unit did not believe this, but the men were armed and as Mr Mao has taught, all persuasion comes from the barrel of a gun.
The cars were led into a gate. There the occupants were ordered to get out. My heroine, already unwell, was in bad shape. She thought the dacoits meant bodily harm. Mr Amrohi, however, refused to get out of the car. Whoever wanted to meet him could come here, he said.
A few minutes later a young man wearing a silk pyjama and a silk shirt appeared.
‘Who are you?’ he asked.
‘I am Kamal,’ Mr Amrohi replied, ‘we are on a shooting assignment. We ran out of petrol and are stranded.’
The dacoit thought shooting meant rifle shooting and Amrohi had to explain that they were film shooters. This relieved the dacoit and when he learned that one of the persons in the car was my heroine, his attitude completely changed.
Even dacoits, on their day off, see films, and so did this robber. He turned out to be a Meena Kumari fan and welcomed his guests in true fan tradition. He organized music, dancing, and food. He provided place to sleep. He instructed his juniors the next morning to fetch petrol for the unit.
From my heroine he wanted a special favour. He sharpened his knife and took it to her. ‘Please autograph my hand with this,’ he requested. Meena was not new to signing autographs but she had never attempted anything as ambitious as a knife.
Nervously, she wrote her name on this man’s hand. He said he was grateful for this favour.
Once the unit left, they found at the next town that they had spent the night in the camp of Madhya Pradesh’s renowned and dangerous dacoit—Amrit Lal.
‘Meena Kumari’s supreme test’
About February 1972, Pakeezah was very much in Bombay’s air. The populace was wondering if this heralded and much-talked-about film would live up to its great expectations. The Illustrated Weekly in its 30 January issue headlined: ‘Meena Kumari’s supreme test’. There seemed to be some doubt whether my heroine in her advanced age could do justice to a part which was reported to be grilling and grinding.
On 3 February, in the Arabian Sea a ‘Pakeezah Boat’ was sailing and in Maratha Mandir the premiere was scheduled. A one-and-a-half-crore rupee film, CinemaScope, Eastmancolor, fifteen years in the making, was at last to be screened.
Looking reflective and refined, my heroine arrived to attend the last premiere of her life. She let Mr Raaj Kumar, for the benefit of the press, kiss her hand and then she went in to see the film.
The next morning reaction was discouraging. The Times of India in an unflattering review called Pakeezah a ‘lavish waste’. Later, the resident critic of Filmfare, Mr Banaji, gave it one lonely star (this rating means very poor). Most of the so-called sophisticated critics of India had no time for the hackneyed story of a dancing girl.
My heroine, however, silenced the sceptics. At the age of forty, she had come roaring back to form and demonstrated that she was still in a class of her own. Sahebjan had come out with flying colours; Sahebjan’s creator with not so flying.
The Urdu press, more in sympathy with the concept, was fulsome in its praise. They called Mr Amrohi’s effort sensitive, historic, moving, beautiful …
Meena Kumari’s Sahebjan is not my favourite. I don’t know why, I saw only competence in this part and not genius. While she was dancing. I would have preferred more lust. While she was playful, I would have preferred more frivolity. While she was briefly happy, I would have preferred more joy. While she was resigned, I would have preferred more fatalism.
I suspect, however, that long after she is dead and gone, millions in India will remember my heroine as the woman who danced and sang ‘Inhi Logon Ne’.
Who deserves credit for ‘Pakeezah’?
Raging controversy exists as to who is the true owner of Pakeezah. There is a large body which says that without Meena Kumari this film is nothing.
Let me make my own position on Pakeezah clear. I thought it was a flawed but noble attempt. No one before Amrohi had captured honestly the dilemma of the dancing girl. Certainly many debased and unworthy commercial formulas were used. Certainly the story was unoriginal, and all that bit about the train stopping inches away from the heroine could have been avoided. But what makes this long-awaited film worthwhile is its devotion, its period authenticity. I don’t think I have seen any other film which evokes a strata of Muslim society with more correctness and realism than Pakeezah.
Of course the difficulty is that Amrohi’s is a minority film. Mr Banaji, the very worthy critic of Filmfare, and other worthy critics dabbling in Pasolini and Renoir are disqualified from comment. If you have no sympathy with Muslim folklore and if you can’t speak and understand Hindustani, you might as well not see Pakeezah. When one nautch girl says to another, ‘Sahebjan ham ko ek din ke liye apni kismet de do,’ the nuances of this request can only be relished by someone who comprehends the language, and by someone who has been to the ‘kotha’ of a dancing girl himself.
I don’t think Pakeezah is a great film. But compared to the likes of Hare Rama Hare Krishna it is a classic.
Nostalgia as a box-office ingredient is new. Those who do not like Amrohi say that this film is only running because of Meena’s timely death. The crowds outside Maratha Mandir and scores of other cinemas all over the country are crowds of reverence. These people have not come to see Pakeezah, they have come to pay respects to Meena Kumari.
Amrohi denies this. His film, he feels, is gathering crowds entirely on merit. Although I somewhat agree with him, I feel a small percentage of the crowd is possibly on a pilgrimage. The major percentage is there to see Mr Amrohi’s wizardry. No film can run house-full for thirty-three weeks, as it is today, on nostalgia alone.
This still does not answer the question, whose film?
I think you have to be some sort of pervert to deny Kamal Amrohi his right to this film. He used my heroine at an age when she was lost, he used for his leading man an actor who was no Rajesh Khanna, he took for a music director someone who was in disgrace and unemployed—and from this he produced one of the greatest hits in recent times.
My heroine herself acknowledged Kamal’s ownership. ‘Pakeezah is the beloved which has been born of this film-maker’s imagination nearly two decades ago. Pakeezah is the vision which has haunted his soul for as long as I can remember.’ Ashok Kumar made the same point, a little more openly, ‘Actually and literally Pakeezah is Kamal Amrohi, and Kamal Amrohi alone. Every frame of it, every motivation, every plot-curve, every character in it, is exactly as its visualizer conceived.’
On Monday, January 16 2017, the Supreme Court allowed a woman from Mumbai who is 24 weeks pregnant to have an abortion because her foetus had anancephaly – a life threatening condition in which the baby does not have parts of brain and skull. India’s 45-year-old law governing abortion – the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act– allows a woman to abort her foetus only up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. In July, the Supreme Court allowed a rape victim to abort her 24-week old foetus. The Centre has put out a draft amendment in 2014 which is yet to be passed in the Parliament. Dr Nikhil Datar, medical director of Cloudnine Hospital in Mumbai and petitioner in both the Niketa Mehta case in 2008 as well as the case that was decided on Monday, spoke to Scroll.in about the need to amend the Act to increase the 20-week limit.
