Archive for October 2018

The moment I land in Gorakphur and step out of the one-shed airport, I am reminded of an essay, supposedly penned by an IAS aspirant from Bihar. The topic is the cow. The essay, in problematic English, read somewhat like this: “He is the cow. The cow is a successful animal. Also he is four footed. And because he is female, he give milks, but will do so when he is got child. He is sacred to Hindus and useful to man. But he has got four legs together. Two are forward and two are afterwards. His whole body can be utilised for use…”

Gorakhpur is swarming with cows. On the roads, lone cows stand brooding. There are also small clusters, seemingly immersed in confabulation. I must admit, at times I felt intimidated by their broad faces, wide mouths and big noses. Even if they disappeared from a particular junction, it did not take me long to understand that they would reappear soon enough.

I desperately want to share a laugh with a local on this matter, but I am scared as this would mean I am ridiculing cows. I may just get lynched, who knows? After all, I am in the land of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who also has the distinction of being five-time MP from Gorakhpur, and he has expressed his love for cows time and again. 

He has espoused the importance of gau raksha, or cow protection, on several platforms. He has never criticised the self-styled cow vigilantes who have allegedly killed Muslims and Dalits for skinning cows or storing and eating beef. Instead, he has encouraged them to do more than raise slogans.

Someone I interviewed says what has been on my mind, “Please don’t say anything about cows. This is Gorakhpur, they can even kill you…” Gorakhpur is like a cow sanctuary, where human beings are in real danger. The rickshaw pullers, bikers, pedestrians, everyone pulls along with extreme caution through the narrow roads negotiating past the holy cows.

Not long ago, a special ambulance service was launched by the state government for injured cows. But a senior official at the local Baba Raghav Das Medical College tells me that most of the trauma patients at the hospital are those who injure themselves after bumping into a straying bovine or those who have been hit by a speeding vehicle while trying to save one.

Not just that, cows often enter hospital wards, saunter into the Emergency. “But you can’t complain,” says the official haplessly as he stares at the notepad, one with the image of a smiling Adityanath on it.

While taking a rickshaw ride from Basantpur to Golghar, I ask the rickshaw puller, “There are so many cows here, people in this city must be worshipping them?” He retorts, “Who will worship them, Madam!” He adds as he pedals away, “Itna pareshaan kar diya hain inhone. Inke liye traffic jam ho jata hai. Lekin inka aap kuchh nahin kar sakte hain… They have made our life hell. These cows create terrible traffic jams but one cannot say anything or do anything about them.”

Next day, the taxi driver takes me to Adityanath’s Gorakhnath math, but entry is restricted for some reason. Instead, I find myself being regaled by the locals with stories of the math.

They tell me how this math is the epicentre of the Hindutva brigade and how its former head, Digvijay Nath, was arrested for inciting Hindus to kill Mahatma Gandhi barely three days before his assassination. It’s an open secret that the math always calls the political shots in Gorakhpur. Apparently, BJP’s Upendra Dutt Shukla lost the Lok Sabha by-elections after Aditynath vacated the seat because Shukla was not the mathadheesh’s choice. A shopkeeper tells me that while the math promotes the Hindu versus Muslim agenda, most of the caretakers in the gaushalas of the math are Muslims.

Once again, the discussion revolves around cows. The taxi driver also knows something about the cows of the math. Adityanath’s favourite cow is one Nandini, who used to live along with 500 others in the gaushala here but has now been taken to Lucknow, he says.

Adityanath had earlier promised to move all the stray cows of Gorakhpur to Lucknow but nothing has happened. Didn’t he propose to build shelters for cows across districts, I ask. “Wait and see, what all he builds and when,” he says, this time with not a little annoyance. He adds, “The CM has also promised to build flyovers and expressways, you know…”

It is not difficult to read his mind. Gorakhpuris don’t want those flyovers and expressways to be crowded with cows.

