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

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Vol. 5 No. 50

LOUNGE THE WEEKEND MAGAZINE

WHAT’S YOUR MILLET MOJO? Long after millets left India’s dinner tables and became a poor man’s ‘low­caste’ crop, the diet­conscious affluent and activists are putting the grain back on our food map

BUSINESS LOUNGE WITH L’OCCITANE EN PROVENCE’S REINOLD GEIGER >Page 9

DESKS THAT DELIVER

Work really can be worship with these study and writing tables >Page 6

>Pages 10­12

A CHINESE MONK’S INDIA SOJOURN

An invaluable account of The Silk Road, and of the subcontinent which was once called Jambudvipa >Page 13

‘I FEEL I’VE GOTTEN A BIT BRAVER’ Somnath D. Mansal at his jowar farm in Jamkhed, Maharashtra.

GAME THEORY

ROHIT BRIJNATH

THE GOOD LIFE

SHOBA NARAYAN

WHY LIONEL MESSI MATTERS

WHY I’M RAGING OVER ‘KOLAVERI’

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W

ionel Messi should be set to music. As an accompaniment, commentary is redundant. Anyway, when the Argentine flows and cuts and swerves across the pitch, English seems an impoverished language. Better to put him to music—or even imagine the music within him that he plays to—and sit back quietly. And here’s the first thing about Messi. You don’t have to know football, or even sport: to just see him is to immediately understand beauty. There is this possibly... >Page 4

REPLY TO ALL

hy don’t I like the Kolaveri Di song? That’s the question that’s been bothering me all last week. Am I not Tamilian enough to like it? Am I too Tamilian? It has morphed into a full-blown identity crisis. Everyone around me—family, friends—is raving about it. Interestingly, though, the other Tamilians who populate my life (milk lady, flower man, ironing man, vegetable vendor, help) don’t mention the song during our daily conversations about news and views. >Page 4

AAKAR PATEL

The director­actor on making films about ‘urban cool’, his urge for stardom, and his lineage >Page 17

DON’T MISS

in today’s edition of

THOSE COURTROOM DRAMAS

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have always enjoyed the company of thieves. I have known a few over the years, and some quite well. I met them usually in sessions court, which I covered for two years, 1995 and 1996, as a reporter. The city civil and sessions court, to give the thing its proper name, is next to Bombay University. It is a lovely structure built by the British in the colonial style (unfortunately it has an ugly appendage, an annexe built by Indians in the Indian style). It contained around three dozen courts but no press room. >Page 5

PHOTO ESSAY

OUT OF THE BOX


HOME PAGE L3

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

PRIYA RAMANI DEPUTY EDITORS

SEEMA CHOWDHRY SANJUKTA SHARMA

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

LOUNGE LOVES | CHIVAS STUDIO 2011

All that jazz

R. SUKUMAR (EDITOR)

NIRANJAN RAJADHYAKSHA (EXECUTIVE EDITOR)

©2011 HT Media Ltd All Rights Reserved

High time for tea

A Broadway musical with an Indian story, set to eclectic music

MINT EDITORIAL LEADERSHIP TEAM

ANIL PADMANABHAN TAMAL BANDYOPADHYAY NABEEL MOHIDEEN MANAS CHAKRAVARTY MONIKA HALAN SHUCHI BANSAL SIDIN VADUKUT JASBIR LADI SUNDEEP KHANNA

LOUNGE LOVES | HIGH TEA AT TAJ PALACE, DELHI

tions, there’s tea from Sikkim’s sole tea estate, from Kangra and Nepal and Sri Lanka. There are green teas from Japan and Vietnam, the fabled smoky Chinese black tea Lapsang Souchong, and the grassy Egyptian chamomile. But if you must get your caffeine fix from coffee alone, pianist at the grand piano, an artist at then there are 10 single-origin coffees. Afternoon tea is rarely ever about just a canvas, a mellow sun, a blue sky and a perfectly brewed cup of first flush Mar- the tea. It’s a ritual, and it’s about warm, garet’s Hope. Even today, life is blissful, the fluffy scones and dollops of clotted cream new high tea service at the Taj Palace on the scones. It’s about puffs, pastries hotel, Delhi, gently reminds us. The hotel’s and cold cuts in thinly sliced sandwiches, general manager, Taljinder Singh, a tea afi- dainty tartlets and champagne to wash cionado who conceived of the high tea, them down. The Tea Lounge has four set says: “During a recent visit to London, menus on a weekly rotation, so while you when having tea at the Ritz, I was struck by can choose your cuppa, what comes along how different a cup of the same Darjeeling with it will vary. If it’s mint and chocolate tastes here and there. It’s a pity that the pastry, kiwi and dragon fruit tart, raisin best varieties of our tea were going and bitter orange scones and English fruit cake one week, it’s mango and coconut abroad.” So he decided to bring the same pastry, blueberry scones, banana experience to his clientele here. bread, mini samosas and sandIntroduced this week at its Tea Lounge, the menu offers SATISH KAUSHIK/MINT esh the next. 30 varieties of premium If there’s one bone to pick, estate teas. The selection has it’s the china—a civilized been pared down from the experience like this calls for earlier 100. The new selecdainty British tea service. tion features teas from every tea-growing tradition and The set menus are available terroir, Indian or foreign— from 3-6pm and priced at besides the mandatory deli`950, plus taxes (`1,100 cate Darjeelings, robust extra for a glass of chamAssams and fragrant Nilgiris, pagne) per head, there is organic chai brewed though the hotel to Ayurvedic specificarecommends a couple share it. Fresh brew: Choose from 30 varieties of tea. Amrita Roy

A new menu at the Taj Palace is a journey back in time to a gentler era

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n order to combine 1960s fashion with music, theatre and integrate it with a story, filmmaker Rohan Sippy turned to writer Naresh Fernandes’ works on jazz music for inspiration, including the latter’s new book Taj Mahal Foxtrot. Sippy also Tuned in: Shahana Goswami sings wanted his Broadway musical, At the studio on Wednesday, Love & All That Jazz, to have an Indian story and set it in Mumbai. amid moving cranes and banging The next step was to get music carpenters, actors Shahana Gosthat would move the narrative, wami, Ali Fazal and Rahul Dev not merely accompany it; and rehearsed to recorded music against the backdrop of an composer Ranjit Barot, with elaborate set. On Saturhis vast range of experiday, the challenge ence, stepped into will be different, as the project. Be the first to tell us L o v e & A l l the name of the jazz musician they will sing and featured on last week’s dance to an That Jazz is part ‘Lounge’ cover to win a of Chivas Studio eight-member couples pass to the events on 2011, a platform live band with 14 10 and 11 December. Write to back-up dancers. that brings loungemint@gmail.com together a diverse “Ranjit was by the morning of range of artists and confident of pull10 December. performers. This ing off the act to includes Sippy’s Fashion live music. I was kicked Broadway (two shows today), an by the idea too—now we had to Art Foyer by artist Paresh Maity be honest, couldn’t hide behind and photographer Jatin Kam- recorded music and lip syncs,” pani, and Art Jam—artist Brian says Sippy. Olsen painting live to music by Terence Lewis has choreoIndian fusion band Mrigya (both graphed the 35- to 40-minute on Sunday). The two-day show English show with a mix of diawas held in Delhi on the last logues and six songs, including weekend of November and will two Hindi film classics. be at Mumbai’s Mehboob StuThe elaborate and “expensive” dio this weekend. production also includes Twilight,

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her own songs in the musical. the stage title used by brothers Sukhjeevan (Jimi), Gurpal (Sindbad) and Amardip (Ammo) Singh Phgura, famous for their dance to the song O Pardesi in the film Dev.D . “I just had to have them,” says Sippy of the UK-based trio. The story is of a young man (Ali) from Goa who moves to Mumbai for a career in music but ends up falling in love with a gangster’s (Dev’s) girl (Goswami). “I have not done anything on stage before and this deals with a part of Mumbai’s history, an era when there was a lot of jazz music in Mumbai,” says Sippy. “It helps me put aside the laborious movie process and start from scratch.” The show took about four months to come together, the intensity rising over the days leading to the Delhi performance. Chivas Studio 2011 will be held at Mehboob Studio, Mumbai, 10-11 December. Entry is by invitation. Arun Janardhan

ON THE COVER: PHOTOGRAPHER: ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT CORRECTIONS & CLARIFICATIONS: In “The new Indian superhero”, 3 December, Sharad Devarajan and Suresh Seetharaman are Liquid Comics CEO and president, respectively. In the Yauatcha, Mumbai, Lounge Preview, 3 December, Imran Khaleel in the new openings manager.


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ROHIT BRIJNATH GAME THEORY

The world’s greatest athlete is the anti­athlete

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ionel Messi should be set to music. As

greatest athlete is a chotu. The fourth thing about Messi, and sports writer Kunal Pradhan alerted me to this last week, is that in a desperately divided football universe his genius can still unify us. We live in lands of football shirts, our belonging is identified through colours: red for Manchester United, blue for Chelsea, stripes for Newcastle, and we see football through these narrow prisms of our particular tribes. Till Messi starts to slip between defenders, even your defenders, and begins to exquisitely pick apart your team with a skill that has no violence, and the pleasure of what he does outweighs any private pain of a defeated club. He touches the boy inside us, the boy whose first allegiance was not to club but just to football. One reason Messi can do this, skill aside, and this is truly the key to him, is that he—of the choir-boy face—is inoffensive. He is the world’s greatest athlete who, in fact, is the anti-athlete. In a planet of hoopla, of entitlement, of Ferrari-crashing, nightclub-fighting, threesome video-making, tantrum-throwing, rival-dissing, he almost doesn’t fit. Even his hair doesn’t look gelled. Even when he gets fouled, he’ll get up, perhaps

an accompaniment, commentary is redundant. Anyway, when the Argentine flows and cuts and swerves across the pitch, English seems an impoverished

language. Better to put him to music— or even imagine the music within him that he plays to—and sit back quietly. And here’s the first thing about Messi. You don’t have to know football, or even sport: to just see him is to immediately understand beauty. There is this possibly apocryphal story of the Dutch once breaking Dhyan Chand’s hockey stick to check if there was a magnet inside. Perhaps Messi’s boot is lightly coated in Araldite, for the ball does not seem to leave his left foot when in the mood. But it is an incomplete analogy: Messi’s beauty is as much in how, and when, he lets the ball go. The other day, he slipped a pass quietly to Xavi which bisected four men perfectly, and on repeated viewings on YouTube to comprehend this athletic geometry, a second thing became clear. Messi was reminding us of an old lesson in sports-watching: Look at the goddam feet. Even in football, we tend to be more obedient to the second part of the word—the ball. It’s where the eye goes more often. Instead of to the arrangement of the feet, the shifting balance, the marriage of pause and feint, the closeness of Messi to the defender, what he might read in the defender’s feet, what part of his boot he uses in his caress. To understand Messi’s subtlety, his

timing and then his explosion, we should look down on him. As we must for Roger Federer, whose racket-craft is so delicious that his feet can become a corollary to his craft, when really they are his grandest weapon. It’s the same with cricketers and their shuffles, with basketballers and their dribbles, and Messi is telling us what we occasionally forget: that sport is in fact dance. Messi matters, thirdly, because of the second part of his nickname when translated into English: Pulga Atomica or Atomic Flea. Tennis has become an elongated world where the average height of the top 20 is 187.9cm (or 6ft, 2 inches). Rugby players now emerge from a Neanderthal factory and studies show they are bigger. But football, partial anyway to a lower centre of gravity, evidently takes itself seriously as a world game: In this sporting democracy there is room for all. To the point where the reigning deities are a Holy Trinity of the Tiny—Messi (5ft, 6 inches), Xavi (5ft, 7 inches), Andres Iniesta (5ft, 7 inches). Of course, Diego Maradona was no high jumper either, but there’s something reassuring to Asians in an increasingly super-sized sporting world that the world’s

Kick off: Messi’s footwork reminds us that sport is, in fact, dance.

DAVID RAMOS/ GETTY IMAGES

open his arms and shrug to the referee, but he’ll go on, without endless drama, and start his concerto again. Has he misunderstood his status, can he not find something redeemably obnoxious to do? I briefly looked up Messi and misbehaviour, Messi and controversy, Messi and tantrum. No real luck. Wait. He clapped a celebratory hand against the side of a plane, which happened to be the emergency exit, and a part came off. Whoa. He once kicked a ball rather crudely into the Real Madrid crowd. Tsk, tsk. He was reported to be at a party where there was alcohol and women. God help us. This is the worst we can find on him! Of course, he is flawed and harder digging might reveal it. Of course, we need the club-throwers and the baked-bean eaters, the whiners and the sneerers, for sport is not some All Saints Parade in shorts. But it’s just perfect that I don’t know who his girlfriend is, or what car he drives, or what suits he prefers and who his barber is, or which blonde claimed he slept with her, or which rival accused him of a terrific arrogance. I don’t know because it’s hardly ever spoken of. With him, I just know a boy, a ball and the idea of music. It is sport at its simplest and, in a way, its most profound. Rohit Brijnath is a senior correspondent with The Straits Times, Singapore. Write to Rohit at gametheory@livemint.com www.livemint.com Read Rohit’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/rohit­brijnath

SHOBA NARAYAN THE GOOD LIFE

Why I’m raging over ‘Kolaveri’

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hy don’t I like the Kolaveri Di song? That’s the question that’s been bothering me all last week. Am I not Tamilian enough to like it? Am I too Tamilian? It has morphed into a

full-blown identity crisis. Everyone around me—family, friends—is raving about it. Interestingly, though, the other Tamilians who populate my life (milk lady, flower man, ironing man, vegetable vendor, help) don’t mention the song during our daily conversations about news and views. Among the myriad communities which populate Tamil Nadu, I know three fairly intimately. There are the rich mill towns surrounding Coimbatore (where I was born). These are families belonging to the Gounder community, who make their money out of cotton and farming. They wear crisp white dhotis, matching shirts and speak with the lilt of what I call Coimbatore Tamil. They have a sweetness of speech that comes from the Siruvani reservoir water they drink. They also have a small chip on their shoulder about the north Indianization of south India. They are proudly Tamilian; and were frequently portrayed in Tamil movies of an earlier era, made by director Bharathiraja. I doubt that these communities who farm Ethicus cotton in Pollachi or coconuts in Vettaikaranpudur are entranced by this song. Their instinct for hospitality will make them agree with you when you rave about what a sensation it is, but it

remains largely irrelevant to their lives. The stylish urban youth of Chennai are the target audience for this song. They are comfortable calling you machi (akin to the Australian “mate”) and dancing the dappankuthu. They use matchless phrases like Sothappal, which are hard to translate. It means messed up, but when delivered well (“Ennada? Sothapittaya?”), it can mess you up for life. Young Chennai can talk about film directors like Kurosawa or Mizoguchi, but when it comes right down to it, they will watch an Ajith, Suriya or Dhanush film in droves. First day, first show. They will whistle when Vivek, Senthil or Goundamani comes on screen. I was one of them till I moved out of that city. I wanted to invite Senthil and Goundamani for my wedding and request them to come in the blue-striped knickers they usually sport in their movies. Most of my friends in Chennai love the song. Kolaveri means murderous rage. Dhanush sings it to a nursery rhyme beat. I don’t like Dhanush because I don’t think he is a good enough son-in-law for my icon Rajinikanth—he who morphs into a tiger and then back. Dhanush is a middling actor. His anorexic frame doesn’t help. That said,

Out of sync: The song isn’t really a Tamil song, it’s a watered­down version. he has acted well in this video, displaying an endearing quality that is sadly lacking in his films. Domestic and international emigrants love this song. These are Tamilians who have migrated to Bhopal and Bhubaneswar; Boston and the Bay Area. Some have fond memories of their “native place”, as we call it in India. Most are mildly embarrassed by their Tamil-ness. You would be too if you grew up in south Bombay or south Delhi and were forced to streak sacred ash on your forehead and apply coconut oil in your hair. I subject my daughters to this whenever I can. Most of my emigrant Tamil friends and relatives have shortened their names. Suryanarayanan becomes Suri. Ananthasubramaniam becomes Soni. When a guy goes from being Ariyanayakipuram Hariharasubramaniam to Ari Harry, you

know you’ve lost him. These same folks are suddenly posting this song on their Facebook status and talking about how “proud” they are to be Tamilian. Where were they all these years? The song in question—Why this Kolaveri Di?—isn’t really a Tamil song. It is a gratuitous, watered-down imitation of a Tamil song, somewhat like Shah Rukh Khan’s enema-inducing depiction of a south Indian in Ra.One. Kolaveri is the lowest common denominator among Tamil songs which is, arguably, the reason for its popularity. The beat is moronic and the lyrics are mostly in English. It is apparently all the rage in the US and Dubai too. In the end, it is only a song, not world peace. Yes, I’ve heard the Japanese, acapella and Arabic versions, thank you. I have watched in bemusement as

