Tang Goucal on the Global Value Chain

“Asia should take its traditional position as thought leader of the world” – Dr. Rajiv Kumar, Vice-Chairman, NITI Aayog

Asia and the Emerging International Trading System or perhaps Asia AS the Emerging International Trading System, with more than 1/3 of the world’s population and more than 50% stakeholders in the global value chain, our (Asia’s) positioning in a post-colonial narrative has seen the global flexing of muscles with the US-China trade war causing flurried dialogues of geo-economic influences. Dutch Ambassador to India, Nepal and Bhutan, Martin Van Den Berg avers that “nationalist trade interests have turned to protectionism” and “negotiations are no longer about trade concerns but power politics.” According to Valentina Romei and John Reed who examined purchasing power parity (PPP) adjusted GDP data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), “Asian economies, as defined by the UN trade and development body UNCTAD, will be larger than the rest of the world combined in 2020.” While External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar asserts, “Trade and other forms of economic growth are critical elements of creating more effective multipolarity”, Consul General of the People’s Republic of China, Tang Guocai suggests that “the spirit of global village comes before the global value chain.”

Even as the rising fear of Coronavirus has caused stock markets to dip and affected the free movement of persons, sovereign powers entangled in an increasingly interdependent financial network cannot ignore Asia’s presence as a growing skilled workforce and a mammoth market. For Pearl Group CFO, Sanjay Gandhi, the question is “how do you bring the continuation of business?” Dr. S Jaishankar suggests that, “Competing against those with structural advantages cannot be a casual decision justified by political correctness. There is interest in the world to create additional drivers of growth while ensuring a global strategic balance.”

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Held at the J.W. Marriot Hotel in Pune between 28th February to 1st March 2020, the three-day inaugural session organized by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Pune International Centre (PIC) considered the push-pull of the periphery towards the centre as represented by existing flaws in the international trading system and its multinational bureaucracy of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the World Bank, and the United Nations. Former Asst. Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, Lakshmi Puri asserts it is imperative to “change the unequal exchange as represented by the centre-periphery model of trade” for an “equitable multilateral system”

 

Aaditya Thackeray
Aaditya Thackeray

 

Featuring speakers ranging from government officials from India, Maldives, and Sri Lanka; industry leaders, international dignitaries, and diplomatic experts, the geo-economic conference offered a mélange of perspectives. While the Indian central government was ably represented by Dr. Hardeep Singh Puri (NITI Aayog), Dr. R.S. Sharma (Chairman, TRAI), Dr. Bibek Debroy (Chairman, Prime Minister Economic Advisory Council); Prof. Samir Brahmachari, founder Director of CSIR- Institute of Genomics & Integrative Biology, provided the representative frontier of scientific innovation in India. Aaditya Thackeray, Minister for Tourism, Environment & Protocol, Govt. of Maharashtra, exemplified the next generation of politicians already at the helm of state affairs. International dignitaries included the Amb. Zhang Xiangchen (Chinese Ambassador to WTO) and ministers from Maldives (Uz. Fayyaz Usmail) and Sri Lanka (Shehan Semasinghe).

As talks veered towards WTO reforms, Dr. Harsha Vardhana Singh, former Deputy Director-General at World Trade Organization, stated, “Given the fact that the US is unwilling to move ahead with the solutions suggested by the panel led by David Walker, plurilateral consensus is essential.” Even as the multi-faceted economic perspectives of developing countries (DCs) work towards gaining a strategic balance between nationalist trade interests and regional cooperation, technological innovations are breaking barriers to trade and sovereign borders. According to Dr. Kishore Mahbubani, Founding Dean of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Relations and Singapore’s former permanent representative to the United Nations, “Balkans of Asia have succeeded due to the open regionalism approach such as ASEAN”. Dr. Mahbubani also suggested that the balancing factors in geopolitical dynamics will be cultural confidence, the historical legacy of Indians succeeding and very strong domestic government.

 

Prof. Samir Brahmachari
Prof. Samir Brahmachari

 

While the Indian polity has restored its electoral faith in the Narendra Modi government, former Lead Economist, World Bank, Dr. Jayanta Roy contended that “India has been a hesitant globalizer” and “comprehensive trade and logistics facilitation” is essential for the country’s growth as a leader in the global value chain. Dr. Shailesh Kumar, Chief Data Scientist, Reliance Jio, who wants to “democratize AI” suggested that “We need to Olafy or Uberify these (technological) solutions” and enhance “integration between producers of technology and the farmer or patient.”

 

Amb. Gautam Bambawale, Hon. Hardeep Singh Puri, Aaditya Thackeray, Bhavish Aggarwal with Dr. Vijay Kelkar and Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar of Pune International Centre
Amb. Gautam Bambawale, Hon. Hardeep Singh Puri, Aaditya Thackeray, Bhavish Aggarwal with Dr. Vijay Kelkar and Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar of Pune International Centre

As the world battles with the ramifications of Coronavirus and its implications on the global value chain, the Asia Economic Dialogue has just begun towards a multilateral system that considers geo-specific factors in trade negotiations including differential treatment for least developed countries, fair international arbitration processes and dispute settlements, and the considered accountability of the expansive digital economy. Dr. Rajiv Kumar, Vice-Chairman, NITI Aayog, is certain that “Asia should take its traditional position as thought leader of the world… and it is unarguable that Asia’s economic status should reverse to before colonial times. The question is if the global economy is ready for it?”

 

Image Source: Pune International Centre

mumbai-urban-transport-project

Urban India’s Public Transport is Yet To Arrive!

