New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Chandigarh, Pune
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Vol. 3 No. 38
LOUNGE THE WEEKEND MAGAZINE
FORGET THE JOB,
GANDHI, THE MUSE
I WANT YOUR IDEA
Cool jobs may be difficult to find in these recessionary times, but there’s no shortage of cool entrepreneurs >Pages 613
THE PERFECT PARTY
Kashmiri food, citronella candles and Parsi chalk—organize your Diwali do with tips from these six seasoned hostesses >Page 5
Three new graphic novels push the genre into realms of journalism and philosophy >Page 14
Sam Goldman, the founderCEO of D.light Design, believes solarpower lamps can transform the lives of the poor.
REPLY TO ALL
THE GOOD LIFE
MAYAWATI’S SHAH EVERY WOMAN JAHAN CONNECTION WANTS THIS MAN
e love the Taj Mahal but hate Mayawati’s monument. The Taj sent Bengali Tagore into rapture (“a teardrop on the cheek of time”). Gujarati Gandhi, less sentimental, saw it immediately for what it was: a monument to cruelty. He thought of the peasants taxed to pay for its marble, the villagers who lost their land to its gardens. What was Mumtaz Mahal’s achievement? She bred. She produced 14 children, including Aurangzeb, in 19 years of marriage. >Page 4
ow’s this for a cool business idea: a tailor on demand? I’d bite; I’d buy; I’d pay above market prices. The festive season has just started and I am discovering yet another area in which I am a complete and utter failure. From this moment on, all the way through to Christmas, the most important man in an Indian woman’s life is not her red-hot sizzling lover; not her boyfriend who brings her bed tea and other goodies; not her daddy or sugar daddy who showers her with... >Page 4
OUR DAILY BREAD
THAI HIGH: THE KONKAN WAY
e all love Thai food, don’t we? Tangy, spicy, saucy—close enough to be accepted by masala-loving Indians, exotic enough to be a special meal. A flood of Thai restaurants has washed up in our cities, but surprisingly few people try the cuisine at home. This might be because some of the ingredients are difficult to find: fish sauce, galangal (Thai ginger), lemon grass, shallots, to name a few. Some roots and spices are freely available at neighbourhood grocer and provision stores.... >Page 18
LONG PLAYING ‘Gorur Garir Headlight’ has been running to packed houses in Kolkata since 1972 >Page 16
For today’s business news > Question of Answers— the quiz with a difference > Markets Watch
HOME PAGE L3
First published in February 2007 to serve as an unbiased and clear-minded chronicler of the Indian Dream.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
SO YOU THINK YOU CAN BE AN ENTREPRENEUR?
SEEMA CHOWDHRY SANJUKTA SHARMA MINT EDITORIAL LEADERSHIP TEAM
R. SUKUMAR (EDITOR)
NIRANJAN RAJADHYAKSHA (MANAGING EDITOR)
ANIL PADMANABHAN TAMAL BANDYOPADHYAY NABEEL MOHIDEEN MANAS CHAKRAVARTY MONIKA HALAN VENKATESHA BABU SHUCHI BANSAL SIDIN VADUKUT (MANAGING EDITOR, LIVEMINT)
FOUNDING EDITOR RAJU NARISETTI
©2009 HT Media Ltd All Rights Reserved
finally realized I don’t have what it takes to be an entrepreneur when I spoke to Saurabh Srivastava earlier this week. In my 15 years as a journalist I’ve often gone through phases when I’ve wanted to break free and BMOB (be my own boss). Sometime last year I decided I was fed up of my job. It could have been because I was just back from a three-month round-theworld trip (Dadar is a serious comedown after Machu Picchu), but I was convinced that life was passing me by. I was spending the best years of my life in a sterile space drinking multiple cups of undrinkable coffee. Worrying about everyone ADAPT else’s growth and needs with no time to think of my own dreams. Getting o-l-d-e-r. Not doing anything s-i-g-n-i-f-i-c-a-n-t. You get the drift. “I’ve decided to do my own thing. But I need an idea that will make me some money,” I SOSed two colleagues. We brainstormed over the aforementioned coffee. You could start a magazine. Nope, it’s too tedious to set up a distribution and circulation system in India. Why not become a boutique travel planner? Zillions already exist. Import wine, cheese, coffee, what-
ever is the next “it” food item. Too much state government interference and I’m not good at paperwork. A restaurant? The husband already nixed that plan when he realized we would need to work late nights, weekends and all holidays. Eventually I switched cities, the coffee improved and the mood passed. Srivastava, who has been living off his ideas for two decades now, knows that entrepreneurship is about passion, not whimsy. People who want to become entrepreneurs to make money are not the people who get anywhere, he says. A real entrepreneur, according to Srivastava, is one who makes an impact, changes the way people do things. A recent wealth study commissioned by Standard Chartered private bank found that people living in the UK and in India are mostly likely to regard entrepreneurship as a future source of wealth. One in five Indians believes the sale of a business will be a source of significant wealth in the future. Not bad for a country where imagination has never been given its due, especially in the corporate world. Srivastava’s been there, done that.
REVIEW | CMYK, NEW DELHI JEREMIE GARRIC
ndia is undergoing a pleasant art attack. This month, Mumbai made room for two new art spaces—Gallery BMB, to showcase contemporary work, and Osian’s retail area at Vama for Indian art memorabilia. The capital city catches up with CMYK, a bookstore dedicated to art and design.
The good CMYK is centrally and strategically located in Mehar Chand market, which happens to be right behind the India Habitat Centre (IHC). So you can meet up with your date, and browse through handsome volumes on art before heading for a show at the IHC. An initiative by Roli Books, this is the first in what might turn out to be a nationwide art and design book chain. Apart from Roli’s own publications, the store hosts an impressive collection of titles from reputed international publishers such as Phaidon, Thames and Hudson, Taschen, Abrams, Black Dog and Leventhal. The shelves hold everything that is loosely connected with art: photography, performing arts, architecture, travel, erotica and gourmet cookbooks. Visitors can pick up a book, grab an espresso (free, we have to add) and lounge on the terrace upstairs.
The notsogood The best thing about top-notch bookstores are the nooks that allow you to sit and browse through a book from which you only want one Thai curry recipe or a Rodin reference for your next art paper. CMYK is a relatively small space. Though it makes up for this loss by having a terrace upstairs, Delhi’s extended sultry summers mostly rule out that option.
Talk plastic Hardcover art books necessarily cost more than fiction. The cost of a book at CMYK averages Rs2,000 but stationery by the inhouse brand, Designwallas, and Roli’s cute pocket art series—Complete Works of Manjit Bawa, Satyajit Ray at Work, etc.—come for Rs150. The most expensive book in the store right now is Later Chinese Painting and Calligraphy by Robert Hatsfield Ellsworth, priced at Rs35,000. What’s fantastic is Roli Books founder Pramod Kapoor’s instalment payment scheme for those terribly expensive books (the store has books priced at Rs2 lakh coming in) you want but can’t get yourself to to pay for at once. Art on EMI! Fabulous. Anindita Ghose
ON THE COVER: PHOTOGRAPHER: MADHU KAPPARATH/MINT
Math is now just another game BY KRISH RAGHAV
This and more at blogs.livemint.com/ livelounge
Workplace: In 2007 and 2008, we ID’ed cool jobs. This year, we feel entrepreneurs are cooler than jobs. Ten years ago he sold the IT company he had created and made his money. But he couldn’t let go the high of being an entrepreneur. In the past decade he has had a hand in creating/financing several firms. Along the way he co-founded the Indian Angel Network, was a chairman of Nasscom and is currently in the process of launching yet another angel fund. “If you can create something in a way that outlasts you, then
you create lasting value,” he says. Hemu Ramiah did just that, though some of her fans may argue that the quality of titles at Landmark stores across the country has fallen since last year when she exited the bookstore chain she had built so lovingly. When she set up her first Landmark store in 1987, Ramiah implemented all the lessons that she had learnt at the Taj Coromandel’s book-
store where she worked for around eight years after she graduated. Now she runs a consultancy focused on consumer retail and interacts with all kinds of Indian entrepreneurs. “They’re a very hardy lot, quite happy to take risks,” she says. Ramiah believes that adaptability is the one quality all Indian entrepreneurs must have. “Everything is not quite what you want it to be. You have to adapt quickly,” she says. In this week’s Lounge, we didn’t shortlist the country’s best or biggest entrepreneurs—we focused instead on entrepreneurs with a seriously high CQ (cool quotient). Even now, as The Economist pointed out recently, most venture capital funding goes only into certain industries. “The money for the vast majority comes from personal debt or from the ‘three fs’—friends, fools and families,” the magazine said. Many of our entrepreneurs raised their money from these fs too. Read their stories and find out if you have what it takes to join the club. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org www.livemint.com Priya Ramani blogs at blogs.livemint.com/firstcut
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
AAKAR PATEL REPLY TO ALL
Why Mayawati is casting her legacy in stone
MOHD ZAKIR/HINDUSTAN TIMES
e love the Taj Mahal but hate Mayawati’s monument. The Taj sent Bengali Tagore into rapture ( “a teardrop on the cheek of time”). Gujarati Gandhi, less sentimental,
saw it immediately for what it was: a monument to cruelty. He thought of the peasants taxed to pay for its marble, the villagers who lost their land to its gardens. What was Mumtaz Mahal’s achievement? She bred. She produced 14 children, including Aurangzeb, in 19 years of marriage. What were Shah Jahan’s other achievements? Difficult to say. But he’s famous for his building. Mayawati is wise in making a monument to her greatness. The demonstration of her greatness will be the monument itself: In India no other evidence is needed. This is because there is no intellectual engagement with leaders here; there is only worship. Indians don’t need to actually read Gandhi or Savarkar or Nehru or Ambedkar to know what they stood for or against. We revere them because we have been assured they are great. We are put off by Jinnah because we are certain he was bad. Then one book published on him will be sensational—endless debates on television—because it lists a few things that have been on the public record for 62 years (“Nehru and Patel passed a resolution accepting Partition.” What! Expel Jaswant! Ban the book!). The banning of books in Gujarat is quite unnecessary. Gujaratis have little appetite for that sort of knowledge
(the editor-in-chief of an Ahmedabad daily once informed me that the language Arabs spoke was Urdu). This is the culture on which Mayawati must mark her legacy. We can hardly blame her for concluding that a monument will be better legacy than policy and governance. Our opinion of leaders isn’t formed by information, but by a received image. It is idolatry, and Mayawati understands this—that is why she is determined to have her temple. And we must not forget that the Jaswant-Jinnah debate was in English, the language of our intellectual elite. What horrors of ignorance lie where Mayawati is perched? But newspapers and news channels and political parties persist in attacking her construction. The Supreme Court has ordered her to stop further work. Everyone seems to be against the monument. The question is: Why is Mayawati intent on annoying us if her real objective is for us to see her as great? The answer is that she understands that our emotion will soon fade. And she knows that in India only the symbol will remain: The person and his ideas will vanish. The signs of this are easily visible all around us if we care to observe. The spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar would not be a national figure without
Footnotes: Mayawati’s monumental tribute to herself and other leaders. his sainted name and his long hair and flowing robe. This is because the Indian is unconvinced merely by words; he needs visual confirmation, like a tribal. The magic of costume is what gets us really excited. That is why Indian bearers of serious messages—think of Vivekanand, Gandhi—have to wear fancy dress and communicate through their costume. They are forced to because otherwise they would be ignored as being ordinary, no matter how profound their message. Greatness in India comes from appearing great, from externals. Since the equation is “Costume equal to or greater than message” we have a large share of phonies who are revered because they look the part accurately. Like Chandraswami and the half-dozen spiritual gurus of Gujarat who are actually the most powerful and most connected material leaders of that state.
