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Art & Culture

In Arunachal, a 1000-year-old paper-making technique turns a new page

The paper — sourced from the bark of the shugu sheng shrub — is used as manuscripts, scriptures etc in Buddhist monasteries (Source: KVIC)

When the machines — derelict due to nearly two decades of abandonment — revved to life on Christmas, Maling Gombu heaved a sigh of happiness.

It was only in February that the Tawang-based social worker and lawyer had written to the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), the country’s premier village industries development body, bringing to its notice the potential of a rare and languishing paper-making craft of his state.

“We call it ‘mon shugu’, or the paper of the Monpa people,” says Gombu on the phone from Tawang, “This is no normal paper. It is special, has roots in a tradition that is a thousand years old, and needs to be preserved — before it’s too late,” he says.

The ‘Monpa handmade paper making unit’ was inaugurated on December 25 in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh in a bid to preserve the Monpa community’s heritage craft (Source: KVIC)
It did not take long for the KVIC to act. On December 25, after months of planning, interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, an abandoned government building in Tawang transitioned into the “Monpa handmade paper making unit”, employing nine local artisans to make the special paper.

In the forests of Mukto, a village perched at an altitude of 10,800 feet in Tawang district, grows the shugu sheng shrub (Daphne papyracea), the bark of which has been traditionally processed into ‘mon shugu’ by the Monpa tribe.

For centuries, the paper has made its way to the many Buddhist monasteries not just locally, but in Tibet, Bhutan, China and Japan too, where it serves as a medium for religious scriptures, manuscripts, prayer flags, and sometimes as part of flag poles and prayer wheels

Chorten Norbu, a 40-year-old school teacher from Mukto, remembers how at one point of time almost every household had a paper-making unit.

“But it was not easy to do — it was hard work, took all day, and had very little return,” he says, “Sometimes, raw materials were not easy to source, even if you got it, there was the long process of boiling, beating, drying, cutting (of paper) — all by hand. You would have to be in the hut all day for one sheet of paper.” According to Norbu, many people began to look for alternative sources of income.

Yet, the uniqueness of the craft was not lost on those who visited Mukto. Take for example, Dr Sukamal Deb, now the deputy chief executive officer, Northeast Zone, KVIC. “In 1987, I was posted in Arunachal Pradesh in the department of industries. My work led me to learn about many crafts of the region — including ‘mon shugu’,” he says.

When the official found only a handful of people were making the paper, he felt something needed to be done. Deb’s efforts led a KVIC team to study the craft, in partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in the mid-1990s.

“Subsequently, a project was launched by the KVIC to modernise it — basically do away with the manual drudgery. A common facility centre at Mukto was made, machines were brought in to speed up the work in 2003, and a group of artisans were sent to Jaipur for a training program by the Kumarappa National Handmade Paper Institute, under the KVIC,” says Deb. “Yet for various reasons, the project just did not take off.”

And the machines — boilers, beaters and driers — lay idle in two lonely sheds in Mukto for years.

“But last year, I was speaking to Maling (Gombu) about this and suddenly we thought — why not try to revive the craft,” says Deb.

At a KVIC programme in Itanagar, Gombu met Vinai Kumar Saxena, the current chairman of KVIC and discussed the idea with him. “He was more than enthusiastic,” says Gombu, who then wrote a letter to Saxena, officially volunteering his NGO, Youth Action for Social Welfare, as a partner for the revival project. “The machines were in pathetic condition, but they were not damaged at least. So, we shifted them from Mukto to Tawang, and got them up and running,” he says.

Almost two decades ago, Deb recalls how samples of the shugu sheng bark were sent to Jaipur and Germany for testing. “The results were outstanding. Not only does the paper have huge tensile strength but is durable, and made without a single chemical additive,” he says.

A 2006 paper, “A Traditional Source of Paper Making in Arunachal Pradesh”, says the mon shugu is “strong with its visible natural fibres and a unique texture”.

“So it is not just that the process is unique, but the product is as special,” says Gombu, adding that it is for this reason that the paper serves as a good material for religious scriptures. “The bark from the shrub has to be extricated, dried, boiled with a solution of ash, made into pulp and then cut into sheets of paper,” he says.

The machines have been brought in to make the process faster. “For example, the final process, which involves drying is dependent on the sun — sometimes it may take a day to do. But with the drier, this will be simpler now,” he says.