Add these lesser known festivals to the annual calendar

  • Published 21.10.18, 1:58 AM
  • Updated 21.10.18, 3:13 AM
  • 5 mins read
The Nagas of Manipur celebrate Lui-Ngai-NiFile Image

Sarhul, Baha and Sohrai

In spring, when the sal trees get new leaves, the Oraon tribe of Jharkhand celebrates Sarhul. Sal flowers are brought to the saran sthal or sacred place where the pahan or priest offers prayers to the gods and distributes the flowers. It is believed that the flowers represent the brotherhood among villagers and the earth becomes fertile after this festival. Around this time, the Santhals — who constitute the largest tribal community in Jharkhand — celebrate Baha, the festival of flowers. Besides sal, mahua flowers are used in the rituals. The Santhals and Oraons of Bihar, Odisha, Bengal and Chhattisgarh also celebrate colourful Sohrai. Come October, they coat the outer walls of their houses with a layer of white mud and while it is still wet, they draw flowers, fruits, leaves and other motifs inspired by their habitat.

Santhals of Jharkhand celebrating Baha, the festival of flowers
Santhals of Jharkhand celebrating Baha, the festival of flowersFile Image

Judi Sital and Sama-Chakeva

The Maithils of Bihar celebrate the arrival of summer and their new year on April 14. They call the occasion Judi Sital. On this day, they eat badi-bhaat (made of gram flour) prepared the day before and donate earthen pitchers containing water to Maithil Brahmins. The other festival of the Maithils is Sama-Chakeva, which is usually celebrated when winter commences and birds migrate from the Himalayas to the plains. Maithil women make idols of a pair of birds named Sama and Chakeva and decorate them in the traditional way. The day-long celebration ends with a vidaai or goodbye to these birds and an earnest prayer that they return the following year.

Vautha Mela

The Pushkar Mela of Rajasthan is well known but have you heard of Gujarat’s Vautha Mela? Hundreds of camels and thousands of donkeys are adorned with ornaments and paint and brought to this fair to be sold. The mela or fair that happens around November every year is considered more important than Diwali celebrations as it takes place at the confluence of seven holy rivers — Vatrak, Meshwo, Hathmati, Shedhi, Majum, Khari and Sabarmati. Diyas are set afloat in the water in the evening. A popular snack associated with this festival is the khichu, which is made of rice, cumin seeds, green chillies and soda bi-carb.


This 800-year-old dance festival is typical to north Malabar. People of Karivellur, Kurumathur, Nileshwar, Ezhom and Cherukunnu in Kerala celebrate it every year between December and April. The most intriguing and interesting bit about this festival is the reversal of caste positions it necessitates. The performers belong to lower castes. They paint their faces yellow and red, dress up in flamboyant costumes and headgear. This is perhaps the only time of the year when the upper castes fall at their feet and worship them as gods. In his book, Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, William Dalrymple writes about Dalit Hari Das, who slips into a deity-like avatar once a year — taking a break from his day job in a jail.

Theyyam necessitates the reversal of caste positions

Theyyam necessitates the reversal of caste positionsAFP/Getty


This festival is named after a fruit and is celebrated by the Bhatra and Halba tribes of Bastar in Chhattisgarh. Much like Odisha’s Rath Yatra — it also takes place in July — there are three chariots carrying the idols of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra and a procession of devotees follow them. Villagers make pistols out of bamboo and use bullets made of the goncha fruit to attack each other playfully. Young men play the tupki or a long pipe-like instrument to woo the women.


It is celebrated in Nagaland and the Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur. The festival that marks the sowing season is celebrated on February 15 every year. Traditional dances are performed, local dishes are prepared and a fire is lit to bless the seeds to be sown.


Lui-Ngai-NiFile picture

Sammakka Saralamma Jatara

This is a tribal festival-cum-fair of Telangana and the second largest such in India after the Kumbh Mela. It commemorates the valour of a mother and daughter, Sammakka and Saralamma. Tribal lore has it that some time in the 13th century, tribal leaders went hunting in the forest and found a newborn playing amidst tigers. This was Sammakka. She was adopted by the head of the tribe and brought up to be chief after him. She later became the saviour of the tribals of the region and is considered a goddess by them. The festival is held once in two years, in either January end or beginning February. All the festive rituals are conducted by priests of the Koya tribe.


This festival derives its name from the Hindi word “hariyali”, meaning greenery, and is one of the most prominent performing arts festivals of the Durg district of Chhattisgarh. At the core of all performances lies a veneration of all that is crucial to the farmer — his cattle, his ploughing equipment and so on.


