Thursday, June 29, 2006

Venus Williams

Venus Williams rocked Wimbledon today, she was one set down and two points away from being eliminated by another American Lisa Raymond. But the defending champion fought back winning point after point, hitting ace after ace. Venus Williams fought back with grit and determination winning the second and third set. Serena and Venus, make tennis so fun to watch and exciting. I wish they both get back to form and start winning grand slams again!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

No more tears sister

Saw a powerful movie on P.O.V. last night, No More Tears Sister. It was about the short life of Dr. Rajani Thiranagama, a human rights activist, professor of anatomy, wife and mother. She, a Tamil Christian, started off as a leftist revolutionary, along with her Sinhalese husband. She then joined the Tamil Tigers, disgusted with their politics, their senseless killing of any opposition to their rule and callousness, with which they played with young Tamilians lives, she broke away from them. This was unacceptable for the Tigers and she was killed by their bullets. She created a human rights group in Jaffna Sri Lanka and a home for destitute women, raped by Indian Peace Keeping Force, or the Sinhalese Army.

Background on the film by Helene Klodawsky, the Canadian director of the film.My desire to do a film on Rajani Thiranagama coincided, in ways I only fully realized later, with a great hunger for a more open discussion on human rights in the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict. Perhaps somewhat ironically, it took a Canadian filmmaker far removed from this war to revive Rajani's message of peace and justice.
In speaking so openly in the film — even at great risk to themselves — Rajani's family could not help but move others to do the same. Over the last year "No More Tears Sister" became one event among several that kick-started debate on human rights in Sri Lanka in a new and significant way. Rajani's words, spoken so eloquently 17 years ago, continue to this day to provide a searing commentary on the situation in her beloved homeland. Her critique inspires as much today as when it was first uttered — not only in Sri Lanka, but wherever innocent people are caught in the crossfire of armies and militants. human rights advocates around the world have seen the film and endorsed Rajani's message.
Since the release of the 80-minute version in 2005, "No More Tears Sister" has traveled the world — from South Africa to Asia, Australia, North America and Europe — appearing in new venues almost every month. As evidenced by vigorous Internet exchanges, it has been seen and talked about throughout the Sri Lankan diaspora by people from all walks of life. And everywhere I appeared at screenings, Sri Lankans reacted emotionally, many thanking me personally, telling me how happy they were to see such a film in circulation. Inevitably someone in the audience would reveal a special relationship to Rajani or her work in Jaffna. Her influence was everywhere. Some of my favorite moments have been Tamil mothers wanting to buy the film for their sons and daughters, or vice versa, as a way to revisit their past. At one screening in Alberta, a Sri Lankan announced the film was worth more than all the aid Canada sends to his country. And of course introducing family members to applauding crowds in Toronto, New York and London has been electrifying. Many look forward to the day when "No More Tears Sister" will be televised nationally in Sri Lanka, in both Tamil and Sinhalese, so that all may pay homage to this great woman of peace and coexistence. Clearly this remains a contentious decision.
We also learned that many Tamils felt uneasy about attending public screenings, fearful that the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) might be present and cause them ill. In Holland, a Dutch man explained that he had been sent by his Tamil neighbor, who was too frightened to attend himself. At some screenings individuals or groups asked hostile questions or attempted to intimidate. Television dissemination of "No More Tears Sister" is therefore our ally, allowing people to view the film without fear, in the privacy of their homes.
On a very personal level, meeting Rajani's family and discovering her life's work has been both a transformative experience and a privilege. Knowing them I now appreciate much more the concepts of "standing up for one's ideals" and "the personal is the political." The film has changed the family, too. Since "coming out" in the documentary, the family has decided to make its ever present activism more open and vocal, bringing its message of hope and justice to thousands around the globe. Interviews on this website with Rajani's sisters Nirmala and Vasuki, and daughters Narmada and Sharika, explore how the film has touched their lives.

