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New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Chandigarh, Pune

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Vol. 4 No. 18


Your favourite spheroid cell is no longer just a breakfast (and hostel) staple. The humble but versatile egg now appears in chef’s specials and at family lunches


>Page 10


How is Rabindranath Tagore relevant today and how should he live on? Renowned author Sunil Gangopadhyay revisits the Tagore legacy >Page 9

I’M A LIT FEST JUNKIE, BUY MY BOOK What’s the point of so many literary festivals? Part of it is prestige, but for authors, it’s what you make of them >Page 14


Performance art in India has entered its teen years and has found its first commercially viable artist >Page 16






omer’s Odysseus always pours the first drink from his wine bowl to the ground as libation to his gods. An uncle of mine, a gambler, did the same thing, though he would dip his fingertips in his whisky-soda and flick the drops about him mumbling solemnly, like a pandit at puja. One thing only time teaches us is how to drink correctly. I cannot tell good wine from great, and I know nobody who really can. The Indian who swirls and sniffs the waiter’s sample pour... >Page 4





ast week four white men in dark suits and neatly parted hair stood before US lawmakers defending their company, Goldman Sachs. They were accused of selling “shitty” deals to innocent clients and making billions while the stock market collapsed all around them. The financial equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome was burning. In late April, pugnacious Lalit Modi—sometimes scornful, sometimes bitter, always vowing to fight—was suspended as... >Page 5





recently read about a woman who’d vowed to take her much-loved masala recipe to the grave, unmoved by pleas of family and friends to share. My heart breaks for her daughters: Despite having a cookbook collection which could fill a medium-sized library, the only one I’d brave a burning building for is my mum’s old handwritten recipe journal. It contains the story of my childhood and the food that made me the eater, cook, person I am. >Page 18



First published in February 2007 to serve as an unbiased and clear-minded chronicler of the Indian Dream. LOUNGE EDITOR






The uber­cool book store is here PHOTOGRAPHS





FOUNDING EDITOR RAJU NARISETTI ©2010 HT Media Ltd All Rights Reserved



The new Landmark is big and attractive, but it does not compromise on the store’s eclectic edge


ou go to Landmark when you know it’s just about time for the new Alice Sebold to arrive in India or when, after reading the Lounge column Cult Fiction, you want to get your hands on Absolute Watchmen. No book store in Mumbai—perhaps even in India—can match Landmark’s eclectic collection of literary fiction and graphic novels. It has been the zany, cool intellectual’s destination. But the store in Andheri is also a mini retail paradise—the latest Hidesign bag as easily visible to shoppers as the new Yann Martel or David Mitchell cover. You have to negotiate screaming children and heavy plastic bags hanging from tired hands to make your way to the books section of the store in order to unearth the best. Like most big book-store chains across the world, Landmark believes a family has different kinds of shoppers and the bibliophile (nerd) will only shop at Landmark if the entire family gets to shop there too.

Versatile: (left) There is a gaming area before the books section begins; sketches and artworks adorn the walls. At the new Landmark in Palladium, Phoenix Mills, in central Mumbai, there is enough space and shelf for all kinds. The 42,000 sq. ft store, sprawled across the basement of Palladium, stocks at least 5% more in all categories than the other store in Mumbai—and all the 14 other stand-alone outlets in India. The day before it officially launched with the release of Jeffrey Archer’s new book And Thereby Hangs a Tale, we took a guided tour of the store through its various sections. Designed by a UK interiors consultant firm Fitch, the new Landmark looks like an oversized art gallery, with wooden floors, a ceiling


Write to us at FOOTBALL FEVER This refers to “More room for Rooneys”, 1 May. Kudos to Atul Gupta and Arpreet Bajaj for starting the football academy in Mumbai at a time when everyone is going crazy about cricket, thanks to the Indian Premier League (IPL) and now the T20 World Cup. It is heartening to learn about efforts to boost the football scene in our country. Football is otherwise restricted to the North­East, Kolkata and Goa. Hence it is all the more relevant to make this game a success in Mumbai. The Mumbai administration and state must chip in to take this game to the next level. BAL GOVIND

SEAT OF LUXURY Reading Radha Chadha’s “Up in the air, luxury is just a button away”, 1 May, I was reminded of an old R.K. Laxman cartoon—an inefficient minister, who spends more time flying all over the globe than in doing his work, gets his office chair replaced with a seat from the aircraft since he has got so used to sitting in it. ARUN

IMAGINARY HOMELAND Shoba Narayan’s observations in “The NRI’s obsession with all things ‘Indian’”, 1 May, are so true. Being a college student, I can totally relate to this. “In their heads, they are still the lean and hungry college students who came overseas to try their luck.” This line sums it all. No matter how rich and flashy we

get to keep up with the Western world, in our heads we still hunger for the homeland. AARWEN

FORTY AND FABULOUS This refers to Priya Ramani’s “Just (please) don’t call me aunty”, 24 April. As the creator of the Women at Forty site you mention, I know the pull that turning 40 has. I, for one, planned to be somewhere in Italy, drinking wine and staring into some gorgeous Italian man’s eyes at exactly the moment I turned 40. Instead, I’ll be at home on my laptop working and alternately staring into the eyes of my dog Kingston. But hey, just don’t call me ma’am. And, as for Italy, there’s always 41! Good luck at 40! WOMEN



CONNECTING THE DOTS Aakar Patel’s “How mystic Plato became genius Aflatoon”, 24 April, was a great read. All his articles make interesting connections from our cultures. I also loved his analysis of the patterns of interest in music among communities (“Why Parsis love Western classical music”, 18 July). The Parsi love for Western classical music and the general Indian taste for Hindustani/Carnatic was very well explained, as were his views on Indians in team sports (“We’re too self­absorbed to be team players”, 27 March). JINU KURIEN


LISTEN TO THE LOUNGE PODCAST In this week’s edition, Krish Raghav holds forth on eggs; Sanjukta Sharma reviews ‘It’s a Wonderful Afterlife’; Himanshu Bhagat gets actor Shabana Azmi to talk about all things cinematic; Chandrahas Choudhury reviews ‘Jangalnama’, a new book on Maoism; and Shamik Bag speaks on how Bengal is celebrating Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary.

dotted with spotlights, drawings on makeshift pillars and the walls (I particularly liked a painting of Tom Sawyer). The place has a friendly SoHo vibe to it. They have introduced a spacious gaming console with all PlayStation and Xbox games, where you can play new games all day if you so wish. There’s another new small section on vinyl records of classic rock and house/electronica music meant primarily for DJs. You will cross attractive racks full of painting paraphernalia, toys and games before you get to the Books and Music sections. Every category in Books is larger and more diverse—history, cinema,

graphic novels, comics, fiction and non-fiction get more than two aisles, and Indian fiction and other categories get one long aisle each. Business and management books—the “most lucrative category in books,” says Himanshu Chakrawarti, COO of Landmark—get the biggest shelf next to a wall. The head of merchandise pointed us towards the graphic novels section for Lynd Ward’s Mad Man’s Drum (1929), the first graphic novel ever written (Rs437). It is a novel in woodcuts. I also saw Une Semaine de Bonté, a surrealistic novel in collage by Max Ernst, another story told entirely in beau-

tiful, intricate drawings (Rs828). Fiction is as diverse as in their other stores, but I spotted some gems in non-fiction—for example, The Rest is Noise, in which author Alex Ross, the music critic of The New Yorker, depicts the 20th century through its classical composers. In music, the new store has expanded its collection to include more Western classical music titles (consciously so, as Chakrawarti later said, because of the store’s proximity to south Mumbai, where most of the city’s Western classical aficionados live). There are concert DVDs of Herbert von Karajan, the Bolshoi ballet and many of Luciano Pavarotti (even before visiting it herself, my Parsi colleague is sure her mother will insist on trips to the store every weekend). The regional music section is much bigger too, with much more choice, especially in Bengali music. After you’re done browsing, buy yourself a big Moleskine notebook (made famous by Matisse and Picasso, and later Oscar Wilde, Rs450-1,200), made of coarse handmade paper. It could work as instant inspiration. Or grab a chair (not bean bag) next to the large windows, away from the browsing area, and start reading. Sanjukta Sharma



Bad wine, cheap martini or afternoon whisky?


omer’s Odysseus always pours the first drink from his wine bowl to the ground as libation to his gods. An uncle of mine, a gambler, did the same thing, though he would dip his fingertips in his

whisky-soda and flick the drops about him mumbling solemnly, like a pandit at puja. One thing only time teaches us is how to drink correctly. I cannot tell good wine from great, and I know nobody who really can. The Indian who swirls and sniffs the waiter’s sample pour is doing it for form. His nose is inexperienced and he does not have a palette for wine. There’s a reason for this. The food of wine-drinking societies, like France and Italy, keeps tongues refined through its subtlety. The quality of meat is important, because it is cooked little—and without spice. The sensitivity of Indian tongues has long been obliterated by garam masala, mirchi and pickle. Even salt must be added excessively by Indians to standard recipes, as those who cook from European books will have noticed, because our tongue is unable to pick out the first few grains. Indians like strong and stimulating flavours, revealed by our culinary adjectives (chat-pata). European and Chinese food must be modified for us, because Indians dislike the subtle (pheeka). This lack of refinement extends to alcohol. The Guardian reported that the Australian wine Yellow Tail has two tablespoons of sugar added per bottle. It isn’t surprising that such rubbish passes for good wine in India. Were I to have regular access to duty-free alcohol, my drink would be whisky. I don’t, and so it’s martinis. This might sound fancy, but they’re actually inexpensive. Their primary ingredient is gin, which costs Rs255 a bottle (it’s OK to buy cheap gin and we shall see why later). The expensive bit is the vermouth (Martini Torino Extra Dry, Rs1,374), but that’s only half a capful’s worth and a bottle lasts months. The martini also has olives, and that sits well with the doctor’s orders to eat greens. One irritating problem I have with the olives, however, is not knowing what to skewer them with. Toothpicks float to the surface and make the drink look cheap. Metal oxidizes, and makes clanging sounds, attracting attention. I enjoy the ritual of mixing my drink. I have good martini glasses, and an excellent steel shaker with a washable filter. I do not shake it two-handed over my shoulder, like a Hollywood extra playing the maracas. I use one hand and toss the drink and ice about horizontally till my thumb is numb from cold. That is a sign that it’s ready. Martinis of home-made gin are the favourite drink of the layabout doctors in the upscale TV series, M*A*S*H, and quite rightly. A vodka martini isn’t really a martini. When my friends visit from Surat, I offer beer and gin at lunch, but they only want whisky. I left Surat when Mumbai was still Bombay, and no longer find whisky in the afternoon civilized. But I cannot say it because they will accuse me of acting posh. And it is true that Fitzgerald’s characters in Gatsby drink whisky on hot

afternoons, poured always from bottles wrapped in towels. My friends drink Royal Challenge (RC) (and then say boastful things, ending with the words: “open challenge!”). One day I served Laphroaig, which they hated, silently suspecting I was palming off rubbish, and demanded their beloved RC for the next round. I like Islay malts (Bowmore and Ardbeg above all) but my favourite whisky is the strange, almost putrid Macallan. So far as I know, Macallan is only ever advertised in The Spectator, with a sketch of the bottle and four words: “The Macallan. The Malt”. One of the best writers in journalism was The Spectator’s Jeffrey Bernard. He wrote a weekly column on drinking and gambling, called Low Life. Married four times and forever broke, he described his life as “fast women and slow horses”. His columns became the hit Broadway play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, starring Peter O’Toole. It was named for The Spectator line published in explanation when, passed out or in hospital, Bernard was unable to file his column. He died in 1997, months after his leg was amputated from diabetes, but he didn’t stop drinking or, thankfully, writing about drinking. When a book of his columns was published, the Daily Mail reviewed it under the headline: A suicide note in instalments. The Spectator is one of the few places where Hendrick’s Gin is advertised. It is very expensive and supposed to taste of cucumber and rose petals. I do not buy it. Vodka is, or should be, tasteless. Those who drink it must consider buying the inexpensive brand, because they’re all the same. And this is true also

for gin, and every drink that adds mixers. The only expensive alcohol that tells is red wine and whisky. This is because they are aged, unlike vodka and gin, more than 50% of whose manufacturing price is spent on advertising. The other expensive thing that is worth it is caviar. Watching the upscale series Frasier, I was deeply moved by the episode in which the Crane brothers buy smuggled caviar in desperation. But it’s important to know what the value of what you consume is, and this is to be a man of taste. At five-star hotels, a large Ardbeg costs Rs1,100. A bottle of it costs Rs2,250 and contains 8.3 drinks. This is a mark-up of 400%, and I do not drink malt away from home. Something else I do only at home, and this time wrongly, is smoke cigars. My smuggler Rizwan denies this, but my guess is that the ban on public smoking has hit cigar sales. This is because a cigar cannot be smoked at home. It must be clipped and lit in public where people can examine the band. I smoke Montecristo Petit Edmundo. They are expensive, thick (52 ring) and, critically, short. This means they may be smoked comfortably without jaw fatigue, which sets in when longer cigars are smoked (I imagine it might be easier for women). Cigars make all booze tasteless, and cannot be had with anything other than champagne. Pakistani writer Munir Attaullah once wrote of sipping Clos du Mesnil (a Krug) while smoking a Cohiba. I saw immediately that here was a man of taste. Expensive taste,


