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My Lady Fingers Are Better Than My Bullets! #Poem


Death pressed 3 bullets on an old man
The old man uttered two words
On a God that Death did not know
The old man did not die
He walked past with a smile.

The old man became a Father
With three bullets on his chest.
Death was depressed.
`My bullets are wasted’ he cried.
He roamed around looking for fresh air
Used axes, swords, knives and bombs
But every effort bounced back.

Again he pressed bullets on writers
And they too did not die.
`My job is an occupational hazard
So let me try someone else’, he said.

Then he tried 3 bullets on a woman
Who stood by justice
With her skills of written words

Oh my God, even this one does’nt die

I just need a break he cried

I  am a useless bum
And I need to retire,’ said he.

Then he bought a piece of land
With currency notes having images
Of the Father he had shot
And planted lady fingers
With the teachings of Fukuoka
Calling his farm natural and organic
And for the first time in his life
Mr. Death laughed loud:
`My lady fingers are better
Than the smoke from my bullets’.

After all these incidents
When I entered his organic store
To get lady fingers for my sambar
They tasted life
A life that must stay!

K.P Sasi is a film maker, writer, activist and cartoonist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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India – Let us not mince words; forces that killed Gandhi have killed Gauri Lankesh

By Suman Priya |
'Let us not mince words; forces that killed Gandhiji have killed Gauri Lankesh'


  • The commemoration of 56th birth anniversary of Gauri Lankesh, who was shot dead by assailants on September 5 was held at Town Hall, Bengaluru
  • Witnessed by MLA Jignesh, Kanhaiya, Shehla and a jam-packed audience
  • Is the large crowd a sign that alternate forces are getting stronger against the fascist forces in Karnataka?

The commemoration of the 56th birth anniversary of Gauri Lankesh, who was shot dead by assailants on September 5 was held at Town Hall, Bengaluru, and was witnessed by all she considered as children including MLA Jignesh, Kanhaiya, Shehla and a jam-packed audience. The event was organised by the Gauri Memorial Trust.

Gauri’s sister Kavita Lankesh attended the programme, whereas brother Indrajit gave it a miss as he had arranged an alternate programme at Chamarajpet. The likes of freedom fighter HS Doreswamy, actor-activist Prakash Rai, CM Siddaramaiah’s media secretary Dinesh Amin Mattu, KM Neela, activist Teesta Setalvad and also Manipur activist Irom Sharmila were present, to show their solidarity with Gauri’s ideas and ideologies.

The Town Hall experienced a powerful event where people responded with enthusiasm to the appeals by speakers like Prakash Rai, Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani, the crowd-puller JNU’s Kanhaiya Kumar, the one who doesn’t like mincing words JNU’s Shehla Rashid, Umer Khaleed, and the one who stopped UP CM Yogi Adityanath from entering Allahabad University campus, Richa Sharma.

Most of them stated that RSS-BJP has to be trounced. People should understand the reality and should defeat BJP in the coming elections in Karnataka.

Two books in memory of Gauri Lankesh were released on the occasion. Kanhaiya’s slogan of Azadi pulled a large crowd chanting the slogan and Sheetal Sathe’s ‘songs for freedom’ were the highlights of the event.

To help the Trust, which aims at re-starting the publication of Gauri Lankesh Patrike, which was earlier run by Gauri Lankesh, Prakash Rai bought a copy of the book at a cost of Rs  1 lakh.

Here is what the leaders expressed in their speeches.



Will be in Karnataka three weeks ahead of elections; Will join hands with Congress just to keep the fascist BJP away from the state. Let them speak about temple, love jihad etc. But we should speak about the need for employment, employment generation, and make the people, dalits understand how they are being cheated by the BJP.


I will not cry, nor have an emotional outburst on the day of my mother Gauri’s birthday, post her demise. Because this is the time to think and act, just like what was practised by Gauri herself. Yes, we will break into pieces, not the nation as the BJP claims, but practices of injustice and the theories of Sangh Pariwar, which tries to divide people. The situation of every Indian is like the man who has been looted but instead of getting justice, he is made to look like a thief and a villain. Let us walk in the path traversed by mother Gauri and not become prey to the ‘pure ideology’ trap.

Shehla Rashid

Let us not mince words, the people who killed Gandhiji in 1948 are the ones who killed Gauri Lankesh. The RSS needs to be stopped. Taking a dig at Yogi Adityanath’s Karnataka visit and speech on medical conditions here, Shehla said, “People of Karnataka do not need advice from a man who was responsible for the death of nearly hundreds of children due to lack of oxygen in his state, UP. The people of Karnataka should trounce BJP in the upcoming elections.”

There was also talk about Pakoda Protest, and its significance in the backdrop of PM Modi‘s statement. They were of the opinion that even pakoda-selling must be considered as an employment, so that tax is collected from them too.

Showing her solidarity with the event, though never had met  Gauri in her lifetime, Manipur’s iron lady, who fought against the draconian rule of AFSPA, Irom Sharmila, came to know about the event in the morning and travelled  to Bengaluru and took part in the programme.

Is the large crowd a sign that alternate forces are getting stronger against the fascist forces in Karnataka?

