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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Vol. 5 No. 8

LOUNGE THE WEEKEND MAGAZINE

BUSINESS LOUNGE WITH ADOBE’S SHANTANU NARAYEN >Page 8

HOW BAANTOOL WAS BEATEN BY ENGLISH

With the first comic books convention opening today, we find out if the once robust regional language tradition can be revived >Page 9

SCENTS AND SENSUALITY

Just sexy or good enough to eat—how to choose the right perfume for the right result >Page 12

The audacious film­maker on life­altering moments, inspiration from his poet father, his cricketing years and why he wants to compose a Western classical symphony >Page 10 PUBLIC EYE

THE ART OF GIGAPIXELS Google’s Art Project uses technology that reveals details otherwise invisible to the naked eye >Page 17

THE GOOD LIFE

SUNIL KHILNANI

OUR DAILY BREAD

SHOBA NARAYAN

SAMAR HALARNKAR

DON’T MISS

in today’s edition of

MAHATMA GANDHI SURVIVING A YEAR BLUNDERING ON EGYPT’S STREETS WITHOUT SHOPPING TOWARDS BRUNCH

W

hen, some years ago, Apple Computers used an image of Mahatma Gandhi to advertise their software, exhorting us to “Think Different”, I was one of many Indians who were irritated, even offended. Here was idealism being subordinated to crass commercialism. Yet recent events, from Tunisia to Egypt, have given a certain aptness to the unlikely pairing of corporate technology and radical political imagination. In West Asia, the Internet and its creations... >Pages 4­5

I

t was the summer of 1845. The Irish potato famine raged. In Leipzig, after six years of hard work, Felix Mendelssohn’s piercing and pathos-laden Violin Concerto in E minor premiered to a stupefied audience. Sarah Chang, Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman and Anne-Sophie Mutter have all played it, but Janine Jansen’s rendering will make your hair stand on edge with its “double-stopping” notes reminiscent of Carnatic brigas. That same year, in Concord... >Page 6

I

t’s a bright and sunny late winter’s day in Delhi. But I don’t feel so sunny. The baby demanded milk at 11.30pm and 3.30am, before deciding the night was over at 5.45am. She smiled and chortled brightly from her crib while I groaned, muttered unfatherly abuses and hoisted the burbling tyke out, her little legs cycling furiously in delight. So, this is what Sunday looks like. The baby’s breakfast has to be made, ragi and yellow of egg. >Page 7

PHOTO ESSAY

FAST TRACK BANGALORE


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

PRIYA RAMANI DEPUTY EDITORS

SEEMA CHOWDHRY SANJUKTA SHARMA MINT EDITORIAL LEADERSHIP TEAM

R. SUKUMAR (EDITOR)

NIRANJAN RAJADHYAKSHA (MANAGING EDITOR)

ANIL PADMANABHAN TAMAL BANDYOPADHYAY NABEEL MOHIDEEN MANAS CHAKRAVARTY MONIKA HALAN VENKATESHA BABU SHUCHI BANSAL SIDIN VADUKUT (MANAGING EDITOR, LIVEMINT)

FOUNDING EDITOR RAJU NARISETTI ©2011 HT Media Ltd All Rights Reserved

HOME PAGE L3

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

LOUNGE REVIEW | MOTOROLA DEFY

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he biggest problem with a smartphone today is just how fragile it is. If you’re splurging on a high-end device and taking it everywhere with you, you’ll need to treat it like a Chinese Ming vase. That means protective cases, screen guards, frequent wipes and persistent carefulness. Or you could get the Motorola Defy. This new Android-powered phone is supposedly “Life-proof”—water-resistant, rugged and scratch-free, thanks to a covering of Gorilla Glass on its 3.7-inch screen. The phone definitely looks the part. It’s built like a Lenovo ThinkPad—it has a hard-as-nails quality to it, flaps covering the USB and earpiece slots, a solid plastic back and intimidatingly visible screws. In our tests, it withstood drops, flicks and tentative dips in glasses of water with

admirable equanimity.

The good All Android phones these days seem like missing links, filling in tiny little niches and gaps in India’s ever-expanding choice of phones. The Defy is no different—it stands right in between the middle-range Android phones (priced at `11,000-15,000) and the beginning of the high-end smartphones (like the Nokia N8, at `23,000). The phone sports a fast 800 Mhz processor, making it the only phone on which Motorola’s awful “Motoblur” interface is tolerable. We’d still swap it for one of the many launchers available on the Android market (Zeam, for instance) but Android works fast and zippy on this one. The phone has a decent 5 MP camera, though it is missing a physical button to click photos. It has the wonderful Swype input system, which really should be standard on any touch-screen phone from this point onwards.

The not­so­good All Android phones work on the procrastination principle. Some day in the future, it will feel complete. The many quirks of daily Android use apply here as well, especially since the Defy comes with version 2.1, which is now painfully ancient. An update, however, is due in a few months. Battery life is, as always, an issue, but it’s not noticeably bad on the Defy as it is in other Mo to ro la phon e s. The r e r e al ly aren’t too many glaring flaws with this handset—the hardware is fantastic, and Android eminently usable for most tasks.

Talk plastic At `18,990, the Defy is a good phone for its price. It’s faster than the mid-range phones, looks and feels like an expensive product, is much more capable of running system-hogging apps, and, of course, easier to keep safe from the dangers of daily misuse. Krish Raghav

LOUNGE LOVES | BHIMAYANA

Ambedkar through Gond eyes Tribal artists reimagine BR Ambedkar’s life in a free­wheeling graphic novel

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et’s start off by saying that this is a graphic novel with three kinds of speech bubbles: a bird speech bubble for victims of discrimination, another that looks like a venomous snake to carry harsh words and a third—drawn evocatively with a mind’s eye—as a thought bubble. Bhimayana, the graphic biography of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar published by Navayana, which calls itself India’s only anti-caste publishing house, offers many reasons to become a permanent resident on your bookshelf. First, it is the book’s stunning visual idiom. Gond artists Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam, who live in Bhopal, were brought in to create the 104-page book. Since the Vyams don’t read, the text and the storyboard was narrated to them over a period of two years. Traditionally, the Gonds, a tribe from central India, paint on mud walls with organic colours. While Durgabai has illustrated children’s books before this, sequential art was a new thing to attempt, one that horrified her initially. She and her husband came up with the idea of using a digna—earth panels used by the Gonds for their wall art—to separate the different visual elements on a page. The narrative, peppered with newspaper clippings, fleshes out the story of the man rele-

gated to being “the architect of India’s Constitution”. It takes readers back to Ambedkar’s early experiences with discrimination because he was a Mahar, then considered untouchables. From the proto-

Bhimayana: Navayana, 204 pages, `395.

ON THE COVER: PHOTOIMAGING: MANOJ MADHAVAN/MINT

col he had to follow at his school’s water taps to how no one would give him a place to stay in Vadodara after he returned from his stints at Columbia University and the London School of Economics. The imagery, seemingly naive, is semiotic at best. An early episode recounts how a young Ambedkar and his three brothers were denied water over a long journey. The Vyams show this with a fish inside his stomach. Later, when Ambedkar accepts an invitation from the villagers of Chalisgaon to spend a night at their village, their happiness is conveyed by a dancing peacock. In another instance, a water tank whose construction Ambedkar is supervising appears like a fish, with its fins making room for narrative text. The art is bound by no sense of perspective or proportion, it follows no rules, and in this it excels. It is the text (by Anand and Srividya Natarajan) that fails. It is trite and preachy in parts, though the fact that Navayana’s publisher, S. Anand, is hoping Bhimayana will one day be picked up by the government and used as a textbook justifies the book’s tone to an extent. This is a self-conscious publishing effort, with a foreword by the Booker Prize-winning John Berger, book jacket recommendations by Arundhati Roy, and an entire chapter devoted to its production process. But somehow, all of it seems pertinent, just like the story of Ambedkar itself. Anindita Ghose


L4 COLUMNS

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

PUBLIC EYE

SUNIL KHILNANI

GANDHI ON EGYPT’S

REVOLUTIONARY STREETS W

Momentous: (clockwise from right) Protesters in Tahrir Square, Cairo, rest near graffiti referring to the social networking site Facebook; protesters at the Square; and a boy waving the Egyptian and Tunisian flags in Tunis after Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak stepped down.

hen, some years ago, Apple Computers used an image of Mahatma Gandhi to advertise their software, exhorting us to “Think Different”, I was one of many Indians who were irritated, even offended. Here was idealism being subordinated to crass commercialism. Yet recent events, from Tunisia to Egypt, have given a certain aptness to the unlikely pairing of corporate technology and radical political imagination. In West Asia, the Internet and its creations enabled political activists to organize against their hated leaders, bringing protesters on to the streets and into the public squares in an extraordinary non-violent movement that has upended fossilized regimes. Equally striking, it appears that some of the youthful Facebookers and Tweeters in Cairo and Alexandria were indirectly the progeny of Gandhian ideas and practices. An American named Gene Sharp—a guru among non-violent activists, and a lifelong scholar of Gandhi and the Indian freedom movement— was a major source of tactical instruction to Egyptian protesters on how unarmed citizens can take on repressive dictatorships. A group of young Egyptian expatriates based in Qatar founded the Academy of Change—probably rather grander sounding in its title than in reality—and the Web nerds among them turned out to be close readers of Sharp’s work. The 83-year-old Sharp is very much Pre-Twitter Man. His main work is a 900-page book,

Politics of Nonviolent Action. Sharp developed a rich repertoire of practices for non-violent protesters: They include removing one’s clothes in front of police and government officials, tying oneself to the railings of official buildings, and satirical street theatre. Sharp learned a key Gandhian lesson well: Power can be at its most vulnerable when the powerless are able to embarrass and shame its doings. When that happens, people cease any longer to believe in the emperor’s robes—and in his power. A cliché of recent weeks is that, in Tunis and in Cairo, the revolution was televised. Al-Jazeera and CNN were at once reporting and in some ways making the news. When videos—often showing the regimes’ brutality—circulated on

YouTube, they added fuel to the protests. But the often accompanying claims about Egypt being the first Facebook or Twitter revolution are no doubt exaggerated. Though a virtual uprising directed and galvanized the movements, these revolts—like every major popular revolt in history—were achieved by the massing of bodies in public squares, by the shouting of rousing slogans in city streets, and by the bravery of individuals willing to risk their lives for freedom. In that sense, the Tahrir Square uprising was in a great tradition that stretches back to Paris in the summer of 1789. As I listened to the reports coming out of Tahrir, the central square of Cairo seemed in mid-winter to take on the air of carnival, with encamped families and strangers eating, singing,

Cyber­democracy, like every form of modern democracy, has been extremely effective in booting out the hated, at ridding a people of their despised rulers. But, like modern democracy, it is much less able to actually render power to the people talking—and protesting. I was reminded of August 1980, when I walked through the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk, as Lech Walesa led a decisive confrontation with the Polish generals. Whatever mobilization Facebook facilitates, there is still no more potent image of political power than that of massed individuals demanding their rights. More power rests in that than in the heaviest tank, the sleekest missile, the highest security wall, or the most befriended Facebook page. The spark that actually set off the protests that brought people into the streets, first in Tunis, then Cairo and Alexandria, and now east of there, was the self-immolation by a 26-year-old university graduate, Mohamed Bouazizi. Nothing virtual about that. Yet there is little doubt that STEVE CRISP/REUTERS

new technologies have been an important driver in the events sweeping the Arab world and Iran. Gandhi was himself one of the early adopters of new technologies of mass communication—in particular, the cinematic image. His artful choreography of the 1930 march to Dandi immediately made the event a world-famous climax to his Salt Satyagraha. Before he set off for Dandi, he handpicked three film crews and several photographers to accompany him. They did so, following him in motor cars, and the jiggly, grainy footage they shot would be screened across the world. The image of the Mahatma, striding across the dusty plains leading his band of followers, was burned into the imaginations of millions—the stick man showing up the imperial blimps. But if Gandhi was a masterful manipulator of image and information, as well as a great mobilizer of people around spectacular events, he was equally a master-architect of organizations—able to build strong chains of command, and nurture lasting loyalties. He transformed the Congress from an annual tea party into an enduring movement—creating at once a language of association and belonging as well as forms of mobilization and action. This was harder for him to do than we may care to remember, and the feat remains hard, even in the age of instant communication. Nowadays, our imaginations are dominated by the metaphor of the “network”—a noun that has become a verb, a word that gleams with the possibilities of global connections, and that offers the illusion of permanent MANOOCHER DEGHATI/AP

ZOUBEIR SOUISSI/ REUTERS


COLUMNS L5

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM GANDHI, PHAIDON,

out-of-body experiences via the blue vistas of the WorldWideWeb. The term is itself networked to a cluster of terms—connectivity, and now through the social network, terms such as “contacts” or “friends”. Those words require their quote marks, for they aren’t quite what they claim to name. The social Net is both an efficient and an etiolated version of human relationships, and of the politics that arise through such associations. Facebook’s essence is marketing. It is magnificent at creating waves of interest, at generating fashion. It is less effective at sustaining loyalty. This is true of much of what happens on the Internet. Recall for a moment US President Barack Obama’s electoral campaign. It was a paragon of Internet mobilization, raising funds and motivating voters. But it did not last beyond Obama’s election victory. The power and fragility of Internet mobilization is encapsulated in the metaphor we use to describe something that gains mass attention on the Internet: “going viral”. It’s like a mysterious fever—that equally mysteriously subsides. It’s also important to recognize that even as Facebook and Twitter are being hailed as great liberating technologies, they are still commercial operations, whose owners are subject to profit imperatives. While the sites bask in their current free publicity, what’s notable is just how desperate their owners are not to appear aligned with the political movements in Egypt and elsewhere. It’s bad for business, as they seek to expand into other neighbouring despotisms. And as much satisfaction as we get at tyrants being taken down, we should also step back

2002/W IKIMEDIA

COMMONS

GHALI KHALED/AFP

DYLAN MARTINEZ/REUTERS

The protagonists: (clockwise from left) Google employee Wael Ghonim, who was arrested during the Egypt revolt, addresses a crowd after his release; Gandhi’s Dandi March images helped spread his message worldwide; and ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak (left) and his Tunisian counterpart Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 1991.

and note that technology is giving more weight to the agendas of educated middle classes than to those of the poor. Popular uprisings can never be domesticated, but technology facilitates the illusion of control—rebellion you can plan on a Friday night with your “friends”. It offers the desk-bound a feeling of potency, transforming them at once into activists and leaders. It’s important to recognize the limits of what these new tools can do for political movements. Yet the limits don’t nullify the

power. Because the Internet is so effective in spreading information quickly, it can rapidly corrode entrenched and oppressive power. We do need to extend its reach. That, of course, goes against what many governments would prefer. As protests escalated in Egypt, Mubarak tried to shut down the Internet; other Arab countries tried to block access to the social Net. In China—where access to Facebook is anyway restricted—it became impossible to search the word “Egypt”. Even the US is ambivalent

about the political implications of the Internet. While the US state department funds efforts to create mechanisms that can prevent Internet shutdowns by repressive governments, and advocates a policy of Internet freedom, the same US government has attacked WikiLeaks and called for the closure of that website. In India, governments don’t have to worry about shutting down the Internet. Power failures ensure a certain randomness of access for those who try to go on the Web. That access is anyway restricted to less than 70 million

subscribers—a minuscule percentage of the citizenry. In India, it is economics—poverty— that keeps most people shut out of the cyber world. That’s ironic. Poverty, after all, has been the wellspring of revolution. But now, a disconnect appears to emerge between the poor and those who have access to the technological instruments that help to make revolution. The interests of the Google executive and the vegetable seller may sometimes and momentarily align—above all, when they both recognize a profoundly hated enemy, a despot or tyrant, as has happened in Egypt in the past few weeks. But the interests of the Google executive and the vegetable seller are less likely to align than diverge.

