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Life as a new grandmother in USA in the times of Covid-19

Corona was an unknown name when my husband and I arrived in Rhode Island from Bangalore; our suitcases loaded with homemade laddoos, sweets and savories for the pregnant daughter. Basking in the déjà vu moment of me becoming a first- time mother, I now the proud grandmother held the bundle of joy in my arms with only fair idea of what the role would demand. While welcoming home the new mom and her baby, however, a bit of dread too clouded over, due partly to the often heard tug of war of ideas in baby care between the two generations, especially in a foreign land.

Considering the forthcoming sleepless nights that the new parents had to face and the possibility of me pitching in, the infant and her mom were stationed in the ground-floor family room till things settled down. The very next day my eighty-two-year old mother made a WhatsApp video call from Bangalore, “Did you give her milk with Haldi? Hope you are not missing giving her the Shunti you took from here. Give her soft cooked vegetables, start the meal with deep fried garlic, alternate it with methi powder. It is important for a new mother’s lactation.” I lowered my tone and said, “Amma, I know you were an excellent grandmother, did everything as per traditions but that was nineteen eighties, India. This is 2019 going on 2020, USA where both your granddaughter and her husband are doctors. Do you think they will listen to everything I say or want to do?”

Anyhow, somewhat peacefully food for the new mom could be executed as per plan but the question of feeding her baby, whether to depend on the breast milk which was not yet in adequate supply , or to give the formula milk still hovered around. A visiting lactation consultant gave rather a frightening picture after measuring the baby’s weight and brought tears in her mom’s eyes. I the mother and the grandmother could not stand it all and in a panicky state texted my neighbour in Bangalore, a young mom asking her expert comments on this after which Formula milk did not appear so bad. “No, I am part of a support group for doctors and they advocate only breast milk, mummy, please. No formula milk for my baby. It tastes bad too.” “But dear, that’s how I fed you when I went back to work at 12th week of your birth.” In your times you could not pump your milk and store it for later use. We have it now, why shouldn’t I do?” “Ok, you do what is best for your baby. I agree we couldn’t pump breast milk in our days.” I reconciled.

A couple of weeks hence, realizing the need to sing English lullabies to my tiny granddaughter, and watching a few on YouTube, I broke into a poem while changing the baby’s diaper to which my younger daughter from Singapore commented, “Mummy, that sounds a bit funny- like a rap.” “Yes, I never knew the joy of becoming a grandmother would awaken the poet in me.” I defended myself. However, soon I went back to singing the Hindi song that I knew and sang years ago to both my daughters as infants. As she hesitatingly took the baby in her arms, I conveyed with my glance, “see, now you understand how we have raised you and Akka (elder sister) from such tiny babies?” 

As the baby-care’s teething problems settled and I could revel in pride of having overcome it, around mid- Jan I went along with my daughter to her close friend Sairah’s baby shower. In a gathering of gorgeous women from Pakistani community, with blue lights signifying the unborn male child, I enjoyed the smorgasbord of cakes and mom-to-be related games, trying in earnest to make up for what I missed of my own daughter’s baby shower. The expectant mother’s mom from Texas and her sister and I sat next to each other and broke into a conversation in Hindi. Later while lining up for snacks when I told her I got mostly all correct in the game about mom to be’s likes and interests, she asked, “Apne cheating to nahi ki”.(Hope you didn’t do cheating)” Nahi to, aap to itni paas nahi baithi thi na.” (No, I could not since you were sitting not so close) I said amidst roars of laughter. Later when we sat with a special mango cake brought by her sister in New York, she was keen to know of my experiences as a grandmother. We were pleasantly surprised to know we both as young mothers used to sing the old  Hindi number, “Dhire Dhire nindiya aja re aja dhire dhire …” to put our daughters to sleep.I told her I was singing the same now to my granddaughter, and on my persistent request she sang it in her beautiful voice. We looked forward to meeting again in April when she would be here for her daughter’s delivery.

Fast forward to April, Corona virus had made its entry in almost every part of the world including the USA with highest number of cases. Lockdowns, social distancing and use of masks became the norms. Domestic and international flights were cancelled and borders between states were sealed and internal travels made impossible. The hospitals in New York city having overwhelming numbers of Covid-19 cases., with permission of state governments, young expectant mothers chose to drive down two hours and deliver in Rhode Island with relatively less Covid-19 cases.

Sairah delivered in strict isolation with none by her side except her husband Farhan. Her mom – my new friend apparently is doing e- baby care through video calls. My daughter and son-in law helped the couple in little ways such as grocery shopping. They left a card and home-baked oatmeal cookies with home cooked food at their door to welcome home the newborn.

Our flights for May 4th cancelled, our stay has got extended with hope of taking repatriation flight to travel back home. NDTV gives live updates on Covid happenings in India. By video calls everyday with parents we know about their welfare. Social media and WhatsApp groups buzz with Covid news of home and around the world. There are cancelled, postponed, or virtual weddings and virtual funerals due to travel restrictions or cancelled flights. Universities shut after lockdown and students who flew back to home countries are taking online classes with looming uncertainty about resuming normal classes. My younger daughter in Singapore, now facing lockdown, must defer by a year to enter her Master studies in the US.

The global pandemic continues to wreak havoc, causing a dread like never seen before. I for now feel happy that Corona is at least allowing me to take short walks in the neighbourhood and occasional short drives around the beautiful state of Rhode Island. Every moment feels worth cherishing as I continue to sing to my now 5- month old cutie pie. Every day as I hold her in my arms, I remind both her young parents to go whatever length they can to keep themselves safe in their respective hospitals.

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Late posting: My article on Tagore was published in the classic compendium 2022 brought by Literoma as part of Tagore litfest held in Kolkata in May 2022

Rabindranath Tagore’s idea of one Asia

Tagore romanticized the idea of one united Asia. His paeans on bridging the gap of China and India and bring the two countries closer were well known. He was venerated by people across the Asian countries as the greatest living poet and intellectual. He was an ardent traveler and did not miss an opportunity to travel to Asian countries. It was his eagerness to see the Indianness, the cultural influence of India in all those countries where Hinduism was part of their culture and tradition that took him to the countries in Southeast Asia. Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Burma where he travelled, he interacted with much enthusiasm and wrote poems with love for the countries after every visit.

Guru Rabindranath Tagore’s charisma was so great and so deeply rooted in Southeast Asia that his 100th birth anniversary was observed in Singapore in 1961 and several discussions and forums were held in his honour. The Institute of Southeast Asian Research in Singapore has a dedicated Nalanda Sriwijaya center established with the aim of research study of Chinese and Indian diasporas, their interactions, maritime and trade links with Southeast Asia, maritime technologies, historical spread of Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, and Christian networks across Asia, learning and cultural exchanges among Asian societies, cross cultural interactions between  India and China, during the Late Qing and Republican Periods. Among the focus of studies, it is heartening that the center has marked the study on influence of Rabindranath Tagore and his contemporaries across Asia as one of the main research projects.  The center is also working with the West Bengal State Archives to identify and digitize materials relevant to Southeast Asia and China-India relations.

