For the love of mangoes!

So, clearly it’s that time of the year when sun is very – very sunny. Drool for the pulpy – splashy yellow colour that satiates the taste buds…err…sorry – I meant the eyes! A friend of mine has a PhD in food processing something. You know she’s very intelligent. She told me that a new era has dawned for mango lovers, with the formation of chemical ‘X’ – perhaps, carbide calcium… calcium carbide something – any way the well read people call it chemical ‘X’. According to her, only those mangoes are the healthiest and tastiest those are cuddled and caressed with the love of chemical ‘X’.

Of course! The kind hearted woman that she is, she spread this word everywhere for the welfare of the people, by publishing her articles on the hot topic. I tell you this topic was much covered in almost all the national dailies. Certainly by the time mangoes arrived in the market, people were very well informed. They went in hordes to the vendors. How delicious the mangoes looked! Bright, beautiful and golden yellow with unique patches of green, unlike the monotonous blending of yellow and green (that’s so organic). Therefore, most of my friends had interesting stories to share.

Obviously since they had read the articles, they definitely had to go and buy those chemical ‘X’ kissed –other worldly pieces of work. So, one of them who has a big family told me that her father brought boxes of mangoes one day. The family had a lovely evening in their garden while enjoying the mangoes, dipped in the big buckets full of water. While relishing mangoes, not two or three but six or seven, her eldest aunt got so ecstatic that she ended up dancing high with blood pressure and spent the entire night under shower. Of course, so that she can save on bathing the next day and begin with her mango mania again. Such is the love!

Another one told me, yet more benefits of these new mangoes in the market. Since she was expecting her first child, she wanted to eat the healthiest fruits; and mangoes were her favourite. Her busy doctor was very strict about her eating habits and would monitor her babys health every month. And oh my! How my friend would always fret over getting appointments with her doctor. Since the doctor was so busy, she would keep my friend waiting for weeks. However, this time the miracle happened! After eating a few slices of mango, apparently the baby kicked the aamras out (I think in the form of a mucky material through the mouth) and my friend landed an appointment in the surgery, the very next hour. Such a help for getting appointments with the doctors!

For my concerned reader- she had a baby boy – he is fit and kick ass.

Last but not the least, when I was a kid, my maali uncle told me while pruning the mango tree, that when Baabar came to India – he did not know how to eat mangoes. But when he tasted one, he fell for the charm of aamras and fell in the spring of never leaving India.

 Well, I was just thinking… he should have rather tried the chemical ‘X’ ones!! Perhaps, a different spring would have emerged.


Sneer - Wikipedia
the pronunciation sneers have become a tell tale of people’s character, being and the many shades in between.

Being a creative writer it is but natural for me to observe people and places around me. And out of the many observations that I have made, there is a rather interesting one about sneers – a series of pronunciation sneers I would say, that have taken birth out of the British American pronunciation dichotomy since on one hand we deal with a colonial hangover, while on the other a Hollywood hangover. These hangovers reflect the great Indian tragicomedy aptly because neither the French would have replied nor the Irish would have served their coffee on being talked in English, but the Indian would have gladly jumped in a competition of spoken English (as much hilarious it might become at times!).However, over the years this did not stop the sneers to become the tell-tale of people’s character, being and the many shades in between.

 So if you compliment a girl for the lovely flower on her dress with the British pronunciation of ‘flaa-vur’ and not the American ‘flaaa-r’ accent…oh boy! No matter even if you read at Eton in England she would still give you ‘educated from village school’ sneer. Well, that is your cue. She is certainly not the soul companion you’re looking for – get going.

Then there is the ‘confused kitty party’ sneer. It often happens over kitty parties when a lady from one corner of the table shares her tested and tried tomato soup recipe with the tomato being a British ‘tmaa-to’. While the American harbinger on the other end throws in few of her ‘tme-tos’ in the recipe and both the women end up thinking am I wrong or is she right? In such scenarios, it is best to let them stay confused.

Well then there is the ‘old school’ sneer. When over whiskey two men of different generations share the tales of the same boarding school they went to with one telling that the housemaster did not open the ‘on-ve-lopes’ (he grew up watching Hollywood) during their times. While the older one replies that his was a different era with no letter being passed without the housemaster opening the ‘en-veh-lope’ (making sure he emphasizes the ‘en’ of his envelope; he grew up watching BBC).

