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Bollywood as National(ist) Cinema - Jerry Pinto


Updated: Sep 3, 2022

I have come to realize that we are all the same, all of us here—our interests, our political stances, our take on the nation—so we are pretty much talking to one another, which is a bit of a problem. But it is not as much of a problem as what I witnessed at the Kumaon Literary Festival where there was an attempt to bring together various viewpoints through a debate on nationalism. So there was Hindol Sengupta who represented a certain version of nationalism; there was Tarun Vijay who is a spokesperson for the Bharatiya Janata Party and therefore must assume certain attitudes; and there was my ex-student Rana Ayyub who has written and self-published Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover-Up.


The problem is simple: Do we preach to the converted or shout at the unhearing?


In about 10 minutes, the debate had degenerated into a shouting match and it was quite obvious that nobody had anything to say to anybody else. And that no one was listening. This is the real source of terror, the real source of our problem: we have not been able to maintain a space for dialogue, for listening and receiving. We have relied too long on the academy as the space for the formation of history. History is being made right now, today, in newsrooms across the country. History is being made on television which can be scary, since truth is often the first casualty of TRPs.


But that’s not what’s terrifying. What’s terrifying is that history is being made by the twitterati, in editing studios where soundtracks are overlaid on recorded events. That distorted reality is then widely circulated. And since we are now in a space where we only hear and believe what we want to hear and believe, the correctives are ignored.


The old formula for instant history, over the last 50 years of our society used to be: ‘I read it in the newspapers.’ As journalists, we were aware that we were responsible for the making of history. Then it became ‘I saw it on television’. Large corporations know they could be sued and so they try and be as seemly as possible. But what about the independent troll who puts out a video that goes viral? ‘I saw it on Twitter,’ say his followers and the result is that history is made by those who have a desire to represent not what happened but what they think happened. They know they are biased. In fact, they are proud of these biases. And they are prouder still of introducing these biases into their work.


And then there is the other narrative. We also learn about our history from extramural sources, from what we hear outside the world of academia for the history textbooks are easily forgotten. The world is very clearly divided into people who remember what they studied in school—that’s 1 per cent of the universe—and the rest who forget.


I know you believe that you remember what you studied. But should I ask you what the cosine of an angle is or what (a+b) raised to the power of three is equal to—you would look at me blankly. It is no less shocking that you should not remember a binomial expansion than it is that you should not remember who Tipu Sultan was. As History teachers, you may have a greater investment in Tipu Sultan—but Mathematics is a modality of engagement with logic—if that slips you by, then logic slips you by. Because up to that time, the only thing allowing you to think about logic is the mathematics that is taught without logic. If you do not remember that Lithium has a valency of 1 or 2 and so you do not know whether Lithium Carbonate is LiCO3 or Li2CO3 how have you excused yourself? How have you said that they should all remember their History—but it is okay for me to forget my Chemistry? Or to forget my Mathematics? Are we guilty of prioritizing certain forms of knowledge? Perhaps we do it unknowingly but here it is: They should know their History but I can forget my Botany.


Why is it that after so many years of education in school, most Indian school children are unable to write a simple letter? I have two young neighbours. One went to medical college and became a pathologist—which means she not only did a medical degree but also went on to do her MD. And the other is an engineer and teaches in an engineering college. Recently he had to write a letter to his principal, requesting for a day’s leave to get a visa. But he could not write that letter, so he came to me. If an engineering professor cannot write a leave application, we should acknowledge that our system is a failure.


And if our system is a failure, then let us assume that everything we know comes from sources outside the classroom. That everything we know about our history does not come from our textbooks. Those textbooks have left no impact. But we are humans and we want to know who we are, we want to know the story of our tribe. The most trivial form of this desire for tribal knowledge is gossip; its most noble form is literature and history.


So something else fills the gaps. And this something else is the visual and the aperceptive and the non-academic. Anil pointed out that nationalism is shallow. We love shallow. Shallow is easy, shallow makes no great demands on us. And Hindi cinema, Bollywood, being perennially, perpetually, unashamedly shallow, presents us with the ideal formulation for understanding of the nation-state.

