New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Chandigarh, Pune
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Vol. 4 No. 11
LOUNGE THE WEEKEND MAGAZINE
Hardware, old coins and zippers; chest warmers, helmets and corsage headpieces. Accessories are not what they used to be >Page 10
BUSINESS LOUNGE WITH iDISCOVERi’S ASHISH RAJPAL >Page 8
A model for sustainable living, this tiny Japanese town redefines hippie for the postnoughties >Page 12
THE SUMMER READING GUIDE
A blockbuster Obama biography, heists in Tamil Nadu, office intrigue in Mumbai, and the secrets of Pakistan’s Bhutto family >Page 14
ascent of the
accessory A headpiece in acrylic depicting a city skyline and exaggerated shoulder epaulettes by Little Shilpa.
THE GOOD LIFE
HARIDWAR’S NAKED GRANDVILLE: THE AND BLESSED NEXT BIG NAME
wami Somnath Puri is explaining the secrets of longevity to a motley group sitting around his campfire in Haridwar: French tourists, Israeli backpackers, saffron-clad American yogis, elderly Indian women and the odd slum youth with dirt-streaked hair. Longevity is all about breath control, says the swami in Hindi. The moment you are born, Brahma, the Hindu god of creation, writes down exactly how many breaths or svaasa you will take in your lifetime. >Page 4
first came across J.J. Grandville sometime in the mid-1980s. I do not remember the context in which I became familiar—at a very superficial level—with the works of the 19th century French illustrator but do recollect that it was before I read Art Spiegelman’s Maus for the first time. Anyone who is familiar with the works of the two will realize the connection. Grandville (his real name was Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard) made his name on a play... >Page 15
OUR DAILY BREAD
AMRITA, IN HER OWN WORDS
A twovolume set of Amrita SherGil’s letters and artworks brings to life one of India’s most iconoclastic artists >Page 16
in today’s edition of
THE CRACKLE AND SNAP OF MEMORIES
hole spices are little voyages of discovery. Where they lead you depends on the course you chart for them. You can fry, roast, grind. You can use them whole. You can do a combination of these. I am partial to roasting and grinding. Roasting Indian spices usually liberates a heady, hidden fragrance, quite dissimilar to what you began with. “Wow, what’s that aroma?” is a question I am often asked when I’m roasting spices on my cast-iron chapatti pan. How do you know when to stop the roasting? >Page 18
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SATURDAY, MARCH 20, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
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FOUNDING EDITOR RAJU NARISETTI ©2010 HT Media Ltd All Rights Reserved
AN OPEN LETTER TO RAJ QUICKGUN THACKERAY
ear Raj Thackeray, Hope you and all the Marathi manoos (or is it manooses?) you directly and indirectly employ are well and ulcer-free. I know you’re a busy man (you work so hard every week to come up with at least three new creative rules to live and play by in your Mumbai) but your last googly really made me wonder about your neeyat (intention). Talking of neeyat, most people I know saw the recent Amitabh Bachchan film Teen Patti because of the song by that name. Am sure you saw it on Star Majha? Hot Brazilian model Maria Gomez with the kind of body you only see in South America rubs herself against Bachchan and assorted other stiff Indian CHILL men, one or two of them possibly Marathi, but I couldn’t tell for sure (not all manoos look as dashingly Marathi as you). Was it an embarrassing, involuntary reaction to the song that inspired you to announce yet another rule for Mumbaikars? No foreign dancers in Hindi films. If I understood what you said correctly, you’re fine if actors from other countries star in films such as Lagaan and Mangal Pandey as the evil white British guys but you want Hindi movies to steer clear of global seductresses because you’re afraid they might turn out to be terrorists? Also, when you said you wanted roles for more Marathi junior artistes, did you mean that you want to see more Maharashtrian item girls in our films?
IndoBrazil meet: Gomez and Bachchan. Did Rakhi Sawant complain that she’s not getting enough job offers post her swayamvar? Why don’t you just do what other politicians do and call in a favour or two. If the film industry survived gangster Abu Salem promoting Monica Bedi in Hindi films, it can surely survive a couple of recomanoosdations from you. And attacking director Mahesh Bhatt is so been there, done that. Why on earth would you want to “lay your hands” on Bhatt’s thick skin? In my humble opinion you’re wasting your genes and energy. Thanks to your uncle, Mumbaikars who saw My Name is Khan in city multiplexes felt like urban gladiators. But is that really the kind of impact you’re looking for? Now we all know you don’t want to
waste your time building boring old schools and hospitals for your community (and Balasaheb already did the ambulances thingy), so I won’t even go there. I say, be different. If you are as interested in the arts as you seem, why not focus on reviving Lavni? Forget Bal Thackeray’s maha aartis of the 1990s (and by now we all know that despite your tough guy act, you don’t really believe in violence against Muslims)—you could disrupt traffic and, simultaneously, position yourself as the most artistic mandude in town. Think multiple street Lavni performances where you force all north Indians to understand the beauty of Marathi culture. You could be the man who once again restored Lavni to its original beauty—a folk art form that uses dance, acting and music. The Marathi manoos would love you even more. Anyway, there are more ideas where that one came from. Like starting a national campaign to convince Marathi mulgi Madhuri Dixit to come back to Bollywood. Let me know if you’re getting my drift. Your friendly Bombay girl. PS: In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes. My family is from Pakistan. Write to email@example.com www.livemint.com Priya Ramani blogs at blogs.livemint.com/firstcut
ocated in the belly button of Hauz Khas village, towards the bottom end of its labyrinthine roads, Yodakin offers 400 sq. ft of alternative, independent and interesting titles in music, books and movies. Whether you are looking for eco-friendly activity books for tweens, CDs of alternative rock bands or esoteric art magazines, this is the place to go. The store is founder Arpita Das’ solution to the problem of alternative books getting lost in large bookstores. Das runs Yoda Press, an independent publishing house that focuses on urban studies, sexuality and gender, among other subjects. “Large bookstores are all about brand visibility and independent publications like ours were absolutely lost there,”
COLONIAL HANGOVER Sigh....why am I not surprised at the slant of Aakar Patel’s ‘The catholicity of Sonia’, 13 March? As soon as I read the headline, I knew that he would use Sonia Gandhi’s European/Catholic lineage to praise her and at the same time beat up all things Indian. Selfawareness and introspection are good. It is good to be aware of where the country is going wrong and take corrective steps. Unfortunately, Patel’s columns only appear to suggest that the reason why India has problems is because we are not Europe/US. So Sonia Gandhi has done well as a mother and politician in India because she is Italian. Am I glad that Silvio Berlusconi isn’t a lady and wasn’t married to Rajiv Gandhi! Berlusconi incidentally is Italian and embroiled in innumerable sex scandals, bribery cases, etc. I am now convinced that Patel is completely enamoured of Western, especially European, civilization. Because of that his entire reasoning has become completely lopsided. Even though there are nuggets of truth in most of his articles, the overall logic invariably hinges on one premise—Indians, especially Hindu Indians, are nincompoops, whatever good today is all because of the West and we can elevate our status in life only by following in their footsteps. How can a highly respected newspaper that otherwise boasts of high quality writing and sensible views regularly print such shallow/biased opinion pieces? REKHA GUPTA MENON
ART OF LIVING This refers to ‘Lessons in simple living’, 20 February. It is indeed heartwarming to read, at a time when everyone is running after materialistic things, that there are parents and school authorities who are trying to teach simple living tips to students and make them understand what nature is all about. Since more and more children now prefer junk food, a healthy tiffin plan is also a good idea. These children will be exposed to all the materialistic things in the world sooner than later, but if they are taught the right values and simple living, they will probably lead a good and healthy life.
Delhi’s indie stop says Das. “They only promote books that are mass market and often published by large multinational publishing houses.” Books are arranged according to the publishers. This helps customers get an idea of each of these publishers’ lists and areas of interest. So you can browse through titles from Katha, Blaft, Ravi Dayal and Westland, among others. For those whose interests lie left of centre, there are several LeftWord titles. Lounge loves the periodicals section that has some interesting and well-produced titles such as Gallerie, the orange interiors and the cool bohemian vibe. And Lounge really loves the children’s section. If, like most parents, you are looking for an alternative to Princesses and Poohs, this is the place to go. Yodakin is also the only place in Delhi where you can buy Daily Dump, an eco-friendly set of books and activities for pre-teens. The music section is equally eclectic—with Blue Frog CDs rubbing shoulders with Underscore,
Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
LOUNGE LOVES | Y0DAKIN
‘Daily Dump’, Blue Frog CDs and parallel cinema titles jostle for space in this store
We (I and my better half) tried Samar Halarnkar’s chicken flambé (‘An old favourite gets a new flame’, 13 February) and it was divine. This was after the beer chicken was a hit with the kids. I missed his column in the last edition of ‘Lounge’. Please keep them coming—his recipes are a welcome break from the routine and the triedandtested. RAUL RAJ VERMA
Alternative: Das started Yodakin as a retail space for Yoda books. the label of Shubha Mudgal and Aneesh Pradhan. “They have an important list called living music from the past which really is excellent music pulled out of the archives. Their CD on Marathi Natya Sangeet was picked up recently by a Japanese music aficionado. So the matching of the music and the kind of customer we have has been interesting,” Das says. Yodakin is also developing its world movie collection. Other than Palador and Shemaroo’s lists in world cinema, the store also sells Indian documentaries in the Under Construction label. If you are looking for DVDs of Govind
Nihalani and Shyam Benegal movies, you will be able to find them here, too. The store managers are clued in, they know their music and books and you are not met with a blank stare when you enquire about something. “Hauz Khas was a safety net,” Das says. “This place is full of eccentrics, so I thought we won’t stick out. Now, we realize that this is very much the catchment area for a store like this. A band of loyal and avid readers have now attached themselves to this place. That’s helped tremendously.” Veena Venugopal
Aakar Patel’s ‘The Thackerays’ primitive charisma’, 20 February, was saddening and has hurt a common, educated, liberal Marathi ‘manoos’ like me. There must be thousands like me who feel that this article is an easy way for you to vent your anguish (if any) against Maharashtrians. I do not support Thackeray’s violent ways but that does not mean that any Tom, Dick and Harry (like Patel) can simply write anything about Maharashtrians. Doesn’t Patel think his writing needs to be more responsible rather than just making judgemental remarks about the entire community? With reference to his remarks about Tilak, Agarkar, Savarkar, etc., I feel he has stretched his imagination too far and this was absolutely unwarranted. Second, if he thinks the owners of companies listed on Nifty and Sensex represent Mumbai, what about the senior Marathi executives in these organizations who actually run the daytoday operations? To sum up, Patel’s article is illinformed. KALPESH SAWANT ON THE COVER: PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY LAKME FASHION WEEK
LISTEN TO THE LOUNGE PODCAST We bring you the IPL lowdown: How to make sense of it all; a review of “Love, Sex aur Dhoka”; and our book critic Chandrahas Choudhury on this issue’s Summer Reading Guide www.livemint.com/loungepodcast
L4 COLUMNS SATURDAY, MARCH 20, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
SHOBA NARAYAN THE GOOD LIFE
The naked and the blessed at Haridwar PHOTOGRAPHS
RAJESH KUMAR SINGH/AP
Saffron surge: Sadhus from across the country and beyond have congregated at the Kumbh Mela, which ends on 28 April.
