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

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Vol. 3 No. 27



DIPLOMAT’S NEW CLOTHES Shashi Tharoor ran an unlikely campaign to win his first Lok Sabha election. Now he must reconcile the India of his ideas with the India of the ‘aam aadmi’ >Page 10


THE PAYYOLI TO LONDON EXPRESS Under­funded but determined, P.T. Usha is raising a new generation of Olympic hopefuls in the hills of Kerala >Page 9


The new Potter film asks us to embrace diversity and forget ‘purity’ >Page 16

Shashi Tharoor won his maiden electoral campaign for the Thiruvananthapuram seat by a margin of 99,998 votes.










recent headline on the Indian Wine Academy website caught my eye. “Death knell in Delhi for fine wine,” said an article by Subhash Arora, president of the academy and the Delhi Wine Club. While the jargon about transfer permits and “not being gazetted” can make your head swim, the fact is that the Delhi government has increased the excise duty on wines to 150-200%, making it, according to Arora, the second worst state in India... >Page 4

here’s a special pleasure in following Wimbledon in England because you can read the English papers on Andy Murray’s passage through the tournament. I’ve been reading the Guardian, The Independent and The Times and they’ve convinced me that an obscure wild card called Federer has made his way unnoticed to the final even as the Scot, indisputably the greatest tennis talent since Bill Tilden, has fallen by the wayside. >Page 4



ntil a couple of years ago, Mahesh Bhatt was here, there and everywhere. If you opened the newspaper or switched on the television, you would find Bhatt holding forth on such diverse topics as India-Pakistan relations and Mumbai’s drainage system. Bhatt was on speed dial for most entertainment journalists trying to fill their pages and shows. The cruel joke among hacks was that Bhatt had nothing better to do in any case after... >Page 17

THE YOUNG HERO’S SENIOR BANNER In its 60th year, Navketan Films has an assured place in our film history >Page 18


For today’s business news > Question of Answers— the quiz with a difference > Markets Watch



he’s the epitome of wedded bliss. Today she’s dressed in a striking blue sari, this former teacher with a lovely smile (that fades rapidly as you watch her), two children and a husband of 16 years. A Sindhi married to a Christian. She’s classic Incredible India. Incredible at hiding the garbage life has shovelled her way. Until, of course, television offered her the chance to win Rs1 crore in exchange for 21 truths about her relationship with her mother, her inner sexual longings and her childhood secrets and jealousies. Thus far Indian television has never managed to successfully replicate the American-style intimate, confes- True lies: sional chat show format, a genre powered by Oprah Winfrey, arguably one of the world’s most influential women. Indians just aren’t brought up to confess on prime time television that they were raped by their uncle/neighbour when WATCH they were 11, or that they are having affairs with their wives’ sisters. Family secrets, we believe, should be buried in the darkest recesses of our emotional selves. Star India’s sensational new show, Sach ka Saamna, the local version of the globally successful Moment of Truth, manages to smash through this barrier with its deceptively simple format. All a contestant has to do is answer yes or no to any question the host asks. Twenty-one right answers and she’s a crorepati. A lie detector test, taken prior to the show when the contestant is asked 50 questions, confirms whether the answer is right or wrong. How difficult can that be, right? And how dramatic can it be when she has already answered all the questions that she is going to be asked on the show? It’s tougher than you think. Especially when your family is sitting on the same stage, watching you spill your guts with a simple yes, no, yes, no. “The best part about this show is that you know all the questions and you know all the answers,” says Star India’s Keertan Adyanthaya. The channel screened people with interesting lives, those who had been through a lot.

Will Mathai spill all? Find out in Star TV’s new show Sach ka Saamna. Adyanthaya says nearly 50% of the contestants backed out when they realized how far they would have to go—some of them quit after the lie detector test. Smita Mathai decided she would stay on. In the first episode (catch it on 15 July at 10.30pm on Star Plus), she bravely answers many questions, including: Can you forgive your mother for not being there during the birth of your second child? Do you live in fear that your husband will become an alcoholic again? Do you think your mum-in-law was a better mother than your mother? Do you believe your parents love your brother’s children more than yours? All this, while her husband, mother and two more family members watch from 5ft away. And here’s one for you, dear reader. Would you ever cheat on your spouse if you knew he/she would never find out? There can be only one true answer to this question, if you don’t fool yourself. After all, a large part of the reason we stay faithful to the loves of our lives is because we want to protect the long-term security of our relationship more than anything. We can’t risk losing them. But if you knew for sure that you wouldn’t lose them, why then, cheating would be just another guilty indulgence. Alas, the Indian version of the show will have less sex and more emotion. But maybe that’s the smart approach

considering the show was recently banned in Greece on grounds of decency/taste. I’m almost certain that no contestant has won the big prize since this show went on air in the US last year. Incidentally, the US show was inspired by a Colombian show which also ran into trouble after a contestant said yes when she was asked if she had paid a hitman to kill her husband. Star’s yes/no brand of truth certainly seems more radical than Rakhi Sawant’s attempts to play pastel princess on NDTV Imagine. In the cut-throat world of general entertainment channels, Star Plus is bound to gain significant brownie points with this show. Then again, the executives at Colors are aware of the ratings potential of this show…maybe they have something planned? Star’s new show also goes head-tohead with Sony Television’s new reality biggie Iss Jungle se Mujhe Bachao! (see Page 17) that begins two days earlier, on 13 July, at 10pm. When viewers have to pick between Mathai’s secrets and a B-grade celebrity trapped in a Malaysian forest, who will they chose? I’m placing my bets on Mathai. Write to



The English racquet around Andy Murray



here’s a special pleasure in following Wimbledon in England because you can read the English papers on Andy Murray’s passage through the tournament. I’ve been reading the Guardian, The Independent and The Times

and they’ve convinced me that an obscure wild card called Federer has made his way unnoticed to the final even as the Scot, indisputably the greatest tennis talent since Bill Tilden, has fallen by the wayside. Fred Perry, the last Englishman to win the men’s title here, was exhumed in the nation’s sports pages to supply historical context for Murray’s quest for glory. We were told that Perry was an original, a table tennis champion who brought that game’s wristy stroke play to his tennis style. Raising Perry from the dead used to happen when Tim Henman was a competition at Wimbledon, but this year Murray’s handlers managed to suggest that Murray was actually possessed by Perry: The young Scot took to wearing the classic Fred Perry tennis kit, complete with laurel leaves. You can see Murray’s image builders thinking, “Gilt by association!” Since Perry isn’t best placed to supply television sound bites, Virginia Wade, the last living British champion at Wimbledon, was pressed into service and she gamely obliged. She paid backhanded homage to Henman by suggesting in her genteelly strangled voice that he was a gallant trier without ever being a likely winner, whereas Murray was a volcano of talent for

whom victory in the championships was merely a matter of time. The trouble is that for a British cheerleader, Wade sounds more and more South African every passing year. Also she isn’t wholly convincing because it’s clear that a Murray victory would be against her own best interests: Nobody would wheel her out again as the last British champion at Wimbledon. BBC Television left nothing to chance. Henman, the Last Great British Hope, was produced to anoint his successor. Given that he is the most inarticulate expert in the history of tennis commentary, he wasn’t much help, but a fellow commentator intervened to suggest that Henman Hill ought to be renamed Murray’s Mound. I can report that the term didn’t take, possibly because it sounded lewdly suggestive. Just to make sure that viewers didn’t go away thinking Murray’s sponsors were exclusively British, we had John McEnroe, the world’s best tennis commentator if you don’t count Vijay Amritraj, declare that Murray had the “best hands in modern tennis”. Boris Becker boosted the prevailing British mood to say that the big story of Wimbledon 2009 wasn’t Federer’s bid to break Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles but Murray’s quest to be the

indifference to the fact that he had reached the semi-finals. This was a lowly distinction: He, Murray, would be satisfied with nothing less than the title. Then, after this 12-day frenzy, he met the other tennis Andy, Andy Roddick, on Centre Court…and lost. Could it have been down to the fact that they were both called Andy? Did that keep the crowd from yelling their man to victory? We shall never know. But ranks of British tennis writers had to change gears and go into reverse. They did so manfully, drawing upon their accumulated experience in disappointment to deal with this unexpected wrinkle in the script. Chris McGrath of The Independent achieved immortality as the Big strides: Will Murray live up to the hopes next year? author of the strangest passage ever written first Brit to win it in Fred Perry’s about competitive tennis. centenary year. “For now,” he wrote, “the craving On television we were treated to for another British champion must frequent cutaways to Murray’s mother, remain unrequited. The crowd Judy, as she sat in the stands following gnawed restively at their hero’s her younger son’s progress with manic nerves. Could he stem the merciless intensity, looking scarily like Andy in Roddick serve, as consistent as it was drag. Then, when Murray got to the ferocious? And what of that other, last four, the papers headlined his more tender reciprocation? The one

that will some day sprinkle all that passion, so far vested in his return, far beyond the baseline?” I think McGrath’s saying that Murray will one day have sex but it won’t be on a tennis court. You think that’s far-fetched? “Sprinkle all that passion…far beyond the baseline”— what do you think he meant? Now we can settle down to watching competitive tennis for the rest of this year between pygmies such as Federer and Roddick and Nadal, secure in the knowledge that next year in Wimbledon, the drama around Murray will be bigger and better—it’ll be 74 years since Perry’s victory, not just 73; and 72 years since the last British man reached the men’s final (Bunny Austin in 1938), instead of 71—and Murray will be a year older, a year better, all set again to win. The Independent’s headline said it best: A test failed, but time remains firmly on Murray’s side. That’s right. He’s younger than Federer. No one can take that prize away from him. Meanwhile, this time next year, Federer will skulk in the giant shadow cast by this great Scot, forlornly trying to win his 16th or 17th Grand Slam title. Some people just don’t know when it’s time to make room and move on. Mukul Kesavan, a professor of social history at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, is the author of The Ugliness of the Indian Male and Other Propositions. Write to Mukul at Read Mukul’s previous Lounge columns at­kesavan


Behind every successful oenophile is a bootlegger


recent headline on the Indian Wine Acad-

emy website caught my eye. “Death knell in Delhi for fine wine,” said an article by Subhash Arora, president of the academy and the Delhi Wine Club. While the jargon

about transfer permits and “not being gazetted” can make your head swim, the fact is that the Delhi government has increased the excise duty on wines to 150-200%, making it, according to Arora, the second worst state in India in this regard, after Maharashtra. This is a shame. More and more urban Indians are drinking wine, and I would argue, they should. Wine is as nice a social lubricant as the single malts my erstwhile editor swears by. Better, I would argue, for wine is good for you. The problem is that Indian wine is an orphan with an image problem. Unlike liquor, wine lacks a lobby. Wine lovers can protest all they want but there is no concerted effort by any coalition to make wine accessible to the masses. We Bangaloreans take our tipple seriously. Whether it is a corporate launch on the lawns of the Taj West End, lunch at the Rogue Elephant, coffee at Koshy’s or drinks at Caperberry, the talk inevitably comes around to two things: rants against the 11.30pm closure of pubs and the state of Indian wines. Admittedly, this is a small, self-selected group, and some of this harks back to Bangalore’s “pub culture”, in which drinking was viewed with a benign, non-judgemental eye.

Bangaloreans—like the Goans—know how to hold a drink. All of which is ironic preamble to the fact that the one thing Bangalore lacks is decent wine at reasonable prices. Some local wines are good. Others, as epicurean Stanley Pinto says, “aren’t fit to strip paint with”. Pinto runs the Bangalore Black Tie—a group of foodies who dress in tuxedos and gowns and dine out once a month at city restaurants—and I am a member. Last year, the local government imposed a “special additional fee” on not just imported wines but also non-Karnataka wines. This means that if I have to drink a Nashik wine, I have to cough up Rs300 more than you folks sitting in Mumbai. This means that a Yellow Tail Shiraz that sells for $5 (around Rs250) in the US costs three times as much here. Members of the Bangalore Wine Club have been up in arms over these price hikes, calling for a boycott of the local Grover Wines because Kapil Grover is part of the Karnataka Wine Board, which recommended taxing non-Karnataka wines. From the point of view of the Karnataka wineries, however, these price hikes are a tit-for-tat measure against the Maharashtra government and its seven-year-old protectionist

Wine list: A good bootlegger tops ours. policies. Last year, Karnataka returned the favour, at twice the rate that Maharashtra had imposed, and we, as consumers, suffered. There are ways around this that mostly have to do with travelling abroad. Bringing the allowed two bottles of wine and then some when you come back from overseas trips is a

good, if expensive, way to sustain your wine habit. But what if you don’t go abroad that much? I buy my wine at my neighbourhood store, Thom’s, where it is stored poorly. When I spend Rs1,500 on a wine and it turns out to be so-so, I cannot tell if it is the wine or the storage. Some say that the state’s godowns, where wines are stored between vineyards and retailers, are “criminally unprofessional”, that most wines are destroyed before they arrive at stores. So I called Alok Chandra, co-founder of the Bangalore Wine Club, with one simple question: How can one get decent wine at reasonable prices in India and more specifically, Bangalore? “Go to your friendly neighbourhood smuggler,” he retorted. Say what? Did he really want to be quoted saying that, I asked. “Why not?” said Chandra. “The government is making criminals of all of us.” Pinto not only agreed with Chandra, he offered to give me the telephone numbers of three smugglers who would deliver French, Italian, Chilean and Australian wines to my home, at prices that “cock a snook at the idiot authorities”. The problem is that the authorities don’t care. They sell about 5,000 cases of wine a year and 10 times that amount of liquor. Wine is—and is perceived as—elitist. Wine drinkers are a minority in India, and perceived as a wealthy one at that. So “tax the buster” seems to be the government’s approach. Chandra buys his wines at Spar supermarket and Metro. Pinto

suggested Peekay Wines at Crawford Market, Mumbai. I bought a Chateau d’Ori Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc for Rs322 each—lower than the Rs400 I pay for Kinwah, a new Karnataka winery. I also got the Tiger Hills Chardonnay I had been wanting for Rs520. Since they had a two-for-one offer on Vin Voulet, I got two bottles of red. All were satisfactory. All are finished. I am back to square one. There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Two months ago, the Maharashtra government proposed to bring down the excise duty on out-of-state wines if Karnataka would reciprocate. Apparently, Karnataka didn’t reciprocate, for Delhi too has now raised the excise tax on wines. Look, I know all this wine talk sounds pretentious at some level. I mean, who cares? It’s only wine, not world peace or the budget, you can say. Okay. Let me make a somewhat complicated argument. If state governments lower taxes, then wine will be accessible to more people and not just the elite. Perhaps this will make the man who drinks toddy or illicit arrack reach for wine instead. He will get his kick—and I know I am stretching here—except it will be healthier. Shoba Narayan recently had a terrific 2005 Chilean Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon at Italia restaurant in Bangalore. Write to her at Read Shoba’s previous Lounge columns at­narayan





