Thursday, December 31, 2015

Fall

With a glass of Merlot

I sit by the window

Breeze waltzes in

Carrying Petrichor.


I close my eyes,

Surrender myself

A juggernaut of images

In my uneasy head.


Champion

Charming

Champagne

Chauvinist


Iridescent gems

Clinking glasses

Sponsorship deals

Charity speeches.


Solicitors, lawsuits

Notices, antecedants

Recovery agents

Tax evasions.


Perceptions

Perplexities

Paparazzi

Publicity


A hero falls

An ego's crushed

Grace falters

Alcohol comforts.


I open my eyes

To watch passers-by

Pondering sonder

Sipping the wine.



In this last "throw me a word" challenge in 2015, my friends suggested the following words: Merlot, petrichor, juggernaut, champagne, chauvinist, iridescent, solicitor, antecedant, sonder

A tough one, I must say!

Have a great New Year's Eve!







Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Dove's Lament: Review

Book: The Dove's Lament
Author: Kirthi Jayakumar
Publisher: Readomania
Price: Rs 99 (Kindle edition)

A book about conflicts should not be the choice for reading during a holiday season but in a year where war and terrorism grabbed more headlines than peace, talks, communication, development, business, corruption, environment, sport, celebrities and gossip, The Dove's Lament, is a good pick.

With author, Kirthi Jayakumar, you hop from one region of conflict to another across continents – Colombia, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Bosnia, West Bank, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka – collecting images of people who loved, lost, killed, hurt, damaged, defeated, helped and survived. Human trafficking, drug trafficking, the fight for every inch of land there is to fight for, communal violence, vengeance, the politics of peace, the excesses of war, the triumph of humanity – the stories cover them all.

At the end of each story, Jayakumar has written an essay discussing the origin and/or the nature of the conflict that is the backdrop of the story. You move from one piece to another, processing your thoughts, containing your emotions, as the images of war and its victims and their numbers flit in and out of your head. Then you read this line, “The time had come when the pallid shades of murder and gloom were swiping the life out of our existence while the world moved on. Death to us had a name, a face and a lot of memories. But to the world outside, it was another number that was only adding up to the total figure that they bandied as a statistic.”

Jayakumar's beautifully-woven tapestry of stories, memories and raw facts makes The Dove's Lament a compelling read. Don't miss this one.



Monday, December 21, 2015

53 gems from Poor Economics

Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo's Poor Economics: Rethinking Poverty and the Ways to End It gives a voice to those things you already know but choose to overlook while you're busy running your life. It makes you think about the millions of poor people all over the world, whose struggles make for great content material for election campaign speeches but seldom are tackled with the decisiveness they demand. In their bid to look for the answer to why poor people remain poor and what we (as the not-poor and better educated) do about them, both Banerjee and Duflo have traveled the world, conducted interviews with people of many races, castes and countries, understood the needs, ambitions, strengths, businesses and the problems of the impoverished and come up with some gems of wisdom that will make you rethink the way you look at poverty and the people it embraces. Sample these:

1. The practice of development policy, as well as, the accompanying debates, seems to be premised on the impossibility of relying on evidence: Verifiable evidence is a chimera, at best a distant fantasy, at worst a distraction.

2. For most of us in the West, poverty is almost synonymous with hunger... The association of poverty and hunger is institutionalized in the UN's Millenium Development Goal (MDG), which is "to reduce poverty and "hunger." Indeed, poverty lines in many countries were originally set to capture the notion of poverty based on hunger - the budget needed to buy a certain number of calories, plus some other indispensable purchases (such as housing). A "poor" person was essentially defined as someone without enough to eat.

3. When very poor people get a chance to spend a little bit on food, they don't put everything into getting more calories. Instead, they buy better-tasting more expensive calories.