Yet, there are hurdles. “Many communities here have local laws such as not allowing their forest produce to be taken outside the villages. So it may be difficult to ge8t an unlimited supply of shugu sheng, which grows only in certain areas,” he says.

So the efforts will focus on doubling up domestic plantations of the shrub, and finding a suitable commercial market. “And of course, there are artisans to convince, many of whom have moved away from the craft altogether,” says Gombu.

Norbu, for one, had attended the workshop way back in the early 2000s. “It didn’t work out then, so I left and became a teacher. But this time, I hope it works for the local youth and our craft is preserved for good,” he says.

Art & Culture

Paulo Coelho wants people to donate books to Balochistan

On Monday evening, Brazilian lyricist and novelist, best known for his work The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho, tweeted: ‘Send books to Balochistan, they’re building reading rooms’ with a news story from Pakistan.

Without any surprise, the tweet gained significant attention and retweets in Pakistan and many are wondering if he has a Google alert for himself (I wouldn’t be surprised if he does).

On the brighter side though, lets become an ally in this effort to help Balochistan’s youth and kids get the books they deserve to read while growing up.

There’s a lot more to Coelho’s tweet than what meets the eye. Local community members in the province have opened one room libraries in different parts of Balochistan including Naal, Wadh, Awaran, Quetta, Kohlu, Turbat and Gwadar in an effort to make reading material more accessible for the youth.

Around 40 students from different universities in Wadh, Balochistan have developed a Wadh student library committee and together they are converting many abandoned spaces into small libraries and corners.

One of their recent efforts is the Wadh Student Library that has been opened in an abandoned room previously used to consume drugs.

These reading centers have enabled children from local communities to read authors like Coelho and Elif Shifak amongst others; that they otherwise are unable to find around them. Thanks to the generous donations, the libraries have also begun to become safe havens for readers who cannot find bookstores in the rural villages of Balochistan.

Community efforts are a ray of hope – a sign that the locals are craving for change. That is when energies are directed towards a cause.

However, often this labour can be insufficient unless others join hands.

Sikander Bizenjo of Balochistan Youth against Coronavirus (BYAC) realized this, and instantly offered support. Through an open call on Twitter, Bizenjo has been able to donate 500 books to these libraries in the past few weeks – an effort they are looking to scale.

BYAC was formed earlier this year by Bizenjo, Banari Mengal, Dr Yasir Baloch and Khalid Ismael – all youth of Balochistan to offer coronavirus related support to the province.

“We started this initiative with affiliation of Global Shapers Karachi to offer food and support to rural villages in Balochistan that were adversely affected by the pandemic and the lockdown. Soon we began offering support to medical doctors and frontline staff and then gradually to essential workers those in banks etc. We’d collect donations and protective units and kits to distribute them amid these professionals,” he revealed in a conversation with Images.

With the decrease in cases, BYAC decided to extend their support to other areas in these communities.

“We noticed these libraries and reading centers have no government or official support, and thought of donating books to them. We found out what kind of books are required in libraries in Awaran, Wadh, Turbat to collect what they need,” Sikandar added.

Art & Culture

Vidya Balan’s “Shakuntala Devi: The Human Computer” to release on July 31

“Shakuntala Devi”, starring actor Vidya Balan, is slated to be released on July 31 on Amazon Prime Video, the streaming platform announced on yesterday.
The biopic, which features Balan in the titular role of the well-known mathematician, was among the first major movies to head to a digital streaming platform amid the coronavirus-induced lockdown, which has led to the closing of cinema screens across the country.
Balan shared the announcement video on Twitter.
“Experience the story of an extraordinary mind! #ShakuntalaDeviOnPrime premieres July 31, on @PrimeVideoIN,” she captioned the clip.
Written and directed by Anu Menon, the film has been produced by Sony Pictures Networks Productions and Vikram Malhotra.
The screenplay is penned by Menon along with Nayanika Mahtani, while Ishita Moitra is credited for dialogues.
“Shakuntala Devi” also stars Sanya Malhotra, Amit Sadh and Jisshu Sengupta in pivotal roles.
The film was scheduled to be theatrically released on May 8, but was delayed due to COVID-19 outbreak.
Amazon has previously released director Shoojit Sircar’s “Gulabo Sitabo”, with five other films from the south, including “Penguin”, “Law”, “French Biryani”, “Sufiyum Sujathayum”.
More films heading to streaming platforms include “Gunjan Saxena – The Kargil Girl”, which will be available on Netflix, and “Laxxmi Bomb”, “Bhuj: The Pride of India”, “Sadak 2”, “Dil Bechara”, “The Big Bull”, “Khuda Haafiz” and “Lootcase” on Disney+Hotstar. Popularly known as the “Human-Computer”, Shakuntala Devi was an exceptionally talented woman who made it to the 1982 edition of The Guinness Book Of World Records for 13-digit multiplication in 28 seconds. There is a lot more to her achievements than what meets the eye. In this Anu-Menon directed biopic which is scheduled to be out on Amazon Prime Video on July 31, Vidya Balan not only plays the designative role of a renowned math wizard but also of an independent woman and a unique mother showcasing all her virtues and foibles.

