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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Vol. 5 No. 24

LOUNGE THE WEEKEND MAGAZINE Goguha (right), a ragpicker, is being trained as a housekeeper at a placement agency in New Delhi.

JELLY FEET >Page 7

‘SUPPLEMENTS ARE A BIG NO’

Why your teen’s sudden weight loss should worry you and why exercise is a must >Page 6

Middle­class India now wants the groomed domestic help, earlier confined to the households of wealthy expats and Indians—and a burgeoning home service staff industry is building up the supply >Pages 9­11

Domestic revolutions REPLY TO ALL

PIECE OF CAKE

AAKAR PATEL

IDENTIFY THE CLICHÉ FROM THE OBJECT

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lichés communicate complex ideas in a word or two. Some are about an event, such as the Arabic word hijra. It refers to Prophet Muhammad’s flight from Mecca. Urdu poets use it for separation or for exile, and Indians in Karachi call themselves Muhajirs (those who fled). Some clichés are about people. Draconian refers to laws that are oppressive. The word comes from the Athenian lawgiver Draco, who had a fondness for the death penalty. A pyrrhic victory is one like those achieved by Greek-Macedon... >Page 4

PAMELA TIMMS

GO DUTCH ON THIS ONE

Q

uick, grab the hankies, it’s going to be a weepie. Today marks the end of a particularly wonderful period of my life in India: After five years, my great friend Laura is leaving Delhi to return to her home in the Netherlands. As well as a friend, Laura has also been a co-conspirator in a plan to convert Delhiites to the delights of pukka afternoon tea. Two years ago we launched Uparwali Chai and about... >Page 5

DETOURS

SALIL TRIPATHI

THE INCONVENIENT SURNAME

How two writers, unfamiliar with the chaotic ways of the film industry, navigated it and found success >Page 16

THE URDUWALLAHS

Urdu newspapers, which were once crucial to Mumbai’s anti­imperial past, continue to see themselves as the voice of a people >Page 18

DON’T MISS

in today’s edition of

THE TOWERS OF THE MIDWEST

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riting about the Arabian Sea, my friend Ajay once wrote in a story during our college years that horizon was the place where the sky became the sea. From the eyrie of the 95th floor of the John Hancock Centre in Chicago one recent evening, the horizon took a different meaning for us: where the clouds blended with the lake, and you couldn’t tell where the clouds ended, where the lake began, and where they touched the sky. The lake was... >Page 13

FILM REVIEW

SHAITAN


HOME PAGE L3

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

SATURDAY, JUNE 11, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

FIRST CUT

LOUNGE REVIEW | SUSHI AND MORE, MUMBAI

PRIYA RAMANI

LOUNGE EDITOR

SHRIYA PATIL SHINDE/MINT

PRIYA RAMANI DEPUTY EDITORS

SEEMA CHOWDHRY SANJUKTA SHARMA MINT EDITORIAL LEADERSHIP TEAM

R. SUKUMAR (EDITOR)

NIRANJAN RAJADHYAKSHA (EXECUTIVE EDITOR)

ANIL PADMANABHAN TAMAL BANDYOPADHYAY NABEEL MOHIDEEN MANAS CHAKRAVARTY MONIKA HALAN VENKATESHA BABU SHUCHI BANSAL SIDIN VADUKUT JASBIR LADI FOUNDING EDITOR RAJU NARISETTI ©2011 HT Media Ltd All Rights Reserved

THE GODDESS OF SMALL THINGS

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hen my cook-nanny took a couple of months off recently to blow up her life savings on her son’s wedding, I tapped my brand new mommy network for some substitute help. She showed up one day at my door, nicely clad in seemingly clashing prints, matched with the ease of a Sabyasachi. She was English spoken, a queen of babysong, a goddess of pumpkin soup and momos. She worked for Europeans who were on holiday but who didn’t mind her earning some extra money while they were away. One day when I was particularly crotchety (euphemism), she waited until the storm had passed, then raised one eyebrow and said, “Looks like you had a really bad night.” In short, she could kick my butt too. A few weeks into the job, she decided I wasn’t so bad. She told me she would find me a full-time nanny for Babyjaan. One day I overheard a phone conversation with a potential hire. ISSUE Their chat ended with this reassuring clincher: “They are like foreigners only. Same systems, same attitudes.” Why should a New India born, upwardly mobile urban family treat its employees any different from the outof-town neighbours? Yet many domestic workers who have worked with expatriate families say they are reluctant to be employed by Indians. Of course there are exceptions but, usually, in the former household the hours are more structured, the salary and perks are better, the employers’ vocabulary includes Please, Thank You, and Most Grateful. Most important, there is greater respect for their work, acknowledgement that what they do is Real Work that improves the quality of their employers’ lives. When I flash back on all the women who’ve worked for us in the past

PRADEEP GAUR/MINT

Help’s at hand: Domesteq, a placement and training agency in Delhi. decade as the husband and me tripped through cities and apartments—Radha, Savita, Nirmala, Shruti, Natalie, Asha, Shashi, Sameena, Sushma—three commonalities come immediately to mind. They all carried their blinding smiles to work every morning. They all had standard-issue brutal lives. They all (well most of them anyway) made our lives easier. Last month I heard three stories about the private lives of domestic workers. Of a girl who attempted to kill herself because the man she loved married someone else. Of a slip of a woman who had her fifth abortion. Of a wife who was hit hard on the head with a brick because she attempted to intervene in a fight between her husband

and a neighbour. You’ve all heard similar stories, I’m sure. Of course it’s not all bleak. Domestic workers are getting more policy attention than ever before. Health insurance, minimum wages, smart cards are all in the works for an industry that’s increasingly being recognized as workers who provide essential services and not just help in the house. A draft study conducted in West Bengal by the International Labour Organization wanted to investigate whether this kind of employment empowers migrant domestic workers or whether it just ends up being another form of slavery. Apparently, domestic workers are doing the best they can with the opportunities they have to improve their lives and, many often utilize their regular incomes to buy a house— although, in true it-happens-only-in-India style, several women then end up registering the house in their husband’s name! According to official estimates there are 4.75 million domestic workers in India; three million of these are women who work in urban areas. Most independent studies indicate that this number is a gross underestimation and there could actually be 20-80 million domestic workers. As this underpaid and overworked group works hard to push their children into Better India, we really are their biggest anchors. We can no longer shrug off our responsibility by paying them a salary that’s a little higher than market. We have to be active participants in improving their lives. After all, they spend all their time improving ours. How are the lives of domestic workers changing in New India? Read our cover story on Pages 9-11. Write to lounge@livemint.com

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ne would question the wisdom of opening a sushi takeaway during these times of uncertainty vis-à-vis imports from Japan, radiation fears and such. But except for the timing, sushi lends itself brilliantly to the concept of a takeaway, and Sushi and More now fills in that gap in Mumbai’s phone-in culture.

The good All food is freshly made, which is evident even if you eat it after a couple of hours, as most Japanese food is not temperature dependent. What stands out is the packaging which, you later realize, reflects in the costs. Well designed and well thought out, the packaging provides everything you would look for even if eating at a restaurant, with chopsticks, wasabi, ginger and soy sauce adequately represented in every box. The California Roll with avocado, lettuce and cucumber is subtle, as is the Japanese curry served with sticky rice, pickles and crumb-fried chicken (there’s also a vege-

tarian variety). The gyoza, dumplings served with yuzu pepper, is nondescript.

The not­so­good The packaging might be good but the hygiene is not great. The three-member staff, involved in both cooking and packing, did not wear gloves, which even a roadside juice seller in New Delhi’s Connaught Place does. The staff was also too grumpy—food served with a frown just does not cut it. The prices at Sushi and More are not reasonable, considering the portions are really small.

Talk plastic Sushi (eight pieces) ranges from `230-400, Tempura (fourseven pieces) is `200-400, and the Bento Box (lunch pack) is `400 (vegetarian) and `450 (non-vegetarian). Sushi and More, 2/A, Meherabad Building, Warden Road, Mumbai. For details, email order@sushiandmore.com, or call 022-66157285/66157286. Arun Janardhan

ON THE COVER: PHOTOGRAPHER: PRADEEP GAUR/MINT CORRECTIONS & CLARIFICATIONS: In “Straits ahead”, 4 June, the LGBT­friendly rating for Malacca should have been one­star.


L4 COLUMNS

LOUNGE

SATURDAY, JUNE 11, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

AAKAR PATEL REPLY TO ALL

Identify the cliché from the object lichés communicate complex ideas in a word or two. Some are about an event, such as the Arabic word hijra. It refers to Prophet Muhammad’s flight from Mecca.

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Urdu poets use it for separation or for exile,

and Indians in Karachi call themselves Muhajirs (those who fled). Some clichés are about people. Draconian refers to laws that are oppressive. The word comes from the Athenian lawgiver Draco, who had a fondness for the death penalty. A pyrrhic victory is one like those achieved by Greek-Macedon general Pyrrhus against the Romans, involving high cost and little gain. Most clichés are about objects. Some of these were objects of everyday use when the phrase was coined, though no longer. Others are still extant, but we have used the word so often that the object has been forgotten. Take this little test to see if you can identify the cliché, which you are quite certain to know, from the object, which might be less familiar. 1. Before matches were invented, this was the standard kit to light a fire. It contains a flint, a steel striker and some dry, fibrous material which would ignite easily. Today the word for this kit describes a place or a situation that is volatile. What is it called? 2. These are gloves from a suit of armour (note the bits leaving the fingers exposed to grip a sword). One of these was flung down by a knight as a challenge and picked up by an opponent as acceptance. The glove’s name is now synonymous with a challenge to a duel. 3. This freshwater carp is used as bait to catch larger fish. Its name is symbolic of an opponent who is small. Like David to Goliath, but with David losing. This poor creature is a particularly popular metaphor with cricket writers. 4. The unravelled extremity of a piece of string or of fabric has a name. This name is used to illustrate the final bit of something, like a career. What? 5. This short and heavy stick is an offensive weapon. When we threaten to use it on behalf of someone, we are said to be doing what? 6. A common firecracker such as this one is made up of many small tubes filled with explosive material. When one of these little tubes collects moisture, and is therefore unlikely to explode, it becomes a metaphor for a flop. What is this tube named? 7. Offal is the entrails, organs and otherwise inedible (and inexpensive) bits of meat. When a dish is prepared using these ingredients, its eater is said to accept his low estimate of himself. By what name do we know this famous dish, often spoken of but rarely made and almost never eaten (especially by politicians)? 8. This is an interesting one. A round-bottomed bottle such as this is produced when the glassblower fails to properly make the bottle’s bottom flat. And so the basket is needed to keep it upright. The name for such a bottle is synonymous with a disaster achieved in a humiliating

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8 fashion. The name is also the Italian word for flask. What is it? 9. This sleeveless cloak is worn formally by bishops of the Eastern Orthodox Church during processions and services. When they retire (or die) the robe goes to the man’s successor. The first instance of this is recorded in the Bible when Prophet Elijah gave his cloak to Elisha. Such transfer of authority makes reference to the name of this garment. What is it called? 10. This painting by Domenico Beccafumi (who died in 1551) shows Christ in a place that is not heaven nor fully hell. It’s somewhere in between, though nearer hell. People, or things, in this place are said to be in... what? Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media. Send your feedback to replytoall@livemint.com

7 PHOTOGRAPHS

COURTESY

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

6 Answers 1: TINDERBOX 2: Throw down the GAUNTLET 3: MINNOW 4: FAG END 5: Take up the CUDGELS for 6: DAMP SQUIB 7: HUMBLE PIE 8: FIASCO 9: Passing the MANTLE 10: LIMBO

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www.livemint.com Read Aakar’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/aakar­patel


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L5

SATURDAY, JUNE 11, 2011

Eat/Drink

LOUNGE

PHOTOGRAPHS

BY

JAVEED SHAH/MINT

PIECE OF CAKE

PAMELA TIMMS

Go Dutch on this one The traditional biscuit from the Netherlands is rustic and homely, but one chef knows how to make it dinky and delicate

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uick, grab the hankies, it’s going to be a weepie. Today marks the end of a particularly wonderful period of my life in India: After five years, my great friend Laura is leaving Delhi to return to her home in the Netherlands. As well as a friend, Laura has also been a co-conspirator in a plan to convert Delhiites to the delights of pukka afternoon tea. Two years ago we launched Uparwali Chai and about once a month since then we’ve baked ourselves to a standstill, piled high the cakestands and popped up in restaurants, museums, rooftops and gardens all over Delhi. As anyone who has attended any of our teas can testify, Laura has a huge talent for making food look and taste divine. She has an incredible eye for detail and a flair for combining precise and unusual baking techniques with an array of Indian ingredients. She transformed the humble aubergine bharta into a delicate paté and had the brilliant idea of serving it in cutting chai glasses. I’ll remember forever her Carrot Halwa Cups: a hearty Indian dessert transformed into dainty little pecan-crusted wonders. There are about 30 lucky people who came to an event last winter who will never think of her Amarena Cherry Macaroons without a lump in their throats. We spent many happy hours planning the menus for our teas, especially relishing the challenge of theming our food for particular venues and occasions: Mini uttapams for a south Indian restaurant, Far East florentines for a pan-Asian one, Salted Caramel Macaroons for Mahatama Gandhi’s birth anniversary and cupcakes tied with rakhi bands for Raksha Bandhan. Laura also encouraged me to finesse my own baking, ruthlessly banishing anything as uncouth as a muffin or cupcake from my repertoire and steering me gently towards daintier, more refined mouthfuls. And for that I’ll be eternally grateful. When I asked Laura if I could have one of her recipes for today’s column, she chose Boterkoek, a traditional Dutch biscuit similar to our Scottish shortbread. It uses the same three ingredients, butter, flour and sugar, in slightly different proportions, giving the same rich butteriness but with a softer

texture than the Scottish version. Usually it’s a fairly homely, rustic recipe but of course in Laura’s kitchen it becomes dinky and delicate. Laura has decided to formally train as a chef back in the Netherlands and I’m sure she’ll be a star pupil. She’s a genius in the kitchen, her food is always inspired and she makes cooking look fun and glamorous. I’ve even had Twitter followers ask if she’d consider taking Uparwali Chai to Holland. I’m sure she’ll have a Michelin star and a book deal in no time. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to fill the Laura and Uparwali Chai-shaped hole in my life but when I do figure it out you can be sure Boterkoek will always be on the menu. Maybe one day I’ll even persuade Laura to come back as a guest chef.

Laura’s Dutch Boterkoek Makes about 40 bite-sized biscuits Ingredients 300g plain flour 190g vanilla sugar 200g cold unsalted butter A good pinch of salt 2 tbsp milk 1 egg, beaten Method Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the butter into small cubes and place in a bowl along with the flour and sugar. With your fingertips rub the butter into the flour and sugar until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the milk, then mix with your hands until the mixture starts to bind together. Although there is little milk, there is a large quantity of butter which holds the mixture together. Place the mixture on the baking tray and press until it is about 1K cm thick. Use a rolling pin to make the top completely flat but leave a gap around the edge of the tin to allow the Boterkoek to expand while it bakes. With a sharp knife, lightly score criss-cross lines all over the surface, then brush the surface with a little beaten egg. Bake for about 30 minutes until the top is lightly browned. About halfway through, put another tray on a lower shelf to stop the Boterkoek browning too quickly. Leave the Boterkoek to cool before cutting into shapes using a pastry cutter. Traditionally, the biscuits are small squares but you can use any shape—as long as it’s nice and dainty. Pamela Timms is a Delhi-based journalist and food writer. She blogs at http://eatanddust. wordpress.com Write to Pamela at pieceofcake@livemint.com Dainty: The Boterkoek, ready to serve.

www.livemint.com For a slide show on how to bake Dutch Boterkoek, visit www.livemint.com/boterkoek.htm Read Pamela’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/pieceofcake

Baker’s guide: (clockwise from above, left) Cut the butter into small cubes before mixing it with the flour; brush the rolled­out dough with beaten egg; and cut the baked dough with a cookie cutter into desired shapes.


