Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Water – Film Review



Writer and Director: Deepa Mehta

Starring: Seema Biswas as Shakuntala, Lisa Roy as Kalyani, John Abraham as Narayan, Manorama as Madhumati, Sarala Kariyawasam as Chuiya and Raghuvir Yadav as Gulabi.

Running Time: 114 minutes

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Overview

Water, in general, is a story about Indian widows who are forced to enter “widow houses” by their own families to relieve themselves of financial and emotional burdens, where they struggle to survive by begging and often turn to prostitution.

Set in 1938 in British-ruled India, a time when Mahatma Gandhi and the anti-colonial movement are on the rise, the film shows the plight of a group of fifteen widows who live in the holy city of Veranasi, near the holy river - Ganges. The main aim of the film seems to portray the social, religious and economic situations of India in 1930s and try to find out reasons behind the nastiest situation of widows in India.

Story and the Characters

The film revolves around three women. Two of them, Chuiya and Kalyani are full of life and also the youngest of the widows living in the house. They want to break-free from the state of widowhood and live a life of their own choice. Chuiya is an innocent seven year old girl who is unaware about social and religious norms of the society and thus fears nothing. She has innocent questions to ask which are very hard to answer even to a religion as old as Hinduism. Her one-linear like, “A widow feels pain because she is half alive.”, “Where do men widows live?” are powerful enough to show the disparity between men and women that Hinduism provisions. Similarly, Kalyani is a pretty woman who has been lured into prostitution by Madhumati, the chief of widow house. Madhumati is a corrupt old widow who smokes marijuana provided by the eunuch and local pimp Gulabi. It is Gulabi who updates Madhumati about the recent happenings around the city and also helps her in prostituting Kalyani by finding out the local Brahmins or high-caste elites. The third woman Shakuntala, is a devout Hindu who is caught in between her religious faith and her human cravings. She is the one who is attached to Chuyia, because she sees herself reflected in Chuyia; and strives to give Chuyia what she had lacked.

The film starts off with Chuiya's husband's death, and her disposal to widow house. The story moves on with Narayan, a follower of Gandhi, falling in love with Kalyani despite of her being a widow. But, Kalyani’s suicide after knowing that Narayan’s father is one of the men she has slept with, takes Narayan back to Gandhi, and in the end we see Shakuntala handing over Chuyia to Narayan. In the last scene of the movie, the train departs leaving teary eyed Shakuntala behind, taking Chuyia into a brighter future.

Interpretation

Reasons for setting the movie in 1930s

There seems to be two key reasons for setting the story of the film in 1930s not in 2005 - the time when the film was made. The first reason is to let compare the audience the situation of widows in India between 1930s and present time, which is almost similar. With this the film has questioned the notion of ‘21st century world’ where the activists working in the field of women rights assume that the condition of women at present has changed a lot in comparison to past century. Another reason for setting the film in 1930s is to indirectly show that even the reformer like Mahatma Gandhi have not  been able to persuade people to change their perception towards women in general and widowhood in particular. 

Also, in showing the hardships that the widows are forced into, the film Water has focussed on social, religious and economic reasons behind.

Economic reasons

Water has powerfully pointed out some of the underlying economic factors behind the dispossession of widows by their own families. Through Narayan, the film explains that simply to reduce one mouth to feed and save four saris per year, widows are disposed in widow house. And while the treatment of widows is disguised as religion, Narayan concludes, “It’s all about money.” These few sentences illuminate the situation in an extremely powerful manner.

Religious reasons

It was due to religious contents in the film, shooting of Water was halted by Shiva Sena, back in 2000 AD. Shiva Sena, an organization working under Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), burnt down the sets of the film fearing that Water would portray India and her customs in poor light to the West. Finally, the shooting of the film was done in Sir Lanka.

Yes, the film has a lot religious content and has mercilessly attacked negative aspects of the religion. By showing the Auntie’s clinging for ladoo even after she reaches the final years of her life, the film is questioning the state of bairagya (detachment from worldly desires), for which the religion orders widows to live a life of a hermit.

While the film has predominantly accused religion for the main reason behind the horrible situation of widows, it also shows even religion is adapting to the need of changing times. In his conversation with Shakuntala, Baba (the priest in the 'ghats,' or steps, leading down to the Ganges) based on holy texts, explains that a widow has three options: (1) to throw herself on her husband's funeral pyre, (2) to marry his brother (if he has one and it is permitted by the family), or (3) to live in poverty in a group home for widows. But he is quick to add that the time is changing and there is a law that favours widow remarriage. Unlike many other religious servants, he was pro-active in understanding the importance of Gandhi as he tells Shakuntala: "Gandhiji is one of the few in the world who listens to his voice of conscience".

