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Savie Karnal: Historical Fiction

Savie Karnal: Historical Fiction.


Sudhir Borgonha: The Ball Went Over

Sudhir Borgonha: The Ball Went Over.

Why I like the Resident Evil

Going by recent sci-fi and fantasy films, the world is more terrified of cash-rich business corporations than of maniacs and spirits


From the time I heard about the fifth part of the Resident Evil series, I had been waiting eagerly for it. The moment it was released, I went and watched it. I admit I am a huge fan, but the reason is not Mila Jovovich or the excellent technical work that characterises the series. What I like is the thought that forms the basis of the stories.


The story is about the Umbrella Corporation that creates a virus that infects people and turns them into zombies. As the infection spreads, cities are razed, and the corporation takes over one country after another as their defence fails. What’s so great about this story? Isn’t this what happens in most fantasy films? Well, what makes Resident Evil different is that its villain is a corporation, a business house, and not some maniac.


Many films like Resident Evil now reflect the new fear that rich corporations, not governments, will soon run the world. Will this happen in the distant future, or is it already happening now? The latest version of Resident Evil gives us some clues.

Mila Jovovich in Resident Evil


In reality, there may be no T-virus infecting the populace and spreading from the bites of those infected. But in its place, we have propaganda created by private companies. That spreads through word of mouth, the media and the Internet. The ideas created by these corporations shape our thoughts, choices, behaviour, and eventually, our societies.


Let us take something as simple as clothing. It’s the brands that dictate what is in fashion, and what is not. Irrespective of our comfort, we follow their veiled diktat, and ridicule those who don’t.


Throughout the movie, the corporation addresses Mila’s character Alice as ‘Project Alice’. This is exactly how most corporations think of us consumers. They regard us not as individuals, but as objects to be snared for sales, gradation, and brand loyalty. We are mirror images of each other. We not only dress the way the majority does, but we also prefer similar careers, hobbies, gadgets. We even eat the same food, read the same books, and have the same opinions.


The 2010 Oscar-winning film Inception plays with the idea of corporate espionage, where agents spy on people’s dreams. Its characters enter the sub-conscious mind and steal ideas. They also implant ideas and thoughts in dreams. We do not need any burglar to enter our dreams, for we lay our minds bare on social networking sites, survey forms and marketing research questionnaires.

Leonardo dicaprio in Inception

Some creative efforts keep the symbolism minimal, like the TV Series Supernatural. In one of its episodes, the devil runs a major fast food chain. He subjugates people through addiction to the unhealthy food his company promotes.


The attack on corporates through sci-fi and fantasy is not new, though. JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, written in the 1950s, speaks of growing industrialisation and destruction of the environment by big industries. In the book, later made into a movie, the corrupt wizard Saruman destroys a forest to build his evil army. This army is shown busy at work with machinery and inventions.


Sci-fi and fantasy stories are often dismissed as silly works of the imagination. That is simply because we fail to see the representation behind the flying saucers and broomstick riding. For instance, C S Lewis’ collection The Chronicles of Narnia speaks of Christianity, where the lion Aslan represents Christ. Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights (The Golden Compass is the name of its film version), speaks of the repression of the child’s inner voice by the church and the education system. The most recent Suzanne Collins’ novel, The Hunger Games, made into a blockbuster movie of the same name, predicts a future where people will be controlled through reality TV shows.

Raja Ravi Varma’s painting of a scene in Ramayana

I would compare the intent of these stories to that of our myths, legends and Biblical stories, which feature magical elements, and at the same time show the sociological, economic and political conditions of their times. Buddha’s teachings gained popularity because of the Jataka tales, simple stories where animals speak and ghosts weep.


If we dissociate religion from the Ramayana and look at it objectively, we find that it is also a fantasy tale. It has a prince, a kidnapped princess, demons, birds that talk, and an army of monkeys and bears. Yet, the story teaches us a way of life and is the basis of our culture.

Political correctness is sometimes lame

Ever changing terminology tells us how to refer to people with disability, but heartwarming words don’t automatically guarantee a change in attitude.