mind you. It’s silly to buy pricey champagne because all bubbly is flavoured, heavily sugared and aerated. Imagine Appy with 10% alcohol. That is, in fact, why champagne goes well with cigars. Provided it’s been competently bottled, and often it isn’t, a glass or three of cold Sula Brut will do for me at brunch. People talk of those who drink to get drunk, but I have known nobody who drinks to stay sober. Conan O’Brien reported that the highest state of inebriation was when you began messaging your ex, wanting her back. This is quite true, though in Plato’s Symposium, the drunk playboy-warrior Alcibiades pines for Socrates instead. Parties are insufferable for non-drinkers. I once soldiered through an evening sober and it was awful because everyone else was first incoherent and then clingy. But greater crimes have been committed under the influence than acting asinine. Salman Khan’s Land Cruiser ran over the sleeping workers of A1 Bakery outside my house in Bandra one night in 2002. Salman, ever the hero, fled, blaming it on the policeman guarding him. The young constable was fired, and died, in penury and

in shame, of tuberculosis, making it two people that the accident killed, and another crippled. Salman is, of course, still a hero. I wondered what he was drinking that night, and found out it was Bacardi at the Juhu nightclub Rain, and that did not surprise me. Does he still think of that night when he has a few? Who can say? In Dublin, the pubs are full in the day, and red-faced men stand outside silently facing the street, alone with their beloved pint of Guinness. I understand superstar Rajinikanth sits by himself after his evening walk, and broods in the dark over a bottle of Black Label. I like the thought of him doing that, though I find Black Label lacking in character. It is, of course, an evocative name. The editor of Deccan Chronicle was once a reporter at that great magazine, Star ’N Style. She interviewed Mithun Chakraborty 30 years ago and asked him how he relaxed. Mithun said he liked going to a hotel, I think it was Holiday Inn at Juhu, and “eating khichdi with ghee, washed down with Johnnie Walker Black Label”. When I worked for her years later, I made bold to bring up the interview but she couldn’t remember it. She said: “Oh, the actors would just tell us to make up whatever we liked”. That disappointed me profoundly. Not that journalists made things up, of course, but that the story of Mithun eating khichdi and ghee “washed down with Johnnie Walker Black Label” might not be true.

Tippler truths: (clockwise from right) Martinis may sound fancy but are inexpensive; the doctors in M*A*S*H preferred martinis of home­made gin; in whisky, like wine, an expensive price tag is a marker of taste; and cigars go best with champagne.

Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media. Send your feedback to Read Aakar’s previous Lounge columns at­patel




Shashi Tharoor is too handsome for politics



ast week four white men in dark suits and neatly parted hair stood before US lawmakers defending their company, Goldman Sachs. They were accused of selling “shitty” deals to innocent clients and making billions while the stock

market collapsed all around them. The financial equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome was burning. In late April, pugnacious Lalit Modi—sometimes scornful, sometimes bitter, always vowing to fight—was suspended as Indian Premier League (IPL) chairman. And much earlier, in what now looks to be the beginning of the end of the IPL as we know it, Shashi Tharoor was forced to resign as minister. All of which beg the question—do different professions have different beauty barometers? Let me explain. A boy wants to enter politics. He stands in the hot sun in a political rally waiting to meet a great leader, someone with longevity and a weird sort of charisma; say someone like Lalu Prasad. Finally, the moment arrives and the boy, all of 18 years old, touches his idol’s feet and expresses his fervent desire: “Sahib, I want to enter politics. I want to run for office.” Lalu’s proxy (as we shall call him in this story) takes a good long look at him and says, “Boy, you are too handsome for politics. Try films instead.” Every profession demands a certain look. Casting agents know this when they choose the long-haired lanky guy in torn jeans to play the role of a musician in a movie or a show. Jury selectors intuit this, as was magnificently illustrated by actor Gene Hackman in the film Runaway Jury. And college students embrace this as they change their demeanour from being recent graduates to consummate professionals. They play a role; they try to look the part; and pretty soon, the “look” becomes them; it becomes who they are. Doctors, for instance, tend to look reassuring. Their job programmes them to look this way. Nurses look matronly—“sisters”, we call them.

Priests look avuncular or fatherly. Journalists, particularly television anchors, have to look cerebral to be taken seriously. The blondes wear spectacles; the men look thoughtful even if they are not. Scientists are, and look, maverick or contrarian— clean-cut Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and wild-child Einstein, different looks but scientists both. Teachers look wholesome—they are in the kid business, after all. Aid workers on the other hand can afford to look like flower-children, in ethnic skirts, flowing hair and free spirits. That is their garb. Corporate executives, particularly in the US, have taken to looking penitent, particularly if they are on Wall Street. Prior to that, however, most looked both hungry and smug, fitting the “fat cat” description. Bureaucrats look stolid; and film stars, glamorous. These are generalizations, of course, but they play to type. Modi looks like none of the above, which I think is the problem that the British press has with him. He doesn’t fit a type—he could play the part of a Mafia boss and an oily salesman on the make. Is he a Master of the Universe as caricatured by Tom Wolfe in the book The Bonfire of the Vanities, or simply a corrupt politician? Historically, politicians have tended to be bellicose, old and balding. Think of Gorbachev, Churchill, Castro, Arafat and Narasimha Rao. The world, it seems, likes its netas ugly, with a few tragic exceptions—Kennedy and Rajiv Gandhi come to mind. The current crop of politicians are no different: Mayawati, Hu Jintao, Angela Merkel, Benjamin Netanyahu, and even the respected Manmohan Singh. The best we can muster about them is that they have inner beauty. Their job is not predicated on looks. Someone should have mentioned all

Face value: Tharoor, with his dapper image, has had a rough initiation into politics. this to Tharoor before inducting him into electoral politics. The Indian electorate doesn’t mind dimpled Youth Congress leaders; it doesn’t mind cabinet ministers who dye their hair or wear a toupée. But we certainly don’t want our politicians to look pretty. We may admire beautiful people; we may envy them and want to be like them. But we don’t trust them. When it comes right down to it, the electorate doesn’t even like good-looking people.

Tharoor made many mistakes. But his greatest misfortune, perhaps, is that he, like Sarah Palin, was born beautiful and chose not to make amends for it. Worse, he chose a field where beauty is not only undervalued, it is viewed with outright suspicion. I use the word “beauty” here in the neutral gender, mostly because “born beautiful” is a better alliteration than the more grammatical “born handsome”. If you are a politician and have the

misfortune of being good-looking, you do what Rahul Gandhi and Barack Obama are doing. You grow a stubble. You hide behind a uniform: white kurta-pyjama or boxy black suits. You do damage-control instead of acting like a dapper dandy. You certainly don’t preen in multi-hued peacockish clothes. Scientific studies don’t necessarily corroborate what I am saying. Handsome men have an edge over the others with respect to their careers, studies say. But that’s like saying that tall men have an advantage over short ones. They did, until the world invented the Napoleon complex. Short men have been ruling the world ever since. So it goes with beauty. As plastic surgery becomes affordable; as more and more people appear better groomed—on television and elsewhere; as image consultants spruce up CEOs, politicians and other leaders, beauty simply isn’t as unattainable as it used to be. It is, in fact, ubiquitous. So in a historic repetition of the Napoleon complex, we begin to cherish ugliness. As beauty becomes fake thanks to plastic surgery, ugliness is equated with rustic authenticity. We may elect handsome politicians, but once they become netas, we expect them to put their nose to the grindstone and get on with it. Tharoor didn’t do that. He sought attention. Modi tried his best to stay quiet and get on with it, until he got caught. Now, he needs to take a lesson, or at least look the part of the Goldman Sachs bankers who are trying their best—with sober suits and contrite looks—to play the part of the “fall guy”, who takes the blame for events beyond the control of a single man, or a single firm, or even a billion-dollar franchise. Perception equals reality. Shoba Narayan thinks that looks are overrated. Easier for her to say, she has little to lose. Write to her at Read Shoba’s previous Lounge columns at­narayan



Parenting t Rattles: A set of three rattles and bath rollers for the splash pool for six­month­olds, Early Learning Centre, Rs820.


Water babies Swimming and splash­pool accessories that will help the little ones stay cool this season B Y V EENA V ENUGOPAL

p Poolside reading: Waterproof book, A Fishy Tale, for the literarily inclined, Mothercare, Rs649.


p Goggles: Dolphin­shaped swimming goggles for 3­ to 10­year­olds, Intex, Rs149.

u Bathing suit: High­cut frilly, single­piece pink bathing suit for girls with a floral print, Chicco, Rs699.

t Shorts: Hawaiian­print long shorts for the beach and pool for boys, Mothercare, Rs599.

p Bikini: Blue and lime green two­piece bathing suit for girls, with a striped bottom and polka­dot top, Chicco, Rs899.

p Trunks: Blue and red swimming trunks for boys, Chicco, Rs399.

u Rings: Fish­shaped sea world inflatable swimming ring, Pogo, Rs85.

q Mat: Pat and splash mat with water inflatable centre and floating characters, Early Learning Centre, Rs660.

u Bands: Surf & Sun inflatable arm­ band aids for early swimmers, Easy Day stores, Rs48.

p Splash pool: Fun snap 450 litre splash pool with colourful design on the border, Easy Day stores, Rs399.

t Sandals: Red rubber sandals for a walk to the beach or pool, Okaidi, Rs590.






‘MY MOM’S COMING ON TOO STRONG’ I am 16 and most of my friends are my age or a year or two older. My mother has always been a popular mom from when I was 8 or 10 years old, always welcomed my friends home, made us cakes and pizzas and all that. In the last year, though, I have this very uncomfortable feeling that she flirts with my friends. This may sound terrible to say coming from a son, but I don’t think I’m wrong in my reading. My friends too seem to be getting awkward around her. She teases them about girls, and talks a little too

much, giggling and joking with them, even asking them if they like some outfit she’s wearing and such things. My dad is a quiet, remote and busy person, and may not have noticed. What do I do? You have a delicate problem on your hands. Obviously your mom is not picking up on your extreme discomfort about her behaviour, which you must be showing in some way. Do you have an aunt or family friend you could confide in? Then she could find a way to communicate this issue to your mom. That’s one option.

Otherwise you will have to simply square your shoulders and do it yourself. Well, there’s no really subtle way to do this, so you may have to be blunt (but not rude or nasty): “Mom, I think now that we’re grown boys, you need to modify how you talk to my gang of friends. How you talk just now doesn’t feel right, mom. It’s fine to be friendly, but please don’t become ‘one of us’.” Ouch, that’s going to hurt when you say it, but you’re going to have to. If she gets the idea, she will be shocked and possibly hurt for a while, and perhaps withdraw from you all a little awkwardly, but she will come round to finding a more appropriate way of behaving friendly, but more in “mom mode”. If she doesn’t accept what you say and argues with you, and asks for specific examples of what you think is

wrong, you could bring up the points about teasing about girlfriends, and mainly about asking your buddies’ opinion on her outfits, etc. I’m hazarding a guess here that she doesn’t have too much companionship from your dad, and feels much more alive and happy around you and your friends. While this is understandable, it is not the solution, and your mother

needs to find her own like-minded sources of fun and validation. This is something you could really gently and subtly try to get her to do—to go out and find her own like-minded friends. She may tell you that she’s lonely because of your dad’s preoccupations, etc. Again, while you should understand this, it is not something for you to fix or to accommodate. Your

parents need to sort out these kinds of dynamics and needs without your involvement. And certainly getting over-involved with you and your friends is not an option or a solution. Till you have tackled this with her, and she gets the point and modifies her behaviour, perhaps it’s best that you don’t get your friends over that much for a while. You’ll find that if you are upfront and gentle with your mom, she may take a little while to get over the shock of what she hears from you, but will find her balance—and you can then go back to the warmth and ease of before between her, you and your friends. Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting.

Be upfront: Talk to your mother about her over­involvement.

Send in your queries to Gouri at



Insider STYLED








Comfortably random Open house: (clockwise from left) The terrace is Misra’s favourite spot in the house; Misra with Zoya; the main living area of the house gets a lot of sunlight and breeze—Misra got the furniture custom­made; and a Madhubani artist painted this huge tree on a wall in Zoya’s room.