wami Somnath Puri is explaining the secrets of longevity to a motley group sitting around his campfire in Haridwar: French tourists, Israeli backpackers, saffron-clad American yogis, elderly Indian women and the odd slum youth
with dirt-streaked hair. Longevity is all about breath control, says the swami in Hindi. The moment you are born, Brahma, the Hindu god of creation, writes down exactly how many breaths or svaasa you will take in your lifetime. When the count runs out, you die. The trick is to elongate every breath you take so that each inhalation lasts about 2 minutes, and similarly with the exhalation. The swami rises and immediately the group does that looking-without-looking eye roll that men do when confronted with cleavage. Save for the yellow chrysanthemum garland around his neck, Swami Somnath Puri is buck naked, his bobbing organ eliciting furtive but compulsive stares from his rapt audience. He is a Digambar, a Mahanirvani, sans clothes, a stare-magnet. The swami disappears into his tent and reappears with a terracotta cone—about half the size of a normal ice-cream cone. He stuffs it with dried green grass—handmade hashish called charas—stokes the fire, lights the cone and begins sucking from the bottom. This is why we Naga Babas live long, he says from within a cloud of smoke. Our bare bodies aren’t protected from the elements, we don’t sleep, we don’t eat… Yeah, all you do is smoke hashish, mutters someone irreverently from the back of the group. A few people chuckle. The swami chuckles good-humouredly too as he looks up through bloodshot eyes at the group. Come on. Sit down. Have some chai, he invites. The group squeezes itself around the campfire. The charas pipe gets passed around. The French woman with matted hair inhales deeply and appreciatively before passing it on to her companion. The Indian grandmother who was standing with her palms clasped together in a respectful namaste, looks mildly outraged, then disgusted. She walks away, as does the disapproving American yogi. Swami Somnath Puri reaches into the fire and smears some
more ash on his already grey body. He puffs a few more times and settles down to pontificate on truth, war and breath control. Swami Somnath Puri is a Naga—a warrior-saint belonging to the Juna Akhara (clan). He has camped out in Haridwar for the Kumbh Mela, which this year is from 14 January to 28 April. For these three months, Naga saints or Babas, as they are called, come out of their Himalayan caves and tropical jungles to converge in one place. They cease their itinerant wanderings and stay put at sprawling makeshift campsites, talking to visitors, engaging in feats of strength (like pulling a chariot with a penis), and smoking pipes. “Hinduism is a very diverse religion with many paths to God—puja, meditation, yoga, pranayama, pilgrimages, fasts, chanting and satsang,” says Swami Avdheshanand. “The Kumbh is where all this diversity comes together.” Swami Avdheshanand is the Mahamandaleshwar or the head of the Juna Akhara, the largest of the Naga clans that arrive at the Kumbh. His serene face adorns numerous billboards in Haridwar. He has a TV show, speaking engagements, a magazine and a devout army of volunteers, one of whom (an architect) has designed his sprawling leafy Harihar Ashram in the old Kankhal
neighbourhood of Haridwar. Inside, there is an auditorium, temple, meditation and prayer halls, a cafeteria, cottages where visiting followers can stay, a shop selling gemstones and books, and a large courtyard where the swamiji receives visitors every morning at 9.30. The gun-toting policemen spring to action and mutter into their walkie-talkies as soon as the tall, saffron-clad figure emerges from his living quarters. In person, Swami Avdheshanand is smiling and animated, marrying discipline with charm. He is a handsome, youthful man—more Barack Obama than Baba Ramdev who holds court upriver in Rishikesh. Surrounded by a posse of assistants, public relations officers (PROs), schedulers and junior ashramites, the swami cuts an imposing
figure as he strides to the sacred peepul tree on the premises. Amid loud chanting, he waters it, pours milk on its roots, throws flowers, hugs the tree and rests his forehead prayerfully on its trunk before smearing the truck with sandal paste and vermilion powder. The same routine follows for the sacred rudraksh tree (Elaeocarpus ganitrus), the oldest such tree in Uttarakhand, according to volunteers. “When you pray with milk, flowers, water and leaves, your body becomes sensitive to nature and its vibrations,” Swami Avdheshanand says. “How can you harm the earth after praying to it?” A long line of devotees and followers snakes around the central courtyard. Swamiji delves into the crowd like a politician. He holds hands, kisses babies, poses for the camera with families, teases jean-clad young men who seek his blessing and smiles reassuringly at countless supplicant faces that look to him for jobs, babies, promotions, cures, and money. Twenty saffron-clad monks appear. “You people are my wealth, my lifeline, my strength,” the swami exclaims as they fall at his feet. Someone hands him a pair of sunglasses. He puts them on and hams for the camera. Another group of saints arrive, bearing gifts. Flowery language flows. “It is thanks to my past life’s merits that I have been able to see a mahant (religious leader) like you,” exclaims the leader of the delegation. “Arre,” swamiji waves away the praise. “I am just a simple man. You are the great mahant.” He invites the entire group to breakfast. The last in line is a
well-dressed, prosperous-looking woman. “Swamiji, I want to see Shiva,” she says. Swamiji stares at her as he digests the intensity of her desire. Finally, he says: “God is everywhere. God will be with you.” The answer seems to satisfy the woman who smiles gratefully. This then is the business of being a swamiji—the leader of a religious order who wields his influence over millions of followers. At a time when another swami down south—Nithyananda Paramahamsa—has been tainted by a sex scandal, Avdheshanand’s effortless grace is impressive. Across town, a long line of naked Naga Babas make their way to the broad-bosomed Ganga to seek salvation in her depths. Bhikshus arrive bearing begging bowls. Saffron-clad American swamis dole out cash. Tourists click cameras. Gypsy women squat on the street outside Birla House selling chains and rudraksh beads. Visitors breakfast on kachoris, samosas, jalebis or lassi. Holy Haridwar is strutting its stuff and the Kumbh is in full swing. Till 28 April when the campsites get folded up and the Naga Babas disappear into their forests or caves. Shoba Narayan was at the Kumbh. She smoked...but she didn’t inhale. Write to her at email@example.com www.livemint.com Read Shoba’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/shobanarayan
Mother’s dilemma Dealing with a rebellious teenager, and how to avoid losing your cool with your threeyearold My 14-year-old daughter is at times subtly rude to me, and even her grandparents. Either it is backchat or eye rolling or muttering “whatever”. She is not an overall angry or maladjusted girl, but she is doing this quite often now. She gives me a stand-offish or a ridiculing reply when a simple yes, no or okay would suffice. She makes me feel as if I am being stupid. Backchat and eye rolling are horribly shocking to encounter in your children, especially when you are at the receiving end. Part of it comes naturally as a form of rebellion and of asserting their own “grown-up” right to respond with sarcasm; but part of it is learnt and comes from watching teenagers on TV. While you can let some of it slide, don’t let her get away with it too often. Since coming down severely on this kind of behaviour will possibly only get you more “whatevers” and “rolling eyes”, I would suggest four possible strategies: u Shut down on her when she behaves likes this. Simply don’t
communicate, leave the room and do something else. For all that hard-nosed cynicism she is displaying, most children can’t take silence. u The other thing to do is to say laughingly, “Oh you’re in that kind of mood.” This way, you communicate that it is some strange impulse or motive on her part, and not “dumb” behaviour on your part that prompts her to behave this way. Make her rude talk and expressions sound like silly behaviour and she may stop. Warning: She may get even more incensed for a while, but may ultimately stop it. u The third option is to talk to her, explaining that you are hurt by her behaviour and that some of the issues she is biting your head off for are just social and family niceties. Remember not to whine and plead with her. Let her know that you will all stop speaking to her about these if she is incapable of receiving them in the way they are meant. For instance, one teenager always came up with snappy, nasty replies if she was asked nurturing questions such as “Did you sleep well?” or “Ready for dinner?” The replies would be on the lines of: “No, I’m a raging insomniac” or “Do I have a choice?” Her parents told her that until she “understood” such conversations and their emotional content, they wouldn’t talk to her about it at all.
That’s not a good idea. It’s best to understand where they’re coming from when they use snubbing, sneering language, but use a range of responses to get them to tone it down and stop it.
u The fourth strategy is to sometimes laugh with your child and say something such as, “Ok, that was smart and funny, but it was incredibly rude.” After this, expect a reply to your original question or an apology (on a good day). You may find that this strategy works best because it acknowledges the wordplay, but rejects the rude sentiment attached to it. Teenagers also derive a certain enjoyment out of using language in an effective (albeit nasty) fashion. Sarcasm, believe it or not, reflects a child’s growing mental capabilities! Making snide comments lets them feel grown-up. Some people find it just easier to put up with backchat from teenagers and expect grandparents and other adults at the receiving end to put up with it too.
Before stating my problem, I have to admit I am short-tempered. This has a direct bearing on how I deal with my daughter, who’s three and a half. She’s sweet, but can be quite adamant about what she wants. I try not to get angry and make her see some logic or reasoning, but she just will not listen. Eventually, I have to threaten her or slap her before she’ll do what I want her to do. I get so tired by all this that I do not have the energy to do anything else. I must emphasize that my daughter is not a fussy eater or bad-mannered—just adamant. Please help me deal with the situation. First, with a three-year-old, you have to choose your battles. There is only this much logic and reasoning that she can absorb. If you say that mealtimes and overall behaviour are not an issue, then believe me, you must, simply must, count your blessings on this. If the child is generally well-behaved and a good eater, short temper, slapping and other such parent meltdowns usually happen when you have set expectations of outcomes. When situations deviate from them, you blow your fuse. With a three-year-old (a child of any age, for that matter), it is pointless, and ultimately destructive to have a set outcome in mind and set both of you too many “tasks”.
It’s best to cut yourself and your child some slack and enjoy her growing up in a more relaxed manner. However, this doesn’t mean that you let her have her own way in all matters. As I said, pick your battles. Do this during peacetime, when you are calm and not in the middle of some issue with her. I would suggest that you think of eight issues which invariably put you and her at loggerheads and end with you losing your temper. Then think why it is so important that something is done the way you want—or done at all. You may find that at least four of these eight are important and non-negotiable; the other four you can afford to let slide. For instance, unsafe behaviour, like wanting to use a knife or scissors at this age, or refusing to hold your hand while crossing the road or getting into a lift, is something you cannot allow. But her insistence on choosing clothes to wear is something you can allow her. This exercise will help you understand whether you tend to take issues too seriously and imagine all kinds of dire consequences if they don’t get done or learnt the way you want. It’s best that you handle your temper issues effectively, else your daughter will mirror this behaviour and not learn how issues can be resolved amicably. Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting. Send your queries to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org
SATURDAY, MARCH 20, 2010
Insider Bright palette: (clockwise from left) Tinu Verghis loves colour, which explains her choice of vibrant hues for her home; she likes beaded curtains and picks them up from Mumbai, Thailand and Vietnam; the bedroom includes an open bathroom behind the frosted tile partition and the clay tiles on the floor have been sourced from Kerala; the pushcart is Verghis’ DJ console; and the kitchen is the couple’s hangout zone.
Hippie chic Model Tinu Verghis’ Portuguesestyle Goa home is colonial, yet avantgarde
B Y G EETIKA S ASAN B HANDARI Better Homes and Gardens
···························· oa means different things to different people, but to all stressed urbanites in India, it is just one thing: a dreamy escape. There’s a charm, a vibe that’s difficult to replicate. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Goa was the last European bastion in India. In supermodel and professional DJ Tinu Verghis’ colonial home in Tiswadi, everything that the state represents comes together in one beautiful picture-perfect moment. At the centre of the 1-acre property stands a canary-yellow Portuguese-style home that’s an amalgam of all the influences that have shaped it—its Portuguese origins, Goa’s lethargic, no-fuss feel, Verghis’ childhood in Kerala, and partner Quentin Staes-Polet’s aristocratic Belgian roots. At one end is the swimming pool that’s surrounded by nothing—except the
clear blue sky. Verghis and Staes-Polet bought the home from the original owner Eduardo Correia—they went to see it on the way to the airport because the advert said “no broker”, and they fell in love with it. “There was a vibe about the place that was our vibe,” says Verghis, who worked hard for two years to make “Chill Om”—a typical Goan tiled nameplate embedded at the entrance wall announces the home’s purpose—what it is today. Once you enter, the home is anything but classic. From Japan’s Manga art to cow-dung paintings from Rwanda and pop music posters, it is a fusion of cultural influences from around the globe, ensconced in a bubble of bright, happy colours. “This is bliss and home,” says Verghis, which is why the two take a flight to Goa from Mumbai almost every Friday evening. Interestingly, neither has lived in a flat and the couple rent a floor of a Goan family’s bungalow in Mum-
bai, where they live and work. “I never appreciated it when we lived in houses like this as a child. The high ceiling had to be cleaned... too many doors to be locked, but when you travel you respect home... and I can’t call an apartment home,” says Verghis. Verghis grew up in a house with no plumbing and drew water from a well. She calls her-
self a gardener at heart, and has many fruit trees in the compound. Passion fruit, banana, coconut, chikoo, guava, papaya, it’s all there for the plucking. Plus, Verghis plants four crops in rotation in the adjoining fields with little help, and donates the excess to the church. She has tried to retain as much of the façade as possible while redoing essentials, such as replacing the asbestos roof with terracotta tiles and putting up wooden beams to support the ceiling. She hired a contractor initially, but their ideas clashed—“we are hippies at heart and we like it subtle… these guys try to modify these houses to suit the youth but that’s not our style… we wanted to retain the original feeling”—so she decided to do things herself. She broke open the rooms to allow sunlight in and create space but retained original doors, windows and pillars wherever she could, even getting a mason to create new replicas
of old cement pillars in the sitout. Since skilled labour is a problem in Goa, Verghis went into DIY mode, finding out everything she needed to know about construction. Nothing went waste. Salvaged wood from beams was used in the pump room ceiling, and the 23 monogrammed chairs plus the odd bits of rosewood teak furniture that came with the home were restored, polished and used. For the flooring, she stuck to Jaisalmer, and got traditional hexagonal clay tiles from Kerala (that absorb water) for some of the other rooms. For the outside she opted for cement flooring (red oxide colour is poured into the cement, a Goan technique). She painted all the walls herself. “I want to keep breaking and remaking. I don’t ever want to stop,” she says. On the agenda is a gazebo in the fields, and a guest house on stilts. Staes-Polet, who founded Kreeda, an online video game company, is as involved. “When I
was a child my father bought an old fort in ruins, in the south of France. Every holiday we’d go there and fix something or build something new. I’m an engineer so I have a basic know-how of materials,” he says. Much of the home’s decor is also courtesy him, including a rally cry for peace that adorns their entrance. The couple, who have been together for seven years, appreciate both the hectic pace of Mumbai and the calm of Goa. “The environment is splendid. You’re all stressed and then you just sit out and it’s an instant cool down,” he says. We couldn’t agree more. Write to email@example.com PHOTOGRAPHS
ANAY MANN; STYLED
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onstruction on The Imperial, a set of twin towers in the heart of south Mumbai, started eight years ago. India’s tallest residential towers, at 827ft, have been designed by Hafeez Contractor. The management—SD Corp. Pvt. Ltd, a joint venture between Shapoorji Pallonji and Co. Ltd and the Dilip Thacker Group—says 65% of the apartments have been sold and are now being handed over to owners so that they can start working on the interiors. The towers are divided into three zones and one celebrated interior designer is responsible for designing each one. Lounge got a guided tour of the property.
