Monday, July 31, 2006

Here’s to you, Mrs Robinson!

To reproduce this article, permission has to be obtained from Hindustan Times

Suhasini Mulay, who plays an older seductress, sets pulses racing in Yun Hota To Kya Hota

Shevlin Sebastian

“You have come early,” Suhasini Mulay, 55, tells me near the entrance of her building at Andheri. Yes indeed, I am ten minutes early for the 3 pm interview. She has just returned after lunch with friends at the Legacy of China restaurant. At first glance, without make-up, you can see the age: the tufts of grey hair hovering over the side of her temples, the tiny wrinkles and the crow’s feet, but her brown eyes are clear and honest: ageless. She is dressed casually in jeans and a white top and a large brown bag hangs from one shoulder.
The unmarried Mulay lives alone in her fifth floor apartment, which has little furniture and lots of space. Against one wall, there are rows of cassettes and CDs: Miles Davis, Chris Rea, Tracey Chapman, R.D. Burman and Kishore Kumar, among others. High up against another wall is a row of paperbacks, with the usual suspects: Barbara Taylor Bradford, Len Deighton and Jilly Cooper.
As we start to talk, she gets a call comes on her mobile. It’s actress Pratima Kazmi, who has just seen the movie and is calling up to offer compliments. Mullay laughs loudly as she says, “Thank you.”
Mulay is in the news for the erotic, love-making scenes she has done with Irrfan Khan in director Naseeruddin Shah’s debut film Yun Hota To Kya Hota. She plays the older women, Namrata, a dance instructor on whom Khan, (Salim Rajabal), a stockbroker, is passionately in love with. The movie has created a buzz among the multiplex crowd and is running to fairly large houses at present.
Sizzling scenes
So why did she take this role? “Because Naseerudin Shah was making this film,” she says. “Regardless of what the film was going to be, it would be something interesting and worthwhile.” She is frank enough to say the producers were looking for a bigger name but those who were offered it rejected it for various reasons.
“For me it was a role I don’t think I will ever get again,” she says. “Because, there are not many roles for a middle-aged woman. So far, I have always been typecast as a rich grandmother or mother. So, I was very happy but a little apprehensive.”
Shah was very clear when the role was offered to Mulay that there would be love scenes that would suggest love-making and they would probably be erotic in nature. “I told him you would still have to go past the Indian censor,” says Mulay. “He said, ‘I want them to be erotic, I don’t necessarily want to expose’. He is right: You can be very erotic without showing anything because, basically, people have a dirty mind.”
I raise my right hand and say, “I plead guilty here.”
“So do I,” she says sportingly, and bursts out laughing.
I ask Irrfan Khan, who is shooting in Kodaikanal, whether there was any awkwardness in shooting the love-making scenes. “Not at all,” he says. “No moment can be uncomfortable if we trust each other as an actor.”
Shah, who is away in Chandigarh, also says it was not difficult to shoot the love-making scenes. “Suhasini is a great sport,” he says. Actually, he says, he wanted the scenes to be titillating and funny at the same time. “The best sex scene is one in which there is a lot of laughter,” he says. “The power of suggestion is also much better than showing a nude scene, which tends to be distracting.”
Asked about her qualities as an actress, he says, “She has a great presence on screen and does not take herself too seriously as an actress.” Khan says she was very hard working and did the role “with a lot of enthusiasm.”
Mulay says the reactions to her role have been mostly positive. “Younger colleagues in TV serials appreciated my role,” she says.
One of them is Priya Badlani, who acts with Mulay in Jabb Love Hua, which airs on Zee TV. “I really appreciate the fact that Suhasini had the courage to do that role,” she says. “After all, what’s wrong with a 50 year-old single woman being in love?”
Mulay says colleagues of her age had a different reaction: they asked her why was it so necessary to do this role. “They felt sorry because they thought I needed to do this kind of role to give a fillip to my career,” she says.
Hot-shot activist
She’s had an unusual career. She began at age 16 when she acted in Mrinal Sen’s Bhuvan Shome and won a national award. But then, after acting in a few films after that, there was a 30-year lull before she returned with a bang in Gulzar’s Hu Tu Tu and again won a national award. Later, she acted in Lagaan, Dil Chahata Hai and Humraaz.
So what was she doing in the interim? “I was making documentary films,” she says. “It is a kind of film-making that fascinates me because you are talking about real things. It is not fiction. Fiction will reflect reality but it is a manufactured reality.”
She has directed 60 documentaries, out of which four have won national awards, including one on the Bhagalpur blindings. Incredibly, almost all of them were funded by her. “I have gone broke at times,” she says. “Because no twit in India is going to pay for them. One of the reasons why I switched to acting was because I was broke. If you have some talent, the fastest way to make money is to act. It is the most over paid profession in the world.”
Early life
And she came into this over-paid profession thanks to her mother, Vijaya, who was a founding member of the Federation of Film Societies in India.
Mulay was born in Patna and spent her formative years in Delhi. Her father passed away when she was three and her mother, Vijaya, brought her up. “We are three sisters, so we were a household of women,” she says. “My mother was a government servant and got transferred from place to place.” Later, Mullay took degrees in agriculture technology and mass communications from McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
Today, she keeps herself busy acting in television serials and doing the odd film, which comes her way. Asked why she has not married, she says, “The primary responsibility of running the house and bringing up children falls on the women. To do this, she has to sacrifice her career. I looked at the options and opted out.”
And she does not look a whit unhappy at her decision. On the other hand, she revels in her freedom and at the end of the conversation when I ask her, which five actors she would like to do a love scene with, her reaction, unlike most Indian woman, is far from demure. “Only five,” she yells. “My list is much more than that. Give me some time to think, so that I can pick ONLY five.”

