Issue 22

Russia, Ukraine, and Football: The Field in the Times of War

Cesar Azpilicueta fell to his knees, collapsing in a heap of relief. On the 29th of May, 2021, while the balmy evening in Porto succumbed to the cool, nightly winds, the Chelsea’s skipper’s exertions finally caught up with him. The referee had just blown for full time – Azpilicueta’s Londoners had just won the Champions League, the most coveted trophy in European men’s football, for the second time in their history.

In the stands, Roman Abramovich, Chelsea’s Russian owner, punched the air in joy. This was his dream – seeing his team being crowned the kings of the continent. In his time at Chelsea, over the men’s and women’s teams, Abramovich had overseen six European finals, with four successes. Chelsea had, in fact, become the only team to have both their men’s and women’s teams in Champions League finals in the same season – and while the latter lost, the former emerged victorious thanks to a goal by the young German Kai Havertz, a 72 million pound acquisition made the previous summer, bankrolled by Abramovich.

Azpilicueta knew the importance the Russian held for the club. After the game was finished and the trophy was handed over and hoisted in the Porto night sky lit up with fireworks, he raced over to the stands with the trophy, and asked a beaming Abramovich to come forward – “It’s for you”, he declared in a voice hoarse by celebratory yelling.

 Less than ten months after these giddy highs, Abramovich made the hasty decision of parting ways with Chelsea – after nineteen years in charge, he would no longer continue as owner of the Blues.

As it turned out, Russia had invaded Ukraine, and Abramovich’s proximity to Putin was not being liked by many in the Western hemisphere. It is true that Abramovich, like many billionaires in the world, was close to his head of state, however dubious he may have been. It is also true that important organisations and individuals in the West, such as the British government, knew of this and allowed Abramovich to pump in his roubles into the British economy.

It is truest, however, that the Russia-Ukraine fiasco has underlined that football cannot exist in a silo – it is a political entity and has always been one. Therefore, the tragic fallout of the crisis impacted the most banal of important things in our lives – sport.

At the very beginning, it is important to understand how football in Ukraine itself was affected – the domestic league was suspended. Players from all over the world were based out of cities in Ukraine such as Kyiv, Kharkiv and Donetsk, which were now being bombed incessantly by Russian forces and Moscow-funded ‘rebels’. Donetsk, particularly, is home to multiple Brazilian footballers – who were now trapped in an overnight war that they could do little about. Families were severed, with players and their partners in different cities across the country, and like everyone else, question marks emerged over lives and indeed, livelihoods. With matches likely to remain suspended for a considerable period of time, income for a lot of clubs would be severely impacted – not to mention the infrastructural costs they would have to incur to recover from the war. Salaries to players and staff would get severely compromised. While those in the upper echelons of the league, playing for major teams such as Metalist Kharkiv, Dynamo Kyiv and Shakhtar Donetsk might be able to cushion the blow, one really wonders about the fate of those who happen to ply their footballing trade towards the lower half of the league, and indeed, in the Ukrainian second and third divisions. As physically able youths, many of them would even have joined up with the armed forces, possibly divorcing themselves from a career and a dream, willing to lay down their lives for their country and identity.

In other parts of Europe, gestures of solidarity too made clear the point that football and politics were interrelated, and that the sport had simply been turning a blind eye all this while to crises that brewed in other parts of the world. It is notable how the Premier League in the United Kingdom implemented solidarity gestures for Ukraine – which the people of the besieged country absolutely deserve – while also not making any noise about Israel’s incessant attacks on the beleaguered peoples of the Gaza strip. The League was also quick to remove itself from the scene of controversy when Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil spoke up about the crimes of the Chinese state against Uyghur Muslims – his activism was met with his club deciding to never play him again, and eventually offload him midway through his contract.

The Spanish La Liga too blares a ‘Stop Invasion’ sign next to the scoreboard on its global television broadcast – something it has never done in the past when nations in the West happened to invade those in other parts of the world.

Once again, that is absolutely not to say that the people of Ukraine and the cause of an independent, stable Ukraine, do not deserve the solidarity of the average football watcher, and of the sport at large. But the event has made it extremely noticeable as to when the sport decides to use its huge platforms for activism and speaking up, and when, and at whose expense, it seems perfectly happy to not utter a peep.

On the Russian side, too, impacts were felt. The deep-seated suspicion of the country at large – a sentiment that has been manufactured from the time of the Cold War – has led to football governing bodies clamping down on the country’s footballers and its athletes. The European football governing body, UEFA, decided it would be appropriate to force all Russian teams in their competitions to withdraw from their competitions, as a statement of intent against Russia. In fact, there were a bunch of opinion-editorial columns that simply preached to Russian athletes to be banned from major tournaments, lumping in all Russians as the Bad People, who have personally overseen the invasion. That beyond the superstars, these athletes too were just working-class people being denied a livelihood seemed to be lost on those spouting such rhetoric.

Indeed, the pressure on Russians to behave like ‘good Russians’, especially in football, was remarkable. The same pressure was exerted on Chelsea, thanks to its Russian owner Abramovich. It must be acknowledged that Abramovich, like many billionaires, has a chequered past. Fundamentally at the centre of the energy behemoth Sibneft, companies he is invested in have also funded and provided material for the construction of Israeli settlements in Gaza. It is said that Abramovich, once a governor himself, nominated Putin for the role of Russian Premier.

His is a politics that could be described as sketchy at best, and his selling the club may not even be a decision many in the Chelsea faithful might mind.

