Sunday, 18 May 2008

Dr Binayak Sen in the Jail

I am deeply anguished that even after more than a year, a person like Dr Bianayak Sen continues to languish in a jail. Is is unbelievable that a person like him, who has spent his life working with the most marginalised rural groups in Chattisgarh through community health programmes has been labelled a "naxalite courier" and put into jail.

It was in May 2007 that Dr Mira Shiva had told me about it and I thought it was a mistake and that soon, courts will realise that this is only some kind of frame-work by persons irritated by Dr Binayak Sen's insistence on truth and human rights for every one including for persons killed in "encounters" and jailed as naxalites.


I personally do not belive or accept the naxalite ideology and I completely reject their violence, yet I thought that what Binayak was doing is the only option for a doctor and should be conduct of all persons who live by their conscience - you have to ask for respect of law and respect of human rights for everyone.

Yet, inspite of knowing that this is a blatant lie, the state continues to insist that Binayak was not really a doctor, he was a naxalite courier and treats him like a criminal. I hope that the highest authorities in India will take immediate action and free Binayak and ensure that he is given justice.

There is an article about Dr Binayak Sen in recent issue of Outlook. I hope all newspapers and journals will write about him and what he symbolises. If a person like him can be framed, jailed and denied justice, I shudder to think of what happens to common persons in India. The poor and marginalised tribals in India, what hope can they have for justice in India?

Sunday, 4 May 2008

After the sunset: Roberto & Sonali story

I had heard in the past about the famous Italian film director Roberto Rossellini and his Indian wife, Sonali. But I hadn’t really thought about it in any way. It had all happened when I was a baby and I hadn’t even realised that at that time there was a big scandal about their affair.

I rediscovered their story a few days ago when I read an article about the new book of Dileep Padgaonkar (Under her spell: Roberto Rossellini in India, Viking, 2008) at the Jabberwock blog, and read about the Roberto-Sonali love story. Jabberwock writes, “It was a relationship that caused an uproar in the Indian press at the time, Baburao Patel’s invective being only the most florid example of the many reports that appeared in newspapers and magazines. Eventually, Rossellini had to leave the country under duress... Perhaps Under her Spell is just a little too dry and restrained though, given that at the centre of this story is a tempestuous affair that complicated the lives of many people. We don't really learn that much about the Roberto-Sonali relationship, what drew them to each other and how the bond gradually deepened, and Padgaonkar is also reticent about their later years together.”

That stimulated my curiosity so I looked around on internet for more information about this story. It had all happened in 1957. Roberto Rossellini had come to India in December 1956.


Cover, Dilip Padgaonkar's book

At that time, Roberto was 51 years old and Sonali was 27 years old. She was married to Harisadhan Dasgupta, a respected documentary film director, 34 years old at that time, a close friend and associate of Satyajit Roy. She had two children when this happened, her younger son was not yet one year old.

The reports say Sonali had arrived late one night at Taj Mahal hotel with her younger son in her arms. It seems Pandit Nehru, India’s prime minister at that time, who had invited Roberto to India for making a film, helped the three of them to leave India for Rome, where they had got married and Roberto had legally adopted Sonali’s younger son. In India, Harisadhan Dasgupta had reacted by registering a police FIR for his missing wife. Later Roberto & Sonali had a daughter, Raffaella. Roberto died 20 years later, in 1977.

The more information I found, the more intrigued I was. Sonali, Roberto, Harisadhan and their children, had all been part of deep emotional cyclone but I was most curious about Sonali. She had two sons, but she could take only one son with her. That must have been terrible for her as a mother. It must have been equally terrible for the son who was left with his father. Kind of Sophie’s choice, except that this was no fiction.

How did Harisadhan feel about his wife not just leaving him for another man, older man at that, taking their son with her? How did they settle it, since Sonali couldn’t have married Roberto without a proper divorce from Harisadan? And how could Roberto legally adopt Sonali’s younger son, without her ex-husband’s consent? So this means that after their escape from India, Sonali and Roberto must have been in contact with Harisadhan in some way.

I remember my first journey to Italy in late nineteen seventies. There were very few foreigners living in Italy, there were no Asian shops, no Bengali communities, few who spoke English. How did Sonali fit in there?
Usually when lovers meet, they stand against the setting sun and it is supposed to end with “and they lived happy and content ever after...”, yet that is where marriages begin. So after the sunset, once the flash bulbs stopped, once the level of ho-ha lowered, how did Sonali feel? How did the young boy feel, once he grew up and realised he had a father and elder brother in India?

All these questions were going around in my head as I searched for answers. I could piece together many things because I could search in English and Italian, as well as some minor sources in Spanish and French that gave crucial information. This search was exclusively through internet. I didn’t find much about the emotional part of this story and perhaps it is better that way since I can imagine that even after all these years, many of these memories must be still very painful for all those who are still alive. Roberto died in 1977. Harisadhan Dasgupta probably died in 1986 or around that. It is not clear if Sonali Rossellini is still alive. Yet their children are around and probably they carry the scars of this event.

Journey to India: In 1956, Ingrid Bergam had restarted work in Hollywood with films like Anastasia, for which she received an Oscar and probably her relationship with Roberto was in crisis.

According to Palmira, Roberto’s gardener’s wife, Ingrid was supposed to go to India, to join Roberto in 1957. Instead, she decided to do a film with Lars Schmidt, who later bacame Ingrid’s third husband, and Roberto came back from India with Sonali.

