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Her Story To Tell: A look At The Life and Work of Toru Dutt

Look back at the life of Toru Dutt, a founding figure in Indo-Anglian Literature, who carved a path for the future writers of India.

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Toru-Dutt

Stories of women hold immense significance, even more so in a socio-cultural atmosphere such as ours. They not only serve as a reminder of the importance of social and gender equality but also prompt a discussion on the miles we have left to travel, as a collective, in terms of achieving true social emancipation. The tale of Toru Dutt is one such story, one built on the back of an individual who created a lasting legacy in the short time she had. A pioneering figure in the field of Indo-Anglian literature, Dutt’s works were the one of the first literary works to pave the way for the future generations of Indian writers. Touching on themes of loneliness, nostalgia and patriotism, Dutt’s literary ideas, according to literary critic Edmund Gosse, borrowed the ethics of traditional tales while, simultaneously, her own education and exposure to Western ideals and values helped her make these tales relevant for posterity.

“She did not anglicize her ideas but kept close to the ethics of the original tales while her understanding of modern life and dedication to craft helped her make these ideas of yore relevant to posterity.”

Edmund Gosse in an introductory memoir on Toru Dutt

Born in 1856, in Calcutta, to an aristocratic Bengali family that converted to Christianity, Toru Dutt was a product of the socio-cultural renaissance of mid-nineteenth century Bengal. The Dutts were among the first families to be influenced by the missionary presence in British India, becoming a part of the rising class of educated, upper caste members of society, with liberal outlooks and a proclivity towards literary accomplishments. Dutt was the youngest of three siblings, after her sister, Aru, and brother, Abju. The three Dutt children had an idyllic childhood, being homeschooled by private tutors who introduced them to the expansive literary scene that existed outside their environment. 

It was only after the tragic death of her brother that the Dutt family, deeming a change in residence to be healthy, relocated to Europe, spending a year in France and another three in England. The remaining Dutt siblings, Aru and Toru, spent that time being more intimately acquainted with the French language and the higher intellectual opportunities that existed in Britain. Dutt, at the time, attended lectures at Cambridge, which proved to be seminal, where she met and befriended Mary E. Martin, a friend she continued to correspond with upon her return to India later.

“Absurd may be the tale I tell,

Ill-suited to the marching times,

I loved the lips from which it fell,

So let it stand among my rhymes.”

Toru Dutt in her poem, titled ‘Jogadhya Uma’

When she did finally return to India, Dutt, just 17 then, found it challenging to assimilate back into the cultural atmosphere that existed, at the time, in the country. Due to her own exposure to the progressive ideals and values that existed outside India, Dutt found the social climate in the country to be intensely conservative. Her sister’s eventual demise in 1874, further, compounded the alienation that she felt.

PRESENTATION COPY BY TORU DUTT [SET OF 2] - @ | StoryLTD
Credit: Google Images (A Presentation Copy of ‘Life and Letters of Toru Dutt‘)

It was in reading and the creation of literary works that Dutt sought refuge. In the next three years that followed her sister’s death, Dutt produced an impressive collection of literary works. Her first published work was a translation of French poetry, with her critical notes on each piece, of about 165 poems by French poets. The publication was, aptly, titled ‘A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields’ and grew to garner immense recognition and praise. Besides that, Dutt, along with her sister, had been a constant contributor to periodicals, where she submitted translated works, her own original poetry and critical essays.

It was, however, an unfortunate turn of events that Dutt did not live to see the impact her work would go on to have. She died at the age of 21, in 1877, just a year before ‘A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields’ went on to receive a second edition publication. Still, after her death, Dutt’s father found her manuscripts, containing numerous literary works, and had them published posthumously. 

A Sheaf Gleaned In French Fields: Dutt, Toru: 9781444691061: Amazon.com:  Books
Credit: Google Images (An Early Edition Cover of ‘A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields‘)

Dutt’s only English novel ‘Bianca’, though left incomplete, was published in serial editions in the Bengal Magazine in 1878. Moverover, her french novel, ‘Le Journal de Mademoiselle d’Arvers’ (The Diary of Mademoiselle D’Arvers), went on to be posthumously published in France in 1879. Additionally, a collection of her original poetry and translated work, titled ‘Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan, went on to be published in London in 1882, with an introductory memoir on her life by Edmund Gosse.

