More than Half the Sky

Of late, I am not sure about heroes – of who they are, why they are so and how do they become so. And do they change the times we live in? I am conflicted.

Heroes do not make history alone.But, it is seen that very often men and women as individuals and sometimes in groups within the same society are able to see, feel and act in ways which are way ahead of the prevailing times, even before the large masses of this society are able to realize, organize or even agitate against its inequities. To that extent, they shall always be remembered and revered as the courageous first blooms who paved the not-so-manicured garden paths- of a better and more fragrant world.

Bharat Bala with his roving camera as promised travels the length and breadth of India seeking the frequently missed sights, smells and sounds. This time in the sylvan settings of a village in Maharashtra he discovers the “Aajibainchi Shaala”-School for Grandmother’s to celebrate a pioneer woman who definitely is quite the torchbearer of the Second Sex-and unarguably, holds more than half the sky.Enough, to make our small hearts throb with self-belief and much needed pride!

Around the time Marx was writing his Communist Manifesto Savitribai Phule had made the first school for girls in a remote village called Naigaon in Maharashtra, with the help of a courageous husband JyotiRao Phule in 1848. Savitribai most prized possession was a book given to her by a Christian missionary. Deeply taken in by her enthusiasm to learn, Jyotirao taught Savitribai to read and write. Savitribai undertook teachers’ training at Ahmednagar and in Pune. She became a qualified teacher after she passed her 4th examination in 1847.She went on to open several schools for girls in the surrounding villages. When the exploitive dowry system, the dreadful practice of Sati, early widowhood of girls and the pernicious caste system inspired a Raja Ram Mohan and a Vidyasagar to combat the evils with the benefits of education and literacy among other things in distant Bengal,she along with her husband dug a well in their own backyard, letting the discriminated lower castes to drink and fill water like all others. The Brahmanical Village elders did not take kindly to this and she was frequently attacked with cow dung on her way to school. The hopeless condition of widows and young needy girls made her open a Destitute Shelter in the year 1864 and hand-hold her husband to conceive and establish Satyashodhak Samaj (The Truthseeker’s Society) in 1873 followed by Satyashodhak Marriage wherein you swore to promoting education and equality. She also adopted a boy from one of her shelters Yashwantrao.If all of this was not enough she broke all customs and norms to light the funeral pyre of her dead husband riling the frustrated, hide-bound conservative social order. It is to the credit of the English masters that they recognized the many path breaking initiatives of this pioneering woman and declared her the Best Teacher in the entire State. The Bubonic plague of 1897 once again compelled her to open a clinic in Hadapsar, Pune, and it was while carrying a ten –year old in her arms, she contracted plague and breathed her last in the same year on the Tenth of March.

Nivedita Menon in the Outlook magazine underlines the changes she brought about almost a century and ayear later when she says “Eleven year old Muktabai, a Dalit student at the school in Pune established by Savitribai and Jotiba Phule, gave a damn about where the critique of caste came from when she wrote in the Marathi journal Dyanodaya in 1855:

Earlier, Gokhale, Apate, Trimkaji [a series of other Brahmin surnames]…who showed their bravery by killing rats in their homes, persecuted us, not even sparing pregnant women, without any rhyme or reason. That has stopped now…Harassment and torture of mahars and mangs, common during the rule of Peshwas in Pune, has stopped…

‘Earlier’ was under the rule of the Peshwas, ‘now’ was under British colonialism. The West was her saviour from indigenous caste society.”

May your tribe thrive and be born in the thousands. Salutations.

Baba – as I see him

It was twenty-seven years ago on this day you left us.

I remember you to be the youngest son in a family of four – the oldest being your sister Nanda di as you perhaps called her,deceased first, followed by two brothers Sadananda who died early and Nityananda who remained a bachelor until he passed away in the late sixties of the last century. You married Chhaya Chakravarty of distant Meerut in Uttar Pradesh after one of your marriage proposals on the Classifieds was answered by that family.You met up at the Howrah Station Waiting Room overlooking the majestic Hooghly River.Showing great wit you impressed her instantly saying”beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” to her rather beguiling query of not being so beautiful. You continued as a small-time rentier landlord with modest land holdings at Village Bheda Rama Chandrapur,Banki, some 40 kms away, hitherto a subdivision of Cuttack District and Patrapara,a small village sandwiched between Bhubaneswar and Khurda of Odisha.You went on to also becoming the sole owner of the huge Prabhabati Bhavan, housed in Sahebzada Bazar, after your only living elder brother Nityananda(Jethu-to us ) generously gifted his all .With a modest secondary level education from -the,then Victoria School (now re-christened as Bhaktamadhu Vidyapith), a father of four sons and two daughters, you must have felt both lucky and proud when you stood at the head of it all.These were the early sixties…

You were of medium build, masculine in the Ashok Kumarish way.