The manner in which he was ousted, mainly by the British government, however, makes it interesting and once again draws attention to football’s selective politics. There are other billionaire owners who have links to heads of states and corporations that have not exactly been ethical – the Glazer family, who own Manchester United, for instance, have been known to be major contributors to Republican campaigns in the United States, bankrolling Donald Trump’s vision, among others. Newcastle United was taken over by a fund operated by the Saudi Arabian state, which has been bombing Yemen for years now, while Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi-based owners too have close links with the royal family of the Emirate. 

Football has been blind to the lives these establishments have taken – Asian lives, African lives and Latin American lives. Once chaos ensues in civilised Europe, however, solidarity emerges and in what is convenient for many in the Western world, it is Russia who once again can take on the role of the bad guys.

It is hard to nail down the kinds of impacts the crisis has had, or will subsequently have, on football, particularly European football. What it has, however, exposed, is that football and politics have always been intertwined – and from any point going forward from now, football’s silence would ring louder.

Aritro Sarkar is a fourth-year student of history, international relations, and media studies at Ashoka University. 

Picture Credits: Reuters We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 22

Sri Lanka’s State and Economy Are Crumbling. Could This Be the Watershed Moment for State Reform?

Despite being South Asia’s oldest democracy, having constituted a universal franchise as early as 1931, the island nation of Sri Lanka is far from donning the hat of a stable one and the path toward democratic prosperity remains murky.

The country has seen a bloody civil war between the minority separatist Tamil Hindu community and the ruling Sinhala Buddhist majority from 1983 to 2009. Post-war, its polity has been turning the page for the worse toward an authoritarian and hyper-militarized state under the stewardship of the Rajapaksa family, which has sowed its members in multiple important government positions.

The frontrunner of the family and Sri Lanka’s current President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has today found himself at the centre of boiling anger on the streets over his mismanagement of the economy, leading to the biggest economic crisis since the country’s independence in 1945. 

Ailing with a host of structural issues within the state machinery of Sri Lanka, ordinary citizens who had put their faith in the Rajapaksa government’s Sinhalese nationalist project are starting to turn against the dynasty rule. Change in this nation seems eminent, but what does change look like? To answer this question, we can begin by understanding how the post civil-war state was set up to create conditions for a failing state and the on-ground situation during the current economic crisis.

The Governance Crisis

While most media outlets have been focusing on the economic aspects of this crisis, Sri Lanka had been going through a much more deep-rooted crisis of governance that has set up the stage for its near collapse. Since 2009, when the ruling Sinhalese nationalist government decisively and unexpectedly defeated the separatist group Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Rajpaksas have been in power for most of the period. The current president’s older brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa was the president from 2005 to 2015 and is now the prime minister. In 2019, Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the presidency with 52% of the vote share and his party, the Sri Lanka People’s Front or SLPP enjoyed a supermajority in the parliament. 

This grip that the Rajapaksa family have had over the Sri Lankan state has resulted in policies that mainly benefit the ruling family and the Sinhalese majority. Violence against the Hindu Tamil minority and the even smaller Muslim and Catholic minority groups has been well documented. Since a major source of employment for the Sinhalese community is in the military, there has been widespread acceptance of increased military presence on the streets and further colonisation of the country’s Northern and Eastern provinces, where the minority population is concentrated. 

Infrastructure and other investments taken under this government have resulted in numerous dead or sinking assets for the state. Not only is this affair costly for the public, who pay for the Rajapaksa’s self-aggrandization (for example, the Mahinda Rajapaksa Cricket Stadium), it distracts from actual governance projects which have been given petty attention. Even civil society organizations have been silenced, journalists have ‘disappeared’ and political opponents have been humiliated. 

Civilians, even those who have previously supported the government’s agenda, have now come out to protest against Gotabaya. The slogan most prominent during protests is “Go Home Gota” after every other member than the president and his brother had resigned from the cabinet, including the finance minister who was sworn in just a day before. The public sentiment right now seems to be to oust the Rajapska family and move on. 

The Economic Crisis

The most jarring tell of the true severity of this crisis can be seen on the streets in the country’s capital Columbo. The city has been plunged into darkness with electricity cuts lasting for more than ten hours at a time. Essential supplies are sparse to find, including food and medicine – this has caused massive queues at shops and many hospitals have had to cancel routine services. 

For Sri Lanka’s poorest, the situation is unforgiving — most people have to make the choice between standing in long lines or going to work. Transport is also in peril because of fuel insufficiency, there simply is not enough energy to power public transport or for taxis and rickshaws to make even a marginal earning. Prices for every good on the market have soared due to inflation. The middle class, despite having its safety net of household savings, has not been spared from this wide-reaching conflict.

On the macroeconomic level, the country’s foreign reserves of the US Dollar have been depleted to three times its sovereign debt due to the tourism sector–the major source of dollar earnings for the nation — being hit hard during the pandemic. This has led to banks being unable to finance the import of the essential items that have disappeared from the market shelves. 

A shortage of the dollar also means that Sri Lanka will be unable to pay back the $51 billion debt it has taken from other countries and thus has led international agencies to downgrade the country’s credit rating. This has added to its woes by effectively cutting it off from international credit markets. 

What’s next?

Looking at this monumental crisis from a comprehensive state, society and economy angle we can deduce that this really does appear to be a tipping point for Sri Lanka. Though, if we have learnt any lessons from the Arab Spring, we know that authoritarian leaders who have embedded their power deep into the structure of the state can quash widespread protests. It is now up to Sri Lankans to consolidate their anger across ethnic and religious lines to have a successful watershed moment.

Rutuparna Deshpande is a second-year student of Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Ashoka University.

Picture Credits: Balkan Times

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 22

Viral Videos and Inspirational Youths: A Conversation With Vinod Kapri

OpenAxis had an insightful and engaging conversation with Vinod Kapri, a filmmaker and author, on his recent viral video about a 19 year old boy, Pradeep Mehra, who’s resilience and determination has impacted the world. Mr. Kapri was in his car, driving home from the Gold Course in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, when he spotted Mr. Mehra running outside. After conversing with him, he learnt that Mr. Mehra ran around 10 kilometres (six miles) every night to keep himself in shape to join the Indian Army. Here is the link to the podcast:

For the transcript of the talk, read below!