We think Mayawati is a phoney but that’s because her externals are poor. She needs to correct that, which she is doing through the monument. It is important for Mayawati, no matter what she does in her political life, that she make herself great by building her legacy. Actually, constructing it. The monument appears from photographs to be almost complete now. It’s difficult to understand why it should not be allowed to be finished. On 10 July, the Supreme Court said: “If a democratically elected government decides to do something without misappropriating public money, there is little courts can do.” This seemed like a sensible thing to say. But then, in September, it ordered the work stopped. Perhaps the Supreme Court, like the media, thinks all this construction is a
waste of public money. But building monuments is economic activity, unlike corruption. The money will go to quarries, sculptors, labourers, cement plants, dealers and transporters. Perhaps the argument is that a monument isn’t particularly functional. But then neither is Mumbai’s Rs1,600 crore Rajiv Gandhi Setu, whose design forces rush hour drivers to detour 1.2km in the opposite direction. One argument is that monuments should only be raised to dead people. But there’s no logic to that. We could argue of course that Taj Mahal looks better than Dalit Dome. But that is a matter of taste. And to be honest, if foreigners such as Mark Twain weren’t so excited about the Taj Mahal, Indians wouldn’t have been this proud of it. Humayun’s tomb is just as beautiful but needs to be salvaged from ruin by the Aga Khan. Mayawati will go down as a revered figure in history for Indians. We will have no idea what her struggle was like, what she stood for or what her rise to power meant to Dalits. Few Indians have read her autobiography and few ever will. Her corruption, her ugliness, her bad dresses, her appalling administration will be a footnote. She is guaranteed to become great because Indians will be awed by her grand monument. Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media. Send your feedback to email@example.com www.livemint.com Read Aakar’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/aakarpatel
SHOBA NARAYAN THE GOOD LIFE
A gal’s best friend is he who stitches her dreams
ow’s this for a cool business idea: a tailor on demand? I’d bite; I’d buy; I’d pay above market prices. The festive season has just started and I am discovering yet another area in which I am a complete
and utter failure. From this moment on, all the way through to Christmas, the most important man in an Indian woman’s life is not her red-hot sizzling lover; not her boyfriend who brings her bed tea and other goodies; not her daddy or sugar daddy who showers her with solitaires and antique armbands; nor her dear husband who has been putting up with her loud and inappropriate burps for the last 15 years. The most important person in a woman’s life is the local tailor who will stitch her dreams out of brocade, silk and cotton. My failure: I don’t have one. Actually, I have several, but none that I have any sort of clout over. During the last three months—June, July and August—I had a stream of young returning Indians, all of whom had one commonality. They had dreams of tailoring in India. Matt wanted to tailor himself a suit. My niece, Nithya, is interning with Indicorps in Gadchiroli village in Maharashtra. Her supervisor told her that a sleeping bag made out of silk would keep out mosquitoes and bugs; so she wanted one stitched. Shweta from Seattle needed a blouse taken in. They all came to me. Until that moment, I was doing my Indian Don
thing. The whole Godfather approach that I take with young NRIs. Name your wish and it shall be granted; that type of thing. Expansive, a female Marlon Brando sans cigar: That’s me. You want Italian food, baby? No problem. I’ll take you to Via Milano. You want chilled asparagus? No problem. Readily available in Russell Market. You want silver jewellery repaired? To Ibrahim Sahib Street we go. You want a tailor? Ahem….zilch, nothing, nada. You want to know my current definition of clout? Somebody who has power over a tailor. Somebody who can get a tailor to do—not stitching, mind you, but alterations and that too, within 12 hours or less. That’s my definition of a VPP (Very Powerful Person). And here is my wager. None of you lovely ladies who are reading this column have one. This may be a sexist assumption but I doubt any of you men have any sort of clout with an Indian tailor. But if you do, let me know and I’ll show up at your doorstep. I have a tailor. I have several actually, on Commercial Street, Bangalore. I have a guy who only does “pico” for saris. I have Mohammed Ismail who specializes in sari blouses. The “katori cut” black sequinned
number he made for me would make Tabu weep. There is Chetan tailor who stitched a slip dress out of raw silk, that resembles a Jil Sander or Thakoon design—if you squint. Custom tailoring is the promise and pleasure of India, but also, in my experience, a landmine fraught with disappointment. The reason is that the best tailors are temperamental artisans. I’ve had guys refuse my business rather than deliver on deadline. So you coax and cajole; dance and flatter; negotiate and threaten. “Mano a mano. You and me, bro”. Just the two of us, and that lovely lehenga you are going to stitch for me in 10 hours or less. I think my technique with tailors is all wrong. I approach them like I would approach a boyfriend: full of expectation that he will be the one. So I flutter my eyelashes, dreaming girlish dreams. Ismail (not of the “Call me Ishmael” fame) will look me up and down and mutter three words that are devastatingly succinct. “Ramadan rush, madam,” he says. Either it’s Ramadan or Diwali or Christmas. So I sit there like a jilted lover, waiting for the phone call, or in this case, the delivery of that little black dress. And disappointment. Sometimes I feel like throwing it all in and going to Raintree, Cinnamon or Hidden Harmony to end my misery. Buy a ready-made outfit and walk out in 10 minutes. None of this cajoling, pleading and begging in half syllables. Please, Master. Saturday. Family wedding. In-laws. He shakes his head without looking up. The problem is that tailors spoil you. Once you know the pleasures of a custom outfit, tailored to move with
Scissorhands: Chetan tailor at Commercial Street, Bangalore, can copy designs. your body, you’ll never buy ready-made again. Or rather, you’ll know exactly what ready-made clothes lack. Thoranam boutique on Ulsoor Road is a happy compromise if you simply want Indian outfits. Jayant, who owns the place, is from Kutch and has a fabulous tailor. You go there and choose from an array of fabrics. There are raw silks, jute, cotton and block-prints. He will do packages: Five salwars for Rs2,500. That type of thing. This is the thing with the tailors I know. Give them two weeks and they can stitch anything. But you have to be flexible. None of this NRI 24-hour-turnaround. And this is why, in spite of all my carping, I love it. I love dealing with temperamental tailors. I love the fact that you have to figure out just how much money will
tempt them without making them lose their respect for you. I love the little verbal dances we do—my flirting to his dour rectitude. My pleading to his, “Nahi kar sakte, ma. Aap kapde le jaiye” (“Cannot do it, ma. Please take your clothes away.”). I love tailors because…in that plunge of a sweetheart neck; in the cut of a halter-neck blouse; in the curvy silhouette of a salwar-kameez lie the secrets of Indian femininity. And they have the key. Shoba Narayan needs an entrepreneur or a don with a tailor. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org www.livemint.com Read Shoba’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/shobanarayan
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009
Plan the perfect party Kashmiri food, citronella candles and Parsi chalk —organize your Diwali do with tips from these six seasoned hostesses
B Y R UCHIKA G OSWAMY Better Homes and Gardens
Shivani Wazir Pasrich Menu: I prefer to serve Kashmiri food for a festive do, or a mix with some Continental food thrown in. Special attention is always paid to desserts and salads. Clothes: I either wear a sari or a salwar-kameez with jewellery. I especially love dressing up the children in traditional choli-lehengas and kurtas. Decor: I normally focus on three things in a party—flowers, candles and the menu. Amir, my husband, takes care of the music. The ceilings in our main hall are really high, so I place candles on the ledges. The gardens are lit up with mashaals (torches) and citronella candles. The balcony has a glass ceiling with an opening from where I drop strings of tuberoses that smell and look great. Fresh-flower arrangements and garlands are strewn all over the place.
Kalyani Chawla Menu: Good food, alcohol and nice music are key ingredients for a successful evening. A well-stocked bar, iPod with great non-stop music, and an attentive hostess make for a fun evening. Guest list: A compatible mix of people, keeping in mind their interests and professions and always infusing new people within Delhi’s niche groups, chosen with caution, turn out to be interesting! Decor: I take great pains in decorating and creating an ambience with many, many candles and lots of flowers. During Diwali it’s tonnes of mogra (Arabian jasmine) and exotic flower arrangements. I am partial to diyas (lamps), incense and candles. I have an outdoor dining area which opens to the sky. The other side has trees from which I hang ladis (strings) of flowers or small light bulbs bought during my travels. I also ensure I have a creative table decor every time. I love entertaining at home, especially after the monsoons are over and the weather is perfect for outdoor parties.
Malavika Tiwari Menu: I follow a set menu for my dinners. It’s either Hyderabadi or Kashmiri food. Clothes: I am mindful not to go over the top, yet not be repetitive. I love Indian clothes. Activities: I enjoy a good card party, but usually keep a budget to lose. We play very low stakes and basically have fun. It’s all about meeting your near and dear ones and celebrating. Decor: I focus on the ethnic look. I bring out my silverware instead of porcelain. I love serving Indian food on banana leaves as opposed to place mats. Since I don’t have a sprawling home, gol takias (round pillows) and gaddas (mattresses) make for easy floor seating. I place a decorated urn instead of a bowl for placing money while playing cards. Parties in the festive season mean diyas for me. I also love mad, kitschy lights. I decorate with marigolds and rangoli. I love the traditional urli (bowl) with floating diyas and some flowers.
Mini Thapar Shastri Menu: The food is always traditional. I live in a joint family which serves
delicacies from UP. I handle the starters. I make the children pitch in; they love helping out with the dips and setting up the platters. Clothes: I love buying saris by young designers that are traditional yet fresh. But when I am the host, I get into a kaftan or a tunic teamed with a great pair of heels and accessories, so I am comfortable, yet dolled up. Decor: Designed for parties, our outdoors has a lily pond where we float candles on a metallic base (so as not to scare the fish). The gazebo near the pool is my fave spot; it’s done up with beautiful lights and furniture. We also pull out all the props that we have, like candelabras, which add to the festivities. Tents designed in Jodhpur are hitched up. Wicker is cozily set up in the lawns. There is an indoor gazebo with glass windows that boasts chandeliers and lights with dimmers. No decor is complete without fresh flowers; they change as per the mood. Since my husband is into designer lights, we use them cleverly around the gardens and gazebos.
Raell Padamsee Menu: The bar is set outdoors and the dinner is laid inside. I live in my grandmother’s home, which is replete with unusual furniture. The dining table is shaped like a horseshoe and can seat 14 people. For parties we lay food buffet-style. I put up candles and flower arrangements along the tables. The menu is mixed fare, from Parsi dishes to Continental food to anything that is the flavour of the year. The starters are always aplenty and my house is famous for its dips. Activities: I keep one room for cards with gaddelas (mattresses) and low seating, and one for karaoke (especially for the non-players). Once the singing begins, it’s a complete riot. Decor: The flowers and foliage interspersed with candles and diyas look beautiful. I keep the lighting soft, with no direct lights. There’s a tree that I highlight with fairy lights which creates a stunning view. I use a traditional Parsi chalk, flowers and diyas to decorate the floors all the way from the ground floor to the fourth, where I live. All the doors of my house are done up with red and white garlands. I go to Tresorie, a Mumbai store that always has select, aesthetic stuff perfect for decorating in the festive season.
Manpreet Brar Wallia Menu: My husband is a complete foodie and we pay maximum attention to the food. There are plenty of starters served hot as many guests come straight from work. The menu depends on the number of guests coming—if it’s a small group, I like to cater to individual tastes, but for a larger do, I stick to serving Indian food. I do not cook myself and rely heavily on a good cook. I only enter the kitchen 10 minutes before dinner to ensure every dish is correctly placed and is piping hot. We have a bartender to take care of the drinks. Clothes: I like an effortless, relaxed look. I generally wear comfortable clothes that make me look dressed up, yet not too elaborate. It’s important for the host to be well dressed. Decor: I don’t stress too much over the decor, but I pay special attention to the seating arrangements so that there is enough space for everyone to sit and relax. We make sure that there’s good music in the background for the first couple of hours of the evening, and then pump it up later if the mood permits.
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Trade secrets: (clockwise from above) Shivani Wazir Pasrich likes to serve her guests Kashmiri food; Mini Thapar Shastri likes to wear saris at Diwali dos; and Kalyani Chawla uses mogras for floral arrangements.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
FORGET THE JOB,
I WANT YOUR IDEA W
e know you love our annual Cool Jobs issue. Our first issue in May 2007 was titled “I want your job” because that’s how people usually responded when they heard what the people we spoke to did for a living. Among those featured were a man who designed toys; another who played the hottest computer and console games before they hit the market; a woman who travelled the world getting pampered at the best spas; and a man who read and bought books for a living. In the summer of 2008, we followed up that list with some more jobs in the issue titled “I still want your job”, where we convinced you
again that a great job is not always about a fat salary package. We found a chief fun officer, a comic book maker, a coffee taster, a film curator and many more people with cool jobs. But when 2009 came along, cool jobs wasn’t a topic that seemed appropriate at all. On the other hand, we reasoned, there is never a bad time for a good idea. The “R” word, recession, might have given us collective depression last year, but there were people who managed to break through the clouds and launch some extremely interesting businesses. From the theatrical generation of happiness to creating gardens in balconies to
painting advertisements on the sides of cars, these entrepreneurs have hit upon some super cool ideas. We trawled through the ridiculous and the sublime to come up with some of the original ideas for new businesses. The ideas are in various stages of implementation. While the gardening enterprise, My Sunny Balcony, has become a runaway success within a few months of operation, word about others like the angling business, Monster Fishing, is just spreading across enthusiasts. While all of these are not profitable businesses yet, they are businesses born out of extraordinary imagination.
Finding a new dessert niche THE IDEA IN A LINE: CREATE
A NATIONAL BRAND OF FROZEN YOGURT SHOPS ACROSS INDIA PAST LIFE “I’ve always been an entrepreneur,” says G.S. Bhalla, 37. After graduating from Delhi University, Bhalla opted to forego studying at a business school and set up his own business venture in 1994. He started institutional business-to-business sales for promotional material for organizations such as Tata Donnelley, CRY and WWF, and had some success with a corporate gifting company. In 2000, he saw the success of BPO companies and decided to look for “the wide space” in the market where no one else was doing business. He found his spot with knowledge process outsourcing (KPO), providing back-end service to healthcare companies in the US.
EUREKA MOMENT Travelling around the world for his KPO job, he sampled frozen yogurt in Korea (“where the fro-yo craze started”) and Pinkberry, a popular frozen yogurt in Los Angeles, US (“Our name”, he says about Cocoberry, “is not meant as a
reflection of Pinkberry”). When he started looking for a way to enter the fast moving food-and-beverage industry, he thought about young, urban customers looking for a health-conscious alternative. Given the oppressive heat of Indian summers, he realized this cold treat could be the perfect business option.
GENESIS The first store, in New Delhi’s Defence Colony market, was launched in November, just as the financial market crumbled. “The turnout was rather poor and I thought, crap, this thing is not going to work,” he says. The rest of the week, too, was rocky. In fact, it took a whole month for the store to get a steady stream of customers, but there has been no looking back since.
REALITY CHECK From May to August, Cocoberry has opened stores in Hyderabad, Mumbai and three more Delhi locations. By the end of the year, they are hoping to have 15 more outlets
across India. Now that the idea is cemented in an enterprise, Bhalla is looking at various modes of expansion, including the franchisee model. He plans to have 500 outlets by 2013.