Curio cottage Tanishaa Mukerji used natural light, pop colour and ingenuity to enhance the old­world charm of her home BY GEETIKA SASAN BHANDARI Better Homes and Gardens

························· hen she was a young girl, actor Tanishaa Mukerji, sister Kajol and four cousins spent their holidays at maternal grandmother Shobhana Samarth’s Lonavala cottage, built in the 1950s. The engagement with the outdoors was such a fulfilling experience for Mukerji that when Samarth willed the property to her, she decided it would be a perfect place for her to spend quality ‘me-time’ away from the madness that is Mumbai. “I inherited one of the two cottages on the 1-acre premises and it’s my chill pad,” says the chirpy actor. Mukerji loves to renovate and recreate rather than buy something spanking new. So refurbishing the house while maintaining its original look and character was a challenge she loved. “I changed the flooring to a green onyx marble because I wanted to maintain the natural look,” she says. She also realized that the windows, doors and some of the furniture were made of solid teak but had been painted over. So


she got the carpenters to scrape off the paint and varnish the wood, thereby salvaging the original work. Mukerji has personalized the antiques around the house. An old frame, for example, was fashioned into a coffee table for the veranda while leftover bathroom tiles were used to furnish the top. “I love taking something that’s old and dying and not so pretty and reworking it,” says Mukerji. True to her personality, Mukerji loves bursts of colour at home. While the living room has bright yellow light fittings and a smattering of fuchsia, blue and metallic cushions, the turquoise-tiled tabletop—she chanced upon it in a shop in Ooty during the shoot of Tango Charlie and coaxed her mom, actor Tanuja, into buying it for her—adds to the old-world charm. The solitary bedroom houses period furniture from her mom’s Kolkata house and every nook is filled with flea market finds such as lamps from Chor Bazaar and brass figures from street shops. Write to

1. The actor, who loves scouring flea markets, chanced upon this colourful hammock in Goa and snapped it up for her veranda. 2. White lends an illusion of space to the tiny pad. Multi­hued cushions and freshly­cut heliconias, courtesy a friendly neighbour, add colour.

3. Mukerji especially likes this old photograph of her mom. 4. The vajra, used in Buddhist meditation, was bought for its aesthetic value, with no idea of its actual use.

5. The veranda looks right into the living room and serves as an alternative seating arrangement. Mukerji has restored the furniture and given it a fresh lease of life with lilac cushions. The tabletop was created by fixing leftover bathroom tiles on to an old, spare wooden frame.

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Magicians, not Muggles They’d love to fight Voldemort, but these young tricksters say they, not Harry, can do the real thing in front of your eyes B Y P AVITRA J AYARAMAN

···························· enia Bhumgara has been the star of many magic shows since she was five and even performed at the premiere of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in Mumbai in 2007. But the 12-year-old magician from Mumbai says there is a big difference between Potter’s magic and hers: “Mine is the real stuff. I love to engage with the audience, see their expressions when I’m doing a trick. I think Potter’s magic is dark and can be a bit scary.” Fifteen-year-old Bangalorebased magician Karun Krishna launched the last book of the Potter series at Oxford Bookstore at the Leela Palace, Bangalore, last year, dressed as Potter. “I was only in class VI when the first book came out. After the book, I was always introduced as the ‘Indian Harry Potter’ at magic shows. I hope someday I will be as famous as him,” says Krishna, who has watched the five Potter movies several times over and can’t wait to see the latest one, which releases next week. Seated in his living room, which is lined with the trophies he’s won since he began performing, Krishna decides to give me a live demo of his tricks, using a deck of cards. He asks me to draw a card. It’s the king o f diam o n ds. I put it b a c k, Krishna shuffles the deck and asks me to draw once more. I comply. “Can you show me the card in your hand?” he asks. To my surprise, I’d picked the king of diamonds again. Krishna started performing magic tricks when he was only four, and discovered Harry Potter at the age of 11. Since he is not much of a reader, he has little idea of what will take place in the forthcoming Potter flick, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. “I have classmates who have read the book, and have been bringing the book to school to re-read before the



GOURI DANGE release. They are threatening to tell me what happens. I have been begging them not to spoil the suspense,” he says. For Bhumgara and Krishna, a “magician” is different from a “wizard”. Bhumgara says many of her friends and classmates wanted to learn magic after they read the Potter books or saw the movies. “But what you see in films or read in these books is more about fantasy and wizardry and less about magic. The tricks I perform take a lot of hard work and hours of practice, and are not just part of some hocus-pocus spells.” Yet, like other teenagers, she too is looking forward to the release of the latest movie. “I think the special effects in the Harry Potter movies are exciting. Also I like the Hogwarts academy. I would have loved to go to a school like Hogwarts, but that is not possible,” she says. Envious as he is of Potter’s world and his abilities, Krishna points out that the junior wizard’s life is not all that positive. “Much as I would love to go to school with other magicians, I would hate not being able to perform magic at school or worse, when I’m home, like Harry does when he goes back to live with his Muggle relatives,” says Krishna. In fact, he thinks it was quite sad that in Harry Potter and the Order of


Krishna says he had his Potter moment in 2005, when he managed to make a little girl levitate the Phoenix, Harry and his wizard friends were not allowed to use their magic at all. “It’s only towards the end that Potter and his friends secretly used their spells without the permission of their teachers. That was really

exciting, but in real life, if I was asked to not perform my magic, I’d hate it,” he adds. Krishna has heard that in the new movie, Voldemort will be back with newer and stronger powers, and he hopes it will have loads of tricks, spells and special effects. And he is confident Potter will defeat Voldemort yet again. “When I watch the Potter films, I wish I could ride a broom and play Quidditch,” says Krishna, adding that he can beat all his friends at Quidditch video games. And in case he does not get to ride a broom, Krishna would like to own an invisibility cloak à la Potter. Shaily Rangrez, another teen magician who has been performing since she was five, would rather have a magic wand—“with complete control

over it”. The 14-year-old from Hyderabad keeps in touch with Potter’s world by watching all the movies. “I guess in that way we teen magicians are a lot like Potter and his friends, because even though we have the basic talent for magic, we still have to work hard at perfecting our skills,” says Rangrez, who is looking forward to the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince release. She can’t wait to see what Voldemort has up his sleeve this time and finds Hermione the most intelligent of the Potter gang. Krishna says he had his Potter moment in 2005, when he managed to make a little girl levitate. “That is the closest I came to doing a Potter-like trick.” He also admits that he allows his friends to believe he can do a lot

Wanderers: Bhumgara (left) would love to go to a school like Hogwarts; Krishna wishes he could play Quidditch.

the Duchess of Wellmet. Magic is the key to the city’s well-being. If the magic is strong, everyone prospers (including the residents of Twilight). But gradually the people discover that the magic of Wellmet is fading. The Duchess suspects it is being stolen and calls Nevery to solve the mystery. Her personal magician Pettivox, however, tells her that she is overreacting. When Nevery returns to Wellmet with Conn in tow, he gets down to the business at hand. In Conn’s case, there is an additional problem. He needs to find a locus magicalicus within 30 days if he is to remain in the city. Desperate to stay with Nevery and his new-found friend Rowan, the Duchess’ daughter, Conn hides his real story from

everyone. Help for the duo comes from Benet, a scary-looking, biscuit-baking guy who is Nevery’s servant, and Keeston, the wizard’s secretary. Follow Conn as he tries to throw off the tag of “thief” and help Wellmet. Sarah Prineas wrote fantasy stories for Cricket magazine before she decided to pen a book. The book has been translated into Spanish, Finnish, Czech and Danish. After this flying start, Prineas had to get busier. And she did. Magic Thief: Lost is about to be launched and will be followed soon by Magic Thief: Found.

more when they compare him with Potter. “When they ask me to prove it, I simply say there is a time and place to perform magic. They haven’t found me out as yet,” he chuckles. Given a chance to trade some of Harry’s powers or battle Voldemort, all three magicians say they would not hesitate to take on the challenge. But for now they are happy to watch awestruck faces every time they pull a bird out of a hat. Harry Potter and the HalfBlood Prince releases in theatres on 16 July.


Move over, Harry A magician who’s better than the legend himself


et me stick my neck out on this one. The Magic Thief is better than the Harry Potter books. And the best part is that this is the first book of a trilogy. The story starts with Connwaer, the young pickpocket, lying in wait on the dark streets of Twilight for a victim. Unfortunately for him, along comes the wizard Nevery Flinglas, who has been banished from his homeland by the Duchess of Wellmet because he blew up his own home in a risky experiment with magic spells. Conn does manage to pick Nevery’s pocket and steal the magician’s locus magicalicus

(a stone that gives the wizard his magical power), but is caught. However, what amazes the old wizard is that the locus stone hasn’t killed Conn. Suspecting that the boy is a wizard, Nevery gives Conn a good meal and takes him home as his apprentice so that he can study at Academicos, a school for budding magicians. The Magic Thief is set in the land of Wellmet, a city of magic and wizards. It is divided into sections called Sunrise and Twilight. The Magisters’ (wizards’) islands are in the middle—an area that is called Heartsease. Twilight is where the factories are and where the workers live. It’s also the home of the evil Underlord Crowe, who rules the land with his minions and even collects taxes. Sunrise is home to

The Magic Thief: By Sarah Prineas, Quercus, 380 pages, Rs299.

The writer is the editor of Heek, a children’s magazine. Write to




The right time to swipe It’s sale season again; we went shopping to some of the stores that were first off the starting block


···························· his year, shoppers in Mumbai and New Delhi have added considerably to their collection of luxury handbags, designer denims and cult shoes. Any pair of Jimmy Choo shoes for Rs5,000. Burberry at a flat 80% discount, Dunhill at 70% off, press sample sales for Alberta Ferretti, and Moschino, and discounts at Salvatore Ferragamo and Bottega Veneta. We’ve even heard an urban legend of a sale at Louis Vuitton, but the label’s representatives firmly deny it. A disclaimer for those who wonder why the stuff they lust after is never on sale: Luxury brands are very protective of what they call their “classics”. These bags or shoes are a regular feature season after season, such as the Hermes Kelly or Birkin bags, or Tod’s Gommino leather moccasins. They may undergo small design evolutions from time to time, colours or materials may change, but essentially, they are pieces that you will have for a lifetime. Labels are reluctant to put these classics on sale, as it dilutes their exclusivity. Each collection has pieces inspired by the season’s trends and hot colours. These trendier pieces have a shorter shelf life and what is hot today could look dated a few months later. These pieces are usually not carried forward season after season, so they are on sale at the end of one. Since our favourite four-letter word is displayed at a few fancy stores, Lounge reviews some sales at luxury and high street labels.



Magic words: Flat 50% Half price in the Gucci store is a wet dream for many, and to be fair, Gucci’s sale is the most democratic of the lot. Everything is actually on 50% discount, except a few classic belts, which have 30% knocked off. The staff are convinced that if you’re a first-time buyer, you’re going to want a bag (that’s the category which gets sold out first). New buyers pick bags with the GG monogram to flash around, while those who “know the brand” opt for new shapes. The store’s current showpiece is the Hysteria bag in croc—the Rs9.5 lakh price tag gets shaved to about Rs4.25 lakh. For those of us who are of more modest means, a more cautious demeanour, or have too much common sense to pay that much for a handbag, there are the entrylevel bags, which start from Rs30,000. Our pick is the Pel-

Material gains: (top to bottom) Gucci’s Crystal GG Indy has a sale price of Rs71,000; the Stock Sandalo Laccetto and colourful handbags are at 40% off; and some varieties of denims are discounted at Calvin Klein Jeans.

ham—a deep chocolate leather bag with braided handles, at a reduced price of about Rs75,000. Wallets, popular with teenagers we hear, are about Rs7,500. Ready-to-Wear is another area where first pieces are often bought at sale time, we are told. Formal trousers for women are at Rs19,000 and shirts for men are from Rs10,000-12,000. There’s a black wrap dress with a leather-knot fastening, which has the potential to be a workhorse in a working woman’s wardrobe. But its sale price is a few digits over Rs50,000. If you’re an irregular shoe size, take a look at the 70% discount rack from two seasons ago, for shoes priced at Rs10,000-15,000. Smaller sizes such as 36, and large ones such as 39-40, are available on a nice range of stilettos, a lovely patent leather bootie and some high boots. Belts are an average of Rs10,000 after discount, and there’s something for both—people keen to flash those Gs, and those who want the logo to be on the underside. If shopping, this is where our money would probably go. For men, besides the shoes (an average of Rs15,000 after discount), we spotted a pair of horsebit cufflinks at Rs9,000, and a good collection of belts. Denims and timepieces had sold out, except for a round dial watch with a metal strap at Rs30,000.

in a polished patent black or regular brown leather. Men’s shoes are between Rs20,000 and Rs30,000, before a discount of 40%.

Salvatore Ferragamo

Rs27,300. And we thought they

Probably the most judicious of the sales, in terms of discount and the pieces on sale. The piece that caught our eyes first—the Sophia, a buff canvas bag with a lemon yellow leather flap, was still at the full price of Rs1.18 lakh. The friendly staffer showed us the classic Marissa (Rs1.14 lakh), which was also not discounted, but it was a bit too fuddy. It was upsetting to hear that some of the bags doing well were the canvas ones with the Ferragamo logo plastered all over—choosing an ugly show-off piece vs class and timelessness has got to be a sin at Ferragamo of all places. But the best deal at the store was a supple dark brown leather handbag called the Virginia, with a silver Gancino (an Omega-like motif which is an important symbol for the brand) clasp. It was light, looked like it could fit a house, and if you didn’t wear it down to its last threads, you could bequeath it in your will. At 50% off, it was priced at Rs42,000. At Ferragamo, the first preference is shoes, and sadly, the bestselling Verina ballet flats in rainbow colours with grosgrain ribbon bows are not on sale. Oh, wait, the flavour-of-the-season colours were 30% off—lemon, camel and “syrup”, which is a juicy peachy pink. Who wants black at Rs27,000 when you can have syrup at Rs19,000? “Everyone wants sale, regular or new customers,” said a wise staffer. Men will have better luck for shoes—two shelves of monk straps, slip-ons and lace-ups are on sale, at either 30% or 60% off. The Malta, a slip-on in matt black leather from the Originale line, came highly recommended at

favourite was a pair with a Gancino at either end, except the motif was a powdery matt-pink, with just the bar being silver. Cufflinks are priced at an average of Rs8,400, ties at Rs6,300, after discount.