Five Hot Actors
(Suhasini Mullay would love to do a love scene with them)
1. Shashi Kapoor
2. John Abraham
3. Mahadevan
4. Saif Ali Khan
5. Kunal Kapoor

Monday, July 24, 2006

On navel duty

A Brazilian-Peruvian teaches the intricacies of belly dancing

Shevlin Sebastian

Belly dancer Veronica Simas De Souza Rosas, (29), is wearing a beige cap. Sometime into our conversation, I ask her whether I can see her hair. “Sure,” she says, as she theatrically lifts up her cap with both hands and places it slowly on the low glass-topped table in front of her. Then she takes out the black hairpins and shakes her head. The golden hair falls in a cascade around her shoulders and the effect on her face is instantaneous: it is suffused with sensuality. The word, ‘Wow’ escapes from my mouth even before I can think of saying it. She laughs at my reaction and says, “Like it?” I nod, unable to speak, not sure whether my larynx has the presence of mind to produce some intelligible words.

We are sitting on sofas in a hall on the first floor of Zenzi restaurant in Bandra. Against the walls are placed multi-coloured cushions, while a thick carpet adorns the floor and a hookah in the middle gives the effect of an Egyptian living room. She has been conducting belly dancing classes here for the past two months.

Death and destruction

Sadly, as we talk, the horrific blasts on the local trains are taking place. She looks at her mobile and gets SMSs from students telling her they are unable to come for the classes later in the evening. After a while, she gets a SMS from a friend in Bangkok asking her whether she is safe A little later, there is a missed call from Peru. “My parents must be worried about me,” she says. This is instant global communications at work.

Sometime later, a group of girls, led by air-hostesses Rebecca Baz and Sanjukta Yolmo, come in. “We want to learn, Veronica, but because our parents are worried, we need to get back soon,” says Rebecca.

“Why did these blasts happen?” says Veronica, to no one in particular, and this is a question that has popped up in all our minds: Who can explain the minds and hearts of men who have no compunction in killing hundreds of innocent people?

To change the subject, I ask the girls why they want to learn belly dancing.

“Because of Shakira [the singer],” they say in unison. “What a dancer she is. Her belly dancing is awesome.” Says Isha Raju, who has just finished her graduation, “Everybody wants to move like her.”

Since there are no classes, Veronica inserts a CD in her laptop and shows us some dances on the monitor. Undoubtedly, the women are all sexy and their gyrations mesmerising. (Here is a definition from ‘learn to’: The characteristic movements include curving patterns, undulations, thrusts, lifts, locks, and drops. The focus is on isolated movements of individual parts of the body with little notice given to the footsteps. Arms and hands move fluidly, like serpents or ribbons in the air. Unusual strength and control is demonstrated in the belly area.)

Soon, there is a clip of Veronica dancing at a private party in Bandra and the amazing thing is that she is doing it on top of a table, with an Egyptian sword as a prop. In one scene, she manages to balance the sword on a fold of her stomach, without holding it, and is still able to gyrate sexily. Then she puts the sword on her head and again, is able to balance it and dance as well. She ends her performance with an Indian touch: the Nataraja pose. There are cries of ‘Wow, that’s great, that’s fantastic” from the girls.

