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Former CEC Quraishi demands electoral reforms

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Former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi called for a ban on opinion polls and several other necessary steps while delivering a lecture on the need for electoral reforms organised to mark the birth anniversary of Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer on Sunday. The lecture was organised by Capital Foundation Society, a non-governmental, non-profit, and voluntary organisation. During the lecture, Quraishi emphasised the ban on door-to-door campaigning by candidates during the 48 hours before the beginning of polling to prevent the allurement of voters using cash and liquor.

The former CEC also suggested that counting of votes from the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips instead of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and change in the appointment procedure of the Election Commission of the country.

While addressing the lecture, Quraishi also said that even though the Election Commission has the power to register a political party, it has none to deregister it. When the matter went to the Supreme Court, it said the electoral law will have to be amended for the purpose. The matter is pending with the government for nearly 20 years, he said, adding that such a power is required to take action against parties that do not submit their accounts in time and violate provisions of the model code time and again.

“There are certain bogus parties which have been established for money laundering and they too need to be deregistered,” Quraishi said during the lecture.

Quraishi was the 17th Chief Election Commissioner of India. He was appointed on 30 July 2010. He was also conferred with Capital Foundation National Award for his distinguished Public Service as the Chief Election Commissioner of India.

Vinod Sethi, general secretary of Capital Foundation Society, told The Daily Guardian: “These electoral reforms are the actual need of the hour and Dr Quraishi made some wonderful suggestions in that regard. One of the things which has been a concern from all over is that criminals should not be allowed to contest elections.”

The Capital Foundation Society also awarded former Governor of Odisha, M.C. Bhandare, with the Capital Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award for his distinctive contribution to public life. The Foundation also conferred Capital Foundation Justice J.S. Verma Award to Justice Madan B. Lokur in recognition of his distinctive contribution to Human Rights and Judicial Reforms.

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DIGITAL HEALTH WOULD MAKE HEALTHCARE ACCESSIBLE FOR INDIANS: PRAVEEN SINGHAL

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In an exclusive conversation with NewsX as part of NewsX India A-List, Praveen Singhal, co-founder and director of BeatMySugar, spoke about his venture which is a one-stop platform for pre-diabetic and diabetic patients. BeatMySugar is a tech-powered, comprehensive, and unique platform that focuses on making best-in-class diabetes care effortless, affordable, and easily accessible to everyone. Speaking about the ethos of the company, Praveen Singhal said, “BeatMySugar is a platform for people with diabetes with an intent to be true partners in life. So the ethos driving the corporate culture is in sync with it and our ethos are collaborative, transparent, progressive, and integrity. We believe in growing along with all our stakeholders and delivering the best solutions to our customers using the progressive tools and technologies available in the area of healthcare.”

Talking about how the platform is inclusive for its customers, Singhal stated, “There are three main pillars of BeatMySugar: education, product, and service. In education, we have very exclusively self-curated content from various key opinion leaders and our internal medical affairs team to disseminate the right information and knowledge to diabetic people. Along with that, we have come up with a diabetes education programme co-authored by leading diabetologists of national and international repute to help people understand the basics of diabetes so that they can start self-monitoring. On the product side, whatever a person with diabetes needs, such as food, supplements, books, medicines, and devices, we make it available to them. The core of BeatMySugar services is to help them manage their lifestyle in terms of doctor’s consultation, diet, fitness plans, lab services and fulfilling their other requirements. That’s why we call it an inclusive model for diabetic people.”

Speaking about the idea of starting a one-stop platform for people with diabetes, he said, “It came from within the families of co-founders with two of them being diabetic. Shaurya was diagnosed with type II diabetes at the age of 12 and Atul had type II diabetes for over two decades. Having understood the pain and the trouble they had in finding all the requirements in one place, led to the thought of creating a one-stop platform. After that, we found that though India is becoming the world capital of diabetes, awareness, and the right information about the same is completely missing. That’s when we came up with the concept of BeatMySugar.”