Magic words: 30% (for Spring/ had the best collection of cuf- Calvin Klein Jeans Summer 2009) and 60% (on flinks—the Gancino symbol is Magic words: Up to 50% Autumn/Winter 2008) quite popular in cufflinks. Our At Calvin Klein, half the men’s


Magic words: 40% on shoes and bags, 50% on accessories Irrespective of sex, fashion preferences and economic ability, the first thing someone would want to buy in a Tod’s store is a pair of the Gommino shoes. No matter if you know nothing about Tod’s, no matter if you already have four pairs, you want one. Sadly, if you want one on discount, that’s not going to happen. You will have to fork out Rs22,000-26,000. That was our biggest disappointment. But there is a section of patent ballerinas on sale which were originally priced at Rs22,000-26,000. Also on sale are a few sturdy wedges and the Stock Sandalo Laccetto (Rs21,000), a shoe which has all the trend requirements of the season—a solid thick heel, chunky platform, wide straps. But we can’t help feeling it’s too trendy to last. On the other hand, New Port Chanel, a green patent ice-pick stiletto, was as simple as it was beautiful and would look great in any closet. It’s also available in fuchsia and black at a reduced price of Rs15,600. On the other hand, all the bags you want to buy are discounted. Gleaming patent leather in M&M colours, they’re stylish and classic, priced at Rs80,000-93,000 before discount. For men, a few moccasins are on sale, lots of leather slip-ons and only one style of formal lace-ups,

jeans are on sale from the Spring/ Summer collection, the other half are not. If you’re the straight-fit kind of guy, you may find what you want. But the colours seem dated, and a majority of the dark inky blues that are in fashion are not on sale. More current styles, such as the skinny cut and some straight ones, have no discount. The sale price ranges from Rs2,495-3,495, while the non-discounted ones start at Rs3,995 and go up to Rs10,000. T-shirts are the regular CK logo variety, but there’s a nice collection of sturdy leather belts with industrial-size buckles. And there are options which have the CKJ initials, if you feel the need to have that endorsement hovering at waist level. There’s no discount on the underwear (they have the ubiquitous briefs with the CK waistband and a range of boxers, one with a heart print) but there is a promotion—if you buy three, you get the fourth free. For women, there’s more choice in the fits and colours for jeans. Boot-cut, straight and skinny are discounted, and colours range from white, black and grey to the palest blue almost faded to white. We spotted only one pair of dark indigos. We liked a cotton and silk blue-green shirt dress which was on half price—Rs2,999, down from Rs6,000. The T-shirts and tops are nothing special. In fact, the street stores probably have similar stuff. An inch-and-a-half-thick black belt with metal studs was also on half price (Rs1,495) and seemed like something your wardrobe would benefit from for a long time. (Some prices are approximate.)




Touchee me, toucher you Poking, nudging and patting all help express sympathy and support. But should we be doling out hugs at the office?

B Y E LIZABETH B ERNSTEIN ···························· hy are people at work always touching me? I get bear hugs from men and unsolicited kisses on the cheek from women. Coworkers of both sexes grip my elbows, tap my knees and pat my back. An editor recently held my hand on deadline—literally. One work friend hugs me every time she sees me in the elevator, even if I’m furiously typing on my BlackBerry and juggling iced coffee and a salad. I thought my colleagues were just being really friendly until I turned a corner in the hallway one day and the cleaning woman flung her arms around me and stroked my hair. She told me she just wanted to say “Hi”. That’s when I knew it was me. I am, for lack of a better word, a “touchee”. Figuring out when it’s foul and when it’s surprisingly welcome can be tricky. Every workplace seems to have at least one “toucher”—someone constantly doling out hugs, shoulder rubs or high fives. Some people hate this attention and quickly put an end to it. For better or worse, that leaves a lot more love for the rest of us. But is it ever really okay to put your hand on someone else in the office, even in friendship and support? It depends whom you ask. Corporate lawyers and human resource types say we should always keep our hands to ourselves at the workplace. After all, touch is subjective. One person’s friendly pat can quickly turn into another’s threatened lawsuit. “There aren’t standards about what touching is non-sexual, other than handshakes,” says Larry Stybel, a Boston management consultant. “If we are sitting alongside each other and I put my hand on your knee, is that a friendly sign of affection or a sexual come-on? I don’t know, and I don’t know how you will perceive it. So let’s not even go there.” Lots of folks subscribe to the hands-off rule. “Respect my force field,” says Greg Farrall, a 39-year-old financial adviser in Valparaiso, Indiana. “If you’re looking over me at my computer screen, you don’t need to put your hand on my shoulder. You can easily put it somewhere else.” Farrall says he has repeatedly asked his co-workers to keep their hands off him. Undeterred, they continue to pat, poke and jab him, often, he suspects, just to get a reaction. Making matters worse, some of his clients—relieved that he has helped them stem losses—have started hugging him. With every touch, he flinches. “It must be a big, teddy-bearish thing,” he says, explaining that he is 6ft 2 inches tall and weighs 220 pounds (99.7kg). “Maybe people feel protected.”


Touch is an essential form of communication, the first one we understand as newborns. It’s unnatural to suppress it


Or maybe they just can’t help themselves. Touch is an essential form of human communication, the first one we understand as newborns. It’s unnatural to suppress it. Even online, we’ve found a way to evoke it: Witness the Facebook “poke” and Twitter’s “nudge”. And we miss it when it’s gone. “I work with myself and can only touch myself...which has its pluses and minuses,” says Todd Adler, an equities trader in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Touch is also the best way to express empathy, sympathy and other kinds of support, say psychologists. This is why we are quick to embrace someone who has recently lost a loved one. And why there’s so much hugging, patting and stroking going on in workplaces these days, as colleagues console one another after layoffs and buyouts. “Everyone is huggy now, and it’s not creepy,” says Kathy Casey, 48, a chef in Seattle. She admits she constantly touches her staff—patting arms, squeezing shoulders, giving hugs. Sometimes it’s to reassure an employee she’s had to repri-

mand, but often it’s to comfort someone having a bad day or to congratulate someone for a job well done. “It’s a sign of compassion and caring,” she says. Perhaps this is why my coworkers keep touching me. Intrigued, I decided to ask them. “You’re so friendly,” said one. “You’re always stressed,” said another. “You’re self-deprecating, and I want to give you a boost,” said a third. “You’re short,” a close friend said. So much for compassion. But how do “touchers” know whom to touch? How do they find the people who won’t belt them the second they put out their hand? Experts say there’s no playbook. You’re always taking a risk by making physical contact with a co-worker. In general, a person’s upbringing will influence their comfort level. And different workplaces have different cultures. You may want to keep your hands to yourself if you work in a stuffy law firm. But backslaps might not raise an eyebrow in a talent agency. Still, there are some people you should probably keep your

hands off of, including cute interns, pregnant women and your boss (trust me on this last one. Purely for research, I tried to put my hand on my boss’ arm. He swatted at it—three times— and growled something about moving my desk to the mailroom). Maybe experienced “touchers” are more intuitive. “It’s almost like I use a sixth sense” to know whom to touch, says Marni Greene, a self-proclaimed “touching-is-healing kind of person”. Greene routinely scratches the heads and backs—and massages the shoulders—of male and female co-workers she is friendly with at the medical supply company customer service centre where she works in Moorestown, New Jersey. “It shows that we’re not alone,” she says. “And it’s like a 5-second vacation.” Still, aren’t we all a little hypocritical? Sure, we may hate it when the loudmouth in the next cubicle wants to fist-bump after every meeting. But we still get a thrill when the big boss praises us with a slap on the back. As long as he doesn’t have hygiene issues, like Kathy Kniss’



former employer. “You could hear him masticating from two doors down,” says Kniss, 31, a marketing representative in Pasadena, California. “If you did something he approved of, he would approach your desk and give you a high five. It was the same with holidays. God forbid you were the last person out of the office, because then he’d want to give you a hug.” The reaction among her coworkers, Kniss says, was “reserved”. People would wince, bob and weave, pretend they’d forgotten something on their desks and flee. “We all used the excuse: I don’t want to touch you, I have a cold,” she says. But Kniss, who recently started working from home, says she now misses the physical affirmations that get doled out in an office after a deal. “I can’t get that now,” she says. “My dog has no idea what’s going on.” As for me, I’m happy I work in an office, because I need all the support I can get. So if you want to give me a hug, I’m at desk number 04.BH41. Write to




The Payyoli to London express Under­funded but determined, this athlete is raising a new generation of Olympic hopefuls in the hills of Kerala


···························· very morning at 4.30, Tintu Luka, 20, starts her day with warm-up exercises, jogging and finally running down a mud track in Kilanur, a nondescript village in north Kerala, 40km from Kozhikode. Circumstances notwithstanding, Luka has her eyes firmly set on the women’s 800m event at the next Olympics, to be held three years from now, and around 8,000km away in London. For the last eight years Luka, who juggles a bachelor’s in commerce with this regimen, has been training under the watchful eye of P.T. Usha, the golden girl of Indian athletics. And if all goes according to plan, Luka hopes to join a select league comprising her coach, Shiny Wilson, K.M. Beenamol and more recently, Anju Bobby George—all women athletes from Kerala who have


made a mark on the international stage since the 1980s. The Usha School of Athletics, tucked away in hill country in Koyilandy, Kozhikode district, has an ambitious goal: to bring home medals from the Olympics—Luka in 2012 for the 800m, and Nikhila Joseph, 15, in 2016 for the 200m and 400m races.

Next year’s Commonwealth Games in New Delhi will serve as a testing ground for some of this talent. Besides Luka, another six athletes from Usha’s school will participate, including Shilpa C., 18, in the 100m and 200m events and M.S. Darshana, 17, in the 100m hurdles. Usha, who missed a medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics by 1/100th of a second, is determined to train a new band of athletes. “I want to upgrade the standard of athletics in India to, say, cricket... First, we must build up the medals,” says Usha, who retired from track and field events in 2000 with more than a hundred medals, and at 45, is still in great shape. Her prodigy seems equally determined. “I want to get the medal in the Olympics that Usha chechi (elder sister) didn’t get,” says Luka, who won silver in the 800m at the 13th Asian Junior



Inspiration: P.T. Usha (right) is one of the first Indian athletes to establish an academy; students train while construction of a new track proceeds at Kilanur.



Athletics Championships in Jakarta in 2008. Over the last three decades, several women athletes from Kerala have made it to the international arena. This has been attributed to reasons ranging from equal rights for women in the highly literate state to a proteinrich diet of rice, tapioca and fish, and colleges and schools that give sports training, says Ram Muralikrishnan, a freelance sports writer and contributor to the quarterly magazine of the International Association of Athletics Federations. J.S. Saini, former national coach and adviser to the Athletics Federation of India, is all praise for Usha the athlete and Usha the trainer. “She is the first top athlete to make a real effort in training athletes.” Of course, sports academies run by sportspersons abound, such as the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy, the Brijesh Patel Cricket Academy and The Nike-Bhupathi Tennis Village. But there have been few efforts in athletics. If Luka and company are able to achieve their goals, it will be quite a feat for the non-profit facility that started in 2002 with just Rs10,000. The school, which is free and exclusively for girls, attracted as many as 800 girls aged between 11 and 13 from across Kerala during its first selection process. A dozen were chosen, including Luka and Shilpa. Now, the selection process is repeated annually in February. This year, eight girls joined the school, having cleared a battery of tests and screening by a panel of coaches and doctors. Those who are found wanting are weeded out. Currently, there are a total of 20 students at the school, all personally coached by Usha. In its initial years, the school worked out a low-fat, high-nutrition diet in consultation with the Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysore. The students are served three meals a

day—a mix of traditional Kerala food such as puttu (steamed rice powder cakes), appams, chapatis, rice, fish, chicken, vegetables, eggs, fruits and green salad. Around Rs1 lakh and above is spent on a student—the figure can go up to Rs5 lakh for rising stars such as Luka—for accommodation, food, training, travel to state, national and international sports meets, education and additional tuition. So how does Usha manage the funding? With generous donations from corporate giants such as Mohandas Pai, board member and director, human resources, at Infosys Technologies Ltd, and Sudha Murthy, wife of N.R. Narayana Murthy, chief mentor of Infosys, both of whom sponsor children at the school. “Kumari stood with me from the beginning,” says Usha, referring to Kumari Shibulal, wife of S.D. Shibulal, co-founder and chief operating officer at Infosys. But it’s still not enough. The US probably has the best model for funding athletes, with hundreds of colleges and universities granting aid. And each school’s facilities are as good as those at India’s premier sports institute, Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports in Patiala, says Saini. In the UK, the government invests £100 million (around Rs780 crore) for the top 1,500 athletes, or around Rs50 lakh each. Compare this with India, where around Rs1 lakh each is being spent on the contingent of 200-odd athletes preparing for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. The difference in spending and facilities is reflected in the medals tally—at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the US bagged 110 medals, the UK, 47, and India, 3. The dearth of facilities in India is stark. Usha, who used to train on Payyoli beach in north Kerala—thus earning the nickname “Payyoli Express”—trained her band of girls on the very same seashore until a year ago, when the school moved from rented premises to a state government-granted 30-acre area. Bangalore-based real estate company Sobha Developers Pvt. Ltd pitched in to build a hostel free. A mud track, where the 20 girls train morning and evening, has recently been completed. Now a new synthetic track is being laid. Also in the pipeline are a gymnasium and sports medicine centre. The school is Rs3-4 crore short on funds to accomplish all this but Usha, dreaming of Olympic medals, is set on completing all the work by 2010.










