Archive for the ‘Interview’ Category


• Being a doctor by profession, how did you get into art and collection of artifacts? 
I was first an art and antique lover and then a doctor. Since childhood, I grew up in an environment of art, particularly from the side of my maternal family. Because I could even draw and paint well, I got into the art circle since the early days. But, later on, when I was about 38 years old, I started collecting coins. My father was well-travelled, so he had a lot of coins of other countries. After simple world coins, I moved on to ancient Indian coins and antiques. For the last 20 years, I have collected a lot of things. First, they lay as a bulk in cupboards, but gradually, I started studying them, got into other, similar enthusiast groups and this is how the hobby grew.

 Right. So you are into coin collection as well as antiques and.. art.
Contemporary Indian artists: I collect their paintings also. I have other hobbies as well, which are not related to art. I am a naturalist, a bird conservator and photographer, I teach medical students as a hobby. And I do a lot of charity work in the tribal areas of North Gujarat.

 That’s multi-tasking!
That is multi-tasking. I enjoy doing all these and I find time to justify them all.

• How did you come up with this beautiful concept of ‘home-museum’?
That’s because I didn’t want my collection to be in cupboards. And if I want to display it for myself, I should live in it. So I have put it in such a way that me, my family and friends can see it all the time. This way it is not only maintained and kept clean, but also I can enjoy them every day.

 Is this concept known and prevalent? 
Yes, many people do this, not as a museum though. See basically, a museum is a collection of individual items, displayed in an organized way. There are different subjects and under each, there are lot of articles, some of them rare and ancient. So, otherwise, using antiques as an interior decoration for homes is a common concept.

• Museums are on an extinction mode. People have shifted to other mediums of entertainment. What are the responsible reasons?
Today, things are easily available in books and on the internet. So, any interested person who wants to study something or know more about something, gets the information through such mediums. But, seeing a particular thing and then studying it is always more enjoyable. Overall, the attention of people is shifting from art and antiques, because there are many other diversions. But these antiques are not made, they cannot be re-made. They are made once and can either be made available or they perish. And so, to preserve, study and enjoy them and our heritage is our duty.

• Do you think that people’s love for heritage moves somewhere around just the ‘Heritage Week’ that we celebrate?
During Heritage Week, my museum also remains flooded with people. But no, I see that they are interested people. They are searching for a cause, for a group where they can go and study such things. New comers hunt for experts who can teach them. And that is why there has to be a proper body, a proper organization that can guide them, associate with them and arrange programs for them.

• Do we have any such organization?
No, these things happen only occasionally. As an ongoing, permanent group, there is none. Antiques, you will be surprised, just this one term, has such a large connotation. It is a collection of many things. But I haven’t come across any group which is related to antiques. There are groups for coins and stamps though.

• Do you plan to start one?!
No, no! But I keep on inducing my friends and the young generation to get interested into art.

 What do you enjoy the most from amongst your prized possessions?
It is my grandfather’s Bharat Ratna Medal. Who can get a Bharat Ratna?! There are only a few people, who have been honored with this medal. So it is the most prized one for me. Value wise, I can’t imagine! Nothing is individually valuable in the museum. They are more valuable as a collection or as an ancient piece. Also, I have a letter from Gandhiji to my grandfather. These are some of the very precious possessions. They’re treasures.

• You belong to a political background. Gulzarilal Nandaji was your maternal grandfather. You never thought of getting into the field?
I don’t think he was a politician. He was a leader, he became the Prime Minister twice. But he never was a politician in today’s sense. He was extremely honest and till the end of his life, he did not touch any sort of money. He used to donate his own salary. So, politics did not come into our blood, as politics! And all us were and are professionals. We were never attracted to politics as a profession to make money or lead the mass. We are of a strong belief that we must change our own life and lives of those near us. And that is the best way of changing the world.

• You also head the Gujarat Coins Society. How does it work?
I was the President of Gujarat Coins Society for many years. It is a hobby circle, which promotes the hobby of collecting coins. Along with coins, there are currency notes and other related hobbies. Coin collection, basically, is a royal hobby. It is one of the oldest hobby. You can know so much about history and geography. Imagine, I give you a coin and tell you that this is of the time when Buddha was alive, how exciting it would be! This is a very interesting hobby, and Gujarat Coins Society promotes it.

• While collecting such a huge amount of artifacts, is there any particular memory that you would like to share?
Many things today, by value, might have become more expensive. But I got some rare things, like cameras, for as much as Rs. 15 or 30. One such incident is again, related to a camera. I have one that is a century old. It came as a simple box and the owner did not even know that it is a camera. When I opened it, it turned out to be a Bellows Camera and I read in the literature that it is so ancient. I bought it for just Rs. 250 at that time. Also, I have a two-three centuries old wooden sculpture of the Dashavatar. I had gone to an antique wood-carving dealer, where these were lying in dirt. Even the dealer never knew what this was. But I could recognize the Narsinh Avatar and others. So I bought the whole stuff, the ten pieces and got them cleaned.

• It requires a lot of study, to know what’s what!
You need to be in touch with it. You need to move around, meet people who can guide you and read the literature.

• Any message that you would like to give to the society?
Yes, of course. I would like to address particularly the youth that you must have a major hobby. And, I do not include reading, travelling, photography, music, watching movies/TV or even watching cricket as a hobby. Because these are essential things, everyone should know them! Hobby is beyond all these. Follow a musical instrument, collection hobbies like stamps or coins, follow a sport in-depth – these are real hobbies. So you must have a hobby that is a very good friend in your later life or in your leisure time. It is a good support to you. Don’t just be free, when you are free! Pursue a hobby. Another thing is, you must preserve your heritage. So many people have discarded old things from their homes and now none of them is available. Most of them are destroyed or they went out of India. We are losing out on our heritage.