Of course, the most common is the ‘desperately wanting to speak in English’ sneer. So if you go to your doctor complaining phlegm (the ‘g’ is not very silent in American pronunciation; try speaking with ‘g’) in your chest he would definitely have a silent laugh in his head because he would think you are trying to throw in English words but know nothing. Not his fault! Most people in India pronounce it with a silent ‘g’. Thanks, to our education system that follows British norms of language.

And then finally, last but not the least, there is the ‘run away’ sneer. This sneer generally works the other way round with the speaker being sneered at because he or she is neither speaking British nor American. So when a haughty flashy person comes and flaunts his neon jacket telling you it’s a Givenchy (‘gee-van-chy’) instead of the French ‘zhu-vaun-shee’, you know it’s time to slip away!


Come September and we are at the cusp of festivity in India. The lovely curls of the athletic model on the glossy magazine cover, the futuristic angular sleeve dress worn at a sun downer or that Cleopatra gold shimmering eye make-up you saw your friend wear – all metamorphoses into Indie fusion festive trends in India around this corner of the year. So gaining inspiration from the Indian and International Fashion Week Runways 2021, here are 5 fashion trends to brush you up with, that are here to stay this festive season!

Color Code

Generally, the transition from summer to winter means saying goodbye to vibrant bold hues and hello to shades of blue, gray, green, brown and burgundy. Yet, this time bold monochromes with dash of sindhi gold will take festive wear by storm. “Colour Blocking will pick up attention in Indian wear. Having said that, butter cream and coconut cream for bridals and festive collection will rule the roost too this time” predict Chandigarh based fashion designers Navneet and Harpeet Toor of the Moods and Colours label.

Malaika Arora  in a maroon Manish Malhotra piece
at the Lakme Fashion Week 2021.

Floral Frenzy

Not paisleys but florals will be the center stage this festive season. Florals with more saturated – muted tones with sequins and sparkle will be trending the Festive Look Book 2021. From Dolce and Gabbana to Abujani and Sandeep Khosla, all are digging in for florals in one way or the other because floral print is a trend that just won’t end.

Jennifer Lopez setting major floral goals in a Dolce & Gabbana ensemble.

Back to the Roots

The covid pandemic has left an indelible imprint on the fashion industry, favourably spotlighting the trends that are more sustainable, conscious and rooted in traditions. Fast fashion has paved way for slow fashion which means limited but exclusive fashion pieces for the closet. So the pandemic can be credited with one good thing at least that the hand looms and works of traditional embroidery artisans are seeing the light of the day once again.

Shraddha Kapoor donning a handloom saree at a recent event.

Make Up alamode

“Make up has been an ever evolving world of stains, colours and glitter. 2021 Festive season will also not be shy of experiments”, says Mumbai based make-up artist Ritika Cheema. “Dewy skin make up look for the face or nude soft tinted lips and cheeks with strong liner and mascara laden eyes are some of the looks that we should be prepared to see this festive season”, she further added. The romantic red pout with sheer skin or shades of pink – peach shadows with nude lips are some other make up trends to watch out for.

Dewy makeup never goes wrong. Gidi Hadid looking a dream vision.

Hair on Fleek

Festive season is always about renewal and our hair play a major role in setting any sort of new vibe one intends to don on. Bob cuts above shoulder level, fringes, 70’s flip hair are some hair trends that will rock on this time. According to the senior hair stylist at the Mohali based The Hair And Body Lounge, “Slick back combed hair is the perfect runway inspired look for this festive season but beach waves, face contouring highlights are equally trendy and in fashion these days for Indian party looks”.

Alia Bhatt in slicked back hair looks every bit a Diva!


SUNDAY FEATURE: In the Island of Masks – Majuli

Throughout the world masks have been prevalent in rituals and festivities since antiquity. Hollywood movies and popular English Literature has much familiarized us with masks at the masquerade parties in the West. But not many know that India too has a unique cultural legacy of masks and mask making. This fantastic mask craftsmanship has been preserved and is being passed on from generation to generation on a tranquil riverine island of Majuli on the Brahmaputra River in Assam. Today Majuli has carved a special place for itself amongst culture aficionados across the world, especially for its art of mask making.