‘Mere desh ki dharti sona ugle, ugle heere moti,

mere desh ki dharti’

Lyrics by Indeevar from Upkar (1967, Manoj Kumar)


In a bus humming through the British countryside, a group of Chevening scholars were angrily discussing the issue of overheated nationalism. (This was in the late 1990s and, from the standpoint of today, the heat of then seems tepid.) Then a Bengali journalist from Ananda Bazar Patrika began singing ‘Mere Desh ki Dharti’ and, within a line or two, the whole bus was singing too. Sixteen Indians singing ‘Meri Desh ki Dharti’ and not talking nationalism any more.


The song then dissolved into antakshari without us even thinking about it.


These are the seductions of Bollywood that will take us away from our everyday analysis of who we are. Is this the problem? The problem is not with our circumstances. Our circumstances have always been bad, and every editorial tells you that we are on the verge of the apocalypse. If you read nineteenth-century journalism or eighteenth-century social critique, you see the same narratives again and again: the rich have got richer, the poor have got poorer. The young have never been so shallow, the old have never been so tired.


It’s been nearly a hundred years since that beast was slouching towards Bethlehem in Yeats’ poem. And we have seen some pretty good beasts come down the pike.


Now imagine what role Bollywood has to play in all this. None! There is no room for something so shallow, so lightheaded, so ignorant in a discussion of the making of history. How could there be? History begins with jigyaasa, the desire to know. Bollywood has rarely, if ever, wanted to know—it is deliberately ignorant, it is often dangerously naive.


But the moral universe of Hindi cinema is the moral universe of our students. When they come to ask if Tipu Sultan is a good guy or a bad guy—they are really asking: ‘Yeh Gabbar hai ya Jai-Veeru hai?’ If all that they are told, over and over again, is that there are bad guys and there are good guys, and the good guys beat the bad guys in the end, then they will apply that to the narrative of history too. They will want to know why Tipu Sultan died the way he did, because it doesn’t fit the narrative they have been given.


So what you are contending with is not just the simplicity of a young person coming to you and asking you for the facts. Because history strives for consensus, history tries to establish the facts. And yet research continues—new archives are discovered and new inscriptions are uncovered, and the facts begin to rearrange themselves. This is the magic of research, and the greatest of historians—like the greatest of scientists—must be willing to acknowledge that facts mutate as our knowledge grows and our technology improves.


We all know that there is no single narrative. Just think about the last time a couple you know got a divorce. Let us assume you are close to each of them, and each tells you the story of their marriage. You might think you have two different stories here. You might be tempted, if you are closer to one, to accept that as the true story. That is bias. That is a crude ahistorical response that we produce out of our loves and our hates. We know we cannot trust this, but how we want to.


So we go back again to those two differing stories. Is one wrong and is one right? Or is neither wrong? Is there room for contending versions? How can there be? We were taught to believe in unitary truths. But what room does that leave for the versions written by the victors versus the versions written by the vanquished? What room does that leave for Adivasi, Dalit, Tribal histories? What room does that leave for women’s versions of history? How do we accommodate the subaltern? And if we can accommodate all these, should we find a way to accommodate the right-wing versions of history that are now finding their way into our textbooks? Can subjectivity find a place in history?


I do not have an answer for you. But I can offer you an analogy. We can consider Heisenberg’s Indeterminacy Principle here. If you have forgotten your physics, let me remind you. We cannot know both the speed and the position of an electron, because as soon as you ‘look’ at an electron, you flood it with so much light that you change its velocity and its position. So you can only know either its velocity or its position.


We know also that the macroworld and the nanoworld operate by different laws but simply to know that by looking you change things is a useful principle. Your position is going to be important. Who you are and what you are, whether you are a Brahmin, a Bengali, a Dalit, an Anglophile, a Communist, a left-leaning liberal—we can be all of them at once, or slip and slide from one to the other—all these identities are going to shape what we want to believe.


So if you don’t start by implicating yourself, the history you understand, the history you teach, will be a history inflected by the old-fashioned and dangerously naive pretense that there can be a grand narrative, the one that Bollywood has aspired to. A narrative with good guys and bad guys. And at whose end, Satyameva Jayate, the truth shall prevail. Let us take Sholay. In the end, Thakur (Sanjeev Kumar), whose family has been destroyed by the bandit Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan), pulls his foot back from Gabbar’s head and does not crush him.


The original, by the way, is available on YouTube where he does kill him.