In Barfi!, the hero, played by Ranbir Kapoor, is referred to as goonga-behera, or ‘dumb and deaf’. So what is the politically correct term for him: ‘hearing and speech impaired’, ‘auditory challenged’, ‘disabled’, ‘differently abled’, or the more recent, ‘person with disability’?


In the film, the rude ‘dumb and deaf’ makes sense as it is a loud policeman calling him that. But how much of a consolation is heartwarming terminology for people with disability?



Prof R Rajaram, the first Indian with cerebral palsy to earn a PhD in English, believes there is a strong case for sensitive phrasing. “It makes a crucial difference. Such terms not only raise the level of consciousness of those who are unaware, but also helps acknowledge the self esteem of the challenged person,” he told Talk.


The use of incorrect terms gives a sense of superiority to the speaker, which is uncalled for. Social worker Tara Ramkumar agrees. “Words and their connotations have an impact. A change in the vocabulary can bring in social change,” she says.


While this is the standard view among educated disabled people in urban areas, we also came across some exceptions. For instance, when Talk recently interviewed the mother of H N Girisha, London Paralympics silver medallist in highjump, she referred to him in Kannada as a ‘kunta,’ which translates to ‘lame’. His brother too used the word. Here was a world-class athlete from a Hassan village, whose closest relatives continue to call him ‘lame’ even after his glorious high jump win, simply because they are unaware of the concept of political correctness.


G K Mahantesh, founder of Samarthanam, an organisation that has trained hundred of people with disability for BPO jobs, says, “In villages, a short person may be called kulla or gidda.”


Outsiders may find such words crude and insensitive, but there is no insult intended. Mahantesh says the lack of awareness is one problem, but there is also the difficulty of coining politically correct words in the regional languages.”


Prof Rajaram suggests TV soaps should take up the cause and sensitise people in the regional languages. Bangalore-based writer Deepa Bhasti, who has an impairment in her hand, doesn’t care what people call her. Her classmates in school called her handicapped, but it never affected her spirit, she says.


“In government records, people with disability are still referred to as handicapped. The word doesn’t make a difference and the main thing is how people treat you,” she says. She believes she is ‘normal’, and gives credit to her mother, who treated her as normal, and asked her to do her work on her own. “Even if it was the simplest of things like tying shoe laces, I had to do it myself. If I said I couldn’t, she would ask me to find a way,” she says.


The TV programme Satyamev Jayate had an episode dedicated to people with disability. One of the participants found the politically correct word “differently abled” patronising. He preferred to be called ‘disabled’.


A similar sentiment was voiced most famously by Bill Veeck, an American baseball team owner, whose 1962 autobiography is titled I’m Not Handicapped; I’m Crippled. He writes, “You will notice I always use the term ‘cripple.’ It isn’t a word you normally hear, is it? It has become customary, in our euphemistic world, to describe us cripples as ‘handicapped’… Webster defines ‘handicapped’ as ‘to place at a disadvantage’. I don’t believe I am. I believe I can do anything that anybody else can do that doesn’t involve quick sprints, high jumps and a fast buckand- wing. And so, although I am crippled, I am not handicapped.”


Many times, those who use the right words may not necessarily have empathetic feelings towards those with disability. “I have seen people use the correct words when they are on stage. As soon as they are off, they show scant regard to people with disability. More than using the right words, they have to be considerate,” says P K Paul, founder of IDL Foundation, which works with blind people.


Both Paul and Samarthana’s Mahantesh vote for the use of politically correct terms, but their organisations continue to use the word ‘blind’. Paul’s organisation has a band called IDL Blind Band. He says: “Blind is a universal word. We cannot change it. It is better to use it for a group than for an individual.”


Samarthanam is organising a cricket event, the ‘T20 World Cup for the Blind’. “Everywhere the word is used, even in government records. So, we’ve stuck to it,” he says.


