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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Vol. 5 No. 52

LOUNGE THE WEEKEND MAGAZINE

SLOW DOWN MAKE 2012

LAST LONGER

BUILD A CLASSIC WARDROBE >Page 17

Get off the fast track. Clean up, refresh, embark on a journey or a project. Create a memory. Pick from our 50 ways to stretch time. MAKE A SCENT

Perfume­making stands at the crossroads of art and apothecary. Learn how to create your signature perfume >Page 14

GET SOME ROCK

Rock climbing is a pensive and personal sport. The ground is our comfort zone, to take the first step up a wall is to walk past fear >Page 18

FIND YOUR WAY BACK HOME

The Eastern and Orien­ tal Express runs from Singapore to Bangkok, allowing a stunning view of the Kwai river from its observation deck.

A first­hand account of personal journeys, including one in which the writer traces his grandmother’s roots to her village in Bangladesh >Page 21

THE GOOD LIFE

LUXURY CULT

SHOBA NARAYAN

WHEN YOUR FOOD SINGS TO YOU

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s we are introduced, Paul Pontallier, the legend ary wi nema ker o f Ch âteau Margaux, takes my hand, bends down…and kisses it—exactly like Elaine Sciolino describes in her book, La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life. I walk in prickly (more about that later) but by the time Pontallier releases my hand, I am charmed. We are at The Leela Palace Bangalore to enjoy an evening of exceptional food and wine. Chef Alain Passard, who shocked... >Page 6

REPLY TO ALL

RADHA CHADHA

THE SHARED FAMILY WISH LIST

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ose 5kg. Get to the gym at least four times a week. Definitely join a yoga class. We were tossing around the same old New Year resolutions that we did every year, a harmless enough last-week-of-the-year activity, until our daughter, who was then 6, piped up and said we should have a “family resolution”. We paused, wondering how to explain to her the unspoken script surrounding New Year resolutions: Make promises with gusto, forget them a week later. >Page 6

AAKAR PATEL

DON’T MISS

in today’s edition of

CULTIVATE A PASSION, LEARN TO LIVE

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know of three men who lived in the manner of their choosing. First was Socrates, who spent his days on the streets of Athens ambushing passers-by with seemingly simple questions. Like Ghalib, he loved argument. This was not to score a victory over another, it wasn’t a debate in that sense, but to try and bring understanding, to learn. Importantly, he also wanted to spread his spirit of inquiry. The aristocrats and upper-class youth loved him (it was a middle-class Athenian jury that put him to death). >Page 8

FILM REVIEW

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HAVEL, KURAN AND THE ARAB SPRING V

áclav Havel once gave us a beautiful parable to explain the fragile nature of political power when it is challenged by those living in truth. It is worth retelling at the very end of a year that saw ordinary people take to the streets—from Cairo to Moscow—to rattle some of the most brutal regimes in the world. The parable concerns a shopkeeper in Communist Prague who has bought his peace from a repressive regime by putting up a poster in his shop window announcing the mandatory proletarian solidarity: “Workers of the world unite!” He puts up the sign because it has been done that way for years, because everyone does it, NIRANJAN and because that RAJADHYAKSHA is the way it has ESSAY to be. Most importantly, he does not want to get into trouble. The shopkeeper lies. He pretends to be a loyal subject. One day, something snaps within him. He no longer wants to play the game. He is punished by the regime for deciding to live in truth. Havel, the playwright, political thinker and politician, who died on 18 December at the age of 75, wrote about the shopkeeper in a powerful essay, The Power of the Powerless, published in 1978. That was 10 years after Soviet tanks rolled into the city to extinguish the

Prague Spring and one year after dissident Czechoslovakian intellectuals had written Charter 77 in defence of civil liberties. The Communist system was ossified but stable. Few thought it was around a decade away from spectacular collapse. Havel argued that both the obedience of the citizen and the power of the Communist bureaucracy were shallow: “The sign helps the greengrocer to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience, at the same time concealing the low foundations of power.” Havel emerged as one of the heroes of the Velvet Revolution that toppled the Communist system in East Europe in 1989. Too many people had stopped putting up the official posters in their windows, as a wave of hope washed over public cynicism. People stopped believing in The Big Lie. Twenty-two years later, a young Tunisian street vendor could no longer bear the daily humiliations of a corrupt system. Mohamed Bouazizi, 26, set himself on fire outside a government building. That was the spark that lit the prairie fire that we now call the Arab Spring. The revolt of one powerless man led to the eventual overthrow of dictators such as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Moammar Gadhafi in Libya. Tahrir Square in Cairo continues to simmer. Havel helps us understand why repressed societies that seem calm OZIER MUHAMMAD/THE NEW YORK TIMES

on the outside suddenly see an explosion of the power of the powerless. He also argues in favour of putting morality above politics. “I think the moral order stands above the legal, political and economic orders, and that these latter orders should derive from the former, and not be techniques for getting around these imperatives,” he wrote in his memoirs. Author and former Lounge reviewer Chandrahas Choudhury had pointed out in his blog a few years ago that these views “closely resemble the thoughts of Gandhi, who, like Havel, sought to restore the spiritual and ethical dimension in politics, and whose thought, like that of Havel, achieved an extraordinary balance of idealism and realism”. This year provided yet another reminder of the fact that systems

based on lies and fear can suddenly collapse, be it East Europe in 1989 or the Arab region in 2011. The process has been explained in terms very similar to Havel’s by one of the most interesting economic thinkers of recent times. Timur Kuran is a Turkish economist who has done stellar work on how individuals do not reveal their true preferences but prefer to act in ways that are socially acceptable. The title of his most famous book, Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification, brings back memories of the greengrocer in Prague, who had private truths but preferred to tell public lies. Economist Tyler Cowen believes it is one of the best economics books of the last 20 years. Such “preference falsification” JOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES

