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

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Vol. 4 No. 34


The sheer athleticism of Garry Sobers, Majid Khan’s disdain for footwork, Bedi’s silken flight—YouTube is a miracle for cricket fanatics, encouraging us to revisit the game’s greatest and often changing our idea of them >Page 10



Kapil Gupta reuses space so it retains its original cultural value. The designer of Tote and Blue Frog tells us about his building blocks >Page 9

time travel cricket THE GOOD LIFE


The Julia Roberts­starrer boosts tourism in Ubud, known for its art and culture >Page 12

FOUR CENTURIES IN ITS CORNERS Barry Richards’ interna­ tional career was unfortu­ nately curtailed due to South Africa’s isolation from the world of sport.









s Jane Austen once said, on a break from plotting the betrothal of 19th century spinsters, “Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.” She might also have added that a good apple pie is considerably harder to find than a good husband. Contemporary crimes against apple pie are numerous: pastry tough enough to break your teeth; bland filling, too slimy or too hard; medicinal levels of spice and, perhaps worst of all... >Page 7

hy aren’t more design firms headquartered in Ahmedabad? I am visiting this 600-year-old city that Sultan Ahmed Shah founded, for the first time, and I love it. I didn’t expect to. Indians are funny that way. Each of us is intensely proud of the region we call home, and, truth be told, there is enough in each place to be proud of. Talk to Goans and they will act as if the good life or Sussegado originated in Goa. Talk some more and it becomes hard to argue otherwise. Talk to Tamilians and they will act as if culture begins and ends in Chennai. >Page 4


The National Archives of India is poised for change. We found out why it’s our best, yet unused reservoir of the past >Pages 17­18


in today’s edition of


here is nothing magical about telepathy; it is merely one of those faculties our ancestors developed to a certain point before discarding it in favour of something more reliable, like answering machines,” observes Sonchai, the wisecracking cop from Thailand, as he strolls beside his new-found guru, a drug-peddling ex-lama in Kathmandu. Superficially, The Godfather of Kathmandu is a thriller about international drug smuggling that takes hilarious potshots at Western... >Page 15




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










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



ast week we almost decided that Salman Khan would be the next Lounge cover. Hell, I even saw Veer—one of those rare Salman movies I just couldn’t bring myself to watch when it was released earlier this year. It seemed like the perfect time to revisit the appeal of Bollywood’s craziest Khan. One film company head says that though, Popstar: Salman Khan is Robinhood Pandey in Dabangg. currently, Shah Rukh gets the best advance booking followed worldly Mallika Sherawat sounded posib y A a m i r , a n d t h e n S a l m a n , tively gauche when they bantered. And Dabangg—the latter’s new film that 5ft 8 inches is not short by Indian standr e l e a s e s o n 1 0 S e p t e m b e r — c o u l d ards, ladies. change the rules. In trade lingo, the “preEnough has been written about his release buzz” for Dabangg is tremen- chest. It was bound to play an important dous. Add that to the fact that Salman part in the climax of Veer where Salman will host television’s biggest show, Bigg got a screenplay credit too. Hero takes a Boss. More importantly, there’s no dis- bullet in the heart, strips his armour to puting the fact that Salman Khan is Bol- die, then recovers enough to win a battle lywood’s last “Bollywood” superstar, if bare-chested before collapsing. “I’ll be you know what I mean. back again,” he announces before he dies, Shah Rukh is too busy making sensi- waxed chest in full view. tive movies/going sci-fi; Aamir spends all Which other hero does the 1980s-style his time tweaking our box-office psyche entry any more? Which other hero can and training us how to be better movie still excite audiences with a bizarre rinse, watchers. But Salman is comfort food repeat punchline? Remember Wanted’s (think chicken curry, not dal-rice since Ek baar jo maine commitment kar di, he doesn’t understand the word vegetar- uske baad to main khud ki bhi nahi sunta ian)—he embodies the psychedelic, pel- or Veer’s Jahan se bhi pakadta hun, vic-obsessed industry we grew up with, paanch ser gosht nikalta hun. Dabangg’s and not the multiplex maze it currently one-liner will apparently be: kamaal is. Those of you who worry karte ho Pandeyji. CINEMA about the overnight death of So what if there’s never any continuity single-screen cinema and in the way Salman Khan looks through a dancing in the aisles can surely under- film? Now you see hair, now you don’t. stand the importance of Salman Khan? That’s part of his charm. So what if his Salman could end up being the last dance directors tell him to do whatever it macho-masala super-entertainer of our is he wants in the songs (usually, he opts times. Original bad boy Sanjay Dutt is to remove his shirt or flex his biceps but now quite unwatchable; we seem mostly once in a while he might come up with bored of poor Akshay Kumar’s brand of the killer towel dance or the belt jiggle). In loud cinema; and Hrithik Roshan has the last two decades, only Prabhu Deva always been too good-looking for Hindi has managed to squeeze some structured cinema. But discount the eyebags/coun- dance out of him. try-of-one accent and Salman looks/ Eventually we decided to keep the sounds better every year. At 45, as he con- Salman cover story on hold, even fessed on NDTV during a visit to navy air though there’s a little bit of him in every station INS Hansa, he finds the way Hindi film goer. Like the other two women react to him as he grows older a Khans, Salman is an important part of “little scary”. “There was a time when our pop history. We remember him women had the hots for me but now it’s doing bare-but-hairy-chested push-ups reducing,” he said. I’m sure he was joking. wearing jeans and high heeled shoes. Don’t send me hate mail for saying this We remember him playing a passionate but, if you can put aside his shadowy saxophone without moving his fingers record of violence with women, it’s easy even once. And that was 1989. He gets to understand the raw sexual appeal of full marks for history too. Salman. He gets full marks for the ability to swagger comfortably in what is cer- PS: My favourite Khan? Aamir of course. tainly Bollywood’s tightest collection of Although I’ve never seen any Khan hold a jeans. Add his other staples—leather woman the way Shah Rukh grabs Kajol in jacket, sunglasses hooked into the neck that wet sari sequence in Kabhi Khushi of his jacket on the rare occasion he takes Kabhie Gham. them off his nose, bandanna, boots, clunky leather belt—and nobody does Write to biker chic like Salman. He may not dance but he’s got all the moves. He flirted exquisitely with all the women who appeared on his television Priya Ramani blogs at­cut debut 10 Ka Dum—the supposedly sexy/


Write to us at LACKING ABILITY R. Sukumar’s “The once­in­a­generation man”, 21 August, was a nice article but what caught my eye was Sunil Mittal’s statement that he is not doing more in the public policy space due to the absence of something really attractive to do there. When a lot of the country is crumbling before your eyes, there is probably a lack of ability in identifying things to work on rather than a lack of interesting things to work on. ANUJ

LONDON ENCORE I enjoyed Vir Sanghvi’s review of the must­visit restaurants in London, 21 August. I was born in England, know London very well and only moved to India some four years ago. I still travel back most months. The number of affluent, progressive Indians

who go to London, particularly for vacations, is amazing. Too many of them tend to stay in the same hotels and eat at the same restaurants. London is constantly evolving. This type of article, perhaps venturing out of Knightsbridge and including hotels, would be useful. Perhaps a monthly feature? I could give you my favourite places, with the reasons, too! RASHY TODD

NOT GREEN ENOUGH It was great to read about bikers in our country taking up big challenges such as the Himalayas and Nilgiris (“Meet the eco­friendly pedal pushers”, 21 August). The sad part is that as a sport biking is hardly eco­friendly— a biker would be driving his bike on a car to reach the foothills. The real “eco­friendly pedal pushers” are the nameless daily commuters who travel on the roads. Recently, I interacted with a couple of guys from London and Copenhagen who are writing a paper on biking as a mode of transport. Both believe that the difference will be felt only when the number of bike commuters from the affluent classes increases. SUDIP BHATTACHARYA

ON THE COVER: PHOTOGRAPHER: BOB THOMAS/GETTY IMAGES CORRECTIONS & CLARIFICATIONS: In “Eye on Orissa”, 21 August, the Essence of Odisha package costs `27,999 per couple on a half­board basis. In “The great outdoors”, 21 August, the Timberland store is at Ambience mall, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi.


The electric version One of India’s biggest rock bands is back with a new website and an upcoming album


entagram is simultaneously one of India’s best and most hated bands. All their concerts are packed to capacity, but you’ll often find a significant number of the crowd booing (“Sellouts”, they’ll shout, or “Go back to your Bollywood!”)— most of their ire directed at frontman Vishal Dadlani, who forms one half of film music duo Vishal-Shekhar. Pentagram, who’ve been sort of quiet the last couple of years, have recently updated their online home www.pentagram. in, and are putting up a series of video podcasts and blog posts that will document the recording of their fourth album Bloodywood, which comes out in December. The first episode, currently live on the site, focuses on one song—Mental Zero, and touches on topics as diverse as furniture breakage and the problems with beedis. The group’s first album, We Are Not Listening (1996), was accomplished enough, with

Mental heroes: (from left) Papal, Randolph, Shiraz and Vishal. catchy tunes and anthemic excess Indian rock is known for. But it was their second album, Up (2002), that cemented their reputation as one of India’s edgiest rock bands. Up discarded Pentagram’s “alternative” trappings and penchant for Rage Against the Machine covers, and introduced a distinct electronica layer to their evolving sound. It was a brilliant new direction for the band—their explosive live shows bearing testament to how well it works for them. Their third album, It’s Ok, It’s All Good (2007), cemented their sound more than taking it for-

ward. The band members’ side projects—Dadlani with VishalShekhar and guitarist Randolph Correia with straight-up electronica funk act Shaa’ir + Func—took centre stage. Bloodywood will obviously bear some heavy acoustic signatures from the work Pentagram members are doing outside of the group, but that’s what makes it so exciting. It means a Bollywood-laced, electronica-tinged funk rock record with Pentagram’s trademark live energy. You can’t go wrong with that. Krish Raghav



Why isn’t Ahmedabad the seat of design?





hy aren’t more design firms headquartered in Ahmedabad? I am visiting this 600-year-old city that Sultan Ahmed Shah founded, for the first time, and I love it. I didn’t expect to.

Indians are funny that way. Each of us is intensely proud of the region we call home, and, truth be told, there is enough in each place to be proud of. Talk to Goans and they will act as if the good life or Sussegado originated in Goa. Talk some more and it becomes hard to argue otherwise. Talk to Tamilians and they will act as if culture begins and ends in Chennai. Visit Chennai in December and you will become convinced. Talk to Bengalis and they will make your head spin with their literary and intellectual allusions. All Bengalis think Kolkata is the centre of the universe and once you get into the “adda” mindset, you will feel the same way too. This goes on and on, not just with larger cities such as Delhi and Mumbai, which can lay legitimate claim to a thriving arts scene, but even in smaller towns such as Dharwad (at the crossroads of Carnatic and Hindustani music), Patna (continuously inhabited since 490 BC), Gwalior (the oldest Khayal gharana), Kochi (synagogues, Syrian Christians and Moplah Muslims), Marwar (Rajputs, legends, Mayo), Varanasi (silk, samosas and the seat of Hinduism), and Guntur (gongura pickle and poet Gunturu Seshendra Sarma, the only Indian after Tagore to be nominated for the Nobel Prize). The list goes on. Each region in India has a dizzying array of quirks, cuisine and culture; and everyone thinks they are the best. And now, Gujarat. Deep breath. I always thought of Gujarat as a mercantile state; and it is. But visit the MS University in Vadodara, or pretty much any museum in Ahmedabad and a different picture emerges: The city is

a repository of the Indian craft tradition. There are the patrons: the Lalbhais, Sarabhais, Hutheesings and Mangaldas’. There are the design and architecture students graduating from the National Institute of Design (NID), Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT), the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India (EDI) which won the Aga Khan Award for architecture, the equally beautiful Environmental Sanitation Institute (ESI), where I stayed. You have Mudra Institute of Communications, and Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. My question is: Given the rich influx of talent in the fields of design, architecture and management, why aren’t more design firms headquartered in Ahmedabad? The answers I get from Amdavadis are all over the map. “It’s too bloody hot here. You need cool climes for design. Hence Pune.” “Arre, it’s happening, yaar. Why are you in such a hurry? Many NID students are turning down offers in Bangalore to start design firms here in Ahmedabad.” “Until now, Narendra bhai (Modi) was focusing on power, energy and businesses. He will soon look into design. And then we will be the best Indian state in design also.” The most elegant answer comes from Umang Hutheesing. I meet Hutheesing at his sprawling mansion in typical 21st century fashion. A mutual friend e-introduces us and when I land in Ahmedabad, Hutheesing invites me to dinner, along with several design students from NID and CEPT. We, juice (Gujarat is a dry state); walk through his baroquean

Fountainhead: (top and above) The NID has been drawing talent from across India. collection of Chola bronzes, antique framed shamianas, Meissen porcelain and Dutch pottery. His parents collect royal costumes, which were recently exhibited in Paris under the auspices of the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation. After a vegetarian thali dinner on kansa plates made of five metals, I finally ask Hutheesing the question that’s been bugging me: Why isn’t Ahmedabad the seat of Indian design, given the talent that exists in its environs? “Let me quote a couplet, written by historian James Douglas,” he replies without missing a beat. “The bud was here. The blossom and fruit to be in Agra? Everything has a beginning:

Greece before Rome, Damascus before Cairo, Agra follows Ahmedabad.” I smile. He smiles. Wah, wah! Apparently, Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal stayed in Ahmedabad during their younger years, when he was governor of Gujarat for his father, Jehangir, who incidentally met Noor Jehan in Ahmedabad. According to Hutheesing, the then Prince Khurram wandered around Shahibaug (named after him) and drank in Ahmedabad’s architecture, already 200 years old. The flickering moonlight falling on marble and alabaster; the craft and workmanship of the local artisans; the rhythm and harmony of their creations; their deft touch and cunning cover-ups.

Khurram studied it all. “It was here that the master builder imbibed his artistic excellence which was to blossom in Agra,” says Hutheesing. Later, I break corn dhoklas with Abhay Mangaldas, who has converted his ancestral property into a heritage hotel called The House of MG. We lunch on patra and khichdi, and compare scuba-diving adventures. Mangaldas, like me, is an adrenalin junkie, although his office attire is a Linen Club kurta-pyjama. He has bought the neighbouring property from his cousins to add rooms and a spa. “Ahmedabad, like good wine, matures slowly,” he says. “It will come to its own in due course, probably in the next 10 years, and stake its claim as the foremost centre for design, architecture and crafts in the country.” They think big, these Gujaratis. I’ll give them that. Quite a contrast to my own Tamilian ancestors who valued frugality and the notion of “porum”, or “enough”, as a virtue. Shoba Narayan dreams of eating shrikhand by moonlight on the banks of the Sabarmati. Write to her at Read Shoba’s previous Lounge columns at­narayan





Help at hand: Jaishri Sivaraman (extreme left) and Vanessa Ohri (third from left) host a counselling session.


