BCCI Chief: I, Me, Myself and My Tilakam
l i f e
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The Female Orgasm as art
RS 35 10 june 2013
t i m e s .
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INSIDE The war that the Indian State is losing
w e e k
great green ideas how mushrooms can save the world
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Your article ‘Kerala’s Endosulfan Tragedy’ (3 June 2013) is a masterpiece. I have been following the endosulfan controversy since 2001 when it was flagged off with a shoddy study by a Delhi-based environmental NGO. This erroneous, unscientific and thoroughly invalid study was funded by a German agency. It is shocking that a small group of foreign funded activists and a handful of unscrupulous scientists in India could The endosulfan surreptitiously fabricate controversy would and falsify scientific data concerning have died in 2001 itself, endosulfan to perpetuhad the general public, ate a scientific myth in research institutes, press the public domain. and politicians paid Unfortunately, many, diligent attention to the including Indian courts, facts of the case have uncritically accepted and acted upon this myth. The endosulfan episode—full of fabricated data—would have died an instant death in 2001 itself, had the general public, research institutes, press and politicians paid diligent attention to the facts of the case. The American comedian and TV star Groucho Marx once famously said,“Politics is the art of applying wrong remedies.” His words seem prophetic for Kerala. letter of the week
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Volume 5 Issue 22 For the week 4—10 June 2013 Total No. of pages 64 + Covers cover photo Getty Images
This ‘Katha’ Isn’t Great
in my opinion, ACK Media was more about putting together a portfolio of businesses (ACK, Karadi tales, IBH, launch of Brainwave) that someone might want to buy, than actually reviving Amar Chitra Katha (‘Eternal Tales in the Electronic Age’, 27 May 2013). There was too much fluff and hype, and very little in terms of actual execution. Sure, the firm increased the availability of ACK comics in physical form, but all the talk of a general entertainment channel, its experiment with online games and launch of new characters (like Nina) were just noise. I am not sure if it had the money or talent to actually deliver products that are in sync with the times. Zubair Ahmed
10 june 2013
the problem with Indian films is not just that we have stereotypical women characters, but even male characters are bound by gender stereotypes of masculinity (‘Wearing Blinders’, 3 June 2013). It always makes me happy to see this changing, even if only slowly and in small ways. A case in point is the story of a blind photographer in Ship of Theseus. I loved how Aliya’s relationship was portrayed with her boyfriend that didn’t succumb to any gender stereotype and was effortless. The only nude scene in the film was of her boyfriend. Now I don’t have a problem with nudity, but when it’s only women who are portrayed in sexually suggestive ways, it
seems like a case of pandering to the male ‘consumer’. Var sha
The Myth of Endosulfan
this refers to ‘Kerala’s Endosulfan Tragedy’ (3 June 2013). Two years ago at a Plant Pathology conference, the topic of endosulfan came up for discussion in a scientific session I was chairing. I asked the audience if anyone had any experience or firsthand knowledge of the negative effects of endosulfan. Two Kerala scientists told the gathering that there was not a single credible scientific study to indicate the ill-effects of endosulfan. This article bears the truth. A professor from Dharwad Agricultural University swore that all kinds of research studies had been done on endosulfan, available with the MoEF, that contradict the Kerala scientists. When I asked exactly which report he had read, he confessed that he had not either seen or read any report. The vicious campaign against endosulfan is being run by those who are hellbent on tarring the insecticide with persistent lies. Some of the NGOs who oppose Genetically Modified (GM) crops are also involved in this anti-endo campaign and they use similar tactics. There is no one to campaign for the truth, and like anywhere else, scientists are missing in the debate. It is sad that scientists do not have much of a spine to stand up to vicious campaigns against science and technology. At this rate, science will be totally dictated by NGOs. Shanthu S
open www.openthemagazine.com 1
What To Do During Primate Visiting Hours descent
The Bangalore municipality has issued an amusing guide to combat the city’s monkey menace
b a n g a l o r e ‘Lock your fridge during simian visiting hours.’ ‘In case a monkey sits on your head, stay still as it will clear your scalp of lice.’ ‘Do not run away from the primate as it just wants to socialise.’ ‘The monkey is man’s ancestor so don’t be surprised to see it mating in public.’ These and other bizarre gems are the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike’s (BBMP) advice to panic-stricken citizens who called the civic body to help contain the monkey menace in the city. The email has been sent by Bangalore’s honorary wild10 june 2013
life warden Sharath Babu on behalf of the forest cell of the BBMP. The mail says that the bonnet macaques roaming the city are social creatures and residents are to blame for their intrusions. The mail lists several reasons for the increase in monkey numbers. These include feeding of monkeys for superstitious reasons, unscientific garbage management, food wastage, milk sachets left at doorsteps and a reduction of green cover. The mail advises that children should avoid eating in front of primates. People
should not cook excess food and keep dustbins indoors, out of simian sight. It also recommends that people be armed with sticks while walking on terraces. When face to face with a monkey, it is best to keep teeth concealed. A bare dental set is seen by the monkey as a challenge. For good measure, the mail adds that initially these steps will be difficult to follow, but in a few months the monkey menace will ease. “We have to cohabit and be careful,’’ says Sharath Babu. Asked why the mail bordered
on the farcical, an aggressive Babu says, “I have not done a PhD on simian behaviour but these [traits mentioned in the mail] are common observations. In fact, many residents call and thank me for the mail. If some people take offence and feel we should capture and relocate monkeys, let me assure you it’s a long process as it involves permission from the Forest Department. Instead, the steps listed in the mail will help tormented residents.’’ Well, if you can’t beat them, befriend them. n Anil Budur Lulla
open www.openthemagazine.com 3
Xxxxxf the hppies
...and jailed for perjury
Of course India is regressive, Mallika Sherawat
A war half lost
Same scourge, different party
Srinivasan: BCCI president, Srini sir, psychopath
story 20 cover Four great green ideas environment special
Extra! Extra! Human Tissue, Hot Off The Press
As a way to reduce sex crimes against local women, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto suggested US soldiers stationed in Japan visit adult entertainers Cold comfort
Photo illustrations tarun sehgal
“We can’t control the sexual energy of these brave marines…They must make more use of adult entertainers”
“In attempting to act on my strong commitment to solving the problem in Okinawa stemming from crimes committed by a minority of US soldiers, I made an inappropriate remark”
Quoted in The New York Times, 13 May 2013
Quoted in The New York Times, 27 May 2013
A technology that was barely heard of until a couple of years ago is now making regular news for its groundbreaking ability to print anything from a functioning gun to an invisibility cloak, and might change manufacturing trends as we know them. And the wonders of this 3D printer never seem to cease. VentureBeat reports that scientists at Oxford University have printed what could be the predecessor to usable synthetic human tissue. In their paper A Tissue Like Material, the researchers announced that they had created their own version of a 3D printer to print out a series of droplets that formed a network of humanlike cells which could act like nerves and send electrical signals across the network. According to PhsyOrg, the researchers said that while the printed cells were nearly five times bigger than normal human cells, they were certain that they could be printed smaller. The cells can live for a few weeks; long enough, that is, for some wicked purposes. n
f l e s h f ac t o r y
Pollard’s ‘Kierotechnics’ floor critics Much was expected from Kieron Pollard after he was bought by the Mumbai Indians for $750,000 in 2010. But the 26-year-old West Indian took his time living up to his price tag. Sometimes, the problem was his form, and on other occasions, he was made to bat low down the order and didn’t get enough time at the pitch. In 2011, a rude fan criticised him on Twitter: ‘Stop playing cricket..wht r u doing? U r totally failed in dis ipl. I cant believe dis.’ Pollard did the right thing. He kept calm. His reply was sensible: ‘I’m only human.. Guess u are great @ cricket mate.’ And in this year’s IPL, he answered all his critics. Scoring 420 runs at an average of 42 and a strike rate of almost 150, KP was instrumental to the Mumbai Indians winning their first IPL trophy, at last. n
w e l l PL A Y ED
10 June 2013
40 Hysterical Literature
NOT PEOPLE LIKE US
Mystery of the author
Adopting twin girls in India
on able Pers Unreasotnhe Week of de ■ ■
hin mar s
F o r staying on in the US for
‘private purposes’ despite a surge in Maoist violence in Chhattisgarh When violence erupted in Chhattisgarh over the weekend, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde was in the United States for an Indo-US Homeland Security dialogue. Shinde had extended his official visit by a few days in order to visit relatives there, and chose not to cut it short despite the fact that all official bilateral meetings had concluded on 22 May. Shinde was conspicuously absent among Congress leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party President Sonia Gandhi, who visited Raipur to console the families of those killed and wounded in Saturday’s attacks. Even his own party disapproves: “No tour could be important at this juncture,” said Congress spokesperson Bhaktacharan Das. 10 June 2013
Ranbir’s car trouble
Those wily parasites
The $43.8 Million Painting green for blue
It’s an all-blue painting with a white line running down the middle. Had someone you know made the picture, you might have rolled your eyes and told him/her to make an effort. But the intriguingly named Onement VI was painted by the late American abstract expressionist Barnett Newman, and it sold for $43.8 million at a recent auction in New York. Onement VI, made in 1953, is the final of six works in the Onement Series. The paintings are characterised by what is called ‘the zip’— a signature stripe running down the canvas. Experts are unanimous in their acknowledgment of Newman as a master. The Onement Series is highly
regarded, too. But among common folk, the painting’s price tag will once again trigger a debate over what makes such paintings worth millions of dollars. n
A Gun in your Pocket? i s t h a t . . . ? Last July, New Yorker Jonah Falcon was stopped by security at San Francisco airport on the suspicion that he was carrying a gun in his pants. When frisked, it emerged that Falcon was just extremely well-endowed—13.5 inches erect. The 42-year-old writer-actor has been a minor celebrity since the early 2000s, appearing on several TV shows. And now, he has released a song on his condition titled, unsurprisingly, It’s Too Big. n
open www.openthemagazine.com 5
On the Contrary
Regression Multiplied By Two Mallika Sherawat is right and Priyanka Chopra wrong about India M a d h ava n ku t t y P i l l a i
n a recent interview to the showbiz magazine Variety at Cannes, Mallika Sherawat said that India is a regressive nation. Priyanka Chopra, when asked to comment on this revelation, responded that as an Indian woman she was offended. It is now a micro controversy with just enough fuel to keep the tempo of the complete inanity of both their opinions going. In the video of the Variety interview, Mallika begins by answering why she is at Cannes, which is actually a pretty good question. She says—in that strange American accent that Indians seem to get after a few months abroad—a biopic called Dirty Politics brings her to the film festival. Here, she plays a nurse involved with a politician who rapes and abuses her. She records his “misgivings and everything” and that leads to the government’s fall. In the end, the nurse dies. These are the lines in that interview which proud patriotic Indians have found offensive: “India is such a hypocritical society where women are really at the bottom of society as compared to men”, “I made a conscious decision to divide my time between LA, America and India. Now when I experience that social freedom in America and I go back to India, which is so regressive for women, it’s depressing. As an independent woman it’s really depressing”. Lest you think that this is serious talk, it is not. On the Variety website, the interview is around two minutes and 40 seconds long and most of it is Mallika talking about Mallika with plenty of liberties taken with the truth. She name-drops Jackie Chan as usual. She name-drops working with Jessica Lynch “who is the daughter of David Lynch” without mentioning that the movie was called Hisss and she played a snake who just crawled most of the time. She lies that she was the first person to kiss and wear a bikini on screen (Raj Kapoor took care of that in Bobby and this must have been before Mallika was born). “Imagine in this 21st century. Instantly I became a fallen woman and a superstar. At the same time,” she said. She is, of course, neither a fallen woman nor a superstar.
happier abroad Mallika Sherawat walks the red carpet at Le Festival International du Film de Cannes
And yet everything that she said about India is true. So self-evidently true that it is Priyanka Chopra who appears deluded in her response. “I think it’s a misrepresentation of what our great nation is on the world platform… It was upsetting for me as a woman. It was upsetting for me as a girl who comes from India,” she was quoted by IANS. India is not regressive because “it upsets me” or “it is bad for the country’s image” is the sort of argument that shows why India is regressive. It is such an obvious fact that women go through life in India bound hand, foot and mind so tightly that no one needs to go through feminist literature or sociological studies to know it. Some, like Priyanka Chopra and Mallika Sherawat, break out of the prison, but that is a ratio of one to one
It is such an obvious fact that women go through life in India bound hand, foot and mind. To not say that India is regressive because it is unpatriotic to say so is the intrinsic hypocritical essence of our culture
million. It means nothing. It is like saying that because Sonia Gandhi is the Congress chief, India has progressed enough that even Italians can be successful in politics here. To not say that India is regressive because it is unpatriotic is the intrinsic hypocritical essence of our culture. To give instances of India’s regression would take more than the pages of this entire issue of Open. But all you have to do is take the most elite Indians—intellectually and financially—and look at their lives to see how steeped they are in institutions which go back thousands of years, like caste or dowry or non-inheritance of property by women. When Priyanka commented on Mallika’s statement, she was launching Unicef’s mobile application that will conduct a survey to identify issues that need prioritisation in this country. “The UN will then take the collective voice of the nation to world leaders,” she said. What does such tokenism mean in a country where there is a number to the minutes a young girl can stand alone at Mumbai’s CST railway station before she is whisked away to prostitution? If a mobile application is an indication of progress, then we are all blind as bats holding a tricoloured flag. n 10 june 2013
A Hurried Man’s Guide to Human Traffic on Mt Everest
The June issue of National Geographic has a photograph which shows a crowd in high-altitude mountaineering gear along a narrow path on a steep incline. What makes the image seminal is that it is nearly at the top of Mount Everest on Hillary Step, a tricky bottleneck on the way to the summit. It is such crowds that forced one famous mountaineer, Simone Moro, who was attempting a unique climb of Everest and Lhotse without supplementary oxygen, to give up. He returned to base camp and in an interview with PlanetMountain.com said that it was “like being in an amusement park”. He could see 200 climbers Almost 4,000 above and below him. He people have tried to overtake them successfully but didn’t succeed. “I climbed Mount then got back in line and Everest since 1953 people looked at me disapprovingly... in short, I felt like I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he was quoted as saying.
The human traffic at Everest keeps increasing every year. Since Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing first successful climb to the
and the traffic just grows Hillary Step in 2009
summit in 1953, almost 4,000 people have done the climb, according to one estimate, and thousands more have attempted it. One reason for increased crowds is that the mountain can only be climbed for a few weeks, usually in May, every year. Even then, it offers only some windows of opportunity when the weather is amenable. Queues, where the path is narrow, is a familiar sight on those days. There are companies that take you on guided climbs on Everest for prices which start from $50,000. The peak is no longer the unknown impossible frontier. One of the climbers from India this season was Arunima Sinha, a former national level basketball player. Two years ago, she had been pushed off a moving train by robbers and lost a leg. She climbed it with a prosthetic leg. n
And the Winner Is... Spaghetti! It’s official, Italian is India’s favourite food
Drashti Thakkar ashish sharma
mouthwatering decade Italian cuisine came to Indian restaurants mostly in the mid 1990s
hen Sonia Gandhi’s
critics said ‘Congress party ka ek hi raasta, bolo Italian, khao pasta’, little did they know that they were forecasting the preferences of the Indian palate. The National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) released a report on 23 April—based on a survey conducted over a span of two years in 784 Indian cities—stating that 80-100 per cent respondents (in the six different age groups surveyed) listed Italian as their foreign cuisine of choice. Chinese food ranks second, preferred by 60-80 per cent in the same age groups. “I think a population generally imbibes a foreign cuisine in three stages. There is the introduction, the fusion and then finally the drive towards authentic forms of the cuisine,” says Sameer Thakur, director of the Institute of Hotel Management at PCTE (Punjab College of Technical Education) Group of Institutes in Ludhiana. This has been seen before with Chinese cuisine in India. According to journalist and food writer Vir Sanghvi, two forms of Chinese cuisine exist in India today. Authentic Chinese cuisine and what he calls the ‘Sino-Ludhianvi’ cuisine, India’s version of Chinese food. This came into existence in the 1970s, he says, with the opening of the restaurant Golden Dragon at the Taj
Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai. Before this, he adds, Indians were generally used to third generation Chinese immigrants’ version of American-Chinese cuisine (think chop suey). Now, with increasing fine dining options, the desire for authentic Chinese is on the rise. With Italian, the case is slightly different. Much has been said about the similarities between Indian and Italian cuisine, from carbohydrates (wheat/rice-pasta/rice) as the staple food to the highly flavoured sauces they prefer. It was in the 1990s that Italian cuisine invaded Indian Chinese restaurants in a big cuisine way. “I was with La Piazza (Regency ranked Hotel, Delhi) at the second in the survey time. It opened in 1995,” says Shailender Sobti, director of food & beverages at The Atrium, Faridabad. “The response was mindboggling. Within a few months, the restaurant was earning revenues of Rs 2-3 lakh per day.” Shiv Kumar Mehan, area director of Sarovar Hotels and Resorts, hotel chain, adds, “[Italian food] is a trendsetter that’s in sync with the emerging wine culture. As long as fine dining and lounges exist in India, so will Italian.” Like the spagheti meatball monster, it’s forever. n 10 june 2013
A Quick Study of Withdrawal Symptoms
twist and spout Ben Bernanke has been buying long bonds in place of short but this cannot go on forever F E D P OL IC Y If stock indices are anything to go by, sensitive investors registered a strong protest last week against what they saw as a nightmare about to unfold: the scaling back of the US Federal Reserve’s supercheap money policy. Called ‘quantitative easing’, this policy was put in place about four years ago as part of the Fed’s stimulus package to save America’s economy from being ravaged by its Great Recession. On 22-23 May, share prices fell across the globe, with the Nikkei 225 losing the most—about 7 per cent in a single day of trading. The strange part seems to be this. If the Fed is thinking of withdrawing its monetary support (on indications that the US economy is past its scariest risks), this ought to be a cause for cheer. After all, the purpose of its steroidal policy was to see the economy revive and sustain itself on its own. Instead, investors are palpably nervous. This suggests an addiction to lowcost (even zero-cost) funding that may have turned pathological these past few years. So bad is it that a mere mention of its dilution brings on withdrawal symptoms. “This is not strange,” says Uri Landesman, president, Platinum Partners, a New York-based investment manage-
10 June 2013
ment group. “The [cheap] liquidity of the Fed has provided artificial support for the market,” he says, “Therefore, the idea that this support might be disappearing spooks it.” Does this mean that investors have been playing a game of chasing bulge after bulge in the liquidity pipe? Putting money into Fed-inflated assets (such as stocks), that is, in the hope that more money going into them will inflate them further? It seems so. Evidence from across the world indicates that instead of cranking up the real economy—the one that offers ordinary people jobs—much of the extra money has gone into speculation on risky assets in various parts of the world accessible to Wall Street. If businesses have done well, of late, it is mostly for reasons other than gaining customers or delivering better products and services. Landesman observes that companies are showing profits by “cutting costs and other mechanisms of financial engineering rather than by topline growth”. So employees are still being laid off, but dividends have been fine and shareholder revolts have been held in check by generous stock buyback programmes to hand out cash.