Perceptions of Asia by Rabindranath Tagore

The Nalanda Sriwijaya center explores the conversations across Asia conducted by Rabindranath Tagore, and his contemporaries who all imagined Asia as an abstract entity, transcending the colonial boundaries.

In 2011, as part of 150th year of Rabindranath’s Tagore’s birth anniversary, lectures and events were held across four countries in places of academic excellence, Harvard University US, Beijing University in China, Singapore ISEAS and Netaji Research Bureau in Kolkata. A series of four conferences examined Tagore’s travels in Asia and the wider impact of his ideas on Asia, to understand the Tagore phenomena through his experiences in Japan and China during the 1910s and 1920s.  A Different Universalism lecture series explored the political, intellectual, cultural conversations conducted by Tagore and his contemporaries towards a global vision in the age of colonial empire and anti-colonial nationalism. It also examined the modern intellectual history of Asia as well as theories of universalism, cosmopolitanism, and internationalism.

Rabindranath Tagore’s Influential Travels

Rabindranath Tagore (7 May 1861 – 7 August 1941), was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and an icon of intra-Asian interactions and of the Pan-Asian movement. Tagore made his first trip beyond India in 1878 to Britain to study and several influential voyages to Asian countries after receiving the Nobel Prize in 1913.

Beginning in 1916 he visited Burma and in 1922 he travelled to Sri Lanka. Longer visits to China and Japan took place in 1924, Singapore, Malaya, Indonesia, and Thailand in 1927, and China, Japan, and Indochina in 1929, were interspersed with further visits to Sri Lanka and, to many countries in the Middle East and Europe. The ways in which Tagore was received and reacted to during his Asian voyages varied enormously, with some in his audiences considering him a “seer and patriarch”, or even a saint with “a great and tender soul”, while others were vehement in their denunciation of their visitor, who claimed to be intent on saving the spirituality of the East from the materialism of the West.

China Visit in 1924

Tagore was a celebrated figure even before his arrival in China in April 1924. Chen Duxiu, one of the founding fathers of the Communist Party of China had translated Tagore’s prize-winning anthology, Gitanjali in 1915. Guo Moruo, a writer of Tagore’s status was deeply influenced by Tagore when he was studying in Japan from 1914 to 1920.

On receiving an invitation, Tagore was overjoyed, “it was an invitation to India herself and as her humble son I would accept, and though India being poor in many respects had something to give to the world’. On arrival he was the only invitee of Emperor to the inner sanctum of the Forbidden City, after the British Sir Reginald Johnston. He interacted with many Chinese poets with a hope that a dreamer among them will preach the message of love and bridge the chasms of passions widening since ages. Famous Chinese poet Xu Zhimo, also Tagore’s close friend on being asked to be an interpreter, in his joy likened it to transcribing nightingales’ passionate songs or Niagara’s grand roars.

Tagore was deeply touched when a renowned Chinese scholar, Liang Qichao, presented him the Chinese name, ‘Zhu Zhendan’ translating as “thunder of the oriental dawn” as also when his play Chitra was performed by young Chinese actors. He truly believed in the mutually beneficial interactive relationship and passionately advocated the reopening of the path between the two countries that got obscured through the centuries. Barring some young students, his message of love and brotherhood were well received and admired by Chinese intellectuals as espousal of civilizational strength of the east.

His international university, ‘Visva-Bharati’, played a pioneering role in development of Chinese studies in India. The establishment of the first Sino-Indian Cultural Society, and then, ‘Cheena Bhavana’ (Chinese Department) at Shantiniketan were corner stones for this cause. Scholars, teachers like Tan Yun-Shan, who led Cheena Bhavan for many years, contributed greatly to modern India’s understanding of Chinese civilization and her modern development. The late Ji Xianlin, Padma Bhushan and doyen of Indologists in China observed that Tagore was an icon of Sino-Indian friendship both in India and China.

Visits to Southeast Asian countries in 1927

Singapore

Day by day records of his visit in 1927 to Singapore starting 25th July show the respect for the great poet among elite of Singapore society. He was introduced as greatest living poet of East after he gave a speech on India and China and how Indian students should read Chinese history. Gurudev spoke about India’s glorious past, and that all his countrymen should support the ideals of Visva Bharati. He addressed school children and teachers, gave a lecture on China India cultural fellowship in Victoria theatre.

Malaysia

As he sailed to Malacca, he was given a rousing reception among Chinese and Indo Ceylonese and post his lecture on education, an amount of $3500 was raised for Visva Bharati. In Muar and Kuala Lumpur as next stoppages he was garlanded and given ‘at home’ honour with performances by Chinese, British and Ceylonese communities. His speeches were mainly about unity of human race and India China relations, uniting of China India cultures in service of the whole world. His reception was equally grand in Klang, Ipoh, Kuala Kangsar, Taiping, Telok Anson. In Penang he laid foundation stone of a building and addressed to a large gathering that Asia was the birth- place of many religions of the world. He spoke about nationalism and emphasized that India must understand history and culture of China. His public speech was the best of all according to his companion and teammate. His next destinations were Surabaya, Bali, and Yogyakarta in Indonesia.

Indonesia

Indonesian Hindu islands and cities had captured a place deep in Gurudev’s heart who was always enthused by cultural interactions rather than military conquests. The Sriwijaya empire of Indonesia had given its patronage to the Buddhist university at Nalanda and enjoyed friendly ties with the Pala kingdom of Bengal and both had suffered military defeat at the hands of the Cholas of south India in the 1020s. As Tagore sailed on Plancius from Singapore towards Batavia on August 16, he wrote his poem Sriwijaylakshmi celebrating the renewal of bond after a thousand-year separation, which was given an equally classical response by a leading Javanese poet addressing him as an elder brother to guide in the world, teach scriptures, tongue and all that is needed to exist.

An interim pilgrimage to Bali and an interaction with the king of Karengasem left Tagore completely stunned. The king uttered the word Samudra and other synonyms for ocean such as Sagara, Abdhi, Jaladhya and did Sanskrit recitation of seven seas, mountains, skies, and forests. Mention of names of Indian mountains and rivers astonished him further and he observed that in our history Bharatvarsha (India) had realized its geographical unity in a special way. The discovery of further variations in the Southeast Asian versions of the great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata enabled Tagore through comparative study to propound the version as original and an interpretation of marriage (Ram and Sita) as a metaphor.

