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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Vol. 6 No. 5

LOUNGE THE WEEKEND MAGAZINE

A pilgrim at the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer.

BEST O F LOUN GE LOUNGE TURNS 5: A LOOK AT SOME OF OUR BEST STORIES FROM PAST ISSUES

THE WORLD’S YOUR CANVAS

Three home stores show us how to create a Japanese, English and Indian space in a home >Page 6

In its time of crisis, we revisit Sufism, and what it can achieve, ahead of the 800th ‘urs’ of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer

DOORS TO DRASS

>Pages 10­11

In this chapter from ‘Lounge’ contributor Rishad Saam Mehta’s new book, ‘Hot Tea Across India’, he flees Kargil to avoid the local ruffian >Page 13

THE SUFI SOLUTION REPLY TO ALL

THE GOOD LIFE

AAKAR PATEL

T

MY DAUGHTERS’ MUM

SHOBA NARAYAN

LEARNT IN GODHRA, ART TALK WITH IGNORED IN JAIPUR THE KALLATS his month is the 10th anniversary of the incident at Godhra and the events in Gujarat that followed. When the violence began, it was said that the media had made the violence worse. Often this was by its innocence and sometimes by its malice. Was this true? The Editors Guild of India sent a team to investigate. Dileep Padgaonkar, B.G. Verghese and I were the three men on this team. We visited Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Vadodara, Anand and Godhra. We went in March. The smell of roasted... >Page 4

Author Henning Mankell, 61, is best known as the creator of the iconic detective, Inspector Kurt Wallander.

I

am trailing artist-couple Jitish Kallat and Reena Saini Kallat through the white-cubed maze that is the India Art Fair in New Delhi. By the time you read this, the fair would have finished. My goal is to give art-loving readers in other cities a “Take on Art” through the prism of this event. There are many options open to me. Should I go to every gallery and ask for the name of one upcoming artist they are considering? I don’t think I’ll get an honest, agenda-less... >Page 4

NATASHA BADHWAR

THE KNACK OF LOSING IT PROPERLY

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don’t know if you can tell, but I am one of those annoyingly polite parents. I waste a lot of time asking toddlers for permission, offer them elaborate choices and usually address them as aap instead of tum. I am also a mother-tongue chauvinist and liberally pile on my Hindustani on my children. Think Muslim socials in Eastmancolor. To my credit, however, I do lose it properly once in a while. When that happens, I raise my voice and fire in rat-a-tat English: “What’s with this ridiculous deprived expression... >Page 5

GLOBETROTTING, ONE TRACK AT A TIME

Nitin Sawhney, the renaissance man of contemporary music, on the meeting point of different art forms >Page 16

Take a Holiday You Treasure Forever


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eaders, colleagues and friends often ask me how Lounge looks good every Saturday. Well, at least, and I say this with complete humility, I can’t remember a single Saturday it has looked bad. You may find more to read on some Saturdays but that is because of our unique reader profile. It’s our fifth anniversary so I’m allowed to talk this way, especially since I’m about to reveal Big Secrets. As readers, you’ve seen enough media houses do these big-ticket splashy launches and relaunches. Many of our newspapers are redesigned by the best names in the world; a vision and a new “TG” (target group) are briskly identified; power and PowerPoint compete for reader (and advertiser) attention. Then, a few weeks or months later, it’s over. The spelling mistakes and absence of big ideas look even more ugly in the classy new sans serif font. So how does Lounge stay sexy week after week, five years running (without using bikini pictures alongside articles on globalization)? Lounge doesn’t believe in PoAPs (these so-called points of anticipated pleasure that marketers say draw readers) CELEBRATE because we know the issue itself gives you pleasure. Marathi noir? Boxing? Godrej almirahs? The return of the suit? The death of the telegraph? Silk Smitha? The Happiness Issue? What on earth will make it to next week’s cover, right? Teamwork keeps Lounge looking sexy. You can laugh but this simple concept is alarmingly absent from India’s most publicly analysed crew: When was the last time our politicians and cricketers worked seamlessly with their respective colleagues? Lounge attracts amazing people. Maybe because they hear it is a cool place to work. Like Google, only better (though we get zero perks, if you don’t count the samosas and fuchsia sofa I snagged from the company a couple of years ago). And the colleague in the Mumbai office who brings freshly baked goodies to work every Monday. Which other newspaper wraps its Saturday magazine over its front page? Now that’s seriously cool. And it proved the clincher when I was offered a job here

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more than five years ago. Mint, and consePlus, in column his inaugural Sunil Khfor Lounge, quently Lounge, was always high on coolquestio ilnani to com ns the need ness quotient. In which other newspaper long dememorate ad lead ers does the editor write a column on graphic novels for his weekend magazine? To the best of my knowledge, nobody on the team has a voodoo doll of anyone else on the team. I’m probably the sole moody, temperamental person in an otherwise sunshine-filled space. DON’T MISS Everyone is a star for different reasons and everyone is a star with different interests, hence the wide range of cover stories, because, really, whatever anyone might say, Lounge has no sharply defined TG. Everyone reads Lounge. And that’s the other reason Lounge ENTER T works. Because our readers respect the HE work we put in every week, the care we take to avoid mistakes and the battle we fight (and often lose) to sound just a little smarter than you. Our readers actually do understand that content is what makes or breaks a newspaper. In India, features journalists are an NEW INDI AN KNIGHT HT uninspired, unethical lot that lives off advertiser droppings. A feature is often a quid pro quo for an advertisement BUSINE or an all expenses paid trip to Paris. A PACK FOSS BOOKS TO R THE BE TH ACH SU E SUPERHER CCESS O T famous editor once told me: “JourFORMUL WANT AT A GET TE A TRAI NTION? S NER nalism is about business or politics. I Don’t waste your time on anything else.” Which is why it’s such a relief to encounter readers such as yourself. People who might scratch their heads and wonder why we put a story about the outof-print journal Quest on the cover, but who will give us the benefit of the doubt and read it. Thank you for disproving the Gear up the star for Wimbledo theory that Indian newspaper readers s, rivalries n 2009 with and the highli ght of thcustoms thata look at won’t touch a features publication that m e tennis season ake it turns its nose up at Page 3. Every Saturday, Lounge has a new star, a new idea on its cover, and hopefully a few new readers. Keep fuelling our fire. PS: One of the advantages of good teamwork is that I can write this from Berkeley, California, where I am on A SOUR sabbatical. Read my blog “Babyjaan MUMBACE OF THE I SPIRIT IT’S AB THAN OUT MORE goes to Berkeley” for more. T WINNI WHEN NG PRO­LIFLITERATURE A IS E, PRO­ WOMAN A ALL FOR M, NO

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What’s good Located in Mathuradas Mill Compound in Lower Parel, Café Zoe combines all the goodness of the old mill enclosures with modern-day dining requirements. High sloping ceilings are interrupted by glass panes to allow daylight to stream into the all-day café. Unfinished brick walls on some sides add a sense of the rustic while simple, light-coloured wood tables create the sense of informality necessary for a café. The place encourages you to lounge, rather than hurry through a visit, with a set of brightly coloured sofas on a raised platform. A bookshelf with newspapers among other reading material will come to the aid of the unaccompanied visitor, as will the Wi-Fi. A mezzanine floor will soon add another 50-odd in seating to the existing 70. Long tangled wires hang from the ceiling, ending in little light bulbs, passing through the mezzanine floor and dangling over a gap on top of the bar, for an eccentric touch of elegance. The café can easily transform into a night-time destination with a prominent bar and space for a possible DJ. Café Zoe keeps its food simple, as is fitting for an all-day diner. The café-brasserie-bar has an allday breakfast menu that includes “home-made” scones (`150), salads, soups, sandwiches in a wide range of breads, pastas, grills, roasts, seafood and an adequate selection of alcohol. The Zoe’s tenderloin (cheese) burger (`380), for instance, is no-fuss

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board near the entrance announces a disclaimer: “We are teething, please bear with us.” Considering most restaurants do need time to settle down with their food and their staff, this would seem like a legitimate request. But Café Zoe appears to have had enough dry runs to make sure even Day 1 on Tuesday went without a glitch.

meat in bread with crunchy fries; the mini lamb burger (`285) is a useful addition to bar food, among others, besides the regular nuts, olives and cheese. In the mains, the basa fillet with parsley butter (`450) comes with an interesting topping of almonds and an uncomplicated confluence of flavours. All servings are in proportions appropriate for one person. A delicatessen also offers prepackaged salads, fruits and snacks for office goers with limited lunch breaks, though they don’t do deliveries yet.

The not­so­good The cherry tomato and goat cheese crostini (`210) suffers a bit because of the quality of bread; it might need something easier to slice. The fried chicken wings (`250) are not for the fainthearted, even if they come with a warning of hot sauce. The baked cheese cake has two significant differences to the traditional cheese cake one has come to expect. It does not have a biscuit base—neither a desirable thick nor a passable thin one—and comes heated. Maybe it’s just an acquired taste. Weight-watching vegetarians may find few things without cream or cheese.

Talk plastic Soups range from `150-210, salads cost `250 on average, vegetarian sandwiches come at `250, while non-vegetarian ones are `210-400. Seafood ranges between `310 and `615, while desserts are `120-190. Though not inexpensive, for its location, size and pleasant ambience, Café Zoe is value for money, and a welcome addition to the new business and entertainment hub of the city. Café Zoe, Todi/Mathuradas Mill Compound, NM Joshi Marg, Lower Parel. Open daily, 7.30am-1.30am. Arun Janardhan ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT

inbox

Write to us at lounge@livemint.com INDIA’S GLORY With reference to Aakar Patel’s “Why Sachin shouldn’t get the Bharat Ratna”, 28 January, in my opinion, a man who has been serving his nation for more than 22 years, a man who has been the representation of a sport in the country, and who has made a mark in the world, truly deserves this honour. The world knows Indian cricket by his virtues. Tendulkar is not a lucky charm; maybe his statistics aren’t as impressive as a few other batsmen. However, there are many other statistics, which

are invincible, to prove his worth. He is an example of sheer perseverance through many, many years of effort. What Dhyan Chand is to hockey, Tendulkar is to cricket. LAKSHAY NANDA

RATNAS ALL If Sachin Tendulkar can get the Bharat Ratna, why not Michael Ferreira (billiards) or Prem Dhingra (bodybuilding), etc. In their own sports, they have matching achievements. I agree with Aakar Patel (“Why Sachin shouldn’t get the Bharat Ratna”, 28 January) that a Bharat Ratna should only be given for exceptional contribution to the nation. What has Tendulkar done for the nation? Promoted Pepsi! Cricket too, yes. So give him the highest sports award. Since that has already been given, what now? But it is election time and politicians are out to dig up every real or imagined issue. HARRI

MAN, NOT GOD Aakar Patel in his column “Why Sachin shouldn’t get the Bharat Ratna”, 28 January, mentions a few incidents to bolster his claim of how Sachin Tendulkar, the supposed god of Indian cricket, has feet of clay, and how that, among other reasons, should kill his chances of a shot at the award. I find this argument rather thin. Most leaders, and definitely many of those the Bharat Ratna has been conferred on, have made errors of judgement at some point or the other. Does that negate all the good work they have done? As just one example, Nelson Mandela was accused by his wife Winnie of having become a “corporate foundation” who was “wheeled out” only to raise money for the African National Congress. Does this make Mandela less worthy of the Bharat Ratna? And if it does, then I am afraid we would be hard put to locate one person with a blemish­less record. VIKRAM JOHRI

ON THE COVER: PHOTOGRAPHER: PRADEEP GAUR/MINT CORRECTIONS & CLARIFICATIONS: In “Even nothing is something beautiful”, 28 January, the person Alwar Balasubramaniam (Bala) met when he was a young art student in Chennai was a ‘swami’ who lived in Papanasam in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district.


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SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2012 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

AAKAR PATEL REPLY TO ALL

Learnt in Godhra, forgotten in Jaipur

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AFP

his month is the 10th anniversary of the incident at Godhra and the events in Gujarat that followed. When the violence began, it was said that the media had made the violence worse. Often this was by its innocence

and sometimes by its malice. Was this true? The Editors Guild of India sent a team to investigate. Dileep Padgaonkar, B.G. Verghese and I were the three men on this team. We visited Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Vadodara, Anand and Godhra. We went in March. The smell of roasted flesh had not yet gone when we entered the burnt Sabarmati Express compartment. It had been detached from the train and kept just off the platform at the station in Godhra. The bodies had been sent onward by train where at every station they stopped, passers-by gawked and were angered. The Vishva Hindu Parishad called for a bandh. The slaughter began the next morning. I learnt a few things in working on that report for the Editors Guild. For what it is worth I reproduce them for you, because in the wake of the Salman Rushdie affair it is important we understand freedom of speech in India. The critical learning was that freedom of speech in India must be regulated. To illustrate why, let’s look at our meeting with the owner of Gujarat’s second largest newspaper Sandesh, Falgunbhai Patel. Here is what he told us for the record: “Hindus were not temperamentally prone to starting riots. Gujarat had known worse disturbances (for example in 1969). But this time Hindu anger ‘irrespective of class’ was inflamed by the burning of innocent women and children at Godhra. Even Hindu women felt ‘theek hai, salon ko maro (it’s right to fix them)’. “The English media had sided ‘out and out’ with the Muslims and the Gujarati papers were, by and large, pro-Hindu.” This is the approach of someone who

owns and runs a newspaper read by 3.2 million people. Sandesh led with a report that the breasts of women had been sliced out in Godhra. The government said this wasn’t true, but Sandesh had a policy of not publishing retractions. Such stories became truth for its readers. This was the sort of journalism that the Gujarati papers were doing. When in Anand, I noticed the front page of a newspaper called Madhyantar. I read out its headlines to Padgaonkar and Verghese. One read: “Musalmanon-e puravo aapvo padshe ke te kharekhar Hindustani chhe (Muslims must prove that they are true Indians).” How were they supposed to do this? That the paper did not say. We met the collectors administering Gujarat’s districts. Many of them good and decent men and women trying to put out the fire. Some were in their 30s and in over their heads. Time and again they told us that the media was doing damage. That information put out during an episode of violence usually caused more violence. A blackout was best, and they tried to get the cable channels off air. A principled argument on free speech would find fault with this, true. But having seen what free speech does in India, I take their side. Article 19 (1)(a) of our Constitution guaranteed free speech to Indians on 26 January 1950. Fifteen months later, Nehru backed down from this guarantee and imposed restrictions. Half a dozen laws restrict freedom of speech in India. These have to do with provoking religious violence, promoting enmity, insulting a religion and wounding religious feelings. But these laws aren’t new.

Mob mentality: A scooter is set on fire in Ahmedabad in November 2003. Our laws curbing free speech were drafted in 1837. When he was only 33, Thomas Macaulay began producing the Indian Penal Code. It has continued in more or less the same form for 175 years. It shows what a remarkably unchanging culture we are despite living amid the trappings of modernity. The code, a colonial set of laws, remains in force in free India. This is because an Englishman accurately assessed us, and predicted our behaviour and our reaction to external stimulus. This makes Macaulay a very great man. He could tell with confidence in 1837 how Gujaratis would go bestial in 2002. The Constitution made great and universal promises, but then succumbed to the reality of India’s communal violence. The words “communal violence” are misleading, because they indicate a skirmish between equal communities. Violence by civil society in India is one-sided. The Muslims of Gujarat and the Sikhs of Delhi were recipients. The Hindus dished it out. The second aspect is that the participants are usually known to those they kill, maim and rape. The two most violently communalized cities of India are Ahmedabad and Vadodara. In both, it is neighbourhoods that go to war, with outsiders in supporting roles. On a later visit to Ahmedabad (a depressing, segregated and

oppressively vegetarian city), I was driven through its upper-class neighbourhoods. Here the homes and offices of Muslims had been neatly picked out and burnt. Muslim colonies, what Gujaratis call societies, still had their entrances barricaded as forts. The compound walls had been raised and the gates were blocked, reinforced with metal, wood, whatever was at hand to protect them from their neighbours. The third aspect of the Indian riot is that the state steps aside and lets the aggrieved party avenge itself. A few weeks later, at a session hosted by Gujarat’s finest scholar of Islam, Asghar Ali Engineer, we tried to make sense of this. The former IAS officer, Harsh Mander, said the British system of administration and policing was so designed that the state could bring its wild citizenry to heel inside two days. That this had not happened in Ahmedabad and Vadodara showed the intention of the state. When vengeance is taken, there is a swift return to neighbourhood normalcy and the hatred vanishes. Where did it go? I found this disturbing because I could not understand it, and still don’t. Vadodara’s physics professor J. S. Bandukwala, whose house was vandalized, observed something about the 2002 violence. There is still an

absence of remorse and absolutely no regret among Gujaratis. No truth and reconciliation commission for Gujaratis, or the barbarians of Delhi who cut down 3,000 Sikhs. When confronted with their behaviour against Gujarati Muslims, the snarling response of Gujarati Hindus, and I include my friends and family in this, is, “Ae loko-e sharu karyun (They started it).” One cannot argue against this because chronologically it is true. The use of “they” convicts all Muslims for an incident in which some individuals participated. It is difficult to explain to Indians the wrongness of collective punishment. This is because our identity is collective, and so is our behaviour. The understanding that this is wrong comes mainly to those who speak English. Individuals are more easily produced by English because it opens access to the world outside the tribe. It is able to place us outside the narrow definitions assigned to us by Gujarati and Hindi. But for most Indians, if they started it then they must suffer for it. This mindset is something we have to accept. The focus must be on how to limit its damage. The damage is done by a Hindi-medium world view. Trying to fight it with English-medium tools will end in frustration. This is why a debate about free speech here has no meaning. All these things dissolve to nothing in the knowledge that a real price is extracted for this freedom. The men who read Rushdie aloud in Jaipur and fled after lighting the fuse were neither brave nor considerate. Such deliberate mischief has consequences. Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media. Send your feedback to replytoall@livemint.com www.livemint.com Read Aakar’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/aakar­patel

SHOBA NARAYAN THE GOOD LIFE

Walking the art talk with the Kallats

I

am trailing artist-couple Jitish Kallat and Reena Saini Kallat through the white-cubed maze that is the India Art Fair in New Delhi. By the time you read this, the fair would have finished. My goal is to give art-loving readers in other cities a “Take on Art”

through the prism of this event. There are many options open to me. Should I go to every gallery and ask for the name of one upcoming artist they are considering? I don’t think I’ll get an honest, agenda-less answer. There is the scene surrounding the fair, the after-parties, the things people said. Cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote at a speaker’s forum, describing how he approached the India pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale “through the rhetorical trope of the non-sequitor”. Say what? An English-accented lady in the audience accusing Sophie Duplaix, the curator of the recent Paris-Delhi-Bombay... Through the Eyes of Indian and French Artists show (from 25 May-19 September) at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, of curating a condescending “colonialist show with an orientalist’s perspective”. I don’t know these words so I cannot decode them for you. A simpler response came from an

auction house representative who called the Centre Pompidou show “rubbish”. A lady performance artiste at the opening party held at The Park, New Delhi, to a male academic (name changed), “Raman, I’ve been told that dancing with you is better than having sex.” Collectors Rajiv Savara and Harsh Goenka at the VIP preview, eyeing their next acquisitions. Artist Sudarshan Shetty having a Chinese lunch in the backroom—his work in front was priced at `64 lakh. Subodh Gupta glad-handing a contingent of Pakistani students at the entrance. Hoarse gallerists continually answering questions: “We have been having more conversations with journalists than collectors and I am not sure that is a good sign,” said an exhibitor at White Cube’s booth. The freezing terrace of the blueFROG, The Kila, where Khoj, the acclaimed artists’ association, held its live performance shows. A lady walking through a

performance piece asking a performer for a cigarette before doing a double take. The alcohol lubricating every event...and I still hadn’t come up with an angle for this column. Perhaps I could trail a couple of top artists through the fair and view it through their eyes. But who? My instinctive choice was Sudarshan Shetty because of his massive public art project in Mumbai. But I wanted to see the work before writing about him. I ran into Jitish Kallat, 37, at Aman New Delhi, where Outset, a philanthropic arts organization, had breakfast forums. He was wearing what appeared to be a smartly cut blue khadi jacket, which was my initial reason for approaching him: an artist I admired who also shared my love for Indian textiles. The jacket, it turned out, was from fashion boutique Bombay Electric and I am not sure it was khadi. But by then I had already popped the question and he had accepted: Could I trail him through the fair and view it through his eyes? Kallat liked the idea, and when I saw his wife, Reena Saini Kallat, 38, nearby, I asked if they could do it together. So it came to be that we walked through the fair to a quiet table in the back. It took me 10 minutes to get them to open up. Jitish and Reena are charming and polite—to me and to each other. They

don’t interrupt and listen intently to each other as they describe their 18-year-old relationship, seven-year-old son and the trappings of fame and wealth that have come to them. Like every artist, they claim to be untouched by the market. “I don’t know that I was any ‘purer’ as a poor student artist than I am now,” says Jitish. “You have to maintain that level of uncertainty and probing that one had in arts school; and be aware of the slippery grounds that you walk on.” “We were completely comfortable with the idea of a humble living when we got married,” says Reena. “It was a privilege to be an artist, not the privileges in the usual sense, but to engage with the world in a different way. No artist cares for anything more than the trajectory of work that they leave behind.” We discuss the forums we all attended. I rant against the jargon that overtook the previous one. Why use such phrases as “colonialist with an orientalist’s perspective?” I ask. Why not simple English? But all these people are cultural theorists, says Reena, quietly demolishing my argument. “Why would you want them to dilute their expertise just to cater to the general public? Investment bankers apply their graphs and terminology artists don’t seem to understand, so why should there constantly be an expectation from theorists to oversimplify their views? You

cannot expect an artist to cater to an audience,” she ends. “When you make an object, you stand the risk of that object speaking to an audience of one: you,” says Jitish. “Visual arts isn’t a populist medium to begin with. I would hope that through events like the art fair, various constituencies would come together to rejuvenate our museums, reincarnate our art schools from their current state of coma, establish private museums and build institutions.” We talk about their working relationship, about whether they discuss their works during the creation. “I am a bit more chatty in the sequence of creation,” says Jitish. Just when I think that Reena is proper and polite, she gives me pause. “He might discuss every crappy idea with me while I am more selective about what I discuss with him,” she says. The couple burst out laughing. Shoba Narayan has a lot of crappy ideas and she is not selective about who she discusses them with. Disclosure: She was a guest of the India Art Fair. 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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MY DAUGHTERS’ MUM

NATASHA BADHWAR

THE ART OF LOSING IT PROPERLY

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don’t know if you can tell, but I am one of those annoyingly polite parents. I waste a lot of time asking toddlers for permission, offer them elaborate choices and usually address them as aap instead of tum. I am also a mother-tongue chauvinist and liberally pile on my Hindustani on my children. Think Muslim socials in Eastmancolor. To my credit, however, I do lose it properly once in a while. When that happens, I raise my voice and fire in rat-a-tat English: “What’s with this ridiculous deprived expression, man? Don’t I ever give you anything? Didn’t I just ask you what chocolate you want? If you want both Snickers and Gems, then say so. Don’t show me that sorry little face, Mamma is not

really going to give me what I want. Get out of your victim state. Come on…” By now it is not clear whether I am yelling at Aliza or myself. I shut up. PAUSE in the room. Aliza speaks. “Mamma, what you just said, can you say that again in Hindi?” It’s a familiar story for many of us grown-ups in India. A polite vocabulary for everyday talk and a gush of words in which we express our private self, particularly flashes of anger. We switch languages effortlessly as our moods switch. My parents talk to each other in Punjabi. They chose to speak to us in Hindi. We went to schools where we were supposed to speak only in English. Then there is Dadaji,

my grandfather who lives with us. In the 1920s, when he went to school in Punjab, the medium of instruction was Urdu and English. He reads the Gita every day for a few hours. In Urdu. On the way to growing up and becoming a person of the modern world, instead of coming ashore with a handful of languages, I realized I had lost most of them on the way. Words wash up unexpectedly every now and then with music. Sometimes with a qawwali, a ghazal, or just a film Choose your song. As a parent, I decided to be somewhat systematic. First, I chose their father carefully. When I first knew the charming, twinkly eyed man I eventually married, one of the tick marks on my checklist was on the entry: reads, writes and

words: Children learn quickly. speaks Hindi fluently. Our parents used to be anxious about whether we would speak English well enough. Our fear is that if we don’t intervene, our children will grow up monolingual,

knowing only English well enough. And thus we have raised ours on a steady diet of polite Hindustani. Except once in a while, when I have no adult witnesses and the gears in my brain get stuck. A couple of days after the day that I had yelled at Aliza, we are in the middle of a winter afternoon party. I’m walking past the huddle of them giggling and exchanging stories when Aliza calls out to me. “Mamma!” “Yes, Ali?” “Mamma, that day when you got angry with me over the chocolate, you were just tired. And you didn’t know that.” “Yes, Ali.” “It wasn’t anything I had said.” I sit down. “Oh, Ali, I’m so sorry.” I hold my ears. Because I broke my elbow as a teenager, it locks at a right angle, and I have to hold my left ear with my right hand and right ear with my left hand. Arms crossed like that, I look sorrier. “I’m sorry, Ali. Should I become a murga also?” I start to sit on my haunches and

hold my ears, looking like a sorry rooster. “No, no, no,” she stops me. I get up to move to another group of Sunday lunch people. “And Mamma,” she calls out, “the other day when you got so upset because you thought that I had slapped myself in anger? I was not really angry at all. It was just a fly on my cheek.” “Oh is that right, Ali?” “Yes, you couldn’t see it, but it was a fly. Trying to make a hole in my cheek. And you thought I was slapping myself, ha ha!” “I’m sorry, bambino,” I say and move really fast now. Run. She’s got the words, this child. She’ll pick up the languages on the way. Parenting: 1. Self-doubt: 0. Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three. Write to Natasha at mydaughtersmum@livemint.com www.livemint.com To read Natasha’s previous columns, visit www.livemint.com/natasha­badhwar


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Three home stores show us how to create a Japanese, English and Indian space in your home

t Ethnic Indian patio by Good Earth Looking to put together a mix of opulent and earthy for an Indian veranda theme? New Delhi-based Adil Ahmed, creative director, Charbagh Goodearth Atelier for bespoke interiors, says: “For upholstery, pick handwoven silks in heavy weight. This forms a luxurious backdrop that can then be dressed up with patterned cushions in brocades, embroidery and Mughal prints. Mix neutral colours such as ivory, taupe, sage with vivid colours like berry, cerise, lime, aubergine.” He suggests using just a couple of accent pieces that are ornate and upholstering with silk stripes to contemporize it, while choosing furniture. Add silver , gold or bronze accents in the form of bowls, vases and candlesticks, he suggests. “You could install a real jharokha (window) on a wall or use a printed wall panel as a dramatic background.” Cost factor: Antique wooden ‘jhoola’ (swing), approx. `1 lakh; swirl mirror, `24,500; hanging lantern Noor lights, `7,400 (big) and `4,400 (small); butter lamp `1,100; Sheherzade bolster, `2,400; double­shaded cushion, `1,850; silk velvet cushion, `1,400 each; handcrafted hammam stool, `4,800, at Good Earth stores countrywide.

B Y K OMAL S HARMA komal.sharma@livemint.com

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t English country powder room by Ishatvam

Less is more should be your mantra when decorating Zen-style. “Keep in mind fluidity of space, minimalism and balance while doing Japanesestyle décor,” says Neha Arora, design team, Fabindia, New Delhi. Play with different textures to create a Japanese look: Choose lamps made of ricepaper, furniture made with cedar, silk for cushions and tatami floor mats. Liberally place ceramics and bonsai plants. Lean towards subdued earth tones like brown, green, grey and tan, suggests Arora. Go for low-seating arrangements, woven bamboo or wooden blinds for windows. Cost factor: Sofa, `14,200; table, `5,300; side tables, `3,300 each; tea set, `560; wooden tray, `1,160; and cushion covers, `490, at Fabindia stores countrywide. Japanese Samurai dolls, `60,000 each, and cherry blossom flower decoration, `2,500, at Moon River, Defence Colony, New Delhi. Wall art, set of three, `27,900, at Address Home, Greater Kailash­I, New Delhi.

“Nothing comes as close to freshness as the English countrystyle interiors,” says Adita Bhaskar, owner of Ishatvam, New Delhi. Start with floral wallpaper and neutral upholstery. A mirror lends a dimension; especially one with classic or baroque contours. Add greenery with potted plants or bouquets. Accessories like towel holders and knobs should be in a milk-paint finish. Cost factor: Baroque mirror, `37,500; cabinet, `17,950; photo frame, `2,550; towel rack, `11,950; towel holder, `2,500; soap case, `1,650; cotton­wool jar, `1,450; flower vase, `7,700; and flower stalks, `1,080 each, at Ishatvam, MG Road, New Delhi. Accessories: lace gloves, `8,950; beads, `1,095; pearl bracelet, `545; and birdcage charm, `645, at Accessorize stores countrywide. Personal care products: body massage oil, `695; and body polisher, `1,495, at Forest Essentials stores countrywide. Towels, `75 (for hand towels) to `695 (for bath towels), at all Maspar stores.

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TURERG ICLE CUL

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ACCENTING THE UNUSUAL

The new opulence: (clockwise from right) Dramatic accessories fill Raseel Gujral’s farmhouse; a wooden textured wall stands out in a home designed by Kunal Shah; the Klove showroom mixes antique pieces with modern glass sculptures; lights from Highlight use traditional shapes in modern materials.

Opulence should not take over the room; many designers recommend choosing “conversation pieces” that will stand out in a room. Here are five options to get everyone talking:

MADHU KAPPARATH/MINT

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clean appearance. They want comfort, colour and size. Therefore, couches are now being made with deeper seats, sinkable shapes and softer fabrics such as velvets or flocked linen, which give them that extra soft feel and look.

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

·························· hen actress Amrita Arora moved into her new Bandra apartment a few months ago, it was the first time she truly felt “house proud”. Before, her old home was just a place to sleep in at night, she says, but after working closely with the interior decorator, Ketan, and her father, the “new pad was completely coming into a new zone. I let myself come out in every corner, in every way.” As opposed to her “very basic” prior home, Arora says she decided to go wild in the new home she still shares with her parents, indulging in mirrored mosaic pillars and elaborate display cases for the trinkets she’s collected on her travels. Though Arora has still used elements of minimalism in her home design such as the monochromatic, cream-coloured living room, she diversified the look of the room with strong accents such as crystal-encrusted chandeliers. However, rather than inundating the apartment with decorative touches, she took care to select stunning, dramatic pieces, such as her Italian candlesticks—covered in velvet and gold and encrusted with crystals—giving those pieces the space to make a statement. “When people walk into the dining room, they are all amazed by the candlesticks. They could stand alone in a room if they needed to,” she says. Raseel Gujral, the founder of Casa Paradox, understands the need for introducing a personality into living spaces: “With minimalism, you’ve left your personality behind and put on a uniform. I’ve never been able to do that. My sense of a self always creeps through.” Her Delhibased farmhouse reflects that, with strong visual art and an

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=Monochromatic colour schemes; white, empty spaces. =Straight, recessed light fixtures; steel fixtures. =Contemporary abstract sculptures. =Angular lines. =Space­saving techniques such as smaller pieces of furniture and hidden closets.

=Layers of colours, textures and materials. =Decorative light fixtures such as chandeliers, candelabras and blown glass fixtures. =Different centuries and styles mixed together, such as an antique Chinese Buddha placed next to a glass sculpture from last year. =Soft, curvaceous shapes, particularly in the legs of chairs and dressers. =Comfortable, oversized pieces such as couches with extra cushioning, and decorative chests that serve as design accents.

Dressing up the home

’s business

MADHU KAPPARATH/MINT

eclectic mix of opulent accessories, set against furniture with strong, clean lines. “You basically need signs of life in a home, to show that people are actually living there,” she says. Though Arora and Gujral say they are reflecting themselves in their homes, they are actually at the forefront of a new international trend emerging across the design world. After years of paring down design, people finally want more. Nitin Kohli, Delhi-based interior decorator and co-founder of FURNcraft, reclines on a

straight-lined white leather couch on display in his showroom in Square One Mall in South Delhi and complains, “This is not me at all.” For years, clients have been after him for a clean, minimalist look, with no frills, few curves, and little colour. Despite Kohli’s love of curves, 24-carat gold tabletops and the bold shades of turquoise, the mantra has been: Less is more. Until now, that is. Even at the two major international design fairs held earlier this year, Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan and Planete

Meuble in Paris, the major design brands showcased furniture lines with chairs covered in textured, patterned fabrics; oversized couches where the seats sink in ultimate comfort; tables with jewelled and mirrored surfaces; and, lacey chandeliers. “We’re interested in mixing different materials from different parts of the world, putting curves back on furniture and using distinct finishes. It’s a new look, one that is more eclectic and less minimalistic. It breaks the monotony,” says Kohli. Arora liked the look of various pieces purchased from different countries and chose to juxtapose furniture with different materials, such as the Japanese wooden coffee table and the copper-rustcoloured leather bar in her living room. The effect stamps her dramatic style on her home.

Designers are reinterpreting the contemporary look of minimalism by merging it with a traditional edge of opulence. Art deco and baroque shapes, a wider colour palette and elaborate accessories are popping up at design stores across India. It’s a hybrid of the contemporary and the old glamour, creating a refined, elegant look with standout pieces. The purpose is to give rooms the edge minimalism lacked. The mantra now is, ‘more is definitely more’.

Subtract the minimalism Minimalism first gained currency in the early 1990s when architects such as Eduardo Souto de Moura and Yoshio Taniguchi started encouraging a reduction in our living spaces. Clean, sparse lines, helped in part by the perfectly executed look of

machine-made products, installed order and sleek chic abroad and the trend eventually made its way to India in early 2000. But the look has run its course. Rajeev Agarwal, a Delhi-based architect and furniture designer, says when people introduced minimalism into their homes, they “found something lacking. Now, they are seeking more. Currently, Indians are keen to project a sense of abundance or excess.” This new luxe-edged look allows them the space to experiment with contemporary ideas and yet draw from a traditional legacy, which by and large is over the top. For example, beds may still have the straight angles associated with minimalism, but the headboard can be adorned with mirrors and jewelled fringe, a reminder of the

past meeting the contemporary lines of today. Alex Davis, a Delhi-based interior designer, said he worked for years with the minimal look. His home designs played with a monochromatic palette and the furniture line at his Indi Store explored straight lines and hard edges. But after a certain point, he grew bored by the style. “There’s only so much you can do when you’re taking away design elements from a room. It gets old. There are so many more areas to explore.” Plus, Davis says, minimalism, with its severe lines and emphasis on a lack of clutter, is notoriously difficult to maintain in a living space. Couches, for example, used little cushioning, few pillows and simple upholstery. But now people want more from a couch than an appealing,

Designers are reintroducing opulence by creating a hybrid of forms: contemporary materials, with a traditional, softer edge. Malini Akerkar of the Mumbaibased home design store, Pallate, says that people want to return to a familiarity of design shapes. “There are a lot of Gothic influences, but all are implemented in contemporary materials.” The shapes, therefore, are recognizable to the eye, but updated for a surprising, new look. For example, the Louis XIII chair, an old French, wooden design, will be made in plastic. It retains the curved, distinctive shape, but in an entirely new material. Or Venetian glasswork, traditionally made with fine cut-glass detailing of flowers, will be painted over in a bright orange lacquer, camouflaging the detail. The old style still exists, but with an updated feel. The new opulent look can also be achieved through small additions that draw the old look into the modern era. For example, a Hermes statue from the Renaissance placed next to a very contemporary glass sculpture gives the room a more eclectic look. Gujral agrees, “You can put a dramatic classic chandelier in a room with contemporary furniture and give everyone something to talk about. Introducing one piece can dramatically change the feel.” For her part, Gujral has recently started work on a new farmhouse. “Once you’ve finished a place, you feel ready to move on.” And, for her, the design will be far from minimal. Rather, she’ll be indulging in what she’s happy to call the “maximal” look.

Furniture: Ella chair from Basix, MGF Plaza, MG Road, Gurgaon, Rs14,175, plus the cost of upholstery. Pictured chair costs Rs17,925.

Upholstery: Baroque Winter Ensemble from Krsna Mehta for Zeba, available at Good Earth, Khan Market, New Delhi, and Raghuvanshi Mills Compound, Lower Parel, Mumbai, Rs12,000.

of this week > A review to next week > Look ahead Watch > Market column Account > Capital

That’s opulence, of course. Forget minimalism, try drama with a new twist Read the full story at www.livemint.com/thebigo

news

For today

THE BIG O

Jug: Cut­glass and metal antique from Klove, J2 Green Park, New Delhi, Rs18,000.

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Vase: Italian vase from Moon River, Defence Colony, New Delhi, and 41/44 Minoo Desai Marg, Colaba, Mumbai, Rs10,000.

We’re talking opulence, of course. Long gone are the days of reducing living spaces to minimal lines. Now it’s about expressing yourself with just the right dash of drama

B Y S UMANA M UKHERJEE ···························· bout a year ago, Shalom, now 9, decided she wanted to be like her friends. So, she dug out a chequered pinafore and a T-shirt and slipped them on. Then she solemnly walked across to “school”—a big wooden table in the open-plan kitchen of her home. “On the third day, she declared that wearing the same thing every day was boring,” laughs Shalom’s mother Sangeetha Raj, 39. But school never gets boring for Shalom. When it’s not at the kitchen table, it’s at the back porch, overlooking a tiny garden. Occasionally, it moves into a room stacked with books and crowned by a cardboard doll’s house, or to Russell Market, where she banters with the vendor and deals with a small amount of money. “Technically, Shalom is being homeeducated, but the whole world is her school,” says Bangalorebased Sangeetha. She could have been speaking for scores of other parents across the country, who have scoped out the conventional education system—very much a part of the ir o wn upbri ngi ng—and decided to strike out on their own. Like most other parents, those who educate their children at home know that few schools serve the best interests of either the child or of learning. Unlike them, though, this growing breed is willing to act on the premise that mother knows best. Combining Internet tools, realtime resources, recommended

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Fed up with conventional education, these parents decided to bring the classroom home

Kashmir life and sudden beauteous >Page 16

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Lighting: Mademoiselle chandelier from Terzani, available at Highlight, Square One, Saket, New Delhi, about Rs2 lakh.