So, where does that leave the quest for that great job generator—economic growth? Do investors even care? To be fair, it is possible that their nervousness is explained less by their fear of the end of the bulge-chasing game and more by a reading of reality that is at variance with the US Federal Reserve’s. The economy, they might suspect, cannot sustain itself on its own. If this is their panic, then they should feel assured that the Fed is against a premature tightening of monetary policy. In any case, the US government is being forced to withdraw its fiscal stimulus. To contain its deficit, it must cut expenditure and raise taxes. The Fed’s chief Ben Bernanke acknowledges that this “would exert a substantial drag on the economy”; and that it could slow America’s pace of real GDP growth by about 1.5 per cent It is alarming in 2013. that the mere Some analysts fear prospect of the that emerging US Fed scaling economies such as its stimulus back can cause India may be worst affected if the US Fed stockmarket starts withdrawing its convulsions monetary stimulus. India’s vast current account deficit is funded by investment inflows from abroad, some of it pushed by the Fed’s easy-money policy. This is ‘yield-chasing’ money, since India offers better prospects on this measure than the US, and if such inflows slow down, India could be in trouble. Is that a big worry? “From a pure-yield perspective, India still has a fair if not exciting chance to attract foreign inflows from Japan and Europe,” says Ashvin Parekh of Ernst & Young, adding though that the country needs reforms to retain its allure beyond a point. For all of last week’s drama, what the Fed will do is still unclear. Its QE3 effort, its third round of bond-buying, was designed to inject the US with $85 billion of money every month till economic conditions improved beyond doubt—that is, a stage with unemployment down to 6.5 per cent (from the current 7.5) and inflation above 2 per cent (1 per cent currently). This stage has not been reached. But an extended stimulus has its dangers. It tends to inflate asset bubbles and push investors to take risks that could blow up in the Fed’s face later. It has happened before. Moreover, as Bernanke has said, “Only a healthy economy can deliver substantial high real rates of returns to savers and investors.” n SHAILENDRA TYAGI open www.openthemagazine.com 9
Red Earth and Multicoloured Patronage
The miners of Bellary are survivors. And the Reddy brothers wily enough to retain their clout as power shifts from the BJP to the Congress in Karnataka anil budur lulla bangalore
in Karnataka have allowed Bellary’s powerful mining lobby, which made headlines across the country for rampant illegal mining and for being shut down by the Supreme Court-monitored Central Empowerment Committee, to regroup by changing its political colours. Congress miners have stepped into the places vacated by those affiliated with the BJP, even as the infamous Reddy brothers have retained their clout and their associates kept up a winning streak. In fact, many tainted miners indicted by the Karnataka Lokayukta contested the Assembly polls, and some even won, simply by changing their political affiliation. Siddaramaiah, the new Chief Minister who promised to bring those
MINE forever Despite the BJP’s attempts to disassociate with the Reddy brothers, loyalists like B Sriramulu have ensured their continued influence in Bellary
miners indicted by the Lokayukta report to book, has been left with egg on his face, as also his party, which gave tickets mainly to such candidates. Now, after its victory, the Congress defends itself by saying that many agencies that conducted surveys on its behalf had reported these mine owners to be popular and preferred by local leaders. “We knew they had a better chance of winning than traditional Congressmen,” admits a senior leader. “The only fear is that these mine MLAs may misuse the government to meet their own ends.’’ The Congress is aware that, despite the BJP’s defeat, the Reddy brothers’ electoral clout has not diminished in the district. While Gali Janardhan Reddy remains in jail, his brother Karunakar Reddy stood on
a BJP ticket from Harapannahalli, away from Bellary city, and lost. Their other brother Somasekhar opted out of the contest altogether. Somasekhar was earlier arrested by the CBI for trying to bribe a judge to grant bail to his brother, and spent time in Chenchalaguda jail in Hyderabad along with Suresh Babu, another MLA, who incidentally won on a BSR Congress ticket in the recent polls. The BSR Congress, floated by the Reddys’ man Friday B Sriramulu, has won four seats. Three of them are miners. While the BJP was in power, the Reddy brothers had completely taken control of Karnataka’s mining industry by both legal and illegal means. They coerced mining companies into ‘raising contracts’—a euphemism for extortion suresh p
T h e r e c e n t A s s e m b ly p o l l s
whereby companies had to pay to have the ore they’d mined lifted out of Bellary district—and their own illegal mining operations in the forests of Andhra Pradesh, too, spilled over into Karnataka. Janardhan Reddy was jailed after the CBI started investigating beneficiaries of the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s Andhra government, especially his son YS Jaganmohan Reddy. It is clear that the Congress wanted the maximum possible number of seats in the mine-rich district as insurance for the future. Their strategy was to ensure that players such as the Reddy brothers would never rear their heads again. “Clearly, it’s a high stakes game, which the Congress has won this time round,’’ says the senior Congress leader. The Bellary mining case has attracted interest nationwide as a kind of test case for mining policy. Only the Supreme Court’s intervention saved the district from being completely annihilated by open cast mining. Studies have found that mining companies active in the district wiped out 50 years’ worth of ore deposits in less than five years. Chandra Bhushan, deputy directorgeneral at the Centre for Science and Environment, says the lessons from this district will serve as valuable inputs for future policy: ‘The Bellary case—and perhaps now the Goa case—is setting a precedent for mining regulations in the country. It will define how the offenders are judged, how serious their crime is and how they should be penalised. In other words, it is developing a mining penal code for the country. It is setting the framework for future environmental management, including limits on how much mineral extraction is ‘sustainable’. In addition, the judgments set the framework for how local people will ‘benefit’ from mining. Therefore, in many ways these decisions are overarching and are definitely needed, as the current regulatory system has been decimated. The question that needs to be discussed is whether the judgments go far enough in [determining a] sustainable framework for mining in the country. Or, indeed, if they are in the right direction.’ Santosh Martin, an environment activist and resident of Bellary who has helped highlight illegal mining in the district, says the general fear is that the situation will slip back to the Reddy days. “Of course, it will not be so rampant, but illegal mining will continue in some form or the other now that so many of the indicted miners have won. The Supreme Court has asked C category mines [those involved in illegal mining] to be 10 june 2013
auctioned or sold off, but there is no such mechanism in place. Rumours doing the rounds indicate that the Reddy brothers, who have floated many offshore companies, may pick up stakes in the companies up for auction.’’ Martin also feels that the work of the Enforcement Directorate, which is investigating the Reddys for suspected money laundering, is only half complete as it is yet to file a chargesheet under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, even after attaching Reddy properties to the tune of Rs 800 crore. The scourge clearly has not been dealt with, as six of the nine Assembly constituencies in Bellary district have elected MLAs linked to illegal mining. Of them, two (Anil Lad and E Tukaram) are from the Congress, two (B Sriramulu and TH Suresh Babu) from the newly formed BSR Congress, one (Anand Singh) from the BJP and one (B Nagendra) independent. They have all been named in the Lokayukta report submitted by
The Congress wanted a maximum of the seats in mine-rich Bellary district as insurance for the future. Its strategy was to sideline the Reddy brothers, but their clout has begun to seem irrepressible Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde to the Governor in 2011. Even those who lost on Congress tickets, like Vannurappa and Abdul Wahab, are tainted mining barons who have been named in the report. These barons left no stone unturned in their quest for victory. Bollywood actor Suniel Shetty, accompanied by a bevy of beauties, campaigned on Wahab’s behalf. Despite the BJP’s claim that the Reddy brothers and Sriramulu had been dumped by the party, its candidates lost in most constituencies, perhaps an indication that people were upset with the party’s silence when the brothers were tightening their grip on the district. But the continuing clout of BSR Congress and Reddy supporters has surprised many. The victory of sitting MLA B Nagendra from Kudligi in the district is a good example of how miners and their associates have managed to keep themselves afloat merely by dusting off their political affiliations. Nagendra, who won on a BJP ticket in 2008, contested as an independent this time
and won by a whopping margin. Widely believed to be in the Reddy brothers’ inner circle, his company Eagle Traders and Logistics has been named in the Lokayukta report for transporting illegal iron ore from Bellary to various ports in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The report has documented estimates that Eagle Traders shipped illegal ore worth Rs 649 crore between 2007 and 2010. Anil Lad, another mining tycoon, declared assets worth Rs 188 crore in his election affidavit. His firms VSL Mining Company and Divya Jyothi Steels have both been named in the Lokayukta report for transgressing norms. Lad was a BJP MLA from Bellary from 2004 till he joined the Congress 2007 and was rewarded with a Rajya Sabha seat. He has threatened to resign from both posts because he has not been made a minister in the Siddaramaiah government. Technically, he should have to give up either his RS membership or Assembly victory. A national level shooter with a penchant for the good life, especially imported wheels, Lad is a potential trouble maker for the Congress. He is particularly peeved that his younger cousin Santosh Lad, another mining lord who won from a neighbouring district, has been made minister. The party can only hope that the CBI arrests him as soon as possible—Lad is one of the 28 accused in the Belikeri port case of the storage of illegally mined ore for export currently being investigated by the CBI. E Tukaram, the Congress MLA who won from Sandur in Bellary district, is yet another iron ore mining baron accused in the Lokayukta report. Tukaram is linked to one of the 49 category C iron ore mines that violated norms in the Bellary region, according to both the Lokayukta report and the Central Empowerment Committee. Despite the charges against him, including one of illegal possession of prime government land in the town, he won by a handsome margin. Another category C miner, also re-elected, is BS Anand Singh of the BJP. And though other BJP winning candidates are not involved in mining, there are allegations that they have been backed by mine owners. It is still to be seen how the Bellary story unfolds as the Congress takes charge of the district from which it was once banished completely. With the SC-monitored CEC looking to auction C category mines in a ‘transparent’ manner, the party will have its hands full—especially since some of its newly minted legislators will be under scrutiny of the law. n open www.openthemagazine.com 11
The War We Are Losing D
valley in southern Chhattisgarh is flanked by the Kanger forest on its north and the Balimela forest on its east, bordering Odisha. This is an area that the Communist Part of India (Maoist) brought under its newly-formed Chhattisgarh-Orissa Border Committee last year. At about 4 pm on 25 May, a convoy of cars carrying senior Congress leaders and others was to pass through the area. The Congress, in opposition in the state, was hoping for big gains in the Assembly polls later this year in the Bastar region. In the last elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won 11 of the region’s 12 seats, leading the party to power in Raipur. The Congress had set arbha
Why Maoists carried out their deadly attack in Chhattisgarh and why such attacks will not stop Rahul Pandita
itself the goal of making a similar sweep in the forthcoming polls with its Parivartan Yatra, which was announced with much fanfare on 11 April. Travelling from a political rally in Sukma towards Jagdalpur on the single carriageway of National Highway 221, the convoy was about to cross a sharp curve with a milestone that read ‘Jagdalpur, 43’. The first car in the convoy had just crossed the milestone when the
vehicle behind it, a Bolero, was thrown several metres in the air. It was a landmine blast. The impact was so powerful that several people in other vehicles were seriously injured. Within seconds, the survivors found themselves surrounded by Maoist guerillas, many of them carrying wireless sets, who were walking slowly and firing at the cars. It was one of India’s most audacious ambushes ever. Shouting slogans and 10 June 2013
expletives, the guerillas closed in and asked for two senior Congress leaders to be identified: Mahendra Karma and Nand Kumar Patel. There had been no single interview of a Maoist leader or press release issued by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) for seven years that did not mention Karma. Since 2006, Karma had led an anti-Maoist militia called the Salwa Judum that killed more innocent civilians than Maoists, apart from indulging in an orgy of loot, rape and plunder that resulted in the displacement of over 150,000 people. Patel had not been on the Maoist hit list at all. On 25 May, when Karma turned himself over to the ambushers along with Patel and others, Karma was first beaten up, and then shot many times in his head. Then Patel and his son were taken into the surrounding forest along with a few others. While the rest were let off— some were even administered pain killers for their injuries by Maoists—Patel and his son were shot in cold blood. Their bodies were recovered the next morning by security forces combing the area.
Two days later, the CPI (Maoist) issued a statement hailing its guerillas for killing Karma and ‘other reactionary Congress top leaders’. The Maoist spokesperson Gudsa Usendi said Patel was killed
Shouting slogans and expletives, the guerillas closed in and asked for two senior Congress leaders: Mahendra Karma and Nand Kumar Patel because of his ‘history of suppressing the people’. While Usendi regretted the killing of innocents, he offered no explanation for why Patel’s son was killed too.
onspiracy theories abound, with
unconfirmed reports of how the convoy’s route was changed at the last minute, or how some leaders were let
off, even as a slew of politicians, retired security personnel and human rights activists wrestle it out on TV channels, offering their take on the situation. But the crater left on that road in Darbha valley and the remains of the dead—25 were killed in the ambush—strewn all over the place made it clear that it was a brutal, premeditated attack on the Indian Government. Of course, in the past few months, Maoists had been on the defensive, prompting the Union Minister of Home Affairs to claim in front of a Parliamentary Standing Committee that there has been an “absolute turnaround in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand”. But after this brazen attack in Chhattisgarh, such claims have fizzled out. The Centre has sent a team of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to the site to probe the ambush. But apart from investigating why Patel and his son were killed, there might be little else to look into. Going by past experience, there is not much the Government will learn from the probe in its effort to tackle India’s “biggest internal security chal-
brazen offensive (Facing page) Maoist guerillas at a camp in Gadchiroli division of which Eiatu is the commander; a security man looks at the body of Congress leader Nand Kumar Patel
lenge”, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had called the Maoist insurgency three years ago. In response to the attack, the PM, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice-president Rahul Gandhi flew to Raipur, where Sonia Gandhi called it an “attack on democracy”. But violence in these parts has been bloodier than the State acknowledges, and for quite a while. Just a week ago, on 17 May, a security operation carried out by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Edasmeta village of the neighbouring Bijapur district had gone wrong, resulting in the death of eight Tribals, including three children. No investigative agency was despatched to get to the bottom of that incident. No politician issued any statement, let alone visit the bereaved families. The CRPF as usual said it was ordering an ‘internal inquiry’. In June last year, a similar operation by the CRPF had gone wrong in exactly the same manner, leading to the deaths of 19 villagers in the same district. While the Union Home Ministry immediately dubbed it ‘the biggest Maoist encounter’, it had egg on its face when it was found that the dead included two schoolgoing boys and a 12-year-old girl. The ‘internal inquiry’ ordered by the CRPF at that time has also yielded nothing so far. In the last few months, Maoists have been under a lot of pressure. They are facing a leadership crunch, since many of their senior leaders have either been arrested or killed in police encounters. Of late, Maoists tell me, the morale of their cadres has been down. So, they say, it was two days after the Congress announced its Parivartan Yatra that the plot for the ambush was hatched. It was meant to hit headlines once again, and to send a clear signal to the Government that the CPI (Maoist) meant business and still had an upper hand. n 13 April, in the neighbouring Malkangiri district of Odisha, a few men quietly turned up at one of the villages in an isolated area that is hard to reach. Situated on the banks of the Gurupriya river, the cluster of 150 odd villages is water-locked. Cut off twice in the 1940s and 1960s due to spillage created by hydroelectric dams, no electric-
ity has reached these villages—except one—even now. It was from this area that Malkangiri’s district collector R Vineel Krishna was abducted by Maoists in February 2011. The area is under the Maoist AndhraOrissa Border Committee. Maoist sources reveal that among the men present
In an area like Bastar, the CRPF has no means of gathering intelligence. The state police have no means either, since they hardly venture into this area were Nambala Keshava Rao, who heads their Central Military Commission; Katakam Sudarshan, another senior commander and a member of the CPI (Maoist)’s politburo; Gajarla Ravi (Ganesh), a senior commander who was made the head of this area in December 2012; and his brother, Gajarla Ashok (Eiatu), the Maoist military commander of Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli division. It is here that the attack was planned, with Eiatu given the responsibility of leading the team of guerillas. The explosives, sources indicate, were brought in from the neighbouring Koraput district. Another senior commander Srinivas Ramalu alias Ramanna is also believed to have participated in the attack.
The Maoist ambush team got more than a month to plan the attack. Under Eiatu’s command, every step was chalked out in detail. A highly experienced military commander, Eiatu had last met me in 2010 in a Maoist camp somewhere on the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border. Eiatu’s right hand had three fingers missing, which he had lost in a firing accident. His brother Gajarla Saraya and his partner Rama had died earlier in separate police encounters. Eaitu is in his late thirties and has led several attacks against Indian security forces, including one in Gadchiroli’s Laheri area on 17 October, in which 17 policemen lost their lives. “We followed the police party for two days without food and finally cornered them in Laheri,” Eiatu had said in 2010. It is this battle hardiness that gives Maoists an edge over security forces. In many encounters, Maoist guerillas have come across as better trained than their adversaries. In an area like Bastar, the CRPF has no means of gathering intelligence. The state police have no means either, since they hardly venture into this area. By the CRPF’s own admission, the 17 May Edasmeta operation was launched on inputs from the Andhra Pradesh police intelligence. Also, most security personnel operating in Maoist areas suffer from very low morale. Given a chance, they would seek a transfer elsewhere. They often work in miserable conditions where many jawans don’t even have a table fan in their bar10 June 2013
on the backfoot (Facing page) Paramedics rush a victim to hospital in Raipur; Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi reach Raipur to assess the situation in the state
racks. Then there are other dangers like malaria that kills many in this region. The state police forces across the Maoist-affected states face an acute shortage of officers. In some areas, like in many of Odisha’s Maoist-affected areas, they have a tacit understanding with Maoists: ‘You don’t trouble us, we won’t trouble you.’ That is a bargain that both sides benefit from, since the police are largely incapable of ‘troubling’ Maoists in any case. our days after the Darbha valley attack, Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde has not returned from his US trip. The Indo-US homeland security dialogue he had gone to attend ended on 22 May and all other Indian delegates have returned. Not that it would
10 June 2013
have made any difference. In the past ten months, according to people in the know, Shinde has attended only one meeting to review security in Maoist areas. Security experts also point out that India has no National Security Strategy that one could refer to while dealing with such an insurgency. “If I go to the internet,” says retired Director-General of Police Prakash Singh, “I can find a US security strategy draft with a foreword by Barack Obama. The same is true of other countries. But try looking for an Indian security strategy document, and you’ll draw a blank.” For the past few years, the Government has been trying hard to explain that it can only develop Maoist-affected areas once Maoists are pushed out. But on the ground, this has hardly happened. Last year, security forces claimed to have
cleared the Saranda forest in Jharkhand of Maoists, and a Saranda Development Plan has since been announced. On Republic Day this year, Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh even unfurled the national flag there. This is an area for which mining projects have been given clearances (which Ramesh had opposed), and Maoists have claimed that the Saranda Development Plan is not aimed at Tribal welfare but a pretext for turning the area into just another mining zone. Decades-old grievances are still in place in large swathes of central and eastern India. The Union seems to be in permanent denial over its failure to help locals lead better lives. In a letter written to the governors of Maoist-affected states, Union Minister for Tribal Affairs V Kishore Chandra Deo wrote: ‘The root cause of this [Maoist] situation is [the] continuous exploitation, oppression, deprivation, neglect [of] and indifference [towards] marginalised people.’ Cautioning against mining in Schedule 5 Tribal areas, he wrote: ‘In many cases powerful lobbies are trying to encourage mining themselves in flagrant violation of constitutional provisions.’ But few in New Delhi seem to pay any heed to such concerns. At the state administration level, the problem is the same—of misplaced priorities. The Chhattisgarh government has put up a swanky cricket stadium recently in Raipur, but Dantewada reels under a 60 per cent shortage of health services staff. Over the next few months, security operations are likely to be stepped up in Maoist areas. Says Professor Nandini Sundar, who was instrumental in having the Salwa Judum declared illegal by India’s Supreme Court in 2011: “I think there will be an increase in violence by State forces, especially in villages around Darbha.” There are indications that joint combing operations will be undertaken soon in Chhattisgarh and Odisha. The monsoon is just weeks away in this region, after which many areas will become inaccessible to outsiders. Once that happens, and given the past record of such operations, there is not much that looks achievable. Except perhaps some more collateral damage—which would only work in favour of Maoists. n open www.openthemagazine.com 15
BCCI President Srini Sir
His official title as Open goes to press
According to his son
As called when he is in earshot
Understanding India’s most infamous cricket administrator, N Srinivasan Lhendup G Bhutia Chennai
arayanaswami Srinivasan or
‘Srini sir’ as he is popularly referred to in the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA), first sought to enter cricket administration in the mid-1990s. He was by then a successful industrialist, running India Cements, a company that his father TS Narayanaswami set up with banker SNN Shankarlingam in 1946 (and of which he is currently vicechairman and managing director). He had been the sheriff of Chennai (198991), and then wanted to hold office as a cricket administrator. So he contested elections for an office-bearer’s post in the TNCA, and lost. AC Muthiah, the then president of the BCCI, was Srinivasan’s school friend from Madras Christian College Higher Secondary School in Chennai. It was Muthiah who offered Srinivasan a foothold in cricket administration. On Muthiah’s advice, Srinivasan contested an election from Vellore district and entered the TNCA for the first time in 2001—and became state vice-president. In 2002, when Muthiah stepped down as TNCA president after eight consecutive terms as president (the maximum allowed), he helped his close ally and friend secure the post. “Srinivasan was always very ambitious. We could 10 June 2013
see that he did not just want to enter the TNCA, or become its president, he wanted to move on. And he was constantly working on it,” says a former TNCA member who worked with Srinivasan for many years at the association and at the BCCI, and did not wish to be identified. As TNCA president, Srinivasan started attending BCCI meetings. But he maintained a low profile. “He was networking. He was understanding how the BCCI worked. He was planning his next move,” says the TNCA member. But in the initial days of his reign as TCNA president, Srinivasan had no independent identity. Tamil Nadu cricket was still Muthiah’s fiefdom. Gradually, Srinivasan found his own turf and started exerting influence. According to a current TNCA member and a Muthiah loyalist, Srinivasan, either by offering money or granting favours, started garnering support for himself at the Association. Muthiah did not realise that his support base was fast eroding, the source says. Moreover, after Muthiah’s reign at the BCCI ended, Srinivasan gravitated towards the new president and Muthiah’s bitter rival Jagmohan Dalmiya. When Dalmiya was near the completion of his term, it was Srinivasan who asked for the creation of a patron-inchief title to be bestowed upon Dalmiya. But in 2006, Dalmiya was dismissed by the BCCI for misappropriation of funds from the 1996 World Cup organising body. The man heading the committee getty images
that discovered these irregularities was none other than the wily Srinivasan, who was then BCCI treasurer. But after Dalmiya returned to the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB), Srinivasan made peace with him (this was in 2010), so as to secure his vote for his bid for the BCCI’s top job.
