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Tawaif Tales

Eisha Sarkar

Vikram Sampath’s book, ‘My Name is Gauhar Jaan!’ – The Life and Times of a Musician is an incisive account of the life of a tawaif (a woman of the arts) who went on to become the first person to have her voice recorded in India in 1902. The book also traces the journey of Indian music after the fall of the Mughal Empire in 1857 and before India gained Independence in 1947. I am glad it picked it up from Crossword because it is filled with facts and trivia that I’d like to share here:

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Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni: Many of us have been exposed to the sargam at some in our lives, either by listening to Indian music or as a student of music. Indian music draws its seven basic notes from the sounds of animals and birds. Sa is associated with the peacock’s shrill cry, Re with the bullock, Ga with the goat, Ma with the jackal, Pa with the cuckoo’s cooing, Dha with the horse and Ni with the elephant. You might know the sargam but did you know this?

The Mumbaiya word, chhappanchuri: In Mumbai, the word chhappanchuri is used as a derogatory term for a woman who is shrewd and has the gift of the gab. In Sampath’s book, I discovered where it may have come from. Apparently, it was the nickname of a tawaif, Janki Bai (1880-1934) from Allahabad. A jealous suitor, madly in love with her, had scarred her face with 56 (chhappan) slashes when she rebuffed him.

How the harmonium came into Indian music: Most people in India think the harmonium must have been invented here because it is inseparable from Indian classical or folk music. But, it was only in the late 1800s did this French instrument (developed by Alexandre-Francois Debain) become an accompaniment to an Indian vocalist. The credit for this goes to Bhaiya Ganpatrao, a son of Gwalior’s Maharaja Jivajirao Scindia and Chandrabhaga Devi, a courtesan. The harmonium was despised as a lifeless, stiff-reeded instrument because it was incapable of producing subtle nuances. Ganpatrao modelled the harmonium to suit Indian music so muchso that it displaced the reigning sarangi.

The shellac in gramophone records: Lac is hardened resin secreted by the tiny lac insects which settled on twigs and sucked the plant’s sap. These insects were scraped from the twigs, crushed, dried, sieved, winnowed, washed and again dried. The mangled mass was then passed through a hot melting system, filtered and stretched into sheets or ‘shellac’. Since it was non-toxic, it was used to make gramophone records.

The hierarchy among the tawaifs: While most tawaifs were trained in music and dance, some chose to only sing. A ‘bai’ was a tawaif who only sang. A ‘jaan’ sang and danced. Interestingly, even when the dancer sat and performed, the tabla and sarangi players accompanying her always stood and played their instruments. (How many people play the tabla standing up, nowadays?)

This piece is also available on Eisha’s blog Innate Explorer

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Sayed Khalid Sadaat’s speech at CII-Yi’s The Business of Peace session in India

Sayed Khalid Sadaat is a young Afghan student who is pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Mass Communication at the Faculty of Journalism and Communication at M S University. He studied cinema and theatre in Kabul University and has acted in Afghan TV serials and advertisements and has also worked as a production assistant. In Kabul, Khalid worked with one of the world’s largest humanitarian agencies, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) through his years in college. He supervised projects on women’s empowerment and girls’ education. Working with internally displaced people and students, he realised that he could become an instrument of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

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Good afternoon dear all respected guests.

First, I welcome Mr. Robert McNulty the founder of Pax Populi to Vadodara, and I thank Eisha ma’am for inviting me to this program.

I was a child of war but now I am youth of peace.

I was born in 1989. That was the time, the Soviet Union left Afghanistan and Afghan Civil War began.

I was five years old when I enrolled in school. I remember another date from my childhood: 27, September, 1996. The Taliban executed Dr. Najibullah, the president of Afghanistan. As an Afghan child, I remembered all the dark days of Afghanistan during the war. Like many others, I never left my country.

As a school student, I was not aware of the world. Under the Taliban rule, the schools only taught us the religious books and explained about Jihad (holy war). They were impressing our minds and encouraging us to join the jihad. The pages of our books were torn. There were no new books. My older brother wrote his notes on pages torn from my friends books and gave them to me. My mother made notebooks from paper bags for us. She encouraged us to study hard.

In 2001, after the Taliban, all the dark days I kept in my memories as bad dreams and started a new life with new dreams. I got the opportunity to become a youth of peace. A new government was established and the international community had come to Afghanistan to help in rebuilding our country. I am gateful to them. Afghanistan had to start from scratch to get to the state it is in now after 15 years.

Education is the backbone of a country. Many Afghans are still deprived of that. I am one of the hundred Afghan’s youth who complete their Primary education and find the chance to go for higher education. There are so many youths who still suffer. They don’t have access to education, especially girls. Boys and girls are not allowed to continue their education where religious leaders dominate. Some cannot continue their education due to poverty. They have to work and support their families. You find many children working on the streets to support their families. Many children beg for alms.

The lack of educational centers, qualified trainers, useful teaching materials, public libraries, access to internet are the main challenges we face in gaining access to education not only in the remote areas but also in the main cities.

We still need the support of the international community especially in the field of education. Only through education can we bring peace and reconciliation among our people. As an Afghan youth, I am hopeful for the future of my country and will try my best to save my people from misery.

In 2014 I invited for the peace and reconciliation seminar which was conducted by Jesuit Refugee Service in Delhi, India. I learned a lot about peace and reconciliation here. I returned to Afghanistan and started peace and reconciliation classes for school students there. They, in turn, shared their messages about peace and reconciliation massage with three members in their family or friends. Their interest has made me more hopeful about the future of Afghanistan.