The world of social networks is a world of clear-cut preferences: Like/Don’t like. That’s what makes it so effective and emphatic in the short term. It’s also what limits it as a political tool. Cyber-democracy, in this respect like every form of modern democracy, has proved itself extremely effective in booting out the hated, at ridding a people of their despised rulers. But, again like every variety of modern democracy, it is much less able to actually render power to the people, to let them rule for themselves. The last people who really managed to do that were the ancient Athenians—many cyber worlds away from us. So let us have the Internet to protect us from political malignity; but don’t imagine it’s a tool of democratic justice. Building a just state is a tedious, constant effort of increment and correction. Democracy may come virally, but it isn’t sustained that way. As modern Egyptians will soon learn as they work to build their nascent democracy, the routine life of modern liberty is dogged with disappointment, but essential for all that. I’ll be reading of its progress on the Internet. Sunil Khilnani is the author of The Idea of India and is currently working on a new book, India in Search of Wealth and Power. Later this year, he will become director of the India Institute at King’s College, London. Write to him at publiceye@livemint.com

www.livemint.com Read Sunil’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/sunil­khilnani


L6 COLUMNS

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

SHOBA NARAYAN THE GOOD LIFE

Can you survive a year without shopping?

I

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

t was the summer of 1845. The Irish potato famine raged. In Leipzig, after six years of hard work, Felix Mendelssohn’s piercing and pathos-laden Violin Concerto in E minor premiered to a stupefied audience. Sarah Chang, Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman

and Anne-Sophie Mutter have all played it, but Janine Jansen’s rendering will make your hair stand on edge with its “double-stopping” notes reminiscent of Carnatic brigas. That same year, in Concord, Massachusetts, the 28-year-old son of an American pencil maker bought 14 acres of wooded forest land, built himself a small home and embarked on a two-year experiment in simple living. That man’s name was Henry David Thoreau and the result of his project was Walden, a seminal book that examines the notion of self, solitude, simplicity and living with nature. Thoreau retreated to the woods to pursue the Socratic ideal of the examined life. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,” he wrote. “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…” Prodigious ambition for one so young. Withdrawal and restraint are recurring philosophical themes in pretty much every culture, ranging from Plato’s allegory of the cave, to Vedic philosophy’s injunction about controlling the five senses or Pancha Mahabhootas as a path to enlightenment. My own experiment with self-control didn’t begin at Walden Pond but in my own home. Over

Christmas, I looked into my closet and confronted the eternal feminine dilemma: so many clothes and yet, nothing to wear. This happens to most of us. The Cavalli gown that Niira Radia told Ratan Tata about had never been worn for a reason—it probably looked wonderful on the mannequin but perhaps lost its sheen once it moved to her closet. What is your relationship with the objects you own? Do you enjoy them or do you tolerate them simply because they are there? Do you enjoy having a lot of things or does it bother you to be surrounded by them? Are you a pack-rat or an ascetic when it comes to the stuff you own? Those of us who are over 30 can remember a time when we craved certain things. Remember longing for that perfect summer dress or those purple rhinestone sandals that made you feel like a million bucks? Remember saving up to buy your first bottle of Joy perfume by Jean Patou and then savouring every drop? Remember walking by the Fendi boutique countless times, staring at the siren red baguette bag before plonking down several months’ worth of salary for it? Here’s my question: Do you feel the same way about that peacock blue Kanjeevaram sari, polki diamond necklace or Burberry trench

get the excitement back. Buy that Royal Enfield you’ve fantasized about; or that emerald solitaire ring the size of a mini-paperweight. The other approach is what I am experimenting with. This New Year’s, I have come up with a resolution that I am fairly confident I can keep. For the year 2011, I am off things. I will not buy anything that is non-perishable. I will indulge in all the things I love—vacations, massages, dark chocolate, food and drink—without having to be stuck with clothes, handbags, Ascetic: Thoreau retreated into a ‘Socratic’ life at 28. accessories, you know, all those coat even now? Or are you over them? things that you buy on an impulse and Do objects excite you in the same way regret later. that they did when you were young? It is not so much frugality that is If you, like me, have become jaded, driving this resolution. Rather, it is a you have two choices. One is to up the desire to recapture my old self and the ante so much that it will take your sense of excitement I felt about buying breath away. The other is things. Just as a fast will increase your renouncement, but more on that later. desire for food, a one-year abstinence Upping the ante involves buying the from consumerism should make me most expensive things that you can appreciate an Anupama Dayal dress afford: better wine, fast cars, Cuban or even a handcrafted Hyderabadi cigars, aged single malts, the Jatin Das bangle. That’s my rationale anyway. painting you’ve been eyeing. Throw Like most resolutions, this one too caution to the wind and see if you can is tricky. It is not so much about

abstaining as much as it is about managing the feelings of loved ones. Unless I am on vacation, I don’t care much for shopping anyhow. But how to tell your beloved aunt or your friend visiting from abroad that you cannot accept the crystal necklace or silk scarf that they have bought especially for you, because you are off…er, stuff? I mean, you can be off meat, garlic or liquor, but how can you be off stuff? Those are the things I am contending with. The resolution has already started working though. I look at the jewellery I own through new eyes because I know that they will be my only companions for the next 10 months. I can try to wear them creatively, but I cannot afford to get bored with them because they’re all I’ve got. The same goes for clothes, gizmos, furniture, stuff. It’s like an object version of the Stockholm syndrome, where hostages fall in love with their kidnappers simply because they are there. Disposable income is all very well but it also makes the objects that you buy “disposable”, at least emotionally. Constraints, even self-imposed ones, have one great virtue: They force you to value things and not take them for granted. As for me, I am enjoying my year of abstinence. I have fallen off the wagon only once so far for an object that I am too embarrassed to talk about. Shoba Narayan will be drinking lots of champagne in 2011. Write to her at thegoodlife@livemint.com www.livemint.com Read Shoba’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/shoba­narayan

THINKSTOCK

LEARNING CURVE

GOURI DANGE

CAN’T TELL A BEHAVIOURAL FROM A MEDICAL ISSUE? CONSULT AN EXPERT Our son was operated on soon after his birth for Hirschsprung’s disease. Due to the disease, part of his colon was without sensation and he was not able to pass motions. A timely operation cured him. However, we had to make an extra effort to toilet-train him. Now he is 8. However, he still has the habit of passing motions early morning while asleep in bed. We have tried explanations and even fear tactics to make him get over this, but he is unable to do so. He understands that what he is doing is wrong, but finds himself helpless. How should we handle this? Whether your child is completely and genuinely unable to control his bowels, or whether it is now only a delayed toilet-training issue, is a difficult call for you to take. You will have to seek medical advice and go in for face-to-face counselling (by his doctor if it’s possible, or with an allied counsellor in your city). Perhaps your doctor will advise surgical procedures such as a stoma; however, it is not my place to advise you on the specific medical solutions and strategies you would need to explore. For all parents dealing with children with congenital conditions and disorders of this kind, there is a need to constantly weigh between making allowances for the

child’s condition, and insisting on behavioural protocols in line with all other “normal” children. Many parents in your situation talk about how exhausting and demanding this aspect of the situation is. Both the child and parents have, since birth, had to deal with doctors, hospitals, medication, surgical procedures, critical care and aftercare, difficult decisions, financial issues. There are also the many social repercussions of the child’s condition. In this case, that an eight-year-old is not able to indicate that he needs to move his bowels also becomes a socially awkward situation when it comes to going on vacation, staying in other people’s homes, having house guests, etc. Toilet training can in itself be a frustrating part of parenting—and more so in your case. All this takes a toll on the family’s psychological well-being, and stress is bound to build up in both, the parents as well as the child (and any other children, grandparents, etc., in the family). Such families must seek counselling as well as support groups, either in your own town/city or on the Internet. A good family doctor as well as your child’s specialist consultant may be the best people to help you find other parents in the same or similar situations. Talking to

them is likely to help you come up with coping strategies and concrete solutions, as well as plan for the future. Equally, parents of children with conditions that need close monitoring and handling need to focus on their own physical health, as the demand on your mind, body and energies is more than on other parents. I would suggest you look for ongoing medical, emotional/psychological and social support in whatever form you can tap into, both for yourself and your son. My son is in class VI, and until now has had an excellent rapport with all his teachers. However, one of his science teachers recently called to tell us something we had not noticed before—he raises a question but then refuses to listen to any of the explanations given, gives some counterpoint and then continues arguing, wasting time and distracting the entire class. I have tried to speak to him about this, but he simply won’t accept he is doing something odd. I find him doing the same thing while we work on his science homework together. Please suggest what we can do. Sometimes behaviour of this kind could be a bid to get attention. Or it could be that he has a genuinely different or lateral way of thinking, is very quick, and that’s why he has

Attention deficiency: You can get the child to write down all his questions and tell him that you’ll take them up later. all the questions. Third, there could be an attention deficiency issue at work, and perhaps you could get him tested for this. You could gently but firmly tell him that the next time he does this (and you could suggest his teacher take the same stand) you will discuss the byways and implications later, but that you need to stick to the work at hand. In class, his teacher too could say that since the others seem to have

understood the concept, the class needs to move on, but that she will address his questions later. Both you and the teacher can get him to write down all those questions that crowd his mind and threaten to hijack the study session. Tell him to list them, and you’ll take them up later. Do assure him that you will discuss it later with him. If when you do, you or the teacher get the feeling that he’s simply arguing to increase

the interaction with you (getting attention), then do take a close look at why he is feeling ignored, and whether only “studies” is an area in which he feels you will pay attention to him. Find other things to do with your son. Also, if you feel it’s more about an active mind needing more “fodder”, set him a slightly different task—if it is a humanities subject that you’re teaching (or even a science one, for that matter), ask him to write an essay or a debate speech for you, putting forth his point. You could have him join the debating team if his school has one, to channelize his need to analyse, argue, talk. This will also teach him that it’s a two-way process—that he needs to learn to put forth things in a way that people will listen, and needs also to listen to what the other person says in response. The exercise in debating also helps because you can set a time limit for something and he has to concretely come up with an argument or an idea within that time. There is one thing that some children cleverly indulge in—which is to argue so that they can duck actually doing something. What better way to avoid doing mundane school or house work than to debate it endlessly! Watch out for that and see if this factor is at work too. Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting. Write to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com


www.livemint.com

L7

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2011

Eat/Drink OUR DAILY BREAD

SAMAR HALARNKAR

Blundering towards brunch PHOTOGRAPHS

BY

SAMAR HALARNKAR

Convert a bleary Sunday morning into a bright, beamy day without rice or ‘rotis’

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t’s a bright and sunny late winter’s day in Delhi. But I don’t feel so sunny. The baby demanded milk at 11.30pm and 3.30am, before deciding the night was over at 5.45am. She smiled and chortled brightly from her crib while I groaned, muttered unfatherly abuses and hoisted the burbling tyke out, her little legs cycling furiously in delight. So, this is what Sunday looks like. The baby’s breakfast has to be made, ragi and yellow of egg. We are taking her grandparents to have idlis and dosas. After that, her parents just realized there’s a little bit of work ahead: People are coming for a brunch in their sunny garden. I find there is nothing better to get a holiday morning kickstarted than the prospect of having people over. There are four advantages to this. One, you eat better—much better— on a Sunday if you are forced to crack open the fridge and drag out the pots and pans. Two, you sleep much better if you trot out that brunch. Three, the great sleep might tempt you to run, walk, whatever, as the day winds down. Four, chances are you will drift into a slumber so deep and luxurious that Monday morning will dawn bright and sunny—unless, of course, the baby decides otherwise. The baby, as it turns out, is having a happy day, frolicking on the grass, watching the birds and meeting the neighbours. I believe she will be too exhausted by day’s end to be too much of a nuisance on Sunday night.

These predictions are all very well and optimistic (and, perhaps, somewhat dubious). But, hey, what exactly are we eating for brunch? The freezer is empty! So, either I rush to the market and get some, or we fork out extra to have it delivered to our doorstep. We opt for the smug fish-delivery man, who always tends to be smug because he knows we may gripe and complain at his exorbitant price, but the chaotic Halarnkar household will order it anyway. There’s no coconut milk, and anyway, let’s give that old Goan recipe a break. This, after all, is a brunch that’s supposedly based on creative cooking. So, I bring out a book I haven’t looked at since 2006, when Roshan Chagla—daughter-inlaw of the late, great Bombay jurist and former chief justice and cabinet minister, Mahommedali Currim Chagla—presented it to me. Recipes from My Kitchen, a compendium of 20 years of entertaining, isn’t exactly last-minute Sunday cooking. But as I flip through the rich, often cream-heavy recipes, I find one that I can derive inspiration from. I’m dropping the cream, I don’t have fennel bulbs or whisky, but I never stick to recipes. Let’s just use what I have and see what emerges. Make the mint and curd dip, the wife suggests, knowing it isn’t a suggestion. And why not make my old favourite, the oven-roasted veggies, she says. Oh, all right. Our neighbours are bringing some pasta, and we have three varieties of bread, so we’ll have

Keep it simple: Some creative licence with an old recipe yields the highly satisfying fish with bourbon and saunf; and (right) the mint and yogurt dip. a bread platter. The wife is making a beetroot salad. No chapattis. No rice. Well, a menu seems to have emerged, however last-minute and seemingly disjointed. You know, blundering towards brunch is not a bad way to go. I find it rarely fails. Is this luck? I like to believe this is the luck of the brave. Brunch works out just fine. My bleary self is gradually banished, I return the daughter’s toothless smiles, and after a grand afternoon sleep, I find enough reserves of energy to dawdle down to the park and run around enough to get me home weary, wonderfully so, and fall into a deep, satisfied sleep that—I’m hoping—even the daughter cannot break. This, eventually, was our Sunday menu:

1. Selection of breads—wholewheat, ciabatta, whatever’s available

2. Mint and yogurt dip Ingredients 400g yogurt (we used Nestlé Slim) A fist-sized bunch of mint 3-4 garlic flakes Olive oil, extra virgin Method Hang the yogurt till the water drains out. Smoothen the yogurt with a fork. Add chopped mint and crushed garlic. Mix well, then blend in the olive oil. Add a pinch of salt. Serve with crackers, chips or, as we do, with brunch.

3. Fish with bourbon and ‘saunf’ Ingredients 500g fish (I used surmai—kingfish—fillets) Juice of 1 lemon (or lime) K tsp butter 7-8 flakes of garlic, crushed 7-8 tbsp bourbon (I used Jack Daniel’s)

2-3 tsp of saunf (fennel) seeds, freshly roasted and pounded into powder 2 large tomatoes, deskinned, deseeded and chopped 2 tsp red chilli powder K tsp sugar Optional: K tsp cinnamon powder Method Mix in lemon/lime juice with fish, sprinkle with salt and fresh pepper and set aside. Fry the fish gently in olive oil in a non-stick pan, do not brown. Set aside. In the same pan, lower the heat, melt the butter, add a little olive oil and fry the garlic and saunf powder for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the bourbon and reduce a bit. Stir in the tomatoes and sugar. Add the red chilli powder and fry for 1-2 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Arrange the fish in a warmed serving platter. Spoon the sauce over and serve immediately.

Note: I didn’t use the cinnamon powder, but something tells me it might be nice.

4. Oven­roasted vegetables (see previous column www.livemint.com/ roastedveggies.htm)

5.

