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

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Vol. 5 No. 11

LOUNGE THE WEEKEND MAGAZINE

Friends and relatives mourn Neetu Solanki at her home in Matiala, Delhi.

BIHAR’S PRIDE, EAT IT >Page 8

THE REMAINS OF NAXALBARI

This one­road village wears no clues to its revolutionary past >Pages 6­7

THE GIRL WITH THE PEACOCK TATTOO

EXPERIMENTS WITH BOOKS

Zubaan’s Urvashi Butalia helped create the blueprint for indie publishers. Now she hopes to make it a sustainable, for­profit business >Page 14

The tattoo was Neetu Solanki’s way of saying she would live life on her own terms. But in aspirational, conservative new India, being forthright and fearless can be deadly >Page 10 REPLY TO ALL

THE GOOD LIFE

DYSFUNCTIONALLY FUNCTIONAL

LESSONS IN RAJAT GUPTA’S CALL

AAKAR PATEL

I

ndian society functions as a whole. Observed in part, it’s dysfunctional. Let me explain. Without Gujaratis and Rajasthanis, India wouldn’t have an economy. Delete Tata/Birla/Ambani/Mittal/Premji and India begins to look like Bangladesh. The rest of the country—Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Kashmir, UP, etc.—will have lots of culture but little else. That such a tiny community monopolizes the ability to raise and manage capital is frightening. However, it needs to be understood... >Page 4

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Moving beyond traditional imagery, contemporary Tibetan art is carving a niche for itself >Page 16

PIECE OF CAKE

SHOBA NARAYAN

here is a Sanskrit saying that I grew up hearing, “Vinasha kaleshu viparitha buddhi”. My grandfather used it to sketch out doomsday scenarios, the idea being that as one’s doom approaches, one’s mind works perversely—like Ravana when he kidnapped Sita or Duryodhan before the Mahabharat. What fascinated me was the corollary. If your mind works perversely in bad times, can you avert the bad times by adjusting your mind and your... >Page 4

LEAVING LHASA VEGAS

PAMELA TIMMS

DON’T MISS

in today’s edition of

THOSE DELECTABLE CRUMPETS

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ust what is so sexy about crumpets? Elizabeth David noted in 1977 that “crumpet” had long been a colloquialism used to describe “a piece of skirt, any likely young woman, a girl with whom someone is having a passing affair, and other less polite interpretations”. In the heyday of political incorrectness, a leading British broadcaster, Frank Muir, coined the phrase “thinking man’s crumpet” to describe Joan Bakewell, a woman audacious enough to be both... >Page 9

PHOTO ESSAY

UP IN SMOKE


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

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GAMING REVIEW | BULLETSTORM

PRIYA RAMANI

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PRIYA RAMANI DEPUTY EDITORS

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ANIL PADMANABHAN TAMAL BANDYOPADHYAY NABEEL MOHIDEEN MANAS CHAKRAVARTY MONIKA HALAN VENKATESHA BABU SHUCHI BANSAL SIDIN VADUKUT (MANAGING EDITOR, LIVEMINT)

FOUNDING EDITOR RAJU NARISETTI ©2011 HT Media Ltd All Rights Reserved

MY MARCH MADNESS I

know you’ll think I’m the perennial damp squib but I always get irritated in March. Make that 8 March. Countries such as India shouldn’t celebrate International Women’s Day. We haven’t yet earned the right. It’s not like we celebrate the day in any significant manner anyway. All the Pink Pimps predictably launch some new packaging, an online game or a discount that they believe will liberate Indian women. That day every newspaper and television channel carries at least one story of a braveheart who has survived despite India. Like the 53-year-old Dalit woman who was buried alive by her father when she was only 16 days old. Someone rescued her and she now fights female infanticide. Or the policewoman whose station in a red light district is the winner among the RANT capital’s 182 police stations. Or the 70-year-old sharpshooter with a `85,000 gun (this one I quite enjoyed, I must admit). Some Big Bindi brandishing MP inevitably uses the occasion to regurgitate the long-pending Women’s Reservation Bill. One report quoted politician Sharad Yadav as saying: “I fully support reservation for women. But it should not be only for women from the creamy layer.” It’s also the day random strangers who usually abuse me on Twitter take a timeout to wish me Happy Women’s Day. And it’s around this time that I’m encouraged to write my annual update on Indian men (the update reads the same every year). Earlier this week The Times of India reported the findings of the International Men and Gender Equality Survey. One in four Indian men commit sexual

violence in their lives, TOI said. More than 65% of these men believed women should tolerate domestic violence “to keep the family together”. Since it’s March, the newspaper illustrated this story not with an image of a woman in a bikini but with that of a man holding a placard that read: “Are not our mothers and sister (sic) women?” Even if you’re that rare educated urban Indian woman (creamy layer, in Yadav’s lingo) who hasn’t encountered sexual or domestic violence, chances are you are familiar with the concept of tolerance. Aside: I’m convinced the husband was a Croatian in his last life—the men there topped the genderequitable men scale in the survey (our Indian boys came last, of course). The morning after, we go back to reporting and reading about women who don’t survive this country. Each of these stories is just another reason not to celebrate International Women’s Day. On the centenary of this glorious celebration of feminine power, for example, a university student was shot dead by a stalker on a busy bridge. A 31-year-old was strangled in what may be a dowry death (when it’s a Congress politician’s son’s wedding, the helicopter is a gift, not dowry). A mother threw her two children (Gaurav, 6, and Mayanka, 3) off the 19th floor of a building, then jumped herself. A 79-year-old lady was strangled with the chord of a household grinder. In March we are overloaded with gender statistics. About how we are systematically brutalized; about teenage marriages and motherhood; about infanticide, dowry, rape; about inequalities in the way we are educated, nourished and treated at the workplace.

Bikini basic: Got your attention, didn’t I? Equal pay for equal work? That’s not a concept that’s reached our shores yet. This week’s cover story is about an educated, free-spirited, working woman who didn’t worry too much about what India thought of her. Last month, she was murdered, and her body was stuffed in an airbag and dumped at a railway station. That’s why I say, hold off on the celebrations until we can improve our track record. Write to lounge@livemint.com www.livemint.com Priya Ramani blogs at blog.livemint.com/first­cut

his is a situation many gam- person shooter. It’s the biggest, ers find themselves in. most popular genre in video They’ve just played something gaming, and arguably its poorest tense, wonderfully crafted and in maturity. All the big examples quite brilliant (in its own way), of the type are lowest common but how exactly do you explain denominator fare, injecting misthat feeling to other people? If placed gravitas into poorly these people are not PlayStation- informed political statements. It may seem strange to some inclined, then it’s all the more difficult. Where you see interesting that so much explanation has mechanics and expertly curated been spent on detailing what experience, they see juvenile vio- appears to be a glorified shooting game. “Aren’t all video games like lence and adolescent silliness. Now if the game in question is this?” you might ask. They’re not. Games such as Bulletstorm, that embarrassment is turned up to 11. This is, after all, The Longest Journey or even fela game centred around shooting people in creative ways with big guns. Let us first lay out the level of decrepitude Bulletstorm descends to. The story is ridiculous. You play the habitually drunk Grayson Hunt, a soldier of fortune who seeks revenge against an authority figure called Irreverent: A still from Bulletstorm. General Sarrano. Into this skeletal plot, Bulletstorm adds low shooter Half-Life 2 brim plenty of razor-sharp wit, crude with powerful metaphors and sexual innuendo and oodles of complex themes. Bulletstorm, on the other hand, is like Quenprofanity. There are fart jokes. Yes, it’s pulp dreck. But it t i n T a r a n t i n o ’ s G r i n d works. It’s self-aware of its stu- house—intentionally B-grade, pidity, and uses that reflexivity irreverent, yet filled with a powto deliver some genuine laughs erful sense of craft. It’s a crass, and thrills. It’s paced perfectly, foul-mouthed title built on top the “skillshot” system that of a deep understanding of what rewards you for being “cre- makes games compelling. ative” in dispatching enemies keeps it consistently fun and Bulletstorm is available from the visuals are fantastic. The Milestone Interactive for the PC, game world is vibrant and col- Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. ourful in comparison with The PC version, reviewed here, costs `999. other first-person shooters. That’s the key phrase when considering Bulletstorm—first- Krish Raghav ON THE COVER: PHOTOGRAPHER: JAVEED SHAH/MINT


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AAKAR PATEL REPLY TO ALL

Why India is part dysfunctional, fully functional

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ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT

ndian society functions as a whole. Observed in part, it’s dysfunctional. Let me explain. Without Gujaratis and Rajasthanis, India wouldn’t have an economy. Delete Tata/Birla/Ambani/Mittal/Premji and India begins to look like Bangladesh. The rest of

the country—Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Kashmir, UP, etc.—will have lots of culture but little else. That such a tiny community monopolizes the ability to raise and manage capital is frightening. However, it needs to be understood as part of a whole. There are things missing in Gujarat and Rajasthan as well, whole chunks, without which those states wouldn’t function properly. Gujarat’s contribution to the Armed Forces, for instance, is instructive. In 2009, The Indian Express reported, Gujarat sent its highest ever number of recruits to the Indian Army. How many? A total of 719, in an army of over a million soldiers. Mind you, this was after a big awareness campaign. In the preceding two years the number of Gujarati recruits was 230. Gujarat has 55 million people but it depends on the rest of India to defend it. Gujarat also needs another thing, though some might disagree. As a mercantile culture, Gujarati literature is quite poor. The shelves of Crossword stores in Ahmedabad (Surat has none) are lined with volumes of Bengali novels in translation. I wonder how many Gujarati novels have Bengali translations. Probably none, but Gujarat needs the literature of others and I only discovered Camus through his Gujarati translations. Gujaratis speak no English and though Azim Premji and Ratan Tata run billion-dollar information technology businesses, they are dependent on south Indians to staff their companies. This sort of dependency is everywhere we look in India.

Mumbai’s two dominant communities, Marathi and Gujarati, are incidental to Bollywood. Bollywood is properly the product of Punjab and the high culture (“Ganga-Jamuni”) of north India’s Hindustani speakers. Why is this so? Punjab’s peasants have an extroverted physical culture (writer Santosh Desai observed that bhangra was the only Indian dance form which exposed the armpit), which is unusual on the subcontinent. This culture is the basis and the setting for entertainment, and the reason why Bollywood migrates so easily to Pakistan. However, Punjabis and north Indians need the liberal environment that only Mumbai can give for their talents to flower. That’s why Pakistan doesn’t really have a film industry, though there is plenty of talent. Partition hurt Punjabi Muslims, because they are perfect for our film industry. Why is Pakistan such a mess? Some would blame Islam, but they’d be wrong. The problem isn’t religion at all. The problem is lack of caste balance. There aren’t enough traders to press for restraint and there are too many peasants. Too many people concerned about national honour, and not enough people concerned about national economy. Put simply: Pakistan has too many Punjabis and not enough Gujaratis. The majority of Pakistanis live in Punjab, but well over 50% of government revenue comes from just one city in Sindh: Karachi. Why? That is where the Gujarati is. Gujaratis are less than 1% of Pakistan’s population, but they dominate its economy because they are from trading

Relocate: Violent agitation made Ratan Tata ditch Bengal for Gujarat for his Nano. communities. Colgate-Palmolive in Pakistan is run by the Lakhani Memons, the Dawood group is run by Memons from Bantva in Saurashtra (the great Abdus Sattar Edhi is also a Memon from Bantva). The Adamjee group, advertisers on BBC, are from Gujarat’s Jetpur village and founded Muslim Commercial Bank. The Khoja businessman Sadruddin Hashwani owns hotels including Islamabad’s bombed-out Marriott. Khojas founded Habib Bank, whose boards are familiar to Indians who watched cricket on television in the 1980s. The Habibs also manufacture Toyota cars through Indus Motors. Pakistan’s only beer is made by Murree Brewery, owned by a Parsi family, the Bhandaras. Also owned by Parsis is Karachi’s Avari Hotels. People talk of the difference between Karachi and Lahore. I find that the rational view in Pakistani newspapers is put forward by letter-writers from Karachi. Often they have names like Gheewala, a Sunni Vohra name (same caste as Deoband’s rector from Surat, Ghulam Vastanvi), or Parekh, also a Surat name. Today capital is fleeing Pakistan because of terrorism and poor governance. To convince investors things will get better, the Pakistani government

has appointed as minister for investment a Gujarati, Saleem Mandviwalla. The Mandviwallas own Pakistan’s multiplexes, which now show Bollywood. The place where Gujaratis dominate totally, as they do also in India, is Pakistan’s capital market. Going through the list of members of the Karachi Stock Exchange (www.kse.com.pk) this becomes clear. However, few Pakistanis will understand this because as Muslims they have little knowledge of caste. The Gujarati tries to hold up the Pakistani economy, but the peasant Punjabi (Jat) runs over his effort with his militant stupidity. Why cannot the Pakistani Punjabi also think like a trader? Simple. He’s not converted from the mercantile castes. There are some Khatris, like Najam Sethi, South Asia’s best editor, but they are frustrated because few other Pakistanis think like them. Are they an intellectual minority? Yes, but that is because they are a minority by caste. One great community of Pakistani Punjabi Khatris is called Chinioti. They are excellent at doing business but in a martial society they are the butt of jokes. I once heard Zia Mohyeddin tell a funny story about the cowardice of Chiniotis and I thought of how differently a Gujarati would look at

the same story. Can the individual escape caste? Of course he can. What defines behaviour in this sense is not genes but culture. Baniyas are brought up to seek compromise, to keep emotion in check, to identify value, to understand capital, to persist. This does not come automatically, and it is wrong to believe otherwise. My teacher, the most learned writer in journalism, is from the Burki tribe of Waziristan. It isn’t the place you would look for intellectuals, but he cannot be defined by his tribe. It takes intellectual effort, however, to distance one’s self from culture and upbringing. This is especially true in a society that is collective. And yet examples of those who defy caste and community are all around us. There aren’t many Sardarji jokes you can crack about Manmohan Singh, an austere and measured (he would say “meyyered”) intellectual. I believe it is not possible to understand India without feeling caste. That’s why I respect the individual who breaks away, and he is everywhere you look. Our army chiefs immediately after independence were drawn from warrior castes. The Coorgs Cariappa and Thimayya, and Saurashtra’s Jadeja (from a warrior caste Gujaratis call “Bapu”). But in a few decades we had Brahmins (Sharma and Joshi) and even traders (Malhotra, Malik and Kapoor). We can learn from each other since we live with each other. However horrible a place it may be, India is balanced out by all of us: north Indians, south Indians, east Indians and west Indians. We are a unit, and the unit works. Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media. Send your feedback to replytoall@livemint.com www.livemint.com Read Aakar’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/aakar­patel

SHOBA NARAYAN THE GOOD LIFE

Lessons in Rajat Gupta’s phone call

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here is a Sanskrit saying that I grew up hear-

RAMIN TALAIE/BLOOMBERG

ing, “Vinasha kaleshu viparitha buddhi”. My grandfather used it to sketch out doomsday scenarios, the idea being that as one’s doom approaches, one’s mind works perversely—

like Ravana when he kidnapped Sita or Duryodhan before the Mahabharat. What fascinated me was the corollary. If your mind works perversely in bad times, can you avert the bad times by adjusting your mind and your behaviour? The original phrase is not predictive. It is fatalistic and talks about a certain doom. But could it be watered down somewhat and applied predictively to prevent mistakes? Let me explain. Why would a person who has spent a lifetime and a stellar career keeping client confidences break off from a board meeting to make a call to a hedge fund manager? If it was a misstep, could he have somehow intuited it and stopped himself? Perhaps he was simply returning a phone call that he didn’t need to at that moment? Could he have realized that his mind was playing perverse tricks on him; that he was making avoidable mistakes? Is Rajat Gupta culpable? That’s for the US federal court to decide in the

highly watched insider trading case against the billionaire founder of the Galleon Group, Raj Rajaratnam. The word on the street is that Gupta may have been guilty of “over-socializing”, but nothing more. The more interesting question is this: Why now? Why did this happen to Gupta now, after retirement, especially since, as he has said, he spent a career being discreet? As Gupta wrote in his impassioned letter to the dean of the Indian School of Business (ISB), which he co-founded: “I have spent my entire professional career zealously guarding the confidences of my clients. There is no reason for me to suddenly deviate from a lifetime of probity and honour.” I don’t follow astrology, but I don’t dismiss it either. Astrology claims to let us know when we are going through bad times and offers palliative measures such as wearing certain gemstones. But you don’t need astrology for that. Each of us can tell when we are going through a bad period. Most of us blame others or external events for our