Ten years ago, I had a pregnant woman come to me who delayed getting her sonography, which is normally scheduled between the 18th and 19th week of pregnancy. She came to me in the 22nd week of pregnancy with a report that was devastating. The foetus had significant hydrocephalus – fluid had collected in the brain – and spina bifida with the lower part of the body paralysed. I had to explain to the patient that there was a significant chance that her baby could be born in a vegetative state or severely retarded both physically and mentally.
On hearing this, the woman wanted to terminate the pregnancy. I told her that that her pregnancy had advanced beyond 20 weeks. Although termination of pregnancy is medically easy it is illegal and criminal in India to terminate a foetus older than 20 weeks. I told her that I would not perform the medical termination of her pregnancy but also that I would not come in her way if she wanted to go to another doctor. However, the woman kept asking me to perform the abortion while I kept refusing as I never wanted to be a part of illegal activity.
I delivered the woman’s baby and I tried to see that she had the best possible care. The baby lived for a few years –debilitated and in a vegetative state. The child had no bowel control and suffered severe mental retardation. The mother gave up her job. Their family was not financially well off but all their resources were directed towards the care of this child.
I would see this patient often and I could sense that she felt I was indirectly responsible for her plight. But we were in a wrong system with the wrong laws. Telling someone to continue their pregnancy against their will is wrong. Making them desperate enough to terminate their pregnancies illegally, maybe in some corner of the village and risking their life, is equally bad.
The Niketa Mehta case
In 2008, Niketa Mehta came to me after 20 weeks of her pregnancy had passed with a diagnosis that her foetus had a severe heart problem. When she said she wanted to terminate her pregnancy, I told her that I was with her ethically, emotionally and morally but I could not help her end her pregnancy. I could only help her take the matter forward legally. She was willing to challenge the law, but wanted me to be the first petitioner. That is how we moved the Bombay High Court.
There was no such case in the history of the Indian judiciary. We lost the case in in Bombay High Court but I decided that I was going to pursue the cause, even though Mehta had a miscarriage at this time and lost the foetus.
Under normal circumstances, pregnancy causes a lot of stress for a woman. When she gets a prognosis that the pregnancy is bad and further, that she will have to continue the pregnancy to term, it is absurd, unfair and unjust and against human rights and health rights.
The 20-week deadline
Before 1971, India’s law did not allow abortion at all. Under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act passed in 1971, woman have been allowed to seek termination of pregnancy. The job of a doctor, under this law, is that of a gate keeper here, to facilitate the termination of pregnancy under the following conditions. A woman is allowed to abort a child if there is substantial risk to mother’s life, if there is a risk to her physical or mental health or there is a risk of the child being born with a handicap. For the later two indications, the law allows termination only up to 20 weeks of the pregnancy.
Here is the problem – why this cut off at 20 weeks?
Neither the Shantilal Shah Committee report on which the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act is based nor the Parliamentary archives contain any documents explaining the 20-week limit. One can only guess that the deadline was decided based on the time around when women start perceiving movements of the baby. In the days before sonography doctors would detect the signs of life in the foetus only around this time.
Some people argue that an abortion beyond 20 weeks is risky to the life of the woman. That might have been the case 45 years ago but does not hold true today. The United Kingdom allows abortions till 24 weeks and, if there is a risk to the life of the woman and a substantial risk of the baby being born handicapped, the pregnancy can be terminated any time. China allows abortions till 28 weeks.
Another argument that is sometimes put forward is that allowing abortion beyond this time frame will lead to an increase in sex-selective abortions. In my 25 years as a gynaecologist, I have seen that those who want to undergo sex-selective abortions do not wait till they cross 20 weeks. On the pretext of controlling sex-selective abortions we cannot let other women suffer because the government is not able to control sex determination.
Yet, I have demanded in my petition to the Supreme Court that late terminations should be adequately scrutinised by a committee and performed only at specific hospitals after due diligence and quality control.
Small moves in the right direction
While we can understand and appreciate that in 1971 it was a very big leap to legalise abortion, we also need a law to keeps pace with advances in health technology. Since the Niketa Mehta case case – legally documented as Dr Nikhil Datar Vs Government of India – there have been many encouraging movements by the government. In 2009, a committee headed by the then health secretary Naresh Dayal said that abortion should be permitted up to 24 weeks. The Women’s Commission of India has also written to the government to seek similar amendments to the Act. In 2014 government itself proposed a draft amendment to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act that addresses the problem but has yet to be passed by Parliament.
There have been a slew of individual cases seeking abortions after 20 weeks. In the past year, there have been high court and Supreme Court judgments allowing medical terminations beyond 20 weeks.
Last week, I had four patients beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy with severe anomalies in their foetuses. If a single doctor has so many cases in just one week, one can imagine the magnitude of the problem. This is a serious public health hazard, and it is high time the government either amends the law or passes an ordinance to extend the limit on terminating a pregnancy and empower women to make their own decisions regarding their reproductive rights.
Only 15 people of Indian origin have won the coveted prize. Hoping to correct this situation, reports Pallav Bagla, India has embarked on the most intense dialogue with the Nobel Foundation till date.
The Nobel Prize is one of the most coveted awards of the world and India's strike rate is abysmally low -- just four Indian citizens have won the award out of the 870 individual winners since 1901.
India accounts for every sixth person who walks on the globe and the number of Nobel Prizes won by Indian citizens amounts to a mere 0.45 per cent for a country of 1.3 billion!
In all, only 15 people of Indian origin have won the coveted prize.
Hoping to correct this situation soon, India has embarked on the most intense dialogue with Nobel Foundation till date.
Towards that there is an effort to expose the younger generation to what it means and how lives have been transformed by thinkers and doers who won the Nobel Prize.
As part of the mega Vibrant Gujarat event held in Gandhinagar, India invited nine Nobel Laureates in science to engage with large audience hoping they would trigger the minds of young Indians to take up a career in science and then push the frontier to bring laurels to the country.
Inaugurating a special exhibition organised by the Nobel Foundation at the Science City in Ahmedabad, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose affection for science and technology is well known, gave his own mantra to the youngsters who may hold such aspirations.
Speaking to a largely 5,000-odd young audience, Modi said, "Be inspired and be daring, have courage and be your own person and not imitative. That is how our honoured guests (the Nobel Laureates) succeeded and that is what you should learn from them."
Inspiring words from a charismatic leader who got a rock star welcome from the normally less than effusive scientific community.
"The Laureates represent the peaks of science and you must learn from them. But remember that the peak rises from great mountain ranges and does not stand alone," Modi added.
The Department of Biotechnology and the Nobel Foundation have signed a five-year agreement where annually the Swedish organisation will bring to India about a dozen Nobel Laureates who will deliver talks, meet students in mega fairs and concomitantly an exhibition titled 'Ideas that Changed the World' would be put up to show case the award-winning work.