The Brazil-Peru connection

Veronica, the daughter of a retired Peruvian army general and a Brazilian mother, grew up in Rio de Janeiro and Lima. She started dancing from the age of five—ballet, acrobatic gymnastics, the Peruvian dance, marinera, the samba and salsa—till at 21, she discovered belly dancing and fell in love with it.

“In belly dancing, you work with three parts,” she says. “The chest, belly and hips. You can make movements like walking around, and use your arms but it is mainly these three parts which are used.” To be aware of the movements, she says, you have to go back into your body and try to be aware of each part. “Dance should be a sort of meditation,” she says. To develop awareness, a knowledge of yoga helps, she says. She has been dancing for the past eight years and says it takes about fifteen years to master the art.

The Indian experience

So how did she come to India? Last year, after extensive travels in Europe, she ended up in Bangkok. “There were so many friends there who urged me to come to India because it is the mother of all cultures, history, art and religion.” She took the plunge last December and came to Mumbai and fell in love with the place instantly. “Mumbai is a place that welcomes everybody with open arms,” she says.

Her 25-odd students are also taking to the classes with open arms. When asked about the dancing capabilities of Indian women, she says, “They are pretty good because they have been exposed to dance from their childhood: through television, Bollywood movies, weddings, and on the streets during festivals.”

One of the regulars is actress Masumeh Makhija. “Belly dancing is all about isolating muscles and having grace,” she says. “It is a beautiful dance, and it is a great workout, as well.”

Joel Viegas, manager of Zenzi, analyses the response: “The classes are gaining in popularity through word of mouth. Initially, we were sceptical because there was a mind-set which felt that belly dancing was vulgar.” But now, he says, Zenzi has been getting a lot of calls from women, aged 18 to 40, who want to join. “The credit goes to Veronica who is a good teacher and very inspiring,” he says.

The inspiring Veronica plans to stay on for a year and then adds, with a laugh, “But if I fall in love with an Indian, I might live here forever.”

Monday, July 17, 2006

“My life has been shattered”

Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from Hindustan Times

Student counsellor Meeta Shah struggles to cope with the brutal death of her husband

Shevlin Sebastian

In the drawing room of the sixth floor flat of Meeta Shah, 44, at Dahisar, there are quite a few people, mostly women. Meeta is sitting on a dhurrie, beside a low windowsill, which has a garlanded portrait of her late husband Tushit, 44. Mita’s body is stiff with sorrow and her eyes have become red from too much crying. She sees me at the door and beckons with her hand. But in front of so many women, I prefer to stay where I am. Then one by one, they hug her, these colleagues of hers from the Oxford Public School at Charkop, where Meeta works as a student counsellor and they leave. “Be strong,” says one, in an orange saree.

It is a small drawing room, with a sofa at one side and a bookcase on the other, on which are placed a television set and a music system, while a guitar, encased in a cloth cover, is propped up against one corner. On the walls, there are three oil paintings of Lord Krishna, done in a deep hue of blue. She would tell me later that painting is a hobby. Besides Meeta, there is her brother, Hasit, her father and mother, two brother in laws with family, childhood friend Mayur Desai, and daughter, Esha, 16, wearing square black spectacles, and a white T-shirt with ‘Germany’ written across it.

I ask Meeta about how she heard the news and she says, “I was at a friend’s place when he mentioned the television was announcing bomb blasts on the local trains. I rushed home because that was the exact time when Tushit was usually on a train.” She tried several times to call his mobile, but could not get through. “I told my daughter Esha, ‘Keep on trying, keep on trying,’ she says. “All the lines were jammed. No calls were going through.”

In the end, it was a girl who was travelling in the compartment next to the first class compartment, which blew up at Jogeshwari, who got through to an uncle who called up Hasit. She had found the wallet and mobile phone. “I assume it must have fallen from his pocket,” says Meeta. “She told the uncle, Tushit was being sent to one of the hospitals but she could not say which one because she was not allowed to get into the ambulance.”

So Meeta and Esha, along with a neighbour and his wife, rushed to Goregaon, where they checked the municipal hospital there. But the hospital authorities directed them to go to Cooper Hospital in Vile Parle. From South Mumbai, Hasit and his parents, an uncle and a cousin had also set out for Coopers while Mayur set out from Dahisar.

When they reached Cooper’s, it was a complete chaos. “It seemed like a slaughter house,” says Meeta. “The bodies were all piled up, one on top of the other. We had to trample over different bodies to check.”