Toru Dutt’s achievements cannot be just construed as exemplary in the context of her being a woman in nineteenth century India. No. They are exemplary based solely on the impact her literary work had and the manner in which her legacy laid the foundational path for the future writers of India. She was, for all intents and purposes, a founding mother of Indian English Literature.

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The Saga of a Music Maestro: Pandit Tulsidas Borkar

The life journey of a Marathi music composer and harmonium maestro, Pt Tulsidas Borkar. He is known for his compositions in Marathi theatres.

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It is said that a ‘legend’ is born out of passion, determination and the miseries of life. To be one among thousands requires the will equivalent to the mountains. Pt Tulsidas Borkar is one such legend, who was shaped by dedication, adamance to fulfill the dreams and his incomparable genius for music.

This Thursday, introducing the journey of Padmashri Pt Tulsidas Borkar as a legendary harmonium and mouth organ maestro and equally wonderful Marathi music composer on his 87th birth anniversary.

His Journey!

The revered ‘guru’, Pt Tulsidas, was born on November 18th, 1934 in a small village of Goa, Bori. He then moved to Mumbai with his parents and spent a few years enacting minor roles in theatres. His inclination towards music and harmonium began from an early age. And with his mother being his first teacher, harmonium soon turned into his favorite instrument. He was trained in classical music and harmonium under Pt Vishnu Pant Vasht and Pt Chhota Gandharva in Pune.

On an astonishing note, he was only 11 when he started to accompany many renowned singers, composers and instrumentalists! He started his career as an accompanist in Marathi musical theatre at a remarkably young age and accompanied artists like Pt Ram Marathe, Pt Bhimsen Joshi, Pt Kumar Gandharva, Pt Mallikarjun Mansur and many more renowned names of the Marathi musical theatres. Borkar became a famous image in the Marathi theatres, directing music in Marathi Sangeet Natak.

He was not only a harmonium accompanist but also played the mouth organ, equally wonderful as he was with harmonium. Starting from a young age, his unbelievable skills brought him fame in Marathi musical theatres. Borkar also authored a book titled “Samvadini Sadhana”, which is a guide and motivation for young students and music lovers to date.

Achievements and Awards

Pt Tulsidas was honored innumerable times with prestigious national awards in music, the highest being the Padma Shri award. He received the Padma Shri award in 2016 and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2005. Not just these, his list of awards seems never-ending. He was also honoured with the Bal Gandharva Gaurav Puraskar at the age of 22. His comprehendible contributions in Marathi theatres and Marathi Sangeet Natak won him the Govindrao Tembe Sangatkar Puraskar, Pt Dinanath Mangeshkar and many more awards to name.

Pt Tulsidas passed away on 29th September 2018, suffering from tuberculosis, leaving the Marathi theatres in the grief of losing a legendary accompanist and composer. He was not only an artist but a revered teacher. Many of his disciples are carrying forward his teachings and techniques to the new generation even today. The journey of Pt Borkar is, indeed, a saga that needs to be sung to generations to come. It is the journey that has and will fill the young learners and artists to dream and believe in themselves.

Credits: YouTube (Swarmanttra (The Manttra Of Indian Classical Music)
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Remembering The Comedy King of Bollywood: Johnny Walker 

Remembering the art of comedy left behind by the iconic comedian and film actor, Johnny Walker, on his 95th birth anniversary.

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Johnny Walker

Badruddin Jamaluddin Kazi, or better known by his stage name, Johnny Walker, was born in 1926, in the state of Madhya Pradesh. His father was a mill worker and had 10 children, including Johnny Walker. Born and raised under the British Raj, amidst 9 siblings, and in a financially struggling family, dreaming about making it to the film industry was a farce for him. 

After his father lost his job, they moved to Maharashtra. The brunt of earning came upon Johnny. While he worked as a fruit seller, some days a vegetable vendor, and other days sold stationery, his youthful dream of working in movies never left him. Working as a bus conductor in the Bombay Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) bus service. It was the best thing that could have happened to him. It was his destiny to be recruited by BEST!

