Category: the hindu


A lake comes to life – The Hindu. Excerpt

Thousands of ordinary citizens pitching in to revive a 320-acre lake.

It feels like a carnival at Ukkadam, home to the Periyakulam Lake. It is the final Sunday of volunteering, as the monsoons are expected any time now. School children are shrill with excitement, college students jump out of buses laughing and shouting out greetings; picnic umbrellas dot the area. The CRPF, the police and people from the Armed Forces work together in precision, as if performing a drill. Three hundred NCC cadets take up position. A large group of employees from a cement factory talk animatedly, while nearby, the entire team from a Tamil daily has shown up. “Instead of being only the observers who write about events, we unanimously decided to pitch in with volunteer work,” says one of them.

…………….Mud is shovelled into shallow metal and plastic basins (in blue, green and red) and passed from hand to hand. Snatches of IPL talk and loud instructions fill the air. Musicians join the fun. The murasu, melam and thapattam set the pace, and as they vary their pace, from slow to brisk, the tempo of work also increases. There is clapping and dancing. When they are not digging, people are taking pictures on their smart phones. Tempo travellers carrying tea, coffee, biscuits and buttermilk serve free food to the volunteers. Coimbatore’s famous Annapoorna has sponsored upma, khichdi and sweets for everyone.

Periyakulam used to be one of Coimbatore’s biggest lakes – spanning 320 acres, with a catchment area of 63 sq km — but it was gradually asphyxiated by water hyacinth, raw sewage and garbage till it became mere shimmers of water in a sprawling, muddy area, with orange specks interrupting the brown expanse. Last year, Siruthuli, the NGO dealing with water bodies in Coimbatore, took up the matter with the Government. The permit to work on the lake came through at the end of April and on May 1, the de-silting operations began under the direction of Coimbatore Corporation, Siruthuli, Residents Awareness Association of Coimbatore (RAAC) and the Vijayalakshmi Charitable Trust. Corporates have also pitched in. And the people of Coimbatore have showed up every Sunday to lend a hand.

In a little over a month the landscape has changed. Where there was once just garbage and undergrowth, there is now clean and scrub-free ground. Round-the-clock work has cleared the humongous mess and made way for bunds. Five Poclain earth movers swing, dip, scoop and dump vast quantities of soil from one place to another. More than 8000 volunteers pour onto the bed of the lake and imitate those actions. Forming a human chain, they bend, scoop, pass and throw pots filled with soil on to a growing mound that is part of a 20-ft wide, six-and-a-half kilometre long bund around the lake. Four islands have been painstakingly created at the centre of the dry lake. Saplings will be planted on them and along the bund. Seventy per cent of the work is complete.The rejuvenated Mookaneri Lake in Salem. Photo: E. Lakshmi Narayanan

………………Why do they do it? “I know machines can do the same job we are doing and more efficiently, but the personal satisfaction we get is unmatched,” says N. Thulasidas, vice-president of the Indian National Cement Worker’s Federation, who has come with a 52-strong team. “We came prepared for more than just two hours of work. When people come together for a cause such as this, it will definitely succeed. We hope we will soon be able to boat on this lake.”

Lalit Mahesh, who has just graduated from school, has come here with friends from Pollachi. He says, “People can do what earthmovers cannot. They can inspire. To see the work happening firsthand is very satisfying.” Lalit is well aware of the water situation in Tamil Nadu and the world. “Tamil Nadu faces an 11 per cent water deficit,” he says. “By 2045, that deficit will increase dramatically. Already, one person out of three in the world has no access to potable water.”

For 51-year-old B. Ganesh, the lake represents livelihood. It provided his daily catch for 18 years. But it became progressively difficult for him and his fellow fishermen to eke out a living. “The lake used to be so beautiful in the mornings when I set out with my friends for my daily catch. We used to enjoy drinking the fresh water that was available in plenty even a decade ago.” The fishermen have volunteered with clean-up efforts in the past, and they welcome this drive wholeheartedly as well.

Coimbatore shows up: Volunteers included the CRPF, RAF, students, senior citizens and even newly weds. Photo: S. Siva Saravanan

Volunteers included the CRPF, RAF, students, senior citizens and even newly weds.

M. Lukman, a fruit vendor, has spent all his life near the lake. “It teemed with birds, and the greenery and water made it look like something out of an English travel channel,” he says. He hopes this initiative will improve the plight of other wetlands as well, as the livelihood of several fishermen has been severely affected. “Plenty more needs to be done, but I have faith that the lake will be restored to its original glory.”

Many people share this belief. What is happening at Periyakulam is more than just physical shramdaan , or donation of labour, as R. Raveendran of RAAC says. “When the lake comes alive, we will know we had something to do with it. This ownership will ensure that we will never let it come to such a pass again.”

Encrypting your information to protect it from prying eyes – The Hindu.   Excerpt

Gnu Privacy Guard is an open and free encryption standard that works on the idea of Public Key Encryption

 

“If privacy is outlawed, only outlaws will have privacy.” – Philip Zimmerman

 

Several people I know feel that Internet surveillance is not a cause for worry when your general activities conform to known laws and social norms. Some even argue that the success of projects such as Loon compensate for Google’s unethical snooping and the subsequent profit it engenders

 

While the recent Prism controversy was being debated, I happened to read a 1991 essay by Philip Zimmerman, creator of the PGP standard.PGP, Pretty Good Privacy, is an encryption standard that helps you make data and communication unreadable by anyone but the intended recipient. Last updated in 1999, the essay, ‘Why I wrote PGP’, is profoundly relevant 14 years later. The mindsets of governments, it appears, does not advance as quickly as technology.

 

Zimmerman justifies the use of encryption by everyone when he asks: “What if everyone believed that law-abiding citizens should use postcards for their mail? If a nonconformist tried to assert his privacy by using an envelope for his mail, it would draw suspicion. Perhaps the authorities would open his mail to see what he’s hiding. Fortunately, we don’t live in that kind of world, because everyone protects most of their mail with envelopes. So, no one draws suspicion by asserting their privacy with an envelope. There’s safety in numbers.”

 

Cryptography is already highly restrictive in countries such as Russia, China, Iran and Iraq. Zimmerman believes that popularising cryptography will help prevent other governments from criminalising it.Unlike the patented PGP, Gnu Privacy Guard (GPG) is an open and free encryption standard. GPG works on the idea of Public Key Encryption (PKE).

 

What are keys?