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Mahipat Kavi – Dada as we fondly call him, is a storehouse of knowledge. I went to talk about puppetry with him with my book, pen and a set of questions: like all other journalists do. But soon, I had so much matter to listen that the writing part was sidelined! Mahipat Dada answers every question with a story, some also have the honor of Sanskrit Shlokas and Folk Songs. I knew him as a puppeteer, but he is a master storyteller as well. It makes you peep into yourself and your surroundings. Dada is a real inspiration to learn to live your life to the fullest and to romance with your art and work. Aditi Rindani.

How did puppetry start in Gujarat?

Puppetry is a Rajasthani art. It exists in Gujarat since thousands of years. But there is an interesting story behind the birth of modern puppetry in Gujarat, in around 1957-58. The art started from Shreyas School in Ahmedabad. Leenaben Mangaldas was the owner of the school. She was interested in educating the children through art.

Meherben Contractor was a portrait designer, whose two kids studied in that school. She had studied in England and saw puppetry as a means of education there. To implement the same in Gujarat, Leenaben sent her to study puppetry for three months in England.

Even today, Shreyas School organizes a Shreyas Mela every year that popularizes the culture and traditions of various states of India. Leenaben pioneered this insight of innovative methods of teaching children.

Since when, are you a part of puppetry?

I joined Meherben in puppetry since 1963 and worked with her for almost 15 years. Then, I started with my own organization called ‘Puppets and Plays’ in 1975. Also, I founded the Indian Puppet Academy in 1987 for training of teachers and children.

What made you join this field?

After completing my studies at the age of 19, my elders asked me to join the family business of clothing at Ranip. I denied the proposal as business involves being dishonest with customers. Back then, I had an urge to be at the service of the nation, so I joined Navjivan led by Gandhiji. After independence, the scenario changed. I joined the radio as a singer and further then, joined the Darpana Academy to learn Theatre in 1961-62. But then, I realized that my body structure was not suitable for a huge 40 feet stage!

During that time, Meherben had come to Darpana and showed the collection of foreign puppets to us. This was an interesting field and I made up my mind to work for puppetry.

What is the difference between traditional and modern puppetry?

About 22 small and big organizations work for puppetry in India. But the avenues for the use of puppetry in different fields are still unexplored. Puppets are widely used just for the sake of entertainment. It is not understood that there has to be a message for the society through this medium. There are no innovations in the traditional puppetry, may be because most of the puppeteers are not educated enough. However, plays related to religions and cultural beliefs are the most common shows with a message in India.

Puppetry is a field that should not be limited to any one subject or a class of people. Modern puppetry is all about innovations, which is yet not popularized in our country. On the other hand, traditional puppetry is a mirror of the traditions and cultures of that particular region. Each state has different subjects for their puppetry. Also, there are different stories for the origin of puppetry in different regions.

What is the story behind Gujarat’s puppetry?

Gujarat, as I mentioned, has followed puppetry of Rajasthan. The two states may have different geographies but they have shared culture and traditions.

Puppetry art in Rajasthan is called ‘Kathputli’ that was started by Kavi Kank who was the main poet in the kingdom of King Vikram in Ujjain. Kank used to ridicule all the new poets who came to the King. The poets were never satisfied and outraged by this, once a poet appeased the King and demanded that Kank should be ashamed of his acts. Kank was afraid of humiliation and he escaped to a village called Basi in Rajasthan. This village was known for the wooden statues made by the carpenters. Kank got a wooden head made and wrote the famous story of ‘Batris Putli’ based on this. In this way, the fantasy started and took the shape of puppetry.

Also, in Gujarat, there lived an alchemist named Pad Lipt Suri in Palitana. He was a Jain Sadhu who made robots and puppets for the spread of Jain culture.

How puppetry is important? In which sections can it be used?

I recently wrote a play titled ‘Gujarat Gaurav Gatha’ that talks about the progress of Gujarat. The play starts with the story of Lord Indra, Dadhichi Rushi and Vatrasur Rakshas. Then God Ram and God Krishna came. These were followed by Gandhiji and Narendra Modi. So be it stories like these or simply spread of awareness about Government policies, puppetry is an important medium. It is economical and equally enjoyed by the children and the old.

Apart from these, puppetry is also used in
– Children’s Education
– Mass Communication
– Education for the Disabled and Mentally Retarded
– Adult Education
– Entertainment for patients at the hospital
– Entertainment at hotels and restaurants
– Advertisements

Can you share a memorable incident related to puppetry?

One of the fields in which puppetry is used is for the education of the mentally retarded. There is a school for such children named Sharda near Ellis Bridge in Ahmedabad. Once while conducting a exhibition there, a boy saw a lady puppet and turned aggressive. He started screaming, crying and tore the entire puppet. When we inquired, we got to know that he hates his stepmother and took out all the frustration on the puppet, which resembled the face of that woman. The boy, after this incident, became normal! This was a miracle.

What is the difference between human drama and puppet drama?

Fantasy is the element that distinguishes the two of them. Puppet drama must have fantasy as the basic aspect. No human drama can be directly played through puppets, and if played, it will not be interesting. This is because puppets are different from human beings. So, a script has to be puppetized, just as a story is dramatized.

Do you think puppetry is a dying art?

No. Puppetry is changing its form. However, it is true that this art is not getting the importance it deserves. The modern society is too much inclined towards film and TV. Also, the people who knew this art have turned it into a business, a means to earn money. In olden days, there was no fee to see such arts! But today, everything is commercialized.

