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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Vol. 5 No. 30

LOUNGE THE WEEKEND MAGAZINE

In their early years in international football, Indians played with ankle support instead of shoes.

BUSINESS LOUNGE WITH OFFICINE PANERAI’S ANGELO BONATI >Page 8

1911: SPORT ODYSSEYS

WHY PEOPLE HELP IN CRISIS

Disaster destroys communities, but it also creates transformative ones, as was evident on 13 July in Mumbai >Page 5

YOUR LAPTOP NEEDS A DRESS­UP TOO Kitsch and chic cover­ups to dress the machine you can’t do without >Page 7

A hundred years ago, two teams of sportsmen helped India make its first mark in football and cricket against foreign teams. A diptych tribute >Pages 9­11

IN THE THICK OF NIGHT

Delhi’s police chief believes the way to stay safe at night is to stay indoors. We spent a night in a radio cab, driving through the city to find out if he’s right >Page 18

REPLY TO ALL

CULT FICTION

MURDOCH’S LUST FOR NEWSPAPERS

INSIDE THE MIND OF CHARACTERS

AAKAR PATEL

T

o those who love and understand this profession, Rupert Murdoch is the world’s greatest newspapersman and its finest editor. Among those who have crafted newspapers, a rare and beautiful talent, he is without equal. He has defined without question all modern tabloid journalism but arguably also most of its broadsheet trade. This might appear strange, but he isn’t prejudiced in that sense and doesn’t discriminate between short, fun-loving newspapers and tall, prudish ones. He owns Britain’s... >Page 4

MUSIC MATTERS

R. SUKUMAR

S

achiko Yamaguchi and Ichiro Nishimoto are ordinary people, in so much as people in creative professions are ordinary, and they lead ordinary lives where their predominant concerns are making ends meet, marriage, love, and death. Yet, like everyone who leads ordinary lives—and most of us do—they have extraordinary aspirations. Some would call the couple shallow and, indeed, they seem far removed from... >Page 15

SHUBHA MUDGAL

DON’T MISS

in today’s edition of

A LETTER TO THE CULTURE MINISTER

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abinet reshuffles are usually meant to herald a change, and pre-empt stagnation and lethargy. It would, therefore, not be entirely unreasonable to hope that though there have been no major upheavals in the culture portfolio, we might start seeing some action in the field of culture. For a start, I would like to direct a few questions to the honourable minister of culture, Kumari Selja. I send my questions publicly through this column... >Page 17

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ow that I’ve moved from Delhi to Bangalore, I’ve started receiving lovely letters from some of my girlfriends. Yes they pop up in my email inbox, but they are written as beautifully as the best letters I’ve ever received. So we’ll call them letters. I haven’t replied. Now I know I’m not the only one who has stopped handwriting letters. Most post offices around the world are in terminal decline. Those in your backyard are employing all kinds of creative tactics to stay afloat. In one outpost in Mylapore, The Times of India reported, postal employees dispatched 500,000 hall tickets for candidates appearing in a government exam. If you spot a Bangalore resident at a post office, he/she is more likely there to register MUSINGS themselves for a Unique Identification Number than to bid adieu to a handcrafted letter. Last year many of our post offices even started selling gold coins. Post offices may be dying, but the art of letter writing isn’t. Email is the best thing that ever happened to letter writing. No more waiting every day at 3pm for the postman to show up, no more “getting lost in the mail” phenomenon, no more bank-holiday-related delays, and who said emails can’t make you cry? I will never forget the one I got from a Twitter friend I had met only once where she dispassionately detailed a personal tragedy that changed her forever—and then shared how she recovered from it. She was my soul sister from that moment on. There’s also email’s instant reply advantage. Except when you don’t reply. I used to be great at writing letters, especially when I was in love or feeling lonely. When I left home for the first time to study in the US, news spread faster

LISTEN TO THE

MEDIA’S NEW REALITY “Media’s David and Goliath moment” by Sunil Khilnani, 16 July, was insightful. It is the media itself which can correct the errant among them. It is sad to see the fourth estate’s proclivity to surrender itself to the lure of hobnobbing with the third estate—it is the same ugly scene one witnesses day in and day out on Indian television, with journalists and politicians unashamedly calling each other by their first names, trying to overawe viewers. But many in the UK would chuckle to see ‘The Guardian’ being described as an “old­values independent newspaper”. ‘The Guardian’, during the days of the Labour government, was known to be close to the Labour party. In fact, is there a single media entity today which can call itself independent? DEBASIS RAY

COCONUT CRUNCH RSVP: No postage required. than email that I was missing home and I began receiving at least three-four letters a day. I replied to every one of them (who knows what I even said!). I met the man I finally married online too. Our now dozen-year-old relationship was built email-by-email. Yet nowadays, most of my replies read like this: “God I miss you too. So much. Will write a longer email in a couple of days. Love you.” And then I pray they will continue to be my friends. I blame my inability to sit down and write someone an equally lovely/loving reply on my new motherhood. If I’m honest, I know this illness has been around longer than Babyjaan. The husband is not impressed. Occasionally, he even steps in to reply to the email for me. While I continue to compose halfresponses in my head. Ever felt this way? Write to me at lounge@livemint.com

LOUNGE PODCAST

Tamil folk sensation Chinna Ponnu sings for us; we review the film of the week ‘Singham’, and Aman Sethi’s debut book ‘A Free Man’. www.livemint.com/loungepodcast

“The hip ‘nariyalpaniwallas’”, 16 July, was an awesome article. It was my favourite “cool idea” in the issue. ABHISHEK INTOLIYA

NO­FUSS FOOD I savoured Samar Halarnkar’s “Farewell to ‘paneer’, an ode to ‘avial’”, 16 July. I have not tried any of his recipes yet, but I like reading them. I like the no­pretence, no­fuss way in which he writes about food. It makes cooking seem simple. This article suddenly made me homesick for my mom’s ‘avial’ (though I always turned up my nose at veggies when at home, preferring ‘appams’ instead). Here’s to reading more about his adventures in the kitchen. VIDYA V

BREAD MAKER I am a regular reader of Pamela Timms’ column. I tried making bread three or four times; it was a disaster each time. I thank her for her bread recipe on 9 July, “A proper loaf of bread”, which makes bread so soft. I would be very happy if she gives us more bread recipes. KHEVNA CHITALIA

LAUGH OUT LOUD

We all know how to be stressed and opinionated. But laughter is the best medicine for a parent >Page 6

YOU’ YOU’VE GOT THE IDEA, NOW GIVE ME A JOB This year’s instalment of our annual cool ideas issue has 11 imaginative ventures that may make you wish you could work for them >Pages 7­14 PUBLIC EYE

Does Sarmila Bose’s controversial book about Bangladesh’s war of liberation uncover new truths, or simply reverse old biases? >Page 15

Cousins Mayank Sethia, 25, (left) and Savinay Jain, 27, have made coconut water a trendy drink with their Gurgaon­based venture Coco Loco.

GAME THEORY

SUNIL KHILNANI

SUBCONTINENTAL DRIFT

OUR DAILY BREAD

ROHIT BRIJNATH

SAMAR HALARNKAR

MEDIA’S DAVID AND GOLIATH MOMENT

BETWEEN ‘VERY BYE­BYE ‘PANEER’; GOOD’ AND ‘GREAT’ AN ODE TO ‘AVIAL’

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returned to Cambridge last week, after many years away, and as I struggled to reacquaint myself with the entrenched social and practical dysfunctionalities that go by the name of Cambridge colleges (one has to admire their resistance—at once stoic and hysterical—to the modern world), I found myself gripped by an altogether more contemporary drama. It involved young victims of abduction, indignant Twitter moms, wronged celebrities (Hugh Grant and Sienna Miller in starring roles)... >Page 4

aina Nehwal is temporarily and intriguingly caught in an almost-there place where few young players reach. This insane, alluring space between very good and great, this space of promise but no guarantee, a space so small it can be bridged by a single inspired moment, yet bridging it is so uncommonly hard. I’m thinking this last month amid the plunk of shuttles as Saina loses a match she really shouldn’t. It’s June, it’s Singapore, her face tells... >Page 5

THE ART OF THE PATEL SHOT

Not­quite­artists, and often ignored, DSLR­toting travellers are staking claim to photographic art >Page 18

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hen I lived in the US during the early 1990s, I spent a lot of time on the road, travelling thousands of miles by rented car or—when money was low—by Greyhound bus. I liked the feel of rolling along the flat prairie, under big Midwestern skies and countryside more open than I had ever experienced. What I did not like was the gastronomic sameness from sea to shining sea. A big Mac or fajita in grey Gary (a depressed, depressing town... >Page 6

NIGHTMARE AT SEA The article, “Floating wrecks”, 9 July, made me numb. The hapless sailors suffered torture and ill­treatment at the hands of pirates for no fault of theirs. Our government should allow deployment of armed guards on merchant ships, and also make suitable laws to tackle sea piracy, as it has already reached Indian shores. The recent arrest of a number of Somali sea pirates off the Mumbai coast is a warning signal to the government to act swiftly. Retired navy personnel, who already have the expertise, can guard ships effectively. It is equally baffling that the US, which takes pride in fighting terrorism in any part of the world, is not taking military action against sea pirates based in Somalia. The international community has to strike at their pirate bases, and the UN has to pass a resolution to this effect to wipe out the menace. DEENDAYAL M LULLA

FALSE PATRIOTISM Aakar Patel’s “The business of being a ‘jawan’”, 9 July, was a thoughtful article. The brief history of our various regiments and soldiers’ bravery, loyalty and sacrifice for the country are well known. But rarely does an Indian leader send his son to become a ‘jawan’. Industrialists, businessmen, actors and sportsmen, even many ‘jawans’, are not interested in enlisting their children. Patel is right in saying that our patriotism is not for Kargil or Siachen, but for cricket. BIDYUT KUMAR CHATTERJEE

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AAKAR PATEL REPLY TO ALL

Rupert Murdoch’s lust for newspapers

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KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/AP

o those who love and understand this profession, Rupert Murdoch is the world’s greatest newspapersman and its finest editor. Among those who have crafted newspapers, a rare and beautiful talent, he is without equal.

He has defined without question all modern tabloid journalism but arguably also most of its broadsheet trade. This might appear strange, but he isn’t prejudiced in that sense and doesn’t discriminate between short, fun-loving newspapers and tall, prudish ones. He owns Britain’s most downmarket newspaper (The Sun) and its most upmarket one (The Times). He owns America’s most downmarket daily (New York Post) and its most upmarket one (The Wall Street Journal). He owns Australia’s most downmarket newspaper (The Daily Telegraph) and its most upmarket one (The Australian). If India didn’t have paranoid newspaper ownership laws, he would own and run good (and bawdy) newspapers here. Of those titans, famous by last name alone, who have owned newspapers for love of the printed word, Murdoch is Kronos, with more power, more success and more skill than Rothermere or Northcliffe or Hearst. I think it was Hearst who called journalism “the stuff between the ads”. Murdoch cared about this stuff more than he did the ads. Murdoch’s money is made in television—BSkyB in Britain, Fox News and the Fox Network in America, and Star in Asia. And it is made in movies—he owns 20th Century Fox, producers of Avatar and X-Men. But his love is his newspapers. It isn’t a romantic love. It is lusty, groping love. He has sentimentally invested in newspapers against the will of his company News Corp.’s investors. He subsidized The Times for decades when it made enormous losses. The epithets people have used for him, in praise and in contempt, are linked to his editorial skills. In his book Full Disclosure, Andrew Neil referred to his former boss as “The Sun King”. Britain’s fabulous Private Eye magazine calls Murdoch “the Dirty Digger”. Given the provenance of Britain’s other newspaper proprietors—among whom are convicts (Lord Conrad Black who owned The Daily Telegraph), pornographers (Richard Desmond of Daily Express) and KGB agents (Alexander Lebedev of The Independent and Evening Standard)—Murdoch’s

editorial crimes are mild. One of his many rivals, Lord Black, admitted that Murdoch had actually improved the mighty Wall Street Journal after buying it. Tabloid journalism is more difficult than broadsheet journalism because one needs to create, to shape, to titillate, to outrage, to humour. Tabloids must try harder. It isn’t surprising that it is a tabloid, News of the World, that has got Murdoch into trouble by using extreme means to secure a good story. Without Murdoch we would have no “Page 3”. Not the piffle printed in Indian newspapers. The real Page 3, in The Sun, has a pretty girl baring her breasts to a grateful working-class reader, accompanied by a short interview revealing something a little more personal. Almost any clever headline you can think of that lives on in legend is from a Murdoch tabloid: “Headless body in topless bar”, “Kiss your Asteroid goodbye” (reporting a comet’s near-miss with earth), both from the New York Post. “Freddie Starr ate my hamster”, “GOTCHA” (when Thatcher’s Royal Navy sank the Argentinian battleship General Belgrano), both from The Sun. To a report that Australians were increasingly having children out of wedlock, Col Allan, one of Murdoch’s favourites, ran this splash: “A NATION OF BASTARDS”. This irreverence and sense of fun comes to them from their master. Murdoch has had a very normal upbringing and does not take life too seriously—as witnessed by his grinning face when he landed in London to face the hacking allegations. A few years ago I read a book in which the author lands in 1950s Australia to meet the Murdochs, young Rupert and his father Sir Keith. They arrive in a pick-up truck, and he’s cheerfully asked to squeeze in between father and son. After lunch, Sir Keith sends Rupert off to buy a couple of ties. “We’re meeting the prime minister later,” he explains to his son. Of all the proprietors in the world, only Murdoch sees the world as a reporter would. Dining with presidents and monarchs, he would slip off to tip his editors to a story, however small. He regularly called the editors of his many newspapers to find out what was

MARY ALTAFFER/AP

happening. When he was made editor of News of the World, Piers Morgan (who has now taken over Larry King’s CNN slot) said he would tremble at the thought of Saturday nights because Murdoch would call to find out what story he was running. The first issue, Morgan wrote in his book The Insider, was almost sunk till the photo desk gave him a picture of a naked man parachuting into Buckingham Palace. A clever sub-editor headlined the story “BARE HE GOES”, and Morgan was greatly relieved. Alone among the world’s proprietors, Murdoch doesn’t discriminate between journalists and MBAs. Only Murdoch has promoted editors to CEO—Rebekah Brooks at News International, Uday Shankar at Star. The Times’ editor Robert Thomson went to The Wall Street Journal as publisher, before editing it. This aspect to Murdoch, that he is

really on their side, has escaped the journalists who so despise him. He has picked underprivileged, half-literate youngsters and made them editors—Brooks (who has no degree) at The Sun, Piers Morgan (who was a gossip columnist) at News of the World. Les Hinton, whom Murdoch made CEO of Dow Jones, worked with Murdoch for 52 years, starting at age 15 as a tea boy, then rising to become a reporter. Brooks herself was a secretary. From those around him, Murdoch elevated all who were enthusiastic and smart. No other qualification was needed, and that is as noble as it is wise. He has shipped editors around the world. Aussie Col Allan from Sydney to New York Post, Thomson from London to The Wall Street Journal, Scot Andrew Neil at the revered Sunday Times. He saved all proprietors in Britain, which today has the best newspapers of the world, by single-handedly destroying the oppressive unions. His courage is chronicled in Graham Stewart’s book History of the Times: The Murdoch Years. All this must be remembered when Murdoch is attacked, quite rightly, for the sins of his employees at News of the World. In India we own a vague ethic and a lower moral standard. Most of us will not understand what the fuss about a newspaper hacking into someone’s voicemail for a story is. The Indian Express (for my money our best broadsheet) published transcripts it had been spoon-fed, hacked illegally by unknown enemies of the hapless and blackmailed Tatas, and called it investigative journalism. The Hindu trumpeted its exclusives, handed to it by WikiLeaks but hacked

News world: (above) Murdoch talking to the press on 15 July; and the New York city office of The Wall Street Journal, owned by Murdoch. illegally and criminally. Much of that is also gossip but since it involves diplomats and not celebrities that makes it legitimate journalism. But Murdoch’s papers operated in nations which revere the rule of law. They broke laws and they have paid heavily. The reason he’s under sustained fire is that the other proprietors envy him his success. Most people hate him for revealing the true nature of his tawdry readers. Eighty years old this year, I hope Murdoch survives this final ordeal in his magnificent career. He is the hero in the story of 20th century journalism. News television, with its dependence on the subject’s acquiescence, with its staged drama and the weakness of its linear format, isn’t really journalism. Real journalism needs journals. More than any man in history Rupert Murdoch created, owned and ran great ones. Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media. (Mint has an exclusive content partnership in India with The Wall Street Journal.) Send your feedback to replytoall@livemint.com www.livemint.com Read Aakar’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/aakar­patel