It is a folk dance festival performed to celebrate the advent of spring by Thigalas, a community of gardeners and lake settlers in Bangalore, Mysore and Madikeri areas of Karnataka. It is seen as a tribute to Draupadi, the Pandava queen. Legend has it that at some point, Draupadi took the form of goddess Shakti and created soldiers called the “veerkumaras” to deal with a demon named Tripurasura. When it was time for Draupadi to go to heaven, the veerkumaras wanted her to stay back. She couldn’t keep their request but promised to visit her devotees on the first full moon day of the lunar new year. Her visit marks the nine-day festival in which the priest, dressed as a woman, covered in flowers, carries the Karaga (the three-feet tall water pot symbolising Draupadi) on his head and walks to the homes of the veerkumaras so that they can worship the Karaga. The dancers perform various acrobatic feats — while following the procession — to the accompaniment of musical instruments like the thavinadaswarammuniudukka and pamba. At the end of the festival, the Karaga returns to the temple.

In other words, all time is festival time in this country of ours.


Although Dree is the festival of the Apatani tribe, it has gained popularity amongst other tribes in Arunachal Pradesh. The two-day festival celebrated in April is meant to ensure a good harvest. People offer prayers to four gods — Tamu, Harniang, Metii and Danyi. Traditional dances are performed and cucumber, which is considered a symbol of a good harvest, is distributed among all. Women brew wine and people savour various delicacies along with volumes of rice beer.

Dree, the festival of the Apatani tribe, has become popular with other tribes in Arunachal Pradesh

Dree, the festival of the Apatani tribe, has become popular with other tribes in Arunachal PradeshFile picture

Lai Haraoba, Chavang Kut and Bwisagu

In March, when north India celebrates Holi, the Meiteis of Manipur celebrate their own version called Lai Haraoba. During this five-day festival, they worship local deities Sanamahi, Nongpok Ningthou, Leimarel, Pakhangba and 364 umang lais or jungle deities. Both men and women dance and enact the Khamba-Thoibi, a popular Manipuri folktale. The festival ends with performances such as Ougri Hangen or the song about controlling the mind; Khencho, which is about the concept of the third birth; and Hijan Hirao, the song sung during the felling of trees to craft two big boats — one for the male deity, the other for the female. Sports such as indigenous polo and wrestling mark the conclusion of the festival.

In the hills, the Kukis, Chins and Mizos celebrate the colourful Chavang Kut. Dressed in colourfully woven half-sleeve jackets and sarongs, the cultural troupes of the Kuki tribe gather at the picturesque Peace Ground at Tuibong in Churachandpur, Manipur. The traditional Kuki symbol of the skull dominates the festival — celebrated in the latter half of October — after the villagers complete their back-breaking toil in the fields.

The Bodos of Assam celebrate Bwisagu, a festival of Shiva or Baithou, in April, around the same time as the rest of Assam celebrates Bihu. One of the major attractions of the festival is the Bagarumba dance. Women dress up in the traditional dokhana or draped skirt and the jwmgra or shawl. With outstretched arms and the shawl around their shoulders, they look like colourful birds fluttering wings. The men play instruments such as the serja (it resembles a violin), tifung (something like a flute), tharkha (a piece of split bamboo) and khum (a long drum).

During Bwisagu, Bodo women wear their shawl around their shoulders and spread their arms

During Bwisagu, Bodo women wear their shawl around their shoulders and spread their armsFile picture

In my journalism career of 15 years, I have come across many men who know how to play the power game. Now at 37, I can identify them readily. You will find many in this profession, I am sorry to say. But I am just listing some early signals to spot a predator in your newsroom or outside when you out to report. This list, based on my experiences and observations (not in that order but), might help young journalists in future.

Here are early signals:

In office — Immediate Supervisor/ Senior Colleague

  1. While shaking hands, either he presses it too hard or squeezes your palm or just rubs it lightly with fingers
  2. Stands in front of your desk, and stares at you without any official work
  3. Stands in front of your desk, holding a book in hand, only to pretend he is reading it.
  4. Comes to your desk, shows you photographs of naked tribals, pretending to help you in your story on tribals!
  5. In a meeting when everyone sits in a circle – he hangs his jacket/coat right behind you and intentionally keeps his pen and diary inside the pocket of the jacket. In the middle of the meeting, he gets up and comes behind you to get the pen and diary.
  6. He indirectly asks you- where you live, who you live with etc during office lunches.
  7. Picks up anecdotes from earlier conversations during lunch and refers to it later, out of context. You will understand that he remembers every word you utter in office. He wants to give you an impression that he is fond of you. Trust me he is not half serious about you. You don’t fall into the trap, he must have done this to many women before you and would continue to do it even later. These are tried and tested methods. They are serial offenders.

