While Samira Ahmed reportedly receives 440 British pounds per episode, a male BBC host Jeremy Vine, receives 3,000 pounds an episode.
  • Thursday, October 31, 2019 - 07:42

In a case that could set a historic precedent towards narrowing the gender pay gap in journalism, BBC presenter Samira Ahmed has launched a landmark equal pay case against the British public service broadcaster. According to The Guardian, Samira says she was paid 85% less than a male presenter at an equivalent level. Her case is being supported by the National Union of Journalists. 

Samira is reportedly demanding back-pay worth hundreds of thousands of pounds for her work on Newswatch, a programme presented by Samira since 2012 that allows viewers to air their comments and concerns on the BBC's coverage. While she reportedly receives 440 British pounds per episode, a male BBC host Jeremy Vine, who presents the programme Points of View, receives 3,000 pounds an episode. 

In the case, Samira’s side will argue that both Newswatch and Points of View are similarly-presented programmes that last about 15 minutes. Both programmes allow viewers to voice their opinions, and Samira is arguing that she deserves equal pay.

However, the opposition is expected to argue that the programmes are not similar and are different formats for different audiences, reports say. 

Samira arrived at the central London employment tribunal on Monday morning. The case will be heard over the next seven days. 

In a statement, Samira said, “I love my job on Newswatch, despite it being difficult and challenging.” She continued, “I know that it is an important part of demonstrating the BBC service to all its audiences and the licence-fee payers. I have a sense of pride working for a public service broadcaster which seeks to represent the diversity of Britain and its licence-fee payers.”

“On the back of my BBC ID card are written the BBC values, which include ‘we respect each other and celebrate our diversity’ and ‘we take pride in delivering quality and value for money’. I just ask why the BBC thinks I am worth only a sixth of the value of the work of a man for doing a very similar job,” she said. 

In India, a long road remains towards gender parity in media houses. Independent journalist Geeta Seshu noted that while journalists in the UK fight for equal pay for equal work, societal pressures against women only add more obstacles in that path in India. She described a situation in which two women TV journalists complained of discrimination basis of dark and fair complexion. “On top of discrimination in the wages, there are other forms of discrimination. Even amongst women, there is basis on the discrimination of skin colour.” 

“That is the extent of discrimination. We are talking about a completely different situation in India,” she continued. “The BBC has been fighting and working on parity at a very different level. We are still at the bottom. We are struggling to even put our foot on that first rung.”

The International Women’s Media Foundation’s 2011 Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media found that women in Indian media companies are paid less on average in both higher and lower pay ranges. That includes senior and top management in various roles. In middle management, junior level and technical professional levels, the salaries between men and women were found to be more similar, though women were found to have little involvement in both creative and technical areas of news production, the report said. 

Additionally, a survey conducted earlier this year found that women in India earn 19 percent less than men across industries.

Samira’s and Carrie’s fight for equal pay in the media industry is now part of a decades-long battle in multiple countries. In 1970, sixty women employees of Newsweek in the United States filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in regards to the magazine’s sexist policy that favoured men in staff writing roles. Women occupied jobs like researcher, mail girl and low-level reporters.

That dispute — chronicled in the 2012 book The Good Girls Revolt and later turned into an Amazon Prime series — ended in historic victory for the women. Newsweek agreed to take steps towards creating equal employment opportunities for women in writing, reporting and news coverage roles. 

For the BBC, this is the second high-profile case it has faced in recent years. Last year, the BBC admitted that its former China editor Carrie Grace had been paid significantly less than her male colleagues. It had reportedly told Carrie that she would be paid in line with North America editor, Jon Sopel, at an annual salary of around 200,000 to 250,000 British pounds, but her salary was actually 135,000 British pounds. She resigned from the post after accusing the BBC of creating a “ secretive and illegal” pay culture.

The BBC apologised to Carrie and offered her a payout, which she donated to charity. 

In an interview with TNM, the journalist talks about her first book ‘Nine Rupees an Hour’, which explores the lives and livelihoods of men and women in rural Tamil Nadu.
  • Wednesday, October 09, 2019 - 13:15

“Let me tell you a story. Make that ten. Stories of everyday people who do extraordinary things to earn a living.” That’s how journalist Aparna Karthikeyan begins her debut book Nine Rupees an Hour, which releases this month. Focussing on 10 livelihoods specific to Tamil Nadu – from farmers and sickle makers to handloom saree weavers and folk dancers – Aparna’s wide-ranging book delves into the lives of often-forgotten skilled rural workers and the taxing, thankless work they do every day.

The story touches upon a number of issues that the state faces, including the agrarian crisis, depleting groundwater tables as well as the challenges for handloom weavers amidst technological advancement. In an interview with TNM, Aparna discussed her journey to writing this book, the oppressive role played by caste hierarchy, and how women often bear the heaviest load, with little recognition for their work. 

The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

You’ve spent several years reporting and writing on the stories featured in ‘Nine Rupees an Hour’. Could you talk a bit about the journey that brought you to this book?

I am a city person. I was bred in Chennai. So while I have gone to villages for my summer vacations, I was going as an urban privileged kid. So you go there, you take in everything and then you come back. You don’t really engage with the whole idea. In 2013, I had written an email to (journalist) P. Sainath and he invited me to write for the People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI). Through PARI, I became familiar with rural India and started reporting on labour and livelihood. Some of the reporting went into a series for PARI and other publications, including The Hindu Sunday Magazine, OPEN, Frontline and Fountainink. Two years ago, I pitched the idea as a book.

Before I began, I didn’t know anything about the intense work that actually goes into farming. I had no idea what it meant to live that kind of life.

Over the years, your understanding of the story itself changes. The first time you go, you get one layer of understanding; each visit, you add more to it.

The book has such a rich array of female characters and the stories of their lives. Did you know you wanted to feature women so prominently?

The book had to be 50% about women because there was no way I could have more men than women. We just don’t have enough women stories out there. When we say farmer, we always think about a man in a dhoti with two bullocks in front of him, a whip in his hand and a plough. So where do we even think of women farmers, except in transplanting? All the backbreaking work is done by the women, but their pay is substantially lower and land ownership is much lower.