THINKSTOCK

LEARNING CURVE

GOURI DANGE

THE DADDY DILEMMAS I am a 36-year-old father of a three-year-old daughter. My wife works in a shift job, so she keeps odd hours. I stay with our daughter all day and work from home. I am worried that she is more attached to me than her mother and misses me much more when I am away. Will this affect her emotionally when she grows up? Will she and her mom be short-changed? Most children do lean slightly towards one parent. And since you are currently the hands-on parent, it is quite natural for your daughter to be more attached to you and dependent on you. While her mother may spend less time with the child, if she is fully there for her when she’s home, this should not be a problem. This is assuming that there is no lack of warmth from your wife’s

side for the child. If you think that some kind of disconnect is developing between the two, you need to address this. Perhaps you should give them time to themselves and stay out of the equation for a couple of hours every day. Encourage your wife to be physically there for the child in a reassuring way—meaning that there is ample touch, cuddling, playing, even if it is for a small spell during the day. See if you can also find a time when the three of you are together, enjoying each other’s company, so that there is a “complete” experience for the child, at least a few times in the week. This way, the sharp distinction between the two of you as “main” caregiver and “subsidiary” caregiver

may blur a little. Socially and emotionally it is more common to have a working, sometimes remote, father, and a constantly available mother. Hence your situation may be at times inviting comment or seem unusual, and as your child grows, she may pick up on this and think there’s something “amiss” in the arrangement. It’s important that both of you as parents continue to feel that this arrangement works for your family, and that no one needs to be or feel “short-changed”, as you term it, in the process. I come from an abusive and broken home and grew up in a sort of foster care from when I was 12. Maybe because of this, I am just unable to be a strict father to my four-year-old. My wife and I have many fights about this, since she expects me to be stricter and I expect her to be kinder. Our daughter, I realize now, takes advantage of all this. She has started ignoring my wife’s words, and comes running to

Patterns: Most children are more attached to one parent.

me, knowing I will let her off the hook. I see this pattern and am unable to break it. Please tell us what to do. Yes, the way we grew up does dictate what kind of parents we become, but there is scope for change if the situation requires it, surely. Parenting requires more of us than simply a) being all that our parents were not, or conversely b) all that our parents were! It means that decisions, reactions and responses to your

child cannot be dictated merely by what you suffered during your childhood. In your case, you seem to have made one thumb rule based on the abuse and discord from your childhood: “I will never correct my child and show her any displeasure.” Little wonder that you’re the good guy and your wife needs to be the yeller and punisher almost all the time! On top of it, her position is undercut by your passivity. The more evasive and

wishy-washy your response to discipline issues with your child (in the name of being kind and caring), the more your wife is forced to be even more harsh and strict with the child. This cannot be good for any of you. As you point out, your child is already taking advantage of this situation. You need to work with yourself (perhaps with the help of a counsellor) to tackle past issues and sort them out as best you can so that they do not remain dynamic in your life, especially as a parent. Once you do this, you will not feel so knotted up and helpless (a shadow from your past) in disciplining your own child when required. Showing a four-year-old her boundaries is not tantamount to being an abusive or neglectful parent—this is something that you will need to learn and experience. Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting. Write to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com


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LOUNGE ALTRUISM

Why people help in crisis SAURABH DAS/AP

Disaster destroys communities, but it also creates transformative ones, as was evident on 13 July in Mumbai

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

·································· nlike the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus nearby, or the skyscrapers of Nariman Point down south (both sites of terror attacks in 2008), Zaveri Bazaar’s qualities are relatively difficult to commit to film. Its warren of bylanes, criss-crossing between the Jama Masjid and Mumbadevi temple, are signposted, but the most reliable way to find a shop or person is to ask for directions. Its geography is reminiscent of some of the gracious, centuries-old markets of Gujarat and Rajasthan, but deluged by metropolitan grime and plastic. When the bomb on 3rd Agiari Galli went off on 13 July, many traders in the warren had left for the day. Satyavan Pandey, with some others, gathered to talk shop in the narrow, low-ceilinged office of JS Kothari and Sons, jewellery and metal craftsmen and traders. The noise momentarily confused them. The fire galvanized them. For 20 minutes, until the aid vehicles showed up, the men at JS Kothari and Sons joined their neighbours to wade through carnage to rescue the injured and put out the fire. Buckets of water, which Pandey and others carried through after the first shock, did not seem to help. But snack shops with kitchens, like the nearby Jagannath Chaturbhuj Halwai, keep small fire extinguishers on hand, which they used to douse the fire. “I don’t remember feeling any fear,” Pandey says, a week later. “There were women who ran in to help, older people who have worked here for 50 years—all of them holding, carrying others without hesitation.” The bomb site where they converged to work was a mess of rubble, burning debris and human remains. “That fear you would expect?” Pandey says. “It wasn’t on a single face. Not in a single heart.” In a crisis, “how you behave depends on whether you think your neighbours or fellow citizens are a greater threat than the havoc wrought by a disaster”, writes the American journalist, Rebecca Solnit, in her 2009 book, A Paradise Built in Hell. We commonly assume that people in crowded cities don’t know or remember this, and look out only for themselves. Why? Is it because most cities, as important commercial centres, reward self-interest above public interest? Do they encourage us to think of alienation as the price of progress? Do urban resources lead us to believe that someone else is around to take care of people? We are wrong on all counts—and disaster, Solnit says, shows us up for who we are. In A Paradise Built in Hell, she studies five North American crises, ranging from the 1905 San Francisco earthquake to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, and finds instances of crime, callousness and negligence of responsibility—but largely, extraordinary goodness, altruism and reaffirmation of community and city bonds, which have the power to save lives; and also, sometimes, to affect change. In the absence of that change, grief can turn quickly to anger. This is demonstrably true in Mumbai, which, in the last decade, has borne an exceptional number of natural and human-created crises. But these also reveal a human truth that deserves more recognition than statesanctioned lip service to public spirit. The truth is that human beings are often at their best in disaster. In Mumbai, come flood or terror, the aftermath of tragedy is remarkable for the spontaneous “disaster communities” it creates, so powerful that they can come to

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public aid with much greater ease than almost any institutional help, and can transform public memory, as well as future crisis response. Many of those who survived the city’s July 2005 floods remember it for the kindness of strangers, who opened homes, offices and created spontaneous rescue missions. Reportage on 2006’s train bombings contains extensive evidence of passers-by and street-dwellers jumping in to create chains of transport to hospitals, provide food and water to those stranded. “I can’t speak to Indian cities such as Mumbai,” Solnit says in an email interview, “but in American cities I think we now know the difference between a place like Phoenix, Arizona, where people are spread out and little happens outside cars, and a dense city like New York, which responded so beautifully to the emergency of 9/11 with brave, generous, and deeply creative behaviour instantly. “What fascinates me about disaster is that people often contradict their own ideology and context by their actions: Wall Street brokers did not remember they believed in social Darwinism and laissez-faire capitalism when the towers came tumbling down,” she says. “But I do think that living in public among strangers is good training for an emergency.” Surendra Kothari of JS Kothari and Sons, unconsciously echoes her. “People used to say the vyapaari (businessman) has no heart,” he smiles. “You have no idea.” The shops in Zaveri Bazaar have huddled together for so many years that on the day of the bombing, the people milling around the fire were pulling out old friends and neighbours. They are already used to the massive public trust that develops in an area where life is lived on streets and shopfronts, always improvising, protecting and salvaging space. This is also true of the area around Dadar’s Kabutar Khana, the site of a simultaneous attack. It is in the middle of a bustling all-day market, a stone’s throw from a Jain derasar and the Pir Baghdadi mosque, and populated by buyers and sellers from all over India: great potential for chaos—and also for community. “We blanked out when it happened,” a shop owner from across the Hanuman Mandir bus stop, who prefers not to be named, recalls. “We couldn’t run to the bus stop to see what had happened—it was as though we were glued to where we stood. People outside ducked in to take shelter here, shaking.” He does not quite describe the scene Suketu Mehta writes about in his despairing paean to Mumbai under attack in 2008, where “people run towards explosions, not away from them”. Yet, this is exactly what happened while the bystanders near the bus stop were frozen in shock. Passers-by, nearby residents and traders in other lanes came pouring in at the noise, and began to help out. “They all came from elsewhere,” the shopkeeper says. “They were the ones who did the real work.” It was also from around the Kabutar Khana that the bombings created a fourth alternate “disaster community”: on the Internet. Some of the earliest messages on Twitter offering help came from users around Dadar, Mahim and Bandra, asking readers if they needed help or shelter. As night fell over a driving rain, people shared phone numbers and addresses in public forums—more than 200 added their details to a public spreadsheet started by Twitter user Nitin Sagar in New Delhi— heedless of privacy and security concerns. As far away from the blast sites as Borivali, Twitter users were welcomed into strangers’ homes until conditions stabilized. Updates on news, traffic and weather conditions circulated to keep as wide a range of people in the loop as possible. Part of the panic of disaster is simply the darkness of not knowing, as communications are cut off or slowed down, and affected areas become gigantic spanners in the works, paralysing operations through the length and breadth of an interconnected community. “It’s not a new thing,” Dina Mehta, one of the first people to broadcast her coordi-

On an impulse: Zaveri Bazaar, Mumbai, where passers­by and shopkeepers helped the injured on 13 July. nates on Twitter, says. “It’s just that it went mainstream now. We’ve been sharing numbers as far back as the tsunami (in 2004).” These efforts “come about spontaneously—you can’t institutionalize them. It becomes very difficult to give them structure.” Anecdotal reports from users on Twitter that night suggest that offers of assistance far outstripped the needs of those who communicated. “A good problem to have,” a user commented on the site later that night. “Disasters are first of all horrible,” Solnit says. “But they are often occasions when people wake up to uncertainty and ephemerality and empathy—these things

that religion and philosophy sometimes also try to wake us up to.” This may explain why, in the days after a disaster, the resumption of daily routines can seem like meek acceptance of old failures. As institutions focus on short-term solutions, the sense of wider injustices that tragedy exposes, grows narrow again. Hurt is recast as helpless anger—a journalistic byword in the days following the blasts. What happens after disasters often runs contrary to initial human impulses. “Sometimes (injustices and divides) don’t resume, because people are awakened, connected, indignant, opened up

in some way,” Solnit says. “That depends partly on your values and priorities going in. And partly on how your society and your media tell the story of the disaster.” Spontaneous altruism interrupts a city’s regular narrative of self-absorption, lack of resources, and poor civic spirit. In a community’s most vulnerable moments, it becomes apparent that its best citizens—brave, resourceful and generous—already exist. And change becomes a question of completing the transformation, not beginning it. “Everyone helps,” as Satyavan Pandey says in Agiari Galli. “Everyone always helps.”


L6

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SATURDAY, JULY 23, 2011

Life Wire

LOUNGE GRAPHIC

IRELAND BELGIUM THE NETHERLANDS

ENGLAND

POLAND

AHMED RAZA KHAN/MINT

RUSSIA

UKRAINE

FRANCE

KAZAKHSTAN TIBET

CHINA

US INDIA

TOUR

The world on wheels

NEPAL

BANGLADESH

PRIYANKA PARASHAR/MINT

the world. Once he reaches Moscow, his current wheelchair will be replaced by a GPS-enabled one being designed for him by the Moscow-based Katarzyna.ru

Mohoram Ali from Bangladesh is on a colourful journey across the US, Asia, and Europe to prove that disabil­ ity isn’t a hurdle

Stranger in Moscow

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

···························· hile on my way to meet Mohoram Ali at a coffee shop in Paharganj, Delhi, I wondered how he was going to get there. As I got off an autorickshaw, I saw him stepping out of one too. A makeshift wheelchair, folded and slipped into the auto, accompanied him. A small, agile man—the left side of Mohoram’s body is paralysed by polio—he stood on one leg and hopped up to the restaurant, cheerfully looking at the waiters who readily picked up his chair and placed it next to his table. No words were exchanged, only smiles. Perhaps that’s how people will help him as he travels around the world. Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Tibet, China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, England, Ireland and finally the US—26-year-old Mohammad Mohoram Ali has marked out his route, a distance of 18,700km, raised most of the estimated $24,000 (around `10.68 lakh) for the trip, called friends across countries and is depending on “humanity’s goodwill” in countries where he knows no one. Mohoram’s main sponsors are Bezgraniz.ru, a Russian Internet portal working for people with mobility issues, in Moscow; Russian company Antor Business Solutions; German companies ibes and Human Network; and some friends in Bangladesh. “My mission has two parts: I want to draw the world’s attention to the fact that disabled people can do just about anything they want to. Secondly, I want to propose to world leaders that they set up a world disability fund. Something like the World Bank, from where local agencies can draw money for welfare work. There’s no such thing (currently),” he says. His initiative, Mohoram’s Wheels, was launched on 25 June in Dhaka and will end in Washington, DC, where he hopes to arrive by the end of the year. He is currently in Delhi to get his Irish, Ukrainian and Kazakh visas and hopes to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Born in Dokhinpur village in Natore district, about 220km north of Dhaka, Mohoram was afflicted with polio when he was 18 months

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PRIYANKA PARASHAR/MINT

old. “My mother tells me that in the morning it struck my leg and by evening my whole left side was paralysed,” he says. For two years, baby Mohoram was taken to village quacks who gave him “something like holy water” and “Allah’s blessings” to cure him. “They told my parents not to take me to a hospital or their medicine won’t work. After two-three years, when I was finally taken to a hospital, the doctors said it was too late. In 1997, my father sold our land and went to work as a labourer in Malaysia. He wanted to earn money for me, thinking that I won’t be able to work on the farm. At that time, little did he know, or even I, where I would be 14 years from then,” says Mohoram. Luckily the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee (BRAC), which works with poor people, had a schooling programme near Mohoram’s village. With no wheelchair or even a crutch, Mohoram would hop on one leg all the way to school. “It was a dirt track that would get washed away in the

monsoons. So I was irregular in school,” he explains. But, he laughs, “Of my family—father, mother, a brother and two sisters—I am the most educated. I failed my matriculation exam thrice before finally clearing it. My family members can only do their signatures, which rarely match in two places.” In 2002, Mohoram learnt about the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) in Savar, Dhaka. Spread over 13 acres, it is a hospital for spinal injuries and physiotherapy, and provides vocational training courses. “I landed up there and asked for a job. I was unqualified. But they took me in training as the director said he liked my spirit. I was hired for 2,500 taka (around `1,500) per month. Till the day I sent my first salary home, my parents opposed it and were unconvinced that I could manage on my own. I did odd jobs like paperwork, sitting at the reception and answering queries in the beginning, but now I work as supporting staff of the physiotherapy department,” says Mohoram. Shafiqul Islam, executive director

at the centre, has had to hire a temporary replacement for Mohoram over these six months, but he speaks of him as a dynamic worker. “The most remarkable thing about Mohoram is his strength of mind. That will definitely take him places,” he says.