And here is the truth of the narrative of fiction. The original had Thakur killing Gabbar. The film was released around the Emergency, when violent films were supposed to be banned. But it didn’t get banned, even though it was about vigilante justice and the failure of the State machinery. There are many reasons posited for this, including the friendship between Rajiv Gandhi and Amitabh Bachchan. One story is that the filmmakers were told to do the Gandhian thing, to have Thakur forgive at the end, for it to get passed.


These are also subaltern narratives.


I had a poignant encounter with an art film-maker who shall go unnamed. We were travelling together. He asked me where I was going. I said there was a conference in London on Bollywood. He sighed and said that, in his time, there were filmmakers who were Saraswati-bhakts or Lakshmi-bhakts. He, and his kind, made his films for Saraswati, for art, and commercial filmmakers made their films for Lakshmi, for money. Saraswati rewarded his kind with critical attention; Lakshmi rewarded the other kind with pots of money. And he was very puzzled at how much critical attention classical Bollywood was getting.


He was not wrong.


Something had changed.


At the first screening of Amar Akbar Anthony at an Italian film festival, it was being presented by Rosie Thomas and Behroze Gandhi, and the audience gave a slow clap. A slow clap is the Italian way of saying, ‘Go home, this is not what we want to listen to.’


Cut to 2012: we are having conferences on ‘the soft power of Bollywood’. Academic conferences on the soft power of Bollywood! In Abu Dhabi! Business class tickets for everyone! No need for a visa—the embassy men will escort you from the airport to your hotel!


I’ll tell you what changed—globalization and liberalization made India a player. Up to that time, the international narrative about India was one of heart-stopping despair. It was about disease, open defecation, corruption and the failure of the state to provide basic amenities to its people.


In 1992, 1993, suddenly the world discovered that we were a market. I interviewed the President of Lee Jeans when they launched in India and he said: ‘I want babies to be in Lee Jeans diapers.’ And he said it with a straight face. I wondered whether he was serious. He looked serious. He also gave me the headline that I wanted: ‘Lee VP sees Indian babies in denim diapers’. I knew he was feeding it to me. That was part of the deal.


Once India was recognized as a market, we were allowed to take pride in ourselves—because they were proud of us.


Once, ICSE schools were ‘the best’. Now, it’s the International Baccalaureate. So here’s another conundrum: you can do the entire international curriculum, and never study Indian history. Tell me why that is worth one lakh? Tell me why that is not on your agenda today? Tell me why it is not a problem that our best minds are being taken out of state schools and put into schools where they have air-conditioned classrooms, where they have SUVs taking them to and fro, where they have laptops to mandatorily do their homework on, where they submit their homework via email and are now resisting email because they want to Whatsapp their teachers? How is this not being discussed? That an entire generation of the people who will determine the future of this country—they are not just the chatterati, they are the uber chatterati, the international chatterati. They will be running things and they will not have a clue who Gandhi was.


But I was talking about the failure of our schools, our ordinary everyday state-sponsored schools. Here is the terrible thing we teachers have to face up to—every child is curious and full of questions, before school. Before we kick the curiosity out of them. You take a three-year-old out for a walk in the park and they ask you a question at every corner. Why that? What is that colour? Why this? Who? Here? When? What? You can’t keep up with them. You send them to school and two years later you take them for a walk in the park and there are no questions. They have all been answered.


Let us return to the subject of my talk. In 1943, Kismet, directed by Gyan Mukherjee and starring Ashok Kumar and Bina Rai, was released. The big song in it was ‘Door hato yeh duniya walon, Hindustan humara hai.’ How did the British censor allow it? Because the producer and director argued: ‘We are saying this to Japan. We are saying this to Germany. They will come and attack us. We don’t want them here.’


It is a moment of strategic duplicity and we celebrate it today.


I believe that much of who we are and how we have created our likeness and image has come out of popular culture.


There is the image of Mother India. Mehboob Khan made the film twice, once with Sardar Akhtar in 1940 and once with Nargis in 1957. Both were huge successes.


This forged the image of the sacrificing woman who will kill her son; her greatest possible achievement is to give up her beloved son in the interest of dharma. Bollywood was going through what we call its Golden Age. We call it so because we cherry-pick its offerings and look only at the films made by a handful of people who were invested in the construction of a certain kind of nation. They would invite Gandhi to see their films (rather a hopeless cause; the Mahatma would have nothing to do with cinema); they would organize special screenings for Nehru; and if he wrote them a letter, it would go into their publicity material.