The movie revolves around the personal and professional life of Shakuntala Devi, the math genius who not only excelled in her quantitative aptitude but also was a prolific writer. It will also see other stars like Sanya Malhotra, Amit Sadh and Jisshu Sengupta in supporting roles. The official trailer which was dropped on YouTube earlier this month opens up to Vidya who introduces the viewers to her best friend ‘math’ using her high jinks; it has no rules, only magic, she says. It then shows a glimpse of Vidya expressing her desire to attend school to which her father replies, “What will the school teach you, instead, you will end up teaching the school.” The three-minute-long trailer which has been doing rounds on the internet then proceeds to show her journey from India to London, reaching the pinnacle of success by paving her way to the Guinness Book Of World Records. Nevertheless, it also throws light on her struggles to balance her family, particularly her daughter and the growing fame. One gets to see an added element of drama when the daughter, played by Sanya Malhotra asks Vidya “Why can’t you be normal like other moms?” to which she replies “Why should I be normal when I can be amazing?”
In the film, based on the life of the late Shakuntala Devi, who is widely revered as the human computer for her innate ability to make complex mathematical calculations within seconds, Vidya flaunts long hair to a short bob in different phases. Composed by Sachin-Jigar, the peppy song has been sung by Sunidhi Chauhan and penned by Vayu.

The film’s trailer, unveiled last week, gave a sneak peek into the adventures of the protagonist and her love for numbers that she valued above everything else in her life. Shakuntala Devi also stars Sanya Malhotra, Amit Sadh, and Jisshu Sengupta.

Talking about the song launch at a virtual event, Vidya said, “I am very excited to launch the first song from Shakuntala Devi – the movie, with 5000 students of DAV schools and colleges, from over 100 cities. Aptly titled – Pass Nahi to Fail Nahi, this song is really close to my heart as it brings out an interesting way to interact with numbers and tries to drive away the math phobia that many experience in a very fun and peppy way. It felt incredible to share the platform with young minds over a fun and exciting virtual session. A different yet amazing experience as we embrace the new normal. I really hope that the audience will continue to shower love and praise on this song as much as they appreciated the trailer.”

Shalaka Bhosle told media that the film essentially captures the different stages of Shakuntala Devi’s life between 1940s and the 2000s.

“So apart from going through original Shakuntala Devi pictures, we also actually did a lot of research on that era. (Director) Anu Menon told us Shakuntala Devi did a lot of hairstyle changes through the various stages of her life, and we worked accordingly. We did long plaits to short hair in the film. We went through original Shakuntala Devi videos on YouTube and pulled out many references before finalising the looks.”

In terms of ensembles for Vidya, Niharika Bhasin, who did the styling, agrees that with costumes it really gets difficult.

“Normally we sit down and decide hair, make-up, wardrobe together, so all of it comes together to formulate the look of a character. We researched Shakuntala Devi’s lifespan and found out what were the aspects of style and fashion that were prevalent during those decades. We added that to recreate the character,” Bhasin said.

Bhasin added that the research went into “what was happening in India fashion-wise in those times” adding: “She was wealthy enough to follow the fashion or she was in tune with fashion. Therefore, it took a lot to build the character.”

Directed and written by Anu Menon, the film also stars Sanya Malhotra, who will be seen playing the role of Shakuntala’s daughter Anupama, along with Amit Sadh and Jisshu Sengupta in pivotal roles.