What should be done to save such arts?

Let me share a recent proposal. I have applied to the Central Government with a suggestion to start a residential school for such traditional arts. Students have to stay here and dedicate time for such arts.

There is no place for such art in today’s schools. Every school has an art teacher who teaches the student to draw a flower but never takes that student to a garden to see that flower, teach him not to pluck them and then ask him to draw. It is all about show off and modernization. But, what we forget is, man is born out of culture and if we lose the essence of culture, we are not human beings!

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• How has the repeal of Article 377 empowered the homosexuals?
I would like you to know that this Indian law was not known to many people, including those of the gay community. The fact is that in our country, religion plays a very important role. People were not aware about this law that criminalized homosexuality. They thought it is a sin, offense, crime etc. just because the society perceived it in that manner. And the society perceived it based on religion and the mindsets of the people in general. But since this law was decriminalized, most of the people came to know that this law once existed. After the court decision came, the amount of publicity generated by the media was widespread. It created a controversy, debates and discussions. This entire media publicity actually helped in mainstreaming homosexuality in the society. So, it was not about the law being decriminalized, but the publicity that created a lot of sensitization and empowerment in the community. One of my favorite quotes is that “Gay Rights cannot be won in the court rooms but in the hearts of the society.” See, I am very honest about my opinions. How many people in India follow the laws? Laws are made to be broken in our country. People don’t care much about the laws, what decisions the courts have made or what the parliament decides. If the mindset of the people is anti-homosexuality, then it does not make a difference if the High Court or the Supreme Court defies it. This decriminalization has definitely paved our way at Lakshya, my organization that works for HIV Prevention because this act was a serious obstacle towards HIV control in India. This law was being misused rather than being used. There are examples where my staff has been arrested by the Police. The irony is that they work for the Government of Gujarat, being paid salaries by the Govt. for distributing condoms for safe sex practices. The Police arrested them stating that it is against Section 377. We are here to save lives and the Police said we were violating the laws by encouraging homosexuality. So now that the law has been repealed, we do not have to face Police harassment. And we can now improve our strategies. In Gujarat, wherever we work, our HIV rates have fallen down and stabilized. Now there is no fear. 

• What is the role of media when it comes to homosexuality?

I must say that over the years, media has definitely changed its viewpoints. Earlier it used to give negative reports on homosexuality calling it abnormal and unnatural. This was the case especially with the vernacular newspapers. But my own coming out story actually broke the history of India, because I came out in a Gujarati newspaper in a Hindu fundamentalist state. It openly talked about homosexuality and not only that but it also brought out a very positive aspect of homosexuality. So, I think, this itself was a breaking news as for the first time in the history of India, a vernacular newspaper carried a positive story on homosexuality. This was a change in the role of media, after which other vernacular media also followed suit. In fact, through our organization, we follow one of the strategies called ‘Media Advocacy’, where the Government provides us with a budget. We are supposed to sensitize the media. We talk to them and clear their doubts on homosexuality. We seek their cooperation and support to bring out positive stories based on serious issues. This will help us in the long run not only in clearing the misconceptions about homosexuality but it will also make things easier for HIV control. So, I think, media has been sensitized but still a lot needs to be done. It is a continuous process as the people in the media keep changing! We cannot have the same set of people.

• What do you think about homosexuality being linked with religion, especially in India?

After I came out, a lot of people from the upper class came and confided in me. These include industrialists, business tycoons, political leaders, religious leaders, Government officers, people from royal families of India and abroad… if I start making a list, it would be a big directory! People actually write to me and correspond with me, they say ‘We wish we had guts like to you to come out, but we cannot. But we confide to you that we are gay and we fully support your cause. So when religious leaders say that homosexuality doesn’t exist, I know how many of they themselves are gays! You name the religion and the sect, I know each and every person from that particular sect who is gay! If I open my mouth and leak out the names, people will lose faith in religion. But I don’t want to do that, I have no right to do that. When a person has confided with me, I should maintain their trust. But I surely have a laugh when I see the religious leaders opposing us and they went to the Supreme Court. What is happening in the Supreme Court concerning our appeal is also very interesting. Though India is a secular country, majority of us are Hindus. Inspite of that, if you look at the petition that has been filed in the Supreme Court against the repeal of Section 377, out of the total 16 petitioners, there are just 2 Hindus. Others include 7 Christians and 7 Muslims. Now tell me, where is the proportion? If Hindus are majority in India, there should have been more Hindu petitioners. Why the Muslims and the Christians are more? This makes it very clear that Hinduism doesn’t have anything on record or any evidence to show that it is against homosexuality. We have Shikhandi in Mahabharata who was gay. Also, we have a several gay characters in Ramayana, Mahabharata and other Indian epics. We have this concept of Ardhnareshwari (Half Shiva and half Parvati). We have gay Gods and lesbian Goddesses in our Hindu mythology. Then where is the question of Hinduism being against homosexuality? Yes, Islam and Christianity are very clear – both the Quran and the Bible – say that homosexuality is a crime. And this is very apparent by the fact that the Supreme Court has majority of Muslim and Christian petitioners. I’ll give you another example of Nepal, which is just our bordering country. Nepal Supreme Court has legalized same sex marriages. It is not a secular country; it used to be a Hindu kingdom. I got a letter from the Minister of Tourism of Nepal saying ‘If you have any of your friends who want to get married, send them to Nepal. The Government of Nepal will ensure that they get married in the Hindu temple, by a Hindu priest; we’ll offer them a marriage certificate and send them to Mt. Everest for honeymoon! So, Nepal being a Hindu country has no Muslim and Christian population to protest against homosexuality. Also, they were never ruled by the Britishers, so they did not have a law that was criminalizing homosexuality. This is very nearby example! And Nepal is doing the right thing by promoting gay tourism. A debt-ridden economy like Nepal is going to earn a lot of foreign exchange by inviting gay and lesbian couples to come and marry. Of course, Nepal is worse than India when it comes to economy, but India has a lot to learn from Nepal. India has vast destinations, many geographical locations to offer, while Nepal has only snow. If India wants to encash upon this opportunity, it can earn crores of rupees as foreign exchange by promoting gay tourism.