 

Keys are like ciphers; they rattle up your plaintext message and turn it into gibberish before it is sent. To understand PKE, imagine a scenario where you are receiving some gifts on your birthday and you don’t want someone who intercepts the packages to open them. So you give each of your friends a copy of the same padlock and ask them to lock their gift with it. When the gifts reach you, you unlock the gift packets with the only copy of the key that can open the padlock. The padlock, in a PKE system, is called a public key; it can be published on the Internet so that everyone can use it to lock (encrypt) your messages. The key in the PKE system is called a private key, known only to you, and used to decrypt your messages. Before starting to encrypt with GPG, you would have to create such a keypair. The general size of a key is about 2048 bits, and it would take a computer, making 1 million guesses per second, about 1.5 million aeons to break a key.

 

Besides encrypting your information, GPG allows you to create webs of trust on the Internet. A web of trust is a small circle of people who know each other and use encryption to communicate with each other. This personal kinship between communicators provides an additional wall of security since it dispels any fears of key impersonation. Traditionally, GPG has always had an elegant and popular command line interface that is still in use. There are also several graphical front ends for GPG, available free of cost, that provide services ranging from key management and authentication to encryption. Some examples are wija, Seahorse and Kgpg.

 

Several email clients such as Evolution, Enigmail and Mutt that use GPG make encryption very easy. GPG is available for free download at http://www.gnupg.org/. The website also provides comprehensive information on getting started with GPG and being aware of the measures to be taken to keep your keys safe.

Excerpt   from Furniture for the Private Person –

We now know that hackers can spy on us through our web cams, and the NSA is reading our texts, emails, and listening to our personal phone calls. It’s enough to make anyone paranoid, pushing the most private people to retreat further into their bubble. Designers have tapped into our desire for seclusion, sometimes with extreme results, as our list of design objects and furniture for the intensely private person reveals. As the traditional work space model shifts and our need for security and solitude changes, these designs offer a bit of quiet and peace of mind.

 

chair1

“Privacy in the office is becoming rare. We felt that people needed a place to escape and have a moment to relax, focus, and have some personal time — to send a text, use a tablet, make a call, think,” Mike Simonian of Mike & Maaike said of his Windowseat. The design was inspired by memories of playing inside a cardboard box as a child.

desk

This minimalist desk, inspired by seashells, allows you to retreat into a bubble that offers privacy without sacrificing light and style.

confession2

Nick Ross designed this clever confessional furniture, which allows you to chat with your friends about those texts you sent last night, without the prying eyes of the NSA.

bed

This curvy television and privacy canopy is pleasing to look at and functional.

cowork

cowork2

As coworking becomes more popular, design studio TILT is ready to meet the needs of those requiring flexibility and privacy. Their Quiet and Call furniture pieces were created in collaboration with staff and patients at a London hospital, but the simple furniture can be easily transported anywhere you need a tiny hideaway.

bat

James McAdam designed the Safe Bedside Table. Made from birch, maple, and leather, the all-in-one self-defense unit has a removable leg and top surface that acts as a club and shield.

chain

Art Lebedev Studio invented the labyrinthine Defendius security lock. Don’t be surprised if people start rejecting your dinner invitations.

cabinet

No one will know how the hell to open the Tout Va Bien Cabinet to get their mitts on your private stuff. The bas-relief is stylish, but somewhat threatening when viewed from certain angles.

divide

The Antoinette chair, from Cate & Nelson, is a discrete seating area that doubles as a room divider. The translucent fabric offers just enough privacy without appearing completely standoffish.

Veasyble designers Gloria Pizzilli, Arianna Petrakis, Ilaria Pacini and Adele Bacci create wearable objects that provide instant intimacy in any environment.

Completely disappear in Joon Soo Kim’s Hand on Chair. The chairs connect with magnets to create the ultimate safe spot.

NU-OVO, from Italian architect Paolo Maldotti, is a mobile pod that can be placed indoors or out for a lockable personal retreat.


 

Related articles

Labour nourished with cameraderie.

100 days of hope – The Hindu. Excerpt

When she spots the camera lens, 72-year-old Rukku flashes a radiant, toothless smile. Her peers quickly catch on the infectious smile, transforming a place of hard labour into something else entirely.

It was at a Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) site that I met Rukku, from Nilgiri district, and a curiously harmonious group of middle-aged and older workers.

“I now don’t need to depend on my relatives for money. I can now buy my grandchildren whatever they want,” Rukku says.

The MGNREGA guarantees a hundred days of wage-employment every year for its members. The unskilled manual work offers livelihood and better financial security in rural areas. Rukku herself earns about Rs. 4,000 a month. She is among the thousands over the age of 65, who work regularly as beneficiaries of the scheme.

Lakshmi, now 65, lives with her husband in Erode. Her children are grown up and live in another city. They do not send her money. Her husband is unwell and too weak for manual labour. She is now the breadwinner of the family.

The scheme also seems to foster a habit of regular savings among the workers.

Under the scheme, these men and women build civic utilities like ponds for ground water recharge, roads, footpaths, children’s playgrounds and burial grounds. The scheme has enabled creation of thousands of farm ponds in the lands of small and marginal farmers and in the farmlands owned by SC/ST communities.

An important feature of implementation of MGNREGS in Tamil Nadu is the active participation of the differently-abled, facilitated by a separate Government order stipulating a special schedule of rates. The tangible benefits have translated into a healthy work atmosphere.

Saravanan, an Assistant Engineer at the site, explains, “Though advanced in age, the workers here are quite able. The camaraderie and a sense of independence from their kin tend to help them get back their health.”

Work is all they’ve ever known. It’s what they do even now, in the evening of their lives. The only difference is that the work now happens amid meals cooked on charcoal fires, the laughter of their grandchildren and the camaraderie of 200 of their peers.

My Musings – Hoping to see more villages like this ……..this can be a plausible solution to check the excessive migration to cities and farmer suicides due to Unemployment and drought in rural india and can also promote Eco-tourism

 

   It takes a village – The HinduEXCERPT

The three S’s — Sea, Sun and Sex — are no longer crowd-pullers when it comes to tourism. They’ve been replaced by the three E’s — Entertainment, Education and Experience. Nothing exemplifies this more than the Sargaalaya Kerala Arts and Crafts Village in Iringal, an hour’s drive from Kozhikode. More than its beautiful scenery and a serene ambience, what has made this place a hit with the tourists is the presence of artisans and craftsmen from across the country and the opportunity to directly interact with them to buy whatever takes one’s fancy. A State Tourism Department venture, the village was designed by architect R.K. Ramesh and built by the Uralungal Labour Contract Co-operative Society, formed by labourers, on 20 acres of barren land situated nearly the national highway. Before the village came up, the site’s only claim to fame was being the birthplace of Kunali Marakkar, the naval commander of the Zamorin of Kozhikode, who fought Portuguese invaders.