Sharing the offers and the benefits that BeatMySugar provides to its customers and how can it serve those who have diabetes, Singhal elaborated, “The help is in the form of complete care and that is what we intend to provide. It is driven by our concept which is in the DNA of our company and that is: Educate, empathise, engage, and evolve. With this, we are there to take care of all the requirements and be the true partners to our customers in their journey with diabetes.”

Talking about the reluctance and the fear in the minds of those having the disease, he shed some light upon the transparency of the company and gaining the trust of the customers, ”Our ethos of transparency and integrity drive people’s trust and that gets reflected in the results we have had so far. At present, we have over 35% orders from our customers. This also gets accelerated as this is one place where they get all the right information. The doctors that are associated with us and the available content is a way of helping them get the right information about diabetes,” he said.

Speaking about the common queries, Singhal underlined, ”The major query that we get is surprisingly from various brands and vendors wherein they are showing interest to collaborate with us and asking how they can do so or how their products can be onboarded with BeatMySugar. It is very interesting and motivating for us as it shows the kind of traction and visibility this platform has already built.”

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EXAMINING WOMEN’S ROLE IN PANCHAYATI RAJ

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With the recent election of Kamala Harris as the first female Vice President of the United States, the global discourse around gender equity has moved to the skewed participation of women in politics. Although Article 15 of the Constitution prohibits discriminating Indian citizens based on gender, women have been marginalized and excluded from the decision-making and political process. In terms of women’s participation in the government, India is ranked 148th in the world out of 193 nations. With 65.5% of the Indian population living in rural areas, powerful institutions such as the Panchayati Raj can empower the community to make decisions for themselves. Before 1985, only two women had participated in the Panchayati Raj Institutions in Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal and Rajasthan. Additionally, Uttar Pradesh had had no political participation from women (Ahmad et al, 2008). This had led to the introduction of the 64th Amendment Bill, which had a special feature for 30% reservation for women. Although the bill was not passed, it had been a step in the right direction.

In April 1993, India took a landmark step towards development with the implementation of the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution which provided reservations for weaker segments of the population in Panchayat Raj Institutions. Through this Amendment, one-third of the seats are reserved for women as members and chairpersons of these institutions. By 1995, the number of women in Panchayats rose sharply, with the highest representation in Kerala and Madhya Pradesh where women filled 38% of the seats (Ahmad et al., 2008). There are 1.3 million women out of the 3 million representatives who are now actively participating in Panchayats (Bhatnagar, 2019). Currently, 20 states in India have made provisions in their respective State Panchayati Raj Acts and increased the reservation of women to 50%. Additionally, states such as Odisha have made it mandatory that if the chairperson in a village is a man, the vice-chairperson must be a woman (Mohanty, 1995). The reservation provisions for women have transformed grassroots democracy and given rural women the power to exercise their right and be involved in village governance.

Women’s participation in grassroots politics has been low due to the patriarchal mindset that women belong at home, where their responsibilities are confined to domestic work and child rearing (Chhibber, 2002). Women are thus actively discriminated against and since they have limited decision-making powers at home it is unrealistic to assume that they have many opportunities to make decisions for the community. With the foundation of change being laid by the 73rd Amendment, there has been a shift in the political landscape and women are becoming more proactive. Elected women representatives have transformed local governance by strengthening the status of marginalised sections of society and empowering those who don’t have a voice. Moreover, they inspire other women in society to break gender stereotypes and include themselves in the decision-making process.

Another important role that elected women representatives play is to bring about rural development. They have been able to tackle various political obstacles and introduce changes that are paramount to the well-being of their communities. Women are known to be effective leaders and bring in transparency and efficiency in their daily duties and administration. They understand the needs of their community and work well to bring awareness and solve issues that the community faces. Hence, in many cases, despite tackling various obstacles such as having to lobby hard for extra funds and resources, women leaders bring faster rural development than their male predecessors. Furthermore, women are considered to be the perfect agents of social revolution, standing up against socially regressive practices such as child marriage, the purdah system and dowry system to build a society free from oppression and discrimination.

With the entry of women in the political arena, the face of democracy has changed from a representative democracy to a participatory one. With women taking the leadership role in villages, they are mobilised with resources to take action against any form of caste-based or gendered violence. From viewing women as recipients of welfare benefits to involving them as successful agents of revolution, the debate on female empowerment has progressed (Zahir, 2018). However, despite being leaders, women continue to face numerous obstacles which make them vulnerable to discrimination and abuse. 