There is a sinusoidal curve that Bollywood follows—good decade and bad decade. In the 1950s, the hero would reject the taqton, yeh tajon, ye samajon ki duniya yeh . . .


In the 1960s, the hero didn’t care if the world called him a ‘junglee’ (1961, Subodh Mukherjee). There was a burst of prepubescents, all made of cotton candy and fluff. Biswajit and Rajendra Kapoor arrived with lipstick for men. (I have never seen such glowing lips in my life.)


Then the 1970s, the time of strife, turmoil and terror. The angry young man has been examined as a critique of the nation state. It is interesting, then, to compare the Vijay of Trishul (Yash Chopra, 1978) and Devdas (Bimal Roy, 1955). Devdas is crushed by his father and the weight of tradition whereas Vijay defeats his father and crushes him—it’s Oedipus Rex for the first time. Devdas never gets his lady love, nor can he cannot accept the love that is offered until Anurag Kashyap makes Dev. D (2009) and Devdas (Abhay Deol) can come back to this new Leni/Chanda/Chandramukhi (Kalki Koechlin) to say, ‘Can we try? Can we actually have some faith in love?’


The 1980s were a terrible time, aesthetically. We did have a couple of interesting ones: Mashaal (Yash Chopra, 1984) and surprise hits from the art house: Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (Kundan Shah, 1983), Saaransh (Mahesh Bhatt, 1984) and Ardh Satya (Govind Nihalani, 1983). But most of the time it was bad music, aerobic-style dancing and formulaic plots repeated ad nauseam.


But each repetition has its value in formulating the state. When young people die for their love, as they did in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (Mansoor Khan, 1988), what had changed since the producers insisted that Bobby (Raj Kapoor, 1977) have a happy end with the lovers reunited?


How is it that this death fest is now part of the way love confronts society? Ishaqzaade (Habib Faisal, 2012) had a Hindu–Muslim love story: the boy (Arjun Kapoor) plays Parma Chauhan, a Hindu, of course; the girl (Parineeti Chopra) plays Zoya Qureishi, a Muslim, of course. In all Hindu–Muslim love stories, it is always the male who is a Hindu and the woman who is a Muslim. The womb must move to the right community, even if the children may be named carefully syncretic names.


But in small and subtle ways, we do seem to have changed. I like to think of Hum Tum (Kunal Kohli, 2004)—a big hit. The female lead (Rani Kukherjee) has sex with the man she loves (Saif Ali Khan). And when she wakes up the next morning, she hopes that he will say he loves her. But she is not crying. She is not saying: I hope he will marry me. When he offers to marry her, she is appalled. Because he thinks things have gone wrong and need to be put right. Whereas she doesn’t think that their making love was wrong.


That’s nice. She just wants some tenderness.


Have you seen Ganga Jamunaa Saraswati (Manmohan Desai, 1988)? It has a scene so dreadful it is magnificent. I think it’s supposed to be a dream sequence—the hero (Amitabh Bachchan) and the heroine (Jaya Prada) are running through snow which suddenly becomes real. She falls through the snow into water and is obviously very cold. Amitabh Bachchan takes her into a room and undresses her. Behind him is the world’s most fake cobweb made out of white cotton. He stands there, thinking, ‘If I do not warm her with my body, she will die. So I must strip her and I must strip myself, and I must warm her body.’ He does that—out of focus, of course, and water begins to collect on the cobweb and the cobweb tears. And know that she has lost her delicate and precious virginity. So in the morning she is weeping, and he is promising marriage to make it all right again.


Mard (Manmohan Desai, 1985). Amitabh Bachchan rides his horse into a club where Amrita Singh is having a massage. She says: throw him out and throw his dog out. So he picks her up and rides through a thorny forest, so that the thorns will cut her body and then he throws her into the salt pans at the edge of the thorny forest. And he rubs salt in her wounds.


Her response to this is to sing ‘Will you marry me?’ To which he says ‘No, no, sorry ji.’


Bollywood has constructed a cinema that reflects the world we see around us. And it is not an innocent reflection. It is a magic mirror that will let you see yourself the way you want to be seen. The image and the reflection are caught in a symbiotic relationship.


What is it you want to see?


What is it you see?

Question-and-Answer Session

Tina Servaia. I don’t really watch Bollywood but after the Nirbhaya case what really shocked me was that song in Phata Poster Nikla Hero, a song about sexual harassment on the roads on a daily basis. How is it possible for Bollywood to be so disconnected from what is happening?