Accessorized by objets d’art from the world over, this house is a melting pot of cultures BY A N K I T A T A L W A R Better Homes and Gardens

································· hen you walk into Geetanjali Misra’s house in Delhi’s upscale Nizamuddin East area, there are two things that strike you immediately—one, the openness of the house, and second, the bohemian feel it exudes thanks to her medley of accessories. “I did not do up the house with a pattern or image in mind. I just bought things as I liked them. The house has grown around me,” says Misra, who works with the UN in the human rights division. Her work takes her across the world, and this is reflected in her house. It is replete with little pieces of art and craft, accessories and furniture from different corners of the world—the US, Europe, West Asia, Africa, South-East Asia...everywhere. And incidentally, each item has managed to find a place. In the randomness of the house is a pattern that clearly says that it is a lived-in place, comfortable and beautiful at the same time. Part of the charm of the house comes from the terrace. Misra’s pad is on the second floor of the building and she has to constantly negotiate with the landlord not to cover the terrace to make more rooms. “I practically live on the terrace—have my morning tea there, spend lazy evenings, enjoy the winter sun—in fact, it was primarily for this that I rented this house,” she says. The terrace lets loads of sunlight and


breeze into the house. With lightweight comfy furniture and lots of plants, it is a cheerful place. Overlooking a Nizamuddin park with abundant trees, and the horizon beyond, it all comes together as one lovely scene. Add to it the giggles of her two-year-old daughter Zoya, and it is picture-perfect. Write to

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Business Lounge RENZO ROSSO

The Diesel engine is on fire The ad campaign of this iconic brand that’s just come to India has echoes from the founder’s life: stupid is cool


···························· iesel’s Renzo Rosso sold his first pair of handmade jeans for $2 (around Rs89 now) in Italy. The founder and president of the iconic denim brand made the pair with 2m of denim, using his mother’s sewing machine, when he was 15. He dipped the denim


in bleach to lighten the shade of blue. “I don’t know why, maybe because the denim was stiff, but I took the jeans and did this,” he says in his heavily accented English, mimicking the motion of placing the jeans on the floor and scrubbing them. The first distressed denim was born and worn by Rosso’s friends. “That would give me money to go out at night and drink. This was 40 years ago, can you imagine?” Rosso says. Four decades later, Diesel has set up its flagship store in Mumbai, the first in India. I meet the man behind the brand in Juhu on the day of the store launch. He is here on a short visit and this is the first time he has stepped into the store. Dressed though he is in a dark shirt with a black blazer and, of course, jeans, it may seem that Rosso needs a haircut and shave. But the unruly mop, the three-dayold beard and unbuttoned shirt that reveals a silver pendant bearing his initials, all add up to the casual and cool look that’s quintessentially Diesel. Rosso has partnered with Reliance Brands Ltd to bring Diesel to India. Darshan Mehta, CEO, Reliance Brands, is also at the 7,500 sq. ft store, showing Rosso around. For the company that created a market for new jeans that looked old, something that may have sounded stupid turned out to be a smart idea. In fact, Diesel’s latest advertising campaign is asking people to “be stupid”—right from the signs at the entrance and as a running theme inside. “Smart may have the brains, but stupid has the balls,”

says one of them. As a Diesel philosophy, no two stores in any part of the world can look the same—the displays and merchandise are different. Rosso is happy with the look of the Mumbai store but he still doesn’t think it’s complete. “This is me. Even when a new collection is coming out, I never say, wow, this is fantastic. It could be better. It’s kind of a malady. You want to achieve perfection,” he says, sipping his espresso on a white couch on the first floor of the three-storey store. The Diesel story began in Italy when a friend offered Rosso a job as production director of a small company manufacturing jeans. In 1978, he created Diesel, starting with his own line of distressed jeans. He named it that because it was easy to pronounce the world over. “Everyone was shocked with my idea to sell distressed jeans 32 years ago. Nobody understood it. They make broken denim? They must be crazy. We had few customers,” he says. But Rosso was convinced: “I defend my opinion, and developed the concept till one day, it became a part of every luxury line everywhere,” he says, smiling. Denim before Diesel was a symbol for rebels, feels Rosso. It wasn’t fashion. Diesel made denim fashionable. “Premium will become important, because premium is more real and less expensive than luxury denim,” he says. Now, with its headquarters in Molvena, Italy, Diesel is present in around 80 countries, with 5,000 points of sale, and had a turnover of €1.3 billion (around Rs7,579 crore now) in 2009. The hardest nut to crack was the US. How do you take denim to a country that took denim to the masses, is the birthplace of iconic denim brands such as Levi’s, and then sell it at a higher price? “No one accepted our price. We would sell jeans at about $62-64.” Their first licensing agreement with an American company had to be terminated because it started manufacturing cheaper denim. The second one went bust because the company it partnered with went bankrupt. “I don’t know if I was being brave or stupid but I decided to keep the employees and start over. I called friends for advice and apologized to old customers. I couldn’t afford any more mistakes,” he says. In 1992, they came up with the Di esel for Successfu l Livin g advertising campaign. The campaign made a mockery of American advertising, which promised to improve your life. Rosso says he is a big fan of irony and the Be Stupid campaign is only the latest in a series of advertising campaigns that have pushed the envelope. “At that time, all the advertising looked same. Our campaign came as a shock to

everyone,” he says. The US market was unexplored territory then. So is India now. Although there are many Diesel loyalists in the country, buying their perfect fit while travelling abroad, premium denim is still an alien concept for most. How can he justify a price tag of $500 for something that’s available to the Indian consumer at $50? “If you bring 10 different jeans from different brands right now I can show you so many detailing Diesel has that others won’t. You will continue to discover them many months after buying them,” he says. He lifts his shirt to show me the double belt loops, one each for a big and small belt, and then points to droplets of white paint, a detailing done by hand. “The finishing inside, the kind of treatment that goes into making a pair, every piece is different. We have special machines to do our hip. It is not straight but like this,” he says, making a halfmoon in the air with his finger. “It’s difficult because you have to train people to work in a different sort of way. It gives you more volume and the butt is…”—he explains the rest with his hand gestures. Rosso and Mehta hope to open seven stores in India this year and 22 within five years. Over 30 years have passed since the brand was launched, but Rosso and Diesel continue to remain relevant to their target market—the youth. He says his biggest strength as a businessman is innovation. “Stupid sees things as they can be and not as they are,” says a poster from the Be Stupid campaign. Rosso says he could get ideas from anywhere. “When I am on the Web, when I am talking to you, could be in the restaurant, in the disco, in the street, anywhere. I take pictures and I read 200 magazines from all over the world,” he says. He makes sure that he and his employees have a lot of fun. Rosso divides his free time between his farm, playing football and doing yoga. “I go to pubs, disco, drink, enjoy and in other free time, I am also making sex. I am very social, no?” he says, laughing. He has six children with his ex-wife and lives in Bassano del Grappa in Italy. He has people who have taken over the finance and logistics of running the company, leaving Rosso free to work in the creative space. For someone advocating being stupid, what is the stupidest thing he has done? “So many. First, to have a name like Diesel. Now it’s cool, but in the beginning, for a clothing line to be called that, was not. To decide to enter the US market. And to decide to make all Diesel stores different. It’s easy to make it same like a chain, but this is my way to run business,” he says.


Forever in blue jeans: Rosso’s brand, which started as a cult fashion brand, now sells in 80 countries through 5,000 points of sale.

Renzo Rosso currently owns about 200 pairs of jeans and, besides sweatpants, has only worn denim trousers since he was 12. “You can wear denim to every place, even to a wedding. Wear black jeans with a tailored, tight black denim tuxedo jacket. Fashion in denim today has no limits.” JAYACHANDRAN/MINT




IN THE POET’S MEMORY A line­up of the events being planned to mark the anniversary



Let us get past ‘Gitanjali’ How should Tagore live on? As the 150th birth anniversary celebrations begin, author Sunil Gangopadhyay revisits the legacy


n the 1950s, when some of us were aspiring to be poets and writers in Bengal, we were “Rabindra-birodhi“ (Rabindranath-resisting) and even made disparaging remarks about him. Tagore died in 1941 and our intention in opposing him has mostly been unexplained. More than wanting to attack Tagore, our target were the Rabindrik people (the Rabindranath-fixated), his chelas, who thought literature ended with Tagore and whoever would write after him would merely clone Tagore. We staked our claim and maintained that Bengali literature couldn’t stop at Tagore. While publicly we opposed, at home and with friends we would ceaselessly sing Rabindra sangeet (Tagore’s songs). I don’t call myself Rabindrabirodhi any longer. I have since studied Tagore well and have discovered him anew. It is also pointless to oppose him since post-Tagore modern Bengali literature is now wellestablished, Tagore too has moved to the classical realm and one can’t revolt against what is classic. I think the universalism of Tagore’s works needs to be rediscovered. As part of Tagore’s 150th anniversary celebrations, which begin this year, the Sahitya Akademi is planning to bring together 40-odd poets from different languages and take them to Santiniketan. Santiniketan was important in Tagore’s life, not merely for his university, but also for his paintings and other exhibits. Though sadly, the Nobel Prize medal he won in 1913 got stolen, and has been replaced by a replica. In Santiniketan, these poets coming from outside might get acquainted well with Tagore. Equally true, they might not find Tagore and the artistic air of Santiniketan appealing enough. Beyond Bengal, most people know Tagore as the author of Gitanjali, which got Asia its first literature Nobel. We think,

though, that Gitanjali is a weak book that is unworthy of the Nobel. It doesn’t reflect Tagore’s talent. He had written enough material for three Nobels. Tagore pioneered the short story form in our country, penned over 1,400 poems, wrote and composed over 2,200 songs, authored 12 novels, wrote dance and musical dramas. He had also written extensively for children. His essays are over a thousand pages. Many believe that Tagore could well have been a painter without ever needing to write. It’s an immense and unmatched body of creation, none of which seems hurried or of mediocre standard. For the 150th anniversary celebrations, a lot of agencies are involved: Central government plans initiated by the Prime Minister, which will involve the three Akademis (Sahitya, Sangeet Natak and Lalit Kala, since Tagore’s works span multi-art disciplines), West Bengal government’s plans, and other agencies such as Unesco. In my opinion, the best way to celebrate would be by presenting his work beyond Gitanjali to the world. There should be a travelling exhibition of his paintings and his writing should be translated further, not just in English, but also in Hindi and other languages. Tagore, for me, is not just the national poet of India but an international figure too. As a creator, he is unique. Nevertheless, it seems that people are getting a bit bereft of ideas. Recently, it was said that the Nimtala burning ghat in Kolkata where Tagore was cremated would be renamed after him. Many places and institutions bearing his name already exist. The best way to immortalize him is by show-


Colossus: Tagore’s major body of work is not known widely outside of Bengal; (top, left) Santiniketan no longer follows his ideals and philosophy. casing his many creations. Renaming a crematorium won’t help. Unfortunately, in India, we create icons easily. If there are murmurs of protest over a proposed foreign film on Tagore’s relationship with the beautiful Argentine writer Victoria Ocampo, it stems from our prissiness resulting from idolworship. Why Ocampo? There could be a film on his relationship with Lady Ranu (Mukherjee) too. In my book Ranu O Bhanu, I had written that when Tagore first saw Lady Ranu as a 11-year-old, she wasn’t wearing any clothes. I interpreted Tagore’s illusion of seeing a

beautiful little fairy. There was a hue and cry, but fortunately, I possessed Lady Ranu’s own writing, where she mentioned her unnatural tomboy streak. There is another story. In the Bengali literary magazine Desh, I had written that when Tagore was 19, he lived with his brother at Chandannagar. He would swim across the Ganges clad in blue-coloured swimming trunks. Many readers wrote back to Desh saying that it’s bad to say that Tagore wore swimming trunks—for them, the only image was of Tagore in his long robe. But how can one swim in a robe? My addition was the colour blue for visual effect, but people only pro-

tested about the trunks. As a seven-year-old child, I remember seeing his funeral procession pass through Vivekananda Road. His body seemed to be carried above the sea of mourners, even as there were instances of people pulling off his hair and beard to keep as mementos. Had he read our poetry, which we called Confessional Poetry, Tagore might have been shocked. I was inspired by Beat poets like Allen Ginsberg on his long trip to Kolkata and by Jack Kerouac, whom I met at Ginsberg’s home in New York. At Krittibas, the poetry magazine that we produced, we employed colloquial street

he Union and West Bengal governments are planning many events, activities, publications, and even the renaming of government programmes. The Sahitya Akademi is planning more translations of Tagore’s work and 40­odd poets from outside Bengal are likely to travel to Santiniketan to acquaint themselves with the Nobel laureate’s work. The Lalit Kala and Sangeet Natak Akademis will organize events across the country to showcase Tagore’s non­literary work. An eminent panel headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will oversee the celebrations. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) will organize events internationally and a new Indo­Bangladesh train will be announced in honour of the poet who composed the national anthems of both countries. The Prime Minister has mentioned that Bangladesh will be a partner in the celebrations. The executive board of Unesco has also approved a proposal to celebrate Tagore’s birth anniversary. The West Bengal government has named a Rs600 crore rural development project after Tagore, while the Union railway ministry is planning to set up two Tagore museums—at the Howrah railway station and at Santiniketan. The Tagore family mansion in Jorasanko in north Kolkata will get a facelift and the Nimtala burning ‘ghat’, where Tagore was cremated, is getting a facelift. Other projects, currently in various stages of planning, include films, a car rally to Bangladesh, music albums of rare songs and theatre productions. Shamik Bag language. Jibanananda Das, we announced, could find his own style post-Tagore. Others like Buddhadeva Bose and Bishnu Dey were there. But we’ve learnt from his works and his music continues to be sung by us. Secretly, we’ve admitted that Tagore single-handedly crafted the modern Bengali language. As told to Shamik Bag. Kolkata-based Sunil Gangopadhyay is an author and poet of more than 25 books who has researched and written on Tagore extensively. Write to





Whole egg

A large egg (about 50g) contains approximately 6.3g of protein, split 55% to 45% between the white and the yolk. An egg is a “complete” protein food, the equivalent of a shot of protein, as it contains all the nine essential amino acids that the human body requires. A method of evaluating the quality and efficiency of protein that a food provides, called the Protein Digestibility­Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), rates eggs as a perfect 1/1 food, compared with, for example, fruits that score 0.76.