That invisibilisation of women is pretty much the grammar of the land, so how do you change that? You have to talk more about what they do. And unfortunately, the news in India is such that we only talk about somebody when there is news around them. Something terrible has happened or something brilliant, like someone’s child has gone far. And that’s wonderful and we need those stories. But we also need stories of the everyday lives of people.

The book highlights many of the disparities between men and women in their daily work. Why was it important for you to highlight those stories?

In the poikkaal kuthirai story, the husband and wife dance together. They’re very popular as a couple, but it’s the man who has won all the awards. She has absolutely no resentment about it. She holds his awards tenderly and says, ‘I want him to get more awards’.

But this happened over many years of meeting her. It was very interesting but it’s also very difficult because as an urban person, what is your understanding of the problems of the countryside? You have no idea. Water comes from the tap, milk comes in sachets, rice comes from the supermarket. What do you know about what goes into it?

It is men who still hold the keys. Women are still excluded. If they’re included, they’re paid less. Even if they’re included, they’re still stigmatised. And when they end up owning something, it’s because nobody else wants to do it. As urban women with agency, we have a very different view point about our lives. And then you go see the wife of a palm tree climber. She’s completely invisible. Even there in that landscape, that very brown landscape, you don’t see her. She’s inside a hut, she’s making the jaggery and pouring it into coconut shells. After that she’s going to be cooking, and she’s going to be cleaning and she’s going to be fetching water. Nobody talks about her. You see the men because they’re climbing up and down the palm tree, it’s a terrible life. But the women have an equally terrible life. And they’re just not in the picture. You also see very winning stories like the woman bull-keeper who is breaking a lot of stereotypes. You meet people like that and it’s very life affirming.

How do you put aside your own notions of empowerment when reporting on these women?

It’s hard because you have to shed your urban self and you can never fully shed your urban self. What you try to do is write with as much honesty and empathy as possible.

How did you choose the 10 livelihoods featured in the book?

I wanted a mix of art and pastoral essays. I wanted to make women and men protagonists. I had already reported on some of it and I wanted to build on it. It’s very, very hard to just go to somebody’s house a couple of times and get their story with all the layers and complexities in place.

The West has a way of highlighting certain labour and skill, which we use only for a very small group of people or for our Sabyasachis and Manish Malhotras. We don’t talk in the same adulatory tone about Krishnamoorthy (a saree designer and weaver) as we do about a brand designer. They completely deserve the respect that they have earned, but so does Krishnamoorthy.

The book refers to the debate over defining skilled and unskilled labour, or art and craft. How does this tie into these stories of livelihood?

Something gets dismissed as craft when it is utilitarian and there is repetition in the design. But the subtle variances that make it art is not considered. (Carnatic vocalist) TM Krishna talks about how it’s encoded in caste: how the caste hierarchy defines what you do as knowledge or labour.

The [debate of] skilled and unskilled and the way it is encoded in caste and gender is going to be the biggest challenge going forward in how we give legitimacy to these skills, and whether we ensure their survival or not.

In the book, you had posed a question to P Sainath about how we can keep traditional livelihoods alive while dismantling caste. Now that you’ve finished the book, I wanted to ask this question back to you. Do you have any new perspectives on this question?

I think people have been trying to grapple with that for a very long time. I agree with what Sainath says. The caste hierarchy has to go, that’s the first thing. Encoding it in caste and then saying somebody has a particular job, it reveals their caste. And that’s why people walk away from these livelihoods. It stigmatises. A sickle maker’s son may be earning less than his father’s assistant but he is still not going to want to do the job. Why? Because people don’t think it’s a great job.

You should respect the craft and reward it suitably. Give it respect and dignity, and don’t hold it within the caste boundaries.

Keezhadi excavation
Another major discovery is that people in the Sangam period were literate as early as the 6th Century BCE.
  • Thursday, September 19, 2019 - 16:30

In what may be a major discovery for Indian history, artefacts found in excavations carried out at Keezhadi in Tamil Nadu’s Sivagangai district have determined a possible link between the scripts of the Indus Valley Civilisation and Tamil Brahmi, which is the precursor to modern Tamil. Another major discovery was that  there was an urban civilisation in Tamil Nadu that was contemporary to the Gangetic plain civilisation.   

The Indus Valley Civilisation was situated in the north-western part of India between 5,000 BCE and 1,500 BCE. Around 1500 BCE, the civilisation collapsed and some have speculated that its people may have moved south. The script that was used by the people of this civilisation has been termed the Indus script, and experts have long speculated that the language could be Dravidian. Now research coming out of Keezhadi shows a possible connection between the two cultures. 

The samples featuring graffiti discovered from Keezhadi date back to 580 BCE. This graffiti is believed to be the link between the Indus script and the Tamil Brahmi. 

Speaking to TNM, T Udhayachandran, Commissioner of TN Archeological Department, says, “It’s an initial finding. Researchers note there is a gap between the Indus script and Tamil Brahmi script and this graffiti could fill that gap. We have to position this graffiti marks in that gap. We found 1000 different marks. We have chosen a few that distinctly relate to the Indus. Research is going on.”

A report released by the Tamil Nadu Archeological Department on Thursday explains the significance of the finding. “Among the available scripts of India, the Indus scripts are considered to be the earliest one and were 4500 years old. One kind of script that survived between the disappearance of Indus script and the emergence of Brahmi script is called as graffiti marks by the scholars. These graffiti marks are the one evolved or transformed from Indus script and served as precursor for the emergence of Brahmi script. Therefore, these graffiti marks cannot be set aside as mere scratches. Like Indus script, this also could not be deciphered till date,” it states. 

Recent genetic studies show that the Indus people may not have had what's known as the 'Steppe Pastoralist' DNA, thus placing the civilization before the arrival of Indo-European speakers in the subcontinent. DNA studies have shown that people of the Indus Valley Civilisation could be of Dravidian origin.  

Urban civilisation in TN dating back to 2500 years ago

The findings of the Tamil Nadu Archeological Department also indicate another major discovery — that an urban civilisation was thriving on the banks of the Vaigai River in Tamil Nadu in 6th Century BCE, around 2500 years ago. What this suggests is that the Sangam era - considered Tamil Nadu’s golden age - began much earlier than what was once thought. 