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SATURDAY, JUNE 11, 2011

Parenting

LOUNGE

FITNESS

‘Supplements are a big no’

GOOD HEALTH GUIDE An excerpt from Namita Jain’s new book ‘Figure it Out’

Building muscle Sometimes the obsession to muscle­up can make you go to extremes at the gym. Wait up. First figure out just what it takes to transform your appearance.

Why your teen’s sudden weight loss should worry you and why exercise is a must B Y S EEMA C HOWDHRY seema.c@livemint.com

···························· ensible snacking, safety at the gym, getting a six pack, fighting fat: Figure it Out: The Ultimate Guide to Teen Fitness has 51 tips on how your teen can reshape his or her life by eating and exercising right. Namita Jain, the author, is a wellness consultant with Bombay Hospital, Mumbai, and says the book was a result of her interactions with concerned parents who can’t seem to get their sedentary teens away from TV and computer screens, and troubled teenagers who want superstar-like bodies in a jiffy without paying heed to the consequences. She tells us why parents should be wary if they notice sudden weight loss in their teen and why supplements of any kind are a big no. Edited excerpts from an interview:

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Why a book on teenage fitness? Can’t teenagers just follow the fitness and nutrition plans adults do? Teenage (13-19) is the period when the body grows. It is a phase when there are changes in the body. The fitness and nutrition requirements of this phase are different from those of adults and hence must be approached uniquely. Teenagers should ideally not be doing what adults do to build their body or keep in shape. What can parents do to interest their teenagers in staying fit? Find out what activity your teen likes and encourage him or her to take that up, instead of forcing them to do things like karate or

other sporting activities, such as soccer, because you think those are good for staying healthy. Remember, all teenagers want to look good. Play on this sentiment and make sure you help yours to work towards this goal. Planning meals and making them look good and taste great is not something that should go out of the window as soon as your child is a teenager. If you took trouble to prepare and pack healthy nutritious meals for your children when he or she was young, continue to do so now. Keep experimenting, opt for that wholewheat pizza base, make a frankie without frying the chapati base, use cottage cheese instead of cheese. Don’t leave it to your teen to decide on when, what and how much they should eat. They will gravitate towards junk food if left to their own devices. Also, your teenager will want to eat out because that is what his peers do. So educate him or her about the right choices to order from a menu. Though they may not always listen to you, at least they should know that grilled chicken is better than a batter-fried one. Any precautions parents need to take if their teen is a regular at a gym? First ask your teenager or check at the gym if the trainers are certified instructors. Do they have the qualifications to give sound recommendations? If not, then change the gym. Look out if your child is losing weight very fast. If he or she is, then it is a sure sign that he or she is overexercising. Also, if they come home and complain of

u Formulate an appropriate exercise plan Strength gains can be acquired through various types of strength training methods and equipment. While performing a series or circuit of strength exercises, it is advisable to proceed from the larger to the smaller muscle groups u Follow a sensible eating plan If your goal is to muscle­up, in addition to strength training make sure you consume 1­1.5g of protein per kg of your body weight. Proteins are essential for building and repairing muscle tissue u Give your muscles adequate rest The one important aspect of strength training is rest. The body needs adequate rest to avoid the possibility of a physical burnout.

On target: Namita Jain says teens should have a special fitness plan.

Figure it Out—The Ultimate Guide to Teen Fitness: Penguin, 190 pages, `199.

Period blues

pains and aches in the lower back, knees or any other body part frequently, then the gym instructor is pushing your teen too hard. Tell him to back off. Another thing to be careful about is if your teenager wants to start taking supplements of any kind to build their body or develop muscle mass. You are saying teenagers should not take supplements? I don’t believe teens should be put on any kind of supplements for bodybuilding. Any supplements—powders or pills—should be prescribed by a doctor, not a gym instructor or bought off the shelf because “a friend is also taking them”. It is better your child develops muscle mass through a good diet and increases protein intake rather than depending on supplements. Why should sudden weight loss be a danger signal in a teenager’s case? If your teen is losing too

much weight too soon (say, she drops 10kg in a month) then you should worry. Though mostly prevalent in girls, this can be a sign of the onset of anorexia or bulimia. Girls these days want to be skinny all the time and they don’t realize what harm they can do to their body. So if your child is in the habit of avoiding mealtimes, has excessive hair fall, a sallow-looking skin, or has broken bones as a result of a minor fall, monitor her eating habits carefully. You could also take your teen for a blood test (after consulting with a doctor) and ask to check for calcium levels.

much healthier level. The second thing you can do is to also get him to play other games with you. Children that age get totally “into” things—see if you can interest him in something, such as spinning an old-fashioned top. The one in which you patiently and carefully wind the string around and then learn to throw correctly. It is quite “addictive” once a child gets hooked to it. Think of other games, including badminton, carom, table tennis, puzzles, etc., so you too have a break from chucking the ball for him all the time. You may have to negotiate this too, offering to play cricket with him only if he plays other games for some time.

problem on their hands during vacations—trying to supervise their children with so much free time, that too by remote control. However, there are grandparents in the picture here. So one wonders how and why your daughter is disobedient of them? She seems to be treating them merely as “domestic help”, and not people who are there to take care of her and need to be listened to. You need to remedy this now, and on an ongoing basis. It’s for you to look at whether this will involve pulling up your daughter and asking her to show more respect and love, or whether it

Regular exercisers experience less pain during monthly periods than those who do no exercise. Here are some back pain stress relievers but remember to walk or march for 5 minutes to warm up your body before you start these exercises. u Camel stretch Come up on all fours—on hands and knees. Carefully arch your back and hold for 3­5 seconds. Then gently round your back (like the hump of a camel) and hold for 3­5 seconds. Repeat five times u Child pose Sit on the heels. Slowly bend forward, resting the forehead on the floor. Place the arms beside the body. Relax all muscles. Hold for 10 seconds u Cobbler pose In a seated position, bend your knees and slowly bring your feet together in a Reprieve: The cobbler ‘namaste’ position; feel the stretch in pose can relieve stress. your inner thighs. Hold for 10 seconds.

JACEK CHABRASZEWSKI/THINKSTOCK

Make a choice: Encourage your child to take up a fitness activity she likes.

LEARNING CURVE

GOURI DANGE

BE PATIENT WHILE YOU DEAL WITH ‘ADDICTIONS’ My eight-year-old son wants us to play cricket with him all day. I am sick and tired of it. One of us has to throw him the ball in our small garden every waking moment. He just won’t listen if we say we are tired or bored. He refuses to play with other children because he has to wait for his turn to bat and has to field. And now the holidays are here, so there’s no break from this for us. How should we handle this? It’s been going on for some months, so it’s not a passing fascination with the game. That sounds utterly exhausting and mind-numbing. There are two things you will simply have to insist on/negotiate with your eight-year-old. One, he has to join cricket coaching and/or any cricket game that goes on in your neighbourhood. This is not just so you get a break from it; more importantly, it is so that he learns

to be a team player, wait his turn, take part in other aspects of the game, etc. It’s simply not healthy that he should only want you to play with him so he can bat all the time. He’s old enough to join a group activity related to the game. You could use this obsession with the game to push him firmly away from being the centre of things. Moreover, this will give him new things to master. At coaching, children learn technique, stamina building and, of course, teamwork. It would be best that you promise to play with him for, say, an hour a day, only if he will go out there and play and learn the game. You will have to be pretty firm and work through the tantrums and sulking that may ensue, but it may be well worth it on several levels. First, you don’t need to then wander the malls! Jokes apart, it will really take his cricket craze to another,

My nine-year-old daughter watches too much television. We are working parents and now that the holidays have begun and my in-laws look after her, she just does not listen to them and watches TV for hours. I have tried bribing, rewarding and threatening. Once I actually slapped her when she lied about how long she had been watching TV. I even hid the remote. But it led to so much sulking that I finally gave it back. What can I do to control her TV viewing? Working parents really have a

will involve you changing the vibe you are giving about the role of the grandparents. It may be a bit of both. Grandparents and other relatives, such as aunts and uncles, in caretaking situations have to be given the space and scope to “parent” your child during this time, and not be mere servers of food and ensurers of safety. Secondly, perhaps you need to find her some classes to join—hobbies, sports, reading circles/libraries, music, anything you think she may be drawn to. Of course, she’s going to passively watch TV if she has nothing else to do and no OLAF BENDER/THINKSTOCK

interests and hobbies are developed. She seems to be almost addicted to TV and she may not take well to the suggestion that she do something else. However, you have to do your homework, find viable options and then offer her a choice of activities to join. Even if you can get her to be away from the TV for 2 hours and at some other activity, that’s a start. I would strongly urge you not to make TV a complete no-no. Sit with her when you’re all in a calm state and get her to mark which programmes she likes to watch—involve her grandparents in this commitment. Negotiate what you think is an acceptable number of shows she can watch, and it should not be in one chunk of non-stop viewing. Take a little interest in what she watches, perhaps watch and enjoy some of it with her. This way, the whole TV issue doesn’t become her-against-you, and she isn’t pushed into watching TV in sheer defiance. Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting.

Avoid a ban: Don’t make TV viewing a complete no­no for your child.

Write to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com


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SATURDAY, JUNE 11, 2011

L7

Style

LOUNGE t Salvatore Ferragamo: Flamingo flats, at The Galleria, Nariman Point, Mumbai; UB City, Vittal Mallya Road, Bangalore; and DLF Emporio mall, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, `11,000.

p Burberry: Nova jelly thong sandals, at Palladium mall, Phoenix Mills, Mumbai; UB City mall, Vittal Mallya Road, Bangalore; Taj Krishna, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad; and DLF Emporio mall, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, `11,000.

RETAIL THERAPY

Jelly feet

p Aldo: Philberta flats, at Aldo stores in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, New Delhi and Pune, `2,400.

Rainproof your shoe closet to weather a good dunking this monsoon t Nine West: Nelia thong sandals, at Atria mall, Worli, Mumbai; and Select Citywalk mall, Saket, New Delhi, `1,890.

B Y V ISESHIKA S HARMA viseshika.s@livemint.com

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p Tod’s: Nappine flip­flops, at The Galleria, Nariman Point, Mumbai; and DLF Emporio mall, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, `9,000.

u DKNY: Niagara rain boots, at Palladium mall, Phoenix Mills, Mumbai; GVK One mall, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad; and DLF Emporio mall, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, `6,000.

u Gucci: Marola flats, at The Galleria, Nariman Point, Mumbai; and DLF Emporio mall, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, `7,500. PHOTOGRAPHS

BY

ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT


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SATURDAY, JUNE 11, 2011

Play

LOUNGE

Q&A | JOANNA LEE

‘We paint our own walls’

Play clan These three ‘gaming’ laptops are either exercises in extreme ridiculousness or the coolest machines money can buy B Y K RISH R AGHAV krish.r@livemint.com

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MSI GX780 `1,19,900

The site has landed: (above) The Facebook office in Hyderabad; and Joanna Lee.

A Facebook ‘landing team’ member talks about transmitting work culture, naming conference rooms and Indian idiosyncrasies B Y K RISH R AGHAV krish.r@livemint.com

······························ acebook’s head office at Palo Alto, California, US, is the stuff of modern legend. It’s the cubicle-free, board game-filled throne room for the Internet’s most keenly discussed start-up. The office, not surprisingly, is also the crucible for the company’s flat, open, dynamic corporate culture. Facebook clearly knew it was on to something good. In each of its offices outside Palo Alto, it sends a group from the head office called the “landing team” first, laying the groundwork to make sure this culture is transmitted to all of Facebook’s satellite operations. Facebook’s first office in India, in Hyderabad, was no different. It’s close to completing a year (it opened in September), and the members of the landing team are central to the company’s India operations. In a phone interview, landing team member Joanna Lee, a manager in Facebook’s platform operations team, spoke about being a carrier of culture, and the inescapable presence of Bollywood in any Indian office. Edited excerpts from the interview:

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How is the “landing team” structured? How many people are in it, and is there a hierarchy within it? The first landing team was sent to Dublin in October 2008 when we opened an office there. We’ve mimicked that practice elsewhere. The objective was a

transfer of knowledge and of culture to make sure we’re spreading our own unique Facebook culture in different offices around the world. So the India landing team had seven members across three different teams in operations—advertisers, developers and testers. In general, at Facebook, the hierarchy is flat. So in general, your position or title isn’t really important. What do you do once a new office location has been decided? There’s an application process for the positions that open up when a new office is set up, and these are pretty competitive in all the different operations teams. Also, that means we choose this assignment for ourselves, and it’s not something thrust upon us. In terms of training and preparation, we get together once we find out where we’re headed to do as much cultural preparation (and reading up) and pre-transfer work as we can, so the transition is as smooth as possible. We wanted to come to India and make an immediate impact and build a new branch of our organization. What are the elements of this “culture” that you hope to keep constant across Facebook offices? One of our main goals was to make sure that every Facebook office you walk into—you know immediately that you’re at Facebook. We wanted to bring over that vibe and feel in the

workplace—the transparency, the emphasis on fun, and a place where people are happy to go to work. So we have no cubicles, we have an open space where everyone can sit and chat. One of the things we did right off the bat was painting the walls ourselves. We put in the Facebook values (which include “focus on impact”, “be bold”, “move fast” and “break things”) and anything else we wanted (in Hyderabad, this included a watercolour of the Charminar). This sort of demonstrates the free flow of ideas we encourage, and you get a sense that you’ve had a hand in building your office from the ground up. Do you allow for local idiosyncrasies to creep in? Yes. While we do bring over some traditions from the head office, we add some local flavour to it. For example, in Palo Alto, we name our conference rooms after funny things, like Internet memes. In Hyderabad, they’re named after Hindi films—there’s Dostana and Umrao Jaan. Another tradition we brought over was the Friday “all-hands” meeting, where everyone in the

office assembles and we all give each other team updates, so everyone’s on the same page and we’re keeping all communication channels open (“all-hands” is from the expression “all hands on deck”, used often in nautical and sci-fi films). In India, the team decided to call it the gupshup (chit-chat) meeting. What are the methods you use to assimilate, so to speak, new employees into this culture? In Palo Alto, we have what we call “hackathons”. These are informal gatherings that are used to tackle problems and projects that people are passionate about, but don’t necessarily have the time to do with their daily jobs. These sometimes go on throughout the night, and feel like parties. Is being part of the landing team a full-time responsibility, or is it in addition to your everyday set of responsibilities? The landing team member assignment is an additional set of responsibilities within your departmental work. We stay within the general bounds of what we specialize in, so it’s not a separate job in itself, but the nature of your job may change because you’re in the landing team. Do landing team members sometimes choose to stay on? Yes. I’m back in Palo Alto now after completing nine months, but a lot of times people choose to stay on. In Hyderabad, two out of seven people decided to hang around for a little longer.

