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Red Birds: A tough black comedy with laborious wit – Book Review

That and the turns of phrase, which made Hanif one of the most sought after Asian writers in recent times.

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Red Birds

With a fallen pilot, an ambitious, but floundering, teenager and a dog as the three narrators, Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif, in his latest book “Red Birds”, takes the reader to a new literary perch, one that is unfamiliar and at the same time precarious.

Still riding on the success of his critically acclaimed first novel “A Case of Exploding Mangoes”, Hanif’s latest book lures readers into a large field laden with abstract crops without a compass, hoping that they would find their way back with a harvest of whatever they can find in its vastness.

The title “Red Birds” is derived from a delicate and tragic reality of canaries in the region — Hanif does not identify it as any particular country — which serves as the ravaged landscape in the novel. The drinking water is contaminated with depleted uranium, and thus take on a red colour. The title and the recurring reference to the phenomenon is one of the more elegant — but few in number — aspects of the much-anticipated book.

The novel opens with Ellie, an American fighter pilot distracted by problems with his missus back home, crashing into the desert in an unknown but familiar terrain while on a run to bomb a village harbouring enemies of the state.

The “village”, which had been in his cross-hairs for destruction, turns out to be a refugee camp, where the reader encounters the novel’s second narrator Momo — a young boy who harbours ambition but is weighed down by his own inadequate and harebrained business plans, one of them being using falcons for an ethical hunting programme (part of the dollops of irony which appear a little too liberally fastened to the pages) as well as bad luck. Momo is also on the lookout for his dog, Mutt, who is the novel’s third major narrator.

“Another reason I am reluctant to tell Momo about the red birds is that at heart he is a businessman. Even when he is watching television, even when his jeep breaks down, even when he is having murderous thoughts about his Father Dear, he is always working on a business plan which will make him fabulously rich. He has traded in nothing but junk but he is waiting for the ‘markets to open up, for the situation to stabilise, for the reconstruction phase to begin’ before he cam embark on his financial adventures”.

Yes, that’s the dog talking — narrating to the reader the nature of his master. One of the book’s best lines is also reserved for Mutt, when he analyses the anguish in Momo’s father, after he loses his other son. “Regret,” says Mutt, “smells like burnt bread.”

The book is overwhelming fashioned as a black farce playing out in the backdrop of war, but amid its flashes of brilliance, “Red Birds” ends up stomping on its own tail; with everyone and their dog (in this case the character Mutt) routinely pontificating with a touch of jaded wit.

What one needs to look forward to in “Red Birds”, however, is the portrayal of a region grappling with conflict and occupation and how different the grassroots’ realities really are, compared to the blistering and propaganda-laden images of war, broadcast on mass media.

That and the turns of phrase, which made Hanif one of the most sought after Asian writers in recent times.

Book: Red Birds; Author: Mohammed Hanif; Publisher: Bloomsbury; Price: Rs 599; Pages: 304

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at [email protected])

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Once dreaded ‘queen of outlaws’ Phoolan now a ‘veerangana’

Phoolan Devi emerged as an icon for the Nishad community (boatmen) but after her brutal death in 2001, the community was not given adequate representation by political parties.

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phoolan devi Bandit Queen

Bandit queen-turned-politician Phoolan Devi has been conferred the title of ‘veerangana’ (a brave warrior) by the Eklavya Welfare Society in Jalaun district.

Phoolan’s native village Garha Ka Purwa is located in Jalaun district and the Eklavya Welfare Society represents the Nishad community to which Phoolan belonged.

“The title of Veerangna has been conferred on Phoolan Devi because she was a true warrior — she fought for her honour and later, for the welfare of the oppressed.

“She deserves her and the young generations need to be told about her contribution. We will soon install her statue here,” said Gopalm Nishad, a member of the Eklavya Welfare Society.

Phoolan Devi, a bandit in the ravines across Uttar Pradesh and present Chhattisgarh and also Madhya Pradesh, had hit the headlines when she massacred 22 Thakurs in Behmai in Kanpur in February 1981 to avenge her sexual exploitation by a Thakur gang led by Lala Ram and Sri Ram.

In 1994, then Chief Minister Mulayam Singh withdrew the cases against Phoolan and she contested and won the Lok Sabha elections from Mirzapur in 1996 on a Samajwadi Party ticket.

Phoolan Devi emerged as an icon for the Nishad community (boatmen) but after her brutal death in 2001, the community was not given adequate representation by political parties.

The Nishad community constitutes about 4.5 per cent of the state’s population and are known to be among the Most Backward Castes (MBC).

The Nishad community has a sizeable population in about 40 assembly segments. Since the past one decade, they are trying to be included in the Scheduled Caste’s category but their demand has been caught in legal hassles.

An attempt was made to install Phoolan’s statue in Gorakhpur in 2016 but the attempt was foiled by the district administration that claimed that requisite permission for same had not been obtained.

The issue had revived an intense caste war between OBCs and MBCs in Uttar Pradesh.

Last year, Phoolan’s mother, Moola Devi, 90, who still lives in the village in abject poverty, had released the Chambal Manifesto on the eve of Lok Sabha elections to press for development of the Chambal region.

The 4-page manifesto was a compilation of the demands for the region which included the formation of the Chambal Commission for a scientific study of the issues and challenges faced by the people living in Chambal region along with solutions.

More than 40 years after she picked up the gun and turned into a bandit, following a dispute over four bighas of land with her cousin Maya Din, Phoolan Devi’s family in her native village in Jalaun district is still waiting to reclaim that elusive piece of land.