“Earlier Sangam period was considered to start from 300 BC and so this is a major finding. This completely changes our perception of Indian history so far,” T Udhayachandran says.

Udhayachandran explains, "We sent samples to a lab in Florida, a University in Italy and Deccan College in Pune. To Florida, we sent six carbon dating samples and one of it has been dated to the 6th century BC. All material used in that period has been reduced to carbon and we have tested it to check what time it belonged to.” 

High levels of literacy

Another major discovery is that people in the Sangam period were literate as early as the 6th Century BCE. The finding was based on potsherds which had names of people - like Aadhan and Kudhiranaadhan - written in Tamil-Brahmi script.

According to the report, “The recent scientific dates obtained for Keeladi findings pushback the date of Tamil-Brahmi to another century i.e. 6th century BCE. These results clearly ascertained that they attained the literacy or learned the art of writing as early as the 6th century BCE.”

Udhayachandran notes, “Professor Rajan from Pondicherry University who is considered an authority in archaeology in south India has said that this indicates high levels of literacy during this period."

Earlier when excavations were conducted at Arikkamedu in 1947, Kaveripoompattiam in 1965 and burial sites at Adichanallur in 2005, there was, says the Commissioner, no proof of urban settlements. 

"However now, in Keezhadi, we have found proof that this was an urban civilisation. We have found what looks to be a pottery industry here," he says. 

The report also suggests that 70 samples of skeletal fragments of faunal remains were collected from the site. The remains had been sent to Deccan Collect, Post Graduate and Research Institute in Pune for analysis, and species such as cow and ox, buffalo, sheep, goat, Nilgai, blackbuck, wild boar and peacock were identified. It’s noted that while some animals were used for agriculture purposes, cut marks on other animals such as the antelope, goat and wild boar suggest that they were consumed. 

While phase five of the excavations at Keezhadi began in June this year, Udhayachandran says that they are planning ahead for the next phase.  

"We have filed necessary proposals before Archeological Survey of India. Not only Keezhadi, but we also want to do excavations in adjoining habitations like Kondahai, Agaram and Manalur. We may find traces of the old Madurai. Keezhadi is an industrial area. Kondahai looks to be a burial site, and Agaram and Manalur could be residential areas," he says.

With inputs from Nadika N and Priyanka Thirumurthy

A new crop of companies is catering to a certain class of young professionals who prefer the flexibility, affordability and mobility of renting over the burden of ownership.
  • Friday, September 06, 2019 - 15:17

Ashri Jaiswal was living in the US when she first came across the concept of rental fashion. Rental is a word that’s typically ascribed to houses or apartments, and not clothes and bags. But through rental fashion, Ashri and so many others could revamp their closets without the burden of ownership — a solution to the frequent complaint, ‘I have nothing to wear.’

In 2016, Ashri, who is now 30 and previously worked as a technology management analyst, decided to pack her bags and move back to India to start her own company, Ziniosa, which allows customers to rent designer handbags at a fraction of the cost of buying it. It’s one of many companies that have launched in recent years as urban India enters a new stage in the rental economy, or as Vineet Chawla, CEO of Rentickle, where you can rent everything from beds to water purifiers, called it, the “shared economy.” In the last decade, a new crop of companies is catering to a certain class of young, urban millennials who prefer the flexibility, affordability and mobility of renting over the burden of ownership, from furniture and appliances to clothes and handbags. 

Though renting in and of itself is not new, the way urban Indians rent today has evolved dramatically. We rent transportation through Ola and Uber; office space at WeWork; movies through Netflix and Amazon Prime; stranger’s homes for vacations on Airbnb. Even living spaces, the most traditional form of renting, has taken a new turn with co-living spaces, seemingly the hottest new accommodation for 20-somethings moving to a new city. 

“If you've just moved to a new city renting makes sense for the first three months till you figure out what you need for the house instead of being rushed into it,” said Shreya Oommen, who has been renting for the last four months. 

“Renting can change the way people, and especially the youth, shop in India,” Ashri said, in a Ted Talk last year. “And all of this without the headache of actually owning this item.”

Despite growth in the market, there’s still a long road ahead for these companies. Though young professionals are opting for rentals, a larger and perhaps older section of society still holds the perception that buying is far superior to renting. What’s more, when those customers in their 20s start to age and settle down, does renting still make financial sense?

So, who is renting? 

Poorva Joshi, a 26-year-old content writer living in Bengaluru, started renting furniture about two years ago when she was living alone. She started out with just a bed and then moved to a full living room, including a TV set after seeing an ad on Facebook from Furlenco. Slowly over two years, she added more pieces to the rented set. “If you’re a single person earning fairly well, it’s a good deal,” she said.

That’s the market many of these rental companies are hoping to capture. Anand Suman, COO of furniture rental site Fabrento, says they typically target people between 18 to 35 years who are “unsettled” — people who move frequently from city to city for work or those who are starting out in their first job in a new city and can’t afford to buy their own furniture. 

“If it's for short term, renting is better than buying for sure because it gives you the flexibility of giving it up when you want. You also have the option to switch to another model if you need a change,” Shreya said.

Most rental companies believe that their model taps into a perceived millennial culture that prefers spending money on experiences, like vacations, concerts, eating and drinking out, instead of saving money for homes and cars, the way their parents once did. There’s also a notion of flexibility and independence. Furniture can get boring after a while and most rental companies allow you to swap out pieces of furniture whenever you want. That option of not being stuck with a sofa or coffee table — one that many wouldn’t have had in their parent’s homes — is appealing.

“I think the advantage is that they allow you to change it whenever you want, change it to the degree you want to change,” Poorva said. “And now I have the liberty to do that within the same price range.” 

While Ziniosa began as a monthly subscription service for bags, Ashri switched over to a different model in January this year. Customers can now choose their own designer branded bags on the site — from Kate Spade and Coach to Michael Kors — and choose a rental period of 3, 7, 15 or 30 days. They’re also launching services that allow customers to rent their own handbags out and even sell them in certain cases. 