NEW CLOTHES Shashi Tharoor ran an unlikely campaign to win his first Lok Sabha election. Now as minister of state for external affairs, he must reconcile the India of his ideas with the India of the ‘aam aadmi’ B Y S IDIN V ADUKUT

···························· ost mandarins of the ministry of external affairs (MEA), including minister of state Shashi Tharoor, are housed in the South Block building, just downhill from Rashtrapati Bhavan, atop Raisina Hill. Access to Tharoor—a one-time candidate for the post of UN secretary general—at the ministry, if one should get an appointment, lies past an assortment of guards in a multitude of uniforms and an X-ray machine. And finally, through a frisking station and metal detector manned by guards hand-picked for unfriendliness. Only to then get lost in the maze that is the MEA. Even the ministry’s website calls the building “an intricate labyrinth of vaulted staircases and high-ceiling passages”. Which is why Twitter is a blessing for anyone trying to figure out what the real Tharoor is like. The micro-blogging service reveals that minister Tharoor is not averse to a mango, a pun and—brace yourself—both at once. His tweet at 10.37am on 10 June: “Having lived abroad in places without Indian mangoes, have literally become aam aadmi this year, or at least aam ka aadmi—eat 6 a day!” Indeed, in the week before Tharoor’s “Special Officer” Jacob Joseph Puthenparambil confirmed an interview slot, much had been made in the media about Tharoor’s Twitter activity. One commentator had gone so far as to say that his 140-character updates could leak ministry secrets. “He will never tweet anything sensitive. Only what is in the public domain will be posted on Twitter!” Puthenparambil says dismissively when questioned about the allegation (when Tharoor was in Dubai on a brief visit last month, the UAE’s minister for foreign trade, Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid al Qasimi, welcomed him as “Minister Twitter”). From the outside, the minister’s office looks like any other in the vast complex. Inside, however, the room is bathed in the diffused golden glow of five-star hotel lobbies. Neatly arranged hard-bound volumes line the rows of the large bookshelf to one side. Many of the books have the name of one or


Statesman: Tharoor occupies an office that once belonged to K.R. Narayanan and Vinod Khanna.

the other member of the Gandhi family on the spine—by Nehru, about Rajiv, etc. We spot no copies of the minister’s own 11 books, published over 27 years. But before there is time to get overwhelmed, Tharoor rushes out of his chair, around his large desk, and reaches out to shake hands. With the ease of someone who has occupied the office for years, and not just a few weeks, he ushers us into a meeting area in the corner. Even as I fiddle with the buttons on my audio recorder, Puthenparambil is already casting disapproving glances at a watch and then a printout of Tharoor’s schedule. One of the most striking things in Tharoor’s writings is his concept of India. It pervades his work. But given the fact that he has spent so much time living and working outside India, where does he get this concept of India from? “The origin of that concept is simply to be the son of two Keralites, born in London, brought up in Bombay, high school in Calcutta, college in Delhi and annual visits for at least a month to a remote village in Kerala. That gives you a pan-Indianness straight off,” Tharoor says. There is a popular India analogy in Tharoor’s recent book, The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cell Phone: Reflections on India in the 21st Century: “If America is a melting pot, then to me, India is a thali—a selection of sumptuous dishes in different bowls. Each tastes different, and does not necessarily mix with the next, but they belong together on the same plate, and they complement each other in making the meal a satisfying repast.” It is an analogy that sounds hopelessly romantic. I ask Tharoor if the real world of Indian politics has room for such romanticism. Surely his experiences while campaigning, as a Congressman and now as minister, must have infused a little cynicism? Tharoor pauses to think (later, I realize that while he is garrulous on the subject of the UN, his books and his career, Tharoor is much more measured, less intuitive when talking of his political party and his peers in the Lok Sabha. He doesn’t quite suffix the sycophantic “ji” to every name he utters, but there is no mistaking the careful choice of words). He finally says: “The process of politics breeds a certain sense of cynicism. For instance, I’ve seen how people use identity politics to

drive their own agenda. But while going out and campaigning, I did find myself speaking to leaders of various communities. Conscious that their word carried some weight. That is politics. You can’t dismiss these basic natures of… our… our reality.” Earlier, while we were waiting in his spartan office, Puthenparambil narrated anecdotes about Tharoor’s campaign. Including a rumour that Tharoor was a “Zionist” Israeli spy. Fortunately, the campaign team found an old UN photo of Tharoor with Yasser Arafat. Copies were circulated and the crisis averted. All through the day, several MEA officials troop in and out of Puthenparambil’s office. Prominent in this ebb and flow is G.S. Babu, a Congressman from Thiruvananthapuram and a rare member of the local cadre who supported Tharoor’s candidacy when it was announced. Babu’s job now is to shuttle between Thiruvananthapuram and New Delhi and report on developments. Today, he’s dressed in a starched white khadi shirt and dhoti, with gold-rimmed spectacles and bloodshot eyes (they look like he’d had a glass too many of toddy for lunch but Puthenparambil assures us that “Babu is a genuinely Gandhian Congress worker”). When I ask him about Tharoor’s campaign, Babu proudly narrates how the minister had to earn every single vote. “There were a lot of leaders who were sceptical. There were so many senior leaders who have been working for the Congress in Thiruvananthapuram for many years. So naturally, many of them became upset when the can-


didacy was given to a new fellow.” So then how did Tharoor win with the largest margin from the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha seat in around three decades? Babu credits the victory to two factors. The first is the crack team of NRIs, who flew down to work on the campaign. A campaign website, a Facebook page and the Twitter stream were all ideas generated by this team. Puthenparambil explains one of their more novel schemes: “We knew there was no point in doing SMS campaigns. People would just delete it. So we got Tharoor to record an audio message on the campaign trail right in the middle of a noisy street. We then dialled up eight lakh people and played out the recording. Many thought it was Tharoor really speaking in Malayalam to them—live.” Puthenparambil, who owns a trade magazine publishing firm in Germany and is a co-founder of the popular group blog, is one such NRI—one of the many fans and supporters Tharoor has gathered in the course of book tours and lectures. After the election victory, most of them returned to their workplaces. But Tharoor asked Jacob, as he has come to be known in ministry circles, to come back and continue working as something of an executive assistant. At well over 6ft, Puthenparambil is by far the tallest person we spot in South Block. Yet when he sits down at his table, the pile of files on it easily reaches his eye level. “I don’t even know what half of these are!” sighs Puthenparambil, thumping the top file with a flat palm in a rare moment of levity.

Otherwise, he relentlessly races from room to room or juggles phones (all five of them—Puthenparambil alone has two landlines, three BlackBerrys and one iPhone. Both minister and special officer share the handsets and “there is a Twitter client installed on all of them”, we are told). But even more critical to Tharoor’s win than the NRI muscle flown in, says Babu, was the second factor: the candidate’s personality. Babu says that the minister is a rare mix of pandithyam and lalithyam. The first word is Malayalam for scholarship. The second word is less straightforward. It could mean simplicity, or childishness. But Babu, you sense, uses it to mean innocence and a complete lack of ulterior motive: “He is so impressive with his knowledge and his books. But when you meet him in person, he is so simple and down to earth. He has this ability to draw people to him and make them like him in just 15, 20 seconds... If you met him you would vote for him.” In short, Babu says, Tharoor outlasted rumour campaigns, dissension and industrial-strength mud-slinging. Instead, he convinced most voters that he was a native, a Thiruvananthapuramkaran—in reality, Tharoor is more a native of Palakkad, half a state away from the capital. But Puthenparambil clarifies that Tharoor wanted to contest all along from the “capital of his state”. I ask Tharoor if he carries any UN baggage to the Lok Sabha. What do other MPs expect of him? Is he the smart alec from the UN? “I can’t tell you what people are expecting of me. You should ask them. But my life and career has

I am not sure the approach I used in New York 10 years ago or in Bosnia 15 years ago should be used in South Block today.


Victor: Tharoor overcame party indifference and relentless mud­slinging to win in Thiruvananthapuram.

been an open book. In fact, 11 open books. And I hope the books indicate a consistent and…humane vision. There is no secret about the value and principles with which I conduct myself.” “Beyond that I need to adapt. I am not sure the approach I used in New York 10 years ago or in Bosnia 15 years ago should be used in South Block today. But now, I am an insider in the ministry. I will be guided by the ministry’s positions on various things.” His words are carefully chosen. As the saying goes: You can take the diplomat out of diplomacy but not vice versa. This is clearly evident in Tharoor’s past actions. The minister is not one to potter about letting precedents guide him on what to do. It is probably just a matter of time before he plants his personal stamp on proceedings. On 18 June, newspapers reported that Congressmen in Thiruvananthapuram had complained to the party leadership. Apparently their MP was too “unilateral”—he does too much without consulting anyone. Even more revealing of his working style is a quote by Tharoor in a landmark interview he gave at the Institute of International Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, US, just over 10 years ago. Tharoor spoke to Harry Kreisler, currently the director of the institute, about a variety of topics, from diplomacy to writing. In response to a question about how he dealt with difficult bureaucracies, Tharoor said, “I have been able to get things achieved, to bend certain rules, to even help some people on the quiet with the connivance of government officials in ways that no non-governmental organization would be able to do.” No doubt, the local Congressmen in Thiruvananthapuram have an exciting five years to look forward to with their “unilateral” MP. One of his first breaks from tradition occurred when Tharoor attended a bloggers and Twitter meet in Delhi after his victory. A star-struck audience of around 50 listened to Tharoor talk of politics, campaigning, the UN and “the gol gappe in Delhi”. It was yet another example of Tharoor’s ability to assimilate into any environment—UN, Thiruvananthapuram, Lok Sabha or a bloggers meet. What is remarkable about Tharoor’s UN career is his rise through the ranks, starting as an entry-level junior officer to being the potential secretary general—all in the span of 30 years (had Tharoor won the race for the top post, he would have been the youngest ever secretary general). Youngest, fastest, smartest—the adjectives are often associated with Tharoor. “I was blessed with an ability to give exams well,” Tharoor says. As a student, he topped in every class except, and he remembers this distinctly, class VIII: “My parents almost died. It was like the world had ended.”

Balancing act: Tharoor during a thulabharam at Guruvayoor temple in Kerala. He donated his body’s weight worth of plantains to the temple. Tharoor credits a lot of his academic achievement to the incessant pressure his parents piled on him (his father, Chandran Tharoor, worked in various positions and locations for The Statesman newspaper and his mother was a housewife). In a May 2006 interview with the New York Sun newspaper, Tharoor said: “I wouldn’t recommend it to my own twin sons… I never enjoyed a normal adolescence.” When I remind him of the quote, he tells me how he’s never put any pressure on his sons Ishaan and Kanishk. The 25-yearolds (Ishaan is older by 3 minutes), born of Tharoor’s first marriage to journalist Tillotama Mukherji, are writers with Time magazine and the Open Democracy foundation in the UK, respectively. Tharoor married Christa Giles, a UN employee, in 2007. When Tharoor senior opted for the humanities over science, his parent relented, but later urged him to graduate in economics and then do an MBA. “At least become a businessman, if not a doctor or engineer,” he reminisces. Tharoor got admission to the Indian Institutes of Management in Ahmedabad and Kolkata, but once again did his own thing by joining the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, US, on a scholarship. By the time he had left Fletcher at 22—an age when most people are contemplating an MBA as back-up just in case the Infosys offer doesn’t come through—he had two master’s degrees and one PhD (his doctoral dissertation later became the basis for his first book Reasons of State, published in 1982). Tharoor wished to join the Indian Foreign Service. But the declaration of Emergency in India put him off. He told Kreisler: “I was getting more and more information about all that was going wrong and how…ordinary poor individual Indians…were being picked up at bazaars and carted off to have their vasectomies done compulsorily... And that was a profoundly disillusioning period.” So he signed up to join the UN in 1979. In February 2007, Tharoor resigned as under secretary general after Ban Ki-Moon topped the Security Council’s fourth straight straw poll for the secretary general’s post. He left the organization in April. “Ban asked me to stay

back in the UN, in positions outside New York. But once you run to lead an organization and it doesn’t happen, I don’t think you should stay back. I’ve never set foot in the UN headquarters since.” Don’t expect him to return any time soon. A few weeks after our interview, it was reported that S.M. Krishna, minister for external affairs, would be India’s representative to the UN. As our conversation hits a pause, Puthenparambil swoops in to announce that we have only 5 more minutes. He tells a reluctant Tharoor: “We have meetings with joint secretaries and then the maulana also has to be met. We have no more time.” While our photographer panics and sets up his equipment, Tharoor looks at me—“Does my hair look OK?” And then pops through a door into a rest room. He emerges a few moments later—“OK, I look fine now.” Photography commences. Later, Puthenparambil begins to rattle off details from Tharoor’s packed schedule. Meetings followed by meetings, the day finally concluding with dinner at an ambassador’s residence. Tharoor nods along and occasionally comments on some minor detail. But unlike Puthenparambil, he is entirely unruffled. The minister has settled in very well indeed. Outside, the weary-eyed Gandhian Babu echoes Thiruvananthapuram’s hopes: “They’ve never had an MP like him. Bhayankara expectation alle! (There is tremendous expectation).” It is the fulfilment of something Tharoor said 10 years ago in his interview with Kreisler: “…the writing has helped me to reclaim and reinvent a sense of Indianness…I make no bones about the fact that India matters to me, that I would like to matter to India.” Outside South Block, a horde of television cameramen and reporters mill around, waiting for the minister. Most want quotes on the racism imbroglio in Australia. From Thiruvananthapuram to the lawn outside South Block, Shashi Tharoor has now begun to matter to India. See interview excerpts at




The cold air up there


Sights and sounds create magic in the great outdoors of the largest American state B Y A LAPHIA Z OYAB ···························· t sounded like the tinkling of ice cubes in a glass, except that there was no glass. There was a big lake. The water on the edge of the Grewingk Glacier lake had turned into cubes of ice and gentle waves knocked them against the gravel, creating a jingling sound I had never heard in the outdoors. From the calving of a glacier and the cries of a kittiwake to the crunching of your own footsteps on a lonely gravel beach—in Alaska, you have to listen as much as you have to look. In bear country, your safety could depend on it. With the goal of covering as much of south-central Alaska as possible, we had rented a 29ft RV (recreational vehicle or motorhome) instead of getting on a cruise ship. No need to book hotel rooms or plan our sorties into the great outdoors: We could stop any time to enjoy the Alaskan wildlife, landscape and history. RV-ing in th e c ris p , earl y s u m m e r o n Alaska’s empty highways is freedom unlimited. We headed south from Anchorage on the scenic Seward Highway, flanked by the waters of the Cook Inlet and snow-capped mountains—enough to challenge any driver’s concentration. Our stated destination was the port town of Whittier. It’s a small, dull place, but access lies through a day trip across the Prince William


On a high: (from above) Mt McKinley is the highest peak in North America; a Bald Eagle; the Russian Orthodox church in Ninilchik.


Bear with me: An unperturbed grizzly ambles by a parking lot.