Our friend brought hummus and pasta, to which we added a store-bought pesto. This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar writes a blog, Our Daily Bread, at Htblogs.com. He is editor-at-large, Hindustan Times. Write to Samar at ourdailybread@livemint.com www.livemint.com Read Samar’s previous columns at www.livemint.com/ourdailybread

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Business Lounge SHANTANU NARAYEN

A flash of inspiration The Adobe CEO and president has gravitated towards whatever felt right and worked his way up this one company

B Y A RUN J ANARDHAN arun.j@livemint.com

···························· he lobby of the Grand Hyatt hotel in Mumbai is buzzing with suits, men in dark jackets who have gathered for the Nasscom India Leadership Forum. Feeling inadequate, I pull my shirt collar together, tug my rolled-up sleeves down and head to the business centre, which is surrounded by more suits. In a large room, Shantanu Narayen waits, precisely on time, comfortable in the setting of a boardroom in a way only the head of a $17 billion (around `77,350 crore) company would be. The handshake is warm, the smile easy, the manner friendly and again, precise. The 47-year-old president and CEO of Adobe Systems Incorporated—the company that makes Photoshop, Flash video operating system and Acrobat programmes—seems the sort who would always be in between appointments. This meeting comes after the day’s sessions at the forum, held earlier this month, and was to be followed by a felicitation and dinner at the same venue. He is busy enough to constantly have something on the agenda, but when he listens, it’s with complete attention. “Innovation has been near and dear to my heart and the software industry in India has been a matter of pride, to see how it’s transformed itself in the past 20 years,” says the Palo Alto, California-based Narayen, who was to collect the Global Innovator Award at Nasscom’s 7th Annual Global Leadership Awards. As someone who left Hyderabad about 25 years ago to study in the US, the immediate assessment of change is typical. “The traffic is now 10x, your antibodies are not what they used to be, (and I) can’t eat at roadside vendors like I used to be able to and loved.” Narayen’s story is as typical as it is unusual. He got an engineering degree from Osmania University in Hyderabad because in those days one did only engineering or medicine, and the sight of blood “scared the heck out” of him. One of thousands of young men who packed mom’s pickles in a suitcase and headed to the US in the 1980s—“it was a little bit of following your father’s and brother’s footsteps, sort of a ‘Go West, young man’ thing”—he went through the grind of getting

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IN PARENTHESIS Growing up in Hyderabad, Shantanu Narayen played tennis and sailed on the Hussain Sagar Lake in the Enterprise class. He even participated in an Asian Games regatta in 1981 before the Games in Delhi. The love for water persists—his idea of relaxation is reading a book by the sea. Hawaii remains a favourite vacation destination.

Fore­word: Narayen, who loves golf, has already played at St Andrew’s in Scotland, and says it’s now off his ‘bucket list’.

JAYACHANDRAN/MINT

a master’s degree in computer science from Bowling Green State University, Ohio, and a master’s in business administration from Haas School of Business, University of California. So far so good; then he decided to join a start-up—Measurex Automation Systems in 1986, instead of picking an established multinational firm during campus recruitments as some others would have done. “I didn’t start a company, I was part of a start-up,” he emphasizes. “It was a well-funded (start-up) called Measurex. In your first job, you are looking for some good experience. It’s much more rapid-fire learning when you are at a start-up.” After he got married, Narayen moved in 1989 to Apple, holding several senior management positions over six years before moving on to Silicon Graphics for a year as director of desktop and collaboration products. “In the mid-1990s, they said you shake a tree on Sand Hill Road (a hub for venture capital companies) and money fell out. It was the Internet boom, everybody was starting a company. We thought that image-sharing on the Web, the need to be social, would be an important attribute. We started one of the first picture-sharing sites, Pictra Inc (in 1996). We thought the whole move from analogue to digital photography was going to happen, so we created an ecosystem that allowed you to drop off your roll of film and get digital pictures.” “It was a great experience but clear 12-14 months down the line that the funding and business models hadn’t quite matured.” Narayen says his career progression was never calculated. After his first job, he was never recruited or interviewed for one. The changes came through people he knew. “I have always been one for whom the job has to feel right,” he says. “After my MBA, even then the conventional wisdom was to switch from engineering to product management; I never did that. I was always like: If it feels right, it should work out.” In retrospect, there is an irony to the fact that he worked in Apple. More on that later, but that company gave him a mentor, Gursharan Singh Sidhu of Apple Talk, who taught him the notion of challenging others and oneself. “People amaze you with their ingenuity and as a management style rather than set arbitrary boundaries on what can and can’t be done. At Apple, you really believed that you are going to change the world. The statement at that point was, the journey was the reward. It felt like that. I was delivering this software to millions of people and it’s hard not to get excited about that.” “It was the same thing (at Pictra, which he co-founded), I learnt all about how to plan for the upside and react to the downside, aspirations and ambitions, big-picture thinking. In a start-up you learn a lot. You are drinking from a firehose frankly. At Adobe, I have learnt the whole notion of thinking on the impact we have had on communication in the written

form, on media. It’s been phenomenal.” Narayen moved to Adobe in January 1998, as vicepresident and general manager of its engineering technology group, moving up the ladder to president and chief operating officer in 2005. Narayen is currently done with the subject of Apple, which is all he has had to deal with recently, after the computer giant barred Adobe’s Flash from its invention of the year, the iPad (and earlier, the iPhone too). The subject has been a media favourite since the launch of the gizmo last year, with additional media speculation over a meeting between Narayen and Microsoft that led many to believe a buyout was on the anvil. After agreeing to stay clear of the subject, I plod carefully on dangerous ground and pop the question. “We partner with both and compete with both,” he says carefully without commenting on acquisitions. “The reality in the technology industry is ‘co-optition’; again it’s a cliché but true. One of our largest ISVs (independent software vendors) is for both those companies and we compete vigorously in certain areas. The press is making such a big deal about it. We have moved on.” According to The Telegraph, UK, (Adobe chief Shantanu Narayen believes he doesn’t need Apple or the iPad, 14 August) some 23 of the top 25 European companies, as measured by Forbes magazine, use Adobe products, as do 23 of the top 25 global banks. The article added that the US football team’s World Cup match against Algeria last year attracted 1.1 million viewers via a Webcast delivered through Flash—the largest US audience ever for a sports event on the Web. Today, Photoshop has become a verb, placing Adobe in a position of enviable command in the market but also concerned about competition. Narayen, who was instrumental in the $3.4 billion takeover of Macromedia (which developed Flash) and the $1.8 billion acquisition of Omniture in 2009, says they need to keep innovating because “there’s always two people in a garage somewhere in the world”—a reference to the kind of ingenuity that can come from anywhere and invent the next big thing. “Unless you are nimble…as a colleague says, failure is not an option. It makes you paranoid if anything.” Yet Narayen sleeps reasonably well at night, provided it’s in his own bed. He travels about three months in a year, so when on the road—like on this trip to India, where he has been “run ragged”—he gets sleep deprived. After the Nasscom dinner, he was to catch the late night flight back to California. “I would say this whole notion of balance (work and personal) that people talk about, that’s a myth,” he says. “On the other hand, I have multiple passions. It is true; you think about Adobe a lot. People have been known to say something about a certain competitor to see if that shakes me off my putting stroke (while playing golf, which he manages to do once a week).” He quotes some research at Stanford that found people with teenage children tend to be more grounded. His sons Shravan, 20, and Arjun, 16, are technologysavvy, giving Narayen more tips on which direction his work needs to go. “It’s a fascinating experiment to see what they do, how they consume their media.”


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SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2011

L9

Spotlight COMICS

How Baantool was beaten by English With the first comic books convention opening today, we find out if the once robust regional language tradition can be revived

B Y A BHIJIT G UPTA ···························· or the past few years, there has been a sense of tremendous anticipation about the imminent coming of the graphic novel in India. A sense that a critical mass has been reached and that a deluge of new, edgy material is just round the corner. Sadly, this has not happened. Publishers have shown no sign of starting a graphic novels imprint, and creators, for their part, have been in no hurry to rush into print. From time to time, one hears of various genre-altering works in progress, or gets to see the odd brilliant fragment. But the overwhelming sense is one of lassitude. It is in such a scenario that the first ever comic books convention in India will open in the Capital today. As an initiative, it is certainly welcome, though the absence of any major names (with the exception of Pran, the creator of Chacha Chaudhary) is a bit of a dampener. One hopes that at the very least, it will help create and nurture a well-knit community of comic book writers, readers and researchers. In order to understand the stop-start nature of the Indian graphic novel, one needs to have an idea of the history that preceded it. I see eyebrows being raised at this—was there a history at all to the comic book in India? As far as the English language was concerned, perhaps not, with the honourable exception of Target magazine in the 1980s and 1990s (I am not counting translations such as those appearing under the Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) imprint, or Indrajal Comics). But as far as other Indian languages are concerned—especially Bengali, Hindi and Malayalam— there was a rich tradition of comic book art, sometimes dating back to over half a century. Unfortunately, it has all but died out, leading to a complete disconnect between what came before and what we have now. Additionally, the history of the Indian comic book in regional languages is an incomplete one. It started its life mostly in children’s magazines, and spanned the whole gamut of good, bad and ugly. It was driven entirely by market forces, but for precisely that reason it could never aspire to the status of high art or anything approaching seriousness. The material which appeared in the magazines was hugely popular, but its publishers were not persuaded that it could have a longer shelf life. So, with few exceptions, there were no collections, anthologies or subsequent printings; the material languished in the magazines it was first printed in and soon passed beyond the reach of later readers. In the case of English language comics, the problem was exactly the opposite—there was little popular material to fall back on. Writers/artists such as Sarnath

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Graphic lore: (clockwise from top) Panels from the classic Baantool the Great in the magazine Shuktara; Indrajal Comics’ Bahadur; Asterix and Obelix, a series translated into many Indian lan­ guages; and Amar Chitra Katha’s Krishna.

Banerjee or Amruta Patil were schooled in European styles of comic book art, such as the hugely influential L’Association school of France, or the works of American masters such as Robert Crumb and Will Eisner. So the Indian comic book in English experienced the singular fate of leapfrogging the popular altogether, and straightaway entering an evolved and mature state. This is not to say that there were no attempts to create a popular market—Gotham comics tried to fill the gap a few years ago but failed owing to the extremely derivative nature of its artwork and storyline. But what of the comic book in regional languages? Is it yesterday’s news? Or is there a brave new future waiting for it? Partially in order to answer these questions, I began a research project last year to locate and digitize comic book art in some of the major regional Indian languages. The aim was not to digitize the material which came out in book form from the

beginning (such as ACK, Bahadur, Chacha Chaudhary) but the material which first appeared in magazines, either serially or in its entirety. Though the project is yet to be completed, we have been able to find an extraordinarily diverse body of work, and one which gives us a somewhat different understanding of the beginnings of the comic book in India. Take, for example, the history of the comic book in Bengali. The first stage in its history was largely imitative, a relatively straightforward rendering of some of the more accessible protocols of Western comic art. One of the key examples of this was the figure of Narayan Debnath—the grand old man of Indian comics, still going strong— who indigenized Laurel-Hardy for the Indian audi-

ence in the 1950s, and then launched his hugely successful and long-running superhero series Baantool the Great in the magazine Shuktara. Baantool may be regarded as the first superhero in the Indian comic tradition, but he differed sharply from his Western counterparts in that his vigilantism was never coopted into becoming an instrument of American foreign policy, as was the case with the caped crusaders federated under the “Justice League of America” during the Cold War years. In the late 1960s, ACK began to loom large over the Indian comic book scene, and not just in one or two languages. But while ACK was heavily preoccupied with relatively static narratives drawn from history and mythology, it was the magazines which engaged with an incipient modernity, and tried to compose their own distinctive iconography. Shuktara also carried the work of the versatile Mayukh Chaudhuri, who ranged over a wide territory in both style and genre, and whose finest work, Agantook (The Stranger), is one of the most interesting examples of early Bengali science fiction. The other Bengali magazine for children which carried comic book art was

Kishore Bharati, published by the house of Patra Bharati. Kishore Bharati was even more experimental in its choice of material, moving effortlessly from adaptations of Bengali classics (Domrucharit), to a highly Eisner-inflected detective series (Black Diamond) to the street violence of the Naxalite era (Palabar Path Nei). The quality of such work was sometimes uneven, but there was enough to gesture towards a robust engagement with an emerging visual aesthetics which borrowed substantially from allied forms such as cinema, advertising and the billboard. The downfall of the Bengali comic book began in the late 1970s, with the arrival of the chil dr en’s m aga zine An an damela, published by the media giant Anandabazar Patrika group of Kolkata. Anandamela was the first Indian periodical to syndicate series such as Tintin and Asterix. They were also the first to translate these comics into any Indian language, in this case Bengali. Anandamela soon captured much of the market of Shuktara and Kishore Bharati, and local artists found their work unsaleable in the pages of Anandamela. Many of them were forced to move away from sectors such as illustration and advertisement, and over a period of two-three years, original comic work in the Bengali language all but perished. There has been a recent resurgence of Bengali material in the same Anandamela but these are mostly adaptations of literary classics. I cite the Bengali case at some length to show how the vagaries of the market and the lack of a sufficiently proactive community can kill a robust tradition almost overnight. Those entering the comic book field will do well to remember this. It is not enough to create brilliant new material once in a while; one must ensure a regular supply of work in an easily accessible format. Small magazines and collectives can do this till a point, digital comics are another way forward. But until the regional comic book market is re-energized, the Indian graphic novel will find it hard to move beyond the rarefied ghettos of the metropolis. Abhijit Gupta teaches English at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, and is working on a project to digitize comics of the pre-graphic novels era in Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam and English. Write to lounge@livemint.com


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PROFILE

VISHAL’S

WORLD Vishal Bhardwaj straddles a unique space in our cinema. Before the release of his new film, he told us about life­altering moments, inspiration from his poet father, his years as a cricketer and why he wants to compose a Western classical symphony

B Y N EELESH M ISRA ··································· hen 19-year-old Vishal Bhardwaj returned from cricket practice that morning, his home had been emptied out on the street. Chairs, tables, utensils, clothes, photo frames—everything lay strewn on the road outside his home in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. In the midst of it, right there on the street, his poet father—for long his best friend—lay sprawled. And lifeless. It was one of the moments that would change the life of 45-year-old Bhardwaj, one of India’s brightest film-makers and music composers. “It was like a steady cam shot,” Bhardwaj recalls, squatted on the floor, wearing a white shirt, denims and a black jacket. He leaned against a cushion in his modest office in suburban Mumbai, gesturing the movement of a film camera with his hands. “No one said anything. They just stood there, silently looking.” “I was very close to my father. His loss made me lose the fear of death. That is the primal, basic fear,” Bhardwaj says in an interview a few days before the release of his new film 7 Khoon Maaf. “Once you overcome that, you can take any leap, any plunge in life.” Leaps of faith have been Bhardwaj’s favourite form of travel on his meandering journey so far, from western Uttar Pradesh to Mumbai, to becoming one of India’s most adored and acclaimed film-makers globally—a director of six well-received feature films. Bhardwaj is a true Renaissance man—he directs, composes music, writes scripts and is a singer who also writes lyrics. As you read this, Bhardwaj is at the prestigious Berlinale, Berlin’s international film festival, where 7 Khoon Maaf is being screened. In Indian cinema, he is one of those rare straddlers whose work is often rooted in the dust and grime. His nuanced characters and layered screenplay are arthouse, but he has won accolades also as a commercial director—most of his movies have mass appeal. You could say that where Bhardwaj is today is the result of a journey he began hesitantly with a script in his hands, pitching it to Shabana Azmi a few weeks after the 11 September terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001,