Guilty? Gupta is accused of insider trading. misfortunes and in many instances, that is the case. Corporate lobbyist Niira Radia didn’t know that her phone calls were being tapped and even adding that numerological extra “I” to her name didn’t prevent it. The flip side is that wrong-doing, at least in the case of usually honourable people, can begin with an honest mistake that then snowballs out of control. It is possible to catch this snowball to face up to your mistakes, but that takes attention, courage, and a certain amount of wisdom. You could withdraw, publicly admit wrong-doing and change your actions. This, to me, is the most compelling idea in that ancient Sanskrit phrase, and indeed in all of astrology: predictive prevention. Change your behaviour and change future events. US

presidential history is rife with examples of powerful men who were going through a bad phase and compounded it through their actions—Nixon’s Watergate cover-up; Clinton’s denials about Lewinsky; Reagan during the Iran-Contra affair. During bad times, your mind behaves perversely. These men could have changed history, and prevented their own downfall, had they caught themselves, as Obama did in the aftermath of his pastor Jeremiah Wright’s inflammatory rhetoric. Although I have admired him from afar, I have encountered Gupta only twice. The first was eight years ago at the home of a friend who threw a book party for me, and had invited the entire “Westchester set”, as we called the CEOs and industry titans who lived in Westchester County, New York. Gupta was there, as was PepsiCo head Indra Nooyi with her husband and daughters, as was the wife of Berkshire Hathaway’s Jain. Dressed in relaxed Sunday slacks, Gupta was charming and gracious to me, a novice author. The second time was two weeks ago, in Bangalore. I spotted him at the VIP enclave in the Chinnaswamy Stadium at the start of the England-India cricket match that ended in a tie. Gupta was with Parag Saxena, with whom he co-founded New Silk Route Partners, an Asia-focused growth capital fund. Gupta looked as dapper and distinguished as ever. If he was worried about what would transpire the

following week, he didn’t show it. The coming weeks will reveal exactly what the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) knows about this case. In his letter to the ISB, Gupta has stated that there are no transcripts of his conversation with Rajaratnam and that relations between him and the hedge fund manager were “strained” because he had lost his entire $10 million (around `45 crore) investment in one of the hedge funds run by Galleon. Gupta will defend himself “vigorously”, and may come out innocent. But in the cut-throat world of global business, he has already been tainted by association and that will affect the rest of his life. To me, the most haunting question is this: Was this whole thing preventable? If Gupta had caught himself acting out of character (the whole “perverse mind” syndrome that the verse describes), could he have stopped himself from making that phone call? Or does the lure of power and money change people in a fundamental way? Of the two, the latter is the scarier scenario. For his sake and for India’s, Shoba Narayan hopes that Rajat Gupta is proven innocent. Write to her at thegoodlife@livemint.com www.livemint.com Read Shoba’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/shoba­narayan


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LOUNGE JAVEED SHAH/MINT

HERITAGE

A collection of classic cars, some over 80 years old, is on display at Cartier’s Concours d’Elegance in Delhi today. Here are three never­seen­before cars B Y K OMAL S HARMA ·································· n 2008, Cartier hosted India’s first auto show of heritage cars, the Concours d’Elegance, at the Royal Western India Turf Club in Mumbai. It returns this year to Delhi’s Jaipur Polo club. Fifty-six cars in different categories, such as the Indian heritage class,

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The Maybach, 1936

Delhi­based art gallerist Anubhav Nath’s May­ bach is one of the only 100 historical May­ bachs (produced between 1921­41) in the world now. Originally owned by the Maharaja of Patiala, the German marque was bought during the British Raj, when Rolls­Royce was seen as the preferred choice of royalty. Singh says it was possibly bought to irk the British. In 1966, car collector and restorer Ramchander Nath acquired the Maybach. Anubhav is the third­generation owner of the automobile.

Time travellers komal.sharma@livemint.com

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preservation class, classics, post-war classics and roadsters, all in running order, will make a circuit at the event which will be held today. “While the Mumbai show was based more on pedigree and rarity of the cars, this time we’ll see more style, colour and glamour,” says the curator of the show, Manvendra Singh of Barwani, co-author of The Automobiles of the Maharajas. COURTESY DILJEET TITUS JAVEED SHAH/MINT

The Stutz, 1930

The only one of its kind in India, the Stutz was first spotted by the Maharaja of Baria at the 1929 London Motor Show. In 1952, this double­cowl speedster went into the hands of Bura Dadi, a car collector from Godhra, who bought it for a mere `3,000. It spent many years locked up in his garage, and even sur­ vived the Godhra riots in 2002 (Dadi’s garage was burnt down by rioters, but the Stutz had broken down near his son’s home on a drive and had been left there). Dadi willed the car to Singh before he died in 2002. But when Dadi’s son refused to part with it without being compensated and Singh could not afford to buy it, he asked Delhi­ based car collector Diljeet Titus to buy it. Freshly painted in purple with red pinstripes, deep burgundy interiors, golden dashboard with white dials, it has a “rich, luxurious Pari­ sian salon look,” says Singh.

The Studebaker, 1955

A rakish­looking sports sedan, the Studebaker was designed by Raymond Loewy, an industrial designer of the 1920s best known for creating the Shell and BP logo. Its current owner, Delhi­based Avinash Grewal, a businessman, bought it in Bangalore a few years ago. It was an ex­consulate car sold through the State Trading Corporation. “I’m not sure of its exact history. It was probably imported by a diplomat in 1955. It spent some years in Jamshedpur before it was sent to Bangalore. I bought it from a vintage car collector in Bangalore,” says Grewal.


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Spotlight

LOUNGE

JOURNEY

The remains of Naxalbari

The cradle: Shaheed Vedi, where nine women and two children were killed in 1967 and Naxalism was born; and Abhijit Majumdar at the CPI(M­L) Liberation’s Kolkata office.

This one­road village wears no clues to its revolutionary past. Advertisements overshadow faded busts of Mao, Lenin and Charu Majumdar on grounds that once saw a bloody national rebellion

PHOTOGRAPHS

BY I NDRANIL

BHOUMIK/MINT

extremist factions of Communists to bring their ideologies into the open. When agrarian land issues arose in Naxalbari, extremist Communists saw an opportunity to begin a violent overthrow of landowners. Naxalbari 1967 was to become the first step in the great Indian proletariat revolution.

A village that has moved on B Y S HAMANTH R AO ····························· he Siliguri office of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), or CPI(M-L), Liberation is a tiny room with big posters of Lenin, Stalin and Mao. One poster exhorts “workers of the world—unite”. Yet another declares “the proletariat have nothing to lose but their chains”. The low-roofed room’s walls haven’t been painted in a while. There is a rusty table in the centre. There are a couple of trunks by the walls. A weak bulb shines dimly. There are no computers, nor is there any trace of technology. In this single-room office, I wait for Abhijit Majumdar. I’m in Siliguri in north Bengal en route to the nearby village of Naxalbari, which is the origin of the words Naxal and Naxalite, because it was the location of a 1967 peasant rebellion. I’m visiting Naxalbari to try and understand how a localized rebellion snowballed into a movement with national significance in the 1960s and 1970s. My host in Siliguri, Prodip Sarkar, has suggested I meet Abhijit, the son of Charu Majumdar, one of the leaders of the 1967 Naxalbari rebellion. Abhijit is also the secretary of the CPI(M-L) Liberation for Darjeeling district in West Bengal. On one wall of Abhijit’s CPI(M-L) Liberation office is a framed photograph of a wiry, bespectacled, almost malnourished-looking man with the caption “Comrade Charu Majumdar at Lal Bazar Police Headquarters, 1972”. That is the year and location of Majumdar’s death in police custody. Rather, as Abhijit puts it in an emotionless voice, “That was

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when my father was murdered by the police.” Abhijit is a suave, articulate man, his sophistication looking oddly out of place in the ramshackle office. Yet Abhijit’s brand of activism is not quite like his father’s. Charu Majumdar had famously said, “He is not a true Communist who has not dipped his hands in the blood of the class enemy.” Abhijit, as district secretary, has led protests against land acquisition for industries and for farmers’ rights. While these protests have been vocal, they haven’t resulted in anything close to the violence or bloodshed that happened in the Naxal movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Abhijit maintains that the proletariat revolution is inevitable, and class enemies will be overthrown—yet expressions denoting violence or killing are guardedly absent from his talk.

Split within the party The story of the Naxalbari rebellion is intertwined with the history of communism in India. Far more important than the revolt itself were its chief cause and effect—a rift among Indian Communists and the widespread violence of the Naxal movement, respectively. During the 1960s, there were ideological disagreements within the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM. Extremist factions of the CPM advocated the armed overthrow of landowners by means of a workers’ and peasants’ revolt. They proposed direct violent action against “petty bourgeoisie” as the only way to change an unjust society, and sought to follow in the footsteps of the Chinese and Russian revolutions. The Naxalbari rebellion of 1967, then, was a trigger for the

After a lunch of rice and fish curry, I enter a rattling, ramshackle bus whose conductor loudly advertises “PanitankiNepal, Naxalbari”. The bus’ destination is across the Nepal border, but it is due to pass through Naxalbari on its way. The vibrations of the rickety bus are amplified by the potholed road. Soon, the bus goes past a road to Darjeeling. On the narrow road to Nepal, tea gardens flank the road, rolling away in a green expanse into the horizon. Naxalbari lies 25km from Siliguri. Right at the entrance to it is a solitary building named “Block Land & Land Reforms Officer”, rather appropriately for a place linked with land struggles. The locked building looks desolate and abandoned on Sunday afternoon. Naxalbari is a one-road village—nearly all activity centres around this road. Single-room shops line it, selling sweets, cellphones, provisions, computer education and more, with what could be frenetic commercial activity for a place of Naxalbari’s size. There are no obvious memorials or mentions of the 44-year-old rebellion that made Naxalbari famous. When a place comes with associations attached, as Naxalbari does, it is easy to project one’s own expectations on to it. I expect to see overt signs of the past—signboards narrating stories of the historical incident, or libraries or memorials, but there are none to be readily seen. Naxalbari wears no clues to its past on its shoulder. It has moved on from 1967.

A retired revolutionary At Naxalbari, I have to meet Nathuram Biswas, one of the few sur-

viving Naxalite activists from the 1970s. I have been told that the best way to find him would be to “ask anyone in Naxalbari”. With typical city-slicker scepticism, I wonder if that will work. But I get directions from the first man I ask. Biswas, 60, is a bespectacled, balding man. His face is untouched by the wrinkles of age—my first reaction is that the person in front of me is far too young to be him. As we talk, and he narrates the story of the revolt, I realize there is considerable blood, violence and grief behind the seemingly innocuous euphemism “peasant revolt”.

A rebellion unfolds Biswas tells me the spark of the violence in Naxalbari was lit when a landlord, Ishwar Tirkey, ousted a labourer Bighul Kissan from his land in April 1967. Since many leaders of the extremist factions of CPM were from the region, they mobilized thousands of farmers, and laid siege to Tirkey’s farm. Tirkey, though, was politically well connected, and had arrest warrants taken out for the leaders of the farmers’ protests. The next stone was cast when another landlord faced with a protest, Nagendra Roy Choud-

hury, took out a gun and fired in the air. Nearly a thousand farmers seized his crops and captured him. Biswas tells me in a matterof-fact way, without a change in tone, that Choudhury was then tried by a people’s court and promptly executed. The CPM, which was part of a coalition government in Bengal, was alarmed. The government could neither be seen as condoning the violence, nor disowning fellow comrades who were leading the agitation. Naxalbari came under unprecedented focus and attention. The then land revenue minister Harekrishna Konar stayed nearby to negotiate with the agitators. Seven ministers came to the area and kept watch. Police and paramilitary forces were employed in huge numbers. Landowners sought special police protection. There was an uneasy calm in Naxalbari. An uneasy calm is but ammunition awaiting a flame. After one police search operation, word spread that a village leader’s pregnant wife had been attacked. This was all that was needed to ignite the already explosive atmosphere. In one confrontation with policemen, a protester shot an arrow into the police ranks and

killed inspector Sonam Wangdi. Tension escalated, and the police launched ruthless combing operations for leaders of the farmers’ agitation. It was in the hamlet of Bengai Jote near Naxalbari, Biswas tells me with an air of finality, that the event which Naxalbari 1967 is most known for occurred—nine women and two children were shot dead in police firing.

The flame spreads The extremist factions of the CPM thought the police action and shooting was an act of betrayal, more so since the home minister was fellow comrade Jyoti Basu. They announced that the shooting at Naxalbari was a clarion call for the beginning of the proletariat revolution in India. The extremists decided that violent overthrow of “class enemies” was the only way ahead. The People’s Daily of Beijing declared, “A peal of spring thunder has crashed over the land of India”, giving ideological justification to the activists. Extremist activists had debated theories of class action and revolution for years. After the Naxalbari shooting, they felt their time had come. CPM had party offices across rural Bengal and Bihar—the party’s extreme fac-


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That time is gone: (clockwise from left) Nathuram Biswas, one of the few surviving Naxalite activists from the 1970s, now runs a phone and furniture shop; Bengai Jote, where the Shaheed Vedi is located, looks like any other village; a mile­ stone on the way to Naxal­ bari; a bus plying between Siliguri and Panitanki in Nepal; and a nondescript road leads to the Siliguri office of the CPI(M­L) Liberation and some other political parties. puts it, “From 1971 onwards it became clear that the cut and dried formulations of Indian Maoism would not work.” China, whose revolution the Indian Maoists aspired to inherit, was itself veering off the path of Marxism and being opportunist. This ideological confusion showed not only among the young activists, but also in the party lines. The CPI(M-L) Liberation split into more than 30 factions during the 1970s, torn apart by ideological differences. By the mid-1970s, what was to have been the Indian proletariat revolution had all but collapsed.

The remnants

tions had local leaders and cadres everywhere. Their influence and grass-roots support became evident in the aftermath of the Naxalbari shooting. The leaders of the extreme factions, in particular Charu Majumdar, attained cult status. The activists named themselves after the place where it all began, and began calling themselves Naxals. Agitations and protests began fanning across West Bengal and Bihar. Farmers and workers responded to the call of local Communist leaders for class action. Landowners, government officials, everyone perceived to be “class enemies”, began to be annihilated. It wasn’t just the villages—Kolkata became a hotbed of Naxal activity. Young men and women joined what they were convinced was the cause of revolution. Many dropped out of college, some went to live in the countryside to “sow seeds of revolution among peasants” and become “foot soldiers of revolution”. Historian Dilip Simeon, now 62, who was an activist in the Naxalite movement, writes in his essay “Rebellion to Reconciliation” (2006) about what made young people join the Naxal

movement. “Somehow it felt as if we had no option, that this was like the freedom movement all over again, that if young and committed Indians did not do what was necessary to change the dreadful conditions in which most of our fellow countrymen and women lived, we would be betraying the most precious values of life.” There was perhaps a sense of historical inevitability, as he adds, “(1968) was the year of the Prague Spring, the Tet offensive by the National Liberation Front in Vietnam, the May uprising by students and workers in France, the assassination of Martin Luther King, the Cultural Revolution in China, the Black Power salute by US athletes at the Mexico Olympics.” It wasn’t easy for young people to go into villages for the sake of revolution. Young people who’d grown up in cities found the rough-and-tumble village life a shock. Many couldn’t cope with the spartan lifestyle. Much of what it was to be young in those tumultuous times is powerfully portrayed in Sudhir Mishra’s heartbreaking film Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, as also in Simeon’s 2010 novel Revolution Highway, about young people

involved in the Naxal movement. As the Naxal movement intensified in violence, the rift in the CPM became official. In 1969, at a rally in Kolkata, Charu Majumdar announced the formation of a new party —the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation. The schism was so evident that the official break-up was but a formality.

Underground Biswas and Simeon both dropped out of college to join the Naxal movement, albeit in different circumstances and places. Biswas took his first step in 1968 after he read an essay by Charu Majumdar exhorting students to spend a summer vacation among the rural poor in villages. Simeon was a student at St Stephen’s, New Delhi, when he went on a trip with the college’s Social Service League to famine-hit Palamau in present-day Jharkhand. This was his first step. It wasn’t difficult to quit college, Biswas tells me, because he was clear he didn’t want “bourgeoisie education”. Simeon tells me on email about his decision to leave the security of college life and career prospects: “Most of us didn’t think about the long term, and of what we would be doing

after 10 years—the passions of the moment were enough to carry us. The revolution would have been accomplished by then—if we bothered to think about time at all.” I ask Biswas if it was easy to kill or engage in violence for the first time. He smiles and says, halfjokingly, “My leaders said that if I didn’t take part in ‘action’ in a week’s time, that’d mean I’m petty bourgeoisie.” He adds that having seen the villages and empathized with peasants’ conditions, it wasn’t so difficult to go out there and engage in “action” for their sake. “Once you’ve been involved in action,” Biswas shrugs his shoulders, “you have no choice but to go underground.” It was not like he had to stay in jungles, he adds—underground activists stayed in sympathizers’ houses. He stayed for sometime in Nepal, and for some time in Bangladesh. Today, Biswas is a businessman, owning a cellphone and a furniture shop—both ironically capitalist establishments. He’s still a member of the CPI(M-L) Liberation, and has led farmers’ protests in the last few years. Simeon works with Aman Trust, which seeks to mitigate the effects of violent conflict.