Rental companies are still in their early stages, with only around 1 million users, as compared to 150 million users for Ola, according to The Ken. Anand of Fabrento, says the rental economy has been growing quickly every year. Fabrento has been growing at almost 200% every year. Furlenco says it plans to expand coverage from 8 to 15 cities soon and to take their subscription revenue to Rs 2000 cr by 2023. 

“It’s just catching like wildfire now,” said Vineet, who started Rentickle in 2016. “Renting has been there for donkeys years. It’s just that it’s never been organised. It’s always been neighbourhood shops.” 

“It ensures that everybody and anybody can afford a new lifestyle without spending a lot of money,” he said, adding that Rentickle plans to add mobile phones to their rental site soon as well. 

Anand noted, “We are seeing the rental economy growing to USD $800 million in four to five years,” he said. And with the addition of appliances, that number could increase to USD $1,200 million. 

The stigma of renting

Ashri has often found that while college students and professionals in early 20s embraced renting, women between the ages of 35 to 45 preferred to keep those transactions private.  “When it comes to fashion, we have noticed that even though customers rent, they never want friends to find out they’ve rented.” 

“We had a pop-up exhibition in JW Marriott in Bengaluru and this one particular lady came up to us with a couple of friends and I clearly remember her saying, ‘I don’t like to rent.’ But the same lady called us eventually after two days and asked me to meet her at a Starbucks. She had already picked out some bags that were on her mind from the exhibition and she asked me to come with five bags. And she’s been our biggest customer ever since.” 

It’s a battle that Ashri and other rental companies have had to face since their inception — that many Indians see financial stability and economic status in buying over renting.  

“We want them to understand that renting is cool. It has a lot of environmental benefits as well,” said Ashri, who has spoken about the waste build-up in the fashion industry and how renting clothes is a sustainable option to buying. 

For Ziniosa, Ashri says that while they’re working on a path to bringing slightly older customers into the rental ethos, they’re still focussed on younger clients. They are tying up with campus ambassadors at National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) schools throughout India as they realise that younger people still make up a better target audience. 

However, some say that sort of thinking is starting to evolve with a new generation of consumers.  “Perception is definitely changing since a lot of us are going against the tide these days. People are open to trying out different things and this is just one of them,” Shreya said. 

Vineet agrees. “I would say it was perceived to be better than renting.” Now, he says, millenials and Gen Z are changing that perception. “The younger generation coming in is much clearer about what they want in life.” 

Rentickle currently offers furniture, appliances, fitness equipment, like treadmills and exercise bikes, as well as cycles, cars and bikes for rent. But as the company looks to expand, Vineet says they’re hoping that older people in different stages of their life will turn to rentals for short-term needs — from kids’ cots and beds of different sizes to grow with your child to wheelchairs for the elderly. “Today we say Rentickle will stay with you all your life,” Vineet said.   

Through subscription models, Furlenco similarly is gearing towards long-term customer relationships. “The average tenure of a Furlenco subscriber is about two years at present, and we plan to take this up to three to four years going forward,” said Ajith Mohan Karimpana, founder and CEO of Furlenco. “We are making all efforts to ensure that this association becomes a life-long one.” 

But is it worth it?

The decision to rent versus buy something like furniture is largely based on a person’s current professional and financial situation: Are you going to be moving within a year? Maybe you can’t spend Rs 40,000 to furnish your bedroom in one go, but Rs 2,199 per month is more palatable? 

Having said that, there is a point at which spending money on a piece of furniture that you will never own can stop making financial sense. “The fact is that, at the end of the day, renting is a recurring expense. If you look at it financially, it’s obviously going to cost you more than just buying the furniture,” said Mrin Agarwal, financial educator and founder director of Finsafe India Pvt. Ltd. 

While there can be benefits to renting — flexibility, ability to switch out pieces of furniture, the ease of delivery and moving if necessary, the smaller amount paid per month versus a lump sum in one go — a lot of times, these benefits have more of a psychological appeal than actually making financial sense.

“All these are very psychologically things that we do and say to make ourselves feel better and to convince ourselves that we’re doing the right thing,” Mrin said. “At the end of the day, you just need to do your math.”

Take Poorva for example. Last year, after Poorva moved in with a roommate, they spent about Rs 3,800 a month on rented furniture. But recently, they’ve both decided to take a different route and purchase their own furniture instead. 

“When I started off, I think the whole rental business was very, very appealing,” Poorva said. But two years later, her income has increased and the shine is starting to wear off. “I don’t own a single piece of my living room furniture years later. If I’m spending as much I will on what an EMI would cost me, I might as well be the owner of the set,” she said. 

Poorva and her roommate also hope to adopt a pet soon and despite Furlenco’s Rs 10,000 insurance policy for damages, there is still a chance they could lose out if their new furry friend damages the rented furniture. 

They are slowly beginning to replace their rented furniture: Looking to Amazon’s EMI plan for a new television, scouring secondhand shops for TV stands and checking out Urban Ladder for a new couch. It’s more effort, but all in all, they will own the products once it’s over. 

“The psychological effect of owning furniture is that you feel more like an adult,” she said.

There are also various mechanisms to sell your furniture online quite easily if needed, as well as Amazon and online furniture shops like PepperFry and UrbanLadder which offer no-cost EMIs on their products.     

“Planning is easier when it’s an item purchased on EMI,” Poorva said. “I know that after the stipulated point of time, I know I’m not going to incur any more financially. With a rented piece of furniture, you don’t know when you want to let it go. You know that you’re going to spend the same amount once a month. And at the end of it, you’re not even going to own it.” 

Priyank Sukanand has opened Bangalore Connection 1888 which specialises in old favourites from his great-great grandfather’s bakery, and new additions like macaroons and mousses.
  • Tuesday, August 20, 2019 - 15:59

In the heart of Bengaluru’s Shivajinagar, next to a tea shop and a grocery story that have long since closed their doors, there was once a bakery. Back in 1888, P V Kuppusawmy Naidu opened his own bakery on that block, serving butter and masala biscuits, honey cakes, chupam (a soft breadstick-like confectionary given to children), and decadent wedding cakes that climbed two and three tiers high. 