SATURDAY, MARCH 20, 2010
Business Lounge ASHISH RAJPAL
The man with the mad ideas The founderMD of iDiscoveri wants a million students to escape the rote method of our education system
B Y V EENA V ENUGOPAL email@example.com
···························· ow that I’ve got it in my head, I can’t wait,” says Ashish Rajpal, as he goes hunting for the second time in less than a minute to find the errant waiter who’s supposed to bring us our beers. We had started the meeting at 5pm at the coffee shop of the Park Plaza Hotel in Gurgaon, and since the sun was still up and neither of us wanted to be the first to ask for an alcoholic drink, we settled for cappuccinos. But at some point the 41-year-old iDiscoveri founder said, “The stories I can tell you after a couple of beers”—and that was cue enough. The shining sun notwithstanding, he hailed a waiter and we ordered our beers. In the course of the evening, I realized that when Rajpal gets something into his head, it often leads to life-altering consequences for him. As it did when after two years as a brand manager for Procter and Gamble’s Ariel detergent, he thought that working in the beer-brewing business in Russia would be a good career move. Or when, at 30, as the worldwide marketing director of Group Danone, living in Paris—a stone’s throw from Champs-Élysées—and travelling the world, he got it into his head that he should return to India and do “something” in education. So he went to Harvard, studied about education, came back and initiated his attempt at changing Indian education by setting up iDiscoveri. But let’s start at the beginning. “I grew up in Delhi and spent my teenage years trekking in the mountains and that was my first contact with the other India. That led to some kind of desire to do socially relevant stuff—for lack of a better terminology. During college (economics honours from Delhi University), I hung around NGOs, doing internships in Uttarakhand. But I came from a background where I needed to get a
job quickly, so this NGO romance didn’t last long,” he says. An MBA from XLRI, Jamshedpur, in 1992 and a campus placement offer from P&G followed. Two years later came the call from Moscow. Boris Yeltsin had taken charge and it was a tumultuous time in Russia. The Khemkas had set up Sun Brewing there and needed someone to run the business. “They took me for a titillation visit. In February 1994, when I was 25, I showed up in Moscow. It was -33 degrees Celsius. They took me by a propeller plane to Kursk on the Ukraine border and showed one of their plants. It was all very heady. I came back, called my mother and told her that I was moving to Russia. It was a rocky time—the bread queues were huge and you could see the old babushkas begging. Everybody thought I was mad to go,” he says. He quickly married his girlfriend, Rachna, and they moved to Moscow. “My mother was the only remaining grandparent when my daughter was due to be born, and her flight was delayed. So my daughter was born in a Russian hospital, with a Russian midwife screaming davaai, davaai (push, in Russian). It was a marking episode in my life. My son came along a couple of years later and I got intrigued about what makes children different. I guessed that education is the area and along the way this vision started crystallizing that I want to go back to India and change education,” he says. By then he had learnt Russian. When the global giant Danone went to Russia to set up a $50 million (around Rs227 crore then) plant, Rajpal was hired. It was 1997. In a year, they moved him to the head office in Paris as worldwide marketing director. “It was a big, fat job for a young, brown boy. Everything I thought what life was about in terms of aspi-
Everything I thought what life was about in terms of aspiration was done. I was 30 years old.
IN PARENTHESIS Rajpal is a trekker, though now he is a trekker with a slight paunch. He has done a lot of the difficult Indian routes—Pindari Glacier, Gulbarga and Kishwar. “Unlike most people, I don’t find the steep climb difficult. The tough part of a trek for me is the long, flat one where there is no action. On the Pindari, there is a 22km flat stretch and I found that to be the most dreadful,” he says. Now, he mostly goes on oneday trips. This helps him avoid his other peeve, sleeping in a leaky tent on a rainy night.
ration was done. I was 30 years old. It was hysterical,” he says. But Rajpal interpreted this as a pair of golden handcuffs. He secretly researched courses and zeroed in on a one-year programme on education in Harvard. “My friends called me mad again. But my wife was not unsupportive, and that’s saying a lot,” he says. So she came back to India with the children while he went to Boston. “That was a year of rebirth for me. I became a disciple of Howard Gardner (the American developmental psychologist known for his theory of multiple intelligences) and met Anustup Nayak, who became my partner,” he says. In 2002, he returned to India and iDiscoveri was born. They started with a programme on teachers’ training. “It was so hard, after the kind of life I led, to wait outside principals’ rooms for 2 hours for an appointment and have totally crummy people talk down to me,” he says. But he had “burnt his bridges so completely” that there was no question of abandoning this project and going back to another job. In the meantime, the company got some attention. Kanti Bajpai was joining Doon School as headmaster and he invited Rajpal to check up on the teachers there. Some more premium schools followed, some low-end schools signed on. Three years later, though business was growing, Rajpal got the feeling they weren’t really driving any change in education. He spoke to the schools that had signed on. Initially, the principals said the programmes were great. “But then they would drop this great Indian umbrella phrase —frankly speaking—and say that most teachers had reverted to their earlier methods of teaching.” Then the penny dropped. Whoever learnt anything from a training programme? So they changed the model, hired academics with a research background and started writing practical lesson plans that teachers could use in classrooms. “This programme is called XSEED and the idea is to provide teachers four or five entry points to the same subject. We have 4,000 ready teaching plans,” he says. The focus is on making learning experiential, rather than just reading from a book. “With Taare Zameen Par and 3 Idiots, Aamir Khan has become an unofficial salesman for XSEED,” he says. Today, XSEED covers 305 schools, mostly in tier II and tier III cities. It covers around 100,000 students. “Now the hardest period is over and we have to consolidate. Once we have a million children, we will be a force to reckon with. We are serving schools mostly in the Rs500-1,000 fees bracket, which are not the most profitable to serve, but our mission is larger. I am certain this will be profitable in the long run—in the short run, it’s a different story,” he says. What happens if he gets something else in his head before that? “Oh, I have several more careers in my head, many mad ideas. But there is a time for everything. Right now, my job is to do this well,” he says.
Back to school: Rajpal’s decision to work in the field of education was the outcome of his experience as a parent.
SATURDAY, MARCH 20, 2010
Populist: (clockwise from above) The final day of the Commonwealth Boxing Championship; boxer Suranjoy Singh; and India at the Hockey World Cup.
In two recent sports events, healthy crowds cheered on our boxing and hockey teams. Has India’s sporting audience finally arrived? B Y K RISH R AGHAV firstname.lastname@example.org
···························· alf an hour before the start of an Indian Premier League (IPL) match that pitted Sachin Tendulkar against Virender Sehwag at Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla stadium, the star of the moment was not a cricketer, but boxer Vijender Singh. Six kilometres away, at the Talkatora Indoor Stadium, nearly 3,000 people and a dozen TV camera crews packed the stands to watch Singh battle England’s Frank Buglioni for the middleweight gold at the Commonwealth Boxing Championship. The boisterous crowd screamed and shouted at every flail of Singh’s arms, booing loudly as his nose began to bleed after Buglioni’s hard punch in the first round. Singh won 13-3, and it was a good evening for the team, with India picking up six golds for their best-ever tally in a boxing championship yet. Flyweight boxer Suranjoy Singh provided the pre-Vijender entertainment with a single-round knockout victory against Oliver Lavigi of Mauritius. India was also declared the “best team” of the tournament, beating England to second place.
The recently concluded FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup saw sold-out matches for India’s ties and the finals—the Dhyan Chand National Stadium has a capacity of approximately 19,200, of which 14,000 seats were available through ticket booking. “The other matches were filled to about 50-70% capacity,” says Rajesh Tandwani of ticket booking service Ticketgenie. The healthy attendance at both these events could be seen as a resurgence of audience interest in sports other than cricket. But the boxing championship, organizers say, was not cause for celebration—both as a test event for the Commonwealth Games later this year and a bellwether for India as a future venue for boxing championships, a lot of things went wrong. “Championships usually attract about 500 or so boxers, from almost 90 countries. The participation here, with about 80 boxers from 11 countries, was not as good as we’d hoped,” says Kishen Narsi, an executive committee member of the International Boxing Association (Aiba). “The security and infrastructure is, quite frankly, a hindrance. You can’t park your car easily, can’t bring anything inside, can’t walk around
Gamer paradise Dive headlong into virtual fantasies at India’s first brickandmortar gaming store B Y B LESSY A UGUSTINE email@example.com
··························· undreds of virtual characters stand frozen on the racks. There’s the fuzzy creature from EyePet waiting to be cuddled. And, there is the trainer from Wii Fit, along with the demonic creatures from Dante’s Inferno, thirsty for blood. This is not Tokyo, but the Mega Mall in Mumbai, where Game4u, India’s first dedicated retail gaming store, set up its first shop in February. Last September, Jayont R. Sharma, the CEO and chairman of game distributors Milestone Interactive, set up Game4u.com—a website where
you can order the latest games legally available in India. Piracy is a big concern for game distributors in the country, partly because illegal copies are easily available. Sharma decided, therefore, that it was time shopping for legal games got some dedicated shelf space. The Game4u store has been launched as a pilot for the retail stores Sharma hopes to set up in other metros. The setting is neat. As you enter, there’s a comprehensive display of the latest releases, with the first vertical panel displaying games that are currently on top of the charts. The games are arranged as per the week’s international ratings. This, says
freely…but I suppose it’s a part and parcel of holding an event here.” While most of these concerns apply to cricket matches also, it turns off more people from attending less popular sports. Even though the Talkatora stadium is liberally sprinkled with entrances, exits and walkways, most of these were cordoned off, and large crowds were herded through a single gate and single approach, shuffling along like queues at a temple. No items of any kind were allowed inside, and even wallets and purses had to be emptied of coins before entering. It was a necessary procedure, the head of security said, because of the crowd’s habit of “throwing things into the ring during a match.” Tickets for three of the six “boxing days” were sold out (a day
ticket was priced at Rs100), and an average of 1,800 people came to watch the bouts every day. “Boxing is still in its infancy in India in terms of spectator involvement,” says Narsi, referring both to attendance in numbers and the audience’s understanding of the sport’s mechanics and tactics. Compared with the attendance in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where “every session every day” was sold out, he says India still has some way to go. In the finals, there is only a mild smattering of applause for a wellfought match that does not involve an Indian boxer, even if the winner bags a gold medal. With an Indian boxer in the ring, however, wild hooting and cheering follows
every punch thrown, irrespective of how effective it may have been. As Tandwani’s comments indicate, that applies to hockey too—the World Cup games in which the Indian team was playing saw greater attendance and boisterous crowd involvement, the team’s dismal overall performance notwithstanding. With Jai Ho! blaring from speakers after every round, and cheerleaders dancing near the ring in between matches, the event felt more like a pro wrestling entertainment show than a serious international boxing tournament. “Let’s face it…India has only a few sports ‘followers’—how many people would go watch Sachin Tendulkar play a Ranji Trophy match?” says Manuj Agarwal, the chief operating officer of event
Sharma, facilitates the buying experience for parents who simply want to pick up the most popular game for their child. Next to the “top-chart” display is the “pre-order” panel, showcasing dummy covers of forthcoming games. It is aimed at diehard gaming fans who want their games to be reserved and delivered to them the day they release. There is already considerable buzz about next month’s release—God of War III. A shelf devoted to games for girls follows. There is an overdose of pink here, with the rack chock-a-block with Barbie titles, though titles such as The Simpsons and Toy Story, stacked in the other panels, make up for it. Then there is the shelf devoted to BluRay films. The collection is small but includes a good mix of titles such as Too Fast, Too Furious and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. The general collection of games is housed besides the BluRay films, with individual shelves
devoted to PS3, PS2, PSP, NDS, PC games, Xbox 360 and Wii. The Game4u store is unique in that it has space for visitors to try out games. At the centre of the store are four sleek LCD screens which allow you to play the newer games. One screen is devoted to the Wii games that require you to
stand and move around. But the ultimate spectacle is provided by the small platform devoted to the ensemble of Rock Band—complete with the drum controller, guitar controller, microphone, and headset. Rock Band is the popular series of music video games that allows up to three players to play plas-
A virtual haven: Game4u offers a selection of 600 videogame titles.
management firm Percept D’Mark, the organizer and promoter of the Commonwealth Boxing Championship. Agarwal acknowledges the influence of the IPL. “Right now, sports content outside cricket has to provide entertainment if you want the crowds to come,” he says. “Otherwise you run the risk of making it too technical, like Formula One racing, and alienating a lot of people who might be interested.” The “entertainment” was slotted in between matches, and even the tickets to the event mentioned them as prominently as the boxing (“Cheerleaders egging them to the finish. World-class DJs spinning tracks to get them into the groove.”). But Agarwal insists the sport remains central. “We’re just building on a strong core,” he says. “We’ve got the poster boys—three Indian boxers in the world top 10—so we knew that there would be interest.” Agarwal wants to take boxing outside the confines of a sports stadium, to “open arenas” and “public places”. “We hope to keep building crowd participation in the build-up to the Commonwealth Games,” says Narsi. “For a good crowd, you need to get a good calendar of events going in the country.”
tic controllers modelled after musical instruments in sync with licensed music. Visitors can spend as much time as they want playing Rock Band provided there is not a queue, assures Sharma. To simulate the live performance feel, a video camera records your gameplay and telecasts it live on an LCD screen. Karaoke Revolution, which is like Rock Band but is limited to vocals, also has a screen dedicated to it. You can croon to English and Hindi songs; the game software automatically rates your singing abilities, which can be anything ranging from awesome to awful. In all there are 600 titles—all legally available for sale in India—to choose from at Game4u, with prices ranging between Rs400 and Rs9,000. The variety cannot match what is available at an online store, but it definitely offers you, as gamers would say, a compelling singleplayer experience.