Maahira Jain

I just wanted to ask you a few questions about one of your recent tweets, which was a video of Pradeep Mehra which went viral all over the internet. It’s gained a lot of popularity, and a lot of positive feedback. Why do you think the video you took became viral?

Vinod Kapri

To answer this actually, I am going to quote a retired marshall, who stays right next to me. His name is Air Vice marshal Mr. S.K Bhatnagar. He called me, and he said, “I would like to meet you”, and when we met, he said, “I saw that video of Pradeep running for 3 minutes, and I would like to tell you one thing, that this boy no doubt wants to become a recruit in the Indian army, but after watching this 3-minute video I think this boy has OLQ”. I then asked him what he meant by OLQ, and he said that the boy has an ‘officer life quality’, and I am willing to help him become an officer in the Indian army. I asked him how he came to this idea after watching this video, and he said that the 3-minute video is a complete depiction of his personality, his dedication, and inspiration as well as his motivation and hard work. He said that it really touched him, and so he came to the conclusion that Pradeep could become an officer in the Indian Army. 

I think people like and share this video because they get some kind of inspiration from it, seeing him running against all odds, doing something we cannot imagine. Ninety-nine per cent of people complain about how things did not turn out the way they wanted them to and about life, but this boy has changed that narrative. Furthermore, the footage was completely genuine and raw, which people have never seen before. Most people have seen inspirational films and movies, like Forrest Gump and Pursuit of Happiness, and tons of people commented that this short footage is as good as a 3-hour film.


In a movie, you have a few hours worth of content and videos and points, which could really create an impact. But how does such a short raw three-minute video create almost the same impact? Do you think it’s also just the genuineness of the video, not pre-planned like a film? 

Mr. Kapri

It was completely unintentional. I’ll narrate the whole incident and how it all started. It was around midnight when I was going back to my home after having dinner, and I saw this boy was running and I was something around 150 or 200 meters behind. He looked between 12 to 14 years of age. I was wondering why this 14-year-old boy is running at midnight. Maybe he’s in some crisis, maybe he’s in some trouble and he needs some help and he’s not getting any taxi or help? So I thought I should help him. When I reached him, I asked him, “why are you running”, and offered him a lift. He refused and said he will continue running, and on again asking him why, he answered that he is preparing to join the Indian Army. I was taken by surprise, and this was my first 5 seconds of conversation with him. At that point in time, I didn’t know his age, so I thought he must be 14 or 15. I just loved his dedication. So I thought that I should record this and asked his permission to do so. So after starting the recording, I resumed my conversation. After that, everything went so naturally. If I had probably started recording later it would not have been as authentic and raw as this was, and the effect would be lost. Everything was so natural. So this is a reason that people are like, “how come this boy is running, against all odds, is refusing lift, refusing dinner?”. So it was spiky.


So would you say it’s that inspiration? Just hearing that he’s running at midnight, just preparing for the army made you decide that you don’t want to just stop this conversation. 

Mr. Kapri

Yeah, of course. Initially, when I thought that I should capture this moment, I thought about my son. He is 18 and he’s in class 12. So I thought maybe I’ll show this video to him, and he will gain some inspiration from it. So most parents always compare their children to others and say things like, “look, their daughter is studying at Columbia and the son is in St.Stephens firms and so on”. So this happens in every household, and my initial thought was I’ll record this and only show it to my son. But while talking to him, and with each question, I was only discovering more, and after a conversation of around 80 seconds, I realized that maybe if I post this video online it could go viral. I took his consent and decided to upload it.


Since you mentioned that you initially took this video just to show it to your son, you know, just to let them be inspired when he sees something like this, and it really makes a difference. Do you think the video not only helped or influenced people who want to help Pradeep in his journey, but also students or young adults, around the age of 18 to 21 to share their journey like this online, or maybe to be influenced, to work as hard? Do you think it’s made an impact in that way? 

Mr. Kapri

Yes, it has had a great impact. I have seen many Twitter posts, Facebook posts and Instagram posts. I’ve seen that many small teachers and schools have shown this video in their respective classes, in their respective schools. I’m part of my son’s school group and it was shared there but they were not aware it was shot by me. So I think it created a large impact. 


Lastly, to wrap up this conversation, do you think that every great story starts from something so simple. You just see something as simple while driving back home, like a boy running and that becomes a three-minute video that goes viral making a world of a difference. Even with your films and with other content that you’ve shot, do you feel like this is the most natural way for a great story to begin? 

Mr. Kapri

Yeah, I think so. I think, you know, the most difficult part for any storyteller is to tell the story in a very simple way. That’s the toughest part. It’s the biggest challenge for every storyteller. It was honestly luck also that I got this opportunity to tell this story so simplistically. I never intended to so I would not say that it is my creation. It is completely God’s creation. But yes, last year in 2021 when I was a part of the journey with seven migrant workers, that was my decision to be a part of the journey and capture it. After capturing their journey for seven days, and eight nights, while editing it I realized it’s a very simple story that I must tell in a very simple way. 

Vinod Kapri is a National award winning filmmaker. He is also an author, writer and director and was formerly a TV Journalist.