rinivasan joined India Cements in 1968 when he was 23 as its deputy managing director after his father’s death. India Cement’s co-founder Shankarlingam’s son, KS Narayan, was managing director then. According to a former TNCA administrator who has known Srinivasan for decades, a dispute between Srinivasan and Narayan in the 1980s led to Srinivasan’s exit from the company. The details are hazy, but Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI) took over the management of India Cements. During this time, it is believed, Srinivasan grew close to the late Murasoli Maran, who was DMK leader M Karunanidhi’s nephew. In the early 1990s, Srinivasan was able to make
“He could not believe that his only son was homosexual and he believed he could treat me for it. For me, he is no less than a psychopath,” says Ashwin
his way back into the company with the help of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which was then the ruling party in Tamil Nadu. According to a joke in Chennai, only three people can enter M Karunanidhi’s bedroom at any odd hour—his wife (the joke does not specify which), son Stalin, and Srinivasan. Srinivasan eventually bought IDBI’s stake in India Cements. He also bought the shares owned by Shankarlingam’s grandson, N Shankar. In 2009, he consolidated his ownership, taking it to 28 per cent of all equity, by buying out his own brother N Ramachandran. It is said that Ramachandran, who was executive director of the cement maker, wanted to be associated with Chennai Super Kings (CSK), the IPL franchise owned by India Cements. But Srinivasan did not want him to have any role in the franchise. Eventually, Ramachandran was forced into selling his stake in India Cements.
rinivasan, many say, is a deeply su-
perstitious individual. He seeks advice from a well-known astrologer and vaastu consultant in Chennai called Vaastu Venkatesan. It is believed that former India captain Krishnamachari Srikkanth introduced the astrologer to AC Muthiah and later to Srinivasan. It is rumoured that the astrologer makes almost Rs 2 crore a year off Srinivasan. According to some members of the TNCA, Srinivasan consults the astrologer for most new endeavours. When the Chepauk stadium was rebuilt, the temple on the west side of the ground, frequented by groundsmen, was moved to the east side so that it could bring good luck to the TNCA. A former member of the TNCA says, “Every time CSK play here, Venkatesan instructs the driver of the team bus to position the vehicle in a way that supposedly brings good luck. And before the start of a match, either Venkatesan or his deputy will recite prayers and draw a tantric triangle outside the boundary line so that it can facilitate a CSK victory.” The former TNCA member also says the astrologer had in-
cause of a filial rift BCCI Chief N Srinivasan’s son Ashwin Srinivasan (right) with his partner Avi Mukherji, with whom he lives in Mumbai open www.openthemagazine.com 17
in a tight spot Protestors in Kolkata demand Srinivasan’s resignation
structed Gurunath Meiyappan— Srinivasan’s son-in-law who’s in police custody till 31 May—not to sit with the team in the dugout during matches in the last edition of the IPL. He said this could bring him bad luck. But Srinivasan’s daughter, Rupa, overruled him. Srinivasan also has an estranged son, Ashwin, a 44-year-old who lives with his partner Avi Mukherjee in Andheri, Mumbai. Ashwin is on record saying the filial rift was caused by his homosexuality, and it worsened once he met Avi in 1999. “Avi was threatened. I was kept in solitary confinement by [my father’s] henchmen,” Ashwin tells me. “He could not believe that his only son was homosexual and he believed he could treat me for it. For me, he is no less than a psychopath.” Last year, Ashwin accused his estranged father of using policemen in Mumbai to threaten and beat him up.
r RN Baba, the BCCI-appointed me-
dia manager of the Indian cricket team and an official of the TNCA known to be on Srinivasan’s side, says his boss is being unfairly targeted by the media. Baba says that Srinivasan might appear headstrong, but is one of the most capable presidents to have emerged at the BCCI. “As president, whatever money is earned from cricket, he shares with state associations,” says Baba. “When the IPL was held in South Africa, he took along a number of us from the TNCA to watch the tournament. He also paid us daily allowances. He does not need to do that.” Baba, incidentally, was the man who conducted the now notorious Dhoni press conference in Mumbai, where neither Baba nor Dhoni entertained any question about the betting controversy. According to Srinivasan’s detractors, he uses the ample funds at his disposal to curry favour. A Tamil Nadu cricket insider says that he doles out money and positions freely to collect loyalists. “This is what he did in the TNCA, and this is what is happening at the BCCI. A number of subcommittees will be created, everyone will be given raises, and the state associa18 open
According to a joke in Chennai, only three people can enter M Karunanidhi’s bedroom at any odd hour— his wife, son Stalin, and Srinivasan tions will be paid handsomely.” A Muthiah loyalist at the TNCA recounts being told by Srinivasan that he had grand plans for him. One day, he was called in to Srinivasan’s office and offered a job at India Cements. He declined. “He likes people to grovel at his feet. And loyalists are always taken care of.” On another occasion, during the TNCA’s 2007 annual general meeting, a member, RV Radhakrishnan, came to the podium and delivered a lengthy speech where he castigated Muthiah and accused him of siphoning off money from the Association’s coffers. “Even when some of us raised objections, Srinivasan did not intervene,” says the Muthiah loyalist. Some TNCA members point out that Radhakrishnan’s son was later appointed travel assistant of the Indian cricket team and CSK. Srinivasan loves power. Apart from being president of the TNCA and BCCI, he also heads the All India Chess Federation (AICF) and Tamil Nadu Golf Federation (TNGF). According to some in the TNCA, his current aim is to become president of
the International Cricket Council (ICC). In 2008, when Srinivasan became BCCI secretary and his company was already the owner of CSK, he did something that has raised eyebrows ever since. He had a clause amended in the BCCI constitution that could have obstructed this obvious conflict-of-interest. According to the earlier clause 6.2.4, players, administrators, managers, umpires and team officials could not have direct or indirect commercial interests in any BCCI event. Srinivasan’s amendment made an exception for the IPL, Champions League and Twenty20. The Supreme Court, however, is currently hearing a case of conflictof-interest in this matter, filed by Muthiah, against Srinivasan .
large number of TNCA members
are former cricket players who have played in various divisions. According to a 64-year-old member whose father was also a member of the TNCA, general meetings in the relatively innocent past would sometimes continue for days. “Everyone was opinionated,” he says, “Everyone had a passion for the game.” However, when Srinivasan stepped in, this changed. Meetings would get over in less than an hour, and discussions were hardly ever encouraged. And that’s how it goes. “If we raise a point, he says he will look into it,” he says, “That’s it... nothing ever comes of it.” n 10 June 2013
dust in the wind China has had various afforestation drives since the mid-1970s, largely in an effort to beat back the menace of Gobi Desert dust
B I O S CO P E
GRAND Ideas For a Greener World
Environmentalism is often an expendable cause to a majority that fears economic oppression by a minority with delusions of saving the earth. But we need not take sides. From corporations striving to harness massive wind power along the Atlantic Coast, to the Herculean trash collectors of the Pacific; from a cross-country initiative to save the vibrant Mekong river basin, to modern China embarking on another, greener Great Wall, four exciting and ambitious projects show how all of us have an incentive to shape the future rather than fight it JAY MAZOOMDAAR
jolly green dragon
Aiming for 42 per cent forest cover by 2050, China tries to go green without sacrificing economic growth
ontrary to popular belief, the Great Wall of
China is not visible from space. Neil Armstrong could not spot the 7,200-km-long man-made wonder even from a lower orbit. Unfazed, the Chinese started on an even greater wall within a decade of the lunar conquest. Scheduled for completion by 2050, China’s Three-North Shelterbelt Development Program or the ‘Great Green Wall’ may well be noticeable from the moon. After all, it aims to regenerate nearly 90,000 sq km of forest (about the size of Bihar). While the Chinese have always had a thing for proj-
10 June 2013
ects of extraordinary scale, what prompted the massive greening initiative were the frequent and blinding sandstorms from the north. Thanks to rampant deforestation, done to boost industry and agriculture in Mao’s China after World War II, the Gobi desert was advancing menacingly, blowing dust as far as Seoul. Pollution is not a recent phenomenon in China. Its ‘yellow river’ turned yellow some two millennia ago, when its banks were denuded of trees and soil erosion started muddying its water. Some studies claim that desertification in northwest China dates back 2.6 million years. By the 1970s, the Gobi had become a threat in need of an urgent response. The dust—dubbed ‘the yellow dragon’—was taking over more than 1,500 sq km of grassland every year, suffocating life, threatening agriculture and sweeping through Beijing and other major cities. After Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, China tried to undo the damage by creating 4,500 km of green walls in the northwest, north and northeast—hence the name ‘Three-North’. open www.openthemagazine.com 21
relief and rescue China has persisted with its seeding missions, though they have produced unexpected—even counterproductive—results
Now roughly midway, the world’s largest ever ecological restoration project has been turning heads. According to a 2011 UN report, State of the World’s Forests, China increased its forest cover by 20,000 sq km per year in the 1990s and has achieved an average of 30,000 sq km per year since 2000. In contrast, India recorded an annual rate of just 3,000 sq km in that period. The report lauds China’s plan to reforest 50,000 sq km (an area the size of Punjab) by 2020, noting that it may hit this target five years ahead of time.
nlike India, which has kept its land-to-forest ratio constant on paper since Independence by camouflaging its rapid loss of ancient forests with tea or coffee estates and even the proliferation of exotic weeds, China has always focused plainly on plantation drives. China has, of course, had setbacks. Its attempt during the 1980s and 1990s to regain lost green cover by sowing a million seedlings and scattering a billion exotic seeds from the sky backfired. The fast-growing exotic trees that could rapidly strike root and form canopies flourished as long they could tap water stored deep under the soil in semi-arid regions that were used to supporting grassland. But once the soil moisture was exhausted, they quickly died and nearly 85 per cent of the plantation effort failed. The result was a double whammy. By the time the exotics eventually died, they had already
wiped out the shallow-rooting undergrowth, having deprived it of sun and water. The soil was further exposed to erosion, and the yellow dragon blew with even more fury. Aquifer levels, too, fell drastically in many areas. Meanwhile, China’s much-touted eco-compensation programme—the Conversion of Croplands to Forests and Grasslands—converted nearly 15,000 sq km of sloping cropland to forests to prevent soil erosion that clogged the Yangtze and Yellow rivers. Under that scheme, the State compensated farmers who switched to an alternative livelihood and allowed forest plantation or natural vegetation on their land, with money and rice. In 2009, anxiety over food security tempted China to suspend the project. Lu Xinshe, deputy minister of land and resources, told Reuters that the country was struggling to maintain its 120,000 sq km ‘red line’, considered the least area needed for food self-sufficiency, and had no plans for a large-scale project to return farmland to its natural state. But the programme, sponsored by the World Bank, survived—partially because the Chinese leadership did not want to risk its fast-depleting water table any further. Besides, China needed plantations for timber, imports of which have tripled in the past decade. Such monocultural thrusts to boost local industries (paper and rubber are other examples) have compounded the problem created by the promotion of exotic species. While single-species plantations do store carbon and serve as wind-breakers, they do little for ecological security or biodiversity conservation. The obvious way to counter such ‘green deserts’ was to go native. Thankfully, a number of Chinese experts flagged the issue, seeking a course correction. Some, such as ecologist Jiang Gaoming of Chinese Institute of Science, claimed that degraded ecosystems could recover if their abuse were simply stopped. In Inner Mongolia’s Hunshandake sandyland, Gaoming’s research showed that grasslands restored themselves in as little as two years. In southwest China, Conservation International and China’s Center for Nature and Society have together restored 12,000 acres using native species in a 259,000-sqkm landscape that hosts a range of ecosystems—from coniferous and broadleaf forests, to grasslands, wetlands and bamboo groves. Even China’s government seems to have learnt its lessons. The State Forestry Administration is collaborating with Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA) on several projects aimed at restoring native species. One of the projects in a giant panda habitat in Sichuan prov-
By 2050, China’s ‘Great Green Wall’ that aims to regenerate 90,000 sq km of forest may well be visible from the moon 22 open
10 June 2013
ince seeks to reforest more than 10,000 acres of degraded forestland with China cedar and local varieties of fir, spruce and poplar, among others.
resource itself. Wind, they argue, is too unreliable a solution to the global energy crisis. It is true that wind does not blow—or blow hard enough—all the time. And it is usually strongest at night when demand for power typically ebbs. Its unpredictability means that a windmill farm operates at an average 35 per cent of its capacity, against 80 per cent for a coal-fired or 50 per cent for a hydel plant. So a grid that uses wind power requires back-up that must come from fossil fuel-based plants. All these are valid objections. But wind power has attracted interest and investment ever since 1887, when James Blyth, a maths professor, designed and built a wind turbine that lit up his Glasgow home. In the 1970s, even NASA started exploring the commercial potential of wind energy. Then, in 1991, the world’s first offshore wind turbine came up in Denmark and promised to answer the difficult questions often asked of wind power.
here have been major landmarks along the way. The world’s first greening project registered under the Clean Development Mechanism of UNFCCC, the Pearl river basin initiative revived 3,000 hectares with mostly native species in the Guangxi region and became China’s first reforestation project to earn carbon credits. Similarly, communities in Tengchong of Yunnan Province are earning handsome sums for looking after depleted forests since their reforestation project became the world’s first to meet the Climate, Community and Biodiversity gold standard. But even after increasing its forest cover from 12 to 18 per cent in just two decades, China’s per capita forest area of 0.12 hectare still ranks very low globally. For a country that seems to believe in miracles, China’s next big test is to revive its many threatened species in the natural forests it has regenerated. The world is watching.
not just hot air Offshore windmills mean that wind power is not always land-inefficient nor necessarily unreliable
ocean of Opportunity
A 560-km transmission line under the Atlantic seabed to bring home 7,000 megawatts of offshore wind power
10 June 2013
magine generating enough power from the high wind blowing over the sea to meet the demands of both Mumbai and Bangalore. And laying a transmission line under the seabed long enough to cover the distance between Delhi and Manali. That is the scale of the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) project, which hopes to harness Atlantic winds for the US. On paper, wind has always been a dream solution to our clean energy needs. Once installed, wind turbines generate power free. Yes, those giant contraptions are noisy, their blades are known to kill birds and bats, and a horizon dotted by rows of crowned towers can be an eyesore, but most environmentalists are sold on wind power in the era of climate change because wind energy is an option with no greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, for many, it’s a pipedream. Critics of wind power say that windmills take up too much real estate to turn out too little power, that there just isn’t enough land available for it to make a real difference. Their bigger objection, however, has to do with the fickle nature of the
Offshore turbines have caught on in recent years. Not only is wind velocity across an open ocean much higher, offshore plants also relieve the pressure on real estate onshore. Offshore wind is usually more gridfriendly as well, picking up in the afternoon when demand for power starts to peak. It is also more consistent and helps an offshore turbine achieve 40 per cent or more of its capacity; Norway’s Hywind demo project has achieved 50 per cent.
ind has the disadvantage of not being a transfera-
ble source, unlike fossil fuel. Nor is it storable, like dam water. Still, a well-designed project can overcome those handicaps. Studies show that if three offshore wind sites are connected, only 2 per cent of the time would they have no power to offer at all—a baseline reliability figure thrice as high as that for fossil fuel plants. Around 5,000 MW of offshore capacity has already been installed across the world, mainly in north Europe. While this is still only around 2 per cent of the installed capacity of wind power, a 2012 study by University of Delaware and Stanford University has estimated the global potential for offshore wind power, with 4 million turbines, as 7.5 TW (1 terawatt = 1 million megawatt), which would be over half the world’s demand in 2030. In Asia, China, Japan and Korea have invested heavily in offshore projects. But much of the action is on the other side of the Pacific. In 2008, the US Department of Energy (DOE) released a roadmap for achieving 54 GW (1 gigawatt = 1,000 MW), a fifth of its electric energy supply, from wind by 2030. President Barack Obama has been keen on clean energy, and this has boosted US efforts. In 2010, the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated that the US could generate over 4,150 GW of power offshore, more than four times what it had managed so far. This suits the US because offshore wind power is closer to its major electric load centres: 28 of its coastal states use more than 79 per cent of the nation’s electricity. Last year has been the most ambitious so far, with wind energy generation in the US growing by a record 17 per cent, backed by $25 billion in private investment. A number of offshore projects are coming up in Massachussetts, Rhode Island, Maryland and Virginia, and even along the Pacific coast, where much deeper waters pose a critical technological challenge, for which floating foundations are being shipped from Europe.