SATURDAY, MARCH 20, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
SATURDAY, MARCH 20, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
ascent of the
accessory Hardware, old coins and zippers; chest warmers, helmets and corsage headpieces. Accessories are not what they used to be B Y P ARIZAAD K HAN firstname.lastname@example.org
······························· he Ork high commander of Sauron’s army fell in love with a shimmery space alien. Their spawn was discovered in an unlikely home—the air-conditioned tent in which designers had set up their stalls at Lakme Fashion Week (LFW). Ou tl andish r oma nces aside, designer Kanika Saluja’s “Space Age” helmet did look like something Middle Earth forged in partnership with outer space. The black egg-shaped helmet mounted by a pair of headphones covers the neck and part of the chest, extends into shoulder epaulettes with dinosaur-like spiky protuberances and is completely studded with hardware pieces. Saluja, a New York-based designer, sells out of Ikram in Chicago (a boutique owned by Ikram Goldman, US First Lady Michelle Obama’s wardrobe consultant) and Henri Bendel in New York. She says the helmet is more an installation piece than an accessory, though she does admit she received two orders for it after she showcased her six-month-old accessory line at a stall at LFW earlier this month. She’s received a lot more than two orders for her other pieces though. Her brand Anaikka has pieces that can be described as harnesses, collars, neck braces and bibs—not really run-of-the-mill accessories, but edgy eyeball grabbers and surprisingly, all very wearable. This is a new accessories movement; an antithesis of sorts to the craze for logo-covered handbags with six-figure price tags and luxury shoes. Here, simple, everyday or bizarre materials are used to fashion bold, striking accessories. The pieces need not be pretty or even attractive; whimsical, quirky or masculine works just fine. And unlike accessories as we knew them, these pieces don’t just enhance an outfit, they are the outfit. Nitya Arora, who creates chunky neck pieces for her label Valliyan, thinks of her accessories as the focus of the ensemble. “You decide what clothes you’re going to wear around the accessory, not vice versa,” she says. Kolkata-based accessories designer Eina Ahluwalia feels that clothes today look too homogeneous to set people apart. Her textile-based accessories allow her to make a statement that her simple dressing style does not. Suhani Pittie, a Hyderabadbased accessories designer, sees this as a result of Indian women undergoing changes in their traditional roles, and partly as a consequence of the economic slowdown. “Most women are working and are looking to simplify their lifestyle; there’s no time to open lockers and take out precious jewellery. They’re opting for fuss-free gar-
More bang for your buck: This necklace by Ahluwalia can be dismantled and worn individually as rings, a scarf and a pendant.
ments with clean silhouettes. That way they can pay for one garment and totally transform it with fun accessories,” she says. Model Bhawna Sharma, one of the fashion industry’s most experimental dressers, says she only wears crazy accessories. She sports headgear by designer Little Shilpa when she’s going out: “They’re not just hidden in my wardrobe.” Her current favourite is a brocade headpiece which falls like a corsage on the forehead. “It shows that you’re free minded. I don’t think anyone should take fashion or style too seriously,” she says. Pradeep Hirani, founder of Kimaya, a chain of 15 stores in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Gurgaon and Dubai, says, “Fashion is all about change and renewal.” Which is probably why his brand will now be stocking Saluja’s line. The nuts and bolts on her pieces are a world removed from Kimaya’s usual offerings of crystals, feathers and satin and bling. “Clients are always looking for younger stuff filled with energy,” says Hirani. He plans to stock Anaikka at his Mehrauli store near the Qutub Minar in New Delhi, which is frequented by international travellers, and at the duty-free Kimaya store that will open soon at Terminal 3 at the Capital’s Indira Gandhi International Airport.
New body language A new breed of accessory designers are letting go of earrings, pendants and cuffs, and choosing to highlight body parts that weren’t conventionally covered by accessories. At LFW, Shilpa Chavan’s focus was shoulders, ankles and the head. Her accessories label Little Shilpa had epaulettes featuring brightly coloured, spiky acrylic protrusions or bunches of feathers. The ankles had simple, colourful acrylic cuffs worn over white shoes and stockings. Chavan, a trained milliner, also designed headpieces that were fantasy creations in feathers and acrylic motifs; the finale piece had a city skyline recreated out of acrylic. Ahluwalia’s label Breathing Space showed what she calls “chest warmers”. These are bib necklaces made of felt, a warm fabric. Anaikka featured a Cleopatrastyle collar necklace and hardware-encrusted straps which went around like a harness on the shoulders, while Pittie extended the bib necklace to create a broad U-shaped neckpiece that reached the waist. Saluja feels Indian women are exploring their masculine sides as they grow and evolve. “Our accessories are body pieces, they wrap around the body to make the outfit,” she says.
Fresh blood For the designers, the materials they use are as varied as their
inspirations. Pittie, who has realized that India is “in my DNA”, takes core Indian objects and jazzes them up with contemporary elements. Carved wooden blocks used in block printing, jhumkha earrings, ghunghroos (dancing bells), or thin coins used to make necklaces in south India, are the materials she has used this season, while zippers, cycle chains and hanger pins are used to funk up the Indian elements. Chavan’s materials are even more eccentric. She draws inspiration from everyday life and the street, so it’s not unusual to find stainless steel utensils, plastic dustpans, tea strainers, children’s toys and other household items on her accessories. This season she used feathers and shapes cut out of coloured acrylic sheets. Arora uses “everything from glass, acrylic and fabric to wood and metal. The craziest things I’ve used in a necklace are electrical plugs.” Ahluwalia is trying to elevate India’s indigenous fabrics from the functional to the ornamental. Her latest collection has sheer silk stoles in sunset and oceanic colours, which are strung with silver pendants and shell accents to make attention-grabbing neck pieces. Similarly, gamcha patterns woven in silk with a touch of lycra are also used to thread pendants. Shibori, the Japanese art of dyeing, has been used on tussar bib-style neck pieces. They are adorned with silver embellishments. “I’ve turned it around by using silver only as an accent, instead of the focal point,” says Ahluwalia. Saluja is inspired by industrial architecture, so her pieces have a rough, jagged-edge quality to them. Screws, nuts, bolts, scissors and cross-sections of pipes made of brass and aluminium are all sewn on to a skin-friendly base of silk or leather. Saluja also juxtaposes the fragile with the tough—a lone metal rose will bloom in a jungle of nuts and bolts, portraying something fragile stuck in a harsh environment.
Multitasking Designers are also aware that their clients are looking for something which gives them more value, so creating pieces that can be multitaskers is also a focus. Ahluwalia’s pendants can be slipped off the scarves and worn on chains, or as rings. The scarves also serve as, well, scarves. Last season Pittie put out a collection where earrings could double up as brooches, brooches could become rings, and rings also served as pendants. “If I’m paying Rs3,000 for a ring which I can also wear as a brooch, I’ll be a fan of the brand. So I believe in giving the client value.” Arora had done a collection in which her signature neck pieces can be worn even after being reversed.
WHERE AND HOW MUCH u Anaikka by Kanika Saluja will be available at Zoya, Bandra, Mumbai, and Kimaya and Ensemble stores in Mumbai and New Delhi. Prices range from Rs4,500 to Rs20,000. u Suhani Pittie is available at Bombay Electric, Ensemble, Muse, Aza and Zoya in Mumbai; 85 Lansdowne in Kolkata; Evoluzione and Amethyst in Chennai; Ffolio in Bangalore; and Elahe, Also, Anonym and Suhani Pittie in Hyderabad. Prices range from Rs1,000 to Rs9,000.
Next generation: (clockwise from above) Bhawna Sharma sports a corsage headpiece by Little Shilpa; in Pittie’s latest Lakme Fashion Week collection, zippers were fused with Indian pendants; Saluja’s ‘Space Age’ helmet; and Ahluwalia’s series of tussar necklaces called ‘Chest Warmers’.
u Valliyan by Nitya Arora is available at Aza, Ensemble and Oaktree in Mumbai; Ensemble in New Delhi; and Anonym in Hyderabad. Prices range from Rs1,500 to Rs20,000. u Little Shilpa by Shilpa Chavan is available at National Permit, Morjim, Goa (open from October to April); Anonym in Hyderabad; and at email@example.com. Prices start from Rs5,000. u Breathing Space by Eina Ahluwalia is available at Ensemble, Melange, Zoya and Samsaara in Mumbai; Ensemble in New Delhi; Araliya in Pune; Anonym in Hyderabad; Amethyst in Chennai; and Weavers Studio in Kolkata. Prices range from Rs1,000 to Rs15,000.
SATURDAY, MARCH 20, 2010
Travel JAPAN NATIONAL TOURISM ORGANIZATION
Zenith: (left) Japan’s highest peak Mount Fuji; (above) lounging on Isshiki Beach; and the Oasis Beach Bar in Hayama.
Transition town PAUL MURRAY
A model for sustainable living, this tiny Japanese town redefines hippie for the postnoughties
B Y D AVE B ESSELING ···························· eah? I hate Auckland,” I say to the Aucklander. His Japanese girlfriend eventually has to remove him from the bar’s rooftop patio lest he instigate another punch-up. I can’t believe my words would rile him so, especially here, in one of the more laidback places I’ve ever been to. Most people I know in New Zealand hate Auckland too, that big grey blob hemmed in by paradise. To start a fight with someone you’ve just met, over a comment that most of your countrymen would agree with, is something you’d expect in a place such as, well, Auckland. But this is Hayama, Japan, only an hour and a half from central Tokyo, where surfers can wander out of the waves and have a massage in one of the summer bamboo huts on Isshiki Beach; where some restaurants close shop after selling their day’s food to minimize waste; where, in a particular yakitori bar, the proprietor tells you, as he turns the chicken skewers over the brazier, that aside from being an ordained Buddhist monk, he is also the singer in a reggae band. At one end of the counter, a bunch of incense sticks double up as a
small shrine to a garlanded photo of the Dalai Lama. At the other end, the same treatment is reserved for Bob Marley. In the last several years, Hayama has become a hippie haven for frenetic Tokyoites. I may have been out of line, but this Kiwi fellow was out of character. After he’s been ushered away, I run into an old acquaintance, Yuka Matsuda. The DJ/surfer/singer/naturalist oozes the Hayama creed of environmentalism and slow living. She’s just finished a solo set with her ukulele, the lapping ocean giving quiet applause. Things go well, I think—she doesn’t threaten to punch me. I do feel like punching myself later, however, when I can’t find my host’s house among Hayama’s cracked paths and forested trails. Thankfully, one thing that this green-loving city shares with the rest of Japan is the koban, the police box. After a few minutes, I spot the flashing red light, something I used to see as very “big brother”. But it’s 2am, and I’ve no idea how to find my way back to my futon. A big brother is just what I need. I slide the door open and there’s no one inside, just a desk with a phone on it and some police sketches of local nasties on
AHMED RAZA KHAN/MINT
the wall. I figure this would probably be a safe place to crash, and then—a revelation: I can use that phone to call up my sleeping friends and tell them I’m lost. I pick up the receiver and a polite, formal voice responds: “Moshi moshi?” “Uh…Ohayo Gozaimasu,” I yammer, “uhhh…watashi wa koban ni…uhhh…” “Good morning. English? You’re in a koban and you would like me to call your friend’s mobile?” Hai. Onegai shimasu …uhh….kanojo no bango de…uhh…” “You can tell me in English, sir.” “Oh? Really? Great.” Five minutes later, the phone rings. “Your friend will be there to get you in 10 minutes.” “Domo arigato.” Some people open a window in the morning. Phil Cashman slides
open the south-facing wall of his house. The smell of his garden meanders into the vast, raisedtatami space. There’s something very appropriate about being in a traditional Japanese house in a place such as Hayama. Phil shows me a book to distract me from the ceiling joists, which—also in traditional Japanese style—have been elaborately joined without any nails. He has taken the nature-loving spirit of Hayama to the extreme. Opening Bill Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual, he says, “This is the book that changed everything.” Just about everything in and around the Cashman house adheres to Mollison’s principles of sustainable living. The kitchen sink has three downward stepping basins for natural water filtration. There is a huge clay furnace to heat the open space with “radiant heat”. Phil’s latest experiment has been
insulating the back wall of his house with mud-covered, used tatami mats. As much as Yuka propagates the Hayama ideal through art and activism, Phil has taken the lifestyle to the pragmatic extreme. I met Phil through a mutual friend Paul, who was, at the time of writing, with Mollison in Melbourne, taking the two-week crash course in permaculture that’s apparently enough for someone to begin living much more sustainably, producing very little waste. Paul, also a hippie at heart from Hayama, now runs a guest house on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, far, far from Auckland. Phil takes me through the open wall and into the garden, to show me how he grows much of his food. You don’t even need soil to have such a lush patch of edible veggies outside your sliding front shoji door. “I drill holes into hay bales,” he says. “It involves piling up a fair load of straw, about 80cm thick, then making little pockets into the top and filling them with a couple of scoops of compost. Pop the seedlings into these lenses, and you’re off!” In running his hacienda off the grid, Phil has to deal with a lot of shit, but he doesn’t have to go far. “This garden is mostly all fertilized by humans, from our composting toilet,” he says. “Glad to help out,” I reply. Hayama’s denizens, so conscious of living in harmony with their surroundings, know how to relax too. Stilted out back is a former sake-fermenting vat, about 70 years old, now used as the bathhouse. A step down on to the Japanese cypress boards and into the tub. I sink in to the ofuro and my eyes spill out over the valley. The sea sparkles in the distance. My ears suck in the silence between birdcalls. I weigh down the ladle with a whoosh and pour the steaming water over my head, watching the beads slide down my arms and listening to them rejoin the surface of the pool. It’s all very Zen—which is all very appropriate on this verdant mountainside in Japan. No one can see me up here, but a sense of unease creeps up just after I’ve begun to relax, when I look for cameras filming an ad for some kind of body wash. But my urban paranoia is soon carried away on a waft of vapour from the tub and out to sea, my thoughts as diaphanous as the clouds streaming towards Mount Fuji. As easily as Tokyo’s intensity is lost here, the scene reminds me of Paul’s outdoor bathtub in New Zealand—another set of islands in another hemisphere, Auckland another metropolis to be chased away by the ocean winds. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org CHILDFRIENDLY RATING
Japan as a whole is a childfriendly country, and you’ll find English speakers in Hayama in particular.