Interviewer: Maahira Jain

Podcast Editor: Shree Bhattacharyya

Picture Credits: Wikimedia

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 22

Issue XXII: Editor’s Note

The post-pandemic world has seen an upward trend in the discourse around mental health issues. Two years of an anxiety-inducing threat from Covid19 and its many variants, a prolonged period of isolation, and having to adapt to a life-altering “normal” has led to a deteriorating mental health situation around the world. Given such a context, the world today is seen debating the nuances of access to mental health resources, the disparity in its availability, the options for the layperson, how diagnoses are determined, and other such prognoses around the subject. This issue of Open Axis will pay special attention to such debates and questions around mental well being, both through a philosophical point of view and a behavioural science perspective. 

The 22nd issue will also shed light on contemporary conversations around sports and its intersection with popular culture. We will further explore how fashion shapes the world around us and how it raises questions about inclusivity and hype culture. As we figure out the process of adapting and navigating through a fast-paced world with everyday distractions, OpenAxis strives to offer some in-depth perspectives about the world around us through this issue. 

For our first piece, OpenAxis had a conversation with Dr. Arvinder J. Singh, a psychotherapist and trainer, about the recent addition of prolonged grief in the DSM-5. We question whether there is a need for such a diagnosis, how one can understand mental health, well being and whether it can be made more accessible. 

Continuing on the same subject, Professor Raja Rosenhagen writes about the diagnosis of prolonged grief disorder and how it has resulted in a widespread debate in the discourse around mental disorders. He discusses the emerging support and opposition to the diagnosis, and discusses what could be the best way forward. 

Maahira Jain explores the questions of economic access and inequality in the availability of mental health resources. What options do people have when mental health resources remain so inaccessible and is it a coincidence that we are witnessing an increase in the popularity of astrology? 

After the global success of Netflix’s Drive to Survive (2019), the popularity of Formula-1 racing raced to new heights. What does this success mean for F-1 racing in India? Saahil Mohan Gupta traces the happenings that led to this rapid growth. 

Continuing on the trajectory of sports, Aritro Sarkar writes about how the Russia-Ukraine fiasco has underlined that football cannot exist in a silo – it is a political entity and has always been one.

Like most other industries, the fashion industry came out of the  COVID-19 pandemic with impacted functioning and the need to champion new trends. Inclusivity and diversity are a few trends that stand out, especially at Fashion Week showcases, which dictate trends for current and upcoming seasons. Reya Deya explores these intersections.  

Continuing our focus on fashion, Shree Bhattacharyya, in conversation with Vedant Lamba, explores Hype Culture, and its economic and cultural aspects in relation to status, money and identity. 

In popular culture and media, the television show Bridgerton has become a viral sensation. Lakshya Sharma addresses what makes Bridgerton stand out, and writes about the themes in the wildly popular show. 

Continuing with viral sensations, recently, Vinod Kapri’s video about Pradeep Mehra, a 19-year-old Indian Army aspirant, went viral. The video showed Mr. Mehra’s determination to run back every night from his place of work to his home so that he would be in shape to join the Army, and it inspired and motivated the whole world. OpenAxis converses with Vinod Kapri to learn about the story behind this video and its impact. 

The Bollywood ‘sports movie’ has been a revered addition to the film industry in India. Why do audiences from all over the world love them so much? Analysing the aspirational value of sports films, Jaidev Pant writes about the Bollywood sports movie. 

Sri Lanka is in crisis and many believe that the ruling political dynasty of the Rajapksa family is to blame. In conclusion of this issue, Rutuparna Deshpande writes about what the crisis looks like on the ground and how the post civil-war Rajapksa establishment set the stage for the current crisis.

  • Shree Bhattacharyya, Rutuparna Deshpande, & Biplob Kumar Das
Issue 22

Divine Tides

On 3rd April, at the 64th Grammy Awards, Ricky Kej won his second Grammy. An Indian composer, Ricky Kej’s album (alongside Stewart Copeland from the band The PoliceDivine Tides won in the category of Best New Age Album. The category is defined as a sound that amalgamates Eastern and Latern influences and is a new blend of acoustic, electronic, jazzy, folky, etc. Divine Tides accomplishes that in a beautiful, rhythmic way with nostalgia and emotion intertwined with each song. Featuring various other artists from all over the world, especially Indian, the album is a blend of cultures. It starts with gentle soothing tones that will make you feel like you are standing in the mountains with the endless sky above and below you. Wonders of Life, the first track, truly makes you believe in life with soulful vocals with the sitar and flute to act as accompaniment. Pastoral India the fifth song on the track list again has beautiful vocals but has a faster, higher beat with the percussions that are tracked by an Indian classical-dance style music, with fast beats and western-influenced drums. Mother Earth, a perfect way to end an album, celebrates the life inside of us, has strong, dynamic vocals and is an uplifting end to the whole track list. The album celebrates all forms of life, especially the Southern Asian culture, and is a powerful and mesmerising celebration of music.

Shree Bhattacharyya is a student of English literature and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

Picture Credits: Spotify

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 22

Hype Culture: Status, Money and Inclusivity In Conversation With Vedant Lamba

How we see each other and ourselves influences many aspects of our life. It affects our image, identity, emotions, and relationships, to name a few. Some consider themselves above materialistic tendencies, but many of us are awed by status and money, especially through our possessions. In a mass of people, we want to stand out and simultaneously fit in. It is in this dichotomy that ‘hype culture’ thrives. “We are built like this: to want to fit in”, Vedant Lamba says, the founder of Mainstreet Marketplace, a hype culture resale store in India that makes limited-edition high-end sneakers and apparel available to the public. Hype culture is the procurement of the exclusive– it is the want for the “next best thing”. A brand sells a limited amount of a product due to which they get sold out extremely fast and are resold at a higher price by other resellers. It also consists of collaborations, such as the basketball player Michael Jordan’s collaboration with Nike that resulted in Air Jordan, that are basketball shoes and clothing. The hype lies in wanting this limited product, that can be sneakers, hoodies, t-shirts, bags, mostly streetwear, that is casual clothing worn by followers of popular culture. Hype relies on the niche status of being a rival product, that is, a product that everyone wants but only a few can get – and it links back to conspicuous consumption, that is, consumers’ spending on exorbitant goods because of their high prices and not despite it. 

