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Lahaul tribals warm up to hopes ahead of this winter

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“We have lived our lives in all sorts of hardships in this cold desert. But certainly, this time we are not that fearful of winters,” said Shanti, 58, while digging out potatoes from a field at Kutbihadi village in Lahaul valley of the tribal Lahaul Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh.

Non-literate Shanti and her matriculate husband Ramesh used to shift to Manali during the winters ahead of the closure of the snowbound Rohtang Pass every year earlier and survived with whatever money they earned by cultivating seed potatoes in a small area in Lahaul in a season. Their children are studying in Kullu.

“Our village and a number of villages around Koksar face avalanche threat in winters that damages our houses. We can’t stay back in winter months even after the construction of Atal Tunnel. But we are relaxed and there is no panic as we can travel back home to look for our belongings as per need through this tunnel,” Ramesh, 54, said.

The cold desert of Lahaul Spiti has the toughest terrain under very harsh weather in Himachal Pradesh.

The two valleys ~ Lahaul and Spiti ~ are separated by over 14000 feet high Kunzum Pass.

Lahaul tribals

Spiti is connected to the other side of Himachal through the tribal district of Kinnaur, while travel to Lahaul from Manali involved crossing over a 13050 feet high Rohtang Pass (which remained closed for five months due to heavy snow in winters).

The travel to Lahaul will now be much shorter (by 3-4 hours) and much easier throughout the year from this all weather tunnel.

Despite much progress over the last two decades in terms of road and phone connectivity, the Lahaul valley saw majority locals migrating to Manali and Kullu in winters to avoid the harsh life back home all these years. The others staying back to look after homes had to prepare in advance for winters, especially in terms of food stock.

A large number of people left the area to settle outside permanently that contributed to some drop in population growth in Lahaul Spiti from 2001-2011.

“This had to happen as the medical facilities in tribal Lahaul Spiti have been very poor. There are no specialists to handle emergencies. The facilities for higher education are nil here. We had to send our children outside for education to keep pace with times,” said Jagannath, 49, who runs a hotel in Keylong.

“The connectivity will make our life easier from now on. But for two-three months in winters, it snows heavily and is extremely cold as the temperature dips to 15-20 degree Celsius in many areas, so people, especially elders and women, may still have to stay out,” he added..

The tribals find that the all weather connectivity will ultimately change the course of development in Lahaul in terms of health, education and overall economy with its mainstreaming.

“The government employees also won’t evade postings in this area with round the year connectivity. The farmers will now have easy mobility to market cash crops like peas, potatoes and vegetables outside Lahaul. Many times, our harvest used to rot due to road block in uncertain weather,” said Krishan, 52, a farmer in Keylong.

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Books & Authors

Flowing Musings and Journal Entries of a Lazy Author – Sabarna Roy

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Sabarna Roy is a much awarded, critically acclaimed bestselling author of 6 literary books: Pentacles; Frosted Glass; Abyss; Winter Poems; Random Subterranean Mosaic: 2012 – 2018, and Etchings of the First Quarter of 2020. He is the lead author of a technical book, which has been published from the European Union and has been translated into 8 major European languages.

He has been awarded the Literoma Laureate Award in 2019, Literoma Star Achiever Award 2020, Random Subterranean Mosaic: 2012 – 2018 won the best book of the year 2019, the A List Award for excellence in fiction by the NewsX Media House, Certificate for The Real Super Heroes for spreading a spirit of positivity and hope during the COVID-19 Pandemic from Forever Star India Award 2020, and the Certificate for Participation in the Indo Russian Friendship Celebration 2020.