All in the hope that at least some young minds will be ignited to take up a passionate career in science.
India last won a Nobel Prize in science way back in 1930 when C V Raman got a Nobel in Physics for his discovery of the Raman Effect and since then the prize has eluded Indian scientists.
It is not that Indian S&T has not done well, India is today recognised as the sixth largest powerhouse by way of number of science publications, but the big award has evaded Indian boffins. Some even suggest it is the colour of the skin that mattered.
While the temporary Nobel exhibition housed at the 100-hectare Science City in Ahmedabad for the next five weeks may get a lot of footfalls with the replica of the Nobel gold medal and some original personal artefacts of Wilfred Nobel being on display including the now famous 'dynamite sticks' on which Mr Nobel made his fortunes.
But viewers may not be any wiser on many Indian contributions.
There is just a short video clip on Rabindranath Tagore who won a Nobel in Literature in 1913.
There is absolutely no mention of C V Raman in the Nobel Exhibition even though his path breaking finding are now used to detect bombs and explosives on almost every airport of the world.
Amartya Sen, the 1998 Nobel winner for economics, finds zero mention on all the panels.
Interestingly while there is a whole panel devoted to the world's youngest Nobel Awardee from Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai, there is no mention on the same panel that she shared the Peace award with India's very own firebrand child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi in 2014.
Such omissions are very stark and hopefully in the next four years of the exhibition a special India section would be created as local role models with whom one can relate to are more inspiring than distant foreign achievers.
The Rs 4 crore (40 million) India has spent on the series called 'Nobel Dialogues' would be well spent if India centric suitable additions are made in the coming episodes.
To gloss over suggesting that the exhibits are chosen by the Swedish would be a travesty of justice since as it's said he who pays plays the tune.
Moreover, the Nobel Foundation is also engaging with India for its own benefits as they till now have largely ignored the world's largest democracy.
Some of the people visiting the exhibition also complained that while there was a panel on inventor Guglielmo Marconi and the wireless technology, but there was no mention even by the volunteers in the interactive verbal explanations that India's own J C Bose was slighted in the 1909 award.
Subhash Minda, a physician at the SAL Hospital in Ahmedabad who came with his whole family, said, "This was just not acceptable."
Another irony that could not be overlooked since the Nobel exhibition was being held not far from the famous Sabarmati Ashram was the fact that the Nobel Foundation missed out in bestowing a Nobel Prize to Mahatma Gandhi.
Ironically, one of the panels on display has a prominent mention of 'indigo' the dye extracted from the plant Indigofera tinctoria which led to Gandhi organising his first satyagraha in 1918 that subsequently came to be known as the Champaran Movement.
It is ironical that the Nobel Foundations outreach unit displayed a pair of 'blue jeans' showcasing work on dyes and missed the sensitivity of the Mahatma's aura in his own city.
"I think Gandhi should have won the (Nobel) prize," said Lars Heikensten, executive director of the Nobel Foundation, adding that they have a section on their Web site which says 'Mahatma Gandhi - The Missing Laureate'.
It is almost unpardonable to have an exhibition in the Mahatma's own home town on the subject 'ideas that changed the world' and ignore displaying anything on 'non-violence', an idea that got India its independence.
Nine visiting Nobel Laureates -- the single largest contingent ever to come as a team to India -- are travelling across the country to inspire Indians through their real life stories on how to succeed and more importantly how to overcome failures but stay the course.
India is rapidly awakening and is no longer a pushover in the world order, there are many Indians who deserve the Nobel Prize, recognise them soon.
Immigration has been one of the biggest issues in the on-going US elections, with Republican candidate Donald Trump building his entire campaign around the idea of keeping people out. Not counting his blatantly bigoted statements calling for all Muslims to be banned from the US, Trump has focused primarily on people making their way over America's southern border, from Mexico. The most recent figures, however, suggest that Mexico isn't even the biggest source of immigrants to the US. That position is held by India.
An analysis by the Wall Street Journal revealed that in 2014, the latest year for which US census data are available, more Indians immigrated to American than people from any other country. Mexico wasn't even in second place, with that distinction instead going to China.
The figures include both legal and illegal immigrants, and don't distinguish between the two. Specifically they cover the foreign-born population in America whose residence the year prior had been a country other than the United States.
In fact, the 2014 figures aren't even an outlier. Mexico didn't even come in at first place in 2013, when a historic shift saw both India and China eclipsing America's southern neighbour, thanks in part to a spike in Chinese immigrants. And the shift is indeed historic. According to the WSJ, as recently as 2005 Mexico was sending 10 times more people to the US as China and more than six times as many as India.
This doesn't mean there are more Indian immigrants in the US than Mexicans – not by a long shot. In 2014, there were 11 million people who had been born in Mexico in America, compared to just 2.2 million Indian-born people. What it suggests instead is that fewer Mexicans are now crossing the border to enter the United States, while Indians continue to migrate in droves.
Indian-born immigrants still make up only about 5.2% of America's immigrant population compared to Mexico's 27.9%.
The figures only look at those who were born outside the US and immigrated to the country. According to the Migration Policy Institute, the drop in Mexican immigration has been brought about by stronger border controls, a weaker US economy and better job opportunities in Mexico itself. Meanwhile, Indians continue to look to America as a land of opportunity while filling up the country's demand for high-skilled labour.
The institute reported in 2015:
"Indian and Chinese nationals are also the most common beneficiaries of the two main nonimmigrant work visas: the H-1B visa for specialty occupations (such as scientists, engineers, and computer programmers), and L-1 visas for intracompany managers, executives, and employees with specialized knowledge. Indian nationals were approved for nearly 70 percent of H-1B petitions and 30 percent of L-1 petitions in fiscal year (FY) 2014."
As with the Mexican immigration concerns, this too has not been without its share of controversy. Recent changes in the US' H-1B policy, including doubling the fees and limiting the number of those who can apply, has been taken as aimed squarely at Indian workers whom politicians in the US are taking up American jobs.
Questions about America's visa policy regularly feature in talks between New Delhi and Washington and has been brought up by Indian-Americans too.
To my children, from the time you were conceived and forming inside my womb, I was overwhelmed and felt privileged that I was entrusted with your lives and it was up to me to keep you nourished, educated and safe. I loved you from the moment I knew you were growing inside me and that love has never stopped.
Now you are older and you are making your own way through life, I wanted to write this letter to you to let you know what I have learnt through my experiences in my life also through watching how my parents lived their lives and the lessons they taught me.
What I am about to share with you, is a guide to help you not make mistakes that will cause you heartache, however, as I write this I know you will make mistakes and it is through those mistakes that you will learn and grow. These truths have lead me thus far;
- In life there will be good times and there will be bad times and each of those times will pass so don't get caught up with the bad and make the most of the good.
- When life is getting tough... hang in there. Keep your attitude positive. Your mood should never dictate your behaviour.