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Beauty of Majuli lies in its remoteness

Inside Majuli

The island of Majuli can be accessed by ferries via Jorhat city. The dock on the island gives it a barren and desolate look but do not fall for this mirage because as you wheel inside, Majuli welcomes you with lush greenery and offers you the colours, tastes, music, art, languages and traditions of Assam and its tribal communities, especially if you visit it during the festive season around Dussehra and Diwali. Inside Majuli, the island is best enjoyed on bicycles and bikes. The rustic thatched bamboo huts in traditional Mishing style on river side or in the fields create picturesque scenes that calm the mind. As you traverse across Majuli, it is worth observing the everyday life of the agrarian folk here. Homestays are quite popular on this island where the local freshly brewed rice beer and authentic delicacies like Porang Apin (rice cooked in tora leaves), Pamnam (fish baked in banana leaves) among others provide a new experience to the palate.

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Performance at a Satra in Majuli

The island of Majuli is also the seat of neo-Vaishnavite culture of Assam that houses Satras or monasteries that have been established here by Mahapurush Sankardeva in late 15th century. The fine details on the decorative wood panels on some of the ancient Satras here represent the tribal art, folk culture and also the heritage of Ahom Kingdom. These Satras are now important centres of traditional performing arts. Each Satra has a distinct identity and serves as a sanctorium to a different art form. For instance, the Auniati Satra stores ancient artifacts and is famous for traditional Mishing tribal dances and Paalnaam which is form of congregational prayer.

The Dakhinpat and Garamur Satras stage raas leela and bhaonas which are theater performances that make use of the popular dramatic masks made exclusively in Majuli. The most renowned amongst these is Shamaguri Satra that has brought Majuli to the foreground for its art of mask making with some of its remarkable folk creations also being exhibited in Victoria and Alberta Museum in London.

Use of Indigenous material

Majuli is world renowned for its folk art of mask making

What differentiates these masks from other folk masks across the country is that they are made from indigenous material of the island and not plaster of paris, and without the use of synthetic colours. The techniques used for it are in fact being used since medieval times where special attention is paid to the intricate details and technicality (now there are also new kinds of masks that have movable jaws making dialogue delivery easier). The traditional art of making masks is passed down from father to son or from the guru or teacher at the Satra to the students.

The technique involves making a three dimensional bamboo framework onto which clay dipped pieces of cloth are plastered. After drying it, a mix of clay and cow dung is layered on it for adding details and giving depth to the mask. Jute fibers and water hyacinth are used for beard, mustaches and hair. Once the mask is complete, a kordhoni (bamboo file) is used to burnish the mask. And finally, the zeal and drama is given to the masks through deft painting. The mask makers of Majuli preferably use vegetable dyes and colours derived from hengul (red) and hentul (yellow) stones.

The three dimensional bamboo framework

There are three different types of masks that are made. The ‘Mukha bhaona’ covers the face, ‘Lotokoi’ which is bigger in size extends to the chest and ‘Cho Mukha’ is a head and body mask. The masks are made exactly the way luminary Sankardeva described the characters in his ‘Ankitya Natya’ from which bhaonas have emerged. These bamboo masks are very light in weight, making it convenient and comfortable for the performers to put them on. It takes approximately ten to fifteen days to make them.

It is but natural that when you visit this Satra, you have faces of gods, goddesses, demons, fiends, ogres and all kinds of interesting otherworldly characters with raised brows and flared nostrils from Indian mythology and folklore, as attendees either smiling or scoffing at you, spicing your visit to the otherwise peaceful Majuli.

Masks of Majuli
 Fact File

Where: Majuli is the first island district of India located in the Brahmputra river that passes through the beautiful and enthralling Assam.

What else to watch: Majuli is a birdwatchers delight. Rare species of migratory birds arrive here in winter.

Best time to travel: The Island is open throughout the year but October-November is the best time to experience the island in its full vibrancy and festivity.

How to reach: It is a 15km drive from the city of Jorhat to Nimati Ghat from where the island of Majuli can be accessed through ferries. If you’re in luck you can catch a glimpse and enjoy the extraordinary scenes during sunrise and sunset (although ferries generally start by 8:00 am and end by 4:00 pm; timing varies according to season).