The beginning In September 2007, Mohoram travelled 35km on his wheelchair to Gulshan, an affluent neighbourhood of Dhaka. “I wanted to raise money for my centre. I had to do something out of the ordinary to get attention and funds. So we sent out invitation letters to the media about my initiative and I pushed my wheelchair for 10 hours and 15 minutes and reached my destination. We raised 125,000 taka. That day changed me,” recalls Mohoram. “It gave me the confidence to make more journeys, to places beyond Dhaka.” In November the same year, Mohoram decided to travel to India. “My centre helped me to get an Indian visa but the Indian embassy’s office in Dhaka is completely inaccessible by wheel-

Globetrotter: (clockwise from top) Mohoram on the streets of Delhi; in a low­floor DTC bus; and taking part in the Ergo White Nights Marathon, St Petersburg, Russia, in 2009. chair. There is no elevator and the visa office is on the third floor. From the security guard to the visa officer, everyone took turns to tell me how I couldn’t do this on my own. It took a few hours and some persistence; by the end of the day I had my visa stamped. Since then, many people behind many counters have told me how I cannot do things that I’ve eventually done,” he says. Mohoram then took a bus from Dhaka to Kolkata, got overcharged at the hotel he was staying, and then took a train to Bangalore, where he had an acquaintance. “I roamed around Bangalore for 17 days like a tourist. That trip made me realize that the world is not limited to Bangladesh, it is big, and since then my dreams have become bigger.” Mohoram was ready to take on

In 2009, in a newsletter of Enable, a UN organization for persons with disability, Mohoram read about Bezgraniz.ru. “I went online and enrolled myself and became the first Bangladeshi on the site. We exchanged emails and spoke on Skype. In the beginning I could sense that they were trying to ensure my authenticity. Eventually they sent me a laptop and later a ticket to visit Moscow. That’s because I had written to them saying that I just wanted to travel outside the country once and that’s it. Who knew my greed would grow,” Mohoram says. Tobias Reisner, founder and CEO of Bezgraniz, probably sensed Mohoram’s doggedness and enthusiasm, and knew this wouldn’t be his only journey. “He’s an active person, full of ideas and life. We want to support his initiative as well as we can because he can be an idol for other people,” says Reisner. The Ergo White Nights Marathon, which has a section for disabled people, was held on 18 June in St Petersburg that year, and Mohoram was there as a participant. “I am no athlete but I enjoyed it. Language was a big problem in Moscow. I used to sit in a café, find a coffee cup on Google and show the waiter what I wanted. I lost my way several times, unable to ask for directions,” he says. Mohoram complains of how inaccessible most places in a city are for wheelchairs. “I can’t carry too much cash with me. Tell me how many ATMs can you enter sitting in a wheelchair? How many public urinals are wheelchairfriendly? Even if you’re using a crutch or are blind, you still need a certificate to prove your handicap to avail any benefit,” he says. But his biggest fear while travelling is that someone may steal his wheelchair. “Some fool may steal it and sell it as scrap, even though it’s expensive, but the cost I will pay for it is much larger,” he says. “When I got my American visa, I called my mother to tell her. She said she had two questions: What was America and what was visa? All the people around me at the telephone booth listened to me with amused expressions as I explained to her that America was a country like Bangladesh, but big and powerful. I told her that visa was a sticker that will let me go there. I want to call her once I’ve landed in America and see what she says,” laughs Mohoram, adding “though many people doubt that I will make it”. Does he ever doubt himself? “Even if I don’t make it, someone else will. If he’s a nice guy, he will say brother Mohoram started it, I will complete the journey.”


www.livemint.com

SATURDAY, JULY 23, 2011

L7

Style

LOUNGE PICKS

Your laptop needs a dress­up too Kitsch and chic cover­ups to dress the machine you can’t do without B Y K OMAL S HARMA komal.sharma@livemint.com

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q FCUK: Front­printed bag, at Select Citywalk mall, Saket, New Delhi; Shoppers Stop, Garuda Mall, Magrath Road, Bangalore; and Satyam Building, Linking Road, Khar, Mumbai, `2,299.

q Paul Smith: Mini laptop bag, at DLF Emporio mall, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi; and UB City mall, Vittal Mallya Road, Bangalore, `19,800.

p Porsche Design: French classic collection, at DLF Emporio mall, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, `78,000.

q Fabindia: Slim leather bag, at N­Block Market, Greater Kailash­1, New Delhi; Jeroo Building, Kala Ghoda, Colaba, Mumbai; and Garuda Mall, Magrath Road, Bangalore, `3,190.

u Puma: Laptop sleeve, at Puma stores across India, `1,949.

q Dunhill: Calfskin leather in blue, at UB City mall, Vittal Mallya Road, Bangalore; and DLF Emporio mall, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, `44,999.

Q&A | APARNA GUJRAL

Royalty around the neck Ganjam jewellers’ design head on their new collection inspired by the Hyderabad nizams B Y V ISESHIKA S HARMA viseshika.s@livemint.com

···························· he Bangalore–based Ganjam jewellers are known for their distinctive collections—be it the Ikat Collection that evoked the feel of traditional fabric from Orissa with marquise-cut rubies and diamonds, or the Gerbera Collection that used diamonds and coloured sapphires to create resplendent blooms. The Nizam Collection, their latest offering, is inspired by the jewels of the erstwhile nizams of Hyderabad and has, so far, been launched only in Bangalore. Lounge spoke to Aparna Gujral, head of design at Ganjam, about the new collection. Edited excerpts from the interview:

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q Fossil: Purple quilted bag, at select Lifestyle and Shoppers Stop stores across India, `3,995.

t Calvin Klein: Backpack, at Select Citywalk mall, Saket, New Delhi; Brigade Road, Bangalore; and Amba Sadan, Linking Road, Khar, Mumbai, `4,499.

Jewelled: Why a collection inspired by the Earrings with yellow Hyderabad royalty? sapphire, green We thought the whole concept of tourmaline, royalty and lost empires would evoke the aesthetic sensibilities of diamond and South our designers. We also found that Sea pearl, `6.8 lakh; people wanted to cherish a period and (below) choker with brilliant­cut gone by. Eswar Ganjam, chairman diamond, briolette, and managing director of tourmaline and Ganjam, has personally evaluated rubellite, approx. the jewels of the nizams. `22 lakh. How were the designers able to access the jewels ? Till recently the collection was housed at the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad, but it is currently in the custody of the Reserve Bank of India. I have seen the jewels on display at the National Museum in New Delhi in 2001, during the first ever exhibition, and other members of the design team had a chance to see them at the same museum in 2007. Eswar Ganjam handled the jewels when he evaluated the collection for the government of India in 1978 so we were able to quiz him at length about his

p Salvatore Ferragamo: Calfskin leather with signature grosgrain detail, at DLF Emporio mall, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi; UB City, Vittal Mallya Road, Ban­ galore; and Grand Hyatt, San­ tacruz, Mumbai, `1.14 lakh.

impressions of the collection. He was also able to share with us a lot of the technical details of the jewels. Other than that, we worked from photos and books. Which books best documented the collection? The books that we referred to the most were Nizams’ Jewellery, published by the National Museum on Janpath, and Jewels of the Nizams by Usha R. Bala Krishnan. Since the collection has never been well documented with regard to provenance, nobody can tell you about the historic significance of each piece, details like who it was presented to and for what occasion are lost forever. Can you tell us about the design process? The entire treasury was built on the concept of nazrana, which is the practice of showing loyalty to the ruler and his family through the presentation of valuables. When studying the collection, we felt that a lot of people have missed out on understanding the effortless interplay between the strong flavour of Deccan craftsmanship, with the design sensibilities of the

New settings: Aparna Gujral. Mughal court. We could see that in every piece of jewellery. There are certain special features—the colour balance between the coloured stones and the diamonds, the shapes and sizes of the pearls used and the overall effects. Yet, it couldn’t just be replicated. It had to be done with current technology, aesthetics and finish that today’s customer is able to identify with. We tried to develop an 18-carat setting—a lot of the earlier pieces were made in silver or 22-carat gold and those settings aren’t possible in 18-carat gold, which is the standard for use with brilliant-cut diamonds. Which stones have been used in the collection? We have used brilliant cuts,

rose cuts and diamond briolettes, besides coloured stones like rubies, Zambian emeralds and cultured pearls, as well as South Sea pearls. What are the pieces for men in this collection? Keeping in mind that the nizam’s collection was designed for the seven nizams of Hyderabad, it was important for the male customer at Ganjam to have products set apart in this collection. The collection includes kurta buttons (approx. `8.3 lakh onwards) and cufflinks (approx. `3 lakh onwards). Which was your favourite piece from the nizams’ jewels? Despite the many stunning pieces, it was probably the Sarpech Kalan Zamarrud Wa Kanval Almas Ba Awaiza-i-Zamarrud which had large table-cut emeralds carefully matched for colour, lustre and purity, that left a deep impression. The Nizam Collection is currently available to order from the Ganjam flagship store, Infantry Road, Bangalore. Pieces start at approx. `16,000 for earrings; approx. `1.2 lakh for wristwear and approx. `9.6 lakh for necklaces.


L8

www.livemint.com

SATURDAY, JULY 23, 2011

Business Lounge

LOUNGE

ANGELO BONATI

The charge of the Spartan Why this CEO does not want his son to be in a job like him and how he has kept the history of Panerai alive B Y S EEMA C HOWDHRY seema.c@livemint.com

···························· hat do you do when a charming 59-year-old chief executive officer of an exclusive Italian watch company—Officine Panerai—asks you for shopping advice? You chortle, pretend to rack your brains, and stop yourself from offering to take him on a shopping expedition. And even as you’re doing that, the Italian assistants accompanying Angelo Bonati insist Mumbai would be a better place than Delhi to pick up trinkets for Bonati’s wife and 25-year-old son. Bonati, dressed in an immaculate handcrafted, doublebreasted pinstripe Italian suit with a dark pocket square, cocks his head to one side, hears the murmur of dissent and then politely squeezes/shakes my hand twice. Like any other man on a mission, Bonati, whom I met at The Oberoi, New Delhi, bowed to the logic that assistants know best when it comes to sparing time to pick up a pashmina for your wife, especially if you are on a two-day whirlwind “first tour of India”. “I promise not to wait another 50 years before visiting India again,” he says. If Milan-based Panerai’s expansion plans are any indication of his intent then in all likelihood he will be in India sooner than later. Panerai will open its first boutique in India (the company does sell its watches through distributors and in multi-brand watch showrooms) by the end of the year at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, Mumbai. Bonati was in India to oversee progress on this. His next target for the Indian market is to finalize a boutique location in Delhi, hopefully within the next six months, because this year the company plans to increase the number of stand-alone Panerai boutiques worldwide from the current 25 to 100. Panerai considers Asia a key market and is planning to open a slew of stores across countries like Singapore, India and Taiwan. “The feedback from our distributors in India is that the well-travelled Indian knows about our watches but we are not on top in their consciousness. With Panerai to open boutiques here, we hope to change that,” says Bonati. With prices starting at €3,000 (around `1.88 lakh) and going up to `1.10 crore, having a high recall value in your potential customer’s mind is imperative. Panerai watches are heavy and usually have large dials, with diameters ranging from 40-47mm, and going up to 60mm for special editions. Bonati and his team seem to have figured out something that takes others in the luxury market a while to understand: In India, you have to be in both the major markets—Delhi and Mumbai—to make an impression. Making an impact comes naturally to Bonati, who started working at Panerai 14 years ago as the CEO. “It was one-man show. Just me behind a solitary desk with a watch. I had to try something new and yet keep the DNA of the brand intact,” he says. Panerai watches trace their lineage to 1860 when Giovanni Panerai, a businessman, craftsman

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and innovator, opened the city’s first watchmaker’s shop in Florence, Italy. Until World War II, Panerai was the official supplier of precision instruments to the Italian navy, in particular designing products to meet the needs of the submarine diving corps. Some of the company’s state-of-the-art pieces, like the Radiomir and Luminor watches created for the navy, were regarded as military secrets until 1997, when Panerai was acquired by Compagnie Financière Richemont SA (with interests in some of the world’s most prestigious luxury goods brands, such as Cartier, Montblanc, Alfred Dunhill and Piaget). It was the year Bonati joined Panerai too, having already spent 16 years with Richemont. “I had spent many years at Cartier in the marketing department,” says Bonati. “It was a prestigious brand with one goal: to maximize sales. But things were different at Panerai; we knew that the brand had potential and that we had to make it go from a state of deep sleep to wakefulness. There were two ways to do it: become a mass producer or become exclusive.” Bonati, whose tryst with luxury started with working at a departmental store and later selling lighters for Cartier, says when he and his bosses at Richemont decided to work at becoming an exclusive luxury brand, some of his business acquaintances laughed. “They said ‘Ah! Mr Bonati, your idea is not stupid but difficult.’ We did have a peculiar product in the 1990s when all watches were moving towards smaller dimensions and less weight.” It was not easy convincing watch-boutique owners to sell the Panerai as an exclusive line, but the fact that Bonati had worked earlier in the luxury business helped. The 14-year-old village boy who once worked in a jewellery factory by day and studied economics at Milan university at night, had assessed the mindset of luxury shop owners correctly. Only 1,000 watches were available for sale in 1997 and just 30 boutiques had them. “Within a week,

IN PARENTHESIS Angelo Bonati likes to visit online forums that discuss Panerai and its products, but under “nicknames”. “It was fun in the beginning. But sometimes it is not easy to read criticism or read something that you know is incorrect and not react to it.” Among the lessons learnt, Bonati says the key one has been that there is no pleasing all customers all the time. “When we did not have our unique movements, people used to say how can you make watches and not make movement. Now when we have movements, some of them say the old watches were better.”

Client list: Bonati says that while trendsetters are good to have as customers, he really looks for loyal clients.

JAYACHANDRAN/MINT

the stock was gone and they wanted more. I said, ‘Sorry, you will have to wait for six months for the next lot.’” Though he refuses to divulge the number of watches Panerai makes or has sold in recent years, he adds that every year they manufacture a specific number. The company also introduces a new collection once a year at the watch fair Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva—the collection is usually three or four watches with new movements (the watch mechanism) and some versions of the basic models. Panerai is indeed the Spartan of the watch business. It took Bonati just a three-page business plan in 1997 and a healthy imagination to build a high-end luxury brand in the last decade and half where none really existed. “I had nothing to lose when I started out with Panerai except perhaps my face (professional reputation) if my ideas did not work out. I just knew we had to stick to the core values of the brand—exquisite and exclusive designs, highest quality of mechanics, a great distribution network, and keep the inspirational value and the history of the brand alive.” And, of course, have the patience to wait for it all to come together. Mostly, a watch is just a movement in a steel case that tells the time, says Bonati. “Your customer has to connect with the watch brand at an emotional level, especially if they are going to pay a lot of money for it. What sets a Panerai apart is its history, the way it looks and feels. That’s why we have never been tempted to compromise with the dimension and the weight of the watch, even when the watch world has been aiming to go smaller and lighter,” he says, taking off his Panerai and insisting I try it on. As I fumble with the clasp of this really heavy watch, Bonati makes another case for the large dial: “Why must you squint and take out your glasses every time you want to see the time, eh?” Four weeks every year, Bonati goes “chasing the wind”. A sailing enthusiast, he lets the wind chart the course for his yacht and take him anywhere on the Mediterranean. “I took up golf recently because I am the kind of person who cannot sit around doing nothing. But if you like to sail, you must wait for the wind.” Just as Bonati is passionate about his sailing, he is also particular when it comes to the people he recruits. “I watch people’s eyes and hear carefully what they have to say. Passion for Panerai is important but I am unlikely to hire someone just because they came in wearing a Panerai to an interview. It makes me think: You are an opportunist and trying to show off something.” Incidentally, all the Italian assistants, and even the Indian one accompanying Bonati, were sporting Panerais. One lesson Bonati has learnt from the recent downturn is to wait and postpone plans if necessary. “I come from a small village, you have to be humble and survive however you can” is advice he often gives to his staff and son. “I also tell my son, who is studying economics, to never do what his father did. I tell him to try and be an entrepreneur, not a manager. Being a manager is tough; besides he does not have my attitude and he may not be as lucky as I have been—getting to do a job you love for 14 years.”


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SATURDAY, JULY 23, 2011

L9

Cover

LOUNGE HISTORY

1911: SPORT

ODYSSEYS

A HUNDRED YEARS AGO, TWO TEAMS OF SPORTSMEN HELPED INDIA MAKE ITS FIRST MARK IN FOOTBALL AND CRICKET AGAINST FOREIGN TEAMS. A DIPTYCH TRIBUTE INDRANIL BHOUMIK/MINT

The The beginning beginning:: An An impromptu impromptu game game of of football football in in front front of of the the team’s team’s greatest greatest symbol— symbol— aa picture picture of of the the 1911 1911 team—at team—at Mohun Mohun Bagan Bagan lane, lane, Hatiba­ Hatiba­ gan, gan, north north Kolkata. Kolkata. The The club’s club’s origins origins can can be be traced traced to to 1889 1889 and and to to this this area. area.

Without their boots on Mohun Bagan became the first Indian football team in 1911 to defeat a British side, making the imperialists’ game a native one

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

··································· n December 1911, the capital of British India shifted to the site of its lavish durbar in the former Mughal seat of Delhi. Among other things, the move had a certain historical fitness; a legitimate empire would govern from a legitimately imperial capital. Calcutta, like Bombay on the opposite coast, would continue to fuel the engine with its commercial might: a troublesome outpost of international trade, with its growing rumblings of sedition and native nationalism, but essentially a British city, built to serve British interests.