4. Potatoes may have been responsible for 12 percent of the global increase in population between 1700 and 1900.

5. It is clear that things that make life less boring are a priority for the poor.

6. The social returns of directly investing in children and pregnant mother nutrition is tremendous.

7. Health certainly has the potential to be a source of a number of different traps. For example, workers living in an insalubrious environment may miss many workdays; children may be sick often and unable to do well in school; mothers who give birth there may have sickly babies. Each of these channels is potentially a mechanism for current misfortunes to turn into poverty. The good news is that if something like this is what is going on, we may only need one push, one generation that gets to grow up and work in a healthy environment, to set the trap loose.

8. Eradicating malaria indeed results in a reduction in long-term poverty.

9. The issue is therefore not how much the poor spend on health, but what the money is spent on, which is often expensive cures rather than cheap prevention.

10. There was also a clear pattern in errors: Doctors tended to underdiagnose and overmedicate.

11. Governments have a way of making easy things much less easy than they should be.

12. The poor in many countries seem to have the theory that it is important that medicine be delivered directly to the blood - this is why they want injectibles. 

13. People seem to be willing to start the immunization process, even without any incentives. The problem is to get them to complete it. 

14. We think about the present very differently from the way we think about the future (a notion referred to as "time inconsistency")... Our natural inclination is to postpone small costs, so that they are borne not by our today self but by our tomorrow self instead... In many cases, time inconsistency is what prevents our going from intention to action. 

15. The poor seem to be trapped by the same kinds of problems that afflict the rest of us - lack of information, weak beliefs and procrastination among them.

16. The primary goal of healthcare policy in poor countries should be to make it as easy as possible for the poor to obtain preventive care, while at the same time regulating the quality of treatment that people can get. An obvious place to start, given the high sensitivity to prices, is delivering preventive services for free or even rewarding households for getting them, and making getting them the natural default option when possible.

17. All over the Third World, little boys and girls who help their parents in their family stall or store do much more complicated calculations all the time, without the help of pen and paper. Are schools actually making them unlearn?  

18. If the program was demonstrably a great success, the new government would not find it easy to get rid of it.

19. Given that the number of children born to each family goes down sharply with income, this means that education spending per child grows much faster than total consumption.

20. The peculiar way in which expectations about what education is supposed to deliver distort what parents demand, what both public and private schools deliver, and what children achiece - and the colossal waste that ensues. 

21. They (the poor) see education as a lottery ticket, not as a safe investment.

22. The lower-caste teachers were more likely to assign worse grades to lower-caste students. They must have been convinced these children could not do well.

23. English-language instruction is particularly popular with parents in South Asia, but non-English-speaking parents cannot know whether the teachers can actually teach in English.

24. Among all those people who drop out somewhere between primary school and college and those who never start school, many, perhaps most, are victims of some misjudgment somewhere: Parents who give up too soon, teachers who never tried to teach them, the students' own diffidence. 

25. A combination of unrealistic goals, unecessarily pessimistic expectations, and the wrong incentives for teachers contributes to ensure that education systems in developing countries fail their two basic tasks: giving everyone a sound basic set of skills, and identifying talent. 

26. What is particularly good about the computer as a learning tool: Each child is able to set his or her own pace through the program.

27. Recognizing that schools have to serve the students they do have, rather than the ones they perhaps would like to have, may be the first step to having a school system that gives a chance to every child.

28. A striking feature of HIV is that women from the ages of 15 to 19 are five times more likely to be infected than young men in the same cohort. This seems to be because young women have sex with older men, who have comparably high infection rates. 

29. In surveys on desired family size in which men and women are separately interviewed, men usually report a larger ideal family size and consistently a lower demand for contraception than their wives. 

30. Fertility is in part a social and a religious norm, and deviation sfrom it do get punished (by ostracism, ridicule or religious sanctions). Therefore, it matters what the community deems to be appropriate behaviour. 

31. Families not only choose an optimal number of children, they also choose the gender composition.

32. In India, girl babies stop getting breast-fed earlier than boys which means that they start drinking water earlier and have accelerated exposure to waterborne life-threatening diseases like diarrhoea.

33. The mortality differential between boys and girls decreases when a girl's marriage prospects are brighter. 

34. Economists often ignore the inconvenient fact that the family is not the same as just one person.

35. A natural reaction when faced with a drop in wages or earnings is to try to work more. But this may sometimes be self-defeating. If all the poor labourers want to work more when times are bad... they compete with each other, which drives the wages down.  