• The fear of losing social acceptance is one big hindrance in coming out. So, what can be done to gain the support of the society?

To gain social acceptance for anything, one has to strive hard to sensitize the society. We need to bring out the facts, create awareness and clear the misconceptions. I’ll tell you, even when I came out, the initial reactions of some of the people were that they burnt my effigies. Even at that time, I had just one simple media comment. I said, “I don’t blame them. I would have done the same thing if I were at their place. What I blame is their ignorance.” Why should I blame them, because they are not even aware what it is to be a gay or to be homosexual? It is our duty to educate them. As and when I have educated them, media has supported me and people have changed their minds and behavior. So, this is the only solution – education, awareness – whether it is about homosexuality, HIV-AIDS or any other social practice.

• Many young Indians are still in the closet, waiting to come out as homosexuals. What advice do you give to them?

See, there are two aspects of ‘coming out’. The first one is coming out to your own self. This should be the first and foremost thing, as many people are still fighting to come out to themselves because of some or the other fears. My advice to them is that being gay is something very natural and normal. As it is to be straight, it is to be gay. It is just a question of one’s preference or orientation of being attracted to the same sex or the opposite sex. So one should feel proud rather than to have a guilt feeling. And come out to yourself first. And then, in case they wish to come out to their close friends, family or relatives, that is a very personal or secondary choice.

• What is your message to the society?

My message is very clear and simple. We are human beings; treat us with equality, respect and dignity. The way we respect the other people in the world, the same way we expect respect from others.

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“It was difficult to be gay in my family. The villagers worship us and we are role models for them. My family didn’t allow us to mix with ordinary or low-caste people. Our exposure to the liberal world was minimal. Only when I was hospitalized after my nervous breakdown in 2002 did my doctor inform my parents about my sexuality. All these years I was hiding my sexuality from my parents, family and people. I never liked it and I wanted to face the reality. When I came out in the open and gave an interview to a friendly journalist, my life was transformed. Now, people accept me”

• What are the main stereotypes and myths that prevail when it comes to homosexuality?

One of the main stereotypes is that most people confuse to be gay with being transgender (Hijda, as it is called in India).
Number two, people think we are pedophiles (Adult men who like to have sex with children).
Another myth is that most gay men are effeminate.
The fourth one is that we are impotent (Sexually inactive).
We found one interesting myth around ten years ago when we started working for the community and for HIV-AIDS. It was a survey done among the lower income group and the uneducated class. We found that most straight men think that by having sex with another man, will not get them infected with HIV.
Also, most people think that if you are a gay, you cannot be from the upper class. They think only the uneducated, poor, lower middle class men can be gay.
These are the general types of myths when it comes to homosexuality.

• People have lowered viewpoints about homosexuality. What are the main reasons behind this?

Unawareness and ignorance about the subject are the main reasons. If any subject has been considered a taboo, kept hidden, not been allowed to discuss or debate openly, over a period of time, people will definitely carry myths and wrong understanding about that subject.
If you look at the history, homosexuality was very much a part and parcel of our Indian society. We have the Kamasutra, which is a 2500-year-old sex guidebook. The book has a chapter exclusively on homosexuality. It also talks about transgenderism, lesbianism and has different photographs and paintings that show homosexual positions. Apart from this book, we have temples in Khajurao, Modhera, Patan, Dahod, Somnath etc where I myself have seen homosexual statues. These temples have been built before thousands of years, even before the Muslims invaded India. So, I would say that homosexuality has existed since years, but because of the influence of Islam and Christianity, people started degrading it.

• Do you have any regrets for coming out as a homosexual?

The only regret I had was that I should have come out much earlier. I would have saved much more lives and many more families from getting devastated. This is the only regret, apart from this; I’ll never ever regret that I came out. 

• Does being a part of a royal family help or hinder your cause?

I would say it is more of a help than a hindrance. The fact is that some of the royal families are being worshipped in India. What work our ancestors did for development cannot even be compared with what our politicians are doing today. And this is why, people, even today; treat us as their role models. Fortunately, for me, when I started living in Rajpipla, I did a lot of social work for the people in almost all sectors like health, education, employment, agriculture, tourism, heritage, culture, art, music etc. and that was what people remembered when I came out.
Recently, without my knowledge, one of the newspapers (Times of India) conducted a survey. One of their reporters questioned the people, at random, to find out what they felt about me. Most of them replied, “We don’t have issues with he being gay or straight, for us he is our Prince. He has helped us in all these sectors.”

On the contrary, I was felicitated by a senior citizens group in Rajpipla for coming out. They felt that not many people could be honest to themselves and the fact that he has come out and been true is what we appreciate.

• You’ve decided to adopt a child…

This was just an answer to the questions put forward by the people of Rajpipla. They were worried about the future, the legacy. My adoption decision is just to carry forward our 650-year old family lineage. I am the direct descendant of that dynasty.
And adoptions in royal families are very common. Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad was also adopted in the Gaekwad family. In fact, our own dynasty began with an adoption 650 years ago and there have been several adoptions in the period in between as well.
Anyway, it is too early for me to take any decision because my father is still holding charge. It is only after I take over this responsibility, I can decide what is to be done. 