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Copper-coloured, broad-forehead,big eyes sometimes amped further with those black framed powered spectacles,peppered shock of back-brushed hair,a prominent nose atop a firm jaw,dark and coarsened lips after years of Charminar,a strong hairy chest on broad shoulders_- all of it, standing on two sure legs.Jethu and you did try your hand in some small time business of selling parachute cloth, thread, strings and accessories during the Second Great War(in the black-market) and after.Your passions of the dark made you the infamous and much sought after ‘Jomduthes’- messengers of Death-the Brahmin Doms(undertakers) for preparing the last rites of passage of the dead young girls or widows whom their very own dreaded to touch.You washed all of the terrors and bad name-calling down after the unfortunate but necessary ritual in generous glasses of the very strong and cheap “Desi” (country liquor). And the English one too,of course,every-once-in-a-while.You loved the village,the community with its “Gomastas”(Estate-managers) “Bhag-Chasis”(share-croppers) and people, its coarse and authentic flavour and sights,the earthy and tasty delights of the fresh fish from the pond or the choicest limb on an ocassional butchering of the village goat,home-grown vegetables and the rice off the paddy fields served in the shining family brass plates with an array of smaller saucers .You filled us with the endearing but thrilling tales of the disloyal Pitabasa,the grateful Isra Rout and his devoted family:his wife who famously wet-nursed Dula,the youngest scion and was fondly called”chasa-dudha-khiya”(one who has drunk the tiller’s milk),of the rustic sagacity of the oldest Jaya,the physical commitment of Kula and the spotless fielty of Visuniya see-sawed with that of an Apartiya,lines of sandal wood paste neatly adorning his dark, muscular and shining body chipping away single-mindedly at big chunks of Sheesham creating many a memorable piece of furniture and Dhadiya of Patrapara equally vile and unfaithful on the other.The compulsions of legal cases and conflicts to hold on to litigated properties vied with the addictive thrill of playing ‘pasha”(a local variation of chess played on a stitched piece of cloth of measured squares of black and white, like an extended four way crossroad with a squared centre, with cowries-as the dice).Maa did her own thing but always close holding court to help resolve women issues or just plain listen to their unheard woes.Did you gamble while puffing mouthfuls on the “hookah”(tobacco pipes)like the proud aristocrat in penury of a Jalsaghar, I often used to wonder?Was that your Zemindaar moment?

“Prabhabati Bhavan”, kept you in another world of cares,concern and years of joy

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.Merina and Babloo the oldest son and daughter were your favourites.You secretly must’ve desired to do more for them, than what you could otherwise.Mamarbadi of Meerut (the maternal uncle household) feted you as their chosen “Jamai Babu” (son-in-law).You made it a point to visit them once every year with bagfuls of rice, sweets and vegetables and travel the distance in what was perhaps, an unending journey of almost 2 days.You loved them too -Montu,Khoka Da,Choto Mama and Mami,Muna ,Baduni,Meja Boudi and the many younger.Your packet of Passing Show cigarettes,the Pall Mall tins,the exotic deoderants, the odd Whisky bottle and stylish Tees must have made your day or days shunning the Charminars, all puffed up, talking of your favorite Montu, the one on the ships and forever sailing – only to rush to his dear Jayada whenever she docked in at Kidderpore.

Your friends,Durga and Chatak were forever our very loved Mamas.(uncles).Serampore became our first choice of a holiday home and the amiable call of “Sister” at the doorsteps meant Durga Mama was knocking.

You were quite a pair- Maa and you.