The waning Naxal activists defined “class enemies” rather broadly. Government employees, judges and a vice-chancellor were among those killed in Kolkata in “class action”. At the height of the movement, traffic policemen were stabbed on the streets of Kolkata. Police reprisal was brutal. The government of West Bengal gave wide-ranging powers to the police. Naxals were picked up from houses, horrific tales of police torture spread, encounters became commonplace. The death blow for the movement came, though, when the police started to pick on the leaders of the movement—Charu Majumdar was killed in police custody, Saroj Dutta was killed in an encounter. The ideological basis of the revolution was gradually eroding too. China backed the Pakistan army’s crackdown in East Pakistan, China and the then USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) supported the quelling of the JVP (People’s Liberation Front) insurrection in Sri Lanka, Mao engaged in a dialogue with former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger even as the Vietnam war continued. As Simeon

Biswas introduces a middle-aged man as Comrade Manik, adding, “He’ll show you Shaheed.” The Shaheed Vedi is 2km from the Naxalbari bus stand. This is the only memorial in the place. This is where the nine women and two children were shot in 1967. I take a cycle rickshaw that stumbles over stony, unpaved roads to Bengai Jote, where the memorial is situated. Bengai Jote is a single-road village too, but unlike Naxalbari, this road hardly has vehicular traffic. Right behind the row of huts with bamboo compound walls is a railway track on one side and a stream on the other. Beyond the houses, at the far end of town, is the Bengai Jote primary school, a small building with a couple of rooms. Beside the school’s closed gates is a small clearing. The lawn is untrimmed and has a stubble and undergrowth, there’s dust and bits of paper strewn about—it clearly hasn’t been cleaned in a while. There are four busts—of Mao, Lenin, Charu Majumdar and Lin Biao. These busts haven’t been painted or cleaned in a long time. There’s a faded red board announcing through flaking-off paint that this is the “Tiananmen square of India”. A river twists its way through the fields behind the memorial, quietly gurgling past. In an open field in front of it, children run about, playing without a care. Tiny shops in the lane leading up to the memorial unfurl cloth banners advertising Vodafone, Maaza and Hero Cycles. Acknowledgements: Prodip Sarkar, Bibek Sarkar, Abhijit Majumdar (all in Siliguri), Nathuram Biswas (in Naxalbari), Dilip Simeon, Sourabh Datta Gupta. Write to lounge@livemint.com


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Bihar’s pride, eat it The new confidence in the state finds reflection in its soul food

PHOTOGRAPHS

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

···························· moked brinjal and baked dough. A rustic two-dish combination symbolizes the resurgence of a region that has been vilified for too long as wretched, lawless and corrupt. If Bihar were a country, litti chokha would be its national dish. It began as the food of the poor, and rarely appears on roadside carts or restaurant menus of big cities. Instead, it has largely remained confined to the home kitchens of Biharis. Until now. Last month, novelist Chetan Bhagat tweeted: “Litti chokha, a Bihari dish, totally needs to be available everywhere. Superb.” Actor Sonakshi Sinha, of Bihari origin, tweeted back, asking him to get the dish from her in Mumbai. Or Bhagat can fly to Delhi. On 9 April, about 150 litti chokha fans will meet in Vasant Kunj. They are members of a Facebook club called Littichokha.com, which was founded last year by the managing director of a Mumbai-based textile machinery firm. The group has more than 1,500 members. “The idea was to connect Biharis spread all over the world,” says Pradeep Sinha, the founder. “The club was named after litti chokha because this is one thing that every Bihari identifies with.” Referring to the fact that the state has only recently started showing positive development indices, Sinha says, “It is now time to take pride in Bihar.” Not exclusive to the presentday boundaries of Bihar, litti chokha is soul food for people in Jharkhand and eastern UP too. In villages, peasants make littis by stuffing the staple

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sattu—roasted gram powder—into thick round balls of atta, which are then baked over goyetha (dried cowdung patties). In cities, the baking is done in gas tandoors or ovens. Chokha is prepared by roasting eggplant, boiled potato and tomato over a direct flame till the skin turns black. The vegetables are then peeled, mashed, spiced, mixed with chopped onions, garlic, green chillies and lemon juice, and spiked with a little raw mustard oil. Those who can afford it have their littis dipped in ghee. “Litti chokha is a great health food,” says Pushpesh Pant, the author of the voluminous India: Cookbook. “It demands no frying and it has almost every nutrient, including carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and calcium.” Ashok Chopra, father of actor Priyanka Chopra and a member of the Littichokha.com group, says: “I’m the son-in-law of a Bihari family and so my daughter has grown up on litti chokha. It is an inexpensive diet that even the rich enjoy. Have litti chokha in the morning, and you can go about for the rest of the day without a meal.” The streets of Delhi, home to a large migrant population from Bihar, do have litti chokha carts but these are difficult to find. One litti landmark is in Mayur Vihar Phase I, opposite the Supreme Enclave apartments, at the entrance of Acharya Niketan market (ask any rickshaw-wallah at the Metro station to take you to “the place where litti chokha is sold”). Another is on New Delhi railway station’s platform No. 7. Mamu’s dhaba at Jawaharlal Nehru University also sells litti chokha. There are stalls in the office sectors of

BY

PRIYANKA PARASHAR/MINT

Rustic flavour: (from top) The best chokha and litti are to be had only in Bihari homes; Shubha Sinha makes litti at least once a month; Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi eats litti chokha at the Chilli Pepper restaurant in Bangalore; and (below) the stylish Chilli Pepper version.

COURTESY CHILLI PEPPER

ANIRUDDHA CHOWDHURY/MINT

Noida, just across the border from Delhi. One cart has been sighted outside the Filmistan cinema in central Delhi. During the annual India International Trade Fair (IITF), litti chokha sells like hot cakes at the Bihar pavilion. “It is a great proletarian food. A plate costs a mere `10,” says Sheema Mookherjee, a senior editor at HarperCollins India who often orders it from a stall

outside her office in Sector 57, Noida. Most clients of that cart are rickshaw-wallahs and drivers. Three sellers sit near the police station in Sector 58. The dish is not available in the city’s restaurants and there is no Bihar stall in the food court at Dilli Haat in south Delhi. The canteen at Bihar Bhawan in Chanakyapuri makes litti chokha only to order. The best litti chokha is

still found only in homes. “Living away from Bihar for so many years, I rarely speak in Magahi, my region’s dialect,” says Shubha Sinha, who moved to Delhi after her marriage in 1980. “But the family remains wedded to its traditions on the dining table. I make litti chokha at least once a month in summer and every week in winter. Cooking it is an excuse to connect to Bihar.”

The turnaround in Bihar’s image—from corrupt and casteridden to development-focused—may help lift its cultural symbols out of obscurity. In four years, the Bhojpuri film industry—popular in Bihar and eastern UP—has doubled its output to 100 films annually. “If you are not in an economically advantageous position, nobody notices you. Traditions are maintained but only in homes,” says Delhi-based dancer Shovana Narayan, whose parents are from Bihar. “But with the state finally on the path of development, litti chokha may become the emblem of the new Bihari pride.” In 2005, a month after Nitish Kumar—the politician whom many credit for Bihar’s resurrection—became the state’s chief minister for the second time, a Malayali entrepreneur opened a restaurant called Chilli Pepper in Bangalore. It serves, among other things, litti chokha. Bhojpuri film star Manoj Tiwari, Bihar’s deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi and former Jharkhand chief minister Shibu Soren have dined there. “There was no restaurant in Bangalore that served food from Bihar or UP,” says Dharam Raj, the owner, who lived in Dhanbad, Bihar, for 35 years. “So, other than Punjabi and Chinese food, we also included Bihari dishes.” The “Taste of Bihar” section of the restaurant’s menu offers sattu paratha, sattu lassi and litti chokha—with options of chicken or mutton curry. Since the litti clients are still Biharis living in faraway suburbs, the dish is available only on weekends. If Bihar becomes a super success story in the next 10 years, what will be the fate of litti chokha? “It will become as common in Delhi and Bombay (Mumbai) as aloo tikkis and bhelpuri,” says Bhojpuri film star Ravi Kissen. “And I’ll start a litti chokha franchise on the lines of McDonald’s.”


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PIECE OF CAKE

PAMELA TIMMS

Those delectable crumpets PHOTOGRAPHS

BY

PRIYANKA PARASHAR/MINT

Slathered with butter or a dollop of jam, the British savoury makes for a hole­some Sunday breakfast

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ust what is so sexy about crumpets? Elizabeth David noted in 1977 that “crumpet” had long been a colloquialism used to describe “a piece of skirt, any likely young woman, a girl with whom someone is having a passing affair, and other less polite interpretations”. In the heyday of political incorrectness, a leading British broadcaster, Frank Muir, coined the phrase “thinking man’s crumpet” to describe Joan Bakewell, a woman audacious enough to be both attractive and intelligent. The term has also been applied over the years to Helen Mirren and Nigella Lawson. At first sight, though, the crumpet, with its pudgy paleness, is the shrinking violet of the baking world. It only becomes irresistible when slathered in salty butter, becoming a great and illicit pleasure on a par with, to use the language of the 1970s Carry On films, a spot of slap and tickle. More importantly, crumpets are a great example of the many unsung heroes of British baking, conjuring up visions of roaring fires and hissing kettles, steamy windows keeping out the worst of a northerly winter. They’re

Tea time: (clockwise from left) Give shape to crumpets with metal rings; the batter needs to rest to develop the holes; the floury mixture is quite salty; and buttered crumpets are pure comfort food. delicious, comforting and indulgent but rarely made these days—a great shame because they could definitely give their more glamorous and feted European counterparts a run for their money. The key to a perfect crumpet is creating a mass of tiny holes for lots of butter to seep into. The yeast is partly responsible for this texture but while researching all things crumpet for this column, I discovered a 1937 recipe by Walter Banfield which incorporates a little bicarbonate of soda at the end of the first fermentation. This, Mr Banfield pronounces, will avoid “grotesque, unfair creations”, that is, crumpets without holes, sometimes described as “blind”. I can’t decide whether

crumpets are best straight from the pan or after cooling and re-toasting. I can also never decide what’s more delicious—crumpets bearing nothing but melting butter or with butter and jam for an exceptional salty sweet hit. One thing I do know is that the best time and place to devour them is Sunday morning—in bed.

Traditional British Crumpets Makes approximately 18 crumpets Ingredients 450g plain flour (maida) 1 tbsp salt (this seems like a lot but crumpets are meant to be quite salty) 1 tsp sugar 1 sachet (7g) of fast action,

dried yeast 350ml cold milk 350ml boiling water 2 tbsp oil K tsp bicarbonate of soda 150ml warm water A little extra butter for greasing the pan and rings For traditional-style crumpets, you will need some metal rings. If you don’t have rings, you can go free-form and make the flatter variety known as pikelets. Method Sift flour into a large bowl, then stir in the salt, sugar and yeast. In a jug, mix the cold milk, boiling water and oil, then pour into the flour mixture. Stir with what Walter Banfield describes as

“vivacious turbulence”, until the batter is well mixed. Cover the bowl and leave the yeast to do its work. Depending on how hot your kitchen is, it could be anything between 45 minutes and 2 hours before the batter has doubled in size, with a surface bursting with tiny bubbles. Crumpets are one of the few baked treats which actually thrive in a hot, humid Indian kitchen. When the batter has risen, mix the bicarbonate of soda with the warm water, then stir well into the batter. Cover the bowl and leave until the surface is again covered with bubbles. Heat a non-stick frying pan over low heat—I prefer to cook the crumpets slowly to prevent the bottoms browning too quickly. Grease the pan and rings (if using) thoroughly with

B Y S HREYA R AY shreya.r@livemint.com

···························· rather self-reflexive columnist in The New York Times a couple of years ago simultaneously exulted in the joys of having discovered goat meat, and admitted to the “white” foolishness of “discovering” something that has been a staple for many communities for centuries. Goat meat, or mutton, as it simply slips into being called in India, is the mainstay of some of the most celebrated cuisines in the world: Mexican, Greek, southern Italian and north-west Indian—more specifically, Kashmiri, which might well be one of its greatest proponents in India. Ask anyone who’s had gushtaba. Gushtaba is usually the grand finale to the main course in the traditional 36-course Kashmiri wazwan. The journey towards making the velvet-textured meatballs is a lesson in the perfect mutton-cooking technique. According to Rafiq Khan of Srinagar, who is visiting Delhi’s

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Imperial Hotel, right from the time the goat is chosen, to the way the meat is cut, tenderized and cooked, all are instrumental in getting the meat right. First, choose a healthy young goat that grazes on “good grass”. “This is for fragrant meat. Goats that graze on good grass will be fragrant and the best grass—and, therefore, the best meat—comes from Rajasthan,” says the waza (cook) whose family has preserved its recipes for 700 years. Because goat meat is low in fat (lower, in fact, even than chicken), according to Khan, it needs to be tenderized as it is prone to becoming tough and chewy. Gushtaba is a notch more demanding of the meat, requiring it to be soft and spongy—yet firm so that it doesn’t crumble. “Don’t let the meat sit in the freezer for days—the best meat is one that is most fresh. For gushtaba, we take the meat and immediately chop it up into cubes, and then mince it. When it’s being

minced, along with the spices, we add some lamb fat to it,” says Khan, a specialist in Kashmiri Pandit and Muslim cuisines. The process of mincing the meat breaks up the fibres, making it more tender; adding the fat gives it a delightfully creamy texture. The spices and the gravy that gushtaba is cooked in are all tenderizing agents. “The ghee lends a chiknahat (glaze) to it that regular oil won’t achieve,” he says. The yogurt itself is treated: first beaten, then boiled for an hour until it becomes thick, before the pieces of mutton are added to it. The spices that go into gushtaba—and the Kashmiris avoid the north Indian triumvirate of onion-ginger-garlic—are all designed to help digest the meat. “The perfect gushtaba—like a phulka—balloons out slightly when it’s hot and goes back to its usual size when it’s done. It just takes a few of these steps. And a good heart,” says Khan.

Gushtaba Serves 2 Ingredients 300g fresh minced mutton 200g fresh yogurt

Pamela Timms is a Delhi-based journalist and food writer. She blogs at http://eatanddust.wordpress.com Write to Pamela at pieceofcake@livemint.com

www.livemint.com For a slide show on how to make crumpets, go to www.livemint.com/crumpets.htm Read Pamela’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/pieceofcake

ANKIT AGRAWAL/MINT

The perfect mutton Kashmiri cuisine serves up a blend of firm but soft mutton through ‘gushtaba’

butter. Pour a heaped tablespoon of batter into each ring and leave to cook until the surface is dry and covered with tiny holes—this should take 5-7 minutes. If the holes don’t appear, the batter may be too thick, so add a little more warm milk or water to the next batch—but don’t make it too thin or it will run out of the bottom of the rings. Gently lift away the metal rings, then flip the crumpets over to lightly brown the holey side. Keep the crumpets covered with a clean tea towel to keep warm.

Sumptuous: Khan says a wazwan can have as many as 36 dishes, including rogan josh (left) and gushtaba. 4 chillies 5 cardamom pods 5 cloves 15g dry mint powder 150ml lamb stock 15g dry ginger powder 100g desi ghee 100g lamb fat Salt to taste For garnish, a pinch of saffron

Method Mix the minced mutton and the lamb fat together. Traditionally, it’s done on a wooden block with a wooden mallet. Make dumplings that are 1.5-2 inches in diameter. Boil them in water and keep aside. To treat the yogurt, boil it in a pan until it thickens. In a separate

pan (preferably thick-bottomed), heat the desi ghee, add cloves and cardamom. Into this, add the yogurt, lamb stock, all the spices and cook on low heat for 30 minutes. Add the dumplings and cook for 30 minutes. Garnish with saffron and serve with naan or Kashmiri pulao.


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Feisty: Though petite, Neetu was very courageous, says her sister Alka—not the kind to stay away from a confrontation.