However, he noted that the ‘Hindu’ ethos of the island was no bar to Arab Muslims, Gujarati Khoja Muslims and Chinese merchants conducting trade. After his departure from the island Rabindranath Tagore wrote one of his most beautiful poems, Bali which was later renamed Sagarika (Sea Maiden) of which the opening verse read: Having bathed in the sea with your wet tresses you sat on the rocky beach. Your loose yellow robe drew a forbidding line around you on the earth…

From Bali, Tagore travelled to Surabaya, a predominantly Muslim Island of Java. His romanticization of India and witnessing the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata suffusing the dance and drama of the Muslim Javanese, made him call it “Vyas Indies’ instead of Dutch indies.  The poet inaugurated a new road in Suryakarta, called Tagaro Straat. The temple ruins at Prambanan reminded him of Bhubaneswar in Orissa. He wrote about the great Saiva-Buddhist temple complex of Borobodur in his poem Borobodur. Tagore pursued the Buddhist connection in Siam and composed some of very popular songs on his way back through Southeast Asia. In Bangkok, Tagore met the prince of Chantabun. His poem Siam composed on October 11, 1927, gave a final expression to Tagore’s search for a greater India: Today I will bear witness to India’s glory that transcended its own boundaries I will pay it homage outside India at your door.

Tagore’s obvious pride in ‘India’s entry into the universal’, were based on his partial view of the historical relations between the two regions, India as not a monolith to discuss how cultural influences radiated out, cultural influences happened through active historical agents.

Travel to Middle East in 1932

After seeing European colonized Muslim societies of Malaya and Java, he boarded a Dutch airplane to travel to Muslim sovereign countries of Iran and Iraq in April 1932. In Iran he was poet of the east and wrote an essay Parashye (In Persia) which is much more than a diary or a travelogue. He had a special affinity to Persian Sufi poets. Tagore wrote, ‘my identity has another special feature. I am Indo-Aryan…I have a blood relationship with them.’ There was absolutely no occasion, Tagore asserted, when the Persians made him feel that they belonged to another society or religious community.

At a reception in a carpeted garden surrounding Saadi’s grave Tagore claimed kinship with the Sufi poets and composers of yesteryears; it was just that he used the language of the modern age. He had been agonizing about the blindness and prejudice that went by the name of religion and wanted India to be free of this terrible affliction. “Will the tavern’s door be flung open,” Tagore read when he opened his eyes, ‘and with it the tangled knots of life unfasten?

Tagore was entranced by the gardens and mosques of Isfahan. He visited the Masjide-Shah started by Shah Abbas and the neighboring Masjid-e-Chahar-e-bagh. Not surprisingly, Tagore compared Shah Abbas with India’s Akbar. During his two weeks in Tehran, he participated in as many as eighteen public functions. Persian music continued to intrigue him with its elements of sameness and difference in relation to north Indian classical music. On the violin the melodies sounded like the morning ragas Bhairon, Ramkeli and even the pure Bhairavi.

The poet’s 71st birthday on May 6, 1932, was celebrated with great fanfare in Tehran. In return for all the bouquets, Tagore gave a gift in the form of a poem titled ‘Iran’ which ended with a verse of victory to Iran. In return he received from parliamentary leaders an exquisitely produced volume of the poetry of Anwari. Among the various sights that the poet saw were Darius’s carvings on the mountainside in Behistun and the glorious sculpture of the Sassanid age in Takibustan.

On seeing the ferocity of British air force on Iraqi villagers he reflected on the shift from sea power to air power in human history and easiness of killing desert dwellers from the air and wrote as a message: From the beginning of our days man has imagined the seat of divinity in the upper air from which comes light and blows the breath of life for all creatures on this earth. The peace of its dawn, the splendor of its sunset, the voice of eternity in its starry silence have inspired countless generations of men with an ineffable presence of the infinite urging their minds away from the sordid interests of daily life…   Reflecting on how different his life nurtured by the rivers of Bengal was from the struggle for existence in the desert, bedouin chief surprised him. “Our Prophet has taught us,’ the chief said, ‘that he is a true Muslim from whom no fellow human being fears any harm.

In late May 1932 the intellectuals of Baghdad organized a civic reception in Tagore’s honour. Tagore expressed his anguish about Hindu-Muslim conflict in India and invited his hosts to resend their Prophet’s message of Universal brotherhood across the Arabian Sea so that India could be saved from communitarian narrow-mindedness, inhuman intolerance and the degradation of liberal religion and put on the high road to unity and freedom.

The aspirational quality of a different universalism was perhaps best expressed by Tagore in a poem-painting signed. The night has ended. Put out the light of the lamp of thine own narrow corner smudged with smoke. The great morning which is for all appears in the East. Let its light reveal us to each other who walk on the same path of pilgrimage.

In the present day of war and conflict, it is relevant to throw light on Tagore’s pan Asian ideals. He undoubtedly was a powerful critic of worshipping the Nation as God and he simply did not want Indian patriots to imitate European nationalists. Yet he loved the land that had nurtured him. It is not without reason that Mahatma Gandhi in his obituary comment on Rabindranath Tagore in 1941 lauded the poet as ‘an ardent nationalist’. Indeed, a nationalist with a unique cosmopolitanism and a different universalism best describes Rabindranath Tagore.           

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Source: Nalanda Sriwijaya Center’s Tagore Booklet

 Lata Vishwanath

I have attempted a poetry review first time as a writer. I don’t claim to be a poet, never thought it was my forte and find quite a lot of poetry difficult to grasp. Still I did try some ocassional scribblings in the last two years.These short verses, though may not be of exemplary poetic value, perhaps were inevitable emotions coming out from my deep within durign the pandemic. That is how poets are born I guess. I am now more regular in reading poems and trying to decipher their meaning between lines.

poetry review

I chose to do a review of poetry collection by Anirban Bhattacharya because of two reasons. I got introduced to him when I pitched my manuscript to Penmancy’s pitchfest in April-May 2021. After I got to know that he is the producer of my favourite crime TV show Crime Patrol on Sony TV , who was going to interview me as one of the judges I was awestruck and thrilled and considered myself fortunate. His non-fiction India’s deadly dozens is best seller on amazon. My fascination and curiosity about his work made me pick up his newly released poetry book and try this review.

The poetry collection of Mumblings and Musings by Anirban Bhattacharya is awe inspiring and deeply touching. Going from page to page each poem reveals life in such varied shades and colours filtered through lenses of diverse men and women that hit your heart with razor sharpness as much they leave you stunned with open jaws. Certainly the poet has fascination for death as much as for life. Going from page after page, he makes the reader feel, touch and smell death and darkness very closely. Though not a surprise coming from the author of the best seller The Deadly Dozens, and producer of Crime Patrol and Saavdhan India,  he clearly is a talented writer wearing many hats.

His tone of melancholy and morbidity run through all his poems that is intricately woven with his empathy towards the poor and underprivileged. I was particularly besotted with the lines

concrete hands search skies
bound by asbestos souls
Voices rebound off broken walls…, in the snippets of conversations.
 