A blogger who calls himself Bock the Robber says new euphemisms often gain negative connotations with time. One of his posts says: “Banning particular words won’t change anything. The word ‘retarded’ was originally a well-intended euphemism to replace ‘slow’ but it gradually acquired pejorative overtones. So will all the new terms that replace it, because the problem lies inside people’s minds, not in the words they use.”



What is political correctness?


It refers to terms that attempt to describe people in the most neutral and objective way possible. The ‘correct’ terms try to soften words or phrases considered offensive or humiliating.


Why should we use the politically right terms?


Some words could hurt and bring down the selfesteem of people with disability. Use the politically correct word unless the person you are addressing asks you not to. This is a way of showing respect.


Origin of the word ‘Guru’

From an equal of gods to the expert next door

I once visited a house in a remote village. The entrance had a picture of a woman with bobbed hair. She wore a sari with a sleeveless blouse. There was a garland around the picture and vermillion was smeared on it. When I wondered aloud who she was, the matriarch of the house said, “She is our guru.” The word only confused me. ‘Guru’ is now used to denote so many kinds of people. The woman could be a saint, a political leader or even an expert in a certain subject. The matriarch added, “She is my sons’ teacher. She taught them in school. My sons owe everything to her. So we worship her picture every Guru Poornima.”


Here in a village, ‘guru’ still meant a teacher or mentor. Unaffected by modern English usage, for the family, the word had retained its ageold meaning. ‘Guru’ in Sanskrit means heavy or weighty. It could also translate into ‘someone who is knowledgeable’, perhaps the reason it was used to describe a teacher. ‘Guru’ is also used for the planet Jupiter, said to be the heaviest of the planets. In mythology, Brihaspati or Jupiter is considered the supreme teacher, or the Guru of the Gods.



The Advayataraka Upanishad splits the word into two to explain its meaning. It says that the syllable ‘gu’ stands for darkness and ‘ru’ for the one who dispels it. So, the one who has the power to remove darkness is a ‘guru.’ The Skanda Purana, the largest of the puranic texts, says “Guru Brahmaa Gurur Vishnu, Gurur Devo Maheswara, Gurur Sakshat Param Brahma, Tasmai Shri Guruve Namaha.” These lines hold the guru in a position equal to that of the creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe.


This devotion for the guru prevailed across castes and creeds in ancient India. The mystic poet Kabir writes, “Guru Govind donokhade, Kaake lagoon paaye. Balihari guru aapne, Govind diyo bataaye.” (If my guru and God were to stand before me, who should I bow to first? Well, I choose my teacher because it is he who introduced God to me’).


A guru is not necessarily restricted to a teacher in childhood, but one you can meet at any point in your life. In that sense, the word refers to anyone who guides and inspires. In the Mahabharatha, though Dronacharya was Arjuna’s guru in childhood, it is Krishna who becomes his guru on the battlefield. He not only drives Arjuna’s chariot in Kurukshetra, but also boosts his morale and inspires him. Among Kannadigas in Bangalore, ‘guru’ is even used to address a friend.


Starting in the middle of the 20th century, ‘guru’ is being used in English for both mentor and expert. In 1966, the word was similarly used in Canadian English. Some attribute this usage to communications theorist Marshall McLuhan. It gained popularity in the 1990s when it was used for computer experts. We now hear about gurus in every walk of life (management guru, fashion guru and even love guru). The word is used so loosely that it is considered part of slang.


This article is published in TALK magazine, in my column Keywords. You can read it at

Why is Organic Food expensive?

Pushed by big retail and peddled by celebrities, organic food—safe, good, wholesome stuff that ought to be within the reach of everyone—is today a lifestyle fad. Why is chemical-free produce so fashionable, and so expensive?


There’s no escaping it. Organic is everywhere these days—the papers are full of nutrition experts singing hallelujahs to organic food, on TV there’s a celebrity passionately recommending organic as a ‘way of life’, and just about every other corporate type you encounter harbours the dream of taking up organic farming some day.

