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SATURDAY, JUNE 6, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

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

PRIYA RAMANI

FIRST CUT

MY RECENT ‘DISCOVERY OF INDIA’ MOMENT

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ANIL PADMANABHAN TAMAL BANDYOPADHYAY MANAS CHAKRAVARTY HARJEET AHLUWALIA JOSEY PULIYENTHURUTHEL ELIZABETH EAPEN VENKATESHA BABU ARCHNA SHUKLA ©2009 HT Media Ltd All Rights Reserved

LOUNGE LOVES | THE HUSAIN MURAL

PRIYA RAMANI LATA MANGESHKAR...IN HER OWN VOICE/NIYOGI BOOKS

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f you were asked to name one person in Hindi cinema you admired most, who would it be? Until a few weeks ago I would definitely have said Guru Dutt—that ultimate crazy, cool, intense, moody, manic, god of black and white cinema. Or Dilip Kumar; he has always been my favourite. Amitabh Bachchan is certainly important in the history of Indian cinema. And Dev Anand had his share of followers (I loved him in Guide). And Raj Kapoor surely makes it to the top of anyone’s list? Gulzar? Naushad? Mukesh? Yash Chopra? And, of course, for those of you who like to live in the present, the choice gets much wider. But it was only when I was reading a just-out book that YOU GO GIRL! it hit me: There’s one person in Hindi cinema who has given me more happiness than all the above put together. I never realized I was a diehard Lata Mangeshkar fan until I hummed my way through Nasreen Munni Kabir’s Lata Mangeshkar…In Her Own Voice. I’ve always fancied myself a guy’s girl. My all-time favourite playback singer was sad sack Mukesh. I loved Kishore Kumar, but only when he was feeling depressed (Woh Shyam Kuch Ajeeb Thi; Koi Humdum Na Raha; Dukhi Man Mere; Jeevan Se Bhari). Ditto for Mohammed Rafi. And my god, Manna Dey in mourning was exquisite. All those husky/nasal

Power pack: Who’s your favourite? female voices did it for me too—Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum, Suraiya. Asha Bhosle, I believed, was so much more adventurous than her more perfect, big sister Lata. This may sound silly but it’s only now that I realize Lata was like that mother who loves you most and who you take so much for granted. It was my “discovery of India” moment (that’s where you state the obvious— “Guess what! Lata is a national treasure!—with the zeal of a pioneer). For one, she’s outlived and outworked all my musical heroes (she’s sung at least 27,000 songs in 36 languages); she has worked with all the greats from the 1950s and 1960s and has great tales to share too. Manna Dey says that “when Lataji sang with

LOUNGE REVIEW | KENKO SPA, BANGALORE

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could hear shrieks of “Yuck”, “This really tickles” and “I feel like I’m in Khatron Ke Khiladi” as I walked into the new Kenko Reflexology and Spa on Vittal Mallya Road. Curious, I peeked into a tank to look at the culprits of the commotion. As I watched, schools of tiny Garra rufa fish, each no longer than an inch, worked busily on the feet immersed in the water. A quick glance at the services on offer showed that a variety of reflexology, acupressure and body massages were also available. I opted for 10 minutes at the fish spa and 20 minutes each of back, hand and foot reflexology. The spa has three tanks; at a time, three persons can have their feet cleaned at a tank. But before you can dip your feet into the water, they are cleaned with soap and rubbed with specially formulated enzymes to neutralize any lotion or ointment residues. When I plunged my feet into a tank, 80% of the fish abandoned the feet of the lady next to me, as if on cue, and took to mine. She was rather disappointed. “I was just beginning to enjoy it,” she complained. Fresh food attracts fish too, I guess.

The good stuff

FOOT FETISH Try the Happy Feet fish spas at Select Citywalk mall, Saket, and DLF Place mall, Saket, New Delhi. A 20­minute session costs Rs390; four people can soak their feet in the tank at one go for 15 minutes, following this up with a 5­minute foot massage. There is only one tank at each outlet and it hold 800 litres of water and around 1,500 Garra rufa fish. There is no special procedure to clean the feet other than a soak in clean water. The tanks are cleaned thoroughly twice a week and there is a 24­hour filter system. The filters are cleaned daily and the 200 litres of water is replaced daily to avoid ammonia levels from going up. The fish are replaced when they grow to about 7cm in length.

Hundreds of little brown fish nibbling on your feet, and yet it doesn’t hurt at all. The fish don’t have teeth and exfoliate naturally by sucking off the dead skin. It’s a bit ticklish to begin with, but a few minutes later, you begin to relax. The fish therapy also eases minor eczema and psoriasis. If you are there for either of those reasons, there is a separate tank where slightly bigger fish get to work on your feet. I followed up the pedicure with reflexology. The massage suite is located away from the spa—and the shrieks. A quick 20-minute massage is just that—quick. This spa does not require a change of clothes and since it is centrally located (just a kilometre from MG Road), you can actually step out of office for a quick massage. The masseuse kneaded my back with her elbows, knuckles and fingers for a relaxing few minutes. Once my back and hands were taken care of, I was led to a recliner for my foot massage and even treated to herbal tea and some figs.

food, we use a sand filter and make sure we maintain a neutral pH level in the water. The water also undergoes an ozone treatment to break down liquid waste into oxygen and natural water,” says Virwani. She points out that there is a separate dip pool for those with skin ailments. Kenko claims all its therapists are trained to identify foot diseases and don’t allow customers with open wounds and deep cracks to undergo the therapy. There is, however, no doctor at the spa.

The not­so­good

Talk plastic

Fish therapy has been banned in US states such as Texas and Washington over concerns about the bacteria and viruses that might thrive in the water. Vandana Virwani, Kenko’s promoter in India, says they take extra precautions to ensure the water stays clean. “We treat the water with 2,000W UV sterilization to kill bacteria and virus every day. To filter out big particles such as fish

For a 10-minute session at the spa, you pay Rs175. The reflexology sessions start at Rs400 for just hands or feet for 20 minutes, going up to Rs850 for 60 minutes. Open from 10am-10pm, all days of the week. Contact 080-42110304 for appointments. Pavitra Jayaraman

ON THE COVER: PHOTOGRAPHER: INDRANIL BHOUMIK/MINT CORRECTIONS & CLARIFICATIONS: In ‘Off­colour skills’, 30 May, ‘Entertainment Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega’ airs on Sony TV.

me, I was aware I had to improve my own singing because she was a perfect sort of singer.” Mangeshkar is the queen of sensible thinking. She says in the book that she doesn’t see any difference between Hindus and Muslims; she thinks even that dark musical decade of the 1980s was better than today’s music; and that you stay alive if you laugh, there’s no point being morose or philosophical. That’s probably because she’s had a hard life. Most of us who love to wallow in sadness have never really experienced it fully. When Mangeshkar’s father died, she was only 13, the eldest of five siblings. “Where can I work? How do I earn money?” she asked her mother. She pretty much taught herself to read and write. And she made it in a tough-asnails industry solely on the strength of her voice and character. The book is a series of non-controversial conversations between the singer and the author (mostly over long-distance phone calls). At one point the author tells Mangeshkar she read somewhere that the singer would prefer not to be reborn as a woman. “Now I would say I prefer not to be reborn at all,” the singer answers. You may not find the answer to that statement in this book, but you will certainly rediscover the importance of Lata Mangeshkar. Write to lounge@livemint.com

The mosaic of time Past and present jostle in a Delhi shopping hub

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he next time you head to Dhoomimal was set up about 80 Wenger’s in A-Block, Connaught years ago and is the country’s oldPlace (CP), for a pineapple pastry, est private art gallery. The late take a minute to look at a piece of Mahender Jain, father of Mohit, public art—created by M.F. Husain, commissioned the mural in the no less—that graces the façade of the early 1960s. Dhoomimal Art Gallery and the There are other, more prominent, adjacent Punjab National Bank murals in Delhi that have been made office. Not exactly in by Husain—there is RAMESH PATHANIA/MINT mint condition, and one on the walls of sandwiched Indraprastha Bhabetween shop signs wan in the ITO comand advertising plex (which was boards, the designed by Rahmural—a mosaic of man’s late father, broken ceramic architect Habib tiles—features the Rahman). These master’s perennial were a direct result favourites: a horse, o f N e h r u ’ s a nude female and vision—he wanted what looks like a contemporary art to figure of Hanuman. be accessible to eveRecently, artist, ryone. “All governphotographer and ment buildings had bona fide Dilliwala It’s art: A section of the mural. funding for public Ram Rahman art (in those days),” noticed the pillars of the colonnade recalls Rahman. in A-Block stripped of plaster—part Jain says the Husain mural is a of the drive to restore CP to its origi- “landmark” treasured by the galnal glory ahead of the 2010 Com- lery, though he accepts that few monwealth Games—and feared the actually know about it. Perhaps the worst for the Dhoomimal mural. He CP restoration will prompt Jain to needn’t worry. The restoration drive undertake a mini-restoration of his does not extend to shopfronts and own and give this charming examf a ç a d e s . “ T h e y w i l l b e l e f t ple of public art a facelift. untouched,” assures Mohit Jain, the gallery’s proprietor. Himanshu Bhagat


L4 COLUMNS SATURDAY, JUNE 6, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

AAKAR PATEL REPLY TO ALL

Wali vs Modi: the tale of two poets

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ADNAN ABIDI/REUTERS

arendra Modi should fire his home minister. Ghalib acknowledged Mir Taqi Mir with this couplet: Rikhta kay tumhi ustad nahin ho, Ghalib/Kehtay hain aglay zamanay may koi Mir bhi tha.

Rikhta is another name for Urdu. The couplet reads: Don’t think yourself Urdu’s only master, O Ghalib: I hear there once was another, called Mir. Ghalib died in 1869 (the year Mahatma Gandhi was born) and many see Mir, who died in 1810, as the pioneer of Urdu poetry. But did Mir acknowledge anyone before him? He did in this couplet: Khugar nahin kuchch yoon hi hum Rikhta-goi kay/Mashooq jo apna tha, bashindah-e-Daccan tha. It reads: It’s not casually that I’ve been possessed by Urdu: He who was my love was that native of the Deccan. The man Mir is referring to is Wali Muhammad Wali, who died in 1707, the first poet of Urdu. Wali is called Wali Daccani because he was born in Aurangabad, but also Wali Gujarati because that is where he lived and was buried. Did Wali acknowledge an inspiration? Yes, but not a person. I translated two of his poems. One was a masnavi, Ta’arif-e-Shehr Sourat (In Praise of Surat City), the other, excerpted below, was a ghazal, Dar Firaaq-e-Gujarat (On Separation from Gujarat): Parting from Gujarat leaves thorns in my chest My heart—on fire!—pounds impatiently in my breast What cure can heal the wound of

living apart? The scimitar of exile has cut deep into my heart My feet were bound, and in sorrow I did tire My heart singed rapidly, like a hair over fire Gaze into my heart and see the garden of the lover Where the flowers of winter riot in my blood’s colour It is with regret that in the end I see my friends depart So rise from the empty tavern and steady yourself, my heart And thank God’s mercy, O Wali! He let that passion remain The heart’s still anxious to catch a glimpse of my Gujarat again On 28 February 2002, a mob tore down Wali’s little tomb in Ahmedabad and dug up his grave. An idol of Hulladio Hanuman (riotous Hanuman) was placed over the rubble. Overnight, the road was tarred and now no sign remains. Wali’s grave had stood outside the gate of the police commissioner’s office. That morning a mob laid siege to former member of Parliament Ehsan Jafri’s house. He held them off for hours with his licensed rifle. The police arrived, led by K.G. Erda. The police fired 61 rounds at the mob. Every bullet missed. The police could

face action. Gujarat’s home ministry has been unable to take the initiative. It has taken the Supreme Court to give justice to Gujaratis. Raghavan found that on 28 February 2002, BJP legislator Mayaben Kodnani armed and led a mob at Naroda Patiya that killed 105 Gujaratis. On 4 January 2008, Modi made her minister for women and child development and higher Verse case: Under Modi, Wali’s tomb was destroyed. education. On 27 March 2009, not kill, wound or hit a single person. justice D.H. Waghela said The mob kept building. Mayaben’s actions were “nothing Seventy-three-year-old Jafri was called less than organized crime”. down. They stripped him, cut off his On intelligence, execution, crowd fingers, paraded him bleeding and control, investigation, Gujarat’s home naked. Then they cut off his hands, minister has not been competent. then his legs and then his head. Who held, and still holds, Gujarat’s Erda filed a report naming 11 people. cabinet portfolio for home? Narendra He named two men twice by mistake. Modi. He is also minister for general The home ministry promoted Erda to administration, planning, deputy superintendent. administrative reforms, industries, Was this case an exception? No. On mines and minerals, petrochemicals, 12 April 2004, the Supreme Court sent ports, information and broadcasting, the Best Bakery case out of Gujarat, Narmada and Kalpsar, and science adding a comment that “the and technology. investigating agency helps the Modi seems unaware of what his accused...”(on Page7 of the judgement). police is doing. It’s not just about the After the riots, Gujarat’s home riots. On 30 April 2007, Gujarat ministry closed 2,000 cases, saying it admitted, after yet another Supreme couldn’t find the accused. On 17 Court intervention, that the chief of its August 2004, the Supreme Court took anti-terrorist squad, D.G. Vanjhara, over and ordered them reopened. So had executed a man, Sohrabuddin, in shoddily were they found to have a contract killing. His wife Kausarbi been investigated that the Supreme was a witness. Vanjhara killed her too Court sent a team under former CBI and then burnt her body. Under chief R.K. Raghavan to reinvestigate Modi, the police could not even find the cases. This time, 1,255 accused his own minister Mayaben for weeks. were arrested. Action was ordered She fled after being charged with against 136 police officers. Another 72 mass murder and surrendered after

her bail was rejected. I read out Dar Firaaq-e-Gujarat to Narendrabhai once and asked him to guess who the poet was. He could not say. When I told him, his response was that the evidence that the demolished grave was Wali’s wasn’t clinching enough for him. I translated another Gujarati poet a couple of years ago: This earth is a beautiful place Our eyes are so blessed Sunlight does not spill over the lush green grass Try as hard as you might, you can’t hold it in your hand either The earth is a beautiful place Our eyes are so blessed The rest of the poem is equally appalling. These are the opening lines of Modi’s 2007 book, Aankh Aa Dhanya Chhe (Our Eyes Are So Blessed). On his website (www.narendramodi.in), Modi uses these words to describe himself: “great dreamer”; “remarkable ability”; “hard taskmaster”; “strict disciplinarian”; “amazing”; “realist”; “idealist”; “clarity of vision, sense of purpose, diligent perseverance”; “excellent organizational ability: “rich insight into human psychology”; “sheer strength of character and courage”. He’s no poet. And he has been demonstrably incompetent at protecting Gujaratis and Gujarati heritage. He should step down as home minister. Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media. Write to Aakar at replytoall@livemint.com www.livemint.com Read Aakar’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/aakar­patel