Naidu’s bakery lived on for 97 years, run by three generations, fuelling a bakery culture that would become a timeless part of the city. Though it shut down in 1985, the legacy of baked goods for the family — and that Shivajinagar block — wasn’t over yet. 

In December 2018, Priyank Sukanand, a Cordon Bleu-trained chef and the great-great grandson of the original Naidu founder, opened Bangalore Connection 1888, a production kitchen that specialises in sweet and savoury treats – from old Bengaluru bakery favourites (yes, he still makes those biscuits) to new additions like macaroons, doughnuts, cheesecakes, and mousses. 

From Naidu Bakery to Bangalore Connection 1888

Priyank’s first steps into the food industry had curiously little to do with his family’s history. After two years of studying for a Bachelor’s degree in hospitality management, he left the course to pursue the culinary arts at Hyderabad’s Culinary Academy of India. “Even when I chose my specialisation in pastry, I didn’t think about the fact that my own family had a bakery,” he said. 

Priyank graduated and returned to Bengaluru to gain some work experience around the city, but he realised that there was more to learn. And so, in 2017, he continued to hone his craft at Le Cordon Bleu in London

Finally, back in Bengaluru after completing his Masters, it was time to decide how to use his culinary talent. He looked around for jobs but found people were offering the same pay that he would have gotten after his Bachelor’s degree.

Though his great-great grandfather’s business hadn’t really figured into his decision to go into baking, a memory of a photograph finally allowed Priyank to see the connection. 

"I had a vague memory from my childhood of seeing my great-great grandfather's bakery in a picture," Priyank said. The photo in question shows the bakery founder at a market show in Russell Market. “He would have a store where he would put up all his wedding cakes. He would specialise in making really fancy wedding cakes.”

The picture, which is now a part of Bangalore Connection 1888’s marketing material, shows three wedding cakes, baskets piled high with biscuits, flags adorning the shop, and mirrors on the walls so that customers could see the ornately-decorated cakes from all angles. 

Though it took a while to find the tattered, old photo, when Priyank did, he recalled, “I took that as my calling. That’s when it began.”

When P V Kuppusawmy Naidu, who was a farmer, his mother and his wife (his second wife passed away on the journey), arrived in Bengaluru from Padavedu, a small village in present-day Tamil Nadu, they lived in a former slum area near Cantonment Station. The story goes that Naidu’s wife learnt how to make bread from a British household where she worked, and taught her husband how to do it, too. Once he learnt the craft, he would sell his bread out of a basket at the railway station. Slowly, he learnt more recipes and saved enough money to finally open his bakery in 1888 — 10 years before the first Hassan Iyengar bakery, now ubiquitous throughout Bengaluru, is believed to have opened its doors. 

Along with breads, cakes and traditional Western-style wedding cakes Naidu likely learnt from the British, he also sold jasmine cake, samosas with mutton kheema, Japanese cake, rusk-like ‘varachi’ (which people would break and dunk in tea), and his famous biscuits. “That was one of his biggest specialities. Everyone loved his biscuits,” Priyank said. The bakery went on to open two more branches and continued its operation under Priyank’s great grandfather, P K Balakrishna Naidu, and later, Priyank’s grandfather, P B Chittibabu Naidu. When Priyank’s father decided that he did not wish to take over the business, it closed around 1985. 

A new face to an old bakery

Now, at the block where the first Naidu Bakery branch once stood (though in a newer building), Bangalore Connection 1888 has opened shop. Drawing from his culinary training in the UK, Priyank was able to recreate many of the British-influenced treats that the original bakery sold. Though his family did not have any recipes saved, he sought their help for taste tests as he planned for the business. 

The small team at the kitchen currently caters to wholesale orders for corporate events, restaurants, as well as single orders for cakes and other treats. Bangalore Connection has been open for only eight months, but they’re already looking to ratchet up production. In anticipation for the busy holiday month of December, 85 kgs of fruits and nuts sit soaking in a massive container in preparation for scores of Christmas cakes. This week, a rotating menu will also be available on Swiggy, and they are planning to open a retail space on Museum Road in September. 

In naming the bakery, he decided to forgo the original Naidu name because of its caste connotations. “He himself denounced caste,” said Priyank, referring to his grandfather, who encouraged him to bake. “He made sure all of the children did not carry the Naidu name after him.”

Though it isn’t a family business, Priyank is keeping a part of his family’s legacy alive through baking and other facets of the business, including the logo. It pays homage to his forefathers, who paved the way for his business, and nods to Shivajinagar and the iconic Bangalore Palace. 

“For me, I’ve done my part to pay homage to these people. I’m walking into this energy, this space, and this room with their blessings; and them with me,” he said.

What is a Union Territory? In India, several regions are governed directly by the Union government, and are therefore called Union Territories.
  • Monday, August 05, 2019 - 17:59

After Home Minister Amit Shah proposed the scrapping of Article 370(1) and Article 35 (A) of the Constitution, which revokes the special status afforded to Jammu & Kashmir, he introduced a Bill to bifurcate the state into two Union Territories: Jammu and Kashmir as a Union Territory (UT) with a legislature, and Ladakh as a UT without a legislature. 

But what is a Union Territory? In India, several regions are governed directly by the Union government, and are therefore called Union Territories. Some of them – like Delhi and Puducherry – have legislatures, while others, like Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Lakshadweep, and Andaman and Nicobar Islands, do not. The UTs are governed by the Home Ministry of the Union government, which takes care of everything from funds allocation to the police in these places. 

As UTs, Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh will see a diminishing of their democratic powers, which will effectively be transferred to the central government. A Lieutenant Governor (LG) or “administrator” will be appointed by the President to govern these UTs. In the new UT of Jammu and Kashmir, the LG will have to govern alongside the Chief Minister. And in Ladakh, the LG/Administrator will take over the role of the Chief Minister. Remember – while the Chief Minister is an elected representative who the people have voted for, the LG is appointed by the President on advice from the central government. 

Unlike the Governor of a state, the Lieutenant Governor is not a nominal head. The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill tabled by the Union government in Rajya Sabha says, “On and from the appointed day, the Governor of the existing State of Jammu and Kashmir shall be the Lieutenant Governor for the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and Union territory of Ladakh for such period as may be determined by the President.”