Indian-Americans who cannot speak a word of Tamil post it as their Facebook status. I’ve had north Indians sing it to me. I’ve sung it to them in a clumsy attempt at bonding. Curd rice meets rajma chawal. That type of thing. The best part of its popularity is that it has broken people in. You want to hear Tamil music? Let me give you a few recommendations—all current, all trendy. I am not going into classics like Ilaya nila or Rathiriyil Poothirukkum, or any of those S.P. Balasubrahmanyam numbers. Listen to songs from these movies: Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya (Hosanna), Ayan (Vizhi Moodi), and Vaaranam Ayiram (Mundhinam Partheney) for starters. Shankar Mahadevan has sung some fabulous songs—Varaha Nadhikarai is one of my favourites. Listen to a song called Nee Korinaal, from 180 Rules Kidaiyathu; or the one called Thozhiya en kathaliya from Kadhalil Vizhunthen. It has a nice folksy beat with English lyrics and a rap beat blended in. Now that’s a song. Go to MusicIndiaOnline, one of my favourite sites, and play these songs on your computer. As for Kolaveri, play that darn song if you must. Post it as your Facebook status. Just don’t call it a Tamil song. Shoba Narayan jives (awkwardly—like Elaine in Seinfeld) to the beat of Appadi Podu, while her WTK (Why this Kolaveri Di?) friends watch in amusement. 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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AAKAR PATEL REPLY TO ALL

The dramatis personae of courtroom dramas

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RITESH UTTAMCHANDANI/HINDUSTAN TIMES

Prison diaries: Actor Sanjay Dutt (in white striped shirt) coming out of Pune’s Yerwada jail along with his lawyer, Satish Maneshinde, in 2007 after getting bail.

have always enjoyed the company of thieves. I have known a few over the years, and some quite well. I met them usually in sessions court, which I covered for two years, 1995 and 1996, as a reporter. The city

Four years later, February 2000, I took a job as newspaper editor. On my first night at work, my assistant said an anonymous man was on the telephone, waiting to congratulate me. It was Judge Kode, who had kept track of my career, and we laughed at my stroke of fortune. He went on to conclude the blasts trial, convicting Sanjay Dutt. He is today Justice Pramod Dattaram Kode of the Bombay high court, and I hope he makes it to the Supreme Court.

civil and sessions court, to give the thing its proper

name, is next to Bombay University. It is a lovely structure built by the British in the colonial style (unfortunately it has an ugly appendage, an annexe built by Indians in the Indian style). It contained around three dozen courts but no press room. This meant that reporters had to move from court to court through the day, to find out what was going on. Often the people to ask were those accused, who volunteered information, including about themselves. The reason I enjoyed their company is that they were inevitably interesting. Thieves can get killed in India if caught. They approach their work with an intelligence which is unusual to find in Indians in the office. They have a sense of humour, and very often a sense of mischief. They tend to laugh off their luck, though that might have come to them with time. They spoke to me sometimes when waiting for relatives, who never came. Eight of the sessions courts tried cases under the NDPS, which stood for Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, Act. The accused here had spent many years in jail. This was because of a very difficult “guilty unless proven innocent” bail clause inserted by Sunil Dutt, upset by his son’s early addiction. By the time they were out, many of the accused, mostly Nigerians, had outdated passports and were forced to stay back in India. I would see some of them near Kala Ghoda, where they were dealing again. Every so often you would come across an accused person who was middle class. One such man was Mohammed Jindran. He was Sanjay Dutt’s best friend in jail. Jindran was a chubby man with long, thinning hair. He spoke English well, and his language was gentle. His teeth were brown from the Marlboro Lights he shared with Dutt whom he shadowed around in the jail at Arthur Road, and in the court, which was attached to the jail. I first met them one evening, around 6, when they were having dinner. I got no story at the courts and had strolled over to the jail to see if there was something to be found there. The jail gates were shut but there were a dozen women, most wearing burqa, outside. They wanted to submit a note seeking permission for home food to be given to their husbands, or sons or brothers, who were undertrials and hadn’t got bail. The women didn’t write English and one of them asked if I did. Soon I was writing permission notes for all of them. As I was finishing, a guard came out of the jail gate and, pointing to a dark window near the top of the facility, said the jailor wanted to see me. I followed him in and was taken to the jailor, a man called Hiremath, who asked what I was doing. I told him, and he softened. He volunteered to show me around. “Do you want to meet Sanjay Dutt?” he said. I said I did. Dutt was in the courtyard, sitting on the ground finishing his dinner, dal and roti, with Jindran and two others. We were introduced and chatted. As he was about to be put back, Dutt said he wanted to see me in court the following day. The next morning I waved to him and he handed me a sheaf of papers, written by at least three different people, in black, blue and red ink. The note was in Hindi, but he claimed to have written it. “Print this if you like,” he said, “it’s for my birthday.” The letter was a theatrical howl of innocence (“hang me at the crossroads if I’m guilty”, etc.). It was poorly written but excellent reading material. The

paper was delighted to run the story on his 37th birthday, 29 July, which was the next day. Jindran also wanted his letter published but I told him the newspaper wouldn’t be interested. He had expected the answer and did not mind. He was arrested, he told me, after finding sacks of the explosive RDX in one of his godowns. He said some workers had brought it in. When he found out, he tried to dump it in a creek, and was caught. In the months that I met him he was always optimistic, and confident of being freed. On 29 June 1998, Jindran was killed in Khar, shot after he got bail. The police thought Chhota Rajan had had him killed for his role in what was Dawood’s plan. One afternoon I went past what seemed an empty court when I stopped and came back. I noticed some very senior lawyers, though no big case was on the board. A thin, shy young man was sitting alone before the judge, on the benches a few rows back. I slid in next to him and asked what the case was about. “Murder,” he said. Who’s the accused? I whispered. “Me,” he said. He was a Rajasthani man, a servant in a Ghatkopar house, who had not been paid by his master in three months. He demanded to be given his money, and was slapped. Then? That night he cut the man’s throat with a kitchen knife as he slept. Then? He stole what was due to him and ran home to Rajasthan, where the police picked him up after a few weeks. Then? He was in Arthur Road jail for a couple of years, where he became good friends with Kashi Pashi, a senior man in Chhota Rajan’s gang. Then? When my trial came, he arranged for them, he said, waving at advocate Sudeep Pasbola and his associates. He was acquitted. Another time, Iqbal Mirchi’s lawyer Shyam Keswani strolled up to me and asked if I was a reporter. I said I was. He handed me a chargesheet and asked if I could report it. It was a 200-page document, armed with which a government of India team was being sent to extradite Mirchi from London. It was a narcotics case, and I spent the night reading it to learn there was no mention of Mirchi anywhere except for the very last page where it was written: “Also wanted in the case, one Iqbal Memon alias Mirchi.” I reported what a half-baked case it was. Sure enough, the Bow Street magistrates’ court laughed off the Indians. I’m not sure if the report helped but justice, of a sort, was done. Keswani came to me and said he wanted to present me with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label, but thankfully he forgot. Sessions court also had a Tada (‘anti-terrorist’) court, headed by a judge called Pramod Kode. He was from a modest background. One public prosecutor, Shafi Shaikh, told me he had once seen Kode use public transport, the second-class coach of a local train. Judge Kode chewed paan, had a deep Marathi accent and a kind voice. I liked him immediately. Kode began questions with the word “whether” and rounded them off at the end: “Whether accused was present at the location?” I began reporting from his court, and he must have noticed my scribbling. At lunch break one afternoon his sheristadar, as court clerks are called, said the judge wanted to see me. I introduced myself and we chatted. I hesitate to say we were friends, we were not, but he was friendly and we spoke regularly. One day Arun Gawli

was to be brought to the court and there was lots of security. Judge Kode summoned me to his chambers. “How’s it outside?” he asked. “Menacing,” I said. He laughed. One morning in his chambers he asked what I was paid. I told him and he must have been appalled, for reporters were then paid little. After a

moment he said, “Still, you must save and buy books.” I said I would. The following year, March 1996, he left sessions court. He was made special judge and given full-time the most important trial in India, the Tada court trying the Bombay Bomb Blasts at Arthur Road, after Judge Patel was elevated. That was the last time I met Judge Kode.

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


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PICKS

Desks that deliver Work really can be worship with these study and writing tables B Y K OMAL S HARMA komal.sharma@livemint.com

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p Tailormade by Karan Bakshi: At www.artfeatdesigns.com, `6,000.

p Case Study by Bobby Aggarwal: The table opens up to pockets for a laptop, a sliding case for worksheets, books and statio­ nery, at Portside Café, Lado Sarai, New Delhi, `97,700.

MAP YOUR MOVEMENTS Taking customization to another extreme with the Perfectionist Table

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table that subtly mirrors your work movements and is personalized for your work needs, is what Srishti Bajaj of DesignBait aims for with the Perfectionist Table. “Every person works differently. When you’re working on a table, how far are you likely to stretch your arms, where are you likely to drop your pens or pencils, what angle do you keep your worksheets at, where do you tap your fingers while thinking—(it) all varies from person to person,” says Bajaj. The idea behind the Perfectionist Table is that DesignBait will map all your body movements, measure them to the last inch, several blueprints will be prepared and the final usage will be laser­etched on to your table. So if

there is a particular spot on the table where you keep you pencils or coffee mug, it will be marked on this table. A graduate from the Royal College of Art, London, Bajaj comes from a school of thought that believes in breaking away from mass production. “The idea is that the end consumer should not be adapting himself to the product, but the product should be designed to fit the user. For instance, the length of your Perfectionist Table would be exactly the length of your arm span,” she says. A basic minimal design, devoid of any clunky drawers—since Bajaj wanted to allow easy leg movement under the table—the product is also being planned in metal inlay. “In wood, it is a subtle reminder, but in metal, it would really stand out,” she says. The Perfectionist Table is available at DesignBait, Lado Sarai, New Delhi. Prices, `50,000 onwards. Komal Sharma

p Study table in sheesham (rosewood): At Fabindia, N­Block Market, Greater Kailash­I, New Delhi; and Jeroo Building, Kala Ghoda, Colaba, Mumbai, `11,100. p Hendrix: Leather top, cross­legged table, at The Charcoal Project, Veera Desai Road, Andheri West, Mumbai, approx. `1,35 lakh.

t Nestable by Jasper Morrison: A height­ adjustable, tilting work surface table that can be adapted to any seating position, including a reclining sofa, at Vitra, Okhla Phase­II, New Delhi, `46,000.

FUN ON THE FLOOR An activity table for the tots to do craftwork or play board games

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low, square table with pull­out drawers stuffed with stationery, paints, toys and knick­knacks—it’s the perfect way to get children together on one table for work or fun. Furniture designer Aarti Aggarwal prefers to work on the floor. “When I sketch, I tend to do it on the floor. It allows you more freedom and space. The children’s activity table evolved from that thought,” says Aggarwal, who has a degree from the Danish School of Design, Copenhagen. She runs a children’s furniture label called Lil Woods. For a group setting of three or four children, the activity table can be used to play board games, eat, do craftwork or homework. The tabletop is laminated, so spilled paints or staining isn’t a worry. Eight pull­out drawers or baskets can be removed and kept on the floor, creating legroom for the children. Aggarwal also customizes the table on request. “We also do typographic

designs, like putting the children’s names on it,” says Aggarwal. The activity table for children is available at House of Design, CRC2 building (opposite the Sultanpur Metro station), Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road, New Delhi. Prices, `35,000 onwards.

t Nelson by George Nelson: A table with cub­ byholes, at Herman Miller, Workrite, Raghu­ vanshi Mills Compound, Lower Parel, Mum­ bai; His Grace, Residency Road, Bangalore; and CJ Living, Okhla Industrial Area, Phase­I, New Delhi, `1.5 lakh onwards.

Komal Sharma

p Tom by Estel: A console desk that can be opened up to a wider surface work table, at Visage, DLF Phase­I, Gurgaon, approx. `1.95 lakh.


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L7

Play

LOUNGE REVIEW

Local heroes? Lava and Micromax try to move out of the budget market. But how do they compare with the best in the format? B Y G OPAL S ATHE gopal.s@livemint.com

···························· oth Lava and Micromax are trying to make their presence felt outside the “economy” segment that these handset makers are known for. The latest Android versions from both, released last month, are solid efforts. They are now competing with brands such as Samsung, HTC and Motorola, and while they might not be the best in their class, the handsets offer real options for shoppers.

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Lava S12

Micromax A85: A powerful phone let down by its weak battery.

The Lava S12 is available for around `8,200, and compares well with other similarly priced phones. It has a 600 MHz processor, and the device ships with a free 2 GB memory card for storage that can be extended up to 32 GB. It’s a styli s h phone—wit h a brown, leatherbacked case and a slightly curved design that fits nicely in the hand. The

Android buttons at the bottom are physical buttons, which makes it easy to use even in the dark, but the build quality around the buttons is not the best—they can stick sometimes, and don’t register clicks at other times. The phone runs Android 2.2 with a custom 3D interface, which is a simple but slow interface. Switching between homescreens is done on a 3D cylinder layout, which is visually pleasing but a little confusing because it accelerates when it turns, making it hard to get the screen you want unless you scroll slowly. At 120g, it is also fairly heavy considering that it has a compact 3.2-inch screen. Scrolling is not smooth either, and given the size of the screen, this is a problem because you’re going to need to scroll and zoom a lot on websites to read the text on the screen. This is made slightly worse by the fact that the display is nothing special. The phone does, however, come with a reasonable 5 MP camera that can produce decent results in good lighting. When it is even slightly dark, though, be prepared for grainy, out-of-focus photographs. The battery life isn’t particularly impressive—the company claims 10 hours of talktime on 2G, but even without any data usage, it was barely able to stay on beyond 6 hours of use. For its price, the Lava is a competent handset, but the 3D user interface (UI) quickly becomes a nuisance. The phone looks a lot better than similarly priced Android handsets, and consumers will likely appreciate that. The problem is that it is around `1,000 more expensive than the

Hacking for the greater good Will Kapil Sibal’s desired pool of ethical hackers plug security loopholes? B Y G OPAL S ATHE gopal.s@livemint.com

···························· re the biggest threats to India now coming from the Internet? According to Kapil Sibal, Union minister of communications and information technology, cyber war is a continuing threat the nation faces. It was widely reported in April last year that hackers broke into defence ministry systems and accessed sensitive secrets. The PTI report from the time states that these included computers at Indian embassies in Germany, Italy, the US and the high commission of India in the UK. Among the stolen data was what appeared to be encrypted diplomatic correspondence, two documents marked secret, six restricted, and five confidential. The websites of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and 270 more organizations were hacked in December 2010. The hackers left a message on the CBI site saying this was in retaliation for an alleged attempt to hack 40 Pakistani government websites. At the second Global Cybersecurity Summit in Delhi last month, Sibal said: “We need a legal framework as we are dealing with some of the best minds. We also need a community of

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ethical hackers.” The government has a number of organizations that work in the field of cyber security. This includes both organizations within the Armed Forces and the civilian fields, but there is a strong need to build a trusted group of experts to call upon. Building this pool of ethical hackers is something that needs to start with the very youngest, according to Dominic K., moderator, MalCon, a conference for hacking, and principal of the Information Sharing and Analysis Center (Isac), New Delhi. He says: “We work with the government to make it possible for people to devote time to this national cause. The government is aware of the problems, but a detailed process and mechanism to identify and train experts is

lacking.” Isac helps with that. Isac works with the government to ensure that the hackers included in their database are properly trained and regularly updated. The National Security Database (NSD), Dominic says, will test their skills rigorously. After that, they will be put through psychometric tests to judge if they can be trusted to handle sensitive information. Candidates who make the grade will be entered into the database and categorized under their area of specialization—fraud investigation, Web security and mobile security, to name some. Shantanu Gawde (15) and Harsh Shah (17) are research volunteers at Isac who have worked on projects important to national security. Seven years ago, at age 8,

For the country: Gawde (left) with A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in 2006.

