When Fidel Castro insisted on calling me Indira

A former member of the South Commission led by the late Julius Nyerere recalls her visit to Cuba in 1987.

In the passing of Fidel Castro, the world has lost perhaps one of the last warriors of the anti-colonial, anti-economic domination struggles.

I had the privilege of spending one week in Cuba in 1987, as a member of the South Commission led by the late Julius Nyerere. Fidel, as we all got used to calling him, like many other leaders from the former colonies, had enormous regard for Nyerere. So he literally laid out the red carpet for us. Nyerere – as indeed many of the leaders who fought against colonialism, including Jawaharlal Nehru, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and those who founded the Non Aligned Movement – had similar regard for Fidel.

Many of the leaders of that era, especially those who fought against colonialism, whether it was Fidel, or Yasser Arafat, had extraordinary love for India and particularly for Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi. I became a beneficiary of that love. Since I was the only Indian in the delegation and wore a sari, I would get special treatment from Fidel, who would insist on calling me Indira and embrace me, hold my hands while he walked around the various buildings and spaces that he wanted to show us.

Fidel not only would tell us about all the achievements of Cuba but often accompanied us on our tours. He hosted dinners and also spent a great deal of time with us during the various cultural shows that he held for us.

We were shown Cuba’s extraordinary health services , hospitals , and institutes of medical research. He accompanied us and explained how former colonies could import the latest medical equipment from Cuba, and boycott the West that then had a monopoly in the area. The socialist touch was tangible and visible – patients in hospital rooms would range from cleaners to bureaucrats, all treated at par and given the same facility.

The thought that there was this one great leader who, whatever his faults, could not only resist control and threats by another country but actually managed to push them out and established autonomy seemed like an inspiration.

At the Commission we were searching for a political economy framework, for rebuilding the former colonies. We were looking for something affirmative, so that we could cut the dependence on the North, which was still there, despite independence. We had visited many sites and many other countries as part of our quest. As we were leaving Cuba, Nyerere turned to us and said, “There, we have our model for the South,” much to the dismay of some of the other members of the Commission who were less inclined to the Left.

I mourn the loss of the last of the unstoppable leaders of the former colonies, and with him the loss of the spirit to fight the overpowering presence of the neo-colonialism

Devaki jain was a member of the erstwhile South Commission.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content  BY 

Modern home design trends that are radically changing living spaces in India

From structure to finishes, modern homes embody lifestyle.

Homes in India are evolving to become works of art as home owners look to express their taste and lifestyle through design. It’s no surprise that global home design platform Houzz saw over a million visitors every month from India, even before their services were locally available. Architects and homeowners are spending enormous time and effort over structural elements as well as interior features, to create beautiful and comfortable living spaces.

Here’s a look at the top trends that are altering and enhancing home spaces in India.

Cantilevers. A cantilever is a rigid structural element like a beam or slab that protrudes horizontally out of the main structure of a building. The cantilevered structure almost seems to float on air. While small balconies of such type have existed for eons, construction technology has now enabled large cantilevers, that can even become large rooms. A cantilever allows for glass facades on multiple sides, bringing in more sunlight and garden views. It works wonderfully to enhance spectacular views especially in hill or seaside homes. The space below the cantilever can be transformed to a semi-covered garden, porch or a sit-out deck. Cantilevers also help conserve ground space, for lawns or backyards, while enabling more built-up area. Cantilevers need to be designed and constructed carefully else the structure could be unstable and lead to floor vibrations.

Butterfly roofs. Roofs don’t need to be flat - in fact roof design can completely alter the size and feel of the space inside. A butterfly roof is a dramatic roof arrangement shaped, as the name suggests, like a butterfly. It is an inverted version of the typical sloping roof - two roof surfaces slope downwards from opposing edges to join around the middle in the shape of a mild V. This creates more height inside the house and allows for high windows which let in more light. On the inside, the sloping ceiling can be covered in wood, aluminium or metal to make it look stylish. The butterfly roof is less common and is sure to add uniqueness to your home. Leading Indian architecture firms, Sameep Padora’s sP+a and Khosla Associates, have used this style to craft some stunning homes and commercial projects. The Butterfly roof was first used by Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French architect who later designed the city of Chandigarh, in his design of the Maison Errazuriz, a vacation house in Chile in 1930.

Butterfly roof and cantilever (Image credit: Design Milk on
Butterfly roof and cantilever (Image credit: Design Milk on

Skylights. Designing a home to allow natural light in is always preferred. However, spaces, surrounding environment and privacy issues don’t always allow for large enough windows. Skylights are essentially windows in the roof, though they can take a variety of forms. A well-positioned skylight can fill a room with natural light and make a huge difference to small rooms as well as large living areas. However, skylights must be intelligently designed to suit the climate and the room. Skylights facing north, if on a sloping roof, will bring in soft light, while a skylight on a flat roof will bring in sharp glare in the afternoons. In the Indian climate, a skylight will definitely reduce the need for artificial lighting but could also increase the need for air-conditioning during the warm months. Apart from this cleaning a skylight requires some effort. Nevertheless, a skylight is a very stylish addition to a home, and one that has huge practical value.

Staircases. Staircases are no longer just functional. In modern houses, staircases are being designed as aesthetic elements in themselves, sometimes even taking the centre-stage. While the form and material depend significantly on practical considerations, there are several trendy options. Floating staircases are hugely popular in modern, minimalist homes and add lightness to a normally heavy structure. Materials like glass, wood, metal and even coloured acrylic are being used in staircases. Additionally, spaces under staircases are being creatively used for storage or home accents.

Floating staircase (Image credit: Design Milk on
Floating staircase (Image credit: Design Milk on

Exposed Brick Walls. Brickwork is traditionally covered with plaster and painted. However, ‘exposed’ bricks, that is un-plastered masonry, is becoming popular in homes, restaurants and cafes. It adds a rustic and earthy feel. Exposed brick surfaces can be used in home interiors, on select walls or throughout, as well as exteriors. Exposed bricks need to be treated to be moisture proof. They are also prone to gathering dust and mould, making regular cleaning a must.

Cement work. Don’t underestimate cement and concrete when it comes to design potential. Exposed concrete interiors, like exposed brick, are becoming very popular. The design philosophy is ‘Less is more’ - the structure is simplistic and pops of colour are added through furniture and soft furnishings.

Exposed concrete wall (Image Credit: Getty Images)
Exposed concrete wall (Image Credit: Getty Images)

When building your home, it is important to use strong and durable materials. A value-added premium product with high compressive strength, Birla Gold cement is used to make tough, impermeable concrete that sets quickly, lasts long and minimises cracking. Its durability will ensure that your dream home always looks new and the steel structure inside remains protected. Birla Gold offers variants that are optimised for different needs. The unique hydraulic binding properties of the Birla Gold Premium cement variant prevent seepage, making it resistant to even corrosive water, especially important for houses in coastal cities. The Birla Gold Royal cement variant provides very high strength and is perfect for the foundation. As the video below says, with the different varieties of cement that Birla Gold offers, you can build the home of your dreams.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Birla Gold Premium Cement and not by the Scroll editorial team.