1. Intuition is the key to understanding and unlocking of any kind of mystery. Whatever enables the power of intuition is good for the human race. And, this power is also genetic but requires intense nurturing. Educational institutions especially would have to pitch in in this effort. Munich University where Albert Einstein had studied and many other great intellectuals did, was/is a place, which is famous for nurturing intuitive geniuses. What makes an institution so special? I wonder but get no specific answer. There are many things operating at the same time: autonomy and non-interference of the political establishment, the liberal atmosphere, the quality of the faculty and infrastructure, the faculty-student ratio, the faculty-student relationship, the way classes are delivered, the syllabi, stress on creative and thinking capabilities rather than on the mugging and examination mode, permissibility of various opinions to co-exist, and, possibly many other things. In India the reverse is happening now; well, it has happened earlier as well but now things are taking a very worse shape. Take the examples of: Trinamool’s interference in every administrative step in the cases of Jadavpur University and Presidency University in Kolkata (earlier the Left Front had literally killed all the educational institutions worth its repute in Kolkata barring JU and Presidency College, which are now being gobbled up by the present dispensation) and the primeval comments of Dr. Subramaniam Swamy when he was mooted to become the VC of JNU.

2. In my late youth I saw her for the first time on a train. Immediately thereafter I started conjuring an indescribable companionship with her. I chased her for years. Later I came to know she is a happy mother of two bonny sons. She would not give me any attention for she had a secret lover too.

3. In Fallen Man, I made Rahul – my protagonist – to retreat into the mountains with his old mother, having been defeated in life in a growing metropolis.

It was a childhood dream I nurtured in my soul that when I would grow old enough I would live with my mother alone in a high mountain.

But then life has very different things in store for you!

You become a different man as you grow up and confuse yourself with the choices that life offers you.

4. During my University days in the dry summer months (March 15 to May 15) I had a strange obsession of roaming around the labyrinthine deserted alleys of North Calcutta in the afternoons when the scorching sunshine would cause havoc on my shoulders and back, and middlemen, traders and housewives and children would be enjoying a desperate siesta in their cool and shaded bedrooms. Occasionally, to rejuvenate myself, I would smoke a cigarette and drink a cup of syrupy milk tea at a forlorn street-corner.  Where did this passion stem from? When I look back now it seems it was an effort to transpose my loneliness onto the parched, dilapidated and crumbling ambience of Calcutta that was gradually withering. During these walks I have come across strange faces looking at me from the shadowy iron-grilled openings of the tall windows of old mansions (probably tenants forcibly occupying spaces of decaying rich families because of the laxity the Rent Control Act provides to tenants – coming to think of it a pretty smart colonial way of redistribution of wealth). Some of the grotesque faces are etched on the walls of my consciousness till now. Mementos of memory in a loner’s studio. This was also the time when I was introduced to Bismillah Khan’s shehnai and D V Paluskar’s bhajans. Rendition of shehnai recital is a tradition at Indian weddings – presumably a happy occasion. But Bismillah saab’s rendition had an underlying melancholic glory, which attracted me early on. In the bhajans of Paluskar (although I was a non-believer at that time and remain so till date) I could recognize the echoes and angst of the lonely faithful devotee, which left me in awe. My afternoon walks would be accompanied by Bismillah saab’s wind instrument and Paluskar ji’s voice playing in the dark recesses of my mind. Background score!

5. You demystify one cloud. Another appears. You demystify this cloud, that cloud appears. Between this cloud and that cloud there are other clouds. And, then there are many other clouds. The series is relentless and unending.

Human beings are secret islands. Their actions are not completely comprehensible. Why they act in a specific way, is a secret that lies deeply embedded in their own souls! Yet we trust human beings – islands of secrets – in due course of time. Specifically and generally. The science of trust is by and large a very mysterious science.

6. Some erotic stories do not kick-start in our lifetime although they have the potential spark to generate enormous electricity. On the other hand there are many erotic stories that wither away in the long run with time like leaves die. We all go through a mixture of such stories in our lives. The stories that did not start linger in our mind like dolorous reminders – what if! Mind you, the potential of those uninitiated stories to change the course of our lives, including how we evolve as persons, is very high compared to the initiated stories of erotic love.