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asking the veteran actor to play the role of a witch. Azmi’s response wasn’t quite on expected lines. “Why are you doing this to yourself? If this film fails, then your career as a music director is also dead,” Bhardwaj quotes Azmi as having said at the meeting that became a turning point in his career. If he was thrown off balance, it didn’t show. Bhardwaj asked Azmi to imagine a man on the 90th floor of one of the towers of the World Trade Center, who has just come in to work and has switched on his laptop. He sits back and begins sipping a cup of coffee when, outside the window, he sees an aeroplane coming right at him. “Poof! It’s all over in the next second! We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next minute. We have to live our dreams as much as we can.” Azmi agreed to act in his debut film Makdee. What he said to Azmi that day was just an expression of a searing image from the past: his father Ram Bhardwaj lying dead on the road outside the family’s rented house in 1985. His father was just 49. “We were tenants in Meerut. Our landlord was a judge and his son a lawyer—it was the most deadly combination!” Bhardwaj says, as his assistant darts in to inform him of two more meetings lined up after the interview. “There was a case going on between us and him regarding the property and it had been settled out of court—but one day there was an order of kurki (seizure of property).” Officials came early one morning. Bhardwaj—who loved cricket and even played for the state’s under-19 team—used to practise every morning at a playground in Meerut. By the time he returned, his father was no more. Some years later, his elder brother, who had struggled for years in Mumbai to become a film producer, also died of a heart attack. Bhardwaj was born in Chandpur village near the small, uneventful town of Bijnor in western Uttar Pradesh. His father was a sugarcane inspector, a government official who oversaw quality and matters involving the licensing of sugarcane-related products. The senior Bhardwaj was often posted out as part of

his job profile, and the family lived in the small sugar-trading town of Najibabad until Bhardwaj completed class V in school. Najibabad was no place for creative churning. It had only two claims to fame: It was home to the Agarwal family that was one of the biggest bottlers of Thums-Up; and it had an All India Radio station. Before the city began to dent his creative instincts, help arrived in the form of transfer orders for his father. They moved to Meerut, the city where Bhardwaj would lose his father but begin to reach out for his dream. When not supervising sugarcane licensing, Ram Bhardwaj wrote poetry and lyrics for Bollywood—the film industry was not called Bollywood then. The films he wrote for included lesser-known ones such as Ahimsa, Shuruaat, Kanoon Meri Mutthi Mein, Khoon ka Badla Khoon and Chhota Baap. Even though based in Meerut, Bhardwaj’s father worked with some leading names of the Hindi film industry then, such as music composers Kalyanji-Anandji, and singers Asha Bhonsle and Usha Khanna. That had to rub off on the son, who grew up with notes of music wafting around him. His first dream was born—Vishal Bhardwaj was going to be a music composer. When he was 17, Bhardwaj composed a song that caught the fancy of his father. Ram Bhardwaj discussed his son’s composition skills with Khanna, who asked to hear it. Soon after, she used it for the film Yaar Kasam. At 19, Bhardwaj recorded his first song with the playback icon Bhonsle—the same year he lost his father. If Bhardwaj saw these as his big break in the movie industry, it was a misleading break. Years of waiting and frustration were to follow. “I struggled a lot,” Bhardwaj says, sipping his tea, the room suddenly full of a pensive silence, only the mild whirring of the air conditioner audible. Besides music, all that Bhardwaj had while he was growing up was cricket. He was an all-rounder—a leg-spinner and a batsman. After he lost his father, cricket helped him make the next move in life—to Delhi. He got admission under the sports quota in the prestigious Hindu College. He was now also the proud owner of a Vijay Super scooter, an upgraded version of the Lambretta, on which he zipped around town. He had friends who were trying to make their mark in theatre—and later would—such as Piyush Mishra and Ashish Vidyarthi, but Bhardwaj was then focused only on music. In another part of town, there was another set of contemporaries and friends—a young man named Maninder Singh from Khalsa College and Manoj Prabhakar from the PGDAV College, both of whom would go on to join the national cricket team. Both sets of friends were symbolic of two lives, both potentially challenging and rewarding.

Maqbool

7 Khoon Maaf

Kaminey

The Blue Umbrella ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT

Bhardwaj had to make a choice. How far would Bhardwaj have made it in cricket had he pursued it? No one knows, but when a friendly match was played recently, involving Dilip Vengsarkar, the then national cricket selector said: “Vishal Bhardwaj as music composer is a big loss to Indian cricket.” Nevertheless, Bhardwaj quickly buried his cricket dreams after he broke his arm in the second year of college. That was also the time when the Vijay Super was about to get a fellow traveller—Rekha, a young singer who bedazzled Bhardwaj with her talent. Friendship turned into love. Bhardwaj’s professional life didn’t look up. “I got work for some TV programmes on Doordarshan, and used to play the harmonium with friends who were ghazal singers,” Bhardwaj says. The next few years went by quickly. Bhardwaj took up a job with a music company called CBS, which later became Pan Music, as an artiste and repertoire manager. Then he moved to Mumbai, married Rekha Bhardwaj—who would over the years become a well-known Bollywood singer herself—and met the person who was to be the mentor and father figure in his life—Gulzar. He started composing music for various TV programmes and some trendsetting films—Maachis, Satya, Chachi 420 and Godmother. But they could only get him that far. “As a music composer, my career was getting over. I had done about 8-10 films as a composer but now I wasn’t able to make hit songs,” Bhardwaj says candidly. “I tried to remain honest to the situation (in the script). I took myself too seriously, and when you do that, you lose the plot.” He began to travel to film festivals with Gulzar. “I saw Pulp Fiction and it messed up my head…it showed me the power of storytelling...and that violence can be so entertaining.” Bhardwaj says. He was also mesmerized by the work of Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski. The bug had bitten him. “I wanted to be a director,” Bhardwaj says of those days. That led them to the meeting with Azmi. Several other films followed, this time as director, apart from music composer: Maqbool, Omkara, The Blue Umbrella and Kaminey. “Indian audiences are swiftly changing. The success of Dev.D and the critical acclaim for No One Killed Jessica is

proof,” Bhardwaj says. “Storytelling in India is also changing dramatically. If Aamir Khan’s wife has made a Dhobi Ghat, it’s a great sign.” Bhardwaj doesn’t need to look around for funding now for the offbeat themes that would leave Bollywood figureheads reluctant earlier. From top actors to producers, everybody wants to work with him. But he remains grounded. “I often take the local trains, though now it’s becoming a little difficult because they recognize me,” says Bhardwaj. “Sometimes I just get off the car and start walking about. I don’t go to parties, I don’t have friends, and this movie business is unreal, deceptive. I try to travel as much as I can, to remain connected with the real India.” But that real India does not include his own village, to which he just doesn’t want to return. “I don’t want to go back to my village. It would have changed so dramatically. I don’t think I will recognize anyone there,” Bhardwaj says. “I have no sense of home, in that sense I am a rootless person.” Then he chuckles: “As it is, I get four or five calls every day from people who claim to be my childhood friends or relatives!” As Bhardwaj reinvents himself, he is looking at masterly quests beyond Bollywood. “I want to grow in my music... I want to do it seriously. I wish some day I could create something without words,” he says. “I have started learning Western classical music and it is my desire to write a Symphony some day.” Bhardwaj says it’s easy to lose one’s head with success, and often without realizing it. But he doesn’t have to worry about it at all. “I am beyond success and failure. I didn’t deserve this also. I never learnt music, I never learnt direction,” says Bhardwaj, as he slips on shoes for his next meeting.“My biggest

fear is what I have seen happening to a lot of people…starting to do bad work, without realizing it.” Neelesh Misra, a journalist on a break, is a lyricist, scriptwriter, author of four books and a radio storyteller. His last book was The Absent State. He also heads Band Called Nine, a writer-led band whose debut album Rewind is to be released soon. 7 Khoon Maaf released on Friday. Write to lounge@livemint.com

In today’s Mint > ‘7 Khoon Maaf’ review

Grounded: Bhardwaj says he wanted to become a director after watching Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.


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Omkara Makdee Ishqiya

PROFILE

VISHAL’S

WORLD Vishal Bhardwaj straddles a unique space in our cinema. Before the release of his new film, he told us about life­altering moments, inspiration from his poet father, his years as a cricketer and why he wants to compose a Western classical symphony

B Y N EELESH M ISRA ··································· hen 19-year-old Vishal Bhardwaj returned from cricket practice that morning, his home had been emptied out on the street. Chairs, tables, utensils, clothes, photo frames—everything lay strewn on the road outside his home in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. In the midst of it, right there on the street, his poet father—for long his best friend—lay sprawled. And lifeless. It was one of the moments that would change the life of 45-year-old Bhardwaj, one of India’s brightest film-makers and music composers. “It was like a steady cam shot,” Bhardwaj recalls, squatted on the floor, wearing a white shirt, denims and a black jacket. He leaned against a cushion in his modest office in suburban Mumbai, gesturing the movement of a film camera with his hands. “No one said anything. They just stood there, silently looking.” “I was very close to my father. His loss made me lose the fear of death. That is the primal, basic fear,” Bhardwaj says in an interview a few days before the release of his new film 7 Khoon Maaf. “Once you overcome that, you can take any leap, any plunge in life.” Leaps of faith have been Bhardwaj’s favourite form of travel on his meandering journey so far, from western Uttar Pradesh to Mumbai, to becoming one of India’s most adored and acclaimed film-makers globally—a director of six well-received feature films. Bhardwaj is a true Renaissance man—he directs, composes music, writes scripts and is a singer who also writes lyrics. As you read this, Bhardwaj is at the prestigious Berlinale, Berlin’s international film festival, where 7 Khoon Maaf is being screened. In Indian cinema, he is one of those rare straddlers whose work is often rooted in the dust and grime. His nuanced characters and layered screenplay are arthouse, but he has won accolades also as a commercial director—most of his movies have mass appeal. You could say that where Bhardwaj is today is the result of a journey he began hesitantly with a script in his hands, pitching it to Shabana Azmi a few weeks after the 11 September terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001,

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asking the veteran actor to play the role of a witch. Azmi’s response wasn’t quite on expected lines. “Why are you doing this to yourself? If this film fails, then your career as a music director is also dead,” Bhardwaj quotes Azmi as having said at the meeting that became a turning point in his career. If he was thrown off balance, it didn’t show. Bhardwaj asked Azmi to imagine a man on the 90th floor of one of the towers of the World Trade Center, who has just come in to work and has switched on his laptop. He sits back and begins sipping a cup of coffee when, outside the window, he sees an aeroplane coming right at him. “Poof! It’s all over in the next second! We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next minute. We have to live our dreams as much as we can.” Azmi agreed to act in his debut film Makdee. What he said to Azmi that day was just an expression of a searing image from the past: his father Ram Bhardwaj lying dead on the road outside the family’s rented house in 1985. His father was just 49. “We were tenants in Meerut. Our landlord was a judge and his son a lawyer—it was the most deadly combination!” Bhardwaj says, as his assistant darts in to inform him of two more meetings lined up after the interview. “There was a case going on between us and him regarding the property and it had been settled out of court—but one day there was an order of kurki (seizure of property).” Officials came early one morning. Bhardwaj—who loved cricket and even played for the state’s under-19 team—used to practise every morning at a playground in Meerut. By the time he returned, his father was no more. Some years later, his elder brother, who had struggled for years in Mumbai to become a film producer, also died of a heart attack. Bhardwaj was born in Chandpur village near the small, uneventful town of Bijnor in western Uttar Pradesh. His father was a sugarcane inspector, a government official who oversaw quality and matters involving the licensing of sugarcane-related products. The senior Bhardwaj was often posted out as part of

his job profile, and the family lived in the small sugar-trading town of Najibabad until Bhardwaj completed class V in school. Najibabad was no place for creative churning. It had only two claims to fame: It was home to the Agarwal family that was one of the biggest bottlers of Thums-Up; and it had an All India Radio station. Before the city began to dent his creative instincts, help arrived in the form of transfer orders for his father. They moved to Meerut, the city where Bhardwaj would lose his father but begin to reach out for his dream. When not supervising sugarcane licensing, Ram Bhardwaj wrote poetry and lyrics for Bollywood—the film industry was not called Bollywood then. The films he wrote for included lesser-known ones such as Ahimsa, Shuruaat, Kanoon Meri Mutthi Mein, Khoon ka Badla Khoon and Chhota Baap. Even though based in Meerut, Bhardwaj’s father worked with some leading names of the Hindi film industry then, such as music composers Kalyanji-Anandji, and singers Asha Bhonsle and Usha Khanna. That had to rub off on the son, who grew up with notes of music wafting around him. His first dream was born—Vishal Bhardwaj was going to be a music composer. When he was 17, Bhardwaj composed a song that caught the fancy of his father. Ram Bhardwaj discussed his son’s composition skills with Khanna, who asked to hear it. Soon after, she used it for the film Yaar Kasam. At 19, Bhardwaj recorded his first song with the playback icon Bhonsle—the same year he lost his father. If Bhardwaj saw these as his big break in the movie industry, it was a misleading break. Years of waiting and frustration were to follow. “I struggled a lot,” Bhardwaj says, sipping his tea, the room suddenly full of a pensive silence, only the mild whirring of the air conditioner audible. Besides music, all that Bhardwaj had while he was growing up was cricket. He was an all-rounder—a leg-spinner and a batsman. After he lost his father, cricket helped him make the next move in life—to Delhi. He got admission under the sports quota in the prestigious Hindu College. He was now also the proud owner of a Vijay Super scooter, an upgraded version of the Lambretta, on which he zipped around town. He had friends who were trying to make their mark in theatre—and later would—such as Piyush Mishra and Ashish Vidyarthi, but Bhardwaj was then focused only on music. In another part of town, there was another set of contemporaries and friends—a young man named Maninder Singh from Khalsa College and Manoj Prabhakar from the PGDAV College, both of whom would go on to join the national cricket team. Both sets of friends were symbolic of two lives, both potentially challenging and rewarding.

Maqbool

7 Khoon Maaf

Kaminey

The Blue Umbrella ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT

Bhardwaj had to make a choice. How far would Bhardwaj have made it in cricket had he pursued it? No one knows, but when a friendly match was played recently, involving Dilip Vengsarkar, the then national cricket selector said: “Vishal Bhardwaj as music composer is a big loss to Indian cricket.” Nevertheless, Bhardwaj quickly buried his cricket dreams after he broke his arm in the second year of college. That was also the time when the Vijay Super was about to get a fellow traveller—Rekha, a young singer who bedazzled Bhardwaj with her talent. Friendship turned into love. Bhardwaj’s professional life didn’t look up. “I got work for some TV programmes on Doordarshan, and used to play the harmonium with friends who were ghazal singers,” Bhardwaj says. The next few years went by quickly. Bhardwaj took up a job with a music company called CBS, which later became Pan Music, as an artiste and repertoire manager. Then he moved to Mumbai, married Rekha Bhardwaj—who would over the years become a well-known Bollywood singer herself—and met the person who was to be the mentor and father figure in his life—Gulzar. He started composing music for various TV programmes and some trendsetting films—Maachis, Satya, Chachi 420 and Godmother. But they could only get him that far. “As a music composer, my career was getting over. I had done about 8-10 films as a composer but now I wasn’t able to make hit songs,” Bhardwaj says candidly. “I tried to remain honest to the situation (in the script). I took myself too seriously, and when you do that, you lose the plot.” He began to travel to film festivals with Gulzar. “I saw Pulp Fiction and it messed up my head…it showed me the power of storytelling...and that violence can be so entertaining.” Bhardwaj says. He was also mesmerized by the work of Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski. The bug had bitten him. “I wanted to be a director,” Bhardwaj says of those days. That led them to the meeting with Azmi. Several other films followed, this time as director, apart from music composer: Maqbool, Omkara, The Blue Umbrella and Kaminey. “Indian audiences are swiftly changing. The success of Dev.D and the critical acclaim for No One Killed Jessica is

proof,” Bhardwaj says. “Storytelling in India is also changing dramatically. If Aamir Khan’s wife has made a Dhobi Ghat, it’s a great sign.” Bhardwaj doesn’t need to look around for funding now for the offbeat themes that would leave Bollywood figureheads reluctant earlier. From top actors to producers, everybody wants to work with him. But he remains grounded. “I often take the local trains, though now it’s becoming a little difficult because they recognize me,” says Bhardwaj. “Sometimes I just get off the car and start walking about. I don’t go to parties, I don’t have friends, and this movie business is unreal, deceptive. I try to travel as much as I can, to remain connected with the real India.” But that real India does not include his own village, to which he just doesn’t want to return. “I don’t want to go back to my village. It would have changed so dramatically. I don’t think I will recognize anyone there,” Bhardwaj says. “I have no sense of home, in that sense I am a rootless person.” Then he chuckles: “As it is, I get four or five calls every day from people who claim to be my childhood friends or relatives!” As Bhardwaj reinvents himself, he is looking at masterly quests beyond Bollywood. “I want to grow in my music... I want to do it seriously. I wish some day I could create something without words,” he says. “I have started learning Western classical music and it is my desire to write a Symphony some day.” Bhardwaj says it’s easy to lose one’s head with success, and often without realizing it. But he doesn’t have to worry about it at all. “I am beyond success and failure. I didn’t deserve this also. I never learnt music, I never learnt direction,” says Bhardwaj, as he slips on shoes for his next meeting.“My biggest

fear is what I have seen happening to a lot of people…starting to do bad work, without realizing it.” Neelesh Misra, a journalist on a break, is a lyricist, scriptwriter, author of four books and a radio storyteller. His last book was The Absent State. He also heads Band Called Nine, a writer-led band whose debut album Rewind is to be released soon. 7 Khoon Maaf released on Friday. Write to lounge@livemint.com

In today’s Mint > ‘7 Khoon Maaf’ review

Grounded: Bhardwaj says he wanted to become a director after watching Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.