has profound implications for society. An individual sending out a false signal about his true preferences makes it more difficult for others to also speak the truth. It gives rulers a false sense of security. But Kuran shows that there are moments when there are sudden flips of opinion that can never be predicted. One man stands up in protest, then 10 more, then 100, and soon thousands. These are part of what Kuran and Cass Sunstein have called availability cascades: a chain reaction that feeds on itself. At the end of this cascade are very often the ruins of an old regime. Kuran argues that revolutions can never be predicted. A tame herd can suddenly run wild. But his work does offer us one clue about what can enable a sudden change in public opinion: information. Availability cascades are based on information. It is not a surprise that social media has played such a central role in protests that have rocked autocracies. Even China has been struggling to keep its growing online citizenship under control. Information can travel fast these days, and not even censors in Beijing, leave alone Union minister Kapil Sibal, can control its flow. This year showed us that political regimes based on fear can be misled by their own citizens, who lie to them about their obedience. But then there comes an inexplicable moment when the lies wither away. People choose to live in truth. Havel wrote: “By breaking the rules of the game, he (the greengrocer) has disrupted the game as such. He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. He has upset the power structure by tearing apart what holds it together. He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. He has broken through the exalted façade of the system and exposed the real, base foundation of power. He has said that the emperor is naked.” Niranjan Rajadhyaksha is executive editor, Mint. niranjan.r@livemint.com MUHAMMED MUHEISEN/AP

Year of the protester: (clockwise from right) An anti­government protest in Yemen in March; Václav Havel emerged as one of the heroes of the Velvet Revolution that toppled the Communist system in East Europe in 1989; and Libyan rebels pushing back government troops near Ras Lanuf in March.


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SLOW DOWN

2012 MAKE

LAST LONGER Get off the fast track. Clean up, refresh, embark on a journey or a project. Create a memory that will make the year last forever.

PICK FROM OUR 50 WAYS TO STRETCH TIME

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RESTORE BEAUTY: FIND THE MISSING PARTS

That iconic 1980s song by The Buggles, Video Killed the Radio Star, celebrated the romance of the radio. Some of us revel in that kind of attachment to the past. It needn’t always be destructive nostalgia. Tube radios, classic turntables, music boxes, pocket watches and grandfather clocks: These are all objects of great beauty and functionality. But only a few of us invest time, effort and money into preserving and restoring such pieces. Raj Jain, a Mumbai-based businessman with a passion for antiques, does so because, as he says, “(these things) were created with so much detailing and love that it breaks my heart to let go”. Jain is currently absorbed in restoring a music box he acquired from a family in Kutch, Gujarat. “It’s difficult to say how old it is, but it would be close to 100 years. Nobody in the Bhatia household had the time for a broken music box, and I was only too happy to pick it up,” he says. It is an ornately handpainted wooden box that used to play eight 1-minute chime-like tunes, which now sits on Jain’s desk waiting for its missing parts. “Music boxes usually have springs and combs; these snap because they’ve been wound too hard or just become brittle with time,” says Jain. Restoring anything with such intricate mechanics calls for some luck in finding the parts. Repairmen often use parts from other vintage items that are beyond repair. “Sometimes it could be just be a tiny brass coil that you need but you can do

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nothing but wait till you find it,” he explains. Jain’s penchant for antiques dates back 10 years, when his ancestral family home in Kutch was damaged in the Bhuj earthquake. His family’s unanimous opinion was that it should be razed to the ground. But Jain protested; this consequently left him with the responsibility of restoring it. “It was a beautiful experience; my learning curve,” he says. Elsewhere, there are those who restore vintage pieces to different ends. For US-based Manmohan Durani, born and brought up in Kashmir, it was the ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT

Popular mechanics: Mumbai­based Raj Jain acquired this music box from a family in Kutch, and is now waiting for replacement parts to fix it.

memory of his late grandfather that he wanted to preserve in the ticking of a pocket watch. “This is something he carried on himself, touched and wound up every day,” remembers Durani. Bought sometime in the 1920s, this was the Aftab by West End Watch Co. “While it lay as a keepsake for many years, I felt the urge to make it work again and thus began my search for watchmakers,” says Durani, who eventually got help from his uncle— T.N. Madan, a sociologist based in New Delhi. “It has a winding key mechanism, like most other watches of the time. You had to wind it once a day, and it would unwind itself in the next 24 hours. The winder moves a coil inside, which was broken. It’s a delicate movement, and needed delicate work. I told Manmohan that this would cost some money, but he said it didn’t matter how much,” says Madan. After checking with many watch shops in Delhi’s Khan Market and Connaught Place, Madan found GangaRam and Sons on Vikas Marg, near their home in Preet Vihar, who agreed to send it to some watchmakers in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh. “When the watch came back to us, repaired, after three months, I would wind it religiously every night, but it would stop after 12 hours. So I went back to them,” says Madan. They greased it a bit but said that it’s because the brass part they put in was new and stiff, so there was resistance. They said, ‘have patience and keep winding, it’ll soften in time’.” It has.

FOLLOW A DIFFERENT ‘REAL TIME’

Make time for the real world by getting more efficient in the virtual world. Dealing with incoming emails and notifications on Facebook and Twitter can take up the whole day, and keep you from getting any work done. Follow these simple tips: Email: Keep yourself from being flooded with emails by using third-party software like SaneBox, which works with Gmail, Outlook and other popular mail systems. It helps reduce inbox clutter. Mails are rated by five levels of

SANEBOX.COM

importance, so you can stick to the important ones when you’re busy. Facebook and Twitter: Cull your lists. You’ve responded to a lot of friend requests over the years, and it’s time to let the cruft go. They won’t even get a notifier about it, and you’ll stop getting pointless updates about champagne brunches while missing out on news of your school friend’s newborn. Using a site-blocker such as Chrome Nanny will help too, allowing you to access social networks for only a set amount of time daily.