PLAN B Bhalla has other ideas up his sleeve as well. He hopes to use Cocoberry as an example of running a business with a minimal carbon footprint. He’s teamed up with The Climate Group, an NGO in Delhi, to steer his business in the green direction. The stores use recycled materials for as many products as they can, from napkins to stationery. Customers who bring in their own cups get a Rs5 discount. Eventually, proceeds from the company will help Bhalla and his wife, Manisha, open a school for underprivileged girls.
SECRET SAUCE “Don’t get into a business if you can’t do it differently.” Melissa A. Bell email@example.com PHOTOGRAPHS
Rs10 crore Raising the money
Loans and internal accruals. Will look at VC funding in the future Sales on Day 1
Rs2,400. The first cup was a small strawberry yogurt with three toppings for Rs79. Twenty people came in that day
Don’t get into a business if you can’t do it differently.
First sign of success
Encouraging notes in the guest book and on the company’s Facebook site Biggest difficulty, so far
Finding and training quality manpower. Since most products need refrigeration, power infrastructure is also an issue Curd rise: G.S. Bhalla hit upon frozen yogurt as the perfect dessert for healthconscious, urban India.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
Colourful, childfriendly syringes THE IDEA IN A LINE: TAKE
AWAY THE FEAR AND TRAUMA ASSOCIATED WITH INJECTIONS, BY USING DISTRACTION THERAPY PAST LIFE
What pushed us was a craving to achieve things we could only dream about.
Samarth Mungali, 26, a graduate from the Delhi College of Engineering, worked with IBM as a software engineer for two years before applying to the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, for a course in strategic design management. There he met Bhavna Bahri, 25, a commerce graduate who had worked as an accounts assistant with a Dubai-based firm and moved to graphic and Web designing before enrolling herself at NID. Bahri had initially chosen the graphic design course, but switched to the strategic design management course, with the aim of starting an entrepreneurial venture after graduating. The duo thought his engineering skills and her background in graphic design would make them a strong team, so they decided to start a venture, No Formulae, together. Mungali says he always had an interest in designing and creating things: “I remember tinkering with small gadgets and circuits when I was young.” He was later fascinated by his family’s woodworking unit, and experimented with creating
products. “I appreciated the way an object’s shape influences its use. That’s when I realized that design is ubiquitous—some thought has gone into the design of every object we use.”
that generally comes with an injection?” says Mungali.
GENESIS They started on the challenge and sought help from friends at the college’s design institute who helped with some aspects of the design. They went on to win the Simplicity Challenge, and the prize money went towards designing proper prototypes which they showed doctors for testing. They conducted a market survey in five cities to see how parents and doctors reacted to the product. Mungali also made a trip to Sweden to present it to the medical fraternity there. Danderyds Sjukhus, a hospital and medical institute in Sweden, has certified it as a feasible concept. Acceptor has just received a grant from the Union government to make working prototypes for large-scale medical testing in India. The duo hopes to have the syringes in the market in about eight months.
EUREKA MOMENT The Philips Simplicity Challenge was the catalyst for Acceptor, the child-friendly syringe project. The electronics company was looking for simple, innovative, original business ideas. The Mumbai-based duo remembers reading that the disposable syringe was the big simple business idea of the last century. “My own fear of injection syringes helped me appreciate the need for the product. That was what gave us the idea to try to change the look of the syringe,” says Mungali. The duo tried to use distraction therapy, by designing a brightly coloured toy-like case in which a syringe could be fitted. The case comes in the shape of a butterfly or a juice bottle and the syringe is barely visible. “We wondered: If the look of the syringe was changed to sidetrack the child, would it help her forget the pain or trauma PHOTOGRAPHS
REALITY CHECK They feel they’ve come a long way from the first idea, and are currently running the last lap of the race to get Acceptor into the market as soon as possible. BY
Colourful jab: Samarth Mungali (left) and Bhavna Bahri’s toylike cases for syringes are targeted at children.
PLAN B Along with Acceptor, Mungali and Bahri have several other ventures under No Formulae, the parent company. This is a service design firm that marries design with business. In fact, they did not take on any campus placements after their course, so they could be free to start No Formulae. They have conducted research for an ice-cream company, helped an organic cosmetics and food company rebrand itself, and finished a project for a real estate firm trying to market luxury apartments during the downturn. They are also looking to commercialize the syringes and are on the hunt for partners.
SECRET SAUCE “What pushed us was a craving to achieve things we could only dream about. My dream was not staying in a job and working for IBM or a firm. I always wanted to do something of my own,” says Mungali. “I didn’t mind working 24x7 and 365 days a year for myself, but I didn’t want to be stuck in a nine-to-five job, working for someone else.” Parizaad Khan firstname.lastname@example.org
Rs5,000 Raising the money
They dipped into their savings to participate in the Simplicity Challenge. On winning the challenge, they were awarded Rs15 lakh, which they used to make prototypes of the syringes Getting the first customer
The product is in its testing stages First sign of success
Winning contests such as the Philips Simplicity Challenge, IIT Mumbai’s Eureka 2008 and the India Innovation Pioneer Challenge, hosted by the Union government’s department of science and technology and Intel Biggest difficulty, so far
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
C A S I N O R O YA L E
The lords of probabilities and predictions THE IDEA IN A LINE: AN
ONLINE GAME THAT ALLOWS YOU TO MAKE PREDICTIONS ON SPORTS, MOVIES, POLITICS, BUSINESS AND MORE PAST LIFE Hariharan Krishnamoorthy, 29, did his schooling in Thiruvananthapuram and then completed a degree in mechanical engineering at Regional Engineering College, Surathkal—now National Institute of Technology, Karnataka—before joining IBM straight from campus. While in engineering college, he ran into Ashutosh Upadhyay, 28, his eventual partner at LordsOfOdds.com. Upadhyay’s own route to the college was a little more circuitous. “I desperately wanted to get into St Stephen’s (New Delhi) but
couldn’t, so (I) decided to opt for engineering as the second option. I got into a state engineering college very near home. But I didn’t find it exciting at all, so (I) decided to travel down south, much against the wishes of my parents,” Upadhyay recounts. The young men joined college a year apart but were members of the same clubs and became good friends on campus. But while Krishnamoorthy went to IBM, Upadhyay joined TVS, where he worked on “our desi 100cc and 125cc bikes”. Upadhyay was the first to turn entrepreneur. “I got bored in a PHOTOGRAPHS
If everything seems lost, look at things positively, you will see pieces in the jigsaw falling in place.
year’s time at TVS” and started a boutique human resources consulting firm that expanded from two to 35 employees in two years. In the meantime, Krishnamoorthy went through the MBA programme at the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, and then joined an investment bank in Mumbai. A year later, in 2004, he decided to take the plunge: “I am a sports buff and most of my plans and ideas had something to do with sports.” Upadhyay joined him later.
EUREKA MOMENT “Sports-related fantasy gaming was one of the ideas I had explored at one time in IIM-C,” remembers Krishnamoorthy. During one of those business school “come let’s start something of our own” thought sessions, Krishnamoorthy and a group of friends began talking of how betting was big business in the UK. “During one such discussion, we hit on an idea of creating a fantasy game that will capture the thrill of betting and can provide information through concepts of prediction markets.”
Taking chances: Ashutosh Upadhyay (left) and Hariharan Krishna moorthy are betting on the fantasy gaming genre.
Krishnamoorthy started by looking at some London-based real money betting sites. He then tried to apply this to India, where betting is illegal. Out of this was born LordsOfOdds. When you register at the website, you get 10,000 loots (LordsOfOdds tokens) to bet on
the games on the site. The site captializes this by selling it to advertisers. Users do not have to pay to register or play.
REALITY CHECK Says Krishnamoorthy: “Everything went contrary to expectations—technology, hiring, people, attrition, finances, marketing, selling—things were way different and tougher than what we had anticipated. In the beginning it seemed very simple: Create products in six months, go to VC and get money and live happily ever after. Things went wrong at every stage.” Krishnamoorthy recalls his family being supportive throughout, and Upadhyay’s joining the firm was a fillip. “We decided to revisit and rework parts of the business plan and that seems to be paying off now. Things have improved tremendously from then on.”
PLAN B Krishnamoorthy says he would persist with sports, but with something related to marketing.
SECRET SAUCE “If there is something you decide you have to have, it will come to you. When everything seems lost, look at things positively, you will see pieces in the jigsaw falling in place,” Krishnamoorthy says. Sidin Vadukut email@example.com
Rs4 lakh (initially), have now invested Rs20 lakh Raising the money
Individual savings plus money borrowed from family and friends Getting the first customer
The first customer was Castrol, for which they ran a prediction challenge. The manager loved the idea; it was unlike anything they had done before First sign of success
Yet to be successful. Some contracts are close to being signed, though Biggest difficulty, so far
It’s a new format and there is resistance—from users and firms. They don’t understand it well, yet
Sharing a cab and freeing our roads THE IDEA IN A LINE: AN
ONLINE PLATFORM THAT ALLOWS USERS TO SHARE TRANSPORTATION AND SAVE TIME, MONEY AND FUEL PAST LIFE Deepesh Agarwal, 30, was working with Motorola India as an engineering manager, where he was instrumental in designing some unorthodox but useful applications of mobile technology. But then the entrepreneurship bug bit and he left his job to join the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad. He
graduated this year, majoring in entrepreneurship.
EUREKA MOMENT It started with a campus discussion in August last year on why shared transportation does not work in India despite the ever increasing traffic and pollution and scarcity of parking space. The idea of a shared cab servPHOTOGRAPHS
If you do not begin, then your chances of success are zero.
ice took off from there and Agarwal and his former partner, Amit Gupta, started working on a model they thought would work in India.
GENESIS “RideInSync has evolved over the past year and is drastically different from what my start-up partner Amit Gupta and I initially visualized it as,” Agarwal says. They tweaked the model and soon after their graduation, ran a pilot service on 11 April for students of the incoming batch at ISB. The results were encouraging. “120 students used our service to share 60 cabs—saving Rs36,000 and 200 litres of petrol in a single day,” Agarwal says. It encouraged him to turn full-time entrepreneur, though Gupta moved on and took up a job.
Share a car: Deepesh Agarwal’s idea is ideal for congested Indian roads.
Agarwal commercially launched RideInSync this month, after tying up with taxi drivers. It already has 173 registered users in Hyderabad, who can avail the service for travel between the airport and the city. In the first
phase, Agarwal hopes to extend the service to Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi and Pune. “So far, things have worked well for us and it is still too early to say if everything will go according to plan. (The) support provided by ISB’s Wadhwani Centre for Entrepreneurship Development has helped us cope with the initial difficulties in starting up one’s own venture but it is still a long road ahead,” he says.
PLAN B “As an entrepreneur you wear multiple hats and have multiple responsibilities,” says Agarwal. If the venture doesn’t succeed, the experience gained would be enough to get jobs. “Besides, I always have the option of trying out another idea.”
SECRET SAUCE “If you do not begin, then your chances of success are zero. When you start somewhere and put in serious effort, your chances tend towards 1.” Lison Joseph firstname.lastname@example.org
Raising the money
Individual savings and assistance from ISB Getting the first sponsor
Launched service for the new batch joining ISB First sign of success
The response from the students was encouraging Biggest difficulty, so far
Expanding the user base fast, building a big network
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
SUNNY AND GREEN
Gardens that fit any size or budget THE IDEA IN A LINE: GREENING
RESIDENTIAL COMPLEXES IN THE GARDEN CITY BY SETTING UP GARDENS IN BALCONIES, TERRACES AND OTHER SMALL PLACES PAST LIFE My Sunny Balcony is a venture started earlier this year by four gardening enthusiasts—Athreya Chidambi, 31, Shailesh Deshpande, 40, Reena Chengappa, 31, and Sriram Aravamudan, 33. Chidambi works as a Web designer and continues to do so while helping the company with its website. Deshpande works in an environmental consultancy BPO; Chengappa has just quit her full-time job in an IT company to devote all her time to the gardening venture; and Aravamudan is a freelance writer and full-time garden consultant. They have been friends for several years. “I had quit my job a year ago and was doing some freelance writing. Reena’s frustrations at her corporate job peaked at the same time as the idea of My Sunny Balcony took off, so we both work full-time in the venture,” says Aravamudan.
very few people who know extensively about how to optimize small spaces and grow something nice that you can enjoy,” says Deshpande. They worked on the balconies and small patches of gardens in their own homes, sent “before and after” photographs to friends and associates, offered to do a garden at cost and birthed a business.
GENESIS They roped in a friend’s boss, who was willing to let them run a trial on his garden. They billed him at cost and used that garden as the showcase for potential customers. “The cash outflow was low because we worked at the garden ourselves, without hiring any employees. The real investment was in the time spent in tracking down vendors to supply the things we needed,” says Chengappa.
The four partners were sitting around in a coffee house and cribbing about the loss of green cover in Bangalore. They were wondering why no one was doing anything to help the city live up to its “garden city” moniker when it occurred to them that they could do something themselves. “There are actually quite a lot of spaces that you can green up in cities, but you have to open your eyes and look for them. There are
During the initial months, the group members went on site visits after office hours and implemented the projects on weekends. Typically, the team visits the site, works on the design and chooses plants in accordance with the client’s ability to maintain the garden. Then they go back and implement the design. Implementation is a day’s work. Lately, the group has introduced a “gift a garden” con-
cept. Clients who have friends or family in Bangalore can contact My Sunny Balcony and have them execute a garden. “A typical balcony or terrace garden costs Rs14,000-25,000 and an outdoor garden can cost up to Rs40,000,” says Chengappa. They have annual maintenance contracts and offer a range of organic pesticides. They are also exploring some franchisee options.