WHITE GOLD It has protein, vitamins, folic acid, calcium and more

Yolk White

Your favourite spheroid cell is no longer just a breakfast (and hostel) staple. The humble but versatile egg now appears in chef’s specials and at family lunches

The egg white, apart from being the repository of more than half of an egg’s protein, contains many B vitamins—niacin and riboflavin, among others—and chlorine, magnesium, potassium, sodium, sulphur, and all the egg’s zinc.

The yolk is the subject of much nutritional debate. Yes, it does contain cholesterol and fat. It’s home to about 190mg of cholesterol and 5g of fat, most of it unsaturated. These are well within most prescribed dietary limits and the yolk also contains fat­soluble vitamins A, D and E (among the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D). Yolks are also a minor source of vitamin B12 and folic acid, and the minerals iron, calcium, copper and phosphorus. Source: National Egg Coordination Committee (NECC)

eggcentricity GASTRONOMY

B Y K RISH R AGHAV & P AVITRA J AYARAMAN ··········································· ggs and bad puns go hand in hand. It’s almost to be egg-spected—egg-stravagant names for eggs-perimental dishes featuring everyone’s favourite spheroid cell. At the Egg Factory, a speciality egg restaurant in Bangalore where everything from the starters to the desserts features eggs, the menu has squeezed every possible pun out of the word. Co-founder Yogesh Mokashi chuckles as he watches people cringe at the “Eggxoticas” and the “Eggcellents”. “(Co-founder) Rajesh (Pai) and I are known to come up with the best groaners,” he says. But the guests—the restaurant sees an average of 4,000 visitors a month—don’t seem to mind too much. The egg is making a comeback. After the 2006 avian flu scare in Maharashtra, where nearly 600,000 eggs were destroyed, and the 2008 outbreak in West Bengal that spelt death for 500,000 birds, the poultry industry saw people hesitant to follow its diktat of “Roz Khao Andey” (eat eggs every day). “We saw a dip around that time, but we are now growing at 10% a year,” says Harish C. Juneja, the north India chairman of the National Egg Coordination Committee (NECC), the apex body for poultry farmers in the country. “India now produces 14 crore eggs annually.” That makes it the fifth largest producer of eggs in the world, after China, the US, Russia and Japan. Nearly 182,500 eggs are used in a year at the Eggspectation restaurant in central Delhi’s Rajinder


RECIPES Ande ka Halwa (Egg Halwa) Ingredients 10 egg yolks; 100g coarse gram flour; 5­6 cloves; 20g almond flakes; 2g green cardamom; 100g sugar; 10g cashew nut; 10g raisins; 10g pistachio; a pinch of saffron; 100g ‘desi ghee’; 150ml water.

hostel residents, he found eggs the easiest to cook and experiment with. So after 12 years in the corporate world, his itch to become an entrepreneur led him into egg territory. Mokashi and his team researched for eight months before finalizing the menu for the restaurant. Closest to their hearts is a section called “Eggxilirative Snacks”, subtitled “The Manipal Connection”. Here, they have Bun Omelette, Kannan Bullseye and boiled egg bhurji, all recipes that their chef collected during a visit to Manipal. “All our recipes have been gathered from friends and family. Sometimes, we have customers who want to teach us their personal favourites and if we like it, we put it on the menu,” he says. The restaurant will soon add a Mexican section to the menu courtesy a Mexican expatriate who shared his skills with them, although they already serve fajitas stuffed with scrambled eggs and other fillings. This whiff of hostel and college experimentation manifests itself quite literally in the case of Ahmedabad’s famous RK Egg Eatery. The first branch of this fast-food joint opened in 1999 outside the National Institute of Design (NID) campus—the city now has five branches. All the 170 items on the menu use eggs, and are named after the NID students who came up with them—there’s an Abhijeet Omelette (made with chunks of boiled egg), a Varsha Fry (oil-free), and a Sunny Keema (extremely spicy). “All of our dishes are inventive and low-cost,” says the proprietor, Raju. “We’re

opening our first branch outside Ahmedabad, in Mumbai, in a month’s time.” At Eggspectation, Kain says the most popular dishes are the restaurant’s signature Benedicts—a muffin with meat filling topped with a poached egg. The place offers variants with smoked salmon and grilled tomatoes (The Eggstreme) and spinach and hollandaise sauce (the surprisingly pun-free Florentine). At the Egg Factory, apart from the assortment of omelettes with stuffing ranging from cheese to lemon-flavoured chives, the egg curries take centre plate. The Malabar Roast is a spicy dish from Kerala that is served with rice or bread. On the most wanted list, mostly because it makes for a quick meal, is the scrambled Parsi Akoorie with buttered toast. For the adventurous, there’s Moo Shu Rou, scrambled eggs with diced soya ham, that has the comfortable and familiar taste of street Indian-Chinese food. Eggs and Indians fit together perfectly, Kain says. “They’re easy to make, cheap to procure and it’s an entire meal in itself. Their popularity is not...” he pauses. “...uneggs-pected at all.” Groan. Out of the shell: (below) Caramel custard at Bangalore’s Egg Factory; (top, right) the signature omelette served at the Eggspectation restaurant in Delhi.


For the masala 1 large onion, chopped finely; 1 tsp coriander leaves, chopped; 2 tbsp tomato ketchup; 1 tsp oil; salt and pepper to taste.

Masala Fried Egg Burger

Method • Add oil in a non­stick frying pan. When the oil is hot, add chopped onions and sauté till brown • Add chopped coriander leaves and continue to sauté • Add tomato ketchup and sauté till the mixture is like a thick paste • Transfer into a bowl and keep aside • Clean the pan and add 1 tsp oil • Break an egg into a bowl, ensuring that the yolk is intact • Pour slowly into the pan and cook till the white has firmed but the yolk is still wobbly. If you do not like runny yolk, cook the egg till the yolk firms up too • Transfer the egg to a plate. Repeat the process with the other egg • Gently coat the thick masala on the fried eggs without breaking the yolks • Cut each bun into two, apply butter and toast for a minute on a pan • Place the fried eggs with masala on the bottom half of the bun, cover with the other half and serve immediately

Ingredients 2 buns; 2 eggs; 1 tsp butter; 1 tsp oil

Recipes courtesy Eggspectation and Egg Factory, respectively.

Method • Take a pan, boil water, add sugar and make a syrup with cardamom, clove and saffron • Heat ‘ghee’, add gram flour and cook till colour changes to golden brown • Break the eggs and separate the yolks from the whites. Mix the egg yolks with an egg beater and cook slowly with the golden brown gram flour till the colour changes to light brown • Add the sugar syrup and cook till the mixture becomes thick • Pour in a serving bowl and garnish with cashew nuts, pistachio, almond flakes and raisins

Nagar. The restaurant serves nearly 100 dishes that feature eggs and uses up to 500 eggs a day in cooking. It has seen a gradual increase in the egg’s popularity in the decade that it has been in business. “I blame the masala omelette,” says Jaypee Hotels’ senior executive chef Shivanand Kain. “When we started, that was the dominant image of the egg—as a breakfast dish. People weren’t used to eating it at lunch and dinner, except for an occasional ‘egg curry’.” Kain walks the length of the restaurant’s open kitchen as he talks, watching the sous chef break an egg over a special glass-finished steel hot plate used exclusively for frying eggs. “Largely, eggs were never the main course, but now the acceptance of the dish has increased.” The restaurant uses eggs in salads, burgers, beverages (based on eggnog) and even makes a special egg halwa. From its earlier dominance of railway canteens, roadside street food and late-night snacks, the egg is now spreading to new places in the food chain. “India’s the only country where eggs fill this nice grey line between vegetarian and non-vegetarian food,” says Mokashi. “It’s accepted by a lot of vegetarians as edible food, and it’s such a versatile thing with a rich tradition of dishes.” Mokashi’s relationship with eggs began during his hostel days at the TA Pai Management Institute in Manipal, Karnataka, in the mid-1990s. “There were several small stalls and restaurants, all of which served eggs, and the taste of the dishes at each one of them was different,” he says, adding that like most



Anand Halve, co­founder of Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Consultancy, tells us about the iconic NECC ad campaign


his was around 1986-87. When the National Egg Coordination Committee (NECC) approached us for an advertising campaign. Egg consumption had been static for several years, and there were a number of barriers to contend with. There was, of course, the perception barrier—a lot of people considered eggs “non-vegetarian” food, greatly limiting their reach. There was also ignorance of the egg’s nutritive quality outside its richness in protein (compared with, say, apples, which were perceived to have do-good qualities the fruit actually didn’t have). Thirdly, how many ways could you cook the damn thing? It wasn’t seen as a versatile food, and people assumed that boredom would set in quickly with a regular egg diet. Finally, there was also a significant drop in egg consumption during summer—it was seen mostly as a “winter” dish. So strategically, we had to tackle all these different barriers in the campaign—and we decided to start by making, first, the egg seem exciting, and the campaign educative (hit the left brain and the right brain at the same time). So, for TV, we had the Meri Jaan, Meri Jaan, Sunday ke Sunday jingle, based on an old Hindi song. The idea actually came out of a line I’d written in English, which was “Have you had an egg today?” That line was also the basis for what became the signature line of the ad: Sunday ho ya Monday, Roz Khao Andey. In print, we went for the educational campaign. Our first ad featured an oval egg with the line The Best Square Meal in the World? That was phase I. For phase II, we took out a booklet of recipes, listing all the different ways you could cook eggs—Spanish omelettes, egg biryani and egg chaat, for example. After this, we decided on targeted campaigns for core consumer groups. Our research showed that the two categories we should focus on were young children, who needed extra nutrition to grow up healthy, and pregnant women, who essentially needed nutrition for two people. We had an advertisement with a controversial line: Do you wish your child to be a boy, a girl or a healthy bouncy baby? We had spoken to Sachin Tendulkar also at the time—we told him youngsters would be happy to listen to his advice. But he made his NECC ad debut many years later. I think we were fairly successful with our execution. We won awards, and for NECC the commercial repercussions were positive. Over the last few years, there has been an understandable lack of advertisements. After avian flu, it was a bad time to advertise—when there was a distinct antipathy against your product. As told to Krish Raghav.