Biswajith Roy left his home in West Bengal five years ago and lives in the village fashioning furniture out of reeds and cane. Vezeto and wife Sera Telvo came from Nagaland to seek their fortune in Irinjal. “This place has given us hope. Business is certainly better here than elsewhere but we want to attract more in the comings years,” Sera said, placing colourful artificial flowers in her stall. In other stalls artisans from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Odissa sell handcrafted products.

…………………….A crafts academy is being established to improve and professionalise training programmes. The authorities also hope that their proposal to name Sargalya a rural tourism village gets the green signal. Another proposal for support to impart training to 1500 women in neighbourhood is also awaiting Central government clearance. The Saragalaya Art Forum organises programmes like Theyyam and Kalaripayatu for visitors with local artists.

Photo: AP

When protectors turn predators – The HinduExcerpt

Child sexual abuse in juvenile justice institutions [in India] is rampant, systematic and has reached epidemic proportions,’ says a damning report from the Asian Centre for Human Rights.

Even the daily list of rapes that now inhabit our news pages does not indicate the extent of the sickness that is now staring us in the face. According to a distressing report by the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), 48,338 children have been raped in the decade between 2001 and 2011. In these 10 years, there has been a 336 per cent increase in the number of child rapes. Yet, this is only a very partial picture because, as the report emphasises, the majority of child rapes are never reported.

The report is disturbing because it focuses on those institutions where children are supposed to be “protected” — observation homes, shelter homes, children’s homes and special homes designed to take care of children who have been abandoned, have run away or been trafficked. Yet, as the 56 pages of the ACHR report titled “India’s hell holes” details, scores of these children, girls and boys, are raped, sodomised, tortured, forced to work and condemned to live in “inhuman conditions”. The authors of the report conclude: “Child sexual abuse in juvenile justice institutions is rampant, systematic and has reached epidemic proportions.”

Just as stronger laws have been demanded to deal with rape, there are laws to address sexual assaults on children. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2006 was enacted for this purpose. In addition, last year the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 was brought in to specifically deal with such crimes against children. Yet, as the report illustrates, these laws have been rendered toothless with the deliberate violation of their provisions in state after state. For instance, under the law, all homes that shelter children are supposed to be registered. Yet scores of these institutions continue to function without registration or oversight and there is no provision in the law to punish them for this. In any case, even formal registration makes little difference as is evident from what happens in officially recognised institutions. The atrocities against children taking place in such places escape discovery because the mandated Inspection Committees that are supposed to carry out surprise checks either do not exist, or if they do, do not function.

………………………One of the worst horror stories is that of two unregistered homes in Mansarovar and Jagatpura in Jaipur. On March 12, the Rajasthan State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, accompanied by local activists and the media raided the homes and rescued 51 children, 27 girls and 24 boys. Of these, 21 were from Manipur, six each from Nagaland and Uttar Pradesh, four each from Assam, Nepal, Rajasthan and Punjab and two from Delhi. The homes were filthy, the food had fungus and the children said they had been locked into the homes. But that was not all. The girls spoke of sexual abuse including being forced to sleep with the man running the home. A 17-year-old girl from Nagaland said she had been repeatedly raped from the age of 11. The children had been lured to the home with a promise of good food and education. Instead, they were served inedible food and educated in sexual torture. This is only one story. The other 38 documented in the report are equally horrific.

So if children are not safe in these “protection homes” and they are not safe in their own homes, what is the answer? It is evident that just having stronger laws is not enough of a deterrent. At the same time, the demand for instant solutions, even if it is understandable in the face of the daily deluge of such atrocities, will solve little.

The significance of so many more people feeling incensed and angry at this state of affairs is that it will turn the spotlight onto the dark corners, like these protection homes where child sexual abuse has been part of the system. Even if we have woken up to the horror of child sexual abuse because of one atrocity, we must recognise that this malady is not skin deep. It has afflicted the entire body.

‘Success is the freedom to do what I want’ – The Hindu.  – Excerpt

Chandrika Krishnamurthy Tandon came to America at 24; the first Indian woman selected by McKinsey’s after more than 20 interviews. She made partner, then started her own company (Tandon Capital Associates), before turning, in mid-career, to pursue her passion for music.Her first recording — ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ — was a gift for her father-in-law. That led her to form Soul Chants, the company that produced her three albums. Her second album, titled ‘Om Namo Narayanaya: Soul Call’, was nominated for a Grammy. Her third — nine variations on ‘Raghupati Raghava Raja Rama’ — was launched recently in New York.

Over a vegetarian lunch, Tandon discussed her exceptional life.

How was it being a trailblazer — few Indians, no women — in the corporate world?

I interviewed in mid-winter, in a sari, chappals and a borrowed coat. I’d been working with Citibank after graduating from IIM-Ahmedabad. I had no American degree, no visa.  McKinsey’s sent me to Japan, where I learned Japanese, discovered Kabuki and Japanese music.

Then, I had to adjust to life in the U.S. On my second day, I rented a car and left, nervously, at 4.00 a.m. for an hour’s drive to an 8.00 a.m appointment! I had no network, no family. I compensated by working non-stop. In five years, I made partner — one of two, out of 12. It was “move up” or “out.”

What prepared you for this experience?

We lived with my grandfather who read to us every night — Shakespeare, English poetry. He made you feel you can be anything you want. It was inconceivable that I’d apply to IIM, or get in.  At my interview, they asked, “You perform on radio? You speak French? Sing us a French song.” So I did!  What I got from my grandfather was inner unstoppability. Many people are smarter, more talented. I have inner strength. I fought to go to college, went on a hunger strike for business school until my mother agreed to let me go. At McKinsey’s, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. But I wasn’t focused on the lack, I focused on the possibility.

How do you juggle being wife, mother, businesswoman, artiste?

I made major tradeoffs. Life as founder-chairman of my company was brutal: Restructuring an Australian company, I’d fly 32 hours to Brisbane, stay nine days, talk to my nine-year-old via nightly video-conference, micro-arranging her schedule. Returning home, I’d talk to my Brisbane team and work non-stop negotiating other clients. I wasn’t the emotionally available mother I wanted to be. Flying 32 hours every nine days took a toll. Then, I was offered a multimillion-dollar deal, spending four days a week in Europe. I considered it, crying non-stop. I had done mega jobs, working with billionaires, flying on private planes. It was emotionally and intellectually heady. But Lita’s my only child; I wanted to be home with her. I turned down that deal. Professionally and personally, it was catastrophic. Suddenly, I had no identity: a top businesswoman, unsure I even had a business. To quit travel, I had to restructure my company…I missed the excitement but I was there 100 per cent for Lita, everyday. I went into myself, came to a new way of seeing “success” as freedom to do what I wanted. I got into spirituality, searched for answers, for purpose. I’d followed my career mindlessly — among the youngest in my IIM class, accepted into Citibank (which took three out of 116 applicants), then McKinsey’s, and my own business. I never stopped. My life had been other-directed. I re-examined my values: What’s important?