This was because, as a conductor, he used to entertain his passengers. He was indeed a born actor and a comedian. His passengers had fits of laughter over his excellent natural humour and quirky imitations. During this time, Balraj Sahni spotted him. Sahni was writing a story for the movie ‘Baazi’ and asked Walker to present his skills and enact the character of a drunkard to Guru Dutt, the renowned Indian film director, producer, and writer. Badruddin’s acting impressed Guru Dutt. So, of course, Guru Dutt offered him a role in the movie ‘Baazi’. This was how the stage name, ‘Johnny Walker’, was given to Badruddin based on a Scotch whiskey brand. 

Dialogues, Scenes, and the Rise to Popularity 

Johnny had a good relationship with Guru Dutt. Guru loved Johnny’s acting and his skills at spontaneity and improvisation. Johnny came with new ideas with each of his dialogues, which delighted Guru Dutt a lot. 

Johnny didn’t play minor comedian roles only. He was mostly allotted ‘drunkard’ roles. Against these roles, Johnny also proved himself as a hero and villain character. Playing ‘Baiju’ in ‘Choomantar’ (1956), he impresses the heroine through songs and competes against villains. As ‘Parker’ in ‘Mai Baap’, Johnny shows his wicked side. He plays the cunning villain in this movie. In movies where he had less screen time, he made even his one-minute appearance dominant. 

Johnny, as a comedian actor, throughout his journey, showed extreme versatility and dexterity. Not only was he extremely passionate about his roles, but in each role, one gets to see the different lights under which comedy can also be performed. 

Awards and Achievements

Johnny worked in more than 300 films. He won several awards for his excellent acting. ‘Chachi 420’ was the last movie of his that made it to the screens. He played the role of a makeup artist with a bottle of alcohol. In 2003, he passed away. Johnny’s powerful presence in the movies has immortalised him. On his 95th birth anniversary, visit some of his movies: Pyaasa, Mr. and Mrs. 55, Mai Baap, Choomantar, and Shikaar. Johnny Walker induced a new meaning to comedy. He will always be a legend

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Throwback Thursday: Shakuntala Devi’s 92nd Birth Anniversary

Looking back on the legacy left behind by Shakunatala Devi, an ambitious woman, a human calculator and her life.

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Shakuntala Devi

Shakuntala Devi is a renowned figure all around the world. We all know her as the ‘Human Computer.’ She is an inspiration to many and an enigma who shook the entire planet with her gifted talents. Her life is an inspiring plate of lessons with a lot of gasps! One can only imagine how she multiplied two 13 digit numbers: 7,686,369,774,870 and 2,465,099,745,779 in 28 seconds. This momentous moment took place at Imperial College on June 18, 1980. This also etched her name in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Born Prodigy and Early Life

Shakuntala was born in an impoverished and financially unstable family in Bengaluru. Her father was a circus performer, who struggled to make ends meet. A formal education for her daughter seemed like a dream. Like a plot twist, he identified her 3-year-old daughter’s unbelievable skills. She showed arithmetic excellency, which was far beyond an ordinary 3-year-old child. She cultivated her math tricks through card games, which she played with her father. As Shakuntala herself said, “At three, I fell in love with numbers. It was sheer ecstasy for me to do sums and get the right answers. Numbers were toys with which I could play.” 

Shakuntala, now with her family, travelled to places, and displayed her magical skills to the spectators. At such a fragile age, she was already helping her family financially. 

At the age of 6, Shakuntala performed her mathematical abilities at the University of Mysore. She was coming to recognition in many southern universities like Osmania University and Annamalai University. 

Shakuntala, a gifted golden girl, continued astonishing people. It was no surprise that as years went by, she garnered the attention of international countries. She had already marked her unwavering position. 

In London and Abroad

In 1944, at the age of 15, she moved to London with her father. She received many invitations from reputed universities. In 1950, on a BBC show, she solved a complex math problem in a few seconds. Shakuntala’s answer was pronounced wrong. However, another round of calculation by the host and her team revealed that the original answer was wrong, and Shakuntala’s answer was correct. In 1977, she solved the 23rd root of a 201 digit number in 50 seconds, beating a UNIVAC computer, which did the same calculation in 62 seconds. Computers and calculators could be slow and wrong, but Shakuntala was always right and faster. Rightfully, people named her the ‘Human Computer’. Interestingly, she didn’t like to be associated with this tag. According to her, a human mind has wider capabilities as compared to an artificial computer. 