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She the outgoing go-getter and fiesty,never to be satisfied easily.You, the sober and understanding other half.Always there,unobtrusive and discreet.Over time you got used to your domestication,looked forward to the cooking of the odd delicacy, unfailingly making the regular trips to the market, mending the old, rusted electric switches, holders,slipper straps and shoe soles,broken furniture and choked plumbings.You gave up smoking, dressed ordinary and economised every which way you could as the family properties were being increasingly sold to make available the fast depleting funds needed for the upkeep and education of a fairly large family.The rentals did not add up for much.Mejda, Dula and I going to the costly Stewart School would have not helped either. Ponchuaa,our Man Friday must have been a tower of strength making up for all the woes and shortcomings when Maa and your absences were on the increase.You stood rock solid with Maa in her political journeys when she in her own way was breaking several glass ceilings sometimes shocking the conservative neighbourhood.You became a devout and practicing Hindu after the arrival of Badada.The house was all incense sticks,lamps and diyas, flowers,mango and Bel leaves.

Your health had begun to fail. Coughing had deteriorated to asthma and the kidneys weren’t as good.You fought it while suffering.Your sleepless nights coughing, now I know, were so difficult and painful. Those days,I tried sleeping away as Maa patiently nursed with the help of Merina and Alina, the older sisters.You were taken to the PGI, Chandigarh to heal the bad kidney.Mukul,our generous friend layed open his house and the scooter to help.Those were the late seventies.Your daughters had gotten married ,all the children employed and away at other places, with grandchildren coming along to fill a very happy family frame.

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The Bawling grand children !

Thankfully, you do remember Baba, the youngest Dula with his wife Sharmila and children stayed back, to be with you and Maa – up until the last. All the lovely tenants Sushila Masi,Behenji,Boudi,Bijoya Masi,Gokul Babu,Lakahan Da,Baiju bhai,Masterji were your friendly neighbourhood, ever at hand. Mashima and Krishna di,Nini Appa,Sailabala didi,Debjani’s mother were some of your friends you looked forward to meeting.Shanker Bhai, Tokon,Papu,Gopi and Subhashis filled your many lonely hours.In the meanwhile you visited your many Bahus and son-in -laws Sunu and Shanker.Boudi, Sashi and Arti got to see you and know you better.Your family was never becoming any the smaller.

… Each day unfailingly in the morning hours,Maa still sees enough to put a thread into the invisible eye of the needle.She makes a garland or two of fresh flowers- sometimes big and sometimes small.She speaks occasionally.Her memory is like another memory.So they say…But, she does not forget each day to make her silent offering to the only person she misses with all her heart.


It is true, my memories, are never sharp when it is about you.Unlike sons or daughters.I am sure, each of them will have their own stories to tell.
I shall remain your “Pencha”(owl) always.I know you are always around somewhere happy watching what you see.

while I was sleeping

“Comrade,What’s up?Stay safe,” my good friend Doc buzzed  flying out of Delhi .Friends and family kept calling equally concerned.I had no clue of these missives.Was bemused as I do not watch TV and remain closeted indoors – only to move as far as my Mayur Vihar Pan shop for an occasional puff. Business seemed ,the usual.The Twitteratti on my mobile was still quiet except for the faithful who were talking of the Army to move in to save an imminent bloody riot. That was a couple of days ago…

North East Delhi by now is burning.I am still rubbing my eyes or shaking my ears in disbelief.A mosque has been vandalised,one Dargha burnt down , some dead and over a hundred injured.The Muslims campaigning democratically and peacefully for their citizenship rights under challenge at the behest of the ruling dispensation are either defending, resisting, retreating or just running to safety. The Saffron flags and sticks in hand, pelting stones,mouths covered in handkerchiefs, emblematic of a kind of  definitive Hindu mob were chasing them everywhere shouting terrifying slogans. The Police stands and watches or selects the Muslims for questioning while going through the motions of crowd control – benign and suspiciously lazy. A well- rehearsed chronology and sequence of the macabre perfected by the present Home Minister Amit Shah on the streets of Gujarat in early 2000 was /or is unfolding – the fratricidal blood-letting.

