Sunday, 28 July 2013

Book Review: “I’m Pregnant, Not Terminally Ill, You Idiot”, by Lalita Iyer

Lalita Iyer’s I’m Pregnant, Not Terminally Ill, You Idiot (IPNTI) is exactly the sort of book I would normally not read, but then, one does strange things when one’s expecting to become a father for the second time. And I’d glad I picked this one up since the best books are those which tell you something you already know.

If you are planning to have a baby or if you have decided to never have one but are curious to know what mothers (and fathers) go through, Iyer’s IPNTI is for you. It’ll tell you how people react in different ways once a mother-to-be announces that the stork has paid her a visit. You’ll get to know how useful (or useless) fathers can be just after the baby is born. You’ll hear the bosses’ point of view when a woman returns to work post-pregnancy. You’ll find out how other single women behave on hearing the proud announcement. What makes IPNTI especially interesting is that Iyer belongs to a westernised generation where it’s normal for a woman to give precedence to her career and not get married or delay the onset of offspring even after getting married. Not every girl who Iyer holds up as an exhibit for her readers is non-traditional, though. There are a few who got married at twenty two and had their first child at twenty three.

IPTNI comes with handy tips for every new mother and mother-to-be, on matters ranging from how to poach a good maid from your friend to the things that one can do to lose the life-giving domestic helper even if one cannot afford to. The book runs to exactly 250 pages and they flip by at an agreeable pace as one takes in the various anecdotes and accounts that make up this excellent read.

Iyer got married when she was thirty eight and became pregnant when she was forty, an age when even her mother had given up hoping. A journalist, in the past she has written for Times of India, Hindustan Times etc. Currently she is Filmfare’s managing editor.

Friday, 26 July 2013

A Conversation With Thilini Kahandawaarachchi

Ms.Thilini Kahandawaarachchi, a Sri Lankan national, spent 5 years at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore (my own alma mater) and graduated with a B.A. LL.B. Honours degree in 2007. Currently Thilini works for the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Sri Lanka as its Chief Publicist & Researcher, but is all set to leave for the USA in August having won a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue a MA in International Affairs with a focus on Asian Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA.
I recently caught up with Thilini and discussed at length her experiences while in India and at NLSIU and on how relevant an Indian law degree is for someone who expects to practice law in Sri Lanka.

Winnowed: How did a Sri Lankan end up at NLSIU?

Thilini: Every year NLSIU admits up to five foreign students, especially from the SAARC region. In 2002, I was one of the foreign students. I was on a scholarship from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). It is given by the Indian Government to students who perform well in their A Level exam (the equivalent an Indian Boards exam for the 12th standard).

After my A Levels I had two options. I was selected to the Law Faculty, in Colombo University where only about 200+ top students scoring highest marks in the country for their A Level get through to do a 4-year LLB and my other choice was 5 year B.A., LLB at NLSIU on a scholarship.

Colombo Law Faculty was almost next door to my school, and I did not want to go there for four more years because it would have been very similar to going to school. My parents spoke to numerous Supreme Court judges, academics in Law before making the final decision and everyone they spoke to, recommended NLS. Though not everyone knows about NLS in Sri Lanka, those who know about NLS, are aware of its reputation as a top law school.

For me, it was more about the excitement of going to a different country to study and the experience that mattered. Since I had to do law, either in Sri Lanka or India, I chose India. It was a life changing experience. It shaped me to become who I am today. It made me independent and confident. I made great friends who I am still in touch with, had a great time travelling in India, meeting new people and seeing the world outside Sri Lanka.

Winnowed: Did you consider taking up a job in India after graduation?

Thilini: No, I did not because I wanted to finish my Bar exams and qualify as an Attorney-at-Law in Sri Lanka.

Winnowed: How did you qualify as a Sri Lankan lawyer with your Indian law degree?

Thilini: In Sri Lanka, to qualify as a lawyer you have to do the Bar exam conducted by the Sri Lanka Law College, which gives the professional qualification “Attorney-at-Law”. It entails sitting for all the three years’ exams of Sri Lanka Law College if you are a “foreign graduate”. Local graduates are exempted from the first two years’ exams. The exams are held every six months, so it takes a minimum of one and a half years to complete the exams unless you take two or all three years’ exams in one go, which means about 23 exams in one go.