PLAN B If the business isn’t viable after three years, they figure they may go back to their day jobs. But with orders pouring in, that is a distant option.
SECRET SAUCE “The fact that we speak the same language as our client is our biggest plus point,” says Aravamudan. “Earlier, clients had only two options; they could either hire a high-flying landscaping company and expect to pay at least Rs1 lakh for a premium garden, or hire a local gardener who would place five pots in a row and then disappear. For the modern, citydwelling, upper middle-class garden lover, there was no one he could call to help get started on a nice, but modest garden. We understand what they want,” he adds. Veena Venugopal email@example.com
Rs15,000 Raising the money
Their savings Getting the first customer
Within days of sending out emails with images of transformations of their own gardens, they got their first customer First sign of success
Chengappa quitting her job to focus on the business Biggest difficulty, so far
Getting reliable vendors for the various plants, pots and other fixtures they need
Newage gardeners: (from left) Sriram Aravamudan, Reena Chengappa, Shailesh Deshpande and Athreya Chidambi have introduced a ‘gift a garden’ concept.
There are actually quite a lot of spaces that you can green up in cities, but you have to open your eyes and look for them.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
T H E AT R I C A L R E L E A S E
Live cricket on the Net
The fun and happiness factory
THE IDEA IN A LINE: BUYING
INTERNET RIGHTS AND STREAMING LIVE CRICKET, SO THAT PEOPLE ALL OVER THE WORLD CAN WATCH MATCHES ONLINE PAST LIFE For the last nine years, till June, Jay Motwani was working for Microsoft India. He was looking after sales and marketing for the enterprise business and was given the telecom, media and entertainment verticals to handle. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) was one of his clients and together they were hoping to provide the next generation of technological infrastructure for cricket in India.
EUREKA MOMENT While working with BCCI as an employee of Microsoft, Motwani realized that the potential for pitching new media such as the Internet, and expanding the base of cricket viewers, was very high. “But the BCCI is run by part-timers and people who do not really understand the new ways of accessing and watching cricket. So, though they agreed in concept that streaming cricket matches through the Internet was an option, they did not understand how to go about it. So they did it their way—by floating a tender and setting a huge minimum guarantee of $50 million,” he says. Sure enough, no one bid for it. Eventually, Microsoft
realized that the BCCI account was not yielding much in terms of revenue and decided to withdraw from it. Motwani had been considering striking out on his own and he decided to take the idea and run with it.
GENESIS With the BCCI experience behind him, Motwani set up his company, Techshot, and decided to look at the possibility of working with a smaller cricket board. Around this time, after the success of the Indian Premier League, the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) announced its own Twenty20 league, the Karnataka Premier League. Udaya TV won the television rights for the matches and Motwani decided to approach the board for the Internet rights. He made his proposal and they were willing to give it a shot. Motwani built the website within 10 days and fine-tuned it over the next 15 days. The site www.mantrikpl.com was up and streaming by the time the tournament started on 9 September. The cost of making the website was borne entirely by him.
REALITY CHECK Motwani says users from 26 PHOTOGRAPHS
THE IDEA IN A LINE: EVAM
IS A FACTORY THAT DELIVERS HAPPINESS THROUGH THE MEDIUM OF THEATRE AND COOL, QUIRKY PRODUCTS PAST LIFE
countries accessed the site. While these are likely to have been Indians, it is a significant indicator to him that the future of cricket viewing has to go beyond television to the Internet. Also, advertisers have begun to approach him for the next season. They understand its potential, he says. He plans to make a case study of the first experience and approach other cricket organizers. The agreement between KSCA and Motwani is a revenue-sharing one. From next season, when he starts getting advertisers, he will have to share his earnings with the association.
PLAN B Motwani runs an online technical helpdesk business and is looking at various options in sports and media for Techshot.
SECRET SAUCE “The secret is in being the first to implement. It is not that nobody had ever thought of streaming cricket matches on the Internet, but nobody really had gone ahead and implemented it,” he says. Playacting: Sunil Vishnu has proved that theatre companies can be financially viable. Veena Venugopal firstname.lastname@example.org
It helps that while we are performers at heart, we can talk the language of business.
Sunil Vishnu, 32, and Karthik Kumar, 31, met as classmates at the Mudra Institute of Communication and Advertising (MICA) in Ahmedabad in 1999. Though they were studying branding, marketing and communication, what they were interested in was theatre. So they started Sankalp, MICA’s theatre group. After staging four shows over the two years that they were at the institute, they realized that they wanted to build their careers around theatre. “The writing on the wall was there, though, that no one has ever made money from theatre and the market said it was not possible to do it. But we were 23, and we didn’t care what the market was saying,” says Vishnu. So after graduation, they decided to work in the corporate world until they saved up some money to get started.
EUREKA MOMENT The success of Sankalp was the minor eureka moment.
GENESIS Both Vishnu and Kumar joined start-ups, so they
could see first-hand how these organizations ran. They grappled with how to run a financially viable theatre company and spoke to a large number of people who were involved in the performing arts in order to understand this. Two years after they had graduated, on Valentine’s Day in 2003, they quit their jobs and Vishnu joined Kumar in Chennai to start their company. Badal Sircar’s play Evam Indrajit, which is a youth’s reflections on repressed emotions and unanswered questions, was a huge influence on the duo and they decided to name their company Evam.
REALITY CHECK “Our purpose is to make people’s lives, those who come in contact with our brand, happier than when they met us, and to fill their lives with lightness and a sense of purpose. To energize—helping them connect to their own inner giggle, and also to fill them with optimism and hope for themselves and the world around them. We hope to help them take charge and lead
themselves towards joy,” Vishnu says. Today Evam has evolved from a theatre company to one that has five verticals—public shows, private shows for companies, human resources training programmes through theatre, theatre festivals and a merchandising arm. Muchos, the merchandising division, makes quirky products targeted at the young and the energetic. These products include a recession clock that goes backwards, providing reassurance that the hard times will pass and the happier days will be back. Their operations are still largely based in the south—Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. On the theatre front, they produced Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone and met with huge success. Now they are producing his second book, One Night @ the Call Centre, and are hoping to take it national.
PLAN B “We decided that in the worst case scenario, we
would lose our money and be forced to return to our regular jobs. There have been lots of ups and downs and we took four years to start making money. But we stuck with it, since we knew it had potential. In fact, our parents are still worried about our career choice,” Vishnu says.
SECRET SAUCE Evam’s success lies in its ability to find new meanings for its existence while maintaining its focus on theatre. Also, the nature of the business and the fact that there is no “structured industry” under which Evam falls keeps the company and its promoters on their feet, inventing continuously. “Artists in India don’t work towards getting an audience or making themselves financially viable. We stand as an example that says that this can be done. It helps that while we are performers at heart, we can talk the language of business to sponsors,” Vishnu reveals. Veena Venugopal email@example.com
Rs2 lakh Raising the money
Individual savings. Vishnu and Kumar worked for two years and saved up Rs1 lakh each Getting the first sponsor
Met several companies and were strung along by some. But after six months of trying, HSBC finally conceded and agreed to be a sponsor for their first show First sign of success
Getting repeat audiences in the public shows. All of them were in the 2035 age group and, through Evam, discovered theatre as a medium of entertainment Biggest difficulty, so far
Making no profits for the first four years
DEALS ON WHEELS
Get paid to drive your car Starting capital
Rs25 lakh Raising the money
THE IDEA IN A LINE: SELL
ADVERTISING SPACE ON THE SIDES OF CARS, BUSES AND OTHER VEHICLES
His own savings Getting the first customer
It took about 10 days to convince KSCA to give the goahead First sign of success
The whole tournament was one of positive affirmation of the business idea. The number of viewers, the places they were accessing it from, the number of interested parties for the next season were all indicators of the success of the project Biggest difficulty, so far
The fact that the cricket boards think of Internet streaming as a competitor to TV. They are worried that this will jeopardize TV revenues
The future of cricket viewing will go beyond television.
Winning debut: Jay Motwani wants to stream all cricket matches on the Net.
PAST LIFE Raghu Khanna’s story is one of several false starts culminating in unexpected success. The 24-year-old reckons he was the first student from his Shimla school to get into one of the IITs. That engagement didn’t last very long. After a few weeks, an unenthused Khanna packed his bags and came home. The next year, he took the IIT Joint Entrance Examination again and went back to IIT Guwahati, but this time for the civil engineering programme. Khanna “slogged” his way through first year and earned a seat in the electronics and communication major class. Admission offers from the London School of Economics and Georgetown University, US, came through, but Khanna decided he didn’t want to go abroad: “After seeing people struggling to get US visas, it occurred to me that I should be staying here, near my family, instead of so far away.” Still confused about “what to
do in life”, Khanna got his answer one day when he was stuck in a traffic jam.
EUREKA MOMENT Crawling forward in a taxi, on his way from Gurgaon to the Delhi airport, Khanna’s attention was caught by the stickers on the side of a van. The idea of CASHurDRIVE was born at that moment, in May 2008. Car owners can sign up with the company, and depending on various factors such as the length of the campaign, size of advertisements, which city they are located in, etc., they can make anything from around Rs10,000 to upwards of Rs60,000 a month.
GENESIS When Khanna set up the company in June 2008, he got a little help from his father. He had no employees or customers. Six months later, he managed to convince a bakery in Ludhiana to put ads on the sides of vehicles. And then he went hunting for those vehicles. Today,
Khanna has on board a couple of venture capital companies that have committed Rs2.5 crore.
REALITY CHECK “I began CASHurDRIVE not knowing anything about the business. How advertising space was bought or sold. How to make the stickers to be used on the side of vehicles. Or even how to track the vehicles and their locations. I learnt everything on the job. I don’t think I ever expected it to be easy. But I am still surprised at how much I have learnt.” Khanna currently has eight employees and CASHurDRIVE operations are spread over a dozen cities and towns. The number of car owners registering to get ads on their vehicles is growing at a blistering pace—15,000 at last count. Around 150 of them currently sport advertisements. Various options are possible for every kind of car: full wraps where the ad runs through the circumference of the
car, half wraps, ads on the wheel hubs, etc.
PLAN B “I could have been in Georgetown University. Besides, I have always wanted to see if I could manufacture a product I once worked on during an internship.” Khanna is referring to a device that can automatically detect drowsy eyes in drivers—he researched the concept while interning one summer in Europe. He harbours hope of resuscitating that some day.
SECRET SAUCE “ I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had never dropped out of IIT the first time. When I connect the dots backward from CASHurDRIVE, it always take me back to that one decision. Backwards, it makes wonderful sense. But when I was packing my bags, I had no idea what lay ahead,” he says. Sidin Vadukut firstname.lastname@example.org
Rs20,000 Raising the money
A loan from his father Getting the first customer
He offered a bakery a norisk deal: If the campaign failed, he’d waive the fee First sign of success
Claims the concept is not profitable yet. But brands such as Adidas, FritoLay, etc., have signed on Biggest difficulty, so far
Convincing advertisers why they should look at spending money on a 30 sq. ft area. Also, there is no precedent for this service, so it is tough to convince advertisers
Always try things. The worst that will happen is you will fail.
Ads on cars: Raghu Khanna has signed up with brands such as Adidas and FritoLay.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
Casting a line in the Andamans THE IDEA IN A LINE: INTRODUCE
INDIANS TO SPORTFISHING
PAST LIVES The eight of them were friends, progeny of old Bangalore families, seven of them from the same school (St Joseph’s), going back 30 years. Each of them followed their own career path. Sudhir Makhija spent two decades in advertising and then launched his own company. Suhail Rahaman went into real estate and construction, while Ashwin Ajila set up his own animation and gaming business. Ranga Moola operates cinema theatres, Nakul Shetty runs a unit manufacturing car components, Rumi Minocher owns a travel agency, Jawad Ayaz is the gang’s “serial entrepreneur”, while Dev Gupta retired from rally driving to dabble in the property business.
EUREKA MOMENT On a holiday together in Phuket, Thailand, in 2006, the gang hired a catamaran and sailed out into the waters off the
peninsula. “After the first night out in the Andaman Sea, I think it was Sohail who said, ‘Hey, why don’t we buy the boat?’” says Makhija. The eight of them continued to play with the idea, first toying with basing a business out of Phuket, then thinking about a sailing holidays outfitter and, finally, refining it into a sport-fishing enterprise. After flirting with the idea of Phuket, they zeroed in on the Andamans. “We had angled off the waters of the archipelago for years but had always missed world-class facilities,” says Ayaz.
GENESIS With all of them well-established in their respective fields, finance wasn’t an issue. So they drafted a business plan and put up the corpus themselves. Having experienced the customer-end of the business for years, the eight—they christened themselves Monster Fishing after considering several
names—were pretty certain of what they wanted their clientele to have. But, novices as they were in the sailing business, it took them more than a year to get their big idea off the ground. They divvied up responsibilities among themselves according to their specialities.
REALITY CHECK When they started, their target was the serious angler. “It’s not a very well-known fact in India, but angling accounts for one of the top two spends in leisure pastimes (the other being golf),” says Ayaz. For the first year, their brochures quoted their prices in euros; this year, it mentions them in Indian rupees. Monster also looks to woo the adventurous Indian seeking to combine leisure boating with learning the basics of angling. Fishing is strictly on a catch-and-release basis, “though some of the smaller guys may be lunch”.