Although there are no constitutional obstacles for the participation of women at the grassroots level, there are prevailing structural, functional and societal constraints that affect their political participation (Dubey et al., 2013). The 73rdAmendment was intended to include women in the political narrative however, women serving as proxies for their male relatives have questioned the efficacy of reservations for women. In some cases, these men cannot stand for elections because they do not fulfil the education requirements and take advantage of the seats reserved for women in their area (Mayal, n.d.). Under these circumstances, women are just politically unaware figureheads, while the men hold the real decision-making powers.

Additionally, elected women representatives have a tedious job with a myriad of roles and responsibilities to ensure the well-being of their community but earn meagre salaries. Some only receive an honorarium of Rs 3,000 in states such as Maharashtra, Odisha, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu (Chandra & Banoth, 2020). Furthermore, women who are panchayat presidents are not allowed any salaried jobs or employment under government-funded schemes, which renders these women economically powerless.

Historically, it is believed that women aren’t capable of making decisions and taking up leadership roles despite performing more duties than their male counterparts. Cultural barriers and a patriarchal mindset still plague many villages where men view women who are empowered leaders as a threat. Elected women representatives face obstacles such as a lack of faith in their decision-making capacities as a leader and the dominance of male members in the panchayat. Furthermore, women are subjected to politically motivated and gender-based violence in various forms which stagnate their participation in grassroots politics (Rao, 2018). However, women leaders can have an enormous impact in reshaping society and thus there is a need to tackle the obstacles that hinder women from discovering their full potential as leaders and change-makers.

Representation is a measure of equality. However, in India it is effective representation that truly matters. This can only occur when there are no structural, functional and societal constraints that impede women’s participation in grassroots politics. By removing gender-based discrimination in politics, India will be one step closer in empowering its women. Women empowerment, which is the need of the hour, can therefore be achieved through political participation where women would have a chance to broaden their horizons and make a change in society.

Avantika Singh is pursuing a master’s degree in public policy at O.P. Jindal Global University.

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REPURPOSED DRUGS FOR COVID-19: WHY WHO DOESN’T TRUST THEM?

There is evidence that many repurposed antivirals, antiprotozoal, and anti-bacterial drugs have hidden talents to combat Covid-19, at least partially, and it might be logical to use them when the virus is replicating in the patient’s body.

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Horace Greeley once said, “Common sense is very uncommon!” The recently published interim report of extended solidarity trial published in NEJM on 2 December 2020, “Repurposed Antiviral Drugs for Covid-19”, reported that antiviral drugs (hydroxychloroquine, Remdesivir, lopinavir, interferon) failed to win the race when compared to the placebo, in an assigned group of patients.

The WHO does not trust drugs like ivermectin, Doxy, etc. Many senior microbiologists and intensivists would laugh it out, arguing that these drugs would only help in controlling parasitic infestations. Harrington et al, therefore, appropriately chose a title (“A Large, Simple Trial Leading to Complex Questions”) for their argumentative editorial. They wrote, “No intervention acts on two persons in an identical fashion: patients present with different risk factors, are treated in different healthcare settings, and begin treatment at different stages of illness. In particular, the effectiveness of an antiviral agent can depend on whether a patient presents early (during viral pathogenesis) or later (when immunopathologic conditions or other complications may be more important).” They also pointed out the usefulness of the result of the ‘solidarity trial’ in denying the role of antiviral agents in patients who have entered in the second phase of illness described as the cytokine storm.  Rightly, they asked, “What is a more effective timing for the use of Remdesivir, and should it be used in combination with other agents? How is the course of hospitalization affected by the type and level of care delivered in particular settings?”

This is the question of common sense: why not use an antiviral agent when the virus is replicating? What role can they play once the war for life has entered a phase where the virus itself has been cornered?