“It’s not supposed to be”, Mr. Lamba says, when asked whether hype products are meant to be accessible. On his store, Mainstreet Marketplace, most of the sneakers, such as Jordans, sell for upwards of 15,000 rupees. Some of the products even go up to lakhs. So there is a fiscal divide, where only those who have a considerable amount of money and are willing to spend it on sneakers or other hype products are able to access it. 

Mr. Lamba mentions the risk factor of hype and how it is perceived as an investment. “It’s just like gold and property”, he states, and he believes that is why his business model has worked in India — because it mirrors the risk and investment of other desirable products.. Moreover, Mainstreet runs on reselling sneakers that are meant for exercise or casual walking. Since these sneakers are inherently meant for use and utility, they also suffer wear and tear. So it can either be used and worn down every day or be maintained with the utmost care, in the way one would treat a gold necklace. So hype products are not only exclusionary but also require a lot of effort to maintain. That is, only if one actually cares whether their 60,000 rupee sneaker gets dirt on it — which it probably inevitably will. 

This is not a criticism of hype culture, but rather a component of it, since it relies on being exclusionary so that the hype or the obsession increases. Its accessibility is curbed so that the brand value will increase, and more people will vie for the same thing. When asked whether hype culture is turning into a luxury product, Mr. Lamba says, “Luxury is staying luxury. Luxury’s purpose is different, it’s produced with a different intent”. Yes, both are expensive, but hype feeds on the adrenaline that one gets in that clock down to get what very few others have. One cannot blame the culture for the privileged people that sustain it, because it is those people with money and the need for the “next best thing” that let hype culture survive. 

Apart from access and finances, Mr. Lamba believes that identity is a key component of Hype Culture. Clothing has always been a way for some to express themselves. Whether it is one’s gender, sexuality, economic bracket or identity. Sneakers, and hype culture, work in much of the same way. “You want what other people have. It’s about identity.”, Mr. Lamba says, when asked why he thinks people are willing to pay such an exorbitant amount on a pair of shoes. They can walk around in their sneakers, and people would be able to recognise their status through their shoes, and their identity is thus defined. So, money ties into status and identity, and they are interdependent, perpetuating one another. Your money depends on your identity and status (and vice-versa), which then propagates into hype products. With an incredulous laugh, Mr. Lamba exclaims, “An eight-year-old bought a four and a half lakh hoodie off of us!”. The obvious question would be, who is giving this child so much money? Are the parents so hyped at the prospect of their child owning an insanely expensive – but rare – hoodie? However, there is also the aspect of identity that comes into play here. Do the parents or the child feel the need to define their identity through this product? Hype culture may be about identity, but not everyone can define their identity through hype. Is identity a product that one has to now be able to afford? 

To one who is removed from this culture, or cannot afford to be a part of this culture, all of these questions may seem inane and inconsequential. Perhaps, that is what hype culture is. It is a culture that is purely a business rather than an inclusive and thriving community, especially in India. Vedant Lamba has taken this culture by storm and has produced a profitable business out of it. Start-ups that have emerged due to hype culture in India are possibly one of the only propitious futures for this culture. Yes, it is about identity, status, and exclusivity, which makes it a profitable business, but not necessarily a prosperous culture. 

Shree Bhattacharyya is a student of English literature and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

Picture Credits: Sneaker News

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 22

A Conversation With Dr. Arvinder Singh About Grief, Mental Health and Well-Being

OpenAxis had a conversation with Dr. Arvinder J. Singh, a psycho therapist and trainer, about the recent addition of prolonged grief in the DSM-5.  

Lakshya Sharma

Hello, Dr. Arvinder! This conversation is pegged by the recent inclusion of prolonged grief in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Grief is a part of normal human experience. It is inevitable. So, by including grief are we reducing the horizon of normal human behavior?

Dr. Arvinder J. Singh

Pathologizing is not always the way out. We need to ensure that a normal human emotion such as grief should not be stigmatized. I stay away from diagnosis because diagnosis has a way of stigmatizing and pathologizing. Moreover, anxiety and grief affect different people, differently, and conversation is the way out. Even at Ashoka we have the gatekeepers programme to ensure that situations of anxiety and grief are smoothly taken care of.


In your clinical experience, have you ever felt, need for such a diagnosis?

Dr. Arvinder

I stay away as far as possible and refrain from diagnosing and labeling. I think because what it does is it just limits the kinds of ways you look at it because any kind of mental health concern has many strands to it. So it’s not necessarily just this one diagnosis and you operate out of that one. Moreover, there are no medical or blood tests to pinpoint a cause.

I think what is important is for us to see emotions like grief or  anxiety could impact different people differently and there’s no predicting. Even the duration after which grief is tagged prolonged is highly debated. Six months is politically incorrect whereas one year sounds better because it is the anniversary of everything. The conversations around such issues are very nuanced. It is not only about generational gaps but differences in personalities. Due to the pandemic we saw a loss in the grieving spaces, and a loss of contact and spaces.. 

Coming to DSM, how do we know if the grief is prolonged or delayed? How do we label it? And if you indeed label you need to understand the consequences of that label. If you club prolonged grief with depression, you end up stigmatizing the person. Grief might come up as an illness rather than a very normal human emotion. 


Grief can be triggered by numerous different causes, and sometimes small triggers lead to a huge impact and vice-versa. So, how do we understand the complexities of grief? 