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A LIFELONG EDGE Schools are a waste of time and resources, says economist Ashok Desai, who was home­schooled Ashok Desai didn’t go to school till he was 12 years old because his father Valji Desai lacked the means to send him to one. Valji himself was born into a family of modest means, but he always stood first in class and, with the help of scholarships, educated himself. In 1916, he earned Rs400 a month as a college professor. “A princely sum in those days,” recalls his son. But Valji came under the spell of Mahatma Gandhi, quit his job and went to jail a number of times. When Ashok and his brothers were growing up in the 1940s, there was little money in the house, so the boys were taught at home. “My father taught me for 1­2 hours a day and he taught me only two things—English and mathematics,”

says Ashok. “When I finally went to school, I was admitted to class VIII. I realized that I was way ahead of my classmates. I never had to study much and always stood first in class, except in class XI.” Ashok credits his initial years of home­schooling for giving him a lifelong edge. “My father taught me something that no school teaches you,” he says. “He taught me how to learn. I was equipped with the instruments of learning.” And, as a result, “I have never had to work as much as my peers,” he says. “Even today, all I have to do is write 3,000­4,000 words a week—about 5­6 hours of work—and I am fine.” A noted economist, who “strayed into journalism”, Ashok has written two books and served as economic adviser to Manmohan Singh when he, as the finance minister in the Narasimha Rao government, set India on the path of economic reforms in the early 1990s.

syllabuses and mentored e-discussions, they’re looking to create more fulfilled childhoods and enable holistic learning. At its very basic, home schooling takes ownership for a child’s education and makes it an individual, responsive, often free-flowing affair that keeps pace with his or her interests and abilities. All plugged-in parents would agree on this—and it may be all they agree on, for there are as many “methods” of home schooling as there are sets of parents. “While we all undoubtedly want the best for our children, our ways of getting there might not be identical,” confesses Ramji Srinivasan, 40, a software professional who’s taking advantage of a career break to put together a support group for home educators in Bangalore. Obviously, the decision to educate their kids themselves is not one taken lightly or in a hurry. “Ahead of our move back to India from the US, we began researching possible schools for our twins,” says Anand Bariya, 44, managing director of NetLogic, a Nasdaq-listed semiconductor company, and father of twins Mallika and Mohini, 12. “We narrowed in on a Bangalore school that claimed to be ‘alternative’ and admitted our girls there. But within a few months, we were disappointed with the depth of education the school was offering. We simply thought we could do a better job teaching the kids.” While in the US Srinivasan did the rounds of the most competitive schools with his daughter Eesha. That is where he encountered a Waldorf school. Based on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf schools focus on experiential, sensory-based learning in early childhood. “Till then, we’d had no idea of educational methods other than the conventional He points out that both his brothers were extremely bright and went on to have successful careers. Ashok doesn’t have a very high opinion of the state of education in India, whether in schools or universities. “I never felt that I was challenged intellectually till I went to Cambridge for my postgraduate studies,” he says. “There is no culture of fostering independent thinking in India.” He would recommend home­schooling any day, but a good teacher is essential. “If you don’t have a good teacher at home, then it defeats the purpose,” he says. But now there is a way out of that. “The Internet and television channels make home­schooling possible for everyone,” he adds. “I believe that those initial years spent at home saved me a lot of misery and unpleasantness. Perhaps it made me a bit of an introvert. But I really don’t mind it.” Himanshu Bhagat

schools my wife Meena and I had been to. But, after the US experience, I knew we couldn’t admit our daughter to a regular school when we came back to Bangalore in 2003,” says the software consultant. “And, there were no Waldorf institutions in the city.” Sangeetha didn’t even get that far. “We began teaching Shalom at home, the way any parent does,” she says. “By the time she was of school-going age, my son Ishaan was born and they grew very attached to each other. I didn’t have the heart to send her to school and separate them.” Now, five years later, Sangeetha and her husband Sathish Kumar, a software consultant, can’t conceive of a home where the children aren’t always around. It helps that Sangeetha, a postgraduate in English literature, teaches two days a week at Centre for Learning (CFL), a school on Bangalore’s outskirts that was once part of the pioneering J. Krishnamurti family of schools which were the first to impart “formalized” alternative education. CFL now functions independently but continues to adhere to the “alternative” philosophy. “We don’t home-school because of any ideology,” Sangeetha clarifies at the outset. “We have no issues with the mainstream. True, we don’t see our daughter going to one of those factory-like schools, but Shalom should be able to be part of the mainstream if she wants to. Should she want to go to school, she will—but it will probably be to an institution like CFL.” Till then, Sangeetha and Sathish are happy engaging with their children in the deepest possible sense. “Home schooling leaves us with very little time to do other things,” she says. “But parenthood was a conscious decision for us. We see no reason why we should entrust others with the most important part of their growing up.” In the twoand-a-half hours set aside informally every morning as “worktime”, Shalom studies English, math, science and history; she also goes for classes in Kannada and Hindi, languages that her parents aren’t confident of teaching. “But all the cues come from her,” emphasizes Sangeetha. “Last year, she came across a little historical story in a local newspaper. She came to me and said, ‘I want to do more of this.’ That’s how we started history.” Ditto with geometry. Though she isn’t yet 10, Shalom knows all about the 180 degrees in a triangle and the properties of a straight line. “One of her friends was doing geometry in school and she became curious about it,” says Sangeetha. “So, we took it up. And, remarkably, we’ve noted that the subjects—for lack of another word—that she is most comfortable with are the ones she has initiated.” Mallika and Mohini second

Life lessons: (clockwise from left) Motwani, an educational consultant, and his family at their south Mumbai home; gardening is part of Eesha’s education; and dissatisfied with an alternative school, Bariya began home­educating his twins, Mallika and Mohini. KIRAN/MINT

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that. “We like studying because we can do things at our own pace,” says Mallika. “If I want to spend the whole day studying math and Mohini wants to do history, there’s nothing to stop us.” Mumbai-based businessman Hemant Chhabra, 46, has a simple mantra: “Stop talking, listen to the kids. Human beings don’t need to be taught, they need to be stimulated.” With their first child Anicca, who’s now 16, Sangeeta Chhabra began by reading aloud to her stories and rhymes. “By the time she was two-and-a-half, she knew 200 poems by heart. We didn’t teach her A for apple, B for bat, she learnt phonetically,” Hemant says. “I still remember how she stunned us by reading aloud ‘utterly butterly’ from an Amul hoarding by the highway.” In a little village in Tamil Nadu, Sunder and Sonati are trying their hand at sustenance farming. “It’s just us and our two boys, Badri and Varun, who are 10 and 6, respectively. There is no time when they must study, yet there’s no time when they aren’t studying in some sense or the other,” says Sunder, 42. “The older one spent a lot of time reading, writing stories and illustrating them. Since we got the computer, he has become more savvy than us on a lot of counts. But the greatest resource is the wilderness. The boys just spend time running about, climbing trees, chasing dragons.” An IIT-ian like Sunder, Jogesh Motwani is an educational consultant who lives with his family in south Mumbai. But the whatwill-people-say syndrome hasn’t forced him to admit four-and-ahalf-year-old Mahuli to school. “I want my kids to think for themselves,” he says. “Most of my daughter’s peers have already spent half their lives in school. I want her to discover the world as it is.” To help her do it, the Motwanis walk down to the Gateway of India every day. Whatever catches Mahuli’s fancy becomes a lesson. A question on why the rocks are visible at certain times of the day and go underwater at others leads to a discussion on tides; an observation of various kinds of animal poop on the Colaba pavements triggers a

Most of my daughter’s peers have already spent half their lives in school. I want her to discover the world as it is. Jogesh Motwani conversation on scatology. While home education is about hands-on parenting, it doesn’t call for 24x7 parental presence. Those with very young children prefer to rejig their schedules so that one of them is around the kids most of the time. The Motwanis, for instance, work out of home, while Sathish makes sure he is available on the two days Sangeetha is at CFL. But, with their daughters turning 12, the Bariyas have no issue working regular hours from their respective offices. As ideal and idealistic as home education sounds, it is still far from gathering enough critical mass to be hailed as the antischool. “The rise in homeeducating, globally as well as in India, mostly reflects people’s extreme dissatisfaction with conventional education,” says Clive Elwell, a New Zealander who, after a teaching stint in India, has been anointed mentor of an e-group on home schooling. “People see their children suffering in various ways, bored with school, being bullied, insulted and demeaned by teachers. My feeling, based on my interaction with the online group over the past seven years, is that probably more people are turning to home education. I do know that about six people have joined the group every week—mostly those who are home-educating their children or are seeking the courage to do so.” Notwithstanding the presence of the National Institute of Open Schooling (Nios), set up in 1989

as an autonomous organization under the ministry of human resource development, it is educators such as Elwell to whom the inexperienced turn for advice. Elwell, 60, however, is careful not to fall into the trap of being the evangelist: “I would not advise anyone how they should educate their children,” he says in an email interview. “Rather, I would encourage them to embark on a voyage of discovery with their children.” Perhaps the most delightful part of home-educating is that it can be anything you want it to be. “Home schooling is not just for the hippies,” says Bariya. “I do want my daughters to pass their exams at the X standard and the XII, and Nios allows them to do so. We went in for home schooling so that they could optimize their potential, not to limit their options.” Anicca, taught to read phonetically, remembers having some problems with spellings. “But, that’s something I overcame with time. Now, I’ve set my heart on joining Xavier’s in Mumbai to

study Arts,” she says. There’s no reason why she shouldn’t get there. Ask Nadisha Coelho, 22. The first-born of Goa-based Ana and Valentine Coelho, she was home-educated after her parents found her school slipping up on religious education. In 2006, she won a Mumbai University gold medal for topping her BSc batch in home science. “I think it was the proudest moment of my life,” says Nadisha. “After clearing my XII standard under Nios, I joined a Goa college. Because I was in a class with others after such a long spell, I wasn’t sure what to expect. So, I put in extra effort and topped the class in the first term. But nothing gave me as much pleasure as my father’s presence when I got my medal.” It might seem ironical that a home-educated child would find it thrilling to top a competition—antithetical to the very concept of home schooling—but Nadisha is quick to point out her priority wasn’t so much to beat 175 others, as it

was to give her best. The transition isn’t as easy for everyone. After years in the alternative rural sector in Maharashtra, Yashodara and Kanwarjit, both in their 40s, moved to Goa for health reasons in 2005. “In the city, it suddenly dawned on us that we were a nuclear family,” says Yashodara. “So, we put in a lot of energy in ensuring Anant, our 8-year-old, had opportunities to meet other kids in his age group—be it through swimming, gym, summer camp or libraries. But three months ago, he announced he wanted to go to school. We believe he should make his own decisions, so he joined a school of his own choice—not one of those factory schools, but a small place, offering classes I-IV, with about 30-32 students to a class. It’s not what we’d have chosen: Since he’s now in class II, it means looking for a school again in two years. I also feel his 9am-4pm absence deeply—his day was so much a part of my day that I’m still recovering.”

A very social child, Anant didn’t have a problem picking up the school’s rhythm and fell in with the other children and team games. On the academic front, he has been slowly finding his feet. “At home, he printed his letters, in school, he has to use cursive writing,” explains Yashodara. “Also, conceptually, he’s far ahead of his class. A school is geared to deal with the average child, so others get left behind or have to wait for others to catch up.” As Anant’s parents found out, there is no bar to a homeschooled child joining a mainstream school at any stage. “In fact, the Nios curriculum is exceptionally good,” says Shyama Chona, principal of Delhi Public School, RK Puram, and a big votary of the open school system. “While the economically weaker sections have special provisions for school admissions under Nios, other students would need to clear the entrance test—just the same as any child educated in any other school.” Equally, there are those who would say a child is not meant to grow up in a universe limited to his or her parents. “The success of home schooling depends on how well it’s managed,” points out educationist Tara Kini, who has a special interest in alternative education. “Children need a sense of belonging. So, unless it becomes common enough in India, parents need to focus hard on peer interaction. In fact, I think the plus points of regular schools are the break-time or the bus journeys. Without adequate interaction with the outside world, there may be too much of the parents, even a danger of claustrophobia.” Those are very real dangers, acknowledges Srinivasan. “Meena and I are not very social creatures and I think Eesha’s picked up that trait from us. Like us, she’d rather invest in a few deep relationships than many superficial ones. Home schooling can get lonely.” It’s not for every child. Nor is it, obviously, for every parent. But for those for whom it works, it is the most meaningful thing in the world.

MODUS OPERANDI A beginner’s guide to the home­schooling enterprise How one approaches home schooling can be as subjective and individualistic as one’s approach towards parenting. It’s not necessary for the mother or the father to be a trained teacher, but it is necessary for both to be in complete agreement over the basic principles of education. Parents will need to invest time and energy in researching resources and they should have a clear idea of their and their children’s goals.

17

MOTHER KNOWS BEST

What about curriculum? Since the basic idea behind home schooling goes against the structure and conventions of school, most parents prefer a freewheeling method in the early years. Reading aloud, storytelling, rhymes and songs—all become ways of learning. With slightly older children, peer group course books are a good guide. The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) curriculum was revamped in 2005 and has come in for praise from all quarters. Visit ‘www.ncert.nic.in’ for details. NCERT textbooks are downloadable from the Net. The Nios syllabus, broken up into secondary and senior secondary courses, too, is an enlightened one. Course material can be ordered online; the cost of the course material is included in the admission fee. A wealth of information on age­appropriate study materials sourced from foreign countries is also available online. The Singapore government site, ‘www.moe.gov.sg/education/syllabuses/’ details curricula for almost all core subjects a typical home­schooled child would study, including math, science, geography, English and computers. The syllabuses can be used almost as is for a home­school programme. Science, math and English curricula available from the California department of education site ‘www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/cf/allfwks.asp’ are particularly good and detailed.

Faux flowers can stunning home be remade into accessories >Page 8

Besides academics, are there other factors to keep in mind? Certainly. It’s essential for home­schooling parents to help their children integrate with society and their peer group, whether among their friends’ circles or a support group. The website ‘www.alternativeeducationindia.net’ has an active Yahoo group. There has been some effort in individual cities, too, to develop support groups that meet at periodic intervals to discuss ideas and issues.

DRESSING DOWN AT WORK

Fed up with conve ntional education, some decided to bring parents classroom home the >>Page Page

Business casual—all business, never casual >Page 9

Sumana Mukherjee, with inputs from Anand Bariya

Write to lounge@livemint.com

JARED SAND RE BERG

LEAVE THE LEAVE WOROFFICE, K

BUSINESS LOUNG WITH OM PRAKA E SH BHATT >Page 10

ETERNAL GARDE N

How do I assess my child’s progress? For parents so inclined, education departments in various US states have excellent tests available for free download for all classes. These tests can be used effectively to track and assess the progress of a home­schooled child. The following sites are particularly good: u California tests: ‘www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sr/css05rtq.asp’ u Texas tests: ‘www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/resources/release’ u Florida tests: ‘fcat.fldoe.org/fcatit02.asp’ u Massachusetts tests: ‘www.doe.mass.edu/mcas/testitems.html’ Under Nios, students are required to clear a minimum of five subjects (including two languages) at the secondary and higher secondary level for certification. Certificates have the same level of acceptance as state or central boards.

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Fed up with conventional education, some parents decided to bring the classroom home

2008 Vol. 2 No.

Is home schooling legal in India? Yes, it is—if only because no form of schooling is illegal. Some states do require parents to send their children to school but, as we know, that regulation is rarely enforced. The National Institute of Open Schooling (’www.nios.ac.in’) was set up to provide learn­and­earn options for children from economically weaker sections, but it is an umbrella policy that anyone can take advantage of.

CUBICLE CULTU

MOTHER KNOWS BEST

Saturday, May 3,

For 8­year­old Eesha Srinivasan, this tree house is a classroom.

PURS

UITS VIR SANG HVI

THE GOOD

LIFE SHOBA NARA

GODMEN: NO YAN BETTER HAV THAN MAGICIAN E YOU FOU S YOUR L­SPOT? ND

THE POWER TRIANG LE

Bill Emmott explains how the rise Japan, China henever a colleague of and India will change the world >Page leaves the company, tax accounta 18 nt Jill Harris y some coinciden thinks some good could ce, I had just come of it: deserving person reading William finished Either the will go on to Kalush and DON’T MISS have become the resigning Larry Sloman’s something better biography of obsessed with shirker may the magician or Harry Houdini threshold. No, be replaced and escapolog who will do by it isn’t an allergy my lactic (The Secret more work. ist Life of Houdini) Mostly, however, someone saw a photograp have anything nor does it result from to do with breast-fee when h of P.C. Sorcar bad things departures: Either your magician , (Jr), India’s greatestI mistakenly thought. grows immediat ding as I waving at own workload ely or you feel his daughter marathon runners, This term— familiar to nothing stuck here, while jealous that . most athletes, enduranc you’re daughter unusual about this except There was a n d o some lightweigh ther sup e coaches Harris tries that Sorcar’s t is trading up. was riding a to make Still, bike bicycle at the humanit y—has e r b l y f i t a n o m a l For today’s busines performing songs a nice going-away party, was riding ies of time. And the to do on with water, s she has written. news experience when the “burn” not solid road. photograph >Page 4 > Question of we was part of we exercise. The Answers— It is a point family’s latest WSJ the publicity for the Sorcar treadmill when you are event. the quiz with cursing fluently— on the >Page 5 languages—and a difference in three then are forced > Markets Watch you can’t even to stop because muster Bhajji’s monkey. >Page > Capital Account 6

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TEST DRIVE

In search of the perfect

DETAILS | PRIYA KISHORE

Bombay Electric’s trendy owner on jazzing up your shirt

white shirt

If you find the perfect white shirt, you don’t have to do much; just dress it up with a killer ring or bracelet. If the collar’s nice, show off your bare neck. If you want something around your neck, accessorize with a long necklace; they are hot this season. White can be accessorized with any colour. It’s a great opportunity to go nuts. Belt your white kurta or a long shirt high to show off your waist or low, on your hips. Silver and white complement each other. A fresh contemporary white shirt with antique silver jewellery can be a very modern look.

Don’t scoff, it is (almost) as difficult as finding the right partner B Y P RIYA R AMANI priya.r@livemint.com

···························· few days into my quest for the perfect white shirt (for women), and halfway through a survey of what is available (for men), I realized there is a shirt mafia at work. Aditya Birla Nuvo’s Madura Garments owns/ distributes Van Heusen, Allen Solly, Louis Philippe, Esprit and Peter England. Raymond owns Be:, ColorPlus and Park Avenue. The Murjani Group has the upper end sewed up with Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Gucci and FCUK. Mafia or not, everyone needs a white shirt. The eight or so white shirts I own have only one thing in common (aside from their colour, of course)—they were all bought in the US or Europe. But surely quality, variety and fit have improved here since I last looked carefully? I’ve done the grimy groundwork so your task will be easier when you want to buy your next white shirt. Before we begin, some statutory warnings: When you go looking for white, you are likely to find purple. Or berry. Or Porpora pink (Gucci’s colour of the season, basically a duller version of fuchsia). Most women’s shirts are Made in China. Ladies, if you are a size S, even if you do find that perfect shirt, they have likely sold out in your size. If you are allergic to pin-tucks and pleats, this is not the season for shirt shopping. As for men—you need to up your understanding of shirt technology if you don’t want to get lost in a maze of terms. And, yes, prices have gone up since you last looked.

A

Mango: This store has a wide selection.

Mango Mango is Made in China shirt heaven. The store manager says the whites, browns, pinstripes and off-whites are popular. After a laser sharp round of the racks, I zero in on three beauties. The first one is a casual smocked shortsleeved shirt in mul. It arrived just a few days ago in white, green, purple and maroon, but it is sold out and I can only find a medium in maroon. The torso fits beautifully, but the sleeves droop. Perhaps it is because it is not a small, my regular size. This one costs Rs1,550, and is great if you can fit into it. The label says it is machine wash, but the salesgirl says it is better to handwash—who knows if the colour runs. Luckily, we only want white. The next one from the MNG Suit range is an empire cut with silver (or gold) stripes. This one has a Chinese collar, mother of pearl buttons, a tiny smock on the cute faux puff sleeves. But the fabric—that has a silken fit, thanks to the 4% elastane—crinkles too

much under the chest. At Rs1,950, I expect better. The third one has a sexy big collar, super professional pin-tucks and longer, four button cuffs. It has got the formula down pat (69% cotton, 3% lycra and 28% polyamide) and it fits beautifully. It is part of their limited Penelope and Monica Cruz for MNG range, hence the Rs2,750 tag. I love it.

Park Avenue The fit of their women’s shirts and tops can vary, so don’t lose heart if the first couple of things you try don’t fit you as well as they should—I tried three pieces, one fit but looked small, one fit perfectly and one blouse refused to go over my big head. Be adventurous—steer clear of their hot selling, no-frills shirt. My favourite was a 100% cotton, Rs999 shirt with pin-tucks that were broadly spaced near the neck and narrowed as they marched down.

Bombay Electric Okay, I’ve already started cheating. There are no shirts here, but we love this store, and it has lots of white. Our pick was easily the pleated yoke shift in pure cotton, with mother-of-pearl buttons for Rs3,250. The sizes are slightly smaller here.

Pratap Designer Rajesh Pratap Singh can make a shirt do cartwheels for him. And, luckily for us, white is one of his favourite colours. The Rs3,950 classic cotton with raglan sleeves and lots of detailing was a clear winner.

Ashish Soni For Rs2,950, there is a nice looker in satin with mother of pearl buttons and churidaar sleeves with a retro tie-up collar. Innovative, but the extra small was slightly loose and I couldn’t button the collar. All you slim-necked ladies could get luckier; the shirt is available in white, black, gold, chocolate brown and berry.

Narendra Kumar We zeroed in on an almost-jacket shirt with a long lapel collar and square metal buttons in sturdy stretch cotton. It costs Rs5,950, and even shows off some midriff. Be warned, this designer doesn’t do smalls.

Van Heusen They launched their womenswear line in May. Perhaps that is why the one store in Mumbai that showcases this range exclusively is in suburban Andheri. Delhiites are luckier, that exclusive store is centrally located in Connaught Place. There is a basic white cotton-spandex shirt for Rs1,195, and a self-stripe Dobby weave for Rs1,295. But I couldn’t find these either in an S or XS. The brand even offers a press-button service for cleavage-shy clients.

Gucci The white is sold out, so I try on the purple version. It is 72% cotton with 23% polyamide and 5% elas-

For the white male

tane, puff sleeves and has the new Duchesa bow on the pocket. It fits well, but I am not sure I want to part with Rs30,050.

It’s a maze out there. Arm yourself before you head out

Esprit Esprit has three or so varieties (there is even an Ashish Soni lookalike, except that this one fits me beautifully), but I liked the 100% cotton with a central panel of pleats. It is Made in China, of course, and costs Rs2,800.

B Y P RIYA R AMANI priya.r@livemint.com

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Park Avenue There’s always the staple twoply cotton Wrinkle Free with a self design for those long days (Rs1,699) or the no fuss Dobbies 100% cotton herringbone shirt at Rs1,099. If you want to up the tech specs, try the Non-Iron 100% cotton that costs Rs2,599 (but, remember it does need a light iron after it’s washed). Then there is the Non Iron + Nano Tech, which has been treated so if water falls on it, it slides off. Price: Rs2,499.

Wills Lifestyle There is a cotton Embellish Stitch Shirt (not as bad as it sounds) with a touch of spandex and three button cuffs. It is nice, cheap (Rs895) and sold out in S.

Benetton They have three varieties; the three-fourth sleeves cotton shirt with a hint of spandex costs Rs999 and fits like a dream. Best part? It is not Made in China. Though most of Benetton’s goodies are made here and only 2% are imported from Italy.

Canali The white shirts aren’t displayed because, as the store manager correctly points out, they get dirty. But ask and they will whip out two boxes of pure cottons. Their basic daywear shirt costs Rs7,650. If you are looking for something to wear under your

Calvin Klein There is a nicely-shaped slim fit shirt which advertises it is from Calvin Klein Jeans in a discreet, pale grey running hand. It is cotton with that 3% elastane which ensures it clings perfectly, but I found the navy stripe on the inside collar a little distracting. The Made in China shirt costs Rs3,495.

Zegna Zegna has a much wider range—there is even a tux shirt with French cuffs for Rs18,400. We liked the trendy printed white shirt in their Z Zegna range (Rs10,700) and the woven casual shirt for Rs13,100.

Gucci There is a sturdy fitted barrel cuff shirt for Rs19,500 and a nice evening shirt with French cuffs. Their tux shirts cost Rs15,550.

Bombay Electric Get creative, buy a kurta shirt. Their double layer kurta with cuffs is available for Rs2,400.

Pratap Go beyond the classic pin-tucks. For Rs4,750, you can get a lovely linen band collar half placket shirt with a pocket. There is even a button and band halfway if you want to roll up your sleeves.

Peter England Before you say CEOs don’t wear Peter England, it is my job to point out that this brand has launched a new Elite 100% cotton white shirt priced at Rs1,095. It’s your call.

Marks & Spencer They recently slashed their prices by 35% but their Autograph range for women still seems a little overpriced. They have quite a few white shirts, made mostly in China and Malaysia; the simple, crinkle cotton Made in India with a V-neck collar worked for me. Best part? If you peel back the new Rs790 label, you will find the original Rs1,250 tag.

Allen Solly If you have been spending more time at your desk than on the treadmill, the relaxed fit linen/cotton blend, for Rs1,499, might be the one for you. In their premium Prodigy range (for whiz kids, apparently), try the classic fit, selfstripes made from Egyptian Giza cotton and priced at Rs1,899. All their shirts come with cheesy notes like this one, on a shirt from their Ivory collection: snow, pearl, chalk, milk, lily, lace, moon, alabaster; no matter how many names one gives white, it stays pure and divine and lights up the dullest of days.

nylon/spandex shirt please, unless you want to look like anchor Rohit Roy in the dance show Jhalak Dikhlaa Jaa.

Louis Philippe They have great shirts. Their Permapress, 100% Japanese cotton made in Thailand with a half cut collar, costs Rs1,999. In the Gods and Kings range, they have a lovely 100% Giza Cotton for Rs1,599. The shirt comes in two versions—French cuffs and half cut collar or regular collar and cuffs. Their piece de resistance is the Permawhite shirt which has been advance treated for more whiteness. The placket and seams are imported and, they claim, pucker-free. For Rs2,399.

Esprit If you don’t have access to Italian shirts, this is the place for a nice looking, slim fit shirt. There is a gorgeous cotton one with 4% elastic for Rs2,500. And a self-stripe casual, long sleeve 100% cotton for Rs2,800.

Benetton There is a no-frills short sleeves for Rs1,099, a formal self stripes for Rs1,699 and a lovely linen short sleeves for Rs1,399.

ColorPlus Their Purple Club range has a couple of bright sparks. There is a wrinkle resist for Rs2,800 and another one made of Japanese cotton for Rs2,378. They also have several basic twill shirts and a nice Oxford. These start from Rs1,200 (approx.).

27 O CT 2 007

Chemistry For Rs875, there’s one that has three-fourth sleeves, self-stripes and a tie-up waist. It’s a bit of a delicate darling, they want you to wash it in a washbag for best results. I know I wouldn’t be able to take care of it. It’s also available in yellow, purple and brown.

SHIRT SCIENCE

Wrinkle resist The yarn is twisted so it bounces back to its original shape much faster, hence resisting creases. Mostly found in a polyester­based fabric.

Verdict I avoided popular department stores such as Westside and Pantaloon. I also avoided lowerpriced brands such as Blackberrys. After all, salaries have risen in the past year and the brands featured here depend on our business. The search confirmed a few things: Rajesh Pratap Singh makes beautifully crafted shirts for men and women; you’re always likely to find something at Benetton and Mango; brands that have traditionally focused on menswear are working hard to please their female consumers and they all do nice basics (see Page14); my wardrobe is still likely to be biased in favour of whites from Banana Republic, The Limited and Express.

suit, ask for their silky twill shirt with a cutaway collar (Rs9,550).

Wrinkle free A cotton based fabric is chemically treated (or coated with synthetic resin) to make it smoother and improve its drape. Non­iron An advanced treatment at the molecular level.

Two ply Two single yarns are twisted together during the thread­making stage. Dobby A micro structure with a self­design, normally geometric and normally single colour, which is introduced during weaving. Twill A diagonal weave. Park Avenue: This Rs999 shirt is a good staple.

Van Heusen

Their True-Tech non-iron, Giza cotton comes fully loaded with advanced microfibres and costs Rs1,499. Of course, like all noniron shirts, a mild iron is recommended. This shirt is a cotton/ polyester blend. If you are the type who wants an extra bright white (think Tide ad), try the Best White non-iron 100% cotton, which has gone through a liquid ammonia moist cure treatment to ensure the lustre remains. Plus, it has got a DP rating of 4+, whatever that means. The label congratulates you on acquiring the perfect white shirt. Of course, you must pay the price: Rs1,799. Avoid their modern fit polyester/

Calvin Klein

If you are on the skinny side, CK’s casual slim-fit will probably fit you better than the one at Esprit. It costs Rs3,495 and it is okay to give it a skip in favour of denims or underwear.

Marks & Spencer

It is raining white shirts here. Their easycare range (65% cotton, 35% polyester) is available in packs of three (Rs1,995) and two (Rs1,695). For some reason, the shirts in the three-pack have a regular collar; the dual pack shirts have a cutaway collar. There is also a pure cotton easyiron with a cutaway collar and double cuffs for Rs1,845. The Autograph range has two whites, both for Rs2,395—a pure cotton Made in Mauritius, and a second, quirkier one with printed inner cuffs and collar. For those of you who still live in the button-down era, there is an Oxford for Rs1,845.

Zodiac

Their double cuff, cutaway collar at Rs1,799 is a popular seller. If you don’t want the frills, ask for the single cuff, normal collar which costs Rs1,699. P.S.: I love their m o th e r of p e ar l t h r e e - h o l e Trinity buttons.

IN SEARCH OF THE PERFECT WHITE SHIRT

‘Fashion reflects history’ The designer on collecting old gold jewellery, and how Goa became the starting point of all Indo­Western wear in India

B Y S EEMA C HOWDHRY seema.c@livemint.com

······································ f you are looking for a book on the contemporary history of Goan fashion, then Moda Goa: History and Style by designer Wendell Rodricks is perhaps not the book for you. But if you are keen to understand how the culture, garments, food, rituals, jewellery and just about everything in Goa evolved, then Moda Goa is the book to possess. Though it took Rodricks around two years to put the book together, he says he has been working on finding out more about Goa and its heritage since 2000, when he took six months off from designing to study at various museums and art archives in Goa and across the globe. In the end, the book is more of an insight into the history of Goa than just a book on fashion and style. In an interview in Delhi, Rodricks talks about why the Kunbi sari is close to his heart and why Rohit Bal and Sabyasachi Mukherjee should take time off from designing to write books too. Edited excerpts:

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came from, did a book like I have done. This is such a legacy to leave behind. I wish Rohit Bal would do one on Kashmir and Sabyasachi does it on Kolkata and Bengal. They are capable of doing it. We need to create these histories of ourselves. Fashion is a reflection of history in the end. The Kunbi sari and its revival is an important section in the book. What attracted you to this weave? It came out of a sense of shame, really. Maharashtra has its Paithanis, Gujarat its Patolas, Orissa its Ikat—the only sari we have in Goa was the Kunbi. It was a tribal sari and no one wanted to wear it. It is not a long sari to drape—only four-and-a-half to five yards—and always in its signature red and white shades. I felt those colours only cannot be used all the time if the sari has to be acceptable today. We had to change the colour palette, and I was sure I wanted to use only natural dyes for it. Any other weaves that you are working to revive right now? Not really. But I am interested in Goan jewellery,

The book looks like it is a labour of love. Have you been planning for a long time to put it together? It was one of those things that fell into place. At the back of my head, I had a concept like this but I was not thinking about a book. The entire process of collecting this information from various sources meant travelling to the Goa state library, private historical research centres; it meant, terrifyingly, to converse with some eminent scholars in Goa and internationally. In 2009, I attended a conference in Jaipur and they invited me to speak on Pano Bhaju, a Goan garment. The organizers were so fascinated by that paper that as soon as I got off the podium, they suggested I should Moda Goa—History write a book on Goa and and Style: its style. By Wendell Rodricks, I wish that every HarperCollins, designer in India, 240 pages, `3,999. whichever state they

Revival: The Kunbi sari.

and would really like to get together a group of goldsmith artisans who know how to make old Goan-Konkan-style jewellery. I would love to bring back the old-style combs, bangles. In fact, I have quite a collection of old gold from Goa now, and I want goldsmiths to be able to revive these styles. In the book, you indicate that in spite of influences from so many cultures and communities—the Muslims, Chinese, Portuguese—Goans have managed to retain some parts of their Hindu legacy. How? That was the biggest surprising point for me too. What I respect most about Goan people is that in spite of the Inquisition, they retained what was important to them. Look at the Goan bride: She may be dressed in a white bridal gown but is most likely to wear red bridal bangles always to church. Two beautiful things happened in Goa—one, the colonizers, who could not survive in this humid, hot weather in velvets, had to pick up some of our clothing habits. Ironically, there were some aspects of their clothing that we liked: their waistcoats, their shoes, which were more comfortable. Second, what was truly remarkable was that despite all these interferences, so many rigours of the Inquisition, Goans still retained that wonderful Hindu legacy and learnt to mix the old with the new. That is the real strength of Goan culture. So Goa actually does become the birthplace of the first Indo-Western garments, and it happened 450 years ago here.

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SPOTLIGHT

LA’s new

Lady She’s expertly navigating the red carpet, one pretty dress at a time. ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ star Freida Pinto is Hollywood’s latest style icon (their words, not ours)

B Y P ARIZAAD K HAN & R ACHANA N AKRA ···························· ooking at images of Freida Pinto descending the red carpet in some of the world’s hottest fashion labels, it’s difficult to believe that she once shopped at Fashion Street, a street market popular with Mumbai’s college students. The 24-year-old resident of the Mumbai suburb of Malad has been hailed by the foreign press as Hollywood’s latest It Girl as she does the rounds of the awards circuit with the rest of the cast and crew of Slumdog Millionaire. Pinto has come in No. 1 and No. 3 for two consecutive weeks on Vogue’s 10 Best Dressed, a weekly list of stylish women that the magazine’s online edition singles out. She’s also featured in the March issue of Vanity Fair. Blogs on celebrity dressing, such as Bellasugar.com and Gofugyourself.com, have raved about, among other things, her hair and eyebrows. Pinto has worn everything from short, draped dresses and long flowing gowns to body-conscious sheaths. She’s been photographed in Christian Lacroix at the Golden Globes, Zac Posen at the LA Film Critics Awards and the Directors Guild of America Awards, Gaultier Couture at the LA Film Critics dinner, Chanel at the Elle Style Awards, Marchesa at the Screen Actors Guild awards and a custom-made Oscar de la Renta gown at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) awards—she says this was her favourite outfit. That’s not counting the Martin Katz, Lorraine Schwartz and Fred Leighton jewellery pieces, Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo footwear, as well as the latest purses (and sometimes Dev Patel) as arm candy. “I have been approached by many designers wanting to dress Freida. She is a beautiful young woman, so many designers are willing to loan to her,” says Pinto’s international stylist George Kotsiopoulos. He admits that the film’s success at the Golden Globes and other award ceremonies has made his job a tad easier. “No designers said ‘no’ before the Globes, but some designers became more available after that,” he says.

JOEL RYAN/AP

Chronicler: Chronicler: Wendell Rodricks.

Don’t scoff, it is (almost) as difficult as finding the right partner

Q&A

‘I have mastered the art of graceful exits from the car’ Freida Pinto on LBDs and what she’s thinking about on the red carpet How would you describe your personal style? Comfortable and chic. I believe that it is rather difficult to carry off something that is too tight or something you aren’t comfortable in. It’s very important to be comfortable as only then can you be stylish and graceful. Which are the designers that you were always looking forward to wearing even before Slumdog Millionaire? Oscar de la Renta—my all-time favourite. Which has been your favourite dress or gown among those you have worn to appearances so far? The Oscar de la Renta gown that I wore for the Bafta. What is the extent of your involvement in your styling? I am pretty much the final decision maker. Of course I take inputs from my stylist but sometimes if I see something that I like, then I even consider that.

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What dresses and gowns would you choose? I like my gowns and dresses to be well fit with clean cuts as I believe it suits me better than flowy garments. However, it should not accentuate the hips or overly accentuate the curves of the body. One would look weighty in a gown that has too much fabric. I like darker shades but I also like to dabble with lighter colours and pastels. Black, without a doubt, is my favourite colour. However, I’ve stayed away from colours like mint green and white since I haven’t found the right gown in both these colours. STEPHEN HIRD/REUTERS

Anaita Shroff Adajania, fashion director of Vogue India and stylist to Bollywood actors such as Priyanka Chopra, Bipasha Basu and Hrithik Roshan, says Pinto, though petite, seems to be holding her own. “She almost looks to the manor born. I think it’s a proud fashion moment for India,” she says. Midway through the awards season, says Adajania, Pinto’s stylist probably had a roomful of clothes for her to choose from. And indeed he did. Kotsiopoulos, a Los Angeles-based celebrity stylist who has previously dressed Heidi Klum, Anne Hathaway, Julianne Moore and Christina Ricci, mentions in an email interview that he currently has a room full of clothes for his fittings with Pinto. He says he tries to choose looks that reference her Indian heritage and also show that she is an international beauty. He explains his modus operandi for award-season dressing: “I go through all the current collections and make requests for specific dresses that I’d like to try on Freida. Most (fashion) houses only have one set of samples that are shared with magazines, buyers and retailers, so you must reserve them in advance,” he says.

LUCY NICHOLSON/REUTERS

DAN STEINBERG/AP

“Fortunately for me, Freida can wear a large variety of colours because of her beautiful skin tone. She likes beautiful colours such as pinks, blues and purples, but she looks amazing in nude colours as well,” says Kotsiopoulos. Pinto says her favourite colour is black, “without a doubt”. So far, the ensembles chosen for Pinto by Kotsiopoulos have been pretty much on trend. There’s been no experimentation with very fashion-forward cuts or styles. Pinto’s dressing has been classic on most occasions, such as the floor-length periwinkle Marchesa gown at the Screen Actors Guild Awards (where she was a presenter). Both her dresses by Zac Posen were short and draped, showing off her legs and portraying a younger, sexier image. “I like my gowns and dresses to be well fit with clean cuts, as I believe it suits me better than flowy garments. However, it should not accentuate the hips or overly accentuate the curves of the body. One would look weighty in a gown that has too much fabric,” she says. But even as Hollywood cheers her on, there is one person Pinto turns to for unbiased advice—her elder sister. Sharon Pinto, a producer for a news channel in

Mumbai, says Freida, who is younger by four years, did call her to ask which outfit she liked the best. “We are each other’s sounding boards,” says Sharon. “I told her I loved all the dresses which were shorter and fit closer to the body. I think yards of fabric don’t flatter her too much,” she says. Through the thick of the awards season, her now worldfamous sister’s schedule was too busy for girlie chats about clothes, so Sharon says she just googled her to see what she had worn lately. During the awards season, which culminates in the Acad-

‘Freida can wear a large variety of colours because of her beautiful skin tone. She likes pinks, blues and purples.’