The big retail chains have their dedicated shelves for organic food, and some of the biggest corporate houses are considering ‘getting into’ the organic business in a big way.TV commercials like the one for Sahara Q scare you with visuals of hospital beds and wheel chairs, presumably the fate that awaits you if you are still refusing to go organic.

True, by now we have all heard enough horror stories to know that chemical fertilisers and pesticides are bad for us, and nature knows best when it comes to growing food. But why then is ‘organic’ less food and more style statement, and importantly, why is it so expensive that even a leading fashion guru (read on) says he can’t afford it? Is safe food and good health the prerogative of the superrich?Why is this pesticide-free food unaffordable and unavailable to most people in the country?

pic courtesy: Krishna Prasad

Pay for the frills


Not surprisingly, consumers have to shell out more for organic food for the same reason they do so for fashion labels: branding andpackaging. According to marketing expert Harish Bijoor, organic produce is niche, and “whatever is niche is expensive, and whatever is expensive is chic.” The very definition of chic is that it should differentiate itself from mass products. Organic food fits the bill, not just because it tastes and looks different from those produced using chemical methods, but also because of its celebrity quotient. Bijoor points out that companies promoting organic produce have packaged and branded them well, which allows them to charge a premium.

Companies that market organic food claim that packaging has to do more with competition than profit margins. “We need to package well to meet international standards and compete with countries like Germany,which is in No 1 in export. In the domestic market, conventional food is packaged well and we have to compete with them too,” says Mukesh Gupta, executive director of Morarka Organic Foods Pvt Ltd, which owns popular organic brands like Down to Earth and Back to Basics. He admits that organic products are branded as lifestyle products, but insists that his company’s products are value for money.

The branding-packaging factor is also affecting small-scale producers of organic food. G Krishna Prasad, director of farmer’s group Sahaja Samruddha, says, “Our farmer’s group sells a particular kind of rice for Rs 40 a kg. We supply the same grains to the retail chains too. The same product is packed well and sold for Rs 65 a kg. Of this, only Rs 30 goes to the farmer. When we want to sell our produce in malls, they demand a 40 per cent commission.”

N Balasubramanian, CEO of Sresta Natural Bioproducts Private Limited, which owns the organic food brand 24 Letter Mantra, blames the retail outlets as well for the higher prices. “Since organic food is a new category, retailers expect higher margins compared to conventional products,” he says.


Consumers who like it pricey


Krishna Prasad holds the loose purse-strings of its well-off consumers equally responsible for the high pricing of organic food. “When the products are reasonably priced, people don’t appreciate it. So, we are forced to brand them and sell,” he says.

Prasad has been selling traditional rice varieties long before the organic movement gained momentum. When he first attempted to sell the Navara and Kari rice varieties years ago, there weren’t many takers. Navara rice is traditionally gifted to young brides in Andhra by their mothers. Prasad tested the rice in the lab and found it rich in iron, so he branded it as ‘rice for pregnant women’. Sales shot up. He reveals another of his secrets, behind his bestselling ‘diabetics’ rice.’ “Kari rice has a bran layer, which is nothing but digestible fibre. People knew about its benefits in the olden days too, but I had to call it ‘diabetics’ rice’ for city-dwellers to accept it.

Kavitha Kuruganti, national convenor of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), agrees that branding has driven up the price of organic foodstuff.“These days we want everything branded.This kind of marketing has to change,” she says.

Fashion choreographer Prasad Bidappa believes people are willing to spend more on organic food because they consider it fashionable.“When someone reads of a New Yorkbased dietician talk of organic food, they go for it. Hollywood and celebrities like Madonna have popularised the concept of organic food,” he says

Bidappa does not believe in ‘going organic’ simply because he finds it too expensive.“It is priced almost two and a half times more than the regular food. It is not viable,”he says.

The certification facto

Krishna Prasad holds the loose purse-strings of its well-off consumers equally responsible for the high pricing of organic food. “When the products are reasonably priced, people don’t appreciate it. So, we are forced to brand them and sell,” he says.