The world seen
Through photo chromatic lenses
Watching green grass
Sitting on knees…, in the world now


Fingerless palms greet you
A beatific smile
All is well with the world
The tethered throne is a piece of land that she calls her own.. in The Tenth leper

My other favourites are Clothesline, The fly, Feelings, Final Chant , Merging, The Butcher, The Madman on the street. His memories – often harking to past make one in many of the brilliant literary tools he uses to depict life’s ephemerality, pain and poignancy. The same prevail in some of the tales from his musings and monologues  which though seem like his personal experiences the themes are compelling and resonate with every reader. The accompanying photographs give a visual complement to every poem with the incisive depth of its emotions.
Reading the collection I got the notion of wasteland and other poems by the famous master poet of all times, TS Eliot. Certainly Anirban is a master in his own right. 

My first article this year published in TerraGreen magazine after my return to India. I am glad to have written about the amazing rural women leaders who are the forefront of fight against the pandemic.

Rural Women leaders at the forefront of fight against the Pandemic

Rural grassroot women across the districts of Latur, Solapur, Osmanabad in Maharashtra, were exemplary in their fight against Covid pandemic Consequent to the announcement of lockdown in Aril 2020, these women designated as Sakhis joined hands with state health authorities and local administration as Sakhi Task Force team for the program initiated in July 2020 by their organisation Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP). The covid prevention work spread rapidly impacting rural areas of Bihar, Odisha, Gujarat, and Kerala, with 2500 of these dynamic grassroots women joining in and leading the fight.

The program for rapid recovery from the health crisis which was supported by UNICEF in collaboration with Block administrators and Gram Panchayats had its impact hailed as praiseworthy and a role model action for the entire nation to draw lessons from.

Under their supervision 1 lakh masks and 15,000 sanitary napkins were distributed in rural communities, 3 lakh soaps were distributed to frontline workers; food, ration, and hygiene kits to 18,320 needy families and PDS made to reach 30,000. They assisted 2,30,517 families through education and practices and as a community contributed Rs. 35.64 lakhs and mobilized groceries, vegetables & dairy products.

As the last mile support in optimizing Primary health care services, the Sakhis took up the task of spreading awareness for social distancing, handwash demonstration, surveillance of travellers and their screening at village entry points with temperature check-ups and oxygen measurement, logistics coordination in transfers to covid care centres for quarantine, contact tracing and checking for comorbidities.

Communicating the problems to the district administration while making decisions about building shelters, jobs, and food security for migrant workers, the STF helped at least 4000 returning migrant workers find jobs with MNREGA and 2,250 families grew their own vegetable gardens.

The taskforce team worked briskly during the second wave to spread awareness for quick testing and providing PPE kits to health care workers along with sanitizers and masks to the public. They are also helping people with registering for vaccinations on COWIN sites on their mobile phones. 

Empowered women farmers of the disaster- prone regions

The quickness with which the rural women took up positions as leaders and decision makers during the crisis is not surprising given that they are grassroot women leaders in climate resilient farming and agro-entrepreneurs of their communities.

Swayam Shikshan Prayog

Not in the distant past, however, the grassroot leaders were considered marginal women of the society. The journey of their transformation from meek and muted household labourers in their family owned- lands to landowners and decision makers was due thanks to the years of grooming and training by the Swayam Shiksan Prayog under the leadership of its founder Ms. Prema Gopalan in collaboration with the local administration and the Department of Agriculture.

Women led Climate Resilient farming (WCRF)

The regions of Marathwada are mostly rain fed and men grow mostly cash crop like sugarcane and soyabean. During drought years having no crop output from their lands they suffer loss in savings, and in chemicals and other expensive inputs. SSP’s WCRF model of farming was a life changing intervention for the farmers of such drought prone regions.

WCRF model on one acre land works on the precept that women are the best people to know and understand their families’ nutritional requirements, who go the extra mile in bringing the necessary elements to grow their crops whether in terms of input seeds, bio fertilizers or pesticides.

In four stages of four seasons, the women are onboarded, adopted, trained and hand- held till they join the village farmer federation to market their produce. In the first season, depending on village maturity level, community resources like demonstration farms and farm ponds are created and farmers trained till they begin farming in half acre land. By the third and fourth seasons they are ready to expand their farming to one acre land and become part of the village collective by sharing of resources and labour, eventually becoming a social capital to be scaled up by Government intervention.

As a first step in implementing the program, a community facilitator is recruited with a stringent screening test. She is trained and groomed through classroom and demonstration of all farming stages till she becomes an important resource for the Government and a mentor for the village community farmers. Three groups with twenty farmers in each and one farmer as the group leader, are tied to one community facilitator.

Community resilience funding

Through a community owned fund sourced by low interest bank loan, adopted marginal and small farmers are helped to buy animal fodder, hydroponics, seeds and most importantly get access to government schemes and subsidies to buy sprinklers, drip irrigation sets, and create village pond.

Technology for Enhanced value chain

Women also lead in technology partnerships for enhanced value chain. Block level Committees are set up to develop value chains for the farmer groups federated to improve the quality of vegetables and dairy milk, keeping them fresh and providing logistics to deliver to the markets otherwise not easy to access. With technology and innovation linked partners, farmers are ensured a good price for their products viz. veggies stored in craters of vegetable coolers are kept cool and fresh with minimum wastage. The committee maintains farmer wise records and money is disbursed off immediately after the sale. Machines installed through the rural enterprise SURE for milk collection in milk centres run by trained women dairy farmers have ensured drastic improvement in milk quality and price. Further intervention like quality of cattle feed and availability of veterinary doctor has doubled the farmers’ earnings.

Benefits of WCRF

By leveraging the innate wisdom of women and linking the adopter farmers to government schemes the model has achieved food security, water security, livelihood security, and women empowerment. Farmers own water related assets while growing less water intensive crops with increase in crop productivity and less input costs. Convincing their husbands for transferring of the land rights is crucial to the women’s success and impressed husbands follow them in doing chemical free farming. Growing as many as 17 types of diverse crops results in good health and nutrition for their families with improved immunity for cough and cold problems, while the produce ensures savings on market bought food and enhanced agri-businesses.

Making the farming model effective and impacting has proved win- win for both SSP and its key eco-system partners who otherwise find it hard to reach out to the women farmers. The key partners are Government Agriculture department for water conservation and harvesting, ATMA for bio inputs for chemical less farming, the training partner Krishi Vigyan Kendra, and partners for market linkages, knowledge, and strategies.

SSP’s programs which has its outreach across five states provide the much-needed anchor to the government’s investments and schemes towards attracting more women into mainstream agriculture and climate resilient farming.

Bihar’s Rural women Entrepreneurs in clean energy

In a state where 25% of women had maximum 10 years of schooling and 40% are illiterate, SSP has made strides to bring the women from margins to mainstream by leveraging on its expertise of building ecosystems of women led rural enterprise. SSP has empowered and transformed lives of marginalized rural women across Nalanda and Gaya districts of Bihar as economic engagers and entrepreneurs for clean energy products.

