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Celebrating Pride Month: A Long Walk To Freedom

As we celebrate ‘equality’ and ‘identity’ this Pride Month, let us also remind ourselves of the work to be done ahead!

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Discrimination

(Trigger Warning)

Back in 2019, Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance conducted a survey across 12 cities in India. The point of discussion was whether Indians would accept organ donations from members of the LGBTQIA+ community. A staggering 56% percent of the respondents stated that they would refuse an organ from a queer donor, while 54% of the respondents declared that any member of the LGBTQIA+ community should not be allowed to donate an organ in the first place. You want another one? A study that started in October of 2016, by the Civilian Welfare Foundation, in collaboration with Stanford, found that members of the medical community in India find it hard to believe that transgenders get raped and, additionally, refuse to prescribe medication for HIV to them. This is in light of the fact that the transgender community is deemed a high-risk group for HIV. These studies were all, of course, conducted a few years back. But we really have to ask ourselves: ‘How much has India truly changed in these last few years?’

India is a country of polarities. That statement stands especially true when it comes to the issues surrounding the LGBTQIA+ community. There is a massive difference in the manner in which urban India and rural India navigates its interactions with queer individuals. While urban India is gradually coming to realise the fallacy in discriminating against a group, on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, criminal discriminatory acts of violence are running rampant in rural India. From secret honour killings to family-sanctioned corrective rapes, the violence against the LGBTQIA+ community is not only prevalent but also encouraged. This is not to say that urban India is completely a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community. There is still a lack of State-funded resources and organizational structure for the safety, education and health of the LGBTQIA+ community. Add to that an emphasized silence, on the part of Televised Media, on the issues that plague the community, and you get a, relatively, comprehensive scope of the struggles and the stigma that the LGBTQIA+ community has to deal with on a consistent basis. We say ‘relatively comprehensive’ because there are always more undiscussed issues. Take the example of societal stigma and perception that queer individuals can somehow magically convert others that they come in contact with. An archaic thought? Yes. But no less prevalent.

Of course, progress has been made in our country. In the 2018 landmark judgement by the Supreme Court, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a regressive legacy from Colonial India, saw itself becoming redundant. It was a singularly massive step for India, laying the path to acceptance and equal rights for the LGBTQIA+ community. The judgement itself was historical in its scope. However, the implication that the Supreme Court ruling had, in this case, is that the legal system in India is attempting to bring a change towards the existing societal status quo.  

There are still problems that need to be addressed, however. In an interview, in 2020, with the Business Standard, Saurabh Kripal, the lawyer for the petitioners in the 2018 case, highlights some of them. Kripal examines the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 and points out that the Act, itself, has no provisions for the self-determination of transgender status. Moreover, earlier directives by the Supreme Court for the provision of reservations in public employment and education are also absent in the Act.

What’s even more perplexing is that India does not truly have a comprehensive anti-discrimination code. The prohibition of discrimination by the Constitution is an injunctive that is relevant only in State backed organizations and branches. The private sector in India has complete impunity to be as discriminatory as it wants in the context of employment, welfare provisions and education, amongst others. 

So, what, we dare ask, has truly changed?

You see, the LGBTQIA+ community is not just asking for the right to love who they choose. They are asking for the right to be who they are. The foundation of the issue lies in the concept of ‘Identity’ and not just ‘Sexuality’. It really is as simple as being discriminated against on the basis of something as unfounded as your name. Imagine being gawked at, denied opportunities and a victim to hate solely based on an aspect of your identity. The analogy sounds stupid, we know. However, that’s just what it is.

When it comes down to it, LGBTQIA+ rights are just human rights. If you had to fight to be who you are, wouldn’t that be categorically classified as a human right issue? It is not a question of whether we should make space for the inclusion of equal rights across the board. It is a question of how fast we can do it.

The journey to where we are, as a society, has been a long one. Things have changed for the better. There is no denying that. However, there is a tremendous journey ahead, one that will necessitate a collective approach. That shouldnt deter you from making that journey, however. After all, the final destination is one of true beauty.

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Tokyo Olympics 2020: Indian Women Bask in Glory

We cover the wins and developments for India in the first week of Tokyo Olympics 2020 that began on the 24th of July this year.

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Mirabai Chanu

The excitement in the wait for the Olympics after a year’s postponement due to the virus last year has had everyone’s spirits high. The 29th edition of the games started on 24th July in Tokyo this year, with more than 206 nations and 11,000 athletes becoming a part of it, among which, representing India are 127 athletes competing in various games.