• Ten years down the line, how do you foresee the future of homosexuality?

The society is gearing up to come to terms with the realities of life. After all, how long can one support something that is not true? I very much gain inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophies on life. One of the things that I like is ‘Satyamev Jayate’ (Truth always prevails). Based on this, he managed to get India free from the Britishers.
I connect India’s freedom movement with India’s gay rights movement. We also do not wish to create any sort of violence, we want to protest or rather fight for our rights in a very non-violent manner. We wish to collect people’s confidence, create awareness and build a network. So, we almost follow the path of Gandhiji. And he could manage to get freedom, though it took almost 50 years, but ultimately he won it on the basis of truth. So if he could do it, why not we?

So, I think, down the line, may be ten years-twenty years-thirty years, I don’t know what will be the period; but I am very clear, ‘Truth always prevails’. And on the basis of this, we also won our High Court case and this should be a learning lesson for us.

Prince Manvendrasingh Gohil was born on 23 September 1965, as the son of Maharana Shri Raghubir Singhji Rajendrasinghji Sahib, who inherited the title of Maharana of Rajpipla in 1963. In 2000, Manvendra started the Lakshya Trust, of which he is the Chairman, a group dedicated to HIV/AIDS education and prevention programs for gay and bisexual men. He is the only known person of royal lineage in modern India to have publicly revealed that he is a gay. It was on 14 March 2006, that the story of Manvendra’s coming out made headlines in India and around the world.

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How does it feel like to be a part of ‘The Hutheesing Family’?
With every privilege, comes responsibility. Therefore, when you hold a powerful legacy or are a member of such a family, it is a huge responsibility. This is because of not only people’s expectations, but also your own code of conduct. For e.g. If everybody is highly educated in your family, you need to maintain those standards. Hutheesing family has over the years, earned a lot of money and even spent and donated it well. Now, to donate, you need to earn and be wealthy. This in itself is a pressure! And wealth is not only about money. Education is wealth, respect is wealth and achievements are also wealth. I think it is a privilege for anyone to be born in a good family. There is nothing like a bad family, though! But by the term ‘good’ Imean ‘historic’. And when Hutheesing family has done immense work for the city, it is our duty to take it forward. And very often, this may even take a priority over your lifestyle or your own self!

True. You studied science and banking. So was this one of the reasons for the switch to this field?
Yes I have studied business & marketing from America and then studied banking at Japan. I am not an art student. I have inherited the institutes that I run. The institutes are mainly involved with art, culture, heritage and other historical activities. But what people forget is that even art &culture, hospitals, religious trusts – all require management. There should be accounts on the income and expenditure of the money, a legal structure and many other aspects have to be looked after.

How do these institutes differ from each other? (The Hutheesing Foundation, Hutheesing Art Gallery, Hutheesing Trust)

  • You must have heard of the ‘Maslow’s Law of Hierarchy’. It talks about the five basic human needs viz. food, procreation, clothing, housing and finally it comes to ego. Now, I have crafted five different abstracts that are perhaps ‘My Laws of Hierarchy’ and this is how I believe our society functions.
  • The first thing that any human being needs is HOPE. More than food, we need hope. If we have hope, we will live another day. But if we don’t have it, all our motivation will be lost. And who gives us hope? God gives us hope! Even a person who says he is an atheist, a non-believer in God, trusts Him as a divine power. If your child is dying and you cannot find a cure for his suffering, you will surely turn to God. So, God gives us hope and that hope keeps the society balanced and moving ahead. Therefore, we have the Hutheesing Trust that manages temples and derasars.
  • After hope, we want GOOD HEALTH. More than education, we need health. And so, we built the Hutheesing Civil Hospital. This hospital became the largest public charitable hospital in the world, with 4700 beds.
  • We have hope and good health. Next, we need EDUCATION. So we came up with the Ahmedabad Education Society, for which I serve as the governing body.
  • Being educated is not enough, we need CULTURE. And so we have The Hutheesing Visual Art Centre that teaches art and culture.
  • After all these comes HERITAGE, our values, our lineage, our history. So, there is Hutheesing Heritage Foundation.
  • The Hutheesing Family as these 5 trusts and all these trusts address different things. Each of these is important for the society to function. These are all independent and have their own systems. But there is a lot to follow up on.

How do you manage to justify all these roles?
I cannot say that I manage all these institutes. This has come down through the generations. And hence, each generation has to make its own contribution and leave its own mark, however big or small. It’s not that I have set up and all these and I manage them. No! There are systems, there have to be. Say for instance, the Prime Minister does not run the country. The IAS does. PMs keep changing. So, there are systems. Wherever and however I can contribute, I do!

One question out of personal experience. This Haveli, in spite of being so gorgeous, has less visibility. Why is it that people don’t know about it?
Because it’s private and not open to the public. It’s our home and not a museum or a hotel. It is a stately home and so many people of historical importance have stayed here. Also, it has been a home for the family since several generations. So, we would like to maintain that honor of the family.

Your views on Heritage Week and people’s perspectives. 
See I’ll tell you, I don’t believe in the celebration of all these days. Mothers’ day, fathers’ day, lovers’ day, secretaries’ day, rose day, today fingers’ day, tomorrow will be hair’s day… Nooooo! In other cultures and traditions, everyday is a day when you pursue what you believe in. There is no time-table where each hour is dedicated to a subject, like we did in schools. All tasks are done simultaneously to do good to the society. I believe these celebrations are needed for a larger audience. But we can’t take them too seriously. It is silly. If you really want to value and preserve our heritage, then do something concrete about it. The taste of the food comes from eating, not from the recipes. The ground realities are quite different. Government cannot reach everywhere, if people are really interested, then they should be encouraged to preserve their own heritage. And in turn, if everyone does this, the heritage of the city too, will be well preserved.