36. Farming households in India use marriage as a way to diversify the "risk portfolio" of their extended families. 

37. A study in India showed that farmers put in 20 per cent less of their effort on land that they sharecrop compared to land where they are entitled to the entire crop. As a result, these plots are farmed less intensively and less efficiently.

38. Why is it cheaper to lend to richer people?

39. Saving is less attractive for the poor because for them the goal tends to be very far away and they know that there will be lots of temptations along the way. But of course, if they do not save, they remain poor.

40. It is possible that people who don't envision substantial improvements in their future quality of life opt to stop trying and therefore end up staying where they are. 

41. A steady and predictable income makes it possible to commit to future expenditure and also makes it cheaper to borrow now.

42. Poverty causes corruption and corruption causes poverty.

43. Former colonies where the disease environment prevented large-scale settlements by Europeans tended to have worse institutions during colonial times (because they were naturally picked for being exploited from afar), and these bad institutions continued afer decolonization. 

44. A study of the allocation of driver's licenses in Delhi showed that knowing how to drive did not really make it more likely that someone would actually get a driver's license but being willing to pay more to get it fast. Delhi effectively has a free market in driver's licenses and that's exactly what we do not want. 

45. The police in India represent a near-perfect example of a persistent colonial institution.  

46. The new ideology in a lot of international institutions is that we should hand the beneficiaries the responsibility for making sure that schools, clinics and local roads work well. This is usually done without asking the poor whether they really want to take on this responsibility. 

47. Politics is not very different from policy: It can (and must) be improved at the margin, and seemingly minor interventions can make a significant difference. 

48. The "three Is" problem: ideology, ignorance, inertia. This problem plagues many efforts to supposedly help the poor. 

49. Many people in positions of power have mixed motives - they want to be loved or do good, both because they care and because it secures their position, even when they are corrupt. These individuals will do things to promote change, as long as they are not entirely inconsistent with their economic objectives. 

50. There is no reason to tolerate the waste of lives and talent that poverty brings with it. 

51. The poor bear responsibility for too many aspects of their lives. The richer you are, the more the "right" decisions are made for you. 

52. Changing expectations is not easy, but it is not impossible. 

53. The role of expectations means that success often feeds on itself. When a situation starts to improve, the improvement itself affects beliefs and behaviour. 



Blue hills: Wax, oil crayon and acrylic on paper

I asked my friend, Abir, to throw me a word and he said, "Blue." "Not like the sky or the seas but like the mountains on a foggy summer morning." It reminded me of a trip we took to a part of the Great Dividing Range in southern Queensland earlier this year. Here it is: Blue Hills, in wax, oil crayon and acrylic on paper.

Boys with marbles: Oil crayon, acrylic and marker on paper

This painting closely resembles a picture a student of mine from Herat, Afghanistan, sent me. He was playing with marbles with his younger brother in the courtyard of his house.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Not marchin'

I struggled with march-past in school: Falling in line, at an arm's length and the steps to the beat of the drum. I would intentionally wear the wrong shoes so I would be forced to sit out. In 10 years of schooling, I must have marched three or four times. Nobody noticed after a while. The other day in Mumbai, I watched students of the Navy School march near the Gateway of India. My friends were excited and talked about how they were flag-bearers and their march-past experiences in school. And I thought to myself, "How the hell did you manage to skip this routine through 10 years of school? You had fallen out of step with society way too early, girl!"

Friday, December 11, 2015

Angel and Demon


There in court
In the whitest white
A messenger of peace
Cloaked in light.

Her eyes closed
A plea on her lips
A messenger of peace
On her knees.

Wrapped in shadow
A dark figure
Sits on the throne,
Expressionless.

An angel's words
A demon's ears
A crowd murmurs
As moments pass.

The demon rises:
No form, no gender
No heart, no humour;
The crowd disperses.

In the empty court
The angel's upright
As silence seeps in
Through the crevices.