First steps to a second career Specialized consultancies and programmes are making it easier for mothers to get back to work


···························· t any office party where spouses are invited, there is invariably a point—after the latest human resources circular is dissected, before the B-school nicknames come out—when someone turns to the quietest person in the room and asks, “So how are the kids?” If the question is directed at a mother who has never worked, there is resentment, yet a quick recovery. But if it’s someone who had a career before choosing to spend some time raising her children, the question digs up shallowly buried despair and doubts. “It was irritating that other people seemed to be more concerned about my quitting work to stay home than I was,” says Sangeeta Navalkar, who used to work in


sales and brand management in a media conglomerate. After she had her first child, she went right back to work. But when she had her second, she decided to take a break. Six years later, with both her boys in school, Navalkar decided she could go back to work as long as she had the flexibility to come home early in the evening. But technology had changed, her break had been a long one and she was unsure about the options available to her. Since this is what keeps most mums away, specialized consultancies and corporate programmes are now offering tailor-made solutions for women who want a second innings in their careers. Jaishri Sivaraman and Vanessa Ohri were also mothers whose advertising careers were unmoored when they had children and started trailing their husbands to locations around the world. Two years ago, when they reconnected in Delhi, they hit upon the idea of starting a placement consultancy only for mothers who are looking to go back to work after taking a baby break. Their outfit Momsatwork ( counsels and finds tailor-made jobs for these women. “When working women become mothers and decide to take a break, at some point they realize they have lost their self-

identity. Once the kids start school, they are ready to come back to work and then find out that there aren’t too many options available,” says Sivaraman. Highly structured organizations with strict HR policies are averse to hiring people on flexible work schedules and setting, what they assume is a bad precedent. So Momsatwork avoids these and talks to companies that are flexible and open to employees working the hours they choose as long as their deadlines are met. It’s not easy convincing an employer though. Mostly, women with children are perceived to be more committed to their families than their jobs. Employers worry about frequent leaves. Also, they tend not to hang around late in the workplace; in some organiza-

‘When you approach someone on your own and ask for flexible hours, it almost never works out.’

tions, this is interpreted as a sign of “not working hard enough”. The women themselves are under-confident and in awe of former colleagues who now hold much senior positions. “You can’t really convince someone about these. But once they hire one or two mothers, they realize that their ability to multitask, focus and finish their work on time is outstanding,” says Sivaraman. The lack of self-confidence is the most debilitating factor stopping these women from going to work. Sairee Chahal, founder of Fleximoms, says once you counter this, the rest is easy. Her company offers training programmes—a two-day refresher programme for women who have worked before and are on a break, and a 15-day course for women who are looking for jobs for the first time—and brings candidates up to speed on what has changed in the workplace. “If we work only on the confidence of these women, 60% of the work is done,” Chahal says. While most women do manage to cope when they go back, those who opt out often do so in the very first month. “We are careful about who we place. For example, the other day, this lady came in and her husband and baby accompanied her. Clearly, if she was unable to leave the child behind for an hour to meet us, chances are she won’t be able to

manage work—even if she is working out of home. So our advice to her was that she should wait,” says Ohri. Ideally, mothers who wait till their children are in school and have full-time help or parents or in-laws who live close by are best able to cope. Though daycare centres and crèches are popular and available, Ohri suggests a dry run of two months before finding an assignment. The trouble is you can’t be entirely certain how you will cope. Navalkar says there were days, like when both the children fell ill at the same time, when she questioned how she would be able to cope. But she saw an ad for Tata Second Career Internship Programme—a six-month project for qualified women looking to come back from a break—and decided to apply. She started with an option of flexible hours and the need to go to office only three days a week. She built it up slowly and now, two years later, she works five days a week but has the option to go home early in the evenings so she can spend time with her boys. Priya Datta is a trailing spouse. She used to work in a multinational market research agency. Then her husband got a job in Shanghai and she moved there. “The help you get in China is more accountable, so even though my son was small, I found

a job and worked full-time there,” she says. When she moved back to Delhi, she first decided to try finding a job herself. “When you approach someone on your own and ask for flexible hours, it almost never works out,” she says. Momsatwork found her a job in a small, independent agency. She worked from 9am-2pm, so she could be home before her children came back from school. “But with my husband’s frequent postings abroad, it would be best if I worked for a company that is multinational and recognized abroad. So I have taken a break now,” she says. Settling for a job that has less scope is usually an unavoidable prospect. “Also, be willing to look at other functions,” says Sivaraman. Case in point, though Navalkar’s previous experience was in sales and brand management, she is now in Tata Services’ HR. “I would have looked for a marketing or brand role. But this was the option that Tata had. I had to read up a lot, HR was not an area that I had any experience in. But now it’s OK, managing people is not rocket science,” she says. And it’s impossible to catch up with your former peers in terms of salary. “But it’s a choice I made. And I have had the joy of watching my kids grow up. You can’t put a value on something like that,” says Datta.




CHILD­TIME AT THE COST OF COUPLE­TIME We have a three-year-old son. Until now our world revolved around him and his needs. However, we find that our time together as a couple has been severely compromised, and this is taking its toll on our marriage. We have tried to go out on a few dates without him after arranging to have his favourite aunt and uncle spend those hours with him, but he created quite a fuss, and we too did not enjoy ourselves as we felt guilty. Are we perhaps making a big point about this

far too early for him? It’s not easy to have a child make that transition, from being the centre of the universe, to being a part of the universe! However, it is very important that he makes that transition. You don’t need to feel guilty at all. His distress is temporary, but the long-term benefits of a child seeing his parents happy together are quite immeasurable. In fact, to slowly help a child see that his parents love each other and need their time

together, is one of the best gifts/lessons that you can impart. I don’t think you’re making a big point too early. It’s bound to be a bit troublesome for both, but it’s a good thing, and you need to keep working on it. It doesn’t have to involve the two of you going out together leaving him, each time. On a daily basis, you can insert some kind of quiet ritual that you and your husband do together, exclusively—it could be something as simple as a quiet cup of tea together, or sitting on the sofa together, close, chatting with each other. During this time, he can continue being in the room, but you can find a way to put

Life lesson: Teach your child to spend time on her own. across the message that at that moment you are both not fully available to him, but are fully available to each other. If he tries to yell, or sit between the two of you, you can gently tell him that you’re talking, and will attend to him a little later.

Some things that you decide to do together could be stuff that he is clearly not interested in right now—which could be something like the two of you cooking together, or even one of you keeping the other company during the making of a meal,

etc. Constantly sacrificing your own and your couple-needs for your children only signals to your kids that they are entitled to be entertained and loved even at the cost of their parents’ own personal happiness and fulfilment. This only encourages them to a) be inconsiderate of you as parents with their own needs, and b) be unable to spend time on their own and entertain themselves even for a short while. Indicating in different ways to your child that you are a couple is a very important part of a family’s growing and maturing into a well-adjusted unit that is happy and secure, together as well as apart. Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting. Send in your queries to Gouri at




CHILE While some Sauvignon Blancs from Chile achieve complexity, most tend to be “cheap and cheerful” wines.

A ‘safety wine’ around the world Sauvignon Blanc has escaped a Chardonnay­ type backlash, and it appears everywhere

B Y L ETTIE T EAGUE ···························· awyers are the subject of many stereotypes, not to mention the butt of quite a few jokes. One lawyerly truism that I’ve heard many times is that they only drink the best wine. I never had reason to doubt this until I met my friend Kim, a partner at a law firm in N ew Y o rk. K im o n l y dr ink s cheap Sauvignon Blanc. “Lawyers don’t drink cheap Sauvignon Blanc,” I told him. “Lawyers drink Napa Cabernets or Bordeaux, or if they’re divorce lawyers, maybe Cristal or Krug. Cheap Sauvignon Blanc isn’t a lawyerly drink.” But Kim resisted my counsel. He liked Sauvignon Blanc because, he said, it was lively and refreshing, and above all, consistent. Sauvignon Blanc, in short, was his safety drink. Of course Sauvignon Blanc is liked by more than just lawyers. It’s probably the second most popular white wine in the US after Chardonnay—without that varietal’s accompanying backlash. For example, there aren’t any “ABSB” (“Anything but Sauvignon Blanc”) protests that I know of—at least not yet. And Sauvignon Blanc is even more versatile than Chardonnay when paired with food. Its palatecleansing acidity and notes of citrus and herb match with a wide range of dishes, from chicken to seafood to cheese. It’s especially good with cheese; in fact, some of the best goat cheese in France is made in the same towns as the best Sauvignon Blanc. It’s planted all over the world, albeit with varying degrees of success. In France, Sauvignon Blanc shows up in Bordeaux


mostly blended with Sémillon. It’s all over the Loire, most famously in the appellations Pouilly Fumé and Sancerre. In the US, it’s planted in New York, California, Oregon and Washington, though it’s also turned up in unlikely states such as Pennsylvania and Connecticut. The grape is of great consequence in New Zealand, thanks in large part to Cloudy Bay (more on that later), and in Chile where it’s the source of many sub-$10 (around `468) bottles, some surprisingly good and some simply cheap. It’s also important in the Alto Adige and Friuli regions of Italy, where the wines can take on a decidedly minerally edge. It’s even been planted in Piedmont, a region best known for big reds. Angelo Gaja, the man who recreated Barbaresco, decided to grow Sauvignon Blanc too and now produces one of the most expensive Sauvignon Blancs in the world, Alteni di Brassica, which sells for as much as $100 a bottle. That’s more than three times what most people would typically pay for the grape. With a few exceptions, Sauvignon Blanc has never been an expensive or, for that matter, much sought-after grape (one collector friend of mine calls Sancerre his “pool” wine). Sauvignon Blanc has certainly never been considered as classy as Cabernet, though it’s Cabernet’s varietal parent (it was crossed with Cabernet Franc in the 18th century). But unlike Cabernet, a name that is virtually synonymous with money, Sauvignon Blanc actually once needed an alternative moniker to help it sell. In the 1960s, Robert Mondavi found that his Sauvignon

Blanc wasn’t moving until he renamed it “Fumé Blanc”, in a sort of French-American fusion, and watched his sales soar. That was the first time Sauvignon Blanc became sought after; the second was in 1985 with the arrival of Cloudy Bay, the New Zealand winery whose distinctively zippy but graceful Sauvignon (re)launched the grape and revitalized the winemaking fortunes of the country at large. In fact, California and New Zealand are the only two places whose Sauvignon Blancs Kim drinks with any real regularity, though he admitted to lapsing with an “occasional Sancerre”. I decided to make it my mission to deepen, if not broaden, Kim’s wine world. So Kim secured a conference room for a tasting and emailed other lawyers at his firm, inviting anyone who loved Sauvignon Blanc to join us. A week later when Kim hadn’t heard from a single partner or associate, I decided to invite some of my own friends to our tasting. Their response was immediate. It was apparently their safety wine too. “It’s the only wine I drink by the glass,” said my friend Alison. “I feel like I always know what I’m going to get.” I pulled together 25 wines from all over the world, at prices ranging from $10 to $100 a bottle. There were Sauvignon Blancs from South Africa, California, Italy, New York, Chile and France. Kim arrived with good news: He had found another lawyer who loved Sauvignon Blanc too and wanted to join us. We started with Sauvignon Blancs from California and New York. Although I’ve had some good examples from the North Fork of Long Island, the wine we had was a bit too tropical and sweet. A couple of the 2009 California wines were aggressively herbaceous, though the 2009 Honig was pleasant, bright and zippy. The most impressive, the 2009 Sbragia Home Ranch from

BEST BUYS Five safe (Sauvignon Blanc) bets 2009 Tiefenbrunner Kirchleiten Sauvignon Blanc, Alto Adige, Italy, $30 The Sauvignon Blanc grape achieves another dimension in this remarkably complex, layered and minerally wine from a top Alto Adige producer. Marked by an intensely floral nose and a high­toned, almost racy acidity, it will benefit from a year or two in the bottle.

2009 Honig Sauvignon Blanc, Napa, California, $16 The Honigs have been making a reliably good, affordable Sauvignon Blanc for a number of years, and the 2009 wine is no exception. It’s light, juicy and clean. It’s the right wine for right now.

2009 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, $28 It launched a thousand New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs and arguably altered the varietal fortunes of the country itself. Made in quantities presumably so large the company won’t cop to the numbers, it’s (still) a remarkably good wine—well­balanced with good concentration and an impressively long finish.

AUSTRIA The characterful Sauvignon Blancs of Austria’s Styria region are—alas—hard to find, but decidedly worth a search.

FRANCE Not only is France the home of the Sauvignon Blanc grape, it’s still the place the grape does best overall—from Bordeaux to the Loire and even Languedoc, Burgundy and the Rhône.

NEW ZEALAND There are probably wine drinkers who think that Sauvignon Blanc began in New Zealand—it’s just that ubiquitous there (and on our store shelves). There are a number of consistent stars.

AUSTRALIA Sauvignon Blanc is not as prized as Riesling or as common as Semillon in Australia, but under the care of certain producers it can do well.

UNITED STATES Just about every state, from New York to Washington, seems to be growing Sauvignon Blanc these days. The wine styles are as varied as the geography.

SOUTH AFRICA More and more Sauvignon Blanc is grown here, and less and less Chenin Blanc (aka Steen), which is the country’s chief white grape. But the Sauvignon Blanc results are as yet uneven.

ITALY Certain (northern) parts of Italy produce interesting Sauvignon Blancs. The Alto Adige and Fruili regions are notable, though Piedmont can claim some good wines too. RAY BARTKUS/WSJ

Sonoma, was so big and rich and buttery it was almost Chardonnay-like. Kim seemed confused by so much stylistic variation. The South Africa wines were the biggest disappointment— green and herby, “like grass in a clay pot”, one friend said. Some were a disjointed combination of sweet and acidic, although the bottles included some of the top names in the country (Mulderbosch, Buitenverwaching). The ones from Chile were the cheap-

2008 Lucien Crochet Croix du Roy Sancerre, France, $25 This wine of Lucien Crochet is textbook Sancerre: Beautifully pure fruit balanced by a bright but not overwhelming acidity. This bottling is made from a special parcel of old vines (the Croix du Roy) in Sancerre and has more weight and texture than its varietal counterparts from New Zealand. It’s a terrific wine with food.