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Did You Know What Happened To Surpanakha And Her #Aadhaar ?

She said, Sir-ji, my name is Surpanakha. And I need a new er … card. A sort of Aadhar.

He said, but here it says, Surpa-.

Sir-ji, that was after my nose was chopped off … A bit of my name, and a bit of my nose was chopped off … Shall I show you my nose … It is the most discussed nose on this planet …

No, no, no. Please wear your ghunghat. Behave yourself. Stand in that queue …

Sir-ji, I stand behind this bonded labourer who works in a coal mine?


And in front of this manual scavenger?

He said, Be quiet.

Sir-ji, I need a new er … card. A sort of Aadhar … Please do hurry.

And why do you need an Aadhar? Are you going to win a Padma Shri as per the Notification? Will you be the first Asura to win a Padma Shri? Ha!

Sir-ji, are you mocking me because I look like a Rakshasi and a demon-ness? I may be unpleasant and my face resembles the moon with craters and meteors, and my belly is as swollen, and as bloated as your ego … See this, it is my hair, made of Zircon … The oldest surviving metal on this planet … harder than glass and steel … If you sell my hair, you can become a millionaire. O, Sir-ji why do you have a frown?

Silence, woman. We have zero decibel rules here.

Sir-ji. Don’t under-estimate me, just because I am a geriatric and have toothless teeth … I have dentures made of sedimentary rocks …

Woman, I will throw you out. Remember no rations for you without UID.

Oho, just because I am a widow, you treat me thus. Once, I was a pretty young thing. I chose to marry the person of my choice. If you look really carefully, I had pretty eyelashes and pretty lower lips. That day, I was at the local mela. I saw Vidyutjihva get off a bus. He walked up to me like a panther on puss. He said he was from the Kalkeya Danava clan. About our future he had a plan. He touched my ear lobe, he tapped my nose. In return I sang an Asura song for him with a nasal pose. All because of this nostrilised nose.

Next please.

Me, Sir-ji?

No, not you.

Oh. Anyway, we got married. And like most weddings on this land, including Big Brother’s, it was unhappy, kind of melancholic. Of course, I knew all his hanky panky. I looked the other way. Even though it was happening under my nose … Yes, Sir-ji, this same nose.

Will you be quiet? I need to jot down the details of these students in the fifth standard of a government primary school!

Why Sir-ji?

They haven’t got their scholarships this year.

Why Sir-ji?

Their names are wrongly spelt on their Aadhar cards. Their parents are agricultural labourers.

Sir-ji, my father was an Asura. His nose was longer than mine. Have you heard of him? No? Never?

Next please.

These are my eleven children.

Eleven children? Yours?

Yes, Sir-ji. They were born after Vidyutjihva was dead. My Big Brother put the Ravana-astra into his left nostril and he bled to death. That’s how I became a widow, Sir-ji. But I love my husband. For the past five thousand five hundred fifty five years, I have been faithful. Look. I have a fresco of his nose on my ankle. I need consoling, oh Sir-ji. Hold my hand. Pat my back. Even though I am a demon-ness and I have never cried.

Lunch break!!!

Lunch break, Sir-ji? What about my Aadhaar and the Aadhaar of my eleven children?

Children? You have no child as per our records.

Untrue, Sir-ji.


See these children have been born to me. Like stromatolites. Like single celled cyanobacteria. Like a miracle …

These are not children, these are handmade wooden puppets.

So, what? Sir-ji, you can’t let a simple unscientific detail like that come in the way of issuing their Aadhaar card?

Arrest this woman.

Sir-ji, what about my Aadhaar card?

And throw these Asura puppets into the dustbin.

Sir-ji, you can’t do that!



The end.


The moral of this fable, since every legend on this land has to have a moral: That’s how Surpanakha and her eleven children did not get a new er … card. A sort of Aadhaar.

Short story by Ramu Ramanathan. Narrated by Yuki Ellias.

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UID ? No, Not my ID #BreakAadhaarChains

-अंकिता आनंद

यू आई डी ? नो, नोट माय आई डी !

कभी कोई मेरा भी नंबर माँगे, कुछ ऐसे थे अरमान,
पर जो इस ख्वाहिश के साथ आया, था मुल्क़ का हुक्मरान।

“जाने कितनों से तुमने ये पूछा होगा,
अब मुझसे भी करना चाहते तुम वही धोखा?”