Fashion choreographer Prasad Bidappa believes people are willing to spend more on organic food because they consider it fashionable. “When someone reads of a New Yorkbased dietician talk of organic food, they go for it. Hollywood and celebrities like Madonna have popularised the concept of organic food,” he says.

Bidappa does not believe in ‘going organic’ simply because he finds it too expensive.“It is priced almost two and a half times more than the regular food. It is not viable,” he says.

Most organic farming done in India is done keeping export in mind. The products are targeted at the European market, where there is a high level of awareness about organic food,and an equally high demand. The catch is that the EU is stringent with quality control, and insists specific types of certification on produce it imports from India. “When certification comes into the picture, the prices escalate,” explains Kavitha.

Prasad of Sahaja Samruddha, who works with traditional farmers, finds the demands of EU-style bureaucracy—with its accompanying tribe of ‘experts’ and ‘consultants’ cumbersome enough to call the certification regime “a mafia.”

This certification is very expensive and a lengthy procedure with a lot of paper-work. The cost is automatically passed on to the consumer. This EU style of certification should not be applied to food for the domestic market,” he complains.

Vijay Grover, the founder of Bangalore Organic Store, testifies to the price difference caused by certification. “Our store keeps both branded certified produces and also produce from local farmers. The certified ones are definitely more expensive,” he says.

Certifying agencies say certification is a must only if the produce is to be exported to Europe, Japan or US. “There is no law in India that asks for certification if the produce is to be sold in the domestic market,” says Vasudeva, quality manager at IMO Control,an international quality assurance and certifying company for agricultural produce. However, most high-end branded organic produce in the Indian market does have expensive international certification.

Vasudeva suggests that the certification helps companies build a brand image and give assurance to the people. “When the consumer sees the certification, they are convinced that the product is genuine,” he says. He says that the cost of certification is about two percent of the total turnover, which is passed on to the consumers. However, he admits that it is not viable for small farmers, or even those who have 10 acres of farm land.

Sresta CEO Balasubramanian agrees that certification adds on to the cost. “Farm and production methods must comply with certain standards, which may require the modification of facilities. Employees must be hired to maintain the quality and keep the product ready for inspection at any time,” he says

Recently, yielding to agitations by organic farmer’s groups, the central government has recognised the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), a cheaper form of certification. Kavitha points out that under this system, a group of farmers is certified collectively, and instead of an external agency keeping an eye on the farms, the checks are kept by the farmers themselves. In addition, there are random checks by a third party too. “If any one farmer is found to be cheating, the certification for the entire group is cancelled. So the farmers make sure that they and their counterparts are sincere,” she says.


 No state support


Karnataka was the first state to come up with an Organic Farming Policy which sought to put farmers’ interest first. The policy has since been deemed a failure. The BJP government then renamed it the Amruta Bhoomi Project, but it never really took off. Last year, the government announced a budget of Rs 206 crore to promote organic farming in the state, but not a paisa was released. This year, Rs 200 crore has been allotted again; it has to be seen if anything will come of it.

Critics like Prasad say that the government is only interested in boosting revenueearning export of organic produce rather than encouraging local farmers who cater to the domestic market. Further, he points out how many schemes that aresupposedly meant to help the farmer actually end up benefiting the big retail chains. He recalls a scheme by the horticulture department, where Rs one crore loan was offered to “promote organic farming”. “I went there, but they asked for something like a guarantee of Rs 50 lakh, which our farmers could not provide. I went back after six months and asked who have taken the loan. They revealed the names of some big retail chains run by MNCs,” he says

With no subsidy from the government, organic farmers find it difficult to match the prices of the produce from chemical farms. “The government gives subsidy on seeds, urea and pesticides to farmers using chemical methods. Their yield too is much higher. At the most, what we get is a supply of vermicompost once in a year.” He further points out that organic farmers do not even get loans easily, unlike conventional farmers, all of which add to the cost factor, and discourage those who want to take up organic farming.


Transport and labour


Organic farmers Talk spoke to recall that in the initial years of shifting to this method, the yields were lower than of conventional farming.It takes two to three years for the soil to regain the nutrients it has lost due to chemical methods.While the low yields put pressure on the farmers to mark up their prices, transport costs further add to it, owing to the smaller quantities they produce.