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CREATE A HOME RETREAT

Imagine a room with a stunning view: a filigree of green with light filtering in. Outside, on the balcony, there are birds chirping. A part of you just bursts into Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, but stops in time because you don’t want to ruin the moment. The Armstrong aspiration apart, the rest is realizable, and doesn’t require you to extinguish your savings. This can be your own home, and the idea is to transform it into the ultimate holiday retreat in 2012. Begin by de-cluttering. Let there be pockets of your home that are secluded. If there’s a storeroom, convert that wasted space into a reading room or a music room or just a room to dream in. Keep your books here, a music player, the old guitar or tabla that you’ve lost touch with. Do it up with photographs that make you happy, a couple of rugs, and string lights. Elsewhere, introduce nature into your home. If you have a terrace or a balcony, fill it up with plants. Add a bird feeder, and some wind chimes; let it morph into an eco-lodge. If you have pets or children, watch how thrilled they get with the new surroundings (although there is a chance your dog might try to have a bird every now and then for lunch. Train it!). You’ll savour every moment you spend at home. And every time you want to run off to some place on holiday? Just run home instead. COURTESY MYSUNNYBALCONY


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STITCH IN TIME

Don’t let your favourite pieces gather mould in the back of your closet because they need a little repair and you don’t have someone on hand to fix them. No number of trips to the mall are perhaps enough to replace that perfect white shirt; or the dress that has, over the years, learnt to flatter your curves just right. Learn easy garment maintenance: Sew a button on, for a start. If a simple hem is beyond you, keep some double-sided fusing on hand so you can iron a hem in place.

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MEND THE CRACKS WITH THAT FRIEND

It was a misunderstanding you haven’t bothered to fix. You didn’t have the “time”, you told yourself. The days have melted into weeks—and months—now you couldn’t care less. Make that call, write that email, do whatever it takes to fix things before the friend you learnt how to bike with becomes nothing more than a social acquaintance.

ZOOMIN.COM

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PUT TOGETHER A FESTIVAL CALENDAR

Let 2012 be the year you organize your life around your biggest interest. India’s cultural calendar is full through the year, so it shouldn’t be hard. Enjoy books? Plan your vacations to Jaipur and Kerala for the literature festivals—you can get the sightseeing in edgeways. Want theatre? Clear your schedule for the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) and Ranga Shankara festivals. Music? Take a look at the beautiful locations and timings of some of next year’s greatest festivals.

20­21 January: The Storm Festival in Coorg involves camping out and listening to some of the best Indian bands playing today: Swarathma, the Raghu Dixit Project, Parvaaz and Indian Ocean, among others. For details, visit Stormfestivalindia.com.

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BACK UP THE PHOTO ALBUM

You’ve ditched your film rolls and gone digital. Fair enough. But don’t stop at storing photographs on your computer and displaying them on digital photo frames. Go for something more tangible, at least for those special albums: the Ivy League graduation, the scuba-diving trip to the Andamans, the 25th anniversary of your wedding. You can create photobooks, a more polished version of the photo albums of yesteryear. Upload your photos on websites such as Zoomin, iTasveer or Snapfish—all of which have simple user interfaces—and choose from custom cover options for affordable photobooks in a variety of sizes. These are priced affordably, in the `500-1,500 range, and shipping is usually free. COURTESY SUNBURN FESTIVAL

Winter sunshine: Held in December every year, Sunburn is the biggest electronic dance music event in the country.

5 February: Sulafest in Nasik is held at the Sula vineyards. There’s music, wine and winter sunshine just a few hours drive from Mumbai or Pune. To reach the organizers, visit Sulawines.com.

May: The Escape Festival of Music and Arts at Naukuchiatal, Uttarakhand, is three days of summer in the Himalayas, and 30 indie bands playing at a scenic lake resort.

26­30 October: The Rajasthan International Folk Festival at Jodhpur combines the best of local and global folk music, and happens over Sharad

Poornima, the brightest full moon of the year, at the gorgeous Mehrangarh Fort. For details, visit Jodhpurfolkfestival.org.

November: The Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Pune is a three-day festival of independent, offbeat and off-the-record music, inevitably featuring some of the best and most eclectic live acts in India. For details, visit Nh7.in.

KUNAL KAKODKAR

Mid­December: Sunburn in Goa is the biggest electronic dance music (EDM) festival in India and has been a one-stop shop for some of the most exciting EDM acts in the world. For details, visit Sunburn.in.

December­January (till 1 January): The Margazhi Season in Chennai is the ultimate platform for Carnatic classical music. With a month-long gala of sophisticated concerts organized by Chennai’s music sabhas and attended by a crush of Carnatic fans from all over the world, it’s a chance to hear the legends as well as exciting new voices. Additionally, the canteens are a historic byword all by themselves. For The Music Academy’s calendar, visit their site Musicacademymadras.in.

Musical pilgrimages: Raghu Dixit; and (top) members of the Mumbai­based metal band Bhayanak Maut performing at the first NH7 Weekender in Pune in November.


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LEARN HOW TO DRAPE A SARI CREATIVELY

The urban Indian woman is often reluctant to wear a sari, save for special occasions, because she thinks Western garments and salwar-kameez are faster on the go. Rta Kapur Chishti (author of Saris—Tradition and Beyond, Roli Books, 2010) says the

only reason women think it takes too long to wear a sari is because they have stopped wearing it. “It takes as long to set yourself up in a sari as it takes to wear anything else. Besides, Indian women forget that our bodies are not really structured for Western

garments. From knees, ankles, backsides to bosoms, shoulders and arms, those garments require a different structure. But the sari, it can be worn in numerous ways to suit any workday or any silhouette you favour,” says Chishti.

Thumb through the book or attend Chishti’s New Delhi-based The Sari School (K-42, Jangpura Extension, 41823927) to learn more than 108 ways to drape a sari. After getting the hang of four-five styles, you will realize that a sari can serve the function you want. IMAGES COURTESY ‘SARIS—TRADITION

THE SARI GOWN You will need: A 9­yard sari in a heavy silk weave. Avoid saris with stiff borders or weaves.

PANT STYLE You will need: A 6­ to 9­yard sari in a cotton weave.

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Bring the inner­end piece around the waist clockwise and tie a knot at the front or on the right side.