India currently has seven Union territories and 29 states, but those numbers will change to nine Union territories and 28 states. 

“The Ladakh Division of the State of Jammu and Kashmir has a large area but is sparsely populated with a very difficult terrain. There has been a long pending demand of the people of Ladakh, to give it the status of a Union Territory to enable them to realise their aspirations. The Union Territory of Ladakh will be without Legislature,” Home Minister Amit Shah said in the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill. 

“Further, keeping in view the prevailing internal security situation, fuelled by cross border terrorism in the existing State of Jammu and Kashmir, a separate Union Territory for Jammu and Kashmir is being created. The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir will be with legislature,” the Bill said. 

In recent days, the central government called for an unprecedented security lockdown in Kashmir valley, urging tourists to leave the area immediately. Scores had travelled to the region for the annual Amarnath Yatra. 

What is a Union Territory?

The classification of Union Territories was created under the Constitution (Seventh Amendment) Act, 1956. It allowed the reorganisation of states, alterations in the area and boundaries of existing states and “classification of certain areas as Union Territories.” 

While the state has its own elected government, a Union territory is regulated by the Union government. The Lieutenant Governor is not an elected position and is appointed by the President. 

Puducherry is governed under Article 239A of the Constitution, while NCT Delhi is under Article 239AA. J&K will likely initially follow Puducherry’s example; under 239A, the LG does not have the power to promulgate any ordinances in the Union territory. In cases where the LG does, it will not stand if the Legislative Assembly decides to disapprove it. 

What are the powers of a Lieutenant Governor?

According to Article 239, “Every Union territory shall be administered by the President acting, to such extent as he thinks fit, through an administrator to be appointed by him with such designation as he may specify.”

The Lieutenant Governor is a representative of the President. A Council of Ministers, with the Chief Minister at the head, will be appointed to advise the LG. The matters of land, law and order come under the purview of the LG, which means that Lieutenant Governors wield greater powers than state Governors.

The Lieutenant Governor and the Chief Minister will split the powers within the territory, though ill-defined discretionary powers held by the LG has led to conflict with Union Territories previously, The Hindu reports. 

If there is a difference in opinion between the LG and his ministers, the LG must defer to the advice of the President and act in accordance. 

Although Union territories can form governments with a Legislature, elected members and a Chief Minister, such as New Delhi and Puducherry, these governments hold less power than state governments. 

For a Union Territory’s Legislative Assembly, the central government may nominate only three persons to be members of the Assembly, though not persons in government service. The Assembly shall continue for five years. 

Puducherry conflicts

The functioning of the Union territory of Puducherry most closely resembles what can be expected for Jammu & Kashmir. However, Puducherry has witnessed multiple instances where the partnership between the elected Chief Minister and the Lieutenant Governor has turned sour.

Puducherry Chief Minister Narayanasamy and Lt Governor Kiran Bedi have had a rocky relationship since 2016 through a continued turf war for power within the Union territory. The two have sparred on several occasions, including on the nomination of MLAs to the Puducherry Assembly as well as Kiran Bedi’s stipulation that free rice would only be distributed in open defecation-free villages. 

Their most dramatic stand-off took place earlier this year, with the CM staging a sit-in protest outside Raj Nivas after the government issued a laundry list of demands to the LG. Narayanasamy has accused Kiran of being ‘non-cooperative’ and interfering with the duties of his elected representatives. 

Though Kiran Bedi, through her personal secretary, had submitted to the Madras High Court that an LG had certain powers granted by law, the High Court in May ruled that the LG had not been entrusted with any independent decision-making power and that the LG would have to act on the advice on the Council of Ministers.

Last year, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his ministers staged a nine-day sit-in inside the Lieutenant Governor’s residence due to conflicts that had arisen between the two.

TNM spoke to three of BQFF’s co-directors to understand how the festival was created, its growing popularity and the ever-evolving slate of films.
  • Thursday, August 01, 2019 - 10:45
Roshan Shakeel

A few mattresses, a handful of friends and a day of movies that celebrated queer culture. That simple gathering back in 2009 was the start of what would become the Bangalore Queer Film Festival. Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, the festival has grown into a four-day affair from August 1 to August 4.

TNM spoke to three of BQFF’s co-directors to understand how the festival was created, its growing popularity, and the ever-evolving slate of films.

A rise from early days

Back in 2003, Pedestrian Pictures, Swabhava's Vinay Chandran and a host of others started a film festival called ‘Bangalored’ at Attakkalari studios in Wilson Garden. That was a pre-cursor to the Bangalore Queer Film Festival, which started in 2009. 

Joshua Muyiwa, a co-director who has been involved with the festival from its first year, said they never planned for BQFF to grow the way it did. As more and more films were submitted, the festival grew organically to two, three and now four days to showcase filmmakers and their movies portraying the queer community. 

“What started out as a very small event and became a very anticipated event,” said Rovan Varghese, a co-director who started working with BQFF around eight or nine years ago. 

And in honour of the festival’s home in Bengaluru, organisers ensure they have at least one filmmaker from the city whose work is highlighted at the festival. This year’s Bengaluru-based creators include Christy Raj whose short film Our Stories Our Journeys will be screened on Friday, August 2 and Mujeer Pasha and Veena Kulkarni whose film Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh will be shown on Sunday, August 4. 

The films

When BQFF first began it was just one day and mostly focussed on international films since they were just easier to access. “Initially, the movies we got were very West-leaning,” Joshua said.

The festival has continued to evolve (though the signature mattresses stayed) and the number of film submissions grew. This year, after hundreds of films were sent in, the selection has been narrowed down to 73 feature films, shorts and documentaries from 27 countries from diverse group of filmmakers that includes queer and transgender persons who are getting behind the camera to offer a textured reading of their own lives.

What’s more, it’s not just films from the West anymore. “Over the past five years, what we’ve seen ourselves is a lot more fiction films coming from India,” said Joshua. 

And it’s not just the festival that’s evolved, but the films too. “BQFF has always tried to push the envelope,” Rovan said. Organisers tend to look for experimental films and make an effort to seek out new filmmakers. During this year’s festival, a series called ‘Engaging with Sexualities,’ presented by Public Service Broadcasting Trust, will feature short documentaries from early-career or first-time filmmakers. 