Amidst the rising noise around the games, India opened its medal count with a bang on Day 1, with news making rounds of Mirabai Chanu winning a silver medal, India’s first, in the 49kg women’s weightlifting category. The 26-year old athlete from Manipur, who had been the only one qualified for the sport in the Olympics, was showered with love and appreciation all over the country for kicking off India’s Olympic campaign with much glory. 

Mirabai Chanu had entered the sport at a very young age of 12, later winning her first gold medal in 2009 at the Youth Championships in Chhattisgarh. In 2014, she won a silver at the Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow. In 2017, she won a gold medal at the World Weightlifting Championship. Carrying the pride of India on her shoulders, and winning honour to its name, it is only to say that as a sportsperson and especially coming from Manipur, like many others belonging from her state, she had to face a lack of facilities and financial support. And while National and public appreciation run in abundance for her now, it is to see how much of that impacts the way people in India see and treat people from North-east, for her win is as much for herself and her state, as is for the country. 

Mirabai Chanu marked history, as she became the second female athlete in India to win a medal in weightlifting; as the first one, a bronze was bagged by Karnam Malleswari 21 years earlier in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. 

And with more eyes following the games throughout, the week ended with more exciting developments for India. Lovlina Borgohain, debutant boxer and the first woman from Assam to qualify for the Olympics, secured India’s second win and first boxing medal by defeating world champion Nien-Chin Chen of Chinese Taipei at 4-1. And entering the semifinals. P.V Sindhu, who won a silver in the 2016 Rio Olympics, also sailed into the semifinals after winning against Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi (21-13, 22-20) soaring expectations and thrill for the next match. 

India’s streak with Hockey in the Olympics has been an impressive run, with 8 medals adorning the team, the last one won in 1980. With both Men’s and Women’s teams still in the league this time, it will be all eyes for the matches in the coming week. The Women’s Hockey team had a narrow victory over Ireland in the second-last pool match, while the Men’s Hockey team defeated Japan 5-3 to move into the knockout stage.

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Padma Vibhushan Awardee Balwant Moreshwar Purandare- ‘Shivaji’s Bard’

Today, we celebrate the birth anniversary of Marathi writer and theatre personality, Balwant Moreshwar Purandare.

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Balwant Moreshwar Purandare

Born today in 1922 Pune, Balwant Moreshwar Purandare is a renowned writer and theatre personality. Popularly referred to by the sobriquet Babasaheb Purandare, his research and books have been based on the life of the founder of the Maratha Empire, Shivaji Maharaj. With his works centering the historical events surrounding the life of Shivaji, he is also often referred to as ‘Shiv-Shahir’, meaning the Bard of Shivaji. 

Owing to his early interest in the history of the land and its notable personalities, after finishing his bachelors, Purandare earned the reputation of a credible researcher and scholar. He wrote stories that followed the Shiv era, which were compiled in a book titled, Thhiganya (Spark). With close to 36 books to his name, his most famous work remains the drama called Jaanata Raja based on the life of Shivaji. 

First staged in 1985, Jaanata Raja has been performed in many different places, including the US, innumerable times. Originally written in Marathi, it has also been translated into Hindi. It is said that the stage production of the drama involves an extravagant cast of not just 200 artists but also animals like elephants, horses, and camels. Recognising his efforts in the field of theatre, Babasaheb Purandare was awarded by the government of Madhya Pradesh with ‘Kalidas Samman’. His other popular works include books like Raja Chhatrapati and Kesari

Babasaheb Purandare was married to veteran social activist Nirmala Purandare. His family has carried on with the roots of art and literature, with his children also being active in the field of Marathi literature. Madhuri Purandare, his daughter, is a famous writer, painter, and singer. 

Balwant Moreshwar Purandare was awarded the Maharashtra Bhushan in 2015 while the Padma Vibhushan was awarded to him in 2019. Having devoted more than half a century to recording in his literature the life and times of Shivaji, Babasaheb Purandare turns 99 today.

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Pandit Vinayakrao Patwardhan: The Remarkable Indian Classical Vocalist

Commemorating Vinayakrao Patwardhan, the classical vocalist of Gwalior Gharana and the exceptional exponent of Hindustani classical music.

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Vinayakrao Patwardhan

Spanning a career of more than half a century, during which he donned a number of positions- from a student to a Guru, an actor, and a music missionary, Vinayakrao Patwardhan is one of the most well-known figures of the Hindustani music scene. Born on 22 July 1898, in Miraj, Maharashtra, he belonged to the Gwalior Gharana of Indian classical music. As one of its prominent adherents, his career was always devoted to the promotion of Hindustani music, both as a disciple and teacher. 