मेरा दो टूक जवाब सुनकर लगा वो चला जाएगा,
मुद्दतों तक मुझे वो अपना मुँह न दिखाएगा।

पर वो था कि अपनी ज़िद पर अड़ा ही रहा,
दिल पर पत्थर रख मुझ मजबूर ने हाँ कहा।

जिसे हाथ थामना था, ले गया उँगलियों के निशान,
मेरी आँखों में न देख, करवाई पुतलियों की पहचान।

दिल को बहलाया कि वो रखेगा मुझको सलामत,
वक्त-बेवक्त यही सब तो बनेंगे मेरी ज़मानत।

पर कल टूट गया मेरा ये आख़िरी वहम,
अपने यकीन पर हो आई मुझे ख़ुद ही शरम।

जब भरे बाज़ार में लगते देखी मैंने अपनी बोली,
एक-एक नंबर बेच कोई भर रहा था अपनी झोली।

जिस पर भरोसा बना था उसे चुनने का आधार,
उसने बनाया अपनी जनता को अपना ही शिकार।

उसके वादों को सुनते रहे, ख़ूब बदले कैलेंडर,
वो सब ले चलता बना, हम रह गए बस एक नंबर।

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Remembering Kaifi Azmi through poetry


The rest of the year she may be buzzing to all corners of the globe, but on her abba, Kaifi Azmi’s death anniversary on January 14, Shabana Azmi was at his residence, Janki Kutir, welcoming a few close friends, Poonam Dhillon and Waheeda Rehman were among the guests, for an evening of poetry. To commemorate the occasion, his son-in-law Javed Akhtar had penned a poem as a tribute. Read on…

Ajeeb Aadmi Tha Woh

Ajeeb aadmi tha woh Mohabbaton ka geet tha Baghavaton ka raag tha Kabhi woh sirf phool tha Kabhi woh sirf aag tha

Ajeeb aadmi tha woh…

Woh muflison sey kehta tha ke din badal bhi sakte hain Woh jaabiron sey kehta tha tumhare sar pe sone ke jo Taj hain kabhi pighal bhi sakte hain

Woh bandishon se kehta tha main tumko tod sakta hoon

Hawaaon se woh kehta tha main tumko mod sakta hoon

Sahoolaton se kehta tha main tumko chhod sakta hoon

Woh khwab se yeh kehta tha ke tujhko sach karunga main

Woh aarzoo se kehta tha main tera humsafar hoon tere saath hi chaloonga main

Tu chahe jitni duur bhi bana le apni manzilein kabhi nahi thakoonga main Woh zindagi se kehta tha ke tujhko main sajaoonga Tu mujhse chand maang ley main chand leke aaoonga Woh aadmi se kehta tha ke aadmi se pyar kar Ujad rahi hai yeh zameen Kuch iska ka ab singar kar

Ajeeb aadmi tha woh

Woh zindagi ke saare dukh tamam gham har ik sitam se kehta tha main tumse jeet jaaoonga Ki tumko tto mita hi dega ek roz aadmi Bhula hi dega ye jahan Meri alag hain dastaan Woh ankhein jinmein khwab hain Wo baazu jin mein hai sakat Woh hont jin pe lafz hain Rahoonga unke darmiyaan ke jab beet jaaoonga

Ajeeb aadmi tha woh….

Source- Mumbai Mirror

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O, did you know Yama did not have an #Aadhaar? #Poem

This is the second in a series of poems by Ramu Ramanathan on Aadhaar

In the middle of Rahu Kaalam

At the cusp of Shani Pradosh

I sip my cuppa of herbal tea

In the Athurveda Society

Just then –

A screech, a wail

That says, all heil

The cosmic atoms scurry here and there

My hair stands still, in the middle of air

From my balcony

What do I see

One mud pot, two white bedsheets

Three kilo rice, camphor, agarbathis

Pssst, they say

What, I enquire

Pass your cigarette lighter

We have to fire the pyre

Who is gone?

I stage whisper

It is Chiranjeev Yama-ji!!!

He, who lived in Kalichi?

Sandalwood paste

Applied with haste

The tulsi leaves

With vibhuthis

The abhishekam material

Is auspiciously readied

The death procession, starts to exit

After the high priest does his deed

I follow them

First left, then right

Men and women

Black and white

Life and afterlife

Atma and Moksha

1 and 0

Everything in harmony

Everything is a binary

So says the writing

In the Book of Destiny

We reach the crematorium maidan

Chiranjeev Yama-ji’s feet, face the south

The sentry in his uniform halts us with his lathi

The basti bully is pushed forward by his saathi,

Permission denied, Mere Bhai

Unless you have that – UIDAI

Now what sort of gobbledegook is that?

The bully asks, after he has had a spat

No Aadhaar

No death rite

(So don’t fight)

Show pyaar, o yaar

The death clerk in a bush-shirt points to a notification. Printed on an eco-solvent latex machine. It is the government signboard. The death clerk says in a high octave: Ladies and Gentlemen. In lieu of the fake deaths and duplicate deaths there has been an epidemic of benami deaths. These benami deaths threaten to destroy our society. It’s devastating our binary integrity. And so, as per Gazette No. 10/2017/F. No. P.12011/11/2016-ES Cell- DoR, all dead atmas have to be linked to Aadhaar. Full Stop!

Aadhaar: What be this godly creation?

Aadhaar: Who knows from whence this supreme astra sprang?

Aadhaar: How this celestial body cometh?

Aadhaar: Was it created or did it mutate?