Lava S12: The phone looks good but isn’t a top­of­ the­line performer.

BARE MINIMUM While Micromax and Lava have launched their most expensive handsets, MTS has announced its cheapest, the Livewire, a `5,000 Android phone. It is, however, locked to MTS, and only available in Maharashtra and Karnataka. similar Galaxy Y from Samsung. It’s also a lot bigger and heavier.

Micromax A85 ‘Superfone’ The new Micromax A85 “Superfone” looks fairly unique. The device is flat but the edges are wedge-shaped, and the base plate is slightly asymmetrical under the screen. The metallic back plate also makes the phone seem more expensive than it really is. The phone has a maximum retail price (MRP) of `25,000, but you can get it for around `19,000.

Gawde was a Microsoft-certified software engineer. At 9, he was an Oracle-certified professional and by 10, he had completed .NET framework certification. As part of a hacking demonstration in November, he created a program to highlight security flaws in Microsoft’s Xbox console and Kinect peripheral, to turn the device into a spy camera. Rajshekhar Murthy, director at Isac, says: “A lot of Windowsbased applications will be developed for Kinect and the device will become widespread—and an exciting target for visual and audio intelligence. At MalCon research labs, we promote proactive security research and the malware utilizing Kinect is only a proof of concept.” Shah was already interested in hacking when he started learning two years ago. He learnt by reading on the Internet and frequenting chat rooms famous for hacking, slowly updating his skill set. For example, he has created tools that can allow a user to get full access to target computers via the Outlook email client. Gawde and Shah have both worked with agencies such as the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) to track and prevent a hacking attack on the Indian embassy in Bangladesh, and both have been working on analysing security weaknesses of government sites. Details on the websites and systems being tested are, of course, classified, but the entire project is overseen closely by NTRO. Alok Vijayant, director, information dominance group, NTRO, says there is a need to channel young people into useful paths. He says, “We would not have got

It has a 1 GHz dual-core processor and an Nvidia Tegra 2 graphics card that makes it extremely useful for 3D rendering. The phone comes with 8 GB of on-board storage—fairly standard at that price point— which can be extended to 32 GB using an SD card. The Android interface is nothing special, running Android 2.2, but according to the manufacturer, an upgrade to 2.3 is in the works. There are no details about whether the phone will be upgraded to Android 4.0, the next phone OS from Android. The 3.8-inch screen is big enough for comfortable Web browsing, videos and games— the phone is particularly good for gaming because of the Tegra processor, and comes with the Nvidia app that helps users find high-end games easily. The screen has a reasonable resolution, but the contrast and richness of colours is not as good as we have seen on other brands such as Samsung or Sony. It is thicker than other phones with similar specifications, such as the LG Optimus 2X or the Samsung Galaxy S, and even though it is actually 3gms lighter than the

Tendulkar had his parents forced him to become an engineer and likewise, if a child has interest in a subject through which he can convert his ideas into clear-cut deliverables—why not?” He adds: “Information security research is a key capability for any country to secure its cyberspace. Security professionals can help the country by verifying

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Samsung, it feels heavy because of the extra thickness. The phone has a 1,500 mAh battery that will be completely drained in around 6 hours with normal use, so keep your charger handy at all times.

The verdict Both the phones look good, but their performances are varied. The Lava S12 doesn’t compare well with Samsung’s Galaxy Y. The front panel is a little too big for the size of the screen, and the custom UI is something users will quickly grow tired of. The real draw of the phone is that it looks a lot fancier than others at the same price. Micromax fares a bit better, but the specs will really matter only to a small niche of users. The hardware is great for running 3D games or watching full HD movies—but the A85 lacks an HDMI output, to play these on the big screen. If you still want the muscle, the A85 is a great pick, because other Tegra phones cost almost `5,000 more. The apps that benefit most from a dual core processor are 3D games. If you plan to use the phone for less graphically intensive tasks, the Motorola Defy Plus and the Samsung Galaxy S are also excellent options, and both come for the same price as the A85.

their technical skills with the NSD and provide their expertise where needed.” The community of ethical hackers that Sibal is calling for would go a long way in plugging the security holes in government systems, as long as young people like Gawde and Shah also get support from all the right quarters, adds Vijayant.

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SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2011

Style

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OUT OF THE CLOSET | RACHANA REDDY

WATCHMAN

SIDIN VADUKUT

The online shopper The accessories designer on her love for dresses and her favourite fashion stops B Y P AVITRA J AYARAMAN pavitra.j@livemint.com

···························· ince the launch of her brand Rachana Reddy Accessories in 2010, Rachana Reddy and her signature wooden clutch, with splashes of texture and colours, have become easily recognizable across Bangalore. With a debut at the Lakme Fashion Week, Summer/Resort 2011 in Mumbai and her products, a mix of samples from her best-selling lines The Lotus Sutra and The Global Gypsy, being called for possible retail out of three Paul Smith stores, two in London and one in Paris, it has been an exciting year for this young Bangalore designer. We peeked into her closet to see what defines her personal style. Edited excerpts from an interview:

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What dominates your wardrobe? Dresses. I love dresses. A few years ago, one look at my wardrobe and you’d see loads of lime greens and reds, lots of bright colours, but I have now grown away from that. Sadly, I have to wait for occasions to wear dresses and they don’t usually constitute daily wear. I enjoy wearing block-coloured shift dresses. They are versatile, look elegant and make a great canvas for me to experiment with accessorizing. I pick them in all kinds of cuts but currently I like the high-neck structured shift dresses. Mango and Asos.com have some great ones. If you look away from the dresses, you’d find pants that I team with a variety of tops and shirts in my wardrobe. Then there are shoes. I haven’t really counted, but I’d guess there are

a hundred pairs. What do you wear on a regular day? I am mostly in the workshop designing things, so I wear pants and a top. Mostly cotton pants or some regular denims that are comfortable. When I get out, I like to keep it simple and elegant. My signature would be to wear something in a block colour and then dress it up with a loud accessory, like some big earrings or a loud neck piece. I tend to experiment with Indian jewellery and Western wear. Where do you shop? I hardly ever shop in Bangalore. There are new malls coming up that are looking good, but in the past year I have become a compulsive, impulsive online shopper. I have shopped a bit on Indian websites, their customer service can be a misery. I don’t really like Fashionandyou.com because their delivery is unreliable, but am addicted to this UK website called Asos.com. It’s a good collection and they have free shipping worldwide. I like Pret-amoda.com in India, which is more focused on designer wear. But since I love High Street brands, I am eagerly waiting for a good site that offers the best ones on one platform. I also get some dresses made by this tailor down the road. I like Charles & Keith for bags. My D&G shoes are the only big label I own and I got even those as a gift. But do you find the right sizes online? Since I lived in London for a year when I studied at the London College of Fashion, I know my UK sizes. The fit of

Form over function Suddenly, there’s much more to the luxury phone segment than just the Vertu B Y G OPAL S ATHE gopal.s@livemint.com

···························· ust because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Fashion phones seem bent on proving that form is far more important than function, and the specs and price tags never seem to match. Looking at the technology inside the phones, it’s hard to recommend most to anyone, but those who care more about the look of the phone than its CPU might find the latest batch of releases worth looking at:

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Nokia Oro What it’s got going for it: 18­carat gold, real leather back. Under the hood: 8 MP camera, AMOLED screen, 680 MHz CPU, Symbian ^3, NFC support Low­cost twin: Nokia C7, `15,000 Price: `50,900

Micromax Bling 2 What it’s got going for it: Swarovski Zirconia finish for the body, and a Swarovski­encrusted home button. Under the hood: Android 2.2, 600 Mhz processor, 2.8­inch screen Low­cost twin: Spice Mi­270, `5,649 Price: `8,999

HER MAJESTY’S TIMEPIECE

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Added appeal: (clockwise from right) Reddy often plays ambassador for her bags; a bracelet she bought in the US; she pairs these earrings with Western wear; and a belt from Zara is one of her latest buys.

these dresses is often not perfect but then we are blessed with local tailors who will fix anything with a tuck here and there. You job requires networking, so you must attend a lot of social events? How do you dress for a night out? That’s where I end up wearing all the dresses. I keep them simple so I can accessorize. Bangaloreans don’t usually experiment too much but they dress smart. If I am at a party where I am just standing around or dancing, I’d wear a short dress. For a more business-like social event, I’d wear something that is more comfortable, like a pair of pants with a tube top. In Bangalore I am a bit wary of going out of my comfort zone so I leave all my experimentation to when I am travelling to other cities such as Mumbai or Delhi.

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Vertu Constellation

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What it’s got going for it: A screen coated entirely in sapphire crystal, the Constellation completes the look with a “ceramic pillow” for an earpiece, diamond trim and a black alligator­skin cover. The Vertu Concierge service is a feature that connects you to a team of lifestyle managers. Under the hood: 3.5­inch AMOLED screen, 8 MP camera, Symbian ^3, up to 32 GB storage Low­cost twin: Nokia C7, `15,000 Price: `2.95 lakh

What it’s got going for it: 1,007 Top Wesselton (2.53­carat) diamonds. White mother­of­pearl plate on the back. White lizard skin and mirror­polished 316L stainless steel. Under the hood: 8 GB memory, 3.5­inch screen, 5 MP camera Low­cost twin: Samsung Galaxy Pop S5570, `8,000 Price: `13 lakh

Porsche Design P’9981 BlackBerry What it’s got going for it: Forged stainless steel frame, hand­wrapped leather­back cover, sculpted Qwerty keyboard, and “crystal clear touch display”. Under the hood: 1.2 GHz processor, HD video­recording capabilities, 8 GB of on­board memory, a microSD expansion slot, an inbuilt NFC module and BlackBerry OS 7 Low­cost twin: BlackBerry Bold 9900, `31,500. Price: $2,000, or around `1.02 lakh

his week I am going to make broad sweeping judgements concerning an aspect of watchmaking I am not particularly qualified to pontificate upon: women’s watches. So hold on tight, and judge me light. Women are, I am told by common sense and industry insiders, a sizeable portion of the international watch market. At least in terms of volume I am sure this is so. The traditional thinking is that men spend so much on luxury watches because it is the only piece of portable jewellery-cum-luxury they have. Unlike women, who I suppose have to budget their monthly jewellery outlay between earrings, rings, solitaires, necklaces, brooches, bracelets and so on, men invest everything on one item: watches. Sure there are distractions like cufflinks and lapel pins and perhaps even an earring or two. But when you are seated at a conference table in the Andaz hotel in London or Wildflower Hall in Shimla, chances are that the other suits may notice your Royal Oak Offshore, El Primero or Credor Minute Repeater. Nothing else. Everyone else has funky cufflinks, and everyone else and their executive assistant has a Montblanc. Which is why women’s watches are often reduced to an afterthought not just in showrooms but also at exhibitions and retailing events. The boys bring in the big bucks. So ladies, please shuffle along to the back where someone will come along to speak with you shortly. Even when they do present a women’s piece it is often a depressing, miniature version of the men’s watch. Ticking away inside, usually, is a crappy quartz movement which they hope you will not notice because of the smattering of diamonds (ooh) and platinum (aah) on the outside. Which is why there is always a palpable sense of embarrassment when women’s watches are unveiled during the last 10 minutes of an hour-long product presentation. This is also why when you finally do come across a great women’s watch you can feel the clouds part, the mist clear and the trumpets sound from the heavens. In 2010 my favourite women’s watch was the beautiful Oyster Perpetual Lady-Datejust with the chocolate brown dial and gold bezel studded with diamonds. When we compiled our list of the best watches presented at BaselWorld in 2010 this beauty was a total shoo-in. Even before, I must add, most of the men’s watches on our list. I love everything about this watch. Is it a classic Rolex? Yes, from the signature shape to the signature bracelet. At 31mm it was perfectly proportioned and inside, the watch had a self-winding Rolex movement with Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) certification. In other words, this model is proper on the outside and proper on the inside (if you’re interested in hunting it down, ask Rolex for reference No. 178341. A quick Internet search indicates a price of around $12,000, or around `6.12 lakh). So far 2011 had presented few such treasures. Breguet presented a clever “His Regal splendour: The and Hers” concept at Queen’s Watch from Basel this year in copious Titan’s Nebula Palaces yellow gold with clean range draws inspiration lines; I suspect it sold by from Jaipur’s Rambagh the bucketloads in China Palace. and India. Dior’s Huit collection was an inventive take on what look like the twin pillars of recent women’s collections: chunky ceramic and bold primary colours. But then in October the clouds parted once again. This moment of epiphany was due to a superb women’s watch from Titan. Presented in limited editions of 49 each in yellow gold, rose gold, and rose and white gold, the Queen’s Watch from the Nebula Palaces collection is the best women’s piece I have seen this year. Last weekend I spoke to Titan chief operating officer Harish Bhat about their takeover of the iconic Swiss Favre-Leuba watch brand (more about that interesting conversation in a future column). Just before we parted ways, he talked me through the Nebula Palaces collection. The collection comprises one men’s and one women’s piece, both inspired by the architecture at the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur. The women’s piece, or the Queen’s Watch, is inspired by the lotus fountain at the palace. Watch brands tend to use the terms heritage, inspiration and interpretation with laughably little factual honesty. But the Queen’s Watch was a clever, beautiful and unambiguous interpretation of the fountain. The overlapping petal designs and floral motifs are incorporated superbly. What I like most about the watch is how tactile and three-dimensional it is, with mother of pearl worked into overlapping layers. Also, there is something about the thin metal strap that still makes this tactile piece light and airy. It is unabashedly ornamental, even baroque, and there is plenty of precious metal and stone here. Some might even say that it is old-fashioned or too much of a “sari watch”. But I think it is that rare “inspiration” piece that tells its story well. Priced at `3.75 lakh, the Queen’s Watch is expensive, especially by Titan standards. But it is a testament to clever design, and hopefully will inspire more affordable collections. What will 2012 bring us, I wonder. Write to Sidin at watchman@livemint.com


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SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2011

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Business Lounge

LOUNGE REINOLD GEIGER

Real men moisturize How a mechanical engineer is storm­ ing the world of skincare and beauty products in Asia and elsewhere

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

···························· einold Geiger may be in the habit of yodelling at the drop of a hat (he even yodelled in the Grand Ballroom of the The Pierre hotel, New York, after receiving The Helen Keller Visionary Award in May), but in India, where he hopes to have one of the greatest adventures of his career, the Austrian with a French passport is the epitome of French elegance and reserve. Dressed in a mandarin-collar white shirt and grey suit, this 6ft-plus, silver-haired, 64-year-old chairman and CEO of L’Occitane en Provence perhaps feels yodele yodele yodele he hoo at 9am would startle the waiters at The Imperial hotel’s 1911 restaurant in New Delhi. After choosing a Continental platter with green tea, Geiger settles down to explain why even though L’Occitane has been in and out of India for over a decade now, the beauty and skincare brand’s presence can’t be deemed impactful...yet.

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“Our first seven years in India was really like not being here. The company that represented us were nice gentlemen (Ravissant). I even met them in Paris twice. But they did not understand the skincare business.” Two years ago, L’Occitane returned to India in partnership with Kolkata-based Beauty Concepts—L’Occitane has a 51% stake. Their venture, L’Occitane India, now has eight stores: three in Delhi, two in Mumbai and one each in Bangalore, Ludhiana and Kolkata. A new store is slated to open in January in Pune. But this time around, Geiger is not leaving everything to their partner. L’Occitane India appointed Guillaume Geslin, who worked in Shanghai and was part of making the brand a great success in China, managing director for the Indian market in August 2009. It has also given the master franchise for L’Occitane spas to Sanghvi Holdings in India. Always bullish on Asia, this Insead alumnus who ranks 879 on the Forbes magazine’s billionaires list (March) has been the architect of L’Occitane’s expansion, and indeed, the man who breathed life into the flailing business set up in 1976 by Olivier Baussan, a French entrepreneur from Volx, Provence, France. Baussan, who started the business by selling rosemary essential oil at local markets, struggled for nearly two decades. In 1992, he ended up selling most of his stake to an investment fund, Natural, in which Geiger eventually bought a 33% stake in 1994. In 1996,

IN PARENTHESIS

Asian tiger: Geiger says he is a risk taker.