MSI’s promotional material for the GX780 uses phrases such as “the heat of battle”, “adrenalin-pumping” and bizarrely, “ogre blood”. The gamer-friendly components in the GX780 weren’t just made, MSI says, they were “forged”. It’s not too difficult to believe. Just look at the laptop. It’s a 17.3-inch monster, with roaringly loud speakers (complete with a subwoofer) and that eerily glowing keyboard. It’s made by specialized gaming firm SteelSeries, and it allows you to light up specific keys in specific colours (in specific patterns), so you don’t accidentally press the wrong key in the dark. The long-term consequence of a wrong keypress, admittedly, is more keenly felt in professional gaming than in typing out emails. Elsewhere, there’s 16 GB of memory, a 9-cell battery and a 750 GB hard disk.

Asus­Automobili Lamborghini Classic VX7 `1,27,999

Normal people buy automobile miniatures or remote-controlled cars. But gaming laptop enthusiasts aren’t normal people. For them, Asus’ Lamborghini-inspired laptops are the real deal. Like the iconic cars, the VX7 is housed in a carbon fibre-like chassis, and the two gigantic cooling vents at the back of the machine echo the car’s tail lights and exhaust pipes. Inside, this is a laptop that can, metaphorically, do 1 to 100 kmph in seconds. It’s powered by an Intel Core i7 processor, a top-of-the-line GeForce graphics card, and an option to include a solid-state drive (with no moving parts and, therefore, longer life) of capacity up to 1.25 terabytes. Distant blips for the technological horizon such as Blu-ray combo drives and USB 3.0 are standard issue here. The VX7 is available in black, orange and carbon-fibre grey (dark grey with a brushed, textured finish).

Alienware M11x `64,900

The surest sign that the world, as we know it, has morphed beyond recognition. When they were first released in India two years ago, the Alienware laptops were an article of excess, a statement of serious intent. Now they are entry-level options. A good entry-level option, mind you. The M11x has a fantastic, convenient size and powerful technical specifications. It also has that fluid, sci-fi design aesthetic, and does a much better job of keeping itself cool than the other heat-radiating behemoths featured here.

GADGET REVIEW | SAMSUNG GALAXY S II

Like a superstar This stunning, powerful sequel is possibly Samsung’s best phone to date B Y K RISH R AGHAV krish.r@livemint.com

······························ f smartphones can have sequels, then the Samsung Galaxy S II is The Empire Strikes Back of the mobile world—a follow-up that improves on every element of the original, and stands out as an exemplary representative of its ilk. The first Samsung Galaxy S was the thinnest, fastest Android phone in the world when it launched in March 2010. It also sold impressively, shipping 10 million units worldwide. The S II is

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faster and, rather improbably, thinner. It’s a mere 8.49mm thick and weighs a little over 100g. It looks almost impossible from an engineering standpoint. In a necessary trade-off, it has a plasticky frame, but with a pleasingly polished and textured finish. The extreme thinness also means the speakers aren’t great, and the sound is tinny and washed out. The S II’s super Amoled display is absolutely fantastic. One can argue about factors such as exact pixel counts and colour density, but this is the best screen I’ve seen on a smartphone yet. Yes, better than the iPhone 4. It’s vivid, large (at 4.3 inches) and a searingly bright beacon of light in dark places. Inside, the phone is more powerful than many netbooks available in the market today. It sports a

Top dog: The Galaxy S II.

dual-core 1.2 Ghz processor, and a humming graphics processing unit (GPU) that handles any video or 3D content you throw at it with merciless ease. As a result, the Android version 2.3.3 (“Gingerbread”) runs without a hint of stutter. The only point of contention arises from Samsung’s TouchWiz 4.0 interface, which they insist on slapping over all their phones. To be fair, a lot of thought has gone into this version of TouchWiz—you can jump directly to a missed call or message when unlocking the phone, the SMS app is arranged in tabs when the phone is held horizontal, and the default keyboard is excellent. However, this being Android, you’re not stuck with TouchWiz if you don’t like it, and dozens of other options clamour for your attention on the Android market (now 100,000 apps strong). The camera is an 8-megapixel shooter with flash. It’s not bad, but it’s not the Nokia N8 either.

The lack of a dedicated camera button is annoying. The phone has a gyroscope and accelerometer built in, which lets you do cool stuff like flip the phone over to mute it immediately (which works great) or zoom in and out of pictures by moving the phone backwards and forwards (cool, but pointless). The phone misses no chance to show off all the things it can do, and why not, when it’s been put together with such supreme confidence? You’d think with all this power, the battery life would be woeful. It’s always been a sore point for Android phones in general. The S II fares reasonably well here too. It can get you through a day with medium use. The S II is priced at `32,850. Cheaper than the iPhone 4. More expensive than the HTC Incredible S or Optimus 2X. It’s the best phone Samsung’s ever made, and one of the best smartphones you can buy.


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Laundry list: Meena Massey has been working as a maid for 20 years. Her first job was with an American family in Shantiniketan, Delhi.

SOCIETY

Domestic revolutions

Middle­class India now wants the groomed domestic help, earlier confined to the households of wealthy expats and Indians—and a burgeoning home service staff industry is building up the supply B Y M AYANK A USTEN S OOFI mayank.s@livemint.com

···························· he maid is in the mall, barcoded. Standing in a glass display case, she is in a spotless cotton sari, barely there make-up, buffed nails and no jewellery. She understands English and can rustle up bouillabaisse. She is holding verification papers that certify she has never kissed a lover on the terrace and has never kidnapped a baby. Her price: upwards of `6,000 a month. This robot-like superwoman does not exist, definitely not for such a bargain. But middle-class households in India’s big cities—used to `1,000-a-month, part-time cooks—are increasingly willing to spend more money for somebody like her, a professionally groomed domestic worker. And there are compa-

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nies which are opening up to meet the demand. An award-winning company in Bangalore helps people get house help and cooks. An institute in Mumbai grooms chauffeurs. A leading people-search portal in Hyderabad verifies background details about maids. In Delhi, a company searches for household help in slums—the demand is too high and the supply too low. We are witnessing the start of a home service staff industry. Largely unorganized and often exploited, this domestic army is gradually being streamlined into a professional workforce. Until a few years ago, well-paid, trained domestic workers were employed only by wealthy expats. That is changing. “At any given time in Delhi and Gurgaon, 60,000 people are looking for maids,” says Shawn Runa-

cres, managing director, Domesteq Service Solutions, a Delhi-based domestic staff placement and training agency, a pioneer in the still nascent industry. Headquartered at Sardar Patel Marg, the heart of the Capital’s diplomatic area, the agency was established by Runacres, a former diplomat’s wife, to assist expats with Indian household help. Three years later, in 2010, Runacres discovered that more requests for trained domestic staff were coming from Indians. This year she branched out by setting up an office in Gurgaon, the town adjoining Delhi that is home to several multinational firms and their highly paid employees. “In Delhi, 60% of our clients are Indians,” says Runacres. “In Gurgaon, they constitute 90%.” A similar model is being

adopted by Partners in Prosperity, a Delhi-based NGO. “We’re trying to do a Domesteq in midlevel income neighbourhoods like Shalimar Bagh and Anand Vihar,” says founder Manab Chakraborty. Started three months ago, Chakraborty’s organization is reaching out to potential workers in their villages in West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha. “We tie up with local NGOs and panchayats, get the women here and train them to work as maids in homes and hospitals.” His NGO will go operational in August; recently, they trained eight people in a Vasant Kunj flat to test the curriculum, which included lessons in selfdignity, as well as the operation of gadgets such as microwaves and washing machines. Chakraborty plans to charge a commission from the maids’ employers.

The salaries of domestic help in India are abysmally low. A fulltime maid in Kalpataru Estate, an upper middle-class apartment society in Andheri, Mumbai, gets `4,500 a month. The same maid would earn `2,500 at a flat in Vardhman Apartment Society in Mayur Vihar, Delhi. At a bungalow in Hyderabad’s upscale Jubilee Hills, a full-time maid gets `4,500-5,000. According to a government decree, the minimum monthly wage for unskilled workers in Delhi is `6,084. The case of maids is being taken up at the highest level of policymaking. In April, the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council recommended at least 15 days of paid annual leave and a minimum per diem wage of `115 for the 4.5 million domestic workTURN TO PAGE L10®


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SATURDAY, JUNE 11, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM PRADEEP GAUR/MINT

Same job, different worlds The professional life and material comforts of a full­time maid working for expats are very different from those of a part­time maid employed in more than one household PRADEEP GAUR/MINT

MEENA MASSEY, 44, works as a full­time housekeeper in an expat’s bungalow on Malcha Marg, New Delhi. Her monthly salary is `10,000, with overtime for parties. Saturday is a half­day and it’s complete rest on Sunday. Massey’s one­room apartment on the bungalow’s first floor has an air conditioner, among other household appliances. ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT

ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT

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ers across the country. “In India, many aspects of their work, including work hours for domestic workers, are not regulated,” says Reiko Tsushima, senior gender specialist at the India office of the International Labour Organization (ILO). “There is also a need to regulate the placement agencies, which recruit girls from villages, promising them jobs in urban households. Many of these agencies run fly-by-night operations, with nothing more than a cellphone.” Pointing to the ministry of labour’s certificate-level skill development initiative for domestic workers, Tsushima says, “This may assure the employers that the worker is coming with some skills and also facilitate her placement in a household that is willing to pay for the appropriate skill level.” The ILO is in the process of finalizing international labour standards for domestic workers, which will provide guidelines to member states to reframe legislation and policies. In April, the ILO, along with the Union ministry of labour and the Delhi government, issued smartcards (which have a USB drive storing the worker’s police verification, previous employer’s recommendation, etc.) to 450 domestic workers after training them for six months. Most training agencies take commission from employers, instead of charging maids. Domesteq charges a lifetime registration fee of `2,000, along with an amount equivalent to six weeks’ salary of the maid they provide to the client. The maids registered with the agency are, however, not contract-bound and are free to get a job on their own. That seldom happens, since the agencies provide better deals. First, the maid is sent for an interview with the prospective employer and if both like each other, there is a trial period of a few days in which either of the two can opt out. Later, if the employer complains about the maid’s inefficiency—she can’t handle the vacuum cleaner, for instance—the agency sends its trainer. If the problem recurs, or if the maid is not turning out to be as “groomed” as the employer wished for, she is

replaced. If the woman disappoints another client, she gets blacklisted. For reasons that cannot be held against them, the people who have honed their skills working with expats don’t want to be employed by Indians. They get used to high salaries, weekends off, annual bonuses and dignified treatment. All this, according to many maids this reporter talked to, is rare in Indian households. “Earlier, I was with Indians,” says Dharma, a cook currently working for an Australian family in Gurgaon. “There was more chik-chik (cribbing) and less pay. Foreigners work by routine.” In an expat home, if the dinner time is 8pm, the cook will lay the table sharp at 8. If the family is out, she will keep the food in the refrigerator and leave. In an Indian home, the cook waits till the mistress returns. Many Indian households have kaamwalis, the part-time maids who sweep the floor, wash the dishes, understand only the local language, are seriously underpaid and often shouted at. After years of economic growth, more and more “global Indians”—at home with both sushi and saag—are discovering that it is not okay to scream at the domestic staff, if just for the sake of pretence. Guests are impressed if the maid speaks at least a smattering of English. “As young working Indians become increasingly exposed to the West, their mindset about domestic staff is changing,” says Shalini Grover, a social researcher at the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi, who is conducting a comparative study of the experiences of domestic workers in expat and Indian households. “They are adjusting to the idea of giving higher pay and weekly offs to household help.”

The cost of grooming For five years, a woman from “a nearby slum” worked part-time, meaning morning and evening, in the house of Amit Gogia, a manager at a Swiss medical firm who lives with his sister and grandmother in Gurgaon. The maid was paid `2,000 a month. Four months ago, Gogia hired a new woman, Radha, through Domesteq, for a monthly pay of `6,000, the same as that of a cook in a bungalow in upper-crust Maharani

Bagh, south Delhi. “The way she presents herself is worth the price,” says Gogia. “Radha dresses neatly and knows etiquette. She is someone whom I can trust with my granny.” Trust is not a monopoly of this wellgroomed workforce. Traditional Indian households might not have the clockwork efficiency of expat homes, but many consider their long-time kaamwalis to be almost family members, and bouts of what Dharma calls chik-chik are punctuated by pots of tea and neighbourhood news shared by mistress and employee. With the breakdown of large families and the constant move of working couples from city to city, such bonds are difficult to establish. Therefore, the madeto-order maid, preferably full-time, figures high in the shopping list.

Even so, the demand for professionally trained housekeeping staff is higher in offices than in individual households. “Only 20% of our business comes from the domestic space,” says Sean Blagsvedt, CEO, Babajob.com, a Bangalore-based set-up. Started to connect employers—through the Net and SMS—with maids, cooks and drivers, the website gradually expanded to providing chauffeurs, ushers and cashiers for offices. It has won awards on the way. “In the household sector, the most queries come from Bangalore’s immigrant families,” says Blagsvedt. “These are young upper middle-class couples working in the international software industry and (they) are particular about getting housekeepers with a high degree of security verification.” Before being trained and placed by

Domesteq, Alam Ali was an office “boy” in Gurgaon with a monthly salary of `6,000. Four months ago, he began as a housekeeper in a family for the same salary. “My life improved,” he says. “Earlier I was working for 9 hours daily. Now I have to work for 7 hours.” Ali recently got a `2,000 hike. In the Indian context, the lines between nannies, cooks and housekeepers are blurry in most cities. The maid is expected to do a bit of everything, so the agencies groom an “allrounder”. Nannies, however, are in great demand in Bangalore. “In the past two years, the upper limit of their salary has jumped from `4,500 to `7,500,” says Seva Mudaliyar of Care Service, an agency on Bangalore’s Old Airport Road that provides household help. The clients, almost all of them