Sound, a living museum of wildlife and glaciers. As our boat crept up as close as possible to the glaciers, the anticipation on the deck was almost tactile: Everyone was waiting and watching for calving—the birth of an iceberg as chunks of ice break off from the glacier. With the wall of white before us, we heard it before we saw it, a clap similar to thunder as chunks of glacial ice broke off before crashing into the icy waters of the Sound. Way back in 1867, the Russians sold Alaska to America for the grand sum of $7.2 million. Driving past small towns and villages along the Sterling Highway to Homer—at the very tip of the Kenai peninsula—we could tell the region retains a Russian influence. Keen to see a Russian Orthodox church, we went off the highway at the village of Ninilchik. At the end of the appropriately named Orthodox Avenue, just before the land dropped sharply into the sea, stood a beautiful white church with a green roof and ochre onion domes. As we marvelled at the Matryoshka dolls inside, a bishop emerged to start a service with all of two devotees participating. We stood near the entrance in awkward silence for a few minutes before shuffling out, only to find a notice informing us that we had stumbled into a funeral service! We moved from the sounds of

birth (of icebergs) and death to the stuff of life. We hired a water taxi to take us across the Kachemak Bay to 400,000 acres of wilderness in the Kachemak Bay State Park. Bulked up in layers of warm clothing, we raced along the water, landing on a lonely shore 20 minutes later. Todd, our boatman from upstate New York (the tourist industry seems to be run entirely by non-natives from the rest of America) promised to return in 5 hours. We embarked upon the Glacier Lake trail, keeping up a loud chatter to alert any bears in the vicinity—a good thing too, because we came across plenty of fresh bear dung. Thankfully, the trails in Alaska’s state parks are well marked and watched over: Hikers have to sign registers before setting off, ensuring their absence will be noted should they get lost.

The trail took us uphill through a wood of spruce and cottonwood trees, plateauing before opening up suddenly into a beautiful lake with the Grewingk Glacier flowing into it. And it was here that we fell silent to listen to nature’s unique little ice-cube jingle, the only disruption coming from a cawing raven, probably challenging us intruders. At Homer, it was time to turn the RV around, but our Kenai experience still had one gaping bear-sized hole. Our longing to see one of the state’s most famed residents was fulfilled in the most unexpected of places—in a parking lot halfway to Anchorage. As we pulled into a lot near a stream at Cooper Landing, we found a big brown bear scrounging for food about 20ft away. It stayed oblivious to the five faces

plastered against the window of the RV. We had 5 exclusive minutes photographing the bear till alert drivers along the highway started pulling in, sending it right back into the woods. After four days on the Kenai, it was hard to imagine that a few US Congressmen had opposed the purchase of Alaska from Russia. The place had been derisively labelled “Icebergia” and “Walrussia” and the newspaper New York World had declared: “Russia has sold us a sucked orange.” Clearly, in the mid-19th century, it was hard to imagine you could do anything in Alaska but bundle up in layers of wool and stay indoors. But in the 21st, an Alaskan summer is incredible fun, offering plenty of options and 20 hours of daylight. And of the many sounds we loved, perhaps the one we grew most attached to was the gentle roar of our RV—a great big beast of a vehicle that took us to all the incredible sights that go with the sounds and became home, even while allowing us to roam free. Write to CHILD­FRIENDLY RATING

A great destination for children because of the wildlife. Long hikes can be replaced by camping and fishing.




Where’s our next holiday, dad? The summer vacation may have ended but what better time to plan the next holiday with your children? Exclusive excerpts from Lonely Planet’s just­released ‘Travel with Children’ can help make up your mind


s anyone who has travelled with under-16s knows, once away from their routine of home-schoolfamily-friends-sports, children are a different ball game altogether. Whether it’s a babe-in-the-arms (one of the easiest ages, actually) or a teen with a mind of his/her own, travelling with children can be as much of a learning experience for parents as it is for the children. Who are your children, really, outside of the familiar? Does it speak volumes about your parenting skills if they can survive without flush loos or domestic help? Are they outdoorsy people? Or better off

TOP 10 BEACH HOLIDAYS 1. Costa Del Sud (Sardinia): The water is clean, the sand is white and there aren’t too many people. 2. Cottesloe (Australia): A beautifully safe beach for children to swim or snorkel, and the weather always seems to be perfect. 3. Durban (South Africa): The city’s beaches have plenty of free swimming pools for children and lots of family entertainment such as Sea World and Ushaka Marine World. 4. Karon Beach (Thailand): With its Flintstone­themed fun park, it’s a great base for exploring Phuket’s beaches and reserves, including



among the bright lights of the big city? The people at Lonely Planet, who have been guiding clueless travellers for at least three decades now, have just released the fifth edition of Travel with Children: Your Complete Resource. Packed with tips, customized for all age groups (babies, crawlers, toddlers—“the most difficult time to travel with children”—preschoolers and older, and teenagers) and researched with the thoroughness that’s a hallmark of the brand, it lists the Top 10 holidays in various categories that you could do with your children. Exclusive edited excerpts:


Phuket Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre. island/ beaches_karon.htm 5. Kaua’i (Hawaii, US): Home to plenty of beaches where children can snorkel in very shallow waters, and an . excellent Children’s lendid Sardinia Sun­kissed: Sp Discovery Museum. www.kauai­ 6. Aitutaki (Cook 7. Noosa (Australia): Great beaches, Islands): Soft sand beaches edge a beautiful natural environment (Noosa turquoise lagoon filled with tropical National Park) and very child­friendly. fish. Kayaking, snorkelling and boat cruises are also part of the picture. 8. Tavira (Portugal): This quiet town has a magnificent untamed

beach that goes on for miles. Best of all, you take a boat to get to the beach. 9. Sayulita (Mexico): A safe, laid­back beach town full of hip North American and European families, where you and the children get “back to the basics”. 10. Sanur (Bali): A quiet little town close to the “happening” area of Bali, with a great little collection of ‘warungs’ (outdoor restaurants) lining the beach at both ends. PHILIP

TOP 10 OUTDOOR ADVENTURES 1. Arusha & The Northern Safari Circuit (Tanzania): Feed ‘Lion King’ fantasies at Tarangire and the bird paradise of Lake Manyara, visit the Ngorongoro volcano, stop by the Serengeti desert and climb Mt Kilimanjaro. 2. Naxos (Greece): Inland from the beaches and the bustling main town lie beautiful untouched villages, rolling hills and low­key archaeological sites. 3. Belize: Aside from laid­back beaches, there’s wildlife galore in the inland jungles, with a jaguar reserve at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, birdlife at the Mayflower Bocawina National Park; majestic Mayan ruins dot the country too. 4. Grand Teton National Park (US): Encounter buffalo, moose, bears, eagles, coyote, deer, foxes, rabbits



and more. There’s canoeing, horseback riding, hiking, swimming and rafting for older children. 5. Kangaroo Island (Australia): This is a national park with lots of Australian wildlife, caving adventures at Kelly Hill Conservation Park, sleeping seals on the beach and the ‘Remarkable Rocks’. www.tourkangarooisland. Rocky road: Trekkin g through Banff Na tional Park in Cana da. 6. Wadi Rum (Jordan): Hike or ride a camel into the dazzling Wadi Rum canyon, then 8. Outer Hebrides (Scotland): skiing, fishing, horseback riding and camp in a Bedouin tent. Some of the oldest rocks in the mountain climbing. world are on these islands off the­np/ab 7. Monteverde Cloud Forest north­west coast, linked by car 10. Wilsons Promontory Reserve (Costa Rica): There are lots ferries and bridges. (Australia): This national park of trails, a few huts where you can boasts rainforests, mountains and stay the night and an amazing 9. The Canadian Rocky Mountains sandy bays and is a great skywalk above the forest canopy. (Canada): Unspoilt wilderness with beach/bush getaway with children. endless outdoor pursuits—hiking,

TOP 10 CITY BREAKS 1. Oaxaca (Mexico): Pint­sized, charming and fun to explore on foot. A central plaza provides plenty of run­around space. 2. Istanbul (Turkey): With its mosques, palaces, Compact: museums, bazaars, multicoloured carpets, food markets, the Bosphorus cruises and sweet apple tea, the children will be fascinated and enchanted. 3. London (England): In summer, don’t miss playing in the fountains at Somerset House. There’s an outdoor ice­skating rink in winter. 4. Los Angeles (US): A good destination for teenagers—choose between the original Disneyland, Universal Studios and Santa Monica. 5. Vancouver (Canada): There’s lots of water as well as beaches, an urban park and numerous hiking and biking trails. In addition, all the attractions of the Rocky Mountains are just over 100km away. 6. Lisbon (Portugal): With trams trundling up to a castle, a state­of­the­art aquarium and a fascinating museum that explores Portugal’s great seafaring past, this city

Charming C


captivates children. The fairy­tale town of Sintra, too, is just a short train ride away. www.lisbon­ 7. Copenhagen (Denmark): Oozes old­world charm, with a compact city centre, a lively waterfront and pedestrian zones. 8. Singapore: Sentosa Island, with beaches and a dolphin lagoon, has to be seen to be believed. 9. Sydney (Australia): If beaches, swimming pools and numerous ferries aren’t enough, there’s Sydney Aquarium, Taronga Zoo and the Koala Park Sanctuary. 10. Rome (Italy): With some of Italy’s best gelato, the impressive Colosseum and Castel Sant’Angelo, and spooky catacombs under Via Appia Antica, the challenge in Rome is not to do too much.

TOP 10 CAMPING HOLIDAYS 1. West Coast of the South Island (New Zealand): Lakes and rivers, short walks to magnificent glaciers and the chance to hear the chirps of the elusive kiwi bird. 2. Sunshine Coast (Australia): Surf or frolic on endless beaches or tramp through the sub­tropical rainforest of the hinterland. 3. Yellowstone National Park (US): Geysers, hot springs, wildflowers, bears and bison are only a fraction of the attractions. 4. Vancouver Island (Canada): Spot orcas, fish for salmon and watch eagles soar overhead. camping.htm 5. Hvar and Korcula Islands (Croatia): Shady beaches that aren’t too crowded—yet. 6. Corsica (France) and Sardinia (Italy): Get two cultures for the price of one when you island­hop from France to Italy by ferry. You’ll find white beaches, mountains, amazing food and campsites.;­camping.asp

ants at Jumbo: Eleph


7. Bornholm (Denmark): The soft­sand beaches and dunes of this island are perfect for children. There’s a camping ground in a wooded area next to the beach. 8. Sea of Cortez Coast (Mexico): The place to go in a camper van. Calm swimming beaches, lazy fishing villages and whale watching are on the menu. 9. Kruger National Park (South Africa): Excellent child­friendly facilities in one of Africa’s greatest wildlife parks. 10. Cyclades (Greece): The islands of Naxos and Amorgos, among others, have lovely laid­back seaside camp spots.




Faux by night In the make­believe city of Singapore, reality —flora, fauna, et al—can go take a walk


he last rays of the setting sun spread a golden sheen over the Seletar reservoir. Across the water, we saw giraffes amble from tree to tree, munching leaves. We were on the other side, eating greasy fishcakes and slurpy mee goreng, the fried Malay noodles, listening to animals—there, that’s the cry of hyenas, this is the whine of a jackal, and the trumpeting sound is of an elephant. Most of us were silent—there was no rule requiring us to be so, but this was Singapore, and you didn’t want to do something spontaneously. The birds, animals and insects were free here; the ceaseless drone of crickets mocked the contrived silence. William Gibson called Singapore “Disneyland with Death Penalty”,

reminding his readers that the fauxcheer of Singapore has a sinister undercurrent. When Stan Sesser wrote in The New Yorker about Singapore, he called it the prisoner in a theme park. An accurate metaphor, but also chillingly real: Chia Thye Pow, an opposition politician, remained in a Singapore jail for over two decades. Perversely, or intentionally, his cell was near one of the stations of the monorail on the island of Sentosa, Singapore’s pleasure ground. The tourists looking for dolphins and Mississippi riverboats and fake volcanoes would neither know, nor believe, that their playground was also a prison. Safaris are meant to be wild: I have been to Sabi Sabi in South Africa where, over 24 hours, we saw

the big five—the elephant, lion, rhinoceros, hippo and buffalo. But the forest rangers had made no promises. Then, in Kenya one afternoon, I saw flamingos take off from a lake like ballerinas on cue, with the breathtaking synchronicity that only a National Geographic photographer can capture. It was unplanned, unexpected, and hence more memorable. Singapore’s night safari is different. A wild national park was never on the cards here—the amount of space needed simply did not exist—and while there was a solid enough professionally run zoo in broad daylight, you could see it was a park, not a forest. A night safari, then, conjured the illusion of appearing to be a jungle, but one where everything ran according to plan. So very Singaporean, lah. The night safari guaranteed what you saw, and ensured that you did, as with the manufacturer who is promised a trouble-free what-you-see-is-what-you-get experience when he signs his lease at the Jurong Industrial Estate. The world was on offer, like at the shopping malls on Orchard Road, like at the food alleys of Singapore—not just the hawker stalls, but also at the restaurants at Clarke Quay and Boat Quay, with cuisines of the world. The night

Alternate reality: In Singapore, the play­acting doesn’t spare even a rhino. safari had the African giraffe, the Indian barasingha, the North American deer, the grazing mountain goats and bharal (blue-coloured sheep) from the Himalayan foothills, the South-East Asian seladang (wild ox), and the banteng, or the Bali cattle, a species of wild South-East Asian cows whose large white spots on brown rumps prompted our guide to remark, “They look like they’re wearing diapers.” This being Singapore, that would be in character, where even cattle must wear diapers. Concealed lights illuminated the animals and their habitats, casting a gentle bluish glow almost convincing enough to make you believe you were strolling through

the jungle on a moonlit night. The night safari does concede to nature when it suits the purpose: Nocturnal animals have different habits, and the only time to see many in action is at night. Like teenagers, they need lots of hours to sleep during the day, but come alive at sundown. When the lights dim, they begin to hunt for prey, to graze, mate, and check each other out. With a freedom the city lacks. But it is a make-believe world. The safari recreates the reality—like Second Life—of a jungle, but without the danger, making it a wholesome experience, without surprises. In a city-state where the jungle is made of glass and concrete, where the national bird is

the crane, and where wildlife means everything that’s banned, the safari adds a new dimension to its urban vocabulary. It transports the island back to its tropical roots. But the experience needs parental guidance. At Sabi Sabi at night, our jeep had to pause when a herd of buffaloes thundered past. We were told to stay quiet when we passed elephants. We were told not to get near the hippo—there was no safe buffer zone. And we had to drive slowly when we saw a lion, quietly overlooking the landscape, blood trickling from its mouth. Singapore is a make-believe city; in the end, where a king, Sang Nila Utama, mistakes a large wildcat for a lion, giving the city its name; the bartender at Raffles Hotel tells tall tales about a tiger under the billiards table; and an advertising agency gives the city its mascot—the half-lion, half-mermaid, Merlion. Even folk tales are made up here, and real lions are prisoners in a park. Write to Salil at Read Salil’s previous Lounge columns at




A defence of and against offence SEBASTIAN D’SOUZA/AFP

The victim: The numerous attacks on artist M.F. Husain by Hindu fundamentalists raise questions similar to those debated in this series.