SATURDAY, MARCH 20, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM BRUNO DOMINGOS/REUTERS
CRUISE CHRONICLE | WENDELL RODRICKS
What’s your fantasy? From Madonna and Beyoncé at Carnaval to a quaint town built by a runaway monarch, Brazil ticks all the boxes
Fashion designer Wendell Rodricks writes a cruise column exclusively for Lounge from on board the ‘Silver Spirit’ (www.silversea.com).
t is impossible not to feel the excitement of the Carnaval in Rio long before one arrives in the bay of Rio de Janeiro. Though it is 6am, almost the entire lot of passengers of Silver Spirit are on the upper decks to witness our entry into a city caught up in the frenzy of the biggest party on earth. As trays of champagne do the rounds, the predawn light reveals tall mountains reaching skywards on the shore. The sights are instantly recognizable. The gigantic Christ the Redeemer statue stands atop a hill, hands stretched out to protect the bay of Rio and the towering Sugarloaf Mountain. Around the golden waters, Rio’s healthy set is out jogging in the lagoon areas and the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. It is easy to get into the party mood here. The city has turned out in millions to head to the Sambadrome. In 1984, some 250 years after the annual celebrations first began, the city realized that Carnaval had become too big a deal for the streets of Rio. So a special Sambadrome was built. Twelve samba schools parade through the Sambadrome over two nights. A s s oon a s th e f i rs t fl o at makes its way down, one is aware that this must be one of
True at last light On Kilimanjaro, Hemingway’s Africa reveals many faces
he road to the mountain was long and flat and the land on both sides was dry. A sheet of greenery lay evenly on the hills in the distance. The sun was bright at that hour, and its light produced a misty haze which surrounded the hills where they touched the sky, and it looked as if the blue of the sky had begun to drip on the green hills. The Masai men wore red and yellow shuka and they stood out in the grassland. One of them carried a stick on his shoulders, and a herd of goats and cattle walked slowly along the plain. The sky was filled with clouds, which was not a good sign. We had set out when it was still dark
and my driver Bakari had warned me about the clouds. “Will it rain?” “Not rain. But there are many clouds. They will hide the mountain,” he said, and then he brought his hands close, as if shutting a window. “That’s all right,” I said. “We can’t force a mountain to do what it doesn’t want to do.” Bakari nodded. In Africa, you wait for the mountain to reveal its beauty. You cannot force the peak to unveil her face. You wait for the beauty to look at you; you do not rush truth. It comes out when it wants to, like the clear sentences you want to flow from your pen—pure, simple, good, clean, and true. We drove for 2 hours towards Tanzania’s border with Kenya, and we saw her image at many places. Kili time—If you can’t climb it, drink it, one billboard AFP
Elusive beauty: The Kilimanjaro reveals itself only to the fortunate.
the world’s great spectacles. Under a sky lit up with fireworks, 40,000 dancers create a river of colour, creativity and festivity. Madonna has come to watch the show from her suite at the Copacabana Palace. Earlier in the day, I visited the renowned hotel to see its fabulous pool for myself. Back in the Sambadrome, midway through one of the parades, Beyoncé glides past, encircled by beefy bodyguards. But neither Madonna nor Beyoncé can overshadow what is happening on the million-dollar floats that glide past. The display is unbelievable. It takes a year to make the floats and costumes. One samba school sends out a parade called Mystical Magical, with dancers changing clothes magically in less than 3 seconds, a towering Pleasure Garden of Babylon and Batmen skiing down a four-storey incline between thousands of feathered and sequinned dancers. No wonder they win. I go to sleep with music in my head and feet still tapping to the samba beat. High in the hills away from Rio is a hidden treasure called Petrópolis. An imperial city founded by King Pedro I on fleeing from Napoleon in Europe, it is a unique historical indulgence. Since the entire court moved here from Portugal, there are many mini palaces. We visit the main palace, now a museum, to marvel at the jewels, robes and furniture of the emperor who made Brazil a sovereign country in the
said, and I saw a few tourists at the bar, with bottles of the beer named after the mountain open in front of them, the men settled in comfortable chairs, their eyes squinting towards the peak. A tailor had named his shop after the peak. And there was a nightclub called Kilimanjaro. My guide was called Goodluck, and I hoped that some of his name’s charms would rub off on us, and that we would get to see the peak. On the forest trail, younger people walked briskly and firmly, as if they were late for an appointment. They will reach the top, they will see the Great Rift Valley sprawled below—but will they see the peak’s face? We took a steep path going down, following the sound of running water. The slope was sharp, and we passed a village where the Chagga lived, their children waving at us, following us, running ahead of us, standing on rocks by the waterfall, smiling at us, hoping to get photographed. The waterfall was gentle and the flow of the water was even and you could see a rainbow, and Bakari said that was a good sign. Maybe we will get to see the peak, he said. We walked further, reaching the base camp, where the more serious mountaineers began changing into warmer clothing and rearranging their rucksacks. It will take them three to four days to reach the top of Kilimanjaro, but will they see what Harry saw, in Ernest Hemingway’s short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro: “As wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun … the top of Kilimanjaro.” The clouds continued to shield Kilimanjaro’s face. Part of me wanted to challenge the mountain and sit and wait and train my lens and hope that the clouds would think nobody is looking and slip off a little and reveal the beauty of the peak and I would wait quietly, my eye fixed through the lens, my finger circling the shutter, ready to press
early 19th century. Even today, Petrópolis maintains its wide plazas, European-style homes and well-tended gardens. Two days at sea take us to what must be one of the few places on earth rarely visited by Asians: Uruguay, sandwiched between Brazil and
just at that moment. I will wait till the mountain gives up. The mountain was not an animal; it would not turn away, running away from me, leaving a cloud of dust. The mountain will always be there. But could I wait, and for how long? And another part of me said—the mountain will always be there and there will be another day and another season and you will be back and the clouds will slip the veil and I should know the limits and stop where the road ends and accept that the mountain was bigger, that I lived in its shadow and not the other way round, and I looked at Goodluck’s face and he understood and he nodded. It was time to head back. “In Africa a thing is true at first light and a lie by noon and you have no more respect for it than for the lovely, perfect weed fringed lake you see across the sun baked salt plain. You have walked across that plain in the morning and you know that no such lake is there,” Hemingway wrote in his posthumous novel True At First Light. We had travelled across another plain in the morning and we knew that there was a peak but in the afternoon when we went there it almost seemed as if it was never there. But now it was twilight and we were driving back and there, suddenly, Bakari stopped the car and before he could say anything I knew and looked out of the window, and there it was, Kilimanjaro, her jaw-dropping beauty, absolutely true, beautiful and believable, true at last light. I raised my camera, bringing it close to my eye, my finger on the shutter. In that split-second, an enormous cloud surrounded it once again, and she was gone. Write to Salil at email@example.com www.livemint.com Read Salil’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/detours
Argentina. Capital Montevideo is bustling, dirty and in need of a drastic facelift, and we give it a miss and head to the Unesco-protected city of Colonia del Sacramento. Three centuries older than Petrópolis, this city of charming cobblestoned streets and brightly coloured homes is definitely worth a visit. The best of Uruguay, though, is compressed into the port city of Punta del Este. After Brazil, it feels like Switzerland on the coast and looks like a crime-free Beverly Hills. The homes are beautifully designed. There are no boundary walls on the estates of 2-acre plots of pine trees and flowering hibiscus. The countryside is studded with lush, green hills, sparkling rivers and horses grazing peacefully. In the port, one can see sea lions and
La vida loca: (clockwise from above) Colonia del Sacramento is known for its historic quarter; the city is the main water thoroughfare from Argentina to Uruguay; and Carnaval celebrations in Rio. seals. Truly, Uruguay’s Punta del Este is a traveller’s delight. Visit this heaven. Or apply for the friendly immigration plan which accepts investments and is aimed at a population increase. Not many places in the world to match this! This is the fourth of an eight-part series. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org www.livemint.com To read the first three parts, log on to www.livemint.com/cruisechronicle
SATURDAY, MARCH 20, 2010
The summer reading guide A blockbuster Obama biography, heists in Tamil Nadu, office intrigue in Mumbai, and the secrets of Pakistan’s Bhutto family B Y C HANDRAHAS C HOUDHURY ························································ f you’re a full-time book critic, such as this writer, then your thoughts of summer primarily involve plans of how to escape books, for diverse pleasures such as watching the football World Cup with a tub of Natural’s ice cream in hand, lying on grass amid sheep in a sunlit field in Meghalaya, or trying to get your banker friends to buy you many drinks at a boat-pub on the Thames river. But this sort of dream is for me, not for you. You want to be thinking about books, books and more books. You don’t want to be missing out on the chance to hit upon the perfect book for your summer vacation just because you didn’t know about it, or because it came out from a small publisher in Minnesota. You want to be telling me that even though you have a job, kids, a home loan, and a conked-out washing machine, you get in more reading than I do. All you want to know is what your options are. I’ve tried my best to be of help—here are the books you could be reading this summer:
Pageturner: What’s your idea of a good summer holiday read?
NONFICTION RIZAN TABASSUM/AFP
rominent among new books in South Asian fiction is Manu Joseph’s widely anticipated novel Serious Men, set to appear across India (HarperCollins), America (Norton) and the UK (John Murray) over the summer. Joseph tells the story of Ayyan Mani, a lowly employee of an institute for scientific research in Mumbai, as he observes the bizarre goings-on of the world around him, including a boss whose main interest is a theory about microscopic aliens falling to earth. Joseph’s book promises to be a wicked take on Indian social and office life. Several other debut works have been in the news well in advance of their arrival. Sarita Mandanna’s Tiger Hills (Penguin, June), a story set in a coffee plantation in 19th century Coorg, was in the news last year because of a record advance; now it remains to be seen if the book matches up to the hype. Rahul Mehta’s Quarantine (Random House India, April) is a book of short stories about the lives and dilemmas of gay American-Indians. The poet Tishani Doshi’s The Pleasure Seekers (Bloomsbury, May) is a coming-together-of-cultures story set in the London of the 1960s around the world of the Patels from India and the Joneses from Wales. Among other names, Siddharth Chowdhury, whose 2005 debut novel Patna Roughcut was warmly praised, returns with Day Scholar (Picador India, June). Arunava Sinha has won a name for himself as the most prominent of a number of fine translators working to bring the great names
of Bengali fiction into English, and this year he has as many as three translations coming out. Striker, Stopper (Hachette, April) is a pair of acclaimed football novellas written in the 1970s by Moti Nandy, the former sports editor of Anandabazar Patrika. Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Days and Nights in the Forest, the source-text of one of Satyajit Ray’s greatest films, is to find a new English self through the work of Rani Ray (Penguin, April). In other works of translation, Pritham Chakravarthy brings us the second instalment of her tour through the bizarre and colourful world of pulp fiction in The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction 2 (Blaft, April). In a welcome sign of how Indian publishing is opening itself out to work from all kinds of places, the brilliant Chinese novelist Mo Yan’s new book Change, translated by Howard Goldblatt, is to be published by Seagull Books (May). Further out, in the world of Anglo-American fiction, Booker Prize winner Yann Martel (Life of Pi) continues with his interest in populating fiction with wildlife with his new novel Beatrice and Virgil (Random House, April), about a man caught up with the lives of a donkey and a howler monkey. A low-angle close-up on celebrity life is the prospect offered by Andrew O’Hagan’s The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe (Faber, May), the imagined story of a real life dog presented by Frank Sinatra to Monroe, who was the star’s companion during the last two years of her life. NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP
Wild side: Yann Martel populates his new novel with more animals.