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But India intruded. Less than five months before the changeover of the Indian capital, Calcutta’s Mohun Bagan Athletic Club defeated the all-British East Yorkshire Regiment team to become the first-ever Indian team to win the Indian Football Association (IFA) Shield. Since football’s impact in contemporary Indian culture is relatively subdued, it may be difficult today to imagine how bound up football was with both the spirit and practice of the British empire. But it was as crucial to the empire’s selfimage as cricket. In an essay on the athletics of empire, writer Caroline Alexander writes of the prevailing attitude to sport: “A good captain of the first eleven

would undoubtedly make a good officer. Games taught a chap to play straight and not ‘offside’.” She quotes Marlborough’s school magazine: “‘[A] truly chivalrous football player...was never yet guilty of lying, or deceit, or meanness whether of word or action.’ This insistence on the decency and ‘straightness’ of the young athlete bolstered the attendant belief that just as the soldier-athlete was invariably decent, so too was his imperial cause.” Unlike cricket, football’s origins can be mystically attributed to various TURN TO PAGE L10®


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FOREIGN FIELD’/RAMACHANDRA GUHA

® FROM PAGE L9

times and parts of the world. Some say the ancient Chinese were playing it pre-historically; some locate its European birth in Renaissance Florence’s shin-cracking calcio. Today, it is tempting to reconstruct the history of a sport so organic and diverse—so apparently global as to make its adoption by the world seem perfectly natural. But modern football in the early 20th century was formed, preserved and exported wholly by the forces of imperial Britain. Through trade, diplomacy, warfare—and often a combination of all three—the playing fields of English public schools disseminated their pastimes to the rest of the world, and none more successfully than soccer, the “gentleman’s game played by thugs”. The teams which faced each other on 29 July 1911 were each, in their way, products of this will to power. The East Yorkshire Regiment team represented an ancient infantry regiment of Britain, and British militarism itself was highly, forcefully visible in Calcutta. The bedrock of the city’s sporting pursuit, the Maidan, had been built as a parade ground adjoining Fort William. East York were ambassadors of a vibrant, contentious football culture in Britain, where approaches to the game were in an exciting state of flux (the now-fundamental rule that a goalkeeper can only handle the ball in his own box, for example, would be instated as late as 1912, a whole year after the York-Bagan game). Rules originated variously from schools’ football, from the clubs that had begun forming in the 1850s and 1860s in England’s working-class parishes, and from the few internationals contested within Great Britain. It was an irresistible pastime, and native Bengalis had long since succumbed. The “muscular Bengali” of whom historian Ramachandra Guha writes in his anecdotal cricket history, Wickets in the East, was an ideal that also informed Bengali football. A sportsman’s self-fashioning as a physically powerful being, a man of action, was crucial to countering the stereotype of the brown native as an indolent coward. And so, that monsoon, Calcutta’s pre-eminent football club, having claimed glory in the Cooch Behar Cup and the Gladstone Cup, entered

History finds it more difficult to borrow sport’s simple narratives of victory and defeat. It would take almost four decades after Bagan’s victory for India to gain independence the IFA Shield tournament, the equivalent of the FA Cup in this corner of the empire. They defeated four other British sides in the run-up to the final. At 5.30pm on 29 July, captain and “left-out” Shibdas Bhaduri led the Bagan players out for their 50-minute final. It would go on to become Indian football’s best-known marker, often inaccurately, but it was true in 1911: All but one of Mohun Bagan’s players went barefoot. Equipment, even then, was expensive, bought not simply with money, but at the cost of growing nationalist sentiment. Pride, resentment, a certain desire for freedom; what the muscular Bengali could not express outside the playing field, he would attempt to demonstrate on it. Mohun Bagan’s fans had poured in well before kick-off, from every part of Calcutta and the Bengal Presidency. Special trains and boats were organized to accommodate fans (among the day’s myths includes a suggestion that it was the first Indian occasion on which tickets were sold in black). Miraculously, the rains had held off through the tournament. On the dry, hard ground of the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club field, Bagan’s players found purchase for their darting dribble-and-pass game, but East York dominated the first half of the match,

scoring from a free kick and denying all Bagan’s attempts to equalize. In the second half, 10 minutes from the whistle, captain Bhaduri scored an equaliser; a goal that would arguably be the most important in Indian football. Bhaduri also set up one more, 8 minutes later, for Abhilash Ghosh to end the contest. The kites above Calcutta flew green and maroon against the evening sky, a sign for those too far from the grounds—2-1; the British had been defeated. History finds it more difficult to borrow sport’s simple narratives of victory and defeat. It would take almost four decades after Bagan’s victory for India to gain independence. Football would never merely symbolize the divide between Indian and British, brown and white: Its extraordinary power to unite communities would also pit Hindu against Muslim, burgher against refugee, and Bengali against Bengali. War, riots, famine, economic setbacks, political crises—Calcutta, and India, would change drastically to accommodate each fresh challenge. And so, in the wake of a tumultuous century, it can be hard to grasp the power of that July scoreline. Could fans a hundred years ago really have found enough joy in a football match to keep them in hope for years to come? How had this sport, one of the

poisoned gifts of an oppressive imperialism, come to represent anti-imperialist resistance? This, however, is one of sport’s more benign contradictions. It can defy its own oppressive structures from time to time, and nowhere has this been more apparent than in football. In the mid-20th century, under the heel of the Francoist regime, FC Barcelona would articulate the same kind of popular rage within the towering walls of the Camp Nou. Outside they were, by force, the bearers of a repressive Spanish identity. In the stadium, rooting for their own team, they were free to be weeping, exulting, screaming Catalans. Football may have been the colonizer’s game, just as Calcutta was, in some way, the city of the colonizers. But Mohun Bagan had ignited the spark from within the belly of the beast; it had made football fans. Winners: (top) The Mohun Bagan Athletic Club today; and the 1911 team—(below, standing, from left) Rajen Sengupta, Neelmadhab Bhattacharya, Heeralal Mukherjee, Manmohan Mukherjee, the reverend Sudhir Chatterjee and Bhuti Sukul, and (sitting, from left) Kanu Roy, Habul Sarkar, Abhilash Ghosh, Bijoydas Bhaduri and Shibdas Bhaduri. COURTESY MOHUN BAGAN ATHLETIC CLUB

The original men in white ALLSPORT/HULTON ARCHIVE

The first ‘Indian’ cricket team to tour abroad in 1911 brought together different communities as a symbol of nationalism in pre­independence India B Y N IRANJAN R AJADHYAKSHA niranjan.r@livemint.com

······························ hundred and twenty five years ago, in the summer of 1886, a team of 15 enthusiastic Parsis sailed from India to England to play some cricket. They went with few hopes of winning. Among the people who saw them off was Pherozeshah Mehta, the nationalist lawyer and one of the first Indians to learn cricket on the maidans of what was then known as Bombay. He told the audience that the Parsi cricketers were going to England with the same intention with which artists went to Italy or pilgrims went to Jerusalem—to pay homage. The tour ended in utter failure—28 matches, 19 losses, eight draws and a solitary win. Years later, the great W.G. Grace would remember in his autobiography: “During this season a team of Parsee cricketers paid us a visit, but met with little success, even against second and third-rate clubs.” He should know. The Parsi team ran into the world’s first great cricketer in their second match, against the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) at Lord’s. The visitors met with a crushing innings defeat, with Grace scoring 65 in his only innings and then taking 11 visitor wickets for 44 runs. “It was not with any object of gaining victories that we made the voyage to England, but we

A

decided to pay homage to the centre and home of a noble game, and we desired to learn some useful lessons in its play,” explained D.H. Patel, the captain, on the team’s return. However, the impact of the Parsi pioneers should not be measured in terms of their poor performance on the field. Patel and his men opened the gates for other such visits. The Parsi team that went to England in 1888 came back with a more credible cricketing record—31 matches, 11 losses, 12 draws and eight wins. Even Grace had a good word: “There was great improvement on their first visit, when everything went against them. In one thing they showed excellent promise, their consistent effort in playing an uphill match.” Photographs of the early Parsi tourists show them dressed as English cricketers of their time would. But sartorial modernity was a recent acquisition. An early book on Parsi cricket had this wicked portrait of the fire worshipper at the wicket: “He went to the wicket with a white band around his forehead, giving him quite the air of the inmate of some hospital, and a still whiter apron dangling from his waist, which was encircled by the sacred thread of his faith. Thus equipped, with patent leather boots and silken trousers, he was a fit study for an artist.” Such honest attire was a testimony to the sincerity of the early

Parsi cricketers, many of whom came from the emerging professional classes. It was in marked contrast to the resplendent outfits of the captain of the first national team to visit England many years later. That was in 1911, a hundred years ago. The man was 19-yearold Bhupinder Singh, the maharaja of Patiala. He travelled to London from the continent in his deluxe train, accompanied by his private

staff. “His Highness’s gorgeous costume of rich flowered silk of bright hue attracted much attention as he strode down the platform wearing about his neck a garland of roses,” one newspaper reported. The maharaja hardly played any cricket. He spent most of his time on the London social circuit and cozying up to the colonial authorities in England. It was only after independence that a prince would not lead an

Indian touring team to England. Even the 1932 team was officially led by the maharaja of Porbandar, who had the good sense to allow C.K. Nayudu to captain the team in India’s first-ever Test match. The 1911 team has gone down in history as the first all-India cricket squad, since members of different faiths and regions were represented. Their travels across England were followed by the educated urban elite at a time when

Indian nationalism was getting a more radical edge, in the last years of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and just before the emergence of Mohandas K. Gandhi. “Educated Indians followed the progress of the tour with great interest. As one might expect, the interest was greatest in Bombay. All the major Bombay newspapers (but especially The Times of India and the Bombay Gazette) provided extensive coverage of the tour. Educated middle-class people in other major cities—especially Calcutta and Madras—also took an interest in the doings of the Indian cricketers,” says Prashant Kidambi, a historian with the University of Leicester, England, who has written an essay on the 1911 team in the new Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, the game’s annual Bible. The most important inclusions in 1911 were two brothers, Baloo Palwankar and Shivram Palwankar, members of a caste that was then considered untouchable. Two other brothers—Vithal and Ganpat—were fine cricketers as well. Vithal later led the Hindu team in the Bombay Quadrangular, a revolutionary development in a society still stuck in malign notions of caste superiority. My late father would describe the unbelievable scenes after the 1923 Quadrangular finals, which he saw as a schoolboy, when the crowd lifted the untouchable captain on its shoulders after the Hindus won in the finals against the Europeans, with Vithal hitting the winning runs at the end of a thrilling run chase. Baloo was the star of the 1911 tour, taking 114 wickets at an average of 18.84. The historian, Ramachandra Guha, says he “received several offers to stay in England and play as a professional”. He chose to come home. When the team got back to Bombay, joyous crowds garlanded Baloo and Shivram. The brothers were felicitated by their commu-

Pioneers: (above) The Parsi team of 1886 that toured England; and the first iconic English cricketer, W.G. Grace. nity, at a function where one of the organizers was a young student named B.R. Ambedkar. Baloo and Ambedkar later became friends but then fell out. Baloo stood for local elections in 1933 on a Hindu Mahasabha ticket and in 1937 with the backing of the Congress. The tours of the 1886 Parsi team and the 1911 Indian team had a wider political significance. Says Kidambi: “When the Parsis undertook their tours in 1886 and 1888, they wanted both to affirm their affinity with the British and to underscore their status as subjects of the British empire. Of course, they also saw these exercises as a form of education. “The 1911 tour was also motivated by similar impulses, though it was different in some significant respects,” adds Kidambi. “The first difference was that this was an attempt to bring together Indians of different communities and regions. Second, it also happened at a time when Indian nationalism was beginning to change in character as a result of growing disenchantment among nationalist Indians about the gap between British precepts and practices. But even though this made the context of the 1911 tour different, we cannot assume that it was an exercise in full-blown nationalism. In fact, the tour coincided with the coronation of King George V and became part of an imperial occasion.” Such sepia-tinted history has no place in the technicolour brilliance of contemporary cricket. But the stories of the men who went across to England in 1886 and 1911 still tell us a lot about early cricket in India and the development of political consciousness.


L10 COVER

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COVER L11

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SATURDAY, JULY 23, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

SATURDAY, JULY 23, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

COURTESY ‘A CORNER

INDRANIL BHOUMIK/MINT

OF A

FOREIGN FIELD’/RAMACHANDRA GUHA

® FROM PAGE L9

times and parts of the world. Some say the ancient Chinese were playing it pre-historically; some locate its European birth in Renaissance Florence’s shin-cracking calcio. Today, it is tempting to reconstruct the history of a sport so organic and diverse—so apparently global as to make its adoption by the world seem perfectly natural. But modern football in the early 20th century was formed, preserved and exported wholly by the forces of imperial Britain. Through trade, diplomacy, warfare—and often a combination of all three—the playing fields of English public schools disseminated their pastimes to the rest of the world, and none more successfully than soccer, the “gentleman’s game played by thugs”. The teams which faced each other on 29 July 1911 were each, in their way, products of this will to power. The East Yorkshire Regiment team represented an ancient infantry regiment of Britain, and British militarism itself was highly, forcefully visible in Calcutta. The bedrock of the city’s sporting pursuit, the Maidan, had been built as a parade ground adjoining Fort William. East York were ambassadors of a vibrant, contentious football culture in Britain, where approaches to the game were in an exciting state of flux (the now-fundamental rule that a goalkeeper can only handle the ball in his own box, for example, would be instated as late as 1912, a whole year after the York-Bagan game). Rules originated variously from schools’ football, from the clubs that had begun forming in the 1850s and 1860s in England’s working-class parishes, and from the few internationals contested within Great Britain. It was an irresistible pastime, and native Bengalis had long since succumbed. The “muscular Bengali” of whom historian Ramachandra Guha writes in his anecdotal cricket history, Wickets in the East, was an ideal that also informed Bengali football. A sportsman’s self-fashioning as a physically powerful being, a man of action, was crucial to countering the stereotype of the brown native as an indolent coward. And so, that monsoon, Calcutta’s pre-eminent football club, having claimed glory in the Cooch Behar Cup and the Gladstone Cup, entered

History finds it more difficult to borrow sport’s simple narratives of victory and defeat. It would take almost four decades after Bagan’s victory for India to gain independence the IFA Shield tournament, the equivalent of the FA Cup in this corner of the empire. They defeated four other British sides in the run-up to the final. At 5.30pm on 29 July, captain and “left-out” Shibdas Bhaduri led the Bagan players out for their 50-minute final. It would go on to become Indian football’s best-known marker, often inaccurately, but it was true in 1911: All but one of Mohun Bagan’s players went barefoot. Equipment, even then, was expensive, bought not simply with money, but at the cost of growing nationalist sentiment. Pride, resentment, a certain desire for freedom; what the muscular Bengali could not express outside the playing field, he would attempt to demonstrate on it. Mohun Bagan’s fans had poured in well before kick-off, from every part of Calcutta and the Bengal Presidency. Special trains and boats were organized to accommodate fans (among the day’s myths includes a suggestion that it was the first Indian occasion on which tickets were sold in black). Miraculously, the rains had held off through the tournament. On the dry, hard ground of the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club field, Bagan’s players found purchase for their darting dribble-and-pass game, but East York dominated the first half of the match,

scoring from a free kick and denying all Bagan’s attempts to equalize. In the second half, 10 minutes from the whistle, captain Bhaduri scored an equaliser; a goal that would arguably be the most important in Indian football. Bhaduri also set up one more, 8 minutes later, for Abhilash Ghosh to end the contest. The kites above Calcutta flew green and maroon against the evening sky, a sign for those too far from the grounds—2-1; the British had been defeated. History finds it more difficult to borrow sport’s simple narratives of victory and defeat. It would take almost four decades after Bagan’s victory for India to gain independence. Football would never merely symbolize the divide between Indian and British, brown and white: Its extraordinary power to unite communities would also pit Hindu against Muslim, burgher against refugee, and Bengali against Bengali. War, riots, famine, economic setbacks, political crises—Calcutta, and India, would change drastically to accommodate each fresh challenge. And so, in the wake of a tumultuous century, it can be hard to grasp the power of that July scoreline. Could fans a hundred years ago really have found enough joy in a football match to keep them in hope for years to come? How had this sport, one of the

poisoned gifts of an oppressive imperialism, come to represent anti-imperialist resistance? This, however, is one of sport’s more benign contradictions. It can defy its own oppressive structures from time to time, and nowhere has this been more apparent than in football. In the mid-20th century, under the heel of the Francoist regime, FC Barcelona would articulate the same kind of popular rage within the towering walls of the Camp Nou. Outside they were, by force, the bearers of a repressive Spanish identity. In the stadium, rooting for their own team, they were free to be weeping, exulting, screaming Catalans. Football may have been the colonizer’s game, just as Calcutta was, in some way, the city of the colonizers. But Mohun Bagan had ignited the spark from within the belly of the beast; it had made football fans. Winners: (top) The Mohun Bagan Athletic Club today; and the 1911 team—(below, standing, from left) Rajen Sengupta, Neelmadhab Bhattacharya, Heeralal Mukherjee, Manmohan Mukherjee, the reverend Sudhir Chatterjee and Bhuti Sukul, and (sitting, from left) Kanu Roy, Habul Sarkar, Abhilash Ghosh, Bijoydas Bhaduri and Shibdas Bhaduri. COURTESY MOHUN BAGAN ATHLETIC CLUB

The original men in white ALLSPORT/HULTON ARCHIVE

The first ‘Indian’ cricket team to tour abroad in 1911 brought together different communities as a symbol of nationalism in pre­independence India B Y N IRANJAN R AJADHYAKSHA niranjan.r@livemint.com

······························ hundred and twenty five years ago, in the summer of 1886, a team of 15 enthusiastic Parsis sailed from India to England to play some cricket. They went with few hopes of winning. Among the people who saw them off was Pherozeshah Mehta, the nationalist lawyer and one of the first Indians to learn cricket on the maidans of what was then known as Bombay. He told the audience that the Parsi cricketers were going to England with the same intention with which artists went to Italy or pilgrims went to Jerusalem—to pay homage. The tour ended in utter failure—28 matches, 19 losses, eight draws and a solitary win. Years later, the great W.G. Grace would remember in his autobiography: “During this season a team of Parsee cricketers paid us a visit, but met with little success, even against second and third-rate clubs.” He should know. The Parsi team ran into the world’s first great cricketer in their second match, against the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) at Lord’s. The visitors met with a crushing innings defeat, with Grace scoring 65 in his only innings and then taking 11 visitor wickets for 44 runs. “It was not with any object of gaining victories that we made the voyage to England, but we