Jerry Pinto. Let me ask a question to the Indian men in the audience: Did anyone teach you how to talk to a woman before you attained the desire to talk to a woman? No, na? There are women who are women in a non-constructive way: your sister or your mother.


But then you see a woman you want to have sex with. You want to hug. You want to do things. Weird things. Now: what are your models? Your models are Haseen toh phaseen. Aati kya Khandala? You have to talk like that. And if she smiles, it means she’s accepted your proposition. Suppose she smiles just because she is amused at your stupidity? And that wrong message passes and that becomes a yes?


In every Hindi film, a ‘no’ is a ‘yes’ from a woman. The assumption is that the woman is eternally coy and unable to face her own sexual desires. Therefore it is up to the man to, literally, force the issue. I mean Pink has a hundred flaws but I hope it will begin the conversation about ‘no’ is ‘no’. Before that, what was romance? Romance was Urdu shayari based on the assumption that the beloved is with the rival and tormenting you, and that out of this torment will bloom the great gulistan of your heart and the great sorrows of your love.


Sometimes the beloved is a man, which meant they may or may not have been gay or may not have given a shit and just wanted words to fit the meter. Poets are like that. Urdu shayaris determines Devdas. He must lose to be a lover; he cannot be a lover who marries and has children and settles down happily.


Then come the 1970s. Do bear in mind that Devdas is upper-caste. That Vijay Dinanath Chauhan is Kayastha or Kshatriya. Those are his markers: warrior, man among men. So the woman now becomes decorative. She will seduce him, she will lure him, be fascinated by his lone-wolf aura. All you have to do is read the Bronte sisters to see where that came from—they established the model.


You can also look at it as the 1971 shift. Because that’s when we win our war (sorry to the Pakistanis present, but the Indo-Pak war, we say we won it. I am sure you all say you won it. That is how we write our textbooks. We don’t actually care about what happened, we write what people want to hear.)


So, after that, we needed a dramatic, definitive, masculinist presence. Look at the shape of the Indian hero. Imagine taking off Raj Kapoor’s shirt and seeing his six pack. Imagine Shammi Kapoor bare-chested. Imagine Dev Anand bare-chested. Consider Shah Rukh Khan. Perfectly nice looking, slightly chubby. But he now has a six pack. Because this is the new masculinity. Anuradha Kapoor has a lovely essay in which she talks about the Ram of the posters in Raja Ravi Verma’s style and the Ram of the first Hindutva posters, with an arrow. Kasam Ram ki khaate hai, hum mandir wahin banaenge. That Ram suddenly has the V of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The image has changed.


Economics is never very far from politics and culture.

Rajni Bakshi. The whole Haqeeqat—after we lost the China War—from Haqeeqat to Border—the transition. Please talk about it.

Jerry Pinto: If you look at Haqeeqat, even its genesis is interesting. Chetan Anand was directing Teesri Manzil, a great film. But he gave it up to do Haqeeqat. He just handed it over. And he was given full cooperation from the government. The narrative was his but the government would help shoot the film. Raj Kapoor was a great filmmaker, but it was the Communists who gave him his social consciousness. Then Ahmed Abbas, like a complete idiot, went and made his own films. One Night in Bombay and all. You have to see them—they are terrible. And Raj Kapoor drifted away to make Ram Teri Ganga Maili. But without each other they were nothing. All the progressives were in Bombay, then. Ismat Chugtai was there. She says in her A Life in Works, ‘I could live on my writing for cinema.’ Kaifi Azmi is there. All these people were there and Haqeeqat is the product of that symbiotic environment.


But by the time of Border and L.O.C, the split is total. The progressives, the lefties—they have all moved out. They are all with Shyam Benegal. Working on the art-house movement. Happy as larks. Because now they don’t have to do ‘ek mujra sequence ke liye ek gaana de do yaar’. But that’s a cinema that is drifting away from people too.


Suddenly you want to make films about how powerful and masculine the nation is. It starts with how powerful and masculine the man is: Amitabh Bachchan and his avatars, all the Vijays that he plays. Going right up to Lakshya.


How do you become a man? In the old days, you killed an animal and they put blood on your face. Hrithik Roshan becomes a man by picking up a gun. The phallocrisy of patriarchy. That is the trajectory. We lose our conscience. Our conscience abandons us.