Where to stay: There are many hotels and homestays in Majuli. The Satras also offer guesthouses to the devotees and tourists alike.    

Published in The Tribune on 29.11.2020

SUNDAY FEATURE: The Romance of Hand-Knitting!

Knitting is a craft in which sweetness is infused and calm induced

“In the rhythm of the needles, there is music for the soul”

That time of the year when light breeze gently feathers across the skin and the sun cheers everyone with the loveliness of its sunshine. When the earth smells of ripeness and fullness, fruit and bounty; and the air is filled with notes of love and laughter. It is then that many sitting in their cozy nooks pick up the needles to knit comfort and warmth, stitch by stitch, for the approaching winters. Knitting has always been associated with peace, healing and pleasant childhood memories. Hand knitting is a beautiful expression of love involving the use of two or more needles to loop yarn into a series of interconnected loops in order to create a finished garment. It is a craft that has given comfort to many a generation across the globe since ages.

A brief history

Most histories of knitting place its origin somewhere in the Middle East, and from there it spread to Europe by Mediterranean trade routes, and later to the Americas with European colonization. The oldest knitted artifacts are socks from Egypt, dating from 11th century C.E. While in Europe the earliest known knitted items can be traced to the Spanish Christian Royal families who employed Muslim knitters. Several paintings from Europe portray the Virgin Mary knitting including ‘Our Lady Knitting’ by Tommaso da Modenna. There is also mention of knitting in the plays by Shakespeare that were written between 1590 and 1610. In 17th and 18th century hand knitting became an important occupation in Scottish Isles. By mid 19th century hand knitting declined due to the increasing use of mechanical knitting machines. In India, scholars do not have a fixed time period assigned to the introduction of knitting. There is no ancient word in Sanskrit for knitting. Even in Hindi language, the term for knitting is bunaai which means weaving. Textile expert Toolika Gupta is of the opinion that when knitting was introduced in India, it was instantly called bunaai for lack of better word.  Therefore, the word ‘weaving’ or bunaai has been synonymous with knitting in this country.

Present scenario

The popularity of any craft has always swayed along the ongoing fashions of the eras and the changing values of the society. The 1920s saw a rise in demand for sweaters and pull-overs with statement styles being set by the likes of Prince Wales (future Edward VIII) wearing Fair Isle sweater to play golf and Coco Chanel incorporating knitwear in high fashion. It was a much sort after craft during the war years too. Again in 1950s and 1960s knitting gained huge popularity with introduction of more bright colours and styles of yarn. But the point to be noted here is that knitting as a hand craft had already lost its charm by this time. It was in mid 19th century itself that hand knitting was taken over by knitting industry and survived only as hobby. By late 20th century it further saw a decline and was rarely taught as a craft in school. With many knitting groups emerging, 21st century indeed saw a resurgence of this craft amongst Millennials but still fails to pass on the skills of this craft to Gen Z who is more occupied with virtual world errands than the real world charm.

Great gift of knitting

Hand knitting is not merely a creative leisure activity. With increasing number of mental health issues, sense of lack, broken families – knitting is a craft that can provide immense therapeutic results. The truth is that the romance of hand knitting is vanishing when it is needed the most. Hand knitting relaxes the mind, soothing its electric sparks by focusing the thoughts in the moment. It makes you still, helps gather yourself and centers your being. More so, it disciplines the faculties of mind and body, thereby increasing patience and concentration. Pain specialists have found that hand knitting changes brain chemistry, resulting in an increase in ‘feel good’ hormones (i.e. serotonin and dopamine). Interestingly, the craft of hand knitting being a binary wrapping code of knit and purl stitches, serves as one of the best brain exercises to increase I.Q. as well. Studies have also shown that knitting has helped reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The gift of hand knitting certainly lies in its healing nature. It is a craft in which sweetness is infused and calm induced. As is said –

“Sweet contents knit in my soul, in a million happy stitches”

  So just do it!

Tools & Material: Knitting needles, yarns, row counter, stitch holder
Basics: Learn how to cast on the needle, i.e. put the yarn on the needle              Learn to do a knit stitch and purl stitch               Learn to cast off the live stitches              And you’re ready to make that scarf for this Christmas!