Here she comes: (clockwise from left) Pinto in a white Grecian­inspired draped dress by Zac Posen; the periwinkle Marchesa gown; a Chanel dress with an embellished neckline; a metallic draped Posen dress; a yellow sheath by Derek Lam; and her favourite— a baby pink custom­made Oscar de la Renta gown. emy Awards on Sunday, designers pursue the stars to wear their creations for various appearances. What has been the norm for years internationally is a trend that is just starting with foreign labels in India. Fashion houses which have a presence in the country, such as Christian Dior, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and those under the TSG International Marketing Pvt. Ltd umbrella (Jean Paul Gaultier, Moschino, Lanvin, Alberta Ferretti, Marc Jacobs, DVF and Stella McCartney), have provided clothes for Indian actors for Indian and international awards functions and other appearances. Most recently, Aishwarya Rai wore a black Alberta Ferretti gown to the New York premier of Pink Panther 2, with a little co-ordination from TSG, the label’s representatives in India. Charu Sachdev, CEO of TSG, says most labels have specially created celebrity dresses or couture pieces that are only for lending to stars. “The star tells us the kind of look they are aiming for—either fluid and feminine, or glamorous, or classic, and we try and give them a few options which are suitable,” says Sachdev. Most often, the dresses or gowns have to be flown to India

What kind of accessories do you like? For me, less is more. When I wear a stunning pair of earrings, I will not wear a necklace with it. For me that’s too much. I’d probably team it with a pretty ring. I prefer to stay away from chunky jewellery. I like longer chains, baubles that reach the navel. I think it’s quite exciting and fun.

DANNY MOLOSHOK/REUTERS

from Paris or Milan—depending on where the brand’s headquarters are located. Kalyani Chawla, vice-president, marketing and communications, for Christian Dior in India, says the label has a celebrity wardrobe in Paris and ensembles are flown all around the world for celebrity appearanc e s. A n indic ator o f h ow important these appearances are to the label: Chawla says they sometimes give out dresses to celebrities from the New Delhi boutique (prices for a ready-towear Christian Dior gown start from Rs10 lakh). Of course, these can’t be sold later. “The red gown Aishwarya wore for the International Indian Film Academy (Iifa) Awards (held in Bangkok in June) was from the boutique,” says Chawla. The dress was added to the international celebrity wardrobe after Rai wore it. And fashion houses will fly one dress thousands of miles if they are convinced it will be good for the brand. Chawla remembers the praise heaped on Preity Zinta for an ice-blue Dior gown she wore to the Toronto Film Festival in 2007, which Chawla helped her procure. But she remembers even more clearly the logistical nightmare it was to get the gown to Zinta. “It had to be flown from Paris to New York and then someone had to put it on a plane to Canada. But it was worth it because she carried it so well,” says Chawla. Sachdev says a few Indian actors, such as Zinta, have worn Alberta Ferretti gowns to the Cannes International Film Festival. “For these appearances, the fittings are conducted and overseen personally by the dress-

Who are your fashion icons? I’d have to say Angelina Jolie and Kate Beckinsale. When you were a model in Mumbai, what did you wear to parties? For me, the evergreen little black dress (LBD) is really it. The little black dress really goes a long way in one’s wardrobe. You can always accessorize it with a stunning pair of shoes and a belt and you’re ready to go. Even 20 years hence, the LBD will always be in vogue.

maker. All the alterations are made on Mrs Ferretti’s yacht,” says Sachdev. Just the kind of royal treatment Pinto would be receiving now; must be a bit like stepping into the princess diaries for someone who, like the majority of Mumbai’s students, has been street-shopping in Mumbai. “As a college student, Freida hunted for funky stuff at Fashion Street. She’s not very brand conscious, but more concerned about what works for her and what doesn’t,” says Sharon. Sharon says Freida is (or was) a feminine dresser. “She loves girlie styles, the colour pink and bows,” she says. She also reveals that she isn’t too good at handling bad hair days, as she’s always had beautiful hair. “When she was a child she once said ‘My hair is so silky, you can make a silk sari out of it’. That’s now become a family joke,” Sharon laughs. For a girl who’s had problems finding shoes in India because of her size 10 feet, those Louboutins must feel super sweet.

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parizaad.k@livemint.com

What have you learnt about red-carpet dressing and handling yourself on the red carpet? Well, I tend to slouch a little, so shoulders should always be pulled back. You should stand tall and be yourself. Too much posing on the red carpet can seem fake sometimes, so the key is to be comfortable and confident. How often does the thought enter your mind that you might spill something on your gown? Have you had any mishaps so far? I’m quite careful with my gowns and don’t spill anything on them. The only mishap (not really one) would be when the hem of my dress got slightly dirty on the Bafta red carpet due to the rain. How long does it take you to get ready with hair and make-up for a red-carpet appearance? Three hours minimum.

How does it feel when you step out of the car and on to the red carpet? I’m always worried about the right exit from the car, generally due to the dresses I wear. I always aim at making a graceful entry onto the red carpet and I have to say that I have mastered the art of graceful exits from the car. Parizaad Khan and Rachana Nakra

M ARIO A NZUONI/ R EUTERS

LA’s NEW LADY She’s expertly navigating the red carpet, one gorgeous dress at a time. How ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ debutante Freida Pinto became Hollywood’s latest style icon (their words, not ours) Read the full story at www.livemint.com/lalady

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TECHNOLOGY

Digital turntable and 3D scanning

Waving in the future Microsoft has launched Kinect for Windows. Salute the hackers who got there first B Y G OPAL S ATHE

commercially licensed Kinect sensor that can be used to make software that creators can sell legally. The new Kinect also has a few added improvements for better performance in Windows, and also a shorter detection range— the original Kinect was meant for gaming after all, and assumed a distance of around 6ft between the sensor and the user. The new one is meant to work at desktop distances instead, which should allow a wider range of uses. While everyone is excited by the potential of the new Kinect, there have been several amazing Kinect hacks in the last one year that are worth looking at.

gopal.s@livemint.com

···························· he launch of the Kinect gaming peripheral in 2010 was a big deal, changing the paradigm for a huge number of games, but it soon became clear that many people were using the sensor not with the Xbox 360 it had been designed for, but rather using custom drivers to operate it with their PCs. While Microsoft originally tried to stop the hackers, it quickly came around to supporting them and even hired some of the better ones. On 1 February, Microsoft launched Kinect for Windows—a

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HoloDesk

See the demo: www.youtube.com/ watch?v=JHL5tJ9ja_w Not to be outdone by hackers, the scientists at Microsoft Research put together some hacks of their own. Since they had full access to the hardware longer than anyone else, it’s actually the most impressive hack, though not the best. The HoloDesk allows users to manipulate virtual 3D objects with their bare hands. The system uses a transparent display, so you put your hand “inside” the screen, and the objects within respond to your movements.

Kiwibank Interactive Wall

See the demo: www.youtube.com/ watch?v=Yk6PLmUY3tw This hack, by New Zealand-based digital marketing company Lumen Digital, involves a huge set-up that uses the Kinect to create a fully interactive screen the size of a wall. The system allows users to interact with the projected interface using natural gestures, and is connected to cloud resources that handle the processing offsite so there is no need to set up a powerful computer with it.

Lightsaber JediBot

Float Hybrid

See the demo: www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuSCErmoYpY The Kinect JediBot is a highly entertaining combination of a Kinect, Star Wars and robots. Ken Oslund and Tim Jenkins of Stanford University created this interactive Kinect hack, where the feedback from a camera is used to move a robot hand, which reacts to the movements of the person in front of the camera. The Kinect captures the motion of both the user’s hand and the robot arm, and then, using the skeletal maps of both, makes sure the robot is holding the sword at the right angle, and moving in the right trajectory, to defend itself. The demonstration is undoubtedly silly, but this kind of tool could well be refined for telepresence, enabling a virtual meeting, for instance.

See the demo: www.youtube.com/ watch?v=mcLj7G1bW0A Float Hybrid Entertainment was founded by John Gaeta, the visual effects supervisor for The Matrix and Speed Racer movies. While the company has not released any demos yet, this YouTube video shows some things it is working on. The company has designed games, and what makes these stand out from other Kinectbased games is that the company has created software which uses inputs from multiple Kinects placed around the user. It’s hard to explain, but the video shows exactly how big a difference this makes, and as it is the work of a company with designers as well as researchers, even these early demos look polished and exciting, unlike many other Kinect hacks.

Gesture­based hacking

See the demo: www.youtube.com/ watch?v=68KNfLTrhLA Kinect Real Hacking allows users to bypass security systems and firewalls by representing the data the hacker has to work with in a virtual environment that can be played with like a game. A YouTube video by user jeffbryner shows how this software can be used to hack a computer without any coding. The concept certainly sounds impressive, but no code was revealed for this hack, so it hasn’t been verified by other hackers yet.

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day, March

15, 2008

···························· t was the third day of what would become an infamous match in Test cricket: the second in the fivematch 2007-08 BorderGavaskar Trophy between India and Australia. Brett Lee comes up to bowl his 28th, and Australia’s 116th, over of the day. Harbhajan Singh slashes out at the third ball of the over. The ball balloons over slips and runs away for four. Singh walks up to Lee, taps him on the back with his bat and apparently says “hard luck”. At the end of the over, Andrew Symonds exchanges words with the Indian off-spinner. Those few moments would later erupt into the most talked about international cricket controversy in recent memory. But, at the time, far from the very public glare of the media, a silent battle was going on between Indian and Australian fans. Not on the pitch, on the stands or in the streets. But on the Internet. On Wikipedia. “Till that second Test, Harbhajan’s Wikipedia page hardly had any traffic. Perhaps 200 or so views a day. But within five days of the controversy, traffic jumped almost 100 times. On 9 January, three days after the Test, Harbhajan Singh’s page on Wikipedia had 17,600 views.

I

Prithwindra Mukherjee

And then began the vandalism,” says Blnguyen, a Wikipedia user who requested us to address him only by his online user name. Coincidentally, Blnguyen is also known among Wikipedians as “yellow monkey”, because of the stuffed toy he uses everywhere as his mascot. He never posts any photos of himself. “Most of the vandals on Bhajji’s page were from Australia, of course. But pretty soon, the Indians got into the act as well. When things got out of hand, we had to lock articles for umpires Benson and Bucknor and (cricketers) Ponting, Symonds, Harbhajan and most of the Indian cricket team,” Blnguyen explains. Wikipedia.com is today a bona fide Internet phenomenon. The free online encyclopaedia has more than 9.25 million articles across 253 languages. Wikipedia, in its own words, is a “free, multilingual, open content encyclopaedia”. Anybody can access it anywhere and at any time, at no cost. But what has really made Wikipedia successful is the fact that any user, even an unregistered one, can create, enhance or edit a Wikipedia entry. This means that unlike a regular encyclopaedia, Wikipedia is updated constantly. All the time, every day. Normally, this open, no-restrictions approach

Mukherjee started out on Wikipedia with an entry on his freedom­fighter grandfather.

Mohammed Abbas Ali

The medical student from Hyderabad set up the Om Shanti Om entry.

Follower cart

See the demo: vimeo.com/24542706 Luis de Matos’ wi-GO project could have a huge impact once it is fully developed. The wi-GO shopping cart can be made to follow anyone, and the goal is to enable physically challenged shoppers to take a cart with them while they shop—the cart is programmed to follow a person and stop when they stop, so they can carry out this kind of essential activity independently. The video gives a thorough explanation of the concept, though de Matos (who is with the University of Biera Interior, Portugal) doesn’t explain the technology as extensively.

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cricket. He is an Australian citizen, but Vietnamese by ethnicity. “My parents moved to Australia during the large Vietnamese migrant movements in the 1980s,” Blnguyen says, on a little prodding. He doesn’t like to talk about himself too much. “I grew up with a large migrant population and even went to school with other Vietnamese kids.” It was at school that Blnguyen’s teachers first tried to get the migrant children to learn cricket. “Most of us weren’t taught cricket by our parents, so we were not very clever. Almost every kid thought that the best way to bowl was to bowl at middle stump all the time.” Then one day, in 1993, Blnguyen switched on his TV and saw Mark Waugh score a century against New Zealand at the Bellerive Oval in Hobart. “I didn’t understand cricket and I considered it to be one of the most boring sports. Until I saw Waugh play,” says BInguyen. His fascination for Indian cricket would pick up after watching that definitive V.V.S. Laxman innings at Eden Gardens in 2001. “Since then, I’ve been fascinated by wristy Indian batting and I love watching spin.” Today, Blnguyen is one of the authorities on Indian cricket on Wikipedia. And it is anything but an easy job. “Sachin’s (Tendulkar) entry attracts a lot of

vandals. So does (Sourav) Ganguly and (Rahul) Dravid. And a lot of it comes from India. When Dravid was made captain, many vandals, many of them Bengali, attacked his entry. Greg Chappell got a fair bit too.” At times, maintaining your favourite Wikipedia entries can be anything but fun. Often, it’s tedious and irritating. Paliath, a software engineer from Arizona, had to deal with an extremely insistent user. For a period of almost a fortnight, Paliath, who goes by the user name Vivin, jousted with a user who kept making the exact same change to the Adam’s Bridge entry on Wikipedia: He kept changing every incident of the phrase “Adam’s Bridge” in the entry to “Ram’s Bridge”. As per Wikipedia nomenclature norms—there is a surprisingly robust and broad set of norms to cover most disputes on Wikipedia—the name to be used is Adam’s Bridge. Eighteen changes back and forth later, the article was locked to prevent any further vandalism. Paliath has a tendency to get into trouble. “I’ve been accused of being anything and everything, from being ‘an agent of the Indian Government’ to ‘someone with a casteist agenda’. Some of the first ‘controversial’ pages I edited was Khalistan and Operation Blue Star. I rewrote the entire article

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because it was full of POV. After that, I got into a dispute with a certain user who started reverting the changes and then began attacking me personally,” he says. Paliath’s user page was attacked; so were many of the other articles he had worked on. Finally, another Wikipedian had to step in and help him fight off the intruder. POV stands for point of view. Making sure every article has a neutral point of view (NPOV) is one of Wikipedia’s “Foundation Principles”. The ability of any user to edit any article without registering is another one. Paliath was born in Ernakulam in Kerala but grew up in West Asia. After 17 years in Muscat, he moved to Arizona, where he enrolled at the Arizona State University. While there, he also joined the Arizona Army National Guard. In 2005, he flew into Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Paliath served for a year as an Automated Logistics Specialist. But, even when he was on tour, he kept himself active on Wikipedia. Especially on articles related to Kerala and the Nair and Ezhava castes. Paliath aims to maintain the neutral quotient on Wikipedia. “Many caste-based articles contain text that aggrandizes the caste in question. They may also contain a lot of original research, opinions, and non-neutral statements. Most editors stay away from them because of vandals who revert your changes or attack you personally. It’s an ugly business,” he says. Some of the “Indian” entries on Wikipedia that see the hottest debates are the ones on independence, British Raj and the freedom struggle. Mukherjee is someone who has had to bear a fair bit of heat himself: “I happened to go through a few articles brought on Wikipedia and, noticing that there was a section on India’s freedom movement, I decided to contribute an article on Bagha Jatin, in April 2006. It was received like a grasshopper in a beehive: a batch of procolonialist users, probably nostalgic for the good old days of John Bull in India, had a very ferocious and uncharitable way of condemning the article—the subject matter, the style, the usage and what not.” By the way, Mukherjee, who does not use his real name on Wikipedia, is not one of your 20-something, Macbook toting Web2.0 mavens. He is a retired professor of 71 who has published more than 50 books in English, Punjabi and French. With decades of experience researching and teaching his-

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With consistent international success since 2006, and rising new stars, boxing is set to break the cycle of mediocrity in Indian sports

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15 MAR L13 2008 tory, Mukherjee felt it was up to him to help the users on Wikipedia who were struggling with freedom struggle entries. Mukherjee explains: “When I saw that the user Burdak did not have enough data to explore such a personality as Maulavi Barakatullah, I used all my notes to make of his modest beginning a full-fledged picture of a unique and courageous patriot so little known. Another such example was the attempt of Ruebenlys to write on Vishnu Ganesh Pingley: Thanks to my archives, I could constitute the heroic profile of this emblematic San Francisco-based Gadhar (party) hero who collaborated with Rash Behari Bose.” When I asked him why he chose to begin with Bagha Jatin, a little known Bengali revolutionary of the early 20th century, Mukherjee gave a revealing answer: “Bagha Jatin was born Jatindranath Mukherjee. He was my grandfather.” Mukherjee has an illustrious résumé. After teaching in Puducherry for 11 years, he moved to France, where he completed his PhD. He then went to the US on a Fulbright scholarship. All the while, he wrote prolifically. And there’s more. “In Pondicherry, I composed a good deal for a full-fledged Frenchstyle orchestra (in staff notation) inspired by Indian ragas, with harmony and counterpoint.” To know more about him, I recommend you go to his Wikipedia entry. He has one to himself! Wikipedians such as Blnguyen, Paliath and Mukherjee contribute to the website with a missionary zeal. They take their work very seriously. Blnguyen, for instance, spends around 20 hours a week editing and tweaking. He is also part of the 15-member arbitration committee. Wikipedia has an elaborate seven-step dispute resolution process. The arbitration committee is the final step. Made up of users held in high esteem by the community, the ArbCom, as it is called, can overrule anyone on the website. Including Jimmy Wales, one of the founders. User communities play a large role in the way Wikipedia works. Right from training new users to resolving disputes, most content decisions are taken by groups of users who have been chosen by their peers. Mohammed Abbas Ali is an avid Wikipedian with entries such as Om Shanti Om (2007) to his credit. In fact, Abbas is big on Bollywood. But this wasn’t how he started on Wikipedia. “I began by making contributions to the entry on the Prophet Mohammed cartoons controversy. But things got extremely messy. I got banned a couple of times too.” Fortunately, Abbas was adopted by a more experienced user, who told him to stay away from the controversial stuff. “So, I picked up entertainment and Bollywood in general. And it has been great fun since. I spend around 3 hours a day on Wikipedia when I can.” Abbas uses Wikipedia to escape from the dreariness of his daily life. He is a third-year medical student at the Deccan College of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad. “My parents are doctors and they sort of coaxed me into doing medicine. I would

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to content creation is a recipe for disaster. What prevents a crazed user from vandalizing a Wikipedia entry and posting content that is wrong or offensive? In Wikipedia’s case, nothing. The entire idea of “open content” is to throw the editorial doors open to anyone. No questions asked. So, how does Wikipedia regulate itself? We tried to go behind Wikipedia, and specifically the Indiarelated pages, to peer into the vast network of users, editors and arbitrators, such as Blnguyen, Vivin Suresh Paliath, Prithwindra Mukherjee and Mohammed Abbas Ali, who ensure that the pages remain updated and error-free. Blnguyen is an unlikely specialist on, of all things, Indian

See the demo: www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_AkO3_Xwe8 Using the Kinect, people and objects can be scanned to create detailed 3D replicas, with depth and texture. The resolution is high enough for creators Jürgen Schulze and Daniel Tenedorio to predict that the software could be used at archeological digs, so digital copies of all artefacts can be shared instantly with a team that isn’t on the site. Or, maybe you could scan all the greatest actors, and using voice reproduction software now being made in Japan, create your dream movie project in 3D!

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Blnguyen, who uses this toy as his avatar, edits Wiki entries for several Indian cricketers.

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See the demo: www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jbvnk1T4vQ This video, by Adam Horvath, showcases a Kinect hack that could actually find its way to a store near you before long. The system uses the Kinect’s body-tracking ability to measure your frame. Then, as you stand in front of a Kinect-connected screen, you gesture to pick out different outfits, and the screen displays an image of you in the new clothes. With detailed shadows, and physics effects on the textures to show how the clothes drape on you, it’s the most convincing virtual dressing room ever.

Our Dream Catchers series will resume on 11 February.

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The typical Wikipedia entry goes through, on average, 89 edits. Perhaps, because, these online soldiers want to ensure nobody gets it wrong

Kinect Fitnect

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New Delhi,

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See the demo: www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7LthXRoESw One of the first Kinect hacks had demonstrated using multiple Kinects to create a full 3D model of an object placed in front of it. However, the resulting cameras created interference and had blank areas in objects. The turntable 3D scanner rotates the item to be scanned, allowing the Kinect to create a full 3D image. According to creator A.J. Jeromin, the software analyses the data from multiple points, and “stitches” together a full 3D image. This could then be used as a 3D asset in animations.

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IS BOXING

THE NEW CRICKET? CRICKET? Apathy and mediocrity are the words usually used to describe Indian sport. But with consistent international success since 2006, and rising new stars, boxing is set to break that cycle. Ten out of 10 gold medals on offer: that’s the target our boxing squad has set for themselves at the Commonwealth Games

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Asian boxing champion Suranjoy Singh part of India’s is strong squad for the Commonwealth Games.

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Paliath continued to update Wikipedia even while serving in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. have done something else. Wikipedia is my way of dabbling in things non-medical!” Abbas’ last few online battles have centred around 2007 blockbuster Om Shanti Om. “I sat right through till the end of the movie to make sure I missed nothing. But the cinema guys cut the credits just before Farah Khan made her entrance. So, I thought she never appeared in the credits. And I wrote so in my OSO entry.” Other users, however, had seen Khan appear. And they changed Abbas’ entry. Abbas changed it back. The tussle went out of hand. “Everyone was telling me I was wrong. But nobody had citations to prove that she appeared. I refused to budge.” Finally, an admin locked the entry. It took 15 days for everyone to agree on Farah Khan’s appearance. And then when that “crisis” subsided,

Some of the ‘Indian’ entries on Wikipedia that see the hottest debates are the ones on independence, British Raj and the freedom struggle

the OSO entry got locked again because people couldn’t agree on the list of people who appeared in the multi-starrer Deewangi song. Abbas says: “This is the sort of thing that scares away new users and makes Wikipedia increasingly difficult to manage. Yes, you get much more accurate entries because of all the attention to detail. But the process is becoming increasingly painful.” According to the latest statistics, the typical Wikipedia entry has gone through an average of 89 edits. But even this minute, perhaps obsessive, attention to detail and neutrality is not enough to catch the enterprising vandal. The India entry, for instance, had a well-hidden piece of “graffiti” deep inside footnote No. 14. Right in the middle of the terse footnote, about whether India shares a border with Afghanistan or not, appear the words: “Most important of all is that Mihir Bhojani is the roxstar of India”. That error was caught when the writer of this piece was reading through the India entry but only after Mihir Bhojani had been the roxstar of India for well over four days. “We try to do the best we can to keep a track of things. But it can be impossible to always be on our toes,” Blnguyen says. “Ideally we hate locking articles. It goes against the entire Wikipedia ethos. But some articles, especially the religious and regional ones, create a lot of passion. When things go haywire, we have no option but to lock things down.” Given the labour it takes to write and maintain the average

Wikipedia entry, it is difficult to understand what motivates these users to keep going. Abbas is a little philosophical: “Besides the release it gives me from classes, I think it’s a good thing to do. A good entry helps me to do something good for the world. I know it sounds juvenile. But I really, really feel great when a good article is done.” For Blnguyen, it’s just a pastime. “I should be studying. But I don’t. For me, Wikipedia is a hobby. Nothing more than that.” Their effort shows. Wikipedia throws up spectacular Google search results. A simple search for the term “India” threw up the Wikipedia entry first. And then the Indian government websites. This is true for many searches. Wikipedia servers throw up some 30,000 user queries per second. In 2007, the Supreme Court of India referred to the site in a ruling. (A computer manufacturer used Wikipedia to highlight how a laptop is different from a desktop and should bear different import duties.) For the average user, though, none of the behind-the-scenes intrigue is visible. Browsers seldom notice the sheer quantum of labour that goes into making Wikipedia happen. It’s Wiki warriors such as Blnguyen, Paliath, Mukherjee and Abbas who toil for hours every day, for no pay, and make Wikipedia robust and dependable. And thank god for that. That’s because right now, somewhere out there, somebody wants to be the next roxstar of India on Wikipedia.

WIKI WARRIORS The typical Wikipedia entry goes through 89 edits. Per­ haps, because, these online soldiers want to ensure nobody gets it wrong Read the full story at www.livemint.com/wikiw

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A watch is not about the time The Ulysse Nardin CEO on why a watch is the best luxury product for a man, and being at the right place at the right time

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

···························· atrik P. Hoffmann insists that people do not buy Ulysse Nardin to “read the time”. The chief executive officer of the exclusive watch brand grins before clarifying why the primary purpose of buying his watch would be different. “Today, people buy a Ulysse Nardin and many of the other brands because of the craftsmanship, art, the culture and the expression of lifestyle. That’s why,” he says emphatically, “we will never do a quartz watch. We don’t just sell the look; we sell the inside, the heart of the watch.” This meeting with Hoffmann, 47, who confesses to being a salesperson at heart, took place over a month ago, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Mumbai, before the announcement of Yuvraj Singh as the watch’s brand ambassador in India. The Indian cricketer, then recovering from a non-malignant lung tumour, seems to be a surprising choice for the brand—a brash, rough-on-the-edges, con-

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tinuously-on-the-fringe player representing a sophisticated watch company that produces a mere 25,000 watches a year. Hoffmann calls it a partnership between legends, a status justified by his company, which has existed for 166 years, and he hopes, by Singh, who helped India to its second cricket World Cup in April. Bleary-eyed, but with a cheerful smile, Hoffmann is seated in a room big enough to accommodate a hundred people, having just arrived in Mumbai from Switzerland. He speaks with a faint German accent, emphasizing certain syllables. His left wrist bears the expected Ulysse Nardin watch, this one called the Freak. Released 11 years ago, with a technology using silicon, the Freak was one of the company’s more successful products. The CEO wears a prototype, bearing the number 1, which is not for sale. “Freak was a code name which later became the name of the model. People thought we were crazy to name it that, but then it was so out of the box that it worked,” he says. Hoffmann was in the middle of the kind of promotional Asian tour that brings a whole lot of global company heads to India. His three-day visit, coinciding with the launch of a limited edition here, was to include Kolkata, Bangalore and New Delhi before he would head to the US. It was his first visit to India and came after he took over as the company’s CEO in April. Ulysse Nardin, founded in 1846 in Le Locle, Switzerland, was best known for producing marine chronometers, but over the years started making mechanical watches as well. It was bought over in 1983 by busi-

nessman Rolf W. Schnyder, who relaunched the brand in a more contemporary avatar. Hoffmann had started tinkering with watches as a child, though no one in his immediate family was in the business. He studied to be an accountant in Switzerland and later went to the US to study sales and marketing. On his return to Switzerland in 1991, he joined a watch company, Oris SA, in sales, and five years later, moved to Malaysia with watch distribution company Swiss Prestige Ltd. His neighbour in Kuala Lumpur was Schnyder. “You just have to be at the right spot at the right time,” he says, without a hint of irony, on how he happened to join Ulysse Nardin. Hoffmann moved to the US in 1999 with Ulysse as its vice-president and managing director; Schnyder’s demise last year brought him to the head office in Le Locle as CEO. “When I was studying in the US,” he says, “everybody said you have to be in the watch industry because you are Swiss. I liked watches from the beginning and today, I am still in the industry because a watch fascinates me with its combination of technology and fashion.” He might buy into the stereotype of being Swiss and, therefore, a part of the watch industry, but Hoffmann says the watch business in Switzerland is really small, employing just 35,000 people. Surprisingly, he describes it as an unsophisticated business—the way pieces are put together, the pace of work… “Everything is hand-assembled. People ask me how long it takes to produce a watch and I have no answer. A piece like this,” he says, pointing to his

IN PARENTHESIS Golf would just take too much time, so Hoffmann indulges in his other passion—motorbikes. “Maybe it gives a semblance of freedom,” he explains his interest. He has three—an 800cc Suzuki, “which is for my boy”, and a 1,200cc BMW. “My biggest piece is a 2,300cc Triumph (the Rocket III Roadster, which was launched at this year’s Auto Expo in Delhi),” he says. “That’s a crazy machine with a 2.3­litre engine, the biggest available in a commercially sold automobile.” Next summer, Hoffmann will ride his bike to work, 35 minutes away in La Locle, Switzerland. “When I work, I don’t dress like this,” he points to his suit. “In our factory, I work in jeans because the CEO does not have to be dressed differently to the people working with machines. I don’t mind if I go to work when my hair is not perfect. It’s the work you do that matters.”

watch, “takes about seven years from the spark of the idea to the time the first watch is out. “At the end, the watchmaker assembles it and certain watches can take up to six weeks to put those 480 or 620 parts together. There is a misconception—you look at a magazine or catalogue, you see a watchmaker bent over, but he is really just a part of the process. There’s an enormous amount of labour involved.” He uses his US experience to explain the Swiss-watch connection further: “In Switzerland, and that’s why we are good in watchmaking, we conceive, plan and execute the process so that it’s just right. Sometimes that planning takes a long time. In America, you have a philosophy—try it and then fix it. What I have learnt is, a watchmaker who produces the piece cannot be pushed. They have their pace and passion and you have to let go. At the end of the day, you will have a product that’s as wonderful as ours.” This passion for tradition and precision is also the reason why Ulysse Nardin will never make quartz or electronic watches, he adds. “It will only be hand-assembled, mechanical watches for the company, and that will not change,” he says. “Like the hand wind which you call oldfashioned,” he continues, smiling, “the advantage is that 200 years from now, you can still service that watch and still be able to produce a part if it doesn’t work any more. It will cost time and money because of the labour, but it will work again.” “There are certain fashion elements which we adapt and integrate. Ten years ago, we never thought we would make a watch with rubber and ceramic. We are researching and developing continuously and I see people in our company working on movements that will come in 2016-17. Trends are changing even as traditional as we are,” he says. Hoffmann himself owns about 30-50 watches, many of them not Ulysse Nardin. “When I am thinking or sleeping, I have the Ulysse Nardin hat on, that’s part of the job. I am not tempted to wear something else,” he says. He quickly assures that his enviable collection is not rusting in a locker—his three sons, Samuel, 20, Neil, 18, and Kevin, 16, “take care of those as also my wife (Liliane). Today, women wear men’s watches as well.” So it’s not surprising that he says watches, when compared to cars, cufflinks or a good bottle of wine, are the best luxury products for men. “You cannot carry a car around, can you?”

Time travel: Hoffmann travels every week because, he says, if he sits in office for too long, the ‘salesman’ in him gets anxious. ‘I have to be in the marketplace,’ he says.

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FAITH

THE SUFI SOLUTION

IN CONCERT Muzaffar Ali designs and directs Jahan­e­Khusrau, the Sufi music festival whose 10th edition will be held in March u Vocals by Rajesh Pandey and Vidhi Sharma; Kathak by Vidha Lal and Shivani Varma; and a performance by singer Hans Raj Hans, on 2 March. u Vocalist Indira Naik; flautists Andrea Griminelli from Italy with G.S. Rajan and sarangi player Murad Ali; and singer Ali Zafar from Pakistan, on 3 March.

u A performance by dancer Zia on Amir Khusrau’s poetry; and singer Abida Parveen from Pakistan, on 4 March. At Arab Ki Sarai, Humayun’s Tomb monuments, Delhi. For invites, visit Samasufimusic.com Mayank Austen Soofi

The stereotype of the intolerant Muslim refuses to go away, and Sufism remains anathema to a section of Muslims. In its time of crisis, we revisit what Sufism can achieve, ahead of the 800th ‘urs’ of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer B Y M AYANK A USTEN S OOFI mayank.s@livemint.com

···························· n entering, the white dome attracts your attention. It’s not the architecture or the gold centrepiece at its top. Nor the birds circling it. This dome seems to shape and consecrate every moment of this place. The fakirs (ascetics) near the ablution pool face it. So do the pilgrims in the marble courtyards. The Khwaja’s tomb is directly below. Four months later, when Rajasthan’s desert winter has given way to the heat of June, the dargah will be filled with lamps. Its assembly hall, resounding with the sound of the qawwals’ harmoniums, will herald the 800th urs of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer. Smaller groups of musicians will draw their own listeners within the various courtyards and sama (a gathering listening to mystical verse) music will echo in the streets. The terraces surrounding the dargah will come alive with their own qawwali gatherings and the last melodic strains will die only when the early morning prayer is called by the muezzin. As the cliché about the intolerant Muslim refuses to go away, as Sufism remains anathema to a section of Muslims, what is the significance of South Asia’s most important Sufi shrine? “The 800th urs is taking place in a troubled world where the religious discourse has been hijacked by the rhetoric of rage,” says Syed Salman Chishti, a khadim (caretaker) whose family has served at the 13th century shrine for generations. “The world must turn its attention to Ajmer, where people from different faiths gather in one assembly to share and not to impose their beliefs.” The world instead turned its attention to a city 120km from Ajmer, where a protest by a handful of Muslims compelled the organizers of the Jaipur Literature Festival to cancel novelist Salman

O

Rushdie’s video appearance last month. While all practising Musl i m s t h i s r e p o r t er talked to expressed discomfort with Rushdie’s references to Islam in his banned novel The Satanic Verses, many pointed out that his case must not be used to judge the Muslim character and that the essence of India’s Islam lies in Ajmer. “Moinuddin Chishti’s dwelling place became a nucleus for the Islamization of the central and southern parts of India,” noted the late Annemarie Schimmel, an expert on Islam, in her book Mystical Dimensions of Islam. South Asia’s most revered Muslim, Moinuddin Chishti occupies a principal position in Sufism, the mystical aspect of Islam. He established the Chishti silsila (order) in the subcontinent; its spiritual successors were Sufis like Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki of Mehrauli, Baba Farid of Pakpattan in Pakistan, and Hazrat Nizamuddin of Delhi. Known as Sultan-eHind and Gharib Nawaz, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti—khwaja meaning “master” in Persian—is visited by millions each year. Since no contemporary account of him has survived, Moinuddin Chishti’s life is depicted through a series of legends. He died in 1236. The death anniversary of a Sufi saint’s death is not mourned, it is celebrated. Urs means “wedding” in Arabic and it symbolizes the union of the lover with the beloved, who is God. “The 800th milestone doesn’t signify much in our religion but it lets us pause to commemorate the central place of Gharib Nawaz in the idea of India,” says film-maker Muzaffar Ali, who will present the 10th edition of his annual Jahan-eKhusrau Sufi music concert in Delhi in March. “In a multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-religious country, nothing could be more relevant than Gharib Nawaz’s message of love.” “Ajmer is the little Medina,” says Sadia Dehlvi, author of

Sufism: The Heart of Islam. “Sufism is about making linkages to God through his friends. In Medina, there is the spiritual presence of Prophet Muhammad. In Ajmer, one experiences the same closeness to God, for Khwaja sahib is a direct descendant and lover of the Prophet,” says Dehlvi. Outside Ajmer, the news from the world of Sufis is not only about sama, fanaa (dissolution) or the chartbuster film song Kun Fayakun. “We can no longer keep ourselves inside our dargahs,” says Maulana Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kachochavi, the general secretary of the All India Ulama and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), which was formed in 2005 and claims to represent the majority of Muslims in India. Last year, it held four Sufi Maha Panchayats in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar that were attended by hundreds of thousands of people, according to news reports. “We are telling India’s non-Muslims that the people the media and the government treat as spokespersons of our community, are not our leaders. Those who issue fatwas from seminaries like Deoband are inspired by extremists.” South Asia’s Islamic community is largely composed of the Barelvis and Deobandis, both named after towns in Uttar Pradesh. The former, who have their theological school in Bareilly, are followers of Sufism, while the orthodox jurists in Deoband are against the concept of intercession to God through saints. In November, Deoband passed a fatwa against celebrating the Prophet’s birthday, calling it un-Islamic, an occasion traditionally held with great fanfare in Ajmer and other dargahs. “Considering that these orthodox seminaries are opposed to the dargahs,” says Dehlvi, “one only has to look at the sheer number of Muslims from India’s villages and towns who descend on Ajmer, particularly during urs, to recognize how irrelevant they (the orthodox seminaries) really are.

The heart of Sufism: (clock­ wise from above) Ajmer dargah caretaker Syed Salman Chishti (right) with calligrapher Abdul Qayyum Saharanpuri; the Adhai Din Ka Jhonpra mosque; the bazaar outside the dar­ gah; the basant festival being celebrated in Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah last month; pilgrims carry­ ing flowers for Moinuddin Chishti; and the gold crown at the dome was offered by a brother of the nawab of Rampur in 1896.