Was music important?  

My happiest times were around music. When I was travelling, I’d go hear music, alone, after work. In New York, I binged — jazz concerts, nights in a row. As children, we had lessons, music was always there; our mother turned on the radio at five! We lived simply: mother cooked, we cleaned. I’d sing as I did chores — Tamil and Hindi film songs, Dean Martin, Listeners’ Choices. At the Alliance Francaise, I sang French songs. McKinsey gave me $5000 to furnish my apartment. I bought an $1800 guitar, a $2000 stereo system, then had no money, so I slept on the floor of my empty apartment. In my only saucepan, I cooked rice and ate it with chutney and yoghurt for the first month. Years later, I requested T. Vishwanathan to teach me. I’d leave home at 4.00 a.m. for his 6-8 Saturday lesson, returning at 10.00 a.m. before Lita awoke. When Indian masters wouldn’t teach me, I found travelling masters. Finally, Girish Wazalwar worked around my schedule, teaching me intensively — all day, seven days at a time.

You teach devotional music…

I started a choir in our temple. Over 100 people come. I compose new music for them, adding verses to bhajans . We sing Shankara compositions. I don’t judge, we enjoy the process every Sunday. There’s no charge, it’s a circle of love, and I’m enriched by it. One woman takes four buses to get there!

A fan of silences:Walter Murch (below) andThe Godfather (Above).

The Godfather

     The music of sound – The Hindu  –  Excerpt :

 Think of sound as a fabric, smooth and cruel like silk or rough and warm like tweed,” said Walter Murch to an audience breathlessly hanging on to his every word.

It was a master class that created images to describe sound. The Oscar-winning ( Apocalypse Now, The English Patient ) sound designer and editor was speaking at the 11th edition of Berlinale Talent Campus. Part of the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival, the theme for this year’s Talent Campus was “Some Like It Hot – Filmmakers as Entertainers” and featured directors such as Paul Verhoeven ( Basic Instinct ) and Jane Campion and actors including Holly Hunter and yesteryear bombshell Anita Ekberg sharing their knowledge and experiences with film students.

Starting at the very beginning, Murch spoke of sound and space in the womb. “Sound is the first of the senses to be turned on at four-and-a-half months.” While in the womb there is no sense of space and self; outside the womb, the child understands causality and sound — how actions such as clapping hands, snapping fingers or dropping a plate creates different sounds, Murch said.

Murch recalled his ground-breaking work in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) to illustrate the use of causality to enrich the narrative. He recalled the restaurant scene where Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) avenges the attempt on his father’s life.“Coppola decided the scene would be in Italian with no subtitles, which meant that unless you understood Italian, the dialogue was unintelligible. Coppola also didn’t want music to dilute the tense scene. The challenge was in conveying the tension in a non-intrusive way. I grew up in New York close to where the scene was shot and decided to use the sound of the train. There is no direct causality as there is no train in the frame but there is a deeper causality. When you use the sound like music, it functions as an X-ray of what’s going on in Michael’s head. He is about to kill two people, and his dream.”

A fan of silences:Walter Murch

Describing film and music as “yin and yang,” Murch stressed on their necessary balance. “Music can be overpowering, like steroids. Filmmakers use music as steroids for emotions; not trusting the audience’ emotion. The Godfather lets the audience feel the emotion without music.”

In Apocalypse Now , Coppola’s 1979 retelling of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness set against the backdrop of madness of war in Vietnam, “Francis wanted the sound to surround the audience; he wanted the explosions to be felt rather than heard.”The iconic opening sets the sonic landscape of the film — the hiss and ominous throb of the choppers are heard before they are seen. As we look at a tightly-wound Martin Sheen in a hotel in Saigon, “We can hear the jungle even though we are looking at a hotel room in Saigon; we are inside Sheen’s head. The sound of the city morphs into the sound of the jungle.”

Murch warns against the danger of over-articulating the surround saying, “You run the risk of taking the audience out of the trance. There is a small window for the sweet spot of between two to three decibels — more is intrusive, less the audience cannot hear. You don’t ever want your audience to say “so what?” You don’t want habituation — getting so used to certain things that it almost disappears like temperature or the sound of traffic.”

Once the floor was thrown open, the questions came thick and fast. One of the first was about working with composers. “Music is what it is; it embodies its own meaning,” explained Murch. “ If you throw music in the end, it isn’t nourishing. If the music is made before the movie is shot, the actors know the partner they are dancing with.”

For all the sound and light of the movies, Murch is a fan of its silences. “Cinema is the only art form that can use silence. Cinema is a theatre of thought. In The Conversation , (1974) Gene Hackman’s character is a sound recordist. The second half of the film does not have much dialogue. Just as you appreciate stars better on a moonless night, you appreciate sound in the absence of dialogue.” Murch cited Touch of Evil , No Country For Old Men and Wages of Fear for the effective use of silence.

What makes an editor? “The ability to work long hours in a dark room and a sense of rhythm and story are the basic requirements. I take pretty detailed notes and study it like an explorer studies a map and then I almost never refer to them again. It is a good training, like artists studying anatomy. I would encourage that kind of discipline,” said Murch . “The crucial point of editing is to know where the cut point is. Never decide by scrolling the scene. You have to feel it by music and emotionally. Every film has a definite rhythmic signature,” he adds.

         Related articles

A submerged idol of Lord Shiva stands in the flooded River Ganges in Rishikesh. File photo

A submerged idol of Lord Shiva stands in the flooded River Ganges in Rishikesh. File photo

It was like Shiva dancing in rage: Shobha Karandlaje – The Hindu. EXCERPT

Former Karnataka Minister Shobha Karandlaje, who returned to Bangalore after remaining stranded for four days at Rudraprayag in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand, on Friday said it was a harrowing experience as her group of 1,000 pilgrims had to spend sleepless nights sandwiched between high mountains and flooded Ganga river.