How to spot a predator (especially an interviewee) outside?

  1. You approach someone for interview, the person suddenly extends his arm around your shoulder to know more about the interview.
  2. You are in a hurry to get a quote from someone, he (taller men do it often) leans forward and brings his face near your breasts to pretend he can’t hear you properly.
  3. You have gone to interview him at home. He makes you sit on a chair whose height is lower than the one he is sitting on. He keeps coming back and forth towards you, and his eyes are fixed on your breasts.

How to spot a predator outside office (generally an established journalist)

  1. You approach a senior journalist (at least 10 years your senior) known to have covered a certain region/beat for decades for help. He would go out of his way to not only help you with the story but also tries to help you with logistics. He keeps texting you to know more about your movement.
  2. It could be possible after the end of the trip, he would invite you for dinner and coffee to know more. Only a woman would understand how much of this is professional gesture and how much is pure personal interest.
  3. He starts suggesting you to read books with rich sexual content/man-woman sexual relationship. Even if you are attracted to him, and feel elated that an intellectually rich and professionally established man is attracted to you, take a pause. Remember, these men find any woman attractive because their aim is something else, we know what!
  4. If he is a married man, one of the most common ways of breaking the ice is to tell you, he is unhappily married. It is a “dead” marriage, they are together only for the child. For years, he didn’t have sex with his wife. DO NOT try to be his “best friend,” and please don’t tell him, you “understand.” He doesn’t need your friendship. He wants something else.
  5. He uses sexual innuendos in conversations to see how you respond. He cracks jokes with sexual content. If you don’t respond or keep a neutral face, he would say, “You are such a bacchha (kid),” only to provoke you to play with words just the way he is doing! The problem is, in the process, he also plays with your emotions! Remember!
  6. You tell him, you are okay to have him as a friend but you think he is hinting at something more you are uncomfortable with, he will play the victim card! He will say, you misunderstood him and he would also remind you how he helped you with your story earlier only to make you feel guilty.  He will withdraw himself for a while. But he will come back to you with vague things, especially work-related. If you again go back to him, he will resume the game. This is power play.
  7. He will continue to throw advances till he gets you under his fold. But kindly do not think he is serious with you! He will move on to the next woman once he is over and done with you!

Spot them, catch them, confront them if they make you feel uncomfortable!

Geriatric care is a very sensitive issue and it is being given to people with various degrees of limitations in the later stage of their life. People may need assistance in brushing their teeth or eating or bathing or walking. Some need help to remind them about day to day things or a little assistance in framing small sentences and prounouncing words correctly. But just because they need this sort of care or assistance, they are not “invalid” or “abnormal.”

Trust me, people who need the care also try their best to do things on their own. But they have limitations. A lot of times, they do break their own limitations though.

They remember the finest of things from the pages of history which any “normal” person may not have ever heard of. They can walk miles with the help of their stick on days they feel energetic and happy. They will give a smile and tell you, “What big deal, I can do it,” when you are worried if it is okay to send them for a surgery at this age. They would give the best insight about life when you are on the verge of giving up at work or in personal life.

Those who have not offered geriatic care would not understand it. If you ever get a chance to live close to people who are aging, you must feel blessed forever.

All of us would reach at a point when we need help from someone. Extend your helping hand to someone today so that you get to hold onto someone else’s hand in future.

I am not writing it because I want a battery of followers on Twitter as #Metoo is trending on social media. It is important to start with this disclaimer because I have heard comments such as, “now, every woman will share her ‘story’ to become famous on social media.”

I am writing it because I feel empowered today as a woman journalist when I see my colleagues in the media have come out to narrate their horrific experiences in their professional life.  I feel, there is a need to share these experiences in public to make more women aware of the urban predators around us.