A battle of ideas
And philosophies
Volleys and shots:
Words and phrases.

Then Time walks in
Stands to watch
As angel and demon
Keep fighting it out.

- Eisha






Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Standing Tall: Acrylic on canvas

I started drawing a Powai citiscape when a friend came up with a sailboat-blue sea-white beach suggestion. Then he added coconut palm. This time in Mumbai, I found a lone coconut palm standing tall in the middle of Powai Lake. I borrowed his suggestions and that imagery to create Standing Tall: Acrylic on canvas

Monday, November 30, 2015

Catherine

A court full of whisperers

Watches a young queen

All of twenty-three

The beautiful Catherine.


Of the House of Braganza:

The noblest Portuguese

The young queen's

A little ill-at-ease.


A tongue not her own

She shouldn't care to know.

On the throne sits the King

Of neither her faith nor fancy.


In her hand is a tea-cup

Painted and enamelled

The brew of the Orient

Now in cold, wet England.


She looks at her husband

A man with mistresses

Months into her marriage

Her life's already a mess.


Seven isles of Bombay

As dowry to England

She married Charles

To keep Spain away.


A tale of many empires

Alliances and conquests

But who shall know

What a woman's heart held?


- Eisha










Sunday, November 22, 2015

My first attempt at singing a Persian song



The original version by Afghanistan's Elvis of the 1960s, Ahmad Zahir, with transliteration into English.



Friday, November 20, 2015

Quoting from Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow, 
And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow; 
And this was all the Harvest that I reap'd-- 
"I came like Water, and like Wind I go." 

***

For "Is" and "Is-not" though
With Rule and Line,
And "Up-and-down" without,
I could define,
I yet in all I only cared to know,
Was never deep in anything
But wine.

***

Indeed the Idols I have loved so long 
Have done my credit in this World much wrong: 
Have drown'd my Glory in a shallow Cup 
And sold my Reputation for a Song. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Flying into rough weather: Oil crayon and acrylic on paper

This time, I asked my friend, Raj, to throw me a word. He said, "Biplane." I decided to give the flyboy a response in colour instead of words. So here is Flying Into Rough Weather: Oil crayon and acrylic on paper. Billions of blue blistering barnacles! There, I have said it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Girl with the Scarlet Lips: Colour pencils on paper

My Afghan student, Qasem, sang to me one of Ahmad Zahir's songs, Ay Janeman Asirat in Dari. The love song mentions scarlet lips and so I have drawn the girl with the scarlet lips.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Rider

A bend in the road

The roar of an engine

A beam of light

A rider on a bike.


The harsh glow

How my eyes hurt!

The bearded silhouette

His helmetless head!


A hint of recognition

A niggling doubt

Friend or foe?

I'd rather not shout.


The rider comes near

Brushes my shoulder

Whispers in my ear

My name, I hear.


The voice of a friend

Through the darkness

A stream of thoughts:

Cornucopia of memories.


I want to chide him

For his silence,

his non-existence

For me, without him.


My painted mouth

Starts to utter

A few words

Of disapproval.


I hold his gaze

Fixed and warm

My lips slowly part,

Laughter breaks free.


He watches me

Curious, confused

His lips part too:

To say, "Goodbye!"


And so I stand

With mirth and grief

Watching a rider

Disappear into night.






Procrastination: Oil crayon and acrylic on paper

This painting was inspired by a couple of friends - one has been wanting to become a guitarist for years and the other wants to find love but has done nothing about it. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Signs of a Goddess

I had an old carom board lying around so I decided to use it for rangoli for Diwali. The theme: Signs of Goddess Lakshmi. That includes owl, Swastika, Om, grains, footsteps, cowrie shells and lotus. Medium: Acrylic on wood.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Wind

There comes the wind

Like a rider from the west

A screen of dust and sand

A silhouette and sunset.


There comes the wind,

Bringing many stories

Of travellers and caravans

Of borders and fences.


There comes the wind

With a rustle of leaves

Dried and wasted

Like putrid memories.