  Advanced stitches: Cable stitch, Plaited stitch, Dip stitch
Stitch patterns: Garter stitch, Basket stitch, Herrington stitch, Fishermen Rib stitch

Published in The Post India on 14.10.2020

SUNDAY FEATURE: The Old Bazaars of Punjab

The history of Punjab unfolds this land of five rivers as the birth place of Indus Valley Civilization, the land of warriors and of-course for its gastronomy. But little is realized that it has also been the land of remarkable trade and commerce that was quite sophisticated for its time. It is the old bazaars of Punjab that testify and give a glimpse even today to this rich history and culture as we lose ourselves in the charm of its old winding alleys.

Through the history

The undivided Punjab enjoyed an advantageous geographical position on the world’s silk route. This overland route created a potential market for the agricultural and non agricultural material resources of the region. Punjab became a commercial hub and crossroad for trade across Europe, Persia, Central Asia, Deccan and Delhi. A well developed process of bills of exchange called hundi system was used for the purpose of trading by the kafilahs or caravans of merchants, pilgrims and travelers.

However, the location of Punjab on the famous silk route was on one hand good for the trade but on the other hand was the source of instability bringing repeated invasion. The 18th century undivided Punjab  saw a low state of trade, not only because of foreign invasions but also because of the policies of various independent Sikh and Non-Sikh chiefs of Punjab. Nevertheless, the trade managed to chisel out its path through the vicissitudes of political turmoil. It is in the late 18th and early 19th century that the stability of the region restored under the powerful reign of Sher-e-Punjab Maharaja Ranjit Singh as Punjab entered its golden era.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the bazaar of Lahore; 19th century

With the partition of India in 1947, some of the old historic bazaars of undivided Punjab that included Multan, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Shikarpur went to the other side of Wagah border but the indelible imprint of the collective culture stayed. Within Punjab, as William Francklin puts, there was never a fixed route for trade but the most significant one lied between Amritsar to Patiala – the two cities that till date house the oldest bazaars of present day Punjab.

Amritsar to Patiala – The bazaars in the olden days!

The city of Amritsar was founded by the fourth Sikh Guru Ram Das ji in 1574 A.D. To initiate the economic activity he invited fifty-two traders from different sectors to settle here who started the first thirty-two shops in the city that was to become the grand emporium of trade in the coming times. Sugar, spice, rice, wheat, indigo, utensils and white cloth (the togas of upper class Romans and turbans of Central Asian Turks were all made of Indian white cloth) were the main items that the bazaars of Amritsar offered to the traders from other regions. The Asiatic Annual Register of 1809 mentions that Amritsar was the prominent hub of trade for shawls. Pashmina was imported from Kashmir and Tibet. Lungis and Dohar manufactured at Pakpattan, the famous ghee from Kamalia and Qabuli, ‘Nemuk Lahooree’ or salt from Lahore, turmeric from Kathua and saffron from Kashmir found market in the bazaars of Amritsar. From Persian side came the swords, horses and dry fruits.

An old picture of Hall Bazaar in Amritsar

During the British Raj, Amritsar was not only trading in shawls but also carpets, and piece goods, silk and woolen cloth. Indian textile industry catered to a quarter of worlds demand and Amritsar became one of the most flourishing textile production centres. Author Gurcharan Das points out that this trade with Europeans, however, was mainly balanced with gold and silver in the balance sheet as Indians were not much interested in British goods until the Industrial Revolution of 19th century. In fact, it is during this time that the cloth and carpet trade and production in Amritsar started to decline as the machines in the west supplanted the handlooms. However, this did not alter the energy of the bazaars as the city developed expertise in the culinary niche – making it the ‘Food Capital of Punjab’ – putting it on the world map for its mouth watering cuisine.

In between Amritsar and Patiala, the ancient cities of Jalandhar and Ludhiana were the other commercial hubs. Jalandhar founded by Devasya Verma as mentioned in Vedas, was famous for its fine textiles and the Nakodar chandeli fabric which were marketed to Lahore and Kashmir through the bazaars of Amritsar. While Ludhiana founded by the chiefs of Sikander Lodhi who was at the helm of power at Delhi in 15th century, had a full-fledged bazaar popularly called Chaura Bazaar renowned for its white cloth. The bazaar got further boost during British Raj as the city became an important British cantonment.

