Some countries are in a wreck — war torn, poverty-ridden, divided deeply from the world where such expressions are only hyperboles and not a reality. The major war in these fortunate parts of the world currently is mainly with the pandemic. These nations still have the bandwidth to explore how to make more money and flourish. When can flying be resumed? Tours? Holidays? Historically as we evolved, humans set limits. We mapped borders that cannot be transcended, having drawn them ourselves – boundaries of ‘isms’ – which disallow us from reaching out a helping hand to our neighbours in distress. As humans, how long will we keep absolving ourselves of responsibility for ignoring the pain faced by members of our own species?
In a humorous film called Baby’s Day Out (1994), a gorilla took charge of a human child and saved him from villainous men. Today, as some countries cry out in pain, we see the suffering of our own species and yet sit quietly waiting for the others to act. One month ago, a young Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist, Danish Siddiqui, died shooting a clash between Pakistan, Afghan security forces and the Taliban. One month after his death — that seems a lifetime away– we watch the Taliban take over. What did the death do? What could Reuters do? Was Siddiqui a victim of his own choices or of circumstances? He said: “I shoot for the common man…” But do all common men want to know, know of the pain and the suffering? How does it help? What does it do for them? Does it mobilize help for the victims? Does it create an awareness of suffering and make us kinder, more considerate as a species?
Thirty years ago, I left journalism because we were taught “good news is no news”. I have always wondered if this is the favourite dictum of much of the media?…
A woman who at eighty-eight brought out her autobiography based on the urgings of among others, Alice Walker, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Colour Purple , and Doris Lessing, the Nobel Laureate — only much later. Like Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, her biography is calledThe Brass Notebook. Does it talk anti-war or feminism or womanism? I am not sure. What it does show is a woman who despite being surrounded by patriarchal norms managed to live her life as she wanted without resorting to schools of ‘isms’ or feeling injured. In the process, she met many great people and tried to bring in changes or reforms.
Devaki Jain, born in 1933, graduated in economics and philosophy from St Anne’s College, Oxford and is an Honorary Fellow of the college. She is a recipient of the Padma Bhushan (2006) and an honorary doctorate from the University of Westville, Durban, South Africa.
Needless to say the best introduction to her work and her person comes from well-known feminist journalist, Gloria Steinem: “Your heart and world will be opened by reading The Brass Notebook the intimate and political life of Devaki Jain, a young woman who dares to become independent even as a country of India does. Because she’s also my oldest friend I can tell you there is no one like her, yet only here in her writings have I learned the depth, breadth and universality of adventures.”
The interview probably reinforces her non-conformist outlook. In an age when intellectuals bicker over terminology and social media becomes the fulcrum of our lives, she lives by her convictions. Despite writing an absolutely gripping autobiography, she has revealed only a bit of herself. Through the interview, I tried to entice more but I got only a very brief glimmer. Her autobiography painted a liberal, liberated and open thinker who fearlessly fought her way against patriarchal and colonial mindsets. In this exclusive, I invite you to savour her spirit at a stage in life when most talk mainly of geriatric issues. Devaki Jain for you —