LIFE WIRE

THE GIRL WITH THE PEACOCK TATTOO The tattoo was Neetu Solanki’s way of saying she would live life on her own terms. But in aspirational, conservative new India, being forthright and fearless can be deadly

Mint Lounge launches a new section called Life Wire. Email us your feedback at lounge@livemint.com

B Y P ALLAVI S INGH pallavi.s@livemint.com

······························ ne evening in February last year, a girl raised many eyebrows in the conservative Jat neighbourhood of Matiala in west Delhi. She was returning home from work when a group of young men passed lewd comments. Almost in a rage, the girl hopped off her autorickshaw and grabbed one of the boys by his collar. That day Neetu Solanki was wearing a boat-neck spandex top and low-rise jeans which revealed a peacock tattoo on her lower back, and a navel ring. “It was a classic Jat retaliation, rough and bold—except that it came from a girl,” says Alka Solanki, her 22-year-old sister, younger to Neetu by six years, and a postgraduate student of political science at Delhi University. Just a week earlier, Neetu had come home with an eve-teaser’s bicycle. Her aggressive reaction had prompted the man to run away, leaving his ride behind. “She didn’t fear anyone, especially when she believed she was right. That day, she simply brought the bicycle home. Obviously, no one ever came

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to claim it,” says Alka, breaking into a giggle. On 11 February, Neetu’s body was found stuffed in an airbag at the New Delhi railway station. Her throat had been slit with a sharp object. According to eyewitnesses, a young man rode up to the parking bay in an autorickshaw, dropped the bag and rode off. When the Delhi Police published a “hue and cry” notice to identify the body, the tattoo became a talking point. Eventually, her father came forth to claim her ashes. Now, investigators have named her boyfriend Raju Gehlot as the prime suspect. Alka reminisces about the day her sister got the tattoo: “She was different from all of us. She was good at studies but that never meant she had to be simple. She picked up fashion trends quickly and tried them out on herself. She came home and showed it first to our father, who was amused. She was in pain for the next three days but the tattoo was like a hard-earned medal for her; it symbolized freedom and that kept her excited despite the pain.” Even if an earthquake shook their building, Neetu wouldn’t be found running with her hair uncombed or

dress crumpled, qualities she picked while growing up with her uncle in Jammu and Kashmir, who worked in the Indian Air Force, till she was 8. Neetu’s sartorial experiments often attracted unwanted attention. Her father Kartar Singh Solanki, who used to sell milk and is now a property dealer in the neighbourhood, would hear of such instances frequently. “It would happen at least once a week. Every single time, Neetu would yell back or chase whoever it was,” he says. Then, of course, “she was beautiful”, Alka adds, pointing to a framed photograph of a petite, clear-skinned girl with an impeccably made-up face and long straight hair, placed on the fridge next to her room at their three-storeyed home in Matiala. “She straightened her hair when it became a rage even though it was very expensive,” recalls Alka, who was often reprimanded for her frizzy hair and promised a beauty treatment by Neetu at a parlour when she cleared her BEd exams. And, though she appeared petite, “that’s the mistake people made”, says Alka. “Once she took on someone who whistled at her from his car. It must have been a Honda City,

because when Neetu returned home, she said that it was a ‘big, expensive’ car. She was, to everyone’s shock here, very courageous,” Alka recalls. This is why, when the Delhi Police repeatedly advertised last month, “we didn’t think it could be her”, Solanki says. “Neetu wasn’t someone to be killed or overpowered. She would never die without a fight.” The notice had appeared with a photograph which Solanki says was “too hazy” to recognize. Matiala, the obscure urban village populated by small-time traders dealing in businesses ranging from scrap to property, learnt of the truth a month later. Solanki claimed Neetu’s body in

March; the police said it was a little unusual that her father appeared exactly a day after they cremated the body for lack of any claimant. “I was scared. Everyone fears the worst,” Solanki whispers when quizzed. The last time Solanki saw Neetu, who was working in a Gurgaon call centre at the time, was in May, when she told him she was being transferred to Singapore. The police later claimed she had been living in Delhi with Gehlot, a crew member with Air India; the company says Gehlot has resigned. Neither the police nor Neetu’s relatives are sure whether she had married Gehlot. The motive for the murder remains unclear. The police haven’t found the murder weapon, Gehlot is absconding. Various conspiracy theories are doing the rounds, but the story of the girl remains curiously robust with a string of tales about her choice of men and careers, an ambitious, independent woman who dressed and behaved exactly how she thought right, without worrying about what her conservative neighbours would think. Her late hours at the call centre jobs—her father claims, and the police corroborates, that she worked at BPOs such as IBM Daksh, Convergys and Teleperformance—the buzz around her murder, the bohemian tattoo and her ‘live-in’ relationship with Gehlot have become the subject of popular “off the record” gossip. Rajdharam Sehrawat, an iron trader who lives a few blocks away from the Solanki household, has three daughters. Till a few years ago, “my daughters would play with them (Neetu and Alka) but now, two of my daughters are happily married”, Sehrawat says. “Who keeps a 28-year-old daughter unmarried for her to run away?” When Neetu lived in the neighbourhood, the likes of Sehrawat often posed this question to Kartar Singh Solanki, a fellow Jat. He always replied: “They are my daughters. I want them to study.” Today, Solanki says he is no longer in touch with any childhood friends of Neetu because “the girls she played with are all married now with children. Girls in the Jat community are married early. And who knows office colleagues these days? Children begin disliking their parents’ presence even in parent-teacher meetings these days. As for offices, you cannot even enter those places if you don’t work there”. Despite the apparent secrecy around her friends and the nature of her job, Neetu’s video chats with her family were quite frequent and open. The chats, Alka says, would last for hours, and would only happen when their father was home because “she loved her father”. Conversation oscillated between inane and grim topics. “Once, she joked about donating her heart to our mother since she is a heart patient. She also promised our brother a sports bike if he did well in his Board exams,” Alka says. Born in 1982, Neetu went to two public schools, first in Jharoda Kalan and then in Matiala; she signed up for a software engineering course at Aptech in addition to a correspondence course from Delhi University and later graduated from the university’s law faculty. “She also enrolled for a management degree from Punjab Technical University (PTU) but abandoned it midway for a job because she wanted to start earning,” says Monika Roka, Alka’s friend and a

student at PTU, Jalandhar, who had known Neetu for six years. Roka says she enrolled in the management course at PTU only on Neetu’s encouragement. “She was our career and fashion guide. She always listened to us and would make us laugh if we were anxious or worried about anything. But often, she would tell us how she being the eldest she had no one to lead her. She was a wise counsel for everyone younger to her, but for herself, she had no wisdom,” Roka says. After university, Neetu also decided to try her hand at politics, and her relatives say the decision was guided purely by her own interest in the subject. In 2007, she contested the municipal elections in Delhi from Matiala as an independent candidate and lost, polling just about 150 votes. “She was a little child, enthusiastic about the polls, but I didn’t take her seriously. Wasn’t she a novice?” says her experienced opponent at the time and Bharatiya Janata Party councillor Rajesh Gehlot. Counters Roka, “Even as an independent candidate, people knew her!” Neetu’s shots at education and later, call centre jobs and politics were all self-driven, and supported by her father, who always was eager to finance her education with an eye closed to details. “She brought her boyfriend home twice. I never interfered in anything she did. I trusted her to always do the right things,” Solanki says. For many years, Alka says, her father has stayed home to cook breakfast and lunch for his children since mother Susheela Solanki’s cardiac surgery 10 years ago. “If I ask my children to make tea, they will never study,” says Solanki. Solanki also has two sons—Keshav, 24, works with him and Rahul, 17, is studying. Dev Chowdhary, tuition teacher for Rahul, who is preparing for medical entrance examinations, often finds Solanki waiting in municipal parks for the time tuition classes continue. “For many years now, he has never failed to bring him for classes. While parents from his community don’t generally bother to discuss their children’s education with teachers, Solanki always does that,” Chowdhary says. Yet, somewhere between her academic pursuits and her ambition to build a career for herself, Solanki says his daughter perhaps lost direction. “She fell in love with the wrong man and started keeping a few facts from us. That destroyed her,” he says. At his Matiala residence, where a group of women were mourning loudly, Solanki appeared visibly disturbed, but he was also active in hosting a steady flow of visitors who kept trickling in to offer condolences. “It (Neetu’s death) has shaken me. Now, I want to see my son addressed as ‘doctor’ in the next six years,” he says. “I guess I’ve pretty much told you everything, right?” he remarks, promising to be back after seeing off a visitor. By his own account, Solanki had spent years selling milk before reaching a position of moderate wealth. His struggles have become his children’s inspiration and he doesn’t want to stop, says Alka. “My father wanted to be a doctor but couldn’t,” she explains, while her brother Rahul looks up from the books he has been poring over for hours, startled by the sudden reappearance of his father. “My son has his exam tomorrow. Will you please leave him alone now? You are disturbing his studies,” Solanki addresses this reporter angrily. As this reporter prepares to make a quick exit, he asks wryly: “Won’t you even say sorry?”

Even if an earthquake shook their building, Neetu wouldn’t be found running with her hair uncombed or dress crumpled

‘A father can’t give up. Ever’ A decade after his youngest daughter Rupa walked out of home and went missing, Hansraj Arora hasn’t stopped looking B Y A MRITA R OY amrita.r@livemint.com

··································· s the audacity of Neetu Solanki’s murder drew wide media attention, parents and relatives of more than 50 missing women came forward to identify the victim. Among them was Hansraj Arora, a retired official of the Delhi government’s education department. It was 10 years ago almost to the day that Arora’s daughter, Rupa, had walked out of their home in Geeta Colony, a typical east Delhi mixed neighbourhood of middle- and working-class residents, and gone missing. The youngest of three siblings, a shy, quiet woman who kept to her books and studies, Rupa had been lonely and withdrawn since her sister Rajni’s marriage a few years earlier. Her loneliness gave way to depression when her parents started talking of getting her married as well. Worried about her emotional state, her family made her give up her job as a science teacher at a local primary school and seek psychiatric treatment. It made matters worse. She became more disturbed and resentful. On a couple of occasions she left home without telling anyone and went and spent hours at a beauty parlour or in the market. Her family tried to keep a close watch but on the evening of 2 February 2001, barely a month after she turned 24, Rupa slipped out without anyone noticing her. She left no note. She never called home. She has not been seen or heard of again. Her grieving mother Nirmal died in 2007. That same year, after chasing up false leads and reports of sightings across various Uttar Pradesh towns for years, the Delhi Police gave up and was ready to close the file. But 65-year-old Arora doggedly kept up his search, “There’s no peace till I know what became of her.” When the news of the body at the railway station broke, Arora turned up at the police mortuary at Sabzi Mandi to see if

A

it was his daughter. It was unlikely, he knew—Rupa would be 34 now, while the police and media reports claimed the murdered woman was in her early 20s; nor was his shy, introverted daughter likely to have got a peacock tattoo like the one the victim had. He went nevertheless, on the outside chance it might be her. “It wasn’t. But I’ve seen enough to know not to trust the initial reports, they often get details wrong. As we now know, the murdered woman was not 22, but 28. So every time I read of such cases, I think it might be Rupa, and then I have to go and find out for myself,” he says. Arora has been on countless searches—to hospitals and morgues, to nearly every police district in Delhi. He has become an expert in dealing with the judicial and police bureaucracy. His speech is peppered with legalese as he speaks about the “case”. The strangely distanced word is perhaps a conscious choice, to deal with his anguish. He rarely mentions Rupa by name, and as he stoically narrates his story, he adopts a tone similar to officials. In the early months, he took leave from work to look for his missing daughter. But as the days went by and the chances of finding her dimmed, he opted for a transfer to a school near their home. It meant he had to forgo a promotion, but it also meant vacations and shorter working hours to devote to his search. In the years since then, he has followed up the faintest clue and chased up calls from pranksters and crooks claiming to have seen his daughter. “A few months after Rupa went missing, the police inserted an ad in Hindi dailies seeking information. They offered `25,000 as reward. We too offered a reward for any clues to her whereabouts,” he says. The calls started soon after. The first one came from a small-time crook from Incholi in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. Izhar, alias Zharoo, claimed to have abducted Rupa and demanded

`30,000 as ransom. “We readily agreed to pay but asked to speak to her on the phone first. He would just not agree to that. That made us suspicious and we informed the police. The police too doubted Zharoo’s claim. Since the ransom amount demanded was so low, the police suspected he was just a fraud,” he says. They went to Meerut and raided his hideout. But he had fled. Eventually he was arrested. “Zharoo confessed to having no information about my daughter. He had never even seen her, let alone kidnapped her. He saw our ad and was trying to make a fast buck,” Arora says. A case was registered, the man was even tried in a Delhi court, but acquitted. Though he can’t quite articulate why, Arora is convinced his daughter is in Uttar Pradesh. “Delhi mein hoti to zaroor dhoond lete (had she been in Delhi we’d definitely have found her),” he says. His conviction has made him place ads every couple of years in the local editions of Hindi dailies. Every time a fresh ad appeared, the calls came—from places as far-flung as Kanpur and Baghpat, Bulandshahr and Haridwar—and with his son Narender, Arora went looking for his daughter. “But it’s all led nowhere so far. The callers were all frauds,” he adds. Arora’s wife died of diabetic complications arising out of a knee injury. “It was nothing life-threatening, but she had lost the will to live. She refused to get operated. It was as if she just gave up,” he says. It has never occurred to Arora to give up: “A father can’t. Ever.” In 2007, when the police wanted to close the case and declare Rupa “presumed dead”, Arora and his son, an advocate, moved the district court at Karkardooma, appealing for the case to be moved to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The court is yet to rule on their plea. His two elder children, Narender and Rajni, worry that at his age it is too much of a strain, but they are afraid to ask him to stop. “It’s the thing that keeps him going. I’m afraid that if we ask him to give up, he too may lose the will to live. Besides, as an advocate, I’ve seen cases where a missing person turns up after 15 years. How can we say that my sister won’t return?” asks Narender. But even more than her return, what Arora is waiting for is closure. As he sits in his drawing room, directly across the framed photos of his wife and daughter—the older woman’s has a garland around it—and talks about the body found at the railway station, he seems quite resigned that it could well have been his daughter. Whether it was more hope or fear that it would indeed be Rupa, he can’t quite tell. SARANG SENA/MINT

Hope or fear? Though he can’t quite articu­ late why, Arora is convinced his daughter is in Uttar Pradesh.


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Feisty: Though petite, Neetu was very courageous, says her sister Alka—not the kind to stay away from a confrontation.

LIFE WIRE

THE GIRL WITH THE PEACOCK TATTOO The tattoo was Neetu Solanki’s way of saying she would live life on her own terms. But in aspirational, conservative new India, being forthright and fearless can be deadly

Mint Lounge launches a new section called Life Wire. Email us your feedback at lounge@livemint.com

B Y P ALLAVI S INGH pallavi.s@livemint.com

······························ ne evening in February last year, a girl raised many eyebrows in the conservative Jat neighbourhood of Matiala in west Delhi. She was returning home from work when a group of young men passed lewd comments. Almost in a rage, the girl hopped off her autorickshaw and grabbed one of the boys by his collar. That day Neetu Solanki was wearing a boat-neck spandex top and low-rise jeans which revealed a peacock tattoo on her lower back, and a navel ring. “It was a classic Jat retaliation, rough and bold—except that it came from a girl,” says Alka Solanki, her 22-year-old sister, younger to Neetu by six years, and a postgraduate student of political science at Delhi University. Just a week earlier, Neetu had come home with an eve-teaser’s bicycle. Her aggressive reaction had prompted the man to run away, leaving his ride behind. “She didn’t fear anyone, especially when she believed she was right. That day, she simply brought the bicycle home. Obviously, no one ever came

O

to claim it,” says Alka, breaking into a giggle. On 11 February, Neetu’s body was found stuffed in an airbag at the New Delhi railway station. Her throat had been slit with a sharp object. According to eyewitnesses, a young man rode up to the parking bay in an autorickshaw, dropped the bag and rode off. When the Delhi Police published a “hue and cry” notice to identify the body, the tattoo became a talking point. Eventually, her father came forth to claim her ashes. Now, investigators have named her boyfriend Raju Gehlot as the prime suspect. Alka reminisces about the day her sister got the tattoo: “She was different from all of us. She was good at studies but that never meant she had to be simple. She picked up fashion trends quickly and tried them out on herself. She came home and showed it first to our father, who was amused. She was in pain for the next three days but the tattoo was like a hard-earned medal for her; it symbolized freedom and that kept her excited despite the pain.” Even if an earthquake shook their building, Neetu wouldn’t be found running with her hair uncombed or

dress crumpled, qualities she picked while growing up with her uncle in Jammu and Kashmir, who worked in the Indian Air Force, till she was 8. Neetu’s sartorial experiments often attracted unwanted attention. Her father Kartar Singh Solanki, who used to sell milk and is now a property dealer in the neighbourhood, would hear of such instances frequently. “It would happen at least once a week. Every single time, Neetu would yell back or chase whoever it was,” he says. Then, of course, “she was beautiful”, Alka adds, pointing to a framed photograph of a petite, clear-skinned girl with an impeccably made-up face and long straight hair, placed on the fridge next to her room at their three-storeyed home in Matiala. “She straightened her hair when it became a rage even though it was very expensive,” recalls Alka, who was often reprimanded for her frizzy hair and promised a beauty treatment by Neetu at a parlour when she cleared her BEd exams. And, though she appeared petite, “that’s the mistake people made”, says Alka. “Once she took on someone who whistled at her from his car. It must have been a Honda City,

because when Neetu returned home, she said that it was a ‘big, expensive’ car. She was, to everyone’s shock here, very courageous,” Alka recalls. This is why, when the Delhi Police repeatedly advertised last month, “we didn’t think it could be her”, Solanki says. “Neetu wasn’t someone to be killed or overpowered. She would never die without a fight.” The notice had appeared with a photograph which Solanki says was “too hazy” to recognize. Matiala, the obscure urban village populated by small-time traders dealing in businesses ranging from scrap to property, learnt of the truth a month later. Solanki claimed Neetu’s body in