This is the argument extended in the recovery trial against the early use of steroids, so not to time it with viral replication phase. The results of the recovery trial, however, supports the use of the steroids in late first and second weeks when evidence of lung involvement is evident by rising oxygen requirement and falling SPO2 <95%. In various articles, it has been shown that viral replication in the upper respiratory tract, to a larger extent, is immunologically inert. Once the virus climbs down to the pneumocyte type II cells, its pathological journey starts and gets reciprocated by the dysregulated immunological response, sequentially leading to diffuse alveolar damage, inflammatory infiltrates, microvascular thrombosis, resulting in a simulating picture of adult acute respiratory syndrome. No wonder, classical findings of rising levels of interleukins 10/6, TNFα, evidence of lymphocyte exhaustion and lymphopenia come almost hand in hand.

Drugs like doxycycline and ivermectin have been used rampantly in every nook and corner of northern-western India. Interestingly, ICMR is playing ‘once bitten and twice shy’, because India was the first country which boldly adopted HCQ prophylaxis and was thoroughly criticized by Americans. The criticism came in the wake of deaths reported in Covid patients receiving HCQ. Analysis says that HCQ and azithromycin are potential drugs which may adversely affect the conduction system; at least 60-70% patients with late phase Covid may have myocardial edema, making them a substrate for arrhythmia.  It is the CDC which allows almost no medicines in the first week of illness.  India has improved in its recovery rate, remarkably from 60% to 95%. How? I talked to many friends who were partying hard, and one after another, became Covid-positive. They consulted a local physician and got a prescription of Ivermectin 24 mg, Doxy 100 mg twice a day, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin C, and even favipiravir, as soon as the report was received, and recovered completely. There are many patients who presented with anosmia. Those who were treated with ivermectin recovered within 7-10 days. I came to know about this in March but experienced it now when I became Covid-positive. Globally, people are experiencing good results from the use of ivermectin.

Therefore, there is evidence that many repurposed antivirals, antiprotozoal, and anti-bacterial drugs have hidden talents to combat Covid-19, at least partially. These drugs are less harmful when one compares them to the 5-10% chance of having serious lung, heart, kidney and brain complications. Patients probably need cardiac care, LMWH or antiplatelets, statins for a longer period, but in a nutshell, patients who recover the second or third phase are obviously not the fittest to survive.

Jeon et al wrote, “Among the 48 drugs that were evaluated in our study, 24 drugs showed potential antiviral activities against SARS-CoV-2, with IC50 values in between 0.1 and 10 μM. Few of them are as follows—tilorone, cyclosporine, chloroquine, mefloquine, amodiaquine, proscillaridin, salinomycin, ouabain, cepharanthine, ciclesonide, oxyclozanide, anidulafungin, gilteritinib, berbamine, ivacaftor, bazedoxifene, niclosamide, and eltrombopag.”

It is common sense that the first five days are of viral replication and subsequently 10% chance of having a vicious immunological storm. Conversely, it is logical to use repurposed antiviral drugs when the virus is replicating and steroids only when the body is brewing cytokines to bring a storm and lymphocytes in back-foot.

Vaccines are illusionary in view of the fact that the duration of trials has been accelerated too fast. Tinkering with the immune system is always a double-edged sword. The oral polio vaccine was introduced in the 70s and there were fears of its association with autism. It took more than 20 years to convince the government in the US. Till now the flu vaccine is not considered as the safest and most efficient vaccine for various reasons. We must remember that natural infection has failed to ensure long-lasting immunity. There are articles suggesting that the virus may co-exist with IgG in asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic patients.

The author is a paediatric cardiologist at Manipal Hospital, Delhi. The views expressed are personal.

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Sunita Shekhawat, Niharika Shekhawat talk about their admiration for Jaipur and their brand ‘Sunita Shekhawat Jaipur’

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Sunita Shekhawat, founder of Sunita Shekhawat Jaipur and Niharika Shekhawat, creative director for Sunita Shekhawat Jaipur recently joined NewsX for an exclusive conversation as a part of NewsX India A-List. Talking about her brand Sunita Shekhawat Jaipur, Sunita said, “I think first of all lot of credit goes to the city itself, the city, Jaipur has been an inspiration for so many designers and so many best karigars since the Mughal era. Moreover, Jaipur is known as the emerald city of Asia. We have access to all the coloured stones, the best karigars and the city is so colourful. So, colours inspired me to get into designing, and then I got into manufacturing. I honestly owe a lot to Jaipur itself and hence, the name Sunita Shekhawat Jaipur.”