JAYACHANDRAN/MINT

Reinold Geiger says that L’Occitane’s next big challenge will be to introduce a range of men’s skincare products in India. “We know we will have to do much work in that. We have to get men out of the concept of ‘real men never use cream’. Even I used to think like that until I started working with L’Occitane 16 years ago. The first product I ever tried was the shea butter moisturizer. Because I ski a lot, my skin was very tight and dry. Just a little dab of the shea butter cream, and my skin is so much better. Now, I never travel without L’Occitane’s Shea Butter Hand Cream, Ultra Rich Face Cream as well as the Cade range of products for face and body.”

Geiger, along with some friends, bought out the fund. He ceased being a silent stakeholder, and actively started managing and expanding the business. He even brought Baussan back as creative director and lead developer of new product lines. “I could not watch the business going downhill from the sidelines. Yes, I did not have any experience in the beauty business, but I was willing to take the risk,” says Geiger, who had studied mechanical engineering in Switzerland before doing his master’s in business administration. The company started its expansion plan in the US, Brazil and Asia in the late 1990s. Asia was always high on Geiger’s list of potential markets. Having set up and run a packaging company in China in the early 1990s, Geiger says he was impressed with the work ethic of Asians and believed that these would be the markets of the future. “When we decided to expand in Asia, an important associate from our auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers came to visit me and said: ‘I must suggest you stop your activities in Asia. This will kill your company.’ It is not very comfortable hearing your auditor tell you this, but after the 10-second shock at his words, I remember telling him, ‘You take care of our accounts and leave it to me to decide what I want to do with my company.’” The complete faith that Asia would be the next big thing eventually paid off. Today, Geiger says the largest sales for their products come from outside Europe. “France accounts for less than 10% of sales. Europe, including Russia, is about 25%. But Asia, that’s where we get 50% of our sales from, and of that half comes from Japan alone.” In India, the company claims to have seen up to 70% in-store growth in a year. He believes India is the next big market for L’Occitane products and says the skincare company has plans in place for both men and women. Ask if L’Occitane did some research before venturing into India for the second time, and Geiger just shrugs. “No, but that is the characteristic of a small entrepreneurial company. We don’t drown in research. We live in the skincare industry, we breathe it. We operate our own stores and are in touch with our customers directly. So we learn on the ground,” he says. Besides, he believes, it’s still early days here. “The country where we faced most competition was Japan and we are doing well there. We even had to intro-

duce a new line of skin-whitening products, language was a problem, retail space was very expensive. By comparison, in India we can still afford to hire retail space, everyone here speaks English, which is a huge advantage. In India, we do not see strong local companies to give us the kind of competition we had in Japan. Special skincare products of these small companies in India are not much developed.” Doing business in China for over a decade has taught Geiger to take Asian idiosyncrasies in his stride. Yes, there are bureaucratic delays here; yes, there are not enough retail spaces with great infrastructure; yes, the retail staff has to be trained extensively because most of them have never sold skincare products before and sometimes it is just too tough to sell the ideology of the company to them. But Geiger still believes that India will be an adventure and not a roller-coaster ride. “At least here everyone understands you. You can get your point across to the authorities because everyone is conversant with English. It is much tougher in China and even in Brazil. I have travelled to many countries, but this visit by far has been among my easiest trips.” As far as experimentation and introducing products suitable for the Indian consumer go, Geiger says that as a company they have always been open-minded. “We have never said that our products can be used by all as they are. We see what works in which market, what the demands are, and accordingly make adjustments.” For example, L’Occitane has found that strong scents do not work with Asians. Geiger says its flowery, light scents are best-sellers here and hence they concentrate more on rose and verbena scents. Selling haircare products is also tough in India. “And elsewhere too actually because, unlike a decade ago, suddenly which shampoo you use has become important to customers all over. This is a bit strange.” In India, Geiger finds that the L’Occitane’s range of moisturizers are popular. “We thought people would be attracted to toiletries (soaps, gels) to start with, but the moisturizers are in demand, especially the Immortelle skincare range.” Meanwhile, right after breakfast, Geiger had plans to head out to see how the three L’Occitane stores in the Capital are doing. “Merchandising is important and we have a book for getting it right, but the staff still needs to work on their instinct. I want to see what their instinct says about the products.”


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ENGLISH

HINDI

TELUGU

KANNADA

TAMIL

BENGALI

MARATHI

GUJARATI

ORIYA

Proso

Chena

Variga

Baragu

Pani Varagu

Cheena

Vari

Cheno

Bachari Bagmu

Sorghum

Jowar

Jonna

Jola

Cholam

Jowar

Jawari

Jowari

Juara

Pearl

Bajra

Sajja

Sajje

Kanbu

Bajra

Bajri

Bajri

Bajra

Finger

Ragi

Ragi

Ragi

Keppai

Marwa

Nagli

Nagli

Mandia

Coutesy Earth360 Eco Ventures

MILLET MOJO? B Y G AYATRI J AYARAMAN gayatri.j@livemint.com

···························· ondon is excited by bajra, jowar and nachni millets. In fact, Indians here coming to my restaurant ask for it, but Indians at home don’t seem to value it,” says Vineet Bhatia, the Michelin-star chef of London’s Rasoi and Juhu’s Azok, who experiments with plates of red nachni pasta, and roundels of jowar roti layered with succulent paneer or tandoori chicken, chutneys and sauces. On his culinary travels across India this year, Bhatia found that millets are almost invisible in regional diets, except in states such as Himachal Pradesh (ragi), Rajasthan (jowar) and Karnataka (ragi). “The irony is, in India, where eaten, now it is either out of necessity—it being the only thing that grows in that area—or as a fad, in urban areas. There is very little awareness of its nutritional value, which is a big draw for diners here (in London),” says Bhatia. In Bangalore’s The Gateway Hotel, a “Grain of the Day” board explains the nutritional value of ragi to guests. Kulandai Natarajan, corporate chef with the Taj group’s chain, has been working with millets for the past three years, walking around local bazaars from Surat in Gujarat to Coonoor in Tamil Nadu, discovering foxtail millet grains and traditional recipes. He cajoles reluctant guests to try millets through his “Active Menu” of bajra muffins, ragi pancakes and Malayali-style puttu at hotel breakfasts, and is educating waiters to nudge guests to eat healthy. A varied cereal crop that grows grass-like in arid and semi-arid regions, millets are categorized by their high-protein, non-glutenous and lowcalorie content and immense nutritional value (see The millet magic, Page 12). The crop is making a quiet comeback, and will hopefully become part of the public distribution system (PDS) when the National Food Security Bill, being addressed by Parliament’s current winter session, comes to pass. It will be a moment that ties together decades of activism from agriculturalists across the country.

L

Growing years: A millet in an early stage of cultivation at a farm in Jamkhed, Maharashtra.

Long after millets left India’s dinner tables and became a poor man’s ‘low­caste’ crop, the diet­conscious affluent and activists are putting the grain back on our food map

On 16 and 17 October, millet farmers gathered at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, Karnataka, under the aegis of the National Convention of Millet Farmers to declare millets the “Food Sovereignty crop.” They demanded a water conservation bonus as “millet farmers grow their crop without irrigation”. The Millet Network of India (MNI), headquartered in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, has had a history of pleading to get millets into the PDS, fighting for bonuses and subsidies for its farmers, and providing greater impetus for its consumption. Activist Vandana Shiva says going back to millet farming means that “farmers can have their own seeds, and will no longer need to purchase costly seeds from global organizations, which is the prime cause of over 250,000 farmer suicides in the past decade and a half”. From including millets as a foodgrain, to subsidizing pricing of `3-2-1 (of rice-wheat-millets), the government is now doing its bit to boost their consumption. It is a necessity. According to International Diabetes Federation statistics presented at the United Nations High Level Summit on NonCommunicable Diseases (September, New York), India is second in the list of nations afflicted, with 50.8 million people suffering from diabetes (China is first with 92.4 million). The Union health ministry’s annual report 2010-11 states “the overall prevalence of diabetes is 62.47 per 1,000 population of India”. On World Heart Day (29 September), the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat) called for India to “return to sorghum and millet-based farming on a priority basis to help tackle the country’s rising lifestyle diseases”. But it is in the obsession of India’s affluent with weight loss that the millet revolution gets a real chance for a comeback. Millets, which are not as soft as wheat in roti form or as palatable, or even as attractive in colour, sneak into menus here and there: At Mumbai’s Indigo restaurant, proprietor chef Rahul Akerkar serves a millet porridge with lamb, though he

says the grain has not yet entered his diners’ consciousness. At Aurus in Juhu, Mumbai, chef Vicky Ratnani says his bajra-jowar bread is always the first to disappear from the breadbasket. Millet is daily dining for art consultant Nisha and her husband “Jammy” Jamvwal, who keep a wheat-free, ricefree kitchen at their Cuffe Parade, Mumbai, home. “The dough can be tough to work with initially, so cooks want to add wheat to it to make it pliable. But it’s great once you get used to it,” Jamvwal says. Actor Dino Morea has had a sixpack since college. It is an active lifestyle that comes from consciously balancing his grain, he says. “My chef whips up a bajra, jowar or nachni roti maybe twice a week. It’s important to balance what you eat.” Fitness expert Nawaz Modi Singhania has a family history of cancer going back three generations. As her father’s primary caretaker, Singhania says she has made the switch to millets in her daily diet a permanent preventive measure. “Starch is a no-no for cancer patients, so if you want the nutrition from a carbohydrate without the starch of it, millets are the answer. You not only lose a lot of weight, but the nutrition benefits make it a very healthy option.” Nawaz, who bakes her own home-made bread with millets (see Wonder Grain on Page 12 for the recipe), says that the taste is something you need to make a choice about. “It doesn’t taste good, but that also helps you eat less of it. You need to decide: health or taste.” Millets suffer by being unable to adapt in urban environments; they need to be cooked and consumed fresh and quickly turn leathery when cold. In cities, where packed lunches and pre-prepared food, or food with minimum preparation time, determines dietary choices, millets lose out. Companies now offer quick-fix ways to consume millets—ragi biscuits, bajra chips, multigrain atta—to make up for it. Anuradha Narasimhan, category director (health and wellness), Britannia Industries, says they got into multigrain biscuits like NutriChoice Ragi Cookies, 5 Grain biscuits and Thins and a

Against the grain: (clockwise from above) Millets being cleaned at a distribution unit in Jamkhed, Mahar­ ashtra; sacks of millets come into the APMC mar­ ket in Navi Mumbai from across the country; and varieties of bajra laid out for sale at the APMC mar­ ket, Navi Mumbai. diabetic-friendly line anticipating demand that wasn’t there. The aim is to make adult snacking healthier. “We watched women go to chakkis and add what we call roughage (fibre) to ground flour. In Ragi Cookies, we ensure whole grain is used. The newly introduced Roasty preserves nutrition value of wholegrain bajra, and other grains, by using it in whole form. We don’t refine. While the biscuit market is growing at 20%, the NutriChoice growth is twice that.” Nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar slams this trend: “You see an eight-year-old with type 2 diabetes or blood pressure or a 12-year-old on contraceptives for hormonal imbalance. Urban India eats whatever can be cooked without spending time. Millets take time to be cooked, and are traditionally eaten with milk or chana dal to make up for the limiting amino acids (amino acids without a complete amino acid profile are required to be eaten in combinations),” Diwekar says. “Nourishment from millets does not reach cells without adequate

backup from other nutrients. The processes which turn millets into chips, biscuits and breads rob them of nutrients.” Despite the short cuts, the consumption of millets is barely scratching the surface. Early in the morning at the Agricultural Produce Market Committee, or APMC market (II), at Danabunder in Navi Mumbai, the trucks are still pulling in for the day, and the pigeons flock to feed. Grains come here in quintals from across the farming belts of the country. Traders, a majority of them native to Kutch in Gujarat, purchase the grains and sell them at wholesale rates to the kirana retail shops across Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan and their surroundings, which retail them to households. Pratap Salvi, assistant secretary at the Krushi Utpana Bazaar Samiti office at APMC (II), pulls out his books: 14,650 quintals of wheat was sold to Mumbai on a single day in November; 23,060 quintals of rice; 698 quintals of bajra and 1,910 quintals of jowar. For nachni (ragi), he cannot find a quantifiable figure for the day, so Salvi has to search and pull out a figure for the day before. “160”, he grunts, as if to say, “Who eats that?” Arvindbhai has been a trader at stall E-27 for 33 years, yet he cannot recall which warehouse rows still sell solely millets. The trade is now rice and wheat. In that period, he has witnessed what he calls the Punjabi-fica-

tion of Mumbai’s food habits. “A few Maharashtrians still eat jowar, Gujaratis eat bajra, but mostly now, people eat wheat,” he says. Those who do eat millets prefer pre-packaged flour, he says, pointing to the new addition to the market—“the package wallah”, who sits with pre-packed flour—and will order it for you from farmers

MILLETS SUFFER BY BEING UNABLE TO ADAPT IN URBAN ENVIRONMENTS; THEY NEED TO BE COOKED AND CONSUMED FRESH AND QUICKLY TURN LEATHERY WHEN COLD. IN CITIES, WHERE PACKED LUNCHES AND PRE­PREPARED FOOD, OR FOOD WITH MINIMUM PREPARATION TIME, DETERMINES FOOD CHOICES, MILLETS LOSE OUT

wholesale—in the corner. In the 1970s, M.S. Swaminathan, the architect of the Green Revolution, used genetic innovations and schemes to save the nation from widespread hunger. The subsequent `2 paddy scheme and subsidies given to the farming of paddy and wheat in the name of national food security changed India’s eating and farming habits irrevocably. Today, policy and agricultural experts blame that single act for wiping out 85% of India’s millet farming. It’s a subject Shiva has also discussed at length in her books The Violence of the Green Revolution, based on a study undertaken for the United Nations in the 1980s, and Bhoole Bisre Anaj, which labelled the forgotten grains—mandua, jhangora, bajra and jowar—for the first time, popularizing them through organic cafés. Shiva says: “The Green Revolution pushed rice and wheat monocultures at the cost of millets, pulses and oilseeds. The government treats these nutritious grains as inferior grains and does not even have them in the public distribution system.” Swaminathan, who reportedly did put millets on the initial road map only to have them ignored, explains why rice won that battle: “Paddy is a crop of great antiquity in our country. It has largely been grown along the major river systems; from TURN TO PAGE L12®


L10 COVER

LOUNGE

COVER L11

LOUNGE

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM PHOTOGRAPHS

BY

ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT

GRAPHIC

BY

YOGESH KUMAR/MINT

NAME YOUR MILLET

A quick guide to the regional names of commonly consumed millets

TREND

WHAT’S YOUR

ENGLISH

HINDI

TELUGU

KANNADA

TAMIL

BENGALI

MARATHI

GUJARATI

ORIYA

Proso

Chena

Variga

Baragu

Pani Varagu

Cheena

Vari

Cheno

Bachari Bagmu

Sorghum

Jowar

Jonna

Jola

Cholam

Jowar

Jawari

Jowari

Juara

Pearl

Bajra

Sajja

Sajje

Kanbu

Bajra

Bajri

Bajri

Bajra

Finger

Ragi

Ragi

Ragi

Keppai

Marwa

Nagli

Nagli

Mandia

Coutesy Earth360 Eco Ventures

MILLET MOJO? B Y G AYATRI J AYARAMAN gayatri.j@livemint.com

···························· ondon is excited by bajra, jowar and nachni millets. In fact, Indians here coming to my restaurant ask for it, but Indians at home don’t seem to value it,” says Vineet Bhatia, the Michelin-star chef of London’s Rasoi and Juhu’s Azok, who experiments with plates of red nachni pasta, and roundels of jowar roti layered with succulent paneer or tandoori chicken, chutneys and sauces. On his culinary travels across India this year, Bhatia found that millets are almost invisible in regional diets, except in states such as Himachal Pradesh (ragi), Rajasthan (jowar) and Karnataka (ragi). “The irony is, in India, where eaten, now it is either out of necessity—it being the only thing that grows in that area—or as a fad, in urban areas. There is very little awareness of its nutritional value, which is a big draw for diners here (in London),” says Bhatia. In Bangalore’s The Gateway Hotel, a “Grain of the Day” board explains the nutritional value of ragi to guests. Kulandai Natarajan, corporate chef with the Taj group’s chain, has been working with millets for the past three years, walking around local bazaars from Surat in Gujarat to Coonoor in Tamil Nadu, discovering foxtail millet grains and traditional recipes. He cajoles reluctant guests to try millets through his “Active Menu” of bajra muffins, ragi pancakes and Malayali-style puttu at hotel breakfasts, and is educating waiters to nudge guests to eat healthy. A varied cereal crop that grows grass-like in arid and semi-arid regions, millets are categorized by their high-protein, non-glutenous and lowcalorie content and immense nutritional value (see The millet magic, Page 12). The crop is making a quiet comeback, and will hopefully become part of the public distribution system (PDS) when the National Food Security Bill, being addressed by Parliament’s current winter session, comes to pass. It will be a moment that ties together decades of activism from agriculturalists across the country.