The Most Highest He, who is in highest heaven,

He knows it – or perchance even He knows not

We sit outside the deathly gate

We wait to find out Yama Ji’s fate

His skin turns green, his robes are bloody red

Copper eyeballs, they pop out of his head

Time ticks

No one is in a hurry

Such is life

When things are binary

Mud pots and plastic bags

Cooked rice and green grams

Banana leaves and stale flowers

Darbha grass and agathee leaves

All things, binary

All things dead

Every single decision: 0 or 1

That’s how life becomes … no fun

Binary we are

Binary we will be

Binary is reality

Remember: The Eternal Truth

Even if you want to visit the bar

O Humanoid, You need an Aadhaar

Meanwhile –

At the Municipal gates

Hate multiplies into hate

Aadhaar is being sold

Hundred times, the rate

And Chiranjeev Yama-Ji?

He is trapped by our folly

What happens next, no one knows

We ask each other, at the gate

How long do we have to wait?

Citizens, don’t you know?

Now, what more don’t we know

It’s as simple as doh dooni chaar

You are all trapped here

Till Chiranjeev Yama-ji, gets his Aadhaar

Poem by Ramu Ramanathan

Recited by Joy Sengupta


The First poem

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Prof G N Saibaba pens a poem after meeting his mother in Jail

                                                                              माँ, मेरे लिए मत रोना

जब तुम मुझे देखने आयी

तुम्हारा चेहरा मैं नहीं देख सका था

फाइबर कांच की खिड़की से

मेरी अशक्त देह की झलक यदि मिली होगी तुम्हें

यक़ीन हो गया होगा

कि मैं जीवित हूँ अब भी।

माँ, घर में मेरी गैर मौजूदगी पर मत रोना

जब मैं घर और दुनिया में था,

कई दोस्त थे मेरे

जब मैं इस कारागार के अण्डा सेल में बंदी हूँ

पूरी दुनिया से 

और अधिक मित्र मिले मुझे।

माँ, मेरे गिरते स्वास्थ्य के लिए उदास मत होना

बचपन में जब तुम

एक गिलास दूध नहीं दे पाती थी मुझे,

साहस और मजबूती शब्द पिलाती थीं तुम

दुख और तकलीफ के इस समय में

तुम्हारे पिलाये गये शब्दों से

मैं अब भी मजबूत हूँ।

माँ, अपनी उम्मीद मत छोड़ना

मैंने अहसास किया है 

कि जेल मृत्यु नहीं है

ये मेरा पुनर्जन्म है

और मैं घर में

तुम्हारी उस गोद में लौटूंगा

जिसने उम्मीद और हौसले से मुझे पोषा है।

माँ, मेरी आजादी के लिए मत डरना

दुनिया को बता दो

मेरी आजादी खो गयी है

क्या उन सभी जन के लिए आजादी पायी जा सकती है

जो मेरे साथ खड़े हैं

धरती के दुख का कारण लाओ

जिसमें मेरी आजादी निहित है।

-जी एन साईबाबा

जेल में माँ से मुलाकात के बाद

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Who decides vulgarity in my Bhojpuri songs? Kalpana Patowary on the hate campaign against her

Fans claiming that I am trying to appropriate a beloved icon like Bhikhari Thakur, using him for my own journey of ‘respectability’ has left me appalled.

In the wake of the recent social media slander campaign against me — being run by a few good men who proclaim themselves the custodians of Bhojpuri language — it seems befitting that I offer a rebuttal to those vicious claims, and make my stand clear, once and for all. No doubt, it is easy to get swayed by what a few good men are saying, for a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.

But here I am, begging for your kind attention, so lend me your ears and listen to my side of the story before you jump to a conclusion and join the hate bandwagon against me.

And believe my words because they are not hearsay, because you have heard me say them.

Ours is a patriarchal society, and this episode only proves it at point-blank range. What else would explain conscientious young and old Bhojpuri-speaking men ganging up against a woman artist just to make others believe that they are right and she is wrong?


If you pay attention to their statements without a chauvinistic prism, you will see the ugly face of all that I am being subjected to, unknowingly and often. These men, the so-called filmmakers, singers, musicians, writers, et al, have been trying hard to make me look ignoble, rubbishing my hard work — my dedication, of more than 16 years for this language that I call my own — at one fell swoop, because they have decided to let it all go down the drain.

They go on to claim that I have degraded Bhojpuri songs with my rendering of lewd lyrics. But here I will just say, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.” I was born in Assam, but I gained a foothold in the Bhojpuri film industry with songs such as “Saiya ji dilwa mangile gamchha bichhai ke (on a bedsheet, he asks for my heart)”, and I plead not guilty to the charge levelled against me that a singer alone can denigrate the language.

For me, a song is a song. Alas, I leave it to the few good men to decide what is vulgar and what is not. They have better judgment when it comes to such matters: after all, they are honourable men. But the responsibility for the vulgarity prevalent in Bhojpuri songs needs to be shared by those who penned such songs, those who listened to them and loved them, and those who have suddenly taken a stand, demarcating sanskaari (virtuous) from ashleel (vulgar) using their trusted wisdom, and all those who have been a party to it.

What explains their judgment on good, bad or ugly? Such songs climbed the popularity charts because people chose to listen to them. By calling them vulgar, the gang of a few good men has belittled my singing, to which I gave my heart and soul; instead of blaming the lyricist, this gang has been training its guns on me.

kp-ss_010518034428.jpg‘I am exploring my creative side and can sing in 30 languages — Bhojpuri is one of them.’ 