Dr. Arvinder

So I think there are many factors involved. One is the preparedness. How prepared are you for the change? For instance, graduating from high school or losing a terminally ill relative leads to a less severe form of grief compared to unexpected losses.

Secondly, it depends on your coping mechanisms. How do you deal with your emotions? DO you talk or do you isolate? Thirdly, is it about how robust your support structure is? A stronger support structure helps in healthy grieving. Finally, it is about attachment. How attached were you to the person or item that you lost? While working in Gujarat, during the Bhuj Earthquake, a girl was grieving for her dog while her mother was grieving for her father. The two cannot be compared because both are grieving according to their attachments. Acknowledgment of pain is also really important. Denial might suppress the emotions for some time, but they will come back again and again. Final step is to seek support from people you can while following well-being practices.


When talking about well-being and accessing providers of well-being services, there is always an aspect of elitism. Seeking mental well-being services is perceived as elitist. So how do we bridge that gap? How do we make well being services more accessible?

Dr. Arvinder

That is an excellent question, because the gap between the number of professionals available and number of professionals required is humongous. Now, to bridge this gap, there are two ways. One is that it need not completely depend on professionals. So what we do is to bring the issue of a model, where we do capacity building from within the community, and we encourage open conversations around mental health and wellbeing.

Secondly, to not see well being as a time waster but rather as investment. Even at Ashoka our current model in place follows these principles of emotional robustness at the heart of education. That is why we promote conversations around problems people are facing, it is okay to talk about them and we need this kind of model in our community as well. 

Before, joint families were the norm and it provided a safety network. Now the family system has disintegrated, and we ended up with two working parents and a single child, leading to isolation. With the advent of the digital medium people have lost real connections  that end up with people living in their silos. But if we have these connections and spaces we must go and talk. I always encourage students to go and check on each other. In the worst case scenarios they might end up not talking. Or they might find a company, and will be grateful that you checked on them. The notion, however, is very individualized. 

Finally there is awareness. People have very little awareness about terms and well-being. They throw words like ‘OCD’ and ‘depression’ like that, but we don’t wish that on anyone, because it is hard. For the longest time, people did not know the difference between mental illness and mental retardation. Many other things in the illness spectrum also get the same treatment. What is a disorder? What is behavior? These are all nuanced conversations about which people don’t know much because they haven’t been talked to. Moreover, mental health is such an invisible space whereas physical disability is visible to all. People are compassionate about them and it is easy to talk about. On the other hand, mental health has a lot of stigmas around it. Most people don’t understand how crippling any anxiety or depression can be. So we need awareness to bridge the gap and make spaces for open conversations. 

Mental Health should not be seen from only an illness spectrum, it should be seen from a wellbeing spectrum. Practice various practices that are informed by positive psychology, whether it’s mindfulness, gratitude, or self-care. You don’t need to go to a specialist everytime there is a mental health concern, you can also deal with it yourself. If you can listen to somebody passionately without judging, advising, and moralizing. People will themselves come up with solutions, you won’t have to give it to them. It all starts with stress, if you don’t deal with stress, it becomes distress, and distress becomes crisis. If we deal with it at the stress level itself, the situation becomes much easier for both the professional and the patient. People also feel empowered enough to say, we can deal with this. So if these are the things that we work upon,  and empower or enable the community capacity building, it definitely would bridge the gap.

Dr. ArvinderJ. Singh is a psycho therapist, consultant and trainer who has worked for over 20 years in the area of leadership as well as building healing spaces through listening and stories including in areas of political violence and natural calamities.  She is the founder of an initiative called Listening Circles Healing Spaces that builds on this aspect of her work. She is currently Director of Ashoka Centre for Well-being and guest faculty for the course ‘Effective Leadership Strategies’ at IIM, Ahmedabad where she teaches mindfulness and empathic  leadership.

Interviewer: Lakshya Sharma

Picture Credits: Harper’s Bazaar

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 22

Astrology, Mental health and the Economics of Well Being

Around 75 per cent of the Indian population lives in rural areas, but their access to quality mental health care is limited and traditional approaches continue to be in use. The shortage is to such a large extent that there are only  0.7 physicians per 1000 population and only one psychiatrist for every 343,000 Indians. While over the years the mental health sector has seen major developments, like the 2017 mental health care act. This act establishes equal access for all citizens, to avail government-run or funded mental health services in the country. However, it does not bridge the gap in society as the majority of the population remains deeply unaware or unable to access these services. 

While the uncertainties of the pandemic brought mental wellbeing to the forefront, the national budget for the sector dropped, making this an issue of human rights. This accessibility to services is further corroborated by the recurring financial expenses of medications and frequent visits to government clinics. The cost of sessions is steep and a single session is not ideal. Spending exorbitant amounts on healthcare is a burden most families can’t afford leading to debt. In the absence of insurance and healthcare schemes and provisions, therapy remains a luxury to many Indians.

Economic struggles are only one of the causes of this discerning gap in the mental health sector. Barriers caused by sexuality, gender, caste and religion also play a major role in mediating people’s perception and access to therapeutic services. The persistent stigma surrounding mental health, especially in India continues to be a hindrance to seeking help. The supernatural inhibitions and disparity in knowledge across communities only create more confusion. The notion that mental well being is an optional expense is popular, even though the country’s population is in a dire state. Data collected in a WHO report found that nearly 15 per cent of Indian adults need active intervention for one or more mental health issues.

The population disregards the very prevalence of such mental disorders and more than often finds it fruitless to receive treatment. Some who are open-minded fail to afford the hiked fees that therapists in urban settings charge, leaving them with no option. While for years Indians attributed the systemic weakness of the mental health system to the people’s attitudes, a 2016 survey showed more than 42% of people have positive attitudes toward mental wellbeing and treatment. While the skeptics remain, these underprivileged sections of society too struggle to gain the accessibility they deserve.

