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Shormishtha Panja
Tuesday , July 23, 2013

Seven shades of greed

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Yesterday evening, two news programmes jostled for the viewer's attention on television. One was about the ex-railway minister, Pawan Bansal, and how the CBI was wrong to let him off scot free in the Railgate scandal where hefty bribes were paid for posts and deals were made by Bansal's nephew in Bansal's residence. Bansal had lost his job as railway minister soon after the news of the scandal broke in May, but the CBI had not charged him of wrongdoing. The judge, Swarna Kanta Sharma, reviewing the case recently, succinctly said that "the high and mighty should not escape the law." The other news item was the heartrending story of children's deaths in Bihar from eating midday meals. Was it the contaminated grain, the rancid oil, the utter apathy of the authorities, the low salaries of the cooks that led to the untimely snuffing out of so many innocent lives?....

Tuesday , June 25, 2013

New York, New York!

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I was in New York city recently to attend a seminar. As always the beauty and majesty of the skyline and the rush of the people enraptured me. However, this time I seemed to sense a new spirit in the city. I had been to New York before, during my years of graduate school in the US. Then I had been struck by an experience of being overwhelmed, even intimidated, by the towering skyscrapers that sometimes didn't let one glimpse even a bit of the sky, by the indifference of passers by who brushed by you in the street even if you looked helpless and lost, by the graffiti scrawled all over subway stations and subway trains that were filthy, rattling and decrepit. This time the experience was different. The subway was sparkling with new coaches and new seats, the skyscrapers seemed less impersonal because of the old....

Saturday , March 23, 2013

In DU, grievous harm befalls an actor while performing a street play!

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Readers of my blog will know that my students and I set up PEHEL: Delhi University Women's Support Group in 2005. Every year in March, as close as possible to March 8, International Women's Day, we hold the annual PEHEL Mela on the Arts Faculty grounds in which street plays or nukkad nataks are staged on women's issues. This year the Mela was in memory of the Delhi gang rape victim and the theme was Women and Violence. At 12 noon on March 21, the PEHEL volunteers gathered. The two teams staging nukkad nataks - Aatish, formed by PEHEL alumna Ankita Anand, and Anubhuti, the nukkad natak group from JDM led by Dr. Indu - were ready. We foisted all the three colourful PEHEL banners. Then we bowed our heads for a minute's silence in memory of the brave Delhi girl of December 16. Just as we were about....

Friday , March 08, 2013

International Women's Day and PEHEL

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Today is International Women's Day. In spite of being in the middle of a three-day international Shakespeare seminar, when CNN-IBN asked me to do a blog I could not refuse. I take this opportunity to talk once more about PEHEL: Delhi University Women's Support Group that my students and I formed in 2005. This is the only support group in the University where students, non-teaching staff, teachers and karamcharis meet together. Over the years we have tried to raise awareness about women's issues in manifold ways. Students and teachers from the college departments of English and from the Department of Social Work have always been enthusiastic PEHEL members. We have a yahoo group and a Facebook page, Pehel. DU, all formed by students. The very name for our group came from a student as did the logo! We have shown documentary films like 'QtoP' ,....

Tuesday , February 05, 2013

Remembering Amrita Sher-Gil

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2013 is the birth anniversary of Amrita Sher-Gil. This astonishing creature, no less astonishing as a painter than as a woman, was born in Budapest on 30 January, a hundred years ago, of a patrician Sikh scholar father and Jewish Hungarian opera singer mother. She spent the first years of her life in Budapest getting painting lessons while her younger sister Indira got paino lessons. The sepia- tinted photographs of her childhood in her niece Navina Sundaram's excellent documentary film show two sisters, discreetly dressed, seated in bourgeois surroundings in Budapest and then in Shimla. Amrita could very well have spent all her life, short as it was, as a wealthy socialite interested in the arts. However, two things changed all that-her entry into the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris, when she was only seventeen (this is where she drew live models and imbibed the work of Cezanne....

