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Monthly Archives: April 2015

Rising from the rubble in Nepal

Published: April 29, 2015

Krishna Ramtel, the miraculous survivor of the Dharahara Tower fall.

Krishna Ramtel, the miraculous survivor of the Dharahara Tower fall.

KARACHI: Nepal lies in ruins. Over 5,000 souls have perished – but, according to some estimates, the figure could go up to 10,000. The lucky ones who survived are petrified as the earth continues to shake after the April 25 apocalyptic temblor in the tiny Himalayan state.

In Pimbahal neighbourhood of Lalitpur district, no one sleeps inside their homes. Even though mercury drops to as low as 12 degrees at night, most Nepalese sleep out on the streets in tents – within a stone’s throw of their houses.

“Ours is perhaps the only family that sleeps in their homes in this neighbourhood. We are comparatively less scared because we have a new house with stronger foundations,” Montessori Rajbhandari told The Express Tribune by phone from Nepal. It has been a very busy four days for Montessori, a broadcast journalist at Ujyaalo 90 Network, Nepal’s largest, independent radio network.

“We are reporting, sending out reporters as far as they can go, and coordinating with the government. In parts, roads are blocked. Kathmandu is still better off. But places like Sindhupalchowk district are in ruins. So many have died,” says Montessori.

Sindhupalchowk, Rasuwa, Nuwakot, Kavrepalanchowk, Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur are among the worst hit areas, says Montessori.

Estimates from UN say that some eight million people have been affected after the 7.8 magnitude quake hit the picturesque Nepal, already struggling with developmental issues like poverty and hunger.

“Krishna was up in the Dharahara Tower when the earthquake hit, one of the tallest buildings in Nepal. The tower collapsed; only the base remains. Krishna has survived,” says Montessori, sharing the incredible tale of survival of 27-year-old Krishna Ramtel, who is currently under treatment in Bir Hospital. Around 180 bodies were removed from the site of the crumbled tower. Built in 1832, Dharahara was one of the heritage sites of Nepal recognised by Unesco. “We had seven such sites; now we are left with only three. Four of our world heritage sites have been damaged badly.” Krishna’s story is up on the Ujyaalo website. “The headline is ‘Am I alive?’” says Montessori, translating into English.

The website is filled with videos and photographs of crumbled buildings and devastated people. Photographs show the dismal remnants of Khokana, a unique village in Lalitpur district, central Nepal. Known as a living museum, Khokana had kept its rich tradition alive, with its unusual mustard oil harvesting technique a tourist attraction.

The locals wonder if the municipality will ever rise from the rubble.

Answering a question regarding what the effected people need most, and how countries like Pakistan can help best, Montessori responds promptly by saying “food”. “Our people already suffer from hunger and food insecurity. They need to be fed”. In times of crises, worst hit are the vulnerable communities, especially women and children. “Take just one example. Paropakar Maternity and Women’s Hospital, Thapathali in Kathmandu, has been partially damaged and is cracked,” shares Montessori. “There are more patients now than the hospital can accommodate. The result is that women who are there for childbirth, and newborn babies, are living in the open air in cold weather. Cases of pneumonia are on the rise.”

When asked if she and the people of Nepal are satisfied with their government’s performance in this hour of need, she laughs. “Everyone is complaining…In developing countries we are never satisfied that our governments are doing enough.”

Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2015. 

Why I will never forgive Shonda Rhimes for killing Derek Shepherd

Killing the man with those melting eyes, Dr Derek Shepherd aka McDreamy, is beyond it all.

The previous episode of Grey’s Anatomy had hints that this may happen, but I said to myself that Shonda Rhimes, the writer, cannot do this.

Meredith has already been through way too much. Name any tragedy and mishap in the world and she has been through it. Mom had Alzheimer’s, dad was an alcoholic. Her best friend George died. The plane crash killed her sister Lexie and friend Mark Sloan and mangled Derek’s hand, and he was unable to do surgeries for months. Before that, in 2010, Derek was shot in the chest. And Meredith nearly died so many times and had a near death experience and gave birth to her baby boy in candlelight under very unusual circumstances. And you took away her person, Christina Yang. Tragedies make the best stories, but even Shakespearean tragedies have limits.