Social reasons

The film has identified patriarchy as the main social reason behind the dreadful condition of widows. Upon the death of Auntie, remark by a widow, "God willing, she'll be reborn as a man!" shows the amount of importance contemporary society had placed on being a man. Similarly, in showing that the worst enemies of the widows are the widows themselves, the film shows patriarchy as an agency camouflaged in it. Also, the misuse of religion by men of the so-called high class Brahmins and elites to keep the illiterates and poor frightened in the name of god but they themselves exploiting even the ‘worthless’ widows shows the patriarchy’s role in the continued torture that widow are forced into.

While showing the social reasons behind the plight of the widow, the film also highlights the positively changing social scenario around India. The message of changing social conditions of India has been portrayed through Mahatma Gandhi and his follower Narayan.

Lackings
There is very little to complain about the story and the way it has been told. Deepa Mehta has done a brilliant job. But when it comes to casting, though the role played by Seema Biswas as Shakuntala, Manorama as Madhumati, Sarala Kariyawasam as Chuiya and Raghuvir Yadav as Gulabi are brilliant match, the film has failed especially in identifying actors for the role of Narayan and Kanyani. Lisa Ray as Kalyani, a former model, is far too elegant as a member of a poverty-stricken widow house and a prostitute. John Abrahm as Narayan, one of Bollywood’s fashionable hero lacks the appeal of a conscious political figure. At times he looks like a model dressed in dhoti and kurta for a photo session.

Conclusion
Water is a movie primarily aimed to depict the social and religious picture of India in reference to widows. It has, without mercy, attached the bad practices of the religion and has also not failed to adore the changing social and religious scenario in India.

Important of all, the movie still has its relevance besides being a story of 1930s because the condition of widows in India is at present almost similar to that of 1938 if not exactly the same. It is shocking to know that widow houses are still operating in Veranasi.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sustainable Transportation

The idea behind sustainable transportation is to create an effective and efficient transportation system that ensures efficient mobility, affordability and reduced environmental impacts of the system. However, the growing nature of transportation needs and its dependence on fossil fuel amid the dangers of climate change make the present transportation system truly unsustainable, and it is high time we transformed it into something sustainable. 
Cut down on pollution
Thus, the urgency to cut down on the emission of carbon dioxide - one of the greenhouse gases - by 50-80 per cent until 2050 has also brought the idea of sustainable transportation into limelight because the present transportation system of the world is based on fossil fuel and is solely responsible for 20 - 25 per cent of the world’s energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. 
Attempts have been made, both by citizens and governments, in different parts of the world to make the transition towards sustainable transportation possible. At the moment, fuel efficient vehicles and a car sharing culture are being used and promoted. Also, private vehicles are being discouraged by imposing heavy taxes on fossil fuels and even on vehicles. A transport system based on a renewable source of energy like solar power or electricity and, most importantly, an efficient public transportation system are advised for the transition. 
Guangzhou, a city in south China’s Guangdong province, has transformed into a city with a sustainable transportation system with a world-class Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that integrates cycle lanes and metro stations. It won the 2011 Sustainable Transport Award created by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), which proves that transformation to a sustainable transport system is possible even in big cities. 
In this context, the concept of sustainable transportation is an important issue to be discussed in Nepal as well, especially at a time when roads are being widened in the Kathmandu Valley due to growing traffic congestion. Yes, it’s true that Nepal’s contribution to the global carbon emission is negligible (0.025 per cent of the world total), but our carbon emission is sure to increase as Nepal enters the much-awaited phase of industrialisation. 
Amidst the dire situation that has been presented to the world because of the complexities of climate change and at a time when every country in the world is setting individual targets to reduce its carbon emission following the COP 19 meeting in Warsaw, wouldn’t it be wise on the part of Nepal to think ahead of time and start focusing towards a sustainable transportation system? 
In addition, there are other reasons and incentives why we must embark on the journey of a sustainable transportation system. Our dependence on fossil fuel imports and the hue and cry seen in the streets every time the smooth flow of fuel is obstructed are other reasons. It is essential that we decrease our dependence on oil, on which we spent more than a billion dollars in 2010-11. Even a one per cent saving of the amount would help us carry out essential development activities in needy parts of the country. Moreover, decreasing imports of petroleum products - 20% of total imports - would help decrease our trade deficit with India and other countries.
News about corruption and misuse of subsidy, which is often the case with Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC), is another reason why we must opt for sustainable transportation. Similarly, the traffic congestion, particularly in Kathmandu, no more makes it an easy city to travel around; a lot of time is wasted in the traffic jams even when we are commuting only a short distance. 
Moreover, public transportation, which is a part of sustainable transportation, is not efficient. And it’s even more difficult for women to use public transportation given the news of molestation in the congested and unregulated public buses and mini-buses. 
It’s true that transformation to sustainable transportation requires a lot of investment, in terms of both time and money for research and development of technology, and for building the infrastructure required to set up a good public transportation system. Given the poor economic condition of Nepal, transition towards sustainable transportation is even more difficult. 
But, there is a way out, which does not require a lot of investment in infrastructure and technological invention – the bicycle. Cycling is something that is affordable for all Nepalese and it, to some extent, can decrease our overdependence on fossil fuels besides cutting down on environmental pollution. 
Moreover, it is healthier to cycle. With a little bit of planning and promotion, the way forward could well be the two wheeler rather the other smoky engines. However, I must not be misunderstood to be advocating cycling against other kinds of transportation; applicability is always an important factor. 
Cycle lanes
On the part of the government, it has to make cycling a pleasant and easy experience by building cycling lanes, well demarcated from the roads, which will ensure risk-free cycling. However, the ideal would be to build cycle lanes separated from roads meant for fossil engines. Cycle lanes, a little away from the roads and trees along it can inspire even the non-cyclers to take up cycling for moral, societal, environmental, economic incentives attached to it. Experiences have shown that cycling has increased with the provision of good cycling facilities. 
Recently there was news in the media that the under construction Baneswor-Tin Kune road will have 2.5 m wide cycle lanes on both sides. This is indeed great news and, of course, the first and positive step towards the right path. Finally, in the context of Nepal, cycling has to be developed as our first step towards transition to sustainable transportation to ensure greener and more efficient transportation.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Song with a Solution