This is where astrology, tarot card reading and other spiritual practices, have created a market for themselves in the well-being industry. The sceptics, and those from poor socio-economic backgrounds resort to these local and easily accessible ways of coping, to instil the faith they so desperately need. Astrology is a layman’s substitute for therapy, or for some even a supplement when they cannot afford extended periods of treatment. Visiting a local astrologer in many ways breeds the self-awareness one would expect from a session in therapy. These practices even hold certain similarities to actual psychotherapy settings, in the way they define, and alleviate aspects of one’s personality and behaviour.

Very often one simply needs an explanation, or an answer to the ‘why’ no matter how scientifically rooted that response truly is. Astrologers impart a level of faith, that things will get better. For those in rural areas, struggling to provide the bare necessities to their family affording therapy is impossible, so their local psychic, astrologer or pandit becomes their anchor during emotional duress. Tarot cards and other practices primarily focus on the future and act as a guide point for how to deal with the things ahead. For a farmer coping with anxiety, access to anti-anxiety medication is strained, and so is therapy. His best bet remains to consult his next-door jyotish about his burdens.

A famous clinician Caroline Hexdall in an interview said that “ Part of the popularity of astrology and tarot today has to do with their universal nature”. With growing technology and the pervasiveness of social media, people can gain easy access to self-care and astrology resources. Apps and web pages provide daily tarot cards, zodiac signs readings and astrological predictions for people, and almost serve the purpose of a therapist. Is reading the lines on our palm, and checking the alignment of the stars enough to cure the mental illness they undergo? Is it a solution or a quick fix as a consequence of an ignorant healthcare system?

Several studies have also shown the deteriorating effects of depending on astrology. Cases of worsening and onset of depression, anxiety and personality disorders are common for those who use astrology as more than just a temporary coping mechanism. It also becomes a source of losing control, as every feeling is attributed to fate and destiny, instilling a sense of helplessness. Ultimately can the mental health system single-handedly address the concerns of inequality and economic access in society?

Maahira Jain is a third-year student at Ashoka University studying Psychology and Media studies. She is a movie buff and is extremely passionate about writing and traveling.

Picture Credits:

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Issue 22

The Runway of Inclusivity And Diversity In Indian Fashion

Like most other industries, the fashion industry came out of the  COVID-19 pandemic with impacted functioning and the need to champion new trends. Inclusivity and diversity are a few trends that stand out, especially at Fashion Week showcases, which dictate trends for current and upcoming seasons. The pandemic forced everyone to reassess their priorities and values, with consumers becoming more aware of what they were purchasing, what the brands they shopped from stood for and tried to shift towards more sustainable ways of living. Consumer demands forced brands to reevaluate their strategies to retain their target markets, and inclusivity and diversity went from being trends to a necessity in the face of crisis. 

The fashion industry has been called out for racism and its lack of representation for decades. In a 2021 U.K. study, 90% of respondents believed that fashion industry images did not show a range of bodies and identities, and 87.5% felt they were not represented in fashion industry advertisements or on the catwalk. The reemergence of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement in the west in the early pandemic days served as a final wake up call for fashion. The Spring 2022 Fashion Month was the most racially diverse fashion season yet, with 48% of appearances made by models of colour. Yet, behind the scenes, people of colour remain temporarily employed, with not enough non-white designers, proving that the illusion of diversity doesn’t equal a diverse industry. In terms of size inclusivity, body positivity seems to be a trend that oscillates back and forth, with the number of plus-size models fluctuating each season.

While the west continues to move forward with conversations of inclusivity and diversity, it is vital to keep track of where India’s fashion industry stands. With the end of FDCI X Lakmé Fashion Week 2022, several designers attempted to move toward these trends suggesting that India is moving towards a more progressive fashion industry. It is also essential to identify what inclusivity looks like in India. With such a diverse culture and heritage, India’s need for diversity should be necessary. Whether it’s celebrating Indian ethnic textiles and handweaving or showcasing real Indian women of all shapes and ethnicities, emerging into our roots will pave the way for diversity and inclusivity. Ritu Kumar’s photo series ‘Equally Beautiful’ features ethnically diverse models to highlight India’s diverse cultural landscape and champion the notion of plurality. 

aLL: The Plus Size Store is India’s first plus-size brand. Their ‘The Big Bold Fashion‘ showcase at fashion week celebrated plus size ready-to-wear women’s and men’s clothing on the runway. One saw models that weren’t just the typical lean body type. Ashutosh Sharma, one of India’s first plus-size models with hearing and speech impairments, was a model for the show. Despite the few plus-size models who walked at fashion week, our size chart is our biggest disservice in size inclusivity. The Ministry of Textiles had promised an Indian specific standardised size chart by 2021, which has still not come. National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), New Delhi, has taken on the project under the ministry to conduct a national sizing survey to create a database of Indian measurements that genuinely represent our population. Designers such as Manish Malhotra and Leena Singh expressed their support for the project, explaining how they are forced to look at international sizing charts such as EU, UK or US measurements in the absence of such a sizing chart instead. According to Statista, on average, Indian women are bigger-bodied, with approximately half the consumers fitting into the plus-size category, yet this size-inclusive clothing segment remains largely ignored. Using a sizing chart based on our proportions allows for more inclusive clothing and solves the problems Indian women face when finding their sizes.

