Monday, March 28, 2016


By Eisha Sarkar
Published on Pax Populi on 28 March 2016
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:
To nature’s tranquility
An inner conflict
Buried in secret.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

My speech on the occasion of World Theatre Day at Applause Vadodara

I had the privilege to be audience to one of the most talented theatre companies in Vadodara called Applause Vadodara's fantastic production, The Cake Story. Written by Apsara Iyengar, the play depicts feelings and emotions that go through the minds and hearts of women. Both Apsara and her co-actor, Chitra Parmar, were brilliant. On the occasion of World Theatre Day, I was surprised to be called to talk to the audience after the play. Since I am quite a novice at public speaking, I thought of penning down my speech. Here it is:

When Apsara asked me to talk about theatre, my first reaction was, “But I am not a theatre person. I don't know much about drama.” She asked me. “So what kind of person are you? What do you do?” I told her, “The only thing that comes to my mind when I see a stage is dance. I am more of a dancer than an actor.” As I finished the sentence, I realised how ridiculous it sounded. “Isn't dance a form of theatre? Do we not act?” I asked myself. “And do we not gesticulate, act, play our parts in real life as well? The world's a stage, as Shakespeare wrote, and all men must play a part.”

It's amazing how something as basic as acting has become so niche. A child uses actions before he or she learns words, art before he or she can read or write and sound before he or she can speak. And yet, as we grow older and supposedly wiser in our use of technology and busier at work, we keep dropping them one by one. First, we let go of drawing and colouring. Who has the time for that? Then music is left for the commute or leisure. Our vocabulary of actions gets narrower and narrower with institutionalised education. We get so caught up in the rat-race that we forget to appreciate the gifts of the arts.

That's me sharing the stage with my former student and prominent social entrepreneur, Rushabh Gandhi
Pic credit: Rachit Mankad

I teach English often to people with whom I have no other language in common. They come from places such as Afghanistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan, Iraq and Iran. When they do not understand a word I say, I have to act it out for them. It's like dumb charade. But it's not a game. Drama is a very important tool in education. I had the privilege of documenting actor Swaroop Sampat's workshops on the use of drama in education when I was working with UNICEF in Gujarat. She enabled girls and teachers from remote tribal areas to understand the concepts of maths, science, history and marketing using statues, skits, action-songs and plays.

India has an oral tradition of knowledge-transfer. And we like visuals more than words. This is where theatre becomes a very important tool of communication. I go back to UNICEF again. In order to propagate awareness about education, girl-child rights, immunisation campaigns, women's health and hygiene in villages, we used bhavai. In spite of the advent of television, radio and cellphones in many villages, hundreds of people gathered to watch ranglo and rangli. Bhavai connects with people in their local dialect, using local expressions and so our messages were customised towards the audience that had gathered – whether it was the whole village, or majority women, anganwadi workers or youth. The effectiveness of a medium can be judged by how much it resonates with the audience and we were very glad that the audiences across villages in Bhavnagar, Kutch, Baroda, Rajkot, Valsad and Banaskantha districts had taken home the message the medium delivered.

Why is theatre important? It teaches us to explore our bodies, our expressions and ourselves. It enables us to become people we could only dream of becoming. It's aspirational. I teach at the Faculty of Journalism and Communication at MSU and every year the students do a folk media presentation. I have seen some of the very shy students essay powerful characters on stage. They overcome their inhibitions and become prominent team-players. Theatre also helps us to connect with all kinds of audiences everywhere irrespective of their nationality, language, age, religion, education, etc.

Why do we need more of theatre in Baroda? We're living in an increasingly globalised world. Even Bollywood movies cater more and more to the diaspora. While we all enjoy cinema, we need media that engage with us at the local level. We have radio that does a pretty decent job, we have short films on YouTube, we have art exhibitions and song and dance festivals. But we need something that tells us stories about people like us using our words and actions within a real space allowing for instant feedback. Only theatre can do that.