L

Growing years: A millet in an early stage of cultivation at a farm in Jamkhed, Maharashtra.

Long after millets left India’s dinner tables and became a poor man’s ‘low­caste’ crop, the diet­conscious affluent and activists are putting the grain back on our food map

On 16 and 17 October, millet farmers gathered at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, Karnataka, under the aegis of the National Convention of Millet Farmers to declare millets the “Food Sovereignty crop.” They demanded a water conservation bonus as “millet farmers grow their crop without irrigation”. The Millet Network of India (MNI), headquartered in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, has had a history of pleading to get millets into the PDS, fighting for bonuses and subsidies for its farmers, and providing greater impetus for its consumption. Activist Vandana Shiva says going back to millet farming means that “farmers can have their own seeds, and will no longer need to purchase costly seeds from global organizations, which is the prime cause of over 250,000 farmer suicides in the past decade and a half”. From including millets as a foodgrain, to subsidizing pricing of `3-2-1 (of rice-wheat-millets), the government is now doing its bit to boost their consumption. It is a necessity. According to International Diabetes Federation statistics presented at the United Nations High Level Summit on NonCommunicable Diseases (September, New York), India is second in the list of nations afflicted, with 50.8 million people suffering from diabetes (China is first with 92.4 million). The Union health ministry’s annual report 2010-11 states “the overall prevalence of diabetes is 62.47 per 1,000 population of India”. On World Heart Day (29 September), the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat) called for India to “return to sorghum and millet-based farming on a priority basis to help tackle the country’s rising lifestyle diseases”. But it is in the obsession of India’s affluent with weight loss that the millet revolution gets a real chance for a comeback. Millets, which are not as soft as wheat in roti form or as palatable, or even as attractive in colour, sneak into menus here and there: At Mumbai’s Indigo restaurant, proprietor chef Rahul Akerkar serves a millet porridge with lamb, though he

says the grain has not yet entered his diners’ consciousness. At Aurus in Juhu, Mumbai, chef Vicky Ratnani says his bajra-jowar bread is always the first to disappear from the breadbasket. Millet is daily dining for art consultant Nisha and her husband “Jammy” Jamvwal, who keep a wheat-free, ricefree kitchen at their Cuffe Parade, Mumbai, home. “The dough can be tough to work with initially, so cooks want to add wheat to it to make it pliable. But it’s great once you get used to it,” Jamvwal says. Actor Dino Morea has had a sixpack since college. It is an active lifestyle that comes from consciously balancing his grain, he says. “My chef whips up a bajra, jowar or nachni roti maybe twice a week. It’s important to balance what you eat.” Fitness expert Nawaz Modi Singhania has a family history of cancer going back three generations. As her father’s primary caretaker, Singhania says she has made the switch to millets in her daily diet a permanent preventive measure. “Starch is a no-no for cancer patients, so if you want the nutrition from a carbohydrate without the starch of it, millets are the answer. You not only lose a lot of weight, but the nutrition benefits make it a very healthy option.” Nawaz, who bakes her own home-made bread with millets (see Wonder Grain on Page 12 for the recipe), says that the taste is something you need to make a choice about. “It doesn’t taste good, but that also helps you eat less of it. You need to decide: health or taste.” Millets suffer by being unable to adapt in urban environments; they need to be cooked and consumed fresh and quickly turn leathery when cold. In cities, where packed lunches and pre-prepared food, or food with minimum preparation time, determines dietary choices, millets lose out. Companies now offer quick-fix ways to consume millets—ragi biscuits, bajra chips, multigrain atta—to make up for it. Anuradha Narasimhan, category director (health and wellness), Britannia Industries, says they got into multigrain biscuits like NutriChoice Ragi Cookies, 5 Grain biscuits and Thins and a

Against the grain: (clockwise from above) Millets being cleaned at a distribution unit in Jamkhed, Mahar­ ashtra; sacks of millets come into the APMC mar­ ket in Navi Mumbai from across the country; and varieties of bajra laid out for sale at the APMC mar­ ket, Navi Mumbai. diabetic-friendly line anticipating demand that wasn’t there. The aim is to make adult snacking healthier. “We watched women go to chakkis and add what we call roughage (fibre) to ground flour. In Ragi Cookies, we ensure whole grain is used. The newly introduced Roasty preserves nutrition value of wholegrain bajra, and other grains, by using it in whole form. We don’t refine. While the biscuit market is growing at 20%, the NutriChoice growth is twice that.” Nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar slams this trend: “You see an eight-year-old with type 2 diabetes or blood pressure or a 12-year-old on contraceptives for hormonal imbalance. Urban India eats whatever can be cooked without spending time. Millets take time to be cooked, and are traditionally eaten with milk or chana dal to make up for the limiting amino acids (amino acids without a complete amino acid profile are required to be eaten in combinations),” Diwekar says. “Nourishment from millets does not reach cells without adequate

backup from other nutrients. The processes which turn millets into chips, biscuits and breads rob them of nutrients.” Despite the short cuts, the consumption of millets is barely scratching the surface. Early in the morning at the Agricultural Produce Market Committee, or APMC market (II), at Danabunder in Navi Mumbai, the trucks are still pulling in for the day, and the pigeons flock to feed. Grains come here in quintals from across the farming belts of the country. Traders, a majority of them native to Kutch in Gujarat, purchase the grains and sell them at wholesale rates to the kirana retail shops across Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan and their surroundings, which retail them to households. Pratap Salvi, assistant secretary at the Krushi Utpana Bazaar Samiti office at APMC (II), pulls out his books: 14,650 quintals of wheat was sold to Mumbai on a single day in November; 23,060 quintals of rice; 698 quintals of bajra and 1,910 quintals of jowar. For nachni (ragi), he cannot find a quantifiable figure for the day, so Salvi has to search and pull out a figure for the day before. “160”, he grunts, as if to say, “Who eats that?” Arvindbhai has been a trader at stall E-27 for 33 years, yet he cannot recall which warehouse rows still sell solely millets. The trade is now rice and wheat. In that period, he has witnessed what he calls the Punjabi-fica-

tion of Mumbai’s food habits. “A few Maharashtrians still eat jowar, Gujaratis eat bajra, but mostly now, people eat wheat,” he says. Those who do eat millets prefer pre-packaged flour, he says, pointing to the new addition to the market—“the package wallah”, who sits with pre-packed flour—and will order it for you from farmers

MILLETS SUFFER BY BEING UNABLE TO ADAPT IN URBAN ENVIRONMENTS; THEY NEED TO BE COOKED AND CONSUMED FRESH AND QUICKLY TURN LEATHERY WHEN COLD. IN CITIES, WHERE PACKED LUNCHES AND PRE­PREPARED FOOD, OR FOOD WITH MINIMUM PREPARATION TIME, DETERMINES FOOD CHOICES, MILLETS LOSE OUT

wholesale—in the corner. In the 1970s, M.S. Swaminathan, the architect of the Green Revolution, used genetic innovations and schemes to save the nation from widespread hunger. The subsequent `2 paddy scheme and subsidies given to the farming of paddy and wheat in the name of national food security changed India’s eating and farming habits irrevocably. Today, policy and agricultural experts blame that single act for wiping out 85% of India’s millet farming. It’s a subject Shiva has also discussed at length in her books The Violence of the Green Revolution, based on a study undertaken for the United Nations in the 1980s, and Bhoole Bisre Anaj, which labelled the forgotten grains—mandua, jhangora, bajra and jowar—for the first time, popularizing them through organic cafés. Shiva says: “The Green Revolution pushed rice and wheat monocultures at the cost of millets, pulses and oilseeds. The government treats these nutritious grains as inferior grains and does not even have them in the public distribution system.” Swaminathan, who reportedly did put millets on the initial road map only to have them ignored, explains why rice won that battle: “Paddy is a crop of great antiquity in our country. It has largely been grown along the major river systems; from TURN TO PAGE L12®


L12 COVER

LOUNGE

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM GRAPHIC

® FROM PAGE L10 L11

below sea level in Kuttanad of Kerala to high altitudes in the Himalayas. Therefore, in an era of climate change, it is an invaluable food crop.” Swaminathan explains that the farming of millets and paddy was always meant to be independent of each other, though the move was admittedly focused only on well-irrigated areas. The intention was not to affect millet crops. He says: “The Green Revolution, which means growing crops with good soil, moisture and nutrient content, is valid only for irrigated areas. Millets are grown in dry farming areas. Hence, there is no agro-ecological conflict.” The current revisions in the food security Bill are a result of a consensus in recent years on the need for a programme that includes the marginalized, yet more plentiful, arid zones of India, and a more long-term solution for still-starving millions. Biraj Patnaik, principal adviser to the Supreme Court commissioners on the right to food, explains: “The challenge before us is to ensure millets get reintroduced as a habit for millions. Promotion of rice and wheat over three decades as part of the Green Revolution package has led to aspirational changes in large sections of the middle class who have a preference of rice and wheat over millets.” Simply put, millets are a complex issue in India, where even grain is ridden with hierarchy, feudalism and caste. Grain, to a hungry people, is currency. And as currencies go, millet today stands devalued. Power lobbies for rice and wheat are wealthy and influential. This is evidenced in the distribution of free rice by political parties, especially in the South, during elections. The Millet Network of India is now lobbying for millets to be accorded the same status. “The politics of food is far more insidious than the politics of war,” as M.N. Dinesh Kumar, a founder member of Earth360 Eco Ventures, puts it. Earth360 is a private venture

BY

YOGESH KUMAR/MINT

THE MILLET MAGIC Nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar gives us the comparative nutrition values of millets versus barley, rice and wheat BUCKWHEAT*

PHOTOGRAPHS

NACHNI

BAJRA

BARLEY

JOWAR

RICE

(JO)

361

349

328

352

340

129

343

Moisture (g)

12

12

12

15.1

13.5

12

13

Protein (g)

12

10

7.3

9.9

14

2.66 13.25

Fat (g)

5

2

1.4

1.2

2

0.28

3.4

Fibre (g)

1

2

3.6

15.6

12

0.4

10

CHO (g)

67

73

72

77

73

27.9

71.5

Calcium (mg)

42

25

344

29

39

28

114

296

222 305.5 221

842

115

347

6.3

0.8

2.2

Energy (kcals)

Phosphorus (mg) Iron (mg)

8

4

3.9

2.5

*BUCKWHEAT (RAJGIRA, KUTTU, SINGARA)

that Kumar started with friends. It partners with organizations like the Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar, and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research to promote the move back to millets. Kumar, was with the not-for-profit Timbaktu Collective in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, before founding Earth360. He has spent 12 years pushing farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu to go back to their ancestral “coarse crop”, i.e. millets, over new-age “cash” crops like cotton and paddy that have ironically left them locked in cycles of borrowing. Today, dependent on the huge amounts of water required to grow paddy (5,000 litres of water is required to grow 1kg of rice), farmers have

driven themselves into debt and struggle with constantly changing weather. Kumar emerges from fields every few weeks to push millets in an urban setting: he is designing a millet menu for the restaurant Mane in Mysore, which will be functional from January. “When farmers grew millets, forget the money made by selling the crop, there was always food in the house. That is true national food security,” he says. There are various larger issues that contribute to millets falling behind in the food race. The mechanization that the Green Revolution brought to paddy and wheat farming bypassed millets entirely. “Millets grow in hilly areas, and a farmer must plough his fields himself. He cannot use trac-

tors,” says APMC’s Salvi. The massive machines that polish rice and harvest wheat are not available for millets—which are smaller grains. “There are many stones in bajra, so it has to be painstakingly hand-cleaned, and there is always the taste and texture,” chef Kulandai says, explaining a cook’s reluctance towards using the grain. If millets can grow anywhere, from the deserts of Rajasthan to the Himalayas, and are the cheapest grain around, why would farmers put themselves to so much trouble to grow rice and consumers resist eating it? Socially, millets were the food of the so-called lower classes. “The decision makers at the time were the affluent, who completely ignored the fact that millet, not paddy, was the rice of the mid-

Fad diet: Indian and international millet snacks at Food Hall, the food supermarket of the Future Group at Mumbai’s Phoenix Mills. dle-class Indian,” says Kumar. It is an inherent caste system in food. To aspire for the longgrained Basmati rice is a subconscious affirmation of social status. Activists have been fighting this “casteism” for years. Shiva refers to it as racism in food, where anything white like polished rice and refined flour is treated as superior even though it’s deadly for diet, and grains that are dark are put down as inferior. When millets come to villages as part of the ready-to-eat (RTE) powder—a nutritious grain-based mix—distributed as part of the government’s Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme, it is often fed to cattle. New Delhi-based Dalit thinker Chandra Bhan Prasad objects to the millet revolution on these very caste grounds. “In our homes, we will not let guests in the hall know we are cooking millets in the kitchen. Millets were known across India, as recently as 20 years ago in areas like Uttar Pradesh, PHOTOGRAPHS

BY

Brown is in: (clockwise from left, below) Sorghum pancakes and Ragi Puttu at The Gateway Hotel, Bangalore; and a basket of millet bread at Aurus, Mumbai.

‘Jowar’ pancakes, ‘bajra’ muffins and more. There’s a lot you can do with millets

Ingredients 1N cup ragi powder N tsp salt K cup coconut, grated Water as required 1 banana (for serving, optional) Method Mix ragi powder with a little water and salt till the powder is just wet and flaky. Take a puttu cylinder (a spherical tube available in Malayali supply stores; some people also use empty coconut shell halves) and put a layer of grated coconut at one end. Add 3 tbsp of wet ragi powder followed by a layer of grated coconut. Alternate layers of ragi powder with grated coconut till the cylinder is full. Cover the top and let it steam for 10 minutes. Remove the cylinder from the steamer and push the puttu out of the cylinder. Serve hot with kadala (peanut) curry or bananas.

SORGHUM PANCAKE Serves 4 Ingredients 3 cups sorghum (jowar flour) 250ml milk 2 tsp baking powder 3 tbsp sugar

from the heat, fluff with a fork. Transfer to a large bowl and gently stir in the remaining ingredients. Serve warm.

5 drops vanilla essence 3 eggs Method Make a smooth concoction of milk, eggs, vanilla essence and sugar. Add baking powder to the flour for the fluffiness. Then fold the sorghum into the mixture slowly. Make a small-size pancake in the griddle on a low flame. Cook till it is uniformly golden brown in colour. Serve with blueberry compote and maple syrup. Recipes courtesy chef Kulandai Natarajan, The Gateway Hotels and Resorts.

MILLET BREAD Makes 1 loaf Ingredients 100g nachni atta 200g jowar atta 400g refined flour 2 tbsp olive oil 1K tbsp sugar K tsp salt 2 tsp yeast Method Mix all the ingredients (just

as the food of the outcastes. Landlords would grow millets on that part of their land which was not irrigated. It was used as either cattle feed or as wages for the Dalits.” The Green Revolution, while changing eating and farming habits, unwittingly freed villages from caste-ridden hierarchies. Returning to growing millets then is self-suppression. “I am afraid of the humiliation the Dalit will have to revert to,” Prasad says, adding: “For the next two generations at least, no Dalit will put millets back on his table. If it returns now, it has to be by an aspirational value.” Ironically then, its fate lies in the hands of urban India. Every time Men’s Health magazine puts six-pack abs on its cover and reports that actor Aamir Khan bulks up for a film by eating six small meals a day, with rotis of bajra, jowar and ragi; or when a tabloid lists how exactly actor Kareena Kapoor achieved size zero, the millet inches towards becoming the aspirational grain.