Consider the state of public transport in your city – How accessible is the network of public buses or trains…How cost-effective in terms of your intended destination? If you live in an Indian metropolitan city which has begun metro operations, is the situation better or has it become worse? Then consider India’s financial centre, Mumbai, with a population of 13.9 million and a governmental budget sufficient for an additional INR 36 billion for the construction of the Shivaji Memorial in Arabian Sea. Compare to Tokyo, Japan’s financial powerhouse, with a population of 12 million residents. Despite recent upgradation of Mumbai’s BEST buses, the stark contrast of public transport systems in both cities is testimony to poor planning in urban development, rather than access to resources. While Mumbai has the second highest migrant influx per year after Hyderabad, India’s annual rate of urbanization of 2.37% has burdened the public infrastructure in nearly 500 cities comprising more than 70% of the India’s urban population.

 

Although capacity building has become a developmental norm since decades, instead of adequate development that envisions future needs, governmental projects for urban transportation have been playing catch up. Despite initiatives for city-specific Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority(UMTA) and the Sustainable Urban Transport Project (SUTP) including capacity building projects being implemented under various schemes such as Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and Atal Mission for Rejuvenation & Urban Transformation (AMRUT), India’s public transport system (Fig. 1) remains fragmented and lacking in meeting the requisite demand. 

Fig. 2: Mode Share in Various Indian Cities (2013) Source: Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs
Fig. 2: Mode Share in Various Indian Cities (2013) Source: Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs

 

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Rupa Nandy, Regional Head, UITP India (International Association of Public Transport)

According to Rupa Nandy, Regional Head, UITP India (International Association of Public Transport), the biggest challenge is that “there are no adequate public transportation systems that exist in India.” Combined with multiple authorities instead of a centralised authority, “seamless journey experience to the user” has been difficult to achieve. Although Kolkata (57%), Hyderabad (49%), and Mumbai (44%) utilize public transport than any other mode of transport, public transportation facilities in major Indian metropolitan cities are inadequate on varying parameters such as availability, frequency, capacity and fleet condition. Compare India’s population of nearly 1.37 billion to Singapore’s 5.70 million. Perhaps the hybrid challenges of developing urban transport can be addressed with best practices from Singapore’s development planning which has resulted in nearly 80 per cent of trips (4.24 million) in the country performed on Public Transport comprising of bus, MRT, LRT, Taxis.

 

To mitigate the burden of urbanization on infrastructure, the central and state governments have initiated multiple initiatives such as developing metro rail systems (Fig. 2) and technological integration through data sharing such as General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). However, inadequate support from the public transportation available in many urban agglomerations in India has resulted in the expansion of private vehicle ownership and shared mobility services, which has caused traffic congestions across multiple cities. According to NITI Aayog’s Transforming India’s Mobility Report, “Citizens spend almost 1.3-1.6x additional time in peak traffic for our top four metros, compared to 0.6x for Singapore and Hong Kong.” 

 

Metro Rail in India (February 2019) - Operational (642 KM) and Under Construction (691 KM) | Source: Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and Maps of India
Fig. 2: Metro Rail in India (February 2019) – Operational (642 KM) and Under Construction (691 KM) Source: Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and Maps of India

 

Adoption of technological solutions have been similarly fragmented. While Kochi was the first city to integrate GTFS data with the Chalo app for commuters, Delhi is rapidly integrating its public transportation system through initiatives such as the Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System, mobile applications such as PoochhO and the Common Mobility Card (ONE). NITI Aayog’s Transforming India’s Mobility Report suggests that economic loss of congestion has been estimated “at over USD 22 billion annually for India’s top four metros.” In addition, challenges in India’s urban transport development include safety issues such as adequate installation of CCTV cameras, and enhancing accessibility for persons with disabilities through the Accessible India campaign. 

 

Despite multifarious transport development schemes being implemented, including the Pradhan Mantri Jal Marg Yojana (PMJMY)’s mission envisages creation of 110 new waterways across the country, the diversity of India’s urban agglomerations present hybrid challenges for transit-oriented urban planning. Even as Nirmala Sitharaman recently announced a INR 102 lakh crore national infrastructure pipeline, the Indian Government has already begun multi-administrative integration, beginning with Indian Railways’ restructuring through the Indian Railway Management Service (IRMS). While effective utilisation of technological solutions can enhance seamless integration in multi-modal connectivity, customising city mobility plans for mode appropriateness are essential to developing the transport infrastructure and ensure productive deployment of resources. Even as public transport agencies in various small towns and metropolitan cities of India compete with ride-sharing services such as Uber and Ola expanding across the country, the hybrid challenges of developing urban India’s existing public transport systems will require faster adoption of technological solutions and strengthening integrations between multiple operators and agencies around the country.

 

Cover Image Source: World Bank

GadgetWise – Smartphone Apps That Will Make You Smarter in 2020!

5 million apps! That’s how many options are available in the leading app stores worldwide in 2019. With Google Play Store and App Store listing more than 2 million apps, the consumer is not only spoiled for choice but uncertainty as well. As you wade through the multitude of choices in this digital maze, worrying about having enough space on your memory card (or maybe not), the criticism of ‘too much time spent on the phone” might not consider the positive aspects that smartphones provide in terms of productivity and personal well-being.

From educational apps to productivity enhancers, from apps which track your health or exercise/diet to options for daily motivational quotes or regular happiness assessments; the multi-million dollar apps industry provides customisation that might come at a premium but is often available for free. If you’re looking for the best, these are the most popular apps among those downloaded:

 

Educational Apps

Dragonbox Algebra
Dragonbox Algebra

For students grappling with grueling school schedules which are increasingly competitive, mobile apps can provide an edge in academic preparation. While content libraries such as Epic and Khan Academy offer a range of educational material including audio-books and videos, games like Dragonbox Algebra 5+ and 12+ ensure math-haters have a fun way to learn the dreaded subject. 300 million language enthusiasts love Duolingo for its Candy-Crush approach to learning nearly 35 languages.