Interview of Sharika Thiranagama, daughter of Dr.Rajani Thiranagama
P.O.V.: What was it like to portray your mother in the film?
Sharika Thiranagama : At that time, there were a lot of killings, and it was a very dangerous situation, and so it was very difficult to get any actresses to come forward to play my mother, because to be in this film, to speak out, would be a political statement. It puts people at risk. So that is one of the main reasons why I agreed to portray my mother.
I didn't really prepare for the film. And when I started filming it the process was much more difficult than I thought it was going to be.
I found the death scene very difficult to do, obviously. My sister and I were there. My mother was shot outside the house, and my sister and I were inside the house at the time, so we heard the shots. For the film I had to depict her at that same moment that I had experienced as a child, but from my mother's perspective. So I was just lying on the ground next to a bicycle, with fake blood on me. And I had this moment where I thought about what she had seen just before she had died. That scene was a jarring moment of connection between myself and my mother.
There were other scenes that were just embarrassing to do. I had to portray my mother meeting my father at the train station, and I wore a pregnancy belt! Actually, that day was my birthday! So I was my mother, pregnant with myself, on my own birthday.
Before we started shooting the film, I'd been thinking quite a bit about my mother. It took me a long time to come to understand her as an individual in her own right, as opposed to just thinking about my own feelings of loss. When I started doing my own research in Sri Lanka and meeting people who knew her, I started to understand much more how she had affected lots of people's lives. It made me really look at her and think more about what she left behind. And see her as someone who was not just a mother to her children but her own person who was very passionate about politics.
P.O.V.: What was it like for you and your family after your mother's death?
Sharika: After my mother's death, the next few months were a blur. My family, we all collapsed. The day that she died, my sister and I were in the house. People kept coming to the house, and nobody wanted to tell us what happened, that she was dead. So we were just sitting there, knowing that something bad had happened but not knowing what it was. Then my grandfather came and picked us up and took us to our grandparents' house. It was a terrible time for us.
My sister wanted to leave Sri Lanka. We left in a hurry. My father had decided that he was going to raise us. Even though it was so sad to leave my grandparents and my aunts, it was really important for us to know that our father wanted us.
So we went to England, and it was a hard life for us. My father devoted his life to us. He worked here and there at first in London, and then he went back to university to get a degree in social work and he became a social worker. We didn't have a lot of money, so it was not an easy existence.
The first few years we were all just clinging on, as if we were clinging on to driftwood, hoping to salvage something. By the time I was thirteen, fourteen, I really missed having a mother. I felt very out of place. For a long time, nobody ever really understood what it was about. And I could never talk to anybody about it. Not even to my friends. Until I started doing my Ph.D., I never talked very much about Sri Lanka. For years I kept it suppressed inside me, because I knew that nobody would ever understand. When I was first in England, and I was eleven, I tried to tell some other kids about it, and they laughed at me. That was a very painful experience. So I just kept it separate for years. I had two lives: one life that was with my family, that belonged to Sri Lanka, and the other life that's in London. When I went to university, I started to talk more about it, and then I did my research in Sri Lanka [and] suddenly all these feelings for Sri Lanka and my mother came out.
P.O.V.: Tell us about your research work in Sri Lanka.
Sharika: For my Ph.D., I worked on a project called "Stories of Home." It was on displaced Jaffna Tamils and Jaffna Muslims in a variety of locations in Sri Lanka, and I explored their understandings of home, place and belonging. I went back to Sri Lanka and worked with Tamils on this topic.
When I started doing my research, I also found out about what has been happening to the Muslims in Sri Lanka, who were ethnically cleansed. In October of 1990, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) expelled all Muslims from five districts in the northern region. So about 70,000 to 80,000 people were expelled in 48 hours. In Jaffna, the Muslims were expelled in about 2 hours: they lost all their possessions. My grandmother told me about how she had stood at the gate and these Muslims had walked past her with their possessions in their bags, all that they were allowed to take. It was a terrible moment for the North as a whole.
This made me think about my own identity as a Tamil, and what it meant to be a Tamil and to be from the North. Academics working on Sri Lanka don't write about what has happened to the Muslim community. The right of Muslims to return to the North is not a part of the peace process. They are very much forgotten. So it made me question my own understanding of Sri Lanka. I went and did a lot of my research in refugee camps with the Muslims who had been expelled, and I learned a lot. That was a really big moment for me, because it made me think about what it means to be an ethnic majority of some kind. Tamils are a minority in Sri Lanka, and we've been discriminated against. But then to face what we Tamils, as a majority in the North, do to our own minorities, is a difficult thing.
Now I am continuing my research in an attempt to further understand the last twenty years of the war, the political history of the Tamil community and to document alternative histories.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Delhi Night Life