Imagine those sittings: Raj Kapoor, Shankar Jaikishen, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, all sitting together and creating that cinema. Its not just Raj Kapoor—a lot of them came together and created. Dilip Chitre writes Vijeyata, Shailendra writes some great lyrics . . .

Nilanjana. You brought in the importance of Bollywood as the source of information and knowledge. I was wondering whether school teachers can actually have discussions about these things because this is what they watch. Many people in India have been talking about teaching media literacy and doing workshops, and this is something that we would like to really develop—to be able to read these things is a skill that we should teach children. In the print culture, we learnt how to write, we learnt how to read, we learnt how to interpret. That was a part of our school curriculum because then print was the medium of communication. Now that it is audiovisual, I think we need be aware of these narratives too—what is happening, how they are constructed. The young are spending so much time on these narratives . . . We need to bring these into the schools too.

Jerry. The other thing I would like to flag here is that History is taught mostly by women. Think about history teachers. Most college teachers also. If you ask me, the Ramayana was the basis of all cinema and the Mahabharata the basis of all television. Mahabharata is about two feuding families who fight it out till the bitter end and Ramayana is about one man on a quest who makes friends and then they all go and attack the evil land and its evil king and come back home.


Now if you look at those two texts, we could actually teach the Mahabharata the way the Mahabharata is written—because there are no good guys. All the good guys have terrible flaws. One likes to gamble. One keeps having affairs. There is a lot of greatly human stuff in the Pandavas and the Kauravas. The battle at the end is so terrible that no one wins. Both families are wiped out. Ashwathama then goes and kills everybody in the night. What’s that lesson telling you? It’s telling you, very simply, that there are wars. Our history is a history of conflict, as Janaki suggested. But you have got to learn to deal with it.


But you look at the Mahabharata on television and you see a completely sanitized version, an Amar Chitra Katha. Everyone is like ‘Matashri, aap kya kehe rahi ho?’ And Matashri says ‘Jao putra.’


Like everyone is in some sort of a painting or a sculpture from some old temple.


Look at the Jataka and its constant warnings about making friends across species. Do we read these things in a way that teaches us to look at ourselves? Or do we read them in a way that we are being made to read them by the mainstream. Bibek Debroy has just finished a 10-volume translation of the Mahabharata, based on the Bhandarkar Mahabharata. The Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute took all the extant Mahabharatas, worked out which shlokas were common and then put those together as the Mahabharata.


Some people say ‘It is not our Mahabharata.’


You can spend the rest of your life reading that text.


The primacy of texts is something that historians have always valued. Television is taking these texts and simplifying them to the point of madness and dangerousness. It is our responsibility then to go back to the multiplicity of the sources and the potential they have, because those are our storytelling founts in every way. And the more you don’t go back to the primary texts, the more lies can be told about them. Quite simple. Here’s a story from Bollywood. Dadasaheb Phalke was the son of the mahant of the Tryambakeshwar temple, one of the greatest Shiva teerths. In his autobiography, he tells us that his father caught him reading a book and beat him because he said, ‘You are reading an immoral book.’ The book—the Bhagavad Gita. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Bhagavad Gita was seen as an immoral book. It was not meant to be read by children. There were very clear prescriptions and proscriptions and popularities. Maybe this is just one priest saying don’t read the book. But it is an illustrative tale that makes us think.


Whenever I ask my students this question, they say ‘Bible’ or ‘Koran’. Smriti Chitre, for instance, one of the most lovely narratives of the nineteenth century, written by Lakshmibai Tilak whose husband became a Protestant. She was aghast but throughout the time he was reading the Bible, no one ever says, ‘Don’t read it—it’s immoral.’


All learning does to us is show us who we are.


Jerry Pinto is a Mumbai-based writer of poetry, prose and children’s fiction. His novel Em and the Big Hoom (2012) won the Windham-Campbell Award managed by the Beinecke library, Yale university; the Sahitya Akademi Award; the Hindu lit for life Award; and the Crossword Award. His analysis of the figure of Helen in Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb (2006) won him the National Award for the Best Book on Cinema. He is on the board of MelJol, an NGO that works in the child rights space; SPARROW, an archive for women; and The People’s Free Reading Room & library, one of his city’s first public libraries. He started his career as a teacher and continues to teach at the Sophia Polytechnic, Mumbai.

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