hese strides notwithstanding, it is the Atlantic
coast that could be the Holy Grail here. This swathe alone could produce enough clean electricity to power at least one-third of the entire US or its East Coast from Maine to Florida. To that end, with sponsors such as Google and Japan’s Marubeni Corp, a consortium 24 open
of companies has set up the ambitious Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) project. This January, the AWC selected New Jersey for the first phase of its mega project, which proposes to lay a 560-km-long high-voltage transmission line six feet under the seabed about 20-22 km off America’s east coast, stretching from New Jersey to Virginia. The transmission corridor will only be around 200 feet wide, thus skirting seabed obstacles and environmentally sensitive areas. The first phase is expected to produce 3,000 MW from offshore wind turbines. If all goes according to plan, by 2026 the AWC will produce 7,000 MW of offshore wind energy for the East Coast, enough for 1.9 million households. That will be a significant leap over the 630 MW of the world’s largest offshore wind farm right now, which is the London 10 June 2013
withering lifeline The Mekong has been at its lowest levelin decades, making things increasingly difficult for fishermen and farmers living along the river
Array in the outer Thames estuary. The future of offshore wind power may be even more promising than these figures suggest. By the end of 2020, total global installed capacity is projected to reach 75-80 GW, with the UK, Germany, China and the US leading the way. The industry is busy paring costs and improving efficiency. It may not be long before the ambitious AWC project is dwarfed by others. The 9,000 MW Dogger Bank project in the North Sea, 125 km off the UK coast, has already rolled in. India’s installed wind power capacity of 19,052 MW is the fifth largest in the world. But the country is yet to tap the vast offshore wind potential along its 7,500 km coastline. The Centre for Wind Energy Technology says the southern coast of Tamil Nadu alone could generate up to 1 GW. 10 June 2013
let Apocalypse Wait
A string of countries along the Mekong river come together to preserve its ecosystem and protect lives
emember Martin Sheen’s boat journey through the cloudy mist in Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic 1979 film Apocalypse Now? That was shot in the Philippines and not in Vietnam, but its mythical Nung river was suggestive of the mystique of the Mekong. Grand in sweep and throbbing with life, it originates open www.openthemagazine.com 25
on the Tibetan Plateau and flows through six countries before joining the South China Sea in Vietnam. The Mekong basin is second only to the Amazon in biodiversity. As the world’s largest inland fishery, it alone provides one-fourth of the world’s freshwater catch—worth up to $7 billion annually—and nourishes the earth’s most fertile alluvial fields that support at least 60 million people. Despite population growth, parts of the Greater Mekong region remain one of the world’s last biological treasure troves. Last year alone, researchers recorded 126 new species there. But the Mekong’s bounty is also proving to be its undoing. Rising demand for farmland, mainly for rubber and rice, is fast stripping this landscape of its lush forests. Swathes of mangroves have been converted into shrimp farms, and the timber mafia has thrived on illegal felling. Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar lost 22-24 per cent of their forests between 1973 and 2009, while 43 per cent of woodland was cleared in Thailand and Vietnam. In the 1990s, the Chinese government began to build a series of large dams on the Upper Mekong. In the mid2000s, Laos and Cambodia also announced 11 large hydropower projects on the main channel of the Lower
In 2011, The Friends of the Lower Mekong (FLM), a group of stakeholders, was set up to complement the LMI and collaborate on efforts among regional and donor countries such as Australia, Japan and the US, as well as the Asian Development Bank and World Bank. Last year, Clinton launched the LMI 2020 and pledged to invest $50 million over three years in addition to the bilateral assistance the US provides to member countries. The LMI also set up a two-track structure: one for aid agencies and NGOs and the other for senior officials and ministers.
he going has been tough, though. In 2010, a joint
environmental assessment warned that the 11 proposed dams on the Lower Mekong would cause stagnation in more than half the lower river and block fish migration. This would reduce the Mekong’s fish species by 26-42 per cent, resulting in annual losses of $500 million. The LMI estimated that at least 100 species would face extinction, 1,000 people risk displacement, and the food security of over two million would be threatened. China’s upstream dams already threaten to reduce the
The estimated potential for offshore wind power, with 4 million turbines, is 7.5 terawatts—over half the world’s projected demand in 2030 Mekong, with plans to sell most of the electricity to Thailand and Vietnam. More than 100 smaller projects are also proposed on the Lower Mekong. The commercial potential of the Mekong basin has long been recognised. In the 1950s, the UN formed the Mekong Committee and launched its largest development programme. Four decades later, four lower basin countries—Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam —signed the Mekong Agreement, creating the Mekong River Commission (MRC) in 1995 to take charge of their own destiny and shift the focus somewhat from mega development to sustainable management of resources. In 2002, China agreed to share hydrological information on the Lancang (upper Mekong) river with the MRC to help flood forecasting downstream. The efforts to protect the Mekong got a boost in 2009 when the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) was launched in Phuket by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the foreign ministers of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The goal was to manage this vibrant ecosystem, its rich natural resources and its people, as an interdependent whole by enhancing cooperation not just in conservation, but also education, migration and infrastructure development. In a political breakthrough, Myanmar too joined the initiative last year. 26 open
flow of sediments in the Mekong by an estimated 50 per cent. This would be halved again if the 11 dams came up, leaving just about a quarter of the original levels. The result would be the destabilisation of coastlines and flood plains of the Mekong delta, and a loss of Vietnam’s rice fields. Already, thousands of Vietnamese families are struggling to cope with saltwater ingression in the Mekong delta, which has started retreating after expanding for some 5,000 years. Of the 11 proposed dams, the $3.8 billion Xayaburi hydroelectric project in Laos has been the main bone of contention. Laos hopes the dam will make it ‘the battery of Southeast Asia’ and that its sputtering economy will gain by selling surplus electricity to Thailand. But Cambodia and Vietnam have reason to complain the dam will destroy their fishing and farming industries. In 2011, the MRC countries agreed to conduct detailed studies on the impact of the proposed dams, but Laos unilaterally decided last year to go ahead with the Xayaburi Dam. This January, Cambodia and Vietnam confronted Laos for violating the MRC agreement and insisted that no dams be constructed until an independent study was completed. Xayaburi remains a key test for the LMI as it would set a precedent for other proposed hydel projects. 10 June 2013
for PCBL Palej
Greentech Environment Award
certification for PCBL Mundra
waterworries (Right) The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an oceancurrent-formed vortex that collects trash generated by humans; (Below) dried up banks of the Mekong river in Thailand
eanwhile, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature,
a key part of the LMI, warned last month that if the large-scale loss of forests in the Mekong basin continued at its present rate, it would wipe out or irreversibly fragment 34 per cent of the remaining woodlands of the region by 2030. It added that major threats emanate from Myanmar, which is expected to undergo rapid economic growth after the end of its junta rule, and the southern Mekong sections of Vietnam and Cambodia. The sheer scale of the challenge, however, has not overwhelmed the Mekong initiative. Substantial investments have been made to protect the wetlands. A rigorous joint monitoring system to watch the river’s water levels and rainfall is already in place with Chinese participation. With sustainable hydro power in focus worldwide, Laos is being watched closely by the rest of the world. Myanmar has agreed to completely stop exporting timber from 1 April 2014 to save its forests. Last year, the Mekong Initiative twinned the MRC with the Mississippi River Commission, which is grappling with the challenge of resuscitating another great river system after decades of abuse. “We made a lot of mistakes,” admitted Clinton at the 2012 LMI meeting in Phnom Penh. “Just to be very blunt about it, we started more than a hundred years ago, so we’ve learned some hard lessons about what happens when you make certain infrastructure decisions.” With the world lending a hand, the countries of the Mekong basin may yet change course and avoid the same mistakes
Forget The Augean Stables
A team of seafarers wants to clean up a huge patch of trash in the Pacific Ocean
very year, the world produces over 300 million
tonnes of plastic and around 35 million tonnes of plastic waste, of which only about 8 per cent is recycled. Much of the rest ends up in our oceans. In 1997, Captain Charles Moore of California stumbled upon a huge concentration of garbage in the Pacific Ocean south of San Francisco. It was held up by the media as a symbol of the global plastic pollution crisis. It is easy to picture a massive island of floating debris in the middle of an ocean. One may also be able to estimate the clean-up cost, if the mess were amenable to such a calculation. Unfortunately, contrary to convenient media descriptions of a giant iceberg-like mass of garbage bobbing in the sea, the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch is hardly visible to the naked eye. 28 open
It does, however, exist. It lies deep in the North Pacific, around 1,600 km north of Hawaii. The result of a massive infusion of micro-plastics in sea water, it is about 100 metres deep, covers an area popularly believed to be the size of Texas, though nobody knows for sure, and changes shape and size depending on ocean currents. It is not even a single dump. There is a western garbage patch towards Japan and a subtropical convergence zone of the two dumps in the north. The debris is gathered by gyres—massive ocean currents that spiral around a central point. There are five major subtropical oceanic gyres: the North and South Pacific Subtropical Gyres, the North and South Atlantic Subtropical Gyres, and the Indian Ocean Subtropical Gyre. The so-called Pacific Garbage Patch keeps moving within the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, which covers an estimated 18-23 million sq km, which is about thrice the area of the continental United States. And yes, there are similar garbage patches in the Atlantic, but even less is known about those.
iven its dynamic nature, it is impossible to meas-
ure the Pacific Garbage Patch. Any chance of retrieving the trash is made doubly daunting by the fact that the floating plastic is mostly microscopic. While plastic does not biodegrade, it dries up under sunlight and dis10 June 2013
patch, or at least a good part of it. The project was started by Mary Crowley, a veteran sailor and an expert in oceanic arts and science; George Orbelian, an avid surfer and marine designer; and Doug Woodring, an expert in environmental technology. They had a simple plan to tackle the Pacific mess without having to scout for enormous landfill sites: gather as much garbage from the ocean as possible, treat it for toxicity and produce fuel through pyrolysis (breaking down through heat and chemicals) to run the campaign’s clean-up boats. But most experts have been sceptical of the project’s chances of success. Given that scanning just 1 per cent of the northern Pacific will take 68 ships a year, they argue, attempting a clean-up of even the highest garbage concentration areas may end up burning more fossil fuel than would be offset by the clean-up. Besides, dredging billions of tiny plastic particles would be enormously expensive and time-consuming. However, a range of passive collection techniques have been tested by Project Kaisei’s team to zero in on the least invasive and energy-consuming methods that could be used for a large-scale clean-up. It has also been trying to identify the most sustainable method for con-
The task of cleaning the shifting Pacific Garbage Patch is made doubly daunting by the fact that the floating plastic is mostly microscopic integrates into tiny particles. Dredging it up from ocean water with a fine mesh is a Herculean task. In any case, such an attempt will also haul out tiny plankton, credited with half of all photosynthesis on earth. Micro-plastic and plastic in different stages of photodegradation pose a severe biological hazard, the real dimensions of which remain unknown. Fish and other marine species (including birds) are seen to eat plastic and other garbage, with effects that one can only guess at. It is estimated that at least half the individuals of certain marine reptile species are affected by plastic litter. Plastic debris also accumulates pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which shoots the toxin concentration up to a million times the level in clean seawater. In 2001, PCBs were banned as coolant fluids internationally. It would be disastrous if these pollutants were to be consumed by scavenging organisms and passed on to humans through seafood products. Given the risk to marine ecosystems and human health, several attempts are being made to tackle the mess. Many voluntary organisations, including the International Coastal Cleanup, have been trying to reduce the garbage that is dumped offshore. But none of these initiatives has been nearly as ambitious as Project Kaisei (‘ocean planet’ in Japanese), which was launched in 2009 to clean the gigantic Pacific 10 June 2013
verting marine plastic debris into fuel and other marketable derivatives. In 2009, the UNEP hailed the project as a ‘Climate Hero’. It also won recognition as a Google Earth Hero for its work on a video blogging voyage tracking system. In 2010, it became part of the Clinton Global Initiative, and Doug Woodring launched the Ocean Recovery Alliance for greater synergy.
ll those accolades notwithstanding, the magni-
tude of the problem may yet get the best of Project Kaisei. Many have suggested lately that the scale of the mission has overwhelmed the project’s initial enthusiasm for cleaning up the Pacific. Though voyages have continued, much of its recent focus has been on prevention of garbage accumulation. Last August, Crowley reported that Project Kaisei found tsunami debris floating in from Japan to the Pacific vortex and recommended that fishermen be incentivised to collect trash along the coast before it escapes to the outer sea. “I don’t know if it’s possible to clean up all of it,” said Crowley, adding that her team was now collaborating with the US Coast Guard. She later sought government help to take a factory ship to the Pacific Gyre, armed with technology to recycle plastic into fuel. The project continues. n open www.openthemagazine.com 29
u n d e r fo ot
Mind Your Mushrooms
Call them just another form of fungi if you want, but here is someone who expects them to save the world Aimee Ginsburg
e are walking through Lucknow airport, a
temple to the glory of concrete. A ground steward asks to see our boarding passes. Suddenly, in a flash, Paul Stamets, 57, eco-warrior and world-renowned Friend of Fungi, is no longer at our side; we find him bending over a homely little plant in a homely cement planter, a look of warm affection lighting his face. He gently fingers the three tiny mushrooms he has found hiding in the shade of the plant (which he has spotted somehow from across the corridor), tells us their name, gently pats them on their heads. At once, the solid confines of cement and steel dissolve and we are inside nature, connected to the spirit of the earth, to the funky, musty smell of life and decay. Then Stamets, with the great contained energy he carries everywhere he goes, straightens and boards the plane to Delhi, taking the magic of the wild, and his hat made of coagulated mushroom mush, with him. Stamets, the planet’s leading mycologist, was in India recently, a guest of the company Organic India. His purpose, besides introducing us to the Six Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World (‘the world’ including India of course), was to meet several top players involved in attempts to clean up the holy Ganga river. Stamets has
site of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown); together with his loyal team, Stamets has developed or is in the process of developing mushroom-based medicines against the bird flu and other viruses, malaria, E-coli, strep, pox, meningitis, Alzheimer’s, TB and cancer. The American government, with which he has worked on several programmes, has given Stamets millions of dollars to further his research. He is in the process of developing a nano computer that uses mycelia— the underground living networks of long thin tendrils which are the actual body all mushrooms. Stamets has been awarded an unusually high number of patents in the US and elsewhere; recently he was awarded multiple patents on the making of any mushroom-based solutions against any known insect, an almost unheard of achievement and a potentially lucrative one. Stamets’ famous TED talk has been heard by at least 1.6 million people. And his books on mycology (the study of fungi) are considered the last word in the field. His subsequent TEDMED talk, delivered to an audience of over 800 physicians (often a sceptical lot) and the US Surgeon General, received a thunderous standing ovation; it introduced the value of medicinal mushrooms to the foremost thought leaders of the medical establishment.
Stamets has proven that mushrooms can clean oil spills, break down nerve gas, and turn toxic waste dumps into live soil. Certain strains that digest heavy metals are being considered for use at Fukushima many tricks up his sleeves to help clear the land, water and air of toxic waste, all involving mushrooms, and he is happy to share his knowledge for such a worthy cause. “Fungi are the basis of the health of our ecosystem,” he says, “they are miniature laboratories, deep reservoirs which store within them solutions beyond our imagination.” Stamets is quite sure that fungi are sentient beings—aware, intelligent and conscious of their purpose. “It has been proven in many prestigious studies. If we cannot recognise their intelligence, it is only because of our own limitations, not theirs,” he says, bright eyes twinkling though he is dead sober. Lest someone doubt the seriousness of Stamets’ intentions, qualifications or capabilities, let us mention some of his achievements. He has proven that mushrooms are able to clean oil spills and turn toxic waste dumps into fresh, live soil; he has shown that they can break down nerve gas (and certain strains of mushrooms, shown to digest heavy metals, are being considered for use at the
mycelial messenger “We need to engage these intelligent organisms for our mutual benefit,” says Paul Stamets 10 June 2013
Besides, and only slightly less exciting, is Stamets’ recipe which makes shiitake mushrooms taste exactly like bacon. “When people think about mushrooms,” he laments one day over our delicious lunch of daal and mushroom pulao, “they think of pasta sauce or maybe quiche. It is true that mushrooms are wonderful to eat, with more protein than any lentils or legumes and chock full of minerals, vitamins, immunity boosters and disease busters. Hey, I eat enormous amounts of mushrooms, and have not been ill in seven years. By the way,” he says, “never eat mushrooms raw.” If eaten raw, he says, their benefits are lost. “I have a keen sense that we are living at the best of the last of times,” says Stamets later that night. We are basking in the peace of an Organic India farm on the outskirts of Lucknow, watching the moon rise over a Durga temple, surrounded by tulsi, brahmi and rose. “Things are more serious than we like to think, and time is less than we like to think. There is no doubt that we have entered 6X—the sixth planetary extinction level event. There are at present about 8.7 million species. A normal extinction rate would be something like 10 species a year. We are now losing 30,000 species a year—plants, open www.openthemagazine.com 33
insects, frogs, flowers. That is three million over the next 100 years. It is like losing the rivets on the body of an aeroplane. How many rivets can fall off before the whole structure is lost?” Around us, the crickets pause, and a hush falls upon the garden. “We are still discovering new habitats and species, but as soon as we find them, they are lost forever.” “Cities like Shanghai and Beijing have committed ecological suicide,” he says. “If you would put a dome over those cities, I am afraid everyone inside would die of poisoning within 24 hours. Look at Delhi, at Mumbai…wonderful cities in many ways, but they are a blight on our ecosystem.” But, he says, there is good news. “We are part of this ecosystem, even if in our own minds we delude ourselves to think we are separate. The ecosystem will work through us, as it works through all of its members, it will guide us to find the proper solutions. But we need to listen.”
n Delhi, where others see only trampled earth, as-
phalt, cow dung, Stamets finds mushrooms. It is as if they call out to him by name. On a Saturday evening, an elegantly clad group of the city’s top physicians, scientists and lovers of the organic way gather at the Lodhi
which allows one organism to be nourished by another,” he says, “They are incredibly resilient to disease, which is why they make such good medicine; some of the most important medicines of all times are fungi/ mushroom based… penicillin, of course, [the anti-cancer] cyclosprin, an immuno-suppressant used in transplants and one of the most successful drugs of all time, and, recently, Gilenya, for multiple sclerosis . But the potential has hardly been scratched. I would like to see community based mushroom centres throughout India—they would recycle, feed, decontaminate, rebuild soil by infusing it with moisture and nutrients, purify polluted water, build water reservoirs, and increase the biodiversity of every community. The mycelium is already there, under our feet at all times, but it needs our support to restore, replenish and regenerate itself.” Stamets tells us of his mother’s miraculous, scientifically documented recovery from stage-four breast cancer using turkey tail mushroom mycelium. Stamets’ company, Fungi Perfecti (with its mission of ‘using gourmet and functional food mushrooms to improve the health of the planet and its people’) has a line of health supplements called Host Defense, soon to be marketed in India by Organic India. There are, of course, questions to ask Stamets.