Indian, want nannies who are not merely good at massaging babies, but have knowledge of basic medicines too. They should know the chemists and clinics in the neighbourhood and must have telephone manners, especially when talking to the doctor. Mudaliyar holds half-an-hour training sessions for prospective nannies, each of whom is given printouts with dos and don’ts on clipping nails, washing saris and handling unwell infants. The Bangalore-based Cloudnine maternity hospital has created a special MBA programme for baby care; the course’s initials stand for management of baby affairs. “With most families going nuclear and working couples living in cities far from their native towns, the traditional reliance on elders is not possible,” says Rohit, the hospital’s

director, who doesn’t have a last name. “We are dependent on the unorganized workforce for the caring of our newborns, so our MBA is focused on training the new mothers as well as nannies and domestic help.” The charge is `1,500 for two people—for instance, a woman and her maid—for a 6-hour course. Such is the growth potential that industry players are connecting among themselves for a longer reach. In April, Babajob announced a partnership with JantaKhoj, a Hyderabad-based peoplesearch engine website that helps in verifying the background details of a wide variety of people, from sons-in-law and software engineers to drivers and babysitters. Admitting that requests for verification of maids and cooks are currently “very little”, the search engine’s founder and CEO, Tarun Bangari, is optimistic. “There are 250 crore enquiries made annually by companies seeking mid-level executives,” says Bangari. “Once an executive is hired, he needs about three people—cook, ayah and driver—for his house. So the (future) market for domestic employees’ verification is three times that of the company employee’s verification.” A small army is already being trained for the march. Started late last year by a former CEO o f B h a r t i T e l e c o m , Empower Pragati gives vocational training in the formal and informal sectors, and right now, is grooming its first batch of housemaids in Delhi. “We’ve sourced people from slums,” says Preetham Rodrigues, city head, operations. The 160-hour training includes lessons in health, hygiene, baby care, patient attendance, old-age care and cooking. Extra hours are allotted for the chosen specialization. Those who clear the course are also eligible for provident fund. The company is flooded with enquiries from prospective employers. It has expanded operations to Bangalore and Kolkata. In Mumbai, the five-month-old Institute of Chauffeur Services takes one month, 18 sessions and `5,400 to groom drivers in good manners and personal hygiene “We give you a driver who doesn’t stink of onions in the morning,” says Alam Khan, head, training and recruitment. The drivers

Works in progress: (above) Zeenu James (extreme left, in red kurta) conducts a train­ ing session run by Domesteq, a Delhi­based domestic staff placement and training agency; and a grooming session at Mumbai’s Institute of Chauffeur Services. are educated about the wisdom of shaving daily; they are told not to grease their hair with excess oil (the car will smell) and advised on how to listen properly (so as not to make a mess of instructions). A separate module is designed for building self-esteem. “Most drivers think they are good for nothing,” says Khan. “We remove that misconception, building a style worthy of a chauffeur.” The driver is made to look like one, complete with uniform and polished shoes. The institute is currently training 200 drivers, most of whom are employed at the showrooms of Audi and Honda cars. “In the last five years, people have purchased high-end cars costing anything from `25 lakh to `1 crore-plus,” says Amin Merchant, an investment banker who funded the institute. “The car owners have gone up in the value chain but their drivers are still Munnas and Pappus, which is a total disconnect between the employers and their car brands. We plunged into this business to groom the drivers.” Pradip M. Joshi, who is employed at an Audi showroom, is being trained at the institute. “Earlier I was a driver but now I have the competency of a chauffeur,” he says. “A few months ago I was driving for a businessman and was earning `8,000 monthly. After this training, my market price will go up to `20,000 or maybe more.” The slums are a happy hunting ground for agencies looking to enlist service staff. Unlike old-money Indian households or expat homes, the working couples are inclined to take day maids, which makes it easier for the latter to commute between apartments and jhuggis. Domesteq regularly explores the jhuggis of Delhi and Gurgaon, looking for migrants willing to work in the kothis, the desi lingo for apartments in

SUVARNA CHANDRAKANT DATE, 45, works as a part­time maid in four households in Kalpataru Estate, Mumbai. Making about `700 in each house, she washes dishes, sweeps floors and dusts furniture. Date works seven days. Her family has three more earning members. Their joint income is the same as Massey’s (above). the gated communities. Recently, this reporter followed Sunil Kumar, the agency’s coordinator, as he made his way through the alleys of a shantytown just behind a high-rise complex in Gurgaon that houses the Microsoft, Canon and Royal Bank of Scotland offices. Stopping at a corner where women were putting coconut oil in their hair, Kumar asked, “Does anybody work here?” Heads shook. “Would you like to work in a house?” No response. “About `8,000 a month.” The women started asking questions: “How many hours daily? How are the people? Will there be soshan (exploitation)?” Of the 25 people Kumar typically talks to on such an expedition, at least five come to the agency’s office. One might agree to come for the two-day orientation class run by Domesteq. At one such session, some of the women in a group of 12 were wide-eyed at household items—one fiddled with a roll of toilet paper as if it was a museum artefact; a duster was passed around as a work of art; silver foil and apron were a puzzle; a vacuum cleaner seemed to

be a missile from Mars. All the time, the tips came thick and fast from trainer James Xavier Joseph: “Keep your hair combed. Come in clean and simple clothes. The bindi must not be big. Not too much kaajal, please, nor too many bangles. Avoid long mangalsutras. Don’t dab the parting in your hair with excessive sindoor (it may fall into the curry).” The quality of life doesn’t depend on money alone. Geeta Devi, who worked as a part-time maid in several households near her slum in Gurgaon, went through Domesteq’s two-day training early this year and was placed as a day maid at a bungalow. Her monthly salary of `5,000 is a little less then her previous income. “But I don’t have to rush from one home to another,” says Devi. “The training helped me in knowing things that I was not aware of. Now, besides cooking and sweeping, I can take care of the baby and can even look after an old man. My employers are happy with me and I’m happy with them.” In April, Domesteq held a five-day induction session for 20 young ragpickers from west Delhi. This threw up an interesting psychological aspect. “Though they have been picking gar-

bage all their lives, they were not comfortable with the idea of cleaning somebody else’s toilet,” says Zeenu James, the trainer who conducted the classes. “I asked them what’s better: picking trash from the gutter or cleaning the water closet.” She soon got her reply. All the ragpickers are now eager to switch professions. They are expected to start at the lowest salary level of `5,500 a month. James, a professional chef, also holds cooking classes for maids. Paid for by employers (most of whom are Indians) who want to garnish their table with global cuisine, these classes introduce the “student” cooks to olive oil, asparagus and Thai ginger. They learn how to grate cheese and shave chocolate and sterilize vegetables. Back in their employer’s home, they faithfully recreate recipes of Madhur Jaffrey and Jamie Oliver. In the job bazaar, their price increases by `5,000 a month. The market, clearly, is on the side of maids, cooks and drivers. They are becoming a reflection of the household. It’s a win-win situation. The employers get professionalism; the workers get dignity and decent pay.


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SATURDAY, JUNE 11, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM PRADEEP GAUR/MINT

Same job, different worlds The professional life and material comforts of a full­time maid working for expats are very different from those of a part­time maid employed in more than one household PRADEEP GAUR/MINT

MEENA MASSEY, 44, works as a full­time housekeeper in an expat’s bungalow on Malcha Marg, New Delhi. Her monthly salary is `10,000, with overtime for parties. Saturday is a half­day and it’s complete rest on Sunday. Massey’s one­room apartment on the bungalow’s first floor has an air conditioner, among other household appliances. ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT

ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT

® FROM PAGE L9

ers across the country. “In India, many aspects of their work, including work hours for domestic workers, are not regulated,” says Reiko Tsushima, senior gender specialist at the India office of the International Labour Organization (ILO). “There is also a need to regulate the placement agencies, which recruit girls from villages, promising them jobs in urban households. Many of these agencies run fly-by-night operations, with nothing more than a cellphone.” Pointing to the ministry of labour’s certificate-level skill development initiative for domestic workers, Tsushima says, “This may assure the employers that the worker is coming with some skills and also facilitate her placement in a household that is willing to pay for the appropriate skill level.” The ILO is in the process of finalizing international labour standards for domestic workers, which will provide guidelines to member states to reframe legislation and policies. In April, the ILO, along with the Union ministry of labour and the Delhi government, issued smartcards (which have a USB drive storing the worker’s police verification, previous employer’s recommendation, etc.) to 450 domestic workers after training them for six months. Most training agencies take commission from employers, instead of charging maids. Domesteq charges a lifetime registration fee of `2,000, along with an amount equivalent to six weeks’ salary of the maid they provide to the client. The maids registered with the agency are, however, not contract-bound and are free to get a job on their own. That seldom happens, since the agencies provide better deals. First, the maid is sent for an interview with the prospective employer and if both like each other, there is a trial period of a few days in which either of the two can opt out. Later, if the employer complains about the maid’s inefficiency—she can’t handle the vacuum cleaner, for instance—the agency sends its trainer. If the problem recurs, or if the maid is not turning out to be as “groomed” as the employer wished for, she is

replaced. If the woman disappoints another client, she gets blacklisted. For reasons that cannot be held against them, the people who have honed their skills working with expats don’t want to be employed by Indians. They get used to high salaries, weekends off, annual bonuses and dignified treatment. All this, according to many maids this reporter talked to, is rare in Indian households. “Earlier, I was with Indians,” says Dharma, a cook currently working for an Australian family in Gurgaon. “There was more chik-chik (cribbing) and less pay. Foreigners work by routine.” In an expat home, if the dinner time is 8pm, the cook will lay the table sharp at 8. If the family is out, she will keep the food in the refrigerator and leave. In an Indian home, the cook waits till the mistress returns. Many Indian households have kaamwalis, the part-time maids who sweep the floor, wash the dishes, understand only the local language, are seriously underpaid and often shouted at. After years of economic growth, more and more “global Indians”—at home with both sushi and saag—are discovering that it is not okay to scream at the domestic staff, if just for the sake of pretence. Guests are impressed if the maid speaks at least a smattering of English. “As young working Indians become increasingly exposed to the West, their mindset about domestic staff is changing,” says Shalini Grover, a social researcher at the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi, who is conducting a comparative study of the experiences of domestic workers in expat and Indian households. “They are adjusting to the idea of giving higher pay and weekly offs to household help.”

The cost of grooming For five years, a woman from “a nearby slum” worked part-time, meaning morning and evening, in the house of Amit Gogia, a manager at a Swiss medical firm who lives with his sister and grandmother in Gurgaon. The maid was paid `2,000 a month. Four months ago, Gogia hired a new woman, Radha, through Domesteq, for a monthly pay of `6,000, the same as that of a cook in a bungalow in upper-crust Maharani

Bagh, south Delhi. “The way she presents herself is worth the price,” says Gogia. “Radha dresses neatly and knows etiquette. She is someone whom I can trust with my granny.” Trust is not a monopoly of this wellgroomed workforce. Traditional Indian households might not have the clockwork efficiency of expat homes, but many consider their long-time kaamwalis to be almost family members, and bouts of what Dharma calls chik-chik are punctuated by pots of tea and neighbourhood news shared by mistress and employee. With the breakdown of large families and the constant move of working couples from city to city, such bonds are difficult to establish. Therefore, the madeto-order maid, preferably full-time, figures high in the shopping list.

Even so, the demand for professionally trained housekeeping staff is higher in offices than in individual households. “Only 20% of our business comes from the domestic space,” says Sean Blagsvedt, CEO, Babajob.com, a Bangalore-based set-up. Started to connect employers—through the Net and SMS—with maids, cooks and drivers, the website gradually expanded to providing chauffeurs, ushers and cashiers for offices. It has won awards on the way. “In the household sector, the most queries come from Bangalore’s immigrant families,” says Blagsvedt. “These are young upper middle-class couples working in the international software industry and (they) are particular about getting housekeepers with a high degree of security verification.” Before being trained and placed by

Domesteq, Alam Ali was an office “boy” in Gurgaon with a monthly salary of `6,000. Four months ago, he began as a housekeeper in a family for the same salary. “My life improved,” he says. “Earlier I was working for 9 hours daily. Now I have to work for 7 hours.” Ali recently got a `2,000 hike. In the Indian context, the lines between nannies, cooks and housekeepers are blurry in most cities. The maid is expected to do a bit of everything, so the agencies groom an “allrounder”. Nannies, however, are in great demand in Bangalore. “In the past two years, the upper limit of their salary has jumped from `4,500 to `7,500,” says Seva Mudaliyar of Care Service, an agency on Bangalore’s Old Airport Road that provides household help. The clients, almost all of them

Indian, want nannies who are not merely good at massaging babies, but have knowledge of basic medicines too. They should know the chemists and clinics in the neighbourhood and must have telephone manners, especially when talking to the doctor. Mudaliyar holds half-an-hour training sessions for prospective nannies, each of whom is given printouts with dos and don’ts on clipping nails, washing saris and handling unwell infants. The Bangalore-based Cloudnine maternity hospital has created a special MBA programme for baby care; the course’s initials stand for management of baby affairs. “With most families going nuclear and working couples living in cities far from their native towns, the traditional reliance on elders is not possible,” says Rohit, the hospital’s

director, who doesn’t have a last name. “We are dependent on the unorganized workforce for the caring of our newborns, so our MBA is focused on training the new mothers as well as nannies and domestic help.” The charge is `1,500 for two people—for instance, a woman and her maid—for a 6-hour course. Such is the growth potential that industry players are connecting among themselves for a longer reach. In April, Babajob announced a partnership with JantaKhoj, a Hyderabad-based peoplesearch engine website that helps in verifying the background details of a wide variety of people, from sons-in-law and software engineers to drivers and babysitters. Admitting that requests for verification of maids and cooks are currently “very little”, the search engine’s founder and CEO, Tarun Bangari, is optimistic. “There are 250 crore enquiries made annually by companies seeking mid-level executives,” says Bangari. “Once an executive is hired, he needs about three people—cook, ayah and driver—for his house. So the (future) market for domestic employees’ verification is three times that of the company employee’s verification.” A small army is already being trained for the march. Started late last year by a former CEO o f B h a r t i T e l e c o m , Empower Pragati gives vocational training in the formal and informal sectors, and right now, is grooming its first batch of housemaids in Delhi. “We’ve sourced people from slums,” says Preetham Rodrigues, city head, operations. The 160-hour training includes lessons in health, hygiene, baby care, patient attendance, old-age care and cooking. Extra hours are allotted for the chosen specialization. Those who clear the course are also eligible for provident fund. The company is flooded with enquiries from prospective employers. It has expanded operations to Bangalore and Kolkata. In Mumbai, the five-month-old Institute of Chauffeur Services takes one month, 18 sessions and `5,400 to groom drivers in good manners and personal hygiene “We give you a driver who doesn’t stink of onions in the morning,” says Alam Khan, head, training and recruitment. The drivers

Works in progress: (above) Zeenu James (extreme left, in red kurta) conducts a train­ ing session run by Domesteq, a Delhi­based domestic staff placement and training agency; and a grooming session at Mumbai’s Institute of Chauffeur Services. are educated about the wisdom of shaving daily; they are told not to grease their hair with excess oil (the car will smell) and advised on how to listen properly (so as not to make a mess of instructions). A separate module is designed for building self-esteem. “Most drivers think they are good for nothing,” says Khan. “We remove that misconception, building a style worthy of a chauffeur.” The driver is made to look like one, complete with uniform and polished shoes. The institute is currently training 200 drivers, most of whom are employed at the showrooms of Audi and Honda cars. “In the last five years, people have purchased high-end cars costing anything from `25 lakh to `1 crore-plus,” says Amin Merchant, an investment banker who funded the institute. “The car owners have gone up in the value chain but their drivers are still Munnas and Pappus, which is a total disconnect between the employers and their car brands. We plunged into this business to groom the drivers.” Pradip M. Joshi, who is employed at an Audi showroom, is being trained at the institute. “Earlier I was a driver but now I have the competency of a chauffeur,” he says. “A few months ago I was driving for a businessman and was earning `8,000 monthly. After this training, my market price will go up to `20,000 or maybe more.” The slums are a happy hunting ground for agencies looking to enlist service staff. Unlike old-money Indian households or expat homes, the working couples are inclined to take day maids, which makes it easier for the latter to commute between apartments and jhuggis. Domesteq regularly explores the jhuggis of Delhi and Gurgaon, looking for migrants willing to work in the kothis, the desi lingo for apartments in