- Never play a victim in life because bad things happen to everyone. Whether you choose to play the victim or the victor it won't change the situation but it will change your attitude and how you deal with life. You can either be depressed and look at your future as doom and gloom or just take it as it is and live it one day at a time. Situations can change every day so don't stress about tomorrow.
- Do not hold a grudge because it does more damage to you than to them.
- No one has a contract to treat you right… it is up to you to treat yourself right and not allow others to dictate how you should be treated.
- What others think of you, is not your concern, what you think of you is.
- You are unique and priceless. Love yourself for who you are and always work on making yourself better. Only when you love yourself are you free to love others.
- Don’t look to material things to make you happy, you will never be satisfied. Never give up on educating yourself… invest in you because knowledge is something you can take everywhere you go.
- Live each and every day abundantly. Take chances, if you don’t succeed the first time then keep trying.
- Learn to laugh each day and do something new often. Life is too short, don’t let it go by unnoticed otherwise in the end you will have regrets.
- Love people but also guard your heart. Don’t give it to anyone who doesn’t value your love nor deserves it.
- Don’t conform to what you think others want you to be because you will never be happy and you have given them the power to dictate to you your life.
- Make a conscious effort to be kind until it comes naturally.
- Do not use idle words… if you talk the talk then you should walk the walk. Don’t be like those whose words have no substance. Make sure your actions equate to your words. Remember not everyone has the same values as you so be tolerant and if you can’t be tolerant then walk away.
- Be kind to everyone and especially those that need kindness even if they can never pay you back. Don’t be kind in order for others to be thankful or appreciative because they may not.
- It is up to you to follow your dreams… you can succeed or fail. Don’t confuse failure with not becoming successful… you only fail when you stop trying. No one is going to hand you anything on a silver platter so if you want it, then go out and get it. - Fear loses its power when you decide to confront it head on. You only give it power if you give into it.
- Make time for your family and loved ones because we never know how long we have together. When it comes to matters of the heart, make sure you don’t leave anything unsaid because you don’t know if you will ever get the chance to say them.
Always know I love you and that you were made from pieces of my heart mixed in with my DNA. You will always be part of me and I part of you.
A guy giving his girlfriend a diamond engagement ring would seem to us to be a intrinsic part of America and Americana. It is a time-honored American tradition, like watching television, going to McDonald's for lunch, kids riding bikes, or beer and hot dogs at the ballgame. And it is, but it's not quite as old as you might imagine.
While engagement rings have been around for centuries, diamonds are a fairly late addition to the party. For many years, there just weren't that many diamonds on the world market, so diamond engagement rings were pretty rare.
The rock Archduke Maximilian of Austria gave Mary of Burgundy in 1477 was a rare exception, creating a huge buzz around the globe. Despite that high-profile ring, things stayed pretty quiet on the diamond front until the late 19th century.
As recently as the late 19th century, some American women received thimbles as signs of their engagement. After the wedding, they would cut the bottom off the thimble and bride would wear it as a ring. In England, one contemporary practice involved the man and the woman breaking a piece of gold or silver and each keeping half. Then they'd drink a glass of wine and the engagement would be on.
In the 1870's, miners began discovering huge veins of diamonds in South Africa, and ice started flowing onto the world market. Diamonds went from being a scarce gem to a fairly common commodity. This, of course, was bad news for anyone who had diamonds and wanted to make as much dough as possible. The diamond mine owners knew they'd have to get clever to get rich. And it didn't take long for these gentlemen to come upon a plan.
In 1888, several major South African mines merged together to found "De Beers Consolidated Mines.” This merger created a cartel that could effectively control the flow of diamonds from South Africa onto the world markets. As diamonds became scarcer they grew more valuable, and their popularity as a gem in engagement rings increased too.
Okay, this explains how diamonds rose in price and created an illusion of scarcity. But how did diamonds become such an integral part of the marriage process? Depending on your point of view, you can either thank or curse De Beers for this too. While many of us may think of the diamond engagement ring as an ancient "time-honored tradition,” it really is just the end result of a fairly recent (and brilliant) marketing plan used by De Beers in the late 1930's.
In 1938, De Beers executives were in a tight spot. Diamond prices and demand had been on a steady decline since 1919. The tanking economy had caused most wedding-minded men to give their betrothed ladies modest engagement rings that included intricate metalwork rather than fancy gems. De Beers and the cartel needed a way to jump start its revenues.
De Beers approached New York ad agency N.W. Ayer and asked for a marketing campaign designed to convince Americans they desperately needed diamonds. The campaign they came up with was definitely one of the cleverest and most effective in advertising history.
N.W. Ayer started a multi-pronged attack that completely revolutionized Americans' view of diamonds. The agency got Hollywood's biggest stars to wear diamonds and encouraged fashion designers to talk up diamond rings as an emerging trend. The plan worked beautifully. In the first three years of the campaign, diamond sales shot up by over 50%.
While these results were both successful and lucrative, the "masterstroke" had yet to take place. In 1947, an Ayer copywriter named Frances Gerety penned the slogan "a diamond is forever.”
This apparently simple four-word catchphrase caught on with the public like wildfire. It is so popular, it is still used as the main catchphrase of De Beers diamonds to this day, over 60 years later. It is, without question, one of the most successful slogans in the long and storied history of advertising.
The slogan helped to underscore a diamond as an unbreakable, eternal symbol of love. Future brides loved the romantic timelessness of the phrase. Sales of diamond engagement rings shot through the roof.
Within 20 years, 80% of American brides were sporting rocks. Diamond engagement rings quickly became an accepted custom. And receiving a diamond engagement ring (and/or, of course, a diamond wedding ring) remains one of the happiest, most memorable days in most women's lives.
And since I am not a woman, but I know plenty of women, I will omit any commentary on the happiness level of the years following the reception of their respective rings.
A single woman in her early thirties who, despite rejections, has not lost hope in love, marriage and humanity
I am a single woman and I have been living alone for the past ten years; now of course, I am of “age” (actually I have long crossed it) when I should consider “settling down”— i.e. get married. Well, while I do not have issues about getting married (provided I come across someone who is perfect for me), but in the process of finding the perfect someone, a whole new world opened before me; especially people’s attitude towards single, independent women even in today’s so-called “progressive” world.
A thousand times or even more, I have heard people discussing why a girl like me finds it difficult to get suitors. The reasons are pretty obvious. I am:
Single and independent
Yes. I have been rejected several times in the arranged ‘marriage market’ for reasons like dark skinned, not good-looking enough etc., and there have been times when I could not hold back my tears. Some times, I had to face questions like “are you religious-minded?”, “how often do you go to the temple?” from the boy’s side of the family. And sometimes when the prospective grooms appeared on the scene, it actually became too awkward.