Leave 1.5m (half a metre if you are using a 6­yard sari) from the inner­end piece, wrap around the waist and tie a knot at the centre­front waist.

Bring the left inner­end portion to the back between the legs.

Make pleats of the remaining loose portion facing right.

Make pleats of the pulled portion at the back.

Roll the pleats outwards and secure by wrapping over the innermost layer.

Tuck in the gathered pleats at the centre­back.

Make pleats of the front free end­piece lying at the right side.

Bring up the lower borders at the two extremes.

BEYOND’

Bring to the centre­back waist from either side and tuck in.

Pleat the outer end­piece and bring anti­clockwise under the tucked and gathered pleats at the back to the front at the right waist.

Throw the outer end­ piece over the left shoulder.

DIVYA BABU/MINT

TAKE A SARI PILGRIMAGE

Visit a different city every two months and collect a sari indigenous to the area. Try to pick true classics with traditional motifs. Visit Kanchipuram for a Kanchi silk sari, but definitely avoid the wedding season so you don’t get stuck in the silk equivalent of a fish market. Also, add a Banarasi sari

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Bring out the end­piece around the waist anticlock­ wise and throw over the left shoulder until thigh­length.

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from Varanasi, a Muga silk sari from Assam, a Kerala cotton sari with pure zari from Thiruvananthapuram and a Bandhani sari from Jodhpur. Visit Andhra Pradesh for a Pochampally, and Uttar Pradesh for a Tanchoi sari. At the end of the year, you will have saris and memories to last you a lifetime.

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START OUT WITH CLAY Getting down and dirty was never as rewarding as moulding that first clay pot. A functional art form beyond compare, pottery exposes you to the magical pliancy of earth. Let your imagination run riot on clay as it swirls around on the pottery wheel transforming into earthenware, stoneware or buttery smooth porcelain. Starting from the wheel to the firing kiln and the eventual glazing, the entire procedure is as challenging as it is soothing. And even the misshapen pieces could make for personalized gifts for friends. Most cities have beginners’ courses. Delhi Blue Pottery Trust (www.delhibluepotterytrust.com) offers a six-month pottery course; two classes per week for `8,000. In Mumbai, there’s Mitty (www.potterymitty.com), a pottery studio in Versova, Andheri West, offering different courses in the art. For details, email info@potterymitty.com


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Snaking through: The Pride of Africa cuts a picturesque swathe through the Transvaal region in South Africa.

27 TIME TRAVEL

You might not be a patch on George Clooney in Up in the Air but you’ve collected enough air miles to fly free for a decade. When was the last time you took a train; when travelling meant more than getting from home to hotel; when the journey was part of the holiday itself?

Cross an ocean Let 2012 be the year you go on a voyage. We mean the real crossing-the-bar deal to test your sea legs, not schmaltzy cruises. That’s not to say you become a galley slave, but do enjoy some old-world genteel-ness. • The Shipping Corp. of India runs passenger services to Lakshadweep and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ships leave from Kochi,

Chennai, Visakhapatnam and Kolkata; prices start at `1,960 for a bunk, and go up to `7,640 for deluxe cabins). For details, visit www.shipindia.com • For a more deluxe experience, budget for a few extra days the next time you need to cross the Atlantic, and make it a historic crossing. Cunard Line, the company that operated the historic passenger liners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, still operates on the trans-Atlantic route. Queen Mary II, the successor to Queen Mary, which crosses from Southampton in England to New York in the US in seven days, is currently the only passenger ship between Europe and North America and passage on the luxury ship costs

$895-3,795 (around `46,540-1.97 lakh) per head for twin-sharing. For details, visit www.cunard.com

Chug along If the prospect of seasickness daunts you, there are other ways to time-travel. Last month, the Indian Railways launched the longest train route in the country, mapping a varied 4,285km course. The weekly Vivek Express leaves Dibrugarh in Assam every Saturday just before midnight and arrives at Kanyakumari 82and-a-half hours later. If travelling three-and-a-half days (likely more) on an Indian train doesn’t sound like much of a vacation, there are the half-dozen palaces on wheels. And there are

28 FOLLOW YOUR WINGS

SHIVASHANKAR

Shy guy: The Malabar Trogon is known to be shy but gets spot­ ted because of its crimson belly.

To follow that shy, winged friend of yours into deep, dense forests, waiting for a glimpse in silence and identifying its call in the early hours—birders will tell you what sort of meditation that is. You might have attempted some weekend birding in your city. In the coming year, get your binoculars, trekking shoes and privilege leaves in order and follow a bird—a rare, endangered, exotic, or simply beautiful, bird—across the subcontinent. A migratory bird, the Osprey, flies all the way from Europe in winter (November-February). It’s a magnificent raptor and feeds on fish. So lakes, rivers and other water bodies are where you should be headed. The Kaziranga National Park in Assam or the Sultanpur National Park in Haryana, the backwaters of Kaveri and the Kutch region of Gujarat are your best bets. The more discerning birders could go after the rare Malabar Trogon. This beautiful, red-bellied bird is endemic to the Western Ghats and lives in dense, evergreen forests. You’re most likely to spot it in the Konkan belt, south of Goa. Anshi National Park in Karnataka, the Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary and Eravikulam National Park in Kerala, Silent Valley National Park in the Nilgiri hills and Nagorhole National Park near Bangalore should be on your map. Apart from a love for birds, and an observant pair of eyes and ears, you may need to do some studying so you know who that beauty perched on that droopy branch is. Beginners could get a copy of Salim Ali’s quintessential The Book of Indian Birds (Oxford University Press, around `495), which packs in comprehensive information on habitats, nesting, migration and other trivia. A more recent book to pick up is Birds of the Indian Subcontinent: A Field Guide by Ranjit Manakadan, J.C. Daniel and Nikhil Bhopale, published by the Bombay Natural History Society and Oxford University Press (around `550).