Why did the gang choose to single me out?

Male singers, lyricists, actors, producers, directors, and others are mostly left out of the conversation when it comes to talking about the malaise plaguing the Bhojpuri music and film industry.

Why is there no outrage against their invaluable contribution in denigrating it? It makes me wonder as if I am singlehandedly responsible for all the wrong here. That’s an unfair deal. I can’t be singularly credited with this honour. I would much rather share it with many others, including the present-day staunch critics of the songs.

The hatred campaign has been erupting at sporadic intervals. It is mostly timed to clash with occasions when I try to better my good with the best, be it the Chhath video that became popular as it highlighted the age-old tradition among some Muslim families who fast to pay obeisance to the Sun God or being invited by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, a national institution, to grace the programme commemorating the birth anniversary of Bihar’s famous litterateur Bhikhari Thakur in Qutubpur.

Does my popularity make the gang wary? What explains their nervous huddle, which made them hurl slurs at me? I have always tried to outdo myself, and in some measure, I think it is the reason for their discomfort.

Some Bhojpuri music fans claiming that I am trying to appropriate a beloved icon like Bhikhari Thakur, using him for my own journey of “respectability” has left me appalled. I feel victimised, oppressed because of my gender. I haven’t lost my respectability, so there’s no point of earning it now. I was born into a musically-inclined family in Assam. I have earned my music lessons from Bhatkhande Music Institute in Lucknow and have a BA in English Literature from Cotton College, Guwahati. I am exploring my creative side and can sing in 30 languages — Bhojpuri is one of them.

I take the liberty to say that I have taken refuge in Bhikhari Thakur’s works; for me, it is akin to a pilgrimage, and if you think it is for purging my sins, so be it. I accept it without qualms. My rendering of his works is an integral part of my identity and I take immense pride in it.

Neither am I belittling the work of academicians and research scholars on the legendary artist, nor am I here to establish myself as the sole custodian of his legacy. I am proud that I have been able to make a frugal contribution as an artist to popularise Bhikhari Thakur’s works and take them to national and regional fora.

chhathh-690_010518034544.jpg‘Every time I try to surge ahead, the shadow of such songs looms large on my artistic achievements — it leaves me saddened.’

I might sound audacious when I say, “You may love me, you may hate me, but you certainly can’t ignore me or my work.”

The few good men slandering me are attributing a handful of double-meaning songs to making me the reigning queen of Bhojpuri songs, so let me set the record straight. The first song that catapulted me from oblivion to stardom was a bhajan: “Na humse bhangwa pisaiy ae Ganes ke papa”; it made me an overnight star, and a slew of such devotional numbers followed. Women in the rural pockets of Bihar still remember me for my bhajans.

It is pertinent to illustrate the subtle difference in what is “vulgarity” in songs. For example, “Chadhal jawani chadhal jawani rasagulla” in Bhojpuri will transform into a more sophisticated version when it comes to Bollywood as “Sheila Ki Jawani”, both songs have been beautifully sung, but the nuanced approach of language and its restraint makes the song vulgar or pleasant for a different set of audience; it is situational.

The songs that I am being credited with having sung to create a so-called vulgar image were conceived by those well-versed with the Bhojpur belt; I didn’t bring them here from my native land, Assam. I sang such songs in the early years of my career without realising the words were double-meaning, and I regret it. That’s my past. Every time I try to surge ahead, the shadow of such songs looms large on my artistic achievements — it leaves me saddened.

It is a deliberate attempt by a few good men to pull me back, to intimidate me, and I will fight it with all my might.

I am doing a lot of work, but that is rarely talked about by most of the few good men. I am doing my bit in reviving Bhojpuri music as much as others who care for the genre. As a child, my mother used to gift me a pen on my birthday. Back then, I failed to understand its importance, today I have used the same pen to rebut false claims and clear the air on why I am living the legacy of the venerated Bhikhari Thakur.

If I have brought discredit to Bhojpuri songs, give me a chance to redeem myself. Why is that opportunity being snatched from me? Does my attempt to resurrect the Bhojpuri language with my small endeavours serve the interests of a few good men? I took Bhojpuri to MTV Coke Studio, but I am not willing to rest on my laurels. I am out on the journey to give the language its due, and every word of criticism only makes my resolve to work for its betterment stronger. A few good men can’t stop me midway.

Like actions speak louder than the word, I would let my work do the talking. Good, bad, ugly, I don’t leave it for a few good men to decide. Yeh public hai, yeh sab janti hai. So I let the matter rest in the court of the aam janta. The power to judge me rests with the people.

Let them pronounce me guilty or exonerate me of all such ludicrous charges. It is their call.