Women’s ability to network and to know the best consumer product for their family and create awareness through their networks positions them as the best people to do microbusiness. Women excel as last mile agents in marketing of consumer products since in-between their household chores they do not mind sparing 4-5 hours to travel to nearby villages to earn money.

In recent years, the rural energy landscape has changed, and electricity is made available through most part. Hence the need is to introduce other village consumer products for health, hygiene, and climate adaptive solutions so that Sakhi business continues and flourishes.

Sakhi selection and network

A successful Sakhi businesswoman can generate net income of Rs. 4000/. Factors vary from their ability to invest initial capital money, owning of a smartphone and training on app for ordering, ability to diversify their Sakhi basket with socially responsible products and ability to network with potential consumers of those products. Generally, Sakhis are scouted among the women networks at Block level, ASHA, SHG networks, Aanganwadi centers, and local administrative units. Women with some level of literacy and having support from their families to travel to adjacent villages and owning their Kirana shops with a customer base built on a previous business are preferred as they are likely to succeed with marketing, and sales of the Sakhi products.

The Sakhis who can network, sell, and get more women Sakhis under them become Super Sakhis. 3 Super Sakhis are managed by one Block coordinator. The Super Sakhis extend hand holding to Sakhis to buy the products by credit, initially market, distribute and sell till they get confident of marketing their products.

Covid lockdown a Boon

Many lessons were learnt during covid lockdown. The Sakhis engaged in covid relief work received social recognition when they worked hand in hand with frontline workers. Use of digital technology as an effective means to save time and effort to travel was recognized and the digital app Gaavkhoj was launched. Meetings and trainings were held online through smartphone. Using the app, the Sakhis could continue their business while identifying the needs of village folk. Those Sakhis who own smartphones could order products, with further handholding could market, distribute and sell on the online platform. Using Gaavkhoj, some 10,000 unique products as diverse as solar lamp to tarpolain, were distributed to 6,188 consumers and an income of Rs.2,00000 generated during the Covid crisis.

Impact

As an impact of the microbusiness, Sakhis now have an additional income and digital inclusion to expand their business. For the business partners and collaborators of SSP, creating awareness and making the product reach out to rural consumers in far- flung places are the major impacts. A door-to-door marketing by the Sakhis with a range of products in their baskets means everyone in the family is happy to get something of utility at their doorstep without having to travel, with the product’s service, maintenance, and warranty.

Demand mapping across sectors like health, nutrition, WASH, agriculture, education, and getting the right private sector partners to collaborate with the possibility of taking up government loan schemes to set up a shop for them can further scale up the SSP program and bring more women under the Sakhi business.

***

 I am returning to my blog site after a long time. My last post was seven months earlier when it was early days of lockdown in the US and other countries. It has been a status quo; the situation continued at pretty much the same pace except that now we see hope of welcoming the new year with a smile and a sense of victory over corona with the discovery of vaccines. This being the last day of the year 2020, it is only fitting that I write a closing post of this year.
This year is marked as a Covid 19 year. There is perhaps none in the world who would call it anything other than that. In the fight against corona the world was united like no other time. Covid 19 touched and impacted almost everyone’s life in every different way. We all will have our own stories to tell in the coming years as to how and in what all ways this year changed our lives.
This year forced us to look at life with a fresh perspective. It allowed us to self-reflect, rediscover, and reinvent ourselves, to appreciate small pleasures of life, cherish the time spent with friends and kin. There was a silver lining to many as they learnt new ways of living and working. Working from home people learnt to accommodate their time and space with their family members. Many even recorded how their habits of shopping changed for the better or worse or how they learnt to cut down their festival expenses.
For many people around the world, it was a year of loss, loss of jobs and earning, loss of lives of near and dear ones. As much the way simple pleasures of life became precious, meaning of death too changed. In the pandemic deaths being recorded every day, their loss for near and dear ones was just another number added to the overall count. There were also cases of unclaimed bodies lying in the hospitals’ corners. Those dying dignified non-corona deaths could also not get a proper send off with rituals and ceremonies owing to social distancing and other restrictions.
Covid 19 changed things for me too in some very unexpected ways. I can mark 2020 as the year I discovered my talent in new genres of writing. Most importantly I finished the fiction novel, a medical thriller that I had been writing since many years. But what made it more special was I finished writing on the same desk I had begun it years ago in my home in Singapore. This is how Covid 19 change the course of our journey back home to India.
Three years after relocating to India from Singapore we found ourselves back in the city and our residence which was our home for twenty long years. The year demonstrated to us what it means to be citizens or permanent residents of a country, especially so when the world is hit by a pandemic. It showed what it is like to have a choice of having a home, with all the features of safety and security, in a country which is not necessarily of your birth. It made us rediscover and reinforce the fact that a passport or a PR stamp mean much more than just papers in situations like this. Well, the whole matter deserves a separate post.
For now, Bye 2020 and Welcome the New Year 2021

Book Review of The Indian Clerk

My tribute to the great mathematician S. Ramanujan on his birthday, 22 Dec, National Mathematics day in India .
The Indian clerk by David Levitt is a novel (published in 2008), based on life of S.Ramanujan the renowned Indian mathematician. The tome is a highly engrossing narrative of lyrical prose that alternates between frames of imaginative lectures by GH Hardy, himself a brilliant English mathematician of the last century, and a third person fictional drama based on true events in England in the backdrop of World War-1.

The novel begins with an innocuous letter from an uneducated Indian clerk that Hardy received in early 1913.  His first reaction was to ignore and possibly let it burn in a fire this one in many such letters that came his way but had a change of heart on closer examination of the scribblings on stained pages of the letter.  The originality of the mathematical works on the pages that appeared to hold promise of solving some of the most unsolved mathematical problems of all times, set him on a path that led to coaxing the English authorities to bring the Indian to Cambridge,  become his close associate, mentor and collaborator of the most brilliant mathematical works of the time.

Once, as an answer to the question, as to what he would consider his best contribution to the field of Mathematics, GH Hardy famously quoted Ramanujan’s discovery as his best work.

The remarkable research that spans four years of Ramanujan’s stay in London at Trinity College Cambridge also dwells on lives of people around Hardy in Trinity College Campus, their gay relationships, Hardy’s own private life and his sister’s, and that of his close work associate -Littlewood, and working of a secret society that they all belonged to during the War. Also featured in the book are other famous personalities of the time including Bertrand Russell and D.H.Lawrence. As a first- time reader of Ramanujan’s life story, eager to know more about life details of the math genius, his inspiration and perspiration for math, I felt little disappointed with the narrative often veering off from the main subject of the book. However, I do see now, the author’s objective in bringing out these details. For a reader the explicit detail helps to put in perspective the life of the young Indian, belonging to an orthodox Hindu family, married and vegetarian in a foreign land.  