The Astrologer, Writer, and Woman Side of Shakuntala

Shakuntala authored many books, mostly on astrology and mathematics. She had also done a comprehensive study of homosexuality in India, which was published as, ‘The World of Homosexuals’. She took the subject after her husband came out as homosexual. 

To define Shakuntala merely as a Human Computer would be unjustified. Shakuntala revelled in spreading the joys of mathematics across the boundaries. She travelled the world around and lived life on her own terms. She self taught herself English and other languages, loved dancing, and dressing up. Shakuntala raised her daughter alone. It was a challenge for her to squeeze the responsibilities that were expected out of her as a single mother. Challenging motherhood and womanhood, Shakuntala was one of a kind. As a woman, she continued doing what she loved, unapologetically. Along the way, she also advocated for queer rights. She never looked back and continued to be a performer and enjoyed her life to the full.

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The ‘Prince Charming’ of Bollywood: Shammi Kapoor’s Caravan of Memories

This Thursday, bringing back the ‘golden ages’ of Bollywood with the birth anniversary of veteran actor Shammi Kapoor.

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Shammi Kapoor

‘Lights, camera and action!’ And the lives of many people were changed once they stood before the camera. The journey of cinemas began from a black and white, audio-less video and now, cinemas are an inseparable part of our lives. And then comes Bollywood, which is not just an industry but a diverse, growing family of artists. More than an industry, it is the very identity of India. This is the industry that has manufactured legends after testing them through the heat of hard-work, the fire of passion and the persistence to reach higher than the skies.

And today, on October 21st, we remember a versatile Indian actor of his times and the star of Bollywood’s Kapoor family on his 90th birth anniversary. Shamsher Raj Kapoor, popularly known as Shammi Kapoor, was a man of magnetic personality. As much as he was popular among the ladies for his smiting looks, he was recognized for his brilliant work in Bollywood.

The King Size Life of Shammi Kapoor

Kapoor was born on October 21st, 1931 in Mumbai in the renowned Kapoor clan of Bollywood. Being the son of a star actor and film director, Prithviraj Kapoor, he had acting in his blood. His career as an actor began with his debut movie Jeewan Jyoti (1953), at the age of 22. Although, the movie could not make it big on screen and the consecutive movies were box office flops, Shammi had his breakthrough with Tumsa nahi Dekha (1957). After his breakthrough movie, his name and fame gained recognition and brought him the stardom. 

As years passed, he gave back-to-back popular hits. Junglee (1961), Kashmir ki Kali (1964), Teesri Mazil (1966), and many more to name, were the big hits of the 60’s decade. With his romantic comedies, he also got the title of playboy and a great dancer. His looks and resemblance to the worldwide famous pop singer, Elvis Presley, got him the title of ‘Elvis Presley of India’. 

He worked in over 50 movies as a lead actor and over 20 movies as a costar. And his career was not only limited to being an actor. Shammi Kapoor also directed two movies, Manoranjan (1974) and Bundal Baaz (1976).

Achievements and Awards 

In the peak years of his career, when Shammi was giving consecutive hits, his work not only brought him fame and success but also gave him recognition as a versatile actor. Shammi was awarded the Filmware Award for Best Actor for his blockbuster rom-com Brahmachari (1967). His another Filmware Award was for his role as the best supporting actor in Vidhata (1981).

Later in the 90’s, he received the greatest achievement of his life when he was awarded a Filmware Lifetime Achievement Award. His list of achievements was not just limited to national awards. He was awarded his life’s first international recognition in 2002, the IIFA Award for Invaluable Contribution to Indian Cinema. And so, the list of his achievements goes on with Zee Cine Award, Star Screen Award and many more to name.

Shammi Kapoor may not be around us in physical forms today, but he was and is winning hearts all around the globe through his movies. An actor who has had generations as a fanbase needs no introduction. Legends like him leave their marks behind by their talent, hard-work and perseverance and continue to live forever in our hearts as our dearest. Shammi Kapoor is one such story of Bollywood which will continue to inspire the youth to dream big and achieve it.