Since I do not have a Sri Lankan graduate degree, I had to sit for all the three years’ exams of the Sri Lanka Law College - 23 exams in all.

Winnowed: Why did you choose to study law? Was it a childhood ambition to become a lawyer?

Thilini: For me, Law was more a tick in the box rather than an ambition and even less so a passion. Law was a natural choice, or rather the expectation because I come from a “Law” background, where my Dad is a lawyer and though my Mom never worked, she had also done Law. So I ‘had to’ do Law. In my parents' words, "to at least get the qualification." Having got a law degree,when I came back to Sri Lanka, I did not want to get back into law. Practicing law in Sri Lanka would have meant going back to law school to study law, then going through apprenticing for another six months and working at a law firm, which I did not want to do. I wanted to work in something that I was really interested in and do the Bar exams while working, which was exactly what I did. I finally completed the Sri Lankan Bar exams in 2011.

Winnowed: So you didn’t want to work as a lawyer. What did you finally end up doing?

Thilini: While travelling between Colombo and Bangalore every three months during the time I was at NLSIU, I would always read the inflight magazine of SriLankan Airlines and wish that I could become a travel writer like the writers featured in the magazine.

And after my first year exams at Sri Lanka Law College I joined a local publishing house called BT Options. At that time they were publishing magazines such as Business Today, Explore Sri Lanka and the Architect, which are all popular magazines in Sri Lanka. My work entailed traveling around Sri Lanka and writing about my journeys, exploring historic sites tasting local food, going on train journeys, boat trips, plane rides, climbing mountains, exploring caves and temples scattered across Sri Lanka and very often, to take the road less travelled. Coming from a family that travelled all the time, I really enjoyed my time spent writing about my journeys. I also wrote about architecture, and other projects and interviewed top businessmen and political leaders in the country as well.

While I was working there, BT Options won a pitch to publish Serendib - the inflight magazine of SriLankan airlines. It was a two decade long dream come true for BT Options. So was it for me.

In 2011 I joined Ogilvy & Mather in Sri Lanka and had a brief stint at Ogilvy Public Relations. After that I joined the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce as its Public Relations Manager. Working at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce provided me the space to be innovative and creative with my work and also provided a great work-life balance.

Winnowed: Please tell me how you got back into academics.

Thilini: In 2010, I started a postgraduate course on International Relations at the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS) in Colombo. For my course I worked on a thesis titled “Sri Lanka: Centre Stage of the 21st Century.” Inspired by Robert Kaplan's writings on the Indian Ocean and his book titled "Monsoon", it focused on Sri Lanka’s geo strategic location and how Sri Lanka can be a major shipping hub in the region if its strategically important position in the Indian Ocean is used to its true potential. I also presented it at the International Conference on South Asian Studies, 2012 which was held in Negombo, Sri Lanka. An arduous six months working on it also kindled my interest in the geo politics of the Indian Ocean region and the significance of South Asia in International Relations.

Winnowed: What made you apply for a Fulbright Scholarship?

Thilini: A Fulbright Scholarship was something that I focused on for a long time and worked towards achieving it. It is highly regarded and very competitive and the programme is not just about Masters education in the States, but also about cultural exchange and a great opportunity. Just as I was completing my post graduate thesis the applications were called for the 2013 round and I applied. The rest just fell into place.

Winnowed: Please tell me about a few people who have a made a big difference to your life.

Thilini: My parents who made many sacrifices to give us a good education and my teachers. Once in a while you also meet people who change your life, and meeting my lecturer and supervisor for my thesis at BCIS Dr. SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda was an experience that transformed my life. He spent so much of his time guiding and mentoring me on my thesis and gave me many opportunities to present my thesis as a paper to a diversity of audiences. He was also my referee for a Fulbright application in 2012. My former employers Mr. Harin Malwatte Secretary General/CEO of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, who was also one of my referees for Fulbright and Mrs. Alikie Perera, Deputy Secretary General were both understanding and encouraging during my application process for a Fulbright Scholarship. Mr.Palitha Fernando, Attorney General of Sri Lanka also took time off his schedule to be a referee for my Fulbright. He was also a great source of inspiration and a thought provoking lecturer at BCIS.