That sinking feeling In the world’s flattest country, the rising sea level can be a real threat

B Y K RISTIN V UKOVIĆ ···························· and out flat, like this,” Zia instructed. I held the chunk of raw fish in my plastic-gloved palm, making sure my extended fingers were pressed tightly together. The Indian Ocean was choppy that day; manta rays flapped their wings wildly as they glided on to the shore, waves crashing over them as their bellies grazed the sand. Suddenly, I spotted a large, grey manta coming towards me, its deadly tail thrashing in the surf. Holding the fish lightly with my thumb, I lowered my hand into the churning water. In a second, the manta was in front of me; I felt its underbelly mouth grab the fillet and recede with the tide to rejoin the others, a confusion of wings and tails in an angry, grey ocean. I had envisioned our honeymoon with sun, sand and perfect weather, but the last few days had been replete with rain and blustery wind. This was unusual weather for the Maldives, the atoll nation off the southern tip of India, renowned for its calm, cerulean waters and idyllic weather. “Sea not this rough in Maldives, not normal,” Zia said, as if reading my mind. He should know. Originally from Bangladesh, Zia has been living on Hembadhu, a tiny island measuring 300x200m, for the last eight years, working as a resort gardener for the Taj Vivanta Coral Reef. He earned his nickname, “The Stingray Man”, after he took over the feeding of the stingrays that congregate at the shoreline at 4.30pm every day from his friend Hasan, who had fed the fish for seven years. The stingrays have been coming every day for the past 15 years, same time, same place. When I asked Zia if the stingrays had injured any guests, he shook his head, explaining that he and other resort employees had removed most of the rays’ barbed stingers with scissors. All stingrays have a sharp spine on their tails with venom-secreting glands; when the tail lashes, it can inflict serious injury, but their stings are normally not fatal to humans. A manta ray riding an incoming wave lunged towards us, and I jumped back. “Don’t be afraid, you can touch,” Zia said, extending his hand. Gingerly, I touched its slippery grey skin, careful to avoid its “spiracles” (breathing holes) adjacent to its small, beady eyes. The manta disappeared into the surf and the stingrays dispersed, abandoning


the shallow, turbulent tides for deeper, calmer waters. And just like that, they were gone. Zia smiled. “You come tomorrow?” he said. I assured him I would. He offered to bring fresh coconut water to our bungalow. When he arrived the sun was setting over the ocean, dipping behind ominous clouds. Zia brought kurumba, young coconuts used only for their water. On the porch, he sliced off the top of the coconut with a machete and poured the water into glasses for my husband and me. I was curious about Zia’s life




back in Bangladesh. He said that before coming to work at the Taj Vivanta, he had lived in a small village with his family of rice farmers. His brother was hired by the Taj group in Bangladesh, and transferred to the Taj Maldives; Zia followed shortly thereafter. Zia has a wife and 10-year-old son back in Bangladesh, and every month he sends them money. Every two years, he returns for two months to visit his wife Samsuna and son Roki. Zia is only 29. Despite his young years, deep lines creased his forehead. I imagine working


Stingray country: (from top) Tourists pet a stingray; a fishing boat; and resorts build bungalows on stilts because there isn’t enough dry land. gruelling 12-hour days, six days a week, just 4 degrees north of the equator would put lines on my face too. It started to pour. Sheets of rain blended into the ocean, and we had to raise our voices to hear each other. Zia told us there were 20 other Bangladeshi employees working at the Taj Vivanta, and he felt at home here, not least because the Maldives is 100% Muslim. According to the UN Refugee Agency, there are 80,000 expatriate workers in the Maldives, predominantly from India and Bangladesh. I asked Zia how much longer he planned to stay in the Maldives, and he said he didn’t know. If Zia’s son decides to adopt his line of work, he might not find employment in the Maldives, as it might cease to exist. The archipelago nation is threatened by rising sea levels; most of the Maldives’ low-lying islands will be completely submerged by the end of the century if sea levels continue to rise at the present rate. On average, islands are 1-1.5m above mean sea level, making the Maldives the flattest country in the world. Another Taj staff member had told me about an island nearby where he and his friends often play football. One day their boat broke down and they were stranded chest-deep in water, because the island disappears underwater at high tide. This is a chilling example of what could

happen to the rest of the Maldivian islands in the not-too-distant future. If worldwide carbon emissions are not dramatically curtailed, future generations may equate the Maldives with Atlantis. Already, resorts have constructed bungalows on stilts because there is not enough dry land; they advertise the bungalows as a unique over-the-water vacation experience. The Maldives has set aside a fund from tourist revenues to buy land in India and Sri Lanka, as it will need to purchase a new homeland if the islands disappear. The following day we went snorkelling off our bungalow deck. Not 10m away, I spied a stingray on the sea floor flapping its wings and kicking up sand, its spiracles winking at me as it breathed. I thought about how humans must coexist with underwater life in the Maldives in a unique way; the Indian Ocean is both front and back yard, and ocean creatures are neighbours and friends. In the next few decades, should the tides keep rising, the stingrays might very well call the Taj Vivanta home. Write to CHILD­FRIENDLY RATING

Warm weather, beautiful beaches and plenty of action. Children will love the Maldives.




When it’s rocket science for real PHOTOGRAPHS




What does a World War II bunker in the north of France have to do with the first man on the moon?

B Y R ISHAD S AAM M EHTA ···························· t is 65 years today since the guns fell silent on what came to be known as Victory in Europe Day. And silence still fills the railway tunnel leading to Wizernes V2, a gigantic underground Nazi bunker constructed in a limestone quarry by what is euphemistically called “forced labour”—captured French and Soviet men and women—in northern France. It’s impossible to suppress a shudder as one passes into this heart of darkness, now known as La Coupole (literally, The Dome), but my journey began in a different place, full of sunlight and song. Lounging in a café in Montmartre, Paris, I was entranced by an old man playing The Girl from Ipanema on his saxophone. Later, when we got talking, Antoine Maire told me he had been a member of the French Resistance during World War II. One of his missions had been to supply to the Allied bomber command the exact location of Wizernes V2. “But the bunker was so solid—the dome was 5m thick—that though the Allies conducted 16 raids, dropping up to 480 bombs in one sortie, they could just about damage it,” said my new old friend. But what made the bunker such a focused target of the Allied forces? It was constructed in 1943 specifically for the launch of the V2 rocket, Hitler’s secret weapon to destroy London and reverse the course of the war. As it happens, the bunker never became operational. The constant Allied bombardment may not have destroyed the concrete walls, but it did cause the Nazis to abandon the site in the sum-


Battle planes: (clockwise from above) Wernher von Braun with a model of the V2 rocket; an exhibition dedicated to the bravery of the French forces; the Citroën Traction Avant; and the V2 rocket.

GETTING THERE La Coupole, in Pas­de­Calais, is 5km from the town of Saint­Omer, 45km from the Calais ferry port, 203km from Brussels and 248km from Paris. The museum is open round the year, but timings change. For details, go to www.lacoupole­ mer of 1944. With sophisticated audio headset around my ears, I walked through the tunnel, the sinister settings accentuated by the stark pictures on the walls. It led to a hexagonal room, from where an automatic elevator took me up to right below the concrete dome. I turned right for the Rex Circuit, themed around Hitler’s secret weapons. It started with a 20-minute film on the Nazi development of unmanned flying bombs and the V2 rocket, the first ever single-stage ballistic missile. Exhibits surround the little theatre, with the star being the V2

rocket. What fascinated me was the engine, also on display, which would have shot the rocket into the stratosphere, directed it towards London and then dropped it from a height of 110km at thrice the speed of sound—all this, much before computer or satellite guidance systems. The Cineac Circuit covers the context of these developments: the German occupation of the north of France. Exhibits include

a replica of the horrifying “Execution Wall” from the citadel in Lille and a poignant letter written by a 21-year-old teacher, Félicien Joly, in which he declares his faith in a future Franco-German reconciliation 3 hours before being executed at the wall. Also parked here as an exhibit is the Citroën Traction Avant which the FFI (French Forces of the Interior), a resistance group, used for their daring work.

But perhaps the most interesting cinematic exhibit is a 20-minute film depicting the development of ballistic missiles and the beginning of the space age. From the earth to the moon: 1945-1964 also highlights a littleknown fact: That the designer of the V2 rockets—incubated in this bunker, in the secrecy of the Nazi Reich laboratories—was Wernher von Braun. As the Allies closed in on


···························· ive years ago, when Jean Claude Maillard decided to chuck his job as a Volvo dealer in France and spend the rest of his days sailing with his wife, he was worried about finances. But two days into their first sailing trip, he found himself confronting an unexpected problem: having his wife around 24 hours a day! “More journeys are wrecked because you can’t tolerate your partner than by bad weather,” Maillard says with a hint of mischief as he steps on to the Indian shore at the Gateway of India, Mumbai. Maillard, 54, and his wife Marlène are in India as part of the Vasco da Gama Rally, which set off from Turkey on 10 October and ends in Kochi on Monday. Of the 30 participants sailing in 15 yachts, a few chose to skip the pit stop at Mumbai and head on to Goa and Kochi. In its third year, the Vasco da


Gama Rally is organized by 71-year-old Lodewijk Brust, a sailor from Holland, and follows the route of the Portuguese explorer to reach India. Well, almost. “Da Gama had stopped at Calicut (now Kozhikode) in Kerala. We couldn’t find the place on the map because its name has changed. So we decided to go to Kochi instead,” says Brust, fondly called Lo by others. Brust has been sailing for 45 years now; 25 years with the navy and 20 alone. Sailors from seven European countries—mostly retired naval officers who know no other way to live—are participating in the rally. Among them are Lo and Ian Broughton (62) from Great Britain. Broughton even flew aircraft for a few years after retirement but decided he liked the sea more. His blue eyes light up as he sips his beer at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club and describes the beauty of both pitch-black and starry nights. There are also a few people in the rally who were not in the navy

and have had to extend themselves to cope with life at sea. Astrid Simms, a German married to Roger Simms, an Englishman, laughs heartily when she describes her family’s fights. “There’s nowhere to walk out to when you have an argument on a boat, so you just choose a corner and sulk there. Or if you’re really angry, you jump off,” says the 48-year-old. The Simms have been sailing with two of their five children—17-year-old Jordon and 10-year-old Leah—for five years now. They used to run a day care centre in London till they decided, one fine day, to buy a boat and go sailing. They pulled the two children out of school and set off. But Jordon and Leah, the only youngsters on the trip, are not always happy with their unusual lifestyle. In the early days, Jordon, then 12, missed friends, missed being able to run out on the street, missed being able to see the latest films. Even now, he’d give anything to trade places with his older siblings, who are in London. Leah, on the other hand, is more open to life at sea, of waking up in a different country every so often. “We didn’t see the point of liv-


The ancient mariner’s trail The journey’s more important than the destina­ tion for 30 rallyists on Vasco da Gama’s route

Berlin and the conclusion of the war became imminent, the Americans would race the Russians to win his allegiance. Victory in this battle, too, was crucial: 24 years down the line, von Braun would be instrumental in developing the Saturn V rocket that put Neil Armstrong and his boys on the moon in 1969.

Setting sail: Rally organizer Lodewijk Brust (waving) on his yacht with his dogs Banjo and Yugo. ing to make money to pay bills,” says Astrid. “We wanted to see places, learn about cultures around the world, we wanted every day to be a Sunday.” While their children’s obvious unhappiness often makes them wonder if they did the right thing, Astrid says there’s also that flicker of rationality that tells her

the rest of the world isn’t necessarily right. “My children in London are leading miserable lives with work, bills and drugs. These two, on the other hand, wake up to dolphin calls.” Jordon admits that he loves seeing shooting stars at night; he has seen up to 20 a night. Besides, sailing is just 10% of the journey:

The real journey begins at the marina of a new country as they savour the sights, sounds and smells of a place which was just a dot on the map back home. So is the actual “being at sea” experience boring? “Never. There are so many things going wrong that there is never a dull moment,” quips Roger.




I’m a lit fest junkie, buy my book RONJOY GOGOI/HINDUSTAN TIMES

What’s the point of so many literary festivals? Part of it is prestige, but for authors, it’s what you make of them

B Y O MAIR A HMAD ···························· y friends hate me. This could, possibly, be related to the fact that I shall be flying off to Bhutan for a week-long trip—fully paid for—as part of the first ever Bhutan literary festival later this month. There will be royalty; the Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, is the official patron; there will be Bollywood in the shape of writer-lyricist Gulzar, the comic actor to end all comic actors, Boman Irani, and the director Rajkumar Hirani. And the writers range from the international award-winning historian and biographer Patrick French to our very own best-seller, Chetan Bhagat, and the graphic novelist, Sarnath Banerjee. Bhutan is no laggard in this regard—the Queen Mother herself is an author, as is the secretary of the information and communications ministry, Dasho Kinley Dorji, and many others who will be there. Is it any surprise that our ambassador to the country is also a writer, Pavan Varma? And to what do I owe the honour of being in their company? Well, I wrote a book. That, at least to my friends muttering darkly about murdering me and taking my place, hardly seems to justify anything. In fact, Bhutan is just the tip of the iceberg; these days you see literary festivals all over the place. The Jaipur Literature Festival ended in January to glowing coverage and massive crowds, and people were already off to the literary festival in Dubai, and then there was one in Hong Kong, immediately followed by a newly created one in Karachi. DSC Ltd, not content with sponsoring the Jaipur jamboree and a new $50,000 (around Rs22.3 lakh) literary prize this year, has also extended support to


Chat room: (above) Writers and artists at the Jaipur Literature Festival held earlier this year; and the Mountain Echoes literary festival will be held in Thimpu, Bhutan.