Their first paid trip happened in February 2008 “and the first year was very good”, says Rahaman, though the season extends only from October-November to April-May.
PLAN B Since the glue here is a common passion, another business is not on the cards. Expansion, if it happens, will mean diversification into ecotourism or eco-resorts in the Andamans. For the moment, though, there’s plenty of fish in the sea.
SECRET SAUCE Passion. None of them is in the business to make a quick buck—it’s more a case of promoting an activity that they believe in absolutely. As Makhija says, “There’s nothing more exciting than fighting a fish.” Sumana Mukherjee email@example.com
Rs3 crore Raising the money
Individual savings and bank loans Getting the first customer
Two years after the idea originated, they got their first customer, a group of serious anglers from France First sign of success
There’s nothing more exciting than fighting a fish.
Mapping the sea around the islands for the best spots for various species of fish, which was completed end2008 Biggest difficulty, so far
Fisherfolk: (from left) Monster Fishing’s Sudhir Makhija, Suhail Rahaman, Ashwin Ajila, Ranga Moola, Nakul Shetty, Rumi Minocher, Jawad Ayaz and Dev Gupta converted their passion for angling into a business opportunity that led them to the Andamans.
The dearth of international connections to Port Blair. Clients have to land in Hong Kong or Chennai and catch a connecting flight to Port Blair since it doesn’t have an international airport. This adds to both the time and money spent
Get to meet your neighbours, online THE IDEA IN A LINE: CREATING
AN ONLINE COMMUNITY FOR APARTMENTS THROUGH WHICH NEIGHBOURS CAN GET TO KNOW EACH OTHER PAST LIFE Sumit Jain and Lalit Mangal, both 25, joined Oracle Pvt. Ltd in Bangalore right after graduating from the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, in 2006. By July 2007, the two, along with Mangal’s childhood friend Vikas Malpani, also 25 (then an engineer with SAP Labs, Bangalore), had a simple
mission: Create a product that would make the lives of millions of people easier. The three engineers quit their day jobs in May 2007 and tried their hand at several ideas (including a service to block telemarketing calls/messages on mobile phones), and six months later launched CommonFloor.com PHOTOGRAPHS
There are 1,000 reasons why a plan won’t work and just one way in which it will.
EUREKA MOMENT Jain and Mangal moved to Bangalore after college. They did not know their neighbours or anyone else in the city and struggled to get basic information, such as where to find a plumber. They realized that anyone new to the city would face similar problems and thought of finding a way to make life earlier for such people. “We had a problem at hand, and CommonFloor.com was our solution to the problem,” says Jain.
Neighbourhood watch: (from left) Lalit Mangal, Sumit Jain and Vikas Malpani are building new platforms for which they will charge users.
They launched a Beta version with 10 apartment complexes already in hand. The site allowed members to post classified ads, get information on local services, and even conduct online opinion polls within the complex. “The difficulty was to prove the value of the platform. Some apartments had Yahoo groups, but most had absolutely no means of a common platform for the residents to communicate,” Jain says. Currently, the site works with over 1,000 apartment complexes in Bangalore
and has started operations in 21 other cities in the country.
REALITY CHECK “There are 1,000 reasons why a plan won’t work and just one way in which it will. The way we visualized our portal is miles away from what it has turned out to be,” says Malpani. Currently, all their services are free. They are building new platforms and services for which they will charge users.
PLAN B A year and a half after they started the company, they are too busy with Plan A to even think about a Plan B.
SECRET SAUCE “The key thing that we learnt along the way is that if the people around you, such as your friends, parents and relatives, are sold on the idea and will use it in their lives, the chances of the business model scaling up are that much higher,” says Jain, adding that it’s important to minimize risks. Pavitra Jayaraman firstname.lastname@example.org
Rs10 lakh Raising the money
Individual savings Getting the first customer
They asked friends who lived in apartment complexes to help convince their resident welfare associations First sign of success
100 apartments in Bangalore signed up, a month after launch Biggest difficulty, so far
Advertisers thought they were too young to be entrepreneurs
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
Light improves the quality of life THE IDEA IN A LINE: TO
MAKE AFFORDABLE SOLARPOWER LAMPS AVAILABLE TO FAMILIES LIVING WITHOUT ELECTRICITY WORLDWIDE PAST LIFE The founder-CEO of D.light Design, Sam Goldman, 30, grew up in different countries, spending four years in the 1990s in New Delhi. There was also a four-year stint with the Peace Corps in Benin in east Africa, where Goldman lived and worked with farmers in a village that had no electricity, running water, phones or roads. At the
time he saw himself as an environmentalist who hated capitalism and globalization. While helping the village set up an agricultural training centre and introducing a Moringa plant-based nutritional supplement for expecting mothers and malnourished children, he saw the benefits economic liberalization was bringing to Benin, just as he had seen it earlier in India. “BusiPHOTOGRAPHS
nesses came in to the nearest town and its effects were fast— roads, Internet, infrastructure,” he says. “Much more than financial aid had ever achieved.”
EUREKA MOMENT More like three moments—he saw his 12-year-old neighbour in Benin suffer third-degree burns from head to toe because of an accident with a kerosene lantern. He himself got bitten by a snake in his house as the light from his kerosene lamp was insufficient. Another time, the dancing and drum beating at a death ceremony came to a standstill when the power generator conked out and it became pitch dark. “I switched on my LED headlamp and held it up,” Goldman recalls. “There was this 1-second pause and then the drumming and the dancing resumed.”
A lot of what we are working on and learning here is exportable.
Bright spark: Sam Goldman feels India can’t be treated as a single market.
Pursuing an MBA at Stanford University, US (2005-07), Goldman took a course in “entrepreneurial design for extreme affordability” at the university’s new design school. As part of a team of five students, he came up with a rough prototype for a solarpowered LED lantern. The big boost came when they won the prestigious Venture Challenge contest for the best business idea and received funding of $250,000 (Rs1.25 crore now) in 2007. Turning down attractive job offers, Goldman, his partner Ned Tozun and three others set up D.light Design, based out of a garage in Palo Alto, California. Soon, Goldman was coming to
India every four months, travelling to villages in eastern Uttar Pradesh. In January 2008, D.light decided to shift its headquarters to India. Their reason—it is a huge and complex market that is evolving rapidly. “It was time to get out of the bubble and get into the reality of UP, Bihar and India,” he says. Currently, D.light has two products in the market—Nova, a durable solar house light that also has a charger for mobile phones; and Solata, a solar study light.
REALITY CHECK Four months into his Indian stint, Goldman realized, “India is not a market—it is a dozen markets.” Also, Goldman’s notions of an India infused with entrepreneurial spirit ran up against reality. “This isn’t Silicon Valley,” he says. “Not many people are taking risks.”
PLAN B Goldman has no Plan B but expansion plans for D.light are in place. Two new products are in the offing. “One reason why I am spending so much time in India is because a lot of what we are working on and learning here is exportable,” says Goldman. “I want to take the lessons learnt here to the rest of the world.”
SECRET SAUCE Hard work. “Ned and I are working our tails off. Long, hard hours to get this company off the ground.” Himanshu Bhagat email@example.com
(around Rs330 crore now) Raising the money
Venture capital investment and angel investors Getting the first customer
Udayveer and Kalka Devi, who live in Bhadvas, western Uttar Pradesh. Almost the entire village is lit by D.light Design lights now First sign of success
When Udayveer wanted to join the company because D.light changed his life Biggest difficulty, so far
Recruiting highly motivated and socially oriented senior sales, marketing and operations talent
Cool deals on designer wear THE IDEA IN A LINE: SELL
INDIAN DESIGNER CLOTHES AT A DISCOUNT
PAST LIFE Radhika Dhawan, 26, has always been a fashion follower. “Not necessarily donning it, but being up to date with what’s going on,” she says. She went to the UK for a postgraduate course in retail management. “All my projects were skewed towards fashion,” she says. After returning to India, she joined the Italian fashion brand GAS as a
buyer and merchandiser. Dhawan loved her job but wanted to do something on her own.
EUREKA MOMENT Having attended many sample sales in the UK, she knew that organizing sample sales of designer wear could be a viable project. “I’m not reinventing the wheel here. This concept exists internationally, but not in India. PHOTOGRAPHS
Every city is so diverse in their tastes so I need to have the right sort of designer mix.
So I thought I should try it out here. That’s how my company First Row was set up in July last year,” says Dhawan.
GENESIS She started fleshing out the idea—of selling finished samples, stocks from previous seasons and export surplus of designer clothes at heavy discounts—with the help of her mother, who used to be the head of corporate communication at Raymond, and her father, who is a manufacturer and exporter of leather goods. She then took the concept to fashion designers, such as Shantanu and Nikhil Mehra, Ashish Soni and Raghavendra Rathore, who were family friends. By July 2008, she had quit her job to concentrate on this full time. When these designers agreed to give her full support, she knew First Row had a shot at being successful. Soon she had seven more designers on board and her first exhibition was held in October at Mount View, the only five-star hotel in Chandigarh.
REALITY CHECK Walletfriendly: Radhika Dhawan sells designer clothes through exhibitions.
Now she also sells clothes by designers such as Narendra
Kumar, Gauri and Nainika, Gaurav Gupta, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Rohit Bal, Malini Ramani, Mandira Wirk and Varun Bahl. For Dhawan, it’s important to recreate an exclusive store experience during the one- or two-day exhibitions. Formal invites are sent out along with text messages and emails. The banquet hall of an exclusive venue like a hotel or a club is made into a store for that day. She has had six exhibitions, and broke even for the first time after her fourth exhibition.
PLAN B “I didn’t get into it thinking this won’t work. I want to make this work anyhow.”
SECRET SAUCE Dhawan says the big cities are saturated with designer wear and it’s the small towns, that have the purchasing power and awareness, which need to be tapped. She’s learning on the job. “And I get to wear great designer clothes for less.” Rachana Nakra firstname.lastname@example.org
Rs5 lakh Raising the money
Loans from family and friends Getting the first customer
The first customer at the first exhibition was a “target” customer, a fashionconscious individual, and an Alister in town First sign of success
The fact that people were present outside the venue of her exhibitions an hour before time Biggest difficulty, so far
Getting more designers to partner with
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009
Photosynthesis Three new graphic novels push the genre into realms of journalism and philosophy
B Y M ELISSA B ELL email@example.com
···························· hen Batman was killed a few years ago, some tears were likely shed by comic book lovers all over the world. But it’s safe to say that it’s not often that people cry because of what happens in a comic book. So when I find my eyes welling up while reading three separate graphic novels, I know something more than my odd propensity for crying is at work. A.D. New Orleans by Josh Neufeld, Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli and The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert and Didier Lefèvre are further pushing the graphic novel genre into the realms of journalism and philosophical debate. The illustrations are masterfully integrated into the storytelling and the end result is three simple, yet gut-wrenching human stories about loss. Perhaps the most powerful of the three, The Photographer, is only a half-graphic novel. The other half is made up of actual photographs taken by the title character, Didier Lefèvre, a rookie photojournalist in 1986.
Asterios Polyp: Pantheon, 344 pages, $29.95 (around Rs1,400).
Lefèvre travelled from Paris with a team of Doctors Without Borders, an international medical humanitarian organization, to war-ravaged Afghanistan to document their medical assistance programmes. He told the story of his trip to Guilbert, who decided to draw in the moments that the camera did not capture. The importance of visuals in a story about a photographer is obvious. But the juxtaposition of the photography and illustrations can also be jarring—especially when one is removed from the story. For example, the pages about a particularly gruesome operation on a 16-year-old boy whose face was half-blown off by shrapnel are filled only with photographic stills shot during the day-long operation. It’s tense and brutal because we’re left without the comfort of any graphic drawings. We have to see the mutilated flesh, the frightened look in the tired doctors’ eyes; we are held captive. At other points, illustrations fill the page, describing a scene, raising the intensity of the tale, so when you turn the page and are confronted with the real photograph of the incident, the point is driven home: This hap-
pened. This was real. War was real. And, even worse, still is—in much the same areas as the book is set in. The next book, A.D. New Orleans, also tells a true story, but it uses only illustrations. It may not have the same depth of tragedy as The Photographer, but it still packs a powerful punch. The story first appeared as an online strip for Smith Magazine in 2007 but its author, Neufeld, writes in his afterword
The Photographer: First Second, 288 pages, $29.95.