SUVARNA CHANDRAKANT DATE, 45, works as a part­time maid in four households in Kalpataru Estate, Mumbai. Making about `700 in each house, she washes dishes, sweeps floors and dusts furniture. Date works seven days. Her family has three more earning members. Their joint income is the same as Massey’s (above). the gated communities. Recently, this reporter followed Sunil Kumar, the agency’s coordinator, as he made his way through the alleys of a shantytown just behind a high-rise complex in Gurgaon that houses the Microsoft, Canon and Royal Bank of Scotland offices. Stopping at a corner where women were putting coconut oil in their hair, Kumar asked, “Does anybody work here?” Heads shook. “Would you like to work in a house?” No response. “About `8,000 a month.” The women started asking questions: “How many hours daily? How are the people? Will there be soshan (exploitation)?” Of the 25 people Kumar typically talks to on such an expedition, at least five come to the agency’s office. One might agree to come for the two-day orientation class run by Domesteq. At one such session, some of the women in a group of 12 were wide-eyed at household items—one fiddled with a roll of toilet paper as if it was a museum artefact; a duster was passed around as a work of art; silver foil and apron were a puzzle; a vacuum cleaner seemed to

be a missile from Mars. All the time, the tips came thick and fast from trainer James Xavier Joseph: “Keep your hair combed. Come in clean and simple clothes. The bindi must not be big. Not too much kaajal, please, nor too many bangles. Avoid long mangalsutras. Don’t dab the parting in your hair with excessive sindoor (it may fall into the curry).” The quality of life doesn’t depend on money alone. Geeta Devi, who worked as a part-time maid in several households near her slum in Gurgaon, went through Domesteq’s two-day training early this year and was placed as a day maid at a bungalow. Her monthly salary of `5,000 is a little less then her previous income. “But I don’t have to rush from one home to another,” says Devi. “The training helped me in knowing things that I was not aware of. Now, besides cooking and sweeping, I can take care of the baby and can even look after an old man. My employers are happy with me and I’m happy with them.” In April, Domesteq held a five-day induction session for 20 young ragpickers from west Delhi. This threw up an interesting psychological aspect. “Though they have been picking gar-

bage all their lives, they were not comfortable with the idea of cleaning somebody else’s toilet,” says Zeenu James, the trainer who conducted the classes. “I asked them what’s better: picking trash from the gutter or cleaning the water closet.” She soon got her reply. All the ragpickers are now eager to switch professions. They are expected to start at the lowest salary level of `5,500 a month. James, a professional chef, also holds cooking classes for maids. Paid for by employers (most of whom are Indians) who want to garnish their table with global cuisine, these classes introduce the “student” cooks to olive oil, asparagus and Thai ginger. They learn how to grate cheese and shave chocolate and sterilize vegetables. Back in their employer’s home, they faithfully recreate recipes of Madhur Jaffrey and Jamie Oliver. In the job bazaar, their price increases by `5,000 a month. The market, clearly, is on the side of maids, cooks and drivers. They are becoming a reflection of the household. It’s a win-win situation. The employers get professionalism; the workers get dignity and decent pay.


L12

www.livemint.com

SATURDAY, JUNE 11, 2011

Travel

MANOJ MADHAVAN/MINT

LOUNGE

KUMARAKOM

Leisurely we glide other than in the vicinity of the jetty. Most tourist activity is on houseboats, or in resorts along the lake outside town. Yet Kumarakom worries it might become a hard-selling tourist destination. Locals worry that Kumarakom might end up like Kovalam, where travel agents, cheap hotels, touts and garbage seem to be ubiquitous. Locals think too many houseboats may already be chopping up the quiet waters. The sounds from TVs and music systems on the houseboats mingle with birdsong. The water now has plastic and tourist effluvium. Panicker tells me the waters were much clearer in her childhood days.

At the heart of Kerala’s backwaters, a quiet resistance keeps the tourist lucre at bay ATH/W IKI LENISH NAM

MEDIA

COMMONS

Slowing down

B Y S HAMANTH R AO ···························· ilk, gas cylinders, vegetables all arrive by boat in villages near Kumarakom. Rivers and canals are the main thoroughfares here. Most houses face the river, not the roads. Most households catch their own fish for food. People commute mostly by boat—country boats are parked in front of nearly every house. Kumarakom in southern Kerala lies at the heart of a network of nearly 1,500km of backwaters and canals that surround the vast Vembanad Lake. Kumarakom is the centre of Kerala’s backwater tourism ecosystem, and among the most popular and expensive tourist destinations in India today. As I take a cruise on the Meenachil river some 10km from Kumarakom town, the sounds nearby are of the yips, whistles and cheeps of birds. Once in a while, there is the resounding splash of children jumping into the water. The rare putter of an auto feels like an unwelcome intrusion into the quiet. Speedboats don’t zip by, houseboats don’t stir the still, clear water. It’s appropriate that I’m drifting by in a tiny, unmotored country boat. Kumarakom did not exist a couple of centuries ago. The village came up on land reclaimed from Vembanad Lake. Much of it was reclaimed for cultivation in 1847 by Alfred George Baker, a British missionary. A local saying goes, “God made man. Man made Kuttanad” (Kuttanad is the name of the larger region in which Kumarakom lies). Kumarakom is being shown to me by the charming Maneesha Panicker, who runs Silk Route Escapes, a company offering custom tours of Kerala. Panicker tells me that until about 20 years ago, Kumarakom was just another village in the interiors of Kerala, unknown to tourism and to the world. The region around it had plenty of waterways, most flowing into the vast Vembanad Lake. For centuries, boats had been used to transport crops, goods and people in the area. In the 1990s, when tourism

M

in Kashmir took a hit because of terrorism, houseboats were what tourists missed the most. Tour operators in Kerala sensed an opportunity, and converted crop-carrying cargo boats called kettuvalloms into houseboats, offering what were known as “rice boat tours”. The initial response was encouraging, and houseboat tourism took off. As tourists started to show up for houseboat tours, resorts and home stays gradually set up shop.

TRIP KUMARAKOM TRIP PLANNER/ PLANNER/KUMARAKOM You can fly to Kochi airport (80km away) and travel by road to Kumarakom. The nearest major train stations are Kottayam and Alleppey. Both are connected by regular trains to Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai.

Taj Garden Retreat Arabian Sea

Staying local More than 90% of the resorts and home stays in Kumarakom are traditional. Most locals who moved into tourism simply stuck to offering local food and traditional sloped-roof houses. With no exposure to tourism or service businesses, they simply offered what they knew. In addition, the Kerala government also offered subsidies to houses that wanted to become home stays, but only houses older than 50 years could avail of it. Consequently, there aren’t many concrete high-rise resorts in Kumarakom, nor are there many restaurants offering, say, Chinese or tandoori food. Most properties have plain, unadorned white walls and tiled roofs. Beds, and sometimes walls and roofs, are made of dense teak, rosewood or jackfruit wood. Sometimes there are carefully chiselled carvings of deities on doors. The thick, oily wood is sturdy—there’s a reassuring thump when I climb the stairs. These large houses are reminiscent of grand ancestral homes.

To

Coconut Kochi Lagoon resort

Kochi

Backwater Ripples resort Gold Field Lake resort

KERALA Kumarakom

INDIA Alleppey

KUMARAKOM

Kottayam

Bushman’s Hut hotel

Stay

Do

To Kottayam

Eat

There are many luxury resorts in Kumarakom—most are built using traditional architecture. You can also stay at some of the smaller, traditional home stays for a local experience. The charges for double occupancy for a night are R10,000-15,000 for resorts, R15,000-20,000 for houseboats and R1,000-5,000 for home stays. Visit the villages around Kumarakom, and the traditional houses in and around the town. The vast Vembanad Lake is nearby, and has backwaters around it. Take cruises in the canals around Kumarakom, or walks in the villages. Silk Route Escapes (for details, visit http://silkrouteescapes.com, or call 07736000989) offers custom-designed, local-led tours of Kerala that include Kumarakom. These are authentic, offbeat tours that are tailor-made to the client’s needs. Sample the local alcholic beverage, toddy, and try out the local fish, in particular the ‘karimeen’ (pearl spot). GRAPHIC BY AHMED RAZA KHAN/MINT

Even then, it’s hard sometimes to miss a deliberate sanitization of local culture for tourists. Resorts offer truncated Kathakali and Kalaripayattu performances. Home stays have air-conditioned luxury rooms in traditional gabled houses. Houseboats

have furnished rooms and cable TV connections. Toddy “parlours” cater to those who find toddy shops infra dig. Occasional Chinese fishing nets are placed just to be viewed by tourists—they’re not actually used for fishing. The very upscale Kumarakom

Still waters: (clockwise from above) A boat makes its way across the backwaters; a precarious river crossing; and a houseboat. Lake Resort has a traditional roadside tea shop on its premises to provide visitors a taste of roadside street food. Panicker tells me most of her clients say that if they had wanted urbane luxury suites, they would have stayed in London or New York—they visit Kumarakom to experience traditional Kerala. She adds that most traditional houses are also perfectly suited to the climate of the region—the wooden structures are longlasting, the red oxide floors keep houses cool in summer, and the sloping roofs drain the rainwater.

Resisting a soul sale A canal neatly divides Kumarakom town into two, with a couple of bridges going across it. The main street still has small bakeries, textile shops and provision stores—much that caters to residents’ everyday needs, not to tourists. By-lanes still have garden-fronted houses and small canals—and resolutely keep out hotels, resorts or restaurants. There aren’t many travel agents in town,

But even today, villages in the interior, such as Aymanam, are hardly touched by tourist traffic. Aymanam, of course, is the leafy, humid Ayemenem of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, about which Roy says, “the loudest sound in Ayemenem was that of a bus horn”. Life goes by slowly here. As an ad for Kerala Tourism put it, Life flows by at 10 kmph. The river ambles on, almost unwilling to move. Leaves, water lilies and wood bob lazily in the water. The words that come to mind are not “sluggish” or “tired”, but “languid” and “dreamy”. There are no industries, shops or commercial enterprises by the riverside. There are only residences—most village residents work in nearby towns, almost as if to keep the villages free of activity. As I take my third long cruise, the languor, the easy pace of the riverside villages, fills me with peace. In the nearcomplete absence of activity, it’s difficult to avoid existential questions, such as whether anything is worth doing. Trees arc and bend over the water, twisting themselves to get the most of the sunlight. Mango, coconut, banana and rubber trees soar to form a canopy over the river, filling the banks with the comforting shadow of intense green. A bright blue bird pirouettes in the balmy air above me. My boat delicately, noiselessly, slices through the still, placid waters. All in the golden afternoon, leisurely I glide. Write to lounge@livemint.com

SHAMANTH RAO

CHILD­FRIENDLY RATING

Children will enjoy the novelty of backwater life, but there are no activities especially targeted at them. SENIOR­FRIENDLY RATING

Kumarakom does not involve strenuous physical activity. Most locals and guides are senior­friendly. LGBT­FRIENDLY RATING

Homosexuality is legal. However, locals are conservative.


TRAVEL L13

LOUNGE

SATURDAY, JUNE 11, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

DETOURS

SALIL TRIPATHI

The towers of the Midwest JEREMY/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Chicago’s river, as it winds through the city, lends both personality and charm to the character of the business district

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riting about the Arabian Sea, my friend Ajay once wrote in a story during our college years that horizon was the place where the sky became the sea. From the eyrie of the 95th floor of the John Hancock Centre in Chicago one recent evening, the horizon took a different meaning for us: where the clouds blended with the lake, and you couldn’t tell where the clouds ended, where the lake began, and where they touched the sky. The lake was formidable and huge, looking like a sea without waves: It was still as a summer sky, as if in deep meditation. The clouds ambled slowly and unexpectedly, creating gaps, offering astonishing glimpses of the city’s skyscrapers. When the clouds passed us, we felt as if we were in a low-flying aircraft. But the ground beneath our feet held firm, as did the earth half a mile below, where we could see dozens of cars and hundreds of people walking on the streets, oblivious of the hide-and-seek between the sky, the clouds, and the lake. An hour later, we too walked on the streets in this city of Midwestern cheer and charms. It was my first time there. This was Manhattan without an attitude, without the smell of pretzels, hot dogs, bagels and coffee, without the adrenalin-pumping energy which the Big Apple injects in you, which automatically makes you walk briskly, matching everyone step by step, as I discovered trying to keep pace with my friend. She had lived in New York, and the big city pulse was part of her rhythm. We managed to stay in step. The following day, we were in the Millennium Park, where

every corner, bridge and patch was named after a big corporation, as though Lalit Modi had taken over its management. But the flowers and shrubs compensated for the commercialization. We saw blue giant hyssops vainly trying to hide the skyscrapers behind; ornamental onions slowly spreading their purple tentacles as if waking up from slumber; wild ginger spread out like palms, eager to catch raindrops; blue sea hollies creating the illusion of wetness; Culver’s Root emerging stalk-like; and the Rattlesnake Master dancing merrily whenever light breeze came in from the lake. In between we spotted several couples getting photographed, with the flowers and skyscrapers standing obediently behind them. We had seen two such couples at The Art Institute earlier that day, where the impeccably dressed and heavily made-up couples posed in alcoves, balconies and on stairs, looking blissfully happy. One enterprising couple stood in front of The American Gothic, the iconic painting by Grant Wood, of a dour, balding man, standing with a pitchfork, his stern daughter a step behind him, looking oddly unhappy even though they were in wholesome Iowa (you would be, if the only exciting thing happens every four years, when Iowa holds its caucuses). The couple being photographed in front of that painting was young, lively, and full of sunny optimism. I took a picture of them being pictured, and I hoped they’d still be together 50 years later when they get photographed with their daughter, and would look happier than the couple in the painting. To talk, laugh, and DIVYA BABU/MINT

Water world: An installation at Chicago’s Millennium Park.

Monolith: The State Street Bridge, with a part of the Chicago skyline in the background, opens up for boat traffic to pass. maintain good cheer together in your 70s as though you are still in your 20s—isn’t that what life is all about? The following afternoon was hot, as we went to the mouth of the river and boarded a boat to explore the city’s architecture. Chicago’s river gives shape to the buildings’ character as it winds its way through the city, the buildings sheltering it from the bustle of the streets. And how well the buildings blended with the city’s plan. There is the magnificent edifice, 333 West Wacker Drive, with green-tinted glass that curves graciously along the river’s bank, as if it is a vertical tributary of the river, mirroring its green

tinge, extending it skyward. There is 330 N Wabash, a minimalist box designed by Mies van der Rohe, shunning the frills and adornments lavished on older buildings, emphasizing its functionality. The Wrigley Building has a clock tower atop, looking like a tall wedding cake, defiantly refusing to melt in the sun, and Chicago Tribune’s building looks as if it is a church pulled to its limits and made to stand, showing its long, functional midriff, with an ornamental Gothic top looking like a cathedral and filigreed feet. Then there were the two Marina Towers, looking like a stack of coins at first, like Singapore’s Treasury Building,

but when we reached closer, they looked like what they were meant to be—giant corn-on-the-cob. The glass windows of other buildings reflected life on the river, occasionally sparkling white, sometimes golden yellow. Even the Sears Tower, now renamed Willis Tower, once the world’s tallest building, had character—from afar, it looked like the monolith from Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001: A Space Odyssey—once you got closer you saw the edges jutting out of the building, creating corner offices offering awesome views, while the building folded within its blackness when seen from

afar. Finally, there was the Aqua, on Lakeshore East, a building designed by Jeanne Gang, with its dreamlike, willowy and wavy balconies. It had been a warm, sunny afternoon, and it was only the next day that we discovered what the city had done to our skins. My friend wrote saying she had a bangle tan, which was inevitably more delicate than my wristwatch tan. Write to Salil at detours@livemint.com www.livemint.com Read Salil’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/detours


L14

www.livemint.com

SATURDAY, JUNE 11, 2011

Books

LOUNGE

THE CONVERT | DEBORAH BAKER

From Larchmont to Lahore PHOTOGRAPHS

How the interplay of gender, religion and race worked in the conversion of Margaret Marcus to Maryam Jameelah

The Convert—A Tale of Exile and Extremism: Penguin/Viking, 246 pages, `450.