Roberto was in India for almost 9 months, refusing to look at famous monuments and rather preferring to take a non-exotic view of India, by looking at lives of common persons. The Indian stay of Roberto led to two works, a documentary film “India – Matri Bhumi” (1959) and a TV mini-series “India vista da Rossellini” (India seen by Rossellini, 1959) broadcasted on RAI channel. The mini-series "India seen by Rossellini" broadcast in 10 episodes was produced jointly by India, Italy and France.


The episodes were: India without myths, Bombay Gateway to India, Architecture & costumes of Bombay, Varsova, Towards the south, Lagoons of Malabar, Kerala, Hirakud dam on river Mahadi, Pandit Nehru & Animals in India.

“India – Matri Bhumi” was a film in 4 parts. The first part took a lyrical look at the daily life of a mahout (elephant handler). Part two was about an East Bengal refugee who is working on a dam and after the work is finished, he is relocated to another construction site. Part three was about an elderly person contemplating nature in a jungle and finally, part four is about a monkey owner dying from heat and the monkey looking for another owner.

Sonali Rossellini: Today she would be around 78 years old. Palmira, Roberto’s gardener’s wife says, “Sonali was more solitary compared to Ingrid. However friendship between Ingrid and Roberto remained and even afterwards, Ingrid came with Lars to the villa. At that time, Roberto’s financial situation was not good and the villa belonged to the people who had given credit to Roberto. Ingrid even asked Lars to buy that villa to help Roberto.” Sonali was an aspiring actress when she got married to Harisadhan Dasgupta. She had studied at Shanti Niketan and Bimal Roy’s wife was her aunt.

It was a love story with a happy ending, or so it would seem. Yet, that happy ending was inextricably linked with pain and suffering for many of the protagonists. It would make for a wonderful novel, one of those melodramatic tomes that we feel are so unbelievable.

This post is an extract of a larger article, that includes some information about Gil and Raffaella Rossellini, Roberto and Sonali's two children, that you can read on Kalpana.it



Friday, 2 May 2008

Raiders of the lost Poppies

Mariangela lives in Rimini. A couple of weeks ago she was travelling to Asti and passed thorugh Bologna. "There are poppies in Bologna", she sent me an email. I was in a conference in Genova. Shit, this year I had forgotten all about poppies! There used to be this old field near our house that would get full of red poppy flowers in April-May. I had been there with Mariangela. They mowed that field down two years ago and since then I hadn't ever seen large expanses of poppy flowers.

Poppy or the Pappaverum Somniferum is supposed to be that plant that can be used to make opium. For getting opium you you need the milk of the ripe dry fruit. That is the reason, why you need a special permission to grow poppy plants in Italy. Some people say that to get opium you need another variety of poppy and perhaps you also need the hotter sun of equator. I am not sure about that but you can usually see the bright red poppy flowers along railway tracks and highways, where it grows as a weed.

The black poppy seeds are used commonly as decoration on bread and give off a lovely aroma. I am going to look for poppy flowers one of these days, I had told myself. Today was the the day of operation poppy.

I decided to go out towards the countryside for the morning walk of our dog, Brando. He is getting old, our Brando, and likes to go over his usual walking routes and usually if I try to pull him in some new directions, he usually does his Angad ji show, pointing his feet and refusing to move. However, today I was in no mood to give him and kept on pulling him till he gave in.
And no Ipod, no music to distract today, I decided. Nature demands proper attention or so, I thought. And so off we were.
Seedy guy


Just out of the house, and I got distracted by the maple seeds. There were so many of them hanging from the tree like plastic butterflies. So I started looking around clicked the pictures of different looking seeds. Here are some examples.
The maple seeds had wings like butterflies flying with acute angles.

Later I saw another variety of Maple, where the seed wings were in straight lines, at 180° angles.


In the next picture is what they call "albero falso di Giuda" or the false Jude's tree, with dried beans like seeds. In autumn, these trees without any green leaves and only these dark brown seeds look slightly sinister, and make me think of Dracula myths. I also don't know why they call them false Jude and if there is a real Jude's tree as well?

I like the seeds of Lime trees with the strange wing that is pierced by the flowers. I have read of the subtle perfume of Lime but to me the flowers seem scentless.

Then I saw the Elm tree with round penny like wings holding a small seed in the middle, in the next picture. Though on the tree the seeds are bunched together like piles of pennies and it is not easy to make out the form of individual seed.

And Finally these rounded beans like seeds that look like jhumkas, women's ear-rings. I don't know the name of this tree.

Rosy cheeks
Then it was the turn of the roses. There were so many of them in the garden that we passed. Some of the housewives, going about their daily business of dusting and beating the carpets with sticks, looked at me with a suspicion as I tried to get a good angle to click their roses, but they were quickly mollified by the sight of Brando, who can look nice, cuddly and angelic when he is not busy barking at any rival dogs. So here are some of the roses I saw this morning.


















Flowery charms
However there were some other flowers as well that asked to be clicked, even if I didn't know their names, except for the tulips.









Tulip flowers have such zigzaggy edges? To me they had always seemed smooth so I am not sure if this tulip is some special variety or do all tulips have these kind of edges?



Finally the poppy

I did find the poppy flowers finally just a little outside, on the road that goes along the wheat fields. There were not too many of them but enough for taking some pictures.






Disgusted dog
It was a lovely morning and our morning walk lasted almost one and half hour. Unfortunately Brando didn't appreciate it and seemed a bit annoyed at loosing his rhythm as I forced him to hold still while I clicked pictures of plants and flowers from different angles.

In this picture Brando is with Marco during holidays at the seaside some years ago
The return back to home after the poppy flowers was quick as Brando almost ran, understanding that I had completed my mission, pulling me along! If you think that he is too sweet or cute or small to pull people, you don't know him yet!
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