that it was always meant to be a book, to keep the “gestalt of the comic book... the interplay of tiers of images on a page, the way a two-page spread can work to frame and augment the drama, and aspects of timing, meter, and rhythm”. He expanded the online stories and created a moving tribute to seven people who experienced the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina in different ways. One boy, Kwame, a high school senior, becomes a refugee in his own country, moving from city to city. Denise suffers the indignities of the Superdome, where she was held captive by the government with no fresh water, no food and no plumbing. Leo and Michelle lose almost all their belongings in the flood, including Leo’s collection of more than 15,000 comic books. After all the photographs, the news, images of people staring bleak-eyed at the camera, stories told through illustrations initially seem to come as welcome relief, a step away from harsh reality. But as the stories build, as the storm ravages the city and lives, the illustrations allow for the impact of the devastation to hit harder. The art,
WHEN KULBHUSHAN MET STOCKLI | EDITED BY ANINDYA ROY
Bhangra in the Swiss Alps Experimental collaboration between Indian and Swiss comic artists yields an entertaining mix B Y A NINDITA G HOSE firstname.lastname@example.org
··························· magine a bunch of wide-eyed comic book artists from Switzerland learning how to play cricket and battling with water problems in India. And then, switch the scene to Indian artists lounging over football and beer while being quizzed on the romantic mechanics of Bollywood by their Swiss hosts. Sounds like fun? Slightly bizarre, too? It’s exactly what the compilation of graphic short stories, When Kulbhushan met Stockli, documents. The comics collaboration was conceived in 2007 by the Delhibased publishing house, Phantomville, Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council, and Swiss publishing house Edition Moderne. The book has 12 stories, six each by
Indian and Swiss artists. The compilation is an experiment in telling short graphic tales which, individually and together, create a local universe. They follow widely different formats: Some, such as No Water in O Block by Kati Rickenbach and The Case of the Swiss Swan-foot by Samit Basu and Ashish Padlekar, are in the classic comic books style, while others such as The Yellow House by Orijit Sen have large chunks of text juxtaposed with illustrations. The participating artists had the luxury of a liberal brief. The only thing they were asked to avoid were time-worn travelogue-style notes of feeling lost or having diarrhoea, as editor Anindya Roy mentions in his introductory note. Most of the pieces by the Swiss artists, however, are unable to transcend the “Incredible India” flavour. The Mehandi Designers by Andreas Gefe and A Short Cut to India by Andrea Caprez and Christoph Schuler are at best naïve, illustrated Lonely Planet inserts. But Cricket etc by Christophe Badoux, who travelled outside Europe for the
Photo poetry: A panel from Vishwajyoti Ghosh’s The Lost Ticket. first time for this, stands out for its humour despite its predictable theme. The pieces by the Indian artists manage to go a little deeper. In The Lost Ticket by Vishwajyoti Ghosh, the graphic novelist explores issues of migration, family and love through a semi-fictional character called A.B. Sen. Ghosh uses memorabilia—old photos, postcards, stamps and ticket stubs—from the protagonist’s 1960s trip to Switzerland. He creates a lovely 30-page visual experience using several different styles of collage and illustration. On the surface, most of the
stories are designed to elicit laughs, or at least a wry smile out of the reader. My Swiss Warm Up by Anindya Roy and Rajiv Eipe hilariously chronicles a young Indian man’s Swiss sojourns. Although it deals in clichés—football, Indian song and dance, spicy food—Roy manages to infuse his narrative with humour. The open format of the stories ensures that the graphic enthusiast has a variety to pick from. One piece doesn’t fit in, though: Charl and Otte by Pascale Mira Tschani is better suited for a psychedelic chil-
When Kulbhushan met Stockli: HarperCollins, 272 pages, Rs699. dren’s compilation. Narratively, most of the others stick to the cultural exchange meta-narrative. The collection also conveys a distinct sense of bonhomie among the participating artists. For instance, while driving an autorickshaw around Delhi, Badoux answers a call from Vishwajyoti Ghosh, who invites him for a cricket match (the Indian artists did actually host cricket matches for their Swiss counterparts). If you feel voyeuristic, and want a peek into these artists’ graphic diaries, get your hands on the book.
After the deluge: (above) Neufeld’s book on New Orleans after Katrina began as a Web comic. too, matches the storytelling. Both are simple and straightforward; there is no mincing of words and no excessive flourish in the monochromatic art. The last book, Asterios Polyp, is a fictional tale of a middleaged blowhard who reaches 50, loses everything and tries to find redemption—a story told so many times before. It’s all about the perception of the self, all about the lack of a man’s selfawareness, and the art tells half the tale. Each character is drawn in a different style. Asterios, an architect who sees the world in two dimensions, is a simple series of arcs, while everyone else in the book is fully fleshed out. The confusion within him requires a style of drawing different from the other characters. The book asks, early on, “What if reality (as perceived) were simply an extension of the self? Wouldn’t that color the way each individual experiences the world?” It reminds me of a childhood question, “What if I see red when you see blue?” The book tries to play with this, showing us the world through Asterios’ eyes and the way it is, through the author’s eyes. While there have been some past examples of documentarystyle graphic novels internationally—most notably American Splendor by Harvey Pekar and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi—the genre has usually been the reign of men in tights, explosive fights and fantasy fiction. In India, on the other hand, almost all the recently published English graphic novels try to tell human, rather than superhuman stories. The Believers by Abdul Sultan P.P. is about two brothers caught up in extremism in Kerala; Kari by Amruta Patil follows a girl struggling to find her identity in Mumbai; and Corridor by Sarnath Banerjee follows the trials and tribulations of a chai-shop owner. But these books fail to truly resonate in the way the three new releases do. Most Indian graphic novels fail to use their illustrations as a tool to tell the stories. Their raison d’etre is not to be a graphic novel. The two elements of a graphic novel—the text and the illustration—are two separate entities, rather than riffing off each other. These three releases offer good reminders of how powerful that riffing can be. IN SIX WORDS Words and visuals, the perfect synthesis
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
CRITICAL ESSAYS | GEORGE ORWELL
The epilogues to Holmes
A thinker for all ages A new collection of George Orwell’s essays remind us of his universality
UNIVERSAL/THE KOBAL COLLECTION
Much of the famous sleuth’s adventures in the 21st century might be Asiaoriented
uring the last couple of years, Sherlock Holmes’ adventures have received several fascinating Indian postscripts, despite the fact that the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle contain only some 10 references to our part of the world. Among such references are, for instance, Holmes’ famous words to Watson at their first meeting, cementing the partnership between a brilliant detective and a slow-thinking observer, “You have been to Afghanistan, I perceive.” The explanation for how he deduced this is, of course, legend. There’s the Indian snake which is used as a murder weapon (but I’m not naming the story) and in The Adventure of the Three Students, one suspect is an Indian, “a quiet, inscrutable fellow; as most of those Indians are”. Then there are the “missing years” after Holmes fell off a Swiss mountain. Upon returning to London, he shrugs off his absence by referring to two years spent in Tibet. Doyle never came to India himself and so never set any adventure here, but the omission has been rectified. First of all, the Tibetan reference inspired Jamyang Norbu to write The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes (1999), which contains some wonderful episodes set in Mumbai a hundred years ago, and the author justly won the Crossword fiction award. More recently, Hyderabad-based Vithal Rajan published a collection of stories, Holmes of the Raj (2006), spoofing the “Orientalist fiction
Reinvented: In Basu’s book, Watson reveals some ‘real’ facts. genre”. Here Sherlock Holmes is dispatched on a confidential mission to India, and makes the acquaintance of a virtual who’s who of colonial days—including Motilal Nehru, Tagore, Aurobindo, Kipling, Ronald Ross and Madame Blavatsky. Not long ago I heard that in Ooty tourists can check into a Sherlock Holmes-themed hotel (which I hope to be able to review soon), and then only last month I received, fresh from the press, Partha Basu’s The Curious Case of 221B: The Secret Notebooks of John H Watson, MD, which is a delightful attempt at looking at Holmes from a subaltern perspective. In these notes, Watson
provides us with the real facts behind the published cases, for Holmes had requested that “some facts should be suppressed, or, at least, a just sense of proportion should be observed in treating them”. This means that earlier we were reading “doctored” versions, but now the good doctor wishes to come out of the closet—posthumously, however, and via a Bengali intermediary. The famous verbal exchange regarding Afghanistan is debunked, for although Holmes perceived that Watson had done a stint overseas, he would have thought it was Africa because “our involvement in the Second Afghan War was relatively brief
THE ART ARCHIVE/AFP
and centred around the mountainous regions of Candahar, whereas the South African and Transvaal campaigns were long-drawn-out affairs that were fought in the searing African veldt; the latter being more likely to darken the pigmentation of your epidermal layers...” Despite its drawbacks, such as dull episodes set in the present, and bizarre typography, the book is fabulously funny and filled with clever intertextual puns. I even get the feeling that Basu nudges and spoofs Julian Barnes’ Booker-shortlisted Arthur & George (2005), another must-read. That novel is centred around an Indian-origin solicitor in Birmingham who was jailed on trumped-up racist charges, and whose reputation and name Sir Arthur Doyle tried to clear in real life. George Edalji, the solicitor, is accused of running around during rainy nights, slashing and killing livestock. But how could he? He is blinder than a bat and in the dark he couldn’t see a horse even if it stood inches away. Sir Arthur, who actually was trained as an ophthalmologist, is “confident in his diagnosis. Myopia, possibly of quite a high degree. And who knows, perhaps a touch of astigmatism too.” He makes a qualified guess of six or seven dioptres. No way could this man be guilty. Now another doctor, namely Watson in Basu’s novel, says of Edalji, “My dear Holmes, this man has severe astigmatism and it doesn’t require an ophthalmologist to certify that there is also myopia present, how severe I can’t tell.” Obviously there is a lot left to be written about Sherlock Holmes, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if a large portion of his adventures in the 21st century turn out to be oriented towards Asia, as detective writers dig deeper into the colonial past. Zac O’Yeah is a Bangalore-based Swedish writer of crime fiction. Write to Zac at email@example.com
CAPITALISM AS IF THE WORLD MATTERS | JONATHON PORRITT
The capitalism conundrum It’s not enough to be a green warrior; be prepared to change the agenda B Y S UDHIRENDAR S HARMA ···························· n 1934, renowned economist Simon Kuznets warned the US congress that “the welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from the measurement of national income”. Decades later, his words sound prophetic. While receiving the Nobel Prize in 1961 for his pioneering work on computing national incomes, or what has since then been termed GDP, Kuznets anxiously argued that distinctions must be made between quantity and quality of growth. Contemporary research clearly demonstrates how right Kuznets was, as economic growth triggered by increased personal consumption does not necessarily translate into overall well-being. A recent quality-of-life study among young people in the UK has proved that 76% of people are regularly tired; 47% have diffi-
culty sleeping and 42% suffer from depression. Such trends are no longer restricted to Western societies; each of around 80 million new citizens arriving on this planet every year are vulnerable to such lifestyles. In Capitalism as if the World Matters, British environmentalist and author Jonathon Porritt argues that capitalism may be the only economic game in town but the challenge is to reinvent it before its inevitable, catastrophic collapse. Porritt prisms capitalism through five capital frameworks: natural, human, social, manufactured and financial. He argues that it is possible for political leaders to rescue capitalism if they think up measures beyond minor tweaks and fixes. Sample this: Americans threw 32 billion cans of fizzy drinks in 2002, worth 435,000 tonnes of aluminium, which is enough to rebuild the world’s entire commercial air fleet more than 1.5 times. The linear model of resource use—make, use and dispose—considers recycling the sole benchmark of economic success, without taking into account its ecological impact. Symptoms, not systems, remain
Capitalism as if the World Matters: Earthscan, 360 pages, £35 (around Rs2,800). the political order of the day, regrets Porritt. Porritt, who once chaired the UK Sustainable Development Commission, does not, however, allow environment concerns to overwhelm his arguments. He says the challenge is for those who are happy to be described as “environmentalists” to engage with the disempowered, the dispossessed and the disengaged to
deal with the world’s most serious ecological problems. But the irony is that most environmentalists are so depoliticized that any mention of the bigger capitalist picture sends them running back to their bird-boxes to simmer organic lentils. It’s a mindset that prevails among India’s environmental groups. Almost all of them have largely remained distanced from politics, giving politicians a free hand in using human and natural capital as inputs in the process of capital accumulation. Porritt suggests that reconciling sustainable development with capitalism is today’s most critical intellectual challenge, for which more resources need to be devoted by the environment movement. Capitalism as if the World Matters argues that the GDP-based assessment of economic growth helps governments justify extracting natural resources from forests. Governments ought to be told that a majority of the world’s population favours well-being over wealth, as revealed by an online poll conducted by the BBC: A remarkable 81% wanted happiness as a goal; only 13% wanted wealth. Porritt’s views only augment this consensus. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org
B Y C HANDRAHAS C HOUDHURY ··························· he American writer Rebecca Solnit has said, comparing the essay form to fiction, “In essays, ideas are the protagonists, and they often develop much like characters.” This thought might be a good way of making a case for the abiding relevance of the essays of George Orwell. Best known for his novels Animal Farm and 1984 and his travel books The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia, Orwell was also the writer of some of the best known essays of 20th century prose, including Charles Dickens, The Prevention of Literature, In Defence of English Cooking, Why I Write and, most influentially, Politics and the English Language. If ideas are the “characters” of essays, then the main characters of Orwell’s essays could be said to be four heavyweights: freedom, socialism, totalitarianism and language. Just as no family ever agrees on any one point, these four ideas also never work themselves, in Orwell’s writing, into some clear and consistent pattern. To learn what he is saying— and we are thinking of a world in which the two World Wars, the Russian revolution, and the rise of Hitler were the main trends through which he was thinking out his ideas—we have to read Orwell. Some of his best pieces have just been brought together in a sleek new volume titled Critical Essays. This is apt, for it is as a criticism of currents in the present day that the essay form has the most power. The strongest of Orwell’s stresses (and hence the easiest argument to reproduce) was against totalitarianism, both of the communist and fascist varieties. As early as any other observer of his time, he grasped how the Soviet state was far more evil than the system which it claimed to refute, and that its “management” of thought and opinion could only end up making automatons of both the bureaucracy and citizens. We know well today the truth of Orwell’s argument that the organized deception practised by totalitarian states is not a temporary expedient, but is something integral to totalitarianism”. Orwell’s interest in language as an instrument of politics—as a means not for expressing but “for concealing or preventing thought”—is what animates his most famous essay, Politics and the English Language. Here, Orwell’s attack on bad, overwrought or obfuscatory English is not made just as a writer. He also sees that such language can be a result not just of incompetence or laziness, but of a deliberate intent to distort
Critical Essays: Harvill Secker/ Random House, 374 pages, £14.99 (around Rs1,200).