I remember an instance where a guy, in our second telephone conversation had (mind you, we hadn’t yet met) the audacity to enquire about my virginity! I was too flabbergasted to react.
After hearing lot of malicious comments from people (‘she’s too smart and too outgoing for any man’), I too have broken down. There were times when life felt burdensome and I couldn’t find a way out of its meandering alleys.
“Societal pressures made me feel that having a single, feminist daughter is a nuisance. There were times I felt really sorry for my parents.”
My faith in the overall institution of marriage even in the twenty-first century was shaken. Are relationships still based completely on physical attributes; skin colour, height, weight and vital statistics? Is it a life partner that we are looking for, or are we buying some thing from the market? Isn’t emotional bonding, intellectual compatibility and respect for each other more important in a relationship?
Factors like love, faith and trust seemed to have vanished into thin air. And I was finding it too difficult to make people around me understand that I am looking for a partner, a companion, a life-long friend whom I can trust blindly and vice versa.
Sometimes I wonder, is being independent, self-reliant and confident a crime for a single woman? And does possessing such personality traits mean that I hate men? It’s just that I want equality to prevail; my desires, wants and choices to be respected by the society and people around me.
But, a few years down the line, today I gather the courage to open up to the world about myself and my identity. Yes, I have the courage to take such ‘nuisance’ in my stride and bounce back to life with positivity. I am determined to be happy and not let such pressures take its toll on my mental and physical being. I will not feel ashamed, nor will I feel depressed for being ‘rejected’.
Today, I am thirty-one, still single and living each moment on my own terms. I have my dreams, aspirations and sky-high hopes. I start each day with a vow that I will create value in my own life and my surroundings. And I refuse to plunge into the arranged ‘marriage market’. I continue to laugh at matrimonial advertisements that seek alliance from “convent-educated homely girl; modern girl with a traditional outlook”.
No, I am not against marriage; rather I would love to get married some day and have a family. I would love to spend quality time with them, sometimes cook for them as well, go to exotic places for vacations and celebrate Durga Puja. However, I would love to have a partner who respects my individuality; respects and loves me for who I am and the values I hold on to; someone who commands respect. Is that asking for too much?
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The definition of being a bad mom is limited to getting drunk and hooking up with men.
Surprisingly written by the two men behind The Hangover (2009), Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, and directed by them, Bad Moms is a little satirical, a little ironic, a tiny bit feminist and mostly like a high school chick flick set around mothers of two.
This is a great space to explore – over-stretched mothers managing lives, homes, extra-curricular activities, stressed children and unappreciated husbands. What if these women revolt and decide to throw off their good mom masks to be, well, bad moms? According to Moore and Lucas, the definition of being a bad mom is getting drunk, hooking up with men, waking up too late to make breakfast or pack lunch for the kids and skipping work.
The story pivots around Amy (Mila Kunis), a 32-year-old working mother who juggles lunch boxes with school projects and a marketing job with Parent Teacher Association meetings. Amy is the oldest employee at a hip coffee company where the death of Jon Snow on the Game of Thrones show was cause enough for the entire office to take two weeks off to mourn.
Amy’s always running late but never deflated, and her hair is always perfect. However she loses her equilibrium when she catches her under-achieving (and underwhelming) husband having an online affair. The sad part is that he’s hardly worth fighting for, so you pretty much know that reconciliation is off the table.
Unable to cope with the added pressure of single parenting, Amy teams up with new friends and fellow struggling moms. Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) side with Amy, throwing off all pretences and embracing their bad mom sides. This sets Amy on a direct collision course with the dictatorial PTA head Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) and her clique of soccer moms (Jada Pinkett Smith and Annie Mumolo). A hunky Hispanic widower is thrown for some eye candy, the only male character with any texture.
Satire and social comment are slipped in with obsessions with allergies, the different kind of groups (Asian moms, tiger moms, lesbian moms), the pressure on children and , and how full-time moms frown upon working mothers. Adding more confusion to the intent, the principal actors are seen cozily sharing a couch with their respective mothers during the end credits, sharing anecdotes about their relationships.
The screenwriters Lucas and Moore fare better than the directors Scott and Moore. Mila Kunis’s repeated smothering of her two children and cooing “I love you” in the face of every crisis demonstrates the limitations of both the actor and the screenplay. Besides the innumerable sexual references (beeped out profanities and mentions of male and female genitalia), boozing and a smattering of laughs, the film doesn’t push the envelope far enough. No matter how often the moms tell you their children are a joy and how much they love them, they seem to love cheap Chardonnay and single hot Hispanic men more.
On the upside, the peppy soundtrack includes Shut up and dance by Walk the Moon, I want to know what love is by Foreigner and Cake by the ocean by DNCE.
The Spice Girls might not be reuniting this summer as we'd all hoped, but the idea of girl power remains 20 years after the band first released Wannabe.
The band's debut song has been remade by charity Project Everyone, in which women from all over the world tell government leaders what they really, really want - from an end to violence against women to quality education for girls.
It's honestly one of the most cheering things we've seen in weeks, and has already been endorsed by Victoria Beckham.
"I think this film is a wonderful idea," she said in a statement. "How fabulous it is that after 20 years, the legacy of the Spice Girls' 'Girl Power' is being used to encourage and empower a whole new generation."
The video features artists from Nigeria, South Africa, the UK, the US, Canada and India. The aim is that the project will prompt women from all over the world to tweet a picture demanding what they'd like to improve their lives using the hashtag #WhatIReallyReallyWant. These will then be presented to the UN General Assembly in September.
So go on ladies, have a think - what do you really, really want for yourselves?
It is a red-lettered day in the history of Indian Air Force. Tejas, the home-grown brainchild of HAL has finally been inducted into the IAF bandwagon.
It is special in many ways, not just because it is the revolutionary Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), but also because it is made in India.
Analysing the importance of Tejas
Spearheading the coumtry's Make in India project, Tejas is a game-changer in the true sense. But this has come after a lot of sacrifices and failures. In the 1980s, India had almost lost all its domestic capabilities for developing fighter aircraft on account of the HF-24 Marut, India's first homegrown fighter, not being succeeded by a follow on program.
Due to this, a number of standard test facilities such as the LCA mini bird & iron Bird for flight control system Integration, a dynamic avionics integration rig, brake dynamometer & drop test rigs, secondary power system and fuel system test rigs, engine test bed, mobile electromagnetic interference/compatibility test facility etc. had to be set up in India from scratch by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) which manages the overall LCA/Tejas development program.
Interestingly, by now 65% of the components are now indigenous, which may get a boost by 80% in the coming years.
The Tejas development cost was Rs 7,000 crore, which is nothing in front of the huge expenses met for similar aircrafts around the world.