2009 Babich Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, $11 This straight­ahead Sauvignon was easily the best buy of the tasting. Marked by crisp acidity and notes of green apple, it’s a refreshing, uncomplicated drink—the perfect summer aperitif.

est and the simplest, pleasant if forgettable, with decent acidity and straightforward citrusy flavours. Kim liked them more than anyone else did. “I don’t like a wine with too much flavour,” he explained. He liked the 2009 wines from Casa Lapostolle and Veramonte—especially when he found out they only cost about $10 a bottle. The Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand probably came the closest to Kim’s safety ideal. They all pretty much conformed to the same character type: bright, clean fruit, with a brisk but not overwhelmingly tangy acidity. From the $10 Babich Estate (the best buy of the tasting) to the more substantial Kim Crawford to the well-crafted iconic Cloudy Bay. Kim gave a nod, his faith in consistency clearly restored. Suddenly we noticed the other lawyer had failed to materialize. Had he had second thoughts about Sauvignon Blanc? Succumbed to pressure from his legal peers? “Maybe he didn’t want to stop billing $600 an hour,” one friend suggested. The last group, from Italy and France, delivered the most complex and diverse flavours and, the most divisive response. Kim was overwhelmed; the rest of us were pleased. The 2009 Tiefenbrunner Sauvignon Blanc from Alto Adige was the unanimous favourite, a stunningly minerally wine with a firm acidity and a beautifully floral nose. The 2007 Gaja Alteni Di Brassica Sauvignon was much softer—a couple years’ ageing had made it much more approachable. It was well-made with notes of citrus and herb but a tough sell at $100 a bottle—more than three times the Tiefenbrunner, which

was already over Kim’s maximum price. Aside from a couple of aggressively herbaceous wines (a frequent SB flaw), the wines from France, particularly the Sancerres, were well received. They were richer and weightier than the Sauvignon Blancs from Italy or New Zealand but with good balancing acidity that was fresher than that of the Napa or Sonoma wines. The 2009 Domaine Pastou Les Boucaults was a well-made, pleasant wine with just the right combination of grassy-citrus notes and a good buy at $19 a bottle. The 2008 Lucien Crochet Croix du Roy was lively and well-balanced with good, but not overwhelming, acidity. By the time the 25th Sauvignon Blanc had been poured, Kim was looking dazed. Not just by the number of bottles but by their range of flavours and aromas. He had no idea Sauvignon Blanc could be so diverse. He didn’t know that Italians made Sauvignon Blanc. He’d found some Sancerres that he was going to buy (especially the well-priced Pastou). He was going to start drinking Chilean wine too. Just then, a man in pink suspenders appeared in the doorway—the missing lawyer. He apologized for his absence, but he’d been arguing a fraud case against a maker of counterfeit condoms, and won. He had been celebrating. I was tempted to ask if he’d toasted the occasion with a “safety” grape but decided to hand him a glass of wine instead. “Ah, Sancerre,” he said. “That’s a wine that I like. It’s not a Sauvignon Blanc, is it?” Write to





To the rescue of the apple pie The crimes against this English classic are numerous. It’s time to resurrect the dish that Jane Austen loved


s Jane Austen once said, on a break from plotting the betrothal of 19th century spinsters, “Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.” She might also have added that a good apple pie is considerably harder to find than a good husband. Contemporary crimes against apple pie are numerous: pastry tough enough to break your teeth; bland filling, too slimy or too hard; medicinal levels of spice and, perhaps worst of all, the phrase “as American as apple pie”. Apple pie is, of course, one of England’s oldest dishes, with recipes recorded as early as 1381 when cooks were instructed to “tak gode Applys and gode Spycis and figys and do yt in a cofyn and do ye forth to bake wel”. “Cofyn”, incidentally, was a 14th century word for pastry case. By 1932, when Florence White, Britain’s first freelance food writer, wrote her book Good Things in England, apple pie-making was going downhill fast. In a typically withering aside, Miss White notes a habit of the time, “A horrible plan is frequently adopted in cheap or middle-class restaurants of simply stewing some apples, baking a sheet of pastry on a tin, and serving a wedge of it on the stewed apple and calling it apple pie. This is a direct insult to the real thing, and to the


customer who knows better.” It’s time for the pie Jane Austen loved—flavoursome apples encased in a light pastry—to return to our tables. And with an apple crop large enough to sink the entire British Isles, it’s high time India got a piece of it. Now, and this should be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway, an apple pie is only as good as the apples and pastry it’s made from. The apples have to be tart, slightly sour—the flavour of the pie should come from the fruit and not heavy-handed additions of spices such as cinnamon. I also prefer apples which become fluffy when cooked—in my mother’s kitchen this meant Bramleys, or cooking apples. In India, the closest variety is the Granny Smith which, thankfully, is starting to replace the ubiquitous but tasteless Red Delicious in some Himalayan orchards. The pastry is the plainest, simplest of shortcrusts but, properly made, will provide the perfect, crumbly and buttery foil for the soft sweet apples nestling inside. Pastry and apples, as Jane Austen might have said—“a marriage made in heaven”.

Traditional apple pie Ingredients Shortcrust pastry 200g plain flour (maida)


···························· ilk slow-cooked and reduced to its creamy essence; saffron, cardamom and crunchy bits of pistachios; frozen in conical moulds and drizzled with rose syrup—a dessert fit for kings. The kulfi, however, has outlasted its royal patrons and survived the onslaught of ice creams and colas. It has thrived in its original rabri-and-pistachio avatar, but has also morphed to incorporate myriad flavours, textures and forms— chuskis, sorbets, stuffed, rolled. The rainbow-coloured sticks at the Kings Kulfi kiosk at the Food Chowk at DLF Place mall in Saket, New Delhi, tell the story of the kulfi’s journey. The sticks, ranging from `20-50, come in 24 flavours, from the routine kesar pista, chocolate and strawberry to the seasonal hits mango and lychee and the more unusual anjeer, blackcurrant, paan, rum and raisin. Rajesh Kumar, the


owner of Kings Kulfi, says: “Ours is a naturally prepared product, free from any kind of stabilizing or emulsifying agent. The natural aroma, taste and texture come from the fruit pulps we use.” He says Kings doesn’t use fruit juices because the water content in juices crystallizes. Kings Kulfi is quite the Indian success story—the original indigenous frozen dessert that was expected to bow out in the face of stiff competition from branded ice creams proved to be the lifeline for its owner. Kumar used to be a small-time icecream manufacturer, but shifted to kulfis a decade ago when branded ice creams flooded the market. “We could not keep up with the MNCs. So I switched to manufacturing kulfis,” says Kumar. Today, the Saket kiosk is one of nearly 30 dotting upmarket malls in Delhi, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, Ludhiana, Amritsar, Thane and Pune. The Delhi-based company ships its kulfis nationwide from its factory in Pune. A second unit, coming up in Gurgaon, will be operational in February. Kings Kulfi also has a contract with the Big Bazaar chain. At the other end of the town and a world away from the glittering DLF Place mall is another success story, one that is over a


Sweet and tangy: (clockwise from above, far left) Granny Smith apples are best for pies; vanilla sugar and lemon juice are all the added flavours the filling needs; the simple shortcrust pastry provides a crumbly, buttery foil; serve the pie hot or cold.

A pinch of salt 100g butter, cut into small cubes Iced water to mix—approx. 3-4 tbsp For the filling 4 or 5 Granny Smith apples 3 tbsp vanilla or Demerara sugar Juice of one lemon 1 egg beaten with a dash of milk for brushing Method Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. You will need a 23cm-wide metal pie tin with a lip. Metal conducts heat better than other baking materials

and helps crisp up the bottom layer of pastry. First make the pastry. In my mother’s kitchen, there were two cardinal rules of pastry-making. Firstly, everything—fats, water, hands—has to be kept as cool as possible. In an Indian kitchen this can often be tricky so I keep my pastry-making fats in the freezer until needed. It is also essential to work quickly and lightly. Those heavy, hard pastries are ones which have been over-handled. For this reason, many people use a food processor. I still

prefer to make my pastry by hand, imagining my mother’s beady eye over my shoulder. To begin, measure out the flour and salt into a large bowl and add the butter. Quickly rub the fat and flour between thumb and fingertips until you have a mixture which resembles fine breadcrumbs. With a knife, stir in one tablespoon of iced water at a time until the mixture starts to bind together. Don’t be tempted to add too much water, this will make the pastry hard. Lightly form the pastry into a ball, cover with cling film and put in the fridge while you prepare the fruit. Peel, core and cut each apple into eight pieces. Put the apple pieces in a small pan with the sugar and lemon juice and a couple of tablespoons of water. Simmer for 5 minutes

Pamela Timms is a Delhi-based journalist and food writer. She blogs at http://eatanddust. Write to Pamela at For a slide show on how to bake an apple pie, go to Read Pamela’s previous Lounge columns at


Roadside royalty Loved by kings as well as commoners, the ‘kulfi’ now has flavours as rich as its history


until the apples are tender but not disintegrating. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. Take the pastry out of the fridge and divide into two. On a floured work surface, roll out one half until about a quarter of an inch thick and large enough to cover the bottom of the tin. My mother used to pride herself on rolling her pastry much thinner than this but quarter of an inch is a good place to begin. Carefully lift the pastry and place in the bottom of the pie tin. Pack the cooled apples into the pastry case. Roll out the other half of the pastry, large enough to go over the top of the apples. Brush a little egg wash on to the rim of the tin. Place the pastry lid on top of the apples, then pinch together the pastry edges. You can use any leftover pastry to make shapes to put on top of the pie. Cut a couple of holes in the lid of the pastry for steam to escape then brush all over with the egg wash. Bake for about 45 minutes, until the top of the pie is nicely browned, with perhaps some caramelized apples peeking through the holes. Sprinkle with caster sugar, stand back and marvel—you’ve made a pie! The world of baking is now officially your oyster. Serve hot with custard, cream or sour cream. Eat cold, guiltily, for breakfast.

has spread beyond Indian shores, claims Manoj Sharma, the younger son of Mahavir Prasad. “We recently supplied to a kulfi stall at a festival in Hong Kong and catered at an NRI wedding in Belgium.” There are also regular shipments to Japan. Manoj rattles off his clientele list, which sounds like a who’s who of Delhi’s power circles. “Rahul Gandhi visited our store once during the Navratras. The CM (Sheila Dikshit) likes our Daulat ki Chaat, made during winter. (L.K.) Advani loves the roller kulfis while Atalji’s favourite is anar.” Founder Kuremal Sharma, a migrant from Jhajjar in Haryana, came to Chandni Chowk as Cooler: The sorbet­like jamun kulfi (above) and the stuffed mango kulfi at Kuremal’s. century old. It is easy to miss Kuremal Mahavir Prasad Kulfiwale’s spartan store, tucked deep inside the rabbit warren of Delhi-6. A simple board proclaiming the shop’s name is the only giveaway that it sells desserts. But don’t go by appearances, it’s as steeped in history as the neighbourhood it is located in—Kucha Pati Ram, a narrow alley of crumbling havelis off Bazaar Sitaram in Chawri Bazaar. Over the decades, its reputation


an eight-year-old in 1908. He apprenticed with a halwai and after a few years ventured out on his own, selling kulfis from a matka. His original recipes of rabri kulfi, which counts Sonia Gandhi among its fans, and mango kulfi remain best-sellers to this day. However, it would be years before Kuremal would own a shop and several decades before that shop would shift to its present location. “My grandfather Kuremalji bought a shop not too far from here around 1940. This shop was set up in the early 1970s by my father, Mahavir Prasad,” Manoj says. Kuremal sells a jawdropping 71 varieties of kulfis, made from rabri, cream and juices. There are even some lowsugar varieties for diabetics. Then there are the sorbet-like Kulfi Juleps made from fruits of every hue and flavour— pomegranate, guava, kiwi, apricot, falsa, sharifa and sundry others. Finer in texture than a regular sorbet and made from fresh juices with bits of the fruits, they are light and refreshing. And at `35 a piece, the perfect dessert in case you have overindulged at the Gali Kababian nearby. Stuffed kulfis are the opposite. Whole fruits stuffed with rabri and frozen, they are as decadent as they get. The pick of this variety is, of course, the mango. Made only with Alphonsos, it’s the king of kulfis that once graced emperors’ tables.




Accent on thrift Redecorate on a small budget. Designer Grant K Gibson woke up this blah room at minimal cost

B Y P AIGE P ORTER F ISCHER Better Homes & Gardens


The start Æ It’s easy to envy those perfectly styled rooms featured in the pages of home decor magazines. But it’s easier than you might think to bring that look home

without spending a fortune. “It’s all about the finishing touches,” says Grant K. Gibson, a designer based in San Francisco, US. “This living room is the perfect example of a blank canvas,” he says. “The key pieces are neutral, which is just fine, because that palette gives us

the freedom to go in any direction we want.” Inspired by a few accents already in the room—an aqua lamp, a warm orange throw, and a small photograph of pink peonies—Gibson went shopping. Small money and big ideas took this room from “just fine” to fabulous.


The stuff Å 1. TOSS IN PATTERN “What the room needed was a little bit of life,” says Gibson. “Pattern and colour really give it the personality it deserved.” He found fun, inexpensive fabrics at home decor stores and made simple cushions for the chair and sofa. He also dressed up the existing cushions with ribbon. 2. CORRAL IT A yellow tray adds colour to the coffee table and turns a stack of books and a few remotes into an organized, decorative display. 3. THINK BIG Gibson took a small peony photograph that was on the side table and turned it into a focal point by enlarging it on his home printer and hanging it in a large poster frame. “With a good printer and paper, we were able to create a much bigger impact for nothing but the cost of a frame,” says Gibson. 4. GO LIGHTER Gibson replaced the boxy wooden coffee table with a chrome-and-glass piece that was an amazing find at a sale. “I could not believe this table was so inexpensive!” says the designer. “It is quite heavy and well-made.”


5. SHOP AT HOME The existing blue lamp was one of Gibson’s inspiration pieces, but he didn’t love the stark white shade with all the room’s creamy neutrals and brown tones. He found a softer linen shade in the bedroom and swapped them. 6. COVER UP “We needed to enliven the corner of the living room,” says Gibson, who fashioned a tailored skirt for the end table out of a colourful tablecloth (most tailors will be able to help you with this). Bonus: Now there’s hidden storage space available under the table.

Liven it up Turn a staid TV table into an attractive bedside table with a new coat of paint


The style Ç Colour, pattern, accents, and a see-through coffee table turned this brown, boxy room into a vibrant, finished-looking space. The photograph in an oversize frame fills the wall above the table and helps balance the windows. Gibson used place mats to anchor mementos on the coffee table and grouped white pottery on the end table. “Show off your collections and the things you’ve treasured over time,” says Gibson. “Every room needs good conversation pieces.” Glass-top coffee table, `4,500 At most furniture stores. Check the shops on Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road in Delhi.


Printed tablecloth, `600 Fabindia. Also see the Westside, Maspar, HomeTown, Anokhi and Soma outlets. Wicker basket, `250 HomeStop. Also at most home decor shops across the country. Lampshade, `430 Fabindia. Also at most home decor stores in major cities. Yellow tray, `500 Westside. Also see Good Earth and Crazy Daisy.

Cushion fillers, `450 Shoppers Stop. Also at upholstery shops and departmental stores. The prices are approximate and can vary with stores, brands and sizes. Write to

All content on this page courtesy

Place mat, `55 Westside. Also at Shoppers Stop and Fabindia outlets in major cities.