The beginnings: Orwell, whose real name was Eric Arthur Blair, was born in Bihar in 1903. or mask the truth. Orwell proves that it is often in the interest of the state to only pretend to be giving information or to be demonstrating intent, or empathy, or solidarity (he cites the classic bureaucratic cliche, “we will leave no stone unturned”). Orwell’s argument is of course aimed against the state and against the peculiar jargon of ideologies such as Marxism, of which he was a relentless opponent. But we could easily apply it to many forces in our times. The hysterical shrieking, pervasive sexualization and bad faith of so much advertising and PR-speak today are a conscious debasement of language, as is the peculiar argot of management schools, political parties and academia, and the many short-cuts of chatspeak. I don’t know about you, but many emails I get these days address me as “u” rather than “you”, and to me this seems a diminishment not just of me, but potentially of language and thought itself. All these currents threaten our selfhood and independence as much as oppressive political power might. For Orwell, where thought is put to sleep, there begins the road to subjugation. Orwell is mostly serious, but he can also be very funny. His review of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator is a scream, brilliantly transmitting both the slapstick farce of the movie and its serious political message. In Confessions of a Book Reviewer, he writes of how, in reviewing so many mediocre books, a writer is “pouring his immortal spirit down the drain, half a pint at a time”. These combative and vigorous essays have dated only slightly; both as a record of their times and as advice for our own times, they still have much to give. Chandrahas Choudhury is the author of Arzee the Dwarf. Write to email@example.com IN SIX WORDS Best of Orwell in one volume
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009
Culture INDRANIL BHOWMICK/MINT
Long playing PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY NATASENA
‘Gorur Garir Headlight’ has been running to packed houses in Kolkata since 1972 B Y S HAMIK B AG ···························· ubrata Nandy was in school when he bagged the role of a juvenile delinquent in the Bengali play Gorur Garir Headlight (Bullock Cart’s Headlight). As the play, which has always been staged by the Kolkata-based theatre group Natasena, enters its 37th year of production, Nandy, now 56, plays one of the main characters. The role befits his age, both Nandy and the play having advanced in age concomitantly. We are sitting around the driveway of a sprawling colonial mansion in south Kolkata where the group—comprising mostly part-time actors—is rehearsing for a new production, and statistics and anecdotes roll off faster than it takes to say “‘Kelenkarious Lacdivorious”—a phrase made memorable by one of the English-deficient, bumbling characters of Gorur Garir Headlight. Natasena first staged the farce in 1972, and it will be staging it for the 1,164th time on Wednesday. Cast members say Headlight, as they refer to the play, draws capacity crowds even on days when there’s a general strike or strife. Over the last 15 years, it has earned revenues of Rs45 lakh even as other theatre productions in Kolkata have struggled to compete against television and dwindling audience interest. A dozenodd actors, including the playwright-actor and Natasena founder Saroj Roy, have died in the course of the play’s long run. Roy was an evolved actor and the creative backbone of the group, and his absence is still felt in Natasena. The curtain, nevertheless, has fallen only to be rolled up for the next show. With the group expecting yet
‘These days, critics are seeing the value of a play that makes people laugh.’
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY NATASENA
another “houseful moment”, Udayan Chakraborty, president of Natasena, sums up its appeal: “It’s just a nonsensical laugh riot, the absurdity of its plot reflected in the title itself. That’s it.” Long-running plays are not uncommon on the Bengali stage. Theatre group Nandikar’s Teen Poisar Pala (1969), Football (1977) and Shesh Sakshatkar (1988), Sayak’s Daibaddha (1991) and Chetana’s Mareech Sambad and Jagannath (1977) have been staged for decades. Most, though, don’t have ticketed public stagings any longer—a result of dipping audience numbers or, as theatre veteran Rudraprasad Sengupta points out, the need to stage newer productions. Well-known theatre critic and Jadavpur University professor Ananda Lal admits to being intrigued by Gorur Garir Headlight’s popularity, especially since he doesn’t find it particularly interesting. Scholarly compilations on theatre in Bengal too have completely ignored
Classic: (clockwise from above) The cast rehearsing for the new performance; Rana Sarkar (left) and Udayan Chakraborty on stage in the 1980s; and the Natasena founder, playwright Saroj Roy.
the play or its impact. But senior Natasena member and actor Durga Chakraborty hints at a shift in theatre critics’ thinking. “Earlier, they didn’t consider Headlight as theatre, since it didn’t convey any political or social message, and is nothing more than a situational comedy,” he points out. “(But) these days, critics are seeing the value of a play that makes people laugh.” The play revolves around a successful businessman’s desire to start a theatre group. Responding to his newspaper insert seeking actors, a wacky set of characters turn up—a stammering goofer, a partiallydeaf retired military man, a phi-
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···························· enda phool, the hit number from the film Delhi-6, is a traditional song from Chhattisgarh that was brought to Bollywood’s notice by the actor Raghubir Yadav, who is from the neighbouring state of Madhya Pradesh. Prasoon Joshi translated the lyrics from the Chhattisgarhi dialect into Hindi and A.R. Rahman provided the score. The song seems tailor-made for Rekha Bhardwaj, who can rightfully claim the mantle as the reigning playback queen of a certain kind of Bollywood number—one with an identifiably traditional or folk element, but also possessing a brazen earthiness that listeners relish. As she recounts the song’s journey from Chhattisgarh to Mumbai to a smash hit all across India, it is obvious that she is still savouring the afterglow of its popularity. “So many are feeling nostalgic after Genda phool,” she says, recounting how a 70-year-old woman told her that it brought back memories of her youth. She feels that the song’s “simplicity and innocence” won over listeners. “Folk is alive and touches you at another level,” says the trained classical vocalist who burst into
popular consciousness with mega hits Beedi jalai le and Namak ishq ka from the 2006 film Omkara (directed by her husband Vishal Bhardwaj). So it is fitting in a way that Bhardwaj gets prime billing at the second edition of the Jodhpur RIFF (Rajasthan International Folk Festival) that will be held at the picturesque Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur. She will share the stage with two noted folk artists from Rajasthan—Bhanwari Devi, who sings in the Bhopa tradition, and Rehana Mirza, who sings of the valour and glory of kings and princes in the Maand tradition. Bhardwaj will sing folk songs from Rajasthan and other regions. Divya Bhatia, festival director of RIFF and the artistic director, Jaipur Virasat Foundation (JVF), stresses that Bhardwaj’s Bollywood connection is incidental. “Her voice quality, which is different…her affinity for traditional music and, on top of that, her classical training—these are some of the reasons why we are featuring her at RIFF,” he says. JVF, along with the Mehrangarh Trust and the Taj Group of hotels, is organizing the festival. Bhatia also sounds wary of promoting the idea that the three singers will be collaborating on
Gorur Garir Headlight will be staged on 30 September at Girish Manch in Kolkata. Write to email@example.com
Melodies, now and then Rekha Bhardwaj will reconnect with traditional music in Jodhpur
landerer, a village folk-theatre actor and two unemployed louts. The businessman’s sisterin-law, who had been researching on love, steps in as the actress, leading to the play’s romantic climax. It is not uncommon to find people who have watched the play dozens of times. Natasena members fondly recall the Ramakrishna Mission teacher who used to come for every staging with his son and was eventually issued passes by Roy. Another gent watched the play to cope with bereavement in the family. “It has an ageless appeal, not least because nobody minds having a good laugh,” says character-
actor Ashok Das, who usually plays Jhulpi Joardar, the wayward youngster with a “five-year plan” to get a BA degree. Natasena members admit that Headlight has “breathed muchneeded financial oxygen” into the group, which has a repertoire of 47 Bengali plays, including the lauded Auga and Dhar Mundu Kissa. “Average turnout at shows since 1994, when the play was widely publicized, has been houseful,” Das points out. Much like West End’s The Mousetrap and Broadway’s The Phantom of the Opera , Headlight is among the longest-running in the world. Natasena knows that the Bengali stage will have Gorur Garir Headlight as long as the audience wants it for a lark.
In tune: Rekha Bhardwaj says the state should promote folk music. stage. “Rekha, Bhanwari Devi and Rehana Mirza come from three different traditions, have three different voices and different backgrounds,” he says, pointing out that folk music in Rajasthan is but one component of a way of life. Unlike in the West, where it has become a genre of
music, folk traditions are alive in India, being much the same as they were 100-150 years ago. But there is a growing ignorance of, and disconnect with, these traditions. “There is this wrong mythical image of (folk artists) as people in turbans and costumes,” he says. The idea of
putting them on stage in RIFF with classical or rock or jazz musicians—national and international—is to show that they are as good. For her part, Bhardwaj welcomes the trend in Mumbai where music directors looking for “newness” are turning to folk music traditions, but cautions that it is not the film industry’s job to “save” folk music. “There is so much at stake in each film that this kind of responsibility should not be thrown at (the industry),” she says, echoing Bhatia’s view that the promotion of folk music has to be the state’s job. She also counters the charge that folk tunes are lifted by Bollywood, without credit or benefits to the folk artists. “It is our music too,” she says, recalling the years growing up in Delhi when she regularly sang gidda, bihu and other songs at the folk dance festivals at Bal Bhawan, a government organization that promotes traditional arts among children. At Jodhpur she will have another opportunity to renew the bond between folk and mainstream popular music. Jodhpur RIFF will be held at the Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur city, from 1-5 October. For details, go to www.jodhpurfolkfestival.org
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
Gandhi, the muse
NO HARM IN HARMONY
Whether it’s to depict the austere or to rally against war, artists turn to the Mahatma to make a statement
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···························· t all started with the three monkeys. Over 2007 and 2008, contemporary artist Subodh Gupta created an installation with three 6ft-tall sculptures made from antique steel and copper utensils. He called them Gandhi’s Three Monkeys at his solo show titled Still, Steal, Steel at New York’s Jack Shainman Gallery in spring 2008. But unlike Gandhi’s familiar mascots—the three primates who cover their ears, mouth and eyes to guard against evil—these figures are geared to shield themselves from the mechanics of war. Of the three large human heads, one wears eyeshades, one wears a gas mask and the third, a helmet. Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, 2 October, is celebrated worldwide as the International Day of Non-Violence. By turning his mascots into a testament of violence, Gupta creates ironic art that compels one to rethink the premise of war and peace. While Gandhi has always inspired artists, there has been a rapid rise in artworks influenced by him in recent years. Delhibased curator Vidya Shivadas from the Vadehra Art Gallery offers an insight: Gandhi attracts artists because he was essentially a great artist himself. “Artists pick certain tropes and give them new meanings and that’s really what Gandhi did himself. For instance, the salt-making Dandi march was not just an act, it was a deeply symbolic gesture because references to salt making go across cultures. It is even mentioned in the Bible. Gandhi’s bare feet, his khadi…the man was all about symbols,” says Shivadas. Shivadas points out that certain Indian artists, such as Atul Dodiya, have employed Gandhi as a recurring motif throughout their careers. Lately, however, several young artists have turned Gandhi into a tour de force. One reason for this could be that trends are a weighty factor in the contemporary art world and Gupta, who has risen to international acclaim over the last decade, is a trendsetter. Another could simply be that the issues emerging artists, such as Debanjan Roy and Balaji Ponna from Rabindra Bharati University in Santiniketan, wish to point to—mindless modernization and capitalism—are best highlighted when juxtaposed against the man who stands for quite the contrary. In his India Shining series, artist Roy uses Gandhi as a metaphor for an India of austerity that is fast disappearing. His fibreglass sculptures are striking not only because of their size, but also because of their precision and their colours: cherry red and metallic silver. In one of the installations, Gandhi is a call centre employee and in another, he listens to an iPod. In these artworks, one can see Gandhi running into, and adopting, the ways of the new, materialistic India. “I try to convey the notion that while many of the newfangled ways may have been alien to the old India and sit a little awk-
Experiments: (top) The Spinning Hero and Zero by Simanta Baruah was sold by Easel Gallery at the India Art Summit in August for Rs5 lakh; Gandhi by Stephane Cipre uses the letters GANDHI in wrought iron to create the face of a smiling Mahatma. Priced at Rs2535 lakh at the Marigold Fine Art Gallery.
wardly, Gandhi’s India is, nonetheless, open and receptive,” Roy says in his artist’s statement. Roy’s headphone-wielding Gandhi got such a warm reception in the US earlier this year that its host gallery, Aicon, released a limited edition of miniature versions. Two such miniatures were at Aicon’s stall at the India Art Summit in New Delhi (19-22 August). And they
made news by virtue of being the first sales of the summit, selling on the day of the preview itself. Arjun Sharma, director of Delhi’s Select Citywalk mall, bought Gandhi on a Reclining Chair and Gandhi Bust with Headphones, for Rs50,000 each. Sharma says what appealed to him about the artwork was Gandhi’s curious placement in a mod-
PATRIOTIC CALENDAR Gandhi’s run in the art and auction world will continue to be in full force for the rest of 2009. Select picks: u ‘Detour’ by Chemould Prescott Road gallery, December Five photographers—Sonia Jabbar, Ravi Agarwal, Samar Jodha, Ram Rahman and Dayanita Singh—will work around the theme of Gandhi’s ‘Swaraj’ movement. The show will run alongside a twoday conference on ‘Hind Swaraj’ by the Mumbai based organization Jnanapravah. u ‘Sculptures for Street, Branches for Birds’ by Balaji Ponna, NovemberDecember As a followup to his ‘Two Gandhis’ sculpture that was displayed at the India Art Summit, artist Balaji Ponna is now working on a series of
fibreglass sculptures, including an impressionistic model of Gandhi. u Gandhi portrait and photographic memorabilia by Bid & Hammer, Fine Art Auctioneers, November On offer will be a Gandhi portrait (unsigned and unknown artist, oil on canvas, 1948) and several photographic collectibles, including one that shows Gandhi with Motilal Nehru, A. Rangaswamy Iyengar, Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel.