Killing the man with those melting eyes, Dr Derek Shepherd aka McDreamy, is beyond it all.

Smug Facebookers and weeps who need a life went on about how they had moved on fromGrey’s to Game of Thrones and Sherlock Holmes etc.

“I gave up at Season 10.”

Then why must you, oh kill joys, confirm to the world that you are inherently evil by giving outfeeling-less spoilers that Derek had died? We would have found out eventually, but may be the next many hours or even a day could have gone by without knowing that he is gone.

While I have moved on to watch other shows too, I have loyally stuck to Grey’s since 10 years. It is something me and my daughter bond over. The characters have grown and so have we. Some seasons have been amazing, others have been mediocre. But the quotes, the symbolism and the evolution of the characters has kept us glued. But today, I am not so sure.

Shonda, I will never forgive you for doing this.

The first reason is simple – you could have done away with Derek’s character more creatively. After all, you are the person behind one of the world’s most watched shows. You creatively designed the life and times of these doctors and came up with amazing stuff. Where was your sense of novelty when you decided it was time to let go of Patrick Dempsey? As my daughter rightly said,

“So disappointed in Shonda Rhimes! After 11 years of showing us the constant ups and downs of Meredith and Derek, this is how you choose to end it? This was by far the most disappointing episode I have ever seen. The writing of the episode was purely lazy and everything went by too fast.”

But more importantly, Ms Rhimes, you have made it hard for us, the viewers, to continue believing in the fact that good things happen to good people. The character you killed off was a good person whose mantra was

“It’s a beautiful day to save lives.”

He was saving lives and you killed him off. You killed off the hope in a world that is becoming too cynical already that a love like Mer-Der is too good to last. They were meant to grow old together. Their marriage vows included

“We’ll take care of each other, even when we’re old, and smelly, and senile.”

We wanted to believe that it still happens.

McDreamy is no longer there to make us believe. He said,

“I’ll be back before you know it.”

But he won’t.

Serial shows, when they lose the punch and creativity, and stop understanding what the viewers want, should end gracefully with finesse.

You could have done better, Shonda.

Nandita Das – The real thing in a virtual world

Nandita Das on being comfortable in her own skin

Published: March 29, 2015
Nandita believes youngsters shouldn’t bother about thinking where they fit in the social hierarchy. PHOTO: VIDHI THAKUR

Nandita believes youngsters shouldn’t bother about thinking where they fit in the social hierarchy. PHOTO: VIDHI THAKUR

LAHORE: “I never bleach my face,” says Nandita Das. Stunningly beautiful in a plain gray kurta, here is a woman whose description always has prefixes and suffixes like ‘dark and dusky’ or ‘earthy’ in write-ups about her. But Nandita is more than these qualifications.

We are sitting in Lahore on a chilly March morning in the home of Nuzhat Manto, Saadat Hasan Manto’s daughter, where Nandita is a house guest. She sips healthy green tea and nibbles on unhealthy mithaai. All she needs is a subtle cue and starts to talk, because Nandita has a lot to say. She feels talking about herself, “is corroding” to the self, but admits that this is an occupational hazard and hence, agreed to do this interview.

“I don’t even get a facial more than once a year. My mother never got her face bleached. She is 72 and has great skin. I stay away from artificial things,” she says, and shares that she has had emails from young girls wanting to commit suicide because they were unable to be fair, because they were disappointing their parents, because they would never find the right husband. “I internalise all this so much that I feel I must correct this, so I do the exact opposite. I almost asexualise myself… one reason why I have always worn dheela (loose) kurtas.”