“………. I also felt that Lord Shiva was dancing in rage, probably angered due to degradation of ecology taking place in Rudraprayag area,” she said

“We were sandwiched between high mountains and flooded Ganga river downwards. On top of the hill landslides were taking place. For one night I could not even get out of my car,” she added.She said after travelling a while she was stranded in her car at Kandiakhand and had to reach Budla by climbing a hill. .

“We were stranded at Budla for four days,” she said. Ms. Karandlaje said the pilgrims in her group were from West Bengal, Maharashtra and Rajasthan and majority were old women and children. They had minimal food supply and children fell sick and there was no doctor to attend to them. “We could not sleep either due to the rising river water or the possibility of more landslides,” she said.

Causes

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/nature-avenges-its-exploitation/article4834480.ece  

     The catastrophe in the Himalaya is the result of deforestation, unchecked construction of dwellings and large-scale building of big dams

A week is a long time in the Himalaya. In the late 1980s, I visited Arunachal Pradesh as a young researcher, with a keen interest in photography. I walked into the middle of the Dibang river, hop skipping over boulders, until my local tribal guide ordered me to return immediately. He smiled and said, “Sir, these mountain rivers are like daughters, you never know how quickly they grow up.” I was humbled by his knowledge and haven’t forgotten the lesson.

Deforestation

On the television, news of the devastation in Uttarkashi had started pouring in. It was painful to see the buildings, photographed only the previous day, being washed away like toys by the Bhagirathi.

There is little doubt that the present Himalayan disaster has been triggered by natural events, but the catastrophe is man-made.

Let us address the various man-induced drivers. One, there is ample scientific evidence that the Himalayan watersheds have witnessed unprecedented deforestation over a long period. Deforestation as a commercial activity began during the British Raj and has continued unabated after independence. While official estimates say forest cover has increased in the Himalaya, a number of credible independent studies have found significant discrepancies in this claim. The fact is that forests have been diverted for a host of land use activities such as agriculture, human settlements and urbanisation. Massive infrastructure development such as hydropower construction and road building has taken place. Scientific studies indicate that at the current rates of deforestation, the total forest cover in the Indian Himalaya will be reduced from 84.9 per cent (of the value in 1970) in 2000 to no more than 52.8 per cent in 2100. Dense forest areas, on which many forest taxa (groups of species) critically depend, would decline from 75.4 per cent of the total forest area in 2000 to just 34 per cent in 2100, which is estimated to result in the extinction of 23.6 per cent of taxa restricted to the dense Himalayan forests.

FLOODS AND INDIFFERENCE: Massive intervention in the Himalayan ecosystems through manipulation of rivers and their hydrology, is linked to what we are witnessing today.

FLOODS AND INDIFFERENCE: Massive intervention in the Himalayan ecosystems through manipulation of rivers and their hydrology, is linked to what we are witnessing today.

Global warming 

Vegetative cover slows the speed of falling rain and prevents soil erosion and gully formation — the precursors to landslides and floods. Dense vegetation, by evapotranspiration, also stops nearly 30-40 per cent of rainwater from falling to the ground, thereby significantly reducing run-off. Besides holding the soil together, forests and soil soak water from the rain, release it slowly and prevent water flowing as run-off. So, deforestation brings about slope destabilisation, landslides and floods. Given that the Himalayan range is geologically young and still rising, it makes the area vulnerable to erosion and instability. Therefore, it is all the more necessary to take land use change more seriously.

Two, there is mounting evidence that global warming is fast catching up with the Himalaya. In a recent study, we reported that Himalayan ecosystems have experienced faster rates of warming in the last 100 years and more than the European Alps or other mountain ranges of the world. In such a scenario, we expect faster melting of glaciers causing higher water discharges in the Himalayan rivers.

Expanding settlements

Three, expanding human settlements and urbanisation which, besides bringing about land use changes offer themselves as easy targets to the fury of natural forces. While it is important to appreciate the aspirations of the local people and their economic activities, there cannot be a lack of enforcement of land use control laws on the part of local governments and officials. Huge building construction, cheap hotels and individual dwellings at Uttarkashi, on the banks of the Assi and Bhagirathi rivers have been allowed. There is little buffer between the river and the human settlements.

Four, large-scale dam building in recent years has caused massive land use changes with ensuing problems in the Himalayan watersheds. Hydropower and allied construction activities are potential sources of slope weakening and destabilisation. Massive intervention in the Himalayan ecosystems through manipulation of rivers and their hydrology, is linked to what we are witnessing today. Most downstream damage in otherwise flood-free areas is caused by dams and barrages, which release large volumes of water to safeguard engineering structures. Dam operators often release more water during rains than the carrying capacity of downstream areas, causing floods.

Pilgrims

Five, neo-religious movements, linked to changing socio-political developments in India, are responsible for significant human movement into the Himalaya beyond the region’s carrying capacity, whether it is Amarnath in Jammu & Kashmir, Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Hemkund in Uttarakhand.

The heavy pilgrim population has also resulted in the mushrooming of shanty towns, cheap accommodation and numerous ramshackle buildings along river banks.

What is the road ahead? There needs to be an integrated policy on the Himalayan environment and development. Enough information is available in the public domain, which only needs to be put together and looked at in a cohesive manner. Himalayan State governments need to consider imposing high environmental tax on visitors, particularly during summer and monsoon months. Heavily sizing down pilgrim numbers in fragile areas must begin. All vulnerable buildings need to be either secured or relocated away from rivers. Governments must impose penalties on building structures within 200 metres of river banks. Hydropower policy must consider building fewer dams and prioritise those that have the least environmental and social costs. Independent and serious monitoring of the catchment area treatment plans proposed by Forest Departments with funds from hydropower companies needs to be carried out and reported to the Green Tribunal.

Related articles

Cow dung cakes are another poisonous option. Photo:AP

 

The shocking truth – The Hindu. Excerpt

They saw electric light for the first time since India became a free country. A curious news-item reported that Mohanlalganj, a village just 20 km away from Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, was connected to the electricity grid for the first time in March this year. Why should we be surprised? After all, an estimated 400 million people in this country that boasts of generating electricity through nuclear power are not connected to the electricity grid. All they hold on to is the promise of light but the tunnel has remained dark and they certainly have seen no light at the end of it.

The lack of electricity apart, there is a tragic twist to the Mohanlalganj tale that speaks of callousness compounding indifference. When people in the village realised that they had finally got electricity, scores of them rushed to the electricity pole that was the source of the “current”. And in their excitement, they touched the electric pole that had finally made them an electrified village. In so doing, they did not expect to be shocked. But that is precisely what happened. The electric supply authority forgot to install insulators. As a result, anyone who touched the pole received an electric shock and many were injured. How can anyone overlook installing insulators? In this instance they did. And needless to say, no one has been hauled up or held accountable, nor have the injured been compensated.