Lime and lemony Add fun to a drab balcony with a dash of lime

Better Homes & Gardens

············································ Unattractive TV cabinets are the bane of every household. To turn one into an attractive BEFORE bedside table, start by removing the wheels and installing new wooden furniture feet. Then prime and paint the cart. Next, remove the doors and cover the front with decorative paper. Cut a new back for the cart from a N-inch plywood and cover it with coordinating paper. Add new knobs to the doors and reinstall.

Cushion covers, `180 each Fabindia. Also available at Shoppers Stop, Westside, Good Earth and Soma.

Better Homes & Gardens

····················· ou can’t resist this lemon foldable metal chair—it’s light and extremely versatile. The perforated metal chair in a zesty fluorescent green is a winner. Carry it out to the veranda to read a book and enjoy the monsoon, or put it in your hatchback and take it for picnics once the rain goes away. Also available in pearly white (with an interesting cutwork pattern), and grey. `800, Lifestyle Home Centre.





Pop­out art Kapil Gupta reuses space so it retains its original cultural value. The designer of Tote and Blue Frog tells us about his building blocks


···························· apil Gupta is an innovator in the guise of an architect. Or is it the other way round? He picks projects that allow him to experiment and let him “demonstrate more inventive ways of delineating with the same conventional programme”. In short, he likes to build stuff with things poking out of it. For instance, the interior walls of the live music show establishment and restaurant Blue Frog in Mumbai have these large bumps that look like pimples. His latest design for an office building in Parel has storage spaces sticking out of the building in a “bizarre” Lego-blocksgone-wrong sort of way. The disclaimer comes quickly from Gupta—the large pimples are an acoustic improvisation, while the lumps on the building uses a municipality loophole with floor space index (FSI) to provide a “core exterior composed of storage units which pop out of the elevation, decluttering the interior space and creating huge amounts of storage in the periphery”.


Blueprint: Gupta believes Mumbai needs public forums where architects can discuss ways to improve the city’s design.

For an ongoing project, Gupta is wrapping a hotel around a hill in south Maharashtra, inspired by Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji’s forts. One half of the Serie Architects firm, Gupta, 37, enjoys a professional, long-distance relationship with partner Christopher Lee, which began in college and has endured for over a decade. The two were room-mates at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London in the late 1990s—one is now based in Mumbai, the other in London. They set up the brief for the designers, who come back to them with options that get critiqued before a final solution goes to the client. About 20 people work across offices “in this disembodied fashion”, using webcams, Skype and Internet. “It’s almost intuitive,” says Gupta at his Lower Parel office, about his partnership with Lee. That intuition and innovation has stood Serie in good stead—they recently won the best bar design prize at the Restaurant and Bar Design Awards in London for Tote on the Turf, a luxurious eating-meeting place surrounded by rain trees that used to be a colonial bet-

ting hall at the Mahalaxmi Race Course in Mumbai. That’s just one highlight in a resume overflowing with accolades—they were nominated as among 10 “Visionary Architects” by the European Design Academy, Serie was runner-up in the 2008 BD Young Architect of the Year Award in the UK, they were chosen as one of the “20 Essential Architects” by Icon magazine in April 2008. The numbers add up, but here’s the catch. Serie, Gupta says, does not believe in numbers. They selectively pick projects that allow them to experiment. He uses one of his favourite words—paradox—in arguing that innovation and a booming economy seem inversely proportional. “When the economy is booming, I can sell anything. When it’s competitive, innovation becomes a differentiator.” A big fan of “adaptive reuse”, Serie got the opportunity with both Blue Frog and Tote—the former an old mill warehouse, the latter an abandoned “totelizer”, a space used for placing bets on racehorses. They had to design Blue Frog in such a way as to allow people to enjoy the music without bouncing on diners’ toes,

while others could eat without feeling pressured to participate in the performances. “Adaptive reuse is effective strategy: You are extending the life of an existing structure without bringing it down, as well as preserving some of its cultural value,” says Gupta enthusiastically. The success of Blue Frog, now over two and a half years old, gave the company the confidence to tackle Tote on the Turf, a 25,000 sq. ft lavish spread in the heart of Mumbai, facing the race course. “Walking around when we first arrived, what strikes you are the incredible rain trees; they are inscribed, thinly spread. So we adopted the branching system of the trees as an architectural idea. If you look at the pattern on the ceiling, it’s an abstraction of dappled light that you can get through the leaves of the rain trees. The same branching pattern in the Tote building in the upper level became an acoustic pattern,” he explains. Gupta has his own personal grouses about the city, like most original inhabitants of Mumbai. He mentions the dysfunctional land laws, the disuse of the east-

ern waterfront with its 2,000 acres of land, the unproductive use of space, the absence of green, and so on. He wishes there could be public competitions, forums where architects would be allowed to present ideas to the city, stir its imagination—and make it more vibrant. While Blue Frog and Tote may have become landmarks in upscale Mumbai, Gupta remains indifferent to the loaded term of legacy. He says ideas of timelessness are only retrospective. “Timeless is also a function where there is a sense of historical extension,” he says. “Where you can look forward and backward simultaneously. Tote may over time retain a certain aura—it appears to have its feet in the past, present and future.” At the end of the day, he says, they don’t have a style but they do have a method. “The moment you have a visible style, which you keep replicating, means you are not thinking any more, used to churning out the same thing over and over again.” Replication is not yet Gupta’s problem—one of his current assignments is a 600-unit housing project in Slovakia.



Top angle: (clockwise from top, left) The diner capsules at Blue Frog in Mumbai; the housing project in Slovakia which will have 600 units spread over 500,000 sq. ft; a botanical museum at Xian in China; and the banquet hall at Tote on the Turf in Mumbai.






WONDER YEARS The sheer athleticism of Garry Sobers, Majid Khan’s disdain for footwork, Bedi’s silken flight—YouTube is a miracle for cricket fanatics, encouraging us to revisit the game’s greatest and often changing our idea of them


swing of the bat Left­handed effort: Garry Sobers’ pure was also the first he ty— was a symbol of his natural abili . over an in to score six sixes

ricket in the age of cricket in another age. Cricket lovers from the radio era often evoke the wonder of geographical travel without the travel, borne on airwaves to countries and stadiums of their imaginations; but with the Internet the miracle of time travel is here. Cricket fans appreciate the poignancy of this more than others because we, followers of the game most obsessed with statistics and comparisons, spend a lifetime pretending we have seen it all. We study records, carve up the numbers on online engines, reflect on the idea of the player (rather, what it says about us), embrace or trash myths accordingly, and come to magisterial judgements on who was great, who was better, who was best. How strange, then, to be able to pull up moving images against the elaborate constructions in our minds. Till only four or five years ago, one’s blind dates with the past were as illicit as they are now: pirated video cassettes and discs, rather than online clips. But it took considerably more effort. Visiting Karachi’s Rainbow Centre in 2004, one of the shrines of global piracy, I could not help but return home with half a suitcase of VHS contraband. Now, in a few seconds of YouTubing one can summon up highlights of Imran Khan’s legendary sea-breeze-inflected 11 wickets against India at Karachi from the 1982-83 series. Sometimes there was providence. My first task when I joined Wisden in 2001 was to go into the small, musty darkened projector room of Mumbai’s Films Division of India office to shortlist classic video excerpts for the website (a project eventually abandoned). The crown jewel was a feature-length documentary, Pace vs Spin, on the superb 1974-75 West Indies tour of India. Keith Boyce’s swinging, curving lefty run-up, Lance Gibbs’ high prance, Andy Roberts’ young menace, the debutants Viv Richards and Gordon Greenidge, the otherworldly rhythms of the Indian spin quartet, Vishy’s cuts, the voice of the narrator taking one through the journey from 0-2 to 2-2 to 2-3, the long shots of the black and white ground and the always packed grounds—it felt like time travel because it was a shock to emerge into the light and honking horns of Peddar Road. This, of course, was the rarest of rare cases. For the most part one had to rely on the imagination. The written word was a great help. My most cherished cricket book for a long time was a slim, obscure volume (cover price, `9.50) called Cricket Conversations, Peter Walker Talks With. There are 13 cricketers, the good and the great from the 1960s and 1970s. Each conversation was prefaced by a vivid and loving account of the player. The very names were magic: Sobers, Fredericks, Procter, Bedi, Majid, Chappell G., Richards B. When I first encountered the book (in the days of dial-up connections on stolen accounts) I had seen no footage whatsoever of any of the 13. Yet, reading and rereading, one received a sharp sense of the cricketer and the man. From Bishan Bedi, for instance, one learnt that he had little interest in the game till, at 12, he heard on radio that Subhash Gupte had spun out the West Indians at Kanpur, and “suddenly, just like a revelation, I knew that was what I wanted to do”; that the first Test match he played in was also the first Test match he watched; and that he

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liked to spend his spare time writing letters (he received, when captain, about 40-50 a day, “most of them abusive”). But, of course, Bedi was his action. We knew that. It featured in Jim Laker’s vision of paradise. And to Peter Walker it was like Tennyson’s eternal brook. Bedi made several technical points that help us decode this silky motion. To encourage flight over spin, he gripped the ball near the fingertips; it was why his fingers were uncalloused, unlike other spinners, and I suppose it imparted a visual ease to his delivery. He kept a strict watch on his left side swinging past the axis of the front hip, and he tried to keep his bowling arm as high as possible. Because the Films Division reels used primarily long shots, I only closely saw Bedi’s action on BBC’s Empire of Cricket series, which can be found on YouTube. Some of the early footage is glorious: Bedi is wearing not a patka, but a full pagdi, and his shirt is unbuttoned till his solar plexus. The pristine delivery is almost precisely as imagined. The surprise comes in the follow-through. He skitters. It is as though the tape has lurched into double speed; it has the feel of a silent movie comedy. With somebody like Garry Sobers there are no surprises. The pure swing of the bat, like a boy with a slingshot, the pantherish athleticism, the joy and vitality sparkling through every natural movement (the only thing, he says, he made a point to practise at the nets, was wrist-spin). On YouTube one can call up the original six sixes in an over (“And he’s done it! And, my goodness, that’s gone way down to Swansea!”); 150 at Lord’s, and an electric reconstruction of his 254 at Melbourne (see accompanying piece); but the essence of this extraordinary sportsman is most succinctly captured in a clip of Gibbs’ bowling. Search for Lance Gibbs: It is the first result. Sobers is at backward short-leg, a position now rarely used. The two catches are genius, the first of anticipation, with a skip to left, the second of reflex, the ease of movement, the fun. He made life light. The two cricketers about whom I was curious in the Walker book were both opening batsmen, Majid Khan and Barry Richards. With Majid the curiosity was piqued by a single anecdote. It was a “windswept, icy” day in Derby, Walker wrote. During a long delay for a wet outfield, there raged a discussion on footwork in batting. At last, Majid, a man of few words, spoke up. “You don’t need any footwork in batting, just hands and eye.” The bowlers challenged him for proof. Out they went into the nets. “For twenty minutes, on a rough, unprepared and quite-impossible-to-bat-on wicket where the ball flew, shot, seamed and turned, Majid Khan stood absolutely motionless, parrying the ball as it lifted, cutting or hooking unerringly if it were wide, driving with frightening power if overpitched and swaying out of harm’s way when it lifted unexpectedly... The bowlers were at full throttle, yet by our own critical reckoning afterwards that twenty-minute session must have yielded the young Pakistani around 75 runs!” So Sehwag does have antecedents after all. On YouTube there are highlights of a century against England, but the great clip is of a face-off with Kapil Dev set to soft Pakistani pop. It is from the Lahore Test of the 1978 series (Kapil’s first), and the Pakistanis are hunting down 126 for victory on

Classic cricket

the fifth evening. Majid is in a white floppy hat (how close batsmen’s feet were in stance those days). Kapil is bowling it far outside leg to pry out a draw. Majid is increasingly frustrated. He signals a wide. He plucks a stump from the ground and, stepping to his left, makes as if to plant it at the margin of the crease. One can picture Viru doing just the same. The short clip finishes with a swivelling hook, and there can be no finer closing image than a swivelling hook. Barry Richards was even more a mystery. He averaged 72.5 but was restricted by isolation to four Tests. Don Bradman picked him in his all-time XI team, and he once famously played an over in a club match holding his bat edgeways. He was thought of as casual, admits that he sometimes didn’t care about losing his wicket; yet the big occasion could rouse him. I remember a Frank Keating article where Tony Greig talks of Richards’ preparation before a Packer Supertest. He wanted to practise playing straight. Every time the ball went behind square on either side, he pumped out 50 press-ups. He must have done about 600, Greig estimated. Watching Barry Richards bat, finally, was disorienting. He is far bigger at the crease than I had thought. He is hunched in stance. That was a shock. In my head he had a very clearly upright stance. His driving is terribly handsome, yet one expected a gentler player. There was no good reason for this, of course, except that this was how I had fixed him. In the sports writing profession, you get to interview the giants without ever having watched them. One of those was an extended conversation with Barry Richards on the art of batting. And I remember my encounter with Richards B. It was at Durban in the World Cup of 2003. It had been a hard week, magazine deadlines piling up alongside daily reportage. Due to circumstances too tedious to detail, I sent a flustered SMS to my editor beginning with the words, “Barry giving me the shits” (this Aussie expression had become popular in our office after Ian Chappell was heard employing it for his laptop). Afterwards, at night, I wasn’t sure if it was indeed my editor who’d been sent the SMS. My phone didn’t store sent messages. I was tormented by it. I met Barry Richards early the next morning. He looked grand in white hair. All seemed well. More than well, in fact. The interview was fab. He spoke of the four and only four truly great batsman he’d seen (Graeme Pollock, Sobers, Viv Richards and Sachin Tendulkar). He spoke especially thrillingly about the Viv vs Lillee contests in the Packer years, and Mikey Holding taking the buttons off his helmet at Sydney, the fastest spell he’d ever faced. He talked of good-humoured banter from the times, about the bowler who once came up and asked to be kissed in the ear because “I like a little passion when I’m getting a good f**k.” At the end of an hour, I thanked him profusely and was about to take his leave. “Just one more thing,” he said, and held out his phone with the SMS on the screen.

Find these memorable encounters on YouTube from the time before live telecasts West Indies in Australia, 1960­61 Search for: “Green and gold greats” This was about the greatest series ever, sparking a revival in Test cricket after the dull 1950s, starting with the first tied Test. It was also the first time a team was led by a black man through a series. The loveliest moment of this clip doesn’t feature any cricket. It comes at the final presentation ceremony, where Frank Worrell waits to begin his speech while a stadium full of Australians sing ‘He’s a jolly good fellow’. At the time, under the White Australia policy, Worrell could not have had citizenship in that country. As often, sport leads change. Also see: Tied Test II, India vs Australia, at Madras. An often rancorous but always dramatic affair, documented with interviews from a range of participants.