other railways in the world. Here’s our wish list: • Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express: Do the world’s longest train route in comfort. Inaugurated in 2007, this entirely en suite train operated by the Russian Railways and a British travel company runs from Moscow to Vladivostok on two different routes. Depending on the route, the journey could take up to 15 days and set you back by £8,595-16,795 (around `6.96-13.6 lakh). For details, visit www.gwtravel.co.uk • The Eastern and Oriental Express: How many times have you been to Singapore? Next time, go in style. Though this isn’t the train Agatha Christie made famous, this luxury service between Singapore and

Bangkok certainly does take you back to an era of regal pampering. The stunning views of River Kwai from the train’s observation car will be worth every cent of the £1,440-3,010 that you fork out for this four-day journey. For details, visit www.orient-express.com • Pride of Africa: This is an epic journey, as envisioned by Cecil John Rhodes. Cutting through the length of Africa, the train leaves Cape Town in South Africa and reaches Cairo in Egypt 28 or 34 days later, depending on an aircraft option. The train passes through some of the most stunning landscape on earth. The tickets are priced at Rand (ZAR) 12,950-25,900 (around `81,836-163,681). For details, visit www.rovos.com

29 PICK UP THE PEN

In 2007, poet Robert Frost’s private notebooks were published. Analysts were amazed: He seemed dyslexic, deranged, and nothing he wrote seemed to make sense. In losing handwriting to the keyboard, we have lost the core of the creative process. It has become easier to delete, so we think less about what we “commit to paper” (a term in itself suggestive of a long-term promise), spellings are autocorrected, so we care less about mastering our language. We invest less in our personal creative processes when we do not allow ourselves the beauty of a poem rewritten, scratched and overwritten. Moods, captured in the tilt and pressure of a pen, or the slant of a letter, are replaced by the monotone of a universal font

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that gives away nothing that words don’t. The written word, as a creative art, was once about individuality of expression. A writer was defined by the kind of pen he used, how blue or black the “writer’s depression” on his thumb was, and what paper he picked to tell his tale. Stories are incomplete without these. Every artist who still uses his brush and paint knows his mistakes on canvas, and working around them are what distinguish his art. Rugged Moleskins, your first Waterman, your father’s gold Sheaffer, India Ink and Chinese handmade paper, watermarks and wooden desk to hold them all in—whatever you are writing, book or letter—handwriting is a lost world that must be reclaimed.

GO BACK TO YOUR MOTHER TONGUE

Wondered how your parents read, wrote and spoke more than two languages with ease while you just about manage to juggle English with metropolitan slang? Going back to your mother tongue will take patience: If you really want to slow down, there’s nothing like reading the morning news in a language you don’t practise. Full-scale immersion may be impossible, especially in an Indian city. But take a subscription to your regional newspaper, put your native language music on your iPod, and don’t be afraid if relatives back home make fun of your accent. You’ll have bridged the greatest generation gap of them all.


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PHOTOGRAPHS

GET SOME ROCK

If the argument against renewing your gym subscription has been how terribly monotonous walking that treadmill or lifting those dumbbells is, hit the nearest climbing wall. Rock climbing requires climbing up, down and across natural rock formations or artificial rock walls. It is a physically and mentally demanding sport, one that tests your strength, endurance and balance. If heading out for natural rock is a bit much, start with artificial climbing walls. New Delhi has the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (www.indmount.org), Bangalore has Outback India (www.outbackindia.com), while those in Mumbai are spoilt for choice with climbing groups in Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivali, scores of indoor walls, and proximity to the Sahyadri hills. Climbing calls for a variety of specialized techniques and safety equipment. If ropes and gear befuddle you, you could begin with bouldering—free climbing on boulders no more than 10-15ft tall, with a cushion below to break your fall. “Climbing isn’t a binge exercise; it’s a multidimensional sport which increases your body awareness, your awareness of space...it’s a little bit like dancing,” says Anuraag Tiwari, co-founder of Delhi Rock, a volunteer group that trains and takes beginners for climbing sessions on weekends. “For city dwellers,” says Tiwari, “short day trips out to natural rock can wash the mind.” If you need more of a push: A 2010 survey conducted by the University of Hertfordshire in the UK polled over 6,000 people to find out which 15 sports they thought would make a member of the opposite sex more attractive. Climbing topped the list for women with 57%. Climbers tend to be trim, muscular and extremely flexible. Who wouldn’t want that? Vanity aside, a common misconception about climbing is that it’s all about strength. Being strong helps, and climbing is highly skill-intensive, but what’s more important is proper technique and a mind of steel. Fear can paralyse even the strongest climber. In a January 2010 article called Why Climbing Can Redefine Your Boundaries, Lounge sports columnist Rohit Brijnath wrote about how climbing calls for a leap of belief. “This leap is also one of discovery, it helps you locate physical reserves you weren’t sure you owned, it takes you to hideaways in the mind where a faint bravery might rest,” he wrote. “It is why I admire climbers, solo sailors, North and South Pole walkers, Sahara crossers, for whatever their mode of transport, they are nevertheless leaping, and they have a magnificent faith.” Climbing is a pensive, personal, and challenging sport. The ground is our comfort zone, we are safe on it, and so to take just the first step up a wall, even if roped, is to walk past fear. Brijnath also quoted author Craig Vetter, who captured the spirit of climbing beautifully: “In Yosemite (in America), the grapevine ethic...is that you do not climb to be famous or to make a living. You climb to climb, and if you do it with intensity, the rewards are deep and private. At its purest, you go alone, and when you get back, you might not even say where you’ve been or what you’ve climbed.”