Electric power is a basic component of development. No one will argue that without electricity, the backwardness we see in our villages will continue. Children suffer because they cannot study after dark. Everyone suffers because there is no electricity to pump up water, thereby forcing people, especially women, to walk miles searching for shallow sources of water. Yet even as all this is well known, somehow “electricity for all” still seems a distant dream.

………………….. Yet, the reality in an India that is forging ahead on so many other fronts is that 83 per cent of rural households still continue to depend on firewood, wood chips and cow dung for cooking energy. The task of gathering the firewood and the cow dung falls principally on women. Even today, if you go to any village, you will see women bent double carrying head-loads of firewood.

The daily grind. Photo: Lingaraj Panda

The story does not end there. While the daily search for cooking fuel increases the amount of work women have to do every day, they come home and literally line their lungs with poison when they light their stoves. Women, children and the elderly sit in poorly ventilated rooms as traditional chulhas using firewood and cow dung belch out poisonous fumes. The chulhas are not just inefficient, in that they use more fuel to generate less energy, but are also dangerous because of the smoke they emit.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, there were many different efforts made to introduce smokeless chulhas into village homes. This effort was the result of growing awareness of the health impact of indoor pollution on women. But these campaigns slipped on to backburner. Surveys suggested that the smokeless chulhas were not being accepted. Instead of investigating why this was so, the efforts slowed down.

Of late, there has been a renewed push for smokeless chulhas. But this is being fuelled by the realisation that soot from millions of wood fires is contributing to global warming. So there are funds available now for introducing more efficient chulhas that can work on cleaner fuels.

I believe that the campaign for smokeless chulhas never found enough takers among policy makers because the issue concerned women. It is women who cook. It is women who collect fuel. Mostly they do it silently, without complaining, because they have been socialised to accept that this is their work. The men, for whom they do this day and night, also do not question because they too believe that this is “women’s work”.

As a result, the urgency of dealing with something so basic as cooking energy and clean fuel does not make its way into the air-conditioned rooms where energy policy is made. Even if it finds a voice, it is not put on the front burner, or backed by the funds and political will that could make a difference.

Fuel for food | The Hindu. Excerpt

Switching to renewable energy sources  in the country’s midday meal programme will save millions of rupees. But only a few kitchens are doing anything about it, says Keya Acharya.

This is a story of facts and figures and sheer size. Of an auditorium-sized room dense with hot steam from cooking. Of seven tonnes of cooked rice and four tanker-loads of steaming sambar that needed 70 pairs of hands for cutting two tonnes of vegetables. Of a further 250 kg of masala used daily, along with 1000 coconuts, 3000 stainless steel vessels, and 30 one-tonne vehicles carrying food to 300 schools for 200,000 children in Karnataka, 75,000 of whom are from Bangalore alone. This is the kitchen of the Adamya Chetana Trust at Basavangudi in Bangalore, working with the State government in the midday meal (MDM) programme.

India’s flagship MDM is the world’s largest such programme, feeding 12 crore children in over 12.65 lakh schools around the country, with a central budget of Rs. 13,215 crores. The Central Government gives cereal grains to each State, along with financial help for setting up kitchen-cum-storages, and LPG in some areas. Each primary school child’s meal is allotted Rs. 3.70, and Rs. 4.70 for standards VI to X. State Governments pitch in with fuel and financial assistance. A basic cereal menu of 100 gm of uncooked rice per primary school child and 150 gm for higher classes is mandated. Accompaniments of dal or sambar , vegetables and curd are standard in menus in the southern States, while northern Indian schools have chapatis .

Photo: Monica Tiwari

Some ten kilometres from Adamya Chetana, en route to Kanakpura, the Akshaya Patra (AP) kitchens of ISKCON resemble cooking factories, with each storey of the building handling one part of the cooking process. Huge chutes connect each floor through the ceiling, sending food materials down to the next process. Thus, the top floor, with huge silos of grain, handles the ‘dry-cleaning’ of eight tonnes of rice and two tonnes of dal daily, then sends this down the chutes for washing and then down again directly into steam vats for cooking. Using 500 litres of oil daily for cooking (2000 litres if it is a ‘special rice’ day), this AP kitchen cooks 120,000 daily meals for government schools in south Bangalore alone. A GPS with special software tracks its 35 trucks, while all staff are connected through ‘walkie-talkies’.

But there’s something more impressive than these volumes, these mind-boggling logistics. Till a year ago, Adamya Chetana used 350 litres of diesel per day, or an equivalent of 60 LPG cylinders for generating steam for the giant vats used in steam-cooking. The fuel costs alone per meal then worked out to 60 paise per child. Last year, Adamya Chetana switched to biomass briquettes for steam generation and to biomass pellets for cookstoves for ‘tarkas’ needed in chutneys and dals . Using one tonne of briquettes (at Rs.5.50 per kg) per day to generate 12,000 kg of steam from a boiler requiring 10 HP to pump in water, energy costs have come crashing down to an incredible eight to nine paisa per child in 2013. “When we cook for thousands, every paisa counts,” says Tejaswini Ananthkumar, head of Adamya Chetana.

Energy costs come down further if the numbers are higher: on diesel in 2006, fuel costs were 60 paise per meal, which then came down to 20 paise per child for 50,000 meals cooked on LPG, and today the kitchen in Bangalore cooks 75,000 meals on nine paise for fuel cost per meal, using steam and two smokeless ‘chulas’ designed by ASTRA at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. At the AP Kanakpura kitchen, 4000 kg of briquettes are used to ensure food is cooked at an optimal 93 degrees Celsius, so that it remains safe for eight hours.

…………………Though centralised kitchens, such as these two, are only in urban areas constituting less than 25 per cent of MDM, switching to renewable energy even in urban MDM will amount to savings of millions of rupees to the public exchequer.

The picture is dire in rural areas, where there are now 577,000 MDM kitchens (with 24 lakh helpers). Almost all are run on firewood, some on dung-cake, or on government-supplied LPG, with fuel costs currently estimated to be 30 to 40 paise per meal, says Sejal Dand, Gujarat State Advisor to the Supreme Court Commissioners.

…………….“Assuming each child gets 200 grams of cooked food, at least 24 million kg of food is cooked daily”, says Rao. “Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food is being processed every day by the government at public expense, and still the government has no fuel policy, not even one on its agenda.”