Former IAF- Chief NAK Brown hailed LCA Tejas project saying that its record with no major accidents was unprecedented. Incidentally, Tejas received an Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) the very next day. A pride moment for the country as India's military aviation got a boost through this, apart from several new programmes, which include Mk2 variants of Navy and Air Force; Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft; Unmanned Air Systems; Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft and Medium Transport Aircraft.
However, what is commendable is the fact that it is likely to replace the MiG fleet that is prone to accidents and malfunctioning.
While according the IOC to Tejas in December 2013, the then defence minister-AK Antony had said:
"The improvements to the aircraft have enhanced the flight envelope of the aircraft and also weapon delivery capability of the aircraft. The performance at Iron Fist, Jaisalmer and the recent missile firing at Goa are examples of such improvements. The reliability of the aircraft and serviceability has also been enhanced. The number of flights nearing 500 within this year provides an indication of this. Operating at IAF bases namely, Jamnagar, Jaisalmer, Uttarlai, Gwaliar, Goa, Leh, Pathankot demonstrate the aircraft capability to operate from Air Force bases. There have also been occasions when the same aircraft has flown thrice on the same day, indicating the operational reliability of this home-bred fighter aircraft."
Features of Tejas
Tejas is light weight, single engine, single seat and supersonic, multirole, combat aircraft. It has been developed for both land and carrier borne operations. Some of the other features included: The quadruplex digital fly-by-wire flight control system: This ensures acceptable handling qualities while ensuring adequate safety throughout the flight envelope.
Glass cockpit open architecture, which compliments piloting.
Multi Mode Weapon multirole capability, which can fire laser guided bombs
Can fly without telementary support
It can help carry out air superiority and offensive air support missions, forward air field operations, all weather multi role operations, electronic counter measures and night flying operations.
Tejas is capable of flying non-stop to destinations over 1700 km away and its Radius of Action is up to 500 km depending upon the nature and duration of actual combat.
Indeed, after the ISRO's space missions, Tejas is a moment of truth and pride for India.
Once king Yuddhishtra, the eldest of the five Pandavas, was conducting a
big Vedic sacrifice. At that opportune moment sage Narada decided to
bless the sacrifice with his presence. Welcoming Narada with all due
respect, Yuddhishtra, with folded hands, asked him the following question
for the benefit of all humanity:
"Oh divine sage!, please explain to me the course of conduct by which a householder like me, who is too much attached to his house and property, can attain moksha easily."
Bhagawan Narada replied: "A person, living the life of a householder, should perform all the karma prescribed for a householder, but offer it to God. He should also serve great saints and mahatmas. Whenever he gets the time, he should go and live amongst people who have given up worldly life and hear from them stories about the various avatars of God. The companionship of these holy people will have the following effect on the householder: Like the person who, getting up from a dream, feels no attachment to the objects seen in his dream, similarly, as the householder's mind becomes purer and purer by satsang with holy men, he will gradually start reducing attachment to his body, wife, children, money etc, because in any case they are one day going to separate from him. A wise person should serve his body and family only to the extent that is functionally necessary and not more. He should be detached from inside but show attachment outside and behave like an ordinary, typical person. He should, without any attachment, acquiesce to whatever his parents, brothers, children or friends say or want."
"A householder, looking for emancipation, should carry out his duties while enjoying what he gets from the heavens (like crops due to rainfall), from the earth (like gold, gems etc), and whatever he gets by fate. He should understand that all wealth is created by Lord Vishnu and is obtained through His grace only, therefore, he should not hoard the wealth given to him but utilise it in the service of the aforementioned holy men. Remember, man has right over only that much as is necessary for quenching his hunger. The person who lays claim on the surplus wealth is nothing but a thief. He should be punished."
"A householder should think of deer, camels, donkeys, monkeys, mice, serpents, birds and flies like his own children and hence these should not be driven out of the house or fields if they enter and begin to eat. Even though he may be a householder, he should not go through too much trouble to obtain the three purusharthas - dharma, artha and kama. Rather, he should remain satisfied and make do with whatever he is able to get according to time, place and luck. He should share all objects of enjoyment with everyone, right down to dogs, sinners and people belonging to the lowest strata of society, and only then utilise them for his own use. What more can I say, even his wife, whom he claims as his own should be deputed to serve guests at home, even at the cost of his own neglect. People lay down their lives for their wives. One is ready to go against one's own elders for her. Such is the attachment to one's wife. The man who can remove his attachment from such a wife wins over the great Lord Vishnu, who otherwise is unconquerable. How despicable is this body, which if buried is going to become the food of worms, or excreta if eaten by animals, or reduced to ashes if cremated! Equally despicable is the body of the wife who contributes to its erotic pleasures! But how great is the infinite soul which pervades even the sky?" "A grihastha should consume for his personal self only those items which are leftover after he has performed the five daily yajnas (pancha maha yajnas). The wise person, who does not lay claim to the surplus that remains is elevated to the status of saints."
"Whatever the householder obtains through his vocation as per his varnaashrama dharma, with that he should daily worship the gods, rishis, humans, other living beings, his ancestors (pitras) and his inner self. This is nothing but the worship of One God in different forms." "If the householder has the required means as well the requisite qualifications for performing sacrifices, he should worship God with yajnas like Agnihotra etc. Even though God Himself is the enjoyer of all sacrificial offerings, He is much more satisfied when He is propitiated with rich food, dripping with ghee, offered through the mouths of brahmins, than He is with oblations offered through the sacred fire. Therefore, you should satisfy all - brahmins, gods, the five yajnas, humans and other creatures. In this way, you will be able to worship all living entities, or in other words, the Supreme God residing inside all living beings."
"If sufficiently rich, the householder should perform according to his means, shraddha, the ritual for their departed parents and ancestors. Since a son is to thus revere his elders even after their death, what to say that he is expected to serve them when they are alive! Actually, having inherited their wealth, the son shows his gratitude to his parents by doing nothing to sully their reputation. Doing shraddha purifies the mind and helps also to strengthen belief in life after death. One should feed a maximum of three brahmins in shraddha, and however rich a person may be, he should not expand the shraddha too much. This is because if large scale invitations are given then it becomes difficult to sustain the necessary levels of purity required for the shraddha. Before being offered to the brahmins, the food prepared for shraddha should first be offered to the gods (bhog lagana).
In fact, anytime you divide your food between gods, rishis, pitras, living beings, relatives and one's own self, these all should be viewed as identical with God, Who resides in all of us."
"One who understands the essence of dharma should not serve non vegetarian food, nor eat it at the time of shraddha, for there is no real gratification in the slaughter of animals but there is supreme satisfaction with food which is fit for sages. Actually, for those who wish to follow the correct course of conduct, there is no higher dharma than abstaining from violence towards all living beings either through mind, word or action."