The screenplay is written by Menon along with Nayanika Mahtani, while the dialogues are penned by Ishita Moitra.

Shakuntala Devi premieres on Amazon Prime Video on July 3Popularly known as the “Human-Computer”, Shakuntala Devi was an exceptionally talented woman who made it to the 1982 edition of The Guinness Book Of World Records for 13-digit multiplication in 28 seconds. There is a lot more to her achievements than what meets the eye. In this Anu-Menon directed biopic which is scheduled to be out on Amazon Prime Video on July 31, Vidya Balan not only plays the designative role of a renowned math wizard but also of an independent woman and a unique mother showcasing all her virtues and foibles.

The movie revolves around the personal and professional life of Shakuntala Devi, the math genius who not only excelled in her quantitative aptitude but also was a prolific writer. It will also see other stars like Sanya Malhotra, Amit Sadh and Jisshu Sengupta in supporting roles. The official trailer which was dropped on YouTube earlier this month opens up to Vidya who introduces the viewers to her best friend ‘math’ using her high jinks; it has no rules, only magic, she says. It then shows a glimpse of Vidya expressing her desire to attend school to which her father replies, “What will the school teach you, instead, you will end up teaching the school.” The three-minute-long trailer which has been doing rounds on the internet then proceeds to show her journey from India to London, reaching the pinnacle of success by paving her way to the Guinness Book Of World Records. Nevertheless, it also throws light on her struggles to balance her family, particularly her daughter and the growing fame. One gets to see an added element of drama when the daughter, played by Sanya Malhotra asks Vidya “Why can’t you be normal like other moms?” to which she replies “Why should I be normal when I can be amazing?”

Art & Culture

Inside the Epic Effort to Save Bhutan’s Wangduechhoeling Palace

The Wangduechhoeling Palace—located in Bhutan’s central Bumthang Valley, which is filled with Buddhist monasteries, ancient temples, and shrines—is a treasure, historically and culturally. Described by the World Monuments Fund as a “masterpiece with perhaps the finest representation of nineteenth-century Bhutanese architecture,” the palace was built in 1857 by Jigme Namgyel—who ushered in an era of peace and stability in the country—and was the birthplace of his son, Ugyen Wangchuck, who was elected Bhutan’s first king in 1907. And, unlike the dzongs, or fortresses, that were built in the region in previous centuries, the palace was built solely as a residence, without a military purpose.

The palace consists of a shabkhor—the four-sided residence—built around a courtyard, in the center of which is an utse, or tower that contains the palace’s sacred shrine. On the palace grounds, there is also a monastery, as well as a row of five structures that contain prayer wheels and a historic stupa, or reliquary.

But the palace has not been lived in by the royal family since 1971, and the intervening years took their toll. Fortunately, an extensive restoration program is under way, under the direction of the Royal Government of Bhutan’s Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs and the Department of Culture, Division for Conservation of Heritage Sites, in collaboration with the Bhutan Foundation, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., which has been leading the fundraising campaign and working with partners like the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation. The restoration work is being done by Tashi Deling Construction and Consultancy; an adaptive reuse plan, which makes the palace accessible to those with disabilities and creates revenue-generating opportunities including a café, was designed by the Brooklyn-based firm Tsao & McKown Architects. The work is expected to be completed by fall 2021.

Tshewang Wangchuk, the foundation’s executive director, describes the project, which includes turning part of the palace into a museum, as one that “connects the future with a very exciting past.” He notes that the country does not have a tradition of restoring historic buildings, but now “people are beginning to value what is old.” In addition to interviews with the royal family, the restoration effort has been aided by the accounts of survivors of the court of the second king, Jigme Wangchuck, who died in 1952. These elders “warned that the history of the monarchy would die without this,” recalls Tshering Yangzom, the foundation’s director of programs and external relations. The project is intended as a model for preserving history and culture throughout the country, and exemplifies the foundation’s goal of “building capacity,” or nurturing expertise in many areas of Bhutanese society, from carpentry to health care and good governance, in line with the government’s goal of “Gross National Happiness,” which was incorporated into its constitution in 2008.

The restoration work includes replacing wood joists and courtyard flagstones, restoring the palace roof’s shingles and interior wood floors, and restoring the rich paint colors of the exterior’s elaborately carved wood doorways, capitals and other architectural elements, as well as the colors that adorn the walls and ceilings of the king’s and queen’s chambers on the second floor of the palace. This effort involved sourcing the mineral pigments that were used for the original paint, and students were trained in paint conservation.