Credits: YouTube (Red Chillies Entertainment)
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Revisiting Project ‘De Nava’ in the Light of Navaratra and Covid-19

Project De Nava is a social experiment highlighting the forgotten feminine qualities of the nine avatars of the Goddess Durga, and the hypocrisy of the people celebrating Navaratra, while gender inequality and women discrimination is on a sky high.

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Vaayudhwani

The nine days of Navratri are dedicated to the divine goddesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. We celebrate the festival in different hues across the country. It will be a white lie to not recognise Navaratri as a festival of women and by the women. From the distribution of Vettalai Paaku (betel leaves and nuts) and sundal eating sessions in the South to honouring the victory of good over evil in the North, Navaratri is truly a celebration of its kind. In the east, Goddess Durga reigns supreme, while in the west, women take over the stage with Garba. In all the four directions, we honour the indubitable women’s power.

However, we’ve failed to notice that Navaratri’s true essence has diminished. This comes from the fact that we’ve culturally forgotten about the nine avatars of Goddess Durga, and the feminine qualities each one embraces and seeks to teach us. Also, while the entire country worships the goddesses, the symbol of feminine prowess, men, on the other hand, keep exploiting women at their hands. Thus, the colourful celebrations of Navaratri and the reality are two poles apart.

Gender Inequality not only affects women financially, psychologically and emotionally but also manifests itself into heinous crimes perpetrated against women and girls. Covid-19 just exacerbated the already harrowing situation. The nationwide lockdown across the country was like a dark shadow. Women in the country earn less compared to their male counterparts and consequently have fewer savings and less security. The lockdown left 17 million women jobless. The household work for women doubled. Inevitably, the increased unpaid work and labour mentally and physically burdened the women. Reports of domestic violence flooded and sadly, the reports were at a 10-year high during the Covid-19 lockdown. Violence against women is a human rights violation, and while these were just the cases that were ‘reported’ to the officials, the real haunting numbers never make it to the surface. 

Owing to these realities, Vaayudhwani conceived a holistic social experiment called Project ‘De Nava’. She is a visual storyteller with interests in writing as well. The project seeks to unveil and bring to light the undervalued feminine qualities of the nine avatars of the Goddess Durga in the society. Vaayu believes these qualities are inherent in every woman and continue to be neglected repeatedly. We have buried these qualities into oblivion. The principal message of the project is #SeekTheGoddessWithinYou. The project called for women from varied backgrounds for a photoshoot. Each represented a different avatar to highlight the issues of body positivity, LGBTQ rights, disability, etc. Women need to reclaim these feminine attributes of the Goddess to bring the celebration of Navaratri in its full ethos. 

Post Covid life has been tiresome and difficult to adjust to. Festivals and celebrations are carried out in extreme precautions. Covid-19 has not only changed our lifestyle but also has burdened us mentally. Vaayu, in the current post Covid-19 celebrations, asks us to heed to the different tales of the Goddess Durga. Her avatars need to be read or heard and enacted upon as dramas. Each avatar conveys emotions and qualities that’d help us transition into the new life smoothly. 

Hence, Project De Nava is a holistic venture. It addresses the neglected feminine avatars during Navaratra, the hypocrisy of the celebrations and gender inequality. Along with that, it seeks to incorporate these undervalued attributes into our daily lives, and within every woman.

Let us revisit the amazing album of ‘Project ‘De Náva’

Day 1 Avatar: Shailaputri
Played by: Mahek Kukreja
Day 2 Avatar: Brahmacharini
Played by: Garima Goel
Day 3 Avatar: Chandraghanta
Played by: Amee
Day 4 Avatar: Kushmanda
Played by: Virali Modi
Day 5 Avatar: Skandamata
Played by: Anaysha Patel
Day 6 Avatar: Katyayani
Played by: Sonia Shetty
Day 7 Avatar: Kalaratri
Played by: Priyali Shende
Day 8 Avatar: Mahagauri
Played by: Tripty K Jagasia
Day 9 Avatar: Siddhidatri
Played by: Keshav Kalyan
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