March; the police said it was a little unusual that her father appeared exactly a day after they cremated the body for lack of any claimant. “I was scared. Everyone fears the worst,” Solanki whispers when quizzed. The last time Solanki saw Neetu, who was working in a Gurgaon call centre at the time, was in May, when she told him she was being transferred to Singapore. The police later claimed she had been living in Delhi with Gehlot, a crew member with Air India; the company says Gehlot has resigned. Neither the police nor Neetu’s relatives are sure whether she had married Gehlot. The motive for the murder remains unclear. The police haven’t found the murder weapon, Gehlot is absconding. Various conspiracy theories are doing the rounds, but the story of the girl remains curiously robust with a string of tales about her choice of men and careers, an ambitious, independent woman who dressed and behaved exactly how she thought right, without worrying about what her conservative neighbours would think. Her late hours at the call centre jobs—her father claims, and the police corroborates, that she worked at BPOs such as IBM Daksh, Convergys and Teleperformance—the buzz around her murder, the bohemian tattoo and her ‘live-in’ relationship with Gehlot have become the subject of popular “off the record” gossip. Rajdharam Sehrawat, an iron trader who lives a few blocks away from the Solanki household, has three daughters. Till a few years ago, “my daughters would play with them (Neetu and Alka) but now, two of my daughters are happily married”, Sehrawat says. “Who keeps a 28-year-old daughter unmarried for her to run away?” When Neetu lived in the neighbourhood, the likes of Sehrawat often posed this question to Kartar Singh Solanki, a fellow Jat. He always replied: “They are my daughters. I want them to study.” Today, Solanki says he is no longer in touch with any childhood friends of Neetu because “the girls she played with are all married now with children. Girls in the Jat community are married early. And who knows office colleagues these days? Children begin disliking their parents’ presence even in parent-teacher meetings these days. As for offices, you cannot even enter those places if you don’t work there”. Despite the apparent secrecy around her friends and the nature of her job, Neetu’s video chats with her family were quite frequent and open. The chats, Alka says, would last for hours, and would only happen when their father was home because “she loved her father”. Conversation oscillated between inane and grim topics. “Once, she joked about donating her heart to our mother since she is a heart patient. She also promised our brother a sports bike if he did well in his Board exams,” Alka says. Born in 1982, Neetu went to two public schools, first in Jharoda Kalan and then in Matiala; she signed up for a software engineering course at Aptech in addition to a correspondence course from Delhi University and later graduated from the university’s law faculty. “She also enrolled for a management degree from Punjab Technical University (PTU) but abandoned it midway for a job because she wanted to start earning,” says Monika Roka, Alka’s friend and a

student at PTU, Jalandhar, who had known Neetu for six years. Roka says she enrolled in the management course at PTU only on Neetu’s encouragement. “She was our career and fashion guide. She always listened to us and would make us laugh if we were anxious or worried about anything. But often, she would tell us how she being the eldest she had no one to lead her. She was a wise counsel for everyone younger to her, but for herself, she had no wisdom,” Roka says. After university, Neetu also decided to try her hand at politics, and her relatives say the decision was guided purely by her own interest in the subject. In 2007, she contested the municipal elections in Delhi from Matiala as an independent candidate and lost, polling just about 150 votes. “She was a little child, enthusiastic about the polls, but I didn’t take her seriously. Wasn’t she a novice?” says her experienced opponent at the time and Bharatiya Janata Party councillor Rajesh Gehlot. Counters Roka, “Even as an independent candidate, people knew her!” Neetu’s shots at education and later, call centre jobs and politics were all self-driven, and supported by her father, who always was eager to finance her education with an eye closed to details. “She brought her boyfriend home twice. I never interfered in anything she did. I trusted her to always do the right things,” Solanki says. For many years, Alka says, her father has stayed home to cook breakfast and lunch for his children since mother Susheela Solanki’s cardiac surgery 10 years ago. “If I ask my children to make tea, they will never study,” says Solanki. Solanki also has two sons—Keshav, 24, works with him and Rahul, 17, is studying. Dev Chowdhary, tuition teacher for Rahul, who is preparing for medical entrance examinations, often finds Solanki waiting in municipal parks for the time tuition classes continue. “For many years now, he has never failed to bring him for classes. While parents from his community don’t generally bother to discuss their children’s education with teachers, Solanki always does that,” Chowdhary says. Yet, somewhere between her academic pursuits and her ambition to build a career for herself, Solanki says his daughter perhaps lost direction. “She fell in love with the wrong man and started keeping a few facts from us. That destroyed her,” he says. At his Matiala residence, where a group of women were mourning loudly, Solanki appeared visibly disturbed, but he was also active in hosting a steady flow of visitors who kept trickling in to offer condolences. “It (Neetu’s death) has shaken me. Now, I want to see my son addressed as ‘doctor’ in the next six years,” he says. “I guess I’ve pretty much told you everything, right?” he remarks, promising to be back after seeing off a visitor. By his own account, Solanki had spent years selling milk before reaching a position of moderate wealth. His struggles have become his children’s inspiration and he doesn’t want to stop, says Alka. “My father wanted to be a doctor but couldn’t,” she explains, while her brother Rahul looks up from the books he has been poring over for hours, startled by the sudden reappearance of his father. “My son has his exam tomorrow. Will you please leave him alone now? You are disturbing his studies,” Solanki addresses this reporter angrily. As this reporter prepares to make a quick exit, he asks wryly: “Won’t you even say sorry?”

Even if an earthquake shook their building, Neetu wouldn’t be found running with her hair uncombed or dress crumpled

‘A father can’t give up. Ever’ A decade after his youngest daughter Rupa walked out of home and went missing, Hansraj Arora hasn’t stopped looking B Y A MRITA R OY amrita.r@livemint.com

··································· s the audacity of Neetu Solanki’s murder drew wide media attention, parents and relatives of more than 50 missing women came forward to identify the victim. Among them was Hansraj Arora, a retired official of the Delhi government’s education department. It was 10 years ago almost to the day that Arora’s daughter, Rupa, had walked out of their home in Geeta Colony, a typical east Delhi mixed neighbourhood of middle- and working-class residents, and gone missing. The youngest of three siblings, a shy, quiet woman who kept to her books and studies, Rupa had been lonely and withdrawn since her sister Rajni’s marriage a few years earlier. Her loneliness gave way to depression when her parents started talking of getting her married as well. Worried about her emotional state, her family made her give up her job as a science teacher at a local primary school and seek psychiatric treatment. It made matters worse. She became more disturbed and resentful. On a couple of occasions she left home without telling anyone and went and spent hours at a beauty parlour or in the market. Her family tried to keep a close watch but on the evening of 2 February 2001, barely a month after she turned 24, Rupa slipped out without anyone noticing her. She left no note. She never called home. She has not been seen or heard of again. Her grieving mother Nirmal died in 2007. That same year, after chasing up false leads and reports of sightings across various Uttar Pradesh towns for years, the Delhi Police gave up and was ready to close the file. But 65-year-old Arora doggedly kept up his search, “There’s no peace till I know what became of her.” When the news of the body at the railway station broke, Arora turned up at the police mortuary at Sabzi Mandi to see if

A

it was his daughter. It was unlikely, he knew—Rupa would be 34 now, while the police and media reports claimed the murdered woman was in her early 20s; nor was his shy, introverted daughter likely to have got a peacock tattoo like the one the victim had. He went nevertheless, on the outside chance it might be her. “It wasn’t. But I’ve seen enough to know not to trust the initial reports, they often get details wrong. As we now know, the murdered woman was not 22, but 28. So every time I read of such cases, I think it might be Rupa, and then I have to go and find out for myself,” he says. Arora has been on countless searches—to hospitals and morgues, to nearly every police district in Delhi. He has become an expert in dealing with the judicial and police bureaucracy. His speech is peppered with legalese as he speaks about the “case”. The strangely distanced word is perhaps a conscious choice, to deal with his anguish. He rarely mentions Rupa by name, and as he stoically narrates his story, he adopts a tone similar to officials. In the early months, he took leave from work to look for his missing daughter. But as the days went by and the chances of finding her dimmed, he opted for a transfer to a school near their home. It meant he had to forgo a promotion, but it also meant vacations and shorter working hours to devote to his search. In the years since then, he has followed up the faintest clue and chased up calls from pranksters and crooks claiming to have seen his daughter. “A few months after Rupa went missing, the police inserted an ad in Hindi dailies seeking information. They offered `25,000 as reward. We too offered a reward for any clues to her whereabouts,” he says. The calls started soon after. The first one came from a small-time crook from Incholi in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. Izhar, alias Zharoo, claimed to have abducted Rupa and demanded

`30,000 as ransom. “We readily agreed to pay but asked to speak to her on the phone first. He would just not agree to that. That made us suspicious and we informed the police. The police too doubted Zharoo’s claim. Since the ransom amount demanded was so low, the police suspected he was just a fraud,” he says. They went to Meerut and raided his hideout. But he had fled. Eventually he was arrested. “Zharoo confessed to having no information about my daughter. He had never even seen her, let alone kidnapped her. He saw our ad and was trying to make a fast buck,” Arora says. A case was registered, the man was even tried in a Delhi court, but acquitted. Though he can’t quite articulate why, Arora is convinced his daughter is in Uttar Pradesh. “Delhi mein hoti to zaroor dhoond lete (had she been in Delhi we’d definitely have found her),” he says. His conviction has made him place ads every couple of years in the local editions of Hindi dailies. Every time a fresh ad appeared, the calls came—from places as far-flung as Kanpur and Baghpat, Bulandshahr and Haridwar—and with his son Narender, Arora went looking for his daughter. “But it’s all led nowhere so far. The callers were all frauds,” he adds. Arora’s wife died of diabetic complications arising out of a knee injury. “It was nothing life-threatening, but she had lost the will to live. She refused to get operated. It was as if she just gave up,” he says. It has never occurred to Arora to give up: “A father can’t. Ever.” In 2007, when the police wanted to close the case and declare Rupa “presumed dead”, Arora and his son, an advocate, moved the district court at Karkardooma, appealing for the case to be moved to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The court is yet to rule on their plea. His two elder children, Narender and Rajni, worry that at his age it is too much of a strain, but they are afraid to ask him to stop. “It’s the thing that keeps him going. I’m afraid that if we ask him to give up, he too may lose the will to live. Besides, as an advocate, I’ve seen cases where a missing person turns up after 15 years. How can we say that my sister won’t return?” asks Narender. But even more than her return, what Arora is waiting for is closure. As he sits in his drawing room, directly across the framed photos of his wife and daughter—the older woman’s has a garland around it—and talks about the body found at the railway station, he seems quite resigned that it could well have been his daughter. Whether it was more hope or fear that it would indeed be Rupa, he can’t quite tell. SARANG SENA/MINT

Hope or fear? Though he can’t quite articu­ late why, Arora is convinced his daughter is in Uttar Pradesh.


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B Y A NITA R AO K ASHI ···························· could almost hear the walls closing in as I rushed along a narrow, empty alley. High stone walls on either side, lovely sandstone in colour, rose till they almost met the brilliant blue sky. I think it was beautiful, but I was too anxious to stand and appreciate the beauty. Was it just me or had everything suddenly become eerily quiet? My imagination, at the best of times, hardly needs any prompting. In this case, it was running wild. I felt like I had stepped back in time and half expected to see armoured soldiers on horses, their spears pointed at me, round the corner. Quixotic, did you say? Pretty apt, actually. As I reached the end of the alley and went around the corner, imagine my deep sense of disappointment when all I found was a buzzing lane full of tourists trying

Seventy kilometres south­west of Madrid, within this medieval city’s walls, fiction outdoes history

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TRIP PLANNER/TOLEDO Toledo has no airport. The closest airport is Madrid, from where you can take a bus (1-hour travel time, €8.5, or around R530, return ticket) or the high-speed AVE train (30 minutes travel time, €18 return ticket). Advance fares to Madrid from Indian cities are currently: Delhi Mumbai KLM/Air France (SkyTeam) Egyptair R27,340 Aeroflot R33,320 Emirates -

Bangalore R37,770 -

To Madrid

Plaza de Toros

T O L E D O Museo Victorio Macho

FRANCE

S PA I N Tajo river

PORTUGAL

To Portugal

Chennai R40,850

Stay

Madrid

Toledo

Eat

Do

Shop

Luxury  The Parador de Toledo (0034-925221850, http://is.gd/HQznTu; €186 for a double room) offers panoramic views of the historic town  Fontecrus Palacio Eugenia de Montijo (0034-925274690, www.fontecruz.com; €170 for a double room on weekends) Budget  Hostal Centro (0034-925257091, www.hostalcentro.com; €35 for a single room with bathroom)  Hotel Santa Isabel (0034-925253120; €40 for a dormitory-style room) The best place to have traditional Toledan cuisine—influenced by three cultures (Sephardic Jewish, Arab-Islamic and Christian Spanish) and heavy on game dishes—is the Parador de Toledo (0034-925221850, http://paradores-spain.com/spain/ptoledo.html), which has a set menu. Other places include the Casa Aurelio (0034-925221392, www.casa-aurelio.com) and Hotel del Cardenal (00925220862, www.hoteldelcardenal.com). Wander around the medieval town on foot to discover surprising little nooks. If you have more time, travel the Route of Don Quixote, a 620-mile journey that goes all over the La-Mancha region, tracing the culture, traditions and architectural references in Cervantes’ book. Buy conquistador swords, hand-painted ceramics, Damascene jewellery (iron inlaid with gold) and mazapan, the local marzipan. GRAPHIC BY AHMED RAZA KHAN/MINT

to decide what kind of sword or ceramic pot they wanted to take back as a memento from Toledo! That’s right, Toledo in Spain, about 70km south-west of Madrid, is among the most significant places related to Cervantes’ Don Quixote. As I stood there, trying to shake out of my fantasy, I could almost hear Sancho Panza cluck-clucking. It didn’t start out as dramatically though. My drive from Madrid was monotonous. I passed rows and rows of ugly industrial buildings and generic housing complexes. With nothing interesting to catch my eye, I turned to my guidebook, which told me that Toledo’s history went back to the Bronze Age, though it came into its own during Roman rule, and later under the Visigoths. It was the capital of Spain when the Moors were ruling over the land in the eighth century, while the Caliphs gave it a lot of importance as well when they occupied it later. It was only in the late 11th century that Toledo came into Spanish hands and became a major cultural centre as well as one of those rare centres of Jew, Muslim and Christian coexistence. Eventually, Toledo became the capital of Castile-La Mancha, and a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1986. Besides, there was that little detail about Don Quixote, which was my true reason for making the journey, in the fond hope of discovering him within this medieval city’s walls. By the time I had managed to let all this history sink in, I had arrived at the bottom of the town, which actually stands on a rising plateau. Above me, I could see the imposing Castillo de San Servando, the medieval castle and parts of Alcazar, the fortress. But as I contemplated how to get to the top, I espied a series of escalators which deposited me at the edge of the historic town. Massive stone buildings lined the narrow cobbled roads and I was charmed as I took in the whole picture. I wandered around the streets and soon came to the centre of town, where the Cathedral of St Mary of Toledo rose against the blue and white sky. A 13th century Gothic structure, its exquisite façade and ornately worked spires

BY

ANITA RAO KASHI

Quixotic: (from above, left) A panoramic view of the city; the cathedral of St Mary of Toledo; a typical shop hawking tourist knick­ knacks; and a narrow road leading to the city centre.

completely captivated me. It looked so regal and majestic that I couldn’t help but understand if Don Quixote would have wanted to call this his castle! But my thoughts were interrupted by bursts of pop music blaring from loudspeakers: a plethora of Spanish beauties were rehearsing for the Miss Spain finals scheduled for the next day against the backdrop of the cathedral. I hurried on, wondering how Don Quixote would have reacted to the beauty queens and the thumping music. Deep in these thoughts, I probably took a wrong turn, and that’s when I got lost in the narrow alley and ended up on the touristy road. A few enquiries from helpful shopkeepers later, I found myself at the next stop: Iglesia de Santo Tome. Bearing the distinct stamp

of its Moorish connection, the church was built in the 14th century in the Mudejar style—all geometric tile patterns and plaster carving—but the attraction of the place was the painting called The Burial of the Count of Orgaz by El Greco on an entire wall. It was dimly lit but it was large, vivid and brilliantly composed, depicting the legend that St Augustine and St Stephen personally descended from heaven to bury the local count. It is said to be the artist’s first complete personal work. There have been endless critiques of the work, but in that moment I forgot all about them. Its beauty made sure that all I could do was look at the whole painting, and leave analysis for another day. Next door, at the Museo Sefardi established in the Sinagoga del Transito, a 14th century Jewish synagogue which had been taken over by Spain’s Catholic monarchs, I wandered around the museum, which showcases the religious and cultural artefacts of the Sephardic Jews of the Iberian peninsula. I was particularly dazzled by the friezes on the walls, the Hebrew inscriptions which seemed mysterious and enchanting, and the spectacular Mozarab cupolas and arches, and wondered at the stories, told and untold, that the walls contained. Outside, the sun was sinking, and as I gazed at the Puente de San Martin (St Martin’s Bridge), a 14th century Gothic bridge over the river Tajo (Tagus) supported

by four arches, I was a bit disappointed. I could imagine Don Quixote riding down the bridge, Sancho at his side, but I was yet to encounter anything tangible leading to him. There were representations all right, in the form of fridge magnets and paperweights, but nothing impressive. On my way back, a narrow doorway down a flight of steps beckoned and I took a detour on impulse. The doorway opened into a tiny square with a tall, black statue in the centre, its back to me, as if urging me to come around. I gave in and there he was—Don Quixote. The statue was almost 8ft tall, head held high and exuding comic bravado. Or was it knighterrantry? At any moment, Don Quixote looked like he would come alive. In the fading twilight, the line between fantasy and reality, eternal and the here-and-now seemed to blur. Unfortunately, my time was up and the ticking clock seemed all too real. As I turned away and headed up the steps to the road, I thought I heard faint sounds: Could it be Sancho urging his master to quit the posture and retire for the night? I would like to imagine so! Write to lounge@livemint.com CHILD­FRIENDLY RATING

Toledo, with its plentiful sights and sounds, is enchanting for the history buff but has little for children. SENIOR­FRIENDLY RATING

Senior citizens might find the history fascinating but the town is hilly and the streets are steep. LGBT­FRIENDLY RATING

There’s no prejudice but there’s little specifically targeted at LGBT travellers either.