Says Hasit: “The hospital manpower and the management were grossly inadequate. The hygienic conditions were the worst that one could see. These government hospitals are a disaster.”

Finally, the authorities stationed the bodies in a streamlined manner and Tushit’s body was discovered by Mayur. After that, there was the hassle of getting the permission to take it away. “Initially, there was talk that all bodies would be released only after a post mortem,” says Hasit. “Naturally, this did not go down well with the people. Then a new order came which stated that the post mortem would be done on those bodies which had not been identified.”

There were more hassles: The police and the railway police had panchnamas to be filled. There were three copies to each but since there was a shortage of carbon paper and no photocopying machine, each copy had to be filled in individually or photocopied later. “There was a long queue,” says Meeta. But, thankfully, several JVPD volunteers were around to provide coffee, water, bananas and biscuits; people in the neighbourhood rushed to get forms photocopied. In the end, the Shahs were able to take Tushit’s body out at 3.30 am.

Meeta is shaking with sobs now. Mother and daughter cling to each other. Esha does not cry: tears just flow down her face silently. It is too painful to see. I look outside. There are plants placed on pots just outside the window on an iron grille. I can hear the chirping of sparrows. At a distance, there is a wide expanse of mangroves. When she recovers, I ask her of the last time she saw her husband alive.

“I saw him last when he left for his Worli office at 7.15 a.m.,” says Meeta. (Tushit worked as an equity dealer with Brics Securities Limited). “We had tea, he had toast and butter and he was very happy.” Esha, who had finished her Class Ten exams, had just got her admission confirmed in nearby Patkar College with great difficulty. “I had to formally get Esha’s admission that day,” continues Meeta. “So he told me, ‘Go fast and get everything done, we will go out for a celebratory dinner.’”

Tushit was wearing black trousers and a white shirt with thin, red lines. “It gives a tinge of pink from a distance,” says Meeta. “I had selected it and it was one of my favourite shirts. My husband loved light colours.”

When I ask her whether he had any hobby, she says, “He always wanted to learn to play the guitar, because when he was younger, he could not afford to buy one.” Wife and daughter presented him with a guitar on his birthday, three years ago.

How was your marriage, I ask. “Tushit means heaven in Sanskrit, what else can I say,” she says. “I had a most beautiful marriage. On December 11, we would have completed 20 years. He said that on our 25th wedding anniversary, our daughter would be celebrating her 21st birthday and we should have a big party.” Meeta bursts into tears but recovers quickly and says, “Tushit had a lot of dreams for us.”

He had wanted to take a loan and buy a larger flat, so that Esha would have a room of her own. He also wanted to buy some property in his hometown of Baroda. And he had dreams for Esha. His daughter had secured 88% and a family friend, Vivek Mahajan, a professor of physics at National College had suggested that Esha should try to get admission for IIT. “Aim for the sky,” the professor had said, and Tushit had seconded it.

Asked about her husband’s qualities, she says, “He was very quiet, loving, affectionate and caring. He would never get scared, no matter how hard the challenge. He would say, ‘Difficult days will come but we should never run away.’ He went out of his way to help people. My husband taught me to be strong. Now I will see how much he has taught me.”

The silence hangs heavy in the room as I say my goodbye. Downstairs, when I step out of the elevator, I see that the Shah’s post box has a few letters in it but it has not been collected. At the housing society office, I meet retired administrator G.M. Mehta, who used to work in Mafatlal. He tells me Tushit was the secretary of the society. “He was a gentleman, who co-operated with everybody,” he says. At the gate, Brij Mohan, the guard who works for the Shivam Secuity Services, says simply, “He was a very nice man.” I spot Mayur, who is rushing back to his TV repairing shop, and I ask him to describe the body when he saw it first. It is too heart-rending to put it in words.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Staying afloat

Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from Hindustan Times

Despite a flood of criticism, BMC Commissioner Johny Joseph keeps his nerve and humanity