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THINKSTOCK

PICTURE THE WILD

The wilderness abounds in sights that are exotic to the human senses. Leave National Geographic and the comfort of your couch behind, arm yourself with a camera, and explore first-hand. “Out there, you realize how powerful nature is when compared to us,” says Raja Purohit, a Pune-based wildlife photographer. “You learn the difference between a tiger in a cage and a tiger in the wild.” Along the way, the toughest lesson, the lesson in patience. Animals in the wild abhor human intrusion, so wildlife photographers have to learn to be invisible, waiting in one position silently for hours for that elusive bird or beast to come within the frame of the viewfinder long enough to capture it. Wildlife photography requires that you travel to national parks or sanctuaries, and India has a mind-boggling variety of forests, from the grasslands of Bandhavgarh, the mountain forests of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve and the marshlands of the Sunderbans to the rainforests of Arunachal Pradesh. For weekend getaways, try photographing birds, since they gather on the outskirts of cities and are within easy reach. Purohit emphasizes the quality of lenses that ought to be used. “Birds usually require a 500mm lens while mammals need a minimum of 200mm focal length,” he says. Prices vary with the quality and brand, but get ready to spend anywhere between `50,000-4 lakh for a lens. Throw in a tripod and you are ready to go.

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GO FISHING

There is no way to speed things up while fishing, the fish will bite when they will. But after you’ve cast your line, immerse yourself in the verdant beauty of the place you are in—because if you’ve gone angling, you are bound to be standing in a secluded area in a river valley. Fishing demands social isolation—go in a group, the fish will run; let your cellphone ring, they’ll give you a wide berth. It might not be widely known, but India is a premier destination for fishing holidays, with some of the least-explored waters in the world. Fast-flowing glacial streams all over the Himalayas offer great fishing, with the majestic mahseer, the beautiful rainbow and brown trouts, and the massive catfish. Goa and the Andaman islands offer salt-water fishing, a more adrenalin-driven venture. Most touring companies that organize fishing trips follow a strict catch-and-release policy, except for trouts, which are consumed. Contact Indiaangling.com; Mountainhighs.com, which runs the Himalayan Trout House in Himachal Pradesh; Himalayanoutback.com, which organizes fishing camps around the Indian Himalayas; Mahseerangling.com, which offers fly fishing in south Indian rivers; and Chennaisportfishing.com and Gamefishingindia.com, which take you out to the open sea.

BIRTH OF A BONSAI

Miniaturizing trees and creating an illusion of age—bonsai cultivation was started by the Chinese, and the Japanese perfected it. For the gardener at heart, a bonsai lets you put your creativity into something that will live with you. Cultivating it calls for persistence, with the constant pruning of branches, root cutting, potting, wiring and grafting to produce small trees that, even though confined in a shallow pot, live to be full-grown. The stage of growth at which you plant your bonsai is crucial. It cannot be a sapling, but it shouldn’t be much older: It has to be tender enough for you to be able to twist its branches to give it your desired shape. Six-eight months later, you may need to prune the branches in a way that it grows horizontally rather than vertically. Bonsais need some sunlight so don’t keep them indoors. Shaping your bonsai is where the creative process kicks in . When you tie tender branches with wires over a period of time, they will take the desired shape. You can develop various styles; for instance, the windswept, the forest, a rock-planter where the roots peep from crevices, or the artistic Bunjin. Like Renu Vaish, a bonsai lover and former president of the Indian Bonsai Association, New Delhi, puts it, “Like an artist makes a painting, a bonsai brings out your creativity through nature.”

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LET THE HERBS GROW

There is great bliss in watching a tiny seed grow into a magnificent plant under your care—and if you could snip and pluck from it to put it in your pasta or salad, you’ve got a fistful of heaven in your hands. Growing herbs requires very little space, and they will grow abundantly in small pots—in a garden, in balconies or windowsills, and

even in hanging pots. They are also forgiving and hardy, and don’t need fussy handling or care. Some herbs, like coriander, thyme, mint and rosemary, like blasting sunshine. Flat-leaf parsley and basil thrive in semi-shade. The essentials can’t get simpler—terracotta or plastic pots, some good soil, organic compost and dried cow dung, and of course, the seeds. All these are available in most nurseries in any city. Create a mix with three parts soil, one part compost and one part cow dung, fork up the mixture till it’s loose and powdery, scatter the seeds in the pot, and cover it with half an inch of the soil mix, then drench the pots with water. A week later, you’ll have the thrill of watching the baby shoots spring through the soil, and then watch them grow, week after week, with just a little bit of watering every day. Soon you’ll be growing too much for personal use, and you’ll have to share your produce with friends and neighbours—you’ll never meet a selfish gardener! You could even think of graduating to a more robust herb—you know, the kind that is medicinal and makes you “feel good”.


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LOUNGE

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

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SOUND INVESTMENT Playing an LP on a turntable is nothing like flipping through songs on an iPod—it’s a meditative process, perched somewhere between aural euphoria and a collector’s obsessiveness. But why go retro with something that reached near-extinction four decades ago? The answer is as simple as it is fundamental: sound. As music players climbed the ladder of technology—from LPs to tapes to CDs to MP3s—what they gained in accessibility and mobility, they lost in sound quality. Music, when played live, is analogue by definition. On your CD or MP3, the sound waves are recorded and stored through a series of digital “snapshots” of the actual analogue output. When you play it, the digital data has to be reconverted into analogue signals to create the sound that comes through your speakers. In both, there are losses in sound quality. When you play an LP, though, there are no digital conversions involved, and the original sound is reproduced more accurately. What that techno-babble translates to is a rich, warm, fuller sound spectrum. You will discover subtleties you never imagined were frozen in those tiny grooves, and levels of sound quality you didn’t know even existed (unless you work in a recording studio). Less important, but perhaps even more addictive, are the processes involved in playing an LP. You scour through your collection, pick the one that suits your mood, feel the heft of the disc, appreciate the large-format album art, gently slide out the vinyl, place it on the turntable, softly place the needle on the groove, and then sit back. This slowing down of the process of reaching to your music, making it a deliberate act, only heightens the listening experience. This is how the casual music lover turns into a serious audiophile. The fact that for the last five-six years the return of the LP has gained some serious momentum around the world