7. Reverse jump cut – in the past – 25 years – almost – approximately – a full-moon night – after midnight – on the terrace of a G+3 newly built apartment block – on the fringes of the city violently pushing against the margins of a crumbling suburban landscape – full of dreams – a series of conquests – a bright disc of silver hanging in the sky – an elderly friend of mine and I – a telescope in between us – a gazer of stars and galaxies – well, planning to show me what is a sky and infinite continents of space – a wise man – hating my absolute love for rock music – dismissing it as ‘boyish elitism’.

A night redefined!

We smoked hard. We smoked hard – only nicotine fellas! We discussed Dakghar. We recited Wasteland. Death was looming large on our sub-conscious.

Then he asked me to take a drooling walk to the phallic instrument chilling in the night – his love and work of love.

“Boy you could look at the moon both ends from! This end from it looks like a shining piece of nut. And this end from it blazes on you like a scorching sun … So you see; there is nothing right or wrong!”

I asked parched in smoke, “Is there no perfect way of life on earth? Ideals to follow? Creating and adding on to the civilization of men? No right and wrong! Live like dogs, do we?”

He whispered in my ears, “You hate dogs, don’t you? There are ways. There are no ways still. A creative man must learn to suffer multiple takes on life. A creative man must strive for his absolute solitude to unburden his load on us. He walks through the world but returns to his cave. Your cave is this universe of galaxies, constellations and pacing heavenly bodies. You are a banished soul attempting to be a part of this colossal space. Don’t you feel like that? How tiny you are, my boy!”

We fell silent for a long time – looking at the sky – and then we fell asleep! Dreaming: this sleep will take us away …

8. Sanchita Guha aka Mimi, my very talented saali, wanted me to write my own obit page in her friend’s blog. I thought about it and concluded that I would never remember a wasted monkey (and, fat) like me. So why would anybody else remember me! Secondly, I would neither like to be remembered because I just do not qualify the minimum credentials. I have been cruel, selfish (now that my children are grown-up I have also started hating children: angels of light and hope), self-centered and vulgar all my life. I have never stood up for anybody or even myself (that is the biggest crime I have done). I have never been overwhelmed by the sufferings of fellow human beings. I have always looked the other way. Contrarily I have put on the mask of a concerned gentleman looking for an eager audience. I am not gentle in any case; I am arrogant. I have not enjoyed my life for I was never passionate enough. My comparison of myself to a monkey is misplaced, I am factually worse than a monkey. And monkeys are not bad by any stretch of imagination, Mimi would agree with me.  Am I a godzila then? Animal lovers like Mimi would protest my comparison of wretched me to the varied heavenly animals on this planet. I have no consistent body of work. I cannot sing. Nor can I play any musical instrument. I cannot even dance. In the name of love, I have done duties by actually organizing them through others. Secretly, I have always wished to own a company of slaves who would be at my beck and call. I am a good womaniser (although I am fat) and I have neglected even this talent of mine. What a perverse waste of your only life?

9. If we would make museums out of our memories they would serve as very good benchmarks to understand our own lives. And some of them would be works of art, which could be appreciated by one and all. What stops us from making personal and private museums? Effort, of course, because you would require tons of it and patience in doing so. This idea struck me when I was reading Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence a few years back. We as a nation and also as a continent are not much inclined towards museum construction, refurbishment and maintenance and also paying a visit to a museum. Our major museums are poorly maintained and attended. Museum is a habit of the West – mainly, Europe. Our own museums unlike the public museums should be reconstruction of our own lives, revolving around all kinds of incidents and anecdotes: happy, pensive, important, unimportant, passionate, compassionate, all. This will have substantial anthropological value and would require training, which should be inculcated at the school and high-school levels. Museum construction requires a meeting of various kinds of skills. This will throw up a serious branch of training not to be trapped in the mugging-and-examination mode and would seriously become a fountainhead for many hidden talents to flower. At the end of the day, we take resort to serious art because we want to comprehend our own incomprehensible lives. What better way could there be if we could recreate it with our own hands and brain?