Niharika pitched in, “There are two ways I look into inspiration. Definitely one, is by working at the brand, and second constantly, how I push myself. For the brand definitely, my mom takes over everything and I think the regeneration is by her. Taking the Legacy forward, I have learned a lot from her and it organically became a part of my childhood. I am not a part of the whole designing product process so when something is getting created, I do observe that in stages and finally when the product or that piece is there on the table and we see it. I just really overwhelmed thinking what best I could do to create that experience with that piece and how do I take the brand forward. So, that inspiration is definitely a great piece of art because it has been created by a designer, and my mom heading it.That in itself is a superb inspiration, and definitely when people just come and be like we love what you do.”

When asked about the USP of their brand, Sunita said, “The most important thing is there are very few design houses who focus a lot on the integrity of the design. Everything is under one roof. From design, manufacturing to retail space, we don’t source anything from outside. You can literally call it a design house. So, we design from farm to market. A lot of time, it is architecture, travel gives you lots of creative ideas and as Niharika has put up, it’s art and craft. Whether it is textile, handicraft, or a piece of furniture, as a designer anything creative inspires me. Even a designer carpet inspires me. I was in Azar Baizan two years ago and those patterns are still there at the back of my mind and while I was doing some beautiful combination of Meenakari and suddenly those carpets propped in my mind and changed the pattern.”

Expressing her views on adapting to change, Sunita said, “The new digital age, I think last year we had a lot of bridal appointments on a zoom call since the brand already has a legacy, the trust value is there, people love what we made, so that was already there we gave them the liberty to decide over a zoom call so that was very convenient for all of us for the team also. That was a new way of working. I think today also Niharika had 2-3 bridal appointments & we are very happy and excited to serve them.”

All praises for her mom, Niharika Shekhawat, on a concluding note, said, “For me, my mom is a constant teacher, a mentor, a friend. I definitely learn everything that I do at work, and, personally speaking, it makes sweet mix working with your parents who are apparently your bosses too. I learned how to go gather like whatever things happen with work she is  a hardcore believer in Geeta so, we had learned one thing, i.e work hard.”

When asked from Sunita about her learnings from her daughter Niharika, Sunita responded, “Honestly, a lot of things and I think that new age that Crispness you know whether it’s in terms of communication, creating a piece of jewellery, travel, work, adapting to the new ways of working, lot of things because of Niharika. The new, the little tadka is all because of Niharika.”

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‘ActionAid provides a platform for change to the most vulnerable communities’: Sandeep Chachra

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Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director, ActionAid Association recently joined NewsX for a conversation as part of NewsX India’s special A-List series. A social anthropologist by training and a development activist who has lived and worked with Indigenous people and Dalit communities in India all his life, Sandeep Chachra is currently the Executive Director of ActionAid Association. Prior to this, Mr Chachra was the International lead for ActionAid International, just and democratic governance and economic justice theme. He has worked in several capacities in ActionAid International and other development organisations for the last two decades.

Giving us a peak into his journey in the social sector so far, Sandeep said, “I did my research and studies in social anthropology and interned at social work, and perhaps it’s my time I spent in Jharkhand with the tribal communities there as a student in school and later researches living with the Mundari tribes, or perhaps is the fact that my father is a first-generation refugee from Multan. We grew up in an environment where there were difficulties, perhaps those factors which contributed to me to commit myself to social change and justice efforts.”

Talking about his long association with the ActionAid, he highlighted, “ActionAid provides a platform for change for the most vulnerable communities, their movements and their formations. Over decades, some of which I have been part of, it makes several advances. I will take a few examples, back in early 2000 We took up the cause of homeless people. We organised homeless people and we provided support to homeless people in several cities of the country. Homelessness was then not on the national agenda, so i am working there to bring it to the national agenda to an extent. We went to the court and to the-then governments. Now. we have a national policy scheme for shelters for the homeless. So, it keeps you inspired when you see change happen not just on the ground but also in the policy framework.”