 

 

 

Wolfram Alpha
Wolfram Alpha

Available schedulers include iStudiez Pro and myHomework Student Planner, and knowledge wizards such as Socratic and Wolfram Alpha provide problem-solving ranging from a simple history factoid to bewildering questions in categories such as mathematics, science and technology as well as society and culture. Last-minute exam preparation is easy with Quizlet which allows you to create flashcards for note-taking or speed-testing your memory along with the option of downloading from among 335,784,000 existing study sets. Desmos Graphing Calculator is even being incorporated into school assessments and testing such as the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress by state organisations. While apps such as Tynker: Coding for Kids and SoloLearn offer free lessons in computer programming, online learning platforms such as Meritnation, Toppr, Gradeup, and Coursera have apps for mobile learning. So, even if your kid seems to be wasting time on their phone, they could just be self-starters engrossed in an educational app.

Medical/Health Apps

BlueStarHealth management has been made easier with apps like BlueStar and mySugr for patients with Diabetes, along with options to manage your medication with Dosecast and CareZone. While Medimetry, Doctor Insta, and Lybrate provide online consultation services; Portea and Zoctr assist with home healthcare services. Along with facilitating diagnostic tests, Docprime, Practo, and Credihealth also make booking appointments with doctors easier.

Even as doctor consultations anytime-anywhere is the recent healthcare trend, advances in mobile technology have ensured portable medical testing such as ultrasounds by Lumify and skin cancer screening by SkinVision. Updated information about clinical trials worldwide is also available from Guideline Central and Clinical Trials Mobile for those seeking to participate. In case of emergencies, there are apps such as VMEDO and Medulance which you can rely on for booking ambulances and finding registered blood donors near you.

Exercise/Diet Apps

In 2019, more than 800 million people use fitness apps worldwide for calorie counting, workout companions, or barcode scanning for nutritional information. As the digital fitness industry grows exponentially, verifiable data is important for diet plans to work. Among the leading weight loss apps, Lose It! offers a personalised analysis based on your daily diet log (including ‘Snap It’ for tracking portion sizes) to provide a projected date for achieving your desired weight. With curated nutritional information about ‘7 million+ foods, restaurant items and brands from around the world’ and integration with fitness wearables, Lose It! is among the most user-friendly apps.

Lose It!
Lose It!

Similar weight-loss apps include MyFitnessPal which has the additional feature of a barcode scanner and FatSecret which includes community support. While Fooducate grades food items based on scanned nutritional information, HealthyOut scans nearby restaurants for healthy options. Leading workout apps include Map My Fitness, Nike Run Club, Strava, Freeletics and Yoga Studio. On-demand workout streaming is also available from NEOU. If the motivation Diet Coach (Android/ iOS) offers isn’t enough, you can sign up for Sweatcoin (in select countries) and collect sweatcoins for outdoor walking/running. The sweatcoin is a digital currency which can be exchanged for goods from its 300+ partners.

Productivity Apps

Trello
Trello

From organisers that remind you about your schedule to integrated task automation, apps for productivity depend on personal requirements. While Evernote helps with note-taking including “meeting notes, web pages, projects, to-do lists”, IFTTT (Android, iOS) is ideal for automating tasks based on an an “If This, Then That” structure. Organising to-do lists are made easy with apps such as TickTick which includes shareable tasks, with Trello and ToDoist extending to project management features. Trello’s upgrades (Power-Ups) provide enhanced workflow integration with third-party services such as InVision, Jira, Salesforce and Slack. Of course, Dropbox remains one of the most popular integrations for online storage and sharing.

Self-Care Apps

SuperBetter
SuperBetter

According to the Institute for Health Metrics Evaluation (IHME), depressive disorders are among the top three causes for disability globally. Considering nearly 500 million people suffer from mental disorders worldwide, it is not surprising that self-care market is generating more than USD 10 billion in annual revenue. Apps to enhance well-being include gaming solutions from SuperBetter and Happify, meditative techniques from Calm and Headspace, and CBT mood trackers based on cognitive behaviour therapy such as MoodKit and Sanvello. While Breathe2Relax (Android/iOS) offers tips on diaphragmatic breathing for stress management, MindShift provides strategies for coping with anxiety. When all you need is a calming soundscape, Relax Melodies includes “100 soothing sounds and music” that can be combined for a meditative playlist. For that gentle reminder to ‘Rest, Hydrate, Fuel, Breathe, Move’, Aloe Bud is around to make sure you take care of yourself.

While the jury is still out about the accuracy of nutritional/healthcare information available on many apps, research suggests that apps which promote physical activity have been found to be generally effective. Considering consumer well-being in the digital economy extends beyond financial measures, the expanding app landscape can be harnessed to bring positive changes to your life. Whether tapping into a knowledge database or finding the fitness app that works for you, sometimes even a gentle reminder could be sufficient for self-improvement. 

List of apps mentioned in the report for your easy reference –

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E-Waste Scrapyard in China | Source: Greenpeace

The Modern Junkyard – Electronic Waste and the Right to Repair

44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste in the modern junkyard and 8 million tonnes of plastic dumped in the oceans ANNUALLY! That’s a lot of waste management each year.

Mapping out E-waste | Source: World Economic Forum

Mapping out E-waste | Source: World Economic Forum

With the global economy expected to be flush with 25- 50 billion electrical goods by 2020, it’s not surprising that policymakers worldwide are focused on waste management solutions. Considering that even solar energy’s photo-voltaic (PV) modules are likely to leave behind 90 million metric tons of waste by 2050 each year, the hazardous impact to environment and health is, as yet, not adequately discernible.

 

Woman Washing Clothes in Chinese River | Source: Greenpeace
Woman Washing Clothes in Chinese River | Source: Greenpeace

The concomitant environmental degradation is subject to measurable scrutiny, but nearly 80% of e-waste presently remains unaccounted for. Meanwhile, millions of tonnes are being shipped off to developing countries in Asia and Africa in a centre-periphery model that has existed for centuries. The Agbogbloshie dump near Ghana’s capital, Accra and Guiyu in China’s Guangdong Province are among the largest e-waste dumps in the world, with the Giuyu waste junkyard spanning 52 sq. km and more than 5000 family-run recycling workshops. In India, northern Delhi’s Seelampur is locked in a battle of noxious fumes in a city with the highest air pollution in the world.