Article in NYT on the Delhi Club scene

June 25, 2006 Surfacing Night Life Has the Spice in New Delhi
FIVE years ago, a typical night out in New Delhi was a family trip to the latest Bollywood blockbuster. Then came the so-called children of the liberation. The young heirs to India's new market economy grew up on Indian MTV, made more money than their parents and now wanted to party. Flushed with disposable income, they carved out a kinetic new night life in south Delhi, an upscale collection of neighborhoods stretching from Humayun's tomb in the north to Qutab Minar in the south. "Delhi is no longer a snake charmer city," said Sandeep Gandotra, a nightclub promoter who is planning to publish Delhi's first party listings magazine. There are now roughly 150 bars and nightclubs in the area, most of them appearing in the last several years. And more seem to arrive every week. Cover charges usually don't exceed 500 rupees (about $10.50 at 47 rupees to the dollar), and women usually get in free. One of the most popular, at least for the moment, is Turquoise Cottage (81/3 Adchini, 91-11-26853896; 1., a brick-walled basement bar that caters to a casual, rock-oriented crowd. On a recent weeknight, a packed house of mostly young men, with shirts tucked neatly into jeans, gathered amid marijuana smoke and beers. They bounced their heads as local bands mashed Sufi devotionals with Eminem, and the Beatles with Rage Against the Machine. A hot new spot is Urban Pind (4 North Block Market, Greater Kailash I; 91-11-32514646), in a modern two-floor building with a dance floor, glass atrium and wall murals depicting the erotic sculptures of the famous temple in Khajuraho. Big-name D.J.'s often fill the club on weekends, while a pretty good local jazz band sometimes plays during the week. The upstairs restaurant offers outstanding Kashmiri dishes like rista, a mutton dish, and Pakistani fare like murg tikka lahori. Entrees run about 300 rupees. (On Thursdays patrons get unlimited drinks for 700 rupees.) While city codes require most bars to stop serving by midnight, Urban Pind simply shuts its doors and continues pouring into the wee hours. For a bar more conducive to sitting and chatting, head to Ego Lounge, part of a Thai restaurant of the same name (53 Community Center, New Friends Colony; 91-11-26331181). In a city where calm is precious, Ego offers a low-lighted room decked with big, comfortable couches, lush plants and a D.J. who plays an eclectic mix of Hindi and Western pop. Cocktails are 200 rupees and up. The south Delhi scene has even spread east and south into the neighboring suburbs of Noida and Gurgaon. The most popular club is Elevate (Centerstage Mall, Sector 18; 91-120-2513904;, in Noida, a four-story, techno-playing joint that forbids traditional Indian attire like saris and is known for its pickup scene. The taps flow until 4 a.m. Typical of the Elevate patrons is Raghav Bhalla, 25, a self-declared playboy, with shoulder-length hair. Young Indians are shedding their conventionality now that "the bourgeois has taken over," he said, as drove around the city in his late-model car, blasting the Doors' song "The End." "People are going absolutely mad."