There comes the wind

With few scraps of paper

Words of love and longing

And passions forbidden.


There comes the wind

Carrying expectations

Of clouds and rain

A farmer's tales.


There comes the wind

With many dreams

Of heroes and saviours,

Of disappointing realities.





Saturday, October 31, 2015

Takht-e-safar, Herat: Acrylic on Canvas

I am teaching a student in Afghanistan via an American people-to-people-peace organisation called Pax Populi (Applied Ethics, Inc). My student, Qasem, is from Herat, a town near the border with Iran which is steeped in Islamic culture and is famous for Sufism. One of Qasem's favourite hobbies is to climb up the mountain called Takht-e-safar early mornings. He described the views from there and I was inspired to paint it. 


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Five sisters: Oil crayon on paper

I had the rare privilege to Skype with my Afghan student, Qasem's, five sisters in Herat. When he was trying to get them all in one frame, the youngest one simply turned around. The imagery stayed with me and so I drew them all like that. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Peace

I asked my friends of Facebook to throw at me the first word that comes to their minds when I say, 'peace'. They suggested home, inner, harmony, sleep, unity, animals, Buddhism, nature, peace, green, tranquility and joy. This is what I made of with some of them.

Peace

This talk of peace
That we make and keep
Of quiet and sleep,
Are expressions we seek.

Unworthy governments, 
Their brutal policies
The United Nations
And many bureaucracies.

A soldier's plight
To defend and fight
Wrapped in a blanket
He watches every night.

In a quiet village
Far from the post
Where music plays
A gentle harmony.

Secure and warm
A comfortable home
A family's unity
Sheltered with hope.

There comes a stranger
A messenger cloaked
Animals in the barn
Sense the danger.

He comes to the door
Reads out a letter
A family's future
Will change forever. 

The marked prejudice
The lack of options
A fate decided
A family disunited.

Carers, keepers
Lawyers, well-wishers
Activists, writers
Rights' protectors. 

Petitions, programs
Campaigns, causes
Funds and fairs,
Cameras, journalists. 

Discussions, decisions
A family waits:
"How much longer
will they take?"

Then one day
Justice prevails
A sigh of relief
Prayers on lips.

They return home:
Nature's tranquility
An inner conflict
Buried in secret.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Kalam: Mixed media on paper

A portrait of India's former President and youth icon, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. He never ceases to inspire me even after his death.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Belief

It's on those days

When trust falters

Your weary mind

Leaves Hope out.


It's on those days

When bubbles burst

And your dreams

Come crashing down.


It's on those days

When Love is lost

The heart aches

Your soul cries out.


It's on those days

When the spirit's broken

Your voice is choked

Your tears undammed.


It's on those days

When fear rules

Pressure's fist

Clamps you down.


It's on those days

You find Belief

A saviour,

A friend in need.


It's on those days

You find the light

A sudden thought,

An idea, bright.


It's on those days

You find yourself

Your soul, your spirit

Your heart mended.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Eisha's Professional Experience Visualized

I always fumble when I am asked about my professional experience over the past decade, for I have done many, many things. So I decided to follow data journalist David McCandless and visualized my professional experience on Google Spreadsheets.



Fields: Ink and oil crayon on paper

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Balasinor




BALASINOR

Poem by Eisha Sarkar


The high walls
The lush greens
A white palace
Built in 1883.

Nawabs and Begums
Those tales of the yore
Framed and preserved
Garden Palace, Balasinor.

A mounted leopard
Louis XIV chairs
Gold threads
Antique brasswares.

Collections, collectibles
Crystals, curios
Cutlery, cupboards
Cut-glass, candle-bras.

A diner’s delight
A Begum’s talent
A hearty meal:
Seekh and mutton.

The four-poster bed
Beckons me to rest
The AC’s cool air
Puts summer to test.

Then comes Aliya
The Princess Babi
Of Afghan heritage
And knowledge a-plenty.

In her hand
She holds an egg
No ordinary one
A dinosaur’s egg!

I watch her hold
Time in her hands
The Jurassic past
In stone and sand.