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SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2011

Luxury Spray it: (clockwise from extreme left) Robert Piguet’s Fracas; Frederic Malle’s Carnal Flower; Malle’s Portrait of a Lady; Chanel No. 5; Creed’s Love in Black; Juliette Has a Gun’s Miss Charming; Miller Harris’ Fleur Ori­ ental; Nasomatto’s Black Afgano; Escentric Mole­ cules; Isabey’s Gar­ denia; and Kiehl’s Musk Oil 21.

ALAMY

(6); C ORBIS (2); GETTY (6)/WSJ

PERFUMES

Scents and sensuality Just sexy or good enough to eat—how to choose the right perfume for the right result

B Y T INA G AUDOIN ···························· here isn’t another way of putting this. Readers, I’m about to write an analysis about whether wearing the right fragrance can, well, you know, get the right results. The idea that smelling good (or smelling “right”) can engender romantic and, ultimately, sexual activity is obviously not a new concept. But the market is so entirely flooded with bad, meaningless, poorly put-together fragrances that I think you deserve to know which to spend your money on. I’m not going to blah on too much about how since we were able to stand upright (and a bit before that), we have been attracted to animalistic smells such as sweat and musk, but it does bear thinking about in regard to perfume. There are, after all, really only two types of memorable perfumes—one engages the twin reflexes of gag and subsequent flight, the other taps into quite another response entirely (equally primal). There are thousands of fragrances that sit in the middle of this axis—the perfectly “nice” smells you might wear to the office, on a warm spring day or to a job interview; but I’m here to tell you about the real juice. First, the basics: The sexiest smells are likely to be found in the chypre or Oriental fragrance families. Why? Well, these contain the earthiest and most “animalic” of fragrance notes—from amber and musk to patchouli, labdanum, sandalwood and even a dusky rose or gardenia. “We are, after all, still animals,” says Lyn Harris, the nose behind the Miller Harris fragrance brand. “We are subconsciously aroused by the smell of sweat and we like

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fragrances with earthy, mysterious notes.” Harris says that men in particular also like the smell of sweet notes in a fragrance. “The whole idea of putting vanilla in fragrance, for example, is to identify with the concept of ‘edible’—the fragrance literally smells like it can be eaten and thus its wearer too,” she adds. Don’t ask me to explain that concept further. Harris’ own Fleur Oriental fragrance (£65, or around `4,770, for 100ml), with its spicy cardamom, Turkish rose and rich amber notes, would be up there in my top 10 of sexy, memorable fragrances, but so would the aldehydic floral Chanel No. 5 (£182 for a 30ml parfum bottle)—not because I like it, but because, as Harris concurs, the aldehydes (which make the fragrance fizz) are “sexy and promiscuous”. Ever since Chanel’s collaborator-perfumer Ernest Beaux initially presented the fragrance to Coco, no one has known whether the mix of overwhelming, chemically created aldehydes, florals and amber and sandalwood was a mistake or not. But millions of men the world over would testify to its brilliance, as no doubt would the privately owned Chanel—the fragrance remains the world’s bestselling perfume. To really understand the history of fragrance and the all-time sexy classics, an encyclopaedic knowledge is required in order to cut through the billions of dollars of advertising hype and hyperbole that has surrounded the fragrance industry over the last 50 years or so. From the risqué Jovan musk commercials (“Someone you know wants it”) to the infamously sensual Paco Rabanne telephone ads (“I’m going to take some and rub it on my body

when I go to bed tonight. And then I’m going to remember every little thing about you…and last night”) to the recent Belle d’Opium advertising from YSL, banned in the UK for its supposed drug references, sexual undertones and other depravities have constantly been used to sell fragrance (think Calvin Klein’s Obsession or again, YSL’s Opium, starring Sophie Dahl). But just because the advertising is risqué doesn’t guarantee that the fragrance will get results, or even that it smells remotely palatable. The sexiest fragrances are almost always in the crème de la crème bracket. It’s tough and expensive to create a really sensual fragrance—it takes premium ingredients and a “nose” of genius to pull it off. That said, I do want to acknowledge two less-than-premium-priced smells that hit the spot. The first is the simple but peerless Kiehl’s Musk Oil, £20.50 for 7ml. Many have tried to emulate the warm, deep directness of this oil; all have failed (and not without spending vast amounts of money). The second, to my mind, qualifies as a sledgehammer fragrance (the type that hits you over the head and tells you exactly what it wants), but in a very good way. Agent Provocateur by the eponymous lingerie company is an exotic, floral chypre, containing rose, ylang ylang, gardenia, amber and musk, but really, it’s sex in a bottle (£60 for 100ml). Whilst I would not ordinarily cede the floor entirely to one individual, James Craven’s (he’s the perfume archivist at Les Senteurs, London’s oldest independent perfumery) expertise in the arena of fragrance history is stunning. Here’s his take on some of the classiest, sexiest fragrances:

Chanel No. 5, 1921: Previously Carnal Flower, which is shame- what radically are manipulating mentioned, but the eternally feminine fragrance, which never gets dates. Caron’s Narcisse Noir, 1911: The first fantasy floral (orange blossom, jasmine and musk) and the ultimate in exotic and erotic appeal—representative of the new alluring type of woman emerging during this time. £93 for 100ml. Guerlain’s Shalimar, 1925: Bergamot, civet, vanilla, iris and tonka bean—named for the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore, Pakistan, this has sultry associations, pioneering the use of vanilla and making the erotic link between what you can taste and what you can smell. £60.50 for 50ml.

lessly provocative; £180 for 100ml). £130 for 50ml.

Tangerine bark, Bulgarian rose, gardenia, musk, ambergris and sandalwood—this initiated a craze for gardenia that lasted up until the war, reinventing the trend for luxurious, lush, waxen florals (the idea is revisited by Frédéric Malle in the more recent

patchouli, juxtaposed against a fruity Turkish rose and raspberry and black currant, makes this daringly animalistic. £180 for 100ml. So that’s what the expert thinks. For myself, I’m a fan of the younger, newer perfumers out there who simply and some-

Robert Piguet’s Fracas, 1948: Bergamot, tuberose, lily of the valley, violet, vetiver, cedar and sandalwood—the blatant overuse of one note, tuberose, makes this a classic that has spawned thousands of imitations (but never bettered). One critic described it as smelling like “very, very hot flesh after sex”. £97 for 100ml. Creed’s Love in Black, 2008: Violet, iris, clove and Tonkin musk—this explores the concept of parma violets in a modern way. It smells like a violently sexy flower, with a musky base. £142 for 75ml.

Frédéric Malle’s Portrait of a Isabey’s Gardenia, 1925: Lady, 2010: Stripped-down

Sniff it: (clockwise from right) Comme de Garçons’ Series 3 Incense Avignon; Guerlain’s Shalimar; Caron’s Narcisse Noir; Nasomatto’s Narcotic Venus; and L’Agent’s Agent Provocateur.

WSJ

man-made and natural concoctions to achieve the desired result. Both Juliette Has a Gun’s Not a Perfume, £79 for 100ml, and Escentric Molecules’ Escentric 01, £63 for 100ml, have focused on an isolated (chemical) ingredient that is found in many, if not all, modern fragrance making—Abroxan and Iso E Super, respectively. Perfumer Alessandro Gualtieri is what one friend in the business tactfully calls “the most creative perfumer working today”. He has an interesting approach to fragrance, refusing to discuss its composition because “it is inappropriate to deconstruct a work of art”. Before you dismiss him as pretentious, remember that he is a rebel—he has tried to use, among other things, camel dung in his fragrances, created under his Nasomatto label. I can’t bring a piece on sexy fragrance to a close without mentioning an all-but-forgotten classic with an illustrious history. E. Coudray was one of the five original perfume brands given a royal warrant by Louis XVIII in 1822. Nohiba, a scent reintroduced in 2010, was initially created for Josephine Baker in 1929 and called Black Tulip. I love its sweet, earthy, patchouli, jasmine, bergamot and sandalwood notes. Seductively glamorous, with an old-fashioned, sweet, powdery punch (£60.50 for 100ml). So let’s say for argument’s sake that you are wearing the “right” juice; will everything else take care of itself? Is the power of sensual fragrance really so absolute that all one need do is, ahem, sit back and wait? According to Craven, that simply won’t do. “You have to do some work yourself,” he says, cautioning that this is not the time to come over all British and reserved. “Less is not more in this instance; make sure you put enough on.” And then? Well, says Craven, “perfume is often regarded as a treat, but clearly you need to wear it to make the treat actually happen.” Write to wsj@livemint.com


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SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2011

L13

Travel SHREYA TALWAR

ISTANBUL

At the crossroads

A walk down an iconic street reaffirms the city’s character, estab­ lished centuries ago

B Y S HREYA T ALWAR ···························· ir sokak gördüm rüyalarımda gecelerce,/Hiç sana çıkmadı./Sadece yarım saat tutu tuk el ele,/O saat durmadı (I have dreamed of a street for nights/(Of time) Never ending, with you/Just that we held hands for half an hour/And that hour never ended). So wrote Turkish poet Sebnem Ferah. And tonight I take a walk down this street of dreams: Istanbul’s iconic Istiklal Caddesi, or Independence Avenue. “Tesekkürler canim, thanks my dear,” I smile at the young gypsy

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girl who sells second-hand books near the Ataturk statue at Taksim Square. A group of traditional street musicians catches my attention as I tuck my copy of Ayse Kulin’s Last Train to Istanbul into my handbag. They are playing an old Türkü, Turkish folk music melody. The notes from the baglama, a guitar-like instrument, follow me into Istiklal Caddesi, the centrepiece of the old European quarter of Beyoglu, the cobbled boulevard evoking images of splendour and decadence past. Under tulipshaped lights, over a million people walk the 3km length of this avenue every weekend, sampling its delights and drinking in the lively night atmosphere. As I make my way down the magnificent boulevard, lined with exquisite roadside cafés, restaurants, theatres, bars, clubs and itinerant buskers, I cannot help but wonder what it would be like to brush shoulders with the ghosts of the past. Was it a Dragoman who just swished by, heading for the Sublime Porte, or was it a demi-mondaine returning from a pasha’s palace? To walk

down Istiklal is to be a part of its history. This is the crucible of the Orient and Occident. My first stop is a fal evi, a fortune house. The atmosphere at Melekler Kahvesi, a coffee house tucked away in one of Istiklal’s many side streets, is exotic. “Hosgeldiniz, welcome,” the pleasantlooking waitress greets me. “Hosbulduk (I am glad to be here),” I respond. I am seated at a table in the Red Room. Soon a cup of Turkish coffee arrives. I drink the thick, dark liquid and ceremoni-

ally upturn the cup on the saucer, letting the dregs dry and form “patterns of the future”. After a game of backgammon, I am ready for my reading. I expect the clairvoyant to be an old gypsy woman, muttering mystical charms under her breath, but, instead, I face a 30-something man in faded blue jeans. Ahmet has the gift and is a reputed falcı, a fortune-teller. He tells me good things—of birds and friends and handsome men—all from the dregs of my coffee cup. To cele-

GETTING THERE Apply for a visa at the Turkish embassy in New Delhi or the Turkish consulate generals in Mumbai and Kolkata. Single­entry visas cost `2,700 and take a couple of days to process. Turkish Airlines flies from Mumbai and Delhi to Istanbul (return economy fares from `33,000). Air Arabia, a low­cost carrier, flies from New Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, Jaipur, Hyderabad, Nagpur, Ahmedabad and Coimbatore (return economy fare `24,000). Once there, hotel options include The Four Seasons (www.fourseasons.com/istanbul/; from €430, or around `26,830) at Sultanahmet, easily Istanbul’s most iconic hotel. Book early, the hotel has only 65 rooms. There’s also the Çıragan Palace Kempinski (www.kempinski.com; from €550) at Besiktas and Crowne Plaza Old City Hotel (www.ichotelsgroup.com; from €136) on Ordu Caddesi is a pocket­friendly option.

East meets West: A view of Istanbul’s Taksim Square. brate my good fortune, I decide to indulge myself with those delectable Turkish kebabs Istiklal Caddesi is so famous for. Ahmet— who lives not only in the future, but also in the here and now— recommends Zubeyir’s Ocakbası. An ocakbası is the hot and smoky Turkish cross between a sushi bar and a grill, with a unique culture of its own. I need to hurry because there is limited seating along the barbeque, where one can watch the usta, the head chef, going about his business behind a brass-topped grill. I head down a side street, making my way through the almost harmonious whistle of the historical tramway, the cacophonous calls of the doner kebab sellers, and the clanging bells of the Turkish ice-cream vendors. I can smell the kebabs roasting slowly on the grill from a distance. Seeing the turnout at the kebab house, it is clear that I should have made reservations. Just then a large party seated alongside the grill decides to move to the more private quarters on the first floor. This is the beauty of Istanbul; the city never lets you down. I take a seat around the grill. A huge tray of meze, hors d’oeuvres, arrives with an assortment of breads. I select Zubeyir’s special gavur dagı salad, a mix of finely chopped greens and tomatoes, seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice and pomegranate syrup, and follow it up with patlıcan közde, aubergine grilled with tomatoes, garlic and onions, and sogan közde, grilled onions in olive oil, flavoured with a tinge of sweet sauce and paprika. One can order rakı, an aniseed-flavoured spirit which the Turks call “Lion’s Milk”, or one of Turkey’s many drinkable wines. Zubeyir, the usta, recommends the taraklı kebaP, spare lamb ribs, tavuk sis, chicken shish kebab and Adana kebaP, a long, spicy minced meat kebab much like the Indian seekh. Zubeyir Usta’s passion is there for all to see. The expertise with which he rotates the skewers almost makes it seem

FABRICE

LANGLADE

Expedition anywhere B Y S UPRIYA N AIR supriya.n@livemint.com

···························· oanna Malinowska went on an expedition to hostile Arctic regions. Fabrice Langlade plans to install a porcelain bridge on the Mongolian steppe. Luc Mattenberger takes on the moon itself. All three are artists who are also travellers—of a particular kind. Their work forms part of Somewhere Else (Ailleurs), a new exhibition at the gallery L’Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton in Paris, which brings together works by artists from across the world in the expeditionist genre. Expeditionism is about a particular motive to travel: It is the notion that contact with the outside world—with “somewhere else”—boosts creativity. As the curator of the show, Paul Ardenne, explains, “In order to create their work, the artist feels the pressing need to relocate…they can’t do everything in their studio.”

J

Write to lounge@livemint.com CHILD­FRIENDLY RATING

While the people are friendly and the city is safe, Istanbul’s attractions may not enchant children.

PRIVATE

Q&A | PAUL ARDENNE

A new exhibition in Paris highlights a unique intersection of art and travel

as if he is enjoying a private game of foosball. The usta starts handing out the kebabs. There is a satisfied silence at the hearth as we concentrate on the many flavours seducing our palates. It is truly a meal fit for a sultan. Walking along the tramline I marvel at the architecture of the multi-storeyed buildings with intricately designed Venetian balconies overlooking this pedestrian-only street. A few metres short of Galatasaray Square, home to the eponymous high school and closely associated with one of the city’s three famous football teams, I join a group of street artists for a cup of çay, Turkish tea, when someone asks me, in broken English, if I am looking for some “night pleasure”. I hastily decline. I walk past the Balık Pazarı, the Fish Market, next to the more famous Çiçek Pasajı, Flower Passage, known for its many tiny bistros squeezed into old Constantinople’s flower market. I walk past late-night shops selling discount clothing and excellent Turkish chocolates. I walk past night clubs and the grand façades of consulates. I pass buskers, sometimes even Native Americans or concert violinists! As the night begins to grow old, I stop at a friend’s pub near Tünel, the end of Istiklal Caddesi and the second oldest subway in the world. A band is playing covers of Duman, a well-known Turkish rock group, and entertaining a wonderful assortment of foreigners and locals. I make myself comfortable on the black leather couch and order an apple-flavoured nargile. The rhythm of the flickering candle on my table enhances the magic in the air. I sip my red wine and catch myself musing about this ancient city. I smile to myself: Istanbul has worked its charm yet again.