Meanwhile, the land that was initially owned by Phoolan’s father, Devi Din Mallah, and after his death, it still eludes her mother Moola Devi as the rightful owner.

Maya Din, son of late Devi Din’s elder brother allegedly grabbed the plot and did not allow Phoolan’s mother to till the land. Maya Din claimed the land was passed on to him as legacy.

Moola Devi said, “My daughter Phoolan fought with Maya Din for this land. Maya Din and his men ridiculed her and hurled abuses at her. She got together some girls from the village and staged a dharna on the land. The village elders tried to remove her from the land but failed. Then Maya Din hurled a brick at her and she fell unconscious. After this, she became a ‘baaghi’ (rebel).”

It is said that Maya Din ‘sold’ her off to Lal Ram and Shri Ram — heads of a Thakur gang of dacoits — who not only raped her but also held her captive.

A few years later, Phoolan Devi fell in love with another dacoit Vikram Mallah, who was later killed by the Lala Ram and Shri Ram gang.

To avenge the wrong done to her by the Thakur gang, Phoolan Devi gradually built up her own gang and the rest, as they say, is history.

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International Day of Persons with Disabilities: Theme, Date and history of the day

International Day of Persons with Disabilities: It aims to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities and celebrate their achievements and contributions.

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International Day of Persons with Disabilities

International Day of Persons with Disabilities is an international observance promoted by the United Nations since 1992. It is celebrated on December 3 all around the world. It aims to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities and celebrate their achievements and contributions.

IDPD mobilizes support for critical issues relating to the inclusion of persons with disabilities, promotes awareness-raising about disability issues and draws attention to the benefits of an inclusive and accessible society for all.

UN agencies, civil society organizations, academic institutions and the private sector are motivated to support IDPD by collaborating with organizations for people with disabilities to arrange events and activities.

International Day of People with Disability: Theme

The theme for IDPwD 2020 is “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World”.

Every year the UN announces a theme to observe for International Day of People with Disability. The annual theme provides an overarching focus on how society can strive for inclusivity through the removal of physical, technological and attitudinal barriers for people with disabilities.

This has been occurring since 1992 when the General Assembly announced 3 December as the International Day of Disabled Persons.

National Disability Strategy 2010–2020

In Australia, the National Disability Strategy 2010–2020 commits all governments to a nationwide approach aimed at improving the lives of disabled people, their families and carers.

The Strategy’s ten-year national framework for reform concentrates on better inclusion for people with disabilities and seeks to create a society that enables people with disabilities to fulfill their potential as equal citizens.

On the 2012 International Day of People with Disability, the United Kingdom government introduced mandatory work for disabled people who received welfare benefits in order to “Improve disabled peoples chances of getting work by mandatory employment”.

A program is also launched on December 3 across India to serve the differently-able community of the country as an initiative called Accessible India Campaign under the Article 9 of UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD)

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BJP leaders brainstorm for second day, say govt ready for talks with farmers

Union Home Minister Amit Shah met Agriculture Minister Narender Singh Tomar earlier in the day to discuss the strategy to break the logjam.

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Farmers on Protest

Eager to break the deadlock with famers who are agitating for scrapping the new farm laws, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership held meetings for a second consecutive day on Monday and sent out the message that the Union government is ready for talks.

Union home minister Amit Shah met Union minister for agriculture, NS Tomar earlier in the day to discuss the strategy to break the logjam. A senior party functionary said, “The message from the top is clear that the laws are not anti-farmers and that the farmers are being misled. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reiterated that laws will offer better opportunity for the farmers.”

The functionary said the government is ready to sit across the table and discuss the new laws and “address whatever concerns” the farmers have.

Speaking in Varanasi, the PM on Monday said the laws have given farmers new options and legal protection. He lashed out at the opposition for “misleading” the farmers and said earlier decisions of government were opposed now rumours have become the basis for opposition and propaganda is being served even though the laws favour the farmers.

The party has also opted for a cautious, measured response to the agitation. Even though it is pinning the blame on the opposition for provoking the protest, it is taking care not to rile the farmers. “The farmers are innocent. They are being misled by those with vested interests. The laws have barely been implemented and their impact is yet to be ascertained, so how can people rush to call these anti-farmers,” said Rajkuamr Chahar, head of the BJP’s Kisan Morcha.

He said the Punjab unit of the Morcha has been communicating with the farmers’ representatives and has relayed the government’s willingness to address their concerns.

On Monday, even as the party tried to diffuse the anger against the bills, its ally the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) joined the chorus for the rollback of the laws. Rajasthan lawmaker and RLP chief, Hanuman Beniwal, shot off a letter to Shah, seeking the reversal of the laws.

“….In view of the countrywide sentiment in support of the ongoing farmers’ movement, the recently introduced three bills related to agriculture should be immediately withdrawn. (The Centre must) implement all recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission, and immediately hold dialogue with farmers in Delhi,” he said.

The BJP, however, played down the ally’s demand. Its national spokesperson on economic issues, Gopal Krishna Agarwal said, “We assure all, including our NDA partners that farmers’ well-being and welfare are in our heart. Large scale market reforms are needed and that has always been the consensus.”

He went on to add that while the BJP opposes misgivings about the APMC mandis being dismantled and MSP being withdrawn, the opposition is politicizing the issue along with the Arhtiyas (commission agents) and middleman.

“We have offered all the basic facilities to farmers, drinking water, toilets, shelters and medical facilities. They have been given permission to protest and also been invited for dialogue. We are open for all discussions on the merits or demerits of the three bills. If farmers have certain serious concerns, we are ready to listen to them,” he said.

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