 

Harmful Effects of e-Waste Dumping | Source: Greenpeace
Harmful Effects of e-Waste Dumping | Source: Greenpeace

Although “67 countries have enacted legislation to deal with the e-waste they generate” including India’s E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016, an increasingly developed world is characterized by new gadgets that are cheaper to purchase than repair. According to leading Right to Repair activist, Gay Gordon-Byrne, the trend is going to continue –  “Because the cost of manufacturing will drive those changes. People are competing on price at the retail level. So, you know, speaker A is a hundred dollars and speaker B is $200, and you can fix speaker B, but not A, Well, if you’re like everybody else, you could buy the cheaper one, right? Which is probably assembled with a lot more glue and a lot less mechanical fasteners, just because of the cost of manufacturing.”

 

With annual e-waste “equivalent to almost 4,500 Eiffel Towers,” the burgeoning Right to Repair movement is offering an alternative. While modern consumer culture engenders product disposability, 1,653 Repair Café groups held nearly 20000 meetings in 2018, repairing “more than 350,000 products” while preventing “around 350,000 kilograms of waste.” In India, the first Repair Café was organised in September 2015 by Purna Sarkar and Antara Mukherjee at Rangoli Metro Art Centre on MG Road, Bengaluru. According to graphic designer, Antara, “It’s a hands-on approach. Volunteers will help you with the repair, will tell you what could go wrong. Basically, get people interested… A direct way to apply your intellect.”

While the Indian Repair Café has not yet ventured into high-end electronic repair such as cameras, printers, and mobile phones, their 39 workshops have a 90% repair rate, with a landfill diversion of nearly 4300 kg. Most of the 1010 items at the Bengaluru workshops include kitchen equipment such as “mixies, grinders, hand blenders” and household items including “radios, cordless landline phones, and mosquito rackets.”

The Right to Repair Movement | Source: Great Lakes Electronic Corporation

The Right to Repair Movement | Source: Great Lakes Electronic Corporation

 

India is ranked as the 5th highest generator worldwide for its yearly e-waste of 2 million tonnes which is expected to grow at a rate of 30% annually. Despite 178 registered e-waste recyclers in India, the informal sector forms an unorganized industry within this circular economy in clusters such as Shastri park, Seelampur, Mustafabad in Delhi, and Moradabad in UP. Open burning and acid stripping are involved in e-waste recycling of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) such as PCBs (Printed Circuit Board).

 

 

As part of India’s e-waste strategy, “the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has developed indigenous technology at C-MET and Central Institute of Plastics Engineering & Technology (CIPET) for recovery of precious metals and plastics from e-waste respectively,” and implemented an awareness programme involving “more than 3 lakh participants during 600 workshops and activities.”

 

E-Waste Dismantling in Sangrampur | Source: Sean Gallagher
E-Waste Dismantling in Sangrampur | Source: Sean Gallagher

 

E-waste As a Resource | Source: Umicore
E-waste As a Resource | Source: Umicore

 

“More than 100 million computers are thrown away annually in the United States, with China discarding 160 million electronic devices a year,” according to The Energy and Resources Institute. Despite the Basel Ban Amendment for banning export of hazardous wastes becoming international law, countries that have not yet ratified the amendment include “Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, India, Brazil, Mexico, and the global leader in waste per-capita, the United States.” Simultaneously, the European Union recently passed legislation requiring manufacturers to adhere to ‘Right to Repair’ standards based on its ‘Energy efficiency first’ principle, while activists battle for similar legislation in the United States. For Gay Gordon-Byrne, “Legislation just takes a long time. That’s the number one challenge.”

 

While the Right to Repair movement gathers momentum worldwide, it is crucial that effective implementation of waste management legislation is as integrated as the global digital economy, very least, if there is to be any hope of reversing global environmental degradation and the resultant climate change tide!

 

The Perseverance of Dream Catchers

Veena Baruah
Veena Baruah

The golden years… When life has become a blurry montage of experiences, often tempered by patience in the face of obstacles and compromise in the midst of complexities, a different breed of senior citizens decides that it’s time to chase unfulfilled dreams. Veena Baruah’s retirement from her teaching job at Juhu’s Maneckji Cooper School got her thinking, “What is my unfulfilled dream, what can I do, what will give me satisfaction?” For many, retiring after decades of working years brings about a lifestyle change combined with elderly ailments. The routine likely maintained daily for decades of professional life suddenly requires re-scheduling.

Surjit Kaur
Surjit Kaur

Surjit Kaur joined Terence Lewis Dance Academy’s senior citizen classes, “I really wanted to learn dancing, you know, properly.” Among her proudest moments among various public performances is an appearance in Shah Rukh Khan’s Happy New Year promotional TV show. Since retiring, Surjit has begun participating in marathons such as Mumbai-Pune marathon, and in talent shows such as Umang.

 

 

 

Sailesh Mishra
Sailesh Mishra

The Silver Innings foundation and its annual talent festival for senior citizens, Umang, has helped many to shirk their inhibitions and perform in front of a cheering audience. Silver Innings founder Sailesh Mishra says, “Since 2008, we found many seniors who have left their careers, or lived their lives for their families, their society or nation… But they did not get a chance to explore their talents, their skills, their hobbies. That’s why we started Umang.”

Sailesh’s “social keeda” prompted him to leave behind 17 years as a corporate marketing executive and volunteer for the Dignity Foundation. As he realised the paucity of social welfare organisations “working for seniors”, Sailesh founded Silver Innings for elderly support and services. Silver Innings’ Umang, the Senior Citizens Stage Talent Show, has “people from 60 to 92 years participating.” Among participants, Navanita Parmar (78) has moved on to professional choreography for other senior citizens and children with disabilities.