The entrance to the palace will be returned to the north side from the west, where it had been moved, and parking and pedestrian access will be relocated to the east, on a newly built road near the palace. In addition to repurposing rooms for an education center and a café below grade (so it will not compete visually with the palace), Tsao & McKown’s adaptive reuse plan includes an elevator on the south side of the palace to make it accessible to the elderly and those with disabilities. Zack McKown, one of the firm’s founders, felt it was important to make these interventions as subtle as possible, to “do no harm” to the palace. McKown, whose firm has also designed a home for elderly monks in Bhutan, admires the fact that its people “actually seem to live their Buddhist values.”

This affection for the country is not unusual among those involved in the palace project. Eric Hoffman, whose New York–based creative agency, Hoffman Creative, is responsible for the project’s branding, first visited Bhutan in 2004 with his partner, Michael Reynolds, and has returned several times. He calls this “a passion project,” which could be said for everyone helping to restore the Wangduechhoeling Palace while bringing its history to life in the present.

Art & Culture

Lord Ram was born in Birgunj , He is a Nepali: PM Oli

Kathmandu/New Delhi: Ayodhya, the ancient city believed by millions of Hindus to be the birthplace of Lord Ram, is actually a small village near Kathmandu, Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said Monday, in a statement certain to provoke a reaction from followers of Ram.
The Prime Minister also claimed Lord Ram was actually Nepali.

Speaking at a cultural programme at his residence, Mr Oli then accused India of cultural oppression and encroachment, and said Nepal’s contribution to science had been undervalued.

“We still believe we gave Sita to Prince Ram but we gave the prince too, from Ayodhya, not India. Ayodhya is a village a little west (of) Birgunj (a district in Nepal that is around 135 km from capital Kathmandu),” Prime Minister Oli said.

“We have been oppressed a bit, culturally. Facts have been encroached,” he declared.

According to news agency ANI, which quoted Nepalese media sources, Mr Oli also said: “Real Ayodhya lies in Nepal, not in India. Lord Ram is Nepali not Indian”.

Ayodhya is a town in Uttar Pradesh, around 135 km from state capital Lucknow.

Prime Minister Oli’s contentious remarks come amid a row between the two countries over a revised political map that sees Nepal claim Indian territory – the Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand and the Limpiyadhura and Kalapani areas.

Last month the Nepal parliament voted, unanimously, to pass a constitutional amendment to update the country’s map to claim these lands. Days later the National Assembly passed the bill, also unanimously.

These are highly strategic areas along India’s border with China and have been guarded by the country since the 1962 war.

Last year the Supreme Court cleared the way for a Ram Temple at the disputed site at Ayodhya

India has responded fiercely to the claims on its territory, dismissing the “artificial enlargement” as unacceptable
“Nepal is well aware of India’s consistent position on this matter and we urge the Government of Nepal to refrain from such unjustified cartographic assertion and respect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the government said.

Nepal claimed the territory under a treaty made with the East India Company during the British period.

Back in May Prime Minister Oli also blamed India for the spread of the novel coronavirus in his country.

“It has become very difficult to contain COVID-19 due to the flow of people from outside. Indian virus looks more lethal than Chinese and Italian now,” he said.

The apparently deteriorating relationship with Nepal has been fiercely criticised by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who has often questioned the government’s foreign policy decisions.

Art & Culture

Thailand’s nuns yet to get equal status

Women are barred from ordination in Thailand’s Theravada Buddhist sect. After Venerable Dhammananda Bhikkhuni was ordained in Sri Lanka, she set out to elevate women’s religious status in her Thai homeland.
At the Songdhammakalyani Monastery in Nakhon Pathom, an hour outside Bangkok, six bhikkhunis, or nuns, dressed in saffron colored robes, begin the day with a morning prayer.

Adhering to the practices of the Theravada school of Buddhism, the bhikkhunis keep a strict timetable, getting up at 5 a.m. to chant, meditate, study religious scriptures and collect alms from the surrounding villages.

This temple is like thousands of others across the country, except it is the only monastery in Thailand with ordained nuns. Here, Venerable Dhammananda Bhikkhuni is the temple’s abbess, or superior nun.