Lillee vs Sobers, 1971­72 Search for: “Lillee Sobers” Sobers’ 254 for the World XI at Melbourne was the best innings Don Bradman ever saw on Australian soil. The background and context is joyfully recreated by the two protagonists and the Chappell brothers. Start by watching Lillee’s magnificent 8­29 at Perth in the previous ‘Test’ (one of the eight, a young Gavaskar out fending), and proceed to the masterclass of 254. Sobers, like Muhammad Ali, was not only the greatest player of them all, he was also the most charismatic talker. Also see: Lillee vs Kallicharan, 1975: Little Kalli, his shirt undone, his sleeves upturned, tearing into Lillee with drives and hooks and pulls. Proper “cut­arse”, as the West Indians say. Lillee vs Viv Richards, 1975­76: A testosterone duel if ever there was one. This one, four sizzling bouncers followed by a clean­bowled, to Lillee.

Holding vs Boycott, 1980­81 Search for: “Holding Boycott” The possessor of cricket’s most beautiful action (and nickname, Whispering Death) in primal form. His over to Geoff Boycott in Barbados is considered both the fastest and the best over in Test history. Not all six balls are in the clip, but the ambience—Bajans squeezing into the stadium from under the concrete bleachers, the great eruption when the final delivery spears the stump out of the earth—more than makes up. Also see: Holding vs Brian Close, 1976. A truly frightening clip. Close, the bravest of cricketers, looking mildly like Ronald McDonald while taking on Holding bareheaded. Two inches from certain death.

India vs Australia, Melbourne, 1981­82

Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of the cricket tour book, Pundits from Pakistan. He writes a monthly cricket column for Lounge. Write to Rahul at

n summon up s on YouTube, one ca ndary sea­breeze­inflected ge ts of Imran Khan’s le from the 1982­83 series hi gainst India at Karac

All­round champ: The 1982­83 series against India in Pakistan was one of Imran Khan’s best.

Search for: “Aus Ind Melbourne 81” This three­Test series is meticulously excerpted, and Melbourne is the most memorable. A famous Indian victory, and an even more famous controversy when Gavaskar nearly pulls his partner off the ground to protest his dismissal from a dubious umpiring decision (Gavaskar says Lillee’s abuses did it). Scout around for the other gems: Gundappa Viswanath’s wristy artistry, Sandeep Patil’s crouching power, Kim Hughes’ footwork to spin, Dilip Doshi’s bespectacled arm­ball, Australians getting bowled around their legs, and Kapil’s big effort on a worn pitch with a groin injury. Also see: Chappell’s Underarm. More controversy from that summer, when captain Greg instructed brother Trevor to roll the ball along the ground to prevent a six off the last ball. And Randiv to Sehwag is considered unsporting. Rahul Bhattacharya BOB THOMAS/GETTY IMAGES

Read Rahul’s previous Lounge columns at­bhattacharya



Travel BALI

Eat­pray­love island PHOTOGRAPHS



HIGH FIVE Favourite expression Terima Kasih (Thank you!)

Must try Arak with lime. It’s tangy and packs a punch

Beer that kept me going Bintang

Don’t miss A trip to the Kuta­Legian area

What to buy in Bali ‘Kopi luwak’, organic soaps and scrubs, masks, wood artefacts, mother­of­pearl coasters and soap dishes

The Julia Roberts­starrer boosts tourism in Ubud, known for its art and culture B Y T EJA L ELE D ESAI ···························· opi luwak didn’t seem to be my cup of, umm, coffee. But when in Bali, one does as the Balinese do. I pick up my cup, avoid breathing in the aroma, and sip. It’s strong and full-bodied. As it swirls around in my mouth, I feel an explosion of flavours: a hint of chocolate, a taste of nuts, a smooth and rich aftertaste. Hell, I am being seduced by the caviar of the coffee world—so what if it’s made out of coffee beans excreted by


the Asian Palm Civet? Boogie looks at me. I told you so, his smile says. Boogie, a jack of all trades on most days and cook extraordinaire four days a week, is our teacher for the day. He’s going to help us live a day in the life of an Indonesian cook. The “kitchen”, set up in Boogie’s garden, comprises a gnarled wooden table, a stove top, a few containers, a chopping board and assorted spoons and ladles. In the distance, the blue sea twinkles invitingly. With its beautiful beaches,




Bali, formerly a Dutch colony, is Indonesia’s biggest tourism draw. The Hindu island in what is mostly a Muslim archipelago is as commercial as it is spiritual. But in Ubud, situated in the hills leading up to Bali’s central mountainous region, there is no such conflict. “You want party, fun, disco,” Boogie’s wife tells me, “you go Kuta, Legian, Seminyak.” My expression answers for me. “If no,” she softens, “Ubud right choice.” Her husband nods sagely. Tourism in Ubud revolves around the scenic rice fields, small villages, art and craft communities, ancient temples, palaces and rivers. And, most importantly, the people. People come here drawn by the promise of learning to do things the Balinese way. Cooking courses in Bali are mostly home-run enterprises. You sign up for a course (which lasts anywhere between a day and

Multi­hued: (clockwise from above) A Hindu temple in Ubud; carv­ ing on wood and other material is an impor­ tant art form; tourism revolves around the scenic rice fields; and (below) Legong is per­ formed by girls.

a month) and learn to cook the Balinese way. We opt for a oneday course and plan our own menu: spiced fish in banana leaves, fragrant tuna curry, sambal, roasted white eggplant and nasi goreng, to be followed by fruit in coconut milk. In the market, we discover a cornucopia of colours and textures: sleek and shiny fish, curly pink prawns, juicy red tomatoes, glossy purple eggplants, gleaming white shallots, colourful bell peppers, hairy rambutans, fat coconuts… But Boogie is a tough customer. He asks for fresher “feesh”, grimaces over the state of the banana leaves, and digs deep into a basket in his quest for eggplant without bruises. “Rice in India?” he asks us. “We have lots,” I say. “In Bali, we have many varieties of rice—red, white and black,” Boogie retorts. I look suitably impressed. “We even do glutinous and non-glutinous,” he adds. Back in the kitchen, I don an apron and help wash the vegetables and seafood. In Indonesia, Boogie tells us, the main dish is usually served with a range of spicy side dishes and condiments. He’s chopping herbs for the tuna curry when his one-year-old son crawls into the kitchen. We busy ourselves with arak (the local brew, it’s definitely a must-try with lemon, honey and lots of ice)

and playing peekaboo with the chubby baby. Just as there’s nothing like “Indian food”, there’s no such thing as Indonesian cuisine, I realize. Though coconut, coconut milk and peanuts find a place in most dishes, the label represents a number of regional cuisines tempered by local and foreign influences. Lunch is ready. The fish in banana leaves is tender and delicately flavoured. A hint of nutmeg in the spice mix is Boogie’s can’t-miss tip. The spicy sambal brings tears to the eyes, but it’s addictive. In its simplest form, a sambal could be just chilli peppers, onion and salt. Boogie makes us sambal dadu dadu (coarsely chopped tomatoes, shallots, bird’s-eye chilli, basil, vegetable oil, lime juice, salt) with a difference (he’s added Madame Jeanette peppers, red brown and very hot). The fruit salad with a twist—coconut milk—is the perfect ending to the meal. The Indian parallel crops up again when we decide to take in a dance performance. Deeply rooted in Hinduism, Balinese dance usually tells a story. The Barong performance we watch depicts the classic fight between good and evil: Ra ngda, the mother of 10th century Balinese king Erlangga, is condemned by Erlangga’s father because she practises black magic. After she is widowed, she sets the evil spirits of the jungle after Erlangga,

who seeks the help of Barong, the king of good spirits, to quell Rangda and her troops. A terrible fight ensues but, as always, good wins over evil. The masks are huge, colourful and intricate; the costumes immaculate and bright; the gamelan music vibrant and pacy. The performance—kind of like an Indianized opera—leaves us spellbound. Locals promise us we would have been as enthralled by the Legong (a dance performed by young girls), Kecak (a ritual dance that combines the chorus of the Sanghyang trance dance with a story from the Ramayan) or the fire dance (a dance to exorcize evil spirits). As with the cuisine, dance courses too are on offer at Ubud’s Foundation for Pure Art. Over the following days we visit other “crafts” towns—jewellery (Celuk), stone carving (Batubulan), basket-making (Bona), bamboo and rattan work (Sakah and Bona), weaving and painting (Gianyar area) and bone and coconut carving (Tampaksiring)—and come back awed. Again, the takeaway isn’t limited to what one can pick up from the art markets. By sharing their most authentic arts, Ubud also preserves its most enduring legacy. Write to CHILD­FRIENDLY RATING

Very young children may not enjoy the arts and crafts ambience of Ubud or the party atmosphere of Kuta. The beach, however, makes up for everything else.




Earth ware In Pattanam, Kerala, archaeologists excavate one of the most successful commercial centres of the ancient world B Y N IKHIL N ARAYANAN ···························· he people of Pattanam have always known their village had a rich heritage: Every time they dug up a patch to plant a coconut tree, they would discover an ancient artefact. And now, four trenches dug deep in the backyard of the vacant Padamathil house, next to the Neeleswaram temple pond, bear them out. Evidence unearthed in this small village on the Kerala coast suggests that this was the site of the lost port of Muziris. Around 2,000 years ago, traders from across the world docked at Muziris to buy gemstones, pepper and other spices. For exchange, they brought gold, olive oil and wine. However, this centre of Indo-Roman trade, which thrived between 1st century BC and 5th century AD, vanished without a trace sometime in the 14th century, after floods in the Periyar choked the entrance to the harbour and changed the geography of the region. Till recently, Kodungallur, a town 7km north of Pattanam, was thought to be the site of Muziris. Though artefacts from the 13th to 16th centuries were recovered during excavation in Cheraman Parambu, Kodungallur, in 1945 and 1969, they were not considered conclusive. And now, the fourth season of the Pattanam excavations—an ongoing project of the Kerala Council for Historical Research—has revealed far deeper connections between this spot and the Roman Empire. With campsite in-charge Preeta Nayar’s permission, I climb down the ladder into one of the


trenches and am instantly transported 2,300 years back in time. The clinching finds here are shards of various kinds of pottery, from the Campanian pottery of south Italian origin (irregular black volcanic elements in red clay) to the Mesopotamian turquoise-glazed pottery. The Padamathil site has also thrown up many shards of Mesopotamian torpedo jars, which were lined with bitumen to prevent their liquid contents—possibly date syrup and sesame oil—from evaporating. Amphora shards and terra sigillata (a red sintered surfaced tableware) have also been found at the site. Ancient Romans were known to use amphoras for wine, olive oil and fish sauce. I wondered why the residents of Muziris would have imported olive oil. It’s not, however, just the recovered artefacts that have a story to tell—the trench walls do too. Since this region was inhabited continuously from before the Roman period and possibly even during the Iron Age (10th-5th century BC), the walls are chronological records in themselves. Different-coloured soil indicates various time periods—the oldest being the late BCs—with the lowest layers indicating the earliest periods of inhabitation and human activity. A basic knowledge of the origin of artefacts From the trench: Shards of pottery.

A near miss At 68, the winner of the Tenzing Norgay lifetime achievement award 2010 is still climbing mountains

B Y Y ANA B ANERJEE-B EY ···························· ore than her 38 years into mountaineering, during which she and two others became the only women in the world to ascend Nanda Devi—one of the Himalayas’ most feared peaks—Chandra Prabha Aitwal’s singular achievement is the fact that she is still climbing mountains. India’s oldest active woman mountaineer, now 68, will receive the Tenzing Norgay Adventure Award for Lifetime Achievement on Sunday, four days after leading an expedition to Jaonli (6,632m). Last year, Aitwal astonished the mountaineering community by summiting Srikanta ( 6, 133m) . I n 2002 , s h e h ad climbed an unnamed virgin peak of 5,705m, which was subsequently named Aitwal Manglachu by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF). Yet, in the country’s climbing fraternity, “Chandradidi” evokes as much sympathy as admiration. Despite a career that saw her notch up ascents of giants such as Kamet (7,756m), Abhigamin (7,354m), Satopanth (7,075m), Kedar Dome (6,830m), Bhrigupanth (6,772m), Bhagirathi II (6,512m), Nanda Kot (6,861m),



Strands of history: (clockwise from above) Excavation at Pattanam in June 2006; a trench at Muziris; and a necklace a local girl made from beads collected from her backyard.

GETTING THERE Pattanam is situated between Kodungallur and Paravur in the Ernakulam district of Kerala, about 25km north of Kochi, and just 10 minutes off NH17. Excavations have been on at Pattanam for the past four years. When they’re under way, the general public is welcome during visiting hours (usually 2­5pm). Permissions are granted on the spot by the Kerala Council for Historical Research. Log on to for updates on upcoming excavations. yielded by the trench walls can help date the cultural and commercial exchanges. Apart from the “foreign” pottery—from Mesopotamia, Rome, China and north India—the area has thrown up shards of local pottery as well, besides beads, thickly corroded iron nails and lead spirals with lead carbonate coating. Large quantities of shards of rouletted ware (pottery produced by a roulette, a toothed wheel) point towards a connection with the Bengal-Gangetic region. It helps historians conclude that Muziris’ trade network extended to the interiors of India, as well as Europe and West Asia. The trenches also contain bricks, whole and in pieces.