 

Vaishali Joshi
Vaishali Joshi

For someone like Vaishali Joshi, dreams re-surface before retirement. A classical singer and an ex-Senior Accounts Officer with the Central Government, Vaishali, “passed Visharad in Hindustani Classical Music in 2004, when I was working only.” With retirement, personal goals emerge out of the shadows, put aside earlier for the hum-drum of monotonous work routines. Vaishali, who joined organisations such as “Senior Sobati and bhajan classes” post-retirement, found that senior citizen forums also provide the opportunity to explore hidden talents and unfulfilled interests. And the silver lining appears…Time to finally focus on personal goals and dreams, without the baggage of family or children.

 

 

 

Shibani Bagchi
Shibani Bagchi

 

For Shibani Bagchi, it means having the time to pursue her Masters in Social Welfare towards her PhD dream: “I want to work for children and women from the disadvantaged communities, and try to contribute towards bettering their lives in whichever way I can.”

Those who are not yet ready to part ways with their careers often search for job opportunities with service providers such as HUM Communities and NotRetired.in. Familial pressure, which extends to being the family’s primary care giver, often drives life choices for many, and retirement offers the perfect spark to re-ignite unfulfilled dreams. As Veena reminisced about her youthful desire to act, she was reminded that “my parents, my father especially, wouldn’t allow it.” When she finally decided to send a few photographs to a model coordinator, it took nearly 6-8 months to receive a callback, and the offers began pouring in. Of course, she hasn’t looked back since.

According to the United Nations Population Fund’s “India Ageing Report” (2017), the global elderly population will be approximately 2 billion, accounting for 20% of India’s population. While organisations such as the Dignity Foundation have been working for elderly care since the 1990s, a recent spurt of senior citizen forums include community-driven platforms like Parikrama and Silver Surfers. With the support of social welfare professionals, retirees such as Ramgopal Cancherla (69) find new avenues to spend their time. The former Head Sales & Marketing at Sanofi-Aventis, Ramgopal, has become a laughter coach.

 

Hira Mehta
Hira Mehta

Spare time in post-work years trigger unexplored hobbies. Since retirement, podcaster and former Corporate Communications manager at ICICI Bank, Hira Mehta has already authored “Twisted Tales and More…” in her 50s, made short films like The Selfless Soldier, and even pursued her acting dream in short films including The Blue Helmet.

Sailesh says, “Life doesn’t end at 60! After 60, you just get retired from your job, not your life.” Many dream catchers will agree.

Angel Child Sculpture

In The Aftermath of a Miscarriage

Miscarriage occurs in 10–25% (or more in older women) of all diagnosed pregnancies – Science Direct


When the joy of pregnancy gives way to a spontaneous abortion (miscarriage), the suddenness of the traumatic experience can cause a spiral of grief, guilt, and depression. While the psychological ramifications the mother goes through is frequently palpable, the grief often extends to their partners and respective families. According to clinical psychologist, Daanesh Umrigar, “There’s a lot of stigma attached to it… Motherhood and death… Two basic things that cause a lot of conflict for the individual. Couples also tend to keep it hush-hush.” Media professional, Rizoota Kashyap Chaubey, was heartbroken after her miscarriage, but she says, “It got me and my hubby closer, to understand life and the importance of it.” For some, the trauma of pregnancy loss can extend for months according to the
International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, with miscarriages leaving in their wake “30 – 50% of women with anxiety and 10 –15% experiencing depression.” 

 

Anupama Maurya Chugh
Anupama Maurya Chugh

With 5 miscarriages in 4 years, it has been difficult for Marketing Merchandiser, Anupama Maurya Chugh: “I have done all required investigations. Every time, I followed all advised instructions; but every time we failed. Now I’m left with lots of sorrow and pain.” Umrigar has found that, “Often, they try immediately afterward… Two things:  ‘are they biologically ready and are they psychologically ready?’ and ‘even if the child is unborn, it does not mean that the mother has not internalized the grief.'” Despite the possibility that 1 in 4 pregnancies could result in a miscarriage, policy interventions facilitating psychological support are inadequate, and Sanghamitra Acharya suggests that “the support of bereavement arising out of early deaths does not form a part of any (Indian) policy including the Health Policy of 2017.” 

 

Priyanka Kumari
Priyanka Kumari

With a woman’s identity largely structured around motherhood in India, the psychological impact of social response to a miscarriage influences the woman’s experience of grief and is often a barrier to emotional recovery. Stepping out after almost 2 months since her pregnancy loss, Composting & Gardening coach Priyanka Kumari encountered “rumours… that she is careless, she is into all forest, soil trees, insect, and weird stuff, so she didn’t take care.” Priyanka says, “Neighbours were a little empathetic, but they too gave unsolicited advice. In my experience, out of 100, only 5 % people felt my pain genuinely and didn’t judge me, didn’t make stories.” Umrigar says, “Social reaction could lead to internalization of the grief.” Those experiencing recurrent miscarriage like Anupama have it worse with the stigma of pregnancy loss exacerbated in a largely traditional society like India.

 

In case of women from less-advantaged socio-economic sections of society, a miscarriage changes power equations within the household as well. Researchers Lisa Roberts, Barbara A. Anderson, and Susanne B. Montgomery assert that “for poor women with low autonomy and low education levels, from low castes, who are socially isolated and highly dependent on their husbands, fertility is ubiquitous to their identity and worth.” 

 

Factors-Affecting-Pregnancy-Loss

Self-image as derived from social identity is crucial in emotional recovery from the grief experienced as a result of miscarriage. Social derision or lack of empathy adds to an Indian woman’s trauma of pregnancy loss. While Anupama had her husband’s support, she says, “Only my family and few of my close friends supported me… otherwise, everyone… either office colleague, relatives, neighbours… is still asking me when will we have baby. That is the reason I have stopped/ reduced attending any family function, social gathering, or other ceremonies.” Additionally, those who empathise with the women experiencing miscarriages often are ill-equipped to provide emotional support. 