“We did our bit, so did other civil society organisations and formations. You’re right in celebrating and acknowledging their contributions over the last one year, we did our bit as well. Actually, more than about eight months in the last year after the lockdown. We did a bit to reach out for support to inform our workers more popularly we call them migrant workers, the kind of situation that all of us are in. So, we need to reach rations to them, food supplies to them, set up a community and mobile kitchens.” 

On a concluding note, Mr Sandeep Chachra spoke about Action Aid’s plan to combat the second wave of Covid-19. He said, “We are in the middle of the second peak, so we will need to go back to some of the lessons in terms of what needs to be done, particularly for workers. We’re preparing ourselves to once again provide full support and action support. This time around, the question of medicines comes, the question of encouraging people to vaccinate where they’re qualified to vaccinate comes. We are part of a national level campaign, the People’s vaccine Alliance, which is campaigning for universal free vaccination for everybody, particularly in countries where vaccines are even down reaching so it’s not as national but globally also I think a lot needs to be done.”

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‘Indian youth are far more progressive than youth in first world countries’: Kunal Rawal, Designer

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Kunal Rawal, the youngest designer to exhibit his collection at the Lakme Fashion Week, recently joined NewsX for a candid interview as part of NewsX India A-List. Kunal has worked for several prominent Bollywood personalities like Anil Kapoor, Shahid Kapoor, Arjun Kapoor, Ranbir Kapoor, Siddharth Malhotra, Varun Dhawan among others, who have come ahead to close the show for him.

Recapping his journey and how Kunal decided to become a designer, he said, “I knew pretty early on as my family works in textiles and my dad has an export firm. He used to go to this factory and used to take me and my sister as well to late night drives at the factory. We both used to climb up and shut eyes and play this game and guess the fabric. Pretty early on, I knew textiles and fashion is what I want to do and what my calling is and where my interest lies.”

Kunal started his label ‘Kunal Rawal Dstress’ in 2006. Having graduated from London School of Fashion, his style of design can be best described as one in which traditional Indian clothing meets contemporary designs with an edgy twist. The designer further continued, “The more I got into it the more I realised that there were so many things going wrong because a lot of men didn’t choose what they wear for the occasion. They didn’t dress according to how they felt and had a severe lack of optionality.”

Talking about the USP of his brand and label, Kunal said, “The idea was to put in elements details to pique men’s interest rather than having them just wear something that’s given to them. And the more you pique interest, the more the conversation starts, and that’s what I’ve been consciously trying to put in elements and a design aesthetic that is slightly more relatable, slightly more catering to the user. Today, I am all for traditional clothing, I love it, but I think it needs to be modernised and contemporise to suit the headspace of us today and the lifestyle that we all live globally.”

When asked what inspired him to create his first designer collection back then to now, Kunal said “Inspiration keeps changing, inspiration, keeps evolving but if I have to pick one or two inspirations. I would say people is what inspires me. I personally believe that the youth in India, the younger generation is far more progressive than the youth of even the strongest first world countries. That is very inspiring.”

Sharing some personal lessons learned and challenges faced during lockdown, Kunal said, “This last year and a half, has been quite a challenge for all of us and especially for as much for our industry compared to any other. Well, I am a creative person first, and then a business owner. So, both these have called on different different emotions through the year. To be honest, I think we’ve all learned as much as we’ve learned our whole life in the last year and a half. We’ve been through a gamut of emotions living life. We felt anger, pain, happiness, helplessness we have gone through, the entire cycle of emotion circumstances, and every month, every day actually has been very, very different.”

“When being a creative person, I have enjoyed bits and pieces of last year as it gave me a good amount of time to go back to how I used to create when I was much younger, finding and chasing a thought and doing R&D and all of that so that was exciting. Creatives have a way of constructively using any emotion. I managed to put out the two big collections last season, you know, we did the India Couture Collection and Lakme Fashion Week so I’m glad I got some creative energy out. But, as a business owner things kept changing and it’s been quite challenging. My biggest learning through last year, is the importance of a plan A, plan B, plan C,” he added.

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