As women journalists, we do come across some “embarrassing” or “weird” or “awkward” or “unpleasant” moments in our professional life.  One such moment still lives with me. It was August 2010, I was doing a story on the Commonwealth Games, desperately trying to interview the CWG Organising Committee (OC) chairman Suresh Kalmadi. Despite sending him a questionnaire on mail followed by multiple reminders, he didn’t answer. Then one day, (most probably, it was August 6, 2010) a press conference was called at the New Delhi Centre at Jai Singh Road, the office of the CWGOC. Suresh Kalmadi made a surprise appearance to deal with allegations of his involvement in financial irregularities related to the Games.  After the conference was over, I ran towards him as he was waiting for the elevator. Near the elevator, in the presence of his officials, I told him, “Sir, I am from The Telegraph, I have mailed you some questions related to a story on Commonwealth Games but you haven’t replied.” He looked at me, extended his arms towards me, patted on my right cheek twice and said, “Come, come to my office upstairs.”

As a woman, I felt invaded, I felt miserable. I felt like washing my cheek again and again. But suddenly as a reporter, I thought, finally, I could get his interview. After the interview, I called up my senior colleague, I told her about how he behaved. She said, “Don’t think too much about it. He must be treating you as a kid.” I believed her only to forget this incident. I was 29 then but because of my short stature, I looked younger, perhaps, I thought.

I have not been able to forget this incident. As I shared this experience with a few female journalists, I realised, a lot of us want to forget these unpleasant moments because the ultimate aim is to get the story, and we move from one story to the other. But the reality is, we feel miserable for not doing enough at the right time. And often, while moving from one story to the other, we encounter more such unpleasant experiences.

In 2011, I was trying to interview a Congress MP (And let me clarify, I am no BJP stooge who is blaming a Congress man), who claims to understand the plight of Kashmiris like none other. One afternoon, dressed in his trademark white kurta and pyajama, this politician came to attend a programme at the Constitutional Club. I approached him for an interview.  It was my first meeting with him. He gave a smile and suddenly put his right arm around my shoulder, wanting to know, what this interview is all about. I was taken aback by his gesture. But after about two minutes, I expressed my discomfort by shrugging off his hand a bit but I didn’t say anything to him directly. He sensed my discomfort and removed it.

When I narrated this incident to my senior colleagues in the media, I learnt, he is known for being “flirtatious.” The other day, an ex-colleague while commenting over the #Metoo moment, wrote on WhatsApp —“There’s a thin line between sexual harassment and harmless flirting.” What this politician did was harmless flirting or sexual harassment? So he has been “flirting” with women journalists for years, and no one felt the need to speak up?

As my Twitter timeline is getting filled with the horror stories of women journalists being sexually harassed by their male colleagues, I thank my stars that I have never been hugged or groped or kissed by my male colleagues at any workplace or in their cars in my 15 years of journalism career. But I won’t say, there were no attempts by male colleagues to pull me down by making obnoxious sexist remarks.

I remember, back in 2004-06, when I was working in a newspaper owned till recently by a BJP MP, I was often taunted by a senior male colleague with initials RRR after I was asked by my boss to cover beats he covered. In a way, he was punished for not doing justice to his work; clearly, he couldn’t say much to the boss, so his ire was directed at me. I remember him telling me — “Ladki ho, kaam achha karogi…” What a sexist remark! As a newcomer in the profession and a new migrant to the city, I thought it was better to keep quiet; I kept my focus on work, nothing else. I did commit a mistake. I should have confronted him right there. I should have asked him –what exactly did he mean by “ladki ho…kaam achha karogi!”

Another male colleague in the same department who claimed to have great access to Delhi Police but mostly behaved as its spokesperson used to address me as  “eh ladki…” I did respond to it once or twice before telling him firmly, “I have a name.” “Toh, tum ladki nahin ho kya?” — pat came his reply.

He or anyone else never tried to take any chance on me for sure though, perhaps, because our boss was too protective of his younger women colleagues. But then why do we need these protective father figures to guard us in our offices where all of us are adults?

I never look for a father figure to protect me when I travel to the back of the beyond on Manipur-Burma border to interview a militant or to report on the plight of tribals in Abujmarh or to document the lives of Kashmiris in curfew. I wonder, if I can be the voice of the deprived through my stories, why can’t I speak up for myself, every time, someone is trying to make me uncomfortable? I have realised, I often get perplexed when such “awkward” moments come. I have heard, many women get confused about how to react.

But now with so many of us speaking up, I believe, we must help each other to spot the #Urbanpredator and we must also share a tip or two on how to deal with them right then!