Joshua notes that the films themselves have grown up along with the festival. The filmmakers this year tell their stories without being “pedantic or preachy or telling you how to live your queer life,” Joshua said. Rather, there’s nuance in these narratives that are more reflective of people’s lives.

“We can be bad people, we can be good people, we can break up, we can be in love,” Joshua said, “It’s much more visceral to my experience.”

The BQFF community

Over the last 10 years, BQFF has offered a welcome space for people from all walks of life as it has turned into one of the largest queer film festivals in south India — from regulars who eagerly await the festival’s arrival every year (this year, it was pushed from its usual February slot to July) to new attendees who hear about BQFF and its growing popularity. 

“There are definitely lots of people who come back every year,” said Nadika N, who has been part of the organising team since 2016, “The festival is not just for queer people. It’s for film lovers.” 

Rovan added, “The reason it has successfully been a decade is because of the love that the community brings."

For the BQFF schedule, click here

Café Coffee Day
Many people say that with CCD, Siddhartha had given them a space to hang out with friends after school or make use of the free WiFi outside the office.
  • Wednesday, July 31, 2019 - 16:26

Before India could order a venti chai latte from Starbucks, before Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf became a common sight at the mall, and before Mocha’s Oreo-laden milkshakes became an after-college indulgence, there was Café Coffee Day. When VG Siddhartha’s iconic coffee chains first started in 1996, it was more than just the creator of Tropical Iceberg and Death by Chocolate – Coffee Day brought a long-awaited café culture to India.

After news broke of Siddhartha’s death Wednesday morning, political and business communities mourned the loss of the entrepreneurial leader, dubbed the “coffee king” of India.

But many also recognised that Siddhartha had given them something else – a space to hang out with friends after school or make use of the free WiFi outside the office; the site of first dates, first coffees and first loves; a refuge from the pressures of school, office and parents.

Friends, first dates and a love of coffee

Even before cafés became the norm in Indian cities, it wasn’t difficult to get a good cup of coffee. But the experience offered by chains like Adigas and Shanti Sagar were quick and easy affairs – steel tumblers of boiling hot coffee to be drunk as quickly as they’re served so you could make way for the next set of customers. India Coffee House and other older coffee shops were more relaxed settings, but had only a handful of locations in each city.

CCD, however, spread quickly and widely, and they were rarely in a hurry to kick you out.

Just like most of students who grew up in Thiruvananthapuram, Nithin, a final year engineering student in Kerala’s capital city, has countless memories of the city’s first ever CCD outlet in Kowdiar. “CCD is to me what the Indian Coffee House was to my father and his friends. Me and the boys used to just loiter in CCD after our tuition classes near the outlet. There might be around five or six guys and one of us would buy coffee and the rest of us used to sit around and chat for a really long time,” Nithin recalled.

Ann Mary John, a PR professional in Hyderabad, said she went to CCD for the first time with an old boyfriend. "I had coffee for the first time in my life because he wanted me to try, and surprisingly I liked it," she said. The boyfriend left, but the love for coffee stayed on.

CCD was also strategically located near schools and became a go-to spot for students. “When we were in school and our parents didn't approve of us going out too much, the most acceptable hangout was CCD. We would sit there for hours with a Tropical Iceberg and while away time, doing dares or gossiping about school. It was just the most sought-after chilling space of my generation,” said Kirtana Ponnuswamy, who studied at Bishop Cotton Girls’ School in Bengaluru.

What’s more, for young people who had to find a way around their parents’ strict rules, CCD became a happy compromise. “In our family, once engaged, the boy and girl are allowed to meet alone only at CCD, after parents’ approval. Be it arranged or love, CCD was a go-to place," said Jhankar, a PR professional.

Some took to Twitter to share memories of CCDs in their cities. “As friends in various businesses in our late 30s, we as a group catch up one Saturday afternoon every month in CCD. We have a good time. It's the only time we have for frolic with friends in the month,” tweeted Vinod Sreeramalu, from Chennai. 

From cities to the middle of nowhere, a welcome oasis

For TNM journalist Saritha S Balan, CCD still remains one of the few spaces for women to sit alone for hours in Thiruvananthapuram, which still lacks the kind of cosmopolitan development seen in other south Indian cities.

“CCD is an exception. The staff or even the customers there don’t care if it is a man or woman sitting, or for how many hours. You can order a coffee, work on your laptop, or chat with friends on the phone. No one will stare at you. Even in 2019, only a few places offer this in Thiruvananthapuram,” she said.

And that experience wasn’t just limited to cities, but highways as well. Independent journalist Subha J Rao recalled, “Once we were driving from Salem to Shivamogga and took the village route. There was a big hotel en route but the restroom was terrible. Then as we were driving past the village of Arsikere, suddenly this CCD popped up like an oasis. A biker group was just exiting the place when we walked in. Of all things, we had hot crispy parathas (from a frozen pack but so good), coffee and some of those cheese corn balls they used to sell. That was my son’s favourite. We used to hit CCD just to buy those cheese corn balls.”

Talking about why spotting a CCD on the highway was a joy, she said, “What I’ll remember with gratitude, as will many other women, is that it meant decent restrooms, a rarity till then.”

Good service and an even better cup of coffee

If you grew up in an Indian city in the 2000s, it’s likely that you had a favourite CCD order or that your first taste of cold coffee came in the form of Coffee Day’s signature Tropical Iceberg.

"It's one of my favourites for coffee since Barista cut down on their branches. My favourite used to be the chocolate shots but they were stopped a while ago. My boyfriend’s favourite is caramel cappuccino,” Madhav P, a business development professional in Hyderabad, said.

Since opening in 1996, CCD has grown to include roughly 1,700 cafes, around 48,000 vending machines, 532 kiosks and 403 ground coffee-selling outlets.

Subha added, “At home, we always use zero-chicory coffee powder sourced from Fresh and Ground, a CCD enterprise. The seeds are chosen and ground in front of our eyes, to our requirement. Coarse or fine.”