Winnowed: If you were to advice other Sri Lankans who are considering an Indian law degree, what would you tell them?

Thilini: Though an Indian law degree is not necessarily relevant in Sri Lanka, both countries generally follow a Common Law system, though Sri Lanka has also been influenced by Roman Dutch Law and also has personal laws such as Thesawalamei, Kandyan Law and Muslim Law. However, despite the differences in the law, the kind of training that we get at NLSIU is definitely unmatched.

Yet, if one wants to get into private practice in Sri Lanka, I personally believe it is better to go to Law School in Sri Lanka because it helps you build a wide network in the legal field through Sri Lanka Law College or Law Faculty. Foreign graduates very often do not have that. But if one wants to go beyond practicing Law, then a degree from a top Law School such as NLS, would provide a good foundation.

Winnowed: What’s your happiest memory from your time in Bangalore?

Thilini: There were many, but one memory that I fondly remember is a holiday that I spent with my best friend Rashi’s family in North India and visiting Taj Mahal for the first time was unforgettable.

Winnowed: India can be very welcoming towards foreigners, but it also has its dark and dirty corners, especially for women. Did you ever have any negative experiences while living and studying in Bangalore?

Thilini: Fortunately, I personally did not face any bad experiences as a woman, but that was almost 6 years ago.

Winnowed: What are your hobbies?

Thilini: I like to travel around Sri Lanka with my family and friends and when the seas are calm, I love to go snorkeling. In my free time, I also work with sixteen boys between the ages of four to fifteen at an orphanage.

I strongly believe in having a 'life' outside work and having a good work-life balance. Living and working in Sri Lanka provides me all that and more. Colombo is very laid back and relaxed. Every few months I have friends from NLSIU coming to Sri Lanka and it is always great to catch up.Even when they have friends and family visiting Sri Lanka they tell me, so that I meet them and show them around when possible. Though Colombo is very small very often I meet new people who happen to know my friends from NLSIU or from elsewhere in the world and it is always a wonderful realisation to be reminded of how small the world really is.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Tipu Sultan's Rockets

Tipu Sultan may or may not have been a bigot, but he was the only Indian ruler to put up any serious opposition to British rule in India. Also, Tipu's rocket battalions were the first of their kind in the world and at the Battle of Pollilur in 1780, Tipu (with the help of his rocket battalions) managed to decisively defeat the British. Later, after the Brits defeated and killed Tipu in 1799 at the Battle of Srirangapatinam, they reverse engineered his rockets and developed the Congreve rockets for their own use. They used it against American troops during the American War of Independence. The reference to "the rockets' red glare" in the Star Spangled Banner comes from such rockets fired from British ships during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814.

Here's a an excellent Youtube video about Tipu's rockets and if you want to know more, read this wikipedia article.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Supriya Sobti Talks To Winnowed About Ragasthan

My friend Supriya Sobti, a fellow alumnus of the London School of Economics and a freelance journalist who has in the past worked for International television and radio networks including Al Jazeera English and the BBC now runs her own media house and content generation company called MOW Productions in Mumbai. An ardent traveller and music fan, she is also one of the organizers of Ragasthan, a musical extravaganza set in the sands of the Thar Desert. Having seen through the first edition, Surpriya and Co are now busy planning Ragasthan’s second edition, scheduled to be held sometime in November 2013. I managed to persuade Supriya to tell me how Ragasthan came into being and her experiences while organising it.

Winnowed: How long have you lived in Mumbai? Are you a Mumbaikar?

I was born in Mumbai so yes in that respect there’s no place else that’s more home to me than this city. Travel has always been at the core of all my activities and I’ve lived outside of Mumbai and the country for a few years. I adapt to places rather easily, so if you ask me, I’d like to call myself a true citizen of the globe.

Winnowed: How did the idea of Ragasthan come to you?

I was a festival virgin until Glastonbury happened in 2008- which till date I rate as one of my best music festival experiences ever!! I’ve been lucky because my journey into this space started off with a bang and until then, although had attended a host of concerts in halls, at parks, on the streets and by rivers, I had no idea that something like a music festival could spell a whole new world of unrestrained joy. Being at a festival with 250,000+ people was like being at an institution of some sort where music education was the main subject on offer with not only new and emerging bands but also unheard of music genres making an entry.