Their fatwas have little or no relevance in the community.” “While it’s incorrect to say that our fatwas have no influence you should note that we don’t issue them on our own,” says Maulana Qari Syed Mohammad Usman, the hadith (the sayings of the Prophet) teacher at Deoband and president of the political party Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind. “We only give one if somebody asks for clarification on a certain matter. We don’t take any action if the fatwa is ignored.” Explaining Deoband’s stand on Sufism, Usman says: “In Islam, there is only Islam, no Sufism. We don’t mind if people go to tombs to recite fatiha (prayer for the departed souls) but we are against the dargah traditions, especially on attending urs festivals. Spend your time thinking of Allah, not listening to qawwalis.” “The Deobandis subscribe to a more textual analysis of the

Quran,” says historian Mushirul Hasan, the author of Islam in the Subcontinent: Muslims in a Plural Society. “Barelvis take a more eclectic view and have practices that can be described as composite. Their daily life is closer to the customs of other Indian communities. If you go by the population, Barelvis both in India and Pakistan are greater in numbers. But Deobandis are politically better organized and so are more visible in the public space.” “Sometimes even Deobandis come here to seek the Khwaja’s blessing,” says Syed Anwar-ul-Haq Chishti, an elderly khadim sitting cross-legged in the Ajmer dargah. A long queue is forming for the sunset ceremony of Dua-e-Roshni (prayer of lights). Each evening as khadims carry large yellow candles to the durbar, the tombchamber, hundreds of birds suddenly land on the branches of the

mursali tree. Little else is heard in the courtyard except for their chirping. As the drummer strikes, the candles are lit amid the chanting of a Persian invocation to Gharib Nawaz, acknowledging him as the foremost friend of God on the face of the earth. “Ajmer Sharif is the extension of what I am,” says film-maker Mahesh Bhatt. “Being the son of a Shiite mother and a Brahmin father, my biological construct is a union of Muslim and Hindu cultures. There are more Hindus visiting the dargah than Muslims. It is the Khwaja’s wide appeal that has kept his cult going.” In 2011, some of the celebrities who visited the dargah included actors Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Priyanka Chopra, producer Ekta Kapoor, cricketers Tillakaratne Dilshan and Zaheer Khan. While the aforementioned list

might reflect a present-day curiosity for Sufism, throughout its history Ajmer has been a star attraction. The Mughals, particularly, attributed their success in India to the blessings of Moinuddin Chishti. Emperor Akbar visited the dargah 14 times, once walking all the way from Agra. Jehangir lived in Ajmer for almost three years. Shah Jahan built a marble mosque in the dargah. Princess Jahanara raised the marble porch Begumi Dalaan (Begum’s courtyard), opposite the entrance to the durbar. Even the orthodox Aurangzeb, who did not believe in the Sufi doctrine, was seen paying his respects at this dargah. In 1911, when Delhi was established as British India’s new capital, Queen Mary passed through the pilgrim town, paying for the restoration of the ablution pool. On 11 October 2007, during Ramzan, a bomb exploded below

the same mursali tree. Three people died. The alleged suspects were first thought to be Islamic extremists and later, Hindu. “The aim was to oppose the stream of thought on which Ajmer is built,” says Bhatt. “The idea of the Other is not a threat in the Khwaja’s dargah, which is like a garden where the rose is not frightened of the mogra. Both have a distinct fragrance and together they make the scent.” As the winter sun sets behind the barren Aravalli hills, the marble floor gets cold. Qawwals sit facing the durbar; some listeners look lost, others gaze at the dome. Among the devotees, the Kashmiris stand out in their loosely hanging pherans. A woman in a red sari has her hands folded in prayer. She is sobbing. Although people of all religions visit Ajmer Sharif, its daily rituals revolve around the five mandatory

prayers of Muslims. This is not surprising since Moinuddin Chishti was one of the pioneers of Islamic mysticism in the subcontinent. His arrival from central Asia in 1192 coincided with the conquest of India by Muhammed of Ghor, who defeated Prithviraj Chauhan, one of the last Hindu kings to rule Delhi. After settling in Ajmer, a Hindu pilgrimage town close to the holy lake of Pushkar, Moinuddin Chishti won the respect of both believers and nonbelievers. He lived in the cell in which he lies buried. The tomb is built over a series of cellars which, according to The Shrine and Cult of Mu’in al-din Chishti of Ajmer by P.M. Currie, might have formed part of an earlier temple. “Before reaching Ajmer”, says Raza Rumi, a writer and political analyst from Pakistan, “Moinuddin meditated in Lahore for 40 days at Data Darbar, the shrine of

Usman Hajvery. Gharib Nawaz consequently is cherished in Pakistan and hundreds of Pakistanis visit his dargah.” India issues special visas to Pakistanis for the urs. Fifteen minutes away from the dargah is the majestic Adhai Din Ka Jhonpra mosque situated in the foothills of Taragarh. One of South Asia’s earliest Islamic structures, its outer walls are sculptured with the Kalimah (“the word of Islam”). The monument, now overlaid with graffiti, includes crude sketches of peacocks on the stone floor. Indifferent to the discords of the past, goats meander along with pilgrims who stray from the dargah to sightsee. Only a few offer prayers at the mosque here. “The majority of Indian Muslims were Hindus,” says Dehlvi, “and accepted Islam because of Gharib Nawaz and the Sufis who spread his message. The Khwaja allowed his followers to express the love of God through inclusive traditions such as music. This sanction gave birth to diverse devotional expressions that thrive to this day.” The food cooked in the dargah’s giant copper cauldrons, distributed after the morning and evening prayers, is always vegetarian. Rumi says, “The Chishti school of Sufism did not exclude any religion and gave way to a plural

Indian identity. This is why the extremists in Pakistan, especially the Taliban, are against such devotional practices.” In 2010, the dargah of Baba Farid in Pakistan, another saint of this Sufi order, was bombed. As with most places in India, the bazaar in front of the dargah is a world of contrasts. Immaculately dressed men in crisp white salwarkurta walk beside open drains. Beggars line the road that leads to the shrine of the patron of the poor. The alm-seekers might not have money for clothes but their bowls are filled with chameli garlands. Plastic flowers decorate the tongas that go as far as the Khwaja’s chillah, the hilltop cave where he meditated. Overlooking the Ana Sagar lake, the chillah is deserted. Cats prowl beside tombs. A stall offers amulets and booklets on Ajmer Sharif. After the night prayers, while the qawwals are rendering verses in the courtyard, the worshippers are asked to leave the durbar, which is then cleaned by three khadims with brooms made of peacock feathers. As the last functionary comes out of the chamber, everyone gets up and the qawwals recite Karka, a musical verse in Persian, Sanskrit and Brij. The Khwaja’s chamber is locked until the pre-dawn prayer. During urs, the durbar is closed

at a later hour. One week earlier, a green and red flag is hoisted on the Buland Darwaza gateway to signal the arrival of the festival. By then malangs (non-conformist Sufis), fakirs (ascetics) and qalandars (non-conformist Sufis) from all over India are midway to Ajmer, walking. They assemble at the dargah of Khwaja Qutubuddin Kaki in Mehrauli, Delhi and from there walk to Ajmer Sharif, a journey that takes 17 days. The nine-day urs begins after the sunset prayers, for the Islamic day changes at the twilight hour. Attending it is not easy. Ajmer is packed far beyond its capacity. The lanes overflow with a sea of humanity. People queue for hours to enter the durbar to touch the Khwaja’s tomb. From large hotels to roadside guesthouses, every place is occupied. Verandas too are taken over by beds. For the Qul, the prayer on the final day of urs, every roof and window is taken over by crowds jostling to get a view of the crammed dargah. It is as if all of Ajmer is resounding with prayer. Though the town gets back its breathing space a day later, the crowd at the dargah never dissipates. Divided by religions and countries, the devotees of the Khwaja, spread across South Asia and beyond, challenge these rifts each time they come to his durbar.


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BY

PRADEEP GAUR/MINT

FAITH

THE SUFI SOLUTION

IN CONCERT Muzaffar Ali designs and directs Jahan­e­Khusrau, the Sufi music festival whose 10th edition will be held in March u Vocals by Rajesh Pandey and Vidhi Sharma; Kathak by Vidha Lal and Shivani Varma; and a performance by singer Hans Raj Hans, on 2 March. u Vocalist Indira Naik; flautists Andrea Griminelli from Italy with G.S. Rajan and sarangi player Murad Ali; and singer Ali Zafar from Pakistan, on 3 March.

u A performance by dancer Zia on Amir Khusrau’s poetry; and singer Abida Parveen from Pakistan, on 4 March. At Arab Ki Sarai, Humayun’s Tomb monuments, Delhi. For invites, visit Samasufimusic.com Mayank Austen Soofi

The stereotype of the intolerant Muslim refuses to go away, and Sufism remains anathema to a section of Muslims. In its time of crisis, we revisit what Sufism can achieve, ahead of the 800th ‘urs’ of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer B Y M AYANK A USTEN S OOFI mayank.s@livemint.com

···························· n entering, the white dome attracts your attention. It’s not the architecture or the gold centrepiece at its top. Nor the birds circling it. This dome seems to shape and consecrate every moment of this place. The fakirs (ascetics) near the ablution pool face it. So do the pilgrims in the marble courtyards. The Khwaja’s tomb is directly below. Four months later, when Rajasthan’s desert winter has given way to the heat of June, the dargah will be filled with lamps. Its assembly hall, resounding with the sound of the qawwals’ harmoniums, will herald the 800th urs of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer. Smaller groups of musicians will draw their own listeners within the various courtyards and sama (a gathering listening to mystical verse) music will echo in the streets. The terraces surrounding the dargah will come alive with their own qawwali gatherings and the last melodic strains will die only when the early morning prayer is called by the muezzin. As the cliché about the intolerant Muslim refuses to go away, as Sufism remains anathema to a section of Muslims, what is the significance of South Asia’s most important Sufi shrine? “The 800th urs is taking place in a troubled world where the religious discourse has been hijacked by the rhetoric of rage,” says Syed Salman Chishti, a khadim (caretaker) whose family has served at the 13th century shrine for generations. “The world must turn its attention to Ajmer, where people from different faiths gather in one assembly to share and not to impose their beliefs.” The world instead turned its attention to a city 120km from Ajmer, where a protest by a handful of Muslims compelled the organizers of the Jaipur Literature Festival to cancel novelist Salman

O

Rushdie’s video appearance last month. While all practising Musl i m s t h i s r e p o r t er talked to expressed discomfort with Rushdie’s references to Islam in his banned novel The Satanic Verses, many pointed out that his case must not be used to judge the Muslim character and that the essence of India’s Islam lies in Ajmer. “Moinuddin Chishti’s dwelling place became a nucleus for the Islamization of the central and southern parts of India,” noted the late Annemarie Schimmel, an expert on Islam, in her book Mystical Dimensions of Islam. South Asia’s most revered Muslim, Moinuddin Chishti occupies a principal position in Sufism, the mystical aspect of Islam. He established the Chishti silsila (order) in the subcontinent; its spiritual successors were Sufis like Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki of Mehrauli, Baba Farid of Pakpattan in Pakistan, and Hazrat Nizamuddin of Delhi. Known as Sultan-eHind and Gharib Nawaz, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti—khwaja meaning “master” in Persian—is visited by millions each year. Since no contemporary account of him has survived, Moinuddin Chishti’s life is depicted through a series of legends. He died in 1236. The death anniversary of a Sufi saint’s death is not mourned, it is celebrated. Urs means “wedding” in Arabic and it symbolizes the union of the lover with the beloved, who is God. “The 800th milestone doesn’t signify much in our religion but it lets us pause to commemorate the central place of Gharib Nawaz in the idea of India,” says film-maker Muzaffar Ali, who will present the 10th edition of his annual Jahan-eKhusrau Sufi music concert in Delhi in March. “In a multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-religious country, nothing could be more relevant than Gharib Nawaz’s message of love.” “Ajmer is the little Medina,” says Sadia Dehlvi, author of

Sufism: The Heart of Islam. “Sufism is about making linkages to God through his friends. In Medina, there is the spiritual presence of Prophet Muhammad. In Ajmer, one experiences the same closeness to God, for Khwaja sahib is a direct descendant and lover of the Prophet,” says Dehlvi. Outside Ajmer, the news from the world of Sufis is not only about sama, fanaa (dissolution) or the chartbuster film song Kun Fayakun. “We can no longer keep ourselves inside our dargahs,” says Maulana Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kachochavi, the general secretary of the All India Ulama and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), which was formed in 2005 and claims to represent the majority of Muslims in India. Last year, it held four Sufi Maha Panchayats in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar that were attended by hundreds of thousands of people, according to news reports. “We are telling India’s non-Muslims that the people the media and the government treat as spokespersons of our community, are not our leaders. Those who issue fatwas from seminaries like Deoband are inspired by extremists.” South Asia’s Islamic community is largely composed of the Barelvis and Deobandis, both named after towns in Uttar Pradesh. The former, who have their theological school in Bareilly, are followers of Sufism, while the orthodox jurists in Deoband are against the concept of intercession to God through saints. In November, Deoband passed a fatwa against celebrating the Prophet’s birthday, calling it un-Islamic, an occasion traditionally held with great fanfare in Ajmer and other dargahs. “Considering that these orthodox seminaries are opposed to the dargahs,” says Dehlvi, “one only has to look at the sheer number of Muslims from India’s villages and towns who descend on Ajmer, particularly during urs, to recognize how irrelevant they (the orthodox seminaries) really are.

The heart of Sufism: (clock­ wise from above) Ajmer dargah caretaker Syed Salman Chishti (right) with calligrapher Abdul Qayyum Saharanpuri; the Adhai Din Ka Jhonpra mosque; the bazaar outside the dar­ gah; the basant festival being celebrated in Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah last month; pilgrims carry­ ing flowers for Moinuddin Chishti; and the gold crown at the dome was offered by a brother of the nawab of Rampur in 1896.

Their fatwas have little or no relevance in the community.” “While it’s incorrect to say that our fatwas have no influence you should note that we don’t issue them on our own,” says Maulana Qari Syed Mohammad Usman, the hadith (the sayings of the Prophet) teacher at Deoband and president of the political party Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind. “We only give one if somebody asks for clarification on a certain matter. We don’t take any action if the fatwa is ignored.” Explaining Deoband’s stand on Sufism, Usman says: “In Islam, there is only Islam, no Sufism. We don’t mind if people go to tombs to recite fatiha (prayer for the departed souls) but we are against the dargah traditions, especially on attending urs festivals. Spend your time thinking of Allah, not listening to qawwalis.” “The Deobandis subscribe to a more textual analysis of the

Quran,” says historian Mushirul Hasan, the author of Islam in the Subcontinent: Muslims in a Plural Society. “Barelvis take a more eclectic view and have practices that can be described as composite. Their daily life is closer to the customs of other Indian communities. If you go by the population, Barelvis both in India and Pakistan are greater in numbers. But Deobandis are politically better organized and so are more visible in the public space.” “Sometimes even Deobandis come here to seek the Khwaja’s blessing,” says Syed Anwar-ul-Haq Chishti, an elderly khadim sitting cross-legged in the Ajmer dargah. A long queue is forming for the sunset ceremony of Dua-e-Roshni (prayer of lights). Each evening as khadims carry large yellow candles to the durbar, the tombchamber, hundreds of birds suddenly land on the branches of the

mursali tree. Little else is heard in the courtyard except for their chirping. As the drummer strikes, the candles are lit amid the chanting of a Persian invocation to Gharib Nawaz, acknowledging him as the foremost friend of God on the face of the earth. “Ajmer Sharif is the extension of what I am,” says film-maker Mahesh Bhatt. “Being the son of a Shiite mother and a Brahmin father, my biological construct is a union of Muslim and Hindu cultures. There are more Hindus visiting the dargah than Muslims. It is the Khwaja’s wide appeal that has kept his cult going.” In 2011, some of the celebrities who visited the dargah included actors Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Priyanka Chopra, producer Ekta Kapoor, cricketers Tillakaratne Dilshan and Zaheer Khan. While the aforementioned list

might reflect a present-day curiosity for Sufism, throughout its history Ajmer has been a star attraction. The Mughals, particularly, attributed their success in India to the blessings of Moinuddin Chishti. Emperor Akbar visited the dargah 14 times, once walking all the way from Agra. Jehangir lived in Ajmer for almost three years. Shah Jahan built a marble mosque in the dargah. Princess Jahanara raised the marble porch Begumi Dalaan (Begum’s courtyard), opposite the entrance to the durbar. Even the orthodox Aurangzeb, who did not believe in the Sufi doctrine, was seen paying his respects at this dargah. In 1911, when Delhi was established as British India’s new capital, Queen Mary passed through the pilgrim town, paying for the restoration of the ablution pool. On 11 October 2007, during Ramzan, a bomb exploded below

the same mursali tree. Three people died. The alleged suspects were first thought to be Islamic extremists and later, Hindu. “The aim was to oppose the stream of thought on which Ajmer is built,” says Bhatt. “The idea of the Other is not a threat in the Khwaja’s dargah, which is like a garden where the rose is not frightened of the mogra. Both have a distinct fragrance and together they make the scent.” As the winter sun sets behind the barren Aravalli hills, the marble floor gets cold. Qawwals sit facing the durbar; some listeners look lost, others gaze at the dome. Among the devotees, the Kashmiris stand out in their loosely hanging pherans. A woman in a red sari has her hands folded in prayer. She is sobbing. Although people of all religions visit Ajmer Sharif, its daily rituals revolve around the five mandatory

prayers of Muslims. This is not surprising since Moinuddin Chishti was one of the pioneers of Islamic mysticism in the subcontinent. His arrival from central Asia in 1192 coincided with the conquest of India by Muhammed of Ghor, who defeated Prithviraj Chauhan, one of the last Hindu kings to rule Delhi. After settling in Ajmer, a Hindu pilgrimage town close to the holy lake of Pushkar, Moinuddin Chishti won the respect of both believers and nonbelievers. He lived in the cell in which he lies buried. The tomb is built over a series of cellars which, according to The Shrine and Cult of Mu’in al-din Chishti of Ajmer by P.M. Currie, might have formed part of an earlier temple. “Before reaching Ajmer”, says Raza Rumi, a writer and political analyst from Pakistan, “Moinuddin meditated in Lahore for 40 days at Data Darbar, the shrine of

Usman Hajvery. Gharib Nawaz consequently is cherished in Pakistan and hundreds of Pakistanis visit his dargah.” India issues special visas to Pakistanis for the urs. Fifteen minutes away from the dargah is the majestic Adhai Din Ka Jhonpra mosque situated in the foothills of Taragarh. One of South Asia’s earliest Islamic structures, its outer walls are sculptured with the Kalimah (“the word of Islam”). The monument, now overlaid with graffiti, includes crude sketches of peacocks on the stone floor. Indifferent to the discords of the past, goats meander along with pilgrims who stray from the dargah to sightsee. Only a few offer prayers at the mosque here. “The majority of Indian Muslims were Hindus,” says Dehlvi, “and accepted Islam because of Gharib Nawaz and the Sufis who spread his message. The Khwaja allowed his followers to express the love of God through inclusive traditions such as music. This sanction gave birth to diverse devotional expressions that thrive to this day.” The food cooked in the dargah’s giant copper cauldrons, distributed after the morning and evening prayers, is always vegetarian. Rumi says, “The Chishti school of Sufism did not exclude any religion and gave way to a plural

Indian identity. This is why the extremists in Pakistan, especially the Taliban, are against such devotional practices.” In 2010, the dargah of Baba Farid in Pakistan, another saint of this Sufi order, was bombed. As with most places in India, the bazaar in front of the dargah is a world of contrasts. Immaculately dressed men in crisp white salwarkurta walk beside open drains. Beggars line the road that leads to the shrine of the patron of the poor. The alm-seekers might not have money for clothes but their bowls are filled with chameli garlands. Plastic flowers decorate the tongas that go as far as the Khwaja’s chillah, the hilltop cave where he meditated. Overlooking the Ana Sagar lake, the chillah is deserted. Cats prowl beside tombs. A stall offers amulets and booklets on Ajmer Sharif. After the night prayers, while the qawwals are rendering verses in the courtyard, the worshippers are asked to leave the durbar, which is then cleaned by three khadims with brooms made of peacock feathers. As the last functionary comes out of the chamber, everyone gets up and the qawwals recite Karka, a musical verse in Persian, Sanskrit and Brij. The Khwaja’s chamber is locked until the pre-dawn prayer. During urs, the durbar is closed

at a later hour. One week earlier, a green and red flag is hoisted on the Buland Darwaza gateway to signal the arrival of the festival. By then malangs (non-conformist Sufis), fakirs (ascetics) and qalandars (non-conformist Sufis) from all over India are midway to Ajmer, walking. They assemble at the dargah of Khwaja Qutubuddin Kaki in Mehrauli, Delhi and from there walk to Ajmer Sharif, a journey that takes 17 days. The nine-day urs begins after the sunset prayers, for the Islamic day changes at the twilight hour. Attending it is not easy. Ajmer is packed far beyond its capacity. The lanes overflow with a sea of humanity. People queue for hours to enter the durbar to touch the Khwaja’s tomb. From large hotels to roadside guesthouses, every place is occupied. Verandas too are taken over by beds. For the Qul, the prayer on the final day of urs, every roof and window is taken over by crowds jostling to get a view of the crammed dargah. It is as if all of Ajmer is resounding with prayer. Though the town gets back its breathing space a day later, the crowd at the dargah never dissipates. Divided by religions and countries, the devotees of the Khwaja, spread across South Asia and beyond, challenge these rifts each time they come to his durbar.


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Among the East Enders PHOTOGRAPHS

Home to migrants, the neighbourhood around Brick Lane has some of the coolest shopping and food in the city

B Y N ISHAT F ATIMA ···························· onica Ali’s book might have brought it international fame, but as a destination piece, it did Brick Lane no favours. Did anybody really want to visit a place that seemed like a poor cousin to Southall, different only in that it was inhabited by Bangladeshis rather than Indians, full of curry houses and shops that sold flashy saris and salwar-kameezes from the last decade? Add its location in London’s East End, and Brick Lane’s desirability was well into double digits. In the negative. So when I asked what was the one place I should see in London, to be told “Brick Lane” was a bit of a stunner. Since it came from an Indian friend, it ruled out any chance that I was being sent for a glimpse of the “exotic”. This meant… honestly, I had no idea what it meant as she dragged me along on a Sunday morning. Masses of people surged around me, sweeping me along down the road, allowing me only

M

TRIP PLANNER/LONDON

Regent’s Park

You will need a visa for the UK. Apply for one through VFS Scotland (www.vfs-uk-in.com). Visas take at least a week so apply in UK advance. Ireland England Victoria There are direct flights to and Albert London from all major cities. Museum Current advance return fares to London London on full-service airlines are: Delhi Mumbai Emirates R40,700 R41,400 Jet Airways R55,800 R56,000 British Airways R73,800 R47,880

Bethnal Green

L O N D O N

Fares may change.

Buckingham Palace Thames river

Bangalore R45,000 R49,000 R46,720

Stay

Eat

Do

Stay at the conveniently located Town Hall Hotel & Apartments (double occupancy from £116, or around R9,000, a night; Townhallhotel.com) set in the heart of Bethnal Green or at the super-stylish Shoreditch House (you may need to study what’s in this season), now open to non-members via Shoreditch Rooms (from £185 a night; www.shoreditchhouse.com). Bethnal Green has a variety of cuisine, from British pub fare and cream teas to Bangladeshi kebabs, Indian food and Michelin-starred restaurant food. Stop at Beigel Bake in Brick Lane, the go-to place at any time of day or night. In 2009, Gwilyn Davies was crowned Britain’s Best Barista and you can check out why at Prufock Coffee Espresso Bar (140, Shoreditch High Street). Enjoy a day with the children at the V&A Museum of Childhood. It has play areas, interactive games, thought-provoking, fun exhibits and sofas to collapse into when the going gets tough—entry is free. Take the Jack the Ripper Walk from London Walks (£8 for adults, free for children under 15; www.walks.com). Check in at Rich Mix (35-47, Bethnal Green Road), where cinema, music, art, dance and comedy come alive. Visit the Whitechapel Gallery which, since its reopening in 2009, has built a reputation for cutting-edge exhibitions. The Rothko in Britain exhibition is on till 26 February (77-82, Whitechapel High Street; entry is free). GRAPHIC

BY

AHMED RAZA KHAN/MINT

short glimpses of boutiques selling vintage-wear, indie designer stores, and the many restaurants and pubs, outdoor food stalls and pavement sellers, before depositing me at Sunday UpMarket. It took a moment for me to catch my breath and my friend took the opportunity to give me a thumbnail sketch of the area. Historically, London’s East End has been favoured by immigrants—Huguenots in the 17th century, Russian Jews in the 19th century and Bangladeshis in the 20th—and the newest wave is that of the “creative class”, which has embraced its affordability. They have, in turn, led to the area’s renaissance, one in which Brick Lane has a

starring role. Once a place to buy fruits or eat curry, it is now visited daily by 24-hour party people, City workers, artists, designers, squatters, sellers of tat, music aficionados, and a lot of the weird and the wacky. I could see why. It had buzz, it had vim, it had vibe… and, oh boy, it had crowds. Sunday UpMarket, where I had been debouched, was no exception. The weekly Sunday indoor market at the Old Truman Brewery draws the crowds because it has something of a reputation in fashionable circles, particularly in the area of food. On the fashion side, it has stalls with clothes, accessories and jewellery:

some quirky, some cool. There’s also a smattering of art, and some home décor. But consider the shopping an appetizer for the main course, the huge section of food stalls that dish out cuisine of all sorts—Ethiopian, Spanish, Moroccan, Caribbean, Japanese. The snaking queue suggested that the Japanese stall was the most popular, and I joined it. This was my introduction to okonomiyaki: Who’d have guessed that a pancake made of cabbage could taste so good! The crowd had thinned out by late afternoon, so we turned on to Dray Walk and walked into the iconic Rough Trade East, considered London’s best independent music store. Here, LPs are still sold (Gucci’s Frida Giannini, a huge LP collector, visits when she’s in London) and in-store gigs are a regular feature. It’s possible to spend hours in there, and I did my best, though this meant resisting the temptations of Spitalfields Market, which was a stone’s throw away; and of the nearby delis, galleries and pop-up stores selling luxury fashion at discounted prices. While it’s a major attraction, Brick Lane isn’t the be-all of Bethnal Green. On the main road is the Town Hall Hotel & Apartments, a hotel that opened in the erstwhile Town Hall in spring 2010. More importantly, it houses El Bulli-trained chef Nuno Mendes’ restaurant Viajante, which serves up tasting menus of three, six, nine or 12 courses and won its first Michelin star in January 2011 (no, you don’t get to choose your meal; no, you don’t know what you’re going to get; and, no, staring longingly at it is not helpful in scoring a table). It’s en route Broadway Market in nearby Hackney. There’s another market of note in the area: Columbia Road Flower Market, but more on that later. Broadway Market, while a fine place to go shopping on any given day, really comes alive on Saturdays, with stalls selling organic food, artisanal cheese and some absolutely scrumptious baked goods. It’s a far more relaxed affair than Brick Lane and the lulling walk to it, along Regent’s Canal, is the main reason. Passing moored barges on one side and cyclists on the other, by the time you arrive at Broadway Market, you’re more than Eat, drink: Boiler House—the food hall of Sunday UpMarket.

BY

NISHAT FATIMA

Around the corner: (clockwise from above) Okonomiyaki— a Japanese cabbage pancake stuffed with cheese; a stall at the Columbia Flower Market; and a couple at one of the many coffee shops on Brick Lane. ready to grab a seat at the pavement cafés and while away the day. Impossible, of course, the lure of the market’s wares is too strong and the rewards great—there’s a plum and almond tart that’s seared in my memory. The towpath can be absolutely addictive, and walking further along it, I find a whole lot more of Regent’s Canal on view as I walk towards Victoria Park. Green, quiet and dappled with sunlight (it was my lucky day), the path almost let me forget there was a city around it. It was with definite reluctance that I emerged into Victoria Park, whose charms—especially those of the Pavilion Café—while many and undeniable, seemed too manicured in comparison. There comes a point when you have to ask yourself just how many markets you can see before eschewing them for the rest of your life. Thankfully, it’s not a question I had to answer when I came to Columbia Flower Market. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t interested in the flowers, though you’ll be hard put to ignore them, because Columbia Road is one of the last bastions of independent stores: boutiques, garden stores, stationery shops, tea rooms and cafés. If you thought you were tired of the retail experience, this is where to go to put the fun back into it. That is also pretty much the appeal of East End: It’s one of the few places left in London where you can still find a surprise around every corner. Write to lounge@livemint.com CHILD­FRIENDLY RATING

East End has a few places for children—the V&A Museum of Childhood, Victoria Park, Spitalfields City Farm and Hackney City Farm. SENIOR­FRIENDLY RATING

All the attractions are accessible to seniors but most of these require a fair amount of walking—much of it through crowded streets. LGBT­FRIENDLY RATING

London is one of the world’s most liberal cities, but East End had a few incidents of homophobia in 2011.


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Doors to Drass

ANOOP NEGI

let’s headlamp. At Gumri, the barrier was down but there wasn’t anyone in sight so I got off the bike, ducked under the barrier, hopped back on and carried on. When I was in my teens, one of the most fascinating films I saw was The Great Escape. Steve McQueen, who plays the Cooler King in the film, was the ultimate image of “cool” for me. I had watched that sequence of him trying to escape the Germans on a captured motorcycle over and over again. Today I was living a shade of that role—as in I was a fugitive and maybe I hadn’t jumped my bike over the barrier with the style and panache with which McQueen jumped over the barbed wire on the German-Swiss border, but I too was expecting a shrill whistle ordering me to stop and turn back. It never came. At the second barrier, at the approach to the pass, a sentry was there, awake and alert, and he promptly ordered me to turn back and come again tomorrow. It is my firm belief that if you’ve tried hard enough, Lady Luck will ride pillion with you. And I’d ridden a hard and difficult ride from Kargil to this spot, and so when my light caught the soldier’s name tag, I knew I’d got my ticket across the pass. His name was Sawant Rao Joshi. He was from Maharashtra, and I suspected that, posted here in Kashmir, he was probably dying to parley in his mother tongue. So I sent up a silent prayer asking the Almighty to bless Mrs Abraham, my elementary school Marathi teacher who had practised her linguistic trade with the liberal use of a thick, foot-long wooden ruler which she had applied with great force and endeavour to my backside, and let out a jovial greeting in Marathi. Sawant Rao was ecstatic; he was from Pune and happily so was my motorcycle, which was registered in Pune. Domicile bonding happened then and there. He ordered some tea from the little canteen, brought out his cherished stock of biscuits and Wills cigarettes and insisted that I spend some time there. After thoroughly checking all my documents he told me to ride fast and get across the crest of the pass. Once I’d crossed over and started going downhill I could take it easy, he said.

In this chapter from ‘Lounge’ contributor Rishad Saam Mehta’s new book, ‘Hot Tea Across India’, he flees Kargil to avoid the local ruffian

B Y R ISHAD S AAM M EHTA ··························· t is during that night somewhere on the road between Kargil and Drass that my fondness for my bike turned into lifelong love. I was never more dependent on it as I was at that time. Its steady thump—loud, proud, unfaltering and reassuring—boosted my confidence. It was as if, with every note its mudcaked cylinder sent out through its short chrome exhaust, it was telling me, Let this road throw anything at us, we’ll ride through it. Over roads strewn with glacier moraine, across dark streams that shimmered in my headlight beam, through broken tarmac and soft muddy slush, my Bullet responded beautifully to the twist of my wrist. I got to Drass at a little past two in the morning. In this little village—where the temperature fell to minus 60 degrees Centigrade on Monday, the ninth of January 1995—a solitary tea shop was open. In it there was a wizened old man, whose beard was just short of his navel, tending a contraption that looked like an ancient bathroom geyser. It was hissing, bubbling and squeaking like my stomach had during the incident with the full cream milk on the Uttar Pradesh-Haryana border. It was an ancient tea percolator, possibly left behind by the khansama of Babur’s army. The tea he poured out was flavoured with cinnamon, saffron and cardamom and sweetened with honey. It seemed to seek out and eliminate the chill in my bones and weeded out the weariness in my muscles. I realised my arms and forearms were in a state of fixed flex from gripping the handlebars tight. The hot tea within the beautifully tapered glass I cupped in

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RISHAD SAAM MEHTA

On the ascent: (above) The breathtaking Drass Valley; and Tanglang La Pass.

Sipping on it, I felt hope—I had made it till Drass, and I would make it to Srinagar. It would be alright.

nance of the pass, clearing landslides and repairing broken stretches. Now this was during the time when cross-border firing was routine and Drass got its share of direct hits. The kind old chai walla pointed out Drass’s best guest house to me. I looked across at it and brought up the obvious—that half of it was reduced to a pile of rubble. ‘Oh, that half took a glancing blow from a shell last evening, but there are still some perfectly undamaged rooms. You can stay the day there today and leave tomorrow, or you can ride back to Kargil and come back again tomorrow.’ Neither option was very inviting. A slight adjustment to the scope of his howitzer and the enemy gunner could finish the other half of the guesthouse to make it a very symmetrical pile of rubble. I decided I would rather take my chances with the pass. So once again I headed out into the night, where the only world visible to me was what fell within the circle of light thrown by my Bul-

my hands warmed and comforted me. Sipping on it, I felt hope—I had made it till Drass, and I would make it to Srinagar. It would be alright. It was the chai walla who solemnly broke the news that felt like an avalanche of doom and despair collapsing on me. When I told him that I was on my way to Srinagar, he said, ‘It is Friday today—dry day.’ Now dry day there doesn’t mean that the local watering hole will be serving only orange juice and Virgin Marys. It means that the mighty Zoji La, the dramatic mountain pass that separates Ladakh from Kashmir, is closed by the Indian army. Fridays are when they carry out routine mainte-

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Hall of fame: The three cyclists were featured in the newspaper cartoon strip, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, in 1966.

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On 15 October 1923, Adi B. Hakim, Jal P. Bapasola and Rustom B. Bhumgara from the Bombay Weightlifting Club embarked on the first­ever world tour on bicycles (through Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Sinai and other lands). They covered 44,000 miles in three years and three months, braving pirate­infested waters, swamplands, dense jungles and rocky cliffs. The story of their adventure and endurance has been revived by ‘With Cyclists Around the World’, the new version of a 1930s book that’s going to be launched in Vadodara on 19 April. This exclusive excerpt recounts their 8,000­mile ride through Palestine and what was then known as Transjordania

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ong before the sun had peeped above the horizon on 7 August 1924, the last traces of old Damascus had faded from our view. Our objective now was Jerusalem, which lay 190 miles from Damascus. The road connecting these two centres on the whole is well metalled, save some miles of very rough track. By mid-day we had traversed 41 miles and arrived at El Kuneitra in time for lunch. El Kuneitra is a pleasant town populated mainly by Circassians. We were taken to a police station and our passports were examined and endorsed as we were now leaving the province of Syria. While we were at Damascus an account of our enterprise had appeared in a local newspaper. The commissioner of police at El Kuneitra had read the same and on our arrival invited us to stay with him for a day. Of all things, time was the last thing we could spare. We declined his invitation with many thanks and after lunch and tea with him took to road at three in the afternoon. With the sun beating down upon our unsheltered heads mercilessly, it was with difficulty that we negotiated the ascents which we encountered on leaving El Kuneitra. We were not in luck however. When the descent commenced, we found

the track very rough, strewn with stones of no mean sizes and it was a hard task to prevent our machines from bumping against one stone in trying to avoid unpleasant contact with another. The track grew worse and worse. Finally, we dismounted and walked; even then one or the other would put his foot on an apparently firmly-embeded stone, only to find himself lying on the ground, with the machine and baggage performing similar stunt. We crossed a river bridge; this is the boundary line separating Syria from Palestine. We were accosted here by policemen who noted down all our details and only then permitted us to proceed. This place is called Jisr Benat Yakub, meaning ‘Bridge of the Daughters of Jacob’. It derives its curious name either from the traditional belief that Jacob once crossed the river Jordon at this spot, or perhaps from the fact that a number of Jacobian nuns were put to sword during the Crusades. A little distance from this place lies a Jewish Colony where we passed the night. From Jisr Benat Yakub, Tiberias, on the sea of Gallillee, is 24 miles. The mid-day sun had not yet attained its zenith in the sky when we found ourselves listen-

ing to the music of the waves of the sea munching our rude fare. A time there was when the shores of this lake were hemmed in by busy bustling and thriving towns. Today Tiberias and one or two squalid villages only stand sentinel over the waters of this lake. The Sea of Gallillee is really a lake, measuring 14 miles from north to south and has an average width of 6 miles. It lies 680 ft below the level of the Mediterranean Sea. At its north end, the River Jordan enters through a delta of its own deposit; the river resumes its southerly course and pours its contents into the Dead Sea. It was in the vicinity of the Sea of Gallillee that the Blessed Redeemer opened his career and gave to the world his immortal parables of the lost Sheep and of the net. Of the Sower the Wheat and the Tares, of the Grain of Mustard seed and to the Lilies, which toil not, nor spin. These flowers more glorious than the Soloman glory still abound in the vicinity of this hallowed lake. Almost every town in Palestine has a history. Tiberias is mentioned in the New Testament. Herod Antipas, built the city probably upon the site of the cemeter y o f Rakkath, some twenty years after the death of

MAP

Christ. For centuries past this town is noted for its hot water springs. A dip in the Hammame-nabi-Slleman, as these springs are called, cost us each about two Egyptian Piasters. The waters of the spring, which maintain a temperature from 130° to 142° Fahr are locally considered an unfailing cure for rheumatism. With Tiberias is also connected a Jewish legend, viz., that when the Messiah arrives, he will emerge from the Lake, collect His people at Tiberias and march triumphantly to Safed ‘where His throne will be established for ever’. Leaving Tiberias, that afternoon we had to encounter steep gradients. The uneven nature of this district entails considerable

Throughout the route, grapes, figs, olives, and pomegranates were seen in abundance. Half­a­piaster could buy us figs in incredible quantities

With Cyclists Around the World: By Adi B. Hakim, Jal P. Bapasola and Rustom B. Bhumgara, Roli Books, 376 pages, Rs350.

Back home: (from left) Hakim, Bapasola and Bhumgara.

hardships on the travellers. The redeeming feature of the tour through these regions is abundance of fruits. Passing Kefr Kenna en route we arrived at Nazareth. If Kefr Kenna be what many believe it, namely, the true Cana of Gallilee then it was at this place that Lord Jesus performed his first miracle at the

marriage feast. Nazareth is too well known throughout Christendom to need any mention in detail. It was at Nazareth that Jesus spent his early days. We find no mention of this place in the Old Testament. When Lord Jesus moved and taught Nazarene was an epithet of derision. We did not tarry long at Naz-

areth. However, we paid a visit to the renowned Church of the Annunciation situated within the precincts of the Latin Monastery. The building is 69 ft long, 48 ft wide with marble steps on either side leading to the high altar. Below it is the Crypt. From here we reached the Chapel of Angel and the Chapel of Annunciation.