the first ever DSC South Asian Literary Festival to be held in London in October. There is a question that nobody seems to ask, scared that the answer, like a dormant Icelandic volcano, might ground us all. What is the good of literary festivals, really? And what is the good of so many of them? As any of you who have attended a book launch know, an author is rarely a very interesting performer. If they were, they would be out there doing things, not sitting at home looking at the 89th draft of their novel with an editor’s note saying, “Umm… this is nice, kind of, but do you think you can insert a sexier angle here? I’m not sure that many readers are as interested in earwax as you seem to be. And please,

please, could you bathe before you visit my office next? We’re still having the building fumigated.” Of course, writers do need a level of self-reflection, as do most other creative sorts, but it tends to make most of them—with honourable exceptions, such as Salman Rushdie chasing the latest miniskirt—a bit indoorsy. And yet literary festivals are gala events involving ball gowns, black ties, formal dinners, even more formal speeches, and sometimes even the odd bedecked fort and caparisoned elephant. It does seem a bit self-indulgent to celebrate a tribe of social misfits, especially considering that in South Asia most books rarely sell more than 10,000 copies, and many of the one-anda-half-billion residents cannot

even afford to buy one. So why are literary festivals popping up all over the place? Part of the answer is prestige. Writing attaches to itself power in a way that other creative arts do not. Every political leader who fancies himself important manages to churn out a book. Few actually have the talent to write but that has never stopped anybody from putting pen to paper. The exceptional ones that do have the talent, and are also excellent orators, people such as Obama, Churchill and Nehru—all of them oddly enough doing much of their writing before they reached the peak of their political success—have had an enormous impact. If you think about it, all of our


greatest reverence is kept for texts—whether they are religious, legal or fictitious. There is the Quran, the Bible, the Vedas, the Constitution, Mao’s silly Little Red Book, Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and Marx’s Das Kapital. We swear by them in court and in our private lives. They have created, sustained and upended whole civilizations. If a great text can do that then a great writer has the possibility to be a great leader, even if that leadership is only in thoughts. The best literary festivals are about that, the celebration of ideas, of ways of thinking. Of course, not every festival will achieve that, certainly not every session or every author, nevertheless the promise of an exchange of influential ideas is what they have, the cachet they bring. This promise, this possible scent of the new, is something to be unequivocally celebrated about the new festivals, and what we should judge them by. We still have not answered the question of whether, in our brave new world, we are all just becoming the same, or actually have new ways of looking at things. Since the written word is accessible to potentially everybody, a literary MUNIR


B Y S ANJAY S IPAHIMALANI ···························· parlour game that’s sometimes been played is to list the members of the cricket team the subcontinent would have had if there hadn’t been any Partition. When it comes to novels in English too, the roster would be impressive. Till some years ago, one would have been hardpressed to include a name from Bangladesh in such a catalogue. That, however, may soon change. Even if you exclude Monica Ali’s Brick Lane (2003) on the grounds that it was based on an expatriate experience, there’s Tahmima Anam’s A Golden Age (2007), set during the bloody days that led up to Bangladesh’s


Killing the Water: Penguin India, 201 pages, Rs250.

independence; Shazia Omar’s Like a Diamond in the Sky (2009); and now, asking for inclusion is Mahmud Rahman with Killing the Water, a debut collection of short stories. Competent and readable, this assortment of 12 tales was written over a period of 10 years, and it shows, both in terms of subjects and quality. Half of them are set in Bangladesh, and the rest in locations in America, ranging from Boston to San Francisco’s Bay Area. The stories set in Rahman’s homeland range from the 1930s to the present day, and most deal with characters who have left or are about to leave for greener pastures. Haunted by an underprivileged past, they are more than slightly defensive about their actions, leading to sometimes unreasonable behaviour towards siblings and parents. There’s a well-known Philip Larkin poem

Riverside: Many of Rahman’s characters live in modern Bangladesh. that starts with the lines, “If I were called in / To construct a religion / I should make use of water”; in Rahman’s stories of Bangladesh, the devotion and travails of those who live on the water’s edge emerge time and again. In the stories set in the US, the author loosens his collar, in a manner of speaking: Here, there is racism, attempts to integrate and relationships both fraying and coming into being. Most of these characters are loners in large cities, wanting acceptance and love but dragging behind them the

Omair Ahmad is the author of The Storyteller’s Tale. Write to


Subcontinental drift Twelve stories capture the trials and joys of Bangladeshi life at—and away from—home

festival can be a festival of all sorts of ideas. If the writing world is now looking eastwards, maybe we can tell them what we think should be written about? I had the chance to speak with the economic historian Niall Ferguson at Jaipur. Much of his writing solidly celebrates the British Empire—something I believe India is well rid of. It was, therefore, a delight to have him turn that around and categorically state how important and beneficial independence and democracy have been for India. He quoted a line from an article I had sent him but backed it up with a wealth of his own arguments and impressive grasp of historical data. I wish he had not done it on stage and left me grasping for a response, but to have one of the most influential writers on the planet solidly support an idea I shared was well worth the embarrassment. This is the promise that these events carry, and maybe Bhutan, with its line-up of local writers to offset us foreigners, carries this promise more than most. Nevertheless let us also be realistic. The driving force behind most of the new literary forays in this part of the world is not so high-minded. It is largely financial. Book readership might be small in this part of the world, but it is rapidly expanding—almost the exact opposite of what it is like in the developed markets of the US and Europe. Where publishers see the chance of selling books, they will promote them, and authors—who spend years of their lives trying to finish that one manuscript that you polish off in an hour—are often happy to come along and say, in so many words, “Buy my book, please?” If we leave it at that, literary festivals will continue to be an indulgence, and in our part of the world, with its many hungry, disenfranchised and disadvantaged people, they will continue to be a guilty indulgence. Or riding on the back of market forces, we can try and deliver much more. Like most such things, it is up to us what we grasp: an opportunity of luxury, or the luxury of an opportunity. Incidentally, would you buy my book, please?

weight of a past and of attitudes from a different land. Again, perhaps because of the period of time over which the stories were composed, there are various devices and modes of narration on display, from the slow-motion present intercut with the past (Smoke Signals) to straight-up front-to-back narration (City Shoes in the Village), to well-observed character studies (the title story). A story that clearly stands out is the sensitive Before the Monsoons Come, dealing with the plight of a teenage boy who, along with his

mother, takes refuge on a tiny island just as his country is coming into being. Some, such as the dreamlike Runa’s Journey, concerning a cancer patient’s trip home and the parable-like Kerosene, are effective, while others are less impressive. Blue Mondays at the Gearshift Lounge, dealing with the incipient relationship between a blues singer and an embittered immigrant, is let down by trite dialogue and a plot that pivots on coincidence. Overall, the prose is efficient and unadorned, gently probing the mental states and actions of characters—though, at times, not above slipping into lazy metaphors such as “the view was stunning, like a photograph”. So, if there was an English Literary XI from an unpartitioned subcontinent, would Rahman be in it? Well, yes, but only as a hard-working replacement allrounder, not necessarily a match-winning one. Write to






Forest of the night

THE NEW ‘MULTICULTURAL’ Balti­cultural novels AFP

Ringside view: Satnam leaves out arguments on the excesses of the guerrillas.

A Punjabi writer’s experiences in the jungles of Bastar make for one of the best books on Maoism in India

B Y C HANDRAHAS C HOUDHURY ···························· eep inside the forests of Bastar in southern Chhattisgarh, far from civilization as you and I know it, live a mass of Indian citizens who speak a tongue that bears no resemblance to the major Indian languages; subsist on broken rice, salt, dried fish and roots; have no gods or religion in the conventional sense, and similarly have no comprehension of many basic axioms of democratic politics and market economics. As soon as we look at them, we begin to misunderstand and patronize them: Their minds are almost impossibly foreign. They occupy territories rich in mineral and forest resources, and yet are desperately poor. In and around these tribals, there now exists in these jungles a shadowy but substantial force of guerrillas, many of them non-tribals, who seethe at the neglect of the Gonds by the Indian state, believe that the rapacity of capitalism is inimical to the forests and the tribal way of life, think that Indian democracy is a sham, and are seriously committed to an armed revolution and an alternative order that dreams of going all the way to Delhi. They have seized control of much of the forest and now run a parallel government of sorts there with the support—sometimes tacit, sometimes forced—of the tribals. Finally, alongside these two presences in the jungle, there is a significant absence: that of the Indian state—spoken of in some circles as a rising superpower, but which exists locally in a severely attenuated and debilitated form, and is not interested in imple-


menting its own legislation on matters such as tribal rights over forest resources. It has none of the attributes of efficiency, accessibility, neutrality and trustworthiness that are minimally to be expected of it, and has over time, by its own dreadful avarice and callousness, lost its moral claim to the allegiance of those in its domain. The fascinating story of these three forces is told in the greatest detail, from a point of view sympathetic to the first two, by the Punjabi writer Satnam in Jangalnama, his lacerating memoir of a few months in the forest. It is the squads of the Maoist militia who control and defend the jungle, and it is through them that Satnam gains access to the tribals. Much of the time in Jangalnama, the writer is seen walking, sometimes two or three days at a time, accompanying squads of young men or women who are always on the move, carrying messages or supplies. Some guerrillas are tribals, some are not; but there is not between them the division and hierarchy that is characteristic of these interactions in other spheres of Indian life. Whatever may be said of them, they at least see the tribals as human beings and grant them a dignity that the machinery of government often has not. By walking in their wake, Satnam is able to personally experience the enormous physical hardship of their lives, as also their sense of community and fraternity, and the ardour of both their fierce hate and love. But it is in the depiction of the Gonds that Jangalnama touches its greatest heights. Satnam marvellously opens up for us the AFP

peculiar innocence, fragility and unworldliness of these people. Most of the Gonds cannot count beyond the number 20. How then are they to imagine that around them lie resources worth thousands of crores in the world market, or even to hold their own in small transactions with shopkeepers and moneylenders? Because of their indigence and ignorance, most of them do not live beyond the age of 50, yet they are not particularly exerted by questions of life and death. Their sense of time is not of minutes and hours, but rather of day and night, of the coming and going of the seasons. Many have never seen a bus or a train, or any of the wonderful machines which are forged from the iron ore that is extracted from sites beneath their own feet. They love to sing and dance, but never individually; theirs is a pre-modern “collective culture” that is now caught up with the very different, highly theorized and ideological, collective culture of the guerrillas. As with any work of advocacy, there are certain things that Jangalnama leaves out. The guerrillas themselves are probably guilty of more excesses, whether it is violence against dissenting tribals or compromises with contractors and businesses, than Satnam allows. Again, it is not just the guerrillas, but also many individual and organizational voices in Indian civil society, who are agitating for a more just treatment of the tribals, but Satnam appears to have lost faith in the way they have chosen. Yet, if the first principle of a democracy is that people should understand the needs and realities of those who are most different from them, then this is a book that (even though it rejects Indian democracy) genuinely opens up such an extended passage of engagement. There is an anger in Jangalnama that is neither the desperation and puzzlement of the tribal nor the wrath and ideological obstinacy of the guerrillas, but something else: a sad, fierce, morally lucid and intensely disquieting anger that any reader would do well to experience. Chandrahas Choudhury is the author of Arzee the Dwarf. Write to

Jangalnama: Penguin, 206 pages, Rs250.

Field work: The author gained access to the Maoists’ jungle routes.

IN SIX WORDS A sympathetic, moral eye on Maoism

Before the word became fashionable, “multicultural” novels based in England (mostly London) used to have an edge. They could be as different as Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners, Ravinder Randhawa’s A Wicked Old Woman or, from a culturally and politically conservative position, V.S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival, but they were all, in their own ways, excellent and ground-breaking novels. Even Hanif Kureishi’s early novels, despite their ease of access, were forays into largely uncharted territories. All such novels had a cutting edge to them—in terms of sociocultural engagement, political commentary and/or literary style. From the 1990s, “multicultural London” novels have come to dominate the so-called “post-colonialist” and “Black British” literary shelves in the UK, and—with very few exceptions—they have become “balti-cultural London” novels. Like England’s overrated “Balti” cuisine, they are usually too easy to consume, floridly “ethnic” and increasingly self-celebratory. Moreover, they often lack political and literary edge and, hence, tend to become highly repetitive. At first glance, I thought Brian Chikwava’s Harare North would be another of these safe balti-cultural novels. I was mistaken. This first novel by a young London-based African writer is hilarious, cutting, sad and significant. Chikwava’s protagonist, who arrives in “Harare North” (that is, London) as a “political refugee”, is narrated in a style that is powerful and convincing; the narrative descends slowly from the mischief of an Anancy-type trickster figure to something darker and much more disturbing. While sensitive PIERRE­PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP to the humanity of his characters, Chikwava’s humour and narrative cut both ways—no, they cut all ways. What Selvon did for Caribbean immigrants to London in the post-war context of the 1950s, Chikwava has done for African (mostly Zimbabwean) immigrants to London in today’s post-9/11 world.