In spite of a national renewable energy policy, highlighted by the national action plan on climate change and committed to reducing 25 per cent of carbon emissions, mindsets are straggling. Twenty two out of 29 States have failed even in their policy obligations to purchase at least 5 per cent renewable energy from the national grid, with the national capital Delhi being the worst offender, having virtually no renewable energy supply in its chain. The mid day meal appears to be no exception to the current milieu.

Tejaswini adds, “There is little research on renewable energy cookstoves. Unlike the fuel energy sector, there is no lobby to push this. On the one hand, the government gives subsidy for energy, on the other, it pays no attention to alternatives,” she complains, highlighting the need for building a local industry to help the MDM.

“Coconut shells, even tender coconut husks, can be used as alternative fuel,” says Tejaswini. “This will reduce fuel costs, remove urban organic waste, promote local industry, and very importantly, it will reduce our country’s need for foreign exchange in petroleum imports,” she says.

Irregular supply to large-scale applications is currently the biofuel industry’s bugbear, with numerous biomass systems unable to run at par. But, as biofuel manufacturers point out, the organised growth of the industry is hampered by a lack of government help for collection, storage, transportation or marketing, thus making the middleman king in this industry too.

Davangere’s Surya Biofuels says it manages only by stocking bio-waste during harvesting season for crops such as groundnut and paddy, while Manjunath Oli of Alternate Fuels in Bangalore says they designed their own briquette-machines at Nagpur. Oli also complains of the lack of government price controls on husking mills. “They put any old price they want (on the waste),” he says.

Appropriate technology, meanwhile, is receiving some attention. Svati Bhogle of the Bangalore-based TIDE (Technology Informatics Design Endeavour) and her team designed an energy-efficient biomass cookstove, currently being marketed in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. “Our data from schools show a saving of 3.6 tonnes of firewood per school per year, a reduction of one hour’s cooking time and a safe cooking environment,” says Bhogle.

From 2011 to early 2013, SSMI’s recommendations on fuel savings, nutrition and health became input for a series of interactions involving academicians, technologists, NGOs and the ministries of women and child development, human resources and new and renewable energy. SSMI hopes to establish a methodology through baseline studies to be undertaken in Andhra Pradesh, which could help towards policy subsequently.

“For several years now SSMI has been raising its voice about the problem of fuel energy,” says Rao. “It is time for the Government of India to get serious.”

Meanwhile, the two early ‘MDM conservation pioneers’, Adamya Chetana and Akshaya Patra, are trying to become ‘zero waste’ operations. Akshaya Patra composts its kitchen waste, while piggery farms collect all Adamya Chetana’s kitchen scraps, and starch from the rice is re-used in the sambar . This year, the trust is deciding on ways to reuse 65,000 to 75,000 litres of water everyday.

AkshayaPatra has recently found a solution, treating and reusing 80,000 daily litres of starch back into vegetable-washing, and is looking for ways to reuse its treated water, two lakh litres daily, back into the kitchens. Conservation in the MDM is a distinct possibility.

Taking a knife to a classic | The HinduExcerpt

Thoughts on Hitchcock’s Psycho, Gus Van Sant’s remake of the film, and the ruthlessly butchered version shown on television

Psycho is widely seen as the progenitor of the modern-day slasher film, yet watching it today, I wonder if that credit shouldn’t actually go to the movie Hitchcock made immediately after — The Birds, where the “slashing” came through beaks and talons instead of a knife gripped by an unforgiving hand. In a sense, yes, the famous shower scene opened the sluices for everything graphic and gory we see today, but behind it all is a nagging moral tone that seems very much a vestige of the 1950s (Psycho was released in 1960) — hardly “modern-day”.

…………… The most touching aspect of Psycho is that the heroine, Marion Crane, dies after she decides to go back home and hand over the money she’s stolen and face the consequences.

Today, though, God is largely absent from the screens, and when we see bad things happen to people, we do not think of it as His vengeance. The Birds is truly a modern-day movie, in the sense that it’s all chaos. Birds swoop in and attack and then, just as suddenly as it all began, it ends. People are punished — apparently — for nothing at all, for nothing more than simply existing with the usual shades of human foibles.

They do nothing more to invite misfortune on themselves than, say, the victims of the serial killers in The Silence Of The Lambs or Se7en or Zodiac (though the serial killers themselves could probably be traced back to Psycho). That’s what we see and know today, that innocent folk suffer and die all the time, and that’s why The Birds, more than Psycho, appears to me the progenitor of the modern-day slasher film.

These thoughts came about a few weeks ago when I was unwell, confined to the indoors and thrown at the mercy of television channels. There’s clearly some kind of unwritten law that the day(s) you’re actually free to watch hours of television, there will be nothing worth watching — but by some stroke of luck, I stumbled into Gus Van Sant’s 1998-remake of Psycho, a “modern-day slasher film” at least with respect to the year of its release.

The film, as you may know, is a scrupulous attempt to replicate the Hitchcock classic. The non-numerical lettering of the date is the same: FRIDAY DECEMBER THE ELEVENTH TWO FORTY THREE PM. The cop who questions Marion, who’s fallen asleep in her car, still wears creepy dark glasses that block out his eyes. But it’s in colour — so we see, for instance, that the bars that fracture the screen in the opening credits are green. And the stolen amount has increased from $ 40,000 to $ 4,00,000.

Despite what’s been said, Van Sant’s film is not a shot-for-shot remake. In the opening scene in this version, Marion and her lover are in bed, after making love. In the older film, the implication is still that they’ve made love, but because of censorship restrictions, they couldn’t be shown in bed together — and we see him standing beside the bed.

Then there are changes in the characters. In the older film, we get the feeling that Marion was making it up as she went along, whereas here, she has a crafty gleam in her eyes, an I-pulled-it-off look. The theft seems premeditated, and thus we don’t feel sorry for her when she’s killed. And because of this change, we don’t understand why she repents, why she wants to go back and return the money.

For 1998, it’s strange that Van Sant didn’t feel free enough to do more with the scares, because, seen today, the original Psycho is hardly scary, more interesting as a director’s showcase than as a thriller that will make you jump out of your seat. The new film, therefore, is little more than a curio. And it was even more of a curio on TV, after the censors got through with it. This is what happens in the famous shower scene: Norman’s mother comes into the bathroom, she lifts the knife, Marion screams, and… we cut to Mother leaving.

Stabbing, clearly, is too much for Indian television, never mind that our masala movies such as Rowdy Rathore, featuring far more graphic violence, are allowed to run almost untouched.If Psycho is known for anything, it’s the shower scene, and now there’s no shower scene. ……………..