ANIRUDDHA CHOWDHURY/MINT

Back to basics Serves 1

KEDAR BHAT/MINT

Per 100g (uncooked grain)

RECIPES

RAGI PUTTU

BY

WHEAT

Recipe by chef Vineet Bhatia. He serves this salad with grilled home-smoked lamb rack, cinnamon lamb jus and blue cheese lamb tikki at his restaurant, Rasoi, in London.

Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil 100g any whole millet (bajra, jowar or nachni work well) K tbsp butter 1 tomato, deseeded and chopped K shallot, chopped 1 tbsp spring onion, chopped K tsp fresh ginger, finely chopped 1 tsp green chilli, chopped 2 tbsp walnuts, chopped 2 tbsp dried apricots, chopped 1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped 1 tsp lemon juice Salt to taste

Ingredients 175ml vegetable stock

Method Bring the vegetable stock and

like you would make chapatti dough, but keep kneading the dough well for approximately 15 minutes). Set the dough to rest in a bread tin which has been coated with butter. Leave for approximately half an hour, till well risen. Bake in an oven for 30 minutes at 120 degrees Celsius. Recipe by fitness expert Nawaz Modi-Singhania.

WARM APRICOT­WALNUT MILLET SALAD

millets to a boil in a saucepan and add half the oil and some salt. Cook over medium heat till the millet grains are tender. Remove SHIVANGI KULKARNI/MINT


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L13

Travel

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A Chinese monk’s India sojourn B Y S UPRIYA N AIR

An invaluable account of The Silk Road, and of the subcontinent which was once called Jambudvipa

supriya.n@livemint.com

··································· n 399 AD, the vast and already ancient nation of China was in the middle of the Sixteen Kingdoms period. The Eastern Jin dynasty ruled from Jiangkang, near modern Nanjing, but their control over the land was fragmented, with a succession of Wu Hu warlords (16, to be exact) claiming the title of king and emperor for themselves. The storied Han period had concluded over a century ago: The glorious behemoth of the Tang dynasty loomed centuries into the future.

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From this deleterious political climate, a 62-year-old monk set out on foot from Ch’ang-gan in central China, walked across the Taklamakan desert, through the biting chill of the Pamirs (which he called the Onion mountains), into a country he had been studying for decades: India. Faxian, or Fa-Hsien, to give him his traditional Romanized spelling, came to Udyana (or as we know it today, Swat), Gandhara (Kandahar), Purushapura (Peshawar) and Taxila, to name just a few of his stops in Buddhist India, and worked and travelled around the country for over a decade. He had come in search of religious texts,

concerned about the dissemination of incomplete or inaccurate versions of scriptures that were making their way into his country. On his eventual return home in 413, he brought back Chinese translations of several Sanskrit texts, having studied them with scholars in India. He also visited Gaya, Kapilavastu (in modern-day Nepal) and Kushinagara—all dear to his heart as places important to Gautam Buddha’s own life. His translations are said to have been crucial in the spread and regulation of monastic Buddhism in China. His own travelogue, the Foguoji or A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms, has argu-

ably been just as important to posterity. Faxian is a dry, single-minded sort of writer, perhaps less easy to read than his equally famous, more adventurous Tangera successor Xuanzang. But thanks to him, we have not only a revered Buddhist text, but also an invaluable account of The Silk Road, and of the subcontinent which was once called Jambudvipa. Among other things, it reminds us of what India was like, several Indias ago. An 1886 Victorian translation with extensive footnotes by James Legge can be found on Project Gutenberg at bit.ly/sAuJfK

IRENE2005/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

PHGCOM/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

KARL HEINRICH/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Faxian battles dragons in the Pamirs From this (the travellers) went westwards towards North India, and after being on the way for a month, they succeeded in getting across and through the range of the Onion mountains. The snow rests on them both winter and summer. There are also among them venomous dragons, which, when provoked, spit forth poisonous winds, and cause showers of snow and storms of sand and gravel. Not one in ten thousand of those who encounter these dangers escapes with his life. The people of the country call the range by the name of “The Snow Mountains.” When (the travellers) had got through them, they were in North India, and immediately on entering its borders, found themselves in a small kingdom called T’o-leih (Darada), where also there were many monks, all students of the hinayana. In this kingdom there was formerly an Arhan, who by his supernatural power took a clever artificer up to the Tushita heaven, to see the height, complexion, and appearance of Maitreya Bodhisattva, and then return and make an image of him in wood. First and last, this was done three times, and then the image was completed, eighty cubits in height, and eight cubits at the base from knee to knee of the crossed legs. On fast-days it emits an effulgent light. The kings of the (surrounding) countries vie with one another in presenting offerings to it. Here it is, to be seen now as of old.

KEN WIELAND/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Pilgrim trek: (clockwise from left) A Kushan­era Buddha sculpture; the king Kanishka on a coin; the Pamirs; and the Vajrashila of Buddha in Gaya.

Faxian on royal competitiveness Going southwards from Gandhara, (the travellers) in four days arrived at the kingdom of Purushapura. Formerly, when Buddha was travelling in this country with his disciples, he said to Ananda, “After my pari-nirvana, there will be a king named Kanishka, who shall on this spot build a tope.” This Kanishka was afterwards born into the world; and (once), when he had gone forth to look about him, Sakra, Ruler of Devas, wishing to excite the idea in his mind, assumed the appearance of a little herd-boy, and was making a tope right in the way (of the king), who asked what sort of thing he was making. The boy said, “I am making a tope for Buddha.” The king said, “Very good;” and immediately, right over the

boy’s tope, he (proceeded to) rear another, which was more than four hundred cubits high, and adorned with layers of all the precious substances. Of all the topes and temples which (the travellers) saw in their journeyings, there was not one comparable to this in solemn beauty and majestic grandeur. There is a current saying that this is the finest tope in Jambudvipa. When the king’s tope was completed, the little tope (of the boy) came out from its side on the south, rather more than three cubits in height.

Faxian is getting tired of all this Afghan snow Having stayed there (in Nagara) till the third month of winter, Fa-Hsien and the two others, proceeding southwards, crossed

the Little Snowy Mountains. On them the snow lies accumulated both winter and summer. On the north (side) of the mountains, in the shade, they suddenly encountered a cold wind which made them shiver and become unable to speak. Hwuy-king could not go any farther. A white froth came from his mouth, and he said to Fa-Hsien, “I cannot live any longer. Do you immediately go away, that we do not all die here;” and with these words he died. Fa-Hsien stroked the corpse, and cried out piteously, “Our original plan has failed; it is fate. What can we do?” He then again exerted himself, and they succeeded in crossing to the south of the range, and arrived in the kingdom of Lo-e, where there were nearly three thousand monks, students of both the mahayana and hinayana. Here they stayed for the summer retreat, and when that was over, they went on to the south, and ten days’ journey brought them to the kingdom of Poh-na (Bannu), where there are also more than three thousand monks, all students of the hinayana. Proceeding from this place for three days, they again crossed the Indus, where the country on each side was low and level.


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SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2011

Books

LOUNGE

THE MARRIAGE PLOT | JEFFREY EUGENIDES

CHENSIYUA

FARRAR, STRAUS

AND

GIROUX/BLOOMBERG

Canvas: (extreme left) Brown University, a backdrop in the novel; and Jeffrey Eugenides.

In Brown classrooms, sophomores will constantly come and go, talking of Michel Foucault

An awkward age An award­winning American novelist loses his way in a novel about modern love

The Marriage Plot: HarperCollins, 406 pages, `399.

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

···························· t is a matter of some embarrassment for a reviewer to review a book about other books. Who would blame a reader standing outside this pile-on of literary self-consciousness for taking one look at it and then backing away fast? The rare example to which this does not apply is when the book itself is so good that it invites different kinds of readers to derive pleasure—different kinds of pleasure—and meaning from it. There must be some readers who will find things to adore about Jeffrey Eugenides’ third novel, of course, but this does not preclude reviewer embarrassment. The Marriage Plot takes off on the 19th century English convention of books centred around the expectations and practice of marriage. “The marriage plot” is tired critical shorthand for the mechanics of novels by writers ranging from Jane Austen to Henry James, in which the most interesting stories are about women choosing husbands, or living with the choice of hus-

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band they make. The Marriage Plot, announcing its topography in its title, is a story about a relatively modern love triangle and its three human corners attempting to live with their romantic decisions. In some ways, Eugenides seems like the best candidate among his male American contemporaries to take up this premise. His acclaimed previous Middlesex, with its Greek-American transgender protagonist, was at its best when it looked at the fears and awkwardness of adolescence, of emotional uncertainty and transgression—all interesting components for a marriage novel. Indeed, much of Eugenides’ realism might please any Victorian reader with its high standards of exactitude and authorial compassion. But looking back on the classics is a treacherous ambition. Will such a book boldly attempt to update an old-fashioned formula? Will it really try to take on some of the most popular literature ever written in English? It should go without saying that our current enjoyment of Austen or George Eliot is unrelated to the fact that

marriage does not mean the same thing to us as it did to their 19th century readers. Their genius does not require us to condescend to the social boundaries of their novels, any more than watching an Akira Kurosawa film is an inferior experience if it is in black and white. No one has ever read Middlemarch thinking that it harks back to a simpler time. Strangely, and perhaps intentionally, it is Eugenides’ novel which leads us to think of simpler times. It is a story about a time when college students had no Internet (no Facebook!), hipsters did not use that word to describe themselves, and Ivy League undergraduates did not think there was anything problematic about parachuting into India for a spot of volunteer tourism. The year is 1982, and Madeleine Hanna, “rich, handsome and clever”, but quite without Emma Woodhouse’s delicious self-regard, is graduating from Brown University. She has two serious suitors. She feels proprietary towards the geeky, awkward Mitchell Grammaticus but does not want him, and desper-

ately loves the brainy, impoverished Leonard Bankhead, who seems emotionally unavailable. Over the following year, Madeleine discovers that she wants to be an academic studying Victorian literature, while Mitchell loses himself on a backpacking trip through Europe and Asia. By the end, all three will be heartbroken for a variety of reasons. Eugenides lays out the progress of that year in loving detail, his gift for mimesis in full flow. Perhaps readers with a very good memory of what college romances were like will feel real sympathy for the quivering threads which bind its heroes and heroine. For others, unfortunately, it will be tedious. Worse, Eugenides’ postmodern flair for the interesting digression or sideshow, so much in evidence in Middlesex, does not succeed in creating a single memorable character outside the triangle here. The novel’s touchstone, we come to realize, is not actually the 19th century English novel but the way in which it is academically processed. In Brown classrooms, sophomores will constantly come

and go, talking of Michel Foucault. It is possible to write fiction about theory. But Eugenides’ mildly flippant framing of Madeleine’s love story with Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida, her lukewarm arguments with the intensity of deconstruction, make her seem boring and infantile (perhaps Eugenides slyly intends to confirm for us the wisdom of the Victorian adage that children should be seen and not heard). The man-boys get more to do, unsurprisingly. But any sympathy we feel for the disoriented authorial stand-in, Mitchell, evaporates in a long section in which he backpacks into Calcutta and lands right in the middle of the poverty-spirituality-marijuana continuum. If Eugenides means this to reflect on 1982’s brand of patronizing cliches, he is very subtle about it indeed. Less subtle is the uncanny resemblance that Leonard, the other suitor, bears to one of Eugenides’ own literary generation. The bandana-wearing, tobacco-chewing, manic-depressive Leonard is the subject of some of this novel’s keenest, most painful writing, but he has too much in common with the late David Foster Wallace for us to separate him from the brilliant young novelist and essayist whose own depression led him to suicide in 2008. Can there be such a thing as a roman à clef which didn’t happen in the real world? Some of Eugenides’ better intentions break through all this trivia. He is occasionally acute as he fights, through his characters, to understand the recalibration of relationships and romance in a world where feminism has raised our expectations of men and women, and his final resolution for two of the three characters, like Darcy’s adieu to Elizabeth Bennet, is charity itself. Eugenides is not one of those novelists who needs a reality check; his grasp of our emotional inadequacy and inarticulacy remains superb. Perhaps what he needed with this novel was a literary check; to crane his neck past A Lover’s Discourse and see Mansfield Park again: To see what the marriage plotters did with this knowledge to write novels which, two centuries later, still mean something to us. IN SIX WORDS Long on marriage, short on love

EXTREME MONEY | SATYAJIT DAS

The money shot The global society formed by the financial currents of the last few decades B Y M ANAS C HAKRAVARTY manas.c@livemint.com

···························· xtreme Money is about much more than the financial crisis. Consider some of the things it contains. It has references to Gilbert and Sullivan operas, Oscar Wilde, the financialization of industry, travels of a 16th century Portuguese apothecary in Malacca, a quote from Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Virginia Woolf, things Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges said, an

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Australian rock band called the Divinyls, Indian mythology and French postmodern semioticians, to mention just a few of the surprises in store for the reader. The reason for this stunningly wide range is simple—Das is writing about the society that has been built under the suzerainty of finance over the last few decades. He uses the references to highlight, underline and contrast some of the features of this crazy society. At one level, Das gives us the conventional narrative of the crisis. He writes about the financial innovations: the derivative products, securitization, the building of a towering mountain of debt. He provides telling examples that drive home the absurdities of the time. To take one instance, Das refers to the egregious “pick and pay” mortgages, where borrowers picked the amount of loan

and what they wanted to pay every month, for the first two years of the loan. At another level, he elaborates on the economic theory that provided the intellectual sustenance for the financial revolution. The retreat from Keynesianism, the rise of the Chicago School, Reaganomics, the capital asset pricing model, the efficient markets hypothesis and the so-called Great Moderation are all covered. Das draws some delightful parallels, such as that between Harry Markowitz’s dictum that diversification reduces risk with Antonio’s speech in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, “My ventures are not in one bottom trusted, nor to one place; nor is my whole estate upon the fortune of this present year; therefore, my merchandise makes me not sad.” But at a more fundamental

Extreme Money—The Masters of the Universe and the Cult of Risk: Penguin India, 514 pages, `699. level, this book is about the corruption in values caused by what Das terms Extreme Money, by which he means not only the dangerous speculative games played with money, but also the attitudes and culture that have emerged out of casino capitalism. At the deepest level, this book is about hubris and the

nemesis that inevitably follows. It wasn’t just a question of flawed models, although they undoubtedly contributed to the divorce of finance and economics from reality. When a technical session at a “Global Financial Conference” is titled “Combining gamma diffusion methods and eigenvectors within and without Black-Scholes Merton frameworks for modelling mean reverting energy prices in an emerging market context—a non-technical overview”, it’s difficult not to indulge in a spot of Schadenfreude when the modellers bite the dust. Das compares the math professors who created these models to “piano players in the whorehouse”. The financial media, cheerleaders for the markets, also get their share of invective, TV presenters being “the studs and starlets of financial pornography”. But Das realizes that ultimately, it’s a question of politics. He says “the new finance provided the moral and intellectual basis for financial

conquest, plunder and pillage”. He writes that the “financial revolution” elevated economic theory to the status of a religion and that “Camouflaged as a ‘science’ in dense jargon and mathematics, the system was actually political ideology.” Das doesn’t think much of the measures the developed economy governments have taken to paper over the cracks—he calls them “Botox Economics”. What does Das advocate instead? He writes, “The world has to reduce debt, shrink the financial part of the economy and change the destructive incentive structures in finance...Governments have to balance their books better...Banking must become a mechanism for matching savers and borrowers, financing real things…The world must live within its means.” That’s not going to be easy. As the quote from Dostoevsky’s The Possessed at the beginning of the book says: “It is hard to change gods.”


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SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

GRANTA 117 | EDITED BY JOHN FREEMAN

CULT FICTION

R. SUKUMAR

Scare quotes THINKSTOCK

An excellent ‘Granta’ volume deals with an oft­marginalized category: horror

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B Y D AVID S HAFTEL david.s@livemint.com

···························· ranta can be daunting. A quarterly literary magazine that more closely resembles a book, it can be tempting to not even get involved. As is the case with The New Yorker, seeing it lying around the house, unread, can prompt feelings of guilt, similar to those brought on by unfinished homework or missed deadlines. It’s important to remember, however, that Granta (like The New Yorker) almost always delivers, providing something rewarding for readers with all types of interests. Granta’s “Horror” issue is no different, and thankfully for readers who aren’t fans of the genre, only rarely does it conform to the conventional definition of “horror” as it relates to ghost stories or slasher movies. In the instances it does deal with traditional horror, the results are satisfying. There’s a humorous retelling by Roberto Bolaño of a B-movie—or a C-movie, if such a thing exists—about zombies that he didn’t even see the beginning of and was “full of clichés and tired devices, prejudices and stereotypes”. It was, Bolaño writes, “as if you were watching Jurassic Park, except the dinosaurs never showed.” And a story by Stephen King about deaths foretold conforms to the tried and true Stephen King formula, but is nonetheless irresistible. That’s about it for conventional horror. The rest of the stories deal with supremely scarier topics, such as the passage of time, the ravages of age and the decline and death of loved ones and strangers alike. Julie Otsuka’s story Diem Perdidi is a meticulous account of what her mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, does and does not remember. It is difficult to read, yet more difficult to look away from. “When you ask her your name, she does

G

MATHIEU BOURGOIS/FSG/BLOOMBERG

Chill: (above) The volume is satisfying in tradi­ tional horror; and Roberto Bolaño.