COURTESY

PENGUIN INDIA

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

···························· find myself most susceptible to those tuned to an impossible pitch,” writes Deborah Baker in her beautiful new book The Convert. “Poets and wildeyed missionaries who live their lives close to the bone.” Baker’s biographies of the poets Laura Riding and Robert Bly, as well as her account of Allen Ginsberg’s travels in India, bear out the truth of this statement. So why did she turn to Maryam Jameelah, a Muslim ideologue and pamphleteer for the Jamaate-Islami from Lahore, for her most recent book? Looking at its cover, with its wearyingly familiar burqa iconography and a subtitle made up of buzzwords, it’s hard to suppress a mistrust of Baker’s motives. “(Baker),” goes Fatima Bhutto’s blurb, “explores…the necessity for a less blinkered version of Islam.” Refreshingly, the book does no such thing. Its burqa-clad cover image is not pictorial shorthand for the English-speaking world’s familiar narratives about Muslim womanhood, at once so circumscribed and lurid. There are, as we tend to forget once we have looked at image after image of headscarves, individuals wearing them. The woman in that particular photo is someone real; the exile, the extremist, Jameelah. She was not always called that. Margaret Marcus was born in 1934 to a Jewish-American family in New York. In 1962, she travelled to Pakistan to become the ward of Mawlana Abul Ala Mawdudi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami party and an early advocate of the Sharia-ruled Islamic state, an ideal that would influence religious Muslim movements around the world. Marcus and Mawdudi had exchanged letters in which, to Mawdudi’s gratified surprise, they seemed to discover a near-total philosophical sympathy with each other. Mawdudi’s vision of an allconquering, all-encompassing Islam was echoed in this young American’s ideas.

I

She detested Zionism for its persecution of Palestinian Arabs and thought that an over-reliance on technology had dehumanized the West. Women received neither respect nor dignity in her supposedly free world; their immodesty went deeply against the true order of social justice. Sidelined, misunderstood, she would only be truly free among those who would be Muslims like her—not only religious, but uncompromising in their social and political vision. Baker writes carefully, and magnificently in parts, about their lives and thinking to trace how they came to overlap. She also lays bare the third major presence in this book: herself, an American and a New Yorker, an indirect victim and horrified observer of 9/11 and its consequences. “‘The truths we respect are those born of affliction,’” she quotes Susan Sontag. “I looked to (Maryam) for the outsider’s crucial insight, a blind seer’s clarifying truth. I found in her story a secret history that would challenge those we had been telling ourselves. The wars we were selling.” How does religion, with all its social constraints, become a

Revelations: Maryam Jameelah in Pakistan; and (left) Deborah Baker. vehicle of transcendence? Could we, in Jameelah’s story, discover that mystical quality that sometimes freed women to be radicals? Every faith has its share of ladies ga-ga: condemned because society could not contain them, crowded against their will into the margins, worshipped as saints after they were no longer around to trouble the orthodox patriarchy. Certainly, Jameelah did not want to live an ordinary life of ordinary ambition; she had no wish to marry and raise a family. But most of all, as Baker discovers, she did not want to be shut up in mental asylums. In uncovering Jameelah’s intellectual history, which led her to write polemics such as Westerni-

zation and Human Welfare and Islam and Modernism, Baker also reveals a pathological diagnosis. Institutionalized and medicated for schizophrenia, described by psychiatrists as a “hopeless case”, Jameelah’s flight to Pakistan, in a semi-conscious imitation of the Prophet Muhammad’s escape to Medina, was not occasioned merely by saintly unworldliness. But Lahore was no sanctuary. She was not the woman Mawdudi had assumed she was from her letters; no “equatorial sapling struggling to survive in an Arctic climate”. She was a hellion who—the Mawdudis claimed—wailed in her nightmares, clobbered friends with frying pans, and neither knew nor

accepted their ideas of feminine behaviour. Within months of her arrival, incarcerated in Lahore’s “Paagal Khaanah” (madhouse) by a bewildered and angry Mawdudi, Jameelah would come to realize that Pakistan and her mentors here were not the Muslims she sought. Unconscious of the irony of pronouncing judgement on the orientalism of her Western compatriots, even as she based her own ideals of Islamic civilization on English books and issues of National Geographic, she failed to realize that what she was looking for might not exist at all. She lives in Lahore today, married to a Jamaat party worker. Baker, who concludes her book with an account of her interviews with the woman herself, does not find her a seer. Jameelah cannot speak directly to Baker’s concerns; she offers no solutions to the problems that draw Baker to her story in the first place. She leaves us with another set of doubts. Radicalism is not proof of insanity, as Baker writes. Jameelah’s letters gave Mawdudi—and Baker—very different initial pictures of her mental illness. But do the judgements that two societies and their custodians passed on her paint a fuller picture of who she was? Schizophrenia is what Baker writes about as a “cannibalizing” disease: its diagnosticians know that their patient may be reflecting complexes to which they are themselves subject. Jameelah’s “tale” is full of sinkholes and quagmires. In her story we may begin to understand how gender and mental health are links in the chain of nation, faith and race, binding us even as they exclude others. Baker’s lucid, compassionate biography does well to bring up those questions but leave them open-ended, in favour of the portrait of a woman. Maryam Jameelah found no easy answers; neither do we. IN SIX WORDS Not your regular clash of civilizations

PRIYA | NAMITA GOKHALE

All tomorrow’s parties There’s a lot of fizz, but no punch in this novel about Delhi’s partying, political set

B Y A DITI S AXTON ···························· here is a fun way to read Namita Gokhale’s latest—as a series of not-so-cryptic clues to a Page 3 puzzle. Ved Anand, “the evergreen hero of Bollywood”, and Mondrian-inspired designers Bhoothika and Bhayanika flit and flutter through its pages. The heroine Priya is socially snubbed in favour of “Queenie Kwatra, the reigning Mumbai QB”. That’s either “queen bee” or “quarterback”; the text doesn’t elucidate and I have it on good report from the tabloids that the stalwart shoulders of the society original can sprout wings or hunker down as needed. Cracking these cute ciphers is a game of noughts and crosses, predictable but good for giggles. It is also the only reasonable reading of a novel that has incidents and accidents, hints and allegations aplenty, but lacks the genre-fiction fundamental: a likeable protagonist. Priya Kaushal is the middleaged, previously middle-classed

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wife of a middling politico on the rise. The jacket copy says she “struggles valiantly with ‘social vertigo’, infidelity and menopause” while her friend chases “status, sex and Jimmy Choo shoes”. Easily inferred from this checklist of themes is that Priya: In Incredible Indyaa slots neatly in the final, worthy progression of chick-, mommy- and matron-lit. Priya is tightly packed with nary a punch. Each cycle of a dozenodd pages presents “issue” vignettes in rotation: a run-in with India’s underprivileged masses, a nostalgic encounter with the past, a collusion-collision with Delhi’s high society, a soft brush against wider social realities, a manufactured family incident, followed by a solipsistic rumination on all that’s happened. The tale is told in the diarist’s account, which has a heritage extending past Bram Stoker’s Dracula and reaching closer to Priya’s niche in Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary. The choice of first-person narrator doubly weights the burden on

Priya—In Incredible Indyaa: Penguin/Viking 193 pages, `350. Priya as a character. In experimental fiction, that burden can be shrugged. Often, appealing first-person narrators, like Martin Amis’ Charles Highway, have appalling personalities. Genre-fiction typically has more modest ambitions but Gokhale, who quotes Whitman and Eliot, strains at its bounds. And so instead of a coherent, congenial narrator we have a narrowly interpreted, flat rendering of the poetic precept, “I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” In one instance, there’s Priya

declaiming the laudable if vapid sentiment, “It was enough, in that moment, to know and remember that not everybody had sold out and bought into the current myth of India Shining.” Soon after we have her discovering her husband’s suitcase stashed with insalubrious cash and the only plaint lodged is that it dispossesses her of her established custodianship of fungible funds. The discovery of her husband’s infidelity causes no real marital breach, until Priya receives proof that his heart had been engaged. Fair, except she has earlier transgressed the marital bond with an older, adored beau. It’s not the morality that’s dubious, it’s the motivation. Priya is internally inconsistent to the point of being unpleasant. Discrepancies pervade the novel, in the writing and the editing. As is obvious from the title, numerology with its handmaiden vowels is a central plot point. After the story draws deliberate attention to the specific spelling of our second lead, Pooonam’s name, it appears distractingly through the book with an arbitrary two “Os” or three. A friend Priya hasn’t run into for decades materializes unexpectedly no less than three times. It’s such a clunky deus ex

machina, the ancient Greeks would have trouble suspending their disbelief. Chronologies have a similarly capricious quality. “I’m getting married next week,” Pooonam announces and on this stated timeline, Priya’s son’s wedding is planned and executed, rumours of a cabinet reshuffle are realized, a hen night goes awry and breaks up a friendship, the Muslim driver’s missing son returns and finds new employment, there’s a hint at one of the twins’ homosexuality, a terrorist attack in Mumbai in which Priya’s long-term lover dies, a numerologist consultation, and an overnight retreat to Rishikesh with, naturally, the attendant epiphany. The unevenness of Priya: In Incredible Indyaa dogs it to its close, where we are served another glib truth foreshadowed on the jacket copy. The disappointment in its inanities and incongruities stems from Priya’s unwieldy scope. Raising a voice on a giant cross-section of concerns—abuse! sexuality! tradition! corruption! terrorism! Indyaa!—only reduces the lot to party chatter. Write to lounge@livemint.com


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THE GOOD MUSLIM | TAHMIMA ANAM

The true believers

THE PRAYER ROOM | SHANTHI SEKARAN

Repeat, pray, love MICHAEL STEELE/GETTY IMAGES

The second novel in the author’s Bangladesh trilogy is about the moral difference between a family and faith

B Y S ALIL T RIPATHI ···························· t the end of Tahmima Anam’s impressive first novel, A Golden Age (which won the Commonwealth Prize in 2008), the blissful domesticity of the Haque family had shattered. Rehana, the widowed mother, kept her house going during Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971 even as her son Sohail disappeared into the countryside, joining the Mukti Bahini, as the Bangladeshi rebels fighting the Pakistani army were known, and her daughter Maya went to Calcutta (now Kolkata), working among refugees. In The Good Muslim, Anam’s second novel, the story moves forward and back without the predictability of the pendulum, but the shifts have a purpose. Anam, whom I should reveal I know as a friend, is fully in control; there are no unplanned lurches—there is the beginning, middle, and end, but, as Jean-Luc Godard said in another context, not necessarily in that order. Moving constantly between the end of the war and the 1980s, Anam’s novel is a tightly crafted narrative, as much about the Haques, as about the existential question of identity in Bangladesh. Is it a Muslim country where most people speak Bengali, or a Bengali nation with a large majority of Muslims? Does faith matter, and if so, what sort of faith is it? And if the faith seeks submission of all, and treats everyone equally, why are the women invisible? These are profound questions, and Anam’s achievement lies in exploring the questions without burdening her fiction. The novel begins with Sohail making a deeply troubling discovery in a camp abandoned by

This debut novel is a flawed inquiry into the same old literary questions B Y A RUNAVA S INHA ························································ or Indians who can write in English but aren’t investment bankers or software professionals, not writing a novel is now probably like not having a Facebook account. And just as Facebook status messages can be easily grouped into genres—where I am/what I’m eating; angst/heartbreak; spiritual/humorous/banal one-liners; spam—so can the novels by these must-write-a-book authors.

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To wit: • Individual Caught In Momentous Historical Event • Discovery Of Self’s/Mother’s/Father’s Guilty Secret • Actually A Love Affair With A City • Immigrant Marriage • Spam

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Canvas: A village in Bangladesh; and (below) Mukti Bahini men on their way to East Pakistan in 1971. defeated Pakistani soldiers—a discovery which will change his life fundamentally, in all the word’s senses. Upon return to Dhaka, Sohail turns to religion. His mother indulges him, thinking religion will offer him the solace he needs after the trauma of the war. Instead, Sohail turns more inward, becomes a preacher, burns his books, converts part of his house into a camp of believers, and propagates an austere faith, placing severe restrictions upon women and children, including his own son. He shows little emotion when his wife dies, and is cold towards his son, refusing him toys, sweets, and schooling. Maya, now a doctor, is unable to accept the transformation and goes to remote villages, helping women bring up healthy children, and encouraging them to discover their identity (many years later, she will recall how it felt: “I heard a woman screaming. She was squatting at the back of a tailoring shop, in labour. I helped her, and I felt—well, as I hadn’t felt in a long time. Like I was finally good for something”). Conservative Islam drives her back to Dhaka, after one of her patients is punished with lashes for dipping her ankles in the river to beat the heat, and she WILLIAM LOVELACE/EXPRESS/GETTY IMAGES

feels powerless to protect her, or to fight blind faith. She finds her brother even more remote, preventing her from playing any role in his motherless son’s upbringing. The brother has moved far: “The future was suddenly clear: he was going somewhere, somewhere remote and out of reach, somewhere that had nothing to do with her, and that even if he didn’t disappear altogether, she would, from now on, be left behind.” Sohail sends his son to a madrasa. The estrangement between the brother and sister is nearly complete, as the novel inches inexorably towards a climax that sets the reader thinking. Who, indeed, is the good Muslim here? The brother, a believer coming to terms with the war’s horrors, and attempting to understand life, keeping his emotions—love, hatred, anger and compassion—suppressed? Or the sister, the woman with no time for faith, who strives to do good, who wants to celebrate life, even if it means defying norms alien to her, as she discovers the limits of what she can do? Their meeting point is the home their mother Rehana has preserved during the war—Sohail escapes that to retreat into an insular world of faith; Maya embraces it to flee the extremists in the countryside. When the mother fights cancer, what has ensured her survival? The medicines Maya and the doctors have given, or the prayers and holy water Sohail has brought? As Sohail recedes from the ephemera of daily life, Maya plunges into political struggles. Anam’s own anger at military dictatorships is transparent: During the period in which the novel is set, Bangladesh was ruled by Gen. H.M. Ershad. She

never names him; he only appears as the Dictator. Maya becomes a columnist, initially writing about her life in the countryside, but later, she demands justice for war crimes. Bangladesh has become a country that permits “the men who betrayed it, the men who committed murder, to run free, to live as the neighbours of the women they have widowed, the young girls they have raped,” Anam writes. In that morally confused landscape, some seek the certainty that fundamentalist Islam provides. Sohail and Maya are two sides of the Bangladeshi saga. Both want change—Maya through individual empowerment, and Sohail, through collective submission. She revels in nuances—she is understated when she describes the horrors. Graphic descriptions of violence—physical or sexual—are unnecessary, because the violence that words, gestures and ideas can unleash, can be equally menacing. At the same time, she offers perhaps the most nuanced portrayal of a fundamentalist in fiction. Not a caricature, as in the attempts of John Updike and Martin Amis; nor a clever sophisticate, as in Mohsin Hamid’s novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, but an imperfect man struggling with his identity. Or is the good Muslim the woman? Anam wants the reader to decide who should be sympathized with. I rooted for Maya in the end, and I resented Sohail’s obstinacy—but Anam’s skill lies in making the reader empathize with Sohail. He is as much a victim as a perpetrator, just as Maya’s interventions lead to consequences never intended. The Good Muslim is a quiet novel, its scream silent. It forces you to think and leaves you wondering whether being a good believer is compatible with being a good human being. There are no final answers, and for a good reason; this is after all a projected trilogy, and it takes us to the stage where we eagerly await the finale. Salil Tripathi writes the fortnightly column Here, There, Everywhere in Mint and is researching a book about international war crimes focused on Bangladesh. Write to lounge@livemint.com

The Good Muslim: Penguin, 297 pages, `499.