After his mother passed away in 1902 and soon after, his father, Vinayakrao was brought up by his paternal uncle. Keshav Rao Koratkar, who taught music, became his first teacher and so began Vinayakrao’s life in music in 1905. Two years later, he found himself under the discipleship of legendary musician, Vishnu Digambar Paluskar at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in Lahore. However, when Paluskar opened a new branch of the school in Bombay, both moved to the city in 1908. It was here that Vinayakrao completed his course, earning the Sangeet Praveen diploma in 1919.  During this time, he also had the chance to learn under Balakrishnabuwa Ichalkaranjikar and Rahmat Khan, both of whom were exponents of the Gwalior Gharana. 

Credit: YouTube (AIR Raagam)

Essentially a vocalist, Vinayakrao had a versatility to display and pursue. He could play the harmonium, tabla, sitar, and violin, among many other instruments. While he would later go on to perform in Marathi plays- the Sangeet Natya, he also learned the basics of Kathak dance form. He also served as the principal of Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in Nagpur when he was twenty-five years of age. Although immensely loved and popular in the institution, he could only work there for a year. 

It was in 1922 that Vinayakrao joined the Gandharva Natak Mandah after being offered to work as an actor for them. However, while financial needs had him interested in the prospect of joining the mandali, initially he was sceptical of the idea for two reasons. Music being his primary interest, Vinayakrao wasn’t sure how fit he would be for the stage. And more importantly, his devotion to Paluskar had him worried about his former Guru’s apprehension of him joining the stage. Paluskar too was reluctant to give his approval, afraid that theatre would affect Vinayakrao’s music and character. But ultimately, all was decided and Patwardhan joined and continued his association with the Natak Mandah for ten years, acting in many popular plays of the time. 

It was after Paluskar’s death in 1931 that Vinayakrao decided to go back to his love for music, and devote his time for its propagation in due devotion and homage to his Guru. He, along with other disciples, established the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya Mandal, where Patwardhan served as its first President. He also founded a new Gandharva Mahavidyalala in Pune and spent his years running the school until 1942. In memory of his Guru and to carry forward his missionary legacy of promoting Hindustani music, Patwardhan established two more institutions, one in Pune and another in Mirji. 

Credit: YouTube (Subrata Chowdhury)

Vinayakrao Patwardhan’s talent drew him immense accolades and impressed many audiences. He did many recitals and concerts throughout his life, even when he worked as a Principal or actor at the mandali. In March 1926, he had sung two songs before Mahatma Gandhi at Sabarmati, and in 1954, as part of the cultural delegation, he performed concerts in the USSR, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. His powerful vocals and mastery of the craft, of being disciplined and yet free within the rules of classical music, turned him into one of the most important and iconic figures of the field. Patwardhan received the Fellowship of the Sangeet Natak Akademi in 1965 and the Padma Bhushan in 1972. He passed away on 23 August 1975 in Pune, drawing an end to an illustrious career of extraordinary talents and achievements. 

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Mogubai Kurdikar: Doyenne of the Hindustani Classical Music

On her birth anniversary, we commemorate Mogubai Kurdikar, the master vocalist of Hindustani Classical and pioneer of Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana.

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Mogubai Kurdikar

One of the most prominent voices of the 20th century, classical vocalist Mogubai Kurdikar belonged to the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana. She was known to have given her all to Hindustani music, with a sense of worship and devotion to the art form. In a tribute for her 80th birthday, Mohan Nadkarni in the Illustrated Weekly of India dotted her with the sobriquet ‘The Grand Old Lady of Hindustani Music’. While of her artistry he wrote, “An intense and uncompromising purist in her singing, to her music is the aesthetic means to a spiritual end.” 

Mogubai Kurdikar was born on 15th July 1904, in a small village in Goa. It was her mother who first initiated her into a theatre troupe. As a legend goes, on her deathbed in 1914, she professed her desire to have her daughter become a famous singer. Soon Mogubai joined another drama troupe, Sātārkar Stree Sangeet Mandali, where she was trained to be a singing stage artist under veteran vocalist, Chintobuva Gurav. During this time, she went on to perform for various Marathi plays, delivering commendable performances as their lead heroines. 