SHOBA NARAYAN THE GOOD LIFE

How my canine taught me equanimity

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y husband wants to name our home “Samatvam”. This Sanskrit word—the closest English translation is equanimity—encompasses much of what he aspires to be. Aspires being

the operative word here, because both my husband and I are samatvamwannabes. We want to project Zen-like calm during crises—which we do, but then end up losing it for the most pedestrian and idiotic of reasons. Religions advocate several ways of attaining this evenness of mind. Sufi saints such as Rabia Basri used music and poetry to purify and unite themselves with the divine. Islamic theologians such as Al-Ghazali talked about the human yearning for an ideal or primordial state called fitra. Buddhists talk about “Be here now”, and “Zen mind, beginner’s mind” and tapping into our “Buddha nature”. Christianity encourages the passionate pursuit of a path towards the Lord— via gospel, prayer, and doing good works. Hinduism through the Bhagavad Gita advocates equanimity in no uncertain terms. One of the Gita’s most famous verses talks about the adhikarasthe or control that Arjuna has over his duty, not on the results. Yoga, in its simplest and most lofty sense, means samatvam, or equanimity: “Samatva n yoga uchyathe,” as the verse says. To this pantheon of world religions and profound thought, I add

my own method of attaining equanimity: Get a puppy. My puppy, Inji, is a year old and she has a problem. She refuses to leave our apartment complex. Walking on the road terrifies her: Her tail goes between her legs, and she simply sits down in stubborn compliance. There are many reasons for Inji’s anti-walking stance that mostly have to do with me. On one or two memorable occasions, I royally chewed her out on the road because she hadn’t done her business after half an hour of walking. One time, I got so fed up that I dropped her leash in protest. She ran away, banged against a cyclist who fell on top of her and created pandemonium all around. House-training my puppy, like many things in my life, has shown me exactly how inadequate I am. I called every trainer in Bangalore, spoke to friends who had dogs and even considered calling the director of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, who was profiled in Lounge (The student who became director, 26 September) sometime back. His name is Samir Kumar Barua and my takeaway from the profile had to do with pets. When asked if he would like

Pet theory: Your puppy’s behaviour could mirror your emotions. to write a book, Barua said he wouldn’t write a management book but rather, a book on how to train your dog. It seemed such an odd comment, which was why I registered it. But that was before I got my pup; now it all makes perfect sense. Senior management is nothing compared to a stubborn puppy. Friends told me about this guy called the “Dog Whisperer”. Cesar Millan is a Mexican man who has a way with dogs and their problems. He also has his own television show, endorsements and training centre. “Project calm assertive energy,” he says often—and I try to, till my puppy refuses to obey

me, at which point I project furious assertive energy. But here is the thing: When I get furious with her, my puppy doesn’t try harder to please me; she simply gives up trying. Unlike my kids, with whom threats and punishments are the only thing that seem to work, consequences have no meaning for this puppy. This is not her innate nature for, normally, all this dog wants is my approval. She greets me at all hours of day or night with an ecstatic body-shaking, tail-wagging welcome. When I am home, she is my shadow. But she doesn’t understand anger. I mean, she can fathom it but doesn’t know how to react to it. She simply lies down and stops. I called every dog trainer I could find on the Internet. Some were busy and couldn’t help me. Some wanted to see the dog and my house and then quote a rate. Some agreed to train her but used the stick rather than carrot approach. I fired several after two sessions. Finally, I cold-called a guy called Vishwanath who was listed on a doggie forum. Vishwanath wasn’t interested in telling me about his show dogs or breeds. He listened to my problem and talked me through it like a shrink. He gave me a solution that made sense: “Take your dog outside using treats and just sit on the pavement with her near you. She has to feel your body heat. Do this for 15 minutes, then longer. If she starts sniffing or walking, follow her lead. It will take time but she will be fine.” Let me hire you, I said after half an hour. No point hiring me, Madam. You are her mistress, not me. So you

have to train her. Six weeks later, he called back to check if she was better. At which point, I told him that I was a journalist and asked if I could list his phone number so that any pet owners with problems could call him. Sure, he said, without asking which newspaper I wrote for. There was (refreshingly) no mention of fees, only a desire to help. Okay, so I have never met the guy and I could be wrong, but Vishwanath seems like a nice man if you have a pet problem. After all this, I have come to believe that there is one thing that distinguishes animal lovers from the rest: the belief that animals understand what we say and who we are, not just in the superficial listening-to-orders sense but in the deepest intuitive sense. After several months of getting trained by my puppy, I have gone from sceptic to believer. I think my dog is an excellent mirror of my emotions. When I am calm, she is calm. When I am angry, she is sad. When I am happy, she is happy. And when I am samatvam—as in when I don’t scold her for small lapses such as urinating on my carpet—she blossoms. Her spirit unfurls. Me samatvam; she samatvam. Or is it the reverse? Inji now walks on the road, as long as someone else is with Shoba Narayan, who remains patient and hopeful. Write to her at thegoodlife@livemint.com www.livemint.com Read Shoba’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/shoba­narayan


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SATURDAY, JUNE 6, 2009

L5

Parenting FIRST PERSON

LEARNING CURVE

In the farmer’s den

GOURI DANGE PRAVEEN MANIVANNAN

Take the kids away from the city for a farm­stay and open up a whole new world for them

B Y A NUPAMA C HANDRASEKARAN anupama.c@livemint.com

···························· ravelling is fun. I mean, for children. And when it includes animals from nursery rhymes, the fun factor doubles. Ooty has never been on our must-visit list, considering its transformation into just another high-altitude urban sprawl. But a two-night stay at a farm, 25km from Ooty, with animals, vegetable gardens and wide open spaces, seemed like a good getaway for the children. We found out about this farm-stay holiday through reviews on travel websites and finalized our plans after getting a thumbs up from two friends who had been there with their tots. After an hour-long drive from Ooty, up and down hairpin bends, we reached the parking lot of Little Earth’s Destiny Farmstay. The remaining 3km of dirt road was covered in Destiny’s beatendown Willys jeep from World War II—its doors rattled and flung open occasionally during the bumpy ride. My queasy-bellied one-year-old son held on to me for life and the look on my twoyear-old daughter’s face was one

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THE GREAT ESCAPE Take a trip to these farms near your city u Citrus County, Hoshiarpur, Punjab, runs a farm stay at Chhauni Farm. The farm is a kinnow plantation and during the harvest season (in winter), children and adults are encouraged to help pluck the fruit from the trees. Guests also have the option of visiting a dairy farm where cows are still milked by hand. Stay in one of the four tents

Eye­opener: Seeing farm animals at close quarters can be an exciting experience for your child. of plain mistrust. But their fears and misgivings quickly gave way to wide-eyed wonder as we reached the farm and descended a few steps to the sight of grazing sheep and neighing horses on the hill nearby. Further down, in a small pond, spotless white geese swum in unison, almost as if they were trained to perform the act. My city-bred apartment prisoners were set free in the vast verandah that had a view of slanting farms and grazing livestock. In the absence of traffic sounds, we could hear even the distant laughter and chatter of farm workers. It was lunchtime when we arrived but the hotel’s staff had missed out on making a chilli-free meal for the children, as had been requested. So I dug out my tiny 1 litre electric cooker to make a carrot sauté. The upside to this for Rs7,000 a night (for two people, with all meals included. Charges for children extra). For details, call Jasveen Ahluwalia at 09815477880. u Agri Tourism Development Corporation, Pune, organizes a day tour for children and adults at Baramati. The property is spread over 110 acres and has 65 kinds of fruit plantations. At present, it is the season for mangoes and guavas. The farm has a dairy centre where children can see cows being milked, a goat farm and a sericulture unit. Children can also enjoy a tractor ride.

dreary episode was that the excited tots got to watch a farm worker pluck the carrots from a vegetable patch. They jostled to help me scrub the carrots clean, a little chore that helped exhaust some of their nervous energy, the rest of which was spent running up and down the hallway between spoonfuls of lunch. Post-siesta, we walked around the farm to get a closer look at the geese, which triggered a million questions from my daughter: “Why do they scream like this?” “Why are they walking around together?” “Why are they not in the water all the time?” While responding to the barrage of queries, we trotted uphill to watch scurrying guinea pigs, rabbits and hares chewing grass on a fenced-off slope. The children were quiet as they stared in amazement at the scampering The day tour costs Rs600 per adult and Rs500 per child (service tax extra). For details, call 020­25535599. u Noah’s Show, Bangalore, conducts a New Age Farmer workshop aimed at educating children on how fruits, vegetables and grains are grown and harvested. “A glimpse into a farmer’s life,” is how Geetika Goel, the director of Noah’s Show, describes this day­long workshop (7am­3pm), which costs Rs900 per child. A group of 15 children is a must for a trip. For details, call 080­41211768.

animals and their young ones. The next day, we woke up to an activity-packed schedule. My husband and son jumped on a horse and trotted away in a wide, open running area. My daughter, a little scared of the horses, couldn’t have enough of the brown and white guinea pigs, and dragged me towards the busy rodents. The agricultural tour of the farm, which grows different types of lettuce, zucchini, Chinese cabbage and herbs, was intriguing. My daughter listened silently as I pointed out the cabbage and showed her beets stuck under the mud. And my son took curious whiffs of the herb samples the farm manager offered. We pocketed stalks of thyme, basil and rosemary sprigs to stick in our carry-along “know-your-flowers-and-herbs” project book. Back in the room, the children pasted their fragrant finds on to the book, a nice revision for me too as I had to label the herbs for them. As the sun edged closer to the horizon, we took the children to watch cows being milked briskly in the barn by a machine. My milk-loving little girl finally got to see where she gets her favourite dairy product from. On our final morning, the children sadly bid goodbye to the farm animals before we headed to the train station. The toy train we boarded echoed our sentiments as it crawled unwillingly to the heat and grime downhill.

BEING A LATE PARENT HAS ITS ADVANTAGES We are in our mid-40s. Busy with our careers and multiple city changes, we chose to have our child late: He’s just 5. Obviously, we are his world, and for both of us he’s our first priority. But I worry whether that does not circumscribe his world to us and maybe, in some way, not prepare him for a time when we aren’t around. We don’t have a large family to fall back on, though we have a close-knit circle Buddies: Children need grown­up friends. of friends—there again, though, most of the children are older than our son. What would you suggest we do? No doubt, his world is currently you and your world is him. But quite naturally, whether you are a young or older parent, this changes. Children make (and should be encouraged to make) bonds with other significant adults, favourite aunts and uncles, and godparents. Yes, you have a valid question mark in your mind: After us, what? First, no more does one need to assume that old age equals ill health and incapacity. You could be quite a sprightly and energetic parent till late into your life. And death is a famous prankster, so you don’t have to necessarily assume that you won’t be around for your child after his 20s. Second, it is also the quality of time that you spend with him that has to count, and this will last him well beyond your lifetime. A child brought up in a secure and loving environment by middle-aged parents is more likely to be emotionally anchored and prepared for different situations, and has a big advantage over any child who has an unstable home with young parents. While physical and financial support and being there “long enough” is a primary concern for older parents, so much can be gifted to your child in terms of being emotionally present. Needless to say, this doesn’t mean older parents should cosset and spoil their children, but that they should provide far-reaching emotional security in mature and well-thought-out ways. Do encourage your son, gradually, to develop good, strong, subsidiary, but important, relationships with other adults. This is something all parents should pay attention to anyway as part of giving your child access to other caring adults. So many adults have deep and sustaining relationships with aunts, uncles, or friends of parents, well after their parents have died. That is another kind of wealth you can provide your child. And this comes from your first investing in the friendships you have. Second, you do have a greater responsibility to remain fit, physically, emotionally and financially, and you should work towards this steadily and positively. Avoid, at any point, holding “we won’t be around forever you know” kind of conversations with your son, even in later years. Also avoid referring to yourselves as “oldies” and talking about how young other parents are in comparison, etc. Obviously, you have not entered parenthood casually or by default. It is a well-thought-out and composed decision. I urge you to maintain the same equanimity and self-assurance when you are beset by anxieties, small and big, about your child’s future. Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting. Send Gouri your queries at learningcurve@livemint.com

UNDER 15 | M VENKATESH

2009: a space odyssey Another adventure that will rocket you through galaxies, planets and moons

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hen it comes to science, any introduction to Stephen Hawking is superfluous. So when Hawking decides to write science fiction, just enjoy it. Two years ago, Stephen and Lucy, his daughter, decided to write an intergalactic adventure story for children. This year, the father-daughter duo has come up with George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt, which follows the Hawkings’ first “George” book, Secret Key to the Universe (out two years ago). The same cast is back minus Freddy, George’s pig, who was responsible for getting the main characters together. For those of you who haven’t

managed to read Secret Key, George is the son of “eco-warriors” Terence and Daisy. Their neighbours are Eric Bellis—the only scientist in the world who has “understood” the universe—his wife, Susan, d aug hte r Anni e a nd Cosmos, the supercomputer that can transport humans through space and time. Storm­riders: George and Annie battle it out. After the last adventure, George, Annie and Eric have George reads the cryptic footnote become great friends. Cosmic in Annie’s email informing him Treasure Hunt, however, starts about her parents’ plans to invite with Eric—who’s got a job with George to the US. “Have cosmic t h e G l o b a l S p a c e A g e n c y mission. Do not chicken out. (GSA)—and Annie moving to the Spacesuits at the ready.” US, leaving behind a thoroughly George can think of only one miserable George. way to get to Florida. He ropes in Things start heating up when his granny to persuade his par-

George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt: By Lucy and Stephen Hawking, Random House, 295 pages, Rs400. ents. It works and George is off. Once there, he realizes that Eric is working on a mission in which the GSA has sent Homer, a robot, to Mars to study the planet for signs of life. At the Bellis residence, Annie tells him that she has received a message from aliens on Cosmos. And the fleet-

ing message that she has seen makes it imperative that they go into space and save earth. When Annie’s father finds out, he sets off in pursuit. Meanwhile, the children find themselves in the trap of an old enemy, the rogue scientist—and Eric’s dearfriend-turned-foe—Graham Reeper, who has developed a counter to Cosmos with just one thought in his mind: to avenge his insult at the hands of Eric. When they find out it was Reeper who was responsible for their wild goose chase, each of them thinks furiously of a way to get back to earth. Can they? What is also fascinating about Cosmic Treasure Hunt is the information packed in. Fiction gives way to scientific fact that the reader won’t forget in a hurry. Exploring space can’t get better than this. The writer is the editor of Heek, a children’s magazine. Write to lounge@livemint.com


L6

www.livemint.com

SATURDAY, JUNE 6, 2009

Business Lounge PRAVIN ANAND

The protector of inventions After three decades of pioneering work in intellectual property law, Pravin Anand is still inspired by imagination and creativity

Fun in law: Anand has designed a board game to teach intellectual property litigation.

JAYACHANDRAN/MINT

B Y M ALATHI N AYAK ···························· ravin Anand, India’s leading legal authority on intellectual property (IP) rights—and the managing partner of law firm Anand and Anand—walks with me into Threesixty, the coffee shop at The Oberoi, New Delhi. The time is around 1.15pm, most tables are already taken and there are quite a few people waiting. “I have to rush back to court in 45 minutes,” Anand reminds the stewardess casually. Delhi high court, where Anand handles most of his cases, is just a stone’s throw away from the hotel. And Anand frequently drops into the coffee shop to grab a quick lunch. So it is not entirely surprising when the stewardess addresses him by name and asks us to wait briefly. Moments later a table is conjured up for us and we sit down, leaving a short line of waiting diners behind us. Anand is dressed simply in a crisp white shirt and black trousers. Without his courtroom black robes, he looks much like any regulation corporate executive. And nothing like a man obsessed with intellectual property (IP) law. So what interesting “matter” awaits his attention in court? I ask, using the legal fraternity’s term for a court case. “It is difficult to single out what is interesting today,” he says, before telling me about the long list of cases lined up: a copyright issue related to Mattel’s board game Scrabble, a dispute between TV channels and the Indian Performing Rights Society, patent matters related to pharmaceuticals, and some trademark litigation. “We deal with a mix of all kinds of intellectual property. Every issue is interesting,” he says. Anand asks me to start on my chicken consommé as he waits for his vegetarian sushi lunch to be served. Continuing our conversation on the line-up of cases in court, I am convinced: Anand is having a torrid love affair with IP rights. When I point this out, Anand admits to “obsessively correlating everything to intellectual property”. “There is intellectual property in the mineral water here, in the design of this jug and in the recipes,” he says, pointing to everything on the table, even my bowl of soup. The career lawyer talks me into ordering a salad next. When I decide on a Chicken Caesar, he calls out to the waiter in typical Delhi style: “Bete (son)!” Anand was born and brought up in Delhi. He studied at St Xavier’s School and then went on to do his bachelor’s degree in chemistry before completing his bachelor’s in law from Delhi University. I ask him if he always intended to join his family’s pioneering intellectual property law firm. Anand’s grandfather, who founded the firm in 1923, started off as a trademark agent in New Delhi. Anand’s father joined the firm in 1954. “Back then, IP was synonymous with trademarks alone. There were not more than two-three patents a year. Today, there is intellectual property in the way things are made, presented and marketed. So the scope of IP has gone beyond what it used to be perceived in those days,” says Anand.