While trying to get his ideas through and a recognition for himself in the English territory where racial discrimination wasn’t an unknown word, there was an undercurrent of softer, human side of the society which helped Ramanujan overcome his adjustment problems be it food, etiquette or weather. Other than Indian community comprising of students and professionals, there was an astonishing amount of affection for him displayed by Alice Neville wife of Eric Neville, and other English colleagues and womenfolk who went to the extent of even learning south Indian vegetarian cooking to make him comfortable.  

The two years though were tough living away from his young wife in India, but it was time well spent in Cambridge under Hardy who drilled in him the importance of having proofs for any hypothesis; it resulted in publication of papers, in collaboration, in leading mathematics journals. The highly composite numbers, partition formulae, mock theta functions and many others were his ground-breaking work which continues to baffle and inspire mathematicians for further work even today.

Life took an unexpected turn when Ramanujan developed a chronic dull pain in his stomach which was first diagnosed as cancer and later rejected and understood as TB which made him leave Cambridge and  spend nearly a year in Sanatorium and a private hospital and his work on Reimann hypothesis remains unfinished.

Reading the book my heart filled with pride for this brilliant mathematician who brought so many laurels for himself and for his country and has evinced interest among the western writers to research on his life story but  finished the book in tears as the life of a rare genius was cut short, at the the very young age of 32, by cruel game of destiny. 

I highly recommend the book to know about the legendary math genius. One must also watch  ‘The man who knew infinity’ to know his life story,

Vegan Dairy Entrepreneurship in India

After becoming hugely popular in the west, Veganism has caught up in India and steadily growing by day. Thanks to the vegan movement and the entrepreneurs who are staunch believers in Veganism Vegan products have made big entry into the Indian consumer market. Vegan businesses now deal with non-leather, non-silk and every other product which was not derived from animals directly or indirectly.

Among the vegan entrepreneurs that have set up shops in the Indian consumer space and are slated to make impact are those dealing primarily with dairy products. Driven by the response to vegan movement and discovering a huge market potential for vegan dairy products, young entrepreneurs have ventured into plant based dairy products in a big way. 22 year old Abhay Rangan is one such entrepreneur from Bangalore city who along with his mother started out Veganarke, a home- based venture to supply plant-based Milk, Curd, Butter to their neighbours and friends and which has now turned into a start-up Goodmylk with distribution centres in four major cities across India.

What is Veganism

Unlike in the western countries where consumer’s diet largely comprises of meat and other products from animals and sea creatures other than dairy products, a majority Indian population since times immemorial has been dependent upon milk for its nutritional needs of calcium, vitamins and proteins. Cow and cow’s milk have been quintessential part of our culture. Who would hesitate a reverential bow to the name Kamdhenu a perennial milk giver, or deny having heard stories of Lord Krishna as a child stealing butter from clay-pots?  Cow’s milk has been considered essential for growing children, to strengthen their bones, and build their stamina for future. Remember the movie Bhag Milka Bhag where the need for milk to strengthen the ace -runner’s stamina was so well portrayed? 

Here is the crux of the matter- a question to ponder about. Why now the need to go for plant- based milk and its derivatives to replace something that was so much part of Indian Culture and dietary requirement.

Among many reasons, apparently the primary reason is the scepticism about the quality of bovine’s milk attributed to the growing awareness of the cruelty and exploitation of milk yielding animals and the increasing number of activists fighting to stop the cruelty. Milk industry related environmental concerns is also a major factor for many to advocate alternative dairy products.

Bovine Milk production in India

Since independence in 1947, Indian milk production has grown from producing 17 million tons of milk in 1951 to producing 176.4 million tonnes in 2017- 18 recording a growth of 6.65 %. India ranks first among the world’s milk producing nations since 1998 and has the largest bovine population in the World. This transformation is attributed to the advent of dairy cooperatives in the 70s also known as White Revolution.

The per capita availability of milk in the country which was 130 gram per day during 1950-51 has increased to 374 gram per day in 2017-18 as against the world estimated average consumption of 294 grams per day in that year.

Dairying – an important source of rural income

For millions of rural families, dairying has provided employment and income generating opportunities particularly for marginal, landless labours and women farmers. For more than one-fifth of agricultural households with very small parcels of land (less than 0.01 hectare) and an average farm size of between 1-3 cows per farm, the milk production is on an average about 1,000 Kg/cow/year.

Of the total milk production in the country, about 48% milk is either consumed at the producer level or sold to non-producers in the rural area. The balance 52 % of the milk is marketable surplus available for sale to consumers in urban areas, 40% of which is estimated as handled by the organized sector (i.e. 20% each by C-operative & Private Dairies) and the remaining 60 % by the unorganized sector.

Up to March 2018, National Dairy Development, government of India brought about 16.6 million farmers under the ambit of about 1,85,903 village level Dairy Cooperative Societies (DCS), with procurement of daily average of milk about 475.6 Lakh Kg per day (LKgPD) during 2017-18 and the sale of the liquid milk  to 349.6 Lakh Liter per day (LLPD).

FIGURE 1: INDIAN MILK SUPPLY CHAIN

Source: DeLaval India (Milkproduction.Com/Library/Editorial-articles/Milk quality in India

TABLE 2: CONSUMPTION PATTERN

Source: DeLaval India (Milkproduction.Com/Library/Editorial-articles/Milk quality in India

 Risks and Challenges

The milk industry has thus proved an important driver of rural economy, economically empowering women farmers and encouraging them to assume leadership roles through the cooperatives. Transformation of the country to self-sufficiency and sustained growth in the availability of milk and milk products and its nutritional values to the growing population has been due to concerted efforts of government and the private sector with encouragement for use of high yielding cross breeds and optimal use of technology for processing of milk products.

Low pricing: Despite being the one of the largest milk- producing countries in the world, however, India accounts for a negligible share in the worldwide dairy trade. Since the pricing of milk is based on the fat content, buffalo milk offers higher profit margins as compared to cow milk as it contains higher fat.

NUMBER 3: GLOBAL MILK PRICE (FARM GATE) NOVEMBER 2013 – IN EURO

Source: DeLaval India (Milkproduction.Com/Library/Editorial-articles/Milk quality in India

Driven by the desire for better returns and due to lack of proper education and training and despite government measures in place, unfortunately, a section of cow farmers have been resorting to unethical practices for higher milk yields. Indiscriminate injection of Oxytocin in the bovine’s blood to enhance its milk yield, antibiotics injections as treatment for Metastasis a common problem in cow udders due to poor sanitary conditions of the cow sheds, and the fear and scepticism about these undesirable chemicals getting into consumers’ blood through the cow’s milk stream are the major reason for the activists to raise voice against it. Besides, every male calf of cross breed, after being born and considered worthless, ending up in a slaughterhouse are the reasons for their revolt.

Poor maintenance of records:  A recent Livestock census reveals that records of some 88 million In-Milk animals showing important information of those in breeding stage, their productivity, treatment and vaccination are unavailable on an annual basis attributed to lack of system for recording, with no proper animal identification and traceability with their sanitary and phyto- sanitary conditions.