To what extent does the Government support with regards to this issue?

Government may come up with any role. Let’s take for example, ASI. Ahmedabad has 52 ‘A’ grade monuments, recognized by ASI, which is more than the Old Delhi. (There are gradations of the historical monuments. There are global categories. A historical palace and a Haveli in a Pol will not have the same grades. They both are heritage, but the grades define their level of importance) Some places of historical importance in Ahmedabad are really filthy. It is the Government’s duty to maintain them. However, there are communal and political issues that obstruct the maintenance. And heritage is a complex issue as it is multi-cultured. But we need to look beyond religion. Whatever heritage is present on Indian soil is Indian heritage. Hats off to our CM Narendrabhai, he has started the Sarkhej Roza fest and does many other such things. But I feel the support is not there! Then there is Heritage Tourism and we have Amitabh Bachchan as the ambassador. But where is the necessary infrastructure? Geer – no proper roads, indefinite availability of jeeps, no proper hotels, no cleanliness. Modhera Temple – fantastic, but when you go there, you find that there are no washrooms! Marketing is necessary, but ground level facilities are a prior necessity. We Gujaratis are very good at business and entrepreneurship. But we terribly lack at service. And art and culture is a part of the service industry, as it comes under entertainment. We have lost the spark. Where is Gujarati theatre? Where is Gujarati poetry?

So, what do you think can be done?
It is not a simple solution! Travel & tourism, art & culture, entertainment, events need to be excavated in Gujarat. Gujarat completely lacks in the glamour industry too, be it sports or political or any other. It could not make it to the IPL as well. There is huge amount of money in Gujarat, but zero glamour. And the aspiration of the youth, that constitutes 65% of India’s population, is nothing but to be a star. That is why the reality TV sells!

Glamour reminds me, you have the highest number of royal clothes in your wardrobe in India. How did you manage to get them?

A lot among them are inherited; many of them were bought by my grandparents and parents. Others are collected.

Since you are a fashion consultant as well, what’s your take on today’s fashion industry?
The fashion world today is buzzing. It is a very big industry around the world. Roti, kapda and makaan are the three basic necessities of any human being. And fashion is not an invention. It is a psychological and physiological need. If you look good, you feel good. And if you feel good, you make other people feel better. So, remember – fashion is not shallow. It brings happiness. Apart from this, the fashion industry employs so many people. It is not an entity of the affluent class of the society. Do you mean to say, poor and middle class don’t wear clothes?! Everything has cascading effect. But the raw inspiration is translated and brought down to various levels, various standards and various groups of people. So it has great domino effect.

What drives the trends, the fashion industry and the mindsets?
People are inspired from movies for their fashion and they follow trends, so that is the impact of entertainment. According to me, the glamour industry is a great empowerment tool. Today lot many people are taking this industry as a career. Many youngsters and college grads start their own event management company. This industry has even reached the smaller villages. With such cascading effect, this is the reducing pressure on the urban society. People used to migrate for better opportunity and better quality of life but now they are going back taking urban phenomena back with them, at very less cost. Every product needs to be marketed, even politicians need to be marketed, that’s what they do with the use of different media. And entertainment is great marketing and it’s all done by the youth through modeling, event management, hair-styling, make-up etc. Every girl, be from a metro or from a village, likes to look prettier. We need to understand the combined impact of beauty, entertainment and fashion industry. If we can develop this culture and mindset in Gujarat, then lot many people will get employment. And more importantly, it is self-sufficient, no bank is required to loan for that. I tell you, I had started ‘Lakme India Fashion Week 12 years down the line. And today, there are so many fashion weeks being organized all across India, promoting so many young designers who in turn employ so many artisans. Government has not poured a single penny for it; still it feeds lakhs of people being self-sustained without the help of Government, NGOs or any other external support system. These are the kind of activities required to be performed in order to empower the youth.

Somewhere heritage is being linked with fashion…
Fashion, historically, always comes from the top. See… Today what Kate Middleton wore, that became the trend, the fashion. It always flows from top-down. People in great position and power are the derivatives for mass clothing. Even if you look at our traditional system, the jewels that our Kings and Queens used to wear are being replicated by other classes of the society. The diamonds may be replaced by silver, but designs are the same. There is street art, popular art, but all these are more functional. Today, the youth want style, not functions. Though it has to be functional, but it also has to be stylish. And I think these both can very easily blend. For example, a saree. None of the designers in India has invented it. It is there for 5000 years. Why are we so afraid of the word ‘Fashion’? I want to get this myth out; people think fashion is something frivolous. No, it’s not. Every human being needs clothes! Both, fashion and heritage are very important for the human society. A tree cannot grow tall without its roots and heritage is our roots. If you don’t take care of the roots or cut them off, then how would a tree grow? Grass will grow, but not a huge banyan tree!