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India – Did you know Ashwathama does not have an #Aadhaar ? #Poem by Ramu Ramanathan



By Ramu Ramanathan

Recited by Denzil Smith

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I met Ashwathama
At Mama Kane’s Swacha Uphargriha
He says Bhai, the times are bad
The Bharamastra fell in Vidharbha
12 years of famine in the region

In his horse-voice, he describes the suicides
Can I get food grains, sugar, kerosene for my people?
How, I ask, as he gobbles a kothambir wade
With his piyush. He says, it can be done through the Antyodaya

Irritating habit this, I say, of lapsing into Sanskrit
So, he explains he needs a ration card
Something for the poorest of the poor
Come, I say, as we get into a taxi in the sun

Ashwathama and I reach the Talati Office
We want a form which I can fill up
The clerk says go to the civil supplier’s office
Quite uncivil; he provides a list of documents

Ashwathama says, I don’t have an address proof
What about an electricity bill or voter id, I ask
Or a contract with the landlord, or last month’s pay slip
Or a marriage certificate, or SSC marksheet

He replies, none of the above, oh bhai
Ever since Lord Krishna cursed me
I have no hospitality nor accommodation
I live in isolation from mankind and society

We meet Kalki the agent in Masjid Bunder
Kalki says, don’t worry-ji, this is Kaliyug
Everything can be managed, easily
Get me a Rs 5 stamp and three passport-sized photographs

Ashwathama says, I have nothing, I am shoonya
A cursed body which hosts of incurable diseases
Infinite sores and ulcers that never-ever heal
And this eternal face that refuses to smile

Kalki says, All will be balle balle
The Talati Officer will visit your home
Within a month for verification
I’ve no home for such type of a visit

No problem-ji, says Kalki
You visit the Talati office ten times
Or the Civil Office seventeen times
Now my commission please

Ashwathama extracts the Shamantakamani from his forehead
Kalki knows it is a rare gem which will protect him
From snakes, ghosts, demigods and demons
Plus it’s market valuation is high in Brussels

Ashwathama and I walk to CST station in silence
What will you do, I ask on platform two
Bhai, the wound caused by the removal of this gem
Will never heal and my people will suffer hunger

The Brave Warrior trudges ahead
And boards the train to Gadchiroli
This will go on till the end of Kaliyuga
Unless Ashwathama gets his Aadhaar

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India – 2017: has been the year of protest music

The country is politically polarised as never before, but don’t expect popular culture to reflect that. Even as our biggest musicians hide behind the fig leaf of commercial compulsion and apoliticality, other artistes are stepping up to fill the air with songs of resistance and biting irony


  • Socialism media: Dalit-Marxist balladeer Sambhaji Bhagat’s ‘movement music’ has made the agile leap from protest site to the digital space in the form of the YouTube channel The War Beat
    K Bhagya PrakashSocialism media: Dalit-Marxist balladeer Sambhaji Bhagat’s ‘movement music’ has made the agile leap from protest site to the digital space in the form of the YouTube channel The War Beat


In certain parts of the American and British press, it has become fashionable to bemoan the lack of modern protest music. Every few months a music journalist or cultural commentator — usually white, usually older, more often than not John Harris in The Guardian — will wax eloquent about Bob Dylan or Red Wedge before wringing hands and asking, “Where has the protest music gone?” This despite the fact that in the wake of Brexit and Donald Trump’s election as US president, pop music today is more political than it has been since the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003. The past couple of years have seen some of the biggest names in pop music — from Kendrick Lamar to Katy Perry to Beyonce — release chart-topping music that directly addresses issues like racism, sexism and the controversial Trump presidency. But the “where has the protest music gone?” articles continue to roll in so frequently that there’s now a Tumblr (microblogging site) dedicated to “cataloguing the eternal quest of journalists for true political music”. Which begs the question, are these writers even paying attention?

In the Indian media, though, we have the opposite problem. For a culture writer, looking for even the slightest hint of protest or political critique in mainstream Indian music (read film music) is an exercise in frustration. There’s the occasional ham-handed display of patriotic fervour, but that’s about the best you can hope for. Judging by their output, you’d think that India’s biggest musicians and composers exist in a permanent state of zen detachment, so devoted to their art that they remain untouched by the mundanity of worldly politics, even in the middle of one of the most politically polarising periods in our recent history. The closest we’ve come to a bona fide music star making a political statement through their art in 2017 is AR Rahman’s Flying Lotus, an orchestral composition ostensibly inspired by the demonetisation experience, but which is so abstract and ambiguous that nobody can even figure out where Rahman stands on the issue. The situation is so dire that when Rahman’s remake of 1994 classic ‘Urvashi Urvashi’ included a couple of throwaway references to Donald Trump and demonetisation, journalists fell over each other trying to pass it off as a political song. In reality, it was more of an exercise in plausible deniability — the lyrics were ‘crowd-sourced’, shielding Rahman from any potential blowback.

Even musicians who are open about their political allegiances stay away from bringing politics into their music. Take Vishal Dadlani, for example. The popular composer has made no secret of his affiliation with the Aam Aadmi Party, even joining its leaders on the campaign trail on occasion. And yet, none of that political conviction ever makes it into his songs. Perhaps that is unsurprising in a country where even the most innocuous film can unexpectedly spark off protests and death threats. There’s also the fact that what passes for pop in India is really just film music, with commercial and artistic restrictions that make it harder to find space for political expression. Whatever the reason, India’s biggest musicians have retreated from the idea that their art should hold up a mirror to society, hiding behind the fig leaf of commercial compulsion and sanctimonious apoliticality. But while our pop stars try their best to make a virtue out of political apathy, other musicians are stepping up to fill the gap.