Dhammananda is now in her late 60s. Her interest in Buddhism stemmed from her mother, who helped establish the monastery in 1960. It was the first of its kind to be built by women, for women.

Dhammananda is the first Thai woman to fully ordain in the Theravada monastic lineage

“This was my mother’s idea,” Dhammananda said. “When my mother had had enough of her lay life, she decided to be ordained.” Dhammananda was 10 years old at the time her mother sought ordination – abroad.

No suppor for female ordination

In the 1950s, Dhammananda’s mother, Venerable Voramai, was prohibited by the local conservative clergymen to become a bhikkhuni, as the tradition of ordaining women had been lost in the Thai Teravada tradition. Women were supposed to lead a life as lay people, serving monks, but not become nuns. In other Asian countries, like Vietnam, Tibet or Taiwan, where the Mahayana tradition is prevalent, the tradition of ordaining Buddhist nuns had been common practice for centuries.

Voramai believed nuns should engage in social service, as well as following their spiritual path. It was that pioneering spirit that inspired her daughter, Dhammananda, who initiated her career in academia but later found a different path.

Residents offer food as alms to the monastery
For three decades, Dhammananda was a professor of religious studies and philosophy at Thammasat University in Bangkok. She published books on women and Buddhism and even had a television show called “Dharma Talk,” which gained national popularity and won several awards.

But then her focus changed. “I’d had enough of the success,” Dhammananda said. “I had enough of this worldly life. Where was it leading?” she asked herself one day with a feeling of discontent. That’s when she decided to walk down her mother’s path and seek ordination.

Promoting equality

Just as her mother became the first modern Thai woman to become a nun in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, Dhammananda became the first to take Theravada nun vows in a ceremony in Sri Lanka. Theravada Buddhists there had since managed to re-establish female ordination.

After her ordination, Dhammananda began promoting religious equality for bhikkhunis in Thailand.

When her mother became interested in Buddhism, Dhammananda told DW, “she realized that when Buddha was alive, [he] ordained women, even his own mother.” That suggests female ordination goes back some 2,500 years, to the early days of Buddhism. She began asking herself why women in Thailand had been deprived of the right.

Female ordination is permitted under the current Thai constitution. But the Thai Sangha Council, a conservative religious advisory group, remains hostile toward bhikkhunis, believing only men can enter the monkhood. This underscores an already alarming gender inequality problem in Thailand.

It is widely accepted among Buddhists that the Buddha established the “Four Pillars of Buddhism” – consisting of monks, nuns, lay men and women – to uphold the religion. In Thailand, however, bhikkhunis were removed from the Thai Sangha law since the word “sangha” – which means monastic commu

Art & Culture

Axone’ actress Lin Laishram: Bollywood doesn’t pick stories from north east

by Zeba Khan:
‘Axone’ will always be special for model-actress Lin Laishram as she takes a giant leap towards mainstream cinema. A film that brings forward the north eastern India’s sensibilities with a cast and crew that is mainly from that part of the country, Lin hopes it brings some amount of awareness towards her community.

Speaking to WION on her Netflix film, Lin Laishram pointed out Bollywood’s biasness against stories from the north eastern part of India and why we need more such films so that there is a fair representation of her community which helps to limit racism against people with “mongoloid features”.

With a lot of sentimental value attached to ‘Axone’, Lin Laishram said, “It’s not just a film for me because I come from that place, from Manipur. Till date, Bollywood has not picked up any stories, any project with full cast and team from the north eastern states of India. The mainland people have to know about us. We have to know more about mainland India. Interactions between states and cultural exchange is required. There have been no female actors from Manipur before me who have come out and been part of Bollywood. A movie like this will help us on several fronts — help the rest of India to understand our culture and what we go through when we come out of our states.”

Where does this difference arise from? “It comes from the foundation. We have ignored that part of the country completely. In none of the Indian textbooks there is much to study about NE states. We were just told that there are 7 sisters. I think we need to start from there, from our elementary education system. The government has to evolve, adapt these changes, and evolve and inculcate these cultures into textbooks. We have to start young for the next generation to understand.”

“Our NE states are disconnected from the mainland. They are cut off because of distance, food habits, how we look, our languages and more. There is a lack of awareness and we are called Chinese because of our mongoloid features. If the kids are taught from the beginning about that part of India which is close to east asian countries, then things will get better,” added Lin.