According to the archaeologists, no structure could have existed in the trench I stood in. So was this place a dumping ground for unused bricks? During an earlier excavation, a brick structure was found in a compound nearby. Were these fragmented bricks leftovers from that construction? I am also surprised to learn that a terracotta ring well—basically, large rings placed one on top of the other to create a circular well, a practice dating back to the first centuries of the millennium—had been discovered in one of the trenches. Kerala still builds wells in this manner, only substituting concrete for terracotta. The glass and gemstone beads found in Pattanam hint at flour-

ishing commerce, and also at local gemstone bead-manufacturing activity. Digging here has unearthed stones at various stages of production, from the raw to the finished product. However, all the glass beads are finished products, triggering the idea that Muziris could have been an export base. What tools did the ancient Muzirians use? Were the corroded iron nails found here part of their toolkit? Did this compound house a bead-manufacturing factory at one time? What did they use lead spirals for? These are questions only archaeologists can answer. Sieving the earth some moments later, I find a chalcedony stone. It probably came here

from north India to be processed and exported. And never made it out. Was this a discarded piece? Or did calamity strike while the craftsman was working on this stone? Some answers are beyond even the archaeologist. Muziris is mentioned multiple times in Tamil Sangam literature and classical Graeco-Roman accounts such as Periplus of the Erythraean Sea and Pliny the Elder’s Natural History. Pliny describes Muziris thus: “The shipping station is a long way from the land, and cargoes are brought in and carried out by light boats.” The remnants of canoes and bollards recovered from earlier excavations let us connect these dots. The Periyar changed its course. The water table went down—a hypothesis corroborated by the peat formations at the bottom of the trench—and a whole town disappeared. Yet, thanks to the things they left behind, it’s easy to construct a shimmering sepia image of a buzzing port, bustling traders, and barter that transcended all barriers. Write to


Gangotri I (6,672m) and Jogin III (6,116m)—besides the prestigious Nanda Devi—she still regrets missing out on Everest. In 1984, when the IMF launched an expedition with the aim of putting an Indian woman atop Everest, Aitwal made it to the summit camp as part of the team. Along with her was another great Indian mountaineer, Prem Chand, revered as the first Indian to climb the most difficult and dangerous peak in the Indian Himalayas: Kangchenjunga, (8,586m). Aitwal refuses to speak about what transpired at the summit camp but Prem Chand is said to have confessed to a friend that “standing within reach of the summit of Everest, I had a change of heart; I felt I should give up Everest and enable others to have it”. Since summit parties are generally made up of pairs, Aitwal was forced into this “sacrifice”. The story is often retold in mountaineering circles and one version adds that Aitwal “cried so much she became dehydrated”. A more pragmatic version comes from Rita Gombu Marwah, another member of the team who herself missed the summit by just about 200m. “We felt so sorry for her. They decided to send the younger ones to attempt the final climb instead of her,” she says. But Marwah’s uncle, Dorjee Lhatoo, one of the expedition summiteers who also helped in Bachendri Pal’s final push to the

Superwoman: Aitwal is one of three women to have ascended Nanda Devi. summit, is emphatic that Aitwal would have made it. “She was fit and still young enough. That was her one real chance to climb Everest,” he says. Nearly a decade later, as deputy leader of the 1993 Indo-Nepal Women’s Expedition to Everest, Marwah tried to persuade a Sherpa sardar to take Aitwal to the summit. She recalls that the man refused bluntly, saying, “She’s too old.” By then, she probably was. Yet, it was in pursuit of her

Everest dream that Aitwal became part of the finest hour of women’s mountaineering in India. In 1981, while preparing for the world’s highest peak, the team that eventually headed to Everest in 1984 attempted Nanda Devi (7,816m). Considered the most difficult peak in India after Kangchenjunga, Nanda Devi had never been climbed by women until Rekha Sharma, Harshwanti Bisht and Aitwal made it to the summit. “We took 25 hours from the

summit camp to the top and back to the camp. We needed crampons because there was a lot of hard ice but there were also rocky patches and crossing them while wearing crampons was very hard,” recalls Aitwal. She and her partner Sonam Paljor even slipped and plunged down a slope before managing to dig their ice axes into the snow and coming to a halt, a hair’s breadth from a cliff edge. But, she says, “It was the most technically satisfying climb of my life.” In the 29 years since 19 September 1981, no other woman has climbed Nanda Devi. Over a lifetime that saw her remain unmarried, Aitwal has been officer on special duty, adventure, to the Uttarakhand government and has won the Padma Shri, Arjuna Award, National Adventure Award and IMF gold medal. But she is most emotional when she talks about her introduction to mountaineering. “I was a teacher in a government school in Pithoragarh. In 1969, there was a circular about a mountaineering course at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Uttarkashi. I applied. Two years later, I did the course.” And the crow’s feet crinkle further: “I was a simple village girl from Kumaon and I was thrilled to see Garhwal and the Ganga. But the joy I felt during the course cannot be described.” Write to




Musings of a libertine monk PHOTOGRAPHS



The charming, bite­sized opinions of one of Indian journalism’s legendary provocateurs have sting, but no surprise B Y C HANDRAHAS C HOUDHURY ···························· n a novel, the writer sells the reader a story; in reportage, his or her powers of perception and analysis. In the realm of autobiography and memoir, it might be said, one sells oneself. The more dramatic one’s life experiences and the more divergent one’s beliefs from the mainstream of the culture, the more readers one wins. The writer Khushwant Singh, now 95, has always enjoyed the persona of a professional provocateur, as suggested by the very title of his widely syndicated column With Malice Towards One and All. The purpose behind his writing, he tells us in Absolute Khushwant, has always been “to inform, amuse, provoke”. He certainly does so in his new book, an engaging, if somewhat uneven, collection of opinions and reminiscences on various subjects, transcribed by journalist Humra Quraishi. Long-time readers of Singh are unlikely to be surprised by any of his stances. He continues successfully to cast himself as part-monk and partlibertine, rising at 4am, working through the day, always keeping himself gainfully occupied, speaking truth to power and avoiding idle pursuits, while simultaneously enjoying his drink and his gossip sessions, keeping his sexual life alive in mind if not in the flesh, recalling his many affairs and vigorously contesting (while also clearly enjoying) his public image as a dirty old man, accepting it finally as the price to be paid for his candour. “Usually, writers are an interesting and colourful bunch,” he writes—and clearly, he has set out his stall to be the most interesting and colourful of them all. This carries a certain charm,


With malice: (left) Singh at his home in Sujan Singh Park, Delhi; and at a picnic with wife Kaval (left) and Sheila Bharat Ram.

Absolute Khushwant: Penguin, 190 pages, `250. and certainly, the house of Indian literature (which at one point in the book is compared with a brothel) would be much duller without Singh’s two rooms, one for work and one for play. Absolute Khushwant reads very much like—this is both its strength and its weakness—a string of quotable quotes pulled together for maximum impact. Dozens of subjects are raised, from the place of sex, marriage, work and solitude in life to secularism and communalism in politics to Partition and the persecution of Sikhs in 1984 and Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, but on most issues, the discussion ends abruptly just as matters are beginning to become interesting. Many contradictions arise, few of which are explored. Stubbornly, Singh continues to defend his support of the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975, and indeed, the thuggery of her son Sanjay (“He had a vision and this was not really understood...He had been good to me. He put me in Parliament. Even Hindustan

Times—it was he who called up (K.K.) Birla and told him to give me the editor’s job!”). This is to put personal relations over reason. “If (Sanjay) had lived, this country would not have been a

democracy,” writes Singh. “There would have been order and faster development, but no democracy, of that I am sure.” This makes it harder to sympathize with Singh’s persistent

agitation against the politics of Hindutva (“My present mission is to warn readers against the dangers posed by Hindu fundamentalists”). It seems reasonable to ask why democracy may be sacrificed for development, but not secularism. After all, Narendra Modi, though considered a murderer by Singh, too boasts of a record of “order and faster development”. One of the most intriguing angles of the book is Singh’s view of sex, and of all those other aspects of and appendages to desire—love, marriage, companionship, family—that exist on the same continuum as sex while also being in tension with it, never quite working themselves out into a straight line. “If you ask me what’s more important, sex or romance, it’s sex,” he declares. “Romantic interludes take up a lot of time and are a sheer waste of energy, for the end result isn’t very much.” But even the road of sex only takes one so far for “sex with the

same person can get boring after a know, routine...A partner once bedded becomes a bore.” That would suggest a sexually fulfilled life is incompatible with the institution of marriage and its presumption of monogamy and sexual fidelity. As one season keeps giving way to the next, so—if one is really to be honest to oneself—must a sexual partner. This is an interesting and perhaps quite logical (if somewhat disillusioned) view of desire, but here it is complicated, and in part explained, by Singh’s personal experience. In an essay on his wife, Singh writes that he was married for over 60 years and “It wasn’t a happy marriage”. In part this was because his wife got very close to another man “from the very beginning of the marriage, probably from the very first year.” “I felt I could no longer respond emotionally,” he confesses, “and had nothing left to give.” There is something quite heartbreaking about this, and while many of Singh’s views on sex are refreshingly unorthodox and candid, it’s hard not to feel that they involve an element of compensation and rationalization that have to do with his own lacks and losses. Singh is a great admirer of old English poets (Tennyson, Edward Fitzgerald), even casting his translations of his beloved Urdu poets (whom he also quotes liberally in Absolute Khushwant) into a style and meter similar to theirs. So one might perhaps offer, as an alternative to his view of love and sex, William Blake’s view: “What is it men in women do require?/The lineaments of gratified desire./What is it women in men require?/The lineaments of gratified desire.” Chandrahas Choudhury is the author of Arzee the Dwarf. Write to IN SIX WORDS Candid and idiosyncratic, often unintentionally revealing


A cast of invisibles Rich in research and atmospherics, a portrait of 19th century London

The Thing about Thugs: HarperCollins, 244 pages, `399.

B Y S UMANA M UKHERJEE ···························· ere the thuggees, the notoriously brutal highwaymen of 19th century India, a self-serving exaggeration of the British? Could they have been, for instance, regular robbers who looted unsuspecting travellers—but did not necessarily garrote or bury their victims? In recent years, revisionist historians have argued for this theory, believing it to be an excuse for a tighter policing regime in the wake of the revolt of 1857, when itinerant “invisibles”—nomads, labour-for-hire, performing artistes—were the native conduits of information. In a multilayered dissection of the Victorian empire that is only tangentially about thuggee, Tabish Khair makes full use of these invisibles in The Thing about Thugs but, in a clever subversion of the post-colonial narrative, places them in London, the Mother City. His protagonist is Amir Ali and his mentor is Cap-


tain Meadows—both undoubtedly a play on Philip Meadows Taylor’s popular 19th century novel Confessions of a Thug, featuring one Ameer Ali—who is writing a book, Notes on a Thug: Character and Circumstances, based on Ali’s account of his life as a thuggee. Just to blur the division between perception and reality, Notes is also a primary source for the first-person narrator of The Thing about Thugs—who may or may not be Khair himself. The obfuscation is deliberate. At one point, Ali muses: “Can stories—told by yourself, told by others—turn us into something else? Why is it that, no matter how we grasp reality, no matter what reality we grasp, we need to don the glove of stories?... Are we then nothing but the playthings of language? When do we tell stories, and when do stories tell us?” Repeatedly, Khair mocks the scientific certainty, the Worship of Reason that Englishmen of a certain class used with missionary zeal in their bid to civilize India and its people. Ali’s genuflections to superior Western wisdom, as he narrates his story

Noir: In a deliciously subversive take on the history of thuggees, Khair’s book is set in Victorian London. to Meadows, for instance, would be see-through to anyone but the most unsceptical. Yet Meadows comes off better than Lord Batterstone, whose fanatical devotion to the study of phrenology—an early 19th century term for a discipline that believed skull dents and dimensions determined character and tendencies—leaves no room for doubt or question. The shadowy Batterstone, and even Meadows and Ali, however,

pale in contrast to the brilliant cast of “invisibles” that Khair assembles to depict the London Underground, so to say. Yanked together from all corners of the world by the empire, they include ou t-of- work l asca rs and a n invalid Irishman, West Indian songwriters and the daughter of a mother shipped off to Australia, a sometime Punjabi nanny who answers to the name Qui Hy (Koi hai) and, most wondrous of them all, Ustad, who lives in the sewers

of the city and calligraphs the walls and ceilings with Urdu poetry and excerpts from the Quran. On the other side of the balance are three Englishmen of the lower orders, each a bigger rogue than the last. Khair does a commendable job of braiding the various strands of the narrative, but his obvious sympathies with the empire’s Great Unwashed come in the way of novelistic cohesiveness. In the last third, The Thing about Thugs shifts focus almost entirely from race and prejudice, its primary concerns, to run through foggy streets in the manner of a whodunnit. A series of crucial scenes at this point are described in the past tense; at a most taut juncture, Amir Ali dozes off, only to waken to an ambiguous ending. Still, Thugs makes for intellectually satisfying reading, by virtue of its redoubtable research and excellent atmospherics. By reintroducing imagination to the Indian novel in English without sacrificing relevance, Khair has done us all a favour. Write to






The hare­tortoise myth JASON LEE/REUTERS

A chatty, useful but unoriginal narrative of the hyped com­ petition between India and China

B Y S OUTIK B ISWAS ···························· he twin stories of India and China are the most dramatic in the world economy. In 1820, the two countries contributed to nearly half of the world’s income. In 1950, their share was less than a tenth; and currently the two contribute a fifth. By 2025, their share of world income will be a third, according to projections. Both remain the world’s fastest growing big economies. China, of course, hogs most of the glory. India was ahead of China in 1870, as well as in the 1970s, in terms of per capita income levels at international prices. But since 1990, China has surged ahead of India—China’s per capita income growth in the past two decades has been at least double India’s rate. It has invested nearly half its GDP, a scale of capital investment—mostly in building worldclass infrastructure—that is unprecedented in the world’s economic history. So the title of Raghav Bahl’s book Super Power? The Amazing Race between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise, is a bit fey. Is there really a race? Is India even interested in playing catch up? Does China even need to look over its shoulder for a bounding India? Or is this phantasmagorical race purely the spin of feelgood entrepreneurs, phoney management gurus and an uncritical, gung-ho media? Bahl, a first-generation entrepreneur and a top media baron, serves up a chatty account of what works and does not work in the two countries. The book has the sweep of a clipped, rushed narrative which touches upon the problems bedevilling the two countries, dipping into essential



Land of plenty: Bahl contends that the world has underestimated China’s drive and ambition. history. But what begins promisingly ends up reading like an extended journalistic essay studded with anecdotes, figures, studies and quotes, gleaned from Time, Newsweek, The Economist, The New York Times, Financial Times, Forbes and such leading publications. It throws up a lot of obvious questions, but doesn’t answer many. Is China defying conventional economic wisdom by hyper-investing without creating any major economic bubbles that we know of? Ergo, is it rewriting the rules of economics? Is China

Super Power? The Amaz­ ing Race between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise: Allen Lane, 242 pages, `699.

using “ambition and infallible execution” to trump democracy? Will Chinese companies, most of them owned by the state, rule the world? Only the future will tell. India has indisputable strengths. Half of its GDP is consumed by over a billion people, it has a fairly robust rural economy, large household savings, a flourishing private economy, healthy foreign exchange reserves, low bad loans, and a prudent and sage central bank. It holds firstrate elections, which are the envy of even the developed world. That is where the good news begins to end. Decades of—and continuing—low investment in education and health and a poor food delivery system have led to a huge mass of poor, illiterate and hungry people. The much-hyped and hoped for demographic dividend could easily turn out to be a liability, with millions of semi-literate, untrained, angry young men and women on the streets unable to find work in the growing formal economy. Public debt is worrisomely high. India has a working democracy, but a dysfunctional state. The state promises a lot and continues to deliver little, and most of it fairly badly. There is very little exploration of the core issues which threaten the promise of a truly New India. And at the end of 242 pages in a useful but unoriginal book, Bahl

offers a two-page conclusion where he arrives at two pedestrian conclusions: The world has “underestimated China’s drive and ambition” (has it, really, considering that China is flexing its muscles, and demanding and getting a lot of geopolitical respect, purely on the basis of its monster economy?); and that India’s democratic strength “may have been overestimated by the world” (a moot point, since many believe that democracy remains India’s biggest strength). For all of China’s faults and frailties, it manages to educate and feed over a billion people, which India can’t. This is a national shame and disgrace. So let’s be realistic. With trade between the two countries touching $60 billion (around `2.8 trillion) every year, India and China can only try to benefit from each other more. What is the potential of, and impediments, to such cooperation? That’s not a sexy story to tell, but it’s a more original one.