Granta 117: Granta, 256 pages, `699. not remember what it is,” Osaka writes. What could possibly be more horrifying than that? Paul Auster’s profile of his mother, who died in 2002 after a disappointing life, is similarly raw and compelling, and spooky illustrations by Kanitta Meechubot address her grandmother’s affliction with cancer. In The Mission, Tom Bamforth describes a landscape characterized by “deserted hut after deserted hut: the remains of villages left gradually to collapse”, in which he “saw the black, charred outline of houses burned indelibly to the ground”. This could be the post-apocalyptic landscape of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (or Mad Max), but Bamforth is an international aid worker and the landscape is that of Darfur in genocide-afflicted Sudan. Bamforth’s piece is about a mission

to document the “displacement and dislocation” caused by the war. In a similar vein, Santiago Roncagliolo’s reportage on life under the yoke of revolution in Peru is also chilling. The most harrowing piece in the issue could be Brass by the novelist Joy Williams, which seems at first to be a sad-funny piece about an Arizona father who belittles his dead-ender of a son, whom he refers to only as “the boy”. The old man is long since convinced that the boy will never make a name for himself; when his son does so in the worst possible way. Particularly enjoyable is The Infamous Bengal Ming, a parable from a forthcoming short story collection by Rajesh Parameswaran. In it, the narrator is “Ming the merciless”, a seemingly docile tiger bred in captivity and looking for companionship. When Ming accidentally kills his handler Kitch, who he has just

realized is the love of his life, a chain of events unfolds in which Ming escapes from the zoo and becomes a full-fledged maneater. “I felt sick to my stomach,” he says, after he accidentally kills a “human cub” early in his evolution. “How did I keep doing this—time after time—killing people unintentionally? What was wrong with me? Was I evil?” he asks. Ming discovers, after more killing, that his long-suppressed animal instincts have been governing his actions. Once he accepts that he chose to kill, Ming says, “I…never felt so much love in all my life.” Curiously, a story by Don DeLillo, from the author’s forthcoming collection, is the one that disappoints. It’s typically esoteric, never really arrives at its destination, and what it has to do with the theme of the issue, even tangentially, is unclear. But DeLillo’s story is the only dud here. Granta’s Horror issue is remarkably strong. And as previous issues illustrate, Granta’s themed volumes shouldn’t be thought of as alienating. Even potentially polarizing issues on a theme such as horror—which is really quite broad, when you think about it—shouldn’t be left to languish. IN SIX WORDS Not limited to ghosts and gore

The high­rise life R

ajorshi Chakraborti and his multiple personalities are pleasant company. If Derangements spoke in an intense hallucinogenic staccato, and Balloonists with youthful self-discovery, Mumbai Roller Coaster speaks in a precocious babble (“stream” is pushing it) of consciousness. A murder mystery set among unlikely city dwellers, Mumbai Roller Coaster sees two teenage lovers, Rahul and Zeenat, unable to stay clear of murky police business. They hang out in a half-constructed building after school, stumble across a freshly bleeding body, and when not on the chase,

they are on the run from dirty policemen and cult members. The storyline is a liberal composite of teen references: from email conspiracies, inconveniently beeping cellphones, cults with Facebook memberships and dates at Barista to parents who fret about eligible matches. Also perfectly healthy for utter mystery is the you-never-know-if-it’s-justified air of complete paranoia: watched, tapped, threatened, even emailed, by Big Brotherly villains—all just too juicy to be true. Chakraborti’s ability to weave in and out of his multiple characters is heightened by the threads of happenstance that zigzag through the cityscape of south Mumbai. As with all his books, if you are not paying attention, you will be caught out. From the fisherman’s nephew-gardener Ganesh and gutter-bush-wall climbing chases to orphanages, to the terraces of posh 34-storey south Mumbai

t’s not new, and it’s small, but it’s a bittersweet little graphic novel (and I am on a Top Shelf trip right now), so this edition of CF is about Cry Yourself to Sleep by Jeremy Tinder (published by Top Shelf in 2005). Cry... is what could be called a slice-of-life comic book. It is the sad but humorous story of three characters—a failed novelist who works in a video store, a rabbit who has difficulty holding down even basic jobs because of a disability (he is a rabbit, see?) and a robot who wants to be human. The three are friends and the book seems to suggest that they live together (although this isn’t completely clear). Tinder uses a light pen to tell the trio’s story. His illustrations are in black and white, and basic, and his writing is clean and shorn of the melodrama (or even drama) one would associate with a product like this. The story conveys a sense of restlessness and anxiety one would typically associate with young people trying to find direction and purpose and that’s probably the core around which Tinder has constructed his story. As a non-graphic (or ordinary) novel, a plot such as this is unlikely to have worked. Indeed, it may not even have worked as a short story. As a graphic novel, albeit a small one, it surpassed my initial expectations—perhaps the matter-of-fact bitterness and humour works at this scale and in this format. The sadness that runs through Cry... is, interestingly, not the main point of the book (the best way to describe the main point would be to quote Lennon about life being something that happens to you when you are busy making other plans). And it ends on a positive note with the robot saving the rabbit’s life and the writer going for a walk with a girl who frequents the video store. “So, what did you do today?” the writer asks the robot towards the end of the comic. “Saved my friend’s life; Helped build a next. You?”. “Nothing that heroic .... But I think I finally figured out how to make my book really great.” The themes at the core of Cry... are not particularly new and were a favourite of a lot of writers in the late 1990s and 2000s (Gilbert Hernandez, for one). Yet Tinder’s book managed to get my attention, maybe simply because it isn’t overwrought or pretentious. R. Sukumar is editor, Mint. Write to him at cultfiction@livemint.com

A light pen: This graphic novel exceeds expectations.

JOAN IN INDIA

QUICK LIT | GAYATRI JAYARAMAN

A readable teenage romance with an all­round exhibition of weirdness

TRAGI­COMIC ADVENTURES

Mumbai Roller Coaster: Hachette India, 276 pages, `295. towers, and Lord have mercy bleak time-warped East Berlin, the character map and landscape are constantly changing. There is too much pace and not enough time to get into details, so Chakraborti never quite spells out how, exactly, the mall security officer morphs into the ticket collector at Dadar railway station into the threatening man at the orphanage into dirty policeman. It suffices that he does. Why is Ganesh, the

super-capable, garden-trimming aide, so trustworthy? It suffices that he is. How do you cross countries without passports? How does one “hide” secret airports, even if your neighbourhood cult is the most powerful mafia on earth? Don’t ask. Seriously. Don’t. Like a hyperactive teenager whom you probably couldn’t get a straight answer out of if you tried, you mustn’t distract with needless fact. The coming together of the plot is too facile for it to be certified a crime novel. Yet the jagged edges between the turns are constructs that keep Chakroborti’s voice in control, nudging the reader to take the leap of faith with his gentle self-deprecating humour. It is precisely this inability to walk in a straight line towards an end point that keeps the narrative real. If you are not a fan of the first person, you will find the incessant jibing of the “sutradhar” contrived and annoying. Towards the end, when you discover why, somehow, it seems fitting. gayatri.j@livemint.com

In 1939, 24­year­old Joan Falkiner travelled from South Yarra, a suburb of Melbourne in Australia, to princely India to marry the ‘nawab’ of Palanpur, a Muslim ruler of a small state in Gujarat. Her escapade sent shockwaves through Melbourne society and the British administration both in Delhi and back home in England. In a new biography published by Yoda Press, her cousin Suzanne Falkiner traces a story punctuated by diamond rings, finishing schools and 13­gun salutes. What makes this paperback a collectible, though, is its beautifully designed cover by Oroon Das, a Delhi­based theatre actor and graphic designer. Digitally printed on gold metallic paper is a rare photograph of the “Begum of Palanpur” circa 1940 (Hamilton Studios Ltd, Shimla), in which Joan is wearing a ruby necklace and earrings, a gift from the ‘nawab’. This one time, go ahead, judge a book by its cover. The book is available at Yodakin (Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi) and distributed by Cambridge University Press offices across India. Anindita Ghose

Joan in India: Yoda Press, 328 pages, `495.


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SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2011

Culture

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CALENDAR

Making sense of the contemporary Galleries are gear­ ing up for the sea­ son and exhibitions are opening every week. We pick a few must­watches for the art curious

OUT OF BALANCE The word “astaticism” suggests instability; the loss of equilibrium. This exhibition will make you want to hold on to the walls: Larger-than-life human faces, limbs, entire bodies, animals and furniture float around you when you visit Notes on Astaticism, Praneet Soi’s ongoing solo exhibition at the Vadehra Art Gallery. Soi, who divides his time between Amsterdam and India, is fresh from his participation at the first India Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (4 June-27 November). This exhibition is the reserve of his latest ideas, experiments and projects and includes some of the works he exhibited at the biennale. Soi is an alumnus of the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, the University of California at San Diego and the

Free falling: Praneet Soi’s Juggernaut­3 appears to be floating. Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. He works in a range of media, including painting, drawing, collage text and audio-visual assemblages. Notes on Astaticism begs for a

visit to Vadehra Art Gallery’s third and latest exhibition space (this is the second exhibition since it opened in October). The works are spread over three floors. On the ground floor are

his large-scale drawings, including the spectacular Juggernaut-3 which has an 8ft-high cobalt blue figure hurtling across the canvas. On the first floor, among other exhibits, is Kumartuli PrinterNotes on Labour, a projection of 75 slides which show a printer at work. This slide show (which was part of the biennale) is a critique of the Western representation of labour. Soi shows the loving but painstaking processes at work as his subject, a printer from Kumartuli, a suburb of north Kolkata, goes around his work. “He defies the condescending view we have of manual labour,” says Soi, over the phone from Kolkata. This is labour, but it is also art. On the top floor is an interactive installation. Soi has put up two mobile “astatic machines”, through which the public—take your children

along—can actively participate in a dialogue with the artist. The “machines” are actually slide projectors on wheels. Soi provides a few hundred transparencies that you can place any way you desire under the projectors to create a do it yourself “astatic artwork”. Drive the machines around to distort, stretch or magnify the images. There’s a wide range of visuals to choose from: The slides go from esoteric human figures to dollar notes to a printout of the cover of the book Towards a New Architecture by Le Corbusier. Be forewarned: You might lose your sense of gravity while walking through these rooms.

Namak Haram makes a silent statement. The installation is a reading room with books filled with the “unwritten word”. But the books don’t really exist (only a photograph of them does). The wall texts are an intrinsic part of the exhibition experience. Like for the Flux machine, Soin writes: “Your timing is perfect: everything is about to change...” Perec watches over the exhibition like a guardian

angel—with his novel Life: A User’s Manual on display. The madcap novelist applied a list of constraints to try and contain life within the novel form. And Soin takes her clues from him.

Notes on Astaticism is on exhibit at the Vadehra Art Gallery, D-53 Defence Colony, New Delhi, till 24 December. Anindita Ghose

WITHOUT A WORD

Fight ugliness: Sonia Khurana’s Flower carrier­III.

MELANCHOLIC AFTERTASTE “I relate very strongly to Jeet (Thayil)’s poetry. Especially the manner in which he is able to strike a deep melancholic note, like a dhrupad maestro,” says curator Nancy Adajania, explaining why the first line of his poem After spawned the exhibition, Your Name Is Different There. The group exhibition with artists Sheba Chhachhi, Ranbir Kaleka, Sonia Khurana and CAMP (a triad of artists Shaina Anand, Sanjay Bangar and Ashok Sukumaran) centres around the identity of the displaced; and particularly of those who stand at its threshold. The artworks do not “report” on a global condition of displacement and dislocation. “They are not illustrations, they are probes,” Adajania says. She has designed the mise en scene of the exhibition in the form of a chamber of broken echoes, with each project occupying its own space, but ricocheting off one another. The five key figures are drawn from Thayil’s poem: the activist, the bairagi, or renunciate, the marginal or the tramp, the one who has witnessed violence, and the neighbour. None of the identities of these survivor

figures are watertight, sometimes merging into each other. Thus the historical narrative of the Shoah, the Holocaust (Kaleka’s Consider) is counterpointed with that of the Nakba, the expulsion of the Palestinians from their homeland by the Jews (CAMP’s Al Jaar Qabla Al Daar/The Neighbour Before the House). In Khurana’s Tramping, a tramp-flâneur meets a real beggar; Chhachhi’s women ascetics cross paths with Khurana’s Flower carrier, where the only focus of meditation against the ugliness of the world is a flower. Adajania says she does not think in binaries. Instead she is interested in a distributed sense of belonging. “These works allow us to experience the fact that displacement and belonging are a ratio, not an either/or,” she explains. The ratio changes from moment to moment and place to place. It defines how you live and what you call yourself. Or what others call you.

In playing out a lipogram, the French novelist Georges Perec wrote an entire novel, La Disparition (1969), without using the letter “e”. His protagonist, Anton Vowl, cannot sleep until he discovers a missing link. It is a similar quandary that Words: A User’s Manual, a group show curated by Himali Singh Soin, sets out to address. In this brilliantly put together group exhibition, Soin, a writer herself, elevates text from its mundane functionality to become the artwork. Soin brings together a surprising range of artists, from the Raqs Media Collective, Zuleikha Chaudhari and Sarnath Banerjee, to young artists such as typographer Hanif Kureshi and Prayas Abhinav, who has been using experimental media arts in his work in engaging ways. Each of the artists responded to Soin’s curatorial note to create new work over the last six months. Kureshi’s four-panelled Flux machine is constantly changing, tricking the viewer as it does. An array of four-letter words show up, from “cure” to “pose” to “fare”, ridding the words and the objects they stand for of any

Caught in four letters: Hanif Kureshi’s Flux machine tricks the viewer. meaning. Banerjee’s drawings of memories of lost objects, I Lost My Wedding Ring Behind Harrod’s, is the show’s pièce de résistance. He and Soin asked their friends to respond with the memory of a lost object. Twenty-two such written testimonials are on exhibit—from lost cardigans to lost lovers—with Banerjee’s illustrations accompanying them. Raqs Media Collective’s The Philosophy of the

Anindita Ghose

LETTERS ON THE FLOOR

Your Name Is Different There is on exhibit at the Volte Gallery, Colaba, Mumbai, till 5 January. Gayatri Jayaraman

Words: A User’s Manual will be on exhibit at Exhibit 320, Lado Sarai, New Delhi, till 24 December.

Story building: Sudarshan Shetty’s installations rest on fictive texts.

Homoerotic: Waswo X. Waswo’s Second Incarnation—The Third (Hanuman Army).