TRAVEL L13

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SATURDAY, MARCH 12, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

DETOURS

FOOT NOTES

SALIL TRIPATHI

Wander­list

Magic by first light

A diary lets you keep a checklist of your travels; and a highlight of offbeat festivals

THINKSTOCK

In Kenya, at a pristine jungle lodge, the truth appears simple, clear and pure

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hey came at night. We sat in comfortable wooden chairs in the veranda of the bar after dinner, aware only of the silence surrounding us. But had we listened closely and talked less, we’d have heard the soft thuds and whisper-like rustle of the waterbucks and impalas as they jumped over the fence around our jungle lodge, and squatted in the grounds of the lodge where we stayed (I checked the next night—I was alone that night outside the complex where I stayed, and I did hear, and witness, that silent takeover). We stepped out of the bar, and saw them amble gracefully and settle in at their favourite spots—the hotel complex had kept muted lights on, and in the glow of the lodge’s light, their luminous hair looked golden. As we walked back to our rooms, the sky was full of stars. The waterbucks were there again at dawn. They were tolerant: They had seen us arrive the previous day, and looked at us with wry amusement, as some of us desperately tried to fix telephoto lenses on our cameras, and others requested their friends to take their pictures on their cellphones, fearing that the waterbucks would run away. But the animals liked being photographed, so they stayed; they sat quietly, continuing to look at us as our friends posed, conscious, some eyes facing the camera, others casting furtive

On the wild side: Impalas seem to like posing for photographs. glances at the waterbucks, lest they stealthily came anywhere near them. But the waterbucks sat impassive: They knew they could outrun us. The next morning, we had woken up to the sounds of birds. Even though theirs was a vocabulary we could not understand, we knew it was a conversation, rapid and loud. It was just after 6, and Africa looked magical. We were along the lake Naivasha, Timothy guiding us towards the lake’s shore. On one side we saw a few giraffes, walking away from the lake, their necks swaying. A few zebras ran towards the lake. The mild mist in the air, accentuated by the lake’s presence, made it look as though we were stepping into the pages of National Geographic magazine. From the height of the watchtower, we saw the lake as it awoke—the still view of the calm water, the sound of the birds, and the light resting lightly on its surface. There were some hippos already in the lake—partly submerged, they lay content, convinced about the utter inconsequentiality of our presence. A few birds sat on their hides, exchanging gossip. Suddenly, we saw a spring hare race past, as if in a great hurry,

carrying an important message for his friends. A blacksmith plover circled us, chirping excitedly, as if warning us. Shoosh, Timothy said, asking us to be quiet. Then he pointed out a tree, next to which I saw a massive rock. Besides the rock sat a hippopotamus, groaning. Timothy spoke in Swahili to two men passing by, who told him the hippo was hurt and in pain. The hippo wanted to go back to the water, but was in no position to do so. I remembered what Timothy had told us before we started: Never stand between the hippo and water. The wise option seemed to be to follow Timothy, step by step. The two men slowly went to the hippo, hoping to convince him to move, even if slowly, back to the water, to be with his mates. My friend Usha, who was with me, is a human rights lawyer, and she usually doesn’t like forced evictions. But this was eviction on compassionate grounds, so she let it pass. The giraffes and zebras went to the mist-covered lake, as if they had had their fill of watching people from outside Kenya who had come to see them. The following morning we were at another lake, Nakuru. We

reached the shore, facing hundreds of pink and white flamingos. They walked on the water like ballerinas, bending low to drink, then raising their heads, giving us a startled look when we came too near them, and then they scurried away from us, creating a delightful symmetry of ripples across the water. We drove to the top of the hill and saw the flamingos again, now regrouped, oblivious of the rhinoceros that came alongside, drinking from a small pond. The birds stayed clustered together, their tall legs reflecting in the water, and with the mist layering the view with a thin film, the sight looked like a panoramic painting. Then finally, we saw Thomson’s gazelle—spunky and cheerful, the gazelle had the body of a gymnast and her elegant horns looked like someone had crafted intricate jewellery on her head. The gazelle moved swiftly, vanishing in the grass, until she emerged moments later, much further from where I had seen her disappear, with a puzzled look on her face. It was getting warmer, and the sun harsher. The gentle mist had begun to disappear, and the temperature had risen. Africa’s magic is at dawn, as Ernest Hemingway wrote in his posthumous novel, True at First Light: “In Africa, a thing is true at first light and a lie by noon and you have no more respect for it than for the lovely, perfect weed fringed lake you see across the sun baked salt plane.” We were seeing enough of the lies in the cities we had left behind. At dawn, by the lake, the truth was simple, clear and pure. Write to Salil at detours@livemint.com www.livemint.com Read Salil’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/detours

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t’s a thoughtful, old-fashioned piece of design—a sleek leather pocketbook that’s a combination of personal travel diary and guide. Called BeenThereDoneThat, it’s a concept developed by Henry Cheng, president of publishing firm La Ditta Ltd, and designed at the Bascos Design office in Mumbai by Kunal Chandak and Sanika Palkar. If it’s travel information you want, this diary has it. Every airport in the world (with city and area code) is in there. World heritage sites, national parks, preferred hotels and restaurants, lists of Tick mark: Everything is longest bridges, highest waterfalls, most in a checklist format. impressive skylines, even a list of cruise itineraries. There are also plenty of useful reference notes—information on scenic rail routes, English newspapers across the world, and markets such as Bangkok’s Floating Market and Delhi’s Chandni Chowk. And it’s not just a repository of information. The book’s design is clever—everything is in a checklist format, with three types of checkboxes against the lists: “wish”, “been” and “again”. BeenThereDoneThat may seem to be designed for an ambitious, prolific traveller, but there is no need to get intimidated by the sheer amount of things to do. There is enough empty space given to fill up with your own to-dos—things you want to do and do again. BeenThereDoneThat costs £20 (around `1,470) and can be bought online at www.haveyoubeentheredonethat.travel Komal Sharma

Spring festivities The Elephant Festival in Jaipur, 19 March Rajasthan Tourism has been organizing an elephant festival on Holi for several years now. The festival features a fashion parade of elephants in drapes and jewellery, elephant polo at the Rambagh Polo Grounds in Jaipur and elephant races across the city. For details, log on to www.rajasthantourism.gov.in

Discover the Arts fest in Los Angeles, till 30 April More than 30 museums, musical venues and theatres offer discounts on tickets and merchandise during Los Angeles’ arts festival season. For music lovers, the participating venues include the LA Conservancy, the LA Philharmonic, the LA Opera, and the Grammy Museum. The Museum of Contemporary Art, the LA County Museum of Art, and the Annenberg Space for Photography are the prominent visual arts museums involved. The Pasadena Playhouse and the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theatre are the theatre venues. For a complete list of participating venues and discounts, log on to www.discoverlosangeles.com/thearts Aadisht Khanna Write to lounge@livemint.com


L14

www.livemint.com

SATURDAY, MARCH 12, 2011

Books

LOUNGE

IN FOCUS

Experiments with books PRIYANKA PARASHAR/MINT

Zubaan’s Urvashi Butalia helped create the blueprint for indie publishers. Now she hopes to make it a sustainable, for­profit business B Y K RISH R AGHAV krish.r@livemint.com

···························· n 1989, publisher Urvashi Butalia helped bring out a book that would eventually sell more than 50,000 copies. Not a single one was sold from a bookshop. Called Shareer ki Jaankari (About the Body), it was a simple, prosaic handbook in Hindi on women’s sexuality, written by 75 women from villages in Rajasthan. They approached Butalia, co-founder and then head of Kali for Women, a publishing house dedicated to books “on and for women”, with a handwritten manuscript. “It was every feminist publisher’s dream,” Butalia says. “To be able to reach out, pertinently, beyond the elite, urban middle class.” Kali for Women devised a strange, experimental form of distribution—the 75 authors sold the book at a special price that helped them cover costs, and collected orders from women across the state. By the time the first 2,000 copies came off the press, 1,800 orders had already been placed. “It’s been reprinted many times, and translated into other languages,” says Butalia, who was awarded the Padma Shri in January. “But throughout its life, it has never earned or lost a penny.” The book is representative of Butalia’s approach to publishing, one that India’s independent publishers exemplify—walk the tightrope of sustainability, but publish what you believe in, not what makes money. In 2003, Kali for Women split to form two imprints—Zubaan Books, which Butalia now heads, and Women Unlimited, run by Kali co-founder Ritu Menon. Over the next two months, Zubaan Books will be making the transition from a non-profit (which it is currently registered as) to a for-profit company. That change means a fundamental shift in the way Butalia approaches the industry, having worked in non-profit mode since Kali’s founding in 1984. “I think Zubaan is beginning to outgrow me and take its own direction,” she says. “We need to move to a formalized structure that survives and has a life of its own beyond the founder.” There’s no easy way to categorize Zubaan’s speciality. They’re currently working on an anthology of speculative retellings of the Ramayan, and have just released a set of essays on assisted reproductive technologies. Their most popular book is 2005’s A Life Less Ordinary, the translated autobiography of Baby Halder, a Delhi domestic help. International rights to the title were sold to HarperCollins US. Only one thing becomes apparent when you look at Zubaan’s current list of books, says commissioning editor Anita Roy. “It’s not the shape it should be if you’re considering a viable business,” she says, “because we’re a bunch of eclectic, unruly women who’ll publish everything from speculative fiction to picture books for toddlers.” Zubaan’s mainstay is twopronged—academic feminist work that carries over from Kali for Women, and Young Zubaan, which focuses on books for chil-

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dren up to the teens. “Children’s books in India are conservative, preachy, derivative and just not very good,” Roy says. Zubaan also helped found children’s book events such as the annual festival Bookaroo.

Creating canon Butalia and writer Ritu Menon founded Kali for Women with no money and an “unintuitive, instinctive business model”. “We both came from salaried jobs, and we had no starting capital to speak of,” she says. “We set it up as a non-profit since it gave us access to grants, and we really didn’t see the whole thing as a profitable activity anyway.” The company’s first office was in the garage of Menon’s Delhi house, and the two co-founders worked without a salary. They applied for a grant from a Norwegian donor for “the princely sum” of `1.4 lakh for two books, and that became their operating fund. They farmed MANPREET ROMANA/AFP

Going strong: (clockwise from left) Zubaan’s most popular book is Baby Halder’s auto­ biography; Urvashi Butalia; children doodling at the Bookaroo festival; and Zubaan book covers. out their editorial services and did a bit of freelancing to keep afloat. When the first two books (a collection of short stories by Indian women writers called Truth Tales and a history of the women’s movement called The History of Doing) were ready, however, they hit their first blind spot—distribution. “Distribution was something we learnt only over time,” Butalia says. “The atmosphere wasn’t so hospitable back then.” Sales of Kali’s early books were mainly to libraries, and dealing with a multitude of small distributors was difficult. “But we were the only ones publishing for women,” she says. “Our books grew out of the women’s movement in India.” Book stores around the country were being asked—when is the next Kali book coming out? This was a question that mystified booksellers; they’d only witnessed loyalty to authors, not to publishers. In the absence of systematic market research and data (a problem the industry still faces), this helped Kali understand its audience better than most general publishers. The specific focus led international buyers to pick up

rights for their titles. “We got $1,000 (around `45,000) for one of our books on women and religion (titled Speaking of Faith),” Butalia says. “And little by little, our finances added up.” Kali broke even the third year, and the founders decided to take “an imaginative leap forward”. This period was Kali’s most significant. They published ecofeminist Vandana Shiva’s landmark Staying Alive, on women and ecology, in 1988. Then came Shareer ki Jankari. Recasting Women, a book that looked at alternate tellings of colonial history, was also released in 1989. It became a feminist academic classic, and

has been reprinted every year since then. “Numbers are low for academic works. We usually do a first print run of 500 copies and hope for the best,” Butalia says. “If it’s successful, then there’ll be a paperback and a further 1,500 copies.” Recasting Women went above and beyond, and has sold about 15,000 copies since its debut. By the early 1990s, Kali was the archetypal independent publisher in India. “Urvashi is like a role model,” says Arpita Das of Yoda Press, an independent publisher in Delhi. “We found our inspiration in what Kali achieved, carving out a space for discourse on an issue.” The model that Kali established hasn’t changed radically with

Zubaan. Politics is still the driving force. Grants still propel ambitious projects. Teams are still small—Kali employed six people when it split in 2003, Zubaan now has nine. “Keeping overheads low is tougher now,” Butalia says. “An office is compulsory, and rents are expensive.” There’s also increasing competition from other publishers, since Zubaan isn’t the sole women’s publisher any more. “We have to offer competitive salaries because our people are headhunted all the time,” she says.

Getting the word out But putting something out there leads to the stalemate of distribution, which remains a tricky decision. Going with fragmented, multiple distributors ensures a wider reach and better bargaining terms, but payment collections are a headache. An exclusive deal makes that easier, but your independence is limited. “Publishers get a lot of flak for overpricing, but you have to remember that the distributors get the books at a 60% discount,” Butalia says. “That leaves 40% of the cost to cover overheads, taxes, royalty and produc-

tion. You’re lucky if you can get a 4-5% profit at the end of this.” After much discussion, Zubaan now has exclusive distributors for the two main components of their list—Cambridge University Press for academic titles, and Penguin Books for the other “general” titles. “Professional distributors charge an arm and a leg,” Butalia says. “But the luxury of getting a cheque and a sales statement on the seventh of each month is worth it.” Zubaan’s also actively looking at the Internet, staying abreast of a readership that has leapfrogged, in Roy’s words, “from bookshops to apps”. Their site has a rudimentary online store, and e-books are planned. ”We don’t fully understand the dynamics of e-books and e-readers and tablets, but we’ve decided to be present there,” Butalia says. “I refuse to get on Facebook, but Zubaan has a page there and we use it.” In 2010, Zubaan published a small book of poems by Manipuri activist Irom Sharmila. Called Fragrance of Peace, it was released on the 10th anniversary of Sharmila’s hunger fast for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. All proceeds from sales went to funds supporting Sharmila’s campaign. “We’ve done our best to maintain the balance between being realistic and idealistic,” Butalia says. “The women’s movement has grown and expanded.” So too has readership. “I have a problem with people calling our work a niche,” she says. “We’re publishing about half the world, and our audience is the whole world.”


BOOKS L15

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SATURDAY, MARCH 12, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

STANDING MY GROUND | MATTHEW HAYDEN

CULT FICTION

R. SUKUMAR

Meaty middle, weak edges

100% COMIC

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The former opening batsman’s story is not remarkable, but at a slow pace, gives some insight into Australian cricket B Y A RUN J ANARDHAN arun.j@livemint.com

···························· or those crippled by short-term memory, which struggles to hold images of specific players or matches from a blur of relentless cricket, what might stand out most about Matthew Hayden is the Mongoose bat—a short, stumpy instrument that takes the ball further than a normal bat—he used in an Indian Premier League (IPL) match last season. But that’s an aberration, in the sense that Hayden was not really a batsman who bludgeoned for pleasure like his opening partner Adam Gilchrist used to, even if Hayden’s rather imposing structure and fire-hose forearms indicate otherwise. Hayden’s cricketing career was built brick by brick. He had to wait for some years after his debut to establish his place in the Australian side, airtight with the likes of the Waugh twins and others. He was not a natural hitter of the ball either, which meant he was not an automatic choice in the slambang version of the game. So if the Mongoose was an anomaly to the way Hayden really batted, the book pretty much stays true to the real person.

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Standing My Ground: HarperCollins, 402 pages, `599.