helps as well. All the equipment you need—a turntable, a phono amplifier, a set of speakers, and both new and second-hand LPs—are now widely available in most major cities in India. Record labels, such as EMI Music, Saregama and Sony Music Entertainment, have begun reissuing LPs, and music stores such as Rhythm House, Music Land, Music World and Landmark have started stocking them; add to that the fun of trawling through Chor Bazaar in Mumbai or Free School Street (now Mirza Ghalib Street) in Kolkata for second-hand vinyls. For the serious collector though, the Internet is the true paradise; eBay, Flipkart and Amazon sell a wide collection of LPs, www.diversevinyl.com and www.discogs.com offer a breathtaking collection of Western music, and www.bollywoodvinyl.com stocks both Bollywood and regional Indian film music. An audiophile’s tip: If you have the money, look for Japanese pressings, widely regarded as the highest-quality vinyls issued today. Also look for reissues of jazz and Blues classics by the international music publishing houses Acoustic Sounds and Music Matters. Nova Audio in Mumbai, New Gramophone House in New Delhi and Absolute Phase in Bangalore stock excellent selections of turntables, amplifiers and accessories, including Denon, Audio-Technica, Sony and Lenco players, priced between `10,000 and `2.5 lakh.

PHOTOGRAPHS

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UNDERSTAND YOUR URBAN HABITAT

Make your trip in your own city this coming year. Turn the vacation into a staycation. The phrase, coined by the British press at the height of the slowdown of 2008-09, is a mash-up of “stay-at-home” and “vacation”. Poke around your city’s secret corners and ignore the tourist traps. In Delhi, go to the lakeside Jahaz Mahal, that melancholic ruin in Mehrauli that casts a jahaz (ship)-like reflection on the water. In Mumbai, attend the Sabbath-gathering of Jews in one of the city’s oldest synagogues in Byculla. Use books as a starting point to make travel plans. Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is a Mumbai cliché but it’s the most user-friendly guide for sightseeing tips on old Bombay. The forthcoming Mumbai Noir (edited by Altaf Tyrewala, releasing in March, Akashic Books), along with existing journalistic accounts of the city by Suketu Mehta and Sonia Faleiro, are handbooks to the new Mumbai. The newly released Delhi: 14 Historic Walks (Westland, `495) by walking guide Swapna Liddle might tempt Delhiites to check out their neighbourhood ruins, while the four-volume The Delhi Walla guidebook series (HarperCollins, `199 each) by Lounge staffer Mayank Austen Soofi is an alternative gateway to the Capital. Trawling the Net will introduce you to bloggers who are exploring your city’s bazaars, monuments and cuisines so passionately that they might put professional chroniclers to shame. Finally, every city has at least one famous flaneur who loves exploring its unexplored aspects and doesn’t mind sharing his enthusiasm with others. In Delhi, ask Pradip Krishen at treesofdelhi@gmail.com to take you for a pro bono excursion to the city’s jungles.

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REDISCOVER SCIENCE

Science can be a fascinating field of endless study, but for most of us, it’s something we left behind in school. Catching up on those lost lessons can be extremely fulfilling, and it’s possible to do so without hitting the textbooks. For example, learning about the periodic table is now best done using the Elements app on the iPad. The $13.99 (around `730) app is the most beautiful and interactive periodic table—instead of just seeing the elements list, you can look up their uses, current prices, or handle a 3D sample image. Or visit Cellcraft.com to learn more about cell construction and behaviour—packaged as a quirky video game. You have to build a cell and fight off viruses, and in the process you’ll learn basic biology. Also worth playing is Super Energy Apocalypse, a brilliant educational game that can teach people about the direct consequences of reliance on polluting technology, and showcases the advantage and drawbacks of green technology. If you’re looking for something a little more straightforward, it’s also worth visiting Biodigitalhuman.com, a website with a fully explorable model of a 3D human, so visitors can take a tour of the bone structure, or get a proper look at what the pancreas really look like.

THINKSTOCK

GIVE A GIFT THAT LASTS...AND LASTS Always worried the gift you picked out isn’t “special” enough? You’ve learnt over time that it isn’t the value, or even how long you took to choose it that counts, but how it makes your friend remember the occasion the gift was meant to mark. Here’s a great gifting suggestion: If you know what your friend is really

interested in (wildlife, photography, art, architecture, popular culture?), gift him or her an annual subscription to a magazine that’s hard to get off the stands locally. When your friend receives the weekly copy of The New Yorker or a monthly copy Wallpaper, he won’t just think of his 30th birthday or gala wedding, he’ll also think of you. PRIYANKA PARASHAR/MINT

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EAT WITH THE SEASON

We used to mark time by the food we ate: the seasonal vegetables, the appropriate spices, the right kinds of oil, and the special festive foods. Life in a city or town may make these options moot today; for most of us, “seasonal” means avoiding bhelpuri in the monsoons. But there are some traditions for which we don’t need to invest time and energy finding exactly the right season or festival. So make 2012 your year to start a pickle tradition. It involves effort, perseverance and a little bit of love, but it will last for months. You might just end up creating something your family and neighbours will look forward to every year. One good way to do this is to hunt up those old recipes for lime pickle or mango jam which have been in the family for generations, and take a few weekends to make it happen. If those recipes are out of reach, peek into a regional cookbook. Here’s Lounge columnist Pamela Timms’ recipe for cape gooseberry preserve, with which you could start (if you want to make jam that will keep for a few months, you need quite a high sugar content).

Cape gooseberry preserve Ingredients 1kg cape gooseberries, washed 1kg sugar Method Keep 2x500ml, clean, dry glass jars ready. Put a saucer in the freezer. Put the fruit into a large, heavy-bottomed pan and pour in the sugar. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar and then bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes, then test for setting point: Put a small amount of jam on to the chilled saucer. If the jam wrinkles slightly when you push it, it is ready. If not, boil for a few more minutes and test again. Cape gooseberries have high pectin levels so you don’t need to boil for long. Five minutes is usually enough. When the jam is ready, pour it into the clean jars. When it is cool, seal with a lid. For a less sweet jam, reduce the sugar to 500g but keep the jam in the fridge because it won’t keep as well as the one with the higher sugar content.