IN SIX WORDS Where humanity and fundamentalism’s paths diverge

Now add to this compulsion the fine writing skills that academic programmes around the world in general and the US in particular inculcate and the result is, inevitably, the sensitively written novel that goes nowhere. Somehow, the writer of such a novel seems to be propelled by first, a desire to write a novel, and only then looks for an idea big enough, a story rich enough, a cast of characters intriguing enough. Unfortunately, debutant Shanthi Sekaran—born and brought up in the US—slips into this mould with her novel The Prayer Room, originally published in the US in 2009, and now in an Indian edition. Her writing deserves a unique story, not a familiar saga of the woman who suddenly discovers that her marriage seems to hold no meaning and embarks on a journey to discover herself. In this case, the journey leads Vijaya aka Viji—married under the compulsion of middle-class decency to British scholar George Armitage after several nights of passion in sultry Madras (now Chennai), and now the mother of triplets—back to her homeland and to the inevitable locked-away secrets. Except it’s not clear how this journey changes anything for her, besides offering the almost mandatory sexual liaison along the way. Eventually, there is the hastily and clumsily induced crisis that is supposed to provide a resolution, but only makes you feel relieved that you don’t need to know more about these people’s lives. In fact, content is a continuous casualty in this novel replete with attractive, but disparate, ideas. One of these involves the dialogues Viji conducts with the key people in her life who have died—lively and full of possibilities, these exchanges could have taken the story in exciting directions, but aren’t exploited suitably. The prayer room of the title, which appears in three verThe Prayer Room: HarperCollins India, sions—one in Viji’s US home and two back in Madras—is the scene of these 382 pages, `350. exchanges. Given that the book is named for this space, they should have surely played a pivotal role in the unravelling of the plot. Like this trope, the supporting cast that Sekaran has put together is more interesting than the principal characters. Stan, Viji’s widowed father-in-law with an active sexual appetite, is one of them. His is not the central story, but he is an appealing flesh-and-blood counterpoint to the far paler ideas that George and Viji signify. The triplets Avi, Kieran and Babygirl—though seen only through their parents’ eyes for the most part—nevertheless come through as people who could have had a bigger role than they do in the relationship within the rest of the family. If there is one stand-out element in The Prayer Room, it is the accuracy with which it identifies the detachment with which people often lead large parts of their lives, immersed in a sequence of activities but never really involved in the existence that they add up to. But this is a path well travelled by literature, and a new journey on this road must offer new sights and sounds, fresh insights and experiences. Lacking those, the novel remains well-crafted and well-intentioned, but bereft of the uniqueness that you will remember the next morning. Just like a good dinner. Arunava Sinha is currently translating works of political fiction by Samaresh Basu and Samaresh Majumdar. Write to lounge@livemint.com

FREE VERSE | TABISH KHAIR

Why should my plaint immured in hall and hearth Why should my plaint immured in hall and hearth Distract the garden’s birds from songs of mirth? The point of faith is constancy; bury The priest of idols in Kaaba’s earth. Not robbed in daytime, would I have slept at night? I bless the thief for leaving nothing of worth I can compose, why should I dive for pearls? I have a heart, why root about it earth? Excerpted from the section Stone: Ghalib Speaks in Tongues in the collection Man of Glass (HarperCollins India, 84 pages, `199). Write to lounge@livemint.com


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SATURDAY, JUNE 11, 2011

Culture

LOUNGE

FILM

The inconvenient surname ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT

How two writers, unfamiliar with the chaotic ways of the film industry, navigated it and found success

B Y S ANJUKTA S HARMA sanjukta.s@livemint.com

···························· n the opening passages of Kanika Dhillon’s debut novel Bombay Duck is a Fish, suicide is banal in a meaningless, un-Kafkaesque way. A young woman, the protagonist of the novel, is narrating a night when she is sitting on the edge of a terrace, smoking a cigarette, and contemplating jumping off it. She describes her hair, at that moment, as being fragrant of “apricot and honey”. The character’s narcissism is shallow and inconsequential, and it appears to have little to do with her decision to abandon her Bollywood ambitions and jump to death. She wants to die because she is unable to negotiate the cruelty the film world metes out to outsiders—those, as Dhillon tells me when we meet at her new Bandra home, “who do not have convenient surnames”. This pulp novel about an assistant director’s experiences in the Hindi film industry reads like the script of a familiar Bollywood potboiler. The premise, inspired by Dhillon’s five-year immersion in what she describes as the “best and fastest way to make it” in Bollywood, is almost like a manual. It is not the best or only way to Bollywood nirvana, but is a reminder, like Dhillon’s own Bombay journey is, of the outsider’s travails in the corridors of the film world. The release of Dhillon’s novel coincides with the promotional build-up to Ra.One, the next Shah Rukh Khan film, of which she is one of the screenplay writers—her first screenplay. How do a graduate of media and communications from the London School of Economics (LSE), or a Telugu engineer from the US, navigate the hierarchical but chaotic nature of Bollywood set-ups? What lures them to Mumbai? Dhillon considers Bollywood her stepping stone to fame and to being an influential person, “an opinion-maker”. Raj Nidimoru, of the writer-director duo of Shor in the City, an engineer in Ann Arbor, Michigan, US, before he became a filmmaker, says his reason was quite simple. “Every Indian is a filmmaker at heart.” The Bollywood “outsider” can be variously defined. From the 1930s to the 1960s, writers and poets made Bombay their home. Illustrious poets, writers and directors such as Sahir Ludhianvi, Mehboob Khan, Naushad and Gulzar shaped the way songs and scripts were written in Hindi films and defined the lyrical profundity of Hindi filmdom’s black and white era. During the late 1950s and 1960s, students from Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India came to the city to make films; they still don’t pass off as industrywallahs, who can be defined loosely as a coterie of powerful film families and generations of

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At home: (clockwise from left) A still from the new Shah Rukh Khan movie Ra.One; Kanika Dhillon at her home in Bandra; and (from left) Krishna D.K., Sita Menon and Raj Nidimoru, the makers of Shor in the City.

actors and directors from these families. Shekhar Kapur, who was a chartered accountant in London, was clued in to the ways of the industry when he made his first film because Dev Anand was his uncle. Some writer-directors come to the city to work with established directors and writers as a stepping stone, such as Anurag Kashyap and writer Jaideep Sahni. In the last decade, many advertising film-makers have found success here. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra directed some commercials that featured Amitabh Bachchan before his break as a film director with Aks. Dibakar Banerjee directed commercials while making his first film, Khosla ka Ghosla. In comparison, Dhillon and Nidimoru are outsiders in a strict sense. They had no antecedents and were unaware of the industry’s rules (or lack of rules) until they arrived in Mumbai. Twenty-eight-year-old Dhillon, who completed her master’s from LSE in 2005 and took a flight to

Mumbai soon after to work in films, says the struggle became easy when she realized that “your personality defines what you do in Bollywood”. “I was just an extra hand in the beginning when I joined Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment. I was there to order food and get printouts. Nobody defined a role for me, I had to work my way through the system to carve my own niche. There were times when I almost decided to give up. But once I made peace with the fact that talent comes after your personality and what you can make yourself useful for, I was okay,” Dhillon says. Nidimoru, who confesses he doesn’t feel like an industry insider even after three films (Flavours and 99 being the other two), is less cynical. “Many people we met initially thought we were not serious about film-making. But we pressed on with our way of doing things. We tried to explain,” says Nidimoru. Their way involves presentation materials such as an animation

teaser or comic books to explain concepts to producers in order to get them interested. Nidimoru, who has now signed up with Saif Ali Khan’s Illuminati Films for a “surreal comic thriller”, says there were times when he and his cowriter Krishna D.K., also an engineer who worked in the US before teaming up with Nidimoru, found the film industry’s cliquish favours unsettling. “Everybody is connected here. There are no secrets,” says Nidimoru. “I don’t know any industry people enough to hang out with,” says Nidimoru. We meet at Bru World Café in Versova, a western suburb known as a neighbourhood of film folk, some entrenched in the industry and some right in the thick of the drill. Versova’s numerous cafés often buzz with script talk, produced by informal meetings. Bru World Café is Nidimoru’s temporary office for D2R Films, a production company run by him, Krishna and creative producer Sita Menon. There’s a mellow, deadpan humour to his descriptions of interactions with industrywallahs, including Balaji’s Ekta Kapoor, who produced Shor in the City. “We didn’t have to meet Ekta Kapoor that much. Members of her team would often come to our edits and see what’s going on,” Nidimoru says. Nidimoru felt like a misfit on various occasions, especially while dealing with the nitty-gritty of the filming process. Before auditions, for example, when casting directors would ask him to stay away. “Casting directors would say, ‘Sir, you shouldn’t come to auditions because you are the director. I will give you video

recordings of it’ and I would be like, ‘but I want to see the person who I want to cast in my film! During action sequences, the director is considered redundant, but what if some acting is required while an action sequence is going on?” In 1998, Krishna and Nidimoru collected money from their Indian engineer friends in the US to make short films. They would hire a camera and shoot stories during weekends. Flavours (2004), their first film, a light-hearted romantic comedy set in a milieu of Indian immigrants, was made with their own and donated money, and it went to many film festivals. “We did not quit our jobs and come to Mumbai to make films. We took baby steps,” Nidimoru says. The duo believes multiple narratives can represent life better. Perhaps not necessarily deeper, as evident in their films, but Nidimoru and Krishna have proved, once again, that connections and film training alone don’t make for an efficient Bollywood debut. Dhillon’s route to success, an oft-taken but risky one, led her to a position in Red Chillies Entertainment after five years. She still had no fixed role or designation, but she was allowed to sit in on script improvisation sessions with Shah Rukh Khan and his writers. “Everything I have become today is because of Shah Rukh Khan’s encouragement. He was like me one day and he recognizes the talent and drive of someone who doesn’t have sugar daddies in the industry,” she says. Her parents, a father who runs his own business in Amritsar and a mother who teaches English lit-

erature in that city’s Government College for Women, wouldn’t allow 18-year-old Dhillon to go to Mumbai before completing her education. After a BA degree from Delhi’s St Stephen’s College, she got admission at LSE for a master’s. Soon after she finished, and got herself a job as a communications manager in a multinational firm in London, she bought a ticket to Mumbai. “I had one acquaintance in the city at that time, a friend of my sister. I lived with him for some time.” She recalls spending months trying to know people who were somehow connected to the film world. “I would pursue someone whose uncle knew someone whose son was an assistant director. That way I went to many shoots and met people just to know how things work here. Finally I met Sanjiv Chawla, the CEO of Red Chillies Entertainment, with my resume and a few of my short stories.” He hired her and asked her to come to the office every day, be around and find her way through to being useful. She wants to become a director and a writer of more books (her next novel is called Kalma, which is about a Muslim woman who runs away from Pakistan—“someone who doesn’t identify with Islamic fundamentalism but has an emotional link to her religion”). Dhillon is every bit the beginner who is obsessed with Bollywood fame and its “abnormal life”—“I am cut off from reality. The film world is very insular.” Nidimoru is her antithesis, in many ways. Both outsiders, who stomped the Bollywood blues.


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PHOTOGRAPHS

COURTESY

NEHRU MEMORIAL MUSEUM

AND

LIBRARY

MUSIC MATTERS

DIGITIZATION

SHUBHA MUDGAL

Nehru goes Google

The life and times of independent India’s first statesman will soon be just a click away

B Y M AYANK A USTEN S OOFI mayank.s@livemint.com

···························· ntil now, anyone with the ambition of understanding Jawaharlal Nehru had to fly to Delhi and spend hours at the membersonly library in Teen Murti Bhavan, Nehru’s British-built residence that was turned into a museum after his death. Such a trip may soon be unnecessary. The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML), the world’s leading resource centre on India’s first prime minister, has undertaken a massive digitization project. Its archives are being scanned, digitized, linked with metadata and uploaded. “By the month’s end, Internet users can access the archives—as they keep being digitized—on our website, www.nehrumemorial.com,” says Gopa Sengupta, NMML’s project associate in the digitization team. That should open them up to more than the occasional scholar. The archives include letters, photographs, newspaper clips, radio interviews, videos and films on Nehru and the people of his era. The project started in March

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2010—867,000 pages of manuscripts and 29,807 photographs have been scanned so far; 500,000 pages have already been uploaded on the website. Films on Nehru that were r e c e n t l y r e s t o r e d in the National Film Archive of India, Pune, too will be uploaded. The files will be accessible once the site is launched formally. Funded by the ministry of culture, the digitization will cover nine million documents. They hope to finish the job by 2015. Some of the digitized manuscripts—hidden from public view—include correspondence that Nehru’s relatives and acquaintances, such as sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit and philosopher Bertrand Russell, exchanged with him. Nehru complained to Pandit that his daughter Indira was speaking too much French and too little Hindi; Russell wrote to Nehru saying he wouldn’t be able to meet him in London. The manuscripts also reveal that Nehru’s handwriting was elegant, while Mahatma Gandhi’s was illegible. Those curious about Nehru’s letters to Edwina Mountbatten won’t get much. While the memorial possesses letters from the collections of various individuals, the private mails are rarely donated. Many of the manuscripts available are dull enough to appeal only to scholars, such as Mridula Sarabhai’s scheme to Nehru for the proposed women’s department of the All India Congress Committee. A few are hilarious. In 1928, the manager of the Savoy Hotel, Mus-

FORGOTTEN GREATS

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The way they were: Nehru with Queen Elizabeth II in 1961; and (left) the Savoy Hotel man­ ager’s letter.