P

Helped, no doubt, by years of arguing in various courts, Anand is an adept storyteller. He recalls how, in school, his principal came around to ask students what they all wanted to become when they grew up. “Some said doctor, some said engineer, policeman and even Superman!” A 12-year-old Anand had resolutely announced to his class that he wanted to be a “patent lawyer”. His classmates roared with laughter. They thought it had something to do with the patent leather products that were popular in those days, he explains. After joining the firm in 1979, Anand coaxed his family into modernizing the firm, which boasted a stable but predominantly Indian client base. “Those days, getting a telex and a fax machine were big things. Others, including my dad, didn’t realize its value. My dad once asked what relevance a computer had in a lawyer’s office.” His “progressive approach” not only increased business for his company but also helped rapidly transform the state of IP law in India. He began by using judgements from countries with established IP laws while arguing his cases in local courts. This, he says, not only exposed Indian judges to a relatively new field but also triggered the evolution of a domestic framework for IP law. Over the years, Anand recalls having argued many “one of a kind” and “first ever” cases on IP rights. He talks about cases involving HMV Gramophone Co. and consumer electronics manufacturer Philips India Ltd that broke new ground in IP rights. He also argued the Internet company Yahoo’s case in a domain name dispute—another first-of-its-kind case in India. After liberalization, Anand explains, the “gap between what was happening in the West and what was happening in India in the IT industry was narrowing. The gap between our courts and theirs was also narrowing. If there were phishing, spamming, hyperlinking and cybersquatting cases in America, then there would be such cases in India soon after.” Copyright, trademark and patent disputes emerged and awareness on these subjects increased. “Indian courts were receptive to

look at the experience in other countries. This made law-making in intellectual property a vibrant and creative process,” Anand says, between bites of his veg sushi. Asked why piracy and trademark infringement is so rampant in India, Anand confesses that while awareness of IP rights is high, the country is still a long way from “loving it”. Interestingly, Anand has not been shy of expressing the creativity in IP law outside courts as well. In 2005, he produced a play called Brainchild, written by Farrukh Dhondy, based on his experiences, to spread awareness on IP rights. Anand’s company also organizes an annual moot court competition. The prestigious annual competition brings together students from the country’s top law schools. Just fresh off the drawing board is Anaryst, a board game that allows players to buy and sell copyright, trademarks and other forms of intellectual property. Currently simmering in Anand’s mind is a cartoon character, and he wants to use it in comic books to help law students “demystify the law and convey esoteric ideas”. For the second time during our meeting, Anand’s BlackBerry rings. Court is about to convene for the Scrabble case. Anand nonchalantly responds to the caller: “Tell the judge, if he asks, that I will be there in 5 minutes” (he currently represents Mattel in a case against the Agarwalla brothers, who developed an online version of the board game). I quickly ask him about his future plans. After taking the family firm from one office and four lawyers to four offices with 70 lawyers and 18 engineers, what’s next? He says they will remain focused on IP while growing into smaller cities where creativity thrives: “Whether it is a Tarun Tahiliani, a sculptor or an artist, each creative individual is an intellectual property centre. I love working with them and understanding their creative processes and learning what fuels their creativity.” Write to lounge@livemint.com

ALSO SEE >The Kolkata coders, Page 10 >Anand discusses his board game at www.livemint.com/anaryst.htm

CURRICULUM VITAE

PRAVIN ANAND BORN

5 May 1955

EDUCATION

Bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and law from Delhi University

CURRENT DESIGNATION

Managing partner, Anand and Anand

WORK PROFILE

Anand and Anand was set up in 1923 by Pravin Anand’s grandfather as an agent for trademarks. Pravin Anand joined the firm in 1979

PILLAR OF THE LAW

Anand was the first to win an Anton Piller order from an Indian court. Derived from British legal precedence, the order allows a defendant’s premises to be searched without prior warning and evidence to be seized in order to prevent tampering. Anand has used this in several music piracy cases


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SATURDAY, JUNE 6, 2009

L7

Concert SPOTLIGHT

A night of Rahmania Live act: 40,000 fans attended the Rahman concert at Pune’s Balewadi stadium on 31 May.

With his last ‘Jai Ho’ concert for the season, AR Rahman opens up to audiences as he’s never done before

B Y L ALITHA S UHASINI ···························· t couldn’t have been easy— this transformation from a painfully shy south Indian boy-man to a free-hug endorsing 43-year-old composer and singer who can capture the imagination of a packed stadium. A.R. Rahman has never been as self-assured and easy on stage as he was on 31 May, entertaining a whopping 40,000 fans at Pune’s Balewadi stadium, a venue that hosted the Commonwealth Youth Games last year. The man works hard at his act, I find, when I sneak into the 7-hour rehearsal that begins sometime around midnight. The stage is buzzing—musicians tweaking their gear, dancers stretching and singers humming to each other. Conductor Srinivas Murthy, the seniormost member in the troupe and the man to be relied upon throughout the show, looks wired and is positioned to the left of the stage, next to flautist Naveen Kumar, who has worked with Rahman since Roja (1992). Beside them, at the extreme left corner, is Kabhi Kabhi Aditi singer Rashid Ali tuning his guitar alongside guitarist Sanjeev Thomas, who adds his rock cool to the show. Singers Benny Dayal (the versatile vocalist who delivered the hit Pappu Can’t Dance Saala), Raja Hasan (the riveting performer from Bikaner on SaReGaMaPa Challenge 2007), Shweta Pandit (Jatin-Lalit’s niece, who sang Bandhne Lagi from Naach) and Suzanne D’Mello (Mumbai’s jazz circuit will recognize this silken-voiced singer of Latika’s Theme) chat away on the right of the stage, near the wings where I stand. There’s also a DJ console right next to us and this is the first time a DJ will mix Rahman’s music live on stage, so I’m curious to know what tricks he has on his table. The percussionists—one on the pads and the other on an acoustic kit—are on the far right of the stage. There are

I

thousands of bulbs stuck into steel bowls that have been glued on to the stage. It’s a unique idea, looks hilarious up close and I’m not sure about its visual appeal. Suddenly, everybody’s looking up at the highest level on stage. Rahman is in. He’s speeding on the Grand Boston Piano on stage and ends with a cue to Hariharan, who croons Tu Hi Re in his honeyglazed vocals. Hariharan and Rahman walk down to the first level on stage and the singer breaks into an impromptu Marathi dialogue with an invisible audience and fools around for a bit before it’s time to take position back on top of the stage. Rahman pulls off a fantastic surprise by including an old diamond in his set list—a Khamosh Raat from Thakshak sung by Roop Kumar Rathod, a richly textured ballad that will go down as a classic. But what takes my breath away is the sitar- and guitar-fuelled Jaage Hain Der Tak from Guru with Rahman on vocals. The composer makes up for the absence of the throaty choir and elevates the track to its dramatic heights with jangling power chords by Thomas on guitar and Asad Khan on sitar. Khan, who was edgy and crabby till the track began, gets his due—several appreciative nods from Rahman. There’s a sense of wild abandon and the pint-sized composer in black jeans and a tee takes off his denim jacket and is bouncing onstage. After the troupe has run through the track once, the composer improvises on an interlude on the keys, played by the talented Stephen Devasia, a Palakkad-based keyboard player who has begun working with Rahman recently. Rahman makes short work of the improvisation but there’s a dramatic change in the sound—you at once imagine the last shadows of night making way for daybreak in the cinematic rise and fall of the arrangement. But there’s no time to dwell on

this sudden burst of inspiration. There are a dozen or more tracks to run through, with 30 tracks finally making it to the set list. Rahman next tackles the hydraulic stage set-up designed to make a grand entry from below the stage. He needs to stay about 10ft above the ground on the elevated platform and sing Dil Se, a track which requires all the gut he’s got. An unsteady Rahman keeps at it like a man possessed, and by the fourth run, he’s a powerhouse on stage, back to catching the stray off note, a tiny missed beat and fine-tuning every nuance of his set, downing cups of tea with his team to keep going. The composer turns his attention to The Wandering Souls, a group of young Rahman fans and musicians from Pune who organize Rahmania concerts to celebrate his music. Onstage is a group of drummers who play the marching drums to a percussion-driven medley, including Azeem-O-Shan Shahenshah from Jodhaa Akbar and Veerapandi Kotayile from the Mani Ratnam thriller, Thiruda Thiruda. After one round, Rahman chats up the 24 drummers, who are clearly not used to such late nights. “Enjoy your performance, play with more attitude,” he says. His tone is friendly, and after another round, he sends the group packing, with a “You’re

Rahman sits down on a mattress, folds his legs beneath him, wears his prayer cap and begins singing

tired. Get some good sleep.” At about 5am, when some others show signs of wilting, a rare sight unfolds. Rahman sits down on a mattress that has been hurriedly brought on to stage by the crew, folds his legs beneath him, wears his prayer cap and begins singing Maula Mere Maula from Delhi–6, playing the harmonium to tune. His eyes shut out the world and the track absorbs him. Raja Hasan, who takes on main lead, keeps looking towards Rahman eagerly for approval and is visibly relieved when the track ends. Next, Rahman moves on to Khwaja Mere Khwaja from Jodhaa Akbar with the same intensity. The crew looks on in awe as Rahman loses himself in music as a devotee would in prayer. Towards the end of the rehearsals, the DJ on stage begins playing his mix, which is mostly instrumental patches from Rahman hits with some classic scratch sound effects. Just as the first rays of light change the colour of the sky, Rubaroo plays off the mix—it’s a surreal coincidence, and a lasting impression for all those who’ve always associated the track with sunshine. And it’s a wrap. But nothing prepared me for the real show in the evening. The multi-level stage, the massive LED screens, the visuals and the lights made for a spectacle that no international concert in the country has witnessed so far. The crowd is emotionally charged and bellows when rapper Blaaze, another old collaborator of Rahman’s, makes an appearance in all-black with a blingy cane in hand. Murthy leads the bombast of instruments, Rahman emerges out of the womb of the stage and the stadium explodes into a collective howl. After a euphoric Jai Ho performance, he says into the mike: “It has been my dream to perform in Pune. It’s finally come true.” It’s unusual for Rahman to bring in this element of intimacy with the crowd, but it’s working

like magic. I remember the Unity of Light concert in Mumbai back in 2003—he let the music do the talking, but performed with the same burning ferocity, except with his eyes closed and head raised to the skies most of the time. His sincerity is astounding— even when he goes up to two persons in the audience and asks them who they love and hate the most, or whether they love him. Of course the audience, which has never seen this side of him, is in shock. And then he goes on to shock some more when he speaks of how he composed Rehna Tu on a flight. “It’s written for the character in Delhi-6 who nobody wants because he’s half Hindu and half Muslim. For me, it’s about loving someone for who they are. I wrote it for myself,” he says, following it up with his trademark chuckle. And it’s not every day that you get to see Lata Mangeshkar laughing at “Rahman sahib” because he was made to wear the Pune topi (cap). Nor do you get to see Rahman candidly admitting that “all of us are shivering on stage because she’s in the audience”. Of course, there are glitches—the entire opening verse of Genda Phool is inaudible due to some technical snag but the crowd hardly notices. Pandit, who renders the track, hits a shaky patch but picks up remarkably in Ringa Ringa from Slumdog Millionaire. But every little and big detail— the fire dancers, the cutting-edge animation that ran in the background, D’Mello’s trill, glass-shattering Enya-meets-Mariah Carey vocals, Tanvi’s hip hop wizardry, the unplugged medley by Hariharan, Rathod and Ali, which showed the audience some bona fide balladry, and the Jai Ho finale with fireworks transported the audience to an other-worldly place. Some call it Rahmania. Write to lounge@livemint.com


L8

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SATURDAY, JUNE 6, 2009

Style PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP CLIVE CHRISTIAN

Kitchen lighting: Clive Christian’s Alpha Kitchen.

On the ramp: (extreme left) Christian Lacroix; and Jean­Paul Gaultier.

TREND TRACKER

Hot pink flush A

Satchel: At Full Circle, Khan Market, New Delhi, Rs332.

Pumps: Rose Pop at Louis Vuitton stores, Rs26,100.

RAJKUMAR/MINT

Write to wsj@livemint.com

Shirt: Kenzo at Emporio mall, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, Rs13,000.

Baradari plates: At Good Earth stores, Rs1,000 (8 inches), Rs1,100 (9 inches).

RAJKUMAR/MINT

Figurine: Emily, from The Lovelot series at Swarovski stores, Rs3,600.

Storm light: At fcml, Khan Market, New Delhi, Rs1,255.

RAJKUMAR/MINT

B Y C HRISTINA B INKLEY ···························· s the founder and chief executive of Joie de Vivre hotels, Chip Conley is known for quirky, cutting-edge décor. But some of his investors baulked when he planned a hotel interior and financial district restaurant that featured hot pink. So he and his designers picked a new name for the colour in their scheme: “mangenta”. No longer relegated to the garish masses, the saturated pink shades known as fuchsia and magenta are suddenly haute. They are cropping up in all sorts of unexpected places, including building exteriors, sofas, shoes and iPhones. British designer Clive Christian, who only accepts clients who know better than to ask the cost of their “couture” kitchens, has created a concept design for the “Alpha Kitchen” that’s aglow with hot pink LED lighting. Fuchsia is a leading colour for fall in both womenswear and menswear. Saks Fifth Avenue has placed fall orders for hot pink clothes from brands, including the inexpensive BCBG Max Azria and the higher-end Michael Kors, who

It was hard to miss the appearance of both US First Lady Michelle Obama (see facing page) and White House social secretary Desirée Rogers in bright fuchsia dresses at the White House Correspondents Association dinner several weeks ago. They are always right on trend, thanks to their cavalcade of fashion’s leading advisers, from Vogue editor Anna Wintour to designers such as Narciso Rodriguez. And from a design industry perspective, what better choice than a shade that will shake things up now—and require a new coat of paint when we can no longer bear to look at it? The cover of New York magazine’s May design issue shows a gleeful model tossing a can of fuchsia paint across the white cover. The concept suggests devilmay-care fun. “Pink represents a certain playfulness and confidence, particularly in men,” says Simon Maloney, head of buying and production for shirt maker Thomas Pink, where pink is selling well and will be marketed as a key colour for fall. Since pink carries a lot of psychological baggage, I consulted Sarah Whittaker, an image consultant known professionally as the “wardrobe shrink”, about what the colour says when worn. Fuchsia, she says, “can be quite acidic, and so the wearer can appear arrogant, or like they are flaunting themselves”. Redder tones such as magenta “can be more respectful”, she adds, noting that such colours work well on people with strong colouring, such as dark eyes and hair. I disappear in bright colours, but fuchsia has tiptoed into my home. First, some pillow covers called out to me at Ikea—an inexpensive way to enliven my kitchen benches. I’ve purchased a hot pink scarf that makes people smile, I hope out of good cheer. Recently, my 10-year-old son returned from the orthodontist with fuchsia-coloured braces. I concede that I worried about the reaction at school the next day, but I needn’t have. The other boys like them, without any coaching about mangenta.

Faux flowers: At House of Ishatvam, New Delhi, Rs290­350 for a stem.