The Patiala State was founded by Baba Ala Singh in 1763 with the foundation of Quila Mubarak or Patiala Fort. It enjoys a special place in the history of Punjab as can be observed from folklore and tradition. After the decline of Maharaja Ranjit Singhs Empire, it was the royal house of Patiala that provided patronage to the artisans and musicians of the declining empire. Similarly, they gave patronage to the members of disintegrating Mughal court at Delhi and welcomed all the silver and gold smiths, parandi (ornament) makers, jutti  (shoe) makers and other artists. Eventually, the bazaar of Patiala began to develop and flourish around Quila Mubarak and became a creative hub. The Darshni Gate right outside the Quila in the bazaar became the jewelers’ souk with a Shiva temple opposite to it. While, paranda hattis andtraditional embroidery shops got established in the by-lanes webbed across.

Jump into the heart of action!

The bazaars of Punjab are as lively and bustling with energy as they were in the past. Only the wide alleys of these souks of past now look narrower in the present as we jump into the heart of action. There is chaos but also exotic vibrant charms as the architectural legacies overlook these bazaars.

As we enter the connected labyrinth of bazaars in the old walled city of Amritsar through the Gandhi Gate (also popularly called Hall Gate) and dodge across motorbikes and rickshaws or wander across the Town hall whose architecture reminds us of the imperial era, marvel at Sikh architectural features and frescos at Quila Ahluwalia in Hall Bazaar or take a deep sigh looking at the grandeur of Ram Bagh Gate that still stands in its original form in nanakshahi brick – there is plenty to occupy the mind (and senses!).

Quila Ahluwalia in Amritsar

The famous lassi (buttermilk), Amritsari Kulche (a unique bread) and kulfi faluda (ice cream)at Katra Jaimal Singh Bazaar; the tongue tantalizing aam papad, pickle and papad wadia (spicy lentil balls used in curries) at Ram Bagh Bazaar; the beautiful gold jewellery at Guru Bazaar (a souk much frequented by British ladies during British Raj); exquisite textiles at Shastri Bazaar; or a walk through the newly revived Heritage street to visit Golden Temple simply transports to the olden days.

Creamy lassi at Katra Jaimal Singh Bazaar

 Not to miss the Bartan Bazaar that provides market to the brass and copper utensils that are made in Amritsar which have been enlisted on the UNESCO’s list of ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’. The curious fascinating feel of walking through these bazaars, comes from the knowledge of the fact that there is a network of ancient tunnels (some branch out from Quila Ahluwalia and Ram Bagh Palace to mention a few) underneath, above which the whole bazaar bustles every single day.

Similarly, the Chaura Bazaar in Ludhiana extending from famous colonial clock tower to the Ghas Mandi is now famous for hosiery, apparel and garments, machine parts. The World Bank ranked Ludhiana as the city with best business environment in India in 2009 and 2013. The only surviving structure from ancient period in the city is the Purana Quila or Lodhi Fort which is about twenty minutes away from Chaura Bazaar. Heading to the bazaars of Patiala, the old world charm starts much before we reach the Anardana chowk. Some of the old shops still have clearly defined Sikh architectural features like embellished parapets, chattris or domes and pilasters. These shops stand distinct and graceful next to the new fashionable facades in the market.

Busy lanes of Adalat Bazaar

 The pulsing Adalat bazaar is replete with beautiful phulkaris (folk embroidery of Punjab) and rich fabrics like silks and satins showcasing some of the finest embroideries that are done by karigars or craftsmen of Patiala, Lucknow and Kolkata. The dyers of Patiala who have been traditionally dying the turban cloth of famous Patiala Shahi Turban, in the royal state colours of soft pink and lemon, are till date running their shops in Adalat Bazaar. As we go deep into the souk, there are many offshoots to other bazaars and popular lanes.

Silk thread Phulkari

The colourful paranda (traditional silk or cotton thread hanging used as hair ornament by Punjabi women) bazaar near Quila Mubarak; the famous jutti lane near Tope Khana road in Adalat bazaar; the heat and the smell of spices in the Gur Mandi are all exotic experiences with their own enticement that these bazaars offer even today. These bazaars of Punjab are living specimens of our grand history – the thriving hubs of our culture and tradition.

Published in The Post India on 22.9.2020