Designer Gaurav Gupta, who has styled many Bollywood celebrities, says post-pandemic fashion will be more inclusive and accessible. He also said that the fashion community would have to change course and adapt with new buzzwords such as “vocal for local” and “sustainable”. Gupta has been a frontrunner in the creation of inclusive clothing. He launched his ‘Name is Love’ campaign and held a seminar on inclusivity called the ‘The Love Festival’ to share the stories of a diverse group of models and their struggles and triumphs with their different gender identities. The show featured trans, non-binary, and plus-sized models and same-sex couples wearing clothes with non-traditional embroidery and voluminous ruffles to show the fluidity of the couture. The narrative emphasised love for oneself and inclusivity and all genders, body types, ethnicities, and sexualities.

Shubhika Davda, founder of the brand Papa Don’t Preach, says that inclusivity exists in twofold in the Indian fashion industry, with queerness at the forefront behind the scenes but a lacking inclusive image in front of the camera with brands sticking to standards that commercially sell. Her ‘Zsa Zsa Zsa’ campaign launched with a truly inclusive cast of real Indian women and a queer couple. Her label also dropped the word ‘womenswear’ to make it open for all to wear. For years, androgynous clothing has been a staple in the west, and it is now dominating the Indian runway. Many brands such as Heumn, The Pot Plant, Bloni, and Chola the Label made successful attempts at gender fluid clothing. If one is to look back at Indian history, Indian men have always worn gender-neutral clothing, from kings who sported dhotis and layered jewellery to salwar-kurtas worn at weddings. In response to being asked if gender-fluid clothing is a trend, Shyma Shetty, the co-founder of Huemn, says that fashion imagery is much more inclusive now, with open conversations about body diversity, identity, and self-acceptance reflecting her generation’s mindset. 

The Indian fashion industry is attempting to create diverse visual imagery and moving away from standard or European notions of beauty. While every effort counts, true inclusivity means ensuring diversity and representation offstage, such as by ensuring that larger sizes are available on the floor shop itself and bigger bodies are used to showcase clothing on websites. Consumers must note how brands interact with them in real-time to ensure that their inclusivity is not just a gimmick. Modelling agencies should also bring in more diverse models to ensure that they are not a minority. The ultimate goal is that size, inclusivity and diversity are so inherently a part of a brand that the conversations around their work don’t revolve around these topics. There is still a long way to go, and a lot of education is left to ensure that inclusivity permeates the industry at every level, rather than just at a few catwalks, but those conversations have been started.  

Reya Daya is a third-year student studying psychology and media studies at Ashoka University. Her other interests include writing, photography and music.

Picture credits: Heumn

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Issue 22

The Bridge to Bridgerton

25th March 2022 was one of the more significant dates in this year’s calendar. We all eagerly waited for the clock to strike the witching hour in PST, and at that stroke of midnight hour, Bridgerton season 2  was unveiled. From Cosmopolitan to TeenVogue, all anyone could talk about was Bridgerton. A period drama set in the Regency Period, dealing with theLord Bridgerton and his quest for marriage, sounds like a posh rom-com. However, the pull Bridgerton has on its audience is unprecedented, setting its name in history. It broke all records, and established itself as a model to look upon. But what sets Bridgerton apart (apart from the adorable dog in the poster)? 

One key element is the time it is set in:The Regency Period. The Regency Period marked the rule of Prince George as a regent for this father, George III who was deemed unfit to rule. Stories around this period are extremely popular because novel ideas around romance, etiquette, and fashion evolved during this time. Moreover, The Queen of Regency, marked an everlasting queendom of this genre over us– Jane Austen. Her work and later adaptations took this era to new heights, and Bridgerton is yet another period drama set in the period and reaping benefits from its big, big, reputation. 

Another element of its popularity is escapism and vibrance. The first season’s release directly preceded a worldwide lockdown. In its beautiful soirees and posh courting, people found a way to relish their own desires. Compared to other period dramas such as Downton Abbey or The Crown, Bridgerton is starkly vibrant. Its colors have a spring-summer vibe, a brightness that allures people to leave their homes and go enjoy the sun. In a situation where that escape was physically not possible, Bridgerton allowed us to enjoy that vibrance from the comfort of our homes, in posh style. Let’s be honest, who hasn’t had a fantasy of a romance, and eloping with their partner to a beautiful palace with gardens and roses. Real life, however, is much more complicated in terms of relationships. Bridgerton reflects on such complexities of love and lust and takes us on a journey with which we relate on a smaller scale. 

Apart from a vibrant setting in The Regency Period, what sets Bridgerton apart is sensuality and sexuality. The show caters to a very large audience which predominantly consists of teenagers. An extremely good looking cast with well-directed intimate scenes keeps the audience “hooked”. Moreover, the intimacy, or lack thereof, transcends sexual relations. The complexities in exploration of father-son relations, hesitence is exploring love, presence of an external parent figure, and above all finding your own way in the world (Yes, that’s for you Lady Whistledown)

Bridgerton offers a sense of exploration and freedom, in the sense that it is free from the nitty-gritties of the English Upper Class even though it is set in that era and period. The works of Lady Whistledown and the courage of the woman impersonating Lady Whistledown provides a sense of hope and suspense. Lady Whistledown’s ability to break down the dogma and create a readership base for her makes her life relatable to many. This relatability stems from her breaking the walls of the dogma around her and coming out as a rebellious figure deciding her own life. This sense of agency that the current viewership of Bridgerton craves is shown by the series keeping its audience hooked.

Not just Bridgerton, but Period Dramas in general are having a comeback. They add glitz and glamor, and transcends us into a dreamesque world of fantasy, color and desire. While making this transition, content creators take facts and make them relatable, fun, and vibrant. Bridgerton is whole, in this sense. It has elements of vibrance, humor, sexuality, desire, and fantasy while still holding relatability and offering escapism.

Lakshya Sharma is a first year undergraduate student at Ashoka University. He is an economics and media studies student. Apart from his academic interests, he has keen interest in writing and fashion.

Picture Credits: The Quint

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