10. Nowadays I cannot argue beyond a point of making my case, that is all; I have just lost the steam. Another proof that I have become an old man. I love listening to various points of view instead. I will make my opening move and then withdraw. There was a time when I was a reasonably good debater. Well, long time back … maybe. I also do not feel the emotion of anger nowadays. There is more or less a feeling of resignation. In general, I am always searching for words while talking in a group. But I am very comfortable while writing. One thing that I love is silence: locked inside a chilly, deathly-silent room with random thoughts passing through my mind like a north-westerly wind. Silence excites thoughts.

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Lifestyle

A step in ‘good taste’ helps hill women become self-reliant

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A small but meaningful intervention by the Himachal Pradesh government has taken these rural women on their journey to economic empowerment during Covid crisis.

The case in point is of the Sudarshana Self Help Group (SHG) of women in Gram Panchayat Samoli in remote Rohroo sub division of Shimla district.

The 25 village women in the group are making jams and chutneys from the C grade apples available locally, selling them across the country and are earning good profits. ( Rohroo forms part of the apple belt in Shimla district).

“We had attended a three-day workshop organised by Horticulture Development Officer Dr Kushal Mehta sometime back, wherein we were trained in making quality products from apples. We were taught the minute details about the fruit and various stages of fruit processing. With those tips, we started making apple jam and chutney for sale. This has added to our household income and women are happy about it,” said Sudarshana, who heads the SHG in Samoli.

She said the apple jams and chutneys made by the rural women are available in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Nagpur and Delhi. The products from Samoli Panchayats would soon be available in many other cities in the country.

“The apple chutneys are being sold from Rs 400-800 per kilogram,” she said. Elated by the response, the women are also keen to expand the sale of pickle, chips and sauce made from apples now. The provision of interest free loans by NABARD is also helping the women improve their household economy through small ventures.

Horticulture Development Officer, Rohroo, Kushal Mehta said looking into the success of the Sudarshana SHG, the department plans to organise more such workshops for rural women in other gram Panchayats in Rohroo subdivision. “This will build the capacity of women in different areas and they can benefit economically from this, like the women in Samoli,” he said.

He said the Nodal Officer Dr Dev Raj Kayath and then Deputy Commissioner, Shimla, Amit Kashyap also had a role in this empowerment of women. “They stressed on the trainings to make the rural women self-reliant during Covid-19 crisis so that the rural economy is strengthened,” he said.

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Books & Authors

‘Bikhre Sapne’ by Author M. Murtaza – Dreams Did Not Fall In Place But The Story Did

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Author M. Murtaza is already a known name in the realms of Hindi literature. Murtaza stirred the Hindi literary world with ‘Ankur’ – his first Hindi novel which got published in 1985. Post that he had penned many masterclasses like “Gosha E Noor” (Urdu 2002), “Roshni kaa Minaar” (Hindi 2003), “Tasawwuf” (Urdu 2010), and “Baagh ki Khooshbu” (Urdu, 2019).

Each of the above-mentioned books got critically acclaimed due to apt reason. So, when a writer of this calibre comes up with his next book, it is bound to have a lot of expectations from the readers. M. Murtaza lived up to that expectation in his latest book ‘Bikhre Sapne’. The story is about Raajan – a resident of Shivpur village and his mother Rukmini – a poor widow. The different episodes of the lives of Raajan and Rukmini are beautifully narrated – some are heart melting while some are gruesome.

Just like his other works, Mr. Murtaza treats the plot and the characters of the book ‘Bikhre Sapne’ in a cinematic way. The readers can surely hope to see this story getting transformed into a movie soon. The narration is so good that it’ll create a strong case as a screenplay with an immediate effect.

The two most important points which click for the book are the simplicity of the language used to narrate the story and the holistic nature of the characters sketched. These two aspects work as the manual for any aspiring Hindi writer.

The only aspect which could have been better about the book is its cover page. The publisher could have been a little more careful on this aspect. However, as a whole, ‘Bikhre Sapne’ qualifies as one of the books which readers from all walks of life will cherish for a very long time.               

Buy “Bikhre Sapne from Amazon for just Rs.301

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