A

decided to pay homage to the centre and home of a noble game, and we desired to learn some useful lessons in its play,” explained D.H. Patel, the captain, on the team’s return. However, the impact of the Parsi pioneers should not be measured in terms of their poor performance on the field. Patel and his men opened the gates for other such visits. The Parsi team that went to England in 1888 came back with a more credible cricketing record—31 matches, 11 losses, 12 draws and eight wins. Even Grace had a good word: “There was great improvement on their first visit, when everything went against them. In one thing they showed excellent promise, their consistent effort in playing an uphill match.” Photographs of the early Parsi tourists show them dressed as English cricketers of their time would. But sartorial modernity was a recent acquisition. An early book on Parsi cricket had this wicked portrait of the fire worshipper at the wicket: “He went to the wicket with a white band around his forehead, giving him quite the air of the inmate of some hospital, and a still whiter apron dangling from his waist, which was encircled by the sacred thread of his faith. Thus equipped, with patent leather boots and silken trousers, he was a fit study for an artist.” Such honest attire was a testimony to the sincerity of the early

Parsi cricketers, many of whom came from the emerging professional classes. It was in marked contrast to the resplendent outfits of the captain of the first national team to visit England many years later. That was in 1911, a hundred years ago. The man was 19-yearold Bhupinder Singh, the maharaja of Patiala. He travelled to London from the continent in his deluxe train, accompanied by his private

staff. “His Highness’s gorgeous costume of rich flowered silk of bright hue attracted much attention as he strode down the platform wearing about his neck a garland of roses,” one newspaper reported. The maharaja hardly played any cricket. He spent most of his time on the London social circuit and cozying up to the colonial authorities in England. It was only after independence that a prince would not lead an

Indian touring team to England. Even the 1932 team was officially led by the maharaja of Porbandar, who had the good sense to allow C.K. Nayudu to captain the team in India’s first-ever Test match. The 1911 team has gone down in history as the first all-India cricket squad, since members of different faiths and regions were represented. Their travels across England were followed by the educated urban elite at a time when

Indian nationalism was getting a more radical edge, in the last years of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and just before the emergence of Mohandas K. Gandhi. “Educated Indians followed the progress of the tour with great interest. As one might expect, the interest was greatest in Bombay. All the major Bombay newspapers (but especially The Times of India and the Bombay Gazette) provided extensive coverage of the tour. Educated middle-class people in other major cities—especially Calcutta and Madras—also took an interest in the doings of the Indian cricketers,” says Prashant Kidambi, a historian with the University of Leicester, England, who has written an essay on the 1911 team in the new Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, the game’s annual Bible. The most important inclusions in 1911 were two brothers, Baloo Palwankar and Shivram Palwankar, members of a caste that was then considered untouchable. Two other brothers—Vithal and Ganpat—were fine cricketers as well. Vithal later led the Hindu team in the Bombay Quadrangular, a revolutionary development in a society still stuck in malign notions of caste superiority. My late father would describe the unbelievable scenes after the 1923 Quadrangular finals, which he saw as a schoolboy, when the crowd lifted the untouchable captain on its shoulders after the Hindus won in the finals against the Europeans, with Vithal hitting the winning runs at the end of a thrilling run chase. Baloo was the star of the 1911 tour, taking 114 wickets at an average of 18.84. The historian, Ramachandra Guha, says he “received several offers to stay in England and play as a professional”. He chose to come home. When the team got back to Bombay, joyous crowds garlanded Baloo and Shivram. The brothers were felicitated by their commu-

Pioneers: (above) The Parsi team of 1886 that toured England; and the first iconic English cricketer, W.G. Grace. nity, at a function where one of the organizers was a young student named B.R. Ambedkar. Baloo and Ambedkar later became friends but then fell out. Baloo stood for local elections in 1933 on a Hindu Mahasabha ticket and in 1937 with the backing of the Congress. The tours of the 1886 Parsi team and the 1911 Indian team had a wider political significance. Says Kidambi: “When the Parsis undertook their tours in 1886 and 1888, they wanted both to affirm their affinity with the British and to underscore their status as subjects of the British empire. Of course, they also saw these exercises as a form of education. “The 1911 tour was also motivated by similar impulses, though it was different in some significant respects,” adds Kidambi. “The first difference was that this was an attempt to bring together Indians of different communities and regions. Second, it also happened at a time when Indian nationalism was beginning to change in character as a result of growing disenchantment among nationalist Indians about the gap between British precepts and practices. But even though this made the context of the 1911 tour different, we cannot assume that it was an exercise in full-blown nationalism. In fact, the tour coincided with the coronation of King George V and became part of an imperial occasion.” Such sepia-tinted history has no place in the technicolour brilliance of contemporary cricket. But the stories of the men who went across to England in 1886 and 1911 still tell us a lot about early cricket in India and the development of political consciousness.


L12

www.livemint.com

SATURDAY, JULY 23, 2011

Travel

LOUNGE PHOTOGRAPHS

BY

BHASKAR DK

TRIP PLANNER/MONTANA You will need a visa for the US. Apply for one through VFS (www.vfs-usa.co.in). There are long waiting times for an appointment with the embassy or consulate, so book well in advance. Bozeman’s Gallatin Field Airport is the best entry point to Montana’s Yellowstone region. Current advance return fares are: Delhi Mumbai Bangalore Delta/AirFrance (SkyTeam) R80,510 R85,290 R90,970 United/Continental (Star Alliance)

R73,500

R1.01 lakh

R1.19 lakh

Many national and international car rental chains have their counters at the Bozeman airport. The Chico resort is 64 miles (around 102km) away.

MONTANA

MONTANA

Call of the wild The Denali trek pits the huskies’ raw power against primitive terrain for a mode of transport as old as civilization

B Y B HASKAR D .K . ···························· ight energetic dogs, each with a mind of its own, sprinting in eight directions ought to mean utter chaos. To my disbelief, my first-ever dog sledding experience in the Paradise Valley in northern Montana was extraordinarily calm and coordinated. Four of us had assembled at the Chico Hot Springs Resort and Day Spa, a favourite hangout for actors Harrison Ford and Dennis Quaid. “The weather is nice and cool, the forecast is snowy without rain, and the dogs love it,” said Wolf Drimal, the master of the pack. Fresh snow landed on the ground as Drimal pulled out the wooden sled. “There are two types of sleds—basket sleds and toboggan sleds,” he explained. “Basket sleds are lightweight, and toboggans are more durable and capable of carrying bigger loads.” We were going to use the basket type, easier to navigate and manoeuvre up difficult terrain. Laying the rope lines—made of high-tension polymers—before fixing the harnesses was the next step. Drimal walked us through the

E

different lines: the gang line that ran from the sled to the dogs, the tug lines, and the neck line, which he explained was important to keep the dogs together and maximize their pulling strength. It was time to get the stars of the primitive transport out into the open. Chako, Chatta, Sigrid, Knik and the rest, a combination of black, white and grey huskies, were tied one by one to the gang line. The sled had both Alaskan and Siberian huskies in the gang. “Alaskan malamutes are muscular and can pull heavy loads but lack the speed. These can pull more weight over long stretches with less food than any other draft animal,” quipped Drimal, kissing one of them with a mixture of pride and affection for his adorable huskies. But all sled dog breeds are known for their agility, speed, endurance and loyalty. It was time to learn some commands before the action. Let’s go (start), Gee (right turn), Haw (left turn), and so on. “Lastly, don’t forget the brakes—they’re critical. If these huskies start pulling away and you forget the On Bye or Whooa commands, this is your only saviour,” cautioned Drimal, showing a 2-pound, foot-long metal hook. “One last thing,” he said. “Never lose your temper with the dogs. It is supposed to be fun for both you and the dogs.” Persistent snow made the dogs cheerful and the huskies turned around, one last time, and Drimal seemed to understand. Standing the runner up on rubber treads as thick as an SUV’s, he gently called, “Let’s go!” Boom, off we went, pulled by two lead females (J.R. and Bean), two males (Polson and Lasar), and the wheel (the last two dogs near the sled) at more than 15 miles an hour (24 kmph). Lead

dogs are critical as they take the commands to regulate speed and direction for the entire team. Huskies, I learnt, weigh 35-50 pounds (16-22kg), and are incredible winter athletes. From late November to early April, they work every day of the week and usually log over 1,200 miles. If you were wondering if this was an exploitation of their adaptation to the harsh winter conditions, be assured that they just love to pull. “It is easy to make these dogs run, but extremely difficult to stop (them)!” Drimal narrated an incident in which the mush was dragged along for miles, when he lost balance on

A cold trail: (clockwise from above) Different lines of ropes help control and guide the dogs; sled­ ding uphill in Paradise Valley; and Chatta, a husky from the pack. the shaft and tripped. The Denali trek to the Gallatin National Forest reserve is miles of snow-covered paths, uphill and downhill—terrain that forces you to learn that sledding is more than just riding and issuing commands to steer the dogs. To steer, you have to adjust your body weight to the way the dogs turn. As we raced uphill, it was a beautiful setting of

Stay

Do

Eat

The Chico Hot Springs resort Great Falls (www.chicohotsprings.com) offers rooms starting at $55-plus (around R2,450) for Bozeman rooms without private bathrooms to Billings $225-plus for a converted railway wagon. Family accommodation huts are also available. Absaroka Dog Sleds can be booked through Yellowstone Chico Hot Springs. The price ranges from region $120-320. Advance reservations are US a must (for details, visit www.extrememontana.com or call 001-406-3334933). Montana is the Wild West, and the food reflects that: Buffalo and elk are local delicacies. You can try them at Rosie’s (Highway 89 and Park St Gardiner) and Bear Country Restaurant (232 Park Gardiner). In Bozeman, visit Ale Works, a restaurant and microbrewery located in a converted railway warehouse (001-406-5877700). Another option is Plonk (001-406-5872170), which serves organic meals and 40 different cheeses. Yellowstone is a landscape of superlatives and is about 100 miles from Chico. Yellowstone National Park offers several interesting packages for all age groups through the fall and winter seasons. The Wolf Discovery programme with the Yellowstone Association Institute is one of the best learning adventures (for details, visit www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com) GRAPHIC

mountains decked with fir, spruce and lodge pole pines that reminded me of the stories of early civilization and primitive transportation. It wasn’t all smooth and easy—we had awkward moments all along the route, falling off the sled, getting our feet stuck in a snow pile, pulling muscles, and even running into trees when we were unable to control the sled. Our greatest challenge, though, was to keep pace with the power of the huskies! While I struggled to hold straight and tight on the sled, Drimal said calmly: “Remember, each one of us is the alpha male at all times. If we are tired, hesitant or uncertain, the rest of the team will pick this up and become confused and unresponsive. This can be particularly dangerous on longer journeys.” Fortunately, we all bonded well, cruising through the cold terrain. There was understanding, comfort and friendship in the team. After incredible sledding on the uphill, we opened blankets and unwrapped a picnic basket right in the heart of the incredible landscape. Starving after our hard work on the sleds, we tucked into hot French onion soup, homemade huckleberry cheesecake with hot chocolate, apple cider, smoked beef—the Montana speciality—and hot coffee. Afterwards, while we played in the snow, the dog pack feasted on chunks of raw meat. Most of the work that goes into training the sled dogs is planned in summer. Drimal’s kennel has dogs ranging from 15 days to 14 years old. Almost all of them are working dogs who pull sleds. Awestruck at the amazing pulling power of sled dogs, I asked about their diet and health. “In winter, each adult dog receives about 3 quarts of hot water every day, along with frozen bits of lamb, beef, red meat and liver.” Drimal added that while the dogs could run effortlessly in sub-zero temperatures, they couldn’t tolerate heat.

BY

AHMED RAZA KHAN/MINT

This was when I started to feel the cold, and thought of changing my own food habits—but we still had ground to cover before we could reach the Chico resort. The century-old resort, which is on the US’ National Register of Historic Places, has rustic cabins, luxurious chalets, a gourmet restaurant and superb wine cellar. Montana’s locals treasure it as a vacation hot spot. “I bring my children here often, but this is my first experience dog sledding,” said Mike Harrelson, who fell in love with the open skies and mountains of Montana 15 years ago and decided to live in Bozeman. The restaurant and rooms had to wait. At the end of a day-long adventure in the cold, I needed Chico’s hot springs even more. Even after years of running, hiking and weight training, I didn’t possess the same endurance as the huskies that had brought me here. Jumping into the natural pool, I let the hot water run over my aching muscles until I felt as if I was in a Chennai summer. There, in the pool, I ended my Montana adventure, but the bonds I had formed with the huskies that day will bring me back again. Write to lounge@livemint.com CHILD­FRIENDLY RATING

Children will enjoy the nature trails, hot springs, wildlife and the husky dogs sledding. SENIOR­FRIENDLY RATING

Many attractions in Montana, including Yellowstone National Park, offer senior discounts. LGBT­FRIENDLY RATING

The cities of Bozeman and Missoula have many LGBT­friendly destinations.


TRAVEL L13

LOUNGE

SATURDAY, JULY 23, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM CHRIS WARDE­JONES/WSJ

ROAD TRIPS

Leave the city behind

NAGELESTOCK.COM/ALAMY

An hour away from Rome, Paris, Brussels and Edinburgh, streets turn to rustic drives leading to chateaux and small villages

Touring Italy’s Lake Bracciano Lake Bracciano, Italy’s eighth largest, offers a lovely mix of natural and monumental sights easily visible from your car, and many of the diversions of a summer resort, just 1 hour northwest of Rome. The best way to get there is by the “Cassia Bis” (SS 2bis), a four-lane, divided highway that runs parallel to the ancient Roman Via Cassia (a two-lane road usually clogged with suburban traffic) through farmland of rolling hills. Shortly before the town of Campagnano, note the descent into the Valle di Baccano, a huge extinct volcanic crater that in ancient times was celebrated for its vineyards, which explains why it was named for Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. Soon after you emerge from the valley, take the exit for Bracciano and follow the SP 4a, a winding road shaded by plane trees. The waters of the lake appear suddenly, bright blue in the morning or shining silver in the afternoon sun. Almost equally spaced around the lake sit three medieval towns, each with its own landmark: Anguillara’s historic centre, on a promontory projecting into the water; the ramparts and bastions of Bracciano’s castle, site of the 2006 Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes wedding; and Trevignano’s church of Santa Maria Assunta, whose imposing bell tower once belonged to an adjacent fortress. You can comfortably drive the 35km perimeter of Lake Bracciano in an hour without stopping, but bikes are available for hire in Anguillara (call +39-3466816988, or try your luck at Via Umberto, 1). Cyclists are welcome aboard the ferry that makes five circuits of the lake every day (between 11am and 7pm) in July and August. To rent a sailboat or canoe, try the 3V yacht club (www.cv3v.it) at Via della Rena, 122, in Trevignano; for windsurf equipment, go to H2O (www.sch2o.it), up the street at No. 93. The towns’ waterfronts are made for strolling with icecream cone in hand while their steep labyrinthine streets offer more aerobic benefits. At the end of the day, the towns’ restaurants, almost all good, offer largely similar menus notable for the prominence of lake fish, a standard being filetti di

persico fritti dorati: fillets of perch fried in a light golden batter. Francis X. Rocca

Spectacular vistas and ancient landscapes along the hilly roads outside Edinburgh From the crenellated walls of Edinburgh Castle, perched on the dramatic volcanic plug that straddles Princes Street Gardens, one has an unbroken view of the southern peninsula of the Kingdom of Fife. It is amid these hills, across the murky waters of the Firth of Forth, just an hour’s drive from the centre of Edinburgh, that you can lose yourself in a landscape little changed by the advances of the modern world. Leaving Edinburgh, cross the Forth Road Bridge, passing Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker’s iconic cantilever rail bridge, and take the A92 towards Dundee. Between Rathillet and Kilmany, a small road branches off northwards, leading to the ruins of B a l m e r i n o A b b e y (www.nts.org.uk/Property/ Balmerino-Abbey), a Cistercian monastery nestled on the south bank of River Tay that was nearly destroyed during the Reformation. At the far end of the property sits a large Spanish chestnut tree, one of the oldest in Britain. Return to the A92 and drive north, forking right on to the A914, which passes through Leuchars. At Guardbridge take the A91, which approaches St Andrews from the north, offering unrivalled views of the town’s Royal and Ancient golf course and the Links course overlooking West Sands beach. Continue through the town, past the ruins of St Andrews Castle, towards East Sands and the A917, a spectacular road that drops down, revealing a vista of the Firth of the Forth and Edinburgh’s skyline beyond. Just after Kingsbarns, you approach the Cambo estate (www.camboestate.com), where woodland gardens are carpeted with snowdrops in the spring. The road continues towards the tiny fishing village of Crail. Here, you can wander the narrow streets and enjoy a cup of tea in one of the small cafés overlooking the 12th century harbour. After Crail, the A917 hugs the east coast, travelling through the East Neuk of Fife, where one finds a string of ancient fishing villages from Anstruther, famous for its fish and chips; Pittenweem, known for its annual arts and crafts festival;