A series on world religions, the right to free speech, and the right to be offended—and how all three are linked

B Y S HRUTI R AJAGOPALAN ···························· was 15 when Bajrang Dal goons tried to smear saffron paint over M.F. Husain’s art. Free speech, censorship, tolerance and secularism were big words I didn’t fully understand then, but even I knew the Bajrang Dal was wrong and Husain had rights. By the time the Danish cartoons were banned, I was a vocal defender of free speech, but I found myself walking on eggshells in an attempt to be culturally sensitive.


My reactions to the two are not separated only by age: I could openly support Husain against the Bajrang Dal, but when it came to the Danish cartoons, my reaction was muted by my own cultural identity and the need to tolerate; after all, I was Hindu. So, the question arises, does the Bajrang Dal have a right to be offended? Does Husain have the right to free speech? Do I have a right to comment on them irrespective of my cultural identity? Questions such as these are taken up in a collection of six books published by Seagull Books in collaboration with the Index on Censorship. Each book is a longform essay discussing offence from the perspective of the offender, the “victim”, and the religious context of Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Christians. Casper Melville in Taking Offence gives an overall perspective of the growing “culture of complaint and oversensitivity”, identifying offence and silence across religions and regions in the post-9/11 world. In particular,

he charts out a five-point plan for the media on how to handle offensive material using good judgement without compromising on freedom. The most entertaining book in the series, Giving Offence is by writer and cartoonist Martin Rowson, written from the perspective of the offending party. Interspersed with cartoons, the book discusses the role of those in the business of challenging and offending powerful interest groups, and concludes that historically, the powerful control the minds of thinking individuals and


Power players An Egyptian writer in love with the low and the lurid of his country

Friendly Fire: Fourth Estate, 220 pages, £8.99 (around Rs700).

B Y C HANDRAHAS C HOUDHURY ···························· ovelists might be usefully divided into idealists, who wish to see a better world even as they strive to faithfully portray the one that is, and realists, who interpret life in a harsher and more pessimistic way, as if to say that nothing will ever change. The Egyptian writer Alaa al Aswany is, without doubt, one of the latter. Aswany, who leapt into the consciousness of the Anglophone universe with the publication of a translation of his novel The Yacoubian Building in 2007, is a poet of the appetites and passions of a moral universe that is corrupt and doesn’t mind it. Some readers have declared him an heir to Naguib Mahfouz for his panoramic narratorial vision and interest in low-life stories, but the resemblance is really one of structure and not of spirit. Aswany is very much an original.


The Offence Series: Seagull Books, Rs395 for each. the role of those in the business of challenging and offending powerful interest groups. In Offence—The Christian Case, Irena Maryniak chronicles the sacred and the blasphemous in the post-Soviet world and the role of the Church in perpetuating silence. Brian Klug discusses how free speech is off-limits when it comes to Israel and how censorship is used to bolster a nation state riding on Judaism in Offence—The Jewish Case.

The most relevant and interesting to the Indian audience are two books in the series by Salil Tripathi and Kamila Shamsie. Shamsie’s Offence—The Muslim Case dispels the popular notion that offence is encountered in the Muslim world only when it clashes with the West. It goes on to explain that offence is a more political intra-religious agenda, where Islam is invoked against women and ethnic minorities, often without any reference to the West. This stands in clear contrast to Tripathi’s Offence—The Hindu Case where offence is presented as an inter-religious game, one where Hindu nationalists have distorted a broad and liberal religion to compete with other religious groups for attention and the limelight. Tripathi’s book, skilfully detailed yet eminently readable, is courageous in the current political context in India. He redefines and clarifies the basis of Hindutva and compels the reader to see the perverse and distorted version peddled by local politicians. He also relates how the very “depictions” found to be obscene have been part and parcel of Hinduism for centuries, and the vandalism and protests have little to do with Hinduism. Offence does many things. It gives a voice and a sense of identity to the offended class while attempting to silence and shame the offenders. The question then arises: Does one have a right to be offended? And if so, how is that right enforced? A discussion sorely neglected in the entire series is the constitutional and judicial framework within which these religious rights and civil liberties are balanced. While individuals feel offended, it is typically the state that legislates and enforces bans; and the role of the state is a part of the puzzle that is not subject to discussion in the series. The post-9/11 world has clouded many judgements, not only because the notion of multiculturalism, secularism and political correctness has changed, but because we are more scared than ever before to offend. But the cul-

ture of oversensitivity and complaint is not just a shadow of the towers of the World Trade Center. We all remember images of The Satanic Verses being burnt because it “offended Islam”. However, the fatwa on Rushdie was not about Islam, it was about politics, and Iranian leader Khomeini’s search for a domestic agenda by calling on all good Muslims to kill Rushdie and his publishers. Shamsie describes how the culture of intolerance was one fostered in search of a nation’s political identity in Pakistan. Tripathi chronicles the Hindu backlash, which started when the Muslims came into the spotlight with the Shah Bano case and the Rushdie fatwa. Like petulant children, Hindus, too, resorted to being oversensitive, offended and destructive to get a share of the attention; never mind that it came at the cost of speech, life and property. Instead of the historic tyranny of the majority, we now have the tyranny of special interest groups over the rest of the world; groups which profit abundantly from the business of getting offended. Local and national elections are won and international limelight and loyal followers are gained with just a single instance. The mere suggestion of burning a book or protesting against an artwork, or even the threat of intimidation and violence, gets attention and silences the offenders. And in the market for ideas and identity, any business that is profitable gets more investment. While these benefits are concentrated on the special interest groups feeling offended, the cost is dispersed. The cost of this profitable business of offence is not borne by the offended profiteers, but by the whole world. We pay for it with blank spaces—on our walls, in our bookshelves, in our newspapers, and our school books; and missing minutes of songs, plays and films. The future generation will pay for it with a gag order and blanks in their minds. Write to IN SIX WORDS A reader­friendly, scholarly series on religion


Friendly Fire, comprising a novella and a bunch of stories, is Aswany’s latest attempt to copy Egyptian life into a set of highly charged and coloured fiction. Since both his earlier novels, The Yacoubian Building and Chicago, spun around the lives of a dozen or so characters at the same time, one might argue that Aswany is basically a writer of short stories anyway: His interest is in character sketches that will build up into a portrait of an entire world. As with the earlier books, Friendly Fire, too, is about the brazen and self-seeking behaviour of those “well-versed in the uses of power” and the powerless ones, who feel the lash of their whips. Indian readers will find there is much that is familiar in Aswany’s portraits of politicians, heads of university departments, bureaucrats and doctors, happily feathering their nests even as they hypocritically mouth prayers and pieties. The trick in Aswany’s method, though, is in never criticizing overtly, but only showing us the world as it is. In this way, without

all too much the writer’s interpretative pressure upon the material. Aswany is not just against power and hierarchy, but also religion. In one story, The Kitchen Boy, he shows us an outstanding young doctor, Hisham, reduced to the status of kitchen attendant by his seniors so that he may suffer the same indignities that they did during their induction. Hisham’s troubles are all of man’s fashCanvas: Much of the book is set in Cairo. ioning—they are the consequence of the moralizing, he both revels in ugli- crookedness, callousness and ness and yet succeeds in making spite within society. Yet when he us feel guilty on behalf of those confides his troubles to his characters who find out, to their mother, she suggests that he pershock and despair, that “it is by form daily a religious ritual that evil laws that the world is gov- will ease his woes. Hisham relucerned”. That is the difference tantly agrees. between him and someone like Religion, in Aswany’s reading, Aravind Adiga in Between the is often like putting a blindfold Assassinations, which is also a over one’s eyes. It may be a refgood book but sometimes shows uge from injustice, but it also

allows injustice to continue. Aswany’s narrations often feature quotations from the Quran that are used ironically, such as when a man is trying to smuggle some goods through customs and begins reciting the verse about “covering their eyes so they do not see”. The other feature of Aswany’s writing is its frank sensuality, its love of pleasures both free and forbidden. “I drank of beauty until my thirst was quenched,” declares one of his protagonists, while another holds that “joy was a wild beast with vulgar features, an implacable urge lurking within everyone and everything in creation”. Such is the force of our instincts that they often overpower all propriety and reason, as when a man slips out of his father’s funeral ceremony to return to eating a dish of beans he had left behind when the news of the death came in. Chandrahas Choudhury is the author of Arzee the Dwarf. Write to





The new power puff girl

Voices in verse Tamil poetry of the last two millennia comes together in this anthology

lous sense of humour. What’s not to like about that! Cinderella may have gone upmarket, but for her to remain beloved she must remain, as always, the underdog. She can be shallow, foolish or just plain dumb, but never privileged. She is the personal assistant in The Devil Wears Prada, not a blonde, skinny model; the “rather large” hotel manager in Almost Single, not a socialite with a five-star lifestyle; the nice girl from Karol Bagh who lands the cricket captain in The Zoya Factor, not a Page 3 babe with a string of boldfaced boyfriends. And certainly not a 25-year-old bored diva leading a suitably dissipated life of excess: too many parties, too many boys (at least by good desi standards). Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan’s Arshi in You Are Here is discontented, cynical and unhappy: “The trouble with my life is that it’s like a bra strap when you put your bra on wrong.” Yes, it’s tough being young, pretty and popular in south Delhi, and life doesn’t get any worse than an ill-fitting bra. Chick-lit heroines are always striving, mostly for love, sometimes for money, always for salvation. Arshi, however, is too much the jaded sophisticate to be looking for anything; that would be way uncool. Madhavan claims her book isn’t chick lit, but it ain’t J.D. Salinger either. Just a whole lot of whining from a girl who doesn’t have much to complain about. Where Madhavan can claim a refreshing sexual candour, Faking It offers no such consolation. Tara is moody, neurotic and superficial—an Indian Becky Bloomwood without the mitigating optimism or infectious humour. Sophie Kinsella’s incurably daft “shopaholic” is the rare chick-lit heroine who already has it made, but even Becky has enough sense to revel in her good fortune rather than deride it. Explaining the appeal of chick lit, Kinsella says women “want to read books about things which they can relate to... just help them escape, entertain them, make them laugh, make them feel good”. Rule 1 in helping us do all of the above: Remember, now and forever, that the heroine of our collective romantic fantasy is Cinderella, not her cranky, entitled stepsister.

B Y S RIDALA S WAMY ······························· ny reader of Tamil poetry has to first grapple with the idea of the language itself—one both ancient and modern, whose classical literature has been handed down from at least the 2nd century and which is still read, recited, understood and engaged with. For those who do not read or understand Tamil, this new anthology of Tamil poetry is timely. What The Rapids of a Great River, edited by Lakshmi Holmström, Subashree Krishnaswamy and K. Srilata, sets out to do is to give the reader an idea of the continuities and registers of The Rapids of a Tamil poetry for the last two millenGreat River: nia. It includes selections from the Penguin, Silappadikaram and Manimekalai, 260 pages, Rs499. the Kural, Kamban’s Iramavataram and the Kuttrala Kuruvanci. The title, taken from A.K. Ramanujan’s Poems of Love and War, is a clear reference to the great river that is Tamil poetry, connecting its source—Sangam literature—with the currents of modern writing. This anthology is in two parts; the first section has translations of the classical texts—including the ones mentioned above—up until a selection from Gopalkrishna Bharati’s Nandanar Charitra Kirtthanai. The second section, beginning with poems from Subramaniam Bharati, includes work by poets such as Na. Pichamurti, Su. Vilvaratnam, Yazhan Aathi and Kutti Revathi. This deserves special mention because this section includes the works of poets who identify themselves as women, Dalit or Sri Lankan, and is what makes this anthology unique. The poetics of Sangam literature, so specific about the landscapes of akam and puram, so prescriptive of the voices and moods suitable for poetry, nearly always excluded the marginalized. How else does a modern poet who is a Dalit or a woman find herself in her own history except by reclaiming the old tales in her voice? In R. Meenakshi’s New Goddess, Sita is unafraid of Ravan, does not “summon Arjuna/ nor incite Bhima” like Draupadi does. She bound up her hair and tightened her sari. When hands prepare to break bricks as under what will become of the molester? (translation by Lakshmi Holmström). Many of the poets are in conversation with older poets. In Vilvaratnam’s The Moon’s Echo, the DINODIA story of the chieftain Pari’s defeat and the wanderings of his daughters more closely echo the original sequence of poems by Kapilar. It is impossible, however, to read it as anything but a lament of exile and displacement of the Sri Lankan Tamil. How they echo still— that month and that white moonlight, that silence of the victory drums, and the tears of Angavai and Sangavai (now become slaves) as they came down the Parambu mountain! How they echo still through this month and this white moonlight. (translation by Lakshmi Holmström). In using a number of difSymbol: The book speaks for women. ferent translations, the editors of this anthology have taken the risk of unevenness in the text, which is more apparent in the first section, where the selections have been made from existing translations. To put P.S. Sundaram’s translations of Thiruvalluvar’s Kural against Ramanujan’s of the Sangam poets seems unfair to both Sundaram and to the Kural. This Kural, for instance: Nothing can equal truthfulness in getting fame and other virtues. It does no justice to the brevity and wit of Thiruvalluvar, or to the wordplay and music of the form. In all fairness to Sundaram, not all the translations are unsuccessful; some even achieve the mystery and truthfulness of the well-turned aphorism: Swift as a hand to slipping clothes Is a friend in need. The second section is more consistent, though it is hard to say sometimes if it is consistently good or consistently misses an opportunity to make something great of the poems selected. The translations of Subramaniam Bharati are disappointing, in one instance more like a manual than a poem: All the parts work and fit precisely. The ant sleeps, mates, gives birth, runs, seeks, makes war, defends territory. (from Wind 7, translation by Prema Nandakumar). Not all translations are so uninspiring. Some, such as Cheran’s I could forget all this, are both deeply felt and skilful, the unforgettable images of war and loss juxtaposed with the repetitive cry of I could forget all this/forget it all, forget everything, and ending with the acknowledgement that some memories cannot be erased. What this anthology succeeds in doing is bringing together every important work of Tamil poetry in one book, like a kadambam, each work yielding its own fragrance from its place in the whole garland. That, in itself, is quite an achievement.

Write to Lakshmi at

Sridala Swami is a Hyderabad-based poet. Write to


Girl power: Sex and the City redefined characters in the chick­lit genre.