Shevlin Sebastian

“It is one of the few bungalows in the area, so it is easy to find,” says Reena Joseph, wife of Johny Joseph, the commissioner of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on the phone. And so it is: on the tony M.L. Dahanukar Marg, just behind Jaslok Hospital and beside the Port Trust bungalow is this cream-coloured heritage building.
As I walk into the driveway, the first thing that catches the eye are two geese soaking in the sun, on a grassy lawn, next to a small pond. Inside, the visitor’s room is tastefully furnished, with plush sofas, a thick carpet on the floor, an unsigned painting on the wall, and, on a wooden table pressed against the wall, ‘Happy Birthday to Daddy’ cards are placed standing up around a statue of Mother Mary. Joseph celebrated his 57th birthday on June 24.
The hospitality is quick: within minutes, a white uniformed butler brings tea, cakes, biscuits and some Kerala banana chips on a tray. Reena arrives first, wearing a white salwar kameez, with diamond earrings and a gold necklace, and is followed ten minutes later by Joseph.
One of the first things that strike you about the municipal commissioner is how short he is. Somehow, photographs and television images give the impression of a much taller man. He is around 5’ 3” but is dressed neatly in a black safari suit, with a Nokia mobile phone cradled in his right palm.
Battered by the press
For Joseph, the first thing he does in the morning is to wade through several English and Marathi newspapers, mainly the metro sections. “I have to see what is written against me,” he says, with a wry smile. “I study the complaints and set the agenda for redressing them. This is one valuable way of getting feedback.”
Is he happy with the coverage?
He looks at me steadily and there is a brief shake of the head. “Today, there is a continuous barrage of criticism,” he says. “It is not encouraging. There are people in the various wards who have worked days and nights during the recent rains but it has not been appreciated. Elsewhere in the world, like during 9/11 and Katrina, the coverage was constructive. You should focus on what we are doing, instead of just criticising.”
I ask Reena, 53, about what she feels about the criticism and she says, “Last year, I used to get hurt. But now I have got used to it and don’t care a damn.”
She is a nice foil to Joseph. While he is reserved and reticent, she is effervescent, ever-smiling and looks younger than her age. A former primary school teacher, she has become an expert in vermicompost. “No waste is thrown out in our house,” she says. “It is used to grow plants and vegetables. I have also set up a water harvesting system. Because when the BMC is preaching it, we should set an example.” She has been trying to spread the vermicompost concept in various places in the city. Suddenly, she says, “I have something to say to the people. As a citizen, please sit back and think for five minutes: Are you doing your duty? Do you not fail to segregate waste at home? Do you not throw garbage on the road? Do you not throw plastic packets in the gutter?” She pauses and then adds, “It is so easy to criticise the BMC.”

Early life
Joseph was born in Thiruvananthapuram, the son of an additional secretary in the state finance department. He did his schooling there and graduated from the Government Engineering College. He worked for three months at the Durgapur Steel Plant in West Bengal before he was selected for the IAS and embarked on a successful bureaucratic career (see box). Throughout his career, his wife has been his anchor. They have been married for 31 years and live alone in Mumbai. They have two children, George, 30, and Mary Anne, 22. While George---who is married to his classmate Smriti, a Saraswat Brahmin--is doing his doctorate in pharmacoeconomics in Los Angeles, Mary Anne is about to complete her final year exams for her MBBS degree at Pune.
I ask Joseph about the effect his career has had on the family. “They have had to make a lot of sacrifices, so I could roam around freely,” he says.
In public life, is it possible to balance career and family life?
He presses his lips together and says, “It is very difficult but my children are very understanding. At this moment, my career takes up 90 per cent of my time.”
Do you feel bad about it?
“Yes, I do feel bad about it. But if you want to do justice to the job, you have to devote many hours. I work for about 14 hours a day. The BMC has an annual budget of Rs 9000 crore, which is more than the budget of many states and there is a whole gamut of activities I have to oversee.”
Your children may be understanding now but not when they were younger?
“It was not so bad when the children were very young. Because, at that time, I was not the municipal commissioner.” And for the first time, Joseph laughs and continues to do so as he watches the antics of the geese.
Here a goose, there a gander
Photographer Natasha Hemrajani wants the geese to be involved in the photo shoot. But they are least interested. They flap their wings and run hither and thither on their webbed feet, as two workmen in khaki, chase them up and down the courtyard. It is good fun and it takes some time before both are caught. While this drama is going on, I ask Joseph: how do people react when they see you on the street?
“Most people react positively,” says Joseph. “I have got a lot of appreciative telephone calls from places like Chembur, Kalina and the Air India Colony, where we have managed to solve some problems. But nowadays, I am also getting a lot of hate messages through SMS asking me to RESIGN!” He emphasises the word.
“The job is not easy,” he continues. “The basic infrastructure, especially the drainage, cannot be set right in one or two years. And we also have to deal with the displacement and resettlement of human beings. But, to be frank, it is very difficult for the civic infrastructure to keep pace with the burgeoning population.”
Efficient guy
Joseph has been in the hot seat for more than two years and has withstood several calls for his removal. So what do others think about him? On a morning run in Santa Cruz, I overhear a woman telling a companion, “The disaster management cell of the BMC is a disaster.” When I stop to inquire, Celine Castellino says a tree had fallen in her garden in Willingdon Colony. When the BMC workers came, they were unable to cut it because the electric saw was not working. “Tell Mr Joseph he has no idea of what is happening at the grassroots level,” she says.
Kapil Gupta, a professor of civil engineering at IIT, says, “It is easy to blame Joseph but it is the rot of 40 years which cannot be corrected in one year. Thanks to his engineering background, he quickly understood the need of setting rain gauges all over the city.” Well-known architect Hafeez Contractor says, “He is very effective. He does not give false promises and is approachable.” And here’s the ever-loyal Reena with the last say: “He is calm, serene, intelligent and has a good memory. He also has a very good sense of humour.”
It seems so. Because when I ask him how he handles politicians in the corporation, he says, “A politician thinks of the next election, a statesman of the next generation.’”