RAJKUMAR/MINT

Is pink the new black? Going by the number of places it is cropping up—building exteri­ ors, sofas, shoes and iPhones—we say aye

went so far as to show a full-length fur coat in the colour for fall. “I have to tell you,” says Colleen Sherin, Saks’ women’s fashion director, “our best sell-throughs are not coming from black. They’re coming from bold, vibrant colours and patterns.” For once, this demand is coming from the fashion elite in New York, the city that perfected headto-toe black. Store buyers in the southern US have been begging for more colour for years. “This is a somewhat unusual colour trend,” says Dean White, executive vice-president of merchandising at Paul Fredrick, where sales of hot pink ties have doubled to 6% of sales from 3% in the past year. “In the 1980s, sales in pink neckwear were very good, but that was in a more traditional shade of light pink.” The fuchsia phenomenon might not age well. Yet that’s precisely the point—fuchsia is so very here today because tomorrow is so scary to think about. The colour of hothouse flowers speaks to our bruised psyches. Brown is bleak. Fuchsia is anything but. Says Anamaria Wilson, fashion news and features director of Harper’s Bazaar magazine, which had a spread of fuchsia fashion on its pages in May, “I don’t mean to sound obvious, but there’s a whole optimism thing going on here.” When the financial crisis hit last fall, just as clothing designers were selling their fall ready-to-wear collections to stores, the runways were full of black, grey and brown, with swatches of blue. The style world’s creative types set to work to come up with a new style equation that would persuade consumers to whip out their credit cards. Six months later—wham! The colours—cartoonish hues that also include neon orange and yellow—are bold enough to induce an adrenalin rush.


STYLE L9

SATURDAY, JUNE 6, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

PROFILE

Costuming the First Lady MANDEL NGAN/AFP

Pieter Erasmus, the New Delhi­based jewel­ lery designer, has a new presidential fan

The seal: After Michelle Obama (left) paired this necklace from Erasmus’ Nizam line with a fuchsia Michael Kors dress, Vogue.com wrote that ‘statement necklaces’ were the season’s biggest jewellery trend.

B Y M ELISSA A . B ELL melissa.b@livemint.com

···························· t a London jewellery trade show last fall, a fast-rising star in the fashion industry purchased Pieter Erasmus’ spring line of intricately designed, crocheted and jewelled necklaces. The client, Ikram Goldman, a Chicago boutique owner, happens to have her own famous client: Michelle Obama. American newspapers credit Goldman as being Obama’s “closest fashion adviser”. After Goldman placed her order, Erasmus joked to his friends, “Imagine if Michelle ever bought something!” They all laughed, he recalls. But on 9 May, he got an email from a good friend, South African fashion journalist Emma Jordan. “You have to watch this!” she wrote, sending him a link to a YouTube video of the First Lady at the highly visible annual White House Correspondents Association Dinner. Obama smiled in a bright magenta Michael Kors dress paired with an elaborate bejewelled necklace: Erasmus’ own design. Erasmus, a

A

MADHU KAPPARATH/MINT

South African, had stumbled upon the fashion lodestone. Blogs immediately took notice. “I. Need. This. Piece. Now. It reminds me of something that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Daisy Buchanan would wear along with her flapper-inspired dresses. J’adore!” Fashion blogger Café Fashionista wrote on Cafefashionista.blogspot.com. “We were delighted—this is an understatement—to finally learn more about the stunning state-

ment necklace,” wrote Mrs T at Mrs-O.org, a blog dedicated solely to Obama’s fashion sense. Over cold coffee on a steamy Delhi day, Erasmus says that one week he had been doing much of nothing and the next week, emails were pouring in—media requests, potential clients asking for samples, current clients asking for previews of the upcoming line. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me,” he says. Of course, it has only been three years since the launch of his jewellery line, St Erasmus, though the 39-year-old has been designing since he was in school, doodling dress designs on the back of science books. After moving to London in 1995, he worked on projects for Givenchy, Matthew Williamson and Roberto Cavalli while at Erickson Beamon, and launched his own bag and sandal line in 2002. Five years ago, he moved to India parttime to manufacture the line. One day, bored at his friend’s New Delhi factory, he was sitting with a group of women practising crochet. Let’s throw some crystals in there and see what happens, he thought. St Erasmus was born out of boredom, he chuckles. His necklaces, bracelets and rings are sculptural designs, with semi-precious stones, freshwater pearls and Swarovski crystals interspersed with crocheted fabric. He says growing up in South Africa helped inspire his work. There, people take anything and make jewellery out of it. “You take straws, you take buttons, branches, flowers, glass bottles—always made with ‘found’ things,” he says. Erasmus says this gave him the ability to “take something out of context and make it beautiful”. To him, crochet is something his grandmother used to do. But he now sees himself creating something glamorous out of what were once just his grandmother’s doilies. Though he splits his time between London and Delhi, he wants to eventuWhat’s old is new: Erasmus says ally move to India fullhis designs take his ‘grandmother’s time. When he first came doilies’ and turn them into here, he fell in love with something glamorous. the overly ornate Indian designs. He sourced his

Jewel drop: Erasmus uses zari thread to offset his designs.

beads and ideas from Delhi’s Kinari Bazaar and Turkman Gate. But when he took his first jewellery collection back to London, it came off looking too much like “mommy’s stage costume”. He toned down the Indian influence—borrowing rather than imitating. For his latest line, inspired by the 18th century jewellery collection of the nizam’s court at Hyderabad, he did not spend time looking at the court jewellery. Instead, reading about it in William Dalrymple’s books, he felt inspired by “the feel of the harem, the opulence, the tremendous riches...the peacocks...the cardamom smells”. Even with a toned-down look, Erasmus is the first to admit his designs are over the top. He says that to wear his jewellery, people need to have a sense of fun. “You can’t take it too seriously. It is costume jewellery.” He says he loves to see his necklaces being worn with evening wear, as in Obama’s case, or just casually, to wildly dress up a white T-shirt and jeans. At the Delhi Fashion Week in March, designer Atsu Sekhose asked Erasmus to design pieces to accent his Fall/Winter line of luxury dresses. “The whole look was bang on with the clothes. It blended very well. I wanted to make a statement,” says Sekhose. And Erasmus’ matte black line was intricate yet modern. “It’s not comical or something very outlandish. I’m looking forward to doing something with him for Spring/Summer also.”

In March, Erasmus had a successful show at Calypso, a fashion boutique in Mumbai which has since closed. But the self-descr ibed co stum e jew el l er ymaker says Indian buyers are still not comfortable with costume jewellery. He finds good design far more intriguing than the high-price value of materials. But Indian buyers often opt for pieces that retain value over time. “At the end of the day, you can melt down your gold necklace and it’s still worth as much. What are you going to do with expensive costume jewellery?” He does want to move to using more semi-precious material and creating a small section of new lines that use real gold threads and pearls to appeal to his Indian clientele. But even with that concession, he’s still unsure about whether the country is ready to embrace costume jewellery quite yet. “This is not a criticism but the Indian middle class is still emerging. They want Yves St Laurent...not an un-known designer,” he says. Of course, with fans such as Michelle Obama, Erasmus likely won’t be unknown for very long. The price range for Erasmus’ pieces is £25-650 (around Rs2,000-50,000) and they can be purchased directly from his site, www.st-erasmus.org. www.livemint.com Melissa A Bell blogs at blogs.livemint.com/theexpatblog


INTERNET

THE

KOLKATA

CODERS

B Y R AJDEEP D ATTA R OY rajdeep.r@livemint.com

···························· he air conditioner struggles to keep out the sweltering Kolkata heat. In an office not far from the airport and behind a huge Haldiram’s outlet off VIP Road on the northern fringes of the city, Jayant Agarwalla, 23, sits barefoot, contentedly watching over his posse of software programmers hunched over computers. Their code will go into a clutch of online games, one of which—Scrabulous—has made Jayant, his brother Rajat, 28, and their company, RJ Softwares, Internet celebrities with hundreds of thousands of fans. The brothers launched Scrabulous, an online take-off on the popular word game Scrabble, in July 2006. It was an instant hit. Then, a year later, the brothers launched a Facebook application that let users of the social network play the game without leaving their Facebook pages. It was just the boost the game needed. Scrabulous became a Facebook staple. Thousands of players ran Scrabulous games all day long on their computers while studying or working. At its peak, around January 2008, Scrabulous had at least 500,000 players online and its ardent fans included Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. And then the brothers ran into trouble. Hasbro and Mattel, the original owners of the Scrabble copyright, took legal action against the Agarwallas. Both toy makers wanted them to take the game down. Thousands of fans rose up in online revolt to defend Scrabulous. It’s hard to believe that the global Scrabulous whirlwind was let loose from these two cavernous halls down a dark passage past a dhobi’s (washerman’s) shop. Even more remarkable is the fact that the Agarwalla brothers are both first-generation software entrepreneurs from Kolk-

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ata’s Marwari community—one known more for its talent for buying and selling than for developing user-friendly Internet applications. “The community is changing, with most of us having studied at missionary schools and exposed to the wider world,” says Jayant. Rajat set up the company in 2000, while still a student of commerce at St Xavier’s College, Kolkata. “I started out with 8-10 programmers in a room on the top floor of our house,” says Rajat, who would attend his commerce classes in the morning and then go for his BBA classes, which would end in the afternoon. This is standard practice for most students of St Xavier’s commerce department. Classes run from 6am for around three-and-a-half hours. Students then troop off to the offices of family businesses, chartered accountancy classes, or MBA entrance coaching. Rajat, who doesn’t have any formal training in software programming other than the computer classes run by St Xavier’s Collegiate School, would rush home to spend the rest of the day with his coders. Jayant, also a BCom graduate from St Xavier’s, joined his brother’s company after graduation. The nerdy atmosphere of the RJ Softwares office is a far cry from the blade and window grill businesses run by their father. “His company is called Rajat Industries (after the elder sibling) and manufactures Prabhat brand blades,” says Jayant, adding, “largely for the export market, you see”. Rajat and Jayant say they aren’t too interested in their father’s businesses. “We don’t understand blades and window grills and he doesn’t understand software or coding,” chuckles Rajat, who handles the technical side of the business. “I’m more into the design and development

of new games,” explains Jayant. Father and sons may run businesses as different as chalk and cheese, but there was no opposition from Agarwalla senior when the younger Agarwallas decided to chart their own course. “It wasn’t as if I suddenly turned up one day and asked for this huge bag of money to start a business,” says Rajat, who did a lot of the initial programming with a small team on his personal computer (PC) and a few assembled ones. “Moreover, our family has always encouraged us to strike out on our own,” says Jayant. To emphasize his point, he traces the roots of the Agarwalla clan to Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan and Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh and adds that the earlier generations had substantial interests in iron and steel. The brothers, Jayant in particular, have been fans of Scrabble from childhood and picked it up from uncles and cousins adept at the game. The idea of making their own version of online Scrabble—there have been other versions before and there still are a few unlicensed ones online —came when Jayant’s favourite Scrabble site, www.quadplex. com, decided to charge players for the service. On a whim, the brothers decided to set up their own online gaming site in August 2005. Till then, RJ Softwares (named after both brothers) had focused purely on mundane things such as developing websites and customized software solutions. “We

had no idea we were doing anything illegal when we launched our first Scrabble site Bingobinge.com,” insists Jayant. “In hindsight, if we had known that it would cause so many problems, we’d probably have done things differently,” he adds. According to Rajat, Bingobinge became so popular that the servers could not take the load and the site crashed frequently. Efforts were made to increase stability but “by then the damage had been done to the Bingobinge brand and we decided to go in for a complete overhaul. We also realized that there was tremendous user interest,” says Rajat. So, they went back to the drawing board and came up with Scrabulous. “Scrabulous was a variant of Scrabble, which we think is a fabulous game,” explains Jayant, an avid player of the game and a voracious, eclectic reader. Scrabble is a word game played by two-four players on a 15x15 grid of squares. The idea is to form a word with up to seven tiles in such a way as to maximize

How two city boys made millions of friends, resurrected an old­fashioned board game and then got taken to court scores using the network of scoring squares on the board. It is believed that Scrabble—meaning “to search frantically”—as we know it was the brainchild of James Brunot of Newtown, Connecticut, US. Today, Hasbro Inc. has the rights to it in North America and Mattel in the rest of the world. While Hasbro sued the Agarwalla brothers in a New York court in July 2008, Mattel later

initiated proceedings in the Delhi high court. Initially, Facebook was reluctant to take down an application which got so many users addicted to the social network. Eventually, it backed down and Scrabulous was blocked on Facebook, in North America on 29 July and all over the world around a month later. “We settled the matter with Hasbro in December but the dispute with Mattel is still sub-judice,” says Jayant. The settlement with Hasbro necessitated a complete revamp of Scrabulous. First to change was the name—the game was rechristened Lexulous. “The Delhi high court told us not to use the names Scrabble, Scrabulous or any other ‘deceptively similar’ term to describe our word game,” explains Rajat, adding, “We were also told not to use such words even in the metadata attached to the game, as it can be read by search engines. We complied.” The brothers highlight the court’s views on the game and the board design. “The judge said that Mattel could not claim copyright for the game as the idea behind it could not be copyrightprotected because a copyright does not protect ideas,” says Jayant, adding, “It also said the board could not be protected.” So, while Scrabulous, like Scrabble, allowed players to draw a maximum of seven tiles for each word and had similar scoring squares, after the settlement with Hasbro the game allows eight tiles for each word, the scoring squares have been rearranged and there are minor changes in the points allocated to various alphabets. “These are the obvious changes, but there are other terms to the settlement which we are unable to discuss,” says Rajat. While all this was going on,

the brothers launched another game, Wordscraper, in February 2007, after “user feedback”. This variant of Scrabble, which the brothers say has 500,000 registered users compared with Lexulous’ five million (including 3.8 million on Facebook and 1.5 million on the Lexulous site), lets the player arrange the board and the letters according to his level of proficiency. Unfettered by the ongoing legal battle with Mattel, the brothers are forging ahead with plans to follow up the success of Lexulous and Wordscraper with new online adaptations. “After chess, we are planning to make backgammon, poker and Othello or reversi available on Facebook,” says Jayant, “and we are also readying a paid version of Lexulous for mobiles and iPhones.” And while the business plan may seem like all fun and games, there is solid business rationale behind every move. Though fees aren’t charged from players for Lexulous, ad revenues have been handsome. Initially, they covered the cost of development and bandwidth; now revenues have grown to the extent that RJ Softwares has stopped developing websites and customized software solutions to focus on games. “I can’t tell you how much we make, but it’s comfortable and there’s also the fun element of developing games,” says Jayant, laughing off the Rs48 crore figure bandied about by many as the sum offered by multinational companies to buy out RJ Softwares. “It was merely a rumour started on a blog and we don’t even want to comment on

it,” he insists (online encyclopedia Wikipedia mentions, without attribution, that Lexulous makes upwards of a third of a million dollars annually). According to Vishal Gondal, CEO, Indiagames, it is advisable to either license or think of something completely original. “We licensed Spiderman from Marvel and Jurassic Park from Universal,” said Gondal over the phone from New Zealand. In 2006, his company sued mobile gaming company Mauj for allegedly copying Indiagames’ cricket game, but had to settle out of court when the case dragged on. “They took our source code but the courts couldn’t even understand it,” says Gondal, insisting that the Scrabble case has got the kind of publicity it has because a foreign giant such as Mattel is involved. However, Gondal says the brothers would have done better to get into a licensing arrangement instead of choosing to slug it out with Mattel. “You can’t get away by using ideas that are highly inspired by others,” he says, adding, “This would only reinforce the notion among Western clients that Indians are great rip-off artists and (they) would be careful in handing out projects to us.”