African safari B Y A RUNAVA S INHA ···························· “I come from a long line High and low and in between, same as you Hills of golden, hails of poison Time’s thrown me though” —from ‘High, Low and Inbetween’ by South African songwriter and musician Townes van Zandt


odern South Africa, with its entrenched population of people of Indian origin, is probably not as easily understood here as it was during its apartheid days. Back then, black was black and white was white, quite literally—and there were none of the shades of grey contributed by the easy migration of Ethiopians, Pakistanis, Senegalese…and of Chinese commodities. The rainbow nation that the founding fathers of post-apartheid

South Africa had wanted has indeed materialized. So have displacement, doubt and despair. Not surprisingly, the resultant social churning that has disturbed, even destroyed, the status quo for the privileged classes is ripe for the picking in contemporary fiction from South Africa. So it is with Imraan Coovadia’s third novel, High Low In-between. Set in KwaZulu-Natal, it has already won The Sunday Times (South Africa) fiction award and is in the running for several more prizes. The turmoil is evident as soon as the canvas is daubed with the first touches of disturbing paint of storytelling. The old, settled way of life is over as the new dispensation in the country targets all those who may have made more money than they should have under the old regime. In this maelstrom, Nafisa, a dermatologist trained in Mumbai and practising in Durban, returns home from the airport with her photographer son Shakeer, aka Sharky, to discover that her husband Arif has committed suicide. Or has he? In part a whodunnit, Coovadia’s accomplished, assured plot soon uncovers a mind-numbing net-

High Low In­between: HarperCollins India, 268 pages, `299. work of organized crime involving illegal organ transplants, against the backdrop of HIV and AIDS, quacks, bribes and rapid ethnic restructuring. The story is fascinating in its own right, juxtaposing Nafisa’s family and social circle against this background. Who did kill Arif, a staunch opposer of the pro-apartheid regime who had been almost forced into retirement from his academic career by a trumped-up defamation suit? It is difficult to double-guess what “high, low, in-between”—the different planes of daily existence in South Africa today?—may bring to readers in that country. From the distance of India, where the refer-

here is nothing magical about telepathy; it is merely one of those faculties our ancestors developed to a certain point before discarding it in favour of something more reliable, like answering machines,” observes Sonchai, the wisecracking cop from Thailand, as he strolls beside his new-found guru, a drug-peddling ex-lama in Kathmandu. Superficially, The Godfather of Kathmandu is a thriller about international drug smuggling that takes hilarious potshots at Western hypocrisy, but then again, with John Burdett nothing is basically what it seems. In this concluding novel of his Bangkok quartet, the chemical world of narcotics is contrasted with the mind-altering experiences achievable through spiritual practice, as Sonchai falls under the spell of one witch after another. The drug lord, for example, enters Sonchai’s head through suggestion the same way a spyware virus effortlessly takes over a computer hooked on broadband. The philosophical discourse is pretty wild, questioning many rational assumptions we tend to make. Is there really something magical going on here? Detective novels operate on many unrealistic levels—they can be counterfactual or utterly slapstick or take off into the domain of science fiction—but one thing they’re usually not, is supernatural. As a matter of fact, the law stating that “all supernatural agencies are ruled out” was among the British mystery conventions established by Ronald Knox in 1929, in his preface to the Best Detective Stories anthology. Although most of the “rules” have since been broken, the one that remains hard to breach is the rule against “supernatural agencies”. Which, considering the fact that horror is the other big popular genre, may seem odd—shouldn’t a supernatural detective be the biggest best-seller ever? Actually, the two genres cancel out each other. Detective fiction is part of an enlightenment tradition (while horror isn’t); the detective stands in for the rationalist. It is inconceivable for a crime to be committed via hocus-pocus for once the laws of nature (as established by scientists) are suspended, the investigator’s job becomes meaningless. Consider The Hound of the Baskervilles, where a ghost-dog is haunting the English moors and driving its victims out of their minds. Like many of Sherlock Holmes’ adventures, it deals with the seemingly weird, but the sleuth finds a rational—if slightly far-fetched—explanation (it is an entirely different story that Doyle himself believed in spirits: His superstitious nature never afflicted his fictional detective). THINKSTOCK

Soutik Biswas is the India editor of BBC News online. Write to IN SIX WORDS The India­China power ‘race’ for dummies


The variegated canvas of modern South Africa in a political novel


Oriental: The Godfather of Kathmandu takes potshots at the West. ence points are not only the protagonists with Indian genes but also the familiar gestalt of corruption, illegal business and class violence, the novel is a compulsive journey through an urban landscape both recognizable and alien. Ultimately, it is as a political novel that this work may well be read. The spectres of AIDS and violence here are all presented and absorbed as side effects of the pursuit of political ambitions that quickly dispense with ethics and honour. Coovadia creates an almost hypnotic pastiche of characters, tribes, rituals and behaviour—on every page there is something to be learnt about modern-day South Africa, standing now at the confluence of the post-apartheid, post-colonial regime and the embracing of a new kind of laissezfaire pluralism. But to allow the knowledge to overwhelm the literature would be incorrect, for, like the country itself, this is an exciting, variegated and, ultimately, somewhat enigmatic work. Arunava Sinha translates Bengali fiction into English. His forthcoming translations include Saradindu Bandopadhyay’s By the Tungabhadra. Write to

Occult detective stories have been published now and then, but tend to remain in the margins. Aleister Crowley (who in the 1910s visited India and studied yoga to improve his mysticism) wrote a series featuring magician-cum-detective Iff—but apart from the stray Satanist, few study his adventures today. Aficionados still relish bodybuilder/fantasy author William Hope Hodgson’s somewhat classic Ghost-Finder, Thomas Carnacki, who spooked early 20th century readers by sometimes busting the ghost and sometimes discovering a genuine haunting (usually in a ghostly mansion). Ever since then, Carnacki has been occasionally parodied, as well as made to do guest appearances in graphic novel series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But otherwise occult investigators are more in fashion on film and TV, as in Ghost Busters and The X-Files. Recently, matters were brought to a head in Tarquin Hall’s latest novel, The Case of the Man who Died Laughing, set in New Delhi. Vish Puri (“India’s most private investigator”) may be a touch superstitious but when a leading rationalist is struck down by a levitating, 20ft tall Kali at his laughing club morning session, Puri doesn’t think this is one of those miracles that gods perpetrate. In a Sherlockian manner Puri goes about helping the helpless police crack the case that threatens national sanity, and explores how “miracles” are created—for example, two rickety hockey sticks may be enough to create a full-fledged illusion of levitation. The point is that there’s very little space for magic in crime fiction and most sleuths that engage with the supernatural are beacons of rational thinking, shining their torches into the murky recesses of the mind. Except for sometimes. Or wasn’t that absolutely genuine telepathy, over a mobile phone, that the godfather of Kathmandu used on the Thai sleuth? Zac O’Yeah is a Bangalore-based crime fiction writer. His last book was Once Upon a Time in Scandinavistan. Write to Zac at







Licence to inspire


Blatant rip­offs make way for authorized copying of Hollywood films in Mumbai


e are Family is a hit song by the American band Sister Sledge, an anthem for feminists and queers activists, and the title of the official Hindi adaptation of Stepmom. Unlike many of his counterparts in Bollywood, the movie’s producer, Karan Johar, has actually paid money to remake the Hollywood tear-jerker, rather than quietly steal the story of a terminally ill mother of two who trains her ex-husband’s young girlfriend to take care of the children. Johar’s scrupulousness is a rare thing in an industry that doesn’t think twice before ripping off films from all over the world. Only in Bollywood do you find moments from a European arthouse classic and a Hollywood blockbuster within the same movie, sometimes in the same frame. Abbas and Mastan Burmawalla are also officially remaking The Italian Job. It’s likely that most mainstream audiences haven’t watched the 1969 British caper or its 2003 update, but the Bros Burmawalla seem to have finally become sensitized to the constant criticism of their borrowing tendencies. Abbas-Mastan earned their stripes with Khiladi, based on the 1970s hit Khel Khel Mein, and Baazigar, a copy of A Kiss before Dying. Does their newfound conscientiousness have to do with the fact that Bollywood’s footprint now extends beyond India? Trying to sell an unacknowledged copy of The Italian Job to Indians in the US and UK might not be the smartest move in the circumstances. However, the act of imitation

has become complicated in recent years. What’s the difference between copying and conscious borrowing? At a film studies course I attended years ago, a film scholar described the similarities between Satya and The Godfather Part II and Goodfellas as director Ram Gopal Varma’s “tribute” to the gangster classics. An early scene in which Satya enters the lair of his eventual boss is shot exactly like the Copacabana sequence in Goodfellas. The climax, in which Satya kills a politician during the Ganpati festival, takes its basic idea from an act of murder during a Christian pageant. It was suggested that rather than simply stealing ideas, Varma was marking his place in a well-established tradition of gangster films. Varma’s body of work since Satya has been dominated by

Copycats: (above) A still from Godfather; and Sonam Kapoor in Aisha. cops and criminals, suggesting a long-standing interest in organized crime and violence. Many directors don’t stoop so low as to steal whole movies, but they do recreate classic moments. Sholay has scenes and characters straight out of Once Upon a Time in the West. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s slow-motion whirl in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was first seen in Paris, Texas. Dibakar Banerjee lifts a moment from Casino in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (while robbing a house, Abhay Deol makes a series of framed family photographs on a mantelpiece face the other way). Shah Rukh Khan spies on Manisha Koirala in Dil Se in much the same way that Harrison Ford gaped at Kelly McGillis in Witness. Thanks to postmodern

theory and the success of Quentin Tarantino, whose entire career is based on pastiche, even blatant rip-offs can be passed off as references. The scene in Delhi-6 in which two lovers in the throes of sexual passion keep hitting the buttons of a television remote lying on the bed, inadvertently changing the channels in the process, is no doubt a tribute to a similar moment in Midnight Cowboy. Sanjay Gupta has been paying his respects to Tarantino and Korean cinema for years. Aisha was an acknowledged adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, but the movie doffs its beret as much to the 1990s comedy Clueless as it does to the 19th century novel. Reviewers take perverse glee in pointing out the similarities between Hindi movies and foreign films. It looks like we are now going to be robbed of one of the most satisfying aspects of critiquing Bollywood. Note to self: Replace the phrase “the movie is a copy of” with “the film pays tribute to”. We are Family releases in theatres on 2 September. Nandini Ramnath is a film critic with Time Out Mumbai ( Write to Nandini at


···························· t is the opening day of project Conscious-sub-conscious at Gallery Espace. Perched atop a stepladder on the landing, B. Manjunath Kamath is drawing what looks like a divine being with a thick black felt-tip pen on the pristine white wall. The emerging figure has many hands, and densely intertwined water-pipelike hair is bunched up above his head that terminates in a tap. From time to time, Kamath comes down to greet visitors. He explains that the water pipe will also run through the deity’s many arms. “It is the Jal Board god,” he says, grinning. “He controls the water supply to the city.” Spontaneity and viewer interaction are the key to Kamath’s latest project and its roots lie in the past. As a child, when he visited his ancestral home in Bantwal village near Mangalore, by his grandfather’s decree, he was


free to draw as he pleased on one wall of the cowshed. He went there again two years ago and could still see traces of his doodles. “I was reminded of the freedom of those childhood years when there was no pressure involved in drawing anything,” he says. An idea took form; and now Kamath has let his inner child loose on the bare white walls of Gallery Espace. For a week, armed with thick felt pens, brush and black poster colour, he has been drawing whatever he fancies on the walls and ceiling of the gallery’s two floors. “I have no pre-planned ideas because that will make it rigid,” he says. Kamath is happy viewers are getting a rare chance to see an artist at work, though he seems to have minor misgivings. “I am making my personal space into public space,” he admits. “I have no fear about what I am going to draw, but I am scared that there will be no privacy.”

he most severe problem I had with Inception was not its specious dream-within-a-dream logic; it was its music. As with the last two Batman films, also directed by Christopher Nolan, Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack is relentless, swelling and keening and wailing behind every frame, hammering away at us without pause, obsessively eager to tell us how to feel. It isn’t that Zimmer’s score is, of itself, awful; there’s just far too much of it. The only redemption comes when our dreamers prepare to wake up, when Zimmer gives way to the simplicity of Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, sung by the incomparable Édith Piaf. I’ve been listening avidly to Piaf for just about a year now, having gotten hooked on to her music in an odd, roundabout way, via other movie soundtracks. She popped into my consciousness first in Something’s Gotta Give, in which Louis Armstrong covers her La Vie en Rose in such charming, defiantly American vein that he pronounces “en” as “on”. Last September, I watched Julie & Julia, and in the background of Julia Child’s mouthwatering life in Paris played the open-throated warbles of the French balladeer Charles Aznavour. From Aznavour to Piaf is but a hop and a skip and a tremulously held note, and so I borrowed La Vie en Rose, the magnificent Piaf biopic starring Marion Cotillard. Then, having digested the story of her rumpled life, I plunged into her music. It is a peculiar quality of Piaf’s voice that even the jauntiest song seems to brim with latent pain. “I don’t regret anything at all,” she sings in Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, but she sounds rueful as she declares it; later in the same song, she declares that she doesn’t care about the past, but to listen to her sing is to believe otherwise. In my early Piaf days, when I was content to simply float along with her music, I was convinced that Comme Moi was an anthem of disconsolation. Later, hunting down translations of her lyrics, I found that Piaf was actually exulting in her “heart overwhelmed by joy” and having “the best time of her life”. I’ve never had to re-evaluate a song as radically as I did Comme Moi. But how, then, to square Songbird: Chanteuse Édith Piaf. the truth of the song with the truth of Piaf’s life? La Vie en Rose gives a fine account of it—of her abandonment by her parents, her childhood in a brothel, her alcoholism and morphine addiction, her promiscuity, the loss of her two-year-old daughter to meningitis and of her one true love to a plane crash. This is really La Vie en Douleur, the life of pain, tempered only by the transcendent moments when she was singing for an audience (indeed, in 1998, Aznavour told Time magazine: “Of course, it’s an act when you are on stage, but I am freer on stage, and she was freer than others”). Perhaps, I was forced to conclude, Piaf lived not for her music but in her music. Perhaps in her life according to song, Piaf really had no regrets; perhaps she really did have the best time of her life, and she really was “happy, happy until death”. Singing Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien was, for Piaf, not a way of returning to the real world, as in Inception, but of escaping it. Write to Samanth Subramanian at PRIYANKA PARASHAR/MINT

Spontaneous strokes An artist at work, not a permanent artwork, is the subject of this show