PATRICK ESCUDERO/HEMIS/CORBIS

Best stops: (clockwise from top) On the way to Lake Bracciano in Italy; beers at the Oud Beersel brewery, near Brussels; a view of Provins in France; and a cottage at Pittenweem harbour in Scotland.

and St Monans, whose church, the Auld Kirk, has a sailing ship suspended from the ceiling, a nod to its maritime past. From St Monans, the road continues to Elie and Earlsferry, a picturesque town with a glorious golden beach. Since the early 1990s, at low tide, the Ship Inn (www.ship-elie.com) has prepared a cricket pitch on the beach, where the pub’s team plays a number of matches throughout the summer. The drive finishes here, where from the terrace outside the Ship Inn you can enjoy a glass of Pimm’s as the sun sets over the sands of Elie beach to the distant squawking of seagulls. William Lyons

From Paris, a voyage into the lavish charms of Château de Fontainebleau and Provins One of the rarely sung joys of Paris is just how quickly, beyond the buzzing ring road, you can be motoring through lustrous countryside where French kings pursued deer and Impressionist painters captured shimmering pastoral images. A trip encompassing stellar cultural and rustic delights begins by driving south-east out of the city on the A6 and taking the exit for Fontainebleau. This leads, by the D637

and D607, into the leafy heart of an ancient hunting forest and to the Château of Fontainebleau (Museechateau-fontainebleau.fr), the royal and imperial palace that Napoleon called “the true home of kings”. As residence to various dynasties over eight centuries, the lavishly decorated palace and sumptuous parklands would in themselves be worthy of a day’s outing. However, only a few kilometres further, by way of the D606, at the edge of the forest, lies Moret-surLoing, a tiny town in a bucolic setting and home to Impressionist painter Alfred Sisley. Born in Paris to English parents, Sisley was fascinated by how light swept across the historic entrance to the town: an arched medieval bridge with a turreted gateway traversing the calm waters of the River Loing. After lunch, rejoin the D606 and then take the D403 heading north-east into the deeply rural territory of sugar-beet fields and sleepy villages. After only an hour at the wheel, you arrive at Provins (Provins.net), a spectacular medieval town and Unesco world heritage site. Provins makes the most of its history by regularly staging medieval-style fairs and other pageantry. However, with stupendous 25m-high towered ramparts rising up from the flat fields, there’s no

need for added spectacle. Afterwards, a classic French dinner in a sheltered setting can be enjoyed in the dining rooms or on the terrace of Aux Vieux Remparts (Auxvieuxremparts.com), a hotel in the Upper Town. Lennox Morrison

On the beer circuit around the Pajottenland, from micro­ breweries to country cafés On the western edge of Brussels lies an area of rolling green countryside known as the Pajottenland. Dotted with romantic castles and medieval churches, its bucolic landscapes have drawn artists from Breughel to Brel. It’s also home to one of Europe’s densest concentrations of breweries—almost a dozen small producers of ancient and unique beers like the sour but refreshing geuze or cherry-infused kriek. The village of Beersel is the perfect place to start a day tour. Although it’s located within the Brussels ring road, the little town has a rustic air, clustered on a hilltop above the imposing towers of its 14th century fortress. There are two traditional geuze producers here: Oud Beersel (www.oudbeersel.com), a microbrewery dating back to 1882, and the 3 Fonteinen (www.3fonteinen.be), which boasts

of a restaurant serving guinea fowl with cherries and old kriek, or salmon cooked in vintage geuze. Pajottenland beers are unique in that no yeast is used in the brewing. Instead, brewers expose their barley, water and wheat mash to the atmosphere, where a cocktail of naturally occurring microorganisms provokes spontaneous fermentation. The resulting brew, known as lambic, is too tart for most tastes and is traditionally aged and blended to make geuze, or softened with the addition of sugar, cherries or other fruit. Like many of the breweries, Hanssens is only open to the public on Saturdays, but the local beers can always be sampled in the countless bars and cafés dotted around the Pajottenland. A short drive through wheat, barley and potato fields leads to the Lindemans brewery (www.lindemans.be) in Vlezenbeek, one of the larger lambic breweries, where you can stock up on crates of Pecheresse, a peach-based beer that is recommended to be served in Champagne flutes to accompany Waldorf salad or Belgian waffles. From there, you can choose to finish off the drive by heading south to Gaasbeek (www.kasteelvangaasbeek.be), arguably the region’s most spectacular fortress, built by the Duke of Brabant in 1236 and surrounded by gardens and parkland, or meander north to Wambeek, where the De Troch brewery (www.detroch.be) has made beer since the 18th century, although the banana- and pineapple-flavoured varieties are a more recent innovation. Paul Ames Write to wsj@livemint.com


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SATURDAY, JULY 23, 2011

Books

LOUNGE PRIYANKA PARASHAR/MINT

Worker central: Sadar Bazaar is Delhi’s largest labour market.

A FREE MAN | AMAN SETHI

A window in the wall A tremendous new work of reportage, in which the author’s subjects speak more than him, delves into the lives of Delhi’s labourers B Y S UPRIYA N AIR supriya.n@livemint.com

···························· here is, or was, a popular romance to outsiders’ notions of the working poor. It fuelled some of Amitabh Bachchan’s most stirring films. Those had their inconsistencies, their disingenuities, but there were others who sifted through the grinding ironies of urban poverty more carefully. Poet Kaifi Azmi, who worked for decades among Mumbai’s labourers, in their informal settlements, wrote his legendary Makaan (The Mansion) about the flaws in the machine. Ban gaya qasr to pehre pe koi baith gaya/So rahe khaak pe hum shorish-e-taameer liye (Palaces made, others set to guard them/ While we slept on the dust, in the cacophony of construction). Sab utho, Azmi wrote in the same

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A Free Man: Random House, 226 pages, `499.

poem, declaiming from the midst of the crowd. Sab utho, main bhi uthooon, tum bhi utho, tum bhi utho (Rise, all; as I rise, so also you, so also you). It’s possible to read a benign paternalism in both the high and middlebrow visions of Labour in Distress. But they were fantasies that articulated untold stories and hopes. Their time may have passed; as popular culture turns its face increasingly towards visions of the future, those notions of an exhausted but heroic working class as the protagonists of our cities—of our present time—go with them. This is partly why Aman Sethi’s astonishing A Free Man breaks fresh ground. Sethi spent five years with the daily-wage workers of Kaka’s tea stall and Kalyani’s illegal bar, located in and around Sadar Bazaar, “the largely empty space between the backpacker haven of Paharganj and picturesque Chandni Chowk”. They are part of the massive economy of a city in the middle of a construction boom. “I want to understand the maz-

door ki zindagi (the workers’ life),” Sethi tells Mohammad Ashraf the safediwalla, or painter, who becomes the central figure in the book. Ashraf, taking him at his word, leads him through the vagaries of urban poverty. The employment is uncertain; money is hard to earn and even harder to save; there is a constant lowgrade fear of the criminal conspiracies to press-gang workers into nefarious schemes, including organ-selling and bonded labour in north Indian hinterlands; and the more immediate danger of police and municipal watchdogs. As a man like Ashraf, how do you survive in a network of systems that is supposed to serve you, but manages mostly to alienate you? When you are ill, you go—if you are lucky—to hospitals that neglect you. You die at the risk of being eradicated from history, written off as lawaris—“without kin”. Your family, elsewhere in India, will live lives whose paths will diverge, if separated for long enough, almost completely from your own.

The mazdoors, with their variety of trades, paper over Delhi’s cracks; but it takes little to fall through them themselves. These are not the workers’ narratives to which we are accustomed. Who is Mohammad Ashraf Did he spend it working? Where? As what? What came next? Sethi asks these questions constantly, trying to piece together a working chronology. He is led, instead, to chart the undercurrents of this life, marked not so much by its journey through India—Patna, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Mumbai, finally Delhi—but by its psychological states. The mazdoor’s azadi—bound up, so delicately, in the idea of an azad Delhi, a free city—struggles with a concomitant akelapan, a bonedeep loneliness. The dead lawaris’ history is bleakly erased. But the ajnabi, the stranger who remembers every road he has travelled in his life but no longer recognizes the place where he arrives, faces another kind of limbo altogether. Sethi’s reportorial integrity in

writing about this inner noman’s-land makes this book truly original. He shapes the book, but his control over the text is as muted as it is taut. He has his moments of gonzo indulgence, such as this: “A short man knows the limits of his body, the extent of his reach…unlike the tall man, he holds no illusions regarding his abilities or his dimensions; he will never overreach,” he rhapsodizes, riffing off a description of Ashraf’s stature. (Biographers of actor Aamir Khan will probably take this to heart; biographers of Napoleon Bonaparte would laugh.) But these are few, and forgivable. He chronicles the minutiae that make up the labourers’ lives: the boiled eggs, the toosweet tea, the varieties of raw alcohol that can zero out a day’s earnings in hours. These come in trim asides to the running conversation, drawn out chapter over chapter, about just who Ashraf is. It circles around his past, acknowledges the gaps in his present; time and space both become unreliable as we zigzag through a Delhi that men like Ashraf and his comrades are building, hand over fist. Free of all attempts at arranging facts into grand narratives and people into characters, his book is the most humane work of journalism I have read this year. That is to Sethi’s credit, but his book allows that its compulsive readability belongs to the people of whom he writes. Ashraf is not just the protagonist of his story; he is the story. His best responses are as quotable as movie dialogue (his most formidable-looking paintbrush is also his most useless, but it attracts custom, so he holds it in plain sight when looking for work. It is, he says, his condom: “On TV you may stand next to Shabana Azmi and promise to use it, but you know you never will”). Tum bhi utho, tum bhi utho, Makaan says, but Azmi’s call for revolution is not the true refrain of his poem. It is the line that follows: Koi khidki isi deewaar mein khul jayegi (a window will open in this very wall). A Free Man’s conclusion is heartbreaking in its honesty and uncertainty. But the story that goes before has some of the lustre of Azmi’s seemingly modest hope. IN SIX WORDS The hands that build new Delhi

MISS TIMMINS’ SCHOOL FOR GIRLS | NAYANA CURRIMBHOY

Notes on a scandal A debut novel brings love, sex and murder mystery to a Panchgani school B Y P ARVATI S HARMA ···························· iss Timmins’ Sc hool for Girls is a book of many parts—five if you count the prologue and epilogue. Set in the titular boarding school, a colonial establishment dragging its feet into the 1970s, quietly horrified by how times are changing in the Maharashtrian hill station of Panchgani, Nayana Currimbhoy’s debut novel combines romance with murder, sexual awakening with social critique, and multi-narrative technique with good old-fashioned storytelling. At 500 pages, it will certainly boil your pot.

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Charulata Apte is Currimbhoy’s primary narrator, and she arrives at Miss Timmins’ when barely out of her teens, the first Hindu teacher to be admitted into the ranks of its Protestant staffroom. Almost immediately she is drawn to Miss Moira Prince, a young Englishwoman with a dark secret. Given Moira’s predilection for striding about the monsoon-wet trails of Panchgani in jodhpurs and kneehigh gumboots when unencumbered by her duties as the school’s sports teacher, or given the fact that she’s called “the Prince”, it’s not hard to guess what this secret might be. With the Prince, Charu discovers not only her Sapphic side but also a bunch of pot-smoking, acid-dropping hippies, the most intriguing of whom is the gangly Merch, or Mystery Man. Then, just as Charu is settling into her new life, discovering the pleasures of teaching Macbeth when

stoned, a murder brings chaos to the school, its students, the town and, of course, to Charu herself. Currimbhoy juggles the murder, a handful of suspects and at least three investigations with commendable skill: Rarely does the tension slack, and yet Currimbhoy creates enough leeway to allow for extended, often very funny, digressions into her characters’ lives. Charu, for example, is distracted from her enquiries into the homicide by trouble at home. No longer the shy, wilting creature she was when she left, Charu brings a wry, irreverent confidence (not to mention a taste for cigarettes and big bindis) to her dealings with her large, conservative Brahmin family. Yes, she still worries that she will “end up like the spinster aunts with polio… living frugally on the outer edge of the family, peeling potatoes and minding the red chillies drying on the

Miss Timmins’ School for Girls: HarperCollins India, 496 pages, `399. roof”; but now she also notices, dryly, the “rule of park benches…They must be dedicated to the memory of a loving wife and mother, or they must be in loving memory of a husband and father…No respectable park bench could dare be dedicated to the memory of a loving husband.” Meanwhile, at Timmins’, four

“find-outers”—Nandita, Akhila, Ramona and Shobha—take advantage of the disruption of their scholastic routine to do some probing of their own. They inhabit a world of prefects and lunch bells, draw up charts of suspects and collect clues with aplomb, but there’s little that’s Blytonesque about these schoolgirls. They summon spirits by torchlight, but they do so whitehaired with DDT, an anti-lice measure; they have friendly nicknames for their teachers, but they take a more wicked delight in eavesdropping on their headmistress’ bathroom rumblings; and though thick as thieves, they harbour “an orphaned feeling in the pit of all (their) stomachs”—aware that they’ve been sent away by parents who can’t, or won’t, cope. Currimbhoy has a talent for scrutinizing characters and their points of view until nothing is quite what it seems. The town’s placid policeman has a history that may give him a more than professional interest in the case, the details of Charu’s parents’ marriage are

increasingly murky, Merch may be “quietly brilliant” but perhaps also quite amoral. In a thriller, such constantly shifting perspectives can serve to keep readers on edge, never sure when the turn of a page will transform a seemingly innocent butler into a murderous psychopath. It can also lull readers into relative complacency: If you begin to feel that anyone may be pulled out of a hat for having done it, you stop caring who did. The wonderful Ellery Queen thrillers often threw a “challenge to the reader”. At some point in the story, Queen would declare that all the clues necessary to solve the crime were now in the reader’s possession—and then proceed to solve it with utterly unexpected results. Of course, this isn’t the perfect technique for all crime novels, but its basic premise—no last-minute revelations—is useful to keep in mind. For one thing, perhaps it ensures that the rug is pulled from under the murderer’s, not the reader’s, feet. Write to lounge@livemint.com


BOOKS L15

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SATURDAY, JULY 23, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

LOST LOVES | ARSHIA SATTAR

CULT FICTION

The heartbreaks of divinity

R. SUKUMAR

ACTION IN THE MIND

NINA PALEY/SITASINGSTHEBLUES.COM

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achiko Yamaguchi and Ichiro Nishimoto are ordinary people, in so much as people in creative professions are ordinary, and they lead ordinary lives where their predominant concerns are making ends meet, marriage, love, and death. Yet, like everyone who leads ordinary lives—and most of us do—they have extraordinary aspirations. Some would call the couple shallow and, indeed, they seem far removed from happenings in the world around them, obsessed primarily with their own lives. In that too, they are not different from most people. Sachiko and Ichiro are the protagonists of a lovely graphic novel by Seiichi Hayashi. It was written in the early 1970s, and Montreal-based Drawn and Quarterly—a publisher of alternative graphic novels—published an English translation in 2008. I only recently laid my hands on this book on an increasingly rare visit to a book store (most of my reading is downloaded in electronic form now, on the Kindle store for books and comiXology for comics). Red Colored Elegy appealed to me for three reasons. One, its sparse text and simple illustrations make it an easy read. Two, I definitely sense pop art and anime influences in the graphic novel and that lends an entirely different sort of visual appeal to the book. There are other visual cues as well; to Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the manga magazine Garo

A scholar examines the conflicts of the Ramayan in an elegant character study of Ram

B Y S ALIL T RIPATHI ···························· ow did you first come across the story of the Ramayan, the Sanskrit epic that Hindus revere? Maybe you saw a melodramatic performance in a public ground. Or, perhaps you read the comic books of Amar Chitra Katha. You sat through the interminable soap opera of Ramanand Sagar. Or you read the textbook-like version of Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari. Or perhaps you were lucky enough to hear the stories at the feet of your grandparents. Urban or rural, Hindu or not, the Ramayan is likely to intrude on the life experience of an Indian. The remarkable thing is, the barebones of its narrative apart, the story lays itself open to myriad interpretations, and one of the finest interpreters of our time is Arshia Sattar. She approaches the Ramayan as a great stream in which the reader can dip in and out, each time uncovering new meanings, with layers of explanations wrapped around individual actions. In Lost Loves, a short collection of interwoven essays about the Ramayan and its central characters, Sattar explores what drove the individuals at the heart of the epic to act the way they did. She is eminently qualified for such an intellectual inquiry. She translated the Ramayan from Sanskrit in 1996, and did not camouflage the text by using euphemism. She laid bare the nuanced dilemmas there, and in the new collection of essays, she mediates on the individual decisions, and how they were made. Why did Dasharath allow his love for Kaikeyi to trump his duty towards Ram? Why did Ram require Sita to undergo the trial by fire even when he trusted her? This division—between personal anguish and public duty—is at the heart of Sattar’s inquiry. She reflects on Ram’s pain and vulnerability, making him human; she also shows Sita’s firm-