Thank you!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Perks of cross-border friendship: A birthday gift from the other side

You're wondering what to gift your husband for his birthday when your artist-friend from Peshawar, Nahid Walizadda, asks you if she can make a sketch of you. You jokingly tell her, "Maybe of my husband. His birthday is coming." She asks you for his picture. You send her one your husband likes. In spite of the quality of the photograph, she draws a likeness of him and sends you a picture of the sketch. You work with it on Fireworks and design a cover for his stationery with the line he uses often to pep you up on a gloomy day: "When was the last time you did something for the first time?" You show it to your friend and she says, "Awesome!" You gift a personalised notebook to your husband and he absolutely loves it! 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Road to Modhera

One Saturday in early March, we decided to pack a set of clothes and drive off from home in Vadodara up north. Though the avid birdwatcher in me wanted a pit-stop at Thol Lake near Ahmedabad, the rising mercury brought me to my senses and we decided to head to the Sun Temple at Modhera, 102 Km from Ahmedabad. It is one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture in India, a country that boasts of the Taj Mahal, the Jantar Mantar, the temples of Khajuraho and Madurai, etc, etc. It was also my first time inside a step-well. I had been to Adalaj before but because of the renovation efforts, we were forbidden to climb down the steps to the water. Modhera was just as it promised to be (which is why it is also on the cover of India Guide: Gujarat). Here are some shots: 

Built in 1026 AD by King Bhimdev, the temple is dedicated to the Sun-god, Surya. There is a large rectangular stepped tank called the Suryakund which is one of the finest examples of geometry in the world.

Prayers are not offered in this temple.

The organization of stone is a dazzling work of art. 108 miniature shrines are carved in between the steps inside the tank. 108 is considered to be an auspicious number by Hindus. The construction allows a large number of pilgrims to come down to the tank, without creating bottlenecks. The steps are narrow, so you're forced to walk one behind another.

The pillared hall has 52 intricately carved pillars to mark each week of the year. This a decorated pillar outside the hall.

A bit of a blue sky and patch of green
Buddha,  Mahavira and Hindu deities have all been depicted in this architecture

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Jirga, soccer and the Art of Conflict Resolution

By Eisha Sarkar

Published on Pax Populi on 18 March 2016

During one of our sessions at Pax Populi Academy, Muhammad Qasem Jami asked me if I could teach him something about conflicts and how to resolve them. As a journalist, conflicts take up most of my professional space and time. Conflict makes news; it makes large-font, big bold headlines. Jami's question led me to introspect. Could someone who was always looking for conflicts teach something about resolving them?

Since I needed context, Afghanistan was my starting point. I had read historian William Dalrymple's Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan which discussed the events that led to the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-42) and The Great Game between the Russian and the British Empires in the nineteenth century which created the setting for all subsequent wars in Afghanistan right up till the US-led invasion in 2001 which ousted the ruling Taliban. While much has been documented about the wars in Afghanistan, little do we know about the traditional methods of resolving conflicts in that country – the methods peacemakers could fall back upon, when the world's peacekeeping community is busy elsewhere.

After sifting through many websites, I came across a very resourceful paper by Ali Wardak titled, Jirga - A Traditional Mechanism of Conflict Resolution in Afghanistan (University of Glamorgan, UK) and enthusiastically shared it with Jami. “There's a lot more about the Pashtunjirga in here. In Herat, we have shuras – a group of white-bearded men (the village elders, not very different from the Indian Panchayat) – who help resolve disputes between people,” he noted. Jami then went on to highlight the vocabulary and phrases in Wardak's paper he had not heard/used before.

During our next session, he made a brilliant presentation about conflicts and conflict resolution in personal and professional spaces. He stressed on STABEN:

Source of conflict

Time and Place that serves as a setting to solve the issue

Amicable approach

Behaviour and identifying the problem with it

Emotional reaction to the issue/behaviour

Need to end the conflict by finishing off the required tasks

“Hopefully, if you do all of this, you will not need to go to a third-party or a jirga or a shura,” Jami chuckled. “The key to it is forgiveness,” he added, “Refusing to forgive someone is like drinking poison in order to defeat your enemies.”

Then I asked him the difference between conflict and competition. He was a bit confused. I said, “I'll give you an example. When you play football (soccer) by the rules, it's a healthy competition to score the most goals and win the match/tournament. But when one team starts playing foul, tugging shirts, tripping players, intentionally harming the other team, the competition turns into a conflict. In a conflict, one side is always wrong and wants to damage the other. You may win the match in the end but it will have cost you your reputation. Some players on your team might even have been red- or yellow-carded for playing foul.” “Wow! What an example!” 

Encouraged, I discussed with him Sun Tzu's definition of conflict in Art of War, a situation where two rivals must continue investing to prevent their opponent from winning and how costly these 'wars of attrition' are for both winners and losers. I cited the civil war in Afghanistan in the early 1990s as an example. It surprised him: “You do know a lot about my country!”

I closed the discussion with Kautilya's Arthashastra, one of the oldest treatises of statecraft and economics in the world, which is as relevant today as it was in 2nd century BCE. With it, I introduced to Jami four words from Sanskrit:saam (reconciliation), daam (compensation), dand(punishment), bhed (divide and rule), the four-step conflict resolution strategy in diplomacy. He shouted over his microphone: “You've taken me back to 2nd century BCE!” “If you look at Syria right now, you'll find all four put into action,” I responded.