he biggest non-fiction book of the season is a biography of the most powerful man in the world by one of the most prominent names in magazine journalism today. The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama (Knopf, April) is a 700-page biography of Barack Obama by David Remnick, the present editor of The New Yorker and the author of at least two top-notch books, Lenin’s Tomb (1993), a study of the Soviet Union in the perestroika years, and King of the World (1998), a biography of the boxer Muhammad Ali. Remnick followed Obama on his historic campaign trail in 2008, and has all the skills required to generate a definitive portrait of this astonishing politician. A fresh perspective on the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 is provided by Besieged (Penguin, May), a set of translations by the historian (and dastangoi performer) Mahmood Farooqui of archival material from the time of the rebellion. The correspondence of Indian mutineers, reports of spies to English officials, and dispatches from the Delhi Urdu Akhbar all find their place in Farooqui’s book. A
more contemporary tale of political turmoil and deceit is narrated by Fatima Bhutto, niece of the late Benazir, in her widely awaited memoir about the Bhutto family, Songs of Blood and Sword (Penguin, April). Sonia Faleiro’s long-awaited Beautiful Thing (Hamish Hamilton, August), tells the dramatic story of a 19-year-old bar dancer, Leela, and through her, of the dance bars of Mumbai before and after they were banned in 2005. Another story of a life lived on the margins of society and as an object of desire is told by Nalini Jameela, the author of the powerful Autobiography of a Sex Worker, in The Company of Men (Penguin, June). For a nation obsessed with the movies, India has too little by way of articulate film scholarship aimed at a general audience. It may be that this breach is filled by the opening titles of a new series of books, each one about an iconic Indian film, published by HarperCollins in August: Vinay Lal on Deewar, Jai Arjun Singh on Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, Anuvab Pal on Disco Dancer, and Meghnad Desai on Pakeezah. A more personal
take on life in the film industry can be found in the actor Leela Naidu’s memoir (with Jerry Pinto) Leela: A Patchwork Life (Penguin, April). A close-up view into one of India’s most powerful business families, now split down the middle by multiple feuds whether over family wealth or natural gas, is provided by journalists Alam Srinivas and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta in their book The Ambanis and The Battle for India (Penguin, June). A forthcoming book by a great favourite of mine is Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by the historian Graham Robb (Picador, April). Robb is a marvellous writer, and his previous book The Discovery of France was a wonderful account of how the scattered villages and neighbourhoods of France came to acquire a sense of “France” in the 17th and 18th centuries. His new work is an account of one of the world’s great cities seen through the eyes of its rogues and adventurers. Finally, two books of essays by great names of 20th century literature. Telling Times (Bloomsbury, April) brings together the collected non-fiction of the South African writer Nadine Gordimer—on racial politics in South Africa, the crises of globalization and of AIDS. Milan Kundera’s three books on the novel (The Art of the Novel, Testaments Betrayed, and The Curtain) are among the most brilliant meditations on the art form that you could hope to find, and he continues his journey through literature in The Encounter (HarperCollins, August). Chandrahas Choudhury is the author of Arzee the Dwarf. Write to email@example.com
J SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AP
Mustreads: (left) The Bhutto family saga is the subject of Fatima Bhutto’s book; and David Remnick’s 700page biography of Barack Obama (below) is among the most anticipated titles.
SATURDAY, MARCH 20, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
DRIVING LIKE CRAZY | PJ O’ROURKE
Cars, speed, open roads PRADEEP GAUR/MINT
The illustrious American satirist is at his acerbic best while reminiscing about his road trips across the world
B Y S OUTIK B ISWAS ···························· J. O’Rourke makes fun of almost everything and most often gets it right. America’s best satirist is irreverent, whimsically offensive, politically incorrect and unrepentantly Conservative—a rarity in today’s sterile, politically correct world of untalented, boring poseurs. Nothing escapes O’Rourke’s acerbic wit and gallows humour, and that alone makes him one of the most delightful writers of his generation. For those unfamiliar with O’Rourke, here’s a sample of his savage quotidian wit: “The earth’s travel destinations,” he once wrote, “are jam-full of littering Venezuelans, peevish Swiss, smelly Norwegian backpackers yodelling in restaurant booths, Saudi Arabian businessmen getting their dresses caught in revolving doors and Bengali remittance men in their twentyfifth year of graduate school pestering fat blonde Belgian au-pair girls.” Another time, travelling in Poland, he discovered that “Communism doesn’t really starve or execute that many people. Mostly it just bores them to death.” And then, “life behind the Iron Curtain is like living with your parents for ever—literally, in many cases.” O’Rourke is a writer of protean talent—he has lampooned society and politics mercilessly, and even written a revisionist treatise on economics. He is also an inveterate traveller and lover of automobiles. Driving Like Crazy, his new book, is a racy collection of his automobile travels across the world. It is classic O’Rourke, combining first-rate journalism with unusual insights and droll humour. It is also an ode to the lost world of big, bad, gas-guzzling automobiles and motorcycles and the lifestyle they brought with them. O’Rourke moans the death of the American car. The American car, he says, was a source of intel-
Danger sign: In his chapter on India, O’Rourke describes the Indian truck as the ‘lurching, hurtling Tata’. lectual and priapic stimulation—he marvels at the invention, innovation and genius that went into the making of the cars; and insists that “there was no premarital sex in America before the invention of the internal combustion engine”. He remembers the chrome and tailfin excesses, the Lincoln Continentals, the Avantis, the Studebaker Silver Hawks, the Buick Electras, Oldsmobile, Pontiacs and Mustangs, which were as much a part of the American landscape as of its culture— remember Chuck Berry songs? So when O’Rourke, at his gonzo best, arrives in the subcontinent with a gaggle of automobile-crazy friends, the fun begins. In Pakistan, he gets stuck
Driving Like Crazy: Atlantic Books, 258 pages, Rs499.
THE READING ROOM
BACKPACKER’S BIBLE Bestselling habit If there is something the chi-chi babu class uses to distinguish itself from all other classes (ranging from the nouveau-babu to the servant-coolie), it is the perfumed and marbled state of its toilets. One could do a precise study of social classes in India through a pictorial depiction of where their members go when they gotta go! Obviously, at the bottom of this class heh-heh-rarchy squat the many who use the free outdoors. Indian English writers pause in their narratives to point them out as authentic colour (and smell); true-blue babus go chi-chi when they drive their foreign guests past such obdurate nature lovers.
Perhaps all this is going to change. The performance that comes so naturally to so many of us in India is being taught as something close to an art in a best-selling book by an American. As the home page informs us, How to Shit in the Woods is Kathleen Meyer’s “ground-breaking book, which has become the international best-selling outdoor guide, with more than 1.5 million copies in print, in seven languages”. First published in 1989, with a second edition published more recently, this book is commonly referred to as the “backpacker’s Bible”, we are told. Not having read the book, I am unable to comment on its literary qualities, though I am sure it cannot be worse than
in a downtown Lahore rail station parking lot for “crippled beggars, bullock wagons, goatherds and local buses”. It is so hot and humid that breathing is like “drinking coffee through your nose”. On the Indian border, he finds the same callousness and sloth—they “had not just an unused baggage inspection counter but an unused metal detector, an unused X-ray machine, and an unused pit with an unused ramp over it to inspect the chassis and frames of the vehicles that don’t use this border crossing”. The road in India, O’Rourke says, is a “store, a warehouse, a workshop.” Life—both human and animal—thrives on the macadam. In a particularly wicked moment, he says it is easy to see how after visits to India and Mahesh Yogi the Beatles came up with “Why don’t we do it in…” There are more delights. “The first time you look out the windshield at this melee you think, India really is magical. How, except by magic, can they drive like this without killing people?” O’Rourke wonders. It’s a valid question. The problem is they can’t stop killing people. “Jeeps bust scooters, scooters plow into bicycles, bicycles cover the hoods of jeeps. Cars run into trees. Buses run into ditches, rolling over on to the 1940s stylebreadloaf tops unto they’re unmashed into unleavened chapatis of carnage. And everyone runs into pedestrians.”
O’Rourke participates in a truck wreck pool with friends watching the overturned trucks on highways. Nobody— Indian writers included—has described it better: “It is the lurching, hurtling Tata trucks that put the pepper in the masala and make the curry of Indian driving scare you coming and going the way dinner does... The Tatas blunder down the middle of the road, brakeless, lampless, on treadles tyres, moving dog fashion with the rear wheels headed in a direction the front wheels aren’t. Tatas fall off bridges, fall into culverts, fall over embankments, and sometimes Tatas just fall—flopping on their sides without warning.” Not much has changed since O’Rourke saw these highway wrecks, only some of the roads have become better and wider. By the way, this is just the beginning of a short Indian journey. If you are a lover of cars, open roads and speed, you cannot miss this. Even if you hate all that, miss this at your own peril because O’Rourke writes with a rare felicity of wit.
most best-sellers. But I do suggest that the next time you have a chi-chi guest, foreign or desi, hand him a copy of the book and point him towards the exit.
as David Lodge, Patrick White, Ruth Rendell and Iris Murdoch. Prizes are fun; and the more, the merrier. But what, one wonders, is the point of giving a prize to an author who has been or become big since 1970? On the other hand, if they are ignored in favour of some less lucky author, would
Booker, bookest Consciously or not, literary prizes compete for media attention. For how can a prize put its winners in the limelight if it is not itself the focus of flashbulbs? The Booker has always been good at this. Now, after the “Booker of Bookers Award”, etc., just when one thought the prize must have run out of flashy ideas, what do we have? Yes, another surprise Booker: a “lost Man Booker prize”. No, this is not a Booker that will be awarded to Indiana Jones. In 1971, just two years after it began, the Booker Prize was “adjusted” and, as a result, some fiction published in 1970 fell through the Net and was never considered for the prize. The long list, revived now, includes books by little-known names, as well as big ones such
THE NEXT BIG NAME
first came across J.J. Grandville sometime in the mid-1980s. I do not remember the context in which I became familiar—at a very superficial level—with the works of the 19th century French illustrator but do recollect that it was before I read Art Spiegelman’s Maus for the first time. Anyone who is familiar with the works of the two will realize the connection. Grandville (his real name was Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard) made his name on a play Les Metamorphoses du Jour which features characters who have the bodies of men (and women) but the faces of animals. In Maus, Spiegelman portrays Jews as rats and Germans as cats. Still, the link is tenuous although it didn’t seem so to me when I first noticed it. A few months ago I picked up a graphic novel called Grandville. It was by Bryan Talbot, some of whose earlier works—Alice in Sunderland, and a collaboration with Neil Gaiman on one Sandman book—I had enjoyed. Grandville, named after the French artist for obvious reasons (the characters have human bodies and the faces of animals) uses a device fairly common in science fiction as a starting point— alternate reality. So, England has lost the Napoleonic wars to France and after a period of subservience to France has, at the beginning of Grandville, just been independent for 23 years. There’s nothing else predictable about the book, though. Talbot’s Grandville (written as well as illustrated by the man) would do Umberto Eco proud with its allusions. There are references, direct and implied, to French science fiction illustrator Albert Robida, the Tintin books, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, children’s comic character Rupert the Bear, even Quentin Tarantino. I use the last name because Talbot says so, but personally believe that Grandville is more a doff of the hat to John Woo than Tarantino. It was Woo, after all, who invented the classic stand-off of multiple people, pointing multiple guns in an entirely non-mathematically corresponding way (which means that if A has guns pointed at B and C, then B and C do not have guns pointed at A but at D and E who in turn...). I won’t get into the plot of Grandville (Cult Fiction has always avoided spoilers), but suffice it to say that it is convoluted enough to be intriguing, yet straight enough to remain interesting. Watching a new major talent in comic books emerge is one of the minor pleasures of being a regular reader of the genre. With Grandville, which scores high on both literary merit as well as visual technique, I have a feeling that Talbot has made the leap. I can’t wait for the sequel. R. Sukumar is editor, Mint. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Soutik Biswas is the India editor of BBC News online. Write to email@example.com
IN SIX WORDS Travelogue infused with a wicked humour
Steampunk flavour: Grandville is set in an alternateVictorian London.
it be a fair evaluation? And if we have to go back and do justice to unjustly overlooked names, why not do the years all over again, and perhaps go even further back? I would have a long list for “Bookers from the Past”, starting with Henry Green, Earl Lovelace and R.K. Narayan. ANDREW H WALKER/GETTY IMAGES/AFP
Bravo Burke Most recent books on Afghanistan and adjoining regions seem to be written by people whose prejudices match their ignorance. Jason Burke—like our own Pankaj Mishra—is an exception. Burke’s fascinating On the Road to Kandahar: Travels through Conflict in the Islamic World is better than any of the popular novels that claim to paint a picture of the region. Given the pressures of journalism, Burke’s competent language sometimes falls short of the best of British travel writing from the past—such as Wilfred Thesiger’s Arabian Sands. But in terms of scope, adventure, perception and openness, Burke is their equal—and he obviously exceeds them in topicality. Tabish Khair is the Denmark-based author of Filming.