One would think that actors and models from her social status would be safe from racist attacks but alas, Lin narrated a very recent episode that shook her. She said, “We face racism. Each of us who have come out in the mainland, have all faced racism in one manner or the other. It has only increased, unfortunately, during the lockdown. I, very recently, experienced one on February 9 as I dropped my parents at the airport and was coming back in the morning. They had an early flight. As I got off the taxi, two boys walked past me, one was a middle-aged man. He said ‘coronavirus’ a couple of times looking at me. I could feel he was trying to communicate something with me. Coronavirus wasn’t such a big deal back then so I couldn’t connect. Only when I spoke to a friend that evening and I mentioned the incident, she said they were being racist towards me, referring to me as the virus.”

“There have been countless episodes of racism during the pandemic with people from the NE being barred from entering grocery stores at multiple places. A girl was spat on Delhi street. PG residents students in Calcutta were thrown out and so on. We are still fighting a silent battle. With a film like Axone, I hope there will be more awareness about our people. Not that it will change the entire country but they will get a better sense of it,” added Lin hopeful for the future.

Does she succumb to racist attacks? Lin pointed out, “You have to be rational at some point, not think from the heart. You are here to do something, to achieve something. If I succumb to every hate comment or troll/ bully then I won’t be able to grow. I have learned to adapt, to accept, to put a brave face and be normal.”

She explained, “There are two versions of racism — if an illiterate person says this who doesn’t have an understanding of our people, our culture, I don’t get upset. Because I understand they don’t have the privilege to study. They don’t know what the Indian map looks like. But if someone has done graduation, they are privileged and educated and when they still don’t know about NE states then that is shameful. They had privilege to learn, how come they didn’t learn geography? These are two reasons I have given myself.”

With the world rising together against racism in the wake of George Floyd’s death in the US, Lin stressed that racism is part of world culture. It’s a deep-rooted phenomena and has been there forever but “every life matters. African-American community has been going through this for decades. It’s a very deep rooted history. They have voiced it. I lived in America for 4 years and have seen it first hand.”

She does, however, feel upset at the lack of voice for her people by the same Bollywood folks who took to social media to chant ‘Black Lives Matter’. “Nobody came forward to talk about a girl being spat in broad daylight or when they were denied grocery because they looked ‘Chinese’ during coronavirus. I didn’t see any trending on Facebook, or any posts on social media because maybe it wasn’t worth trending,” said Lin who feels racism has to be dealt at its roots and we should look at it as a wholesome issue rather than region-specific debate.

Art & Culture

‘Penguin’ movie review: A confusing thriller with great visuals

by Srivatsan S:
For a serial killer premise, a filmmaker is posed by a challenge to sustain the level of intensity that (s)he builds with the opening shot, especially when it has some great aural and visual sense — like the case of Penguin, which opens with a rather disoriented set of dream-like images, of an angelic tombstone, a Charlie Chaplin figure with a yellow umbrella, a child in a yellow hood and a dog. We see the masked man (?) slicing the body of his prey, the child.

The nightmare unfolds on an early morning in what appears to be an abandoned forest where the man almost performs a ritualistic sacrifice, drowning himself to death with the minced body parts in the nearby river. But we are brought back to reality with a dog’s bark, when we find a pregnant Rhythm (Keerthy Suresh who sells the helplessness quite effectively) waking up next to her dog, Cyrus. Is this a pregnant woman’s worst nightmare or a premonition? The opening sequence, if anything, promises a delicious flavour of a South Korean horror and a taut investigative thriller.

Penguin’s story — the curious case of a missing boy — is told in flashback and is intercut with the present day Rhythm and her apparently lonely world. Early on, Rhythm narrates a tell-tale to her son Ajay, about a penguin mother’s grit and tenacity in retrieving her son from the sea. This seemingly cute bedtime story mirrors Rhythm’s real-life when a masked man abducts Ajay into the deep forests.

A mother’s pursuit in uncovering the mystery behind her son’s disappearance results in uncomfortable truths about herself
Days, months and years pass by but there is no trace of Ajay. He is, in fact, suspected to be dead by the investigating officers when they retrieve his clothes in the forest, a year later. But where Penguin becomes slightly interesting is when Ajay returns. After six years. Though the way by which he returns or the scene preceding his arrival seem concocted; you can see why they look and feel ‘constructed’. In Room (2015), when Jack finally sees the daylight after being in captivity for seven years, you cannot help but sympathise with his trauma. Likewise, in Penguin, Ajay takes a while to warm up to the new world. He disappeared as a child but returns as a boy. The questions loom large: where was he and with whom? Rhythm sets out to find the masked man before he preys on another child.