Another place of interest in the vicinity of the orthodox Church of Annunciation is a spring the waters of which are conveyed to Ain-Miriam, or Mary’s well. The well undoubtedly is the one frequented by the Virgin. Even today the pretty Nazarene women strut about this place with their pitchers, which they fill from the fountain. We did not stay for more than a couple of hours at Nazareth. A journey of 19 miles brought us to Jenin, a beautiful little town lying between the mountains of Samaria and the Plane of Jazreel, with luxuriant gardens bearing testimony to the fertility of the soil, which is a volcanic decomposition. From here a spiral ascent once again pestered us. We left Nablus, the capital of the Samaria province. Populated mainly by Mohammedans, Nablus is a town with considerable trade looking to its population of 16,000. Two railway lines branch from Nablus. One connects this town with the Lydda Haifa line at Tulkeram and the other with Haifa-Damascus line at Afule. From Nablus onward our uphill journey continued till we arrived at Jerusalem. Throughout the route, grapes, figs, olives, and pomegranates were seen in abundance. Half-a-piaster could buy us figs in incredible quanti-

ties. As we proceeded further we could obtain fruits cheaper and cheaper, until all that we had to do was to get them for the me re ask in g a nd at sev eral places even without that much trouble. Occasionally an extraordinarily luxuriant bough of grapes tempted us to break our journey and collect a hatful of them. At times, our poaching excursions were challenged by the owner of the vineyard who saw us trespassing upon his property with such impunity. Often we were mistaken for soldiers, a confusion of identity in our favour, for the farmer of the district as a rule is loath to incur the displeasure of the members of the military. More often than not our own invasion of the vineyard was looked upon with indifference as the owner knew he had more of the commodity than he could ever dream of disposing off, and that a handful or two would not diminish the stock at his disposal. On our arrival at Jerusalem we knocked at the gates of Casa Nova, a Franciscan hospice at which travellers and pilgrims find boarding and lodging gratis. At first a friar declined to accommodate us, though in the end we successfully persuaded him to do so. We stayed at Jerusalem for four days. Modern Jerusalem has

BY

MALAY KARMAKAR/MINT

a population of 63,000 people of which more than half are Jews and the rest almost in equal number Christians and Muslims. The city is divided into four quarters by two intersecting streets, inhabited by four nationalities, viz., the Jewish, the Mohammedan, the Armenian and the Grœco-Frankish. Running right round the city is a wall with an average height of 38 ft, and a length of 2½ miles. The wall is pierced by eight gates, each of which bears a distinct name. In 1917, from under the Crescent, Jerusalem came under the Cross, when General Allenby entered the city. The Holy Sepulchre is undoubtedly the chief centre of attraction in the city. Thousands of pilgrims journey to this place from distant lands to pay their homage at the shrine of the Lord Jesus. To the Christian, the Jew and the Mohammedan the city is an object of profound veneration. In a corner of the city, in the northwest, lie the buildings comprising the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, hidden from gaze by many buildings that cluster round it. The interior is divided into two parts the Rotunda and the Orthodox Cathedral. Within the precincts of the TURN TO PAGE L14®

On 15 October 1923, Adi B Hakim, Jal P Bapasola and Rustom B Bhumgara took off on bicycles to travel the world. An exclusive excerpt from a book that revives their amazing journey

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The (above) at Top form: marathon, , is Pole and the ed to North miles (42.19km) of lap 4 26.22 a the end te mark, I decid long as thon; just as al mara 2.20-minutook off my e the and ed conventionBittianda has the soft stop and s to go insid not Given g surface, I decid in the and Kal t I was snowshoe marathons undulatin s. This race with I had mess tent. 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At the plate of potatoes— ipal de for the mara you fly to Pole? my snow to eat that top your princ run? need to I was perspiring then been outsi ed to enough the highlight North having What wereahead of the were the And graphical” s is the so I decid . The because That was . “geo long, and without them break concerns ary concerns to be right—thide, the h Pole being donewere there That’s the Nort Have you continue after this long latitu the The prim res (expected the course Post-run, ns? How did happen? sports I and 90-degree ost point of to fifth lap rous, as the ’t have temperatues Celsius) d not celebratio g the hot food, marathon endurance northernm were ferrie was tortu softer, I didn eatin -30 degre in (snow does ian camp We towelled . was After I Russ been into time? much er, these tent, (a globe was into clean a runn soft terra get hard at that the minutes went to my Barneo nearly 1,000 shoes and for a long ys been Camp changed the the snow lap took 51 alwa Pole), pack and res). 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I group, taking ion from here end of lap get York City r), the key frostbite trickling d help them 14-16 -houmad e parti cipat Over At the n in a the e ing to second winte loping ing on berge cloth befor ult. this deve woul -up on Spits diffic much We uous start began run from get warm the cold spor ts sweat freez snowstorm was how doing stren it fluids and ed out into in team 10 years , I have eted from the This meant blinding of 7 April, with went in wear while how much . I they head er lap. This er the past thon s and compraces . the face.extended break morning res in the -25°C ment ise and runn anoth the for to run 20 mara 100-m ile bike ed first exercd restrict move —the last m, another warm up and, it temperatu landed on ice cold day at woul to We of t 7.40a on all night in three thon ing start but a aced everybut training ) is range. (carved out the tent at abou st. 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I decid t to after a out with outside the tent. that the -35°F (-37° d question s or At 10am we boarded made got me an annu al even seas were told at 3.30pm. up, mistake laps were very a test The seconuse snowshoeing start t me cleaned helicopters andthe to make it inter estin g over would last four e, as it beca ce walk abou to trail-runn whether ian flight to got pick an n with a I got to the course regular en and soft cour se. forgettabl r to balan of each Russ20-minute run in along powe the end desti natio g mara thon s of Pole. We one terrain. 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I’d golia tes (just we expe as the runners leting goes, we clothing— wear, 21 minu11pm CEST), , Mon , the world location of change over it in comp e. erjee. -proof Antarcticawhen, in 2008 layers cours me 17 before na Mukh us run in als/sweat fleece and a trampled loops of the placed North nland to Suma holiday with which As told and Greementioned theed at the thermation/thin layer—gloves, the nine last the 38 he r d marathon insul like? out of jump ts—t Share your emint.com a frien proof uppemask, et al. ? Is And the at was that at thon. I cipan e@liv to wind parti mara face at loung rican Pole camp r itself—whthon started the balaclava, the base first Ame the first chance. a bit about was the othe The maraCEST (Central ): polar run. Where finish and to Time e you met Tell me ion of the ever 3.30pm to se. Summer that wher Indian the cour organizat ization Polar European res were down runners? n, a Norwegian later complete The organAdventures m), camp for Temperatu berge start and-37°C. The base the Spits as ing s at to ers Runn serve -33°C arathon.cot, is to drop island, designed Some runn New (www.npm this even van, expected course was the runs me from le of polar trips. of ard Dono which nine-loop n eyesight by Rich marathoner travelled with a coup ns and managed also met ous trips to to be withisafety reaso and -time polar York; I the most a three accomplished from previ camp forsoft snow for 500m golia. athoner. others t l and Mon MIKE KING and an was on ultra-mar in good PHS BY t for abou was on Antarcticaa relatively smal PHOTOGRA that decoratedneeds to be extreme like is part, excep the end There le who travel for an e. 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hen a voice rises A new biography better question from a nearby cubicle, a gives of his life, than “You but not aboutintimate details may be uppose his books “You talking talking to me?” Shapiro, the secrets you >Page 18 a business of to you?” anonymous ran a restaur ant technology herself constant Susan and an critic dropped consultant, When the talks to lists and step-by-ly in what amount xtrama rital review appear in to review it. shocked s to auditory DON’T MISS step instructi affairs are “idiot” at ed, you to-do apart. to learn that Bangalore, ons. She in the news. times, “brillian were your place the How says things had been In t” at others calls herself an his wife and sad story of a techie reckon, have would you react? torn the out loud and occasion then hanging killing such as, headlines. talking to You five options. “I can’t believe ally Steven Spielber himself has myself out David Paterso One: Ignore would, I of New loud.” She hit colleague g does not n, the the review. York, waiting for once discover I’m pans one chase every years. Smart has had extrama new governor her and her to finish their ed a machet of his movies critic who rital affairs guy. He cube-ma down conversation. office, e. revealed the te for Two: Write street with >Page 4 all before explaining For today’s a letter a umbrag thus divesti ng taking to the editor why you Americ e and newsho business news ans of their unfair. >Page thought predece unds, the review > Question 5 WSJ was suicida ssor Eliot Spitzer’ their story. While of Answers— his s saga could l, Paterso the quiz with n’s revelati be called stride, viewed a differen ons were > Markets ce as almost taken in Watch normal. >Page 6 > Capital

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B Y R ISHAD S AAM M EHTA ···························· omu leapt back like a gazelle, startled by the rapidity with which I had sprung out of my car and enthusiastically grabbed the coconut he was holding. The tall, swaying palms that surround Marari beach, hiding it away from the mainland, also provide coconuts—and coconut water is an ideal welcome drink for the sweaty traveller who has just battled the heat and the aggressive traffic on the roads of Kerala. A hotel management graduate and trainee at the Marari Beach Resort, Romu had been standing in the portico, ready with the welcome drink, and once he had overcome the shock of my leaping at the coconut, he pulled himself together and welcomed us to Mararikulam—the correct name of this little seaside hamlet lying between Kochi and Alleppey. Formalities completed and traditional garland welcome

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bestowed, we were passed on to Midhun, another member of the staff, who escorted us to our thatched roof cottage. He was a little taken aback at the swiftness with which we changed into our beach gear. Models scrambling to change outfits backstage at a fashion show would have found us tough competition. Seeing our fervour to hit the beach, he remarked, “But sir, you are from Mumbai and they have beaches there, no?” Which is true, but we couldn’t ever imagine lounging on a Mumbai beach in swimming trunks or a bikini. But here in Marari, doing this comes naturally. The little beach is deserted save for a few fisherfolk who are busy repairing their nets or sprucing up their boats. When we left our cottage, the sea was sending tantalizing invitations by way of sunbeams bouncing off it and twinkling through the palms that border the beach. The palms were leafy enough to provide shade to relax under

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Where dieselED BACK just can’t and the colonial replace steam past lives journey on on—the Mountain the century­old Nilgiri Railway >Page 10

with a book, with regular breaks to take dips in the Arabian Sea. Marari is a shelving beach and slopes down quite sharply, so you do have to take care when the tide is going out, because the pull of the sea can be quite vicious. But when the tide is coming in, this is one of the most fantastic beaches in India for a swim. The sea is clean, blue and gentle. We spent that morning shifting down a gear and going into relax mode. The regular drumming of the waves on the sand, the twittering of birds, and the occasional fishing boat passing was the only activity around. After half a day spent sprawled on the beach with the barman’s speciality—a cocktail called “East India”—for refreshment, and some pulp A view fiction for company, we headed of Nainital in Uttarakha nd from the route to the poolside forKilbury brunch—a to forest. sumptuous club sandwich and fresh lime soda. By the time the sun started dipping on the horizon, we

STRETCHED A RIVERC LIKE

AT This could sun­soaked be your own little paradise, the Goa that makes side want to leave the traveller of never >Page 18

BARK, CANNA BIS AND LADIES

’ SLIPPERS The rain­drench ed Valley is home to of Flowers Himalayan some of the most exotic flora >Page 20

RISHAD SAAM MEHTA

Drop anchor: (clockwise from top) A fisherman mends his net on Marari beach; the Marari Beach Resort; and toddy bottles.

Drop anchor: A fisher­ man mends his net on Marari beach; and (right) the Marari Beach Resort.

24 SEP 2 011

SUN AND SOUL GETAWAYS A steam engine ride to Ooty or a sleepy beachside village in Kerala? Head up or lie low? Decide after you rediscover our unspoilt beaches and hill stations


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Mealtimes for murderers ZAC O’YEAH

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Here’s a tourist’s itinerary for places in India that mix hospitality with a lurking ghost

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uch as I like to think of myself as an aspiring foodie, I generally avoid the topic of cooking in this particular column, as the only grub I could write about would be poisoned caviar or gourmet tips from Hannibal the Cannibal’s recipe collection. None of this would be nice for you to read over breakfast, and I am, as you know by now, a tactful and sensitive writer. Besides, as far as I have been able to establish, a masala dosa has never featured in a detective novel as a weapon to clobber somebody with, while in Western fiction there are examples of frozen mutton used for blunt instrument braining, as in Roald Dahl’s 1953 short story Lamb To the Slaughter. You can’t do that with a frozen paratha. Nevertheless, I shall try against the odds to put together a tourist’s itinerary for the morbid-minded. The main hurdle is that if one googles for a combo of “India”, “Ghost”, “Restaurant”, all you get are deadly nonvegetarian recipes—rogan josh, achar gosht and mutton balls. Instead of googling, one could go to Goa. Not because of the alleged Russian mafia running vodka bars on the beaches, but because here you’ll find the excellent eatery O’Coqueiro, whose cuisine became the downfall of a notorious Vietnamese-born, French national, serial murderer dubbed the “Bikini Killer” in the media. He had escaped from Tihar Jail in

Serve chilled: The Taj in Mumbai is supposedly haunted by its disappointed architect; and (left) a sculpture of ‘the bikini killer’ at O’Coqueiro in Goa. Delhi, but spent an inordinate time enjoying the food at O’Coqueiro, until a Mumbai police team swooped down and arrested him in 1986. The restaurant cleverly made a statue of this foodie psycho; visitors can see the replica still sitting at his regular table out front. If this whets your appetite, there are a number of movies and books on the Bikini Killer, who never strangled anybody with a bikini; his modus operandi was to incapacitate hippies with laxatives, thereby inducing Delhi belly, or Thai tummy, before killing and robbing them. Although he preyed on backpackers from Turkey to Hong Kong, the law only caught up with him when he came to India—in fact, in a south Delhi hotel, where he in 1976 tried to poison and rob a busload of French engineering students. He mistakenly overdosed the poison, and they all started falling sick right there in the hotel restaurant. A suitable novel to read while you digest this would perhaps be The Bikini

Murders by Farrukh Dhondy. While in Goa one can also dine at the Casa Colvale, a boutique hotel which features as the don’s lair in the dramatic 2009 caper Kaminey. Director Vishal Bhardwaj happened to be staying at the hotel while writing the screenplay and so used it in the film. If you’re on a higher than average budget, you can even rent the director screenwriter’s riverside room. Fans of Bhardwaj

Dine at Goa’s Casa Colvale or travel to Coorg for a taste of the locations where Hindi films such as ‘7 Khoon Maaf’ were shot

and Priyanka Chopra can then travel further south and check out locations for their 2011 thriller 7 Khoon Maaf, which was primarily shot in a jungle outside Virajpet, Coorg. There’s a really cool scene where Ruskin Bond, on whose story, Susanna’s Seven Husbands, the film is based, does a cameo as a bishop in a Pondicherry bar. But as I haven’t been able to figure out the exact address, next time in Pondy I’m afraid I shall have to try out all the bars. Speaking of Bond, that eminent compiler of spooky stories, it may be noted that The Savoy, the only Indian establishment that frequently shows up on lists of the world’s legendary haunted hotels, is located in his neighbourhood in Uttarakhand; read more in Bond’s story In a Crystal Ball: A Mussoorie Mystery. The cyanide poisoning of a British spiritualist lady 100 years ago is a still unsolved locked-room murder case involving eerie séances, which became the inspiration for Agatha Christie’s debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. If

you meet the British lady ghost in the dining hall, please note that she is said to be harmless unless it turns out you are somehow descended from her murderer. While we’re straying to the topic of haunted hotels, there are a few around—one is a heritage lodge in Kota, Rajasthan, where a British major was killed in 1857. Although I stayed there for a night, I didn’t notice any uniformed spook with a stiff upper lip, though I did bump my head into the low bathroom door frame more than once. Then, in Lonavala, Maharashtra, there is a particular hotel room where the bed sheets are said to disappear in the middle of the night, which can be scary if you aren’t there honeymooning with your legally wedded partner. The iconic Taj Mahal in Mumbai is supposedly haunted by an architect who is said to have discovered that the contractor had turned the blueprints upside down, and that the building is apparently facing in the wrong direction. Now we’re just a block away from Leopold’s on Colaba

LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT QUINTA | SAVIA VIEGAS

Lays of the land A veneer of fiction preserves a careful, if uneven, record of Goan agrarian life B Y M ATT D ANIELS ···························· rovided its fatty meat has been carefully salted, chillied and stewed beforehand, a pork pie can be preserved for months if left to hang in a husk of banana leaves. This traditional recipe is one Savia Viegas relates comfortably, having been raised in Carmona, a small town in south Goa. In a new novel, Let Me Tell You About Quinta, Viegas applies a similar technique to the history of Goan agrarian life, keeping it fresh by wrapping it in a few layers of fiction. The book has followed on the heels of a project to assemble a collection of Goan family photographs spanning the late 1800s to Goa’s 1961 independence, another effort to cement in memory a Goa

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that is rapidly being tilled under by the forces of what is called development. Like her other projects as an academic and activist, Let Me Tell You About Quinta rings out as a labour of love. But it’s also a laborious read. The novel follows three generations of a fictional family, also named Viegas, whose house sits, in all its colonial glory, in the not-atall-fictional Carmona. Over the course of a century, the family’s patriarch witnesses the arrival of both the automobile and the hippies. The most momentous change of all comes with independence. To an entrenched feudal society, the departure of the Portuguese brought rapid change that pitted the bhatkars, Goa’s landed gentry, against the mundkars, their tenant labourers. After 1961, with the assistance of protective legislation, many mundkars finally managed to untether themselves from the land and left for good, paying jobs abroad, or on the high seas. Many Goan landholders could not reconcile themselves to the new

order and spent their waning years in Portugal. Bhatkars to the bone, the Viegas family defends its plantation against an onslaught of intrigues, real and perceived. Viegas’ account of the bhatkars’ role is a balanced one; for all their cruelty towards their lessers, they are credited with bringing “agricultural self-sufficiency” to the region by taming the river with bunds. For the most part, however, events are slow to arrive at Quinta. As secrets spend much of the book’s length submerged like buried treasure, the narrative lurches over the old house’s floorboards and out into its fields in pursuit of uncles and sisters, giving the reader’s attention too much time to wander. This is the sort of book that requires repeated references to a diagrammed genealogy, not a family tree so much as a crooked shrub in need of pruning. Viegas has an ear for the tuneful cadences of Goan English speakers, and the novel’s inclusion of phrases in Konkani and Portuguese (though its Hindi may be somewhat misplaced) does much to bring out Goa’s richness and variegation. Readers uninitiated in the vocabulary may find themselves occasionally con-

Causeway—this almost 150-year-old Irani café where the Shantaram crook of the semi-autobiographical novel by Gregory David Roberts hangs out after having broken out of an Australian jail. These Irani joints of Mumbai are worth visiting before they disappear off the cultural map, as they might well do with changing times and customer preferences. It is instructive to note that most of Kolkata’s legendary Park Street restaurants are already gone, such as the landmark Blue Fox which features in Satyajit Ray’s 1977 detective story The Secret of the Cemetery. In the 2010 movie version, Gorosthane Sabdhan, directed by Sandip Ray and full of Kolkata nostalgia, these scenes had to be shot at Trincas instead, which is probably the last cabaret bar left in that area. Zac O’ Yeah is most recently the author of Once Upon a Time in Scandinavistan. Write to Zac at criminalmind@livemint.com MANOJ MADHAVAN/MINT

Let Me Tell You About Quinta: Penguin India, 264 pages, `299. fused, as with this lush passage: “One afternoon a handsome Gaudi woman in a bright red sari with a bamboo basket laden with mangoes, fresh fish and a huge bebinca, called out”. Many Indian readers, one suspects, will have a colourful time gauging the size of the woman’s bebinca. Viegas frequently invokes the adjective “turgid” when she means “turbid”. Neither a puddle nor a pot of nachni porridge can be the former, though a river can be either. Viegas’ style tends towards the latter. Though Viegas writes with a confidence that

Labour of love: Viegas has an ear for the cadences of Goan English. should have earned her an attentive editor, it’s not the minor slipups that are troubling. Rather, one has the creeping suspicion that a pastiche of Gabriel Garcia Márquez is in the offing, a sort of One Hundred Years of Leave Us Alone. The deadpan tone can be mordantly hilarious when used to make hay of present-day family arrangements and modern customs. Instead, the residents of Quinta receive visions in their dreams. Omens are seen in broad daylight. Superstitions disregarded wreak awful consequences. Whether a nod to magical realism

or not—Viegas might protest that such beliefs are commonplace in Goa, with its mixed African and Arab inheritances, its Catholic piety and its sultry nights—such devices are difficult for a reader to accept unironically. The landlords’ wringing of hands and writhing through history reminds us that they are not the masters they think they are. Entombed in mind as much as ultimately in body, they are finally servants to the house that makes them who they are. Write to lounge@livemint.com


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INTERVIEW

CULT FICTION

Henchmen and holy cities

R. SUKUMAR

ROBIN’S RESURRECTION

URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES

British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore on how biographies help people understand history

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here was a time when I didn’t like Robin—you know, Batman’s sidekick. Something about the character put me off. Dick Grayson was too two-dimensional as the original Robin, and I was happy when he chose to retire and become a superhero in his own right, Nightwing. Jason Todd had potential, but I always got the feeling that no writer knew what to do with him (which, along with the curious way comics publishing works, can explain why he died, came back to life, and eventually became a bad ’un). Tim Drake I could tolerate, but just about, although many people think he did more for Robin’s character than all who came before him (and after). His girlfriend Stephanie Brown, who later became Batgirl, also did a stint as Robin. I think it was Damian Wayne’s stint as Robin in the Final Crisis story arc and, much more tellingly, in the Batman and Robin arc of the rebooted 52 (the publisher sort of went back and started, ab initio, in an effort to make the new DC universe less complicated than the old one) that changed my opinion. Damian is Batman’s son. His mother is Talia, the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, the immortal terrorist. Thoroughly amoral, and completely violent—he was, after all, trained by The League of Assassins—Damian is a killing machine. And he is only eight years old. Written by Peter J. Tomasi, pencilled (or illustrated) by Patrick Gleason, and inked by Mick Gray, the five comics of this particular series that Killing machine: have been Damian Wayne published so far (right) as Batman’s are darker than sidekick Robin. most Batman comics. And, surprisingly for what is a Batman comic, the focus is on Robin. And, even more surprisingly for a comic book, the dialogues, especially the ones between a sentimental and fatherly Batman and a clinically cold Robin, are sharp. DC has said that it will review how its rebooted series is doing after each of the 52 franchises has had an eight-issue run, and I hope this isn’t one of those they choose to abandon. I also hope Damian Wayne has a long run as Robin. Part of Batman’s appeal is his complex character (what Freud would have done with a subject like him!). This is probably why writers have laboured to make Batman villains even more complex. The character of Robin has always suffered in the process—until now.

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

···························· enjamin Disraeli once said, to no one’s surprise, “If I want to read a book, I write one.” At the Jaipur Literature Festival, held from 20-24 January, Simon Sebag Montefiore quotes him laughingly, saying that he takes the dictum for his own. This seems well within reason when you consider Montefiore’s latest book, one of 2011’s most acclaimed works, Jerusalem: The Biography. Here, Montefiore has attempted a single-volume history of one of the world’s most contested cities, bringing his considerable scholarship to bear on the political, religious and historical dimensions of its myths. The result is a long but crisp and riveting book in which Montefiore successfully answers the question of what makes this city, over all others in the West, such a lodestone for the imagination, and such a site of tragic conflict. But Montefiore is also, famously, the scholar who has written not one, but two landmark biographies of Josef Stalin. If Disraeli’s witticism really does hold true for him, we must ask how it came to be that Montefiore wanted to live with two books about one of the least pleasant men in modern history. “These are two books I wanted to read for myself which didn’t exist,” he says seriously. He means Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2005) and its successor, Young Stalin (2008). He thinks of them as studies of a man before and after his prime: Young Stalin is a glimpse into the divinity student and aspiring poet who grew into Vladimir Lenin’s indispensable henchman, and The Court of the Red Tsar opens, decades after that Georgian childhood, on the Stalin of late middle-age, and the closed circle of families who ruled the Soviet Union on his orders.

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JASJEET PLAHA/HINDUSTAN TIMES

The personal is political: (above) The Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem; and Montefiore.

“I think biography is a wonderful way to do several things,” Montefiore says. “First of all, I love human lives; I’m endlessly curious about people. Biography is also accessible; an easy way for people to understand history. Thirdly, I think people recognize now how individuals change history. Most recently after 9/11, any president might have attacked Afghanistan, but only President Bush would have attacked Iraq. That’s just a small recent example of how personalities change history, even in the great democracies.” His first three works of non-fiction were all based in Russia: the Stalin books came after a particularly well-regarded debut, 2004’s Catherine the Great and Potemkin. They are bound not only by their location but also as studies of personal power, as deconstructions of myth and supposition. So the Jerusalem project, for Montefiore, was a break from past writing, but a profound return to personal history. His family has a connection with the city which stretches well back in time: an ancestor, Moses Montefiore, began to build the quarters from which the modern city of Jerusalem would eventually spread outwards. “Because of that connection, I’ve been going to Jerusalem all my lifetime,” he says. “But that’s not why I wrote the book; I wrote the book because the book needed writing.”

would be a book that pleased no one. “Funnily enough, it’s won a Jewish book of the year prize (The Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year Award) in America, and if you look on Facebook, you’ll see Palestinians who’ve written that it should win the Arab book of the year award,” Montefiore says. “But If I had pleased the extremists on either side, I’d have made a mistake.” He wrote it, he says, because “people have to understand how we’ve reached this point”. Montefiore’s research meant that he had to talk down Israelis who didn’t want him to mention the Deir Yassin massacre of 1948, and Western historians who insisted that Ottoman Jerusalem was a model of Muslim tolerance written out of relevance by Islamophobes. He had to use the Bible and, to a lesser extent, the Quran, as historical sources. “Sacred texts are famously unintelligible,” he explains. “The Bible more so than most, as partly a collection of mythological stories, partly personal, partly stories told with a particular politico-religious aim in mind. But to write without the myths would be to write about Jerusalem without religion,” he explains. “And Jerusalem without religion is incomprehensible.”

It is a book that tries to make sense of how a small, dusty outcrop of civilization, well away from major water sources and trading routes alike, came to exist twice: on earth as well as in heaven, and sacred to three major religions. How could such a disputed tangle of stories be told with anything approaching fairness to all versions of history? Montefiore knew, when embarking on the task, that a book about Jerusalem’s identity

R. Sukumar is editor, Mint. Write to him at cultfiction@livemint.com

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Home magazine. “We used to get about 6,000 copies, and within three-four days, all would get sold.” And there was no fixed schedule for the delivery of Women & Home shipments. “Whenever it came, there would be a long queue outside the shop and all of us had to help out in the shop during that period—either to make bundles or to help with disbursal,” says Santosh Dewan, Tekchand’s second born who, like her siblings, has spent her whole life among books. She used to at one point manage Modern Book Depot in Jalandhar and now helps her niece Walia at the Shahpur Jat Bookwise. Her youngest sister, Suman Kapoor, runs Bookwise in Jaipur. By the mid-1960s, VBD shifted to the newly constructed Mohan Singh Place market in Connaught Place, and Om joined the business full-time after an accident that left him partially blind and cut short a career in the army. Om reminisces: “We had to travel to Mumbai in the 1960s to buy shipments because most foreign publishers were in touch with wholesalers there, plus book shipments used to come by sea. There were a few dealers in Colaba, who no longer exist, from whom we would purchase

‘When a customer comes back and tells you that they were happy with the book you recom­ mended, you cannot help but feel a little happy yourself.’ the books and then sell them to retailers in the north.” Without extensive book lists and reviews to guide them, Om says that besides “a hunch”, they used authors’ track records to place orders. “Sure, we used to check out the book lists in Newsweek and Time, but back then there was hardly the kind of hype you see today about books and authors.” When Harold Robbins’ The Carpetbaggers

TRUE STO RIES

Booked for life: (clockwise from left) Om Arora Of Variety Book Depot says authors, more than publishers, are keen to know how many copies of their book have been sold; Subhash Arora of Teksons says that author interactions and book readings at stores make little difference to book sales; Sandeep Dutt’s Book Cafés can be found in 18 cities, including Patiala, Imphal, Kanpur and Mohali; and Aarti Walia (right) and her aunt Santosh Dewan run the Bookwise outlet at Shahpur Jat, New Delhi, where the most expensive coffee­table book is a two­volume set of Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, priced at Rs62,495.

became hugely successful in India in the mid-1960s, Om decided he would buy all the copies of the author’s next book shipped to India. “I later sold the book at a higher than usual profit margin to retailers in north India,” he remembers. Slowly and steadily, VBD’s business grew from being a shack that sold imported magazines to a wholesale dealership. And VBD developed exclusive distribution right agreements with many publishers. From James Hadley Chase and Perry Mason novels in the 1970s, Mills and Boons in the 1980s to Archie comics today, the list is exhaustive. “We started with 500 copies of Archie comics 25 years ago. Today, we distribute close to 10,000 copies for each of the 16 titles that they release every month,” says Om. The family learnt early that if you had to make money in this business, you had to be in direct touch with the publishers. “Since

the 1950s and 1960s, most of the fiction titles were being handled by other wholesalers like India Book House in Delhi. My father decided to carve a niche by concentrating on magazines and coffee-table books which dealt with art, craft, interiors, décor, travel,” says Subhash. Tekchand’s decision to branch out from wholesaling to retailing came out of Om’s regular trips to Mumbai. During those trips, Om was fascinated by a small shop called Things in the Fort area, run by one Siloo Limboowalah. “She stocked books, cards and some beautiful things. I wanted to replicate that model in Delhi as well and convinced my father that we had to have a retail outlet too.” In 1972, the first Teksons outlet came up in South Extension, and Subhash, who had been pursuing a career in engineering, was reluctantly hauled into the family business. As he spent more and more time at the store

and at VBD, Subhash realized that bookselling was a personalized business, something that both his niece Walia and nephew Dutt strongly second. “When a customer comes back and tells you that they were happy with the book you recommended, you cannot help but feel a little happy yourself,” says Walia. And this, Dutt points out, is the key reason why he thinks that between the two—a large bookstore in a mall vis-á-vis a smaller neighbourhood bookstore—the latter has a better chance of surviving. And even taking on online stores. “Indian society is more extrovert, more high-touch rather than hi-tech. We want to see, touch, feel the books we buy and then ask for a better discount,” says Dutt. Buying on the Web never fulfils that wish. “My son tried that route but it did not work here,” Subhash says, referring to Teksons’ online shopping store. The other problem with big bookstores, according to Dutt and Subhash, is that nine times out of 10, the executive has no suggestions to make and no personal relationship with the customer. “In book retail, you must have a loyal customer base. I receive SMSes, phone calls,

demands for books not easily found from regular customers all the time,” says Subhash. This intimate feel of the reader’s pulse is what gives the family unmatched insight into changing reading habits. “Earlier, books on knitting, stitching did really well with women but now there are no takers for these,” says Dewan. She had to shut down Knits and Crafts, a store at Mohan Singh Place that specialized in art, craft, embroidery and stitching books, after two decades in 2005. Her clientele had dwindled. Now books and magazines on décor and fashion do well. “We have four racks dedicated to coffee-table books on interiors and architecture at Bookwise. In addition to coffee-table books on travel and art, books in this section are our best-selling books too,” adds Walia. Om picks out Ritu Kumar’s Costumes and Textiles of Royal India, published in 2006, as among the best-selling Indian coffee-table books in recent years. VBD alone distributed 3,000 copies. Over the last decade, Subhash has seen a boom in books on economy, management and selfhelp. “It is like everybody is constantly trying to improve them-

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selves through reading,” he says, pegging the first wave of successful self-help books to the release of In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman in India in 1984. “I think Teksons sold 3,000 copies of that book in a couple of years and it changed the whole scenario for us. For every 200 copies of the latest John Grisham book that I order, I am likely to order 500 copies of the latest best-selling management or self-help book.” Though Om says he finds the business slowing a little for the first time in 40 years, he is not panicking just yet. “With all this talk of recession, one thing people in India will do is stop buying books for the time being, but it will not be for long.” Meanwhile, his clear favourites on the Indian literary front are Tarun Tejpal and Narayana Murthy. “They are both going to go places and in the next decade I am sure Amitav Ghosh will get the Nobel Prize in literature.” Subhash is placing his bets on books that have a management/self-help slant. “Well-known authors always work, but people who will give their books an angle where a reader finds lessons to retain and use to improve themselves will work best this year.”

FAMILY TREE The who’s who of the Arora clan TEKCHAND ARORA Founder, Variety Book Depot and Teksons, New Delhi SNEHLATA English Book Depot, Dehradun SANDEEP DUTT Book Cafés and English Book Depot, Dehradun SANTOSH DEWAN Bookwise, New Delhi OM ARORA Variety Book Depot, New Delhi, Book Cafés, and Bookwise, Jaipur and New Delhi AARTI WALIA Bookwise, New Delhi SUBHASH ARORA Teksons, NCR SUMAN KAPOOR Bookwise, Jaipur

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For his Man, Amanbook, A Free five years Sethi spent tracking lives of labourers the Bara Tooti at in Sadar Bazar, Delhi.

THE

···························· onia Faleiro wrote four books—books, not drafts— about the story she had been chasing for five years. Aman Sethi switched jobs, publishers and continents before he could bear to take a second look at the book he had been writing since the start of his career as a reporter. Samanth Subramanian travelled the length of India’s coastline on weekends when he wasn’t working. Rahul Pandita has followed his subject for the last 13 years. Each of these Herculean labours has produced very different books, all published in India in the last couple of years. They form part of a small but growing number of works of book-length, narrative journalism. Over the last couple of years, these books have become part of a new cultural conversation. They don’t dominate bestseller lists, but that is not a measurable goal for their influence, any more than a work of literary fiction can be judged by its sales. They grab attention, sometimes by the nature of their subjects, sometimes because they meet controversy, and often because of great critical acclaim, mostly in India and sometimes abroad. They are written for serious, if not outright highbrow, Indian readers, who may not always find what they are looking for in Indian newspapers—or not enough. Moving away from the civilizational narrative of the grand “India” books and scholarly histories, these recent releases invite us to look at the country through their unique, specialized prisms. Taken together, they show us a glimpse of a possible future for the writing and publishing of non-fiction, where new spaces are opening up for new kinds of journalism—and perhaps new kinds of India stories. For Meenal Baghel, editor, Mumbai Mirror, this newness is about both India and the story she has been following since 2008.

FIN LING TIF SHII TRAVELYAM H RE

THE ZLE KEYS TOPMENT PUZ in all faith DEVELOna Murthy lost the right

Soon after the murder of television executive Neeraj Grover, Baghel got a call from Chiki Sarkar, then editor-in-chief of Random House India, to write a book of reportage on urban crime. Death in Mumbai, to be published later this year, recounts the crime that Baghel has been tracking through its sessions court trial which ended in June, with defendants Maria Susairaj and Emile Jerome both held guilty. “This is as much a book about a particular crime as it is about the aspirations of the young in a hyper-urban environment,” Baghel says. “And it is especially about the new dynamics between men and women.” Would a story like Baghel’s have found a place on a shelf of the “India books” of the past, few as they were? Would Uttar Pradesh’s Gulabi Gang have found themselves the subject of a book like Amana Fontanella-Khan’s The Pink Sari Revolution (out next year from Picador/Pan MacMillan India)? And do these books come because of, or in spite of, India’s growing media industry? In his history of the nation post-1947, India after Gandhi, Ramachandra Guha wrote of the relative paucity of books about modern history, suggesting that writers would have to “fill in the blanks”. His hopes for a body of literature that addresses the present in “the most interesting country in the world” might have taken a first step to fulfilment. “This grandeur,” he says of India’s modern condition, “can only be captured partly in fiction. But while a young writer 10 years ago may have wanted to follow Vikram Seth, there are more and more today who want to write non-fiction.” He says he has noticed a “redressal of the balance in the last five or six years”. Even at the New India Foundation, where Guha is a trustee, applications for the annual fellowships, to write books about independent India, have been increasing in both number and quality every year.

“It’s true that Indian writers seem to be blessed with fascinating material right now, as the country undergoes the sort of changes that Sonia (Faleiro) describes in Beautiful Thing,” says Tracy Bohan of The Wylie Agency, London. Faleiro worked on her book, published in late 2010, for five years, researching the lives of women working in the dance bars of Mumbai, when The Wylie Agency got in touch. “Beautiful Thing was the sort of leap of faith only a 20-something could take,” says Faleiro. “I gave up my job, spent days and nights between Kamathipura and Mira Road, lost touch with friends, and frankly, perhaps even with reality. “I knew no one would read the book, but I didn’t care. I wanted to write something that represented who I was as a person and what I stood for, and I wanted to write about the people who could most do with their story being told.” The depth of Faleiro’s engagement with the people and milieu she writes about is a reason for her book’s success. Short cuts are not easy to take in serious journalism. “If you spend a day or five with a subject you won’t get a narrative,” Faleiro says. She is currently researching a new book on the short- and long-term impact of poverty on children across India, tentatively out in 2014. Aman Sethi, whose A Free Man was published last month, also spent five years tracking the lives of labourers at Bara Tooti in Sadar Bazar, Delhi. His acclaimed book sprang from an early article he wrote for Frontline magazine about the area. Part of his intent with it, he says, was to find new ways to write about labour, so long confined to a sort of anthropological look at the “poor and oppressed”. “The book and my journalistic career have run on parallel tracks,” he says. But his book also departs from journalistic practice in significant ways. Sethi’s book is a platform for men whose story he tells, and he “enters the space of

biography”, as he says, which complicates the whole story. “You also have to have the humility to let your subject narrate his story as he sees it, not as you see it,” he says. “It’s the way the act of someone talking to a camera, in a documentary film, makes it a sort of ‘truth machine’.” We might say all these books are, in some ways, reactions to the growth as well as the limitations of journalism. Writing about the Grover case at book length, Baghel says, “gave me a chance to spread my elbows on the table, to take a story that fascinated me and explore it in a manner that newspapers and magazine can’t afford any longer. It made me fall back in love with journalism.” Media critics have worried

about the shrinking space for reflective, considered print journalism, but in India, the growth of the industry in the last decade has also ensured some space for longform writing. Magazines and newspapers also offer powerful support for writers, not to mention a vital “day job”, to pay the bills and sustain what is still, essentially, an alternate career. “I think it’s a coincidence that a bunch of good books have come out around the same time,” says Subramanian, author of 2010’s Following Fish, which won the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize late last year (Subramanian is a former employee of Mint, and worked at the newspaper while writing the book). “Because on the whole, as a writer of non-fic-

tion, you’re still unlikely to get research grants, or an advance that will allow you to live. Unlike a novel, with due respect to novelists, you need money for the travel and the legwork.” “If book 1 works, then book 2 seems more viable,” says Sarkar, now publisher, Penguin India, of prevailing publisher attitudes. “But the non-fiction you see now is just the result of some extremely hard work.” Many writers based in India face significant challenges. Amrita Shah, who is working on a book about contemporary Ahmedabad and emerging urbanity in India and the world, says publishers may just be catching on to the difficulties of producing popular non-fiction in India. Her 2009-10 Ful-

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bright fellowship was complemented by a New India fellowship in 2008; she is currently on a Homi Bhabha fellowship. “It just wasn’t viable,” points out Shah, who has written two earlier books, a biography of Vikram Sarabhai and a study of Indian television. “Institutional support, where it’s available, is usually for academic work.” She says publishers, in the past, have simply not known how to market books that are seriously researched, but also meant for popular readers. Some writers of non-fiction have found work and support abroad, as Subramanian points out. Yet they are hardly diaspora writers, unlike an earlier generation of Indian novelists: Their books exist because these journalists literally

not now is >Page 16 How Naraya and why the Left, him to join politics time for

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City (2004), a turning point for Indian non-fiction. Books like Rana Dasgupta’s study of what he calls “post-liberal, globalized Delhi” (to be published in India by HarperCollins around spring 2013), and The New Yorker staff writer Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers (out from Penguin next February), will expand a tradition of urban Indian narratives. Boo’s interest in “the infrastructure of opportunity” led her to the slums of Mumbai in late 2007. “It’s not really about slums,” though, she says. “The abiding reporting interest is the same as my abiding interest in the US: How do people get out of poverty and into the middle class? In both America and India I find the subject to be an under-reported one.” “Globally, non-fiction has historically outsold fiction,” says David Davidar, who heads Aleph Book Co., announced this year in partnership with Rupa Publica-

} ~ Moving away from the civili­ zational narra­ tive of the grand ‘India’ books, these recent releases invite us to look at the country through their unique, spe­ cialized prisms

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tions India. “But here, there seemed to be, for a long time, a sort of stodgy academic air to much of what came out.” That isn’t to say good non-fiction hasn’t always existed here, he argues, “but it hasn’t been adequately explored. Two things: Publishers need to pay for such books—and the books need to sell well.” (One of Aleph’s nonfiction titles, due next year, is Mint columnist Pamela Timms’ exploration of food in Old Delhi.) The non-fiction market in India still relies heavily on categories not remotely connected to narrative journalism: business/management, self-improvement, and fitness. According to book-store chain Crossword, Rashmi Bansal’s Connect the Dots was 2008’s bestselling book across every category. Numbers for more literary non-fiction are still too raw, and insignificant. But Sivaram Balakrishnan, marketing manager, Crossword Bookstores, Mumbai, says he expects the volume of non-fiction published in India to increase every year, with particular growth for categories such as biography and books related to current news. “I don’t commission books based on ‘what’s hot,’” says Sarkar. “To make money, I’d try and get Sachin Tendulkar to write his autobiography. But if we ask: Will the India story include everyone? Who will it affect and how? I think these are questions that can’t be answered purely by fiction.” We are a long way from the steady flow of narrative journalism that is produced in the US and the UK, both in magazines and books. “If you look at the American or European tradition,” says writer Basharat Peer, “it becomes apparent that we’re at a nascent stage.” But at the time Peer made his debut, in 2009, there arguably wasn’t even a conversation starter. That year, he published the lucid, eye-opening Curfewed Night (Random House), part-memoir, part-

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jasmine, large balls swatting desultorily of flies .