Credit: YouTube (SurTaal)

Mogubai’s induction to classical music, however, happened with an interesting incident. It was in Sangli, a small city in Maharashtra that she met Alladiya Khan, the maestro, and founder of Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana. After passing by her residence and hearing her rehearse, Alladiya Khan entered her place to find out who she was and to hear her sing face-to-face. As she saw a stranger entering her room, a startled Mogubai stopped midway in her rehearsal of a stage hit from the classic play, Mrichhakatika. He asked her to continue and later impressed by her singing offered to teach her. Mogubai left the theatre and decided to follow her guru wherever he went. In 1922, she moved to Bombay with him, where Alladiya Khan had several wealthy patrons and other disciples to train. 

However, Mogubai Kurdikar’s discipleship with Alladiya Khan was riddled with several obstacles. There were many long spans of breaks during which Mogubai had to seek guidance under Gurus of other gharanas, like Basheer Khan and Vilayat Hussain Khan. From 1926, Alludiya Khan placed her under the tutelage of his brother, Haider Khan, for five years. It was only in 1934 that Alladiya Khan and Mogubai’s guru-shishya discipleship began again and continued till his demise in 1946. 

Credit: YouTube (Mogubai Kurdikar-Topic)

It was in 1932 that Mogubai had given birth to Kishori Amonkar, who would later go on to earn herself the same acclaim and honour in classical music as her mother. During all this time, she did not run after performing as a means to support herself, but her aim had always been to gain excellence and perfection in the field as the leading pioneer of Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana. Perhaps why, even as she began giving public performances, they were always few and numbered. Riyaaz always remained her tribute and worship for music

Mohan Nadkarni had remarked of her performances as “truly glorious in content and structure and one was struck as much by her subtle insight into the niceties and beauties… ”. Mogubai Kurdikar’s efforts to enrich and popularize the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana, the intensity and devotion of her musicality earned her the honorific title of Gaan Tapasvini. She was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1968 and the Padma Bhushan in 1974. She breathed her last on 10 February 2001. 

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Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia: the Flute Maestro of Extraordinary Talents

On his birthday, we pay tribute to the flute artiste, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, by remembering his remarkable artistry and career.

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Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia

Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, one of the most legendary musicians to have hailed from India, made a name not only for himself but also for the art of playing the flute. He has drawn both national and international acclaim throughout his career, extending and expanding the reach of Hindustani Classical music to great heights. His gifts of innovations introduced new styles of flute-playing which continue to hold a massive influence on flautists today. 

Looking at his extraordinary talent, one would naturally assume that he came from a family of musicians. But his interest in music was all his own, so was everything that he learnt out of his sheer dedication towards it. Born on July 1, 1938, Chaurasia lost his mother when he was quite young. His father was a wrestler and wanted his son to take up the sport too. Chaurasia, however, was interested in music, a field that stood poles apart from wrestling. As a young boy, he would secretly attend music lessons at his friend’s place, and at 15, he started training under his neighbour. Later, he made the renowned flute player, Pt. Bholanath Prasanna, his Guru. 

He began working as a composer and performer with All India Radio in 1957 in Cuttack, Odisha. Three years later, he transferred to Bombay which helped open more doors of opportunities for him. There he also met Annapurna Devi, a classical music teacher, and Bass-Sitar player. She agreed to take him in as her disciple, and Chaurasia showed his devotion, like he always did, to his Guru by surrendering to them like his God. 

“The flute is the symbol of spiritual call, the call of divine love.” 

It was also in Bombay that he connected with Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma. So began the partnership of Shiv-Hari in 1967 when they began working on Bollywood films together. They created many popular songs and composed for films like Silsila, Chandni, and Darr. Hariprasad Chaurasia also collaborated with Bhubaneshwar Mishra, a classical violin player. ‘Bhubhan-Hari’ would go on to compose music for many Odia movies. 

By then Chaurasia’s skills had already achieved great appreciation and acclaim, on both national and international fronts. Shiv-Hari had composed ‘Call of the Valley’, also featuring guitarist Brij Bhushan Kabra. The album’s instrumental compositions follow a day in the life of a shepherd from Kashmir. Released in 1967, it has been considered an important influence in introducing Indian music to the west. From George Harrison to Bob Dylan, many celebrated musicians have been known fans of the album. Chaurasia also collaborated in 1968 with the famed rock band, The Beatles for their song, ‘The Inner Light’. 

For all his accomplishments and contributions, flute maestro Hariprasad Chaurasia has been awarded Padma Bhushan (1992), Padma Vibhushan (2000), Sangeet Natak Academy (1984), National Eminence Award, and the Akshaya Samman (2009) among many others. The two places, Odisha and Bombay, where his career had marked milestones, now hold music institutions established by him.

Credit: Youtube (Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia – Topic)
Credits: YouTube (Classical Music)
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