But the questions that trouble us are: what is the film’s motive and why does it keep changing every 20 minutes? It starts off like a regular investigative thriller with a serial killer backdrop and takes the form of a revenge for trivial reasons, in the end. The big climax reveal, which is hollow and does nothing to alter its course, seems like an afterthought written on paper with this description: ‘think of a twist…any twist.’ Kannamoochi, a web series by Avinaash Hariharan which dealt with a similar premise, was much clearer in terms of its structure.

Penguin is not a bad film but Eashvar’s idea of writing suspense gets clumsier as the story progresses. The filmmaker, however, is a revelation in terms of his visual sense. Two shots come to mind that are beautifully imagined and shot (cinematography is by Kharthik Phalani). The first is where Rhythm comes face-to-face with the Charlie Chaplin figure. Eashvar doesn’t show him, instead we see his rather mystical figure in the midst of fog. You can literally see his personality towering over Rhythm — almost to indicate his omnipresence in the forest. The second is when Rhythm finds Ajay on an empty road. She takes nervous looks at him before prostrating at his feet. The light from her car brings about the much-needed light into her otherwise dark world — it segues into an earlier scene where we see a poster of Michelangelo’s Pieta. It is a powerful image. It is sad that the movie does injustice to its own material.

Art & Culture

Chapchar Kut, the biggest and most joyful festival of Mizos celebrated


Aizwal: In Mizoram, the biggest and most joyful festival of Mizos, Chapchar Kut is being celebrated across the state today. The Chapchar Kut is also regarded as the most popular spring festival to the people of the state. The gaiety and fervour of Chapchar Kut shines through with plenty of dancing and music to keep everyone in good spirits. This festival is a public holiday in the state.

Air correspondent reports that Though the festival is beginning today, the celebration started yesterday with the mega event holding at the Assam Rilfles Ground at Aizawl. On the occasion, state Art & Culture Minister R Lalzirliana welcomed all people to participate in the fun and amusement events being organised during the festival. Traditional bamboo dance – Cheraw and other dances were performed at the main event, attracting thousands of people. Almost similar festive events are being held throughout the state.

Amidst cultural fervour, thousands of people from different walks of life, dressed in traditional attires thronged Lammual or Assam Rifles ground here to celebrate the first day of the festival, which witness different cultural hues and traditional dances.


About 30 kms to the West ,about an hour’s drive from Aizawl sprawls a pro

minent mountain on which Reiek village is located. This is one destination that one should not miss visiting. The mountain itself, though appearing to be of gentle slopes on its eastern side , has spectacular rocky cliffs notched with caves and caverns in an environment of luxuriant natural forest preserved since the days of the Mizo chiefs. It is here that the colorful Festival , Anthurium Festival is celebrated in the state. It is a successful tourism promotion venture celebrated every year at the tourist resort in Reiek Village at the foothills of the mystic Reiek Mountain in September, every year as festival, amidst, nature during the peak season of the beautiful and exotic Anthurium blossom. It is a three days extravaganza that showcase various culture and traditional activities. Other attractions include music, dance, traditional games and sports, handloom, handicrafts and a re-invention of a Mizo typical Village. The festival also includes archery, rifle shooting, and angling competitions. Cultural display of traditional attires of different tribes are also a regular feature of the festival . The festival is indeed an experience not to be missed. The enchanting and mystic Reiek Mountain is surrounded by thick lush green temperate trees and bushes that echoes with legends, folk lore’s and feats won by Mizo chief , for whom Rei-ek Mountain was a hunting preserve. Against the backdrop of this picture perfect isle of nature preserved as gifted by mother nature, the most popular festival of Mizoram. The spontaneity and spirit of celebration that the festival evoke rejuvenates the mind and the body, so, take the opportunity to get away from the stress and monotony of your daily chores. MIZORAM, Hidden Gem of The North East India Well Comes YOU to witness the amazing culture and tradition of the Mizos, the Anthurium Festival is a must attend.