Bapu’s new clothes: India Shining 6 (Gandhi Walking the Dog, 2009) by Debanjan Roy. Fibreglass with acrylic paint.
ern setting: “These sculptures achieve this contrast without trivializing the man. I wouldn’t have bought them if they had Gandhi smoking a cigarette or sipping a cola.” Not all references to the father of the nation have been positive, however. Artist Ashim Purkayastha, who hails from Assam, believes that Gandhi’s shortsightedness is responsible for the way the North-East is alienated from the rest of India today. His series of postal stamps, Man Without Specs, created between 2002 and 2006, show Gandhi without his trademark glasses. Gaurav Assomull, CEO of Marigold Fine Art Gallery, points out that while most love Gandhi-inspired art, it has relatively few buyers. He refers to the French sculptor Stephane Cipre’s 12fttall wrought iron sculpture that presently sits at the gallery, unsold. “The work is impressive and at Rs25-35 lakh it isn’t really overpriced for an artwork of its size. Everyone who sees it is awed but having a large piece like that in your driveway or office is a big political statement that few are willing to commit to.” Marigold has sold smaller versions of the same piece for Rs8-15 lakh as well as various other Gandhi artworks by Cipre over the last six months. Sharma, who has housed the two Gandhi miniatures in his office space, concedes he isn’t sure if he would have purchased the lifesized pieces in the India Shining series. The message then se e m s to b e: We l ike Gandhi in our artwork, but not when he is larger than life.
he happiest musical development of 2009, for me, has been the Madras String Quartet’s return to active performance. Over the past few years, the quartet has, according to its founder V.S. Narasimhan, found it difficult to coordinate its members’ schedules and meet regularly. But the summer of 2009 has been a full one, and the quartet has been booked for three more concerts over the next two months. Formed in 1993, the quartet—with two violins, played by Narasimhan and Hemanthraj Muliyil; a viola, played by B.J. Chandran; and a cello, played by V.R. Sekar—conducts an interesting inversion of the tenets of Carnatic music. Of the three primary elements of music—harmony, melody and rhythm—Carnatic music is described as having only the latter two, while Western classical music is flush with the first. Working with Carnatic music’s constituent set, the quartet adds harmony and subtracts rhythm. There is still a metre to the music, of course, but it is silent and implicit, not insistently marked out on a mridangam or a ghatam. The classicist’s perception of such fusion—to use the word in its least derogatory, most purely technical sense—is that it is too easy, because it allows musicians to indulge themselves in the liberties offered by both forms of music. But the converse is also true. Merging two complex idioms, two systems of rules, can be doubly restrictive, just as it can be doubly liberating; Narasimhan suggested as much when, in an interview to The Music Magazine, he once said: “(O)ne must understand that doing something new within the confines of Indian and Western music is difficult.” The quartet’s 2000 album Resonance—their only commercial release so far—is a fine introduction to the architecture of their music. Via a pair of expertly played violins, the familiar melody line of the nine Carnatic staples is always recognizable, keeping its head well above the surrounding bustle of fascinating harmonic activity. The song itself will often come with a prefix, a snatch of creative orchestration that offers only a delicate hint of the raga to come. For instance, the first full line of the popular Krishna Nee Begane, in the Raga Yamuna Kalyani, kicks in nearly 3 minutes into the track—but by then, it has already been split into deft little phrases, to be used and explored in the prelude. SATYAJIT
Fusion frission: (LR) Narasimhan, Muliyil, Chandran and Sekar. More enjoyable still is the diversity of moods that Resonance manages to evoke (“If from the Western music repertoire you remove harmony, most of the mood is lost,” Narasimhan told me. “Harmony gives the mood, the colour, everything”). Sara Sara Samarai, in the Raga Kuntalavarali, is a jaunty little rendition, reminiscent almost of a Frederic Chopin mazurka in its playfulness. Amba Kamakshi, in Bhairavi, is deservedly weighty and solemn; in fact, in brief parts where the cello pours forth its deepest notes, it can sound almost ominous. But just when you consider subscribing to the views of the quartet’s critics, who maintain that the heavy harmonies crush the religious soul of Carnatic music, Narasimhan’s lead violin unfailingly breaks through, its voice freighted with a simplicity and sweetness that immediately suggest the spiritual. The text is the same; only the grammar has shifted away from the regular Carnatic syntax, but it is still very much within reach. Write to Samanth Subramanian at email@example.com
UNMASK HISTORY The Italian Cultural Institute will introduce Indian audiences to a 500yearold Italian theatre form on Sunday. Actors from the Molfettabased theatre group Il Carro dei Comici will perform ‘Mori a Venezia’ (‘Moors of Venice’) in the Commedia dell’Arte tradition, wherein actors improvise, sing and dance without any props other than masks. ‘Mori a Venezia’ follows the classic Commedia dell’Arte plot where a young couple find love in the face of obstacles. But director Carlo Boso jazzes things up with references to three Shakespearan plays. The production has won accolades at theatre festivals in Spain, Poland and Iran. 8pm, 27 September, Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi Anindita Ghose
L18 FLAVOURS SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
OUR DAILY BREAD
Thai high: the Konkan way used a Dabur tetrapack) Salt to taste
A quick, happy Sunday lunch emerges from an international mix of flavours
Method In a small wok, heat 1 tsp of olive oil, then pop the sesame seeds. Add garlic and cook till lightly brown. Add the galangal, stir for 30 seconds. Add the turmeric and red chilli powder. Drizzle more olive oil if needed. Add the broccoli and stir fry till almost done. Reduce flame to simmer. Add coconut milk. Add kokum with its water and salt. Stir in boiled carrot and peas.
e all love Thai food, don’t we? Tangy, spicy, saucy—close enough to be accepted by masala-loving Indians, exotic enough to be a special meal. A flood of Thai restaurants has washed up in our cities, but surprisingly few people try the cuisine at home. This might be because some of the ingredients are difficult to find: fish sauce, galangal (Thai ginger), lemon grass, shallots, to name a few. Some roots and spices are freely available at neighbourhood grocer and provision stores—10 years ago, I remember buying galangal from Delhi’s rundown Kotla Mubarakpur market—so go get them. I am delighted to inform you that the flavours of Thailand merge happily with condiments from my homeland cuisine from the Konkan coast. I discovered this quite by chance more than a decade ago. It was on a cool, winter morning sometime in the late 1990s that I had time on my hands, a cold-season hunger, a limited number of ingredients—Thai and Konkan—and a desire to create something that did not taste like my everyday food. A disclaimer: I cannot tell you how to make Thai masalas from scratch. What I can tell you is that the Namjai brand of pastes works wonderfully as a base for fusion exploration. I’ve bought them for years in green, red,
The Scronchy Salad (so named because it went “scrunch” when we ate it)
yellow and massaman pastes. You can, of course, simply follow the instruction on the packet and produce an adequate Thai curry, but that’s never quite satisfied me. I can get better Thai food in a restaurant. No, if you want to really make Namjai rise above its ordinariness, urge it to widen its horizons. I’ve done this often, either for my family or for parties, and the delighted response indicates it works. The fun thing is that no one is willing to believe every dish takes no more than 15 minutes. I made a fish curry (more Thai than Konkan), a vegetable curry (more Konkan than Thai) and a salad (of no specific provenance). In short, a hearty, flavour-laden Sunday lunch with minimum effort.
ThaiKonkan Fish Curry Ingredients 750g fish (I used singhada) 1-inch piece of galangal, sliced into roundels 1 packet of basil leaves (around
Mixed plate: (clockwise from above) Konkan Thai Broccoli Curry, the Scronchy Salad and ThaiKonkan Fish Curry. fish and toss. Reduce heat. Pour in the coconut milk. Add basil leaves. Add kokum with its water. Add salt. Simmer till fish cooks through.
KonkanThai Broccoli Curry
100-200g), roughly chopped O of a packet of Namjai green curry paste 6-7 large pods of garlic, crushed 1 tin of coconut milk 8-9 kokum pods, soaked in 2 tbsps of water Salt to taste 1-2 slit chillies (if you want it spicy; I don’t add them)
Method Lightly heat 1-2 tsps of olive oil in a non-stick pan. Add the garlic. When it starts to turn brown, add the galangal. Stir for a minute, then add the green curry paste and stir-fry lightly for 1-2 minutes (if it sticks, drizzle some vinegar or wine; I use red-wine vinegar). Add the
Ingredients 1 small head of broccoli; wash and clean florets 2-3 garlic pods, crushed K-inch piece of galangal, sliced into roundels 1 tsp of black and white sesame seeds K tsp of turmeric powder 1 flat tsp of red chilli powder 2-3 kokum pods, soaked in 2 tsp of water 1 carrot and half a cup of peas, boiled (feeling lazy? leave them out) K a can of coconut milk (I PHOTOGRAPHS
Tap your inner gourmet A culinary club that offers an insight into different cuisines
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···························· very fortnight for an afternoon, Daniell’s Tavern at The Imperial hotel in New Delhi resembles the set of a television cookery show. No, the eatery has not been let out to a channel, the purpose behind the transformation is to host the Imperial Culinary Club’s sessions for in-house guests and regular patrons. At each session, guests get a demonstration of how four or five dishes are prepared (a mix of salads, starters, main course and dessert), get printed copies of the recipes complete with a nutritional value chart, and then enjoy a buffet lunch—the menu includes the dishes prepared in front of them, plus some more from the same cuisine, all washed down with The Imperial house wine. The club has already organized two sessions this month— on German and Lebanese cuisines—and scheduled a third one, “Back to Basics” for Italian cuisine. A chocolate and dessert special session has been planned for mid-October, just before Diwali. For members, the biggest takeaway is the chance to learn about a different cuisine from
Ingredients 1 big handful of sprouts (around 100g) 1 tomato, with pulp and seeds removed, chopped small 3 walnuts, broken into little pieces 9 olives (I used olives stuffed with red chillies) 3 tbsps of parsley, washed and roughly torn Fresh black pepper
chefs who specialize in them. These are not sessions where one has to mill around the chef’s table or elbow others to get a closer look at what is happening. All attendees are seated and get to watch the chef on two large projection screens set up on either side of his table. Overhead cameras allow close-ups of how the chef kneads, chops or mixes the ingredients. “At another hotel, I had organized cooking classes, but I found people had to crowd around the chef’s table to see what was happening. Here I wanted no repeat of that experience, which is why we have an elaborate multi-cameras set-up. Guests can remain seated yet view the smallest step,” says Vijay Wanchoo, senior vice-president and general manager at The Imperial and the brain behind the club. A former chef, Wanchoo plans the menu for every class with his executive chef Jan Seibold, who is present at all the sessions. Seibold is always at hand because the chef conducting the class often skips a step or two or cannot answer all the questions. That’s when he takes over. At the Lebanese session, it was Seibold who told us where to buy the best tahina in Delhi; reminded the chef to use
For the dressing: Juice of half a lime; 1 tsp of olive oil (less, if you want); 1 tsp of soy sauce; 1 crushed garlic pod. Method Dry the sprouts completely, otherwise they won’t “scronch”. I used a salad spinner. Mix all the ingredients. Chill in the refrigerator. Pour on the dressing before serving. Grind some fresh black pepper on it. This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar writes a blog, Our Daily Bread, at Htblogs.com. He is the managing editor of the Hindustan Times. Write to Samar at email@example.com
Live kitchen: (left) Vijay Wanchoo will be conducting the next session at the Imperial Culinary Club, New Delhi; Fettuccini Napolitaine with Tomato Concasse.
extra virgin olive oil while garnishing the Hummus bi Tahina; and explained why no two recipes of Moutabel Bademjan are the same. There are no distracting tasting sessions while the chef is demonstrating the recipes. The sessions are fairly freewheeling and all questions from participants are answered. However, because two chefs take turns to address the audience, sometimes they end up spending too much time elaborating on one recipe. The recipes chosen for demonstration at the Lebanese session were fairly basic (hummus, moutabel, tabouleh, cheese and meat sambousek), which is great for novices, but the club will have to do a rethink on menus for those who want to build on
their cooking skills. As it happened, the participants at the Lebanese class were largely expatriate women and most seemed keener to know where to source ingredients than learn how to duplicate the recipes at home. In the near future, Wanchoo says, the club plans to hold classes on Indian cuisine, too, but these will be only for expats. “I don’t think Indian women or men want to learn how to make shahi paneer or dal. We will plan more evolved sessions on Indian cooking to include all kinds of people later.”
Each session costs Rs1,500 and includes demonstration classes, lunch and a privilege card (to avail of discounts at restaurants). Four participants can win a dinner voucher for two at any restaurant. A Feng Shui expert is available at the end of the sessions for consultations (charges extra). To book a spot for yourself, call Bhavna Kakkar at 011-41116233.
www.livemint.com Every Monday, catch Cooking With Lounge, a video show with recipes from wellknown chefs, at www.livemint.com/cookingwithlounge