In the limelight: (from left) Amit Chaudhuri, Tina Brown, Andrey Kurkov and Jane Smiley at the Man Booker reception last year.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org
SATURDAY, MARCH 20, 2010
Amrita, in her own words PHOTOGRAPHS
A twovolume set of Amrita SherGil’s letters and art works brings to life one of India’s most iconoclastic artists
A Freeze frame: (clockwise from top) SherGil with her paintings, Paris, 1930; seated, Paris, 1932; and with sister Indira (left), Shimla, 1923.
mrita Sher-Gil’s art, as well as her short and colourful life, have ensured her a permanent place in the collective Indian imagination. A twovolume Amrita Sher-Gil: A Self-Portrait in Letters and Writing—lavishly produced and handsomely illustrated—has been put together by her nephew, artist Vivan Sundaram. It consists of 260 letters, mostly personal, that she wrote to family and friends, as well as her few essays on art.
The accompanying photographs of Sher-Gil and her family, reproductions of her paintings, of artworks that inspired her, pages from her diary and of her letters, provide an exhaustive and intimate visual record of one of India’s foremost artists. Excerpted below are Sher-Gil’s views on art from sections of a letter she wrote to her friend, art critic Karl Khandalavala, and from an essay (see Art and Appreciation) by her in The New Outlook, Ahmedabad.
LETTER TO KARL KHANDALAVALA 6 March 1937, New Delhi Dear Karl, You are right as usual; erotic painting and sculpture could not possibly have been inspired by religious fervour. As a matter of fact I think all art, not excluding religious art, has come into being because of sensuality: a sensuality so great that it overflows the boundaries of the mere physical. How can one feel the beauty of a form, the intensity or the subtlety of a
colour, the quality of a line, unless one is a sensualist of the eyes? You ask me to write a few lines about the frescos at Travancore. I would much rather say something about the Cochin frescos, they are infinitely superior. I have ‘discovered’ them in the sense that I don’t think anybody has realised their importance, though of course the people in Cochin know
that there is a palace somewhere built by the Dutch for a Maharajah of Cochin about four hundred years ago which contains obscene paintings. I believe Dr. Cousins has also seen them, but what does he know about painting anyway. I am enclosing some rotten photographs of the Cochin frescos. You will notice the difference in pictorial conception between the one depicting the recumbent figure of Vishnu (a large panel with life-size figures, as painting the best thing there)
and the erotic panels which are curiously Rubenesque to my mind. I wonder if it can be traced back to the Dutch influence (the painting itself must certainly have been done by Indians). What makes me suspect foreign influence, apart from the massive Rubenesque forms of the women in the erotic panels, is the curious fact that they have all got light hair, either white or pale pink (which looks like an interpretation of ginger hair). But the subjects are chosen from Hindu mythology and very
ART AND APPRECIATION, An essay published in The New Outlook, March 1937 People in our country, when speaking of Art, are apt to think of it in terms of the various ‘Schools’—Bengal, Bombay, Lucknow, etc., rather than in terms of good Art and bad Art. Oscar Wilde once said, “There are no moral and immoral books, only well written and badly written books.” In terms of true Art it matters very little what ‘school’ or age a work of Art belongs to, because just as in all ages there has been a fundamental analogy in the characteristics of good painting and sculpture, so there is similarity linking the inferior Art of the present (this includes both Eastern and Western Art). I have heard it stated that one who is only acquainted with Western Art cannot pass judgement on the quality of a work pertaining to Oriental Art and vice versa. This is a fallacy, for whosoever has artistic sensibility, intuition or knowledge enough to recognise the good in Western Art will, with an infallible instinct, pick out the good in Eastern Art too. It is absurd to say that because one is not acquainted with, let us say, the period it belongs to, whether it is Buddhist, Brahmanical, Jain, Rajput, Mughal or Modern Indian Art, one cannot distinguish the good from the bad specimens in it nevertheless. Yet this is one of the weapons that pedantry uses against artistic intuition. Ironically enough, good Art never appeals at first sight. In fact I will go so far as to say that more often than not it repels. Bad Art, on the other hand, based as it is on cheap effect, appeals immediately to the artistically underdeveloped mind and therein lies its danger. Because though taste, of course, like every other faculty, can be developed, and when trained in the proper direction should qualify everyone to distinguish a bad work of art from a good one and enable people to develop a genuine preference for the latter, it is unfortunately very seldom that people attempt to develop this faculty even to a moderate degree. The appreciation of good Art is limited to the few because it has characteristics that are difficult for the average person to appreciate. It always tends towards Simplification, that is to say, it only considers the essentials of a form, the stress invariably laid on the textural and technical beauty of a work, instead of the beauty of the subject depicted. It is Amrita SherGil: characterised by vitality Tulika Books, & pungency of execu821 pages, tion, and never has the Rs5,750. slightest trace either of prettiness or sugariness. It is invariably Stylised. Form is never imitated, it is always interpreted. Bad Art, on the other hand, has always been characterised by softness of execution and conception, floridity, effeminacy of treatment and stress on inessential detail. Form is either photographically imitated or stylised in the wrong sense, i.e. ‘idealised’ in the sense of feeble prettiness (e.g., the work, in Europe, of Bouguereau, Alma-Tadema etc., in India, formerly of Ravi Varma and more recently visible in many specimens of the Bombay and Bengal Schools). It is diametrically opposed to the vital and significant stylisation of form that characterises the sculpture and painting of Ellora, Ajanta, Egyptian, Chinese, Japanese, early Christian, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Art ... Bad Art depends for its appeal on the prettiness or the sentimental aspect of the subject treated and therefore seldom fails to be popular. There are people who have the illusion that there are no absolute values in Art and believe, therefore, that personal taste is the only standard by which a work of Art can be judged, and consequently dub everything that repels them as bad with the certitude and intolerance that can only be the outcome of ignorance...
Indian in technique. Speaking of articles, the ‘note’ you saw in The Four Arts is a glaring example of that undercurrent of hostility which the Haldar type of people are beginning to manifest towards me. Do you know you are right again? I also have the conviction that Barada Ukil in his heart of hearts detests my work, but realising there is something in it, wants to take the credit for being one of the first to have acknowledged it and thereby ensure his reputation as an “art critic” for the
future also. (He doesn’t know a thing about art criticism but having a few stock phrases & platitudes at his disposal, manages to pass off as one.) I have often told him this and attributed even lower motives to his interest in my art. (He is in love with me and would like to marry me.) Of course he works himself into a fit of righteous indignation when I accuse him of these things. Nevertheless they are true—and you and I know it! ... Amri
CULTURE L17 SATURDAY, MARCH 20, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
Q&A | APARNA SEN
Japanese love letters The Kolkatabased director talks about Satyajit Ray, her daughter, and the hazards of chasing stars
BY S H A M I K B A G ···························· irector Aparna Sen’s new film, The Japanese Wife, is her third bilingual feature. The earlier two, her debut 36 Chowringhee Lane (1981), and Mr and Mrs Iyer (2002), were widely appreciated. In almost all her films, Sen has looked at the condition of women in contemporary Bengali and Indian society. Starting out as an actor in Satyajit Ray’s Teen Kanya in 1961, Sen says she has compromised in her acting career. But she has consistently stayed true to her role behind the camera. With her ninth film ready for release, she talked to Lounge about her bad experiences in the Hindi film industry, her daughter’s acting skills and multitasking. Edited excerpts:
How did you decide to make a film based on Kunal Basu’s short story? While collaborating on another screenplay, Kunal narrated The Japanese Wife. I was convinced. The story’s absurdity was charming—an improbable relationship between a village schoolteacher (Rahul Bose) living deep inside the Sundarbans in Bengal and a Japanese lady (Chigusa Takaku) in a small town in Japan. They are pen pals for years and marry through letters. In marriage there is complete integrity without meeting. The story’s fairy-tale quality charmed me. Your films romanticize loss. Pen friends, as well as the longdistance relationship, seems to fit this pattern. I’m an incorrigible romantic. I don’t just romanticize loss but deal with it in some depth. Your films largely stick to a linear narrative without major twists. Aren’t you giving away the story? Most of us make films with a linear narrative, otherwise you won’t get funding. My films
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Director’s cut: (top) A still from The Japanese Wife; and Aparna Sen. aren’t unnecessarily abstruse. I’m not giving away the story because it is delicately etched. The challenge was to make a film reminiscent of Japanese painting with its minimalism. This is your third consecutive film with Rahul Bose after ‘Mr and Mrs Iyer’ and ‘15 Park Avenue’. Is this akin to the filmmaker-actor relationships such as Kurosawa-Mifune…Satyajit Ray-Soumitra Chatterjee? Rahul trusts me enough to allow himself to be moulded. Can you imagine Rahul, the south Bombay, metrosexual guy who plays rugby, as an arithmetic teacher in the Sundarbans? Rahul also gives inputs. He will suggest something about the end and the end will be what his suggestion triggered. Your daughter Konkona Sen Sharma has acted in your
recent films such as ‘Mr and Mrs Iyer’, ‘15 Park Avenue’ and the forthcoming ‘Iti Mrinalini’. I’ll cast Konkona when she suits the character. In The Japanese Wife, Raima (Sen) fits perfectly. Konkona is extremely talented. In 15 Park Avenue, she got the character’s sur entirely. I hardly directed her. Her character was based on a close relative and Konkona was deeply empathetic. She’s a very honest actor; vanity doesn’t play a part, unlike (with) most actors. Is that why you’ve shied away from using Bollywood A-listers? It’s easier to get funding with Bollywood stars, but I have had bad experiences. I don’t have the patience to wait for unanswered phone calls, text messages, emails. It’s annoying and humiliating. Shabana Azmi, though, is a
star but an actor first. She believes in my cinema. But I’ve made a conscious choice, like Rituparno (Ghosh) and Goutam Ghose. Does that explain your making only 10 films in nearly three decades since ‘36 Chowringhee Lane’? Things have not fallen into place. Also, for a woman, to work and bring up two daughters, look after ailing parents and manage the home is difficult. I did theatre for the money. Those are creatively wasted years. I compromised as an actor, but not when directing. While playing the adulterous mother in ‘Pikoo’, did you have a disagreement with the director, Satyajit Ray? We didn’t see eye to eye. Ray said “feel you have betrayed the son”. I felt I had betrayed the father. But I did what he said. You found the film judgemental? Yes, but he’s been judgemental in Ghare Baire and his later films. As a film-maker he had that right. I respected him as a father figure to be able to question him. The earlier Ray was very Chekhovian, but became judgemental probably from what life taught him. I feel Ray initially was a product of the dreams of a newly independent nation. Gradually he became cynical. We’ve found him angry and despairing, like in Jana Aranya. I think he felt it’s his right to condemn. And it’s absolutely his right. Does your father, the noted film critic Chidananda Dasgupta, comment on your films? I think he likes 36 Chowringhee Lane and Paroma. But he’s avoided critiquing. Baba wasn’t one who praised or condemned. He found sociological and philosophical constructs. He suggested things at the scripting stage in Yugant or 15 Park Avenue, which I used but not directly. I’ve never directly used anybody’s suggestions. What after ‘The Japanese Wife’ and ‘Iti Mrinalini’? Goynar Baksho, hopefully. It’s based on somebody else’s book (Bengali novelist Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay). I’ve been hoping to make it for eight years.
THE INVISIBLE HAND OF AUDIO ENGINEERS
The Japanese Wife releases in theatres on 9 April.
fter years of having sung professionally, I still get a nice, gooey, heart-warming feeling when strangers walk up to me or send me a Facebook message saying they love my voice or have enjoyed a track I recorded years ago. At times, people are hesitant in expressing their appreciation because they feel that artistes must be tired of having admirers say the same thing to them over and over again, year after year. Not me, I still love the pat on the back and the little shaabaashi that the gesture conveys. But at age 50, I am also wise enough to accept and acknowledge that I have several people to thank for compliments coming my way. Family and parents have, of course, contributed hugely; and generous gurus who imparted their wisdom even when I must have given them enough reason to think I was undeserving. But this isn’t a thank you speech inspired by the recent Oscars night, it’s just an overdue acknowledgement of the role played by audio engineers in making my voice sound good enough to garner the compliments that come my way and in making it possible to duck the occasional brickbat. Although I have always shared a wonderful rapport with the audio engineers who have recorded me over the years, I take this opportunity to express my admiration for the work of Mumbai-based ace audio engineer Tanay Gajjar, with whom I have worked now for over 10 years and with whom I share a special rapport. When you walk into the studio and first see him, you might well take him to be a rock musician SHUBHA MUDGAL who is there to lay down a track or two. Flamboyant tattoos, branded attire, a propensity for mean bikes and fast cars, are all part of Tanay’s world as much as his passion for his work and love for music. His early training in tabla, and college time experiments with DJ-ing, have equipped him with a fine sense of music. On many occasions I have known him to have edited a cough or a splutter or an awkward phrase I have sung even before Tuned in: Gajjar in his studio. I have had time to come off the studio floor and into the control room to request him to edit the flawed segment. He maintains his lightning speed and efficiency even when it comes to classical music, where you don’t have click tracks and BMPs to refer to when editing. It is a keen and sharp sense of music that you need in such cases more than anything else, and this he has in abundance, along with a devilish sense of humour and mischief. He can play pranks with the same speed that he edits and records, but fortunately the pranks are reserved only for those with whom he shares a comfort level. No wonder then that I have had a thumri I recorded with him played back to me during a mixing session with a rap segment thrown in at regular intervals or an occasional chorus effect added here and there! But to get back, the audio engineer’s role is vital both for recorded music and in live concert situations. Though the Oscars, the Grammys and our homegrown awards, including the IIFA Awards, include a category for best song recording and best recording engineer, we tend to overlook giving due credit to our audio engineers when it comes to album credits, acknowledgements and thank yous. Which is why we remember to felicitate and give honorary doctorates to a Resul Pookutty only when he wins an Oscar. Now, if only I had more space, I could have written about Avinash Oak, Lokesh Dhawan, Bishwadeep Chatterjee, and the many wonderful audio engineers I have had the good fortune to work with. But a big thanks to all of you for making it possible for me to keep getting my “I love your voice” messages!