Sweet shops and chatting jalebis by reportage about the violence sell withered the box. golden Kurkure prayer wreaked on ordinary lives in Kashpackets flags outside tiny shops hang like mir. He worked as a journalisteverything in from the neighbour supari to shampoo that sell Delhi, reporting by day and readhood... >Page sachets to 4 ing and writing by night. He began work on it in a political climate that felt hostile; in 2007, when an Indian publisher first read it, he says, “I was seriously worried about being stopped at the airport by the police, or having my passport impounded.” Curfewed Night came out the summer after massive protests in Kashmir had received nationwide attention, and the brutality with which they were met by state forces had made an impact on national attention. Peer, who has spent the last three years travelling through India to research his next book on the country’s Muslims, says he’s still “completely shocked” at how positive the Indian response to Curfewed Night was. He is in the process of moving to Delhi from New York to finish work on the new book; it will be out late next year. “For a long time I think we were at a stage where others told our stories,” says Pandita, author of Hello, Bastar (Tranquebar). “Now you see more young journalists taking them up for themselves.” Pandita’s book, released in June, is about the Maoist movement in central India, which he began covering in 1998. He wrote Hello, Bastar to reach out to a wider audience than the average book about Indian Maoism does. More people are reaching for stories about which they are eager to learn more, written in voices they can understand fully. “Today,” says Peer, “every university kid in Srinagar, on meeting you, will say something like, ‘Did you read Jon Lee Anderson’s report on Sri Lanka in The New Yorker?’ For young reporters, young writers, there’s a space now that they never had. “It is part of a larger opening up of the world.”

We are writing—and reading— about ourselves more than ever. Narratives of New India have dominated headlines and cul­ tural arguments; some books have found global audiences

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Untold histories: (clockwise from top) Naresh Fernandes writes about Mumbai’s jazz history; Aman Sethi writes uniquely about urban labour; he Maruthisev Samanth Subramanian; the Gulabi Gang will be Indian Bank a Nagar branch of South Banaswadi lies after a busy flyover the subject of Amana Fontanella­Khan’s new Main Road, an area on populated Bangalore. book; and Bastar is the epicentre of Rahul by rice breeders. It is traders Women Pandita’s book. and dog sit behind fragrant pounded the country’s pavements. They may touch global themes and audiences (Faleiro’s book released in the UK this month) but they are not meant to be “crossover” works. The case of New York-based writer Siddhartha Deb, whose book of reported essays, The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India (Penguin/Viking), is just out, makes this clear. Crucial support for the book came from the US, where a research grant from the Nation Institute, New York, and a fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, both funded part of his writing. “I’m interested in readers everywhere and don’t write for a particular market,” he said while speaking to Mint last month. “Maybe I hope to shake up Indian complacency a little.” As Deb’s title suggests, there is an air of the Gilded Age about this moment in India, which may be what writers respond to as they dig deeper into the unseen country. Writing a new story, after all, is a political act, even if the writer doesn’t think of it that way. Beyond narrative reportage, we are finding the outlines of “India books” that explore specific aspects of the country’s history. It’s difficult to imagine another moment in recent history when readers might have been able to look forward to popular non-fiction ranging from a history of India’s Jazz Age, explored in Naresh Fernandes’ soon-to-bepublished Taj Mahal Foxtrot, to book selling in critic Nilanjana Roy’s forthcoming book of essays, tentatively titled How to Read in Indian. Rahul Mehrotra’s crisp scholarship in Architecture in India since 1990 offers readers perspective into the social and political construction of “New India”. Other keenly anticipated books take up subjects that have intrigued a generation of readers since Suketu Mehta’s Maximum

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With 55 bookstores in 19 cities, any one of the seven members of the Arora family could have a lot to do with what you read

who has been managing Teksons since 1983 after his brother Om and he split the business between them. The one-flight walk up to the 3,000 sq. ft VBD office-cumwarehouse in Connaught Place’s middle circle is like entering a prayer hall. About a hundred framed images of gods and goddesses line the wall of the staircase. “We have put those up so that people don’t spit on the walls. Earlier we had to whitewash the staircase every month,” says Om wryly. Unlike the Book Cafés, Bookwise or Teksons, VBD is not a retail store. “We don’t encourage walk-in customers but if someone comes in asking for a book, we don’t turn them away either,” he says, surrounded by around 20,000 titles stacked from floor to ceiling in metal racks. Om, who attends to all phone calls personally and still negotiates discount requests himself, has been in the business of distributing books since 1966. He recalls the days when the family moved to Delhi after Partition and set up a patri (footpath) stall on Irwin Road (now Baba Kharak Singh Marg). Back then, his father was the only person in India licensed to import Women &

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other retail outlets in the city.” If you are a book lover and live in north India, chances are you have in some way or the other been touched by Tekchand Arora—the founder of VBD—and his family of booksellers. Tekchand’s business started with a small shop in Kauhat, Pakistan, a cantonment area in 1935. Today, this business is the livelihood of all five Arora siblings and at least two of Tekchand’s grandchildren (a couple of others dabble in the business now and then). Between them, the clan owns 55 bookstores spread across the country, and more are in the pipeline. There is VBD in New Delhi, the immensely popular eight Teksons outlets in the National Capital Region (NCR), 40 Book Cafés in 18 cities, four English Book Depots (EBDs) in Dehradun, including the one inside the Indian Military Academy since 1948, and two Bookwise outlets, one each in Jaipur and New Delhi. For the last financial year, Om pegs the total turnover of all the stores at around Rs30 crore. “My paternal grandfather, Lala Narian Das, a bookseller himself and the founder of EBD, always said that selling books is a good business. It gets your bread comfortably, and earns you respect in the community,” says Om’s nephew Sandeep Dutt, a thirdgeneration bookseller with “book trade lineage” on both sides. Dutt, along with his maternal uncle Om, set up the Book Café chain in 2003 after 20 years of running EBD. Meanwhile, his mother and Tekchand’s eldest daughter, Snehlata, still manages EBD’s Dehradun outlets with her son, almost 36 years after she first sat behind an EBD counter. Om’s brother Subhash Arora runs the Teksons (named after Tekchand) retail outlets and specializes in distributing children’s books as well. “I now have a tie-up with Sabka Bazaar to open Teksons outlets in their stores. We have opened our first 650 sq. ft. (only 400 sq. ft operational right now) outlet in their sector 27 store in Noida. By the end of this year we should have at least three more outlets,” says Subhash, Tekchand’s fourth born,

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···························· t reads like a scene out of a thriller novel. The year is 1982. It is past midnight. Five men, maybe six, ring the doorbell of a house in South Extension in south Delhi. The whole household stumbles out of bed. All they can see through the bedroom windows are a couple of Ambassador cars parked outside the gate. On opening the door, the family finds that the nocturnal visitors have come from the office of the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi. And they have a request. “I was told that Mrs Gandhi wished to present 300 copies of a book on Krishna next morning to delegates who had come for the Asian Games,” says Om Arora of Variety Book Depot (VBD), one of the oldest wholesalers and distributors of books in Delhi. Arora’s daughter Aarti Walia, who runs Bookwise, a store that specializes in coffee-table books, at Shahpur Jat in New Delhi, recalls scrambling into a Fiat with her younger sister and mother that night and being driven to Hotel Marina, Connaught Place, where VBD had its warehouse. The men from the PM’s office were trailing them. Three hundred copies of the “requested book” were dug out and handed over to the men, who left the hotel knowing that the PM would be pleased with their night’s work. Even if you don’t work for a political bigwig, you can still knock on the Aroras’ doors at all hours with special requests. “We have always had our home address and phone number on the back of our visiting cards. It’s a practice that my dad insists on. You never know who may need a special book at an unholy hour,” says Walia with a laugh as she lets slip that the most special book in her store’s front window throughout March was Bachchanalia, an encyclopaedia of film star Amitabh Bachchan’s work and rare photographs. “VBD had got the distribution rights, and I made sure that we are the first ones to get retail copies. We had a 15-day lead over

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Rising numbers: (clockwise from left) Seven­month­pregnant Farzana Kharadi with husband Vispy and son Zidaan; Shahpore, the heart of Surat’s Parsi community; banker Hoshang Firoz Vesuna left Shahpore for a suburban apartment with his wife Nazneen and sons Kayan and Farzan; Eric Bhathawala and Zenobia got this one­bedroom flat from the Surat Parsi Panchayat in Shahpore’s Zarthosti Building, where they now live with their family, including their year­old daughter Manashni and Eric’s mother Beroz; and the Parsi General and Maternity Hospital in Shahpore.

···························· arzana Kharadi is carrying the weight of her community’s hopes. Not because this 29-year-old is a former beauty queen or a trained fashion designer. She is trained in Bharatanatyam, but that’s not it either. Her community is looking to her simply because she is seven months pregnant. Kharadi is a Parsi, a section of society whose countrywide population would just about fill Kolkata’s Eden Gardens. “I have a three-year-old son, so this one will be an addition to my family,” she says, cradling the rounded curve of her stomach. “It will also mean one more Parsi.” Descendants of the Zoroastrians who landed on Gujarat’s shores from Iran a thousand years ago, India’s Parsi population flourished till 1941. According to Demographic Transition or Demographic Trepidation? The Case of Parsis in India, a paper presented at a National Commission for Minorities seminar in 2004, the Indian Parsi population peaked at around 114,000 in 1941. By 2001, their numbers had declined to 69,000. Kharadi lives in Surat, a town in Gujarat that is bucking this downward trend. The Parsi population here—the fourth largest in the country (at least 3,700, according to the directory of Zoroastrian residents of Surat, 2010)—has increased by 6% over six years. Sixty-five Parsi babies were born in the last five years in the city. Surat today has 200 more “Bawajis” (the local term for Parsis) than it did in 2005, according to the Surat Parsi Panchayat. The city’s directory of Parsis extends to over 100 pages. “The increase is substantial considering our tiny size,” says Parsi novelist Bapsi Sidhwa from her residence in Houston, US, on email. Sidhwa says that at 700, Houston has as many Parsis as Delhi. “It’s only in Surat that our numbers have gone up,” says Darayas Master, president of the Surat Parsi Panchayat, the administrative body for the community in the city. Sitting in his office, a palatial building donated by an erstwhile nawab, he says, “Our scheme of giving flats on cheap terms to newly married couples can be followed in other panchayats.” In 2006, the panchayat started renting out flats at nominal rates to young people on the condition that they got married. Thirty-five flats have been

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given, and a new apartment building is coming up in Shahpore, the biggest enclave of Surat’s Parsis. The Gujarati slogan reads: “You provide children to the community, we will provide you shelter.” Kharadi’s soon-to-be-born baby is independent of the panchayat’s scheme. She lives in suburban Surat with her banker husband. But the scheme has been a boon for others. The market value of each one-bedroom flat is `6 lakh, and they are all owned by the panchayat, whose real estate holdings are worth `6,000 crore, according to Master. The flats are rented out for `200 a month. “We give precedence to those who are not in a position to buy or rent a flat and, for that reason, don’t get married,” says Master. As we converse over cups of chai, a girl in salwar-kameez enters the office carrying her wedding invitation, a document that has to be submitted with the application for a flat. Ferzin Rustom Guard is from Valsad, a town 72km away. A banker, she is getting married later this month. Her fiancé lives with his parents in a one-bedroom flat. “If there was no such scheme,” she says, “I would have postponed my marriage.” “This has brought hope to us,” says Dinshaw Mehta, chairperson of the Bombay Parsi Panchayat, the administrative body for the community in India. “We are copying the Surat formula.” In 2007, the Bombay panchayat started allotting housing on a priority basis to couples wanting to get married. It rents out flats in areas such as Andheri and Navroz Baug. Flats are also coming up in Goregaon and Andheri. “We’d started with 25% priority for young couples; now we have made it 50%,” says Mehta. What accounts for the rise in Surat’s numbers? Ghambars, or social get-togethers, have helped young Parsis meet, steal glances, and have matches fixed by aunts over food. The yearly frequency of such get-togethers has increased nearly fourfold over the last decade, from 20 to 75. The migration of Parsis from the surrounding towns and villages, attracted by the accommodation on offer, has helped boost Surat’s numbers. While this may have led to a fall in the population in rural regions, the chances of finding a partner from within the community improved. Although the city is a hub for the textile and diamond industries, Surat’s Parsis work in banks or run small businesses,

operating electrical shops, pharmacies and travel agencies. The women pursue handicrafts—weaving saris with Parsi embroidery or making chutneys and preserves. “Seeking higher education is not very much in evidence in Surat,” says Villoo MorawalaPatell, founder, chairman and managing director of Avesthagen Ltd, a Bangalorebased life sciences company that is conducting a genomic study of India’s Parsis. “So early marriages take place, hence the child-bearing years are long,” says Morawala-Patell, who has interviewed many of Surat’s Parsis. Despite being just 0.08% of the city’s residents, the Parsi presence is disproportionately visible. The most beautiful houses in the old town are Parsi-built. The most popular bakery, Dotivala Bakers and Confectioners, is run by a Parsi. The city has four Parsi pockets—Shahpore, Syedpur, Nanpura and Rustampura. Of these, Shahpore—home to the panchayat—is the community’s heart. With residential blocks, badis, bungalows, mansions, schools, hostels and old-age homes, parts of Shahpore remain a Parsi cluster. A store selling sandalwood sticks does brisk business outside the Shehensahi Atash Behram, the city’s biggest agiary (fire temple). Young dasturs, or priests, walk the streets dressed entirely in white. Men sit on terraces wearing the mandatory soudreh, a white muslin vest, and kusti, a string of sheep’s wool tied around the waist. Shahpore’s Parsi General and Maternity Hospital, built circa 1920, has winding staircases, carved pillars, sprawling hallways, framed portraits and ornate windows. Its centrepiece is the labour room, complete with an old-fashioned crib. Until 30 years ago, Parsi women stayed in the hospital for 40 days after delivery and regularly hosted evening parties at the hospital; the hospital food was apparently so delicious that stories are told of Parsis faking illness in order to be admitted. Wandering its corridors today, however, there are no pregnant women in sight. The rooms are empty, the doctors’ quarters are closed, and the last few residents are elderly people left behind by their children. Outside, the children of Muslims, Shahpore’s newest settlers, are using the street as a makeshift cricket pitch. Many subtle shifts shaping Parsi society are overlooked on

the grounds that they don’t matter greatly in the face of the greater crisis. These issues, such as religious orthodoxy, women’s rights, a growing concern among the young about numbers, and evolving dynamics with other religions, are easier to detect in Surat than, say, in Mumbai, where one’s sense of the community can be limited to the neighbourhood or housing complex within which one lives. “I want to marry, and I’ll marry only a Parsi,” says Kayomarz Homi Gyara, 21, a BCom student. Staying single is not a stigma among Parsis. “If people like me have at least two children, we can maintain our present number.” Gyara’s eldest sister is 26; she is getting married this month. She will be applying for a flat in the new building. A Parsi girl who marries outside the community is still allowed entry into agiarys provided she hasn’t converted to her husband’s religion; her children, however, are not considered Zoroastrians. The children of Parsi men married to nonParsi women are Zoroastrians, but the wives are not permitted to convert. TURN TO PAGE L12®

YOU PROVIDE CHILDREN TO THE COMMUNITY, WE WILL PROVIDE YOU SHELTER.” SLOGAN OF THE SURAT PARSI PANCHAYAT


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Q&A | NITIN SAWHNEY

Globetrotting, one track at a time The renaissance man of contempo­ rary music on the meeting point of different art forms

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···························· itin Sawhney is an enigma. You can see him spinning dance tracks in a smoke-and-laser club, and conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. You can hear his music if you watch BBC One’s British Academy of Film and Television Arts, or BAFTA-winning Human Planet, or while slashing through blood and gore in the video game Heavenly Sword. In 2007, he scored the soundtrack for a musical production of the 1929 silent film A Throw of Dice. And he’s now working on the soundtrack for Deepa Mehta’s screen adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Prolific in his output, Sawhney has just released his ninth studio album Last Days of Meaning. The Indian-origin British musician, composer, DJ, producer, and playwright has won awards by the dozen for his albums, scores and soundtracks. He’s had a colourful trajectory, turning down an Order of the British Empire in 2007 because of UK’s involvement in the Iraq war, collaborating with artistes as wide-ranging as Sir Paul McCartney, Sting, Brian Eno and Madonna, and most recently, hosting a genre-breaking radio show for BBC’s Radio 2 in the UK, Nitin Sawhney Spins the Globe, where he plays a noholds-barred mix of music from around the world. Sawhney spoke to Lounge over the phone just before his first live tour of India. Edited excerpts:

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Your first tour of India—is there more to it than just the excitement of playing in a new place? Oh, of course, this is a fantastic thing for me. I feel a great affinity with India, and I cannot tell you how much it means to me. This is where my cultural roots are. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m really glad that it has finally been possible to get my band here. I look forward to meeting my relatives, musicians here, and maybe, if I get the time, I’ll go around the vineyards at the SulaFest (Nashik). I’ve heard that it’s a lovely area. How did you come up with the concept for ‘Last Days of Meaning’? The idea came to me while watching the last general elections in the UK. Every single time there is an election, they blame the immigrants, especially from India, for a variety of problems. So I created a character that thinks in this way, who has a parochial “Little Britain” mentality—scared of the outside world. It just started off as something I was writing while travelling on the Tube, an excuse to address racist thinking, and then it felt comfortable for me to turn it into an album. In the album, the central character, played by John Hurt (an acclaimed British actor who also narrated the Human Planet), is an embittered old man who sits in a room raging against society, immigrants, and his childhood memories, and listens to a tape sent to him by his estranged wife, and the songs on that tape slowly change him. I’ve never heard of anything like this—to take one character and build an album around him—it’s almost a small play, but it’s not a musical, it’s a proper album. Will the recent controversy in India where Salman Rushdie was stopped from attending the Jaipur Literature Fes-

Common ground: (top) Nitin Sawhney is touring India for the first time; and the cover of his ninth and latest studio album.

tival, have any bearing on your score for ‘Midnight’s Children’? No, but I feel it’s bizarre—we should all be proud of the fact that he is such a phenomenal writer. Unfortunately, we live in a world where we can accept someone like George Bush, who is a very dangerous man with a brain the size of a pea, but we can’t accept a great author. The reason Rushdie is such a controversial figure is because he is so damn good at what he does. Deepa (Mehta) is also controversial for the same reason—they know what they are doing with their art form, and that scares a lot of people.

Almost all your albums have political or social themes, and you put in a lot of work for social causes; you are a patron of the British government’s Access-to-Music programme…why? I only have one way of thinking—everyone is equally valuable. My parents married out of their castes, they were the first from their families to do that, and they have an egalitarian way of looking at the world. Too many people use nationality as an excuse to ignore the plight of other people in the world. We are very, very insular in the way we look at our people and our own lives, and I feel the need to speak out against that. The very fact that I’ve got a BBC Radio 2 show of my own makes me

Demystifying Malana The opening film at Persistence Resistance offers a view of the ‘clash of civilizations’ B Y A NUPAM K ANT V ERMA anupam1.v@livemint.com

···························· he fifth edition of Persistence Resistance, the annual documentary film festival organized by the media and human rights organization Magic Lantern Foundation, returns with a stellar line-up for its 2012 edition. Apart from the usual screenings in auditoriums across New Delhi, the films will be screened in simulated video parlours and also as installations at the British Council, Delhi University’s faculty of arts and Max Mueller Bhavan. The nine-day festival, which opens on 9 February, will mark the debut of several intriguing films. Mamta Murthy’s account of her journey with a Manipuri film unit, Fried Fish, Chicken Soup and a Premiere Show, and Pradip Saha’s Don’t Cut My Head Off, a searing video essay

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on global environmental politics, are two of them. But the film to look out for is Bom—aka One Day Ahead of Democracy, the debut featurelength documentary by Kolkatabased independent film-maker Amlan Datta, which will open the festival. During its 117 minutes, Bom... ferries the viewers to Malana, a hamlet nestled high in the misty mountains of Kullu district in Himachal Pradesh and home to 1,500-odd inhabitants of a race popularly considered to have descended from Alexander the Great’s army. “The distinct skin tone, the odd sweetness to the children’s faces...these are things I haven’t seen anywhere else during my travels in the Himalayas,” says Datta. The documentary covers the contesting theories regarding the origins of this race, whose people reject all attempts at inclu-

sion within the Indian ethnic fold. It narrates their myths, legends, the many legendary accounts of their revered god Jamlu and his interventions at precarious junctures during their history, including a particularly memorable one during Alexander’s attempted invasion of their land. The residents of Malana live in a republic they consider all their own, with India as an increasingly hostile neighbour. This hostility is a result of the state government’s measures to draw the people into the national democratic framework, the rancour that usually accompanies electioneering seen as an intrusion by the residents who place immutable faith in their own systems of governance. The government also hopes to lure the people away from their primary source of income—cultivating cannabis (used to prepare hashish)—which, unfortunately, has brought Malana into the cross hairs of smugglers and drug mafias alike. Malana cream is widely considered to be the best

Misty stories: A still from Bom—aka One Day Ahead of Democracy. variety of hashish in the world. “When I showed this film to students at IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) and other institutions, they were taken aback by the rich cultural heritage of Malana, which they knew nothing about. All this time, they only associated Malana with great hashish,” says Datta. Bom... is Datta’s attempt at portraying this veritable clash of civilizations and opinions. His triumph consists in rendering germane what could have otherwise easily slipped into

the irredeemably exotic. An opening sequence where a centenarian woman handles a camera for the first time in her life simmers with a remoteness that implies the director’s distance from the people, which diminishes steadily over the course of the film. The fact that the camera in her hands is over 100 years old is a masterstroke. At various junctures in the film, the limitations Datta encounters while shooting etch the contours of its narrative. The long shots mapping Gujarat

believe that I’m making a difference. This is a mainstream radio station in England, one of the biggest in the world, and they’ve never done anything like my show. I’m playing Nusrat (Fateh Ali Khan) and Ali Farka Touré alongside Radiohead and Coldplay—I don’t differentiate between music from around the world. The response has been phenomenal. I wanted to do something that’s free. That’s how music works for me. You’ve written music for films, video games, albums, theatre productions…how do you juggle these various forms? I always start from emotion. What moves me is important...I trust my aesthetics. Everything I do is equally valuable. If you are creating a DJ set, you have to think of how to draw the audience in, those who come to listen to that is no different from those who will come to listen to a classical concert. A DJ set is not just for you to move to. It’s a structure, a sense of a journey, an emotional feeling of development. It’s a bit like the way you speak differently to different people, you build an awareness and knowledge of each of these people, so you build ways of communicating with them. I have spent more time listening to and playing music than speaking, so music is my language, and it allows me to cross boundaries. The Natya Shastra way back in 200 BC talks about commonalities, about the connections between things. It’s about understanding the meeting points of different art forms, about enjoying the language of music and its possibilities. Do you get any time at all to take a break from music? Well, I’m running a triathlon this year. I like kick-boxing. I like reading about theoretical physics and Hindi philosophy. Right now, I’m teaching myself some electronics. Learning interests me, I like learning. Sawhney performed in Delhi on Friday. He is scheduled to perform at the SulaFest in Nashik on 5 February and at blueFROG in Mumbai on 7 February.

chief minister Narendra Modi and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s election speeches at the venue run counter to the medium shot of a television announcing the results of the 2009 general election, which also marked the first time that Malana ever voted. Datta was forced to go guerrilla while shooting at locations such as the Red Fort and Delhi Metro, a cinematic device that injects a welcome spontaneity to the film. “We were a crew of three-four friends,” says Datta. “I even had to carry the television into the village to show them the results of the elections.” Datta admits to being transfixed by the splendour of Malana, where he has now been adopted as one of their own, and while his passion resonates in every single frame, the documentary never reeks of partisanship, with all points of view represented equitably. With raw camerawork, clever sound edits and a rare sensitivity to the matter at hand, Bom... turns into compelling cinema. Persistence Resistance will run from 9-17 February at multiple locations in New Delhi. For details, visit Magiclanternfoundation.org


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SCULPTURE

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Bread, blood, and art

NANDINI RAMNATH

THE BOLLYWOOD PRIZE

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he latest awards season has been as predictable as Rahul Gandhi’s polling speeches. The Oscars are a bit of a toss-up this year, but its local versions, like Screen and Filmfare, have thrown up almost no surprises. Guessing the names of the Best Actor and Best Actress in Hindi cinema for 2011 proved to be easier than answering a Kaun Banega Crorepati entry-level question. Ranbir Kapoor and Vidya Balan must have had their acceptance speeches ready in December itself, along with their list of thank yous and costumes and matching accessories. The element of surprise, if any, emerged from the list of nominations. Screen gave R. Madhavan a Best Actor nomination for Tanu Weds Manu, but not Jimmy Shergill for Saheb Biwi aur Gangster (Shergill got a nod in the best villain category instead). Tigmanshu Dhulia’s movie didn’t even get a Best Screenplay nomination. Ajay Devgn didn’t stand a chance at Filmfare in the Best Actor category for his growling performance in Singham, but the film seemed to have made enough money to force a jury to take it seriously. Even Salman Khan got a shot at the prize with Bodyguard. Every major publication or channel backing an awards ceremony has its favourite underdog, who doesn’t actually win anything but is there simply to create a fake sense of variety. Screen had Yeh Saali Zindagi, while Filmfare gave Tanu Weds Manu a Best Actor Supporting Role Female nomination to pay its dues to the small-film-that-deserves-a-chance. The need to put on a good show for the eventual television broadcast results in the gongs being evenly distributed among the crowd-pleasing films of the year. The net is cast wider by creating a “critics’ choice” category (which usually ensures that two films are named Picture of the Year), reserving prizes for best debutants, and creating random categories like “Best Ensemble Cast” (at Screen) and “Scene of the Year” (Filmfare). Yet most of PTI the categories are imported from the Oscars. It’s time we created categories that reflect the uniqueness of Hindi cinema. No other country will hand out Best Choreography and Best Playback prizes, but there isn’t yet a separate award for “song picturization”, a phrase and a skill unique to popular Hindi cinema. The shooting of a song is a joint effort that involves the collective talent of the film-maker, music composer, choreographer, actors, art director and production assistants. If such a category were to be The winner takes it all: Balan with her created for 2011, Excel Filmfare statuette for Best Actress. Entertainment would win it hands down for the song Ik Junoon in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, which recreates the La Tomatina festival in sensuous slow motion. There’s yet another award category waiting to be created and as of now, there is only one winner. The Best Presenter gong can be given without any debate to Shah Rukh Khan. No other actor in the industry has Khan’s gift for seemingly unrehearsed and often acerbic wit. His onstage ability to interrupt the fake solemnity of award ceremonies with off-colour jokes and flirt with women of all ages has rarely been exploited by his directors. Khan didn’t take home a Best Actor trophy for Don 2, but we can think of one award that is rightfully his—and will be for many years to come.

British sculptor Marc Quinn is set to have a major public art project in India in 2013

B Y A NINDITA G HOSE anindita.g@livemint.com

···························· e’s made art out of blood, ice and faeces. “The whole idea is to explore new materials and mediums in the same way that different artworks explore new ideas,” says British sculptor Marc Quinn, whose first ever sculpture was made with bread. He is currently working on large-scale bronze sculptures of conch shells, inspired by his trips along the Malabar coast of India. Quinn was in New Delhi to attend the India Art Fair (25-29 January), where White Cube, London—the gallery that represents him—was exhibiting his works for the first time in the country (it was also the first time the cutting-edge gallery was participating in the fair). This isn’t Quinn’s first visit to the country, though. He’s visited India several times before, travelling across Kerala, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, absorbing enough to profess great admiration for Indian classical art traditions. “Chola bronzes are really important pieces of world art. It was art that was made to be at the centre of people’s lives and help them mediate with the world…that’s precisely what contemporary art in public spaces attempts to do.” Apart from scoping out the Indian art scene—Quinn mentions Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher and Alwar Balasubramaniam as Indian contemporary artists whose work he’s been following—speaking at a couple of panels at the fair, and presenting the 2011 Škoda Prize for Indian contemporary art, Quinn’s visit to India was, in part, a recce for an art commission by the British Council that will be unveiled in January 2013. While the nature of the project and the venue are still being finalized, both Quinn and Adam Pushkin, head of arts, British Council India, say that it will be in an “outdoor, non-commercial

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COURTESY MARC QUINN STUDIO

Out of the body: Quinn in New Delhi; and (left) Self (2006), Quinn’s self­ portrait, made with his own frozen blood.

show” in a public space. Quinn, 48, is often clubbed with the Young British Artists, or YBAs, a group of artists who began to exhibit in London in the late 1980s. A graduate of history of art from Cambridge University, and selftaught as a sculptor, Quinn was the first artist to be represented by Jay Jopling, the English art dealer who founded White Cube, and went on to represent several YBAs. White Cube brought down two works by Quinn for Indian audiences. Alongside works by Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, there was Quinn’s Vortex of Desire—one from his long-running series of oversized orchid sculptures cast in bronze, and a floral-themed painting redolent with what Quinn calls “the colours of India”. What the gallery didn’t bring down—perhaps because transporting them would be a logistical

acts with the world. “These are fundamental themes of human life and that’s why religions deal with them. In a way, art is like concrete philosophy.” Quinn’s artistic engagements have also led him to comment on genetic modification and hybridism. He has repeatedly surveyed the distanced relationship we have with our bodies by creating sculptures of pop icons such as supermodel Kate Moss (including one in gold), actor Pamela Anderson and the pornography model Chelsea Charms. For all his talk of art as philosophy, Quinn is as enthusiastic about trying out new technology as he is about new materials. His ongoing project with the conch shells uses elite 3D scanning technology to create gigantic replicas. “With this technology, you end up with an object that’s uncannily like the little one, but big,” he says. He doesn’t like using technology in ways that are obvious. “When you see the shell, your first reaction shouldn’t be ‘What technology was used’ but ‘Wow...what animal lived there?’” Quinn’s observations on the changes in the art world over his 20-year practice are tied to how his audience has changed. “I can communicate with a much wider audience now,” he says. The definition of what a sculpture is—or more broadly, what art is—has also changed. “DNA jelly of plant species makes for an art installation now,” he says, referring to his own installation, Garden. “It wouldn’t have been ‘art’ 20 years ago.”

nightmare—were Quinn’s signature pieces in the art world: his selfportraits, titled Self, made from his own frozen blood. In keeping with his use of nontraditional materials in understanding the realities of the corporeal body, Quinn first created Self in 1991. It was bought by art collector Charles Saatchi for £13,000 (around `10.13 lakh now), launching Quinn as a sculptor to watch out for. He continues to make one every five years, documenting his own physical transformation. Carefully maintained in a refrigeration unit, it reminds the viewer of the impermanence of the body: The sculpture will liquefy if the unit is unplugged. Quinn describes these works as a “frozen moment on life support”. His other artworks also comment on the ephemeral nature of existence. Eternal Spring (1998), for instance, features flowers preserved in perfect bloom by being plunged into sub-zero silicone. Then there’s Garden (2000), which is a walk through installation of impossibly beautiful flowers that will never decay, as they’re kept in cryogenic suspension. When asked about treading close to Hindu and Buddhist philosophy with these recurring themes, Quinn says he doesn’t read “existing” philosophy but bases his works on how he inter-

Nandini Ramnath is the film critic of Time Out Mumbai (www.timeoutmumbai.net). Write to Nandini at stallorder@livemint.com

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u Vihir Set in Pune and rural Maharashtra, Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni’s second film is about two teenage boys and their families. During a family wedding, uncomfortable truths unravel. The film was screened at the Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea earlier this month.

u Gandha

····························· he staff and three resident cats at Pune’s Prabhat theatre aren’t used to film-makers dropping by at 9am. So when Paresh Mokashi and brothers Umesh and Girish Kulkarni arrived to meet us there, the staff was intrigued and hurried up their morning chores—sweepers swept the dusty floors, the usher opened the tall, creaking doors of the 75-year-old auditorium, and the projectionist fed the pet felines biscuit and milk. There couldn’t have been a more appropriate place to meet three new pioneers of Marathi cinema—shapers of what could be called the Marathi New Wave. Prabhat theatre has screened Marathi films since 1933, and some of the movie posters preserved in its office, from the 1940s until now, mirror the history of the industry—Sant Tukaram (1936), Pandu Hawaldar (1975) and Shwaas (2004) are just three of them. As people streamed in for the Monday morning show of Gandha, a film by 32-year-old Pune-based director Sachin Kundalkar, this new wave became visi-

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that, some people came up to congratulate Mokashi, who has been in the news for his debut feature film Harishchandrachi Factory, India’s official entry at the Oscars this year. Umesh Kulkarni, whose second film Vihir was screened earlier this month at the Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea, is among the four young film-makers whose Marathi films are going to be screened at the Mumbai Film Festival, which began on Thursday (see box). “There is a new resurgence in Marathi cinema. Bright young film-makers are making socially significant films,” says acclaimed film-maker Shyam Benegal, who is also director of the Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image (MAMI) that organizes the annual Mumbai Film Festival. Mokashi’s film will be released by UTV Motion Pictures early next year (UTV is also co-producing it); Vihir is AB Corp Ltd’s (ABCL) first Marathi production; Kundalkar’s Gandha has been running in theatres in Maharashtra for the past two months; Satish Manwar’s Gabhricha Paus, a film about a farmer family in Vidarbha, is running in theatres in the US; and Natarang, directed by Ravi Jadav,

Director Sachin Kundalkar captures the essence of smell through three interwoven stories—a humorous love story, a relationship between an HIV­positive man and his wife, and a drama based in rural Maharashtra.

u Natarang Rich colours, catchy music and beautiful cinematography—‘Natarang’, directed by Ravi Jadav, has all the makings of a commercial film with technical finesse. It is about the plight of Tamasha artists, a forgotten breed of Maharashtrian performers.

u The Man Beyond the Bridge A widowed forest ranger finds a companion in a mentally disturbed woman. While her mental illness makes her an outcast, the forest ranger’s relationship with her turns him into an outcast as well. This Konkani film, directed by Laxmikant Shetgaonkar, deals with dilemmas about faith, environment and social taboos. At Fun Republic and Metro Adlabs till 5 November. For registration details and screening schedule, visit www.mumbaifilmfest.com

Mumbai’s National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) has announced ‘Nave Valan’, a Marathi film festival, to keep alive the buzz Marathi films have created among non­Marathi speakers u Harishchandrachi Factory u Gandha

See review on Page 12

See above

u Gho Mala Asla Hava

a Mumbai-based advertising professional, will premiere at the Mumbai Film Festival before releasing in theatres in the last week of December. Jadav, Manwar, Mokashi and the Kulkarnis are a generation of Maharashtrian directors shaped by globalization and the digital revolution; they are familiar with world cinema (Kundalkar says his biggest inspiration is the cinema of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar and “the fantastic madness that engulfs his movies”) and some of them have a strong foundation in theatre (Kundalkar and Mokashi are established playwrights who work mostly in Pune). Unlike directors of the parallel cinema movement of the 1970s and 1980s—the Indian New

Wave—who also made powerful films about taboos and the oppressed classes of post-independence India, the new directors of Marathi cinema are not afraid to use humour to show unpalatable truths. Their works are as much about the message as about the way they use the medium. Jadav’s film, which is about Maharashtra’s Tamasha artists, has the technical finesse of an expensive Hindi film. Clever use of camera, background score and art direction lend the local language and milieu a universality, a style reminiscent of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara. “I wanted my film to have an element of kitsch. The frames, the colours and the music are such that it will appeal to all

kinds of audiences, especially those used to watching Hindi films with good production value,” says Jadav. He says he sees the film as a stepping stone to the Hindi film industry. “My idol is Ashutosh Gowariker,” Jadav says. Humour is inherent in most of these films. Mokashi’s film, which recreates the life of Dadasaheb Phalke and his making of India’s first motion picture, Raja Harishchandra, says: “I didn’t want Dadasaheb to be a subject of hero worship. We tend to be in awe of our historical figures. My film is an adventure, a comic adventure of a common man who achieved something uncommon,” Mokashi says (see review). Rural Maharashtra is the backdrop for both Vihir and Gabhricha