 

Daanesh Umrigar
Daanesh Umrigar

In many countries, memorial ceremonies are held to bring closure to losing the unborn child which include naming the baby and planting a tree in their memory. Umrigar suggests to support the individual, “Allow the person to go through the grief. Don’t push it under the carpet. Allow the person to talk, talk about their emotions. If the person is crying, it’s fine… it’s an expression of emotion. Don’t alienate the person, don’t let them feel like they are going through it alone. Social interactions should be such that they are supportive and also productive for the individual… even if the person doesn’t feel like going out, (you could consider) coming over, being there for the person.”

 

Ultimately, it is essential to ensure the mother does not blame herself for the pregnancy loss, as many are prone to do. With non-invasive prenatal screening (NIPS) available nowadays, it is also possible to identify potential risks early to be better prepared for possible eventualities. Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, suggests that “Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which helps relieve depression.” In the aftermath of a miscarriage, it is essential that individuals allow themselves to go through the bereavement process and slowly get involved with activities that motivate them out of the spiral of grief or guilt. As social awareness regarding mental health improves in India, there is hope that women will have increased support through such traumatic experiences which often have a deep psychological impact.

 

Special thanks to Malini’s Girl Tribe and Miss Malini for their assistance.

Defying Love’s Boundaries – Bollywood’s Heroine in the New Millennium

Mohabbat bhi zindagi ki tarah hoti hai, har mod aasaan nahin hota, har mod par khushi nahin milti, par jab hum zindagi ka saath nahin chhorte, to mohabbat ka saath kyon chhorein.

[Love is similar to life – every turn isn’t easy; every turn doesn’t bring happiness… But if we don’t abandon life, then why do we abandon love?] – Mohabbatein

P.C. Barua and Jamuna in Devdas (1935)Although the first Indian romantic film, Devdas, released in 1935, Bollywood’s tryst with romance began in 1929 with the Melody of Love, the first talkie film screened in India at Calcutta’s Elphinstone Picture Palace. Bollywood love generally involved singing around trees; close-ups of touching flowers depicting the taboo kiss; love triangles; and extra-marital affairs. While the Bollywood heroine mostly toed the line of tradition and propriety, films like Ijaazat (1987) and Lamhe (1991) attempted to break the Bollywood romance mold. But, even though Indian cinema remained circumspect towards depicting empowered women, TV programming took the lead with shows like Rajani (1984) as housewife turned social crusader, and Udaan (1989) about a woman’s journey of becoming an Indian police officer.

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By the late 90s, the Indian audience broke the shackles of state-owned programming with the advent of foreign TV media. Televisions beamed women taking center stage with serials like Tara (1993), Shanti (1994), and Aarohan (1996). Emboldened by popular demand, Bollywood filmmakers began to explore cinema beyond traditional narratives; and the new millennium brought female roles re-imagined with portrayals of independent women stepping outside conservative notions of propriety in Indian society. The year 2000 introduced Bollywood lovers to ideas of identity and agency, with the release of Astitva and Kya Kehna. Actor extraordinaire, Tabu, jostled with a lover’s inheritance and an illegitimate love-child in Astitva, while re-discovering her identity and courage; aided ably by her son’s girlfriend, Namrata Shirodkar. Meanwhile, Kya Kehna had Preity Zinta carry the mantle of single mother, and an unborn child ostracized for its out-of-wedlock status.

23293.jpgSimultaneously, the allowance of 100% FDI in the film industry, caused international companies like 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney, and Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., setting up shop in India, influencing Bollywood film production and distribution. Combined with the expanding presence of multiplexes and reduced budgets due to digital cinema technology, Bollywood filmmakers were increasingly able to risk off-beat stories. Films like Lajja (2001), Filhaal (2002), and Provoked: A True Story (2006) showcased female protagonists battling misogyny, surrogacy and domestic violence. When a film about a women’s hockey team, Chak De! India (2007), earned more than 100 crores INR, the box-office stamp of approval for women-centric films had arrived, albeit reasoned with King Khan’s (Shah Rukh Khan) presence.

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More than 70 years after Bollywood’s first romantic film was released, its contemporary version, Dev.D (2009) brought modern India to the forefront, set in Northern India unlike Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s novel about a Bengal village boy’s lovelorn life. While the characters remained the same, the story incorporated a modern Paro (Mahie Gill) shunning the chauvinistic Dev (Abhay Deol), and Chandramukhi as Chanda (Kalki Koechlin) prostituting for survival after an MMS scandal destroys her family. With its modern take on an oft re-hashed love story, Dev.D brought independent film-making and empowered women to the forefront of Indian cinema. Ishqiya (2010) featured Vidya Balan as a widow seeking revenge for her attempted murder, manipulating two common thieves with her seductions, in a bid to confront her murdering husband. Ishqiya’s box-office success spurred a gamut of woman-centric films such as 7 Khoon Maaf and No One Killed Jessica (2011), English Vinglish and Kahaani (2012).

images (6).jpegHowever, it was the arrival of Queen (2013) that put the spotlight of a box-office success on the able shoulders of its female lead, Kangana Ranaut. Queen featured Ranaut as Rani, a bride spurned a day before her wedding, who decides nevertheless to go on her European honeymoon alone. Breaking the shackles of her typical Delhi upbringing, she encounters friendly strangers and new adventures, making her confident in her independence, even as her fiancé realises his mistake. Adding to Bollywood’s explorations of women’s empowerment and female sexuality was Margarita with a Straw (2014). The film featured Kalki Koechlin as Laila who suffers from cerebral palsy struggling with her love for Khanum (Sayani Gupta), a female activist in Manhattan, even as she copes with her conservative mother’s (Revathy) opposition.

images (7).jpegWith Lipstick under My Burkha (2016), Bollywood saw the sexual aspirations of women in small town India unveiled. The rebellious streak features prominently among the four female protagonists, with a feminine camaraderie that is increasingly becoming a major plot point of contemporary Indian cinema with films like Angry Indian Goddesses (2015) and Veere Di Wedding (2018). Not surprisingly, with the increasing influence of women directors such as Meghna Gulzar, Shonali Bose, and Alankrita Shrivastava, women’s representation has moved beyond traditional societal norms, and Bollywood’s heroine is frequently pushing boundaries in the new millennium.