Jhankar, a frequent customer at the coffee chain, said that the best thing about CCD is their consistency in taste and quality. “It has been a go-to place when you are new to the city or in a hurry to meet an acquaintance, date, or even for office meetings. The staff across have always been cordial. You know nothing will go wrong while you are there.”

With inputs from Korah Abraham, Saritha S Balan, Priyanka Thirumurthy and Mithun MK.

As part of the ‘make in India’ goal, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced an increase in customs duty from zero to 5% on imported books.
  • Tuesday, July 23, 2019 - 14:43

The Narendra Modi government’s proposal to impose a 5% customs duty on imported books has sparked unease within the Indian publishing industry. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the increase in duty from zero to 5% during the Union Budget speech on July 5 as part of the “make in India” goal to encourage domestic publishing and the print industry. 

India is reportedly a $6.76 billion sectory, which is led by educational books, and it's expected to grow at a rate of 19.3% until 2020.

It’s also been reported that some publishers and book sellers were planning to meet with government officials to discuss the new customs duty and the challenges faced by the industry. 

Benefit to local publishers?

In her speech, Nirmala had referred to the 5% customs duty as a way to bolster domestic publishing and printing. But some publishers say that this isn’t necessarily the case.

“Firstly 5% isn’t big enough. Second, even if it were, books are not like soap and rice. Just because Dan Brown is more expensive, doesn’t mean the readers will then buy an Indian thriller writer. They want Dan Brown. Each title is specific,” Chiki Sarkar, co-founder of Juggernaut books, told TNM via email. 

“It’s a puzzling move. Neither will it bring any serious revenue to the government, nor will it actually change anything on the ground,” she added. 

 As for whether it will encourage foreign books to be printed in India, Chiki noted that a lot of international books that do well in India are already printed in the country by MNCs. 

The effects of GST and rising paper costs 

Shamim Hameed, director of finance and accounts for Tara Books, said the new customs duty on books was “not a welcome move” as it will neither benefit publishers or book buyers. For one, he pointed to the impact that the Good and Service Tax, introduced in 2017, was still having on the publishing industry. He had hoped that the government would introduce reforms to assist the publishing industry still grappling with GST. 

Though books are exempt under GST, many pieces involved in the creation of a book were subject to the tax, including an 18% GST on freelance services for copy-editors, proofreaders, illustrators and the like, as well as a 12% GST on author royalties, Scroll reported. Paper, binding and printing services were also subject to the tax.

Some publishers also told the media that with no mechanism in place to claim Input Tax Credit, it was likely that the new 5% customs duty would impact the production and sale of books.

The rising cost of paper was also a concern for some. “I can’t say in the Finance Minister’s proposal will help the domestic publishing industry. If the government wanted to, then there are other ways to help - like making paper cheaper. The cost of paper has gone up so many times in the last 10 years that it is getting more and more expensive to print books,” Urvashi Butalia, co-founder of Zubaan publishing house, told IANS.

Impact on book buyers 

But not all are worried that the customs duty will lead to any major impacts. Dr Ashok Gupta, honorary secretary general of the Federation of Indian Publishers, said he anticipated a negligible effect on the industry, especially on book buyers, who are unlikely to notice any significant differences in price. 

Most of the books that are imported to India are those used by students for higher learning and exams, books that already come at a steep price. While Hameed said that book buyers are not usually price sensitive and they would not be deterred from making purchases, Raj Mirchandani, managing director for Capital Books Delhi, told IANS, that the upfront customs duty on imported books will deter importers from bringing in high-level, expensive research books. 

Seema Sood’s paintings will be exhibited for the first time at an art exhibition in Bengaluru on June 29 and 30.
  • Thursday, June 27, 2019 - 15:21
Seema Sood, with her BITS Pilani batchmates.

Seema Sood, 50, remembers the day she became bedridden. “3rd May, 1993,” she said. For five years, she was confined to her bed, but the pain had started when she was 18 years old, beginning in her toes and slowly creeping to her joints and limbs until her entire body ached. 

As a student at BITS Pilani, she took painkillers and steroids just to be able to attend classes. She spent decades being shunted from hospital to hospital seeking treatment, but nothing seemed to be working effectively. 

It would be years before Seema was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis — a painful autoimmune disorder that mostly affects a person’s joints — and even longer before she would be able to manage her pain and channel it into art.  

The pain was so bad that she considered ending her own life. “I was in such a miserable condition that I had appealed for mercy killing,” she said, describing a letter she had written to the President of India in 2007. She ultimately received Rs 10 lakh from Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal’s relief fund and underwent multiple surgeries in 2008. But not long after that, the pain crept back into her body.

Finally, in 2014, her fortunes turned. For one, she began treatment free of cost at Fortis Hospital in Mohali, where Seema was correctly diagnosed. She also reconnected with her old 1985 batchmates from BITS Pilani, where Seema graduated with two degrees — an MSc in Engineering Technology and a Masters in Engineering. Her friends wasted no time in coming to her assistance. 

Up until that point, she hadn’t told any of her classmates about her condition. But after receiving a phone call from an old friend, she had a change of heart.

With treatment that eased the severe pain in her joints, Seema has been able to turn to a long-time passion for art. From a young age, she had been interested in painting and drawing, even making greeting cards for New Years and Diwali. When she started painting as an adult, she began with small pictures of flowers and eventually progressed to depictions of Rajasthan, where she was born, and scenes of nature from Palampur, Himachal Pradesh, where she now lives. 

“Once I get engrossed in my paintings, my pain, my troubles, everything gets lost,” she said. 

Paintings by Seema Sood

For the first time, Seema’s work will be exhibited at Silver Oak Resorts in Bengaluru on June 29 and 30, with prices ranging from Rs 10,000 to Rs 35,000. And after struggling financially for years, Seema has finally been able to make her own money by selling her paintings.

“I want to live with dignity. I want to earn something on my own,” she said. 

The art show, organised by Seema’s old batchmates from BITS Pilani, is a way to help her financially. Though she is able to paint on her own, she still needs assistance in arranging supplies or handing her tools, and she is looking for someone to hire.

“There is tremendous physical pain she goes through every single minute of every single day,” Mridula Sankhyayan, one of Seema’s batchmates who helped organise the exhibition, said. “Painting really gives her self-fulfillment.”