Non­Hindu case A columnist for Mint and a contributor to various international publications, Salil Tripathi has engaged with some vital aspects of the “project” of Hindu nationalists in Offence: Old times: Naipaul was a conservative. The Hindu Case. Starting with a detailed and intelligent examination of the controversies around M.F. Husain and other (including Hindu) artists, Tripathi goes on to engage with larger matters—such as the project to “rewrite” Indian history and the “right” to be offended. This is a pertinent and thoughtful intervention by someone who does not write just as a human being—that is, in terms of human and civic rights, freedom of expression, etc.—but also as a Hindu, in the best and broadest sense of that complex term. For instance, Tripathi objects that Hindu nationalists often tend to act and think against the very ethos of Hinduism. As he puts it in one place, Hindu nationalists tend to act “as Hinduism’s moral Taliban” and, in the process, reduce Hinduism from its essentially broad, divergent, complex traditions to something simpler and narrower. This, of course, is what Islamists do with Islam too. Or Christian fundamentalists do with Christianity. It was not surprising that the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland was blamed by an obscure Islamist mullah on the “obscene” dresses of women, and by a rightist-Christian radio host in the US on Obama’s “godless” policies. In a world containing people like that, it is a relief to have someone like Tripathi too.

Spotlight Obama Talking of the first black American President, a new biography of Barack Obama has just hit the stands: The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama by David Remnick. It cannot be easy to write about a man who is overwhelmingly perceived, by foes and friends alike, to be the present’s hyphen between the past and the future. Tabish Khair is the Denmark-based author of Filming. Write to him at


Rome: winter We drove to Rome to unreel pride and pain, staunch the blame, drain dissent, graft content. The last galactic tide: we drove to Rome to anneal pride with ’art and rain. When the Tiber died— riven blue-black by rage misspent— we drove from Rome to unreel, ride the pain, staunch the blame… feign consent. Karthika Nair is the Paris-based author of the collection Bearings (HarperCollins, 2009). Write to








Performance art in India has entered its teen years and has found its first commercially viable artist


In character: (clockwise from extreme left) Chopra’s portrait; Steven Cohen performs at Khoj Live; and a performance act by Pushpamala N.


···························· hen it was time for Nikhil Chopra to show his first artwork, he wanted to showcase his love for art, as well as his love for acting. So he decided he would act out a painting instead of drawing one. The “exhibition” was held in the basement of his apartment in Ohio in the US, where he was studying for a master’s degree in fine arts. Chopra dressed up as a maharaja and sat as if he were posing for a portrait. “The idea was to pull the audience back into the time and space when the maharaja was posing for his portrait,” he recalls, sitting in his Bandra studio in Mumbai. For Chopra, the thrill comes not from painting, but from becoming a character in the painting. His most famous body of work, titled Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawings, illustrates this well. Chopra describes the performance and shows still photographs taken when it was in progress—it involved his dressing up as his grandfather, who was a landscape painter, and drawing on the walls of the space allotted to him. The performance lasts a full 72 hours, with “Yog Raj” also going through the daily routine of eating, sleeping, bathing, etc., as he completes his drawings. As he explains it, Chopra as Yog Raj is the first work of art, while what “Yog Raj” paints is a painting within an artwork. All this might strain our credulity, but according to two pioneering Indian performance artists, Shantanu Lodh and Inder Salim, Chopra is the only “pure”


practitioner of this art form in India today. Performance art, which first emerged in Europe and the US in the 1960s, typically involves an individual or a group of people performing an action at a given point in time which constitutes the artwork. Often, the artist uses his or her body as an instrument or a medium of art, and instances of self-mutilation, flagellation or nudity are not unusual. Lodh, who completed his master of fine arts (MFA) in 1995 from Santiniketan, was perhaps the first to hold a performance in India. In 1998, he sat next to a fish tank that contained catfish. He would dip his hand into the tank and allow the catfish— which had been named after his recently deceased mother—to nibble on it. He would then withdraw his hand and allow the blood dripping from his hand to fall on to a three-layered invitation card. On one side was an invitation to

Lodh’s birthday party and on the reverse, an invitation to witness the catfish biting him. In between the two layers, he would allow his blood to collect. At the end of the half-hour performance, the catfish was released into the Yamuna river. “The audience (schoolteachers and artists) didn’t know how to react. Some were astonished, others disgusted,” recalls Lodh, now 48. Lodh had chosen the medium of performance because he felt painting alone couldn’t capture the pain his mother’s death had caused him. Salim, on the other hand, took to performance art out of disillusionment with the art scene in Delhi. “Back then, galleries would only show works of senior artists. There were no takers for anyone new,” he said over the phone from Srinagar, where his travelling performance art festival, Art Karavan International, was on. Salim finds the indifference to

performance art—even by the art establishment—galling. In September, he cut off his finger and threw it into the Yamuna as a commentary on how filthy the river has become. That it was dismissed as an act of madness by some, and labelled as environmental activism by others, bothers Salim. Not many know what performance art is, he points out. “Only Jawaharlal Nehru University has a chapter on performance art,” he says. “These are the only handful of people who don’t expect me to break into a song for them.”

The Delhi-based Khoj International Artists’ Association, set up in 1997, was the first to offer a platform for performance art and in 2008, Khoj introduced Khoj Live, a six-day performance art festival. Unlike Salim, Pooja Sood, the director of Khoj, sounds upbeat about this novel and unconventional art form. She says the number and calibre of Indian performance artists is on the rise. “It’s gaining validity as a form, but it will take a few more years and many more performances for the audience to turn


They live it up Fresh sounds and an aversion to recording studios make The Mavyns a band to watch B Y K RISH R AGHAV

···························· t’s a strange paradox of Indian rock music in English that a Mumbai band with song titles such as Downtown Baby, channelling Billy Joel and 1960s Britpop in the same breath, can make you sit up and take notice. That’s because The Mavyns are, above everything, groovy. They make their tunes sound easy, with a self-assured joie de vivre and playful arrangements. And yes, despite the liberal sprinkling of Beatlesera lyrical imagery, they are very much a Mumbai band. Lick the Blue Frog is a collection of 10 live recordings and a bonus track from a show the


band played at Mumbai’s Blue Frog in November. When The Mavyns decided earlier this year to record a set of songs they’d been demo-ing on live shows, they found that the claustrophobic confines of a recording studio just didn’t capture the energy of their concerts. “I don’t think we’ll ever come up with a studio album,” keyboardist and vocalist Vivek Nair says over the phone. “We lack that talent. I mean, we were given an opportunity to record this album with free studio time and we botched that up.” The band had previously thought of using the Blue Frog recordings they had lying around, which they discovered

Livewire: (above) The Mavyns at Blue Frog; and the album cover. were of surprisingly high quality. These were retrieved after the traumatic recording studio experience, mastered and rearranged, and selected for continuity. The result is an uneven but promising debut. Opening track You’re Only Right is the album’s most straightforward ballad, driven by a steadfast piano. The chorus refrain of How can you think of consequential things/ when the wheel has only just

begun to turn also perfectly sums up the band’s current state of mind. Hard to Believe and My Sound are the album’s strongest, centred, respectively, around a pleasant lullaby riff and a looping, slightly dark piano hook. Freedomslinger (a word the band coined by combining “freedom” and “gunslinger”) gets off to not one, but two false starts and never recovers from its initial hic-

cups. Downtown Baby sounds like a Billy Joel meets Sgt Pepper’s mash-up. Bedtime Stories and Indecent Clarabella (a name taken from a Beatles’ cover of a song by a band called The Jodimars) are the most verbose and lyrically surreal. The last track on the live set is Greener than the Sea, a mostly successful, partly schizophrenic effort by the band to stitch multiple genres together in a 3-minute track. It opens with a classical piano intro, shifts into contemporary gear for the verse, throws in some grand 1980s-style epicness in the chorus, goes funk for the bridge section and ends with the blues. The album’s last track is a

discerning,” she says. Over the last few years, art galleries such as Gallery Espace in Delhi and Project 88 and Chatterjee & Lal in Mumbai, have also opened their doors to performance artists. Salim, however, is not impressed. “Galleries are not inviting artists because they are interested in performance art but more because they’re trying to catch up with the trend abroad,” he says. “(In India) if you can’t make money out of something then it’s not taken seriously.” Salim himself holds a day job with a bank and uses his salary to fund his art projects. Sood admits that with the exception of Chopra, no artist has been able to make money out of performance art. “All of them have supplementary sources of income,” she says. Chopra says he earns his “pocket money” from the photographs and videos that come out of his performance. Mortimer Chatterjee, director and cofounder of the Chatterjee & Lal gallery, where Yog Raj’s documentation was first displayed, says this documentation has takers because of its aesthetic, as well as novelty, value. It was the novelty of the form here that made Chopra return to India. “Unlike New York, London or Paris—which is saturated with art—everything here is fresh. It (performance art) is still new here and so full of possibilities.”

bonus, a studio recording of Freedomslinger that was featured in an Indian indie compilation. In the studio, the song, with its off-kilter time signature and machine-gun drumming, is a rousing, energetic track capped by a brilliant and frenetic guitar solo. It’s an excellent cut of the album’s weakest track, and immediately elevates the song to one of the band’s best. The stark difference between the rough cut of Freedomslinger and the polished yet energetic studio cut (despite the band’s objections) raises an interesting question—are these live recordings the definitive versions of the songs? Nair isn’t sure, but the band at present seems vehemently against a studio-recorded album. Lick the Blue Frog, then, feels like a collection of live demos in varying stages of completion. But what excellent demos they are—by turns playful, experimental and bursting with clever ideas. Lick the Blue Frog is available for free download at





Doing it the Ealing way


···························· he show must go on”—Shaukat Azmi has always subscribed to the motto and has always expected her daughter Shabana to do the same. So when, in March, Shabana twisted her leg just before a performance of the one-woman play Broken Images, Shaukat didn’t see any reason why she shouldn’t carry on with the performance. By the time the play was over, the foot had fractured. A month later, Shabana is radiant and relaxed in her hotel suite in New Delhi, ahead of two back-to-back performances of Broken Images. Her right foot is bandaged and she walks with a slight limp. She will take painkiller injections before the show begins. Edited excerpts from a conversation about, among other things, her latest film It’s a Wonderful Afterlife, directed by Gurinder Chadha:


Leading lady: (above) A scene from It’s a Wonderful Afterlife; and Shabana Azmi.

MacLaine called Madame Sousatzka. I think of myself as an English-speaking person. And yet I remember when I had to speak dialogue in kept jarring my ears and I felt I had a very strong Indian accent. It troubled me because I couldn’t own words in the same kind of way that I owned Hindustani words. (Now) when I am doing (the play) Broken Images, which is in English, I don’t have any problem with it because everybody around me is also speaking it in the same manner. Many hold theatre to be superior to films. They say actors find it much more fulfilling. Not necessarily. Look at the kind of neurotic demands that are made on the actor in cinema. Now, I am in silhouette and the camera is watching me against a sky in which the sun is about to sink. Now, precisely the moment before which the sun is

supposed to set, a tear is to drop from my eye. Can you imagine how difficult that is? And also to be able to do it in public. Suppose I am required to do this on the beach; I am surrounded by public who is whistling and doing other things. Any difference between working with Hollywood and the British film industry that strikes you? I think there is a lot more money in Hollywood. I did a small part in Son of Pink Panther. For which, if you please, I was flown in from India to London and from London to Milan for a day to be dressed by Armani himself. And then we shot in Amman and we shot in London and we shot in Delhi. Julie Andrews was the wife of (the director) Blake Edwards and they had their own plane parked in the studios. On Friday evenings after wrap they would fly into Switzerland from London and stay there over the

weekend and come back. In comparison, films produced in the UK have much less money. Do you like Hindi films made by new directors such as Vishal Bhardwaj and Anurag Kashyap? I find it heartwarming because I think that Anurag Kashyap and all are also experimenting with form, which is very important; because cinema traditionally has been done in a particular way and that’s gone on and on and on. Whereas I think that cinema as a medium lends itself to being explored greatly. At some point from the leading lady you have to play the leading lady’s mother... It’s a very natural process; but if you look at my career graph, even within mainstream cinema, the parts that I was playing were not merely that of a leading lady. It was substantial character parts. If you look at Masoom, Arth, Avtaar—these were character parts who happened to be the leading lady. So slipping into the older age group has just been a natural process because I wasn’t at any point just a leading lady who was depending on glamour and running around trees to be successful. It’s a Wonderful Afterlife released in theatres on Friday. For the complete interview, log on to





ash Raj Films (YRF) has a reputation for squeezing more than one movie out of a single story idea. There is a wild story, probably untrue but entertaining nonetheless, that Bunty aur Babli and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom were actually meant to be one film about a pair of con artistes who tell tall tales about their successes. Punjab appears in so many YRF films, from Dilwale Dulhania le Jayenge to Dil Bole Hadippa!, that you can take a mustard field from one movie, put it into another and not tell the difference. The banner’s most recent release, Badmaash Company, borrows ideas from both Bunty aur Babli and Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year. The movie is about a bunch of individuals led by a street-smart character (Shahid Kapoor) who bend the rules to make big bucks. Badmaash Company taps into