“I really feel that these fungi have purposefully endowed me with their knowledge: they are working together with me, because I was ready to listen. Nature speaks to whoever really tries to listen” Hotel to listen to Stamets’ talk, munching all the while on mushroom samosas (with delicious tulsi pesto), tulsi iced tea, and macaroons and granola cookies in adorable mushroom shapes. The host of the evening is Bim Bisell, the grande dame of Fabindia. Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji of Rishikesh, who is one of the leaders of the drive to clean up the Ganga, is present as well (the next day he, Stamets and Organic India’s leadership flew to Lucknow for a meeting with Uttar Pradesh Governor BL Joshi; Stamets introduced the—apparently viable—possibility of cleaning the Ganga with mycelial filters). “I have many solutions for many of the specific problems facing India,” Stamets, in a necklace of turkey tail mushrooms made for this occasion by his wife, told the dazzled audience in Delhi. “First, the simple part: growing mushroom for food, we can get at least 50 times more protein per hectare than from raising animals, and mushrooms are nutritiously superior to legumes and lentils. Besides, we must understand that fungi are the gateway to unlocking the nourishment which is held inside of all matter. It is the digestion done by fungi 34 open
Can mushrooms really be intelligent? “The biggest problem with humans is their hubris in thinking that they know more than they really do; that intelligence can only be measured by our own yardstick. Indeed, I believe that all of nature is intelligent: if we are made by nature and if we are intelligent, then, by definition, nature must be so as well. I am sure nature is conscious of our presence as we walk through life. If we cannot see this, it only speaks to our own small mindedness; if we cannot hear nature speak to us, it is because we lack the proper communication skills. About mushrooms, specifically: there have been astonishing studies which have proven again and again that mushrooms know how to predict and adapt their behaviour to the future. They know how to calculate the most efficient way to achieve their goal; they build their networks in ways which have been confirmed by our highest technology to be mathematically optimal. These are all signs of intelligence.” So not only can mushrooms save the planet, they also want to? “I propose to you that the mycelium is conscious. They are sentient. They are aware that you’re 10 June 2013
there. As you walk upon the earth, the mycelium reaches up and responds by grabbing the nutrients your footsteps have generated. There is a consciousness there, and we need to engage these intelligent organisms for our mutual benefit.” This sounds a little like Avatar, doesn’t it? “I first proposed this in the mid-1990s, that mycelium is Earth’s natural internet, and I got a lot of flak for this. The structure of the mycelium is a vast neurological landscape which mimics that of computer networks and the internet. Because mycelia are organised as networks, they know how to survive catastrophes, re-grow and survive. They have so much to teach us. I really feel that these fungi have purposefully endowed me with their knowledge: they are working together with me, because I was ready to listen. Nature speaks to whoever really tries to listen. I guess you could call me a mycelial messenger.”
have always been
attracted to that which is mysterious,” says Stamets, during a break between briefings and meetings, “mushrooms are mysterious. My parents warned me of them, told me to stay away, which of course only added to the attraction. Mushrooms, ephemeral, almost incomprehensible, elicit a lot of fear. They appear from nowhere, disappear in the flash of an eye; they can feed you, kill you, heal you, take you on a psychedelic trip which might change the way you see the world.” And so they did for Stamets himself. As a child, Paul— who suffered from a debilitating stutter—was extremely introverted and shy. “I always looked down to the ground, avoiding eye contact. The last thing I wanted was to have to answer anyone’s questions.” He spent hours walking alone, eyes cast downwards; this is how Stamets and the mushroom found each other. As a young man, Stamets decided to try psilocybin, also known as ‘magic mushrooms’. Not knowing the proper dose, he ate too many and found himself up on a tall tree, seeing the world as he never had before, holding on for dear life as a major lightning storm wreaked havoc on the landscape. “I knew I might die,” he says, “and decided that if I didn’t, it was time for the stutter to be gone. I repeated this like a mantra throughout the many hours I was stranded in the intense, pouring rain. When it was over, walking home, a cute girl who I had a crush on 10 June 2013
passed me on the street and asked me how I was. ‘I’m very well, thank you,’ I answered, and to both [her and my] astonishment, my words came out completely smoothly. My stutter has almost completely disappeared.” He says he did stutter when he met Bill Gates, though. “But wouldn’t you, too?”
tamets, now a black belt in karate, lives with his wife Dusty Yao on the edge of the mythological redwood forests in the evergreen Pacific Northwest. On weekends, he, Dusty Yao, and his like-minded gang of employees frolic in the ancient mossy woods, searching for their fungal friends, challenging one another to eat hitherto unknown species (“If you get sick quickly, you have nothing to worry about. If you get very sick after 10-12 hours, then your mushroom was probably highly toxic”). Otherwise, when Stamets is not away at conferences or meetings with government sponsored researchers, he is busy with his staff at the company complex—where a vast collection of mushroom species reside side by side—developing new medicines, testing new pesticides, inventing cool products. His latest invention is a multi-award winning design for cardboard boxes that come with tree seeds and mushroombased fertiliser already inside: just tear up the box and plant it. Several years ago, as a community service, he and his colleagues laid sacks with specific mycelial content at the mouth of a local river which had been shut down for shellfish harvesting due to E-Coli contamination. Within a month, the river tested clean and the Health Department lifted its ban. “I hear the voices of our descendants,” says the mycelial messenger, “calling back to us from the future, imploring us to wake up, asking us where the hell we were when something could still have been done. And so I try. I have had so many failures, but I just think of them as the cost of tuition. I have also had a few spectacular successes. I wake up everyday happy to be alive because I know my life has meaning as I do whatever I can to save as much life as possible on our gorgeous planet. I believe I have a real chance at making a perceptible difference. If I fail, at least I will die knowing I tried.” Below our feet, hidden beneath the soil, thousands of strands of mycelia—so delicate yet incredibly strong—spring up to greet us as we walk back home along the dusty path. n open www.openthemagazine.com 35
t r av e st y
A Rape Victim’s Story In a country where a gangraped woman is sent to jail for going back on her statement in court, justice for sexual assault survivors is still a far cry Neha Dixit
itting on a cot on the semi-ter-
race outside her room, 20-year-old Kiran (name changed) pulls the strings of the jute chaarpai, murmuring in rage. It is anger tempered by the presence of her mother-in-law in the courtyard downstairs. It has been five months since Kiran has gone out to answer nature’s call alone. Women like her are not trusted to be allowed out alone even for that. Kiran was raped by four men repeatedly over four days in different parts of Haryana like Panipat, Sonepat and Kurukshetra before being dumped
at the Panipat Railway Station. That was on 28 September 2012. Last month, on 24 April, she was sentenced to a ten-day imprisonment. “The judge, my father, my brother, my husband, my mother-in-law and the biraadari—they are collectively raping my head. Still,” says Kiran. The month she was raped, 12 more gangrapes were reported. Yet, in many quarters, her case has become a cautionary tale—the risks of a woman, especially one of a ‘lower caste’ landless community, exerting her free will and demanding justice. 10 June 2013
a victim twice over Kiran (indoor) with her mother-in-law
tion,” I tell her. “Can you tell that to my father and my husband?” she says.
In caste terms, Kiran is a Dhanuk. Banwasa village is in Gohana town of Sonepat district. It is crisscrossed by paddy and vegetable fields. The Dhanuks who live here, like in other North Indian villages, are considered untouchable. Their houses are on the outskirts of the village. Their traditional job was to remove night soil from ‘upper caste’ houses, but they have long switched to working as agricultural hands, basket weavers, midwives and construction labourers. Landless and ostracised, their only sense of security is their biraadari, which acts as a tool of social control and an informal welfare association. As she talks about the rape for the first time in many months without the fear of being judged, Kiran starts crying. “Don’t cry, they want to break you down through character assassina10 June 2013
n 28 September 2012, Kiran was
at her parent’s place in Banwasa, when Sunita, a neighbourhood housewife, gave her a message that her husband Sudeep had come to meet her near a local railway crossing. “I had told him once that I want to meet him outside the house like they do in Dilwale Dulhaniya le Jayenge. When the boy comes to get the girl? I thought that’s why he had come to meet me,” says Kiran. As soon as she reached the outskirts of the village, two men of Khandrai village— Sunil and Sanjay—kidnapped her and took her to a rice field on the GohanaKakrohi road. They were later joined by Anil of Ahmedpur Majra village and Sarvan of Hadtari village. Two of them pinned her hands down while the third and fourth raped her. “They laughed as they ripped my clothes with a blade and described my body parts to each other. I was a toy they were trying out.” From the paddy field to a mini-van to the Brahmsarovar in Kurukshetra to a small room next to railway tracks in Panipat, the ordeal continued. “I begged them to let me go.” They didn’t. She was asked to discard her clothes and change into an old salwar kameez. She remembers waking up the fifth day and fleeing. Kiran registered a case with the Sonepat police. It took over a week to arrest the four rapists and Sunita, who had allegedly helped them. According to Yashpal Singh, DSP, Gohana, “We registered Kiran’s statement under Section 164. Once a statement is recorded under this section, rape is confirmed. During the interrogation, the rapists confirmed Kiran’s accusations.” A medical examination conducted at Gohana civil hospital also indicated rape. Over the next three months, however, Kiran was labelled a prostitute, a thief, a serial offender and a Dalit nymphomaniac. Her in-laws threatened to abandon her, the parents wanted to get rid of her. “They kept saying, ‘Why did you leave the house? Why didn’t you tell your parents [where you were going]?’” she says. When she was 17, Kiran had eloped with a lover. That episode was cited as
justification of her rape, as if her past record had called it upon her. “She ran away with a mechanic from a nearby village,” says a relative of hers who does not wish to be identified, “Her brother Gurmeet brought her back and tried to hang her. We intervened and saved her life. She has always been like this.” Kiran is the second of five children born to a beldar and his daily-wage labourer wife. They share a two-room hut made of corrugated tin and decaying wood, and led a simple life until what happened to Kiran. “We suddenly did not deserve to be talked to because our daughter was raped and she filed a case. She did not know that poor people do not fight cases in courts,” says the mother. The family’s primary source of income is the daily wage of Rs 250 she earns. She also looks after a couple of buffaloes owned by land-owning Jats who have promised her 30 per cent of the proceeds once they are sold.
ressure on Kiran’s family and in-
laws started mounting as soon as the four men were arrested. “We had anyway started losing days of work: to submit papers in court, to get medical reports, to visit the police station, to attend the court hearings,” says the father. Various biraadari panchayats from Attadi, Ahmedpur Majra, Hadtari and Banwasa, the five villages the accused belonged to, came together to forge a decision on the matter. The arrest of Sunita, the woman who Kiran says misled her into the paddy field trap, was considered an attack on the pride of the village. “They said that since Kiran is now Ikdaana village’s daughter-in-law, it is Sunita and not she who deserves their support,” says the mother, “They pressured us into asking Kiran to change her statement.” Kiran has no idea why Sunita misled her that day. “She was one person I used to spend a lot of time with. Though, I now know that she is friends with Anil.” Sunita’s husband Deepak did not let us speak to her. “Why are you questioning my family for a whore like Kiran? Ask her, why did she go?” he asked. Kiran’s parents were told that they would not be granted work on any farm until Kiran signed a reconciliation letter. open www.openthemagazine.com 37
“It’s the harvesting season and this is the time we get maximum work. How will we feed the buffaloes and kids?” asks the mother. Kiran’s father-in-law, who sells kulfi for a living, and her husband, who sells steel utensils on his bicycle in nearby villages, were also pressured to get the case dropped. “There was a threat to my son’s life. We were anyway ready to take her back even after such a big blot on her character. Tell me, who accepts such a girl back into the family? And then you want us to help her fight the case too?” asks her mother-in-law. Kiran is schooled only till class five. With few skills to make an independent living and no money to pursue court proceedings, she surrendered. “I thought of committing suicide,” says Kiran, “but they don’t let me out alone.” She was not just forced to change her statement, but also falsely explain her medical reports. “I was forced to say that I left my parents’ house on 28 September and stayed at my in-laws for the next four days. And that my medical reports were positive because I had sex with my husband.” What added to Kiran’s sense of helplessness was the gap of six months from the rape to the court. Raj Kumari Dahiya, an activist of the Mahila Samiti, Sonepat, says, “This puts in perspective the demand of the women’s rights movement to try rape cases in fast-track courts and deliver verdicts within three months.” When Gohana DSP Yashpal Singh was asked about the pressure on the family to drop charges, he said, “Who knows what compromise was made? We received no such complaint in this regard.” On the day of the hearing on 24 April, Additional District and Sessions Judge Manisha Batra sentenced her to 10 days imprisonment for backtracking on her statement and imposed a fine of Rs 500. She had committed perjury. “Didn’t you tell the judge what happened?” I asked her. “How could I?” she replied, “The biraadari panchayat people were present.”
f Kiran was a victim twice over, it was
plainly because the Indian Judiciary— represented in this case by a woman judge—failed to take into account the power equations at play. It ignored how 38 open
her voice was stifled by her social conditions, how her vulnerability within a caste-and-gender hierarchy had weakened her will to get justice. “Did the judge talk about the lack of rehabilitative measures in her court order while charging the girl with perjury? Why could the girl not muster the courage to approach the state machinery and police following threats?” asks Senior Supreme Court lawyer Vrinda Grover. In January this year, a 600-page report of the Justice Verma Committee following the Delhi gangrape case documented how women face intense insecurity because of dominant caste hostility or threats of communal violence. But it made no mention of a mandatory rehabilitation package for survivors. In 1993, the Supreme Court, in a writ petition, Delhi Domestic Working Women’s Forum vs Union of India and Others, had directed the National Commission for Women (NCW) to evolve a ‘scheme so
The Indian Judiciary ignored how her vulnerability within a caste-and-gender hierarchy had weakened her will to get justice as to wipe out the tears of unfortunate victims of rape’. It observed that it was necessary to set up a Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, and demanded that compensation be awarded to rape victims for the pain, suffering, shock and loss of earnings as a result of such an assault. The NCW sent a draft to the Central Government in 1995. After lying in the freezer for over a decade, the Commission came up with a ‘Scheme for Relief and Rehabilitation of Victims of Rape, 2005’. It proposed that the Ministry of Home Affairs issue directives to state governments for aid to rape survivors. After the Delhi protests, activists revived demands to implement the scheme, but neither the state nor the Centre earmarked a budget for it. Charu Walikhanna, an NCW member, says, “We have proposed the scheme, but its implementation lies with the Ministry
of Women and Child Welfare.” In the words of Krishna Tirath, India’s minister of women and child welfare, “It is the state’s responsibility to implement it, the Centre cannot intervene.” And so it gets buried in bureaucracy. In Kiran’s context, her social status makes the need of a rehabilitation package all the more important. Jagmati, vicepresident, All India Democratic Women’s Association, has long been pushing for compensation for rape survivors in Haryana. “Some people laugh at it by calling it ‘compensation for getting raped’,” she says, “They do not realise that Kiran and her parents cannot bear the expenses of a legal process. It is not enough for the State to provide a lawyer. Public prosecutors don’t take these cases seriously and private practitioners ask for upto Rs 70,000 per hearing. It places justice completely out of reach for such women. The question of loss of work, of sometimes having to shift residence, of frequent consultations with lawyers and trips to the court, incurring expenses and losing a day’sincome are all critical issues in the [victim’s] decision of whether or not to fight for justice.” As proposed by the NCW’s original draft, the National Mission for Empowerment of Women has the funds. However, what is missing is the political will to implement it. Laughably, a circular issued on 3 April by the Ministry of Home Affairs states that financial help for rehabilitation of rape survivors should be taken care of by NGOs. Says Jagmati, “It’s unfortunate that the State has vested [donors with] the responsibility of ensuring justice for rape survivors.” Kiran was released on bail on 25 April. The rest of her life is likely to be one of drudgery and keeping her mouth shut. Her brother-in-law, who is as old as her, studies in class ten. When she asked him what he was studying in school these days, he replied, “Nothing that you do. You focus on dancing and sleeping with people.” When I asked him, “Why don’t you learn cooking?” he roared in laughter, “For that, I will get a wife. If she doesn’t, I will beat her up with batons!” Kiran is right. It’s unpardonable, what everyone is doing to her head. n Some other names have also been changed to protect their identities 10 June 2013
p r ovo c at i v e
When Literature Turns Hysterical A video project by American artist Clayton Cubitt explores the battle between mind and body, and the tension between art and sex SONALI KOKRA
photos clayton cubitt
A series of interruptions Stills from videos featuring (from left to right) Danielle, Stormy and Stoya. Cubitt offers the viewer nothing to distract from the reading and its erotic disruptions
it seems that I’m watching an audition video of some kind. The background is pitch black; there’s a table with a pretty woman sitting behind it, reading from a book. All very nice, but all very boring. I’m still wondering how this managed to garner 16 million hits. I persevere and so does the woman. Suddenly, she tenses. It’s an almost imperceptible change in her body language, but it’s there. I look more carefully. A few seconds later, there’s a catch in her voice and she trips over a word. She pauses as if to steady her breathing. Up until then, I’d only been paying half-hearted attention to the words—assuming it was an audition tape, I thought I was meant
By the end, her hands are shaking and her shoulders are tense, but no matter how her body behaves, she keeps reading. Stubbornly. Relentlessly. By now I’m thoroughly confused
hen a friend sent me a link to
the videos, I didn’t bother opening it. I hadn’t heard of Clayton Cubitt and I had no idea what Hysterical Literature was. I remember thinking it was an interesting name for a video project, and for that reason alone, I put it in a folder marked ‘leisure time’. That leisure time came one week later. And I was stunned by what I saw. When I click on the link, I’m greeted
10 June 2013
with an introduction—‘Hysterical Literature: a viral video art series exploring mind/body dualism, distraction portraiture, and the contrast between culture and sexuality. Viewed over 16 million times in 200 countries’—and a list of seven videos, each one featuring a woman holding a book or a tablet. The words don’t make much sense to me, except that this seems to be a hugely popular project. I click on video one, and, at first glance,
to hear the subtle inflections of her melodic voice—but suddenly, I’m much more attentive. Who is this woman? Is it the part she is auditioning for? Or is it the writing? Her body goes through a series of reactions. She looks strained, as if fighting to stay in control. A couple of times, she has to make a visible effort to swallow and continue reading. She stutters more and more often, but doesn’t bother correcting herself anymore. She stops a few more times, giggles nervously, but continues. By the end, her hands are shaking and her shoulders are tense, but no matter how her body behaves, she keeps reading. Relentlessly. Stubbornly. By now I’m thoroughly confused. My brain is unable to decide whether it ought to focus on her voice and words or the astonishing changes in her person. The whole exercise is so intense, it’s open www.openthemagazine.com 41
impossible to do justice to both at the same time. Within a few seconds, the winner chooses itself—there’s no way I can tear my eyes away from what they’re witnessing. The video ends with the woman announcing her name and that of the author and book she’s reading from. She’s smiling a smile that is part relief and part surprise—almost as if she didn’t know that this is how the audition would conclude.
ideo two, three, four… seven are
variations of the same theme. A woman starts reading, and by the end, there is a decidedly hysterical note in her voice as she announces her name. By video two, my sleep-deprived brain had exited ‘leisure’ mode and the words that had earlier made no sense told me everything I needed to know. I had just watched two women reach orgasm while reading a passage from a book of their own choice. How is that even possible? It’s possible when the artist’s assistant uses a vibrator on the women. Once I knew of its presence, I could hear its whir in a couple of the sessions. There’s Amanda who can’t stop herself from screaming ‘Oh my god’ and whispering ‘fuck’ to herself as she buries her nose in her book. Her video ends with her asking the assistant under the table if she’d hurt her/him in the frenzy of her orgasm. Ditto for Solé, who throws her head back, screams and seems to continue sitting in the chair only by sheer force of will and holding onto its sides as if her life depends on it. Then there’s Danielle, who abandons her tablet altogether and cannot stop the little gasps that slip out. A fourth video shows Teresa, who looks a picture of self-control and assertiveness when she starts, but by the time her 9-minute-20-second video ends, is seen clutching the book in one hand and holding on to the edge of the table for support with the other. Porn stars, writers, photographers, erotic models and burlesque dancers make up the subjects of the seven videos that have been released from the ongoing project. By the time I was done watching all the videos, I couldn’t decide how I really felt. Had I just watched porn, wrapped artistically with a bow tied neatly around it? Or was this feminism at 42 open
its boldest, with seven women raising a collective middle-finger at everyone who had ever told them how and how much of the feminine form was okay to show? Or was it simply a wily artist trying to grab eyeballs by feeding the world’s favourite demand—for sex?
ere is an excerpt from an email-
cum-Twitter-cum-phone interview with Clayton Cubitt, the artist behind Hysterical Literature:
What was the thought behind Hysterical Literature?
Hysterical Literature is an extension and refinement of earlier video works I was doing that explored the concept of distraction and fatigue in the poses of portrait sitters. Today, everyone has a well-practised pose for ‘selfies’ and for Facebook. I was interested in how I might make a portrait that makes it impossible for the sitter to maintain this pose. So I did a video series called Long Portraits, which filmed subjects just sitting [and] making eye contact with the lens for five minutes or longer. But this series, as much as I liked it, and as popular it became, was still in many ways too anonymous. It was interesting, but it was mute. It didn’t say anything about the sitter. I had also created an earlier video piece called Magic Interview where I attempted to interview a woman while she was being distracted by a vibrator. It was interesting, but it felt too close to an interrogation, and I wanted to remove myself from the process as much as possible. So I asked myself, ‘What if the women could, in some way, have a conversation with themselves?’ I thought the best way to go about it would be to have them read a passage from their favourite book. It would allow self-expression without the pressure to pose or sound a certain way in a formal portrait or an interview. It would also remove me from the onscreen experience and make for a fascinating battle between the mind and the body. The society that we live in tends to want to view art and sex through different lenses. Hysterical Literature was my attempt to blend the two concepts. So I put the art on the table and
the sex under it.
But why only sex? There are so many other ways of expressing oneself without reserve…
Sex is one of the most basic human drives, and one of the most powerful. But despite being as basic to human nature as eating or sleeping, it is often restricted, stigmatised or considered taboo. Female pleasure, in particular, has suffered stigmatisation throughout history. In fact, the project title derives from this historical stigma/misunderstanding of female pleasure—which was called ‘hysteria’. Women were sent to the doctor for ‘treatment’ with quack medical devices, including early vibrators. As I said, the series started from the idea of a conceptual battle between mind and body, and I don’t think there’s any aspect of human culture that embodies this battle more than sex, so I chose sex as the distraction…both for the reader in the videos and the viewers who watch them.