The new chick­lit heroine is happy, rich and shallow— not a weepy and endearing damsel in distress


here are plenty of reasons to grumble about chick lit: the puke-pink packaging, often abysmal writing, waferthin plots, or that relentless preoccupation with boys and shopping. But the real problem with chick lit these days is not the “lit” but the “chick”. In women’s literature—be it a fairy tale such as Snow White or serious fiction à la The Handmaiden’s Tale—the heroine is what sells us, the female readers, on the story. When done well, we identify with her troubles, laugh at her foibles, and cheer her on in her joy. What then are we to make of Tara Malhotra, finance expert and Newly Returned Indian, bona fide yummy mummy with a gorgeous, rich husband and adorable fouryear-old son? Amrita Chowdhury’s literary debut, Faking It (Hachette), starts with the happy ending and heads downhill in every way possible. For all the trappings of happiness, all is not well in NRI paradise. Tara is mad as hell with hubby dear for dragging her to Mumbai just to fulfil his dreary career ambitions. Fuming in her lavishly appointed luxury suite, she plots revenge. The plan: Freeze out husband, neglect child, flirt with sleazy American

man, envy air-head socialites, and buy overpriced—and, oops, fake—art. The tedious art theft angle aside, a spoilt little princess with a victim complex does not a chick-lit heroine make. It’s always a bad sign when the reader finds herself rooting not for Tara’s vindication but her richly deserved comeuppance. At her most endearing, the chick-lit heroine is the eternally distressed damsel plagued by all the usual modern-day feminine complaints. We adore Bridget Jones precisely because she is chubby, smokes too much, loves all the wrong men, and is prone to flashing her huge freckled butt on national TV. The neat little happy ending is mere icing; the true joy lies in the chaos: the petty humiliations, near and total social disasters, lapses in judgement and taste, vicissitudes of errant lovers and fate. The chick-lit archetype is a 21st century Cinderella looking for her happily-ever-after, now served with a dollop of respect and self-knowledge on the side. Our inner feminist may despair, but let’s not forget that chick-lit rescued poor old Cinders from the cellar, put her in a miniskirt with a yummy cosmo in hand and, best of all, gave her a fabu-


Faking It: Hachette India, 340 pages, Rs250.

Role play: (top) Confessions of a Shopaholic; Bridget Jones’ Diary.



Culture FILM

Timely tale: (far left, L­R) Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe arrive for the world premiere of Harry Potter and the Half­Blood Prince in London; Harry and Dumbledore in the film.

The age of Mudbloods


HOTTING UP FOR HARRY NO. 6 New twists such as a bridge collapse and an attack on the wizards, an uncle­nephew pairing and other trivia from the latest Potter flick u Ralph Fienne’s nephew,

The new Potter film asks us to embrace diversity and forget ‘purity’

B Y A NITA R OY ······························ .K. Rowling must be tired of being asked what the secret of her success is. In Delhi recently to conduct a workshop for writers of children’s literature at Max Muller Bhavan, her publisher Sarah Odedina emphatically denied that it could be put down to marketing: “That only goes so far—and to be honest, we didn’t really do much for the first three.” None of the writers—fledgling and experienced—who attended the workshop was naïve enough to believe that there is some “secret formula” which, if replicated, would result in their books achieving similar global success. Odedina herself put it down to two factors: word-of-mouth, and the author’s uncanny ability to tackle “really deep down, fundamental issues”. On 17 July, the sixth and semifinal instalment of the Potter saga will be released in India. I’m a fairly hard-core book fan, but I


have quite happily sat through the films. The books are meaty and satisfying; the films are popcorn—but I’m a happy omnivore. Much has been written on the archetypes that Harry Potter exemplifies: Analogies are drawn to myths and legends and popular stories, from the Arthurian legends to Star Wars. Cultural critics have spent happy hours gnashing their teeth that a form so apparently outdated—what with its boarding school setting, trolls and dragons and magical creatures, wands and broomsticks and fairy-tale paraphernalia—has struck such a chord with modern readers. Christopher Booker’s mammoth tome, The Seven Plots, sets out to uncover and describe…well, the title says it all, but just in case you missed the point, there’s a helpful subtitle: “Why we tell stories.” All stories, contends the author, are derived from seven basic plots: Overcoming the Monster, Rags

to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. The seven books in the Harry Potter series are so thick with plot that it is easy enough for a determined reader to classify the story under six of these—with only one, tragedy, being a bit of a stretch (though there are, certainly, tragic moments). It’s far more useful to look for specific elements that make up Harry Potter and try to understand how and why apparently dated

constructs have struck such a resounding chord with so many readers of so many ages and so many nationalities. One of the deepest and most fundamental issues that drives the plot over its 3,407 pages is that of racial purity—made explicit in the title of book 6, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. In it, Harry must discover the true identity of the mysterious “half-blood prince” whose doodles and scribbles he finds in an old textbook. This may not seem like a “deep and fundamental issue”—but it is. Voldemort and his supporters, in terms of their ideology and their dress sense, are pure Nazi. Voldemort’s final solution is a world dominated by “purebloods”. In Hogwarts, there’s a happy mixture of students who have Muggle parents (non-magical folk), some come from mixed marriages (half-blood), some magical parents have non-magical children (squibs). The worst insult you can hurl at someone—as Draco Malfoy does to Hermione Granger in book 3—is “You Mudblood!” The fundamental idea of “purity” and “impurity”, of “foreign contamination” and “keeping things in the family”, is a hugely contemporary issue in modern India. It’s easy enough to draw Three’s company: parallels between the (from left) Harry, Allies and the Order Hermione and Ron.

of the Phoenix on the good side and the Nazis and Voldemort’s Death Eaters on the other. But it doesn’t stretch the imagination too far to see among the latter those Indians who would ban inter-caste marriages and violently defend their religion’s purity from “contamination”. The modern age is often described as an “age of fundamentalism”. One could also see it as the “age of Potter”. Two sides of the same coin? The more the barriers between people are seen as contingent, permeable, easily transcended, the more vigilantly and violently they must be policed. A recent article in Newsweek, under the title “The Age of Fundamentalism”, agrees with evangelical Christian Pat Robertson that “we are in the middle of a clash of cultures. But,” the reporter goes on, “it’s not between Islam and Christianity. It’s between fundamentalists and the rest of us.” With one Bengali parent and one English one, a self-proclaimed Mudblood and proud of it, I know which side I’m on. Anita Roy is commissioning editor for the Young Zubaan list of Zubaan books. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince releases in theatres on 16 July.

Hero Fiennes­Tiffin, plays Tom Riddle at 11; he grows up to be Lord Voldemort. Apparently, he was chosen not because of his resemblance to his uncle (who plays the adult Voldemort), but because the director, David Yates, liked his “dark, haunted quality”. u When J.K. Rowling read the

film script, she found a line where Dumbledore talks about a girl he had a crush on when he was younger. She told the film­makers that Dumbledore is gay and that his only romantic infatuation was with the wizard Grindelwald. She publicly declared this information while promoting the seventh book, ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’. u An attack on a Muggle

bridge is mentioned briefly in the original opening of the sixth book. The film­makers expanded this and the result is the sequence where the Millennium bridge collapses. u The other scene that does

not appear in the book is the Death Eater attack at the Burrow. The book talks of various news reports abut attacks by Death Eaters on the wizard community. The film­makers thought showing Harry experiencing an attack, rather than just reading about it, would be more effective.

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Great singers, dud songs Pritam has done so much better than this sorry album

B Y L ALITHA S UHASINI ···························· hy is a seemingly creative composer such as Pritam churning out mediocre junk? Artistic independence and licence aside, surely the promising film-maker Imtiaz Ali and the sensible actorturned-producer Saif Ali Khan have some logic in letting studio trash make it on to the CD. Whatever it is, I’d love to be in on it. Okay, we’ve all heard worse but it has come to this finally—we’re left to scrounge around for the best pieces of garbage. Is it the belief that the masses will sing along if you play anything on repeat that lends ballast to gutless, soulless arrangements that pass for music? While everybody says there isn’t a formula to a hit, Pritam has hit upon one. If all else fails


(read Indonesian and Arabic hits), a hook from a vintage Hindi film score, some rap, and good ’ol bhangra should lift the soundtrack out of the miserable black hole where it belongs. Neeraj Sridhar, who’s been a Pritam favourite and featured in his last big banner project Billu, is back on three tracks—Twist, which is redeemed by Hemant Kumar’s Nagin, the spunky Chor Bazaari and Aahun Aahun. Chor Bazaari offers some of the best moments in the album with its wedding band horn sounds, clap beats and funk groove. Both Sridhar and Sunidhi Chauhan sound like they’re having a ball and ease you into the track effortlessly. The flute, echoes and reverb have been used impres-

Love Aaj Kal: Composed by Pritam, Eros Music, Rs149. sively on the bhangra-dub number Aahun Aahun but the high lasts all of 1 minute—as long as Master Salim is singing his bit. Sridhar’s vocals bored me to death here and the guitar parts are also completely out of place. Some of the lyrics are mindless fun, which fit a dance-y track like Twist well (Let’s have some raunak shaunak/Let’s have some party now/Let’s have some rolla

rappa/Let’s have some dhol dhamaka), and some of them are plain flat (Ye dooriyan/In raahon ki dooriyan/Nigahon ki dooriyan/Fanaa ho sab dooriyan in Dooriyan sung by Mohit Chauhan). A voice like Chauhan’s is made for poetry but Irshad Kamil’s lyrics are terribly uninspiring. Mohit Chauhan needs another reinvention after Masak Kali (Delhi-6) because he’s in danger of turning into Atif Aslam II. Dooriyan does nothing to show off his bluesy vocals and instead begs you to play back Tumse Hi from Jab We Met and never come back to this soundtrack. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, who belongs to another school of power vocals and hadn’t delivered a Bollywood dud till date, has just got himself his first one in Ajj Din Chadeya. The track

begins promisingly, and Pritam’s tried everything here—stirring harmonica lines, slick acoustic guitars. But it’s all just awful patchwork. To their credit, none of the playback singers have held back. Sunidhi Chauhan has tried to revive the senseless track Thoda Thoda Pyaar with all the spark that she could muster but the track’s as spunky as a deflated hit-me-doll. KK’s heart-to-mouth resuscitation couldn’t save Main Kya Hoon either. This isn’t about the one or two hits that will succeed in promoting the film, it’s the four vacuous numbers delivered by some of the best talent in the industry that disappoint you. The soundtrack has put me off the film, but I’ll wait for Pritam to return to form. Lalitha Suhasini is a freelance music journalist. Write to





The need for Bhattisms, a promising new online magazine for photographers, seeks to fill a void B Y H IMANSHU B HAGAT


Hit or miss: Will Jashnn, a film without stars, live up to the box office success of the banner’s earlier films? the few 1980s flicks that holds up to modern-day scrutiny. Arth belongs to a movie genre that was created and wholly owned by Mahesh Bhatt: confessional cinema. Arth is a fictionalization of Bhatt’s extramarital affair with Parveen Babi. Shabana Azmi’s character was modelled on his first wife, Kiran. Bhatt has since mined his Babi fixation into two more movies, but neither Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aayee nor Woh Lamhe matched Arth’s candour. Just as interesting as Saaransh and Arth are the minor movies that Bhatt rolled out from the late 1980s, until the mid-1990s. Many of them were low-budget melodramas about working-class families or middle-class couples. Tucked into the formulaic three-act structure was a skewering of hypocrisy. Thikana, starring Anil Kapoor and Smita Patil as siblings, has a wonderful scene in which Kapoor, an unemployed lawyer, and his mother react to news of his sister’s love affair with a cop with anxiety rather than happiness. They’re worried that if she gets married, there’ll be nobody left to support them. Before Madhur Bhandarkar, but without his deeply conserva-

Maverick: Director Mahesh Bhatt. tive streak, Bhatt explored the lives of deviants and misfits in Naam, Sadak, Sir and Angaarey. One of his nicest films is Zakhm, in which the 1992-93 communal riots in Mumbai force a director to revisit the rejection of his Muslim mother by his Hindu father’s family. The flip side of Bhatt’s career has been his tendency to recycle Hollywood movies. For instance, Sir Indianizes To Sir, with Love, Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin is a faithful imitation of It Happened

One Night. Bhatt churned out movies so quickly in the 1990s that it was rumoured that he directed over the phone. It shows in clunkers such as Saatwan Aasman, Criminal and Naaraaz. All that photocopying seems to have tired him out. He and his brother now devote their energies to propping up the career of their nephew, Hashmi, and discovering new talent. Jashnn is likely to recover its investment even though its leads, Adhyayan Suman and Anjana Sukhani, are not even remotely approaching stardom. Vishesh Films has an enviable record at the box office although its movies don’t have big stars. What Vishesh Films has is tight budgets (making box-office recovery easier), a tabloid editor’s eye for sensational subjects, chart-topping songs, and characters who resemble the people sitting in the front and rear stalls of movie halls. Not very different from the films Mahesh Bhatt used to make in his heyday. Nandini Ramnath is film editor, Time Out Mumbai. ( Write to Nandini at

Rapids and tarantulas What to expect in Sony’s new show, where celebs battle for survival in a Malaysian jungle B Y S ANJUKTA S HARMA

···························· fter weeks of foundering viewer ratings, the revamped Sony TV may have found a show that can catapult it back into the thick of TRP wars. Wouldn’t you watch a show in which television stars brave poisonous insects and dangerous rapids, and fight for their dinner in the middle of a rain forest? The Indian version of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!, originally produced in the US for the NBC television network, is called Iss Jungle se Mujhe Bachao!, and it airs next week on Sony. The shooting for the show begins today in a Malaysian forest. In reality television, much of the





··············· ndian photography has no home,” says the manifesto of Creators Akshay Mahajan, 23, and Kapil Das, 28, decided to give it one in the form of this site, which bills itself as an online photography magazine, and features photo series on different subjects and themes. The enterprising duo initially wanted to showcase works by photographers from South Asia only, but Toran Natak then decided to broaden Company: the scope of the webzine Images by and include photos Kapil Das. taken anywhere in Asia. So, in addition to India-based subjects, there are features on seductive advertising billboards in Seoul, the androgynous “Lady Boys” in Siem Reap in Cambodia and nomadic life in Mongolia. More and more young men and women are opting for photography as a career in India but, according to Mahajan, there is little available to them by way of support and mentoring. They are mostly self-taught and often work as freelancers for media and advertising firms. “There are good and talented photographers, (but) I feel that they are not able to match their talent to the opportunities available,” he says. In the process of showing new photos, he and Das hope to build a community of like-minded photographers. There is also a growing tribe of amateurs for whom photography is a serious hobby and Blindboys doesn’t want to restrict itself only to the pros. “I feel that (in Indian media) very often the same stories get told over and over again,” says Mahajan. “I see this as a platform to tell new stories.” The photographs on the website are an encouraging collection of works by young photographers, both Indian and international—Das’ series on the Toran Natak Company, a travelling theatre troupe in Gujarat, captures a day in their life and their resilience in the face of dwindling audiences with wryly comic and poignant touches; Aditya Kapoor’s images of Muslim patrons—men and women, friends and families—posing in front of the camera at a photo studio transcend the local and the particular to present a portrait of humanity that is earnest, life embracing and also fragile; and Qinn Ryan Mattingly’s images of Mongolian nomads against flat fields and vast skies are a meditation on both man and nature. Then there are two intriguing and wacky series featuring old, retrieved black and white photographs of one Charli Bikaner—supposedly a private eye who “mysteriously disappeared” 48 years ago. From the photos—which have archival rather than artistic value— Bikaner seems like a strange old man bent on acting out his silver-screen fantasies. “It’s a good start,” says the celebrated photographer Pablo Bartholomew about Blindboys, but adds that there is room for improvement. “The look of the site is decent, but the images require editing and better intro writing.” The real test, according to him, lies in being able to consistently source quality photos over time.