As perhaps the most popular face of the ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign, she condemns the ‘gora complex’. “The big companies are cashing on this prejudice. It is not a standalone issue. I grew up as a dark person in a country like India. In the film industry, the few dark actresses we had have also progressively become fairer, like Rekha and Kajol. We take on the burden of looking good all the time. We, women, objectify ourselves. If we all look like Barbie dolls, how uninteresting the world would be. I see young girls who have completely lost their sense of self-worth because they are trying to fit into that standardised notion of beauty. Can you imagine the struggle? They spend all that time doing that instead of discovering their talent or being happy.”

The actor is considered, by many, one of the most attractive women of Indian cinema. “But that’s all about perception. Some might say ‘she is so dark’! There is always a hierarchy in things. Some people will be above you, others below you. If I waste my time thinking where I fit in that hierarchy of things…There’s so much to do. Travel. Eat good food. Meet interesting people,” she says, and adds that people label her as being “attractive to the intelligent man”.

“There’s a word for people who find intelligent people attractive… yes… sapiosexual. If at all somebody finds me attractive, I hope it is not just for what I look like because there is more to all of us.” Yet, Nandita does not like looking unkempt.  “Without Kajal I feel dead. But if there are 10 things I want to do today, looking good is the 11th thing, “says the actor who doesn’t carry cosmetics in her handbag and has no issues announcing that she is 45.

Actor, director, social activist, writer, wife and mother of a four-and-a-half year old boy, she juggles many roles. She is faced with the dilemma of every working woman who is a mother. “But at the same time, your work gives you a sense of purpose in life. If I’m not a happy person I will not be a happy mother. Once a woman has worked and tasted that freedom, she cannot be bound.”

When asked if she sees herself as the real thing in a world where so much is artificial, she says, “you don’t want to be so indulgent that you are constantly seeing yourself when there’s so much else to see. The film world can make you take yourself too seriously because you get too much attention too quickly; you start believing in the myth that you are important”.

Nandita never wanted to be an actor originally. “I thought it was a powerful medium to say the things that I wanted to say, just like the writing and speaking engagements I do”. All these mediums are means to an end for her, which is advocacy. “You meet people who are doing amazing work with no media light on them. It’s a tough life but that’s the life they have chosen and if given a chance would lead it all over again. When you admire people who are fighting for all of us, how can take yourself seriously just because people recognise you?”

Born in Mumbai, and raised in Delhi, Nandita relates more to Delhi as she feels it is a more culturally and politically engaged city. “The people of Delhi, however, are more aggressive and don’t have so much of work ethic. I’m sure the comparison reminds one of Lahore and Karachi. Delhi is also not as women-friendly and safe. Mumbai is very cosmopolitan. Delhi is more patriarchal.”

Her parents have been a very important influence in her life. “I owe a lot to my parents. My father is a painter; my mother is a writer. I grew up among writers, painters, photographers, musicians, theatre people. My parents have been extremely inclusive with friends from all places, religions, castes. I was never conditioned to differentiate. I didn’t know my caste till college. I am culturally Hindu but I have never done pooja on my own. There are no idols in our house. I grew up as very secular.”

While her father stayed at home, her mother used to go to work and that is what used to make her think that her father’s job is to cook and clean, and that he paints for recreation.

“He’d help the female maid in housework. I was embarrassed as a kid when he would do jhaaroo outside the house. This is why I grew up with no divisions,” she says in a flow. She wants her son to grow up with the same vision.

From her father the conversation jumps to Saadat Hasan Manto. “The reason why I emotionally anchor towards Manto is that my father is like Manto in so many ways. Bindaas, moun phatt, jo mann mein aaya bola,” she says, and confesses that she is also blunt and straight forward. Directing a film about Manto is her labour of love. “Manto was not from any ‘ism’. He was just himself. Making this film is a tribute to people who have lived life on their own terms. We have started believing there is no other way to live life but compromise. But people like Manto have shown us there is. For that, they paid a price.” Nandita pays that price too, as an informed choice. “When I lie down to sleep, I think a lot. See, there are too many lines on my palm.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2015.