The spirit of camping, adventure, sharing, smiling, dancing and running from stage to stage with old friends and new to catch the next best act listed in the programme schedule cannot be explained, only felt.

I became a festival bunny, saving every penny I could to attend music festivals across England. I’ve been to festivals such as Benic├ássim in Spain, Exit in Serbia, WOMAD in the UK and many more and knew someday I had to take a little more than just memories and memorabilia back home. One summer, when I was back in Mumbai on a short break, I bumped into my old college friend Keith who has similar plans and dreams and what’s better is he had a lot of Ragasthan mapped out in his head and voila….the party kicked off!

Winnowed: How did you organize the inaugural edition?

We organized the first edition of Ragasthan from the 16th- 18th of November, 2012. Well, you could call it a house party thrown in the desert for starters! But we had the most stunning location, a terrain that was probably the toughest to work with but magical to say the least. Those who made it to the first edition would know! Nothing beats sunrise in the dunes or a night’s sleep under a blanket of stars. The simplest things made for the most memorable experiences at Ragasthan.

Although we had a very small team, our friends and family have been really supportive and we are very grateful to them. A whole lot of the artists’ – local and international supported us as well and it’s that spirit of community participation that Ragasthan imbibes and thrives on. Our marketing was done guerilla style and although it was a long way off, we are grateful that people actually made the effort to get there. There certainly were times of despair, a lot of oh no moments but nothing can come in the way of an A-team.

Winnowed: Other than Keith, who are your fellow organizers?

A free spirited Anshuman Jeswal, who is into film and television production for over a decade now and a very meticulous Smriti Ahuja who has a PR and marketing background and is also Keith’s partner in their company Spiro Spero Pvt. Ltd. that designs and conceptualizes turnkey projects across the country.

Winnowed: How was Ragasthan different from the existing destination music festivals?

On many counts - Ragasthan drew people to an exotic location, was global in sensibility and design, was the largest camp out festival in India, was eco-friendly in a more proactive manner and a whole lot more.

The intention was to bring together like minded people to form a community to savor both stillness and immense energy in a magical setting with some great music, art and culture from within India and across the globe. The festival has been planned very meticulously factoring in local sensibilities, environmental concerns, rural development and a strong desire to put India on the chart of the top music festival destinations across the globe.

In our first year, we banned the use of plastic so all beverages were served in flasks (provided by Eagle Home) and not glasses thereby setting us on our path of being an eco-friendly festival. Also, given that Chai-Pani is the most basic form of Indian hospitality offerings, we ensured that tea and water were free for all on the festival site at all times. Over the next few years we plan to make optimum use of alternate energy technology to power our festival and plan to work closely with local organisations to help add to the on-going sustainable development programmes and efforts.

Winnowed: How many people attended Ragasthan’s first edition in 2012?

We saw a little over 2,000 people of which a larger chunk stayed on the festival site. We’d like to grow organically and make sure we’re logistically prepared to comfortably host everyone we have on site. So this year, we’re easily looking to double up.

Winnowed: How and why are the destination music festivals getting popular in India?

India has finally come of age with regards to music festivals and suddenly there is a lot out there which is a good thing for festival-goers and music lovers. But festivals are very different from concerts and the experience of a music festival is something that is very unique to Ragasthan.

With so many scenic locations across the country, any place can be turned into wonderland! Urban centres have only that much to offer and destination festivals give people a good enough reason to plan a get-away which will give them an experience different from the mundane. Also the fact that it brings together like-minded people in a completely new setting makes it an attractive get away for those who are looking for something out of the box to do. With a booming youth population, growth in employment, growing internet outreach, exposure to an option to conventional bollywood and a teeming indie industry - all add to the sudden burst of festivals in the scene.

Hopefully in the next few years, India will have established some great festivals of its own which will compete with the likes of Glastonbury, Coachella, Burning Man, Tomorrowland and many others that are often talked about.

Winnowed: What is the USP of your festival?

Ragasthan offers a true complete festival experience. Festivals require you to rough it out anywhere in the world - not because that’s the intention, but you're there for the music, the journey, the art, the experience.