Journeys and destinations are among art’s perennial concerns. But expeditionism is a thoroughly modern investigation into the philosophy of why we move away—sometimes in search of adventure, sometimes for self-discovery, and sometimes, as with the Dutch conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader, who lost his life in 1975 trying to cross the Atlantic in a pocket cruiser, in search of a miracle. In an email interview, Paul Ardenne speaks about the ways in which art and travel interact in Somewhere Else. Edited excerpts: How is expeditionism different from other artistic concepts of journeys and travel? Nowadays, an ever-growing number of artists select “somewhere else” as the setting for their creative endeavours. They set off, travel back and forth, create or install the work of art outside of its traditional place of production, the studio, or its exhibition space, the gallery. The “expeditionist” artist does not initially establish their visual message on a precise point of land. They are more concerned with moving about or wandering; they sculpt their creation while engaging in physical nomadism

and cultural roaming. It seems to suggest the idea of muscular, romantic travel: defining the self through disorientation as much as through location. Yes and no. The “expeditionist” artist usually knows where they are going and why they are going there, even if changing the place of creation changes the creation itself. Travel means encountering new spaces, meeting other humans, and is an opportunity to redefine your own bearings. You thus represent your own world from another perspective. In this case, the confrontation with the “other” space is decisive. If there is a sense of disorientation, it is less due to the physical shift than because of the mental shift. The idea that authentic art can only blossom “somewhere else” seems a little like a Eurocentric notion. Would you agree? No, not at all. It is true that the effect of “somewhere else” in art was initially exploited by Western —mostly European—artists. This

Elsewhere: (above) Fabrice Langlade’s Un pont en por­ celaine en Mongolie; and Paul Gauguin’s La Fuite. is no longer the case. Internationalization has levelled geographical hierarchies, and the Internet has contributed to the circulation of ideas and forms without any physical barriers. The result is an expanded area where everyone has their rightful place wherever they are. What inspired L’Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton to pick this theme? The Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton gives precedence to themes linked to travel, adventure and migration. For genetic reasons, as its director Marie-Ange Moulonguet would remind you: Vuitton’s DNA lies in the first travel items, that is,

bags and suitcases, starting with the now legendary famous “trunk” designed by Louis Vuitton, synonymous with the idea of distant or adventurous travel. Somewhere Else reinforces this idea in its own way by demonstrating that, in the era of globalization, human migrations are not just for tourist reasons or correlated to misery, as we often hear, but that they are also aesthetic. What are some of the media visitors experience in the show? Video, of course, in that it allows you to make recordings. But also painting, as you can see in

COLLECTION

,

MALINGUE SA

the work of the Chilean artist Fernando Prats. Participatory art too in the style of (French artist) Yann Dumoget, whose artistic process consisted in touring the world for two years, bringing news from one person to the next, as decided by the people he met by chance. In the Far East, Tïa Calli Borlase creates sculptures made of trimmings or lingerie, exhibits them surreptitiously in temples and then photographs them: sculpture, performance and photography, all in one. There is nothing exclusive about the use of media, whatever they are. (New York-based Greek artist) Andreas Angelidakis, for example, designs virtual landscapes using a computer and offers us the image of locations that are constantly being dug up and extended through digital animation, in which we lose ourselves. Somewhere Else (Ailleurs) is on display at L’Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton, Paris, till 8 May.


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SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2011

Books CRIMINAL MIND

ZAC O’YEAH

The museum of police files The immaculately maintained Calcutta Police Museum is a destination for true crime fiction buffs

W

ith a bit of luck and the helping hand of an amicable director general of police, I found myself at the fascinating police museum in Kolkata—a gem of a museum which, although it is open to the general public, falls slightly off the tourist track. Because it is located some distance away from the more popular attractions, it is easy to miss if one is doing Kolkata in the jaded manner of been-there-done-that travellers. It isn’t all that hard to find. Just take a taxi to 113 APC Road and you’ll spot it on your left before the Manicktala Crossing. The heritage building has its own history—it used to be the home of the great Raja Ram Mohan Roy, who sold it to the government when he left for England in 1829, after which it was used as a police station first and then as the commissioner’s office. Today you may bump into the knowledgeable deputy commissioner of police (north division) at the museum, who interacts with many of the scholars who come to do research in the police archives. For anybody who has even the slightest interest in crime and detection, this ought to be the No.1 destination. The manner in which the museum has been designed and the unique forensic collection on display puts it among the best, although it may be a little smaller than the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) visitor centre in Washington, DC,

where the main attractions are weapons used by Al Capone and Bonnie and Clyde, or the American Police Center & Museum—where you can try out an electric chair (I made sure that the power was off before I sat down). But the just over a decade-old Kolkata Police Museum nevertheless ranks as one of the world’s finest special-interest museums. Here you will find out everything you wanted to know about real police work in India, both its history and its present. The Kolkata police department is among the older police forces, set up as a Watch and Ward Unit in 1704, employing then about 68 people (compare that with the 26,000 employees today)—and it is thereby approximately contemporary with the police forces created in countries such as Russia and France (England and the US seem to have put a modern professional police system in place only in the 1800s). Apart from write-ups on case stories, you get to see the actual weapons confiscated in some of the most infamous crimes in Indian history—such as the Alipore Bomb Case of 1908, following which Aurobindo Ghosh was arrested (but later acquitted), bomb fragments pertaining to the failed assassination attempt on the viceroy Lord Hardinge in 1912, and even the swords and a machine gun laid down at the feet of Mahatma Gandhi by repentant rowdies and rioters during his Kolkata sojourn in the 1940s. Furthermore there are copies of books proscribed by the British Raj, modern-day pirated goods such as videos and printer cartridges, Naxalite manuals, various tools confiscated from master burglars, a display of drug samples, police badges and uniforms, including a bomb disposal outfit worth `4 lakh, an actual bomb built into a book, and a menacingly huge Japanese bomb dropped on the

PHOTOGRAPHS

BY

ZAC O’YEAH

Reservoir: (clockwise from left) The parade uniform of yesteryear policemen; the museum; and old weapons.

city during World War II (which luckily didn’t go off). On display are also some really scary items of forensic evidence collected during high-profile criminal investigations, including the remains of a corpse hidden inside a wall by relatives of the murder victim. So if you want to learn about the gruesome things policemen have to deal with in the line of duty, and hear stories that rival anything a fiction writer could cook up, then this is the place for you. In fact, the museum is like an encyclopaedia that describes how the police are organized and the range of things they

do—from detective work to rescue efforts, traffic policing and VIP protection, combating terrorism and cyber crime. You’ll also get to know the basics of DNA technique and fingerprinting. Fingerprinting was the most important identification method prior to DNA, and the technique was, incidentally, first experimented with in Bengal around 1858. Later it was put to more systematic use during Edward Henry’s tenure as inspector general of police here in 1896 (he would later become the Criminal Investigation Department, or CID, head at

Scotland Yard), although actually the development of the “Henry Classification System” ought to be credited to the Bengali inspectors Azizul Haque and Hem Chandra Bose who did most of the work (but unfortunately don’t find a mention in general forensic handbooks). Today the original Footprint & Fingerprint Sections have merged in the

scientific investigation wing of Kolkata police. The museum also houses a huge archive of some 7,000 important case files spanning about a century, accessible to scholars and historians from Indian universities and abroad. For us general tourists there is—like in all good museums—a shop, which is small but worth its while. The lavishly illustrated must-have book Evolution of Kolkata Police is very affordable at `250 and there’s other cool memorabilia to adorn your bookshelf of detective novels. The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm, and, as an additional benefit, entry is free. Zac O’Yeah is the author of Once Upon a Time in Scandinavistan. Write to Zac at criminalmind@livemint.com

THE HARAPPA FILES | SARNATH BANERJEE

Ode to the commonplace Graphic commentaries that illustrate the familiar past and present of Indian life B Y S UPRIYA N AIR supriya.n@livemint.com

···························· arnath Banerjee’s third book, after Corridor and The Barn Owl’s Wondrous Capers, is a series of “loosely bound graphic commentaries”, produced three years after he promised his editor he would never write a graphic novel again. He volunteers this information in an introductory page to The Harappa Files. The book opens with Greater Harappa Rehabilitation, Reclamation and Redevelopment Commission, sketches which explain how a “secret think-tank of elite bureaucrats, historians, ethnographers, social scientists, law enforcers, retired diplomats and policymakers…set up the committee to conduct a gigantic survey of the current ethnography

S

The Harappa Files: HarperCollins, 215 pages, `499.

and urban mythologies of a country on the brink of great hormonal changes.” The “Harappa findings” are made public in subsequent pages, in flashes of illustration and commentary, most two or three pages long. Some of them contain slices of life from a less momentous age. Bureaucrats are represented by gargoyles; “self-taught chemists” selling cures for the eczema caused by terylene shirts are memorialized briefly; we recall a time when “we knew what the capital of Tonga was and how many medals Nadia Comaneci won at the Montreal Olympics”. Some look forward. File #0491 / 11C / Nano conjures up visions of a Delhi saturated with so many cars that pedestrians “can finally cross the road” when the jam ceases to move. The Greater Harappa Commission notwithstanding, the “findings” in this book are presented entirely in Banerjee’s

Best­seller: The self­taught chemist hawks ‘Calamine X’. trenchant voice and visual vocabulary. The stories here are succinct and often funny; but most also resist the temptation of the anti-climactic sting, or the single payoff line or panel that might make them slapstick. He is more susceptible yet to an annoying didacticism. This makes routine jokes of material that is otherwise sharp. Many of the sketches that look backward will be familiar—some may even recreate fondness—to readers who remember an urban India

very different from this decade’s. Banerjee’s commentaries are too textured to evoke simple nostalgia, but what they do evoke is sometimes too reliant on that familiarity. In these instances (such as File #0022 / 12 B / Middle-Class Revolutionary, unsurprisingly about middle-class revolutionaries), the reader anticipates the sketch, instead of the other way around. The most refreshing thing about The Harappa Files is its format, which offers many opportunities for readers to return to it, dipping into a story or two at a time, lingering over favourites. It will feel like holding a commonplace book—certainly in the medieval sense of the term, as a scrapbook of memory, fact and aphorism, but also literally, as a book about the commonplace. Banerjee has a wicked eye for the ubiquitous visuals of life in Delhi and Kolkata, so often representative of other parts of urban India as well. There is an awkward vibrancy to the way his characters are drawn. Like their surroundings, in schools, government offices and yes, the homes of the bourgeois, their

beauty is complex and ungainly; it coexists and melds with their ugliness, their indifference, their sense of semi-permanence. Banerjee draws these imperfections without caricaturing them, and his colouring expresses their mood near-perfectly. Sometimes in black and white, sometimes in cool, solid colours, each piece of art acquires depth and clarity. In File #6851 / 5M / Jessie, Banerjee depicts the scientist J.C. Bose, who demonstrated a wireless telegraphy experiment in Kolkata years before Marconi, but lost out on a Nobel Prize because bureaucratic delays prevented his discovery from becoming international news in time. He is looking, Banerjee says, “at two fornicating ants, wondering whether to cremate the pair with his magnifying glass or let his good upbringing come in the way”. There is a poignancy to the tea-stained sepia illustration of the great man, and to the nonchalant absurdity of Banerjee’s text, that no middle-class revolutionary can adequately convey.


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SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

EXCERPT

The big bad city blues Jimmy is Mowgli’s adventurous grandson in this interpretation of Kipling’s classic, ‘The Jungle Book’

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immy looked again at his phone. No message, no missed call. She’s a bitch, he thought. Hurt and anger welled up inside him. Ragini had not answered his messages for two days. She hadn’t even taken or returned his calls. She must have found someone else, he thought. Someone more like her—fast and immoral and unreliable, the slick international type to whom nothing held any meaning. Why do I even think about her? he wondered. I know she’s not my kind, and I am not hers. Anita—now, she had seemed like a nice, decent girl. Where was she? Why did she disappear? He switched off his phone and flung it on the bed in frustration. An hour later when he switched it back on, there was a message from Balu. ‘Come for a party,’ it said. He went to the bathroom, thought of the fake, shiny world that Balu was inviting him to, and spat. Then he returned and switched his phone off again. For the next two days, he didn’t receive a single phone call or message from anyone. On the third day, his phone finally rang. It was Balu again. ‘Hey, where have you been?’ ‘Asleep.’ ‘Oh? Okay. Are you all right?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Great. So do you want to come out for coffee? I’m going to the Def Col Barista. There are two nice French girls who are also coming.’ Jimmy paused for a moment. He had not replied to Balu’s message two nights ago. He wasn’t sure why he had done that. Balu had done him no disservice—in fact, he was being a good friend. ‘Okay. Will you pick me up or do we meet there?’ ‘I’ll pick you up. See you in twenty minutes.’ The idea of French girls sounded interesting. Of course, nothing was going to happen, but at least they would get Ragini off his mind. Balu arrived on time. Apart from this, he was his usual self. ‘You d***head. What have you been up to?’ he asked as soon as Jimmy got on the bike. ‘Nothing. I was just feeling anti-social.’ ‘Oh. Yeah, that happens. But why?’ ‘I don’t know... I guess because I don’t fit here.’ Balu pulled over and stopped the bike. ‘Get off,’ he told Jimmy. He then put the bike on its stand and pulled out a cigarette. As he sat on the bike, he lit his cigarette and asked, ‘Why do you think you don’t fit in?’ Jimmy didn’t say anything. Neither did Balu. He merely puffed on his cigarette. By now he knew Jimmy well enough to know that prodding him would only make him clam up.

Modern animals: Character sketches by Sarnath Banerjee. Eventually Jimmy spoke. ‘Look, you guys are different. People here are a different tribe altogether.’ ‘Yeah, right. People here have horns and tails... and hooves. F***, how am I holding a cigarette? I have hooves!’ ‘No, look, I’m not kidding. People here are so brash and loud and aggressive. They act so superior! Like they know everything.’ Balu ignored the jibe. ‘People are the same everywhere,’ he said. ‘They eat, they drink, they fight, they f***, they procreate. Apart from this, they get sodomized at work. That’s it.’ ‘The people in Haripur are not junglis,’ Jimmy countered. ‘They are not beasts. They have manners, they have morals, they are in touch with our culture and nature, and they are not forever in a race to show off their money or earn more of it. They are human.’

The Urban Jungle: By Samrat, Penguin India, 238 pages, `250.