All play, no work | The Hindu.   Excerpt :

   …….Walking into Sutradhar is like walking into an Enid Blyton novel. Colourful fish dangle from the ceiling. Wooden shelves overflow with stuffed animals, puppets, blocks, puzzles and wooden cars. A poster listing “101 ways to praise a child” marks the entry to the staff offices. This non-profit retail and workshop space in Bangalore sells toys and games and conducts workshops for children aged 10 and under.

With young children, toys (dubbed teaching and learning materials) have an important role. Play is how they learn,” says Mandira Kumar, founder and chairperson of Sutradhar. The organisation also conducts research related to early childhood education. Their central theme is the ‘power of play’.

Sutradhar says their toys have been designed for specific purposes. For instance, babies watching the hanging fish learn how to focus their eyes on colour and movement; toddlers rolling wooden cars learn motor skills, and so on.

Kumar says that when it comes to early childhood, “India doesn’t have a great knowledge base.” Few are aware that the most critical development in children happens before the age of six — when they learn vocabulary, motor skills, and social skills essential for their future. “I’m really an advocate of the young child; If you don’t do it in the early years you’re only going to address the situation later,” Kumar says.

The lack of focus on early education first struck Kumar when she was travelling the country as the all-India education coordinator for Child Rights and You (an organisation that remains Sutradhar’s biggest funder). Although she saw many initiatives focusing on primary education, she rarely encountered programs dedicated to improving education for the early years. She founded Sutradhar in 1995 to be what she calls “a single-window resource centre” for supporting and promoting national efforts in this direction.

………Educators are hungry for these types of techniques. Sarah Misra, the head of curriculum and training at Chrysalis High School in Bangalore, says, “Children in pre-primary are the most curious, and the biggest quality you need in science is curiosity. Yet, none of the preschool curricula has science.” Sutradhar’s science workshop gave her more than just great ideas for her classroom: it also changed her approach. “It taught me how to step back and let the child take over. Teachers usually rush in and give information, but we must let the child experience things,” she says.

Shanti, the facilitator in charge of primary grades in a free school run by the NGO Drik Pathshala, says she was amazed at children’s capabilities. “Even four-year olds can do division for three, four digits using the exercises from the workshop,” she says.

Not all educators are so optimistic, though. Kumar says that some struggle with the content. “Unfortunately in India, because the teacher has not been educated in a playful environment, play is sometimes seen as alien..”

Sutradhar’s material is especially appealing to educators and parents who have children with disabilities, something Kumar says customers revealed. In response, the staff designed everything from puppets for a psychologist to a parachute for a movement therapist to beads for a special educator.

Sutradhar’s staff routinely conduct months of research while designing materials. They also publish reports, and Kumar is writing a book.

Chattarji says Sutradhar’s training sessions unite educators — from NGOs serving the poor to elite private schools — in a common mission.

However, Sutradhar’s focus on young children excludes them from RTE, which covers children 6-14. “We are concerned that RTE does not specifically address issues of early childhood learning,” Chattarji says, a view she shares with organisations ranging from multilateral NGOs to trade unions. Including early childhood in RTE could help pre-primary educators advocate more training, smaller classes and better facilities. More importantly, it would recognise that education begins before class one.

from small beginningsClockwise from the left: The Deccan Pen Stores at Abids, Halim Siddiqui, The Deccan pens pens range, Limited edition pens from Conway Stewart. Below: a 1932 photograph of the store, a 1924 Urdu poster for Duro Pens, FrancePHOTOs: G. RAMAKRISHNA

    Penning their story | The HinduExcerpt:

Cityscape With an 85-year-old legacy, The Deccan Pen Stores in Abids is the oldest pen shop in the city.

     ………………….Walking into the new branch at Greenlands, you notice fading black and white posters hanging on the right wall of the store, giving visitors a taste of their 85-year old history. After a few years of selling fountain pens door-to-door, Siddiqui set up his first shop in Abids in 1928. “During that time, Abids had F.D. Khan Cloth stores, a library and our shop,” recalls Halim. “This picture was taken in 1932 when we got our first English speaking salesman, all the way from Bombay,” he says, as his eye travels to the old poster.

…………“He would design them and send them to Europe for manufacture with the Deccan brand name.” Today, The Deccan Pen Stores has a 30-year old manufacturing unit and makes their own pens. “But we make only fountain pens,” Halim reminds us, “because we personally recommend that anyone who enjoys writing must do so with a fountain pen.”

However, the most important facet of the store, according to Halim is the pen repairing section. “It is the backbone of our business,” he reiterates. “In the Thirties my father travelled to Europe and brought back many tools and repairing tables which serve us till date. My eldest brother who sits at Abids shop, gets pens worth Lakhs of rupees from all over the globe for repair,” he points out. Halim himself recently repaired a 1903 model Waterman pen which came all the way from France. Like his brothers, he learnt the craft of pen making and repairing by simply dismantling pens and putting them back together.

Why sell pens in a time when people are writing less and less? Although the value of pens as writing instruments has gone down, people still collect and gift pens, Halim tells us.

“These days the customer knows more about the pen than I do because they have looked it up on the internet,” he concludes.

The Swadeshi connection

Andhra Pradesh holds a special place in the history of fountain pens in India. Not too far away from Hyderabad, in Rajahmundry, pen maker K.V. Ratnam, made what came to be known as the ‘Swadeshi’ pens. They were called so because when Gandhiji gave a call to boycott foreign goods in 1921 he called Ratnam and advised him to make pens that would be useful and affordable to the common man.

Ratnam then made an ebonite pen and sent it back to Gandhi who wrote back on July 16, 1935 saying “Dear Ratnam, I must thank you for the fountain pen you sent me… I have needed it and [it] seems to be a good substitute to the foreign pen, once in the bazaar. Yours sincerely, M.K. Gandhi.”

Ratnam pens have since gained popularity all over the country with dignitaries like Rajendra Prasad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, V. V. Giri, S. Kasturi Iyengar of The Hindu , Archibald Nye, Governor of Madras and Gandhi himself were all said to have owned one. One of the first pens he made was sold to Nyapthi Subba Rao Pantulu, a freedom fighter and one of the founders of The Hindu . The Ratnam family continues to make high quality pens out of their home in Rajahmundry.

A date with pens

1702: The oldest surviving fountain pen was made by M. Bion, the chief instrument maker of the Kind of France.

1819: John Scheffer made significant advancements which enabled the user to control the flow of ink by pressing a button

1832: John Jacob Parker made the first self-filling fountain pen. Until this, pens were filled using funnels or eye-droppers

1884: Lewis Waterman receives a patent for making the first fountain pen which was truly reliable and leak proof