Paus. Kulkarni’s Vihir is a simple but layered tale about two teenaged boys who are cousins. The elder cousin mentors the younger through letters. They meet when the two families congregate at the ancestral home for a wedding—a rambling house with earthen floors, roofs of hay and a well in its courtyard. Family secrets and uncomfortable truths tumble out in the days leading up to the wedding, which also leads the two cousins to a realization about themselves. Girish Kulkarni, an actor who is the co-writer as well as the executive producer of the film, says: “Marathi people are mostly modest, and simple human emotions work best with them. The theme, how society binds the human spirit, is large, but we

wanted to bring it out through interactions between the family members…in that language.” The Kulkarni brothers used to assist film-maker Sumitra Bhave before they started out on their own. Umesh, a graduate from the Film and Television Institute of India, says one of his role models is Satyajit Ray: “I don’t think of going out of Pune. I know Marathi and Maharashtrian culture best, and unless a subject requires me to make a film in Hindi, I don’t see Hindi films as my next obvious step. A good film will eventually reach out to people.” Manwar’s Gabhricha Paus is a dark, compelling film. Manwar grew up and completed his studTURN TO PAGE L12®

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Being part band was of a rock never a lucrative career choice in India. today’s musici But are finding ans ingenious ways to earn more than their and butter bread >Page

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This light­hearted musical set in rural Maharashtra has Savitri rebelling against the custom of arranged marriage. The entire village gets involved to help her out. Directed by Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukhtankar, the film manages to balance social critique with entertainment.

u Jogva People from her village plan to dedicate Putla, 16, to the goddess as a ‘jogtin’. But Putla rebels and joins a music troupe. The film, directed by Rajiv Patil, explores her journey as she tries to break free of sexual oppression and superstition.

uGabhricha Paus The film directed by Satish Manwar is about the life of Kisna, a farmer who is trying to get a good crop in the drought­stricken Vidharbha region, which is notorious for farmer suicides. Kisna’s wife is convinced that he is thinking of committing suicide. She asks their six­year­old son to keep a watch on Kisna, and report any unusual behaviour. The festival starts 16 November. A film will be screened at 6.30pm daily at NCPA’s Dance Theatre Godrej. Sanjukta Sharma and Blessy Augustine

is i cinema Marath g a oin underg nd driving revival—a up of it is a gro in their directorsped by 30s, sha ion, world e globalizat and som cinema the state help from nt >Page 10 governme

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Marathi cinema is under­ going a revival—and driving it is a group of directors in their 30s, shaped by globalization, world cinema and some help from the state government

································· n 13 February, the Bangalorebased rock band Lounge Piranha tried an interesting financial experiment. It announced that it was organizing a “sponsor-free” gig at the Alliance Française de Bangalore. The band was putting together everything from the sound to the stage, and hoped to recover costs through ticket sales and merchandise. Lead guitarist and vocalist Abhijeet Tambe called it an experiment in “critical mass”. “Do we have the critical mass in Bangalore to sustain a band that plays original music?” he wrote in a piece posted online prior to the concert. “The success or failure of Saturday’s show will be an indicator. Now, we shall see how many people are willing to come out and buy a ticket for Rs200 for an evening of good music.” Around 200 people turned up for the concert—and Lounge Piranha managed to break even. The idea of a self-funded, do-it-yourself (DIY) show came easily to the fiveyear-old band. “We’ve always had an indie frame of mind,” Tambe told us over the phone. “We organized our own tour across the country in 2008 after the release of our (self-funded) album (titled, ironically enough, Going Nowhere), and we just thought now was a good time to test the waters again.” The band’s regular gigs at the local pub, Maya, where it played once a month for a year and a half, saw steadily growing crowds and the band members felt confident of a dedicated fan following. “We’d see about 180 people turn up, so we thought this would work well. We have nothing against sponsors, really, but we understand that sponsors and clubs need to see their cash at the end of the day, and us bands have our own needs and ends,” says Tambe. Organizing the gig was a revealing experience for Tambe as the band debated expenses, considered options and tried to cut costs smartly. “Cost-cutting” may sound like a strange phrase for a rock band to use, but when the gigs dry up and the phone doesn’t ring, there’s little else to do but prepare for financial drought. “All bands here go through a period of extreme financial unpredictability. Most don’t survive,” says Jishnu Dasgupta, bassist for Bangalore folk-rock band Swarathma. “We’ve all had to cut costs, both in our personal and professional lives.” This means transporting delicate equipment on rickety buses and jam-

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MARATHI NOIR

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PERMANENT

Being part of a rock band was never a lucrative career choice in India. But today's musicians are finding ingenious ways to earn more than their bread and butter

ming in cramped, claustrophobic rooms with unfriendly neighbours. The economics of being a full-time independent band in India is uncertain at best and Dasgupta says the idealism of a rock-star life usually gives way, within a year, to the practical difficulties of making ends meet. “It is not fair, I think,” he says, “to expect your band to make money to support yourself financially for the first three years at least.” But bands across the country, such as Lounge Piranha, have been trying to swim against this hostile tide, organizing and financing themselves in ingenious ways. It’s a difficult endeavour and a quick vox-pop style survey of bands in two cities presents a grim picture. “As a band, you earn peanuts, especially if you’re playing niche, original music in English,” says 54-year-old Jayashree Singh, who plays for the Kolkata bands Skinny Alley and Pinknoise. Singh has been singing in bands since 1977 and is blunt about the conceit of being a full-time band in India. “You have to have a steady source of income with another job. I think the only new full-time rock stars are very young and still live with their parents.” Sahil Makhija, an almost-full-time rock star who is young and doesn’t live with his parents, agrees. “Always keep your day job,” says the frontman of Mumbai metal band Demonic Resurrection. Luckily for Makhija, his day job is closely related to his musical alter ego. He’s a consultant with musical instruments retailer Furtados Music and owns a record company, Demonstealer Records. “Any money you make from your band is just an added bonus.” Metal music is a niche cult in the country and metal bands usually find a cluster of die-hard fans. But even a dedicated fan base hasn’t made the genre a lucrative one. “It was only three years ago that we started getting paid for shows, earlier metal bands had to play gratis,” he says. “And our fans…well, the average metalhead is between 15-25 and cannot afford to pay even for entry. These are guys for whom a Rs50 beer is a huge investment.” On a good day, Makhija says, a new band can earn Rs8,000-10,000 for a gig, but such days are few and far between. An average gig brings in half that and even those are spread out uncertainly. “If I factor in the cost of upkeep and trans-

port, we’d be running at a pretty miserable loss,” he says. The kind of music a band plays also has a bearing on how well it does. “We’ve managed pretty well, being a full-time band,” says Inderpreet Singh of the Delhi band, Faridkot. “My guess is because we sing in Hindi, we’re accessible to a much larger audience.” Faridkot came into prominence after being featured on Channel V’s Launchpad, the Indian Idol for rock bands. The band has since been touring consistently, playing up to six shows a month, and is releasing its debut album in a few months. “Shows like Launchpad really helped us—it’s national television, after all. Even if 1% of the people watching that show came out and saw us live, we’d be comfortable,” Singh says. The sprouting of urban clubs has helped the situation somewhat, with more venues opening up for bands. Sponsors are starting to appear. Beer brand Tuborg sponsored a series of metal concerts across the country in 2009, in which Makhija participated. Veteran rockers Zero’s reunion tour was sponsored by accessories brand Fasttrack in December. There’s also been a shift in the audience, with a growing contingent of music fans demanding, even appreciating, original music over covers. “When you don’t have original music, you have nothing to sell,” says Vijay Nair, co-founder of artist management firm Only Much Louder, or OML. “You play covers, then your audience isn’t a fan of

Cricket, sex, we love themreligion, gold, Bollywood— obsessions, all. A survey of our and our mind, by poor writing is >Page 14 let down

KEEP IT FRESH “Think of it as competing with Star Plus,” says Jishnu Dasgupta of Swar­ athma. “Package your music, design a flashy website—have a hook for your audience.” A MySpace (www.myspace.com) or Facebook (www.facebook.com) profile is a must. As are samples of your music. If you have videos, blogs, pictures—put them all up for people to see. Keep updat­ ing your online presence with new content. “You can’t play the same tune again and again—it’s like a chan­ nel playing the same episode of a sit­ com on repeat,” he says. Dasgupta also recommends look­ ing abroad for shows, where your music can fill a certain niche. “There’s a global interest in music that is honest and is rooted in the place where it comes from,” he says. “Take Indian Ocean—they’ve pretty much captured the Indian NRI (non­ resident Indian) audience in the US through regular touring.”

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you, they’re just Pink Floyd fans.” “It’s when you start making your own music that you, shall we say, emerge on to the scene,” says Abhijit Namboodiripad, manager of Kochi-based rock band Motherjane. Motherjane is among the most popular Indian bands on the live circuit, attracting crowds of 700 to 1,000 people to its shows. The band works with an interesting business model. “They’re paid a monthly salary by their artist man-

ENTRY We charged Rs200 for entry, because 100 bucks for three bands is just super cheap and no one will take you seriously. Around 200 people turned up, which helped us break even pretty much—so I’m guessing 200 is the magic number that bands would want to hit.

ing in respectability and capacity from someone’s terrace to a professional stage). Some venues may know you and may be willing to support your cause a bit, and throw in a discount—but watch out for any strings that they might come attached with.

VENUE Hiring an auditorium can cost you any­ thing between Rs0 to Rs20,000 (rang­

SOUND For sound, you will have to be willing to spend a lot. Not less than

agement firm (a company called Aum-iArtistes Private Ltd), under the stipulation that they deliver three albums of original material by 2013,” says Namboodiripad. This arrangement, he says, helps them focus on the music, leaving the organizational headaches to the firm, which sets up around seven shows a month for the band. Nair says the emergence of this kind of “industry” around Indian rock bands, of artist managers, sound companies and event management firms, is a healthy sign of growth. “The scene is growing and if you’re good at what you do—you can break through the clutter.” There’s a growing sense of indie “spirit”, he says, that’s defining the kind of music coming out of it.

Lounge Piranha’s inspiration for the gig came partly from Bangalore’s now defunct “Freedom Jam” concerts. Starting in 1997, the free monthly concerts ran for a decade, buoyed by “sponsorship and philanthrophy”. “But the handicap there was the fact that it was free,” says Tambe. “As a result, professional bands never took it seriously and it was viewed as a largely amateur festival.” The band approached things differently for its own DIY effort. “We advertised heavily on the Internet. We kicked up a fuss about it—made sure people knew we were taking a risk, and that it was a big deal,” Tambe says. Posters for the show went up in local pubs and across the Internet, and singer-songwriter Gowri and Hyderabad’s

Rs10,000­15,000, going up to Rs30,000 (the lower limit will give you the acoustic fidelity of a ‘shaadi’ band, but hey, it’s indie music—so lo–fi is cool).

that, it’s their loss,” he says. The band is now looking for groups in other cities to organize similar gigs and for the idea of self-funded shows to “catch on and become a movement”. “We’re brought up in an environment of listening to foreign music—it’s the local bands who have to break this mould,” he says. Tambe remembers attending an OML-organized “unconference” in November. “One British music producer speaking there said that the vibe and energy in Indian rock right now is very similar to Britain in the late 1960s, around the time the pub bands became international superstars,” he says. “Something’s about to happen. The indie music scene is going to explode. We’re just turning the corner.”

Chandigarh,

KNOW YOUR REVENUE STREAMS “Ninety per cent of your money is going to come from concerts—that’s what bands need to focus on the most. The rest is useful, but mere window dressing,” says Vijay Nair of Only Much Louder. Live shows in India require bands to haggle for their cut, unlike the West, where there’s a flat fee depending on how many people you pull in. Apart from the clubs and pubs, there are college

Pune

Saturday, October

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Vol. 5 No.

festivals, which are both lucrative, as well as “right at the heart of your core audience”, according to Das­ gupta. Corporate events are another source, but these depend on the kind of music you play. Don’t expect to get called for for­ mal company events if you’re a metal band. “Bands can also create music for corporates—jingles and spots, for example,” says Dasgupta. “Swarathma also did some music for an upcoming TV channel that wanted a distinct ‘audio identity’—music for interstitials and logos, for example.” Dasgupta reckons that tie­ups with brands is the way to go. “Take Thermal and a Quarter’s recent tour for the ‘Shut Up and Vote’ campaign. You had an NGO, Janaag­ raha, which wanted to spread this message. The band, which vocalized it with a song, and Tata Tea with their ‘Jaago Re’ pitch. It was a perfect fit.”

Mumbai, Bangalore,

Kolkata, Chennai,

, Hyderabad,

MONITOR THE RIGHT METRICS Album sales are passé. “It’s next to impossible to make money from album sales, even if you’re sold internationally,” says Sahil Makhija of Demonic Resurrection. Fellow metalheads Kryptos, riding a wave of critical acclaim for their last album ‘The Ark of Gemini’, could only manage 800 copies in three years, a “pretty pathetic figure” by Makhija’s own admission. “We sold 4,200 copies of our album since 2008, but it’s little more than a vis­ iting card,” says Dasgupta. “But it’s not useless. It gives you legitimacy and it has the essence of a band more than an MP3 ever will.” Dasgupta suggests a new set of metrics that a band must monitor. “You have to check things like the number of MySpace hits your site gets,” he says. “Or how many fans will turn up if you announce a gig on your blog, or how many will make the trip from other cities if you say you’re going to play a single new song.”

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TICKLED RAHUL R BHATTSCORE ACHAR YA

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Bollywood’s love, honour unending variations chord with and family values on strike the jaded West >Page a 17

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GOOD LIFE SHOBA NARAYAN

hy are Indians poor at We do team sports? not win at football. et’s say We are good h o c k e y o r a t cricket isn’t Chandraya really a team at cricket, an discovers water on later. Indians but the moon. sport. We more Let’s say shall have played next 100 years, weeting after club football see why mind-bogg lunar mission uncovers that India’s but our Fifa for over ling: That below Fiji. the IPL for watching the Indian something ranking is not only the the first time, Hockey broadcast 132, one by astronauts moon is habitable, has been national commentat place real of cricket’s inflicted game. We in moon or, David most lovable people who fans. He on us as suits but don’t enjoy watch it. Lloyd, fell can take live on We’re no by coverage thought it a fantastic foul of Indian it and do on new avatars good used to not water earth’s satellite. “nonsense” tournamen and win at hockeyat playing it now, Having , “unwatchab t, but the on the moon, but we discovered daft interviews”. golds). So le”, “just inhabiting India gets Two years what happened?once (eight Olympic with Lloyd. ads and it. Prime first dibs ago I would Minister >Page 4 needs to on understand By now I’ve have agreed Manmohan come up resigned with ing that Singh who will myself “tournamen there is be the pioneersa “Moon list” of no separation to the there. >Page people encounterin t” and “coverage”. of the Watching 4 g seek to satirizeone of those postmodern the IPL is like consumeris narratives m. >Page that 5

LOUNGE New Delhi,

Ekta Kapoor’s film ‘The Dirty Picture’ revisits a sequins­ and­pelvic thrust era of Tamil cinema which was propelled by talent, scheming, hypocrisy and the intense loneliness of women like Silk Smitha

SECRET INCOME Sell merchandise. It’s a secret source of income that we keep trying to tell other bands about. T­shirts, mugs, albums, posters—when you’ve got an audience of 200 people, it’s a good audience and you can spread your music, and sell your stuff. It’s the sort of place where people will pay attention to this stuff.

Native Tongue were also signed on for the show. “It was really nice of them,” says Tambe. “They weren’t paid squat for this—but we agreed to take care of their accommodation and transport.” “I think 200 is the magic number,” says Tambe. “We managed to cover most of our costs and pocketed the bit we made from merchandise as well. It was a real dose of confidence.” The band is eager to try more such shows, even hit other cities where it hopes to build a fan base. Tambe is hoping to prove another point—that bands don’t need to settle just for playing in pubs and colleges. “Bands are used to this culture of piggybacking on pubs and college festivals. But if they set their expectations to just

om www.livemint.c

SILK ROUTE

just go for other local bands.

SUPPORTING ACTS If you’re getting bands from other cit­ ies—plonk down about Rs10,000 for that. Cut costs by making them crash at your place and get them on a bus or train instead of a flight. Alternatively,

W

How to keep the guitar strumming and cash registers ringing

ou’ve got the fancy guitars and amplifiers, you’ve channelled the loose energy of your jam sessions into a couple of original songs and are now itching to get up on stage. Hopefully, you’ve kept your day job. If you have, it’s a fun ride—hit cities with regularity, build up a fan base, play gigs as often as you can at pubs and college festivals and pocket the extra income. If you haven’t, here's how you can keep your musical finances afloat:

IT’S ALL ABOUT

REPLY

ALL AAKARTO PATEL

WHY WE ARE NOT TEAM PLAY ERS

PITCH PERFECT Y

Abhijeet Tambe of Lounge Piranha gives us a breakdown of the band’s sponsor­free gig

Kochi­based performing band Motherjane leg of the during the Mumbai I­Rock XXIV in October. concert

Counting notes: (far left) Demonic Resurrection; and Delhi band Faridkot in concert.

PERVEZ RAJAN

String theory: Banga­ lore band Lounge Piranha and; (below) vocalist Vasu Dixit of Swarathma.

KUNAL KAKODKAR

ROCKONOMICS

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Should pre­teen children part­time? Three parents work pros and cons >Page 9 give us the

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bly believable. The Maharashtrian middle class, especially in Pune, is known for its love of theatre and cinema and from the looks of it, it was responding to the language of the young directors. As Kundalkar later told us, “Maharashtrians are a theatre-watching community and they value good actors the same way that some other audiences might value stars.” Gandha has stars, though. Milind Soman and Sonali Kulkarni are the leads in this film about three fractured lives, seemingly disconnected from each other, but for the way the director uses the sense of smell in the three stories. Made famous by Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu in Amores Perros nine years ago, the multiplestory narrative is, by now, a common device in cinema the world over, including Hindi cinema. But for audiences who have been used to watching slapstick and family dramas set in rural Maharashtra for more than two decades, it’s a path-breaking format. The audience, consisting largely of middle-aged couples and men of all ages, had filled up half the auditorium when Prabhat’s red velvet curtain billowed up. Before

31, 2009

krish.r@livemint.com

The annual Mumbai Film Festival organized by MAMI is showcasing five socially significant Marathi films

B Y S ANJUKTA S HARMA

October

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Shape shifters: (from left) Umesh Kulkarni, Girish Kulkarni and Paresh Mokashi at Pune’s Prabhat theatre.

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How can help half­truths hly >Page 9 run smoot

WHERE TO WATCH MARATHI FILMS

Marathi cinema is undergoing a revival—and driving it is a group of directors in their 30s, shaped by globalization, world cinema and some help from the state government

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Frames: (clockwise from right) Stills from Gabhricha Paus, Vihir and Vitthal, a Marathi short film by Vinoo Choliparambil, which was an official selection for the Pusan International Film Festival this year.

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Ekta Kapoor’s forthcoming film ‘The Dirty Picture’ revisits a sequins­and­pelvic­thrust era of Tamil cinema which was propelled by talent, scheming, hypocrisy and the intense loneliness of women like Silk Smitha B Y G AYATRI J AYARAMAN gayatri.j@livemint.com

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1 OCT 20 11

···························· ilk Smitha says ‘let’s go to the temple’, and she manages to even make that sound sexy.” Eminent Tamil film historian S. Theodore Baskaran, author of the out-of-print last word on Tamil cinema The Eye of the Serpent (East West Books, Chennai), now a recluse in his Bangalore home, recalls how Tamil director Baalu Mahendra once described the appeal of the woman known to millions as “thunder thighs”. “Films that had lain in cans for years were sold by the simple addition of a Silk Smitha song,” says Randor Guy, Tamil crime writer, screen writer, author of A History of Tamil Cinema (1991, published by the government of Tamil Nadu) and legal historian for The Hindu, of the woman with whom he shared a warm work friendship in the years from her unexpected fame until her suicide in 1996. Leading actors such as Chiranjeevi, Kamal Hassan, even Dharmendra and Mohanlal, sought her dates. Yet, says Baskaran, though well paid, she could not command her price or call the shots. For Baradwaj Rangan, film critic for The Hindu, who remembers her as the “more petite of the vamps”, the most evocative image of Silk Smitha comes from an interview she gave to a local gossip magazine: “When heroines pack up they get to keep their dresses, I have to return mine,” she said. The inherent caste system of a film industry Silk Smitha spun money for is palpable even today. When this reporter asked a leading feminist Tamil actor-producer to comment on the pathetic working conditions of women in Silk Smitha’s world, she replied, “Your story is not relevant to me or people like me.” Then, vamps like Silk Smitha were relegated to chasms across from “people like me”, and that’s where their mem-

S

ories survive even today. Actor Revathi refused to comment via phone or email, stating that the exploitation and suicides of female actors was a subject of great sensitivity to Tamil cinema and required a fuller exploration of the subject in person. The fictionalized biopic by Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Telefilms, The Dirty Picture, based nebulously on Silk Smitha’s life, is set to release on her birth anniversary on 2 December. What pulled Rajat Arora, its scriptwriter, to the story—far removed from his north Indian milieu in which most of Bollywood functions today? “It is a biopic in as much as when you write about doctors, you would want to include a famous surgery that actually happened as a hub around which fictionalized events turn,” says Arora, who took his cues from producer Ekta Kapoor, who, he says, initially looked at it as a smaller film on the soft-pornography phenomenon of the 1980s. Arora confesses he has not really watched Silk Smitha’s films. “If you look at Marilyn Monroe, everyone remembers that iconic shot of her dress flying above a New York vent. And yet she committed suicide. What happened between those two periods? That is where the story lies.” The question is, will the film be able to tear away from the caricature of her life or will it further propagate its myth? The context of Silk Smitha is fraught with obvious pain. Like musical genius Ilayaraja, whose songs Silk Smitha gyrated to, now in quiet, philosophical retirement, Mahendra, the Sri Lankaborn Tamil film director who elevated Silk Smitha beyond cabaret numbers in his films, is himself reluctant, even if only in memory, to return to an era of films he once helped define. In a religious ashram on the outskirts of Chennai, Mahendra now teaches schoolchildren from 8am-9pm on weekdays. “I am now very far from everything you are asking me,” he says. Mahendra’s first film, made in Kannada—Kokila (1976)—won him a National Award and was the precursor to a stellar career that pursued the social cause through films such as Azhiyatha Kolangal (1979), Veedu (1988) and Sandhyaragam (1991). A brilliant cinematographer-turnedfeminist director, he broke the stereotype by establishing women as his protagonists in a still maledominated industry. He was one

of the few directors who briefly wrested back control from singleactor-led films. He modelled himself on Satyajit Ray and Vittorio De Sica. He has been misquoted many times, he says. Mahendra flourished in the 1980s, when politics was synonymous with cinema in Tamil Nadu—many actors and directors of that era are now prominent political players. “Why just Silk Smitha? Disco Shanthi, Jayamalathi, Bindu, Sasikala— there were many women who broke the mould, who were bold and daring, who brought sensuality to the screen,” Mahendra points out. Yet it was only in the 1980s that these women’s potential was maximised by discerning directors who saw them as the repositories of society’s dark side. “It was a short period of such directors and it ended all too quickly,” says Baskaran of the time when feminist thought, open sensuality and the eroticism of women were tools in an able director’s hands, freeing films from a hero who called all shots. The underlying sorrow of the 1980s ran deeper than a single actor who killed herself, or a talented director who withdrew. Just as women in the Tamil film industry were discovering the freedom to express themselves sensually, nine female actors committed suicide (see The suicide sisterhood). They weren’t just vamps: Shoba, who won the National Award for Pasi in 1979 and was widely rumoured to be a much-married Mahendra’s lover, killed herself the following year after a lovers’ spat. She was 17. Mahendra subsequently wrote a series of sentimental musings in the Tamil magazine Kumudam titled Shobavum Naanum (Shoba and me) and more recently claimed Shoba as his wife on Anu Hassan’s Tamil TV show Koffee with Anu. Their story inspired the Malayalam National Award-winning film Lekhayude Maranam: Oru Flashback (1983), and the tragedy inspired Mahendra’s own National Award-winning film Moonrampirai (1982) starring Silk Smitha (the film was remade in Hindi as Sadma, 1983). That parenthesis, which ended with Silk Smitha herself committing suicide in 1996, was the context of such an industry. Cho Ramaswamy, former actor, editor of the Tamil news magazine Tughlak and political and social commentator, does not believe the Tamil industry in the

Oozing oomph: Silk Smitha often designed her own costumes and Malayalam directors making family­ oriented films frequently asked her to tone down their raciness; (top) a poster of Reshma ki Jawani, still a cult Internet download, was a remake of the Malayalam hit Layanam (1989). Silk Smitha’s co­star in the film, Nandu, also later committed suicide.

Read the full story at www.livemint.com/silk

1980s was exploitative of women. “Did so many women commit suicide? It was mostly caused by foolish personal entanglements. The 1980s were a time when I was leaving the industry, but I personally know many women in it, and women felt safe. Of course there was an ‘upper class’ and a ‘lower class’and even a ‘scheduled tribe’, if you will, of female actors—but wasn’t that the same for men? And for any industry? In any case, the films always depended on heroes, not heroines, for hits.” Yet, even towards the end of her career, Silk Smitha just needed to appear in a blouse and a lungi in Ezha mala poonchola with Mohanlal in Spadikam (1995), and teenage boys became men. Producers circulated songbooks, small towns staged live cabarets which routinely involved stripteases, and the cult following catapulted ordinary movies to blockbuster status. What became of them, the stars of this phenomenon, was someone else’s problem. Silk Smitha, sometimes called Silk Sumitha, was born Vijayalakshmi in the town of Eluru in Andhra Pradesh in 1960. Guy met Silk Smitha on film sets in the course of his writings, and developed a warm rapport with the otherwise reserved actor because they shared a mother tongue, Telugu. “‘Yemmendi, yemmendi’, she would say when she saw me,” he recalls (yemmendi is a Telugu term of respect commonly used to hail a senior). “She was a voluptuous, extremely good-looking woman. This led her to being ‘exploited’ by men (for) most of her youth. To solve this, her family married her off at a very young age. But this just made it worse. Ill-treated in her marriage, Vijayalakshmi ran away to Chennai and lived with an aunt while she tried to make a new start.” In Chennai, she began as a touch-up artiste for a B-grade actor, but her beauty quickly got her the kind of character roles that would allow her acting talent (of which she had plenty) to shine. She made her debut with a character role in the Malayalam film Inaye Thedi (1979). But her extreme sexiness intervened, demanding cabaret dances and vamp roles that became monetarily lucrative for the film industry. In the late 1980s, Guy wrote a TV crime series, Senior Junior, which aired a single episode starring Silk Smitha in a role where she is mysteriously found dead in a bathtub. Guy knew her well from the height of her fame to this time of descent, and describes her

as a warm, fantastic person, a talented actor, shrewdly aware of the lengths her sex appeal could take her, very reserved, and so sexy that it overwhelmed everything else about her. Guy claims to have met Silk Smitha’s husband a few times. “She married again after she came to Chennai. He was a nice man. She kept him quiet and he was content to let her take the limelight.” (Lounge could not independently verify that Silk Smitha was married.) Silk Smitha, Guy says, was no fool. She carefully designed her costumes. She spun her image. She worked with greats. She did the critically acclaimed role of a demure sister in Bharatiraaja’s Alaigal Oyvathillai, performing brilliantly. “But I remember people told her: ‘Why are you wasting time with this? Take a sexy role and make some money.’” Once the name “Silk” stuck after her character in Vinu Chakravarty’s Vandi Chakram became a huge hit, even if she tried she could not take on other roles,” Guy recalls. As The Dirty Picture gets set for launch, it is important to note that it was in the films of men like Mahendra and National Awardwinning film director K. Balachander, in Bharatiraaja’s Alaigal Oyvathillai and in the musical genius of Ilayaraja, that Silk Smitha came to life. Not semipornographic gyrations in a seedy dance-bar setting in front of lascivious men—the image the world remembers her by. “You have to understand that the myth of the vamp was an image, spun for the benefit of making a film, and an industry, based on her, work,” points out Rangan. The public perception of Silk Smitha was a careful social construct. Shobhaa De, then editor of glamour magazine Stardust, recalls an era of “thunder thighs and padded bras (no size zero, no botox, no surgically enhanced breasts— poor things!)”. Women seeking stardom were left coping with what came their way. “They were paid a pittance and treated like props—anybody could hire or use them. They ‘belonged’ to the producer/director and had zero social prestige. Even a prostitute’s life was superior—at least a sex worker was not made to believe she was a star in the making. Plus, sex workers are spared the narcotic of the big screen—once hooked, you’re dead,” says De. By the early 1980s, Helen, the most successful of the seductive “vamps”, was a legend. Poor imiTURN TO PAGE L12®

The most evocative image of Silk Smitha comes from a local gossip magazine interview she once gave: ‘When heroines pack up they get to keep the dresses, I have to return mine,’ she said. The inherent caste system of a film industry she spun money for is palpable even today.


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FROM THE AUTHOR’S PERSONAL COLLECTION

Exclusive excerpts from a book set in imperial Delhi that traces the origins of the city’s high­ society tidings

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GODREJ ARCHIVES

NOSTALGIA

OUT OF THE

CLOSET Inside the Indian almirah, better known as a Godrej, lurks the story of an evolving Indian home, family, and nation B Y S . M ITRA K ALITA mitra.k@livemint.com

···························· ers is noiseless. Atypical of an almirah, with its signature creaks and squeaks and dramatic groans. Keya Guha Ray unlocks and opens; the silence is testament to the wisdom gained since she was gifted the piece as a young bride 21 years ago. “Human beings need buttering, so does this thing,” she says. Now, the husband has taken over—DVDs, CDs, VCDs, his passport and “other private things”, she says. It wasn’t always so. Nobody ever asked what she wanted for her wedding; her mother just gave her a wad of cash—Rs4,500— when she left Calcutta and instructed her to buy the Godrej Storwel, as the full brand name went, in New Delhi. Guha Ray neatly folded and hung the saris she was expected to wear, her gold jewellery kept in the locker. Back then, she laughs, her emotions mirrored the contents of the almirah, hidden from new in-laws and neighbours and people who dropped in just to gaze at her. Slowly, she cracked open, the almirah in some ways a catalyst. “Both of our clothes used to be in here. We used to fight over it. We really grew up with this,” she says. “Then the space became too less for me. So I made a whole cupboard for myself.” Still, she couldn’t bear to throw away the four-legged steel creature. Neither can a lot of Indians. In these fast-paced, customized, liberalized, disposable times, the almirah is all but a bygone relic. It’s not big enough any more, banks exist on every street corner to keep money and valuables intact, built-in shelves take up less of that shrinking commodity—space. So, too, has its significance as a must-give part of a dowry or wedding trousseau diminished, replaced as the most expensive item in a household by things that whir and blare and freeze and entertain. Yet, somehow, in an India aspiring to move beyond itself, squat toilets to dirt roads, licensed radios to cumbersome gas connections, the almirah still holds, outlasting even those sacred institutions as extended families and marriages forever. In many ways, the story of the almirah is the story of the Godrej Group, the all-encompassing conglomerate and maker of soaps to software, generating more than Rs6,000 crore in sales

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he memoirs and reminiscences of ICS officials and their families stationed in New Delhi between 1931 and 1938 paint a picture of just how small and limited official society was. There would have been two reasons for this. First, the size of the ICS itself never exceeded 1,300 members on an all-India level, with only a small minority stationed at the Centre in New Delhi. And second was the crucial role of the Warrant of Precedence, that bible of professional and social ranking, in continuing to dictate social life in the imperial capital. It didn’t just dictate where one sat at a dinner party, the Warrant of Precedence dictated who would be invited to a dinner party as one could not ask or be asked to dinner by anyone above or below a certain rank. This would certainly have ensured that new faces were rarely seen within the context of official social life and, indeed, this was one of the complaints made about social life in New Delhi at the time—that one saw the same faces at viceregal functions, at dinner parties, at cocktail evenings, at balls. Furthermore, the limited nature of society in New Delhi also meant that it was unusual for the social circle of the officials to be infiltrated by non-official Britons. On the rare occasions that this happened, it would warrant attention. ICS officer Andrew Hume, in a letter to his parents, wrote of attending one such affair and described it as ‘an unusual and much more democratic party than one usually gets in this bureaucracy.’ Official society in New Delhi, then, was small; the company one kept, equally limited. The imperial capital had been deliberately designed to reflect imperial governance and therefore those of the indigenous population who did manage to infiltrate the closed ranks of official society and their city—for example, Indian civil servants of some rank, Indian members of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, the Indian princes and some Indian businessmen—were expected to adopt and cultivate the same social patterns of behaviour as their European counterparts. There were instances of dinner parties attended only by Indian officers of the ICS at which official dress regulations were enforced—one required a dinner jacket to be worn; another, white tie and tails. Uniformity of behaviour, then, was encouraged in those belonging to official society; more importantly, it was a way of perpetuating and maintaining the prestige of the Raj. The small and incestuous social circle of the official made this uniformity easier to enforce and thus official society and by extension the all-important prestige of the Raj and its administrative arm were more easily controlled. And so the strict hierarchies of the Raj were maintained. Official life, while socially stratified, was also structured in other ways. There was a very

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annually. And despite the diversity of its products, in some places, “a Godrej” can only mean one thing. Steel, wooden, antique or copycat, the almirah’s story is also one of the evolving Indian home and family, from a product that parents picked out for their children to an item that couples now cater to suit their needs. Regardless, the insides represent the vicissitudes: wedding saris and gold jewellery, baby clothing and toys, family photographs and land deeds, the sweaters and medicines of old age. The contents tell the story of a country.

A company’s claim to fame In the Vikhroli section of Mumbai, on the teeming campus that houses Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Co. Ltd, the sheets of steel that will be cut to form each side of an almirah need to be picked up by cranes. The man who oversaw manufacturing here until recently, as if in a nod to the tradition he shaped, was the son of the man who used to be in charge. Ramesh M. Panchal worked at Godrej for 27 years. His father worked here for 42. Neither was around when the almirah—in the steel form that modern India knows it—was born. That was 1923, an India where “law and order was not that good”, says Subodh Mehta, senior general manager of marketing for Godrej’s furniture line. Back then, the company was best known for its soaps and locks. Combining the latter product with a weatherproof place to store valuables seemed a logical business extension. Almirahs until then were mostly made out of wood and teak. Godrej also saw desire for a product that addressed realities such as moths and mice, dust and dacoits. “Wooden cupboards will have a poor chance against them,” claims a 1926 advertisement in The Times of India for a line of “patent safe cabinets”. A later ad

A Godrej might have a waiting list of two to three months, especially before the busy wedding season

brags, “invisible bolts are used for putting important parts together thus adding considerably to the Cabinets’ strength to resist burglars’ tools”. And so, one of India’s most famous brand names was born—akin really to the brandname recall of a Coke or Kleenex. The steel almirah spawned a copycat movement that persists today; in Nepal, one large maker of furniture calls itself Podrej Steel. In the early days, almirahs were for the wealthy: Only people who had valuable stuff, after all, would need to lock it up. It became a parting gift for a bride, a sure-fire way to keep the zardozi on her sari shiny, a guaranteed space of “hers” in a home that would be someone else’s. In an independent India (democracy defined by olivegreen ballot boxes made by Godrej, too), the branded steel almirahs became dubbed “Storwels”, weighed between 90kg and 100kg, and entered their twilight through the 1960s and 1970s. Godrej archives show one 1968 brand, known as the “Safemyra”, weighing in at an astounding 150kg. This was an India where the supply of steel was still controlled, where factories kept painting the same colour—the most popular was Tata Atomic Energy grey—until it was exhausted to maximize materials and labour (manufacturing’s dependence on steel and other supplies also cemented early ties between the Tatas and the Godrejes). A Godrej almirah might have a waiting list of two to three months, especially before the busy wedding season in the east or the south, regions that have long had an affinity for the almirah. “They would be waiting in line. It was like buying a Swift,” says H.N. Khumbatta, now the vicepresident and business head for material handling, but once the head of the Storwel division. He employs a new world analogy by referring to Maruti’s stylishly popular model. To apply modern marketing jargon, a Godrej back then might be seen as an “aspirational product”. Through the 1980s, the client base remained a generally upper class one, although Godrej officials say purchasers began shifting from generous elderly parents to the brides and grooms themselves. In urban centres, shelves for saris began to be less important than, say, a longer space to hang dress shirts and pants. Buying patterns yield observations on how Indians so widely vary by region. Coastal states valued the almirah because steel did not rust as easily, says Lokesh Sharma, a deputy manager for Godrej in New Delhi. “Northern people are aggressive and are ready to throw these

ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT

int.com www.livem

out. Bengalis are more loyal though. They’re still communists,” he laughs. “They don’t change so easily and take the Godrej almirah as a symbol of pride.”