That is not a view shared by K. Rajesh Rao, CEO of Dhruv Infotech, which developed the first PC game in India in 1999 when it made the PC version of the movie-based game Mission: Impossible for publisher Infogrames (now Atari). “Indian gaming companies have been doing business with Western counterparts for over 10 years before this episode, and more importantly, continue to do so after. Many of us have an impeccable reputation and track record. Some of us are working on secret projects of big Western publishers for up to two years before the release of the game—so obviously they are trusting us with their IP (intellectual property),” said Rao in an email interview. But Rao agrees with Gondal on the way forward—make great games and use popular IP to attract the mass market audience. “But make sure you have all IP aspects fully secured in the right way before you release your game, and you will be just fine,” adds Rao. He cites the 2008 National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) report on the Indian animation and gaming industry to point out that the industry is expected to reach $1,060 million (around Rs5,300 trillion) in reve-

nue by 2012 . Rajat counters the “not-original” charges, saying that most IT companies operating out of Kolkata don’t do original work. “They are content with outsourcing jobs as they are risk averse and don’t want to lose a steady source of revenue,” he says. The two Xaverians say the litigation has turned the spotlight on some larger issues, such as player rights and the future of traditional games of the kind they have been adapting for playing online. “What about the millions of players who suffered everytime Facebook had to block Scrabulous or Scrabulous had to be taken off and tweaked and brought back as Lexulous?” asks Jayant. “Moreover, I think we are giving these games a new lease of life at a time when players may be separated by geography and may not have the time to sit down to a game of Scrabble or chess or backgammon,” he adds. “The email versions allow people to play the game at their own pace and the mobile and iPhone versions enable them to play on the move, and I think this is the way ahead.” But the brothers have a more pressing task on hand, one no less a challenge than fighting off litigation by multinational companies—finding talented, employable programmers in Kolkata. “Not only should they be on top of their language, they have to have an aptitude for gaming, and yes, we have to work harder here to find such people than we would have, had we been in, say, Bangalore,” says Rajat. “But that doesn’t mean we are looking to move out, we love this city too much.”

Above board: Jayant (left) and Rajat Agar­ walla insist they had no ulterior motive in adapting Scrabble to Scrabulous.


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SATURDAY, JUNE 6, 2009

Travel TALLINN

Reaching for the Skype PHOTOGRAPHS

BY

RISHAD SAAM MEHTA

The oldest capital in northern Europe has a new vibe. The party’s on

B Y R ISHAD S AAM M EHTA ···························· olly Malone may be quite a distance away from the roots of her name, but she attracts a jolly crowd nonetheless. This Irish pub opposite the town hall in Tallinn’s old town square draws tourists and locals alike to its outdoor seating, especially on a sunny day. Tables are packed closely together and buxom waitresses bustle about cheerfully, slamming down a tankard here or clearing a table there. I was sitting at a table that was shared by two others—a student from Moscow and a tourist from Rostock, Germany. The former was chewing on life and chunks of marzipan while waiting for his beer. The latter had her laptop out and was taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi floating about by having an animated conversation via Skype. Sitting between the two, I was caught in a classic moment: Both were enjoying Estonian inventions in the heart of its capital. Estonia gave the world Skype, the revolutionary peer-to-peer software that has redefined Internet telephony. In the medieval town setting that wouldn’t be out of place in a Brothers Grimm work, pioneering software and Wi-Fi networks could seem like faces of a very distant future. But its cobbled streets and medieval skyline notwithstanding, Estonia has firmly set its sights West. Ever since it woke to a capitalist dawn in 1991 after decades behind the Iron Curtain, Estonia—a tiny country in the Baltic region—has been in a hurry to catch up with the rest of the world. Which is why Estonians were the first citizens anywhere to use the Internet to cast their vote in the legislative elections in February 2007 and why they routinely pay their parking fees from their mobile phones. Marzipan, on the other hand, was born out of a master’s terrible

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cold and an apprentice’s fussiness back in the Middle Ages. Legend has it that an apothecary at the Town Hall Pharmacy once prepared an elaborate medicine to cure a town alderman. But since a nasty cold had affected his taste buds, it fell on his lackey Mart to taste the medicine. This being the time when medicines weren’t considered effective unless they tasted supremely ghastly, and Mart being something of a sweet-snob, he apparently replaced all the bitter ingredients in the concoction with more palatable ones. The new medicine was delivered to the alderman, who not only made a full recovery but also loved the sweet pill so much that he ordered vast quantities of it, never mind that he was fit as a fiddle. The fame of this preparation grew around Tallinn and beyond, and the sweet bread-like confection came to be known as Mardileib or Mart’s Bread or Marzi-

AHMED RAZA KHAN/MINT

pan. Today marzipan shops in Tallinn do brisk business because making colourful marzipan in all kinds of shapes has become a finely honed art. From my vantage point, I could see the Town Hall Pharmacy, the very same building where marzipan had had its momentous birth. Functional as a pharmacy since 1422, it has not always doled out such pleasant medicine. Among its stomach-churning remedies were burnt bees and powdered unicorn horn. Today it sells modern medicine but a room at the back displays a collection of medicinal bric-a-brac from the days gone by. My coffee downed, I set off for a walk around this predominantly pedestrian area. With no fixed agenda, I strayed into St Catherine’s Passage, easily one of the most photogenic lanes in the old town. The street is home to craft and flower shops and also a medieval glass-blowing outfit.

Throwback: An almond vendor dressed in Middle Ages garb.

Russian influence: The old town square (above) and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral take their architectural inspiration from the East.

Amid the very medieval architecture—complete with walls serrated to facilitate archers—of the old town, one monument stands out. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, with its colourful onion-shaped domes, is very Russian-looking and quickly became hated as a symbol of czarist power when it was completed in 1900. But post-1991,

when Estonia broke away from the Soviet Union, the church was carefully restored in the original style and today serves as the main place of worship for the Russian Orthodox faithful—besides, of course, filling in as an excellent backdrop for photographers. The previous evening, I’d been at Kadriorg, a neighbourhood east of the old town, developed by another, better-loved Russian, Peter the Great, in the 1700s. The elaborate baroque palace he built for his wife Catherine is an art museum today and the estate around it stands amid a lovely area with upscale residential mansions and parks with trees in full flower. The economy of Estonia, too, is beginning to bloom. Even though they still aren’t rich enough to warrant the currency changeover to Euro (though it’s accepted readily enough), Estonians certainly don’t have a Second World look about them. Their manner is self-assured, some of them drive flashy cars and most of them dress sharp, the cobblestone streets an unfriendly but not incongruous backdrop for their designer heels. Standing outside the Rotermanni Keskus, a flashy shopping centre just outside the old town, it’s hard to believe that less than two decades ago, running hot water was scarce and sporting

Western apparel could have seen you hauled up for questioning by the KGB. Locals still joke about a Soviet-era hotel called the Viru: It was the only hotel allowed to accommodate foreigners, and the KGB allegedly embedded microphones in all the walls and ceilings—so much so, locals say, it could be built of “micro-concrete”. The hotel has been taken over by Finnish group Sokos Hotels and is now a flashy place to stay, but the Estonians have long memories—reinforced by the discovery of a KGB listening room by engineers from the new company. While studying floor plans, they are said to have come across a mysterious unmarked door. On tracking it down, they found the room as it was when the Soviets left hurriedly in 1989. Stepping into it takes one, well, back to the USSR. During Soviet times, Estonians weren’t even allowed inside the hotel or the restaurant unless they bribed the doorman with a few roubles. Today, in Tallinn, you are spoilt for choice for restaurants, as also entertainment, with clubs, wine bars, pubs and lounges jostling for space with “gentlemen’s clubs”, easily identified by the silhouette of a woman dancing behind a curtained window. Estonia is still discovering capitalism and in Tallinn it shows in its exuberance and inclusiveness. The country is old but the mood is new—an infectious combination. In Tallinn, the party’s just begun. CHILD­FRIENDLY RATING

Unlike most Western European capitals, there isn’t much for kids here. Young couples with kids in tow may miss out, in fact, on a lot of the nightlife buzz.


TRAVEL L13

SATURDAY, JUNE 6, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

FOOD TRAIL

Even better than the real thing? After a solo 15­day trip across Italy, this chef discovered why the best Italian restaurant meals may be available in India B Y M ANU C HANDRA ···························· n fair Verona, home to the Vinitaly fair, a celebration of all things wine and all wines Italian, began my voyage. Four days and several hundred glasses of bold Tuscans, mighty Barolos, seductive Sicilians and innumerable other varietals later, I was ready for a solo culinary pilgrimage that would begin in Juliet’s hometown and snake south through some of the most scenic Italian towns before ending in Rome. The countryside seemed to be in sync with me. It was spring, and nature was showing off in the way only nature can. The vineyard tours I had undertaken as part of Vinitaly and the train journey from Venice to Verona encapsulated why everyone falls in love with Italy. Almost every patch of land seemed to have a purpose, whether it was the mushrooms that grew wild in it, or the wild boar that foraged on it. Peach trees blossomed on the wayside; rolling hills, laden with every kind of fruit and vine, stretched into the distance. To fulfil my desire to try everything, I dined at roadside kiosks away from the tourist centres, ordered takeaways, ate where the taxi drivers congregate, at a vineyard helper’s home and in Michelin-starred restaurants. I also dined at tourist spots, celebrity chef restaurants, seafood speciality restaurants, in the best steak houses and at bakeries that have existed for centuries. As the fortnight went by, one conclusion seemed inescapable. Something was amiss. A memory came back—of a meal I’d had at chef Mario Batali’s restaurant in Manhattan eight

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GET SET, GO u Looking for the best restaurant to eat at in Italy? Your best bet is to tap someone who knows their food. In a strange city, approach a butcher or a big grocer. They will give you fairly accurate directions to places where their products are treated well. u Avoid frequenting a place where your taxi driver says he likes to eat; there’s almost always a percentage involved. u So far as ‘Lonely Planet’ and other guidebooks are concerned, they are best used for maps and museums, not to find the way to a sublime food fix.

years ago. Batali is a true champion of Italian cuisine and, as I ate my way through excellent pig’s jowl, liver paté, artisanal bread, trotters, tripe, calf liver and kidney, I remember thinking that if the New York restaurant offered just a glimpse of Italy, then the real deal must be panoramic. But, but, but... The branzino, a sea bass, at a mid-range restaurant in Verona must have been amazing before its prized skin was charred beyond recognition. The crumbed lamb chops at a high-end restaurant in Rome were devoid of any seasoning or accompaniments, as was the Bistecca alla Fiorentina (the toast of Italian fresh meats) at a much celebrated trattoria in Siena. At one dinner in Milan, the Osso Bucco Milanese was so chewy that the city should have disowned it. At an extravagant black-tie dinner I attended in Verona, the entire group of tuxedo-clad millionaires and their stunning dinner dates had praise only for the pudding, a crème brûlée. My platinum card was getting strained, and so was I. On the other hand, the four good meals I had over a course of 15 days were awe-inspiring: wild boar done five ways at a twoMichelin star restaurant, fried bread with sea salt at another starred restaurant, picci (thick spaghetti) in duck sauce at a small artists café in Rome, and a risotto with Amarone and a side of perfectly cooked horsemeat (an extremely challenging meat to cook). On the whole, however, the cooking at many of the restaurants lacked passion and attention to detail. Wondering whether we Indians just demand and expect more for what we pay (the Euro showed no impact of the recession, in my experience), I began walking the length and breadth of cities, sneaking into unassuming restaurants in the less glamorous, Italians-only parts of town—and came out emptyhanded. I tried the same in vil-

Pasta point: Indians experiment more than Italians with this staple. lages away from urban centres—no surprises there either. In other words, I found myself doing precisely what I would in India: combing through many layers of mediocrity to find a gem. Finally, downing another excellent cup of espresso at a café—the coffee, gelato and olive oils were universally faultless—it dawned on me that the real champions of Italian gustatory brilliance, and its consequent rise in popularity the world over, were the cheesemakers, the olive oil companies, the butchers, the bakers, the winemakers, the farmers, the hammakers and pasta factories. A majority of the restaurants were simply riding on their successes, aided by fabulous settings. At my final dinner in Rome, where lamb chops were my main course, I addressed my dilemma to my host, the president of a large trade consortium of Italian agricultural producers and winemakers. He seemed unsurprised. “When I was growing up, Italy was a largely agrarian community that believed in sustenance over finesse. Most wines came only in jugs,” he said. “The drive for superior quality, movements such as Slow Food are recent phenomena.” Like in India, where deeprooted culinary cultures are under threat, Italy, too, has witnessed rampant erosion of all things traditional. While

industry leaders like my friend are promoting the cause of the producers, local restaurants have so far failed to capitalize on the superior produce in any meaningful way. This explained why Peck, a celebrated gourmet store in Milan, has more excitement in its window than any single menu I saw—and also why Ritu Dalmia of Diva, New Delhi, does a better job with all things Italian than a majority of restaurants in Italy. In India, we are fortunate enough to have a great deal of depth and variety in ingredients and products. When we can’t grow something, we import it. Increasingly, I find restaurants, and they could be Italian-run, striving to get better or more authentic, with flavours and presentation riding high on their agenda. And service gets better each day, because we are more demanding. What I had been seeking in Italy was inspired cooking; what I returned with was a taste of unparalleled products. Even the artichokes everywhere came from jars. I couldn’t fault the meals I had at some homes—as I seldom can in India—but then, home cooks aren’t cooking in the restaurants. Manu Chandra is the chef de cuisine, Olive Beach, Bangalore. Write to lounge@livemint.com

HOLIDAY POSTMORTEM | ASHISH GUPTA ASHISH GUPTA

Freebies and new friends Software professional Ashish Gupta, 30, and his wife Priyanka went CouchSurfing through the Aegean in September. They found out­of­the­way experiences and insight into a universal culture. Edited excerpts: For those who came in late, what’s CouchSurfing? Superficially, CouchSurfing seems like any other community website, such as Orkut or Facebook. The basic idea, though, is to open up people’s homes and hearts by using travel to enable cultural and ideological exchanges. For some people, it is also a simple means of getting a place to stay and shower for free. I came across the idea a while ago, but I initially dismissed it as yet another community website. Then, around the time my wife and I were planning this trip, I decided to test the idea for what it was worth and enrolled (www.couchsurfing.com). Though we did have doubts:

What if we got thrown out of someone’s home? Or if we landed up with a psycho? How did you plan your itinerary? I’ve been fascinated with our culture and history since I was a kid. I wanted to trace back India’s Mughal/Turkish roots and see for myself how close we were in today’s context. And Greece interested me as the source of some of the most powerful mythology in the world. The CouchSurfers community was extremely helpful with its tips about getting around and about each location, e.g. taking ferries between the various Greek islands or travelling between Turkey and Greece. How did the community