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LOUNGE

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

GO THE FAMILY WAY

When the apocalypse arrives (well, let’s just play along anyway), what do you think will be flashing before your eyes? That killer PowerPoint presentation? Or the cake your six­year­old baked? Doomsday or not, a new year provides the perfect opportunity to reconnect with the family and create lasting memories. Take up a project that involves the whole family, the more extended the better. We suggest some fun ways to renew the bond COURTESY THE ALKAZI COLLECTION

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PHOTOGRAPHY

Freeze time: A family portrait circa 1910 (Rex Photo Studio).

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Spectacle: A fibreglass statue of Kempe Gowda at the Kempe Gowda Memorial Museum in Bangalore.

CAPTION THOSE PHOTOS

Nothing evokes quite so much emotion as flipping through old family albums. The physical turning of the fraying, yellowing, slightly musty pages parallels a journey in time and long-forgotten moments live fleetingly again. On long winter evenings or scorching summer ones, when venturing out of home seems like a punishment, gather the family around and sit down to sort and caption old photos together. Go back to the oldest photo you can find—perhaps

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that tinted, square one in which a dapper young man is standing next to a barely-visible-under-her-jewellery young woman, who you’re told are your grandparents; or of that picnic in Panchgani in 1987 where the whole clan had descended from every corner of the country. Watch the stories come tumbling forth as your mother introduces your son to the formidable aunt who had run away from home at 18 to meet Dilip Kumar.

CREATE AN HEIRLOOM

Don’t have a precious ornament that your grandmother passed on to you, or a carpet that has been in the family for decades? You could create one. Family heirlooms should ideally pass the test of time and are that much more valuable when they tell a story. Create a family heirloom along with the rest of your family in the coming year. Make a patchwork quilt or a sari that you might want to pass on to your daughter on her wedding day (or her graduation party). Pick designs that are contemporary and reflect the present time, with colours that you all like. Take bits of ideas from everybody for the project so it is truly a family effort. THINKSTOCK

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You’ve got cousins in Bangkok and Boston, in Manchester and Mumbai and Mahabaleshwar. And while you dutifully swap New Year and Diwali greetings and mail each other wedding invitations, the extended family gets even more extended as you mix up who married who and who just had a boy. Make it a family project to trace all the branches spread out over the globe. There are plenty of websites (such as Genealogy.com) that help build family trees. A more collaborative way of going about it is having your own website or a Facebook page to post photos, videos, make family plans and generally reconnect. Link it to the family tree and perhaps you’ll even find the uncle who had vanished in Myanmar after World War II.

ANIRUDDHA CHOWDHURY/MINT

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VISIT A MUSEUM A MONTH

You now know your Amrita Sher-Gil from a Tyeb Mehta, but only enough to smile politely when around art-inclined friends. Contemporary art galleries have disenchanted you with their oh-so-cool stance. But your city museum, despite the bad shape it is in, is a treasure trove of historical art. And despite what you believe, the exhibits do change every few months. If you’re in Mumbai, make a monthly trip, family in tow, to art spots such as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, the recently renovated Dr Bhau Daji Lad and the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). In Delhi, you have the National Museum and the larger NGMA; in Kolkata, visit the Indian Museum, India’s largest museum and the ninth oldest in the world.

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STRING A FAMILY BAND

You sacrificed your dream of being a rock star at the altar of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) admission. But now that you are finally the master (or mistress) of your own fate, why not have that band you always meant to set up? And before you object that this would eat into family time, we suggest you begin scouting for band-mates within the family—that uncle who could play a mean riff, or the nephew who drives his mother nuts with his drum practice. Get them together for jam sessions. Offer to play at your next office party. If nothing, you can definitely wriggle centre stage at the next wedding in the family. Or better still, compose your own soundtrack for a YouTube release. There are countless audio-editing software available online, free as well as paid, such as FL Studio, Cool Edit Pro, Sound Forge, etc.


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LOUNGE

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

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THINKSTOCK

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Yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar once famously said: “When you hold breath, you hold the soul”. The purpose of all of yoga—pranayam, asanas, suppleness of mind and limb—is to allow man, whether an ascetic or an ordinary householder, to gain awareness of his breath. In classical Indian music, drawing your breath from the pit of your stomach, and controlling its release, is what directs your tune. In poetry, Allen Ginsberg’s Howl was spun from breath-lengths and the meter of rhyme was nothing but the dipping and rising of breath. In sport, it is what propels you to the finish line. Rahul Dev, who runs the fitness centre Breathe in Mumbai, says: “If your breathing is wrong, no matter what you do, or how often you do it, it is of no use to your body.” When it comes to emotions, rhythmic or arrhythmic breath is what differentiates anger and joy, excitability and calm. In September, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that with rapid industrialization, India is one of the worst-affected by air pollution, and an epicentre for lung diseases. Our age is one of short, sharp, half-lung breaths. No wonder, we are so angry all the time. Breathing is the metronome to your day. To control breath is to control life itself. To realign life, begin with one, full, deep, clear inhalation. Breathe, now.

TRAVEL TO A FRIEND Facebook has helped us get back in touch with long-lost playmates and that college romance that ended with the final exams. You could trade those quick “remember the time...” chats online and take the effort to go out and meet these friends you’ve recently rediscovered. That friend you went to preschool with runs a resort in his native village in Kerala, your best friend from primary school is a mother of three in Lucknow, and your partner from kick-boxing classes is a mountaineering instructor in Leh. Choose three friends you’ve lost touch with and make that your next travel project. If you haven’t been to that part of the country before, do some research and make arrangements to travel around as well. Discover a new place, and rekindle an old connection.

Write to lounge@livemint.com

Contributors: Amrita Roy, Anindita Ghose, Anupam Kant Verma, Gayatri Jayaraman, Gopal Sathe, Komal Sharma, Pavitra Jayaraman, Rudraneil Sengupta, Sanjukta Sharma, Seema Chowdhry, Shreya Ray, Supriya Nair and Viseshika Sharma.

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Year End Issue 2011