Perhaps the most prominent among them is TM Krishna, the 41-year-old enfant terrible of contemporary Carnatic music. A few years ago, Krishna — who calls himself a ‘compulsive questioner’ — upset Chennai’s more conservative Carnatic music fans by experimenting with the traditional kutcheri paddhati, or format of a classical concert. That was enough for business daily Mint to label him Carnatic music’s ‘stuntman’ in 2014. In the intervening years, Krishna has gone from being a musical innovator to one of Carnatic music scene’s most trenchant critics.

  • Subversion in the sabhas: Singer TM Krishna and Jogappas, members of a marginalised transgender community, at a concert in Bengaluru; through his writings and performances, Krishna has challenged the dominance of Brahmanism and patriarchy in Carnatic music
    K Bhagya PrakashSubversion in the sabhas: Singer TM Krishna and Jogappas, members of a marginalised transgender community, at a concert in Bengaluru; through his writings and performances, Krishna has challenged the dominance of Brahmanism and patriarchy in Carnatic music

Through op-eds and public speeches, he has often called out the dominance of Brahmanism and patriarchy in Carnatic music. “As I dug deeper into the history and musicology of Carnatic music, I realised that every aesthetic question raised questions about the nature and character of the practitioners, audiences and patrons,” he elaborates.

“Every raga, tala and composition is entrenched in caste, class and gender. It is in the tension emerging from grappling with the beauty of the music and challenging these social evils that art happens.”

In 2015, he withdrew from Chennai’s prestigious December season, citing its lack of social inclusiveness. Instead, he teamed up with other activists to start Urur-Olcott Kuppam Vizha, a counter-cultural multidisciplinary arts festival that takes place in a fishing village within the city. This year, the winner of the 2016 Ramon Magsaysay award took things one step further, fusing his music and activism on the track ‘Chennai Poromboke Padal’. Composed by environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman and musician Kaber Vasuki, the track talks about encroachment on the banks of Chennai’s Ennore Creek, and uses this example to make a point about the ecological damage caused by the government and industrial takeover of the public commons. Krishna’s rendering of the song in ragamalika isn’t just an exquisite piece of political music. As writer and frequent collaborator Perumal Murugan points out in The Wire, this is the first time that Carnatic music has been used to address a contemporary matter of public concern. A few months later, Krishna teamed up with Murugan, Maharashtrian anti-caste activist Sheetal Sathe, and musician Sofia Ashraf for #Akavurimai, a music video in support of the right to privacy that touched on issues such as the beef ban, Aadhaar and the Hadiya case in Kerala. For the past year, Murugan and Krishna have also been busy working on Carnatic compositions based on the former’s poetry. “There is a need for karnatik [sic] music to look at larger society in terms of themes it addresses and, hence, he has written on the palm tree, farmers’ plight, the five elements, the struggles of women, love and the mind,” he says. “All these subjects have been dealt with in real, non-mystical, non-religious terms. I also asked him to write in the dialect of Kongu Nadu (west Tamil Nadu), his home. In a form that is obsessed with the idea of purity, in music and language, this brings in another dimension to the sonic and semantic.”

A few thousand kilometres from Chennai, in the small Assamese town of Haflong, an independent musician named Daniel Langthasa is busy perfecting his own version of musical activism. The 34-year-old first rose to prominence as a part of Guwahati-based alt-rock/mutton rap act Digital Suicide, whose tongue-in-cheek songs about militancy in the North-East and ethnic bigotry and racism were a breath of fresh air in an overwhelmingly bourgeois and insular independent music scene. In 2015, when Langthasa returned from Guwahati to his hometown Haflong, he started putting out raw, stripped-down songs under his new persona as Mr India. “I just wanted to express what was on my mind at the time, unedited and raw, so there’s no self-censorship involved,” he says, adding that the initial impetus for the project was an attempt to break a long spell of writer’s block. “But I live in such a small town, and politics becomes much more personal at that scale. I’ve also grown up in a political family (his father was a Congress party leader, who was assassinated by militants in 2007), so I know everyone — who the politicians are, who they work with, how politics is played out here. There was so much stuff going on, and I just couldn’t keep quiet and not talk about it.”

  • Rise above the rot: Assamese Daniel Langthasa’s YouTube channel lampoons everything from Trump to the ABVP, while also flagging local issues such as the plight of unpaid municipal workers
    Shashikant SinghRise above the rot: Assamese Daniel Langthasa’s YouTube channel lampoons everything from Trump to the ABVP, while also flagging local issues such as the plight of unpaid municipal workers

The Mr India YouTube channel has close to a hundred songs — both original compositions and parodies — that lampoon everything from Donald Trump, the right-wing students’ group ABVP and the increasing corporatisation of independent music. Much of his music deals with local issues, whether it’s the lack of unity among tribes in his part of Assam, or the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) mainstreaming of militants in the quest for political power. This November, he helped bring the attention of Assamese and national media to the plight of over 3,000 municipal workers in Haflong who haven’t been paid their salaries since September 2016. After months of protests, the employees’ union decided to go on an indefinite strike in July. A day before the governor of Assam was due to visit the town, the protesters tried to bar the members of the district’s governing autonomous council from entering their offices. The police responded with a lathi-charge and rubber bullets. The resulting upsurge in public support for the workers forced the governor to step in, and the council released two months’ unpaid dues. But the situation has since returned to square one.