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Lost Loves—Exploring Rama’s Anguish: Penguin India, 145 pages, `250. ness—reminding us that she wasn’t a docile character. I have known Arshia Sattar from my time at college a few decades ago, and she brings a refreshing, eclectic scholarship to the epic most Indians, irrespective of faith, consider holy. That means it gets placed on a pedestal, and most people end up knowing little about it beyond the basic plot. Sattar probes deeply into the motivations and actions of characters, psychoanalysing and humanizing them, while recognizing the solace the characters provide to the devout. Hindu gods and goddesses are kept on an elevated plane, but she reminds us they are sometimes unaware of their powers. They can act nobly, and sometimes, because of their flaws, harshly—think of Amit Chaudhuri’s short story about the physical mutilation of Surpanakha. There are many interpretations and variations of the Ramayan

precisely because India is a pluralistic society, and no singular view prevails. It is the messiness of that pluralism that Hindutva activists dislike. The transformation of Ram into a monolithic icon is a recent political project, which culminated in the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992. As a correspondent at India Today magazine, I went to interview former prime minister Morarji Desai, who lived in retirement at a seafront apartment in Mumbai. Desai had written about Hinduism, and he was troubled by the agitation. With characteristic bluntness, he told me: “They are making Hinduism into what it is not. They want a pluralistic faith to become monotheistic—with one book, Ramayana; one holy place of worship, Ayodhya; and one god to revere, Rama.” That, to him, was not Hinduism. Within three years of our conversation, a Hindu mob had razed the Babri Masjid. Transforming a multilayered relationship between the devotee and the divine into a simplistic, hierarchical arrangement was one of the major successes of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. The Hindutva project wanted a simpler narrative. In 2008, the University of Delhi prescribed an essay by the late poet A.K. Ramanujan, called Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation. The BJP’s student wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, stormed the history department, protesting against “blasphemy”, a notion alien to Hinduism. Beyond India, the story gets transformed even more, in Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia, challenging the

Pop take: A still from Nina Paley’s animation film Sita Sings the Blues. singular chronicle that the Hindutva activists believe in, where masculinity is valourized, and playfulness seen as weakness—a point Martha Nussbaum astutely notes in her study of Hindutva, The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future. Ram’s overt masculinity troubles some academics, and the cliché-ridden femininity of Sita bothers others, like Nabaneeta Deb Sen and Madhu Kishwar. Nina Paley’s delightful animation film, Sita Sings the Blues, decodes the Ramayan in the 20th century, in which Sita is an emotional, assertive, sensuous woman, and Ram doesn’t mind pressing her feet when she is tired. It is in that lively tradition of critical commentary and reinterpretation that Sattar’s Lost Loves resides. She has reclaimed the Ramayan. Sita is a woman of substance and Ram, torn by conflicting notions of duty, is trying to get it right. “And in his failure and crushing personal defeats we understand the meaning of our lives… If we see Rama as one of us, the Ramayana becomes more poignantly a story that explores the human condition rather than one that stridently declares the unimpeachable nature of divinity,” she writes. That may not fit the Hindutva project, but it is closer to the spirit of the epic. Write to lounge@livemint.com IN SIX WORDS When divine love and duty collide

A DANCE WITH DRAGONS | GEORGE RR MARTIN

Dwarves and queens Is the anticipated new volume of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ worth the wait? The spoiler­ free review

B Y A ISHWARYA S UBRAMANIAN ···························· his is a good year to be a George R.R. Martin fan. Game of Thrones, a TV series based on the first book of his epic fantasy A Song of Ice and Fire, aired on HBO earlier this summer. Last week the fifth book in the series, A Dance with Dragons, came out, six years after the fourth. The history of A Dance with Dragons is a strange one. There was a long gap between the third and fourth books. A Feast for Crows, the fourth book, had grown so long that the publishers suggested splitting it into two. Martin’s story is told from the perspectives of multiple characters, and rather than simply split the book in the middle, the author decided to do so according to the many subplots of this sprawling, complex epic. This method of dividing the book meant considerable rewriting, and several delays. In the

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finished product, while the first half overlaps the previous book chronologically, the second moves ahead, and towards the end continues subplots from A Feast for Crows. This is sometimes disorienting, but dividing the books in this manner may have been a good artistic choice. After the cataclysmic events of the third book (A Storm of Swords), A Feast for Crows felt like something of a dénouement, with plot threads being wound up and rounded off. A Dance with Dragons seems to be setting things up. There are a number of characters journeying towards the centre of action, and many scenes of people preparing for war. On the Wall in the North, Jon Snow is rallying forces to face the threat posed by undead creatures known only as the Others. South of the Wall the great house of Winterfell has been taken over by a deranged sadist. Daenerys, Jon and Tyrion

A Dance with Dragons: Bantam, 1,040 pages, $35 (around `1,560). Lannister, Martin’s three most prominent characters (notable exclusions from the last book) each receive a number of contemplative viewpoint chapters. Fans will be optimistic about all the setting up for future action—great events are clearly set to take place in the next book. The sense of anticipation

Red Colored Elegy: It depicts what goes on in the characters’ minds. where Hayashi was trying to make a mark around the time he wrote the book. A Japanese will probably find more visual cues. The third reason will need some explaining. It is difficult to author a 230-page book, even if it is only a graphic novel, where much of the action seems to be taking place in the minds of the characters. Yet, I do not think it would have been possible to do so in any medium other than a graphic novel. To me, this alone elevates Red Colored Elegy (if it needs any elevation) into a classic though I did find the portrayal of Sachiko a bit sexist; still, the book was written in the early 1970s, when Japan itself was a sexist society. A graphic novel comes about not just because its author can draw or knows someone who can draw, but because he or she wants to tell a story that is made for the medium. There are some works that transcend media. There are others that work well only in one. Red Colored Elegy would have made a bad book and a worse movie, but it makes a wonderful graphic novel. R. Sukumar is editor, Mint. Write to him at cultfiction@livemint.com

is heightened by Martin’s apparent addiction to the cliffhanger. But none of this can change the fact that hardly anything happens in this book. Yet it contains some of the finest writing in the series. The chapters documenting the trauma, the subsequent mental and physical collapse of one character are so powerful that they are difficult to read. Martin is in the habit of giving many characters a particular phrase that is repeated throughout their chapters. This sometimes feels affected, but here it is startlingly effective. Fans of the series often praise its “grittiness”; this is a fantasy world where the characters are morally ambiguous, war is more messy and people occasionally use the toilet. While this is true, it is not the whole truth. For a set of books so often praised for its realism, A Song of Ice and Fire deals rather well with the surreal. There is a marvellous, nightmarish sequence in this book in which a character sails down a cursed river that never seems to end, and whose dangers are physical as well as psychological. Another plot has a

character “dreaming” disconnected scenes from the distant past. There are touches of the absurd and the gloriously overthe-top; a banker in a ridiculous purple hat occasionally shows up as a most unlikely bystander, and at one point there’s a sly nod towards a Titus Andronicuslike situation. With a plot as huge as the one with which he has saddled himself, there was always the risk that Martin would abandon these fine aspects of his work in order to focus on the plot. If he’s strayed too far in the opposite direction, at least he’s erred on the side of good writing. Martin’s fans also frequently praise his unpredictability. I don’t know if the planned final two books in the series will be enough to provide a resolution. A Dance with Dragons is an enjoyable book. Faced with another six-year wait for the next book; or worse, the dreaded announcement that the series is to be extended to eight books, I might still change my mind. Write to lounge@livemint.com


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Culture

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Dispatches from the ‘Planet of the Apes’ COURTESY EVERETT COLLECTION

With a reboot of the ‘Planet of the Apes’ forthcoming, producer Richard Zanuck recalls his initial anxiety over the cult franchise

B Y B RUCE B ENNETT ···························· ith four sequels, two television series, a hit 2001 remake, and an impending reboot (Rise of the Planet of the Apes is set for an August release), it would make sense that, in 1968, the box-office success of the original Planet of the Apes would have seemed like a sure thing. With future Oscar-winning Patton director Franklin J. Schaffner behind the camera, and The Twilight Zone auteur Rod Serling and prolific former blacklistee Michael Wilson adapting The Bridge on the River Kwai author Pierre Boulle’s novel, what could possibly have gone wrong? Plenty, according to Richard D. Zanuck, who green-lit and oversaw the film as head of production at 20th Century Fox. Speaking from Pinewood Studios, where he is producing Tim Burton’s forthcoming Dark Shadows, Zanuck, the 76-year-old scion of legendary studio magnate Darryl F. Zanuck, shared some pre-release anxiety behind the scenes on Planet of the Apes. Edited excerpts from an interview: Spoiler alert: If you’ve been in cultural cryogenic deep-freeze since 1968, read on with caution.

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Looking back, how does the experience of making ‘Planet of the Apes’ seem today? I made a lot of pictures in my career but that was one of the great highlights because it really started with very little and in a way was a risk. Also, I was married to Linda Harrison, who played Nova in the picture,

Not so primitive: (above) Kim Hunter on the sets of Planet of the Apes in make­up, which reportedly took two­and­a­half hours just to remove; and Freida Pinto and James Franco in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

for years. What was the risk? Well, (producer) Arthur P. Jacobs had developed the script with Warner Brothers and they didn’t like it, or, I don’t know, they were worried about it so they put it

into turnaround. Arthur brought it to me and I liked it very much but I was concerned about how the apes would look. No matter how good the story, if that had been a phoney mask of some kind, the whole thing

would have gone down the drain. I made a very expensive (screen) test with Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson, who was originally cast as Dr Zaius. I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t laughable. We did the test and I picked it up from Warners and we put it into production. When did you know it was really going to work? When we previewed the finished film in Phoenix, Arizona. People were absolutely stunned. At every screening after that, and when it went into release, people were stunned. And we never had to tell people, “Don’t reveal the ending”, or “Don’t tell anybody”, or anything like that. Somehow everybody was pleased to

keep it a secret. The famous ending is not in Pierre Boulle’s story at all. It wasn’t, in fact. I think it’s something Rod Serling came up with. We shot that right up past Malibu. The way Schaffner directed it—coming from behind the statue and not really seeing what it is, and then when he stops the horse and starts pounding the beach—it was just great. It was a surprise to everybody. There’s no musical score over that moment, either. I think that was a good decision. I believe I was part of that (choice). We just had the pounding surf. The reality of that was enough. It didn’t really need a big orchestral flourish. Why do you think the film still resonates today? The key to it, besides the uniqueness of the story, was that those masks—appliances, really—were so effective. (Make-up artist) John Chambers and his people won the Oscar for them. Also the cast. We were determined to cast really superior actors so that their whole facial expression and their movement would come through. Kim Hunter and Maurice Evans were mostly stage actors. Roddy (McDowall) had done both stage and screen. It was really hell for them to go through, though. They’d go into make-up at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning just to have it put on. Then you can’t just rip the thing off and leave. It took another two-and-a-half hours to remove it. For old times’ sake I used Heston in an ape part in the (2001) Tim Burton version for a day. Even though Alzheimer’s was setting in a little bit, he said, “Oh my God, I didn’t realize what those people went through! This is a nightmare!” Rise of the Planet of the Apes will release across theatres in India on 5 August. Write to wsj@livemint.com

Trying to get ‘Tintin’ right Spielberg works hard to avoid the pitfalls of motion capture in his adaptation of ‘Tintin’ B Y J OHN J URGENSEN The Wall Street Journal

···························· teven Spielberg’s film adaptation of the comic book Tintin won’t arrive in theatres until December, but audiences are already divided over the movie’s rendering of the iconic character, a plucky young reporter with a button nose and a plume of strawberry hair. When the first substantial preview of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn hit the Web last week, one Twitter critic called it “creepy in a ‘kill it with fire’ kind of way”. It’s the latest referendum on so-called motion capture, a process in which film-makers map the body and facial movements of real actors to make animated characters appear more life-like on screen. The technology has been at the core of record-break-

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ing hits (Avatar) and major flops (Mars Needs Moms). Motion capture has been used to great effect in creating otherworldly creatures, such as the snivelling Gollum of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series. But some film-makers have stumbled when using it to depict humans. The people in Robert Zemeckis’ The Polar Express, for example, are remembered for a certain blankness in their eyes. Tintin and his cohorts, created more than 80 years ago by Belgian artist Georges Remi (pen name Hergé), represent a hybrid—stylized cartoon figures who people a realworld milieu. This week, the 3D film faces another test when Spielberg presents new footage at ComicCon (on till 24 July), the annual fantasy entertainment gathering in San Diego, US. The reaction of

opinionated fans there can be a bellwether for box-office returns. For this potential three-picture franchise, there’s much at stake: Jackson, who produced Tintin, plans to direct a sequel, with Spielberg producing. Paramount Pictures has not yet given that film the green light. Rory Phillips, a 39-year-old graphic designer from Portland, Oregon, who grew up in Ireland reading Hergé’s books, says glimpses of the Tintin movie have squelched his anticipation. Something in the face of the hero, whose voice and movements are supplied by actor Jamie Bell, “gives me that creepy vibe”, Phillips says. The depiction is “too close to the ‘uncanny valley’”, he adds, using a popular term coined by a Japanese researcher in 1970 to describe the eerie disconnect people feel upon encountering a robot that falls just short of looking authentically human. To avoid that effect, the Avatar team pushed motion capture

Coming alive: A scene from The Adventures of Tintin, which will release in the US in December. into a new phase with headmounted cameras, in order to map actors’ facial muscles, eye movements and emotions on “a pore-by-pore” level, says producer Jon Landau. Weta Digital, the Peter Jackson-owned effects studio that developed the look of Avatar, used the same process for Tintin. But Hergé’s characters required some tweaks. On paper, Tintin’s head is just a circle with two dots for eyes. Matching that look on screen first resulted in “a big fat face with beady eyes”, says Weta

Digital director Joe Letteri. His verdict: “Not a very attractive character.” His team then experimented with larger, dark brown eyes, but eventually settled on a blue-grey colour to realistically match Tintin’s red hair. “It’s like casting an actor. You find one who’s close to all the traits you want,” Letteri says. He’s not surprised that a motion-capture Tintin has polarized audiences. Weta’s process was the most effective method of creating an expressive character that would satisfy diehard Tintin

fans as well as uninitiated movie goers, he says. Many Tintin aficionados have reacted positively to the movie’s look so far. Stefan Ellison, 21, an aspiring animation writer, says motion capture is the right “digital make-up” for actors, giving them a look “appropriate to the source material”. Given the combined track record of the Spielberg-Jackson-Weta team, he says, “I just have absolute faith in who’s involved.” Write to wsj@livemint.com


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ART

Memories at needlepoint COURTESY GALLERY ESPACE

Artist Paula Sen­ gupta’s beautifully embroidered art objects tell stories of blood and war

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Women left behind by war often took to sewing and embroidery both to bide their time and retain their sanity, and also to contribute to the war effort. Typical to south-western Bangladesh—where Sengupta’s family traces its roots— is a special kind of quilting technique called nakshi katha in which women tell narrative stories through embroidery patterns. Sengupta endeavours to similarly position herself, smothering stories of bloodshed and bravado in meticulous illustrative embroidery and appliqué. Trained as a traditional printmaker (Sengupta also has a doctorate in the history of Indian printmaking from Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata), she has long harboured an interest in embroidery. Here, through the phenomenon of war, seen through narratives gleaned from those who fought on the front, those who remained home, and those who continue to bear the brunt, the artist weaves a collection of what she calls “war memorabilia”. Sengupta’s expertise as a printmaker—etchings on paper, serigraphs on glass—is particularly exemplified in a series called Galaxy of Anxiety, which depicts

ammunition, tanks and such. Sengupta’s father was a military engineer and though he did not go to the front, she remembers the Vijayanta tank that was used extensively in 1971—and which her father helped design—as dinner-table talk from her childhood. The texts and audios in the show are drawn from a variety of sources, including Rabindranath Tagore’s lyrics of Aamar Shonar Bangla, which had emerged as a symbol of the Bengali cultural identity during the struggle for liberation, and was adopted as the national anthem of Bangladesh. Works like Lv, Colin are first-hand accounts: It is the story of a Colin Perchard, who headed the British Council in Kolkata at the time and was sent to Dhaka after the war to report on the damage suffered by the British Council. From its subject to its medium, Lv, Pony is an intensely personal exhibition. Sengupta includes documentary footage of her own travels through present day Bangladesh with archival material. More important are the inclusion of accounts by Sengupta’s mother and family friends. In Lv, Pony, the six-part set of embroidered cushions that lends its name to the exhibition title, Sengupta

Cross­stitch: Lv, Kutu tells the story of Kamal Ranjan Das, director of Berger Paints, in Dhaka in 1971. recounts anecdotes of a now-retired Brigadier Panwar (who was nicknamed “Pony” by his army colleagues; he used to sign off as “Lv, Pony”). Parallel to it runs her mother’s account. While posted in a remote location in an army camp, Sengupta’s father had given his terrified young bride a loaded pistol to pacify her—an act that terrified her even more. Sengupta’s concerns with the events of 1947 and 1971 are ongoing. In September, she will go to Pakistan for a six-week residency for artists exploring the history of conflict between India and Pakistan at the Vasal International Workshop in Karachi. The residency is in collaboration with the Citizens Archive of Pakistan and will allow her access to more personal accounts. Through all those accounts of people she does not know, she will be looking for stories like her mother’s. Lv, Pony will be on show till 20 August at Gallery Espace, New Delhi. The works are priced between `20,000 and `6 lakh.