‘Man! That’s a new one! No, hang on, that’s an old one. So Haripur village on the edge of the jungle must be the heaven we hear so much about. And does everyone have a halo and carry harps?’ Jimmy stared angrily at Balu, who broke into one of his lopsided grins and offered Jimmy the last puff of the cigarette. ‘Let’s go, angel,’ he said, and started the bike. ‘The girls are waiting!’ Jimmy cursed him and hopped on. The only thing he could think of saying was, ‘Haripur is not crowded and ugly.’ ‘It won’t last because people everywhere want development,’ Balu retorted. There was no more conversation until they reached the Def Col market because Balu drove like a maniac and Jimmy spent his time catching up on his prayers. The girls were waiting. One was petite, vivacious, with dark hair and dark eyes. The other was a tall, slender blonde who spoke very little. ‘Jelena and Aurelie,’ Balu said, ‘meet Jimmy. He’s a very good boy. An absolute angel.’ Jimmy smiled tightly and tried furiously to think of something clever to say. Jelena said a warm hi. Aurelie said a gentle hi. ‘It is very difficult to find good boys in Europe now,’ Jelena said with a grin, in her delightfully thick French accent. ‘It is very difficult to find good boys—or girls—anywhere,’ said Balu. ‘But Jimmy is one. Though I’m

not sure if it’s good for him to be so good. Anyway, what’s the weather like in Paris? I hear it was unseasonably cold this year.’ The conversation drifted from global warming to the failed predictions of millennial doom and Y2K disasters that had brought in the new year. The girls, both students at the Sorbonne, had strong views on most things, and the discussion was lively. After a while, they decided to have some beer and moved to a nearby restaurant popular with the city’s artists and writers. A long and animated discussion on France, India and everything in between followed. Eventually, inevitably, the topic turned to Jimmy’s hometown. ‘It’s a small town at the edge of a jungle in the state of Madhya Pradesh,’ Jimmy told Jelena and Aurelie. ‘And it’s heaven on earth,’ Balu added. ‘Oh really? What is there?’ Jelena asked. ‘Well, there is the jungle, and there are nice streams and a lovely cliff in the forest from where you can see the land carpeted in green . . . and there are the animals. Deer, wolves, bears, monkeys, pythons, a few elephants, even the odd panther or tiger,’ Jimmy said. ‘It sounds lovely! We must go there,’ Jelena piped up. Jimmy smiled sheepishly. ‘Yes, yes,’ he said. ‘Though actually now it’s not as nice as it used to be . . . lots of trees are being cut, houses and shops being built, traffic . . . you know, development.’ ‘But the people are absolute angels,’ Balu said. ‘I know!’ said Jelena. Aurelie smiled encouragingly. Jimmy blushed, and again smiled sheepishly. ‘Even the people are not as nice as they used to be. But still, they’re better than those in Delhi. The people here are so aggressive!’ he said. ‘Yaar, I’ve never been in a street fight!’ Balu muttered sotto voce. The girls looked at Balu, who didn’t explain, and the conversation paused for a moment before returning again to the temperament of the average small-towner. ‘But anyway, I guess the pace in small towns is a lot more laid back, so people do seem gentler and kinder,’ Balu resumed. ‘And there is a certain charm about these middle-of-nowhere places. They are a large part of India. You won’t understand very much about the country by looking at south Delhi, south Bombay and the Taj Mahal. So, you must visit Haripur. Maybe Jimmy could take you there.’ All eyes turned to Jimmy. ‘Er . . . sure!’ he said, trying to sound welcoming. ‘Good! We’ll plan this!’ Jelena said. And so it was duly decided that the girls, Balu and Jimmy would go to Haripur in two weeks’ time. Everyone left the restaurant in high spirits. Warm goodbyes were said, but the strange French way of saying it with a kiss on the cheek eluded Jimmy. He managed a hesitant hug, and silently cursed himself.

THE READING ROOM

TABISH KHAIR

A SEASON OF PRIZES

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he year seems to have started well for HarperCollins: Three of their authors were listed for the prestigious Man Asian Literary Prize and Kishwar Desai’s Witness the Night won the Costa First Novel Award. The Costa Book Awards are one of the significant literary prizes in the UK and recognize books of the year by writers based in the UK and Ireland. It has five categories: First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Book. The winners in each category receive £5,000 (around `3.6 lakh). Desai, along with the winners in the other four categories, is now a contestant for the £30,000 award of the Costa Book of the Year 2010, which will be announced soon. Witness the Night is a gripping novel that highlights what I have noted earlier in this column: an increasing and fruitful tendency among newer “Indian English” writers to resort to elements adapted from genre fiction. Based around a mass murder in a sprawling house in Punjab, it introduces Simran, a whisky-swigging, chain-smoking social worker from Delhi, as a JACK MIKRUT/AFP feisty female “detective”. Using the murder mystery, the novel delves into aspects of tradition and change, class and gender. While sometimes the narrative slows down, it never loses significance. This is a novel worth reading.

New nomenclature The latest lists will be out by the time this column appears in print, and I am afraid they will confirm a trend: The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize should now be called the Postcolonialist Writers Prize. And this is not just a positive change. In Beginning Postcolonialism, one of the best introductions to the field, John McLeod does an excellent job Nobel laureate: Seamus Heaney. of explaining the movement from “commonwealth criticism”, with its “universalist” criteria, to postcolonialism, with its deeper political awareness. He also, fairly and correctly to my mind, points out that early “commonwealth critics” served the useful purpose of promoting literature from the ex-colonies, even though it was in “universalist” terms. They focused not on what was distinctive about such literature, but what it shared with “standard” British or American literature. Perhaps one can say more in the defence of these early Commonwealth critics. One can argue that their “universalist” criteria were demanded by the fact that the writers they were championing were mostly based in or came from “other” places: India, the Caribbean, Nigeria. The very fact of this difference forced them to adopt universalist criteria in order to “sell” these writers to British and American readers. With the rise of postcolonialism all this changed—which was partly for the better. But, again, if one looks at current shelves of visible postcolonial literature, what one finds is the dominance of writers who have been educated, at least from school onwards, in the UK, US or highly-Europeanized spaces such as Canada and Australia. Can’t one argue that the postcolonial valourization of difference is possible because many of these writers actually share the same cultural and educational spaces as their British and American readers? I feel that the Commonwealth Prize reflects this trend: Writers who grow up in highly Europeanized spaces stand a better chance. Writers born or educated in the UK, Canada and Australia have an advantage over those (largely) educated in the Caribbean and India. The term “Commonwealth”, with its faulty geopolitical demarcation, has been replaced by a discourse of postcolonialism. This allows some radical space, at least vis-à-vis prizes such as the Booker, but it is not always a change for the better.

Surviving the Nobel Few authors manage to do so, but there is no doubt that Seamus Heaney has survived the Nobel. His excellent new collection Human Chain shows no diminution of the powers of this Irish Nobel laureate. Tabish Khair is the Denmark-based author of The Thing about Thugs. Write to Tabish at readingroom@livemint.com

FREE VERSE | MEENA KANDASAMY

One­eyed

the pot sees just another noisy child the glass sees an eager and clumsy hand the water sees a parched throat slaking thirst but the teacher sees a girl breaking the rule the doctor sees a medical emergency the school sees a potential embarrassment the press sees a headline and a photofeature dhanam sees a world torn in half. her left eye, lid open but light slapped away, the price for a taste of that touchable water.

Excerpted from The Urban Jungle, by Samrat.

Excerpted from Ms Militancy by Meena Kandasamy; Navayana, 64 pages, `150.

Write to lounge@livemint.com

Write to lounge@livemint.com


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SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2011

Culture PRIYANKA PARASHAR/MINT

DIGITIZATION

The byte of history

COURTESY

New digital archiv­ ing initiatives are trying to ensure what the future makes of our art and visual history

B Y H IMANSHU B HAGAT himanshu.b@livemint.com

···························· rchiving, or the storage of documents or records, brings to mind rows upon rows of dusty file-laden shelves or, in its more up-to-date version, digital data stored in hard drives. Either way, it sounds yawn-inducingly mundane, but as Sabih Ahmed, a researcher with the Hong Kong-based Asia Art Archive (AAA) points out, we are also living in the age of information explosion. While we have embraced a truly networked and interconnected world, we also feel overwhelmed by the daily deluge of data. Three recent headline-making names could serve as good signposts of our brave new information-centric world—PR professional Niira Radia, WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. “There is an overproduction of data and information,” says Ahmed. “The question we have to face all the time is how will this play out in the future.” The Internet, he points out, is a suspect source of information— there is no grading for what is accurate and what isn’t. Which is why recording and storing our present and past becomes even more vital as a discipline. “Archiving is about the custodianship of collective memory,” he says. “Who is going to gather and legitimise it? Earlier, colonial archives were the storehouse of legitimate memory; in our times memory seems to be dispersed. We don’t have any grand narratives because everyone’s got a story to tell and they have their own documents to substantiate these stories.” These questions are as relevant to the field of art as they are to any other area of knowledge. Today, archiving can be said to relate to art in two ways—one, as

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a discipline essential to preserving and promoting the knowledge of art practice and art history; and two, as a subject for artists to work with. An example of the first is AAA’s recently concluded project to digitize the personal archives of the noted art critic Geeta Kapur and her artist husband Vivan Sundaram. This was AAA’s first such initiative in India and according to Ahmed, who worked with Sundaram and Kapur on the project for a year, plans are afoot to digitize more personal artists’ archives—no new names have been finalized yet, he says. A fascinating example of archiving as a subject was an art exhibition held in January at the Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA) in New Delhi. Titled Against All Odds: A Contemporary Response to the Historiography of Archiving, Collecting and Museums in India, the show displayed photographs, paintings, sculptures, installations and new media works by Sundaram and 19 other contemporary Indian artists. Tapping into the zeitgeist is also the curious case of the Greater Harappa Rehabilitation, Reclamation and Redevelopment Committee set up by the government to conduct “a gigantic survey of the current ethnography and urban mythology of a country on the brink of great hormonal changes”. Should anyone want to take a peek at some of the survey’s findings, all they have to do is procure a copy of Sarnath Banerjee’s new graphic novel, The Harappa Files (read the review on Page 14). It is all fictional, of course, and it has been presented as a series of government documents drawn in comicbook style. “I see myself as…an archivist. I author my reality but I also record,” says Banerjee, likening his work to that of William Hogarth’s drawings of 18th century London and to Mario Miranda’s caricatures set in Mumbai’s Colaba district of the 1970s. Banerjee sees himself as creating a parallel, personalized version of history which comes with large dollops of artistic licence. It is his own anarchic response to, as he puts it, our “dominant foundational truths”. This blend of fact and fantasy was also in ample evidence in Against All Odds. Arshiya Lokhandwala, the curator of the

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PUSHPAMALA N

SARNATH BANERJEE

Rank and file: (from top) Sundaram and Kapur at their residence; Pushpamala with her installation Motherland; and a panel from The Harappa Files.

show, says the title referred to the fact that art and artists in India have survived and even thrived against all odds over the years, despite the government’s poor record of running museums, creating archives and

building a public art collection. For instance, Bose Krishnamachari’s exhibit, titled LaVA: Laboratory of Visual Arts, comprised his personal library of books and audiovisual material, lifted whole—shelves, DVD

players and all—and planted on a large portion of the ground floor at the LKA. By inviting viewers to browse through his own library at a governmentowned gallery, the artist was pointing out “the inadequacy of what (public resource) there is,” says Lokhandwala. A more evocative jab at the Indian bureaucracy was Subodh Gupta’s installation in all its grimy glory—a standard-issue wooden government office cupboard full of old files and, bound to its exterior, a matching broken metal office chair, an old ceiling fan and more files. A TV screen had replaced one of the glass panes of the cupboard—playing on it were black and white shots of another decrepit office space. “Subodh was asking a question,” says Lokhandwala. “That it was situated in Delhi, and in a public realm, only made it more critical and interesting.” Other artworks explored the deeper link between individual and collective memory, and ways in which they are preserved. Inspired by museum dioramas, artist Pushpamala N.’s tableaux titled Motherland: Where Angels Fear to Tread… was an assemblage of costumed mannequins, a figure of goddess

Kali, a charkha and other reminders of nationalism presented against a colourful cloth stage backdrop. The artist described the slightly surreal work as an “archive of images of Mother India or Bharat Mata”. Lokhandwala calls it “an archive of loss and nostalgia”. The LKA show, says Ahmed, was “artists’ interpretation of archives, the process of archiving and the form of archive as opposed to the content”. A very direct and stark comment was Sundaram’s work titled if one were to fall. Fourteen plain metal racks containing art catalogues and other material stood watch over a similar empty rack that was lying toppled over on the floor. “The idea (behind a private archive) is to inform a certain location and a historical period,” says Sundaram, “which makes it an island of data and information”. The Sundaram/Kapur archive of modern and contemporary Indian art includes rare art exhibition catalogues and brochures spanning five decades; 35mm slides of over 4,000 artworks that include all of Sundarams’ works; Kapur’s writings and lectures; literature about events they organized and shows they curated. AAA has digitized and annotated most of it and will put it in the public domain for free access. Sundaram says their archival material is Delhi-centred, but includes a lot of what came to Delhi from other parts of India. Something as simple as a small invitation card to an art show printed 50 years ago contains a lot of valuable ancillary information. “The visual texture informs your brain,” he points out. “The type of printing, the graphic 50 years ago… So much art history is about the visual culture; product and presentation of art. Any sensitive researcher, writer, historian (will find things) in some ephemeral material. From the detail you construct memory and history.” The Subject of Archives, a symposium, and the launch of Another Life: The Digitised Personal Archive of Geeta Kapur and Vivan Sundaram will be held at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi on 26 February. For details, log on to www.aaa.org.hk


CULTURE L17

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

FLASHBACK

That hippie moment With ‘Hum Dono’ out in colour, we revisit the classic, made 40 years ago by Navketan Films, that remains the iconic 1970s movie

B Y S IDHARTH B HATIA ···························· s audiences flock to see the colourized version of Dev Anand’s 50-year-old film, Hum Dono, another offering from his Navketan Films banner is worth recalling. Hare Rama Hare Krishna, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, has over time become something of a cult classic. The film owes much of its cult status to the song Dum Maro Dum, picturized on the sultry Zeenat Aman working a marijuana pipe, at her seductive best. In recent news, Rohan Sippy is picturizing the song for an eponymous film still under production. But it would be difficult for the film itself to suffer a similar fate. Hare Rama was Anand’s second film as a director—his first, Prem Pujari, was a patchy effort, the fine songs not enough of a booster to please the box-office gods. At the beginning of the 1970s, the hangover of colourful romances of the previous decade—sugary confections, light of story and full of interludes in the mountains—was still with us. The angry young man was still to hit the screens and the king of the moment was a young, fresh-faced Rajesh Khanna who had decimated all competition. Anand, in his late 40s by then, was the only exception. He had delivered two backto-back hits, Johny Mera Naam and Jewel Thief, but both had been directed by his younger brother, Vijay Anand, who later left Navketan. Could Dev Anand survive on his own? Always on the lookout for a subject that suited the times, Anand was drawn to the hippie movement. Thousands of young men and women from Western countries, fed up of the materi-

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High: Zeenat Aman and Dev Anand in Hare Rama Hare Krishna. alism of their societies, had set out for the exotic East in search of gurus, peace and nirvana. The free love and drugs only helped. Nepal was the mecca of easily available intoxicants; improbable as it may seem, ganja, etc., were not illegal there at the time. The overland route to Nepal, called the “hippie trail”, was via Iran and Afghanistan and then India; most hippies visited Kullu, Goa and Varanasi before heading to Nepal. During one of his periodic visits to Kathmandu, Anand was taken to a hippie commune where he saw groups of unwashed, underdressed young men and women, all of them white, passing around chillums and swaying to music. Among them was one solitary brown face, a young girl who intrigued the actor enough for him to make enquiries. She met him at his hotel and told her story: She had left Canada after her immigrant parents had divorced and had joined a group of hippies, eventually finding her way to the eastern Shangri-La. Her name was Jasbir but everyone knew her as Janice. Yes, she had heard of Anand. But no, she had no intention of joining the film business. Convinced that there was a film in this intriguing story, Anand dashed off a script, rushed to Mumbai and set about finding someone to play Jasbir aka Janice. Getting a heroine for the male protagonist’s (his) love interest was easy—Mumtaz was

The art of gigapixels Google’s Art Project uses technology that reveals details otherwise invisible to the naked eye B Y A NINDITA G HOSE anindita.g@livemint.com

···························· ou probably never thought you could study the swirling brush strokes of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night without possessing an air ticket to Europe. When Google unveiled the Art Project on 1 February—a Javabased application that uses Street View technology to allow users to visit 17 museums across nine countries—the magic seemed to be in the numbers, in the 1,061 works by 486 artists. Works of art included range from Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus to Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Couple and several of Cezanne’s post-Impressionist works. The story goes that a bunch of Google staff who were passionate about art approached museums—from the Uffizi in Florence to the MoMa in New York—to