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Book Review – Paulo Coelho’s The Spy

Fans of Paulo Coelho will find The Spy unlike his more prosaic narratives such as The Alchemist. Woven around the events of the First World War, The Spy promises to be Mata Hari’s last confessional without as much soul-searching as you might expect of an “innocent” prisoner awaiting the French firing squad. Famous as the seductive dancer who brought the “religiousness” and “disinhibition” from faraway lands to France, The Spy traces Mata Hari’s journey from being Margaretha Zelle of Leeuwarden, Netherlands to her eventual conviction as a spy for the Germans.

Beginning with her departure for Leiden to train as a kindergarten teacher, the dichotomy of Margaretha’s familiar surroundings and the impending turbulence is most represented by her mother’s gift of tulip seeds. “A symbol of the country” and her destiny or perhaps just Calvinist ideals, the sexual assault by her Leiden school’s principal ensures Margaretha’s restlessness in “Calvinist Holland” and propels her to respond to military officer’s Rudolf MacLeod offer for marriage.

While the journey to Indonesia with her husband promises a romantic sojourn in exotic lands, reality only brings her the conventional life of the military wife. Even as she suffers through an occasionally abusive marriage, fate brings her to an event featuring Java dancers and a bloody suicide that causes her to bolt back home. Adopting her nom de scène as she leaves her former life behind for her dreams to shine in the City of Light, she arrives in Paris during the 1900 World Fair.

As Coelho sketches her journey as “a classical dancer to oriental music”, The Spy is peppered with political and cultural references of early 19th century Europe including Freud, Pablo Picasso, and the Émile Zola’s infamous letter J’Accuse. However, despite the occasional emotional insight, Coelho misses the mark in engaging the reader in the life of one of the most famous entertainers in the world.

Even if the matter-of-fact narrative is considered to portray Mata Hari’s general appearance of divaesque nonchalance, The Spy seems dry given she writes her final letter within the confines of Saint-Lazare prison infested with rats and “used only to break the spirits of those who thought they were strong – women like” Mata Hari. And while liberal France may have allowed her nudist seductions on the stage, the narrative suggests her “high-society” exaggerations resulted in the accusation by Captain Georges Ladoux and arrest on February 13, 1917. Her subsequent confessions elicited by prosecutor of the Third War Council, Captain Pierre Bouchardon ensure her death sentence which was executed on October 15, 1917 – Mata Hari was neither bound nor blindfolded; she stood, gazing steadfastly at her executioners, as the priest, the nuns, and her lawyer stepped away.

Considering the Parisian entertainment scene in the early 19th century and the book’s flamboyant protagonist, the glamour seems insipid, and the narrative is uninspiring with Coelho’s literary sparkle experienced only infrequently – “I was an exotic bird traversing an earth ravaged by humanity’s poverty of spirit.” Perhaps the author was so enamored by the mystery that is Mata Hari as to fall short of infusing The Spy with her glittering persona.

Mary-Beard Photo by Chris Boland / www.chrisboland.com

Book Review – Mary Beard’s Women and Power

Feminism vs Androboulon… Mansplaining vs Muthos… Minorities vs Herland

Linguists dabbling in irony might consider Mary Beard’s name itself a dichotomy. Mother Mary vs Mary Magdelene is the classic example of the patriarchal narrative between mother and whore. As she writes about Women and Power, Mary Beard draws similarly upon classical narratives as ancient as the Greeks to the Trump era of ‘presidential’ expressions such as “Grabbing the Pussy.” As Telemachus tells Penelope in the Greek classic, Odyssey, “Speech is the business of men.” Muthos or authoritative public speech as opposed to women’s chatting or gossiping requires androboulon (thinking as a man). In the new millennium, “Misogyny in politics or in the workplace” has extended to digital discourse. Even as male dominance is frequently exercised in the world of Wikipedia contributors, the contemporary version of mansplaining is adequately being countered by feminists and female-identifying persons alike.

As Beard examines the dilemma of women’s voice and representation by drawing on allegorical references in historical records and contemporary discourse, the trajectory of patriarchal continuance is highlighted from overt declarations to subliminal disavowal of women’s right to expression or a rightful place in society’s power hierarchies. “Gendered speaking” is probably most obvious in male opposition to Miss Triggs’ suggestion in the corporate boardroom, a fact recently depicted in the Stranger Things as Nancy pitches a story during the local newspaper’s daily briefing. “Do words matter?” Beard asks and replies, “they do because the underpinning idiom that acts to remove the authority, the force, even the humour of what women have to say… effectively repositions women to the domestic sphere devoid of muthos.”

More relevant is ‘The Public Voice of Women’ in governance with Elizabeth Warren disallowed from reading Coretta Scott King’s letter during the Senatorial debate, and the Afghan government reportedly turning off mics in Parliament when they don’t want to hear the women speak. This despite the fact that women in power frequently seek to subvert expectations of feminine fashion with “regulation trouser suits” in an attempt “similar to lowering the timbre” for that muthos tone.

Based on two lectures by Beard in 2014 and 2017 respectively, Women and Power explores the reasons why “conventional definitions of power, knowledge, expertise, and authority exclude women?” Simultaneously, the authority of women in power are diminished by portrayals such as Thatcher hitting with handbags, or Trump as Perseus holding the Medusa Hillary head.