"It is the duty of householders to indulge in charity on auspicious occasions like makar-sakranti, akshaya-trittya etc, as anything given to the gods, pitras, brahmins, humans on these days bears endless (akshaya) fruit. A householder should also regularly visit places of pilgrimage. Any virtuous act performed in such places gives a thousandfold fruit."
"However, remember one thing, the universe is a big tree with infinite creatures. Its root is Bhagawan Krishna. Therefore, gratifying Him leads to the gratification of all creatures. Thus, many people worship His idols with great reverence. But those who cultivate hatred towards other humans, their worship remains futile and does not yield any fruit. Even amongst the humans, a brahmin is considered the most deserving of veneration because through his tapasya, studies etc, he bears within himself the Veda, which is nothing but the body of God. Indeed brahmins, who purify the three worlds with the dust of their feet, are venerated even by the Supreme God Krishna."
"The very definition of dharma is that which removes hurdles in the way to a person's moksha. The person wishing to follow the path of dharma should steer clear of the five forms of Adharma. These are:
1). Vidharma: It is that which though practiced as dharma, obstructs another person's dharma.
2). Paradharma: This is when a person follows the dharma prescribed for another varna or ashrama. For example, a brahmin picking up the sword, even when there is no emergency.
3). Upadharma: This is hypocrisy or performing dharma merely for showing off.
4). Chhala: Interpreting the shastras (scriptures) otherwise by jugglery of words.
5). Abhasa: When one resorts to a course of conduct according to one's own fancy, different from the duties prescribed for one's particular varna and ashrama in the shastras, then it is known as 'abhasa', meaning that which given only an 'impression' of dharma, but is actually not so. Indeed, varna and ashrama have been prescribed by God Krishna Himself, according to our innate natures (Bhagavad Gita 4.13). When they are followed, they lead to innermost peace." "One who is a dharmatma (follower of dharma), even though he may be poor, should not attempt to earn money either for the sake of his own subsistence or even for performance of dharma. Because the person who ceases from all endeavours for his livelihood, gains to an 'effortless state', and it is this very effortless state which takes care of his subsistence, much like the proverbial python whose subsistence carries on without any effort on its part (ajgar-vritti). How can the happiness enjoyed by a selfcontented person who has no desires and delights in his own self, be obtained by a person who is always tormented by one desire or the other and runs hither and thither in the search of money? Like the person wearing shoes has no fear from thorns and pebbles, similarly for the person who has contentment (santosha) in his heart, there is sukha always and in all places, and no dukha at all. Indeed, a self-satisfied man can be happy by merely getting water to drink. However, one who is driven by desires, especially those of the stomach and the genitals, is reduced to the status of a dog in his own house."
"Yuddhishtra! There are three impediments to a person's moksha - kama (desire), krodha (anger) and lobha (greed), (Bhagavad Gita 16.21). One should win over kama by practicing restraint; krodha by giving up desires and lobha by recognizing money (artha) to be nothing but a source of trouble (anartha). And finally, one should win over fear by realisation of the Ultimate Truth. Actually, one can win over all these faults merely by bhakti towards one's guru. Indeed a guru is a direct manifestation of God Himself, who imparts to man the light of knowledge. But for the person who thinks of the Guru as an ordinary mortal, the hearing of shastras of is as futile as the bath of an elephant (who bathes in water quite thoroughly, but as soon as it comes on the shore it takes some dust from the ground and strews it over its body)." "The ultimate aim is to cultivate the three types of advaita (oneness) in life. These are:
1). Bhava-Advaita: This is the comprehension of the essential oneness of cause and effect, like thread and cloth. Similarly, any difference between God, who is the cause of the world, and the world is unreal or illusory.
2). Kriya-Advaita: This is the offering of all actions to God and realising that the mind, word or body, used to accomplish an act, are but mere instruments.
3). Dravya-Advaita: Realizing that one's own self-interest is not different from one's wife, children, as well as all living beings. Finally, Yuddhishtra! For a particular person, the particular material he is allowed to acquire at a particular time by a particular means, as entitled by the shastras, except in emergencies, he should conduct his life according to only those materials. Oh king! The householder who abides by these duties prescribed in the shastras, eventually attains unity with Bhagawan Krishna."
1. NS: Tell us about you and your venture Rhyns Academy.
Riddhi: I am a Professional Independent Trainer with an extensive background in developing, conducting and supervising training programs for various clients using blended learning concepts, including stand-up and one-on-one concept. My specializations lie in soft skills training for Personal and Self Development.
I run my own training company called Rhyns Academy Pvt Ltd which focuses on Personality Development, Academic enrichment, attitude, body language, confidence building, dining etiquettes, leadership skills, personality grooming, presentation skills, self esteem, self grooming, social etiquettes, soft skills, table etiquette and time management.
What started off as an urgent need to teach the youth of today some basic manners and good values after an unpleasant incident at a coffee shop; soon snowballed into a full-fledged academy which conducts classes in schools, colleges, IIMs and even Multinational Corporate.
Thanks to the support of my family and my team at Rhyns, I have had the honor of being the National award winner for cultural activities and been certified for Personality Development from Mumbai & London.
2. NS: What message you want to give to women who want to achieve their dream of being an entrepreneur come true but cannot put forth the important first step towards it?
Riddhi: I believe that there is a vast lacking in gender equality and this by far the biggest feminist issue world over. So if women want to achieve their dream of being an entrepreneur, they have to first and foremost believe in themselves. Only if you believe in your dream and in yourself can you even think of a plan/ a strategy for your venture. Understanding that there will be many cynics and many critics is the key. What is important is to brush aside unfavorable comments from non-believers and accepting positive feedback from family and well wishers. I also believe in the strength of the family; if your better half, your children and your family believes in you and stands by you, then no strength in the world can ever defeat you. Finally, women also need to learn prioritize and compartmentalize before setting up their venture. It makes no sense if you take an order or a commitment and are unable to deliver because of an issue at home! It is not easy; but it is doable. We are after all women and have the gift of being able to multitask!
3. NS: Any tips for parents to inculcate values in children
Riddhi: Education begins at home and children learn the most not by hearing but by seeing. If you are disrespectful to your parents or your helpers; then the child learns the same! Good values and good etiquettes are best learnt from watching. 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'! What that basically means is that if you want to be treated well in this world, you should treat others well. This applies to our children as well. If we want them to learn good values, then we need to show them the same.
4. NS: What is your success mantra?
Riddhi: Hard work, undying belief in myself and faith in humanity is my mantra for success. I believe that there are no shortcuts to success. You have to work hard, give it your best and more and believe in the quality of your product or service. The day you start questioning your intentions or the quality of your product; it will be a downward spin!
5. NS: are the positive qualities you have which makes you successful women?
Riddhi: I genuinely believe that every individual is good and just; and because of that I have been able to make friends easily. This gives me the opportunity to meet and interact with many people, which is an important need in my line of business. An open, easy approach and a wiliness to learn have always been vital to my success.