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collaborate on this project. The partnership involved making a selection of high-resolution images of artworks. In addition, a specially designed Street View “trolley” fitted with a camera took 360-degree images of the interiors of the museums which were then stitched together to make for more than 6,000 such panoramas. Google’s global team worked for 18 months to put all of this together, along with information on each artwork, brief histories of the museums and multimedia related to specific paintings and artists. What is most interesting, though, is that each museum has picked one artwork to be photographed in extraordinary detail, using gigapixel photo-capturing technology. Each of these images contain around 7 billion pixels, enabling the viewer to study details of the brushwork and patina beyond what is possible with the naked eye. In Aleksander Ivanov’s The Apparition of Christ to the People (1837-57), the painting selected by Russia’s national museum, the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, hard-to-see details suddenly become clear—such as the people hidden

the reigning queen and he signed her up right away. But who would play his sister? Indian actors are notoriously shy of playing sisters, as it puts them in a rut. However, this was the more challenging role—this sister was not the virginal beauty who lived for her bhaiyya but almost the vamp, trading in every idiom of the flower-power generation. He met several newcomers (including, it is said, Miss India Naina Balsaver) but it was Aman, to whom he was introduced at a party in Mumbai, who was the perfect match. Thoroughly Anglicized, the teenage Aman was a boarding school product who had spent a year in the US as an exchange student. She was part of Mumbai’s party set which stayed away from Hindi films, even though her father (who had divorced Aman’s mother many years before) had written the dialogues of Mughal-e-Azam. She had international looks, spoke Hindi in a chi-chi accent and wore Western clothes. Besides, she smoked. She had already been signed for a small film but Hare Rama Hare Krishna was to be her debut. The film was shot on location in and around Kathmandu. Local hippies were asked to turn up for the shoot, often causing continuity problems when they were too disoriented to report the next day. The story of a young, misguided girl who falls in with the wrong crowd, and the brother who searches her out,

COURTESY

proved to be a hit with young Indian audiences. The song Dum Maro Dum became an anthem. The theme caught the zeitgeist of a rebellious time when youngsters wanted to “tune in, turn on and drop out”. The spirit of revolt in the West had already made its way to India, though the big student and political agitations of the 1970s were still a year or two away. Hare Rama Hare Krishna was sunny, in keeping with the popular culture of the time, with lush locales, pertinent fashion and great songs. But there was a dark undercurrent to it, reflected in the moodiness of the hippie gatherings and the tragic end of it all. Dark clouds were gathering over India too. The year 1971 was a golden one for the country—two back-to-back overseas victories in cricket, a handsome victory on the “Garibi Hatao” platform by a young Indira Gandhi and the decisive victory over Pakistan that split it into two—but things were going downhill rapidly. Jayaprakash Narayan’s call to the army to rebel, the railway strike, the Emergency and cynical coalition politics were all to follow in quick succession. The decade that began with hope and promise ended in despair and with a totally changed India. But in 1971, all of this was yet to come. Anand, a man in tune with youth culture, had caught the mood of the long-haired, batik-wearing generation that wanted to fight everything their parents had stood for. He had captured a fleeting moment in history. A year later, it would have been too late. The Nepal government banned the sale of drugs soon after and the hippies moved to India or went back home, disillusioned and broke, to join the establishment. A seminal film, Hare Rama Hare Krishna spawned imitations, though there was nothing to them once the hippie scene faded. It is a film that can never be remade, belonging as it does to a time that has gone forever. Sidharth Bhatia is the author of a forthcoming book on Navketan Films, which is to be published later this year. Write to lounge@livemint.com

MUSIC MATTERS

SHUBHA MUDGAL

THE MELODY OF LOVE

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f you haven’t had the time to drive past mustard fields recently, you might not have noticed that spring is in the air. But the profusion of hearts and red roses on billboards would have reminded you that it is time for another edition of Valentine’s Day. One way or the other, whether through the benediction of Saint Valentine or the invoking of Kalidas’ Madan Utsav or Basant Panchami, it is the time for love songs. Serenading us from almost every radio channel is the evergreen voice of the inimitable and irrepressible Usha Uthup, who rolls her Rs with infectious delight in Darrrling, aankhon se aankhen chaar karne do… with Rekha Bhardwaj following suit saying Rrroko naa, rrroko naa, mujhko pyaar karne do… from the film 7 Khoon Maaf. Expressions of love rendered in song are, of course, as diverse as the human race itself and range from the classic and conventional to the most unconventional and even ludicrous. I have my share of favourite love songs from Hindi films but I am certain that if I were to share the list publicly, it would be contested from many quarters. So I will make do with sharing just one song, which is likely to find universal approval—Piya tose naina laage re from the 1965 classic Guide, sung by Lataji for S.D. Burman, with lyrics by Shailendra. But to recall some other love songs, ones that I learnt years ago as a teenager in Allahabad, and which I haven’t recorded or even presented publicly, I decided to look into an old black diary dated 1974 in which I had painstakingly inked lyrics of a fairly large song collection, ranging from wedding songs to ghazals, geet and sundry film songs that classmates and friends would request me to sing for them. And one that I found and would like to share with readers finds mention as a Lok Geet and is particularly apt for the season. It was taught to me by a gentleman whom I remember as Udayji, ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT whose profession was that of a fitter in the Railways, but who also sang and played as a member of one of the popular folk groups in Allahabad. In fact, Udayji was possibly part of the popular Lallan Singh Gahmari group and had been recommended to my mother by Gauri Shankarji, a brilliant The sultry voice: Singer Rekha Bhardwaj. clarinet player and composer from whom I had the fortune to learn many light music compositions. Udayji would come to our home in Allahabad occasionally to teach folk songs as a consequence of my mother’s belief that students of music need to be exposed to different genres of music. A couple of us would sit before him, and his calloused, grease-stained hands and slight lisp as he sang made us silly young things break into peals of laughter. But then we would be attentive and full of admiration as he generously shared with us the most captivating and charming of songs in his repertoire. The one that I remember with particular fondness went: Hansi hansi dolay basanti bayaar, jhoomat aave phagunwaa duwaar… (the spring breeze blows with a smile as phagun sways to the doorstep) sajali sughar jaise naikee bahuriyaa, bhari bhari ankhiyaan se nirakhe putariyaa, dharati ke sorahon singaar, haay Raam… (my eyes soak in the vision of the earth, dressed as if in nature’s full bridal finery…) As for unconventional expressions of love that easily cross over to becoming ludicrous, how’s this from the album Unforgettable by Dutch-born Punjabi singer Imran Khan—nee woofer tu meri, main teraa amplifier (stylishly pronounced amplifyah)! You are my woofer, and I your amplifier? This one pips the samose mein aloo song to the post any day.

GOOGLE ART PROJECT

Google had attempted Street View in the sphere of culture in December 2009, with exterior views of several Unesco heritage sites. For Manik Gupta, product manager, maps and local, Google India, it is in this marriage of Street View with gigapixel image capture that the Art Project triumphs. The Art Project also allows users to personalize and create an art list to comUp close: Holbein’s The Merchant Georg Gisze. ment on and share with friends. behind the tree. While one can’t replace the Another such gigapixel image experience of physically visiting is the German artist Hans Hol- these historic museums and expebein the Younger’s The Merchant riencing the artworks, and proGeorg Gisze from Gemäldegalerie jects such as www.artchive.com in Berlin. Zooming in to the made online viewing of art possifamous 16th century painting, ble a long time ago, there’s someviewers will be able to see the thing to be said about studying Latin couplet above the mer- the coded secrets of master artists chant’s head, the inclusion of up close on Google’s Art Project. which is intrinsic to the artist’s Up until now, you’d probably only style of portraiture. One can even r e a d a b o u t t h e m t h r o u g h a see the Latin motto obscurely Google search. visible on the rear wall: Nulla sine merore voluptas (no joy To visit the museums, log on to without sorrow). www.googleartproject.com

Write to Shubha at musicmatters@livemint.com

THE LIGHT FANTASTIC In 2010, nearly 4,000 people bought tickets to attend a small, all­night indie music festival held at an “ashram without a guru” on the outskirts of Bangalore. So much so that the organizers of the Fireflies Festival of Music had to limit the print run of tickets. The festival’s 2011 edition, which starts this evening and will last 12 hours, has no brand sponsors, a laid­back vibe and a line­up that includes everything from doom metal to Baul. This year’s headliners include Thermal and A Quarter, violinist Mysore Manjunath and Something Relevant. But how did a festival that started in the early 2000s with an audience of a few hundred turn into a mainstay of the Indian music festival calendar? Festival director Akshath Jitendranath has an evocative answer. “It’s a ANUP KATUKARAN chance for city folk to escape the sodium trail of city life,” he says. “Come out to this small village, park their cars wherever they want, smuggle in whatever they want to and sit around, listen to great music, and watch the sun rise behind a banyan tree. ” The 2011 Fireflies Festival of Music starts at 7pm today. For details, log on to www.fireflies.org.in Krish Raghav

A performer at Fireflies 2010.


L18 FLAVOURS SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

MUMBAI MULTIPLEX | SUPRIYA NAIR

Mother India’s floors

ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT

Kamalistan’s closed down; Filmistan’s up for sale. How did Mehboob Stu­ dios reinvent itself as a cultural space?

SANJAY BORADE/MINT

On location: (clockwise from left) Buddy Guy at the Mahindra Blues Festival; Anish Kapoor and Andrea Rose at Kapoor’s show; and Mehboob Studios.

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n 1950, looking for a place to build a studio away from central Mumbai’s booming industrial hubs, film-maker Mehboob Khan found a remote plot of land. It was closer to Mumbai’s southern and central districts, where stars, film-makers and producers traditionally lived, than the far-flung north-west of the city, where Filmistan and Bombay Talkies had their already-historic studios located in Goregaon and Malad—a place that Saadat Hasan Manto would describe years later to his readers in Lahore as a “village outside Bombay”. In Bandra, quiet and marshy, its Reclamation stretch yet to be excavated from the Arabian Sea, Mehboob Khan built a studio over four years, at an exorbitant rate that no one today remembers. Today, at the end of Hill Road, Mehboob Studios still stands undisturbed, around the corner from the pop-up flea markets and continually self-reinventing shopping arcades, the greasy spoons and neon-lit coffee shops, the convent schools, the delicately flaking coastal bungalows and the tall apartment blocks that occupy a little more of the horizon every year. Seen from the perpetually busy traffic junction outside, its tall gates look dignified, but unimposing. The trees that line its driveway shade a complex of low-slung, warehouse-like buildings from public view. It could easily be a blind spot for a passer-by, but Owen Roncon, who has lived in the

neighbourhood all his life, found that it was never far from his mind. The director of event management company Oranjuice, Roncon knew every concert stage in the city. In Bandra, you could stage the really big ones at the MMRDA Grounds to the east, at Bandra-Kurla Complex, or close to Land’s End in the west. “But I always wanted to do something at Mehboob,” he says. In December 2009, industrialist Anand Mahindra floated the idea of a blues festival that would bring the world’s biggest artistes together every year under the Mahindra banner. With Jay Shah, project lead, Mahindra Blues Festival, he discussed several possible locations where they could do for the blues what Montreux (Switzerland, home of the annual Montreux Jazz Festival) does for jazz. “We wanted a location with which we could build an association over time, a place that could come to be thought of as the hub for blues music outside its country of origin, the US. We thought of Goa, Bangalore, a number of other places within India,” Shah recalls. “But in the end we felt that the blues, with its history as a music of struggle and celebration, could only really belong to Mumbai.” So they turned to Mehboob Studios, a place that symbolized the sort of celebration and struggle particular to the history of Mumbai’s film industry. Mehboob Studios was completed in 1954, when

Fortunes began to look up in the mid­1970s. The rights to ‘Mother India’ reverted to the family Mehboob Khan was in the middle of making Amar, featuring Dilip Kumar and Madhubala. Neither that, nor the first two films he made there, Paisa hi Paisa and Awaaz, succeeded. Then Mother India, made in 1957, ensured that his studio would go down in history. It could not, however, ensure financial stability. “When my father died in 1964, the studio was mortgaged for a paltry sum,” says Iqbal Khan, Mehboob Khan’s son and the studio’s managing director. “We were involved in litigation with my stepmother, who wanted to be made permanent director at the studio. There were creditors who took us to court as well.” One of them fought the studio over a fee of `12,000. “If we could not afford that, asked the court, how did we deserve to keep the studio running?” Khan remembers. Fortunes began to look up in the mid-1970s. The rights to Mother India reverted from its distributors to the family. The income from the film continued to fund the studio long after its release. Their new recording

studio, built in 1974, did well; partly, Khan says, because they were in such a quiet area. “Dev Anand and Chetan Anand came to shoot at Mehboob all the time.” So did the decade’s most successful film-makers, including Manmohan Desai. “In 10 years’ time we were established as a good studio. Movie shoots happened here because the stars lived close by, and we had parking space. While our stages are too big for TV shows, they’re still booked for commercial shoots,” Khan says. “The board of directors has just been adamant about one thing so far: We didn’t want to do events.” This is where Roncon, organizing the Mahindra Blues festival, stepped in, working his way through potential problems. Sound would be an issue, in spite of the concert technically being indoors—the tower blocks that came up around Mehboob in the 1970s are largely residential. Traffic, always a hassle on Hill Road, could choke the area entirely. And the stages themselves had to be prepared. “They don’t look like run-down warehouses any more after they painted them,” Roncon says. “But you can’t get around the technical stuff: huge place, high ceilings. We had to pad the walls for soundproofing, go to great lengths to make sure the acoustics were right.” He laughs: “We learned a lot.”

It isn’t until you step on to one of the stages that Mehboob Studios offers you an opportunity increasingly rare in Mumbai: to be overwhelmed by space. Even in present-day Bandra, where public spaces tend towards bonsai proportions, an empty film studio is cavernous. This is also why Anish Kapoor, who held his Mumbai art show here in November-December, found Mehboob’s Stage 3 the most congenial space for the pure abstraction of his sculptures. “It’s always been a space where things are made, but from which they emanate,” Kapoor said about the location. “Nobody ever came here. We’ve been able to turn it the other way around and bring the public into this space.” Roncon and the Mahindras booked the space first, but Kapoor, collaborating with the British Council, had the earlier show. “We had to find somewhere suitably large, suitably theatrical, suitably inspiring, suitably exciting,” said Andrea Rose, visual arts director of the British Council, at the opening of Kapoor’s show. “I have actually seen the cannon in the august halls of the Royal Gallery and I can assure you it is a million times better (here). The scale of it is scary…it’s a mountain to climb.”

After the success of two events, with the Mahindra Blues Festival returning next year, Khan says the directors are planning to take this forward as a means of revenue. “We’ll host prestigious events,” he says. “Events that have cultural and artistic value. No weddings.” “It’s hard to find empty lots that can be rented out and reinvented every month,” says Nasreen Munni Kabir, a film-maker and writer who encountered the significance of the studio while working on her 2010 book, The Dialogue of Mother India. “With its good quality structures, its elements of art deco—it means a lot to have it revived with cultural events. I was at the Blues festival. I thought it was beautiful.” So did the artistes who played at the festival over 5 and 6 February. Shah and Roncon say they were all delighted with the venue. “(British blues guitarist) Matt Schofield said even in the UK, he’d never seen anything like it,” Roncon says. Most of the 3,000 Mumbaikars who attended the concerts over the weekend would say the same thing. The studios that made movie history in the 20th century have largely disappeared from public view. Some are disappearing literally. Kamal Amrohi’s Kamalistan, built in 1958, was sold last year to property developers. Earlier this week, newspapers reported that the venerable Filmistan—where Manto met and wrote for Ashok Kumar—has been put up for sale. Mehboob Studios, by throwing its doors open to art and music, is bringing a part of India’s invisible history to life. For years, audiences have seen the cities, palaces, forests and villages that were built within its spare walls and bare floor. Seeing it for itself is like looking into one of Kapoor’s distortive stainless steel sculptures—another sort of spectacle altogether. supriya.n@livemint.com



Lounge for 19 Feb 2011