On the road: Gupta and wife on a quadruped in a village in Greece. enhance the experience? In Istanbul, we started by visiting the regular touristy places in Sultanahmet, such as Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia, Galata Tower, etc. But once we met the CouchSurfers, they helped open up a completely different world to us. They suggested we go to an authentic hamam (we went to Cemberlitas) and experience

the way the Ottomans bathed, and told us where to buy the best Turkish Delights (Koska) and baklava (Güllüoglu) in town. Among other memorable experiences was watching dervishes in an old room with stained glass and simple seating. But the CouchSurfers were the most interesting lot of all. We learnt Turkish words that

are surprisingly quite close to Hindi, for example, badem (almonds), duvar (wall) and sabun (soap). Coconut is Hindistan chivezi, translating into Indian walnut! There are many similarities between our cultures, possibly because of the Persian or Arabic influences on both. I even managed to find serious (or maybe not!) Mithun Chakraborty and Awara Hoon fans in Turkey—and they recommended some Darbuka players whose music we picked up. We met a German fellow who had fallen in love with the Turkish language through rock/pop Turkish songs and spent a year learning the language. He was in Istanbul to test his language skills and had even dyed his blond hair black to pass off as a local. From Istanbul, we went on to Kusadashi, a port city we used as a base for our day trips to Ephesus (one of the best-preserved ancient cities in the eastern Mediterranean) and Pamukkale (literally, cotton

castle). We travelled by bus from Kusadashi to Bodrum, from where we took a ferry to Kos, in Greece. How was Greece? Each of the Greek islands has a lot to offer. For instance, Kos is a great favourite with package tourists, but it’s also the home of Hippocrates. Kos is a bicycling island and we made the most of the opportunity. We hired bikes and rode along the harbour and coast, which stretches for miles altogether. We also visited Asklepion, which was essentially Hippocrates’ hospital. The highlight of the trip was the quadruped we rented to get to remote old villages such as Pily and the mountain top of Zia, and the ruins of the Castle of Antimaxia. Athens is a conventional capital city, where we stayed for two days at the home of Greek CouchSurfer Lena Bampasaki, who lives with her son and a naughty Siamese cat called Zoe. She introduced us to Greek music, specifically Manos Hadjidakis and Melina Mercouri, and also local desserts, and Priyanka visited the Thursday weekly market to get a feel of Greek family life, local customs and fashions. As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at lounge@livemint.com


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SATURDAY, JUNE 6, 2009

Books FICTION

The art of living dangerously AFP

A slice of Indonesian history where the characters are metaphors for the torn nation B Y S ALIL T RIPATHI ···························· t one level, Tash Aw’s new novel, Map of the Invisible World, is about two orphans, separated after birth, going their different ways. A wealthy family chooses the older brother, taking him far away; an elderly painter adopts the younger one. The painter, who is not from these parts, gets arrested duri ng t ro u ble d t im es . Th e younger brother tries to retrieve his past—the missing elder brother, wracked by guilt, the foster-father about whom little is known—and goes to a woman the foster-father had once loved. That human saga is rich enough as a story, even if shorn of specifics. Add songs and dance, and it becomes a Bollywood tale. Toss in political intrigue, and it is an airport thriller. Focus on details and the intricacies of the time, and you get a history lesson. Sprinkle social commentary, and it is a Leftist critique of right-wing governments. Or, etch each character with the specifics of a particular circumstance and dig deeper into the psyche of the protagonists, and you get literature. Aw is a literary novelist. His view is nuanced; his characters personify complex emotions that

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Map of the Invisible World: HarperCollins India, 342 pages, Rs450.

are not easy to stereotype culturally; and while they offer sweeping judgements of the world around them—in particular, Karl, the painter, who adopts Adam, the younger sibling, and Karl’s former love, the sociologist Margaret Bates—they stand at an angle; they are not cardboard caricature representations of the two nationalities: Dutch, in the case of Karl, and American, in the case of Margaret. Taiwan-born Aw grew up in Malaysia, and now makes Britain his home. His earlier novel, The Harmony Silk Factory, which won the Commonwealth and Whitebread prizes for the first novel in 2005 and was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, was about Malaysia during World War II. Here, Aw brings the history 20 years forward. The easiest metaphor writers use to describe Indonesia is wayang kulit, or shadow puppetry, which offers viewers an outline of the drama, seen beyond a screen, with light exaggerating the size and movements of characters. The audience never gets access to the layers of meaning that the faces conceal, because there are no faces to be seen. Margaret, an expert in non-verbal communication, thinks she gets it, but not always; Adam, too, believes he knows how the world whirls around him, but only just. Karl’s self-loathing—he bans the use of Dutch in his house, preferring to speak in Bahasa—is unable to prevent his arrest when soldiers finally catch up with him on a remote island. He has done nothing wrong; he is taken away because of the colour of his skin, and the past—Dutch colonialism—he represents, even if he wants to discard his skin. All this happens during the period described as the year of living dangerously. This was the time when Sukarno, then Indonesia’s president, decided to break ties with most major powers, and embarked on a sad little war with Malaysia, calling that

Iron fist: A file picture of Sukarno addressing a rally in Macassar, Indonesia, demanding independence from the Netherlands. period Konfrontasi, or confrontation. If China’s Great Leap Forward remains an unparalleled human tragedy, Sukarno’s later years, when he revelled in his megalomania and pointlessly wasted many lives, was no less chaotic. Sukarno’s eventual departure took longer—nearly a year —when after an elaborate ritual, he is supposed to have bequeathed his office to Suharto under a decree known as Surat Perintah Sebelas Maret, or Supersemar. In the period in between, Indonesia experienced a brutal pogrom, in which hundreds of thousands of suspected Communists were killed. Suharto dealt with Sukarno’s legacy delicately; the rhetoric and form remained, the substance changed. Indonesia became a firm Western ally in South-East Asia, open to foreign investment

DEAREST FATHER | FRANZ KAFKA

at the time of the Vietnam conflict. Suharto’s 32-year-reign made it difficult to understand or analyse what happened. Writing was not an easy profession. Pramoedya Ananta Toer was jailed in the Indonesian gulag, Buru, from where he wrote four majestic novels (the Buru Quartet) that were banned in the Suharto era. Toer’s fiction is a primer for Indonesia, in that he took the story from the turn of the last century up to Indonesian independence, charting the story of Minke, a Javanese royal. But it ended there. Christopher Koch, an Australian journalist, cast aside the flimsy curtain between the audience and the puppeteers, revealing the fragility of the characters playing dangerous games in his novel, The Year of Living Dangerously, later to become a famous film starring Mel Gibson and Sigourney

Weaver. But Indonesia’s saga has remained clouded for too long. Aw does not pretend to write the definitive history of Indonesia. He takes a slice of history and places at its centre individuals who personify traits that can help explain larger forces. Johan, the older brother adopted by wealthy Malaysian parents, can be a proxy for Malaysia itself; Adam, with his expressionless face and angst, is the Indonesian difficult to place in any of the thousands of islands that make up the country. He represents what Indonesia sought to become, an individualized representation of the collection of different cultures and traditions. Margaret is the good American abroad—not one like Alden Pyle in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, who is out there to spread democracy—but one who wants to understand a culture different from her own, even when

B Y C HANDRAHAS C HOUDHURY ···························· he correspondence of writers and artists is often a neglected part of their oeuvre, thought to be of interest only to scholars and specialists. But in truth the letters of a writer or thinker can often supply a more lucid illustration of his or her life and work, and the relationship between the two, than most biographies can. Sometimes the letters themselves can approach the depth, complexity and tension of great art. Dearest Father—the text of a letter written by Franz Kafka to his father Hermann in 1919, a few years before Franz’s death—is one such work. It is already known that Kafka is

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one of the most complicated, tortured and inscrutable spirits of world literature. In Dearest Father, we find the man himself attempting to provide a full account— almost a self-defence—of how he came to be so. In Kafka’s view, from the early days of his childhood, it was his father’s arrogance, abrasiveness and contempt that stymied his progress at every turn. His long letter might be imagined as a set of concentric circles, evoking the particularities of his relationship with his father, then the general nature of childhood and parenthood, and finally human nature itself. One of the letter’s attractions is the way in which the son’s sufferings are not only described in great detail, but actually manifest through the very style of Kafka’s prose, through the contortions of his sentences. “Dearest Father,” the letter begins, “You asked me recently why I claim to be afraid of you. I did not know, as usual, how to answer, partly for the very rea-

Salil Tripathi writes the fortnightly column Here, There, Everywhere for Mint. Write to lounge@livemint.com IN SIX WORDS Life on the margins in Indonesia

AFP

Kafka against Kafka The great author’s letter of lament and accusation to his father

she admits she finds it hard to understand her own parents. Historical fiction becomes more interesting when the writer creates the character at the bottom of the mountain, looking at the top—whose life is affected by forces he can neither control, nor fathom. This does not have to be the subaltern view; views from the margin are as interesting, as they show us the world as seen by those upon whom history thrusts opportunities. They can succumb or triumph. All triumphs are not startling: Sometimes, surviving is a challenge in itself. Aw shows us how.

son that I am afraid of you...” We learn that Kafka always stuttered and fumbled when trying to hold his own against his father, which is why he chose to express his thoughts in writing. Moving from one incident to another, one feeling to another, the 36-year-old son—sickly, self-conscious, indecisive, in stark contrast to his vigorous, self-assured and authoritarian father— explains how the older man’s behaviour “damaged me on the inside.” Although Hermann rarely beat his c h i l d r e n , h i s c o n s t a n t Wrecked: Kafka as a young man. threats of corporal punishment reduced Kafka to a state of Most disastrously, when the son submission and abjectness. Later, sought his independence by Hermann sought to fashion his deciding to marry, Hermann son after his own image by force, reduced him to a wreck by implynot realizing that he was cut from ing that he had foolishly suca totally different cloth. Whenever cumbed to the wiles of a low Franz took some initiative, his woman. “I was no real match for father’s contempt was absolute. you, you soon disposed of me; all

Dearest Father: Oneworld Classics, 114 pages, £7.99 (around Rs600). that then remained was escape, bitterness, grief, inner struggle,” writes Kafka. The general tone of Dearest Father is one of helpless flailing in the face of an unshakeable power that is the exact existential condition of the protagonists of Kafka’s novels, such as Josef K. in The Trial. Indeed, at one point Kafka confesses: “My writing was about you, all I did there was to lament what I could not lament on your shoulder.” But if we are left con-

vinced about the atrocities halfconsciously perpetrated by Hermann, we see no less clearly the extreme fragility and anxiety of Kafka, a condition that turns all the colours of the world into grey. In closing, Kafka suggested to his father that although the problems between them were too basic to be eradicated, his attempt to make a pattern of meaning out of them “might comfort us both a little and make it easier for us to live and to die.” So we naturally want to know how the letter was received by Hermann. But the most striking fact about the letter is that it was never sent. Perhaps the same fear and guilt exhibited by Kafka in the letter prevented him from sending it. He left the typewritten letter behind in a bundle of manuscripts at the time of his death, asking his friend Max Brod to burn them all. So it is the reader today who has become the letter’s real recipient, and it is up to us to bring about, in our imaginations, a belated rapprochement between father and son. Write to lounge@livemint.com


BOOKS L15

SATURDAY, JUNE 6, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

CRIMINAL MIND

POSTSCRIPT

ZAC O’YEAH

LAKSHMI CHAUDHRY

Delhi’s daredevil spy

WHY IS RUSHDIE SO IMPORTANT?

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HARIKRISHNA KATRAGADDA/MINT

Crime file: Vish Puri solves mysteries in the concrete jungle of Gurgaon.

A novel like British drawing­room thrillers, but infused with too much ‘India’

The Case of the Missing Servant: Hutchinson, 312 pages, Rs495.

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once shared a breakfast table with Val McDermid, who turned out to be a somewhat brutal-looking lady with tiny revolvers dangling from her earlobes. She looked like she could perpetrate all the crimes in her novels with one hand, while mopping up her breakfast with the other. During that brief guru-shishya (teacherstudent) session I learnt—while being hypnotized by those revolvers—how a career as a small-town hack had fed into her writing. No other genre of fiction, she said, lets the writer peek into so many different kinds of social strata. Of course, not all journalists can make the transition and become fantastic crime writers, but it was with great curiosity that I started reading Tarquin Hall’s debut detective novel The Case of the Missing Servant, given that he’s another British journalist turning to crime. Among Hall’s earlier non-fiction books, Salaam Brick Lane, about a year in London’s IndoBangladeshi ghetto, is something of a landmark in the landscape of funny and unusual memoirs. These days Hall lives

in New Delhi off and on, a city whose everyday life, habits, food and speech patterns he has ladled into the masala of his novel in generous doses. Vish Puri, the master detective, is, of course, a caricature and might not have been entirely out of place in an R.K. Narayan novel—that is, if Malgudi had ever needed a private eye. Like most of us in India, he’s got BP and is told by his doctor to avoid salt, chillies and greasy junk, but is chomping away on chilli pakoras on the very first page as he stakes out the “Defcol” (Defence Colony) residence of a suspect. Puri is a serious “capsicum junkie” and every morning he lovingly bathes the leaves of his Assamese chilli plants with a spray gun. He dresses in orthopaedic squeaky shoes, a safari suit and any one of his 14 trademark tweed caps imported from Bates Gentlemen’s Hatter in Piccadilly. Despite his Londonstani hat, Puri hates it when people compare him to Sherlock Holmes, who had merely “borrowed the techniques of deduction established by Chanakya in 300 BC”.

B Y V IJAY N AIR ···························· knew Kamala Das much before I knew poetry. My father brought her home one day, packed in the tabloid Blitz. We lived in Jamshedpur, and Das and her antics were driving immigrants from what my parents referred to as “native place”, sick with worry. She was casting a slur on the entire Malayali clan spread all over the world. At that time, Das thought she was going to die and decided to pen her swansong in the form of a lurid personal account incriminating not just herself, but also her family. Blitz called it “the most honest autobiography after Mahatma Gandhi’s My Experiments with Truth”. My mother

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was livid at the comparison. Das pontificated in Looking Glass: “Getting a man to love you is easy/Only be honest about your wants as/Woman. Stand nude before the glass with him/So that he sees himself the stronger one And believes it so, and you so much more/Softer, younger, lovelier.../All the fond details that make/Him male and your only man. Gift him all,/Gift him what makes you woman, the scent of/ Long hair, the musk of sweat between the breasts,/The warm shock of menstrual blood, and all your/Endless female hungers…” The poet, who died on 31 May in Pune after a prolonged illness at the age of 75, was larger than her writing, which is often not such a good thing. But in her case, it also meant breaking many barriers as an Indian woman. She was one of the first Indian writers to explore sexuality in her work, and her 1976 autobiography, My Story, was a candid recol-

Zac O’Yeah is a Bangalore-based Swedish writer of crime fiction. Write to Zac at criminalmind@livemint.com IN SIX WORDS An Indian homage to British detectives

Write to Lakshmi at postscript@livemint.com

MAHESH HARILAL/THE HINDU

A life in verse We will remember Kamala Das for the way she lived and the way she wrote

If there’s ever a film made on him, Puri already knows that the hero will be played by Anupam Kher (and his wife should be upgraded to Rekha). Despite such Bollywoodish credentials, a novel like this walks firmly in the footsteps of British drawing-room detectives, and there is enough obvious homage, such as when Puri casually asks his new client whether he’s a lawyer residing in Jaipur. The man is taken aback. Puri explains: “From your Law Society of India monogrammed tie and type of briefcase, I deducted you are a man of the Bar. As to your home town, traces of red Rajasthani sand are on your shoes. Also, you mentioned air-dashing to Delhi. You arrived here thirty minutes back. So should be you came by the five o’clock flight from Jaipur.” Hall’s India is an ulta-pulta (topsy-turvy) Malgudi gone to seed: People aren’t nice to each other, policemen are likely to be crooks, Puri’s own childhood friend is a mega-corrupt tycoon (and yet remains a best friend), urbanization is chaotic and NCR stands for National Crime Region. Investigations take Puri to sad servant hovels as well as the homes of the newly rich, whose talking automatic toilets sluice and blow-dry the user while telling their bottoms to “have a nice day”. If there’s a problem with the novel, it is perhaps that Hall tries to put a little too much “India” into it, which hampers the narrative progress. The Case of the Missing Servant is essentially written for a Western readership, which needs a lot more explanation to make sense of what’s going on. On the other hand, Hall writes with heart, and he is witty, clever and inventive, which makes this a refreshing addition to the detective genre.