Not a regular listener of Nepali folk music, I was awestricken by the words of the song – Chinta Chaina Kehi – beautifully stroked to provide a deep reflection of Nepali realities. At the same time it also has successfully – in positive tone – depicted the potential of Nepali society to march towards bright future. However, I am not scribing this article just to say that the song, written by Pashupati Sharma and sang by the writer himself along with Sita K.C, is going almost viral in YouTube or has potential to do so.

The main idea of this article is to compare the message of the song with a development theory called Sustainable Development (SD). SD, in its seminal report – Our Common Future – has been described as ‘development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ At the time, when SD is being backed by United Nations as the kind of development theory suitable for the world and its people economically, socially and environmentally it would be interesting to see the messages of SD that the song has.

Written around the foreign migration scenario, the song has many other issues amalgamated within its main thread. The explicit message of the song seems to show, migration to foreign country for painstaking jobs with little rewards, in the changed context of Nepal, is not necessary if we can put in a little bit of more effort on the way we have been doing our occupation since generations.

For example, the songs explains a story of a highly educated man who has returned back to his village and have been doing agriculture in commercial way. The writer has, through out the song, incessantly tries to explain the need of commercial agriculture in Nepal. Even according to SD, when interpreted in Nepal’s context, it is important for us to return back to our agricultural roots but in a professional way. We should not forget that, in the dream of making the country as prosperous as Switzerland, Nepal has been converted into a food importing country from the one which used to export it until a decade ago.

In addition, the song also has implicit messages relating to gender equality, culture, family relations, etc. The gender equality, though not mentioned in the verses of the song, has been depicted in the video which is the social aspect of SD. Moreover, verses like – khancham geda-gudi bascham buda budi, Malai Salman Khan ni yei, malai Saha Rukh Khan ni yei – hints towards the importance of homegrown food habits and also the good relation between wife and husband made easily possible because of living together. These are powerful and influencing lines in the context of weakening and breaking family relations, also reported several times in the news in the recent times.

Similarly, the song also indicates towards the importance of our culture and saving our identity. Shown in the habits related to food and clothes, the song clearly has a message relating to SD which advocates of placing the environment and society ahead of the economics. Moreover, the verses – payal chappal kinchu, kchaad berchu hindchu, malai dingo jutta yei, malai jean ko pant, yei malai suhaune pani yei – mentions the unrestrained copy of other cultures resulting into increased import which in turn is taking back all our money to the countries where it was earned by our fellow Nepalese. Almost 80% of the remittance money being spent in daily goods and our growing deficit proves the same scenario.

In sum, the song puts an increased important towards the well-being and other different unquantifiable aspect of human life. Time spent with family and the valuable time shared with community peoples and so forth is highlighted more than monetary incentives. The song, in all its verses, from one way or the other, has incessantly tried to reflect that Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as in SD, is not the one and only aspect of prosperity.