Standing My Ground comes three months after South African opener Herschelle Gibbs’ To the Point, but is less tabloid in its treatment of a cricketer’s life and journeys. It’s almost staid, pretty much like Hayden’s batting style, with insights into modern Australian cricket and sporting culture that satiates some curiosity about the world’s best team of the last two decades. The natural question before anyone attempts this book is, do we care enough about Hayden to read his life story, which is neither remarkable nor unusual? It lacks the salacious delight, for those inclined to that kind of story, of Gibbs’ adventures; Haydos was not the exciting cricketer who filled up seats. But for cricket lovers interested in behind-the-scenes shenanigans, there are some interesting titbits of what made the Australian team special, the peculiar characteristics of players and some of Hayden himself. For instance, we find out that Mark Waugh, a man of many strokes but few words, would utter just one profound sentence during team meetings and then doze for an hour; Damien Martyn hated the attention that came with being an international sportsman; Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey were obsessed with their bats (the latter carries a weighing scale on trips); and the superstitious Steve Waugh would, at the crease, catch a ladybird if he saw one and put it on his clothing for the rest of the innings. My favourite is the one about Curtly Ambrose, who was spotted during a match in 2003 in the stands of Antigua. The reticent, retired Caribbean

Write­handed: Like his batting, Hayden’s biography can be both staid and gripping.

fast bowler agreed to answer just one question to a photographer: “How would you bowl today if you were still playing?”. The answer: “If I was still playing today, the game would have been over yesterday.” Hayden’s humble beginnings, the influence of his family and brother, his initial years and struggle in cricket mark a slow beginning to the tome. It’s only when the opener makes it to the Test team and chronicles his travails there that the pace livens. His relationships with cricketers past and present, the camaraderie in the dressing room, the underlying politics inherent in every sport provide interesting insights. To use a cricketing term, the book has a meaty middle but weak edges. While Standing My Ground tends to drag towards the end, certain moving moments, like the ones that deal with his relationship with long-time opening partner Justin Langer, buddy Andrew Symonds and Glenn McGrath’s late wife Jane—particularly in the

When the light’s dim An engaging anthology of film writing based on memory—a genre long overdue

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

···························· arly on in the rich new anthology Popcorn Essayists: What Movies Do to Writers, Kamila Shamsie writes about the seamless ease with which fiction in prose can bridge barriers of eras and epochs in two short sentences. Her essay, Two Languages, In Conversation, questions this obvious premise on which the novel can claim supremacy over cinema. She is unwilling to call one superior to the other and concludes, based on some convincingly argued comparisons (Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire and Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion), “The languages of film and prose are radically different, and yet they are in conversation with each other.” This can be a stimulating debate, especially over whisky,

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and can even turn facetious. Shamsie’s essay kept me hooked till the end. This, and other essays by writers on how cinema has enlivened them, fuelled them, make this book, edited by Jai Arjun Singh, a delight for cinephiles—especially those rancorous, disillusioned ones who consider film writing in our country stupid. Truly, most reviews of Bollywood films are reactions to films, not critiques of them. Here, I speak on behalf of film critics writing professionally every Friday: Let’s face it, there are few that demand robust critiques. Could that possibly explain why none of the writers—Anjum Hasan, Manil Suri, Manjula Padmanabhan, Amitava Kumar and Sidin Vadukut (who is with Mint), among others—talk about films from contemporary India? With the exception of Satya in Amitava Kumar’s essay, no mov-

SANTOSH HARHARE/ HINDUSTAN TIMES

account by Hayden’s wife Kellie—suggest a certain unknown humane side to the ruthless batting giant Hayden came across as, particularly on a 14-inch screen. Hayden’s honest in his opinion of where cricket is headed and the significance of India and the IPL, which, coming from a proud Aussie, is unusually humble. “Australia cannot thrive without India, but India doesn’t need us to the same degree,” he puts it in a nutshell. He sticks his neck out to offer some sensible suggestions—the Hayden blueprint for the future of cricket—which hold out hope for his future as an administrator. Standing My Ground is strictly for the passionate fan who has the kind of patience required to watch every over of a Test match. IN SIX WORDS Benign diary of cricket, camaraderie, Australia

ies from recent memory seem to have influenced the writers. As it appears, the primary purpose of this anthology is to fill the gap in film writing that makes the purpose of a verdict irrelevant—when, after being captive for 2 hours in a dark room, subsumed by their power, we recollect what some films have unleashed in us or how we

The Popcorn Essayists: Tranquebar, 227 pages, `395.

ult Fiction isn’t strictly a review column. So, unless there is a great new comic this writer has read (no, Pale Horse doesn’t make the cut for a variety of reasons), all he has to do every time a review is due—and it feels like one is every few hours—is dip into his library. This time’s dip came up with Paul Pope’s 100%. Regular readers of this column should be familiar with the name. Both Heavy Liquid and Batman 100, other comics by Pope, have been featured in it. 100% dates back to 2002-04 when Vertigo (the DC imprint targeted at readers such as your columnist) published a miniseries of the same name. A trade paperback came out in 2005, and I probably bought a copy shortly after. I have read reports of a hard-bound collector’s edition that came out towards the end of the last decade but I haven’t seen one. Science fiction—including a vision of a future so dystopian it would make Philip K. Dick proud—manga and pulp appear to be the things that Pope gets off on, and all are on display in 100%. Paul explains in an author’s note in the paperback edition that he went to Vertigo with an idea for a series of short stories set in a futuristic city. “When I proposed to Vertigo a series of short stories about love and sex, set in a science fiction city, they liked the initial premise, but rather than have me do a bunch of short stories, they wanted me to do just one story.” And so, Pope explains, he wrote out the book pretty much like a movie. And an interesting movie it is, with six interrelated lead characters in a New York of the future. Pope’s visualization (he writes and illustrates his comics) of the city is similar to what he did with New York in Heavy Liquid, although there is no relation between the two stories. The six men and women have something to do with Cathouse, Not geeky: 100% is about real people, real a strip club relationships, and real emotions. (indeed, one is a stripper) or, rather, a gastro-club (Pope’s invention) where scanners record and then project images of a dancer’s internal organs for the benefit of the audience—sort of like voyeurism on steroids. Pope also speaks of gastro-fights (and another of his characters is a gastro-fighter) where the audience gets to see the impact of punches on a fighter’s internal organs. Some people may think these are cool technologies; others may be disgusted by them; but despite more such technology on display, 100% isn’t really a geeky book on gadgets. Instead, it is a book about real people, real relationships, and real emotions such as pain and longing and obsession—all set in a very futuristic New York (heck, they even have flying cars a la Blade Runner), and depicted, ironically, in black and white. To me, what works most for 100% is Pope’s ability to tell these stories, and tell them well, without being overwhelmed by the setting he has created for them. The medium adds to the story, but it is finally all about the story, not the cool visual medium Pope uses to tell it. And that, in so many ways, is what good comics are about. R. Sukumar is editor, Mint. Write to him at cultfiction@livemint.com

viewed the world differently after watching them. The most delightful portions of the book are about the tangible pleasures of watching a particular film or director. Hasan’s imagination of austere and soulful Finnish life through the films of Mika Kaurismaki helps her understand the country and its people better when she visits the place. Vadukut relives his rapturous teenage delight at watching Charlie Sheen and Nastassja Kinski in Terminal Velocity, his first film ever on a big screen, in Abu Dhabi’s Eldorado Cinema. Suri, an academic, is driven to wear a bra to perform a song picturized on Helen in Brooklyn’s central square. Musharraf Ali Farooqi dissects, in dispassionate prose, a Punjabi film called Maula Jatt about the cult of footworshippers. Kumar extrapolates home and his Bihari identity through Satya and its prince of underworld foibles, Bhiku Mhatre, who asks, atop a hill overlooking Mumbai’s grey sea, “Mumbai ka king kaun (Who rules Mumbai)?” Padmanabhan grapples with the idea of reading a film:

what is lowbrow and highbrow, an idea beautifully explored by American critic Pauline Kael in her seminal essay Trash, Art and the Movies. Hindi suspense thrillers of the 1950s and 1960s and the beginning of Bollywood celebrity cult journalism make two other engaging essays by Namita Gokhale and Madhulika Liddle. All the writers write from memory, and the transformation of some of these writers from the time they watched these films until now are crucial to understanding their relationships with them—the writers are as or more important than the films themselves. Those are the most intriguing essays in the anthology. A few of them, such as Sumana Roy’s A Mechanical Love or Gaadi Bula Rahi Hai and Farooqi’s The Foot-worshipper’s Guide to Watching ‘Maula Jatt’, read like classic film school essays, but their choice of subjects sustained my interest. We need more writing of this kind on the most democratic, entertaining and all-encompassing art form.


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Culture

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ART

Leaving Lhasa Vegas PHOTOGRAPHS

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VOLTE

ART GALLERY

Moving beyond traditional imagery, contemporary Tibetan art is beginning to carve a niche for itself

B Y A NINDITA G HOSE & S UPRIYA N AIR ···························· oes proximity have anything to do with art’s blind spots? Around eight months ago, Tushar Jiwrajka, director of Mumbai’s Volte Art Gallery, began wondering why India has ignored artists from regions close to her. “We’ve seen Pakistani art in Indian galleries before, but how much do you see of Sri Lankan art, or Bangladeshi or Nepalese art?” he says. He began to envision a show of contemporary Tibetan art in India—a first for any major art gallery in the country. “We really felt that contemporary Tibetan art is essential to India. It comes from a culture in India’s vicinity, and a political and social reality that is based here,” he says. His concerns resulted in Beyond the Mandala, a group exhibition that opens today and contributes to an important year of exhibitions for contemporary Tibetan art. In June, the Rubin Museum of Art in New York hosted the first exhibition of contemporary Tibetan art in a New York City museum, Tradition Transformed: Tibetan Artists Respond. In September, Beijing made way for Scorching Sun of Tibet at the Songzhuang Art Museum. Contemporary Tibetan art, produced both inside Tibet and by the diaspora, has been growing in scope and breadth over the last 20 years. While the thrust of Tibetan cultural expression in exile has been the preservation of tradition, increasingly, the contemporary strain in art is exploring current issues—personal, political and cultural—by integrating centuries-old traditional imagery, techniques and materials found in Tibetan Buddhist art with modern influences and media. The attempts to present this to the world have been disparate, with boutique galleries such as The Sweet Tea House in London

Fresh colours: (clockwise from left) Bollywood Buddha by Rigdol; Moksha Buy Mandala by Jenny Bhatt; and Tsherin Sherpa.

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and the Mechak Center for Contemporary Tibetan Art, composed of Tibetan and American artists and academics, in the US, making some headway. Jiwrajka’s questions drive home the point that there hasn’t been a serious institutional effort to promote Tibetan art in India although the country hosts the largest number of Tibetan refugees. Beyond the Mandala, that takes its name from mandala, or sacred Tibetan art, seeks to reorient the status quo by bringing to India works by four Tibetan artists: Gade, Tenzing Rigdol, Tsherin Sherpa and Palden Weinreb. Apart from one of Sherpa’s works, all the others will be on show for the first time anywhere in the world. The show was made possible by the collaboration of the Londonbased gallery Rossi & Rossi, which specializes in classical and contemporary East Asian art (Rossi & Rossi was also behind the New York and Beijing shows). Fabio Rossi, the founder-owner, says, “India, with all sorts of past and present connections, is the natural place for Tibetan artists to thrive.”

This exhibition caps other efforts to promote Tibetan contemporary art in India. Tashi Gyatso, a Tibetan resident of Dharamsala, set up a social enterprise called Peak Art in April to accommodate the growing concerns of Tibetan contemporary artists in India. He and his American girlfriend Sarah Mac have curated four shows since. Peak Art is dedicated to showing Dharamsala-based artists, and finding an adequate number of artists and artworks to display was an issue initially. With seven artists in its fold, the gallery is doing well now. “We sell 60% of the works to travellers from abroad,” says Mac, adding, “The majority of our art is affordable for now, our artists are relatively new names to patrons; in five-seven years, I expect that will change as their talent is discovered.” As the only gallery in India with a programme solely devoted to contemporary Tibetan art, Peak Art has enjoyed witnessing the process of discovery. In October, they even travelled with one of their shows, Starving Artists, to Delhi.

Tibetan artists practising today are straddling two worlds with panache. Trained in the traditional arts, they’re moving towards a new idiom. Their works break the spiritual associations that non-Tibetans have, sometimes exclusively, of Tibetan art. One of the artists from Beyond the Mandala, Rigdol, for instance, studied traditional Tibetan sand painting and butter sculpture, even earning a degree in Tibetan traditional thangka painting. But his work energizes his precise technique and conventional aesthetic with references to mass culture and pop icons such as Bollywood stars. Gade’s art is rooted in tradi-

tional Tibetan painting that he describes as “a language with which to express the suffering and the essence of the Tibetan people, and to draw a map of the Tibetan soul”. But he freely fuses this with globalized kitsch, such as Mickey Mouse figures. In his artist’s statement, he says he “removes the religious element” entirely. His works comment on changing priorities in an increasingly globalized Tibet, that Gade sometimes jokes about as “Lhasa Vegas”— a country radically distant from the mystical perfection of Shangrila, a concept that has dogged perceptions of Tibet in the world outside. By contrast, Gade’s Coca-Cola-drinking, Disney-admiring Lhasa Vegas exists at the intersection of China’s Cultural Revolution and the hegemony of Western pop culture, a reality that complicates notions of the sacred and profane. “These artists are getting greater visibility in the international circuit, both commercial and not,” Rossi says.

Prisoners of their own words An exhibition shows footage of Indian PoWs used for linguistic research in World War I B Y A NINDITA G HOSE anindita.g@livemint.com

····························· “There once was a man. This man came into the European war. Germany captured this man. He wishes to return to India. If God has mercy, he will make peace soon. This man will go away from here.”

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hese were Mall Singh’s crackling words as he spoke into a recording device on 11 December 1916 in the city of Wünsdorf, near Berlin. The 24-year-old, a native of Ranusukhi in Punjab, was among the hundreds of soldiers who were made to speak into a

phonographic funnel at the Half Moon Camp for “exotic” prisoners of war. Between 1915 and 1918, German and Austrian anthropologists and linguists conducted research on enemy colonial soldiers. These were largely Indian and north African soldiers from the British, French and Russian armies, who became objects of several anthropological research projects. One such was the recording of languages carried out by the newly founded Royal Prussian Phonographic Commission (which made around 1,650 such recordings). While Singh’s language sample was a fervent plea, his fellow sol-

diers sang of the mustard fields of their homes. But the scientists supervising their recordings were interested in the phonetics, not their stories. The Max Mueller Bhavan brings this rare footage to India for the first time as an exhibition that travels from Mumbai to Delhi this week. Making of…The Halfmoon Files, by Berlin-based film-maker Philip Scheffner and cultural scientist Britta Lange, is a four-channel sound and video installation. The project took off when Scheffner came across an article on Indian prisoners of war (PoWs). He found that their recordings still exist as part of the Berlin Sound Archive. Scheffner was shocked at what he heard. “That I can simply open a drawer, remove a record and get access to a real person, a historical individual, who tells a

Lost in translation: Soldiers during a recording at the Half Moon Camp. story. What must have been his feelings when he spoke into the recording funnel?” says Scheffner in the introduction to the 2006 film, The Halfmoon Files, that was born of this footage. The scope of the exhibition travelling to India is broader, incorpo-

rating research from a five-year collaboration between the filmmaker and Lange. It uses clips from the sound archive, historic documents from the camp, German propaganda films, and puts these together with fictional accounts and footage from

Given their particular geographies, this is worth noting: Rigdol and Sherpa, born in Kathmandu, work in New York and California, respectively. Gade lives and works in his hometown Lhasa, but his works have been acquired by museums in China, the UK and US. Weinreb, also a New York resident, was born there. Now, there is reason to believe that these artists are coming closer home. Lekha Poddar, a tastemaker in India’s art scene, has started collecting contemporary Tibetan art. Reha Sodhi, assistant curator at The Devi Art Foundation instituted by Poddar and her son Anupam, says that though the foundation hasn’t bought or exhibited any Tibetan artists yet, they’re actively researching the region. New Delhi’s Seven Art gallery also opened a solo exhibition with Buddhist trappings yesterday. In MokshaShots (which runs till 4 April and has works priced between `30,000 and `4 lakh), artist Jenny Bhatt explores the consumerist myth that fulfilment of moksha can be found through the purchase of a product or an experience promised by it. Bhatt confesses that her cheeky works are inspired by the traditional thangka or mandala painting. The title Beyond the Mandala makes one question if Tibetan art is truly moving “beyond” in a manner that warrants a reassessment. “My thought is that the mandala is still there, but it’s not everything any more,” says Martin Clist, director of Rossi & Rossi. The mandala stands for tradition, it is also one of the best-known symbols of Tibetan art. But, as Clist says, it is no longer a restriction. Beyond the Mandala opens today and will run till 6 April at Volte Gallery, Colaba, Mumbai. anindita.g@livemint.com

present-day Wünsdorf. Lange’s lecture, which accompanies the installation in both cities, demonstrates how these recordings were made with “objective” methods and thereby took no note of the “subjective” messages of the speaker: “The personal reports of the prisoners fell through the net of empirical research,” she says, referring to the colonial plan to produce knowledge by measuring, categorizing and displaying the exotic. Making of…The Halfmoon Files operates on a wistful premise. Those who pressed the record button on the phonographs were the ones to write history. The life stories of young soldiers, such as Mall Singh, disappeared over time. He is now a number on an old shellac record in an archive. Making of…The Halfmoon Files opens today and will run till 26 March at the Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi; and till 16 March at Project 88, Mumbai.