Trump dodging pointed questions on the backdrop of uncalled for violence and attack on minorities  was around and has since left, feted and feasted in the erstwhile Royal Durbars of a much abused “Lutyens Delhi” by a Modi and Govind.Some cutie-pies have even seen the immorality of the protest when the new “Latt- Sahib,” our revered guest was at home.How very wicked,you know !

AAP has returned to power on the back of some good  public work and disgust of the public at the hatred spitting bigotry of the BJP and the waiting-to-be-mothballed, disconnected and dormant Congress. The Muslims are still waiting to see the “other” Hindus to come out in large numbers in their support while the opposition Party leaders are yet to be seen in front or by their side. A mixed-up ,confused and slouched Kejriwal  sits Gandhi- like in Raj Ghat praying for the communal virus to vanish while a sizeable lot of the “normal” Hindus are looking away with mocking shrugs.The Army would soon be coming in to restore peace  after the damage has been done . A small group of lawyers,businessmen,social activists,journalists, public spirited citizens ,young girls and boys, also known as students – probably the “new Hindus” share space and sticks with the Muslims adding an unrecognized colour to this theatre of the Absurd…

And here we are over some shots of some cheap scotch squabble amongst ourselves on questions of when and who did it first.Was it not always there?Did the Congress not appease them?Why were the Muslims not asked to go to Pakistan during Partition?Why can’t they keep quiet and pay respects to our religion?Oh,these are those termites from Bangladesh?We have had enough?The Congis and Commies and all such anti-nationals need to rot in hell.And that bloody-Gandhi?

… No more can I recognize my friends  from the others.They all speak the same and have started to look alike, even – so woke, to believe, that the desecration of the Babri Masjid was only a reminder of the Avatar of Deliverance,long overdue – was ready to return in Ram’s Ayodhya.The famous poet Neeraj rues too.

जितना कम सामान रहेगा उतना सफ़र आसान रहेगा

जितनी भारी गठरी होगी उतना तू हैरान रहेगा

हाथ मिलें और दिल न मिलें

ऐसे में नुक़सान रहेगा

जब तक मन्दिर और मस्जिद हैं

मुश्क़िल में इन्सान रहेगा। #गोपालदास_नीरज

Quixote-like, I keep crossing swords with imaginary windmills. I am safe and the mobiles no longer buzz.Delhi burns in parts.Life is normal, when last reports came in…

 

Perfect Crimes

The author, a practicing lawyer for over three decades puts all his experience on the line to piece together the shady world of dispensing justice in his expose”Great Judicial Tamasha”.Careful about not taking names, he narrates events and instances in great detail which the professionals can identify, the laity can get scandalized about and the protagonists squirm or ignore.Like it or not, you shall hate the guts of this brave, no-nonsense man.An Insiders expose of the murky interiors of the corridors of justice, it is.

Bravo, to begin with, I must say!
The able lawyer makes you laugh at the Theatre of the Absurd, not the macabre, being enacted as the noose gets to the thickly layered dark necks of the fat and fluffy. He makes you see how Alibaba and his forty thieves enter the cave of limitless fortune only to leave with the entire treasure each day to the comforts of a home, wife, children or who knows; to little dens of forbidden pleasure.Sanguine.Protected.Secure.These are some of your honorable dignitaries also known as “Judges.” Contrary to the Arabian Nights, there are no secrets, no conspiracies or mysteries.They do by the day which you shudder to think by night. The cynical, however, just shrug with a tongue in cheek aside. All remain nude in the public harem and who cares!
The author is appalled like all honest: few and far between as they might be. Does he mock at our own ignorance in being invited to a Stand-Up Comedy? Or does he scream, in terror and disgust at the blatant trade of lives and livelihoods of the common, of big money and illicit exchanges between thieves or on the institutionalized falsehoods that keep the myth of people’s democracy alive and well? I will never know. I shall wait for the innocent to rise out of the learning’s of a systemic rot, on the why’s and what’s. I would be relieved, not happy if the elaborate and heart rending narrative illuminates enough to awaken the singed and harmed for they are countless… Lest the humor in the day’s work of sweat, toil and hope are lost in the alleyways of the tragic and farcical.

Ms Romila Thapar,Why do dreams Die?

