Sunday Long Reads: Afghanistan before Taliban, Vir Sanghvi memoir, idea of wabi-sabi, and more

Enjoy this week's interesting reads here!

When Kabul was a city with a future

Through the incessant rain outside my window in Mumbai, in my mind’s eye I see glimpses of the Paghman range, the mountains that were visible from every room of my first apartment in Kabul. It was the spring of 2006 and I thought nothing of sitting out on our small balcony or standing by the windows. Later, I would be warned about both these things.


How women’s theatre groups, in the last 20 years, gave voice to Afghanistan’s long history of storytelling

At the centre of the Pashto play, Backbiters, are a young girl who refuses to be sold in marriage to an older man and her friend who intends to go for higher studies. Women in the latter’s neighbourhood in northern Afghanistan gossip that she intends to go to university, where she’d sit next to boys and wear lipstick. By the end of the show, these women are made to realise that their chatter is not only harmful, it is also against Islamic tenets. Until recently, Backbiters was a hugely popular plays espousing women’s rights. Today, its performers are hiding from the Taliban, who took control of Afghanistan recently.


Why Kerala’s Sister Lucy is fighting a lonely, exhausting battle

In early September 2018, Kerala was witness to an extraordinary protest by five Catholic nuns against a powerful bishop, Fr Franco Mulakkal, accused of raping a fellow nun. As the five nuns sat at the Vanchi Square in Kochi, a stone’s throw away from the Kerala High Court, demanding the arrest of the accused, 270 km away at a convent in Wayanad district, Sister Lucy Kalappura felt a weight on her chest.

A Mathematics teacher and a member of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation (FCC) under the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church for over three decades, Sr Lucy, 56, was acquainted with tales of oppression of women inside the Church. “It takes a great deal of courage to speak up against a powerful man. When I heard her (survivor’s) account, I knew that she was speaking the truth. I believed her,” says Sr Lucy.


How Jairam Ramesh outlines the significance of ‘The Light of Asia’

Jairam Ramesh is a well-known author of books on Indian politics, politicians, and international affairs. Although The Light of Asia significantly deviates from his previous writings thematically, it preserves Ramesh’s hallmark embrace of archival research and his zeal for storytelling. The story he tells this time is not about a person or event but concerns the global life of a fascinating book by the 19th-century English polyglot Edwin Arnold (1834-1904), titled The Light of Asia or The Great Renunciation (Mahabhinishkramana) Being the Life and Teaching of Gautama: Prince of India and Founder of Buddhism. Ramesh’s latest publication is a biography of this immensely influential book.


Why Vir Sanghvi’s memoir is an engaging account of the life and times of friends in high places

Vir Sanghvi had a charmed life as a journalist. Somehow, all doors opened for him. Besides his immensely readable style, he has always been a shrewd, and often caustic observer of men and matters. He also had the good fortune to have friends in all the right places. Even with his newspaper proprietors, Vir was on breezy first-name terms, unlike most editors who maintain a respectful distance. His autobiography, which he dubs rather grandly “the memoir’’, offers insightful nuggets about the people who ruled India during his years as the editor of The Hindustan Times and the now-defunct Sunday magazine. Some of these insider stories seem to have been withheld earlier because of his proximity to the sources.


Part I: When Mother Nature built her own Air Force

In an air show, on a National Day or otherwise, we are blown away by our screaming supersonic fighters, bristling with guided missiles, zooming in perfect formation, or the big bombers or deadly, if grossly ugly, helicopter gunships clattering menacingly over us. But much before we learnt to fly, Mother Nature’s Air Force (MNAF) had covered all the bases with her avian squadrons: big bombers, stealth fighters, light combat aircraft, hoverers as deadly as any gunship. She equipped and armed them well, ensured only the targets be destroyed (eaten), with no collateral damage to other living creatures, and (unlike any other air force) a clean-up squadron, like the great carnivores, to clear the carnage left by others’ battles so that nothing is wasted.


How the AIR commentaries shaped public opinion during the Bangladesh War of Independence

Visualising journalism as a vocation in India today brings forth images of newspapers, magazines, television, and now, the omniscient social media and digital apps. Rarely does radio figure in that list, except as an afterthought. We live in times when capsules of news within a sequence of musical records form the staple of most radio broadcasts. A lack of awareness that radio journalism, too, once thrived may well be forgiven.


Heart of imperfect enoughness

The last one-and-a-half years have come down quite hard on most of us, and we are dragging ourselves out of it, quite frayed at the edges. As we open our metaphorical doors to welcome people into our homes, we wonder if we are really prepared to step out or let people in. Our homes have weathered the storm along with us, and the effects are showing. The threadbare sofas, faded walls and chipped cutlery telling stories of pain, tears, love and meaningful conversations. The spruced-up nooks and crannies once hosted conferences, workshops, meetings, home-schooling and college presentations. Humans and animals cohabiting adding to the joyful messiness of living. Each corner a witness to our struggles, hope, loss and survival.


Why ‘In Plain Sight’, a reporter’s probe into the Maximum City’s underbelly, is a promising debut

It’s your first day in a new job in a new city. You do not know the language or how to proceed on your assignment, forget the right (or wrong) people to contact to get it done. Now, fill in the X factors — the city you find yourself in is Mumbai, and the job, that of a crime reporter. The Indian Express’s crime reporter Mohamed Thaver’s debut novel, In Plain Sight, starts with this intriguing premise and proceeds to unpack the inner workings of both — the crime beat of a newspaper as well as that of “one of the premier investigating agencies in the country”: the Mumbai crime branch.



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