How did you pick your subjects?
Initially I asked women I knew or had worked with before to be a part of Hysterical Literature. But once the pieces became popular, I started receiving volunteer requests, some of whom I cast. I only cast women who are smart and strong. So in a way, it’s a bit of a self-selecting group because it takes courage to engage in such a vulnerable project with such a large audience. I’m humbled by the bravery and confidence of these women.
Did anyone you approached refuse to be a part of it?
Several high-profile supporters of the project have been unable to participate due to concerns about being stigmatised in their careers despite being moved by the work and longing to be in it. It’s sad that this still happens in today’s day and age, especially given the origins of the project title. It seems that ancient taboos still require battling.
How much of what was going to happen was known to the women?
They knew everything, and were complete collaborators in the process. They chose what to read, how to dress, how to do their make-up and hair. The only 10 June 2013
thing they didn’t know was how they would react once we started. We filmed only one take, continuously. So the audience and subject see her reaction together, at the same time.
Did you notice any significant change in your subjects after shooting their sessions? Anything they spoke to you about?
Most of the subjects were surprised by how little they remembered of the actual reading. They felt like they had gone into a trance. The reading felt like a religious chant. Afterwards, when they watched their session, they were just as amused as the viewers were—perhaps more so, because seeing yourself like this isn’t exactly normal and can be quite shocking. A few of them have written quite eloquent accounts of their experience in the project. Once the sessions were published online, the subjects were often surprised by the number of people who were fans of the project and recognised them on the streets. I guess the internet turned them into some kind of microcelebrities.
Was there ever a fear of the project being misunderstood as an exercise in voyeurism or exhibitionism?
No. I knew that many people would understand the project and many wouldn’t. My role as the artist was to make it and let viewers figure things out for themselves… although I’d have no objection to the project being labelled either voyeurism or exhibitionism, as it deals heavily in both, as all art involving people does.
What happens next with this project? Is it still a work in progress or are you done filming all the sessions?
I’m still filming sessions, and it’s an ongoing project. It’s about to enter a larger phase that’s bigger than my own original sessions. I’m building a dedicated website to house the sessions, the essays written about it, and the fan-made art derived from it. Part of this will also hopefully include sessions filmed in languages other than English, in countries other than the US. I hope to have this phase ready for release in June.
Aren’t you worried about how this project 10 June 2013
might be received in conservative cultures?
Not really. Most cultures aren’t monolithically conservative or liberal. So I hope it helps forward-thinking individuals hoping to open up more conservative cultures to ideas of equality between the genders, and towards ending the shaming of sexuality. If the pieces can be an entertaining starting point for debate, I’m happy.
when he said that some of his subjects had written eloquent blog pieces on their experience. Danielle, the subject of video three and a photo artist herself, tells me via email, ‘The project was shot at a very particular point in my life last year. From then until now, I’ve confirmed a lot of what I consider important components of what happiness looks like to me. Sexual expression, honesty and transparency in my personal life and with-
“Society tends to want to view art and sex through different lenses. Hysterical Literature was my attempt to blend the two concepts. So I put the art on the table and the sex under it” in my artwork are at the top of that list. Hysterical Literature is one of the several important things that led to these realisations.’ Stoya, a popular porn artist, has written on her blog: ‘My underwear lays on the floor out of frame. As I start reading, my disbelief is suspended. I forget what is about to happen. The first touch on my thigh sends all available blood to my vulva. I continue to enunciate properly, focusing on the text. I’ve broken a sweat. If this goes on for much longer my hair will be plastered to my head with perspiration as though I’ve been working out or engaging in acrobatic man/woman penetrative fucking… In the interests of art (and because this feels so beautifully filthy I don’t want it to stop yet), I hold out as long as I can. This section of the world that I inhabit slows down, zooms in. Like a stretched rubber band it suddenly contracts, and I am lovingly punched with an orgasm. ’
As I write, I am awed by the bravery of these women. Agreeing to let strangers, friends, and worse, family, witness you at your most intimately vulnerable can’t be an easy decision. I assume the reactions could be as unnerving as unexpected. ‘I think the most surprising reactions were those of the people from my past, those who knew a younger me,’ says Danielle. ‘Maybe they had a preconceived idea of who I was then, a person very different from the reality of who I am now. I think I’ve always been pretty radical, but I’m sure it still surprised some people.’ Solé, in her account, writes: ‘To my parents (who I know will read this), I hope that you are as proud of me as I am of myself... I pray that the whispers from conservative church folk will not seep into your psyche and that you’ll still love me as much as I have learned to love myself… I hope that if I become weak from any public backlash that I’ll have your shoulders to lean on…’
s a personal social experiment, I
made a few friends watch a session each and tell me their reactions. Exhibit A was repulsed, angry and visibly upset. She tried to look away, focus on anything other than the woman’s stuttering and laboured breathing. But Clayton’s stark setting offers no respite. There’s no background, no ambient sound, no movement other than the subject’s. The sessions could have been shot in someone’s living room, a professional studio or a Brazilian rainforest. There’s no way of knowing. There’s nothing to distract the viewer from the powerful exploration of the erotic that unravels in the video. Exhibit B shyly admitted that the videos had turned her on more powerfully than some of the most graphic porn she’d ever seen. Exhibit C launched into a study of the particular passages that the subjects had chosen, and Exhibit D felt simultaneously empowered and vulnerable after watching the video. Considering the cocktail of reactions I witnessed firsthand, I wonder what would happen if Clayton brought this project to India. As the artist finally gives in and tells me just as this article goes to print, it is only a matter of time before we find out. n open www.openthemagazine.com 43
Av e n u e s
In a time of accelerating environmental concerns, some Indian companies are finding new and innovative ways of greening their operations.
Strengthening the Nation T
here is a common thread that binds the city’s skyscrapers, the unending highways connecting one state with another, the bridges running over mighty rivers and the malls that denote urban India. It is ACC – among India’s leading manufacturers of cement and concrete. ACC has recently introduced three high performance cements to address the growing consumer needs. Foundation to Roof (F2R) Cement, which provides both strength and enhanced durability to the buildings, Concrete Plus, which is more cohesive, durable and best suited for reinforced concrete work and Coastal Plus that is specially designed to provide better protection to structures in the coastal climate. The concrete made from this is more cohesive and has lower permeability. Established in 1936, ACC has been a pioneer and trend-setter responsible for many breakthroughs in cement and concrete. It is among the first companies in India to include commitment to environment
protection as a corporate objective which has resulted in substantial contribution to the sustainable journey of cement industry. Partnering India’s growth story over 75 years, ACC is synonymous with proven durability and consistent quality - reflected in the enduring structures and iconic landmarks built with ACC, which define our country’s landscape. Whether it is roads, dams, bridges, schools, hospitals, homes or mass transit systems, ACC’s long-standing heritage is inseparable from the daily lives and trust of millions of Indians. One of the largest award winners in industry, ACC has won accolades in every field – from corporate citizenship, fair business practices and community development, corporate social responsibility, to safety and health, quality, world-class manufacturing; to the field of sustainable development, environment protection and management, energy conservation and contribution to excellence in green businesses. n
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harat Bijlee has evolved from a pioneer of electrical engineering in India to one of the most trusted names in the industry today. It operates in the segments of transformers, electric motors, elevator systems and variable frequency drives. The company’s headquarters are in Mumbai and it has branches in 13 Indian cities, manufacturing facilities in Airoli, Navi Mumbai, and over 1400 employees. It also undertakes turnkey
projects (switchyards) and provides complete ‘concept to commissioning’ services. Its position as a pioneer and a leading indigenous manufacturer of electrical and related equipment has been secured through a combination of smart strategic planning and cutting edge technology. With an annual capacity of over 15,000 MVA Bharat Bijlee has joined the ranks of
the top power transformer manufacturers in the country, and attained clear industry leadership in the 220 KV class. The company also manufactures a wide range of customizable high efficiency IE2 motors that ensure lower operating costs. Bharat Bijlee has also expanded its portfolio with its comprehensive range of variable speed drives and engineered drive systems. These drives, designed for applications demanding the best performance in accuracy, speed and response time, are the product of an exclusive partnership with KEB of Germany. The elevator systems division of the company makes GreenStar range of gearless machines for elevators in high rises as well as bungalows and these machines reduce energy consumption by over 30%. For Bharat Bijlee, the driving force for future growth and expansion lies in technological breakthroughs, anticipating market needs, customer focus and unwavering thrust on product quality. n
between the sheets
A Girl Like Me
Resisting a lifetime of lessons, I take ownership of myself
irls like you.’ How many times have I heard these three words before? I’ve lost count. There have been times they’ve been hurled at me in anger, times they’ve been whispered in surprise into my ear, and times when the eyes said them so volubly, I couldn’t remember whether the lips had actually spoken them or not. As a child, they confused me, rocked my world. One day I was a child and the next, part of a ubiquitous sisterhood of girls like me. “Girls like you don’t run around the school grounds like a wild beast wearing shorts,” my mother admonished one day soon after I entered my teens. “Girls like you must sit with your ankles crossed and back straight,” instructed my mentor at the weekend finishing school I was made to haul my reluctant ass to because my parents could afford to pay for the transformation of their awkward teenage daughter into a young lady they approved of. In school, girls like me were supposed to take home a prefect badge at the start of every academic year. In college, we were supposed to stay away from the boys, and as grownups, it was okay to copulate with a stranger, but only so long as he was a registered husband. In college, I read Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. It spoke of how public opinion was not free thought, but the result of a careful doctoring of facts; how people were being manipulated to enable their own domination. As I studied the forces behind American news media, I wondered how different my own life was. Was I just another sheet in a newspaper that helped dictate a woman’s understanding of her role and purpose in life? An understanding manufactured by a lifetime of misogyny masquerading as tradition, and by oppression so subtly persuasive, we’re fooled into believing our choices were our own. For as long as I can remember I’ve been told who I am supposed to be based on my gender and nationality. I’m habitually reminded of how Indian women are different, what Indian-ness looks like, how it’s supposed to feel. How we’re supposed to eat, drink, dress, speak to elders, fuck, not fuck, what we’re supposed to aspire to and feel proud of. These lessons have persistently corroded the essence of my being for all of my adult life. The battles in my
head have been more difficult than those out in the world. “That tattoo is going to come back to haunt you,” my father yelled. “You won’t get a job. No one wants to marry a girl like that.” For each time I’ve actually felt brave, I can remember 10 times I’ve had to fake it; to pretend that I wasn’t terrified of finding myself alone out in the cold. The safety net has a way of luring you in. There have been times I’ve stood at the doorway, about to enter a room warmed by the fires of societal approval; times when giving up a part of me didn’t seem like too high a price to pay for the comfort it afforded. But a voice inside my head reminds me that all of me is mine. My body, my mind, my soul, my voice, my uterus, my sexuality, my Indian-ness, they’re all mine. Mine, not theirs. Mine to do with as I see fit. Mine to display as much or as little of as I choose. A few weeks ago, I heard the words again. They came from two readers of this column. ‘I hated you, initially,’ he wrote. ‘I used to worry, what if I end up marrying a girl like you without knowing it?’ I wrote back with good wishes and the sincere hope he wouldn’t fall victim to such a cruel trick of fate. The second, a friend’s acquaintance, managed to conduct a thorough background search: “Why is a girl like you writing such a column? You come from a good family and you clearly don’t need the money...” I don’t believe I’ve ever hated the words as much as I hated them then. But I also realised that hatred is lethally addictive. You can walk away from love, but not from what you hate. So this column is dedicated to the power of hatred. Why do I write it? Because it’s a giant ‘fuck you’ to every man who has ever tried to colonise a woman’s sexuality. It’s my picket sign against gender roles, sexism, unrealistic standards of beauty and plastic spirituality. A ‘fuck you’ to those who won’t come out and say it, but who, we both know, think she ‘kind of had it coming’. Toni Morrison writes in Beloved: ‘Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.’ That, dear reader, is why I write this column. n
All of me is mine. Mine to do with as I see fit. Mine to show as much or as little of as I choose
Sonali K was holding on to her virtue, and then she fell in love...with several men. She drinks whisky, not Cosmopolitan 10 June 2013
mindspace true Life
In Sickness and in Health
O p e n s pa c e
Ranbir Kapoor Aditya Roy Kapur Katrina Kaif Hrithik Roshan
n p lu
Ishqk in Paris Fast and Furious 6
61 Cinema reviews
Asus Fonepad Rado D-Star Ceramic Chronograph Kohler Moxie
Tech & style
Survival of the Tiniest White Tiger Mystery Solved Itch Trigger
The Case of the Missing Writer
How I Found My Daughters
clue no 1: the tower of silence A Princeton University professorâ€™s obsessive hunt for a mysterious Parsi writer 54
HOW I FOUND MY DAUGHTERS T
here was no ultrasound. No
gloved hand pointing to the heartbeat of a baby in the womb on a monitor. No, that’s not where I first saw my daughters. I first saw them in the news—between the city and state pages of a Hindi daily’s New Delhi edition. They were at least 10 other passport-sized pictures crammed into a tiny space with theirs. I remember reading every child’s name and then I remember coming back to the pictures of the twin girls—two smudged black-andwhite photographs, taken up close. It was sometime in 2007. I don’t remember the date. Maybe I should, but it doesn’t seem important. All I remember is two pairs of vacant eyes staring at me, and I remember looking closer to read their names—Diya and Tara, abandoned at birth in a small Delhi hospital. They were part of an advertisement put out by Palna, an orphanage run by the Delhi Council of Child Welfare. They were just about a month old then. The advertisement was put out to try and locate the parents of the abandoned children, in accordance with a mandatory requirement to ensure that a child is legally free for adoption. It was an announcement that if no one came forward to claim the babies, they would be put up for adoption. These measures were in the backdrop of the numerous adoption rackets that had 50 open
Adopting kids in India isn’t easy to begin with; adopting twin girls has legal complications. Anuradha Nagaraj recounts her struggle to bring her daughters home
passport-sized photos. It was still lying open that night when I came back from work. This time when I looked at it, I was sure. And I knew I was ready to answer all the practical questions that I had been avoiding since I broke the news to my family. I saw the advertisement a month or so after we had decided to adopt. The decision had been taken on a cold hospital bed, right after a third attempt at intra-uterine insemination (IUI). Quite a simple procedure, really, but
hit news headlines a couple of years earlier. As I stared at the pictures, all the stories I had read about the trafficking, stealing and buying of babies for as little as Rs 500 resurfaced in my memory. I closed the newspaper and went to work. But the thought that had entered my head the minute I saw the girls, stayed. That night, I told the family that we were going to have twins. They said I was being impulsive, so the next morning, I left the newspaper on a table, opened to the page with the 10
one that gives you a lot of time to reflect as you lie on a stretcher for the mandatory 45-odd minutes post the five-minute procedure. In my case, it was usually in a quiet dark room with the next bed almost always empty. The decision was first taken in isolation and then reaffirmed over several discussions. There were those who embraced the idea and there were those who needed to be convinced. Some opinions mattered, others didn’t. When you sign up for adoption, you know somehow that it’s not going to be easy. The first fight is to convince people and the second is against the system. Both are tiring. Around the time the girls had been abandoned, we had, ignoring voices of dissent, filled out an exhaustive form at Palna. Among other things, we had underlined our preference for a girl child between six months and a year old. We had also submitted our financial statements, the results of a mandatory HIV test and a declaration stating that we didn’t suffer from any ‘tuberculous infections, nervous or mental disorders and any other virulent disease.’ There were a lot of other medical reports and a proforma to be filled up by a doctor. Then there were letters from friends saying that we were ‘caring individuals, ready to take on parental responsibilities and would make loving parents.’ Finally, there was the police verification that reconfirmed our address and certified that we did not have criminal backgrounds. All quite similar to the checks done when one applies for a passport, actually. The file, with numerous photocopies, was submitted to Palna. That ended step one. The next step was a house visit by officials from the orphanage. This was one thing that needed a lot of planning since my husband and I worked in different cities. So schedules were matched, and finally, the adoption officer came home. Lorraine was quite unlike what we were expecting. Quietly, she prodded us, asking us about our families, trying to gauge if we were ‘ready to adopt’ and our families ready to accept. Then she told us what to expect, mostly open www.openthemagazine.com 51
through examples of families that had adopted kids, and the challenges they had faced. She told us to remember Krishna’s story, saying it would come in handy later. Then she left, warning us that it could be a long wait. That was that, till I saw the advertisement. The exact thought that invaded my mind on seeing those photographs was that the sisters would always have each other, no matter what. And so, after a bit of back and forth, I hesitantly called Lorraine and asked her about Diya and Tara. I wasn’t going by the rulebook, which stated that the agency would choose the child they thought suited the prospective parents most and introduce them. I was asking about specific children. The voice at the other end was cautious. It wanted to know if I was asking about both girls or only one. When I said both, the caution was replaced by urgency. For months, they had tried to find parents for Diya and Tara, tried to convince prospective parents that separating the twins was not a good idea and having two daughters not such a terrible one, and then they had stopped talking about it—till I called. They asked for some time and said they would call back. It had been six months since we had first applied. When Palna called and said they were ready for us to see the girls, in early 2008, I remember being nervous. Nine months of pregnancy, I assume, gives one some time to plan things— think of names, organise a baby room, put in a request for maternity leave. The thing with adoption is that no matter how hard you try or how organised you generally are, the uncertainty of the entire process just makes you nervous all the time. For starters, the agency itself tells you about the long waiting list of couples wanting to adopt kids. Then they go into details of sex ratios, health issues of abandoned children, and it all slowly starts adding up. You spend the longest time not knowing, and then suddenly one day, right in the middle of your mundane routine, they call to say they’ve found you a baby. Just like that. 52 open
Come tomorrow, they said. Give me a week, I said. A frantic phonecall to my mother, a hurried list of essentials for a baby and loads of advice on how to childproof your house finally made me less nervous. We were ready, rather as ready as we would ever be. The waiting room at Palna was a busy place. Bundles of donated clothes waiting to be sorted, rations stocked
For months, they had tried to f ind
parents for Diya and Tara, tried to convince
prospective parents that
separating the twins was not a good idea and having two daughters not such a terrible one, and then they had stopped talking about it —till I called
in a corner and a telephone that rang endlessly. Right across the office building, separated by a lush carpet of green grass was the crèche, where the children apparently were. It was out of bounds for parents. A doctor came out, followed by a caretaker. In their arms were two little girls bundled up in woollens—our daughters. We named them Sarayu
and Reva. They were seven months old. As we held them, the doctor rattled off information. He mentioned the babies were born premature, had low birth weight and one of them had a bout of severe jaundice at birth. We were then allowed to take the girls for a medical check-up. And then, we could take them home, with their eating schedule and a list of a handful of medicines. In a system where the wait for most is very long, many would say we were lucky to have got the girls within a year of filling out the forms. But it wasn’t over. We were not yet parents, just guardians. The courtroom drama was still to start. The first problem was the fact that we were adopting two girls. For Indian citizens who are Hindus, Jains, Sikhs or Buddhists, an adoption is finalised under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act of 1956, which does not allow a single parent or a couple to adopt more than one child of the same sex. In 2012, the Bombay High Court ruled that a second same-gender adoption was okay. But in 2008, it was not. In our case, the adoption was eventually finalised under the Juvenile Justice Act. This meant being physically present, with the girls, in Room No 301 of the Tees Hazari courts in Delhi. As with all things legal, it was a long process, involving, in our case, two sets of lawyers, two affidavits and two court appearances. Then there was the wait for the birth certificates, which finally declare that you are the legal parents and gives your children inheritance rights. By the end of the whole process, the girls were nearly two years old. Now, they are almost six. And very often, during storytime, when they are tucked into their beds with a book, I tell Reva and Sarayu the story of Krishna—how he was born to Devaki and brought up by Yashoda. Lorraine had told us it would help. But the questions are relentless and the whys neverending. The answers are always difficult, especially when there is a bear hug and an ‘I love you so much’ attached at the end. n 10 June 2013
ZINDAGI LIVE-SEASON 6 Even in the darkest moments of despair some lives never give up. They inspire others with their resilient spirit. Zindagi Live Season 6 brings you 13 new episodes where the spotlight falls on these individuals and their inspiring lives.