ust what we need in the dog days of summer: yet another book on Salman Rushdie. Much ink has been spilt on the great panjandrum of Indian literature, much of it academic. In the wake of the now infamous fatwa, Rushdie became a cause célèbre in the media and, less visibly, welcome grist to the scholarly mill. So great was his popularity among post-colonialists and English-lit wonks that by 2003, professors were firmly discouraging their students from penning yet another dissertation on his over-analysed oeuvre. How odd then that Penguin India has decided to treat us to yet another instalment of “Rushdie for geeks”. This one is titled Midnight’s Diaspora: Encounters with Salman Rushdie, an anthology with contributions from the who’s who of the South Asian intelli-rati: Gauri Vishwanathan, Akeel Bilgrami, Husain Haqqani, Sara Suleri Goodyear and Shashi Tharoor. ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG Rushdie’s books are undoubtedly an academic’s delight. Be they brilliant (Shame) or just plain bad (Ground Beneath her Feet), his novels offer multilayered, densely interwoven material, over-stuffed with tropes, symbols and a dizzying array of political and cultural references. What these novels say, however, about his favourite themes—identity, nation, exile, sexuality, and let’s not forget religion—is both debatable, and, more Cause célèbre: He’s never obsolete. importantly, richly deserving of an open, vigorous debate. What Midnight’s Diaspora offers instead is the scholarly equivalent of a Rushdie fan club newsletter, albeit a very erudite one. Ashutosh Varshney, a well-respected political scientist who has co-edited the book, does little to serve his cause in his promotional interviews, where he sounds alarmingly fawning and disingenuous. “To me, the most interesting thing is that Rushdie is not simply a storyteller but a highly sophisticated intellectual, who can take remarkably insightful positions on politics and history,” he declares in one such outing. Yet it’s Rushdie’s role as a public intellectual—less so, his talent as a novelist—that has been the most controversial. His writings in the immediate aftermath of 9/11—which included a 1 November New York Times op-ed titled, no less, Yes, This is About Islam—were at best unhelpful, or worse, irresponsible, given the anti-Muslim hysteria taking root at the time in the US. And in November 2002, in a Washington Post editorial, he supported the invasion of Iraq, just not for the reasons offered by the George Bush administration. Rushdie is a nominal Muslim and an avowed atheist with little expert knowledge of either international politics, history or Islam. He also has a very specific world view based on his personal background—an upper-class Indian/Pakistani who has spent much of his life in the West—and history, which includes being terrorized by Islamic extremists. Others with greater expertise may respect or even endorse his opinions, but an entire anthology that doesn’t amount to much more than a “quality defence” of the same isn’t particularly insightful or useful. In her book, The Scandal of Pleasure, Wendy Steiner reminds us: “Art’s power comes from its contradictoriness. It both is and is not a part of reality; it both is and is not a representation of reality; it both acts on and is irrelevant to politics and history.” But when artists become enamoured with their own politics, we should be able to rely on our scholars to take them to task.

Breaking barriers: Das converted to Islam in 1999 and changed her surname. lection of her own sexual coming of age that was translated into 15 languages. She represented the voice of oppressed women all over the country. She converted to Islam in 1999, later appeared to regret it, and said: “God has no connection with any religion. There is no respect for women anywhere.” She dabbled in politics, launching the Lok Seva Party, but failed to win

a seat in Parliament. Her death took me back to the days when, as a child, I wasn’t allowed to read her poetry. “Kamala Das is wonderful,” said an aunt visiting from Chennai. As the youngest of my mother’s siblings, she had been allowed liberties the older ones could never dream of. She worked at a publishing house that brought out a collection by Das called The Old

Playhouse and Other Poems, and she got an autographed copy as a gift for my mother. It became the only poetry collection we were not allowed to touch on the bookshelf, along with the purple prose of Harold Robbins. I finally managed to read the poems when I was in class IX, and Das has stayed with me ever since. At that time she sounded like the aunts and cousins I met during summer vacations in Kerala. I imagined her sitting with her maids in the afternoon, oiling her hair with coconut oil warmed over an oven of burning wood and husk. I met her only once. It was around the time that Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. My wife was on an assignment in Kerala, and we halted for the night in Kochi to interview Das. She invited us home and put up a performance worthy of her reputation. She condemned meat eaters: “When you pass the butcher’s shop, don’t you see your own insides hanging there?”; and was a tad dismissive when I praised Roy’s book in

her presence. She pontificated on many more topics, which made me wish I had chosen to know her only through her poetry. That regret was strengthened when she converted to Islam a few years later and rechristened herself Kamala Surayya. She had arrogated even religion as an indulgence. But years later, on another trip to Kochi, I picked up her collection Only the Soul Knows How to Sing and dug into an unfamiliar poem. The fiery poet seemed to have wizened, and somehow she could access my thoughts in Composition: “I have reached the age in which/One forgives all./I am ready to forgive friends/their loving,/forgive those who ruined friendships/and those who forgave/and stayed on to love./But I shall give a lot to get/One of my foes today/For a quiet picnic/Somewhere./Not having met for ages/we shall have so much to say.” Vijay Nair is a Bangalore-based playwright and novelist. Write to lounge@livemint.com


L16

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SATURDAY, JUNE 6, 2009

Culture Ship shape: USS Enterprise’s new crew fills veteran shoes well.

HOLLYWOOD

Blockbuster summer Two releases; two iconic series; two reasons we can’t wait to go to the movies

B Y J OE M ORGENSTERN ····························

STAR TREK

TERMINATOR SALVATION

A bold new version that gives the tired series new life

After doomsday, there is more gloom and doom

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rimal screams come with the bleak territory of Terminator Salvation. Any character of consequence gets to unleash one, and there’s plenty to scream about. The Apocalypse, a.k.a. Judgment Day, has put an end to civilization (the time is 2018, only nine years from now, so go out and gather those rosebuds, for goodness sake). The few surviving members of a ragtag Resistance seem outmatched by Skynet, a sentient network whose gigantic Terminator robots pluck people up without warning, like claws grabbing little plush toys in arcade vending machines. What’s more, the spectrum has been suppressed, leaving only the grungiest hues for cinematographers to work with. Not a pretty picture, and anything but an upper, yet this fourth addition to the Terminator canon isn’t entirely a downer either. It’s a deafening, sometimes boring, occasionally startling and ultimately impressive war movie with a concern for what it is that makes us human (hint: an organ, but not the kind you would use to play Bach). Things are so bad on our poor planet that the emerging leader of the Resistance, John Connor, laments, “This is not the future my mother warned me about”: John’s mom, as you may recall from Linda Hamilton’s previous agitations, was not exactly Little Miss Sunshine. Hamilton makes a brief, partially virtual reappearance, while John, previously portrayed by Edward Furlong and Nick Stahl, is played this time by Christian Bale. It’s a perfect choice, since Bale is the primo sufferer of our time, a performer with a sub speciality in emaciation and a steady-state intensity compounded of pursed lips, gimlet eyes and a doomy monotone that bespeaks an invisible chokehold. The revelation, however, is Sam Worthington. He plays Marcus, a mysterious time-travelling stranger who may or may not be John Connor’s nemesis. Marcus suffers too, frequently and loudly, and the actor is no slouch

A splendid enterprise ll too often the trailer is better than the movie, but not, it turns out, in the case of Star Trek. If you want to know why this huge production will be a huge success—and why it deserves to be—you can find the answer in the terrific trailer that’s been showing for many months. It’s in the first sequence, when a classic red Corvette hurtles down a dirt road, followed by a robocop in a 23rd century hover-car. The Corvette goes over a cliff, but not before the pre-teen driver bails out, claws his way back up to level ground and, responding to the cop’s demand for an ID, says, “My name is James Tiberius Kirk.” Star Trek goes back to the legend’s roots with a boldness that brings a fatigued franchise back to life. It feels exactly right that Captain Kirk should have been a rebellious Iowa farm boy with a passion for antique cars, a gnawing sense of purpose and a penchant, as the new movie soon reveals, for barroom brawls. It also feels right that he’s played as a young man by an appealing actor, Chris Pine, who bears a more-than-passing facial resemblance to Montgomery Clift. Star Trek, which was elegantly directed by J.J. Abrams, goes back with the express purpose of providing delight, and despite inevitable lapses it delivers the goods, starting with interstellar action at supernova intensity and a splendid Romulan villain, Captain Nero, played by Eric Bana. Each one of the now-iconic members of the USS Enterprise’s crew gets rising-star treatment. That includes, of course, a young Scotty, played with irresistible verve by Simon Pegg; an extremely young Ensign Chekov (Anton Yeltsin) and an extremely alluring Uhura (Zoe Saldana), along with Karl Urban as “Bones” McCoy, John Cho as Sulu and Bruce Greenwood in the smallish but significant role of Pike, the Enterprise’s first captain. Yet the main source of delight is the evolution of First Officer Spock, and the tangled roots of his fraught relationship with Jim Kirk.

The young Spock is played by Zachary Quinto, who makes the most of the adroit writing. Far from remaining confined by the steely Vulcan logic that came to dominate Spock’s personality, the script, by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, revels in Spock’s all-too-human emotions—the grief he harbours for the human mother he lost (she’s played by Winona Ryder, while Ben Cross plays his Vulcan father), the anger that fuels his sometimes violent rivalry with Kirk, the passion he feels for Uhura (who says ever so sexily, as he’s taking his leave of her, “I’ll be monitoring your frequency”). That evolution doesn’t stop at Spock’s youth. In the best of the production’s bold strokes, Leonard Nimoy closes the circle by giving a lovely, layered performance in the role he said he’d never play again. The elder Spock, dubbed Spock Prime, does not merely come on board, but serves the movie as its heart and soul. In a marketing move that’s shrewd and amusing in equal parts, the opening of Star Trek was planned a week before the DVD re-release of Galaxy Quest, an inspired Star Trek parody. The plot of the 1999 feature film turns on a cosmic joke. A desperate band of Thermians, the last survivors of a distant planet, come to earth seeking help from the washed-up actors of a wornout TV series called Galaxy Quest. They’ve been watching the series from its inception, and have mistaken the tacky episodes for historical texts. From the perspective of pop culture, though, it’s not a mistake at all. For generations of earthlings, and not just the Trekkies among us, all those endless iterations of Star Trek—tacky or taut, stylish or silly—have become personal history. That’s why it’s so stirring to see old Spock on the same big screen as the ardent kids who grew up to be his peers. We’ve travelled light years in their company. Star Trek was scheduled for release in theatres on Friday.

Movie of the bleak

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as a primal screamer, but Worthington’s speciality is taking command of the camera (later this year, he’ll star in James Cameron’s Avatar). It’s fascinating to watch him dominate scene after scene with his coiled energy, compelling voice and quick intelligence. Time travel, along with alternate time branches, is treated with a solemnity that’s become obligatory in sci-fi plots, even though, as always, it’s a logical absurdity (my favourite phrase from the production notes deals with John Connor’s growing doubts “that he may not live to initiate the events that will result in his own conception”). I’m My Own Grandpa, that deathless pop ditty from the 1940s, made strict, if quite simple, sense. Terminator Salvation makes elaborate pseudo-sense but audiences will buy the film just as happily as they would the new Star Trek, and why not; the Terminator mythology remains intact, and the production delivers on its promise of an epic showdown between all-too-human flesh and much-too-precocious machinery. Terminator Salvation was directed by McG, otherwise known as Joseph McGinty Nichol, from a screenplay by John Brancato and Michael Ferris. Martin Laing designed the production, Shane Hurlbut photographed it and Danny Elfman composed the dreadful music. The cast includes Anton Yelchin as the teenage Kyle Reese (not his own grandpa, but close), Bryce Dallas Howard and Helena Bonham Carter. Moon Bloodgood plays the beauteous Blair Williams, the woman warrior I’d most like to be with when civilization ends. Terminator Salvation is due to release in theatres by June-end. Write to wsj@livemint.com

No clone: Christian Bale plays John Connor in Terminator Salvation.


L18 FLAVOURS SATURDAY, JUNE 6, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

Q&A | RACHEL ALLEN

Sticky Toffee Pudding Serves 6

‘I absolutely love your Indian kulfis’

Ingredients 225g dates (stoned weight), chopped 250ml black tea (not too strong) 100g unsalted butter, softened 175g golden castor sugar 3 eggs 1 tsp mixed spice 1 tsp vanilla extract 225g self-raising flour ¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, to serve Toffee sauce, to serve 20cm (8 inches) diameter spring-form/loose-bottomed tin, or a 20x20cm (8x8 inches) square cake tin

The cookery show host on Irish goodies, baking secrets and what to eat before you die

For the toffee sauce (Makes about 650ml) Ingredients 110g butter 250g soft light brown sugar (or half brown half castor sugar) 275g golden syrup 225ml double cream ½ tsp vanilla extract

B Y P ARIZAAD K HAN parizaad.k@livemint.com

···························· The smell of freshly baked goods right out of an oven counts as one of life’s big pleasures for Dublin-born chef Rachel Allen. Her show Rachel Allen: Bake! premiers on Discovery Travel and Living tonight. Edited excerpts from an interview: What are your first memories of baking? I remember baking at home with my mother and sister. There was always a fight about who would lick the batter off the spoon and the bowl. And that’s so similar for so many kids. I have happy memories of my sister and I, when we were little, standing and helping make biscuits or buns for the family. The wonderful aromas of baking bread, cakes or cookies take me back to those times. What are the most common mistakes that novice bakers make? I think it is not using good ingredients. You have to have proper butter when you’re baking. People try and use margarine and other not-so-good substitutes for butter. Once you use good ingredients, that definitely makes it a lot easier. I do try and teach simple rules, and once you know a few simple tips, it’s quite easy. For example, if you’re beating butter in a bowl, it needs to be soft. How important is it to measure ingredients exactly for baking? It’s quite important, isn’t it? Baking is not like other types of cooking. When baking a cake, I always weigh the ingredients,

but not while making a salad or a curry. Do you have any tricks to successfully unmould a cake? Before the cake is going to be baked, line the base of a tin with parchment or greaseproof paper. Brush melted butter, not oil, on the sides of the cake tin. Sprinkle some flour along the sides. Some of it will stick to the butter; shake off the excess. Another good trick when the cake is baked is to run a sharp knife along the edges of the tin while the cake is still hot. Then allow it to sit for 5-8 minutes in the tin before trying to unmould it. What old-school desserts do you love? I love bread and butter pudding and sticky toffee pudding. I love all the fattening and filling ones, such as custard. Is baking bread an art or a science? Well it’s a bit of both, actually. There’s definitely a science attached—to get the ingredients in the right proportion, and ensuring that the temperature is not too hot or not too cold for the yeast. But it also involves passion and patience as well. There’s an old saying that if you’re happy when you’re cooking, it shows in the food. I think that’s very true of baking. What are three things that everyone should try and bake at least once? The first would be a classic cake,

Sweet tooth: (clockwise from above) Allen says home­made baked goods are great gifts; Pink Meringues with Raspberry Cream; and Lime Yogurt Cake with Rosewater and Pistachios. such as a Victoria sponge. Second, try some meringues, because once you know how to make a basic meringue, there are so many variations you can do. The third are some nice cookies—maybe chocolate chip, if you’re making them with kids. Then you can experiment with spices, dried fruits, or orange or lemon zest. These are the basics, and once you know them, you can play around after that. What is the best thing the Irish can bake? Soda bread, the traditional Irish bread which is not made using yeast as a raising agent, but bicarbonate of soda and buttermilk. The acid in the buttermilk reacts with the bicarb and causes the bread to rise. All over Ireland they make it in different ways: with plain flour, brown oatmeal flour, or with caraway seeds, which is really old-style Irish cooking. If you had to use Guinness as an ingredient in baking, what would you do with it? I would make a fantastic beef

and Guinness pie using puff pastry, or a rich fruit cake with the Guinness or any other Irish stout. It’s a wonder. Why do bakers always want you to fold a cake mix? If you fold gently, you don’t develop the protein that is present in flour. Of course, it’s different with yeast bread, where you really have to knead it; but for cake batter, you should fold gently. Has all the stirring and mixing helped you keep fit? You know, I think it has. It is hard work, it keeps the arms toned. What is the best dessert to a) seduce someone with; b) eat before you die; c) eat on a hot summer’s day; d) eat while on a diet; e) make for a children’s party? I would say some wonderful profiteroles, with pastry cream on the inside and hot chocolate on the outside. When you bite into them, there’s a lovely contrast between the hot chocolate and the pastry cream which explodes

in your mouth. But they should be fed to your lover. Before I die, I would love to have a rich chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream. For a hot day, I absolutely love your Indian kulfis, or a meringue with summer berries. Even a coconut meringue roulade, with lemon curd and cream and raspberries, would be great. While on a diet, I would eat a wonderful yogurt with fresh berries or any seasonal fruit. And drizzle some honey over it and squeeze some lime or lemon juice. For a children’s party, try cupcakes with a buttery, sugary top in different pretty colours. Also, you just can’t go wrong with a lovely chocolate cake. What is the one thing about baking that you wish someone else could do for you? Line my tin. I always find that the boring bit, even though it takes only a minute. I don’t mind measuring out the ingredients, but I always feel lazy when it comes to lining the tin.