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Write to Shubha at firstname.lastname@example.org PHOTOGRAPHS
Such a long journey
A farmer’s daughter challenges convention to become an awardwinning theatre director B Y A NINDITA G HOSE email@example.com
···························· idyawati Phukan’s earliest memories of Bihu, in her village in the Tinsukia district of Upper Assam, are of waking up to the sound of the dhol, and rushing out on to the streets to dance. “Your flesh sings,” says Phukan. “You cannot understand Assam without first understanding Bihu.” The three Bihus, performed in different parts of the year, herald new seasons and farming cycles. The dance brings together Assam’s varied tribes—the Ahoms, Bodos, Sutiyas and others—and is integral to Assamese society. Phukan, who hails from the Ahom tribe, conveys these nuances in her Assamese play, Guti Phulor Gamusa, in which she also acts. Based on a short story by Assamese writer Leela Gogoi, the play brings to stage the traditional song and dance of Bihu. The villagers are battling a drought and
dance, it seems, is the only way to appease the skies. The play is vibrant and visceral; an almost 2-hour treatise on Assamese village life enmeshed with sensuality and gaiety. The play is 35-year-old Phukan’s third directorial venture and was shortlisted from among 233 entries for the fifth Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (Meta) that were held in Delhi earlier this month. It was nominated in eight out of the 13 award categories, including best direction, best choreography and best stage design for Phukan herself. She won the best direction award, sharing the honours with Deepan Sivaraman for his Malayalam play, Spinal Cord. Two other members of her troupe, UTSA, also won for best costume design. For UTSA members, getting to Delhi to attend the awards night meant undertaking a long journey—a 14-hour bus ride, followed by a train journey and a
Beyond language: (above) A still from Guti Phulor Gamusa; and Phukan at the Meta awards with the best director trophy. flight to Delhi. Phukan’s own journey—from a farmer’s daughter to an award-winning theatre director—is no less inspiring. A born danseuse, she was sent to boarding school at the age of 13 so that she could focus on her studies. When she finally moved to the big city, Guwahati, for her postgraduate degree in math, she was able to get back to dance and theatre. Her elder brother, Bipul, a rising theatre actor in the field of theatre, introduced her to his friends—the graduates and faculty of the
National School of Drama (NSD). It was through these interactions that she made up her mind to apply to NSD. When she moved to Delhi to start her acting programme, her parents were under the impression that she was doing a doctorate in math. “They were simple farmers and this would have been too much of a shock. They know now, and they’re proud of me,” says the 2004 NSD graduate. Phukan teaches acting at her alma mater, and has just finished work on her fourth play, Bol Senai
Taaloike. It is based on the Assamese novel Anya Jug Anya Purush and presents a nostalgic view of Assamese village life—a theme close to Phukan’s heart. She has also acted in a couple of art house films and is currently on a shooting schedule for an untitled production by the US-based Sundance Institute. Apart from travelling across Assam, Phukan and her troupe have performed Guti Phulor Gamusa at theatre festivals in Hampi and Chitradurga, both in Karnataka. Ticketed performances in other parts of the country have been scarce because of the language barrier, even though a screen showing subtitles accompanies the performance. But Phukan is hopeful as she explores international opportunities. “I see theatre and acting beyond language,” she says. She recalls how members of the audience had come and hugged her after her performance at Chitradurga in 2007. “They said they’d understood everything,” recalls Phukan, who feels that a good performance doesn’t necessarily require literal comprehension. Anyone who watches her emote to the dhol and buffalo-horn pepa in Guti Phulor Gamusa will find it hard to disagree.
L18 FLAVOURS SATURDAY, MARCH 20, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
OUR DAILY BREAD
The crackle and snap of memories
Oink, oink: (clockwise from left) The roast pork recipe is an old family favourite; marinate the pork with spices and other ingredients; make sure it gets a rich brown colour when you roast it on the stove. cooked, remove the cover and cook for 10 minutes so that the meat starts to brown. Take care not to burn it. If you want to hurry things, use a pressure cooker instead of an open pan.
A handeddown recipe, its details forgotten, leads to a fragrant weekend of porkie powder
Quick Fish with Porkie Powder Serves 2 Ingredients Kkg fish (I used singhada) 4-spice powder left over from the pork 1K large onions, sliced finely 1 small tetrapack tomato purée ¼ cup white-vine vinegar 1 tsp Konkan fish masala or red chilli powder 6 large garlic pods, crushed and chopped Salt to taste
hole spices are little voyages of discovery. Where they lead you depends on the course you chart for them. You can fry, roast, grind. You can use them whole. You can do a combination of these. I am partial to roasting and grinding. Roasting Indian spices usually liberates a heady, hidden fragrance, quite dissimilar to what you began with. “Wow, what’s that aroma?” is a question I am often asked when I’m roasting spices on my cast-iron chapatti pan. How do you know when to stop the roasting? Take them off the fire as soon as they crackle and pop, revealing their hidden selves to you in the process. I find magic in their heat-driven pop-snap-crackle routine, a release of heady flavours, a promise of the meal ahead. It makes me smile, and it makes me eager to cook—even on a day I don’t particularly feel like it. Last week, I didn’t really feel like cooking. I was hung-over, and I had woken up at 5am. The more I drink, the earlier I wake up. Don’t ask. I had made the wife’s tea, and I
was blearily hanging around the kitchen ruminating on my pounding head and empty fridge. There was some defrosted pork, but now what. When I don’t feel particularly creative, my kitchen-confidential diary is always available. I wanted something short, and the shortest recipe happened to be something listed as “Mummy’s Pork, Diwali spesh (special)”, entered on 28 October 2008. Clearly, we had stayed home that Diwali. The only problem was there were no proportions. I called my mother, but she couldn’t remember this particular recipe. Ah, that meant I could fool around. As usual, that heady aroma wafted through the house, wound itself around the wife’s senses and dragged her bleary eyed into the kitchen. So Mum’s old recipe got a fresh lease of life. The pork ended up tasting different from anything she
Local pleasures Bangalore and Mumbai now have their own markets for organic produce B Y P AVITRA J AYARAMAN & R ACHANA N AKRA ···························· assers-by strayed into Bangalore’s Vyasa International School on a recent Sunday morning, wondering why a school playground was playing host to something resembling a vegetable market. As it turned out, almost everybody who walked in bought something, observed members of the Navachetana Trust, a nonprofit group that works in the areas of art, environment and wellness. Navachetana organized the 3-hour market that has been christened Namma Santhe, or “our market”—and hopes to make it a monthly affair. Twenty stalls had on display fruits, vegetables, spices, dals, chutney powders, jams, juices and pickles. They were all locally produced, and much of it was organic. “The idea was to introduce the concept of a local market back to the big cities,” says Aliyeh Rizvi, programme manager, Navachetana Trust. So locally grown vegetables and fruits such as bananas, okra, tomatoes and coconuts were the mainstay. Rice and pulses were next on the most wanted list. While the Bangalore-based organic retailers were at the market, Rizvi is happy that farmers
from villages nearby came with fruits and vegetables too. These were almost sold out. Rizvi says the farmers need a designated space. “There were five farmers who lost their way despite the specific directions we gave. They were overwhelmed by the city and went back. That is indicative of how much we need a space where they can come and understand their consumers directly as opposed to selling to middlemen,” she says. In Mumbai, Kavita Mukhi is organizing the first farmers’ market on Sunday. Although she has
had made—clearly I had taken it down a new path. That’s the wonder of a good roasting. As it emerged, there appeared to be too much spice powder—helpfully labelled “porkie powder” by the wife who assigns labels to leftover powders I store in confusing, nameless little bottles. The next day was a Sunday, and as night fell on a cool Delhi spring day, I felt even lazier. So, I removed some quick-cooking fish and used the leftover porkie powder, uncertain of what might emerge. As it turned out, the fish was light, spicy and—if I may say so—a perfect way to end the weekend.
1 tsp mustard seeds 3 tsp coriander seeds 2 tsp cumin seeds 6 large garlic pods, crushed ½ cup red-wine vinegar 2 tsp ginger-garlic paste 2 large onions, sliced Salt to taste
Ingredients 1kg pork 10 dried red chillies
Method Roast red chillies, coriander and cumin seeds. Grind them to a powder—the aforementioned porkie powder—with the mustard seeds (if you want it spicier,
been working to arrange this for the last six months, she says that in some ways the process began 20 years ago when she set up a small store selling dry organic food in Malabar Hill. “It was the GM crop issue that motivated me to finally take this step. It makes me so angry. Besides (it) being unhealthy, farmers will become dependent on big corporations for their seeds,” says Mukhi, who started Conscious Food, a brand of organic foodstuff. “India is full of farmers who produce organi-
cally. The farmers’ market will give people access to them,” she says. There will be food items, organic candy floss for children and stalls for eco-friendly household items, recycled paper, among others. The farmers’ market in Bandra, Mumbai, is planned as a weekly affair, with all kinds of seasonal fruits, such as grapes, oranges, bananas and apples, and vegetables such as spinach, tomato, potato, onions and more. Megha Rawal, who is working
Mum’s Roast Pork Serves 4
Au naturel: A cart at the organic market at Bangalore’s Vyasa International School.
India is full of farmers who produce organically. The farmers’ market will give people access to them.
add a tsp of peppercorns to the grinder). Marinate the pork with the powdered spices (you won’t need all, keep aside 2-3 tsp), red-wine vinegar, ginger-garlic paste and salt. In a non-stick pan, heat 1-2 tbsp of olive oil. Sauté the garlic till brown. Add onions and sauté till deep pink. Add the marinated pork and sauté for 10 minutes. Cover pan and reduce heat till well cooked. This could take an hour. When the pork is
with Mukhi to organize the market, says, “The flavours (of organic food) are richer and more intense, not diluted because of all the chemicals.” Organic supplies available in supermarkets tend to be costlier but here, the prices will be on a par with those in regular markets since no middlemen or dealers are involved. With around 250 visitors, the turnout at the first market in Bangalore was not overwhelming, but it did have sellers hopeful of making converts out of supermarket shoppers. Like Subu Palamadai, a graphic designer and illustrator with a design firm, who heard of the market through friends. “I have been trying to go organic for a while and think it’s a good step,” says Palamadai, adding that the lifestyle change—in terms of taste, looks and availability—is a tough one to make. “The taste is different, and the vegetables don’t look as good as the modified stuff at supermarkets.” As he picks up a bag of unpolished rice and some pickles, he says it just takes getting used to. “The taste of vegetables, for example, is unpredictable (the taste tends to vary) and a lot like eating from your vegeta-
Method Marinate the fish with porkie powder, vinegar and salt for at least 2 hours. Heat 1-2 tbsp of olive oil in a non-stick pan. Sauté garlic till brown. Add onions and sauté till deep pink. Add 1 tsp of fish masala (I get mine from Nandgaon near Murud-Janjira on the Konkan coast; ordinary red chilli powder should work as well) and sauté well. Add tomato purée and toss. Add fish, reduce flame to low and cook through. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
ble garden” he adds. But while Palamadai drove to the market from his home 5km away, around 60% of the crowd was from the area around the school. “We would like the community to be involved and spread the word around, just the way a locality market works. From the first market, we have a database of 250 people and I hope they will spread the word,” says Rizvi. Navachetana doesn’t want to use its limited funds to advertise in newspapers, so the project is entirely dependent on word of mouth and the leaflets they distribute a week earlier. In Mumbai, Mukhi is following the same principle. “We haven’t done any advertising, (are) just depending on word of mouth,” she says. Mukhi has also found a supporter in chef Vicky Ratnani who is designing a special organic menu for Aurus, a popular beachside restaurant in Juhu. “Since it is going to be a weekly market nearby, it makes it easy for us. I’ll design dishes depending on what’s available there,” he says. With time, Rizvi hopes, the farmers and retailers who own stores in the city will take the onus of organizing the market while the trust can look after the logistics: “This way we can look at more than one market in the city, so Bangaloreans, who seem so cocooned in their comfort, don’t have to drive across town.” email@example.com
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