The actor on her new film, ‘desi’ stereotypes and how Hollywood differs from the British film world

‘It’s a Wonderful Afterlife’ has been accused by some of pandering to Western stereotypes of Indians. Is that a fair comment? Not at all. Tell me how many instances there are of Indian mothers killing suitors who have rejected her daughter. It is a completely wacky…brand Gurinder Chadha (film) in all her glory. It is actually a genre that is pretty well loved in the UK, called the Ealing comedy—which has comedy plus an element of horror in it. (I play) Mrs Sethi, a widow living in Southall with a single-point agenda of getting her 30-year-old daughter married. Do you depict an Indian character differently in English films than in Indian films? Depends on the language—when the language is different then it works differently. Many years ago, I did a film with Shirley


a national obsession with scams and scamsters, which endures despite the knowledge that the culprits are rarely penalized. Of late, sting operations featuring acts of consensual sex seem to have taken precedence over exposés of corruption, but there is nothing quite as arousing as watching several cash bundles being excavated from the innards of a government official’s double bed. Since law enforcement seems to follow the ancient Hindu calendar rather than the Gregorian one, we have to be content with a few moments of embarrassment followed by prolonged delays in uncovering the truth. That’s why the heist movie has limited success in Hindi cinema. In older Hindi films, the cops would show up after the hero had bashed the villains to pulp. In real life, the cops are at the

The scamsters: Kapoor (second from right) in Badmaash Company. crime scene within minutes, but are unable to prosecute the baddies because of their inability to build a proper case despite possessing the necessary evidence. The crime thriller in India suffers the same fate as the detective novel. The knowledge that the villains may never be jailed makes a happy ending well nigh impossible. Crime capers from the 1970s operated within a hermetically sealed world that bore almost no relation to the real world. The garish gambling dens and luridly lit hotels within which antisocial

behaviour was practised were far removed from reality. As Hindi cinema tries to become more realistic and thereby more convincing, it’s getting tougher to pull off the perfect hit. Dhoom just about worked because it was set in real locations in Mumbai; Dhoom:2 had to relocate to another country altogether to allow Hrithik Roshan’s character to execute his robberies. We spent several decades allegedly suffering under the mixed economy that ruled our fortunes from independence right until the late 1980s. India is now

t often seems to us amateurs that, to appreciate every last nuance of Carnatic music, one must be a true polymath—the sort, we’re always assured, that our grandfathers and great-grandfathers were. A mastery over ragas is only a beginning, a mere scratch on a substantial surface. There is the mathematical acuity needed to grasp the hundred-plus talas, or cycles of beats (I continue to struggle so comically with this that I console myself that such a skill must be innate, that either one has it or one doesn’t, and that I don’t). There is the familiarity with scripture, which helps catch oblique lyrical allusions. There is the faculty of memory, permitting comparisons across time. Most directly, there is the knowledge of multiple languages, required to really understand the songs being sung on stage. A Carnatic concert’s linguistic canvas can resemble a portrait of Indian diversity. Through its most substantial portion, beginning with the brisk varnam and up to the so-called “main piece”, a concert can traverse through Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Sanskrit. Subsequently, that terrain opens up even further, beyond those five languages, into Marathi, Hindi and Bengali. This assortment of tongues is daunting; it also leads to frequent friction. One of the eternal debates in Carnatic music runs roughly as follows: If a singer from Chennai performs in Bangalore, should she sing more Kannada songs than usual? Some audiences believe so; others prefer to leave it to the singer; the artistes themselves fiercely guard their SRUTI FOUNDATION prerogative to choose. For a performer, knowing and understanding the meaning of lyrics is, without doubt, vital. Every song comes freighted with a particular bhava (feeling) made explicit by its libretto, so singing words of devotional despair with joyous stridency, for instance, is a gross misstep. Happily, students at advanced levels of musical training are always taught the precise import of the songs they learn. Melodious: The 16th century composer Pronunciation, though, Purandaradasa wrote mostly in Kannada. is a more frequent casualty, since artistes aren’t necessarily fluent in the languages they sing in. A Hyderabadi friend insists that there is nothing quite like hearing M. Balamuralikrishna render a Thyagaraja composition in Telugu, his mother tongue. I find myself divided on how much it helps a listener to know every, or even any, one of the languages being sung. On the one hand, I’ve encountered the thrill, on infrequent occasions, of being moved by a song I understand completely. Individual vowels and consonants seem to come alive with colour and significance, and the words breathe. It’s not an experience to be written off lightly. But the romantic notion that music can communicate beyond the barriers of language is still a powerful one, easy to believe because we want so much to believe it. As proof, perhaps, are the full concert halls of Chennai. I’m certain that very few people in those audiences know the meaning of every song they hear, and certain also that a large number don’t know the meaning of a single song. And yet there they are, obviously enjoying the music, without even the benefit of the Italian-into-English surtitles common in opera houses. In such cases, it is easier to agree with Goethe: Only when ideas fail do words come in handy. Write to Samanth Subramanian at

ranked as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. In a city like Mumbai, there is a palpable sense of urgency to compensate for decades of government-imposed deprivation and use all possible means to get ahead. The billionaire is one of the new heroes of the Indian success story. Bollywood may never produce a Wall Street, since viewers are probably too envious of the local Gordon Gekkos to condemn their methods. One of the greatest corporate heist movies in recent times is actually Guru, which rewards the crooked ways of its industrialist hero and justifies his actions as a necessary consequence of restrictive government policies. We took years to fall in love with the system. Why would we now want to beat it? Badmaash Company released in theatres on Friday. Nandini Ramnath is the film critic of Time Out Mumbai ( Write to Nandini at



Against the tide ‘Time Out’ editor Naresh Fernandes shares five secrets of the Mumbai coastline Your city has treasures you pass by without ever taking notice. In this fortnightly series, experts help you discover these gems


umbaikars have a lovehate relationship with the Arabian Sea. There are times, driving past Marine Drive and Juhu Chowpatty or over the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, when they wish it was 10 shades bluer. The monsoon brings out its fury. After the terrorist attacks of 2008, it is seen as one of the most porous and unsafe coastlines. But the sea is also a gift.




t Chaityabhoomi More than half-a-million people are estimated to have filled the streets of Dadar to pay their respects to Babasaheb Ambedkar as his body was carried in a flower-filled truck to the crematorium opposite Shivaji Park on 7 December 1956, the day after he died. In 1968, a stupa was built on the spot where Ambedkar had been cremated. The spot offers a serene view of the Arabian Sea, now punctuated by the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. The best time to visit the Chaityabhoomi is on 6 December, when tens of thousands of Dalits converge to pay tribute to Ambedkar. The enormous queues may be daunting but it’s worth the effort just to see the determination in their eyes.

Although proven to be the most polluted coastline in India, it maintains the city’s ecological balance—and it is still a tourist attraction for the thousands who visit the city every day. This, despite the failure of successive state governments to either restore or preserve it. We asked Naresh Fernandes, editor, Time Out, Mumbai, who has researched and written extensively on Mumbai, to recommend five spots from where to enjoy the sea—five places you must experience if you live here or are visiting.

q Rangsharda bar Many people know Rangsharda on Bandra Reclamation because of the auditorium on the ground floor, which is the venue for events as varied as Konkani theatre and Bharatiya Janata Party meetings. But its best feature is probably Captain’s Bar—Westerlies, which stretches over the terrace on the third floor. It has great views of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link and despite its proximity to the highway, you can barely hear the traffic. The kebabs are pretty good too.

p Kaka Baptista Garden This 375,000 sq. ft sprawl of lawns and walkways sits on top of the Bhandarwada Hill reservoir and offers a spectacular view of the eastern waterfront and the bay beyond. It’s named after Joseph Baptista, a barrister with a wonderfully pointed moustache who was a member of the Home Rule League. Kaka (uncle) Baptista was also one of the founders of the All India Trade Union Congress in 1920. The garden is perched right above Dockyard Road station and is within easy walking distance of the ancient village of Matharpakhady, where Baptista was born. To the east is Mumbai’s only Chinese temple.

q Vasai Fort The sea-facing Vasai Fort, a 90-minute ride in a fast train from Churchgate, was ceded by Gujarat’s Bahadur Shah to the Portuguese in December 1534, and developed into an enormous complex of grand churches, monasteries and opulent residences of merchants and the fidalgos, or noblemen, who lived there. Though the mighty sea wall and the bastions still stand intact, most of the churches and palaces lie in ruins, many of them hidden behind giant, shimmering spiders’ webs. It’s a magical place to get lost in for a day.

p Sewri Fort Until recently, visiting the Sewri Fort was like walking into a peppermint factory. The Colgate factory is almost next door, and, until it stopped production a few months ago, the whole area was enveloped in the smell of toothpaste. In the cooler months, the fort—which underwent shoddy restoration a few months ago—is a great place to watch the flocks of flamingos that winter in the bay. The bastion was one of several fortifications built along the coast in the late 17th century. But as it turns out, it wasn’t an effective defence. On Valentine’s Day in 1689, Sidi Yakut of Janjira captured the bastion and then proceeded to take charge of the whole island. He ruled the city for 18 months before sailing home. PRIYANKA PARASHAR/MINT





recently read about a woman who’d vowed to take her much-loved masala recipe to the grave, unmoved by pleas of family and friends to share. My heart breaks for her daughters: Despite having a cookbook collection which could fill a medium-sized library, the only one I’d brave a burning building for is my mum’s old handwritten recipe journal. It contains the story of my childhood and the food that made me the eater, cook, person I am. A good cook is made not born, her best recipes have been handed down, tweaked, transformed and adjusted; they have a personal history, a lineage, a soul. I don’t cook everything the same way my mother did—margarine has certainly been banished—but I always feel her at my shoulder in the kitchen, her mother and

grandmother not far behind. And that’s an immensely comforting and inspiring kitchen to work in. Today’s yogurt cake comes from another relative and began its passage to India on one of Scotland’s far-flung islands back in 1975, when my aunt and uncle found themselves posted to Skye. While all their belongings, including kitchen scales and measuring cups, were still in storage, auntyji (as we refer to her after a recent visit to India) had been unable to do any baking. So she was delighted to tune into the Jimmy Young Programme, a popular radio show at the time, one morning and hear a recipe for yogurt cake requiring no special equipment, everything being measured out in the yogurt pot. Auntyji’s cake is a moist, no-frills, never-let-you-down, little black dress of a cake; you

can take it anywhere, dress it up, dress it down, reduce the sugar, omit eggs, and it will still be eager to please. In its unadorned 1970s form, it’s a soothing bite to accompany a cup of tea; with fruit and icing it becomes a gooey pudding. It’s had to adapt to life in India—the yogurt pots are a different size here—but has also already started winning friends. I took a mulberry-laced version to a dinner party the other night. We ate half of it immediately, then the host devoured what was left of it during a midnight raid on the fridge. The next morning, she was on the phone for the recipe. Here, I’ve made it into something quite decadent, with the addition of raspberries to the sponge and a tangy lemon glaze. And in the universal spirit of recipe-sharing, here it is.

Lemon and Raspberry Yogurt Cake Ingredients 1 small (200ml) pot of natural yogurt 2 pots caster sugar 1 pot sunflower oil 1 tsp vanilla essence 3 eggs

Decadent: Raspberries and lemon glaze turn this simple sponge cake into a treat. Zest of 2 small lemons (take care not to grate in any of the bitter white pith) 1 tbsp lemon juice 3 pots plain flour 1K tsp baking powder K tsp bicarbonate of soda Pinch of salt 200g fresh raspberries or other soft fruit For the glaze 2 pots icing sugar Juice of 2 small lemons Method Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius, then line a loaf tin with baking parchment paper (it’s worth investing in real baking parchment instead

of butter paper as it’s completely non-stick). I use a rectangular tin that measures 10x5 inches (26x13cm). In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. In another large bowl, mix the yogurt, sugar, eggs, oil, vanilla essence, lemon zest and lemon juice. Beat the mixture well until smooth. Carefully fold the dry ingredients into the wet until everything is well incorporated. The mixture will be more like a thick batter than a traditional

cake mixture. Pour half the mixture into the tin, sprinkle half the raspberries, then cover with the remaining mixture. Add the remaining raspberries, then put the tin immediately into the hot oven. Make the glaze by sifting the icing sugar into a bowl and mixing with the juice of about two lemons. When done, the cake should be firm on top and lightly brown and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean. If not, put it back for 10 minutes. When the cake is ready take it out of the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes. When it’s cool enough to handle, turn it out on to a plate and drizzle with the glaze. Pamela Timms is a Delhi-based journalist and food writer. She blogs at Write to Pamela at For a slideshow on how to bake a yogurt cake, visit Read Pamela’s previous Lounge column at


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