soorie, wrote to Nehru, asking him to apologize for his “...dress which was intended to be offensive and also for the offensive remark which he made regarding the ladies in the hotel”. The British manager was upset about Nehru wearing a sherwani, rather than a Western suit, for dinner. Nehru replied the same day: “As regards the alleged remark about the ladies in the hotel, Mr Nehru can only conclude that the manager did not hear it properly or his knowledge of the English language is not sufficient to understand what was said... It may interest the management to know that Mr Nehru personally approves and admires the modern European ladies’ dress.” While the display galleries of Teen Murti Bhavan are evocative of Nehruvian grandeur (marble stairs lead to a corridor lined with musty books), a museum can physically display only a certain number of photographs and let-

ters. The rest lie in cartons. The website will vastly increase the museum’s display area, virtually speaking. It will let you see more than one picture of Nehru’s wedding to Kamala, for instance, including one of the venue with a banner of Nehru Wedding Camp. The Internet debut of the archives should, in fact, attract more people. Currently, barring the occasional scholar, visitors to the museum tend to be sightseers on a touch-and-run spree of Delhi’s tourist hot spots. Accessibility is a problem. It is not unusual for a visitor, if he doesn’t have a car, to spend hours looking for an autorickshaw around the Teen Murti traffic circle. And perhaps the biggest roadblock to understanding Nehru is, ironically, the library itself, built within the leafy compound. It is excellently stocked but reserved for “bona-fide scholars”, which means that you have to be somebody like a university professor or a PhD student or a journalist to get admission. The online archives will change that, democratizing the institution. For the moment, the museum administration is struggling with another dilemma: Should it charge for access to the archives? Discussions are on with scholars, journalists, institutions and other users.

n the age of information, it is important to be considered newsworthy by those who bring you your daily news. Or you get blacked out. And they—the breaking news brigades—are very sure of what is newsworthy and what isn’t. Perhaps that is why most newspapers and TV channels did not think that the death of Mehmood Dholpuri, one of India’s leading harmonium players, deserved even a few lines in the passing. Friends and music lovers who passed on the news of Dholpuri’s demise on 25 May to the media through press releases received no acknowledgement. Some newsroom editors even snapped back when pushed to report with an irritated “Who was he?” We should have known better than to think that anyone would know, or care. I mean, Dholpuri just lived, loved music and the harmonium, accompanied the greats of Hindustani classical music, got a Padma Shri some years back, fell ill and died. What’s so newsworthy about that? Where’s the story? Well then, as the newsrooms cast away Dholpuri, I guess the only option is to remember him from one’s own association with him and hope that he will be remembered duly by those whom he accompanied so often. I first met Dholpuri at my very first concert in Delhi, sometime in the early 1980s. I was then an Allahabad girl in my early 20s, travelling to the Capital for my very first public concert, and Mehmood bhai, as I began addressing him, accompanied me on the harmonium. By then he was a fairly well-established name in Delhi music circles despite being young in years. A photograph from that concert at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, New Delhi, shot by well-known photographer Avinash Pasricha, shows me beaming away excitedly from behind a tanpura with a reed-thin, bespectacled Mehmood bhai on the harmonium, and my sister Ragini playing a second tanpura. All three of us are quite unrecognizable because of the many kilos we have happily permitted ourselves to put on in the interim. But since that concert, many light years and light kilos ago, Mehmood bhai accompanied me on many occasions, always addressing me as “Sobha behen”. He never really got my name right, but that wasn’t COURTESY AVINASH PASRICHA the reason for the gap years in between when I got hopping mad at him and vowed never again to invite him to accompany me. Once, years ago, probably in the 1980s, he was accompanying me at a Spic Macay Low notes: Dholpuri (right) with Mudgal. concert at a Delhi college. As I finished the first raga I had opted to sing, and started tuning for the concluding piece, I was startled and quite bewildered to see Mehmood bhai hastily packing his harmonium as if the recital were over. Noting my expression, he leaned forward and explained in a conspiratorial whisper, “Sobha behen, aise maqaam par khatam karna chahiye ke log aur sunne ko taraste reh jaayen”, meaning you should end a recital at a point when people are still thirsting for more. New to both Delhi and the concert circuit, I thought I should pay heed to the advice of a more experienced artiste and rose from the stage preparing to make a confused exit when the audience demanded more loudly and vociferously. That’s all it took for me to return to the stage and for Mehmood bhai to disclose the actual reason for his haste. In another conspiratorial whisper he revealed that he had accepted another assignment to accompany a very well-known maestro in a house concert at the home of a then powerful politician with a taste for classical music. As far as I remember, I sang the second piece with just the tabla, promising to never again let Mehmood bhai accompany me. But promises, quite like pie crusts, are made to be broken and in a year or so, we were back on stage once again. After all, life is too short to be nursing grievances forever more. Write to Shubha at musicmatters@livemint.com

Birds of a feather Sheba Chhachhi’s latest exhibition revels in paradoxes. So does she B Y A NINDITA G HOSE anindita.g@livemint.com

···························· ith its sloping wooden beams and postmodern allwhite corner, Sheba Chhachhi’s studio-in-residence in Delhi evokes both a mountain lodge in Bhutan and a loft in Brooklyn. She is a photographer who refuses to be photographed. The artist’s latest show features an installation that marries other extremes: 12th century Persian poetry and cheap Chinese toy TVs come together for a commentary on globalization, migration and spirituality. Winged Pilgrims: A Chronicle from Asia, the eponymous sitespecific installation that comprises the show, is a work Chh-

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achhi created in 2006, when the avian flu had hijacked global headlines. Opening at Mumbai’s Volte Gallery today, it marks the Delhi-based artist’s first solo in the city; a prelude to a larger show titled Luminarium that the gallery will host in January. Winged Pilgrims has changed in composition several times— from its debut at the Singapore Biennale in 2006 to its only other viewing in India at Delhi’s Nature Morte gallery in 2007. At its core, it remains a meditation on the engagement of humans with nature, combining moving-image light boxes, floating robes of Buddhist monks and a soundtrack by classical vocalist Vidya Rao. For Chhachhi, a photographer who started using photographs and sculptures in installations in the early 1990s to “slow down” the pace of viewing, this is a fitting manifestation. The installation comes alive in a dark room that draws attention to the light boxes which show elaborate landscapes

First flight: A light box still.

with flocks of birds flying across the screen in a hypnotic loop. There’s more paradox here: The light boxes are encased in Chinese toy TVs that have flooded Indian markets—symbolic of the processes of globalization—but they work on primitive pre-cinema “light box” technology. For the images themselves, the artist weaves a confluence of cross-cultural visual references from Buddhist thangka work, Chinese brush painting, the Persian miniature tradition and doc-

umentary photography. One light box shows a photograph of a Japanese graveyard with the Hindu god Brahma hovering on his divine vehicle, the swan. A similar Shinto deity from Japan, the Bonten, a god who rides four swans, appears alongside. One of the first birds to be murdered during the avian flu scare was a wild migratory swan in England. In Asia’s mythic narratives, swans have been emblematic of discretion and wisdom. “I was struck by this metaphoric

murder,” says Chhachhi, who uses the bird as a pan-Asian metaphor for the soul or spirit, as they appear in overlapping mythologies variously as the Hamsa, Garuda, the Phoenix and the Simurgh. To her, they represent the earliest form of global movement; and the Buddhist pilgrims, possibly the first global citizens. Birds also stand in for the “higher self”; the achin pakhi of Indian mythology. She uses the indiscriminate culling of birds during the avian flu scare as a parable for the West

being cautious of the influx of human immigrants. The panic over the birds carrying the “Asian” flu into Europe mirrored the horror of immigrant incursion, disguising the fact that avian flu was caused by breeding practices developed in Europe itself. It might appear that Winged Pilgrims is a departure from the 53-year-old artist’s long-running strain of feminism with works such as When the Gun is Raised, Dialogue Stops (2000), about women in the strife-torn Kashmir Valley. But strongly focused on politics and ecology as it is, Chhachhi insists it is her feminist lens that allows her to take on the patriarchal relationship between human beings and nature. “Feminist art needn’t be about women,” she says. “It is about critically challenging the order of the world.” Winged Pilgrims will run till 1 August at Volte Gallery, Mumbai. The work is priced upwards of `15 lakh.


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The Urduwallahs Urdu newspapers, which were once crucial to Mumbai’s anti­imperial past, continue to see themselves as the voice of a people

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hen Hindustan Daily was first established in 1936, the government of British India, hoping to defuse anti-imperial passions, banned it outright. Unable to locate a safe printing press, its three young founders began producing their nationalist daily with a cyclostyling machine hidden in a moving taxi, driving around the city. Today, western India’s oldest Urdu newspaper is published from a small, sunny office in an old building in Nagpada in south-central Mumbai by Sarfaraz Arzu, the son of one of the paper’s founding partners. It covers national and international news, as well as stories of specific interest to its almost entirely Muslim readership. So do Inquilaab, Urdu Times Daily and a small clutch of Urdu newspapers with Mumbai editions: Munsif, Siasat and Rashtriya Sahara. Their newsrooms begin to stir late in the evening, whether they consist of six journalists (Hindustan Daily) or a staff of 110 (Urdu Times Daily). The race for slick headlines, catchy photographs and provocative analysis begins at 8. The age of the newspaper calligraphers is over; news is scripted on computers and winged over to press. The copies begin to roll out by 2am. In operation, the Urdu newspaper is indistinguishable from its English counterpart. And what of the spirit? Many non-English newspapers in urban India are deeply conscious of their status as communicators and interpreters to their readership. They amplify the voice of the people—but they also serve as a voice among their people. “Urdu has a force, doesn’t it?” smiles Sami Bubere, veteran

Mighty words: (clockwise from above) Editing in progress at Urdu Times Daily; the editorial staff at the newspaper; an Urdu Times reader; and Sarfaraz Arzu, the managing editor of Hindustan Daily. journalist and publisher of Urdu weekly Subh-e-Ummid. “The force of the words Inquilaab Zindabad (long live revolution), for example, you don’t get that in another language.” For “Urduwallahs”, as Bubere calls his confreres, the responsibility is felt with special keenness. In the decades since independence, it has been increasingly characterized as a Muslim language, subject to the same discriminations as the Muslim community. But Hindi remains inextricably linked with its part-Persian forebear. The flowing calligraphy and poetic courtesies of its address mark Urdu out as a language of high culture for many people. But true to its origins in Mughal bazaars, it remains a vibrant, living, political—and politicized—argot; a key note in Mumbai’s Tower of Babel. A note, Arzu says, which is too often unacknowledged. “Urdu is the language of people who are usually invisible except in movies and mushairas,” he says. “For a long time, nobody cared how people lived in Madanpura or Bhendi Bazaar. Urdu newspapers specialized in learning exactly what was going on in these communities.” Mumbai’s Urdu papers are crucial channels for the government to reach Urdu-knowing Muslims; not just the 1.4 million people who live in the dense Muslim majority district that stretches from

Byculla to Crawford Market and old neighbourhoods in suburban Mumbai, but also a growing immigrant population. To politicians and bureaucrats, they are a way to understand a potential vote bank’s needs, but also a way to speak directly to the community. Perhaps this is why at a meeting with the city’s Urdu journalists and editors in May, Manikrao Thakre, the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee president, was so quick to pledge support in the form of government advertising to the papers. Thakre echoed chief minister Prithviraj Chavan’s own promises of incentives for Urdu readers and writers in April. These included a plan for land for a printing press in Navi Mumbai. “Hogwash,” Arzu says candidly. He has been hearing promises like these for 35 years. A little further up town, Mumbai’s biggest Urdu newspaper inhabits a shining office complex in Parel. Begun in 1938, Inquilaab is one of Urdu publishing’s banner names. Its parent company merged last year with Jagran Prakashan, which publishes India’s biggest Hindi newspaper, Dainik Jagran; over the next few months, new editions will be coming out all over north India. According to the newspaper, 60,000 Mumbaikars read Inquilaab daily. Inquilaab’s editor, Shahid Latif, is also a veteran sceptic of the government’s promises. “There

are some studies that say Urdu is Maharashtra’s second largest language,” he says. “But where is the representation?” Hindustan Daily and Inquilaab, in spite of differences in scale, have much in common: origins in the independence movement, founders who saw that India and India’s Muslims needed to see futures concurrent with each other, and a political stance that is both staunchly nationalist as well as deeply critical of the state. Mumbai’s history took shape in an age when the newspaper was a critical tool in projects of social reform and nationalism. Urdu, the lingua franca of its film industry, was a lifeline. The industry’s poets and scriptwriters all wrote for city newspapers as well. The scriptwriter Javed Siddiqui (who wrote, among other things, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge) even ran his own newspaper, Urdu Reporter, for some years. Many Urdu publications in Mumbai began as outlets for their founders’ views. Khilafat, published from Khilafat House in Byculla until 1960, was the brainchild of the brothers Maulana Muhammad Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali, who led the famous pan-Islamic movement of that very name. The year 1960 also saw the first edition of Urdu Times Daily, Mumbai’s most widely read Urdu paper after Inquilaab. Begun by a ship man, Taj Mohammed Nazir

Ahmed, the paper aimed to build a community institution. “He sunk the family wealth into this paper,” says Imtiyaz Ahmed, the founder’s grandson and Urdu Times Daily’s managing editor. “But he brought some of the finest Urdu journalists and editors here.” Its offices, in the heart of Madanpura, weathered several storms, including the Hindu-Muslim riots of 1993-94; a turning point in inter-religious relations in the city. Ahmed remembers his newspaper as a rallying point at the time, balancing its reportage of injustice with an effort to preserve the peace. “(A competing newspaper’s) press was in a Hindu-dominated area, and they were locked out for three days, unable to publish,” Ahmed remembers. “We even broke that story out of a sense of justice.” The riots fundamentally changed Mumbai for Muslims. Newspapers, dogged, began to look ahead. “I realized it was a watershed moment,” Arzu remembers. “Because that was the time the community began looking within.” “At that time, Urdu newspapers began to emphasize that education was to be the top-most priority—that the next generation should not repeat what had happened to generations before. “Because of that, I think Bombay is a changed city,” Arzu says. “I

don’t find any young child not going to school.” Latif concurs. “Muslims realized that a lack of education robbed them of identity, equality, opportunity,” he says. “Today, there’s increased enrolment in girls’ schools, professional courses, higher education—the results are showing across the board.” This directly contradicts a certain narrative about the decline of India’s Urdu readership. Ahmed worries his language will be dead “by 2030—10 years before Gujarati, maybe 20 or 30 before Marathi”. But Latif frankly calls the idea of decline a “myth”. And other editors are heartened by the increased numbers of Urdu speakers graduating from high school, and non-Muslim companies, including Jagran Prakashan, entering the market for Urdu readers. For them, Urdu is an inspiration. “We have a special mission here,” Latif says. “We don’t just report the news. We are here to serve a community.” A bond to its people does not express itself so freely in every language. To the Urdu community, the fight to bring “identity, equality and opportunity” to Muslims is still on. The spirit is preserved in a famous sher by satirist Allama Akbar Allahabadi: “Kheechon na kamaan ko, talwar nikaalo/Agar top mukaabil ho, toh akhbaar nikaalo.” (Don’t draw the bow, bring out a sword; When faced with the gun, bring out a newspaper). It is a verse many of Mumbai’s readers know well. It has appeared, for the last 50 years, on the masthead of Bal Thackeray’s Marathi weekly Marmik. supriya.n@livemint.com



Lounge for 11 June 2011