For the artists, other than giving them a surreal setting of starry open skies and the expansive Thar desert, with the most breath-taking sunrises and sunsets from within the dunes, the festival seeks to bring talent (established and emerging) from all corners of the world and have them showcase their skills and collaborate on projects that take them beyond minds and across borders. Did you know that for the first time in India 240 artists lived together in tents in an artist village, with random jam sessions happening all through the day and night? Many artists who are friends played to each other for the first time.

The journey to the destination is a fundamental part of the RAGASTHAN experience. People car-pooling, using social media to hitchhike to the festival, plotting bike-rides, hopping on to the festival bus and then forming a convoy to RAGASTHAN is what spells the start. Camping at the festival is a big novelty as it gives all adventure enthusiasts and outdoor thrill seekers a chance to bring out their own tents and come enjoy with others in the vastness of nature. Also, with the option of luxury camping in swiss tents (with en suite bathrooms) in the desert, at a relatively affordable price, RAGASTHAN has opened the door of a music festival experience to all those who would have otherwise had to travel outside the country to try.

Above it all we believe that the vibe, the energy and the positivity is exclusive to RAGASTHAN and hard to replicate.

Winnowed: What is the experience that your music festival offers?

The experience is only limited by the legs of the festival goer. There were 4 music stages playing over 16 genres of music for a total of 70+ hours, a film screen under the stars, amidst the dunes, with mattresses laid out playing movies until the wee hours, an adventure sports zone with dune rides, hot air balloons, paintball, zorbing etc, workshops, markets, camp sites that extend a kilometer, workshops, bars, beer games, football, sand sliding, long walks, peace and quiet, all night parties for camp residents, open jam sessions the experience is endless.

RAGASTHAN brought together a whole community of people from across India and the world and had them unite for one big reason - the love of festivals.

The state of Rajasthan has long been known for its rich royal cultural heritage and ancient traditions and Ragasthan manages to capture the essence and turn it into an experience of a lifetime - something that each attendee can be proud of.

German philosopher and poet Friedrich Nietzsche, also one of the most influential of all modern thinkers once said: "You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star". In keeping with that, we have just gone on to unveil our 2013 campaign #hellocrazy

Winnowed: You are bound to have made a few mistakes while organizing Ragasthan and learnt a few lessons.

Oh yes, you live and learn. We have a lot of take home pointers from last years edition but to be fair you’re bound to have teething problems when you go out to do something of this scale, in the middle of the desert – not something ever done in this country. We didn’t have a success formula. We didn't have a how-to-do manual. We’ve made one, so this year will be a step up for sure.

Winnowed: In what ways will Ragasthan II be better than Ragasthan I?

Flow of events, logistical convenience, ease in getting around across the festival site, finger licking good food with many more happy people!

Winnowed: Is there anything you wish you could do in Ragasthan but can’t, because this is India?

We’re taking baby steps. Right now, we’re as dreamy, confident and driven as we were when we started out a few years ago albeit with a better business sense and know how. I think there’s a lot to get done and get done right before we start hitting the can’t do note.

Winnowed: Would you like to receive any help from the government in organizing Ragasthan?

Oh most definitely. Last year, we had the ICCR, the Ministry of Tourism as well as the Narcotics Control Bureau on board and hope that they’ll be a constant support.

Music, the arts and culture make for a great platform to bring people together from across the country and the globe. They transcend borders. Artists are the custodians of culture and the government must throw its weight behind festivals and events that promote the rich cultural heritage of India whilst giving everyone in the chain a platform and an opportunity to prosper.

Winnowed: How many people do you expect to attend Ragasthan II?

We’re looking at accommodating close to 5000 people in the city of Ragasthan this year! In addition to that, we’ll be doing mini festivals and run up events across the country.

Winnowed: Before we conclude, please tell me, where do you see Ragasthan in five years from now?

We’d like Ragasthan to be the buzz word amongst India’s young and festival goers world over. It’s where corporate India will meet creative India. We have so many spectacular locations within the country that we need to promote. Talent oozes from every corner and so in 5 years we’d like to see Ragasthan and India on the global map of music festivals!

Since you mustn’t believe it till you see it, here’s a little glimpse of what was….Here’s a MUST WATCH!!! Our 2012 after-trailer

The 2nd edition of Ragasthan will once again be held over a wintery November weekend with a little something for every one in the Thar Desert. You can follow more at