Asst. Collector, JalgaonCEO, Zilla Parishad, AkolaCollector, ChandrapurDy. Secretary, Ministry of Steel, DelhiPrivate Secretary to Minister, (I & B)Dy. Director General, AIRCollector, MumbaiSecretary to Governor of MaharashtraSecretary (Relief & Rehabilitation) for Latur EarthquakePrincipal Secretary to Chief MinisterMunicipal Commissioner

Monday, July 03, 2006

'I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown'

Permission to reprint this article has to be obtained from Hindustan Times

Just-retired Justice B.N. Srikrishna talks about the riots commission and looks back on a distinguished career

Shevlin Sebastian

“How bestial human beings are. It was heart-rending. Before the Commission, [Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry], I used to know about human bestiality by reading about it in books and articles. But when a human being, who has been tortured and maimed, and whose dear ones have been burnt alive, gives evidence under oath, you live it. It was the most traumatic experience of my life.
“It changed my personality. For a person who never loses his temper, I became short-tempered and would fly off the handle. As to why this happened to me, it was because of this constant listening to these painful stories.
“Five years of exposure was too much. I could not sleep at night. I had nightmares. You must have read stories of how the Vietnam war veterans became psychologically disturbed. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But it was my personality, education, training, philosophy, daily meditation and religious training which pulled me back from the brink.”

Retired Justice B.N. Srikrishna, 65, clad in a dark blue T-shirt, sits behind a semi-circular glass-topped table in his first floor study at Matunga on a cloudy Tuesday afternoon. Through the open window, I can see the large green playing fields of the Don Bosco School. In the light drizzle, school kids, in white singlets and shorts are shouting and laughing as they run after a football, now slipping on the wet grass, now swerving around a pool of water in front of the goal. The football fever is on…

Inside, the judge’s eyes are pools of tranquillity and sadness. On his table, he has an IBM laptop and a personal computer. And all around are ceiling-high bookcases. Behind him, there is a large painting of his father, the late Narayan Swamy, who was once a leading labour lawyer, and various pictures of the Shankaracharyas of Sringeri. Last month, Srikrishna retired as a Supreme Court judge, and as he heads towards the autumn of his life, he looks back on a distinguished career in an exclusive talk with HT.

“There was a lot of pressure on me when I was in charge of the Commission,” he says. “My friends, colleagues and fellow judges kept saying, ‘Don’t do this, why are you wasting your time?’ ‘Wrap it up soon.’ Because, anyway, the Shiv Sena-led government would not implement the recommendations.”

Clearly, his severe indictment of the Shiv Sena, its chief Bal Thackeray and MLA Madhukar Sarpotdar, among others, was unacceptable to the then ruling party. So, after all this hard work, was he disappointed that nothing was done? “I did what my conscience told me to do,” he says. “Later, the affected people came and told me the report was not being implemented. I said, it was between them and the government. As a judge I had done my job. But I hope nothing like this happens again. It was a gruesome experience for everybody concerned.”

When asked whether he felt his life was ever in danger, he said, “Never.” And he tells me the story of how when he was appointed to the commission, the police commissioner said he would have to provide security. Srikrishna resisted by saying that, despite the best security, several American presidents and a couple of Indian and Sri Lankan prime ministers had been assassinated. But the commissioner said it was his duty to provide security. “So, I said, ‘Yes, please do your duty.’ Then he provided a van full of armed policemen outside my house. They were all sitting there one afternoon, and right behind their backs, a thief entered my house through the balcony and stole the VCR. So much for the security.” Srikrishna laughs when he recalls the irony of the situation.