The ‘little girl’ with the big voice RS KUMAR/MINT

Tamil folk singer Chinna Ponnu’s rise to fame just got a little fizzier B Y A NUPAMA C HANDRASEKARAN V IDYA P ADMANABHAN ···························· efore the monster hit Nakku Mukka hit airwaves, before she achieved the holy grail of film playback in 2004, folk singer Chinna Ponnu and her husband would travel for concerts in rural Tamil Nadu by bicycle, bullock cart, bus and on foot. On standingroom-only overnight buses, they would sling a towel over the rod running along the roof, tie the ends around their wrists, and try to get some rest before the next town—the next concert. It’s been a long journey from there to Coke Studio @MTV, in which Chinna Ponnu jammed with Sufi-folk and Bollywood singer Kailash Kher last month. Vethalai (betel leaf in Tamil), the song that thrust Chinna Ponnu &

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SHUBHA MUDGAL

A LETTER TO THE CULTURE MINISTER

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B Y A NINDITA G HOSE ···························· n her book, Ami Birangona Bolchi (This is the War Heroine Speaking), social worker and feminist author Nilima Ibrahim recalls memoirs of Bangladeshi women who were raped and tortured during the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war. In her accounts, an estimated 400,000 women were raped, while many were held captive in (West) Pakistan’s military camps. Ibrahim borrows the word birangona (brave woman) from Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s first president, who sought to exalt the violated women as war heroes and erase their shame with this title. The effort met with little success, and the term fell out of use. But the birangona features again, now in Kolkata-based artist, printmaker and academician Paula Sengupta’s ongoing solo show at Gallery Espace in New Delhi. Lv, Birangona is an artwork that uses a traditional katha (quilt) as its base. On this domestic object—commonly made by Bengali women at home—Sengupta juxtaposes war motifs as well as texts that recount the anecdotes of war survivors. She uses various embroidery styles, fine muslins and Jamdani weaves in her supplementary needlework to transport viewers to a florid, essentially feminine space. But her beautiful objects spin terrible tales. Titled Lv, Pony, the exhibition is a sequel to Rivers of Blood, which was shown at Gallery Chemould in Mumbai in 2010. It was focused on the Partition and Sengupta explored the conflict and complex politics that bind and divide the three nations—India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. “In the course of producing that show, the 1971 war kept coming up and I felt I had to have another set of artworks to address those concerns,”says Sengupta, whose family was displaced from south-western Bangladesh during Partition.

MUSIC MATTERS

into the limelight, narrated the story of an overprotective husband who forbids his wife from crossing the doorstep or chewing betel leaves that could stain her lips an attractive red. The vivacious Chinna Ponnu belting out notes to the beats of her husband’s thavil—a barrelshaped south Indian drum—hardly resembled that demure wife. On the fuzzy-red MTV set, between a guitarist sporting sunglasses and Kher in his blue jeans, Chinna Ponnu comfortably owned her space, her chunky gold jewellery, zari-worked sari and dazzling smile catching the lights, her arms naturally tracing a curious semblance of a hip hop move. There was no trace of nervousness. That may have been because the 38-year-old singer, who has spent most of her career on the rural folk

Loud and clear: Chinna Ponnu in her element. and temple music circuit, had no idea about Coke Studio or Kher. The singer, whose name translates to “little girl” in Tamil, has a hearty laugh that offers a peek into her power vocals. Chinna Ponnu has sung 50 songs in films, mostly Tamil, and has been singing on stage since she was 10. She met her percussionist husband Selva Kumar on the folk music circuit when she was 14, and he 16. Their

names tattooed in Tamil on each other’s forearms, her husband sometimes clutching her handbag on their studio visits, the couple made common cause to promote Chinna Ponnu’s career. She finally got her big break when she sang a wedding ballad in the 2004 Rajinikanth-starrer Chandramukhi, a film that went on to become a superhit. “I never dreamed of catching a glimpse of

abinet reshuffles are usually meant to herald a change, and pre-empt stagnation and lethargy. It would, therefore, not be entirely unreasonable to hope that though there have been no major upheavals in the culture portfolio, we might start seeing some action in the field of culture. For a start, I would like to direct a few questions to the honourable minister of culture, Kumari Selja. I send my questions publicly through this column because I fear that if sent directly to her office, my questions would meet with the same fate that my previous attempts to contact government agencies and organizations set up by the culture ministry have. A stony wall of silence is all one faces. Madam minister, I draw your attention to the website of the country’s premier cultural organization, Sangeet Natak Akademi (www.sangeetnatak.org), and one that falls under the purview of your ministry. I further urge you to visit the section titled “Grant-in-Aid” and within it a section subtitled “Artists Aid Fund”. The sorely needed vision in establishing the fund is rendered comical by the opening sentence: “Artists aid fund created by Akademi in recent years is meant to provide urgent help to artists in indignant circumstances and those requiring medical treatment.” I presume it is for artistes in “indigent” circumstances. Indeed, artistes could benefit greatly from such a scheme, but it breaks my heart to read further that since 2007, when the Artists Aid Fund was established in lieu of the earlier mediclaim scheme, rules for the implementation of the scheme are yet to be framed. In all these years, has no one found time to address this lapse? If indeed the rules have been framed, but not updated on the website, is it not time to ask the Akademi the reasons for such tardiness? Indeed, tardiness does seem to be a chronic malaise affecting the Akademi’s functioning, as is evident from the fact that well into the second half of 2011, the segment titled “Annual Report and Accounts” still carries different versions of the annual report only for 2008-09. But perhaps more important than all these typos, delays and stagnating schemes, are the many issues and areas which need urgent attention. For example, is there any scientifically collated data available with the ministry on the number of professional artistes and cultural workers in the country? Would such statistics not be helpful in planning welfare schemes and strategies that would fulfil the ministry’s charter? KAUSHIK RAMASWAMY/HINDUSTAN TIMES

Unsung: Ustad Bismillah Khan, a Bharat Ratna recipient, died in near penury.

Madam minister, if these questions do find your attention, you may well be irritated at this unsolicited barrage of questions, or even with the expectation that a minister of cabinet rank should respond to points raised about typing errors on websites and other sundry issues. Had there been any other way of communicating with the different arms and organizations of the ministry, these questions would possibly not have been directed at you. But in the absence of any means of dialogue with state-controlled cultural organizations, there really is no other option. Not unless you decide to persuade organizations like the Akademi to be more courteous in communicating with the creative community, and to speed up their response time to simple queries. Write to Shubha at musicmatters@livemint.com

even Rajini sir’s toenails,” Chinna Ponnu laughs, pointing to a photo line-up with the south Indian superstar at her rented flat in Saligramam in south Chennai. It’s not far from the recording studios of Kodambakkam, where Chennai’s film fraternity lives and which lends the K to Kollywood. But the song that transported her voice beyond the borders of Tamil Nadu is the street-dance Nakku Mukka, which topped the music charts in 2008. That song set off a chain of events which landed her in Coke Studio. It got her a gig with Chennai-based composer Sanjeev Thomas—a Web-only track, Indian Jadoo, which Coke Studio’s music director Leslie Lewis later heard. Both Kher, with whom Lewis paired Chinna Ponnu, and Lewis himself commented on the Tamil singer’s instinctive rather than cerebral approach to her craft. Lewis also observed that Chinna Ponnu refused to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the stage, the language barrier, and Kher’s fame. Both Kumar and Chinna Ponnu remain fatalistic about the fervour generated by their Coke Studio gig. They are aware that the euphoria

can spin into a crazy work schedule that could hurt them—as it did in 2008 when their car was hit by a bus one night when they were on their way from Chennai to Thanjavur—and keep them away for days and weeks from their 14-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter. The children have been under the care of Kumar’s relatives in Thanjavur, 300km south-west of Chennai, since they were little. The couple is based in Chennai, where Chinna Ponnu has studio recordings. She travels to four or five concert engagements a month all over Tamil Nadu, each of which could take her away from Chennai for up to three days. But she tries her best to squeeze in a day trip to Thanjavur every week to see her children, she says. “It is tough to stay away from them at this age when they need guidance,” Kumar says as they prepare to rush back from Chennai to his hometown for another folk performance. “Films and fusion shows may happen but we’ve travelled across continents as temple folk artistes. That will continue to be our bread and butter.” anupama.c@livemint.com


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PRADEEP GAUR/MINT

DELHI’S BELLY | MAYANK AUSTEN SOOFI

In the thick of night The city’s police chief believes the way to stay safe at night is to stay indoors. We spent a night in a radio cab, driving through the city to find out if he’s right “You can’t travel alone at 2am and then say Delhi is not safe.” Delhi Police commissioner B.K. Gupta to a group of women on 9 July 2011.

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hese are roads where women have been raped, where an IT student was found lying in a pool of blood in May, and where, in 2008, a young working woman driving home was shot to death. Figures released by the Delhi Police in January show a woman is raped every 18 hours or molested every 14 hours in the Capital. In 2010, the city saw 3,074 kidnappings, 1,596 snatchings, 519 murders and 489 rapes. The police commissioner suggests that if you want to be safe, stay away from the streets late in the night. Spurred by his remark, we decided to drive through night-time Delhi’s southern areas.

Hauz Khas Village

Friday, 10.30pm. The street lights are off. The headlights of passing cars briefly illuminate the faces of a chic crowd on the roadside, returning from Hauz Khas eateries. Our cab is speeding towards Aurobindo Marg. This Tata Indigo is one of the 400 Meru Cabs (a radio cab service that gave us a free ride) that zip through the city’s roads during the small hours. Driver Chand Choudhary was hired by the cab company early last year. Turning towards the IIT flyover, he says: “We’re going to Select Citywalk (a mall in Saket). At 11pm, you get the most stick pick-ups in the malls of Rajouri Garden, Saket, Vasant Vihar and Gurgaon.” In cabbie-speak, the “stick pick-up” refers to customers who hail the cab on the road, while the “bidding pick-up” means getting a customer who has made a booking through the car company’s call centre. Choudhary’s seat faces the GPS-enabled screen of the Mobile Data Terminal that blinks every time a prospective customer in neighbourhoods nearby calls for a cab. There could be many drivers in the same vicinity; the “bid” that has to be accepted within 30 seconds goes to the driver who presses the button first. On Friday nights, Choudhary gets around six bids, which net him `4,000. He steers left on to Press Enclave Road. The traffic lights

are on the blink. “Once I had a pick-up from Gurgaon’s Sahara mall,” Choudhary says. “The boy and girl had just left the disco and were returning to Punjabi Bagh. By the time we crossed Mahipalpur they were exchanging jhappis (hugs). I was watching them in the rear-view mirror. When they started kissing, I politely asked them to sit at a distance from each other. The boy said, ‘Are you jealous?’ I said, ‘Look, there are five cameras in this car and a video is being made of whatever you both are doing.’” The couple instantly disentangled. Of course, there were no cameras. Delhi’s traditional cab culture is one of neighbourhood taxi stands manned by drivers known to the families nearby. A young woman might think twice before getting cosy with her boyfriend if the driver knows her dad. The new cab services, professional and impersonal, offer anonymity.

A Saket mall

11pm. A queue of Honda Accords, Citys, Hyundai Vernas, Mercedes-Benz, and Audis is snaking towards the underground parking. A young man with long hair, rippling arm muscles and movie-star looks is standing at the autorickshaw stand, his eyes darting around. A middle-aged woman in a salwar-kameez steps out from a chauffeur-driven red Accord. Talking on the cellphone, her puffed eyes briefly take in the man, who is on the phone. The woman crosses the road towards Khirki Village. The man follows. Putting away their phones, they chat. A tall, well-built foreigner approaches us. Choudhary starts the cab and moves on. “It’s risky to have a single man for stick pick-ups, especially on Fridays. They are drunk and sometimes refuse to pay.” 11.37pm. Choudhary parks the car in front of DT mall. I step out and stand under a tree next to a bus stop. A girl in jeans, tank top and high heels climbs

In the cab: (from above) Outside a mall in Saket; a view of motels in Mahipalpur; and NH8. lobbies are empty save for receptionists watching TV. Choudhary stops at a petrol pump beside Radisson Hotel. An overweight man in a black suit walks out of the hotel’s staff gate carrying a packet of potato chips and a Cola can.

On the way to Gurgaon

2.45am. Zipping past Rangpuri the pavement, and stands a few feet away from the tree. Mumbling into her cellphone, she is staring at me. Back in the car, Choudhary says: “At this hour you’ll find many girls looking for men here to make pocket money. Once, a foreigner collected a woman here and hired my cab. He directed me to a highway guesthouse in Gurgaon and asked me to wait. After 2 hours, I dropped the girl at her apartment complex in Munirka and the foreigner in Vasant Vihar.”

On the way to the PVR Saket multiplex

11.50pm. The cab runs through residential neighbourhoods. Some stretches are traffic-free. The bungalows are in darkness and the guards in the cabins are reduced to silhouettes. Midnight. The road outside PVR is bathed in an orange glow. Five girls are chatting outside the cinema’s box office. The adjacent pizza outlet is closing for the day. A couple of shadowy figures are flitting about the plaza. There are sounds of laughter from somewhere. Radio cabs are waiting for the movie show to end. Five adolescent boys are leaning against a white Audi. The car’s air conditioning is on. A sixth boy gets out of the Audi, and another one gets in. Next, the young man emerges from the car with two girls. They all begin to smoke cigarettes. Speaking in public-school English, their talk

is sprinkled with words like “awesome”, “yaar” and “cool”. Gauche and giddy, perfumed and well-clothed, the children are living on impulse. It seems as if there is nothing they really want to do, and nothing they won’t do.

Outside Urban Pind, N­Block Market, Greater Kailash­1 1am. Choudhary is having his

home-cooked subzi-roti in the back seat. People are leaving the club in pairs. A woman asks an auto driver to drop her to Malviya Nagar, saying in Hindi, “Meter se.” He says, “Double meter plus night charge.” A teenage boy is walking with a vodka bottle and two plastic glasses. Delhi’s night birds, armed with cellphones, cruise a city of malls, multiplexes, discos and sex. Painted with an advertisement for an American chocolate brand, showing an unwrapped nutty bar, the exteriors of our cab are a perfect metaphor for this new subculture. “We rarely get customers between 1 and 3am,” says Choudhary. “After that, we get busy with airport drop-offs and pick-ups, which goes on till morning.” 2.05am. NH8, the highway to Gurgaon and Jaipur, is crowded with cars, cabs and trucks. A Boeing is taking off from the airport’s runway, to the right of the highway. A black and yellow Ambassador overtakes us. Neon lights are blinking in Mahipalpur’s motels. Their

village, two men in black dinner jackets and black trousers gesture desperately for a lift. Choudhary doesn’t stop. He doesn’t give lifts. 3.05am. Dozens of radio cabs are parked outside the Sahara mall in Gurgaon, adjoining Delhi. Heavy metal beats pulse from the building. The pavements are crowded with omelette carts. Grim-looking children are beating eggs in steel glasses. Five ice-cream trolleys line the other side of the road. A Hyundai emerges from the mall, driven by a girl. Suddenly, a noise. A policeman is banging his baton against an ice-cream trolley. The children who were making omelettes quickly hide their carts in an unlit part of the alley, their precarious living threatened anew. The policeman is swearing, ordering the vendors to leave immediately. Meanwhile, a girl in shorts and top, accompanied by a boy in jeans and T-shirt, enters the mall. “They must be call centre employees,” says Choudhary. “They’ll party inside till 5am.” 3.39am. Back on Aurobindo Marg in Delhi, Choudhary gets a bid for an airport drop from Green Park.

Hauz Khas Village

3.47am. The trip ends. The dogs are barking. I’m alive, feeling like I’ve just finished watching a trashy low-life movie. If it hadn’t been for the driver, I wouldn’t have been out alone. mayank.s@livemint.com


Lounge for 23 July 2011  

Lounge for 23 July 2011

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