Is ‘Jashnn’ the ghost­comeback of the self­proclaimed enfant terrible of 1980s Bollywood?

ntil a couple of years ago, Mahesh Bhatt was here, there and everywhere. If you opened the newspaper or switched on the television, you would find Bhatt holding forth on such diverse topics as IndiaPakistan relations and Mumbai’s drainage system. Bhatt was on speed dial for most entertainment journalists trying to fill their pages and shows. The cruel joke among hacks was that Bhatt had nothing better to do in any case after he took his director’s hat off. These days, the Bhatt megaphone seems to have been silenced by more proficient rent-a-quotes. His brother, producer Mukesh Bhatt, makes more news. Mukesh Bhatt is the financial brain behind Vishesh Films, which has made a star out of the histrionically challenged Emraan Hashmi. The banner’s latest movie, Jashnn, opens on 17 July, and there is talk that Mahesh Bhatt has a lot to do with the way the movie has turned out. According to the Bollywood grapevine, Mahesh Bhatt has ghost-directed Jashnn, which would make the musical drama a semi-comeback for the self-proclaimed enfant terrible of the 1980s. There’s actually no better time than now for Bhatt to return fulltime to film-making. Bhattisms are still welcome if they’re in the shape of films, rather than in the form of newspaper quotes and television sound bites. Bhatt has managed to sprinkle his masala mixes with a great deal of emotional and sexual honesty. The country could do with a jaundiced take on marriage or a street-level view of class divide in urban India. Bhatt’s most well-received films have been, of course, Saaransh and Arth. Saaransh, about an elderly couple’s attempt to find closure after the sudden death of their only son, is one of

A reason to smile

ratings battle is won by who the contestants are, and Sony hasn’t yet revealed a winning line-up. Kapil Dev was approached, but he declined, so did Mithun Chakraborty’s son Mimoh Chakraborty. Television stars Shweta Tiwari, Chetan Hansraj and Aman Verma, and former model Marc Robinson, among others, will battle to survive in extreme conditions to win the title of king and queen of the jungle and the prize money. Expect desperate measures to grab eyeballs, and some entertainment in return. Barely two months ago, Sony told us the show was going to take at least four months to air. But it put everything together within weeks. The decision to air ahead of the original American show on Star

World, which premieres on 21 July, should work in its favour. A preview of the first episode of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! gave us a fair idea of what to expect from the Indian version. Eleven celebrities—including Sanjaya Malakar, the Indian-origin contestant in 2007’s American Idol who sports a Mohawk hair-do; Janice Dickinson, a former supermodel; the Baldwin brothers, Daniel and Stephen; John Salley, a former NBA star; and television actor couple Spencer and Heidi Pratt—are split into two teams and flown in to a jungle in Costa Rica, straight into a river with dangerous rapids. They swim their way out of it to arrive at the base camp, where the action unfolds. It’s clear in the first few minutes that much of the contestants’ behaviour is choreographed for conflict. The Pratts are the villains whose disdain for the lesserknown celebrities is loud and

For real: I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! is shot in Costa Rica. offensive. Stephen spouts witty one-liners and sexual puns. Dickinson is aggressive and blunt in her opinions about the others; and Malakar, the youngest contestant, seems the happiest to be there, flashing a wide grin at all times. The drama gains momentum when Spencer picks a fight with three of the contestants after they react to his brashness. The couple decides to leave and makes a desperate call to NBC to let them go. But the emissary never arrives and they are marooned

like everyone else. As night progresses, the “ick” factor begins to kick in. The 11 contestants are split into two groups— men and women—and asked to participate in a contest to win a chicken and pineapple dinner. Two contestants from each team have to eat whatever they’re served and whoever finishes first gets a point. On the menu—cow’s intestine milkshake, a live grasshopper, an iguana’s tail, and scorpions, among other tasty titbits. Then there are physically

demanding tasks to be completed in the wild terrain and some Survivor- and Fear Factor-like challenges, such as spending 5 minutes in a tub full of crawling tarantulas. In the middle of all this, most contestants in the American version take the opportunity to spread the message about the good causes they champion. I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! aired on NBC when things were at a low ebb at the network. The transitions, the conversations and the stunts have the hook, although barring three or four contestants, no one has the personality to add that extra zing. Perhaps 11 is too big a number to choose good reality TV talent. Can the Indian contestants do justice to the concept? Sony is hopeful they will at least up the TRPs. Iss Jungle se Mujhe Bachao!, premiering on Sony on 13 July, will air from Monday to Thursday, at 10pm. I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! will air on Star World on Monday and Tuesday at 9pm, beginning 21 July.





Timeless: (left) Anand at his home in Bandra; (below) a scene from the colour version of Hum Dono, to be released later this year.


The young hero’s senior banner In its 60th year, Dev Anand’s Navketan Films is assured of a place in history


nand, on 42, Pali Hill is a rubble of wet cement and glass. Hidden partly by foliage and fortressed by high walls, the three-storey building, being rebuilt, housed Navketan Films and the Anand studio, the workplace of cinema legend Dev Anand. When I met Devsaab recently at his new, makeshift office close to Anand, he urged me to take a look at the old building. His joie de vivre was infectious. In his animated, hyperbolic way, he said: “I’ve done only a few films outside of Navketan; it’s really my favourite baby. You should go see, there are so many memories...” When I requested him to accompany me, he said, “I’m not going there until the work is done.” He hopes to return to a compact, spanking new studio. I visited Anand on the same rainy afternoon that I interviewed its vivacious, octogenarian owner. Behind the imposing wooden gate were heaps of construction debris. In Pali Hill, home to many of yesteryear’s film stars, Anand is a landmark. It stands next to where Dev Anand’s elder brother, Chetan Anand, once had a bungalow. It doesn’t exist any more, but that was where Navketan, the banner,


The most successful films from the Navketan stable. Baazi (1951) The directorial debut of Guru Dutt was a film about urban crime. During its making, Dutt and Geeta Roy met and fell in love. Taxi Driver (1954) Dev Anand played the title role and Kalpana Karthik, his future wife, a singer in search of her guru. They fall in love in big, bad Mumbai. Hum Dono (1961) A romance based on mistaken identity; Dev Anand played a double role. The film will be released in colour this year. was born, named after Chetan Anand’s eldest child, Ketan. Chetan Anand, a teacher at Doon School, Dehra Dun, arrived in Mumbai in the 1940s with his wife Uma and moved into the bungalow. Uma Anand writes in Chetan Anand: The Poetics of Film, a book she co-authored with son Ketan: “We found a big, rumbling, tumble-down bungalow on a hillside in Pali Hill, Bandra. We could see distant hills and woods from the window...Bandra was

Guide (1965) Vijay Anand directed this film, widely considered Navketan’s biggest film. Based on R.K. Narayan’s book, Dev Anand played Raju, a tourist guide, in love with a married woman played by Waheeda Rahman. It was nominated in the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars in 1966. Jewel Thief (1967) A crime thriller directed by VIjay Anand, it had Dev Anand, Vyjayanthimala and Ashok Kumar in lead roles. A sequel, ‘Return of Jewel Thief’, was made three decades later. considered far out and Pali Hill an exclusive retreat.” An intellectual and creative coterie soon began to form in what the family fondly calls “a chummery”. Balraj Sahni, Geeta Roy (later Dutt), Zohra Sehgal, Ravi Shankar, Guru Dutt and others talked movies and art in the bungalow’s sprawling rooms. This chummery was a Mumbai institution of sorts in the 1940s— stories and stars were born, scripts were written and friendships

formed and broken. The banner came into being in 1949, formed by Chetan and Dev Anand after the successful run of Chetan Anand’s first film, Neecha Nagar (1946). Around 40 memorable films since then have ensured Navketan a place in film history, but it hasn’t been an easy journey. Brothers Chetan and Vijay Anand, both dead, went on to form their own banners. Dev Anand’s Navketan Films is being managed by his son Suneil Anand, but there is no creative successor to speak of. After Vijay Anand split from Navketan, Dev Anand was consumed by the idea of writing, producing, directing and acting himself, often with disastrous results. The last big film he made was Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971), which launched Zeenat Aman. In its 60th year, Navketan continues to be nurtured by Dev Anand, but its legacy rests on films made by all three brothers. Chetan Anand, a lover of Sanskrit and Van Gogh paintings, who spent five years of his childhood in a gurukul in Haridwar, completed his master’s in English literature in England, and later became the only Indian filmmaker to have made a film, Heer Ranjha, entirely in verse. Dev Anand, also an English literature graduate from Lahore College, whose screen persona is larger than life, remains a star at the age of 86. Vijay “Goldie” Anand, the youngest brother, completed his college education in Mumbai and went on to become a master storyteller and visualizer. In the 1960s, after he directed Guide (1965) with Dev Anand in the lead, he was considered one of Hindi cinema’s big hopes. Author and documentary film-maker Nasreen Muni Kabeer says: “Vijay Anand did not encourage the camera to show off its skills nor allow anything gimmicky to distract us from the poetic and deep meaning of the words. In the famous song Abhi na jao chod kar from Guide, the director knows what he’s got and what will carry the scene. Forty years after seeing the film, I can close my eyes and see the scene unfurl.” Dev Anand will celebrate the 60th year of Navketan with the rerelease of one of his many hits, Hum Dono (1961), in colour. Written by Vijay Anand, with a beautiful musical score by Jaidev, it will be in theatres by October. HarperCollins India has commissioned a coffee-table book to be penned by Mumbai-based journalist Siddharth Bhatia. Bhatia, who has already interviewed Dev Anand a number of times, says: “Navketan is an uncelebrated, unsung hero. It is the longest single-owned company in the industry and some of the films are path-breaking.” Ketan Anand, who assisted his father in the making of some films, hopes to launch Vaibhav Anand, son of Vijay Anand, in a film to be produced and directed under the banner Himalaya Films, which Chetan Anand had launched. And of course, there’s Dev Anand’s next. Chargesheet, a suspense thriller, in which he plays the lead and Naseeruddin Shah has an important role, is nearing completion. “I play a retired policeman who has solved many cases and mysteries in his career and is about to solve the biggest one... I can’t say more now,” Anand says. He has been criticized, often ruthlessly and justifiably, for his self-indulgent experiments but when I ask him if that’s a criticism he took to heart, he said with amazing clarity, “When I get an idea, I obsess about how it’ll be on screen. The day I’m idle, I’ll be no more.” Who will carry on Navketan’s creative mantle, I ask. He flashes his smile, as if posing for a camera, and says, “I will.”





hen I tasted my best friend’s mother’s fish curry, it had tamarind in it. I was so horrified by a fish preparation that was sour that I had to wrestle with my better self not to spit it out”. That was my neighbour Sweta talking about her classmate who, like her, is Bengali. You wouldn’t expect such a yawning chasm between the cooking style of one family and another in the same state, would you? However, approximately 40% of Kolkata’s Bengali population is not from West Bengal at all, but originates from across the border, in what is now Bangladesh. For both communities, their respective cooking styles are badges of honour—and difference—to be held aloft at all times, particularly during matches: both matrimonial and football. Sweta’s side of the family is originally from Bangladesh, which makes her a Bangal. On the other side of the fence are the Ghotis, or those whose roots are in West Bengal. There’s little in common between these communities in taste: Ghotis favour the mild, sweet taste, while Bangals routinely use more chillies in their food as well as the assertive ground mustard paste that is known as kasundi. According to Sweta, Bangals have a far greater range of fish in their repertoire—pabda, bata, boal and the king of them all, the mighty ilish, or hilsa, of which the best specimens come from the river Padma in Bangladesh. Dried fish, or shutki maachh, is a favourite among Bangals, whereas no Ghoti worth his salt would ever touch it. The hallmark of Bangal food, says Sweta, is the laborious preparation that goes into each dish, but then, she can hardly be accused of being an impartial observer. On the other hand, Ghotis prefer bigger fish, such as rohu and katla. They like the sweet taste in virtually all their food, so you can expect a smidgen of sugar in even a simple vegetable gravy. The contrary is true as well: They favour a certain amount of sourness too, including in fish curries, which makes Bangals gape in horror. Ghotis are extremely partial to maacher tauk, a gravy preparation that is distinctly sour. To Ghotis, chochchari is a vegetarian dish; to Bangals, it is incomplete without the addition of small fish (see recipe). Nothing defines the cooking of the two communities as much as poppy seed. The mild, nutty spice—variously called khus khus and poshto—is used in sparing quantities in Bangal households. Sweta uses about 200g a month for a family of four, with a fair amount of entertaining. Her sister who has married into a Ghoti household, goes through no less than 4kg a month. Parval, or ridge gourd, and potatoes are cooked with generous quantities of khus khus, but there’s also ground khus khus chutney and deep-fried patties made of the spice. INDRANIL BHOUMIK/MINT

Hot favourite: For Bengalis of all hues, nothing can beat the hilsa.

Chochchari, the Bangal way Serves 4 Ingredients 250g mourala fish, cleaned and left whole (or any other small fish which can be cooked whole and doesn’t require slitting or cutting) ½ tsp kalonji (onion seeds) 2 green chillies 1 medium-size onion 150g potatoes 250g brinjal 1 tsp turmeric 1 tsp jeera powder 1 tsp red chilli powder Salt to taste Method Wash the fish, pat dry, then deep-fry till crisp and set aside. Cut potatoes and brinjal into thick, evenly-sized batons. To speed up the cooking time, you could pressure-cook the potatoes before cutting them. Fry sliced onions till translucent, then add all the spices. Add the vegetables and sauté, using as little water as possible. When they are almost done, add the salt and the fried fish and cook on low heat till all trace of moisture evaporates. Write to Marryam at

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Lounge 11 july  

Weekend Magazine of Mint

Lounge 11 july  

Weekend Magazine of Mint