Early days

Srikrishna, who was born on May 21, 1941, belongs to a family of eight siblings. And, right from childhood, the right values were instilled in them. “My parents taught me to be honest,” he says. “They taught me not to hurt people and to never cheat, not even at income tax, which everybody does.”
Srikrishna had originally enrolled for a masters in physics, “but one day, when I had an argument with my father he told me that it requires a special intelligence to be a lawyer,” he says. “So I said, ‘Okay, if you can be a lawyer, I can be one.’ The next day I went and joined Law College, much to the horror of my science professors.”

Later, he took his masters in law from Bombay University and an MA in Sanskrit from Mysore University. Like his father, he also had a successful career as a lawyer till his appointment as a judge in 1990.

View of life

When I ask him about his philosophy, he says, “Let me tell you a Sanskrit shloka.” He says the first two lines and then pauses, as he struggles to remember and then after a few moments of silence, it comes out smoothly: Akritvaa para santaapam, agatvaa khalamandiram, anutsrijya sataam vartma, yat svalpamapi tadbahu. (‘Without causing distress to a fellow human being, without having to go begging to a crook, without swerving from the path of rectitude, whatever little you earn, that should be enough for you.’)

He mentions the astonishing fact that he does not own any property anywhere and has been living in a rented flat since 1949. “Because I steadfastly refused to pay black money, I am unable to own property,” he says. “You go to the registrar’s office, you will get sick of it. For a child’s admission, people say, ‘Paise lao.” You want a ration card, you have to give money.”

Can anything be done about the corruption?

“Unfortunately, everybody talks about it but nobody wants to take action,” he says. “The only way to solve the problem is for each person to take a resolve that, come what may, I will not give bribes.”

An aunt of his brings two cups of steaming coffee on a tray and Srikrishna says, “Come, let us take a break. It is nice to have hot coffee in this cool weather.”

What other people say

One night, I call up Shiv Sena leader Madhukar Sarpotdar to find out his views of Srikrishna. He asks me three times whether Srikrishna has actually retired. “No need for me to check,” he says.

“No, no need,” I say.

“Okay, then I am ready to talk.”

Here is a bit of background: In the seventies, Sarpotdar was corporate industrial relations manager in Johnson India Limited, at Thane and Srikrishna was the legal counsel. They had a professional relationship, which lasted for more than a decade. So when I ask him about Srikrishna, Sarpotdar says, “He is a very good human being. And as a legal counsel, he was the best fighter.”

So what is his view of the report on the riots which indicted him?

“I don’t have any anger towards him,” he says. “After all, a judge is a judge. But Srikrishna is just a human being. He is not Bhagwan Srikrishna.”

Sarpotdar laughs when he says this and adds curiously, “When he entered the company of all those high court judges, he seems to have changed his views. He became a very secular person.”

Does that mean he was not secular before?

“I didn’t say that,” he says.

On another day, I go across to Worli to see S. Venkiteswaran, 66, a highly successful senior advocate who has known Srikrishna for close to half a century. I ask him about the judge’s qualities and he says, “The most wonderful quality is his absolute, blunt honesty. He will not tell a lie, nor will he countenance a lie. He is very patient and studious, and I have never seen him raise his voice or quarrel with anybody. Although I am told that during the Commission years, he did lose his temper a few times. Lastly, he is a very humble person, whose needs are very limited.”

But his knowledge is unlimited. Srikrishna is a polymath who can speak a dozen languages. He has an interest in refugee law and human rights' issues and has studied Indian philosophy. His passion is for Hindustani and Carnatic music. “It is said that music is an experience that falls only slightly short of the god experience,” he says. “That is, if you are listening to genuine music. There is a lot of trashy music nowadays. The test is this: does it move you or not? If it does, it is good. If not, it is bad.”

As we come to the end of an intense and exhilarating hour of conversation, and as the rain abates, I say, “Are you happy now that you are retired?”

He leans back in his chair and, for the first time in the interview, seems to be at a loss for words. “I don’t miss the fanfare of being a Supreme Court judge,” he says, slowly. “But I miss the work. Now I have so much time on my hands, I don’t know what to do. But I am sure I will find something to do.”