Environmental challenges: Deforestation; soil erosion; overgrazing; desertification; air pollution from industrial effluents and vehicle emissions; water pollution from raw sewage and runoff of agricultural pesticides; the tap water not being potable throughout the country and the ever-growing population is overstraining natural resources.

***

Notwithstanding the challenges, the changing lifestyles due to rapid urbanization accompanied by changing milk consumption pattern are putting further pressure on the need for milk and milk- based value-added products. Hence, the need of providing ample feed to the bovine in the past too has shifted, in recent years, to providing optimal nutrients to promote reproductive health matching to genetic profile of the bovine.

Action Plan:  It is heartening that the recent national dairy development policy has encompassed vast areas of action, under which the focus is on increasing the number of few select indigenous breeds of the 43 indigenous cattle breeds and 13 Buffalo breeds which are known to be of better adaptability, disease-resistance and feed efficiency ratio. By enhancing the average productivity of milk of select breeds like Gir, with use of cutting- edge technologies as below it is hoped to bring long- term sustainable solutions.

  • Making easy availability of exotic germplasms for high-yielding cross breed, along with its identification and traceability, connecting breeders, State agencies and stake holders, through the e-market portal “E- PashuHaat”.
  • Setting up of Artificial insemination centres at different levels of rural areas and help with tools and techniques made easily available to farmers. 
Text Box: 1.What was the inspiration to start Goodmylk?
I was a born vegetarian, became a vegan at 13. My parents and sister are vegans. I was an activist and as a teenager I was fighting against cruelty towards animals along with society for animal protection.
2. How does veganism help environment?
To give one litre of cow milk, about 1200 litres of water is used, forests are denuded to make way for grazing land and providing fodder. By way of veganism we are using much less resources. That said there can be no business where you don’t leave carbon footprint.
3. what is your view about latest practices in dairy industry? Isn’t the new breed of dairy entrepreneurs taking care of cows and its exploitation?
Extracting milk in any form or method from cows is like going against nature and harming a living being. It is against our values and I have subscribed to the value of ahimsa(non-violence).
4. Do you think plant based vegan milk can be a hundred percent substitute to cow’s milk in terms of its nutritional value? How do you ensure quality of raw materials for Goodmylk?
Our Plant based Goodmylk is highly nutritious with all important proteins required for sustenance and growth. There are many supplements available or other foods for any missing nutrition. I wish I could vet every batch of raw materials, but I do ensure control over the quality of the ingredients.
5. Please tell about your journey as an entrepreneur?
Doing business and setting up a successful business is never easy. I had my ups and downs in the field where there are already many players. The main challenge was to navigate the entire spectrum of technology, vendor management, warehouse management, logistics, getting cool investors who believed in me and my vision. It was how I retrofitted my vision into the vegan space by finding the right market with the right products and the right partners who already had the manufacturing know how.
6.  Any expansion plans? Where do you see yourself in the next 2-3 years? 
I want to expand the distribution of Goodmylk as widely as possible and sell Goodmylk dairy products in every part of India. It should be seen and sold from every shop, from every shelf, from where the dairy milk is being sold. If I’m making our world little more loving and human, I’m happy.
  • Development and standardization of technologies like sexing of semen, for indigenous breeds like Sahiwal, Hariana, Red Sindhi, Rathi and Gir to produce greater number of high genetic merit females keeping in mind profitability of dairy farming.

1.What was the inspiration to start Goodmylk?

I was a born vegetarian, became a vegan at 13. My parents and sister are vegans. I was an activist and as a teenager I was fighting against cruelty towards animals along with society for animal protection.

2. How does veganism help environment?

To give one litre of cow milk, about 1200 litres of water is used, forests are denuded to make way for grazing land and providing fodder. By way of veganism we are using much less resources. That said there can be no business where you don’t leave carbon footprint.

3. what is your view about latest practices in dairy industry? Isn’t the new breed of dairy entrepreneurs taking care of cows and its exploitation?

Extracting milk in any form or method from cows is like going against nature and harming a living being. It is against our values and I have subscribed to the value of ahimsa(non-violence).

4. Do you think plant based vegan milk can be a hundred percent substitute to cow’s milk in terms of its nutritional value? How do you ensure quality of raw materials for Goodmylk?

Our Plant based Goodmylk is highly nutritious with all important proteins required for sustenance and growth. There are many supplements available or other foods for any missing nutrition. I wish I could vet every batch of raw materials, but I do ensure control over the quality of the ingredients.

5. Please tell about your journey as an entrepreneur?

Doing business and setting up a successful business is never easy. I had my ups and downs in the field where there are already many players. The main challenge was to navigate the entire spectrum of technology, vendor management, warehouse management, logistics, getting cool investors who believed in me and my vision. It was how I retrofitted my vision into the vegan space by finding the right market with the right products and the right partners who already had the manufacturing know how.

6.  Any expansion plans? Where do you see yourself in the next 2-3 years?

I want to expand the distribution of Goodmylk as widely as possible and sell Goodmylk dairy products in every part of India. It should be seen and sold from every shop, from every shelf, from where the dairy milk is being sold. If I’m making our world little more loving and human, I’m happy.

       Interview with Abhay Rangan

Acknowledgements

1. Inputs from Dr. JS Ashwath kumar, Chief Veterinary officer, Department of Animal husbandry and Veterinary Sciences, Government of Karnataka

2. National Action Plan for Dairy Development-vision2022, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers welfare, Government of India, January 2018

Recipe: Pineapple gojju Pasta delight

I am happy to share this fusion recipe which won me a commendation prize by Master Chef India 2015 winner Nikita Gandhi in a cookery contest 2016 in Singapore

Pineapple Gojju Pasta delight

Ingredients

For the pineapple gojju                                                         For the pasta

Pineapple …….500gms (cut into pieces)                             200gms Penne pasta

For gojju powder

Mustard(rai) seeds……  1 tspn                                               4 lemon grass stalks

Fenugreek(methi) seeds……. 1 tspn                                      4 tblspn coconut milk

Cumin(jeera) seeds………….   1 tspn                                       4 spring onions

Sesame (til) seeds…………….. 1  tspn                                      few curry leaves

Urad lentil ………………………….. 3 tsps                                     olive oil  2 tspn

Chana lentil ………………………….1 ½ tspns                              salt to taste

Dried red chillies…………………..2

Turmeric………………………………. 1tspn

Tamarind …………………………….. 1 lemon sized lump

Coconut grated ………………….. ¼ coconut

Coconut milk ………………………. 2 tblspn

Jaggery           ……………………….. one cube

Groundnut Oil ………………….…. 2 tblspn

Curry leaves ………………………….10

Side ingredients for garnishing and as accompaniments for serving

  1.  Deep fried peanuts, 2. Spring onion leafy stalks finely cut 3. Pineapple pieces

Method of preparation

Pineapple gojju

Roast all the ingredients for gojju in medium heat till red. Mix tamarind and grated coconut and grind all these in a mixer into a fine powder.