Monday , January 21, 2013

India's capital and its unique 'Koi Baat Nahi' culture

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All of us must have heard this phrase at one time or another: Koi baat nahi! Its rough translation would be "No problem!" or "No worries!" (if you are Australian) "Du rien" (if you are French,) and so on. When do we say "No problem!" or "No worries!"? In most cultures it is uttered by the injured party as a graceful means of letting the other person off the hook. Your friend has come 30 minutes late for a lunch meeting. Even though you are dying of hunger and all the good tables in the restaurant have gone, you smile gamely and say, "No problem!" when she pours out a flood of apologies and explanations about the traffic and her watch running late and that last minute landline phone call just as she was leaving the house.... When would an Australian cheerily say "No worries!"? Running the risk of racial....

Tuesday , December 25, 2012

Delhi gangrape: Need for change

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Here has been a clamour of voices in newspapers, electronic media, blogs, Facebook and Twitter over the unconscionable gang rape and brutal beating of a 23-year-old girl in a moving Delhi bus-the fact that the girl was accompanied by a male friend and the hour was only 9.30 pm made no difference. The girl is now battling for her life in Safdarjung Hospital. Her intestines had to be removed because gangrene had set in. If she recovers, she will never be able to eat a proper meal. Citizens have gathered in India Gate and Raisina Hill and Jantar Mantar to demand accountability from those in power and safety for Delhi's women. Peaceful protests have been held, placards displayed, street plays performed. The response of the government and the police was to latthi charge, teargas and water cannon these peaceful protesters. Yes, certain anti-social elements have hurled stones at the police....

Thursday , December 13, 2012

Pandit Ravi Shankar - the rock star of classical music

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Pandit Ravi Shankar died yesterday - well, technically, he died on December 11 at 4.30pm PST (Pacific Standard Time or West Coast time,) in San Diego, California, but that corresponds to yesterday morning IST. My maternal grandfather knew him well. His eldest brother Uday Shankar, the legendary dancer, was a close friend of my grandfather's, and my grandfather had watched the youngest Shankar child, Robu, as he was affectionately called, growing up, dancing in Uday Shankar's troupe, doing odd jobs, playing the tabla. Yes, the first musical instrument this man played was not the sitar but the tabla. My great grandfather was the court physician to the Raja of Jhalawar and Ravi Shankar's father, Shyam Shankar Chowdhury, was the dewan. I met Ravi Shankar many years later, long after my grandfather's passing, in San Francisco. I was teaching at Stanford and Ravi Shankar, long a legend in the....

Monday , November 12, 2012

Four more years!

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Now that Barack Obama has won a second term, let's look at some of the reasons for his victory in what was predicted as a closely run-race, and the challenges immediately before him. It was never easy for Obama, despite killing Osama Bin Laden, despite pulling American troops out of Iraq, despite passing PPACP (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Pact,) popularly known as Obamacare, a Federal statute signed into a law aimed at decreasing the number of uninsured Americans and reducing the costs of healthcare which was vociferously opposed by all 178 Republican members of the House, despite helping the economy revive marginally and despite bailing out the car industry. The media coverage constantly said that it was a close race, and the difference between the two candidates, Obama and Mitt Romney, only lessened after the first debate, the victory for which all polls gave to Romney. ....

Thursday , November 01, 2012


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The megastorm Sandy, demoted from the position of hurricane, has been ravaging the East Coast of the US for the last three days. As of today, the death toll is 59, across the US and Canada (a point of comparison: deaths from the 2004 tsunami in India were a staggering 6400). 8.2 million households have been without power. The 108 year-old New York subway has been flooded. The NYU Hospital had to be evacuated because of a power outage. Nurses carried out newborns from the ICU, manually operating the ventilators. The New York Stock Exchange is closed. 18,100 flights were cancelled as the runways of both JFK and La Guardia were flooded, but JFK reopened today. 80 homes were gutted by a fire caused by an electric short circuit. A battered crane hangs over W57th Street-it was being used to build a luxury skyscraper. The famous seaboard of Atlantic City,....


More about Shormishtha Panja

Shormishtha Panja teaches at the University of Delhi. She writes books on critical theory, gender studies and visual culture. She loves being a mom and enjoys travelling to new countries. She is borderline obsessive about food and Renaissance art and guards her collection of children’s fiction fiercely.