Embedded in the East Before they were patent safe cabinets or steel Storwels, they were simply almirahs. While Godrej capitalized on an industrial look being sensible and fashionable, Indian homes have long boasted wooden almirahs that ranged from ornate to utilitarian, in Gujarati and Rajasthani styles that exude artistry and opulence, whether they stored tubs of salt in the kitchen

Treasure trove: (top) Shantanu and Keya Guha Ray were gifted a Godrej for their marriage by her parents, also pictured. (left) i, Delhi, Mumba Ramesh Panchal in Newfollowed his father Maganlal Panchal’s footsteps; both spent decades manufacturing almirahs, and own two.

turing and consumers’ demands

LOUNGE mean that the almirahs need to be lighter and easier to transport—hence, the marketingthink behind the new “Slimline” branded wardrobes. In 1997, Godrej celebrated its 100th anniversary, marvelling at the behemoth it had become while preserving the integrity of a family-run company. On a tour of the Godrej campus on a rainy Mumbai afternoon, Panchal, for example, is sure to point out the school, where the children of labourers are educated alongside those of executives. It is where he went, and his children, too, he says proudly. The company still subsidizes employee housing in the colony nearby. Even in the new India of five stars and cloth napkins, a visiting reporter is treated to a self-serve buffet in the low-frills canteen, with everybody else. “I think Godrej owes its brand equity to a couple of products,” Mehta, the marketing guy, says over that lunch. “Storwel is one of those products.” In an appropriate nod to past and present, the company

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CLOSET

or saris in the bedroom. The Burmese teak kind were preferred by Pranab Kumar Mookerjee’s father, an industrialist from Kolkata. Mookerjee now lives among no less than 35 relatives and 15 others with “helping hands” in a 155-yearold house. It is the type of place where the dozens of almirahs Mookerjee describes would fit right in, although most were sold long ago to the auction houses on Park Street. In this house, built by his grandfather’s grandfather, steel almirahs also slowly replaced the wooden ones to better preserve clothing. “He was also a man of good

taste, had 40 suits,” Mookerjee, a chemical engineer by training who works as a consultant now, says of his father. “Some were three pieces, and even after giving them away, there are still 20 suits in one almirah.” Eight steel Godrej almirahs remain to keep his late father’s old things, his bedridden mother’s past and present and then, the Mookerjees’ possessions. Asked what he keeps in all of them, initially a list comes tumbling out: His and hers clothing, his wife’s bracelets, books, company papers for two rubber plants embroiled in union trouble. Just as he can’t separate a dis-

Saving the Godrej

A candle was lit and placed in an almirah and the doors shut. If it remained lit, the almirah was sound

General manager Panchal recalls Godrej lore on quality control: A candle would be lit and placed inside an almirah and the doors shut. If it remained lit for some time, the almirah was sound—meaning no air could get in. This, he says proudly, is the work ethic, the dedication to product his father passed down. That never changed, he says during a tour of the plant one summer day, but the manufac-

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have. He gestures at the new way the called the “Centu43 1 No.anniversary paint is applied as er a 8, uniform 2007 Vol. rion” to address the choosier, y, Decemb powder, creating less waste. He more upscale consumer. It began Saturda re people’s says transient lives experimenting with steel that Bangalo

cussion about almirahs from those signature suits of his father’s, the material begins giving way to memory. “We are Brahmins. At the time of my thread ceremony, my grandfather presented me with a Zenith Swiss watch,” he says. “Those were the days before Omega. That is now in the almirah.” He continues. “When I got married, I got an Omega Seamaster,” he says. “That is in the almirah too.” He laments not giving his daughter one of her own when she got married—but she went off to the US. “You know the mentality differs, generation to generation,” he says. “It is very difficult to stick together… That cannot stay forever, but the essence remains.” It is not clear if he speaks of his almirahs, or his family.

looked like wood, steel imported from Korea, higher prices. A Centurion with an electronic lock costs about Rs25,000. “We did everything,” says Mehta, “but in every product a cycle comes where you can’t flog it any more. If a product is successful 80 years, that’s successful. It has to undergo a change.” And so began a multi-pronged strategy to remake the almirah (lighter, easier and cheaper to transport, assembly upon delivery, for example), target the lower middle-class consumer, and diversify into other furniture; a Slimline costs about Rs10,000. Brand campaigns merged Storwels into an “Interiors” division. Last year, the company’s home furnishing line, which now includes everything from beds to dining tables to sofa sets, was christened the purposefully hipper name—“Interio”. Almirahs now make up just 20% of the business. The company recently added a chest of drawers.

Safety in steel: In the 1920s, almirahs became a logical outgrowth for the maker of locks and safes. Ads plugged Godrej­made cupboards’ ability to protect valuables from the elements.

almirah sits in the stair landing, another in the “junk room”, says Unnikrishnan. He blames his wife but, clearly, he’s attached too. “There’s a lot of memories in there,” he says of the steel vessels, one of which is a Godrej, the other a custom-built almirah by a local maker. “The children used to be here. Fifteen years, we made 12 moves.” They’ve been everywhere with him, he says, and yet they don’t quite seem to fit in the new house. “We went for built-ins,” he says. “Things are changing.” A part of what kept people hanging on to their almirahs for decades, besides sentiment and usefulness, is that second-hand sales in India have historically had such a stigma attached, a connotation of a need for instant cash. That’s certainly changing as Indians acquire—and need and swap—more stuff. Consider a sampling of advertisements on the website Kijiji.in. Of 11 recent ads related to almirahs in New Delhi, just one is seeking the piece. The rest are trying to unload them.

sumer. They are making double -tone almirahs. Almirahs that have deeper storage space and go all the way up to the ceiling (goodbye, stacked suitcases). Can an ironing board be attached? In January, Godrej plans to unveil customized closet spaces. General design manager E. Venkat proudly shows a clear plastic door that can slide back around the shelving. This is not your mother’s almirah. “The older generation still believes this is the best product we’ve made,” Venkat says. “Now these are being made for a younger generation...There’s so many imported products now. If we’ll succeed, 10 it will be >Page products because we made that are Indian.” It’s a generation, his designers have found after market research, that wants space for saris, jeans, suits, ties, sneakers, jutis, plastic bangles, gold earrings, bindis, iPods, passports, bank papers, grandma’s heirlooms, love letters from the old boyfriend, pictures of the house before it was knocked down. The contents tell the story of a country.

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Respecting our elders Just what do you do with an old almirah? “My wife would not let us get rid of them,” says Unnikrishnan K.V., a retired senior police official in Chennai. His 80-year-old house in Chennai was torn down a few years ago to make way for the ground floor he shares with his wife and two flats he rents out upstairs; his grown children live overseas. Even two years after the construction—construction that included customized cabinets built against walls to maximize storage and living space—one

Second life Yet sales have not slipped. In the fiscal year 2002-03, Godrej says it generated Rs46.5 crore in home storage revenues. This year, it expects that number to more than double, to over Rs100 crore. An afternoon in Godrej’s design lab yields some of why that may be. The team of designers, mostly hired from the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad or the nearby Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, work to understand the modern Indian con-

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OUT OF THE CLOSET The way they were: (above) At a nightclub in 1954 (the author describes this photo as one of the primary inspirations for her book); and the author’s grandmother and her sister in the early 1950s.

definite shape to official life in New Delhi and, though undeclared, it was tacitly recognized that participation was expected. When New Delhi had been designed, it was understood that the Raj tradition of absconding to the hills for the hot weather season would continue. The seasonal structure of social life in New Delhi reflected this. Organized around the movements of the Viceroy and his government, the viceregal arrival in New Delhi in November formally launched the official Winter Season; his subsequent departure to the cooler climes of Simla at the end of March formally ended it. And official society moved their frantic socializing to the hills... ... In the months of the Winter Season, however, a veritable treasure-trove of activities were planned and executed with giddy abandon. The highlights of the Season were the Viceregal Ball, the Viceregal Garden Party, the Horse Show Week, polo, garden parties given by the each of the executive councillors and innumerable dinner parties. The New Delhi Horse Show Week, which took place in February

Glittering Decades—New Delhi in Love & War: Penguin India, 268 pages, `499.

every year, was the centrepiece of the entire Season, with the actual horse show holding pride of place. Horse Show Week, then, was a week of ‘many activities and kaleidoscopic acquaintanceships’. Indeed, the biggest social events took place in that one week of the Delhi Horse Show, which culminated with the Viceroy’s Ball. More importantly, to be visible at these events marked you as possessing a certain status in official society. Invitations, dependent on rank, were in demand and friendships could be cultivated specifically for such a purpose. The horse show itself was an exhibition of militarism and pageantry—a favourite combination of public spectacle for the Raj—performed to the musical accompaniment of the military bands. Nothing prevented the Horse Show from taking place. On hearing of the death of the King in February 1936, Andrew Hume was moved to remark, ‘The day the King died there was a more complete ‘hartal’ in the city than had ever been produced by a public movement.’ The Horse Show, however, went ahead as planned. Indeed, despite the protestations of many officials to the contrary, life in New Delhi was centred on activities of leisure and social pursuits. Memoirs of and letters from this period all provide minutiae of the writers’ daily lives and a large portion of these are taken up with details of the Raj at play. One Indian ICS officer recorded in his diary lunch parties, tea parties, dinner parties, sometimes in quick succession with guests moving from one to the next directly. What was noteworthy, he thought, was that it was quite common for Secretariat officers to fit in a game of tennis in the afternoon, having left the office at 4 pm; he concluded that in

retrospect ‘the workload in the Secretariat of the Government of India could not have been all that excessive.’ And this extended to the Viceroy, Lord Willingdon himself, who was known to leave work at 3 pm to play a game of golf before returning to the office. Life, then, was a hectic whirl of dinner parties, balls and outings of various kinds. Cocktail parties and jazz music were the newest fashion on the social scene and there was even an attempt to popularize the use of the Viceroy’s Swimming Baths—the swimming baths on the viceregal estate—as an evening entertainment (provided of course, the Viceroy was on tour). One was supposed to ‘turn up (at the Baths) at 8.15, spend some time consuming short drinks and bathing alternately, then proceed to a cold picnic supper (in bathing attire, if desired)’. The Chaplain of New Delhi, invited to such a party, disapproved. It wasn’t the jazz, liquor and lounging about that he objected to but the dangers of ‘bathing on full stomachs’ and the possibility of catching a chill. By 1938, private parties and home hospitality were considered old-fashioned and Sundays, which had been the only day of the week when frivolous activities had traditionally been curtailed, became swallowed up in the social whirl and the particular attraction of the midnight dance. Indeed, all the elements of New Delhi’s frantic social pursuits are best captured by one who really did not enjoy being a part of it: “It was much too crowded to dance and the jazz band made an appalling timeless commotion, much to the American’s delight, who said it was the first good jazz band she had heard in India. Several celebrities were pointed out to me, all resplendent in stars and plaques all over their chests and upper portions, Lady W.(illingdon) on the dance floor. Mary wanted to leave early and so did I and we were home again soon after midnight—the (American) niece hitting it up till 3.30am or later.” Excerpted from Glittering Decades: New Delhi in Love & War by Nayantara Pothen. Write to lounge@livemint.com

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Inside the Indian almirah, better known as a Godrej, lurks the story of an evolving Indian home, family, and nation Read the full story at www.livemint.com/closet

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From bean to cup: (from far left) Coffee varieties on display at Devan’s; green beans being washed; and coffee berries being plucked at a plantation in Kodagu.

Caffeine kickstart

The how and where of great coffee in India You don’t need to sip your coffee to tell if it’s good. Look out for the “crema”—that frothy layer on top which holds on to the flavour volatiles. “The crema should have staying power. It shouldn’t disappear when you take a few sips,” says coffee quality con­ trol expert Sunalini Menon. In a perfect scenario, if your coffee has been well­brewed and well­ex­ tracted, a good crema will be mottled brown and look like leopard skin. To start, there are several espresso makers, French presses and “pourover” cof­ fee makers available for home use. Here are two recommendations: Sunalini Menon, founder and CEO, Coffeelabs: A French press (`275 in a Café Coffee Day outlet). Pour hot—not boiling—water over a half­inch layer of coffee. Stir with a wooden spatula. Pour the rest of the water till 80% full. Brew for 4­5 minutes and plunge for a light, fla­ vourful brew. You’ll need coarse ground coffee. Keshav Dev, proprietor, Devan’s South Indian Coffee & Tea: A stove­top espresso maker from the Italian brand Bialetti (`1,500­2,500). Brew for 8 minutes for a strong concoction. You’ll need finely ground coffee for this.

Experts recommend buying coffee in small quantities if possible, and storing in glass or plastic containers. New Delhi Devan’s South Indian Coffee & Tea, 131, Khanna Mar­ ket, Lodhi Colony. Most premium: Organic Arabica from Balmuri, Karnataka, `550 a kg. Mumbai Philips Coffee & Tea, opposite Colaba post office, Colaba. Most premium: Highlander (80% Arabica, 20% Robusta blend), `420 a kg. Bangalore Kalmane Koffees, outlets at Forum Mall, Mantri Square Mall, and in Jayanagar, 4th Block, near the BDA (Banga­ lore Development Authority) complex. Most premium: Mysore Nuggets, `640 a kg. Chennai Naturally Auroville Boutique, outlets in 8, Khader Nawaz Khan Road and 64/38, Rukmani Road, Kalakshetra Colony, Besant Nagar. Available online at Auroville.com. Most pre­ mium: Julien Peak beans, `366 for 250g. Pavitra Jayaraman and Amritha Venketakrishnan contributed to this listing. PRIYANKA PARASHAR/MINT

COFFEE

On a bitter trail

B Y A NINDITA G HOSE anindita.g@livemint.com

···························· nondescript row of provision stores in New Delhi’s Lodhi Colony can be distinguished by the bittersweet aroma that envelops it. The culprit is a single source—one that other store owners know as the place author Arundhati Roy visits once a month, as do a sundry list of the city’s intellectual and artistic cognescenti, the likes of Upamanyu Chatterjee, Roshan Seth and Anjolie Ela Menon. It’s the only place in the Capital that sells fresh coffee—roasted, ground and packed on site. Keshav Dev, who runs Devan’s South Indian Coffee & Tea, a retail outlet started by his father in 1962, says his clientele is typically above the age of 35, comprising a small number of south Indian tradition-

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alists, expatriates and “well-travelled” Indians. When Aman Rai, a retired civil engineer, walks in, he only has to say “three kilos” to have Dev send one of his employees to a back room with a large vintage grinder. “We have a small and dedicated clientele,” says Dev. “I know what most of them buy.” According to New Delhi-based research and consultancy firm Technopak Advisors, around 1,000 of roughly 1,500 cafés in India have opened in the past five years. Meanwhile, international chains such as the UK’s Costa Coffee and Australia’s Gloria Jean’s have set up shop. By 2012, American coffee giants Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts will both enter the Indian market. Dev believes his clientele will remain unchanged, though. “Cafés are mushrooming across the country because the young

crowd needs a place to meet. We have no coffee culture to speak of,” he says. Across the country, closer to the coffee-growing south, Peter Philips of Philips Coffee & Tea, a 70-yearold Mumbai establishment, echoes this. “People come over all the time and complain that our coffee didn’t ‘mix’ well. They think all coffee is instant coffee!” Partly to address his own irritation, Philips, who hails from Kerala, started stocking coffee-brewing equipment, including south Indian metal coffee filters, a decade ago. He stopped in 2007 because of low sales, logistical wrangles and what he calls “too much effort for too little sales”. What Philips does concede is that his customer base has widened. For a long time, it was only Mumbai’s large south Indian population, a few Parsis and diplo-

mats, apart from hotels and restaurant chains. “Now, there are more locals...the curious ones.”

Cup of contention Despite the brouhaha over Indian speciality coffees in the heavy coffee-drinking Scandinavian countries, India isn’t branded as coffee-literate. In The Devil’s Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee, a 2003 book that was translated into six languages, American author Stewart Lee Allen calls the instant coffee available in most parts of India a sickeningly sweet, piping-hot milkshake. He is particularly peeved by the addition of milk and calls Indian coffee “the world’s most consistently vile cup of joe!” Allen possibly never had a cup of Monsooned Malabar—India’s top-notch speciality coffee—during his travels. The heavy-bodied

coffee has a musty, chocolatey aroma and notes of spices and nuts. It is called “monsooned” because it is exposed to monsoon winds, which make the beans swell and the coffee less acidic. The story of its genesis is the stuff of legend. The Dutch, and then the English, were exporting coffee from the Malabar Coast to the Norwegian coast of Europe from as early as the 17th century. The humidity of the wooden shipping boats and the sea winds combined to cause the coffee beans to turn from green to a golden yellow and lose their original acidity, resulting in a sweet and syrupy brew. When transportation was modernized in the early 20th century, the beans were much better protected from the elements. In 1972, after repeated com-

India is now the third largest exporter of coffee in the world. So why can’t you find a good cup to drink? PRASHANTH VISHWANATHAN/BLOOMBERG

plaints of a quality drop, the Coffee Board of India, which is run by the Union ministry of commerce and industry, developed a process to replicate these natural “monsooning” conditions. Coffee beans were exposed to the monsoon winds in season—from June through September—in the port city of Mangalore. Sunalini Menon, founder and CEO of Coffeelabs Pvt. Ltd, a Bangalore-based coffee consulting firm, calls this move a pioneering effort for the Coffee Board. “When they went for this ‘branding’, the world was yet to discover speciality coffees. It was far before gourmet varieties such as Colombian Supremo were coined,” says Menon. Today, Monsooned Malabar has something in common with champagne. In 2008, it acquired a Geographical Indication (GI) tag, which is awarded to products that have characteristics traceable to a particular region. Less than 160 products have this distinction in India, some others being Darjeeling Tea and Banarasi brocade. But as a coffee drinker in India, rarely does one get a taste of the best. Almost all of what a premium estate such as the Athikan Estate in BR Hills in Karnataka produces, is exported. Coffee beans from the 130-year-old estate won the “Best Arabica” award in Flavour of India—Cupping Competition 2011, an annual event conducted by the Coffee Board to boost planter quality. S. Appadurai, who owns Athikan, sells his green coffee beans via weekly auctions to coffeeroasting companies around the world. Prices average `260 a kilogram. This year’s harvest, for instance, went to the US, Australia and Korea. While around

www.live mint.com 80% of the coffee produced in India is exported, almost all of its prized Monsooned Malabar goes out of the country. “There is no taste or demand for it here,” says Menon. Meanwhile, India’s coffee trade is growing at a phenomenal pace. From being the sixth largest exporter of coffee between August 2009 and July 2010, India became the third largest in July this year, trumped only by Brazil and Vietnam. Most of India’s coffee is grown in Karnataka (which accounts for 53% of the production), followed by Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It was in Chikmagalur in Karnataka—where apart from familyrun businesses like Appadurai’s, India’s largest café chain Café Coffee Day owns plantations—that coffee was planted for the first time in India. The story goes that it was introduced in 1670 AD by a Sufi saint on his return from Mecca. The Arabs, who had started cultivating coffee in the 15th century, had imposed a ban on the export of fertile coffee beans, but the Sufi saint had been able to carry seven seeds back. Due to its early development of plantations, Chikmagulur continues to take the top spot as India’s coffee centre. It even hosts the laboratories of the Central Coffee Research Institute and a coffee museum. India does have a strangely wrought relationship with coffee. The International Coffee Organization, a London-based inter-governmental body, acknowledges that India was the first place that coffee was cultivated outside the

Arab peninsula (well before tea panies such as the Italian gourmet Murray herself purchased a size- The perfect brew: (clockwise New was introduced inDelhi, the 1820s). Mumbai, Still, coffee brand Illy—without ever able amount of Araku’s 2010-11 from above) Keshav Dev Banga general awareness about coffee is lore, being branded as “Indian”. crop for Five Senses, an Australian with his coffee roaster; Kolkata, low—only a few outside of trade roastery. “I think we have only Sunalini Menon; and plan­ Chenn circles would even know of the New groundsai, Ahmedabad, seen the tip of the iceberg of what tation workers in Kodagu Monsooned Malabar. Initiatives such as the ArakuHydera Val- bad,India to offer,” she says. “The drying coffee. Chandhas igarh, Puneaccording to MurMenon lists other premium ley Coffee Project of the Naandi real challenge,” coffees branded by the Coffee Foundation, an autonomous ray, “is to overcomeSaturd the ay, years of market in India, entered the preSeptem Board: Mysore Nuggets Extra public trust with interests in fair low-quality coffees that have been bermium 17, 2011segment with the Exotica Bold, Robusta Kaapi Royale. She trade and development, are striv- exported and made available range this August. Vol. 5 No. Bru Exotica 38 coffee should know; she named them. ing to change this status quo. internationally. It’s tainted the offers three international Before setting up her own lab in Manoj Kumar, CEO, Naandi reputation of Indian coffee in the varieties: Brazil, Colombia and 1996, she served as the director of Foundation, says their project speciality market.” Kilimanjaro. Priced as high as quality control on the Coffee started out with 1,000 tribal farmA robust marketing campaign `590 (100g), its entry signals sigBoard for 20 years. She set the ers in 2001 and has empowered has to be an integral part of nificant consumer insights. Arun quality standards for Mysore Nug- 15,000 farmers today to grow and India’s ascent to the gourmet cof- Srinivas, general manager, bevergets—the highest grade of Indian market organic coffee in Andhra fee league. In the 1980s, the Bra- ages, Hindustan Unilever Ltd, A r a b i c a c o f f e e , w h i c h s h e Pradesh’s Araku Valley. zilian government invested close which owns Bru, says the endeadescribes as sweet with a complex In 2009, David Hogg, the bio- to $25 million (around `117.5 vour is to offer the world’s finest aroma and a hint of spice. dynamic expert who directs crore now) to publicize Brazilian coffee experiences “best suited for Menon believes Indian coffee is Naandi’s coffee operations, coffee both domestically and Indian taste buds”. especially flavourful because it is started an annual coffee award internationally. “Brazil is a world At Devan’s too, Dev will soon THE WEE shade-grown, unlike other parts of called Gems of Araku, in collabo- leader but 40% of its coffee is introduce Brazilian, Colombian KEND the world. In Kodagu in Karnataka, ration with Menon, to incentivize c o n s u m e d d o m eMAG s t i c AZIN a l l y , ” and decaffeinated coffee because E customers have been making plantation owners grow intercrops farmers to grow better coffee. By explains Hogg. “India needs to such as guava, jackfruit, carda- inviting buyers from around the develop its domestic demand. inquiries. At least three more mom and pepper. The fruits and world on the award panel, the Quality will follow.” international coffee chains are set spices planted alongside coffee event also encourages a wider There are reasons to believe to enter the Indian market by bushes lend an incomparable fla- sampling of these coffees. that domestic demand is on the 2015: London’s Coffee Republic, vour to the coffee bean. Wine Hogg explains that India’s rise. Though far behind tea in Australia’s The Coffee Club and drinkers would be better equipped regional differences—soils, cli- terms of absolute consumption, France’s Alto Coffee. to discern these nuances. The matic conditions and the variety the Coffee Board estimates an Last month, the North Eastern d e s c r i p t i o n o f f l a v o u r of shade trees—have the poten- increase of 5-6% in coffee con- Tea Association urged the Union notes—terms like fruit finish, bou- t i a l t o p r o d u c e a r a n g e o f sumption annually, especially in government to declare tea the quet, spice notes—borrows from nuanced speciality coffees. north India, which is traditionally country’s national drink. Now the vocabulary of wine. “Indian coffee has huge advan- a non-coffee-drinking region. The more than ever before, coffee Indian coffee growers are only tages in its favour if it is grown demand for coffee is growing needs to stand its ground. now capitalizing on these nuances. the right way. It won’t be long such that new areas for developWith the Union government man- before we have GI tags for many. ing coffees are being tried out, like www.livemint.com aging the coffee trade till the liber- Let Vietnam mass-produce filler the Eastern Ghats and theFOU NorthR ToSON know your Arabica from your YOURareSEARobusta, alization of the Indian economy in coffees...for India, the future lies Eastern states. New varieties S IN read Coffee FAQs at SET >Page the 1990s, there were no incentives in quality,” says Hogg. also being researched, and a newCLOwww.livemint.com/coffeestory.htm 5 for farmers to improve quality or Jennifer Murray, an interna- Arabica variety called Chandragiri individually brand coffees. A tional cupping expert who was a was released for commercial use majority of what was produced jury member for the June edition in India in 2007. SEE RELATED STORY was exported as low-quality “filler” o f G e m s o f A r a k u , b e l i e v e s Overall coffee awareness is on >Read our travel story on coffee, while the better coffees Indians coffees will be making a the boil as well. Bru, the largest plantation getaways, Page 17 were being used in blends by com- strong statement in years to come. brand in the conventional coffee

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ON A BITTER TRAIL

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ON A BITTER TRAIL India is now the third largest exporter of coffee in the world. So why can’t you find a good cup to drink? Read the full story at www.livemint.com/bitter

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Behind the scenes: (clockwise from below) Sula Vineyards’ storage facility in Nashik, where wines are aged in oak barrels; plantation workers at Sula; workers at Grover Vineyards in Nandi Hills, Karnataka; Sula’s bottling and labelling unit in Nashik; and Ankur Chawla, Taj Mahal Hotel’s wine specialist in New Delhi.

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several did not have the necessary expertise, so the market was flooded with substandard quality. “People had bad wine for the first time and didn’t go back to it,” says Gurnani, explaining the sudden fall in interest in Indian wine. The global recession and the Mumbai terror attack in November 2008 didn’t help. Australia, South Africa, France and Italy—countries that were worse affected by the recession—dumped their wine stocks here at throwaway prices. A report prepared by the All India Wine Producers Association (AIWPA) shows a startling drop in sales of Indian wines in 2009: from 12.5 million litres to 6 million litres. Indage Vintners, a pioneer set up in 1983, even before Sula and Grover, illustrates the miscalculations that have underwritten the Indian wine story. Before it went down, Indage controlled the market. Then they made bad foreign investments, and collapsed. According to a March 2010 report on the wine news portal www.decanter.com, sales fell to `13.8 crore in the nine months to the end of 2009, compared with `140 crore in the same period the year before. In 2009, it had total debts of about `400 crore and was issued a winding-up order by the Bombay high court.

The aftermath The reason “wine country” Nashik wears a desolate look in the first week of October, when we visit, is because it’s not planting season yet. On the outskirts of the city, vast tracts of rain-induced green dot the land in the villages of Gangapur and Savargaon. On a small plot in Gangapur, Dynandev Eknath Vishe guides his son to drive a tractor. Vishe has been growing cauliflower and tomato for the last three years. For nearly a decade before that, he grew wine grapes. But he uprooted his fields after another bad monsoon made his crop useless and his bank loan insurmountable. “Parvadta nahin hai (it’s not feasible),” says Vishe in a cocktail of Hindi and Marathi, when asked why he gave up. He has a family of seven whose lives, he says, cannot depend on the moods of the weather, and the vagaries of the wine trade. Half a kilometre away, his nearest neighbour, Bhaskar Nakil, switched to table grape. His tryst with wine was shorter but similar to Vishe’s—he grew wine grape only for a year. He could not sell his produce after the local distributor went back on his word. “It’s too risky,” says Vishe, “With table grapes, I can at least go to the market and sell it myself.” Vishe and Nakil are only two of the many wine grape growers in the region who have uprooted their fields in the last couple of years, switching to table grapes or other crop. According to a recent

AIWPA report on the problems of the wine industry, the area under farming in India has gone down from 9,000 acres in 2008 to 5,000 acres this year. Industry voices say that while in 2010 there was excess supply (of grapes), in 2012 there will be a shortage. “It takes around four years after plantation for the first batch of grapes. Even if farmers were to plant now, the shortage is inevitable,” says Jagdish Holkar, the president of AIWPA and the owner of Holkar Estates and Vineyards in Nashik that makes Flamingo wines.

Half empty, half full For this long cinematic intermission in what was turning out to be a blockbuster, insiders name a combination of factors: gullible and sometimes greedy farmers, big companies wiping out boutique wineries, different wine policies in different states, exorbitant taxes and duties and high infrastructure costs. Still, those involved believe that the second half can only get better. York’s Gurnani believes that there will be a “correction” driven by consumers and wineries; Sula’s Samant expects a “consolidation”, where fewer winemakers will produce better wine. Holkar evokes macroeconomics to call this development “backward integration”— understanding the market demand and then producing, instead of producing first and then trying to sell, which is how the industry had worked all along. Those like Abhay Kewadkar, director and chief winemaker, Four Seasons, say the Great Indian wine boom is only waiting to take off, while Ajit Balgi, wine trainer at beverage training academy Tulleeho, thinks it will happen in five to seven years. Even Kewadkar, however, is rueful of the Kafkaesque systems at work, taxes being his primary concern. “In any supermarket in Europe, you can buy a good wine for $5 (around `250). In India, with all the charges slapped on, we start with $10,” he says. Reva Singh, editor and publisher of Sommelier India, the country’s first consumer magazine dedicated to wine, believes that the early phase of rapid growth has slowed. “The Indian wine industry took off in its earliest days because of visionaries such as Indage, Grover and Sula. There was a lot of buzz surrounding our potentially large and untapped market. Good money was spent building beautiful wineries and investing in vineyards but other aspects of the business such as developing the consumer market lagged,” says Singh. “Everyone truly believed that we would turn into a nation of wine drinkers. It was surprising that expectations were so high, given that we had no background or culture of wine consumption.” Singh was one of those who believed. She started Sommelier India in 2004-2005, then a concept so novel that it made its way

to the Limca Book of Records as “India’s first wine magazine”. She started the magazine because “more and more people were drinking wine, but very few knew anything about it except for the most general clichés.” “Today there is no public event or private celebration without wine being served. The wines may not always be the best, but they’re there and consumers are more informed,” Singh adds, suggesting an increase in wine awareness over the years. “Understanding was so low when we started that even women in my book circle didn’t know what ‘sommelier’ meant. In the first few issues, we had to explain that under the edit note.” Conversations on quality and vintage have taken off, although in a small way. Singh’s husband Kulbir Singh is the vice-president of the 16-year-old Wine Society of Delhi, the oldest of a dozen such clubs. Its 215-odd members pay a one-time or annual fee to meet six to nine times a year to swivel their wine glasses and talk bubbly. There’s also more on the training and education front: academies like Vikram Achanta’s Tulleeho train those in the hospitality industry in spirits and wine. What holds the most promise is this: Despite the lingering pro-

INDIAN WINES ARE STILL REGARDED AS ‘EXOTIC’ PRODUCTS; THEY DON’T HAVE THE SAME LEGITIMACY AS SOUTH AMERICAN WINES. A LOT OF WORK REMAINS TO BE DONE, BUT IT DOESN’T MEAN THAT WE MODIFY THE SOIL, OR THE CLIMATE—WE ADAPT OURSELVES, WE INTERPRET.

duction hurdles, consumption has picked up again since 2009. The market for wines in India is growing at 25-30% annually according to several projections and is likely to remain so. The wine business is among the fastest growing segments of the Indian alcohol market. While in 2001, there were 20 labels; now there are close to 500 labels registered with AIWPA. The list betrays a fair degree of experimentation too. The Haryana-based Nirvana Biosys manufactures Luca wines and the “wine-for-the young” Zoya by fermenting imported juice concentrate. They’re already out with lychee and mango wines. The Indian Ambience winery, based in Bidar, Karnataka, lays claim to organic wine under its label Yaana, which is currently only available in the south Indian states. Good Earth and Turning Point are “virtual” wineries—they outsource their winemaking to someone else and bottle under their own labels, and hence control their investments.

Spin the bottle When Singh brings down her

—Michel Rolland, whose own bottles from her wine coolBordeaux-based consulting ers at her Defence Colony resifirm works with Grover dence in New Delhi, Grover’s La Vineyards. Reserve, a Cabernet Shiraz, is the

29 OCT 2011

only Indian label we can spot.

Designed by French winemaker Michel Rolland, its inclusion is probably no coincidence. In 2005, in the year it had released, the British wine expert Steven Spurrier called it the Best New World Wine. Spurrier is an evangelist for New World wines. If it were not for him, it would be absurd to think Indian wines could ever play the international field—or take up a greater share in a wine connoisseur’s cellar. As late as the 1970s, when it was blasphemous to serve Californian wines in France, Spurrier had a panel of leading French oenologists do a blind tasting of French and Californian wines. The Californians won hands down. A journalist from Time magazine, George M. Taber, even wrote a book about the tasting; Judgment Of Paris: California vs France And The Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine (2005). The Judgement of Paris, as the event came to be called, would forever erode the pre-eminence of French wines. It’s premature to think of a similar fate for Indian wines at this point. As Kewadkar points out, it’s unfair to judge Indian wines against those from European wineries with a 200-yearold tradition. “I don’t have a 50-year-old wine. If you compare

both our seven-year-olds, ours are of good quality.” Rolland’s Bordeaux-based consulting practice works with prestigious estates across 12 countries, including Grover in India. The globetrotting oneologist agrees that Indian wines are still regarded as “exotic” products; they don’t have the same legitimacy as South American wines. “A lot of work remains to be done, but it doesn’t mean that we modify the soil, or the climate—we adapt ourselves, we interpret,” says Rolland. This recognition of ground realities brings us one step closer to understanding the French obsession with terroir—the term used to denote the special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place bestow to wine, coffee and tea. Four Seasons, for instance, chose its 300-acre vineyards in Baramati near Pune instead of Nashik, because of its unique soil and climate. Grover’s vineyards are in Nandi Hills in Karnataka, where the altitude makes the temperature relatively cooler, averaging at 30 degrees Celsius. “I try hard to respect the ‘typicity’; to give a wine the charm and consistency to be paired with dishes which are a little spicier than those from a menu from Bordeaux...” says Rolland on design-

ing wines for India. guests are more keen to try Indian “The business is like a slow wines. Indian diners stay with the train,” says Pradeep S. Pachpatil, safe bets: Sula’s Dindori Reserve, senior vice-president of winery Grover’s La Reserve, some Fratelli operations at Sula, borrowing a and maybe the Four Seasons,” he common phrase used with refer- says. After studying sales graphs, ence to Mumbai’s local rail net- Chawla reworked the hotel’s work. “You will get there, but master wine list this January: with patience.” There are eight Indian wines Balgi explains that the older among the 187 in the list. the grapevine, the better the Niladri Dhar, a certified somquality of fruit. Other New World melier who returned from New vineyards, in California and Aus- Zealand in June to join ITC Hotels tralia, are at least 25 years old. as their beverage manager, is For Balgi, it is only a matter of determined to change this status time that events such as the quo. Dhar is presently overhaulWaitrose juggernaut will cease to ing ITC’s master wine list, and surprise. “Meanwhile, we need to says that there will be more familiarize wine drinkers with Indian wines, especially in the the unique flavour of the Indian wine-by-the-glass category. He is soil,” says Balgi. “Indian wine considering lesser-known names smells too ripe which overpow- such as Globus Wines’ Miazma, ers delicate international cui- and thinking of including its sine—this is one of our biggest Chenin Blanc and Shiraz to comchallenges. We need to cam- plement ITC’s rich dumpukht paign for this unique taste or cuisine. Last month, he spearIndian wine will always seem headed a 45-day training prosomewhat ‘off’ to a palate accus- gramme for staff from different tomed to French or Italian wine.” ITC luxury hotels across India to The problems that plague the take the globally recognized certiwine industry are at every step of fication by the international Wine the supply chain. Representatives a n d S p i r i t E d u c a t i o n T r u s t from different factions have only (WSET). However, WSET’s wine now come together to iron out the appreciation programme has no ww kinks. In 2009, the Union govern- Indian wines on itsw.l rosters ivemiyet.this ment set up the Indian Grape Sula’s Samant doesn’t think nt.com Processing Board (IGPB) in Pune is necessarily a bad thing. “Sophisin an attempt to improve the tication in taste does not mean standards of wine production in moving away from us. Sometimes, India. The board consists of rep- it could go the other way. How old resentatives from the wine indus- is the wine? A foreign wine might try, farmers, the ministry of food be making a six-month journey to processing, state governments the bar while an Indian one might and the hospitality industry who make it there in a month.” will work together to inspect and Samant believes it will take control the quality of grape grow- three or four wine producers in ing and wine production, approve India to consistently bring out labels and lay down standardiza- great quality over the next few tion norms. years before Indian wine can have But for all the IGPB sets out to its own rack in an international Clos do, you might still be uncorking a supermarket. He is working regi e to 500 bad bottle. As wine remains towards labe that. Sula’s Sauvignon Indinstered with ls are Ass ia storage in our retail conditions, it Win Blanc won a silver at the 2011 ocia e Pro the All deteriorates in quality every day. tion Decanter duc World Wine Awards in . ers “Indian wines are getting a bad the UK. It is the brightest bookreputation because even though mark in the Indian wine story yet. it might be a fine wine when it left There are good things forththe winery, sitting in the heat on coming. Moët et Chandon will that retail shelf makes it go bad. launch its indigenous sparkling Even restaurant staff have little wine in India early next year, for training in serving a wine at its which the company has bought prime,” says Singh. land near Nashik. And the first Kewadkar draws compari- Indian wine cooler, by KAFF sons. “In the UK and US, wine is Appliances (India) Pvt. Ltd, hit de-licensed, so there’s better the market in September. storage, visibility and consumer Brands like “Proudly Indian” connect. We have it in alcohol York have been winning awards shops where it has to fight for right from their first vintage—first space with other liquor.” the Sommelier India top honours Winemakers spare no blame for its Reserve Shiraz in 2009, for star hotels—which would in then a recommendation at the ideal circumstances be avenues International Wine Challenge at to build a connoisseur base. the 2010 London International “Whatever the landing price of an Wine Fair. imported wine at a retail store, a “Wine takes time; it can not be hotel gets 40% reduction because made with valuations in mind,” of their import duty waiver,” says says Gurnani, who has recently Navin Sankaranarayanan, chief started selling outside of Maharcommercial officer, Good Earth ashtra, in Bangalore. “It’s a labour Winery. “Then when they put of love. You go to a trade fair, and their markup and sell, it becomes see thousands of great wines, and cheaper than a lot of Indian you realize how inflated your ego wines. Hotels want margins and I is as an Indian winemaker.” am not blaming them because “There is a saying in South that’s how the consumer works Africa,” says Gurnani, smiling. too. They’ll think the wine is bet- “How do you make a million dolter because it’s imported.” lars in this business? Ankur Chawla, wine specialist “Start with a billion.” at the Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi, agrees. “International anindita.g@livemint.com

DIVYA BABU/MINT

Sniff, swirl, sip: Reva Singh at her New Delhi residence.

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The great Indian wine boom was short­lived. Ten years after the green flag, the Indian wine industry is still looking for that sparkle Read the full story at www.livemint.com/vine

ber 29,

he brand culture is so strong able as you expected it to be. Inevita­ that we tend to think in bly, as you advance in your wine jour­ terms of the brand even where ney, you start to trade up. wine is concerned. If anything, There’s one important proviso, Vinsura Brut, it should really be a wine’s vin­ especially in the Indian context, and Sula Brut tage that is the differentiating that TH is the E wine’s provenance: factor. However, Indian wines are WhereWE andEKhow has it been EN D was it not so sharply divided by vintage. stored and where MA GA ZIN My suggestion here is to con­ bought? An entry­level Valloné Merlot, sider the varietal, the type of wine can be perfect in E Four Seasons grape or style of wine, whether its category. There Barrique Reserve it’s red, white or sparkling. And should be no snobbery Cabernet then, as you develop an informed about it, provided the Sauvignon, York palate, start considering the pro­ wine hasn’t been Reserve Shiraz ducers. Which Sauvignon Blanc do spoilt. Some expensive you prefer as a white wine, for wines may withstand example, or which Merlot heat and other damage bet­ among the reds? Is it from ter, but not all the time. So pick Sula, our biggest producer your wine judiciously. Big Banyan of wine? Or a lesser I routinely deflect the frequently Bellissima, known winery? asked question “Which is your Reveilo Late The key is to establish favourite wine?” with a Harvest your personal favourites, neutralSH answer: OE “The Chenin Blanc and then be adventurous. It’s wine that’s inSH myINE glass a wonderful experience to now!” I find it >Pa Fratelli Chenin right ge 6 chance upon a wine you’ve never hard to pin down Blanc, Sula heard of and be surprised by its quality. Or, favourites, but here Riesling, Grover are taste another wine, and realize how much a few suggestions Viognier you’ve progressed in your discovery of wine, for good examples on because the wine in your glass is not as palat­ the road less travelled.

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Saturday , Octo

Reva Singh of ‘Sommelier India’ gives us her pick of the 10 most interesting new Indian wines

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MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE

2011

Vol. 5

No. 44


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Lounge for 04 Feb 2012

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