After the completing of my master’s degree in journalism and mass communication in India I will go back to Afghanistan with the massage of peace and help those people who don’t have access to education.

I invite all the institutions which work for education and peace around the world to come to Afghanistan and support us for the bright future.

Thank you

 

 

 

The Business of Peace in Vadodara, India

 

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Young Indians (Yi) Vadodara, the youth wing of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), hosted The Business of Peace interactive session about the necessity of developing means of inter-cultural communication and education to bring about peace in the world on Saturday, October 22 at iPlex from 4 pm to 6 pm, which was changed on that day to 5 pm to 7 pm because of the Prime Minister’s visit to the city and restrictions on traffic movement. In spite of such setbacks, the event received a good attendance and enthusiastic participants engaged in discussions even after the session.

The speakers were Prof Robert McNulty who is member of the Steering Committee of the UN Global Compact Business For Peace initiative and founder of the people-to-people peacebuilding initiative called Pax Populi; Waleed Hussain, News Editor of MidDay newspaper in Mumbai and Sayed Khalid Sadaat, an Afghan student who is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication at the Faculty of Journalism and Communication (FJC) of M S University, Vadodara. Before coming to India, Sadaat worked at one of the world’s largest humanitarian organisations in Afghanistan called the Jesuit Refugee Service where he supervised projects on women’s empowerment and girls’ education. Kirthi Jayakumar, the founder of the Chennai-based Red Elephant Foundation and winner of the US Presidential Services Medal in 2011, also participated through a virtual presentation.

Dr McNulty spoke about how Pax Populi has helped in peace education in war-torn Afghanistan and then focussed on how businesses could help improve the bilateral relations between India-Pakistan. Mr Hussain, whose story was a part of the Bollywood film, Airlift, talked about the difficulties he faced as a 12-year-old Kuwaiti refugee and how the media shapes perceptions and opinions. He insisted that we should be responsible when sharing or forwarding something on social media because the consequences of an irresponsible forward can be very harmful. Mr Sadaat spoke about the system of education in Afghanistan and how the international community can help rebuild a nation. Ms Jayakumar discussed the Gender Based Violence (GBV) world map she has made to ensure that women in 197 countries get access to help if they are in situations where they face violence.

Participating students in the audience engaged with the speakers before and after with the event. The Business of Peace session provided ideas about how technology, education and corporate partnerships across borders can actually help make the world a more peaceful place.

The Story of Watermelons: Manohar Parrikar

I am from the village of Parra in Goa, hence we are called Parrikars. My village is famous for its watermelons. When I was a child, the farmers would organise a watermelon-eating contest at the end of the harvest season in May. All the kids would be invited to eat as many watermelons as they wanted. Years later, I went to IIT Mumbai to study engineering. I went back to my village after 6.5 years. I went to the market looking for watermelons. They were all gone. The ones that were there were so small. I went to see the farmer who hosted the watermelon-eating contest. His son had taken over. He would host the contest but there was a difference. When the older farmer gave us watermelons to eat he would ask us to spit out the seeds into a bowl. We were told not to bite into the seeds. He was collecting the seeds for his next crop. We were unpaid child labourers, actually. He kept his best watermelons for the contest and he got the best seeds which would yield even bigger watermelons the next year. His son, when he took over, realised that the larger watermelons would fetch more money in the market so he sold the larger ones and kept the smaller ones for the contest. The next year, the watermelons were smaller, the year later even small. In watermelons the generation is one year. In seven years, Parra’s best watermelons were finished. In humans, generations change after 25 years. It will take us 200 years to figure what we were doing wrong while educating our children.

(Excerpt from a speech by India’s Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar at an event hosted by the Federation of Gujarat Industries in Vadodara, India on 11 September, 2016. Transcription by Eisha Sarkar)

Mobile Journalism in India’s newsrooms

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Yusuf Omar’s first forays in mobile journalism began in 2010, when he hitchhiked from South Africa to Syria with nothing but his smartphone and a small handheld camera to tell his story. Since then, he’s used mobile technology to report from the frontlines of the Syrian war to the#ZumaMustFall protests in Johannesburg. He’s trained mobile journalists from South Africa to India to the U.K.

Read more here

India’s Only Handwritten Newspaper

For 88 years The Musalman, India’s oldest Urdu language daily and possibly the only hand-written newspaper in the world, has kept history alive. Nestled in Chennai in south India, the 89-year-old paper is made of a staff of three reporters, three calligraphers and an editor, Syed Arifullah. Read more here

Book Review by Eisha Sarkar: The Dove’s Lament

 

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“With author, Kirthi Jayakumar, you hop from one region of conflict to another across continents – Colombia, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Bosnia, West Bank, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka – collecting images of people who loved, lost, killed, hurt, damaged, defeated, helped and survived. Human trafficking, drug trafficking, the fight for every inch of land there is to fight for, communal violence, vengeance, the politics of peace, the excesses of war, the triumph of humanity – the stories cover them all.”

Read more of this review here

Pax Populi Academy

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Pax Populi Academy is a peace-through-education initiative that focuses on English and math tutoring. Tutors from around the world engage with Afghan students via video conferencing and electronic communications. This educational initiative provides several benefits to both the Afghan learners and the English speaking tutors and they widen their perspectives and deepen their understanding of each others’ cultures. Pax Populi Academy helps to advance peace by supporting the development of civil society through education.

Want to know what the interaction between a tutor and a student is like? Check these out:

http://www.paxpopuli.org/kiss-keep-it-simple-stupid/

http://therisingnepal.org.np/news/8739

Follow Pax Populi on Facebook

 

 

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