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Symbolism in Sikh Art Fakir Syed Aijazuddin

An exhibition is opening on September 18th at the Rubin Museum on Early Sikh Art and Devotion.
Here’s a blurb from the Rubin website on Early Sikh Art and Devotion

I Know No Stranger: Early Sikh Art and Devotion
September 18, 2006 through January 29, 2007
Sikhs live in the popular imagination—they are known for their courage and resolve, and for their striking appearance and distinctive dress. Less well known, however, are Sikh beliefs and ideals, and the roots of Sikh culture and art in the traditions of North India. This exhibition will present approximately 100 works from the sixteenth through the nineteenth century, including paintings, drawings, textiles, metalwork, and photographs that identify core Sikh beliefs and explore the plurality of Sikh cultural traditions

To start off the festivties, Fakir Syed Aijazuddin spoke on Symbolism in Sikh Portaiture.

He was a pleasure to hear, he was articule, knowlegable, with an excellent slide show, that backed up what he was speaking on. He was also very respectful of Sikh culture by referring to Guru Nank, as Guru Nanak Dev Ji.

His family has had close associations with Sikhs, his ancestor being the royal physician or accountant at the Court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Lahore.

He began by saying Sikhism and Islam are young religions. William Archer was one of the first western artists painting Sikhs. Most of the early paintings were done in a minature style by local artists. Sobha Singh, a Sikh artist came on the scene later, and reinterpreted Sikh art.

Guru Nank was born in 1469, he was born in a time of conflict in India. He was a man of the world, an accountant by profession and also a guru, a teacher who had heard the voice of God.

Mohinder Singh Randhawa is a Sikh art collector, and Mr. Aijazuddin had learnt a lot from him. He said that even though Mr. Randhawa was clean shaven, he practised 2 more K’s already present in the Sikh faith Kindness and Knowledge.

He divided his lecture into four parts

4.Punjabiyat as a continuos cultural phenomenon.

Piety was based on reverence in the Sikh faith for the ten gurus. The Janam Sakhis are the accounts of the events in Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s life. Each consisting of a series of separate incidents or chapters normally in chronological order, entitled sakhis or gosts. Completed in 1733 A.D. The sakhis were completed by Guru Gobind Singh Ji and were a testament to the new adherent joining the Sikh faith.
Paintings of Guru Nanak, Mardana and Bala

A portrait of Nanak and Mardana was painted by a Swiss artist Alain Spartan(?). Their was 50 years of spiritual iconography, some images of Guru Angad Das ji were made in Kashmir.

Mr. Aijazuddin, then narrated a story that I had heard from my grandmother, about Guru Nanak’s visit to Mecca. While he slept with his feet towards the Kabba, someone came to him and said he should change the direction of his feet, since it was disrespectful. His response was, is their any direction in which God does not exist. And then according to traditionalists, he moved his feet and the Kabba moved in the direction of his feet.

When Nanak saw the Muslims prayer five times he said let the first prayer be truth, the second honest living, the third for the good of all, the fourth an honest mind and the fifth the praise of the lord. He studied Islam deeply by travelling by foot through Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.

In some paintings Guru Nanak, is no different from a Muslim Sufi in meditation, with his deep mediation posture, and his string of prayer beads on his fingers. In one image, his shawl had inscriptions of the holy Kuran, while another section of the garment had verses from Japji Sahib.

Here is another story about Guru Nanak and how the Panja Sahib gurdwara came into being.

Under a shady cool tree, Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana started reciting Kirtan, the devotees gathered together which annoyed Wali Qandhari but he was helpless. According to a legend, Bhai Mardana was sent three times to Wali Qandhari so that the former might quench his thirst. Wali Qandhari refused and even used harsh words for him. Despite all of this, Mardana still very politely stuck to his demand. The Wali ironically remarked : Why don't you ask your Master whom you serve? Mardana reached the holy presence of Guru in a miserable state and qouthed. "Oh lord ! I prefer to death to thirst but will not approach the Wali, the egoist." The true Lord said smilingly," Oh Bhai Mardana ! Repeat the Name of God, the Almighty; and drink the water to your heart's content." The Guru put aside a big piece of stone lying nearby, Where a pure fountain of water sprang up and began to flow endlessly. Bhai Mardana quenched his thirst and felt grateful to the Creater. On the other hand, the fountain of Wali Qandhari got dried up like vanishing of comforts and conveniences of an unfortunate fellow. On witnessing the wondrous act, the Wali in rage, threw a part of a mountain towards the Guru from the top of the hill. The true Lord halted the hurled stone with his hand. An indelibe mark of Guru's hand was inserted in the stone. Observing that miracle, the ego of Wali vanished and he became the Guru's fast devotee. Several attempts were made to deface the impression of the hand of the Guru but all of non avial and the mark remained for ever and ever. This holy and revered place is now known as Panja Sahib.