It takes two to three years for the soil to regain the nutrients it has lost due to chemical methods.While the low yields put pressure on the farmers to mark up their prices, transport costs further add to it, owing to the smaller quantities they produce.

Organic at regular prices

Manorama’s organisation runs a shop called Vaanya in Sirsi in Uttar Kannada district.Surprisingly, they manage to sell organic produce at market rates.Manorama says this is partly because they are selling at a lower margin, given that they are trying to promote the concept, and they don’t incur the heavy transportcharges a city like Bangalore pays for its farm produce.

Kavitha suggests we buy organic produce from local farmers, and not from big stores and brands. “We could go to farmer markets and buy directly. Here the costs are higher by only 10-15 per cent when compared to regular produce. It is a win-win situation for both the consumer and the cultivator,” she says.

Grover of Bangalore Organic Store echoes her views, and insists that many customers who have tried organic products from local farms keep away from the branded ones. “They try the local ones and if they find it the same,they buy again. They buy it purely on trust,” he says.

IMO Control’s Vasudeva too agrees that one needn’t worry about certification if there’s a rapport between the seller and the buyer. “If there is a neighbourhood farmer or farmer’s organisation you trust, you can buy it from him at a lower price.”

s origin might have been as an international fad, but today there is a general consensus that organic food is good for you, and the environment. And for farmers who give up conventional farming in favour of less lucrative organic, a helping hand from urban consumers would be  welcome.

The origin of the word ‘Exodus’

When a large group of people leave a place suddenly—the way the North Easterners left Bangalore last week-we use the word ‘exodus’. It’s a word with a more storied past thanmost—and not just in terms of Biblical associations, and a history well worth revisiting.


The word was originally ‘exodos’ in Greek. It comes from the two Greek words, exo, meaning ‘out’ and hodos meaning ‘way’. Exodos became ‘exodus’in Latin and was passed on to English.


Early Greek theatre also has a part called exodos. It was the last part of a tragic play when the final action took place and the deity intervened. The word gained popularity when the Jewish holy book Torah (also the Greek Old Testament in the Christian Bible) was translated into Greek from Hebrew and Aramaic around 300 BC, and named the Septuagint. The translators named the second book of the Torah ‘Exodos’, based on the main event in the book, which is the departure of the Israelites from Egypt.


According to the Book of Exodus, the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt and tormented.They prayed to their God to get them out of Egypt. It is then that God sent Moses to lead them. Ten deadly plagues affected Egypt, after which the pharaoh had to relent and let Moses take the people out of the country.


When the people reached the Red Sea, Moses held his staff over the waters and the sea divided into two walls of water, letting the people pass through it.The pharaoh’s soldiers had followed them with the intention of capturing them and taking them back to Egypt.


But after the Israelites had crossed the sea, the waters fell back, drowning the soldiers. The Israelites had got out of Egypt and were free from slavery. This story plays a central role in Judaism, and it is in memory of it that the Jews celebrate the festival of Passover. After entering the English language, for several centuries ‘Exodus’ was used as a proper noun to denote the book which popularised it.In the early 17th century however,it became a common noun.It then came to be used to denote people undertaking a journey to escape a hostile environment.


After World War II, many Jews in Germany and Austria were living in fear and in inhuman conditions. Many of them sneaked out and escaped to Palestine. In 1947, over 4,500 Jews boarded a ship to go to Palestine. This ship was called SS Exodus.


At that time, the British were responsible for the administration of Palestine and seized the ship, deporting the Jews back to Europe. SS Exodus was the largest ever ship of illegal Jewish immigrants, and brought international attention to the plight of Jewish refugees. The next year, in 1948, the state of Israel was created and thousands of Jews migrated from Europe to Israel.


The word, which is so intimately associated with Jewish history, has become such an integral part of the English language that we use it to describe people fleeing from natural or manmade calamities everywhere.

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