Starlings in the sky
As  gold turns red
The hourglass turns
I whisper, “Goodbye!”


Monday, September 28, 2015

Gran in Colour

This is the next in the series of my works in oil pastels on paper, with granny-in-law, 'Ba' in a colour full colour. 

  

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Dad-in-law gets younger

It's my father-in-law's birthday so I decided to make him look like he was when he was 35 years younger. This is oil pastels on paper.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

At a party

A room full of laughter
Many faces with voices
Pitched high and low
A crowd of jesters,
chatterers, whisperers
Conversation-starters,
Gossip-mongers
A round of drinks
A plate of appetisers
Bow-tied waiters
A party in full swing.
And there I stand
In the left corner
Smiling shyly
At passers-by.
A phone in my hand
I wish for a beep
A message, a picture
From a faraway land.
The ladies in chiffons
Beckon me to join
I stare at the screen
“Damn! This phone!”
A circle of chairs
Is where I sit
A disenchanted spirit
Longing to go home.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Shrine gets the paint

My granny-in-law complained about her shrine blackened by soot from oil lamps so I gave the brown wooden structure a lick of paint.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Monday, September 14, 2015

Men

Men, of valour and victory

Men, of colour and white

Men, of freedom and slavery

Men, creative and bright.


Men, of hair and stubble

Men, of back-slaps, huddles

Men, of withheld tears

Men, of suppressed fears.


Men, of want and greed

Men, of compassion and deeds

Men, old and young

Men, merry and drunk.


Men, meticulously precise

Men, intelligent and wise

Men, of brotherhood and bands

Men, of shyness and reserve.


Men, of callused old hands

Men, breadwinners in pants

Men, of silence and monks

Men, of love and songs.


Men, of praise and prayer

Men, supporters and slayers

Men, of war and peace

Men, of judgment and justice.


Men, friends and foes

Men, lives of woes

Men, uneasy minds

Men, rarely of a kind.


Men, of drive and ambition

Men, fathers of nations

Men, of beauty and perfection

Men, of skills and innovation.


Men, of honour and worth

Men, of blood and sword

Men, of sex and semen

Men, of many relations.


Men, of words and wisdom

Men, of marriage, for women

Men, Nature nurtured

Men, these men. Ah Men!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Mahabali

There once was a king


Benevolent and caring


Mighty and brave


So must he be praised.


The words of courtiers,


Well-wishers, soothsayers


Fell on the king's ears


Turned pride into vanity.


So the Lord came to see


In the form of a dwarf


Asked the king for a gift


Just three paces of land.


Laughed the king in court


"Is that all thee wants?"


He granted the dwarf's wish;


Praises on the courtiers' lips.


The dwarf started growing


Became the Mighty Lord


A step from heaven to earth


Another to netherworld.


"Oh, where dear king


shall I step for the third?"


The mighty king bowed


"Put it on my vain head."


Such a ruler's humility!


Said the Great Lord,


"With this third step I take,


I grant thee immortality."


And so we remember


On the day of harvests


In God's own country


This story of King Mahabali.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Low-cost sanitary napkins for tribal girls

The Inner Wheel Club, a women's-only volunteer organisation, distributed sanitary napkins to 182 girls in a tribal residential girls' school in Vadodara. The low-cost napkins have been designed and manufactured by social entrepreneur Swati Bedekar's Vatsalya Foundation. I found the girls giggling with awkwardness and hiding the napkins under their desks.






Monday, August 24, 2015

Data cartooning

I am trying out a new style of representing statistical data: through cartoons. Check it out:


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Champaner snapshots

A trio of journalists and a UNESCO heritage site make for a nice Saturday afternoon picnic. Here are some snapshots from Champaner:

Kabutarkhana, Champaner

Jami Masjid, Champaner

Jami Masjid, Champaner

Saher ki Masjid, Champaner

Goats and a gate at Saher ki Masjid, Champaner

Auto and goats at Champaner Fort


Motorbike, goats, men carrying fodder for the goats at Champaner


Carvings at Jami Masjid