He then spoke about the Patiala school and Pahari Paintings, and how the use of Canopies were common to both. He then mentioned Radcliffe who divided the Gurus. Guru Angad was shown as a relative of Guru Ramdas. And Guru Arjun Singh was painted, dressed in Mughal finery, which was ironic, since he was killed by Mughal rulers.

Sikh gurus were never portrayed in stone sculptures, since they were against idol worship. There are however, Sikh coins with inscriptions and portraits of the gurus.


Balzar Solves (?) A flemish artist in 1799 depicted Sikhs as emasculated and poor, suffering people. Always dressed in blue and black, covered in a world of veils and tears!.

Guru Gobind Singh died in 1708.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh conquered and established his own empire. He was always depicted in profile. (Due to Small Pox which left him blind in one eye) He was post Mughal aristocracy. His empire was based on courtly grandeur, coupled with strong religious beliefs, tempered by secular spirit.

As a devout Sikh, Ranjit Singh saw his power as deriving from the Panth Khalsa . He did not wear the emblem of royalty on his turban, he never sat on his throne and when new coins were struck, they were in the name of Guru Nanak Dev ji and not himself. Yet he was a passionate secularist and when a courtier commented on this he reported to have said “God wanted me to look upon all religions with one eye, that is why he took away the light from the other.”

His wife Rani Jindan Kaur was depicted lying laguidly in portraits. This strong woman was able to achieve a lot in her lifetime.

Maharani Jind Kaur was popularly known as Jindan, the wife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and mother of Maharaja Duleep Singh, the last Sikh sovereign of the Punjab. She was daughter of Manna Singh, an Aulakh Jatt of Gujranwala. The big eyed queen became regent for her young son Dalip Singh, when he was made Maharaja after the death of his foster-brother, Maharaja Sher Singh. Rani Jindan, a woman of beauty, rose to be a heroine of the Sikh nation.
She resisted the efforts of the British to annex the Punjab for some time, but when the British did take power she was removed from the Regency Council, which was to conduct the administration during the minority of Maharaja Dalip Singh. The Queen had become a symbol of national dignity. She continued to urge the freedom fighters back in the Punjab to continue the struggle dauntlessly. She was known for her intelligence and intrepid spirit, Jindan was one of the few persons who was intensely disliked and feared by the British.

Their son Maharaja Duleep Singh was ineffectual as a ruler and went to England.

The two Sikh wars in 1846 and 1849 led to the annexation of Punjab, and it's takeover by the British. Before 1846 British had to call Sikhs when they needed something. After 1849 the situation was reversed and the Sikhs had to ask the British.

Lord Dalhousie had hung a portrait of Maharja Duleep Singh as trophy he had won in war in his living room. He became a symbol of an absent Maharaja.

In terms of representations in art, Sikh artists started portraying Sikh history. And the Gurus started being represented by the ideals they represented, instead of through European prisms of representation of the “other”.

Sobha Singh was the first Sikh artist. Soon Punjabiyat started being represented for instance the love stories of Sohni and Mahiwal and Heer and Ranjha.
Amrita Shergill showed simple village life in Punjab.

The Singh Twins, Amrit and Rabindra, have used minatures to interpret the teaching of the gurus.

Artists like Arpana Cour have depicted the teachings of Guru Nanak in a fresh and contemporary way, by simplifying the vocabulary of the imagery.