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THEATRE

STALL ORDER

Badal rises once more A new film seeks to resurrect the alienated thespian who has distanced himself from the mainstream

B Y S HAMIK B AG ···························· t his north Kolkata home, 86-year-old Badal Sircar leads a withdrawn life. The house has one other resident: a long-time attendant. Sircar’s time is spent over books, writing and combing through newspapers. He rarely gets a visitor and he visits rarely too. Sircar was honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) earlier this week, but Sudeb Sinha, director of a documentary film on the pioneering Indian theatre personality, says, “It is almost criminal the way Sircar has been ignored in Bengal.” The film is expected to be screened in June after the state assembly elections end and a new government is in place. After A Face in the Procession was shot over two years, 60 hours of footage now lies stored in the editor’s computer. Each mouse click results in a phantasmagoric scroll of faces; people from the world of theatre, cinema, literature and academics—Girish Karnad, Mohan Agashe, Amol Palekar, Shreeram Lagoo, Sudhir Mishra, Naseeruddin Shah, Ashish Vidyarthi, Paresh Rawal, Rohini Hattangadi, Susie Tharu, Amrish Puri, Satyadeb Dubey, Makrand Sathe, among others—articulating their debt to Sircar. While well-known Kannada director and playwright, Karnad states Sircar’s play Ebong Indrajit taught him fluidity between scenes, veteran theatre personality Dubey says, “In every play I’ve written and in every situation created, Indrajit dominates.” Actor-director Palekar says, “Badalda opened up new ways of expression.” The film captures an ailing Puri, months before the actor’s death, on stage during 2004’s Palekar-organized festival of Sircar’s plays in Pune, performing in Ebong Indrajit. It was Puri’s last chance, recounts

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Sinha, to doff his hat to Sircar. Yet in Bengal, says Sinha, such attestations are rare for the man who achieved critical and commercial success with proscenium productions and got the Sangeet Natak Akademi and Padma Shri awards in 1968-69 before establishing Third Theatre. The latter pledged to take theatre to the masses, freeing it from the bondage of auditorium shows and commercial motives. In Third Theatre, the emphasis was on content over form and exploration over experimentation. While setting up interviews with theatre personalities in Kolkata, Sinha recalls the resistance he encountered, barring people such as poet Joy Goswami, filmmaker Aparna Sen and novelist Nabarun Bhattacharya. “Most big names in Bengali theatre shied away. It was as if Sircar’s entire work was being denied,” says Sinha. The thespian has rarely been invited to official functions or given any responsible position, he points out. The film alludes to the basis of Sircar’s alienation. In a significant interview, Sanjoy Mukhopadhyay, the Kolkata-based Left-leaning film scholar, talks about the days of Leftist “euphoria”—coinciding with Sircar writing Ebong Indrajit in 1963-65—“when we considered him a Rightist talking about existentialism.” On his part, Sircar explains his “disenchantment” with Left politics, having witnessed the contradictions between party policies and ground realities. A member of the undivided Communist Party of India (CPI), Sircar was sidelined after he addressed a critical letter to party seniors. “Instead of a reply, I got suspended,” he mentions wryly. It was around the 1950s. Reported to be equally disdainful of Bengal’s opposition politics,

Sircar has since affiliated himself with no political party, relying instead on the constituency of ordinary people—his audience. That as a playwright Sircar was determinedly moving towards core human issues is hinted at through the writer’s character in Ebong Indrajit: a playwright eager to acquaint himself with the “exploited masses, coal mine workers, the farmer and snake charmer”. A narrative strain in the film focuses on a clutch of plays— beginning with Ebong Indrajit to Sara Rattir, Baki Itihas and Pagla Ghora—where Sircar critically probes society, the theatre community and the self. These plays, says Avik Bandyopadhyay, the award-winning Bengali poet and the film’s editor, are linked through a common theme of violence. Yet another cluster of plays belongs to the time Sircar led his group Satabdi to the streets, factory gates, and remote villages. Plays such as Spartacus and Bhoma are politically edgy and connected by the theme of statesponsored violence. In some memorable footage, Sircar and Satabdi actors are seen performing Bhoma, clad in blue costumes. The costumes were tailored from stage wings used in the group’s last proscenium pro-

I’m unable to compromise because Badalbabu sits inside my head. Sudhir Mishra Film­maker

LIFE AS WE KNOW IT

duction after Sircar realized the imminent worthlessness of proscenium props. Conventional proscenium theatre’s over-dependence on expensive paraphernalia was one of the reasons for Sircar’s disillusionment with the format. Bright lighting that blanks out audiences, raised stages, stagefacing sitting arranged according to ticket prices, and the lack of audience-actor interaction were other issues he had problems with. Sircar’s solution to unshackling theatre from these was simple— inexpensive, portable and flexible became the three philosophical pillars of Third Theatre. It required no elevated stage, had the audience sitting in a circle, and human bodies were utilized to represent trees, bridges and stairs. Funds came from voluntary donations by the audience. Satabdi members would walk through villages performing socially relevant plays. These days, even as ill-health forces Sircar to stay back, Satabdi members perform every month at Kolkata’s Loreto (Sealdah) school and occasionally in villages. Sircar mentions that Third Theatre was preceded by Agitprop Theatre in Russia, China and England. Marathi actor Atul Pethe voices his admiration in the film: “Taking theatre to the streets and villages wasn’t a fashion or merely an idea for Sircar. It’s a way of life; you can’t appoint actors for such committed theatre.” Painstakingly researched, the making of A Face in the Procession closely followed Sircar’s do-ityourself model—a sizeable portion of the funds were generated from 200-odd donations from well-wishers, beginning from `50. People such as Mishra and Dubey have hosted the crew or paid for expenses. Mishra considers Sircar the last surviving dissenting voice from the defiant 1960s-70s. “He provokes and dismantles your beliefs. I’m unable to compromise because Badalbabu sits inside my head,” Mishra tells the camera. “Yet he is just a man; one who feels, is open-minded and always in search.”

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tripped of its lived-in Delhi setting and its next-door characters, Band Baaja Baaraat (BBB) is yet another Yash Raj Films movie. It’s got most of the elements that have come to be identified closely with the leading movie producer: Peppy songs that are destined to be played ad nauseam at Punjabi weddings, a production design that includes all shades of the rainbow, and enough Punjabi to improve your understanding of the language. Yet, BBB has something extra—a strong dose of realism. Its characters aren’t cardboard cut-outs but flesh-and-blood people. Its locations are identifiably Delhi rather than an overdressed set in a Mumbai studio. BBB is a realistic entertainer whose feel-good climax is especially sweeter because it is rooted in an identifiable reality rather than an alienating fantasy. Hindi cinema’s latest quest to serve up fresh fare for increasingly restless audiences is taking it in interesting directions. Few Hindi movies veer away from the tried-and-tested combination of attractive actors, loosely defined characters who can appeal to a broad spectrum of viewers, loud and cheerful song-and-dance sequences. Most movies must end on a satisfactory and comforting note, one that makes audiences feel they have extracted full value for the time and money spent. Yet some writers and directors Pop realism: Band Baaja Baaraat. are trying to tinker with the formula. The conclusion is still palliative, but there are more warts on display than before. Habib Faisal, who wrote Band Baaja Baraat, also made the sweet comedy Do Dooni Chaar, which wore its ordinariness on its frayed sleeve. The movie’s upbeat ending followed the revelation of a few home truths along the way, such as the reality that middle-class families in India are being squeezed by the new economy. Tere Bin Laden took genial potshots at America’s obsession with Osama bin Laden, but did it so gently that the film can never be confused with biting satire. Humour seems to be a good way to win over viewers who might otherwise baulk at being lectured to. In that sense, the new realistic entertainers are an improvement on the anodyne middle-of-the-road movies of Basu Chatterjee and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, which poked fun at middle India’s eccentricities but rarely linked the lives of their characters to the larger social realities of the time. A fashionable way to appear “real” is to litter the dialogue sheets with profanity. In the old days, Kader Khan put the language of the Mumbai streets in Amitabh Bachchan’s mouth in Amar Akbar Anthony. In recent months, many Bollywood writers are sprinkling their screenplays with expletives in an attempt to write dialogue that reflects everyday speech patterns. Colourful language probably makes sense in a gangster film, which is usually bursting with low-lifes who don’t care for etiquette. But the C-word (which is derogatory to women) pops up even in a film such as Tanu Weds Manu, a low-key romantic comedy about a mismatched couple. The more a film strays off the beaten track, the more likely it is to collect swear words along its journey. Offbeat films need lashings of cool to offset their lack of glamour and star power. There’s no better way to grab attention than to line an actor’s mouth with cusswords. It’s great to watch films that are not as plasticky and implausible as most mainstream fare, but the use of realism as a stylistic device alone comes with its limitations. My money is on films such as Love Sex aur Dhokha and Peepli (Live), which ask tough questions and which make you squirm rather than break out into a collective bhangra.

Write to lounge@livemint.com

Nandini Ramnath is the film critic of Time Out Mumbai (www.timeoutmumbai.net).

PHOTOGRAPHS

Stage: Badal Sircar at his north Kolkata home; and (above) members of Sircar’s theatre group, Satabdi, performing Bhoma.

NANDINI RAMNATH

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A MASTER OF ABSTRACTSCAPES He started of with figurative drawings, moved to landscapes with his famous ‘Benares’ series, but finally settled on abstracts. Paintings by modern Indian artist Ram Kumar, now 86, fare in the same league as his contemporaries S.H. Raza and M.F. Husain at international auctions. But the quiet, reclusive artist is not one for the public gaze. An ongoing solo exhibition in Delhi seeks to represent six decades of his life as a painter, including early rare paintings as well as some of his recent abstracts. The title of the show, ‘Art, Tuned to a Fine’, is derived from an essay written by his friend, poet and art critic Keshav Malik. The works on display are from the private collection of the gallery but include works loaned by collectors for the show. Ram Kumar’s solo show, Art, Tuned to a Fine, is on till 27 March at the Chawla Art Gallery, Saket, New Delhi. Anindita Ghose


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India’s oldest toy story PHOTOGRAPHS

BY

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Still playing: (from top) Radio­controlled black eagle chopper, `3,000; Satish Sundra, 74, has been running Ram Chander & Sons in Connaught Place since his father’s death in 1954; and the store is the sole distributor in India for the US­made Guillow toy planes.

A neighbourhood mom­and­pop store in the commercial district has lived through Partition, resisted becoming another franchise

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he pillars outside the corridor have been repainted. The adjacent Odeon Cinema has been taken over by a multiplex chain. Elsewhere, most familiar landmarks have given way to junk food outlets and retail chain showrooms. But Ram Chander & Sons, which claims to be India’s oldest toy shop, has survived. Here, Indira Gandhi bought toys for her sons. Sonia Gandhi would come to buy Christmas trees. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a regular till he became prime minister. Situated since 1935 in the D-Block of Connaught Place, Delhi’s colonial-era shopping district, Ram Chander has chugged along with the market’s fluctuating fortunes, so far resisting the easy-money temptation of converting into a franchise store. “As long as my son and I are alive, we are not turning into Café Coffee Day,” says Satish Sundra, 74, the shop’s patriarch. Inside, photographs of Sundra’s parents hang on a wall along with a portrait of the Hindu god Ram, 1935 vintage. “I believe in family traditions,” he says. Just then a couple in their late 20s enters with a child. The child asks the sari-clad assistant at the counter for a flying helicopter. Price: `4,000. The husband pays and they walk out. No question is asked, no bargain demanded. The shop was started by Sundra’s father Raj Sunder, who grew up in Ambala Cantonment where his grandfather Seth Chunnilal—a Marwari migrant from Rajasthan—had set up a

toy shop in 1890. Forty years later, the family opened another outlet in Kasauli. In the mid-1930s, many traders living in small towns were looking for greener pastures in the big cities of Lahore and Delhi. Raj Sunder, Chunnilal’s grandson and a son of Ram Chander, opted for Delhi. Being imperial India’s new capital, it was the city of the future. The construction of New Delhi had started. Bungalows were coming up on Aurangzeb Road and Ashoka Road. Connaught Place (CP) was brand new and dirt cheap. The builders were begging traders to fill up the shops. Raj Sunder, who arrived with his family, was almost broke when he was shown a shop owned by a contractor called Rai Bahadur Tirath Ram. “Take it. Pay the rent when you can,” he was told. He opened the family’s third toy outlet and named it after his father. Sundra was not more than 3 at the time but he remembers that for the first two years the family lived in the shop. His mother cooked on a coal-fired angeethi behind a curtained partition. “Father opened early in the morning, closed late in the night, as long as customers would come.” This was true for most shopkeepers in the area. A few years later, the family rented a two-room house on Hanuman Road. When 17-year-old Sundra—then a student of History (Hons) at St Stephen’s—took over the business after his father’s death in 1954, tin soldiers were the most popular toys, followed by train sets and wooden yachts. Dolls were made of rubber, celluloid and cloth. Toy cars came in models of Triumph, Silver Cloud, Austin and Woolsey (today, the display models are Mercedes, Audi, Ambassador and the green CNG autos). There was greater emphasis on mental and physical activities (jigsaw puzzle kits no longer sell in high numbers and functional gardener and carpentry sets

have disappeared). “Till the early 1950s, the quality of toys coming from Europe and America was superb and the toys were meant to last for generations,” says Sundra, citing an example of a wooden feeding chair that was still being used 40 years later. “Now, there is more artificiality. Purity is lacking…in all walks of life.” The store now sells Sony PlayStations, video games, radio-controlled racing cars, flying airplanes and telescopes. In 2009, Ram Chander became the sole distributor in India of the US-made Guillow toy planes. Assembled and then flown, the kits come in 30 varieties, with prices ranging from `475 to `5,000. “Today a good toy is available for as low as `100,” says Sundra. “A class IV employee can buy a game for his child, which was unheard of 30 years ago.” For a few years after independence, CP continued to be a market of the elite. It was the shopping arcade of maharajas, Rai Sahibs, Rai Bahadurs and the remaining British gentry. Odeon Cinema screened only English films. For the evening show, Delhi’s stiff upper lip nobility would arrive in Packards and

Austins. They would drink in the cinema’s bar, and after watching the movie would head for dance and dinner to Davico’s in the Regal building or Wenger’s Ballroom in A block. In the mid-1950s, Odeon switched to Hindi films. “The Indians who came for Bombay films were not that toy-inclined,” says Sundra. After 1960, offices started coming up on the first floors, replacing residential apartments. The bania tradition of neechay dukaan, upar makaan died. By then maharajas and the English had been replaced by bureaucrats and politicians. The economic liberalization of the 1990s

brought more money and customers. Parents had more buying power to accommodate the demands of children. After the Rajiv Chowk metro terminus opened in 2006, the number of daily visitors to the shop more than doubled: from 20 to 50. “Thanks to the Internet and cartoon channels, today’s children are six months ahead of me,” says Sundra. A child told him about Beyblade—a made-in-China spinning top toy—two months before it became the current rage. While the shop hasn’t changed its original teakwood shelves and no rack has been added or subtracted, Ram Chander’s carefully cultivated messy look (apparently children relate to messy places) and its adaptability to changing demands have enabled it to survive. If earlier the toy companies were mostly British-owned (Meccano Ltd, Palitoy, JW Spear), now most toys are from unknown Chinese firms. On a good day, sales

reach `25,000. Ram Chander faced major crisis twice: Immediately after Partition, when refugees from what had become Pakistan took over CP’s streets and—for the sake of survival—aggressively sold everything from pins to pyjamas at cost price or at `1 margin per unit. The second blow came in 2009, when CP was dug up for the Commonwealth Games. “Nobody would come. We would sit idle for hours, sometimes daily sales wouldn’t go more than `1,000,” says Sundra. In 2010, the landmark Delhi Photo Company on nearby Janpath shut down. The owner leased the space to Fresc Co, a Mediterranean speciality restaurant chain. Can this ever happen to Ram Chander? “We have laid down a tradition and built goodwill,” Sundra says. “It is good to hear customers saying, “I’m coming here since my grandfather’s time.” mayank.s@livemint.com

GAMES PEOPLE PLAYED Toys that defined five decades

The 1980s ‘Taboo’, ‘Risk’, ‘Conquest’, ‘Scruples’

The 1970s ‘Ludo’, ‘Monopoly’, ‘Cluedo’, ‘Chinese Check­ ers’, non­battery­oper­ ated guns and toys

The 2000s The 1960s ‘Backgammon’, ‘Tactics’, ‘Cribbage’, ‘Mahjong’, ‘Dominoes’, ‘Mikado’ (pick­up sticks)

Transformers, wrestling figures, Sony PlayStations, Nintendo game boys, hand­ and electronically­operated video games

The 1990s Remote­controlled cars, trains, planes and choppers


Lounge for 12 Mar 2011  

Lounge for 12 Mar 2011