Rooted: Kamath’s contemporary figures have a mythological touch. The result of Kamath’s weeklong endeavour is on display for another week—and then the walls will be whitewashed. There is, of course, ample precedence for creating art that is temporary—Kamath refers to Durga idols and puja pandals where artisans come up with novel and elaborate ideas year after year. Nor is this restricted to the

Indian tradition. Art critic, poet and writer Ranjit Hoskote has worked closely with Kamath as a curator and written about his art. He points to the well-established idea of “ephemeral art” in the Western contemporary art tradition. “It is a celebration of renewal,”he says. “And not attached to a product that is finished. The ephemeral holds out

the promise that it can be renewed and repeated.” Hoskote points out that the project is also an important step for Gallery Espace. The gallery is trying, he says, “to unmake the idea that the gallery is a site to present a product.” This is part of a larger trend among galleries in India to become more responsive to new media. “This is not just a change in Manjunath’s practice, but also in Renu Modi’s (of Gallery Espace) practice,” he says. Calling the project “part laboratory, part performance art, part theatre, partly reinvention of the gallery site”, Hoskote also sees it as a “revitalization” of the viewing experience. But will there be enough viewers? Kamath says friends from Mumbai, Bangalore and Vadodara are coming. “The work will be spontaneous and raw, but it will have quality,” he says. “It’ll be like a sketchbook; a very large sketchbook that I’ll be putting up in public.” Conscious-sub-conscious is on view until 4 September at Gallery Espace, New Delhi. For details, log on to




A Sikh hunts for a lost ancestor in Japan. William Dalrymple seeks precious details about the last Mughal. Both find answers at the National Archives of India. Now, with a new director general at the helm, this repository of memory is trying even harder to tell you your history. We spent a day at the Archives. PHOTOGRAPHS



Four centuries in its corners The National Archives has thousands of stories to tell. If only someone would ask B Y S IDIN V ADUKUT

························································ ne day, around two years ago, a Sikh man walked into the research room at the National Archives of India in New Delhi. He sought out Jaya Ravindran, an archivist, and told her everything he knew about his paternal grandfather. The gentleman hoped to persuade Ravindran to go on a historical wild-goose chase through the National Archives’ holdings. Ravindran spends most working days in her office inside the research room in the National Archives’ annexe building. Situated in a little, rectangular, walled-off portion at one end of the research room, Ravindran’s office is furnished in a style that can only be called “post-liberalization government of India”. It is a melange of aluminium and formica and plastic, with files arranged in neat piles on the desk. There is a computer to one side, and beneath its monitor, there are some pictures of the Gilgit manuscripts from Kashmir. “I am working on a brochure about the manuscripts,” Ravindran says. “They are also the oldest objects currently in the National Archives.” Ravindran, dressed in a blue sari and matching blouse, has the instant warmth of someone eager to answer questions and the frankness of someone who knows most of the answers.


Spotlight: Prof. Hasan was the vice­chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia before he joined the Archives.

The man about history The new director general of the Archives wants to attract people besides scholars

B Y M AYANK A USTEN S OOFI ···························· rofessor Mushirul Hasan appears not to be in a hurry. Sitting inside his large office chamber, with beautiful colonial-era furniture, Prof. Hasan, the new director general of the National Archives of India (NAI), looks as carefree as a retired man. The 61-year-old academic, author of several books on Indian history, talks in a singsong voice; he laughs easily and peppers his conversation with amusing Urdu couplets. Soon, however, he comes to the point. “I want the Archives to be like London’s British Library, which is wonderful in terms of collection, conservation, preservation and, most importantly, accessibility.” As the storehouse of the non-current records of the Indian government, the NAI, situated on Janpath close to India Gate, has thousands of rare old books, documents and lithographs piled up on various floors. While researching here for his book The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty (Delhi 1857), author William Dalrymple discovered previously unexamined manuscripts that present the Indian perspective on the 1857 mutiny. “All the Urdu research for the book was done there,” says Dalrymple. “The archive contains the biggest and fullest colonial archive in India.” Unfortunately, the Archives pulls in only the most dogged of history buffs. Prof. Hasan wants the place to be more attractive so that non-scholars can freely come in, browse through the shelves, dig into boxes filled with British-era confidential documents, read letters written 200 years


ago, roll out long farmans (royal decrees) of Mughal kings and feel the touch of fourth century Sanskrit manuscripts printed on animal-skin parchments. It is a tough undertaking with the NAI’s annual budget, which is `21 crore. For 12 years, the NAI had no head. Prof. Hasan took over the post on 14 May. In 2009, he had completed his term as vicechancellor (VC) of Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia, where he spent 30 years. “The new job is proving to be more tiresome than being a university’s VC. There is so much to be done,” he says, while sending off an email on his sleek Sony Vaio laptop. Every inch of his desk is covered with paperback books and files, including a glossy booklet, A Tool for Assessing Damage in Old Books. “We’re publishing papers of Sarojini Naidu and Dadabhai Naoroji,” the professor says, tapping on a stapled sheaf of papers titled Dadabhai Naoroji Papers. “We’ll also release a descriptive catalogue of our Persian manuscripts.” The professor reaches the Archives daily at 8.45am sharp. If the lift takes too long, he climbs the 50-odd steps of this colonial-era edifice (the Archives has a modern annexe building too), which earlier served as a mint, and walks through an arched corridor before reaching his chamber. Every Tuesday, he conducts a meeting with his five deputies in which they review the previous week. As we walk towards the conservation section, Prof. Hasan says: “The greatest damage you can do to any institution is to leave it headless. When I came here, there was lack of direction, absence of leadership and

ad hocism was the order of the day. People here are not accustomed to working.” As a 20-something research scholar in the 1970s, Prof. Hasan would come to the Archives on his Java motorcycle. “Then, in terms of facilities, (the) Archives was very poor. The research room had no air conditioner. There was no proper canteen and I lived on omelettes, untoasted bread and lukewarm tea.” Over the years, the research room has been made bigger, the spaces are more clearly defined, and there is a remarkable improvement in Xeroxing facilities, something very crucial for researchers. As we enter a hall in the conservation section, the murmur of the staff suddenly stops. They look busy, binding and stitching old volumes of manuscripts and books. “It’s a beautiful 1925-era building but was not being looked after. The flooring was unpolished, the fittings were inferior, and a lot of structure had come up that violated the sanctity of this place, which we are now demolishing,” says Prof. Hasan. He does not want it to look like a dusty old place with unhelpful staff members, he tells me over bites of his homecooked lunch of aloo palak. The bigger challenge is to make the past accessible to the new generation. “I want to make it a paradise for historians where they can not only consult records, but also exchange their research. Also, the collection has to be made available in print to an audience outside the scholarly community. We are also organizing exhibitions and conferences,” Prof. Hasan says. Write to

Repository: The National Archives building used to be a mint. The Sikh gentleman’s problem was simple enough. But its resolution was not. Ravindran remembers: “He said that his grandfather had gone to Japan to set up a business before World War II. The grandson did not have any documentary records, but he said that the man probably had a big establishment with several businesses.” The only information his descendants were sure of was that the man was based in Kobe, the city famously devastated by an earthquake in 1995. Previous queries to the ministry of external affairs and the Indian embassy in Japan had proved fruitless. And the Japanese government had no clue either, especially since many records had been lost in the turmoil after defeat in World War II, and then the earthquake. However, the Japanese promised to compensate descendants in India if they could unearth any address for his property in Kobe. Now, the desperate grandson wanted Ravindran to scour the National Archives for some clue. The National Archives has a regular series of records going back to the earliest correspondence of the East India Company in India, dating from 1748 (this is not to say that it doesn’t have older records. The collections include Mughal farmans and the Gilgit manuscripts that are around 17 centuries old. But the timelines for those are sporadic and the chronology incomplete). If there was one organization that was obsessive about TURN TO PAGE L18®




Figure out, with as much accuracy as possible, the location and date of the event, place or data you are researching. The archives hold extensive records for the period between the East India Company’s establishment and independence. In addition, the archives have comprehensive cartographic and survey data. If you know when or where something happened, archivists such as Jaya Ravindran will know how or where to look.

Six steps to help you navigate the National Archives effectively


Skim through the Archives’ collection of records and see if you can spot any quick matches. A comprehensive listing can be found on the National Archives website: Click on the “Services” link and browse through the “Holdings” section. You might find documents that cover the period you are looking for. Remember to browse through all the collections.


Use the Internet to search for related records. Wikipedia and Google Books can help you unearth names, places and dates related to your query. This will further help the Archives staff.

Visit the Archives. Sign into the register and say you want to visit the research room. At the research room, ask for Ravindran or one of the other archivists. Share your findings and queries with them. In most cases, they will help you skip a few steps and directly find related records.


Next, sign up as a scholar. You might want to sign up as an “Independent Scholar” if you are doing your research for personal use, independent of any organizations or educational institutions. To do this, you need identification, copies of this identification and a filled­in copy of Form 8 (all forms can be downloaded from WebContent.aspx?id=15&type= homemore)


Now if all goes well the staff should be able to find documents and you should be able to refer to them. There are certain procedures for using the research room and library. Especially regarding the time slots in which you can request documents, and when you can return to refer. All the details are available on the Archives’ website. But if you have doubts, feel free to ask any of the staff around. Sidin Vadukut





writing and recording letters it was the Company. “The East India Company had to report everything back to London, and then ask permission for every small thing. Sometimes, it would take months before they would get approvals from the board of directors of the Company in London. So often they would just go ahead with an action in India without waiting for official orders,” Ravindran says. You can fault the Company on many grounds, but an aversion to fastidious record-keeping is not one of them. There are books in the research room, available for browsing, that include everything from 15-page descriptions of military campaigns and embassies to kings and princes, to one-page letters from soldiers requesting leave, or desperate exhortations for new uniforms. And the Company’s, then the Raj’s, clerks filed away every scrap. Ravindran, who has worked with the National Archives for 15 years, is the first person most people turn to when they embark on a research project. While there are a range of printed guides available for reference, and purchase, Ravindran knows enough by now to help you skip a few steps. Almost everyone, from William Darlymple to the Sikh gentleman, ends up depending on Ravindran’s instant recall. “Dalrymple used to sit here every day. When his book came out he gave me a free copy!” Ravindran says, chuckling, a hint of a Malayali accent in her voice. She was referring to Dalrymple’s The Last Mughal. “Now, he is working on a book about the First Afghan war.” In fact, at least eight books, searchable on Google Books, have author notes thanking Ravindran, and some of her colleagues, by name, for help with research. Always game for a good manhunt, she was piqued by the “Kobe case”. She promised the Sikh she would do her best. “And you won’t believe it, ” Ravindran says with obvious glee, “we managed to trace down a letter from his grandfather in Kobe to his father in India that had been routed through the external affairs ministry just before independence.” It is the sort of historical wildgoose chase that Ravindran relishes but finds precious little of. “We are ready to share all information with the public. The archives are

Travelogue: The journals of explorers Nain and Kishan Singh, who were sent by the British Survey of India to Tibet secretly.

Information galore: (clockwise from above) Documents being treated to prevent damage from microbes and insects; the Archives has a collection of maps dating from the 1700s; and an employee holds up a strip of microfilm. for the public only. But very few people come. Sometimes, it can be very disappointing sitting here,” Ravindran says. Apart from the scholars and historians who use the archives as a matter of course, another class of frequent visitors is the diaspora. People of Indian origin (PIO) resident in other countries frequently visit the Archives to trace their roots. Some do it out of curiosity, but many do it in order to get a PIO card from the govern-

ment. “We have shipping records with us that show which families were sent abroad as indentured labour. To plantations and farms,” Ravindran explains. Yet the general public, even while lapping up books on Indian history by authors such as Dalrymple or Abraham Eraly, seldom visit this mother-lode of facts. Which is a pity. Few government offices are as welcoming as the National Archives. Visitors can use the library and research room without anything more than a gate pass from the main entrance. Ravindran and her colleagues will help you navigate the vast collection of documents, maps and records, but if you want to do any serious study then submit a copy of Form 8 (available on the Internet), along with a copy of some form of identity. It is always best to approach the Archives staff with a clear information request in mind. Unlike some of the archives abroad, such as the British Library, the National Archives is not suited for browsing. While there is a small museum on the premises, with some interesting displays for casual browsing, to really enjoy the breadth and depth of the collection, one must visit with a clear purpose.

“Whatever you ask, we will find something in our collection,” Ravindran says. “But it is unfair to compare us to the British Library and such places. Look at the amount of money they have. We are improving slowly. Our funding is very little.” If public awareness increases, she says, then more people will come and eventually funding and development will follow. The day we spoke to Ravindran the research room and the library were sparsely occupied. There were a few scholars in the research room, many of them equipped with Dell and Apple laptops, iPods, manicures and pedicures. The library had even fewer people, some four or five visitors (in fact, the day before, according to the register at the gate, only a total of 100 people visited the Archives. And this included some labourers and contractors). The library, an oblong room with a long, gleaming wooden table running down the centre, has a small collection of books and journals in situ. The taste in journals is eclectic. There is a very old one on foreign policy, next to an information bulletin published by the US Library of Congress. And next to this is the oddest: a handbook on construc-

tion safety management. Around the table were a few scholars quietly noting down details from dusty old books. This included a tremendously shy female MPhil student from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). “I am looking at education in 19th century Punjab,” she said over cups of tea in the Archives café, which has just received a new coffee machine (one of the decisions of the new director general). In the library, Komal (name changed) sat poring over a thick book, as long as a man’s arm and at least a third as heavy as Komal herself. She said it was a copy of the landmark Hunter Commission report of 1884 that looked into the status of education in India. The heavy book with aged brown pages was propped up on a reading board, and Komal was carefully copying passages into a thick A4-sized notebook. Later, this writer decided to put the friendly National Archives system to the test. Would the archives have any letters from the earliest years of the Raj? Perhaps, something by Robert Clive himself? Ravindran didn’t even have to turn away from her computer. Along two opposite sides of the research rooms are long shelves

that carry a collection of guides, and printed volumes of popular references. One such collection is a series of volumes of correspondence from Fort William, the Company’s headquarters in Bengal, to East India House, its office in London. Volume 20 had a first-person description of the Battle of Plassey, written by Clive. It was unlike anything you’d read in a history textbook. And vastly more complex. At one point in the letter, Clive says he asked his soldiers not to raid some villages in order to avoid harm to the native residents. Clive’s letter ends, typically, with these words: “Filed in triplicate”. From avid history buff to the weekend visitor, the archives have something that will surprise and inform most people. And for a change, this is a public institution that wants to help and share. It took this writer approximately 5 minutes to be registered as an independent scholar in the research room. If you ask nicely, they will even arrange for the mandatory photocopy of your identity card for you. Once that is done, with a little help from Ravindran and company, over two centuries of Indian history is yours for the asking. You might even have family in Kobe. Who knows? Maybe someone at the National Archives does. See related slide show at

Lounge 29 aug  

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