On my part, I am very happy to find something I would use throughout my life to start the lessons of SD to my to-be students. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Two Rings (A STORY FROM THE BOOK - THE ART TO LIVING)

This write-up has been taken from the book THE ART TO LIVING by William Hart. I hope it will benefit the readers.

A rich old man died leaving two sons. For some time the two continued living together in the traditional Indian way, in a single joint household, a joint family. Then they quarreled and decide to separate, dividing all the property between them. Everything was divided fifty-fifty, and thus they settled their affairs. But after the settlement had been made, a small packet was discovered which had been carefully hidden by their fathers. They opened the packet and found two rings inside, one set with a valuable diamond, and the other an ordinary silver ring worth only a few rupees.
Seeing the diamond, the elder brother developed greed in his mind, and he started explaining to the younger one, "To me it appears that this ring is not the earning of our father, but rather an heirloom from his forefathers. That is why he kept it separate from his other possessions. And since it has been kept for generations in our family, it should remain for future generations. Therefore I, being elder, shall keep it. You had better take the silver ring."
The younger brother smiled and said, "All right, be happy with the diamond ring, I'll be happy with the silver one." Both of them placed their rings on their fingers and went their ways.
The younger brother thought to himself. "It is easily understandable that my father kept the diamond ring; it is so valuable. But why did he keep this ordinary silver ring?" He examined the ring closely and found some words engraved on it: "This will also change." "Oh, this is the mantra for my father: 'This will also change!' ". He replaced the ring on his finger.
Both brothers faced all the ups and downs of life. When spring came, the elder brother became highly elated, losing the balance of his mind. When autumn or winter came, he fell into deep depression, again losing his mental balance. He became tense, developing hypertension. Unable to sleep at night, he started using sleeping pills, tranquilizers, stronger drugs. Finally, he reached the stage where he required electric shock treatments. This was the brother with the diamond ring.
As for the younger brother with the silver ring, when spring came, he enjoyed it; he didn't try to run away from it. He enjoyed it, but looked at his ring and remembered, "This will also change." And when it changed, he could smile and say, "Well, I knew it was going to change. It has changed, so what!" When autumn or winter came, again he looked at his ring and remembered, "This will also change." He didn't start crying, knowing that this would also change. And yes, it also changed, it passed away. Of all the ups and downs, all the vicissitudes of life, he knew that nothing is eternal, that everything comes just to pass away. He did not lose the balance of his mind and he lived a peaceful, happy life. 
This was the brother with the silver ring.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Case study: Closure of Surya Nepal Textile