Mr. Aijazuddin ended this excellent all encompassing talk by describing the Sikh faith as a sacrement that has an outward visible form and an inner invisbile force. Early Sikh art is characterized by it’s universality, its intergrity and as an essential bridge between preceding religions and faiths.

I asked a question which was non art related, about how many Sikhs lived in Pakistan, and how they were treated.

And the eloquent answer I got was there are about 50-70 thousand Sikhs living in Pakistan. They are located in Punjab and the Sindh, where their are Sindhis that practise Sikhism. The 400 year celebration of the Panja Sahib gurdwara was celebrated with Prime Minister of Pakistan Shaukat Aziz being the chief guest. Also a direct bus service between Amritsar and Nankana Sahib (Guru Nanaks’s birthplace) has been started. And the first Sikh has joined the Pakistani army!

Friday, June 23, 2006

A Lion in the House

Saw a wonderful documentary on PBS, titled the Lion in the House, about children dealing with cancer. See a review here and here in The New York Times.

Death, tear-inducing pain and agonizing treatment dilemmas are all confronted head-on in "A Lion in the House," which will be broadcast over four hours Wednesday and Thursday on 1. PBS's series "Independent Lens." But the heart of the film is the vibrant, vital spirit of children. There's bubbly Alex Lougheed, 7, voted "cutest personality" at camp; easygoing Justin Ashcraft, 19, who has had leukemia for 10 years; and Tim Woods, who is fatherless and admits that he loves the extra attention he receives having cancer. The film's second half features an aspiring rapper, Al Fields, 11, and the determined, active Jen Moone, 6.

A diverse demographic mix of age, sex, race and income, they were selected from several dozen children being treated at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Their families agreed to have cameras and microphones constantly present as they navigated their uncertain route. The filmmakers, Steven Bognar, 43, and Julia Reichert, 59, told them they could stop the filming at any time, but the right was rarely exercised, even when the news was bad or parents argued over whether to try one last experimental medicine.

The documentaries were so well made, so slow paced, that you felt you were in the hospital room, with the parents, making the agonizing choices of whether to continue treatment or to bring the children home to die with dignity. The conflict between parents of selecting which options to go with it. The stress and depression of the other siblings who got frustrated at the attention the child who was suffering was getting. The guilt of the parents who wanted to go further with new experimental treatments that paralyzed their children, but did bring the leukemia into remission. Tim Woods, comes alone to receive treatment, when his mother just cannot take the reality any longer. Or Alex Logheed who can barely see, with a fungus infecting her face, but cries bitterly after leaving the hospital because she is so happy to go home.

This documentary is powerful in that it makes you think how small your problems are, when people are dealing with such life and death issues. How important it is to seize the moment and live to the fullest, instead of wallowing in self pity, anger, envy and jealousy. You never know when tables can turn, and those closet to you can get Hodgkin's lymphoma, and deteriorate in front of your eyes. The never give in attitude of the parents and the children was inspiring, they wanted to keep going, trying out different treatments to contain the spreading disease. To see your child die, is the most painful experience in the world, and as the parents said in the movie, you never recover from it.

I remember a friend whose five year old daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor. A gorgeous heathy child, the only child of her parents. Chemotherapy caused her hair loss, the poisonous tumor kept growing, she soon became blind and deaf. She was taken out of school in India. The steroids made her overweight. Her parents spent enormous amounts of money to bring her to Canada and U.S.A. for treatment. Nothing worked and the beautiful child passed away from their lives.

Monday, June 19, 2006

the killer sea gull that ate the duck's babies

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ducks babies were eaten by sea gull

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running for the frisbee in the evening light

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a large south asian bangladeshi family picnic

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mom and daughter enjoying the evening light

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half in half out

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in thought

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watching the world go by

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baby and mom

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siesta ahora

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walkin up the slide

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keeping a watchful eye on the kids

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and it goes something like this

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braiding in the evening light

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can we still play

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lengthening shadows cast on the water

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dusk on sunday

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Banerjee, Duflo and Kremer

A simple idea teach where the kids are at..