Chop the washed pineapple pieces into small fine pieces. Heat the oil in a thick bottom pan, add ½ tspn of mustard seeds and let them crackle. Add pineapple pieces and sauté for two minutes. Add curry leaves and salt. Add 2 cups of water. Let it cook in medium heat till pineapple pieces become soft. Mix the ground masala to the cooked pineapple. Add salt and crushed jaggery cube. Let the gojju cook in medium flame.  Add coconut milk and give it one or two more boils before switching off the flame.

Pasta

Keep two litres of water to boil. Add salt and oil. Crush the lemon grass stalks and add to the boiling water. Add pasta. Let it boil till pasta softens. Discard the lemon grass and rinse the pasta in cold water. Now heat oil in a skillet and add chopped spring onions. Add dried chilly flakes and curry leaves. Add pasta and coconut milk. Cover the pan for two minutes.

 Serve the pasta with pineapple gojju , deep fried peanuts and chopped green spring onions.

My experiences of being an author

Republished from authorlata@instagram published on 6th June 19.

The journey to becoming an author starts with becoming first a reader, then a writer and finally an author. When I decided to take up writing as a second career, becoming an author appeared a distant dream. I had always been an avid reader but honing the craft of creative writing entailed skills such as good grasp over English language through vocabulary, expression, voice, writing process, writers’ block and other related terms that I was totally unfamiliar with. Coming from science and engineering research background I would often be plagued with self-doubts about my competence level in the new career that I was stepping into. My research attribute held me in good stead and the writers’ school I enrolled into introduced me to the world of writing and trained me slowly and steadily in improving my craft.

My first success came when my travel article was published in a Singapore magazine for Indians. I couldn’t believe my eyes when next I saw my readers’ letter published in a Newsweek magazine. My discipline and perseverance were paying off and my articles were being accepted and published by the Singapore magazine. I had become a published writer and my confidence level was soaring; however, having set my goal to achieve something bigger and having already started work on a non-fiction book and another on fictional stories, I wanted to focus on completing them and getting them published. 
Writing books was altogether a different ballgame. The journey was indeed trodden with few highs and many lows with their respective pleasures and pains. Writing a book itself was a big challenge and finding a publisher a much bigger one. The yearly Singapore’s writers’ festivals and frequent meet the author sessions gave the opportunity to listen to some of the world’s best including celebrated Indian authors, and their writing journeys. It was though an assurance that I wasn’t alone in the treacherous path, “I am not there yet” was a mantra that seemed I had to adapt for life.

There is no gain without pain. Going on the rough road, nevertheless, today I feel happy to see my books on online bookstores like Amazon, Goodreads, and read some excellent reviews by readers. Writing is a profession that is not limited by time, space or geographical location but only by our mind’s imagination and of course will power. While in my home or on a move, in a hotel room, or an airport, anywhere in the world, on an urge I have felt free to open my PC and write even if a few sentences. It was a surreal moment when an excerpt from my book ‘Autumn Showers”, a story revolving around my ancestral village in South India I read was heard in rapt attention by writers gathered in northern tip of Iceland for a writers’ retreat. That my ideas and message could resonate with people across the world could only be the magic of writing.

I know I am not there yet, still awaiting the day of being widely recognized as an author. At the same time, we writers and authors would agree that there is never an end to our journey. There is no day when I wouldn’t be thinking of a new idea or a writing process or on something that I am stuck in what I am currently writing. In this crazy human world, a writer’s mind is sure to buzz with ideas and build a world of her own. The ability to put in perspective of the things I see and understand with a heart and mind to empathize with those around me, is for me my precious gift from becoming a writer. In other words, continuous learning and rediscovering myself, a work that I could be doing till my last breath.

Good bye to an internet powered simple life

It is the last week of our stay in Hyderabad and marks the end of nearly twelve months of our minimalistic, easy camp sort of life in the city. As I go around the house to finger count the number of items to be packed including a few kitchen utensils, books and couple of foldable things that made our only possessions here, I tend to neglect the small unassuming Bose Revolve SoundLink Speaker and the Echo Dot with Alexa sitting in an obscured corner. Taking a step back and reflecting on the days spent here, I realize my blunder. I was overlooking the fact that these lightweight, small size devices were the ones that had brought significant change to our prosaic life in a house of mostly empty spaces and near-zero assets.

Fifteen months ago, when we were packing and winding up in Singapore, my heart cringed the most at the sight of my beloved Sony DVD Home Theatre System getting dismantled and Sony Smart TV being disassembled to be packed and shipped to India. The idea of temporary dysconnectivity to the digital world of entertainment was painful.  After relocation to the city of Bengaluru and reassembling of the devices, our lives were, though, restored to normal where Airtel company gave us Broadband connectivity to run our Smart TV, computers, mobile and landline phones, very soon, life took a turn towards dysconnectivity yet again, by a move to the city of Hyderabad. We found ourselves temporarily thrown again into a lifestyle of previous century with minimum possessions and no fancy gadgets for our daily entertainment. To live in a rental villa with minimum furniture and large open spaces was indeed a frightening thought.

So, the only hope of connectivity to the digital world of music and TV being the Internet, we lost no time in subscribing to ACT Fibernet with 50Mbps Internet speed. Bit by bit our digital world of entertainment returned to us with live streaming of our favourite internet radio stations on our Smartphone, and TV serials and news channels on our humble Personal computer, enhanced considerably, very soon, by equally humble looking devices.

Indeed, it is a marvel how the internet and the Smart devices that seamlessly connect to internet and to each other can change our lives and our lifestyles. Internet connected to Echo Dot with Alexa voice recognition service gives an unlimited range of music and a Le-Bose revolve sound-link speaker that seamlessly connects through Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, gives an enhanced Surround quality sound from voices playing on PC or Mobile phones. The best part is the ease of carrying these light weight handheld devices to any place or space of our desire. We can enjoy movies on Netflix in our first-floor room where sitting in front of our PC screen, we can control the room’s ambient light – the colour and amount of lighting of Wipro Smart LED, right from the soft touch button of our mobile. Echo Dot Alexa is a delightful companion during our tea/coffee, book reading or short- nap sessions on holidays, which at the smallest instruction plays our choice of music, makes calls to any place we desire, tells us the weather conditions, traffic and any useful information that we want to know.

The ease and flexibility that these lightweight digital devices have given, to enliven our empty living spaces is a big gain over the small compromise on picture resolution and sound quality and occasional dropping of internet streaming, as compared to that on robust large fixed devices.  I eagerly look forward to going back to a 4K, high- quality picture on a 55’ screen and Dolby sound quality music in my Bengaluru home, however, I am also pretty sure I will miss the digital entertainment world that the small devices created and brightened the otherwise open and banal vacant spaces of our Hyderabad home.