Method Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit). Rub butter on the sides of the tin and dust with flour. Line the base with greaseproof paper. Place the chopped dates and tea in a saucepan and bring to boil. Cook for a few minutes until the dates soften, then set aside. Beat the butter in a large bowl or an electric food mixer until soft. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then beat in the mixed spice and vanilla extract. Fold in the date mixture. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda and fold in gently until mixed. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the top is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow to stand in the tin for about 5 minutes before removing and transferring to a serving plate. To serve the cake, cut into slices and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream and a very generous drizzle of warm toffee sauce over the top. For the sauce Place all the ingredients for the sauce in a saucepan set over high heat and boil for approximately 4–5 minutes, stirring regularly until it thickens. Serve warm. Rachel Allen: Bake! airs every Saturday at 10 pm on Discovery Travel and Living.

SAMAR HALARNKAR

OUR DAILY BREAD

SAMAR HALARNKAR

A GHOST STORY I

n February, I had a taste of the world’s hottest chilli, the Naga chilli, also called the Bhoot Jolokia in Assam (bhoot for ghost, perhaps a reference to its other-worldly fire). It was, with no exception, the hottest I have ever tasted. What I had really was just a dab of chilli paste, smaller than a child’s teardrop. It spread a pleasant fire through my mouth, set off little pinpricks on my forehead, and an afterburn that lasted for 15 minutes. I learnt later that the Naga chilli is so lethal that India’s defence scientists have extracted its nastiest chemicals to make a grenade for anti-terror operations. It won’t kill, but it sure as hell should give some extreme pain to, well, extremists. No wonder the Guinness Book in 2007 declared the Naga chilli the world’s hottest. My introduction to the Naga

chilli began when I was describing an Andhra fish pickle I picked up in winter from a sweet old Telugu woman in Dilli Haat, the crafts market where you can get handicrafts and produce directly from India’s artisans and farmers. I had given the fish pickle to one of our office executives, a Haryanvi. He brings me food from home, and I try to reciprocate. We make it a point to tell one another how it turned out. Curiously, he was silent after the fish pickle. “Er, it was good,” he said. But his smile had faded, and he had the look of a man trapped into a positive reaction. “Oh?” I said, frowning. He confessed. “Actually, it was very, very spicy.” So I am never again going to ask a Haryanvi to eat a fiery Telugu pickle. When I narrated this story,

Hot spots: Smokin’ Beans (above); and the Bhoot Jolokia chilli. my young colleague Monalisa Arthur looked on impassively. “Have you ever eaten a Naga chilli?” she asked. I admitted I had not. I did say that my chilli tolerance was pretty high and my stomach well lined with asbestos after growing up in the Deccan—where the food is as hot as the weather—and a lifetime with southern food. And from my Maharashtrian side of the family (my mother is a Shivaji Park girl), I know of mirchi cha thecha, essentially crushed

chillies with lime and sundry ingredients. Eat it with a roti and it’s guaranteed to burn your insides. So I was unimpressed when Monalisa pried open her dinner box: boiled rice, some fish, a leafy veggie—and a tiny, tiny box with the chilli in question (as I said, it was in the form of a paste). “Nagas cannot do without their chilli,” she said, watching with triumphant satisfaction as I burned my way through the tasting. I was not sure if I’d do this again. Last week, she handed me a packet of dried chillies. It was the fearsome Naga chilli. I tried it out that night—not with pork, as it is meant to be, but with beans for my vegetarian wife. Now, I often do stir-fries at home, snapping 5-6 long normal dried red chillies into the oil. Exhibiting abundant caution, I dropped just one Naga chilli (they’re small, marble sized) into the beans stir-fry. As I tossed the beans, the little ghost spread its flavour through the wok; a silent, burning

smokiness that imbued the beans with fearsome character and taste. Even I—who scrupulously stays away from the vegetables I stir-fry—had to admit that these beans were rocking. Imagine what it would do to pork. Stay tuned. And yes, you can buy the Bhoot Jolokia in Delhi. Not in a store but from a couple of enterprising Nagas who keep the supply chain going. Try Sony Pork in Mukherjee Nagar (9811650010) or Thoibi in Munirka (9891729418). Monalisa also tells me there’s a paan shop in Indira Vihar—near Delhi University’s north campus—that “everyone knows”, which sells the chilli.

Smokin’ Beans

Method Set water to boil. When it does, immerse beans for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse in ice water. Heat a little sesame oil in a small wok, preferably not non-stick. Do not smoke the oil. Add sesame seeds and black onion seeds and finally the Naga chilli (do not break!). Add garlic paste when the seeds start to sputter. Fry the garlic paste, increase heat to medium and throw in the beans. Toss to mix well with spices. Add soy sauce. Keep stir-frying; take care not to burn the beans. Now is a good time to remove the Naga chilli (unless you want to really feel its fire). If the wok starts to blacken, don’t panic. Keep stirring. If it gets too much, lift off the flame briefly. Beans should be done in under 10 minutes.

Ingredients ¼ kg green beans (clean and snap each into two) 2 tsp sesame oil 1 tsp sesame seeds ½ tsp black onion seeds (kalonji) 1 Naga chilli ½ tsp garlic paste 1 tsp soy sauce

This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar writes a blog, Our Daily Bread, at Htblogs.com. He is the managing editor of the Hindustan Times. Write to Samar at ourdailybread@livemint.com

www.livemint.com Every Monday, catch Cooking With Lounge, a show with video recipes from well­known chefs, at www.livemint.com/cookingwithlounge


CULTURE L17

SATURDAY, JUNE 6, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

ART

It’s nice in Venice

Indian artists at one of the world’s premier art shows

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

···························· he focus of the international art world shifts to Europe in the coming week, with two major events—the 53rd Venice Biennale and the Art Basel fair—opening within days of each other. Galleries from the world over will show modern and contemporary art in the Swiss town of Basel from 10-14 June, vying to attract buyers. And the Italian city of Venice will come alive on 7 June with what is

T

billed as the world’s most prestigious exhibition of contemporary art, held once every two years since 1893. The exhibition will be on till November. “The crowds are huge; it is the biggest venue for art,” says Riyas Komu, whose oil on canvas series Designated March by a “Petrol Angel”, was much admired at the 52nd biennale in 2007. “It gives you a larger exposure to a bigger audience. And it is devoid of commercial interest, so it gives you a pure feeling.” Naturally, an invitation to show at Venice is exciting news for an artist. Sunil Gawde likens it to being nominated for the Oscars. “It is the most important platform on earth for an art lover,” he declares. Gawde will be showing his “kinetic” or mechanical sculptural work, weighing a tonne and a half, at Making Worlds, the international art exhibition at the biennale, which will fea-

ture works by 90 artists from around the world and has been curated by the festival director, Daniel Birnbaum. There is a keen sense of anticipation among the artists, both participating and visiting. “The atmosphere is charged,” says Anju Dodiya who’ll be showing her multimedia triptych Seasons, and has been to the biennale earlier as a visitor. “You are watched and criticized and discussed. There will be a whole new audience that I am not familiar with.” “I am looking at it as a surprise, a Pandora’s box,” says Gawde who, like Dodiya and the two other artists from India (Nikhil Chopra and Sheela Gowda), will be showing at the international exhibition in Venice for the first time. Artist Bose Krishnamachari, who is opening his own gallery in Mumbai in September, will be going to Venice and Basel to

ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT

Getting noticed: (left) Riyas Komu; and Sunil Gawde with his sculptural work Alliteration.

Docu and drama Who and what really inspired some of the most memorable movie plots? B Y S IDIN V ADUKUT sidin.v@livemint.com

···························· t’s standard fodder for documentary—or is it infotainment?—channels. Faced with a vacant time slot that needs to be filled cheaply, they pull together old newsreel clips on murderers, drug peddlers, pimps, gangsters and other such unsavoury types, pipe in some atmospheric narration, perhaps an “expert” quote or two and voila, you have a documentary series ready for branding: “Bloodcurdling Bastards” or even “Macabre Monday Morning Mayhem and Massacres”. But no amount of narrative drama, detailed recreation or archival footage can make up

I

for a documentary where most of the information is public knowledge. The moment you hear the Ian Fleming expert biographer say, “But in fact GoldenEye was the name of Fleming’s home in Jamaica!” Gasp! Who knew! Everybody. Flip to India TV for fresh “infotainment” please. So one approaches Fox History and Entertainment’s new series called True Stories with apprehension. Is it the same old Wikipedia trivia and DVD extras rehashed with fake cliff-hangers timed for ad breaks? Well, there is some of that here no doubt, but the two episodes reviewed were both good and there are plenty of reasons you might want to flip to the

channel between doses of World T20 or Wimbledon. Eliot Ness was the young swashbuckling government agent that the city of Chicago turned to in the late 1920s to help free it from the vice-like grip of Al Capone’s gangster empire. Ness went on to assemble a team of around a dozen brave, incorruptible officers who located and destroyed several of Capone’s illegal breweries—the prohibition law was in effect in the US at the time and Capone made most of his money breaking it. When Capone was finally incarcerated in 1932, Ness and his team became heroes for having taken on the mafia don. This was, of course, a time when the US was still crushed by the Great Depression. A time when the country could have used a ray of hope in the form of a young, dashing, honest law enforcer. Ness and company became the stuff of legend. But the little-known truth was that while Ness’ raids did impede Capone’s cash flows, his conviction in court came from

Now showing: Seasons, by Anju Dodiya, will be on display in Venice. see great works of contemporary art, both old and new, as well as to pick up tips on how to run a gallery. Whether it’s works by the likes of Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol, or the presence of well-known galleries such as New York’s Gagosian and London’s White Cube—he says the best of the art world congregates at these venues. The opportunity for an exchange of ideas and perspectives is invaluable. “You go out and get a fresh approach,” says Dodiya. She is looking forward to seeing works by other artists, among them Michelangelo Pistoletto, known for using glass fragments and mirrors in his works, something Dodiya also does. She recalls that seeing the video installation by the artist Pipilotti Rist at the historic Church of San Stae in Venice at the 51st biennale inspired her to show her own installation at the Lakshmi Vilas Palace in Vadodara in 2007. “People noticed my work; it is a large platform to get more shows,” says Komu, who considers showing at Venice an invaluable professional break. He is not happy with India’s meagre presence there—countries such as Pakistan and Monaco are officially represe n te d but In dia is not, he points out, holding the ministry of culture responsible. Instead of the curator at Venice picking out and inviting a couple of Indian artists, Komu says India should be taking the best works and artists from here.

the work of a diligent accountant, Frank Wilson. Wilson spent three years infiltrating Capone’s network with agents and then tapping information on Capone’s income. It was Wilson’s work that led to Capone being convicted, not for illegal booze, but for tax evasion. Which, while not discounting Ness’ integrity and valour,

RAAGTIME

SAMANTH S

THE TAMIL INVASION

R

ecently, I fell into conversation with a friend from Bangalore about a Carnatic music concert she had attended a few days earlier in that city. She had only one negative comment to make: The singer had not included any Kannada songs in the concert. The languages in which the business of a Carnatic music concert can be transacted are numerous: Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit, Kannada and Malayalam, plus possibly Hindi or Marathi in the odd tailpieces. Only true polyglots can claim to decipher every lyric sung during a concert, so my friend’s observation—that the audience ought to understand at least a song or two—seemed valid. The counter observations—that this would interfere with the artist’s spontaneity or aesthetic plan, and that the emotion of the music transcends language—are not new, and they were raised frequently during the most charged period of linguistic friction in Carnatic music’s history. In the 1930s and 1940s, a movement known as the Tamil Isai Iyakkam began calling for more Tamil songs in Carnatic concerts, which were dominated at the time by Telugu and Sanskrit. These were the languages in which the Carnatic trinity of Thyagaraja, Shyama Shastri and Muthuswami Dikshitar had largely composed, and invariably, their compositions formed the bulk of a concert. One of the leading lights of the Tamil Isai Iyakkam was R. Krishnamurthy, an author and freedom fighter known popularly by his pen name, Kalki. Kalki was able to bolster his movement significantly by bringing into his corner M.S. Subbulakshmi, the biggest name in the art. The movement had its effect: If concerts today regularly feature the songs of Tamil composers such as Arunachala Kavi and COURTESY THE HINDU Gopalakrishna Bharathi, that is to a great extent the Iyakkam’s work. But after the conversation with my friend had triggered the Tamil Isai connection, I wondered whether, inherently, Carnatic music tended to give its libretto secondary, if not short, shrift. A performer is judged far more on the lyric-less alapana of a raga than on the singing of the actual song. Many amateur students I know have learnt entire songs without also learning the meaning of the words they’re singing. In fact, Carnatic music must be one of very few musical forms in the Diva: M.S. Subbulakshmi. world in which a no-lyric, instrumental rendition of a song is as legitimate and welcome as a vocal, lyrical one. A violinist playing the song Vatapi Ganapatim, for instance, assumes two things: first, and more minor, that the audience probably knows which song it is, and second, that the emotional key of the music can speak powerfully even without language. And, in a sense, that latter fact holds true even beyond the Carnatic world. I only know what the first two words of the operatic aria Nessun Dorma mean, but the rest of it feels just as magical. I didn’t really know all the words I was hearing when I first listened to noisy bands such as Guns ’n’ Roses, and I suspect that thrash metal fans can testify similarly. Russians knew nothing about the music of Raj Kapoor’s films except that they liked it. The music subsumes the word, and perhaps that is not altogether a bad thing. Write to Samanth Subramanian at raagtime@livemint.com

makes you reassess the popular perception and the events of Brian De Palma’s 1987 film The Untouchables, in which Kevin Costner portrayed Ness and Al Capone was played by Robert De Niro. The hour-long documentary clarifies all this through a good mix of grainy old footage, film clips, images, re-enactments PARAMOUNT/THE KOBAL COLLECTION/AFP

Full picture? Kevin Costner and Sean Connery in The Untouchables.

and interviews, with not one element overpowering the other. Particularly beautiful is how the architecture of Chicago is woven into the narrative, a constant reminder that the story’s context is the Chicago of the 1920s and 1930s. The o ther film , on Ja mes Bond, was a little less mythbreaking, but that is to be expected from a character that is so widely known, seen and written about. Both films, however, are extremely well made, the reenactments are of a high quality, and while there is the odd expert you want to reach out and slap across the face for saying the obvious, by and large the facts and trivia that went into both films were well picked. Even for seasoned documentary buffs, the True Stories series is worth a watch for the good content and even better packaging. True Stories will air on the Fox History and Entertainment channel every Tuesday at 10pm, from 11 June. There will be repeats at 9am and 6pm on Fridays.


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