Langthasa had already written songs about the protests, and even made a short film on the July strike. But in November, disillusioned by the lack of public support for the workers, he decided to take his protest to the streets in the form of a sit-in. For three days, travelling with his guitar to different parts of the town with high foot traffic, Langthasa performed his songs in support of the workers. Then, on November 18, he travelled to New Delhi, where he performed in front of India Gate. “That video [of the India Gate performance] got a lot of attention back home, and it also resulted in more media attention,” he says. Langthasa also started the Beton Deu (“clear salary dues”) hashtag on Facebook, which has seen a number of young people from Haflong and across Assam participate by sending in their own songs, lyrics and poetry in support of the cause. “It’s been amazing. Every day I’m getting connected with new people through social media and they’re all trying to find ways to participate in the movement.”

Also going viral is Aisi Taisi Democracy with its political comedy act, including songs that address issues such as the failure of demonetisation, the rise of cow vigilantes, and the BJP’s dangerous attempts to rewrite Indian history. The group — which consists of Indian Ocean bassist and vocalist Rahul Ram, comedian Sanjay Rajoura and comedian, screenwriter and lyricist Varun Grover — came together in 2015. “We never thought about doing more than a couple of shows, but it kind of just took off,” says Ram. “This was a good place for my political ideas to come out. Sanjay and Varun are also guys who see the absurd, not just in our party politics but also our society in general.”

  • Rule of LOL: Aisi Taisi Democracy’s absurdist takes on political chicanery are online hits
    Deepak KunhiramanRule of LOL: Aisi Taisi Democracy’s absurdist takes on political chicanery are online hits

Ram, who grew up listening to the radical Left protest songs of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and spent a few years in the 1990s as a campaign coordinator with the Narmada Bachao Andolan, is one of the rare links between the country’s independent music scene and diverse peoples’ movements — traditionally the source of much of Indian protest music. In recent decades, however, the Left’s cultural activism has increasingly been relegated to the margins of the cultural sphere. Ram attributes this to the political decline of the mainstream Left, as well as a shift in focus to local movements and languages. “So it remains within its region and doesn’t get propagated nationally,” he says. “Earlier the Left had its official songwriters, so those songs would get spread around. Now there’s no way to propagate the songs about, for example, the Narmada Bachao Andolan because nobody’s interested in what they’re talking about and there’s no one to do the propagation.”

In recent years, cultural activists from the Left and the Ambedkarite movements have reached similar conclusions, and put in efforts to remedy the situation. Since 2015, a number of cultural activists from across the country have been working together as the Relaa Collective, a protest music supergroup that also doubles as a skill development programme and a network of similarly aligned groups.

A similar initiative is The War Beat, a YouTube channel and protest music group headed by prominent Dalit-Marxist balladeer Sambhaji Bhagat. Featuring professionally produced music and videos, and borrowing musical ideas from genres like rock and jazz, The War Beat is a — somewhat belated — attempt to take ‘movement music’ from the protest site to the digital space. “In the time of TV and the internet, just doing street theatre isn’t enough to connect with the people and the youth,” says Bhagat. “People today spend more time online than they do on the streets. That has its negative effects, but it also opened up a new space in public life. And it’s important that we try and occupy that space.”

Independently financed through contributions from individuals — in cash or in kind — The War Beat channel also hosts videos of performances by other Marxist and Ambedkarite artistes from Maharashtra such as (former Kabir Kala Manch members) Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali, and the Yalgaar cultural troupe. The idea is to create a space for independent cultural activism.

“We need to figure out how to make our protest music global, how to increase its reach and audience,” adds Dhammaraxit, a rising young Left-Ambedkarite cultural activist who is a founding member of Yalgaar, as well as the recently formed musical satire group The Banned. “We need to experiment with new forms, new musics. Because if we just stick to what we’ve been doing for the past 20-30 years then we’ll just end up preaching to the converted. We need music that doesn’t just speak to the underprivileged but also raises awareness amongst the exploiting classes.”

That problem of reach — how to create music that transcends the divisions of ideology, language and location — is the biggest facing India’s protest musicians. Whether we’re talking about the urban protest music of Krishna, Aisi Taisi Democracy and New Delhi act The Ska Vengers, or the movement music of Bhagat, Dhammaraxitand Sathe, it is still restricted to small networks (online and offline) of like-minded people, the path to mainstream success blocked by market forces, general political apathy and a culture industry that is too comfortable with the status quo to risk the wrath of those in power. “We don’t yet have a solution to that, it’s a major crisis,” says Bhagat, a little subdued but not defeated. “It’s very difficult for us to compete with the resources of capitalism and the state. I don’t know if we have the strength to do that, but we’ll continue to fight.”

The Hindu

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