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Books The Case of the Missing Writer In the midst of his research at the British Library in London, historian Gyan Prakash stumbled upon an incomplete manuscript of an action-packed thriller written by a Bombay-based Parsi in 1927. Here, Prakash tells the fascinating tale of how he tried to solve the mystery of the author’s identity as well as how the novel ends
he publication of The Tower of Silence, more than 85 years after it was penned by Mr Chaiwala, is a happy moment. Certainly, the author would have been pleased to see his rollicking novel in print. I first encountered Phirozeshah Jamsetjee Chaiwala in the British Library, London in 2001. I was in the initial stages of research for my book, Mumbai Fables, wading through some documents from the 1920s. Reading the dry, official correspondence, I silently cursed the British Raj. As if ruling India was not bad enough, it had also condemned historians to struggle through the records of its tedious routines of government. Trawling through reams of documents to pick up bits of information about the past is a historian’s occupational hazard, but did the material have to be so dreary? I needed a break. Setting aside the stack of files on my desk, I began looking through the catalogue of the Oriental and India Office Collection’s European manuscripts for some light entertainment. My eyes glazed over as they moved from listing to listing, from the letters and diaries of this Governor-General to the private correspondence and papers of that Viceroy. Suddenly, an entry for Tower of Silence caught my eye. The catalogue described it as the typescript of a novel written in 1927. I immediately requisitioned it. To my delight, when the typescript arrived, I discovered it was a detective novel. I put aside everything else and 54 open
delved into it. Though I was not sure how it contributed to my research on Bombay, I was hooked. Here was something that matched the enchantment that the city held for me. The action was non-stop, full of twists and turns and, although it moved from place to place, Bombay was at its centre. For two straight days, I read nothing but Tower of Silence. But a disappointment awaited me. The typescript ended abruptly on page 169. It was clearly incomplete. Where was the rest? In my pursuit of the concluding pages, I faced mystery after mystery. First, there was the author’s name in the typescript: Phiroshaw Jamsetjee Chevalier (Chaiwala). It was clear enough that he was a Parsi. But Chevalier was not a Parsi last name. Chaiwala had obviously adopted it. But why? I consulted a Parsi friend who offered one possible explanation. He suggested that the author might have adopted the last name of Maurice Chevalier. Apparently the gramophone records of the French actor and singer were popular among the Parsis in the 1920s. This was plausible, though Chaiwala deepened the mystery by rubberstamping the pages with the name of the publisher—PJ Chavalier and Co.—spelling the name with an ‘a’ rather than an ‘e’. But whether spelt with an ‘a’ or an ‘e’, there was no record of this company as a publisher. In fact, in Thacker’s India Directory of 1927, it was listed as an export, import, and general
commission agency with an office in Commissariat Building, Hornby Road, Bombay. Perhaps Chavalier & Co. decided to diversify its operations by entering publishing. But if it did, Tower of Silence, authored by the company’s sole proprietor, was one of its two publications—the other being Sixty- Seven Poems, a 100-page typescript also authored by Chaiwala. Perhaps the sight of the publisher’s stamp caused the India Office in London to deposit it in the printed books collection on 5 June 1930. The Catalogue of Books Printed in the Bombay Presidency during the Quarter ending 30 September 1928 listed it as published on 15 May 1928, with a first edition consisting of 100 copies. It was transferred to the European manuscripts collection on 21 May 1976. Apparently the rubber stamp on the typescript no longer persuaded the library staff that the novel had been published. For Chaiwala, who must have believed the contrary, this would have been a terrible blow. Who was Chaiwala? Or was it Chevalier or Chavalier? I gathered from reading his novel that he was a well-educated Parsi businessman from Bombay, fluent in English and with literary ambitions. He took the trouble not only to self-publish his novel with a hundred typescript copies but also mailed one copy all the way to the India Office Library, London. But apparently only an incomplete version had reached its destination. 10 june 2013
The Hunt Both the man and the text posed mysteries. I did the only thing a historian could do, and made inquiries. But first I asked a very efficient computer operator in Chennai to enter the typescript into a digital form. Latha did the job with amazing accuracy and promptness and mailed it to me with a comment: ‘But sir, it appears the document is incomplete. What happens in the end?’ While entering the typescript into the computer, the actionpacked suspense drama had evidently captivated Latha. I promised that she would be the first to know when I found out and then I continued on to Mumbai. I reasoned that since Chaiwala had taken the trouble to send his novel to the India Office in London, he must have also sent it to libraries in Mumbai. I scoured library after library, checking their catalogues and talking to the librarians. The search was timeconsuming but full of unexpected delights. I gained a good knowledge of the collections in the city’s libraries and how they were used and abused by their patrons. The conversation with librarians often moved from my particular query to general discourses on the city and the state of the Parsis. One such conversation with Mr M, the librarian of one noted library named after a prominent Parsi philanthropist, was particularly memorable. After calling my search for Chaiwala’s 10 june 2013
A further search in the British Library did not yield the missing pages, but I was convinced they existed. The methodical unfolding of the narrative, and the way the typescript was numbered and divided into chapters convinced me that Chaiwala was a careful man. It seemed unlikely that he had written and put into circulation an incomplete novel. Perhaps the missing pages of the India Office copy had gotten lost in the binding process, or come loose somewhere between the original filing in the printed books catalogue and later transfer to the manuscript collection. Where was it, then? I became obsessed with this question, and decided to locate the text.
to avenge parsi honour Chaiwala’s pride in his Parsi identity is evident in the novel he left behind
book noble, he began lamenting the state of his library. He alleged that patrons, particularly students, came to the library not to read books but for respite from the heat and to sleep under the fan in the reading room. He complained about the students but also expressed his sympathies. After all, most of the students came from modest backgrounds and lived in cramped spaces. He was happy to provide the library’s cavernous and cool reading room as a place where they could relax and perhaps even do homework, but drew the line on eating lunch in the reading room, a rule, he said, that was frequently violated. The violation of the reading room’s rules became a prelude to a general discourse on the decline of order in the city. Mr M was an engineer by training and had agreed to become the librarian only because of a sense of duty to
his community. But he said that even the Parsis were becoming lax. No one cared about rules and duties anymore in Mumbai. To prove his point, he proceeded to tell me about an incident at Cusrow Baug, a Parsi residential colony in Colaba. A resident in the colony refused to pay the common charges for trash collection because he claimed that his family generated no trash. Mr M was incredulous and told him that this was impossible in modern society. But the resident stuck to his claim. Suspecting that something was amiss, Mr M stood sentinel overnight. Sure enough, he spotted the suspected resident emerge under cover of darkness carrying a bagful of garbage. As he tried to hide his bag among those of other residents, Mr M caught his arm and said: “Remember, I told you that you can not live in modern society and produce no trash.” open www.openthemagazine.com 55
Mr M was not alone in lamenting the Parsis losing their way. As I searched the libraries and looked for Chaiwala’s antecedents, I drew a blank but encountered a rich and contradictory discourse on the Parsi community. A well-dressed Parsi gentleman in Tardeo sat me down and launched into an extended speech on the past and present of the community. I had gone to Tardeo because an entry in the Times of India Directory and Calendar for 1927 listed Chaiwala as a resident of Bhiwandiwala House. When I asked someone on the street about the location of the building, he asked me who I was looking for. When I told him, he said: “Oh, a Parsi from way back then? Yes, they were very important then. Look at them, now.” He pointed to an ill-kept building on Tardeo Road where lower middle-class Parsi women wearing faded dresses sat on the steps. When I approached the women with my questions about Chaiwala, none of them had heard of him and they assured me that no family with that name lived there. But they referred me to an elderly gentleman who stepped out of the building, telling me that he “knew a lot about the past”. The gentleman, dressed in a threepiece suit that had seen better days, was sweating in the October heat of Mumbai. But there was a dignity about him as he considered my question about Chaiwala. His family had lived in the building since the 1940s but he had never heard the name. “A writer, you say. No, no such person could exist in this building today. If he ever did, he obviously had the good sense to leave.” With that, he proceeded to tell me about the glorious history of the Parsis. They had built the city. Look around, he said, and everywhere you will see buildings named after them and hospitals and colleges established by them. But now, it is all gone. The community had shrunk, slowly swallowed by everything around them. I encountered similar elegiac sentiments in literature. There was an overwhelming sense of besiegement and disarray of the community in Rohinton Mistry’s Tales from Firozsha Baag (1987), in Thrity Umrigar’s 56 open
Bombay Time (2002) and in many others. Tanya Luhrman’s ethnographic study, The Good Parsi (1996) also finds conflicted feelings among the Parsis about the fate of their community in postcolonial India. On the one hand, there is a strong awareness of the fading memory of the community’s distinct identity, history, and contributions to the city. On the other hand, there are contradictory sentiments about this loss. Some mourn that India has eaten into their once exalted position, forcing many to migrate to Australia, Canada, the UK, and the United States, rendering them a threatened minority in the very city that they built. Others regret that the community never assimilated, missing out on having a place at the table in postcolonial India.
Who was Chaiwala? Or was it Chevalier or Chavalier? I gathered from reading his novel that he was a welleducated Parsi businessman from Bombay, fluent in English and with literary ambitions Chaiwala could never have foreseen this future. His strong pride in the Parsis’ distinct identity and destiny as a select elite is evident in his writing. Insofar as his novel’s narrative was anchored in the desire to staunchly defend the Parsis’ cultural heritage and Zoroastrian religion, he would not be an unusual figure in the city today. I gained an understanding of Chaiwala’s cultural world from my conversations, but I still had to find the missing text. Every time I was in Mumbai for research, I continued my hunt. The breakthrough came at the end of 2003, nearly three years after I had first found the novel in London. In my search for Chaiwala’s novel in Mumbai’s libraries, I had neglected the Secretariat Library, which is housed in the same building as the Asiatic Society. Walking through it on
the way to the Asiatic Society, I had scarcely given a second glance to its reading room crowded with government servants and students reading newspapers and popular magazines. When I drew a blank in the Asiatic Society’s vaunted collection, I resumed my search in other libraries. With those yielding nothing, I wondered if Chaiwala had sent his novel only to London. Even if he had deigned to send it to the city’s libraries, the typescript might have been subject to the mercies of the notoriously cavalier Indian librarians. It was then that I remembered the row of dusty card catalogues in the Secretariat’s reading room. Without much hope, I decided to try my luck. It was the day before I was to leave Mumbai and there was little else to do. Billowing dust rose when I forced open the rickety drawers of the jammed card catalogue, searching the entries on authors. Imagine my amazement when I found not one, but two entries for PJ Chevalier! The first was for Sixty-Seven Poems, the second for Tower of Silence. I filled out two slips immediately, requisitioning both. Heart pounding and fingers nervously drumming on the desk, I waited. Thirty minutes later, the library peon walked into the reading room and summoned me to the librarian’s desk. He handed me a bound volume of Sixty-Seven Poems. The other book, he informed me, was untraceable. Then he left. Crestfallen, I returned to my desk and desultorily read Chaiwala’s poems. ‘Amy’ was a long poem about the poet’s passion for another man’s wife. Yet another, ‘The Same Old Cry’, railed against the conventional morality that forbade this love. Yet another was a diatribe against usurers of all faiths. The passion was palpable but the quality was uniformly mediocre. I had hit a low point, the dejection of not finding Tower of Silence compounded by reading Chaiwala’s depressing poetry. Nonetheless, I decided to make one more try. I walked up to the librarian and struck up a conversation about the library. She asked me about my research and my teaching position at Princeton 10 june 2013
University. She told me about herself and her visit to Cleveland where her son worked. I told her about finding Chaiwala’s incomplete novel at the British Library and my fruitless search for copies in Mumbai’s libraries. It was quite possible, I told her, that her library was the only one with the complete typescript of an important novel. As I spoke, the peon who had been listening to our conversation, the same one who had told me that Tower of Silence was untraceable, perked up. He asked me to write down the name once again on a slip of paper. Five minutes later, he returned with a bound copy of the complete novel. I had not been wrong about the Secretariat Library possibly being the only one in the world with a complete typescript. There was joy all around. The Text At the centre of Tower of Silence is an actual incident. In 1923, The Graphic, a London weekly, published an article on the Tower of Silence, or dokhma, in Pune. It described, without negative judgment, the Parsi practice of leaving their dead in the tower’s well to be devoured by vultures. Accompanying the article were two illustrations. One was a photograph of the dokhma, a circular stone structure rising about 25 feet in height, with a flock of vultures sitting on top. The centrepiece, however, was a large aerial photograph of the Parsi dead in the well of the Tower. The photograph created a stir in Mumbai. Sir Jamsetji Jejeebhoy, the chairman of the Parsi Punchayet, conveyed the outrage of the community to the Governor of Bombay, Lord George Lloyd. The Governor sent a telegram to the Secretary of State for India in London, communicating the sense of indignation among the Parsis and requesting that the magazine’s editor be persuaded to destroy the photographic plate and the negative. The Secretary of State promptly wrote to The Graphic’s editor, who promised to destroy the plate and to ask the photographer to destroy the negative. The editor assured the Secretary of State that the photographer, although a European, was not an official, enabling the colo10 june 2013
nial government to plead non-complicity in the offending act. He also apologised for having violated Parsi religious sentiments, though of course that was not the intention. Like any editor, he was simply struck by the photograph’s novelty. In fact, the West was morbidly fascinated with the Parsi practice of disposing of their dead. In 1912, a British soldier was accused of entering the Tower of Silence in Pune, whereupon he was seized and bound by several men. The Times of India published a review of a Mills and Boon book of short stories by Maude Annesley titled Nights and Days. Among the stories was one called ‘The Tower of Silence’, detailing the experiences of an English lady married to an Oxford-educated Parsi millionaire in Bombay. Apparently, the story ended with the lady’s suicidal and melodramatic entry into the well of a Tower of Silence where a Parsi priest pointed a chilling and calamitous finger to her doom. The reviewer ended by advising the Bombay Police to read the story to learn unknown details about Parsi customs. More literary help awaited the Bombay Police. In 1920, the Boston Globe published a detective story by RTM Scott, Smith of the C.I.D.: The Towers of Silence. The story was about a US senator who has gone missing in Bombay. Smith, a Bombay Police detective, cracks the mystery as he, along with his Indian helpers, the senator’s secretary and the American counsel climb under the cover of darkness into the Tower of Silence on Malabar Hill. They find the senator in the well of the tower into which he had been lured and abandoned to the vultures by his scheming secretary. The secretary meets his just desserts by being abandoned to a similar fate. To great Parsi outrage, his flesh-stripped skeleton is discovered in the well a few days later. Meanwhile, aircraft were reported flying over dokhmas in spite of the indignation of the Parsis. A Texan reported in 1920 that a British pilot might have finally revealed the long-cherished secrets of the Towers by flying over them. The newspaper noted that the aviator’s flight had provoked fu-
rious protests, but it went on to feed the readers’ ghoulish appetite for details about vultures lying in wait for the dead bodies. Not to be outdone, the New York Times published a long story on the Parsis; it described their history, religion and prominent place in business, but the main focus was on the Tower of Silence. Chaiwala’s novel was composed in the context of this perverse obsession with Parsi mortuary practices, the most egregious example of it being the publication of the aerial photograph in The Graphic. But while others clamoured for legal action against the magazine, the editor and the photographer, Chaiwala exacted retribution in fiction. Finding Chaiwala What was in his biography that explained his literary ambition? Who was this Parsi with the nom de plume of Chevalier? I now had the complete novel but had made little progress in finding details about Chaiwala. Further consultation of Thacker’s India Directory and Times of India Directory and Calendar revealed that his address had changed in 1931 from Tardeo to Dadar. He was listed as a resident of Imperial Mahal, Vincent Road (presently, Ambedkar Road on Khodadad Circle). This entry was repeated for the next two years, after which his name disappears from the directories. A visit to the building proved fruitless. No one had heard of Chaiwala, let alone remembered him. He did not appear in Pune directories either, casting doubt on my speculation that he had moved back there. The next stop was the Parsi Punchayet, the apex administrative body of the Parsi community. I was received cordially at the Punchayet’s office on Dadabhai Naoroji Road, but the officials threw up their hands when I asked to see their death records. “If you don’t know when he died, then it is like looking for a needle in a haystack!” I was referred to another official who was reputed to know all about the days of yore. I walked over to the desk of a genial-looking elderly gentleman. When I explained my purpose, open www.openthemagazine.com 57
he sighed and said: “That’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.” Over the next hour or so, he treated me to a barrage of aphorisms as he swiftly moved away from my inquiry to the subject of the state of the Parsis and the city. The substance of what he said was familiar. By now I had heard several variations of his discourse on the unique history of the Parsis, how their heyday coincided with the best times of the city, and how their marginalisation was followed by Mumbai’s decline and disarray. But the aphorisms that punctuated his speech and his archaic Victorian English immediately reminded me of Chaiwala’s novel. The visit, after all, had not been pointless. I had caught a glimpse of my author and his milieu in this Punchayet official’s language. In 2003, I placed an advertisement in Parsiana, the Parsi journal circulated worldwide, requesting information on Chaiwala. I received no helpful response. In 2013, I published another advertisement in Jam-e-Jamshed. But again, no response was forthcoming. Meanwhile, I was beginning to build Chaiwala’s portrait. A search in the Bombay University Calendar revealed that he matriculated from Tutorial High School, Bombay, in 1914. This was my cue to visit the school, now called Master Tutorial High School. Located near Kennedy Bridge, the school is housed in an old building that has seen better days. The principal, Peter D’Costa, was seated behind a desk in a small room, surrounded by a clutter of files and deep into office work with his associate. My presence was obviously inconvenient, but he very kindly and promptly requisitioned a thick bound volume called the General Register. I carefully turned its yellowed, crumbling pages, running my finger over each numbered entry. My heart stopped when I spotted the entry—Peroshaw Jamshedji Chaewala. The register recorded that he was admitted to the school on 14 January 1913, and that his previous school was the Pune Native Institution. I also discovered that his younger brother Behram, born in 1898 and previously at St Vincent’s in Pune, was admitted at the same time. So were his sisters— 58 open
Falak, born in 1902, previously at Sir CJ Readymoney Girl’s School, Pune, and the 1906 born Shirin. Evidently, the family had moved from Pune to Bombay, where the children were enrolled at the same co-educational school that, Mr D’Costa explained, was preponderantly Parsi at that time. Having matriculated from high school, Mr Chaiwala joined Wilson College. According to the Bombay University Calendar, he passed the first year certificate examination in 1916 and Intermediate in Arts in 1917, studying Logic and French (perhaps explaining his adoption of the moniker Chevalier). He earned a BA in Philosophy in 1922. A visit to Wilson College proved rewarding. I was lucky once again to run into a very cooperative and forthcoming Vice-Principal, Professor Shehernaz Nalwalla. A Parsi herself, she got caught up in my enthusiasm, requisitioning old college registers and calling acquaintances for information. The records indicated that Chaiwala, or Chaewala, as his name was spelt in the register, was active in the college literary society, giving lectures on such diverse subjects as ‘English humourists of the 18th century’, ‘The Gods of India’ and ‘Love’. He did not win any prizes or scholarships, and never passed his examinations in the first or second divisions but always in the lowest category—the pass class. However, lack of academic excellence did not imply an absence of intellectual ambition. He was reported to have opened a debate on ‘It is the Man that makes the Woman’ organised by the Zoroastrian Brotherhood in October 1918. A decade later, when he was already PJ Chevalier, he wrote a Gujarati play, Pussyfoot (Char Angelio in Gujarati, meaning four-toed ones), which was staged by the Empire Poetry League at Excelsior Theatre. Miss Falakbanu Jamsetjee Chaiwala, a student of Elphinstone College, and the secretary of the Empire Poetry League, had initiated this event to support the Sir Leslie Wilson Hospital Fund. Her brother, the playwright PJ Chevalier, was the Vice-President of the League. Including both male and female actors in defiance of tradition, the ‘serio-com-