On the matter of the recent book and the article in Deccan Chronicle, I shall come to later. I rather hurriedly post this link only to make up for the surprise, shock, disbelief and utter dismay at the disgraceful conduct shown by the Directors of the Sameeksha Trust(EPW) in having capitulated to the “corporate bullying” without any visible sign of resistance vocal or otherwise.They have not only gone on to admit, tacitly that Adani’s and their kind are invincible but also that the so-called leaders of the academia and the intellectual world had better save their books from burning: by implication, their jobs.
(The article which is in the crosshairs for having been brought down or removed is this one.)
But why this extravagant sense of hopelessness and frustration?Personally, Romila Thapar, Andre Beteille, the two Directors,(the former was at JNU and the Latter at Delhi School of Social Work in the mid seventies) part of this now infamous Board were my childhood memories of intellectual sovereignty, of inspiring moral courage and impeccable integrity in the face of naked power, authority, and aggression.I continued adoring them as I have aged to be over sixty years of age, when I used to read their scholarly articles,in various newspapers, magazines both Indian and foreign,Podcasts and Video recordings on the You Tube, well held rational and scientific views on history and its various interpretations, the need for independent research and methodologies, religion, communities on the margins and of regressive nationalism and many such things.Romila Thapar had refused governmental recognition of any kind to avoid being stigmatized as a “Sarkari historian.”And now during their watch, the already fragile fort of defiance has crumbled.As someone said even before the sound of “boo” was even heard.The Editor of Economic and Political Weekly, Mr Paranjoy Guha Thakurta
was literally shown the door for having eye balled the mighty corporate in a manner of speaking.In fact, he was the person who had exposed the systematic penetration into governmental power mechanisms and patronage by the Ambani’s, the collusion of greedy bureaucrats, corrupt politicians, international cartels in the “Gas Wars”, causing mega losses of precious public money ; the publishing of which also had run into serious trouble.
The Board of Directors of Sameeksha Trust, since have gone into a kind of geriatric damage control which is neither convincing nor spirited.But my concern here is what happened to my childhood icons?Are they as feeble as all of us, who went about spreading the message of hope, faith, rights, and justice? or worse still, have those intellectuals now become stale and old to retain even the spunk necessary to shake a hand…Much less to help him/her to rise? I dread to search for cowards anymore.The complicity of the idols is a tragedy.Heroes are once again difficult to come by.
So what of this book now! I have not read it.All that one reads are extended extracts of the review of this book by the editors of Organiser,(the RSS Mouth or foot-speak) given free advertisement by The Deccan Chronicle, in their daily.At least, one gets to read, as of now, about what was Nationalism instead of what it should be.