A very interesting journey through history and geography, ancient wisdom and current affairs, languages and cultures, the traditional and the modern, my student and I travelled together.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Dil Se in English

One of the toughest things Muhammad Qasem Jami has made me do yet... Translate Shah Rukh Khan's Dil Se title track into English. My apologies to Gulzar if I have got the essence wrong. Here's my attempt:

Ek Sooraj Nikla Tha
Kuchh Paara Pighla Tha
Ek Aandhi Aayi Thi
Jab Dil Se Aah Nikli Thi
Dil Se Re

A sun came out and melted the boundary. A storm rose as the heart cried out.
From the heart...

Dil To Aakhir Dil Hai Na 
Meethi Si Mushkil Hai Na
Piya Piya
Piya Piya Piya Na Piya
Jiya Jiya Jiya Na Jiya
Dil Se Re

The heart is but the heart, a sweet complication isn't it, darling. My darling, my darling, my life, my life
From the heart...

Do Patte Patjhad Ke Pedon Se Utrey Thay
Pedon Ki Shaakhon Se Utrey Thay
Phir Utne Mausam Guzre Vo Patte Do Bechaare
Phir Ugne Ki Chaahat Mein Vo Sehraon Se Guzre
Vo Patte Dil Dil Dil Thay
Vo Dil Thay Dil Dil Dil Thay
Dil Hai To Phir Dard Hoga 
Dard Hai To Dil Bhi Hoga
Mausam Guzarte Rehte Hain
Dil Hai To Phir Dard Hoga 
Dard Hai To Dil Bhi Hoga
Mausam Guzarte Rehte Hain
Dil Se Dil Se Dil Se Dil Se 
Dil Se Re

Two autumnal leaves fell from the tree, from the branches of the tree. Many seasons went by and those two poor leaves tried to grow (into a tree) but went through many trials in the process. Those leaves were hearts. If there's a heart, there will be pain. There is pain where there is heart. The seasons keep changing. From the heart...

Bandhan Hai Rishton Mein 
Kaaton Ki Taarein Hain
Patthar Ke Darwaaze Deewaarein
Belein Phir Bhi Ugti Hain 
Aur Guchchhe Bhi Khilte Hain
Aur Chalte Hain Afsaane 
Kirdaar Bhi Milte Hain
Vo Rishtey Dil Dil Dil Thay
Vo Dil Thay Dil Dil Dil Thay
Gam Dil Ke Pak Chulbule Hain 
Paani Ke Ye Bulbule Hain
Bujhte Hain Bate Rehte Hain
Gam Dil Ke Pak Chulbule Hain 
Paani Ke Ye Bulbule Hain
Bujhte Hain Bate Rehte Hain
Dil Se Dil Se Dil Se Dil Se 
Dil Se Re
Dil Se Re Dil Se Re
Dil Se Re Dil Se Re

Bonds of relations tie (you) down. In spite of the barbed wire fences and walls of stone, there still grow creepers and bushes with flowers. The stories go on and keep finding (their) characters. Those relations are hearts. Like bubbles in water, this sadness in your naughty heart dims and increases in intensity. From the heart...

Saturday, March 12, 2016


I had asked Muhammad Qasem Jami to throw me a word and he threw me these: kebab, wine, horse, swimming and beach (the five things we talk about often). Interestingly, their mention took me back to Australia, a place very close to my heart. Qasem, this poem's for you:


A couple of hands
A round table
A white beach 
The Coral Sea.
Glasses of wine
The finest Shiraz
A juicy platter
Of Turkish kebabs.
The fingers sketch
A horse's head
A fine steed:
An Afghan breed.
I watch the waves
The kids screaming
The surfers surfing
People swimming.
The wind blows
My thoughts wander
My mind travels
A place somewhere.
Snowy peaks
Rugged crags
Pristine rivers
Many orchards.
A land of poetry,
history and culture
Of colour and vigour
Of beauty unknown.
I draw a breath
Look at the sketch
On the horseback:
A rider I've known.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Portrait of a Philatelist: Collage of stamps and illustrations

I was browsing through my old stamp album when I thought of using some of my 1200 stamps for a collage along with some illustrations cut out from The Economist. Here's Portrait of a Philatelist

Thursday, March 10, 2016


Published on Pax Populi on 11 March 2016

This poem is dedicated to Nahid Walizadda, my editorial collaborator and friend from Peshawar, Pakistan:

Somewhere across
The River Indus
A girl dreams
Of a bright future.