Of course, the author does consider that in Twitterland, “women are not the only ones who may feel themselves voiceless.” Those who consider intersectionality as crucial to understanding the deeper connections between micro-aggressions and public hostility would argue minorities within minorities combine with shared sociocultural experiences to provide a framework of public discourse and private interactions. Beard argues that, “We should be thinking more about the fault lines and fractures that underlie dominant male discourse.”

“Shared metaphors of women’s access to power represent exteriority – ‘knocking on the door,’ ‘storming the citadel,’ or ‘smashing the glass ceiling.’” Even as UK newspapers announced “Women Prepare for a Power Grab in the Church, Police, and BBC,” the appointment of Cressida Dick as Met Commissioner could be argued as subliminal male acceptance due to the Commissioner’s last name. But that is feminism – questioning hierarchies of power in society, advocating for equal rights and opportunities, and ensuring a paradigm shift in conventional definitions of power and public authority.

Cho… Cho… Cho… Chhau

Under an open sky, the percussive beats of myriad drums reverberate, as an ensemble of drummers perform the taal bhanga announcing the arrival of Chhau dancers to the ashor (arena). Amidst shouts of “cho… cho…cho…” inviting the audience, masked performers carrying sword and shield enter the stage circled by drummers. Legend has it that the taal bhanga is similar to native hunters shouting “cho… cho…cho…” while chasing game during their annual hunting expeditions.

The frenzied atmosphere becomes vibrant with the acrobatic movements, in tandem to the cadence of Dhol, Dhumsaa and Charchari, and the melodic embellishments provided by native instruments such as ‘reed pipes, mohuri and shehnaii.’ The heightened theatricality of Chhau commences with the martial dance of folk warriors, as an enthralled audience gathers around.

 

Historical Legacy

Originating in the martial arts of Eastern India’s Manbhum District, Chhau’s folk heritage spans the three regional types of Purulia Chhau in West Bengal; Mayurbhanj Chhau in Northern Orissa and Seraikella Chhau in Jharkhand. Chhau’s war-like movements are often compared to the parikhanda (shield and sword) exercises of the region’s Paikas (foot soldiers).

Owing to the inter-mingling of tribal culture in the densely forested landscape, etymologists and folklorists differ in their interpretation of Chhau. Some argue that Chhau is derived from the Sanskrit word Chhaya meaning ‘shadow, while others claims include an Oriya origin, either Chhatak/Chhaii (clowning) or Chhauni (military camp); or from the Bengali word, Chhau which means ‘mask.’

Martial Heritage 

While Chhau’s martial heritage can be traced through centuries, Chhau’s formal development as an art form occurred under the aegis of Seraikela’s royal family, the Singh Deos. To ensure defence capabilities were preserved under colonial rule, some states maintained their Paikas as dance troupes with the same vigorous exercises stylized into themes set to music. The ‘first woman soloist of the previously all-male form’ Sharon Lowen suggests that the inclusion of women performers expanded with Chhau dancers such as Krishna Chandra Naik teaching women in Calcutta during pre-independence India.

 While the theatrical development of Mayurbhanj and Seraikella Chhau was largely influenced by patronage of Indian princely states, Purulia Chhau retains its vigorous folk character, and is the most flamboyant of the three styles. Purulia Chhau’s tribal earthiness is depicted in its ostentatious masks, acrobatic leaps, and energetic flourish.

 

Regional Influences

Similar to the blurriness of the dance’s origins, the coalescent facet of tribal life contributed variously to the development of Chhau. With martial strains similar to paaikaali in Orissa and nachni performed by females in rural areas of the region, Chhau’s acrobatic dance narratives depend on the sub-genre of the region. Royal patronage also greatly influenced Chhau’s development.

According to Guru Shashadhar Acharya, the Singh Deos were responsible for the inclusion of Hindustani classical ragas and codification of dance techniques. Artists from Charida (also known as Mukhosh Gram) suggest that the ‘Chhau practice of wearing masks and narrative styles was also influenced by the ‘king of the Bagmundi and bhumiji chieftains.’

Masked Unmasked

With the exception of Mayurbhanj Chhau, both Seraikela and Purulia dance styles are performed wearing Chhau masks. Renowned Chhau dancer, Ileana Citaristi, suggests, “Although Mayurbhanj Chhau was an expansion of Seraikella Chhau, patrons of the dance decided that masks were a hindrance to expression.” The pastel-colored Seraikela masks are in sharp contrast to the theatrical masks of Purulia which are adorned with beads and coloured feathers, towering nearly 2 feet in their vibrance.

Originating in tribal folk performance, the tradition of mask-making begins with sculpting a clay model of the face (Matir Muha). This process called Mathamathi involves coating the mask with powdered ash and paper mâché. D.I.C.O Purulia elaborates that once the initial Matir Muha is ready, artists detail facial features with clay paste (Kabis), finally covering with ‘cotton cloth dipped in the kabis and polishing with a wooden carving tool thapi.’ Coloration for different characters varies depending on regional representation, with similarities in Kali and Krishna’s depiction as blue-coloured.

Ritual Performances

Despite etymological and regional differences, Chhau is commonly associated with religious occasions such as the spring festival of Chaitra Parva in April, Gajan Festival honoring Lord Shiva, and the Sun Festival. Chhau performances traditionally begin before midnight and explore epics such as Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Purana. Chaitra Parva rituals vary depending on geographic traditions, generally beginning with the Jatraghat invoking Ardhanariswara. The inaugural Jatraghat is a dance procession of Goddess Sakti with the ceremonial rituals concluding with a similar dance of Goddess Kali. While Seraikella Chhau is devoid of Vachikabhinaya (vocal support), Purulia Chhau’s tribal flair is evident with the drummer singing during the performance.

 Although recently classified by UNESCO as ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, Citaristi contends that private and government support for Chhau’s propogation has not increased. However, even as as Chhau’s stylised movements continue to enthral audiences worldwide, its theatrical aesthetic of a martial dance will remain etched as another gem in India’s cultural legacy.