Masterji: As I remember

Yes, you wore many hats.
I remember you.
Those were the sixties of the previous century when rickshaws were everywhere. The migrants from our neighbouring state, Telugu speaking from Andhra Pradesh drove those cheap, but friendly and ubiquitous vehicles. They were early days to understand eco-friendly modes of mobility.Maybe, there was only a handful, rich enough to own private cars.
In your spare time which was very little, I’d imagine, you worked on these simple contraptions, repaired and even assembled them. There were quite a few of these rickshaws that you owned and employed many robust and hardworking Telugus at your popular outlet, near the erstwhile Capital Cinema Hall. Many who had seen this part of you either quietly sniggered in the shadows or shamefacedly criticised in front.
Now I know and understand the hands-on man, that was you: pioneering, courageous and entrepreneurial. Not for you were the cosy comforts of a staid world bound by non-enterprising mores or pettiness borne out of lazily held property or decadent riches. You were your own man.
I remember the three daughters in their very early teens in colourful Salwar Kameez or flowering skirts on bicycles would set the dry and dusty streets of Cuttack a flutter. They rode the lady-cycles without a carrier in front of the seat and without a care.From “Sati Chaura” to “Chauliaganj” they biked equally comfortable talking to boys as with the others.Eyeballs surely would have rolled like Chinese toys.The girls next door or the touch-me-not unmarried maids and mocking mothers would miss this liberating sight when bounded indoors for their stuck up elders believed that good girls were not to be touched by the polluting influence of the “chokris”.. If there were sighs, heartaches or secret desires seeking such freedom by the nubile lovelies inside of their homes we do not know but can only guess! That besides the cry and spit of contempt of the gentlemen and women could not be hidden and their evil gazes dotted the trail of these innocent, freewheeling cyclists. The mother of the Singh Family, however, dignified and distinguished both in looks and education lovingly let her girls fly.( And mind you, they could cook too!) Masterji was nonchalant, unfazed and happily cheered the family on, well ahead and above of it all. You were modern enough without the usual trappings.
I remember you could drink “lotas”(round vessel of brass or aluminium) of water through your nose and relish a full mouthful of fresh green chillies in equal measure with a “handi”(earthen pot) of Rasogoolas .Dread and awe transfixed the gazes of the uninitiated and the young while the matured and smug continued with their snigger. Who was to tell the latter of their native ignorance’s when they beheld these spectacular feats?
I remember the gather of the men, women, and children from Bihar who found in your home succour, support, and shelter. You were the mentor, guide and father to them who nostalgically missed their distant homes, families, and friends left behind through the humming and mostly loud singing of Bhojpuri folk to the accompaniment of Harmonium, dholaks and manjiras(little brass cymbals) clanging tunefully against each other. The taste of the wonderful choka, puris , dum alloo,dai bhalles and what-have-you still lingers of the many feasts of Holi, Chhat Puja, and Diwali. You made this happen Masterji to get the merry band of migrant Biharis coming together.One question though naggingly lingers.Was your politics not about the belted oversized khaki shorts, lathi and the white gangees(vests)?Just as an aside, good :they are good:those that wear the same today ,a lbeit in trousers they are! But well, that is another story.
Today, you leave me and many else wondering why do we remember now. Why do ideators,polygots,musicians, filmmakers, painters, and authors, artists philosophers while on their path-breaking and innovative drives during their lifetime seldom get recognised or discovered? Why do we not see the many flavours of life and its struggles that different people, cultural diversity, languages, and places bring? Why does it take time to see the seeds being sown for the many flowers to be born from the energy, courage, vision, sweat and toil of an unsung but tireless gardener?
Sadly, it is only, much after, that we do! In most instances, that is, By then, it is but the tale of too little too late I’ d suppose

P.S. After Pappu’s tribute.Another reminisce…

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Akashganga: They also Serve, who Just Stand and Wait – XV

Behind the risk of life and limb stood the woman by his man. Running from sick quarters to banks and schools, buying groceries riding cycles or by walk, receiving and seeing off loved relatives all by themselves, while her loved man was away is a quality taken for granted and an unwritten part of the wife’s job description. Cooking late meals without notice with nothing in store for an unannounced number of gatecrashers, the free-flowing rum and groggy men being the proverbial last straw. Do not get it wrong here! These were still early days for the women to enjoy much less taste the tabooed liquor. It took a while before the docile and submissive Nari came into her own. In her Sunday best, she soldiered on with a smile. Tears there must have been and many at that but these were to be borne and shared by each husband in the dark corners of the bedroom.

Source: Akashganga: They also Serve, who Just Stand and Wait – XV

Akashganga: Daffodils in the Sky and Butterflies in the Belly – XIV

Akashganga never had it so good. Enthused and awed by the sense of spectacle, for the first time in the history of the Air Force, a full load of 37 skydivers in spanking new and fancy dungarees jumped to join an assembled parade contingent on ground consisting of nine Squadrons of three flights each of about a thousand Vayuputras, in 1989. They then joined the ceremonial march past in the august presence of Mini Bawa, the Mukhya Deva Adhikari of the Central Command. Banjo was commended by the Chief of Air Staff for this unique planning and exhibition of military freefalling skills imbued with the spirit and festivity of sports skydiving. Sunil tells us more about the thrill and threats of Akashganga, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

Source: Akashganga: Daffodils in the Sky and Butterflies in the Belly – XIV

Akashganga: Do You Have it in You? – IV

Freefall had moved on from the ungainly and rather rigid spread-eagle position to “stable frog position” and onto body-acrobatics in the air.

Source: Akashganga: Do You Have it in You? – IV

Akashganga: Birth Pangs and Anxieties of Adolescence – V

Free Fall Training was temporarily a victim of “Stop-Go- Stop” hiccups. In order to counter the doubts on its efficacy, a re-examination and review of the free

Source: Akashganga: Birth Pangs and Anxieties of Adolescence – V