Scraps of paper
Pens and brushes
Words and forms,
She births many.

Her immense talent
The force of her will
Veils and boundaries
She shatters with skill.

A mind full of ideas
A heart full of love
A voice that speaks
Of harmony and peace.

Somewhere across
The River Indus
Basking in moonlight
There is Nahid.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Red Curse

That time of the month

When she runs away

A young girl's lost

In guilt and shame.

That time of the month

A teacher calls her name

She is not around

And no one complains.

That time of the month

Of festivals and fairs

Of faces and laughter

But no one's beside her.

That time of the month

When a kitchen's too holy

For her to cook a meal

With her kindness and love.

“That time of the month”

That comes every month

Which remains unnamed

But known to everyone.

That time of the month

When she bleeds silently

Into rags or pads

Wishes it goes, quickly.

That time of the month

When she's cursed

Why then should she

Bear a son first?

- Eisha

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Portrait of a journalist: Paper collage

On a day when my brain refused to rest and I sorely missed my friends from the art class in Brisbane, Australia, I decided to do some paper-cutting. It took me four hours to make this portrait of a journalist.

Mariam's World: Tax on the good, the bads and the ugly

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Star

By Eisha Sarkar
Published on Pax Populi on 1 March 2016

In the first week of January this year, Kirthi Jayakumar and I received a lengthy email from Robert McNulty about Nahid Walizadda, an Afghan refugee living in Peshawar, Pakistan. Nahid had shared a lot of her drawings and paintings with Bill Woolley who had volunteered for a brief time with Pax Populi.

Bill had written:

Nahid Walizadda is an aspiring artist whose portfolio includes compelling pencil sketches depicting the plight of women in her native Afghanistan. They help fill the pages of a journal that laments the inequality faced by every girl born in that troubled country.”

Robert asked us if we could do a story on Nahid and feature some of her drawings on our website. We loved the idea. He then introduced us to Nahid and her sketches, which Kirthi and I think are phenomenal. We not only wanted to do a story on her but also showcase her talent. She wrote a post for us, which we published on the Pax Populi blog and shared on Facebook. Nahid thanked us. Then she mentioned that she written a book containing her story, poems and artwork. She had been trying to get it published, but found little support for her endeavour. We asked her to share her book with us. What we had unwittingly started was a three-way conversation between Nahid in Peshawar, Kirthi in Chennai and me in Vadodara.

Kirthi edited the book first and I browsed through it to add my comments. When Nahid made some changes and sent it to us, we sent it back to her with more corrections. When we told her she shouldn't source pictures randomly from the internet, she chose to make some more sketches. There were several rounds of editing by Kirthi and me and then even Bill Woolley pitched in.

One afternoon, I received a message on Facebook chat from Nahid. She wanted to change the name of the book. “One Voice Can Change the World,” she said was just a temporary title. We juggled various combinations of phrases and words till we settled for Tears in the Veil.

The next thing she wanted was a cover. I had promised to design the cover of her book. She suggested she wanted something like Sophie Masson's Emilio or Robert Hillman's Through My Eyes: Malini. Since she draws so well, I asked her to make some sketches. “Something positive, if possible,” I told her. She sent me a low resolution photograph of a sketch of two little schoolgirls walking with a woman with birds in the background. I loved it and asked her to send me a high-resolution scan. After a couple of days, Nahid told me that she could not find a scanner that could scan her whole painting. She was upset. I told her I'll work with the picture.

Next, I asked her for a photograph of herself. I didn't hear from her for a week. When she sent me her pictures, which were of poor quality, she told me she had been very sick and 'yellow'. I asked her to get tested for hepatitis. Fortunately, she tested negative. I browsed through some of her other sketches that could go with the title and chanced upon a beautiful drawing of a woman shedding a tear and her mouth clamped by a hand.

Both Nahid and Kirthi loved the cover I had designed and we finally published her ebook through Amazon. These two months have been a journey through words, art and design into the private lives of the women of Afghanistan and Pakistan. For me, it was the first time I had collaborated on an editorial project with someone from Pakistan. Working with Nahid has been a tremendous learning experience for me, for it exposed me to the day-to-day challenges refugees face - no bank accounts, no fixed addresses, families torn across countries, makeshift shanties for schools, security challenges, rampant drug abuse to cope with depression, etc.

A very grateful Nahid told me, “I will never forget what Kirthi jan and you did for me. What can I send for you?” I asked her to send me a selfie of her smiling. She did. I told her, “You're quite a star, Nahid, as your name suggests.”