ic’ play, as it was described, was about two brokers who set out to loot people in a scientific manner while forming a pact to test each other’s wives. PJ Chevalier was not done yet. Having already written a novel and staged his play, he threw his hat in the ring for the 1929 elections to the Bombay Municipal Council. Addressing a ‘sparsely attended gathering of voters’ at Sir Cowasji Jehangir Hall organised by Ratheshtar Mandal, a Parsi organisation for the ‘moral upliftment’ of the community, he asked that a chance be given to ‘young blood’. He promised to work for better relations between communities, promote education and improve the conditions of poor municipal employees. This is where things get mysterious again. The Times of India lists him as one of the candidates in the D ward (Girgaum), but his name does not appear in the list of winners and losers. Perhaps he failed to actually file his election papers even as he campaigned as a candidate. Whatever the case, he had managed, once again, to throw mystery over himself. But as I read and re-read the now complete text of Tower of Silence, the mystery began to clear. I began to understand that he was both Chaiwala and Chevalier. Like many Parsis I had encountered during my search, he took deep pride in his Parsi identity. This is evident in Tower of Silence. The text offers a primer on Parsi manners, customs and clothing—all related to purity rituals that Zoroastrians had practiced for millennia. These practices, he wrote, were not based on blind faith but scientific facts, now proven by Western science. This was a common belief among the intelligentsia in the colonies. Hindu intellectuals also, for instance, claimed that modern Western science affirmed the scientific validity of the principles and practices advocated by the ancient Vedas. Beram, the Parsi protagonist possibly named after Chaiwala’s younger brother, embodies the cultural qualities widely claimed by indigenous intellectuals in the colonies. But Beram is not just another indigenous figure As a Parsi, he is special. 10 june 2013
Chaiwala is angered by the ignorance of Englishmen who mistake a Parsi for just another Indian. Beram is from the East, but his person combines the vast and time-tested ancient wisdom of the Parsis with the modern scientific and technological arts of the West. He is a Chaiwala who can also pass off as a Chevalier. Although Beram’s adversaries in the novel are British, he is not a nationalist. He duels with the British to avenge Parsi honour, but it is an engagement of equals, not between the coloniser and the colonised. Chaiwala wrote at a time when Gandhian mass nationalism was already in full flow, including in his native Bombay, but there is scant reflection of anti-colonial politics in the novel. Indeed, the text frequently expresses an admiration for British customs and manners. Chaiwala treats the Western landscape as if it were his own. His characters navigate the London streets and go in and out of hotels and inns with ease. He uses the details of the 1923 Lympne air show to great narrative effect. His choice of Sexton Blake, the popular fictional detective, as Beram’s adversary reveals his knowledge of the popular English cultural milieu of the period. As Beram plays a cat-and-mouse game with Sexton Blake and his assistant Tinker, the action does not appear as a clash of cultures but as a contest of wits between individuals who share a vocabulary but pursue different goals. He uses English details with authority, as if he grew up with them. The novel even shares the contemporary British attitude towards the Nagas, regarding them as savages. The prose style wavers between the Victorian language of Charles Dickens and the more fast-paced popular style of Edgar Rice Burroughs and other fiction writers of the period. The characters speak in the diction appropriate to their class and station in life. At times there are long sentences, strung out with semicolons, in hyperbolic language. But the tale itself is like the fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs, with travels to exotic lands and a transcontinental chase. Poisons, magical drugs and a fight unto death between a cobra 10 june 2013
and a mongoose amplify the suspense and adventure. Secret cellars and disguises add mystery and provide twists to the narrative. Even as occult powers and sorcery punctuate the story, the setting is thoroughly modern. Industrial modernity in the form of planes, trains and automobiles figure prominently. Chaiwala shows off his knowledge of firearms and explosives, investigative techniques and deductive reasoning as his characters race around London in expensive Rolls Royce and Mercedes automobiles. Modern imperial geography also underpins the novel as the story moves between Britain, India and Burma. Easing the movement of the narrative across imperial territories is a cultural circuit, a cosmopolitan milieu
Though Beram’s adversaries in the novel are British, he is not a nationalist. He duels with the British to avenge Parsi honour, but it is an engagement of equals, not between the coloniser and the colonised that Chaiwala regards as wholly natural. Beram dwells in this milieu while proudly wearing his Parsi identity. In this sense, the novel bears the mark of its time, expressing the fable of Bombay as a cosmopolitan city. Even as the narrative action brings the city, high and low, into view, what makes it a Bombay novel is its imaginative texture. Tower of Silence shows an intimate knowledge of Bombay as the story unfolds in places like the Taj Mahal Hotel, bars, the Parsi colonies, Colaba, Nepean Sea Road, Crawford Market and the Esplanade police station. But underlying it is the city’s mythic image. A Bombay man, Chaiwala affirms this image as he calls the city ‘gay and cosmopolitan’, a heady mix of polyglot culture and fast life. It is this urban sensibility of Bombay that underwrites the novel. Even when the action takes
place elsewhere, what guides it is a cosmopolitan worldview characteristic of the colonial city. To be sure, this cosmopolitanism was blind to its imperial and class underpinnings. But as a product of this world, Beram comfortably inhabits its cultural milieu so long as his Parsi identity and heritage are not threatened. I had not found all of Chaiwala’s biographical details. A second visit to the Parsi Punchayet, eased by weighty recommendations, did not yield fresh information. I was given access to the death registers, but unfortunately, only those dating from 1961 have been preserved. In any case, neither Chaiwala nor Chevalier showed up in the records. “He could have died in 1933 or migrated,” a friendly Punchayet official told me. “Not to be a wet blanket, but without more details, it is like…” he hesitated for a moment as he searched for the right words. “…It is like—what do they say—looking for a needle in a haystack!” There was that phrase again, but it no longer amused me. Seeing my dejected face, he tried to cheer me up. “It is for a novel, right? This makes for an even better story! Chaiwala disappears into thin air!” He was right. Like the characters in his novel, Chaiwala had done a masterful disappearing act. He was gone. Without a trace. But I had found him: in Tower of Silence and the Parsi discourse in Bombay. From the pages of the text, he emerged as someone completely at home in the Anglophone cultural world so long as it did not imperil his identity as a Parsi. He was obviously well-travelled and well-read. One of his characters could shoot with ‘the eye of Locksley’ (Robin Hood) and could tell you how to journey from Rangoon to Putao. Chaiwala had disarming ambition and drive. Though he had no poetic talents, he self-published both a collection of his verse and a rollicking detective novel. He was very cosmopolitan. And, of course, very Bombay. n The Tower of Silence by Phiroshaw Jamsetjee Chevalier ‘Chaiwala’, edited by Gyan Prakash, HarperCollins India, Rs 299, is set for release this week open www.openthemagazine.com 59
pigment gene SLC45A2 is associated with light coloration in modern Europeans and animals, such as horses, chicken and fish
Survival of the Tiniest How the devious malarial parasite makes its host mosquito attracted to human sweat
White Tiger Mystery Solved
alaria’s route to hu-
mans is simple and straight. Plasmodium, a parasite, gets into an Anopheles mosquito and turns it into a vector. When the mosquito bites a person, the parasite enters the victim’s blood stream, multiplies in the liver and then infects red blood cells. Malaria is still one of the biggest killers in the world. World Health Organization figures for 2010 put the number of people infected at over 200 million. Lives claimed were over 650,000. While there have been treatment and prevention strategies for the disease, the parasite has been too cunning for an effective vaccine to be developed. Recently, scientists got a fresh insight into how the parasite works its way into the human body even when it is still inside the mosquito. Science News magazine reports on a study led by the Netherlands based Wageningen University and Research Center which showed how Plasmodium points mosquitoes to the direction of humans. The scientists made a volunteer wear nylon stockings for 20 hours so that sweat would stick to it. They
then ‘put the odour-laced fabric in a cage with two groups of Anopheles gambiae, mosquitoes that transmit the malaria parasite to people. One group was infected with Plasmodium falciparum; the other wasn’t.’ They found that for every one uninfected mosquito that went towards the stocking, there were three infected ones that did the same. The natural inference was that the parasite was making the mosquitoes attracted to human sweat. The article quotes one scientist saying that this was not a deep study because only one stocking and 176 mosquitoes were used. The researchers also don’t know how the parasite manipulates mosquitoes’ sense of smell. And it’s unclear which component of human odour is most attractive to mosquitoes. The study was first published in PLOS One journal. But, even at such a basic level, it reaffirms the clever ways in which this parasite manipulates its environment to survive. What is even more intriguing is that it exercises such influence despite being only a single-celled organism, according to a scientist quoted by Science News. n
The spectacular white coats of white tigers are produced by a single change in a pigment gene—SLC45A2, according to a study report in Current Biology. “The white tiger represents part of the natural genetic diversity of the tiger that is worth conserving, but is now seen only in captivity,” says Shu-Jin Luo of China’s Peking University. Historical records of white tigers on the Indian Subcontinent date back to the 1500s, Luo notes, but the last known free-ranging white tiger was shot in 1958. That many white tigers were hunted as mature adults suggests that they were fit to live in the wild. It’s worth considering the reintroduction of white tigers into their habitat. n
According to a study published in Science, scientists have discovered (in mouse studies) that a small molecule released in the spinal cord triggers a process that is soon experienced in the brain as an itch sensation. The small molecule, called natriuretic polypeptide b (Nppb), selectively plugs into a specific nerve cell in the spinal cord, which sends the signal onward through the central nervous system. With Nppb or its nerve cell removed, mice were found to stop scratching at a broad array of itch-inducing substances. Now the challenge is to find similar biocircuitry in people, examine how it works, and identify unique molecules that could turn off a chronic itch without causing unwanted side effects. n 10 june 2013
Asus Fonepad You can call someone with it, but at 7 inches, it’s more of a tablet than a phone gagandeep Singh Sapra
ips technology In-Plane Switching (IPS) is an LCD technology first introduced in 1996 by Hitachi. It was initially developed to correct the poor viewing angles and colour problems that LCD screens had at the time. IPS offers a wider viewing-angle, ensuring that a device can be held in a variety of ways
Rado D-Star Ceramic w Chronograph
Price on request
hen the first set of tablets
came out, a lot of people wondered if these will have calling capabilities, though it would have looked silly holding a 7 inch tablet to one’s ear. But now a slew of newgeneration handheld devices are offering this. Asus Fonepad is one such tablet. The Fonepad is powered by a single-core 1.2 GHz Intel Atom processor. It has a 7 inch 1280x800 pixel IPS LCD touchscreen display and Android 4.1 mobile operating system, which is expected to be upgraded to 4.2. The tablet has a metal casing. The top part is made of plastic and can be eased off to access a microSD card slot and a micro SIM slot. I was very scared while removing it, fearing it will break. I am sure if one has a habit of changing Sim cards often, it will. The tablet features a 1.2 Megapixel camera on the front and a 3 Megapixel camera on the back. The front camera works pretty decently for a video call, and the rear camera takes average pictures. But if you want to carry just one device that will function as your phone, camera and tablet, while the camera just about makes the cut, I would have loved to see a sharper camera on it. Its battery is rated to run for 9 hours before a recharge. On a typical daily usage pattern—using it as a phone and as a browsing device on both 3G and wireless—I managed to get about 7 hours of operation with
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Rado introduces four new models to its Rado D-Star collection. In black, or platinum-coloured plasma-treated high-tech ceramic, these models exude masculinity. They boast of a 60-hour power reserve and two chronograph counters. All offer the same material benefits: extreme scratch-resistance, hypoallergenic properties and wearer comfort. n
still some charge available for use. There is an embedded GPS feature for map geolocation as well as geotagging pictures. You get 1GB RAM on the tablet and 8GB built-in storage, which can be expanded with a micro SD card. The Tablet also features an 802.11 b/g/n wireless, and has Bluetooth 3.0. You can make or take a call via a hands-free unit. Movie watching on YouTube and other streaming applications was nice. The digital noise cancellation microphone built into the tablet ensured a clearer call, both on regular telephony and Skype. The only downside I could detect of this tablet was that it is available only in one colour. n
Finally, a showerhead with a built-in speaker. No, we are not joking; Kohler has brought out its Moxie. Its speaker uses a magnet to connect with the showerhead and can be detached for recharging its battery. The battery lasts 7 hours. The speaker connects to an MP3 player or phone via Bluetooth. However, you can’t change tracks or control the volume. As for the shower experience, Moxie has 60 nozzles to provide full body coverage and also has a self-cleaning silicon-spray face. n Gagandeep Singh Sapra is The Big Geek at System3. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
open www.openthemagazine.com 61
the fourth debut Rhehan Malliek, the actor formerly known as Gaurav Chanana, saw great success early in his acting career as the handsome young doctor Rahul Mehra on the popular television series Sanjivani before he quit in 2004 for a break in Bollywood. Although he has since appeared in three films, Ishkq in Paris is being touted as his ‘big screen debut’
Ishkq in Paris Preity Zinta’s Before Sunrisesque comeback film doesn’t hit the spot ajit duara
o n scr een
Fast and Furious 6 Director Justin Lin cast Vin Diesel, Paul Walker,
Dwayne Johnson Score ★★★★★
Rhehan Cast preity zinta, jani ad lle malliek, isabe j ra em pr Director
shkq in Paris , dare we say, is a talk-
ie. It’s also a ‘walkie’. So we walk the talk in Paris, and that suits actress, screenwriter and producer Preity Zinta just fine. She plays Ishkq Elise, a professional photographer. We rarely see her take pictures, but that is understandable because you have to stand still to compose frames and make focal adjustments. This lady is on the move, and makes all the moves too when she meets the hapless Akash (Rhehan Malliek) on a train. She yanks him along on a leash across the city, drinking endless glasses of wine and many cups of coffee at landmark watering holes. It’s freezing cold and Ishkq is wearing a mini-skirt and boots. Yet you never see them visiting the rest room. C’est fantastique. The idea is to show the couple fall in love, hour by hour, through conversation alone, because there is no plot development in the film. For this to hap62 open
pen, as writer if not actress, Zinta has to allocate talk time to the Akash character. Yes, she does give him a few throwaway lines, but actor Malliek seems hesitant, even nervous, and this diffidence destroys everything natural in the relationship. The two are as different as chalk and cheese, in appearance and personality, so you wonder where the chemistry comes from. If it had been written as a ‘boy toy’ romance for Ishkq, the affair might have had some credibility, and a talkative older woman who gives the young man a tour of Paris, at the end of which he falls in love, could have been a workable scenario. But Ishkq in Paris is more a comeback vehicle for a star who has been on sabbatical than it is a romantic story. Even the structure, the brevity of it all, done and dusted in an hour-and-a-half, works like an announcement: ‘I’m back, guys, hurry up, cast me.’ n
Production aspects of Fast and Furious 6 seem consciously aimed at overseas revenue. It is not just the length (130 minutes), but the prolonged action sequences—fights that go on far longer than is credible in the usual Hollywood film, action sequences that deliberately slow down time—that seem geared to cater to audiences outside the US. Everything is big and dramatic in the film. The Fast and Furious films are essentially a long romantic ode written to the internal combustion engine, and the love affair between man and his best metal friend form the core of the homage. Women are around, of course, but only to complement the fast cars, and, as advertising professionals know, women with long legs draped around a hood or perched on the bonnet are irresistible. Speed and size both matter, and so though the movie has a nominal plot about law enforcement and criminals, screen time is taken up by two major scenes—a battle between cars and a tank, and a second unending one between cars and a gigantic transport plane trying to take off. The cars win, of course, and the audience drools. It’s probably going to make a lot of money in India. n ad
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Not People Like Us
R aj e e v M asa n d
Drama on Wheels
Fresh off the success of Aashiqui 2, his first starring role, veejay-turned-actor Aditya Roy Kapoor decided to reward himself by investing in a spanking new BMW. His Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani co-star Ranbir Kapoor was among the first of his friends to take a spin in Aditya’s brand new set of wheels. The Yeh Jawaani… crew has said they are relieved that Aditya decided to ditch his “centuries old” previous car, which they insist was an “eyesore” that they had to put up with each time he pulled into the studio to shoot. Ranbir Kapoor himself splurged on a new car recently—the very expensive (Rs 140 lakh reportedly) Mercedes-Benz G Class BA3 Final Edition— that even his buddies don’t want to be caught dead in. His Yeh Jawaani… director and closest pal Ayan Mukerji repeatedly tells him the SUV is “an ugly purchase” and there’s a good chance his girlfriend Katrina Kaif doesn’t want to ride in it anymore after narrowly escaping an accident some weeks ago. Apparently, Ranbir and Katrina were driving back to Bandra from Film City in the new car when he spotted a gaggle of photographers and mediapersons outside Imran Khan’s home. Ranbir allegedly sped so the couple wouldn’t be spotted together by the lensmen, and almost ended up ramming into another car headed in his direction.
The Problem Film
One hears that things are going far from smoothly on the sets of the Hrithik RoshanKatrina Kaif starrer Bang Bang in Thailand. This remake of the strictly average Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz starrer Knight & Day was reportedly plagued with problems from the moment the unit flew into Thailand from Mumbai. An insider reveals that the resort where the crew was put up had power issues from day one, plunging everyone’s rooms into darkness and leaving the team to sweat it out in the unforgiving Thai summer. When that issue was resolved, the weather decided to play havoc, with it pouring on days 10 june 2013
that were meant to be bright and sunny. More than once the unit had to pack up early because no work could be done in the relentless downpour, throwing the film behind schedule by a few days. Director Siddharth Anand suffered a personal blow midway through the schedule when his father-in-law passed away while on a cruise ship in Spain. The filmmaker’s wife, who closely collaborates with him on the set, was naturally grief-stricken and reportedly flew back to be with her family. Even as the shoot resumed, weather problems continued to cause delays and unscheduled halts in filming. The movie, which went into production almost a year after its intended start date (because Hrithik was allegedly unhappy with early drafts of the script and only committed his dates after personally overseeing a final draft), was already budgeted at well over Rs 65 crore, but these snafus during its first schedule in Thailand will inevitably inflate that figure. Fox Star Studios, which is bankrolling the project, is said to be nervous.
Close friends of this actress have been whispering that she is devastated by her recent break-up. The blow was delivered some three weeks ago and although most people around her saw it coming, the actress has reportedly told near and dear ones that it caught her completely offguard. It has been a tumultuous two years for this leading lady, whose closeness to an A-lister earned her little else but scorn from his friends and family. The couple was never able to come out in the open about their relationship. Now heartbroken and bitter, she is said to have gone into a shell. The only time she was photographed recently was while visiting a temple. She has turned down all party invitations and only steps out when she has to shoot or honour other professional commitments. n
Rajeev Masand is entertainment editor and film critic at CNN-IBN open www.openthemagazine.com 63
In Sickness and in Health
by r au l i r a n i
Anand Singh, 59, has been entirely disabled for the last 23 years. Singh was posted with the Indian Navy in Vishakhapatnam when he met with a motorbike accident and sustained injuries to his brain stem, which put him in a coma for a year. This was just three years after his marriage with Ivy Singh, who has been taking care of him ever since. Ivy, who heads a school in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, admits that her home sometimes feels like an ICU, but says her life would be incomplete without Anand. She brushes his teeth and bathes him daily, speaking to him all the time. According to Ivy, whenever she asks him who he loves the most, he looks towards her. It is difficult for her sometimes though, Ivy adds, since she is the only one in the family looking after him, and more so because she doesnâ€™t know how much longer he will be with her. Just two months ago, Anand had to be put on ventilator support for a few days
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