Just to end with, 10 years down the line, what do see Gujarat as? Would it be a heritage state, industrial hub, education city or something related to fashion?
Let me tell you, it already is a hub for fashion. 40% of the manmade, synthetic fabric in India comes from Surat; Ahmedabad was the Manchester of East and is the largest producer of cotton and denims, 80% of the world’s diamonds pass from Surat. Clothes and jewellery, two most eminent parts of fashion come from Gujarat, what else is left to focus on?! But we need fashion to convert the raw materials to final product. It is the value addition where we are lacking. And by doing that, we can multiply our growth, in turn add income for the state and employ youth as well. This is my personal wish too! For this, we need education and insight. We have education institutes like NID, EDI, NIFT, NIJD etc., we have NGOs like SEWA, Kala Raksha, Shrujan etc., we have mills like Arvind, Ashima, Garden etc., we have textile museums like, Calico, Shreyas, TAPI collection in Surat; we have it all. Gujarat will be a great center for fashion. It will be a great learning center for education and it has been since history. First school of pharmacy, first entrepreneurship institute, ATIRA, first school of architecture, first school of design, IIM etc. – Ahmedabad is home to all these. The vision of Narendrabhai is to make Gujarat, a knowledge corridor and he will do it by encouraging knowledge investment. Every economy is driven by knowledge and Research & Development. If you have knowledgeable people, you can do R&D. Gujarat will be an industrial hub for sure, but it will also be a knowledge driven society in a span of couple of years. Gujarat will be rocking and it should be rocking. And we really will make it. What was missing, was a catalyst and I think those catalysts are here now! (You are the catalysts and this is what you people are doing! You are taking it to the masses. It has to be inclusive growth.)

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• You are into so many activities. How do you manage to justify all?
I am a creative person. For me, creativity is more important than anything else is. I am also much disciplined, when it comes to work hours and projects. So, basically, it is about creative time management and depends on how you make your own timetable. I give a deadline and as far as possible, I stick to that deadline.I am not a morning person, I start work after 3 in the afternoon and that could be up to anytime in the night!

• What is the central idea of your books? 
Writing is my method of understanding myself better. As I belong to the Jewish community, I create a lot of fiction based on that. I grew up as a part of a minority community, in a country like India, where there are so many other communities. The main concern is how to keep your identity alive, as well be an Indian; because ‘Indian’ is a general and large term. I am not religious, but we all belong to a particular area or fields – say for e.g. the writer’s field. In midst of all these, you need to create your own self. So, I write about the Jewish life, especially Jewish women, because this is a group that is unknown to the world.

• Any inspirations?
Writers generally give a definite thing for their inspirations. But for me, there is no such muse. The only inspiration is my life, by heart I am an artist, because I was trained as an artist. While by profession, I am a writer. So I would not say that I saw a flower open or a child smile and I got inspired!

It is 99% perspiration. You have to keep yourself inspired all the time to write. Actually, this applies not only to writing, but also to whatever you do.

• How has the journey been from being an art student to a successful writer & journalist?
I used to write since I was an art student. It used to be about art and art history though, as a part of the studies. I was told by my professors that I was good at it and should continue with writing. It was then, in 1978 that I decided to switch my career to writing and did not wish to be an artist anymore.

I did not hold a professional degree in Journalism and was a student of Fine Arts. However, I got an opportunity to work for a newspaper as an art writer. In those days, we used to get almost half a page for our write-ups. So I could experiment and learn as well while writing. In the meantime, I discovered that I could do something better that would be more satisfying. Art had a limited scope. I have always believed that creativity is like a room with many doors. You should be able to open any door, and I felt that through my writing I could open many more doors. I could express myself better through the power of my pen and when people sit back and relax, I totally changed my career interests, at the age of 46. I turned to serious writing and got my novel published. It did well and my literary voice became stronger and stronger day-by-day.

Now, writing is my life, if I don’t write, it makes me feel miserable!

• What is your take on today’s women?
It’s very interesting but unfortunate that even when we are celebrating International Women’s Day and women are into different fields, we have absolutely no idea as to how this liberation came. There is no knowledge as to why do we celebrate this Day and where did this freedom come from. What is feminism, what is women’s liberation – are some questions that I usually ask people I meet, especially if they wish ‘Happy Women’s Day’. Today we move about freely in western clothes. But do we even know how difficult it was for women in the 40s and 50s? We cannot forget our past. Today’s woman who is multi-tasking and is efficient, lives in an era of ‘womanhood’. But sometimes I see that women forget that you are an individual, you also have a creative life your own that needs to be explored. Besides this, in this fast moving global world, materialistic pleasures are becoming more important. And in this race, we forget our basic values of being a woman, a family-maker, a mother. Today’s women are working hard and meanwhile, the family structure has a lesser priority. Children are left to themselves and the concepts have changed.

This may sound old-fashioned. But I really wonder, are we forgetting our values and the warmth of our traditions? Of course, there is no harm in being a global woman, but there is much more to be an Indian woman. This question needs to be explored. Are today’s Indian women ready to sacrifice in order to retain the values and the culture?

• Is there any particular issue about the modern women that affects you the most?
I think retaining culture, traditions and rituals – these are the three things that I find lacking a lot. Of course, you see them enjoying Navratri and other festivals with all fervor, but that is at a commercial level. So I feel it is the duty of the women to be more conscious to spread the culture, not only in the household but also beyond that. It just does not end by becoming modern or saying that ‘I am free’. Free of what? Nobody on this earth can be free of certain values and traditions.

• Can you share an incident that is the most memorable for you?
One of the very important moments was when I received the courier of the first five copies of my first novel ‘The Walled City’.

Second was when I received the Sahitya Academy Award. My son called me up at 10.30 in the night as the news came to the press and he works for one.

And the third was when my first grandchild was born, to my daughter in Paris, France. I think being a grandmother changed everything: my relationships, my talks, my meetings. So being called ‘Nani’ is the high point of my life!