A whole lot of gas

Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from Hindustan Times

Anand Karve wins the Ashden Award for an innovative biogas plant

Shevlin Sebastian

His office is spartan: a table, some chairs, an almirah and walls that are bare, except for a plaque given by the Entrepreneurs Club of Pune. But the man has a towering presence. At 6’, with broad shoulders, a straight back, a glowing face and piercing eyes, Dr Anand Karve, (70), radiates the energy and confidence of a much younger man.
The founder-president of the Appropriate Rural Technology Institute (ARTI) has every reason to feel on top of the world. The institute has won its second Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy (Food) last week and Karve was present in London to receive a prize of Rs 25 lakhs. Incidentally, the Ashden Awards are regarded as the Green Oscars. The ARTI has won for designing a compact biogas system where food waste, instead of dung, is used to produce gas for cooking.
So what exactly is this award-winning product? For the past hundred years, scientists had the conviction that biogas could only be made from dung. But, to produce one kilo of gas, you need 40 kgs of dung. One day, Karve had a brainwave. “In all the fermentation technologies, sugar is used as a substrate,” he says. “So I fed sugar, instead of dung, and discovered that with one kilo, I was getting the same amount as 40 kgs of dung. It was a Eureka moment.”
Apart from sugar, you can also use food waste like chapattis, rice, fruits or vegetables. But all this waste has to be put into a mixer and ground to a pulp. The reason? “The bacteria, which converts the pulp into biogas, have evolved in the intestines of animals, so they are used to getting their food chewed by somebody else,” says Karve.
So far, the popularity of the bio gas plant has been mostly in the rural areas: 800 biogas plants have been sold so far, mostly through word of mouth. I decided to ask an end user about the product.
Two streets away from the ARTI office, which, by the way, is located in Dhayarigaon, which is several kilometres from Pune, I go and meet Kavita Yadav. She stays in a cream coloured house, with an asbestos roof. Only 23, newly married, and though alone, she still shows me the biogas plant, which is at one corner of the plot. “We have been using it for the past six months,” says Kavita. “It is very good and cheap. All we need to do is to put a kilo of atta (flour) every day. We buy rotten atta from the ration shop at Rs 2 a kg.” She says all the meals are cooked using the biogas. “Except for chapattis, for which I use the LPG stove,” she adds.
Back at the ARTI office, Karve leads me to the back of the building. At some distance away, surrounded by trees and wildly growing grass, there is an open space where all the tanks are stored. To set up a plant, it costs Rs 9000. Two tanks are needed: the 1000 litre tank acts as the fermenter, while the 750 litre tank acts as the gas holder. “The two tanks telescope into each other,” says Karve.
There is a shed nearby and Karve’s assistant, Rahul Wagmare, beckons me in. On a wooden table, there is a stove, and several used matchsticks. Clearly, he has been lighting up to show many visitors. One more match is struck, and the gas bursts into a clear blue flame. It rises much higher than the flame from a LPG gas stove.
“With one kilo of feedstock, you can use it for two hours a day,” says Karve, from the door.
What happens if one has to cook an elaborate meal, with rice and chicken and fish curry?
“If you use the pressure cooker, you will be able to manage,” says Karve. “But if you are cooking in an open pot, it will take much longer. Almost 100 per cent of our clients also have LPG cylinders.”
For flat dwellers in the city, there is one major problem: the plant has to be kept in the sun. “The bacteria comes from the intestines of animals and they are used to operating at a heat of 38 degrees Centigrade,” says Karve. But he is planning to insulate the tanks.
So far, so good. What, then, is the expert opinion? In an e-mail, Sarah Butler-Sloss, Executive Chair of the Ashden Awards, writes: “ARTI’s biogas technology tackles the growing problem of disposing of food waste, which would otherwise be left in the streets. The other impressive aspect is the small amounts of feedstock needed and the rapid production of gas – 48 hours, rather than the 30 or 40 days needed in existing dung-based biogas plants.”
But there are dissenting voices. Says Dr Uday Bhawalkar, director of the Bhawalkar Ecological Research Institute at Pune: “It is a good technology, provided waste food is available. Should the food be eaten or should it be wasted? Should you put more food on your table and then waste it, in order to produce biogas?” It is a question that does not seem to bother Karve or the ARTI. Recently, the Shell Foundation gave Rs 1.83 crore to ARTI to fund a programme called ‘Commericialisation of Bio Mass Based Fuel and Cooking Systems’. The idea is to reach 15 lakh people in Maharashtra by 2009. Is it feasible? “We have a network of 20 NGOs who are working at the grassroots level,” says Karve. “Also, 20 project officers will go all over the state explaining the biogas concept to people.”