Background
Established in 2004 with an investment of approximately Rs. 700 million, Surya Nepal Private Limited’s garment manufacturing unit - Surya Textile Industry - had been providing jobs to 608 workers directly, while the number of workers indirectly related to textile industry was more than 1,000. Located in Tankisinuwari, a VDC near Biratnagar in Morang district, around 500 workers in the industry were female and it used to produce 50 to 60 per cent of Nepal’s total garment export. Popular international brands like John Players and Springwood having markets in India, France, Canada, Italy and the US were being produced form Surya Textile. Most importantly, the industry paid Rs. 300 million as tax to the government of Nepal in last fiscal year (HNS, August 25).
Dispute over wage of 8 days: apparent cause of the shutdown
Remunerations demanded by workers for the eight days strike[1] that took place in mid-April and the management’s refusal to provide any, under the “no work no pay[2]” provision, in long run turned out to be the main reason for the permanent closure of Surya Textile. Workers didn’t agree with the “no work no pay” pact arguing that they were present inside the industry’s premises during the strike but could not work, because the industry itself was closed. This way, arguments and counter arguments continued and it deepened the conflict between management and labours. On June 14, the situation worsened when factory workers, under backing of major trade unions, locked up 42 officials of the management (Ghimire, August 18) without food and water supply for more than 24 hours (Lee, August 25). Finally, police had to rescue the captivated officials forcefully, because the major[3] trade unions wanted their demand to be fulfilled immediately, or else they were not ready to release the officials. During the rescue clash, 8 labours and 12 policemen were injured (ibid.). After the officials were rescued, the management announced an indefinite closure of the industry to be effective from June 15 itself.
Since June 15 to August 17 the industry remained closed during which labourers and even the trade unions demonstrated to re-open the industry but the management continuously refused to re-open citing unfriendly industrial climate and security problems rather they wanted to close the industry forever. Finally, an agreement was reached among representatives of Morang Industry Organisation, Trade Unions and Surya Nepal to shut down the industry permanently paying Rs 29,800 as lay-off benefits to each worker and also according to agreement, the laid-off workers will be given priority as per the workers’ efficiency and capacity if the company comes up with new venture or resume its factory again (HNS, August 20). The security problems, militant trade unionism and their irrational demands, according to the management, forced the company to permanently close the textile industry (HNS, August 18).
Salary was not the problem
Irrespective of many other cases where monthly wage is the main cause of rift between management and labourers, Surya Textile looks like an exception. Sanjiv Keshava, Surya Nepal’s managing director, claims themselves as a good paymaster and explained that they paid almost double the amount stated in the minimum wage (Lee, August 25). Similarly, news published about Chattra and Damber Kumari Shrestha shows that the couple earned more than 10 thousands in total (Ghimire, et al., 2011) which is at least equal to the minimum salary for workers fixed by government i.e. Rs 6,200. The news, about Sarala Khadka also proves that she earned 6-7 thousands a month, an amount more than the minimum salary fixed by the government (Nagarik, March 6). These cases show that Surya Garment was not closed because of labourers’ dissatisfaction in the amount of salary paid to them.
Latent causes of the shutdown
On the one side where management claims the over-politicization of trade unions and their often violent assertions to be major cause behind the closure of Surya Textile Industry, the trade unions and their political leaders argues that labour unrest is not the only reason for the closure of Surya Garment. Hari Roka, a Constitutional Assembly member representing the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), blames that Surya Garment has cheated national coffer by creating false Value Added Tax (VAT) bill (HNS, August 25) and to escape the penalty it has been shut down. Another possible reason for the permanent shutdown of Surya Garment is identified as its inability to compete in the global market (Lamsal, G.). Besides all above reasons, government inability in creating conducive environment for industrial activities is prime factor in closure of Surya Textile. Prolonged power cuts, minimal infrastructure, liquidity crisis, etc. are some of the areas where the government should have helped.
Finally, whatever the management and the trade unions claim the workers clearly were not in favour of closing the industry. Saraswati Ghimire, who worked for Surya Textile blames the union leaders for the closure of industry. She explains, “this is all because of our over dependence and faith on so called labour leaders” (Nagarik, March 6). It is true that both the Surya Textile and Government have lost their income but important of all, labourers are the one who has been hampered the most.
Conclusion
Apart from sending a frightening message to potential investors, the Surya Textile case will also have a disastrous impact on the already stagnating economic activities. So the government now should work for creating conducive industrial environment so that all the three parties – government, industry and the labourers will be benefited.

[1] Organizations related to different political parties had called on strike in mid-April (Ghimire, et al., 2011)
[2] The three major trade unions All Nepal Trade Union Federation (ANTUF), Nepal Trade Union Congress and General Federation of Trade Unions of Nepal (Gefont) – and the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) had signed an agreement on March 24, 2011 accepting “no work no pay” for illegal strike in the industrial sector (HNS, August 19).
[3] The three major trade unions are: All Nepal Trade Union Federation (ANTUF), Nepal Trade Union Congress and General Federation of Trade Unions of Nepal (Gefont).
References
Ghimire, M (2011, August 18). Surya Nepal shuts down garment factory. The Kathmandu Post (Money), p. A.
Ghimre, L & Ghimire, M. (2011, September 24). Khyalkhyalmai gumyo rojgaari. Retrieved March 21, 2012, from http://www.ekantipur.com/nep/2068/6/7/full-story/336158.html
Lamsal, G. (n.d.). Majdurko mukha bandha garera kina sutyo surya nepal? Retrieved March 21, 2012, from http://janaaasthanews.com/temp.php?article_id=283&cat_id=7
Lee, T. (2011, August 25). “Due to frequent labor unrest, we’ve consistently been unable to make our deliveries”. The Himalayan Times (Perspectives), p. 5.
HNS. (2011, August 18). Surya Nepal shuts garment unit. The Himalayan Times, p.10.
HNS. (2011, August 19). Pvt sector shows concern about surya garments. The Himalayan Times, p.10.
HNS. (2011, August 20). Surya sets lay off package for apparel workers. Retrieved March 24, 2012, from http://www.thehimalayantimes.com/fullNews.php?headline=Surya+sets+lay+off+package+for+apparel+workers&NewsID=303457
HNS. (2011, August 25). Call to resume surya garment unit. The Himalayan Times, p.10.
Nagarik. (2012, March 6). Garment bandhako ashar kashyama. Retrieved March 21, 2012, from http://nagariknews.com/society/nation/37618-2012-03-06-03-25-24.html