• Your message to the society on Women’s Day?
I think traditions and heritage, is what we all women need to hold on to, in order to survive. I wish them all the very best and may they get the courage to fulfill all their responsibilities.

(Esther David is a Jewish-Indian writer, an artist and a sculptor based in Ahmedabad. A columnist for leading English Dailies and an author of a few novels, she says ‘I am just a seed of a buried tree!‘)

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Why HAM Radio is called Amateur Radio?
Basically, HAM Radio is a hobby, for which a person needs to be self-motivated. He has to learn the techniques on his own or go to a person who knows HAM well. It is not a very handy hobby. Amateur may be called the opposite of mature, it is a self-developed skill. Just like there are amateur photographers who practice photography but may not have a degree in the same field. Similarly this wireless technology of HAM has the technical name of Amateur Radio. And the person operating the HAM Radio is called a HAM.

Is there any full-form for HAM? How did the term come into existence?
No, HAM is not an acronym unlike B.Sc or B.Com. If you can recollect, the unit of temperature was Centigrade, later changed to Celsius. This was because Celsius was the inventor of the temperature meter. His name deserved to be remembered and linked with this invention. Similarly, there were three pioneer scientists in the invention of the wireless technology. Their names being Hertz, Angstrom and Marconi, Hertz invented the frequency; Angstrom was the founder of circuits while Marconi designed the first radio receiver circuit. Marconi is also the name of a famous radio brand. So came the term HAM by adopting the first letters of their names. Also, due to its high value during disasters, the full-form of HAM is formed as Help All Mankind.

What is the difference between a common radio set and a HAM radio?
HAM Radio is a one-to-one communication device. While radio has a mast radio reception that broadcasts and we as listeners can simply hear the songs or interviews. HAM Radio is a medium of two-way conversations. Also, commercial radio is allotted a particular spot frequency while HAM Radio gets the privilege of bands of frequencies. Unlike huge amounts of royalties paid by other radios, HAM Radio demands just a few rupees per year. HAM is installed, operated and maintained by the owner himself while in other communication mediums, different people play different roles.

How does the HAM Radio actually work?
HAM Radio works on the principle of wireless technology. There is no need of a third party or a service provider. It works on the Ionosphere and the radio waves. This means that the waves released from the transmitter travel through the ionosphere and reach the desired destination. So it is everlasting as the entire human kind survives because of this sphere on which the technology, too, is dependent.

How is the bandwidth decided? Is it possible that two allotted bandwidths might coincide? 
Every wireless device is recognized by its operating frequency. This frequency allocation is made by a Government body named WPC (Wireless Planning & Coordination). Police, Army, Navy, Fire Brigade, Civil & Aviation, Forest department etc all use the wireless technology. These all are allotted bandwidths in which they can communicate. Since the allocation is overviewed, there are no chances that the bandwidths might coincide.

How did the HAM Radio help during the 2001 Gujarat Earthquake?
This disaster was on a massive scale and it had affected Gujarat very badly. In the aftermath of the earthquake all the communication mediums had failed. The quake had struck at around 8.21 am but we got to know that Kutch was badly affected only by the afternoon, due to weak communication facilities. This happens due to two reasons: manmade and technical. Everyone tries to contact one another and the systems get jammed. Technically, the satellite alignment or the fiber optics in the ground gets disrupted during any such calamity. This is the time when HAM was working, because it is basically a wireless system. So we had reached Kutch and resumed the communication.

Generally, how does HAM help in any type of manmade or natural calamity?
We need a source of information in order to handle and overcome any kind of calamity. If there are helping agencies but they don’t have the required data like what are the requirements of the affected areas and the priorities, they cannot take a further step. So HAM Radio plays a major role as the information provider when there is a total communication blackout.

What is the technology behind HAM Radio?
This is called a type of wireless technology. There are two types of communication equipments: HF (High Frequency) which is used for global communication and VHF (Very High Frequency) which is used for local communication that covers a range of 25-40 kms.

Can anyone become a HAM? What is the procedure for the same?
The Government has kept the barrier of an examination in order to acquire a license to operate the HAM Radio. Once this exam is cleared, there is character verification (similar to one during issue of a passport) and thereafter the license is issued. There is no qualification barrier, but the person has to be an Indian National Citizen above the age of 14. The license is an authority to keep a wireless device, and so even HAM Radio needs a license for operation.

Are there any groups or clubs that work for HAM Radio?
In Gujarat, Gujarat Institute of Amateur Radio functions, this is the outcome of the 2001 Earthquake. This club has branches all over Gujarat. It conducts trainings, seminars and demonstrations at all major Government functions and at schools/colleges. Anyone, whether a HAM or not, can become a member of this club.

Can you share an experience when you have witnessed HAM Radio as a life saver?
I got the license to be a HAM in 1982. Since then, I have witnessed the role of HAM in more than 10 major disasters where we provided emergency communication. But the most memorable experience was during the Tsunami. We had rushed to Andaman and Nicobar Islands in December 2005 and our location was Campbell Bay, which is the southernmost island. Then, there was a total blackout of communication and we were supposed to rescue the people who were caught mid-sea. This was a worthy task undertaken in the worst conditions by the HAM Radio. Around 60 missing people were traced due to this technology.

What according to you is the future of HAM Radio?
Since we live in an era of communication, the technology changes day to day. So I can say that HAM Radio is not on the forefront. But whenever there is a disaster, all these latest, well-settled communication technologies fail. This is the time when HAM Radio is the only savior. Secondly, the youth can be well trained and the scientific skills can be developed. An interest needs to be generated among the youth to adopt this technology.

(Mr. Praveen Valera, Joint Secretary, Gujarat Institute of Amateur Radio)

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