Book: Who Moved My Cheese
Music: Soft Instrumental tracks of Kenny G
Color: Blue, Pink, Red
On the morning of September 5, 1986, Pan Am Flight 73 landed in Karachi. It had arrived from Mumbai and, had nothing gone wrong, would have departed for Frankfurt and onward to New York City. The flight was carrying, among members of other nationalities, Indians, Germans, Americans, and Pakistanis.
Unfortunately, the flight was hijacked while it was parked on the tarmac at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi.
Four heavily-armed terrorists, dressed as airport security guards, entered the aircraft while firing shots from an automatic weapon and seized control of the plane.
This is the story of Neerja Bhanot, the senior flight attendant on board, who helped a number of passengers escape. She was murdered while shielding three children from terrorist fire, less than 25 hours before her 23rd birthday.
After the terrorists boarded the plane, Neerja alerted the cockpit crew, who escaped through an overhead hatch in the cockpit. As the senior-most crew member remaining on board, this left Neerja in charge. One of the terrorists asked the flight crew to collect and hand over the passports of all passengers on board. When Neerja realised that the primary targets of the terrorists were American passengers, she hid their passports - even discarding some of them down the rubbish chute. From a total of 41 American passengers, only 2 were killed.
After holding passengers and crew members hostage for 17 hours on the runway, the terrorists opened fire. Neerja stayed on the plane to help passengers escape, even though she could have been the first to leave. She was shot while shielding three children from the bullets being fired by the terrorists.
Most of us will never find ourselves in a high-pressure situation, facing life or death the way Neerja did. True bravery emerges in the face of fear. We might never know what Neerja was thinking or feeling during those terrible hours of the hijacking, but we do know that she chose to respond to the actions of the terrorists with exceptional grace, courage, and grit. Of the 380 passengers and crew members on Flight 73, 20 were killed.
While many others were injured, they did survive - in no small part due to the actions of a 22-year-old flight attendant who chose compassion over cowardice and performed her duty till the very end.
In 'Two Women Talking', the actors share memories, laughter, anxieties and their darker encounters with Indian culture.
One rainy fall evening in Brooklyn, two women walk out onto a small stage and stare at the audience. They stand in comfortable silence for several minutes - until the short-haired woman in the blue and white kurta begins to talk.
At her boarding school in Connecticut, she says, three of her suitemates held her down on the bathroom floor, and then proceeded to shave her arms and legs with a razor. They left her cut and bleeding on the tiles. She was 13.
Several members of the audience noticeably gasp.
On stage, the other woman does not react. She watches her fellow presenter, absorbs her words without comment, lets the silence expand.
The two actors are Monsoon Bissell and Benaifer Bhadha. And in Two Women Talking, they are playing roles they have trained for all their lives - themselves.
For 75 minutes, we watch and listen as they roam across the landscapes of their lives spent in Mumbai, Hartford, London, New York, trading stories in a messy chronology. The stories are often harrowing, jagged with feeling, but the women inhabit them fully, letting the memories subsume them. "I try to hold my mother's hand, she pulls away, I try to hold my mother's hand, she pulls away," Bhadha repeats in a small, bewildered voice, her feet twisting into the pigeon-toed stance of a child.
These stories are not safe for work - or for the drawing room for that matter. There are secrets here, the gut-twisting anxieties and toxic self-loathing that we try not to think about. In one story, Bhadha rages in the bathroom, her hands twisting the roll of flesh at her waist as she shouts "I hate you, I hate you" at her image in the mirror. About to undergo an operation, Bissell begs her doctor: "Can I keep my nipples? I like my nipples."
Every story cuts deep, all the more potent because it is true. What makes the performance astounding is that it is not a performance - not in the usual sense. This is semi-scripted storytelling, live, improvised every evening. We are watching minimalist theatre, drama pared down to its essence, intimate, unsparingly human. On display are fraught encounters with memory, sparked in the moment. The audience, recast as witnesses, are invited to listen, even if the illicit thrill of eavesdropping on secrets feels uncomfortable. As Bissell explains, "The listening shapes the telling, and the telling shapes the listening."
Nowadays, distracted by our devices and schedules, we have forgotten how to listen. On stage, the actors revive this lost art. No one rushes to fill pauses in the monologues with advice or opinions. As one speaks, the other listens, never breaking eye contact.
When they talk, their stories shimmer with startling details. The critic James Wood's phrase, "better noticers of life", comes to mind. I feel the straight backs of chairs in prissy boarding schools against my neck, smell the camphor in the depths of Bissell's grandfather's closet. When Bhadha describes her substance abuse, I feel the dry scrape of the pills in my throat.
Then there is India. The country binds the women together, and it is everywhere. In stories of cosy afternoons spent with tea and steaming samosas in the company of large, loving families, as well as in the darker encounters with a culture, where, as Bissell tells me later, "girls are often told to shut up". When they stray from culturally expected ways, there is a price to pay in guilt, in strained relationships. When Bissell comes out as a lesbian, her mother shuts her down and turns away, refuses to acknowledge or engage with her daughter's sexuality.
But, as Bissell says, "These are stories that no one tells, but need to be told."
Watching these stories spill out, it is easy to believe that Bissell and Bhadha are old friends, performing a comfortable friendship. At one point, Bhadha says, "I have never had a relationship like this." Watching the women interact, that sentiment is not hard to believe - not even when we learn that they met for the first time only a year ago. By the time they started, under Dan Milne's sympathetic, unobtrusive direction, to ready the piece for the stage, they had spent weeks in Manhattan coffee shops, telling each other stories.
Even after a year, there are surprises. Twice in the evening, Bissell exclaims: "Benaifer, you never told that story before."
Like the stories, the relationship comes under scrutiny too. In a particularly tense moment, Bhadha accuses Bissell of hurting her, dismissing her as "not being Indian enough". In one of the most moving moments of the play, Bissell struggles to apologise, at one point asking Bhadha: "Are you going to help me out here?" When she refuses, Bissell stumbles on alone. We watch the relationship evolve, experience their struggle to accept each other, warts and all.
The yearning to connect fully with another is one we all recognise. Yet the openness with which these actors deal with each other is almost painful.
Still, this is precisely why Two Women Talking succeeds. It urges audiences to reengage with listening. The reactions of the audience, their gasps of shock or laughter affect the telling. The safer the actors feel, the more they are willing to reveal.
What of audiences who might be more judgemental? Who might not approve of family laundry being so publicly aired? Would they ever take this show to India, I ask.
Bhadha concedes it might be difficult, that she is not sure if audiences in India are ready. She has already told the story about how her mother refuses to see the show or even acknowledge her success-even though she lives a few hours away. Bissell is more hopeful: "More than any place else, India needs to have two women who are clearly whole and healed tell stories."
"There is power in two women talking," she says.