Sudarshan Shetty’s latest solo exhibition at GallerySKE, Listen Outside This House, is constructed around words too. Written by Shetty, the fictive texts are rooted in his own past and context. These pithy narratives are the starting point from where he begins an evocation of objects. There are eight installations on exhibit. There is, for instance, a replica of a dilapidated monument carved in wood which is on the verge of collapse, with words written on its floor. Another installation is a

photographic slide show in which the artist looks for words in the city, and yet another has passages culled from the Ramayan and Mahabharat. Though inherently personal, the writing is in third person and is written, almost purposefully, from a distance. Listen Outside This House will be on exhibit at GallerySKE, Langford Town, Bangalore, from 19 December-28 January. Anindita Ghose

CONFESSION BOX American photographer Waswo X. Waswo’s quirky exhibition, Confessions of an Evil Orientalist, walks between personal revelation and inspired fantasy, asking who is the “outsider” and who “belongs”. The 35 artworks on exhibit are starkly homoerotic. Images of a buff Hanuman run throughout, standing in for male aggression and the eroticization of “the Other”. The centrepiece is a set of photographs with a list of 101

heartfelt “confessions” (of an Orientalist). Waswo currently lives in Udaipur, Rajasthan, and has collaborated with photo colourist Rajesh Soni and miniaturist R. Vijay to produce these striking paintings and photographs. Confessions of an Evil Orientalist will be on exhibit till 12 January at Gallery Espace, New Friends Colony, New Delhi. Anindita Ghose


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SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

Q&A | FARHAN AKHTAR

‘I feel I’ve become a bit braver’ The director­actor on making films about ‘urban cool’, his urge for stardom, and his lineage

B Y G AYATRI J AYARAMAN gayatri.j@livemint.com

···························· he offices of Excel Entertainment, the production company Farhan Akhtar runs along with Ritesh Sidhwani, have expanded; so have his noticeable biceps, and the bulk of his once-lanky frame. His hair was always a work in progress. The sofa still annoyingly sinks too low. But tell Akhtar that he has changed since you saw him last, and he drops his gaze, gets way too serious for the question and asks abruptly, “Is that a good thing?” You finally get the sneaky suspicion there’s more of Don to Akhtar than to Shah Rukh Khan. Split in sensibility between his father Javed Akhtar’s dramatic aesthetic as an actor and his own urban cool as a director, the two Farhans manage to coexist. Edited excerpts from an interview:

T

In your personal journey as a director, where does ‘Don’ stand? With every film I’ve done, I feel like I’ve become a bit braver as a director. Whether in Dil Chahta Hai or in Lakshya, you do sometimes feel this “responsibility” of saying “I must have six songs in the movie because that is what people expect”. So you end up creating situations that allow you to have a song. When you look back you feel “I have just not done it”. I feel on this one, Don 2, I’ve been stubborn about the way I want the film to be. To me, that sings of feeling a little bit brave, and that’s a bravery that only comes with experience. Does returning to direction after an acting sabbatical make a difference? It does make a difference. As an actor you understand a lot more about a film than as a director. The finer nuances of camera,

lighting, mark, position are worked out between the cinematographer and the actor. You also learn the insecurities an actor has getting into a film. Because you are so familiar with the material of the film as a director; by the time it comes to shooting, you know every scene inside out. But in the first few days, actors are still finding their way into the script. As a director, I didn’t think about that. I was expecting every actor to... you’ve got the script, you’ve read the dialogues, so come on now, what else do you need to know? I’ve realized as a director you have got to pay more attention to your cast to help them break into the part. A lot of personal references crept into ‘Don’; like Edvard Munch’s stolen masterpiece, ‘The Scream’, in the corner of Don’s locker. Has that palette of reference expanded for ‘Don 2’? Everyone’s does. Your points of reference are constantly expanding. Because of the kind of story that Don 2 is, there is not much space, but there are a few subtle touches: The concept of Tom and Jerry cartoons recurs in Don 2. That’s a personal reference for me. The number of evil ideas you can get from watching Tom and Jerry is unbelievable, especially how to trick somebody and how to get out of a sticky situation. The football stadium in Berlin is also a big deal for me. Your cinematic signature is highly stylized; it’s ‘urban cool’. Any chance of grit

and earth, less glossed over work there? I personally didn’t find Lakshya to be a sophisticated-looking film. Zindagi (Na Milegi Dobara) to me is an interestingly shot film. Zoya (his sister) kept it simple. The frames were unobtrusive. A film like Don gives you the opportunity to do all that stuff; where you need it to look kind of “teched out”. So it depends on what kind of film it is. I don’t see Karthik (Karthik Calling Karthik) as a polished character. I see him as a lifelike guy who is no different from anybody else. I think Milkha (Bhaag Milkha Bhaag) is that

kind of film as well: The setting is such. You have a guy from the village who lived in poor surroundings, went into the army. You have to be true to the nature of the film. So why act—do you have an urge for stardom? I got into the industry to be an actor. My first film was The Fakir of Venice (which did not receive a theatrical release in India). Weirdly enough, my first love for film came from acting. When I was a child, I never voiced it externally out of a strange embarrassment, that I want to act... That strange embarrassment, is it what makes your acting inhibited? I want to act in the kind of movie in which I feel comfortable. There are a lot more options today, which is why for the longest time I couldn’t get into it. To a certain degree, I am not even now comfortable with certain things a “Hindi movie actor” has to do. They are not part of my sensibility. As an actor, I am drawn to drama; I am

simply drawn to it. It is simply the most exciting moment of the film. What’s with all the ‘self-discovery’ films from ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ to ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’? Weirdly enough, when both Zoya and I were growing up, our biggest support structure was our friends, because of the kind of family set-up that we were in. We would speak to Farah and Sajid (Khan), who are our cousins, who we are really close to, or are our best friends. Our friends were the world we knew as “there for us” and at that point, our mum. That has stayed with me maybe. If a script leaves you with some thought about your life, about friendship, it’s always a good topic. I do feel it’s important. Even in ‘Don’, if I were to pick a leitmotif for your films it would be the identity crisis... Possibly. It also reflects in some level on the choice of roles; whether it’s Rock On!!; on an extreme level in Karthik Calling Karthik, in Luck By Chance as well—a guy who wants identity, wants fame; so I guess, yeah. Is this from a sense of burden

Our friends were the world we knew as ‘there for us’ and at that point, our mum. That has stayed with me maybe.

of lineage? Only your parents can put these kinds of burdens on you. I am really thankful to all three of them for not putting that on me. When you say ‘all three of them’, one is familiar with the lineage of your father’s and Shabana’s films, but one hears little of Honey’s (Irani) influence on you... She’s a huge influence on me. Understanding that you have to be dependent on yourself for emotional stability is what I got from her. Life will throw you many curve balls. You can’t let yourself get affected every time things don’t go your way. If your basic emotional make-up is affected by your expectations from people around you, you’re going to end up in a corner you don’t want to be in. Because the way she took her marriage, the ending of her marriage, moved on, making a career again out of her life—because she had stopped working for a long time—I understand that. How it will apply to me, time will tell. Don 2 releases in theatres on 23 December.

Acting demands: Farhan Akhtar is going through athletic training to play the role of Milkha Singh in the athlete’s biopic to be directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra.

COURTESY LAKSHMANSRUTHI MUSICALS

MUSIC MATTERS

SHUBHA MUDGAL

SEASONAL RUSH

I

t is believed that audiences for Indian classical music are shrinking rapidly, making it an uphill task for presenters and event organizers to continue supporting events dedicated solely to traditional music. Yet, try and buy season passes for any of the sabhas in the Chennai December Season, and you come across a dramatically different scenario. If you thought getting tickets for a cricket match or the Formula One races was tough, try getting season tickets for the Chennai December Season. A few weeks ago, I received an anxious call from an aunt who lives in the US, saying she and her spouse had decided to experience the music season in Chennai this year, and had happily booked their flights to India, only to find that tickets for the Chennai sabhas seemed

impossible to book or buy for love or money. Could I help? I valiantly agreed to check with friends, but warned the said aunt that she had been too tardy and therefore would have to take whatever tickets were available. No front row seats or sofas, okay? Next, applying myself to the fairly unfamiliar task of being a helpful niece, I tried contacting friends and colleagues in Chennai for tips. The stony silence that met my emails and text messages suggested I had spoken sooner than I should have, and that it would not take much doing to retain my dubious reputation with the family, of being missing-in-concert/nottoo-reliable/never-available-tohelp. The few colleagues and music lovers who did respond, did so with that unmistakably

Full house: A concert in progress at the Chennai December Season in 2010. contemptuous tone of voice that suggested I was either an imbecile or fast approaching senility. A few helpful ones suggested I get in touch with either the chief minister, election commissioner, editor of a prestigious publication and sundry other persons of equal eminence and importance! Now I’m willing to accept that I was foolhardy in thinking I could get season tickets to the Chennai

season at this late stage. I’m even willing to accept that I am the eternal optimist in believing that a ticket-granting boon would miraculously redeem my tarnished reputation with despairing family members. But I’d rather try and stuff both my feet into my mouth and eat humble pie than contact the chief minister, election commissioner and others for the elusive season tickets.

If there is such a rush for tickets, I found myself wondering why tickets were not available online. I thought a call to the hallowed sanctorum of the Music Academy would be the logical line of action to follow. Getting through wasn’t a problem, but the curt, clipped and unwelcoming baritone that answered my call gave a clear indication of the challenges I faced. “Absolutely not”, was the

brief and definite response to my query on whether season tickets were available online. At imminent risk of getting my head bitten off, I asked: So could one get a ticket now or was it all over? A limited number of tickets would be on sale for a short time at the Academy on 2 December. “You can try there,” the dour-voiced gent on the line said. I didn’t suppose he would want to know that I was in Delhi, my aunt was in the US, and that making a quick dash to Chennai for the tickets would be well nigh impossible. I’m really glad that people are flocking to the sabhas, and that tickets are sold out way in advance. But before we complain of dwindling audiences, would it not be a good idea to make tickets available online in this day and age? (PS: I retain my tarnished reputation with the family, because anxious aunt successfully got someone in Chennai to queue up for the season tickets.) Write to Shuba at musicmatters@livemint.com


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SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

MUMBAI MULTIPLEX | SUPRIYA NAIR

Moving away from the beige ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT

Culture abode: (clock­ wise from left) The Sunken Garden next to the NCPA’s music library; the Experimen­ tal Theatre auditorium; and the music library, which stores thousands of LPs as well as recordings of all the music performances held at the NCPA. PHOTOGRAPHS

COURTESY

NCPA

The NCPA, seen as a valuable but stuffy city resource, is opening up. Will new audiences change what it means to the city?

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

···························· n a music jaunt in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, two years ago, I timidly swapped travel notes with a stalwart Langa musician who had seen far more of the world than I can hope to cover. “Where are you from?” he asked me. Mumbai, I said. His eyes crinkled. “I’ve played there,” he said. “At the NCPA.” He smiled, clearly recalling something delightful. “The NCPA!” Perched at the edge of the Arabian Sea, so far down south that on a still afternoon it can seem distant even from The Oberoi hotel next door, the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) doesn’t always elicit that exclamation. Too often popular thinking goes: If you aren’t interested in teaching your children the Suzuki violin method; if you don’t care which St Xavier’s alumnus wins a writing award at the theatre festival Thespo; if you aren’t a chiffon-and-pearls-wearing senior citizen, it isn’t really the place for you. But all those hang-ups have been on hold for some time. In November alone, audiences have had whiplash trying to get from the Sufi music festival, Sama’a, to the Centrestage Theatre Festival, which premiered over a dozen plays, to their new Contemporary Dance Festival, to the gala Literature Live!. A Pu La Deshpande revival production— especially poignant as the legendary Marathi writer was NCPA’s honorary director in the 1970s—burst at the rafters with eager fans. The centre is producing its first play in two decades, Sai Paranjpye’s Aalbel, which will open on 25 December at the Experimental Theatre. And the end of the month should see the opening of an affordable, sea-facing café, which may just be the most significant move the centre has ever made to attract visitors. “The NCPA Café will be an informal space,” explains Khushroo N. Suntook, the centre’s chairman and a founder of its associated Symphony

O

Orchestra of India. “Audiences, families, arts aficionados, youngsters, students, artistes can come to the NCPA and have a pleasant day—performance or no performance.” “Informal” is not a word most people associate with the NCPA. Anything highbrow can seem simultaneously frightening and dull, and despite its long-running projects to explain classical music to newbies and connect artistes with audiences, “highbrow” has historically been characteristic of the NCPA’s ambitions. To enter its quiet, modernist precincts is to see that it does not draw its culture from the city, but attempts to be a place from which culture is transmitted to the city. This may be a brave statement to make of a place which, in the seven years since it opened its doors to corporate events, has hosted the Lycra MTV Style Awards and the L’Oréal Professionnel Colour Trophy. Funding for the arts in one of India’s richest cities has not always been forthcoming (Suntook once said that perhaps too many people wrongly assumed that the brainchild of J.R.D. Tata and Jamshed Bhabha would be perennially underwritten by the Tatas). And money, in its turn, has not been the only reason for the NCPA seeming irrelevant or boring in the past: Its five excellent theatres and wealth of resources, including the

rigorously maintained NCPA Archives of Indian classical music, have often been underutilized. But this season, the new spirit driving the NCPA is more in evidence than ever. Behind the scenes, each of the welter of new festivals are referred to as “properties”. It is an example of how a businesslike approach can bring some much-needed focus to artistic activity. Amrita Lahiri, dance head at the NCPA, tells us that the five most popular dance programmes over the last year have all achieved or fallen just a hair short of the centre’s targeted 60% attendance in the big theatres (the Tata Theatre seats 1,000; the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, 1,100). She counts having a minimum of 400 people at dance programmes an encouraging sign at the NCPA, which is “difficult to access for dance audiences who

There is an overall ‘if you build it, they will come’ attitude behind the scenes that is willing to wait for audiences

are in Matunga or Chembur or the suburbs. Also, NCPA is well known for music and theatre, not for dance”. There is an overall “if you build it, they will come” attitude behind the scenes that is willing to wait for audiences. Unsurprisingly, the most popular theatre events over the last year, according to theatre head Deepa Gahlot, were the Pratibimb and Ananda festivals of Marathi and Hindi theatre respectively. Regional theatre is making its comeback in all seriousness under Gahlot: November alone had as many Hindi, Gujarati and Marathi productions as English ones. “Earlier, theatre activity was confined to Sundays,” Gahlot points out. “Now we get audiences during the week too.” Theatre groups have been in uproar about a rental hike at all five theatres, which the NCPA says is a consequence of inflation, prompting some serious public dialogue about funding for the arts. “The NCPA is a wonderful venue,” says Kajal Gadhia, executive producer at theatre company Manhar Gadhia Productions. “It’s beautiful, the audiences there are like nowhere else, and the NCPA has cultivated them loyally. Deepa (Gahlot) has done an amazing job encouraging new talent at the theatre. But what of it?” she says. To keep profits stable, groups might have to hike their ticket prices, which is easier said than done. Faced with an imminent cut in their revenues, theatre

groups like hers are wondering how the NCPA will bring in new audiences for experimental shows. “When I can watch Paresh Rawal at any city auditorium for `400,” Gadhia points out, “will I come to watch an experimental play for 1,000 bucks, even if Naseerbhai (Naseeruddin Shah) is in it?” While local theatre groups are still examining the possibility of losing out on the NCPA as a venue, international productions are slowly coming in—Ramin Gray will show The Golden Dragon here next year —and Suntook has commented on the centre’s desire to be not just a venue for hire but also a cultural producer on its own terms. Poet and dancer Arundhathi Subramaniam, who joined the NCPA in 1994 and served as its head of dance programming in 2009-10, says ideas have never been a problem for them. She has been a regular at the NCPA long before she worked there, as a student taking in the centre’s theatre and dance events. What has changed, she says, is that “Now, there’s the wherewithal to energize those ideas”. Long-time audiences have been noticing the changes. “The NCPA was always the place to watch international acts,” points out music critic Amit Gurbaxani. “We had it before Blue Frog and places like that came along. The reputation may be that it’s only for rich old Parsis, but I’ve seen it changing.” He recalls that at the full house for their last staging of

Tosca, many of the attendees were actually young people in jeans and shorts. “I wonder how people are going to react to the Midival Punditz in a theatre this month,” he says. The NCPA recently staged a ticket giveaway for a sublime Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra concert—on Twitter. “We are moving away from the beige in our walls and our work,” Suntook says, “and moving towards more colour and vibrancy.” Economics dictates change, of course. But more importantly, the NCPA’s energy may work to usher in a new stage of the centre’s relationship with its native city. And as the Rajasthani ustad who spoke with such pleasure about his NCPA performance understood, a venue can transform not only its audience but also its artistes. At Literature Live!, the Tata Theatre recently hosted Vikram Seth, who commanded an audience too large to be accommodated at the smaller, edgier Experimental across the lawn. Full-blown theatrical productions can and have been dwarfed by the Tata before, but it offered us a chance to see Seth, our most graceful English writer, at his very best. As his musical, multilingual reading found room to expand in a way it could never have in a book store or garden restaurant, it was hard not to soak in the magic and think, Yes! The NCPA! supriya.n@livemint.com


Lounge for 10 dec 2011  

Lounge for 10 dec 2011

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